Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Aug 19, 2014

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

Welcome back, everyone. So glad to have you here for the latest installment in my weekly live chats.

Slow political week, but it's primary day in Alaska. And of course, there are plenty of political ramifications in Ferguson -- the story that is dominating the news today.

So what's on your mind? As always, anything's fair game.

Assuming the bottom doesn't completely fall out for Democrats, on a scale of 1-10 how surprised would you be if Al Franken lost in Minnesota?


Big undertold story of 2014: Numerous incumbent House Republicans have completely underachieved/come close to losing to vastly underfunded challengers in their primaries. Fleichman, DesJarlais, Cantor, Terry, Hanna, Ellmers and several others all got 60% or less. Had tea party groups not thrown away money on consultants and lost Senate races they may well have claimed a good deal of scalps.

This is a great point. There was very little tea party support even for Cantor's challenger, David Brat.

You also make a good point about a lot of incumbents stuck below 60%. That is VERY rare, but getting more common. We did a post on this a while back. For the first time (probably ever), around 5% of incumbents were taking 60% or less.

And in the Senate, it was basically half of the 12 incumbent Republicans seeking reelection.

So Perry has been indicted, McDonnell is in the middle of a trial, Christie and Walker are or have been under investigation. Should Bobby Jindal start to sweat as the last GOP governor considering a presidential bid who hasn't been tripped up with possible criminal charges?

Let's just say he might want to double-vet his staff.

For you, what are going to be the five most interesting Senate races this fall? Not necessarily most competitive, or most likely to switch parties. But which five are going to be the most fascinating to watch?

1. North Carolina (this is where all the money is going)

2. Georgia (can Nunn possibly pull it off)

3. Louisiana (the jungle primary is amazing)

4. Kentucky (could two GOP leaders lose in one election cycle?)

5. Iowa (the contrast between Ernst and Braley is remarkable)

More than a million jobs created this year alone, but no love for the president on the economy. What gives?

I think the country is in a state of semi-malaise that won't change until we hit a legitimate boom.

Here's my longer take on this.

More than a bit annoyed at the media's lack of coverage of the fact that a "wave" is not needed for Republicans to make big gains in the Senate. Right now, the GOP has three nailed down (WV, SD, MT), two more red seats that lean their way (LA, AR), three purple seats that are indisputable tossups (CO, IA, NC) and one blue-leaning seat that is leaning toward Dems. Barring some major development that boosts minority turnout and/or pushes swing and white voters away from the GOP, wouldn't it be more surprising for the GOP to get <6 seats than get 10?

I agree with most of the above. However...

1) I don't see Colorado as a toss-up just yet.

2) Incumbency matters. And so while it's possible the GOP could get 10 seats, getting 5 or 6 isn't a cinch. You can't look just at how red those states are.

3) The GOP has messed things up before. In both 2010 and 2012, the GOP under-performed expectations. Different people are in charge now, and you can't plan for a Todd Akin. But it's just worth considering.

With the House likely remaining red and the veto in the hands of the blues, what significance does a red Senate have?

For the GOP, the thought is:

1) It puts pressure on Obama to sign or veto their legislation, rather than allowing Harry Reid to simply not allow a vote on it. People don't really notice the latter; the former, they do.

2) Republicans get to set the votes. And so on something like Keystone XL, where there might be 60 votes today but there is no actual vote, they can force the issue.

With all of these walk-off wins by the Nats, has Cillizza gotten any work done the past week?

He's busy assistant-coaching the Catholic field hockey team this week.

Word is he and Mrs. Fix have got some real strong recruits and they're in for a big year.

Hi Aaron -- thanks for taking questions today. Both Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton have said next to nothing about what's going on in Ferguson and have been criticized in some quarters for their silence. What are the pitfalls of trying to stay on the sidelines? Of weighing in? And how much of a factor will it be come 2016?

I don't really see this as much of a campaign/political issue for 2016ers, in all honesty. It is political for Obama because he's the president and to the extent that it leads to a debate about police militarization.

But in practical terms, this right now is about the investigation. And until there is more light shed on what happened, politicians are smart not to weight in.

Could it be a political issue one day? Of course. Right now, it's about safety and justice.

Will Pat Roberts's trouble at home cause any heartburn for him down the stretch?

It's hard to believe, but that's what the last two polls show. Both show him up 5 points or less.

But I really have a hard time seeing Republicans legitimately having trouble here. After all, it's Kansas. They haven't had a Democratic senator since the 1930s. Give it a few weeks and let's see if the primary stuff has faded.

Aaron, I thought your column earlier today was spot-on. Even his cautious approach has been demonized by the right-wing media types. Race is still a major fault-line in America today.

Thanks! (Here's the post, for those who haven't seen it.)

The United States still has some pretty significant racial divides on stuff like this. And I don't think Obama visiting Ferguson would change that one iota -- especially now that he's quite unpopular.

Has politics gone too moneyball, where campaigns are simply devoted to maximizing turnout among its supporters without really trying to convince the other side?

Perhaps, but there's a good reason their doing that: It's what's required.

The American people are much more polarized, with fewer and fewer "up for grabs" voters. Thus, it's perhaps a better use of consultants' time and candidates' money to focus on turning out the base.

The senator seems like a really interesting guy. I'd love to sit down and have a candid beer meeting with him. Your thoughts?

Beer summit 2.0!

No need to post or respond, just wanted to let you (and hopefully management) know that when I wavered on my digital subscription the Fix chats on Tuesday AND Friday were the tipping point, otherwise I probably would have passed. Just a quick note to say thanks and keep up the great work!

Happy to post this, and really appreciate the kind words!

I get as much out of these chats as you guys do. It's always great to find out what Fix readers want to know about politics. You folks give me lots of great ideas, and I'm thankful for it.

Still don't understand why you and your colleagues don't consider it a tossup. Colorado is the most libertarian state in the country and as the recalls show last year both base GOP voters as well as some independents are very fired up against Dems, especially at the state level. Plus Latino turnout will undoubtedly drop

My main hangup is that Colorado is a heavy vote-by-mail state, which should reduce the turnout dropoff among some key Obama coalition demographic.

But it's pretty close to a toss-up.

Interesting article in The Daily Beast today about actually how little money from donations to Tea Party groups, including SarahPAC, actulally goes to candidates. >90% gets spent on raising more money. Pretty damning article if you ask me.

This is a trend. People give to these efforts without doing their homework and don't realize what their money is going to.

We did something earlier this year on the Ben Carson drafting movement. It has raised more than $7 million, but the vast majority of that was used on fundraising.

Efforts like that have to make you wonder who's benefiting from these groups -- the candidates or the consultants.

Does the indictment help him (he's seen as a victim of a political witchhunt, which helps him motivate the base in the 2016 primaries) or hurt him (indictment + "oops" = campaign is DOA)?

The more he can turn this into a liberal witch-hunt against him -- which sounds like it won't be all that difficult to do -- the better for him.

But I think he was also already a long-shot for 2016. This doesn't necessarily sink him, but he remains a long shot.

Ugly QB or the ugliest QB?

I assume this is a reference to his conduct last night and general attitude. :)

I dislike the Washington football team as much as the next guy, but even I draw the line at the finger.

Three of the most important elections for the GOP this Novemeber are the Illinois, Connecticut and Massachussets governor's races. All three feature moderate Republicans who could very likely help push their state parties into contention again

I don't think the GOP competes at the federal level in these three states anytime soon. As for giving the GOP a voice in these states -- it could help, but CT and MA both had moderate GOP governors as of just a few years ago.


Apart from the more immediate concerns, Ferguson might have a political impact. The consensus seems to be that Nixon is probably done, to the extent he could've been a running mate or cabinet member to begin with. What about McCaskill? She seems to have handled her role fairly well.

As much as Nixon has done poorly, McCaskill has done well. It was good for her to visit Ferguson and focus on the militarization of police.

That said, she has a much easier role in all this. Nixon has to actually make hard choices about how to deal with the situation.

Developing a theory that he's not actually planning to run in 2016 but is instead trying to get all his skeletons out in the open and lay a groundwork of credibility on minority issues to set himself up to run in 2020 or beyond. Thoughts?

The best way to really get those skeletons out is to run for president!

Could be -- especially given his 2016 reelection campaign. But he seems to be doing an awful lot of legwork if he's not actually going to run for prez.

Who would win in a wrestling match? Lemmy or god?

Who is Lemmy?

The real measure of the magnitude of Rick Perry's troubles may well be that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has dropped a commercial containing an appearance the two governors made at a gas drilling event last spring. A reliable metric of Perry's woes, do you think?

Probably just an abundance of caution from Corbett. Not sure why he would feature Perry in a general-election ad anyways.

You gave a thoughtful answer to the prior questioner about the path to 10, but I don't know what he could be reading to justify his complaint about "the media" not giving sufficient attention to the possibility of the Republicans capturing the Senate even without a wave election. Didn't the Post just publish something predicting an 80%+ chance for the Republicans to capture the Senate (which, I have to say, seemed very high given the number of extremely tight races).

I do think there is a false sense out there that the GOP being favored to win the Senate, in itself, would constitute a "wave" election. That's just not true.

For now, the environment clearly favors the GOP by at least a little, but there isn't much of a "wave" that would also wash some GOP governors and GOP House members ashore.

New Mexico goes Republican or Georgia goes Democratic?

Can I pick neither? Because that's what will happen.

As for 2020, some projections from my colleague Philip Bump would give a slight nod to Georgia.

He's not really gonna run again, is he? The high-end donors won't let this happen, right?

Probably not -- probably.

Do you miss Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookies at the Minnesota State Fair? Can they send you some?

I am going to the Fair back home this year, actually! First time in years.

I prefer the grilled corn on the cob and the cheese curds.

They would both be much more active on the stump this cycle had they not been handicapped by the evils of traffic and trying to fix immigration, correct?


Give us a GOP name that nobody is talking about right now. Not necessarily to win the nomination, but to be a player a year from now.

 Bob Corker?

Nixon went on Laugh-In. We'll know if Romney's serious if he appears on John Oliver's show or Key & Peele.

I can just see Romney in the East-West College Bowl sketch.

Thanks again to everyone for coming out!

You know what? Let's do it again next week. We'll see you 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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