Editors’ Blog

Newt Gingrich respondsOr well

Newt Gingrich responds!

Or well … kinda!

On Monday I accused Newt Gingrich of lying when he claimed that soon-to-be-Minnesota Senate candidate Walter Mondale supported Social Security privatization. Now Rick Tyler, Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications, responds …

Josh,

Look at the quote:

“Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of
Social Security worldwide,” Gingrich said. “He chaired a commission that
was for raising the retirement age dramatically. He has a strong record of
voting to raise taxes. . . . think that what you’ll see on the Republican
side is an issue-oriented campaign that says, you know, if you want to raise
your retirement age dramatically and privatize Social Security, Walter
Mondale is a terrifically courageous guy to say that.”

Walter Mondale DID chair a commission the was FOR the privatization of
Social Security. He DID chair a commission that was FOR raising the
retirement age.

No where doe the Speaker say that Mondale was for it but that the commission
he chaired was for it. Shouldn’t Mondale have to answer for a commision’s
finding that he chaired?

Best regards,
Rick Tyler
Director of Media Relations
Gingrich Communications

(Email published with author’s permission.)

Now, as I told Rick when he and I exchanged emails about this, I don’t find this a terribly convincing argument. Doesn’t this get us into what the meaning of ‘is’ is territory?

The obvious intent of Gingrich’s statement is to say that Mondale supports privatization. Even if the statement is technically true, as Tyler argues, it is so willfully misleading as, for my money, to constitute a deception. In fact, it almost seems worse since one might have assumed that Gingrich was just going on bad information and didn’t know that Mondale had officially dissented from the privatization recommendation. But apparently not. The statement was just willfully deceptive.

I’d come up with a few analogies for how ridiculous an argument this is. But now you’ve heard from both sides. I’ll let readers decide.

If you missed the

If you missed the movie-let produced for tonight’s Paul Wellstone memorial you missed a lot: a montage of Wellstone’s political life played over a track of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. Perhaps corny to some. To others like me, beautiful and heartbreaking. And, yes, clearly deep down I’m a lib. One doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Full TPM Wellstone eulogy here.)

With one week to

With one week to go, the South Dakota Senate race remains on a razor’s edge TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.. The latest information TPM has received has Johnson blipping up by a point or two. But is Johnson’s opponent, Congressman John Thune, trying to even the score with some last minute ‘push-polls’?

Seems so.

In case you’re wondering, ‘push-polls’ first got attention in the early 1990s and they’re the specialty of your greasier sort of political tele-marketing firm. A ‘push-poll’ isn’t really a poll, or at least it’s not really an effort to gain public opinion information. It’s actually a stealth form of negative advertising. So for instance, you might have a list of a few questions followed by something like: “Would you still vote for candidate X if those awful charges about his beating his wife turned out to be true?” Click … phone hangs up.

You get the idea…

Now someone is pulling one of these stunts in South Dakota.

For a week or more there’ve been rumors around the state that voters were getting classic push-polls tarring Tim Johnson with responsibility for engaging in voter fraud or “rigging the election.” The fraud story began to fade about a week ago, fizzling for lack of substance. But it’s a close race and the Thune campaign would still like to use it against Johnson.

Push-polling is notoriously difficult to track down and prove. And the financial paper-trail, to the extent there is one, usually only comes to light long after the election is over.

Today I spoke to two South Dakota voters who received such calls.

Ann Boer lives in Lyons, South Dakota, about twenty miles northwest of Sioux Falls. (Her husband, Vern Boer (D), is a candidate for Minnehaha County Commissioner.) Recently, Mrs. Boer received a survey call. The questioner first asked a few generic questions: leaning more toward Republicans or Democrats, more likely to vote for Thune or Johnson, etc. And then he asked: “Have you heard about the investigation going on about fraud in registering voters?”

Boer said yes.

“And if it was told to you tomorrow that it was Johnson’s campaign that was responsible for this [fraud] then would that change your vote?”

Here’s how Boer described the rest of the call: “I said ‘no’ and then he said ‘why?’ and I said ‘because I know it’s not verified that his campaign is responsible for it.’ And then he just kind of hurried up and quit.”

“I’ve gotten numerous calls but I’ve never gotten one like that,” Boer told me Tuesday afternoon. “It was like accusing someone of something that hasn’t even been verified.”

Then there’s Kathy Gustafson.

A bit after 9:00 PM Monday night Gustafson, a graduate student and teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, got a similar call. The caller started out with the standard questions of whether Gustafson leaned more toward the Democrats or the Republicans, whether she supported the NRA, pro-life or pro-choice, etc.

Then came the zinger. “If you knew that Tim Johnson had rigged the election, would you still vote for him?”

Gustafson didn’t like the sound of that question and immediately asked the caller who he was working for. He said Central Marketing of New York City. Gustafson told the caller that she would still vote for Johnson since she didn’t think there was anything to the charges. She also told him “a question like that had no business on a survey.”

“He thanked me for my time,” Gustafson told me on Tuesday. “He did not react or respond to my response to the question … I asked one more time for him to clarify the company to make sure I got that right. And he said ‘Central Marketing, Manhattan, New York City.'” (In yet another call to a South Dakota number, a survey caller identified himself as working for Central Marketing Incorporated (CMI) of Hudson, Florida.)

On Tuesday evening, Gustafson got the same call again from Central Marketing. A lot of these calls, it would seem, are getting made.

The Thune and Johnson campaigns are both now operating under a pledge to run only positive ads through election day. Someone is simultaneously running a pretty slimy negative ad campaign over the state’s telephones. One assumes it’s not the Johnson campaign.

A late afternoon call to Thune spokesperson Christine Iverson, requesting comment, was not returned.

Who will stop Republicans

Who will stop Republicans from making their showdown at the corner of Deception Street and Ridiculousness Avenue?

Over the weekend Newt Gingrich went on the airwaves to start the knock-down of soon-to-be Minnesota Senate candidate Walter Mondale. And this makes sense, you have to admit, in a moment of grief since Newt is so smooth-tongued and sort of a comforter. In his comments he said one of the terrible things about Mondale is that “Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of Social Security worldwide.”

Yes, we’re back to the ‘privatization’ ridiculousness. And you’ll remember this is the case where Republicans tend to support something called ‘privatization’ but then realized it wasn’t popular so they renamed what they want as ‘not privatization’ and renamed the Democrats’s opposition to privatization as actually being privatization. You still with me? Good.

You know, it’s like how everybody used to think that Republicans were opposed to choice on abortion and that Democrats were pro-choice. Remember that? Oh, you didn’t hear? You’re really not up-to-date. See, Republicans are pro-choice on abortion since they favor letting state legislatures decide whether or not abortion should be legal. And Democrats, surprisingly enough, are actually anti-choice since they deny state legislatures the freedom to choose. It’s amazing how confused about this we all used to be. And for so long.

So anyway, back to Walter Mondale and his support for “the privatization of Social Security worldwide.”

Now when I heard this, I didn’t even know what commission Gingrich was talking about. But I realized that it must be some mix of the standard Republican Social Security word games or perhaps a straight out lie, something just short of accusing Mondale of conspiring with aliens to privatize Social Security.

It turns out that Mondale did actually co-chair a commission organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies which did endorse moving “social protection schemes from pay-as-you-go to market-based financing.” That was the majority report. But Mondale, the report’s executive summary says, “and six co-signers also released a separate statement dissenting from the Commission’s pension recommendations as they applied to Social Security in the United States.” So, in other words, Mondale specifically said the opposite of what Gingrich said he said.

So Gingrich lied when he attacked Mondale for supporting Social Security privatization — a policy which Gingrich himself, of course, supports but which he refuses to acknowledge by name.

When will the ridiculousness end?

My Republican staffer reader

My Republican staffer reader up on the Hill, who likes to keep me honest, writes in to say that I’m calling all the Senate races in the light most favorable to the Dems. I am pointing out Democratic opportunities. That’s true. But if you look at the overall prediction I’m making — that the Dems hold their own or pick up one seat — that assumes that most, or at least many, of the Dem possibles don’t turn into Dem actuals. My point is simply that I’m seeing a growing number of Dem opportunities and only one that looked safe veering toward vulnerability.

TPM doesnt go in

TPM doesn’t go in much for Times-bashing, at least of the media bias variety. But when the paper prints cliches and conventional wisdom as fatuous and unsubstantiated as this …

Since at least 1992, when Bill Clinton won the White House by, in part, appropriating traditionally Republican issues, the nation’s two political parties have increasingly sounded the same notes during campaigns.

If the Republicans were left at the gate in 1992, they have surely caught up this year, blurring the lines on everything from prescription drug coverage to corporate malfeasance to the handling of Social Security.

Democrats and Republicans are lamenting the prospect of another election with low voter turnout, but in truth, they have only themselves to blame. What initially had been seen as a clever, if perhaps cynical, gambit for political advantage has ended up giving voters a choice between beige and brown.

More on this to come …

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.

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