What we at The Hotline learned this week:
-- The strange game of double standards: Politics stops at the water's edge -- except if you're the President of the United States. President Obama's open mic gaffe this week was as revealingly political as anything he's inadvertently made public. And yet former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney should think long and hard about challenging Obama on foreign policy. From bin Laden's death to the successful operation in Libya to the administration's behind-the-scenes mastery of the chess match with China, foreign policy is the aspect of Obama's presidency that has gone the smoothest. Turns out the guy can handle a 3 a.m. phone call pretty well.
-- Make no mistake: If the health care law is overturned by the Supreme Court, as this week's oral arguments hinted, it would be a political mess for the Obama administration. One Democratic strategist told us that focus groups show Obama remains personally popular, but voters have questions as to whether he's up to the job. If his central legislative accomplishment -- health care reform -- is overturned, that skepticism will intensify. Romney's opposition to the law wouldn't have to rest on the individual mandate; he'd be able to question the overall competence of the administration's lawmaking.
But a win at the Court, with one of the conservative justices on board, would at least affirm the constitutionality of the law, and confine the biggest hackles with it to the conservative base, which is already fired up to vote against Obama. And Romney would be stuck dealing with his inconsistencies on the issue. The political implications are intuitive: A win at the Court is a win for Obama, a loss is a victory for his GOP opposition.
-- The flurry of endorsements Romney secured this week from high profile conservatives should be viewed less as an indication of growing enthusiasm for Romney's candidacy and more as a sign of growing angst among establishment Republicans.
People like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio aren't expressing too much enthusiasm about rallying behind Romney, but they realize the gravity of the alternative: allowing the GOP nomination fight to drag on, leaving the party all the more divided and Romney all the weaker when he claims the nomination in August.
-- Rubio has said over and over again that he will not be this year's Republican vice presidential nominee. It's a familiar line given by pols who are typically hoping for just the opposite. But with Florida up for grabs and Republicans hoping to make inroads with Hispanic voters, rest assured Rubio's name is near the top of a very short list at Romney HQ. But so are the names of two other Republicans -- Chris Christie
and Bob McDonnell
-- who each endorsed Romney well before Rubio did.
-- Memo to Sens. Mike Lee
and Jim DeMint
: While GOP Senate nominees may automatically win general elections in Utah and South Carolina, the same is not true in less conservative states. The message appears to have been lost, given their endorsements of Bruce Poliquin
in Maine and Mark Neumann
in Wisconsin -- two outspoken conservatives running in Democratic-leaning states (at the presidential level).
-- Sen. Richard Lugar
, R-Ind., can register to vote from the address of his family farm. The fact that we're all still talking about this with a little over a month to go before the primary suggests Lugar is in big trouble.
-- Michigan's Senate race has been quiet -- except for one huge uproar over an ad that former Rep. Pete Hoekstra
ran. But while there was a lot of talk about how harmful the spot -- which many perceived to be racist -- was to Hoekstra's campaign, less than two months later it looks like it didn't do lasting damage. While a poll taken in the wake of the ad showed him trailing Sen. Debbie Stabenow
by over 20 points, a Marketing Resource Group poll
released this week showed him just 5 points behind, 45 percent to 40 percent.
-- Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk
had a bad week. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
will be joining Falk in the Democratic race to take on Gov. Scott Walker
in a recall. Secretary of State Doug La Follette
, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, blasted Falk
in his campaign kickoff speech, accusing her of, like Walker, allowing outside interest groups to finance her candidacy. And Falk had terrible timing with the roll out of her jobs plan
, which was announced less than 24 hours before the state Government Accountability Board officially approved the recall election and sucked up all the press coverage in the process.
-- With Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen
openly expressing interest in a 2013 statewide run, Democrats may have a plausible alternative to former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe
in the gubernatorial race if Mark Warner
doesn't run. Petersen lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2005 to former Rep. Leslie Byrne
, a position he said he explicitly would not seek next year. That leaves governor and attorney general available next year.
Petersen, of Fairfax, would start the governor's race with lower name recognition than McAuliffe but also with a significantly lower unfavorability rating. McAuliffe would have a clear advantage in fundraising while Petersen would tout he's more electable. Then again, Petersen's colleague Creigh Deeds
used the "electability" argument to his advantage in the 2009 Democratic primary before Bob McDonnell
easily defeated him in the general election.
-- The big congressional primaries have thus far followed a pattern: weeks of slow movement followed by a burst of narrative-changing activity a few weeks out from Election Day. In Maryland's 6th District, Annapolis power player Rob Garagiola
was long considered the Democratic primary favorite, while businessman John Delaney
was a wealthy but underdog outsider. But the race turned on its head in the past few weeks. Delaney saturated radio and TV with ads while Garagiola stuck doggedly and exclusively to his ground game, and polls showed Delaney leaping in front with a week to go.
Pennsylvania's primary is April 24, and the pre-primary flurry of activity is just beginning in the merged Democratic primary between Reps. Jason Altmire
and Mark Critz
. One of this week's news items could change the race in the last few weeks. For example, Democratic caucus members, including Min. Whip Steny Hoyer
, are rushing to Critz's defense after Altmire hit one of his votes in an ad. Will that support bolster Critz's pitch that Altmire is an unreliable Democrat? Or can Altmire shed his conservative image by touting his votes to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and support Dodd-Frank, which he's been doing since late last week?
-- Andy Kohut
, president of the Pew Research Center and director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, will step down
at the end of the year. Kohut's work has defined the world of public opinion polling for more than 30 years. He became president of the Gallup Organization in 1979, went on to found Princeton Survey Research Associates (which conducts polls for National Journal
and other organizations), and helped Pew grow into one of the leaders of survey research. Under Kohut's leadership, Pew has been among the most rigorous research firms, and their work has identified the important trends that have shaped politics in this country for decades -- and are likely to shape politics for the decades to come. After more than 20 years at Pew, Kohut says he will remain with Pew in an advisory role -- and they will benefit from a lifetime of experience in survey research.
-- Since political donor Jeffrey Thompson's
home and office were raided early this month, federal investigators have linked the ubiquitous fundraiser to nearly every member of the DC Council, including Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray
. 2010 mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown's
allegations of a Gray shadow campaign are looking increasingly more plausible, as news continues to break that Gray bankrolled friends and family.
Though no formal accusations have been made implicating the council just yet, Council Chair Kwame Brown
, former Mayor Marion Barry
, and Councilman Vincent Orange
have come under particular fire for taking a combined $220,000 in money order donations in recent years. Councilman Jack Evans
, one of the only members not implicated in the Thompson scandal and oft-mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate for 2014, has a introduced a $25 cap on money order donations - a proposal Gray's office adamantly endorses, perhaps to garner last minute favor in the face of intense scrutiny.
-- ABC announced Katie Couric
will co-host next week's "Good Morning America" and give the network the possibility of beating NBC's "Today Show" for the first time since 1995. They came within 137,000 viewers last week and Couric's appearance could put them over the edge.