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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Former Gov. of Alaska Sarah Palin speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority 2013 conference, June 15, in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP/File)

Is Sarah Palin an Alaskan? 46 percent of voters there don’t think so.

By Correspondent / 07.30.13

Call it the birther crisis du jour! And this time, President Obama is off the hook.

It seems, if new polling data are to be believed, that Alaskans aren’t quite sure former Gov. Sarah Palin is actually one of them.

You betcha!

The survey, released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling (PPP), indicates that 47 percent of voters still consider her to be an Alaskan, while 46 percent do not. This revelation – or confusion – comes as Ms. Palin ponders a 2014 run for US Senate.

She has said she’s willing to launch a campaign, though she would have to emerge from a potentially crowded Republican field to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who is seeking a second term.

Perhaps Palin has logged too much time on the national speakers circuit or chattering on Fox News, for which she’s an on-air commentator.

Palin’s relationship with voters in Alaska has grown tense in the wake of her unsuccessful 2008 run for vice president and then her decision to abandon the governorship halfway through her only term. It seems Palin, once the mayor of Wasilla, is out of state and out of mind. Hardly an ideal perch from which to seek office.

The PPP poll also reveals that 37 percent of Alaska voters think it would be more appropriate for her to run for the Senate from Arizona. We’re sure Sen. John McCain (R), Palin’s 2008 running mate and Arizona’s senior senator, might have an opinion about that.

When Palin first floated an interest in running, Senator Begich questioned whether Palin still lived in Alaska. So perhaps he has planted this seed of doubt in the minds of voters, if they hadn’t already grown weary of Palin’s national commitments.

"I don't know if she's a resident," Begich told Politico earlier this month. "She's been away from Alaska a lot and has probably lost touch with what's going on.... Most Alaskans I see on a pretty regular basis, but I haven't seen her for a long time.”

Palin is registered to vote in Wasilla, according to published reports.

But Begich also said Palin has “been somewhat vacant from the state and quit on the state.” Then, of course, he wished her the best on her potential candidacy. 

The PPP poll finds Begich would trump Palin, who has not yet declared her candidacy, 52 percent to 40 percent. He leads by 21 points with independents. A February PPP survey found Palin trailing Begich in a head-to-head matchup by 16 points, so she’s gained some modest ground since floating her interest.

Overall, Palin leads possible Republican primary rivals: Thirty-six percent of GOP primary voters in the state say they'd like her to be their nominee, while 26 percent say that about Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Fifteen percent are for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, and 12 percent are for Joe Miller, the tea party darling and 2010 Senate nominee.

But it is Mr. Treadwell who fares the best against Begich. In a hypothetical matchup, the senator beats the lieutenant governor by only four points, according to PPP. That’s down from Begich’s eight-point lead over Treadwell in a February poll.

Palin’s overall approval ratings are dismal, however – as likely an indicator as any that she might take a pass on this contest. Her favorability rating is 39 percent, and her unfavorables sit at 58 percent. Independents, always a crucial swing-voter constituency, are particularly dissatisfied with Palin: Just 33 percent give her positive marks, while 64 percent rate her unfavorably.

Palin hasn’t said much about the contest since Begich took her to task about her residency. At the time, she charged him with voting with liberal Democratic Senate leaders, and she sought to tie him to Mr. Obama. But her Facebook postings are dominated by talk of fly-fishing with the former first dude, Todd Palin; visits to Greta Van Susteren’s show on Fox; news of her latest book’s debut in paperback; and musings on typical hot-button conservative topics, like Benghazi.

Conventional wisdom is that Palin will take a pass. She’s a business above all else. If she were to lose a primary or a general election, the brand would take a hit. That, of course, would hurt her bottom line.

And for Palin, that’s not a state issue but a pocketbook matter.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives at the White House in Washington, Monday, July 29. It's the most talked-about lunch in the nation's capital. President Obama and Ms. Clinton are dining privately at the White House Monday. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Hillary Clinton lunch date with Obama: three theories on why (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.29.13

Washington is buzzing about a cryptic line on the president’s daily schedule Monday:

12:00PM         THE PRESIDENT and former Secretary Clinton meet for lunch

                        Private Dining Room

                        Closed Press

Not even a mention of “Hillary” or “Hillary Rodham” or the State Department, her former perch – just “former Secretary Clinton,” the bare minimum required to distinguish her from her husband. Maybe the White House thought if it used fewer words, the lunch date would slide below the radar. But no, on a slow news day, it’s a talker.

Since the former secretary of State stepped down from her post on Feb. 1, she has been traveling the country delivering speeches, both paid and pro bono. We’re also sure she’s taken a little time to rest, after four grueling years as the most-traveled secretary of State in terms of countries visited.

And she’s widely thought to be considering another run for president. If not, she surely would not have allowed some A-list Democrats to start a "super political-action committee," called Ready for Hillary.

So in the absence of hard information, we thought we’d float some theories on what the two might discuss.

The 2016 presidential race. Yes, it’s super early, but both major parties’ nomination races are well under way. President Obama’s understudy, Vice President Joe Biden, is clearly interested. But Clinton would clear the field if she jumped in. She just has to decide if she’s ready for another go at cracking what she called the “highest and hardest glass ceiling.”

How can Mr. Obama help her decide? He can bring her up to speed on what presidential politics are like in the age of 24/7 social media – already a factor in 2007 and 2008, but not like today – and 24/7 political coverage. Remember, Politico launched on Jan. 23, 2007, just three days after Clinton announced she was forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign. Now Politico (and BuzzFeed and all the other new politically obsessed sites) is a force to be reckoned with. No tidbit is too small.

Obama and Clinton recovered from their epic nomination battle long ago. The memory of Clinton denouncing Obama – “Shame on you, Barack Obama” – over alleged lies in campaign literature is fading. And every president wants to be succeeded by someone from his party, so it’s in Obama’s interest to help her run a successful campaign, if she goes for it. Obama may even openly encourage her to get in.

Foreign policy. Obama certainly has a full plate, and Clinton can obviously speak knowledgeably about the range of issues he faces – Egypt, Syria, Russia, Edward Snowden, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that begin in Washington Monday evening. John Kerry, of course, is now Obama’s secretary of State, and Clinton’s task as a “former” is to be quiet and let the new guy do his job. Thus a closed-press lunch meeting is the perfect forum for discussion, away from the cameras.

One more topic on foreign policy: The issue of Benghazi – the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on US diplomatic facilities in the Libyan city that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador – is still a thorn in Obama’s side. And it happened on Clinton’s watch, making it fodder for political opponents in a second Clinton presidential campaign. Maybe it’s on the lunch menu.

Life. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a lunch is just a lunch. Maybe it’s just two friends breaking bread together, catching up on how they and their families are doing. Obama’s daughters are growing up – Malia is a teenager, and Sasha is almost there – and Clinton has experience raising a teenage girl in the White House. How did the Clintons handle all the normal teen issues – clothes, makeup, boys, parties, driving?

We might also be tempted to suggest that Clinton could offer advice on what it’s like to run for office as a sitting first lady, as she did when she ran for US Senate in New York in 2000. Certainly Michelle Obama would be a formidable prospect to run, say, against Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois in 2016. But when asked, Mrs. Obama adamantly rejects the idea of running for anything. For now, we believe her. 

Democratic candidate for New York City mayor Anthony Weiner speaks to members of Brownsville Community Baptist Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York Sunday. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Anthony Weiner on ropes: more questions and Clintons want him out (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.28.13

[Updated 6:30 p.m. EDT] Whatever one may think about Anthony Weiner, he has no small amount of pluck.

That was true when he was a member of Congress, where he sometimes spoke from the House floor in a verbal conflagration on the order of Sherman blazing through Atlanta. It was true when he entered the race for New York mayor two years after resigning from Congress in disgrace – the titters of disbelief still audible in the press gallery. And it remains true today, when he has pointedly not listened to his former leader in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who captured the feeling of many Americans in telling Mr. Weiner to "get a clue" and drop out of the mayoral race.

But at this point, is sheer force of will enough to get him to Election Day on Nov. 5?

On one hand, Weiner's refusal to drop out of the race speaks to underlying political realities, some of which don't look all that bad.

True, what we learned Tuesday is undeniably awful. It turns out that a year after the married congressman was forced to resign from his post in Washington because he was trading raunchy and racy online posts with single women (and then lying about it), he was still doing it.

But in a way, that makes his run for mayor this year all the more important. While it's possible he could have a third act at some distant future, the new revelations – heaped on the previous revelations – mean he either wins this race or he's taking a long siesta from politics. That's something he clearly doesn't want to contemplate.

Moreover, he and his wife, Huma Abedin, seemed prepared for all this. Never mind that he called himself "Carlos Danger" and carried on explicitly sexual conversations with a 20-something named Sydney Leathers last year, to them it's old news, and regardless of this baggage, they apparently think he is a politician who can help New York. They seem happy to let the voters decide one way or the other.

And while future polls could get worse, he's hardly out of the picture – still in second place with 19 percent of the vote compared with 25 percent for front-runner Christine Quinn. He's also go plenty of money for the time being. In fact, Weiner has $4.8 million, second only to Ms. Quinn's $6 million, according to a report by the New York Daily News published a week before the new scandal surfaced.

So it's possible that, for Weiner, things are playing out largely as he expected in a worst-case scenario. For someone who had the pluck to run for mayor of America's biggest apple two years after being paraded in public in the Internet age's answer to tar and feathers, a week of bad press might not seem a game-changer.

And yet, as bad as Tuesday was, things continue to get worse. The first rule of any scandal is that it needs oxygen – it needs new developments to keep it in the public eye and to build public anger. Without new news, people begin to move on (as Weiner surely hopes they will).

On this score, Sunday was not a good day for Weiner.

First, news leaked that Weiner's campaign manager, Danny Kedem, resigned this weekend. It's not a huge blow. As Joseph Mercurio, a political scientist at Fordham University, told Bloomberg news: "Weiner has the money, and he's a savvy pol, so I would think he can find someone else."

But it's a measure of how toxic Weiner has become politically. Added Professor Mercurio: "I suspect there's been a tremendous pressure on Kedem from labor campaigns and others who oppose Weiner, and I'm sure Kedem's interested in remaining in this business, and he can't take the pressure and he's leaving."

Then came comments by Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton's former press secretary, who said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday: "If [the Clintons] could choose, they would certainly have Weiner get out of the race and have Huma get on with her life."

It could be argued that no one is more important to Weiner right now than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Weiner might not be beholden to anyone, but Weiner's wife is a confidante of Ms. Clinton's and a former adviser. Ms. Abedin was even seen as taking a page from Clinton's playbook in standing by a dallying husband. If Clinton were to persuade Abedin that this has gone too far, Weiner's campaign would have no leg to stand on.

Then came a report by the New York Daily News that, before he resigned from Congress, Weiner in 2011 paid a private investigator nearly $45,000 in campaign money to investigate his claim that his Twitter account was hacked. When the lewd photos first surfaced in 2011, that was Weiner's defense – that his Twitter account had been hacked. He later abandoned that defense and admitted to sending the photos.

That means "Weiner ultimately paid a private investigations firm, T&M Protection services, $43,100 from his campaign fund – knowing nobody hacked anything and that he'd sent the image himself," the Daily News concludes. 

Politicos have pronounced Weiner's campaign dead, and it very likely could be. But the three months until the election is a lifetime in politics. Anything could happen.

The one thing that seems certain, though, is that Weiner won't be able to survive too many more days like Sunday. 

New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner leaves his apartment building in New York on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. The former congressman acknowledged sending explicit text messages to a woman as recently as last summer, more than a year after sexting revelations destroyed his congressional career. (Richard Drew/AP)

As Democrats tell Anthony Weiner to 'get a clue,' calls to leave race mount

By Correspondent / 07.25.13

The clock is ticking for Carlos Danger.

The revelation this week that Democrat Anthony Weiner engaged in an explicit sexting relationship with a woman last summer, more than a year after he resigned his seat in the US House and just as he was plotting a return to politics, has led to mounting calls for him to withdraw from the New York mayor’s race.

And that’s before his remarks Thursday that he engaged in such exchanges of sexual messages with at least three women after his resignation.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi summed up her feelings in a few words. Hey, Weiner, she suggested Thursday, “get a clue.”

Second chances are one thing, third, quite another. Even for hard-bitten New Yorkers who have seen it all. Maybe they haven’t seen the likes of Mr. Weiner, though. The guy who has lured young women into cybersex conversations and sent them lewd selfies – all while publicly pretending to nurture a new marriage to a powerful political operative and raise their toddler son.

His Tuesday press conference with wife Huma Abedin by his side – a display of shamelessness, denial, and defiance that might even trump the famous Bill Clinton finger wag – practically bumped feverish coverage of the royal baby’s departure from the hospital into oblivion.

Understatement alert, here, but the former congressman has a problem. Call it addiction or misogyny, gross narcissism or just plain stupidity. Check ‘all of the above,’ even. That craving for cybergratification outside his marriage – the first of the latest revelations was released by a website called The Dirty – is proving a swelling distraction for voters and the Democratic Party.

Weiner has turned the mayoral contest into a “circus,” as his chief rival, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, suggested, and that’s saying something for a city that usually thrives on unusual political leaders and the wacky theater they provide.

"I think he should pull out of the race,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents New York’s 10th district, said Wednesday. “I think he needs serious psychiatric help."

No shock here, but several of his rivals are stating the same. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former City Councilman Sal Albanese, both Democrats, and billionaire John Catsimatidis, a Republican, have said Weiner should hit the road.

And former city comptroller Bill Thomson, also seeking the Democratic nomination, said he was “disgusted” by Weiner’s behavior.

With fewer than seven weeks until the party’s Sept. 10 primary, Quinn asserted that New Yorkers deserve better, though she stopped short of telling Weiner to buzz off.

“The circus that Mr. Weiner has brought to the mayor’s race these last two months has been a disservice to New Yorkers who are looking for someone who has the judgment and maturity to lead this city and a record of actually delivering real results for them,” she said in a statement.

“Being the Mayor of New York is serious business and it demands a serious leader. Instead we have seen a pattern of reckless behavior, consistently poor judgment, and difficulty with the truth. New Yorkers deserve something completely different: they deserve a mayor who has the judgment, maturity, record, and vision to lead this city.”

A survey of New Yorkers taken Wednesday, in the wake of the latest scandal reports, shows Weiner has ceded his frontrunner status to Quinn. His negative ratings, meanwhile, are on an upswing.

The NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll finds Weiner trailing Quinn by nine points. In June, Weiner was up five points over Quinn in a similar survey.

And 55 percent of those polled have an unfavorable view of Weiner, while three in 10 give him favorable marks. Some 15 percent are unsure how to rate him or haven’t heard of him (where are they living?). In the June poll, more than half – 52 percent – had a favorable opinion of Weiner, while 36 percent did not.

“New York City Democrats were willing to give Anthony Weiner a second chance but are reluctant to excuse his behavior now,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

Underscoring the numbers, the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, which has endorsed Quinn, wants Weiner to drop out, calling him “clearly and compellingly unfit for public office.”

The editorial boards of city publications are piling on as well. The New York Times wrote that “the serially evasive Mr. Weiner should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City. ... It’s up to Mr. Weiner if he wants to keep running, to count on voters to forgive and forget and hand him the keys to City Hall. But he has already disqualified himself.”

It seems trotting out one’s wife – or allowing her to present herself as half of a united if also delusional team – is no longer the cure-all to “self-inflicted” public humiliation, as Weiner has deemed his actions. It doesn’t appear to matter that Ms. Abedin proclaimed Tuesday that she believes in Weiner and loves him and that, after much therapy, she has decided to stay with him.

Voters aren’t sure they want to be involved with Weiner anymore, even though he says he’s sticking around. Too much lying, too risky. They, at least for now, see the danger signs clearly.

An alias can speak volumes.

Caroline Kennedy listens during the 2010 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. President Obama said on Wednesday he would name Kennedy, daughter of the late President Kennedy, as ambassador to Japan. (Brian Snyder/Reuters/File)

Caroline Kennedy: Is she qualified to be US ambassador to Japan?

By Correspondent / 07.25.13

President Obama nominated Caroline Kennedy Wednesday to be his next ambassador to Japan, a high-profile diplomatic post that would serve as just reward for her loyalty to his presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Ms. Kennedy, a lawyer, author, and mother of three, endorsed Mr. Obama during his contentious 2008 Democratic primary battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton. She and her uncle, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, threw the weight of Camelot’s dynasty behind the young first-term US senator from Illinois. Their approval gave Obama critical establishment validation, and effectively underscored that Obama’s vision for his time stirred similar passions in the electorate as President Kennedy’s candidacy did in 1960.

In a 2008 New York Times opinion article titled “A President Like My Father,” Kennedy wrote that she has never had a president who inspired her the way people say her father inspired them.

“Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things,” she wrote. “In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible. We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama.”

Kennedy has held many private posts – she is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and chair of the senior advisory committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard, among other positions – but she has been a reluctant participant, at times, in the political sphere.

In 2009, her interest in the open US Senate seat from New York – made vacant by Ms. Clinton’s decision to accept Obama’s offer to be his secretary of State – was fleeting. Kennedy seemed awkward and dispassionate, unsure of why or if even she wanted the job and unable to artfully articulate the commitment to public life that runs through her family lineage. She eventually asked the governor to pull her name from consideration.

Kennedy’s appointment has been rumored in Washington for some time, and it is not surprising given her history with Obama. But despite the famous name, she has no diplomatic experience and has never held elected office. The New York Times notes that the Japan ambassadorship has typically “gone to political heavyweights.” The selection of Kennedy, however, is in keeping with Obama’s move of big campaign supporters, usually donors, to high-profile posts in London, Berlin, Copenhagen and Madrid.

None of this will likely matter.

Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, told The New York Times that Kennedy has one indisputable credential.

“What you really want in an ambassador is someone who can get the president of the United States on the phone,” Mr. Campbell said. “I can’t think of anybody in the United States who could do that more quickly than Caroline Kennedy.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy, a Harvard and Columbia Law School graduate, is a political celebrity of international note, and the Japanese are fame-oriented, much as we are in the US, according to The Washington Post’s Max Fisher.

"We believe that the proximity and direct contact with the president is an extremely important part of the job, and we welcome her," said Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday.

Kennedy would succeed John Roos, an Obama fundraiser and Silicon Valley attorney. Other notables to hold the job include: former Vice President Walter Mondale (appointed by President Clinton); Howard Baker, the former US senator and chief of staff to President Reagan; and Michael Mansfield, a Montana Democrat who also served in the US Senate.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy would be the first female envoy to Japan. Her grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the ambassador to Britain before World War II. 

The relationship with Japan is always crucial, especially in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear status. But the engagement between the nations faces an interesting challenge of late, as officials here work to assure counterparts there that our economic ties to China do not prompt increased loyalty to Beijing. This delicate dance is happening with tensions already high between Japan and China as the two nations tussle over territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

Kennedy is the editor of several New York Times best-selling books on topics including constitutional law, American history, politics, and poetry, the White House notes in the bio the administration circulated Wednesday. She is married to Edwin Schlossberg, a New York artist and interactive media specialist.

People line up in front of the Knox College Office of Communications in Galesburg, Ill., on Monday, waiting to get tickets to see President Obama speak at the college on Wednesday. (Steve Davis/The Register-Mail/AP)

Obama hits the road: Why he's talking about the economy now (+video)

By Correspondent / 07.24.13

It seems early in President Obama’s second term to commence legacy shaping, yet his schedule this week – packed with a series of campaign-style speeches heralding a strengthening economy and outlining new (or slightly used) fiscal proposals – represents a preliminary effort at just that.

The pivot is designed to allow him to claim credit for a modestly improving job market, while reiterating his administration’s focus on fighting for America’s middle class. The move also gives him an opportunity to turn away from the Washington-focused brawls (immigration and failed gun control legislation) and charged national debates (the George Zimmerman trial and race relations) that have dogged and distracted him so far this summer. Not to mention the international quagmires – from Benghazi to Edward Snowden – that have put the administration on defense for months.

“We have come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Monday.

The president’s topical shift is a sales job that comes with risks because the economy has hardly roared back to full function. But it is a reminder that the last two presidential contests turned on which candidate would better steer the nation through tough economic times.

While Mr. Obama is expected to say he sees a strengthening economic climate, Republicans are likely to remind Americans that the “economy is treading water,” as a spokesman for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told The New York Times.

The Republicans aren’t necessarily wrong, writes Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post's Wonkblog. “The president has watched some of his biggest economic initiatives falter since winning reelection,” he says. 

Mr. Tankersley cites a decrease in factory employment, despite Obama’s emphasis on increasing manufacturing jobs by one million by 2016, and a fall in median earnings, among other markers. He also notes that with all the talk of new job creation, many of those jobs are part-time, not full-time. Not bad, but not ideal.

Obama will speak Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., (the site of his first big economic speech as a freshman US senator), and at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., and in Jacksonville, Fla., later this week.

The president is expected to hold as many as a half dozen similar events in coming weeks in Washington and elsewhere to outline proposals on jobs, housing, health care, and retirement, according to USA Today. He is setting the stage for the fall budget battle and continued talks about the debt ceiling.

During an event Monday night in Washington, the president framed the upcoming conversation as an effort to return the administration’s root charge upon election.

"It's going to be the kickoff to what is essentially several months of us trying to get Washington and the press to refocus on the economy and the struggles that middle-class families are going through, but also for us to start exploring some big and bold ideas," he said.

Obama's economic vision would not appear to be an area of bipartisan common ground. While struggling with their own messaging and lacking national leadership, Republicans have sunk Obama’s efforts to mandate more sweeping background checks for gun control and have effectively scuttled immigration reform, for now at least. They also opposed other economic proposals Obama has rolled out, including a $447 billion jobs bill.

Indeed, Obama has floated economic plans previously and toured the nation preaching a similar gospel; in May his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour” stopped in Baltimore and Austin, Texas.

But the stakes are high for Obama and his party's 2016 prospects. A good economy is, generally speaking, a politician's most precious tool during an election cycle. If Obama succeeds in pushing his legislation and improving the economy – or at least persuading the public that he and his party are effective change agents – he’ll set up the Democrats with a nice platform from which to run in 2016. And who in the GOP wants that?

Safe in the hands of the Duchess of Cambridge, the Royal couple and their son, who was born Monday, leave the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital in west London on Tuesday. (John Stillwell/Pool/AP)

Will and Kate's royal baby boy sets Washington a-twitter

By Correspondent / 07.23.13

Maybe a baby boom is all polarized Washington needs to share some much-needed love across the aisle.

As news here spread that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed a baby boy in London Monday, capital city lawmakers gushed their approval and offered well wishes via cyberspace to the royal couple across the pond. It was an opportunity to reinforce that "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain and, heck, party affiliation and policy preferences aside, who doesn’t love a baby?

Like many capital city notables, first lady Michelle Obama – who has positioned herself as this nation’s mom-in-chief – sent her good cheer via Twitter: “Congratulations to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son! Being a parent is the best job of all. -mo”

Twitter reports that the peak in global conversation of the royal baby occurred at 8:37 p.m. London time with 25,300 tweets per minute.

Among the reactions registered here, gender generally appears to have been more determinative of a public figure’s enthusiasm than party. In other words, at least anecdotally, the moms went moony while some of the dads around town just got on with business.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire tweeted: “Congratulations to the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge & all of Great Britain on the birth of the #RoyalBaby!”

And here’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska, focusing on the size of the baby, who is now third in line to the throne and remains, as of this file, unnamed: “Congratulations to the Duchess of Cambridge for the 8 lb., 6 oz. #RoyalBaby! An exciting day for England and observers everywhere.”

Three out of four members of the congressional party leadership remained Twitter silent while the rest of the world buzzed about baby. A mother of five and grandmother, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California weighed in, but her counterpart, Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, and their foils in the Senate, majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, were busy with other matters.

Leader Pelosi: “Wishing Prince William and Duchess Kate much joy and happiness as Great Britain welcomes the newest member of the Royal Family. #RoyalBaby

Senator McConnell’s tweets yesterday were mostly focused on his speech to a national Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Louisville, Ky., and related issues. Speaker Boehner got some digs in at the president’s attempt to turn the national political conversation back to the economy, and knocked rising gas prices and the Affordable Care Act. Senator Reid was Twitter absent yesterday.

President Obama issued a formal statement, but no word yet about what type of gift the first family might send to Will and Kate. (Remember that ill-conceived iPod for the queen? Here’s hoping the Obamas do better this go-round; they know babies, after all.)

"We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings,” Mr. Obama said. “The child enters the world at a time of promise and opportunity for our two nations. Given the special relationship between us, the American people are pleased to join with the people of the United Kingdom as they celebrate the birth of the young prince."

And if the family in the White House counts as our royal brood – at least temporarily – then the almost-royal Romney clan had its own good news to celebrate Monday. As Slate reports, an estimated 367,000 other babies came into the world on July 22, and the Romneys can claim one as theirs.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, introduced his 22nd grandchild via Twitter: “Our Josh and Jen also had a new baby boy yesterday. @AnnDRomney and I feel royally blessed. #22”

Liz Cheney takes questions from the press during a campaign appearance in Casper, Wyoming, Wednesday, July 17. Cheney, the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced on Tuesday her GOP primary challenge to Wyoming's senior incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi. (Matt Young/AP)

Why Liz Cheney may be riding for a fall in Wyoming Senate race (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.19.13

Is Liz Cheney a lock to win a US Senate seat in Wyoming in 2014? Or is she riding for a fall in the Cowboy State?

After Ms. Cheney announced her plans to mount a primary challenge to GOP incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, we judged it possible that she’s already the favorite in the race. Her ex-veep dad, Dick Cheney, is a state icon, remember. She’ll be able to raise lots of money from her national connections.

But we’ve received some pushback on this judgment from folks who know a lot about Wyoming politics, so we’re going to reconsider the matter. They say Cheney the daughter has no idea what she’s getting into, and people who think otherwise have spent too much time riding the range of carry-outs on Washington’s Capitol Hill.

First, there’s the possibility that money does not really matter so much in a state that's so thinly populated it has no major media markets. It’s true that Senator Enzi does not have much campaign cash in the bank, but you don’t need much to buy airtime in Cheyenne and Casper.

Second, given that ads can’t reach everyone in the state, there’s still no substitute for campaigning in Wyoming’s vast number of small outposts. Enzi, born in Thermopolis and former mayor of Gillette, has met with local business groups, weekly editors, and party activists for decades. Liz Cheney lived in suburban D.C. until recently.

Cheney has served as a high State Department official and helped run a national security group called Keep America Safe, but those credentials may not resonate with Wyoming voters.

Republican strategist Ed Rollins said this week that Cheney may be seen as “a housewife who’s kind of bored who moved back to Wyoming after a long time to run for the Senate.”

Finally, as Mr. Rollins noted above, there’s the carpetbagger issue. Voters in New York and California may not care how long candidates have lived in their states, but Wyoming is not New York or California.

Many Wyoming voters might judge that Cheney has not moved to the state yet. That’s because she has bought a home near Jackson, the Wyoming town that serves the ski resorts of Jackson Hole. Jackson is a well-off tourist town with an airport that whisks private jets in for the weekend. Much of the rest of the state views it as separate territory. It’s as if Cheney had moved to Aspen to run for a Colorado Senate seat, or were trying for governor of Massachusetts from her adopted home island of Nantucket.

In Washington, Republicans may see the Cheney versus Enzi race as a rising star versus a low-key party stalwart. That’s how Philip Terzian describes it Friday in the Weekly Standard, in any case.

“Republicans in Wyoming have a difficult decision,” Mr. Terzian writes.

It’s indeed possible that’s how GOP primary voters in the state will feel when they go to the polls next year. It’s also possible they’ll have a different framework here, and see the race as a true Wyoming resident versus a newcomer.

State Sen. Wendy Davis applauds the crowd gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, to support the Stand With Women tour last week. The group spoke about the lack of statewide hearings on a tough abortion bill. (Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram/AP)

Wendy Davis goes to Washington: Did Texas abortion fight create a new star?

By Correspondent / 07.18.13

There are rare cases when a local politician bursts onto the scene with such gusto that he or she manages to captivate a national audience and, almost overnight, inspire talk of a career on the rise. Barack Obama, with his 2004 Democratic National Convention address, did just that, setting him on a rapid ascent from Illinois state senator to US senator to becoming the nation’s first black president.

But just as often, those lawmakers tend to stumble somewhat on the way up – think Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida during his Republican Party response to Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address or Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's cringe-inducing primary night scream in Iowa in 2004.

TexasWendy Davis – the telegenic state senator who captured the hearts of many Democrats across the country as the pink-sneakers-wearing Lone Star State mama who filibustered Republicans’ initial attempt to enact one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation – is the latest star in the making. Even after the Texas Legislature subsequently passed the bill she had worked so hard to sink, she is garnering national attention for her efforts.

Senator Davis is headed to Washington for fundraisers and meet-and-greets. Her visit later this month reinforces talk that she’ll launch a gubernatorial bid. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) announcing earlier this month that he won’t run again, Davis is potentially primed for a 2014 battle for an open seat in a state that isn’t always friendly to liberals.

She has already raked in almost $1 million in donations; her campaign released a statement indicating that during the last two weeks in June, she received 15,000 individual donations. A nice windfall by the standards of most campaigns, but especially for a state senator who hasn’t yet declared her intentions to run for anything else.

Davis will host two fundraisers on July 25. The first, a $500-per-person breakfast at Johnny’s Half Shell, will feature a host of Democratic lawmakers, including a half-dozen Democratic senators. The second event, held at the U Street haunt Local 16, offers tickets at prices ranging from $25 to $250.

These events are being reported by media outlets as a strong sign that Davis is moving toward a bid. And underscoring them, she penned an opinion article in The Washington Post this week outlining her reasons for filibustering. A clear introduction to the national set, it was headlined, “Why I Stood Up for Texas Women.”

In the column, she calls Texas “the greatest state in the greatest nation,” and asserts that “Texans – and women all over the country – deserve leaders that care, that listen and that work to protect their interests.”

“In the end, the filibuster was a means to continue the fight and stand up to Republican leaders,” she writes. “That fight is not a new one for me. As a senator from the only true swing district in the Texas Senate, I’ve been targeted by the GOP for my outspoken criticism of their extremist attacks on public education and voting rights, to name just two examples. My nearly 13-hour stand against the effort to deny women access to basic health care evolved into a people’s filibuster opposing a selfish and out-of-touch leadership that refuses to listen to real families with real hopes.”

With that paragraph alone, she's reframing herself as a centrist able to take on the GOP more broadly around a range of issues. She uses typical campaign buzzwords – she’s a fighter, she says, and a veteran at that.

If Davis takes a shot at the state’s top job, she could face Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has announced his intention to run. He has a formidable campaign war chest – $23 million, according to NBC News.

Davis was a teen mother who became the first in her family to go to college – Texas Christian University, from which she earned a degree in English in 1990. She graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1993.

It’s been almost two decades since a Democrat won the Texas governorship. The last Democrat to serve was Ann Richards. She held office from 1991 to 1995. Perry has held that job since his election in 2000. Before him, of course, George W. Bush ran the state.

Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen here in Washington earlier this year, could be rivals during the next Democratic presidential primary season. (Cliff Owen/AP/File)

Hillary who? Joe Biden says he still dreams of becoming president.

By Correspondent / 07.18.13

Lost amid the endless banter about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s White House intentions is the still real possibility that Vice President Joe Biden will toss his Phillies cap into the ring.

Mr. Biden, a two-time White House candidate, has not shied away from speculation that he’ll run. After serving in the Senate for more than three decades and now with a second term as President Obama’s No. 2 under his belt, he – like Ms. Clinton – has paid some dues. Still, the former secretary of State is the hot topic – and many in the chattering class hold the assumption that if she moves forward (as she seems to be), he’ll politely back off.

The thinking goes something like this: The Clintons have the machine, the power, the influence. And she’s earned it, personally, professionally. There’s still that glass ceiling just so many cracks from being smashed clear though, and it’s her chance, finally, to make history. Meanwhile, Biden is just Biden, always a few words from misstatement, the back-slapping, aviator-clad, behind-the-scenes workhorse isn’t really primed, even after all these years, to hold the top job.

But not so fast.

"I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America," Biden, 70, says in a GQ profile making the rounds Thursday. "But it doesn't mean I won't run."

No deference in those words. He tells GQ he’ll make his own calculation.

"The judgment I'll make is, first of all, am I still as full of as much energy as I have now – do I feel this?" he said. "Number two, do I think I'm the best person in the position to move the ball? And, you know, we'll see where the hell I am.

"And by the way, if you come in the office, I have two portraits hanging – one of Jefferson, one of Adams. Both vice presidents who became presidents." He told the magazine that he likes to look at their satisfied expressions. "I joke to myself, I wonder what their portraits looked like when they were vice presidents."

This does not sound like a man eager to step aside for a potentially history-making Clinton candidacy. Oh, how the Democratic establishment must vacillate between glee at the prospect of an easy route to the nomination for Clinton (especially with the GOP still in a post-2012 state of disunity and lacking real leadership) and terror at the thought of a Clinton/Biden faceoff, which is bound to draw into the contest more and younger hopefuls – namely New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, among other prospects. It would be a cluster – not uncommon, of course, for an open primary season, but unnecessary given the powerhouse potential in Clinton.

Easy would be nice for those Democrats still be smarting from the protracted 2008 nomination fight between Mr. Obama and Clinton. Another battle would be a bummer for the party when the Democrats are – assuming the economy doesn’t totally tank – nicely positioned to run strong in 2016.

Biden has held a dynamic portfolio as vice president, bucking the historical knock on the job that it’s the worst in Washington. With Obama’s blessing, he has handled fiscal issues (including the Economic Recovery Act), had a major role in foreign policy (the Iraq handover, in particular), and managed – though unsuccessfully – the White House’s push for more expansive background checks for gun purchases.

And Biden hasn’t been afraid to say what he believes independent of where the White House might be positioned – remember that he got out front of Obama on the gay marriage issue, emphatically weighing in with his support.

“What this is all about is a simple proposition – who do you love?” he said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." “Who do you love, and will you be loyal to the person you love?”

If Clinton opts against a presidential campaign, surely Biden becomes the default front-runner. Except no matter the shape of the contest, one in, one out, or both vying, they each risk looking more like the past than the future. Already, the Republicans have toyed with a narrative about Clinton that emphasizes her age; the same could be said for Biden.

Both Democrats have long records to defend, too. And in Biden’s case, his gaffes, including that old plagiarism charge, which sank his 1988 campaign, could come back to haunt him. He has also certainly, as everyone knows, been a favorite of the late-night comedians.

But among the establishment in Washington – and this is one key reason why Obama selected Biden as his running mate – the vice president has bipartisan street cred and long and intimate relationships to mine while governing. In a polarized capital city and with national opinion of Congress at historic lows, that experience – a throwback to an earlier time – is a worthwhile and sellable credential.

"Joe Biden doesn't have a mean bone in his body," says Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, in the GQ piece. "He's unique from the day he was elected before he was 30 years old. He's unique in that he's had some role in every major national-security crisis that his nation has faced in the last thirty-five years. I don't know anyone like him in the U.S. Senate. Look at the number of times he's been able to conclude agreements. I would say he's been the most impactful vice president that I've known – certainly in modern times."

And that includes Biden’s predecessor, Dick Cheney, who hails from Senator McCain’s own party and is widely viewed to have been deeply influential, domineering even, when President George W. Bush held office.

Biden reminds us in the GQ piece that, as we watch the Clinton faithful establish an organizational apparatus fit for a candidate, he isn’t ready yet to fold his tent. In fact, the profile, which includes a whirlwind tour of Biden’s childhood haunts in Delaware, is a long romp through lovable Biden turf. He’s just a regular guy! And he’s smart, not a cartoon, he seems to plead, over cheesesteaks.

The piece dubs him “the most misunderstood man in Washington.”

Understand this, though. When Biden addressed the Iowa Inauguration Ball in January, he misspoke in typical fashion. What he said drew laughter – but applause, too – from Democrats from this first-in-the-nation caucus state.

"I'm proud to be president of the United States," he said before correcting himself.

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