Ghost Writer
I hear that Halloween is the new Labor Day, so I will be away from the website for a few days to do a little haunting of my own. I’ll be back on Tuesday, November 3rd with new content for you. See you soon. - Dean
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Everything Old is Anuzis Again
If you didn’t get a chance to catch Republican politico Saul Anuzis on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange earlier today, I recommend that you check out the show here. Anuzis was recently a contender for chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position which ultimately went to former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. Anuzis, who is in New Hampshire to talk with Granite State Republicans, referred to himself this morning as a recovering Republican (from eight years of President Bush, I assume). So, I was interested to hear whether he would have some sort of new take on how the GOP should go about rebuilding itself.
Other than a call for a greater use of technology to reach young voters through social networking sites, however, I didn’t hear much that I would consider fresh thinking about how to reorient the party. Incidentally, Anuzis chairs the RNC’s technology committee, but I am not sure how much responsibility he bears for the party’s recent problematic launch of its revamped website. As best I could tell from his conversation with Laura Knoy, Anuzis buys into the conservative belief that the problem for Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections was not their message, but only how it was delivered to voters. In essence, the issue was style, not substance.
I have written previously about why I think the message is actually their bigger concern, so I was disappointed to hear Anuzis fall back on standard conservative themes. It sounded to me like the Republican strategy for the 2010 midterms is to hope that Obama will create enough problems for himself (particularly with independents) to help Republicans pick up some number of seats in competitive districts or states. Beyond that, there wasn’t much of a coherent long-term strategy, especially for winning back seats in the difficult political terrain of New England.
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In case I haven’t already added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to my burgeoning list of frequently mentioned Republican presidential hopefuls who will not be the party’s nominee in 2012, let’s make it official. I take this step now only because it was confirmed over the weekend that Gingrich is once again mulling a run for president. I have written previously about Gingrich’s limitations as a potential candidate.  But I have also noted that I nonetheless expect him to be right in the thick of the selection process, not as a frontrunner, but as a party poobah with plenty of public opining about who the eventual nominee should be.
So why does Gingrich seem to go through this quadrennial mulling process election cycle after cycle? My guess is that he views it as a pragmatic means of keeping himself both relevant and highly visible in a potentially crowded field of Republican political elites. It’s sort of a quadrennial insurance policy for keeping himself at the center of attention, although I’m not sure he really needs it at this point. Last time around, Gingrich set September 2007 as his decision deadline. This time it’s February 2011, so he is giving himself a little more lead time into the first 2012 primaries and caucuses, should he actually decide to run.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that each time Gingrich takes up the question of a presidential run, he sets conditions for his entrance into the race that are unlikely to be met, given the dynamics of how candidates typically build their campaigns nowadays. His whole approach has a white knight waiting in the wings quality to it that is admirably old school, but (as Fred Thompson can tell you) often results in the competition passing you by.
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Channeling Charlie
For some time now, I have argued against the idea that what Republicans need to be competitive going forward is a more purified version of conservatism, complete with a litmus test on social issues. That may lead to a highly motivated base of party activists, but it won’t necessarily result in a winning electoral coalition on Election Day. This is especially true if you look at the political demographics of areas outside of the South.
It turns out that former New Hampshire Representative Charlie Bass has some similar ideas on the subject. Earlier today, First Read picked up on a recent Bass opinion piece, in which he addresses the issue of the Republican Party’s shrinking base of homogenous social conservatives in a way that is guaranteed not to endear him with the right wing intelligentsia on cable news and talk radio.
As I noted recently, the flexible “big tent” approach to GOP coalition-building espoused by Bass is a virtual necessity for him to be competitive in attempting to reclaim his seat in New Hampshire’s second district. But if you spend any time listening to the internal debate within the Republican Party over how to prepare for the 2010 midterm elections, there is no political strategy that is more vilified by conservatives. This is why some of the most intense political battles of the election season are likely to take place in the Republican primaries to be held around the country next year.
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Shave and a Haircut
Even if you aren’t following the baseball playoffs, as a political junkie you were probably interested to hear that the Philadelphia Phillies just scored a return trip to the World Series. The team’s second consecutive National league pennant means that by this time tomorrow, NBC’s chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd could be reporting from the White House lawn sans his famous goatee. Todd lost a well-publicized NLCS bet with ABC’s senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper, who would have been forced to sprout his own chin hair had the Los Angeles Dodgers won instead.
The two journalists built a loophole into the bet, however, in which either could opt out of the loser’s punishment by making a $1000 donation to the charity of their choice. This is a nice idea, but in the name of media esprit de corps, and in order to safeguard the integrity of hair removal sporting bets the world over (shaved head anyone?), I think Todd should shave his goatee on television, much in the same way that Stephen Colbert had his head shaved for the troops in Iraq. It sounds like Todd is planning something for The Today Show tomorrow morning, no doubt to Matt Lauer’s great amusement. And while they are at it, maybe both Todd and Tapper will go ahead and make those thoughtful charitable donations anyway.
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Oprah's Book Club
I must admit that I was surprised by the announcement that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will kick off her Going Rogue book tour November 16th, as a guest on The Oprah Show. The choice of course makes total sense from a marketing perspective. Although Palin’s memoir is not an official Oprah’s Book Club selection, an appearance on the show can still mean truckloads of product sold, and quickly. I guess my initial reaction is still shaded by the remarkable reticence that Palin showed for doing these kinds of interviews during the presidential campaign, but I also won’t be surprised to hear her blame that behavior on the McCain campaign’s desire to have her sit tight, rather than expose herself to greater media scrutiny.
If Palin’s appearance doesn’t go well, conservatives will be quick to write it off as a function of Oprah’s well-known Obama boosterism. But my guess is that Oprah will be quite up-front and open about her own preferences, so as not to have that context lurking unspoken in the background. And Palin could certainly score a few public relations points by coming across as a bit more coherent and a bit less polarizing than she has been lately, without looking overly rehearsed. Regardless of how the interview plays out, you should expect a significant ripple effect on media coverage both before and after the event. The blogs, talk radio, and cable news will all be there to bear witness to this major cultural moment.
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Romney, Not Romney
Last week I commented on an article which suggested that the dominance of religious conservatives in Iowa’s Republican caucus could deter some presidential candidates from fully competing in that state in 2012. I noted that since the party’s activist base is now more homogenous and socially conservative than ever, Iowa would still likely be an important first test of the candidates’ grassroots strength with this group of voters. If not there, then these presidential hopefuls would still need to pass that litmus test early on somewhere else, perhaps in South Carolina.
Since we are speculating for the moment, one possible result of a scenario in which the Iowa Caucus is essentially ceded to a religious conservative like former Arkansas Governor (and 2008 caucus winner) Mike Huckabee or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, would likely be a full-on favorite son effort by Mitt Romney here in New Hampshire. Romney certainly turned in a strong enough performance in the 2008 primary to make that a possibility.
I mention this because Marc Ambinder, blogging at The Atlantic, extends this analysis today by raising the question of whom (if Romney largely skips Iowa to focus on setting up shop here) would serve as the anti-Romney in New Hampshire. Ambinder mentions Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as the most obvious possibility. While it is way too early to say with certainty, I do think it will be someone fresh like Pawlenty, who is new to right-leaning independents and Republicans in the state. Ambinder’s general assumption is correct – someone would inevitably emerge in New Hampshire as a Republican alternative to Romney, and it could provide a real opportunity for that person, should he or she decide to take a pass on Iowa.
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The A Team
On any given Sunday, a presidential administration usually sends out a mixture of staff and other surrogates to serve as guests on the morning political talk shows – often you will get a cabinet secretary or policy czar, maybe a political advisor or friendly Member of Congress. But yesterday we were treated to a televised full-court press by the Obama Administration’s political “A Team” – Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and close Obama advisors, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett – as they fanned out across the networks and cable news outlets.
For me, this is a sure sign that the fall political season has officially arrived. Whenever a president goes to his in-house political team like this, whether it's Obama’s Chicago trio or George W. Bush’s Texas two-step of Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, it usually means that political strategy (or damage control) has been set – in this case, on issues like health care, Afghanistan, and regulation of the financial markets – and the White House is out to shape public opinion in a way that drives specific legislative outcomes. This task is not something the White House typically leaves up to its cabinet secretaries or policy czars. It means that the Obama Administration is finally looking for movement in one or more of these areas.
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If the Election Were Held Today...
I wrote a post a few days ago arguing that it was pointless for the media to keep asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whether she will ever run for president again. On the heels of that nostalgia boomlet, we now have stories reporting on new Gallup poll data showing Clinton with higher favorability ratings than President Obama. It can’t be long before some enterprising survey firm fields the question, “If the 2012 presidential election were held today, would you prefer Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee?”
Most political observers would tell you that the current comparison between Clinton and Obama is the proverbial apples and oranges. As president, Obama is ultimately responsible for all executive branch output, and public opinion will either reward or punish him accordingly. In contrast, our main experience with Hillary Clinton as the nation’s chief diplomatic officer is seeing her in lots of impressive ceremonial situations with foreign dignitaries, which comes with little political downside since she reports to the president.  Thus far, Clinton has received high marks in her new position, but it entails a very different political dynamic than serving as president.
I am not sure why we have the sudden renewed interest in this aspect of Clinton’s public persona. I guess it has to do with Obama’s lower approval ratings, and unhappiness among progressives (and independents) who believe the president has not delivered on his campaign promises. If nothing else, I am sure the media would love to have a new crop of buyer’s remorse stories to kick around the internet and cable news. All we need is a little more polling data.
Note: I have to step away from the website tomorrow, but I will be back on Monday, October 19th with new content for you.  See you soon. -Dean
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An Iowa Identity Crisis?
First Read links to an interesting piece in yesterday’s Des Moines Register, which floats the idea that the Iowa Caucus could play a diminished role in selecting the next Republican presidential nominee due to the increasing dominance of religious conservatives among the state’s caucus-goers. The author takes the fact that repeat visits to the state by Republican presidential hopefuls are running at a pace behind that experienced in the last election cycle as a potential sign that more Republican hopefuls may find the state’s caucus environment too conservative for their liking, and (like John McCain) look elsewhere to establish a campaign beachhead.
I think the slowed pace of visits actually has more to do with the unusual wide-open nature of the 2008 contest (as the author acknowledges), and the fact that it will take some time for the Republican Party and its key political elites to get back into the rhythm of an electoral cycle, after its losses in the last election and the resultant party regime change in Washington. Some element of campaign fatigue is to be expected on all sides, after the multiyear electoral grind just completed 11 months ago.
My sense is that the Iowa Caucus will continue to be the critical starting point for anyone seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president. I say this because, if anything, the party’s shrinking base has become more socially and religiously conservative than ever in the wake of its losses in the last election cycle. This makes it less likely that the party would nominate another John McCain-style candidate, and should actually increase the importance of a place like Iowa for vetting a candidate’s social and religious conservatism bona fides.
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Heated Seats Optional
I get lots of press releases emailed to my inbox from the political parties, Congressional offices, campaigns, and interest groups – basically any entity with a vested interest in influencing the political process (and what I might write). I’ve never signed up for any of these mailing lists, but they have all managed to find me through this website.
I actually read all of the press releases. They can provide tremendous insight into the strategic concerns and tactical behavior of key political players. Some of the press releases are mundane, others are clever and informative, and some of course are just plain silly. Occasionally, I come across content in one of them that I just can’t let pass without comment.
The one that caught my eye today comes from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and asks Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte to take a position on the expansion of federal hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation. Here is the sentence that got me:
But Ayotte is in a heated Republican primary and has shown a willingness to say anything to get elected, even when it means completely reversing her position on key issues.
Yes, the press release touches on an important policy question, and the “flip-flop” critique is certainly fair game, but a heated Republican primary? Seriously? It is not even clear that Ayotte has any real opposition at this point. She is the only one raising money for her party’s primary, and already has over half a million dollars cash-on-hand. While there has been some muted criticism among state Republican Party elites over her Washington courtship, there has been no pointed criticism of her from any of the other potential candidates.
For a primary race to be heated, you need to see competitive fundraising and sharp rhetorical sparring between candidates. In fact, Ayotte has been able to remain silent on policy precisely because there is no pressure on her from within the Republican Party to clearly stake out her positions, and there is little reason for her to take the bait from the Hodes campaign or NHDP at this early date.
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Good Question...Not!
When I read that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked this morning on the Today show whether she would ever run for president again, I found myself feeling somewhat annoyed. This reaction surprised me, as I thought I had long since accepted the media’s fetish with asking public officials about whether they harbor any presidential ambitions. But putting the question to Clinton at this point struck me as especially silly.
This is not only because Clinton just completed an exhausting two-year trek through the presidential selection process, or because she can’t realistically run again for another seven years, when she would be approaching the age of 70. As if Clinton’s “no” right now (however “Shermanesque” it was) would actually preclude her from changing her mind almost a decade down the political road.
Clinton has already distinguished herself as a team player in the Obama Administration. For all the talk about potential daylight between her and President Obama on foreign policy matters, we haven’t seen any thus far. There is no chance that Clinton would ever answer this question in a way that could undercut her current dynamic with the president. So, in this context, the question was even more pointless than usual.  I would have enjoyed hearing Clinton instead reply to Ann Curry this morning, "Even if the answer were yes, I wouldn't tell you!"
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Sherman's March
You can catch me this Sunday morning as a guest on Charlie Sherman’s new television show, Politics in Progress (11 a.m., MyTV). I will be part of a lively roundtable discussion touching on virtually every major New Hampshire political story in the news over the past week.
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Peace, Out
There has been so much reaction to the surprise awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, and so much of it has been predictable, that I am not sure I really have anything to add to what has already been said elsewhere. But since some of you are curious to read my reaction, here it is:
I think it is too early in Obama’s presidency for him to win the award. The short time frame feeds into the conservative (and liberal) meme about the gap between the promise of his rhetoric and the substance of his accomplishments.  While I don't consider the award to be additional political baggage the way some other political observers do, it undeniably raises expectations to levels that may be difficult to fulfill in such a complex multilateral environment.
That being said, I understand the signal that the Nobel Committee intended to send with its selection. It is a way of encouraging Obama to continue the process he has already begun, of reorienting American foreign policy away from the cowboy unilateralism of the Bush Administration. Obama’s description of the award as a call to action was a reasonable way to characterize the Nobel Committee’s intent. He seems to understand the potential political pitfalls that go along with accepting it, and perhaps the award will provide him with a little extra diplomatic leverage.
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Money Changes Everything
The big political news in New Hampshire today revolved around quarterly fundraising reports for the U.S. Senate race. There has been a good deal of anticipation in recent days over the imminent release of the first set of numbers from former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte’s campaign. Ayotte had to accomplish two objectives with her initial quarterly haul. First, she needed to demonstrate viability by raising enough cash to show that she can be competitive in a statewide general election that will cost millions for each of the two parties’ eventual nominees.
Second, given the ongoing storyline about Ayotte serving as the national Republican Party’s handpicked candidate, she needed to show that she can raise money from within the state. The campaign’s report of $613,000 raised, with about 60% coming from New Hampshire donors, certainly accomplishes those goals.
The campaign of Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes responded to the news of Ayotte’s fundraising totals by announcing that Hodes had raised nearly $600,000 himself in the past quarter, an unfortunate choice of adverb which served to underscore the fact that an incumbent politician with no primary challenger was out-raised by a potential opponent with no prior electoral experience.
Still, Hodes has raised nearly three times as much as Ayotte to date, and has over $1 million cash on hand. In his case, it could very well be that the lack of a challenger, with over a year still to go until the general election, has kept his supporters from feeling a sense of financial urgency up to this point. My guess is that they do now.
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Horn in on Bass
The question of the day seems to be whether Republican talk show host Jennifer Horn’s newly-announced candidacy in the second district of New Hampshire will have a significant impact on the potential candidacy of former Rep. Charlie Bass. My sense is that it really depends on the extent to which next year’s Republican primary performs like a traditional exercise by the party’s base.
If it turns into a “who’s the most conservative”contest, as Republican primaries around the country often do, then Horn may have a chance of defeating Bass for the nomination. She will have to hit him hard as being complicit in the big spending and budget deficits of the Bush Administration, and argue that Bass (as a Washington insider) compromised on core conservative principles in the process.
The best case scenario for Bass would be to make the primary all about viability­, by arguing that Horn is so out of step with the centrist leanings of many voters in the second district that she won’t stand a chance against a Democratic candidate in the general election, just as she was beaten handily by Rep. Paul Hodes the last time around. Bass could also talk about “delivering the goods” for New Hampshire, having already been assured by the Republican Caucus in the House that he would regain his previous seniority should he win.
So, if the primary contest turns on the question of viability in a Congressional district that has become increasingly moderate over the past 10 years, then Bass will have the advantage in next September’s primary. But if participating voters turn it into a test of conservative purity, then Horn may get another shot.
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Newt Says Don't Be Tim-id
I caught an item earlier today reporting that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is encouraging Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. As the piece notes, Pawlenty appears to be putting some of the initial building blocks into place for just such an occasion. I have written several times before that I consider Pawlenty to be one of the few high-profile Republicans out there with the potential to put together a winning center-right coalition in a presidential election.
While some political observers cite a charisma gap for the governor, I think an equally important question for Pawlenty is whether he will be able to resist the inevitable pressure to pander to the right wing of the party during the primaries.  Some of this behavior will be unavoidable if Pawlenty is to survive these contests, but too much of it could damage his potential appeal to moderates. From what I have seen of Pawlenty so far, slash-and-burn doesn’t seem to be his style. When he has tried a little red meat in recent speeches and media appearances, the rhetoric has sounded a bit forced. Perhaps that discomfort will serve as an internal pander regulator of sorts.
Any Gingrich story wouldn’t be complete, however, without a few words on a potential run by Newt himself in 2012. I have written previously on this subject, as well. You can add Gingrich to my growing list of frequently mentioned Republicans who will not be the nominee in 2012, for the reasons I discuss here. Still, even if Gingrich does not make a run for the nomination (and my guess is he won’t), you can bet that he will nonetheless insert himself right into the thick of the political discourse surrounding the party’s eventual choice.
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Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty
This past weekend, we were treated to a few moments of reflection from New Hampshire Republican Party chairman and former governor John H. Sununu. The occasion was a gathering of regional GOP leaders in Newport, Rhode Island.  Sununu’s prescription for the 2010 midterm elections – recruit strong candidates, raise a lot of money, and hit hard on fiscal policy – sounds pretty straightforward to me, especially if the party can avoid elevating to campaign dogma some of the conspiracy theories currently circulating among the far right fringe of the party.
What really caught my attention, however, was Sununu’s explanation for recent GOP losses. He concluded with regard to New Hampshire and the state Democratic Party that, "It went blue because they did the nitty gritty of politics better than we did." This would mean that Sununu is in part blaming former state Republican chairman Fergus Cullen and the previous state party apparatus for losses at the polls.
I have heard this argument before, that GOP losses in 2006 and 2008 were a function of flaws in the party’s ground game. My response continues to be that they were actually due primarily to changing state demographics (increasingly blue) and genuine voter anger at Bush and the GOP on Iraq and the economy. Given the current weak economy and lingering questions about Afghanistan, Republicans may very well benefit this time around, much in the same way that Democrats did in the past two election cycles. But that would be a function of policy and circumstance, not tactics, and the party will still need to contend with the demographic issue.
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The Second Time Around
Tomorrow marks the second anniversary for I originally conceived of this website as a place where I could collect my thoughts in the months leading up to the 2008 New Hampshire Primary. Friends were used to seeing my political analysis pop up at random times in various media outlets around the state, and said they were eager to be able to read my commentary on a more regular basis, at their leisure.
In the two years since that launch, traffic to the website has grown exponentially, and I am more committed than ever to providing you with the best political analysis and commentary on local and national politics that I can. My hope is that you will continue to find it both insightful and entertaining. Thanks to all of you who keep returning each month, and welcome to those of you who may have only just recently come across the website. Keep those emails and post comments coming.
Next year is shaping up to be a doozy of a midterm election year, so stick around.  We will have lots to talk about in the run-up to November 2010, and then it will be on to 2012!
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Google Likes Me, It Really Likes Me!
Back in August, I posted an item noting that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was planning a visit to Iowa in October. At the time, I boldly predicted that no matter how much Santorum enjoyed the inevitable attention he would receive from conservatives there, he would not be the Republican nominee for president in 2012.
Well, today Santorum’s Iowa foray finally arrived. You can read excerpts from his entertaining, almost stream-of-consciousness morning interview with Radio Iowa, as he ponders the question of whether he will eventually enter the presidential race. It certainly sounds like Santorum has been bitten by the presidential bug. I especially enjoyed the part where he is encouraged by the exponential jump in Google entries that followed the original Politico article reporting on the scheduled trip. Santorum also has nice words in the interview for Iowa’s status as the first presidential caucus in the nation, always a sure sign that a politician is keeping his options open.
If Santorum does decide to run, he can certainly keep busy spending a few years traveling to Iowa and even South Carolina, where he will be welcomed with open arms by social and religious conservatives. But he will still mainly serve as just another complication for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, as he tries to defend his 2008 Iowa Caucus victory. So, I think I will stick with my original prediction.
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