Ask Aaron: The week in politics

May 13, 2014

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

It's time for my favorite part of the week -- aside from, you know, the weekend.

Welcome to the latest edition of Ask Aaron, where we talk about anything and everything in the political world.

What's on your mind this week?

The Benghazi committee?

Tonight's primaries in Nebraska and West Virginia?

Dr. Rove?

The tea party?

As always, we like to keep this discussion wide-ranging, so ask away...

The conservative media has a tendency to play up some bizarre characters like Cliven Bundy and George Zimmerman. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee have sometimes embraced these folks. If they run for president, how much of a problem could this be for them?

When you're in politics, you're judged by the company you keep. That's why politicians need to be exceedingly careful what causes they line up behind ... and who is behind them.

As I wrote before, the tea party in particular does a very poor job of vetting the people it gets involved with -- and that's to its detriment.

I have a hard time believing that Cotton will not be the next Senator from Arkansas, but more than one poll shows Pryor with a big lead. Do you believe them? How would you rate the race?

People have very interesting memories on this race. It was never a slam dunk for Cotton -- as some people seem to think -- and Mark Pryor, despite his double-digit lead, should have a very close race.

This race is, has been and will be a toss-up for a while.

Why is Tom Cotton so unpopular? Is he seen as too Tea party-ish for Arkansas?

I do think he needs to work on the likability thing a little. This is something of a hurdle, in my opinion, for people who don't come from the political world -- whether they came from business or from the military.

It's still very early, though, and Cotton has proven to be a very strong fundraiser. That should help him craft his image a little more.

More stories about his presidential ambitions are appearing in the press. He certainly polls very well among Republicans. Is he seriously considering a run?

My hunch is still that he doesn't run, but that's just a hunch. I think Huck has a pretty good life as it is. Giving up your own Fox show isn't easy.

That said, he's arguably the most likable and smoothest retail politician in the potential GOP primary. He would be a player -- even if he would be unlikely to win the nomination.

If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016, she will be a personally popular candidate but one weighed down by a not-that-popular Democratic administration. How do you expect her to distance herself from Obama?

I don't even really think she would retain much of her popularity if she jumped on the race. Here's what I wrote earlier today on that.

I do think she might have some issues distancing herself from Obama, given that she was his secretary of state. I think, though, that she can always point to the Clinton brand -- which is in good shape and is quite distinct from Obama -- as evidence of what kind of president she would be.

I expect all the Republican 2016 contenders will oppose same-sex marriage. I expect Chris Christie to take some flak for allowing it become the law in New Jersey. What do you think the other GOP candidates will have to say?

I think there could be a couple exceptions. Rob Portman, if he runs, has come out in support of gay marriage. And it's not hard to see someone like Jon Huntsman doing the same if he runs.

The GOP's strategy will likely be to oppose gay marriage but not really emphasize it. We're already seeing that with LOTS of GOP candidates across the country.

Polls pretty well in Georgia, even against non-Tea Party candidates, e.g. David Perdue, Jack Kingston. What's going on?

1) The polls right now are registered voters. When it turns to likely voters, she'll likely drop a fair amount.

2) She's got a great name, while the GOP field is pretty non-distinct right now.

Once this races focuses on two candidates, I think the GOP asserts a lead that it will need to do something to forfeit. If it does, Nunn will have lots of money to pounce.

For the general, no, unless Obama becomes a lot more popular than he is now. For the nomination, yes. If she runs, she's the nominee.

Even with that, I'm just not positive. Inevitable = 100 percent, and nothing's guaranteed in politics.

To the extent she is the heavy favorite, though, I think it's a function of the other candidates being kind of undistinguished. There's no Obama or even John Edwards (pre-that-whole-thing) that we can see right now.

Is he still the favorite in November?

I think so, by virtue of incumbency and his track record of winning in the recall, etc.

How weird is this story?

It's the absolute weirdest. Just so sad.

For more, see here.

Will he launch a drone strike on Rand Paul? He doesn't exactly hide his contempt for Paul's foreign policy views.

No, and I think as Paul gets closer to running, Cheney won't be the only guy raising his hand to object.

This would be a major flashpoint in the 2016 primary.

Did he float the rumor of TBI for Hillary Clinton so his right wing peeps can say that Bill Clinton will be the real President because she lacks the capacity to handle the Presidency if elected?

No. He's doing what Harry Reid did when he suggested Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years: Putting something unsubstantiated into the news so that we all have a conversation about it.

Republicans want to serve notice that they'll play hardball with Clinton. This is a warning shot.

Who wins tonight and what are the greater implications for the GOP (if there are any)?

The big question, in my view, is Sasse or Dinsdale. Given their tough luck so far and lack of opportunities going forward, the tea party needs Sasse to pull this one off.

From here on-out, the only big win they could notch over the establishment is likely T.W. Shannon in Oklahoma.

I thought the whole point of the appointment of Carte Goodwin was so that he'd have "Senator" attached to his name should he run for the U.S. Senate, and he's nowhere to seen. Is he just a bit scared to run without more certainty that he'd win or what?

I think it's probably best for a Democrat to run in West Virginia when a Democrat isn't in the White House. Joe Manchin barely pulled it off, and he was a very popular governor.

Goodwin is young -- 40 -- and has plenty of time to wait for the right situation.

Rand Paul consistently says something to capture headlines liberals would like only for him to walk it up or to not withstand scrutiny after a closer look. How many times will the media run with such a statement? He seems to be playing you guys.

Something tells me there are plenty of conservatives out there who aren't happy with his Voter ID comments -- even after the walk-back.

Tell the truth-- we're headed for another cycle where Democrats and Republicans don't even agree on the fundamentals (like the polling gap in 2012) of the election, aren't we?

100 percent. No doubt in my mind.

To to extent it keeps their donors/voters engaged, each side will argue that the earth is flat and the sky is green. Or maybe they'll just suggest the other team has brain damage.

What happened to Jon Bruning? Has he decided that the highest office he will achieve is Attorney General?

I'm not sure he has decided that, but the voters might have decided it for him. Should be close tonight.

The most interesting thing about this race is that both candidates -- Bruning and Ricketts -- ran pretty poor Senate campaigns for Ben Nelson's seat. Now one of them will be governor.

Will anyone care about this in 2016? I'm guessing the only people who will, wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton anyway.

Yes. This has been litigated and partisan impressions of it are locked-in. We're only talking about it because Monica is talking (and Rand Paul a little).

Not only are some big GOP donors open in preferring Jeb to Christie, but two of Christie's diehard fans, Rudy Giuliani and Peter King, seem to like Jeb a lot. How worried should Christie be?

Plenty. Jeb running is about the worst thing that could happen to Christie -- short of Mitt Romney running again.

He really could use that establishment candidate/electability niche in this race. Jeb is his main competition for it.

In an Obama-loathing state, Mark Pryor *should* be a dead duck. But he's not (although he still might lose). Why do so many Arkansans hate Barack but like Mark? (Such ticket-splitting used to be very common, but not so much today).

Arkansas, I think, is a little different than a lot of Southern states. More than the others, it's holding on to its Democratic traditions to some degree -- ala West Virginia. For some reason, voters in these states are more willing to separate the candidate from the national party.

That's changing, but it's changing slower than it is in other nearby states.

How much of his effort to promote himself as an evangelical is driven by his need to let people know that he is indeed a Christian, and not a Hindu or a Muslim or Buddhist? I would think that would be a potential problem for him with conservative voters if they came to believe he was not a Christian. Remember that he lost his 2003 gubernatorial race in large part because he fared poorly in rural Louisiana, especially in those areas where David Duke ran strongly in the 1990s.

This is a touchy topic, but voters do often mischaracterize a candidate's religion -- the most obvious example being the astounding number of people who continue to think President Obama is a Muslim.

Jindal was born Hindu, so to that extent, he might need to remind people that he converted when he was young.

But I really think this is more about him appealing to a key constituency in the GOP.

Bears needed a safety or five. They drafted Vereen. As a Gophers fan, you would say Vereen is what...?

A poor man's Mike Sherels.

Does Karl Rove forget who the Clintons are? They eat hardballs for breakfast!

You must fight fire with fire I suppose...

Is he still a lock for re-election, or do experts think Gillespie might have a shot?

Certainly not a lock, but of the races where the GOP recruited a credible candidate, this is probably the lowest priority.

Warner is quite popular. If the GOP wins this seat, either Warner messed up badly or the GOP just won 55-56 seats.

There has to be a few states -- if not one -- that you find more often than not the least interesting to cover. C'mon, let's have some honesty and no Miss America bland "I love everybody equally" nonsense. I'm sure there would be some grumbles about it, but also some interesting example from people to counter your answer.

Great question.

And I'll answer it honestly: In my experience, the least interesting state in politics has been Oregon.

I couldn't even get excited when there was a former NBA player/terrible free-throw shooter on the ballot in the 2010 governor's race, Chris Dudley. And the congressional races have been pretty non-competitive for a while.

That said, that state does have David Wu.

(Ensue hate mail)

Does Rep. Issa pop up if I say it three times?

"Benghazi" is the new "Ron Paul." A brief exclamation that immediately helps one determine who is on his side, politically speaking.

Why is it so hot out?

I blame Wisconsin.

I have no problem with the principle, but you can't be stupid about it. Rove = stupid. Will a GOP candidate actually want him speaking on his behalf?

Every political party needs a pitbull willing to sully his/her own name to help the cause. Like I said, that's Harry Reid for Democrats. For Republicans, it looks like Karl Rove is throwing his hat in the ring.

(Misspelled "hat" on first try. Updated.)

So is there no downside for him, no matter how many of these side shows he throws, even with no results?

Of course there is downside. I don't think the Republican Party needs this right now. They were doing just fine running on Obamacare.

This is an unpredictable new variable, and overreach is a distinct possibility any time you do something like this.

New York. The Republicans could nominate Ghandi for statewide office and they would still lose by 30 points.

But the Democrats alone are fascinating. Just look at the state Senate and all the amazing subplots and party-switching.

That alone keeps it in the top 20.

The most important factors going into 2016 will be how Obamacare works out and the new Republican Congress's (assuming they take the Senate) ability to unite around a popular, coherent agenda?

I would add this: How well Republicans can navigate what looks to be the most wide-open presidential primary in recent history.

How will Rand Paul use his father in his presidential campaign? Hide him? Put him out front? Use him with the true believers?

I think the last one. He will want to create some distance, but Ron is his dad, so I think he can still use him some without being accused of supporting all of his policies. 

It will be a balancing act, for sure.

When will Vladimir Putin and Mike Huckabee begin their song-and-dance team? I'm looking forward to it!!

I don't know what this means.

Thanks to everyone who came out today. We had ourbest attendance ever and some of our best questions ever.

I look forward to doing it again next week (after I crawl out from beneath all the hate mail from Oregon)!

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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