Mojo - November 2010

Alan Grayson Goes Down

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:48 PM EDT

Alan Grayson, the freshman Democrat made famous by his suggestion that Republican health care plan was for people to "die quickly," has lost his reelection bid. The fiery congressman was among the GOP's top targets; Politico dubbed his district "ground zero" for outside attack ads by deep-pocketed conservative groups such as the 60-Plus Association and the US Chamber of Commerce. Nonetheless, Grayson seemed to think that by playing the populist and saying exactly what he thought, he could get reelected even in an anti-incumbent, GOP year, in a traditionally red district. He was wrong. He also thought that his solid record of delivering for his district—his predecessor didn't bring back much in terms of pork—would help him. It didn't seem to.

Now that Grayson's on his way out, it'll be interesting to see if anyone tries to copy his model. He's certainly entertaining—and he made a real difference in Congress. He was a pioneer in the use of YouTube and two-minute speeches. He sided with the tea partiers against the Federal Reserve. And he was enormously skeptical of big banks and their allies.

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.

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Perriello: A Tough Loss for Progressive Democrats

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:40 PM EDT

One of the Democrats' best prospects, freshman Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia, has lost his bid for reelection. He faced an arduous challenge. He was narrowly elected in 2008 in a district designed by Virginia Republicans to be GOP-friendly territory. He worked hard as soon as he hit the House to bring jobs to his district. He was no down-the-line liberal. He supported gun rights (a big plus in his largely rural district) and backed the anti-abortion Stupak amendment during the health care reform fight (another plus for his Bible-Beltish turf). More important, he was truly a populist Democrat. He supported President Barack Obama on health care and the stimulus, but he decried the administration's embrace of conventional corporatist economics symbolized by Larry Summers, whom he routinely slammed. He was a possible model for other Democrats looking to succeed in conservative but economically distressed areas.

This past summer, I spent several days chronicling his campaign. Perriello, 36, came across as an energetic and engaged politician who knew his district well. From that dispatch:

Later, racing through farmland in his white Ford pickup, Perriello explains why he thinks his brand of "conviction politics" can win over voters like Starkey: "I don't see the dividing line as liberal versus conservative. It's populist versus corporatist. If we're not standing up to the most powerful interests, where is the Democratic Party?" Perriello acknowledges that some in the conservative district may judge him harshly based on his votes for health care, cap and trade, and the stimulus. (After a tea party blogger angry about "Obamacare" published the address [6] of Perriello's brother—believing it was the congressman's home—someone cut the propane line to the gas grill.) But, Perriello notes, "I've been incredibly critical of [White House economic adviser] Lawrence Summers as someone who wouldn't know anyone making less than six figures, unless that person was driving him around." He often reminds constituents that he didn't vote for continuing the bank bailout.

When a saleswoman at an appliance store tells him that her elderly customers often can't afford the cost of replacement parts, Perriello replies, "We're not producing anything anymore. The elites in both parties are too close to Wall Street. If jobs are created in India, that's fine with them." This is not a made-in-DC message tailored by Democratic strategists. It's Perriello's home brew. He was first elected as a populist bashing the incumbent's corporate campaign donors. Now, he's running against the corporate consensus in the nation's capital—including his own party's brass.

Back in January, after Republican Scott Brown won  the Massachusetts Senate race, Perriello says, he told party leaders that the Democrats ought to introduce a different jobs bill every week to force Republicans to take a stand: "They said it was a great idea, but then it didn't happen. And the Senate is always a problem. I think most people in Washington don't get how serious the job situation is." He declares it "embarrassing" that the Democrats decided to take a six-week recess to campaign as the economy teeters. "I can't tell you how many times people in the White House say to me, 'We want to help you; what can we do?' I say, 'Put out a real jobs bill.'" Perriello is pushing to end a corporate tax credit that encourages outsourcing jobs and use the revenue—an estimated $14 billion—for job-creating programs like weatherization and energy-efficiency retrofitting.
That kind of pitch is part of Perriello's bring-it-home strategy: He says House Democrats have to toil extra hard to show how people in their districts can benefit from the big, abstract bills cooked up in Washington. During the House debate over the climate bill, Perriello recalls, he came to the district and talked to dairy farmers about how they could turn cow manure into power and possibly get off the grid—a notion, he says, that appeals to the "independent and libertarian streaks of farmers."

Perriello was a proficient fundraiser. But from the moment he entered the House, corporate and conservative groups targeted him, launching a steady blitz of negative ads against him. In a difficult year for Democrats in a difficult district for Democrats, Perriello fought hard—and he was the one House member for whom Obama campaigned—but in a Republican district he couldn't survive the double wave of anti-Washington sentiment and outside GOP big money. His defeat is a tough loss for progressive Democrats on a tough night.

Blumenthal-McMahon: The GOP Dog That Didn't Bark

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:40 PM EDT

The Republicans were supposed to make the Connecticut Senate race between popular attorney general Richard Blumenthal and former wrestling CEO Linda McMahon competitive. McMahon had the money: She spent $50 million on the race. She picked the right year: It's a great cycle for Republicans. And she got lucky: Blumenthal ran into trouble over misstatements he made about his military record. But even all that wasn't enough for McMahon to beat Blumenthal. The race was called just as the polls closed, and Blumenthal will finally get the promotion people have been predicting he'd get for decades.

So what went wrong? Connecticut is one of the few states where lots of voters still like President Barack Obama. Blumenthal ran a cautious campaign, and McMahon's barrage of ads may have actually turned off some voters. By the end, McMahon's approval ratings were upside-down. Voters just didn't like her that much.

One real test of whether this is a Republican wave will be whether Blumenthal's downballot allies—Dems like Chris Murphy and Jim Himes—hold onto their seats. If they lose, it wasn't just Linda McMahon who was the problem for the GOP in Connecticut. If they lose, well, ex-Rep. Rob Simmons—who McMahon beat in the primary—will probably be saying "I told you so."

Free Speech TV and Democracy Now Team Up for Election Coverage

Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:20 PM EDT

Josh Harkinson is skyping in to discuss the election results on Free Speech TV and Democracy Now's special 6-hour live election night program hosted by Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, and Juan Gonzalez. Watch the show here and don't forget to check out the Sunlight Foundation's live-streaming coverage over on MoJo's special election night page.

Josh Harkinson is a staff reporter at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Email him with tips at jharkinson (at) motherjones (dot) com. To follow him on Twitter, click here. Get Josh Harkinson's RSS feed.

Sen. Rubio's Tea Party To Do List

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:20 PM EDT

Love him or hate him, you gotta hand it to Florida conservative Marco Rubio. In June 2009, Rubio, an early favorite of the burgeoning tea party, trailed then-Republican Charlie Crist in primary polling by more than 20 percentage points. Yet he only gained momentum throughout his primary campaign. He grew so popular—in April 2010, he'd flipped the primary on its head, beating Crist by 23 points—that he forced Florida governor to declare himself an independent and abandon the GOP primary to salvage his chances in November. And again, in the general election, Rubio overcame Crist's polling advantage over the summer to open a wide lead by the fall, outpacing Crist and easily distancing himself from Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek. Rubio's victory tonight, just called by CNN, has been a lock for months.

So what can we expect from Senator Marco Rubio? Put simply, the Miami native is a purist conservative's dream. Rubio has called for permanently extending the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and slashing taxes on American corporations. He also wants to permanently end the estate tax (he calls it the "death tax") and slash a host of other taxes.

As for the unemployed, you're out of luck in Senator Rubio's eyes. In July, amidst a fight in Congress over extending unemployment benefits to millions of Americans, Rubio said Congress shouldn't extend jobless benefits unless cuts are made to offset that spending—even though it's common practice, among Democrats and Republicans, to pass said benefits without immediately funding them because they're deemed emergency spending.

Next on Rubio's to-do list is repealing the health care reform bill, passed earlier this year, and blocking any efforts to pass cap and trade energy legislation. Rubio also opposes any new efforts to pass a "card check" bill in Congress, legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. In other words, every major piece of policy Democrats have passed or pursued in recent years—yeah, Rubio's against it.

What remains to be seen is what stance he'll take on immigration reform, a looming issue for the 112th Congress. As MoJo's Suzy Khimm reported in May, Rubio initially criticized Arizona's hard-line immigration bill, which gave police more power to question and detain illegal immigrants. However, Rubio soon backtracked on that criticism and softened his take on the Arizona bill. Keep your eyes on how Rubio approaches a potential immigration bill in the new Congress.

Christine O'Donnell Loses

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 8:16 PM EDT

Christine O'Donnell, the most-covered candidate of 2010's election cycle, has failed in her bid to become Delaware's next Senator. Dem Chris Coons thumped her. Slate's Dave Weigel:

So of the top three most-covered candidates, two (O'Donnell, Paladino) never really were given a chance to win, and three (Whitman, Crist, Lincoln), are widely expected to lose today. The problem, perhaps, is focusing on elections like the way American Idol producers focus on which schmucks they'll use from the audition footage.

She also makes for good copy.

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The End of the Stupak Bloc?

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:57 PM EDT

The night is still young, but three sometime members of Rep. Bart Stupak's group of anti-abortion Dems are already on their way out. Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who was running for Senate in Indiana, lost to ex-lobbyist Dan Coats. Meanwhile, in Indiana's 2nd and 9th districts, Reps. Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill are trailing badly in early returns. 

(Update, 9:30 p.m. Eastern: Donnelly won. Kaptur will have at least one fellow survivor—maybe two, assuming Nick Rahall wins in West Virginia. Update, 9:00 p.m. Eastern: Donnelly has retaken the lead, barely... it's too early to call that one. Baron Hill has lost.)

Stupak and his allies spent months opposing the Democrats' health care bill because they believed it funded abortions. Most of them eventually voted for the bill after President Barack Obama agreed to sign an executive order requiring that no funds from the bill go to pay for elective abortions. (Here's a good explanation of why their objections were bogus anyway.) But instead of establishing members of the bloc as principled pro-lifers, all of the drama seemed to make them enemies on both sides. Liberals were enraged by what they saw as grandstanding and obstructionism, and anti-abortion conservatives were incensed when the Stupak bloc "betrayed" them and voted for the health care bill. Now most of the Stupak bloc seems to be going down. 

One Stupak Dem is certain to hang on through the next Congress: Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who faced Nazi reenactor Rich Iott, has already had her race called in her favor. But the way things are looking, Kaptur could be one of the only survivors.

Corn on "Hardball": How Will Obama Battle a Republican House?

Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:25 PM EDT

David Corn and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss President Obama's strategy for dealing with the anticipated Republican gains in the House and Senate.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook. Get David Corn's RSS feed.

Meet Sen. Dan Coats (R-K Street)

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:05 PM EDT

Count Indiana's Rep. Brad Ellsworth among today's Democratic dead. Republican Dan Coats beat out Ellsworth, capturing the seat of retiring Democrat Evan Bayh. Coats eked out of May's primary with 39% of the vote, earning ridicule from the Democrats for his slim plurality. But Republicans will have the last laugh, at least until 2012. And so will K Street.

A former Senator and ambassador to Germany, Coats has spent his off-years as a lobbyist for a number of clients including Google, Lockheed Martin, and Bank of America. In a less enflamed political climate, Coats' hobnobbing with special interests and Ellsworth's moderate credentials might have delivered the race to him. During his time in House, Ellsworth had a knack for pissing off Nancy Pelosi. As one of the Stupak Seven, he refused to support any health reform bill that paid for abortions with public money (he eventually came around and voted for the bill). He's also pro-gun, and opposes any energy policy that taxes coal-burning power plants. It's no surprise that he voted against his party almost more than any other Democrat, choosing to represent his constituency's interests over his party's.

What, then, did Indiana voters find so objectionable? That he's a Democrat. Obama barely won the state in 2008, and the Indiana electorate is historically bipolar. Ellsworth's strict adherence to the center, along with voters' skepticism of Coats' illustrious lobbying record, should have kept him safe. But Coats' ability to tap into the nation's anti-incumbent fervor paid off, seemingly proving that all you needed to prevail this year was to not be a Democrat. (Ellsworth's loss is also likely to be a Democratic double-whammy: His House seat in the Indiana 8th will probably be picked up by Republican Larry Buchson). Meanwhile, his lobbying record doesn't seem to have been much of a liability.  

Rand Paul Wins: What Does It Mean?

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 7:05 PM EDT

Tea party Republican candidate Rand Paul has won the Kentucky US Senate race. Throughout the campaign, Democrat Jack Conway occasionally seemed to come almost within striking distance, but ultimately Conway, the state attorney general, was unable to overcome a bad year for Democrats in an increasingly red state. The real nail-biter now is how politically extreme Paul will be once he's in the Senate.

Even at the end of this obsessively watched campaign, it remains unclear how Paul would legislate—or anti-legislate. Is he a libertarian with tea party tendencies, or a tea partier with libertarian impulses? It's hard to know, because Paul won this race virtually without talking to media. One of us went to Kentucky to try to get someone—anyone—on the Paul campaign to discuss Paul's positions on various issues and policies. We didn't have much luck

If the hardcore libertarians who support Rand Paul get their way, he'll act much like his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is known as "Dr. No" for his practice of voting down almost every spending and tax bill to cross his desk. Ron Paul has referred with pride to the fact that he's often on the short end of 434-to-1 votes in the House. But when a House member casts a lone nay vote, it doesn't gain him much except credit with his followers. In the Senate, a single opposition vote—expressed via a hold, a filibuster, or some other parliamentary maneuver—can block legislation and bring the chamber to a standstill. Look at how Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), whose vacated seat Rand Paul is filling, held up unemployment benefits for millions earlier this year all on his own. In the Senate, Paul—or other incoming tea partiers—could do that again and again, freezing both legislation and appointments. If Rand becomes the "Son of Dr. No" in the Senate, that would further gum up the already dysfunctional chamber and ensure even greater gridlock in Washington.

There is another thing to watch for. If Paul votes in libertarian style like his father on some issues—such as drug policy and the war on terror—he could face the wrath of the tea party conservatives who've embraced him. And that's not all. He must also please the regular, moderate Republicans in Kentucky who backed him because they couldn't bring themselves to support Conway. These folks aren't exactly small-government purists. They want fiscal discipline but also some bacon for the state.

It may not be be easy to be Rand Paul. And maybe that's why it's fitting that he's named Rand. Like Ayn Rand's John Galt character, he could prove too rigid to operate in an ideologically mushy world. But even if he finds it tough to get his bearings in the Senate, Paul is unlikely to follow Galt's lead and move to an isolated mountain valley and invent a motor that runs on air.