Hi-De-Hodes
06-30-2009
We get a little 2010 electoral juice from a new American Research Group poll on our U.S. Senate race. Yes, it’s an ARG poll, and I know it has become a tradition for political commentators referencing their data to add a disclaimer to that effect, but the truth is we still like looking at their results. Sure, I would love a larger sample (but I’m also well-versed in the associated costs), and perhaps there are a few too many Democrats in this sample. Nonetheless, in this particular poll, the head-to-head match-up between Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes and former Republican Senator John E. Sununu has Hodes up by 6 percent.
 
My initial reaction to the Hodes advantage is that it sounds pretty reasonable to me at this moment in political time. First, Hodes has firmly committed to the race and unified his party behind him, whereas Sununu has not. It is true that recent UNH polling shows Hodes still has more work to do, in terms of statewide name recognition. But it is not surprising that there are a few more undecided voters in the Republican column, especially with the recent introduction of the Kelly Ayotte candidacy subplot. While Sununu is still quite popular among Republicans, the uncertainty over whether he is in the race (even in hypothetical runs) will inevitably hold his numbers down a bit.
 
Second, we should remember that Sununu lost to Jeanne Shaheen last November by a comfortable margin. I know some political observers have suggested that Shaheen’s margin of victory was largely due to a wave of anti-Bush sentiment (and Obama enthusiasm) at the national level, but I have also noted on several occasions that underlying changes in the state’s political demographics would make it more difficult for Sununu or any other Republican to reclaim a Senate seat should they desire to do so. So far, I haven’t seen the state Republican Party do much to address these underlying issues, although some national elected officials are finally raising warning signals.
 
I could say more about the Hodes advantage (check out gender), but I don’t want to read too much into just one poll. In fact, if you look at the same head-to-head match-up in the UNH poll from last month, Sununu enjoys the very same advantages that Hodes exhibits in the ARG results. Perhaps some of the recent intra-party skirmishing among local Republicans has nicked Sununu a little, but with 37 percent of independent voters still undecided in the new poll, the race will obviously be fluid for some time to come.  And, of course, any dramatic shifts in President Obama's electoral fortunes could have reverberations closer to home.
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Immigrant Song
06-29-2009
That was a pretty entertaining joint appearance by Gov. Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press yesterday. Romney, dialing it down a notch or two into only partial campaign mode, still managed to use the Mark Sanford affair to hit all of the requisite social conservative notes on the importance of the nuclear family and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. I’m sure we will hear lots more along these lines from Romney in the coming months.
 
But what really caught my ear was a brief policy mention by Lindsay Graham.  Pushed by moderator David Gregory to name an issue on which he could provide some bipartisan leadership, Graham suggested immigration reform as one possibility:
 
A guy like me who'll try to find common ground on the issue on immigration. You know, one thing long-term about this party, the demographic changes in this country are real. We lost ground with Hispanic voters because of the way we behaved and the things we said on immigration…
 
It’s a good thing Graham is not likely to run for president anytime soon, because I predict that immigration reform will once again be the third rail of Republican primary politics. You’ll recall the issue almost tanked John McCain’s candidacy in 2007, until he backed away from his own McCain-Kennedy Bill’s idea of a legal path to citizenship (or amnesty, as conservatives labeled it), and instead focused first on increased border security.
 
From an electoral perspective, Graham is smart to bring attention to the perilous state of the Republican Party’s relationship with Hispanic voters. But spend a few minutes listening to conservative talk radio (or watching Fox News) when immigration is the subject under discussion, and you’ll likely be taken aback by the tremendous anger voiced by the conservative base of the party. You certainly won’t hear much discussion of the need to reach out to Hispanic voters.
 
The Obama administration obviously wants to get its energy and health care reform bills out of the way first. But if some form of bipartisan immigration legislation shepherded by Graham and others takes center stage in 2010 or 2011, I don’t expect many Republican presidential hopefuls to line up behind it. And, if the vitriol from the right wing of the party again approaches McCain-Kennedy levels, then Senator Graham will truly have his work cut out for him within his own party.
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Tastes Great, Less Filling
06-26-2009
Well, I don’t believe anyone in our state legislature actually thinks the budget adopted on Wednesday goes down smoothly, but some would agree that it is definitely less filling. If you followed local coverage of budget negotiations, then you already know that no one on either side of the partisan divide is especially thrilled with its patchwork of spending cuts, increased taxes and user fees, all glued together with a generous helping of one-time federal stimulus money.
 
But one aspect of the debate that I find particularly fascinating is the question of whether the budget as adopted actually increases spending, holds it level, or manages to decrease it a bit. Not surprisingly, the political narratives emanating from both parties on this question fit the classic mold of dueling partisan spin.  Republicans claim the Democratically-controlled legislature should have done more to reduce spending, although Republicans were in turn chided for not being specific enough about precisely where to cut. And, Democrats counter that in very difficult times they were able to produce a budget that protects New Hampshire’s essential services, while keeping state government level-funded.
 
So who is correct here? It is often difficult to tell when you are dealing with a complicated set of fiscal instruments and economic assumptions, and the two parties' political narratives seem to exist in parallel universes. In these sorts of situations, I typically assume the reality is somewhere in-between the two nodes of partisan spin. Fortunately, this time New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein has attempted to get to the bottom of this very question. You can listen to his story (or read the transcript) here. As you might expect, each party comes at the question from a different set of underlying assumptions about how you correctly calculate spending. And, not surprisingly, their assumptions tend to underscore their respective political agendas.
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I Coulda Been a Contender
06-25-2009
The extent to which Gov. Mark Sanford’s Argentina affair has been analyzed through the prism of 2012 presidential politics has exceeded even my wildest expectations.  This is partly due to the current leadership vacuum in the Republican Party, but also to what I have previously described as the voracious demands of the instantaneous news cycle. Cable news outlets, talk radio programs, websites and the blogs have a bottomless appetite for this sort of voyeurism and speculation, which often leads them to overstate the long-term significance of the hot political story of the moment.
 
Now, I am not opposed to a little political handicapping. I often discuss potential candidates on this blog with an eye toward giving you the most accurate assessment possible of an individual’s electoral prospects. While Sanford was legitimately in the Republican presidential mix, in this case I think the 2012 aspect of the story has been overstated. From some of the coverage I have seen, you would think he was already the presumptive Republican nominee.
 
More broadly, we are only six months into a new presidential administration, and, as Gail Collins recently observed, virtually any opposition politician with a modicum of stature is being identified as a potential presidential contender. Each is duly scrutinized by the media for what his or her current behavior signifies for future presidential prospects. In reality, however, most of these individuals have little or no chance of winning the nomination.
 
For example, some in the media are now suggesting that Haley Barbour’s sudden elevation to the Republican Governors Association’s chairmanship raises his profile as a contender for 2012. For this, I refer you to my previous post on the subject (hint: not a chance).
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The Decider Redux
06-24-2009
You may have noticed that at least once per presidential press conference, Barack Obama answers a question from the Washington press corps with the retort, “I’m the President of the United States.” Obama did it again at yesterday afternoon’s White House press conference with a twofer in response to a question by Chip Reid of CBS News about whether comments by Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham had goaded him into a sharper rebuke of the Iranian government. Here is the relevant portion of the transcript (the bold emphasis is mine):
 
THE PRESIDENT: Chip.
 
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Following up on Major's question, some republicans on Capitol Hill -- John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example -- have said that up to this point, your response on Iran has been timid and weak. Today, it sounded a lot stronger. It sounded like the kind of speech John McCain has been urging you to give, saying that those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history, referring to an iron fist in Iran -- "deplore," "appalled," "outraged." Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?
 
THE PRESIDENT: What do you think? (Laughter.) Look, the -- I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues, and I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail. But only I'm the President of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.
 
I mean, you guys must have seen the reports. They've got some of the comments that I've made being mistranslated in Iran, suggesting that I'm telling rioters to go out and riot some more. There are reports suggesting that the CIA is behind all this -- all of which are patently false. But it gives you a sense of the narrative that the Iranian government would love to play into. So the -- members of Congress, they've got their constitutional duties, and I'm sure they will carry them out in the way that they think is appropriate. I'm President of the United States, and I'll carry out my duties as I think are appropriate. All right?
 
I was ok with this particular rhetorical device early on, when Obama was still trying the office on for size, but now it makes him seem defensive. Pulling rank is the oldest presidential intimidation trick in the book, and Obama’s version serves essentially the same purpose as President Bush’s widely-mocked formulation, “I’m the decider.” It is a way for presidents to mark their turf and assert their paramount institutional authority, while putting other political actors in their subordinate place. Perhaps presidents view it as a means of rhetorically underscoring the gravity and solitary nature of whatever decision they are confronting at the time, but it strikes me as a bit gratuitous.
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Gaming the Budget
06-23-2009
I have never been especially drawn to gambling. In fact, it has been years since I last visited a casino. I recall coming out about eight dollars ahead playing slots on an initial twenty dollar investment, and then spending the rest of the evening watching others try their luck at a variety of games. So it is no surprise that I have viewed the collision of expanded gambling and budget reconciliation in the state legislature with some ambivalence. The possibility of having thousands of slot machines located nearby in the future holds no special allure for me, but I have also never been particularly swayed by the various arguments deployed by those who oppose gambling.
 
For me, gambling is thus reduced primarily to a revenue issue. The gaming lobby knows that many New Hampshire residents also feel this way, and its representatives have spent a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy trying to make the case that expanded gambling would be a huge financial boon (to the tune of $200 million) to the state’s weakened fiscal bottom line. While gambling proponents haven’t yet thrown in the towel this legislative session, it looks like opposition in the House will bring them up short once again.
 
I mention this because last night I saw for the first time what I thought was a remarkably effective pro-gambling advertisement on television (you can watch it here). It was run by Fix It Now New Hampshire, the organization working with Millennium Gaming to bring slots to Rockingham Park. The ad is quite simple in design; it sets an accumulating list of potential state taxes and user fees to waltzing music, thereby depicting the budgetary tradeoffs with projected gambling revenues in the starkest of terms. As a close observer of political ads, I think this one effectively crystallizes the gaming industry’s best case argument in New Hampshire, but I’m not sure it can make the difference at this point.
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What About Bob?
06-22-2009
If I were to describe former New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith’s quest to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Florida as quixotic, I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to do so. But check out the list of heavy hitters who are already lining up to support Smith’s opponent, sitting Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. It’s pretty clear from this National Republican Senatorial Committee invitation that Crist is the presumptive favorite for the party’s nomination.
 
Crist is a popular governor, and one who is usually included on that frequently-cited list of younger Republican governors with future presidential aspirations (Crist, Pawlenty, Jindal, Palin, etc.). What is interesting about this list, however, is that Crist is the only one among this group of up-and-comers to have strongly backed President Obama’s fiscal stimulus package. His general willingness to engage moderates and independents has helped him maintain his popularity in the Sunshine State, but is a bit of a departure from other high-profile Republicans who have deployed much sharper partisan rhetoric in opposition to a variety of Obama policy initiatives. 
 
I am assuming that Smith actually prefers the idea of running as an outsider and movement conservative, but he at least needs to get himself injected into the conversation. If you take a look at the end of the item linked above, you’ll notice that Smith is not even mentioned as an opponent. Only former state House Speaker Marco Rubio gets a nod. I will be curious to see what (if anything) Smith can do in the coming months to get the media to view him as a legitimate part of the political mix. At a minimum, I am sure at some point we’ll be treated to a primary debate or two, which (if Smith is included) could make for some entertaining viewing.
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Rain Rain Go Away
06-18-2009
It doesn’t seem like the rain will go away anytime soon, but I must, however briefly. I will be back on Monday, June 22nd with new content for you. See you soon. -Dean
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AG Maybe
06-17-2009
Well, Chuck Todd’s little tidbit in yesterday’s First Read about New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte being approached to run for Judd Gregg’s U.S. Senate has certainly given local political observers something fun on which to chew. It seems pretty clear that the idea has at least been broached with Ayotte. If you saw the brief clip run on WMUR-TV, her “nothing-to-add” smile at the end of the interview spoke volumes.
 
The question that immediately comes to mind is whether we can infer from this development that John E. Sununu has decided to forgo an attempt to reclaim a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. While it is conceivable that the Sununu and Ayotte decisions could be made independently of each other, I would be surprised if something of this magnitude was not run by the Sununu clan first for reaction, as a Sununu-Ayotte primary would be quite damaging to a state Republican Party that is currently trying to regain its electoral footing.
 
The other obvious question revolves around the kind of candidate Ayotte would be. She has long been the great hope in waiting for many Republicans who see her poise and credentials as perfect for a variety of elected statewide offices, but she is undeniably still a blank slate as a political campaigner. Also, while it is tempting to speculate about what Ayotte’s policy orientation would be, based upon the legal positions she has taken as attorney general, I have heard political observers describe her as both a moderate and as a conservative. These conflicting takes on her ideological comfort zone make it difficult to gauge her potential appeal to the big block of independent voters in the state, at least for the moment.
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Barbour Shop
06-16-2009
Ok, I am going to go out on a limb here and make a bold prediction. Here goes: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will not be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. I place this piece of prognostication right up there with the prediction I made to my Dartmouth students way back in 1996, that Senator Phil Gramm of Texas would not be the Republican nominee in that year’s presidential contest.
 
I make the Barbour prediction in reaction to an Associated Press article I came across in today’s Concord Monitor. It suggests that the governor’s upcoming trips to New Hampshire and Iowa are indicative of presidential aspirations on his part. Most amusingly, the article claims (and I’m quoting here) that “many rank-and-file Republicans and party leaders” believe that Barbour is the best person to lead the Republican Party out of the political wilderness and on to victory in 2012. Of course the authors produce only a single testimonial to this end, and it’s from Ed Gillespie, a veteran GOP strategist who is savvy enough to know the appropriate answer to give in this situation.
 
It is true that Barbour has a lot of relevant political experience under his belt. Having served as chairman of the Republican National Committee during a period of Republican ascendancy in Congress (1993-97), and now as a second-term governor and vice-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour is certainly plugged into the party’s inner circle. In that capacity, he’ll no doubt be an important party strategist, fundraiser, and campaign surrogate in the next presidential election cycle.
 
But that is different than saying he is well-positioned to be the party’s electoral standard-bearer. Vice presidential running mate would be more likely, depending on the top of the ticket. For a party in danger of being marginalized as too old, white, male, and Southern, picking a nominee who is old (65 in 2012), white, male, and Southern just doesn’t sound like a winning strategy. I will nonetheless be interested to hear what Gov. Barbour has to say when he visits New Hampshire next week. He is a smart veteran politician, but I would bet that for whatever presidential ambition he might harbor, he also knows that he is not going to be the one.
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Maximum Mitt
06-15-2009
It sure sounds like Mitt Romney is running for president again, or at least auditioning for that much-discussed vacancy at the head of the Republican Party. I watched with great interest yesterday morning, as the former Massachusetts governor cranked it up to full campaign mode during his interview with George Stephanopoulos on This Week.
 
For me, a politician is in full campaign mode when he demonstrates an inability to say anything positive at all about the opposition. If you read the interview transcript, you’ll find nary a positive word about the Obama Administration in its pages. At one point it sounded as though Romney was about to praise President Obama on some aspect of his Cairo speech, but those remarks quickly turn into a backhanded compliment designed to suggest that Obama is a weak supporter of Israel.
 
Perhaps even more indicative of Romney’s being in full campaign mode was the health care discussion, where in just a few paragraphs he used the word “wrong” no fewer than five times to characterize President Obama’s proposals. His health care riffing had a classic campaign sound bite feel to it...terrible for hospitals...awful for doctors...a disaster for the people. You may have also heard some opponents talk about Obama’s public choice program as the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent for a national single-payer system. Romney managed to one-up this slippery slope metaphor with an even more ominous Trojan Horse reference.
 
All of this is not to suggest that Romney shouldn’t have strong policy disagreements with the Obama Administration. That is to be expected. But his performance yesterday morning struck me as being ramped up a few notches too high for this point in the long presidential election cycle. I have written fairly recently that Romney is in surprisingly good shape to make a run at his party’s nomination, but after yesterday’s appearance he really should consider pacing himself a bit. There will be plenty of time to slash and burn after the 2010 midterm elections.
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All Apologies
06-12-2009
The current dust-up between Sarah Palin and David Letterman is starting to take on the feel of a classic political mini-drama, the kind typically fought in weekly pitched battles during a presidential campaign. In fact, for a brief moment earlier this week, I felt like I was back watching the McCain-Palin campaign respond to the latest attack leveled by the Obama-Biden folks. You can decide for yourself whether Letterman went too far; the “flight attendant” comment is here, and the “daughter” comments are here.
 
Don’t get me wrong, the Palins have every right to defend themselves and their family. But over the past week, their approach to the whole episode has started to take on the familiar trappings of a campaign-style rebuttal, including a tailoring of the message to fit the news cycle, the selective use of high-profile media outlets, and an attempt by supporters to put the conflict to broader political use.
 
Better for the Palins to strongly register their displeasure once or twice and move on, rather than attempt to set this up as a bigger flashpoint in the culture wars. If anything, these kinds of comedy monologue-driven public spats mainly provide late night comedians with addition fodder for their shows, usually to the continued frustration of the aggrieved politician.
 
Update (6/16/09): Under increasing pressure to apologize from a variety of quarters, Letterman has finally thrown in the towel. Chock one up for the Palins.
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Miss Independent
06-11-2009
A new study released by the Pew Research Center charts the rise of political centrism as “a dominant factor” in American public opinion. This is not exactly the picture you get from cable news and talk radio.
 
I will be discussing the implications of the study tomorrow morning as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. You can listen live at 9 a.m. here (top menu bar), or catch the show later here.
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Who's In Charge Here?
06-10-2009
I have come across a lot of references in the media today to a new Gallup poll which shows that a majority of Americans (52%) surveyed with an open-ended question could not name “the main person who speaks for the Republican Party today.”  Among those who could offer up a name, the choices ranged across a shortlist of the usual suspects – Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and John McCain – currently the party’s three most visible talkers, plus a former presidential nominee who still pops up in the media with some regularity. The clear implication from media coverage of the poll is that the Republican Party is a rudderless ship adrift since the November election.
 
While this particular list of individuals might be cause for concern among Republicans who are looking to build a broader electoral coalition for 2010 and 2012, I don’t think the party should be faulted for not yet having a single dominant spokesperson so soon after a significant national electoral defeat. If anything, it is the competition of ideas among a number of potential leaders which offers the best hope of the party regaining its electoral footing.
 
In the short-term, party regulars should expect their Congressional leaders to fill this vacuum, so it is a bit problematic that neither House Minority Leader John Boehner nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes the cut. But in the longer-term, the presidential selection process will sort this question out in typically ruthless and efficient fashion, just as it did in 2008. I am sure some Republicans would prefer to see a different cluster of names atop Gallup’s list, but I see no overriding political reason for resolving the “main spokesperson” issue right now.
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Reagan Redux
06-09-2009
If you haven’t had a chance to read Fergus Cullen’s recent provocative op-ed piece in the Union Leader, it is worth checking out. I think the former state Republican Party chair is on the right track with his argument that conservative elites’ obsession with Ronald Reagan could significantly hamper the party’s ability to field a slate of competitive candidates in future elections.
 
While I think it is fine to replenish one’s political strength with a return to first principles (be they Reagan’s or someone else’s), if those ideas are not clearly translated into a policy agenda which accounts for changing social, economic, and even technological contexts, then they will be of little use as a foundation on which to build a winning electoral coalition. Right now, the party’s increasingly homogenous base of conservative activists seems remarkably resistant to this realization. In a Cullen-related post earlier this year, I noted the peril this situation holds for the Republican Party’s relationship with younger voters, in particular.
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Tonight's the Night
06-08-2009
You may recall that back in March a series of staff missteps and assorted miscommunications led to Gov. Sarah Palin being invited (sort of) and then disinvited to deliver the keynote address at tonight’s joint House-Senate Republican fundraising dinner. While we may never know precisely who dropped the ball on the initial invitation, the end result was Palin’s being replaced by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. I have written before on Gingrich’s intensive work to recast himself as a party elder and policy visionary, and this kind of high-profile speaking gig would certainly further that effort.
 
As an interesting coda to this little story, we have now learned that at the last minute Sarah Palin was reinvited to speak along with Gingrich, then was off the program again, and finally agreed to appear at the dinner tonight, have her presence acknowledged, but not actually speak. Supposedly there was some concern among organizers that a Palin speech might upstage Gingrich on a double bill. Given Newt’s…shall we say…general level of confidence, this doesn’t sound like something about which he would typically be concerned, but apparently others were.
 
As I wrote in a post at the time of the original invitation mishap, I don’t think either Gingrich or Palin will be at the top of the Republican ticket in 2012. But as others have noted, this whole episode speaks to the genuine friction exhibited between movement conservatives and institutional elites within the Republican Party, as it casts about for a direction forward. While Gingrich has had some success in bridging the two groups, Palin has found it to be much rougher going, either by her own doing or by resistance from others in the party. So, tonight won’t likely be the last time we see a little intra-party awkwardness on display.
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Pawlenty Says That's Plenty
06-05-2009
I haven’t had a chance yet this week to comment on the recent announcement by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty that he won’t seek reelection to a third four-year term as governor. This is probably a good call on his part, as twelve years strikes me as a bit too long for one person to serve as governor, especially if he or she has other higher political ambitions.
 
Indeed, the announcement touched off the inevitable speculation that Pawlenty, who is only 49 years-old, is positioning himself for a presidential run in 2012 and/or 2016. In the 2008 presidential election, he was an early supporter of John McCain, and someone who was considered a finalist for the vice presidential spot, right up until it went to Sarah Palin.
 
For all his conservative credentials and governing experience, however, the rap against Pawlenty has been that he’s too bland, and lacks the charisma necessary to anchor a national Republican ticket. As I wrote in a post last June, I had a similar reaction after getting my first close look at him on the Sunday morning chat shows.
 
But since then, Pawlenty has shown signs of growing into the role of potential party leader. As I noted in a post just two months ago, the governor seems to have a pretty good handle on what currently ails the Republican Party. And, while Pawlenty is by no means a moderate, his political demeanor at least suggests the possibility of a broader Republican coalition. So, while he might not excite the conservative base the way other potential candidates do, and that could be a significant obstacle for him, Pawlenty is nonetheless now positioned to be a key player in the next few presidential election cycles.
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Nuptial Narratives
06-04-2009
A journalist asked me whether the adoption of gay marriage in New Hampshire will have any significant impact on the nature of the campaign discourse in our 2012 presidential primary. This is actually a pretty interesting question for engaging in some speculation.
 
On the Republican side, the short answer is no, probably not. Republican candidates are already pretty well-trained by their advisors to downplay any socially conservative rhetoric the moment they cross over our borders. I still remember the transformation that Mike Huckabee underwent as he moved from his victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucus to campaigning in New Hampshire on the eve of our primary.  Gone almost completely was the language of religious conservatism which had propelled him to victory in Iowa. It was instead replaced by a new political narrative touting fiscal responsibility and economic populism.
 
With our libertarian tradition, open primary rules, and large number of independents, Republican candidates have never had the incentive to rally the base here with social issues the way they do in other states. Now that gay marriage is no longer an open question in the Granite State, they will have even less incentive to do so in three years. This doesn’t mean Republicans won’t stake out an oppositional position to gay marriage when asked, but you can bet they will spend most of their time talking about other economic and national security issues (plus health care, energy, and the environment), as they have largely done in the past.
 
On the Democratic side, let’s assume for sake of argument that we are looking at President Obama running for his second term. Perhaps he won’t be put on the spot by progressives in deference to his standing as an electoral winner and titular head of the party, but it is true that his position on gay marriage is now officially to the right of both the law and majority opinion in New Hampshire.
 
If you caught Brian Williams’ interview with the president last night, you’ll know that Obama’s position is still the default one I discussed in a recent post – pro-civil union, but anti-gay marriage. Obama may be able to balance any potential intra-party dissonance on the gay marriage issue with some new action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and/or the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level, but he hasn’t moved in that direction yet. So if the gay marriage issue comes up for the president in New Hampshire the next time around, it could be an intriguing conversation.
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Do-Over
06-03-2009
Sometimes that is all it takes, a do-over, one more try. In the wake of the defeat of gay marriage legislation in the New Hampshire House two weeks ago, the bill’s supporters momentarily seemed at a loss to explain their failure. At the time, I noted that their challenge was to articulate if possible the majority will of an often unpredictable chamber by reworking the amendment that had just stalled.
 
The leaders gambled (correctly, it turns out) that they had already largely articulated that collective will, as evidenced by the perfunctory conference committee meeting on the amendment’s language last Friday. They instead focused on process by changing just a few minds, while locking in maximum Democratic turnout for this afternoon’s vote. In the end, the 198-176 vote in favor of gay marriage wasn’t nearly as close as those which had preceded it.
 
Many Democrats will see the arrival of gay marriage in New Hampshire as another sign of increasing progressive strength in our state politics. Some conservatives will interpret it as a reasonable reflection of our state’s libertarian roots, while others will view it as an unwelcome departure from broader religious and cultural norms. But regardless of which side of the debate you were on, it is hard to deny that we have all just witnessed a remarkable demonstration of the power of grassroots activism and the democratic process in our state.
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A Jimmy Thing
06-02-2009
I always find it hard to pass up an item that takes me back to the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign. In this case, it is a Politico.com piece detailing former President Jimmy Carter’s disappointment with recent Obama Administration national security decisions on the detainee abuse photos and torture/enhanced interrogation techniques. While Carter did not sharply criticize President Obama, he made it clear that he is unhappy with the decisions.
 
This took me back to April of 2008, when Carter flirted with an early official endorsement of the Obama campaign, just as the former president prepared to meet with representatives of Hamas during a trip to Syria. At the time, I wrote a series of posts on the delicate dance performed by the Obama campaign, as it tried to avoid offending progressives who appreciate Carter’s record on human rights, while also keeping sufficient distance from him to undercut Republicans who were salivating at the prospect of painting Obama as the second coming of President Carter. You can track back through the posts starting with this one (and here is a bonus Carter/McCain post from June of 2008).
 
In the end, the Obama campaign seemed to achieve the balance it sought, but I remember finding their contortions at the time to be a fascinating study in political custom and intra-party politics. As for the current discontent, the Obama Administration is already well aware that many on the left are unhappy with these decisions. But when you mix in Obama’s pragmatic political streak, and the mixed nature of broader public opinion on the subject, it is pretty clear that Carter’s criticism won’t affect the policy direction in any meaningful way.
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Muscle-Bound
06-01-2009
As you would expect, it was wall-to-wall Judge Sotomayor on the Sunday morning chat shows over the weekend. I counted no less than a half-dozen Republican Senators stating that they found various statements by Judge Sotomayor to be troubling. As I discussed in a recent post, deployment of the word troubling is Senate confirmation-speak for potential opposition to the nominee. Not to be left out of the action, a few of the possible 2012 Republican presidential candidates have also gotten into the mix; I heard both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee roll out the t-word to describe their views of the Sotomayor nomination at several points during the past week.
 
On the Democratic side, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Pat Leahy of Vermont used his appearance on Meet the Press to needle his Republican colleagues a bit. With the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions, sitting at his side, Senator Leahy made repeated (and somewhat gleeful) reference to, “leaders of the Republican Party like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh.”
 
Sessions had surprisingly little to say on this in response, and I also noticed that on several other shows Republican guests continued to be muted in their criticism of Gingrich and Limbaugh, falling back on free speech arguments when asked directly about the duo’s depiction of Sotomayor as a racist.  One notable exception has been Texas Senator John Cornyn, who, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also has to consider the electoral impact of any confirmation battle.
 
All of this is reminiscent of what journalist Howard Fineman has called the real RNC, comprised of Rush, Newt, and Cheney (first letter of each name, in case it’s not obvious). In the context of his original piece, Fineman was referring to their aggressive criticism of the Obama Administration as providing the Republican Party’s true muscle. But like a lot of Democrats, Leahy apparently sees this as a double-edged sword, hence his intentional linking of Republican leadership with two of the more controversial conservative voices in the party.
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