Monday, January 11, 2010

Weekend Political Roundup

Summary: This weekend was full of brash comments from politicians--read who's getting into trouble.

This past weekend was somewhat unusual for me insofar as I was not keeping track of the news. Instead I was mostly watching the NFL playoffs, which I’ll briefly talk about later in the post. Needless to say, when I checked the news this morning, I was surprised by just how much happened in the world of campaign politics in the course of two days.

Blago's Back...

First there were the outlandish comments from ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) who said - among other eccentric things - that he was “blacker” than Barack Obama. The more I think about this I can’t help but think Blagojevich might just be a genius.

Let me explain: he knows his political career is over and there’s no way to bring it back. If he can beat the legal charges against him, however (which I’ll admit, is unlikely) he’ll want to maintain a media presence that can land him a job in, say, television or something. What better way to do that than to constantly act like a lunatic?

Massachusetts Senate Race...

Second was an interesting variation in the polls coming out of Massachusetts. In the race for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat, it seems that Democrat Martha Coakley could either be ahead of Republican Scott Brown by 15 points, behind by 1 point, or at various intervals in between.

How can this be explained? Nate Silver suggests several reasons but ultimately can’t decide why the polls could be so varied. My guess is it has to do with whether or not the poll included an option for Libertarian Party candidate Joe Kennedy. Silver points out that the polls that do include a third party option are probably inflating what kind of support he’ll see on Election Day. While I agree that would usually be the case, his name is Kennedy, and that could help him out in this election. Thus, I would suggest looking at those polls (from The Boston Globe and Rasmussen) for the best estimates.

Game Change...

Next were a number of reports that came out about the 2008 presidential election. The first story was yet another Palin criticism from McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, who bashed the former Alaska governor on last night’s “60 Minutes”.

From the story in Politico:

“There were numerous instances that she said things that were — that were not accurate that ultimately, the campaign had to deal with,” said Steve Schmidt in an interview broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “And that opened the door to criticism that she was being untruthful and inaccurate. And I think that is something that continues to this day.”

Schmidt cited an ethics report on the then-Alaska governor from her home state on an investigation into whether she had improperly used her government position.

“She went out and said, you know, ‘This report completely exonerates me,’” Schmidt said. “And in fact, it — it didn’t. You know it’s the equivalent of saying down is up and up is down. It was provably, demonstrably untrue.”

Even more interesting reports, however, come from the same book the cites a lot of the Schmidt-Palin feud - Game Change by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann - which examines a great number of unknown (and politically damaging) situations during the race, including a strained Obama-Biden relationship over the course of the campaign. Apparently the Obama staff kept Biden off important conference calls and put him on his own in order to “keep a tight rein on him.”

And Biden, in an off-the-record remark, apparently told reporters that he was more qualified to be president than his running mate.

Other reports from the book are also quite juicy:

–Before the 2004 Democratic presidential primary, party strategists Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald, both then working for Sen. Joe Lieberman’s presidential candidacy, met secretly with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and a group of her closest confidantes to consider a last-minute entry into the race – and even polled New Hampshire voters about the idea. Ultimately, though, Chelsea Clinton persuaded her mother to opt out of a run, arguing that voters wouldn’t forgive her for breaking a pledge to serve a full Senate term.

–Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and a group of other senators who would back Hillary Clinton’s candidacy encouraged Obama to run for the White House as early as 2006. The concern over Clinton was that she would be a weak Democratic standard-bearer while Obama could energize the party. In late summer 2007, Schumer – using an Obama ally, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), as a back channel – pushed the candidate to “take a two-by-four to Hillary,” as the authors put it.

–In lobbying the late Sen. Edward Kennedy to endorse his wife, former President Clinton angered the liberal icon by belittling Obama. Telling a friend about the conversation, Kennedy recalled Clinton had said “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” the authors paraphrase. A spokesman for the former president declined to comment on the claim.

–Frustrated over the campaign following her disastrous interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin said she regretted accepting the Republican vice presidential nomination. “If I’d known everything I know now, I would not have done this,” she said. McCain’s high command, already worried about her lack of eating and drinking and fearing that she was suffering from post-partum depression, convened a conference call and discussed whether she was mentally unstable.

Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton issued a statement in response to "Game Change" touting the former governor's own insider account.

"The Governor's descriptions of these events are found in her book, 'Going Rogue,'” said Stapleton. “Her descriptions are accurate. She was there. These reporters were not.”

–There were apparently "two Americas" within the marriage between John and Elizabeth Edwards. The former North Carolina senator's wife viewed herself as a worldly intellectual and publicly called her husband "a hick" and his parents "rednecks," according to the authors.

"She was forever letting John know she regarded him as her intellectual inferior," they write, mocking her husband, the presidential hopeful, as somebody who "doesn't read books."

–Before she was tapped as the vice presidential nominee, McCain’s campaign team devoted only five days to vetting Palin and her seventy-four-part questionnaire. But Palin herself only spent a few hours filling it out – an act which had “consumed weeks for other short-listers.” Ultimately, a forty-two-page vetting report of Palin was crashed by McCain’s team in a matter of 40 hours.

–McCain never held a single practice session before the first debate of the general election, in September of 2008. Now-RNC Chairman Michael Steele had spent the entire summer preparing to play Obama in the practice sessions, but McCain wouldn’t spar with Steele out of fear that the sessions would leak and he’d be accused of racial insensitivity.

–Upon finding out that McCain had tapped Palin as his running mate, Vice President Dick Cheney called it a “reckless choice,” believing the Alaska governor was unprepared for high office.

–Members of what the authors call Clinton’s “war room within a war room” became convinced in 2006 that Bill Clinton was having a serious extramarital affair, prompting Hillary Clinton to instruct her aides to be prepared to combat the story.

–After Billy Shaheen, Clinton's New Hew Hampshire campaign chairmen and the husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, told the Washington Post that Obama's youthful drug use made him unelectable, Clinton initially cheered him on and encouraged her staff to draw attention to the comment. "Good for him!" she told aides. "Let's push it out." Clinton subsequently personally apologized to Obama over the matter and Shaheen quit the campaign.

–Following the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton was shocked to have been offered the Secretary of State job and decided to reject the offer. She prepared a statement explaining why she would turn the new president down and remain in the Senate. But in an after-midnight call between Clinton and Obama, he persuaded her – only after Clinton expressed concerns about the problems posed by her husband, the former president.

“You know I can’t control him, and at some point he’ll be a problem” the authors paraphrase Clinton as saying. Obama indicated that he was willing to take that risk…

…–Before formally deciding to enter the 2008 presidential race, Obama met secretly with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice-President Al Gore, the latter of whom the authors report had privately consulted with Obama adviser David Axelrod on a potential 2004 presidential run of his own.

Clearly this book doesn’t make anyone look good.

My take is that few people will take any notice of the embarrassing stories in the book except for some Washington insiders who very well might have known a lot of these details anyway.

Well, except for one story…

It was also revealed in the book that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said that Barack Obama was “light skinned” and lacks “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

That proved to be explosive. Republicans, including the black RNC Chair Michael Steele, have called for Reid to lose his Senate leadership position. Their argument is that there is a double standard for Trent Lott to have lost his GOP leadership position for similar reasons while Reid can keep his.

Democrats, loyal to their leader, defended him vehemently on Sunday with a variety of arguments. Of the good ones: Reid has a record of standing up for civil rights and his comments on Obama were taken out of context. In fact, the book does seem to suggest that Reid was praising Obama’s political skills, albeit in an eyebrow-raising manner.

My guess is this won’t do anything to his role as Majority Leader. However, it will most definitely be a strain to his re-election this year. Reid is already facing bad number in the polls, so he wants as much Democratic turnout as he can get. While many voters who would be especially offended by this may not support a GOP candidate, they may just decide to stay home on Election Day - which is still pretty bad news.

Playoff Season...

Oh, and of course, the NFL playoffs. Now, don’t make too much of this, but I did see an interesting trend this weekend. In the AFC, more-liberal area located teams tended to do better than more-conservative area teams (with New York beating Cincinnati) while in the NFC, the red states beat out the blue ones (Dallas crushing Philadelphia and Arizona edging out Green Bay). A little ironic, perhaps, given that the AFC color is red and the NFC color is blue.

So, if you’re the kind of sports fan who likes to make predictions based on bizarre trends like political tendencies, you might want to put your money on Dallas beating Minnesota, New Orleans clobbering Arizona (Louisiana is much more conservative than the Grand Canyon State), and Baltimore upsetting Indianapolis.

Or you could play it in any number of safer ways, which I would have to suggest.

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