Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why Regular Americans Are Turning Away From Democrats

By Carol Platt Liebau

Certainly, 2009 is not ending on the note that Obama supporters - or the President himself - expected. Iran develops a nuclear arsenal unchecked, spitting in the eyes of the United States and the rest of the world. As evidenced on Christmas Day, Al Qaeda adherents still plot to murder innocent Americans. Notwithstanding his campaign pledge to slow the rise of the oceans, President Obama will find it difficult to execute at home the climate-change promises he made abroad.

And that's just foreign policy. At home, the "stimulus" rushed through Congress with the promise of a quick economic recovery and more jobs has shown no results - except trillions in new deficits, high unemployment and a continuing story of payoffs to key Democrat constituencies. Health care "reform" - intended as the apotheosis of liberal, big-government do-gooderism - has degenerated into a political disaster for the Democrats, with significant majorities of Republicans and independents opposing new congressional legislation so misbegotten that even its supporters characterize it as "flawed."

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Yet even as Obama's partisans have been surprised, perhaps his political adversaries have been astonished, as well. Given the uncritical coverage of the new President by the media during last year's campaign - and the warm embrace extended to him by the overwhelming majority of Americans last January - the magnitude of the burgeoning, spirited (but non-violent) repudiation of his brand of big-government liberalism has been heartening, and amazing.

Too often over the years, all the political passion (and public demonstrations of it) has seemed to come from groups on the left seeking an ever-larger role for government in American life. Students, unions, actors, community organizers and such have made most of the noise, not coincidentally because they've been the ones with the time and the inclination to do it. Those on the other side - small business people, the self-employed, stay-at-home moms and the like - have traditionally worked to succeed within the status quo, rather than constantly trying to change it. Often they've been so busy, in fact, that they've failed to notice when little bits of their liberty have been incrementally chipped away.

It took the shock of a year of unchecked Democrat rule to change all of that. Suddenly, regular Americans - the ones usually too busy or too complacent to protest - have come to realize that, like Frankenstein's monster, big government has taken on a life of its own. The federal government (led by a man who never held a private-sector business job) has taken over Chrysler and General Motors. Government appointees decree how much (and how) certain businesses can pay their own employees. And through environmental taxation and regulations, bureaucrats are seeking to seize control of virtually the entire private sector.

Suddenly, the liberty and free enterprise most of us have taken for granted seem to be in the greatest jeopardy of our lifetime. Worse yet, Democrat politicians have ignored the public outcry, ramming through unpopular legislation that would put one-sixth of the economy (and every American's health care!) under government control. Regular Americans - the ones more inclined to watch sports or go shopping than to organize protests - have taken notice. They've also taken umbrage.

By overreaching and arrogantly ignoring the widespread public discontent with them and their policies, Democrats from the President on down have succeeded in awakening a sleeping giant - regular Americans. They are people who may often take their freedom for granted, but who don't intend ever to let it be taken away.

They are the male and female heirs to the Sons of Liberty of Revolutionary times, the people who understand the danger of a government leviathan, and who insisted on "No taxation without representation." After watching the politicians they voted into power last year ignore the common good, instead seeking only power and political advantage for themselves, they're appalled - and perhaps even a little frightened.

Certainly, 2009 was a dark and disheartening year for lovers of economic and individual liberty. But if next year shapes up in accordance with current trends, the tide is about to change. With a growing recognition of the preciousness (and fragility) of liberty and a renewed appreciation of our founding principles, America is poised for a rebirth of freedom. Hail 2010: The Year of the Citizen.

Carol Platt Liebau is an attorney, political commentator and guest radio talk show host based near Los Angeles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Democrat Defects

News from the Obama re-alignment watch: Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith announced yesterday that he plans to switch parties and become a Republican. At a press conference, the oncologist-turned-politician said he could not continue to align himself with a Democratic Party pushing a health-care bill that is "bad for our doctors . . . bad for our patients, and . . . bad for the young men and women who are considering going into the health-care field."

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Other than that, how do you like the bill?
Party switching often happens after a big election, as lawmakers try to retain legislative clout or join a new majority (Arlen Specter). A small boatload of moderate Democrats flipped to the Republican party after the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, including such Democrats as Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Southern Congressmen Billy Tauzin, Nathan Deal and Mike Parker.
Far rarer is a mid-Congress conversion such as Mr. Griffith's, which comes a year before an election and from a party that has a 41-seat majority. It's true that Mr. Griffith is from Alabama, and only 38% of his district voted for President Obama. Mr. Griffith also voted against the stimulus and cap and trade, and this summer he said he wouldn't vote again for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker because she is "divisive and polarizing."
On the other hand, Republicans haven't held the seat since Reconstruction. And if last year's Democratic sweep truly signaled a sharp national swing to the left and a new majority that is likely to be lasting, then Mr. Griffith would have every incentive to stay a Democrat.
Our own view is that Mr. Griffith is the first Blue Dog casualty of this year's hard-left Democratic policy turn, but he decided to switch rather than fight next year. Many other Blue Dogs who voted for the stimulus, cap and tax, and health care are likely to experience a different kind of exit from the majority.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dreading our future

I am a baby boomer, which is to say my life has coincided with turbulent and awesome times. From the Cold War to Vietnam, from Watergate to Monicagate, through the horrors of 9/11 and the stunning lifestyle advances, my generation's era has been historic and exciting.
Yet for all the drama and change, the years only occasionally instilled in me the sensation I feel almost constantly now. I am afraid for my country.
I am afraid -- actually, certain -- we are losing the heart and soul that made America unique in human history. Yes, we have enemies, but the greatest danger comes from within.
Getty Images
Watching the freak show in Copenhagen last week, I was alternately furious and filled with dread. The world has gone absolutely bonkers and lunatics are in charge.
Mugabe and Chavez are treated with respect and the United Nations is serious about wanting to regulate our industry and transfer our wealth to kleptocrats and genocidal maniacs.
Even more frightening, our own leaders joined the circus. Marching to the beat of international drummers, they uncoupled themselves from the will of the people they were elected to serve.
President Obama, for whom I voted because I believed he was the best choice available, is a profound disappointment. I now regard his campaign as a sly bait-and-switch operation, promising one thing and delivering another. Shame on me.
Equally surprising, he has become an insufferable bore. The grace notes and charm have vanished, with peevishness and petty spite his default emotions. His rhetorical gifts now serve his loathsome habit of fear-mongering.
"Time is running out," he says, over and again. He said it on health care, on the stimulus, in Copenhagen, on Iran.
Instead of provoking thought and inspiring ideas, the man hailed for his Ivy League nuance insists we stop thinking and do what he says. Now.
His assertion we will go bankrupt unless Congress immediately adopts the health monstrosity marks a new low. At least it did until he barged into a meeting in Copenhagen to insult the Chinese with the same do-it-now arrogance on carbon emissions.
Don't get me wrong -- it's OK to insult the Chinese, but save it for an urgent life-and-death issue. Iran qualifies, with its plans for a nuclear arsenal, yet Obama has not pushed China on that issue with the fervor of his attacks on their dirty smokestacks.
Washington has its own freak show and it also features Big Government theocrats. One of the mainstream media myths is that the Democrat-on-Democrat attacks of late pit moderates against liberals.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Victory by Democrats on health care could turn sour

By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst
December 17, 2009 6:32 a.m. EST
  • Democrats concerned about retirements in their ranks in Congress
  • Gloria Borger says recent state election in Kentucky highlights risks to Democrats
  • GOP candidate "nationalized" election by tying Democrat to Pelosi, Borger says
  • Democratic victory on unpopular health bill could hurt the party in midterm elections, she says
Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as during special event coverage.
Washington (CNN) -- Democrats in Congress, already worried about their dim prospects in the 2010 midterm elections, have been thrown in a tizzy about something else that could reduce their majority: retirements.
They are four departures down and worried about more members leaving districts that have grown more competitive. And they're right to be concerned: Districts without any incumbent running often wind up switching to the other party.
But there's much more to worry about. Consider the results of a recent "open seat" special election for the state senate in a Democratic district in rural eastern Kentucky: Republican Jimmy Higdon beat the Democrat Jodie Haydon by tying him to, of all things, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.
"Congress is out of control," one effective ad intoned, "and [Haydon] will bring Nancy Pelosi's one-party control of government to Frankfurt."
Republican Higdon won by 12 points.
Sure, the Democrats say, there are local reasons their guy lost: The district itself is trending Republican. There were only about 20,000 voters. Obama himself only carried 38 percent of the vote there.
And while both candidates oppose abortion rights, the Republican Higdon was endorsed by the local right-to-life groups -- a big plus in this socially conservative region -- which he trumpeted in TV spots. So, they claim, all politics is local, right?
But wait. How do you explain the good GOP turnout? Or the fact that the Democrats won a prior special election in Kentucky earlier this year -- when no national issues were interjected -- but lost this time when the themes centered on Washington? "The country likes and wants balanced government," says Brad Todd, a GOP political consultant who worked on the Kentucky race. "And they feel the country is out of balance right now."
In other words, it's easy to nationalize even a state senate race when the locals don't like the way things are going in the country.
And it's not only the economy, although that is a big part of it -- with unemployment at more than 11 percent in Kentucky. The health care debate, which was supposed to be a huge plus for Democrats, has instead become a huge political albatross. "It's a polarizing issue," says Todd. "The Democrats have been pushing on this issue for an extended period of time now -- in the face of public opinion against it. The length and content of the health care fight has hurt the Democratic brand."
O, the irony: The Democrats -- who run the Congress and the White House -- have to pass health care to prove they can govern. If it falls apart, after all this time, they will look weak and ineffectual. Yet while they toil long days and nights trying to put together the votes, the bill itself has morphed into something the public fears. So passage could well become a short-lived political victory.
Some numbers: According to CNN polls, almost 8 in 10 believe it will add to the deficit. When asked whether the Senate bill would help your family a resounding 75 percent said no. And will it increase your taxes? Eighty-five percent said you bet it will.
So why not have a GOP candidate in Kentucky inject health care into a state senate race? "Keep the big hand of government out of our personal health care decisions," one Higdon ad warned ominously. One Democratic strategist familiar with the race says the ad didn't matter much since not enough people saw it to have a real impact.
Beyond Kentucky, the Democrats also protest on health care: The issue is misunderstood, they say. We are just losing the spin war and that will change, they say. Even if all of that is true, there's something else to understand: Once health care passes, it's still going to be unpopular. At least until the Democrats can prove why it works, and that could take a very long time.
The Republicans haven't exactly covered themselves in legislative glory, either. They might have had a real shot at success -- if that's what they really wanted -- if they had called the president's bluff. They might have looked for some areas of agreement on health care that could be passed with bipartisan votes. Instead, they opted for the "just say no" strategy.
It's a bad idea, but it's working. Why? Because "no" works when you're opposing something that is unpopular.
So maybe, as the Democrats say, this GOP Kentucky state senate victory was an outlier. "Since inauguration, there have been five races where national issues have been on the ballot and in each and every one of them ... Democrats won," says Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Hari Sevugan. "The real harbinger of things to come ... is the deep split in the Republican Party that is allowing a right wing fringe to take over, purge moderates and present a fundamentalist agenda to voters."
Gee, sounds like the Democrats are also happy to nationalize the upcoming midterm elections -- against the Republicans. As for the voters, they're just looking for results.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tea Party Movement Evolves Into Political Force With Eye Toward 2010

The "tea party" movement that gained steam shortly after President Obama took office is seeing a surge in popularity, with a string of candidates and officials willing to take up its cause and a political infrastructure that's starting to mirror that of an actual political party.

In this Aug. 31 file photo, "tea party" demonstrators hold signs at a protest in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Reuters Photo)
What started as a conservative protest klatch has evolved into a political force with enough muscle to potentially alter the course of the 2010 mid-term elections.
The "tea party" movement that gained steam shortly after President Obama took office is seeing a surge in popularity with a string of candidates and officials willing to take up its cause and a political infrastructure that's starting to mirror that of an actual political party.
The tea party activists rallied for smaller government and lower taxes again on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon -- among the headliners were Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and former Texas Rep. Dick Armey, whose FreedomWorks group has acted as somewhat of an umbrella organization.
That's just the latest affirmation of tea party momentum:
-- Various tea party groups and supporters, including FreedomWorks, are launching political action committees to back candidates financially in the 2010 elections.
-- A Rasmussen poll last week showed that more voters would rather elect a "Tea Party" congressional candidate than a Republican one.
-- A documentary film was recently released tracking the evolution of the movement.
-- And several groups are pulling together the National Tea Party Convention in early February in Nashville, where former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is set to headline.
Sherry Phillips, vice president of convention organizer Tea Party Nation, said the event will be a chance for hundreds of delegates to figure out the future of the movement.
"It needs to move past just the rallies," Phillips told "We can't just stand around holding signs."
Prominent Republicans including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn plan to speak at the convention. Phillips said the overarching goal of the tea partiers is to affect the 2010 elections and support candidates who reflect their values.
She said there's a split within the multifaceted movement over whether tea party should be big "T" or little "t." In other words, do the activists form their own party, officially, or try to influence the composition of the existing ones?
Tea Party Nation opposes the creation of a new third party. And FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe said the special election in upstate New York last month -- in which Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman drove the Republican candidate out of the race with the help of tea party activists -- can be considered an "anomaly." (Hoffman ended up losing narrowly to Democrat Bill Owens.)
"I think a more practical solution is to take over the GOP," Kibbe said, explaining that the tea party movement can have the most impact by directing volunteers and money in support of GOP candidates who reflect their small-government values.
He mentioned Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey is carrying the conservative banner in the U.S. Senate race, and Florida, where Marco Rubio is doing the same, as two model states.
"We're going to see a new set of leaders in Washington come November," Kibbe said.
FreedomWorks, meanwhile, is planning to put its money where its mouth is in the coming months. Armey told Fox News his group will start a PAC, not to fund candidates directly but to fund activities who support them.
Organizer Eric Odom recently launched his Liberty First PAC, and Phillips said her group is also considering creating a PAC.
The Republican Party would prefer to invite tea partiers into the fold rather than run against them in general elections, and this may force a change in the makeup of the GOP itself.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said his hope is that "we can all come together."
"This is the conservative party of the country," Steele said. "We offer that ... political infrastructure, if you will, if you want to run for office or if you want to be involved politically. This is the best place to do it."
The Rasmussen poll spelled out the kind of vote-splitting trouble the tea party movement could stir if it forms a third party. It showed that 23 percent of people would pick a "Tea Party" candidate on a congressional ballot without knowing who that candidate is, while just 18 percent would pick the Republican. Thirty-six percent would pick a Democrat.
The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Dec. 4-5 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.'s Judson Berger and Fox News' Molly Henneberg contributed to this report.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Senate Watch 2010

Twenty states to keep an eye on.

By John J. Miller

A year after the decimation of 2008, Republicans are newly confident about their election prospects in the Senate. Then again, they have almost nowhere to go but up: The GOP occupies only 40 seats, compared to 58 for the Democrats (plus a pair of “independent” allies, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont).

As always, many races are foregone conclusions, such as the special election in Massachusetts next month to choose a successor to the late Ted Kennedy. But at least 20 of the 2010 Senate races are worth watching. Herewith, a state-by-state summary.

ARIZONA: Could Republican senator John McCain possibly lose two elections in a row? Last month, a Rasmussen poll of likely GOP primary voters suggested that Barack Obama may not be the last guy to defeat him: McCain clings to a measly two-point lead over former congressman J. D. Hayworth, 45 percent to 43 percent. Right now, Hayworth, a talk-radio host, is not even a declared candidate. There’s a significant gender gap, with McCain winning big among women and Hayworth well ahead among men. Democrats have yet to put forward a top-tier candidate. The primary is late, on August 24. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

ARKANSAS: Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln faces a tough election. A new Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows her trailing Republican state senator Gilbert Baker, 47 percent to 41 percent. Three other Republicans — businessman Curtis Coleman, activist Tom Cox, and state-senate majority leader Kim Hendren — also enjoy leads over Lincoln. Two-term incumbents are difficult to unseat, and Lincoln should not be underestimated — but neither should any of her challengers. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.

CALIFORNIA: Conservatives always think Democrat Barbara Boxer will be more vulnerable than she really is. Their hope for 2010 is that an exceptionally strong GOP year finally will make the difference. On June 8, Republican primary voters will decide between state senator Chuck DeVore and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina. Last month, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters showed Boxer leading both by double digits. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.

COLORADO: Michael Bennet, the Democrat appointed to fill out the remainder of fellow Democrat Ken Salazar’s term when Salazar was appointed secretary of the interior, will seek a new term of his own. He faces a primary challenge from former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff. The Republican favorite is former lieutenant governor Jane Norton, who must survive her own primary against Weld County district attorney Ken Buck and former state senator Tom Wiens. In September, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters put Norton ahead of Bennet, 45 percent to 36 percent. TOSS-UP.

CONNECTICUT: It once seemed as if Democrat Christopher Dodd enjoyed a lifetime appointment to the Senate. Now scandals have made his reelection an iffy proposition. Last week, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters gave him an unfavorable rating of 58 percent. The same survey showed former Republican congressman Rob Simmons leading Dodd in a potential match-up by 13 points. Another declared GOP candidate, Linda McMahon — the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the fake-wrestling company — was ahead of Dodd by 6 points. Simmons is almost certainly the better general-election contender. He may even become a slight favorite to oust the incumbent, assuming Dodd stays in the race, which is not a certainty. TOSS-UP.

DELAWARE: This is a special election to complete the last four years of the term Joe Biden won on the day he was also elected vice president. The office is currently held by Biden’s former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman — a presumptive seat-warmer for Biden’s son, state attorney general Beau Biden, who is widely expected to announce his candidacy soon. On the GOP side, Rep. Mike Castle, a former governor, will make a strong bid in this Democratic-leaning state. A few polls have put Castle in front, but not by much. A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey gave the advantage to Biden. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.

FLORIDA: Conservative Marco Rubio, a former state house speaker, continues to close the gap between himself and moderate governor Charlie Crist in what may be the country’s most-watched GOP primary. Rubio remains behind in the polls and in fundraising, but he has turned his long-shot bid into a serious challenge. His goal will be to pass Crist during the two-or-three-week sprint shortly before the August 24 primary. The presumptive Democratic nominee is Rep. Kendrick Meek, who probably can’t beat either Crist or Rubio. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

ILLINOIS: This is President Obama’s old seat. The current occupant is Democrat Roland Burris, the appointee of former Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich, whose federal corruption trial is scheduled for next year. Burris is stepping down. Several Democrats seek to replace him, including state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson, and state inspector general David Hoffman. On the GOP side, Rep. Mark Kirk appears to have the nomination locked up. He is one of the most liberal Republicans in the House. The failure of conservatives to put forward a genuine alternative speaks to their weakness in the state. Polls suggest a close general election. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.

KANSAS: Republican Sam Brownback is retiring from the Senate and running for governor. His successor almost certainly will be a fellow Republican. The real race here will take place not in November, but in the primary on August 3. Two GOP congressmen are in the mix: Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt. Last week, a poll of adults by SurveyUSA showed a close contest, with Moran at 37 percent, Tiahrt at 34 percent, and 29 percent undecided. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

KENTUCKY: Party loyalists often worry when an incumbent retires, but many Republicans felt relieved when gaffe-prone senator Jim Bunning announced that he would not seek a third term. Potential GOP successors include Secretary of State Trey Grayson and eye doctor Rand Paul, who is the son of 1988 and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul. Like his father, Paul is an advocate of small government and a foreign-policy isolationist. Grayson will have the support of the party establishment. If Paul can rally his father’s campaign supporters — a small but passionate bunch — he could pull off a minor upset. Democrats will choose between Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway, with Mongiardo favored. The primary is on May 18. LEANING GOP RETENTION.

LOUISIANA: Republican senator John Vitter would be a shoo-in for reelection, except for that business a couple of years ago about the prostitution ring. He remains the favorite against Democratic congressman Charlie Melancon, but Melancon has material for some of the year’s most blisteringly negative ads. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

MISSOURI: The retirement of GOP senator Kit Bond sets up a close race between two dynastic families in a classic swing state. GOP congressman Roy Blunt (father of former governor Matt Blunt) will square off against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (daughter of former governor Mel Carnahan and former senator Jean Carnahan). Republicans are encouraged by the fact that although 2008 was a rotten year for them, John McCain still managed to carry Missouri by a slim margin. TOSS-UP.

NEVADA: Will Harry Reid be Daschled in 2010? Tom Daschle, also a Democratic Senate majority leader, lost reelection because his constituents regarded him as too liberal. A December poll of likely voters by the Las Vegas Review-Journal points to Reid’s vulnerability. Former state senator Sue Lowden, a Miss America runner-up in 1973, leads Reid, 51 percent to 41 percent. Businessman Danny Tarkanian, the son of legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, also performs well against Reid, 48 percent to 42 percent. TOSS-UP.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The retirement of Republican Judd Gregg creates a pick-up opportunity for Democrats in a state that has been trending their way. Congressman Paul Hodes will be their nominee. Republican attorney general Kelly Ayotte will be a strong candidate as well. A Granite State poll of likely voters, released in October, showed Ayotte ahead of Hodes, 40 percent to 33 percent. TOSS-UP.

NEW YORK: The Empire State will have two senatorial elections in 2010. The reelection of Democratic senator Chuck Schumer is all but assured. The other race will determine who completes the final two years of Hillary Clinton’s term. It’s potentially competitive. Clinton’s appointed successor, Kirsten Gillibrand, will carry the torch for the Democrats. A couple of Republicans would stand a chance of ousting her. Polls suggest that Rudy Giuliani would win easily and former governor George Pataki would run well. So far, neither man has declared. LEANING DEMOCRATIC RETENTION.

NORTH CAROLINA: No incumbent has won reelection to Nixon nemesis Sam Ervin’s old Senate seat since Lyndon Johnson was president. Republican Richard Burr will try to succeed where Democrat Terry Sanford and Republican Lauch Faircloth failed. His likely Democratic foe is Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. In November, a Public Policy Polling survey of voters gave Burr a 4-point lead over a generic Democratic opponent and an 11-point lead — 45 percent to 34 percent — over Marshall. LEANING REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

NORTH DAKOTA: Right now, there’s only one poll that matters — the one in the head of Republican governor John Hoeven. If he decides to challenge Democratic senator Byron Dorgan, he becomes an instant favorite. If he declines the opportunity, Dorgan almost certainly cruises to reelection. In November, a Zogby poll gave Hoeven a commanding lead, 55 percent to 36 percent. Expect Hoeven to announce his decision around the New Year. TOSS-UP.

OHIO: In this open-seat race to succeed Republican George Voinovich, the GOP establishment has rallied around Rob Portman, a former congressman from Cincinnati as well as a budget director and trade diplomat during the Bush administration. Car dealer Tom Ganley also will compete for the Republican nomination. He has promised to spend up to $7 million of his own money running to Portman’s right, and his first television commercials were launched last month. Democrats will choose between Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher. Through the summer, polls showed both Brunner and Fisher beating Portman. By September, however, Portman had passed them and held a lead within the margin of error. TOSS-UP.

PENNSYLVANIA: Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat, potentially faces two tough elections. The first is in the Democratic primary on May 18, when he faces Rep. Joe Sestak. Last week, a Rasmussen poll of likely primary voters showed Specter ahead 48 percent to 35 percent — up from just a 4-point lead in October. If Specter survives this contest, he will probably face former Republican congressman Pat Toomey in a general-election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary. Rasmussen shows Toomey leading both Specter (46 percent to 42 percent) and Sestak (44 percent to 38 percent). TOSS-UP.

TEXAS: Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is running for governor and says she plans to resign her seat — though recently she has said it won’t be until after the March 4 GOP primary, which promises to be a close election between her and incumbent Rick Perry. If she wins, she will almost certainly step down — and create a race where there isn’t one today. If she loses, all bets are off. Conservative Michael Williams recently declared his candidacy. The field is bound to grow. LIKELY REPUBLICAN RETENTION.

— John J. Miller is NR’s national reporter.

Paul Ryan and the future of the GOP

This  commentary from  GOP thought leader Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin really sets the intellectual and political framework for where the GOP might be headed.  He goes after Crony Capitalism, the melding of Big Money, Big  Business and Big Goverment. This is what’s next. Here are some important bits:
1)  Since bringing us back from the precipice however, the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP] has morphed into crony capitalism at its worst. … No longer concerned with preserving overall financial market stability, Treasury’s walking around money continues to be deployed to reward the market’s Goliaths while letting its Davids suffer.
2) Washington is working hard to nationalize other sectors of our economy too. The House Finance Committee is pushing a massive financial “reform” bill, effectively creating banking utility companies. The Treasury Department has effectively nationalized the housing finance sector, with Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac demonstrating how fast big businesses, through a federally blessed and backed oligopoly, can fall. Now, on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, health care and energy lobbyists continue to fall over themselves to cut their deals–knowing that if they aren’t at the table, they’ll be on the menu.
3) Big businesses’ frenzied political dealings are not driven by party or ideology, but rather by zero-sum thinking in which their gain must come from a competitor’s loss. Erecting barriers to competition is a key to maintaining advantage and market share. With Washington leading the way, it makes sense for the big boys to redirect their resources to their lobbying shop and government affairs office. They’re far less interested in expanding the economic pie than with making certain that they get their slice.
4) For every encroachment into the market by the federal government–under the guise of “reform”–there exist pro-market alternatives that Republicans must articulate and passionately defend. University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales, who has written extensively on the issue of crony capitalism, reminds policymakers that the path forward requires “adopting a pro-market, rather than pro-business, approach.”

Ex-Kennedy Aide In Fraud Bust

Feds: Senate office manager stole $75,000 in bonus payment scheme

DECEMBER 15--The former office manager for the late Senator Ted Kennedy was indicted today on federal theft and fraud charges for allegedly pocketing more than $75,000 in unauthorized bonus payments over five years. Ngozi Pole, 39, was named today in a six-count felony indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. (a copy of the charging document can be found below). According to prosecutors, Pole, pictured at right, was in charge of processing bonus payments approved by either Kennedy or his chief of staff. These payments, according to the indictment, came in two forms: a "holiday bonus" paid in December or January, and an "end-of-the-fiscal-year bonus" paid after September 30. The holiday bonuses ranged between $1000 and $2000, while the fiscal year bonuses "generally ranged from $3000 to $5000." These bonuses were not paid in lump sums, rather Kennedy employee salaries "were raised for a short period, after which employees' annual salaries were returned to their prior levels." Pole has been accused of keeping his salary at the inflated level for more than the prescribed period. From 2002-2007 he illegally pocketed more than $75,000, according to the indictment, and hid these larger-than-authorized payouts by submitting falsified records to successive Kennedy chiefs of staff. (12 pages)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rep. Gordon is fourth Democratic retirement

By Aaron Blake - 12/14/09 10:40 AM ET
Democratic retirements are beginning to mount, after the announcement Monday that Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) will not seek reelection next year.

Gordon said in a statement that, after a quarter-century in Congress, it’s time to retire.

“Every decision I have made in Congress has been with [constituents'] best interests in mind,” he said. “I hope the people here at home feel that I have served them as well as their good advice and views have served me.

“When I was elected, I was the youngest member of the Tennessee congressional delegation; now I’m one of the oldest. In fact, I have members of my staff who weren’t even born when I took office. That tells me it’s time for a new chapter.”
Gordon joins Reps. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.) in announcing his retirement in recent weeks. Also, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) announced Friday that he will resign early to run for governor.

Gordon became a leading GOP target as the year progressed. State Sen. Jim Tracy (R) recently began looking at a campaign against him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Polls show Dems might lose Obama, Biden Senate seats

Republicans seek strongest candidates for key midterm ballots

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won't be on the midterm ballot next year, but their former Senate seats will be, and both races are now either tossups or leaning Republican in high-visibility contests.
Mr. Obama, who was a freshman senator from Illinois when he was elected president, and Mr. Biden, who was in his sixth term as a senator from Delaware, come from states that have been running strongly Democratic in past elections. No one doubts that Mr. Obama would have been a re-election shoo-in had he remained in the Senate and that Mr. Biden had his seat for the foreseeable future.
But in another sign of political winds that appear to be blowing against the Democrats in the 2010 cycle, Republicans and independent political analysts say the chances are at least even that their seats could be taken over by two strong Republican candidates next November, when the GOP is expected to make gains in Congress and in the state governorships.
"Not to steal one of President Obama's favorite words, but in Illinois and Delaware, Republicans have a truly historic opportunity to win both the president and vice president's Senate seats, and we're fortunate to have the strongest possible candidates already in the race," said Brian Walsh, chief spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
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"There is still a long way to go until the election, and we certainly expect polls will fluctuate, but it's clear that even in traditionally blue states, voters are demanding accountability and want to restore checks and balances in Washington," Mr. Walsh said.
In Illinois, where Democrats are still reeling from an explosive "pay to play" corruption scandal that led to the arrest and impeachment of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, five-term Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, the expected Republican nominee, is running for Mr. Obama's seat. The Democratic front-runner is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, whom an opposing Democratic campaign adviser calls a "deeply flawed" candidate.
Illinois Republican leaders have been pounding Democrats for widespread corruption in the state's government, noting Mr. Giannoulias' ties to real estate developer and Democratic fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was convicted last year of fraud and money laundering.
"His family bank, where Alexi served as an officer, made loans to Tony Rezko, who is now sitting in a penitentiary," Republican state chairman Pat Brady said.
But Democratic campaign strategists have been among Mr. Giannoulias' critics, too.
"Alexi Giannoulias' own vulnerabilities are so significant, and far more damning than Kirk's among the electorate. ... His nomination would put Barack Obama's former Senate seat in extreme jeopardy for the Democrats," pollster Geoff Garin said last month in a widely distributed polling memo for Senate candidate David Hoffman, who is opposing Mr. Giannoulias for the Democratic nomination.
Earlier this year, the White House and state Democratic leaders thought that state Attorney General Lisa Madigan would guarantee that Mr. Obama's seat would remain in Democratic hands. But after getting the full Oval Office treatment to persuade her to run, she turned down Mr. Obama.
Party strategists say Mr. Giannoulias was their second choice, though White House adviser David Axelrod, who lobbied for Ms. Madigan, isn't enthusiastic about the turn of events. "She would have walked into the seat," he told the New York Times last month.
"The Blago saga will hang heavy over our politics," Mr. Axelrod said.
Sen. Roland W. Burris, who was appointed by Mr. Blagojevich to fill the vacancy, decided not to seek the election after he became the target of a Senate ethics committee investigation arising out of the corruption charges against Mr. Blagojevich. He was cleared of wrongdoing, but the panel said he had provided "incorrect, inconsistent, misleading" information about his conversations with the embattled governor and that his actions were "inappropriate."
The latest Rasmussen poll has Mr. Kirk, a party moderate who represents the northern suburbs of Chicago and has regularly won support from Democrats and independents there, in a statistical dead heat with Mr. Giannoulias, trailing the Democrat by 42 percent to 39 percent last week. An earlier poll had them tied at 41 percent.
Mr. Brady, who is privy to internal Republican Party polls, said Mr. Kirk "will win by five points or more. I don't think this is as close as pollsters say."
The Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report are calling the contest a tossup, but both election handicappers think the Republicans have a good shot at taking the seat.
"The state has a strongly Democratic bent, but the party's [corruption] problems, questions about Giannoulias, and an unusually appealing moderate Republican nominee give Democrats major problems in the Land of Lincoln," the latest Rothenberg Political Report said.
Mr. Biden's seat in Delaware also appears vulnerable. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who has won nine statewide elections as the state's only House member, has been leading state Attorney General Beau Biden in polls. Mr. Biden has delayed saying whether he will be a candidate for the remaining four years of his father's term.
Mr. Castle, a 70-year-old former governor, is a moderate whose cross-party appeal has drawn support from Democrats and independents over a political career that spans more than 40 years. A recent head-to-head voter survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, showed Mr. Castle leading the younger Mr. Biden by 45 percent to 39 percent.
A Public Policy Polling analysis of its findings pointed to two strong trends in Mr. Castle's favor: a 52 percent to 23 percent lead among independent voters, and the fact that he draws far more support from Democrats than Mr. Biden does from Republicans. The analysis found that 48 percent of Democrats view the Republican lawmaker favorably, while 15 percent of Republicans have a positive view of the 40-year-old Mr. Biden.
Independent analysts still think the vice president's son will enter the race, but there has been growing speculation about why he has not revealed his intentions more than two months after Mr. Castle announced his candidacy. He returned home in October after a year's tour of duty in Iraq and has been spending more time with his family while he considers his options.
"Both personally and politically, this was necessary and smart. There probably isn't much of a need for Biden to establish his campaign early, since he doesn't need to build a brand-name recognition and certainly won't encounter any trouble raising money," said Jennifer Duffy, senior elections analyst at the Cook Political Report.
Stuart Rothenberg has put the Delaware Senate race in his "lean Republican Takeover" column but cautions that "even if Beau Biden takes a pass on the contest, the combination of the state's Democratic bent and Castle's popularity strongly suggest a very competitive contest."
But many oddsmakers and analysts still think the edge goes to Mr. Castle. "This race is close, and Biden, if he gets in the race, will have a decent shot at winning. But Mike Castle looked like the favorite last winter, and nine months later he still does," said an analysis on Public Policy Polling's Web site.


Whole Foods Republicans

The GOP needs to enlist voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics.


The Republican Party is resurgent—or so goes the conventional wisdom. With its gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, an energized "tea party" base, and an administration overreaching on health care, climate change and spending, 2010 could shape up to be 1994 all over again.
Maybe. The political landscape sure looks greener than it did a year ago, when talk of a permanent Democratic majority was omnipresent. But before John Boehner starts measuring the drapes in the Speaker's office, or the party exults about its possibilities in 2012, it's worth noting that some of the key trends driving President Barack Obama's strong victory in 2008 haven't disappeared. Republicans need to address them head-on if they want to lead a majority party again.
There are the depressing numbers on young voters (two-thirds of whom voted for Mr. Obama), African-Americans and Latinos (95% and 67% went blue respectively). But these groups have voted Democratic for decades, and their strong turnout in 2008's historic election wasn't replicated this fall, nor is it likely to be replicated again.
The voting patterns of the college-educated is another story. This is a group that, slowly but surely, is growing larger every year. About 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%.
As less-educated seniors pass away and better-educated 20- and 30-somethings take their place in the electorate, this bloc will exert growing influence. And here's the distressing news for the GOP: According to exit-poll data, a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008—the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s.
David Gothard 
Some in the GOP see this trend as an opportunity rather than a problem. Let the Democrats have the Starbucks set, goes the thinking, and we'll grab working-class families. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, wants to embrace "Sam's Club" Republicans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pitched himself in 2008 as the guy who "looks like your co-worker, not your boss." Even Mitt Romney blasted "Eastern elites." And of course there's Sarah Palin, whose entire brand is anti-intellectual.
To be sure, playing to personal identity is hardly novel, nor is it crazy. Bill Bishop and other political analysts have noted that people's politics are as much about their lifestyle choices as their policy positions. Republicans live in exurbs and small towns, drive pick-up trucks or SUVs, go to church every Sunday, and listen to country music. Well-heeled Democrats live in cities and close-in suburbs, drive hybrids or Volvos, hang out at bookshops, and frequent farmers' markets. These are stereotypes, of course, but they also contain some truth.
Widening this cultural divide has long been part of the GOP playbook, going back to Nixon's attacks on "East Coast intellectuals" and forward to candidate Obama's arugula-eating tendencies. But with the white working class shrinking and the educated "creative class" growing, playing the populism card looks like a strategy of subtraction rather than addition. A more enlightened approach would be to go after college-educated voters, to make the GOP safe for smarties again.
What's needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate "Whole Foods Republicans"—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated indiividuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)
What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There's no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness. Nor do highly educated people have to agree that a strong national defense is harmful to the cause of peace and international cooperation.
So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education. President George W. Bush's bantering about being a "C" student may have enamored "the man in the street," but it surely discouraged more than a few "A" students from feeling like part of the team.
The same is true for Mrs. Palin's inability to name a single newspaper she reads. If the GOP doesn't want to be branded the "Party of Stupid," it could stand to nominate more people who can speak eloquently on complicated policy matters.
Even more important is the party's message on divisive social issues. When some Republicans use homophobic language, express thinly disguised contempt toward immigrants, or ridicule heartfelt concerns for the environment, they affront the values of the educated class. And they lose votes they otherwise ought to win.
The races in Virginia and New Jersey show what can happen when the GOP sticks to its core economic message instead of playing wedge politics. Both Republican candidates won majorities of college-educated voters. Their approach attracted Sam's Club Republicans and Whole Foods Republicans alike.
It's good news that America is becoming better educated, more inclusive, and more concerned about the environment. The Republican Party can either catch this wave, or watch its historic opportunity for "resurgence" wash away with the tides.
Mr. Petrilli is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a frequenter of the Whole Foods Market in Silver Spring, Md.

The Real Lessons of 1994

Voters punished Democrats for Hillarycare. They'll do the same for Obamacare.
by Jeffrey H. Anderson and Andy Wickersham
12/21/2009, Volume 015, Issue 14

Democratic senators and congressmen have been trying to convince each other, particularly their more conservative colleagues, that they'll all be better off in the 2010 elections--and will avoid a repeat of their 1994 debacle--if they pass Obama-care. Bill Clinton, half of the central duo in the failed attempt to pass Hillarycare in 1994, recently addressed Senate Democrats and sang the party-line tune. Speaking to reporters afterward, Clinton said, "I think it is good politics to pass this and to pass it as soon as they can. .  .  . The worst thing to do is nothing."
But the evidence cuts the other way. Democrats did indeed get slaughtered in 1994--with Republicans taking over the House for the first time since the Truman administration--but it wasn't because they failed to pass Hil-lary-care. It was because they tried.
It's true, there were no formal votes on a bill, so there was no chance for Democratic members to distance themselves officially from the plan. Nevertheless, voters knew that it was the more conservative Democrats (with the GOP, then as now the minority party, urging them on) who killed the bill--over their more liberal colleagues' objections.
So who paid the price in 1994? Was it the typical Democrats, for trying to pass Hillarycare or their more conservative colleagues for stopping it?
The question is timely, for Americans' notion of what their health care would be like under Obamacare is strikingly similar to what they thought it would be like under Hillarycare. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that, by 37
to 19 percent, Americans think the quality of their health care would get worse, rather than better, under Obamacare. The same poll's nearly identical question about Hillarycare in 1994 also showed that Americans thought the quality of their health care would get worse, by 38 to 20 percent. What, then, really happened to Democrats in the 1994 election? We took liberal/conservative ratings from the American Conservative Union and divided congressional Democrats into ideological thirds: most conservative, typical, and most liberal. We then examined how each group of Democrats fared in seeking reelection in the wake of Hillarycare and compared those results with the reelection bids of Democrats in the congressional elections of the last 20 years.
The conclusions are clear, and they defy the notion that the worst thing that Democrats could do is nothing. In the other nine elections over the past 20 years, the typical (middle-third) Democrats have done far better than the more conservative Democrats. In fact, conservative Democrats have lost 67 percent more often than their party's typical members. In 1994, that turned around completely: That year, typical Democrats lost 56 percent more often than their more conservative colleagues.
In other words: Voters did punish Democrats for trying to pass Hillarycare, but they didn't punish them evenly--and they certainly didn't punish them for failing to pass it. Instead, voters went comparatively easy on the more conservative Democrats who opposed it.
Conservative Democrats generally do worse than their colleagues in seeking reelection because they usually run in contested districts that either party can realistically win. They are often running on Republican--or at least highly disputed--turf. Conversely, the most liberal Democrats usually run in Democratic strongholds. Over the last two decades--apart from 1994--more conservative Democrats have been twice as apt to lose as other members of their party. Given the districts or states in which they run, this is not at all surprising. But what is surprising is this: In 1994, the more conservative Democrats erased that disadvantage.

In 1994, the more conservative third of Democrats ran in states where the average margin of victory for President Clinton had been only 1.6 percentage points (compared to 5.6 percentage points nationally). Meanwhile, the other two-thirds of Democrats ran in states where Clinton's average margin of victory had been 7.7 percentage points. Despite the far greater challenge they faced in running on much less friendly soil, the more conservative Democrats won every bit as often in 1994 as other Democrats did--the only time in the past 20 years that they were able to pull off this improbable result.
But what is most striking is how much better the conservative third did than the typical Democrats of the middle third. Compared with the more conservative Democrats, typical Democrats ran twice as often in the six most consistently Democratic states (those Democrats won by 10 percentage points or more in each of the past five presidential elections) and barely half as often in GOP states (those the GOP won in most of those elections). Despite this huge advantage in voter composition, they not only failed to win more often, they lost 56 percent more often.
Swing-voters apparently (and rightly) blamed typical Democrats for advancing Hillarycare. Where independent voters were not really decisive--such as in the most liberal members' districts--this effect wasn't strongly felt. But where independents held sway, typical Democrats felt their wrath. And in 1994, the voters did this without the benefit of being able to consult concrete votes on the proposed health care
legislation. They won't be similarly handicapped in 2010. In June of this year, a Fox News poll showed that (among those who had an opinion on the matter) 73 percent of independents approved of President Obama's job performance. After five months of debate over Obama's health care overhaul, the same poll now shows that only 40 percent of independents approve of his job performance.
If Democrats want to go on an electoral suicide mission in the face of clear public opposition and try to pass a nation-changing piece of legislation by a party-line vote (both Social Security and Medicare were passed by majorities of both parties in at least one congressional chamber), they should consider one further fact. The proposed legislation won't take effect quickly, much of it not until 2014. Before then, we'll vote in two national elections. The American people would not only be able to vote out members who disregard their wishes and pass legislation they don't want. Through the election of other members, they would be able to repeal that legislation.
In the wake of the Hillarycare debate in 1994, voters harshly punished typical Democratic members. As the calendar approaches 2010, many Democratic members face a potentially career-defining choice that will determine whether their constituents will regard them as being among the more conservative members of their party, or among its typical members. If 1994 is any guide, this determination could well decide their fate. The question for such Democratic members is this: Are you willing to die charging a hill that may well be retaken in 2010 and 2012 in your absence?
Jeffrey H. Anderson, a senior fellow in health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute, was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is the director of the Benjamin Rush Society. Andy Wickersham is a writer and consultant.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Democrats’ ‘big tent’ faces challenges from conservative members

Newly elected moderate and conservative Democrats helped the party build a ‘big tent’ majority in the House. But those very same members – worrying about 2010 elections – are threatening Democrats' majority on major votes.

House Democrats fought their way back to power in 2006 and expanded their majority in 2008 by recruiting candidates who could win in conservative districts – a strategy that’s coming back to bite them as they try to move a sweeping legislative agenda.
The “majority makers,” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi dubbed them, fit the moderate-to-conservative districts they aimed to win. They railed on big government, spending, and taxes. Some challenged the merits of government regulation, called for more limits on abortion rights, opposed any softening of illegal immigration policy, or appeared in photos toting rifles.
Now, with legacy bills for Democrats on the line, many are voting that way. On issues ranging from healthcare and climate change to social issues, the “majority makers” often find themselves challenging the very majority they helped to create.
At the same time, big bills on healthcare, climate change, and Wall Street regulation could spell the demise of Democrats’ majority in the 2010 elections, if conservative Democrats lose for voting outside the comfort zones of their districts. The influence of these Democrats in shaping key legislation is leading some traditional Democratic constituencies – such as consumer watchdogs – to express dismay over what’s emerging from bill-crafting House committees.
“What these votes do is form an overall impression in voters’ minds on whether these members are too liberal for the district. I see these as tone-setting issues for 2010,” says David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report in Washington.
Of 48 races ranked by the Cook Political Report as competitive in 2010, 36 are held by Democrats. In another 60 potentially competitive races, Democrats hold 45 of those seats, as well.
“Democrats are in a bind,” says Mr. Wasserman. To hold the House in 2010, “they have to juice up their own base and retain independent voters.”
With the balance in the House at 258 Democrats to 177 Republicans, the majority has some leeway to indulge dissent from its restive right wing. But leaders still need 218 votes to move a reform agenda. With the GOP closing ranks on important votes, Democrats can afford only 40 defections on big votes. For now, conservative or moderate Democrats from red districts are claiming most of them – and then some.
Of the 39 House Democrats who opposed healthcare legislation in a Nov. 7 vote, 31 represent districts that backed GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008. Four others were elected by districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004. The bill passed, 220 to 215.
The big issues for most dissenting Democrats were the overall cost and concern that the bill did not do enough to rein in health costs in the longer term.
“It was punitive toward small businesses, and it paid for reform by raising taxes rather than by squeezing the inefficiencies out of and modernizing our healthcare system,” said Rep. Jason Altmire (D) of Pennsylvania in a postvote statement. “Until we rein in skyrocketing healthcare costs, we will simply be perpetuating an inefficient system that is unsustainable over time.”
Two days after the healthcare vote, the liberal activist group Political Action launched television ads targeting seven lawmakers who voted against healthcare – six of them Democrats.
Besides Mr. Altmire, the other Democrats were Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Glenn Nye of Virginia, Rick Boucher of Virginia, and Larry Kissell and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.
Freshmen facing the toughest reelection bids weren’t pressured to fall on their swords on this vote.
“After carefully reviewing this legislation and hearing from thousands of Coloradans across my district, I could not support this bill,” said freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D) of Colorado in a statement. Ms. Markey, who faces a tough reelection race in 2010, is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1973. This “majority maker” got a pass on this vote – and a hug from Speaker Pelosi on the floor.
Limits on abortion
Among the toughest negotiations was a call from social conservatives in the Democratic caucus to strengthen restrictions on funding abortion services in healthcare reform.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, who cosponsored the amendment with Rep. Joe Pitts (R) of Pennsylvania, claimed 40 Democrats willing to vote down the bill over this issue. At the 11th hour, Pelosi agreed to allow a floor vote on the amendment, which passed 240-194. Sixty-four Democrats joined all Republicans in adding these restrictions to the House bill, including 35 red-district Democrats. In all, 56 percent of Democrats who opposed healthcare reform also voted in favor of this amendment.
After the vote, abortion rights Democrats announced that they have more than 40 votes against the final version of the bill, if the Senate fails to remove this provision in conference.
Climate change
Most of the Democrats who opposed healthcare reform also voted against the majority on climate-change legislation, which narrowly passed the House, 219 to 212, on June 26. As with previous energy bills, fault lines in the vote reflect regional interests – notably, whether the region depends on coal for electricity – rather than strict party identification. But the more conservative ideology of the “majority makers” did play a role.
“When Democrats expanded their base in 2006 and ’08, they brought in Democrats who represent very different constituencies. They are far more independent-minded, more moderate in ideology, and more pragmatic,” says G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll. “It’s making a big difference in key votes.
“On issues like climate change,” he adds, “there’s a real fear on the part of many of these [new] Democrats that by meddling with the cap-and-trade system, you weaken the power of firms to compete and eventually we’ll be deep in recession and debt.”
Managing the big tent
The strategy of reaching into GOP districts to expand the Democratic majority faces its starkest test as leaders try to rally a diverse caucus around major controversial bills.
“Persuasion will only work to a limited extent. These are Democrats who are ideologically opposed to what the White House wants, and the only option [Democratic leaders] have is to lean on them,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “But there is a timidity in the speaker’s office of using that power and great fear of [the House] tipping back to the Republicans, as it did in 1994.”
Questioned often on this point, Pelosi says managing a bigger tent is a challenge she’s glad to have, given the alternative. She still meets weekly with the freshman class of 2008 and, separately, with the class of 2006. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has set up a designated funding stream to help Democrats in marginal seats.
“She has always said: You represent your district, but you also try to find consensus within the caucus,” says Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi.
On the prospects of social Democrats bringing down healthcare reform over the abortion issue, he adds: “There is always this prevailing Washington wisdom that this hurdle is going to be the highest and you can’t overcome it. But through building consensus with the caucus we have gotten over those hurdles.”

Generic Congressional Vote

Polling Data

PollDateSampleRepublicans Democrats Spread
RCP Average11/5 - 12/7--44.243.4Republicans +0.8
Bloomberg12/3 - 12/7714 LV4238Republicans +4
Rasmussen Reports11/30 - 12/63500 LV4339Republicans +4
Democracy Corps (D)11/12 - 11/16875 LV4547Democrats +2
CNN/Opinion Research11/13 - 11/15928 RV4349Democrats +6
Gallup11/5 - 11/8894 RV4844Republicans +4

Recent Commentary & News Stories

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mark Penn's two firms awarded millions from stimulus for PR campaign

By Alexander Bolton - 12/09/09 12:00 AM ET
A contract worth nearly $6 million in stimulus funds was awarded by the Obama adminstration to two firms run by Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's pollster in 2008.

Federal records show that a contract worth $5.97 million, part of the $787 billion stimulus Congress passed this year, helped preserve three jobs at Burson-Marsteller, the global public-relations and communications firm headed by Penn.Burson-Marsteller won the contract to work on a public-relations campaign to advertise the national switch from analog to digital television. Nearly $2.8 million of the contract was awarded through a subcontract to Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, according to federal records.
Federal records also show that a former adviser to President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign received nearly $70,000 from that contract to help alert viewers in difficult-to-reach communities that their televisions would ssoon no longer receive broadcast signals.
The adviser, Alfredo J. Balsera, who heads a public-affairs firm based in Coral Gables, Fla., helped craft Obama’s Hispanic advertising message.
Republicans on Tuesday criticized the federal spending on the advertising project as a waste of taxpayer dollars. They noted that the advertising campaign took place on May 5, only 39 days before the digital television transition was scheduled (June 12).
GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) held a news conference Tuesday to blast 100 “wasteful” projects funded by the $787 billion economic stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year, concluding that at least $7 billion of the $217 billion spent through November was wasteful and mismanaged
The GOP senators highlighted the direction of the stimulus funds on the same day Obama outlined a new series of proposals for creating jobs that Republicans view as another stimulus measure. The proposals include tax cuts for small businesses, tax incentives for employers to hire new workers and infrastructure spending.
The need for additional measures has raised questions over the efficacy of the stimulus package passed earlier this year.
White House officials have said the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the stimulus helped to create 1.6 million jobs. White House aides also have noted that the national employment report for November showed dramatic improvement compared to early this year.
A White House spokeswoman on Tuesday responded to the GOP report by saying Coburn’s previous reports on stimulus spending have been filled with “false or misleading claims.”
“In the end, even if there are a few unwise projects, it is only a handful out of the over 50,000 projects that have been approved to date,” said Liz Oxhorn, a White House spokeswoman. “The real question here is whether Recovery Act critics will at long last acknowledge that well over 99 percent of the projects are sound, effective and working as promised.”
McCain and Coburn did not show any indication that they knew two Democratic political strategists received funding through the grant.
A review of federal records by The Hill revealed Penn and Balsera received money from the economic stimulus program.
Burson-Marsteller, which Penn heads as CEO worldwide, won the $5.97 million contract through Young & Rubicam. (Burson-Marsteller has been a part of Young & Rubicam Brands since 1979.)
Burson-Marsteller did not respond to two requests on Tuesday to discuss its contract with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
On Wednesday, after news of the contract attracted widespread attention on the Internet, Burston-Marsteller issued a statement defending its work. The firm said it spent only $4.36 million of the contract to complete the digital television advertising initiative. An FCC official confirmed that number.
"Burson-Marsteller, and the approved set of vendors, including its sister company Penn Schoen & Berland LLC, successfully completed the work with the FCC on time and under budget, the company said in its statement. "Burson-Marsteller received a total of $1,375,000 in professional fees to manage and support this time sensitive national and local effort with a large team of professionals. They disbursed the rest to firms around the country in local communities," the company said.
Burson-Marsteller said its sister company, Penn, Schoen & Berland, received only $142,000 in fees. The rest was spent on a $2.4 million media buy that went to newspapers and local radio stations around the country and $147,000 spent for the services of advertising production houses, according to Burson-Marsteller.
A contract award summary posted on, the government website that tracks stimulus spending, states Burson-Marsteller was awarded a competitive contract by the FCC to help prepare “unready households for the DTV transition.”
The purpose of the campaign was to “bolster the reach, penetration and impact of the FCC’s DTV readiness messages in selected markets, specifically among the groups that had been determined to be the most at risk.”
Cassandra Andrade, a senior associate with Balsera Communications, said, “I can see where there’s concern, but the contract was strictly based on our merits. We’ve been working on multicultural outreach for many years.”
Andrade said her firm worked to contact Hispanic television viewers in Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Andrade noted that according to Nielsen, a media-research company, there was a sharp decline in the number of unready homes in the week leading up to the digital transition and that 97.5 percent of households were ready for the switch.
A spokesman for Penn, Schoen & Berland did not respond to a request for comment.
Penn received scrutiny during and after the 2008 presidential campaign for the role he played in Clinton’s unsuccessful White House bid. Some Clinton supporters questioned whether his service was worth the millions in fees he billed to the campaign.
Penn’s firm billed the campaign $5 million for polling and at least $8 million for sending out direct-mail pieces, according to Time magazine. Clinton’s campaign finally paid off the debt in July.
Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said the three jobs saved at Burson-Marsteller represented a poor value for taxpayers.
“It illustrates a very poor way to create jobs,” Kyl said.
 Kyl said the appropriateness of Democratic strategists receiving funds “depends on whether they exerted some influence.”
The digital television advertising campaign ranked as No. 3 on the list of 100 projects that GOP senators on Tuesday highlighted as “pure waste” in the billions of stimulus funds spent this year.
At the top of the GOP list is a $5 million grant from the Department of Energy to create a geothermal energy system for the Oak Ridge City Center shopping mall in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The main problem with the project, say Republicans, is the fact the mall has been losing tenants for years and is mostly empty.
GOP senators also blasted a $1.57 million grant to Penn State University to search for fossils in Argentina and a $100,000 award to a liberal-leaning theater in Minnesota for socially conscious puppet shows.
Two million dollars in stimulus money went to build a replica railroad as a tourist attraction in Carson City, Nev.
A dinner cruise company based in Chicago received nearly $1 million in funds to combat terrorism.
Half a million dollars went to Arizona State University to study the genetic makeup of ants to determine distinctive roles in ant colonies; $450,000 went to the University of Arizona to study the division of labor in ant colonies.
The State University of New York at Buffalo won $390,000 to study young adults who drink malt liquor and smoke marijuana. The National Institutes of Health got $219,000 in funds to study whether female college students are more likely to “hook up” after drinking alcohol.
The University of Hawaii collected $210,000 to study the learning patterns of honeybees, and $700,000 went to help crab fishermen in Oregon recover lost crab pots.
This article was updated on 8:17 p.m.
Update: The Hill initially reported on the basis of federal records that nearly $6 million in stimulus money was paid to Burson-Marsteller and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates. Burson-Marsteller received a federal contract worth $5.97 million. As part of that contract, Penn, Schoen & Berland received a subcontract worth more than $2.7 million. A spokesman for Burson-Marsteller said only $4.36 million from the contract is scheduled to be paid out. Burson-Marsteller declined to respond to a request Tuesday to explain the details of its contract.