Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kay Hagan

Why are Kay Hagan and Rand Paul Backing the Same Dead Horse?

Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

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Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

By using her campaign treasury to undermine the most electable Republican, Hagan is taking a page out of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s underhanded but very successful push to persuade her state’s Republican primary voters to nominate Rep. Todd Akin. That investment paid huge dividends when Akin became her opponent and wound up sinking his own candidacy as well as damaging Republicans around the country with his stupid comments about rape and pregnancy.

As for Paul’s push for Brannon, a victory for the GOP underdog in North Carolina would not only enhance his prestige within the party but also herald a comeback for a Tea Party movement that the national media has been trying to bury for the last year.

But Paul’s clear affinity for his fellow doctor and libertarian shouldn’t deceive conservatives who may be hoping that Brannon is another Ted Cruz who can topple a party favorite and then go on to easily win a Senate seat. Brannon has general-election disaster written all over him. While Hagan’s use of an out-of-context quote to make it appear that Tillis was for ObamaCare is deceptive, there’s no getting around the fact that, like Akin, Brannon is a liberal dream. His controversial comments about food stamps and, in particular, his unwillingness to disagree with a 9/11 truther brand him as an extremist who has no shot at beating a competitive, if vulnerable Democrat like Hagan.

While the key to Paul’s 2016 strategy is clearly to rally the Tea Party behind him, his decision to go all in on Brannon is a mistake. Unwittingly aiding Hagan won’t endear him to most North Carolina Republicans. If his candidate does force a runoff or even somehow wins the nomination that might be a victory that he, and fellow Republicans, would come to regret.

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Obama Can’t Help Dems Keep Senate

President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

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President Obama understands the stakes in the midterm elections all too well. If Republicans take back the Senate in November that will give them a stranglehold on both Houses of Congress and ensure that the president will get nothing passed in his final two years in office. If the talk about the president being a lame duck hasn’t already begun, such a result would ensure him being consigned to irrelevance for the remainder of his term. While the GOP missed chances to win seats in the last two election cycles, 2014 offers them a golden opportunity with the Democrats defending 21 seats (including five in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012) to only 14 for their opponents.

But rather than sit back and wait to see if vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection can survive, the administration has decided to send in the cavalry. As Politico reports, the White House is consciously seeking to promote initiatives designed to help Democrats win over wavering moderates as well as mobilize the liberal base. But this plan, which reportedly includes more consultations with embattled Democratic incumbents, is a mistake. While the Democrats understand that they must somehow divert attention from problems with ObamaCare and focus voters on their income inequality agenda that polls far better than the president’s disastrously unpopular health-care law, their instincts here run counter to the best interests of some of their candidates. The last thing Democrats in places like North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, or Alaska need is an attempt to nationalize an election. If they have any hope of holding onto their majority in the Senate it lies in keeping the president and his agenda out of their states.

The White House is right that even in red states Democrats often prosper by playing the populist card on big business and abuse of the poor. Obama’s proposals for increasing the minimum wage and lengthening unemployment benefits may be economic snake oil, but they poll well everywhere. But the last thing Senators like North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, or Arkansas’s Mark Prior need is for Obama or his agenda to become part of this year’s election narrative. To the contrary, their main hope rests on keeping the president out of their states and putting the focus on divisions within the Republican Party.

The only reason Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader is that in 2010 and 2012, Republicans found themselves saddled with poor candidates in crucial races that turned almost certain victories into defeats. Democrats can’t count on the second coming of such godsends as Sharon Angle in Nevada (who let a vulnerable Reid off the hook), the wacky Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, or the unfortunate Todd Akin in Missouri (whose dreadful gaffe about abortion and rape tarnished every Republican in the country). But their goal has to be to keep the public’s attention on conflicts within the GOP and demonizing Tea Party activists who form a crucial part of the conservative base.

As Politico notes, the president is key to fundraising efforts for Democratic Senate candidates but some of those benefitting from his skill in bringing out liberal donors want to keep him at a distance. For instance, Hagan won’t be anywhere near Obama when he campaigns in North Carolina this week for his economic agenda. She understands, as do many other Democrats facing the voters this year, that sympathy for the working class and the poor doesn’t necessarily translate into affection for a president with negative poll ratings. As recent polls show, Hagen has her hands full in a race in which she currently trails every one of her possible Republican opponents.

With the president set to rally his troops behind his effort to revitalize a disastrous second term with a shift to the left, the temptation to try to nationalize the election this year may be irresistible to the White House’s political operation. But without a popular president on the ballot this year and with an off-year turnout likely to see many of his supporters staying home this November, they would be wise to avoid injecting Obama into the already difficult battles Democrats face in red states. Having largely ignored the needs of Democrats in both the House and the Senate during his first five years, the president may think more attention paid to their races will help keep him relevant in 2015 and 2016. But if he is to have any chance of holding onto the Senate, he should stay out of races where he is more of a burden to his party than an asset.

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