Political MoJo

Tom Reynolds in Washington

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 5:16 PM EDT

Tom Reynolds, head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, and another member of the House leadership mired into the Foley scandal, appeared in Washington at the National Press Club for lunch Wednesday noon. He talked about the House campaigns and identified "Members, money and message" as the most decisive factors in winning this year's midterm election. Reynolds had no message to give on his own involvement in the Foley page scandal. He did say, however, he doubts the scandal will effect any of the races.

Dozens of reporters, and a phalanx of cameras greeted him. Likely the last thing on anyone's mind was Reynolds opinion on the election. The Foley scandal was front and center. But in the harried scrum following the luncheon nobody asked him about it. Instead, it was "Hi Tom," and "How's your house, Tom?'' "Hey Tom, do you notice you are always in my lede?'' and so on. Not like, "What were you doing with Foley, Tom?'' Or: "Are you Hastert's fall guy?"

Reynolds's top assistant had previously worked for Foley. Reynolds reportedly is the one who talked Foley into seeking re-election this year.

Tom is best known of late for dodging questions by surrounding himself with children—just so you know he's no pervert—before blithering on about how he was doing his job just like any other worker, by passing the information on up the line to his "supervisor" House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Reynolds emphasized that the election was being fought by candidates, based on their reputation at the local level. "We are dealing with fierce contests fought by local personalities on local pocket book issues," said Reynolds. "[Constituents] will vote for Candidate A or Candidate B, not for a Republican or a Democratic Congress." According to Reynolds, the G.O.P. candidates are "excelling at the nuts and bolts" of the election at that local level.

Reynolds equated the growing size of Republican candidates' campaign coffers with election success. Said Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who spoke for the Democrats: "There's a real sense in this country that what has been the 'People's House' has become the auction house."

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Ford's Fancy Fling

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 4:51 PM EDT

In Tennessee where Harold Ford, Jr. is battling Bob Corker in what some pros think is the toughest Senate race in the nation, the Republicans have been trying to smear Ford for a ski weekend 'fling' with Julia Allison (formerly Baugher), then a Georgetown University sophomore. Ford was unmarried and celebrating his 31st birthday. He saw her in a restaurant. One thing led to another and the couple had some sort of relationship which Allison later described in a Cosmopolitan article. She currently writes a dating column for AM New York as well as doing a monthly column in Coed, a Maxim like mag for teens. At Georgetown she wrote a sex column for the student newspaper, and later worked on the campaign of an Illinois congressman, then as a congressional liaison for a House member.

Somebody at the National Republican Committee thought the Julia story could add to the GOP's smear campaign which portrays Ford as a high liver, attending parties with Playboy beauties, who actually wore lingerie in his company. And they started putting out stuff under headlines like: Ford's "Fancy Fling" with the opening: "Find out how much Congressmen Harold Ford, Jr. enjoys the good life – including his lavish hotel stays, expensive dinners, and parties with Playboy Playmates."

No one cared. This news doesn't seem to have affected Julia's own career.You can read her blog here, but only if want to bore yourself to death.

"Other than a fabulous weekend ski vacation and a few fancy dinners," the Memphis Flyer quotes Allison as saying,"all Harold gave me was the certainty that dating a [politician] is overrated."

GOP Debates "Pink Purge"

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 1:34 PM EDT

Shocked, SHOCKED to discover that there are homosexuals among the ranks of their beloved Republican party, hardline Christian conservatives are calling for a "pink purge" of the GOP's ranks, the LA Times reports. The sectarian schism is a win-win for Democrats: if Republican leaders lean too hard on gays, they'll alienate moderate voters, but if they don't, they risk dampening enthusiasm among their social-conservative base, whose high turnout has been key to recent GOP victories.

Seems the soc-cons are upset not only about Foleygate, but over other recent events that have been less well-publicized because, well, they're really no big deal to most people. The list includes Condi Rice swearing in a new, openly gay US global AIDS coordinator and referring to his partner's mother as his "mother in law".

Hobbit Fans Unleash Geek Fury on Rick Santorum

| Wed Oct. 18, 2006 12:48 PM EDT

Yesterday, Sen. Rick Santorum tried to explain the war in Iraq by drawing an analogy to the Lord of the Rings:

As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else.... It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.

Really, Santorum should have known better. By invoking LOTR, he was inviting the scrutiny of hordes of Tolkien fans, who, sure enough, are unleashing their fantasy-lit fury on him. First off, Santorum called it the Eye of Mordor, when it's really the Eye of Sauron. Jeeze! Scott Rosenberg exposes more flaws in Santorum's comments:

First of all, in Tolkien's saga, the good guys are outgunned and outmanned by the Dark Lord, whereas in our world, the U.S. is a "hyperpower" whose military, in 2001-2, seemed to bestride the world. Second, in Tolkien, the good guys sent Frodo with the Ring into the depths of Mordor as a sort of last-ditch, bet-everything gamble; then they sent an army to the gates of Mordor as a diversion — to keep the Eye occupied and distract it from the hobbits headed for Mount Doom.

David Weigel at Reason's Hit and Run further explains how Santorum's comments failed to reflect the geopolitical complexities of Middle Earth:

Was Santorum referring to the hobbits' final approach up Mount Doom, when Aragorn (George Bush) was convincing the men of Gondor (Tony Blair) and Rohan (John Howard) to make a final, diversionary push at the Black Gates? Or is he referring to the entire quest of Frodo and Sam (300 million Americans), which was aided at various points by mystical creatures - the Ents, the Dead Men of Dunharrow - that don't have any easy relations in the real war on terror?

And Rosenberg again:

It's hard, in truth, to find any useful Middle Earth analogy to the Iraq War: the parallels break down across the board. Still, you might think of Bush's invasion of Iraq as the equivalent of a beleaguered Gondor, attacked by the armies of Mordor across the River Anduin, sending its army off on an expedition to Far Harad, after its leaders issued proclamations that the White Council had incontrovertible evidence of the Haradrim's possession of Rings of Mass Destruction.

So wait, if Bush is Aragorn, does that mean Condi Rice is Arwen?

Money in California Politics Laid Bare

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:40 PM EDT

Hey California voters! Curious about how much beverage company cash helped influence a vote on bottled-water standards? Wondering which interest groups are especially generous to your state Assembly member? Check out this new online money-and-politics database from Maplight.org, a Berkeley-based non-profit. It tracks votes on specific bills by state pols and cross-references that info with details on who gave them money, and when. So far, only data from 2003-2004 is available, but the Maplighters claim more recent stuff will be up soon. The impatient can do their own state-level research with the help of The Institute on Money and State Politics , or go federal at OpenSecrets.org. And of course there's always the famous Mother Jones 400, one of the very first online sources of campaign finace dirt.

Muslim Religious Differences Too Trivial to Pursue

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 8:09 PM EDT

Jeff Stein, the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, published an op-ed piece in today's New York Times (available, alas, only to TimesSelect members) giving the results of his recent survey of counterterrorism officials. The survey has just one question: What's the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?

Stein was dumbfounded to learn that very few of his interviewees, who play important roles in intelligence and law enforcement communities and Congress, had any idea. And, as Stein writes, he wasn't asking deep, theological questions, "just the basics: Who's on what side today, and what does each want?"

For those of you who might—like Trent Lott, who recently wondered, "Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me"—see this as a rarefied inquiry, here's how Stein explains why it matters:

[T]he nature of the threat from Iran [Shiite], a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda [Sunni]. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

Hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites are on center stage in Iraq, and play an important role in Al Qaeda's motivations. Perhaps if officials knew more about them, better policy would follow?

But one of Stein's interviewees—the spokesman for the FBI—took the position that understanding the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite was akin to "memoriz[ing] the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be[ing] able to read Urdu [or] playing 'Islamic Trivial Pursuit.'"

If there's a game comparison, shouldn't it at least be Risk?

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Will Saddam Help the GOP Get an Election Bump?

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 7:54 PM EDT

Over at the Nation, the ever-prolific Tom Engelhardt speculates about what he thinks could be the GOP's November Surprise: the November 5 sentencing of Saddam Hussein. Assuming that Saddam is guaranteed to get the death penalty, the White House could get itself a nice last-minute blip of "progress" to sell to voters. Clearly, the timing will work well for Bush & Co. Whether that's a happy coincdence is subject to debate. But as law prof and blogger Scott Horton tells Engelhardt,

"When you look at polling figures," Horton said," there have been three significant spike points. One was the date on which Saddam was captured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third was Zarqawi being killed. Based on those three, it's easy to project that they will get a mild bump out of this....This is not coincidence.... Nothing in Iraq that's set up this far in advance is coincidental."

But would this "mild bump" be enough to revive Republicans' fortunes at the polls? It's not like the Democrats won't cheer Saddam's descent to death row, so the Republicans would have to work fast to turn this into a partisan issue (not that they won't try their darndest). And in the eyes of many Americans, Saddam's hardly the WMD-toting bogeyman he was three years ago; he's no Osama, no matter how much the "Saddam was behind 9/11" crowd wishes he was. With support for the war at an all-time low, it's hard for me to see how this verdict will change many war-weary minds, much less energize a disheartened GOP base.


| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Charlie Cook's staff on CSPAN Sunday were predicting Senate control will ride on one vote. Could go either way. Whatever happens that's going to give tremendous leverage to Joe Lieberman,who is running 8-10 points ahead of Ned Lamont. Lieberman confirmed to us this morning he will organize with the Democrats. But, he can always change his mind.Whatever happens he is in a position to exercise considerable leverage—in terms of committee assignments and pork.Lieberman could end up with more power in Connecticut than fellow senator and Democrat Christopher Dodd , not to mention greater influence than the Bush family before it fled into exile in Texas.

As for Vermont's Bernie Sanders, running far ahead of Richard Tarrant (64-32) in the Vermont senate race, his office said Sanders will organize with the Democrats.

Dancing with DeLay

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

How far Tom Delay's fallen. The former Majority Leader has been reduced to rallying his base on behalf of a contestant on the reality TV series "Dancing with the Stars." Of late, Delay has launched a media campaign for country singer Sara Evans, who recently filed for divorce from her husband Craig Schelske, a former Republican candidate for Congress. Here's what DeLay had to say about Evans in an email:

"Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media. From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in. Let's show Sara that same support by watching and voting for her each week to help her win this competition. One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans."

Talk show host and former Cincinnatti mayor, Jerry Springer, is another "Dancing with the Stars 3" contestant who announced in September that he would not run for Senate.

That's right, the man once known as "The Hammer" has gone from ruling the House with an iron fist to letting Jerry Springer really have it.

Radar's Ten Dumbest Congressmen

| Tue Oct. 17, 2006 2:05 PM EDT

Radar has fun detailing "America's Dumbest Congressmen." Readers of Mother Jones' regular feature "The Diddly Award" will know many of the names and anecdotes already but when it comes to the antics of wise legislators such as Jim Bunning, Katherine Harris, and Patrick Kennedy, is it possible for familiarity to breed even more contempt?

Update, May 26, 2010: Hi Huffington Post readers! That Radar link (to their 2006 feature on America's "dumbest" members of Congress) doesn't work anymore, probably because of Radar's complicated history. I've reproduced the list here for your convenience (minus Radar's commentary, which I can't find in a complete form is available on the internet archive—thanks, Anon.):

10. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY)
9. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
8. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT)
7. Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
6. Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH)
5. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
4. Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ)
3. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)
2. Representative Donald Young (R-AK)
1. Representative Katherine Harris (R-FL)

A lot of these folks are no longer in Congress. Burns (8) lost to Jon Tester in 2006. McKinney (7) lost to Hank Johnson (of "Guam capsizing" fame) in a Democratic primary the same year. J.D. Hayworth is no longer a member of the House, but he's running against John McCain in the GOP senate primary in Arizona. Harris (1) ran for Senate in 2006 and lost. Vern Buchanan now holds her House seat. Bunning (10) and Kennedy (9) are retiring this year. That leaves Schmidt (6), Boxer (5), Inhofe (3), and Young (2) still in Congress. None of those four seem particularly "dumb" to me, although I disagree with some of them on the issues. Anyway, here's Mother Jones being mean about some of these very same folks back in 2006. 

—Nick Baumann