| The Doctor is In
I will be doing an entire hour on the politics of health care reform on Monday morning, as a guest on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning show. You can listen live at 10 a.m. EST here. Just click on the streaming link in the blue news box in the upper left portion of the MPR homepage. If you miss the broadcast, you can catch the podcast later here.Add/View CommentsDeadline, What Deadline?
I wrote a post
last week, in which I argued that the legislative deadline
story had so come to dominate the media’s narrative of health care reform that it was posing a real danger to the longer term viability of the reform process. President Obama had pushed hard for votes in both the full House and Senate in advance of the August recess, but he backed off
once Majority Leader Harry Reid announced it wouldn’t happen in the Senate, and it is now clear that the House won’t make the deadline either.
The danger of the whole deadline missed narrative in the media is the potential for it to be interpreted as a broader statement about the increasing political weakness of President Obama on policy matters and the institutional weakness of the Democratic majority to act on the president’s agenda. When this sort of political narrative gains traction, it not only emboldens opponents to intensify their efforts to scuttle legislation, but it softens up public support in ways that can have negative consequences for a president’s future agenda.
Add/View CommentsLost in the Supermarket
Nonetheless, I was a little bit surprised to hear Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders blame
the media earlier today for essentially fabricating the whole deadline issue. Reid claimed this hurt the process by obscuring all of the progress that has been made to date on reform legislation in both chambers. Given my own post last week, I of course agree with Reid’s assessment that the deadline story was posing a real obstacle for Democrats, but I don’t see how he can blame the media for creating it. It is true that the media has been fixated on it, but the original deadline
narrative was driven
by the White House.
It seems like virtually every major news organization has a new poll out today showing
that President Obama is losing (albeit narrowly) the public relations war over health care reform. One way presidents often deal with slipping support is through the ramping up of campaign-style public events designed to highlight the administration’s perspective on a particular policy. Not surprisingly, Obama has been doing a lot of public appearances and town hall meetings on health care recently, in an effort to shore up sagging voter support for his plans.
This seems like a logical thing for Obama to do, but I had to smile today, when I saw video
of the president’s town hall meeting at a Kroger Supermarket in Bristol, Virginia. Fair or not, it instantly reminded me of John McCain’s appearance at a supermarket during the 2008 presidential campaign. You may remember the video
, in which McCain helps a mom and her kids shop for applesauce, until the applesauce jars decide they’ve had enough. My favorite part of the video comes at the very end, when a concerned McCain aide rushes out to save the nominee from the rampaging jars.
Add/View CommentsRose Garden or Beer Garden?
No such calamity befell Obama today, but any good political advance person will tell you that supermarket appearances are fraught with peril. Teetering stacks of canned goods, unknown commodity prices, and unfamiliar
supermarket scanners pose untold dangers for the presidential candidate or sitting chief executive.
It is now official
that on Thursday evening we will witness the most highly anticipated Happy Hour since the end of Prohibition. That is when President Obama, Sgt. James Crowley, and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. are scheduled to clink glasses (or bottlenecks) at 6 p.m. on a White House picnic table. The Obama Administration has described the meeting as an attempt
to further de-escalate last week’s Gates arrest controversy in Cambridge, MA. It seems like the situation has already de-escalated significantly, but you wouldn’t necessarily get that impression from watching cable news, or listening to talk radio.
Add/View CommentsPawlenty Wins at Musical Chairs
While this may turn out to be a public relations masterstroke by Obama, if I were in the White House communications shop, I’d be a bit queasy that, given the attendant media frenzy, this meeting not be perceived by the public as a media stunt, or as politically exploitative in any way, especially since Crowley’s kids are expected to make the trip, as well. I don’t know whether Obama has a particular photo op
in mind, but my guess is that less press access will better serve the conciliatory goals of the meeting.
With the announcement
that he is taking over as Vice Chair of the Republican Governors Association, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is climbing yet another rung up the political ladder to national prominence as a potential presidential candidate for 2012 and beyond. You may recall that the Vice Chair spot opened up as the result of current Vice Chair Haley Barbour replacing a resigning South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford at the top of the RGA.
Pawlenty still has to contend
with the rap that as a candidate he is a somewhat bland, soft-spoken Midwesterner, but you can watch him here
on Fox News trying to ratchet up the partisan rhetoric by calling President Obama’s health care plan a joke
and a scam
. Perhaps this kind of sharp criticism will endear him a bit more to the party’s conservative base, but notice that even while going negative, Pawlenty is still polite enough to draw a clear distinction between policy attacks and personal ones.
Pawlenty’s greatest strength
, however, is that he seems to have a fairly accurate read on what ails the Republican Party. While many political elites have responded to the party’s current troubles by doubling down on conservative nostalgia, Pawlenty has talked quite effectively about the need to update the party’s message through a better use of technology, greater outreach to younger voters, and a de-emphasis of divisive culture war rhetoric in favor of creative thinking on domestic policy.
Whether Pawlenty can package all of this in a way that appeals to both moderates and conservatives remains to be seen, but he has certainly made a lot of progress in that direction over the past year. He will take yet another step up the party ladder on Thursday, when he delivers a major address to members of the Republican National Committee in San Diego. And, the RGA spot will provide him with an ongoing platform for further national exposure as he prepares to leave the governorship in 2010.Add/View CommentsHuck is in Luck
I’m back to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee once again, this time in the guise of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll
which shows Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s popularity dropping as she prepares to leave office on Sunday. Last week, I wrote a post
commenting on what struck me as a somewhat odd running cable news narrative by Huckabee on all things Sarah Palin. Most of it I would categorize as damning with faint praise.
It occurred to me that with Palin soon to be free to spend her time tending to the Republican Party’s social and religious conservatives, Huckabee was the one 2012 presidential prospect most likely to be jammed by her expanded presence. So what I experienced on television was Huckabee trying to calmly reposition himself without looking overly concerned by the potential for enhanced competition from Palin.
Well, even if Palin cramps Huckabee’s style a bit, this new poll should make him feel a little better. Not only does it have him ahead of Mitt Romney by five points, but it shows him beating Palin among religious conservatives by a margin of two to one. Huckabee faces some of the same broader coalition-building issues as Palin, but neither his populism nor his personality is as polarizing. Maybe now he will be emboldened to leave the Palin passive aggression behind.Add/View CommentsVacation, All I Ever Wanted
Judging by the intensity of media coverage surrounding Majority Leader Harry Reid’s announcement
earlier today that there would be no full Senate vote on health care legislation before the August recess, you might think the chamber had just decided to dissolve itself. So much of the recent daily political narrative has revolved around the question of whether President Obama would get votes (as requested) on health care legislation in the full House and Senate before the recess, and whether failure to do so would spell trouble for his policy agenda. Perhaps now with the finality of Reid’s scheduling announcement, coverage will switch back to a focus on policy content rather than the legislative horse race.
There is a reason why President Obama has been hell-bent on getting health care through Congress this summer. A few decades ago, the political scientist Paul Light wrote in his book, The President’s Agenda, about the dangers of the cycle of decreasing influence. Light argued that a president’s political capital is at a maximum just after winning election and rapidly declines over time, making the achievement of major policy successes more difficult the longer the legislative process drags on. Obama’s behavior on multiple policy fronts over the past six months suggests that he is well aware of his limited window of opportunity, and the possibility that with just a few small changes in the political environment it could close shut at any moment.
Add/View CommentsWrong Said Fred
So, while Obama’s compressed timetable for the legislation may have been justified from a political perspective, the deadline story had so come to dominate the media’s narrative of health care reform that (as Obama acknowledged
today) it is probably better to let the self-imposed deadline pass in order to maintain the goodwill of those in Congress who are inclined to work with the Obama Administration on this issue.
It is amazing how spending $400k of your own money will get you noticed. I am assuming that this is what Fred Tausch wanted, when he began spending that sum on television ads and glossy mailers featuring him taking Washington politicians to task for a lack of fiscal responsibility. And, it doesn’t sound
like he minded being mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, either.
But as Tausch found out with Lauren Dorgan’s recent piece
probing his personal and financial background (I haven’t heard the name UrbanFetch in years!), that kind of political flirtation brings with it an added level of scrutiny, even beyond any public curiosity about his self-funded STEWARD
initiative. So, I’m sure it is no coincidence that he is out
of 2010 electoral politics only a few days after the Concord Monitor
ran Dorgan’s piece. While it is possible that the recent formation
of Kelly Ayotte’s exploratory committee accelerated his decision a bit, it is more likely that Dorgan’s piece forced the issue for him.
All of this is not to say that Fred Tausch can’t still be a player in Republican politics, if he so desires. I’m sure the state party and its eventual nominees could use a new financial high roller in the ranks. And, Tausch can certainly continue to self-fund his own activist platform in the state, if he prefers to continue pursuing an outsider approach to grassroots politics. Actually, how Tausch resolves the inherent tension between these two approaches to political influence (party insider and enigmatic outsider), beyond the glare of a U.S. Senate race, could eventually become its own interesting story.Add/View CommentsBobby Jindal Checks In
Add/View CommentsOh Yes Indeed It's Fun Time
With all of the political noise generated by the Democratic and Republican back-and-forth on healthcare, you may have missed this little item
posted yesterday, and described as an “ideas” piece on health care reform by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The op-ed caught my attention, not only for its content, but because it is literally the first thing I can recall seeing or hearing from Jindal, since his disastrous
to President Obama’s first address to Congress in February.
For me, it raises the obvious political question of whether this op-ed was placed on Politico.com (a website popular
with Washington insiders and national political elites) as a means of beginning the long process of rebuilding Jindal’s credibility as a presidential contender. From a political buzz perspective, the past six months have not been kind to Jindal. A recent Gallup poll
of potential 2012 contenders showed Mitt Romney edging out Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, but Jindal’s name is nowhere to be found. It is true that Gallup limited the respondent’s choice to a list of six predetermined Republican candidates, but the fact that Jindal didn’t even make the survey's candidate cut speaks volumes about the changed political landscape he now faces. On top of that, it is another governor and presidential prospect, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who will be giving the high-profile “introductory” speech
to members of the Republican National Committee in San Diego next week.
Still, political observers often suggest that with more than three years still to go before the next presidential election, the smartest thing a sitting governor can do is to focus on effectively governing his own state. You’ll notice that Jindal begins his op-ed piece by discussing just how busy, bipartisan, and successful he has been with Louisiana’s most recent legislative session (unlike, say, Gov. Palin?). I also keep coming back to the fact that Jindal just turned 38 in June, which means he is still about 10-15 years away from the political sweet spot for a presidential candidate’s age. While Jindal would probably like to get back to being a player on the national political scene sooner rather than later, as evidenced by his op-ed piece, other signs seem to indicate that he is more likely in it for the long haul.
Add/View CommentsBusy Busy
Following tomorrow morning’s radio broadcast
, I will be away from the website for just a few days. I will be back on Tuesday, July 21st
with new content for you. See you soon. -Dean
Add/View CommentsShe's Cramping Huckabee's Style
It is probably a good time to pause and take stock of the incredibly busy period in New Hampshire politics that we’ve just experienced. I will be doing just that tomorrow morning as a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange
. We will be tackling a veritable kitchen sink of local political stories, from medical marijuana and school accountability to Kelly Ayotte and all of the other statewide political races. You can listen live here
(top menu) at 9 a.m., or catch it later here
I didn’t intend for this to be a Mike Huckabee-themed week, but at this rate it could very well turn out that way. Once again
, the former Arkansas governor has managed to catch my attention, even though I have been largely focused on other political players this week. This time what caught my eye were some comments
made by Huckabee in response to Gov. Sarah Palin’s cap-and-trade op-ed
piece in yesterday’s Washington Post.
It’s not so much the specific content of Huckabee’s remarks that I find interesting, but the fact that in the almost two weeks since Palin announced her resignation, it feels as though Huckabee has essentially been shadowing her every move with his own running political narrative of her behavior.
I have come across Huckabee on the cable news shows on several occasions over the past two weeks, each time providing analysis of the latest Palin developments. He typically starts out with something complimentary, but always manages to end by raising one or more red flags regarding her behavior. In listening to his assessment of Palin, the phrase “backhanded compliment” has crossed my mind more than once.
Add/View CommentsThe Wise Arkansan
I’m certainly not here to defend Sarah Palin’s recent behavior
, but it has obviously had the additional consequence of really cramping Huckabee’s style. With his win in the 2008 Iowa Caucus, Huckabee prizes his status among social and religious conservatives. But with Palin now poised to go national as the true darling of these voters, it is Huckabee more than any other potential 2012 presidential candidate who is most likely to get his toes stepped on by a sharp Palin high heel. As a result, we are treated to this slightly odd ongoing Palin commentary from him. I can tell just from watching Huckabee that he already feels the pressure. We don’t know whether Palin will run for president in the future, but the relationship between these two will be a fascinating one to watch as they tend the same political grassroots.
It seemed like every time I checked in with the Supreme Court confirmation hearings throughout the day today, senators were still discussing the relative threat of Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment to the underpinnings of our legal system. Republicans are admittedly in the difficult position of needing to be tough enough on Sotomayor to appease unhappy conservatives, while also trying to avoid alienating women and Hispanics. I don’t yet know how their performance played with the latter two groups, but I can tell you from my sampling of talk radio today that Republicans on the committee aren’t exactly winning a lot of kudos from the base of the party.
Add/View CommentsMust-Leave TV
One man who is working hard to earn conservative kudos, however, is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Amidst the “wise Latina” hullabaloo, you may have missed this little item
from First Read
. The website reports that Huckabee is polling the potential for fundraising to support a pro-life ad campaign against Sotomayor’s confirmation. And, he is doing so in…Iowa
. With a win in the 2008 Iowa Caucus under his belt, Huckabee no doubt views the socially conservative Republican electorate in Iowa as his people, so what better place to show that he is trying to have a national impact on their behalf prior to 2012. We’ll have to wait and see whether an actual anti-Sotomayor campaign materializes later in the summer from this initial polling, but talk about thinking ahead
I was just about to turn on the Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor this morning, when I remembered that doing so would subject me to the sequential opening statements of 12 Democratic and seven Republican senators. And, with Joe Biden now gone from the Judiciary Committee, I wouldn’t even be able to count on one of his legendarily meandering, free-association confirmation hearing riffs to keep me entertained. Plus, these are usually the kind of partisan soliloquies (mostly written by staff), which leave you wondering whether Democrats and Republicans are even talking about the same nominee. So, I turned my attention to other pressing political matters.
Add/View CommentsHey Ladies
That being said, I actually spent a fair bit of time following the political prelude
to this week’s confirmation hearing. With so much of the actual proceedings dominated by a kind of stylized partisan kabuki among the senators, it is in this pre-hearing period that we typically get the best read on the likelihood of confirmation. Sotomayor’s nomination has been out there for about a month and a half now, and I haven’t seen any signs that it is in real danger of failing. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to have it just about right this morning, when he said Sotomayor would need a meltdown
to jeopardize her confirmation. Even so, I’ll probably watch some of the Senate Q&A over the next few days, in hopes of catching some engrossing political theater.
Add/View CommentsMurphy's Law
Since I have already spent the entire week talking and writing about the resignations of Kelly Ayotte and Sarah Palin, I might as well continue right on through the weekend. You can catch me as a guest on WMUR-TV’s Close Up
this Sunday morning (Ch. 9, 10 a.m.). We’ll be spending the half-hour discussing the latest Ayotte and Palin political developments.
It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of high-profile Republican consultant and political analyst Mike Murphy
over the past year. Even if you haven’t seen him on television recently, you may remember Murphy from his role as a senior strategist in John McCain’s first campaign for the presidency in 2000. In his more recent gig as a Republican political commentator for NBC, Murphy has become best known for his strong criticism of Sarah Palin.
During the Republican euphoria of those initial heady weeks of Palin’s vice presidential run, Murphy was almost completely alone among fellow partisans in delicately raising a few red flags about her candidacy, and he took a tremendous amount of heat for it from political elites within his party. Murphy’s criticism of Palin has only grown more pointed since that time, until today when he finally let her (and the party’s obsession with her) truly have it in a piece
published in the New York Daily News
Murphy’s argument is actually quite similar to one I have made in several posts, most recently here
. The qualifications issue aside, the biggest problem with Palin as a potential presidential candidate is that she is just too polarizing a political figure. As some new Gallup polling data
underscores, she is tremendously popular among Republicans, but does quite poorly with Democrats and independents.
What is most problematic is that Palin shows very little interest or aptitude for remedying this circumstance in a way that would allow the assembly of a winning electoral coalition. While Murphy acknowledges Palin’s strength as a leader among the party’s conservative base, he voices real concern that the Republican Party is locking itself into a losing electoral dynamic. The genuine frustration he expresses in the Daily News piece is indicative of a fundamental strategic split that is likely to dog the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. And, Palin’s rapid ascent in the party is its most visible manifestation.Add/View CommentsThe Palin Parallel
Only a day after New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte announced
she was resigning from state government in order to explore a run for the U.S. Senate, state Democrats are already playing the Sarah Palin card. I am referring of course to the new YouTube video
produced by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which attempts to draw a direct comparison between Ayotte’s fairly standard political appointee resignation yesterday and Sarah Palin’s puzzling
behavior last Friday.
I understand the state Democratic Party’s desire to exploit any potential tactical advantage, as that is the rough-and-tumble nature of competitive electoral politics. And, there will be plenty of legitimate opportunity to go after Ayotte, should she win her party’s nomination. But I sure hope this particular video was done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, because it is a stretch. And the part about wanting to be able to trust Ayotte and Palin once again, come on now. The "Rip Van
" Sununu riff from earlier this year was clever
, but this "two of a kind" idea is a bit silly.
Add/View CommentsKelly Green
Ayotte is not
an elected official. In the world of bureaucratic politics, five years is usually considered a pretty good run for a political appointee. It also happens to be twice the length of time that Palin spent in the Alaskan governor’s office. Given the tremendous amount of speculation about Ayotte and the U.S. Senate race, I don’t imagine Governor Lynch was caught off guard by her resignation, even if she told him a year ago that she planned
to stay put.
The race for statewide office in New Hampshire is starting to look more and more like the presidential election cycle each year. Candidates get in early, raise as much money as possible, and hopefully clear the field of serious challengers sooner rather than later. Given this emerging dynamic, the announcement
today that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is resigning her position to explore a run for the U.S. Senate should not
come as a huge surprise to local political observers.
With the John E. Sununu question now answered, and a new UNH poll
showing Ayotte to be competitive with Congressman Paul Hodes, pressure for Ayotte to make a decision would have only continued to escalate, probably to intolerable levels by the end of summer. At least the attorney general was smart enough to realize that it would be increasingly difficult for her to do what is institutionally considered a “nonpartisan” job amidst all of the political speculation now swirling around her.
As I noted in a previous post
, assuming Ayotte enters the race (a fairly safe assumption, given she just resigned), the question remains whether there will be pressure from some quarters of the state Republican Party to clear the primary field, in order to avoid having her get scuffed up before the general election. I am of two minds on this. To the extent possible, parties understandably like to avoid having their rising stars get beaten up in a primary. But for a green candidate like Ayotte, there is also something to be said for using a contested primary to work the kinks out of her campaign while at least half of the state electorate (or more) isn’t paying a whole lot of attention.
We also don’t really know yet where Ayotte’s electoral persona will fall on the ideological spectrum. There is a risk to assuming a perfect one-to-one correspondence between her legal opinions as AG and future policy platform, although we have gotten a few hints on issues like abortion, the death penalty, and medical marijuana. Plus, senators cover large swaths of foreign and domestic policy which are outside the purview of typical state-level AG law enforcement issues. Once Ayotte's political persona comes into clearer focus, moderate or conservative, we’ll be able to better gauge her appeal to independent voters. For now, however, even with all of the potential many political observers see in her candidacy, Ayotte is still largely an electoral blank slate. Today she took the first step toward filling in those blanks.Add/View CommentsOh No She Didn't!
This past weekend continued the NH Political Capital tradition
of having my holiday/vacation absences from the website coincide nicely with major breaking political news. Maybe it’s just bad luck, or perhaps those making the news are engaging in the well-known technique of breaking it when most people are otherwise occupied. Judging by the high volume of weekend traffic to my website, my guess is that a lot of you stopped by for a little feedback on the Sarah Palin shocker. While I never expected Palin to run for reelection in 2010, like most political observers (actually all) I was surprised to learn
that she was resigning her governorship after only two and a half years in office.
As those of you who read my postings with some regularity know, I have not been a big fan of Sarah Palin. This is not a personal ideological judgment on my part. It is based on the many years I have spent watching numerous hopefuls arrive on the national political scene. Given what I saw from Palin during the general election last fall and over the subsequent eight months, I think she lacks several of the key components of national political leadership, ingredients like issue knowledge, political judgment and sustained focus. There are a number of other Republicans who are better positioned (and qualified) to lead the party forward over the next few election cycles.
I know some Republicans are arguing that Palin will now have the time to bone up on her knowledge of the major foreign and domestic policy issues of the day. But I have seen nothing in her personal constitution to suggest that she has any interest in that sort of self-improvement. In this respect, she is very much like George W. Bush. She trusts her own gut-level instincts to operate from a core set of values or principles, and seems to have little interest in reaching for any knowledge or understanding beyond that. While some people find that to be an appealing style of leadership, my guess is that after eight years of President Bush, most voters find it less so.
Then what can Sarah Palin do now? She can use her undeniable celebrity to make a lot of money talking to the social and religious conservatives who already love her. And, she would be an effective draw and fundraiser for candidates who derive their electoral strength from the same group of constituents. This alone is enough to make her a serious player in Republican Party politics. But that is very different from saying that she is anywhere near having the ability to assemble a winning electoral coalition at the presidential level. Palin's negatives are way too high for that, and if she is aware of this circumstance, she has yet to show any interest in, or understanding of, how to move beyond it to true national leadership. Given what I’ve already seen, my bet is she won’t.Add/View CommentsYankee Doodle Dean
I will be away from the website for the long Fourth of July weekend. I’ll be back with new content for you on Monday, July 6th. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday. See you soon. -DeanAdd/View CommentsSunono
I guess yesterday’s post
on the ARG poll testing a hypothetical contest between Paul Hodes and John E. Sununu is the last one I will be writing on that pairing, at least for the 2010 election cycle. I am honestly not
surprised to learn
this evening that Sununu is opting out of a run for Judd Gregg’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. Although many Republicans thought Sununu would be their best bet against Hodes, I haven’t seen any signs from him in recent months that he was itching to get back into the electoral arena so soon after last November’s loss to Jeanne Shaheen.
It is often the case that when elected officials finally get out of the Congressional fishbowl they find that seeing their families on a daily basis and earning some big money in the private sector (Tom Daschle, anyone?) are a fairly enjoyable way to spend their time. Plus, Sununu is only in his mid-forties, so if the electoral environment swings back toward Republicans in the next five to ten years, he could gear up for a rematch against Shaheen, or perhaps even run for governor.
Although some Republicans believe there are several winning fiscal and social issues on which Sununu could run right now, the underlying electoral environment in New Hampshire hasn’t changed much since the last election, and on balance still favors Democratic candidates. And, I haven’t seen much evidence that the state Republican Party is revamping itself in any significant way, in order to address this circumstance. If Obama struggles in the coming months, that could help their case, but I’m sure Sununu knows it would be a long, tough, and expensive campaign in any event. So, while I don’t necessarily think we’ve seen John E. Sununu seek public office for the last time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any local political observer that he is taking a pass on 2010.
Where does that leave the Republicans on this seat? I think if Kelly Ayotte commits
to the race, there will be intense pressure from some in the party to clear the field, in order to avoid having her get scuffed up in a primary fight. But we’ve heard rumblings from Charlie Bass, Ovid Lamontagne, and others considering jumping into the race that they are ready for some competition. In the meantime, the folks over at Hodes-central, who one would never accuse of lacking in confidence, still must be breathing a small sigh of relief tonight. Hodes can move forward efficiently with a unified party behind him, while Republicans continue to sort out their future in the coming months.