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David Freddoso

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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.

Senate 2016

After a considerable wait, some of this year’s most contentious Senate races are finally starting to take CIB010615-Senate-Houseshape. Here’s a look at a few of the new developments.

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 CIB051515-Graysoncharacterized 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.

House 2015

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.

Mayor 2015

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.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 12-

  • Clinton corruption seeps into the polls.
  • KYGOV GOP primary features a lively three-way race.
  • Classic Tea Party fight may be coming in FLSEN.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Peter Schweizer’s new book, Clinton Cash, was released last week. Although many of the book’s juicy nuggets had been released already in the form of stories in the Washington Post and The New York Times, the book contains a treasure-trove of apparent Clinton conflicts of interest and a distinct appearance of corruption.

The common storyline: Someone who has business before the State Department massively overpays Bill Clinton to give a few speeches, and/or donates a large sum to the Clintons’ foundations, in hopes of getting better treatment. Sometimes, they got it. In some cases, they didn’t or at least haven’t yet. But in each case, people tried to use their money to curry favor with the Clintons, and their checks were cashed.

For example, there’s the one about the Swedish Company that paid Bill Clinton $750,000 to give a single speech — at just that time, the company was worried that Hillary Clinton’s State Department might crack down on their telecom deal with an Iranian regime under sanctions. (It didn’t.)

There’s the one about TD Bank, a major investor in the Keystone XL pipeline, which paid Bill Clinton $1.8 million for a series of speeches while that pipeline was under State Department consideration. (They didn’t get what wanted — at least not yet.)

There’s the one about nuclear trade with India, mining interests in Bangladesh and Africa, the Russian government and U.S. uranium mining, and much more.

Amid these revelations, the Clintons have announced that due to “mistakes,” several foreign government contributions to their foundations were improperly concealed in their tax returns. And a number of Canadian donations were not disclosed at all — part of a scheme by the former Clinton aides who set up a Canadian charity in order to shield them from disclosure.

These are all troubling revelations that the Clintons have yet to address in any serious manner. So far, they have used the go-to tactic of the 1990s — just send a lot of loud voices out into the media (David Brock comes to mind) to disparage critics on television, allege a vast right-wing conspiracy, and if nothing else distract from the issue with their own eccentricity. But we now live in the Internet era, and it’s a very different time in journalism than it was in the 1990s. The Clintons simply cannot count on having the same advantages now that they had when they actually controlled the White House. Their old playbook may not work.

And there are already signs that the stench of scandal is starting to matter, at least at the edges.

No, Democrats don’t seem too worried yet — at least not in Iowa, where Quinnipiac has them as strongly behind her as ever. But there are already signs that maybe they should be a bit worried.

The Granite State poll of last week, for example, has Clinton losing New Hampshire to Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, and tied with Scott Walker. She doesn’t break 45 percent against any of the four. As recently as February, she was polling over 50 percent in the same poll against both Bush and Paul. (Two other New Hampshire polls were released last week — one showed Clinton losing against Bush and Walker, one showed her with a narrow lead.)

A recent poll of Virginia showed her losing to Bush and very narrowly defeating others. Even before the Clinton Cash revelations, Mason-Dixon had her losing to both Rubio and Bush in Florida. Bear in mind that as a candidate with nearly universal name recognition, Clinton is not likely to gain too much general election support if she doesn’t have it already.

Clinton’s approvals are also sinking across the country, as last week’s Wall Street Journal poll demonstrates. The poll, taken in late April before most of the Clinton Cash revelations and delayed in its release until May 9, does not show a huge drop in Clinton’s head-to-head ballot performance, but it does show that her approval ratings have hit their lowest point since 2008. Also, it shows that a majority of voters are skeptical about her honesty.

Now, these polls are early. They say nothing about what the eventual result will be. But they suggest that Clinton is not going to have an easy time of it. And as the revelations continue, her task will in fact get harder and harder. A few more polls like these in a few more key states, a little more movement south in her approvals and ballot tests, and suddenly Democrats might start wondering whether there’s a way out of the coming coronation.

Up to now, the Clinton plan has involved a path to victory similar to but distinct from Obama’s. Where Obama turned out the young and the non-white at unprecedented levels, she would turn white women and win the election by stealing them from the GOP.

But now, as her honesty is called into question, another path is starting to emerge. Clinton not only has the potential to win like Obama did, but she also has a clear path to a defeat of Dukakis-like proportions.

Governor 2015

Kentucky: The Bluegrass State’s gubernatorial primary is next Tuesday. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jack Conway (of Aqua Buddha fame, who lost to Rand Paul in 2010) will win the nod in a walk.

On the other side, recent events have turned the GOP primary into a bruising three-way contest. The race is close enough at this point that any of three candidates might well come away the winner — and all three are conservatives.

Matt Bevin is the at times hapless but admirably determined David who faced Mitch McConnell’s Goliath in a scorched-earth primary last year, and lost. Bevin is by no means the favorite in this race, but the only recent poll (a commissioned poll from PPP) puts all three men within the margin of error.

James Comer — the state Commissioner of Agriculture. Comer rose to his current position after his predecessor, Richie Farmer, was convicted on corruption charges and sent to prison.

Comer’s bid was quite suddenly thrown into crisis recently when an old college girlfriend accused him of abusing her, both mentally and physically, in the early 1990s. Most damaging, perhaps, she accused him of taking her to have an abortion. An old roommate corroborated at least some of the account, but the accuser is vague on the details.

The allegation is so old that it is nearly impossible to fully rebut, even if it is a complete fabrication. And this is the problem with late-breaking accusations during election-time — the standard of innocent until proven guilty only applies in court, not with the electorate. Even if they disbelieve all of the accusations, Republican voters might hesitate to nominate someone who will enter the general election with such a cloud over his head.

Comer denied everything in a press conference last week and threatened a lawsuit against the Louisiville Courier Journal and the people spreading the allegations.

Hal Heiner — a self-funding businessman who once served on the Louisville City Council and ran for mayor unsuccessfully — has the most credible claim to being the frontrunner. He has hit the airwaves hard with ads to boost his own name ID.

He is also accused — both by Comer and by Bevin — of being behind the attacks on Comer. (He denies this, but his running mate was in contact with the blogger who originally pushed the story.)

As with most primary elections — especially those with more than two viable candidates — the field in Kentucky is very fluid. Polls cannot necessarily be trusted to pick up late breaks in support toward one candidate or another.

Heiner’s possible involvement with the people shopping around the Comer scandal has the potential to backfire. Or the accusations could take Comer out. The third possibility — the most intriguing — is that both could happen at the same time. If voters go with Bevin to steer clear of the entire mess, that would create an awkward situation in Kentucky politics. Bevin has, of course, shrewdly voiced support for Comer in this matter whilst accusing Heiner of peddling the story.

Bevin’s 2014 run showed he is a flawed candidate, but not necessarily fatally flawed. Moreover, although Conway is considered a relatively strong Democratic nominee (in spite of his 2010 defeat), the Bluegrass poll suggests that he faces a competitive race against any of the three Republicans. Bevin performs worst of the three, starting off behind by six points, but Conway is nowhere near 50 percent against anyone.

Bear in mind that Kentucky’s realignment to becoming a truly Republican state was suddenly interrupted by the disastrous governorship of Ernie Fletcher, R, last decade. It it possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unexpected blowout victory last year presages a true, lasting realignment has finally arrived as in other Southern states. This would mean that Kentucky will start voting Republican down-ballot the way it has in presidential races.

One more note about a Bevin win — no matter how unlikely it seems. It would put Sens. Rand Paul and McConnell in a difficult position. They could either help a party pariah in the general, or else (in theory anyway) allow Democrats to have Paul’s Senate seat, were he somehow to win the presidency, because the governor would appoint his replacement.

Senate 2016

Florida: If you’re hankering for a classic 2010-style fight between the Tea Party and establishment wings of the GOP, keep an eye on the race to succeed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

The shape of the Republican contest could change if others get in. But conservative groups have quickly fallen in behind Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represents a safe Republican district in the Jacksonville area. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law and a former Navy JAG, he is described as a potentially decent candidate who lacks any obvious disqualifying problems. He is only 36 years old.

Republican Party regulars would like to nominate Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Rick Scott’s second lieutenant governor. He seems set to jump into the race. Of Cuban and Jewish descent, he has great popularity in South Florida.  He is a political ally of Rubio. And Republicans want nothing more than to cut into Democrats’ recent inroads with South Florida Hispanics.

Even as Republicans’ face a potential ideological battle in Florida, Democrats are likely to face the same fate. The party favorite for the nomination, the more moderate Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, may well have to square off against the flamboyant and outspoken liberal Rep. Alan Grayson. Grayson is probably less electable than anyone currently discussed in the Republican field.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 11

To: Our readers

From: David Freddoso

  • Hillary’s bad week
  • O’Malley’s much, much worse week
  • Marginal Republican candidates

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: Last week was a difficult week for Hillary Clinton, as two separate Canadian-linked scandals related to the Clintons’ non-profit organizations received major media coverage an discussion.

A poll showed that a majority of Americans view Clinton as untrustworthy. The Democrats’ wisdom in accepting a primary process in which she is basically the only viable candidate seems to become increasingly shaky.

And as bad as last week was, this week will likely be worse. The long-awaited CIB010915-Clintonbook Clinton Cash arrives on shelves Tuesday, revealing multiple Clinton conflicts of interest and potential attempts by foreign governments and businesses to curry favor with President Obama’s first secretary of State. A bevy of Canadian donors appears to have been hidden from sight under false representations. Much weirdness awaits.

But hang on a second. As a strange accompaniment to this dissonant note, there’s another tune being sung here. Just as everything seems to go wrong, Clinton has actually become even more inevitable than she was before. Clinton has, as of now, won the primary for lack of viable opposition.

Are you confused at all?

It turns out that the Baltimore riots that occurred last week over the death of Freddie Gray didn’t just push Clinton scandals off the front page — they also took a huge bite out of the only Democrat who, at this point, appears likely to pose any sort of serious challenge to her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

Martin O’Malley: Just as Hillary Clinton’s scandals grow worse, her arguably most plausible Democratic challenger has probably become toast — burnt just like the city he used to govern.

Don’t just try to look at his problem through the stereotypical lens. The CIB050115-OmalleyBaltimore riots (and the city’s general high crime) aren’t just a problem for O’Malley in a general election, where a Republican candidate could could conceivably attack him with a law-and-order message over the fact that he spent 16 years in power as mayor and governor over the city that has just now exploded.

Yes, that is true, but what’s happened now is arguably an even bigger problem for O’Malley in a Democratic primary. This isn’t well-known at this point, but he was a law-and-order mayor who promoted mass-arrest policing. It didn’t work, and it didn’t ingratiate him with much of the city’s black population, and it will raise questions for black Democratic voters in other states’ primaries.

Go back a decade, for a moment, to a time when O’Malley was still Baltimore’s mayor and Robert Ehrlich, a moderate Republican, was governor. As it happens, Ehrlich was significantly ahead of his time on criminal justice reform issues that a more libertarian Republican Party is now embracing. At the time, though, he was breaking new ground.

When Ehrlich and O’Malley faced off in the 2006 general election (O’Malley won that race), Ehrlich made a big deal of the fact that under O’Malley, 108,000 arrests had been made in Baltimore in 2005 (20,000 without charges), even though Baltimore had only about 640,000 residents. For reference, New York City, which is more than ten times as large, arrested less than 140,000 people last year in all crime categories combined, and less than 200,000 even if you count stop-and-frisk actions. (By way of anecdote, residents of Baltimore relate to us that in those times they found themselves called to jury duty with unusual frequency because there were so few people eligible to serve.)

Not that it did him much good in the election , but Ehrlich was very specific in this criticism of O’Malley, who frequently butted heads with him on criminal justice issues. Ehrlich specifically noted that O’Malley’s much-touted zero tolerance push was saddling as many young black men as possible with rap sheets that would affect their future and limit their legitimate employment options to the point that fewer who wish to find real work will be able to do so. And indeed, as late as 2013, O’Malley — by then well into his second term as governor — was complaining that police in Baltimore weren’t arresting enough people.

Fast forward to today. O’Malley is now positioning himself as an anti-establishment left-Democrat — more liberal than Hillary on trade, and with more practical governing experience than her or Bernie Sanders. And to be sure, he’s a longshot at this point. But what will happen if O’Malley ever becomes a threat?

Hillary Clinton will travel to Baltimore to speak. (She’s been known to brave sniper fire, so this shouldn’t be a probleem.) She will make this an issue in Maryland itself and in states where black voters comprise up to half of the Democratic primary vote. Don’t even be surprised to see her cite Ehrlich favorably — it’s okay, after all, to agree with Republicans who are beaten, gone and out of politics for good. If she can demonstrate that O’Malley was even more out of touch with black urban concerns than (gasp!) a white Republican governor, then she’s outflanked him on the left without even having to offend the Right.

Chris Christie: This week’s indictments in the Bridgegate scandal do not help CIB011315-Christie-1024x535Christie’s cause one bit in terms of winning the GOP nomination. But there wan’t much of a cause to begin with.

Christie desperately hopes to prevent donors from defecting to Jeb Bush. Good luck with that. For any Christie backer looking for a center-right lifeline,  Jeb has probably never looked better than he does now. It’s hard to imagine the Christie campaign reaching the stage of official launch under the current circumstances. Christie will likely never be directly tied to his aides’ decision to create massive traffic problems in Fort Lee, but the issue becomes bigger after an aide pleads guilty to causing them.

George Pataki: It seems like a slight waste of space, but it’s an amusing one. While we’re at it, one of the best assessments of the former New York governor’s chances appeared in the Washington Post last week in the form of a quote from Republican operative Rick Wilson:

“Let’s just say a meteor strikes the first debate, and kills everyone except Pataki, who is stuck in traffic. Let’s hypothesize for a moment,” Wilson said. He thought. No. It still wouldn’t be Pataki. They’d find somebody else.

That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

 

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 10

To: Our readers

From: David Freddoso

  • Shock: Senate suddenly working
  • Clinton Cash looms as a huge problem for Hillary
  • Will Democrats accept a ‘Hillary or Bust’ nomination process?

Outlook

A major logjam in the U.S. Senate ended last week, highlighting again just how much less dysfunctional that body has become in the Post-Reid era. Democrats dropped their months-long filibuster against a bill to assist the victims of human trafficking, in exchange for a meaningless sop to the abortion lobby. And President Obama’s pick to replace Eric Holder as attorney general finally received a vote — she won easily, in part because Republican senators were afraid of being branded as racist for opposing her.

You don’t have to like either development (and many conservatives are not happy about Lynch for a number of reasons) to see that the Senate is once again more than just a tool for killing bills that might put a president in an awkward position. Bipartisanship isn’t always a virtue, but it’s back, like it or not.

This is in some ways a positive development — certainly from a simple institutional standpoint it has to be — but it remains to be seen whether this situation can survive the next occasion when the same party controls the Senate and the presidency.

The Bush era represented the first run in which the Senate (then controlled by the GOP) really became noting more than a goalkeeper for a president’s image. Bush was able to go an unnaturally long time without having to veto a bill as a result of his Senate buffer, and so he ended up vetoing only 12 bills in his entire presidency — a tie with JFK (who served less than one full term before his assassination) and less than any other president since Warren Harding. Yet even then, the Republicans’ goalkeeping strategy did not exactly save Bush’s image, nor did it prevent the party from losing the Senate in the 2006 wipeout.

When Democrats lost control of the U.S. House in the 2010 election, they adopted the same strategy in the Senate to protect President Obama from bills originating in the House. As a result, Obama is on pace to cast fewer vetoes than Bush. But this use of the Senate also helped cost Democrats the chamber last year, and in a way that isn’t immediately intuitive. By abolishing the chamber’s role of debating and voting on all manner of amendments that could reveal ideological fissures in his party, Harry Reid put vulnerable Democrats in a situation where they could be said to have voted 90, 95, or 98 percent of the time with the president. This worked miracles for Republican election prospects at a time when Obama’s popularity was in the toilet.

The “goalkeeper” strategy — far more than any sort of ideological rigidity by Tea Partiers or Leftists — is what has made bipartisanship less common in Washington. It remains to be seen whether it will be revived in the future, but from an empirical perspective, it hasn’t conferred many political blessings on those who have embraced it.

President 2016

Meanwhile, on the presidential front, Marco Rubio established himself as a leading candidate, along with Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. And in the Democratic Party’s “field of one” primary, Hillary Clinton’s prospects for the presidency suffered a new blow.

Hillary Clinton: The much-anticipated release of Peter Schweitzer’s Clinton Cash is still more than one week away, yet its revelations are already creating havoc for Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy.

Yes, the Clintons are scandal-tested, this goes without saying. But the potential repercussions here go beyond anything the Clintons have previously faced. The appearance of large bribes is unavoidable, and the idea that no one involved — 042715-Clinton-house-email-2neither givers nor takers — viewed the payments and contributions in question as attempts to gain influence within the U.S. government is not terribly plausible.

With mainstream media organs no longer giving the Clintons the kind of cover they enjoyed during the 1990s, it is really anyone’s guess whether Hillary’s political prospects will survive the new revelations about the family and its charities taking money from people who had every incentive to influence Hillary in her cabinet post.

This is worse than the Clinton email scandal, and it may also help explain it. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State, parties with business before her — companies requiring State Department approval for their deals — gave large sums to the Clinton Foundation and/or paid Bill Clinton large sums to speak.

Whatever your opinion on the merits of any such proposal — and one is the Keystone XL Pipeline, which most conservatives support — this stinks. It has the obvious appearance of impropriety, which even crooked public officials typically try to avoid. The fact that one such deal put the Russian government in control of 20 percent of U.S. uranium capacity doesn’t help matters.

To compound the problem, Clinton appears to have broken the understanding she had with the Obama administration to disclose such donations to Clinton-controlled charities. The White House was embarrassed enough to pull out the line that there was “no evidence” that the donations affected Clinton’s decisions in office. On this basis, Americans are supposed to accept the idea of having officials raise money — and not small campaign donations, but six- and seven-figure amounts — from the same interests whose affairs they direct.

This controversy also opens a new can of worms when it comes to Clinton’s now-deleted emails. Were any of them related to the Clintons’ foundations? Were any deliberations made over email about whom to hit up for money — given that Clinton Foundation fundraising decisions seem to correlate in some way with people who had business before the State Department?

Democrats: The new revelations could help Republicans by driving down Clinton’s numbers in the short run — and indeed, she was already viewed as untrustworthy by a majority of Americans before they came. This could all bode well for a Republican victory in 2016, but it is far too early for Republicans to exploit.

This is the stage at which Democrats have to make up their minds about whether their 2016 election cycle will really be “Hillary or Bust.” Because as weak as the alternatives are, Clinton is beginning to look like she’s on the edge.

It seems unlikely that Democrats will abandon Clinton, but it seems less impossible now. She had been positioning herself further Left with a series of rather implausible leaks to The New York Times (on trade and on income inequality) to stave off an ideological challenge, but the perception that she is a flawed candidate could prove more difficult to overcome.

The real decider here is the party’s money-base. How willing would they be to commit to another Democratic candidate who will vigorously attack her on ethics? Donors to such a campaign would face great risks, were Clinton to get the nomination and win the presidency.

Beyond that is the Field of Dreams question for the other longshot candidates in the Democratic field. Is there a Democrat willing to start the attacks and build a campaign around them, in the hopes that the donors will suddenly be emboldened and come to them? So far, this does not seem to have happened. but anyone — even someone as bland as Martin O’Malley — could become the nominee this way, and has little hope of doing so any other way.

But the brave soul who follows that pat will risk becoming an outcast in the party and a persona non grata, should a second Clinton administration ever materialize. This is the moment when Democrats learn the truth about the other candidates — are they in to become secretary of Commerce, or are they in it to win?

House 2015

New York-11: As expected, Daniel Donovan, R, is dominating this special election race in Staten Island and some of the ethnic areas of southwest Brooklyn, outraising Councilman and former State Senator Vinnie Gentile, D, three-to-one. Democrats effectively conceded this race before it began. If Rep. MIchael Grimm, R, was able to win while under indictment, their chances seem slim.

Election Day is May 5. Likely Republican Retention.

House 2016

Pennsylvania-9: Rep. Bill Shuster, R, finds himself in hot water after revelations that he helped his girlfriend, a lobbyist, move an airline bill through the House. The divorced congressman’s excuse — that she did not lobby him on the issue while they were dating — is somewhat absurd, although frequently offered by members of Congress who find themselves with such conflicts. Surely, he was aware that she wanted the bill when he revived it from an obscure member and moved it to a voice vote on the House floor.

Shuster comfortably survived a three-way primary in 2014 with 53 percent of the vote. But it was not an overwhelming win, and he will have a lot more trouble on his hands if Tom Smith, the party’s 2012 Senate nominee, jumps in. Smith, a businessman, won a surprisingly respectable 45 percent against Sen. Bob Casey in a bad year for Republicans, and represents a much stronger challenger with greater financial resources than Shuster’s 2014 opponents. Art Halvorson, the strongest of Shuster’s 2014 challengers, has promised to back Smith if he chooses to run.

The district is overwhelmingly Republican, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index rating of R+17. It will not likely be a problem in November 2016, no matter who wins the primary.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 9

  • Rubio’s successful relaunch
  • 43-year-old senator overshadows Hillary, shakes up GOP field
  • Two incumbent senators — one in each party — already trail early for re-election

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Marco Rubio: Well, who ever said staged events don’t matter? Under the right circumstances, they can do quite a bit for the right candidate, as last week’s events demonstrate.

Contrary to expectations that Hillary Clinton‘s canned Sunday announcement would overshadow Rubio’s
speech, things turned out to be quite the opposite. Rubio put a merciful end to discussions about her arrow-H logo and her secret trip to Chipotle. And within days, at least one poll had him overtaking Jeb Bush in a primary poll of their shared home state of Florida.

Some have talked about Rubio as a Republican version of Obama. The description is not entirely inappropriate. Yes, he has more experience than Obama had before his 2008 run, but that’s not the important part of the comparison. Rubio has so far shown signs that he is, at the very least, not seriously deficient in any of the three most important characteristics we watch for in political candidates: discipline, intelligence, and charisma.

In politics, discipline is part humility, part prudence. It includes an ability to stay on message, manage one’s brand properly, and take direction from campaign professionals who know how it’s done — an especially important part of Reagan’s success that Robert Novak always attributed to his decades as an actor. The bottom line is that discipline means one can avoid unnecessary or stupid mistakes that distract or set a candidate back.

Intelligence fits the commonplace definition of the word — both smarts and the appearance of smarts.

Charisma is the quality that makes candidates seem relatable, likeable, charming and even uplifting when they speak. It makes you want to like them, even if you don’t already. Mrs. Clinton’s Iowa trip perhaps reminds everyone that a candidate with charisma doesn’t have to pretend to be human or understand ordinary people’s concerns (or to be meeting with “ordinary people”). They also don’t have to avoid answering direct questions from the press — including even hostile journalists. Rubio’s effortless ability to get audiences to like him and even laugh at his impromptu jokes and to hold his own in Spanish-language Univision interviews suggests that charisma won’t be a problem for him.

A candidate who has two of those three political virtues can compensate for the absence of the third. He can win a big election and perhaps even become president under the right circumstances — Bill Clinton famously lacked discipline (in more than one way), George W. Bush at least seemed less than razor-sharp, and George H.W. Bush was never known for his charisma. But a candidate who has all three is quite rare indeed — a real rock star, and perhaps an overnight sensation, much like Obama became in 2008. With his rollout, the 43-year-old Rubio has shown early potential to become one of these rare birds. Time will tell, though — discipline especially requires a lengthy testing period.

Rubio’s relative youth helps his cause in terms of charisma — especially in a race where the Democratic nominee will likely be pushing 70 years old. Rubio’s remarks identifying Clinton with the past — “yesterday is over” — will surely become a refrain of the eventual GOP nominee, assuming it isn’t the 62-year-old Jeb Bush. The fact that he is both Hispanic and (unlike Ted Cruz) a fluent Spanish-speaker cannot hurt either.

None of this is to say that Republicans will automatically accept Rubio ideologically or prefer him over the other strong candidates in the field — only that he clearly has the skills it would take to win a general election. Some Republicans (and crossover voters) will like Rubio from the start, so he is guaranteed a core of support. But it’s also likely that many non-Rubio Republicans are watching at this point and wishing he could be just a bit more them in his views, because he’d be just the right guy if he was. Within this group lies his potential for growth.

Nowadays, with the rise of ISIS, Russian aggression, and the threat of a nuclear Iran, it is possible that fewer CIB012615-Paul-Rubio-CruzRepublicans will be put off by Rubio’s hawkish foreign policy views than might have been, say, a year ago. The bigger challenge Rubio faces will be on immigration. But even here, he will be running in a GOP field where he can point to the same weakness in most or all of his competitors. Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and even Cruz have all been called out for comments in favor of granting some kind of legal status to millions of illegal immigrants — “amnesty,” as some would have it. The “amnesty but only after border security” position is quickly becoming a majority position even on the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Rubio’s answer on his own flip-flop on immigration has so far been that his legislative work on immigration reform taught him that border security must come first. This is not at all unlike the reasoning John McCain offered in 2008 on the way to winning the GOP nomination. And of course, it was enough for him to win.

The long and the short of it is, a lot of people were counting Rubio out until very recently. They’re not doing so any more. It goes to show what a candidate with strong skills can do when given the opportunity to reintroduce himself to the electorate.

Senate 2016

CIB010615-Senate-House-600x305A moment here to catch up on the early status of a few of next year’s potentially hot Senate races.

Colorado: In a year when Republican pickup opportunities are few and far between, this is a race they can’tafford to lose to poor recruiting. Sen. Michael Bennet, D, is extraordinarily weak, with a recent Quinnipiac poll putting him behind Rep. Mike Coffman, R, 43 to 40 percent. Coffman, who has been holding down a swingy congressional seat in the Denver suburbs, has not yet decided whether to make a go of it.

Bennet, recall, only narrowly escaped defeat in 2010 against a weak candidate, Ken Buck. His approval ratings are actually a bit stronger than usual in the poll mentioned above — he has never been popular since his appointment to the job after Sen. Ken Salazar, D, left to become Secretary of the Interior.

Florida: Rubio has made clear he will not be running for re-election, no matter what happens in his presidential race. And the Republican field has been left wide open as the two most likely and perhaps strongest candidates — Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Treasurer Jeff Atwater — have ruled out running. That leaves nearly a dozen possible candidates, including a few other statewide officials — most notably Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (a former congressman), Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera — and several Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, is shaping up to be the choice of conservative outside groups, with both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives’ Fund encouraging him to run. That doesn’t guarantee him anything except the cash to be competitive in a primary. But one has to like the early chances of a conservative favorite if the field remains crowded.

Democrats may have their own ugly primary here. The consensus establishment candidate is Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, a prolific fundraiser and former Republican (until 2011) who has held down a Republican-leaning Treasure Coast district since 2012, but Orlando-area Rep. Alan Grayson, D, is reportedly planning a bid, emboldened somewhat by the lack of a top-tier Republican candidate. Grayson, who lost his seat in 2010 and returned to Congress thanks to redistricting, is a lightning rod with a messy personal life (which, in fairness, is not entirely his fault). He is probably too abrasive and too ideologically extreme to win a general election statewide. But can he win a Democratic primary in a state with an amazingly weak Democratic Party, against a former Republican? At least don’t count him out.

Nevada: Harry Reid’s retirement leaves Republicans with one of their two main pickup opportunities. Republicans are largely waiting to see whether Gov. Brian Sandoval, R, runs, as this will determine whether and what sort of GOP primary there will be. In the meantime, though, Reid’s hand-picked opponent, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto, does not have a glide-path to the nomination, and might in fact be an underdog in the primary. An early poll shows Las Vegas Rep. Dina Titus, D, trouncing her, 44 to 20 percent. Titus lost the race for governor in 2006 before taking over the seat previously held by 2012 Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley.

Another note: Regardless of Republicans’ apparently waning presidential prospects in the Silver State, it is worth remembering that Berkley lost that 2012 race narrowly to Sen. Dean Heller, R, despite President Obama’s 6.5-point victory.

Pennsylvania: Democrats still have not found a top-tier challenger for Sen. Pat Toomey, R, despite a well-publicized desire to prevent former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, from receiving the nomination again. Sestak’s 2010 loss, after his anti-establishment run in the primary against former Sen. Arlen Specter (by then a Democrat) didn’t make him popular, but with Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane facing possible indictment on official oppression and perjury charges, they have yet to find a plan B.

Plan C appears to be the mayor of Toomey’s adopted hometown of Allentown, Ed Palowski, who got into the race last week and will begin campaigning this week. He is definitely the underdog in the primary. Toomey’s chances have to be liked in the general at this point.

Despite the widely expected loss by Gov. Tom Corbett, R, in November’s election, the Keystone State has been trending Republican (its legislature is at a historic Republican peak) and could be a serious presidential target next year for the first time since 2004, when George W. Bush made a serious effort and lost it by only 2.5 percentage points (145,000 votes). The reasoning is that with Obama off the ticket and the state’s middle and west becoming increasingly Republican, Philadelphia might fail to deliver the Democratic nominee the enormous margins necessary to guarantee a statewide win.

Wisconsin: Ron Johnson is living up to his reputation as the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senator. A new poll from Marquette University Law School (the same poll that accurately called Scott Walker’s wins) has him trailing Russ Feingold in a rematch of 2010 that seems very likely to happen, 54 to 38 percent. That number is unspeakably abysmal for an incumbent, even if one argues that this particular poll is an outlier.

It suggests that a Johnson win will require both an unexpectedly strong Republican presidential performance in his state and a great deal of his own money. Perhaps a miracle as well. Johnson is the clear early underdog in one of the races that will determine whether Republicans can hold the U.S. Senate into the new presidency.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 7 –

  • Indiana and the portrait of courage
  • Ted Cruz’s candidacy
  • Obama makes most effective push yet on Iran.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
Happy Easter, and Happy Passover. 

Outlook

IranAt many points in his presidency, Barack Obama has shown an embarrassing tin-ear — a glaring lack of political acumen in dealing with situations that just weren’t really that difficult to handle. Take, for example, his reaction to his party’s loss in the 2014 midterm; or his reaction to the Fort Hood massacre; or the handling of the Bowe Bergdahl swap; or his flogging (at various points throughout his presidency, but recently as well) the idea of a robust economic recovery at a time when the economy wasn’t really improving much at all.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has had his tin-ear moments. But last week, he had a golden one. It was a CIB033015-obama-kerrypublic relations triumph in which Obama successfully papered over many important realities — chief among which that there was no actual agreement with Iran to announce. Obama managed to take the failure to reach an agreement by the March 31 deadline and turn it into something that seemed like and was covered like a victory.

Obama’s explanation of the (presumably forthcoming) deal challenged Republicans in a way previous versions had not. He argued that the U.S. is actually desperate for this deal because Iran is just months away from having what it needs for a nuclear bomb. If no deal is made, he pointed out, Iran can simply finish the job. He strongly oversold the idea that Iran is trustworthy and has upheld its obligations to date.

If Iran is trustworthy, then Obama may be right to frame the situation as a choice between the deal and another Middle Eastern war. Here’s the problem: If Iran is untrustworthy, then this is a false choice, because the U.S. could well get a nuclear deal with Iran this summer and then get a Middle Eastern war between Sunnis and Shiites to go along with it. In fact, the warring parties have already got a head start in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

President 2016

Indiana RFRA: The religious freedom bill that is currently causing so much controversy in Indiana is worth taking a moment to look at in this time of year, when Christians and Jews celebrate two unpopular ideas — the resurrection of Christ, in the one case, and in the other the deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Egypt through plagues sent by God on the Egyptians.

Both of those religions claim a divine origin — as do most others, including Islam. In this day and age (as in others) such claims are viewed with suspicion and frequently responded to with hatred. But these are by no means the strangest or least popular religious claims out there. Believers, to paraphrase Saint Paul, hold to many tenets of faith that the world considers foolishness, and that applies to nearly all religions.

In ages past, secular governments tried to enforce religious orthodoxy and uniformity as a matter of preserving civil order. The United States made a clean break from this practice — something for which people of all faiths can be grateful. Within reasonable limits that prevent the total undermining of the civil order, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is specifically designed to protect the least popular religious beliefs in any given era.

We know what that is today. Because of its intersection with the resurgent, popular cause of sexual liberation and gay equivalence, religious freedom will be a very important political issue going forward — a threshold issue for many on both sides.

This is not really the place to opine on the issue, but the premises of this debate among GOP primary voters must be clearly understood. The collective freak-out over Indiana’s new religious freedom law is part of a calculated effort to ostracize believers who will never privately, within the six inches between the walls of their skulls, accept gay marriage as an equivalent institution to traditional marriage. These believers were trying to negotiate the terms of their surrender in the culture war — the acceptance of legalized same-sex marriage, etc. — only to discover that the Left will accept nothing short of unconditional surrender. Society will remain incomplete so long as there is one professional photographer who expresses a moral objection to participating in a same-sex wedding, so those who resist in this way must be singled out, driven out of business, and sued into oblivion.

By going so far over the top in their response to this Indiana law, the Left’s culture warriors are trying to mount a head on a pike (perhaps that of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, but it could be that of others as well) and make an example of him so that this form of crimethink is permanently banished and forgotten within a generation or two.

This is how the Republican base views this law. Looking at it that way, how do Republicans address this issue and manage to avoid having their heads placed on pikes, yet also avoid violating their principles or at least upsetting their base?

Some of them had ideas of how to go about this. It is interesting to see how they did with their varied approaches. If nothing else, it tells us something about them.

Jeb:

CIB020415-Bush-150x150 (1)No one was surprised to see Ted Cruz (more on him below) give the law his full-throated backing at the earliest moment. But how about Jeb Bush? Despite his reputation as the moderate in the mix, Jeb was first out of the gate with a statement supporting Pence and the Indiana law, long before therewas any talk of “clarifying” it. Even as he gave that statement, Jeb (correctly) pointed out that the law does not foster or promote discrimination, and said he was opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.

Bush showed a lot of political savvy in handling the issue this way, and it does not seem to have hurt him to be bold on it. This is a necessity for Jeb, whose main goal between now and the Iowa caucuses, is to remind conservatives that before he was tagged with the moderate label, he governed like and was widely perceived to be a conservative.

Marco Rubio:

Another early adopter, Rubio was concise with his explanation: “[N]o one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation. I think that’s a consensus view in America. The flip side of it is, though, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?”

Rand Paul:

As of Sunday morning, Rand Paul had avoided making any comment on the law. Whether he is actually hiding or not, this doesn’t help him out at all. This is an obvious issue where social conservatives and libertarians can easily find common cause — it would have served him well to get in with a comment early on.

Walker:

Gov. Scott Walker hedged his bets here. His first reaction was to point out that Wisconsin law bars discrimination and its constitution protects religious freedom already. As Jeb Bush gave his backing to Pence, Walker was saying, “That’s an issue they’ll have to debate in Indiana, it’s really not somethingthat we’re doing to be involved in here,” in Wisconsin.

A few day later, Walker gave a less equivocal statement of support and blamed the media for creating the controversy. He ended up in the right place, but once again excessive caution and timidity seem to plague his decision-making process. This is not the Walker who wrote (or approved) his book, Unintimidated. Walker will have to find that version of himself, and soon, if he wants to make himself and not Ted Cruz the conservative alternative to Bush.

Ted Cruz: 

As noted above, Cruz took an early stand on Indiana, and that put pressure on others to follow. Expect to see more of this dynamic. 

There is a certain danger in underestimating Cruz now that he has announced his presidential campaign. Say whatever else you like about him, Cruz is a principled man when it comes to his political convictions. He will have the fundraising firepower of grassroots donor email-lists built up over the last few years — especially during the “defund Obamacare” push and the government shutdown. His fundraising has been phenomenal in its opening stage for an insurgent candidate. Cruz’s presence in the race will influence many devoted GOP primary voters.

At the same time, do not overestimate Cruz. He is hyper-ambitious, and his ambitions are at this point way too big for his experience or his political savvy. Many conservatives admire him, but many others who agree with him on issues are suspicious, based on his short political career and his scorched earth Senate tactics. To whatever extent GOP primary voters base their preference on ability to win a general election, Cruz will suffer.

The two roles Cruz seems most likely to play in the coming race are (1) that of the conservative who keeps the other conservatives in the race honest, and (2) that of the spoiler, who helps divide the conservative vote, pushing a less conservative candidate over the top.  As in many other state-level races where a vote-splitting dynamic may or may not emerge, it’s very hard to see how the fault-lines form in advance.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 6 –

  • Harry Reid retires — his Senate legacy
  • Grand pickup opportunity for Republicans
  • Republican targets in the House for 2016

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

Overview: Hillary Clinton’s situation becomes uglier with the revelation that she wiped her server clean of all her emails at some point after being asked to produce the ones related to State Department business last fall. 

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy’s now-famous explication of “spoliation of evidence” comes to mind immediately — when people destroy evidence in court cases, juries are allowed to presume that they did so because they had something to hide. In this case, voters are entitled to the same privilege.

Clinton set up a system that put her above the law and federal regulations and Obama administration policy, and she has tried to use her illicit, opaque behavior in office to confer a benefit upon herself. This probably won’t kill her hopes for the Democratic nomination — as we’ve previously noted, there is no other credible Democrat waiting in the wings to replace her — but don’t be surprised if voters decide not to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Senate 2016

Harry Reid: Harry Reid’s not wholly unexpected retirement announcement is a serious blow for Democrats in a number of ways. For one thing, they are losing the most capable parliamentary tactician and manipulator in their party.

Harry Reid Quits: How his exit can let the Senate start healing Read the full Weekly Briefing: http://j.mp/CIB-BriefingVol3-Iss6

Posted by Conservative Intelligence Briefing on Monday, March 30, 2015

To understand Reid’s effectiveness, consider that after more than a decade of fierce resistance, he almost single-handedly prevented nuclear waste from being transported away from major population centers all over America to be stored at a scientifically approved safe location at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Reid pulled this off at a cost of as much as $65 billion to American taxpayers. Thanks to Reid, taxpayers will be paying a minimum of $23 billion in damages (or possibly twice that amount) to the various utility companies around America who had paid fees on the promise that their nuclear waste would be removed to Yucca Mountain by 2020.

This may all sound reprehensible — and objectively speaking, it is — but a senator who can pull that off on behalf of his state through years of bare-knucked political machinations is precisely the guy you want leading your Senate caucus. Reid’s skill covers a multitude of sins within his party, including his shady land deals and the embarrassing, blow-hard, offensive, and even slanderous comments he has made at various times about President Bush, the Koch Brothers, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and others.

Reid’s parliamentary acumen, combined with a lack of excessive reverence for the institution of the Senate, permitted him to dominate the upper chamber in a way that previous majority leaders never did. The following chart, compiled from congressional data sources, illustrates how he did it and shows how his reign was unlike those of his predecessors in either party:CIB032315-GraphYou will notice that after Reid became Senate Majority Leader in 2007 — in the 110th Congress — the number of amendments proposed by the Democratic leader suddenly skyrockets. There is a simple reason for this: In an effort to prevent floor amendments and floor votes on issues that might prove embarrassing to his members, Reid was doing something known as “filling the tree.” The basic idea is to propose bogus amendments to every important bill (at least two amendments for every distinct part of the bill) in order to block anyone else from offering an amendment of their own. The majority leader can do this and no one can prevent him because he has the privilege of first recognition from the chair.

As the chart suggests, Reid’s use of this tactic reached unprecedented levels. The slide in amendments by his Republican counterpart is also a sign of how, over time, Republicans were increasingly excluded from the legislative process. This, in essence, is how Reid “destroyed the Senate,” at least as a body where members’ votes and voices counted and everyone participated in the legislative process. This also explains the other side of the “Republican obstruction” story. Unable to amend (or even to try to amend) key bills, Republicans had even more motive than usual to try to block everything. If you turn on C-Span 2, you will notice that the Senate is functioning very differently now that Reid is out as majority leader — earlier this year, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed more amendments in one day than Reid had in the entire previous Congress. 


Another important point: People might wonder why Reid was so reluctant to propose budgets each 
year, and why the Senate went so long without passing one. Because budget amendments cannot be blocked in this way, the typical vote-a-rama that occurs with a budget resolution (this just happened last week) can be awkward for members, forcing them to take sides on everything from minimum wage to taxpayer funding of abortion. Reid’s goal was to protect his fellow Democrats from such votes, and so presenting a budget would have been counterproductive. 

And a final note on Reid’s importance to Democrats: In Nevada, they will really miss him. About 550,000 people voted in Nevada’s governor’s race last year. In the 2010 midterm, when Reid was on the ballot and driving the Democratic vote with his machine, nearly 700,000 people voted. It is a clear sign that Nevada Democrats face a possibly grim future without him. His hand-picked successor, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, D, will have her work cut out for her — and that goes double if the popular Gov. Brian Sandoval, R, decides to enter the race.

House 2016

Republicans now have their largest House majority since Herbert Hoover was president. But why stop there when you could go for the heady heights of the Coolidge era?

Last week, we looked at likely Democratic House targets. Here’s a quick and early look at some of the House seats Republicans will probably target in 2016.

Florida-2:

It won’t be easy to win this North Florida seat back from Rep. Gwen Graham, D, one of just two Democrats to defeat an incumbent Republican in 2014. But the district is quite winnable, and Republicans would be foolish not to try. The Republican field remains unclear — former Rep. Steve Southerland, who lost it in November, has ruled out a rematch. The seat probably becomes an easy pickup if Graham leaves it to run for Senate.

Florida-18:

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., is abandoning this Republican-leaning Treasure Coast seat to run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. It should be one of the easiest pickups for Republicans in 2016, if not the easiest. The seat was lost by Rep. Allen West, R in 2012, and Republicans failed to field a credible candidate in 2014 to take it back.

Minnesota-7:

When Rep. Collin Peterson, D, retires, this seat will probably flip to the GOP. But he is a strong incumbent, and one of the very few House Democrats who voted against Obamacare. Republicans’ run at him in 2014 got some attention when a late poll showed a close race, but they came up nine points short. Peterson, who will be 72 on election day, has said he is running for re-election — but then, so did Harry Reid, right?

Nebraska-2:

This Omaha-area district was the site of the other Republican incumbent’s defeat. Rep. Lee Terry faced a much stronger-than-expected primary from his right, and nearly drew an independent Tea Party challenge as well. That threat was averted, but his campaign became desperate in the final stretch against now-Rep. Brad Ashford, and a racially tinged NRCC ad connecting Ashford to a black mass-murderer backfired on Terry. He lost by about 4,000 votes.

Republicans have a slight edge in the district and will surely try to win it back. The first Republican to announce is a retired Air Force General, Don Bacon, who describes himself as a conservative. He probably won’t have the primary field to himself.

One thing working against the GOP here is Nebraska’s unusual law parceling out its electoral votes based on the winner by congressional district. Obama competed for and won the district in 2008. It is more Republican now, but the Democratic nominee could well consider trying to repeat that feat, which is sure to drive up Democratic turnout. A recent bid by Republicans to make Nebraska a winner-take-all state was stymied in the unicameral legislature earlier this month.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 5 –

  • Does Scott Walker suddenly lack self-confidence?
  • Here’s how he could blow a race that’s his to win.
  • Eye on vulnerable GOP House districts.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Scott Walker: Liz Mair, a social media consultant for Scottt Walker’s campaign, made some tweets before she was hired disparaging Iowa’s role as the first state to conduct the presidential caucuses. She also mentioned the fact that Iowa is a state heavily dependent on agricultural subsidies.This is really all just common sense, but the ensuing kerfuffle led to Iowa Republicans attacking Mair and one conservative writer even questioning her dual British citizenship. She was ultimately forced to resign.

This wouldn’t have been noticed at all except that Mair is a friend or acquaintance to many conservative journalists and pundits (including yours truly) and thus her case garnered her a lot of sympathy. But let’s be frank about this: From a candidate’s perspective, consultants are 100 percent expendable. They are hired to help win elections, and the moment they start doing the opposite — even if it is for reasons beyond their control — they understand as well as anyone else that they are about to see the underside of a large multi-passenger vehicle.

Even so, Mair’s offense was mild — at best a borderline case. This episode’s outcome, though not broadly meaningful on its own, adds a few brushstrokes to an unflattering portrait of Team Walker’s strategy and goals. They appear just a bit too eager to please everyone, and it’s hard to understand why because this isn’t what his political career has been about so far. 

In this case, they have rewarded the loudest whiners among a few easily offended Iowa Republicans, and also perhaps a few others who found Mair’s personal social liberalism objectionable (although social conservatives were also some of her staunchest defenders).

None of this would be remarkable, except that by the time it happened it was already part of a pattern. Walker, whose team had to have seen Mair’s Twitter feed before she was hired, had already softened his position on ethanol at a forum in Iowa and hardened his stance on immigration — in each case attempting to pander to one constituency or another. This is really not a road Walker wants to or needs to go down. In fact, it could prove his undoing if he stays on it.

After governing his state in a way that demonstrates political confidence, Walker has shown signs lately that he completely lacks it in his presidential campaign. He appears to feel like he has to prove something when all the proof is there already. 

This is supposed to be the beauty of Walker’s candidacy: He doesn’t have to call himself a “severe conservative” or talk about “self-deporting” (or even just deporting) immigrants in order to win conservative support. He’s not like Mitt Romney, a former liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts who needs to convince people he’s something he isn’t in order to win a primary. He isn’t even like Jeb Bush, a governor who had a decent conservative record in office but currently suffers from some conservatives’ distrust.

Walker’s situation is much better. He has no baggage that Republican primary voters care about, and he has proven he’s trustworthy as a conservative. This should give him an advantage in that it means he doesn’t have to pander. What people admire most in him, as one local party boss in South Carolina put it recently, is that he has “guts.” Why ruin that image now with desperate-looking pandering and gimmicks?

Walker has the easiest case to make of any of the current challengers — including the newly entered Ted Cruz. He solved his state’s short-term and long-term fiscal problems with a full frontal assault on public-sector unions, the Left’s most important institution in Wisconsin. He held his ground in very difficult times — against massive protests, rioting in his state capitol building, and death threats. Because the reforms actually worked and the proof was irrefutable, he persuaded voters that he had been right all along and survived a recall attempt. Beyond his better-known Act 10 budget bill, he and the state legislature have caught Wisconsin up with the rest of the nation on other pet conservative causes, such as concealed carry, Right to Work, and probably soon restrictions on late-term abortion.

What this means is that even if Walker isn’t the best candidate, at least no one on the Right needs to think twice about whether this guy is “one of us.” And one cannot say that of most candidates for president. At the very least, it puts Walker past the threshold of acceptability for nearly every kind of conservative voter, and the initial first choice of enough GOP primary voters to make him competitive for the nomination.

It might seem somewhat counterintuitive, but beyond the conservative core, this should make Walker more palatable to the establishment as well. Candidates look weak and stupid when they pander during primaries. They stake out unsustainable positions and they make dubious flip-flops that leave voters skeptical later on. A candidate who can win conservatives without pandering is, therefore, the best of all worlds.

And so when he panders — whether to conservatives, Iowans, Liz Mair haters or corn farmers — Walker gives the impression that he lacks confidence in his ability to win by simply being himself.

This is a recipe for losing the voters’ respect. It’s one way he could really blow it in a race where he is arguably already the favorite — a previously unknown candidate with a high level of early support and plenty of room to grow, given his low name-recognition.

House 2016

In 2012, Democrats made modest gains in the U.S. House thanks to Barack Obama’s coattails. It stands to reason, then, that they will regain some of what they lost in 2014 in the coming presidential year. But how much?

Here is a very early look at some of the Republican-held seats that are in greatest danger of flipping next year — all places where Democrats will surely work hard to find strong recruits.

Arizona-2:Martha McSally, R, won this fair-fight East Tucson seat (formerly held by Reps. Jim Kolbe, R, and Gabby Giffords, D) by less than 200 votes last year in her rematch with former Rep. Ron Barber, D. The race was nearly as close when she lost in 2012. This seat just isn’t going to be easy for anyone to hold this decade, period.

Maine-2: Republicans just won this seat for the first time since the 1990s, and it might seem difficult for Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R, to defend. But his victory in November was by a wide margin (even though he did not reach 50 percent) and came amid extremely high midterm turnout, thanks to (of all things) a bear-baiting referendum.

This suggests that the 2016 bump for Democrats will not be nearly as great here as it might be elsewhere, as does the overwhelming whiteness of the district. Provided he can establish an appropriate rapport with his constituents, Poliquin has to be the favorite on paper, especially if Democratic primary voters allow a rematch against Emily Cain, a social-liberal state legislator.

Illinois-10: In Chicago’s northern suburbs, there’s yet another district that teeters every year. It always came close to going Blue (but never did) every two years when Sen. Mark Kirk, R, held it, but Democrats made it more favorable to themselves in redistricting. This time the seat is back in the GOP column.Rep. Robert Dold, R, could well face the man he lost to in 2012 then defeated in 2014, Brad Schneider, D. It will be a close contest no matter what, but the Obama-home-state effect will not be a factor this time as it was in 2012.

Iowa-1: Heres another newly Republican seat that could flip back. Jim Nussle, R, once held this seat before Rep. Bruce Braley did. The map hasn’t changed enough that there’s any reason to think a Republican cannot hold it. But it will never be easy. Rep. Rod Blum, R, has his work cut out for him in holding it down.

Nevada-4: Democrats could conceivably win a lot of House seats next yera, but this is probably the only one that they will find to be a slam-dunk takeback. Extremely low Democratic turnout allowed Rep. Cresent Hardy, R, to sneak in and seize a very Democratic district, but that is unlikely to happen again in a presidential year. That goes double if Sen. Harry Reid, D, actually does run for re-election and pulls out all the stops to save himself as he did in 2010.

New Hampshire-1: This district has changed hands four times in ten years. Rep. Frank Guinta, R, is now serving his second non-consecutive term. It is still possible that he could face his fourth matchup against former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, whom he defeated in 2010 and 2014 but lost to in 2012.

New York-24: This Syracuse-area seat is not an easy one for a Republican to hold under any circumstances. John Katko’s resounding 20-point victory over former Rep. Dan Maffei, D, last November holds forth at least some hope, but the fundamentals of the district will be working against him. One open Question is whether Hillary Clinton has any strong residual popularity in upstate New York that can help others downticket.

Texas-23: Rep. Will Hurd, R, won this district last year, which has previously been the subject of a Supreme Court case regarding its ethnic composition. It has a bloody history, changing shapes three times since 2000 and changing hands in 2006, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Hurd, a former CIA officer who worked undercover in Pakistan, unexpectedly knocked off a rising star in Texas Democratic politics last year — Pete Gallego — who already started making noises last month about a possible rematch.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 4 –

  • Team Clinton: A classic winner that may not be ready for today
  • The old Clinton playbook is dusty
  • Jeb suddenly starts lowering expectations

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

It was a tough week for two establishment frontrunners, but a much, much tougher week for Hillary Clinton than it was for Jeb Bush.

Hillary Clinton:

Think of your favorite classic football team. Maybe it’s Joe Montana and the 49ers teams he took to the Super Bowl in the 1980s. Or maybe the ’85 Bears. I’ll think of the almost-did-it Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s.

Whichever team you’re thinking of, you probably wouldn’t want to see them take the field again today. Yes, of course, they’re football heroes. But no matter how superior they were in their day, they are just too old and rusty to put on pads and start trying to match skills with today’s players.

Age isn’t the only problem. The entire league has also grown in size and weight. Players have gotten faster over the years. New tactics and playbooks have emerged. The no-huddle offense, once a novelty, is now something defenses are trained to defend against. New offenses have become more popular — the wildcat, the pistol — and old players might find themselves at a loss defending against them, never having been trained in the best practices.

This is a natural effect of the passage of time. And in politics today, Team Clinton faces a similar dynamic. In the 1990s, they developed the playbook for handling brutal, damaging scandals. They put the same old faces on television to argue that the Clintons were the victims of an unjust persecution. They trotted out the same sort of vaguely plausible explanation for every documented misdeed.

But can the responses they used then — to shout, to confuse, to demonize accusers, to rely upon opponents to overplay their hand — work in the very different world that exists today?

It’s an open question, but it’s the one that dogs Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. Last week, she held a press conference conference to address the incredible, embarrassing fact that she exclusively used private email to conduct official business during her time as President Obama’s secretary of state. It did not go well — and conservatives were not the only ones to point this out. As the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put it on Twitter, “Not trolling but I personally thought email story was mostly bogus until watching this press conference and learning how she handled this.” If even sympathetic lliberal media figures are now questioning Clinton’s honesty and competence, what hope will she have of persuading most others?

At the heart of this scandal is the fact that Clinton arrogantly placed herself above the law. She chose to make an end-run around the laws that are supposed to guarantee maximum transparency in government records — perhaps to protect herself from scrutiny at some future date. When she is questioned about it, she invokes her right to privacy regarding her personal matters, which she personally chose to commingle with public business when she chose to work from her private email server.

As a result of Clinton’s end run around laws that only apply to little people, she also left sensitive information — namely, the immediate decisions and thinking of the senior diplomat of the United States — open and accessible to foreign intelligence services on a server that was not properly secured.

When she finally got around to submitting the records of her official business to the State Department — long after this was required under Obama administration policy and federal regulations — she had already managed to thwart proper congressional inquiries into her official business as well as Freedom of Information requests. It is hard to believe this was not by design. And one can only look agape at her declaration that she destroyed correspondence that she and her campaign team — not necessarily legal experts — had deemed unrelated to her official role at State.

Amid the emails Mrs. Clinton has actually submitted to the State Department and the House Benghazi Select Committee are several gaps, according to chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. There are, in fact, no 
emails from the time she traveled to Libya — the time when the iconic photograph of her staring at her Blackberry was taken.

Clinton’s explanation became even less plausible when she parsed her language in her press conference to leave the almost certainly misleading impression that no classified information had been transmitted through her insecure home email server. Her assertion will be proven false if the State Department, whenever it releases the emails she deigned to submit, redacts even a single line on national security grounds.

Her assertion that she wished to protect private correspondence with her husband was proven false at the same moment she uttered it, as Bill Clinton’s aides revealed to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the former president has sent only two emails in his entire life, both during his presidency. The same could be said of her stated assumption that any email she sent to subordinates who used government email addresses would be preserved. It turns out the state department did not routinely save such correspondence until well after Clinton left office. Did she know nothing about her own department’s policy? 

In the time since, the old Clinton attack dogs have hit the airwaves. But will the public accept explanations that come from a Clinton lackey like David Brock of Media Matters? Will it ignore the unintentional suggestion by James Carville that Hillary Clinton conducted business on a private server in order to avoid having Congress see too much of what she is doing?

Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that Clinton might not be the sure thing she once seemed. Her inept and transparently dishonest answers about the handling of her poor judgment on her emails do not hint at good things coming if she becomes their nominee. And they face a lonely, dark world without her — one in which the task of rallying a sluggish Democratic base falls to a lackluster Democratic rival for the nomination — probably former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

As the Obama era ends, Democrats may ultimately conclude that there is no new Obama waiting in the wings. That could be serious grounds for despair.

Jeb Bush:

After weeks of building up expectations about his fundraising game among establishment donors, POLITICO reports that Bush now has to tamp them down.

It could signify one of two things: Either he expects to fall far short of the announced goal of raising $100 million in SuperPAC funds by this month’s end, or that he doesn’t want to look like the establishment candidate with the big moneybags, just waiting to be taken down by a true conservative. That makes this story a lose-lose for him, and perhaps a lesson for the future about setting expectations too high.

Senate 2016

Florida:

It was always hard to imagine that former Republican governor-slash-Indepenent Senate candidate-slash-loser for governor in 2014 Charlie Crist would even think once about another run for Senate. Crist seemed to confirm the improbability on Monday when he declared that he would not be running for anything next year.

But with Sen. Marco Rubio, R, considering a presidential run, Democrats might have a better shot at his seat than usual. Rubio would begin in a strong position for reelection, according to a recent poll, cracking 50 percent.

CIB031715- Scott_Crist-300x206 If he doesn’t run, state CFO Jeff Atwater, R, and Attorney General Pam Bondi are both considered top prospects. There’s also Agriculture Commissioner and former U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam.

Democrats,whose bench in Florida is amazingly thin for such a competitive state, are far more likely to go with Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, who represents a Republican district on the Treasure Coast, as their nominee than with DNC Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose negatives are sky-high and who has had a tumultuous relationship with the Obama White House.

Maryland:

Republicans have little chance of competing for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D, but the Democratic primary will be interesting. As Tim Carney points out, Democratic party insiders are mostly interested in nominating proven fundraiser and former DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen, and not so much in picking a hard-left liberal like Rep. Donna Edwards, even if that creates some awkward moments for the party’s mostly-black voter base. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D, is reportedly considering a run, and he would probably present Van Hollen with a difficult challenge in a primary.    

Pennsylvania:

Democrats would like someone else credible to enter this race, but for now it appears that they might be stuck with former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, as the candidate whom Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is most likely to face in what would be a rematch of his 2010 race. Sestak’s announcement was unusual because he went so far out of his way to suggest that he does not have the blessing of his party’s leadership. That blessing usually comes with good reason, though — it signifies the faith that knowledgeable party insiders place in a candidate. They seem to have little faith in him.

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 3 –

  • What if Hillary just isn’t all that?
  • Menendez faces corruption indictment
  • With a weak bench but a target-rich Senate map, Dems turn to retreads

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: “The Hillary Juggernaut,” the Salon headline blares. “Why Clinton may already be unstoppable.” The piece, by Walter Shapiro, goes on to make the case that Clinton’s ability to raise money 
effortlessly, the potency of her husband as a surrogate (as well as nostalgia for his presidency), and “emotional support from a significant percentage of women voters” makes her nomination inevitable.

It sounds like a pretty strong argument. But the article appeared almost exactly nine years ago, in March 2006. Democrats entered the 2008 presidential cycle with the full expectation that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. So did Republicans — entire books were written and a now-famous Citizens United movie was produced in order to thwart her. Yet after a drawn-out primary process, the Democrats decided they could do better. And they did.

The Hillary die-hards hung on as long as they could in 2008. But Clinton’s married name was ultimately insufficient to compensate for her sub-par personal and campaigning skills, her lack of “likeability,” and her perfectly adequate but not commanding grasp of issues. The contrast between Clinton and Barack Obama could not have been more pronounced.

Obama was the rarest of candidates, possessing not only the psychological advantage of the underdog but also an obviously superior intellect, discipline, and charisma. In the beginning, he could not yet raise Clintonesque sums of money from big donors, but he more than made up for that by simply not having the Clinton sense of entitlement. This made his race against Hillary an even more pronounced version of Skywalker versus Evil Empire than it might have otherwise been.

Democrats looked at Clinton, and then they looked at Obama. They were ready to be seduced.

Primary struggles have a lot less impact on general election processes than political journalists like to pretend — after all, they have to justify all that time they spend in Iowa. But a candidate’s weaknesses that show up in the first phase tend to last into the second. For example, Mitt Romney’s lack of charisma and message discipline was on display throughout his last-man-standing GOP primary in 2012 — and then reared its head once again in the general election.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there is no reason to expect Clinton will be a completely different person from the “likeable enough” candidate of 2008 who delivered canned applause lines in a grating sing-song voice and blew her status as the prohibitive frontrunner against an unlikely insurgent.

That is not to say that Republicans can necessarily beat Clinton. They surely will not field a nominee who can campaign as well as Obama or have his appeal. But the point is that Hillary Clinton puts on her pant-suit one leg at a time. 

Email scandal: And Clinton’s vulnerability has never been as clear as it was last week. The massive scandal over her exclusive use of unsecured private email for State Department business dominated last week’s news cycle. Even her most dogged defenders cannot spin it away — it is, as Ron Fournier put it, “a scandal for anyone with a brain.” It has gained traction far beyond the small world of conservative media, breaking in the pages of The New York Times and dominating coverage in every other mainstream publication. 

Without going through the scandal’s details (you can read them here or here), it is enough to say here that the incident at least suggests a level of incompetence and personal entitlement that either matches or supersedes previous foibles on her part. It’s not just the disdain for government transparency — in fact, Clinton’s conscious choice to place herself above federal records and transparency regulations may well have helped foreign intelligence services access secret diplomatic information or even classified documents, as her personal email server has been described highly insecure. It is also impossible to know that she has not deleted emails pertaining to government business that the State Department will never obtain for its records, as the system she used was apparently designed to make it easy to dispose of records.

The incident might even have legal implications for her — a contempt motion has already been filed in two federal Freedom of Information cases. If that angle pans out, she will probably be working through the mess at the very time she needs to be raising money for and staging a campaign.

Consequences for Democrats: Democrats had grown comfortable with the Obama political machine, and its ability to turn out majorities that seemed to threaten the GOP’s very existence through the sheer force of demographic change. But what if (as we have previously suggested here) that was really all about Obama, and not about the Democratic party at all? If so, Democrats must replace the Obama juggernaut that inspired so many with a new, different coalition like Obama’s. Clinton presents such an opportunity — to bring single women especially together behind potentially the first female president.

But as Clinton struggles, the party finds itself looking into the abyss. Only now do Democrats finally understand how thin their Clinton lifeline really is. At the moment, there is no plan B, and it’s nearly April. Were Scott Walker or Jeb Bush to suffer a major campaign-ending scandal, Republicans would have (at least arguably) qualified replacements waiting in the wings. Not so the Democrats, whose stable of qualified contenders has been largely wiped out by voters in the last five years.

So far, there are no serious contenders who could take Clinton’s place and start off as anything but a huge underdog. Certainly, no one can look to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as the man who will inspire the next successful Democratic coalition. Joe Biden? Please! New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Fuhgeddaboutit. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders? He’ll be fun in debates, but a president he is not. And forget about the candidates who want to challenge Clinton from her right — former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts? A much more interesting choice than any of these, and a proven fundraiser who might be capable of toppling Hillary even though she just won her first elected office two years ago. But what about the general election? And for that matter, is she even slightly interested in running?

The situation is bad enough that Al Gore is suddenly planning a trip to Iowa. If that isn’t panic-inducing, it’s hard to imagine what would be. 

Meanwhile, the stakes are pretty high. If Democrats lose the White House and at the same time fail to gain five seats in the Senate in 2016, Obama’s entire legacy could quickly go up in smoke. Such an outcome would nearly guarantee the GOP a Senate majority through 2020 (just because of the 2018 map). Obamacare, environmental regulations, and other executive actions (including on immigration and health insurance) and a whole host of other progressive gains could be quickly wiped out. Even entitlement reforms would be on the table.

The Supreme Court could also take on a more strongly conservative bent, with young justices replacing Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and perhaps even Ruth Bader Ginsberg (assuming she doesn’t announce her retirement under Obama).

This is the bottom line on the email scandal. Clinton might still win, and it’s also possible she could have lost even without a scandal like this one. But as matters stand, the hopes of a party and an entire political movement have been placed in jeopardy by one woman’s poor judgment and belief she is above the law. Put not your faith in just one prince.

Senate 2015

New Jersey: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, D, faces a federal corruption indictment. It has not gone unobserved that Menendez is the Obama administration’s more ferocious Democratic critic on Iran, and that the leak of his charges comes just as an Iran deal is imminent. There is no evidence that the two matters are causally related, but the one has already had an effect on the other. An indictment obviously and dramatically weakens the position of the Senate Foreign Relations ranking member, and discredits an important critic at a key moment. It at least slightly complicates prospects of passing any tough-on-Iran legislation over an Obama veto — a possibility that has always been on the cards.

For now, Menendez insists he will not resign. If he does, Gov. Chris Christie, R, will have an opportunity to appoint another short-term Republican senator (as he did in 2013), bringing the GOP tally in Congress’ upper chamber to 55 out of 100.

Republicans’ prospects for taking over the seat for the long haul in a general special election are not terribly good, given their weak bench in the state and the apparent lack of party-building that went into Christie’s re-election in 2013. Republicans failed, recall, to make gains in the state legislature.

Then again, there probably hasn’t been a better opportunity in decades — a Democratic corruption scandal, no obvious star Democrat to take over the seat, and potentially a Republican incumbent.

Senate 2016

Even the losers get lucky sometimes, as the song goes. Democrats are looking at a very favorable 2016 Senate map, and have a lot to look forward to if things go their way. Just like the Republicans did in 2014, they are trying to recruit plausible candidates for even the more difficult Senate races, on the chance that the environment will go their way and they will have their chips on the table at the right time.

But they also have to contend with the fact that their benches have been mostly wiped out in two consecutive midterms. And so they have been working hard to recruit retreads to take on marginal Republican incumbents — in three cases, candidates who not long ago were ousted as incumbents by the voters in statewide elections. In some cases, it actually seems like a promising strategy. In others, maybe not so much. 

In Wisconsin, former Sen. Russ Feingold, D, who lost in 2010 to Sen. Ron Johnson, R, is widely expected to run again for his old seat. Johnson will have the resources he needs, but he is probably the most vulnerable sitting Republican senator in America right now. Feingold, a hero among progressives, will probably be the Democrats’ strongest challenger in America, and is surely the best candidate they could possibly find in Wisconsin right now. The race will be a challenge to see whether there’s anything left of the Left in the state.

In Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland, D, has already announced he will take on Sen. Rob Portman, R. Strickland, who were he to win would be 75 years old by the time he took office, is heavily favored in the primary against token progressive opposition, but he is a big underdog in the general election. Strickland lost the governorship in 2010 to John Kasich, R. Portman is one of the most inoffensive, disciplined Republicans in Congress.

Democrats have spoken of coaxing Kay Hagan, who just lost her North Carolina Senate seat, into running against the low-profile Sen. Richard Burr, R. She would be a formidable challenger — and she probably ran the best losing campaign of 2014. But the negative ads against her seem to have stuck for now. Burr leads all comers by a similar high single-digit margin in a recent PPP poll, but only against Hagan does he actually reach 50 percent.

The strategy of running candidates who have been dethroned recently by the voters often works in House races — a handful of House Republicans returned to office this way in 2010. But it isn’t that common in the Senate. No defeated senator has accomplished what Feingold and Hagan are setting out to do — winning a Senate seat after being ousted from the Senate in an election — since 1956. As for Strickland, it is harder to check. At the very least, no current U.S. Senator is a former governor who lost re-election.


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