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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. 

President Obama pauses during remarks about the Passover Eve killings of three people at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area, during an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House April 14, 2014. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)

Obama sticks to Easter in his weekend radio message. GOP, not so much.

By Staff writer / 04.19.14

This being an important religious weekend for Christians and Jews, President Obama took a break from his typically-partisan Saturday radio address to offer Easter and Passover greetings.

Sen. Lamar Alexander on behalf of the Republican Party? Not so much.

“These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago,” Obama said. “And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today. They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another. “

Sen. Alexander declared that “lifting the big wet blanket of Obama regulations will enable our free enterprise system to create plenty of jobs.”

Obama observed that “The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

“To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper,” he continued. “Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission.”

(What it means to be “my brother’s keeper” no doubt differs between pro-government progressives and anti-government conservatives.)

Alexander talked about the Affordable Care Act.

“Health care provides the most glaring difference between Republican enablers and Democrat mandators,” he said. “Too often, Obamacare cancels the policy you wanted to keep and tells you what policy to buy, even if it costs more and even if it restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals.”

“Republicans believe that freedom and more choices will empower you to find a policy that fits your needs and your budget,” the Tennessee Republican said.

Alexander did add a postscript appropriate to the season: “Thank you and very best wishes on this Easter weekend.”

It’s not that Republicans are irreligious – far from it, at least in terms of church attendance, according to polls. They’re more likely to attend regular religious services than Democrats.

It’s just that when you’re out of power – lost five out of the last six presidential votes – you’re a little more inclined to go after the guy in the White House. And this is an election year with the GOP eyeing a possible takeover of Senate control.

Sen. Alexander may have stuck to the Republican script in his radio address Saturday. But that doesn’t mean the GOP was slighting Easter and Passover.

“As Jewish families mark the start of Passover, I wish them a blessed celebration, surrounded by loved ones at the Seder table,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement this week.

He continued: “The Passover story is one of triumph over oppression. It is a time to commemorate the ancient story of the Exodus and to celebrate the rich traditions that have endured for millennia. The message of hope and of faithfulness resonates to this day. And as we mark the occasion here in America, we’re also mindful of Jewish families celebrating around the world, especially in Israel, our ally with whom we stand for the timeless values of freedom and liberty.”

(Oddly enough, there is no comparable Easter message on the RNC web site as there has been in past years, although the other day Mr. Priebus did tweet: “Today, we meditate on those most universal of human values: Peace, grace, and love. The joy of Easter will follow the pain of Good Friday.”)

It may not be the first thing on their mind, but any politician who talks about “our ally” Israel – or who hosts a Passover Seder at the White House, as Obama has done every year since he took office – is making a political statement.

Chelsea Clinton and her mother, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stand onstage before a No Ceilings conversation at Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York Thursday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Chelsea Clinton baby: Will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.17.14

The news that Chelsea Clinton is pregnant has triggered a royal baby watch, American-style.

Ms. Clinton, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announced Thursday that she is expecting her first child. She was speaking at the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York.

No word yet on when Clinton is due, or if she knows the sex of the baby. But we have to ask: How, if at all, might the news affect whether Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016? So far, she’s just thinking about running, but the pressure is fierce. Polls show she is far and away Democratic voters’ top pick. Political action committees have formed to promote a Hillary Clinton candidacy.

And now she’s about to get what she has long hoped for: a grandchild. Perhaps it’s sexist even to ask the question – how will a grandchild affect her decision – but until she announces either way, it will be out there. It must be noted that former President Clinton, too, has talked longingly about grandchildren. But as anyone who’s had children knows, there’s often nothing like the bond between mother and daughter when the first grandbaby is on the way. If we had to guess, we'd say that Hillary Clinton will be a tad less interested in running for president now that she's about to be a grandmother.

Last October, Chelsea Clinton told Glamour magazine that she hoped to have a baby soon with her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, whom she married in 2010.

“We want, God willing, to start a family. So we decided we were going to make 2014 the Year of the Baby. And please call my mother and tell her that,” Clinton said in Glamour’s profile of her in the November issue. “She asks us about it every single day.”

In January 2011, Bill Clinton was asked what he wanted to accomplish in the next decade, and being a grandfather was just about his first answer.

“I’d like to live, I’d like to be a grandfather. I have nothing to do with that achievement, but I would like it,” Clinton said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I would like to have a happy wife, and she won’t be unless she’s a grandmother.”

“It’s something she wants more than she wanted to be president,” he added, alluding to her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2008.

Hillary Clinton herself has said that “grandma” is “a title I would be proud to have.”

Of course, there’s nothing that says Hillary Clinton can’t be a grandmother and be president. In fact, being president in some ways fits better with family life than being secretary of State, which comes with constant world travel. Chelsea Clinton and her husband live in New York City – just a short hop from D.C.

Chelsea Clinton was speaking Thursday at a No Ceilings event sponsored by the Clinton Foundation and Microsoft. According to Politico, she said: "Marc and I are very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year and I certainly feel all the better, whether it's a girl or a boy, that she or he will grow up in a world full of so many strong young female leaders, so thank you for inspiring me and inspiring future generations including the one that we'll be lucky enough to welcome into our family later this year."

Then she made mention of her mom, adding: "I just hope that I will be as good a mom to my child ... as my mother was to me."

Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York is quite pleased with how Democrats did in first-quarter fundraising. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Democrats 'whooping' Republicans in fundraising game – or are they? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.16.14

One thing is clear from the first-quarter fundraising results: The 2014 midterms are likely to be the most expensive ever.

Another: Democrats are doing well, at least when it comes to money.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raised more than $10 million in March, and now sits on an impressive war chest of about $40 million, putting it at the top of party-linked campaign committees. (Last week, disclosures showed that the Democrats' campaign committee for Senate candidates raised $8.1 million in March, compared with the GOP's $6.3 million.) 

Not only that, an Associated Press tally of cash raised through independent groups in the first quarter gives Democrats a 3-to-1 edge over similar Republican groups. That number, though, is somewhat misleading, given how many conservative groups – including the Koch brothers' powerful Americans for Prosperity – don't have to disclose fundraising because of the way they're classified.

And that could be an enormous asterisk. In the new and murky world of political fundraising ushered in by the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling in 2010, "the two parties simply spend money especially outside money very differently," Politico concludes in a rundown of the fundraising tally.

Republican outside money is increasingly being run through groups like the Kochs' 501(c)4 and 501(c)6 groups that aren't required to disclose donors and don't disclose spending levels until much later. But most Democratic money goes through labor groups and "super political action committees."

"It’s an illusion that Democrats are winning the money race at this point," Politico says.

Steve Israel, the New York congressman and DCCC chair, praised what he called a "blistering fundraising pace" by the DCCC in a statement, adding that "Americans are hungry for a Congress that will buckle down and focus on creating jobs and strengthening the economy and that's why they're supporting the DCCC at record levels."

In terms of individual House and Senate races, the results are more mixed, though a Wall Street Journal analysis of the 53 most competitive House races gave Democrats a clear overall edge. The Democratic candidates had a combined total of $41.8 million in the bank and raised $14.9 million in the first quarter of 2014, compared with $30.1 million in the bank for the GOP candidates in those races and $13.8 million raised this past quarter.

"So far in the 2014 campaign, Democrats are whooping Republicans when it comes to raising money," the WSJ concluded, noting that in total, the Democratic Party has so far outraised the Republicans by nearly $100 million.

But the results for Republicans were positive in certain key races.

Among the "winners" cited in the Washington Post's analysis of the first-quarter fundraising results is Tom Cotton, the Republican challenging Arkansas' Democratic Sen. Tom Pryor for his seat. He raised $1.35 million to Pryor's $1.22 million.

In Alaska and Virginia, the top Republican challengers also posted good results. (In the case of Virginia, Republican challenger Ed Gillespie raised less than incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, with $2.2 million to Warner's $2.7 million, but Gillespie's number was particularly impressive given his late entry to the race.) While Senator Warner is still seen as the favorite, Gillespie's strong entrance could force Democrats to spend more money there than they had hoped.

"The Virginia state party was down in the dumps just a few months ago after losing the gubernatorial and two other statewide races in the wake of the federal government shutdown. Now with a viable Senate candidate, donors and activists have perked up," writes conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. "Every million dollars spent to save Warner’s seat is a million that can’t be used in Michigan or Arkansas or Colorado," writes Rubin.

State Sen. Joni Ernst, seen here during a debate for Iowa's open US Senate seat last month, has perhaps the most memorable campaign ad of the year so far, though a new one by an opponent of House Speaker John Boehner in Ohio makes the list. (Bill Neibergall/The Des Moines Register/AP/File)

How did John Boehner's opponent get his campaign ad to go viral? Humor. (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.15.14

More money than ever is sloshing around political campaigns, which means more ads and more competition for attention. So how does a lesser-known candidate break through? With humor.

Take J.D. Winteregg, one of three Republicans challenging House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio for his House seat. Mr. Winteregg’s campaign is the longest of long shots, but the tea partyer has put his name on the map with a video ad that has gone viral.

Called “When the Moment is Right,” it spoofs the ad for the virility drug Cialis – you know, the one where the couple winds up in separate bath tubs (which we’ve never quite understood). Winteregg’s humor is a tad suggestive for a family-friendly website, but we’ll go there, gently: It revolves around “electile dysfunction” and several other PG-13 topics.

Electile dysfunction “could be a question of blood flow,” the narrator says. “Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. too long, it goes to his head and he just can’t seem to get the job done.”

There are more jabs at the speaker for his famous tan, his affinity for cigarettes, and his love of golf, which he has played with President Obama on at least one occasion.

The Winteregg video, posted on YouTube Sunday night, is closing in on 100,000 views and has gotten play on cable news. That qualifies it as a viral hit – no mean feat for a 30-something French teacher.  

The record for most-viewed ad this cycle may belong to Joni Ernst, one of five Republicans running for their party’s nomination for the open Senate seat in Iowa.

The state senator’s opening line is a grabber: “I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” she says. “So when I get to Washington I’ll know how to cut pork.”

She ends with, “Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.”

The footage of adorable pigs is also grabby. Late night comedians ate up the 30-second spot, which has more than 500,000 hits on YouTube. And unlike Winteregg, Ms. Ernst actually has a shot at winning the June 3 primary, which means there should be an encore.  

"Of course, our goal was for people to watch long enough to learn about Joni Ernst," Lori Raad, the consultant behind the ad, told NPR. "I wouldn't have guessed that people would've linked to it to this extent, although you always hope."

Some old themes have come back this cycle, such as the candidate showing off his firearms prowess by shooting a piece of legislation. In 2010, Democratic Senate candidate Joe Manchin of West Virginia literally took aim at his own party’s environmental legislation, known as “cap and trade.”

Democrats weren’t too happy with the ad, but Mr. Manchin won the race. They were happy about that.

This cycle, it’s a GOP House candidate in Alabama, Will Brooke, wielding various firearms in a show of Second Amendment support as he shoots a rather hefty printout of the Obamacare law.

But let’s get back to funny. Georgia’s lively GOP Senate primary has given us two good ones. The first is just 15 seconds, and it’s for Rep. Paul Broun, a tea partyer.  

It begins with just words on the screen – “Should House Republicans surrender on amnesty for illegals or raising the debt ceiling?” – and the sound of footsteps.

In walks Congressman Broun, who stops, turns to the camera, and shouts, “No!”

OK, it’s not laugh out loud material, but it makes its point. And it’s short.

The leader in the Senate primary, businessman David Perdue, produced the more memorable image, a five-minute ad that introduced him to Georgia voters.

Part-way through, at 2:46, comes the money shot: a bunch of crying babies sitting on the floor, each in a white onesie with his or her name on it – the names of all his opponents in the Republican primary. It’s hard to beat babies for grabbing attention. Unless you’ve got squealing pigs and a female politician talking castration.

In February, the Atlantic online declared that the Georgia Senate race had the best ads of 2014 – so far. Now it's April, and the competition is heating up. What next, more demon sheep?

Then-newly-elected Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana before being sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 21, 2013. McAllister's videotaped smooching of a staffer 'is an embarrassment,' says Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

GOP wants 'kissing congressman' Vance McAllister out. Is he toast?

By Staff Writer / 04.11.14

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana, the “kissing congressman” caught on video snuggling with a staffer, is now facing enormous pressure from his own party to resign right now.

As in, immediately if not sooner. Don’t pass Go. Don’t collect another congressional pay stub. Don’t wait for November to see if voters will forgive his smooching someone not his wife.

Consider this tough statement issued Thursday by GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: “Congressman McAllister’s behavior is an embarrassment, and he should resign. He says he wants privacy to work on his issues with his family. The best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign from Congress.”

And this one from the Louisiana state Republican Party: “Mr. McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics. A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said pointedly that McAllister “has a decision to make.”

“I expect all members to be held to the highest ethical standards, and this is no different,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference.

This is rough stuff. You’d expect Democrats to be calling for the resignation of a Republican caught in scandal, and vice versa. But when your own party wants you gone, is it possible to survive in office?

Technically, yes. They can’t force McAllister to put pen to paper and quit. But from a practical standpoint McAllister, seems a soon-to-be-ex-congressman walking. At this point it would be almost unprecedented for him to stay in office and run for reelection in the fall.

“There is no powering through this episode, no matter what the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame has to say on the matter. To fight on would result in McAllister becoming a politically radioactive pariah within his caucus and almost certain defeat in the November general election,” writes Mike Bayham on the right-leaning Louisiana political blog “The Hayride.”

Yes, yes, perhaps the Louisiana state Republican Party is being a bit selective in its outrage here. Seven years ago, when Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana showed up on the call logs of a D.C. prostitution ring, the state party didn’t ask him to quit. Then-Congressman Jindal did not either. Left-leaning groups are trying to score a few points by dredging up this old incident and attempting to connect it to the McAllister affair.

But if you want consistency, make pudding. Politics is a matter of gauging opportunity and cost every day, and at this point McAllister is a much bigger drag on the GOP than Vitter was.

First, there’s video. One word: “YouTube.”

Second, McAllister would have to face voters in a few months. Senator Vitter had years to put the matter behind him before running for reelection.

Third, Vitter was much better at crisis management. He admitted to missteps, called party elders in contrition, and then went silent on the matter. McAllister has hinted that he’ll call in the FBI to investigate who leaked the tape. And he hasn't reached out to party officials to tell them what he’s going to do.

The bottom line is that Vitter was a state insider and McAllister is not. McAllister was an upset winner who defeated an official establishment candidate in a so-called “jungle” run-off primary. If he sticks it out and tries to win reelection he’ll get national media attention that would tarnish the GOP brand at a time when the party seems poised to keep the House and even win Senate control.

For the Republican Party, the stakes in the “kissing congressman” matter thus seem high. If he runs he’ll get no money or support from the GOP. (Of course, he won without the first time.) If he somehow gets reelected he may sit in his office wondering why that office is in the basement and has no window, and why his committee assignments are so bad, and whether the Republican whip will ever return his phone calls.

This May 4, 2011 image from video shows host David Letterman (l.) shaking hands with fellow talk show host Stephen Colbert of 'The Colbert Report,' during a surprise visit on the 'Late Show with David Letterman,' in New York. CBS on Thursday, April 10, 2014, announced that Colbert will succeed Letterman as the host of 'The Late Show.' (Worldwide Pants Inc./CBS/AP)

Stephen Colbert replaces David Letterman: How political will 'Late Show' be? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.10.14

It’s true – Stephen Colbert is taking over for David Letterman. On Thursday CBS announced that Mr. Colbert, the pretend-blowhard host of the fictionally right-leaning “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, will succeed Mr. Letterman as host of “The Late Show” in 2015.

Colbert has signed a five-year contract with CBS. His deal with Comedy Central expires at the end of the year, so for him, Letterman’s announcement that he was retiring came at a good time.

“Simply being a guest on David Letterman’s show has been a highlight of my career,” Colbert said in a statement. “I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave’s lead.”

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Colbert added that he was off to grind a Lettermanesque gap in his front teeth.

In the US government policy wonk-o-sphere, this news was the biggest thing going on Thursday afternoon. That’s because to this point Colbert has been a highly political performance artist, someone who’s testified before Congress on his (comedic) attempt to work as a migrant agricultural laborer, and set up his own nonprofit political organization to highlight the absurdities of US campaign finance law.

Sure, late night hosts have joked about presidents and other aspects of US politics for decades. But Colbert takes it to another level. He’s funny, and serious, in a funny kind of way.

“Truth is Colbert taking over Late Show probably more politically significant than notional passage of Ryan Budget,” tweeted Josh Marshall at the left-leaning Talking Points Memo site.

Remember, in 2012 an otherwise-reputable pollster decided to include Colbert’s name in a poll of South Carolina Republicans prior to that state’s primary. He got five percent – enough for him to announce that he was running for president. Not of the United States – of South Carolina.

“God bless America and God bless ‘Citizens United,’ ” Colbert said then, hat-tipping the Supreme Court decision that made his own super PAC possible.

Then Colbert’s super PAC paid for ads that purported to be against Colbert, but were really against the concept of super PACs, of which they made fun. Yes, it’s complicated – he’s a performance artist, like we said, not just a guy who tells jokes.

That’s why Washington is so excited about the prospect of a Colbert late night show. It’s like he’s a combination of Jack Paar and Ezra Klein. (Don’t know who that is? He’s a new wave wonk journalist – Google him.)

Of course, it’ll be interesting to see if Colbert’s presumed liberalism comes through more clearly in his new show. According to broadcast industry reporter Bill Carter of the New York Times, Colbert says he’s going to drop the blowhard right-wing persona, modeled at least partly on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

Who will Stephen Colbert be without “Stephen Colbert” as a shtick and shield?

“I can’t be the only one wondering of it’s going to be Stephen Colbert or “Stephen Colbert.” Is there even a Stephen Colbert left anymore?” tweeted Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor at The Federalist.

Others noted that Colbert talks occasionally about his own Catholicism in a serious way, so it will also be interesting to see how he handles the intersection of faith and public policy.

Meanwhile, other fictional political characters denied they’d been under consideration for the job. The Twitter feed of “Richard Nixon” posted a comment from Nixon press secretary “Ron Ziegler,” saying that “President Nixon was never in contact with CBS regarding any open position. His feelings regarding that network are well known.”

That clears that up, anyway.

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Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Angus King (I) of Maine listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 11, 2014. King, who currently sides with the Democratic Party, says he might flip to GOP. (Lauren Victoria Burke/AP/File)

Maine Sen. Angus King says he might flip to GOP. Would they take him? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.10.14

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who currently sides with the Democratic Party, says he is considering crossing the aisle and caucusing with Republicans following the November midterm elections.

“I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine,” Senator King told The Hill Wednesday.

If King made this move Republicans would need to gain only five seats to control the chamber, instead of the current six. That could set up a bidding war for his services – if the GOP is right on the edge of ruling the Senate, they might offer King better committee spots to entice him to their side.

Or Democrats could up the ante to retain him.

If Republicans win the Senate outright, snagging King could increase their margin and give party leaders a cushion for tough votes to come.

So in a pure power sense, this offer is logical. King could maximize the political benefits flowing to the state of Maine by in effect auctioning his vote for Majority Leader to the highest bidder.

That probably would be fine with Maine’s voters, given that the state as a whole doesn’t particularly tilt in either partisan direction. King replaced the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican, by winning election in 2012. The other Maine senator, Susan Collins, is another middle-of-the-roader. King does not need the state Democratic Party behind him to win elections – he’s a declared independent, after all.

And King has warned he might do this. When he originally took his seat he said that being in the majority was something that was good for his constituents. That’s why he’s aligned with the Democrats so far, he says – they’re the ones in charge. For the moment.

But would King be comfortable in today’s Republican Party? Would they even accept him?

The answers to those questions aren’t obvious, because to conservatives, the “I” next to King’s name doesn’t matter. To them he’s a Democrat. Yes, the party might get more power by accepting him, but ideology is already a problem in the GOP, given the struggles between establishment Republicans and tea party-leaning insurgents.

It’s not clear how King would actually help the GOP pass an agenda, writes Jim Geraghty in the National Review, given that the American Conservative Union rates his past voting record as only 13 out of a hundred.

“I guess if you’re an independent, craven opportunism can be considered a form of helping your constituents,” Mr. Geraghty writes.

Indeed, National Journal’s rankings, based on recorded votes, place King as more liberal than 11 of the Senate’s current Democrats. He supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” He’s pushed for controls on ammunition magazines for semi-automatic weapons.

“So going GOP might be a stretch,” tweeted Washington Post political writer Aaron Blake Thursday.

GOP officials contacted King in 2012 to gauge whether he’d actually join their caucus. They’re likely to do that again after the 2014 vote, no matter who wins the Senate. That’s just politics 101.

But don’t expect them to woo King, writes Ed Morrissey Thursday at the right-leaning Hot Air site. In the event they win only five seats, and need another to take control of the chamber, the GOP might first target Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, according to National Journal rankings.

“Manchin’s voting record is closer to the GOP than King’s, and the trend in his home state might make him more reliable, too,” writes Morrissey.

House Speaker John Boehner (l.) holds a ceremonial swearing-in for newly elected Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana, as his wife, Kelly, looks on at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 21, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

'Kissing congressman' won't ask for FBI probe of video leak. Wise move? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.09.14

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana has decided that he will not – repeat not – ask federal authorities to investigate who leaked to news media a surveillance video showing him kissing a staff member who is not his wife.

That’s what his hometown paper from Monroe, La., The News-Star, is reporting Wednesday, anyway. Congressman McAllister’s office issued a statement on this question Wednesday afternoon.

“Congressman McAllister’s office will not pursue an FBI investigation at this time regarding the distribution of a video filmed in leased federal office space. Congressman McAllister is focused on earning back the trust of those he has disappointed, and he reiterates his request for privacy for his family during this difficult period,” said the statement.

This marks a turnabout from earlier reports that McAllister would indeed ask the feds to track down the person or persons who exposed his alleged infidelity to the world. The Capitol Police, not the FBI, might have been the relevant agency here, by the way. They handle security for members of Congress. The FBI might have come in later, if at all.

We say the “no go” decision here is a wise one. Look, it’s understandable how McAllister might have wanted to get his mitts on the person who leaked the video, metaphorically speaking. He’s maybe angry and humiliated. His best chance at political survival might be to frame his exposure as a conspiracy carried out by partisan enemies.

And he’s got lots of those, ranging from the Republican and Democratic candidates he defeated to win his Louisiana district in a special election last November to some national groups who consider him insufficiently conservative on such questions as the expansion of Medicaid in his state. (He’s for it.)

But asking for an FBI investigation? Lots of folks in D.C. just shook their heads when they heard that proposal. From a public relations standpoint, what McAllister needs to do is get past the news cycle as quickly as possible, and hope the scandal fades before he faces the voters in a regular election this November.

“Dumb move. Extends news cycle of his cheating,” tweeted Emily Miller, senior opinion editor of The Washington Times, of the possible probe.

Plus, voters in his district aren’t dying to know the identity of the leaker. OK, maybe they are – it’s interesting, in a gossipy kind of way. But McAllister’s own behavior, not somebody else’s, will likely determine his congressional future.

“Something tells me the source of the leaked video is not the question most voters wanted answered in this case,” tweeted Michael Barbaro, political reporter for The New York Times.

Perhaps senior House Republicans advised McAllister that calling in the feds would not be a popular move at the moment. So far, they have kept him at a distance in public but have refrained from calling for his resignation. House majority leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday, for instance, that he was pleased McAllister had offered an apology to his district, and that he would “reserve further judgment” on the scandal pending developments.

Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday. It could be an uphill fight for Democrats to keep him in the Senate majority leader seat. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Democrats raise more than the GOP for US Senate races: Big deal?

By Staff writer / 04.09.14

The Democratic Party campaign committee that supports Senate candidates raised more money than its Republican counterpart in March: $8.1 million, as opposed to the GOP’s $6.3 million.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has now outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in 13 of the past 15 months, according to a report by the Associated Press. The DSCC is sitting on $22 million in its bank account while the NRSC has $16 million.

Wow, this is kind of a political man-bites-pooch story, isn’t it? The Democrats have been insisting that the wealthy and conservative Koch brothers may buy control of the Senate for Republicans via their contributions to outside groups, yet it is the Democrats themselves who have the edge in a key inside party financing measure.

Will this make a difference in November?

Well, we’d say don’t go to an online betting site and put down money on Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada remaining Senate majority leader next year.

“They’re gonna need it. Every cent,” tweeted NRSC strategist Brad Dayspring in regards to the DSCC numbers.

First of all, this figure deals with just one of the streams of cash that will pay for Senate campaigns throughout the year. As noted above, outside groups that aren’t supposed to directly coordinate with candidates will throw tens of millions of dollars into Senate-related ads. Given the Koch brothers and other deep-pocketed backers, the GOP will do quite well in this regard.

Second, the advantage here really isn’t that big. A dirty secret of big politics is that on the national level, the parties are roughly equal and their money just cancels each other out. The gang at NBC’s “First Read” notes that truism Wednesday in a bit on how big piles of cash do not guarantee a big vote. If it did, billionaire Sheldon Adelson would have funded the success of President Newt Gingrich. Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have successfully backed the passage of gun control measures nationwide.

“While money can buy you many things in American politics, it doesn’t always buy you victory,” write Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann.

And third, Democrats face a structural disadvantage in the coming midterm vote that money won’t be able to erase. They are defending many more vulnerable Democratic Senate seats than the GOP is defending vulnerable Republicans. Some 11 or 12 current Democrat-held seats may be up for grabs. If Republicans just win all the Senate races in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, they’ll take control of the chamber.

That said, the DSCC haul is not a bad thing. It’s better to have enough money than not, obviously. And the cash may help them overcome another structural problem: Democrats in general turn out for midterms at a lower rate than do Republicans. That’s because Republicans tend to be older and wealthier, two characteristics associated with higher turnout percentages.

Writing in the Huffington Post, George Mason University associate professor Michael P. McDonald notes that Democrats managed a much-better-than-usual turnout in 2006. One thing that might help duplicate this success would be astute organization – and cash.

“Planned attempts by Democratic organizations to build a presidential-style field operation to mobilize those who typically drop out in a midterm election can be important to tilting the playing field,” McDonald writes.

[Editor's note: The subhead for this story incorrectly described how the $6 million figure relates to Democrats.]

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana waits to be sworn in at the Capitol in Washington in this 2013 file photo. A Louisiana newspaper published a video that it says shows the congressman kissing a female staffer in his congressional office in Monroe, La. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

'Kissing congressman' Vance McAllister: Will voters forgive transgression? (+video)

By Staff writer / 04.08.14

Rep. Vance McAllister (R) of Louisiana is in a lot of trouble. The married father of five was allegedly caught on surveillance tape kissing a staff member who was not his wife, and that tape has now been leaked to the world at large. Representative McAllister’s office in Washington was locked on Monday following the story’s release and in the afternoon he issued a lengthy apology.

“There is no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness. I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve,” said McAllister.

The alleged incident occurred in a district office in Monroe, La. The staff member was identified in the local Ouachita Citizen, which broke the story, as Melissa Peacock. Campaign finance records show that both Ms. Peacock and her husband have been staunch financial supporters of McAllister.

McAllister has only been in office a few months. He won a special election in a heavily Republican district in November to replace Rep. Rodney Alexander (R), who resigned to take a position in the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

McAllister upset a favored candidate with ties to the state GOP establishment to get his seat in Washington, riding an endorsement by the Robertson clan of "Duck Dynasty" fame. His ads emphasized his family and support for traditional values. While conservative, he has taken at least one surprising position: He has come out in favor of expanding Medicaid in the state as provided for by the Affordable Care Act, saying that to do otherwise would just divert some of his constituents’ taxes to other states.

On Tuesday, McAllister’s office announced that Peacock was no longer in his employ, and that the congressman planned to stay in office and run for reelection to a full two-year term in November. Will his apparent transgression hurt him with voters, making this effort an uphill climb?

Possibly not. In polls voters usually say they are less bothered by political extramarital incidents than by out-and-out monetary corruption.

A Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday (good timing) asked respondents to rate a hypothetical congressman who was only described as a married man of middle age who is working to develop policies to help middle-class families.

One group of respondents was told this congressman had been unfaithful to his wife. Of those, 49 percent said they would not, or probably would not, vote for him.

A separate group was told the congressman had created a new well-paid staff position to hire an unqualified family member. Of these voters, a whopping 67 percent said they would not or probably would not cast a ballot for the lawmaker.

“Voters clearly see a difference between personal and official scandals. Committing adultery is far less damaging to a politician than abusing their office,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement.

Other surveys have found broadly similar results. Last year a BusinessInsider poll found that only 28 percent of respondents would definitely stop supporting a candidate due to adultery.

Does that mean McAllister might win reelection? After all, he’s got a role model of sorts in Congress now. Rep. Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina won a House seat last fall despite the revelation when he was governor that he had a long-running affair with an Argentine woman.

Well, McAllister’s future depends heavily on the circumstances of his particular case, not just general approval or disapproval of political adultery. And right now those circumstances, for him, may be pushing the meter towards “loser.”

Representative Sanford’s transgression took place long prior to his congressional election, for instance. For McAllister, November really isn’t that far away. His emphasis on his family during the campaign could also cause voters to see him a harsher light, due to the apparent hypocrisy involved.

In the Quinnipiac survey, when respondents were told that the congressman facing a sex scandal had promoted family values in his campaign, his vote share cratered, with only 28 percent of voters saying they would continue to support him.

In addition, there is video. That matters in today’s social media age. Voters in his district will see the tape over and over prior to the 2014 election. And right now there is at least one aggrieved party: Peacock’s husband. He’s lashed out, saying his life has been “wrecked” by McAllister, according to CNN.

Voters do make a distinction between private and public behavior. Otherwise Bill Clinton’s presidency might have ended prematurely. Sen. David Vitter (R) of Louisiana remains in office despite his phone number surfacing during investigation of the “DC Madam” prostitution ring. Senator Vitter has even declared that he will run for governor of Louisiana in 2015 to replace the term-limited Jindal.

The question for McAllister will be whether voters make a similar distinction in his case.

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