Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior senator

A Political Crybaby

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

Sen. John Kerry told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this:

I think what’s happened is, Fareed, in the last six months I think there was an article even in the paper this week about people no longer blaming Bush. They’re beginning to target this White House. That’s a natural course of events as you go through any administration, but I don’t think it is fair to the President… I think that part of the problem is that a lot has been accomplished, but the story has not been sufficiently told, and we need to go out with some passion, and energy, and a little bit of anger even and make sure people understand how difficult this road has been against constant, non-stop Republican obstructionism.

Kerry’s short answer reveals a lot.

For one thing, it reminds people that Sen. Kerry, like others in his party, is a chronic political crybaby.

Whether the Massachusetts senior senator understands it or not, the public is right to hold the president of the United States responsible for his policies more than 18 months after he’s been in office. That is doubly true in the case of President Obama, whose administration made certain guarantees in advance about what its policies would produce. (For example, passing the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent; it topped 10 percent and is currently well above 9 percent.)

In addition, Kerry (like many other liberals) insists that the major difficulty facing the Obama administration is a “communication problem.” This is a risible explanation, given that Obama has at his disposal the largest bully pulpit in the world, to say nothing of Democratic control of both branches of Congress and a largely sympathetic media (at least compared to what a Republican president faces).

The problems facing Obama and the Democrats don’t have to do with a failure to communicate; they have to do with a failure to even begin to meet the expectations they set – from a flourishing economy to the dawning of a new age of effective diplomacy to the most ethical Congress ever, and much else.

The strategy Mr. Kerry is advocating is essentially this: Democrats should: (a) complain more than they are; (b) point fingers at Obama’s predecessor even beyond what they already have (which is very nearly impossible); and (c) become even angrier when making the case that they are overmatched by events.

That this counsel is the best that the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee has to offer underscores what a difficult bind Democrats find themselves in these days.

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Will a Pro-Israel Record Save Specter, Sink Sestak?

One of the sidebar stories of the battle for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nomination is the way in which incumbent Arlen Specter has tried to use his support of Israel in order to fend off the challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Despite his many other failings as a veteran political weather vane devoid of an ounce of principle, Pennsylvania’s senior senator has been a fairly reliable supporter of the Jewish state during his three decades in office. As such, he has been able to command the support of the mainstream pro-Israel community, in all of his re-election battles. Indeed, in 1992, when, in the aftermath of his tough questioning of Anita Hill, Specter had his toughest general-election challenge, his victory over Democrat Lynn Yeakel could well be credited to the Israel factor. Yeakel, a liberal Democrat whose prime motivation for running was to get revenge for Specter’s rough cross-examination of Clarence Thomas’s accuser, was defeated in no small measure because of her membership in a Presbyterian church that was a hotbed of anti-Israel incitement. Yeakel refused to disavow her pastor or the church (a lesson that Barack Obama might well have profited from when he eventually disavowed Jeremiah Wright), and Specter, with the active assistance of local pro-Israel activists, clobbered her for it and was returned to Washington.

Since then the bond between pro-Israel activists and Specter has stood the test of time. Not even Specter’s bizarre championing of the Assad regime, which he repeatedly visited over the years to the consternation of both Republican and Democratic presidents, diminished his ability to rally his co-religionists as he routinely grabbed the lion’s share of the normally monolithic Democratic Jewish vote.

Indeed, though Specter’s party switch last year to save his political skin in the face of certain defeat in a Republican primary left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths, most Jewish Democrats rejoiced that the man that they had voted for as a Republican could now be supported on the more familiar Democratic line. And though Jewish Democrats in Pennsylvania are not numerous enough to be able to swing any election, high Jewish turnout in a primary where turnout is expected to be low cannot be dismissed as a non-factor.

Specter also could count on his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak’s far from sterling record on Israel. In 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for CAIR – the pro-Hamas front group that was implicated in the Holy Land Foundation federal terror prosecution. And he has signed on to congressional letters criticizing Israel’s measures of self-defense against terrorists and refused to back those bipartisan letters backing the Jewish state on the issue of Jerusalem. Though his stands on other foreign-policy issues, such as continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, are better than those of Specter (who tried to curry favor with the left by backing a policy of cutting and running in Afghanistan), Sestak seems to be J Street’s idea of a model congressman.

But the question facing Specter as Pennsylvania Democrats headed to the polls today in the rain is whether even a solid pro-Israel record will be enough to convince Jewish Democrats to stay with him despite a rising anti-incumbent tide. And if, as recent polls indicate, Sestak wins tonight, the stage will be set for a true test of the Jewish vote in November. If the general-election match-up turns out to be a race between Sestak and the conservative but impeccably pro-Israel Pat Toomey, Jewish Democrats who care about Israel will then be forced to choose between their party loyalty and the need to keep a Senate seat in the hands of a friend of the Jewish state. A full-page ad that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent last week lambasted Sestak for his record on Israel and asked voters to “not allow Joe Sestak to represent you in the U.S. Senate.” The ad seemed to draw a line in the sand for some of the prominent Jewish Democrats listed as having signed the statement. If the polls are right and Specter’s long career is now at an end, then those Democrats will have a difficult time explaining a decision to support Sestak against a man like Toomey who can be counted on to stand up to a White House whose animus for Israel may be a major issue in the coming years.

One of the sidebar stories of the battle for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nomination is the way in which incumbent Arlen Specter has tried to use his support of Israel in order to fend off the challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Despite his many other failings as a veteran political weather vane devoid of an ounce of principle, Pennsylvania’s senior senator has been a fairly reliable supporter of the Jewish state during his three decades in office. As such, he has been able to command the support of the mainstream pro-Israel community, in all of his re-election battles. Indeed, in 1992, when, in the aftermath of his tough questioning of Anita Hill, Specter had his toughest general-election challenge, his victory over Democrat Lynn Yeakel could well be credited to the Israel factor. Yeakel, a liberal Democrat whose prime motivation for running was to get revenge for Specter’s rough cross-examination of Clarence Thomas’s accuser, was defeated in no small measure because of her membership in a Presbyterian church that was a hotbed of anti-Israel incitement. Yeakel refused to disavow her pastor or the church (a lesson that Barack Obama might well have profited from when he eventually disavowed Jeremiah Wright), and Specter, with the active assistance of local pro-Israel activists, clobbered her for it and was returned to Washington.

Since then the bond between pro-Israel activists and Specter has stood the test of time. Not even Specter’s bizarre championing of the Assad regime, which he repeatedly visited over the years to the consternation of both Republican and Democratic presidents, diminished his ability to rally his co-religionists as he routinely grabbed the lion’s share of the normally monolithic Democratic Jewish vote.

Indeed, though Specter’s party switch last year to save his political skin in the face of certain defeat in a Republican primary left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths, most Jewish Democrats rejoiced that the man that they had voted for as a Republican could now be supported on the more familiar Democratic line. And though Jewish Democrats in Pennsylvania are not numerous enough to be able to swing any election, high Jewish turnout in a primary where turnout is expected to be low cannot be dismissed as a non-factor.

Specter also could count on his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak’s far from sterling record on Israel. In 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for CAIR – the pro-Hamas front group that was implicated in the Holy Land Foundation federal terror prosecution. And he has signed on to congressional letters criticizing Israel’s measures of self-defense against terrorists and refused to back those bipartisan letters backing the Jewish state on the issue of Jerusalem. Though his stands on other foreign-policy issues, such as continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, are better than those of Specter (who tried to curry favor with the left by backing a policy of cutting and running in Afghanistan), Sestak seems to be J Street’s idea of a model congressman.

But the question facing Specter as Pennsylvania Democrats headed to the polls today in the rain is whether even a solid pro-Israel record will be enough to convince Jewish Democrats to stay with him despite a rising anti-incumbent tide. And if, as recent polls indicate, Sestak wins tonight, the stage will be set for a true test of the Jewish vote in November. If the general-election match-up turns out to be a race between Sestak and the conservative but impeccably pro-Israel Pat Toomey, Jewish Democrats who care about Israel will then be forced to choose between their party loyalty and the need to keep a Senate seat in the hands of a friend of the Jewish state. A full-page ad that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent last week lambasted Sestak for his record on Israel and asked voters to “not allow Joe Sestak to represent you in the U.S. Senate.” The ad seemed to draw a line in the sand for some of the prominent Jewish Democrats listed as having signed the statement. If the polls are right and Specter’s long career is now at an end, then those Democrats will have a difficult time explaining a decision to support Sestak against a man like Toomey who can be counted on to stand up to a White House whose animus for Israel may be a major issue in the coming years.

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Can Specter Buy Pennsylvanians Enough Drinks to Stay in Office?

Those of us who love the classic novels of Anthony Trollope and his tales of the travails of the stump in the rough-and-tumble world of Victorian British politics could not help but smile at the description in today’s New York Times of a campaign stop by Arlen Specter at a pub in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The article described the ambivalence of voters about the 80-year-old’s braggadocio about using his influence and patronage to buy the voters support. But in case anybody didn’t get the point of his campaign, the piece’s final line summed it up:

But Mr. Specter stayed on message at the pub. As he was departing, an aide called out to the crowd of 70 people: “Senator Specter just bought the next round, so hit the bar.”

Just like Trollope’s would-be parliamentarians who trolled for votes in pubs by buying the affection of publicans who served up the free pints to the voters, so too, apparently, must Pennsylvania’s senior senator.

But far from being merely an amusing sidebar to the real issues, Specter’s pose as the source of all sorts of free stuff for Pennsylvanians really is the whole focus of his re-election effort. At a black-church service yesterday, he boasted of intimidating the secretary of agriculture into coughing up more money for a local program. Later at a union rally at Philadelphia’s Marine Terminal along the Delaware River, Specter and his ally Governor Ed Rendell bragged about the money he has squeezed out of the federal budget for the region as well as his support for the patronage that rained down from President Obama’s stimulus bill, which he supported.

In any normal political year, these sorts of accomplishments might foreclose the possibility of defeat for Specter. But this isn’t any normal political year. At a time when voters are fed up with out-of-control government spending, some have begun to ask whose money it is that Specter is doling out in small packages to the public and realizing that the answer is … their own. While his opponent Rep. Joe Sestak may not be a disciple of limited government (that choice will be presented to voters in November, when the all-but-certain Republican nominee Pat Toomey will be on the ballot), the Democratic challenger has a point when he notes that the only job Specter is truly interested in saving is his own.

While one should never underestimate the capacity of Pennsylvania’s pro-Specter Democratic machine to turn out compliant voters when they are determined to do so, it would appear that Specter’s desperate last campaign bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the ones described by Trollope. Like the novelist’s protagonists, the senator may discover tomorrow that there are not enough free drinks in the world to buy an election for a candidate that the public won’t stomach.

Those of us who love the classic novels of Anthony Trollope and his tales of the travails of the stump in the rough-and-tumble world of Victorian British politics could not help but smile at the description in today’s New York Times of a campaign stop by Arlen Specter at a pub in Ambler, Pennsylvania. The article described the ambivalence of voters about the 80-year-old’s braggadocio about using his influence and patronage to buy the voters support. But in case anybody didn’t get the point of his campaign, the piece’s final line summed it up:

But Mr. Specter stayed on message at the pub. As he was departing, an aide called out to the crowd of 70 people: “Senator Specter just bought the next round, so hit the bar.”

Just like Trollope’s would-be parliamentarians who trolled for votes in pubs by buying the affection of publicans who served up the free pints to the voters, so too, apparently, must Pennsylvania’s senior senator.

But far from being merely an amusing sidebar to the real issues, Specter’s pose as the source of all sorts of free stuff for Pennsylvanians really is the whole focus of his re-election effort. At a black-church service yesterday, he boasted of intimidating the secretary of agriculture into coughing up more money for a local program. Later at a union rally at Philadelphia’s Marine Terminal along the Delaware River, Specter and his ally Governor Ed Rendell bragged about the money he has squeezed out of the federal budget for the region as well as his support for the patronage that rained down from President Obama’s stimulus bill, which he supported.

In any normal political year, these sorts of accomplishments might foreclose the possibility of defeat for Specter. But this isn’t any normal political year. At a time when voters are fed up with out-of-control government spending, some have begun to ask whose money it is that Specter is doling out in small packages to the public and realizing that the answer is … their own. While his opponent Rep. Joe Sestak may not be a disciple of limited government (that choice will be presented to voters in November, when the all-but-certain Republican nominee Pat Toomey will be on the ballot), the Democratic challenger has a point when he notes that the only job Specter is truly interested in saving is his own.

While one should never underestimate the capacity of Pennsylvania’s pro-Specter Democratic machine to turn out compliant voters when they are determined to do so, it would appear that Specter’s desperate last campaign bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the ones described by Trollope. Like the novelist’s protagonists, the senator may discover tomorrow that there are not enough free drinks in the world to buy an election for a candidate that the public won’t stomach.

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Specter’s Cynicism — No Secret Then or Now

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

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Specter’s Latest Problem

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

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Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

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Tennessee Harold Ford’s Not Your Ordinary “Joe”

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

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