Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Sep 02, 2014

The Fix's Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly politics chat series.

Welcome to the post-Labor Day edition of the Ask Aaron live chat. Why is the post-Labor Day part significant? It means we have finally moved past the August doldrums, and can bear down on the 2014 election!

Already today, we have seen:

A strong new web ad from American Crossroads in Louisiana

Some questionable polling showing Dick Durbin in trouble

Cory Gardner struggling with personhood (not literally, of course)

Ex-Rep. Eric Cantor cashing in

Rand Paul's brand of foreign policy falling out of favor in the GOP

As always, everything is fair game, so ask away!

They typically break towards one side or the other after Labor Day. Do you see that happening this year? It seems to me that with no driving issue that unites the electorate, they will be a bit scattered

The conventional wisdom says they break for the challenger, but I don't think that's really the case anymore.

See here.

How worried should the GOP be that they will wake up on Nov. 5 with a bunch of their Senate candidates getting between 45 and 50%?


1) A lot of them could win with less than 50%. It's happening more and more these days. In fact, a couple Democrats facing reelection this year were under 50 in 2008: Begich and Franken. And it happened again in '10 and '12.

2) It's entirely possible. The GOP has under-performed expectations in recent years, and the Democrats are good at winning the so-called "toss-ups." (They won 7 of Cook's 9 toss-ups in 2012.)

Who do you see lining up to run against Rob Portman in 2016? I think Tim Ryan, Marcia Fudge, Joyce Beatty, and Marcy Kaptur all enjoy their safe seats in the House.

I think any Democrat with aspirations to run for higher office might wait and run for the open governor's seat in 2018. Dems have a very thin bench in Ohio. The fates of Lee Fisher in 2010 and Ed FitzGerald in 2014 loom large.

Who ya got in the Democratic primary for Lt. Gov. in NY? Does the NYT endorsement push Tim Wu to victory against a former one-term congresswoman from upstate?

It's a very tough situation for Cuomo. Voting against his LG is a great way to send a message without going whole-hog and voting for Teachout in the GOV primary.

In reality, Hochul was a great pick for a GOV who was worried about the general election. But Cuomo's biggest obstacle is now the primary.

You spent some time in your home state (what'd you eat at the fair?) recently. How can Mike McFadden turn it into a top-tier race, if he can at all?

Hot Dish on a Stick (2/10)

Norwegian Onion Rings (7/10)

Minnesota craft beer (9/10)

Chicken in a Waffle Cone (8/10)

Grilled corn on the cob (8/10)

As for McFadden, I think he needs to do something to make this race about Franken. I haven't really seen him doing that quite yet, and I'm not sure the ammo exists, to be honest. Franken has been very careful in his 6 years.

Fun side note: Both McFadden and Franken gave me their State Fair recommendations on Saturday.

McFadden here

Franken here

Does this 2014 run set her up for a 2018 gubernatorial run?

Expectations are pretty high. But I think if she loses and keeps it close, you'll definitely hear from her again. So far, so good.

Plus, Democrats don't have much of a bench in Georgia.

Can you break down the three and four-way races in Kansas and South Dakota, respectively? Those races are more interesting to me than the hodgepodge of "toss-ups" which will largely be focused on making sure each party's followers turn out to vote.

I'm still skeptical in SD. I think the second third-partier, ex-GOP state Sen. Gordon Howie, would have to take a big chunk out of Rounds's conservative support. I think Pressler probably takes from both Weiland and Rounds, so that's not enough for Weiland to have a shot.

In Kansas, keep an eye on whether Democrats effectively embrace the independent, Greg Orman, who actually appears to have a chance. The Democrat in the race doesn't really inspire much confidence.

What do you make of the suggestions that Mitt Romney should consider another run at the Presidency in 2016? What message does that send to the many other Republican wannabes?

It sends the message that nobody really knows who the other folks are and that Romney hasn't done what most candidates do and simply faded away.

I'm not sure it means much beyond people speculating about something fun to speculate about.

So, umm, when does Ed Gillespie start to surge in the polls against Mark Warner? The Beltway pundits told me he would be formidable.

I know of very few people who said Gillespie would win or really even have a shot. He was exactly what Scott Brown is/was in New Hampshire: The best recruit Republicans could hope for in what remains an uphill race.

People often mistake analysts like the Fix saying a candidate is a good candidate with saying that they will win. This is the former case.

Do you think Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA.) is likely to face any primary challengers in 2016, and if so, from his left of right? Assuming he wins renomination, who do you think will be his Democratic opponent?

Given his support for that gun control compromise, you can't rule it out.

But Toomey is also formerly allied with the Club for Growth, which makes getting to his right quite difficult. I don't really see that happening.

I heard from some conservative TV person (I forgot who) that the GOP wants to pass comprehensive reform, but does not want it to be signed by Obama. Have you heard any similar rumors? The guy also thinks it will be signed into law in 2017.

It's a fun theory, but that's about it.

Even if the GOP wins the presidency, it will have a very difficult time doing immigration reform. The base will cry foul just like it is right now.

That said, perhaps the GOP does something scaled-down that is easier for the base to swallow. That's hard to do right now given Democrats control the Senate.

Who do you think will be Toomey's Democratic opponent, assuming he wins renomination?

Most likely Kathleen Kane, the attorney general. But she will almost definitely have a primary with ex-Rep. and '10 nominee Joe Sestak.

True or false: Ernst is too conservative to win in Iowa.

It's a tougher argument in the Midwest. This is the region, after all, that brought us both Ron Johnson/Chuck Grassley and Paul Wellstone/Russ Feingold/Tom Harkin.

Ideology means less there. Personal style counts for a lot.

Do you think whether Democrats retain the Senate majority in 2014 plays into Harry Reid's decision on running for another term in 2016?

Of course, but even if GOP wins the majority, Democrats will have a great chance to win in back in 2016. So if it's 51-49 GOP, I think Reid might stick around.

On the other hand, if the GOP has 53 or 54 seats, the exit might be a little more attractive for Reid.

Is IL Durbin seat really competitive? Some polls have shown it that way..

Glad you asked! I think this could be a 10-12-15-point race. But it would be very hard for the GOP to win.


Were you there on Saturday, supposedly their record breaking day?

I was! A quarter-million people in one day. Amazing.

Do you think that it's nomination or bust for Rand Paul in 2016 or do you see a nominee seriously considering adding him to the ticket as VP? If so, who are some of those candidates?

I'm not sure I see Paul as the VP type. The preference these days is for a steady-hand type, not the wild card that Paul is. A VP pick is something that probably can't win you a bunch of votes, but could definitely lose some.

House incumbents to lose

Michael Grimm is No. 1.

Next would probably be Ron Barber, Joe Garcia, Mike Coffman.

Shouldn't this seat be a lock for Comstock? It seems that national GOP strategists are more than a bit worried about the campaign she's running

Hard to call it a lock when it went for Obama the first time, by three points. But this is probably one that Republicans should hold on to for a few more years.

Is the new American Crossroads ad against Sen. Landrieu the most effective ad of the cycle yet or does Sen. Begich's Alaska ad still hold that title?

Well, the Landrieu ad is web-only for now, so we'll have to see if they actually put it on TV. I think they have to do at least a version of it. Some of the material is very good.

The Begich ad still wins for me, though. Here it is

So, if Rick Perry's "personal" Twitter account is truly personal, then he's responsible for what appears on it (including the photo/caption of the DA). Otherwise, the only other conclusion is that his "personal" Twitter account isn't really personal, and presenting it to the public as such is just a sham.

"Personal" to me sounds like it's not his official account, moreso than he's doing the tweeting. But fair point.

Do you think Ted Cruz will self-destruct before the 2016 Presidential election?

No. He's careful. He will continue to be divisive, but that's not really him self-destructing.

How many Congress critters are drooling over Eric Cantor's new job? Any word on his pay?

Glad you asked!

Here you go. It's basically $1.8 million: $400k salary plus $400k bonus and seven digits worth of stock options.

Are Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell really just two sides of the same coin -- more strategist than legislator, never aspired to the presidency, somewhat Machiavellian (better to be feared than loved), and both are institutions in their home states?

Basically nobody in Senate leadership is aspiring to the presidency. And if they are, they've chosen the wrong path. Being a leader is a great way to be unpopular.

All of the things you describe are pretty ideal qualities in a leader -- at least as far as working within the party.

So, Cotton *did* vote against disaster emergency relief. Shouldn't there be consequences for votes, especially when your philosophy is about government spending being bad in the abstract?

Yes, he did. As is almost always the case with these things, though, these members are voting on much more than just one item, and there are often complicating factors that don't make it into that 30-second ad.

There's also the fact that experts say there is very little chance that Ebola could spread in the United States. So you can say Tom Cotton voted against disaster emergency relief, but to tie that to Ebola is I think where people think Pryor's ad misfires.

Given how dirt cheap it would be to advertise in South Dakota, why don't some of these super PACS throw some money around to boost the profile of the third party folks that could draw votes away from Mike Rounds? We've seen Democrats like Harry Reid and Claire McCaskill try to mess with GOP primary fights already. Isn't this the next step?

There are lots of cheap states for Democrats to throw their money at, including Alaska, West Virginia, Montana and Iowa. Why they would spent in SD over those states, I'm not sure.

"Some polls" in Illinois were one-day polls. It might not be a blowout but there's no way Oberweis sniffs the margin of error.

We Ask America is the only one-day pollster I see. YouGov and Gravis have methodology issues of their own, but they aren't one-day samples.

You didn't have the chocolate chip cookies there?

Ran out of room in my stomach. (Plus, my mom's cookies are better. There, I said it. Sorry Sweet Martha.)

What's race that's under the radar right now that you're really interested in seeing how it develops?

Kansas, for sure. Pat Roberts clearly has liabilities, and independent Greg Orman has money and momentum. Definitely worth watching.

In 2012, I gave maybe $10 online to the Obama campaign, so I ended up on the e-mail list. Since then, the occasional e-mail would continue to ask for money, but I ignored them. Then they of course shared the list with all the relevant Democratic committees and candidates, but the worst has to be the DCCC. In one day last week, I counted at least seven separate e-mails, each more desperate than the last for a donation. Rather than continue to delete them unread, I finally opted out, and where they ask for comment, I told them that they're lucky I can't stand Republicans, or I'd vote against them out of spite. Am I just an outlier?

Probably not. But the DCCC's online fundraising has been amazing this cycle, so whatever they're doing appears to be working -- at least when it comes to raising money.

How do Democrats overcome the thin bench problem in various states you wrote about?

(The piece at hand can be found here.) It's tough because it's systemic and it's hard for them to install Democrats who can hold down competitive-but-GOP-leaning districts for several cycles without losing.

If I were them, though, I would focus on winning the statewide constitutional offices -- the ones where the GOP can't re-draw the map. Those are very fertile recruiting grounds for Senate and governor candidates.

But again, it's hard to win those races when you're recruiting from state Houses and state Senates where your ranks are decimated.

He's been awfully quiet lately. Someone getting concerned about his re-elect in two years?

Not "getting" concerned. He should *always* have been concerned, because it will be tough.

Can you please tell newspapers to stop publishing one-day polls?

Will do.

So on Chris' Chat on Friday, we kept guessing and guessing who had the WWIW last week, and we never got an answer. Is there a permanent Link like for the "5 Myths" page that will always get us to the latest WWIW winner/loser?

Ideally, you should be able to look at the "Worst Week" tag on The Fix. We are trying to be more consistent about putting Worst Week on Fix, though, so give us a little time.

Yes, emails work. Lists lose people all the time and the number is monitored, but people are added too and the constant emails method works. Remember, people delete/don't emails, there are repeat donors, and sometimes it takes the bombardment. It works. Trust me.

As with many things in politics, being annoying works. :)

Is Rand Paul really the frontrunner for the nomination right now?

I don't think so. I don't think there is one frontrunner, but rather an indistinguishable cluster of them.

Thanks everyone for coming out!

Have a great week, and 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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