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For decades, the Democratic Party has been haunted by a specter: the specter of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. Liberals have yearned for a young, handsome, eloquent and charismatic man to move them, enchant them and return them to Camelot.

They’ve never quite found him, though Gary Hart (1984) and John Kerry (2004) tried to fill the role. Even Ted Kennedy didn’t quite measure up. Bill Clinton — who was serendipitously photographed at 17 shaking JFK’s hand — managed a faint resemblance that he strove to heighten.

I thought Barack Obama had put that dream to rest. He had some of the same qualities as Jack and Bobby, and he had a successful two terms in the White House. But the Kennedy hunger apparently still lives on in the Democratic body politic, like a dormant virus that occasionally causes a spike of fever and delirium. How else can the Beto O’Rourke frenzy be explained?

He was a legitimate phenomenon last year, when he came close to winning a U.S. Senate race in a red state. Being a Texan whose skin crawls at the mention of Ted Cruz, I am a member of a group that numbers at least 4 million, judging from the vote O’Rourke got. But nearly upsetting Cruz in a Senate race is like winning your high school talent show. It doesn’t mean you’re ready for Broadway.

O’Rourke, however, has joined the presidential race, propelled by his mysterious sense of destiny. “I want to be in it,” he told a Vanity Fair scribe. “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” If an ego as big as the Ritz is mandatory in a presidential candidate, O’Rourke qualifies.

His main assets are his boyish good looks, complete with the RFK-like shock of hair falling over his forehead, and his flair for oratory, or what passes for oratory these days. Something is working: In the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy for president, he raised a record $6.1 million.

Some of his admirers don’t see him as another JFK; they see him as another Obama. Former Obama strategist Dan Pfeiffer is one of them, scorning “political elites” who say of O’Rourke, “He hasn’t paid his dues” or “It’s not his time.”

Wrote Pfeiffer in November, “These are the exact arguments people made to me when I told them I was considering working for Barack Obama 10 years ago.” Of course, they are also the same arguments made about countless other unready candidates who have been forgotten because the “political elites” were right about them.

O’Rourke is a former member of the El Paso City Council and a three-term congressman who did nothing to distinguish himself from most of the other 434 House members. That’s no crime; making a mark in the House usually takes many terms. But his service there is hardly thorough preparation for a job that is normally one of the most challenging on earth. (For Donald Trump, it’s not a challenge because he doesn’t really do the job.)

Obama’s political resume was also thin — three terms as a state senator and four years as a U.S. senator. But besides his broad life experiences, he had shown intellectual heft, formidable discipline, gravity of purpose and genuine oratorical brilliance. Being African-American, Obama also brought a vital perspective that had never been present in the White House. O’Rourke doesn’t.

Obama was a highly exceptional figure, which makes him a poor model for lesser mortals. Just because Kevin Garnett went straight from high school to NBA stardom doesn’t mean other high school players — even stars — would be equipped to do the same.

Nor has O’Rourke offered a comprehensive program that sets him apart from other Democratic candidates who have compiled more substantial records. On the issues, he manages to be both completely conventional and annoyingly vague.

A measure of his low-content approach is that his campaign website provides no policy statements. It does, however, offer “Beto for America” T-shirts.

Another indicator is his claim, “I don’t ever prepare a speech.” In one appearance, O’Rourke recalled to Vanity Fair, it felt as though “every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force.” He seems to see this campaign as an exercise in self-discovery.

The Democratic field features several candidates with weightier accomplishments and down-to-earth policy solutions. But flying high at the moment is one who is lighter than air.


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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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