Campaign 2012

What’s at Stake for the White House in Deficit-Reduction Deal

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June 26, 2011, 6:53 p.m.

Fri­day nights “are re­served for fish fries, high-school foot­ball and re­cov­er­ing from the work­week.” All of which “sug­gests the tele­vi­sion audi­ence for the first de­bate” this p.m. between Sen. Russ Fein­gold (D) and busi­ness­man Ron John­son (R) “is not ex­pec­ted to cap­ture a big audi­ence.”

The “con­sensus is that Fein­gold,” will “be ag­gress­ive in de­fend­ing his own three-term re­cord in the Sen­ate.” Fein­gold “also will be ex­pec­ted to ques­tion John­son’s stands on the ma­jor is­sues, in­clud­ing the state of the eco­nomy, So­cial Se­cur­ity and the health care law.”

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

As for John­son, “it will be” his first op­por­tun­ity “to in­tro­duce him­self on live TV to voters. He will make his case that voters want a fresh face” in DC (Walk­er, Mil­wau­kee Journ­al-Sen­tinel, 10/7).

A source fa­mil­i­ar with John­son’s de­bate pre­par­a­tions: “This is go­ing to be a chance for voters to see a politi­cian who has been part of the prob­lem in Wash­ing­ton. His spend­ing policies have done noth­ing to cre­ate jobs here. Ron’s go­ing to make this case high­light­ing his real world ex­per­i­ence” (Hot­line re­port­ing, 10/8).

Sur­prise Party

John­son said 10/7 that he wanted to win “by a sur­pris­ing mar­gin” in or­der to send a mes­sage to DC to cut spend­ing and get the na­tion’s debt­load un­der con­trol. John­son made an ap­pear­ance on Charlie Sykes’ WTMJ-AM (Ra­dio 620) show. John­son: “I want to win this thing. I want to win this thing by a sur­pris­ing mar­gin.”

10/7, John­son’s cam­paign “launched an all-day” on­line fun­drais­ing cam­paign. John­son said the fun­drais­ing was a way to tap in­to the Tea Party move­ment and en­list sup­port­ers who have nev­er been in­volved in polit­ics be­fore (Walk­er, “All Polit­ics,” Mil­wau­kee Journ­al-Sen­tinel, 10/7).

Mmm, Double Down

Fein­gold “is doub­ling-down” on a “proven strategy in his ef­fort to sur­vive” the rising GOP tide in WI: Get “troves of young people to the polls, and do it early.”

The “met­ric Fein­gold’s camp wants to meet is daunt­ing”: Match the re­cord 15% who came out early for the ‘08 pres. race. That amounts to nearly 300K voters — a “num­ber that’s nearly twice the amount of in-per­son early vot­ing that oc­curred” dur­ing the ‘06 midterm elec­tion.

Fein­gold: You don’t have to have every­body who voted for Obama to turnout. Even if it’s 15 per­cent of those who voted for the first time for Obama come out, these Re­pub­lic­ans and [Ron] John­son are go­ing to find that they’re go­ing to lose.”

John­son “doesn’t ap­pear to be fazed by his op­pon­ent’s ag­gress­ive early vot­ing op­er­a­tion.” John­son: “I think it’s just ab­sent­ee. I don’t think there’s a big con­cer­ted ef­fort here for early vot­ing” (His spokes­per­son later cla­ri­fied his com­ment as a com­par­at­ive ref­er­ence to Fein­gold’s ef­forts, stress­ing that “we have hun­dreds of vo­lun­teers call­ing these voters.”)

There “is some evid­ence to jus­ti­fy Fein­gold’s cam­pus gam­bit.” Youth turnout in WI “was second highest in the na­tion” dur­ing ‘06, ac­cord­ing to stat­ist­ics com­piled by the Cen­ter for In­form­a­tion and Re­search on Civic Learn­ing and En­gage­ment. While the na­tion­wide turnout rate for those between the ages of 18 and 29 was 26% dur­ing the last midterm, in WI it reached 40% (Catanese, Politico, 10/7).

Soft Serve

The WI GOP “is al­leging” Fein­gold is soft on ter­ror­ists — spe­cific­ally Osama bin Laden. In an in­ter­view with WKOW 27 News in Madis­on, Fein­gold was asked about what ought to be the fate of bin Laden. Fein­gold: “I would prefer to see him get the ul­ti­mate pun­ish­ment in a bat­tle­field set­ting.” Asked wheth­er a cap­tured bin Laden “de­serves to be ex­ecuted for his crimes,” Fein­gold re­spon­ded “he de­serves to be ex­ecuted for his crimes, but I am a per­son who does not be­lieve we should use ex­e­cu­tion as a means of our justice sys­tem.”

That’s “not a new stand” by Fein­gold, and “it’s one which would ap­pear to puts him on the same page as” AG Eric Hold­er and the DoJ. But WI GOP chair Re­ince Priebus calls that po­s­i­tion out­rageous (Hag­ue, Wis­con­sin Ra­dio Net­work, 10/6).

Gov. Scott Walk­er’s de­cis­ive vic­tory in last night’s Wis­con­sin gubernat­ori­al re­call served as a telling bench­mark for the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, sug­gest­ing that Mitt Rom­ney stands a good chance of com­pet­ing with Pres­id­ent Obama in the Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing Rust Belt states. Next week’s spe­cial elec­tion in Ari­zona, to re­place former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gab­ri­elle Gif­fords, will lend equal in­sight on the con­gres­sion­al state of play for Novem­ber.

The race on Tues­day pits Demo­crat Ron Barber, Gif­fords’s former dis­trict dir­ect­or who was in­jured in last year’s Tuc­son shoot­ing, against Re­pub­lic­an Jesse Kelly, an out­spoken tea party act­iv­ist and mil­it­ary vet­er­an who lost to Gif­fords in the 2010 midterms. The battle is be­ing waged in a Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing Tuc­son dis­trict, but one filled with the type of voters Demo­crats will need to win over to main­tain con­trol of the Sen­ate and be com­pet­it­ive in the House — seni­ors and busi­ness-friendly in­de­pend­ents.

For those ex­pect­ing a po­lite, above-the-fray cam­paign giv­en the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the race, think again. This spe­cial elec­tion be­came a highly neg­at­ive, per­son­al cam­paign pre­cisely be­cause it’s serving to test-drive the themes that both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans are plan­ning to util­ize across the battle­ground map. The polit­ic­al stakes are so high that ci­vil­ity is once again tak­ing a back seat to polit­ics as usu­al.

This spe­cial elec­tion provides a ma­jor test of the emer­ging con­gres­sion­al Demo­crat­ic mes­sage for 2012: Re­pub­lic­ans have be­come be­hold­en to the tea party and want to decim­ate the so­cial safety net through cuts to en­ti­tle­ments like Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity. In Kelly, the party has a per­fect foil. In 2010, the former Mar­ine ran a race that re­lied on con­ser­vat­ive straight talk at the ex­pense of his polit­ic­al stand­ing. Gif­fords was one of the few vul­ner­able House Demo­crats who won reelec­tion, be­cause voters viewed Kelly as too far to the right.

Kelly has un­der­gone something of a makeover for his second bid. But Demo­crats aren’t let­ting voters for­get about his past state­ments, air­ing a bar­rage of neg­at­ive cam­paign ads ac­cus­ing him of want­ing to elim­in­ate So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care. One of the latest spots, com­mis­sioned by the House Ma­jor­ity su­per PAC, re­vis­its his heated rhet­or­ic against Gif­fords dur­ing last elec­tion cycle.

Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, see an equally prom­ising op­por­tun­ity with this spe­cial elec­tion, and be­lieve they have a fight­ing chance to win a seat that un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances should have been very tough to pick up. They view this race as a sign that the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment is turn­ing so pois­on­ous for Pres­id­ent Obama and down-bal­lot Demo­crats that even a ho­met­own hero won’t be able to hang onto the seat that his old boss won un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances in 2010.  

In­tern­al polling from both sides shows that Obama is deeply un­pop­u­lar in the dis­trict. The Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee has been in­und­at­ing the dis­trict with ads ac­cus­ing Barber of want­ing to “rub­ber-stamp the Obama-[Nancy] Pelosi agenda.” The na­tion­al party brand is so tox­ic that Barber wouldn’t even say he was vot­ing for Obama at a re­cent de­bate, be­fore cla­ri­fy­ing his sup­port later. 

Fur­ther­more, Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve they’ve iden­ti­fied a way to in­ocu­late them­selves on the en­ti­tle­ment at­tacks — simply re­peat the ar­gu­ment that Obama cut Medi­care be­ne­fits him­self with his un­pop­u­lar health care law.  After suf­fer­ing a sting­ing de­feat last year in a New York spe­cial elec­tion over en­ti­tle­ments, the na­tion­al cam­paign com­mit­tee re­tooled and util­ized that mes­sage to com­fort­ably win a Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing Nevada House seat. This race is the rub­ber match for that mes­sage — a win here would sig­nal that the Obama and Demo­crat­ic at­tacks paint­ing the GOP as ex­treme on en­ti­tle­ments might not fly as eas­ily as ex­pec­ted. Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign of­fi­cials say that des­pite Kelly’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies, seni­ors re­main solidly in the GOP camp, ac­cord­ing to their in­tern­al polling.

There’s also little doubt that the latest dis­mal jobs num­bers will play a role in the race, even as it’s un­clear who will bear the brunt of the im­pact. Obama stands to take a hit over the bad eco­nom­ic news, but will voters take out their frus­tra­tions on the pres­id­ent’s party, or the con­ser­vat­ive GOP House op­pos­i­tion? A Kelly vic­tory would sig­nal that down-bal­lot Demo­crats may be in as much trouble as Obama, giv­en the eco­nom­ic down­turn. If Barber wins, ex­pect a more level play­ing field for con­trol of the Sen­ate and House.

Early vot­ing star­ted on May 17, and while more re­gistered Re­pub­lic­ans than Demo­crats have cast bal­lots, the break­down so far is en­cour­aging for Barber giv­en the large GOP re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in the dis­trict. Both sides be­lieve the early res­ults show the race is go­ing down to the wire. Gif­fords is par­ti­cip­at­ing in a last-minute get-out-the-vote con­cert this week for Barber, but hasn’t yet ap­peared in any ad­vert­ising on his be­half.

Spe­cial elec­tions don’t al­ways pre­dict the out­come of fu­ture elec­tions, but they can of­fer telling clues about the fu­ture polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment. That ad­age is doubly sig­ni­fic­ant this month.  After Walk­er’s win Tues­day night, a Kelly vic­tory would be a sign that 2012 could very well be an­oth­er wave elec­tion for the Re­pub­lic­ans.

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