Political Animal


October 22, 2014 6:01 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

World Series Game Two or a nap? I won’t risk the resentment of friends and neighbors by disclosing the answer. Am I a baseball-hater? No: actually a disillusioned purist who thinks the postseason ruins the percentages of the game. One-game wild-card playoff an abomination unto the Lord.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Slain gunman in Canadian parliamentary attacks ID’d as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian citizen. Some reports say he’s of Algerian descent, others say he’s Quebecois convert to Islam, could be both or neither. Talk of multiple shooters is abating.

* Midterm elections’ total spending could top $4 billion, blowing away all records for a midterm.

* DSCC changes its mind, goes back into Kentucky with ads.

* Just because Jeb Bush has gotten in trouble with conservatives on Common Core and immigration is no reason to forget he was already in trouble with them on no new taxes pledge.

* At Ten Miles Square, Seth Masket reports that ads run by “independent” groups in CO GOV race may be more negative that usual to compensate for candidates’ pledge to be nice.

And in non-political news:

* Oil price drop good for economy, but not for energy company stocks, and hence not good for markets.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with Dory Previn’s acerbic song about Mia Farrow, who eventually married Andre Previn: “Beware of Young Girls.”


October 22, 2014 4:58 PM Three Gubernatorial Scenarios

At TNR today, Princeton Election Consortium founder Sam Wang suggests the regularly depressing news for Democrats in congressional contests this year may be offset on election night with much better news in the 36 governor’s races being contested this year. He focuses on thirteen races that are very close (plus another, Pennsylvania, where a party-switch is virtually certain), and concludes the odds are currently that Democrats will make a net gain of one.

I’d note as a proviso that by focusing on close races (plus the Keystone!) Wang takes 22 races off the table that are deemed non-competitive. Of those 14 are occupied by Republicans. So a plus-one night for Dems in the competitive races would still leave 28 Republican governors.

But as Wang says, the non-White House party normally wins gubernatorial seats as well as House and Senate seats in midterms, so bucking that tendency would be notable, and probably enough to dispute the idea that this is a “Republican wave” election even if the GOP takes control of the Senate.

But in reality, if a lot of incumbents lose (an outcome that would probably produce a pretty close partisan split of competitive contests on the night), that will be the dominant story more than who gained a governorship or two, and all the more so if a couple of Democrats (e.g., Malloy and Quinn) lose in blue states and a couple of Republicans (say, Deal and Brownback) lose in red states.

If, on the other hand, the close states break heavily Democratic, you’ve got your countervailing story to Republican gains in Congress, and if Democrats hang onto the Senate, it’s a full-blown upset. And obviously enough, if Republicans win most of the close gubernatorial races along with taking the Senate, we’re back into the familiar pattern of a second-term midterm across-the-board win, “wave” or not.

You’d have to figure the talking heads will have their various scenarios together well before going to the makeup room on November 4, and for all I know, some will ignore the state results altogether, relegating them to late night reports and second-day analysis. It’ll be something to watch if the results themselves turn out to be undramatic.

October 22, 2014 3:13 PM Suppressing Votes Just Another Day at the Office

When I said yesterday that the right to vote was increasingly being treated as a partisan political game, I had no way to know that a very prominent Republican politician would supply an instant illustration, per a report from the Bergen Record:

Governor Christie pushed further into the contentious debate over voting rights than ever before, saying Tuesday that Republicans need to win gubernatorial races this year so that they’re the ones controlling “voting mechanisms” going into the next presidential election….
Governor Christie pushed further into the contentious debate over voting rights than ever before, saying Tuesday that Republicans need to win gubernatorial races this year so that they’re the ones controlling “voting mechanisms” going into the next presidential election.
“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?” he asked.

Brother Benen commented archly:

I’m not sure which is worse: the prospect of Christie making these remarks without thinking them through or Christie making these remarks because he’s already thought this through.
In theory, in a functioning democracy, control over “voting mechanisms” shouldn’t dictate election outcomes. Citizens consider the candidates, they cast their ballots, the ballots are counted, and the winner takes office. It’s supposed to be non-partisan - indeed, the oversight of the elections process must be professional and detached from politics in order to maintain the integrity of the system itself.
So what exactly is Chris Christie suggesting here?….
[P]olitical scientist Norm Ornstein paraphrased Christie’s comments this way: “How can we cheat on vote counts if we don’t control the governorships?”

Yep, Republicans are treating the right to vote as discretionary, depending on their party’s needs, which makes voter suppression just another day at the office.

October 22, 2014 2:42 PM Midterm Falloff Defined With Precision

Leave it to Ron Brownstein to come up with the most precise and efficient way to explain the phenomenon—generally called “the midterm falloff problem for Democrats”—that I’ve talked about so often in this space (basically because half the political writers in America still don’t quite get it):

[W]hile the voting falloff between presidential-year and midterm elections has remained constant, its impact has been vastly magnified by a racial and generational realignment that has remade each party’s base of support since the 1980s. In presidential and congressional races alike, Democrats today fare best among minorities, Millennials, and white voters (especially women) who are single or college-educated. Even in a country rapidly growing more diverse, Republicans still rely almost entirely on whites, running best among those who are older, blue-collar, married, rural, and male. In other words, Democrats have become increasingly reliant on precisely the groups most likely to sit out midterms, while Republicans score best among those most likely to show up.
The consequences of these shifts are so profound that political analysts increasingly talk about two American electorates: the one that picks presidents (and has awarded Democrats the popular vote in five of the past six presidential races) and the one that determines midterms (which have usually favored Republicans since 1994).
In other words, the racial and generational difference in participation between presidential-year and midterm elections is long-standing; it’s the more recent divergence in preferences that has resulted in the GOP’s midterm advantage.

Brownstein’s also impressive concise on the many factors that make this particular midterm particularly difficult for Democrats:

[I]n a year like this, when the midterm electorate’s customary whiter and grayer complexion converges with low approval ratings for a Democratic president and a Senate battlefield centered on red states, Democrats understandably feel as if they are caught between colliding storm systems.

Thank you, Ron.

October 22, 2014 1:48 PM Lunch Buffet

Very upset to learn one of my esteemed predecessors in this space, MoJo’s Kevin Drum, has had to be hospitalized with a back and/or bone ailment. Here’s hoping and praying Kevin gets well quickly.

Here are some midday items in the chafing dishes:

* As situation in Ottawa begins to emerge from mist, one shooter killed inside Parliament Building by sergeant-at-arms, a Canadian soldier killed at nearby memorial, at least one additional injury, and at least one shooter still abroad.

* TPM’s Sahil Kapur discusses fears among MA Dems that Martha Coakley about to lose another unlosable statewide election.

* Matt Baretto argues CO polls are getting Latino vote wrong much like NV polls did when they predicted Sharron Angle win over Harry Reid in 2010.

* Thom Tillis appears to waffle on prior opposition to Medicaid expansion, which is a counter-signal to Mike Pence’s apparent waffle in the opposite direction.

* Now you can read the “annotated version” of the “Palin Brawl Police Tapes” by TPM’s Ahiza Garcia.

And in non-political news:

* University of Georgia ends Todd Gurley investigation, seeks NCAA clearance for him to play, which they are expected to get.

As we break for lunch, here’s more Dory Previn, with a song about Janis Joplin: “A Stone For Bessie Smith.”

October 22, 2014 12:48 PM Breaking News: Gunfire in Canadian Parliament

Reports are still highly conflicted right now. But at about 10:00 AM EDT this morning, gunfire broke out near and in the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa. Multiple shooters seem to have been involved, and there’s one recurring report that the parliamentary sergeant-at-arms (a bit literal in this case) took down one of them. There’s no consensus on deaths or injuries—or arrests, for that matter—at this point, and the Parliament Hill area remains on lockdown. And of course there’s no information now as to motives for the shootings.

Here’s a shaky video of shots being fired inside the Parliament Building (please avoid if the sound of gunfire disturbs you unduly). I’ve been inside the building before, and it’s quite the place for echoing sounds and places to hide.

We’ll have more info when it’s available.

October 22, 2014 11:39 AM Pence Backing Away From Medicaid Expansion?

The most important data point for those who believe Republican governors will all eventually stop posturing and go along with the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has been the apparent decision of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to joint the parade. Pence, after all, is a former chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, and a darling of movement conservatives, many of whom hoped he’d run for president in 2012 or 2016.

But the heralds of a deal between Pence and the Obama administration may have been a bit premature, as a trio of right-wing wonks writing at Forbes report happily if tentatively:

Earlier this year, Pence promised to walk away from his Obamacare expansion plan if the federal government failed to grant all of his requests for “flexibility….”
While nothing is certain, Gov. Pence’s recent actions on pre-K funding and food stamps could provide insight into his next steps on Obamacare expansion. Last week, Pence made a last-minute decision to reject $80 million in extra federal pre-K funding.
But that decision could have impacts far beyond a modest $80 million grant from the federal grant. Pence’s rhetoric rejecting pre-K funding highlights a philosophy that applies equally to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, laying a foundation for walking away.
“It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state’s mission and programs. More federal dollars do not necessarily equal success, especially when those dollars come with requirements and conditions that will not help — and may even hinder — running a successful program of our own making.”
Pence’s frustration in negotiations with the Obama administration are clearly starting to build. Although these comments were made about federal pre-K grants, it’s easy to see how this same philosophy could set the stage for Pence calling it quits on his Obamacare expansion plan, which would save taxpayers roughly $3 billion per year.
Gov. Pence’s recent actions on food stamp eligibility may provide another hint that Pence is slowly coming to his senses on Obamacare. He announced earlier this week that Indiana would reject a federal waiver to allow able-bodied childless adults to continue receiving food stamps without working.
These are the same childless adults who would become eligible for Medicaid under Pence’s Obamacare plan.

If Pence does please these wonks by just saying no to Medicaid expansion, it will, these wonks believe, stop any creeping momentum for cooperation in extending health coverage among Republican governors and legislators:

If Gov. Pence were to walk away from his Obamacare expansion plan, it could send shockwaves across the political establishment. Such a move would no doubt benefit him politically, but the decision is much bigger than Pence himself.

Backing away from his Obamacare expansion plan could initiate a domino effect against expansion in red states across the country. Pence himself has claimed that “several” states could follow his lead on Obamacare - states where Pence had been, up to now, working to promote his plan.

It would also expose the flanks of John Kasich in next-door Ohio. And it would make Mike Pence a viable conservative champion for 2016. What’s not to like, if you don’t care about your needy citizens?

October 22, 2014 11:03 AM Standing In Line For Democracy

At Ten Miles Square this morning, Jim Sleeper has a web-exclusive piece making the eloquent point that Americans being threatened by voter suppression (specifically the Texas voter ID law just upheld by the Fifth Circuit) should learn a lesson from protesters in Hong Kong:

When Hong Kong students named their recent demonstrations for democratic elections “Occupy,” they reminded me not only of the Americans demonstrating for economic justice in 2012 but also of Beijing protesters who carried a “Goddess of Democracy” modeled on our Statue of Liberty across Tienanmen Square in 1989. Now that Texas and the conservative majority of the John Roberts Supreme Court are implementing a Voter I.D. law to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of citizens who’ve voted legitimately in the past, Americans have an opportunity to return the Chinese demonstrators’ compliment: on November 4th, they can turn Houston and other cities into Hong Kong by showing up peacefully and en masse at the polls.

You should read the whole thing, but Jim makes a particularly salient point about the implied threat to democracy of those “patriots”—in Texas and elsewhere—who insist on the right to conspicuously display lethal weapons in public places as a gesture of intimidation if not a direct defiance of the countervailing rights of the community. As Sleeper notes, these right-wing folk appear to believe in Mao’s edict that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” But the most peaceful demonstration of all—people quietly standing in line to vote—can be a powerful refutation of cynicism and violence.

October 22, 2014 10:16 AM “Go Right and Win” in Kansas?

If you want a fresh example of the pathology afflicting the Republican Party, in which the answer to every question is “more conservatism,” check out Pat Roberts’ Senate campaign, which is coming to grips with a centrist independent opponent by recasting its mild-mannered hackish candidate as a bellowing troglodyte. TPM’s Dylan Scott has the story of Robert’s appparent “revival” in the polls:

He’s done it by playing hard to the conservative base that nearly ousted him in the Republican primary this summer and relentlessly pounding Orman as a closet liberal who would boost Obama’s agenda. But therein lies a risk. Roberts has rebounded by going hard right — but he has to hold onto some moderates to counter Orman’s appeal to the middle and his nearly universal support among Democrats.
It’s a narrow path to victory, everybody watching the race agrees. But it’s a much more realistic one than anyone would have thought a month ago.
Just one day after [Democratic nominee Chad] Taylor dropped out, the National Republican Senatorial Committee took over the Roberts campaign. Top fixer Chris LaCivita of 2004 Swift Boat Veterans fame was brought in as a consultant and GOP operative Corey Bliss assumed campaign manager duties from a longtime Roberts aide, Leroy Towns….
“He’s been busting his ass and risen to the challenge,” the strategist said of Roberts, pointing out that the senator raised $1.6 million in September after a paltry $60,000 in August.
That, and a belated infusion of some outside money, has allowed Roberts to hammer Orman as a closet liberal on the airwaves and the stump. Almost every ad has cited Orman’s brief 2008 Senate run as a Democrat and his previous campaign donations to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In some pro-Roberts ads, the “O” in Orman has been morphed into the famous Obama “O”. Roberts has developed a favorite refrain during debates that Orman is a Democrat by “word, deed and donation.”
Roberts, meanwhile, has raised the specter of “national socialism” on the campaign trail and stumped with tea party stalwarts like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-CO), as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The message has been distilled to: “A vote for Orman is a vote for President Obama and Harry Reid.”

“Shoring up” conservative support is obviously a legitimate task in light of Milton Wolf’s deeply flawed but still threatening challenge to Roberts in a relatively late (August 5) primary. But there’s something a bit counter-intuitive about abandoning the political center to a candidate already guaranteed Democratic votes, in the midst of a revolt by moderate Republicans against arch-conservative Gov. Sam Brownback.

Perhaps message-consistency between Roberts and Brownback was something national Republicans (or ideological help-meets like the Koch Brothers, who are defending their own Kansas base here) insisted on. But clearly, the Median Voter Theorem is taking a beating in the Sunflower State. And if Roberts and Brownback survive by biting the heads off donkeys in a lavishly financed surge of bloody rage, it will become another legendary talking point in the eagerly accepted brief on why Republicans can never, ever be too conservative.

October 22, 2014 9:16 AM No Time For Mandates

The looming proximity of Election Day has gotten me anticipating with great trepidation the orgy of over-interpretation we are likely to experience on and immediately after November 4, particularly if Republicans meet or exceed the already high expectations set for them by a historically favorable landscape. So I went ahead and knocked out a column for TPMCafe systematically going through some of the reasons this election probably won’t have much predictive value or justify any sort of actionable “mandate,” regardless of what happens. This will have zero impact on the commentariat, of course, but it might be useful to have the reasons all the spinning and vaporizing are insipid in one place close at hand so you can shout them at your television or computer screen in a couple of weeks.

The editors at TPM added a nice humorous twist by illustrating my column with a photo of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann from the set of their new Bloomberg TV show. It could well be Overinterpretation Central on November 4 and 5. And then the whole circus will strike its tents and move on to the presidential cycle.

October 22, 2014 8:50 AM RIP Ben Bradlee

Having taken up journalism rather late in life (right when it had become an almost impossible profession), I never had occasion to idolize Ben Bradlee or Woodward and Bernstein or internalize the whole idea of brave inkstained wretches as guardians of the Republic and its liberties. But like anyone in politics, particularly in the pre-internet years, I admired and relied on Bradlee’s handiwork at the Washington Post, which he turned into a great newspaper, for all its occasional foibles.

There will be plenty of choices of obituaries and appreciations to read for those less familiar with Bradlee’s work—and his formidable mystique. David Remnick’s reminiscence at The New Yorker is particularly good:

The obituaries will properly give Bradlee credit for building, along with the owner, Katharine Graham, the institution of the Post. (Abe Rosenthal, Bradlee’s rival and contemporary, deserves credit for his stewardship of the Times, but he inherited an infinitely more established paper.) Together, Bradlee and Graham took a mediocre-to-good paper and turned it into something ambitious, wealthy, and brave. The Bradlee-Graham partnership was behind the publication (along with the Times) of the Pentagon Papers, in 1971, which made plain the extent of Presidential deception and folly during the Vietnam War. And they were behind Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reporting, which led to the downfall of the Nixon Administration. Those same obituaries will cover the familiar ground of Bradlee’s close friendship with John F. Kennedy—a relationship that was, at best, deeply problematic for a journalist in his position (he was then the Washington bureau chief for Newsweek), but which lent Bradlee much of his dash and glamour. A certain post-Watergate overconfidence also seemed to help fuel a scandal, in 1981, when a young staff writer named Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for “Jimmy’s World,” a fabricated story about an eight-year-old heroin addict. Bradlee was able to survive a scandal of that scale, as others would not have been, because he set a standard for immediate and investigative correction of Cooke’s confabulation—and because he had the long-standing affection of the owner and everyone in the newsroom. Even if you were quite sure he didn’t know your name, you were prepared to go to fantastic lengths to live up to his standards. And he was fun, the embodiment of how much fun journalism could be. Ben Bradlee was the least dull figure in the history of postwar journalism.

He was also, Remnick notes, very much a Washington Insider and social lion, with his third wife wife Sally Quinn, and very conventional in his political instincts. But the inadequacies of his world view shouldn’t entirely obscure how well he functioned within it. When I moved from Atlanta to Washington in the 1980s and gained daily access to WaPo, I had to change my entire morning ritual to create time to consume the morning paper, sometimes the very highlight of the whole day in the Emerald City (I also had to learn to be careful not to get ink on the white walls of my apartment because WaPo was printed at the latest feasible moment to harvest late news). Bradlee and the newspaper he built were as essential to the political system of those days as any of the civic institutions his reporters covered. His successors, navigating a very different world, have high standards to meet.

October 22, 2014 8:21 AM Daylight Video

Dory Previn was born on this day in 1925, and despite a lot of adversity and dark times (along with the fame she shared to some extent with her one-time husband Andre), she made it to 2012.

Here’s the song that caught my attention as a lefthander many years ago: “Left Hand Lost,” including one of the less reverent usages of Gregorian Chant:

October 21, 2014 6:23 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Big crashing waves on the Monterey Bay today. Used to fear I’d go crazy listening to that all the time. Now it’s a major source of sanity.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Wow. 2012 David Dewhurst For Senate campaign manager pleads guilty to embezzling $1.8 million from failing campaign. That’s a lot of desperate, ineffective ads that might have run.

* Colorado Democrats catch James O’Keefe trying to lure them into voting fraud.

* Big New York Times thumbsucker today from Michael Barbaro about Iowa experiencing big demographic changes. Not as startling as yesterday’s big National Journal thumbsucker about Des Moines being the next hipster capital.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman discusses the criminal charges filed against Mike Hubbard, the “Newt Gingrich of Alabama.”

* At College Guide, Andre Perry suggests Louisiana schools focus on epidemic of absenteeism rather than Ebola.

And in non-political news:

* Big brouhaha over Renee Zellweger’s new and very different face—er, look.

That’s it for Tuesday. We’ll close with Robin Trower’s great tribute to Jimi Hendrix, “Song For a Dreamer,” from Procol Harum’s Broken Barricades album.


October 21, 2014 4:58 PM No Fear-Based Stampede to GOP

This afternoon Greg Sargent pays some extra attention to bipartisan focus groups conducted among women with children in Louisiana and North Carolina, the kind of voters you’d figure would be the prime targets of fear-based “security mom” appeals from the GOP exploiting media panic over IS and Eblola:

Two new focus groups of so-called “Walmart moms” — conducted by Republican pollster Neil Newhouse and Democratic pollster Margie Omero — shed a bit of light on this question.
The focus groups of Walmart moms — described as “voters with children age 18 or younger at home” who “shopped at Walmart at last once in the past month” — were conducted in Charlotte, NC, and New Orleans, LA. According to the pollsters, these are selected as proven swing voters.
In a memo about the focus groups, Newhouse and Romero write that “Ebola has replaced ISIS as a worry about instability and government leadership.” But it is not a factor in their vote:
In our early September focus groups, ISIS was a dominant concern. It has almost been completely replaced by worries about Ebola…but they do not necessarily feel it is an imminent threat — that is, this is more of a threat to the country, not to them personally.
The CDC — somewhat more than Obama — takes most of the blame, for being “too relaxed” and unprepared. While Ebola is certainly lessening moms’ confidence in government, not one cites it as a reason to vote against (or for) Democrats in November.
So ISIS is out, and Ebola is in. But Ebola is not driving their vote. Still, it could be feeding a generalized distrust of government competence, in keeping with the overarching GOP strategy here.

Greg goes on to note that this summer’s “border crisis” may have done more damage to Democratic prospects than the current freakouts. But all in all, while these voters are in a heightened state of concern, it’s not like they are stampeding to Bill Cassidy or Thom Tillis for Big Daddy protection, at the expense of votes for two women already serving in the Senate.

October 21, 2014 3:49 PM Screening Not Banning

I can’t say that I’ve reviewed all the options, but at first blush the Obama administration’s decision to route all incoming passengers who have been in one of the three African countries struck by the Ebola virus through five U.S. airports with screening protocols in place is a preferable alternative to the travel ban so many panicky pols are embracing. No system of restrictions can be airtight, but for that very reason a travel ban both over- and under-shoots the problem. And the new measures only affect the 6% of passengers from these countries that are estimated to arrive at other airports.

This step, of course, will be attacked by some for being a “flip-flop” and by others for being insufficiently “tough,” but this administration obviously can’t please everybody, and in some circle, anybody.

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