Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Apr 01, 2014

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

Thanks everyone for joining us for another round of Ask Aaron!

What's on your mind today?

Obamacare enrollment numbers?

Paul Ryan's budget?

Rick Santorum?

Dave Camp retiring?

Rand Paul's latest controversy?

Christie's bridge scandal report?

As always, anything is fair game, so ask away...

What are the odds there will be a runoff in Louisiana Senate race? And that will decide Senate's majority?

Great questions! And a political junkie's dream scenario!

I think it's quite likely that the Louisiana race is headed for a runoff, in large part because there is a tea party candidate (Rob Maness) likely to pull some votes from the favorite, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R). That will make it hard for Cassidy to get to a majority before the runoff.

As for whether it would be pivotal for the majority, let's look at our latest projections over at the Monkey Cage.

Our team over there estimates that there is about a 25 percent chance that Democrats win either 49 or 50 seats in the 2014 election -- the point at which a runoff would determine who controls the majority. (A tie goes to Democrats since Joe Biden breaks ties.)

So let's say, for argument's sake, that there's an 80 percent chance that the Louisiana race ends up in a runoff. If you combine that with the 25 percent change that one race would be pivotal, it means there is a 20 percent chance that a Louisiana runoff could determine control of the Senate.

DC is so polarized. Everything is seen through a D vs R prism. But actual voters have no problem splitting tickets. It's why Obama's approval rating is completely overrated when it comes to red state Democrats' chances this fall. People vote for the office, like senator, based on the candidates and issues in the campaign, not as a yay or nay about someone not even on the ballot.

Empirical data actually suggests Americans are actually increasingly polarized. I think there's a lot less ticket-splitting than there once was.

There is a reason that Republicans have knocked off so many Democrats in conservative districts in recent years. It's because it's becoming harder to distance yourself from your national party.

There will always be exceptions, of course, but the electorate is definitely more nationalized than it once was.

Am I wrong to think the coverage of the so-called "Adelson primary" has been a bit hyperbolic? I get that he has a lot of money and is willing to use it, but I can't see what discernible impact the $15 million he and his wife spent had in the 2012 primaries. Gingrch and his outside allies, with a lot of funding from the Adelsons, outspent (or had relative parity with) Santorum and his outside allies. The former, however, only won about two-thirds as many votes as the latter. Granted one can make an argument about Santorum benefiting from being the last plausible not-Romney standing, but it still seems like a lot of money from one source won't be a game changer in a field of relative equals, whether they be a lot of flawed candidates like in 2012 or a group of ostensibly more "electable" ones like seems will be the case in 2016.

I don't think the takeaway from Adelson spending money on Gingrich is that money doesn't matter. I think that takeaway is that money couldn't really help Newt Gingrich befcause he was ... well ... Newt Gingrich.

If that money was behind a plausible alternative to Romney (of which I'm not sure there really was one who could win), I think it would have had much more impact.

But aside from all that, this is all about giving yourself all the advantages you can possibly have. Even if Adelson's money doesn't matter much (and I think it does), it's better to have it than to have one of your opponents have it, right?

I love the story about Paul Ryan needing to choose a major. I really want him to be a national figure, but he keeps on falling into the trap of catering to the far right. Is he just destined to be a career Congressman?

Here's the story this references.

I'm not sure a "career congressman" is necessarily a bad thing for Ryan. Being (potentially) Ways and Means committee chairman is a big deal, as is potentially being House speaker.

I actually think he has a much better chance of being speaker than being president, so why not stick with what you know and are good at?

Cillizza listens to the worst music. Please set him straight.

I will do my best.

One of the most underreported stories of the past two election cycles is how strongly Democrats have swung from the intraparty primary warfare of the Bush years to having national Democrats basically coronate candidates in almost every competitive race (Sink, Braley, Peters, etc.). Partly this is the product of pretty consistent party ideology these days, but also likely because they hold the White House. Do you see this tranquility fading after Obama's presidency, or will it take a legitimate ideological fracture?

I think it's partially a byproduct of having your a president of your own party.

But I also think the Democratic committees in recent years have been very good at recruiting and clearing the field. There are ways to gently discourage people from running, and Democrats have been better at that.

I took a look over at the various polls on Obama's approval rating. Everything ranges from -3% to -18%. Given such large variations on a known quantity, how can one make anything of polling on individual races?

As with all polling, it's best to have a bunch of polls so you can exclude the outliers.

Senate polling is tough because there aren't a bunch of polls in any one race this far out. But if you look at the polling in all the red states, it's pretty clear that these incumbents are in the low-40s right now, and that's troubling territory for Democrats.

As for Obama's approval, I would guess the vast majority of those polls are right around the -10% mark. I'm guessing that's a pretty good estimation of where he's at.

Lost in all the hullabaloo over enrollment actually meeting the 7 million goal (apparently its an accomplishment to be adequate now), is the fact that A) about a quarter of those who signed up just filled out paperwork and haven't actually paid the premium, and B) that a huge chunk of these people weren't actually uninsured and C) the premiums of the plans offered are, on average, much much higher than the average premium, according to multiple analyses, including one from the Cleveland Clinic today. If the goal was to offer affordable, accessible insurance to people who didn't have it, how on Earth can this be claimed as a victory?

Now is the time where these stories start to get written, and I don't think they will be happy stories for Democrats.

I will say that I think A and B are a little in the weeds. A only matters if those people wind up never paying a premium and actually enrolling. And making the case on B requires some nuance.

C is the sweet spot for the GOP. If they can prove that premiums were on average higher, the "affordable" in "Affordable Care Act" is undercut and the GOP has a much better chance of using the law as a cudgel.

He seems to be getting himself in the news lately. Is the GOP still behind him as a national candidate? I get the feeling he would be crushed in a debate with Rand, Jeb, and Christie.

He's not really a candidate of the national GOP, but he does have a base of support in Texas that would keep him well-funded if he ran again.

I'm still anxious to see how he would do in a debate. Until that first one, nobody will know for sure if he can redeem himself.

Latham, McKeon, Chambliss, Rogers, now Camp. Seems like alot of Boehner's buddies are headed for the hills. Even if he were able to stay as Speaker, which is not guaranteed considering the low number of votes needed to deny him and the high number of anti-Boehner members, he wouldn't be very happy or effective without his best allies and friends, would he?

This is an under-reported story on all these retirements. You just have to wonder, if these guys thought Boehner was sticking around, if they might stick it out for a little longer.

Keep an eye on The Fix for more on this...

Democrats have abandoned the idea that "fix don't repeal" is going to save them, correct? I mean setting aside Sink's loss, the fact is people know Republicans as the anti-Obamacare party and Democrats as the pro-Obamacare party, and they are not going to trust the pro-Obamacare party to fix the law they don't like. On top of that, poll this week showed 48% of people more likely to vote for candidate who supports repeal

I think "fix don't repeal" is still the Democrats' strategy, because it's the only argument they've got.

The alternative at this point is, "We know you don't like it, but give us more time."

I do think the Democrats' argument that repeal isn't popular misses the point. And that point is that people vote in large part based on the recent past (Democrats passed Obamacare) rather than the future (Republicans want to repeal Obamacare).

And I'm guessing a lot of people who would prefer to fix Obamacare would also be OK with repeal.

What are the implications of Rand Paul not being invited to kiss the Casino King's ring last week?

Paul was never going to get Adelson's support given his decidedly un-hawkish foreign policy views. It would have been a waste of time for both parties.

Rand gets the love from the media but Cheney is where the big donors are, right? I feel like the neocon obit has been written too soon, especially if GOP criticism about Obama's handling of Russia is any indication.

I tend to agree. The GOP donor class is still firmly ensconsed in the establishment. And tea party candidates in the 2012 presidential race never really competed with Romney's money machine.

That said, Rand Paul is more formidable than anybody Romney faced. And if he can fire up the grassroots ala Obama in '08, he can raise real money.

Not a huge fan of the Braley gaffe coverage (yeah he inartfully noted the fact the chair of the Senate committe in charge of the law should know something about the law), but the optics for him are still pretty bad. I've always thought this was underrated in the national rankings. Once Republicans have a nominee it will be considered a full fledged toss up, no?

Braley made a valid point (Grassley would be first non-lawyer to chair Judiciary), but he said it in exactly the wrong way as a candidate in exactly the wrong state.

I tend to agree that this is somewhere close to a toss-up, provided the GOP nominee isn't an embarrassment. It's an open seat, and despite Braley's early money edge, GOP groups will help whoever emerges in a big way, I'm sure.


I think Ben Carson will get real support if he runs. I'm not sure he'll ever have a chance to win the nomination, but he'll be a contender.

Another option: Mike Pence or John Kasich.

If Boehner does choose to follow his buddies into retirement, do you think it might actually make the House Republican Caucus more cohesive? Always seemed like some of the internal friction was rooted a generational divide between the pre-2000 and post-2010 classes.

I think the GOP divide isn't really about Boehner as much as the party's internal struggle. I think it still exists even if Cantor or someone else is speaker.

I really don't hear either side talk about the issue. I'm of the opinion that the debt is just a number and inflation is the ultimate indicator. Does either side seriously believe the debt is a problem?

I think a lot of people (particularly on the political right) care about the national debt, but nobody can figure out a way to really make a dent in it.

Nobody wants to touch defense or entitlement programs -- because doing so is so tough and hurts your reelection -- and banning earmarks doesn't get you very far.

So what we've got is Congress arguing over relatively small parts of the budget -- and not even agreeing on that.

Also not great? Being the party that shut down the government and tried to repeal Obamacare 50 times. Completely serious and practical.

The shutdown surely hurt the GOP, but it will be more than a year in the rearview by November 2014, whereas Obamacare will still be in the process of implementation.

It's just a political reality that the more current issue tends to matter more.

Florida vs. Kentucky?

Think Florida. Hope Kentucky.

Doesn't the establishment of the GOP claim to be all about winning? Neoconservatism/interventionism/hawkism is all wildly unpopular with voters of every ideological stripe. Americans are squarely in the corner of someone like Rand Paul or at least someone more like Rubio who is farther towards Paul than he is towards Christie or Bush. I just don't see why Republicans who claim to be all about winning would want a 2016 candidate who would sacrifice a natural advantage over Clinton

I'm not sure that polling on this issue is all that conclusive.

I know that the polls do show Americans don't want to get involved in conflicts like Ukraine and Syria right now, but I'm not sure that's the same thing as them being Rand Paul supporters. And I don't think even Christie and Bush would argue in favor of intervention in those countries.

The reason the establishment will likely be more hawkish in 2016, though, is because that will be the biggest contrast to Obama. I think that's the natural place for the opposition party to want to be.

If Obama had gotten his use-of-force resolution in Syria, the GOP might have adopted a more Paul-like approach.

Terry Branstad has apparently been privately supporting Joni Ernst's bid for Senate in Georgia. If we get to mid May and it looks like she needs it, will he come out publicly?

I can't speak specifically to this, but I would note that, in 2010, when it looked like Trey Grayson was in trouble against Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell (who everyone knew backed Grayson) made it official at the last minute.

Of course, it didn't wind up mattering.

Assuming Tillis wins in North Carolina, which looks increasingly likely, these states seem to have the last competitive primaries that could significantly affect the generals. Who do you see as the most viable potential GOP nominee in each primary?

LA - Cassidy

AK - Sullivan

NC - Tillis

GA - Perdue/Handel/Kingston

IA - Jacobs/Ernst

MN - McFadden

Is there any easier way to become the NFL's most-hated team than to be owned by Donald Trump?

Be owned by Jerry Jones?

Thanks to everone who came out and submitted questions.

This is my favorite part of the week, thanks to you guys.


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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