Backroom Deals: A Guide

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 8 2012 12:19 PM

Backroom Deals: A Guide

To hear the National Republican Senatorial Committee tell it, the Democratic hopefuls of 2012 are constantly flitting to and from backrooms, discussing deals, dreaming up ways to cheat the public. In Maine:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

In the wake of Chellie Pingree’s announcement today that she was bypassing a run for the Senate, the DSCC and other top Democrats have flatly denied any backroom deal with Independent Angus King, with both Senators Murray and Reid claiming that they’ve never even spoken with King. Notably, former DSCC Chuck Schumer was unable to offer a similar denial.
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In Nebraska:

After making a backroom deal to get Nebraska’s senior senator to vote for ObamaCare, it appears Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid has made a deal with an even more liberal Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The deal in question there: Kerrey says, without specificity, that the majority leader has offered some returning-senator perks if Kerrey wins. The Pingree story, too, is about discussions that the candidates had, then were asked about, then talked about as the press asked questions. What's the difference between a "backroom deal" and, you know, a "deal"?

"Ultimately that's up for the voters to decide," says NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. "In Ben Nelson's case, Harry Reid was fairly transparent that he was looking to buy Nelson's vote in return for what became known as the Cornhusker Kickback - but it was resoundingly rejected by voters in Nebraska even with that basic level of transparency.  In Bob Kerrey's case, however, he has refused to offer any details regarding what he himself acknowledges was a 'deal' -- no details at all."

Where do deals happen, though, if not "back rooms"? The "Cornhusker Kickback" -- a brilliant name, as it described money being handed to a state but sounded like money being handed in a briefcase to Nelson -- involved some negotiating that reporters sussed out right away. The Pingree and Kerrey "deals" were bog standard discussions of what it takes to get candidates to run.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.