Reporting on Politics and Policy.

June 30 2014 12:00 PM

How a Senate Race in Colorado Proves That “Hobby Lobby” Is Good for Democrat(ic Candidate)s

If you're a progressive in the year 2014, you think of the Supreme Court and the Jaws theme starts thud-thudding in your brain. Ever since 2006, when Sandra Day O'Connor's swing vote was replaced by Sam Alito's Federalist Society autopen, the high court has been slanted right. Anything you believe in can, theoretically, be undone until it slants the other way. Gay rights aside, no progressive cause is safe from the strict-constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. Today's Harris decision is already widely understood as Alito laying the groundwork for a stronger future case to basically implode public-sector unions.

This is why the Hobby Lobby decision is narrowly helpful for Democrats.

Hear me out! There is a reason why progressive legal observers keep nervously asking if Ruth Bader Ginsburg will retire soon. Democrats have a strong 55-seat Senate majority until January 2015. According to current polling, even if the rest of the close Senate races broke their way this year, come January that majority would be reduced to 50 seats. (Vice President Biden would break ties.) That assumes that Democrats don't bungle away the seats in states that voted for President Obama, like Colorado and Iowa. In a Senate controlled by Republicans, in the new toxic environment of SCOTUS warfare, it's very hard to imagine Ginsburg (or Stephen Breyer) being replaced by someone as reliably progressive.*

On the margins—as seen in the inboxes of anyone who gets end-of-quarter fundraising emails from candidates—Hobby Lobby elevates an issue that scares Democratic voters. The birth control coverage mandate was widely popular before today's decision. Democrats in Colorado and Alaska had been battering their likely opponents by portraying them as enemies of birth control and choice. In Colorado—an example I like because both Sen. Mark Udall and challenger Rep. Cory Gardner are quite adroit—Udall hammered Gardner's support for a fetal personhood amendment, and Gardner countered late by coming out for making birth control more available. He reacted to the Hobby Lobby decision with similar acrobatics:

The court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment. The Food and Drug Administration now needs to move quickly to make oral contraceptives available to adults without a prescription.

Gardner quickly blurted "religious liberty!" and scrambled to portray himself as pro-contraception access. The lesson: Democrats have more to gain if voters (unmarried women especially) start to believe that the 2014 election will chip away at reproductive rights. It's the sort of thing Democrats always say, about every election, but here's a fresh issue, a fresh reminder that they might not be happy with the party but do they really want more Alitos on the bench?

*The last Supreme Court nominee to lose a nomination outright was Robert Bork, defeated by the Democratic Senate elected in 1986. Technically, sure, any SCOTUS nominee can be filibustered, but this has not been tried since the 1968 Abe Fortas nomination, and not tried at all in the modern era of the 60-vote threshold.

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June 30 2014 10:58 AM

A Hot Day at SCOTUS

Knowing that my Slate colleagues would climb all over the details of today's SCOTUS decisions, I spent the late morning at the circus. Around 10 a.m. I ducked around the cement truck that cuts off the space in front of the court, and saw a sign reading "CWA."

What was this? Were labor groups rallying outside the court to react to Harris v. Quinn, the case that threatened to undermine public-sector unions by freeing some workers from paying dues?

No, it was a sign for the faded but still omnipresent Concerned Women for America, in a cluster of protesters waiting for the Hobby Lobby decision. There was no labor presence there to react or chant when Harris came down, and no one in the crowd was really talking about it. (Lucky for labor, the decision fell far short of the precedent-slashing, union-killing nightmare that was imagined when Sam Alito was announced as the author. "Partial public employees" would be spared from paying dues, but not other workers.)

The abortion rights protesters ran the square, with their most camera-friendly interns and staffers lofting signs, joined by the mainstays of all abortion decision circuses. The "truth truck" guy, who drives around the city with a vehicle wrapped by pictures of dead fetuses. The dude wearing a Bible costume that covered his entire body, exposing only his lower legs and black-socked ankles.

I navigated past the crowd, which meant skipping the pro-life groups (who were giving reporters some quotes about how the left dehumanized women) and standing among the pro-choicers. They had adapted the amusingly realistic chant now being deployed for the U.S. soccer team: I believe! I believe that! I believe that we! I believe that we will! I believe that we will win!

The chanting made even less sense in the context of an Alito-written opinion, being handed off and run over to reporters, than in the context of a busy soccer game. Around 10:20, a cheer went up from the distant pro-life cluster. They had read the decision, and they'd won; the majority even took for granted that "plaintiffs have religious reasons for providing health-insurance coverage for their employees."

The pro-choicers around me shared a look, then jumped right into a new chant: "Pro-life, that's a lie, you don't care if women die." Belief isn't everything, unless you happen to own a hobby supply chain.

June 30 2014 8:41 AM

Ted Cruz and the Walter Mondale Myth

I'm back from a book-writing jaunt (sadly, not a book-completing jaunt, not yet), and what better way to return to the fray of politics than by discussing the 1984 presidential election?

The umpteenth entry in the ongoing Ted Cruz profile series comes from Jeffrey Toobin, and it's a good 'un. A very meta one, too. Toobin manages to get Cruz, who prefers to stick to tested themes, describing his theory of argument. "Every battle is won before it’s fought," says Cruz, describing how he argued cases. "It’s won by choosing the terrain on which it will be fought."

Toobin ends up adopting Cruz's framing for many key events, from the defeat of the disabilities treaty (which plenty of conservatives lobbied on) to the "wacko birds" insult (which John McCain quoted from a WSJ op-ed, and which Cruz happily repeats for crowds), to the government shutdown. "While the government was closed," writes Toobin, "the Obamacare Web site, healthcare.gov, made its disastrous début, and the polls turned against the Democrats."

In reality, the two-week shutdown ended after Democrats bounced in the polls. The swoon only came after it ended, and media attention returned to the HealthCare.gov debacle. Had there been no shutdown, had the media been focused on HealthCare.gov during the nadir—remember the first day, when only six human beings could sign up?—the swoon would have come earlier and harder.* But in the nation's most prestigious magazine, the narrative of the shutdown is the one preferred by Cruz.

Anyway, not my point. I come to quibble with Toobin and an anonymous Democrat.

Cruz’s concerted attempt to establish himself as the most extreme conservative in the race for the Republican nomination has not evoked much fear in Democrats. “We all hope he runs,” one Democratic senator told me. “He’s their Mondale.” (Running against Reagan as an unalloyed liberal in 1984, Walter Mondale lost every state but his native Minnesota.)

The idea that Walter Mondale lost that election so badly because he ran too far to the left is really unkillable. It's a little simpler than the truth. Mondale only won his nomination after an extended primary fight with Gary Hart, and yes, he did represent the labor and progressive wings of the party against Hart's studied reform politics. But the "Mondale ran to the left" trope is based on a commonly misunderstood line from his 1984 acceptance speech. Here is how it's remembered.

Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.

The "lesson" is that Mondale promised to raise taxes and voters rejected it. But why was he saying this? Read the whole section of the speech.

Here is the truth about the future: We are living on borrowed money and borrowed time. These deficits hike interest rates, clobber exports, stunt investment, kill jobs, undermine growth, cheat our kids, and shrink our future.
Whoever is inaugurated in January, the American people will have to pay Mr. Reagan's bills. The budget will be squeezed. Taxes will go up. And anyone who says they won't is not telling the truth to the American people.
I mean business. By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds.
Let's tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.
There's another difference. When he raises taxes, it won't be done fairly. He will sock it to average-income families again, and leave his rich friends alone. And I won't stand for it. And neither will you and neither will the American people.
To the corporations and freeloaders who play the loopholes or pay no taxes, my message is: Your free ride is over.
To the Congress, my message is: We must cut spending and pay as we go. If you don't hold the line, I will: That's what the veto is for.

Mondale's tax line was a deficit-scold line. And it wasn't a one-off. Mondale's campaign ads asked voters to consider what the future would hold if Reagan kept running deficits. “There are plans today to put you $18,000 in debt: your share of Mr. Reagan's deficits," ran one ad. "But when Mondale moves into the White House, he won't forget about your place. He'll cut spending, close tax loopholes, and put new taxes in a trust fund to pay off Reagan's debt.”

 

The problem with this was that voters didn't truly worry about the deficits when the economy was growing. The recession of the early 1980s had ended by the time Mondale won his party's nomination—what had looked like a valuable chance to challenge a failing president had become basically worthless. (In the winter of 1982, polls showed that either Mondale or Ted Kennedy would beat Reagan.) Mondale tried to counteract this by insisting that the good times were based on a bubble of bad debt.

“Ronald Reagan says the economy is moving up," read one ad. "It is: up on a mountain of debt and record Reagan deficits. More borrowing than all the other presidents in history combined. That will drive interest rates up, slow the economy down,”

 

Several points here. One, most obviously, the out-of-power party doesn't run well when the economy is booming. Two, the deficit-scold message only works when the economy is slumping. (That's a little frustrating, as these are the times when deficit spending makes the most sense.) Three, it's better to get "the narrative" right, but convincing the media you got it right and convincing the voters are actually different skills.

*I remember this vividly, because I crowdsourced a story about how a few people without insurance were adapting to Obamacare, and to my surprise none of the subjects could log on.

June 25 2014 5:46 PM

New IRS Scandal: Lois Lerner Thought About Doing Something, Then Didn’t Do It

Like many people who were supposed to be finishing something, I wasted a little time on Facebook today, and came across a Republican friend's reaction to a new break in the IRS scandal. This, he said, was the story "going nuclear"—this discovery by the Ways and Means Committee that there was a "push to audit Senator Chuck Grassley."

Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) announced the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative individuals includes a sitting United States Senator.  According to emails reviewed by the Committee under its Section 6103 authority, which allows the Committee to review confidential taxpayer information, Lois Lerner sought to have Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) referred for IRS examination. 
 
“We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” said Camp.  “At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights."

That certainly sounds bad, but given that the news of the IRS "losing" years of Lerner emails had effectively restarted the scandal, I'm not sure this strange and less-than-it-seems story amounts to Chernobyl. What did Lerner actually do? The timeline is provided by Ways and Means in the form of an email that includes previous emails in a string. I'll just post them chronologically. In the first email, from Dec. 3, 2012, we see a sort of garbled reminder that Lerner should attend a [redacted] event.

The next morning, Lerner asks Matthew Giuliano, an attorney who was at the time a manager at the IRS, if the invitation was kosher.

Giuliano quickly responds. (The time stamps don't match up here, but this appears as a response to the above email.)

To which Lerner responds:

That's it. That's the whole discussion. Lerner is ridiculously quick on the trigger to suggest referring the invitation to "exam," but even there, it's not clear that she wants Grassley referred as much as she wants an invitation that appears to be flouting rules. After she gets an explanation of everything it would take for Grassley to be at fault, Lerner shrugs and adds that she wouldn't want to share a stage at the event, the details of which, again, are obscured. That's a "push to audit" the senator?

I'm not naive enough to think the lack of things happening here means there's no story. When I asked the Twitterverse what the scandal was, I was asked rhetorically whether I was "okay" with Lerner's aborted audit and her itch to "criminalize GOPers." Let me be clear: I am as much against Lerner's "audit of Chuck Grassley" as I am Lerner's decision to set a school bus on fire and cut the brakes, watching it careen off a bridge and into a canyon. As she appears to have done neither of these horrible things, I'd argue that the vanishing of the IRS's and EPA's tranches of emails, for reasons that confound techies, are much more scandalous than the hour Lerner apparently spent wondering if she had to refer a senatorial speaking invitation to the exam department.

(It would be nice to ask Lerner what she meant, but she's hardly doing an AMA right now.)

Update: Missed this before, but the AP appears to have been the first on the "Grassley audit" story with a story headlined: "Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator." You have to read down to the fifth graf to learn this:

It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited — or both. The other IRS official, Matthew Giuliano, waived her off, saying an audit would be premature because Grassley hadn't even accepted the invitation.

Unclear what Lerner was suggesting, but clear enough for a screaming headline confirming that she "sought an audit" of a pesky Republican senator.

Update II: Why overstate the story in a headline when you can perform some surgery on the emails themselves? At Townhall.com, Katie Pavlich files a story titled "Lois Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator Chuck Grassley," adds the detail that Lerner opened email that "didn't belong to her in the first place" (it was sent to her), and quotes Lerner as writing "Perhaps refer him to exam?" The actual quote, in the emails printed at this blog and at Townhall, was the slightly more cryptic "Perhaps we should refer to Exam?" But that phrasing leaves some confusion as to whether Lerner meant Grassley or the group, so out it goes.

Update III: A friendly reader with knowledge of the tax-exempt divisions department writes in:

There's no possible way Lois actually had any authority to refer Grassley himself to Exam. She was the director of Exempt Organizations, for God's sake, one office in TE/GE, an IRS backwater. An audit of Grassley would have come from an entirely different operating division, Wage and Investment (W&I). The IRS is like a corporation with several subsidiaries. What's being suggested here makes as much sense as someone about five levels deep in Disney Cruise Lines calling Marvel Studios and telling them they should really think about a Howard the Duck reboot and would be received with a similar response.

OK, so let's look at which media outlets botched the story in the endless quest for a good headline and a Drudge link.

"Emails Reveal Former IRS Official At Center Of Scandal Suggested Targeting A Sitting GOP Senator For Audit" (Business Insider)

"Lerner sought IRS audit of sitting GOP senator, emails show" (Fox News)

"Lois Lerner of IRS sought audit of Grassley, emails say" (Des Moines Register)

Those headlines are as fake as Chuck Grassley's reaction to the story is confusing. In a statement last night—released 18 months after the emails were exchanged, months in which Grassley did not claim to be audited—the senator declared it "very troubling that a simple clerical mix-up could get a taxpayer immediately referred for an IRS exam without any due diligence from agency officials." That would be troubling, yes, except as the emails show us, the "agency officials" quickly decided that no one was being referred for an audit.

June 25 2014 12:07 AM

Thad Cochran Defeats the Tea Party—and So Does Everyone Else

Reporters: Please adjust your narratives. If your narrative is in the locked position, please apply the Smart Take solution that you have been provided. 

Well, the Great Tea Party Comeback of 2014 lasted no longer than the Great Tea Party Implosion of 2014. Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran has narrowly won renomination over challenger Chris McDaniel, in a vanishingly rare case of an incumbent winning a runoff after losing round one of a primary—and in an even rarer case of turnout surging from the primary to the runoff. Oklahoma Senate candidate T.W. Shannon has been defeated by a member of the House GOP leadership. A crew of Tea Party challengers to congressmen have gone down in flames across all time zones.

Let's recap. In Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran succeeded in a well-covered campaign to expand the primary electorate and beat conservative base voters. In June 3's primary, Cochran won only 153,654 votes. On June 24, he won nearly 190,000 votes, outpacing challenger Chris McDaniel, who also upped his overall votes. McDaniel actually won two more counties in this round (Choctaw, Panola) but lost overall.

One reason, one that will be analyzed to death—one that is already causing a small meltdown on conservative Twitter—is that Cochran grew his vote in the Mississippi Delta, the largely black and strongly Democratic northwest of the state. Coahoma County gave Cochran 611 votes in the primary and 1,050 in the runoff. Bolivar County: 1,272 in the primary, 1,877 in the runoff. In Hinds County, which contains the heavily black capital city of Jackson, the Cochran vote surged from 10,928 to 17,927. This, in a race decided by fewer than 8,000 votes. Cochran's camp campaigned for black voters by touting the senator's support for black colleges and food stamps. McDaniel was not pleased.

Anyone whose radio includes Mark Levin's show should turn down the volume tomorrow.

In Oklahoma, Rep. James Lankford flattened former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who ran an "outsider" campaign backed by Sen. Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. (Cruz staffers whose thumbs joyfully tweeted a #MakeDCListen hashtag when Cochran lost the first round of his race have been quieter tonight.) Shannon closed out the race by attacking Lankford's tentative support of a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. The Chamber of Commerce operatives who mourned the Eric Cantor loss can hold their chins higher now.

In New York, incumbent Rep. Richard Hanna narrowly held on against a Tea Party challenger, and the establishment GOP (as represented by the party, American Crossroads, and the American Action Network) got its preferred candidates in NY-01, NY-04, and NY-21. And in Colorado, where the outcome wasn't as dicey, former Rep. Bob Beauprez held back a comeback bid by gubernatorial hopeful (and former Rep.) Tom Tancredo.

What have we learned? 

The Tea Party's Pollster Got It Right. Really! Tea Party Express, the often-derided consultant-run group that dived early into Mississippi's Senate primary, consistently had Cochran up by less than a point. Less good can be said of McLaughlin & Associates, which blew the Cantor race and wildly overestimated the Hanna vote in New York.

Travis Childers, Your New Joe Hoeffel. This will mean little to people who don't inhale politics too deeply, but three-year northeast Mississippi Rep. Childers hoped to face McDaniel in the fall. He got into this race for the reasons now-Sen. Joe Donnelly got into 2012's Indiana Senate race: a bet that the Tea Party would oust the popular incumbent. Childers ends up in the position former Rep. Joe Hoeffel inhabited in 2004, when he bet on Sen. Arlen Specter losing a primary—which he won by less than 2 points, leaving Hoeffel as a sacrificial lamb in the general.

FreedomWorks, Your New Washington Generals. Every national Tea Party group engaged in Mississippi at some level—this was the race of the year—and all of them walk away wounded. FreedomWorks just looks the worst, having crowed about its grassroots effort in the state and having been left explaining (in a statement) that "if the only way the K Street wing of the GOP establishment can win is by courting Democrats ... then we've already won." Sure, whatever!

Republican Hubris, Your New Republican Despair. Having narrowly bailed out Thad Cochran and avoided disasters in Colorado and New York, "the establishment" is thumping on war drums and predicting victory everywhere. It's certainly possible! But a narrow defeat of Tom Tancredo doesn't auger anything spectacular; a narrow Mississippi victory that's dependent on mobilizing the haters of the Tea Party and lovers of SNAP is not necessarily applicable to turnout models in the swing races. 

And how much was really at stake for the GOP? In Oklahoma, the winner of the Senate primary was always assured to become a senator (Democrats are heading for a runoff between a state senator and a crazy perennial candidate), but the rise of an ambitious thirtysomething black conservative has been halted. In Mississippi, McDaniel was strongly favored over Childers. In New York, had Hanna lost, his Tea Party foe would have been elected by default—no Democrat was running.

The Media Will Not Be Caught Unaware Again. In the runup to election day, the AP, New York Times, Politico, and other outlets ran stories about Cochran's dogged outreach to nontraditional primary voters. The same outlets covered the response of the McDaniel campaign and third-party allies, like the Senate Conservatives Fund—a grassroots campaign to drag out more conservative voters and to challenge possible votes from interlopers. The hairshirt fashion show after Eric Cantor's loss clearly had an impact, though reporters like Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin were on the Mississippi beat for months previous.

All that said—wow, how lousy does Cantor's campaign look? It would be one thing if the majority leader went down in an anti-incumbent wave, but to be the one casualty in a year when other incumbents are able to boot and rally?

Update: The data hounds have found more evidence that black voters showed up and rescued Cochran, who deployed the devious and unexpected trick of "campaigning to black voters by describing what he had done for them." According to The Fix's Philip Bump, turnout surged by around 40 percent (from primary to runoff) in counties that were more than 50 percent black. According to The Upshot's Nate Cohn, it was even higher -- closer to 43 percent -- in counties that were more than 65 percent black.

The reaction on the right has been to call foul play. Here again is the Cochran flier journalist Charles Johnson obtained yesterday:

And at Right Wing News, the sentiment is that the GOP establishment won a "pyhrric victory" by "smearing Tea Partiers as racists." It's not like the state that elected Ted Bilbo (a while ago, fine) is shy of harsh rhetoric, but the harshest attack attribute to Cochran allies -- also obtained by Johnson -- was that Tea Partiers who opposed "the first black president" wanted to elect McDaniel. Yes. That will leave some welts.

Update II: In his concession speech, McDaniel groused that conservatives "took a back seat to liberal Democrats." A back seat. Let's just go easy on the guy and allow the analogy.

June 24 2014 2:18 PM

Election Night in America: Colorado! Maryland! Mississippi! New York! Oklahoma!

It was 700 years ago today that Scottish forces, led by Robert the Bruce, routed the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. Today, with slightly less at stake, the Scots-Irish Senate candidate Chris McDaniel is expected to clinch a second-round victory against Sen. Thad Cochran, making this the third consecutive election cycle in which an incumbent Republican senator is ousted by the conservative grassroots.

Dramatic enough, anyway. Below you’ll find a guide to tonight’s elections.

7 p.m. Polls close in South Carolina’s runoff election, which stopped being interesting for everyone outside the state once Lindsey Graham won his first-round primary victory. It was a thrilling, Tea Party-defying win, swiftly relegated to the back pages by the defeat of Eric Cantor. This would be a good time to eat dinner or watch the Italy-Uruguay game you TIVO’d, but if you’re a true junkie, watch the Republican runoffs for lieutenant governor (pitting the son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell against the recently luckless former Attorney General Henry McMaster) or the runoffs for state superindendent of education. The last statewide office held by a Democrat, it’s being eyed by Sally “widow of Lee” Atwater, who has a great political name and not much else.

Results will be here.

8 p.m. Polls close in Maryland, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, and the D.C. press corps’ attention is on the races farthest from its suburban homes. To beat Sen. Thad Cochran, challenger Chris McDaniel need only win perhaps 150,000 votes. (This map of the June 3 primary is useful for watching where McDaniel needs to improve.) To survive, Cochran needs to … well, get more votes, a process that might involve a rare surge of black Republican votes from the Mississippi Delta or the city of Jackson. Cochran’s campaign argues that the “reach out and expand the electorate” theory isn’t the only one that gets it to a win. True! So watch whose strongholds turn out—McDaniel’s Jones County cast about 13,000 votes in the first round, and Cochran closed the gap with a surge from Hinds County (Jackson). The media’s expecting McDaniel to win, and so are pollsters, but remember how everybody did with that in Virginia.

Oklahoma has stubbornly refused to offer the media an “establishment versus Tea Party” storyline. (Good.) The primary to replace Sen. Tom Coburn, who’s retiring two years early, is largely between former State House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Rep. James Lankford. Shannon is part black and part Chickasaw, and was endorsed quickly by Tea Party leaders (Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz) who want their party to look more diverse. Lankford is 100 percent ginger, and has been blasted from the right for daring to work with party leadership—an argument that Coburn has broken his neutrality to rebut. Meanwhile, Shannon is closing by attacking Lankford on his support for a citizenship path for “illegal immigrants who are children.”

Polling has been sparse, with Lankford (who always had a cash-on-hand lead) starting in the lead, slipping, then surging back. But if neither Shannon nor Lankford cracks 50 percent, they head to a runoff. Given how many kook candidates are on the ballot (I’m fond of this guy’s Photoshop skills), and given the presence of 2010 gubernatorial nominee Randy Brogdon, it’s likely that Shannon and Lankford head to an August runoff. Down the ballot, there might be a runoff for Lankford’s safe Republican seat in the House (read Molly Redden on the rich 27-year-old who’s trying to buy it.)

To Maryland, where a hot Democratic primary for governor has been waged among a black Iraq war veteran/lieutenant governor, a lesbian state representative, and a bro attorney general. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who’d be Maryland’s first (and the nation’s third) elected black governor, seized a lead at the start of this race and never gave it up. Attorney General Doug Gansler, who might be the least well-liked (by insiders) of anyone on the ballot today, battered Brown over the failure of Maryland’s health care exchange, only to find that voters did not blame the guy for it. Heather Mizeur ran to the left, pledging to make Maryland the third state that would legalize (and tax) marijuana.

Really, though—we’re talking about Maryland. It’s awfully tough to convince an electorate that may be about 37 percent black (that was the proportion in 2008’s Obama-Clinton primary) to see its first potential black governor and say, “Yeah, well, he wasn’t very good at website maintenance.” Brown will win; Maryland has no runoffs.

Mississippi results will be here; Oklahoma results will be here; Maryland results, here. Oh, and in Florida’s 19th District, vacated by the fun-loving (and more problematically, cocaine-loving) Trey Radel, Republican businessman Curt Clawson will easily win.

9 p.m. Polls close in Colorado and New York, and for once we have a state where the Tea Party and the establishment have learned to play together.

Spoiler: It’s Colorado. Earlier this year, in a remarkable outburst of reason and cooperation, Rep. Cory Gardner jumped into the primary to face Sen. Mark Udall. The reasons were many—the nadir of Obamacare, a perfect backlash to the state’s post-Newtown gun laws (which led to the surprise defeats of two Democratic state senators in recalls), sagging poll numbers for all Democrats. Gardner only wanted to run if the field was cleared, and cleared it shortly was, with 2010 nominee Ken Buck switching to the race for Gardner’s safe House seat. There, he faces Steve Laffey, a 2006 proto-Tea Party candidate for Senate—he lost a primary to Sen. Lincoln Chafee—who has relocated to Colorado.

The only real action is in the Republican gubernatorial primary, where the aforementioned optimism surge got 2006 nominee Bob Beauprez into the race, leaving Secretary of State Scott Gessler and Tom Tancredo—yes, him—to rebrand themselves as underdogs. (Gessler was one of the first candidates to react to Cantor’s defeat with a fundraising email pronouncing himself the next David Brat.)

Back on the East Coast, New York is host to a bunch of House primaries that have sorted themselves into interest group tests. The most media attention has gone to NY-13, where Rep. Charlie Rangel’s complete loss of clout has not spurred him to retire yet. In 2012 he defeated state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (who’d be the first Dominican-American member of Congress) by only 1,086 votes out of 43,170 cast, and actually lost the part of the district that dips into the Bronx.* Very limited public polling has given Rangel a lead, which he’s celebrated by mocking Espaillat for expecting his racial heritage to boost him into Congress.

The rest of the primary action is all on the Republican side. Just four years ago, the party was shocked when businessman Carl Paladino overcame Rick Lazio and became the party’s laughingstock gubernatorial nominee. Big money is trying to prevent more of that. In NY-21, the sprawling upstate seat won by retiring Rep. Bill Owens after the original Tea Party-establishment civil war, American Crossroads is trying to prevent frequent candidate Matt Doheny from blowing a GOP pickup opportunity.

- In NY-22, PACs like the Susan B. Anthony List are backing Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney against incumbent Rep. Richard Hanna. The Chamber of Commerce backs Hanna, even though whoever wins the primary faces no Democratic opponent.

- In NY-1, a perennial Republican target, the American Action Network is trying to prevent “Pelosi Republican” George Demos from being the establishment-preferred state Sen. Lee Zeldin.

- And in NY-3, failed 2010 Senate candidate Bruce Blakeman is mildly preferred (by said establishment) over Frank Scaturro, who lost two races to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy before she retired. (Kathleen Rice, the favorite to win the Democratic nod and succeed McCarthy, would give EMILY’s List a needed 2014 trophy.)

Colorado results are here, and New York results están aquí.

10 p.m. Polls close in Utah, where there’s little to watch, as most nominations have been decided already in party conventions. That’ll never happen again—in one of my favorite 2014 establishment campaigns, an alliance of bitter Republicans succeeded in ending the convention system and forcing open primaries from here on out. Too late to save Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost his seat at the 2010 conventions, but successful on its own terms.

UPDATE 3:55 p.m. I'm starting the updates before the polls close because this Chris Cillizza post gets at the essential cluelessness—and helplessness—of the save-Cochran campaign. According to Cillizza, it might have been a mistake for Cochran's team to sit on a TV ad that played back clips of Chris McDaniel calling theoretical Mexican women "Mamacita" and joking about an Alabama candidate who was "running on her boobies." (She was, by the way.)

The spot details a number of impolitic -- to say the least -- statements made by McDaniel while he was hosting a radio show called "The Right Side" in the mid 2000s. (BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski did yeoman's work uncovering some of the radio broadcasts, although Cochran allies warn there are hundreds of hours of McDaniel tapes that have yet to be released.)

First off: There are "hundreds of hours" of tape? Well, what was the Cochran campaign waiting for? The 2020 primary? Why not pay a researcher to grab more tape?

Second, Cochran had actually been hitting McDaniel with these exact quotes for two months before the primary, ever since BuzzFeed and the Wall Street Journal reported them. An innovative super PAC mailer showed up at Republicans' doors with a chip that played the clips when the card was opened. The argument in that mailer, explicitly, was that McDaniel's loose tongue would make him another Todd Akin. That simply misunderstood what made Akin toxic. He said, and maintained, that women could not possibly get pregnant from "legitimate rape" because their bodies would "shut it down"—i.e., women who got pregnant were clearly open to having sex at that moment. In what universe is joking that you've called Mexican women "mamacita" as offensive as all that?

Third, and finally, the decision to hang "mamacita" and "boobies" around McDaniel's neck revealed something by omission. McDaniel had also written (not talked) about black people looting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, chastening them that "unless you live in Detroit, the basic necessities of life do not include big screen plasma TV's, Randy Moss jerseys, Air Jordan sneakers or any type of 'bling-bling.' "

To my knowledge that comment never made it into an anti-McDaniel ad. Maybe it wouldn't have played with Republican voters?

UPDATE 8:01: Twitter updates much more quickly than this blog, so I'll embed my tweets here.

*Correction, June 24, 2014: This post originally misspelled New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s first name.

June 23 2014 10:56 AM

Rep. James Clyburn on “the Case for Reparations”

In the latest of my weekly Weigelcast interviews, I talk to Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Democratic congressional leadership. The impetus for the interview was Clyburn's new memoir, which covers his life from youth to the civil rights era to the work of a Democratic Congress under the first black president.

But, as always happens, some tape got left on the cutting-room floor. After talking a bit about the legacy of Jim Crow, I asked Clyburn if he'd read Ta-Nehisi Coates' much-praised cover story in the Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations." He was finishing it up, he said.

"Most people are asked this question and get it wrong," said Clyburn. "Most people believe that when the former slaves were granted 40 acres and a mule—most people believe they got it. They never got it. Congress, by law in 1872, made sure they never got 40 acres and a mule. That was a part of reparations, so the country has never committed itself to righting the wrongs committed on the slaves. Some, for whatever reason—and there are various and sundry reasons—were successful. Most of it had to do with who their parents were."

Clyburn told a story as a way of demonstrating the advantages that separated prosperous blacks from the people re-enslaved under Jim Crow. "Robert Smalls, who served here in the Congress for 20 years, was very successful and created great wealth. How'd he do that? For one reason, he stole the USS Planter and delivered it to Union soldiers. He was rewarded financially for having done so, and he built that into significant wealth. There are some who believe he was the son of Peter McGee, the slave master, whose home he was raised in, and that that is why he was granted the opportunity to go to Charleston and work on the docks ... now, the money he made was coming back to Mr. McGee, but he had some experiences that allowed him to navigate the Planter once he stole it. You come to the conclusion that a lot has to do with happenstance of birth."

Was there a new need for a legislative or fiscal remedy? "I've always said that affirmative action was a form of reparations. I've always said that and I believe that. The extent to which the courts have been getting rid of affirmative action was the same reason you had the court in 1872 taking away 40 acres and a mule. There are the forces that line up, get enough votes, and take away these things."

June 23 2014 10:24 AM

How Will Poll-Watchers in Mississippi Spot the Black Democrats Voting in the GOP Primary?

Mississippi's extra-innings Senate primary ends tomorrow, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Theodore Schleifer report that a collection of conservative groups will be sending in poll-watchers. FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots, and the Senate Conservatives Fund will team up for the unprecedented, single-minded effort to beat Sen. Thad Cochran.

The groups will deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats, Mr. Cuccinelli said. J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official and conservative commentator who said he was advising the effort, described the watchers as “election observers,” mostly Mississippi residents, who will be trained to “observe whether the law is being followed.”

Cochran's outreach to black voters (which existed in the primary, too) was reported first by the AP's Jesse Holland and the Times' Jonathan Martin, and my colleague Jamelle Bouie has written on the reasons why black voters should walk away from the Democratic Party for a day and help Cochran claw past challenger Chris McDaniel. In the first round of the primary, Tea Party Patriots hit Cochran with a quick response video in which a black conservative accused the senator of coming 'round with his hat in hand after years of doing nothing.

But this second push to control the electorate is more dramatic than the Times lets on. The paper quotes Senate Conservatives Fund President Ken Cuccinelli in saying, accurately, that voters who drew a Democratic ballot three weeks ago can't vote in the Republican primary tomorrow. True. But Adams, quoted in the Times piece, told Breibart.com's embedded reporter Matt Boyle that it would be illegal for a voter who intended to vote against the winner of the GOP primary to cast a ballot at all.

The Mississippi law Adams cites, MS Code 23-15-575, states: “No person shall be eligible to participate in any primary election unless he intends to support the nominations made in which he participates.”
“Mississippi law prohibits Democrats from voting in a Republican primary,” Adams said in an emailed statement. “Obviously poll workers aren’t mind readers. But if someone doesn’t intend to support the nominee in November, then that person isn’t allowed to vote in the Republican primary.”

Indeed, that's what the code says. That argument, which hasn't been reported much outside of conservative media, is getting better known within it. Yesterday, independent conservative reporter Charles Johnson scooped a robocall directed at black voters, telling them to vote against "Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel" and thereby do a solid for President Obama. "It is illegal," explained Johnson, "to encourage someone to vote for someone in the primary who they do not intend to vote for in the general."

Given that more than 90 percent of Mississippi's black voters usually vote Democratic, poll-watchers have an easy way of spotting interlopers. Hey, you, picking up the Republican ballot! Do you plan to vote for the winner of the Republican primary?

UPDATE: Rick Hasen has more, including the recent legal decisions that weaken Adams' argument.

UPDATE II:  And J. Christian Adams responds with a denunciation of "leftist academics and their 'journolist' friends in the media" (that's me):

Listening to the New York Times, you would think Jim Crow was back. They’re feeding the same false narrative: the Tea Party supporters of Chris McDaniel are bucktooth racists that will break the law to stop minorities from raiding the Republican primary to help Thad Cochran. The election observer program by conservatives, the Times reports, “evokes memories of the civil rights struggles of the state’s past.”
Seriously.

The use of the word "seriously" is meant to sarcastically rebut any idea that anyone might see a racial angle in the potential challenges. But that's just asking people to feign ignorance. Mississippi has had, for some time, a racially polarized electorate in federal campaigns. In 2012, 89 percent of Mississippi whites gave their votes to Mitt Romney, while 96 percent of Mississippi blacks gave their votes to Barack Obama.

You might think that the races of the candidates played a role in that split, but it wasn't all that different in 2008, when white former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove challenged appointed Sen. Roger Wicker. Musgrove, the Democrat, got 92 percent of the black vote; Wicker, the Republican, won 82 percent of the white vote. It's just a fact that if you walk into a polling booth in Mississippi and see 10 white voters and 10 black voters, you can reasonably predict how 17 of these people are going to vote. (It's not the same in a state like, say, New Hampshire, where few minorities live, and where Barack Obama won 51 percent of the white vote in 2012.)

The rest of Adams's argument cites recent cases to argue that the vote challenges in Mississippi will be simple, race-free issues of voter integrity. I don't deny, for a second, that conservative activists are concerned with keeping liberals from altering the racee. They could care less about color. I do wonder why similar concerns were not raised in 2008, when Barack Obama won the Mississippi primary but Rush Limbaugh took credit for encouraging (possibly) thousands of conservatives from picking up Democratic ballots, in the hope of weakening Obama for the general election.

UPDATE III: And here's an advisory from the offices of Mississippi's attorney general and secretary of state.

Important Election Day Information from the Attorney General and Secretary of State
Jackson, MS-- Democratic and Republican Party Primary Runoff Elections will be conducted on June 24, 2014.  Although these primaries are conducted by the respective parties, strict adherence to Mississippi law should be followed.
Observers from both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office will be in Mississippi counties on Election Day.  Matters of particular relevance: 
Poll watchers in polling place
Miss. Code Ann. Sections 23-15-245 and 23-15-577 provide that in primary elections the only persons who may lawfully be within 30 feet of the polls are:
 
1) Voters approaching the polls, voting, and leaving the polling place
2) The poll managers (pollworkers),
 
3) One pollwatcher appointed, in writing, by each candidate whose name appears on the ballot
Miss. Code Ann. Section 23-15-245 states that it is the duty of the bailiff poll manager to prevent interference with the election and to keep the polling place clear of persons not authorized to be in the polling place.  The bailiff may call upon other law enforcement officials for assistance in enforcing the law.
There is no authority in state law for a PAC or other outside group to place “election observers” in Mississippi polling places.
Crossover voting prohibited
Crossover voting is prohibited in the State of Mississippi.  Crossover voting is defined as participation in the first primary of one political party and participation in the runoff primary of another party.  Thus, a voter who cast his/her ballot in the Democratic Primary Election on June 3 is prohibited from casting his/her ballot in the Republican Primary Runoff Election on June 24, and vice versa. See MS AG Op., Brown (April 7, 1988).
Challenges
A person offering to vote may be challenged based upon the following grounds:
1)      The voter is not a registered voter in the precinct,
2)      The voter is not registered under the name he/she has applied to vote,
 
3)      The voter has already voted in the election,
4)      The voter is not a resident in the precinct where he/she is registered,
5)      The voter has illegally registered to vote,
6)      The voter has removed his/her ballot from the polling place, and
7)      The voter is otherwise disqualified by law. 
A person lawfully in the polling place may challenge a voter based on party loyalty only if the voter openly declares he does not intend to support the nominees of the party whose primary the voter is participating in.
Any criminal violation of Mississippi law should be reported to the local District Attorney’s Office and/or the Office of the Attorney General.

June 20 2014 6:44 PM

Kevin McCarthy Won the Lottery, But Don’t Call Him Lucky

Never take investment advice from Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Among the things he believes he’s done right are winning the lottery, dropping out of college (he returned years later), and rolling his winnings into a single stock, opening up a deli, and eventually becoming a congressman.

He worked hard and took risks, he told a gathering of Republican loyalists today: A coronation speech, after he beat out Rep. Raul Labrador yesterday to replace Rep. Eric Cantor to become House Majority Leader. He was addressing the friendliest of crowds—Tea Party folk and social conservatives at the Road to Majority conference in Washington, D.C.. It is put on by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a lobby group headed by Ralph Reed, the influential, well connected long-time conservative activist. Among the guest-list this year were Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Gov. Chris Christie (who declined to attend last year, in favor of going to an event at the Clinton Global Initiative instead). That McCarthy won his promotion to the second-most powerful position in the House less than 24 hours earlier was a nice boon for Reed’s conference. (In the program, the congressman is still listed as the “Majority Whip.”)

McCarthy’s image of himself as a bootstrapping entrepreneur reflects a particular conservative vision. When it comes to success, conservatives routinely underestimate the role of things beyond their control. They are more likely to ascribe life’s outcomes to hard work and personal character rather than luck or social environment—the logic behind the oft-repeated Republican trope that welfare leads to disempowerment, and that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it.  If only people worked hard, good things will follow. Bad things happen because of insouciance and dependency, when people fail to take “personal responsibility.”

But is there anything luckier than winning the lottery? That McCarthy could tell such a story, with himself in the role of the tireless American hero whose success is earned, suggests the lack of empathy that colors his political philosophy. Most Americans work very hard. But most of them don’t win Powerball. “If I was successful, I didn’t want the government to take all my profits, but if I failed I didn’t want government to bail me out either,” McCarthy said. The next Majority Leader apparently doesn’t realize that winning the lottery falls within the quintessential definition of “a government hand-out”: a ticket to wealth courtesy of the state of California’s taxpayers. 

June 20 2014 1:25 PM

Mississippi's Black Voters Should Vote for Thad Cochran

If the status quo holds, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will lose his seat to Chris McDaniel, the upstart Tea Party Republican who pushed the longtime senator into a run-off election. And so, rather than persuade McDaniel's supporters, Team Cochran is trying to change the status quo by appealing to a new class of voters: African Americans. Here's the New York Times with more:

It is a remarkable political science experiment, and it also may be the only path to victory left to Mr. Cochran. But after being narrowly edged out by Mr. McDaniel, 41, in the Republican primary earlier this month, Mr. Cochran, 76, needs to expand the number of voters who will show up for the runoff, which is open to any Mississippi resident who did not vote in the Democratic primary. The winner on Tuesday will face former Representative Travis Childers, a conservative Democrat, in November.
“We’ve got efforts reaching out to black voters in Mississippi who want to vote for Thad because they like what Thad is for,” said Austin Barbour, a Cochran campaign adviser. “Thad Cochran is someone who, even with his conservative message, represents all of Mississippi. He’s not some hostile screamer.”

Because there's no party registration in Mississippi, anyone can vote in the Republican primary, as long as they didn't vote in the Democratic one. And, as Philip Bump notes for the Washington Post, turnout for the Democratic primary was substantially lower than that of the Republican one. Which means there's an ample population of black voters who could give Cochran the edge he needs to win.

The big question, if you're a Mississippi black voter, is whether to play the game. Given Cochran's record, it's tempting to say no. The Mississippi senator isn't a moderate, and it's hard to say he's been a friend to black Americans in the state. He voted for welfare reform and tough drug sentencing laws in the 1990s, against child health care expansion and a minimum wage increase in the 2000s, and—in the last five years—against the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act.

At the same time, Cochran isn't an ideologue, and—during his six terms—has funneled tens of billions in earmarks and funds to Mississippi, propping the state's economy and creating jobs for thousands of his constituents. As the Times notes, Cochran has secured funds for "health centers, historically black colleges and infrastructure," directly and indirectly boosting black communities in the state.

McDaniel, on the other hand, is opposed to federal spending as a matter of course, and would sacrifice these investments for the sake of ideological purity. Given the extent to which a Republican senator is guaranteed—Mississippi is the site of extreme racial polarization, where almost all whites vote Republican and all blacks vote Democratic—Cochran might stand as the best available choice for black voters in the state.

Indeed, if there was a time to support Cochran, now is it. A Thad Cochran who owes his next—and probably final—term to black support is a Thad Cochran who might work to secure their interests in the Senate. It's possible that Cochran could win with black voters and ignore them afterwards. But I doubt it. Politicians tend to respond to key constituencies, and black voters will be in a good spot if they can extract concessions from Cochran in return for their support, and he goes on to win. It's nakedly transactional, yes, but it's much better than trying to deal with an ideologue who draws his support from the most anti-government voters in the state.

Which is a long way of saying that, if I were voting in Mississippi, I'd swallow my partisanship and cast a ballot for Thad Cochran. He's not a great choice, but given the circumstances, he's probably the best one.

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