Reporting on Politics and Policy.

Sept. 10 2014 4:55 PM

And Now, Training the Syrian Rebels

I'm finishing up a piece about Congress's thinking on intervention in Iraq, and how this has been colored by being lied to 12 years ago. From talking to members and senators yesterday, I got the strong impression that Congress was ready to punt on most of the hard decisions. There was little desire for a full vote unless the president was asking for a commitment that could last years, or could go into Syria. Most people, when asked about a vote, seemed to be looking for a way around it.

"It’s always wise to do that," shrugged Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, "although I always tend to give the president leeway in these matters. It’s a tough job, being president."

The pattern was this: Republicans would explain why a feckless and failing President Obama let Iraq fall to pieces, and then commit to supporting (with or without a vote) an action that made sense. Jonathan Weisman has the latest on what the president wants. This week, he called up House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers to ask that the CR that was to be voted on tomorrow be padded with funds for Syrian fighters. Ed O'Keefe talked to Rodgers:

They've known about this problem for over a year, they've known that we were getting to do a [spending bill] and just as I was ready to drop it in the hopper, the president calls and asks if we would consider this. In good faith, we're trying to get briefed up on what the request is, and it's a complicated, big-time change in policy that I'd hate to see us attach to a continuing resolution at the very last minute.

See the pattern? Obama screwed up; here's his money. There's no detectable conservative rebellion to this aspect of the CR. There's not much grumbling about the $5 billion counterterrorism fund that Obama's been asking for. Rather, conservatives (including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, who do this so frequently that I need to install a keyboard shortcut) are calling for the CR to be stripped of Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, or they'll oppose the thing.

Sept. 10 2014 3:25 PM

Koch Group Trolls Obama for Not Defying Republicans on Immigration

The Libre Initiative is one of the many organizations seeded by the Koch donor network during the Obama dark ages. The hook: Libre goes after Latino voters, attacking Obama from the right on health care and, functionally, from the left on immigration. (Libre also went after Rep. Joe Garcia after he made a joke about communism, insisting that the Cuban-American Democrat believed that communism worked.) Today Libre issued a crowing statement on the new NBC/WSJ/Telemundo poll that found Latino support for Obama falling from 62 percent in 2013 to 47 percent now. It's like I said yesterday, that Obama's Lucy-and-the-football act on executive action ended with him looking cowed and deceitful.

And a touchdown dance from a Koch group should really sting. Koch donors are currently seeding Americans for Prosperity and a series of 501(c)(4)s that are tearing into Democratic candidates in the hopes of replacing them with Republicans. Kay Hagan voted for the Senate immigration bill; Koch groups want to replace her with Thom Tillis, who opposed it. Mark Pryor voted for the bill; Tom Cotton opposed it. And so on. Whatever the Spanish translation of "chutzpah" is, you may find some in this Libre statement.

Latinos invested a great deal of hope in this president and this administration, and unfortunately it hasn't been rewarded. With broken promises on the economy, immigration  and health care, they're clearly deeply disappointed in a president who did not deliver... They wanted Congress and the president to work in a bipartisan way on immigration reform.

But ... Obama did give the thumbs up to a Senate bill, which passed. House Republicans spent 2014 diddling with a few piecemeal ideas, then passing nothing. Why elect more Republicans to fix this? I checked in with Libre's Brian Faughnan, asking first whether Libre wanted Obama to issue an executive order to stop deportations.

"We believe that executive action comes with negative repercussions, unforeseen consequences," said Fahnan. "We saw that with the situation on the border this summer. From our point of view, the best answer is always going to be to have a broad immigration reform package and enact it. We don’t take a position on the timetable, but we’ve called for that."

OK, and asking what of Republicans? "We don’t presume to dictate to Congress how it should be handled," said Faughnan. "The House laid out a series of principles. It’s up to Congress and the president to figure out how to handle that."

But why would Republicans act, when they've just seen that doing nothing in the House led to Latino voters souring on the president? "We believe that it’s the right thing to do," said Faughnan. "I think you can look at instances in the past where conservatives have looked at perhaps a short-term political gain that turned out to be in the long term, politically damaging. From our point of view, conservatives and Republicans need to look at the long-term interests here."

I took from this that the Koch/libertarian donor position on immigration reform remains what it's been since 2013: great if it happens, better as an issue to use against Democrats, not really a distraction from the cause of electing more allies of Steve King and Ted Cruz.

Sept. 10 2014 12:04 PM

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Craziest Election of the Year

No offense to this year's Senate primaries or their candidates—great job, everybody!—but the most thrilling and history-laden election in the world right now is happening in Scotland. A process that started with the 1997 Labour government's devolution of power in Scotland led to the overwhelming success of Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party, which led to the SNP securing a binding 2014 referendum on whether Scotland should leave the U.K., which after months of bumbling by the "No" campaign and steady work by Salmond, et al. has led to, basically, a tie in the polls. Just as Quebec once seemed ready to leave the Canadian commonwealth, and was saved by only a few thousand votes, Scotland's independence campaign now looks like it might succeed in just eight days.

Stephen Castle and Alan Cowell report on the latest developments, which have seen Prime Minister David Cameron scramble and wage a unity campaign (joined by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband) in Scotland.

“So the choice for you is clear: a leap into the dark with a Yes vote, or a brighter future for Scotland by voting No,” Mr. Cameron said. “You can have the best of both worlds in the U.K. You can have more powers in Scotland. And you can be part of a United Kingdom — standing tall, forging a more secure future in this world, building more opportunities for our children and grandchildren and the generations yet to be born. That is the next chapter in our history; we can write it together — but only if Scotland votes No next week.”

Here's the problem for Cameron. He took over Britain in 2010, after the first win for his Conservative Party in 18 years. It was a narrow, shallow win, secured only when the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a coalition and hold the government for five years, and secured with only one of 59 Scottish constituencies going Tory. (The U.K. used to hold elections whenever the PM asked for them; the coalition government instituted five-year fixed terms.) In 2011 the Scottish parliamentary elections handed total power to Salmond's SNP, as Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems collapsed. Salmond's campaign since then has warned Scots that only independence can save it from an unaccountable Tory government in London. Bringing Cameron to campaign in Scotland is like bringing President Obama to Wyoming to help campaign against a bill that would ban guns in Walmart.

"Imagine then how laughable and absurd it would have been if a party had won just a single seat in England but had not only sought to lead a government but succeeded in doing so," wrote Salmond this year. "Such a democratic outrage is so far-fetched that it would not cross anyone’s mind as a reasonable outcome for even a second ... and yet in Scotland today we are subject to a Westminster coalition government led by the Tories, who do indeed have the grand total of one MP north of the border. This affront to democracy gets to the heart of the independence debate."

There are short-sighted campaign promises and there are short-sighted campaign promises. Miliband has not blown many people away as a Labour leader, but he's benefited greatly from the Tories' unpopularity, the utter collapse of the Liberal Democrats, and the rise of the U.K. Independence Party, which slices into a working-class anti-Europe vote the Tories had squandered. Miliband's Labour has consistently led in polls in the general election that's happening just seven months from now. Labour could win that election, take power ... and then lose power in 2016, when Scotland goes independent and 40-odd Labour members of Parliament suddenly hold foreign passports.

It's just a fantastic mess. Oh, I forgot: What's the connection to American politics? Obama-Biden 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina is advising Cameron's party, and longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod is advising Labour. Because they deserved some well-paying, low-stress jobs after the hell of beating Mitt Romney.

Sept. 10 2014 11:17 AM

The Second Great Mulligan: It’s Catching On!

No, not my phrase—that would be strange—but the phenomenon I described on Monday is making its merry way around the opinion-spheres. Dick Cheney is giving a speech at the American Enterprise Institute today, bracketing Barack Obama's own address about the next moves against ISIS. (He likes to do this, health permitting, as when he gave his own "rebuttal" to Obama's 2009 speech about Gitmo and torture, starting with a joke about how former senators like Obama liked to filibuster and run on.) The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page welcomed Cheney back to AEI, which had been having a lovely rebranding until he showed up, with an op-ed urging Obama to admit that the former vice president was right and that ignoring him destablized the world.

They saw how the early mistakes in Iraq led to chaos until the 2007 surge saved the day and left Mr. Obama with an opportunity he squandered ... one way to start undoing the damage [around the world] would be to concede that Dick Cheney was right all along.

Boy, the phrase "all along" is asked to do some heavy from-the-knees lifting there. All along? The timer starts four years after the start of the Iraq war, and two years after Cheney insisted, pre-surge, that Iraqi insurgent groups were in their "last throes"?

Yes, that's the new rule. We are to analyze the situation of 2014 by crediting the Bush administration not for the Iraq war, but for post-surge Iraq. This has been the argument since 2011, when the Obama administration failed to extend the three-year status of forces agreement that (to the satisfaction of hawks) Bush had handed to him. The theme at the time, as Charles Krauthammer put it, was that Obama was "handed a war that was won," and he blew it. (There were 54 deaths in the risidual coalition forces in Iraq in 2011, so being assigned there wasn't exactly like being assigned to peaceful South Korea.)

Hawks are in the position that the anti-war advocates had been for years, and they're loving it. Remember, when American troops left Iraq in 2011, Americans supported the move by a 3–1 margin. More recently, after a few months of ISIS propaganda and terror, the margin has slipped to 2–1. Hawks, having represented the terribly unpopular side of the debate, claim to have been right all along when being right was difficult. And they would like you to forget how this whole "Iraq, a shaky sectarian state under the influence of Iran" thing started.

Sept. 10 2014 9:58 AM

Democrats in Close Races Voted to Condemn Obama Over the Bergdahl Release

When Barack Obama looks back at 2014, and wonders how almost nothing went right for his administration, the release of Bowe Bergdahl is going to stand out like a lighthouse beacon of derp. Who could have predicted that freeing a POW, the sort of move that bolstered even Richard Nixon, would turn into a slapfight over whether this particular POW was a deserter? Who could have predicted that the Congress that just went ahead and let Obama carry out military missions in Libya and Iraq without its approval would get verklempt about Obama's illegal failure to give it a 30-day heads-up? Yesterday the Republican House voted to condemn the president's move, and 22 Democrats voted with it.

Notice who was on the list. Michigan Rep. Gary Peters and Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley are the only members of the conference now running statewide, and in states that went for Obama-Biden in both presidential elections. They bucked the president on Bergdahl. So did Reps. Nick Rahall, Collin Peterson, and John Barrow, all Democrats in Romney-voting districts whom the NRCC is trying to use a midterm electorate to exterminate.*

*Correction, Sept. 10, 2014: This post originally misspelled Rep. Collin Peterson’s first name.

Sept. 10 2014 12:53 AM

New England Primary Night: Cuomo’s Scare and the Roar of the Liberals

At the end of every year, I round up all my blown predictions and allow readers to feast on them. So just allow me this: In mid-July I went up to Staten Island to see Zephyr Teachout campaign for New York's Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and came away with a story about how she and running mate Tim Wu could do for their left what Tea Partiers did for the right. There was no polling to back this up—there would actually be no polling of a race in which Teachout/Wu spent maybe $200,000 to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

And yet here we are. With 92 percent of the vote counted, Cuomo is set to win only 62 percent of the vote against Teachout, who's pulling about 35 percent. My sources had told me to expect Teachout climbing north of 30 percent—let's hear it for the anonymous ones! Wu, who faced a one-on-one race against former Rep. Kathy Hochul, is set to win about 40 percent of the vote. That's a week after Cuomo's allies worried (according to Fred Dicker) that Wu was surging into a win, aided by the New York Times' endorsement of the author, professor, and first-time candidate.

The New York Times' helpful map of the race shows a tighter-than-expected election won in western New York (Hochul's base) and the outer boroughs and collar counties of New York City. Cuomo racked up a margin of close to 90,000 votes from Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, in a race he's winning by about 130,000 votes. For all the trend stories about bearded app designers and the brunch spots they pore over real estate listings in, this is a helpful reminder that most of the Democratic vote in New York City comes from nonwhite voters and tough political machines. North of the city, east of Syracuse, the Vermont-born Teachout either clobbered Cuomo or fought him to a standstill. She took Albany County by 28 points, and Wu took it by 25 points, both excellent merit badges for candidates who ran against the corruption of political money. Teachout may end up winning a majority of New York's 32 counties. Not the really vital ones where most voters live, but more than anyone gave her a chance of.

Earlier today (in the link above), I looked at New York, New Hampshire's Senate race, and Rhode Island's gubernatorial race as tests for different kinds of rebellion politics. In every state, the rebels lost, but in every state they did some damage.

In New Hampshire, with 85 percent of the vote in, Massachusetts immigrant Scott Brown won the GOP's nomination for U.S. Senate. He's at 49.5 percent of the vote, which looks good considering the size of the field. But the first public poll with Brown in the race had him winning 47 percent against the field. At that time, former state Sen. Jim Rubens was registering at 5 percent. Rubens never cracked 10 percent in a public poll, but a PPP poll in the final week showed him cracking 20 percent, and he ended up with 24 percent, aided by more than $1 million in ads and mailers from Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC. Lessig and friends wanted to make Brown sweat after he refused to sign a version of the anti-super PAC "People's Pledge" that he agreed to in his 2012 Massachusetts race. Mission somewhat accomplished.

In Rhode Island, progressives warned me that they'd split their votes between Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and political scion Clay Pell, and that State Treasurer Gina Raimondo would probably win with more than 40 percent of the vote. That happened: Raimondo, infamous on the left for her campaign of pension cuts, won 42.2 percent of the vote while the progressives fought for similar shares of 56.1 percent. She was beatable, and they didn't beat her.

And there's more!

- In Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley had managed to lose the state party's convention vote to state Treasurer Steve Grossman. No mystery why: Coakley is the reason why Scott Brown continues to stalk the nightmares of Democrats across New England, and activists worried that she'd blow an election against repeat GOP nominee Charlie Baker. But Coakley fought it through to the primary, and after leading Grossman by as big a margin as 47 points, she pipped him by 8 points. This was closer than any polling suggested, and sets up a possible series of recriminations if Coakley eats it again and progressives ask why EMILY's List kept saddling them with this zombie candidate. (Don Berwick, the recess-appointed ACA administrator, came in third and actually beat Coakley in two of western Mass's counties.)

Better news for Democrats: In MA-06, they are finally rid of Rep. John Tierney, who spent the past three years explaining away a florid gambling scandal that put his wife in prison. The 2012 Obama landslide in the state helped Tierney narrowly defeat Richard Tisei, who would have been the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. But remember who's going to lead the ticket this time? Martha Coakley? Yeah: Democrats have denied Tisei a rematch against a hobbled incumbent, and replaced him with Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, breaking the party's habit of wasting nominations on machine candidates.

We're almost done, I swear.

- In NH-01, one-term Rep. Frank Guinta defeated Dan Innis for the right to challenge Rep. Carol Shea-Porter again. Innis's defeat and Tisei's bad luck mean that only California's Carl DeMaio stands likely to win this year as an openly gay Republican candidate. In NH-02, the Club for Growth and Ted Cruz and a bunch of other Republicans who want the party to be more conservative yet less monochromatic boosted Marilinda Garcia (born in 1983) to an easy win. She will change Rep. Ann Kuster, one of 2012's surprise winners of the yet-more-surprising New England Obama wave.

- Back in New York, Andrew Cuomo's national embarassment was softened by two wins by the Democrats who abandoned their party to give Republicans functional control of the state Senate—an outcome Cuomo preferred, and then had to pretend he opposed, until he could beat Teachout. State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the breakway faction, easily won renomination. State Sen. Tony Avella, who recently joined the rebels, won by 4 points. And state Sen. Malcolm Smith, a singular imbecile who 1) managed to botch the first Democratic Senate majority back in 2009 and 2) destroyed his reputation with a scheme to buy the GOP nomination for mayor, went down in a landslide.

Sept. 9 2014 5:58 PM

Gaslighting Is Covered by the First Amendment

It's a sign of just how cynical the Capitol has become that yesterday's big, bipartisan vote on campaign finance reform was probably a ruse. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, and a few other blue-staters have for a few months been pushing for a new constitutional amendment that would revise the First Amendment and thus undo the Roberts court's rationale for Citizens United. To their surprise, the vote to proceed to debate on the amendment won 78 votes—most Republicans voted with the Democrats. Sanders immediately assumed that the Republicans were trolling him in order to make Democrats waste time before the next recess.

"I would love to be proven wrong," he told Politico. "But if the end of this week, we end up getting 67 votes, you can tell me I was too cynical."

Today, as Democrats and Republicans fitfully took the Senate floor, it really did seem like one party was ready with a message and the other was a little bored. The universal signal from Republicans was that the Democratic amendment would REPEAL THE FIRST AMENDMENT. To wit:



There was a considerable amount of gaslighting in the middle of all that messaging. Few things make Democrats more confident that they're reaching their base voters than jabbering about money in politics. Just a few months ago, CBS found that a supermajority of voters—more than 70 percent—thought there was too much money in politics, and that recently removed limits on bulk donations should be restored. And the numbers for base voters are even better. According to MoveOn's Ben Wikler, the amendment fight, doomed as it is (two-thirds of the House will not support this), is "better than failing to get cloture again." This week's news cycle had little room for the Merkley amendment, but progressives were stacking all sorts of videos of their candidates taking a stand "against Citizens United" and Republicans defending endless money in politics. There really aren't any losers here.

And it's not like the Senate was busy, anyway.

Sept. 9 2014 4:50 PM

How Barack Obama Lost Latino Voters for the Democrats in 2014

I met with MoveOn's leadership team today, near the Capitol, and irritated them with questions about why progressives might decide to stay home in 2014. Among the team: Washington director Ben Wikler, PAC executive director Ilya Sheyman, and c4 director Anna Galland. Among my questions: Weren't progressives going to be angry that President Obama had punted yet again on taking further executive actions to stop deportations?

"I think we would agree with advocacy groups that he should take the leap now, especially after raising expectations," said Galland. "On the merits, on humanitarian merits, it's a bad decision."

But Galland, et al. were confident that the president would escape blame; voters who wanted action on immigration knew whom to vote for. "The people who voted against immigration reform would be good people to vote against," said Wikler.

"Should the president act before November 4, progressives will have his back, because it's very clear he needs to act," said Sheyman.

How true was this? For an alternate perspective, consult this chart from the pollsters at Latino Decisions.

As Simon Maloy says, the problem for Democrats in 2014—the problem, maybe, for Republicans in the long term—was that this year's battlegrounds featured almost no crucial Latino voters. Colorado Sen. Mark Udall needs Latino votes to win again. (In 2008, Udall won easily as he took 63 percent of the Latino vote.) And Udall keeps getting to Obama's left on this. If anyone can split the difference, and convince Latinos that they should take it out on Republicans if they don't like deportations, I guess it'd be him.

Another problem, less often discussed, is that Latino turnout always, always lags turnout from other ethnic groups. You could see that last month in Arizona, where the safe, blue, majority-Latino 8th District saw only about 25,000 voters turn out in a competitive primary between Latino candidates. To the south, in the more evenly divided 2nd District, more than 58,000 voters turned out for a less competitive Republican primary. The structural reasons for acting in 2014 were simply not comparable to the reasons for acting before a presidential election.

Sept. 9 2014 3:33 PM

Not Every Republican Thinks We Should Listen to Dick Cheney on Iraq

Yesterday, CNN's indefatigable Deirdre Walsh reported that Dick Cheney would be addressing house Republicans at their weekly meeting, and that the topic would be the "the importance of growing the House Republican majority." This didn't seem like the sort of thing that would occupy Dick Cheney's mind the day before President Obama would speak on Iraq—hours, actually, after Cheney's own AEI speech about "9/11 and the future of foreign policy."

Indeed, as Republican congressmen filed out of the Capitol Hill Club, they acknowledged that Cheney had talked about the need for a larger, stronger military, and how the disaster in northern Iraq should rattle the people who think America can withdraw from Afghanistan soon. According to people in the room, Cheney reminded Republicans that Pakistan was in a weaker position if Afghanistan faltered, and that it was Pakistan that had already aided North Koreans as they built their nuclear program.

Mike McAuliff and Jennifer Bendery have more:

"What he talked about was we've, Republicans, have had a position on peace through strength. You look at all the Republican presidents we've had back to [Dwight] Eisenhower. You know they all understand, if you're not strong, then you invite aggression. When you invite aggression, you end up with people getting killed," said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who recently returned from the Middle East.
"It's important to be strong, and that's what he talked about," he added.

There was no sense that Republicans would pre-empt the president and demand a vote on further action in Iraq. No surprise; few Republicans demanded that the commander-in-chief call back Congress last month, as bombs dropped on ISIS. But while McKeon had been around for a while, and supported the 2002 vote to move into Iraq, younger and more libertarian Republicans were no less critical of Cheneyism than they'd been before he entered the room.

"His views don't reflect the views of most Republicans," said Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, talking to a small group of reporters, the Washington Post's Robert Costa asking most of the questions. "His worldview is that we should be in countries around the world, and have armed forces everywhere, and most Republicans don't agree with that."

Costa asked Amash if the GOP's hawks were making a comeback.

"No," said Amash. "Did you see my election?" It had only been a few weeks since he routed a more hawkish Republican, who accused Amash of being a friend of al-Qaida.

After the other reporters moved on, Amash kept talking about the danger of listening to hawks who'd called for invading Iraq in 2002. "They have no credibility," he said. "The claims they made have been proved to be wrong. They helped destabilize the region, and now they're calling for greater use of force without any clear-cut strategy. That doesn't sound like something the American people will get behind."

Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie, who like Amash won his office with the support of Ron Paul backers, was just as direct. "Constituents in my district are very war-weary," he said. "I'm war-weary. The president would have to complete an almost impossible task, which is to convince me he has an exit strategy, and when we're done with this third war in the Middle East, we'll be better off than we were before."

I asked Massie whether he disagreed with Cheney's worry that leaving Afghanistan in a hurry would create another power vacuum. "I wasn't wrapped up in his every word," he said. "I'm gonna try the mother of all pivots here. I have a press conference today about why the 28 pages of the 9/11 report need to be released. Until we know what enabled or caused 9/11, we shouldn't be talking about starting a third war to prevent another 9/11."

Sept. 9 2014 10:54 AM

The Great GOP Birth Control Pivot of 2014

Nearly three months ago, Colorado's highly rated Republican candidate for Senate appeared to win the "War on Women." If you asked a conservative, at least, Rep. Cory Gardner had destroyed years of Democratic messaging by saying that he no longer backed a personhood amendment and that he favored making oral contraception available without a prescription. My colleague Amanda Marcotte was not convinced.

He argues in the piece that his proposal would lower contraception costs because, "Almost all therapies that move to OTC drop in price dramatically." That's true, if you ignore the millions of women whose out-of-pocket expenses for contraception above and beyond their insurance premiums have dropped to zero under the Obama HHS requirement that contraception be covered like the preventive care that it is. "Driving the price down for a safe medicine is a better way to provide access to adults who want it than President Obama's insurance mandate," Gardner blithely argues. But how can you drive the price down below what it is for insured women right now, which is $0? 

Gardner started a trend, though. He suffered no perceptible backlash from the right for endorsing oral contraception over the counter—there were no hordes of nuns blocking his driveway. As Alex Jaffe reports, other swing-state Republican candidates have climbed aboard the pill train, most notably Thom Tillis, who's trying to get North Carolina to junk its female senator in part by supporting prescription-free, full-cost access to the pill. A week ago Gardner himself went on the air with a birth control spot that features more shots of smiling women than Ace Frehley's Facetime history.

Does it work? Luckily, NBC/Marist has been in the field during the Great Birth Control experiment. Unfortunately for everyone, the poll does not reveal Udall's and Gardner's relative support from female voters. But the topline numbers find that Udall's lead over Gardner has changed only slightly—from 48–41 to 48–42—over the summer, since his position was announced. Both men have taken hits on their favorable ratings, but Gardner's damage has been worse. In July, registered voters had a slightly favorable view of him, 34/32. Now, they're slightly inclined against him, 35/39. Udall's taken some hits, but he's at 44/40, changed from 42/36 in July.

These questions precede the ad, which Republicans will watch closely to see if they can copy the Gardner position, then accuse Democrats of wanting to deny birth control to women. Will it fool actual women, who realize that the pill's not exactly like Claritin, and you can't just buy a few when you've got a thrilling weekend planned? Perhaps not. But it really does not offend conservatives.

"Well, if it's not something that destroys a human life—and there are many kinds of contraception that don't," said Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a pro-lifer who regularly endorses the GOP's most pro-life bills. "My Catholic friends and I, we don't have the same convictions when it comes to contraception, unless it takes a human life. But I think the over-the-counter issue should be encountered not only in terms of safety, but in how it affects minors. I don't think minors should be able to access almost any kind of significant drug without their parents' permission."

Anyway, come 2015, what's the odds of this bill rocketing to the top of the GOP congressional agenda?