Democrats Appear to Have Won the Last Election of 2013
The second-to-last election result of this year comes from Alabama, where Republican Bradley Byrne easily took the coastal seat long held by the retired Jo Bonner. The press followed this race during the primary, when a spectacularly unprepared social conservative waved the Gadsden flag and led in some polls. Byrne won that primary by 6 points; he won the general election by a 2–1 margin against a Democrat who spent $6,000. Then he promised that "change" would come to Washington, because that's what every winning candidate says.
The last election, though—that's the one that should have ended six weeks ago. The race for attorney general of Virginia closed late, as Republicans realized that Ken Cuccinelli was blowing the governor's race and Democrats realized that they just needed to say the C-word in order to drag down Republican candidate Mark Obenshain. On election night, the GOP held on to a small lead—then a smaller lead, then a smaller lead, then no lead at all as Democrat Mark Herring ran ahead by 165 votes. Obenshain asked for a recount, which was fair enough in a race that close despite 2 million total votes cast.
The recount is not going his way. With 1,441 of 2,558 precincts recounted, Herring has more than trebled his lead, to 686 votes. Republicans might have taken solace in how the first counted precincts all came from Herring's Northern Virginia base. But the overall trend benefits Herring. A typical Republican stronghold, Virginia Beach found an equal amount of new Herring and Obenshain votes. York County, smaller but stronger for Obenshain, gave a net of 15 votes to Herring. Meanwhile, in Fairfax County alone, Herring scored 366 new votes. When you look at what's out, you see promising caches of Obenshain votes in places like Rockingham, but plenty of urban Herring votes still waiting to be counted.
How does this end? If Herring wins by, say, 324 votes, he'll have a larger lead than Bob McDonnell in his 2005 race for AG against poor Creigh Deeds. Obenshain's got the right to challenge the election in the state assembly. Republicans run the state assembly. But he'd be in the position of asking the state to overturn the election results in a race not quite as close as the one the party rightfully won eight years earlier.
Obenshain's legal team, asked about a possible challenge, has ruled nothing out. It needs to keep up speculation that something went fishy in Fairfax County. Right now, though, it looks like Democrats will end the year with their first sweep of all Virginia statewide offices since 1989.
The Moment Mitt Romney Realized He'd Lost the Presidency
Netflix just debuted the trailer for Mitt, its documentary about Willard M. Romney's failed White House bid. And while it doesn't contain any revelatory information about the Romney campaign, the trailer does show a side of the ever-composed candidate the electorate rarely saw in 2012.
You can't help feeling a little sorry for the guy:
We get a glimpse of the candidate his aides wish the public had gotten to see more—Romney ironing his suit, while he's wearing it. Romney sleeping on the floor of a campaign bus. Romney cracking wise! "A recent poll said that 43 percent of Americans are not even sure who you are," a newscaster intones on TV. "The flipping Mormon," Romney drolly replies.
The documentary comes out on Jan. 24. Seth Gordon, who worked on the film, also produced the excellent documentary Undefeated, which is about a hardscrabble high school football team from Memphis. What thread connects a millionaire Mormon who almost became president to a group of impoverished high school athletes? They want to win more than anyone else, and (spoiler alert) they don't.
Rand Paul and Ron Wyden Preview Their Next Moves Against the NSA
Judge Richard Leon's ruling against the NSA, and for Larry Klayman, has given brand-new energy to the legislators who've been screaming for reforms to spying programs. This year petered out without anything serious getting a vote.
"We're excited about it," said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul when asked about the ruling. "I'm excited that we're finally going from secret court to open court. It's important that constitutional questions be debated out in the open. I have an amendment that would have facilitated people who were challenged with a secret warrant to be able to challenge that in a public court. So we're excited by it. I hope the Supreme Court will take it and make it the law of the land."
The fact that the NSA critics' arguments were heard in open court, and so thunderously endorsed, has changed the way Paul, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, and the rest talk about this. "For literally years, senators were told, even when you're raising questions, no reason to sweat it, folks," Wyden told reporters, not skimping on the sarcasm. "The FISA court is taking care of it. The FISA court is overseeing it. They're saying everything's hunky-dory. Now you listen to the judges and they basically say they were lied to." The new judgment valiated what Wyden had been saying: "Bulk collection of all of these phone records is not inoffensive data collection."
And what did that mean for Paul's amendment? "All the people opposed to letting me have this amendment on the NSA and FISA, Republican and Democrat, have said, oh, you'll get your chance next year," said Paul. "The type of reforms that are coming from the establishment are people who don't believe collecting your information is spying. They have defined away the notion of spying by saying unless we collect all your phone calls, we're not doing surveillance. I don't accept their proposals for reform, nor do I accept it when the president says we'll just get a bunch of lawyers to talk to each other about it. The president was a constitutional lawyer, for pete's sake."
2014: The Year of the Obamacare Lawsuit (Again)
I'm just a little late to part of this story, but if you haven't paid attention to the latest legal challenges to Obamacare, or to the laws working their way through Republican-run states this year, treat yourself.
After the piece ran, Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler, who have come up with the intellectual reasoning for the lawsuits to block subsidies, emailed me to explain themselves further. Adler:
It’s not hard to find health law experts who believe we’re right, it’s just hard to find those a) support the law and are willing to go on the record with their views of the suit, or b) support the law and don’t contradict themselves (as Jost has in his series of arguments against us – having made arguments before that. (See, e.g., here.) I’ve been at quite a few academic conferences where liberal health law folks have told me that they’re afraid we’re right, but would rather not say.
There are four separate lawsuits in four separate courts. The federal government filed motions to dismiss in three of them – and lost all three (even though many of the folks now saying the suits had no chance had claimed the suits would be dismissed for lack of standing). If you want health law experts who aren’t full time defenders-of-ObamaCare-at-any-cost – and thus might give you an independent assessment of the merits of our argument -- they’re easy to find. Here are four (who, incidentally, have varying views about the policy merits of the law): Anup Malani (Chicago), David Hyman (Illinois), Nicholas Bagley (Michigan), and James Blumstein (Vanderbilt).
Why Republicans Should Go Ahead and Panic About Obama Declaring More Immigration Amnesty
The overall decline of Barack Obama's poll numbers has happened more quickly with certain demographic groups. The president stopped being popular among whites a very long time ago. He had plenty of ballast from Hispanic voters. But 2013 is ending without an immigration bill getting a vote in the House. One result of that is best seen here, in a triumphant tweet from a Republican strategist once tasked with the RNC's Hispanic outreach.
So should conservatives start the party, celebrate the legislative smothering of the reform bill? No, that's a horrible idea. Francis Wilkinson explains why:
In his first term, Obama's administration deported a record 1.5 million undocumented immigrants... Here's what Republicans actually said in their 2012 party platform: "The current Administration’s approach to immigration has undermined the rule of law at every turn."
Obama surely concluded a while back that he was not going to get any credit for being tough on deportation.
The Obama-era surge in deportations was generally understood, by progressives, to be a cynical table-setting move. Panic over mass illegal immigration would fall. Congress would become more amenable to immigration reform. The first part of the plan succeeded, and the second, so far, has failed. As soon as the president concludes that he can't get a bill through the House—and that could come this year, or after some 2014 election losses—does he look at the rest of his executive options?
Congress to Welcome a Black, Female Mormon Republican Next Year
That's the almost certain upshot of this news in Utah. Rep. Jim Matheson, who represents the reddest district in America currently held by a Democrat, is hanging it up. No more will Republicans look down the roll call, see "Matheson" among the one to three Democratic votes they picked up on some Obamacare repeal bill, and talk cheerfully about how said bill got "bipartisan support." (One of the first comments on Matheson's Facebook-announcement: "Can you start voting in FAVOR of health care now, then?")
This means a favorable electoral outlook for Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah (pop. 21,137) and the most beloved-by-Republicans 2012 candidate who couldn't pull off a win. "She is also one of the smartest congressional candidates," wrote one conservative website after publishing an interview with her, "and can quote Frederick Bastiat with the ease of an economics professor." She was also an African-American woman whose very existence (they hoped) could cancel out the "media narratives" about the racist, NuvaRing-hating GOP. She even opposed free school lunches!
Nonpartisan media were impressed, too. Sort of. Love had an irresistable story, and gave a decent speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. But she could seem off. When BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins interviewed her, Love asked him to put a fundraising button on the website, because "the time has come for us to no longer just stand on the sidelines and watch and see what happens." Reporters who looked close found a disorganized campaign, and a candidate who stumbled when pushed off message. When she managed to lose an election 1) in Utah, 2) with Mitt Romney leading the ticket, it confirmed the worst about her talents and the worst/best about Matheson's.
But he's not running anymore. Unless the Republicans who were unimpressed by Love last year manage to outorganize her at the state convention, the House will welcome its first-ever black female Republican.
In Virginia, a Swing Seat Is Born
The mild Virginia gerrymander of 2011 did plenty to lessen the risk of competitive congressional races. The state's three Democratic members of Congress got safer seats; the eight Republican members got the same thing. Only moderate Rep. Scott Rigell and Benghazi-investigating foreign policy maven Rep. Frank Wolf got sort-of-competitive seats. Wolf's went 48–47 for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in this year's race for governor, and 50–49 for Mitt Romney in last year's presidential race. He was safe.
Ah, but he's decided to retire.
As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom – both domestic and international – as well as matters of the culture and the American family. My passion for these issues has been influenced by the examples of President Ronald Reagan, former Congressmen Jack Kemp and Tony Hall, Chuck Colson, and the life of 10th century Member of Parliament William Wilberforce.
And so forth. Wolf, elected in 1980, had an iron grip on a wealthy district that increasingly elects Democrats to local offices and breeds top Republican talent, with easy access to donors and wonks. Until recently, Washingtonians thought Liz Cheney might run when Wolf retired. (Note this 2009 story in which Larry Sabato says Cheney shouldn't run in 2010 and wait instead for a "heavily Republican year.") But Cheney ended up moving to Wyoming and primarying Mike Enzi in a Senate race—a higher office, in an area with fewer voters than Northern Virginia.
Who else could run? Del. Barbara Comstock, a Republican fixer and pundit for years, won a 2009 race in the district on Bob McDonnell's coattails. She survived 2013, running far ahead of Ken Cuccinelli, aided as in 2009 by her rainmaking effect on big Republican donors. But Cuccinelli lives in the area, too, having represented much more of the district. Democrats haven't put up a decent candidate against Wolf in years, but after the government shutdown gave them armfuls of promising poll numbers, they enticed a Fairfax County supervisor, John Foust, to run.
If Democrats are able to wrench any gains from the shutdown, here's where they'd do it. If Republicans engineer a backlash to Obamacare among middle- and high-income voters whose plans now cost more, here's where they'd do it.
UPDATE: Former Alabama congressman Artur Davis, who is now 1) a Republican and 2) a district 10 resident, comments:
Today should be an occasion to reflect on Frank Wolf’s service and his leadership on issues from veterans to national security, and the brave compassion he demonstrated in casting votes on food stamps and immigration that reflect that conservatism can have a heart. I will monitor the field that develops in the next several weeks in the hope that a responsible center-right candidate will emerge, one who gives Republicans a chance to keep this district and who will represent the best of the Virginia Republican Party.
67–33: The Budget Gets Cloture, Republican Senators Trash House Republicans
A few days ago, after New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she'd oppose the budget, I suggested that worries about the sucker going down were overhyped. Those who needed to sooth/appeal to the GOP base would climb mountains to announce their "no" votes. The "aye" voters would just sort of walk into the chamber without fanfare.
This was the correct analysis, it turned out, though my speculation that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham would be an "aye" turned out to be totally wrong. The ayes: every single Democrat or independent, plus Lamar Alexander, Roy Blunt, Saxby Chambliss, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, John Hoeven, Johnny Isakson, Ron Johnson, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman.* Chambliss is retiring. Hatch, McCain, and Murkowski have defeated Tea Party challengers. Only Alexander and Collins are up in 2014, and have drawn weak opponents. Notable among the no votes: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who used to be a reliable "aye" for these sorts of deals, before he drew a Club for Growth-backed primary challenge.
What did the ayes and noes have in common? Senators who split on the cloture vote were united in their derision of the House. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who voted no because he wanted more long-term spending discipline in the budget, said that House Republicans put up a lame product to save face.
"I know that they had to overcome the antics that they displayed this fall, and they went out of their way to look like they had the ability to govern," he said. But it was the antics that put them in such a weak position in the first place. Then you had House appropriators who didn't want to live within the caps."
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who was on the conference committee that put together the budget, was just as cynical about the way Congress had compromised. "The Budget Control Act, which I didn't vote for because it didn't go far enough, has caps—and we can't even live within those," he said. But the deal provided "certainty," and Republicans needed to embrace that. "The shutdown did enough harm to the economy. We don't need to do even more harm by governing from crisis to crisis."
*Correction, Dec. 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson's first name.
The DeMint Julep, and Other Christmas Tales of #ThisTown
The D.C. "cocktail party circuit" is real, and never so real as it becomes in December. Your humble correspondent, who arguably peaked sometime in 2010, was nevertheless put on The List for a few of the city's think tank and media parties.
So: At the Americans for Tax Reform event, I grabbed a manhattan and talked with some conservative activists about how Obamacare was dooming the Democrats. Popular theory: The party would have to back away from the law, inasmuch as it could. The question was whether Democrats would be able to make the case for single-payer as a replacement (as Brian Schweitzer and his Montana acolytes do) or just run screaming from the wreckage. Seton Motley, who used to work for the Media Research Center and left to start a group called Less Government, was convinced that even Hillary Clinton would have to run against the law in 2016. As we talked, a TV screen ran through slides of the "naughty" and "nice" figures of 2013.
Ezra Klein: Nice, for writing a column that told Democrats to give up on tax increases in this year's budget brinkmanshop.
Sam Brownback: Nice, for leading a conservative policy revolution in Kansas.
Barack Obama: Naughty. No explanation given, though the photo on this was of the days-old Selfie Moment.
Over to the Heritage Foundation's Christmas party—Christmas, not holiday. This was for the media exclusively, and four cocktails had been rebranded for our enjoyment. Parampumpum Politico Punch; On Donner, On Blitzer (for CNN); Hark, the Herald (Jim) Angle Sings (for Fox News); and DeMint Julep. The new president of the think tank was sherpa'd from conversation to conversation by a staffer, rescued by another when the conversation went on too long.
Apparently, ours was one of the draggy convos. DeMint laughed when I called him Mr. President—"I still have business cards that say 'president-elect.' " He did not miss being in the Senate during crunch time, and was cheerful about the think tank's 2014 agenda, all positivity and educating the public on how the health care law was hurting them and inducing socialism. The only way Republicans could screw it up, he said, was if "they bring up immigration again." Little chance of that. Merry Christmas!
The Obamacare Guinea Pigs Report Back
Slate's been tracking a small group of Real Americans as they sign up for health care on the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. Their first reports, at the beginning of October, were uniformly negative. Nobody noticed—hey, the government was shut down! Their new reports reflect some actual experiences signing up. Still sort of negative, with a few bright beams of hope.
That's how the layman is experiencing and understanding the law. Sarah Kliff, who I'm pretty convinced is actually an Internet psuedonym for a collection of genius reporting robots, has a nice explanation of the delays that are confusing us dumber-than-layman types.