Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bob Casey

Backing Assad Is Not an Option

In the early days of the revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it was a little easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The regime’s massacres of demonstrators and dissidents calling for an end to tyranny made it clear the world’s sympathy should be with the government’s opponents. But the assumption on the part of President Obama and his European allies that the ruthless Assad clan and its Alawite followers would meekly fold up its tents and leave the same way authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia did was wildly over-optimistic. Since the U.S. rightly knew that Syria was a much tougher nut to crack than the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which they decided to take out as a humanitarian mission, the hope was that Assad would fall in due time, allowing a transition to a less murderous ruler in Damascus.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to wait and see was a colossal mistake. Assad and his backers had nowhere to go and showed they were prepared to kill as many people as possible to hang on. Tens of thousands of dead civilians later, something just as troubling has happened as the armed opposition to the regime is now dominated by jihadist forces, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda. Which means the debate about intervention in Syria has become a rather murky subject. But that hasn’t stopped the discussion that was enlivened this week by a couple of suggestions that pretty much covered the spectrum from a stance of dogged do-gooding altruism to dark cynicism.

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Casey put the former position forward in a Politico op-ed. They want the U.S. to selectively back the least unattractive parts of the Syrian opposition while doing its best to oust the dictator. The latter was the work of scholar Daniel Pipes who wrote in the Washington Times to suggest that it was time to for the United States to think strategically and, astonishingly, back Assad’s bid to stay in power. Which of them is right? I’m not entirely comfortable with either position but if I really had to choose, Rubio and Casey’s proposal seems like the better option.

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In the early days of the revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it was a little easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The regime’s massacres of demonstrators and dissidents calling for an end to tyranny made it clear the world’s sympathy should be with the government’s opponents. But the assumption on the part of President Obama and his European allies that the ruthless Assad clan and its Alawite followers would meekly fold up its tents and leave the same way authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia did was wildly over-optimistic. Since the U.S. rightly knew that Syria was a much tougher nut to crack than the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which they decided to take out as a humanitarian mission, the hope was that Assad would fall in due time, allowing a transition to a less murderous ruler in Damascus.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to wait and see was a colossal mistake. Assad and his backers had nowhere to go and showed they were prepared to kill as many people as possible to hang on. Tens of thousands of dead civilians later, something just as troubling has happened as the armed opposition to the regime is now dominated by jihadist forces, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda. Which means the debate about intervention in Syria has become a rather murky subject. But that hasn’t stopped the discussion that was enlivened this week by a couple of suggestions that pretty much covered the spectrum from a stance of dogged do-gooding altruism to dark cynicism.

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Casey put the former position forward in a Politico op-ed. They want the U.S. to selectively back the least unattractive parts of the Syrian opposition while doing its best to oust the dictator. The latter was the work of scholar Daniel Pipes who wrote in the Washington Times to suggest that it was time to for the United States to think strategically and, astonishingly, back Assad’s bid to stay in power. Which of them is right? I’m not entirely comfortable with either position but if I really had to choose, Rubio and Casey’s proposal seems like the better option.

The bipartisan pair of Rubio and Casey has the advantage of sounding reasonable while also attempting to put the United States on the side of the angels:

We recently introduced legislation that would help bring about such a change in U.S. policy. The bill would authorize additional humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, support for the political opposition, and non-lethal assistance for vetted elements of the armed opposition. It would seek to further isolate Assad by recommending additional sanctions against entities that still do business with his regime. The bill would also require a plan for addressing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, so they cannot be used against civilians or Syria’s neighbors.

That sounds good, but as even the two admit in their piece, the difficulties facing any effort to deal Assad a knockout blow while also ensuring that he isn’t succeeded by an even worse regime are great. Vetting an opposition that is thoroughly infiltrated by Islamists is easier said than done. While there are people in Syria who want democracy, does anyone seriously believe they can prevail over jihadists even with the help of the West? Even more to the point, any ties between them and the West may turn out to be more of a liability than an advantage. Moreover, as our Abe Greenwald pointed out in his post on Syria this afternoon, there is no chance that the United States will have any real interest in nation-building in Syria after what is universally thought to be a disaster in Iraq, even if it was a noble and misunderstood endeavor.

Pipes takes on the issue from a completely different angle. He completely discounts the chance that the Syrian opposition can be cleaned up or even house-trained and views the prospect of an Islamist Syria, which would be heavily dependant on an Islamist Turkey, as a recipe for disaster for the United States. Rather than seeing the goal of American policy as ending the slaughter and pushing for democracy, the head of the Middle East Forum think tank urges us to view this conflict as being analogous to the conflict in the 1980s between Iran and Iraq. Pipes says in that war between two hateful, vicious governments, the smart play was to back whichever side was the weakest in order to keep the fighting going so as to weaken both.

Applying this same logic to Syria today finds notable parallels. Mr. Assad fills the role of Saddam Hussein, the brutal Baathist dictator who began the violence. The rebel forces resemble Iran — the initial victim getting stronger over time and posing an increasing Islamist danger. Continued fighting endangers the neighborhood. Both sides engage in war crimes and pose a danger to Western interests.

Yes, Mr. Assad’s survival benefits Tehran, the region’s most dangerous regime. However, a rebel victory would hugely boost the increasingly rogue Turkish government while empowering jihadis, and replace the Assad government with triumphant, inflamed Islamists. Continued fighting does less damage to Western interests than their taking power. There are worse prospects than Sunni and Shiite Islamists mixing it up, than Hamas jihadis killing Hezbollah jihadis, and vice versa. Better that neither side wins. 

That’s why he thinks the West should back Assad even though it’s the sort of advice that makes most observers gag. Pipes concedes that the West can’t stand by and let Assad continue slaughtering civilians so he suggests putting pressure on the two sides to behave according to the rules of law while threatening military strikes to punish those who fail to do so. But this idea is every bit as problematic as the formulas put forward by the do-gooders. That will only lead both sides to blame the West and leave it as vulnerable to being held responsible for the slaughter as a policy that backs the rebels.

Pipes is right that those who want to back the rebels are hopelessly naïve about the problems inherent in such a strategy. He’s also correct to point out that the only really good outcome in Syria would be one in which the friends of Iran and the friends of Turkey are both left exhausted and without complete control of the country.

But his call for Americans to think strategically ignores the fact that it is impossible for the United States to have an unabashedly cynical approach to any foreign policy problem. An America that disdains the cause of democracy, even in a country where democracy is not a viable option, is an America that has lost its moral compass and will soon lose whatever influence it has left. A policy that even tacitly countenanced the continuation of Assad in power would be a deathblow to our credibility as a nation. It would also be wrong. Pipes, who has a long record of astute analysis of the Middle East, understands just how evil the Assad regime has been. It is possible to argue that leaving Assad in power prior to the Arab Spring was the least bad option in Syria. But after his murderous role in the civil war of the past three years, it is simply not possible for the United States to even think about associating itself with him.

The fact is there are no good choices left to President Obama in Syria and haven’t been since he first passed on intervention when it might have done some good. Taking a chance on picking winners among the Syrian opposition is a long shot that will probably fail. But betting on Assad is a guaranteed disaster. As much as I think Rubio and Casey’s recommendations are based more on hope than serious analysis, Pipes’s proposal is simply a non-starter.

Like it or not, America’s only choices in Syria consist of the following: continuing to stand on the sidelines or a more robust effort on behalf of the rebels. Neither strikes me as smart, but at least the Rubio-Casey idea has the advantage of being rooted in American values. For all of its logic and historical perspective, Pipes’s realpolitik tilt to Assad is incompatible with those values and therefore must be rejected out of hand.

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What’s Going on in Pennsylvania?

The latest poll in the Pennsylvania Senate race is the sort of result that makes political observers sit up and take notice. The Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows incumbent Senator Bob Casey, Jr. leading Republican challenger Tom Smith by just one percentage point. The 46-45 percent margin is shocking because this is a race that virtually no one in either party thought would be competitive, let alone be in doubt this late in the campaign. However, it also shows that Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania being a reliably blue state may have been overstated all along.

The smart money is still on Casey to pull out a win, as well as on President Obama to take Pennsylvania without that much trouble. But both Casey and Obama have seen their leads shrink dramatically in the Keystone State in the last month. Though no Republican has carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, it should be remembered that the GOP won both the governorship and a Senate seat (Pat Toomey) in 2010. Yet while Obama has maintained a consistent, albeit decreasing lead, in Pennsylvania, Casey may actually be in more trouble than his backers are willing to admit. His problems are due in part to growing Republican enthusiasm as Mitt Romney gained momentum this month. But Casey’s own shortcomings as a candidate are the major reason he finds Smith snapping at heels. If he can’t right himself, there is a chance the GOP will make up for unexpected losses elsewhere and steal a seemingly safe blue Senate seat.

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The latest poll in the Pennsylvania Senate race is the sort of result that makes political observers sit up and take notice. The Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows incumbent Senator Bob Casey, Jr. leading Republican challenger Tom Smith by just one percentage point. The 46-45 percent margin is shocking because this is a race that virtually no one in either party thought would be competitive, let alone be in doubt this late in the campaign. However, it also shows that Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania being a reliably blue state may have been overstated all along.

The smart money is still on Casey to pull out a win, as well as on President Obama to take Pennsylvania without that much trouble. But both Casey and Obama have seen their leads shrink dramatically in the Keystone State in the last month. Though no Republican has carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election since 1988, it should be remembered that the GOP won both the governorship and a Senate seat (Pat Toomey) in 2010. Yet while Obama has maintained a consistent, albeit decreasing lead, in Pennsylvania, Casey may actually be in more trouble than his backers are willing to admit. His problems are due in part to growing Republican enthusiasm as Mitt Romney gained momentum this month. But Casey’s own shortcomings as a candidate are the major reason he finds Smith snapping at heels. If he can’t right himself, there is a chance the GOP will make up for unexpected losses elsewhere and steal a seemingly safe blue Senate seat.

To listen to most Democrats, the explanation for what’s happened in the Senate race is readily apparent: a low-key candidate running a lackluster campaign against a millionaire willing to spend money freely. They’re not far wrong about this. Casey is well known to be a nice guy in a business filled with not-so-nice people, but he has the charisma of a plate of soggy, mashed potatoes. A non-controversial mien was the right formula six years ago when Democrats nominated Casey to knock off the controversial and widely disliked Senator Rick Santorum. But to the dismay of many Democrats, the stealth candidate of 2006 became the stealth senator. Though he can still trade on his identity as the son of a popular namesake two-term governor, Casey is a virtual nonentity in the state despite being the incumbent. Smith, a former Democrat who owned coal mines, is a political novice who won his nomination in a Tea Party insurgency. But he has avoided gaffes and spent freely. After a couple of months of the airwaves in major markets being deluged with ads denouncing Casey as “Senator Zero,” Smith has gone from a double digit deficit to being virtually tied.

The idea of Smith actually beating Casey is still scoffed at by most savvy observers. But Casey’s characteristic low-key strategy has played right into Smith’s hands, as he has dominated the political stage in the state. Even worse by granting Smith only one debate (which will be taped today and then aired on Sunday) Casey has set himself up for some real problems if the Republican is seen as holding his own or even besting the incumbent.

If the Democratic machine is able to generate — by hook or by crook — a big turnout in Philadelphia, Casey may be saved. But the era in which anyone named Bob Casey can simple put his name on the ballot in Pennsylvania and expect to cruise to victory is probably over. In a year in which Republican enthusiasm is rising in the way it did in 2010, Smith must now be said to have at least a fighting chance. So must Romney, though he may have a higher hill to climb in the state. While it might be foolish for Republicans to divert scarce resources from other battleground states to contest Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt it will not be the Democratic cakewalk that most people thought it would be only a couple of months ago.

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Big Trouble Looms for Dems in PA

Democrats have long pooh-poohed the idea that President Obama was in any trouble in Pennsylvania this year. The president romped in Pennsylvania four years ago, and the Democrats’ registration advantage seemed likely to offset any problems that might arise from a new voter ID law that (at least before a judge prevented its enforcement this year) threatened to make it a little more difficult for the party’s Philadelphia machine to observe a time-honored city tradition and cook the results. But it’s starting to look as if their confidence was misplaced. Despite the fact that the most recent state polls there were published last week, before the first presidential debate that has altered the dynamic of the race in Mitt Romney’s favor, both Siena and Susquehanna showed the president holding only a slim lead of either two or three points. That sets up Keystone Democrats for a rude awakening the next time the state is polled, though they got a foretaste of what that might mean with the publication of the latest poll in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

A Susquehanna poll published today shows incumbent Democrat Bob Casey just two points ahead of Republican Tom Smith. Casey is a popular, though lackluster, incumbent whose father (a longtime governor) is still remembered with affection, and no one believed he was in any danger of losing this year. That was certainly the case when the best the GOP could do to oppose him was Tom Smith, a Tea Party stalwart with little name recognition. The point here is that if Tom Smith is that close to Casey, the Democrat ticket in Pennsylvania may be far weaker than pundits, who have been painting the state dark blue in electoral map for months, thought. If Obama must fight hard for Pennsylvania — which has just been shifted into the tossup column by Real Clear Politics — his campaign has made a terrible miscalculation.

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Democrats have long pooh-poohed the idea that President Obama was in any trouble in Pennsylvania this year. The president romped in Pennsylvania four years ago, and the Democrats’ registration advantage seemed likely to offset any problems that might arise from a new voter ID law that (at least before a judge prevented its enforcement this year) threatened to make it a little more difficult for the party’s Philadelphia machine to observe a time-honored city tradition and cook the results. But it’s starting to look as if their confidence was misplaced. Despite the fact that the most recent state polls there were published last week, before the first presidential debate that has altered the dynamic of the race in Mitt Romney’s favor, both Siena and Susquehanna showed the president holding only a slim lead of either two or three points. That sets up Keystone Democrats for a rude awakening the next time the state is polled, though they got a foretaste of what that might mean with the publication of the latest poll in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

A Susquehanna poll published today shows incumbent Democrat Bob Casey just two points ahead of Republican Tom Smith. Casey is a popular, though lackluster, incumbent whose father (a longtime governor) is still remembered with affection, and no one believed he was in any danger of losing this year. That was certainly the case when the best the GOP could do to oppose him was Tom Smith, a Tea Party stalwart with little name recognition. The point here is that if Tom Smith is that close to Casey, the Democrat ticket in Pennsylvania may be far weaker than pundits, who have been painting the state dark blue in electoral map for months, thought. If Obama must fight hard for Pennsylvania — which has just been shifted into the tossup column by Real Clear Politics — his campaign has made a terrible miscalculation.

The closeness of the Senate race is due in large measure to Casey’s incompetence as a candidate. He won in 2006 almost by default against a deeply unpopular Rick Santorum, and got away with running what was widely considered a stealth campaign in which the nominally pro-life and pro-gun Democrat sought to avoid being pinned down on any issues. He’s trying the same trick this year, but in the absence of a highly visible opponent like Santorum, it isn’t playing as well. However, even Casey, who has one of the lowest profiles of any statewide political figure but very high name recognition, still ought to be having an easy time winning a second term against Smith. That Casey couldn’t maintain the double-digit lead he had over Smith most of the year is telling not only about his own problems but what it says about the weakness of the Democrat ticket.

The smart money will probably still be betting on Obama and Casey winning in November, but the news here is that they are going to have fight hard to do so. Republicans had hoped to make the president play defense in a state that was thought to not really be in play, and it appears they have succeeded in that quest. A determined Republican challenge in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t also fight hard in swing states such as Florida and Virginia that Romney must have if he is to win, but it makes it harder for them.

But that’s putting these results in what must be seen as the most positive light for Democrats. The nightmare scenario for Obama is that not only has Pennsylvania reverted to its pre-2008 status as a competitive if blue-leaning state, but that it is genuinely in play. Even scarier for them is the prospect of a spiraling Obama dragging Casey down with him. A few more polls like this and such an outcome will no longer be viewed as a GOP fantasy.

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Reports of Tea Party’s Demise Premature

Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.

While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.

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Because the Republican Party will nominate the one candidate who, at least at the outset of the contest, Tea Partiers seemed to have the least affinity for, many political observers have concluded that the movement’s time has come and gone. But as the results from a number of Senate races testify, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are, at best, premature. In Utah, longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch is being forced into a Republican primary to hold on to his seat. But an even better argument for the group as a force that should be reckoned with came in Pennsylvania, where the state GOP establishment’s choice was humiliated in a primary yesterday to determine the party’s nominee to oppose Senator Bob Casey.

While the Pennsylvania GOP Senate race received minimal attention even in the Keystone state, the collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to handpick an unknown for the nomination is noteworthy. Corbett and the state party wanted Steve Welch, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009. But Tea Party activists embraced Tom Smith, a coal millionaire from the Western region of the state. Though Smith, 64, was a lifelong Democrat, he was able to harness the anger of the party’s grass roots and won by a huge margin over Welch, and Sam Rohrer, a state representative who also sought to appeal to Tea Partiers.

Though Casey is closely identified with President Obama and might be vulnerable if the Democratic ticket faces a strong challenge from Mitt Romney, he is probably not in much danger of being defeated. Casey, who remains popular despite a lackluster record in the Senate, has enough resources to match Smith’s wealth, and the GOP candidate is not likely to gain much traction outside of western Pennsylvania.

But no matter what happens in November in this race, the idea that the Tea Party is a spent force in the GOP is not realistic. We may get even more evidence of this when Indiana Senator Richard Lugar faces off in a May 8 primary with State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Unlike a marginal figure like Smith or Tea Party favorites who crashed and burned in the general election in 2010 such as Utah’s Sharon Angle or Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Mourdock has a good chance of holding the seat for the GOP if he beats Lugar. If Tea Partiers can topple a Senate institution like Lugar, it will be more proof of the staying power of the movement. As Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and his cronies can tell Lugar, underestimating the Tea Party is a mistake experienced politicians should try to avoid.

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Could 2012 Be Worse?

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

As we’ve noted, 2012 may be another perilous outing for Democratic incumbent congressmen and senators. The number of Democratic senators on the ballot in the next cycle (23, including the two independents who caucus with the Dems) and their location in many Red States that in a presidential year will likely have some help from the top of the ticket suggests some opportunities for the GOP. Public Policy Polling zeroes in on one example:

One of the most interesting findings on our Montana poll was Max Baucus’ extremely low level of popularity in the state. Only 38% of voters expressed support for his job performance while 53% disapproved. At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals. Baucus isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but there are a batch like him who face the voters in 2012: Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Sherrod Brown, and Kent Conrad, for starters. That’s a total of seven Democrats who voted for (were all the 60th vote for) ObamaCare, supported the stimulus plan, and come from states (Montana, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and North Dakota) that are quite likely to vote for a Republican for president. And the way things are going, you might add Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), who may have gone too far left in their states.

That’s an awful lot of states in the mix. The most immediate impact of this may be a higher degree of independence from the White House and the Obama agenda than these Democrats demonstrated in the first two years of Obama’s term. That suggests some openings for bipartisan action by the Republicans and the vulnerable Democrats. Bush tax cuts? Spending restraint? Yes, these issues and much more.

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RE: Senate Shifts

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

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Senate Shifts

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

Fred Barnes makes a key observation:

Ten Democrats whose seats are up in 2012 come from right-leaning states or saw their states scoot to the right this week: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

It’s a good bet that some or all of them will be sympathetic to cutting spending, extending the Bush tax cuts, scaling back ObamaCare, and supporting other parts of the Republican agenda. With Democratic allies, Republicans will have operational control of the Senate more often than Majority Leader Harry Reid and Mr. Obama will.

And let’s not forget Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who ran and won by repudiating Obama’s agenda. You may be skeptical that self-styled moderate Democrats will buck the president. Certainly, their track record in that regard is poor. But the 2010 midterm elections and these lawmakers’ own re-election have a way of focusing Democrats on the perils of Obamaism. And to give you a sense of the danger these Democrats face, Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Mexico will all have Republican governors — and, if those officials do their jobs properly, a taste of what a conservative reform agenda looks like.

Will the Democrats at risk in 2012 desert Obama all the time? Of course not. But in key areas, it certainly will appear that there is a bipartisan consensus on one side and the president on the other. With Harry Reid — he of gaffes and never a sunny disposition — leading the Senate Democrats, this could become quite entertaining and, for the electorate, illuminating.

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Toomey Demands Sestak Give Back Soros’s Money

The Pat Toomey campaign has put out a statement that cites the reports of J Street’s connection to George Soros and that lists the “far-left” groups Joe Sestak has aligned himself. They include MoveOn.org (“The radical group also funded by George Soros has received bipartisan condemnation for its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and its history of inaccurate and inflammatory ads. Joe Sestak has received MoveOn.Org’s endorsement and over $150,000 from the group this election cycle”), CAIR, and Citizens for Global Solutions. As to the latter, the statement explains:

Congressman Sestak has embraced this group’s radical views, supporting a doubling of foreign aid to corrupt regimes and the United States’ participation in the International Criminal Court.  Sestak has been endorsed by CGS every election cycle and received $9,200 from the group, making him their number one recipient. The group is so extreme, Senator Bob Casey returned CGS’s $5,000 contribution when he ran for Senate in 2006.

Toomey’s communications director says: “Congressman Sestak shows a very consistent and disturbing pattern of aligning himself with political organizations that attack Israel and the Jewish community, or are funded by individuals who are hostile to Israel. … Sestak says he’s pro-Israel, but at some point, his consistent alignment with the likes of George Soros, MoveOn.Org, CAIR, and J Street makes that claim just flat-out not believable.”

As I wrote earlier, how long before the rest of  the opponents of the J Street endorsees do this?

The Pat Toomey campaign has put out a statement that cites the reports of J Street’s connection to George Soros and that lists the “far-left” groups Joe Sestak has aligned himself. They include MoveOn.org (“The radical group also funded by George Soros has received bipartisan condemnation for its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and its history of inaccurate and inflammatory ads. Joe Sestak has received MoveOn.Org’s endorsement and over $150,000 from the group this election cycle”), CAIR, and Citizens for Global Solutions. As to the latter, the statement explains:

Congressman Sestak has embraced this group’s radical views, supporting a doubling of foreign aid to corrupt regimes and the United States’ participation in the International Criminal Court.  Sestak has been endorsed by CGS every election cycle and received $9,200 from the group, making him their number one recipient. The group is so extreme, Senator Bob Casey returned CGS’s $5,000 contribution when he ran for Senate in 2006.

Toomey’s communications director says: “Congressman Sestak shows a very consistent and disturbing pattern of aligning himself with political organizations that attack Israel and the Jewish community, or are funded by individuals who are hostile to Israel. … Sestak says he’s pro-Israel, but at some point, his consistent alignment with the likes of George Soros, MoveOn.Org, CAIR, and J Street makes that claim just flat-out not believable.”

As I wrote earlier, how long before the rest of  the opponents of the J Street endorsees do this?

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part Two)

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC’s jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

Joe Sestak’s answers on the questionnaire from the extremist group Citizens for Global Solutions on a range of foreign-policy issues reveal him to be to the left of the vast majority of Americans, even the president. The entire questionnaire should be read in full, but some items are particularly noteworthy. It starts out this way:

Within the last decade, the U.S. role in the geopolitical landscape has shifted away from being seen as a constructive leader. What role do you believe the U.S. should play in the world today?

After eight years of counterproductive, unilateral policies under President Bush, I believe it is time once again for the United States to be a true leader on the world stage and to engage with other states, including those with interests which may be adverse to our own. I have supported President Obama’s efforts to engage with rogue states such as Iran and his efforts to reassert our role as a leader in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations. I strongly support the Administration’s demonstrated commitment to global nuclear non-proliferation, and believe that the successful negotiation of the START follow-on treaty and convening of a nuclear security summit in Washington are constructive steps.

Plainly, this is precisely what the militantly pro-UN group wants to hear.

What about America’s war on Islamic terror?

I support President Obama’s stated withdrawal time lines from Iraq. I believe the President should establish benchmarks for success or failure in Afghanistan which, upon the meeting of certain conditions, would trigger an alternative or exit strategy. I have also voted for legislation requiring the Secretary of Defense to promulgate an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Not even the Obami talk this way anymore.

Sestak’s apparent infatuation with international organizations and, specifically, the International Criminal Court matches up nicely with CGS’s agenda as well:

5. Will you support greater U.S. cooperation with the ICC in situations where it is in the United States’ interest to bring to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?
Yes
6. Will you support the continued U.S. participation as an observer in the Court’s governing body (also known as the Assembly of States Parties)?
Yes
7. Do you support the reinstatement of the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute [that would submit the U.S. to the ICC’s jurisdiction] and its eventual approval by the Senate for U.S. ratification?
Yes
I agree with President Clinton that eventual ratification should remain our goal, but that the United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the court before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction.

He also says he wants to double foreign aid (presumably including aid to those countries that routinely vote against the U.S. and Israel in international bodies).

But of all his answers, the most troubling may be his unqualified yes to this one: “Will you support the call for the U.S. to refrain from the use or threat of a veto in the UN Security Council regarding situations involving ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?” So, without knowing the context and without regard to the UN’s perpetual efforts to cast Israel as a criminal state, Sestak would call for the U.S. to tie its own hands. He’s ready — in advance — to throw away the one effective tool in its arsenal that allows it to defeat noxious UN Security Council actions. Good to know.

Sestak, then, is no garden-variety liberal on foreign policy. His association with CGS and his answers to its queries raise a number of questions. Recall Sestak’s odd letter calling not for the UN Human Rights Council to stay out of the flotilla incident but for it to conduct a “fair” investigation of Israel. It was ludicrous on its face. Now we wonder whether it was an effort to thread the needle between irate pro-Israel voters and his CGS backers (who fawn over the UNHRC). So don’t expect Sestak to support the U.S. withdrawal from that bile-gushing entity that his backers say “is direct, resultant, and demands accountability” and that vilifies Israel. Meanwhile, CGS declares that the U.S. is deriving such “goodwill” from sitting mutely on the council.

Does Sestak agree with CGS’s agenda? (In his answers No. 17 and No. 18, Sestak declares that he’d accept the group’s endorsement and its money.) If not, will he return the money, as Bob Casey did in 2006? And why, considering the group’s track record on Israel and its stance toward international bodies that routinely challenge Israel’s legitimacy, would he seek the group’s endorsement? I mean, if he really does “stand with Israel,” wouldn’t he recognize the danger to the Jewish state posed by such an extreme internationalist agenda? The Sestak campaign has not yet responded to these questions, but I’ll pass on any answers I receive.

In sum, Sestak is in a bind on foreign policy and a raft of other issues. The latest Democratic poll shows him nine points behind Pat Toomey. He’s getting hammered among independents (trailing by 50 to 23 percent). He’s had his hands full with the Emergency Committee for Israel ad attack, and now he faces a new ad assault by the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Sources tell me it will be one of the largest investments ever made in an ad campaign targeting the Jewish community, with an initial buy of two weeks with heavy cable in Philadelphia.) In other words, Sestak’s association with leftist groups may be far more damaging than helpful. To regain ground with Jewish voters and independents, will he shed some of his associations, perhaps give back money from the most objectionable of his donors? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has the margin in the race at 9 points.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part One)

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.)

CGS has some very radical ideas, which make Obama seem like a raging nationalist. Its history as a champion of world government, multinational institutions and treaties (which subsume the laws of nation-states), and devotion to the international redistribution of wealth is no secret:

Seeking to create a world in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone, Citizens for Global Solutions has a long, proud tradition of activism. Tracing its earliest roots back to the years prior to World War II, United World Federalists (later the World Federalist Association) was created in 1947 as a partnership between a number of like-minded organizations that united to achieve their commons goals.

CGS and its predecessor group, the World Federalist Association (WFA), haven’t been shy about their views. They have decried the “myth” of national sovereignty, supported expansion of international entities like the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and even a standing UN army, all to be funded by the U.S. and new global taxes. (“The United States would benefit from an increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the group explains.) In 1999 in the Washington Times, the issues director for the WFA wrote in an op-ed: “This could bring into favor a global e-commerce tax that could be redistributed back to local, state, and national governments.” He explained the organization’s focus:

The crisis-filled future we face is primarily a result of policy-makers holding onto the myth of independence or national sovereignty and a reliance primarily on unilateral action for dealing with global problems. If Congress continues cutting foreign aid and undermining the vital work of the United Nations, we will have to give up either our personal freedoms or our security.

Under its new name (World Federalist Association probably creeped out too many people), CGS has kept up the internationalist drumbeat and the preference for a slew of agreements that diminish U.S. sovereignty, from the Law of the Seas Treaty to global warming accords to the enhancement of the UN authority. The group thinks the UN Human Rights Council is swell:

Currently, the HRC is the primary global intergovernmental body able to address human rights issues and this is the first time the U.S. has been an active participant. Membership will help generate goodwill toward the U.S. and prove the United States’ commitment to multilateral diplomacy. The HRC is direct, resultant, and demands accountability in human rights from its members and the world. Through HRC actions, a strong basis in international action is created so countries can collectively come to the aid of any human rights crisis.

(Of course, it should also get an A+ in Israel-bashing.) Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance in which CGS has demonstrated a marked anti-Israel bias. Its deputy director of government relations, Drew Asson, went after Israel in the Lebanon war, bellowing from his website: “When will this senseless onslaught by Israeli hawks end? When will the UN Security Council step up to the plate and condemn this vicious obviously disproportionate response by Israel?”

You get the picture. This isn’t the first time a politician’s association with CGS has landed him in hot water. In his 2006 Senate run (the same year CGS started giving Sestak money), Bob Casey was pressured to return campaign donations from the group.

Sestak’s relationship with CGS is indicative of a pattern — he solicits support and receives backing from groups whose agenda is at the far left of the political spectrum. (As such, his supporters and donors have a decidedly anti-Israel cast.) So there is reason for the voters to ask what he sees in these groups’ agendas and, more important, what do they see in him?

The answer may lie in his answers on the CGS questionnaire. It’s an eye-opener, to be discussed in Part Two.

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Toomey’s Path to Victory: Don’t Listen to Rick

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

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North Carolina: End of The Road?

While much of the media is buzzing about Indiana, which remains a highly competitive state, North Carolina looms large. It holds 115 delegates. Barack Obama is the prohibitive favorite, and a win there is just what he needs to stop the bleeding and calm the superdelegates. It’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton could win there. But she might make it close.

For starters, the electorate is about 40% African American. If Obama gets 90% of that vote (which is what he got in Pennsylvania) Clinton would need roughly 75% of the white vote. Not impossible–she got 63% in Pennsylvania–but no easy feat.

More critically for Clinton, North Carolina is not the Rust Belt. This is where the jobs went over the last 20 years. With big universities and lots of white-collar professionals, Obama will almost certainly do far better than he did in places like Bob Casey’s Lackawanna County in northeast Pennsylvania where he got trounced 74%-25%.

What about rural whites? Clinton’s hopes lie with those voters, but many of them in North Carolina have become Republican over the last generation. And though they could re-register to vote in the Democratic primary, there is a contested GOP gubernatorial primary to keep them busy.

So Clinton’s chances don’t look good. That might, in this counterintutive election season, be a blessing in disguise. A closer-than-expected finish might be what she needs to raise brewing doubts about Obama to a boil. Just as a narrow win in Pennsylvania for Clinton would have been her death knell, a squeaker for Obama in North Carolina will spell trouble. How likely is it? Not very. But, then again,  most gurus didn’t think she’d win Pennsylvania by ten points.

While much of the media is buzzing about Indiana, which remains a highly competitive state, North Carolina looms large. It holds 115 delegates. Barack Obama is the prohibitive favorite, and a win there is just what he needs to stop the bleeding and calm the superdelegates. It’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton could win there. But she might make it close.

For starters, the electorate is about 40% African American. If Obama gets 90% of that vote (which is what he got in Pennsylvania) Clinton would need roughly 75% of the white vote. Not impossible–she got 63% in Pennsylvania–but no easy feat.

More critically for Clinton, North Carolina is not the Rust Belt. This is where the jobs went over the last 20 years. With big universities and lots of white-collar professionals, Obama will almost certainly do far better than he did in places like Bob Casey’s Lackawanna County in northeast Pennsylvania where he got trounced 74%-25%.

What about rural whites? Clinton’s hopes lie with those voters, but many of them in North Carolina have become Republican over the last generation. And though they could re-register to vote in the Democratic primary, there is a contested GOP gubernatorial primary to keep them busy.

So Clinton’s chances don’t look good. That might, in this counterintutive election season, be a blessing in disguise. A closer-than-expected finish might be what she needs to raise brewing doubts about Obama to a boil. Just as a narrow win in Pennsylvania for Clinton would have been her death knell, a squeaker for Obama in North Carolina will spell trouble. How likely is it? Not very. But, then again,  most gurus didn’t think she’d win Pennsylvania by ten points.

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