Ask Aaron: This week in politics

Jun 04, 2013

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

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of  "Ask Aaron." 

On the docket today: Chris Christie just set the New Jersey special election for Oct. 16 -- a mere three weeks before the regular general election -- and is still at his press conference trying to explain why it's necessary to hold the race separately (at an estimated cost of $12 million).

I'm sure we'll talk plenty about that, but I want to know what else is one your mind.

So ask away!

Can appointment of GOP replacement of NJ Senate vacancy with moderate or even liberal republican act as beginning of new pragmatic "kempian" rebirth/repair of GOP in northeast/california?

Recent experience with appointees suggests this person will serve and then soon be forgotten. Especially with Christie's decision to hold a special election in just four months' time, the appointee matters less and less.

I would expect Christie to pick a pretty standard-issue Republican. And even if he went with a moderate like Christie Whitman, it would be OK because she's regarded as an elder stateswoman. Keep an eye on Tom Kean -- both Sr. and Jr. -- and former congressman Dick Zimmer.

A placeholder. A primary. An October election. Couldn't get much better for Cory Booker, could it?

I actually disagree with this. I think the fact that Christie set a 2013 special at all means it's more likely Booker gets a primary challenge.

If the race remained in 2014, Booker probably didn't face a primary because House members don't want to give up their jobs.

But I agree that holding the special election and 2013 general election separately helps Booker and Christie, who -- it should be noted -- were both very likely to win anyway.

What is the chance that the NJ Supreme Court, which completely ignored the rule of law in 2002 and allowed Lautenberg on the ballot, will be asked by Dems to make the election for 11/13?

I've heard anecdotal reports that NJ Dems may not protest this, but it remains to be seen.

The fact is that it's going to be hard for Republicans to find someone who can build a real campaign over the next four-plus months. And NJ is forbidden fruit for the GOP -- often tempting them to spend money but almost never working out (at least at the Senate level).

I have been offered a job in DC and looking at apartments... How can anyone afford to live down there, it's absurd!!!

My first job here, I was paying 60 percent of my stipend toward rent. It's part of the deal.

I'm a big fan of House Hunters on HGTV. But every time I see what $250k can buy in Austin, Texas, I get angry.

Note that Christie goes back a LONG way with the Kean family. Tom Kean Sr. would make an ideal placeholder, and then his son can run. He'd still lose to Cory Booker, though.

I think if Kean Jr. wants to run for the seat, it may be a bit unseemly for his dad to take the appointment.

But I agree that Kean Sr. seems like the ideal placeholder, and Kean Jr. still has his federal campaign account from 2006.

Every poll I've seen shows Booker trouncing Frank Pallone or any other rival. Worst case scenario for him was always no primary at all, with the county bosses (many of whom don't like Booker) picking the nominee.

Good point. Holding a primary does help Booker. But party bosses still play a big role, particularly in giving their chosen candidate prime ballot slots in each county.

If there is a concerted effort to line up behind someone like Pallone, they could still play a major role. But people know Booker enough that he would probably be able to overcome it.

Who's in more trouble for re-election? Pryor has better job approval, but is in a much tougher state. Landrieu has a more favorable state, but much lower job approval.

I think it's close to a wash, but for now, I'd say Landrieu is in a slightly better spot. Blanche Lincoln's landslide loss in Arkansas in 2010 has to be scary for Pryor, and he's already getting drowned in ads from both the right and the left.

Republicans also might have a better candidate in Arkansas, assuming freshman Rep. Tom Cotton gets in. Everyone says he's the real deal.

Does the Lt. gov have any political options left? Could making a long shot bid against Mark Warner an option?

Running against Mark Warner, at this point, is a fool's errand. And Bolling is quickly burning bridges in his party with his praise for McAuliffe.

I'm not sure what future Bolling has, especially in a state where the conservative grassroots often nominate their candidates. He couldn't survive that process now.

Will the appointee, whoever it is, vote immigration reform? Or it's scheduled for after special election?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he expects to pass the immigration bill by July 4, in which case the appointee would indeed vote on it.

The conventional wisdom right now is that it probably passes the Senate with votes to spare and then faces a tough vote in the House. But if Christie's appointee winds up making the difference one way or another in the Senate, that would be interesting.

How competitive will Terri Lynn Land be against Gary Peters? Will Mike Rogers jump in after being passed over for FBI Director?

I think Republicans are still hopeful that Rogers gets in. Land has won statewide, which is important, but a secretary of state race isn't a Senate race. Rogers is a very serious politician who has held a very important job in recent years. If Republicans can get him, it would be a coup. If he doesn't get in, Land could have trouble in the primary (maybe against Rep. Justin Amash?) and would be an underdog in the general.

Who wins in one on one you or the fix?

I actually have yet to see the old man play ball.

I imagine it looks something like this.

Who's feeling better about the statewide races right now -- Democrats or Republicans?

In 2013? It's a mixed bag, but the fact that Republicans are likely to hold a blue state (N.J.) and have a good shot at holding a purple state (Va.) is good for them. If they can be competitive in the Senate races in N.J. and Massachusetts, that's all gravy for them, because those states are so blue.

As for who emerges as the real winner, it's really all about Virginia governor's race.

Could Coleman change his mind and run for Governor in 2014? It seems to be the job that he really wanted in 2002 before Bush talked hin into the senate, and Mark Dayton appears to be vulnerable.

I think Norm has a good job right now and doesn't have the desire to wage an uphill battle back home. You have to understand what it's like to lose a race by 312 votes after an 8-month legal battle.

And while Dayton is vulnerable, he would certainly be favored in what remains a blue-tinted state.

Who are the Dems or potential Dems who might run for the open Senate seat in West Virginia?

The bench is getting pretty thin. About the only relatively well known potential candidates who remain and haven't said 'no' are Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis. If those two pass, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) will be a heavy favorite.

Are you an avid viewer like the Fix, or is it not your thing?

I finally watched the Red Wedding episode last night, and my jaw is still agape.

That said, Cillizza has also read the books and likes Battlestar Galactica, which is a whole level of nerd above me.

To me Michigan is the ultimate Lucy pulling the football state when it comes to the senate. Why would Rogers risk his career when he has another 3 years as chairman of the Intelligence Commitee, and could be FBI Director or AG in a republican administration someday?

If it's not Michigan, then it's New Jersey. Both of them have claim to that distinction.

And I agree about Rogers. I think he eventually decides that he's got it pretty good as-is. 

Rep. Gary Peters (D) is no joke: He just became the rare white politician to win a majority-black district (he's one of just two right now, along with Tennessee's Steve Cohen), and before that, he held down a swing district.

This would be a tough race for Rogers, but certainly a winnable one.

If Hillary Clinton runs, does any other leading Democrat make the race? Biden's not going to want to make a third failed presidential bid. Cuomo shares a New York base with HRC, and seems to like being governor. Elizabeth Warren seems a plausible choice for liberal die-hards, but doesn't seem interested. Mark Warner and Brian Schweitzer both seem like great VP material, but ill-suited to Democratic primary voters. Does anyone else run? Remember a presidential campaign requires a lot of work.

It's quite possible that she would scare away plenty of other candidates. But she wouldn't get a free ride -- not after what happened in 2008.

That said, I think she's in stronger position at this point than she was in 2008, and there's no Barack Obama that I can see ready to be the Next Big Thing and Hillary alternative.

But these things have a way of surprising us, and it's far too early to say she would clear the field or even come close.

Gabriel Gomez, does he have a shot actually?

Of course. Crazy things happen in special elections. Republicans have won in Hawaii, New York City and Massachusetts. Democrats have won in conservative districts in upstate New York and in the Deep South. And that's just in the last five years.

So yes, it can happen. But no, it probably won't.

Popular Democratic senator in a pretty Republican state. How much trouble is he in?

Alaska is certainly a Republican state, but not as much as some people think. In fact, it was one of the rare state's to give President Obama more of the vote in 2012 (41%) than in 2008 (38%). Obama did worse in Arkansas and Louisiana last year.

More and more, I think of Alaska like Montana, which by the way has two Democratic senators right now.

I think Begich is pretty close to 50-50 when it comes to winning a second term.

How strong does he look as a 2016 contender? He seems genuinely interested in running (unlike Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush), and would be pretty acceptable to all Republican factions (unlike Rand Paul or Chris Christie).

I think people under-estimate Scott Walker at their own peril. He got a reputation as a partisan for his collective barganing maneuver early in his tenure, but he's actually a pretty popular governor these days. And it doesn't hurt that he comes from an emerging swing state.

That said, I wonder if he has the power of personality to really get people excited. Tim Pawlenty was great on paper too, but never really took off because he didn't stand out. Walker may have similar problems.

I know it's early to say, but are the odds of it passing still rather strong? It seems to me that the Gang of 8 is united in the Senate, and that over in the House the Republican leadership seems to believe that passing it would be better than the alternative.

The House GOP leadership may believe that they should pass it, but that doesn't mean it will pass.

As I wrote last week, these House Republicans generally don't have much incentive to vote for the bill. It's not a huge vote-mover in a lot of their districts, and in their primaries, it could very well work against him.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will likely have to break the Hastert rule and vote on something that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans. But even that doesn't guarantee passage.

When someone like Schumer predicts that the Senate will pass immigration reform by July 4, does he really believe it or is he just cheerleading to give the appearance to doubters that this is a done deal and they should get on board. And does Boehner even care what Schumer thinks?

It's a good question. Whenever a politician makes a prediction, you have to ask yourself what they're really trying to say. When they say that they are going to fail to meet a deadline, it's generally a ploy to get the other side to cave at the last minute.

As for this, I'm not sure what Schumer was getting at. Maybe he really believes it.

What's worth noting, though, is that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said today that the bill doesn't have 60 votes yet. So while Schumer may be confident, not everyone shares that sentiment.

There have been several stories (NY Times for example) that have painted him in a bad light. Popular to out of state people, and rich liberals in particular who don't have to deal with living in Newark. Could this pose a problem or is the election to short to do damage?

This is the risk for Booker -- that someone can paint him as all sizzle and no steak, all hat and no cattle, (insert your own folksy metaphor here), etc.

What's clear is that he's a gifted messenger and communicator who can overcome a lot by virtue of his personality. If he were running for governor, I think his record in Newark would be a bigger deal. But running for senator is different.

Why is Al Franken so much safer than Paul Wellstone ever was?

Paul Wellstone was a pot-stirrer who inflamed conservatives and made himself into a target. His friend Al Franken has been very quiet and kept a low profile so far in his tenure. It was a smart strategy.

Plus, the GOP bench in Minnesota isn't what it used to be. They are struggling to recruit for statewide races this year.

It seems as if we have been having a series of wave elections with Dems doing better in Presidential years and the GOP during off years both at the State level and Congressional level. Is 2014 setting up as another wave election or will we see more of a return to normalcy?

It's way too early to say whether we'll have a wave election. But we had three in a row from 2006 to 2010, and that's highly unusual.

2012 was certainly not a wave election year, and I wouldn't be surprised if 2014 was pretty status-quo as well. But that's based on nothing more than that current state of play, and we're still 17 months away.

Which Republican will get the honor of losing to Cory Booker?

Win, lose or draw, a few possibilities for the GOP:

2006 nominee and state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

State Sen. Joe Kyrillos

State Assemblyman Jay Webber

Businessman John Crowley (biotech executive)


Am I right to say that, so far, the political impact of the various "scandals" has been more "meh" than "Wow"? It's not as if congressional Republicans were particularly friendly to Obama to begin with.

It's not really about how friendly Republicans are with Obama; it's all about what the evidence shows. And right now, we've got a very skeptical press corps doing plenty of digging.

Republicans can say whatever they want. They can overreach or underreach. What matters here is how many more shoes will drop.

I work from home and turned on these IRS hearings... The grandstanding by all politicians is remarkable. Is anyone impressed by them blathering on and yelling at witnesses? I feel bad for media members that have to watch.

Congressional hearings are very partisan affairs. You have to understand that most of these members of Congress come from very safe and partisan districts where the name of the game is staying try to their party.

And a lot of them love the idea of getting a video clip on their local news. That's why we see a lot of them trying to outdo one another by being tougher or louder than the last questioner.

Of course, that's not everybody, and there certainly are plenty of members who have been asking good questions and legitimately been trying to discover the facts. I've actually been pretty interested to follow these hearings closely.

Thanks everyone for turning out. It was a great discussion and, as usual, there were lots of great questions -- some of which I didn't get to.

We'll see you next Tuesday at 2 p.m...

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 summa cum laude 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, live in Annandale, Va.
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