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Some commentators on the right have been pointing to an interesting number that has been coming from the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which Rasmussen bills as the "Presidential Approval Index," which Scott Rasmussen only began bringing out in late 2008. The key questions then are: What is this number, and is it a valid measurement of real popularity? In an interview today with TPM, Rasmussen defended the index's validity against some harsh criticism, saying that intensity of opinion -- the true figure measured by his index -- does indeed matter.

The thing to remember is that this is not simply subtracting all the respondents who disapprove of President Obama from the people who approve. Instead, Rasmussen takes the numbers who strongly approve or disapprove, and then performs this math. As of today, that index number is -10, compared to an overall rating of +1 in Rasmussen's daily tracker.

It would seem at first glance that this number can skew negative -- that is, the people who disapprove of a president are inherently more likely to feel strongly about it, compared to a certain level of lukewarm support for a president. For example, the 2004 exit poll put George W. Bush's strong approval at 33%, to strong disapproval of 34%. But his overall approval was 53% to disapproval at 46%, and he was re-elected 51%-48%.

I asked three prominent polling experts about this, and they all lambasted it.

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In a couple of interviews this week, a political consultant to porn star and possible Senate candidate Stormy Daniels claimed an unknown man tampered with his car, causing it to explode last Thursday with such force it sent the car's roof five stories into the air.

But, according to the New Orleans Fire Department, there was no explosion.

"It was a fire. The car didn't explode," said Public Information Officer Jonathan Pajeaud. An arson investigation is underway and foul play hasn't been ruled out. But, Pajeaud said, Welsh told firefighters he'd recently gotten electrical work done on his 1996 Audi, and investigators are also looking into that as a possible cause.

Welsh told a local TV news station that police told him they'd never seen anything like it.

But, Pajeaud said, "Car fires here are very common."

He added that investigators, on average, have a preliminary report in about two weeks. Pajeaud said that, for now, the investigation is being handled solely by the fire department and not by police. The police department has not responded to our questions.

Welsh, who's worked in recent years as a spokesman for Louisiana Victory and the Louisiana Democratic Party, has been insinuating that someone was trying to "send (him) a message" by destroying his car. He posted a video from a nearby surveillance camera showing a person loitering near the car. The video is unclear to us, but Welsh claims that the person, who he describes as a black male in his late 20s or early 30s, climbs into the car before walking away a few minutes before the fire erupts.

However, Welsh has been careful not to say outright that a political opponent caused the fire.

"It's too early for me to go pointing fingers. I'd like to hear what officially happened and then we'll take it from there," Welsh told a local TV news station. But, he added, "When you rule out everything else, you're sort of left with the obvious."

He also said the fledgling Daniels campaign would not be deterred, in an interview with a local radio station.

"What we're talking about and what we've been doing over the past few months is way too important to have it be deterred by the loss of a nice little car," he said.

The fire happened at about 11:23 p.m. Thursday near the corner of Gaiennie and South Peters streets while Welsh says he and his wife were out walking their dog.

Two days later, on Saturday, Daniels was arrested for allegedly assaulting her husband. Welsh posted the YouTube videos and went on TV Monday.

Daniels formed an exploratory committee in May to look into a possible run for Republican David Vitter's Senate seat. Vitter is running for re-election despite his connection to the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal.

In the radio interview, Welsh said he expects Daniels to make a decision in September on whether to run for the Senate. If she does decide so, she'll have to move back to Louisiana from her current home in Tampa, Fla.

Late update: Welsh just called us back and said that, while the electrical work -- a replaced fuse -- was his first thought as to the cause, the surveillance tapes convinced him otherwise.

We also asked him why, if he didn't want to say that it was a political opponent who caused the fire, would he post the videos on YouTube in the first place?

"If somebody is (trying to send a message) then I believe the most important thing I can do is to make sure people saw that," Welsh said. "If anybody was trying to do that, they would think twice about doing something in the future. You can't be quiet about something and wait for it to happen in the future."

Welsh also commented on Daniels's arrest, saying it won't affect her decision to run for Senate.

"She's always been considering the prospect and is still considering her prospect," he said.

And here we go again. Now that House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman has enough Blue Dog support to pass the bill, he has to sell it with progressives. And that's not proving to be as easy as he'd hoped.

"[They] have a lot of questions about the legislation," Waxman told reporters, "and I think it's more important that we sit in the Democratic Caucus and let people ask questions, get answers, hear each other out."

What exactly are their concerns? Well, for one, the compromise included a change to the public option that could weaken it on the merits. As originally written, the House bill would have temporarily tied the public option's pay rates to Medicare rates. Now they'll be negotiated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, meaning the rates will vary regionally, and often fall closer to private insurance rates than government rates.

But more generally, the Congressional Progressive Caucus basically believes that their views have been marginalized throughout the Blue Dog process, and are understandably frustrated about being asked to accept compromises with Blue Dogs when they've already compromised a great deal. Last week, several House progressives warned that they couldn't tolerate any further weakening of the public option, and asked to play a greater role in negotiations. Now they feel leaders ignored their concerns.

The mark up was scheduled to resume tonight, but now it looks like it will have to wait until tomorrow, with the goal still to pass the bill by Friday.

Four out of seven Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs have signed on to a compromise on health care reform legislation. But can we use that split as a stand in for the broader Blue Dog caucus? Not necessarily.

"The 52-member Blue Dog Coalition has not taken a group position on the draft health care legislation that is working through the committee process," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), Blue Dog Co-Chair for Administration. "Today's announcement signifies that the committee process is moving forward. The committee will work its will, but the broader coalition has not ratified any agreements related to the draft legislation."

"If you poll the Blue Dog coalition individually and separately, you'll find that not everybody is on the same page and there is no position collectively," said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) one of the three Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs who still opposes the bill.

To provide a bit more data still, only one of the five Blue Dogs on the Education and Labor, and Ways and Means Commmittees--Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)--voted for the legislation.

But that was before this compromise was brokered, and even then, other Blue Dogs had articulated support for health care reform. At the same time, last week, House progressives told Democratic leaders they could not countenance any further weakening of the public option--and today the House's public option was somewhat weakened.

Which is all to say that barring the defection of a number of House progressives, Henry Waxman bought himself and his allies in leadership some breathing room today.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to resume its health care mark-up session this afternoon, after winning over four of the seven Blue Dogs who had been holding it up for several days.

That means three of the Blue Dogs still oppose the legislation, though. And that means committee Chairman Henry Waxman is still working to squeeze the bill through a very small window. There aren't very many progressives on the committee but if more than a couple of them are unhappy with the details of the compromise leaders struck with Blue Dogs, it could once again leave Waxman without enough votes to pass his bill.

Speaker Pelosi has been meeting with progressives to allay their concerns, so that things can proceed as planned.

My sense from conversations with some House aides is that another blow up's not terribly likely. But as you may have noticed if you've been paying attention to the process thus far, just about anything can happen. And, for what it's worth, that's the political math.

James von Brunn, the white supremacist accused of shooting and killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum June 10, has been indicted by a grand jury on hate crimes charges which could earn him the death penalty.

Von Brunn was indicted Wednesday on seven counts, including first-degree murder and killing in a federal building (both charges had already been leveled against him) and bias-motivated crime.

Von Brunn, 89, was shot in the face by guards after he opened fire at the museum. One guard, Stephen T. Johns, was fatally wounded.

The defendant has long been a white supremacist. In 1981, he attempted to take the Federal Reserve Board hostage by brandishing a sawed-off shotgun -- a crime for which he spent six years in prison. He later described the board as "treasonous."

He's also posted about President Obama's birth certificate, and has promoted anti-Semitic work on Wikipedia.

Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin says Obama will have to take the lead to keep support for health care reform afloat during August.

"The president is in the driver's seat in August," Durbin told reporters today. "Congress is gone and scattered to the winds with personal family and constituent service. And the White House is still there, generating a message and activity. So I think the president will have a chance to tell the American people a little bit more about why this process is so important."

For its part, Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, is raising money from its supporters to sustain its campaign for health care reform through a fraught recess. That'll surely help local organizing events and message distribution, but it still leaves a major role for Obama himself.

Stormy Daniels, an adult entertainer who's considering running for Senate from Louisiana, was arrested Saturday on a domestic violence charge in Tampa, Fla.

Daniels was charged with battery after she allegedly hit her husband, Michael Mosny, over the head with her hands. According to the police report, she was angry about a bill Mosny hadn't paid and about the way his father had done the laundry. She broke a flower pot and a few glass candle holders, threw their wedding album on the floor and allegedly hit her husband while struggling to get the car keys from him. She denied hitting him intentionally.

Neither Mosny nor Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, were injured. Daniels was held overnight and released on $1,000 bond.

The porn star formed an exploratory committee in May, the first step in a possible Senate run against Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), whose social conservative reputation was tarnished by the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal.

Daniels grew up in Louisiana but now lives in Florida. If she does run -- a decision that will likely be made in September, according to Brian Welsh, her political consultant -- she'll have to return to the state.

Late update: Welsh tells us Daniels's arrest hasn't dampened her plans.

"She's always been considering the prospect and is still considering her prospect," he said.

The White House released this statement from President Obama on the compromise reached today by House Democrats on a health care reform bill:

I want to thank the members of both the Senate and House of Representatives for continuing their work on health reform to provide more stability and security for Americans who have insurance, and quality, affordable coverage for those who don't. I'm especially grateful that so many members, including some Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee, are working so hard to find common ground. Those efforts are extraordinarily constructive in strengthening this legislation and bringing down its cost.

A new SurveyUSA poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race gives Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell a big lead over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Creigh Deeds:

The numbers: McDonnell 55%, Deeds 40%. If McDonnell were to win this, he would pick this swing state up for the GOP, away from term-limited Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

The previous SurveyUSA poll, which was conducted right before the Democratic primary in early June, gave McDonnell a narrower lead of 47%-43%, which has apparently expanded in the nearly two months since then.

From the pollster's analysis: "14% of those who say they voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election say they will vote for Republican McDonnell in the gubernatorial contest; 9% of John McCain voters say they will cross over and vote for Democrat Deeds."