Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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2010 Hopefuls: Me? Politician? Never!

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 10:20 AM EDT

The first thing you notice when you see the names Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is the title: "Rep." Namely, member of the US House of Representatives, a chamber that's one-half of a Congress deeply unpopular among most Americans right now. Ellsworth and Blount and just about every other incumbent running for office in 2010 understand that "Washington" and "career politician" are labels to be avoided at all costs. But you'd think, in a campaign advertisement, guys like Ellsworth and Blunt would at least acknowledge the fact that their current employer is the House of Representatives, right?

Wrong. In two new ads, one from Ellsworth and one from Blunt who're both angling for the US Senate this fall, neither congressman so much as mentions his current job here in Washington. As he walks through a decrepit warehouse, Ellsworth says in his ad, "One thing that 25 years as a sheriff teaches you is zero tolerance for bull. There's too much at stake. But out in Washington it's like they live and breathe the stuff." A two-term congressman and Blue Dog Democrat, Ellsworth goes on to rail against lobbyists and special interests in the 30-second ad, and typically paints himself as an outsider aiming to breathe fresh air into the corrupt Senate:

Likewise, Missouri congressman Roy Blunt avoids mentioning his current job, and instead stresses his previous roles as a teacher and president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. "Irresponsible spending and crippling debt are killing jobs today, and our children's future tomorrow," he says in the ad. Yet Blunt's omission is even more glaring than Ellsworth's. Blunt, after all, has full Washington resume: A House member since 1997, he's former Majority Whip and Majority Leader, and right now he's the second-highest GOPer on the House energy and commerce committee. Here it is:

Ellsworth and Blunt's ads are notable for their complete omission of the two congressman's jobs, but not at all surprising. Upwards of 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing. Another glaring example is Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose campaign has done a stellar job of airbrushing out Rory's ties to his largely unpopular father (at least outside Democratic circles.)

The lesson here is this: Any candidate who touts his Washington credentials on the campaign trail is committing political seppuku and sealing his or her own demise. Watch for plenty more ads like these in the weeks and months to come, as the wave of occupational amnesia spreads to more incumbents fighting for survival.

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Shocker: Tea Party, GOP Beliefs Identical

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 2:18 PM EDT

From Gallup comes the latest bit of news suggesting the tea party isn't as revolutionary as its members like to think: When asked what they considered "extremely serious threats" to the country's future wellbeing, tea partiers cited the exact same things as run-of-the-mill Republicans. Shocker, right? Both groups overwhelmingly pointed to federal debt (61 percent of tea partiers, 55 percent of GOPers), Big Government (49 percent, 43 percent), health care costs (41 percent, 37 percent), and "terrorism" (51 percent, 51 percent) as the biggest threats to American prosperity. And in the category of unimportant threats, both groups dismiss the environment/global warming and discrimination against minorities. Here's a good breakdown from Gallup:

So what's the takeaway here? That media coverage of the tea party is overblown? That they're not such a novel group after all? That's the message gleaned by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

The Tea Party movement gets a disproportionate share of media attention because of all the funny costumes, Hitler references, and fantasizing about armed revolution. But it's hard to see what's distinctive about the Tea Partiers' actual political views and priorities.

Which isn't to say the tea party should be written off as entirely a wing of the GOP. The more libertarian strains of the tea party don't always align with the GOP party line, especially on an issue like the US' military presence abroad. (Rand Paul, running for US Senate in Kentucky, has suggested scaling back US military bases in Europe, for instance—an idea that's anathema to the GOP rank and file.)

But on the whole Sargent's right. In the past year, tea party coverage has focused more on the outlandishness of the burgeoning group than the (lack of) rigor or originality of its ideas. So, are we about to see a decrease in tea party coverage? Don't bet on it.

The Myth of the Midterm Insurgent

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 12:26 PM EDT

The Associated Press reports today on Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), yet another incumbent candidate once thought a shoo-in but who is now facing a tough reelection bid in November. The liberal, anti-war Feingold will likely square off against businessman Ron Johnson, the presumed GOP candidate, in what's shaping up to be a brutal midterm election for the Democrats. On the whole, the AP's take on the brewing battle up in Wisconsin—according to several polls, Feingold, a four-term senator, leads Johnson by a mere one or two percentage points—is standard stuff.

What's most intriguing about Wisconsin’s Senate race—and what the AP fails to dig into—is Johnson's background and wealth. Johnson made his fortune through his company making plastic packaging materials, and it's becoming clear he plans to use that wealth to defeat Feingold. The GOPer has already spent $1 million on ads, and could spend up to $15 million to beat Feingold. If he does, Johnson will join a veritable bloc of candidates in battleground states like Florida and California who've staked out a paradoxical, almost hypocritical position in the midterm elections: the super wealthy who claim to be political insurgents and who, in some cases, ally with the influential tea party masses. They're candidates who somehow think voters won't notice or care that they’re spending millions this election season, cutting ads and jetting around their states, while claiming to relate to and connect with normal Americans at a time of record unemployment and economic hardship in the US.

Charlie Crist's Hookers Headache?

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 9:10 AM EDT

Despite his best efforts to distance himself from the Florida GOP's disgraced former chairman, Charlie Crist, governor and US Senate candidate, just can't shake off Jim Greer's long tail of controversy. The latest twist in Greer's saga, who as party chairman is alleged to have stolen $200,000 in GOP funds and was arrested in June, is this: A Florida lobbyist and state GOP member said she'd heard that, at a supposedly men-only fundraiser in the Bahamas for the GOP, "women were involved and paid," the St. Petersburg Times reported. Having attended the fundraiser, Crist called the claims "absurdly false." Regardless of who's right and wrong, the allegations are nonetheless a new nightmare for Crist.

Crist, an independent candidate for the US Senate, abandoned the Republican Party in April, saying the party had become too right-wing for him. Outsiders, on the other hand, saw Crist's jump as a move to avoid losing to conservative Marco Rubio in a Republican primary. Since becoming an independent, and looking for support (and money) from both Democrats and Republicans, Crist has opened a modest lead over Rubio and Democratic also-ran Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fl.). Nonetheless, revelations about Greer, who headed the Florida GOP from 2007 to 2010, continue to threaten Crist's run for the Senate.

Worse yet for Crist is the news that Greer's trial will open in October—just weeks before election day. If you're Charlie Crist, you couldn't ask for more unfortunate timing. We'll see in the coming months if Crist can raise enough money and run enough ads to fully distance himself from Greer and the walking ethics nightmare that's become the Florida GOP.

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