Florida's 13th District: The Most Important Election in America (Tonight)
I've written a lot about the special election in FL-13, but haven't brought the information into one bite-sized blog post. Since Vox.com isn't yet around to explain this for us, I'll just have to try.
What is Florida's 13th district?
It's a compact portion of Pinellas County, a ridiculously pleasant peninsula that sits between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.
Which party does it favor?
Ah, that's the question. Five months ago, Florida Rep. Bill Young announced that this term would be his last; then, he passed away. Democrats had already put FL-13 on their map, because it had been trending their way for years. George W. Bush won the district twice, but Barack Obama won it by 4 points in 2008 and 2 points in 2012. For Democrats to have any chance of taking the House -- and nobody thinks they can this year, but anyway -- they need to win districts like this to make up for likely losses in blood-red open seats.
So who's running?
Democrats nominated Alex Sink, the last statewide elected Democrat in Florida, who had to move 15 minutes to become a district resident. Republicans reluctantly, and after a primary, nominated a slick former Young aide/lobbyist named David Jolly. The Libertarian Party nominated 27-year old Lucas Overby, whom Republicans worry about; American Crossroads tapped Rand Paul to record robocalls asking Overby voters to pick Jolly instead. (It's not entirely clear that Overby voters are natural Republicans, though. In last year's race for governor of Virginia, Libertarian Robert Sarvis ended up taking more votes from the Democratic candidate than from the Republican. And Overby has run a surprisingly...
Okay, that's enough about the Libertarian.
Sorry, force of habit.
We don't know yet, but Sink started the race with an advantage. Jolly was bloodied by a primary that couldn't have been more Floridian. The first post-primary poll gave Sink a 7-point advantage, with Overby taking 4 percent. The last poll, a Public Policy Polling study conducted for the League of Conservation Voters, gave Sink a 3-point lead, with the Libertarian at 6 percent. Sink has never cracked 50 percent, but Jolly has only led in one poll, a Chamber of Commerce survey that had him up 44-42.
You're useless. Who do smart people think will win?
Well, there have been quite a few hint-nudge stories, sourced from Republican operatives, about how Jolly was blowing it. The latest, from Politico, suggested that Jolly had undermined the national groups working for him, run cruddy ads (hey, those sound like the sort of things angry consultants would say), and basically failed to discredit Sink. My time in the district left me deeply unimpressed by both candidates, but the Jolly allies' message that Sink had frittered away state finances and run a predatory bank didn't hit as hard as Sink's message that Jolly was a lobbyist. People strongly dislike lobbyists, especially when, like Jolly, they pretend that they know how Washington works but totally haven't been enriched by the knowledge.
I thought this was a referendum on Obamacare.
To an extent, it is. The health care law has affected tens of thousands of people in the district. Some of them found coverage for the first time. Some lost coverage that they'd liked. Few people saw their bills shrink. But like I was saying, American Crossroads used some of its ad money to attack Sink's own record, and Sink's allies never really messaged on "Obamacare."
Where can I watch this train wreck?
You're in luck. This is a one-county race, and the Pinellas web site has a map of results that will be updated all night. Instead of being one of those idiots who mindlessly reacts to the first raw votes, you can be a smart person who knows which precincts are in. The results for the 2012 race are here. If the map is considerably bluer tonight, you know who that's good for. If Jolly keeps most of Young's territory, he makes that not-so-rare transition from D.C. insider to congressman.
Young Republicans Are Even More Likely Than Old Republicans to Oppose Legal Abortion
One of the official narratives of CPAC is captured well here by Jonathan Martin. "Younger conservatives are more firmly staking out a libertarian orientation on social issues," he writes, "in a way that will shape the 2016 presidential primary as candidates seek to appeal to activists who are in the party because of social issues and to younger voters who see some aspects of cultural conservatism as intolerant."
There's something of a sample bias here, as the makeup of CPAC itself has grown more libertarian, more geared to Ron Paul's "liberty movement," between 2009 and today. That's due in part to the assiduous work of Paul's forces and the Cato Institute (which spawned Students for Liberty), due in part to some social conservatives angrily quitting the conference in past years, due in part to the real trend. But it's true—on gay rights, on drug policy, on prison reform, the momentum is with the social libertarians.
The problem is in what Martin buries near the end.
There is no division, however, on the issue of abortion, with young and old opposed in almost equal numbers. Still, younger Republicans are more willing to support a candidate who does not share their position on abortion than those over 45, according to the [CBS/NYT] poll.
Well, that's one result from the poll. Another: Subjects were asked which position described where they were on abortion.
"It should be generally available to those who want it?"
"It should be available but under stricter limits than it is now?"
"It should not be permitted?"
Twenty-two percent of all Republicans said abortion should be generally available. Among Republicans aged 18 to 44, the number fell to 19 percent. Young Republicans were just as likely as old Republicans to favor a total abortion ban.
That's not momentum for the leave-us-alone crowd. It's pretty easy to guess why gay marriage is gaining traction while abortion isn't. Weddings are pleasant to think about. Terminated pregancies, less so. And it's something that complicates any general GOP trudge toward the "center."
Ted Cruz: CIA Spying on Congress Fits the Pattern of Obama’s Abuses of Power
Dianne Feinstein's claim that the CIA spied on Intelligence Committee computers, made in a careful but impassioned 40-minute floor speech, has rattled the city around her. The responses to leak and spying stories since 2010 have been iterative—the WikiLeaks revelations produced no legislation, while the Snowen revelations have started a churn of bills but no sure vote-winner. Feinstein's story has changed the discussion.
Well, it hasn't changed everything. Talking to reporters after Senate lunches, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz folded the Feinstein allegation into a narrative of Obama administration abuses and Democratic acquiescence.
"If it is correct that the CIA breached the security of Senate computers, that is a very serious allegation," said Cruz. "I would note, it is consistent with a pattern of the Obama administration, of disregarding the constitutional liberties of the citizenry and disrespecting the constitutional role of the United States Congress. And I would say that protecting the institutional authority of the U.S. Congress is not helped, when during the State of the Union, President Obama says, 'If Congress won't act, I will,' and virtually every Democrat in Congress stands and cheers."
Cruz went on to pine for "the lions of the Senate, the Robert Byrds, the Ted Kennedys," and ask why so few Democrats criticized their administration. But not far away, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden was reading carefully from yellow note cards, on which he was starting to write a full statement about the Feinstein accusations. Wyden's often in this position—he can only reveal so much of what he knows without blasting out classified information. All he could say, really, was that he'd tried to get the CIA on the record about this before.
"I asked Mr. Brennan, director of the CIA, whether the computer fraud law applied to the CIA. He had no answer for me."
Embattled D.C. Mayor Wants His Own Zach Galifianakis Interview
The headline could be condensed to two words: "Gray Knew." To be more careful, perhaps "Prosecutors: Gray Knew." This just four weeks before Gray faces a swarm of rival Democrats in the party primary. Prosecutors who had spent much of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's term investigating the finances of his 2010 campaign announced that the mayor had known of illegal donations. He was the "Mayoral Candidate A" who appeared in charges against Jeffrey Thompson, a Democratic fundraiser who'd allegedly supplied 28 campaigns with illegal money, and who allegedly was given a business plan to help Gray. The mayor denied this, a day before he was scheduled to give a "state of the city" address.
Anyway, that was the context in which Gray's campaign manager, Chuck Thies, retweeted my sarcastic reference to President Obama's interview on Funny or Die's Between Two Ferns.
I might have to borrow this idea. RT @daveweigel: Internet Comedy Video Restores Popularity of Embattled President— Chuck Thies (@ChuckThies) March 11, 2014
Pretty funny, because it's pretty true. The Between Two Ferns video, which has distracted much of the Beltway media, is a play from the Richard Nixon Guide to Becoming Likable. Typically, Zach Galifianakis' interview show is a comedy of awkward manners, in which guests sit and stew as the host asks them insulting questions. (One to Justin Bieber: "You've had three hairstyles. What's next for your career?") The Obama video gives the president a head start on the comedian; he has zingers at the ready when Galifianakis gets too insulting. Every politician would want this treatment.
House Republican, Facing Primary Defeat, Says Boehner Should Resign
Texas Rep. Ralph Hall was elected in 1980, as a conservative Democrat. He switched parties in 2004, after his East Texas district was redrawn and became ideal for a Republican and death for a Democrat. Ten years later, at age 90, Hall is running for re-election by telling voters no one will work harder to oppose Nancy Pelosi and vote down debt limits.
That "age 90" thing has been a problem, though, and Hall failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote in last week's primary. He faces a May runoff against John Ratcliffe, a former mayor and U.S. attorney, and he's trying to outflank his opponent on the right. This, I'm guessing, is why he made a campaign trip to Texarkana and called for John Boehner to quit.
"The speaker of the House, John Boehner, needs to resign," Hall said, according to reporter Jim Williamson. "When I was first elected, Congress had an 80 percent approval rating. Now, it's less than 8 percent. Something is wrong."
The Ratcliffe campaign interprets this as a stunt. "After 34 years in Congress, the people of East Texas are learning that there is almost nothing Ralph Hall won't say to stay in office," said Daniel Kroese, Ratcliffe's campaign manager. It's not clear that the Boehner jibe even helped Hall; he made the remark weeks ago, they landed with a thud, and Ratcliffe forced the runoff anyway.
Senate Democrats Pretend to Filibuster, Hope Donors Notice
Last night's #Up4Climate speech-a-thon, in which Democrats used witching-hour floor time to talk about the need for action on environmental law, was a uniquely Washingtonian combo of inspiration and cynicism. Absolutely, most Senate Democrats want to pass a climate bill, and absolutely, they fumbled the chance away in 2010 when they failed to come up with a companion to the House's cap-and-trade bill that could survive a filibuster.
But the origins of last night's protest, as Ed O'Keefe reported, were at a fundraiser with Tom Steyer. The billionaire is planning to spend $100 million in 2014 to cancel out the damage of Republican-backing ads, and needs to be convinced not to spend it against vulnerable Democrats like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.* (She appeared on a who-to-target-next quiz on Steyer's site. So far, she has not been targeted in the way Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor was over gun control.)
The protest also boosted Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the state's open Senate seat in a bit of a surprise (Hawaii hadn't sent a white male to the Senate ... well, ever), immediately drawing a primary challenge. Schatz has created a reputation from nothing, taking point on climate and money-in-politics issues, courting progressives at events like the annual Netroots Nation conference.
So: no climate bill. But a nice shine on the reputations of some Senate Democrats.
*Correction, March 11, 2014: This post originally misstated that Tom Steyer plans to spend $100 billion in 2014 to help Democratic congressional candidates.
CPAC 2014: The Ultimate Conservative Speech
The following is a "speech" composed of applause lines from various CPAC speeches. I think it hangs together.
Thank you. If you are at CPAC, by definition you are a young person, because you believe in the future of America. You're never too young or too old to make a difference in politics. It's like y'all went rogue.
We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for. The political and media elites are lying to us. They are tolerant of diversity except when you disagree with them. Our ideas are better than their ideas. We need to abolish the IRS. Personal courage is abolishing the IRS. We need to stop the lawlessness.
I do not like this Uncle Sam. I do not like his health care scam. Under Barack Obama, you can murder his personal representative and get away scot-free. If that's your attitude, Mr. President, what the hell are we paying you for? I'd consider suing Harvard Law School to get his money back, because I'm not sure what he learned in three years. To Jimmy Carter, I want to issue a sincere apology. It is no longer accurate to say he is the worst president of my lifetime. The Supreme Court voted against this president 9–0.
If you want to keep your doctor, you may have to change your congressman. Conservative Republicans, we're going to take the Senate. Taking the gavel out of Harry Reid's hand on the first Tuesday in November is going to be pretty darn sweet. The truth is, that if we don't change these pensions, you're not going to collect them.
If you vote for candidates who think it's the role of the state to provide health care, don't complain when your hospitals are as badly run as everything else run by the state. They put forth candidates who keep apologizing for the values they believe in, and then they wonder why they lose. We're spending money in other places where they don't want us, and frankly, I don't want them.
We must stop this president from shredding the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment is equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this. There is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want. This fight was our fight, and we pushed back, and we won. And now everyone is happy, happy, happy.
We don't have an income inequality problem—we have an opportunity inequality problem in this country, because government's trying to control the private market. Perhaps liberals are talking so much about income inequality right now because they hope you won't notice how much worse they have made it. We are not waging a war on women simply because we believe there is no reason for birth control to be free.
There is no other country that I would rather be. We either have borders, or we don't. I will continue to defy the PC police. I will not retreat an inch, and I will be heard. We start in one month on the Old Post Office, which is an incredible building.
May God bless each of you as you strive for freedom and to create a more perfect union, and may God always continue to bless our great nation. God bless.
Poll: Florida Dem Narrowly Leads in Tomorrow’s Special Congressional Race
The League of Conservation Voters has teamed with Public Policy Polling for, likely, the final poll on the race for Florida's 13th District. If accurate, it confirms what Republicans have feared—a superior Democratic organization has turned out enough votes for Democrat Alex Sink that Republican David Jolly is likely to lose tomorrow. PPP suggests that 60 percent of voters have turned out already (122,000 ballots have been cast before Election Day) and that Sink's won them by 7 points. Jolly's winning the rest of the electorate by 4 points.
That keeps Sink in the lead, bailed out by the very moderate-sounding 27-year-old Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby. And that's another factor Republicans feared—a third-party group got Rand Paul to make a robo-call, asking the sort of voters who might cast a "screw 'em" vote for Overby go for Jolly instead.
Right before early voting began, I spent five days in the district to report out how the Affordable Care Act was affecting the race (oh, and the human beings who cast votes). Conclusion: It does not help Sink. The Chamber of Commerce and NRCC have blasted Sink with ads warning voters that she "supports Obamacare." (Sink, who was state CFO from 2007 to 2011, did not get to vote on the law.) Sink has not run any ads defending the law itself, choosing instead to warn voters that Republicans like Jolly want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, hoping that affection for the old programs outstrips any worry about the new one—oh, and that Jolly is a scummy lobbyist.
But Republicans have hedged, too. American Crossroads has hit Sink for the pension fund losses that occurred in her tenure as CFO. (2008–2009 was a suboptimal time to run a fund.) More importantly Republicans have spent months predicting that Jolly might blow it and let the Democrats take a seat that has historically, safely gone Republican. George Will's column on the race offered the ideal sentiment: "If Sink wins, Republicans nationally can shrug; if Jolly wins, Democrats should tremble."
Wealthy Democratic Candidate Ends His Flirtation With a National Sales Tax
When Rep. Jim Moran announced that he'd be retiring from Congress this year, he created a rare and precious thing—a race for a safe Democratic seat in Virginia. The 8th District, which Moran had represented (in some form) since 1990, currently encompasses the city of Alexandria and the deep-blue counties that hug the District of Columbia. In 2012 Barack Obama won the district by 37 points, running ahead of Moran, who won by a paltry ... 34 points.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary, then, is going to be in Congress next year. That's why everyone with ambition has piled into the race, and why the candidacy of Don Beyer worries some progressives.
Beyer, who turns 64 this year, was lieutenant governor of the state before it became deep red. He's made millions from Volvo dealerships in the state, and can theoretically bludgeon his competitors.
But should a safe Democratic seat go to a business-friendly Democrat? Over the weekend, one activist forwarded me this article about a 2005 event for the American International Automobile Dealers Association. The guest speaker was Tom DeLay—yeah, that one—who was friendly to the IAAA's support for estate tax repeal and suggested that the entire tax code could be replaced by a national sales tax. Reporter Harry Stoffer talked to Beyer afterward.
[People] would not be paying income tax under a DeLay-style plan. Unexpectedly, the concept was endorsed quickly by Don Beyer, an activist Democrat and Subaru-Land Rover-Volvo dealer in northern Virginia.
"It makes eminent sense as public policy," said Beyer, who is scheduled to be AIADA chairman in 2007. He said it would improve capital formation because wealthy individuals and businesses would have more money to invest in new ventures.
Nine years later, what does Beyer think?
"We're not sure about the context, but Don never supported replacing the progressive income tax with a national sales tax, and he never will," said Ann O'Hanlon, speaking on behalf of the Beyer campaign. "Don believes that the middle class and working families already bear too much of the burden. He supported Obama's rollback of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and in Congress would work to eliminate loopholes that allow the wealthy to pay a lower effective tax rate than many middle class families."
Iowa GOP Chairman Quits, Then Joins Rand Paul’s PAC
On Saturday, with no warning, Iowa's Republican Party chairman announced his resignation. A.J. Spiker, a supporter of Ron Paul's presidential campaigns, had benefited from the "liberty movement's" organizing—an effort that won Paul most of Iowa's delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention.
In power, Spiker had been under attack, regularly, from the other factions of the party. Most of the time they criticized him for failing to raise enough money; the subtext was that the "mainstream" wanted the reins back from the Paul family. They got 'em. As Jennifer Jacobs reported, Spiker resigned after more moderate Republicans "showed up in large numbers to at-times tedious and lengthy county conventions typically frequented by only the most diehard activists."
The counter-revolution had been a long time coming. So was the upside. Ever since Spiker took over the party, and promised not to lead it through 2016, it was assumed he would return to the Paul fold. And now he has. RANDPAC, Sen. Rand Paul's political organization, has announced that Spiker will come aboard as a "political advisor."
"There is no better champion for liberty lovers then Senator Rand Paul," said Spiker in a statement. "I look forward to working with the team, together we can make a difference. I am eager to hit the ground running."