Mojo - December 2007

The Republican Path to the Nomination, In Helpful Video Format

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 12:12 PM EST

This is a neat little video. John McCain, perhaps sensing he has nothing to lose, has put his strategy PowerPoint online. Rarely do you see such candor from a campaign.

If you're a political junkie, you might enjoy it. If not, here's the takeaway. No Republican will emerge from Iowa or New Hampshire with the nomination secured, the campaign theorizes. Even if one of the candidates does exceptionally well in both states, which is no sure thing, he will still have to contend with the fact that Rudy Giuliani has adopted a "late state" strategy and will by lying in wait for him in the February 5th states.

But if someone does well in both Iowa and New Hampshire and turns that momentum into wins in the middle states (i.e. the states that come between IA/NH and the 20+ states voting on February 5th), they will be so far ahead they'll be able to treat February 5th like a victory lap. That means Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida are more important than people realize. The McCain campaign seems to think whoever wins Florida, in particular, has the inside track on the nomination.

Anyway, this video obviously has a McCain slant, but it's valuable because it illustrates a campaign manager's thinking. Enjoy.

(H/T PrezVid)

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Christians Good! Christmas Good!

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 11:02 AM EST

The Christian victimization complex in this country has hit new heights.

Iowa representative Steve King (R) has introduced a resolution (H.Res. 847) asserting—honest to God—that Christmas, Christians, and Christianity are important.The House will vote today.

Below is the text of the resolution. It reads like some sort of bizarre self-parody. Consider the paranoia necessary for a Christian, with members of his faith occupying the White House, most of the Supreme Court, and a huge percentage of Congress (there is currently one Muslim and one atheist in Congress), to introduce something like this.

Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.
Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;
Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;
Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

It's Election Day! (In Ohio and Virginia)

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 9:36 AM EST

capital145.gif Two congressional districts are holding special elections today.

Ohio's 5th district is a conservative district (Bush won 60% there in 2004) that, to the surprise of many, is being hotly contested by Democrat Robin Weirauch, whose only political experience thus far is losing the last two elections by wide margins. The seat came open when Rep. Paul Gillmor, a Republican, died in a fall at his apartment in September.

The Republican Party thought their candidate, Bob Latta, would win handily. A state representative, Latta has the right bloodline: his father represented this district for three decades. And the GOP has represented Ohio-5 since the 1930s, according to the AP. But Latta has run a poor campaign that has left Republican bewildered. "It's like the Latta campaign is trying to write a handbook on how to lose a Congressional campaign in 60 days or less," a D.C. Republican told Roll Call.

The already cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has thrown $428,000 at the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $244,000 in the district. (Those numbers are from the very good Swing State Project.) Though this race will likely be closer than anyone would have expected a year ago, and though Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) took the district in the 2006 midterm elections, Ohio-5 should stay red. A win for Weirauch would be a real coup.

The race in Virginia's 1st district is garnering less attention. The seat became vacant when Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R) died of breast cancer in October. The Republican candidate, state delegate Rob Wittman, is described as a moderate on the war and on the environment. He has a 4-to-1 fundraising advantage over the Democrat, a Navy reservist named Paul Forgit who won a Bronze Star in 2005 while serving in Iraq. Forgit has no prior political experience. He has the backing of Virginia's heavy hitters—Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Sen. Jim Webb (D), and former Gov. Mark R. Warner (D)—but the DCCC has thrown no money his way.

MSNBC's First Read quotes a political analyst as saying, "This may be the election where we see what happens when you have an election and no one comes."

So if you're from Ohio's 5th or Virginia's 1st, get out and vote! Turnout matters a ton in off-year elections. We'll do our best here at MoJoBlog to keep you updated on the results.

How Would a President Huckabee Speak to Muslims?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 4:37 PM EST

In David and my new piece on Huckabee and religion, we point out that the Huckabee campaign is denying access to sermons Huckabee delivered as a Baptist pastor in Arkansas from 1980-1992. That's likely because men and women of the cloth often say things that make complete sense when said in a church in front of a congregation of believers, but look awkward when identified as the beliefs of a possible president.

One sermon I was able to find on YouTube illustrates this. Below are parts two and three of that sermon. I've transcribed a portion of the videos below.

First video: "The Bible says God has plans to prosper us… God plans for us to succeed, not to fail. Your remember what Ethel Waters used to say when she sang at the Billy Graham crusades years ago, I never will forget her statement, she said, "God don't sponsor no flops." God is not in the business of leading us to a disaster. It is not in His best interest to lead us to a point where you're humiliated as a result of following Him. Now, there is no guarantee that following Jesus means we're going to be wealthy. Neither is it his goal to make us poor. His goal is to make us like Jesus, and that is prosperity. To put in us the character of Christ so that whatever happens in our lives, we are able to reflect the personhood and the very life of the savior who is in us."

Second video: "I think sometimes that we forget that to be a believer it means that we have some confidence of the outcome that nobody else can share. It's not an arrogance confidence… it's a confidence in the promise of God being true… The only thing in this world that really makes sense is to follow Him. If you lose everything, but you still have Jesus you have everything you need to finish at the finish line with success…. If you're in Jesus Christ, we know how it turns out at the final buzzer. I've read the last chapter in the Book and we really do end up winning at the end. It's really good news there in the end."

Everyone is entitled to their faith. Many people across America may believe this way. But how would a man who speaks in such black and white terms operate as a president? How would he govern for non-Christian Americans? How would he treat allies and enemies in the Muslim world? Religion is not off-limits. These questions need to be answered.

Dennis Kucinich: The Unauthorized Mashup

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 4:29 PM EST

Kucin.jpg

Over at YTMND—the user-generated site that produced the Cosby Bebop and proof of Paris Hilton's eerily unchanging facial expression—an anonymous Kucinich supporter has created a simple but effective mashup using the candidate's 2002 prayer for America speech. Check it out (make sure your sound is up). I guess Mike Gravel already proved this, but isn't the message of peace and justice even more appealing when it's set to a hip beat?

—Justin Elliott

Harvard Reduces Undergrad Price Tag by One-Third to One-Half

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 2:51 PM EST

dunster.jpg It's really nice to see Harvard putting it's $35 billion endowment to good use. This is a huge move:

Harvard University sweetened its financial aid for middle class and upper middle-class families, responding to criticism that elite colleges have become unaffordable for ordinary Americans.
The Ivy League school said undergraduates whose families earn up to $180,000 would be asked to pay 10% or less of their incomes annually for the cost of Harvard, which this year totals $45,456. The university said the initiative would reduce the cost of attending the college by one-third to one-half, making the price comparable to in-state tuition and fees at top public universities.
For example, the university said a family making $120,000 will be asked to pay about $12,000 for a child to attend Harvard College, compared with more than $19,000 under current student-aid policies. A family making $180,000 would pay $18,000, down from $30,000.
At lower income levels, families would pay a smaller percentage of income, declining to zero at $60,000 a year. Harvard said it would eliminate loans from all financial-aid packages and no longer consider home equity in calculating eligibility.
"We want all students who might dream of a Harvard education to know that it is a realistic and affordable option," said Harvard President Drew Faust.

If other schools who are traditionally one step behind Harvard in admissions and financial aid policies, like Yale, follow suit, we could have a higher education revolution on our hands. Bravo.

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New U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Crack Penalties: A Campaign Issue?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 12:03 PM EST

Call it a trend. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court gave judges the OK to issue more lenient sentences to drug dealers than those mandated in the official federal sentencing guidelines. Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the disparity in prison sentences given for possession of crack versus powder cocaine, a problem that has had a disproportionate impact on African-American defendants. Tomorrow, the commission will vote on whether that change ought to apply retroactively. If it says yes, nearly 20,000 prison inmates stand to have their sentences reduced.

All of this is good news for the small-time drug addicts who've been given excessive prison sentences for piddly little drug offenses. It's bad news, though, for Democrats, as it's about to turn crime into a major campaign issue, and it's not their strong suit. No surprise, then, that the biggest opponents of retroactively reducing drug sentences, according to the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, are the Bush Justice Department, Republicans on the House judiciary committee, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Yes, Hillary has thrown her lot in with the law and order types in the GOP, largely on the advice, apparently, of her pollster Mark Penn. Penn told The Politico last week that former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was already using the change in sentencing to bash the other Democratic candidates, all of whom support retroactivity.

Clinton Rolls the Pork Barrel

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 10:51 AM EST

Steny Hoyer isn't the only prominent Democrat with a questionable commitment (to put it charitably) to earmark reform. Senator Clinton also seems to place pork above principles.

But we already knew that.

Insurance Industry Now Thinks Texas Needs More Litigation

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 9:59 AM EST

In 2003, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed state legislators to cap pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at extremely low levels. The insurance industry lobbied heavily for the measure, helping to promote a false vision of Texas as a "judicial hellhole," where doctors were fleeing the state over an "epidemic" of frivolous lawsuits. Since then, malpractice lawsuits have plummeted.

Now, though, the insurance industry is wondering if its campaign worked too well—not because malpractice victims can't get justice (which they can't) but because tort reform is cutting into insurance company profits. Defense lawyer Gary Schumann told a group of insurance execs recently that tort reform had worked so well in Texas that judges were trying cases that might otherwise go to mediation just to stay busy. Not only that, but Texas nursing homes (among the worst in the nation) have become so unconcerned about getting sued that many have stopped buying private liability insurance.

Schumann said he was worried about the industry's future. "We want a little bit of litigation out there, don't we? We want a little bit of risk. We need risk or we're all out of business. … We'll see what happens but tort reform has worked. I just hope for all of our sakes it hasn't worked too well."

The Dems' Uninspiring Record on Earmarks

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 9:31 AM EST

To continue our trend of Democrats playing the Washington game instead of standing for what's right:

Even as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer has joined in steps to clean up pork-barrel spending, the Maryland congressman has tucked $96 million worth of pet projects into next year's federal budget, including $450,000 for a campaign donor's foundation.
Hoyer (D) is one of the top 10 earmarkers in the House for 2008, based on budget requests in bills so far, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, an independent watchdog group.

The Post article from which this comes does not identify the other nine lawmakers in the top 10, and the Taxpayers for Common Sense website doesn't have the list either. So it could be all Republicans, who knows? But I'm guessing it isn't.

Hoyer is a good example of how there isn't a consensus on earmarks among Democrats. When they took power in 2006, they weren't all gripped by a zeal to cleanse Washington of money's corrupting power.

Hoyer defends his earmarks, saying they fund such worthy causes as cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and supporting local military bases. For 2008, he has requested millions of dollars to equip police in his district, help schools and improve roads and the Southern Maryland bus network... "We made very substantial progress in making sure that earmarks, which I support, are transparent," Hoyer said in an interview.

That's what Hoyer supports—incremental change. Don't eliminate earmarks, just shine a little light on them. Oh, and reduce their numbers somewhat.

Republicans had come under fire as earmarks tripled during their 12 years of congressional control, to nearly 13,000 in 2006. Some projects, such as a $223 million bridge to a sparsely populated Alaskan island -- dubbed a "bridge to nowhere" -- stirred public ridicule.
Since assuming control of Congress, Democrats have taken some important steps to clean up the practice, watchdog groups say. Lawmakers are now required to disclose their earmarks. And House and Senate leaders have agreed to cut earmark spending by 40 percent in the 2008 budget bills.

Better than the last guy, but still not good enough.