Recapping the Summer Campaign Season

Oh, what a difference a few months make.

At the end of May, loyal readers may recall that I gave you my sense of how the Republican field for president was shaping up.  At the time, I put four white guys – Romney, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Santorum – in the small category of candidates who could win their party’s nomination and could win in the general.

Turns out I was too generous by half.  Former Governor Pawlenty packed it in a day after a disappointing performance in the Ames straw poll and former Senator Santorum’s performance over the last couple of months suggests to me that he’s in it for the ideology not the office.  That leaves only former Governor Romney and former Governor Huntsman still in the sweet spot (with Huntsman there only out of courtesy as he hasn’t done much of anything since declaring in June).  Jeez, there’s a lot of former officeholders looking for work, isn’t there?

Overall, however, the dynamics of the Republican race haven’t changed much.  Romney is still considered to be the frontrunner by most pundits and many Republicans are still looking for someone else.  In just this year alone, we’ve seen flirtations with Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniel, Michelle Bachmann and – most recently – Rick Perry.  Even with the actual candidacies of the latter two, we’re still hearing wistful longing for more choices such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others.

As a result of all of this churn, my graphic representations of who’s best positioned to win the nomination and who’s best positioned to win the general have changed a little bit:

Among the most noteworthy changes:

  • The rise and fall of Michele Bachmann.  I hope Ms. Bachmann has enjoyed her star turn because her best days on the campaign trail are behind her.  The entry of Rick Perry sucks away too much of her oxygen and her regularly scheduled lunatic ravings (“”I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’) are not playing well on the larger stage.  While she’s still in the consideration set, my perception is that she’s rapidly falling out of it.  If Michele Bachmann’s candidacy were something actually important – like, say, a nation’s AAA credit rating – we’d have it “under review with negative implications.”
  • The entry of Rick Perry.  Governor Perry is an actual current governor so he’s got that going for him, but it’s interesting to note that after about a week’s worth of infatuation, the GOP intelligentsia started showing signs yet again of restlessness.  It will be interesting to see how the Aggie from west Texas holds up.
  • The fall, fall, fall…fall of Newt Gingrich. Not since 1980 have I seen a major candidate as unprepared for a presidential run as Newt.  You have to go back to Ted Kennedy’s famous Roger Mudd interview in which he blew the softest softball question in presidential political history – “Why do you want to be president?” – to find a candidate screwing up so badly out of the gate.  Kennedy never recovered and Newt won’t either.
  • The thud of Jon Huntsman.  Is he actually running for president?  Damned if I can tell.  Most days he’s invisible and when he does appear most of what he says is unmemorable.  Between his – relative – moderateness and his hesitancy to attack Obama as aggressively as others are doing, he’s often drowned out.
  • The splitting of the field.  Discerning readers will note that the GOP field is bifurcating into a big mass of names around the pole marked “No Way” in terms of winning the GOP nomination.  This is a reflection less of ideology than of logistics.  If you ain’t in it now, the odds that you can get in it to win it are shrinking every day.  Running for president requires money, organization and strategy; if you don’t have a least 2 out of 3 by Labor Day you’re hosed.  Even Sara Palin though she may be crazy enough to think otherwise (that said, I’m about 90 percent sure she’s smart enough to stay out of this melee.

The weakness of the Republican field and the continued inability of its candidates to demonstrate how they can walk the whipsaw of the nomination and the general election continue to be the best thing President Obama has going for him as a re-election strategy. Usually, a sitting president with 9+ percent unemployment, sub-three percent economic growth, high gas prices and an unpopular war would be a one-term shoo-in.  The inability of the Republicans to come together around a viable candidate is the strongest reason he’s still in the game. Well, there’s the billion or so dollars he’s likely to raise, too.

Labor Day marks the unofficial start of the election season and the Iowa caucuses are just about five months away.  As Hank Williams Jr. might say, “Are you ready for some football?”

- Austin

Minnesota Execptionalism

Miracle Man.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is the news media’s Flavor of the Month. He’s getting rave reviews, much of it focused on the miracle economy he has reportedly engineered. When you Google “Rick Perry unemployment rate” this morning, you will be treated to several thousand articles gushing that Texas’s unemployment rate is a point lower than the national unemployment rate.

So, Rick Perry is all in. As the great Texas anthropologist Jerry Jeff Walker observed, “when a Texan fancies, he’ll take his chances, chances will be taken.”

Perry’s rave reviews have to rankle Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Because when you look at economic and quality of life numbers through Minnesota goggles, Texas doesn’t look so miraculous.

• MN unemployement rate is 6.7%. TX is 8.2%. US is 9.1%.
• MN median household income is $54,403. TX is $53,009. (adjusted for cost-of-living)
• MN heath insurance rate is 91%. TX is 76%. US is 85%.
• MN infant mortality rate is 4.8%. TX is 6.5%. US is 6.9%
• MN high school graduation rate is 85.4%. TX is 65.3%. US is 70.1%

Texas envy?

So, remind me again, why do we want Minnesota and the whole nation to become like Rick Perry’s Texas?

Yes, taxes in Texas are lower than in Minnesota, and just about every other place on the planet. If your life’s ambition is to pay as little taxes as possible, Mr. Perry might well be the low bidder. But I lived in Texas as a poor student – hook ‘em Horns — and I can tell you that you get what you pay for. If your life’s ambition is for your family to have a decent income, good health care, and healthy, smart kids, Perry may not be your guy. The numbers tell the story.

Of course, Tim Pawlenty is no miracle worker either. Under Pawlenty, Minnesota took a dramatic step backwards. Thanks to Pawlenty’s cuts in state health coverage programs, uninsurance rates went from 6.6% to 9.1, a 29% freefall. Real median income has declined by 9%, which is twice as fast as the nation as a whole. Minnesota fell from 8th in the nation in per capita income to 14th. And despite throwing $150 million in handouts to business owners through his aborably named JOBZ program, job growth under Pawlenty was 0.5%, lowest of any of the former Governor’s seeking the presidency.

But give Governor Pawlenty his due. It’s not like he drove us below Rick Perry’s Texas.

- Loveland

TFlaw: Pawlenty’s Drone Assaults Continue To Fall Flat

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty perplexed political pundits a few weeks ago when he attacked political rival Mitt Romney for passing “Obamneycare” health insurance reform, but then completely backed off the attack the next day when nose-to-nose with a smirking Romney.

I assumed Pawlenty just was off that night, or that he intentionally pulled back because he worried about being exposed as a hypocrite on that particular issue. Whatever the origins of the original retreat, I assumed that would the last such TFlaw. In fact, I expected him to be pitbull agressive to calm red meat-craving party activists who are wondering if Pawlenty is nasty enough to rhetorically dismember President Obama in face-to-face debates.

But, it looks like Governor Pawlenty has done it again, this time with his “Minnesota twin” Michelle Bachmann. Today Bloomberg reports: Continue reading

Mini-Michele Steps Onto the Stage

Editor’s note: I just realized I’ve been spelling “Michele” with two “l”s today; this is why we should have copy editors.  Sorry.

Jeez, she’s tiny.  Everything else aside, are we ready for the first five-foot President?

I’m on a streak when it comes to catching GOP candidates declaring their candidacies; last week I got treated to Jon Huntsman in New Jersey.  Now, I’m watching Michele Bachmann’s coming out party in Waterloo.

So far, I’m underwhelmed:

  • Bad stagecraft – the flags and signage are poorly positioned for the cameras
  • Bad speechwriting – as with Mr. Huntsman’s announcement, I’m left wondering if Ms. Bachmann read this speech aloud before today
  • Bad delivery – She’s getting better as she gets into it, but her delivery is rushed and a little flat.

Let’s give Ms. Bachmann and her handlers a little break; this is the biggest stage they’ve ever played and in days of yore a lot of this would have been worked out in less of a glare (the first press conference I ever staged I set the camera angles to give a great shot right up the candidate’s nose but fortunately it was only covered by two stations in Hannibal, MO).

Biggest applause lines so far:

  • “I’m a social conservative.”
  • “I’m a member of the Tea Party.”
  • “Barack Obama will be a one-term president.” This one has become such a signature line for Ms. Bachmann that the audience did a sing-along with her as she spoke it.

She’s reminding the audience of the sacrifice of the Sullivan brothers who grew up in Waterloo and who died in the sinking of the Juneau in World War II.  This set up her call to action close for sacrifice and common purpose.

And we’re done.  Ms. Bachmann is doing the waves and hugs at the lectern to the strains of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”  As an aside, I hope Mr. Petty gets residuals from all the politicians who have appropriated his music for political events.  Same for Mr. Springsteen.

We’ve now segued into Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”. Followed by the classic “I Feel Good” by James Brown and the Stones’ “Start Me Up”  Ms. Bachmann said in her remarks that she wasn’t trying to turn back the clock, but from a musical perspective, it’s 1980 again.

Musical update.  We’ve gotten up to the 21st century – almost – with Jennifer Lopez’ “Lets Get Loud, U2’s “Beautiful Day” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”

This performance was quite restrained in contrast with other Bachmann outings I’ve seen – no “gangsters,” no “anti-Americanisms.”  In fact, much of the red meat one has come to expect from Ms. Bachmann was missing. All in all, however, a decent coming out, significantly better than Mr. Huntsman’s in terms of energy and excitement.  Jason Lewis, who did the introduction, will no doubt have an enjoyable second career for a while as crowd-whipper in chief.  Based on this event, the new Iowa poll and her widely praised performance in the New Hampshire debate, Ms. Bachmann has clearly been on a roll in the last couple of weeks.

Poor Tim Pawlenty.  Like the Highlander series, there can only be one Minnesotan in this race and the very early betting on who’s head will be taken is on Mr. Pawlenty.

- Austin

Minnesota GOP To Bring Back Fiscal Mullet?

George Orwell called it “Newspeak,” the restriction of disapproved language by a powerful entity. You may also recall that in his dystopian novel 1984, “goodthink” was used to describe an officially sanctioned viewpoint, and “thoughtcrime” was used to describe an illegal type of thought.

So finally I understand why Mrs. Stolles made me read that creepy book. For now I know what is truly going on in the budget negotiations between the GOP-controlled Legislature and DFL Governor Dayton. The biggest sticking point in these negotiations is not really whether DFL legislators can participate in the negotiations, or whether supplying respirators constitutes an essential government service.

No, the show-stopping sticking point is that GOP Newspeak dictates that use of the word “taxes” is a thoughtcrime, because it is not goodthink. No can do. Dayton may as well be requesting Speaker Zellers to commit serial murders on the House floor. Just ask GOP Chair Tony Sutton.

And this presents the Mother of All Sticking Points for budget negotiators.

But have no fear, State Rep. Joe Gimse is here. This clever GOP legislator from Willmar knows that someone who raises revenue but doesn’t call it a “tax” is not technically guilty of a GOP thoughtcrime. Kind of like a robber who only points a fake finger gun through a coat is not guilty of armed robbery, at least on the TV shows I watch.

The PiPress reports today that:

…(Grimes) said he would consider voting for proposals to raise revenue as long as the money doesn’t come from taxes. He said he would consider money from gambling, surcharges or fees.”

Fiscal mullet, Pawlenty style.

Mr. Gimse may be onto something. This looks to be a nifty little thoughtcrime dodge, though far from an unprecedented one. Those of you who hold grudges will recall that then-Governor Tim Pawlenty raised “fees” by 21%, while still aggressively marketing his fidelity to the No New Taxes gods. One cheeky blogger of the day dubbed the maneuver a fiscal mullet — “cosmetic constraint in the front, unrestrained growth in the back.”

So now we have something to negotiate, though we must choose our words very, very carefully. But since I am an infidel who is not governed by GOP Newspeak, I have my own word to describe the potential consideration of, well, you know, “new contributions for the support of a government required of persons, groups, or businesses within the doman of that government.”

I call it “hope.”

Loveland

Tim’s Timidity on “Obamneycare”

Tim Pawlenty puzzled pundits when he failed to confront rival Mitt Romney this week about Romney’s support of an “Obamneycare” health insurance mandate. Was Tim timid because he knew Romney possessed this tape and was about to use it to portray Pawlenty as a flip-flopping hypocrite?

Again, the damning Pawlenty quote from November 14, 2006:

“I’m grateful for our friend from Massachusetts here. Governor Romney is an outstanding Governor. He is a unbelieveably bright and nimble and gifted public policy leader and Massachusetts and America have been well served by his leadership as well.

And so the question then becomes, if you’re going to require insurance, and I think that is a worthy goal and one that we are intrigued by and at least open to, how then do you enable people to access the insurance?

In Minnesota, as to the access issue, I believe we should move toward universal coverage. Everybody should be in a health plan of some sort. How we get there becomes important. I think a mandate by itself is potentially helpful, but it’s not an answer by itself.”

No one can know for sure, but this tape could explain the Timidity.

- Loveland

The Beginning of the End for Pawlenty?

Hardly anyone has noticed yet, but yesterday a Minnesota blogger may have put a fatal dagger in former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s hopes of winning the Republican nomination for President.

True North’s Andy Aplikowski is the modern-day Woodstein who reported a blockbuster yesterday that should make it much more difficult for Pawlenty to win the hearts of the hard-core right-wing activists who dominate the Iowa Republican Party caucuses.

Pawlenty’s sin? Cavorting on a boat like Gary Hart? Weeping like Ed Muskie? Bathroom stall tap dancing like Senator Larry Craig? Allegedly Tweeting his twitter to a young woman like Congressman Anthony “I kid you not” Wiener?

Much worse. Much, much worse. Once upon a time, it seems Pawlenty wanted help thousands of Minnesotans get health coverage for their families. I’m not kidding. There’s tape.

Continue reading

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