Audacity of Help: Obama on Line as Specter Battle Tightens

May 13, 2010 7:49am

By Rick Klein A year later, the bill for 60 comes due. (Even in the era of 59.) The final march toward Tuesday’s primary in Pennsylvania is a story about Arlen Specter. But it’s also a story about President Obama — even if that particular actor isn’t close to the stage. And there’s something else that sets apart Specter from the recent Democrats (in Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey) to fall despite the president’s support: Sen. Specter, D-Pa., is now in a Democratic primary, not a general election. That means Specter’s task — and that of the prominent Democratic politicians who helped convince him he could win as a Democrat — is not even as complex as bringing over Republicans or independents who are leaning GOP this year: It’s firing up the Democratic base, in one of the handful of states left that still has a robust machine. Is it that a late visit from the president wouldn’t, say, remind young black voters in Philadelphia that the president would prefer to be joined by his friends in Washington? Or that, at this point, a photo with a candidate spinning his wheels isn’t one for the White House archives?
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Gail Collins: “He really did love the fact that Specter’s party switch gave the Democrats what would turn out to be a very temporary 60th vote in the Senate. But he is not so grateful that he is going to go to Pennsylvania to campaign for him and risk adding yet another political carcass to the list of uncharming Democrats who went down the drain while clinging to his coattails.” “Incumbents in both parties are facing difficult reelection battles across the nation, but Specter has the added challenge of facing voters who are suspicious that he changed political parties as a matter of convenience rather than core beliefs,” the Los Angeles Times’ Seema Mehta reports. “The establishment support has not resonated with the rank and file.” Crueler cuts: “Naral Pro-Choice America waded into Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary for Senate on Wednesday, as its political action committee endorsed Representative Joe Sestak’s bid to unseat incumbent Arlen Specter,” The New York Times’ Bernie Becker reports. “In announcing the group’s decision, Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, did more than just plug Mr. Sestak’s views. She also strongly suggested that any previous support Mr. Specter has provided to abortion rights measures was given for his own political good.” Help in the form of … radio calls? “That Specter, celebrated a year ago by Democratic leaders after switching parties and giving them for a time a crucial 60th Senate vote to thwart Republicans, appealed for Biden’s help shows the strength of the anti-incumbent winds sweeping the U.S. — and how close Specter is to becoming the latest victim,” Bloomberg’s Lisa Lerer reports. In case there’s any doubt … “The [Specter] ads are being funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meaning national party money is being spent to prop up an incumbent who was a Republican for most of his career — and to help him defeat a longtime Democrat,” Greg Sargent reports, at The Plum Line blog. Time’s Joe Klein: “In the end, it seemed that Arlen Specter might have left the Republican Party, but the Republican Party hadn't left him.” Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Manu Raju: “The trappings of power can be a trap.” As for that other incumbent on the line next week — recall that Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., also has White House/establishment backing: “Less than a week before their Senate primary, Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter are preparing for their acrimonious contest to head into overtime,” Politico’s David Catanese reports. “With recent polls showing Lincoln with less than the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff as a relatively unknown conservative candidate has gained his support at her expense, Arkansas observers say a second election on June 8 between the two top finishers is increasingly likely.” “Veteran Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter could find themselves out of a job at this time next week, the victims of restless Democratic primary voters and activists who no longer take their cues from the national party establishment in Washington,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker writes. More than Democrats on the line — Kentucky as a referendum on Kentucky’s senior senator: Senate Minority Leader Mitch “McConnell, 68, is widely credited with building the Kentucky Republican Party — the GOP headquarters in Frankfort is even named for him. Just a few months ago, it seemed inconceivable that he couldn't push Grayson, his handpicked candidate, to victory Tuesday. Now, not only is Grayson in trouble — he trails in the polls by double digits — but his association with McConnell isn't helping,” Amy Gardner reports in The Washington Post.   Paul rising — up 16 points in the new poll in the Louisville Courier-Journal: “The two top candidates in the Democratic primary for Kentucky's U.S. Senate seat are in a statistical dead heat, while Bowling Green ophthalmologist Rand Paul maintains his double-digit lead in the Republican primary, according to the latest Courier-Journal/WHAS11 Bluegrass Poll.” And in PA-12, the Murtha seat, where former President Bill Clinton provides the star-power Sunday: “The winning party will be able to claim a morale-boosting victory as the campaign season heats up,” Naftali Bendavid writes in The Wall Street Journal. “But if [Democrat Mark] Critz pulled off a win, it would enable the Democrats to claim they stopped the GOP's momentum, which has been building for months.” Looking broader: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November's mid-term campaign, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll,” the Journal’s Peter Wallsten, Naftali Bendavid and Jean Spencer write. “Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters — all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” Feel this wind: “A big shift is evident among independents, who at this point in the 2006 campaign favored Democratic control of Congress rather than Republican control, 40% to 24%. In this poll, independents favored the GOP, 38% to 30%.” “It’s not good,” James Carville said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” “The Democrats need a strategy to reenergize some of their voters.” It’s “absolutely possible” that Democrats lose control of Congress, he said. Karl Rove, in his Journal column: “While a lot will play out over the next six months, there's no question good Republican candidates running effective races will make this a memorable, perhaps even epic, election for the GOP. Obama Democrats should beware.” President Obama is back on Main Street on Thursday, touring a manufacturing facility in Buffalo. Then it’s fundraising time for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. Less than welcoming headlines: “Eleven days after the botched plot to bomb Times Square, the Obama administration on Wednesday slashed some $53 million from the city's terror-fighting budget,” Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News. “To top it off, the news arrives as President Obama comes to town today amid buzz he will meet with the very cops who helped thwart the bombing.”  Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.: “For the administration to announce these cuts two weeks after the attempted Times Square bombing shows they just don't get it and are not doing right by New York City.” “The actual scope of the cuts wasn't immediately clear, but the move drew instant backlash from top New York lawmakers and presented poor optics for the president on the eve of his trip,” Politico’s Maggie Haberman reports. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y.: “It's absolutely disgraceful.” ABC’s Jake Tapper: “But a White House official says the reports the lawmakers' outrage are based on are ‘wrong.’ ‘When all federal funding is totaled,’ the official says, ‘NYC has received a net increase of $47 million for port and transit security over the previous year's budget, the last signed into law by the Bush Administration.’” On the jobs message — what’s the message, again? “How do you send a ‘we care’ message under these circumstances? From Capitol Hill to the White House, nobody in either party is doing very well at it,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. While we’re in New York — Bill Burck and Dana Perino, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “What if the next terrorist suspect does not waive his rights? Improvisation is not good policy. The administration needs to deploy all the tools it has, and obtain the additional tools it needs, to allow law enforcement and intelligence officials to protect the country. That includes designating terrorist suspects as enemy combatants.” Another full day on the Hill for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. She meets with senators Kerry, Specter (!),Schumer, Collins, Cardin, Scott Brown and Klobuchar. Not much to go on: “She has not been a judge, so there are no legal opinions to peruse; she made few bold declarations in her writings as a professor and dean of Harvard Law School; and she has been circumspect in speeches. She spent several hours on Capitol Hill meeting with key senators Wednesday but said little about her personal views,” The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes reports. “So her 15-month tenure as solicitor general will be scrutinized. But those trying to forecast her potential Supreme Court opinions face a difficult task. The job of solicitor general is to be not a legal philosopher but a lawyer with a client to defend: the United States government.” Down the middle: “Liberals and conservatives alike are attributing special significance to her clerkship year with Justice Marshall, who led the civil rights movement’s legal efforts to dismantle segregation before becoming a particularly liberal Supreme Court justice,” Charlie Savage writes in The New York Times. “But while Ms. Kagan, a former board member for the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, clearly relished the experience and admired the justice as a historic figure, she appears to have had a far more ambivalent attitude toward his jurisprudence.” Jeffrey Rosen, writing in Time: “[Kagan] might become a more passionate and partisan liberal warrior, inheriting Justice John Paul Stevens’ mantle as the leader of the liberal wing on the court and making her current liberal critics look shortsighted.  For now, however, conservative activists fear that Kagan will be too liberal and liberal activists fear that she will be too conservative — which seems exactly where President Obama wants Kagan to be.” More from the Clinton library: “The memos don't provide any obvious grist for groups supporting or opposing Ms. Kagan's nomination, but her overall centrist positions could further perturb some on the left who have expressed concern she isn't sufficiently liberal,” Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. Easing concerns? “I think the fact that she worked in the Clinton administration, the fact that she worked for Joe Biden on the Judiciary Committee — I mean you get some idea of where her political philosophy is coming from,” Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., said on ABC’s “Top Line” Wednesday. “I think it's important to have somebody that reflects the political philosophy of the president, especially when the last few nominees has so clearly been picked because of their ideological leanings.” Your emerging GOP messaging: “In our constitutional order, justices are not on anybody's team,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf. “It's my hope that the Obama administration doesn't think the ideal Supreme Court nominee is someone who would rubber stamp its policies. But this nomination does raise the question.” Worth keeping an eye on — as we look for “rubber stamps”: the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday votes on the delayed nomination of Goodwin Liu for the 9th Circuit appellate court. Day one of the House GOP’s YouCut: 43,000 votes and counting for proposed spending cuts. Health care grist Thursday: “Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will discuss the Obama Administration’s efforts to fight fraud using new tools provided by the Affordable Care Act at a press conference on THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2010, at 4:00 P.M. EDT.” The AP preview: “The government says it recovered $2.5 billion in overpayments for the Medicare trust fund last year as the Obama administration focused attention on fraud enforcement efforts in the health care industry … The newly enacted Affordable Care Act is designed to lengthen prison sentences in criminal cases and the new law provides an additional $300 million over the next 10 years for stronger enforcement. It also gives the government new authority to step up oversight of companies participating in Medicare and Medicaid.” In Florida — hope you didn’t want your money back: Though Gov. Charlie Crist, I-Fla., said he would “probably” refund money from Republican donors who don’t like his party switch … not so much. “We have never made an official statement before. It is now the official statement. They donated to the Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate Campaign, and it's still the Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate Campaign,” campaign spokeswoman Michelle Todd tells Beth Reinhard. Crist’s party switch came the same day Tampa was selected for the 2012 Republican National Convention. “It is ironic, isn't it?” the governor said, per the Tampa Tribune. In Illinois — it’s Sarah Palin, in the president’s backyard: “Speaking to more than 4,000 fans in a suburban Chicago theater, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee didn’t recognize any Illinois Republican candidates by name,” Bloomberg’s John McCormick writes. On Obama: “He buffaloed a whole lot of good people,” Palin said. “But now, their eyes are opened because he today, finally, has something he didn’t ever have before — he has an actual record in office.” And she wants a high school girls’ team being kept from playing in playoffs in Arizona to “go rogue”: “Them are fighting words when you say a girl can't play in the basketball tournament, so we’re going to see about that,” she said, per the Chicago Sun Times.
The Kicker: “As a matter of record, everybody in this room knows exactly who I was with over the weekend.” – Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. “If the message is you need to be out with people, that’s a good message and I’m happy to hear it.” — Martha Coakley, running hard (and unopposed) for reelection as attorney general of Massachusetts.
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