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“Creating Winners And Losers”: Are The Beltway Media Helping Mitch McConnell Stay In Power?

The Beltway media are at it again, creating winners and losers long before Election Day. Yesterday I wrote that Alison Lundergan Grimes beat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s one and only Senate debate, and if you watched the debate, you might agree.

But if you had only followed the media coverage, you might well believe that Grimes is a goner, that her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama was of such import that it rightly overshadowed all other issues the candidates fought over—minimum wage, jobs, climate change, student loans, healthcare—and that her demurral was far more worthy of coverage than McConnell’ s actual lies and deceptions about the healthcare of 500,000 Kentuckians.

And if Grimes’s non-answer wasn’t a pretend disaster enough for the media to hyperventilate over, they got more confirmation later yesterday when the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee announced it wasn’t going to spend more to run ads in Kentucky. Well, surely that showed that Big Dems agreed with Big Media that Grimes was out. Money speaks. She’s over. Or so it seems.

But the media have it wrong. First, on the debate: Columbia Journalism Review did a large round-up of the political media responses to Monday’s debate and found that the coverage was “imbalanced” and that it “calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.”

Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes made national headlines during the debate for again declining to share how she voted in previous presidential elections. At the same time, however, the Washington press corps barely covered a claim by incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell that Obamacare, unpopular in Kentucky, could be repealed without dismantling Kynect, the popular statewide healthcare exchange funded through the law. McConnell’s argument is not only factually questionable, at best, but also seems to be of much more potential consequence to the state’s voters. Monday’s debate was the only televised face-off scheduled before the November election, and the imbalanced coverage calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.

Grimes’ non-answer received headline treatment on web stories at CBS, NBC ABC, and CNN. The Washington Post devoted an entire piece to the refusal, which led the Associated Press’ story , and Politico and National Journal both listed it as their top takeaway of the debate. Such stories either omitted McConnell’s claim or played it down relative to Grimes’ comment. FoxNews.com mentioned only the latter, meanwhile, and The Wall Street Journal left McConnell’s statement as its story’s kicker, unchallenged.

It’s not as if the media was hearing Mitch’s lie for the first time and simply lacked the time to study up on it. It had all been reported on before:

Liberalmedia and a few national outlets, such as the AP, challenged the five-term senator’s claim back [in May]. Indeed, an Obamacare repeal would have huge consequences for the Bluegrass State, as an estimated half-million residents have signed up for health coverage through its Kynect exchange. A Washington Post Fact Checker column soon after concluded, “the history of individual state exchanges shows it is not credible for McConnell to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the broad health-care system constructed by the Affordable Care Act, such as an individual mandate and subsidies to buy insurance.”

Given the availability of such reporting, not to mention McConnell’s hazy logic in a race in which Obamacare has been a central theme, it’s unclear why the national media didn’t pounce on his answer Monday. What’s more, local coverage of the debate suggests that Grimes’ voting history—a sign of her allegiance to President Barack Obama—is merely one of many concerns or Kentucky voters.

It is true that the DSCC stopped running ads in Kentucky in order to redirect funds to other state races. But the Democratic Senate campaign arm is still funding Grimes’s get-out-the-vote drive, and is “monitoring the race for future investments,” according to a DSCC official. In any case, Grimes is very well-funded herself, having just announced a record breaking nearly $5 million haul for the third quarter.

But the national media were quick to jump to the most melodramatic conclusion. As Daily Kos pointed out:

Today a rumor was spread throughout national media by irresponsible nationally-known media (Chris Cillizza, Jon Heilemann, Mark Halpirin, MSNBC, CNN) that “Democrats have abandoned Grimes”.

Heilemann and Halperin agreed on their program that “Her campaign is dead”.

This rumor was based upon the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) not having pre-purchased ad buys in KY market for last 3 weeks of campaign. The DSCC has been very active in the Kentucky market, with great ads playing. The DSCC acknowledged this was true, but that they were open to purchases if necessary.

Guy Cecil, the Executive Director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, posted at about 8:00pm eastern Tuesday night 10/14, on Twitter:

Guy Cecil ‏@guycecil 3h 3 hours ago

Just signed a $300,000 wire for the KY Get Out The Vote operation for @AlisonForKY. That’s an interesting view of “pulling out of the race”

And for all this, you’d never know that as of Wednesday afternoon, Alison Grimes is only three points behind Mitch McConnell in the RealClearPolitics average.

 

By: Leslie Savin, The Nation, October 15, 2014

October 17, 2014 Posted by | Media, Midterm Elections, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Odd Set Of Unspoken Rules”: How The Media Has Helped Normalize GOP Crazy

The victim of this morning’s pile-on is Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was asked in an editorial board meeting whether she had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Grimes hemmed and hawed a bit, obviously scared to say Yes. That isn’t too surprising — when you run as a Democrat in a red state (just as when you run as a Republican in a blue state), you spend a lot of your time explaining why you aren’t like the national party and its leaders. But some people are outraged, including Chuck Todd, who said on Morning Joe (with a look of profound disgust): “Is she ever going to answer a tough question on anything?…I think she disqualified herself. I really do, I think she disqualified herself.”

No question, Grimes botched this badly, and she should be able to answer a question as simple as this one. But this affair gets at the odd set of unspoken rules that dictate what gets designated a “gaffe” or a serious mistake, and what doesn’t.

The problem isn’t that one party gets treated more harshly than the other does. There are plenty of Republican candidates who have gotten pummeled for their “gaffes.” Rather, the problem is the standard that reporters  use, probably unconsciously, to decide which gaffes are worthy of extended discussion and which ones merit only a passing mention, a standard that often lets GOP candidates get away with some appalling stuff.

For instance, when Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst flirted with the “Agenda 21″ conspiracy theory — a favorite of Glenn Beck, in which the U.S. government and the United Nations are supposedly conspiring to force rural people in Iowa and elsewhere to leave their homes and be relocated to urban centers — national pundits didn’t see it as disqualifying. Nor did they when it was revealed that Ernst believes not only that states can “nullify” federal laws they don’t like (they can’t); and, even crazier, that local sheriffs ought to arrest federal officials implementing the Affordable Care Act, which is quite literally a call for insurrection against the federal government. I guess those are just colorful ideas.

National observers also didn’t find it disqualifying when Tom Cotton, who is favored to become the next U.S. senator from Arkansas, expressed his belief that ISIS is now working with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate America over our southern border.

Why do candidates like Cotton and Ernst get away with stuff like that, while Grimes gets raked over the coals for not wanting to reveal her vote and someone like Todd Akin can lose a race over his ruminations on “legitimate rape”? It’s because the standard being employed isn’t “Does this statement reveal something genuinely disturbing about this candidate?” but rather, “Is this going to be politically damaging?” Grimes’ chief area of political vulnerability is that she’s a Democrat in Kentucky, where Barack Obama’s approval ratings are low, so whenever the question of Obama comes up, reporters are watching closely to see how deftly she handles it; if she stumbles, they pounce. Akin got hammered for “legitimate rape” not so much because of how bogus and vile the idea is, but because reporters knew it could have serious consequences among women voters, given both the GOP’s constant struggles with women and the fact that Akin’s opponent was a woman.

Of course, these judgments by reporters end up being self-fulfilling prophecies: if they decide that a “gaffe” is going to have serious political effects, they give it lots of attention, which creates serious political effects.

And in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. Sure, there are exceptions: For instance, Republicans Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell both saw their candidacies derailed by their crazy or outsized statements. But their utterances were truly, deeply bizarre or comical, so they broke through.

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 10, 2014

October 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Journalists, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“2014 Midterm Elections”: With So Much At Stake, This Coming Election Day Is Not A Time For Eligible Voters To Stay Home

With less than 10 weeks to go before the midterm Congressional elections Americans in general are frustrated with Washington. National polls show that about three quarters of all Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. By comparison, about half of those Americans polled disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of his job.

Sunday’s New York Post reported that 163 laws have been passed and signed by the president since this two-year term of Congress began in January 2013. That is far lower than the 284 laws that were passed by the 2011-2013 session, which is an all time record for fewest bills passed. Congress passed 386 laws during the 2009-2011 session. Former Representative Lee Hamilton (R-IN) told the Post, “I’ve never seen it any worse in terms of public esteem for the Congress. I can’t find anybody who says a good word about it.”

Despite Congress’s lack of productivity, and as outrageous as it may seem, it appears that most incumbents will be reelected in November. Conventional wisdom is that while most Americans want to get rid of Congress, they nonetheless support their own representative. This is especially true during midterm elections because voter turnout is often very low, which gives incumbents an advantage. But both parties are leaving nothing to chance, as a record amount of campaign dollars will be poured into this election, surpassing the $3.6 billion spent in 2010.

Republicans currently hold a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, 233-199; there are three vacant seats. The GOP expects to expand its majority in the House. Meanwhile, Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate. But of the 36 Senate seats in play, 21 of them held by Democrats, while 15 are held by Republicans. If the GOP picks up six Senate seats this midterm they will be in the majority in both houses of Congress. Most experts, including Nate Silver, of the election site FiveThirtyEight, give Republicans a slight edge to take those seats and become the majority party in the Senate.

The Republicans are targeting the seven Democratic seats that are up in states where Mitt Romney beat President Obama in the 2012 presidential election. They are also going after four additional Democratic seats in states where the president remains unpopular. Republicans will do all they can to make this election about President Obama’s unpopularity.

Domestically the president has been attacked for executive actions he has taken to bypass the blockade that Congress has become. For example, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who himself has presidential aspirations, has regularly attacked the president, telling Fox News “He believes somehow that he’s become a monarch or an emperor that can basically ignore the law and do whatever he wants.” On the other hand, Republicans have attacked President Obama for being disengaged and “leading from behind” on foreign policy. The president’s recent comment the he does not have a strategy on dealing with ISIS in Syria was seized upon by Republicans. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), said on CBS Sunday, “What I want to hear from the president is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off, to defeat ISIS.”

Congressional and Senate Democratic candidates have tried to localize their elections, but Republicans are focusing on President Obama in an effort to energize their base. So Democrats are trying to mobilize minority voters, especially African-Americans, who generally don’t vote in midterms. Party activists are using the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and conservative calls to impeach the president, to mobilize Blacks. An increase in the number of Southern Blacks helped Democrats during the 1998 midterm election, when President Bill Clinton was under heavy fire from the right.

Ironically, the one Republican Senator who is in the toughest fight to be reelected is the man who has the most to gain if Republicans win majority control. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the Senate minority leader, has done all he can to obstruct and block the agenda of President Obama since the day he was sworn in to office in 2009. McConnell is facing a vigorous challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is not popular in Kentucky, but a recent state poll shows he has the edge. Lundergan Grimes is making McConnell’s failings in Congress the issue. But McConnell is tying his opponent to President Obama.

Should Republicans take control of both houses the legislative process will grind to a halt. Anything the Republicans pass, like efforts to defund Obamacare, will be vetoed by the president. Meanwhile, Congressional investigations into the so-called scandals surrounding the IRS and Benghazi will intensify. The partisan divide will widen as Republicans try to score points before the 2016 Presidential Elections.

Because so much is at stake, this coming election day is not a time for eligible voters to stay home.

 

By: Joe Peyronnin, The Huffington Post Blog, September 1, 2014

 

 

September 2, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Election 2014, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Secret Audio Nails Mitch!”: Endangered McConnell Busted Humiliating Himself On Tape

This year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to spend Father’s Day with two GOP political sugar daddies, Charles and David Koch, at their annual retreat, this time at the lovely St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in Orange County, California. As befit the day, McConnell brought the love: “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

It’s a good thing McConnell sucked up to the wealthy right-wing industrialists. He could be looking for a job soon, once Kentuckians (and opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes) hear the audiotape of the session obtained by the Nation. (A transcript can be found here.)

The same weekend ISIL began approaching Baghdad, and Eric Cantor had just lost his primary for, among other reasons, being too cozy with big donors, McConnell took time to schmooze the Kochs and their network of funders and organizers. He wasn’t the only Senate candidate there: the next day, GOP Senate nominees Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado joined the retreat, the Nation’s Lauren Windsor has reported, and all pledged allegiance to the Kochs.

“The exposure to this group and to this network, and the opportunity to meet so many of you, really started my trajectory,” kvelled Ernst, who attended the summit last year. (You can hear audio of her remarks at the Huffington Post).

But only McConnell was devoted enough to spend Father’s Day addressing the Kochs – and only McConnell said anything substantive enough to ensure him home-state trouble.

Kentuckians may find themselves chagrined to learn that McConnell promised the Kochs and their friends that he would intensify gridlock if Republicans win control of the Senate. While legislation requires 60 votes, he noted, budget bills only require a simple majority, and he promised to attach “riders” defunding Obamacare, financial regulation laws and the entire Environmental Protection Agency to any spending bill — riders that President Obama would likely veto, which could trigger another government shutdown.

He also attacked Democrats for wasting time on their “gosh darn proposals” – like raising the minimum wage, which Kentuckians support by almost 2-1, and extending unemployment insurance, likewise backed by his state’s voters.

Here’s what McConnell said on those points, verbatim.

We can pass the spending bill, and I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill: No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.

And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage — cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment — that’s a great message for retirees; the student loan package the other day; that’s going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.

Kentuckians can decide who believes in all the wrong things come November.

In June the Nation first reported on the annual Koch retreat, loftily titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” and heavily focused on helping the GOP take back the Senate. 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio attended along with McConnell, but it was the man the Kochs hope will be the Senate majority leader come January who headlined the crucial session “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights.”

If dollars themselves could vote in Kentucky politics, McConnell would defeat Grimes in a landslide. At the Koch retreat, the Senate veteran depicted himself as a tireless soldier for the freedom of money in politics. He described the right to make unlimited political contributions as “the one freedom, that without which we can’t do anything.” His fealty to the cause of money in politics got embarrassing at times.

According to the Nation, McConnell talked about his many filibusters of campaign finance reform the way other men his age describe war battles. “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” McConnell told the Kochs and their friends. Others might say 9/11, or the day President Reagan was shot (or further back, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.)  But not Mitch.

The only people he praises more than the Koch brothers are the five-member Supreme Court majority that voted to abolish McCain-Feingold in the Citizens United decision, calling the John Roberts-led bench:

The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech…[Now] you can give to the candidate of your choice, You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government…I’m really proud of this Supreme Court…It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.

But not the other four, obviously. Tough luck, RBG.

When David Koch himself, during the question and answer session, complained about a New York Times editorial lamenting the influence of big Koch money, and asked about Democrats’ attempts to start the process of amending the Constitution to state that Congress may in fact regulate campaign contributions, McConnell was at his feistiest.

“This is an act of true radicalism,” McConnell declared. “It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of their critics … The IRS, the SEC and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics.”

By comparison with the seasoned McConnell, Senate candidates Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner were restrained, as Lauren Windsor reports in the Huffington Post. A grateful Gardner, happy about all the Koch-related third-party money flowing into his race, told the crowd that among the people most excited about his run was “the station manager at Channel 9 in Denver because he knew the activity that would be taking place on the airwaves.”

Tom Cotton likewise thanked the group for its role in his success. “[The Koch-funded] Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state … building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state invested in their communities,” Cotton explained.

But only McConnell went on record endorsing the Koch brothers’ entire big money agenda, while mocking popular “gosh darn” Democratic policies like a minimum wage hike, restoring extended unemployment insurance and easing the student loan burden. McConnell’s role in blocking her student-loan compromise earned him a visit to Kentucky by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on behalf of Grimes. ”Mitch McConnell says it’s more important to protect the billionaires,” she told the crowd. “And that’s what this race is all about.”

It would be ironic if the Koch brothers won their GOP Senate majority, but McConnell wasn’t around to lead it.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 27, 2014

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare, Beyond The Label”: The Politics Of Obamacare Are Upside-Down

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam-dunk issue for the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.”

So how’s that Obamacare thing working out for the GOP?

The most significant bit of election news over the last week was the decision of Senator Mark Pryor, the embattled Arkansas Democrat, to run an ad touting his vote for the health care law as a positive for the people of his increasingly Republican state.

Pryor’s ad is so soft and personal that it’s almost apolitical. After his dad, the popular former senator David Pryor, tells of his son’s bout with cancer, he notes that “Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.” The picture has widened to show Mark Pryor sitting next to his father. “No one should be fighting an insurance company while you’re fighting for your life,” he says. “That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Who knew a law that critics claim is so dreadful could provide such powerful reassurance to Americans who are ill?

Democrats have never fully recovered from the Obama administration’s lousy sales job for (and botched rollout of) what is, legitimately, its proudest domestic achievement. That’s one reason Pryor doesn’t use the word “Obamacare” in describing what he voted for. Another is that in many of the states with contested Senate races this year, most definitely including Arkansas, President Obama himself is so unpopular that if you attached his name to Social Security, one of the most popular programs in American history would probably drop 20 points in the polls.

So, as the liberal bloggers Greg Sargent, Brian Beutler and Steve Benen have all noted, Republicans would much prefer to run against the law’s name and brand than the law itself. They also really want to avoid being pressed for specifics as to what “repealing Obamacare” would mean in practice.

As one Democratic pollster told me, his focus groups showed that when voters outside the Republican base are given details about what the law does and how it works, “people come around and say, ‘That’s not so bad, what’s everybody excited about?’”

This consultant says of Democrats who voted for the law: “You’re going to be stuck with all the bad about this but not benefit from any of the good unless you advertise” what the Affordable Care Act does. This is what Pryor has decided to do.

In fact, according to Gallup, Arkansas is the No. 1 state in the country when it comes to reducing the proportion of its uninsured since the main provisions of the ACA took effect. The drop was from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in 2014. The No. 2 state is Kentucky, where the uninsured rate fell from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent. What they have in common are Democratic governors, Mike Beebe in Arkansas and Steve Beshear in Kentucky, committed to using Obamacare — especially, albeit in different ways, its Medicaid expansion — to help their citizens who lack coverage. Beshear has been passionate in selling his state’s version of Obamacare, which is called kynect.

Kentucky also happens to be the site of another of this year’s key Senate races. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is giving Republican leader Mitch McConnell what looks to be the toughest re-election challenge of his 30-year Senate career.

The Bluegrass State is particularly instructive on the importance of labeling and branding. A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month found that the Affordable Care Act had a net negative approval rating, 34 percent to 51 percent. But kynect was rated positively, 34 percent to 27 percent. Grimes and the Democrats need to confront McConnell forcefully on the issue he has tried to fudge: A flat repeal of Obamacare would mean taking insurance away from the more than 521,000 Kentuckians who, as of last Friday, had secured coverage through kynect. How would that sit with the state’s voters?

Election results, like scripture, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. You can bet that foes of expanding health insurance coverage will try to interpret every Republican victory as a defeat for Obamacare. But as Mark Pryor knows, the president’s unpopularity in certain parts of the country doesn’t mean that voters want to throw his greatest accomplishment overboard — even if they’d be happy to rename it.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mark Pryor, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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