The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 13
- Alan Grayson is… Alan Grayson.
- Indiana, Wisconsin Senate races take shape.
- Jacksonville Mayor runoff worth watching Tuesday.
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
“Anger is never a great way to motivate people – at least not for very long.”
These are the words of Douglas Carswell, the only Member of Parliament for the UK Independence Party, a center-right populist party which enjoyed a bittersweet success in the recent United Kingdom elections. As the ruling Conservative Party won a sweeping victory, UKIP received about four million votes — 13 percent of the total and far more than any but the two main parties. UKIP also demonstrated its potential to threaten the left-leaning Labour Party in working-class constituencies on its home territory. Yet Carswell was the only person to win an actual seat. UKIP has voters — it proved that much — and it has a strong message of anger over the European Union. But it also has no power.
The quotation above came in an op-ed Carswell wrote trying to encourage UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, to step aside. Farage, he hinted, is somewhat to blame for UKIP’s reputation as an angry populist party that dislikes immigrants and caters to working-class prejudices. “UKIP has been at its most persuasive,” he wrote, “when we have been most optimistic.”
This may be the only result from the British election that is directly applicable to American elections.
Anger can work in elections. In 2010, Republicans converted anger against Obama into a huge, historic win, based mostly on Obamacare and the perception that Big Government had gone too far. But by 2012, this anger had subsided. The Tea Party moment had ended. The anger — as righteous as it may have been — was not enduring enough for Mitt Romney to turn the presidential election into a simple referendum on Obama.
The 2014 election proved to be better for Republicans than 2010 had been, not only in the final result but also based on its root causes. Where 2010 had been almost solely about momentary anti-Obama anger, 2014 was characterized by a Democratic Party lacking in hope, optimism and vision, contrasted with a just ever-so-slightly more optimistic GOP with at least a bit of talk of positive reforms. Obama had no positive vision left to offer at all, and the Democratic Senate had become little more than his goalkeeper — in existence solely to prevent him from having to veto anything. Democrats tried to inspire anger against Republican senators as Obama’s obstructors, but the election revealed this as propaganda, not something representative of genuine public sentiment.
Looking forward to 2016, Republicans need to remember that anger has its place, but optimism and hope can overcome it. Hillary Clinton will struggle to bring a new brand of hope to the table, which will require her to distinguish herself from Obama, but Republicans will have a leg up in this department if they can present an optimistic vision of their own.
And they will fail, as they did in 2008 and 2012, if they spend too much of their time trying to rev up the anger machine — anger over the Clinton years, anger over Hillary herself, anger over Obama and his policies, or anything else similar.
Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R, remains something of an ideological oddity in Alaska, but she has proven herself resilient enough that she might well get a free pass in 2016. She would most like to have Joe Miller, now one of the most hated men in the state, jump into a primary against her and split the conservative vote. Murkowski lost her primary to Miller in the 2010 primary and then surprisingly defeated him in the general election as a write-in candidate. She could conceivably face a primary from another conservative, but she’s in a strong position after that crazy 2010 race.
Florida: Republicans would love nothing more than to see Rep. Alan Grayson, D, jump into the primary and create some problems for the DSCC-annointed candidate, the more moderate and more formidable Rep. Patrick Murphy, D. To that end, it seems pretty clear that someone is out there shopping opposition research to discourage a Grayson run.
This culminated last week in the publication of a hilarious story about Grayson’s offshore hedge funds. Grayson, who styles himself a liberal gadfly, is outspoken on nearly every matter. He once famously characterized the Republican health care plan as “Die Quickly,” and falsely accused an election opponent (who went on to defeat him in his old congressional district in 2010) of preaching the benefits of subjugating women.
And so the expectations for a Grayson Senate campaign are already quite high. He did not disappoint with his expletive-laden response to the reporter from the Tampa Bay Times who confronted him on the hedge funds last week:
“When I set up my investment funds I set it up like everyone else,” Grayson said, complaining about the Tampa Bay Times looking for “some stupid, bull—- story. … You want to write sh– about it, and you can’t because not a single dollar of taxes has been avoided…Are you f——- kidding? I set up a fund that might solicit foreign investors….I have no present intention of soliciting foreign investors,” he said. “Your perception issue is bull—-….This is a whole ‘nother level of bull—-….Are are you some kind of sh—–g robot? You go around sh—-g on people?”
This controversy over offshore hedge funds combines two left-wing bogey-men and could conceivably dim some liberals’ ardor for Grayson. But it might just as well encourage them to circle the wagons, recognizing a moderate Democratic conspiracy against him.
An early PPP poll showed Grayson and Murphy effectively tied in the primary at 22 and 21 percent, respectively. It also gave some early (and probably false) hope that Grayson would perform just as well as Murphy against any of the potential Republican nominees at that time. The Republican side of the equation has changed substantially since then, as we noted last week, but common sense suggests Murphy will be a far stronger candidate in a general election, whereas Grayson (see above) is always an accident waiting to happen.
Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk, R, a moderate Republican, survived for what seemed like an eternity in a House seat that was always extremely competitive. He managed this by using his moderation to his advantage as much as possible, but also by having really good political teams.
His very early first ad seizes on (and acknowledges) the stroke he suffered in 2012, and is absolutely brilliant as an early, positive ad intended to prop up name-ID and get things started. It also makes a point of his military service — no small thing in a race where he might face a double-amputee Iraq veteran, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D.
Illinois is not an easy state for a Republican to win, especially in a presidential year. But bear in mind that 2016 will be the first presidential year since 2004 when Barack Obama wasn’t up for president, and the first since 2000 that he wasn’t on the statewide ballot at all. Neither Al Gore (2000) nor John Kerry (2004) cracked 55 percent in Illinois, and Republicans have gained a bit of strength downstate in non-Obama years during the last few years.
Republicans are very unlikely to win for the presidency, but this still offers a ray of hope for down-ballot Republicans concerned about presidential turnout. If any Republican can win here by attracting crossovers while a Democratic presidential nominee is carrying the state, it’s Kirk.
Indiana: Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R, a conservative fourth-generation farmer representing the Fort Wayne area, has jumped into the race to replace the retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R. Stutzman, whose relationship with the House leadership soured somewhat over the winter break, ran against Coats in the 2010 primary with the backing of conservatives and made a respectable showing in his loss. From there, he ran for his current House seat when Rep. Mark Souder, R, resigned.
Stutzman will have received the immediate support of the Senate Conservatives Fund, and he has every reason to believe he can win the support of the Club for Growth as well. The establishment GOP candidate in the race will be former party chairman Eric Holcomb.
An important note here about members of Congress — not unique to Stutzman, but seldom mentioned in the press: After five years, they become eligible for partial pension and retirement health benefits after they reach age 62. This explains the timing for many members of the House who decide to take the risk of running for statewide office. The benefits of serving at least three terms (or two-and-a-half) are quite substantial, and members with less seniority are thus understandably less likely to run statewide. Stutzman is currently on his third term.
On the Democratic side, former Rep. Baron Hill, D, has entered the race. Hill, a relatively moderate Democrat who counted on Republican crossover votes when serving in the House, was knocked out of his southern Indiana House seat in 2004, returned in 2006, and lost again in 2010. The House seat is no longer competitive for Democrats after the 2011 round of redistricting (Johnson County was added to it), and so this is his best shot at returning to office.
Wisconsin: It’s official, even if it isn’t really news to anyone: Russ Feingold, D, is running to reclaim his old Senate seat. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is easily the most vulnerable GOP incumbent this cycle, and he’s just drawn arguably the strongest possible opponent. Democrats drew their best card here.
Mississippi-1: The multi-candidate jungle primary to replace the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R, ended with the only Democrat in the race, Walter Zinn, getting 17 percent and finishing first. The real battle was for second place, and Republican Trent Kelly came out slightly ahead.
This district was held by a Democrat as recently as last decade, but Kelly is the heavy favorite in the June 2 runoff election, given the district’s Republican lean and the fact that 83 percent of voters voted for a Republican in the first round.
Jacksonville Mayor: This wouldn’t necessarily be worth talking about, except that it could become something of an early sign of resurgent Republican strength in North Florida. The first-term Democratic incumbent — the first Democratic mayor of Jacksonville in two decades — was forced into a runoff which, despite Bill Clinton’s personal intervention, he is now in serious danger of losing on Tuesday.
Republicans appear to have an even-odds shot at ousting Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown. Brown was unlucky enough to fall short of the 50 percent cutoff in the first round, even though he finished first. The Republican runner-up in that race, former state GOP chairman Lenny Curry, leads in the most recent poll. The third-place candidate was also a Republican, but he has (for complicated local political reasons) endorsed Brown.
Mitt Romney won this same constituency narrowly in 2012.