It’s ironic that the Barack Obama’s appearance on the series coincides with the death of Joe McGinniss, an early chronicler of the political-entertainment nexus.
In the scattershot, countrywide affair that is a midterm election, political observers are always looking for entrails to read for signs of what November might hold, and each cycle’s handful of special congressional elections inevitably get treated as portentous omens, particularly by the winning side. Sometimes this is even true: In 2010, Republicans won a Senate election in Massachusetts in January and a House election in Hawaii in May, two unlikely victories in extremely hostile territory that in retrospect showed how badly America was about to hand it to the Democrats. (The losing side of a special election, just as inevitably, insists there were race-specific factors at work that will have no bearing on elections elsewhere—and often that, too, is the case.)
So it is with today’s special congressional election, which will determine the next member of Congress from Florida’s 13th District, a little piece of coastline about halfway up the Gulf Coast. A Democratic former statewide elected official, Alex Sink, is running against a Republican former congressional aide and D.C. lobbyist, David Jolly. The election is happening because the congressman who represented this part of Florida for 43 years, Bill Young, died in office last October at the age of 82.
Though Young, a beloved local figure, always won reelection easily—20 times!—this is a swing district that has been trending blue. It last voted for a Republican for president in 2004, and it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+1—the narrowest possible GOP edge. Polling has the race extremely tight, so this one really could go either way.
Today’s election has been a nearly pure test-drive of the two parties’ strategies as they’re shaping up for this year’s national House and Senate battles.
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Marco Rubio is back.
After a laudable, but politically disastrous, bid last year to convince his fellow Republicans to support citizenship for illegal immigrants, he’s now trying a new route to 2016: Foreign policy. Rubio made America’s role in the world the centerpiece of his speech last week to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). And among journalists, he’s getting good reviews. Rubio, reported Jonathan Martin in The New York Times, is “trying to become the leading voice for a muscular brand of foreign policy.” On Sunday, Times columnist Ross Douthat noted that “events in Venezuela and Crimea may be making [Rubio’s] hawkish foreign policy vision more appealing to conservatives.”
It’s too early to judge Rubio’s new foreign-policy focus politically. But intellectually, this much is already clear: If this is what passes for serious in today’s GOP, I’d hate to see unserious.
Read more.[Image: Reuters/Toby Melville]
The Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club brought a vivid reminder of the harsh realities of what it was like to be a gay in the culturally conservative South of the mid-1980s. As someone born, churched, and educated in the South during that era, I remember that the idea of being gay or lesbian was simply dismissed, and the term “homosexuality” was reserved for hushed conversations about those sinful urban areas far north and west of the Mason-Dixon Line. While the film has been in theaters, however, the news has also been filled with contemporary coverage of a remarkable bevy of judicial decisions overturning bans on same-sex marriage in southern states such as Virginia, Kentucky, and Texas. While serving as the lead author of a recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute about attitudes about same-sex marriage, I was astounded at the shifts we found in southern attitudes over the past decade.
These changes are, of course, happening amid shifts in the country as a whole. Between 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and December 2013, support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry rose 21 percentage points nationwide, from 32 percent to 53 percent. As of the end of 2013, the number of states recognizing same-sex marriages increased to 17 plus the District of Columbia. And there has been enough judicial ferment at the state level that most court observers believe the issue will end up, in the not too distant future, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Our recent study confirms that these changes cannot be explained away as merely another example of federal judicial activism circumventing the will of the people in southern states. Rather, we are witnessing dramatic cultural transformations, which include changing minds even among culturally and religiously conservative Americans in the South.
Read more. [Image: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Or at least deeply contradictory: They’re always connected but distrustful. They’re selfish yet accepting of minorities. They’re “independents” who mostly vote Democratic and love Obama while hating Obamacare.
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Most Americans favor legalizing marijuana, but most in the GOP do not. Can the party avoid being on the losing side of another culture war?
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Why? Citizens complain more, forcing officials to be more accountable.
Read more. [Image: NBC Universal]
When Texas Representative Steve Stockman announced he would run for the U.S. Senate, back in December, pundits girded for a doozy of a fight. The senator who Stockman was challenging in the Republican primary, John Cornyn, had a Tea Party target on his back for his lack of enthusiasm for last fall’s government shutdown and for failing to embrace the Tea Party as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee back in 2010. Stockman’s public persona has long been more Internet troll than public servant—he had campaign bumper stickers that read, “If babies had guns they wouldn’t be aborted”; recently, his spokesman responded to Karl Rove’s support for Cornyn by observing, “Karl Rove looks like an elderly baby.” Yet, as a two-term member of Congress, Stockman was more qualified on paper than the Tea Party Senate nominees of yore (remember semi-professional Bill Maher guest Christine O’Donnell?).
In the past, these ingredients—a right-wing gadfly without portfolio plus an incumbent who toed the Washington line—were all that was needed for an incumbent-rousting Tea Party win. But that’s not how the Texas primary went down. Stockman ran a bizarre campaign, barely raising money or making public appearances. His strategy seemed to consist of his weird tweets and a bunch of possibly illegal newspaper-style campaign mailers. It was enough to make one wonder if perhaps his whole “political” “career” was an Andy Kaufman-style performance-art piece, a meditation on the nature of representation and the ontology of assault rifles. Cornyn, meanwhile, tacked hard to the right, straining to emulate his junior partner in the Texas delegation, Senator Ted Cruz, winner of the hardest-fought Tea Party-vs.-Establishment battle of 2012. (Cruz, despite being an official of the senatorial committee, refused to endorse Cornyn.)
Most national and Texas Tea Party groups steered clear of Stockman’s off-the-rails crazy train. And on Tuesday night, in the first installment of 2014’s Republican-on-Republican series, Cornyn trounced him. Cornyn took almost 60 percent of the vote to Stockman’s less than 20 percent.
Read more. [Image: Associated Press]
President Obama is complicit in suppressing the truth about CIA torture of prisoners. That’s clear from the fact that the Senate intelligence committee’s $40 million, 6,000-page torture report is still being suppressed 15 months after being adopted. It is made clearer still by a scathing letter that one member of the committee, Senator Mark Udall, sent the White House on Tuesday. Its claims are jaw-dropping.
Senator Udall wants the torture report released to the public as fully and quickly as possible. He is also interested in a separate CIA report about torture of prisoners.
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The faction that obsesses about maintaining American credibility does the most to risk undermining it.
Read more. [Image: Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin]