Gun Controlled
When I read the statement by Rep. Paul Hodes commending the U.S. Supreme Court’s pro-gun rights Second Amendment decision yesterday, for just a brief moment I was quite surprised. I quickly realized that this was not because of anything Hodes had said or done on the issue in the past, but was simply due to the fact that after having lived for many years in major urban centers with significant gun violence, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Philadelphia, I reflexively associate pro-gun control positions with elected Democratic officials (who also typically run these cities).
The past few decades have shown that the socio-economic causes of gun violence are at least somewhat impervious to stricter regulation, so it will be interesting to see where places like Chicago (a party to the Supreme Court case) and Washington, D.C. go from here, now that the issue of gun rights seems more constitutionally settled than at any other time in a generation.
From a campaign perspective, Hodes’ position makes some political sense. New Hampshire's small cities don't have the same level of gun violence as major urban areas with much larger populations, but the state does have a long tradition of sport hunting, and a libertarian streak that seems well-suited to an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment. As an article over at suggests, Hodes apparently isn’t the only Democrat running for office who seems pleased with the Supreme Court ruling.
Note: Since I was unable to link to the Hodes press release, for those of you who haven't seen the quote, here it is: The right to bear arms is central to our Constitution, and today the Supreme Court held firm in safeguarding this right for all Americans. Last year, I wrote the Supreme Court urging it to protect the Second Amendment in this case, and I am pleased that its decision will protect the rights of all Americans and Granite Staters alike.
I'll be away from the website tomorrow, and back posting on Thursday. -Dean
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Confirmation Confab
I’m sorry that I was unable to post a preview of this morning’s New Hampshire Public Radio show on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. But I hope you were still able to catch me as a guest on The Exchange, where we had a wide-ranging discussion on the broad legal and political themes likely to dominate the proceedings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearings got underway in the afternoon with about three hours of opening statements from all of the key institutional players. If you missed the show, you can listen to the podcast here.
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Get Your Summer On
I will be away from the website for a few days, and will be back with new content for you on Monday, June 28th. See you soon. -Dean
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Hodes Enters Stage Left
When Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes’ poll numbers in the race for U.S. Senate started to feel stagnant back in February, I suggested that he was at a bit of a competitive disadvantage given the dynamics of the Republican primary contest. It is often quite difficult for the presumptive nominee of one party to break into the political discourse of a competitive primary in the other party. A candidate can find himself largely relegated to the sidelines until the general election, as the media focuses on the other party’s horse race right up to the primary.
Well, Hodes may finally be getting his chance to break into the discussion, and a few months early to boot. Ever since the story broke nationally on former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte’s legislative testimony in the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal, Hodes’ aggressive campaigning on the issue has brought him some renewed visibility. For the national media, this Senate race has always been about the potential ascendancy of Ayotte to the Washington political scene. Anything that might derail that storyline is going to get a lot of attention, and judging by all of the national references to both Hodes and Ayotte that I’ve seen over the past few days (for example, item #3 here), Hodes appears to be the primary beneficiary at the moment.
Back in my earlier post, I talked about Hodes needing an opportunity to break into the campaign discourse, but even this unexpectedly direct pairing of him and Ayotte in the national media is no guarantee that he can change the dynamics of the race. Some fresh polling data in July will give us a better sense of whether Hodes is finally getting some traction here, and whether Ayotte is finally slipping in response to the FRM scandal.
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A Troubling Trifecta
The political narrative surrounding the BP Gulf oil spill has been so all encompassing  (and rightly so) that there hasn’t been much opportunity to focus on the pending Obama Administration nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. With Kagan’s confirmation hearing set to begin next Monday, however, we shall see whether such a typically high-profile public spectacle can finally push its way toward the top of the daily political discussion (probably just below the BP debacle). The Kagan nomination story has been out there all along over the past few months, but you’ve had to search for it a bit.
I’ve written previously about the rhetorical hallmark of any good Supreme Court nomination battle – the troubling of various Senators in the political opposition, especially those lined up to do the questioning and voting on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Kagan nomination came back onto my own political radar screen in part because the recent release of thousands of Kagan emails by the Clinton Library, and memos from Kagan’s days as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall resulted in a spectacular troubling trifecta by Republican Senators John Kyl, Jeff Sessions, and Mitch McConnell.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Republicans are any closer to filibustering Kagan’s nomination, although Minority Leader McConnell hasn’t taken it off the table either. But it could be a sign that Republicans, sensing Obama Administration weakness in the wake of BP, could be planning to go after Kagan more aggressively than might otherwise have been the case.
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Consequences for Kelly?
I am still trying to figure out the political impact, if any, of former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte’s testimony in front of the joint legislative committee investigating the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal earlier this week. I predicted in a previous post that Ayotte likely wouldn’t say much of anything new on Monday, and she didn’t. Democrats, especially those in the Hodes campaign, were pummeling Ayotte on the issue for weeks before her testimony, and they still are today. Ovide Lamontagne was the only Republican challenger hitting Ayotte on the FRM scandal before, and he appears to still be the only Republican candidate doing it now. So, not much seems to have changed in the grand scheme of the Senate race’s political narrative, at least not yet.
But the Ayotte campaign can’t be happy about having this article pop up on earlier today, which discusses a tape of earlier comments by the attorney general, in which she at least gives the appearance of contradicting her testimony on the extent of her jurisdiction over consumer fraud cases. Even so, it is not yet clear that for all of the buzz among local political elites (and among some in the national media) about Ayotte being put on the defensive by the FRM scandal, that it has had a substantial impact on how Granite State voters view her candidacy.
I guess we really need some fresh polling data to see if it is starting to eat into her favorability rating and primary contest lead. It could certainly hurt her in the short-term with institutional elites at the National Republican Senatorial Committee who have been firmly behind her candidacy during the primary season, and in the longer run with independent voters who might be sitting on the fence in November.  But it feels to me like the political jury is still out on this one.
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Mentioning Mike
The recent spate of Mike Huckabee-related items on the web reminded me that the former Arkansas governor has almost completely vanished from the political discourse in recent months. Huckabee seems to be feeling the public relations drought as well, hence his recent attempts to reinsert himself into the flow of presidential politics. To this end, Huckabee has taken Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a possible contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, to task over comments Daniels made suggesting that conservatives should deemphasize social issues, in order to focus on solving the country’s fiscal problems. Huckabee also recently complained to the Des Moines Register that it should not have excluded him from its polling for the next Iowa Caucus.
Why does Huckabee, who polled quite well as a potential future Republican nominee throughout 2009, seem to have slipped from public consciousness a bit? Part of the explanation may be that (as the Des Moines Register suggested in its own defense) Huckabee is no longer behaving like a presidential hopeful, in comparison to others like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and even Rick Santorum. His own publicly-stated ambivalence (whether genuine, or not) may have unintentionally undercut his future viability as a candidate.
But it may also be the case that Huckabee is an increasingly poor fit for the current conservative mood. His strength as a candidate in 2008 was always in his ability to play well with others by finding common ground, even when there was real disagreement on core issues and values. My sense is that movement conservatives are no longer in any mood to work toward this sort of rapprochement with other political actors; the tea party movement is ample testimony to this fundamental change in the electoral environment. So, Huckabee may now find himself in a position where his two political options are to get tough, or get out. I’m not sure whether Huckabee has reached this realization yet, but he seems to be on his way there.
Note: I'll be away tomorrow, and back posting on Friday. -Dean
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Obama in the Oval
Like most political observers, I will be tuned in at 8 p.m. tonight to watch President Obama’s 20-minute primetime address on the BP Gulf oil spill. Given how highly visible Obama has been over the first 18 months of his presidency, it is a little surprising that this will be his first formal address from the Oval Office. There has been a lot of talk among political observers over the past few days that this speech may be the president’s last best opportunity to reset the largely negative political narrative of his handling of the crisis. We shall see whether the symbolism and gravitas of the setting are sufficient to accomplish that task tonight, or whether there truly are rhetorical limits to the reach of the president’s bully pulpit.  An evening televised presidential address from the Oval Office, if appropriately timed and not over-utilized, is about as powerful as that rhetorical leadership gets.
I’ve also heard the idea floated that Obama may once again press Congress for a renewed push on comprehensive energy legislation. Those of you who listened to the recent New Hampshire Public Radio show on this topic know that I don’t think this kind of legislation is particularly likely at the moment. So, I’m not sure that Obama should waste many of his precious 20-minutes jawboning Congress on the issue, as I don’t think it will make much of a difference in the legislative politics currently surrounding it. He should focus on the immediate task of convincingly detailing how both BP and the federal government will move forward to cap the well, clean up the mess, and deal with all of the economic dislocation. That would be plenty.
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Hit By Mitt
We may have gotten a little preview today of a potential 2012 presidential match-up. I am referring to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s scorching op-ed piece in USA TODAY, in which he excoriates President Obama for a lack of leadership on the BP oil spill disaster. The gist of Romney’s argument is that Obama has spent too much time assigning blame to others, instead of providing a much needed umbrella of executive leadership on the ground in the Gulf region.
Whatever the political motives driving Romney’s decision to offer this opinion piece right now, I must say that he is shrewd to couch his criticism of Obama in the need for a president to transcend partisan politics during times of crisis. This approach allows him to cite presidents from both parties as examples of leaders who have risen to the occasion during earlier moments of national peril. Romney even throws in a little sympathy for former Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, a Louisiana native who has been unusually outspoken (even for him) in his criticism of President Obama’s response to the spill. Romney’s op-ed strikes me as a clever piece of political rhetoric, precisely because it draws its rationale from his stated intention of transcending politics.
You should also note that Romney manages to slip the word turnaround into his piece, an intentional (if oblique) reference to his own reputation as a problem-solver in the world of big business. In doing so, he is essentially offering himself up as an alternative leader with the experience and know-how to tackle complex problems, without actually coming out and saying it. He probably figures that there will plenty of time for that in 2012.
Note: I’ll be away from the website tomorrow and Monday, and back posting on Tuesday. -Dean
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Kick the Can
Even if you are not closely following the BP oil spill disaster, by now you have probably seen the clip of President Obama discussing his approach to determining precisely whose ass to kick so many times that you can recite it from memory. It is true that force of rhetoric is an important component of presidential leadership, and you shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the symbolic role played by the Commander-in-Chief during times of national crisis. But Obama’s careful choice of words in this particular instance strikes me as just too calculated for this late date in the Gulf catastrophe.
I understand that Obama was responding to Matt Lauer’s prompting on the desire of Americans to see him kick butt on this issue, but it is clear that mounting criticism of the president’s detached demeanor has finally gotten under his skin. Most telling is Obama’s additional comment about not holding a college seminar with experts on the subject, an obvious presidential retort to the relentless conservative mocking of him as an effete intellectual, rather than a man of action. Rhetorical sparks are often a necessary part of moving the political process past a crisis and toward recovery, but President Obama’s timing here was off.
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Environmental Damage, Political Damage
You can catch me tomorrow morning as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. We will be discussing the local and national political ramifications of the BP oil spill for future energy policy and the 2010 midterm elections. You can listen to the show live at 9 a.m. here (top menu), or the podcast later here.
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Kelly in the Hot Seat
It looks like Granite State Democrats will finally get their wish, as former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte appears likely to publicly testify next week, in front of the joint legislative committee exploring the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal.  Ayotte has previously said that she had no personal knowledge of the matter, and has already spoken privately with current Attorney General Michael Delaney. But given her status as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, there is no way that Ayotte can avoid giving public testimony on the scandal without looking like she has something to hide, and there is certainly plenty of interest among FRM investors, political campaigns, and the media in hearing what she has to say, which I am guessing will be not much new.
It is true that this is a no-win situation for Ayotte, but Democrats should be careful not to overplay their hand by turn the hearing into the kind of predictable partisan dogfight in which they seem primed to attack, while Ayotte’s defenders circle the wagons by commending the witness for her years of governmental service. In any event, after weeks of why won’t Kelly testify press releases, my guess is that the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the Hodes campaign have already drafted new ones for after the hearing, which will say that Ayotte’s testimony shows that she was either a) out-of-touch in office, or b) has yet to come clean. It is an election year after all, and Ayotte’s performance as Attorney General is fair game (for her primary opponents, as well).
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The Return of Rudy
Several websites have picked up on the news that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is returning to New Hampshire next week to headline a Republican fundraiser. His visit will lead to some unavoidable speculation about the possibility of another Giuliani presidential bid in 2012. As was true the first time around in 2008, the Granite State offers a logical starting point for a Giuliani candidacy. His dual focus on the economy and national security issues should (in theory) play well here, and like many New Hampshire voters, he is generally moderate on social issues.
Trying to do the same in the context of the social and religious conservatism of Iowa and South Carolina would be much more difficult for him. This was clearly Giuliani’s calculation in 2008, but it just never materialized for him in New Hampshire, and when conservatives elsewhere weren’t hammering him on a variety of issues, his own poorly run campaign was undercutting his candidacy in state after state.
So, I would be reasonably surprised to see Giuliani run again. For whatever center-right appeal he might hold for voters in the general election, the Republican primaries would still be a huge obstacle for him. Given how angry the conservative base of the party is at this point in the Obama presidency, it would likely be even harder for Giuliani to get much traction with primary voters this time. While a trip to New Hampshire is not necessarily a sign of continued presidential ambitions, the former (often provocative) mayor’s occasional presence in the state could at least make the coming months a bit more interesting and entertaining.
Note:  I'll be away from the website tomorrow, and back posting on Monday. -Dean
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The Politics of an Analogy
According to my website archives, I haven’t linked to a David Brooks column in The New York Times in well over two years, but this one from yesterday’s paper resonated with me, so that drought is coming to an end. I have been resisting the comparison between the BP Gulf oil spill and Hurricane Katrina for as long as it has been circulating in the public discourse on the latest catastrophe. As much as Republicans have been pushing the line (almost from the get-go) that the spill is President Obama’s Katrina, it just hasn’t felt like the appropriate historical analogy to me.
But David Brooks is onto something with his suggestion that the more appropriate historical comparison might end up being President Carter’s Iranian hostage crisis. When I saw that the lead story on one network’s evening news last night was entitled Oil Spill: Day 43, it brought up vivid memories for me of Ted Koppel’s weeknight show during the hostage crisis, The Iranian Crisis – America Held Hostage: Day XXX (later Nightline). It was a brutal daily reminder that Carter seemed impotent to deal with the crisis.
In my travels over the Memorial Day weekend, I had an opportunity to talk with several Obama supporters. In general, they believe that the president is getting a raw deal, and that it makes total sense for him to rely on the superior technical expertise of the oil and gas industry as the best chance for capping the spewing oil well. But I think the fair question here is whether there are other steps beyond the specific issue of stopping the flow of oil that the Obama Administration could be taking, in order to provide more relief on the ground to affected industries, communities and individuals, as well as to organize a massive mobilization of manpower for purposes of containment and clean-up. This seems to be one of the storylines increasingly being explored by the media, and in the long-run it could be as damaging for Obama as the gushing oil well itself.
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