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Judicial Nominees and the Game of Life
04-30-2010
Following up on Wednesday’s radio show on President Obama’s upcoming nomination to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, here are some interesting new polling data which show overwhelmingly that citizens see prior judicial experience as the overriding qualification for elevation to the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, the last time someone from outside the courts was picked as a nominee was in 1972, when the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was elevated to the bench from the Nixon Justice Department.
 
As I discussed on Wednesday’s show, Obama has been talking recently about his desire to appoint someone to the bench who has real life experience, and who understands how court decisions impact ordinary people.  Judges can certainly qualify on both of these grounds, but the assumption has been that Obama is talking about appointing perhaps someone from the political or business worlds, or even from academia. Some critics have suggested that this desire hearkens back to Obama’s empathy standard from the Justice Sonia Sotomayor confirmation battle, which led to predictable conservative cries of judicial activism. As a result, the Obama Administration has been very careful to avoid using the word this time around.
 
The two most frequently mentioned names in this experiential regard are Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (who is term-limited), and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Both women have served as governor and attorney general in their respective home states. I’m not yet convinced that Obama will go in this direction, but it would be fascinating to see what a political paper trail would mean for confirmation hearings in the current polarized partisan environment, rather than the usual picking over of judicial decisions. Since politics is the art of position-taking and compromise, it could make for some interesting committee dialogue on the true nature of the nominee’s judicial philosophy.
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Crist-Crossed
04-28-2010
Florida Governor Charlie Crist appears to be on the verge of dropping out of the state’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, in order to launch a bid as an independent candidate. I have followed this race closely for months, as it serves as an instructive test case for the potential impact of the tea party movement on the GOP nominating process. As I have written previously, the movement is likely to have its greatest electoral impact in pushing the Republican candidate selection process in targeted states further to the right than might have otherwise been the case. In Crist’s case, he committed the cardinal sin of offering bipartisan support for President Obama’s stimulus package (famous man hug included). In the time since then, Crist has seen his double-digit lead over former Florida House Speaker and conservative favorite Marco Rubio transformed into a double-digit deficit.
 
As Crist considers bolting from the GOP primary and running as an independent, he is apparently getting his share of you’ll never work in Republican politics again messages from various party elites. The latter are no doubt concerned that an independent bid by Crist would siphon off moderate Republican votes, as well as those of right-leaning independents. The implication of this message to Crist seems to be that if he quietly gets out of the way of the Rubio juggernaut, then he will have some opportunity and party support to run as a Republican candidate in the future.
 
I honestly don’t think Crist has anything left to lose at this point. He has been so vilified by conservatives (and tea partiers, in particular) that I don’t sense that there would be any opportunity for him to run again as a Republican in the foreseeable future. The dynamics of the GOP primary process have been so fundamentally altered by movement conservatives that the governor is no longer a good fit for his own state party. Crist surely realizes this, which is why he is likely to take the plunge as an independent by Friday’s filing deadline.
 
Note:  I will be away tomorrow, and back posting on Friday. -Dean
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POTUS on SCOTUS
04-27-2010
You can catch me as a guest tomorrow morning on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. We will be talking about the politics of President Obama’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. You can listen to the show live at 9 am here (top menu), or later here.
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Chasing Charlie
04-26-2010
You may have seen this Washington Post article reprinted in your local newspaper this morning. It ostensibly talks about a rightward shift in New Hampshire’s Republican political discourse, but it mainly appears to be about Second District candidate (and former Rep.) Charlie Bass. It was no doubt inspired by his recent, highly-publicized embrace of tea party politics, which the piece dutifully recounts.
 
I must say that I don’t find the move by Bass to be particularly surprising. His strength as a politician has always been his ability to tack with the prevailing political winds. Bass has always been a bit of a chameleon that way, a hardnosed pragmatist at heart. The reason why this rightward shift in rhetoric seems novel for Bass is that this time he must run in a GOP primary, in order to advance to the general election in November. Over the course of a decade, we've gotten used to him running only as an incumbent in an increasingly Democratic district. The result has been Bass shifting incrementally to the left with each subsequent reelection bid, until the political environment finally swamped him in 2006.
 
So for now, Bass must embrace tea party politics and sound like a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. But assuming that he gets the Republican nomination, my guess is that he will once again pragmatically shift as necessary, in order to better reflect the majority view of the Second District, probably somewhere closer to the center of the ideological spectrum. If it turns out that moderates and independents in the district are still unhappy with the Democratic status quo in November, however, then Bass may be able to capitalize on that reality without having to move quite so far from his current position.
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C.O.D.
04-23-2010
You can catch me as guest on WMUR-TV’s Close Up (Ch. 9, 10 am) this Sunday morning. I will be talking about the latest candidate fundraising tallies in the various New Hampshire Congressional races. I’ll be on in the second half of the show, following a lively expanded gambling discussion among three state legislators.
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DeMint-y Fresh
04-21-2010
Like a lot of political observers, I have spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out the dynamics of the tea party movement. Some might say too much, but only time will tell whether the movement’s impact at the ballot box will be commensurate with the current flood of attention it receives from the media. Be that as it may, I continue to find the assertion (which I heard again last night) that tea partiers are focused primarily on fiscal responsibility and are largely agnostic on social issues to be problematic.
 
It is true that some recent polling shows a genuine fissure in the movement along these lines, essentially between Ron Paul libertarians and Sarah Palin social conservatives. But the most powerful institutional players affiliated with the movement seem to reside in the Republican Party’s hardcore social and religious conservative base. These folks largely view Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and his loyal supporters as a nuisance.
 
Case in point is Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who is perhaps one of the strongest tea party proponents in Congress. In a recent interview, DeMint declared that he views the tea party movement as indicative of a spiritual revival among its supporters, and he concluded that the movement represents a turning back to God for salvation, as manifested in citizen yearning for smaller government.
 
It is of course hard to know whether a majority of tea partiers share DeMint’s religious interpretation of the movement. But for me, this feeds into my general hunch that for all the legitimate concern in the movement about taxes and spending, it’s potential as a force in Republican Party politics really resides with social and religious conservatives on the right, where elites like DeMint and Gov. Sarah Palin reside. Let me be clear – if a majority of tea partiers want a movement that melds fiscal and social conservatism, then that is their prerogative. I’m simply trying to understand the forces at work here.
 
Note: I will be away tomorrow, but back on Friday. -Dean
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Par for the Course
04-20-2010
I am amazed at how much I have heard about President Obama’s golf game in recent weeks. That’s because I probably spend too much time listening to talk radio and watching cable news, where this kind of stuff has become additional fodder for ongoing partisan warfare. Now we learn that Obama has already played more rounds of golf during his presidency than President George W. Bush did during two full terms in office.
 
Unfortunately for the recreation industry, golf has become synonymous with shirking presidential duty. Liberals chastised Bush for golfing while American servicemen and women were dying overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the point where he stopped playing completely. Not to mention those who rode him relentlessly for mountain biking and clearing brush on his ranch. Now I hear conservatives delivering payback to Obama over his own love of golf.
 
Given the constant pressure that presidents are under, the idea that they shouldn’t engage in any outdoor stress-relieving recreational activity is just ridiculous. I felt that way when the criticism was directed at Bush, and the same is now true for Obama. If anything, some kind of break is likely to make them more efficient in their day-to-day professional responsibilities.
 
In my classes on presidential power and foreign policy, I often use the example of President Reagan and the invasion of Grenada. The White House very effectively used pictures of Reagan conferring by phone with key advisors while on the golf course, in order to show that the president had everything under control. Granted, Grenada is not Iraq or Afghanistan. But the idea that a president can’t golf and manage the affairs of state at the same time is silly.
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Does Barbour Have the Bug?
04-19-2010
It looks like all of the media mentions may have finally given Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour the presidential bug. You may have seen this article late last week reporting that Barbour was convening a group of close advisors to consider the pros and cons of a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.  Almost a year ago, I predicted that Barbour would not be the Republican nominee for president in 2012, and I stick by that earlier post.
 
In fairness to Barbour, he typically plays well with conservative groups, would be a prodigious fundraiser, and seems to be one of the party’s few poobahs who can move freely between institutional elites and movement conservatives. But all of this really speaks to his potential for competing in Republican caucuses and primaries, not necessarily his ability to win a general election. My earlier prediction on Barbour dealt with the issue of viability (or electability) in the latter. As I said in the earlier post – for a national party that may want to persuade voters that it is not becoming a regional political organ of the South, nominating an older white male from Mississippi is probably not the best means of accomplishing that goal.
 
I saw some subsequent reporting earlier today on the outcome of meeting, which suggested that Barbour has decided to wait until after the 2010 midterms to give the possibility of a run any further consideration. But it is starting to seem like he’s got the itch to go. My guess is that in the end Republican primary voters will look for someone they think can compete in November 2012, and I don’t think it will be him.
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The Governor Will See You Now
04-16-2010
I am not surprised to learn that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch has finally acknowledged publicly that he will seek a record fourth term in office. The decision to go public is likely the result of the political wake-up call he received this week, combined with the knowledge that the state GOP will launch its own full-scale campaign attack against him next week. Any good politician knows that perhaps the worst move you can make as a candidate is to let your opponent define you without response. The move also gives the state Democratic Party apparatus and associated political elites a new opportunity and urgency for launching its own full-scale counteroffensive in the governor's defense.
 
One of Lynch’s biggest assets has always been that he typically speaks the language of decision-making and administration, rather than ideology and partisanship. As I wrote yesterday, he is the quintessential non-politician politician. In the past, this has kept both his job approval and favorability ratings up among voters (and they are still relatively high at around 60 percent each), which in turn has insulated him from the nastier aspects of electoral politics. So, it will be interesting to see whether the particular virulence of the current attacks will succeed in pulling him out of character.
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Lynch Stirs
04-15-2010
Governor John Lynch received the political equivalent of a sucker punch this week with the unveiling of a new attack ad directed against him by the out-of-state Defense of Marriage Group. I have already seen the ad several times on television, and it is one nasty, negative piece of work. Until now, Lynch has been going about his business without acknowledging that there is even an election approaching in little more than six months, but this ad has finally forced him to engage. Lynch responded in his familiar non-politician, politician sort of way by smartly recasting the ad as an attack on New Hampshire.
 
I have written previously about the idea that citizens of the Granite State don’t appreciate outside groups interfering in their local politics, and Lynch sought to capitalize on this sentiment. This may be true, but as I’ve also noted, new technology, changes in campaign finance regulations, and the advent of the 24-hour cable news cycle, have contributed to the new reality that all politics is national. We saw this firsthand with the involvement of outside groups in the U.S. Senate race between Jeanne Shaheen and John E. Sununu in 2008, and the attention from well-funded outside groups could be even more intense this time around. Perhaps opponents believe that the governor’s recent lower poll numbers make him vulnerable. Even so, that Lynch is no longer immune from this kind of hardball says a lot about just how contentious the political environment has become.
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The Phrase That Pays Redux
04-13-2010
It is springtime outside once again, another Supreme Court retirement is in the works, and cries of judicial activism are busting out all over. The announcement last week that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is set to retire at the end of this term sent partisans on both sides of the aisle scrambling for their Supreme Court confirmation battle book of well-worn political clichés. At the top of the list is the now almost meaningless debate over the dangers of judicial activism. If you need any proof that we are in the midst of another bout of no legislating from the bench, look no further than the number of times that U.S. Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne uses what I like to call the phrase that pays in his comments on the vacancy to Politico.com. In recent years, Democrats have become no less enamored of this particular rhetorical flourish.
 
I wrote about this issue at just about the same time last year, as we were about to embark on the confirmation battle over Justice Sonia Sotomayor. At the time I wrote:
 
Every so often, certain words and phrases become so overused in our public discourse that they lose any substantive meaning and are largely reduced to the status of political clichés. During last fall’s general election campaign, I wrote a newspaper column in which I called for several of these clichés to be banished from the political discourse. I really wasn’t getting my hopes up that anything would change, but it sure felt good to draw attention to these annoying, rhetorically lazy turns of political phrase.
 
Now, with the announcement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s retirement, we can prepare ourselves for the return to the political discourse of yet another time-honored (and incredibly irritating) political cliché. If the weekend’s Sunday chat shows are any indication, we will spend the next six months hearing political elites expound endlessly on the dangers of…activist judges.
 
In recent years, you might have heard the phrase used by conservatives to excoriate state or federal judges whose rulings were seen as reinforcing liberal positions on social issues like gay marriage and stem cell research. But Democrats have wisely neutralized the ideological import of the phrase by talking just as frequently about conservative activist judges whose rulings deny American citizens the basic legal rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution on issues like privacy and choice.
 
So, we are now at a point where the ubiquitous phrase (often used in combination with another classic, legislating from the bench), means little more than a judge whose legal world view is aligned with the policy agenda of the opposition party. If the appointment of a particular judge tips the balance of the court away from your party’s political interests, well then he or she is of course an activist judge. As such, this concept is not a particularly useful means of better understanding a nominee’s judicial philosophy, but has instead been captured by the knee-jerk partisanship that will inevitably surround the next Supreme Court nominee.
 
We are hearing much the same this week from both Republicans and Democrats, and if President Obama picks a nominee who is not to conservatives’ liking, then we will once again start to hear GOP Senators talk about being troubled. I will save discussion of that entry in the political cliché playbook for another day.
 
Note: I will be away tomorrow, but back again on Thursday with new content for you. -Dean
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Cullen Sends Out the Palin Search Party
04-12-2010
I fear that I am starting to feel a creeping sense of Sarah Palin fatigue once again, but when I saw Fergus Cullen’s Friday column in the Union Leader, I had to do one more post. Cullen asks a very reasonable question about why we are not seeing more of the former Alaska governor in the Granite State, given that she is currently traveling far and wide to do political appearances. The answers he floats are equally reasonable: Maybe she doesn’t want to interfere in our contested Republican primaries; perhaps she doesn’t want to have her visit unavoidably framed as testing the presidential waters; or possibly the groups that have invited her can’t or won’t cough up the hefty speaking fee. All are likely contributing factors to her absence from the New Hampshire political scene.
 
But here is my sense of the underlying reason for Palin’s lack of visits: Everything she does politically is relentlessly directed as reinforcing her core ideological base of support. Palin engages in very little political activity that takes her away from that mission and outside of her comfort zone. Her political strength is drawn from a group of voters whose common identity and shared values stem from a specific sort of cultural and religious conservatism. This is not the traditional economic conservatism of New Hampshire’s old line Republicans, nor is it the libertarianism that our residents often seem to cherish. Palin’s conservatism resonates with social and religious conservatives in the South and the Heartland, but not in the Northeast and West Coast. New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the country.  Sure, she'll draw a crowd, but there is no natural constituency here for Palin to consolidate.
 
Yes, we have Cornerstone, but in the grand scheme of social and religious conservatism it is a small organization. Yes, Palin is appearing in Boston, but that is likely due to the city’s historical connection with the Boston Tea Party, the large media market in which she’ll be playing, and the potential for a large speaking fee. Don’t expect to see her spending much time in Massachusetts, either. Let’s assume for a moment that Palin runs for president.  Any chance at all that she would beat former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney up here? No. Palin may return for an occasional visit, but New Hampshire, like the rest of the Northeast, doesn’t offer much return on her investment.
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Hodes on Hardball
04-09-2010
I caught Rep. Paul Hodes on Hardball with Chris Matthews last night. You can watch his appearance here. Hodes was on with Florida Rep. Debra Wasserman Schultz to talk about his recent experience with town hall meetings over the Easter Congressional recess. I am sure his appearance was spurred by the recent Politico article featuring both him and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter on the same subject. Wasserman Schultz was there to talk about some videotaped constituent blowback on health care reform from her own town hall meetings.
 
Unfortunately, Hodes didn’t get a lot of camera time with Matthews (always a risk with the loquacious host). Since the show had videotape of the Wasserman Schultz confrontation, discussion of her encounter seemed to dominate the segment. But what I heard from Hodes about his own experience largely confirmed my earlier analysis. He doesn’t seem particularly phased by this most recent round of town hall meetings, and was able to point out that the Politico’s focus on a high-profile rejection by a few voters overlooked the support he received from other attendees. Wasserman Schultz made much the same point, arguing that the videotape was supplied by an opposition group and omitted supportive comments from other members of the audience.
 
All of this is not to say that the Democrats don’t have a difficult road ahead in selling health care reform and other Obama Administration agenda items on the horizon. Nor am I discounting the obvious voter unease in the country. But it increasingly feels like we are seeing a selective presentation of these town hall meetings, in order to keep the angry town hall voter narrative from last August front and center.
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Palin Has Nerves of Steele
04-08-2010
Given her self-proclaimed maverick status, you might be surprised to learn that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has come to the defense of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who has been strongly criticized by others in the GOP for a variety of mismanagement issues. Even though last month was the RNC’s best fundraising March to date, speculation has been on the rise that the chairman’s days in the position are numbered. For now, however, he seems to be safe, and Palin’s I think he’s doing a great job on Fox News certainly won’t hurt his chances of staying put.
 
You actually shouldn’t be surprised that Palin has come to Steele’s defense. She talks about him being a fellow outsider working to change the party from within. Perhaps, but the reality is that for Palin to channel the political potential of the tea party movement (which adores her), she needs ongoing access to the institutional infrastructure of the Republican Party. Having the personal gratitude of the RNC chairman certainly isn’t a bad way to ensure this. In fact, Palin has been quite open about the need for the tea party movement to join one of the parties (the GOP, one would assume). Just a few days ago, I wrote about how I think this might come to pass.
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Sampling Some Tea
04-06-2010
Those of you who stop by regularly know that I have spent a fair bit of time here contemplating the politics of the tea party movement. In particular, I have been trying to get a better sense of how the movement fits into (or challenges) the dynamics of our two-party system. If I can figure that out, then I should be able to determine how the movement is most likely to affect the midterm elections, especially in terms of grassroots organization, candidate recruitment, and the internal dynamics of the party primaries.
 
As I have progressed in this exercise, I have increasingly come to believe that the key is a better understanding of the relationship between the tea party movement and the powerful social conservative base of the Republican Party. So, I listened with great interest to New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange this morning, as two national journalists (from The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post), who have spent a great deal of time covering tea party politics, provided their own respective takes on the movement. They described a fluid movement that is actually driven much more by the dictates of economic libertarianism than social conservatism.
 
As one of the journalists also noted this morning, the tea party movement is not really suited for third party status. So, while I don’t disagree with the notion that the movement is imbued with libertarian ideas, I continue to believe that the mechanics of the two-party system are such that the tea partiers’ most likely pathway for exerting influence on the political process is through the right wing of the Republican Party, which is by and large socially conservative. In addition to a shared rejection of President Obama, these GOP’ers are the only ones within the party who also exhibit the same level of open displeasure with Republican institutional leaders. My sense is that the current political environment has fostered a natural (rebellious) affinity between the tea party movement and social conservatives, one which is reflected in much of the polling we have seen recently.
 
Note:  I won't be posting tomorrow.  Back on Thursday. -Dean
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Hodes and Shea-Porter Staring Back at Me
04-05-2010
I surfed over to the Politico website last night, and was somewhat startled to find myself face-to-face with Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter. For at least a little while yesterday, large smiling photos of our two U.S. Representatives sat side-by-side atop the web page, accompanied by a David Catanese piece about the continued lack of civility in our public discourse (New Hampshire edition). The author uses Hodes’ and Shea-Porter’s Easter Recess town hall meetings in the Granite State as a window into continued voter anger over health care reform and pretty much everything else.
 
Local Democrats should not feel the need to rush to defend Hodes and Shea-Porter, however, as they seem to be handling the situation reasonably well on their own, and the article isn’t really about them, anyway. It instead covers a lot of familiar terrain about the public expression of voter outrage around the country, and relies on a few of the usual anecdotes from vocal (local) attendees who suspect all manner of political malfeasance by the two representatives.
 
It is true that the political discourse in our country has taken a turn for the worse, although I don’t necessarily think it is any more flammable than it was during the first wave of raucous town hall meetings last August. What I think bothers me enough to write about this article, however, is that Catanese seems to set up a false premise here. He wants us to believe that Democrats are just now finding out that pivoting from health care to economic and financial issues is going to be much more arduous than they expected. I haven’t seen any evidence that either Hodes or Shea-Porter thought that the pivot would be an easy one. In fact, they both seem pretty well braced for the fight. Yet, the article (at least by implication) wants us to believe that the two were somehow surprised by the rough handling they received. If anything, Hodes and Shea-Porter seem resigned to it.
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Romney's Iowa Book Club
04-02-2010
I have been meaning to get to this Jonathan Martin article on Mitt Romney and Iowa for a few days now. Romney was there earlier this week to promote his new book, give a few speeches, and maybe do a little reconnaissance for 2012. According to the governor, however, he was mainly there to move product. I’ve written previously about the possibility that Romney may retool for the next campaign by focusing primarily on jobs, and that he may seek the nomination with a blue state strategy which circumvents some of the more socially conservative states that gave him trouble the last time around.
 
In his piece, Martin raises the related question of whether a retooled Romney campaign could afford to largely ignore Iowa in 2012, just as the McCain campaign did in 2008, or if doing so would cause unnecessary problems for Romney both at the conservative grassroots and with some Republican political elites. The operative assumption here is that just like in New Hampshire, voters in the Hawkeye State don’t like being told that their caucus isn’t essential to securing the presidential nomination, which is basically what Romney would be signaling by not making a serious effort in the state.
 
My guess is that Romney will commit to as little as possible in Iowa, without seeming like he is dissing the state’s cherished political traditions. He had such difficulty trying to win over social and religious conservatives the last time that there isn’t much to be gained by going down that road again. As Martin suggests, if there are no high-profile social conservatives in the race (Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, etc.) then perhaps Romney might make a bigger investment in Iowa. But the same voters will be back again in 2012, and given the current political environment (tea partiers and all), they are likely to be even more ideologically hardcore than before. If Romney really intends to go forward with this revamped campaign strategy, then Iowa would mainly serve as a distraction from his ultimate objective.
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Picky, Picky Pawlenty
04-01-2010
You may have come across this item yesterday, which makes note of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s use of a Facebook online town hall meeting to endorse several Republican candidates in various Congressional races. The presumption is that financial support from Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC will be forthcoming, as well. It represents a significant escalation in the endorsement game for Pawlenty, especially after his celebrated misstep in upstate New York’s 23rd Congressional District. This move certainly could be the basis for building a grassroots network of loyalty and support for a future presidential bid.
 
It is true that Pawlenty focused on Midwestern races, but he managed to slip in Pennsylvania and Hawaii. So given that geographical spread, and with Pawlenty picking blue-state Republicans almost exclusively, it would have been pretty darn interesting to see him select from among the burgeoning list of GOP candidates in any of our own closely-contested primary races. Sounding vaguely Palin-esque, Pawlenty noted that the selected candidates share his own common-sense, conservative agenda. It would have been instructive to learn which of the Granite State Republicans most closely fits that bill for the governor.
 
But you wouldn’t really expect any politician with presidential ambitions to choose favorites in a critical primary state like New Hampshire, especially with our party contests not occurring until September. Making the wrong choice early could not only sour Republican voters on the candidate, but genuinely hurt his ability to build a grassroots network with maximum access to resources. So, while Pawlenty has become a frequent visitor to the Granite State, I don’t expect him to choose sides anytime soon.
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