Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Apr 29, 2014

Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly Post Politics chat series.

It's time for my favorite part of the week, when I set aside an hour to take your questions.

So what's on your mind this week?

Donald Sterling?

Cliven Bundy?

The Democrats' 2014 problems?

Michael Grimm?

The GOP's demographic problem?

Vance McAllister?

As always, we like to get a good mix of questions in here, and I'll do my level-best to answer all the good (or even mediocre) ones.

Let's do it...

Are there any states where Republicans can be expected to go on offense on social issues this cycle? KY and AR seem like natural fits

A lot of it depends on who the Democrat is. Mark Pryor is pretty conservative on social issues, so I'm not sure where Republicans might go after him.

In Kentucky and Georgia, I can see Republicans putting a little pressure on Grimes or Nunn.

But once they broach that subject, Democrats respond with the "war on women" attacks and start talking about contraception, etc. And as we've seen before, that can lead to all kinds of pitfalls for the GOP.

So the GOP is probably just as happy not to broach this stuff.

She seems like the real deal, certainly more so than Grimes or Tennant. Do you think she can make it a real race even against Perdue, Kingston or Handel?

I'm a little skeptical, but lots of crazy things can happen in an open-seat race.

I do know that Broun and Gingrey fading in the GOP primary hasn't really changed Democrats' view that this is a targeted race. But a lot of that could be because it's one of only two states where they're playing offense.

Better odds of being senator? Wehby, Handel, Ernst? What %?

I'd say a tie between Handel and Ernst. Ernst has a better shot to be GOP nominee than Handel does, but Handel would be a better bet to win if she made it to the general election.

Will LePage survive? It looks like Cutler will again divide the 'anti-LePage' vote..

It's definitely within the realm of possibility.

Democrats assumed that having a legitimate candidate like Michaud would tamp down Cutler's share of the vote, but recent polls show it's still a very tight race.

Immigration reform bill will pass the House over the summer, die in the Senate, and then a big push will happen during the lame duck session.

Depends on how you define immigration reform. Comprehensive? No. Something else that has no chance in Senate? Maybe.

So now that he has essentially destroyed Bevin, can we expect him to do the same to Grimes? I know her whole advantage is that she doesn't have a paper trail for him to exploit but Bevin isn't even in office and he still got dirt on him.

It will be rough-and-tumble from the start.

You're right that Grimes isn't a businesswoman like Bevin, but she does have a record as secretary of state, and she comes from a well-heeled political family with its own "paper trail."

This race will be brutal.

Don't you think Democratic candidates like Tennant, Nunn and Grimes in those states are the type of Democratic candidates that, without Obama, Republicans could vote for? I would see them being senators 15 years ago.

I do think Tennant and Grimes certainly fit the bill as candidates who can win in red states, and they will be hard to box in (unless they do it themselves).

With Grimes, I'm not as sure. She really has yet to define herself. And she'll need to please the left, given that's who is giving her the gobs of money that she's raised.

There will be a runoff?

Looking more and more like Tillis will avoid it.

A new poll shows him at 38 percent, just shy of the 40-plus-1 he needs, with about 30 percent undecided.

Unless something really changes -- and Demcorats ARE running ads against him -- I think he avoids the runoff.

Your live chats are way better than Cillizza's. Just FYI.

Offered without comment.

Which state is the Democratic firewall? Michigan, Colorado or Oregon?

Those are beyond the firewall when it comes to the majority. (For the majority, I would point to Alaska, Arkansas and North Carolina.)

If Democrats lose Michigan or Colorado, this was a really bad election for them. If they lose Oregon, it's been a bloodbath.

As you cited in your article, 76% of Americans do not think the law is improving the health care system, 86% do not think it's improving the quality of care, and 92% do not think it is lowering their cost. Those are ridiculously damning numbers, and it means more than 3/4 of the country agree that the law has failed in two of it's most central tenets: affordability and quality. Do any other numbers even matter?

I think this is a great point. (Here's the post referenced.)

Until a real chunk of the American people decides that this law has done something good when it comes to their own pocketbooks or their own health-care quality, nobody is going to be a pro-Obamacare voter.

Pre-existing conditions coverage and kids on their parents' insurance are viewed favorably, but they don't impact a whole bunch of voters personally. And politics is personal.

Freshman congresswoman but big fundraiser and lots of insiders say she has lots of ambition. Do you see her making moves up the ladder after the elections?

I think she's definitely in the mix. She was considered a possible 2012 Senate candidate (the GOP got Akin instead) and is a former RNC co-chairwoman.

I can definitely see her running for Senate one day -- or even climbing the GOP leadership chain.

Polls show that Republicans do a lot better there in 2016 than in a lot of other swing states, and Cory Gardner is more competitive in polls than a lot of other Republicans running in tossup Senate races. It seems to me like Colorado is turning more true libertarian than any other state, and this cycle economic issues are paramount, thus giving the GOP an advantage. Whats going on over there?

It's quite possible. I think we're a little uncertain about the polls out there showing the GOP running close for both governor and senator, because the state swung so much for Obama. What you have to remember, though, is that the GOP there has been a mess for years, and they finally seem to have some legit candidates.

It's a whole new ballgame.

The Democratic coalition doesn't seem to turn out in midterm elections, especially when their party controls the White House. How do Democrats mitigate this problem in 2014 and in the future?

You either expand the coalition or you make sure these low-turnout groups start to turn out more. Both are exceedingly difficult.

The problem Democrats have is that they have such a good coalition for the presidential election (and specifically, for Obama) but such a bad one for the midterms. So in 2008 and 2012, it works in spades; but in 2010 and 2014, it looks like a huge loser.

The more they spurn the 2008/12 coalition to grow the 2010/14 coalition, though, they risk jeopardizing their chances in presidential elections.

Boehner retires after Republicans gain a high single digit number of seats this November. What does House leadership look like come January 2015?

I think Cantor is probably the speaker but McCarthy might get a challenge for majority leader -- maybe from the tea party. For whip, you've got to have Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the mix.

Is there a Republican version of this powerhouse group? It seems to me they would do well to try to get one if there isn't.

Susan B. Anthony List is kind of the Emily's List of the right, and it has taken a bit of a step forward, but it doesn't have the same reach.

Has he displaced Barber as House incumbent most likely to lose?

I'm not sure that it was Barber before (could have been Rahall), but Grimm is No. 1 now, yes.

You said:  "The problem Democrats have is that they have such a good coalition for the presidential election (and specifically, for Obama) but such a bad one for the midterms. So in 2008 and 2012, it works in spades; but in 2010 and 2014, it looks like a huge loser. But the Democrats did great in the 2006 midterms; it was only 2010 that they lost (so, at this point, a sample of one)."  How at this point can we say that the Democrats have a bad coalition for midterms, as opposed to merely concluding that the party that holds the White House normally loses in midterms?

Good question. The reason I say this is because Obama's big wins were due in large part to African American votes, Latino vote, young people and unmarried woman. All of these groups are notorious for their low turnout in midterm (and non-Obama) elections.

So while that coalition worked in the presidential elections, it looks much less solid in midterms. Democrats might still do OK in the end, but their voting coalition is still much better constituted for presidential elections than midterms.

There is a little bit of the fact that presidents struggle in midterms in general, yes. But if you look at the specific groups that made Obama the clear winner, they quite simply can't be counted on in 2014. And to the extent that Democrats didn't expend their coalition among more regular voters in 2008 and 2012, that could hurt them in 2014.

If reform doesn't happen, can the GOP stand to benefit in 2016 and make the case that the only way it could pass is with a GOP president trusted to enforce the law?

That's a very process-oriented argument, and it would also put them in the position of having to pass something, which would still be difficult.

I don't think that's an argument they'll make.

If Carl DeMaio and Barbara Comstock win this November they will immediately start being courted to run for Feinstein and Kaine's seats in 2018, respectively.

Comstock, yes. Though I think someone like Rigell might also be in the mix.

DeMaio, I think, would be hard-pressed to make the statewide leap in just four years. It's still just so hard for GOPers to win statewide in California, and he's still under 40, so he's got time.

Assuming Tillis wins his primary and Gingrey and Broun are left out of the run-off, is the next project of the GOP establishment getting him to drop out?

It might be kind of moot by that point. Sullivan is quickly gaining control of this race.

I think the bigger test for the GOP is getting the right candidate in Iowa. It's looking like Joni Ernst has the momentum, but a lot has yet to play out.

Factoring in House, Senate, and governor wins/losses

As of now (and I reserve the right to adjust these)...

Dem fail:

Losing 8 Senate seats, 12 House seats, not gaining any GOV seats

GOP fail:

Winning fewer than 4 Senate seats, losing House seats, losing 4 GOV seats

Just heard about her this week, didn't even know she was running. She's an intriguing candidate, to the right of Kingston and Perdue and the left of Broun and Gingrey. But do you think she could beat either of the two (far better-funded) other candidates in a runoff, and wouldn't her Komen record hurt her in a general?

I think Kingston and Perdue have the money, but Handel in that case would be the conservative alternative and would likely draw tea party support.

I think it's a pretty competitive runoff no matter who is involved.

Am I wrong to think that a lot of the "establishment elite vs. grassroots activists!" coverage tends to gloss over the fact that the former aren't really direly out of step with Republican voters? Neither Lamar Alexander nor Lindsay Graham are running from their fairly pragmatic records, John Cornyn was re-nominated, and none of the three other incumbents identified as potentially in danger (McConnell/Roberts/Cochran) seem likely to lose at their respective nominations at this point.

I don't think this was ever about these guys being out of step with the GOP, so much as the tea party wing demanding purity and not liking candidates who even associate themselves with the establishment.

At the same time, these guys' records are NOT as conservative as the Ted Cruzes and the Mike Lees, so there are some real differences.

Aaron, what do you think the chances are of Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), obtaining the Republican Party nomination for senator and, if nominated, his chances for election in November? As you might already know, Broun has publicly stated that he "knows, for a fact, that the earth cannot be more than 9,000 years old" -- a view which, according to conservative columnist Michael Gerson, should automatically disqualify Broun from ever holding public office. Broun's chances? Thanks for taking my question!

Broun has raised very little money, and the Club for Growth, which could have been his knight in shining armor, never got on-board with him.

He's just not really much of a factor right now.

You just said "the more they spurn the 2008/12 coalition to grow the 2010/14 coalition, though, they risk jeopardizing their chances in presidential elections" - all things being equal do you think the dems would prefer to have the white house or have control of congress?

You always take the White House -- unless you get veto-proof majorities in Congress, in which case you always take that. (But that's rare, of course.)

Brian Schatz seems pretty in control of that primary. What do you make of Mufi Hanneman's independent bid for governor?

Neil Abercrombie is not popular. I would be reasonably worried if I were him, even as Hannemann's electoral record isn't great (losing to Abercrombie in 2010 and a congressional primary in 2012).

Thanks everyone for coming out. A great discussion, as always.

We'll see you next Tuesday at 2.

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, and dog, Mauer, live in Northern Virginia.
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