| Bass Soon
It looks like former Rep. Charlie Bass is preparing
to jump back into the electoral arena, in an attempt to reclaim his second district seat from the Democrats. One of the subplots in New Hampshire politics in recent months has been speculation over whether Bass would run for statewide office again, and if so, for which office – governor, senator, or representative. The filing of a statement of candidacy tomorrow for the second district race would at least put that particular question to rest.
It is true that Bass brings high name recognition to the race, and six terms in office certainly gives him a veteran’s grasp of legislative politics and campaigning. Last time Bass was saddled with a tremendously unpopular incumbent president from his own party, but this time he will have President Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress to rail against on everything from a weak economy and budget deficits to health care and homeland security.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Bass can retool his candidacy to better fit the changing demographics of New Hampshire’s second district. For many years he was able to tack just close enough to its political center to remain in office, but the district has moved steadily to the left over the past decade. His moderate brand of main street Republicanism will play better with independents in the district than the more polarizing movement conservatism gaining popularity in other parts of the country, but that could actually jeopardize his ability to get through a Republican primary here, and it won’t necessarily put him in step with the increasingly progressive communities he once represented.Add/View CommentsSpeed Reader
today that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s new memoir will be available for purchase in November, months earlier than expected and just in time to make your holiday shopping list. While there will be the inevitable questions about how much of the 400-page tome Palin actually wrote herself in the few short months since resigning from office, I will be especially interested to see what kind of media Palin does in conjunction with the book’s release.
A high-profile political figure with this kind of product to sell will usually try to blanket as many major outlets as possible, but Palin doesn’t have a typical relationship with the media. On those occasions when she hasn’t been reticent to speak, Palin has engaged in some fairly antagonistic back-and-forth with members of the mainstream press, which raises the stakes for any subsequent interviews she might want to do. Palin’s publisher no doubt expects the book to sell like gangbusters with social and religious conservatives, so her marketing handlers will target friendly outlets accordingly.
Add/View CommentsD.C. GOP MYOB?
But given Palin’s current celebrity, this will be a sufficiently big public event that she could certainly do shows like Meet the Press
, Larry King Live
, 60 Minutes
, and even The Daily Show
, which would give her exposure to a broader audience. As I have written
before on several occasions, until Palin demonstrates that she can connect with a significant number of voters beyond her base, her potential as a presidential candidate in a general election is limited. While that might not be her ultimate goal, using this upcoming book release as an opportunity for another go-round with Katie Couric could be just the ticket.
You may have caught this article
in The New York Times
over the weekend, which looks at the phenomenon of state Republican parties around the country pushing back against the National Republican Senatorial Committee for what is viewed as meddling in state primary politics. As you might expect, case study number one
in the article is the New Hampshire Senate race featuring former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, and the question of whether the NRSC has unfairly placed its well-funded thumb on the party primary scale in her favor.
Every time someone mentions this issue to me (which is often), I have two responses. First, it has been true for some time now that the two parties’ national Congressional campaign committees intimately involve themselves in state-level candidate recruitment. It is a function of the broader nationalization of our local politics, in which technology and prodigious fundraising have allowed the national committees to carefully orchestrate the vetting of local talent and the provision of resources across all contests. An acceleration of the campaign cycle has pushed these committees to move earlier than ever before.
Second, it should be no surprise to any political observer that the NRSC zeroed in on Kelly Ayotte so quickly. In addition to Senator Judd Gregg’s boosterism, Ayotte brings significant name recognition from her high-profile statewide position, has served under governors of both parties (suggesting the potential for a broad electoral coalition), and has an appealing personal story. So, from a resume-vetting perspective, this was a no-brainer for the NRSC. The catch, of course, is whether she can campaign effectively. I think the verdict is still out on this question
, and will be for some time.
Anyone who followed electoral politics over the summer knows Democrats (and a few Republicans) have hit Ayotte mercilessly on all of this. As I noted above, this kind of hidden-hand behavior by the national Congressional committees is nothing new, and it will be with us all the way through the general election. The problem for Ayotte is that because she hasn’t had much else going on publicly as a candidate over the past few months, this Washington connection story became her main political narrative.Add/View CommentsThe Kid Comes Back
New Hampshire Democrats seem mighty pleased to have former President Bill Clinton returning
to the Granite State in December to headline the party’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Democrats are now the status quo in New Hampshire, and the reality of governing can sometimes sap supporters of the energy they once displayed as political insurgents on the outside looking in. Clinton will no doubt stir up some renewed enthusiasm for the electoral battle to come in 2010, along with a significant amount of precious fundraising dollars.
It has been fascinating to watch President Clinton once again regain his political stature on the public stage. I think it is hard to argue with the claim that Clinton has played the first nine months of the Obama Administration perfectly. He has managed to use both his North Korea trip
and the Clinton Global Initiative
to retain a ubiquitous profile in the media, but he has done so without stepping on the toes of President Obama, or on those of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Add/View CommentsMock the Vote
It wasn’t long ago that Bill Clinton was being excoriated from within his own party in the 2008 presidential primaries for his fairy tale remark
in New Hampshire, and his Jesse Jackson comparison
in South Carolina. Democratic Party elites and political observers seemed to agree back then that Clinton's time had passed. But if you’ve watched any of his many media appearances in recent weeks, you’ve probably noticed that he seems relaxed, reflective, and bigger than ever (persona-wise, not weight – he still looks pretty trim). So, when President Clinton inevitably mentions in December that he is the Comeback Kid
, this time he might not be talking about the 1992 New Hampshire Primary.
At some point in the past 20 years, you have probably seen a celebrity
in an MTV Rock the Vote
public service announcement encouraging young citizens to vote, only to learn later that the celebrity’s own record of turning out at the polls is somewhat less than stellar. But what if the voter absent on Election Day is instead a serious candidate for a major elected office? Such is the case of former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, who is running for the Republican nomination to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. It appears
that Whitman’s voting record (until recently) is almost nonexistent.
Whitman has already issued
a public mea culpa
(while still managing to tweak her opponent in the same breath), in hopes of moving on with her campaign. It is true that some individuals believe that voting is an irrational act, since any single vote is unlikely to change an electoral outcome, but Whitman certainly isn’t taking that particular angle on her dereliction of civic duty.
As someone who has spent many years trying to help students appreciate the notion of personal efficacy that can go along with participation in the political process, I am interested to see whether any of this will matter to California voters. While voting is not the same as governing, and Whitman’s big selling point is no doubt her private sector management experience, it sure will make for an awkward (and rare) photo op at the voting booth on Election Day.Add/View CommentsDelayed Gratification
I am still trying to erase the memory
of that close-up of former House Speaker Tom Delay shaking his brown spandex-clad behind on this week’s Dancing with the Stars
premiere. But I was interested to read Delay’s recent comments
about the lack of any promising new Republican leadership in Congress (sorry, Eric Cantor
). Delay went so far as to say that even the likely pick-up of some additional Republican seats in the 2010 midterm election wouldn’t alter that leadership vacuum in any meaningful way.
While Republican institutional elites continue to wring their hands over this situation, I get the sense that movement conservatives in the party’s base (especially those frequenting cable news, talk radio, tea parties, and town hall meetings) actually prefer it this way. To the extent that they view their newfound collective mobilization (and shouting) as rising up organically from the grassroots, they actually see the institutionally constrained behavior of these Republican leadership elites (bipartisanship anyone?) as cramping their style.
Just as President Obama arose from political obscurity five years ago to ride a moment of voter disaffection into the White House, so too do these conservatives believe that someone will naturally emerge to lead them by 2012. This is a very different notion of leadership succession than the next-in-line approach traditionally employed by Republican elites to pick their leaders. Cha-cha aside, for many of these folks, Tom Delay’s words are music to their ears.Add/View CommentsMcChrystal Clear
Add/View CommentsRomney Retools
You can catch me tomorrow morning as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange
. We will be discussing the latest on Afghanistan, including the difficult decisions now facing the Obama Administration, in light of the recently leaked confidential assessment
of the war by Obama’s top commander on the ground there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. You can listen to the show live at 9 a.m. here
(top menu), or later here
I wrote a post
back in August suggesting that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney might benefit from retooling his message to focus more on fiscal matters and the economy, or even on defense issues. Anything that would prevent him from trying once again to outdo other 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls on their own social conservative turf would benefit his candidacy. In the past when Romney has tried to base jump other candidates like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson with social and religious conservatives, he has been largely ridiculed
as a phony, or as at least a Johnny-come-lately to their agenda.
Romney seems to have internalized all of this, as evidenced by his speech
this past weekend at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., an annual gathering of social and religious conservatives that has become a regular stop on the Republican presidential hopeful circuit. His speech focused almost exclusively on fiscal and defense issues, while largely avoiding the conservative social agenda. He of course cannot avoid touching on issues like abortion and gay marriage completely, but he can repackage himself in a way that opens up the potential for some larger coalition-building within the party, which would ultimately make him a stronger general election candidate.
Viewed in that light, it is actually not such a bad outcome
for Romney that he finished a distant second to Huckabee in the Values Voters presidential straw poll. He will never outshine Huckabee with this crowd, and he only needs to pick off some of their votes. There are enough doubts within the broader party about Huckabee and other religious conservative favorites like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as general election candidates that this is not an unrealistic goal. A much bigger challenge for Romney will be Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who I think has the same sort of potential for assembling a broader electoral coalition within the party.
With the Obama Administration pulling out all of the stops to pass some sort of health care legislation by the end of the year, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to read
that First Lady Michelle Obama is poised to become more fully involved in making the case for reform. She continues to be a popular first lady, and has been largely viewed as an asset to the president since taking office. But the issues in which she has involved herself thus far haven't been as fraught with danger as the minefield that is the current health care policy landscape.
There is a portion of the Republican Party on the right that is salivating at the idea of a greater role for Mrs. Obama. In some respects, they view her as being more radicalized than President Obama on issues like the role of government and the redistribution of wealth. Think back to their outraged reaction to her campaign remarks
about being proud of her country for the first time
, and the now infamous New Yorker cover
satirizing their view of her as a Black Power
radical. These conservatives will take the first opportunity to paint Mrs. Obama’s involvement as the second coming of HillaryCare, First Lady Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated foray into big government health care reform during the Clinton Administration, even if the comparison isn't a particularly close fit.
It is an accepted fact that the first lady is often a president’s closest advisor and sounding board. So, her behind-the-scenes influence on policy decisions has long been taken as a given. In contrast, any public foray into policy advocacy opens her up to closer scrutiny. It sounds like the White House will deploy Mrs. Obama carefully, with appropriately receptive audiences, while shielding her from the most combative and ideologically-charged aspects of the reform debate. While this could turn out to be a big boon for President Obama in terms of energizing his core supporters and getting his message out, there could also be some significant pitfalls for Mrs. Obama along the way.
Note: I have to step away from the website tomorrow, so I won’t be posting. I will be back on Monday, September 21st with new content for you. See you soon. -DeanAdd/View CommentsCarter Lends a Helping Hand
Sometimes in our political culture, when we are in the midst of a particularly trying national conversation on a polarizing issue, former presidents can use their clout as senior statesmen to act as honest-brokers in an attempt to calm the stormy political waters. Unfortunately, such is not to be the fate of our 39th
president, Jimmy Carter. A favorite target of Republican ridicule, the former president has once again held himself up as a lighting rod for controversy by suggesting
that much of the anti-Obama fervor around the country is being driven by fear of a black president. While Carter may be weighing in on a difficult but important question, it is clear that the White House has worked assiduously to avoid
engaging this issue, even as it has erupted again (since the campaign) with the You lie! controversy
Add/View CommentsWilsonian Democracy
Ever since President Carter first started flirting with the idea of publicly endorsing candidate Obama in the spring of 2008, I have written a series of posts looking at the somewhat awkward relationship between the two men (you can track back through them starting here
). It has been fascinating to watch the contortions through which the Obama team has gone on the campaign trail and in the White House to show proper respect for their party’s elder statesman, while essentially keeping him at arm’s-length. And, this current episode only reinforces that gymnastic imperative for them.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed
a formal resolution of disapproval
late this afternoon against South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson for his “You lie!” outburst against President Obama. You won’t be surprised to learn that the resolution passed along party lines, but you might be surprised to learn that neither
of our U.S. Representatives, Democrats Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, voted in favor of the resolution. Hodes voted against it, and Shea-Porter voted “present.” While excoriating Wilson’s behavior earlier today, Hodes explained
his rationale for voting against the resolution:
…the focus on his [Wilson’s] outburst has served as a distraction to the larger goal of providing affordable, portable, high quality health care to every family. We need to work together as Republicans and Democrats to craft a bill that seeks to lower costs, increase quality of care, and put families back in control of their health care. In my judgment, it’s time to move on and I do not support this resolution. We should not allow Mr. Wilson’s reckless conduct to overshadow the need to work together to craft a strong health care reform measure that gives Americans lower costs, more choice, and real control in a fiscally responsible fashion.
I have to say I agree with Hodes on this one. Anytime one of these wrist-slapping resolutions passes on a party-line vote, citizens usually chock it up to intramural partisan warfare among political elites inside the beltway. And, a resolution of disapproval isn’t even as strong as censure, which is typically viewed as the optimal wrist-slap for bad legislative behavior.
So, while I understand the thirst for revenge among Democrats, and the need to uphold our institutional traditions against a loss of decorum, the exercise was (as Hodes suggests) a waste of time. I would add that its primary impact will be to make Wilson an even bigger (and better funded) folk hero among movement conservatives than he already is.
As for Shea-Porter, I haven’t yet heard why she chose to vote “present,” rather than take a stand one way or the other. If she hasn’t offered an explanation already, I am sure some intrepid New Hampshire reporter or blogger will ask her for clarification. For now, I can at least say that Hodes got this one right.Add/View CommentsCrowd Control
There has been a rather entertaining debate raging for the past 48 hours over the actual size of the crowd attending a big anti-Obama rally
in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. It is indicative of the remarkable ideological polarization affecting our country, in which the two sides seem to largely function in alternate political realities. Progressives have settled on a figure of 60,000 for Saturday’s crowd, while conservatives have floated the figure of two million strong. If you saw pictures of the rally (and have ever attended any public event on the Mall), you will know immediately that the latter estimate is a fanciful
one. Some conservatives have backed
away from that number, but my guess is they won’t settle for anything less than a crowd count of several hundred thousand.
Why such a feverish debate over crowd size? Because Democrats have gone to great lengths to caricature the conservative opposition to President Obama’s agenda as being comprised of a small group of disgruntled right-wingers who have used the endless looping of viral town hall videos on the web and cable news to project a grassroots movement that appears much larger than its actual modest size.
Republicans view a large turnout this past weekend as indicative of a wave of anti-Obama sentiment that is rising across the country. The policy stakes are high, as the side with the winning political narrative is likely to have the greater impact on public opinion, and on the institutional elites in Congress who will watch its fluctuations ever so closely before they vote on health care, cap and trade, and other future Obama agenda items.Add/View Comments9-11-09
I hope you had some time today to commemorate the 9-11 anniversary in your own way, whether through quiet reflection in a moment of silence, sharing your recollections with family and friends, or participating in President Obama’s newly promulgated day of national service
and remembrance. While the memories may not feel quite as visceral almost ten years out, it is important to honor the magnitude of loss and sacrifice we experienced as a country on that day, and to remember the reason why we still carry on in Afghanistan. I will say that watching some of the original real-time footage from 2001 brings back the feelings of stunned sadness and anger pretty quickly and intensely.
I will be interested to see whether President Obama’s idea of commemoration through a day of national service catches on in the future. I know there has been some pushback from conservatives who believe the idea is an awkward fit, representing what they consider a left wing “Earth Day-ification” of an otherwise solemn occasion. I think as long as the magnitude of the original event and accompanying loss don’t recede too far into the background, people should be given a fair bit of latitude to commemorate the occasion as they see fit, and of course pass its original meaning on to the next generation as carefully as possible.Add/View CommentsMiss Manners
It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to last night’s address by President Obama. This is one of those moments when the differences between institutional elites and movement activists are cast in stark relief. I am of course talking about Republican reaction to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s now legendary “you lie!” heckle
directed at President Obama’s comments on health care coverage for illegal immigrants.
The Republican leadership
in Congress was quick to condemn
Wilson for his breach of institutional etiquette. But on conservative talk radio, internet blogs, and cable news, it was a whole different story, as Wilson was quickly elevated to the status of movement conservative folk hero
. I spent a fair bit of time sampling various conservative media outlets
today, and I heard the word liar
used in conjunction with Obama’s name more than at any other time I can recall (and not just about the illegal immigrant issue).
Add/View CommentsFonzie Scheme?
It should be pretty clear to Obama at this point that if he gets any Republican votes in favor of health care reform, he should consider them a bonus. But there is only so much that Republicans in Congress can do to derail the president’s agenda. The more interesting question (as I’ve recently noted
) is whether these highly agitated movement conservatives on the outside will continue to have an impact on public support for the president, or instead trigger a voter backlash
against some of their tactics. After last night, it feels like the situation could tip either way.
In a post
yesterday, I discussed why the Obama Administration’s policy agenda could continue to be disrupted by a loud and visible conservative opposition for the foreseeable future. I should mention, however, that some
now believe that these aggressive critics have essentially jumped the shark
with their reaction to President Obama’s back-to-school speech.
While it is possible that conservatives have overreached this time, eventually triggering a backlash in public sentiment, it remains to be seen whether the combination of Obama’s campaign-style Labor Day speech
in Cincinnati, coupled with his address
tonight to a joint session of Congress, will indeed mark a turning point in the president’s political fortunes.
In the meantime, there is no denying that the White House has been caught flat-footed in recent months by the ferocity of grassroots opposition to its agenda from the right, which in turn has driven down support for both the president and health care reform. I continue to believe that President Obama will get some sort of health care reform through Congress, but it will be a while before we can assess whether the policy outcome justifies the political costs involved.Add/View CommentsIntentional Grounding
When the text
of today’s speech to students by President Obama was released in advance yesterday, a good friend remarked to me that, as she expected, the whole youth indoctrination
brouhaha turned out to be much ado about nothing
. The speech reads as a fairly straightforward call for students to stay in school, in part through the exercise of greater personal responsibility. Given my friend’s comments, I decided to play devil’s advocate by replying that she was correct about the actual text released by the White House, but that
wasn’t necessarily the speech Obama intended
to give, before all of the controversy.
Sure enough, despite some kind words
from conservatives like Newt Gingrich, the dominant line among political elites and observers on the right is that only their pressure forced the White House to sanitize
what would have otherwise been a much more ideological speech to the students. Critics point to the clumsily worded lesson plans developed by the Department of Education as fairly incriminating circumstantial evidence of the Obama Administration’s intentions.
My broader point in devil’s advocate mode is that until Democrats more effectively counter conservative success in painting President Obama as a big government liberal with socialist tendencies toward redistribution, virtually every policy debate will be squeezed through this same ideological filter. We have seen it now for both health care and education, and conservatives will continue to drive a similar narrative on presidential motives (and drive down public support) for whatever policy issue Obama turns to next.Add/View CommentsLabor Intensive
You can catch me as a guest this Sunday morning on WMUR-TV’s Close Up
(10 a.m., Ch. 9). I will be doing a lightning round on a variety of hot local and national political topics with host Sean McDonald. The second half of the show features McDonald’s interview with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
After the long Labor Day weekend, I will be back on Tuesday, September 8th, with new content for you. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend. See you soon. -DeanAdd/View CommentsFive for Fighting
If you are still harboring any doubts that both national political parties view retiring New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg’s seat as a political plumb, check out this new web video (watch here
) released by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The video mocks a group of five Senate hopefuls as comprising a Republican Dream Team
, and features among its targets former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. Chiding Ayotte for breaking a promise to serve a full second term in order to advance her own career
, the video places her alongside other high-profile Republican candidates around the country like former Ohio Congressman (and Dartmouth alum) Rob Portman, who is labeled a Bush Insider
, and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who is dubbed one of America’s worst CEOs
Add/View CommentsJoint Pain
I know that some Granite Staters found it refreshing when the Union Leader
ran an editorial
in early August brushing back Washington elites
in the national party for getting overly involved in state Republican candidate recruitment, but given how fundraising and technology have nationalized local elections, I am not sure there is any turning back at this point. In fact, I wrote a Portsmouth Herald column
about this phenomenon during last year’s Senate race between John E. Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen, in the context of the tremendous number of negative ads being run in the state by the national parties and other outside groups. I don’t expect the battle for Judd Gregg’s seat to be any less nationalized in 2010, and this new DSCC video only reinforces that assumption.
You may have heard that President Obama will address
a joint session of Congress next Wednesday evening, in order to give a “major speech" on health care reform. There has been a lot of talk recently about the need for Obama to reset
the reform debate in the wake of sliding poll numbers and tumultuous town hall meetings, and it looks like the president is getting ready to push the reset button.
It is true that the media loves to write a good comeback story, and Obama’s health care reform struggle might be just about ripe for one. But given that the expectations to be set for next Wednesday evening are likely to be stratospheric, I am not sure a single speech can pivot the entire debate, even with Obama’s oratory skills.
Going into the speech, the White House should be focusing on just two tasks, clarify and simplify. Viewers should come away from the speech able to answer the following question: What does a White House-backed reform plan look like? If Obama spends most of his time defensively swatting down criticism, as he has done at his own town halls, then I don’t think he will move the debate much. The president should also stay away from his own well-worn boilerplate…If you like your health care, you can keep your health care…He needs a fresh take on the issue more than ever.
Answering the above question will require the president to explain precisely what he expects from the legislative branch. With multiple reform bills still floating around Congress, opponents have been able to successfully cherry-pick whatever controversial material they would like to highlight, even if some of the items would most certainly not have a place in any final piece of legislation. Obama’s task for the address is pretty straightforward, but given all that has transpired over the summer, it is also a tall order.Add/View CommentsA Spot of Tea for NH Democrats
Late last week, the New Hampshire Democratic Party released its latest riff on the Republican Party chair John Sununu, Sr. as Rip Van Winkle meme. The NHDP has moved quite aggressively over the past year to negatively brand a number of key state Republican players like Sununu, Sr., Kelly Ayotte, and Judd Gregg. While some attempts have missed
the mark, I’ve noted before that this “Rip Van” Sununu caricature has been one of the more effective ones. I have written
in a similar vein about Sununu’s use of the dated phrase, the San Francisco Agenda
But something different caught my attention in this latest video
, set to the tune of Kelly Clarkson’s Since You’ve Been Gone
. Among other accomplishments, the video celebrates state Democratic success in solving the education funding crisis, without a sales or income tax
. Now I know that Gov. John Lynch has consistently opposed both kinds of taxes over the years, but the Sununu video gives this opposition the feel of a central party tenet. If so, what about the significant number of progressives in the party who talk regularly about the need to revisit the issue of broad-based taxes? The state party’s 2008 platform
seems to suggest reconsideration, even while this video trumpets the absence of both taxes as a key Democratic selling point. At a minimum, this should make for some interesting intra-party discussion.