Patrick Kennedy's retirement, Scott Brown, 2010 midterms, more -- The Live Fix with Chris Cillizza

Feb 12, 2010

Every Friday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

A few notes before we get started:

1. Four House members have retired in the past week. That brings total retirements to 32.

2. "Friday Night Lights" aka the best show on television will end after next season (season 5). BOOOO!

3. I am still in search of an unofficial sponsor for the Live Fix chat. Requirements: Expensive coffee, wifi, within 15 minutes drive of official Fix HQ in Falls Church

4. Soundtrack for this chat: "In the Aeroplane over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Let's do it.


Palin's use of notes could be embarassing. What if an interviewer asked what she would do as president and she read from the wrong hand? I'd pick up the dry cleaning, return library books and get milk - oops! I meant to read off of my right hand! Does she not shake hands before a speech in case the notes get rubbed off? Worse yet does she wash her hands after the bathroom?

Let's start with Palin.

I think everything she does -- good and bad -- is magnified.  Yes, she wrote her three "issue" ideas on her hand. No, it didn't make for a particularly good story. But, no, it also won't change anything about her political flight path.

Palin's public image isn't likely to change in any measurable way in the coming months. If you like/love her, everything she says or does going forward will reinforce that feeling. If you dislike/hate her, ditto.

Unfortunately for Palin (at least in a general election context) there are a lot more people in the latter group than the former.

Hi Chris, thanks for the good columns this week. If I had been Sarah, I would have realized that if I got caught surrepticiously reading my palm notes, I would look hypocritical for slamming the Prez about the 'prompter. She could have said "I'm going green. no hydro sucking teleprompter for me." It would have been funny and she would have gotten a subtle jab at the Prez. Sometimes you're hard pressed to remember your mother's name when you're speaking in public, so the palm notes didn't bother me, her sneakily looking at them did, it seemed hypocritical. While I think how Gibbs responded was immature, perhaps he was trying to get the jump on press questions about it, which are sometimes inane, to say the least. Did you get new glasses? They seem like they aren't the tinted kind.

Did I get new glasses? About six months ago. But, Fix Jr.'s tendency to rip them off my face five times a day may mean I need new ones sooner rather than later.

As for Gibbs' palm writing, I was a little surprised by it. The White House, i think, should avoid getting down into the petty day to day squabbles surrounding Obama's potential 2012 rivals.

It makes them look small at a time when he needs to look big.

Will the Dems be in the same boat in RI as they were in Massachucettes with Sen. Brown? Do you think they finally learned their lesson and will run a capable candidate?

I don't think so. of course, I would have told you a few months ago that there would be NO way Ted Kennedy's seat would be won by a Republican so take my predictions with a grain of salt.


Republicans are high on their candidate -- state Rep. Joseph Loughlin -- but his candidacy was entirely premised on Kennedy's weaknesses.

Without Kennedy in the race, the Democratic nature of the seat -- Obama won 65 percent there in 2008 --wil likely assert itself.

I did not see Patrick Kennedy's retirement coming. My amateur analyst perspective ties this to the death of his father, rather than the Coakley-Brown match. (Could anyone be moved to retire by the fate of Martha Coakley? I mean, I phonebanked for her, and I still feel no connection.) I've been thinking therefore about political fathers and sons -- Bush Jr driven to be a two-termer to make up for Bush Sr (and probably driven to be president in the first place because of who his dad was), Al Gore and Chris Dodd both giving the bulk of their adult lives to Senate service because of their dads... All I can say is, I hope Charlie Fix has a nice interesting career far far away from this city (maybe he could be a rock star AND neurosurgeon like Buckaroo Banzai?) because this over-sized father influence in political circles seems not to work out so well for the sons. [Historical note: Look at FDR's sons. Enough said.]

I am told that Patrick Kennedy had made the decision not to run even before his father's passing.

But, yes, I agree with you that public life seemed to be something he was born into and would have been far better off avoiding.

All the people I talked to last night when writing the Kennedy retirement story, said some version of the same thing: "Maybe he can finally be happy now."

Did you play indoor field hockey during the snow..... Is Kennedy really looking to change his life or did he get a nudge by the DCCC after seeing the latest polls? I like the way you present all the options when these retirements are announced, Thanks for chatting

No field hockey in the snow...but I am itching for spring season to start. Love that field hockey.

I don't think kennedy was pushed out by the DCCC or anyone else. That said, there was polling floating around that showed he could be vulnerable, which had to factor -- even in a smal way -- into his decision.

Was it just me or was there a greater focus last week on politics? I wonder if the new format played a part in this. I am fine with the occasional coffee or field hockey conversation and the lack of that in the last chat is curious to me.

I can only answer the questions I get asked!

For those wondering, the coffee drink of choice today is a Rasberry Truffle latte from Greenberry's in Mclean.  It was the frontrunner for unofficial Fix chat sponsore until I became aware of two things: 1) It doesn't have wifi. WHAT! 2) It is constantly packed...not a guaranteed seat for the ole Fix.

Most of the seats that House Democrats hold that are seen as vulnerable this year are ones that have been held by the party for the last few years. Which three seats currently held by Democrats for more than two terms do you see as the best takeover opportunities in this category? How will these campaigns play out differently than ones against Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008?

Good question!

I just put out my Friday House Line on the Fix, ranking the top 20 -- damn near killed me -- races likely to switch sides.

None of those long-term D incumbents made that list. But, here's my three.

1. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.)

2. John Spratt (S.C.)

3. Ike Skelton (Mo.)

Chris, how about a little Rhode Island love on this chat! My state is solidly Democratic, but should we be worried that both Kennedy's seat and the Governor's Office could go to Republicans in the fall? Where would you rank Kennedy's seat in terms of competitiveness, given what happened with Scott Brown in Mass? I should remind myself though, that it is not Kennedy's seat, it is the people's seat...

As I said above, I think Kennedy's seat is going to be safe for Democrats. One thing to watch: Doesn state AG Patrick Lynch, who is running for governor, drop down and clear the field in the 1st?

On the gov race, I think it's a battle between whoever Democrats nominate and Linc Chafee who is running as an independent. Republicans seem to have written the state off.

Did any heads rolls at the DNC, DSCC, White House, etc after the Massachusetts election?


The only thing tangible that happened was David Plouffe, who managed Obama's 2008 campaign, came on to help out a bit sooner than expected.

If Democrats lose either the Hawaii 1st or Pennsylvania 12th special election, expect someone to go...

But it's the first time I've been able to submit before a chat. Wanted to suggest a mildy obscure political book from my days on the Hilltop - Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. It's about big city machine politics at the time of civil service reforms. It's funny, a quick read, and worth it if only to see how little the game of politics has actually changed in more than a century.

NOT too late. I am trying to compile all the suggestions that came in after I posted our best political books list on the Fix...will put them into one big post sometime soon.

Have other suggestions? Email me at

I disagree with the way you dismiss the impact of the Alaskan Teleprompter. Al Gore's "inventing the Internet" and Howard Dean's "yelling" stuck with them and made it difficult for otherwise open people to take them seriously. If you were on the fence about Palin, you heard people on both praise and criticize her, and you saw her read off her hand, you have to think she's dumb and not to be taken seriously.

But, do you think that for the people -- largely conservative Republicans -- who support Palin this makes them question that support?

I don't see it.

If you already didn't like her, this reinforces why you don't. That's all.

I think it is funny that the same people guffawing over Palin's decision to jot notes down on her hand are the same people who give Obama thumbs up to speak to a room of fifth graders. Memo to Ms. Palin: Next time, just use a teleprompter. You will then be heralded as one of the most gifted orators in the history of this great Republic.

The counter!

What about the Panera in Falls Church City? Parking is bad though. The Starbucks by the OHOP is spacious. PS you need to go to Dogwood Tavern on Tuesday nights - $3.49 for either 6 mussels, 6 shrimp, 6 clams, 6 oysters and $7 for 2 snow crab leg clusters.

I boycott that Panera due to the ridiculous lack of direction in terms of waiting in line.

Why can;t every place where you order at the counter be madated to have a "line forms here" sign up above?


Esteemed Mr. HMBS: A two part "Tic Tac Dough" center square question for you: 1. Do you believe that Rep. Kennedy is retiring because he fears a tough re-election bid in RI in Nov 2010? 2. And, if so - his district (RI-1) was nowhere near the radar screens of Charlie Cook or Stu Rothenberg. Does this mean that there are 30-50+ more Dem seats that should be considered competitive in 2010? If Kennedy thought that RI-1 was competitive, what other districts are out there that insiders believe are truly competitive but aren't on anyone's list yet?

An update on my quest to be referred to my Bill Simmons aka the Sports Guy as the "homeless man's Bill Simmons" in his column: I was scheduled to meet the great man a few weeks ago but it didn't come to pass.


It seems like there's an important distinction between House members retiring because their seats are in jeopardy, and House members retiring in safe seats. Which group do most of the retirements this cycle belong to?

There is a VERY important distinction.

The four seats being vacated this week generally are safe. The lone exception could be Lincoln Diaz Balart's 21st district where McCain only got 51 percent.

But with Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (they are brothers) moving from the 25th to run in the 21st, that seat should be o for the GOP. The 25th, however, is going to be competitive if Joe Garcia runs.

I know you have Politics and Pints and while I am sure it is fun to watch, I'm not going to embarrass myself by trying to play. So I am still voting for an alternate HH that allows for a book swap.

That is a really good idea. We could also sell duct tape to fix broken eye glasses for all the nerds who show up.

Man, that would rock. I am moving this idea up the chain of command.

Hi, Chris -- What sort of reaction are you getting to the new format. I find it hard to work work with and off-putting, but I'm curious to know what the rest of the world thinks. Friday mornings, 8 AM, are the highlight of my political week!!

I think like most new things, it takes a little while to get used to.

But, for my sake, please stick with it.  These chats are the highlight of my political week too!

Is he safe now that Tommy Thompson seems to be out of the game? The only way I see it otherwise is if Republicans were VERY energized and partisan AND went to the polls in droves for the Governor's race. (Or if Paul Ryan changed his mind)


Thompson's decision to sign on with a hedge fund seemed to seal that deal.

I don't think Paul Ryan will do it -- he wants to wait until 2012 when Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is up -- but former Rep. Mark Neumann, who is running for governor right now, might.

Jammin Java in Vienna? Stacy's Coffee Parlor in Falls Church City (next to the CD Cellar, I believe - a place I think you might like), there is also a Cosi by the Panera in Falls Church City, is the Daily Grind in Arlington too far for you?

I tried Stacy's. Didn't like.  I like th Starbucks over by the Original House of Pancakes but it is too corporate for a maverick like me ;)

Maybe Jammin Java. What do others have to say? Is that a Fix-friendly place?

How 'bout them Hoyas? Ready for the Valentine's Day contest at the RAC?

I am saying it now. We are underrated. How can we be 8, having SMOKED Nova and Duke in the past week.

Of course, there was that pesk So Fla loss at home...

Can Rand Paul win the GOP nomination in Kentucky being so outspoken against popular Congressmen, and might the rift in the party there advance the chances for a lesser known, like Bill Johnson, to become a contender?

I think Rand Paul can win. He is basically at parity financially with Trey Grayson and Grayson's positioning as Mitch McConnell's preferred candidate might actually hurt him in this sort of electoral environment.


How is that cute chunky monkey doing?

Fix Jr is coming up on his one-year birthday. He is starting to walk and becoming more verbal.

Mrs. Fix and I have concluded he is a genius ;)

Hey Fix, If this turns out to be an anti-incumbent election like 1992, wouldn't Mike Castle be in serious trouble in Delaware? Everyone makes it sound like he's a virtual lock to take the seat, but he already has a serious age issue, and Coons is much more of a fresh face. It just seems like one of those elections (like Nebraska Senate '96 when Ben Nelson lost a 30 pt lead) in which the media totally misreads the contest, and the guy no one ever heard of beats the elected official.

Maybe. And I say "maybe" because I think the Massachusetts Senate special election proved that no one is safe and that conventional wisdom can be -- and often is -- wrong.

That said, Castle is a VERY well known and well liked presence in the state. His thirty plus years in statewide elected office might not be the virtue this year that they would have been in other election cycles but Chris Coons is a totally unproven commodity who will have a ways to go to close the stature gap with Castle.

Anything is possible though...Scott Brown taught me that ;)

Jammin Java should be perfect for you. Great chili. Great drinks. Chill vibe. And you really should go catch a show there sometime. DO IT BRO.

Jammin Java is picking up momentum...can I sit? Is there wifi? will they greet me knowingly?

Being a Stephen King fan, I see a scary resemblance between Sarah Palin and the character Greg Stillson from "The Dead Zone." Am I being paranoid here? Palin's Christian fundamentalism (such as her End of Days reasoning for supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank), hawkishness and populism are a dangerous mix, and her popularity with the Tea Party movement makes her formidable in 2012 -- especially if she runs as an independent. After all, Perot got 19 percent of the vote in 1992...

Yes, you are being paranoid.

I have been wanting to read King's new book but just can't bring myself to tackle a 1,000 plus page monster right now.

I am too busy still shoveling out the Fix house.

The more you think about it, the more likely the hand writing is Palin's Waterloo. Let's say 45% of Americans hate Palin and 35% love her. The other 20% is what gets her elected or not. One of the biggest issues with Palin is her intelligence, or lack thereof. The hand writing is just confirmation to the final 20% that, yes, she has the brain power of a 10-year-old. With 65% of the population now firmly against her, there's no chance she'll ever win a national election. Dean's yell was similar. People didn't know if he had the temperament to be President and yelling like a mad man pushed the undecided over the edge to choose Kerry.

Several people have cited the Dean scream as the corollary to Palin's palm.

One BIG difference: The entire political world was watching when Dean screamed after the Iowa caucuses.  The Palin palm comes a LONG time before any voters actually vote in 2012.

This one is a bit dated, but really fascinating. Bit tough to get through, but here goes...Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. Extraordinarily insightful, not just about Nixon, but reading the mood of the electorate and translating it into votes.

Got it!

Love the No Refreshing Necessary part, but keep your responses directly below the questions. The way you have it now, it looks way too "busy."

Thanks for the feedback. Keep it comin'!

What Andrea said.

This new chat format, like my campaign for the "homeless man's Bill Simmons" moniker, is a work in progress.

The Diaz-Balart "switch" seems like exactly the kind of dynastic move voters resent in this climate. Do you expect a backlash? And Democrats ran a good race against Mario last time.

It's definitely not something that will sit well with voters...whether Democrats can make it an issue against MDB remains to be seen.

In Paul Kane's chat yesterday, he made the "these are my readers" comment. I think he's trying to cut into the Simmons line in front of you.

Um, that is NOT happening.  I have spent years cultivating my Simmons obsession. YEARS.

And no one, especially not Paul Kane, is going to take that from me.

First off, deep sympathies to U.S. Rep. John Murtha's surviving loved ones. Anything to look out for the special election for PA-12th?

The race remains a major work in progress. I believe the special will happen on May 18 -- the same day as the state's previously scheduled primaries.

As I wrote earlier this week, that is probably a good thing for Democrats as they have the far more competitive primaries statewide, which should boost turnout and help the PA-12 nominee.

The candidates are likely to be picked at county conventions, not primaries, which raises the specter of a grassroots uprising ala NY-23 on the Republican side.

Still sticking with the Dunkins Regular. You have to in this snow. Palin isn't going to run for prez, she's only going to suggest it. It keeps her high profile, keeps her speaking engagement fees up and get's her TV appearances. She's an overvalued stock that is going to crash come election time. Once the economy picks up do you think the voters will stop taking notice of the Tea Party crowd? Seems to happen every recession. I'm sure the White House is betting on a turnaround before the next election and everyone will forget all about health care and any other problems. Thanks for taking our questions.

I DO agree that the idea Palin has made up her mind to run is totally wrong-headed.

I think she wants to make as much $$$ as possible in 2010 and then evaluate where she stands in early 2011.

He didn't use a teleprompter to speak to the fifth graders; that's a BS internet rumor.

I thought everything on the Intranets was true?

When are you coming back to SUNNY California for a rest from the cold and snow?

As soon as humanly possible.

Also, how's that getting rid of Drew Brees to make way for Phillip Rivers thing working out for you?

I kid because I love.

Maybe the only Senate race that has trended toward the Democrats recently is New Hampshire. Hodes is raising money, while Ayotte is struggling against Lamontagne. I'm sure Hodes would beat Lamontagne, unless he's a much better candidate than he was when Jeanne Shaheen beat him in '96. What's your take?

Agree. I think NH has stayed steady as a D pickup opportunity while others races like MO and OH have receded.

Ayotte is going to have a real primary and while she has to be considered the favorite, she is definitely not a sure thing.

If she does win the primary though, polling suggests she would be a favorite against Hodes.

Chris, you're excellent taste in music is only outdone by your thorough political reporting. Can two iconic Senators such as Reid and McCain truly be in danger, if we're to believe the polls? Reid has fought hard for the President's agenda, to the dismay of many Nevada residents, but he also has a steadfast base due to his support of the Silver mining industry. And as for McCain, only two years after running for President he could loose in the primaries?! Tough to believe at face value but that's what I've been reading.

Flattery will get you everywhere.

I think Reid is in DEEP trouble no matter whO Republicans nominate.

McCain, on the other hand, I think will be ok. JD Hayworth will run to McCain's ideological right in the primary but the former Congressman has plenty of holes in his record for McCain to exploit.

Wifi + Starbucks

I said above, the corporate thing bugs me with Starbucks -- although I probably spend about $50 there every week.

I need a more upstart, mavericky place to be the unofficial Fix chat sponsor.

Great analysis of primary math by Nate Silver this week on Sarah Palin's (dicey?) path to the GOP nomination. Structurally, it looks like Romney has inbuilt advantages--timing, his already-national network, $$--that will be difficult to fight, except from a midwestern popul-ish (see what I did there?) type. So: is Thune anything more than a pretty face? I feel like he wouldn't be trumpeted as "the future" if he looked physically like Haley Barbour or Newt Gingrich.

I think Thune is the real deal and I think he is likely to look seriously at running.

I wonder, given how wide open the field is, whether there are others we aren't even thinking about who will get in.

Here's an educated guess: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels runs.

Trading Drew Brees was almost as bad as George Bush trading Sammy Sosa!

Well said.  Or as bad at the INTs Favruh and Peyton threw in the playoffs.

One of Sarah Palin's many problems is that while many Americans like her as a human being (or enjoy her as a celebrity), they don't respect her or see her as a potential candidate. Richard Nixon showed that it's possible for a politician to succeed while being respected but not liked. What can one do if one is liked but not respected?

A good point.

The fundamental question with Palin: Is she a politician who is a celebrity or a celebrity who happens to be a (former) politician?

The former can run for president. The latter probably can't.

Has ample seating, although it's not plush, and there is wifi. The food is good.

It's official. Next week's Live Fix chat will be from Jammin Java -- weather permitting.


My impression of Sarah Palin's political support is that over time it has been becoming narrower but deeper. This does not seem to be a promising basis for winning further elective office. What do you think?

Good and interesting observation that is backed by polling. See our latest WaPo/ABC national survey for evidence.

All three of the Underworld USA Trilogy by James Ellroy: American Tabloid, Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's a Rover. Nominally, they're crime novels, but rely heavily on characters like J Edgar Hoover, the Kennedys, Nixon, etc. Great, great books.

Terrific thanks.

The grab-the-glasses thing is universal.. you would have to consult the pediatrician if he did not do it. Also, do you remember posting, before he was born, that the Fix does not see 6 a.m.? Bet you've seen it now and every other hour too.

My pre Fix Jr. wake up time: 8:30 am.

My Fix Jr. wake up time: 5:30 am.

Good times.

Why does an area of Falls Church, Va. have several street names inspired by the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (eg. Sleepy Hollow Road, Ichabod Place, Van Winkle Drive, etc.)?

I think I saw Ichabod Crane riding a snowmobile through the streets of Falls Church the other night...

Chris, I second your emotion. My non-public response was a lot stronger than 'boo'! Shall we start a letter-writing campaign to the execs at NBC?

I am not sure what to do.

On the one hand, I am thrilled that I have two more seasons of Coach Taylor and the rest. On the other, it makes me sad that it will all be over WAY too soon.

It's like when you are reading a great book and you slow down at the end to make it last.

Chris--With the race to succeed Patrick Kennedy underway, what are the chances of former Mayor Buddy Cianci jumping into the race? And, how would you assess his chances, especially in a more than 2-person race? How would the DC politicos perceive his running?

Unfortunately, I think it's unlikely Buddy runs. But gosh would it be entertaining if he did.

Thanks for spending the hour with me. I am now going to attempt to make it to the Post for the first time in more than a week. Wish me luck.

Don't forget to spread the word on the Live Fix chat. We are here every Friday from 11 am to noon.

Have a great weekend,


In This Chat
Chris Cillizza
Chris Cillizza writes "The Fix", a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House for the newspaper and website. Chris has appeared as a guest on NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and CNN to talk politics. He lives in Virginia with his wife and son.
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