Reckoning Week: Four Races Help Define Six Months

May 17, 2010 7:20am

By Rick Klein What does throw-the-bums-out look like when everyone around looks like one of the bums? Just about everyone and everything in politics is on the ballot this week, and all we need are four big races to play out what we can expect to see over the next six months. It’s President Obama and his political operation on the line, in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. It’s tea partiers taking their next (best?) shot at the GOP establishment, in Kentucky. Throw in a House special of the sort Republicans need to be winning if their chances are for real this year, and you don’t even have to overanalyze to learn more than enough this week. We have passed the period where we can talk of warning signs and flashing lights. The things attention-getters were meant to draw notice of are actually happening now. We’re talking real losses for real incumbents, with presumed safety (you can’t beat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, just like you cannot possibly take out Bob Bennett in Utah) no longer a protection. “The outcome in these three states will provide lessons that will help frame the debate for the remaining six months of the midterm election season, with Democrats fighting to hold their control of the House and Senate,” Jeff Zeleny reports in The New York Times. “Both parties will study the results for evidence of the Tea Party movement’s ability to translate passion into votes. They will gauge the degree to which President Obama, who is backing Mr. Specter and Mrs. Lincoln, is a political liability or benefit to his party. And they will look to see what messages, if any, assuage voter anger and anxiety as politics hurtles toward the fall, the economy still in the shadow of the recession.” Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, in the Sunday Washington Post: “Everyone has a different definition of the anger: anti-incumbent; anti-Obama; anti-establishment; anti-Washington. But the expressions of displeasure are everywhere. Some voters think Washington is spending too much and is infringing on their rights. Others say Washington is not doing enough — to penalize bankers or to oversee the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico as oil gushes from a broken well.” Hmmm — know anyone who could help with this? “Specter, speaking to union members and other supporters at Doc's Union Pub in Pennsport, said ‘this election is in our pocket’ if labor activists and African-American clergy members push voter turnout in Philadelphia tomorrow,” Chris Brennan writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.  “Specter has the Democrats' well-oiled turnout machinery behind him – unions, the state party, the Philadelphia and Rendell organizations,” Politics Daily’s Jill Lawrence writes. “He's planned a fly-around to six cities on Monday, one of many assertions – verbal and non – of his high energy level.” For what this is worth: “Rep. Joe Sestak said Sunday that he wouldn't commit to supporting Sen. Arlen Specter if the incumbent won the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, a sign of how bitter their race has become as well as a fresh worry for party leaders hoping to hold the seat in the fall,” Thomas Fitzgerald and Tom Infield write in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “In contrast, Specter declared that he would endorse Sestak if things did not go his way Tuesday, quickly adding that he was confident of a win.”  (Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., a Specter backer, will be on ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” Monday at noon ET, livestreaming at In Arkansas: “Moderation is Lincoln's trademark, but this year she has outdone herself at bringing right and left together: both sides want to get rid of her,” Time’s David Von Drehle reports. “She believes that her efforts to walk the tightrope down the middle in a hyper-partisan era have made her the target of big-spending interest groups.” Your frames — NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer, in a memo to the press Monday: “The perception that the President’s vaunted grassroots organization and his fundraising ability which led him to victory in 2008 would somehow transfer to Democratic candidates in 2010 has been exposed to be a paper tiger.” E.J. Dionne Jr., with a different frame: “The conventional view is that Republicans and Democrats will emerge from this election more ideologically polarized than ever. Primaries will push Republicans to the right and Democrats to the left. That's only half true. Republicans will, indeed, end the year a more philosophically coherent right-wing party. But the Democrats will, if anything, become more ideologically diverse.” Why enthusiasm matters: “Three United States Senate primaries on Tuesday offer new signs of the election-year intentions of America’s dyspeptic voters. A few voters, anyway,” John Harwood writes in The New York Times. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., with a prediction for Specter: “I’ll bet he wins by a little.”  In PA-12, the Big Dog wants voters to tell their friends: “And if you do that, John Murtha will be up there smiling down on us and you’ll be better off,” former President Bill Clinton said at a rally for Mark Critz in Johnstown, Pa.  Over in Kentucky … Rand Paul: “There’s a Tea Party tidal wave coming. It’s already hit Utah and it’s coming to Kentucky.”  “Should Paul pull off a coup in Kentucky, the win will speak volumes not only about the current anti-establishment fervor, but also about the growing disconnect between the Republican Party establishment and grass-roots conservatives,” McClatchy’s William Douglas and Halimah Abdullah report. “For many tea party members, Paul has come to symbolize the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington insurgency. He has the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party favorite.” Rand Paul, to Politics Daily’s Walter Shapiro: “This has enormous implications for the power and the impact of the Tea Party movement.” Even Paul Krugman would agree: “First, Republican extremism was there all along – what’s changed is the willingness of the news media to acknowledge it. Second, to the extent that the power of the party’s extremists really is on the rise, it’s the economy, stupid … Over the near term, a lot will depend on economic recovery. If the economy continues to add jobs, we can expect some of the air to go out of the Tea Party movement.” Impact, already — to your right: “GOP leaders in Washington, responding to an angry and demanding Republican electorate, are adopting more populist economic policies, lambasting a wider swath of Obama administration policies as ‘government takeovers’ and vowing dramatic fiscal changes,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman reports. “Republican leaders not adopting a sufficiently ardent tone are drawing leery glances, even in Mr. McConnell's home state.” From one who’s been there, and recently: “You can win an election on screaming and anger but you cannot hold and govern for a significant period of time on screaming and anger,” Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, told ABC’s Jonathan Karl in his latest “Subway Series” dispatch. Karl reports: “Bennett says he is still ‘a loyal Republican,’ but he does not rule out running as a write-in candidate in the fall.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shakes up his campaign staff (no, this is not a repeat): “Campaign manager Shiree Verdone is moving to a 2010 ‘Republican Victory’ fundraising operation. Mike Hellon, a former Arizona Republican Party chairman who had a part-time role as deputy campaign manager, will join her there,” Dan Nowicki reports for the Arizona Republic. “Neither Verdone nor Hellon was fired, said Brian Rogers, McCain's campaign spokesman.” What Palin’s maneuverings are all about — out of a busy weekend in the Southwest: “Sarah Palin appears to be building a pack of ‘mama grizzlies’ in the 2010 elections that could send a powerful political message if she decides to run for president in 2012,” Chris Cillizza writes at “The Fix” blog. “In the past 10 days, Palin has thrown her endorsement behind former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who is running for the Republican Senate nomination in California; state Rep. Nikki Haley, a candidate for governor in South Carolina; and Susana Martinez, the Dona Ana County district attorney seeking the GOP nod in the New Mexico governor's race.”  On Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination — meetings on the Hill resume Tuesday, but they’re little more than formalities with quotes like this: “The filibuster should be relegated to extreme circumstances, and I don't think Elena Kagan represents that,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., on “Face the Nation.” Digging in, on military recruiters at Harvard: “This is no little-bitty matter, Jake,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told ABC’s Jake Tapper on “This Week." “She would not let them come to the area that does the recruiting on the campus. They had to meet with some student veterans, and this is not acceptable. It was a big error.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the same topic, speaking to the NRA on Saturday: “That is an act so unbecoming of an American that she should be disqualified from the very beginning.” Concerned, though still quietly … “Like the president who nominated her, Elena Kagan has steered clear of championing the old-line civil rights positions on race-based programs and preferences – putting her squarely in the centrist Democratic mainstream but at odds with the views of some of the party’s most loyal supporters in the minority community,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes. “Ms. Kagan's nomination has disappointed some liberal-leaning supporters of President Barack Obama, in part because as the administration's top lawyer before the Supreme Court, she has argued in favor of Obama national security policies that are similar to those under former President George W. Bush,” The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez reports. 
Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, un-spinning, but still liking: “Obama’s cheerleading and his aides’ insistence the Kagan pick was a bold move are off the mark. She was the safest, most conventional choice  … Smart and confident, Kagan has the capacity to serve on the Supreme Court and to challenge Chief Justice Roberts as he tries to move the court to the right. That’s sufficient and doesn’t need embellishment.” Getting even slicker, in the Gulf: “The federal agency responsible for ensuring that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that inspections be done at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows,” Justin Pritchard reports. “Since January 2005, the federal Minerals Management Service conducted at least 16 fewer inspections aboard the Deepwater Horizon than it should have under the policy, a dramatic fall from the frequency of prior years, according to the agency's records.” “The inspection gaps and poor recordkeeping are the latest in a series of questions raised about the agency's oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry. Members of Congress and President Barack Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.” “If the energy companies got away with murder before the spill, MMS watched them do it — and did almost nothing,” Time’s Bryan Walsh reports. “More than words will be needed, and for all his condemnation of oil company executives' sloughing off of blame, Obama has been doing some of that himself. The BP oil spill has exposed the fact that federal regulation of the fossil-fuel industry has all the toughness of tissue paper, and that the country will remain vulnerable until it breaks its addiction to oil. That's one thing even cool Obama should be able to get mad about — and stay mad.” This could be the week: “Passage of a 1,400-page bill to overhaul the nation's financial regulations would come just two months after Obama signed a landmark health-care overhaul. But in the case of financial regulation, much more so than with health care, the Senate bill largely reflects the administration's initial blueprint, despite the fervent efforts of lobbyists and lawmakers of all stripes to alter it,” The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis reports. Health care salesmanship, from the Treasury Department: “Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, SBA Administrator Karen Mills and Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Michael Mundaca will hold a conference call with reporters at 9:30 am on MONDAY to discuss new guidance to make it easier for small business owners to determine whether they are eligible for the new health care tax credit under The Affordable Care Act and how large a credit they will receive. They will also announce a series of implementation decisions that maximize the size and scope of the credit for taxpayers.” Look who is finding time to get to Pennsylvania Monday after all: “One graduate’s proud dad will speak at the School of Social Policy & Practice’s Commencement on May 17 in the Irvine Auditorium,” Penn Current reports. “Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the 47th Vice President of the United States, is the father of Ashley Biden, who will be conferred with her master’s of social work (M.S.W.) degree. Ashley specialized in macro social work, with an interest in juvenile justice, poverty and education.” In Minnesota — a budget deal for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn. “The Minnesota Legislature [adjourned] its regular session only to begin a special session in the early morning hours Monday at the Capitol to take final action on a proposed budget balancing deal,” Pat Doyle reports in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The special session is expected to last only a few hours and be limited to ratifying or rejecting the budget deal cut by DFL and GOP leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty just minutes before midnight Sunday. … Pawlenty stood firm on most of his budget demands and the DFL acquiesced to a large degree.” Another next act for Rudy? “He was on political life support after his disastrous 2008 presidential run, but Rudy Giuliani has positioned himself in a critical year as a potent Republican fundraiser and the party’s star surrogate for hammering the White House on terror,” Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes. “His high-profile reemergence, coinciding with the return of terror to the national headlines and numerous Sunday shows appearances bashing the president on the issue, leaves little doubt that he wants to be in the national mix. What’s less clear is what Giuliani is looking for in his next act.” From the energy world: “Terence R. McAuliffe, Chairman of Greentech Automotive (GTA), announced that GTA has acquired EuAuto Technology Ltd., a Hong Kong-based award-winning company that specializes in the design, manufacturing, and worldwide distribution of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV). The announcement comes during US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s Clean Energy Trade Mission in Hong Kong and during World Trade Week.  EuAuto now becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of GTA.”
The Kicker: “He always supported me, except when we played golf.” — Former President Bill Clinton, on the late Rep. John Murtha. “No bigger heart is going to love you half as much as we do.” — Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, singing, alongside Clevelanders for LeBron James.
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