By Cathleen Decker, Evan Halper and Seema Mehta, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
CHARLESTON, S.C. — With a fierceness that underscored their fight in early presidential primary states, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred Sunday night over guns, health care and the influence of Wall Street in the final debate before voters begin to determine their future.
The debate was flavored by its locale: South Carolina, which will be the fourth state to vote on the Democratic side this year, and a state whose Democrats are both strongly African-American and overwhelmingly supportive of President Barack Obama. Clinton, Obama’s first secretary of State as well as his 2008 primary opponent, repeatedly referred to her support of Obama and cast Sanders as wishy-washy toward the president’s priorities.
Clinton’s demand of loyalty to the president, and desire to retain her lofty standing among African-American voters, was central to a lengthy dispute over health care. The national front-runner has proposed tweaking Obama’s landmark health care law to improve it. Sanders, the Vermont senator whose support is greatest among white and young voters, has proposed moving to a fully government-funded plan that, he announced just before the debate, would be paid for by taxes on all but the poorest Americans.
“The Democratic Party and the United States worked since Harry Truman to get the Affordable Care Act passed. We finally have a path to universal health care. We have accomplished so much already,” Clinton said. “I do not want to see the Republicans repeal it. And I don’t want to see us start over again with contentious debate. I want us to defend and build on the Affordable Care Act and improve it.”
In words that seemed intended to remind Democrats that Sanders is an independent and not a party loyalist, she called the health care measure “one of the greatest accomplishments of President Obama, of the Democratic Party and of our country.”
Sanders said Clinton’s assertion that he would gut Obamacare was “nonsense.”
“What a Medicare-for-all program does is finally provide in this country health care for every man, woman and child as a right,” Sanders said. Later, he cast his health care plan as necessary to eradicate the power of campaign donors. The increased taxes, he said, would largely be offset by savings in private insurance coverage payments.
“Do you know why we can’t do what every other country — major country — on Earth is doing?” he asked. “It’s because we have a campaign finance system that is corrupt, we have super PACs, we have the pharmaceutical industry pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying, and the private insurance companies as well.”
The same themes of continuity versus dramatic change flavored a dispute over the economy. Clinton presented herself as the chief Obama defender on the Charleston stage, albeit one who would be tough on Wall Street. Sanders, as he has throughout the campaign, cast himself as the revolutionary leader of a movement against the current political system.
“I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs,” said Sanders, distinguishing himself from Clinton. “If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, the old Republican trust buster, what he would say is these guys are too powerful. Break them up. I believe that’s what the American people want to see. That’s my view.”
Clinton defended her economic plan as one that has both received praise from leading economists and enmity from hedge fund operators: “I’m the one they don’t want to be up against.”
The third candidate onstage, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, made perhaps his best showing of the night when he came back against Clinton.
“For you to say there’s no daylight on this between the three of us is also not true,” said O’Malley, who has trailed far behind the other two in polling. He added that “now you bring up President Obama here in South Carolina in defense of the fact of your cozy relationship with Wall Street. … The truth of the matter is, Secretary Clinton, you do not go as far as reining in Wall Street as I would.”
Most of the debate was spent reiterating well-worn campaign positions, so the political impact of it seemed likely to be inconsequential. But because of the site and the attention each wanted to pay to African-American voters, the candidates confronted fresh issues, such as the criminal justice system and the national heroin epidemic.
Clinton, her eye on the African-American voters she needs to quash Sanders, lauded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said “systemic racism” had infected the criminal justice system and closed out the debate with criticism of Michigan’s delays in protecting the water supply of Flint, a majority black city.
It was inevitable given the location of the debate, close to the Emanuel AME Church where members were slain last June, that the issue of guns would arise. Continuing an unrelenting assault on Sanders’ gun record, Clinton on Sunday criticized two past actions: his 1993 opposition to the Brady bill because it called for a five-day waiting period and his vote for a 2005 measure that gave gun makers and dealers immunity from liability lawsuits. A loophole in the 1993 bill allowed Dylann Roof, the Charleston gunman, to obtain his weapon.
Defending his overall record, Sanders reiterated under questioning that his views were changing. “I would support stronger provisions,” he said of the immunity issues. Clinton suggested that he had not moved enough.
“Let’s not forget what this is about — 90 people a day die from gun violence in our country,” Clinton said. “That’s 33,000 people a year. One of the most horrific examples not a block from here where we had nine people murdered.”
A strong showing in the debate was particularly important for Clinton. She retains a strong national lead; a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Sunday put her 25 percentage points ahead of Sanders. But he has nearly eradicated her lead in Iowa, and he is ahead of her in New Hampshire, where he benefits from representing the state next door. Iowa holds its caucuses Feb. 1, and New Hampshire votes eight days later.
The end of the debate, the last joint performance for the Democratic candidates before voting begins, ushers in a frenetic two-week period of organizing and campaigning that will go a long way toward determining whether the race will be long and fractious, as it was the last time the presidency was open.
At this point, the path to the nomination for Clinton requires that she maintain her advantages in states that are more demographically diverse, such as third-voting Nevada, where she is popular among Latino voters, and South Carolina, with its important African-American vote.
(Decker reported from Los Angeles, Halper from Charleston, S.C., and Mehta from Des Moines.)
©2016 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talk during a commercial break at the Democratic presidential candidates debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire December 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Perhaps it’s unfair that a politician’s response to crisis will forever be measured against that of New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001, striding the streets of Manhattan with ash flying and face mask in hand, ordering New Yorkers to march north to safety and away from the cratered remains of the World Trade Center towers.
The overwhelming drama of Giuliani’s first televised statements — which segued into round-the-clock news conferences and a constant physical presence in the wounded city by Guiliani, then-Gov. George Pataki and, occasionally, President George W. Bush — contrasted with the underwhelming response to the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
Local officials arrived promptly, aided by geography. California Gov. Jerry Brown showed up only briefly before heading to Paris for the international conference on climate change. President Barack Obama has yet to visit, though his spokesman would not rule out a trip before his Hawaii vacation begins at the end of this week. Obama did deliver Oval Office remarks on the shooting, which appeared to do little to calm nerves.
Part of the difference between 9/11 and the events of Dec. 2 was, of course, the sheer scale: As awful as the deaths of 14 people in San Bernardino were, thousands died in the collapse of the towers, the crashing of a third plane into the Pentagon and the loss of a fourth in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted against the hijackers.
In size, San Bernardino was more akin to the mass shootings that have become part of American life, and that have prompted officials to respond mostly with partisan fights over gun control.
Some of that took place after San Bernardino, with Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others, talking about the effect of guns. But for the most part, the role Giuliani played 14 years ago was performed by San Bernardino police Chief Jarrod Burguan.
The career cop merged straight talk, sympathy and a tough physical presence to serve as communal comforter in the hours after the shooting. (And, of course, he employed tools that didn’t exist in 2001 — social media platforms — to keep people in the know.)
Still, San Bernardino was the biggest explosion of international terrorism on American soil since 9/11, so the thin representation of elected officials was notable.
And it raised a few questions: In times of crisis, do people still want solace and information from politicians, or is that a vestige of the past? Is the show of public concern more or less important than the behind-the-scenes work done in San Bernardino by the county Office of Emergency Services and the California Highway Patrol?
Californians seem to prefer their politicians to be seen and not heard. Until they don’t. In the past, that has prompted a ubiquitous presence by state leaders when crisis strikes.
Pete Wilson raised crisis response to something of an art form when he was governor. A combination of arctic freezes, fires, drought, recession and riots led him to issue disaster declarations in 56 of the 58 counties even before the Northridge earthquake struck in 1994, at the beginning of his fourth year in office.
Wilson became as common on Southern California newscasts as the weather report. In a joint effort with federal officials for which the governor served as the public face, work crews were able to reopen the Santa Monica Freeway to motorists 84 days after it had shattered in the quake.
Clinton administration Democrats griped that their role was elbowed aside by Wilson, yet the demonstration of capability by government work crews helped cement his image as an able manager, and helped cement his re-election that year.
Brown delayed his trip to Paris by a day to visit with officials in San Bernardino and pledge that they “would spare nothing” in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Brown spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the governor considered canceling the trip, but went ahead after the shooters were killed by police in the hours after the attack.
The climate change event Brown was headed to served as something of a pinnacle for his time in office, focusing as it did on a subject that inspires more passion in Brown than any other. And that played into his decision to go, Hoffman said.
“I don’t believe the governor would have traveled to any other type of planned event,” she said.
State and federal officials have hewn to familiar roles in the wake of the tragedy. The state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, has hammered Democrats and Republicans alike on their response to homegrown terror and Islamic State militants abroad.
For all the panning of his speech by Republicans and some Democrats, Obama has persisted in a daily overseas assault that has cut into the leadership of the terror group — although, as made evident in San Bernardino, not diminished its reach.
In the aftermath of floods or fires, politicians mostly provide comfort. A week and a half after the attack in San Bernardino, there was a sense that it would take more this time, that the nation has entered a long and unpredictable slog against terror that will not solve itself as swiftly as homes rebuild.
How to get through that might have been a topic for politicians to raise in San Bernardino. If, that is, they had stuck around, or showed up at all.
©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Attendees reflect on the tragedy of Wednesday’s attack during a candlelight vigil in San Bernardino, California December 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
As Donald Trump and other Republicans talked tough on illegal immigration during last week’s presidential debate, an exasperated Jeb Bush noted that Hillary Clinton’s campaign aides were, right then, exchanging high-fives.
He might have added: And Republican leaders in many states, like California, were once again despairing.
From the beginning of the summer of Trump, many Republicans here hoped he would disappear quickly, to limit damage to the party’s image. Summer turned to fall, and Trump still dominates the presidential campaign. And so does the subject of illegal immigration, posing a mighty threat.
How mighty could be seen in a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll published last week. It demonstrated again what California sees in every election: The party’s positions on immigration and other issues, like gay marriage, have cost Republicans a generation of good will and support. Here, the poll reminded, Republicans are limited mostly to older and white voters, religious voters and residents of inland California.
The current brouhaha over illegal immigration is important because new voters will carry their views of the political parties with them for a very long time.
“The experiences people have when they enter the political system do stay with them,” said Jon Cohen, vice president of survey research for SurveyMonkey, the company that conducted the poll. Political views “can shift … but those initial moments are important and do frame how they see things.”
Republican difficulties can be seen in three key areas.
Young and minority voters. There’s substantial overlap in the membership of these groups, and in their reasons for siding with Democrats and the party’s candidates.
According to the poll, 36 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 strongly approve of President Barack Obama. Another 40 percent approve of him more mildly, meaning three-quarters of young California voters are on Obama’s side. Asked whether the country was headed in the right direction, 40 percent said it was — not a majority but six points above the percentage for California voters overall.
Asked whether immigrants strengthened or weakened American society, 7 in 10 of the 18- to 29-year-olds said they represented a strength. (Among those age 65 and older, a slight majority felt the same way.)
Views among Latino, black and Asian voters were similar. All told, three-quarters of black voters, almost two-thirds of Latino voters and 70 percent of Asian voters supported President Obama. By strong majorities, all said immigration was positive for the country. Latino and Asian voters were about as positive about the direction of the country as were young voters.
Those voters receive a contrary message from the Republican candidates for president. To hear them, the country is falling apart, President Obama is an abject failure and immigration is a threat. (The USC Dornsife/Times poll did not test views on the president’s health care plan, but polls taken since the measure passed showed that it is broadly popular among minority voters. The GOP presidential candidates regularly scorn it and pledge to repeal it.)
Interestingly, young Republicans are not that different in some ways from their elders — their presidential selections were quite similar — but they, too, have more moderate positions on immigration, gay marriage and other cultural issues.
The state’s coastal-inland split. The traditional California fight is between north and south. The political split is between west and east, coastal and inland.
Take the Obama support rating: Along the coast, 61 percent supported him. Inland, only 44 percent did. Two of the most conservative areas of the state, the Central Valley and Inland Empire, had only a 46 percent and 34 percent support rating for him, respectively. In both places, strong opposition was by far the dominant view.
Here’s the problem: The Central Valley represents 19 percent of the state’s voters, and the Inland Empire another 10 percent. The two largest Democratic areas, Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, make up 44 percent of the state’s voters.
Even inland, demography is cutting into Republican unanimity. A majority of voters in the Central Valley said that immigrants strengthen this country, and 43 percent of Inland Empire voters agreed. (Growing Latino voting strength everywhere in the state has pushed many inland Republican members of Congress to support changes in immigration policy opposed by their leaders.)
Religion, or lack thereof. Religion has long been a dividing line in politics — the more common attendance at services, the greater the likelihood of political conservatism. It was true in the new poll as well.
About half of Republican candidate Ben Carson’s supporters said they attend church at least once a week, the highest percentage for any candidate. Only 20 percent of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s supporters reported that they attend services at least once a week.
The problem for Republicans? There aren’t enough Californians who are that religious.
In California, 28 percent said they attend services at least once a week, and 44 percent said they attend seldom or never. Nationally, 35 percent were actively religious, while 38 percent seldom or never attended services.
Republicans might be tempted to write off California, but their problem is that trends that started here are spreading. In presidential elections, Nevada and New Mexico have become regularly Democratic and Colorado has turned into a toss-up state because of California-style demographic changes.
There would appear to be two solutions: a rapid influx of inland church-goers moving into the states, or a shift by the candidates toward moderation. At this early point of the presidential contest, the odds of the former seem greater than the odds of the latter.
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Iowa Central Community College in Ft. Dodge, Iowa, November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Scott Morgan
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley suggested Sunday that Congress had fallen under the sway of “white racism” and the political force of the National Rifle Association in refusing to respond with new laws to a cascade of shooting incidents in recent years.
Speaking before the nation’s mayors, gathered in San Francisco, O’Malley pointed to gun restrictions passed when he was governor of Maryland to ban assault weapons, enforce background checks and tighten permitting procedures — efforts that have been blocked at the national level by Republicans, and some Democrats, in Congress.
“One of the sad triumphs of white racism is the degree to which it has succeeded in subconsciously convincing so many of us, black and white, that somehow black lives don’t matter,” he said. “If the thousands of young men killed by gun violence every year across America were young, poor and white — rather than young, poor and black — it is hard to imagine that our Congress would continue to block common-sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
“How many acts of violence do we have to endure as a people before we stand up to the congressional lobbyists of the National Rifle Association.? How many more Americans have to die?” he added, ticking off killings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a theater in Aurora, Colo., and the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
O’Malley, a familiar face to the mayors since his pre-gubernatorial tenure as mayor of Baltimore, was the third national Democrat to use the gathering to call for restrictions on the availability of guns in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
President Barack Obama on Friday and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday also demanded changes that have been forwarded in recent years but then foundered.
Clinton delivered an evocative call to personal and political reflection on racial matters, and O’Malley also walked that ground when he mocked South Carolina’s use of the Confederate flag. He contrasted its continued acceptance to the forgiveness that the Charleston victims’ families offered the accused shooter in court on Friday.
“What a terribly jarring and callous sign then, in the wake of this racist massacre, to see the American flag at half-staff while above it, at full-staff over the state Capitol of South Carolina, flew a Confederate flag,” he said. “Families in Charleston can forgive. … Is it really too much to ask the state government officials of South Carolina to retire the Confederate flag?”
(Contrary to O’Malley’s assertion, the Confederate flag flies on the grounds of the state Capitol, not atop it. An American flag there flew at half-staff after the shootings.)
O’Malley was an early entrant into a presidential race in which he remains a severely cobbled underdog to Clinton. At the mayor’s conference, the power imbalance was clear: Before his speech, the organization aired a video of previous events that prominently featured pictures of Clinton, who unlike O’Malley was mobbed by the mayors after her speech.
The former governor made no mention of his opponent and barely any mention of Obama as he talked about the unfinished national business on which he is resting his campaign. He has the same touchy task as Clinton: to acknowledge the failings of the Obama years without repudiating a president who remains highly popular among their party’s voters.
O’Malley said he would lead a renaissance of job creation in the nation’s cities — although he did not say how, other than to insist that it had to be done by the president, not state or local leaders.
“For all the good work President Obama has done to save us from the second Great Depression,” he said, “… the fact of the matter is most Americans feel like we are all working harder but slipping further behind — and they’re not wrong.”
The sentiment is one that Clinton has addressed as well and stands to put forward in a campaign far heftier than O’Malley will be able to command. He underscored that with a final plea to the mayors:
“Thank you for leading America forward,” he said. “I need your help.”
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
If Hillary Rodham Clinton gets her way, there will be stark differences between her failed 2008 run for president and the White House campaign she began Sunday — and not just the end result.
This time, her aides have said for days, the focus will be on the American people, not on Clinton –– on their needs and concerns and not her reach for history.
The shift was abundantly clear in the contrast between her 2007 announcement video and the one she aired Sunday as she jumped into the race — each just over two minutes long.
Last time: Clinton sitting in a sumptuously appointed living room, alone as she faces the camera.
This time: She doesn’t even appear in her own video until a minute and a half in, after cameos by more than a dozen people representing a demographic cross section of America. Even then the view is the back of her head.
Last time: Thirty-one uses of the word “I,” more than twice the use of the word “we.”
This time: Only four uses of the word “I” as Clinton moves to make her campaign a communal effort, and one that focuses strongly on the economic unease that has persisted during the two terms of the man who defeated her in 2008, President Obama.
If Clinton’s effort this time is meant to do anything, it is to undo the destructive sense last time that hers was the entitled, imperial candidacy, that she was owed the White House.
The new subtext is set by the last person to speak before Clinton herself, a man talking about his pride about recently joining a fifth-generation family business: “This country was founded on hard work.”
Clinton then enters for 43 seconds of remarks — some made over video of her talking to people — and closing with her talking from a sidewalk. It could be the sidewalk in front of the well-appointed home in which she sat in 2007, of course, but it reads visually as if she’s part of the neighborhood, not alone inside a mansion.
“I’m getting ready to do something too — I’m running for president,” she says.
Then an immediate segue to the campaign’s economic underpinnings, in rhetoric more associated with Democrats such as fist-shaking populist Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, than Clinton.
“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she says. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by_you can get ahead and stay ahead because when families are strong America is strong.”
Then her closing message, subtly stated: No entitlement here.
“So,” she says, “I’m hitting the road to earn your vote. Because it’s your time and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”
Part of Clinton’s challenge, of course, will be blunting Republican assertions that the entire Obama presidency — to which she is inextricably linked, as his first secretary of state — has been a failure. The video — let’s face it, Clinton’s first campaign ad — offers a reproach of that argument. Everyone in it is forging ahead, glimmering with optimism.
There are people planting gardens. People packing and moving for their family’s betterment, not because they lost their home. A couple expecting a child, the greatest exemplar of optimism. A gay couple planning their marriage. People renovating homes, starting new careers.
It was not hard to grasp from it another Clinton theme: America, under Obama, moved from economic collapse to a frail recovery. And I’ll get you the rest of the way home.
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
DES MOINES, Iowa — For years, President Barack Obama had a singular problem: convincing Americans who were not feeling the economic recovery that it was real and a cause for optimism, not to mention for electing fellow Democrats.
Now Republicans seeking to capture the White House find themselves on the brink of the reverse dilemma: how to dismiss the economic revival that many Americans seem finally to be embracing.
For the party out of power, better economic times always pose strategic difficulties. In 2016, Republicans must argue that Democrats have so fumbled their handling of the nation’s economy — the No. 1 issue for voters — that they should be booted from power. But that requires a huge dose of pessimism that runs the risk of making Republicans seem out of touch with the nation’s increasingly upbeat mood.
As top Republican White House prospects gathered this past weekend for a forum in Des Moines, they seemed to have come to a temporary solution: talk about foreign policy, or immigration, or the power of a mother’s love — anything but a deep dive into the issue that has overarched the last two presidential campaigns.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made brief stabs at the discomfort that persists beneath the budding optimism, particularly among financially stressed Americans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dismissed the improving jobless numbers as ephemeral and blamed Obama’s health care measure for forcing full-time workers into part-time jobs. But there was little on the order of solutions, other than the Republican standbys of shrinking the size and sway of government and lowering taxes.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who skipped the Iowa event, framed what probably will be the GOP argument if the economy stays as it is through the November 2016 election.
“Sixty percent of Americans believe that we’re still in a recession,” Bush said in part of a broader critique of Obama’s tenure during a Friday speech in San Francisco. “They’re not dumb. It’s because they are in a recession. They’re frustrated, and they see a small portion of the population on the economy’s up escalator. Portfolios are strong, but paychecks are weak. Millions of Americans want to move forward in their lives, they want to rise, but they’re losing hope.”
That approach is complicated: Republicans are seen by many voters, particularly those who turn out in greater numbers in presidential cycles, as the party of the people with portfolios, so arguing the underclass’s case requires an image adjustment. And the argument could lose potency if the economy continues to improve in the 22 months before presidential ballots are cast.
The recovery could also fall apart, but in recent months Americans seem less inclined to expect so. A Gallup poll last week found 41 percent of Americans satisfied with the economy; a year earlier the figure was 28 percent. Consumer confidence is riding higher than it has since the 2008 economic collapse. The percentage of people who believe the country is on the right track has risen sharply. Obama’s approval ratings likewise are higher, offering a potential leg up for his party’s chosen successor.
There are two precedents, with different outcomes, for how economic recovery can play out as a party seeks the historically rare third successive term, as Democrats will in 2016. Both involved candidates named Bush.
In 1988, as vice president, George H.W. Bush argued that the country’s fiscal position at the end of the Reagan administration should persuade voters to side with him over Democrat Michael Dukakis.
As Bush argued when he accepted the Republican nomination, “When you have to change horses in midstream, doesn’t it make sense to switch to the one who’s going the same way?”
Twelve years later, Bush’s son — and Jeb Bush’s brother — George W. Bush faced a similar set of circumstances from the opposite side, challenging Vice President Al Gore during a time of economic prosperity and general optimism. Bush won, exploiting fatigue over the personal escapades of President Bill Clinton and adopting a wildly optimistic tone himself.
“We will use these good times for great goals,” he said in his first convention speech. “And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country.”
That tone has largely been missing from the Republican conversation so far, in part because anger is a far better propellant for the party out of power. David Bossie of the Citizens United political group, which co-sponsored the Iowa event, was practically apocalyptic onstage, declaring that “our country is mired in darkness.”
Christie and Santorum took different approaches when they spoke.
In a manner reminiscent of Jeb Bush, the New Jersey governor outlined the “anxiety” he said he found in voters before the 2014 midterm election, which he blamed on income stagnation. No proposals for solving it were forthcoming, and Christie then moved to a long discourse about his anti-abortion position and his relationship with his mother — an extended anecdote meant to assure Iowans that he would always tell them the truth.
Santorum took more aggressive aim — at his own party.
“You want to show that we’re relating to folks who are working in America? Then we have to go out and prove it,” said Santorum, who has positioned himself as the party’s blue-collar champion. He noted that the party had allied itself with business owners, rather than the far larger pool of employees.
“We don’t win because too many people don’t think we care about them,” he said. “We’ve got to show them — not just by saying we do but by having policies and a message where they can see it and they can feel it in us.”
Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party operative and founder of the Iowa Republican political website, said that so far none of the candidates appeared to have hit on a solution for how to manage optimism.
“The Republicans need to start talking about it as: Imagine what the economy would be if we did X, Y and Z,” he said. “They need to make the argument that it could be even better.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco contributed to this report.
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Three potential Republican presidential contenders parried on issues including Cuba policy and the qualities necessary to win the White House during a Sunday night panel discussion that also afforded an unprecedented, if limited, peek into the workings of influential band of conservative donors.
Freedom Partners, part of the web of political organizations financed by Charles and David Koch and other wealthy donors, broke with its tradition of privacy to allow a live stream of a debate of sorts among Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. It was held at a resort in Palm Springs after days of closed meetings.
The result was a detailed discussion of issues that at this early stage of the campaign have largely been explored only in broad brushstrokes. And it illustrated differences that will be discussed at length in the Republican primaries should the three men — currently all exploring the 2016 race — jump in.
Stark disagreement came in the area of Cuban policy, with Paul supporting President Obama’s recent overtures to ease tensions with the island, and Rubio and Cruz — both of whom have familial ties to Cuba — emphatically disagreeing.
“We’ve tried an embargo for 50 years; it hasn’t worked,” said Paul, who added that he thought trade “actually would benefit” the people of Cuba.
“There isn’t a single contemporary example of that happening,” Rubio replied. He cited the opening of U.S. relations with China and its continued human rights violations.
“China today is a more prosperous country but it is not a free country,” the Florida senator said. “What it is is the richest tyranny in all of human history.”
Paul replied that there are more than two dozen Muslim nations that punish Christians, and that applying Rubio’s standard would mean not trading with them.
“I’m not a real big fan of a lot of these regimes, but I guess I don’t want to isolate ourselves and say we are not going to trade with people who aren’t perfect Western-type democracies,” he said.
Cruz called the Obama administration’s Cuba move “a terrible mistake” that would extend communist power there.
“This will result in billions of dollars more for the Castro regime,” he said.
A similar schism arose over the Western sanctions against Iran, with Paul concerned about pursuing diplomatic options and Cruz arguing that a harsh hand would reap benefits. The language employed by the Texas senator was the furthest from diplomatic, as he contrasted what he said were better chances that the U.S. could bend North Korea to its will than Iran.
In North Korea, “both father and son (referring to leader Kim Jong Un and his father and predecessor, the late Kim Jong Il) are fundamentally megalomaniacal narcissists,” he said, “which means some degree of rational deterrence is possible. … The problem with Iran is (its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei and the mullahs are radical religious Islamic nutcases. And that’s the technical term. When you have religious leaders who glorify death and suicide, ordinary cost/benefit doesn’t work.”
One area of complete agreement was the role of the sort of wealthy donors who invited the senators to the Palm Springs retreat. Asked by the moderator, ABC news correspondent Jon Karl, whether the super-wealthy political donors had too much influence, Rubio replied mockingly.
“As opposed to Hollywood or the mainstream media, you mean, or other multibillion-dollar entities that try to influence American politics every day?” he asked, drawing cheers from the audience. He defended the rights of all donors — left or right — to engage in political financing.
“I believe in freedom of speech and I believe spending money on political campaigns is a form of political speech that is protected under the Constitution, and the people who seem to have a problem with it are the ones who only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it and their friends in the media to be able to do it.”
Cruz said that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had embarked on a campaign against the Koch brothers because “they cannot defend the Obama economy which is a disaster. … They want to scare people.”
“I think that is grotesque and offensive,” he said.
The Palm Springs event came on a busy weekend in a presidential contest that, without a single declared candidate, is roaring to life 22 months before the election. On Friday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke in San Francisco. On Saturday, more than a half dozen potential candidates took part in a speech-making marathon in Des Moines. Cruz was the only candidate to appear in Iowa, site of the first 2016 voting, and Palm Springs.
Karl also asked the three about the recent pronouncement by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney that he was considering a 2016 run, with a new focus on poverty and related issues. None of the three openly embraced his return.
“Mitt Romney, I think, is an extraordinary person,” said Rubio, one of those Romney considered as his running mate before selecting Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “He’s someone who’s earned the right to decide what it is he wants to do.”
But Paul indicated far greater reservations.
“I’m kind of with Ann Romney on this one,” he joked, referring to past opposition by Romney’s wife to another race. “No no no no never.”
He called Romney “a good man, a generous man” but one whose attraction was limited.
“To win the presidency, you have to reach out and appeal to new constituencies and I just don’t think it’s possible,” he said, “and if he thinks, ‘We’ll just change a few themes and reach out to people, … I think it’s a little more visceral than that — how you connect with people … I just don’t think that visceral connection is there with enough people to win a general election.”
As to who should be the next nominee, the senators unsurprisingly pushed back against the notion forwarded by some Republican governors that the GOP would be better off with a state leader than one tied to Washington.
Once again it was Rubio who most forcefully made the case, arguing that the next president had to be well versed in the “multiple facets” challenging the nation.
“It is important for the next president of the United States to understand the diversity of these challenges, to have a global strategic vision and an understanding of what the U.S. role is,” he said. “Does that mean a governor can’t acquire that? Of course they could. But I’d also say that taking a trip to a foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger either. You’ve got to spend some time on those issues.”
But Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who seems aimed at a presidential run, made a strong case for a governor on the ticket, ABC’s Karl said.
“If I was a governor,” Rubio replied, “I’d say the same thing.”
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — If there is a common theme for Democrats these days — particularly those with upward ambitions — it is a familiar one: the salvaging of the middle class.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the far-and-away front-runner for the Democratic nomination at this early stage of the 2016 race, comes at it from the vantage of boosting the fortunes of women, underscoring her own potential reach for history. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who says she is not running even as liberal hearts ping for her, has made her entree a denunciation of Wall Street’s excesses.
Even Maryland’s data-driven governor, Martin O’Malley, weaves the plight of the struggling middle class into his long-shot, if unofficial, run.
But the emotive Joe Biden brings to it the full Scranton, brushing aside the decades to recall the kid born into scruffy circumstances in the coal turf of Pennsylvania, the one whose father sold used cars to customers whose hold on the mobility ladder was just as tenuous as his own.
“My dad used to say: A job is about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden said Tuesday, to nods from a gaggle of small-business owners and local officials gathered at a Los Angeles bakery. “It’s about your dignity. It’s about your pride. It’s about your sense of who you are.”
There are many reasons why Joe Biden will probably never reach the White House despite his multiple tries. He’s spent much of the last week on an apology tour, having offended various U.S. allies with statements critical of their handling of terrorist threats abroad. (Not that those were his first gaffes.)
He’s 71 years old now, and will be 74 shortly after the 2016 general election. He’s saddled with the presently negative image of the Obama administration. And then there’s Clinton, already the dominant force in the 2016 sweepstakes even though her last campaign, in 2008, didn’t cover her in glory. (Then again, she did place better than Biden.)
But if luck and circumstance were to turn his way, the pitch he would make was the one heard on his two-day swing through California.
Most of the local journey was conducted behind closed doors, in fundraisers benefiting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and two California candidates, Central Valley congressional hopeful Amanda Renteria and California secretary of state nominee Alex Padilla.
But then there was the gathering with the business owners in Lincoln Heights. Biden’s stated goal was to push for a hike in the minimum wage, as President Obama has sought nationally and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appeared with Biden on Tuesday, is seeking locally.
Typically, discussion of a wage increase centers on how it would benefit the poorest workers. Biden laid out that case but extended it to argue that wages across the spectrum would rise as a result, in what he termed a “virtuous cycle” boosting the middle class.
“Although in a macroeconomic sense the economy is roaring — everything is going great — the truth of the matter is a lot of folks are hurting,” he said. “A lot of middle-class folks are in this stagnant position and it kind of puts a lid on” growth.
It is a touchy admission to make, particularly when your administration has been in charge for nearly six years. But Biden plowed ahead and revived the Bill Clinton-era argument that people who had “worked hard and played by the rules” had been forsaken.
“There used to be a bargain and the bargain was that … if you contributed to the productivity of the operation you worked for, you got to share the benefits,” Biden said. “That was the bargain. Democrats and Republicans agreed on that, and for the last 60 years that’s what’s grown the middle class. That bargain is not being kept anymore. That bargain’s not being kept.
“People are being left behind, and we’ve got to go back and we’ve got to restore the middle class…. It all starts with putting the minimum wage back.”
The vice presidency can be a cruel job, so close to power yet seeming so dispensable much of the time. It may be particularly cruel to Biden, who after playing Robin to Obama’s Batman now has to watch as Democrats demand another superhero to save the day in 2016, perhaps in the form of Hillary Clinton.
But just in case things don’t turn out that way, there was Biden on Tuesday, talking empathetically into the TV cameras.
Garcetti lauded him as a “truly great American” and a “fighter for the middle class.” He did it in English, and then again for Spanish-language audiences. And all the while Biden beamed.
AFP Photo/Alfredo Estrella
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By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
Elections have consequences, and those consequences are most acutely felt, it seems, in closely contested elections.
In at least four hot races across the nation, Republican candidates have adopted a new approach to birth control: It should be available over the counter. “More rights, more freedom,” Republican Cory Gardner says in a new TV ad airing in Colorado, where he is in a tight race with first-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall.
The strategy is particularly notable because some of the candidates have in the past not supported ready access to birth control.
Gardner has been slapped around for months by Udall and his allies for his past support of “personhood” ballot measures that would have established life as beginning at the point of conception. Only this year, when he entered the Senate race, did Gardner renounce the measures, saying that he had belatedly learned that they could restrict some forms of birth control.
Republican Thom Tillis, running against first-term Democrat Kay Hagan for a Senate seat in North Carolina, had previously said that it was within the state’s rights to ban birth control altogether — although he would not say whether he supported such a move. Still, in a debate on Wednesday night, he declared that birth control pills should be available over the counter.
“First, I believe contraception should be available — and probably more broadly than it is today,” said Tillis, the speaker of the state House. “I think over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without a prescription. If you do those kinds of things, you will actually increase the access and reduce the barriers for having more options for women for contraception.”
Previously coming to the same conclusion were Republican Senate candidates Ed Gillespie in Virginia, who made his announcement in a July debate with Democrat Mark Warner, and Mike McFadden, seeking the Senate seat now held by Al Franken in Minnesota.
The moves, which bear the strong scent of election-year choreography, appear intended to blunt criticisms from Democrats that the GOP is engaged in a war on women, as demonstrated by party efforts to, among other things, strip contraceptive coverage from the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood facilities that offer birth control as part of their services.
Women, not incidentally, are among the most targeted voter groups in the fall midterm elections — particularly single women, many of whom who have more than a passing familiarity with birth control.
Voting by single women typically drops off in nonpresidential years; in the last midterm races in 2010, 22 million fewer unmarried women voted than in 2008 even though the number registered is growing, according to a study by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners.
Nationally and in contested states, women have strongly gravitated to Democratic candidates, so their dropoff bodes ill for a party already struggling under an unpopular president and a Republican cast to the states in play this year.
For the moment, the GOP candidates’ newly espoused views on contraceptives make them strange bedfellows with women’s groups that have in the past advocated over-the-counter release of birth control measures and have fought — against Republicans — for the freer release of emergency contraceptives.
Planned Parenthood, for one, was unwilling to play ball.
“If Thom Tillis and others were serious about expanding access to birth control, they wouldn’t be trying to repeal the no-co-pay birth control benefit or cut women off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services. This is simply a cynical political attempt to whitewash his terrible record and agenda for women’s health,” Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund, said in a statement released after the North Carolina debate.
The Affordable Care Act has changed the terms of the debate. Under the health-care law, contraceptives are to be available without a co-payment. If the medication becomes available over the counter, most will not be covered by health insurance, meaning that drugs that have become more affordable would suddenly be less so.
That is not the argument from the GOP candidates. In his ad, Colorado’s Gardner asserts that “the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription –cheaper and easier, for you.”
He cast Udall as someone who “wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your health-care plan. That means more politics and more profits and drug companies.”
That represents a turn on its head of the argument that Democrats have long made — that the health-care law was needed to protect access to services such as contraceptives, which the administration has waged a legal battle to extend in cases brought by organizations asserting religious rights to exclude birth control coverage.
Those organizations have been backed by Republicans, who have cast dozens of votes to repeal the president’s signature domestic policy achievement. But for four candidates, at least, the contraceptive component appears to have been brushed off the table, at least until November.
Photo: Shameless Magazine via Flickr
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By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
A primary election in Hawaii that had threatened to extend weeks beyond last Saturday’s balloting will conclude Friday when voters affected by Tropical Storm Iselle cast the remaining ballots that will determine the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.
Appointed incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz held a lead of 1,635 votes, out of 230,000 cast, over challenger and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa when ballots from all but two precincts were tallied.
Voting in the two precincts in the Puna area of the Big Island had been postponed because of power outages and blocked roads caused by Iselle, which came ashore early Friday.
Initially, state officials had said they would mail ballots to those who had not heeded calls to vote before the storm, and give residents three weeks to return them.
But on Monday night, state election officer Scott Nago announced that voting would be held Friday, for storm-affected residents only, at the local Keonepoko Elementary School. Results will be announced Friday night, cutting short what otherwise would have been a lengthy wait to determine the majority party nominee.
Nago said in a statement that the change in plans followed consultations with the state attorney general, the Defense Department, and county election officials.
Although the Senate race technically has been too close to call, the election math is not in Hanabusa’s favor.
Just over 8,000 voters reside in the two precincts, and many either already cast ballots or don’t regularly vote. Among the remainder, Hanabusa would have to overwhelm Schatz, something she failed to do in any area of the state on Saturday. (Schatz has narrowly defeated her in Big Island ballots cast so far.)
The tumultuous finish was in keeping with the controversy that has surrounded the seat. It became open with the December 2012 death of longtime Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who just before he died sent a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie asking that Hanabusa take the seat.
But Abercrombie instead appointed Schatz, who was his lieutenant governor. Abercrombie further inflamed Hanabusa’s supporters and the state’s Japanese-American political establishment by questioning in a Los Angeles Times interview whether Inouye actually was the author of the Hanabusa request. (He later apologized to Inouye’s widow but insisted the senator had given him free rein to appoint whomever he wanted.)
The Schatz appointment and Abercrombie’s subsequent comments were factors in the governor’s landslide primary loss Saturday to fellow Democrat and state Sen. David Ige.
Schatz, not burdened by Abercrombie’s record of antagonizing key elements of his own party, managed to carve out enough of an independent image to survive the initial balloting and, analysts on the island expect, the closing votes on Friday. (Even before Friday, Schatz had carried 40,000 more Democratic votes than the governor.)
“He’s been in office a year — and then to them he’s a senator, he’s not running as Neil Abercrombie’s lieutenant governor,” said California-based Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, who has done extensive work in Hawaii for independent groups.
The Democratic nominee will face Republican Cam Cavasso in November for the right to serve out the final two years of Inouye’s term. But even Republican analysts have suggested that, no matter who wins the Democratic nod, the party’s advantage is such that the general election is a formality.
Photo: Waikiki Natatorium via Flickr
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By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
Somehow, 40 years into a political career that was crowned by his election as Hawaii’s governor, Neil Abercrombie ignored the most basic lesson of the trade: It’s a popularity contest.
After years of antagonizing not just partisan opponents but key elements of his own Democratic Party, retaliation came Saturday in the form of an epic thumping. Abercrombie lost his party’s primary by 35 points to state Sen. David Ige, who campaigned on his mastery of the state budget but implicitly promised a return to the more workman-like, less bombastic style that defined Hawaii’s political class before Abercrombie.
The depth of anger toward the incumbent was evident in two statistics: Abercrombie, 76, lost to a candidate he outspent by a 10-1 margin. And he lost to a candidate who, one poll showed, was unknown to almost 4 in 10 Hawaii Democrats as recently as February.
Ige’s victory highlighted a strange primary election for Hawaii, one that will not end for weeks: Two Democrats vying for the nomination for a U.S. Senate seat were separated by about 1,600 votes, and the outcome of the race may hinge on ballots yet to be cast in two precincts where voting was canceled because of Friday’s pounding by Tropical Storm Iselle.
State elections officials said that voters who had not cast ballots in the Big Island precincts will be mailed new ones, which must be returned within three weeks. But the timing of the start of that process was not clear Sunday, nor was it clear how the Senate candidates would marshal their forces to campaign in the damaged areas.
Some strategists said that both Abercrombie’s trouncing and Sen. Brian Schatz’s narrow lead over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in a race he was expected to easily win suggested that Asian American voters in particular had rallied to Ige and Hanabusa to the detriment of the incumbents.
The races were fraught with ethnic divisions driven in part by the circumstances of Schatz’s appointment by Abercrombie to the Senate seat held by Daniel Inouye until his death. In a deathbed missive, the 50-year senator had made clear he wanted Hanabusa to be appointed to his seat, but Abercrombie sided instead with his lieutenant governor, Schatz.
Then, pouring acid into the wound, Abercrombie earlier this year suggested in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that someone other than Inouye had manufactured the imprimatur. (He later apologized to Inouye’s widow, Irene, but insisted the senator had given him free rein to pick his successor.)
The contretemps escalated what was already a perilous circumstance for the first-term governor and, before that, legislator and member of Congress. Jennifer Duffy, who studies governor’s races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said that after Abercrombie’s comments on Inouye, “people kind of looked at him in a different light.”
“A lot of it is just self-inflicted,” she said.
Indeed, Abercrombie entered the race woefully weakened — one poll said almost half of Hawaiians had a negative view of him — which required him to both curry favor among his fellow Democrats and run an artful campaign. Those who watched his fall said he did neither.
Barely six months after his election, he angered the tourism industry — the state’s biggest source of income — by saying that it was “so stupid” for the state to pay to host the NFL Pro Bowl, a game that generated upwards of $30 million in visitor spending and state tax revenue.
He alienated the state’s teachers union by imposing a contract upon it during labor negotiations; the union became an early and important backer of Ige.
And then he cast aspersions on Inouye’s braintrust and by extension the state’s largest voting group, Asian Americans, and inflamed the elbowing between them and the more liberal white voting bloc that was Abercrombie and Schatz’s power base.
“This is a very small place and people have very long memories,” said Floyd Takeuchi, a writer and former political journalist.
Ben Tulchin, a California-based Democratic pollster who has worked extensively in Hawaii, said Abercrombie ran, “quite frankly, one of the worst campaigns imaginable for an incumbent in trouble.”
Time after time, he said, Abercrombie’s combative style pushed aside voters he needed, even if he eventually worked his way toward their views when it came to policy. A personality that was bearable when he was working in the statehouse or in far-off Washington became less so in the in-your-living-room role of governor.
Tulchin said Abercrombie negated his overwhelming financial advantage by refusing to define Ige before Ige had the money to define himself. In hewing to Hawaii’s traditional distaste for negative campaigning, he gave up one of the few options left to an unpopular politician.
“If you’re an incumbent who is in trouble and you have the resources, it can’t just be a referendum on you,” Tulchin said. “You have to tell others why the other guy is worse than you.”
In the end, being the anti-Abercrombie was more than enough for Ige. The question now is whether it will carry him to victory in November. The general election race will feature three major candidates: Ige, Republican Duke Aiona, and independent Mufi Hanneman.
While Ige easily outdistanced the others Saturday, he opens the campaign with more momentum than money. Three-way races are notoriously difficult to predict and the winner in the Democratic state may be dictated by where Hanneman gets his voters, analyst Duffy said.
“If he pulls votes from Ige, this is really a race,” she said.
The winner of the Democratic Senate primary is expected to have no such difficulty against Republican Cam Cavasso; the race is not expected to alter the balance of power in the Senate. The winner will hold the seat until 2016, the conclusion of Inouye’s original term.
“In the Senate race, it was all about the primary,” pollster Tulchin said.
Photo via WikiCommons
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By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
Let’s just go ahead and say it: As far as politics is concerned, 2014 will be the Year of the Boogeyman. Or men. (Aren’t they always?)
On the Republican side, as Democrats have bemoaned for years, are the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists who have spent huge sums of money — granted, a drop in the bucket to them — in pursuit of what they say are free-market solutions and what Democrats say is their annihilation.
On the Democratic side, George Soros has been supplanted as the ultimate bete noire by Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who, aides said last week, plans to spend at least $50 million of his money to target Republicans running in 2014 who have been skeptical of global warming. (That number would be matched by other environmentalists for a $100 million anti-Republican hit spread across seven states.)
Or, as Steyer strategist Chris Lehane put it in his typically vivid fashion:
“We are not going to be talking about polar bears and butterflies. We are going to be talking about how this issue of climate impacts people in their backyards, in their states, in their communities.”
It took only a few hours for Terri Lynn Land, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan and one of those in Steyer’s sights, to take umbrage in a Web ad that blamed her Democratic opponent, Gary Peters, for trying to kill 96,000 Michigan jobs.
“Why is Gary Peters waging a war on Michigan jobs and paychecks?” the ad asked, then answered: “Because Peters supports President Obama’s job-killing agenda and is bankrolled by billionaire radical Tom Steyer. Peters also supports Steyer’s call to kill the Keystone pipeline.”
This is not virgin territory for Land. A previous campaign video showed an ominous picture of Steyer’s San Francisco mansion and asserted that “a secret meeting was held in this San Francisco estate, owned by billionaire Tom Steyer. The subject: stopping the Keystone pipeline.” Among the participants: the very same Gary Peters, who, the video said, would benefit handsomely from killing the pipeline, as would Steyer.
“Gary Peters: working for billionaires, not Michigan,” the tag line stated.
Despite Land’s characterization, Steyer is hardly a flaming “radical” but a former financier who has taken to spending his millions to propel action on what he considers an urgent issue, climate change.
He is no more radical, that is, than the Koch brothers, who have chosen to spend tens of millions on ads against Obamacare and other issues and on behalf of multiple candidates.
The Koch brothers and Steyer are doing something that these days is utterly American — spending a ton of money to advance their political aims, aided by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have loosened campaign finance rules.
In a campaign that so far has only a vague hold on the public, money continues to rain down, and the battle of the boogeymen rages.
Photo via Flickr
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
The fierce reaction to a botched Oklahoma execution may be fueled by the slow weakening of public support for capital punishment, which has coincided with a shift among Democratic politicians toward opposition to the death penalty.
Capital punishment was one of a set of issues Democrats used in the early 1990s to toughen their image against accusations that they were soft on crime and criminals. Although many in earlier generations of politicians had opposed the death penalty — contributing to Democratic losses in national races — the candidates who drove the party’s resurgence favored it.
Then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton laid an overt marker for his view in 1992, when he interrupted his presidential campaign to return to Little Rock for the execution of a brain-damaged cop killer, Rickey Ray Rector.
His wife, potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, supports the death penalty, as does another potential candidate of her generation, Vice President Joe Biden. (President Barack Obama has defended capital punishment for “heinous” crimes; he voted as a state legislator not to expand its reach in less severe cases.)
Even in the supposedly liberal bastion of California, it has been rare since the early 1990s for Democratic candidates to oppose the death penalty. Barbara Boxer, a senator mocked by opponents as personifying the left, supports capital punishment, as does fellow Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
But younger Democrats are taking the opposite position, one that would have threatened to blunt their rise in past years. In California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris oppose the death penalty, as does Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The three, all in their 40s, are presumed to be aiming for Senate or gubernatorial races in the not-so-distant future.
Newsom has been the most open about his views.
“I think we should repeal the death penalty,” he said last year during an appearance at San Francisco State University. “It’s not a deterrent; there are racial components to it.”
Likewise, Martin O’Malley, the 51-year-old governor of Maryland and would-be 2016 presidential candidate, last year capped a long campaign to eradicate capital punishment in his state when he signed a measure abolishing it.
“Over the longer arc of history I think you’ll see more and more states repeal the death penalty,” O’Malley told the Huffington Post. “It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.”
Democrats have had some cover in their move toward opposition by fortuitous political circumstances: When Illinois became the first state to declare a moratorium on capital punishment in 2000, it was the work of a Republican governor, George Ryan. Ryan’s move came after a Chicago Tribune expose about mistakes that had consigned innocent people to death row.
Although coverage of exonerated prisoners may have influenced public views of the death penalty, the real driver of change has been perceptions of crime. Periods marked by greater fear about crime have generally coincided with greater support for capital punishment, and vice versa.
The high mark for support came in 1994, when 80 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, according to the Gallup polling organization, which has asked about the issue since 1936. Not coincidentally, Americans in 1994 listed crime as the country’s most pressing issue.
By last year, Gallup said, support had fallen to 60 percent of Americans.
Views on the issue varied by politics and ethnicity. According to Gallup, support among Republicans continued to run strong, with 81 percent in support, dropping to 60 percent of independents and 47 percent of Democrats.
Pew found that while 63 percent of white Americans supported capital punishment, only 40 percent of Latinos and 36 percent of African-Americans shared that view. Support had dropped for all three groups, Pew researchers noted.
The bungled execution Tuesday night in Oklahoma — drugs meant to kill a convicted murderer did not, though he later died of a heart attack — may influence the percentage of people who are troubled by the death penalty. According to a Pew survey taken in 2011, 27 percent of Americans said they opposed it because it was immoral, or wrong, or not within the rights of citizens. Another 27 percent cited the “imperfect nature” of the justice system, Pew said.
AFP Photo/Caroline Groussain
By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times
In its swiftness and brute force, Republican opposition to the Arizona measure that would have bolstered the right to deny services to gays sent one message to GOP Gov. Jan Brewer: Veto it.
And it sent another to everyone else in the Republican Party: Keep your eyes on the ball.
On the cusp of what the GOP hopes will be a November takeover of both houses of Congress, and the start of a 2016 presidential contest that it hopes will end with the White House in its embrace, party leaders appear to have shifted strategy: Instead of ignoring deviations from Republicans’ strong suit, they will try to quash them.
Social issues, particularly ones that draw the wrath of much of the public, are out, at least for the business wing of the party. Jobs, forever the focus of voters, are in.
“Most people agree that 2014 offers an outstanding opportunity to take back the Senate, but with that opportunity we’ve got to continue to focus the party message on things that are helpful,” said Dave Kochel, a veteran party strategist in Iowa. “There is a pretty strong consensus that this isn’t one of the things that we need to spend time and energy on.”
The demand for Republicans, he said, is “to focus on what people are focused on, which is jobs, health care, a lot of other issues that rise a lot higher in people’s minds than this.”
Such laser-like discipline has evaded Republicans of late. In the last week alone, one Senate candidate in Kansas came under fire for posting X-rays of shooting victims on his Facebook page. A Virginia state senator declared that pregnant women served as the “child’s host.” A Senate candidate from Texas gained attention for using slurs against Latinos and President Barack Obama.
Individually, those can be ascribed to bad candidates. Together, the drumbeat threatens the public image of a party that faces mid- and long-term struggles even as it finds itself in an advantageous position this year.
The party’s image problems are acute because the views of its leaders and most activist elements of its base run counter to the nation as a whole on a host of issues — particularly when it comes to younger voters whose positions are far more liberal. That makes it easier for Democrats to create their own negative image of Republicans, as they have by claiming that the party is engaged in a “war on women” and, most recently, in gibes against backers of the Arizona measure.
A New York Times/CBS News poll published Thursday demonstrated the long-term threat. On a host of issues that Democrats have pressed as they try to define Republicans, the GOP is wholly out of step with Americans overall.
Americans supported same-sex marriage by a 17-point margin, and backed stricter gun laws, legal use of marijuana and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. By a 2-1 margin, they favored an increase in the minimum wage. All are issues on which Republican leaders and party activists hold the opposite view.
But the poll also reinforced the view of Republican strategists that the path forward runs through rocky economic ground. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said the country was on the wrong track, a traditional marker for views on the economy. Almost 6 in 10 disapproved of the way Obama has handled the economy. (Obama’s approval rating stood at 41 percent, his lowest in two years.)
That suggests a unity of thought on the economy that Republicans can use to their advantage in November and beyond. And that is a key reason for keeping their focus tightly drawn.
For that, Arizona served as a template. Both of the state’s senators — Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake — came out against the measure, as did the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. Business leaders, many of them traditionally supportive of Republicans, also sought to elbow the measure aside.
In vetoing it, Brewer suggested that it ran counter to Arizona’s efforts to attract business and said that it “could result in unintended and negative consequences.” She did not say whether she meant to businesses or to Arizona’s reputation, though it certainly was to both.
That said, it is not clear whether this particular measure fully engaged the party’s cultural conservative wing, which no Republican with upward aspirations willingly offends. That party element provides much of the Republican fervor, especially in non-presidential years like this one.
Like Iowa’s Kochel, GOP strategist Reed Galen said the Arizona measure appeared to be a solution in search of a problem — and ended up giving the economic wing of the party a chance to flex its muscle.
“It showed … the moderate and social libertarian wing of the Republican Party finding its voice and saying we’re not just going to sit by while those measures [are passed that] provide a much harder environment for us to compete nationally,” the Orange County, Calif.-based Galen said. “It was a win for the — I’ll call it the fiscally conservative, socially respectful wing.”
Jon Matthies via Flickr
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