September Senate Showdown
Per my last posting, I’ve been away from the website until today, so I was unable to provide you with advance notice of my appearance this morning as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. On the show, I participated in a preview of the September 14th primaries to replace retiring U.S. Senator Judd Gregg. If you were unable to catch the show this morning, or the 8 p.m. rebroadcast this evening, I hope you will check out the program’s podcast here.
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August Encore
It is time for me to squeeze just a little bit more summer fun out of the month of August. So, I will be away from the website all of next week, and will return on Tuesday, August 31st with new content for you. See you soon. -Dean
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Banking with Barbour
I’ve written on many occasions about the fact that much of the chatter surrounding the 2012 invisible primary involves a number of Republican presidential hopefuls who ultimately have little chance of actually being their party's nominee. Increasingly prominent among those names is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. I have previously predicted that despite the frequent media buzz surrounding his latest political moves, Barbour is just not likely to ever be the Republican presidential nominee. A new Politico article, which dubs Barbour The Most Powerful Republican in Politics, aptly describes the problem he faces:
A portly Southern conservative who represented tobacco firms and made millions building a lobbying firm isn’t the ideal profile for a Republican nominee in this or any political environment.
But the article’s larger point is that Barbour is a tremendously powerful political operative (and prodigious fundraiser), who controls a big bankroll of midterm election cash as head of the Republican Governors Association. At this point in the presidential election cycle, this is actually one of the most interesting aspects of the invisible primary. That is watching Republican political elites like Barbour, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, all of whom may ultimately take a pass on running for president in 2012, nonetheless compete to wield political influence in the upcoming nomination battle.
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Mike and Mitt in Iowa
It was just a few months ago that I was noting former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s relative absence from political headlines dealing with the 2012 invisible presidential primary. At the time, Huckabee had just made a few public moves seemingly designed to generate some renewed media attention, but his endorsement of a whole slate of candidates in Iowa this week clearly signals his intention to be a player in Republican presidential politics during the next cycle, even if he doesn’t actually run for his party’s nomination.
Huckabee got some good news this week with the release of a new poll showing him leading the Republican field in a hypothetical Iowa Caucus match-up. Part of this showing is no doubt a carryover from his 2008 victory there, as Huckabee continues to have a strong relationship with the social and religious conservatives who participate in the caucus in large numbers, and who would likely mobilize for him should he run again. I continue to believe that even with another Iowa win in 2012, Huckabee is unlikely to be the Republican nominee, but his continued strength in Iowa will provide him with a real opportunity to play nomination politics.
Interestingly enough, the new Iowa poll is also pretty good news for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in that he only trails Huckabee by four points. Conventional wisdom has been that religious conservatives in Iowa are sufficiently suspicious of Romney’s conservative credentials (and Mormonism) that he would likely need to instead launch his candidacy with a win in New Hampshire.  If Romney were to finish a close second to Huckabee in Iowa, however, that could give his candidacy some additional momentum heading into the more comfortable political terrain of the New Hampshire Primary. I guess it’s no surprise that Romney is headed back to the Hawkeye State in the very near future.
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It's Not So Humid Out
I will be away from the website for a few days. I’ll be back on Wednesday, August 18th with new content for you. See you soon. -Dean
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Immigration Triangulation
I recently wrote a post in which I at least half-seriously suggested that the Cornerstone ad Shockingly Liberal, which attacks Republican Senate hopeful Bill Binnie, could have the unintended consequence of making Binnie actually sound more appealing to moderates and independents in the general election. But Binnie of course has to get through a Republican primary first, so now we have a new ad from his campaign called English Language. In the ad, Binnie says that if elected he will insist all immigrants learn English, and concludes that Americans should have allegiance to one flag and to one official language, English. If you’ve spent even just a few minutes listening to conservative talk radio lately, you know that immigration (and its implications for American culture) has become perhaps the single biggest flashpoint for conservative anger.
So, this new ad represents an interesting bit of issue triangulation by the Binnie campaign. The question is whether it is a sign of fear within the campaign that the Cornerstone ad could do some real damage, hence this rightward tack by the candidate on immigration. On the other hand, with former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte now entertaining possible revision of the 14th Amendment on birthright citizenship, this stance on language still puts Binnie somewhere to the left of Ayotte, and closer to the median voter in our state. What we don’t really know yet is how far to the right past these fairly safe language and flag positions Binnie is willing to move.
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Meet Me in the Lobby
When the second district Democratic primary between Anne Mclane Kuster and Katrina Swett heated up recently, some political observers pointed to the Swett campaign’s attack on Kuster’s lobbying background as the initial salvo in that skirmish. The Swett campaign argued that Kuster has profited handsomely from representing the special legislative interests of a variety of corporate entities, particularly pharmaceutical companies. The Kuster campaign has countered that their candidate actually focused on beneficial public policy work in areas about which she genuinely cares, like providing free prescription medication to senior citizens. At the time, I took a wait-and-see attitude about whether the Swett attack would have political legs.
Well, with the news that Katrina Swett has herself been a registered lobbyist, it now appears that the Swett campaign is actually the one being undercut by this issue. Swett is claiming that although she was a registered member of her family’s lobbying firm, she never actually lobbied on behalf of clients. I think she is probably telling the truth here. I know plenty of family businesses in which various members are listed as officers of the corporation, but aren’t actually involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm.
But what a tactical blunder by the Swett campaign! I can’t think of a better way to muddle their core negative message against Kuster than with the news that Swett has herself been a registered lobbyist. It doesn’t matter that she may not have been actively engaged in the profession. For anyone paying casual attention to the race (which most people are in August), this disclosure will simply be seen as more evidence that politicians and would-be politicians are in the pocket of corporate America. If the Swett campaign has to get into a debate with the Kuster camp about which candidate was a bigger lobbyist, then the potential impact of the original negative attack is essentially lost.
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Charlie's Big Tent
Back in October 2009, when I first started thinking seriously about former Republican Rep. Charlie Bass’ emerging bid to reclaim his second district Congressional seat, I suggested that his optimal strategy would be to turn the Republican primary discourse into an argument about viability in the general election.  The objective would be to make a persuasive case to primary voters that he is the Republican best positioned to win the seat in November, given the increasingly moderate political demographics of the second district. The major caveat with this strategy of course was whether he would hit a roadblock of conservative opposition in the primary. Bass’ status as a former six-term incumbent and a moderate are not necessarily the kind of resume-builders that make for a popular candidate in Republican primaries these days.
Fortunately for Bass, tea partiers and social conservatives have largely turned their attention elsewhere, and as a result, he seems increasingly comfortable with talking about viability in the general election. Witness this recent YouTube clip in which Bass discusses the necessity of winning in November with a coalition that cuts across party lines (hat tip to the Concord Monitor for mentioning the clip). Talk like that in some of the other Republican primaries being held around the country this year would be a recipe for conservative ire and certain defeat.
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean
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The Group Dynamic
The only thing more predictable than the campaign outcry over recent advocacy group ads targeting Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes and Republican Senate hopeful Bill Binnie is that these kinds of ads have once again shown up in our local electoral discourse like clockwork. As an aside, let me suggest to the Binnie campaign that it should take heart in the potential for the Cornerstone ad to actually make Bill Binnie sound more viable than Kelly Ayotte for a general election run, given my sense of where the median voter is ideologically in New Hampshire.
There is no denying that this style of independent advocacy ad quickly turns the campaign environment down and dirty, while the candidates try (often in vain) to avoid getting their shoes muddied. I’ve written previously about how changes in technology, campaign finance regulations, and the media culture have given rise to these ads, and about why I don’t think they are going away anytime soon. If it’s any consolation to those candidates who find themselves on the receiving end of these attacks, media coverage of the resultant controversy often generates an unparalleled opportunity for candidate visibility and mobilization of core (angered) supporters.
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Inhospitable Climate Redux
Here is an update on an earlier update for you. I recently wrote about the all too predictable demise of comprehensive energy legislation dealing with climate change in the U.S. Senate. As was also predictable, the House recently passed a narrow bill focused on various remedies coming out of the BP Gulf oil spill experience. At the time of my posting on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was attempting to move his own version of the spill bill quickly through the chamber in advance of the Senate shutting down for summer recess at the end of this week.
This struck me as legislatively dubious, and sure enough on Tuesday Reid pulled the plug on the legislation completely, postponing consideration until at least September. If the chances of passage were slim in recent weeks, my guess is they will be close to none in the fall lead-up to the midterm elections. Keep in mind that the House passed energy legislation dealing with climate change over a year ago in June 2009. For my take on why energy legislation is a frequent casualty of Congressional politics, I refer you back to the original post.
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The Myth of the Independent Freshman
You may have already seen former Republican Mayor Frank Guinta’s new negative ad, which uses animation to attack Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. The gist of the Guinta ad is that Shea-Porter is a partisan pawn who votes in line with the wishes of the House Democratic leadership. Guinta closes out the ad by arguing that, in contrast, he would be an independent (and conservative) leader who would shake things up in Washington. This line of argument has been employed by challengers in every election cycle in memory, in order to paint the incumbent as a puppet of his or her party’s leadership team in the House. In this case, it is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is said to be pulling Shea-Porter’s legislative strings in a liberal direction.
The idea of an independently-voting, freshman Congressman is a popular myth.  Unlike the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives is in reality a largely hierarchical political institution, in which leaders have a variety of tools at their disposal for enforcing party discipline. Freshmen representatives (as well as those like Shea-Porter with only a few terms under their belts) who consistently vote against the wishes of their party’s leadership (in the interest of shaking things up) quickly find themselves with the worst committee assignments, little or no time to speak or introduce amendments on the floor of the chamber, and end up with prime office space right next to the Cannon House Office Building furnace room.
If you want to argue about the need to substitute one party’s policy agenda for the other, then that is certainly fair game for the Guinta campaign. But Shea-Porter’s voting behavior is fairly standard (and to be expected) for less senior members of the House. The reason why the 1994 Republican Revolution of conservative House freshman was successful was because those junior representatives were closely aligned with Speaker Newt Gingrich in pushing the Contract with America. Gingrich in turn changed the seniority rules so that some of these new members could leapfrog their peers into positions of power, in order to pursue a more conservative agenda.  But you can bet they voted in line with his preferences.
Note: Back posting on Thursday. -Dean
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Inhospitable Climate
Here is a policy update for you. Back in early June, I was a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange for a show on the politics of the BP Gulf oil spill. On the show, I predicted that there was no chance that Congress would be able to pass comprehensive energy legislation addressing climate change, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted he would move forward on the issue before Congress recessed for the summer. I expressed that same sentiment in a post dealing with President Obama’s Oval Office address on the spill a few days later. At best, I thought Congress might pass smaller legislation focused specifically on drilling, and oil and gas production.
Well, all of that has recently come to pass. Senate Democrats have officially bailed on any comprehensive energy legislation, at least until after the midterm elections (when prospects will likely be even dimmer for passage). The House just passed a narrow bill dealing specifically with drilling safety, spill liability limits, and oil and gas production fees. In the Senate, Reid is quickly moving his own smaller package, but its future is uncertain.
It has been my experience that when the country undergoes periods of economic distress and/or extreme partisan polarization, energy legislation is usually one of the first political casualties. Many of its policy targets are far off in the future and come with large price tags. The reality is that issues of energy independence, alternative fuels, and climate change have become significant ideological lighting rods for Washington policy debates. I could already tell back in the spring that the current energy legislation episode would be no different.
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