Elections

Would Rick Perry Skip Debating Obama?

Rick Perry's campaign spent last week floating the possibility that the Texas governor might skip some, if not all, of the remaining presidential debates. Their logic was pretty clear: Perry entered the field as the newly crowned frontrunner in August, only to see his stock plummet after a series of inept debate performances. They hoped to pull their candidate from the debate podium and counted on having few primary voters notice or care. As Jamelle noted last week, that was a risky strategy, which could alienate the conservative elite who already wary to support the governor after his stumbles. Perry's camp quickly backtracked the idea over the weekend and said that Perry would attend all of the five scheduled upcoming debates. That course seems set for the primaries but, what happens if Perry manages a comeback to gain the GOP nomination? Steve Benen argues that after his bout of hemming and hawing, Perry would likely try to avoid facing Barack Obama one-on-one by tangling over the...

Iowans Love Herman Cain, for Now

The Des Moines Register released their latest caucus poll over the weekend, and Herman Cain is the official favorite to win Iowa two months before caucus day. Cain posted support from 23 percent of likely voters, narrowly edging out Mitt Romney at 22 percent. No one else could even come close to touching the top two. Ron Paul gathered 12 percent. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—both of whom were crowned caucus frontrunners at one point in 2011—only had eight and seven percent respectively. That matches the rest of the numbers that have trickled out of the state over the course of the past month, but the Register's Iowa Poll is given extra heft by political watchers based on how accurately it predicted the final results during the last presidential cycle (though some caution is necessary, the equivalent poll this time four years ago had Romney in first trailed by Fred Thompson). The Los Angles Times ran an article over the weekend pronouncing the end of Cain's campaign surge, listing...

On Borrowed Time

President Obama's new student loan plan isn't enough to help students saddled with debt.

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced its new plan for student loans: new graduates can cap their student loan repayments to 10 percent of their monthly income. After 20 years, their debt will be forgiven. Graduates already repaying their loans can consolidate and get half a percent interest rate cut. These changes will go into effect next year, two years before they were already scheduled to do so, and the administration said the move was in response to an online petition drive on its “We the People” site. The high student-debt burden—it will reach $1 trillion this year—is also a centerpiece of the Occupy protests around the country. The loan plan is clearly a move to ignite college student and recent graduate support, and it’s also a change President Obama doesn’t have to go through Congress to enact. All of which makes this move understandable from a political standpoint. The problem is that it actually doesn’t do much to help students. The administration and others will...

Racism's Over!

The new laws to restrict voter access to the polls are unlikely to change before the 2012 election. Republican-controlled legislatures elected in 2010 have systematically changed voting laws across the country—restricting early voting, photo ID, etc.—using their power to disenfranchise blocks of voters that typically support the other party. Voting rights advocates have fought back in a handful of states. In Maine, a repeal of same-day registration that passed earlier this summer will be subjected to a referendum vote next month. But Democrats have little recourse to stop these laws from hitting the books in most states. There is, however, still hope that the Obama administration will use the executive branch's powers to block a handful of the most egregious changes. Section Five of the Voting Rights Act forces states with a history of discrimination in their voting policies to receive preclearance from the Department of Justice or a federal court before changing their laws, and...

A Scary Guide to the GOP Tax Plans

When did tax-reform plans become so sexy? It seems like every day now GOP candidates are flaunting a new, slimmer tax plan, complete with a catchy name and nonsensical (or nonexistent) ideas supporting them. After a while, they can all start to look the same, but they vary widely on the craziness spectrum. Homeland Security decided that colors are passé as a way to measure threat, so here is my patented Herman Cain “I am America” smile threat level system. The Baseline: There are some basic conservative calling cards that the GOP tax plans share. They would all eliminate the 15 percent capital gains tax (Mitt Romney would only eliminate the tax for families making less than $200,000 a year) and the estate tax, and all the candidates have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. If your only source of news for the past couple of weeks has been the GOP debates, you would think that these were the two most dangerous pieces of legislation ever to be passed in the United...

Can't Hardly Wait

AP Photo/Scott Sommerdorf
Critics of the young people sleeping on cardboard at Occupy Wall Street argue the next generation should engage in the political process, not merely protest it. But some very politically engaged young people in Lowell, Massachusetts, are revealing that the political system doesn’t exactly welcome their engagement. Earlier this year, 1,500 members of the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) launched a campaign in Lowell to lower the voting age to 17 for city elections. The entire effort, from fundraising, to door knocking to lobbying legislators, was organized and led by the teens. They made an eloquent case for lowering the voting age. “When you’re 17, that’s when most of us are seniors,” said Carline Kirksey, one of the youth leaders of the campaign. “You have more adult responsibilities. You can join the military. You can be tried as an adult in court.” Another organizer Corinne Plaisir chimes in, saying that at 18 many young people are off at college. Figuring out the process all...

Will Rick Perry Execute Another Innocent Man?

Rick Perry's struggles with the GOP base can largely be traced back to the debate in late September in which he called opposition to tuition assistance for illegal immigrants "heartless." Given his subsequent drop in the polls, he is now contemplating skipping future debates. But for liberal audiences, the most chilling moment of Perry's brief debate history came when he defended Texas' status as the country's execution leader. Perry practically reveled with glee as he described dolling out the "ultimate justice" (at the time, I noted his sharp departure in tone from the last Texas governor who ran for president). It was a truly disturbing moment because evidence from one case in Texas indicates that at least one innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was put to death during Perry's tenure as governor. And Perry may be on his way to executing another innocent man. Hank Skinner was convicted of killing three people—his girlfriend and her two children—and sentenced to death in 1995. His...

DOJ Might Strike Down Photo ID Laws

When Republicans gained control of state legislatures across the country in 2010, they began a systematic effort to restrict voting access, disenfranchising likely Democratic voters in the process. Five states passed strict ID laws, which will require voters to present a form of government-issued photo identification to get their ballot on Election Day. Some of those laws are still on hold thanks to Section Five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law requires states with a history of discrimination against minority voters to receive preclearance from either the Department of Justice or a federal court for any change to voting procedures. The burden of proof lies on the states, which must show that the changes will not harm minority voters. Photo ID laws in South Carolina and Texas are currently under review at the DOJ. Now the Obama administration might be on the verge of striking down these Republican electioneering laws, according to a leading House Democrat. At a meeting with...

Getting the Details Right

The political corner of the Internet shared a nice laugh yesterday about Herman Cain's latest campaign ad. Cain's chief of smoking chief of staff Mark Block went on Fox News to explain the video. Megan Kelly asked if it was directed at farmers or workers in Detroit, rather than the West- and East-coast liberals in the media (contra the newsrooms staffed by chain smokers where I've worked). "I tell you, you walk into a veterans' bar in Iowa and they're sitting around smoking, and we are resonating with them," Block said. As National Journal notes , in 2008 Iowa banned indoor smoking for most venues, even bars frequented by veterans. I lived in Iowa at that time and my memories are full of disgruntled friends leaving their drinks to go shiver outside the bar doorway as they railed against the new law. It's a silly, immaterial flub for Block, though it is yet another sign that Cain is not running a real presidential campaign. Walk through most Iowa small towns and you'd spot the crowd of...

Herman Cain's Unlucky Strike

You must watch Herman Cain's latest campaign ad, via James Fallows. It starts off as a typical dry commercial with Cain's chief of staff hyping his candidate, but gets great right at the 40-second mark: Fallows questioned if this was an Onion parody, but that is in fact Cain's Chief of Staff, Mark Block. If memory serves me right, I've noticed him (or else it was some other dapper mustachioed man) taking cigarrette puffs around Cain's bus at stops this fall. I won't begrudge a political staffer who needs a boost to help him through his time in small town Iowa, but the way the last shot lingers over the smoke is just too much. Though as Tim Murphy points out at Mother Jones , this isn't Cain's first foray into bizarre campaign ads.

The Most Inconsequential Debate

Yesterday I detailed how the leading figures of Iowa's evangelical community have all dilly-dallied about picking a favorite presidential candidate. As if on cue, one of those major players announced that he would be moderating one of the more bizarrely formatted debates of a modern presidential campaign. Rep. Steve King will referee a “modified Lincoln–Douglas debate” between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain in Texas on November 5. It should be a bizarre exchange. Gingrich has been expressing an interest of late in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate where he would no longer face pesky questions from journalists, but it was always in the context of facing Barack Obama in the general election. Where those candidates would readily hammer away at their differences, a Cain-Gingrich matchup should be a dull affair. The two have appeared personally friendly throughout the campaign and won't diverge too substantially on policy. About the only thing the debate proves is that—despite his rise in...

Bob the Builder Bails on Perry

He dropped precipitously in recent polls after conservatives began to question his stance on illegal immigration, but most political pundits still think Rick Perry has a strong chance at winning the GOP presidential nomination. Perry's still in the running in part because of the relative weakness of the rest of the field. Mitt Romney, who looks like the consensus candidate, has made a career of straying from conservative dogma, including passing universal health care as governor of Massachusetts. And the candidates who have stuck close to the Tea Party line, Michele Bachmann specifically, are mostly unserious contenders, whose campaigns appear predicated on book sales rather than governance. With Perry, conservative Republicans were supposed to have a serious candidate who, most importantly of all, brought a fundraising infrastructure to the game. He tallied over $17 million during his first month and a half as a candidate. Super PACs sprung up to tout his campaign before Perry had...

Bachmann’s Staff Revolt

For a time it looked as though Michele Bachmann would be Mitt Romney’s main opponent for the GOP presidential nomination. She launched her campaign in June to significant fanfare, gracing the covers of national magazines and rising to the top of polls in Iowa. She was expected to be a fundraising juggernaut based on her high-dollar US House campaigns. In August she finished first at the Iowa Straw Poll, pushing fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty out of the race in the process. It turned out to be a short-lived streak. Rick Perry stole her thunder when he announced his campaign on the very same day Bachmann won the straw poll, replacing her as the front-runner. Her presence began to recede in the debates, only getting noticed when she made far-out statements scaring parents from vaccinating children. At Florida P5 in September—the next major straw poll after Iowa—Bachmann finished dead last, getting only 1.5% of the 2,600 votes. Now her campaign is officially in tatters. Late last week,...

Twisting the System

North Carolina was once among states with the lowest voter turnout in the country. But with new early-voting and same-day registration laws, the state had the nation’s largest increase in voter participation from 2004 to 2008. Bob Hall is the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a group that lobbied for the laws and is fighting to keep them on the books. What’s been the impact of same-day registration and early voting in North Carolina? More than 100,000 first-time voters used same-day registration in 2008, and another 150,000 used it to update their addresses or names. We’re actually the largest state, population-wise, to have same-day registration, and the most diverse. North Carolina is a state that is suffering from the legacy of Jim Crow segregation, slavery, and forced disenfranchisement—a culture that teaches people that “politics is not for you,” and that’s what we’re trying to overcome. Early voting jumped to over a majority of votes in 2008, 2.4 million out of 4.2...

Iowa Conservatives Still Searching for a Candidate

Photo credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Six of the Republican presidential wannabes traveled to Iowa this past Saturday to try to win over a crowd of over 1,000 evangelicals at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's banquet dinner in Des Moines. All of the major contenders (except Mitt Romney) spoke, playing up their social conservative bona fides for a crowd that could play a deciding role in the "first in the nation" state. Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition—headed by president Steve Scheffler—is one of the state's most powerful conservative organizations thanks to the voter guides they hand out during elections and the lobbying they do in the state legislature, most often pushing anti-LGBT rights legislation. Scheffler was instrumental in building the coalition of Christian activists that tilted the state's GOP further to the right over the past decade. He spearheaded the Iowa branch of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in the 1990s, but bolted to form his own group called the Iowa Christian Alliance in the mid-2000s...

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