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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. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky (not pictured) said Sunday on NBC’s 'Meet the Press' that Democrats should remember President Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky before turning their criticism to GOP attitudes toward women. (AP/File)

Monica Lewinsky: Will Rand Paul benefit from raising old scandal? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.27.14

Will the Monica Lewinsky scandal play a role in presidential politics for 2016? That’s possible, given that likely GOP contender Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky raised this issue on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Senator Paul referenced Ms. Lewinsky when talking about past Democratic charges that the Republican Party wages a “war on women."

When making that rhetorical attack, Democrats should remember that their now-beloved ex-President Bill Clinton had an affair in office with a woman who was much, much younger than he, said Paul.

“He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office,” Paul told host David Gregory. “There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior.”

President Clinton’s lies about this relationship led to his impeachment by the House in 1998. The Senate subsequently voted to acquit him, and he served out the remainder of his second term.

“Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, ‘Republicans are having a war on women?’ ” said Paul on NBC.

When Gregory asked if the Lewinsky matter should play a role in a possible Hillary Clinton presidential run, Paul said that the ex-secretary of State should be judged on her own merits. But he then connected her to her husband anyway, saying “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other."

This marked the second time in recent days that a possible 2016 Republican candidate brought up a toughly worded response to the “war on women” charge. Last week ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said that Democrats try to make women believe there are “helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government."

Given the context of the remark, Paul’s Lewinsky reference does seem pre-planned. That’s because in a recent profile in Vogue, Paul’s wife, Kelley Ashby, practically leaped into a conversation between herself, her husband, and the writer to make the charge.

“I would say his behavior was predatory, offensive to women,” she said of Bill Clinton.

With that reference out there, Paul must have known it was possible Mr. Gregory would ask him about it. And he did – Gregory referenced the Vogue piece and asked if Paul shared that opinion.

He did. Will that help him win the GOP nomination? It might. If Republican primary voters want a combative candidate, bringing up Clinton’s infidelities is one way for Paul to qualify. It also subtly – OK, maybe not-so-subtly – links Mrs. Clinton to the past and brings up her long and complicated history with both her husband and US public life. And Bill Clinton is much less popular among Republicans today than among Democrats, surprise, surprise.

But it’s also possible that the Lewinsky reference could hurt Paul, both in Republican primaries and in a general election. For one thing, it occurred a long time ago, and the past is a foreign country. It’s now 16 years since the Lewinsky scandal broke. That means 18-year-old voters in the next presidential election will have been newborns when it was fresh news.

For another, Bill Clinton is now quite popular. As noted above, GOP voters are less approving, but even among Republicans, his historical assessment is positive. That’s made clear by a recent Gallup poll. If you take the percentage of Republican respondents to the survey that rate Clinton’s presidency as poor or below average, and subtract that number from the percentage that rate it outstanding or above average, you get a net assessment of plus-14. That’s pretty good.

And Democrats love him. In that same Gallup survey, Clinton’s historical assessment score is plus-68 among Democrats. That’s almost as good as John F. Kennedy’s.

Nor is that popularity simply due to nostalgia for a more prosperous time. Remember, despite his personal misbehavior, Clinton remained broadly popular while the Lewinsky scandal was in the news.

“Clinton weathered the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998 with fairly high personal ratings – averaging 58 percent that year – and ended his presidency on a positive note, with a 57 percent rating in December, 2000,” wrote Gallup’s Lydia Saad in July 2012.

It’s true that his last-minute pardons had a residual effect, driving down his ratings shortly thereafter. But given his enduring popularity, it may not make electoral sense for Paul to revive the Monica Lewinsky controversy for 2016.

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky talks to media after an event hosted by President Obama at White House in Washington earlier this month. On Sunday, Senator Paul fired back at Democratic claims of a Republican 'war on women.' (Carolyn Kaster/AP/File)

Why is Rand Paul going after Bill Clinton? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.26.14

On Sunday, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate once again tried to to turn the tables on the Democrats' contention that the Republicans are waging a "war on women." And once again, he showed just how hard it is for Republicans to fight back against the claim without hurting themselves.

True, the comments by Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" barely registered on the Huckabee scale. In attempting to quash the idea of a Republican war on women earlier this week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee merely reinforced the perception with folksy comments about women's "libidos" and the federal government as their "Uncle Sugar." To many, he came across as condescending and wildly off tone.

Senator Paul, meanwhile, merely insinuated (heavily) that there is no small hypocrisy in accusing Republicans of waging a war on women when a leading Democratic figure (Bill Clinton) once seduced a young intern.

"He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior," Paul said. "Then they [Democrats] have the gall to stand up and say, 'Republicans are having a war on women.' "

The comments, of course, have a ring of validity. Mr. Clinton's actions with Monica Lewinsky are not the narrative of a women's rights pioneer.

Yet the comments also have a ring of Huckabeean condescension, too.

Paul said "the media have given President Clinton a pass on this." Yet two-thirds of registered voters view Clinton favorably, according to a September 2012 New York Times/CBS News poll. It's hard to pass off that level of popularity as the product of a media conspiracy, especially when Clinton's greatest foible was no secret – was, in fact, discussed endlessly by the nation and actually resulted in his impeachment by the House.

In that way, Paul risks sounding like someone trying to rekindle the embers of old controversies solely to score political points. Moreover, he also risks sounding like a scold, telling American women that they've been hoodwinked into giving this "predatory" president a pass.

The fact is, Republicans know they have a problem. The gender gap reached a historic high in 2012, with men favoring Republican Mitt Romney by 8 percentage points and women favoring President Obama by 12 – a total gap of 20 points. The Republican post-mortem after the 2012 election said Republicans need to be more responsive to "war on women" attacks from Democrats.

Paul, it would seem, is just following the script.

But what can he and other Republicans really say?

"War on women" is just a proxy for one view of the battle over abortion and reproductive rights, and Republicans haven't signaled any shift in their stance. If anything, they appear to be closer to doubling down.

So perhaps it's no surprise that a October 2013 United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll found that women are hardly warming to the Republican Party since 2012.

"Only 14 percent of women said the Republican Party had moved closer to their perspective. More than twice as many women, 33 percent, said the party had drifted further from them. A plurality, 46 percent, saw no change," writes Shane Goldmacher in the National Journal.

Which leaves Paul to talk about Bill Clinton.

On the other hand, it's possible his comments weren't really about Bill Clinton at all. After all, Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is at this point seen as a shoo-in for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Speaking of Clinton's presidential scandal, "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked: "Is it something Hillary Clinton should be judged on if she were a candidate in 2016?"

Paul demurred, then added about Mr. and Mrs. Clinton: "Sometimes it's hard to separate one from the other."

A man uses his cell phone to read updates about former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden answering users' questions on Twitter in this photo illustration, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Thursday. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Does Edward Snowden deserve mercy?

By Staff Writer / 01.24.14

Does Edward Snowden deserve mercy? That's the issue raised by calls for the US government to give the man who leaked National Security Agency (NSA) secrets some degree of clemency so that he can return to his homeland.

The New York Times and the British newspaper The Guardian have editorialized that the public value of the information Mr. Snowden has revealed means that he deserves better than a life of permanent exile. On Jan. 5, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky said Snowden should face the possibility of a "few years in prison" for his leaks about NSA activities – not life in prison or the death penalty.

On Jan. 23 the US government opened the door a crack to some sort of Snowden deal. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said that if Snowden “wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.”

Mr. Holder said the Justice Department would do the same for any defendant who wanted to plead guilty. But he did not specify what charges Snowden would need to accept guilt for under such circumstances.

In general, Snowden's proponents argue that he had little recourse but leaking to make his points. He told his superiors of his concerns about some agency overreaching, but they did nothing. As a contractor, he wasn't covered by federal whistle-blower protection laws.

By revealing NSA programs to The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald and other journalists, Snowden showed that the agency broke privacy laws and exceeded its authority thousands of times a year, according to The New York Times. "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government," the Times editorial board wrote.

Snowden's critics argue that it is not clear that the NSA's activities are as nefarious as the Times makes out. There's a legal process to determine whether the NSA broke the law, and it is far from finished. So far, federal judges have ruled on both sides of that issue.

Plus, not all of Snowden's leaks dealt with possible invasions of US privacy. He revealed the extent and methods of US eavesdropping in China, British surveillance of South African and Turkish officials, NSA snooping aimed at various foreign leaders, and so forth. "He has, by individual fiat, leaked very extensive information," former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Jan. 5.

As a practical matter, it is hard to see the Obama administration backing down and offering Snowden a deal – just as it is hard to see Snowden accepting any prison time at the moment. The possibility of clemency may not be clear until challenges to certain NSA activities play out in the courts.

Meanwhile, it appears that Russia may continue to host Snowden for the foreseeable future. Though his current asylum deal is limited to a year, a key Russian lawmaker hinted at an extension during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“He will not be sent out of Russia,” said Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament. “It will be up to Snowden.”

Snowden himself says there is no way he can return to the US, given that under current laws he would not be able to get a fair trial. In an online chat Thursday organized by a group raising money for his defense, Snowden said that in legal proceedings he would be barred from arguing that he acted in the public interest by revealing the NSA’s mass surveillance activities.

While returning to the US might be “the best resolution for all parties” said Snowden in the chat, “it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws.”

“My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistleblower protection act reform,” Snowden argued.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) sits down for lunch before speaking at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Washington on Thursday. His comments on Democrats and women's libidos set off a firestorm. But Republicans weren't too happy, either, with his comments linking conservatives and Nazis. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Huckabee 'libido' speech: Did he call tea party Nazis, too?

By Staff writer / 01.24.14

Mike Huckabee is usually a pretty effective speaker. He’s folksy and cogent and smiles a lot, and that can soften the impact of his often-conservative social issue positions. But he sure created a stir on Thursday with his speech at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. Democrats are mad at him for his remarks about their party and women. And that’s not all – some tea party Republicans aren’t too pleased with what Mr. Huckabee said about them, too.

On the left it’s all about “libido." As we noted Thursday, Huckabee at one point said the GOP should fight harder for women’s votes. The party shouldn’t just sit back and take Democratic charges that Republicans wage a “war on women," the former Arkansas governor told the RNC crowd.

Then he said this: “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, so be it." 

It’s clear that Huckabee is trying to impute these retrograde beliefs to Democrats. But beyond that, his message was a bit muddied. And the whole subject is just bad news for the GOP, note Washington Post political experts Aaron Blake and Sean Sullivan.

The Democrats are much better at controlling their message in regard to access to birth control, and on the issue of federal contraception mandates, there is lots of enthusiasm for that on the Democratic side.

“The contraception issue is, quite frankly, not the GOP’s friend,” write Mr. Blake and Mr. Sullivan.

But much of the umbrage on this is coming from people who would never vote for Huckabee anyway, if he runs for president in 2016. In that context, it was Huckabee’s less-noticed remark about GOP intramural warfare that might damage his chance of winning the Republican nomination.

In his speech, Huck talked about how he wanted conservatives to stop calling more moderate Republicans RINOs – “Republicans in name only."

“Let’s stop calling each other somehow less Republican than someone else,” he said.

Then Huckabee mentioned that he would be going to Auschwitz next week and that the horror of the Holocaust began with the “devaluation of people."

How could an educated nation like Germany end up doing something so horrible?

“You realize that the only way you can end up there is when you start with the idea that people just aren’t as valuable as you are,” said Huckabee, linking the RINO issue with fascist atrocities in World War II.

Talk about umbrage. “Mike Huckabee Might Want to Rethink That Allusion to Nazis” read the headline on a piece by conservative thought leader Erick Erickson on the right-leaning RedState site.

Huckabee is getting beat up unfairly about the “libido” remark, wrote Mr. Erickson in the piece. But if somebody wants to, say, defeat Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in his Kentucky primary, that doesn’t make them a Nazi, he added.

“I hope he seriously reconsiders these remarks in his disagreements with conservatives. This is really uncalled for.... It makes one serious about reforming the size and scope of Washington power,” Erickson wrote.

Prior to his RNC speech, Huckabee indicated to reporters that he’s getting lots of positive signs about a presidential race and that he’s mulling it over. In some ways, the “libido” flap might help him with primary voters eager for a candidate to challenge Democrats on all fronts. But angering the tea party wing of the party might not be a good thing there. Huckabee’s past appeal in the party has partly been due to his ability to straddle the line between insurgent and establishment Republicans, and he surely does not want to attract the label "RINO" to himself.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Huckabee said in his speech Thursday that Republicans should fight harder to win women's votes. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Huckabee says Democrats believe women can't control their libidos. Huh? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 01.23.14

Possible 2016 GOP presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee said in a speech Thursday that Republicans should fight harder to win women's votes. In particular, Huckabee said his party should stress that it doesn’t believe women are “helpless and hopeless creatures” whose only desire is for government-provided birth control.

The former Arkansas governor added that many of the women he knows are intelligent and educated and capable of doing anything a man can do. Then he delivered a shot at Democrats which is lighting up social media like fireworks on July 4th.

Here’s the full quote: “And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than Democrats have made them out to be.”

Many on the left took umbrage at the charge that Democrats tell women they should be dependent on big government because they can’t control their urges.

“It sounds offensive to me, and to women,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney when asked about the remarks, which Huckabee made during a luncheon appearance at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting.

Others grated at the “Uncle Sugar” reference, noting that in the past Huckabee has used that formulation to refer to President Obama. “That’s ‘President Sugar’ to you,” tweeted one respondent.

Republicans, for their part, said Huckabee was just responding in kind to the Democrat’s charge that the GOP wages a “war on women.” The right-leaning National Review noted that a number of mainstream media figures initially mischaracterized Huckabee’s remarks, reporting that Huckabee himself believes women can’t control their libidos.

Mike Huckabee ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 and finished second in the delegate count behind Sen. John McCain. He was a favorite of evangelicals because of his combination of a folksy demeanor and conservative positions on abortion and other hot-button social issues.

Since then he’s made a living as a radio and TV talk show host. But he ended his show late last year, and has begun to hint that he may run again in 2016.

In fact, meeting with reporters prior to his Thursday RNC remarks, Huckabee sounded more than ever like he’s going to run.

“The encouragement has been much stronger than I anticipated,” he said, in reference to 2016.

If so, he may have to learn to dial it back. As Slate’s Dave Weigel points out, Huckabee has used the “libido” reference at least once before – during his Fox News show last Sunday, in fact.

“For Democrats to reduce women to beggars for cheap government funded birth control is demeaning to the women that I know who are far more complicated than their libido,” said Huckabee then.

As Weigel notes, that’s a crowd pleaser – for a select audience. If Huckabee really is going to run he may need to sort out the rhetoric he reserves for true believers from what he uses in forums where he’s likely to attract broader attention.

Because if nothing else, he’s created an excuse for Democrats to bring up past instances when he said things about women that some found insulting. For instance, in 2012 Huckabee wrote on his Facebook page that men may be better than women at multi-tasking due to the latter’s hormonal ups-and-downs.

That may not help the GOP in its effort to close its gender gap with Democrats.

As Steve Benen, a producer for the left-leaning Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, tweeted, "Huckabee helps prove one thing: GOP training on how to talk about women really isn't going well."

In this Jan. 17, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Obama's poor poll numbers: What do they mean for Democrats? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.23.14

With his State of the Union speech only five days away, President Obama faces poll numbers that remain pretty blah. The good news for the White House is that voters still appear to believe he’s a nice guy. The bad news for him – and the Democratic Party – is that a plurality of Americans still say he’s not doing his job well enough.

A new Associated Press/GfK poll demonstrates his residual personal appeal. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Mr. Obama is very or somewhat likeable. That’s an increase of nine percentage points since the end of the partial government shutdown in mid-October.

But there’s a cliché about where nice guys finish. Hint: It’s not first. That’s reflected in AP’s numbers, in that only 31 percent find Obama to be an outstanding or above average president. Forty-two percent rate his presidency as below-average or poor. Twenty-five percent say it's average.

A just-released CBS survey contains numbers that are better for Obama, but only just. It shows Americans almost exactly split on his merits, with 46 percent approving of Obama’s job performance, and 47 percent disapproving.

CBS notes that these numbers put Obama in a slightly better position at this point in his second term than George W. Bush. But he’s less popular than Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were at the start of their second terms, by a fair bit. Reagan’s approval rating in January 1986 was 65 percent.

Various poll results make this much clear: Obama’s approval rating remains underwater. According to the RealClearPolitics average of major polls, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s performance and 43 percent approve.

The president is not going to face voters again, of course, so for him these figures are to a certain extent irrelevant. But they could affect the Democratic Party as a whole, potentially making it even harder for Obama to get initiatives through Congress.

RealClearPolitics political analyst Sean Trende crunches the numbers on this in a long piece that’s attracting attention among experts at the moment. In short, Mr. Trende says there’s a relationship between the level of presidential approval and the vote share of the president’s party in congressional races. Applying Obama’s current numbers to the 2014 electoral landscape produces a mild surprise, says Trende: Right now it’s possible, even likely, that Republicans will win control of the Senate.

“If the president’s job approval is still around 43 percent in November – lower than it was on Election Day in 2010 – the question would probably not be whether the Democrats will hold the Senate, but whether Republicans can win 54 or 55 seats,” writes Trende.

Trende adds that he does not believe the “journalistic narrative” has caught up with the deterioration in Democratic electoral prospects for the Senate. That may be – but some other electoral experts are beginning to echo his findings.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” newsletter issued Thursday favors Republicans in four Democratic-held Senate seats that are up in November: Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Three other states with Democratic incumbents – Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina – are toss-ups, according to the “Crystal Ball.”

A number of factors will affect the outcome of these races, including who the actual candidates are.

“But it may also just be that midterm 2014 will simply produce a leveling effect, where overextended Democrats – they hold seats in seven states Mitt Romney won in 2012, while Republicans hold only one President Obama-state seat – simply lose some seats that, in a politically polarized era, they don’t have much business holding, particularly with a potential drag coming from an unpopular Democratic president in the White House,” write Larry Sabato and associates Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley.

Senate candidate Matt Bevin speaks at a meet and greet, Jan. 14, in Henderson, Ky. The Louisville businessman is running against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's GOP primary next May. (Mike Lawrence/The Gleaner/AP)

FreedomWorks endorses McConnell primary foe. Senate race tightening?

By Staff writer / 01.22.14

The conservative political group FreedomWorks on Wednesday endorsed Matt Bevin, the businessman who’s mounting a primary challenge to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky.

The nod wasn’t a shock. Mr. Bevin is a tea party favorite who is running to Senator McConnell’s right, and FreedomWorks is among the party activist groups trying to rid the GOP of what they consider to be Gumby-flexible establishment Republicans.

McConnell, who helped broker the deal that ended last year’s government shutdown, is high on the FreedomWorks hit list. As it endorsed Bevin, the group published a list of what it terms McConnell’s top 10 worst votes, which in its eyes include his vote in 2003 to pass President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D proposal; his 2008 vote to pass the TARP financial bailout bill; and his 2013 legislative maneuvering, which reopened the federal government and allowed Democrats to lever Obamacare implementation funding back into the federal budget.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal that his group's political action committee is ready to put as much as $500,000 into the Bevin race.

“The feedback we have gotten from activists on the ground all over Kentucky is, they want to elect Matt Bevin,” Mr. Kibbe told the Courier Journal.

In recent days, Bevin and his supporters in the party have been pushing stuff they see as good news in an attempt to build momentum behind his campaign. Wednesday’s FreedomWorks endorsement is one such bit. Another is a Jan. 2 Human Events/Gravis poll in which McConnell leads Bevin among Kentucky Republican voters by 22 points, 53 percent to 31 percent.

Yes, that seems like a big margin, but other pollsters earlier in the year put the gap between the candidates as big as 52 percentage points. Thus, the latest poll shows Bevin is catching up, writes influential conservative pundit and radio host Erick Erickson on the right-leaning RedState site.

“Objectively he’s closed a pretty significant gap,” writes Mr. Erickson. “More importantly, conservatives are only just now starting to turn full focus to the primaries. Kentucky may have one before June, but there is still time for conservatives to rally to Matt Bevin.”

As to finances, Bevin aides have said their fourth-quarter 2013 fundraising was strong, at $900,000, and that the campaign now has about $1 million in the bank.

He’ll probably need every penny. Bevin is facing more than an uphill battle. Taking on the wily McConnell is more like climbing a vertical rock face using only your hands.

Twenty-two points is still a hefty difference, and it’s possible that Bevin’s improvement in recent months reflects simply an increase in name recognition among Kentucky voters. As to money, McConnell had raised $12 million for the current political cycle through the end of September 2013. He had almost $10 million cash on hand. (His campaign hasn’t released fourth-quarter figures.)

Then there is style. McConnell in past campaigns has proved himself to be adept at identifying his opponents’ weak points, and hitting them over and over in ads. There’s a reason Democrat Ashley Judd decided to pass on this race, after all.

With Bevin, that may be his business record. His family bell-manufacturing firm is located in Connecticut, not the Blue Grass State. It took state aid money to rebuild after the factory burned down.

Thus, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore had this to say about Wednesday’s FreedomWorks endorsement: “A group that used to pride itself on grass-roots empowerment has endorsed a self-funding New England millionaire who takes taxpayer bailouts for his uninsured business, says he is a constitutionalist when he knows little about the Constitution and falsely claims he attended MIT.” 

McConnell ads already label his challenger “Bailout Bevin.” You can bet every Kentucky voter will hear that phrase in coming months – multiple times.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves as he stands with his wife Mary Pat Christie during a gathering for his swearing in for his second term Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Trenton, NJ. (Mel Evans/AP)

Should Chris Christie resign as head of Republican Governors Association? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 01.22.14

Should Chris Christie resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association? That’s what former Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli suggested Tuesday night on CNN’s “Crossfire.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said the Bridge-gate scandal swirling around the Christie administration could lessen the New Jersey governor’s ability to promote Republican ideas and might implicitly tie other GOP candidates to the affair.

“I think just from the perspective of setting aside this as an issue in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli is a conservative former Virginia attorney general who lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Old Dominion’s gubernatorial race last fall. He trailed McAuliffe substantially through much of the campaign, but in the end his margin of defeat was only about two and a half percentage points.

He’s the first prominent party figure to call for Christie to step down from his RGA post, or at least the most prominent so far.

Why is he speaking out? It’s possible this is political payback, just like the Fort Lee traffic jams ordered up by Christie aides.

Last November MSNBC’s Chuck Todd reported that Christie declined a request made by prominent GOP conservatives to campaign for Cuccinelli. (He also turned down invitations to stump for party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, if you remember.) Other possible 2016 nomination hopefuls, such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, did turn up to try and help Cuccinelli. As a relative moderate, Christie perhaps did not want to associate too closely with the tea party-backed Virginian. In the end he was conspicuous by his absence.

So Cuccinelli could be aiming a kick at somebody when they’re down.

There is little chance of Christie taking this suggestion seriously, however, at least for now. There’s no evidence he knew that top aides were conspiring to block lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. Absent further developments, for Christie to quit his party post would be to admit that the whole thing is a big deal and that his ability to raise money and campaign for other Republicans has been damaged, writes Allahpundit on the right-leaning Hot Air site.

“Once he admits that, he’s done in 2016. So he’ll press on and hope it either goes away or turns him into some sort of martyr of lefty media to Republican audiences,” Allahpundit writes.

The real danger for Christie here is that Cuccinelli’s dig might be the most public indication yet of a growing wariness about the New Jersey governor in the GOP’s rank-and-file. That would be particularly damaging if opposition grows among moderate and establishment Republicans, Christie’s natural base in the party.

Slate political reporter Dave Weigel says that he has started to hear concerns similar to Cuccinelli’s among Republicans, regardless of their personal affinities. He quotes Katon Dawson, a former GOP chair in South Carolina, to that effect.

“To most folks in my profession, it’s governorships we pay attention to. This all has the potential to affect the RGA and governor’s races if it grows any more legs,” Mr. Dawson told Weigel.

Christie was elected head of the RGA last November. The group enters the 2014 political cycle with a least $45 million cash-on-hand to fund political combat.

"In a critical year with 26 governor's races, Republican governors welcome [Christie's] leadership as Chairman of the RGA, and recognize that his record of accomplishment, broad political appeal, and tireless work ethic will be a tremendous asset in helping to win elections," said the organization's executive director Phil Cox last year.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves as he stands near his wife, Mary Pat, after he was sworn in for his second term Tuesday in Trenton, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP)

New Chris Christie polls: the number that might worry him most (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.21.14

Chris Christie’s poll numbers are getting worse. That’s no surprise given the nature of the Bridge-gate controversy.

The fact that Christie aides conspired to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., in an apparent act of political retribution has been extensively covered in national media. Though an early Pew poll showed the public wasn’t following this event too closely, later surveys show that negative views of the New Jersey governor are increasing. That may mean the stories are having an effect.

A Pew Research survey released Monday found that 34 percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of Governor Christie, for example. That’s double the 17 percent who held that view in January 2013.

Christie’s favorable ratings fell only slightly in that same poll, from 40 percent with a positive opinion of him one year ago to 38 percent today. But the implication of the above numbers is that, in national terms, Christie’s image has changed from that of a generally-unknown-yet-somewhat-well-regarded figure, to that of somebody about whom US voters are almost evenly split.

A Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday has similar findings, with a 33 percent positive, 30 percent negative result. Quinnipiac shows what this means in theoretical election terms: Christie now trails Hillary Clinton by 38 to 46 percent in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.

Only one short month ago, Christie led the former secretary of State and first lady by one point, 42 to 41.

“New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie’s 2016 presidential drive is stuck in traffic, sideswiped by Bridgegate, the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

For Christie, the good news is that 2016 is so far off that, in terms of overall voter opinions, these polls almost don’t matter. Many, many news events affecting the race will intervene before citizens actually go to the polls. The 2016 race indeed is underway, but at a different level. We’re in the “invisible primary” stage of the right now, in which big donors, campaign consultants, and party officials are weighing the strength and weaknesses of potential candidates to see who they’ll support.

But there is one particular number in the Pew poll which might concern Christie if he’s genuinely thinking about running for the Oval Office.

That figure? It’s the fast-declining percentage of people who say they have no opinion about Christie.

In 2013, fully 42 percent of respondents in Pew’s survey said that they had never heard of Christie, or didn’t know enough to have an opinion about him. In 2014, 28 percent said the same thing.

That’s a 14 percent swing. Coincidentally, Christie’s favorable/unfavorable matchup got worse by almost that same number – 17 percent – during that same time period.

People who don’t know you are people to whom you can still introduce yourself on your own terms. They’re easier to win over than people who’ve already heard something bad about you. That’s particularly true when “winning over” means “getting them to vote for you for president.”

To be fair, it’s just one poll. Quinnipiac’s numbers tell a different story. In their survey, the percentage of respondents who say they haven’t heard enough about Christie to have an opinion about him has actually increased a bit during the past year.

But in politics, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Christie must be hoping that Bridge-gate is not many voters’ introduction to his personality.

President Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. In an interview with New Yorker magazine released Sunday, the president made comments on marijuana use. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama's pot comments: The partisan reactions may surprise you (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.21.14

President Obama’s comments on marijuana continue to roil US politics Tuesday. Some pundits say Mr. Obama has brought needed perspective to the legalization debate by in essence playing down pot’s dangers. But others believe he’s wrong on the science of addiction and has made it harder for parents to handle a difficult issue with their kids.

“Whatever we decide to do in terms of legalization ... the president might at least refrain from giving every teen in the country a comeback to his parents (‘But the president says ...‘),” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on her conservative-leaning “Right Turn” blog.

In case you missed it, here’s the backstory: In an interview with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick released Sunday, the president said that marijuana is not any more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco in terms of its impact on individuals.

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama said.

The president told Mr. Remnick that he’s disturbed by the disparities in punishment for marijuana use. Minorities and poor people are more likely to be arrested and locked up for smoking or selling pot than are middle-class Americans, according to Obama.

But he added that he’s aware that pot legalization could lead to slippery-slope arguments about normalizing the use of other drugs. And the president said that as a parent he’s warned Sasha and Malia about the dangers of the drug.

“I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time,” said Obama.

Interestingly, political reaction to these statements cuts across partisan lines to some extent.

Some Republicans do argue that the GOP, as a party, should oppose legalization. Republican strategist Ed Rogers wrote Monday that “Republicans need to be clear: Marijuana use doesn’t lead to anything helpful or productive. The president won’t say so, but Republican leaders should.”

But others on the right argue that individual liberty would be increased and societal costs decreased if the US dialed back federal opposition to marijuana.

“We should at least be talking about reducing the penalties, danger, and illegality for a drug that society decided a long time ago it likes,” writes Allahpundit on the conservative-leaning "Hot Air" site.

Meanwhile, not all liberals agree with Obama’s comments. Chris Matthews, normally a reliable administration supporter, said on his MSNBC show “Hardball” Monday that Obama is wrong to say pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and chairman of the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, agreed with Mr. Matthews and added that today’s pot is much more potent and dangerous than the weed Obama smoked during his teenage “Choom Gang” days.

“He’s wrong when he says it isn’t very harmful,” said Mr. Kennedy on “Hardball.”

As to the possible reaction of voters, polls indicate that support for marijuana legalization has recently passed a threshold, with a majority in favor. Last October a Gallup survey found 58 percent of Americans said pot should be legal.

And Obama’s words may have political effects in the relatively short term. Other states are planning to follow Colorado and Washington State’s lead and put referenda on pot legalization on the ballot.

In Oregon, for instance, advocates are gathering signatures in a campaign that appears somewhat likely to put recreational marijuana use up to voters in 2014. The president’s position on the issue “will certainly have an impact on voters in the state of Oregon,” state Rep. Vicki Berger (R) told the Statesman Journal newspaper.

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