Mojo - November 2008

What on Earth Happened in Alaska?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 10:34 AM EST

Is something fishy going on in Alaska?

In the state's single House seat, embattled and federally investigated Republican incumbent Don Young was slated to lose 50.4-44.0 (by an average of the polls). Instead, he won 52-44, an Election Day swing of more than 14 points.

In the state's Senate seat, embattled and federally convicted Republican incumbent Ted Stevens was predicted to lose his seat 47.9-43.5 (again, by an average of the polls). Leading Republicans, including the GOP presidential candidate and the Senate Minority Leader, said Stevens should resign. Harry Reid warned that he may be expelled from the Senate if he were to win. Yet, Stevens appears to be leading 48-47 as vote counting concludes. That's a election day swing of 5.5 points, in the face of all expectations.

And then consider this, from the Washington Post:

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Transition Rumint: Security Posts

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 9:57 AM EST

As advisors to President-Elect Obama move swiftly into transition mode, speculation on possible appointments is heightened while those under consideration for the jobs have gone quiet. But here are some names I am hearing and reading for national security posts:

James Steinberg, the highly regarded former Clinton-era deputy national security advisor, is being considered for national security advisor. Long time Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Clinton's former assistant secretary of state for Africa, is being considered for deputy national security advisor, as well as for US ambassador to the UN. Top NSC appointment announcements could come as early as today, and other White House appointments would be announced after that.

For top jobs at State, the short list includes Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb, ret.), Richard Lugar (R-IN) (all moderate colleagues of Obama and VP-elect Joseph Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), former Clinton-era Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke, and retired Marine Corps General and Mideast envoy James L. Jones, who is likely to get a top job in the administration elsewhere if not at State. Deputy Secretary of State could go to Greg Craig, a former counselor to President Clinton.

At the Defense Department, conventional wisdom has it that the top job is Robert Gates' if he will keep it, at least initially, and that Clinton's well respected former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig could come in as deputy. Other people named as contenders for top Defense Department posts include former Pentagon officials Ashton Carter, a big-think arms control hand who has arm wrestled with Pyongyang and negotiated post-Soviet nuclear issues and now teaches at Harvard, Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, co-founders of the new think tank, the Center for a New American Security, whose ranks are likely to provide additional security brainpower to the new administration, along with security and regional experts and staff from other think tanks, academe, and the Hill. Former Georgia Democratic Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, a member of the 9/11 commission, is reportedly under consideration to become Secretary of the Army.

Rumored contenders for top intelligence posts include Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the high-powered former ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who is also interested in heading the bureaucratically-challenged Department of Homeland Security (see my recent profile), and former top CIA official John Brennan, who has served as an intelligence advisor to Obama. Other intel posts could be filled by this team.

Worth noting that news video of Obama going into his first intelligence briefing yesterday showed him accompanied by Steinberg, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta (who has indicated he does not want an administration job), and the Obama campaign's foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough. It's likely that Obama would want to have been accompanied by his would-be national security advisor, presumably Steinberg.

We'll know soon enough, and there are bound to be surprises. But given the stakes of a war-time transition and the signs of new life after the fatigue of covering the late term Bush administration foreign policy, speculation on these posts is hard to resist.

Reform Groups Call On Obama To Change Campaign Finance Laws

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:29 PM EST

Barack Obama has only been President-elect for 36 hours, but seven major government reform groups are already making demands. In a joint press release Thursday morning, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and US PIRG set out a "government integrity reform" agenda for the next Congress. And the groups are using Obama's own words to convince him to adopt their plans, pointing out that Obama campaigned on a promise to "fix Washington." Fixing Washington, they argue, means fixing campaign finance.

The reform groups are calling on Obama to repair the existing presidential public financing system and create a new public financing regimen for congress. But there's one problem: Obama's campaign is largely responsible for the presidential public financing system's collapse. Obama, who initially promised to "pursue an agreement" to opt in to the public financing system, instead became the first candidate to turn down public financing for the general election. That decision allowed Obama to dramatically outraise and outspend John McCain, his Republican opponent. McCain was limited to $84 million in public financing during the general election campaign, while Obama raised over $150 million in September alone. The day after the election, McCain aides cited Obama's spending advantage as one reason their man lost. But Obama did promise to fix the system. "I am firmly committed to reforming the system as president, so that it's viable in today's campaign climate," he said this summer. The reformers are now pushing Obama to make good on that vow.

Does John Boehner Have a Point about Rahm Emanuel?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:22 PM EST

Does Republican Representative John Boehner, the in-the-dumps House minority leader, have a point when he criticizes President-elect Barack Obama for tapping Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff? Boehner says:

This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.

Boehner misunderstood--or is now, for political gain, misrepresenting--Obama's call for cooperation and productivity in Washington as a vow to govern from the center. The policy proposals Obama presented during the campaign were mostly progressive. Hey, doesn't Boehner remember that Obama was blasted as an anti-American liberal and socialist by Boehner's fellow GOPers? They didn't seem to believe he was going to govern from the center.

Despite the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-a-centrist spin, Boehner is not incorrect in noting that Emanuel is not known as a nonpartisan agent of change in Washington. As the leading fundraiser for Democrats in the House in the 2006 election, Emanuel, a fierce partisan, did do much to change Washington by winning the House back for the Democrats. But he's a walking advertisement for how Washington does business (see here and here)--as is the less-successful Boehner.

By selecting Emanuel as first big appointment, Obama teed up the this-ain't-really-change ball for Boehner. And Boehner whacked it down the fairway. On Friday, Obama is slated to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. The speculation is that afterward he may have something to say about other appointments. Obama believers ought to hope he doesn't again make it easy for Boehner.

Pentagon to Stars and Stripes: Permission to Cover Election Denied

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 12:21 PM EST

As the national media prepared to cover the historic 2008 election, Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon-funded daily newspaper, was making its own plans to report on the conclusion of the presidential race. As part of its election coverage, the paper planned to dispatch reporters to the common areas of military bases in order to chronicle the scene as the returns rolled on. A Stripes editor, Tom Skeen, advised the Pentagon of the paper's plans beforehand as a matter of "courtesy," but was "flabbergasted" by the response he received from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs: stand down. "As a matter of long standing policy, DoD personnel are to avoid engaging in activities that could associate the Department with any partisan election," the paper was told.

I Thought Bob Novak Had Gone Away?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 11:15 AM EST

He retired back in August, but for some reason he's back, spinning like always.

Here's what he said in 2004, when asked if Bush's victory over Kerry was a mandate from voters:

"Of course it is. It's a 3.5 million vote margin."

And here's what he wrote yesterday about Obama's victory over McCain:

"...he neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities."

Of course, Obama is on pace to win by over 7 million votes. He won more electoral votes than Bush in 2004 and will have larger congressional majorities. This is the definition of hackery. Why on earth people continue to publish Novak, especially drawing him out of retirement to do so, is beyond me. Hat tip Think Progress.

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Oregon Comes Through: Dems Win Another Senate Seat

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 11:05 AM EST

Oregon Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley has defeated moderate Republican incumbent Gordon Smith for Oregon's junior Senate seat, bumping the Dems' roster in the Senate to 57. For a rundown on where they are in Georgia, Minnesota, and Alaska, the three races still outstanding, click here. Below, an illustration of what Oregon looks like politically (courtesy of the Oregonian). Can you guess where Portland and Eugene are located?

oregon_redblue.jpg

What's the Number One Thing Needed to Win an Election?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 10:38 AM EST

You'd like to think it's something like command of the issues or the ability to inspire, right? Maybe it's just plain old cash. From the Center for Responsive Politics:

Continuing a trend seen election cycle after election cycle, the biggest spender was victorious in 397 of 426 decided House races and 30 of 32 settled Senate races [in 2008]. On Election Day 2006, top spenders won 94 percent of House races and 73 percent of Senate races. In 2004, 98 percent of House seats went to the biggest spender, as did 88 percent of Senate seats.

Of course, cash may be correlative instead of causative. That is, candidates that are better qualified, better on the issues, and better able to inspire voters raise more money than their opponents, and then go on to win.

McCain's Foreign Policy Advisor Fired Last Week?

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 10:01 PM EST

Turns out that McCain campaign top foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann was fired last week. CNN:

Randy Scheunemann, a senior foreign policy adviser to John McCain, was fired from the Arizona senator's campaign last week for what one aide called "trashing" the campaign staff, three senior McCain advisers tell CNN.
One of the aides tells CNN that campaign manager Rick Davis fired Scheunemann after determining that he had been in direct contact with journalists spreading "disinformation" about campaign aides, including Nicolle Wallace and other officials.
"He was positioning himself with Palin at the expense of John McCain's campaign message," said one of the aides.
Senior campaign officials blame Schuenemann specifically for stories about the way Wallace and chief campaign strategist Steve Schmidt mishandled Palin's rollout — stories that the campaign says threw them off message in the critical final weeks of the campaign.
Another aide said McCain personally was "very disappointed by Randy," who worked for McCain for many years in the Senate.

It would have been nice if someone had noticed at the time, and astonishing that the McCain campaign didn't reveal this until now.

Update: This folllow-up report by CNN is even more curious:

In another sign of drama and disarray inside camp McCain, former campaign senior adviser Randy Scheunemann responded late Wednesday to CNN and insisted he was "not fired and never [have] been fired."
In addition, Michael Goldfarb, a McCain press aide and Scheunemann ally, also insisted he was not fired.
However, Goldfarb did concede that Scheunemann's campaign e-mail was cut off, and his blackberry was taken away late Friday. Goldfarb admits that senior McCain aides were mad at Scheunemann, and wanted to fire him, but he insists they stopped short of that, and instead simply turned off his campaign communication.
Goldfarb says Scheunemann was in the office on Saturday. He was, however, noticeably missing on election night when top aides to John McCain and Sarah Palin gathered in Phoenix, Arizona.

So, his campaign email was shut off and his Blackberry was taken away. Does that sound like he was fired in all but name?


Palin in 2012? Maybe Not So Much

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 5:26 PM EST

When we visited a Palin rally in Virginia in October, we were greeted with Palin-mania. In a statement that seemed to represent the feelings of many, one woman said, "I respect John McCain, but I loooove Sarah Palin."

That enthusiasm appears to be confined to pockets of the Republican base, because it sure as heck wasn't found among the electorate at large yesterday. From MSNBC:

NBC-WSJ GOP pollster Neil Newhouse did a post-election survey last night, and here's what he found: Just 12% of those surveyed believed Palin should be the GOP's new leader; instead 29% of voters said Romney, followed by 20% who say Huckabee. Among GOPers, it was Romney 33%, Huckabee 20% and Palin 18%.