Reporting on Politics and Policy.

March 24 2014 4:57 PM

Ron Paul and a New Libertarian Rift Over Ukraine

Early this morning, the president of the libertarian group Students for Liberty co-wrote an op-ed critical of Ron Paul's response to the Crimea incursion. Alexander McCobin (whom I worked with briefly when I was at Reason magazine) told readers of the Panam Post that "former Congressman Ron Paul, whose views are interpreted by many as wholly representative of the libertarian movement, gets it wrong when he speaks of Crimea’s right to secede." He went on:

Make no mistake about it, Crimea was annexed by Russian military force at gunpoint and its supposedly democratic “referendum” was a farce. Besides a suspiciously high voter turnout without legitimate international observers, the referendum gave Crimeans only two choices — join Russia now or later. Besides a suspiciously high voter turnout without legitimate international observers, the referendum gave Crimeans only two choices — join Russia now or later.

It’s much too simplistic to solely condemn the United States for any kind of geopolitical instability in the world. Non-interventionists who sympathize with Russia by condoning Crimea’s secession and blaming the West for the Ukrainian crisis fail to see the larger picture. Putin’s government is one of the least free in the world and is clearly the aggressor in Crimea, as it was even beforehand with its support of the Yanukovych regime that shot and tortured its own citizens on the streets of Kyiv.

After Rosie Gray spotlighted the op-ed, I got flashbacks. In 2007 and 2008, when Ron Paul ran for president, the libertarian movement was of two minds about his candidacy. "Two" might be selling it short. Paul, whose political career began in the 1970s as a reaction to Nixonian monetary policy, came from the "paleo" wing of the movement as defined by the late Murray Rothbard and as enforced by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Later generations of libertarians, generally, were more socially progressive and, while critical of foreign entanglements, constantly looking for alliances in other countries' protest movements. (Go buy a copy of Brian Doherty's history of libertarianism, which was stiffed by critics but has been cribbed by many a reporter since then.)

Students for Liberty was founded in the summer of 2008, after the Paul campaign had (to the surprise of many) created or located countless young libertarians. McCobin, who'd come to D.C. on a Charles Koch Institute fellowship, was its founder. Around that same time, the Ron Paul movement produced Young Americans for Liberty, an outgrowth of the campaign's young voter outreach program—a young activist named Jeff Frazee moved seamlessly from the campaign to the new organization.

The two groups haven't exactly clashed. By 2009, Democrats ran the entire federal government, and the Cato/Koch-type libertarians were in the same foxhole as the Rothbardians. But the tone of McCobin's post is key—he wanted readers to know that Ron Paul, who remains well-known enough to be quoted as a prominent American politician, does not represent all libertarians. YAL has said nothing about Ukraine/Crimea, and Frazee demurred when I asked whether the group had an opinion.

Both groups, both factions in the movement, are currently comfortable with Rand Paul's approach to the crisis. But allies of the Pauls don't exactly thrill when the other faction alerts the media to the fissures.

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March 24 2014 2:49 PM

GOP Senate Front-Runner Not Sure if He’ll Vote to Make McConnell the Majority Leader

Three-term Rep. Bill Cassidy is the GOP establishment's preferred candidate against Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. It's not too difficult to find consultants who'll talk down Cassidy (he's not exciting, while Landrieu is an outstanding retail politician—there, just saved you an anonymous quote), but he's got the advantage if he gets Landreiu into a runoff. Getting there means blasting past a Tea Party candidate, though, so Cassidy can't just ignore the demands of the right.

I think this was the context for Cassidy's town hall answer, last week, after being asked whom he'd support for leader if he got to the Senate.

"I don't know," says Cassidy. "I don't know who's running. That's an honest answer. I don't know who's running. But it's kind of interesting, because people who are rumored to be running are helping me tremendously in my campaign. John Cornyn called just the other day."

In the clip below, you can hear Cassidy talk about how much the energy industry can do for him and how proud he is to be backed by John Cornyn. At no point in the clip does he discuss Mitch McConnell.

Haven't heard back from McConnell or Cornyn about this yet. 

UPDATE: Okay, I heard back. McConnell's office says that, yes, he plans to run for leader at the end of the year. From Cornyn's office:

Cornyn has previously said he is a “big fan” of Sen. McConnell and he expects him to win his race. When he does, Sen. Cornyn will support him as the next leader of Senate Republicans.  

March 24 2014 1:02 PM

Scott Brown’s Latest, Weakest Excuse for Embracing Super PACs

When they're not trying to debunk Nate Silver, Democratic Senate campaigns are trying to kneecap their strongest opponents the second they walk into the ring. In Colorado they got Rep. Cory Gardner to make an embarrassing reversal of his old support for fetal "personhood" amendments. In New Hampshire they're shaming Scott Brown for refusing to sign a "People's Pledge" with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. In 2012 Brown proposed a deal with Elizabeth Warren: Pre-denounce super PAC spending and keep it out of the state, to cut down on the anonymously funded TV ads.* Shaheen has goaded him about signing a new version of the pledge. This poses some risk to the cool-dad/guy-you'll-have-a-beer-with appeal that has made Brown electable. Brown, who—again—came up with the pledge in the first place, keeps saying no to a Pledge 2.0. 

Brown called the request “hypocritical,” pointing to a West Coast fund-raising swing by Shaheen, and told reporters that the “horse has kind of left the barn.”
“Before I even thought of becoming a candidate, Jeanne Shaheen’s allies in Washington were running negative ads against me for months,” Brown said in a statement.

This is lame stuff that ignores how the first pledge came about. It happened after Brown allies spent months attacking Warren with TV ads. On Nov. 9, 2011, Crossroads GPS went up with a TV ad ripping Warren for saying she'd provided the "intellectual foundation" for Occupy Wall Street.

One month later, Crossroads GPS went back on the air to attack Warren for her TARP oversight. Yes, after attacking her osmotic endorsement of #Occupy, they said she was too close to Wall Street. It's politics, don't think too hard about it.

It was only at the end of January, two months after Karl Rove's group had splattered Warren with its contradictory messages, that both candidates signed the pledge. Nobody claimed that the "horse was out of the barn." That was the point—it was early and the horse could easily be led back into the barn. 

*Specifically, the candidates pledged to give $1 to charity for every $2 a super PAC or 501 spent against their opponent. It wasn't ironclad, but it cut down on outside spending.

March 24 2014 12:18 PM

Scott Walker’s Foreign Policy: Reagan, Reagan, and More Reagan

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has rarely talked about foreign policy. There have been no disputes with Canada about the riches of Lake Superior; there's been plenty to do at home, without reporters even really asking about the world outside Wisconsin. So it's interesting that Walker engaged with Phil Klein when the reporter asked him to sketch out some national security views. Less interesting: Walker's actual answer, which led off with the Ronald Reagan reference he has previously used to explain his collective bargaining reforms.

"When Ronald Reagan took that action against the air traffic controllers, that in my mind was the beginning of the end of the Cold War," he said. "And the reason was, from that point forward nobody doubted how serious Ronald Reagan would be as president. Our allies knew that they could trust him, that he was rock solid. Our adversaries knew not to mess with him. And even though he presided over an incredible buildup in our nation’s national defense, in our military, we had very few, very limited military engagements during his eight years as president."

Brief interruption: How many troops has the president sent into action in five years? Pilots, sure; special forces into combat zones inherited from the Bush administration, sure. I'd also suggest that Reagan's funding for armies that wore down the Russians and their allies (Afghanistan, Nicaragua) had more to do with the American advance than Reagan's air traffic controller decision, but whatever, let's go with it.

“To me, if you have a strong America led by a strong president who makes serious statements about what they mean not only on national security and foreign policy, but on all other issues, we're not going to be faced with many of these situations because people will know if they're allies we can be counted on and if they're adversaries not to mess with us,” he said. “And when we have an America where … Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the White House getting the cold shoulder from the president who still can't figure out exactly where they stand on Israel, and when you have… a red line in discussions about Syria which apparently (he) was never serious about doing anything about, no wonder, whether you were in Iran or Russia, or anywhere else around the world, no wonder people feel certain comfort taking action because they don't see this administration as willing to act. I'm not necessarily encouraging that we draw red lines all over the place. My sense is just, you shouldn't point a gun at somebody if you're not prepared to shoot.”

That's just a K-Tel greatest hits of conservative hits on the president. Not terribly useful for understanding Walker ... until you recall that his memoir, which contained almost no foreign policy, was co-written by Bush/Rumsfeld veteran Marc Thiessen. What's he been saying about Obama?

Obama’s failure to enforce his red line in Syria projected weakness. His constant talk of withdrawal and ending wars so we can focus on “nation-building here at home” projects weakness. His decision to gut the U.S. defense budget and reduce the Army to pre-World War II levels projects weakness.

So there's a script here, if Walker needs something to rely on.

March 24 2014 11:24 AM

Bashing the Kochs Can Triple a Democrat’s Fundraising Haul

When the Senate returns this week, we'll learn whether Harry Reid will continue his epic assault on Charles and David Koch. As far as the party's concerned, it's been working—it's gotten the press to cover their attacks, cover the Kochs, even look more closely at whether the Kochs are profiting from this or that Republican-backed deal. Republicans, in response, have been defending the patriotism and good faith of America's most political billionaires—another effect Democrats were going for.

And here's another reason that the Democrats will keep battering the Kochs. I've seen some numbers from fundraising emails from one campaign that were sent from roughly mid-January to mid-March, pretty bad news cycles for the party. Nineteen emails didn't mention the Kochs. They raised, in total, $48,146.30, for an average of $2,534.02 per message.

But five emails mentioned, in at least some way, the Koch brothers. Those asks raised $32,668.72, an average of $6,533.74 per email. The Democratic base, which has been hearing about and fearing the Kochs for nearly four years, responds to this stuff.

March 24 2014 9:31 AM

Congresswoman Yells at Constituent in the Worst-Shot Political Video of All Time

On Friday, the day she officially filed for re-election, North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers got a small problem in the form of the worst tracking video in human history. Someone using the account of the Randolph Tea Party recorded a confusing exchange between Ellmers, who backs some form of immigration reform this year, and a constituent, who decidedly doesn't. If there's local reporting on the town hall, I haven't seen it; Breitbart seems to have been the first outlet to notice the kerfuffle.

In this video, the heart of the thing, Ellmers berates the constituent for talking about immigration without "any damn facts." He seems, to her, to hold a grudge—a "personal issue"—because of a firing in his past. But the congresswoman and the invisible constituent talk past each other, as a crowd sits confused by the vitriol. They murmur as Ellmers tells the constituent "I appreciate you sharing that with me, because now I know where your hatred and vitrol come from."

The exchange, for some reason, is spread across a few videos.

Ellmers' office hasn't commented on the exchange; I've asked the citizen journalist for details about what the hell was happening. The absence of any image of Ellmers underscores just how lucky she is. Her 2012 upset was made possible after Republican trackers, posing as "just students working on a project," started taping Rep. Bob Etheridge outside of a building and got bear-hugged and grabbed for their trouble. A video of Ellmers in full-on hector mode would clash with her role as an up-and-coming GOP media star. But here, as when Ellmers appeared on Laura Ingraham's radio show and got loud about immigration, there's no visual to go along with the brashness.

UPDATE: And now I have details. There were 10 people in the room talking to Ellmers, representatives of Listen NC and the Randolph Tea Party, groups that had been requesting a meeting for weeks, to talk about immigration. Bob Youngblood, of the Randolph Tea Party, e-mails:

I was at Ellmers's office with 9 other people on Thursday last. I am also on the legislature team for Grass Roots North Carolina. I, along with many others of, have been in numerous elected officials offices in Raleigh, both republican and democrat, never have I we been so rudely and arrogantly treated. The following letter I was a part to and I believe it is a small fraction of the temperament of the meeting. Her adds are blatant lies, she is for the illegals staying and amnesty with a path to citizenship!

And he forwards the e-mail sent to members after the meeting.

Immigration Reformers and Concerned Citizens,
It took me months to setup a meeting in person with Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.  We agreed to change the time three days ago to accomodate her, then today (day of our meeting) an email was sent after 10 am (which I actually saw at 11am) asking for us to move the meeting from Dunn to Asheboro.  I was told by her assistant there was less seating in the Asheboro office so I said to her assistant, some of us can just stand, and I scrambled and contacted all ten attendees who were constituents, some already on their way to Dunn but we met in Asheboro at 3:30 pm.  Congresswoman Ellmers already in Asheboro arrived 17 minutes late and said we had only have 13 minutes to speak with her.  As she arrived she said only 3 persons could meet in her office, even though there were four chairs and plenty of standing room.  I mentioned how we scrambled to meet her in Asheboro with her last minute change and all ten attendees are her consitutents and her reply was, "I am in charge and only three can be in the meeting", so the others had to wait in her small lobby just outside her office and to add insult to injury they closed the door on the 7 constituents.
I have arranged 11 group trips to Washington, DC over the last 12 years to meet with US House members and US Senators from North Carolina to discuss immigration reform, not to mention other trips I made to DC myself and local trips, so I have had a lot of experience meeting with members of Congress.  Today's meeting with Congresswoman Ellmers was the most contemptible meeting with a member of Congress I have taken part in. From the beginning she showed a sense of arrogance and disdain for meeting with us.  If you heard the audio clip from the Laura Ingraham radio show of Laura interviewing Renee Ellmers, today was deja vu.  When she wasn't interrupting me she was constantly changing the subject, with a look of glee in her eye as if she thought she was being clever.  I have studied immigration and immigration policies for nearly 20 years, and she was the most misinformed and uninformed member of Congress I have ever spoken with on the matter of immigration reform.....and that is saying something.   
Just as Congresswoman Ellmers called Laura Ingraham ignorant during their interview, Congresswoman Ellmers went a few steps further by calling me ignorant, a racist, and dense during our meeting.......these insults were sprinkled through our discussion which was about immigration policies and her own statements about immigration reform.  I refrained from any personal name calling.  As we know, these kinds of insults are usually used by those who have weak arguments or are under the age of ten.   
Below is a recap of some of the matters I tried to discuss as she attempted to change the subject approximately every 30 seconds.  Our meeting eventually lasted about 40 minutes.
I stated that NC LISTEN believes we need real enforcement of our immigration laws first without any legal work permits for illegals nor an amnesty.   Ellmers believes we must give legal work permits to illegal immigrants.  She denied stating the following but in an op-ed piece in the Fayetteville Observer on January 18, 2014 she wrote, "only after this legal work status is obtained (by illegals) can they have the opportunity to begin the naturalization process".   The naturalization process is a path to citizenship.  I pointed out again that she wrote this and she denied it again.
I asked her why she was for giving legal work permits to illegal immigrants when we have 20 million citizens in the USA who are either unemployed or are working part-time but want and cannot find a full-time job (also called the U-6 rate) and that the U-6 uneployment rate in North Carolina is near 14%.  Even with her attempting to change the subject, I asked her repeatedly and she NEVER would answer that question.
Not once during our conversation did Ellmers ever say she was concerned or troubled by our high unemployment rate and how citizens are was over and over about citizens won't take jobs and why we had to allow illegal immigrants to "earn" legal work permits.  
I mentioned the contacts I get in desperation from people who have lost their jobs to illegals, and she said in effect she didn't believe me, but yet she believes cheap labor industries/companies who tell her they can't find citizens who want to work.  She went on and on about companies telling her citizens won't work and I asked her, given the high real unemployment rate, if she believes most citizens are lazy or won't take non-farm jobs and she dodged that question.  Of course companies who want cheap labor are going to ask her to be weak on immigration enforcement.  She said that since I was attacking some companies for hiring illegal immigrants, I had a grudge against businesses.  I reminded her I worked for a high-tech company for 40 years, but I won't stand by and watch citizens lose jobs to illegal immigrants.  Again she was trying to play a game.   
I was asked to provide ways to stop illegal immigration and I was interrupted repeatedly......she thinks we need to start all over with enforcement ideas.   Of course we enforce few of our immigration laws, so it is enforcement that's missing, not a lack of ideas.
The E-Verify system is but one of many steps but now it is only voluntary, but if Congress required all companies to use it and it was enforced, then it would protect most jobs for citizens......Ellmers said she was for it but wouldn't discuss implementation and she doesn't think it works.   Of course today the companies who hire illegals won't use E-Verify because it's not mandatory and until it is required it won't have near the effect.
As I pressed over and over why can't we give real enforcement a chance as a first step.....she would go off on another tangent.....
After the meeting with Ellmers we all felt that she thinks she is invincible and feels she no longer needs to really listen to conservatives.  
This might be in part because of the group, Americans for a Conservative Direction and, significantly funded by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (has committed to spend $50 million on candidates this year to promote more foreign labor to the USA) and other cheap labor advocates paying for ads now running on the radio promoting Renee Ellmers.   Zuckerberg has pledged to spend these big bucks to "sway" the election of candidates who support Comprehensive Immigration Reform (aka amnesty and large increases of foreign labor to the USA).
Please send this email to your friends and associates.
Ron Woodard

March 21 2014 5:22 PM

Yes, the Illinois GOP Denounced Its Crazy Candidate Already

Kevin Drum takes exception to all of my liberal-baiting posts about the lefty press overhyping fringe candidates like Illinois' Susanne Atanus. He notes that when Mark Clayton won the Tennessse Democratic Party's 2012 Senate nod, the party immediately denounced him.

Has anything similar happened in Illinois? Has the Republican Party denounced Atanus and urged voters to cast their ballots for someone else? No they haven't.

Yes, they have! After Atanus made her 700 Club-worthy gaffe about God casting judgment on the land because of the gays, the chairman of the Illinois GOP denounced her and asked her to quit the race.

The offensive statements by Susanne Atanus have no place in the modern political debate, and she has no place on the ballot as a Republican. Her candidacy is neither supported nor endorsed by the leaders of our party, and she should withdraw from the race immediately.

Later, Atanus' opponent accused Jan Schakowsky of driving voters to the fringe candidate who would not provide "a real challenge." The party spotted the problem with Atanus and tried to denounce her, just as the Texas Democrats tried to keep LaRouche cultist Kesha Rogers out of the runoff in this year's Senate race. They failed.

Ed Kilgore, responding to some of this, makes the right point.

There are so many GOP elected officials and major candidates for office espousing such views that who needs to run the risk of being accused of inflating a marginal wingnut?
Take the John Birch Society-generated Agenda 21 meme, which is just as delusional as anything Atanus has said. It’s part of the messaging of North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon, who could well wind up being the nominee in a crucial Senate race this fall. It was the subject of a legislative “briefing” held by the official Republican caucus in my home state of Georgia. It was the subject of enacted legislation in Alabama. And Agenda 21 was attacked in a resolution formally adopted by the Republican National Committee.

And sometimes these ideas become popular at the undercovered grassroots level and shock the MSM only when the candidates win nominations or show up in the House of Representatives. Great point—I'm just saying news outlets should offer some context for how influential/irrelevent the gaffe-makers are.

March 21 2014 2:57 PM

Propaganda Network Not Actually That Great at Journalism

Based on the social media widgets attached to these blog posts, there's not all that much interest in RT's flailing campaign to discredit its critics. Still, as a longtime gawker at the Kremlin-funded network, I'm amused to see how flatfooted it's been in responding to Liz Wahl's resignation. In James Kirchick's very first piece about Wahl, he disclosed that he had been in touch with her for months. It took RT two weeks to notice that, after TruthDig ran a story by Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek that described Kirchick's role in the neoconservative cosmos. Nobody at RT thought to Google the guy, or read his story, or his byline that describes him as a fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative. 

This has led to darkly entertaining television. Abby Martin, the 9/11 truth activist-turned-RT pundit, devoted a segment to the Kirchick connect that was NOT calling it a "conspiracy," if you ask—in which Kirchick's May 5 disclosure was never mentioned. Martin marvels at how Kirchick got up an exclusive interview with Wahl "just an hour after" the resignation, and credits TruthDig with "revealing how my former colleague's resignation might have been pre-coordinated."

On Twitter, after I derided the Martin report, Blumenthal chimed in.

Blumenthal does this quite frequently, truncating or mischaracterizing what someone else has written in the hopes of moving the argument into his parallel universe. In the two Slate items I wrote about this slapfest, I noted that "Kirchick revealed that Wahl 'reached out' to him after his own viral RT moment" and that Kirchick had "declared quite proudly that he'd inspired Wahl to quit." Nobody, least of all Kirchick, has denied that he coordinated with Wahl. TruthDig just connected the dots between Kirchick and the friend/source group cultivated by lobbyist Michael Goldfarb, then portrayed Wahl as a frustrated and publicity-hungry dupe.

RT defenders cry foul at the coverage of this story, because not all the media writing about Wahl noticed that she'd coordinated with Kirchick. Just this week the Hollywood Reporter called Wahl's resignation "spontaneous." Hey, that's their fault, for not doing some basic research. But you can understand why that detail got lost. People aren't laughing at RT because the neocons told them to. They're laughing at RT because it's RT.* Other news organizations are working on their own stories about the network and its Crimea coverage, and it's going to be tricky to tie them all to the neocons.

*I'm coming at this after years of covering politics, where there are frequently/always agendas behind explosive stories. Democratic trackers, not independent journalists, were the first to notice that Todd Akin had mused about "legitimate rape" in a live interview. Their behind-the-scenes work was part of the story, but the quote itself was the story.

March 21 2014 2:05 PM

Here’s Why Obama Is Worried About Democrats Losing the Midterms: The White Vote

Earlier this week, in one of the "watch out below" speeches an increasingly embattled President Obama has to give, he warned his party that Democrats always get "clobbered" in midterms. Kate Zezima begs to differ.

[T]he President seems to forget the drubbings that Democrats have given Republicans in mid-terms past over the last 30 years.
Democrats trounced Republicans in 2006, picking up 31 House and six Senate seats, enough for a majority in each chamber. In 1998 the party vastly outperformed expectations, picking up five seats in the House and leaving Republicans unable to increase a 10-vote margin in the Senate. Democrats really won big in 1982, claiming 27 House seats, and even bigger in 1986, when they took control of the Senate.

I think this misses the point. Obama, very subtly, was confirming the new, scary conventional wisdom among Democrats that they can no longer win unless they bring out younger and nonwhite voters who traditionally skip midterms and off-years. It didn't used to be this way—Democrats were monumentally stronger in the South in 1998, holding most state legislatures and plenty of majority House seats. But in the Obama era, the Democrats have had to win without the white vote. Here:

In 2006 the electorate was 79 percent white. Didn't hurt the party; boosted by the Iraq War backlash, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote, up from 41 percent in 2004.

Then came 2008, the best Democratic election in a generation. Barack Obama won only 43 percent of the white vote in an electorate that was 74 percent white.

In 2010 the electorate vanilla'd up again—77 percent white this time—and the white vote for Democrats collapsed. They won only 37 percent of it, and only 34 percent of white men.

Now, here's the part that worries Obama. In 2012 the president won re-election despite his share of the white vote tumbling to 39 percent. How'd he do it? Whites made up only 72 percent of the electorate. Michael Dukakis had won exactly as much of the white vote as Obama, and look how he turned out. Twenty-four years of growing racial diversity and a black candidate at the head of the ticket worked wonders.

In 2014 the Democrats fret that the electorate will slip back to 2010 levels of diversity. They prevented a similar tumble in Virginia last year, but Virginia's now a stronger Democratic state than the ones where most competitive Senate races are taking place—Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina. (Democrats already expect to lose South Dakota and West Virginia, both states that have fallen out of the competitive range in presidential elections.)

Take Louisiana, a state that had not elected any Republican to the U.S. Senate until 2004. In 2008, with Obama on the ticket, the electorate was only 65 percent white and Mary Landrieu survived despite taking 33 of that vote. In 2010 the electorate was 71 percent white. Democrat Charlie Melancon won only 22 percent of the white vote.

You can guess what happened to Melancon. If the same electorate showed up in 2014, Landrieu would lose handily. Obama was dog-whistling past the graveyard. 

March 21 2014 11:57 AM

No, This Crazy GOP Candidate Will Not Sink Her Party in 2014

Not to pick on the Huffington Post too much, but the site that perfected the "GOP lawmaker" story just burned up the charts with another genre classic: The "candidate" story that offers no clues about whether the candidate has a chance of winning. To date, nearly 90,000 people have "liked" or "shared" a story tagged "Candidate Who Blames Gay Rights for Tornadoes Scores Big GOP Win." The candidate is Susanne Atanus, "who believes that God dictates weather patterns and that tornadoes, autism and dementia are God's punishments for marriage equality."

What's missing from the story? Atanus' status as a fringe candidate. She's running in Illinois' 9th District, which covers the liberal northern suburbs of Chicago, including Northwestern University's campus and Hillary Clinton's old home of Park Ridge. For decades, the district has been solidly left-wing, and since 1998 it has sent progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky to Congress. She has never won with less than 66 percent of the vote. A 2012 gerrymander took some liberal suburbs out of her seat to make neighboring seats more competitive—Barack Obama still won the district by 28 points over Mitt Romney. Susanne Atanus will never, ever serve in Congress.

This isn't secret knowledge, so why is it so hard to include in a story? The safe blue nature of IL-9 does make it into Matt Berman's National Journal story about Atanus ("the district, says the Cook Political Report, is solidly Democratic"), but it's an afterthought in a piece about how "in what is expected to be a good election year for Republicans, a highly visible political candidate espousing Akinian views could badly damage the party's efforts to expand its ranks."

That's a reach. Both parties are going to be cursed with a few idiot candidates this year. It's the nature of things when most congressional districts are unwinnable—if you can't entice a real candidate to do a party-building exercise, you may end up with a fringe candidate. In 2012 the declining Tennessee Democratic Party accidentally nominated a conspiracy-minded flooring installer for U.S. Senate. The media did not hustle down to Nashville and Memphis to cover him. No Democrat in another state was asked whether they agreed with this candidate about the NAFTA superhighway or the "Godless new world order." When voters are so ignorant and disinterested that they nominate kooks, it's not an opportunity. It's a disgrace.