Editors’ Blog

Whatever else you can

Whatever else you can say about this election — the quality of the campaigning or the issues debated — you’re just not going to find one to beat this one in pure nail-biting potential. Race after race for the Senate is either dead-even or within the margin of error or more than close enough for the lagging candidate to make a last minute dash across the finish line. (The best, up-to-date, methodological run-down of all the big races, that I’ve seen, can be found here.) Yet it’s hard to miss a subtle but real shift in the Democrats’ favor across the country. The third and fourth weeks out from election day did not look good at all for the Dems. But the last two weeks before election day seem to be moving in just the opposite direction. And if that’s true, that’s exactly when a party wants to have the wind at its back. Good months in the Spring or Summer are nothing compared to a good week or two at the end of October.

First, as TPM has been saying for sometime, the hapless Doug Forrester is really going down the tubes in New Jersey. The New York Times/CBS News poll has Frank Lautenberg up 48% to Forrester’s 36% among likely voters. Among those most likely to vote, Lautenberg’s lead was narrower, at 48% to 41%. That tracks fairly well with a Mason-Dixon poll released a couple days earlier which showed a 47% to 40%. Admittedly, the straight numbers here don’t make this race look totally beyond Forrester’s reach. But when you look at the context of the race and the trend-line — Lautenberg’s steadily expanding lead and Forrester’s utter lack of issue, charisma, or demographic levers to turn the thing — you realize that it is. He’s toast. Republicans and Mickey are welcome to send in their dissenting emails here. But, believe me, he’s gone.

I hesitate to even discuss the political implications of Paul Wellstone’s tragic death (TPM eulogizes him here). But the conventional wisdom seems to be that if former Vice-President Walter Mondale signs on for the race (and it seems he will) he’ll be very hard for the Republicans to beat. Wellstone was already opening a small, but measurable lead in that race. And the sympathy and grief factor, coupled with Mondale’s elder statesman profile, may be impossible for Coleman to overcome. Who knows if this is how it’ll turn out? And I’d happily lose all these races to have Wellstone back. But that’s what I’m hearing.

One interesting note I hear from a few Republican sources (pure speculation, but intriguing) is that the Wellstone tragedy might actually have some spillover into the Missouri race, where it’s likely to rekindle memories of Mel Carnahan’s death in a very similar tragedy two years ago. Senator Jean Carnahan had apparently picked up some kind of momentum after a debate in which she, I’m told, effectively scolded Talent for questioning her patriotism. I had virtually written this race off, but the late movement may be in her direction.

The last few weeks also weren’t great for South Dakota’s Tim Johnson. He had opened up a very small lead but then fell back a few points as the voter fraud allegations pushed other issues off the campaign radar. Thune may still be up by a point or two. But my sense is that the campaign debate in the state is now moving back to issues which favor Johnson. It’s a very hard call but I’d still say Johnson is the likely winner.

The key races I’m looking at are in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia. These aren’t the closest races. But they’re the ones that are breaking unexpectedly in the stretch — two trending toward the Dems and one trending toward the Republicans.

While people often say that Al Gore lost the presidency in Tennessee or West Virginia, I’ve always thought he really lost it in New Hampshire. Yes, it was grievous to lose his home state and the once impregnably-Democratic West Virginia. But there are a lot of reasons Democrats should have a hard time winning those states. Gore should have been able to win New Hampshire. And he very nearly did. Shaheen is benefiting from the political and demographic changes which have, over the last decade and a half, made New Hampshire into much more winnable territory for Dems. This article in today’s Washington Post says it’s basically dead-even and the momentum at least is with Shaheen.

The Senate really could swing several seats in either direction. But as of today I’d say the good money is on a Democratic hold, with a reasonable chance of their picking up one or perhaps — a big perhaps — even two seats.

Like so many others

Like so many others I am in a state of shock over the sudden and tragic death of Paul Wellstone. I can scarcely believe I’ve just written those words. For every Democrat — probably as much for those who didn’t share his politics as for those who did — Wellstone was a special treasure: a sort of genuinely progressive, utterly engaged and sincere politician who somehow captured what was essential in the aspirations of his party, even if he supported policies that others didn’t. (“I’m from the Democratic party-wing of the Democratic party,” he got fond of saying in the late 1990s …) One thinks of his vote against welfare reform in 1996, on the eve of his first run for re-election. Whatever you think of the merits of that vote — and history has been kinder to the supporters of the bill than the opponents, on balance — no other Senate Democrat who was up for re-election that year had the nerve to make the vote that he did — though many of them thought the way that he did. He did something very similar this year on Iraq. And in recent days it seemed conviction was making for good politics. I can’t say I knew Wellstone in any serious way. But I did have a number of conversations with him over the last few years — particularly a couple in New Hampshire in early 2000 when he was stumping for Bill Bradley and then later at the Convention. Perhaps the most honest thing I can tell you, while my eyes are still teary over this, is the simplest: I really liked him. It’s the most wooden of cliches to say in death that so-and-so was real, genuine, not scripted, just an all around great guy. But the over-use of such plaudits as filler can’t bar the invocation of them when they were this true. Most successful pols are steely operators. Not a few act serious, without at all being serious, but are rather jokes and whores. Or if they’re first-rate men or women they’ve long since gotten gated-off behind walls of flacks, caution and self-protection. Paul Wellstone just wasn’t like that. From my admittedly limited experience with him, the image he projected of a down-to-earth, more-like-what-you’d-expect-from-a-driven-political-activist-than-a-United-States-Senator was entirely accurate. I remember getting hit up by him and members of his staff — I think it was in early 2001 — to give more attention to the truly egregious and low-incoming-screwing bankruptcy bill then moving through the Senate. He was more or less single-handedly holding the bill up and getting grief from other supposedly liberal stalwarts in the Senate for doing so. When I was more clearly ensconced in the environs of professional liberalism — when I was the Washington Editor of the American Prospect — I often chafed at what I perceived to be the ineffectual Ivory-Towerish purism of so much of late 20th century elite liberalism, the mix of muscle and cliche masquerading as energy and fun. And I feel that no less today. I’ve seen my share of the fundraisers with their endless harvesting of checks from the fancy-hatted, the useless and the corrupt. But, you know, you do what it takes to accomplish things you believe are right. For a dozen years Paul Wellstone managed to show that these trade-offs did not necessarily have to be made. At least not for him. He was irreplaceable.

Toast Yes toast. Several

Toast? Yes, toast. Several days back a few normally shrewd commentators took me to task for prematurely writing off New Jersey Senate candidate Doug Forrester. The key evidence was a Washington Post article which said the two candidates in the race were “virtually tied in public opinion polls.” Frankly, that wasn’t true then. But now we have a bit more evidence. Let’s review the last three public polls, starting with the most recent: NBC 10 poll, 42-32 Lautenberg; Quinnipiac University poll 52-43 Lautenberg; Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll 47-42 Lautenberg. Add to this that Jersey Democrats have a rock-solid get out the vote operation and you come fairly quickly to the conclusion that Forrester is toast.

Theres a dictum in

There’s a dictum in politics: when your opponent’s going down the tubes on his own, stand back, look high-minded, and watch him swirl. Which brings us to the South Dakota Senate race. In Monday night’s debate, challenger John Thune fell over himself charging — loosely, in the form of questions — that Tim Johnson was personally involved in orchestrating voter fraud in the western part of the state.

Thus Thune …

You hold a press conference and tell the people of South Dakota – come clean about what your involvement is with voter fraud in western South Dakota. I think the people of South Dakota need to know what the facts are. Who authorized this putting a bounty on voters? Who did you hire? Who was involved?

This tells you something pretty clearly. If the fraud issue were pulling Johnson down of its own weight, the logical move would be to avoid such extravagant charges. Since it’s not, he’s not avoiding them. Rather, he’s pushing them as hard as he can, trying to win the campaign on this issue alone.

Today, Johnson called for both campaigns to forswear any and all negative ads for the remaining two weeks before election day. This is a pretty transparent tactic, since Thune needs to go negative much more than Johnson does right now, and has something — baseless or not — to go negative with. Still, a transparent tactic isn’t always a bad one.

In turn, Thune’s spokesperson, Christine Iverson responded with a classic ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ rejoinder.

Thus Christine …

Today, we ask Tim Johnson to release the following information: all
correspondence and E-mail between his campaign and the South Dakota
Democrat Party; all cell and phone records between the Johnson campaign
and the South Dakota Democrat Party; all records of meetings between the
Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat Party; and all financial
transactions between the Johnson campaign and the South Dakota Democrat
Party related to the voter fraud investigation, people currently under
investigation and those indicted. There is more to running a clean campaign than running positive ads. A clean campaign includes preserving the integrity of the election system. If the Johnson campaign has nothing to hide they will have no problem releasing information about their work with the state party on voter
registration efforts. Together, we can give the people of South Dakota a
positive campaign, both on the airwaves and in the ballot booth on
Election Day.

Note the puerile use of ‘Democrat party’ in place of the correct usage, ‘Democratic party.’ Iverson has developed quite a rep in recent months for bullying and slashing behavior on the campaign trail and she seems inclined to go out with a flourish.

Why precisely do I

Why precisely do I read Andrew Sullivan’s website? I’m not sure. Much of the stuff I find either wrongheaded or offensive or stridently badgering toward people who don’t deserve badgering. And yet I read it. In fact, it’s one of the only blogs I read regularly or even read at all. Tonight or this morning — take your pick — I noticed his post on the prison amnesty in Iraq. And I think Andrew’s on to something. Clearly, this amnesty has been promulgated for the most cynical of reasons, for a mix of domestic and foreign propaganda. But this is the most repressive of regimes. And repressive regimes tend to function like ratchets. To survive they can stand in place or become more repressive. But it’s very difficult for them to become less so. Reeling back political repression is a tough, often an impossible, proposition, as we saw in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union a dozen or more years ago. And there’s some small chance we could be beginning to see the first signs of something like that in Iraq. What’s happening right now — and the way a few are interpreting it — reminds me of something I was once told by the guy I regard as one of the shrewdest and most knowledgeable people in Washington when it comes to Iraq and US policy thereto. I can’t say who it is other than to say he’s ex-military. But here’s the way he once described the Iraqi regime to me: “The physical analogy to Saddam Hussein’s regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn’t do it justice. When it breaks … it’ll give off absolutely no sign at all that it’s about to fail … And then ka-wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what’s gonna happen here.” That really could happen here, and possibly, just possibly, without a single American shot ever being fired.

Is it just my

Is it just my imagination or when Bill Kristol read this quote from the President, didn’t he pretty much have to press his hands to his temples and shake his head disconsolately?

If [Saddam] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I’ve described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed …

Whatever Kristol did, I couldn’t help laughing. And perhaps that says something about my not getting out quite often enough that I would find this so amusing. But, honestly, this is about thirty-times more audacious a massaging of the English language than that little number the former president pulled about what the meaning of ‘is‘ is.

If the regime will just change then you don’t have to change the regime. And if the regime changes isn’t that regime change? So what’s the problem?

I’ve rolled this one over in my head a few times and as nearly as I can figure the key is that the president prized apart the words in that wonderful phrase and took ‘regime’ which was supposed to be the object of the verb ‘change,’ as in ‘change the regime’ and made it the subject, as in ‘the regime changes.’ That is to say, the ‘regime’ was mean and now it’s nice. I grant you, this grammar and syntax chopping may not do full justice to the utter discombobulation of this phrase. You can just see the chief regime-changers hearing this and breaking out with the frantic ‘wait, wait, waits…’

In any case, approaching the matter at that level may miss the point. Could anybody but this president have managed to get away with uttering such a quote? What we’re seeing here is a grey glimmer of that undiscovered country where verbal goofballism meets the honed edge of grand strategy. Sort of Gomer Pyle meets Forrest Gump meets Klemens von Metternich.

Now, I’m not sure the underlying change of policy here is wrong-headed, at least as far as it goes, or even that it represents a change. But how much must those report writers at Heritage and AEI be pulling out their hair out over this. (And a lot of them don’t have a lot to spare. So it’s serious.) I mean, if only the phrase ‘regime change’ had come with an instruction manual or a rulebook perhaps this chicanery would never have been possible.

Now do you doubt that Colin Powell is calling the shots?

The folks at ABCs

The folks at ABC’s always-admirable The Note say the “the ball is in [my] court” on the South Dakota voter fraud story, after this detailed article in Sunday’s Argus Leader. But perhaps they should look a bit closer at the article itself. The article contains the following quote from Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett, who was himself one of the original hard-chargers on the alleged vote fraud story…

“I’m still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you’ve heard about those,” said Barnett. “I just don’t want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don’t have any evidence of that.”

Tide beginning to turn

Tide beginning to turn? New column by Rapid City Journal columnist David Rooks (“Massive Voter Fraud?“).

Our recent posts continue

Our recent posts continue to stir the blood of the more rabid breed of South Dakota Republicans, ginning up a slew of letters like this one.

Sir,

Please get your facts straight concerning the Mary Matalin speech in Sioux
Falls, South Dakota. I happen to be on the committee that sets up these
monthly luncheons. This WAS NOT a fund-raiser for John Thune or anyone
else. As a matter of fact, we have never made money on any of the luncheons,
that is not our intent. Just for the record, after paying for the food,
the announcements and the postage we LOSE money. This event was open
to the public, it was even announced in the Argus Leader by David Kranz,
a well known Democrat lover. Just for the record a registered Democrat
was sitting at my table.

You people will stop at nothing to hold on to power, even if it means
destroying people’s lives. What next murder? Oh yeah, Bill Clinton has
already done that.

I guess we Republicans really owe you libs a debt of gratitude because
you have really fired up our base. We will be voting in droves on November
5th. I am sure Johnson would appreciate some help packing up his office
on November 6th. Remind him not to take anything that does not belong
to him; I know you libs have a tendency to have sticky fingers.

AB [Full Name Suppressed]

Then AB’s husband chimed in …

As we expected, liberal sycophants such as yourself are trying to circle the wagons to protect your hold on power. I informed my wife, who is on the committee for Winning Woman, about your rant and she intends to dispel your lies. You and the DNC may think that your smear tactics will work in SD, but think again. We have had to live with the absolutely biased reporting of the Argus Leader for years, so one more idiot in the liberal bunch really won’t matter. We intend to contact Neal Bennett and make sure that he has the facts of this matter . This will demonstrate just who is the liar! YOU!

And so it goes.

It seems TPMs overnight

It seems TPM’s overnight post on the South Dakota Senate race really drew some blood. Here below you’ll find the brand new press release from John Thune spokesperson Christine Iverson, or as we call her missives here at TPM, postcards from the edge.

Definitely note the attack on the “little read liberal-Washington D.C. website written by a graduate student at Brown University.” (If it’s so ‘little read’ why go to the trouble of attacking the story in a press release? Is the Thune Senate campaign getting knocked on its heels by a weblog?)

Subject: Johnson Intimidates SD Press into Stopping Voter Fraud Coverage
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 11:45:30 -0500

As regular Talking Points

As regular Talking Points readers know, the South Dakota Senate race has recently been roiled by charges of absentee ballot fraud in and around Indian reservations in the state. To date, an independent contractor working for the Democratic party-organized state “coordinated campaign” was fired by the state party when it was found that she likely forged two absentee ballot applications. The state party then reported the matter to the local US Attorney. (The woman in question defends herself here.) Separately, two brothers working for the Native American Education and Voter Registration Project — a group unaffiliated with the Democratic party — have also been accused — seemingly with good reason — of trying to register a number of persons without their knowledge.

Bad things, to be sure. And today the state’s major paper, The Argus Leader, ran an editorial saying — not unreasonably — that voter fraud can never be tolerated.

As one might expect in such cases, the story has gotten the treatment in a palpably tendentious column by John Fund on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But what of the claims of massive vote fraud? Let’s look a bit deeper.

It turns out that the most aggressive reporting of this story — picked up in Drudge and other places — has come from Sioux Falls’s KSFY TV, the local ABC affiliate. And the station turns out to have some rather interesting connections to the John Thune campaign.

John Thune’s campaign spokesperson Christine Iverson is a former reporter for KSFY.

John Thune’s Washington, DC spokesperson Jennifer Hayes is also a former reporter for KSFY.

KSFY News Anchor Mitch Krebs was scheduled to moderate this Monday’s League of Women Voters debate between Tim Johnson and John Thune. That is, he was until the South Dakota League of Women Voters found out that Krebs was the emcee at a September 17th fundraiser for the Minnehaha County (where Sioux Falls is located) Republican Party and the John Thune for Senate Campaign, featuring Mary Matalin.

The LWV has now asked KSFY to withdraw Krebs from the debate. And the station has agreed. Krebs has also, according to TPM sources, been pulled from the vote fraud story altogether. When asked for confirmation that Krebs had been pulled from the story, KSFY news director Neal Bennett told TPM it was a “KSFY internal matter.”

Now it’s long been TPM’s view that misfiled or improperly filled out voter registration cards or absentee ballot applications can be whipped up into charges of voter fraud and often for nefarious purposes. What seems to us like an interesting example of this came on KSFY’s Tuesday evening newscast with a piece from reporter Shelley Keohane.

First a little backstory, which will take a moment to explain, but bear with me …

Both parties around the country routinely do absentee ballot application drives and process them with local voter registrars in quantity. In fact, on balance, Republicans tend to do an even better job of this than Democrats.

Not long ago Zeibach County Auditor Cindy Logbreak got approximately ninety absentee ballot applications bundled and sent out from the Democratic party. One of those was for a Eunice Taylor whose address listed her in another county, Roberts County. It turns out that there’s another Eunice Taylor who lives in Zeibach County. So, point being, there are two Eunice Taylors. Still with me? Good. There’s a bit more.

So how did the absentee ballot for Roberts County end up in Zeibach County? It appears that the first Eunice Taylor who filled out an absentee ballot registration form actually wasn’t currently registered to vote. The normal procedure in this case would be for the county auditor to send the applicant a registration form and have them fill it out and resubmit their absentee ballot application. In this case, however, when some flunky at Democratic party headquarters was putting these absentee ballot applications in different piles to send to different counties he or she looked on a voting list and found “Eunice Taylor” in Zeibach county and sent it there.

So the application got sent to the wrong county.

So just to recap: we have a voter who filed an absentee ballot request but who apparently wasn’t registered yet. She would have either subsequently registered or her vote simply wouldn’t have been counted. A mistake was made and the form was sent to the wrong county. There’s no way this vote could ever have gotten counted in this other county since it has an address in another part of the state. South Dakota law says such a misaddressed ballot should simply be forwarded back to the original county.

Still with me? Good. We’re almost to the good part.

Enter Shelley Keohane who trooped out to Zeibach county and tracked down Eunice Taylor for part of her Tuesday night report on the burgeoning voter fraud case. Here’s part of the transcript in which Keohane interviews Taylor — i.e., not the one who filed the application — in running guffaw mode, walking her through what seems to be an obviously falsified ballot application …

Keohane: Eunice Taylor also sent in an application saying she would be absent from the county on election day. [But] so far she’s got no plans for November 5th. Where do you plan to be on Election Day?

Eunice Taylor: In Dupree [i.e., in her hometown.]

Keohane: There are other problems with Taylor’s application.

Eunice Taylor: Everything’s wrong (laughter) that’s not my signature or anything, or my address.

Keohane: In addition this Eunice Taylor lives in Dupree and says she never sent in an application … I did get in touch with a Eunice Taylor at the number on the application but Roberts County doesn’t have a Eunice Taylor registered. Just Ziebach County.

At the end Keohane says she got in touch with the other Eunice Taylor. What she fails to mention is that that afternoon, before this segment was produced, she had interviewed the other Eunice Taylor and that Eunice Taylor told her that she had in fact filled out and signed the application.

So what exactly was the point of interviewing this other woman and having her say the signature on the document wasn’t hers? Right. No reason other than to create the misleading impression that this was a fraudulent ballot rather than one that had simply been sent to the wrong county auditor. The next day the competitor station KELO — the largest in the market — did a more thorough and one might say more honest job of reporting this out and made all this clear.

And there’s more.

Where did Shelley Keohane get the documents which helped her put together the Eunice Taylor stunt? After questions about Keohane’s report were first raised, this post appeared on the KSFY website saying that she got them from “a personal friend who volunteers for John Thune’s campaign.”

It turns out, according to TPM’s sources, that the ‘personal friend’ was a Sioux Falls lawyer named Jon K. Lauck, who happens to be the Chairman of Lawyers for Thune Committee. Lauck’s bio at the Republican National Lawyers Association website says he is “currently chairman of the Lawyers for Thune Committee and deeply involved the nation’s most-watched Senate race.”

And, surprisingly, there’s even more.

It turns out that Jon Lauck and Shelley Keohane live at the same address in Sioux Falls.

On Thursday, after these various facts came to light, Shelley Keohane too was pulled off the voter fraud story by KSFY. We reached KSFY news director Neal Bennett Thursday evening to ask if he could confirm that Keohane had gotten yanked from the story. He declined to confirm or deny that Keohane had been pulled from the story citing it as a “KSFY internal matter.”

Is the Thune campaign

Is the Thune campaign in South Dakota whipping up these allegations of absentee ballot vote fraud to suppress voter turnout on the state’s Indian reservations and in other counties? Are they spoon-feeding this stuff to pliant members of the press?

There’s more coming along these lines…

I got an email

I got an email yesterday from a regular reader who’s a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, telling me that my run-down of Senate races yesterday was wildly biased in favor of the Democrats. It didn’t point out for instance that in Missouri — state of TPM’s birth, as it turns out — Jean Carnahan seems to be fading in the stretch. That’s a race that I think most Dems thought they’d pull out. And though it’s far from over, it’s suddenly started looking very uphill. My choices of which races to mention were based on which ones had results which struck me as noteworthy. Still, it was a legitimate criticism.

Having said that, though, I feel even more confident today than I did yesterday of the overall premise of the post: that things are looking up for the Democrats.

I’d point to four races. The first and most obvious is New Jersey. Clearly, Doug Forrester is toast. Put a fork in ’em. Put a metaphor in ’em. Whatever. He’s gone. Buhh-bye…

In the few short weeks since the Democrats switched candidates Forrester has gone from a dozen points up to a dozen points down — a rather dizzying descent. If that weren’t enough, reporters have now unearthed a sheaf of old newspaper columns Forrester wrote for the now-defunct and previously minuscule West Windsor-Plainsboro Chronicle about a decade ago. Those columns include — among other things — his earlier opposition to such radical legislation as those bans on assault weapons which never fail to inflame the gun-crazy denizens of Montclair and Wyckoff. In truth, the discovery of the long-forgotten newspaper columns is almost a cliche, a set piece of the modern political campaign drama. And such an unearthing usually signifies the start of the final death spiral of the sputtering goof who wrote them. If the Jersey Senate campaign were a work of low-rent magical realist fiction — though I guess that’s not really such a far-fetched proposition — this would be the moment when a big black raven alighted on Forrester’s left shoulder and started cackling ominously or maybe warbling Beelzebub in bird language.

Anyway, point being, he’s gone. And that puts one seat safely back in the Democratic column.

The other three races are Wellstone in Minnesota, Shaheen in New Hampshire and Bowles in North Carolina. Lots of people were really starting to think Wellstone wasn’t going to pull it out. Now it seems like he probably will, though it’s still very touch-and-go. I’d figured Shaheen was going to lose but now she seems marginally ahead. And, again, Bowles is making a serious run Liddy Dole.

There are other states where Dems are getting serious challenges: Georgia, for instance, and more about that later. But those three races give me the feeling that the Democrats are back in the hunt for expanding their majority, if only very slightly.

One of the most

One of the most important and least discussed issues in Washington today — in America today, really — is the profound divide which has opened up between the Pentagon brass and the civilian political appointees who run the Department of Defense. I’ve written about it before. Here’s another very good article about it in today’s Washington Post. Also, in today’s Post, a fun article on what could turn out to be the big story of the 2002 election cycle: the Florida Governor’s race. Bill McBride clearly has the momentum and he’s pulled within a very few points of the stealthily-sleazy Jeb Bush.

After a slew of

After a slew of bad news the latest round of polls point to optimism for Democratic chances in the Senate. Charlie Cook’s new report out this morning says that Erskine Bowles is advancing on Liddy Dole in North Carolina — a race most folks had pretty much written off. Jeanne Shaheen has also pulled even or marginally ahead in New Hampshire — a race which looked close but definitely leaning toward John Sununu.

The latest round of Zogby polls also look positive for Dems. Zogby’s latest has Paul Wellstone up 46-37 over Norm Coleman. And Jeb Bush is now in a statistical dead-heat with Bill McBride — a result that’s in line with other campaign tracking polls. (I wonder if Jeb gets forced into a really tight contest down the stretch whether Florida papers may take a renewed interest in the guy’s business past, which is ugly as sin. He makes his brother look like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel.)

Less positively for Democrats Zogby now has John Thune up by two points over Tim Johnson in South Dakota. That race is still basically a tie. But there does seem to have been a very small tick back in Thune’s direction.

The thing one hears about Zogby though is that his state by state statistical models aren’t nearly as good as his national one. (He didn’t do well at all calling Hillary/Lazio in 2000). So the Zogby polls may merit a measure of skepticism all around.

Just what I hear.

Those who whined most

Those who whined most heartily about the Montana Democratic Party’s ad targeting state Senator Mike Taylor are now hyping a story about alleged absentee voting irregularities in neighboring South Dakota.

Don’t get snookered by this one.

The story first got picked up by local TV news reporter Jill Westbrook
as a case of “massive voter registration fraud.” That was followed by a
piece in the Rapid City Journal which again ran with the “massive” voter fraud
line.

That was, predictably, picked up by Fox News. And finally there was a
pretty decent story written about it in the Argus Leader. David Kranz of the
Argus Leader is sort of the Jack Germond or Dan Balz of South Dakota
politics, from what I can tell.

Read the actual stories and you’ll see the alleged fraud falls quite a
bit short of ‘massive’. The alleged fraud apparently involves a single
contract employee working in a Democratic party voter registration drive.
The woman in question registered a slew of voters and virtually all of those
registrations checked out when later examined. The exact number of ones
with problems is unclear from the articles but it seems to be a handful out
of many at best. Perhaps as few as two. The Democratic party fired her.

Look at the article and you’ll also notice virtually all the quotes are
from the Republican state Attorney General Mark Barnett who called a press
conference to discuss the matter, was apparently the source of the
original “massive” voter fraud claim, and apparently can’t stop talking to
every reporter in the state about it. Though the investigation only involves
this one woman, Barnett is quick to tell virtually everyone that “that could
change at any time.”

Clearly something like this should be investigated. And lawbreakers
should be prosecuted. And I don’t mean that as a throwaway line. They
should. But the story here is that there are two very hotly contested races in the
state — one being the Senate race between Tim Johnson and John Thune.
Democrats have been making a big push to register the Indian population in
the state which tends to vote heavily Democratic but is under-registered and
tends to vote in very low percentages. Those votes could prove crucial. The fraud
claims are about the voter registration push on the Indian reservations.

Republicans frequently charge that voter registration drives are hotbeds
of voter-fraud — almost never with any real evidence. Absent more evidence
of anything really widespread, this looks to me like a Republican effort to
snuff out or throw a wet blanket over the Democrats’ effort to register
a lot of new voters. They have a long history of this.

I discuss my thoughts

I discuss my thoughts on the Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party below. But before Republicans get too self-righteous about that ad, take a look at this one that Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss is running against Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. The ad luridly hacks away at Cleland for being soft on defending America and says Cleland is lying when he says he has the “courage to lead” and defend the United States.

You may remember that Cleland lost three limbs on the battlefield while serving as an Army Captain in Vietnam in 1969. (The washed-out black and white images of Cleland in the ad are conveniently cropped around the face and upper body so as not to show any signs that Cleland is a triple-amputee.) Saxby Chambliss’s House website bio contains no mention of any military service.

Lower than low.

Im still trying to

I’m still trying to assemble my thoughts about the now notorious Mike Taylor ad run by the Montana Democratic party. On balance, I just don’t think Taylor has as much ground for complaint as he seems to think he does. Part of this may be the fact that before I ever saw the ad I had read a number of reports decrying it as blatantly gay-baiting. So I was expecting to be really outraged. When I actually saw it I was expecting some zinger that never quite came.

Two points that are worth mentioning: No one who criticizes the ad seems to note that the creators of the ad have Taylor dead-to-rights on the fact that his hair-care school was apparently a scam. That gives at least some hook for the commercial to get into the whole hair-care school issue. Point two is that this was an infomercial that Taylor himself produced. It’s a bit hard to get past that. How offensive can it be to him to show it if he himself produced it for public consumption?

I certainly don’t mean to be willfully dense. And I’m not saying I’m crazy about the ad. It’s just that when I saw the ad I felt it went right up to the line but never quite crossed it.

One point that comes close is the final tagline which, after going into the hair-care scam, finishes off with: “Not the way we do business here in Montana.” After you’re primed to get the gay references this can, I grant you, sort of read like “Not the way we *#$% each other in Montana.” On the other hand, I showed the ad to one friend today who hadn’t heard anything about the controversy and she didn’t pick up the gay-baiting angle at all.

In some ways the real keys are more the music and the the font and graphics of his name used at the top of the ad. They’re clearly right out of Boogie Nights or an Austin Powers flick. In a sense, the ad is less guilty of gay-baiting than Boogie-Nights-1970s-Cheesedom-baiting.

One thing that is very clear is that this ad was not why Taylor got out of the race. He was just losing and this was a way to leave on a note of righteous indignation. I think that’s unquestionably true, though one can certainly believe that and believe that the ad gay-baited and thus believe that his righteous indignation was justified.

Interestingly in this October 4th article Taylor said it was outrageous for the Democrats even to bring up the charges about the improper use of federal money at the school. This was before any mention was made of the TV ad. And it’s very hard to see where discussing Taylor’s misuse of federal education money was somehow a low blow.

Another point. A number of people wrote in yesterday arguing that this development proved that I was wrong in believing the Torricelli drop-out would be a one time thing. Seemingly everybody was going to do it and Marc Racicot, former Governor of Montana, was going to jump into the race. Frankly, had this happened, I wouldn’t have seen any problem with it, even though it would have made Max Baucus’s (the Democratic incumbent) race harder. As I said earlier with regards to New Jersey, so long as there is some give in the legal procedures for late ballot changes I’d say make the call in favor of giving voters the best shot at a real vote.

Actually, though, this has turned out to be a pretty good example of why the Torricelli switch phenomenon won’t become that common. It now looks like Racicot won’t get in the race after all. And the reason is pretty clear. If he’d wanted to run for Senate, he’d have gotten in the race a year ago when he actually would have had a pretty decent shot at knocking Baucus out. He didn’t get in then because he didn’t want to do it or didn’t have the gumption or whatever. And he still doesn’t. Additionally, now he’d face the added hurdles of being accused of just being a last minute opportunist and so forth. The bottom line is that there are just a lot of forces weighted against the whole last minute switch phenomenon.

I was ready to

I was ready to slam this attack ad that Montana Democrats ran against Montana’s Republican Senate candidate Mike Taylor. But I became a bit more equivocal when I actually saw it. TPM has acquired a downloadable version of the spot now included in the TPM Document Collection. Click here to view or download your own copy and see for yourself.

Youve likely heard of

You’ve likely heard of the lock-out of longshoreman in port facilities on the West coast and how President Bush has now invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to force the workers to go back to work. There’s been a lot of sloppy reporting on this case — and we’ll be saying more about that. But for the moment let me draw your attention to this.

Eugene Scalia (yes, son of Antonin) is the Solicitor of the Department of Labor. He’s actually not quite an appointee. President Bush couldn’t get enough votes to get him confirmed so he put Scalia in the job through a recess appointment this last January, as he did with Otto Reich at State. So Scalia is the head lawyer on the government’s negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the longshoreman’s union, the ILWU.

So far so good.

But it turns out that Scalia has a bit of a conflict. Before he became Solicitor one of his legal clients was — you guessed it — the Pacific Maritime Association. Click here to see the key page of Scalia’s public disclosure statement, which has just been added to the TPM Document Collection.

On Monday, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka called on Scalia to recuse himself. So far though Scalia hasn’t even responded to Trumka’s request. And the press has simply failed to mention it. No one seems to think it’s even important enough to report on. The AFL-CIO’s Lane Windham told TPM today that Scalia “can’t try to be impartial when he’s represented one of the parties.” And we find it sorta hard to disagree with her.

TPM made repeated efforts this afternoon to contact Mr. Scalia but he was not available for comment.

Scalia’s recess appointment is only good through this session. And presumably they’ll try to send him up again. Especially if the Republicans win back the Senate next month. Isn’t this a pretty clear conflict? What does it say that Scalia doesn’t seem to care? Doesn’t it deserve more press attention? Doesn’t it show that the Democrats may have been right in thinking he wasn’t suited for the job? Can’t we expect better?

Sometimes life faces you

Sometimes life faces you with vexing problems, insoluble quandaries, heartbreaking choices. But even in such rough moments there are some simple joys that never leave us. Like watching Larry King create twelve car pile-ups with logic and the English language.

Like tonight when Larry asked Colin Powell …

KING: A few other things, Mr. Secretary: Israel supports the United States completely in [attacking Iraq] yet they face the most immediate danger. Is this a dichotomy?

POWELL: They do face a danger. I think Saddam Hussein and the weapons he’s been developing are a danger to all the nations in the region, to include Israel. And so that’s why Israel has been a strong supporter of the need for the international community or for nations who are inclined to act together if not under the umbrella of the international community to deal with this threat.

Isn’t it weird how Israel’s arch-enemy is Saddam and Israel sees Iraq as a strategic threat and yet Israel still supports our clobbering Iraq? Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that a dichotomy?

See this earlier post for a discussion of the fine art of fielding Larry’s boneheaded questions (Larry: “That’s like what happened when you discovered the cure for gravity, right?”) See this post for a candid discussion of the no-goofing-on-Larry rule, which effectively bars people in the media from ever pointing out what a goofball Larry is. See this post to see the top three questions Larry almost got around to asking Dan Rather on June 4th, 2002. 1) “Dan, what was it like to travel to the Moon on Apollo 51? It changes your life, right?” …

Let me recommend a

Let me recommend a book to you in very strong terms. It’s called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Ken Pollack. I can’t do an extensive review of the book here since I’ve just completed a formal magazine review of it which will be appearing in a few weeks. And I don’t want to step, as it were, on my own toes. Or more to the point, the magazine’s toes — if magazines have toes.

As the title states, the book argues that there is no other good solution to the Iraq problem save a military one. Pollack is an ardent critic of the slapdash and petulantly unilateralist way the Bush administration seems inclined to go about it. (This actually is the new TPM catch-phrase for Bush administration foreign policy: petulant unilateralism) But at the end of the day he thinks that the only real option is to topple Saddam’s regime and that the only real way to do that is by force.

Now, I know many regular TPM readers don’t agree at all with that proposition. It’s one I find both deeply troubling and, I think, inescapable. But even if you don’t agree — perhaps especially if you don’t — I think you’ll get a lot out of this book.

This is the most honest, candid, and intelligent discussion I’ve read of this topic. Pollack explains very clearly why serious people — and not just yahoos — believe that the current Iraqi regime represents a serious threat. Pollack, who spent most of the last decade formulating Iraq policy for the US government, also makes a compelling case that the policy we pursued toward Iraq in recent years was and is just a losing game.

Whether you’re for ‘regime change’ or against it, if you want to really understand this issue in detail and have your beliefs and preconceptions seriously challenged, buy this book.

Regrettably through a tragic

Regrettably, through a tragic technical error, the first week of October’s TPMs have slipped into cyber-oblivion. We’re trying to recover a copy. And if and when the gods smile on us in this endeavor we shall post them in the TPM archives promptly.

This passage stood out

This passage stood out to me in Fareed Zakaria’s excellent article (“Our Way“) in the new New Yorker

Perhaps most important, Roosevelt and Truman, having lived through the nineteen-thirties, knew how fragile the international system was and believed that it needed support. Having reaped the fruits of this system—upheld by all successive Presidents of both parties—we have come to believe that stability is natural. But the world order put into place by the United States in the past half century—an order based on alliances, organizations, and norms — functions largely because of the respect paid to it by its superpower creator. Without that support, it will crumble into chaos.

It’s worth pondering. Also check out this brief Talk of the Town piece on George Kennan, the now-98 year old conceptualizer of ‘containment’, and the passing of his doctrine. It’s good, really good.

Now that the Supreme

Now that the Supreme Court isn’t going to walk Douglas Forrester across the finish line in New Jersey, things just seem to be going from bad to worse for the one-time, future, accidental Senator from New Jersey. He’s campaigning with all the grace and pizzazz of a live fish on a hot griddle.

Today Forrester denied Frank Lautenberg’s claim that he supported Social Security privatization, only to have it revealed that his primary campaign website endorsed just that policy.

Then later in the day Forrester made the shrewd call of attacking Lautenberg for being too old. Following up on his earlier challenge to debate Lautenberg 21 times in 21 days, he said “It doesn’t have to be a three-hour debate every day. That may be too much for him.”

When called on this gaffe, Forrester denied any effort to call Lautenberg’s fitness for office into question. Then, however, he apparently realized that if he kept his mouth shut he wouldn’t be able to keep this helpful insult-senior-citizens campaign angle going. So he jumped again into the fray, claiming that it was hypocritical for Lautenberg to accuse him of making age an issue when he, Lautenberg, had made age an issue when he first ran for the Senate against Millicent Fenwick in 1982. The idea, presumably, was to expose the 78 year old Lautenberg as the real denigrator of the aged. “There should be no age limit,” intoned the rapidly deflating Forrester, “But there should be a limit on hypocrisy.”

On Tuesday, TPM has it on good authority, Forrester will launch a stinging new attack on Lautenberg’s unseemly habit of cavorting with smelly poor people.

Theres an excellent —

There’s an excellent — and intelligently assigned — piece today in the Washington Post about the Lautenberg/Forrester
race. The raging national debate about the late New Jersey ballot change
from Torricelli to Lautenberg seems more like just a rage on the part of
Republicans and talk radio denizens. (All yada and yada, signifying nothing,
to update the classic line …) In New Jersey, everyone but hardcore Republicans
seems fine with it. As they should be.

Its sometimes difficultto fathom

It’s sometimes difficult
to fathom what ridiculous hypocrites Republicans are when it comes to election
law and the courts. It turns out that back in the primaries Douglas Forrester, rule-of-law crusader from parts North, had his own problem with a last-minute ballot change. Here’s a few grafs from today’s New York Times

Mr. Genova [the Democrats’ lawyer] also uncovered a legal memorandum from Mr. Forrester lawyer written in April, when State Senator Diane Allen, one of Mr. Forrester
opponents in the Republican primary, was trying to block him from taking
the ballot position of James W. Treffinger. Mr. Treffinger, the Essex County
executive, had resigned from the race because of scandal three days earlier,
or 40 days before the primary.

Senator Allen maintained that moving Mr. Forrester
name to Mr. Treffinger’s place on the ballot would come too late under Title
19 of the state election law, which sets a deadline of 51 days before an
election for ballot substitutions. It is the same argument that Mr. Forrester
lawyer, Peter G. Sheridan, made before the State Supreme Court on Wednesday,
opposing Mr. Lautenberg’s placement on the ballot. The Democrats said that
the deadline was merely a guideline.

In April, Mr. Sheridan read the law the way the Democrats do today.

“Strict compliance to statutory requirements and deadlines within
Title 19,” Mr. Sheridan wrote, “are set aside where such rights may be accommodated
without significantly impinging upon the election process.”

It first seems worth pointing out that if the United
States Supreme Court is inclined to throw Frank Lautenberg off the ballot
they would appear to be obligated to throw Forrester off the ballot too, since his primary candidacy was also a violation of state election law.

Now, I had heard about this issue before but I hadn’t realized that the
comparison was that spot-on. It’s the same 51 day deadline. The Times
asked Sheridan about the seeming contradiction and he replied that the two
cases were not similar because “no primary ballots had been issued” last
April when the earlier controversy took place and today 1600 absentee ballots have already been sent out.

But this argument only shows that Sheridan is dull as well as hypocritical.
He seems to be arguing that the relevant issue is not the inviolability
of the deadline but the practical effect of allowing a change after the deadline
takes place. He says that in April it was okay to make the change because
no ballots had yet been printed and thus no harm — nothing “significantly
impinging upon the election process” — could come from listing different
names on them when they were printed. In other words, the deadline is simply
an administrative guideline and if changes can still be made after that date
passes, then they should be.

What Sheridan doesn’t seem to realize is that this argument is already
taken. The Democrats have it! And by embracing it, he tears his own case
to shreds. The county clerks in New Jersey all said that they could make
the changes in time. They could even reissue the absentee ballots. So if
the issue is the practicality of making the change and not the inviolability
of the deadline then Sheridan has no case.

Forrester has no case.

Even the lickspittle commentators who embraced their case have no case.

A Washington Post editorial

A Washington Post editorial today gives Al Gore a rough slap (“Negative Al Gore“). Predictably, I guess, the Post
is the repository of this city’s most easy-thinking conventional wisdom.
In a rebuke to the former vice-president’s attack on White House economic
policy the Post writes …

President Bush’s main economic policy — the large tax cut
of last year — was not responsible for any of the current damage. Indeed,
given the twin shocks of 9/11 and the post-Enron stock market decline, the
short-term stimulus created by the tax cuts has turned out to be fortuitously
well timed. To be sure, parts of the tax cut that have yet to be implemented,
especially the repeal of the estate tax, are unaffordable and ought to be
repealed.

Mickey Kaus chimed in with “WaPo acknowledges what Krugman won’t about the Bush tax cuts.”

But does the Post‘s remark even make logical, let alone substantive, sense? The Post
begins by saying that the Bush tax cut — which must be what they mean by
his “main economic policy” — is not responsible for any of our current economic
situation, by which they mean, in large part, the rapidly ballooning federal
deficit.

With respect to the deficit, this is largely true. This year’s
deficit is caused to only a fairly limited degree by 9/11 or (as opposed
to the deficits for the rest of the decade) the Bush tax cut. The culprit
is a flagging economy and what one must imagine is a virtual surcease in
the fat capital gains tax revenues which floated the federal budget through
the end of the last decade.

So far so good.

But then the Post says that “the short-term stimulus created
by the tax cuts has turned out to be fortuitously well timed.” This makes
no sense. Very little of the tax cut has even been implemented yet. That’s
why the White House — and the Washington Post — can accurately say that the administration is not responsible for this year’s deficit. Is the Post talking about the stimulus which Republican flacks sometimes claim comes from the expectation of future tax cuts?

It’s true that some of the tax cuts have kicked in — largely the
middle-class rebate checks foisted on the president by Senate Democrats,
which are rather small. But, in any case, one can either have real stimulus,
which might get some credit for buoying the economy, and also ballooning the deficit. Or one can have neither. The Post picks and chooses to sustain the logic of their editorial.

It’s an example of the crying sin of much recent political journalism
and commentary — not bias of the right or the left, but reflexive special-pleading
on behalf of the Bush White House.

There is a chilling

There is a chilling, even terrifying story unfolding in Washington, DC, though I don’t know how much play it’s getting outside of this area.

Yesterday morning someone shot and killed five people in the Washington,
DC suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland. Unfortunately, shootouts and
other flurries of violence happen not that infrequently. So that in itself
might not sound so striking. The details tell the story …

To all appearances none of the five had any connection to each other
beside the fact that they were all out in the open Thursday morning in the
area in question. Each was shot dead with a single shot. Police speculate
that the killer used a high-powered rifle. And since police reports don’t
seem to contain any instances of people hearing gunshots or seeing the shooter,
it would seem that the shooter was firing at some distance.

So you have someone on the loose who is apparently a very
good marksman — able to kill five people with single shots at seemingly
great distances and not be seen. The mix of accuracy, stealth, and knowing
where to shoot is unsettling, to put it mildly.

Police now believe that the shooting spree began Wednesday evening
with a single shot through the window of an arts and crafts store in Washington.
Less than an hour later a man walking across a crosswalk at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue was shot dead in a manner similar to that of those killed the next morning in Montgomery County.

From the facts at hand it really sounds like someone who has training
as a sniper, though certainly anyone who was an accomplished marksman could
probably pull it off.

The police are obviously taking this all extremely seriously. But
they don’t seem to have that much to go on. And as you can imagine, if someone
can conceal themselves and shoot from a sufficient distance that no witnesses
can connect the shooter and the victim, it can be really difficult to catch
the guy or even know where to start. Suddenly I’m not feeling so bad that
I’m going to be home working this weekend …

Nothing sounds quite so

Nothing sounds quite so tinny as self-righteous indignation. Until you come to Republican self-righteous indignation.

TPM continues to be inundated by a flurry of Republicans’ emails howling about the outrage of New Jersey Supreme
Court decision allowing a change in the election ballots. The normally sensible
Senator Bill Frist — who walked the Republicans’ appeal over to the Supreme
Court today — was ridiculous enough to charge that Democrats were trying
to “steal an election they could not otherwise win.”

(Where these gun-slingers for the rule of law were when Mitt Romney
got a pass, and rightly so, on his Massachusetts residency requirement I
just don’t know.)

Republicans have developed a lot of know-how in the last couple
years at stealing elections. But I must confess to a certain confusion about
how one steals an election by fielding a candidate. The idea seems to be
that for Doug Forrester, Frank Lautenberg is an unfairly strong candidate. And that Forrester is somehow damaged by Lautenberg’s electability.

Giving it some thought, and considering the Supreme Court’s decisions in Bush v. Gore, it even seems possible that this might be the basis of an equal protection claim for Forrester. Forrester
entered the race with the reasonable expectation that he would only face
a candidate either equally lame or more lame than him, but not less
lame. It’s almost an implied contract he has with the state’s electorate,
right? Putting a new candidate on the ballot now violates this insufferable
chump’s right to coast into office without facing an actual opponent. But
I digress …

I looked at the NJ Supreme Court ruling
and it struck me as a liberal, though not unreasonable, construction of the
statute. The court “determined that N.J.S.A. 19:13-20 [the statute in question]
does not preclude the possibility of a vacancy occurring within fifty-one
days of the general election …”

Now I’m not a lawyer (and lawyers — though several are very dear
to my heart — rule the world and elections and so forth) so there’s really
no point in my giving you my opinion on whether the decision passes muster.
But I’d say I feel pretty comfortable with the proposition stated here a
couple days back, that election laws should be construed expansively in the
interest of holding actual elections — not just notional elections in which it’s the Republican against the Green or Socialist candidate.

Most of the substantive arguments I’ve heard to the contrary strike
me as pretty weak. One commentator says the whole switch is wrong because
it deprives Jersey voters of the right to throw Torricelli out of office.
But of course that’s just a dumb throwaway comment which means nothing.

The other argument one hears is that this decision will set off
a wave of candidates taking electoral hemlock days or weeks prior to an election
they are destined to lose. Can anyone who makes this argument have ever
spent any time around elected politicians? Not a chance. Especially these
days with weak parties there’s really no institutional force capable of knocking
a candidate out of a race. And people who run for office just don’t have
egos that work that way. To put it mildly.

The real public good question, it seems to me, is just what harm anyone has suffered through this decision. I can’t see one, save Doug Forrester being forced to run against an actual candidate. Unfortunately, the appeal the Forrester
campaign has made to the United States Supreme Court turns on precisely the
same principle which the Court’s 5-4 majority created out of whole cloth
in order to find a way to turn the 2000 presidential election to George W.
Bush. So consistency would dictate their intervention in this case too. Here consistency may be the handmaiden of travesty.

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