Huckabee's Hedge
I am curious about why former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee picked yesterday to say that he is now less likely to run for president in 2012. He could have simply said that he will consider that decision more closely at some time in the future.  While it is tempting to put Huckabee’s comments in the context of his surprising connection to the suspect in the tragic police shooting in Seattle, my understanding of the timeline of events is that the comments came first. If today’s reaction is any indication, however, that tragic situation could have the same consequence for his candidacy in the end.
I can think of two possibilities for why Huckabee is pulling back on his presidential ambitions at this moment. We could take him at his word that he is simply having too much fun to deal with the trials and tribulations of a presidential run (and he just may not like his chances). As I noted in a recent post about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a politician may actually prefer to nurture the ongoing political power, public relevance, and personal revenue that goes along with establishing oneself as a leader of a particular grassroots constituency, rather than ride the nomination roller coaster. In the case of both former governors, I am of course talking about their popularity among social and religious conservatives.
Alternatively, Huckabee may still harbor presidential ambitions, but is increasingly wary of his frontrunner status in a lot of the early polling for the Republican nomination in 2012. With the next presidential election still three years away, it is likely that the actual nomination contest will be driven by personalities and political dynamics that are not yet obvious to political observers. Being branded the frontrunner now only leaves one direction for a candidate to move, and that direction is down. So, Huckabee could be downplaying his presidential aspirations in the short-term, in order to generate fresh momentum later when it actually matters. This explanation seems less plausible to me than the first one. In any event, the sad events in Seattle could make any strategic calculations by Huckabee moot and his comments yesterday eerily prescient.
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Happy Thanksgiving 2009
I will be away from the website for a few days to celebrate the holiday with family and friends. I will be back on Monday, November 30th with new content for you. Have a happy Thanksgiving. See you soon. -Dean
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Opposites Attract?
I recently wrote that I am a big fan of the Sunday morning talk shows. Well, this past weekend I had to walk away from the television about two-thirds of the way through the morning. It wasn’t due to anything done by the hosts, but was instead the result of listening to groups of senators bicker over the pending health care legislation.
We have reached a point in the health care debate where both sides are dug into positions of ideological faith. With a bill of this size (2000+ pages), no one can possibly be sure of what the exact consequences of all the provisions will be. Now, that is not necessarily a reason to defeat the legislation. Laws can always be tweaked later on to move them closer to their original intent. Bill Clinton used precisely this argument when he was pushing unhappy Democratic colleagues to go along with welfare reform. So, I am not suggesting that this alone is sufficient reason to scuttle the entire enterprise, but the absolute certainty on both sides is maddening.
Yesterday morning, they were talking past each other in ways that suggest more than just the usual pre-bargain posturing. The typical exchange went something like this: The legislation will lower the cost of health care. No, it won’t. Yes, it will. No, it won’t. Yes, it will. And then: The legislation will reduce the deficit over a ten year period. No, it won’t. Yes, it will. No, it won’t. Yes, it will…and on and on and on. Even when the hosts read the exact language contained in various sections of the bill, the two sides offered diametrically opposed interpretations.
I heard that President Obama is bringing in former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to secure votes. Daschle, who was almost Health and Human Services Secretary, says that his role is only an informal one. Given that he was originally designated Obama's point man on the issue, I’m not so sure.  In any event, he has his work cut out for him.
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Hearkening Back to Huckabee
When I came across this item on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee earlier today (courtesy of a Marc Ambinder link), it took me back a few years to when I first started this website. The item details Huckabee’s recent comments taking fellow Republicans to task for their knee-jerk criticism of President Obama.
Back in October of 2007, I put up a couple of posts puzzling over the question of why Huckabee wasn’t surging in the polls for the Republican presidential race. At the time, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback was viewed as the higher profile religious conservative, and was accordingly given greater attention in the national media.  Huckabee struck me back then as a polished speaker who talked of compassionate conservatism in a way that sounded genuine, rather than strategic.  And, Huckabee seemed like a personable guy. As we know, he went on to win the Iowa Caucus a few months later.
In contrast, the political discourse between the two parties has been so nasty and vitriolic lately, and some of the criticism of Obama so feverish, that Huckabee’s recent comments literally struck me as a breath of fresh air, just as he did when we first saw him in the Republican debates surrounded by slash-and-burners like Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney. I don’t know that this will help him with his party’s base; some will argue that the comments were simply a strategic play for moderate support.  But Huckabee remains quite popular with Republican voters, and his comments were a timely reminder that many voters actually appreciate civil political discourse, even when there are real differences to be debated.
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New Hampshire's Civic Health
Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to sit in on an excellent presentation by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute. The occasion was the release of the Institute’s New Hampshire Civic Health Index 2009, a study assessing how civic engagement in New Hampshire stacks up to the nation as a whole. The project is reminiscent of research we conducted at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in 2006.
As you might expect, New Hampshire’s civic culture compares favorably to the rest of the country, although there are some red flags when looking at the impact of demographic factors like income and education on levels of civic engagement. I encourage you to check out the full report here. Thanks to my friends at UNH for the opportunity to participate in the session.
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Palin Fatigue
You might be wondering why I haven’t posted anything on former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the kickoff of her Going Rogue battleground book tour this week.  I’ve actually thought about posting something, but I must confess to feeling a touch of Palin fatigue. The media coverage over the past few days (and in the weeks leading up the release date) has been so over-the-top that (as happens on occasion) I really don’t have anything interesting to add.
I have watched the Oprah Show appearance, viewed clips of the Barbara Walters interview, and read much of the book’s vetting by the media. From a political angle, it sounds primarily like more of the same she said he said score-settling between Palin and the McCain campaign that we heard last winter after the Republican ticket went down to defeat. For anyone who has paid even modest attention to Palin over the past year, most of this should be old news.
As I have written several times before, until Palin shows any interest and/or aptitude for reaching outside of her comfort zone among social and religious conservatives, I don’t see her as a compelling electoral prospect. Perhaps she will try to make some mischief in Republican Party primaries for the midterms as she did in New York’s 23rd district, but other big conservative players will be doing the same thing. In the meantime, I’m sure she will sell a lot of books preaching to the choir.
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Membership Has Its Privileges
Here is a rather timely update, courtesy of Politico, to yesterday’s post on potential Club for Growth activity in New Hampshire’s Congressional races. The article provides a broad overview of the group and its strategy for the 2010 midterm elections, and notes that a possible endorsement in our U.S. Senate race is in the offing, although the group doesn’t tip its hand. We also learn that the Club for Growth spent over $1 million in a little over 30 days in the contest for New York’s 23rd district, which gives you a good sense of its willingness to invest in high-profile races.
From the reaction of the candidates mentioned in the piece, it is pretty clear that they view a Club for Growth endorsement as accomplishing two potential objectives. The first is to garner some cred for candidate claims of outsider status – that is the desire to be seen as not having connections to Republican institutional elites in Washington. Second, the group offers a purity test of sorts for candidate claims of fiscal conservatism. Those not meeting Club standards are likely to find life in their Republican primary contest a bit more complicated.
It is not necessarily the endorsement (or lack thereof) itself that makes the difference here, but the signal it sends to other national conservative groups declaring open season on one or more candidates in a targeted primary. Combine that with the Club’s willingness to spend lots of its own money on issue advocacy ads, and you can see why the group is getting so much attention from candidates and the media alike, especially now that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will stay out of contested open primaries.
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NH Republican Candidates Go Clubbing
If you were reading the New Hampshire papers for political news this past weekend, you probably came across several references to the Club for Growth, a national, fiscally conservative advocacy group, most recently known for inserting itself into the wild race for the 23rd district of New York. In the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the group was perhaps best known for its relentless targeting of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with its website. Over the weekend, the group was mentioned in conjunction with both our U.S. Senate and House (CD-2) races.
On the Republican side, the issue in both of these contests is whether the Club for Growth will decide to commit significant resources to either championing or targeting one primary candidate over the others. As we saw in NY 23, and are now seeing in the Florida Senate race between moderate Governor Charlie Crist and conservative former House Speaker Marco Rubio, the group’s activities increasingly serve as a gateway for the involvement of other national conservative groups in local elections.
I don’t want to overstate the impact that one advocacy group can have on local politics here in New Hampshire, but Congressional races are now regularly waged and funded in ways that make the involvement of these outside groups a fact of life. Given that all of the Republican candidates in both New Hampshire races are already talking like fiscal conservatives, the Club for Growth’s blessing or wrath could set the stage for a difficult primary for one or more of them, in which all sorts of outside money, organization, and advertising brings further national attention to Granite State political deliberations.
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By George, He's Got It
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am a big fan of the Sunday morning political talk shows. I have been watching them for as long as I can remember. But I am not a big fan of the weekday morning shows like Good Morning America and Today. I can’t even tell you the last time I tuned into one of the network morning shows during the week, although some of my friends and family have tried to make me a Morning Joe cable convert, during my visits with them. For me, the choice is always radio on weekday mornings.
So, I was dismayed to read this item reporting that George Stephanopoulos may be taking over the anchor chair at Good Morning America, once Diane Sawyer replaces the retiring Charlie Gibson at World News. This is especially troubling if it means that Stephanopoulos would also be relinquishing his Sunday morning gig on This Week
During his initial stint as a political analyst on David Brinkley’s incarnation of the show, Stephanopoulos was viewed primarily as a partisan Democratic operative, and I recall that there was some concern among Republicans in particular that he would have trouble being objective when he took over as host in 2002.
But Stephanopoulos has worked hard to successfully make the transition to host, and he is now giving Meet the Press host David Gregory a run for his money in the Sunday morning ratings. For me, the choice between a weekday morning show and a political franchise on Sunday morning is the proverbial choice between apples and oranges. I hope that Stephanopoulos feels the same way, but this network plum may be too juicy for him to resist.
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Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful
I would be remiss if I let the week pass without cataloguing the latest installment (it’s a recurring feature here) in former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s passive-aggressive behavior toward former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, only this time Huckabee’s behavior is less passive and more aggressive. It’s bad enough that his current book tour is being overshadowed by the Oprah-fueled, Palin battleground book tour extravaganza that kicks off next week, but Huckabee is especially irritated by what he sees as a double standard at work among some of the conservative elites who are enamored with Palin.
I don’t think this is even so much about jockeying for position for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Running for president is a cyclical exercise in which most losing candidates eventually recede from the spotlight, and it is not at all clear to me that Palin is even interested in competing for the office. But being viewed as the leader of a key constituency in the Republican Party’s base – in this case religious conservatives – is an ongoing source of individual political power, relevance, and revenue for whomever lays claim to the mantle. Huckabee has had a nice taste of this over the past few years, and now finds himself potentially upstaged by Palin. So, I knew it was just a matter of time before he would start to push back a little harder.
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It's Cold Here in December, Kinda Like Minnesota
The news that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is coming to New Hampshire in December to keynote a Republican Senate Majority Committee PAC fundraiser created a bit of a buzz among local journalists and political observers today, an almost celebratory feeling that the 2012 presidential primary season is now finally underway (sorry, Haley Barbour). Even so, I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised by the announcement. Given that Pawlenty went to the trouble of placing a congratulatory call to Manchester Mayor-elect Ted Gatsas last week, a visit to the Granite State couldn’t be too far behind for the Republican presidential hopeful.
As I noted in an earlier post on the Gatsas phone call, candidates make these early overtures not only to raise their public profile in the state (Pawlenty will get plenty of free media coverage), but also to take an early read on the potential for tapping into preexisting grassroots networks for fundraising and organization. In this case, the connective political tissue is longtime McCain campaign advisor and Concord resident Mike Dennehy. Since Pawlenty was national co-chair of McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, and Dennehy advises the Republican Senate Majority Committee PAC, the venue makes sense. Assuming Pawlenty eventually gets into the presidential race, I will be interested to see the extent to which McCain’s former grassroots network in the state is activated intact for Pawlenty, or whether some members gravitate toward other candidates.
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Just Like That Old Police Song?
You may have seen this piece at earlier today, in which the race for New Hampshire’s first district Congressional seat, currently occupied by Carol Shea-Porter, is once again identified as one of the most interesting contests to watch for 2010. When the adjective interesting is used in this context, it usually refers to the potential for the seat to change parties in the next election.
I must say that I actually find this particular race to be less interesting than it might have once been. My sense is that Shea-Porter is no longer as vulnerable as the longstanding journalistic meme suggests, and I say this as someone who has not exactly been a huge booster for her in the past. Both in terms of campaigning and fundraising, Republican challenger Mayor Frank Guinta has yet to live up to the rising star status conferred on him by the National Republican Congressional Committee earlier this year. He still has time to make the contest more interesting, but he will need to step up his game considerably in the next year.
The Politico piece ends by comparing Shea-Porter to a canary in the coal mine, an apparent reference to her potential as a test case for whether a genuine Democratic realignment has taken place over the past two election cycles, and/or whether the tea baggers’ wrath over health care reform will be sufficient to drive those Democrats who benefited from office. Perhaps, but I think the Shea-Porter health care angle has been overdone, and is in part a creation of Politico reporting, itself. And, while political observers here will be interested to see just how permanent New Hampshire’s new blueness is, that is probably less true for the Shea-Porter race than for either of the open-seat contests in the state, where no one has the built-in advantage of incumbency.
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Kelly's Metamorphoses
It is certainly possible that Ovide Lamontagne’s entrance into the Republican race for the U.S. Senate will force former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to engage in a little more position-taking than we have seen from her thus far. Primaries are in part about drawing distinctions between candidates, especially when the field gets crowded. Position-taking is one way of accomplishing this, so we may well see more of it mixed in with the relentless Democrat-bashing that will no doubt comprise a good deal of the Republican primary discourse.
But in a contest where the candidates will all talk endlessly about their bona fides as fiscal conservatives, position-taking has some real limitations, which is why a candidate like Ayotte is even more likely to focus on her viability in the general election. Republican primary voters will be reminded that Lamontagne lost both of his earlier electoral contests, and that Ayotte is already performing favorably against Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes in early trial heats.
While the Republican primary discourse will be dominated by conservative themes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ayotte hedge a bit when possible, in order to preserve her appeal to independents, which is a key ingredient for general election viability.
Note: For the Roman poetry fans among my readers, I am aware that Ovid (or Ovidius) had no "e" on the end of his name, but close enough for a passing reference in a post title!
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One of the more interesting developments to come out of Tuesday’s wild special election in New York’s 23rd district (in addition to no more third party endorsements), is the decision by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to no longer play favorites in contested Republican primaries around the country. As NRSC chair Senator John Cornyn explained, the committee will no longer spend money or make endorsements in contested Republican primaries for open seats.
This of course applies to our own open-seat contest here in New Hampshire, where former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is likely to face several challengers for the Republican nomination to replace Senator Judd Gregg. While the NRSC had not yet endorsed Ayotte, there had been much ado about the committee’s favoritism toward her as a sign of beltway meddling in internal state Republican Party politics.
Lest you think this decision is a response to Granite Staters and others calling on the NRSC to MYOB, you should think again. This decision is really all about an attempt by Republican institutional elites in Washington to de-escalate the growing threat of movement conservatives (especially teabaggers) throwing monkey wrenches into party primaries around the country, just as they did with the Dede Scozzafava/ Doug Hoffman face-off in New York. Unfortunately for Cornyn and Co., even with Wednesday’s announcement, I don’t sense any retreat at all among these folks in the wake of Hoffman’s loss.
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Call Waiting
You may have come across this rather amusing item today, reporting that the newly-elected Republican mayor of Manchester, Ted Gatsas, has already received congratulatory phone calls from several potential 2012 presidential candidates, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former New York Governor George Pataki.
These kinds of informal congratulatory calls are actually not all that uncommon. It is a way for presidential hopefuls to get themselves on the radar screens of local political elites, and the mayor of New Hampshire’s largest city is certainly not a bad place to start. Assuming the particular politician is still popular in a few years, candidates may look for an endorsement from the individual, but what they will really be hoping for is access to a well-established political network, capable of raising money and providing grassroots organizing resources at a flip of the local politician’s switch. Particularly for someone like Pawlenty, who has no prior experience running in the state, these kinds of interfaces with local politicians can be critical to a successful primary run.
As an aside, since this item is only the first reference to George Pataki that we have seen in a long-time (and he is apparently friends with Gatsas), I am holding off putting him on my burgeoning list of media-referenced politicians who will never be the Republican Party’s nominee for president. You may recall that Pataki ran an ill-fated presidential campaign here early in the 2008 election cycle, but dropped out due to a lack of resources and voter interest. If his name continues to pop up in the media in conjunction with 2012, then the list awaits him.
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Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Last month I wrote a post suggesting that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was one of the few Republican presidential hopefuls with the potential to build a winning center-right electoral coalition in 2012. I noted that to accomplish this, however, Pawlenty would need to resist the temptation for excessive pandering (a little is unavoidable) to the right wing of his party during the presidential primaries. So, I was a little surprised to see him follow former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s lead and insert himself into the now infamous race for New York’s 23rd district with an endorsement of the (losing) Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.
Given everything I have seen from Pawlenty thus far, the move didn’t strike me as typical for him. Even a close Palin-watcher like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee managed to steer clear of this one. Sure enough, earlier today Pawlenty announced that in the future he would be limiting his endorsements to members of the Republican Party. While we are still a long way off from the next round of presidential primaries, this episode serves as an earlier reminder for Pawlenty of just how difficult it will be to chart his own course as a Republican presidential candidate, away from the other base jumpers in his party.
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Election Day 2009
Yes indeed it is Election Day once again, but after the excitement of last year’s presidential election, it’s feeling pretty sleepy around here by comparison. Perhaps you are voting for your mayor or city council, maybe you have a special election in your district, or even a few statewide referenda to consider. It is these off-year elections that turnout the true civic diehards among us.
There are a few big races to consider nationally, including gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the now infamous battle in the 23rd district of New York. But these races have been so parsed and over-analyzed at this point, that I don’t really have anything to add at the moment.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am a strong believer in the idea that changes in technology, fundraising, and media coverage have combined to make local elections more national than ever before. But even I will be careful not to read too much into today’s results, in terms of greater import for the Obama Administration or for underlying shifts in the electorate’s ideological composition. Maybe I will tease out a lesson or two about campaign strategy.
Once the results are in tonight, I will be taking a fresh look at the electoral landscape as a guest tomorrow morning on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. You can listen to the show live here (top menu) at 9 a.m., or catch it later here. If nothing else, tomorrow marks the official beginning of the 2010 midterm election season!
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