Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

This Fall's Media Bias Complaints, Explained Today

Mitt Romney pretends to enjoy hanging out with the press (Flickr/Paul Chenoweth)

It's only February, but I have a pretty good idea about how the election is going to proceed from this point forward. Mitt Romney is going to struggle through the primaries, eventually dispatching Rick Santorum. But unlike many nominees, instead of being strengthened by the primary process, he will have been weakened by it, demonstrating his persistence, but not much else. As the economy slowly improves, President Obama's approval rating will continue to inch up, and the Obama campaign will begin its assault on Romney's character, one that will be largely successful. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, will struggle in the face of that improving economy to come up with a compelling critique of the President, trying in vain to alter opinions about the incumbent that have been formed and solidified over the past four years. Obama will lead the tracking polls pretty much throughout, culminating in a win that is fairly close, but not uncomfortably so. In this it will resemble the 1996 campaign more than, say, the 2004 campaign, when the outcome was in doubt much of the way.

Of course, there will be twists and turns along the way -- campaign gaffes, unforeseen events, maybe an international crisis. But there's a very good chance that those will be minor ups and downs in an election that will end up looking fairly predictable. And throughout this process, conservatives will shout that the liberal media is trying its darndest to make sure the Democrat wins, because that's what the liberal media does. I promise you, they'll be saying this. The closer we get to election day, the louder and more bitter the complaints will be. As is often the case, the volume of those complaints will have absolutely nothing to do with the actual content of coverage. But when they do talk about the content, look closely: they'll be arguing that coverage driven by the horse race is actually driven by bias...

Republican Women Still Like Rick Santorum

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Yet another poll shows Rick Santorum with a lead among Republican women; according the latest survey from ABC News and The Washington Post, 57 percent of Republican women have a favorable view of the former Pennsylvania senator, compared to the 61 percent who have a favorable view of Mitt Romney. What’s more, as The Post notes, Romney has higher negative ratings among GOP women than Santorum does—28 percent to 18 percent.

Mitt, Rick, and the Ultimate Irony

Last night in Mesa, Arizona, we learned (thanks to Rick Santorum) that birth control leads to more unwanted pregnancies. We discovered that Newt Gingrich thinks his best one-word description is “cheerful.” We couldn't help noticing that Ron Paul (see below) has become Mitt Romney’s most valuable campaign surrogate.

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society.

Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military, while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives.

Milking the SuperPACs

(Flickr/AMagill)

Back in the dark ages when I worked on campaigns, contributions from supporters always made me feel a little guilty. Some of them anyway -- not the rich guy who maxed out, or the candidate's business partner who gave his house as a crash pad for the staff to sleep in when they shuffled out of the office at 1 am -- but the nice little old lady who gave $50, or the earnest schoolteacher with a check for $100. I knew it meant a lot to them, but I couldn't help thinking it would go to something that wouldn't do very much to make the world a better place, like pizza or some ineffectual mailer. And that doesn't even get into the money that's milked by the armies of consultants.

That's why I was actually pleased to see this analysis by the Los Angeles Times of how some of the people running superPACs are turning them into dandy profit machines. Here's just one example:

Winning Our Future, a group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that has been buoyed by $11 million in donations from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family, paid its president, Becky Burkett, $206,000 in January for executive management and fundraising services, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Gregg Phillips, the Austin-based consultant who serves as the super PAC's managing director, got $90,000.

Winning Our Future spokesman Rick Tyler said the super PAC pays its staff for "fundraising successes." Tyler said the payments Burkett and Phillips received in January included compensation for work they did in November and December, before the super PAC was launched on Dec 13. He said their salaries were determined by the super PAC's "senior leadership" — which consists of himself, Burkett and Phillips.

At $206,000 for three months, that's $824,000 a year. Not bad. But you know what? More power to 'em. There aren't any (or not many, anyway) kindly little old ladies donating to superPACs. It's almost all millionaires and billionaires. So if the slick operators running these machines want to get rich with Sheldon Adelson's money, where's the harm?

And they won't be the only ones getting a taste. The superPACs won't have any just-out-of-college field grunts making $1,500 a month and sleeping on somebody's couch. The primary activity of most of these groups will be media -- direct mail, online ads, and most of all TV. Which means that the mail consultants and the media consultants will no doubt be charging their usual rates, or maybe a bit more. Hey, there's plenty to go around, and it's on Shelly!

Rick Santorum's Cross to Bear

Rick Santorum and this guy go way back. (Flickr/

Apparently, Rick Santorum is displeased that he's being forced to talk about stuff like contraception, and Satan's war on America, when other candidates aren't getting the same kind of questions. One of his aides made the complaint to conservative journalist Byron York:

But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers. "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one. "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy."

In one way, Santorum's people have a point. Reporters haven't asked Romney lots of questions about Mormonism, for a few reasons. First, Romney does almost no interviews or press conferences, so reporters seldom get the chance to ask him about anything. Second, as the Santorum aide says, Romney will quickly deflect any question about Mormonism to a more general point about the importance of faith, Obama's "war on religion," blah blah blah. And finally, I suspect reporters are a little nervous about seeming intolerant. If you start asking Romney questions about the more colorful aspects of Mormon theology, you might sound like your being intolerant of a minority religion and implying that Romney's faith could be disqualifying. On the other hand, Santorum is quite happy to talk about what he thinks God wants and what he thinks God hates, speaking in much more concrete terms about religion than Romney ever does...

Why Arizona is "in Play" This November

(Pablo Manriquez/Flickr)

If John McCain weren’t on the ballot in 2008, you could make a strong case that his state, Arizona, would have been in play for Democrats, regardless of who they nominated. Hispanics were a huge share of the population, a significant share of the electorate—at 16 percent of all voters in the state—and a solid block of supporters for the Democratic Party—in 2008, they supported Barack Obama with 55 percent of the vote.

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

And the Winner Is: Barack Obama

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Without question, the winner of Wednesday’s Republican debate was Barack Obama. This wasn’t apparent at the beginning; during the first forty minutes, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul argued about earmarks, and made the usual promise to cut taxes, cut spending, and magically balance the budget. But by the end of the event, the candidates had revealed their hostility toward women and Latinos, and further ensured that they would stay on Obama’s side into the fall.

Santorum's Piñata Moment

Back in early September, after he’d vaulted into the lead in Republican polls, Texas Governor Rick Perry found himself the queasy center of attention in his maiden presidential debate. "I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party," Perry said midway through the inquisition. It wasn’t long before Perry “oopsed” himself into oblivion—the fate that’s met each of the conservative shooting stars (Bachmann, Pawlenty, Cain, Gingrich) who’ve plummeted back to Earth partly because of the Piñata Effect. Tonight, in what might be the last 2012 GOP debate, it’s Rick Santorum’s turn.

Women for Santorum?

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)

If this new poll from the Associated Press is any indication, Republicans have mixed feelings about the presidential race. On one hand, 60 percent of Republican say that they are satisfied with the people running for the nomination, which is down from the 66 percent in October. This isn’t a great number, but it isn’t a sign of widespread disappointment, and it dovetails with polls from Gallup that show a broad preference for sticking with candidates that are in the race, rather than reaching for someone new.

Romney's Out of Flops on Abortion

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Lots of politicians, and quite a few presidential candidates, have changed their minds on abortion. This is partly because, in its broadest terms, it is a weighty, complex issue with a legitimate case to be made on both sides, even if one side has a stronger case (I'm not talking here about subsidiary issues like parental consent or the despicable laws requiring women to get ultrasounds or anything like that, just the basic question of whether abortion is right or wrong). It's also because in recent years, both parties have tolerated less and less deviation on the issue, particularly in anyone who wants to be their presidential nominee. There are still a few pro-life Democrats (like Harry Reid) and pro-choice Republicans (like Olympia Snowe), but the days when someone could hope to get on a national ticket without toeing the line on abortion are gone.

So if you've been around a while, there's a chance you held one belief in your early years, but then moved to align with your party later on. This is what happened, for instance, to George H.W. Bush (a great advocate of reproductive rights in his early years as a member of Congress) and Al Gore (who started off his career pro-life). Chances are most people don't even know that about Bush or Gore, but people sure do know that Mitt Romney changed his views on abortion. Why? A few reasons...

Virginia Backs Down on Mandatory Transvaginal Ultrasound

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)

*Update: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support of transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions Wednesday afternoon. In a statement released to the press, McDonell said:

Thus, having looked at the current proposal, I believe there is no need to direct by statute that further invasive ultrasound procedures be done. Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.

Um, What's a Brokered Convention?

There comes a point in every presidential election battle where political pundits and fanatical West Wing-watchers alike hold their breaths, click their heels, and wish upon an earmark that this will be the year of the brokered convention.

As the surety of Mitt Romney’s arranged marriage to the Republican Party steadily diminishes while other suitors pull ahead, the plausibility of a tussle in Tampa come convention-time in August has grown. Herewith, a look at the peculiar institution of the nomination convention, why all the talking heads are in a tizzy about a brokered instead of a fixed one, and what the odds are of a televised royal rumble this summer.

What is a brokered convention?

In their current form, conventions are exercises in collective vanity, an excuse for the party’s settled nominee—who has already garnered enough delegates to make his competitors drop out—to get media exposure and some prime face-time with party big-wigs. But conventions were once substantive affairs, where candidates’ delegations came to wheel and deal for votes, hoping either to clinch the top slot on the ticket or at least ensure that their ideas make it onto the official party platform. A convention is "brokered" when none of the candidates has the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination and competitors remain in the race. To settle on a nominee, the party goes through a series of re-votes and political horse trading until a candidate is chosen.

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