Charleston’s “War of the Roses”

I’m in Charleston, South Carolina, today through Wednesday, on a fact-finding mission (the fact: my father celebrating his 80th birthday; the finding: there are few nicer places to be post-Labor Day — provided no hurricanes are working their way up the Atlantic seaboard).

So when in Rome . . .

One of my favorite signs that one sees posted in these parts: “Here in the South we don’t hide crazy. We parade it on the front porch and give it a cocktail”.

Charleston-area politics are keeping in that spirit. As proof: the local congressman, interim Republican Mark Sanford.

Yes, the same Mark Sanford who represented these parts in Congress back in the 1990s . . .

. . . The same Mark Sanford who went on to become South Carolina’s governor . . .

. . . And, yes, the same governor who made “hiking the Appalachian Trail” part of America’s political slang after a gubernatorial absence supposedly sparked by a need to clear his head that instead turned out to be a visit to Argentina to be with his mistress.

Which, in turn, led to Sanford resigning from office and his wife resigning from the marriage — a messy divorce that remains messy to this day (more on that in a moment) — and the former governor and possible presidential contender joining the Information Age’s rogues’ gallery of scandal-felled politicians (that list including presidential hopeful John Edwards (affair and love child), former Nevada Sen. John Ensign (affair with staffer married to fellow staffer), former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer (“Client 9″ in a prostitution ring) and former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (“Carlos Danger” of tweeting/sexting fame).

South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, the “Lazarus” of recent sex-scandal pols for resurrecting his career.

But here’s what’s different about Sanford. Whereas the other aforementioned scandal-pols are lifetime radioactive, Sanford is the Lazarus of the bunch. Not only did he run again in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District (an opening made available when then-Rep. Tim Scott was named to Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat), but he actually won.

And, in 2014, Sanford’s unopposed in the November election.

How’d this once-disgraced politician pull it off?

Three reasons:

1) The 2013 opponent. Sanford had the good fortune of running against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Bush in the May 2013 special election to fill out Scott’s term. You might recognize the middle name: she’s the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert (also in the race: Republican Teddy Turner Jr., the son of media mogul Ted Turner). This time, Sanford actually was on the trail — working the district’s grassroots. And he tied his Democratic opponent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — as in most other parts of the South then and now, a bad place for a Democratic congressional hopeful to be.

2) The district. Why’d the Pelosi connection work? Because SC CD-1 is decidedly Republican territory: the GOP has a 20% registration advantage. The district’s seen a resurgence in  local business and manufacturing; a signature employer, Boeing, makes life difficult for any labor-friendly Democrat given the conflict between the aviation giant and the National Labor Relations Board over right-to-work. However, SC-1’s also a rather unique part of South Carolina: it’s coastal, only 21% rural, and one of the few areas of the state that went with Mitt Romney instead of Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Translation: though decidedly Republican (Romney carried the district by 18% in November 2012), it’s maybe a little more open-minded than, say, the heavily religious upstate, to Sanford’s past transgressions.

3) The ex-wife. Most political scandals involving adultery have the same lead characters: a cheating husband, a sympathetic wife. But not so, in Sanford’s case. Earlier this month, news broke that the congressman’s ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, had filed a legal complaint to limit their 16-year-old son’s interaction with her former spouse’s lover, Maria Belen Chapur, and suggesting the child was exposed to excessive drug and alcohol use. Just as, in April 2013 (yes, right before the special election), it came out that the ex-Mrs. Sanford had filed a lawsuit alleging that her ex-husband had trespassed on her property, violating the terms of their divorce agreement. Sanford’s response to the latest associations: “preposterous, crazy and wrong”. Local observers see the whole thing in a cinematic light: the Sanfords are “Chucktown’s” version of 1989’s The War of the Roses — the tale of a warring couple who literally duel to their deaths.

Only, that movie last a couple of hours. The Sanford’s war of wordslegalactionthreats seems to have no end — as evidence, this remarkable Sept. 12 tweet from the congressman.

So there you have it — a political comeback unlike any other in recent times (with the possible exception of Bill Clinton going from nearly impeached to respected elder statesman).

Crazy? Maybe. Or maybe not.

But definitely on the front porch.

And certainly worth a cocktail to two.

Bonus coverage: The War of the Roses trailer . . .

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A Special Voter Turns 80

Father son son in Nice, which was really nice.

Father and son touring in Nice, which was really nice.

A landmark day in the Whalen family: my father is celebrating his 80th birthday.

About the “old man”: he’s made a journey that he’d never boast about, but is impressive in its own right. He lost his father at a young age and grew up in a small industrial town near Pittsburgh — the sort of town that people tended not to leave if they could land a job in the steel industry, city government or local school system.

But my father was cut from a different cloth. For one, he was whip-smart (this is a man who reads The New York Times front to back, without missing a word) — rare is the time he doesn’t know a little bit about something . . . in addition to a whole lot about art, aviation, history, opera, classical music and world travel.

Second, he caught a break: in the early years of the Cold War, Uncle Sam thought he was officer material. He landed a Naval ROTC scholarship that provided a free education at the University of Virginia (in return for service to his country). There, his eyes were opened to a world of knowledge and possibilities — and, it turns out, the woman who’d give him two children.

It’s an odyssey I not merely respect but for which I’m truly grateful, as my parents endeavored to give my sister and I luxuries and advantages (private school education, overseas travel) they didn’t have — and today’s generation doesn’t appreciate. To use a baseball metaphor, my father started out life behind in the count, yet not only managed to club an extra-base hit but worked his way around the bases — while making sure his children entered their adulthood at least in scoring position.

As this is an election blog, I have to justify this post with a political twist, so here ’tis: my father’s voting history in presidential elections (this wasn’t easy to get — my father hates talking about himself; and I sense there are plenty of presidential hopefuls he’d just as soon forget).

The list, keeping in mind he couldn’t vote until he was 21:

1956 — Eisenhower

1960 — Kennedy

1964 — LBJ

1968 — Humphrey

1972 — McGovern

1976 — Carter

1980 — Carter

1984 — Mondale

1988 — Bush

1992 — Perot

1996 — Dole

2000 — Nader

2004 — Kerry

2008 — Obama

2012 — Obama

The noticeable trend: my father tends to vote Democratic — though conservative in some respect, he doesn’t care for right-wing politics per se. But, on occasion, my father will cast a third-party “protest vote if he doesn’t like the choices. His concern at the moment: the decline in quality of candidates being offered to the nation, keeping in mind that he grew up in the age of FDR and larger-than-life presidents.

God willing, my father gets to cast his 16th president ballot in 2016. One thing he’s made clear: he won’t be voting for Hillary. His reasoning: (1) Clinton fatigue; (2) doesn’t think she’ll deal with deficits; (2) not comfortable with Bill lurking around the White House (you’ll notice that he didn’t vote for Bubba either time he had the chance).

Here’s to you, Pop: happy birthday!

And, yes, I forgive you for voting for Perot in 1992 — even though, at the time, your son was working for Bush 41!

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The Final Straw In Mississippi

There are races featuring straw polls and straw men.

But a race decided by who draws the short straw?

That seems to be the case in Poplarville, Mississippi, where a special election runoff for alderman apparently will be decided by the two candidates going this unorthodox route, unless one voter shows up before Tuesday to show photo identification.

About that race: the two contenders — Glenn Bolin and Stephanie Bounds — each received 177 votes in Tuesday’s special election runoff for alderman. However, one voter showed up at the polls without a government-issued photo ID, as now required by law in Mississippi. Under state law, that voter has five business days to bring in a valid ID and make the ballot official.

Otherwise, it’s the straw tiebreaker. Technically, it’s called “determined by lot” — and that can mean drawing straws, flipping coins, you name it.

Even “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock”?

It’s not the first time that a 2014 contest has been settled in this unusual fashion. In New Mexico, Democrats Kenneth Howard Jr. and Robert Baca were tied at 2,879-all in their June 3 primary for McKinley County magistrate judge. So a coin toss settled matters. Howard Jr. called heads — the right call, it turned, out — and won a four-year term.

Then there was the coin-toss, back in 2012 in Kentucky, to settle the outcome in the Walton city council race. In that contest, candidate Robert “Bobby” McDonald ended up in a tie with Olivia Ballou . . . because McDonald’s wife didn’t make it to the polls in time to cast her ballot (presumably, for her husband).

As the candidate later told reporters: “She’s getting just a few hours of sleep so when it came time for Election Day she said wake me up at 1 o’clock and I’ll go up there and get it done. It was my job to wake her up, I didn’t think it was gonna come down to that one vote, so I chose to let her sleep and get her rest and it came down to that one vote.”

Something else McDonald didn’t plan on: actually losing the race.

Yes, there was a coin-toss, which McDonald lost (naturally). But Ballou indicated that she didn’t want to hold office — not after her husband landed a job in Cincinnati, which is about a half-hour to the north of the Kentucky town that bills itself as “the place to be”.

But then Ballou changed her mind (imagine that: a politician flip-flopping) and took the job — because, she feared, her home wouldn’t sell. Indeed, she held the position until September 2013 when she’d sold that property.

And Anderson? He didn’t get the job. No word as to how well his wife slept well on Primary Day 2014.

Bonus coverage: here’s a list of other razor-thin elections in the U.S. and abroad.

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In Ohio, the Wreck of the Ed FitzGerald

In all, not a bad year for Ohioans.

Cleveland landed the services of both LeBron James and Johnny Manziel, as well as the honor of hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The Indians are still in the playoff hunt, while hope springs eternal for long-suffering Browns fans.

Meanwhile, down in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes . . . well, let’s call it Urban blight.

Another Ohioan who’s having a pretty good 2014: Gov. John Kasich, whose re-elect is shaping up as a blowout.

Per this Buckeye Poll, Kasich’s lead over Democrat Ed FitzGerald has ballooned to 19% — 46%-27%. The last time anyone took this race’s pulse, Kasich was ahead by 12.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich: if he wins big in November, does he go national?

So what happened to tilt the race even more in Kasich’s direction?

A lot of the credit goes to his opponent.

In August, it was revealed that, two summers ago, police responded to a 4:30 a.m. call of a suspicious car in Westlake, a city just to the west of Cleveland. There, police found FitzGerald parked with a woman who wasn’t the future candidate’s wife. FitzGerald’s campaign later id’ed the woman as a member of an Irish trade delegation visiting Northeast Ohio.

After that unfortunate tale, reporters discovered that FizGerald, a former FBI agent, was driving with a temporary learner’s permit at the time — and that he’d gone a decade without full driving privileges.

That, in turn, prompted the Ohio State Troopers Association to withdraw their endorsement of the Democrat.

FitzGerald’s tailspin grew worse when he lost the services of his campaign manager and communications director. Add to that the fact that Kasich out-raised him by an 11-1 margin in August and it’s “Ohio”, as in “oh, the humanity”.

This being pivotal, mother-of-all-battlegrounds Ohio, Kasich’s prospects have reporters viewing his campaign through a 2016 prism.

Here’s one story lauding Kasich as “the Republican presidential contender everyone’s overlooking”. Here’s yet another piece that praises the governor as a solid and sensible though “generic” pick, much like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, another presidential possibility. And try this as an addition to a press packet for Iowa and New Hampshire: “the most formidable 2016 GOP candidate you don’t know”.

Of course, it’s easy to float Kasich trial balloons — especially when the governor stands before a crowd of Ohio State Republicans, as he did earlier this week, and tells the young-uns: “If you have hopes and dreams, follow them.”

This much Kasich would have going for him, assuming he sashays his way to that second term.

1) Signing sweeping pension reform in his first term;

2) A sweeping re-election win (translation: mandate);

3) A past life in Washington as a congressional budget maven (translation: I know how to create a surplus and jobs);

4) An insider’s knowledge of a state with which his party is mildly wildly obsessed.

5) And plenty of conservatives waiting for him beyond Ohio, presumably wanting to know what he was suggesting when he said: “I have a right to shape what conservative philosophy means.”

Back to 2014 businesses: here’s Kasich’s latest ad claiming an Ohio economic comeback:

And here’s Gordon Lightfoot, lamenting “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (the Great Lakes freighter, not the candidate)

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The White House’s Hotline . . . To New Hampshire?

Time was when “the hotline” had but one definition: first installed 51 years ago last August, it meant a 24-hour-a-day connection between the White House and the Kremlin in order to speed up communications between the two Cold War powers and prevent another escalation of tension such as the previous October’s Cuban Missile Crisis.

A secure telephone line between Washington and Moscow continues to this day (here’s an interesting question: when’s the last time President Obama’s picked it up and called Vladimir Putin?).

But, these days, there may be a hotter line running out of the White House these days. And it goes straight to  . . . New Hampshire.

2014 hotline politics. Who’s this man talking to? Vladimir Putin, or New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen?

Call me a cynic but consider these two developments:

Scott Brown, the Republican challenger to New Hamsphire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, runs an ad, beginning in late July, blasting the Democratic incumbent as pro-amnesty and soft on border security.

That ad:

A few weeks after Brown goes after Shaheen on the immigration front, WMUR’s Granite State Poll shows Shaheen’s lead shrinking from 12 points to only 2.

And a couple of weeks after that: after much vaunted soul-searching and policy-researching on the White House’s part, President Obama announces that any executive order on illegal immigration — i.e., any action that could be used against Democrats as opening the door to amnesty — is off the table until after the election.

Fast-forward now to tonight’s big event in Washington: the President unveiling his strategy for dealing with ISIL.

Sure, you can argue that it’s the product of forces Obama couldn’t ignore: the beheadings of captive Americans; the possibility of Islamist violence making its way to America’s shores; the President tired of being called disengaged and lethargic.

But, again, there’s a New Hampshire connection.

Shortly before Labor Day, Brown came out with yet another attack ad — this one, a minute-long Web production pounding Obama’s foreign policy and calling on Congress to revoke the citizenship of Americans who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Here’s that ad:

And now, the President taking to the nation’s airwaves to assure his constituents that his foreign policy does indeed have teeth.

Is it coincidence that the White House seems especially reactive to the ebb and flow of New Hampshire’s Senate race? Maybe.

Then again, consider the dynamics of this particular race. Shaheen’s a former governor and a relatively popular senator in a state that’s twice voted for Obama. It’s not a fish-out-of-water contest, as seen throughout the Deep South, where Democratic incumbents are struggling in Romney-red states.

And, on paper, it should be the Republican challenger on the defensive, for crossing over from Massachusetts to jump into the race, and not the Democratic incumbent.

That Brown could score points off Obama so easily ad often is a wake-up call to the White House — maybe that’s why the hot line was ringing. That he could use the President’s policies to Shaheen’s detriment spells trouble for Democrats in both red and purple states come November.

Now that’s a (political) crisis.

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MA 6: Novice Veteran Bags An Incumbent

Another Tuesday, another incumbent bites the dust.

Last night’s victim: Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney, a nine-term Democrat who lost in his primary struggle with Seth Moulton, a 35-year-old Harvard University graduate and Marine veteran. It’s the first Democratic primary casualty in this cycle.

Tierney’s loss wasn’t a compete shock — he survived the 2012 general election by a mere 4,300 votes (a 1% spread).

However, he was the first Bay State Democrat in 22 years to go down in a primary.

Iraq vet Seth Moulton is the first Democrat to take down an incumbent in 2014.

How’d Moulton do it?

He spent roughly $500,000 on campaign ads. Meanwhile, VoteVets, a group that promotes veterans running for Congress, also chipped with an ad touting the challenger as “a Marine from Marblehead” (a coastal town in the state’s 6th Congressional District).

Not that Tierney was a rogue warrior. If anything, his was a resume that looked sorta like John Kennedy’s in 1946 when JFK made his first congressional run at the tender age of 29 — some combat experience, a lot of privilege.

For Moulton, that would include: USMC captain who saw action in Iraq; graduate from four prestigious alma maters (Phillips Academy Andover, Harvard College, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Business School).

And he has some friends in high places: Among Moulton’s supporters: former presidential adviser David Gergen and retired Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Here’s the VoteVet ad, on Moulton’s behalf. Strong stuff.

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Boxer — The Final Round?

The best way to raise California Republicans’ hopes for 2014?

Start talking 2016 — and the buzz that Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer plans to call it a day at the end of this, her fourth term in the “World’s Most Deliberative Body”.

It’s not like 2014 will be a wasted year for the GOP in the Golden State. Republicans have an outside shot at two statewide constitutional offices — Controller and Secretary of State — as well as the possibility of gaining some seats in the House of Representatives and denying Democrats a supermajority in either or both houses of the State Legislature.

But if you want to make a California Republican happy? Start talking about life after Boxer.

Why the deep dislike? Two reasons:

1) Her Style. Whereas Boxer’s Senate colleague, Dianne Feinstein, has forged a reputation as a consensus-builder, voice of reason on intelligence matters and a go-to person for California businesses, Boxer remains the hard-charging progressive — be it the environment, women’s issues and, at present, her starring role in an ad for November’s Proposition 46, a medical-malpractice initiative. Remember, this is the same senator who made it her mission to drag down Sen. Bob Packwood, an Oregon Republican, for his advances toward the opposite sex . . . and she hasn’t lightened up.

2) Her Survivability. Since 1992, California Republicans have envisioned defeating Boxer in a November Senate race, only to walk away each time sorely disappointed. In 1992, it was author and academic Bruce Herschensohn, done in by allegations that he frequented a nude dance club. Six years later, then-State Treasurer Matt Fong was thought to be a formidable opponent, only to be swept away in a Democratic landslide (and some attack ads). In 2004, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones gave it a try and failed — Jones tried to tie himself to John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boxer responded with Bush-Cheney. In 2010, it was Carly Fiorna’s turn. But again, another bad year to be a Republican in California.

Oddly enough, 2016 would seem an easy race for Boxer, if she wanted a fifth term (she’d be 76 at the time, the same current age as California Gov. Jerry Brown). Why so?

For one, it’s a presidential year, which means a higher turnout and more energized Democrat base.

Second, it’s not like there’s a readymade supply of Republicans waiting on deck to challenge her.

And, third, the landscape favors Boxer’s party two years from now: 23 Republican seats to defend to only 10 for Democrats.

So Republicans will have to wait for Boxer to decide her Senate future. Here’s a little Simon & Garfunkel to help ‘em pass the time . . .

Bonus coverage: Here’s Boxer’s star turn in the aforementioned Prop 46 ad . . .

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