Political MoJo

What Word Will Obama Use to Describe This Election Tomorrow?

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:30 AM EST

Tonight was not a good night to be a Democrat. The Republicans were triumphant in a great many of the races. In 2010, after a similarly awful midterm, Obama described the election as a "shellackin'." In 2006, Bush referred to the Democratic wave as a "thumpin'."

This may be a bit of gallow's humor, but what word will he use tomorrow?

(Wolf Blitzer is pushing hard for shellackin'.)

Thumpin'

Shellackin'

Whoopin'

Drubbin'

Wallopin'

Trouncin'

Whuppin'

Thrashin'

Clobberin'

Lickin'

Routin'

Guttin'

Leave your guess in the comments.

I personally hope he walks into the briefing room, gets up at the microphone, says "Play the video," a screen comes down, and Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" begins playing.

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Three States Could Have Ended Legal Abortion. Only One Did.

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:11 AM EST

Initiatives on the ballot Tuesday in Colorado, South Dakota, and Tennessee could have outlawed legal abortion. Tennessee was the only state to approve such a measure. Here's a rundown, updating my previous reporting on the initiatives.

Coloradans rejected personhood for the third time: The state's ballot measure would have amended Colorado's constitution to define a fetus as a person under Colorado's criminal code, a change that opponents say would have made any abortion a crime, including in cases of rape and incest and when the health of the mother is endangered.

Supporters of the amendment, including Personhood Colorado, the group backing the ballot measure, insisted it had nothing to do with abortion and was designed only to ensure that anyone who harms an unborn child in any manner will be prosecuted. The woman who initially pushed for the measure was Colorado resident Heather Surovik, whose fetus was killed by a drunk driver. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, but he was not charged with killing the fetus. (Under Colorado law, an unborn child is considered part of the mother's body and not a separate person.)

Reproductive rights advocates said the amendment would have "give[n] legal and constitutional rights to a woman's fertilized egg," making criminals out of women who sought abortions and the doctors who performed them. The amendment could also have restricted access to emergency contraception and other types of birth control, as some prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.

Planned Parenthood of Colorado spent around $3.8 million in an effort to defeat the amendment. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) harped on the ballot initiative to help drive women to the polls. Udall's Republican opponent, Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), said he opposed the measure but he had supported personhood measures in the past.

Coloradans defeated personhood amendments in 2008 and 2010. But because this time the measure's language focused on "protecting pregnant women" and supporters framed it as unrelated to abortion, opponents feared it would have a better chance. They were wrong. It failed on a 63-to-37 vote.

Voters in North Dakota defeated the state's personhood amendment: This measure asked voters to decide whether the state's constitution should protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development."

The measure would have had the effect of banning all abortion services, according to the North Dakota Coalition For Privacy in Healthcare, a group opposing the initiative. "Victims of rape and incest could be forced to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence," the coalition noted. "Women whose health is at risk could also be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies."

GOP state Sen. Margaret Sitte, a supporter of the personhood amendment, said it was "intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade," the landmark Supreme Court case that held the constitutional right to privacy included a right to abortion. If the measure had passed, North Dakota would have become the first state to define life as beginning at conception.

Voters in Tennessee approved the state's Constitutional Amendment 1: According to unofficial election results, a narrow 53 percent of voters approved Tennessee's personhood amendment Tuesday night. As my colleague Molly Redden reported in September, the country's biggest abortion battle this year played out in the state, where supporters and opponents of abortion rights went to battle over this constitutional amendment.

The measure states, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." It will allow the legislature "unlimited authority to pass burdensome and unnecessary restrictions and regulations on abortion, including banning all abortions," according to Planned Parenthood, including in the case of pregnancy from rape, or incest, or when an abortion is necessary to protect the mother's health.

Here's Redden with the back story:

Tennessee Republicans have been striving to put this referendum before voters since 2000, when a state Supreme Court decision blocked several harsh anti-abortion measures from becoming law. The ruling, which struck down several anti-abortion laws passed in 1998, has prevented the Legislature from passing certain strict laws enacted in other states, such as a mandatory abortion waiting period.…

Amendment 1 would overturn that court decision. 'It will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes,' says Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. 'We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass.'

Proponents of Amendment 1 spent $1 million just in October. Opponents raised $3.4 million during that time period. Now that Tennessee's ballot measure has passed, anti-abortion politicians in the state are expected to pass the same extreme abortion laws and regulations that have shuttered abortion clinics in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Alabama.

More Good News: Michigan's "Foreclosure King" Headed to Congress

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 11:34 PM EST

Michigan's "foreclosure king" is coming to Washington. Republican David Trott, a Michigan businessman who got rich on the collapse of the state's housing market, easily fended off his Democratic rival in Michigan's 11th congressional district.

A former state finance chair for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Trott's line of work made him a polarizing figure in Michigan. As I reported in January:

Trott's campaign notes that the candidate has a wide array of business interests, but his financial disclosure forms leave no doubt that foreclosures are where he made his fortune. Through various interconnected concerns, Trott is involved in virtually every aspect of the foreclosure business.

His flagship operation is Trott & Trott, a 500-person law firm founded by his father that is one of the largest foreclosure specialists in the state; its clients are largely lenders, such as Bank of America and Countrywide. Trott & Trott doesn't personally evict homeowners; it handles the paperwork for banks that do. "It's what we do; it's all we've ever done," Trott said in a 2007 TV interview, of his foreclosure work.

He also owns a real estate firm that manages foreclosed properties, as well as a newspaper chain, Michigan Legal News, that banks are required to post foreclosure notices in.

Trott doesn't just benefit from foreclosures; his firm has pushed to change state law to make it easier for banks to kick people out of their homes.

The race was (most likely) the swan song for GOP Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a Santa-impersonating reindeer rancher who was elected almost by accident in 2012 when the incumbent congressman was disqualified. Trott crushed Bentivolio in the August primary, and Bentivolio appeared finished. But in October, Bentivolio announced he would wage a write-in campaign for the seat on the grounds that it might help drive out turnout for other GOP candidates on the ticket. (The fact that he continued to refer to Trott as "the foreclosure attorney" perhaps pointed to less altruistic motives.)

As of Tuesday night, Bentivolio has received fewer than 1,100 votes.

Tea Party Favorite, Food Stamp Foe Rep. Steve Southerland Loses Re-Election in Florida

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 10:10 PM EST

It's going to be a bad night for Democrats, but they're getting a bit of good news out of Florida's Second District: Republican Rep. Steve Southerland has lost his re-election bid to Democrat Gwen Graham. Southerland, a former mortician, was elected to Congress in the 2010 tea party wave, and quickly made a name for himself with his advocacy of major cuts to food stamp programs. He was thought to be a lock for re-election in this Florida Panhandle district, but Graham—a former school official and daughter of former Florida Gov. Bob Graham—proved a formidable challenger.

Southerland was almost singularly devoted to the cause of slashing food assistance, calling it the "defining moral issue of our time" and "what I'm about." In last year's controversial farm bill, Southerland proposed a staggering $39 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. His controversial reform plan was widely seen as a factor that stalled the bill in Congress last year. 

 

Tom Cotton's Victory in Arkansas Is a Huge Win for Neocons

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 9:05 PM EST

GOP Rep. Tom Cotton defeated two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday, bringing Republicans one step closer to winning control of the Senate. Cotton hammered Pryor repeatedly on Obamacare, which remains deeply unpopular in Arkansas even though the legislation has helped hundreds of thousands of residents get health insurance.

But it's foreign policy where Cotton could make his biggest impact in the Senate. "Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they're willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism," Cotton said during a September tele-town hall. "They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas." Three weeks later, he put his money where his mouth was, airing an ad featuring footage pulled straight from an ISIS propaganda film called Flames of War.

This is what you can expect more of from Cotton, an Army veteran who first rose to fame after writing a letter to the editor of the New York Times demanding that everyone who worked on a story on a top-secret terrorist tracking program be tried for treason. During his brief tenure in the House of Representatives, he was one of the few House Republicans to vocally back an intervention in Syria.

Over the last four years, civil libertarians and non-interventionists have made big gains in the GOP, led by congressional newcomers like Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. But Cotton's win marks a victory for the neo-cons—a young voice with a good-looking resume who should be in Washington for a while. Just take a look at former Texas Rep. Ron Paul's reaction:

 

It was Cotton who rose to speak against Amash's 2013 amendment that would have curtailed the NSA's surveillance powers. "We are at war," he said. "You may not like that truth, I wish it weren't the truth, but it is the truth. We are at war. Do not take away this tool from our warriors on the front lines."

Among Beltway conservative scribes, Cotton's political arc has taken on an almost singular importance, with writers at places like the Weekly Standard salivating over his small-town credentials in True Grit country. As I reported when I visited Cotton's hometown of Dardanelle in September, I found the local hero in Yell County isn't Cotton; it's fourth-district Democratic nominee James Lee Witt. But it didn't matter. Mark Pryor voted for Obamacare, he probably voted for Obama, and now he's looking for work.

Anyway, here's your next Senator from Arkansas eating a watermelon:

 

A video posted by Tom Cotton (@tomcottonar) on

Where Should Scott Brown Run for Senate Next?

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 9:02 PM EST
Illustration: Thomas Nast/Library of Congress; Scott Brown: Seamas Culligan/ZUMA

Former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown's comeback bid hit a wall on Tuesday, as he failed to unseat New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. More than perhaps any other Senate candidate, Brown based his campaign on border security, warning that ISIS agents could enter the country at ease, and that migrants could bring diseases (including, maybe, Ebola) across the Southern border. At one point, he even merged the two, warning that ISIS terrorists might smuggle in Ebola across the Mexican border.

It didn't work. According to exit polls, 54 percent of New Hampshire voters thought Brown hadn't been in New Hampshire long enough to represent it in Washington. (For what it's worth, we think that's kind of unfair.) So where should Brown run next? There are still four New England states he hasn't tried. But these areas don't offer much opportunity. The Granite State is the last Yankee state to vote for a Republican presidential candidate—and that was in 2000.

But even if Brown doesn't campaign somewhere again in two years, it's a sure bet he won't stop running:

Scott Brown/Instagram

 

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Here Is a Picture of Cats Voting

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 8:20 PM EST
Harry Whittier Frees

Harry Whittier Frees, an American photographer credited with photographing the first Lolcats, reportedly took this photo of cats voting as long ago as 1914. 

Mitch McConnell Photobombed by Disapproving Kentucky Man

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 3:58 PM EST

Today, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined Americans around the country to cast his vote in the midterm elections. Presumably, McConnell voted for himself in the race against his Democratic challenger, Alison Grimes.

As for this anonymous gentleman voting behind him, we think it's safe to assume the Senate Minority Leader did not secure his vote.

Happy Election Day!

(h/t Gawker)

15 Reasons You Should Vote Today

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 2:46 PM EST

It's Election Day 2014! Most of you won't vote, but you should! Here are a few key reasons to motivate you.

1. While you're just thinking about voting, countless Americans face huge hurdles to cast their ballot solely based on the color of their skin.

2. Joni Ernst could be the archetype for how a tea party candidate wins in a swing state.

3. People died so you could vote.

4. This born and raised Texan man will be denied the right to vote for the first time in his adult life.

5. A bunch of GOP candidates are pretending to be pro-choice.

6. Lil' Jon is flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta because Georgia forgot to mail him an absentee ballot.

7. "Single women have the power to keep their hands on the wheel, just by showing up at the polls."

8. The men's rights movement wants to make sure you damn well know they're fit to change dirty diapers too.

9. We have an excellent tool to tell you exactly where to go and what to bring.

10. Thousands of people will go to the polls and vote because Duck Dynasty told them to.

11. Your crazy state legislatures are creating asinine laws.

12. We just had our 87th school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

13. These 8 candidates might actually win.

14. Mitch McConnell sent out these mailers to suppress voting.

15. There is the possibility that at least one or two people will decide who to vote for because of Donald Trump.

Today's Biggest Showdown Over Guns Is in Washington State

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 1:04 PM EST

The most closely watched battle over gun regulations this Election Day is in Washington state, where voters will weigh in on two opposing ballot measures: Initiative 594, which would expand background checks for gun buyers, including those purchasing firearms at a gun show or online; and Initiative 591, which would forbid any background checks beyond the limited regime required by federal law. An unprecedented amount of money has poured into the fight—from opponents of the National Rifle Association.

Proponents of stricter gun laws are billing the fight as "the only up-or-down vote on gun measures in the country this year." The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the committee behind the push for expanded background checks, has raked in some $10.4 million. Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, donated $2.3 million of that total. Everytown has also run its own ballot committee in the state, raising more than $900,000; the group says that it has spent roughly $3.6 million overall on the I-594 effort, including a robust staff on the ground that's been involved in strategy, media, and voter turnout operations.

Major philanthropists are in on the action as well: Fomer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funds Everytown, has also personally given the Washington Alliance almost $300,000. And Bill and Melinda Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, and Steve and Connie Ballmer, a former Microsoft executive and his wife, have backed I-594, with each couple donating at least $1 million. Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer gave $500,000.

For its part, the NRA has spent about half a million dollars to defeat the expansion of background checks (not an insignificant sum, though the organization has spent much bigger in North Carolina, Colorado, and elsewhere). Meanwhile, Protect Our Gun Rights, a local group supporting the ballot measure to restrict new background checks, has raised about $1.3 million.

How this fight will play out remains anybody's guess, but it's shaping up to be the first major test of the new gun-reform movement's clout. An early October poll of the election by Elway Research, which is not involved with either campaign, found that 60 percent of voters planned to vote for the measure expanding background checks, and only 39 percent planned to support the rival measure limiting background checks. In mid-October, a poll commissioned by a local news channel found that 64 percent favored stricter background checks, with 45 percent favoring looser rules. (That poll didn't measure support for the individual measures.)

But the competing measure has also sown confusion: According to the Elway poll, 15 percent of voters intended to vote no on both ballot measures, and more than 20 percent of voters intended to vote yes on both ballot measures. If both measures were to pass, it could lead to legal chaos.

The fight has drawn attention for another reason: Washington state is still reeling from the latest deadly school shooting. On October 24, Jayden Fryberg, a freshman football player at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, walked into the school cafeteria during lunch and fired a gun, killing one student and wounding four others, before shooting himself to death. One of the four injured students, a 14-year-old girl, later died.

The .40 caliber handgun, according to police, was legally registered to a member of his family; Fryberg, a minor, would not have been able to purchase the gun on his own. The gun lobby and its supporters seized on this fact to declare gun control measures ineffective.

But other people who are paying close attention to this battle on Election Day disagreed: Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, whose children died at Sandy Hook, traveled to Washington state to back Initiative 594. "We know that background checks can save lives," Hockley said. "Just because it won't stop one tragedy doesn't mean it won't stop other tragedies from happening."