Headline Humor
I unfolded a copy of the Concord Monitor on Saturday and smack in the center of the front page was a special box labeled Primary 2012. The headline on the encapsulated story read, Angle keeps options open, a reference to former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s visit to the Granite State on Friday to publicize a conservative film on science and religion. Specifically, the headline summarized Angle’s response to a reporter’s question about whether she was weighing a possible run for the White House in 2012.
I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that when it comes to winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Sharron Angle has no viable options.  She could certainly run for statewide office in Nevada again (she received 45% of the vote last time), but that is a separate issue from covering her as a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination.  My sense is that even Angle finds this particular line of questioning to be somewhat amusing.
Those of you who are regular readers know that I continue to resist the notion that every politician who sets foot in the state in the year before the primary must be asked about whether they harbor presidential ambitions. I think doing so detracts from the seriousness of the enterprise undertaken by those who do have a legitimate shot (even loosely defined) at ascending to the highest elected office in the land. Angle was here simply because producers scheduled her into early contest states as a means of maximizing publicity for the film. There is nothing about her losing senatorial campaign that would suggest to me that a run for president is a realistic option for her. I had the same reaction when I saw this article back in January, but let it slide at the time. So, my plea to local reporters (likely to go unheeded) is: It’s ok not to ask.
Back posting on Wednesday.
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Later Rather Than Thune
I guess I won’t be writing about John Thune regularly for the next year after all. You may have heard that the South Dakota senator announced yesterday that he will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012. From talking to Republican political elites over the past month, I had already gotten the sense that betting money was heavily on a no go for Thune, but now it is official. I first wrote about the possibility of a Thune candidacy back in January 2010, when I made the argument that he quite possibly fit the suit as a conservative evangelical version of President Obama.
In a post on Monday, I floated several possible explanations for why various Republican presidential hopefuls might opt out of a presidential bid this time around, and Thune seems to have touched on at least two of them in his announcement. First, as a relatively young senator (he just turned 50), there really is no rush for him to run, thus his I’m best utilized in the Senate right now rationale. The possibility of a completely open race in 2016 probably looks pretty good to him. Second, Thune essentially acknowledged that running against an upwardly-trending sitting president is a tall order, especially in terms of fundraising where we could be looking at the first billion dollar presidential race in history. So, while we can now remove one legitimate contender from the big list of Republican possibilities, I would bet we’ll be back talking about Senator Thune sometime in the next four to eight years.
Back posting on Monday.
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Delayed Gratification
The question I get asked most frequently these days is about why it is taking so long for Republican presidential hopefuls to formally declare their intentions. It is true that by this time in the 2008 election cycle several high profile presidential exploratory committees were up and running for the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney, among others. But while delayed entry into the race seems to be the norm this time around, potential candidates are still engaged in the same sorts of invisible primary activities they always undertake, like visiting early contest states for party dinners, book tours, and other special events that bring them into regular contact with party elites, grassroots activists, and the media.
What I find most interesting (and entertaining) about this situation, however, is that all of the politicians currently included on the long speculative list of possible Republican candidates seem to crave the attention that goes along with their inclusion in the ongoing conversation among political observers, party elites, and the media. But clearly none of them wants to be the first to officially throw his or her hat into the ring. I can think of several plausible reasons for this:
First, the potential for a completely open race with no incumbent in 2016 is likely making some individuals hesitate. It’s more difficult to run against an incumbent with the power of the presidency behind him, even if he’s had a rough couple of years like President Obama. Second, some may be waiting to see if Obama and the economy continue to trend up over the next quarter, which would make his reelection more likely. Third, the ubiquitous nature of social media technology and our cable news culture have made it remarkably easy for candidates to build their national profile without the formal infrastructure of an exploratory committee. Fourth, I think the candidates realize that the first one to formally enter the race will be hit with a tidal wave of attention that could actually be counterproductive for building a viable campaign.
Finally, despite the endless speculation about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, I honestly don’t think the oft-mentioned candidate pecking order phenomenon is driving the delay here (i.e., I’m waiting to see if so-and-so gets in before I decide). It’s still reasonable to assume that some candidates will jump into the race by the end of April at the latest. At least that is what they now seem to be signaling to those of us who are eager for the games to officially begin.
Back posting on Wednesday.
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The Palin Bachmann Parallel
Granite State Republicans haven’t had any success in getting former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to make our state part of her political travels as she continues to flirt with the idea of a presidential bid in 2012. But they are about to get the closest thing to the original article when Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann visits New Hampshire in mid-March. Palin and Bachmann cut very similar political profiles right down to their social and religious conservatism, Midwestern folksiness, outspoken (and polarizing) leadership roles in the tea party movement, and generally high media visibility. Bachmann is also rumored to be considering a run for the Republican nomination.
What I find intriguing is the possibility that Bachmann’s visit could serve the dual purpose of introducing the Congresswoman to local Republican activists and voters, while also giving political observers an approximate read on how Palin might play here should she ever set foot in the state again. While I have previously been skeptical about Bachmann’s potential to be the Republican nominee (and I still am), I will say that given her systematic approach to visiting early primary and caucus states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, she is increasingly looking like a more serious candidate than Palin. In the coming months, I will be interested to see the extent to which Bachmann is able to crowd into the public space in our political culture previously reserved for Palin.
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Fuss Budget
Governor Lynch gives his biennial budget address tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., and you’ll be getting a political analysis twofer from me in the bargain. I’ll be doing a budget address preview show on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, followed by a budget wrap-up show on Wednesday morning. I’m sure we’ll spend a fair bit of time on Republican reaction to the Lynch proposals, as well. You can listen to both shows (and Governor Lynch’s address) live over the web here. I’ll also post the podcast for each of the two Exchange shows once they are available.
Update: As promised, here are the podcasts for your listening pleasure: Tuesday's preview show; Governor Lynch's budget address; Wednesday's review show. Back posting on Friday.
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Presidential Politics Live (with Beer)
I am pleased to announce that for the 2012 presidential primary season, I will be participating in WKXL News Radio’s Road to the White House series. Each month we’ll be taping a live show with presidential hopefuls at the Barley House pub in Concord (on Main Street, directly across from the Statehouse). I’ll be joining New Hampshire Now hosts Chris Ryan and Frank Alosa for what we hope will be a great opportunity for voters to question the candidates in true Granite State style.
We are kicking off the series tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 p.m. with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. My understanding is that local Republican politico Ovide Lamontagne will also be in the house to give his take on how the race is shaping up. If you can’t join us for the live show tomorrow, you can still listen to the taped broadcast on Monday at 10 a.m. on WKXL (103.9 FM, 1450 AM). You can also listen to the show on Monday over the web here. I hope to see you at the Barley House tomorrow afternoon, and at future shows in the Road to the White House series.
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You may have heard that the centrist Democratic Leadership Council is permanently closing up shop. There was a time in the 1990s when it seemed like the organization had discovered the keys to sustained power through dominance of the political center, an ideological space where many American voters continue to reside today. Bill Clinton’s two terms as president were undoubtedly the apex of the DLC’s electoral success.
Those glory days aside, however, I’ve had the sense that the DLC’s influence has been waning for some time, ever since former Vermont Governor Howard Dean hit the organization relentlessly on the Iraq War in the 2004 presidential campaign. With Hillary Clinton losing the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, and other younger leaders (and DLC chairs) like former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. leaving elected office, there really was no compelling leadership left to move the organization forward.
While presidents will continue to move pragmatically to the ideological center when necessary to achieve their legislative objectives, the demise of the DLC will likely reinforce the prevailing wisdom on both the left and right that this sort of centrist positioning is really a form of political capitulation to be avoided at all costs, rather than a strategic imperative geared toward the achievement of legitimate policy goals. This is a fittingly polarizing assumption about politics at a polarizing time in our politics.
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Pataki Take Two
Word on the street is that former New York Governor George Pataki is seriously considering another run for president in 2012. He has apparently left the helm of his independent advocacy group, Revere America, in order to give potential entry into the race a closer look. Pataki formed Revere America during the 2010 midterm elections as a vehicle for spending big money on opposition to health care reform, pushing it as a wedge issue for candidates and voters.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have not been particularly kind to Pataki. Whenever these occasional stories on a potential second run arise, I am inevitably moved (given his previous attempt) to ask the question, why? If Pataki is being motivated by a desire to remain part of the national political conversation, then I would say Revere America is his best opportunity to do so for the foreseeable future, and I’m surprised to see him give that up. What kind of rational political calculus would tell the former governor that a presidential campaign looks like a better option for him? Perhaps Pataki will reach the same conclusion in the next month or so, but I’m not so sure.
Back posting on Thursday.
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Neutrality Acts
The changing of the guard over at New Hampshire Republican Party headquarters has provided some fairly entertaining political drama for local political observers lately. First, we had newly minted Chairman Jack Kimball talking about applying an ideological litmus test to candidates in the Republican presidential primary, while receiving a remarkable amount of national media attention for his link to the tea party movement. 
Now we have newly appointed NHGOP Executive Director Will Wrobleski being taken to task for recent remarks suggesting that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty isn’t sufficiently conservative to be the Republican nominee. In fairness to Wrobleski, the comments were apparently made before he was offered the position with the state party, but there is also a lingering concern among some institutional elites that he may be too firmly in Mitt Romney’s corner to fulfill the neutral role traditionally designated for party officials.
Watching this newly installed apparatus deal with all of the political fallout illustrates the difficulty of transitioning from a movement or activist mindset to one focused instead on institutional growth and stability. Restated, being responsible for creating the optimal conditions under which others can engage in ideological battle is a fundamentally different political enterprise than actually joining the fray oneself (certainly where primaries are concerned). The latest incarnation of the NHGOP seems to be learning this lesson in public the hard way.
Note: Back posting on Tuesday. -Dean
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The View on RomneyCare
The more I think about Mitt Romney and health care (yes, I actually do), and the more I talk to Republican political elites about the issue, the more convinced I am that the Massachusetts program mandating coverage could be a political Waterloo for him during the presidential primaries. From an issues perspective, it’s the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room at Romney headquarters. The fact that the policy has its own informal moniker, RomneyCare, just like ObamaCare, should be a red flag for his campaign. The phrase will no doubt be used frequently by conservative opponents as handy pejorative shorthand for Romney-sanctioned, big government intrusion.
Romney’s recent defense of the policy on The View doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence that he’ll be able to dismiss critics during the primaries. On the show, he makes a cursory states’ rights argument that what works for Massachusetts is not necessarily the appropriate solution for other states. But the problem for Romney is not the state v. federal angle. For his conservative opponents, the concern is that Romney agreed to the substantive ideas in the Massachusetts legislation (including mandatory coverage and penalties for noncompliance) in the first place, and the high cost of the program has turned into an additional headache for the former governor. I expect that Romney’s opponents in the presidential race will disparage RomneyCare with the same vigor they currently use against President Obama, and the conservative Republican primary electorate will likely be receptive to the criticism.
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