Political MoJo

18-Year-Old Wins State Legislature Seat in West Virginia

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 6:30 AM EST

The Republican wave lifted many boats last night, including that of 18-year-old Saira Blair. The college freshman was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in a landslide—she earned 63 percent of the vote to her 44-year-old Democratic opponent's 30 percent—and officially became the youngest lawmaker in the country. She'll represent a district of about 18,000 people in the eastern part of the state, near the Maryland border.

The Wall Street Journal describes Blair as "fiscally conservative," and she "campaigned on a pledge to work to reduce certain taxes on businesses." Her website boasts an "A" rating from the NRA and endorsements from West Virginians for Life. As a 17-year-old, Blair primaried the 66-year-old Republican incumbent Larry Kump and advanced to the general election—all while legally being unable to cast a vote for herself. Democratic attorney Layne Diehl, her general election opponent, had only good things to say last night about the teenager who beat her: "Quite frankly, a 17- or 18-year-old young woman that has put herself out there and won a political campaign has certainly brought some positive press to the state."

Blair, an economics and Spanish major at West Virginia University, will defer her spring classes to attend the legislative session at the state capitol. There, she'll join her father and campaign manager, Craig, who is a state senator.

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Sam Brownback Holds On

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:53 AM EST

Sam Brownback lives to see another day. The embattled Kansas governor won his reelection bid, defeating Democrat Paul Davis. Polls headed into Tuesday had given Brownback poor odds for retaining his job, but being on the ballot during a horrendous year for Democrats nationwide proved to be enough for Brownback to hold on.

Four years ago Brownback coasted into the governors mansion by 30-points. But during his first-term in office he drove moderate Republicans out of his party in order to implement one of the steepest state-level tax cuts in history. Since then, tax revenues have dropped precipitously and the state's credit rating has been downgraded. The next session of the state legislature will likely have to enact sweeping budget cuts or revoke Brownback's tax cuts, an unlikely scenario now that he's maintained his job.

Davis ran a quiet campaign, banking on dissatisfaction with the incumbent rather than running a proactive campaign laying out his own vision. A campaign based on being Not Sam Brownback didn't prove to be enough in the end.

Pat Roberts Avoids Being The Only Senate Republican To Lose In 2014

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:33 AM EST
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on Tuesday avoided the indignity of becoming the only GOP incumbent senator to lose his seat in the 2014 midterm elections. The Associated Press called the race for Roberts at 11:10 p.m. ET.

Roberts was dogged from the start by evidence that he lived in suburban Virginia and not in the state he represented in Congress. (His listed residence in Kansas was a home that belonged to two supporters.) He overcame a spirited challenge by a tea-party-backed doctor named Milton Wolf in the GOP primary. And then Roberts, who is 78, battled back from a sizable deficit against independent Greg Orman, a businessman who conveyed an anti-Washington message and refused to say which party he'd caucus with if elected.

The Kansas Senate race got even more interesting in September, when the Democrat on the ticket, Chad Taylor, dropped out, leaving only Orman and Roberts in the race. Polls at the time showed Orman with as much as a 10-point lead.

When Roberts' vulnerability against Orman became apparent earlier this fall, Roberts' campaign staff was replaced with prominent Republican strategists. Reinforcements in the form of outside money swooped in, painting Orman as a Democrat in disguise and as an Obama ally. (Orman had previously made a brief run for Congress on the Democratic ticket.) The constant attacks on Orman paid off, and Roberts has now secured his fourth term in the US Senate.

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.

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.

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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

 

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.