Mojo - November 2010

Tom Tancredo Wins By Losing

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 9:37 PM PDT

Tom Tancredo's headquarters boosted a rocking party Tuesday night, with line-dancing and a country-western band playing cover tunes, but the enthusiasm for his insurgent, third-party campaign was not enough to pull ahead of the Democratic candidate, John Hickenlooper, in the race for Colorado governor.

Hickenlooper ended the night with a safe margin, pulling ahead of Tancredo, who ran on the American Constitution Party ticket. Tancredo's hard-line views on illegal immigration, his suggestion that non-Christian immigrants should leave the country, and his ruminations about Mexicans plotting a cross-border terrorist attack might not have won over a majority of Colorado voters, but his numbers certainly said a lot about how people here were feeling about the state's Republican Party and its candidate, Dan Maes.

In Maes, Colorado Republicans managed to find a candidate whose personal history and views drove voters away—right to Tancredo. Maes' claims that the state capitol's plan to encourage bicycling amounted to "converting Denver into a United Nations community" possibly measured as one of the least-bizarre things he said over the course of the election. Maes ended the night with just 8 percent of the vote.

When I talked to voters at his party headquarters, the Stampede Dance Hall, on Tuesday, most weren't particularly pleased with the state GOP. "The Republicans have let me down lately," said Vinny Rozanskas, a 63-year-old retired airline worker from Aurora. While he's registered GOP, he said he probably leans more libertarian, and has a tea party sign at his townhouse. "Either party could go down the tubes and it wouldn't bother me in the least."

Jan Wilson, 58 of Denver, initially backed Maes—and frequently "liked" his Facebook posts, she told me—but felt he should have dropped out of the race when it became clear that he had little chance of winning. Maes staying in the race cost Tancredo the governorship, she said. "Why didn't he just pull out?" she asked. "Now the Republicans are going to be the minority party. That's bullshit."

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Tea Partiers: Can You Hear Us Now?

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 9:17 PM PDT

George Washington, a tea partier who is fighting the death penalty, from home in Mt Vernon (really!) : Photo: Stephanie MencimerGeorge Washington, a tea partier who is fighting the death penalty, from home in Mt Vernon (really!) : Photo: Stephanie MencimerLeaders of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the nation's largest tea party umbrella groups, traveled the country (in a private jet) in the final days before the election to rally the grassroots and get out the vote. "Patriot One" landed at Washington's Dulles Airport Monday night, in time for the group to rest up before planting a Gadsen flag on the grounds of the Capitol Tuesday and hosting an election night party at the nearby Hyatt hotel. The tea party leaders picked a good spot for their soiree: the Hyatt is directly across the street from the hotel House Speaker Nanci Pelosi chose for her election night event. The contrast was pretty striking. While the tea party party had almost a 1:1 tea partier to press ratio, the Democrats apparently kicked out most of the media from their event, preferring to mourn in private. Inside the Hyatt, the tea partiers were happily cheering the Dems' demise. Debbie Dooley, one of TPP's national coordinators, told the gathered crowd, "Welcome to Nancy Pelosi's retirement party."

The event had all the trappings of the Washington establishment—$10 drinks, megatrons, swank hotel. It was decidedly lacking in star power, with local activists having their moment in the sun rather than say, Dick Morris. But there were a few highlights: "George Washington," in full Revolutionary War garb, on hand to talk liberty, pose for pictures, and give all the reporters someone to interview. Ditto for "Captain America," who's become a regular at these DC events. There was a Dartmouth student who made a tea party rap song and other patriotic singers.

The gathered tea partiers cheered the news of each new GOP victory: Marco Rubio in Florida, the defeat of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). Occasionally they'd break into chants of "USA! USA!" or "Can you hear us now?" Most of the speakers expressed their intent to ensure that all those newly elected conservatives in Congress remain true to the cause. National coordinator Mark Meckler shouted out at one point, "Anybody committed to the movement for the long term?" To which many responded with raised fists and cheers. There was talk of a 40-year plan, indoctrination sessions for incoming freshmen in Congress, and veiled threats to candidates elected with the help of the movement (who might not stay true to tea party principles).

Kerry Scott of the Alexandria, Virginia, tea party said, "I think people are very leery" of being part of the establishment now that their candidates have won. "We're going to do everything in our power to keep the pressure on them. We don't want them to get too comfortable." Scott also suggested that the tea party might change its focus to local issues now that the election is over, out of concern that it won't be able to influence the national debate that much. I asked whether activists worried that they might have trouble keeping people motivated and involved once Congress is in Republican hands. Scott admitted that's a real concern: "I have 200 people on my email list. Only 20 show up for a meeting."

One tea partier at the victory party thought that there was one subgroup of activists who might become more engaged after the election: disabled conservatives. Hard to believe, perhaps, but there is a fairly good-sized contingent of tea party activists in that camp, and Melissa Ortiz is one of them. Co-chair of the Can-Do Conservatives—whose motto is "A hand up, not a hand out!"—Ortiz has been organizing a small army of wheelchair users like herself and other disabled folks to support the movement. She suspects that as health care reform really kicks in, and people start to see "rationing of care or lack of care all together," the normally liberal disabled community will start to get angry. "We've only just begun to fight," Ortiz said, as she sat with her service dog Lucy. She noted that it's not surprising that the disabled would be drawn to the tea party, which is all about personal responsibility and "being able to make your own choices." That, she added, is what most disabled people want: "I don't need the government to take care of me." Currently unemployed and working some freelance jobs, Ortiz is one of the few tea party activists I've met who wants a job on the Hill after the election. I suspect there will be more of them on Wednesday.

Front page photo: flickr/John Hinkle (Creative Commons).

Following the Outside Money

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 9:08 PM PDT

In elections past, a good indicator of whether a candidate would win was to look at how much money they had raised: the more money, the better their chances. In this, the first post-Citizens United election, that equation may have been pushed aside by a new math. Now, what may matter more is how much money other people are spending to elect—or defeat—a candidate. As David Corn wrote earlier today, independent advocacy groups have poured nearly half a billion* dollars into this election—much of it raised behind closed doors from undisclosed donors. 

So, have the "dark money" groups and super PACs gotten their dollar's worth? A quick sampling of election results suggests that they did. In most of the races below, the loser was the candidate who had the most independent money expended to defeat him/her; conversely, winners generally had more outside cash spent to elect them. We'll keep looking at the data after the election results are final to see if this trend holds up. If it does, it's proof that this election really did change the rules of the campaign finance game.

Kentucky Senate: Rand Paul (R) defeats Jack Conway (D)

Climate Denier Ron Johnson Topples Russ Feingold

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:58 PM PDT

And so bows out one of the Senate's liberal legends, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold. Since he was elected in 1992, Feingold has carved out a career as an independent-minded Democrat, a politician hardly in lockstep with his party. For instance, Feingold was one of two Democrats to vote against the financial reform bill passed by Congress this summer.

Yet Feingold couldn't overcome his party's enthusiasm gap in 2010, nor the anti-incumbent wave sweeping the country, nor the attack ads against him funded by outfits like the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent $750,000 to defeat him. All told, outside groups spent $1.32 million opposing Feingold's reelection campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics; the shadowy, conservative American Action Network lead the way, pouring $910,000 into the race. Meanwhile, Ron Johnson, the conservative businessman who defeated Feingold, funelled $8.2 million of his own money into his campaign.

A surprise winner at the state GOP's convention, Johnson ran on a traditional conservative platform: He opposes same sex marriage and the Obama admnistration's stimulus; supports protections for the Second Amendment and a balanced budget amendment; and wants to lower taxes and repeal the Obama administration's health care reform legislation, which he described as the "single greatest assault to our freedom in my lifetime." What landed Johnson in headlines earlier this year was his claim that climate change wasn't created by humans but instead was the result of "sunspot activity."

New Hampshire House Races: A Tale of Two Progressives

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:49 PM PDT

Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general, has won the Senate race in New Hampshire, beating Rep. Paul Hodes. But the real action in the Granite State is on the House side, where two districts offer a study in contrasts. In the first district, Dem Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has already lost to former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. The anti-incumbent tide proved too strong to save Shea-Porter, a progressive and former anti-Iraq war activist who was swept into office in 2006. 

On the other side of the state, in Hodes' former district, the second, a different story may be unfolding. Ann "Annie" McLane Kuster, a progressive activist who I wrote about in September, is still neck-and-neck with former GOP congressman Charlie Bass, whom Hodes beat in 2006. Progressive groups poured money and energy into the primary in this race, helping Kuster beat Katrina Swett, a more centrist Dem. But even though Kuster and Shea-Porter have very similar politics, their fates may end up being different.

If Kuster does pull out a win, progressives like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's Adam Green will tell you it's because she was a "bold progressive." On a night when Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, the boldest of the bold, has already lost, that seems a bit off. Instead, I'd say this: differing results in the two New Hampshire races would show that voters don't care too much about ideology. What they do care about is incumbency. And when the economy is in trouble, they want to throw the bums out—whoever those bums may be. When there's no incumbent, it gets a lot more complicated. Of course, Kuster could very well lose, in which case none of this will matter. After all, she's still from the incumbent party.

UPDATE, 11:50 p.m. EST: Kuster lost.

2010: (Not) The Year of the Blue Dog

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:30 PM PDT

It's a scary world out there for Democrats—even conservative ones who did their best to distance themselves from their party this election season. Exhibit A is Georgia Blue Dog Rep. Jim Marshall, who was just defeated by Republican Austin Scott. During the campaign, Marshall attempted to side-step the Democratic backlash by denouncing Nancy Pelosi (on TV, too). Hey, the strategy seemed to work for the Republicans. Of course, Marshall's pledge to support anyone except Pelosi for speaker hinged on the optimistic assumption that the Dems would hang onto the House. That ain't happening.

Moderates like Marshall were a persistent thorn in Pelosi's side, throwing up roadblocks to health care and financial reform, and ultimately foiling efforts to pass climate and energy legislation. A Marshall loss could be a bellwhether for moderate Democrats around the country. Third Way, "the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement," recently released a memo rejecting the "small tent," anti-Blue Dog prescription advocated most recently by liberal commentator Ari Berman. Just how big a tent does the Dem circus need?

Both politically and substantively, liberals need moderates. By rejecting the big-tent coalition that brought them power in the first place, the only things Democrats will accomplish are permanent minority status and the frustration of their legislative priorities. . . .

According to Gallup, 42% of Americans now call themselves "conservative," while 35% call themselves "moderate" and only 20% consider themselves “liberal.” Liberals aren’t just the smallest political constituency in America; they’re outnumbered 4 to 1 by moderates and conservatives. In no state are liberals either a majority or a plurality.

Liberal Democrats need the votes of centrist Democrats, Third Way argues. And they're what the voters want. Without them, the party could make a considerable lurch leftward. For now, though, it's becoming clear that moving to the right in this election wasn't a winning strategy. 

The next Blue Dog to watch? Kentucky's Ben Chandler, who's currently holds a narrow lead. Fellow Blue Dog Joe Donnelly of Indiana barely managed to hang on to his seat. 

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DNC Dispatch: Democrats in Denial

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:11 PM PDT

The silence hangs in the air, awkwardly, as if the reporters clad in suits and skirts don't quite know how to respond. It's 9:00 pm, election night, in the press' makeshift bullpen at the Democratic National Committee. Maryland's Chris Van Hollen, the sandy-haired leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group with the Sisyphean task of averting a GOP takeover in Congress, stands at the center of a tight circle of reporters. He clenches a sheaf of rolled-up papers with both hands, like a big leagues baseball program, his face locked in a look of strained optimism.

Wait, the reporters all seem to wonder—does he really mean what he just said? That Democrats are set to "keep the [House] majority"?

Hence the silence. "Any questions?" Van Hollen finally asks, to no one in particular.

Reporter 1 breaks the silence: Do you think at this point, even with the races that have been called, that you can keep the majority? "Uh, yes," Van Hollen answers, somewhat unconvincingly. "I think if you look at the races that've been called, uh, those were the ones that were expected to be called earlier."

Reporter 2: Are you projecting how many seats you're going to lose at this point? Van Hollen doesn't flinch. "No," he replies. "Don't forget we also just picked one up in Delaware."

Reporter 3: Congressmen, we just called the House for the Republicans. "Well, I think that's a mistake. Way too early, and again, uh, I think it's a mistake and I think what you're seeing right is voters are continuing to go to the polls, and I think the verdict is out still." He pauses, thinks. Then insists, with his strongest tone yet, "I mean, New York hasn't even closed yet."

Reporter 4: In Indiana and Virginia, though, you've seen some losses there. Were you expecting those? "Uh, yes," he concedes, but then shoot backs, "and right now it looks like [Rep. Joe] Donnelly's up in Indiana." Donnelly's seat was a toss-up heading into today. (He ultimately held on to his seat.)

The two-and-a-half minutes are up. Van Hollen still grips his papers, holding on tight. That tense smile, it's still there. "Let's get through the night, and thank you all for being here," he said. "Stay tuned."

Minutes later, CNN's returns from a commercial break. Wolf Blitzer calls the House for the Republican Party.

A 4:20 PM Dispatch from Prop 19 HQ

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:06 PM PDT

At the Oakland campaign headquarters for Prop 19, the California referendum to legalize marijuana, the time is exactly 4:20 PM, stoner culture's designated hour to get high. Dozens of marijuana activists who've flown in from all over the country are phone banking, noshing on pizza, and trading war stories. It feels kind of like a hemp festival. Except for one thing: Nobody is smoking pot. "Well, it's not legal," said a woman in a green tank top manning a table by the front door. She laughs. "I'm an upright citizen."

Not everybody displays such discipline. I run into a young phone banker who is wearing a mock John Deere shirt that says, "High Geere." Dude, it's 4:20 right now, I tell him, what are you going to do? "I'm going to make phone calls to help legalize pot!" he says. Because then he can smoke? "I've smoked!" he says. "I'm high right now!"

Proponents of Prop 19 are quick to point out that legalizing weed is about a lot more than winning the right to get stoned. Smoking pot in California is already incredibly easy. The state's laxly worded medical marijuana law, passed in 1996, has spawned a cottage industry of "pot docs" who will recommend herb for just about anything worse than a stubbed toe. As a result, some 500,000 medical marijuana users in California already enjoy the legal right to smoke up. And even if you get busted for smoking illegally, a bill recently signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes the penalty the equivalent of a parking citation.

The real motivation behind Prop 19 has more to do with ending California's nod-nod, wink-wink approach to prohibition. Making pot fully legit (at least on the state level) would fuel a national debate about legalization, and, they hope, turn California into a test case for completely ending the federal war on weed. Near the front of the Yes on 19 HQ is a billboard filled with stories of upstanding families that have been wrecked by drug arrests. One example: The Clyde Young Family of Mississippi. Both parents are serving around 25 years in prison for growing a small amount of weed: "The police seized all the money in the house, including the children's piggy banks and a 90-year-old uncle's social security check."

As 4:20 PM came and went, I spoke with Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He last smoked pot in 1976. "And I don't plan to use it once it's legal," he said. Even so, he's come to the HQ to vouch his strong support for legalization. As a former police officer who focussed on drug cases in Maryland, he found that alcohol caused far more problems than pot. He felt that legalizing weed would allow the state to regulate it, thereby keeping it out of the hands of children. 

It was a little bit weird to be sitting with Franklin, who had a shaved head and a conservative suit, as young bearded volunteers milled around us wearing shirts that said, "Yes We Cannabis." Another popular shirt was a version of the California state flag, in which the star in the corner had been transformed into marijuana leaf, as if to guide leading the wise (or the party-minded) towards the the promised land of kush.

As 4:20 faded into the late afternoon, it became clear that Prop 19 was headed for a defeat. Even so, pot activists still had reason enough to party. Their campaign has taken the legalization debate mainstream, and they'll all probably try again in 2012. They gathered in a parking lot outside of Oaksterdam University, the cannabis cultivation school owned by Richard Lee, Prop 19's biggest financial backer. Pot smoke occasionally wafted through the air, and there wasn't a cop in sight who gave a damn.

Updated at 10:20 PM Pacific

Photos: Josh Harkinson.

Manchin Shoots, Scores With Anti-Obama Campaign

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 6:25 PM PDT

Joe Manchin won West Virginia's Senate race, defeating Republican businessman and perennial candidate John Raese, who had surged in recent weeks. Manchin's win in the race to fill the seat vacated by the death of Senator Robert Byrd is surely a relief to Democrats—after all, Byrd held the seat for 51 years—but that doesn't mean he will necessarily back the White House from the Senate.

Manchin's win does likely kill any remaining hope of Republicans taking a majority in the Senate. But Manchin ran against Obama on a number of issues. He made it clear that he would not back a climate bill, going so far as to bust a cap in the cap and trade bill. He also positioned himself against the health care overhaul. In the final weeks before the election, Manchin made his main selling point the fact that he would vote against a number of Democratic priorities.

Current tallies have Manchin's lead at 54 percent to Raese's 43 percent. West Virginia is a red state—Obama only claimed 43 percent of the vote there in 2008—which certainly explains Manchin's attempts to distance himself from the president. But this is a smaller margin of victory than Manchin has enjoyed in his previous races for governor, in which he won more than 60 percent of the vote. This likely ensures that Manchin will operate as conservatively in office as he indicated in the campaign.

John Hoeven Wins, Mustache-Mentum Prevails

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 6:18 PM PDT

Update, November 2: Mustachioed GOP Senate candidate John Hoeven won his race in North Dakota today. Mustache-mentum! You want more on political facial hair? I've got more on political facial hair.

The rest of this post was originally written way back on January 6th: 

Byron Dorgan's retirement has made John Hoeven, the three-term Republican governor of North Dakota, very close to a lock to become a US Senator if he runs. So will he? TPM's Eric Kleefeld has the goods:

[North Dakota] State GOP chairman Gary Emineth told Politico: "I expect Gov. Hoeven to get in, and he's going to work through personal issues relating to his family, but I would be shocked if he's not in the Senate race soon."

North Dakota GOP political director Adam Jones explained to me that the family issues referred to here were simply a matter of Hoeven talking to his family about the prospect of a Senate run and a move to Washington. "First and foremost, the governor is a father and husband before he's a public servant," said Jones. "First he has to decide what's good for his family."

I asked Jones if he thought there was any significant chance that Hoeven wouldn't make the race. His response: "No, absolutely not."

That seems settled. It's worth noting that Hoeven has a truly weird doesn't-match-his-hair mustache and is really young-looking (he's 52). At first, I thought he actually looked kind of bizarrely like Michael Cera. Unfortunately, a few minutes with Photoshop revealed that this was a fairly stupid theory that will not hold up under scrutiny. Behold: