David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David


If the elections for Congress were held today, according to the new NEWSWEEK poll, 60 percent of white Evangelicals would support the Republican candidate in their district, compared to just 31 percent who would back the Democrat. To the uninitiated, that may sound like heartening news for Republicans in the autumn of their discontent. But if you’re a pundit, a pol, or a preacher, you know better. White Evangelicals are a cornerstone of the GOP’s base; in 2004, exit polls found Republicans carried white Evangelicals 3 to 1 over Democrats, winning 74 percent of their votes. In turn, Evangelicals carried the GOP to victory. But with a little more than two weeks before the crucial midterms, the Republican base may be cracking.

There's really no way to calculate the monetary cost to the GOP of the recent sex-related scandals involving GOP congressmen, but you get hints of the toll here and there.

I already touched on the $271,000 the NRCC spent yesterday to boost Joe Negron, the sacrificial lamb in the race for Mark Foley's seat, who doesn't even get to have his own name on the ballot. That's money that clearly would have been used elsewhere were it not for the page eruption.

A couple of days ago, the NRCC suddenly plowed $225,000 into the NV-2, an open seat that heretofore had not garnered much attention. Why the sudden interest? Well, that's Jim Gibbons' seat, and while Gibbons is running for governor of Nevada, his late night carousing and alleged assault on a cocktail waitress are probably not leaving voters in that district with a warm fuzzy GOP feeling.

A quarter million here and a quarter million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

The National Education Association has jumped into the mid-terms in a big way, making major independent expenditures in three congressional districts.

As TPM's Election Central first reported a couple of days ago, the NV-3 held by Republican Jon Porter is looking like it's in play. To aid the effort, the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education has dropped $378,000 into that race.

In the AZ-5, the NEA is getting serious about knocking off Rep. J.D. Hayworth, with a $491,000 push. And in the NM-1, where Patricia Madrid and Heather Wilson are in a tight race, the NEA has put down $200,000.

The point here is not to document every last dime being spent, but to get a sense of when the battle is being joined, who is engaging in the fight, and where the stakes are the highest.

[Ed. Note: I thought it went without saying that the NEA, the teachers union, is siding with the Dems in these races.]

Late Friday, the NRCC reported another huge expenditure on congressional campaigns nationwide: almost $8.5 million. That brings the total spent by the NRCC since September 1 to nearly $50 million.

Here are the highlights of yesterday's buy:

$870,711 against Tammy Duckworth in the IL-6;

$681,919 against Lois Murphy in the PA-6;

$690,504 against Joe Sestak in the PA-7;

$676,781 against Patrick Murphy in the PA-8;

$561,110 against Zack Space in the OH-18;

$470,648 against Baron Hill in the IN-9;

$424,786 against Ken Lucas in the KY-4;

$414,826 against Patricia Madrid in the NM-1;

$351,599 against Patty Wetterling in the MN-6;

$271,000 to try to salvage the FL-16, Mark Foley's old district;

There are some additional smaller expenditures in some of the races I listed above, but those are major buys by the NRCC yesterday. So much money; so little time.

Unlikeliest political prop of the week, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former U.S. senator Max Cleland is in Montana, campaigning for Democrat Jon Tester, who’s running against GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns. This in today’s Billings Gazette:

“During his speech, Cleland made light of his own amputations by grabbing Tester’s left hand, which is missing three fingers lost in a meat grinder.

“‘At least he won’t be putting his hand in the till like someone we know,’ Cleland said, referring to Burns’ campaign donations of about $150,000 from Jack Abramoff, his clients and associates.”

A photo of the exchange is here. If the Dems take Congress, that image will bookend the era of Bush mendacity for me, along with the attack ad the GOP ran against the triple-amputee Cleland in the 2002 election, questioning his courage during the run-up to the Iraq War.

Quote of the week:

"The higher you climb up the tree, the more your ass shows."

--Richard Armitage, on the media attention that goes with rising up the ranks in Washington

Josh is right. The news cycle has inverted and started to feed on itself. Here are two pieces that illustrate the point.

Exhibit A is an AP story headlined "Sex Scandals Dominate Midterm Elections." (Subhede: "Will election be a referendum on men behaving badly?"). It's the sort of breezy, pox on both your houses roundup that tries to pass for political analysis. Are sex scandals dominating the midterms, or is Iraq? And are these scandals really about the sex, or about violence and abuse of power?

Rep. Don Sherwood cheated on his wife, sure, but he also allegedly tried to choke his mistress. Rep. Jim Gibbons may have been drinking and flirting with an off-duty cocktail waitress, but there's a difference of more than just degree between flirting with, or even boinking, a young lovely and pushing her up against the wall of an empty parking garage and threatening her unless she consents, as she alleges.

There's also a difference, and this obviously can't be said often enough, between being gay and being a serial seducer of young male pages. The AP story says the only thing missing from the Foley sex scandal is the sex. Huh? Someone needs to go back and re-read the clips.

Exhibit B is in the Style section of the Washington Post today, a piece on how the term "October Surprise" has been wrung of practically any meaning: "Over time the phrase has been bandied about and overused to the point that it now means any startling surprise from any direction that might somehow affect the outcome of an election." True enough, but reporting about the reporting is a indication of a news cycle that, in the minds of editors and reporters, is peetering out.

The low-hanging fruit of the Foley scandal has been picked, and it's back to the hard work of reporting--unless you prefer scavenging among the rotting fruit that fell to the ground.

I mentioned today's LA Times article on Ken Mehlman's alleged role in firing a State Department official who was taking positions adverse to Jack Abramoff's client, the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Mehlman was asked about the LAT story in his appearance today on CNN. It is a model of saying nothing while seeming to deny everything, yet still managing to stick a few shivs in your opponents, so I'm going to post the entire exchange:

BLITZER: There's a story in the Los Angeles Times today that directly involves you. And I want to give you a chance to respond to it.

It suggests that an official at the State Department was fired, a man named Allen Stayman, who was involved in the tiny Pacific Island nations of the Northern Mariana Islands. He was fired because Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, now confessed felon, came to you and basically said, fire this guy; he's not allowing the policies in the Northern Mariana Islands that Abramoff and his clients wanted.

"Newly disclosed e-mails," the L.A. Times reports, "suggest that the ax feel after intervention by one of the highest officials at the White House: Ken Mehlman, on behalf of one of the most influential lobbyists in town, Jack Abramoff."

You were then the political director.


BLITZER: Is that true?

MEHLMAN: It is not true. And I'm not sure that those e-mails suggested that. First of all, I did not have the authority, as the political director, to fire anybody. It wasn't my decision.

As political director -- now second of all, I also don't recall the specifics of this matter involving Mr. Stayman. But as a matter of course, and certainly the first term, I had, frequently, people come to see me with political issues they wanted talked about.

BLITZER: Including Jack Abramoff?

MEHLMAN: Or personnel issues that they wanted talked about. And when they would come see me, what I would do...

BLITZER: Jack Abramoff, also?

MEHLMAN: Again, I don't recall that specific matter that he came to me for, but I had a way of dealing with all these matters, which is to let the policy-makers or the personnel deciders know exactly what people said. And they made the decisions.

What's interesting about this, though, Wolf, while I don't recall it specifically, I have seen some articles since then, since this came out. And what they suggest is that Mr. Stayman violated the Hatch Act, which is a federal law that prohibits employees of the government engaging in politics on their official clock.

And it also suggests he may have been working with the DNC on some things. So while I certainly didn't have the authority to fire anybody and I don't recall this specific matter, it does appear, from what other news reports indicate that there was apparently cause for Mr. Stayman to be removed.

BLITZER: Because, in the L.A. Times, it quotes an e-mail from one of Abramoff's associates, as saying, "Mehlman said he would get him fired.

MEHLMAN: Yes, Mehlman didn't have that authority. Mehlman wouldn't say he had that authority. And remember, you're dealing with individuals who, as we know, have pled guilty to defrauding their clients by saying they did things they weren't able to get done.

My job as a political director, and any job as a political director, is to hear from people, whether it's about personnel or about policy, and make sure that the policy-makers understand their concerns.

Three Ken Mehlman posts in one day. I feel like the poor guy with the shovel following the elephant.