As we noted on election night with some sense of déjà vu, green and libertarian candidates wreaked terror this year on the major parties. In Virginia, independent green Gail Parker now seems to have left Jim Webb with enough liberal scraps to make a Democratic victory banner in the Senate (rumors have it that Allen will to concede today at 3:00)--but over at the GOP, Karl Rove is finally feeling the third-party blues. Rove's woe has been triggered by a Smurf-like (more on this shortly) libertarian, Stan Jones, who helped bring down the mighty Conrad Burns in Montana by snatching three percent of the don't-tread-on-me vote, quite likely tipping the race to Democratic challenger Jon Tester. The Republicans have thus far accepted this liklihood with noble restraint. Jones told me no angry red staters have called to harass him, and I couldn't find a single complaint about his race on conservative blogs. It could be Republicans are too shell shocked to notice. Or, to their credit, too preoccupied with soul searching.
That Jones could be the man who indirectly turned Montana, and thus the whole Senate, blue, is oddly poetic given that Jones is himself blue. By this I don't mean he's sad, louche, or a libertarian with Democratic sympathies (though the lattermost is also true), but that Stan Jones is blue. A few bloggers know the story: In the days leading up to the dawn of the new millennium, Jones believed the Y2K virus could cause the collapse of Western Civilization. To steel his immune system against a post-apocalypse wracked by pandemics, he began drinking a solution of ionic silver, which he believed was a more powerful armor than vitamin C. "The pioneers that crossed the plains of America used to put a silver dollar in the bottom of a bucket of milk to keep it fresh longer," he explained when I reached him at his house in Bozeman. "So anyway, I studied it, and I thought it would be a good preventative, so I just started taking it all the time. But I wasn't smart enough to figure out the whole story." He didn't realize the silver ions would bind with minerals in the Montana tap water and lodge in his cells. "The silver is nontoxic; it doesn't affect my health in any way," he says, "but I am a little blue-grey."
So what role did Jones' blueness play in helping him win the votes that turned the Senate? "I think it's a wash," he says. "People don't treat me any differently than anyone else. I mean, Bozeman's not a big town, and people that come around, they're used to me."
This month Texas Monthly published a cover story on Texas A&M University President Robert Gates, who a few hours ago replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Bush's Secretary of Defense, making this one of the magazine's most timely (or worst timed) stories ever, depending on how you look at it. The profile by Paul Burka is full of hints why Bush may have chosen Gates as SecDef, as well as odd gems about the former CIA man.
Who would have known, for example, that Gates protested against the Vietnam war? Burka writes:
He opposed the war, as did most of his CIA friends, and even marched in protest of U.S. activity in Cambodia. "Popular impressions then and now about the CIAespecially as a conservative, Cold War bureaucratic monolithhave always been wrong. " (In his book about the Cold War, From the Shadows) he writes of the influence of the counterculture, of experiments with marijuana by supervisors, of anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers that "festooned CIA office walls." Nixon comes in for some harsh words. Richard Helms, then the CIA director, told a story about going into the Oval Office just as Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was leaving. Nixon pointed at Laird and said, "There goes the most devious man in the United States," to which Gates adds, "Some accolade, considering the source."
Burka on Gates' personality:
As you might expect, Bob Gates is not a man who reveals himself. I have been around him three times, once in 2004 and twice for this story. He is one of the most consistent personalities I've ever met. He's all business, a man under total self-control. He doesn't fidget. He isn't a backslapper. He doesn't make small talk. He doesn't boast; neither does he engage in false modesty. He is a motivator, not a cheerleader. He is always polite. He wears an air of authority as if it were tailored by Brooks Brothers. He answers questions fully but volunteers little. Most of his laughter comes from a finely developed sense of irony. I would back him to the hilt in a no-limit poker game.
Gates was hand-picked four years ago by Bush the Elder to lead Texas A&M, a large, mediocre (ranked 67th ) university in the middle of the Texas sticks, moribund by tradition and an image as a redoubt of hicks and crackers. He set about to change the school: "The old-boy network may not be gone entirely, but it is endangered," Burka writes. "About four hundred staff positions have been eliminated since Gates became president. 'I was not brought here,' [Gates] told me, 'to be everybody's friend.'"
What may have led George W. to tap Gates for SecDef, though, is aptitude for brand management. Burka spends most of his time marveling at Gates' intense public relations push to change A&M's image:
To accomplish this, Gates has created a new position, chief marketing officer and vice president for communications, whose job will be to oversee what Gates calls the "rebranding of Texas A&M.". . . Gates is determined to see it through. "There is a huge opportunity cost if we don't do it," he said. "We need to significantly improve the public's knowledge and perception of the university.". . .
The branding process for A&M identified six core values: integrity, loyalty, excellence, leadership, selfless service, and respect. The last core value addresses a longtime problem at A&Mas Moore puts it, "respect, acceptance, and inclusion for all Aggies with respect to race, color, gender, and religion." All of these values point to a core purpose: "to develop leaders of character dedicated to serving the greater good."
Any predictions of the Democrats taking the Senate assume Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who was reelected yesterday as an independent, will caucus with them. (Mother Jones was among the first to report on Lieberman's intentions here). Although Lieberman has never indicated he will defect to the GOP, his new status as an independent would give him substantial power to pit both sides against each other to push his own policies. Keep an eye out in coming days for which way Joe-mentum goes.
Forget the pundits, the Huffington Post has linked to tradesports.com, which is taking bets on election 2006. This is how it works: the Republican Party is like a stock. You can buy in whenever you want. If the GOP takes the senate, the stock hits 100 and you get paid. If the GOP loses the senate, the stock hits zero (but hey, maybe you'll make your money back once the Democrats turn the economy around).
So what's the GOP Senate prospect trading at? Well, in the days leading up to the election it was hovering around 70. Now it's at. . . . 13.5.
Democrat Jennifer Brunner is solidly ahead of Republican Greg Hartmann in the race to fill the secretary of state job vacated in Ohio by (failed gubernatorial bidder) Ken Blackwell, who orchestrated the 2004 presidential election scandal in the nation's most important swing state. Across the country, returns are arriving for sec state races that could help decide whether Democrats get a fair shake in a tight 2008 presidential election race.
In general, Democrats in hotly contested swing states are running strong. Minnesota Democrat Mark Ritchie solidly leads incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer, who famously attempted to prevent absentee voters from changing their ballots after Sen. Paul Wellstone died that year in a plane crash. Nevada Democrat Ross Miller is ahead 11 points in (very early) returns against Danny Tarkanian, who wants to make voter-ID legislation his "first priority as secretary of state."
The bloodiest fights for Democrats are in the mountain West. Ken Gordon trails his opponent by roughly 100,000 votes in Coloradoa surprise in a race that had recently polled as a dead heat. In New Mexicoa swing state that went for Bush in 2004 by a margin of.79 percent--Democrat Mary Herrera leads Vickie Perea by two points.
For an analysis of how a new group, the Secretary of State Project, helped swing these races, see my Mother Jones story here.