Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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The US Senate Just Got a Lot More Progressive

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:48 PM EST
Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, couldn't have asked for a better night. Every incumbent Democratic senator up for re-election won; the party picked up a seat in Massachusetts (and perhaps another in Maine); and, assuming the results stand, won a race it had no business winning in deep-red North Dakota. But the big news from Tuesday isn't just that the Democrats held onto the majority, it's what that majority now looks like—much more progressive.

Four of the five most most liberal candidates in contested Senate races won on Tuesday (only Arizona Democrat Richard Carmona fell short), according to ideological ratings compiled by University of Chicago political scientist Boris Shor. Per Shor's rankings, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy was the most liberal candidate in any contested race to win a Senate seat—more liberal than the progressive icon Elizabeth Warren, even. And Murphy replaced a centrist Independent Joe Lieberman. That's a big boost. Right behind Murphy is Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a member of the House Progressive Caucus who seems a sure bet to become something the retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl never was—a loud voice for progressive causes. Warren, the fourth-most liberal Democratic challenger (behind Hawaii's Mazie Hirono, who won easily) replaced Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate Republican. A political celebrity even before she entered the race on account of her work monitoring TARP, Warren will likely be handed an oversized role for an incoming lawmaker on issues like housing and banking. Here's a chart, by way of the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:

Ezra Klein/Washington PostEzra Klein/Washington Post

The biggest win for liberals came in Missouri, where Sen. Claire McCaskill, never a liberal favorite, managed to take down Rep. Todd Akin, the second-most conservative candidate on the ballot (only Wyoming's John Barrasso outdid him). Elsewhere, Democrats replaced a moderate Republican Sen. Richard Lugar with Rep. Joe Donnelly, whom Shor gives an ideological score of .03—just about dead-center. That's a slight shift, but it's something. The only real reversal of the trend came in Nebraska, where centrist Dem Ben Nelson was replaced by Deb Fischer, the most conservative challenger to win on Tuesday.

The Senate's shift to the left is consistent with two other notable developments on Tuesday night. As my colleague Adam Serwer noted, liberals scored big wins at the state level, going 4-for-4 in gay marriage initiatives (legalizing it in Washington state, Maryland, and Maine), decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado, and giving undocumented kids in Maryland in-state college tuition. And as a whole, Congress took a few steps closer to resembling the nation it serves—Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard will be the first practicing Hindu to serve in the House; Baldwin the first openly-gay Senator; Hirono the first Asian woman. For the first time, women comprise an entire state delegation (New Hampshire's), and a record number of women will join the 112th Congress.

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Michele Bachmann and Allen West: Tea Party Stars Fade

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:12 AM EST

Update: The Associated Press has called Minnesota's 6th district for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who held off Jim Graves by one point. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Rep. Allen West trails by about 2,500 votes, but the race has not yet been called.

Adding to the GOP's misery on Tuesday night: The continued demise of the tea party wave. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) were both locked in tight races with their Democratic challengers as of early Wednesday morning, with recounts possibly forthcoming. (Update: As of 4 a.m. EST, the district's final tally showed West losing by just under 2,500 votes.) A third ringleader, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), lost to Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth by nine points.

Bachmann's poor performance—she led by just 1244 votes with 91.4 percent of precincts reporting as of 4 a.m. EST—was a reflection of her own dimming popularity in a district she's represented since 2006. She was expected to cruise to re-election after a non-partisan redistricting panel made her suburban Twin Cities seat, already Minnesota's most conservative, even more red. But after a quixotic presidential campaign and a never-ending string of embarrassing statements (such as her assertion that a top Hillary Clinton aide was a Muslim Brotherhood plant), that's not how it turned out. Bachmann faced off against Jim Graves, a Minneapolis hotel magnate who was able to give his campaign seed money and—critically, in a tight race—persuade the Independent Party not to field a candidate in the race. That the race was tightening was evident over the final weeks of the campaign, as Bachmann sought to redefine herself, improbably enough, as a independent-minded deal-breaker capable of working across party lines to bring home pork for her district.

West, a freshman legislator, sought to win a district that went to Obama by just three points in 2008. But he faced a formidable challenger in Patrick Murphy, a former Republican whose family runs a huge contracting business in South Florida. Murphy picked up the backing of national Democrats (Bill Clinton flew to West Palm Beach for a fundraiser) and raised more money than almost any other challenger in the country this fall. He also received a boost from a super-PAC, American Sunrise, seeded with $250,000 from Murphy's father, Thomas. Like Bachmann, West tried to shift attention away from his bomb-throwing rhetoric, running campaign ads portraying himself as a defender of the social safety net, and a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist. To wit:

In one of the campaign's most memorable television spots, he drew a contrast between his two-decade military career and Murphy's youth—seizing on a disorderly conduct arrest from 2003, when West was on the verge of shipping to Iraq. (Left unmentioned: The detainee abuse that sparked West's return stateside.) Watch:

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Murphy led West by just over 1,000 votes.

We'll Have Alan Grayson to Kick Around Again

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 11:20 PM EST

Alan Grayson, the bomb-throwing Florida Democratic congressman who was tossed out in the tea party wave of 2010, is going back to Washington. After moving to the newly drawn, deep-blue 9th congressional district after redistricting, Grayson is easily topping his Republican challenger, lawyer and perennial candidate Todd Long, by double digits.

Grayson, who served just one term in Congress before losing to GOP Rep. Dan Webster, carved out a reputation in Washington as a progressive capable of exploding at any moment on nearly any issue. Among other things, Grayson said that former Vice President Dick Cheney has blood "dripping from his teeth," called a female lobbyist a "K-Street whore," said Rush Limbaugh was "more lucid when he was a drug addict," and warned "Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."

But if you expected Grayson to tone down his act during his two years in the wilderness, you obviously don't know anything about Alan Grayson. On Sunday, he wrote on his Facebook page that, "Sometime between now and Tuesday, they'll say that an Obama victory means the Mayan Apocalypse, 45 days later, and only Mitt Romney/Todd Long/whoever can save us from that. They just keep pushing that big, red PANIC button, over and over and over again."

Grayson's bombast could be exhausting at times, but as my colleague Andy Kroll noted in 2010, he was also a voice for issues even Democrats tended to ignore:

In the recent foreclosure debacle, which introduced regular Americans to "robo signers" and "foreclosure mills," Grayson was a leading voice demanding investigations and highlighting the most glaring problems with the foreclosure pipeline. His pressure, combined with dozens of other members of Congress, helped to spur a nationwide probe involving by all 50 state attorneys to scrutinize into banks' alleged wrongdoing in the foreclosure process.

If GOP Rep. Allen West holds on to win, Florida can probably lay claim to the two members of Congress most hated by the other side.

Elizabeth Warren Takes Down Scott Brown

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 10:44 PM EST
Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (right) with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Two years ago, Elizabeth Warren told David Corn that she'd rather stab herself in the eye than go back to Washington. On Tuesday, the Harvard Law professor and creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ate her words, knocking off Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass) in one of the most closely watched—and at times nastiest—races of the 2012 cycle. Warren's win isn't just a case of a Democrat winning in Massachusetts; perhaps no candidate, President Obama included, inspired as much enthusiasm from progressives across the country. (She raised more money than any other Senate challenger in the country, much of it from out of state.) NBC News called the race shortly after polls closed in Boston.

Warren did it largely by sticking with what made her a political star in the first place—a fierce defense of the social contract, which led Republican to dub her "Matriarch of Mayhem" for her support of Occupy Wall Street:

For Republicans, a what-might-have-been remains the campaign finance truce Warren and Brown agreed to, which barred outside groups from buying TV ad time in the Bay State (per the agreement, any independent expenditure would have to be offset with a chartiable donation from the campaign). Given the extent to which Republican outside groups outspent Democratic groups in 2012, that bargain almost certainly ended up working in Warren's favor. It also meant that the fiercest attacks on Warren's character—hitting her, for example, for identifying as Cherokee at Harvard—came from Brown himself, eroding his largely positive image in Massachusetts.

For the 53-year-old Brown, this is likely not the end of his political career. With Sen. John Kerry rumored to be a top choice to replace retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there's a possibility a new seat could open up as early as December. In that case, Brown would be a heavy favorite for the Republican nomination, and with a comparably weak Democratic bench in the state, stand a decent shot at getting his old job back. Alternatively, with Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick term-limited after 2014, he might just opt to try his luck closer to home.

This post was originally published based on inaccurate reports that the race had been called for Warren. The race has since been called by CBS and NBC.

Paranoid Right-Wing Email of the Day (Maybe)

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 2:02 PM EST
President Barack Obama (D) laughs after reading the latest insane conspiracy email about him.

Wondering how the far-right might handle an Obama victory on election night? Here's a clue, in the form of a fundraising pitch from something called the American Conservative PAC. It features "busloads" of Somalis and Facebook postings from North Carolinians, so you know it's legit:

From Ohio to Nevada (and who knows where else), voting machines are selecting "Obama" when early voters cast their vote for Romney -- and it happens repeatedly when voters catch the error before submitting their ballot and try again only to wind up with Obama, again.
A North Carolina Democrat bragged on Facebook about voting four times already and planning to vote a fifth time tomorrow.

Early voting Somalis -- with their TRANSLATORS -- are arriving at polling stations by the busloads courtesy of Obama supporters. (Now, we don't know about you, but we don't know any U.S. CITIZENS that do not either speak or read English well-enough to vote...)
In Florida, conservative voters are receiving bogus letters falsely informing them that he or she will be unable to vote in this election due to miscellaneous (and non-existent) voter registration issues.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, the Obama-bots even have the help of an international body condemning our states trying to stand up to the infiltration of our polling booths!

Of course, giving a PAC money on election day wouldn't really accomplish very much. And American Conservative PAC hasn't really raised very much money—according to FEC filings, it has raised just $8,100 this cycle. But these conspiracies have gained traction on the far right. The Somali voter concern—notwithstanding that Somali-Americans are obviously allowed to vote—was parroted most notably by prominent anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, who notably helped jumpstart the career of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). The Facebook post in question was a joke, but that hasn't prevented the man who posted it from receiving death threats. People are terrible.

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