Reiding Between The Lines

Who’s behind those Foster Grants? it’s soon-to-be-retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

His decision not to seek another Senate sent Washington into a tizzy last week, begging questions as to what prompted the surprise career choice and what it portends for control of the chamber beyond 2016.

But enough about Indiana Sen. Dan. Coats . . .

Instead, it’s Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who made the big splash in announcing that he won’t seek a sixth term next year. And this being the nation’s capital, where no one voluntarily relinquishes power unless (a) they’re shoved out the door or (b) happen to be awaiting indictment, one wonders what all contributed to Reid’s retirement.

Here are three things to ponder:

1) Maybe The Timing Was Right. Reid turned 75 last December, a month after the worst political beating in his career, and a month before an exercise-related accident that left him with broken ribs and facial bones (plus eye damage, which is why he’s wearing those shades in the image above). Perhaps Reid’s also tired and decided he couldn’t stomach another six years in Washington (and maybe we should have seen this coming, after the senator sold his Ritz-Carlton residence last summer). Politico’s Jon Ralston, who’s covered Reid for the better part of three decades, wrote the following: “This was an intensely personal and intensely secretive decision. Not even his closest friends knew until Reid and top aides started making phone calls before dawn in Nevada. This was between Reid and his wife, Landra, who is by far the most influential person in his life. Even some of his kids were not aware. One person who knew put it succinctly: “The honest truth: He didn’t want to be the old senile guy in the Senate. That people looked at and said he used to be sharp. And he wants to win the majority back and go out on top. Prospect of another eight years was too long. 2 or 4 yes; 8 no. And he would never allow his seat to be appointed by [a Republican] governor. So now he can pick who he wants to run in his seat.”

2) 2016 Won’t Be 2014 — It Also Won’t Be 2012, 2010 Or 2008. The last time Reid sought re-election, in 2010, he caught a break. Dean Heller, back in 2010 representing Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District (he’s now Nevada’s junior U.S. Senator), took a pass on challenging Reid. In that year’s GOP primary, Sue Lowden, a former anchorwoman/state senator/state party chair and mainstream favorite, lost to the Tea Party-backed Sharon Angle. After a $20 million campaign portraying Angle as extreme and dangerous, Reid prevailed . . . well, survive’s more like it, as pretty much as the lesser of two evils. But 2016 offers two intangibles for a Nevada Democratic candidate that 2010 didn’t: (1) can the party’s nominee win a Senate race if the opposition is the popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval?; and (2) in a presidential year, can Hillary Clinton turn out the same numbers in Nevada as did Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012?

3) The Effect on the Senate Map? The favorable terrain for Republicans in 2014 comes back to bite them in 2016 — 24 seats to defend, to only 10 for the Democrats. How does the chamber flip or stay red? By the outcomes in the following states currently with Republican senators: Florida (Marco Rubio’s seat), Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. But Reid’s departure gives Republicans hopes in not one but two twice-Obama states (Nevada and Colorado). The importance of the GOP getting those two pick-ups: it would force the Democrats to take back at least six GOP seats (seven, if a Republican’s elected president), to regain majority control. The GOP’s Senate haul in 2014: nine seats. But that was possible due to the plethora of red-state Democratic senators either the ballot on bailing lest they experience defeat. For Democrats to make a similar run in 2016, they’ll have to branch out to non-blue turf — i.e., Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina. Of course, all of that could change in 2018, when Democrats have to defend 23 seats, to only 8 for the GOP.

So those are your choices. Reid’s retiring because he (a) wants to avoid senility, (b) doesn’t like the way 2016 is shaping up back home, or (c) doesn’t see another four-year run in the Senate majority.

It’s multiple choice.

And there could be multiple correct answers.

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Better a Brown-In Or Brown-Out?

California Gov. Jerry Brown won’t be a candidate in 2016, gives the Democrats the Shaft.

I have this op-ed in this morning’s Sacramento Bee about California Gov. Jerry Brown and the 2016 presidential campaign.

Brown’s pretty much closed the book on what would be a fourth run for the White House. That includes this back-and-forth on Sunday’s Meet the Press, during which he seemed to indicate that he’d be a player if he were 10 years younger (Brown, California’s oldest governor, turns 77 this year):

So why do noodges like me keep on asking Jerry to challenge Hillary — in my case, polite imploring, as opposed to The Boston Globe’s begging Elizabeth Warren (if newspapers worked this hard for readership, there wouldn’t be circulation crises)?

Here’s my thinking (two-thirds tongue-in-cheek, one-third serious):

1) Geography. California doesn’t have a presence in presidential politics, other than doling out money. Yes, Carly Fiorina started out in the Golden State, but hers is a campaign driven in large party by Hillary-bashing. There’s nothing California-centric about it. From strictly an economic standpoint, it’d be nice to have a lure to draw the media west and boost the Golden State’s tourism revenue.

2) Language. Brown’s a difficult read, no question about it. Reporters I know who cover the man can’t decide if he’s charming or a bully — or maybe both. As a child of the ’70s, trying to make sense of a governor likewise originally from the ’70s, I believe Isaac Hayes said it best: “he’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman”. One thing Brown does have: mad language skills — a penchant for tossing around 25-cent words and Latin phrases. It’d spice up what portends to be some dreary Democratic debates, which leads up to the final point . . .

3) Sobriety. In 1992, Jerry was Bill & Hillary’s bet noir — he wouldn’t go away in the primaries, he wouldn’t stop talking about the future First Couple’s ethics (or a lack thereof). This time around, Brown could be more friend than foe in that, when talking about “paddle left, paddle right” politics, he can remind Mrs. Clinton that centrism — as opposed to Elizabeth Warren’s anti-Wall Street Kool-Aid — is the smarter national sell for a Democrat not named Barack Obama.

There’s still time for Brown to change his mind. But for now, it appears that the 2016 campaign will be, to borrow a line from Seinfeld’s Newman, “Jerry-free”

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Kasich Closed — Or Open To A Run?

Ohio Gov. John Kasich visits New Hampshire because . . . well, you know why — to test the primary waters.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich popped into New Hampshire on Tuesday, meaning one of three things:

1) He wasn’t paying attention and drove straight past Stowe . . .

2) He’s trying to get a kid into Dartmouth . . .

3) He’s testing the presidential waters.

The answer, of course: (3).

Kasich briefly sought the presidency in 1999 (he bailed before that year’s Iowa Straw Poll — here’s video of him bidding adieu). During the first decade of the new century, he split his time between gigs on the Fox News Channel and private-sector work (most notably, managing director of Lehman Brothers’ investment banking division until the firm’s collapse in 2008).

In 2010, he got back in politics, winning the first of two gubernatorial runs in Ohio. That second run, last fall, ended up as a 31-point win. Since then, Kasich’s repeatedly hinted at a presidential bid — taking it to a new level with the foray into the state that hosts the first-in-the-nation primary.

Let’s suppose Kasich is taking this thing seriously. Here are four things to note about such a candidacy.

1) The Media Will Struggle With Branding Him. As described in this article, Kasich is “the Ohio Enigma” — is he a prototypically conservative Republican governor (antagonizing unions by signing a bill restricting bargaining rights for public employees — later struck down by voters), or an unconventional bleeding heart (expanding his state’s Medicaid roll; touring New Hampshire and talking about society’s disadvantaged)? Kasich seems himself as irregular only in what regular guy he is (“I’m unorthodox because I’m normal”, he told New Hampshire reporters). But how would voters process the multiple personalities, especially if voters decide to put an premium on ideological consistency?

2) He Complicates Life For Jeb Bush. Let’s call this the “270 faction” of the GOP — Republicans whose foremost concern is the Electoral College. In theory, this is part of the charm of a Jeb Bush candidacy (well, more realpolitik than romance) — Bush running a general-election campaign well before a single primary vote’s been cast. However, the same players who warm to the thought of a candidate who can bag Florida might overheat at the notion of someone who could snag Ohio’s make-or-break 18 electoral votes (trust me: 18 months from now you’ll be sick of hearing about “how Oho goes . . .”). Should Kasich join the race, does he automatically pick off support from Bush given that (a) he’s a sitting, not a former governor; (b) doesn’t have surname baggage and (c) a parry hoding a national convention in Cleveland next year seems Ohio-obsessed.

3) He Complicates Life For Scott Walker. At this early point in the race, Wisconsin’s governor has made the most of his reputation as a fighting executive (culminating in the 2012 recall vote in which he stood down a union challenge). Should Kasich run, look for him to likewise put a state narrative front and center — for example, erasing a deficit of about $8 billion. Add his Washington credentials (nine-term congressman), and the we-need-a-governor crowd — they’re the ones more interested in leadership than geography — might see Kasich as the less provincial choice. But it wouldn’t be an easy sells as . . .

4) He’d Have Some Explaining To Do. About Kasich’s “Ohio story”. . . As a presidential contender trying to survive the early (and predominately conservative) primary states, Ohio’s governor would have to explain why he not only supported a state expansion of Medicaid, but why he presently favors a sales tax increase (along with an increase in Medicaid premiums to appease conservative lawmakers — the state’s key chambers of commerce opposing). Then there’s Common Core, which the governor steadfastly supports. Here’s what Kasich told reporters in New Hampshire: “Sometimes things get to be political, they get to be runaway Internet issues. I’ve looked at it. The federal government did not tell us what test to give, the federal government did not tell us what the standards ought to be. It was set by governors. And some of the governors that set the standards are now saying they don’t like the program. You ought to ask them the question.” One other matter that could be problematic: guns. Then-Rep. Kasich voted for the Clinton assault weapons ban, earning him the wrath of the National Rifle Association (although, as Ohio’s governor, Kasich has signed NRA-friendly legislation).

Bottom line: In what figures to be the most congested GOP field in recent times, Kasich faces the same dilemma as at least three other fence-sitting Republican governors (Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Mike Pence): whether to run; if so, what niche to occupy. Kasich is energetic. He’s well-read. And at 62 (he’s nine months younger than Jeb) the timing might be preferable to holding out until 2020 at the earliest, should the GOP nominee come up short next year.

The ever-quotable Kasich would probably be the media’s darling in this GOP field. He might want to ask Jon Huntsman (a 2012 “flavor of the month”) and John McCain (the 2000 “Straight Talk Express” version) how that worked out.

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Cruz Missive

And then there were two: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, official 2016 candidate. Look for more announcements soon.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has made it official: he’s running for president. That’s two Republicans now in the hunt for the nomination (surely you’ve heard of Mark Everson). And there’ll be more to come in the weeks ahead, as candidates look to get the jump on second quarter presidential fundraising, which spans April-June.

About Cruz — four thoughts:

1) Timing. Was there a hotter commodity in GOP circles back in September 2013, when Cruz launched a marathon speech (technically, it wasn’t a Senate filibuster) against Obamacare? At the time, the media mocked Cruz for reading from Dr. Seuss, invoking Ashton Kutcher and doing a Darth Vader imitation. Here’s Cruz being all kinds of green-eggs-and-hammy:

That performance gave Cruz street cred as an anti-Washington outsider, voice of the the conservative grassroots and a take-no-prisoners lawyer willing to shut down the government to make his point. However, it also happened 18 months ago. Much has happened since then, beginning with Republicans being split on the idea of another government shutdown later this year. Bottom line: being hot stuff in the fall of 2013 isn’t so great when the goal is to peak in 2015 — just ask Chris Christie.

2) How Long a Line? The average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics has Cruz at all of 4.6%. That’s not so terrible, given that the field tops out at 16.6% (that’s Jeb Bush and Scott Walker) — besides, Bill Clinton was at less than 2% a year before the 1992 race. What is a problem: like a baseball team trying to climb over five other teams in a packed race to claim one last playoff spot, Cruz has a lot of bodies to jump — i.e., several candidates ahead of him have to flounder. To give you an idea of just how crowded the field is, let’s go back to the recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News asking GOP primary voters whom they’d consider supporting. Cruz was eight in a field of fourteen, trailing not just Bush and Walker but Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Ben Carson.

3) How to Cut the Line? This takes us to Cruz ‘s announcement venue: Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world — a fact that didn’t go overlooked in the candidate’s kickoff remarks. “God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said. He added: “Today, roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting, They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”  Cruz isn’t the first Republican hopeful to visit Liberty — John McCain was a commencement speaker in 2008, as was Mitt Romney in 2012. In September 2011, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke during the school’s convocation; Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, like Perry a 2012 presidential hopeful, addressed the student body later that same month. But unlike those candidates, faith voters are more central to Cruz’s presidential existence. Who should be concerned about this? Mike Huckabee is no stranger when it comes to appealing to Christian pastors. And Ben Carson has made his faith part of his brand.

4) So Sue Him for Trying. Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970. Two past Republican presidential hopefuls — John McCain and George Romney – were born outside the U.S. Legal scholars generally agree that Cruz’s eligibility isn’t a problem. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the meaning of the words “natural born citizen”. The Senate could pass a resolution, as it did for McCain in 2008, stating that Cruz’s a natural-born citizen. But the odds of his colleagues doing a favor for “the distinguished wacky bird from Texas”? Might someone on the left go after Cruz’s legal standing — if for no better reason than to elevate his standing as a mischief-maker in the GOP field?

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The Headache Factor

Is Ben Carson a “headache” for Republicans in 2016? Or are there bigger worries for the GOP?

The New York Times celebrated St Patrick’s Day not with a wearin’ of the green, but instead a wary look at the long shots in the Republican presidential field.

Chief among “The Grey Lady’s” concerns: what it dubs “the Ben Carson movement” — the pediatric neurosurgeon seeking the presidency in what the Times deems a political insurrection.

The question: is 2016 going to be a repeat of 2012, when a series of movement GOP candidates had their 15 minutes of fame, with the contest going to the establishment candidate? Or, will outsiders like Carson change the script? And, if they can’t change the outcome, are they are a benefit or a liability to whoever gets the nod?

If you look at the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that asked GOP voters to rate the candidates, Carson was in the middle of the pack: 41% said they could support him, placing him seventh out of 14 (behind Rubio, Walker, Huckabee, Bush, Paul and Perry; ahead of Cruz, Santorum, Jindal, Christie, Trump, Graham and Fiorina).

But is Ben Carson and the non-establishment portion of the field the GOP’s biggest headache at this moment, as the Times fears?

Here are some other concerns:

1) Jeb Bush’s numbers don’t improve (49% of Republicans in the aforementioned poll would support him (fourth behind Rubio, Walker and Huckabee); 42% won’t (s number topped only by Christie, Graham and Trump). Back in December, 63% of Republicans said they could back Bush. Suppose Bush gets the nomination but the base is even less enthused than it is now. That spells trouble.

2) Walker’s gaffes become a running story. The Wisconsin governor’s stumbled on evolution and ISIS; he didn’t exactly shine at the Club for Growth’s annual meeting. For all the attributes (anti-establishment, working class), the impression of not ready for prime time could derail the express. Suppose Walker gets the nomination, despite the occasional blunders. Will independent voters give him the benefit of the doubt?

3) The Field vs. Congress. Beating up on the Obama Administration is a given; so too, Hillary Clinton. But what about the Republican Congress? Will candidates embrace or distance themselves from the GOP budget blueprint? Will the GOP senators in the 2016 field ever find a budget to their liking? The same dynamic returns this fall, when the GOP Congress has to settle on a policy and political approach to raising the debt ceiling. One other wild card: if and when President Obama gets a chance to make a Supreme Court pick.

Anything else I’m missing?

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The GOP’s Fight Club

What if the 2016 GOP field were a “fight club” (with the candidates keeping their shirts on, we hope and pray)?

Sometimes, late-night television writers have to scrounge for material. Other times, comedy falls right in their laps.

For example: news reports that a 68-year-old Mitt Romney plans to climb into the ring with former boxing champ Evander Holyfield.

It’s part of a May 15 card in Salt Lake City. And before you think Romney’s lost his mind (or suffered damage from too many political campaigns), rest assured that (a) his heart’s in the right place (it’s a fundraising event for Charity Vision, a humanitarian organization founded retired Salt Lake physician Bill Jackson) and (b) the former GOP nominee hasn’t lost his sense of humor (“It will either be a very short fight, or I will be knocked unconscious,” he told reporters. “It won’t be much of a fight. We’ll both suit up and get in the ring and spar around a little bit.”).

We’ll see how Romney’s boxing skills measure up with those of another Utah legend: Donny Osmond.

And it provides us with yet another way to parse the 2016 Republican field.

Given that it’s the opening week of the NCAA basketball team, I thought of drawing up a series of GOP brackets. But how many candidates to jot down as tournament seeds? Sure, it seems like 64 Republicans are looking at this race. But maybe a Sweet 16 instead? Or, better yet, an Elite Eight?

And who would make it to the Final Four? Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and what other two semifinalists?

Romney’s planned foray in the “square circle” provides another way to sort the field of hopefuls: fight club.

What if, in addition to the Romney-Holyfield bout, the 2016 candidates were featured in an undercard? Those bouts would include:

1) Rick Perry vs. Lindsey Graham. This two-hawks matchup features a pair of southern candidates running hard on national security. They’re also the only two Republicans to have served in the military (Perry served in the U.S. Air Force, flying C-130 tactical airlift aircraft in Europe and the Middle East; Graham was a senior prosecutor at Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany and remains a colonel in the Air Force Reserves).

2) Mike Huckabee vs. Ben Carson. Two Republicans who could square off to settle, once for for all, which one owes more to the Fox News Channel. FNC gave Huckabee a home (and a national viewing audience) for six-and-a-half years on Saturday nights after his 2008 presidential run. Carson, as a Fox News contributor, has turned his opposition to Obamacare into speeches, a book, and now a presidential run. Without Fox, neither one’s in this contest.

3) Ted Cruz vs. Rand Paul. A pair of cowboy-booted conservative stars romancing voters in decidedly different ways. Cruz came to Washington wanting to burn down the village (the debt-ceiling debate this fall will be a big moment for him). Paul likes to take his libertarian message to places Republicans don’t usually frequent, like Howard University and the Berkeley campus.

4) Chris Christie vs. Bobby Jindal. A pair of governors punching over and under their weights, but with this in common: each is struggling to find a way into a crowded field. Christie’s coping the perception that his candidacy is already over before it actually ever began. As for Jindal, the problem is trying to be too many things at once — by The Washington Post’s count: “A hawk. A wonk. A tea party rebel. A Christian revivalist. A first-generation American. A Bubba.”

5) Carly Fiorina vs. a Life-Sized Hillary Cutout. In the past week, the former H-P chief and failed 2010 Senate candidate has set herself up nicely as Hillary Clinton’s foil. Fiorina’s willingness to call out the likely Democratic nominee is a clever way of highlighting the fact that she’s the only woman in the Republican field — and pays dividends when Clinton allies return fire by calling Fiorina a front for GOP misogynists.

6) Jeb Bush-Scott Walker. The main event — for now. Walker’s survived two all-out assault by unions in a 2011 recall vote and his 2014 re-election. He knows how to both throw and take a bunch. Walker even dons a pair of boxing gloves in this ad from his 2010 gubernatorial run:

Bush doesn’t have the same same pugilistic record. Still, given what happened in the Florida recount (plus his gifts as a strategist), we think he could do some creative math with the judges’ scorecards.

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The Ides Have It

It’s the Ides of March, which leads us in one of two directions:

1) Watching the so-so 2011 political thriller of the same name, featuring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling (why does fictional politics — Ides of March, House of Cards, Bob Roberts — involve Pennsylvania lawmakers of dubious morals?).

2) Or, given the events on this date in ancient Rome, pondering the intersection of statesmen, their supposed friends and the wielding of knives.

Which leads us to the current goings-on between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Technically, it’s not a political backstabbing. Or even a shiv in the ribs.

It’s more like a death by a thousand cuts — in this case, Walker going out of his way to tell reporters that while he likes and admires Bush, his co-leader in the Republican presidential chase, his good friend has the following liabilities: (1) unlike Walker, he’s not the son of a preacher, but instead a scion of political nobility (snip); (2) a third Bush male to run for president is little more than another Republican “name from the past” and destined to fail (three snips, as it’s also a swipe at Mitt Romney and John McCain).

And Bush’s reactions to the Jeb jabs?

1) Bush surrogates calling out Walker as a flip-flopper (snip) — remember, this is that odd time in a presidential cycle when unofficial spokespersons are speaking up for unofficial campaigns. That would include Bush friends Ana Navarro and Al Cardenas (in his case, taking to Twitter) going after the Wisconsin governor on immigration reform.

2) Bush, suggesting to reporters in New Hampshire, that Walker is anything but a frontrunner: “I’m not a candidate. I don’t think — maybe he is (snip) — I don’t know. You can’t be a front-runner until you start running,” (snip)

Two thoughts about what’s going on here:

1) What better news for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who (a) apparently is faring well in the unofficial “Mitt Romney primary” and (b) outshines his 2016 GOP rivals in this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll (numbers that are especially brutal for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the under-the-radar competition to be the alternative to Walker and Bush).

2) When does the endorsement parade begin? We know that April will bring a spate of candidate announcements (thus getting a jump on second-quarter fundraising. But when do big names start lining up behind their guess for the nomination?

I ask because here’s a different way for Bush to respond to Walker: instead of campaign operatives doing the talking, let a governor defend Bush. The advantage being: it’s best the response come from outside from the beltway — and outside Florida, for that matter.

The problem: at this early stage in the race and the field anything but predictable, why would a big name choose sides? Three governors who come to mind: Christie, Bobby Jindal and Mike Pence. They have to decide if they’re running; if not, who gets their backing.

Final note: it’s not just Republicans doing a little carving. Former Maryland Gov. Martin has taken swipes at Hillary Clinton over soul-less “triangulation”.

Et tu, Brute?

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