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Topic: Bruce Braley

2014’s Most Cringe-Inducing Moment

Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

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Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

As Fox News’s Chris Stirewalt wrote yesterday, Grimes’ position on her vote for Obama puts her in the running for what he dubbed the Todd Akin Prize for the worst political gaffe of this election cycle. Akin produced a whopper of historic proportions in 2012 when he produced a strange and ignorant theory about rape and pregnancy that not only ensured that he would fail to topple a vulnerable Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race but also hurt Republicans around the nation who suffered from guilt by association with Akin. Stirewalt believes Texas Democrat Wendy Davis is the favorite for the 2014 prize because of her astoundingly bad judgment in releasing an attack ad that drew attention to her opponent’s being confined to a wheelchair. He also gives honorable mention to Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley for mocking the state’s Senator Charles Grassley for only being “an Iowa farmer.”

But I think Grimes has the edge here. Grimes was an Obama-supporting delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But her sanctimonious cant about ballot box privacy after having already said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries is both absurd and an indication that she thinks voters are idiots. Yet it also, like Akin’s gaffe, speaks to a national trend that affects other elections. Like many other Democrats running for office in 2014, Grimes’s biggest problem is the head of her party, not her opponent.

Running away from an unpopular incumbent president is an age-old problem for politicians, but there are ways to finesse the issue. Yet instead of addressing it honestly and saying she voted her principles, Grimes believes not saying the words that everyone knows is the truth (unless, as our John Podhoretz speculated on Twitter yesterday, that she didn’t vote at all!) will be enough to deceive the public. While it may be no more stupid than deriding farmers in Iowa or attacking a man in a wheelchair, it nevertheless made a moment that had to leave even some of her sternest critics feeling embarrassed for her.

What makes supposedly smart people do such stupid things?

We can blame Grimes’s political consultants or her father, a former politician who is widely believed to be the person calling the shots in her campaign. But I think what wins her the Akin Prize is actually the polar opposite of what led to his blunder. Akin blabbed his moronic theory that pregnancy can’t result from a rape because he had such confidence in his beliefs that he didn’t know enough to show some caution when discussing a delicate topic. But Grimes is so afraid of being attacked that she cannot bring herself to admit a fact that is not really in dispute. While Akin showed naïve arrogance as well as stupidity, Grimes demonstrated a lack of guts that is equally fatal. While McConnell is not perfect and had his own difficult moments in last night’s debate when discussing ObamaCare, he can never be accused of lacking the courage of his convictions. If Grimes’s silly willingness to bet her political future on this point induces a degree of pity, we should also be glad if it ensures that the ranks of Senate cowards won’t be increased.

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Democrat Attack Themes Flop in Iowa

In a year in which control of the U.S. Senate is on the line, the race to fill the Iowa seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin is proving to be one of the keys to the national contest. But there is something else that is being illustrated by the battle between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. The Democrats’ belief that they can repeat their 2012 victories with assertions that the GOP is waging a war on women or is in the pocket of the Koch brothers may be a big mistake.

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In a year in which control of the U.S. Senate is on the line, the race to fill the Iowa seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin is proving to be one of the keys to the national contest. But there is something else that is being illustrated by the battle between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. The Democrats’ belief that they can repeat their 2012 victories with assertions that the GOP is waging a war on women or is in the pocket of the Koch brothers may be a big mistake.

Heading into 2014, most pundits thought the Democrats were in good position to hold the Iowa seat. But that expectation was based on the notion that Braley was a better candidate than he has proved to be as well as the belief that Republicans would nominate a bland conservative who could be bludgeoned with the Democrats’ favorite tactic: the accusation that Republicans are at war with women. Both assumptions proved to be mistaken.

Braley’s hot-tempered and condescending manner has cost him dearly. So, too, did his gaffe in which he warned a group of fellow trial lawyers that if the GOP won the Senate, the Judiciary Committee would be led by an “Iowa farmer”—Chuck Grassley, the state’s respected senior senator. But his contempt for one of the staples of the state’s economy might not have been as big a deal had he not been opposed by State Senator Joni Ernst. The tough-talking conservative has not only undermined conventional wisdom about the race but also the Democrats’ confidence in their ability to exploit women’s fears to win elections.

Ernst’s easy win in the Republican primary was the first sign of trouble for Democrats. But they hoped that her surge—driven in part by a clever TV ad in which she spoke of her farm girl background and experience in castrating hogs as evidence of how she’ll make the Washington establishment squeal—would be followed by gaffes that would expose her as another Tea Party extremist who would sink in a general-election fight. But if Braley was underestimating his opponent, he soon learned she was more than equal to the test of a competitive statewide race. That was on display in last weekend’s first debate between the two in which Ernst took the Democrat apart in a textbook example of what happens when a well-prepared candidate comes up against one who is still laboring under the delusion that the seat is still his to lose.

That Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq, is no pushover who could be easily labeled an extremist is something Braley still hasn’t quite come to terms with. Though he attacked her non-stop in the debate, she kept her cool, and counter-attacked effortlessly in a manner that left the congressman fuming. The race was already trending in her direction before the debate as a Des Moines Register poll showed her up by six points over Braley. The next surveys may bring even worse news for the Democrats.

But the point here is not just that Republicans may have lucked their way into finding exactly the right candidate to champion conservative economic positions in a state where liberal populists like Harkin have been popular. It’s that when employed against principled and credible female Republicans, the war on women tactic fails.

It is true that, as last week’s Des Moines Register poll shows, Braley has maintained a big edge among women voters leading Ernst by a 46-33 percent margin. But the gender gap factor hasn’t pushed the race into the Democratic column. Though she trails among women, Ernst leads Braley among male voters by an even more stunning 55-30 differential.

Just as important was the way one of the key moments in the debate undermined the notion that Democratic harping on the contributions of the libertarian Koch brothers will taint anyone they support. When Braley accused Ernst of being in their pocket, she tartly replied that he was dependent on the support of environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer. Moreover, while Ernst’s conservatism is not in question, Braley’s decision to flip-flop and oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline to win Steyer’s favor makes any talk about the Kochs’ influence so much hypocritical hot air.

Many Republicans believed their 2012 defeat in the presidential election and the disastrous impact of misogynist gaffes like that of Todd Akin on Senate races meant they had to change their positions on religious freedom, ObamaCare, and abortion to win elections. But Ernst’s strong run is once again illustrating the fact that what they needed were candidates who could articulate their principles without shooting themselves in the foot.

While most of the battleground contests in 2014 are in red states, the race in competitive Iowa is a truer test of the Democrats’ reliance on their standard tropes about women and big money. With five weeks to go it’s clear that their reliance on smearing Republicans on women’s issues and the Koch brothers won’t work against Joni Ernst. Instead of trolling the country for bland moderates as some GOP establishment types were recommending a year ago, Iowa demonstrates that what they really need are more tough-as-nails women like Joni Ernst.

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Why an Outlier New Hampshire Poll Might Mean More Trouble for Dems

Democrats wondering if their hopes of keeping the Senate could receive any more hits this week got their answer yesterday: a new poll found Scott Brown trailing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen by just two points. It’s either an outlier or a lagging indicator–more likely an outlier, but bound to give Democrats a scare either way.

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Democrats wondering if their hopes of keeping the Senate could receive any more hits this week got their answer yesterday: a new poll found Scott Brown trailing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen by just two points. It’s either an outlier or a lagging indicator–more likely an outlier, but bound to give Democrats a scare either way.

That’s because if the race appears close, they’ll have to spend time, money, resources, etc. trying to fend off a challenge from an opponent given a new sense of momentum and likely able to improve his own fundraising on the news of apparently improving poll numbers. And at this point, with the way the Democrats’ luck has been going, they’d be tempting fate to dismiss a sign that their standing might be going from bad to worse.

As Andrew Stiles notes over at the Washington Free Beacon, the Democrats’ woes can be chalked up to two prominent factors, in addition to their affiliation with President Millstone: Republicans have recruited good candidates, and Democrats have recruited a mix of bad candidates and bonkers candidates.

The bad candidates include those like Iowa’s Bruce Braley and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes, the latter a good candidate on paper but an almost shockingly terrible public speaker. There are struggling incumbents like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu. And then there are candidates like the Democrats’ two choices thus far in Montana.

Incumbent Senator John Walsh was running for reelection, but bowed out due to revelations of plagiarism. The Democrats replaced Walsh on the ballot with a state representative and radical leftist named Amanda Curtis. Readers, meet Amanda Curtis:

So the last thing Democrats want to deal with is a possible upset in New Hampshire. And yet, there are good reasons not to ignore this one poll. One such reason is because their opponent is Scott Brown. He did, after all, win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat after Kennedy died and while promising to vote against the major domestic reform proposal that was being sold in Kennedy’s name. Brown has been an underdog before, and the result was a Republican senator in uber-liberal Massachusetts.

Another is the flipside of one of Brown’s current weaknesses. He has switched states to run for this seat, losing his local-boy authenticity and having to build connections he could take for granted in his original home state. He also opens himself up to the charge of carpetbagging, though it’s not always a terribly effective accusation in the course of an election. But the other side of that coin is that he’s trading in an overwhelmingly liberal state for one with a more conservative streak. As a Republican, he’ll spot his opponent fewer points in New Hampshire than he did in Massachusetts.

Another reason for Democrats not to be too dismissive of the poll is that if Brown ends up winning this election, they will never hear the end of it. He would cause a much larger headache for national Democrats as a senator from New Hampshire than he could from Massachusetts. In both, of course, he gets only one vote. But in New Hampshire he’d have a stronger incumbency and a national profile because of the state’s role in presidential nominations, especially on the Republican side.

That means that if Democrats lose the New Hampshire seat to Brown, they will be witnessing the establishment of a genuine national politician. Unless his career there is a disaster, he will instantly be the subject of presidential speculation (which he will no doubt feed). If he doesn’t run for president, he will at least be a much sought after endorsement for aspiring Republican presidents. The spectacle of early-primary-season New Hampshire will now include a procession to the throne of Scott Brown.

So losing the seat to Brown is more than just another Senate seat, notwithstanding the fact that the midterms might be close enough that one Senate election really can determine who is in the minority and who the majority. Expect, then, this poll to refocus attention on New Hampshire. If that happens, Brown’s fundraising will increase. And if that happens, Shaheen will need more help from the national party and major donors as well. That would draw money away from other races, a serious hit for a party that is already on the defensive for November’s midterms.

Brown is still behind in New Hampshire, and probably by more than this latest poll suggests. But Democrats have already learned how dangerous it is to underestimate him.

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Not All Political Gaffes Are Created Equal

With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

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With this year’s Senate races starting to heat up, the media (and opposition research trackers from the campaigns) are going over anything said or released by anyone running for the kind of gaffe that can turn a race around. Examples, like former Senator George Allen’s weird “macaca” insult thrown at a Democratic operative in 2006 or Todd Akin’s obtuse comments about rape and pregnancy, keep staffers searching for mistakes like ’49ers panning for gold.

This week, we had two major gaffes by senatorial campaigns that left the candidates—Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley—with egg on their faces. But while both got considerable and deserved coverage, a close look at the two demonstrates that not all political gaffes are created equal. While McConnell was embarrassed by the error made by the people who produced a campaign video, Braley’s taped comments dismissing Iowa Senator Charles Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa” may well rank with Allen or Akin’s gaffes. Even worse, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” line, also made at a fundraiser to what he presumed was a friendly audience, Braley’s indiscretion may transform him from a likely winner to a candidate who may turn a blue seat into a red one in November.

The two mistakes in question were the kind designed to generate coverage. In the case of McConnell, it concerned a campaign video posted on the Internet that featured a montage of images while the voice of the candidate is heard promising what he will do if he takes over as majority leader of the Senate next year, something that requires not only major Republican gains around the country, but also his reelection in what promises to be a tough race against Alison Lundergan Grimes. One of the final images seen is a brief glimpse of basketball players wearing blue and white jerseys celebrating a victory. But unfortunately for McConnell, the players on the court are not members of the University of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA champions but those of Duke University’s 2010 winners of the same title (who wear the same colors but with a different name on their shirts). Suffice it to say that McConnell will never hear the end of this in basketball-mad Kentucky.

But there is a difference between a video montage created by a staff—and which appears for approximately two seconds on the screen—and the sort of elitist contempt displayed by Braley. As Tom Bevan wrote on RealClearPolitics about the incident, it’s hard to understand why a candidate in this day and age doesn’t assume that the “camera is on” no matter where they are and to whom they are speaking. It is also astonishing that someone running for office in an agricultural state would disparage a farmer in any context.

The context in question, which Democratic apologists have cited, is that he was discussing the fact that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, Grassley, the state’s senior senator, will become the chair of the Judiciary Committee. This is something that Braley, a trial lawyer by profession who was speaking to a group of trial lawyers at a Dallas fundraiser, regards with horror not only because Grassley is a Republican but because he isn’t a lawyer. Perhaps most lawyers feel the same way, but the odds are, most voters in any state view the matter differently. If anything, the fact that Grassley isn’t a lawyer would probably be an argument in favor of the GOP since most Americans think lawyers already have too much influence in Congress. And it’s probably a given that most Iowans think there’s nothing wrong with having a farmer—even one that’s served on the Judiciary Committee for many years—telling the lawyers what to do.

Thus, rather than just an embarrassing gaffe that could be viewed as an insult to the honor of Iowa and made up for by enough groveling tributes to agriculture by Braley, the video of him showing disrespect for Grassley’s qualifications is the kind of mistake that voters understand gives them an insight into the candidate’s character. That’s something the Republican candidate will take full advantage of, especially if it turns out to be State Senator Joni Ernst, who has been stumping the state bragging that she will make Washington squeal the same way that the pigs she castrated back on her family farm did. Interestingly, that line seems to have Ernst, who was widely seen as more a favorite of establishment Republicans than Tea Partiers or social conservatives, Sarah Palin’s endorsement this week.

Unlike McConnell’s blooper, Braley’s mistake could help cost the Democrats a seat (currently held by the retiring Tom Harkin) they can ill afford to lose.

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RE: GOP Playing to Win in 2014

I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

Talking to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that was supposed to be off the record—but was video recorded on someone’s cell phone—Braley managed to insult both Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, in particular and farmers in general. With 97,000 farms in Iowa, that is probably not a good idea in a race for an Iowa senate seat.

Braley, noting that Senator Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that if there is a Republican majority in the Senate next year, “You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

He then compounded the felony by noting that he was not a farmer but a lawyer, and that if he were on the Judiciary Committee there would be someone on the committee with,  “your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years.” In other words, on the committee he wouldn’t represent the interests of the people of Iowa, he would instead represent the interests of lawyers.

This was also not too smart. As James Taranto pointed out yesterday, a Google search on “lawyer jokes” turns up 28 million matches. Lawyers, in other words are about as unpopular as members of Congress. Nearly the only people in the country who are against tort reform (and legal reform generally, for that matter) are lawyers and their very well-funded water bearers in Congress and state legislatures, like Rep. Braley.

The video should make a great attack ad.

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