Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2, 2012

Republicans Close Gap With Swing-State Early Voters

Last week’s Pew poll found that President Obama is trailing Mitt Romney among early voters — a group he won by a large margin in 2008 — and the latest party identification breakdown of early voters from the United States Election Project and Politico support that:

In Colorado, Republicans have cast 38 percent of the early vote to 35 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for unaffiliated voters. Four years ago, the numbers were reversed: Democrats cast 38 percent, Republicans 36 percent and independents 26 percent.

In Iowa, 43 percent of the early vote this year has been cast by Democrats, 32 percent by Republicans and 24 percent by no party or other. In 2008, the numbers were 47 (D) 29 (R) 24 (NP).

While Nevada doesn’t provide comparative statewide early vote data between 2008 and 2012, a similar pattern emerges in the two counties where the bulk of the state vote will be cast – the Democratic percentage of early votes is down slightly and there’s an uptick in the GOP percentage.

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Last week’s Pew poll found that President Obama is trailing Mitt Romney among early voters — a group he won by a large margin in 2008 — and the latest party identification breakdown of early voters from the United States Election Project and Politico support that:

In Colorado, Republicans have cast 38 percent of the early vote to 35 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for unaffiliated voters. Four years ago, the numbers were reversed: Democrats cast 38 percent, Republicans 36 percent and independents 26 percent.

In Iowa, 43 percent of the early vote this year has been cast by Democrats, 32 percent by Republicans and 24 percent by no party or other. In 2008, the numbers were 47 (D) 29 (R) 24 (NP).

While Nevada doesn’t provide comparative statewide early vote data between 2008 and 2012, a similar pattern emerges in the two counties where the bulk of the state vote will be cast – the Democratic percentage of early votes is down slightly and there’s an uptick in the GOP percentage.

At The Atlantic, Molly Ball also gives a good analysis of North Carolina (Republicans are still trailing, but they’ve significantly closed the gap from ’08) and Florida (same thing). Unfortunately, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania don’t break down voters by party, so analysis there is based on looking at turnout numbers in counties and/or precincts that went heavily for Obama or McCain in 2008. And the early vote turnout is down in Ohio counties Obama won handily in 2008, reports Jim Geraghty.

Obama crushed McCain in the pre-election day vote four years ago, but despite a big push by his campaign and a supposedly unbeatable turnout operation, he’s lagging in key states. In places like Iowa and Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which Obama won by double-digits in 2008, he still has a buffer zone where he can lose some support and still hold on. But he has much less room for error in Ohio. While swing state polls still seem to indicate a slight lead for Obama, many of them also rely on turnout that looks similar to 2008. From what we’re seeing with early voters, that’s not a realistic expectation.

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The Logic of Union Reform in Blue States

When the economy is stuck at around 8 percent unemployment for years heading into a presidential election, and the incumbent is desperately avoiding questions about a foreign policy fiasco, most other issues are bound to fade from priority. And so the issue of education in America has duly taken a back seat this year. But that doesn’t mean the issue has been stagnant in the minds of Americans.

In fact, over the last couple of years we have seen a striking change take place in public opinion. The support for school choice and public union reform in places like Wisconsin and New Jersey have shown that even while school choice and voucher programs have yet to prove themselves a solution to the ailing American education system, the support for school reform even in blue states and among pro-union parts of the country signify a willingness to break with tradition on the part of frustrated parents. On that note, while education hasn’t been much a part of the election this year, Mitt Romney did include it in his closing argument, delivered in Wisconsin today:

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When the economy is stuck at around 8 percent unemployment for years heading into a presidential election, and the incumbent is desperately avoiding questions about a foreign policy fiasco, most other issues are bound to fade from priority. And so the issue of education in America has duly taken a back seat this year. But that doesn’t mean the issue has been stagnant in the minds of Americans.

In fact, over the last couple of years we have seen a striking change take place in public opinion. The support for school choice and public union reform in places like Wisconsin and New Jersey have shown that even while school choice and voucher programs have yet to prove themselves a solution to the ailing American education system, the support for school reform even in blue states and among pro-union parts of the country signify a willingness to break with tradition on the part of frustrated parents. On that note, while education hasn’t been much a part of the election this year, Mitt Romney did include it in his closing argument, delivered in Wisconsin today:

You know that if the President is re-elected, he will say every good thing he can about education, but in the final analysis, he will do what his largest campaign supporters–the public-sector unions–insist upon. And your kids will have the same schools with the same results.

When I am president, I will be a voice of the children and their parents. There is no union for the PTA. I will give parents the information they need to know if their school is failing, and the choice they need to pick the school where their child can succeed.

The willingness of normally pro-union states and voters to support union restrictions has taken some by surprise. But it shouldn’t. The truth is, it’s only logical that in states like New Jersey, where union power has been unchallenged for decades while property owners foot the bill for exorbitant union benefits, desire for true reform would begin to pick up grassroots momentum.

In New Jersey, where I covered education earlier in my career, it was common for schools to cut tutoring programs and sports teams, and otherwise deprive students of various educational opportunities because the teacher and administrator contracts were set in stone. Thanks to collective bargaining between pro-union liberal governors and the unions, school budgets were set in such a way that the only thing protected from budget cuts were union-brokered salaries and benefits.

It makes sense, then, that in such an atmosphere—where it’s not an exaggeration to say that the unions were slowly killing the state’s education system—parents finally said: Enough.

This creates one of the country’s most promising opportunities for bipartisanship: Republican governors not beholden to the unions team up with more liberal voters to reform a system desperately in need of it. And even without proof that school choice will fix education, parents also seem to be out of patience with their exclusion from their child’s educational choices. Without school choice, poor kids are tethered to poor school systems, creating what reform advocates call the civil rights challenge of this generation.

It is also for this reason that Romney hasn’t focused too much on education. It is big government, top-down programs that have failed students time and again. It is the governors and other local leaders who are better able to accurately assess their students’ needs and work with the public to bring about change. Beyond federal support for programs like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—which President Obama sought to end, depriving many D.C.-area minority students of an educational and socioeconomic lifeline—a conservative approach to education reform takes place far from the know-it-all reaches of the federal bureaucracy.

Forcing children to make sacrifices to support six-figure salaries of overpaid—and in some cases, unnecessary—administrators is a shameful approach to public policy. And the fact that parents, and even many teachers, recognize this is why conservative politicians feel confident enough to make this argument in blue states.

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Report: Benghazi Cables Warned “Guards” Were Photographing Consulate

Did the State Department receive warnings on September 11 that the Benghazi consulate was being cased for an attack? FNC’s Jennifer Griffin reports today that two cables sent from Ambassador Chris Stevens’s team to Washington the morning of the attack expressed concern that Libyan police had been seen photographing the compound earlier that day (h/t Hot Air):

Reports Griffin:

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Did the State Department receive warnings on September 11 that the Benghazi consulate was being cased for an attack? FNC’s Jennifer Griffin reports today that two cables sent from Ambassador Chris Stevens’s team to Washington the morning of the attack expressed concern that Libyan police had been seen photographing the compound earlier that day (h/t Hot Air):

Reports Griffin:

“Two State Department cables show that Stevens’s team warned Washington that at 6:43 a.m. in the morning they had concerns that members of the Libyan police sent to guard them were photographing the compound. …

U.S. intelligence officials confirm to Fox that in fact there were reports from the ground in Benghazi three hours before the attack on the consulate that a Libyan militia was gathering weapons and gathering steam. That was three hours before the consulate was attacked at 9:47 p.m. on September 11.”

There is a lot here, but first, the cables. Max cited a Foreign Policy article earlier, which reported on draft letters from Stevens’ team to the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warning that local police sent to guard the consulate had been photographing the building. But this is the first time we’ve heard that Foggy Bottom was actually sent cables about it. With the history of attacks on the consulate and other foreign missions in the area, the warnings from security officials, and the 9/11 anniversary, this evidence of local “guards” casing the compound should have been more than enough to raise alarms at the State Department.

Even if Washington officials didn’t see or receive the cables until after it was too late, that still raises more questions about why the administration would have assumed the attack was part of a “spontaneous demonstration” in response to the Cairo protests. The photographs were reportedly taken at 6:43 a.m., well before the protests erupted in Egypt. 

Then there’s Griffin’s report that U.S. intelligence officials had word of Libyan militias gathering arms three hours before the attack. If so, was anyone at the State Department informed? Where exactly was the communications breakdown?

The Obama administration’s foot-dragging on this has ensured we won’t know the full story until after the election. But their initial claims seem more implausible by the day.

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Voter Fraud is Threat to Clear Outcome

American democracy is the finest system of government in the world. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last 12 years, it is that it has one terrible weakness: close elections. The Bush v. Gore Florida fiasco set the tone for a legal arms race in which two major parties have demonstrated that they have one thing above all in common: they bitterly distrust each other. The escalation of this process in the current election cycle has reached levels few dreamed of not that long ago, as both Republicans and Democrats now take it as an article of faith that their opponents’ goal is steal the election.

As the New York Times reports this morning, it is entirely possible that lawyers will outnumber election officials at many polling places. None of this will matter much if either President Obama or Mitt Romney wins easily on Tuesday. But with the polls tightening up even further this week — and today’s Rasmussen poll showing the race tied after Romney had led in that measure for many days has to discourage any GOP activists who were entertaining visions of a Mitt cakewalk — the odds are the vote will be close and the outcome in some of the battleground states may trigger bad memories of Florida’s hanging chads.

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American democracy is the finest system of government in the world. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last 12 years, it is that it has one terrible weakness: close elections. The Bush v. Gore Florida fiasco set the tone for a legal arms race in which two major parties have demonstrated that they have one thing above all in common: they bitterly distrust each other. The escalation of this process in the current election cycle has reached levels few dreamed of not that long ago, as both Republicans and Democrats now take it as an article of faith that their opponents’ goal is steal the election.

As the New York Times reports this morning, it is entirely possible that lawyers will outnumber election officials at many polling places. None of this will matter much if either President Obama or Mitt Romney wins easily on Tuesday. But with the polls tightening up even further this week — and today’s Rasmussen poll showing the race tied after Romney had led in that measure for many days has to discourage any GOP activists who were entertaining visions of a Mitt cakewalk — the odds are the vote will be close and the outcome in some of the battleground states may trigger bad memories of Florida’s hanging chads.

But the problem here is more than just the natural distrust between the parties and a willingness to see any close loss as the result of dirty tricks. Conservative efforts to monitor vote fraud have come in for heavy criticism from the media as thinly veiled attempts to suppress the votes of minorities inclined to vote for the Democrats. In particular, the True the Vote group has been lambasted as nothing more than organized vote suppression. Yet the problem with that assumption is the evidence that Democrats are doing more than cutting corners when it comes to preparing for the large turnout they need on Election Day to re-elect President Obama. As the Times notes:

Still, the Republicans have had legitimate complaints, election officials say. Groups associated with the Democrats have sometimes been overly aggressive in voter registration, paying people for each voter registered or offering bonuses for larger numbers of registrations. This has led to fraud. Ms. Platten, the Democratic county elections board director, said she had seen multiple registrations for the same person whose Social Security number had been shifted by one digit.

If this is a common practice in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, does anyone think these Cleveland Democrats are doing something that their counterparts in Philadelphia or any of a number of other places haven’t thought of too?

Liberals have spent most of the last year endlessly telling us that there is no such thing as voter fraud in the United States and that Republicans who pushed for voter ID laws were racists. But the reality of election cheating is something to keep in mind next week when you hear about lawyers in Ohio petitioning courts to keep polls open late in Democratic districts after similarly pushing to allow those areas more early voting opportunities than other parts of the state.

It should be taken as a given that both sides will be ready to muddy the waters with legal challenges in any state where the vote is close. With 11 states rated as tossups on the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map (less than 5 percent aggregate lead for either candidate in the polls) that leaves open the possibility that not only will we lack a clear outcome next week, but that the election could be mired in the courts next month.

No matter who ultimately wins the presidency, there are some conclusions that both sides, as well as those not immersed in partisanship, should draw from this impending mess.

One is that vote fraud is a serious issue. The impulse to vote the graveyards as well as to falsify the ballots of the living is an old American tradition. Those who ask us to believe that it is either rare or nonexistent are more or less demanding that we ignore everything we know about American political history as well as human nature. These partisan disputes could be minimized if more states adopted laws that made it harder to cheat as well as to ensure that the person showing up at the voting booth is the same one registered. Democrats who resist these laws are opening themselves up to justified suspicion that their true aim is to make it easier for their party to game the results.

Another is that states should devote greater efforts to promoting legal voter registration. So long as this remains largely the preserve of the parties, the Ohio example, in which one Social Security number is used to create a number of fictitious or illegal voters, will remain the rule rather than the exception. Worry about suppression of minority voters could also be alleviated.

Third, the ability of parties to control the election process through rules in some localities must be abolished. The city of Philadelphia’s system, which allows an open partisan to run the Elections Commission — something that makes it easier for Democrats there to act with impunity every Election Day and makes Republicans in the rest of the state suspect their opponents can come up with whatever numbers they need to win — helped motivate the passage of a voter ID law even though courts have ensured it won’t be enforced.

We will never overcome the distrust of the parties for each other, and close elections are always going to produce anger and lawsuits, as well as undermine the legitimacy of the process. But if more states adopted reasonable laws aimed at curbing fraud, it will be easier to minimize the damage the next time the system cracks up.

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Storm Exposes the Magnitude of Bloomberg’s Failure to Govern

Questions surrounding any public crisis hew closely to the schedule of the crisis itself. So when Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast last week, everyone wanted to know whether the affected areas were adequately prepared. During the storm itself, people wondered what the damage was going to be. And in the wake of the storm, all attention is paid to reaction and recovery efforts. Since those efforts now appear to have hit some unexpected problems, it’s natural that the earlier questions have receded to the background.

But they shouldn’t be forgotten. Because for all the comparisons of Michael Bloomberg to Rudy Giuliani, who led New York—and the nation—through the early hours after 9/11, it’s worth recalling that a big part of the reason Giuliani responded so well was because he was intent on getting the city and its employees ready for anything. When that “anything” struck, as it did a couple of times in Giuliani’s tenure, America’s Mayor struck back. It is here, too, where Bloomberg fails spectacularly to fill the shoes of Rudy Giuliani.

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Questions surrounding any public crisis hew closely to the schedule of the crisis itself. So when Hurricane Sandy was approaching the East Coast last week, everyone wanted to know whether the affected areas were adequately prepared. During the storm itself, people wondered what the damage was going to be. And in the wake of the storm, all attention is paid to reaction and recovery efforts. Since those efforts now appear to have hit some unexpected problems, it’s natural that the earlier questions have receded to the background.

But they shouldn’t be forgotten. Because for all the comparisons of Michael Bloomberg to Rudy Giuliani, who led New York—and the nation—through the early hours after 9/11, it’s worth recalling that a big part of the reason Giuliani responded so well was because he was intent on getting the city and its employees ready for anything. When that “anything” struck, as it did a couple of times in Giuliani’s tenure, America’s Mayor struck back. It is here, too, where Bloomberg fails spectacularly to fill the shoes of Rudy Giuliani.

As Fred Siegel writes in his book on the Giuliani years, the mayor “had been talking and thinking about the problem of terrorism—something to which most New Yorkers were oblivious—from literally his first day in office. The city’s largely successful response to 9/11 was the product of years of preparation.”

And it wasn’t just preparation for terrorism. Siegel writes of the behind-the-scenes work that readied the city for just about any anything conceivable. In 1999, a heat wave led to power outages in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan that totaled about 300,000. Giuliani took action to prevent the power outages from taking out Brooklyn as well, and then rallied the city to the Heights. Rather than the looting that had taken place in New York in the past, the city remained under control with Giuliani working around the clock and winning the cooperation of the residents of the Heights.

The city’s Department of Health developed a “syndromic surveillance system” to prepare for chemical or biological attacks. When West Nile virus hit the city (also in 1999), the response was immediate and helped contain the virus. New York’s response, as in other cases, was praised as a model as other cities battled West Nile that year.

Leading up to the Y2K scare, the city, led by Giuliani, Jerry Hauer, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota (who now heads the city’s MTA), prepared for several possible terrorist attacks and other emergencies on New Year’s, including a gas attack at the World Trade Center that assumed 1,000 injured. Lhota said they practiced and prepared like a football team. “If any city was ready for trouble,” Siegel writes, “it was New York.”

On New Year’s Eve, while Giuliani was overseeing events in Times Square, Siegel writes:

Hauer and Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota were in the World Trade Center command post accompanied by three hundred crisis managers from city departments, Con Edison, Verizon, the Red Cross, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI, and the National Guard. And although the public didn’t know it, the National Guard had been quietly pre-positioning in Brooklyn as part of an emergency plan for evacuating Manhattan.

Nothing happened that night. But Giuliani’s team and the city “had passed the test,” Siegel writes. “Gotham was ready for a future emergency.”

So while it’s true that Bloomberg’s response pales in comparison to that of Giuliani, it’s not just the ability to inspire and the natural instincts of a leader that separate the two men. Stories like this one in the New York Times, which discuss the warnings that the city was vulnerable to a storm like Sandy long before this year’s hurricane hit radar screens, will likely follow Bloomberg as well. And the lack of preparation will be especially inexcusable for Bloomberg, who has stomped around claiming that the storm was a result of the very climate change he has been warning about for years. If he was so sure about coming climate change storms, why wasn’t he ready for this one?

This is the most damning paragraph from that story:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is known worldwide for his broad environmental vision. But one former official said it had been difficult to move from theoretical planning to concrete actions, and it was hoped that the storm this week would change that.

Bloomberg knew the dangers, according to this official, and spent years talking about it in the abstract. But he didn’t take any concrete action, instead satisfied to wag his finger at others.

So yes, Bloomberg is an underwhelming leader in the city’s time of need. But if these reports are true, he has failed this city on a much deeper, and much more consequential, level. Though Bloomberg obviously didn’t learn from his predecessor’s successes, New Yorkers can only hope that the next mayor learns from Bloomberg’s failures.

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Re: The Jobs Report

As John Steele Gordon noted, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly last month, but it’s still just below 8 percent — a psychological barrier that would have certainly hurt Obama days before the election. Still, it’s important to remember where we were supposed to be at this point, at least according to the Obama administration’s 2009 estimates that were used to sell the stimulus package to the public. Jim Pethokoukis writes

Back in early 2009, White House economists Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted the unemployment rate would be 5.2% in October 2012 if Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus. As the above chart shows, they weren’t even close.

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As John Steele Gordon noted, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly last month, but it’s still just below 8 percent — a psychological barrier that would have certainly hurt Obama days before the election. Still, it’s important to remember where we were supposed to be at this point, at least according to the Obama administration’s 2009 estimates that were used to sell the stimulus package to the public. Jim Pethokoukis writes

Back in early 2009, White House economists Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted the unemployment rate would be 5.2% in October 2012 if Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus. As the above chart shows, they weren’t even close.

Click above for the chart, which, as Pethokoukis notes, isn’t even close. In fact, their estimates of what the unemployment rate would look like without the stimulus is much lower than our current rate. 

According to Fox News, we might be waiting a long time for the numbers the White House predicted:

The October numbers allow President Obama to argue the economy is technically growing under his watch. But they also allow Mitt Romney to argue that the new jobs are not making much of a dent in the unemployment problem. Both campaigns quickly set to work putting their spin on data that, if nothing else, underscores the slow pace of the recovery. 

Former Bureau of Labor Statistics chief Keith Hall told Fox Business Network that at this rate, “we’re still talking nine or 10 years” before the economy gets back to normal.

Remember when Obama said he could get it done in three, otherwise it would be a “one-term proposition”? Now we’re told even if he’s reelected not to expect the economy to bounce back until well after he’s out of office. How’s that for accountability?

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The Jobs Report

The last jobs report before the election came in at 8:30 this morning. It showed a net gain of 171,000 jobs and an uptick in the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent from 7.8 last month.

These numbers are unlikely to impact the election significantly. The job growth is still not big enough to bring down the unemployment rate, at least not quickly, but it remains job growth. President Obama can claim progress. The unemployment rate did not go back above 8 percent, as some thought might happen after last month’s unexpected .3 percent drop. But it did rise a little. That’s not good news for the president.

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The last jobs report before the election came in at 8:30 this morning. It showed a net gain of 171,000 jobs and an uptick in the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent from 7.8 last month.

These numbers are unlikely to impact the election significantly. The job growth is still not big enough to bring down the unemployment rate, at least not quickly, but it remains job growth. President Obama can claim progress. The unemployment rate did not go back above 8 percent, as some thought might happen after last month’s unexpected .3 percent drop. But it did rise a little. That’s not good news for the president.

So this report simply reflects the economy as it has been under this president since the recovery began in June 2009: sluggish at best. But that’s not news and therefore won’t have an impact.

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Christie’s Worried About 2013, Not 2016

The volume of Republican resentment of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for what many in his party think was an overenthusiastic embrace of President Obama has gotten louder. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson speculated on the Rush Limbaugh radio show this week that Christie was doing more than venting a latent resentment of Mitt Romney. He said it showed Christie wanted “a clean slate” when the governor runs for president in 2016, something that would be impossible if Romney was the incumbent president that year planning his re-election. Carlson was not the only person saying that, since the pictures of the unlikely “bromance” between Obama and Christie became the new symbols of bipartisanship.

But angry Republicans need to tone it down a bit. Though I don’t count myself among Christie’s biggest fans, and think the assumption that his tough guy persona will work as well on the national stage as it does in New Jersey is probably mistaken, I doubt that his goal this week was to slip a knife into Romney’s back. His emotional response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy was genuine, as was his gratitude for federal help. But if there was any political motive in the back of his mind this week as he went about his duties amid the chaos of the hurricane, it was probably related to what will happen in 2013, not 2016. Whatever Christie may be thinking about Romney these days, any softening of his hard partisan image has a lot more to do with a desire to set the stage for his re-election campaign next year than it does with a possible future presidential run.

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The volume of Republican resentment of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for what many in his party think was an overenthusiastic embrace of President Obama has gotten louder. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson speculated on the Rush Limbaugh radio show this week that Christie was doing more than venting a latent resentment of Mitt Romney. He said it showed Christie wanted “a clean slate” when the governor runs for president in 2016, something that would be impossible if Romney was the incumbent president that year planning his re-election. Carlson was not the only person saying that, since the pictures of the unlikely “bromance” between Obama and Christie became the new symbols of bipartisanship.

But angry Republicans need to tone it down a bit. Though I don’t count myself among Christie’s biggest fans, and think the assumption that his tough guy persona will work as well on the national stage as it does in New Jersey is probably mistaken, I doubt that his goal this week was to slip a knife into Romney’s back. His emotional response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy was genuine, as was his gratitude for federal help. But if there was any political motive in the back of his mind this week as he went about his duties amid the chaos of the hurricane, it was probably related to what will happen in 2013, not 2016. Whatever Christie may be thinking about Romney these days, any softening of his hard partisan image has a lot more to do with a desire to set the stage for his re-election campaign next year than it does with a possible future presidential run.

If Christie has already set his heart on running for president in 2016, it would obviously be in his interest to see Obama re-elected, since a Romney victory would put off the next open GOP presidential nomination until 2020. But Christie isn’t running for president in either year unless he can fend off what is likely to be an all-out Democratic effort to deny him re-election as governor in 13 months. As such, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Christie did spend much of the coming year trying to smooth out some of his rough edges as he attempts to remind New Jersey voters that he actually has a strong record of reaching out to Democrats in the state legislature to get things done. Getting that picture of Obama and Christie shaking hands embedded in the memory of voters in blue New Jersey also will help him fend off a challenge from Newark Mayor Corey Booker, who has had his own problems sticking to the president’s party line.

The idea that Christie’s embrace of Obama’s aid to New Jersey was strictly motivated by animus for Romney also is out of context. It should be remembered that Christie actually made a very strong argument for a GOP that stuck to its conservative principles but that was still ready to work with opponents where possible in his keynote speech at the Republican National Convention.

We can’t know for sure what Chris Christie wants to happen next week, but the idea that he deliberately pursued an agenda to undermine Romney (whom he enthusiastically backed in the Republican primaries after he made it clear he wouldn’t run in 2012) is probably an exaggeration. There’s little doubt that Christie remains, as he always has been, in business for himself. But he knows his main challenge now is to get re-elected, not maneuvering for 2016.

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Intel Officials Push Back on Fox Story

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

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The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

That’s not military support; it’s CIA support. We already knew there was a second CIA security team sent in. The question is, who denied military backup? Fox reported that the security officers on the ground were asking for Spectre gunships and air support. The intelligence officers pushing back on the Fox story didn’t deny that these requests were made — in fact, they didn’t even mention them in the AP story at all. 

AP also reports that the Pentagon had moved assets into place in Sicily, but couldn’t move them in without a request from the State Department and a green light from the Libyan transitional government:

As the events were unfolding, the Pentagon began to move special operations forces from Europe to Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. U.S. aircraft routinely fly in and out of Sigonella and there are also fighter jets based in Aviano, Italy. But while the U.S. military was at a heightened state of alert because of 9/11, there were no American forces poised and ready to move immediately into Benghazi when the attack began. 

The Pentagon would not send forces or aircraft into Libya — a sovereign nation — without a request from the State Department and the knowledge or consent of the host country. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the information coming in was too jumbled to risk U.S. troops.

The timeline provided to the AP doesn’t contradict the crux of the Fox News report. Requests for military backup were made, and they were denied. The question is, who denied it? Did Panetta make the decision or the State Department? Was the Libyan government contacted about this, and did they reject it?

The White House also says President Obama ordered troops into the region in preparation for an intervention shortly after the attack began. Obviously, he would have the final say over the State Department and the Libyan government if he wanted to send them into Benghazi. Was he given updates on the situation, and told about the requests? If not, why not? If so, what was his response?

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A Marathon During a Humanitarian Disaster? Yes, Says Bloomberg

For New Yorkers, the suffering of Sandy is everywhere and is still far from over. The election is four days away and the national media has largely shifted its concern from the heartache on the East Coast to the presidential race. The horror stories are growing, and at the same time, growing more silent because of a distracted press.

Yesterday, while Mayor Mike Bloomberg, was promoting his endorsement of President Obama, his city within a city, trapped in darkness, dissolved further into darkness. Residents of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been battered. They have no power, no gas to run their cars or generators (if they have them, most do not), no cell phone power to contact their families, almost no access to public transportation and very tenuous access to clean water and food. Many are watching the situation devolve into a Katrina-like scenario, but on a wider scale.

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For New Yorkers, the suffering of Sandy is everywhere and is still far from over. The election is four days away and the national media has largely shifted its concern from the heartache on the East Coast to the presidential race. The horror stories are growing, and at the same time, growing more silent because of a distracted press.

Yesterday, while Mayor Mike Bloomberg, was promoting his endorsement of President Obama, his city within a city, trapped in darkness, dissolved further into darkness. Residents of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been battered. They have no power, no gas to run their cars or generators (if they have them, most do not), no cell phone power to contact their families, almost no access to public transportation and very tenuous access to clean water and food. Many are watching the situation devolve into a Katrina-like scenario, but on a wider scale.

In the powerless neighborhoods of New York, especially in the public housing projects, life is beyond recognizable from a week ago. Elevators to high-rise buildings are inoperable, water and sewage is cut off, and there is for many, no end in sight. Yesterday the National Guard arrived to bring food and water for the first time. Residents waited in long lines for hours to claim it. Those who could not make it down flights of stairs to do so, the elderly and disabled, are especially vulnerable.

There is a massive reallocation of resources about to take place. Generators and food trucks are being disbursed this weekend in New York City. For Sandy survivors? No. For runners in the New York City Marathon. Mayor Bloomberg, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to divert desperately needed resources during an unprecedented tragedy to a marathon. The route these runners will take brings them through neighborhoods, past homes and apartments, that were destroyed a week prior. These runners currently have reservations for hotel rooms that are occupied by those displaced from their homes, many hotels are honoring these reservations, and if they are not, the hotels are forced to fight with marathon attendees to keep evacuees housed in their hotels. These runners will be protected by a police department that is already unable to protect homes and businesses from looting.

While Mayor Bloomberg might be happy to give his endorsement to President Obama, it may not be so wise for Obama to tout this endorsement. The outcry over Bloomberg’s handling of Sandy is steadily growing. Before she struck, experts were questioning his preparedness and seriousness about the storm. While he was busy promoting the president yesterday, the bodies of two toddlers in Staten Island were discovered in the marsh, swept out their mother’s arms during the storm. Instead of comforting the family of an off-duty NYPD officer who died protecting his family, prior to that officer’s funeral, Bloomberg was holding yet another press conference.

This weekend’s marathon is the last straw for a city stretched to its limits. Mayor Bloomberg, it’s time to take a lesson from your predecessor. After 9/11, Americans fell in love with Rudy Guliani. That kind of courage and leadership is something this city desperately needs. Through sheer force of will, New Yorkers are pulling through this test, and they will pass it. Mayor Bloomberg, on the other hand, has already failed.

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Why Did We Abandon Benghazi Compound?

Yet more amazing revelations continue to emerge about the Benghazi attack.

Foreign Policy magazine has a story on its website by two Dubai-based Arabic TV reporters who visited the site of the former U.S. consulate on Oct. 26 and found important documents lying around that were left behind by an FBI team that visited a month ago. These included a document claiming that on the morning of September 11 one of the consulate security guards spied a police officer charged with guarding the compound photographing it instead. Sean Smith, one of the slain diplomats, wrote hours just before his death in an online forum: “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”

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Yet more amazing revelations continue to emerge about the Benghazi attack.

Foreign Policy magazine has a story on its website by two Dubai-based Arabic TV reporters who visited the site of the former U.S. consulate on Oct. 26 and found important documents lying around that were left behind by an FBI team that visited a month ago. These included a document claiming that on the morning of September 11 one of the consulate security guards spied a police officer charged with guarding the compound photographing it instead. Sean Smith, one of the slain diplomats, wrote hours just before his death in an online forum: “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”

This raises obvious questions as to whether these concerns were communicated to State Department superiors and Africa Command; and if they were, why wasn’t more done in response?

The larger question that is raised here is why the U.S. has abandoned this diplomatic outpost, so that anyone–whether reporters or civilians, friends or foes of the United States–can rummage through its rubble. The jihadists who attacked our consulate were surely hoping to drive us out of Benghazi, and they have now accomplished this purpose. I am at a loss to know why marines were not sent to secure the site of the compound and why efforts have not been made to rebuild. This is yet another failure that gives the people of the Middle East an impression of American retreat.

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Mitt’s PA Foray No Repeat of McCain Fiasco

Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

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Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

Conflicting poll numbers in the battleground states have made this one of the most confusing elections in memory. If you believe polls with samples that are disproportionately Democratic then the president seems likely to take Ohio as well as Virginia, virtually closing off any path to 270 Electoral College votes for Romney. But the Romney campaign thinks these numbers are off, since they see little likelihood that the Democrats can conjure up a turnout that will match or even exceed their 2008 hope and change wave that swept Obama into the White House. If, as the Republicans believe, the enthusiastic GOP turnout effort will match that of a Democratic campaign that can’t recapture the spirit of Obama’s first presidential run, Romney is a cinch to win Virginia and has a better-than-even chance in Ohio.

Far from the panic and desperation that characterized the last days of the McCain campaign, the Romney effort right now seems confident not only of winning their share of the tossups but of stealing some blue states on Tuesday. That shone through even in a New York Times story published this morning that reported the shift to the GOP:

But there is a tangible sense — seen in Romney yard signs on the expansive lawns of homes in the well-heeled suburbs, and heard in the excited voices of Republican mothers who make phone calls to voters in their spare time — that the race is tilting toward Mr. Romney.

If ever there were a place where a last-ditch torrent of money could move the needle, this is it. For the last couple of months, there has been a void of presidential ads in Pennsylvania. So when Republican strategists looked for places where their money could go the furthest, they set their sights here, reasoning that a dollar spent in Erie or Altoona would have a greater impact than in a place like Las Vegas or Cleveland, where political commercials have clogged the airwaves.

Despite their bravado, Democrats know Romney is making inroads among women and Jewish voters. Those are demographic groups that fueled Obama’s landslide in Pennsylvania four years ago but which now are deserting him.

Democrats may want to believe that they have Ohio in the bag and that they are in no danger of losing Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, another state where polls show Romney seems to have a real chance. But the decision to have both Romney and runningmate Paul Ryan visit Pennsylvania this weekend seems rooted more in confidence than in a forlorn “Hail Mary” pass to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Republicans may be mistaken in thinking they have any sort of chance in Pennsylvania because of the strength of the Democratic machine in Philadelphia and its still potent ability to manufacture majorities that can outweigh what happens elsewhere in the state. But there is no doubt that state, as well as several others that the Obama campaign had hoped to have wrapped up this late in the game, are still very much in play.

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A Nightmare Scenario

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that Barack Obama gets narrowly re-elected. And then, in a week or a month, the lid blows off the Benghazi story and what is now a trickle of leaks from bureaucrats protecting their butts turns into a flood.

The mainstream media that has been so studiously ignoring this story while the election was still to be won or lost will have no choice (and, indeed, every reason) to make it the big story it would have been had it happened on President McCain’s watch. And it turns out that Obama, to protect his re-election prospects, decided to sacrifice four American lives, including an ambassador, and spun a deliberate lie to mislead the public.

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Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that Barack Obama gets narrowly re-elected. And then, in a week or a month, the lid blows off the Benghazi story and what is now a trickle of leaks from bureaucrats protecting their butts turns into a flood.

The mainstream media that has been so studiously ignoring this story while the election was still to be won or lost will have no choice (and, indeed, every reason) to make it the big story it would have been had it happened on President McCain’s watch. And it turns out that Obama, to protect his re-election prospects, decided to sacrifice four American lives, including an ambassador, and spun a deliberate lie to mislead the public.

The fury, I suspect, would be boundless. The House, almost surely to remain in Republican hands, might well impeach the president. Only a majority vote is needed to impeach. The Senate, whichever way it goes, is probably unlikely to muster the two-thirds vote needed to convict. But would Obama be able to govern under those circumstances? This wouldn’t be about personal failings such as nearly brought President Clinton down, it would be about violating his oath of office.

If this political nightmare should come to pass, the cause of it will have been, of course, the president. But equally culpable will be the mainstream media that deliberately failed to do its duty in order to bring about a desired political result. Journalists rank with used-car salesmen and members of Congress in public esteem already. How much lower can they go?

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