Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Queering Congress

(AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels) Tammy Baldwin, center, and Jared Polis, right, both openly gay members of Congress, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco, Saturday, December 5, 2009. Both spoke optimistically about key legislative agenda items sought by LGBT advocates. W hen California teacher Mark Takano ran for Congress 15 years ago, he lost to Republican challenger Ken Calvert by a scant 519 votes. Two years later, things looked more promising. Police had caught Calvert with a prostitute; Takano should have easily clinched a win. But just three months before the election, Ray Haynes—a Calvert supporter in the state assembly—outed Takano as gay. "I said quite clearly I personally don't want a homosexual representing me in Congress," Haynes said at the time. Takano's opponents sent a late mailer, which asked voters in pink letters to consider whether Takano should be "A Congressman for Riverside … or...

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

Recent Prospect alum Pema Levy thinks that Newt Gingrich has a shot at stealing Iowa, if the evangelicals learn to stop worrying and give up trying to love the Rom. Which shouldn't be too hard, because it is now proven that there is an inverse relationship between Romney's likeability and voters' exposure to the former Massachusetts governor. This relationship has become the only thing unwaveringly true about the Romney campaign. Gingrich's chances will also be much improved once Cain drops out of the race (which will happen soon), because the voters getting off the Cain Train will most likely defect to the Gingrich camp, as Jamelle Bouie points out. Speaking of things that seem to be heading to an inevitable end, the Euro Zone is not looking too good. Daily Intel reminds us that there are other candidates who shouldn't have ever run for the presidency, namely Rick Perry, who "made the mistake of...talking...out loud...about stuff." Fox News predicts that Obama will win in 2012! But,...

Should We Bring Back the Smoke-Filled Rooms?

The National Interest ’s Robert Merry isn’t happy with the current presidential nomination process. It’s too long, too costly, and places too much faith in the ability of ordinary voters to control the process. Other than luck, he argues, there’s nothing to keep an unqualified or vulnerable candidate from winning the nomination. It almost happened with the Democratic Party in 2008 (see: John Edwards), and it could happen with this year’s Republican nomination contest. Moreover, the vetting that does exist isn’t foolproof; if a single candidate wins the early primaries, is there any doubt that the game would be over in short order? For an alternative to the current system, Merry offers a return to the “ smoke-filled rooms ” of yore: It worked like this: The party pros in what were colloquially called “smoke-filled rooms” (party caucuses and conventions) would make the decisions based on conviction, political log rolling, compromise, friendship patterns and, shall we say, party...

Have the Curtains Closed for Herman Cain?

Yesterday, Herman Cain suffered another setback to his book tour cum presidential campaign when he announced that he’s been accused of carrying on a 13-year-long extramarital affair. Cain denounced the accusations, but he couldn’t mitigate the damage; at this point, support for his campaign has dwindled to where it was before his surge in October. As a result of this—and the earlier accusations of sexual harassment—the Cain campaign has opted to “reassess” its decision to go forward in the Republican presidential primary. National Review ’s Robert Costas provides the scoop: "When the previous two accusations, false accusations, came about, we made another assessment. The way we handled those was, we continued on with our schedule. We made an assessment about what was going to happen to our support. But our supporters, and even some folks that we didn’t have as supporters, they stood with us, and they showed it not only in terms of their verbal support, they showed it in terms of their...

The Diminishing Marginal Return of Voting for Barack Obama

Thirty30 Photography
Any explanation of the 2008 election cycle has to include the large intensity gap between Democratic and Republican voters. After eight years of George W. Bush, Democrats were eager to vote against a Republican, and excited to vote for Barack Obama. And while 2008 was Obama’s election to lose, the huge level of Democratic enthusiasm contributed to his unlikely wins in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. With all of that said, there’s a chance that the tables have turned for 2012. The Wall Street Journal ’s Gerald Seib explains : In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters were asked whether they were more or less enthusiastic than usual about the 2012 election. A majority of Republicans, 56%, said they were more enthusiastic. By contrast, only 43% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic. Other readings from the poll produced the same kind of picture of a fired-up Republican base and a more lethargic Democratic one. Among conservatives, 59% said that they were...

Mitt Romney's Brand Takes a Hit

I’m not the biggest fan of Richard Cohen, but you should read his attack on Mitt Romney’s character, or lack thereof, in today’s Washington Post . In a few sentences, he gets to the heart of Romney’s persona — a mercenary politician who treats principles as a means to greater power: Mitt Romney runs for president with the eye of a venture capitalist. He sees the profit in certain positions, discards those that are no longer profitable and moves on. He was pro-choice when it did him some good, instituted a health insurance plan that he now denounces and once supported amnesty for some illegal immigrants. Richard III offered his kingdom for a horse. Romney offers his principles for some votes in Iowa. Ideological flexibility is par for the course in politicians, and there’s nothing wrong with it — success in politics depends on a willingness to compromise, bend principle, and take deals when you can make them. Romney’s core problem is that he takes this to its reductio ad absurdum . It’...

The Difference Between MittFlops and NewtFlops

Now that Newt Gingrich is the Republican front-runner (I know, it still sounds like a joke, but it's true), people are starting to pay attention to the fact that if you go through his public statements, you'll find as many changes of position as you will for any other candidate, including Mitt Romney. Some of these are in-the-moment howlers, like the time he assailed President Obama for not imposing a no-fly zone on Libya, then when Obama did just that a few days later, Gingrich assailed him for doing it. Others are position changes familiar to other candidates, like acknowledging and then denying climate change, and supporting and then opposing an individual mandate in health insurance. So do Gingrich and Romney share the same character flaw of unbridled opportunism that causes these changes? The answer is no. In fact, even though they share some of the same flips, the way they happened illuminates something essential about who each man is and how they make decisions. Mitt Romney...

Wisconsin Dems On Track To Launch Recall

I was a little skeptical last week when Wisconsin Democrats released the first batch of signatures for their recall campaign against Governor Scott Walker. They'd gathered over 100,000 signatures in four days, an impressive haul no doubt, but the first batch of supporters were always going to be the easiest to bring around. State election law requires that the signatures exceed 25 percent of the ballots cast in the relevant election, totaling over 540,000 in Walker's case. After two weeks of campaigning, though, a recall election is now a near certainty. United Wisconsin—the group behind the recall effort— announced yesterday that they have collected 300,000 signatures over the course of 12 days, easily setting them on a path to gain the minimum number in the 60-day window for their campaign. This widespread eagerness among the base also augurs well for the recall election itself. Walker's poll numbers have bounced back after they tumbled during his showdown with labor last spring,...

Romney Takes On Iowa

After a recent visit to and a few robocalls in the state that derailed his 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney is now shifting fully into contesting the Iowa caucuses. "We're going to be in Iowa enough to show that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to take on President Obama … As for a strategy, our strategy is to win there," a Romney spokeswoman said according to the Huffington Post . "Our strategy is to—we're going to get people out to the caucuses." It's still unclear exactly what form this new engagement in Iowa will take, but he recently opened a new campaign headquarters in Des Moines and should begin airing TV commercials in the near future. Romney's strategy for 2012 until now has been to invest everything in New Hampshire, notch a dominating win there, and use that to steamroll past the other candidates as the contest widens in early March. So far, it seems to be working; Romney has held a comfortable lead in New Hampshire polls all year. But it's still a tenuous plan. That 18-point...

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

Newt Gingrich continued his newfound dominance in the polls and the media with an endorsement from New Hampshire’s Union Leader yesterday. But, Gingrich is far behind his opponents in campaign organization and grassroots support, according to the latest Power Outsiders poll . More interesting, if less omnipresent, news comes the Ron Paul campaign. Apparently federal employees have donated more money to Ron Paul than any other GOP candidate. This leads me to believe that either 1) They don’t realize he wants to fire them or 2) Everyone in government is actually like Ron Swanson. I think you’ll agree that the time is ripe for The Real World: Department of Transportation. John Sides also noticed that Paul's poll numbers are dropping , and he’s not quite sure why. Thoughts? Bloomberg's report on the bank bailout is a (long) must-read if you want to understand the scope of the 2008 bailout, as well as the scope of the Fed’s job. The report will make...

GOP Candidates: Let's Resegregate the Military!

Around this time last year, the Senate was setting in to tackle various pieces legislation it put off over the course of the year and capitalize on the remaining time before the House majority switched parties in January. Repealing "don't ask, don't tell"—the '90s-era provision that allowed LGBT soldiers to serve in the military so long as they did not reveal their sexual identity—was near the top of the list for Democrats. Rather than immediately repealing the measure after the 2008 election on the grounds that the rule clearly violated civil liberties, Democrats did their best to appease the regulation's proponents and commissioned an impact study, which concluded that there would be no negative impact on military readiness or morale if the law were overturned. With the public backing repeal 77 to 21 percent , it easily sailed through the House, and after some wrangling was passed by the Senate; eight Republicans even joined the Democratic majority to overturn the law. "They will do...

What Does Barney Frank's Departure Mean for 2012?

After serving sixteen terms in Congress – and capping off his legislative career with the most expansive financial regulation in decades – Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (who turned 71 this year) is more than entitled to a retirement. But even if he’s vacating a traditionally Democratic seat, his departure furthers the perception that Democrats are pessimistic about regaining the House of Representatives in next year’s elections. Already, Democrats have seen seventeen retirements , the most recent of which was last week, when Texas Rep. Charlie Gonzalez announced his intention to forgo a reelection campaign next year. It should go without saying that mass retirements are never a good sign for a party that seeks a legislative majority. For every candidate that leaves Congress, national Democrats have to recruit new (possibly inexperienced) candidates, and devote funds to their campaigns. For party leaders eager to hold onto their advantage in competitive districts, the stakes are even...

Republican Dream Map Dashed

Texas congressional hopefuls will begin filing the paper work for their House campaigns today after an eventful holiday weekend. On Saturday, a federal court in San Antonio court approved a new congressional map that overturned the one drawn up by the state's Republican legislature earlier this year, granting Democrats and the state's burgeoning Hispanic population a significantly better chance of picking up seats next year. Texas Republicans had a golden opportunity after the party increased on its already substantial legislative majority in the 2010 midterm elections. Results from the U.S. Census granted the state four new seats in the US House, and Texas Republicans used their majority to draw a new congressional map that would likely have made three of those seats a sure-win for Republicans. Of course, the 20.6 percent increase in population over the past decade didn't come from a swell in likely GOP voters. Minorities have accounted for 87 percent of the population growth over...

Mitt vs. Mitt

The Democratic National Committee is out with a new ad targeting Mitt Romney for his ideological…flexibility. The 30 second clip will run on cable and broadcast stations in several swing states – Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania – as well as Wisconsin. Here it is: There is a longer, 4-minute web-only version that’s equally devastating in outlining Romney’s willingness to change positions for narrow political gain. Given the extent to which the “flip-flopper” image harmed both Al Gore and John Kerry, I don’t think that you can say that these efforts are useless , especially if the media opts to define Romney in these terms as well. But – as with all things in presidential campaigns – the utility of this strategy depends on the economy; under poor economic conditions, few people will care that Romney is devoid of core political convictions.

Foxes and Hedgehogs on the Campaign Trail

I'm not sure how conservatives are talking amongst themselves about the rise of Newt Gingrich, but among liberals, the dominant reaction is amazement. Newt may not be as purely radical as someone like Michele Bachmann, but he is so tremendously unlikeable that it's almost impossible to see him winning a presidential election, no matter how much national conditions like the economy favor his party. Even apart from how personally repellent he is, always ready with a self-important comment and an arrogant sneer, he offers what you might call a target-rich environment for attacks. Let's say you try criticizing him for the fact that he cheated on and then dumped two wives, trading them in for younger women. That doesn't work? How about his high-flying lifestyle, with six-figure credit lines at Tiffany's, private jets, and limousines ("The tab for private chauffeurs, primarily to ferry Gingrich and his wife, reached $200,000 to $300,000 per year", says the Washington Post )? That doesn't...

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