Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic front runner

Is the Connecticut Senate Front-runner “Martha Coakley in Pants”?

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

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Democrats Flee the Battleground

In a political jaw-dropper, on Tuesday we learned:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced this evening that he’s retiring at the end of his term, a shocking development that threatens Democratic control of his Senate seat next year.Dorgan was up for re-election in 2010, but the third-term senator wasn’t facing any strong Republican opposition– but was facing the growing possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven.

It seems that Dorgan suddenly found a deep desire to pursue “other interests.” That is how it goes when fund raising and polls point to a dogfight for the three-term senator. The Cook Political Report explains:

Republican Gov. John Hoeven has spent the last few months contemplating a challenge to the incumbent. And, now that the seat is open, Hoeven may find the race too good to pass up. The Governor is arguably the most popular politician in the state. . . Even if Hoeven were to forego the race for some reason, it is likely that Republicans will field a very strong contender. Democrats, though, will have a tougher time fielding a strong candidate, especially if Hoeven runs. Party leaders are likely to put significant pressure on At-Large Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy to run, but he may not be an ideal candidate. The current political environment has taken a toll on Pomeroy’s poll numbers and he has struggled to win re-election in past years when the political landscape tilted has been against Democrats, making a Senate bid especially risky.

The bottom line, according to Cook: this “creates a significant opening for Republicans and greatly diminishes the odds that Democrats can hold their 60-seat supermajority after the 2010 elections.”

But the impact may extend well beyond North Dakota. Imagine what must be running through the minds of  potential GOP contenders in other states (e.g., Rep. Peter King in New York or maybe a Rep. Mike Pence in Indiana): “Wow, we have them on the run! Should I throw my hat into the ring too?” And Democrats who will now have to raise money and work to hold an open seat in North Dakota cannot but be panicked that others may decide to pack it in as well. As for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, he must be thinking today that perhaps there is something afoot, the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the political landscape. (His opponent is not exactly an exemplar of confidence and policy know how, as she lamely retreats to the “Bush-Cheney economic policies” in her halfhearted defense of Gov. Deval Patrick – who may himself be another Democratic casualty.) And then we can’t forget about or miss the delicious political karma involving Arlen Specter — who switched parties just in time to see a tidal wave building against his new best friends.

All of this follows word that the Democratic front runner has dropped out of the gubernatorial race in Michigan and that Colorado’s Democratic Governor Bill Riitter isn’t going to run for re-election. (“Ritter faced economic uncertainty during his 3 years in office, and most polls show his approval rating near parity.”) Almost as if it were a trend, huh? (The New York Times is also reporting that Chris Dodd has decided not to run, which is the first good-news retirement for Democrats, removing a hobbled Dodd from a Blue state race that might otherwise be winnable without the scandal-plagued incumbent.)

Like sports, politics is about momentum, confidence, and support of the home-town fans. Right now the Democrats are lagging in all three respects. And if they keep up the secret health-care deal-making, they are going to add some self-inflicted injuries to their list of woes.

In a political jaw-dropper, on Tuesday we learned:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced this evening that he’s retiring at the end of his term, a shocking development that threatens Democratic control of his Senate seat next year.Dorgan was up for re-election in 2010, but the third-term senator wasn’t facing any strong Republican opposition– but was facing the growing possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven.

It seems that Dorgan suddenly found a deep desire to pursue “other interests.” That is how it goes when fund raising and polls point to a dogfight for the three-term senator. The Cook Political Report explains:

Republican Gov. John Hoeven has spent the last few months contemplating a challenge to the incumbent. And, now that the seat is open, Hoeven may find the race too good to pass up. The Governor is arguably the most popular politician in the state. . . Even if Hoeven were to forego the race for some reason, it is likely that Republicans will field a very strong contender. Democrats, though, will have a tougher time fielding a strong candidate, especially if Hoeven runs. Party leaders are likely to put significant pressure on At-Large Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy to run, but he may not be an ideal candidate. The current political environment has taken a toll on Pomeroy’s poll numbers and he has struggled to win re-election in past years when the political landscape tilted has been against Democrats, making a Senate bid especially risky.

The bottom line, according to Cook: this “creates a significant opening for Republicans and greatly diminishes the odds that Democrats can hold their 60-seat supermajority after the 2010 elections.”

But the impact may extend well beyond North Dakota. Imagine what must be running through the minds of  potential GOP contenders in other states (e.g., Rep. Peter King in New York or maybe a Rep. Mike Pence in Indiana): “Wow, we have them on the run! Should I throw my hat into the ring too?” And Democrats who will now have to raise money and work to hold an open seat in North Dakota cannot but be panicked that others may decide to pack it in as well. As for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, he must be thinking today that perhaps there is something afoot, the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the political landscape. (His opponent is not exactly an exemplar of confidence and policy know how, as she lamely retreats to the “Bush-Cheney economic policies” in her halfhearted defense of Gov. Deval Patrick – who may himself be another Democratic casualty.) And then we can’t forget about or miss the delicious political karma involving Arlen Specter — who switched parties just in time to see a tidal wave building against his new best friends.

All of this follows word that the Democratic front runner has dropped out of the gubernatorial race in Michigan and that Colorado’s Democratic Governor Bill Riitter isn’t going to run for re-election. (“Ritter faced economic uncertainty during his 3 years in office, and most polls show his approval rating near parity.”) Almost as if it were a trend, huh? (The New York Times is also reporting that Chris Dodd has decided not to run, which is the first good-news retirement for Democrats, removing a hobbled Dodd from a Blue state race that might otherwise be winnable without the scandal-plagued incumbent.)

Like sports, politics is about momentum, confidence, and support of the home-town fans. Right now the Democrats are lagging in all three respects. And if they keep up the secret health-care deal-making, they are going to add some self-inflicted injuries to their list of woes.

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