Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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High stakes oops ...

Hizbullah deputy chief Mahmoud Komati says Hizbullah didn't think Israel would respond in force to their raid into Israel on July 12th.

They expected "the usual, limited response," he tells AP.

Uh-oh. ABC confirms it. Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele is the anonymous GOPer who told the Post that the (R) after every Republicans' name is a "scarlet letter" to voters this year.

Ugh. It's always rough to see a slippery pol pull a Social Security bamboozle on an unsuspecting reporter. But I think we may have yet another example.

As you know, we've been trying to figure out for weeks where senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr. stands on phasing out Social Security and replacing it with private accounts. We even have a contest going to see which TPM Reader can get a straight answer from him first.

So yesterday, the Democratic congressional delegation from New Jersey -- both sitting senators and the members from the House -- held a press conference in Trenton to pledge they'd vote against any attempt by the president to deep-six Social Security. The pretty clear intention of this event, of course, was to smoke out Kean, and force him to say where he stands.

So last night I got an email from TPM Reader BS who sent me this blog entry from the Newark Star-Ledger blog in which reporter Jeff Whelan reported the story out and got Kean to go on the record. Whelan followed up with a full length story in this morning's paper.

Here's the lede ...

President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security may have stalled in Congress amid public skepticism, but Democrats yesterday sought to resurrect the issue as part of New Jersey's U.S. Senate race.

The Republican candidate, however, sought to quickly put the matter to rest. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. said he opposes Bush's plan and "will not support any measure that privatizes Social Security."

So Kean's against it, right? That settles the whole question?

If you're a long-time reader you know there's a problem here. Back in 2002, GOP strategists from the RNC and the White House told Republican candidates to say they opposed "privatization" on the theory that they no longer call their plan "privatization." It's a simple word stunt intended to get their candidates out of answering the question.

For an example, look at what Elizabeth Dole, head of the Republicans' senate campaign committee, says about Social Security on her website (emphasis added): "I will never vote to reduce your benefits. And, no way am I for privatizing Social Security. I support the concept of allowing workers to contribute small portions of their own Social Security in the market because it would negate the need to nearly double payroll taxes on future workers to fund benefits."

In other words, says Dole, I'm against privatization but for the Bush plan, even though 'privatization' has always been the term used to describe what the Bush plan does.

A bunch of reps. and senators have tried this 'I'm against privatization' while also being for the Bush plan game. One of the bamboozlers is actually New Jersey Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-NJ).

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the reporter from the Star-Ledger, Whelan. You wouldn't know you were being bamboozled unless you were really familiar with the Republican game book on how to avoid giving a position on Social Security. A reporter doesn't figure the candidate is trying to trick him.

After we caught Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) pulling this stunt last year, a reporter from the Albuquerque Journal followed up and asked her specifically about private accounts and he caught her red-handed in a deep bamboozle. Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH) got caught in the same bamboozle.

So now it seems that not only is Tom Kean, Jr. unwilling to say where he stands on phasing out Social Security, he's even willing to stoop to these silly RNC word games to trick reporters into thinking he's answering their questions when he's not. Sounds like just the kind of character you'd want as your senator.

So I'd suggest that Whelan, someone else from the Star-Ledger or any other reporter follow up again with Kean and ask him specifically what he means by 'privatization' and whether he opposes or supports private accounts.

I bet they'll get a very pained and anguished answer from our man Tom.

Did Tom Kean Jr. bamboozle the Newark Star-Ledger about his position on phasing out Social Security? Seems so. More soon.

Down for the Count?

If you're a long time reader of this site, you know there's no one we like more than Rep. Chris "the Count" Chocola (R-IN) from Indiana's 2nd congressional district, one of the premier Social Security bamboozlers nationwide.

Now, last week a poll came out showing Chocola trailing his rematch challenger, Democrat Joe Donnelly, by a margin of 48% to 38%. But it was a poll commissioned by the Donnelly campaign by Cooper & Secrest, a Democratic polling firm. There's no one who'd like to see Chocola reap the rich reward of his years of bamboozlement more than I would. But Chocola's managed to hold on by relatively decent margins in the last couple cycles (54% to Donnelly's 44% in 2004). So I figured I'd believe it when I saw it. That is, when an independent pollster produced numbers anything like that.

Well, here we are.

Over the weekend pollster Delair Ali of Research 2000 took another sounding on behalf of the South Bend Tribune and he came up with Donnelly 46% to Chocola's 41%.

The sample size was relatively small -- 400 likely voters. So the margin of error is 5%.

But I think we can take this as a rough confirmation of Cooper & Secrest's earlier results. Not as extreme maybe. Five percentage points rather than ten. But if the challenger's got a 5% edge in mid-July, Chocola's in serious, serious trouble.

(ed.note: Special thanks to TPM Reader AM for the heads-up.)