The Voting Booth

Blast from the Past: Paul Simon and Axelrod

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Paul Simon

A friend tipped me off to an interesting passage in Robert Hartley's 2009 biography of Paul Simon, "Paul Simon: The Political Journey of an Illinois Original." (Humorous side story: The friend thought he was getting a book on the other Paul Simon, and got this instead.) Since Sheila Simon is in the news a bit lately -- almost solely because of her famous father -- Hartley's account bears some relevance.

The background is Paul Simon's campaign for Senate in 1984, in which he beat three-time incumbent Charles Percy. After dismissing his first campaign manager, Simon hired journalist James Wall, whom Simon said knew how to get along with the "regulars" -- in this case, the "regulars" meaning the Chicago Democratic machine.

Hartley picks up the story from there (p. 207):

Wall feared the strong Israel lobby's influence with Simon, but the candidate had a long history of support for Israel, and the alliance was comfortable and mutually satisfying in terms of financial assistance. When Simon's backing by Israel's supporters became an issue in the general election contest, he said, "I'm not going to kow-tow" to the Israel lobby. Percy claimed Simon entered the contest primarily because of Jewish support. Long after the contest, Simon admitted he strongly supported Israel and denied Percy's insinuation that Jewish friends had undue influence with him. He acknowledged that they had urged him to run for the Senate, however.

Wall had a history of his own with the Israeli lobby in the United States. "I had been writing editorials for eleven years critical of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land," he related. This background led to an incident involving David Axelrod, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Wall knew Axelrod and had tried to bring the reporter on board the campaign. Hoping to be named political editor of the Tribune, Axelrod did not want to leave the paper. Wall said, "Axelrod called and said we should know [word of Wall's columns] was being circulated" and could embarrass Simon. Wall told Simon he would step down to avoid embarrassment. Simon said he could weather the situation. When the Chicago Sun-Times asked for comment, Wall said Simon replied, "I hired Jim Wall as my campaign manager, not my foreign policy manager."

That was not the only time Axelrod did a favor for Wall and Simon. Wall related, "Axelrod called me one day and said, 'Your man is scheduled to go to a waste dump owned by Waste Management.'" The firm had contributed money to the Simon campaign. Axelrod said he planned to write a story the next day that would include the information, but if Simon returned the check to Waste Management it would "take the edge off the story." Wall told Simon about the call and that "Axelrod was doing us a big favor. I said he would have to return the check." Simon disagreed and refused. Wall recalled, "He said, 'They will not tell me what to do,' and said he wouldn't do any favors for the company." With Simon not budging, Wall called David Doak, a Washington-based campaign consultant who was being paid by the campaign to help shape Simon's message and strategy. He asked Doak to contact Simon and persuade him that keeping the money would be damaging. Doak made the call. "Paul paid attention to professionals; he agreed to return the check." Wall had to make the rejection call to Waste Management, "where fortunately, the executive how handled campaign contributions was an old friend from the Carter White House. He knew how the game was played. We told Alexrod [sic] the check had been returned and the item did not appear in the article."
I won't pretend to be outraged at the casual assistance a top reporter of the largest paper in
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David Axelrod

the state was giving to a politician. As the Waste Management executive knew, that's how the game is played. And Hartley's account doesn't say anything terrible about Paul Simon, much less his daughter. But it says loads about David Axelrod, who, as Hartley recounts, quickly gave up the facade of reporting after this episode and started his own political consulting business. (A business, Hartley adds, that Simon wasn't too impressed with later on.(p. 221))

I'm also reminded of Axelrod's (and the Obama administration's) recent critique that Fox News is "not really a news station" and its reporting is "not really news." As he told George Stephanopoulos in October:

"It's really not news -- it's pushing a point of view. And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate but understanding that they represent a point of view."
Say what you will about Fox News, at least David Axelrod knows what he's talking about. After all, he wasn't really a reporter.

The Morning Briefing, 4-1-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

Governor's Race


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Senate Race


Congressional Races

Palin Endorses Kinzinger

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Blake D. Dvorak

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On her Facebook page (via Adam Kinzinger's web site), Sarah Palin has endorsed a handful of "Americans Heroes Ready and Willing to Serve in Congress":

America, if you love your freedom, thank a vet! And if you're looking for leaders who believe in integrity, service, and country first, look to our veterans.

Last week I campaigned for a true American hero, John McCain, and this week I'd ask you to join me in supporting a new generation of heroes who are heeding their country's call for leadership in Washington.

There are a number of great veteran candidates running for office this year, and there are some excellent organizations dedicated to helping them, including: Iraq Vets for Congress and Combat Veterans for Congress (please click on the links to visit their websites). ...

The second veteran is Captain Adam Kinzinger, a decorated special-operations pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Adam is running for Illinois' 11th Congressional District against a freshman incumbent congresswoman who seemed to pull a bait and switch on voters to get elected. She sounded like a blue dog on the campaign trail, but didn't vote like one in Washington. Instead, she voted in lockstep with the Pelosi agenda - on Obamacare, the stimulus, cap-and-tax - and the list goes on. She's part of the reason for Congress' 11% approval rating. Adam is a strong fiscal conservative with a proven track record as a reformer from his years serving on his local county board. Adam started out in local office, and, like many of us, believes in making government more accountable to the people. When you serve in local office, your constituents truly are your neighbors. Adam understands this, and I know that he will listen to his constituents and work for us, not against us, in Washington.
We haven't talked much about the 11th on The Voting Booth (which the Cook Political Report now considers "Leaning Democrat"), but it's fast becoming a closely watched race. Some background: the district voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 (50-48, 53-46, respectively), before going over to Obama in 2008 (53-45). That right there accounts for the "Lean Dem" part, although the current incumbent, Debbie Halvorson, won her seat following a Republican retirement.

A political rookie, Kinzinger has conservatives excited, and Palin's endorsement certainly won't diminish that. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll also found Kinzinger leading Halvorson by 6 points, which is not a good sign for any incumbent. But Palin is a double-edged sword, and her endorsement might work against Kinzinger among Indies. It helps that Obama has a 52% disapproval rating in the district, meaning that Halvorson won't be able to simply call in the White House for reinforcements.

(ht: Geraghty

Dold Scolds Administration Over Israel

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Blake D. Dvorak

From the Dold campaign (10th District):

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Today, Illinois 10th District Republican Congressional candidate Robert Dold continued to speak out in disappointment concerning the handling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by President Obama.  This comes amid last week's visit by the Prime Minister to the White House.  The President failed to extend to Netanyahu the opportunity to make a public appearance afterwards or issue a joint statement regarding their meeting--a deviation from the standard White House reception provided to visiting heads of state from a friendly nation.

"I would expect that our Nation's greatest ally in the Middle East would be treated by this Administration with more dignity and respect," said Dold.  "This Administration's actions are unacceptable as they only serve to isolate and pressure our Israeli friends to make unilateral concessions."

Dold, who attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington D.C. last week, believes that with Iran ignoring admonishment by the rest of the world to halt its nuclear program, there never has been a more important time for the U.S. and Israel to work in harmony.

"The fact that the Administration's rebuke of Israel has continued, even after Netanyahu's now three-week old apology over the announced building in Jerusalem, suggests a calculated and indefensible policy by this Administration to discredit Israel and its Prime Minister."
Also at the AIPAC conference was Dold's opponent, Dan Seals. The background to all this is the 10th's large Jewish population, which both campaigns are courting heavily. To wit, the Seals campaign last week also criticized the administration over its squabble with Israel:

Illinois Tenth Congressional District Candidate Dan Seals today called on the Obama Administration to defuse recent tensions between the United States and Israel in recognition of the special relationship between the two allies.

Citing the importance of maintaining America's strong relationship with Israel, Seals said that "disagreements between the governments in Jerusalem and Washington are bound to arise, as they would between two close friends, but it is critical that these disagreements are dealt with in private and not aired in public."

"Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East," said Seals.  "As we move down the path of peace," continued Seals, "it is crucial that the United States and Israel move in unison.  While the United States remains totally committed to Israel's security, I urge the Obama Administration to recognize the sacrifices that Israel is making to achieve  peace in such a difficult situation. This administration must bring an end to unhelpful rhetoric and work to forge a stronger, more productive future in the spirit of the special relationship between our two nations."

Seals noted that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and that we should respect Israel's right to manage its internal affairs.
It goes without saying that Seals is the one who's at odd with his party's base vis a vis Israel. At the same time, American Jews aren't known for their love of the GOP.

Giannoulias Web Ad: Really, Mark Kirk?

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Blake D. Dvorak

A new web ad from the Giannoulias campaign:


There are two issues here: The politics and the reality. On the former, the question is whether there will be still be enough anger out there (and there is anger) in November as there is in March. The Democrats gambled that pushing the bill through now would limit whatever political blowback might come six months from now. American memories being what they are (short), it's not such a bad bet as the GOP might think. But if elections are about getting your base out to vote, a bunch of pissed off Republicans is a better Get Out the Vote Effort than a bunch of marginally happy Democrats. (see Democrats in 2006 and 2008.) He just needs to counter all that talk about throwing the kids and granny to the insurance wolves with talk about how much this bill is really going to cost everyone.

The reality, however, is that this bill won't be repealed any time soon, even if the GOP captures Congress in November, and the party knows that -- and Rachel Maddow knows that. However many seats the GOP takes in Congress it will not have the 2/3rds majority to override the president's veto. This is all about November and electoral politics.

The Morning Briefing, 3-30-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Oh, the Hypocrisy!

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Blake D. Dvorak

This "open letter to conservatives" from the liberal TPM Cafe site is making the rounds, because it apparently exposes Republican hypocrisy on a range of issues, from health care to the president's use of teleprompters. I certainly admire the writer's tenacity in tracking down all the links, but, as always with these things, his "evidence" relies a bit too much on one's perspective.

In any case, Eric Zorn posted it, asking if there's a corresponding "open letter to liberals" that does the same thing. I haven't seen one, but I did run across this post from NRO's Jim Geraghty, "The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates," which in a way does the same thing. A sample:

HEALTH CARE MANDATES

STATEMENT: "We've got a philosophical difference, which we've debated repeatedly, and that is that Senator Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal health care is to force everybody to purchase it. And my belief is, the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it but because they can't afford it." Barack Obama, speaking at a Democratic presidential debate, February 21, 2008.

EXPIRATION DATE: On March 23, 2010, Obama signed the individual mandate into law.

HEALTH CARE NEGOTIATIONS ON C-SPAN

STATEMENT: "These negotiations will be on C-SPAN, and so the public will be part of the conversation and will see the decisions that are being made." January 20, 2008, and seven other times.

EXPIRATION DATE: Throughout the summer, fall, and winter of 2009 and 2010; when John McCain asked about it during the health care summit February 26, Obama dismissed the issue by declaring, "the campaign is over, John."
As Geraghty warns, it is a long post, but well worth it.

Stop Picking on Me!

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Blake D. Dvorak

I don't usually post the daily solicitation emails I get from the campaigns -- the ones asking for money -- because there's usually nothing useful in them. But this one from Mark Kirk's campaign was a good one:

Dear Friends,

Are you worried about this country in a way you haven't been before?

Has someone laughed at you because you are from Illinois? ...

Remember, we're up against ACORN/SEIU, the Trial Lawyers and MoveOn.org - they have millions to keep Congress approving more taxes and government spending ...
Wait, what? Has someone laughed at me? Of course I get what the campaign means -- Blago et al. -- but it was just, er, a funny way of putting it.

The Morning Briefing, 3-29-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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ChicagoNow Radio Tomorrow

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Programming note, dear readers: The Voting Booth will be joining ChicagoNow Radio tomorrow at 10:00 AM with host (and fellow Lake Forest High School alum) Sarah Spain, who writes the No Spain, No Gain blog. It's been quite a week in both national and state politics, so there should be no shortage of stuff to discuss. Hope you tune in!

On Threats, Violence and Wingnuts

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Blake D. Dvorak

This has been all over the media recently:

Democratic Congress members are getting lessons from the FBI on how to handle threats such as several directed at their colleagues, including bricks hurled through windows and menacing obscenity-laced phone messages left for those who supported sweeping federal health care legislation.

Windows were shattered at four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas and at least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threats, leaders said. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, but the FBI is investigating.
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Democrats, liberal and the talking heads have wasted no time inflating these instances of threats and violence as emblematic of the anti-health-care movement overall, and Tea Partiers in particular.

It goes without saying that any mass political movement is going to attract its fair share of hotheads and wingnuts. Both parties are at constant pains to exclude the fringiest of the fringe from their tent, but the nutballs find a way to get in regardless. It shouldn't say anything about the very real concerns many Americans have about this massive growth of government intervention.

To be fair, however, both Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have felt the need to comment on these threats. But that's because they know how badly even a handful of nutjobs can undermine the mission. In any event, a personal anecdote regarding wingnuts:

In the summer of 2004, as young journalist living in DC, I thought it'd be interesting to attend a huge anti-war rally parading through downtown Washington -- as a spectator, not a participant. And I mean huge -- tens of thousands of people streaming through the streets of the nation's capital.

In addition to genuine antiwar protesters, the usual fever swamp crowd was there: The Commies, the anarchists, the pro-Palestine folks, the eco-fanatics and the hippies. The posters of Che were ubiquitous, as were posters of Mao (yes, the butcher of 36 million people) and Arafat, and other far left luminaries. Quite a circus, and only a fraction had anything to do with the actual Iraq War. Again, movements bring out the loons.

But as I was strolling alongside the parade, enjoying the spectacle, I came upon two young guys on the sidewalk. They were standing there silently holding an Israeli flag between them-- protesting the protesters as it were. They weren't shouting or heckling. Their only provocation was the Israeli flag. Curious, I stopped to chat with them.

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For just the few moments that I took to talk with them at least half a dozen "peace" protesters walked by and spat on the flag and and at them, usually shouting "fascist" or "baby killer" or some such anti-Israel nonsense. Taken aback by this, I asked how long they had they been standing here. At least two hours, they said (it was a big rally), adding that they had had to hit up the nearby Starbucks several times to wipe the spit off their faces. One guy, they said, wearing the Palestinian head scarf, had tried to rip the flag out of their hands, and only let go when his fellow protesters forcibly led him away.

As we stood there chatting one protester with a camcorder came up to us.

"Are you Jews?" he asked us with a smile, camcorder in our faces. Yes, they said. "How does it feel to be descended from apes?" An odd comment. Aren't we all descended from apes?

"No. Jews have more ape DNA than any other human race," he explained, still filming. "You're filthy animals." He then laughed and went on his way, leaving us more perplexed than insulted.

After a few more minutes of chatting (and being spat on) I said goodbye to the two guys, adding that they were brave indeed to be standing there with an Israeli flag.

Next to nothing was mentioned in the media stories that night and the next day about this element of the protest. What was reported on were the tens of thousands who had turned out to protest the Iraq War. Well, that's not entirely true. Tens of thousands had turned out, but not all were there to protest the Iraq War, as I witnessed. But should the presence of the wingnuts, like the guy with the camcorder, have undermined the rally or the antiwar movement as a whole? Of course not. Opposition to the Iraq War was/is a legitimate position and doesn't make one a wingnut. The reporters who covered the rally understood this, even if I think they intentionally omitted what I had seen. If only the media and the pundits could apply a similar standard to the health care protesters, and the presence of wingnuts in their ranks.

But I'll say this: I've never seen more hate in my life than when I attended a "peace" rally.

Is Sheila Simon the Right Choice?

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Sheila Simon

I confess, I'm not up to speed on the career and politics of Sheila Simon, other than being the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon. (She doesn't even have a Wiki page!) But there's a lot of grumbling out there amongst Democrats, many of whom are upset at Quinn for overlooking Art Turner, the runner-up in the lt. gov. primary. It's hard to blame them or Turner for feeling cheated. After all, how many votes did Sheila Simon get in the primary?

Not to mention that the quick dismissal of Sen. Susan Garrett (Lake Forest) for apparently opposing Quinn's tax hike was a bit odd. Clearly, Quinn is hoping to fill some gaps on the ticket and picking a woman tops his list. (Recall the governor's courting of Tammy Duckworth earlier this year.) Garrett, however, is from the North Shore and Quinn probably figured that would work against him downstate.

Which brings me to Eric Zorn's post today:

The only reason she became the third woman to jump to the top of Quinn's list of potential running mates -- after U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs official Tammy Duckworth and state Sen. Susan Garrett -- is that she's the daughter of the late  Sen. Paul Simon,  a downstate icon whom even his Republican foes recognized as pillar of integrity.
Of course if this was a presidential race no one would be criticizing Quinn for taking politics into account in his choice of running mates. It wouldn't even be an issue. That's what running mates are for. But Zorn makes a good point here:

The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is Jason Plummer, an inexperienced downstater who's an ideological clone of their candidate for governor, Bill Brady.  When the candidacy of Democratic nominee Scott Lee Cohen imploded,  Quinn and party leaders had a chance to choose a No. 2 that contrasted with Plummer and with Quinn in ways that would appeal to independent and undecided voters -- someone whose resume actually suggests a readiness to become governor if the necessity arose.

Instead Quinn has chosen an inexperienced downstater who's his ideological clone. She contrasts with him only in her gender and brings little more to the ticket than a famous last name.
Ouch.

The biggest obstacle for Simon in the near future is honing her political skills. She had served in the Carbondale City Council, but that probably isn't the most intense school of hard politics. Plummer might be inexperienced, but he did manage to win a statewide primary.

Stealing Brady's Thunder

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Blake D. Dvorak

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In response to the state Senate's passage of a school choice program championed by Sen. James Meeks, this comment over at CapFax makes a good point:

Looks like Madigan and Cullerton are attempting to clear the field of traditional hot GOP issues to campaign on. It appears they are trying to put up a damn [sic] to slow the pending anti dem flood of discontent.
Add in the pension reform bill that just passed -- a significant step also -- and suddenly the Democrat-controlled General Assembly is stealing all the GOP's best talking points: An unsustainable pension system and a public school system dead-set against reform.

Now, Meeks has been fighting for vouchers for a while now, so we shouldn't sully his victory by implying political opportunism. Similarly, something had to happen with the pension system, because at north of $80 billion, Illinois has the largest unfunded pension system in the country. Any steps toward balancing the budget and restoring the state's fiscal health has to take pensions into account.

But that leaves two fewer issues for Brady and the Republicans to campaign on this year. And they're both big issues that were hurting the Democrats in the public's eye. Brady still has the tax increase issue to attack, and one might argue that the pension reform bill doesn't go far enough, but the Dems have managed to steal a bit of his thunder.

UPDATE: I should also probably include Pat Quinn's choice of Sheila Simon as somewhat directed at Brady. Simon is a "downstater" and the CW out there is that Quinn wanted to minimize Brady's downstate support.

Health Care Wars -- Senate Edition

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Blake D. Dvorak

The health care debate seems to have bumped Alexi Giannoulias' other woes off the front page for the moment (despite Laura Washington's incendiary column this week) and given the Democrat something with which to knock Kirk. Exhibit A is the campaign's new web video:


Which is not to say that Kirk is sitting back and taking it. His campaign has kept up the pressure on Giannoulias and his ties to Nick Giannis, posting a "Giannis Watch" to track "how long it takes Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias to answer questions regarding a $1.2 million loan made by Broadway Bank to Nick Giannis when Giannoulias was the bank's Chief Loan Officer." It's up to 14 days.

Also, Kirk released his first TV ad when the Voting Booth was on hiatus, so wanted to post it:


The Morning Briefing, 3-26-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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The Morning Briefing, 3-24-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Congressional Races

Health Care Thoughts

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Before The Voting Booth gets back to its regular focus on Illinois politics -- and as I continue to catch up after a week off -- first a few thoughts on the health care bill just passed:

1. Beware the first rule of politics. As I've mentioned repeatedly, the first rule of politics is that things are never as good, or as bad, as they first appear. Remember when Scott Brown miraculously won Ted Kennedy's old seat? Republicans and many pundits (and this blog) saw Brown's victory as a the Gettysburg of the Democratic majority: Obama, Reid and Pelosi had reached the extent of their domination of Washington and what was to follow was a slow but steady readjustment of the administration's and congressional Democrats' goals, all in an attempt to stave off mass defeats come November. Supposedly first on the chopping block: health care. Today, the president's health care bill is the law of the land.

This is not to say that those November defeats still won't happen for Democrats; it's that majorities matter; the power of the president matters; and in the end, one election is only one election. Two months ago, Democrats were in the dumps and Republicans were flying high. Yup, beware the first rule of politics...

2. GOP: Repeal It? Regardless of the Democrats' victory, it is not at all clear -- as the administration and Reid and Pelosi argued -- that the American public won't punish the Democrats in November over this bill. The Democrats' thinking goes something like this: Once Americans come to appreciate all the goodies in this bill, they'll embrace it as fervently as Medicare and Social Security. Maybe, maybe not. But that supposes a pretty dim view of the American public.

It's as if the virtue of a particular bill is based on its popularity. By that logic, giving out free cars to every American is good public policy because, well, Americans love free cars -- and woe to the politician who threatens taking away your free car. Similarly, there are a lot of goodies in this health care bill that Americans will no doubt love, but at what cost? To pay for this health care bill, spending will rise, as will taxes. All that nonsense about this bill cutting the deficit at no cost to the public is the very definition of selling snake oil.

Most Americans understand this, which is why public opinion of this bill is so low. Still, Democrats hope that once things kick in, it'll all be puppy dogs and ice cream. Get real. Most of the bill's goodies don't begin until 2014. The ones that do -- the pre-existing conditions mandate and the ability for children under 26 to stay on their parents' insurance -- start in six months. That is a very short amount of time for the public to embrace this bill and Republicans will be able to campaign on the "Repeal It!" platform successfully. In other words, the overall electoral outlook for Democrats come November remains very poor.

3. The paradigm shift. However, whatever happens in November, Democrats have scored a long-term victory. That's because the federal government is now intimately involved in health care, and once in, it's next to impossible to dislodge. Over time, this will be as accepted as Social Security. You don't hear any serious politician talking about repealing Social Security. They talk about reforming it; they talk about making it solvent; but never repealing it. Meaning, the debate is about how to manage government's involvement, not how to remove it. The same thing will happen to health care. 

And this was a primary objective of Democrats all along: To move the debate to their turf; to shift the paradigm from "should government manage health care?" to "how should government manage health care?". Which is why both sides fought so hard over something the president himself claimed wouldn't do a thing to 85% of Americans' health insurance. It was about getting government in the door, if only by an inch.

4. Taxes, taxes, taxes. Still, it's impossible to say when that acceptance will happen. Could be in a few years. Could be in 10 years. And until it does, Democrats could take multiple beatings at the polls. Because, unlike Social Security in the 1930s, this bill comes during a time of major budget shortfalls. The federal government, and the states, simply cannot pay for all the entitlements out there without a major increase in revenue. What form this will take or when it will happen is not clear. But it will have to happen.

Last night on Special Report w/Brett Baier, Charles Krauthammer made the prediction that the cost-cutting board, which is supposed to find out ways to make health care cheaper, will suggest a national sales tax to pay for all this. Krauthammer believes the board won't make this suggestion until after the November elections, but that it will likely dominate the 2012 presidential race. Conservative or liberal, one ignores Krauthammer to his peril, which means the president has asked his fellow Democrats to make a deal with the devil: Pass the bill, make history, shift the paradigm, but accept that fact that we will have to raise taxes on everyone. 

Gone Fishin'...

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Blake D. Dvorak

...Well, not exactly, but The Voting Booth will be away for the next week (March 14-21), and blogging will not be on the itinerary -- unless something truly spectacular happens, in which case you probably won't need The Voting Booth to tell you about it anyway.

But starting Monday the 22nd we'll be back online and dishing out all the Illinois political goodness. Till then, dear readers...

The Dems' Rotten, No Good, Lousy Week...

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Blake D. Dvorak

...at least according to Crain's Greg Hinz:

I'm not big on assuming that the events of just one week can change the core dynamics of a long political season.

   But I'm going to make an exception today, because Illinois Democrats can't stand too many more weeks like this one if they hope to compete in November.
On Hinz' list of bad news are 1.) Quinn's budget; 2.) the Dems' lt gov. fiasco; 3.) Giannoulias' many problems; and 4.) the situation surrounding retiring Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

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On problems 2 and 3 I'm with Hinz (we haven't discussed Claypool at all on The Voting Booth, so we'll just set that aside).

The latest wrinkle in the Lt. Gov. mess is that Democrats have set a date, March 27, to vote on a replacement for Scott Lee Cohen -- almost two months after the primary. The 38-member Democratic State Central Committee, headed by Speaker Mike Madigan, will vote on the nominee following four hearings between now and then. It's embarrassing for the party that it's taken this long to get anything done -- after a slew of missteps from both the party and the Quinn people. Democrats have given Republicans a another way to highlight the controlling party's incompetence -- all over the lt. gov. slot! And it looks terrible for Quinn, who's been all but excluded from the process by Madigan.

And of course there's the Giannoulias stuff. Hinz thinks that talks of his departure from the ticket are "premature," and he's probably right. But the very fact that we're talking about it at all is a terrible sign for the candidate. Giannoulias is trying to deflect the heat by attacking Kirk, but the reality is that he's lost control of the debate. The only option left for Giannoulias is to try to ride this out till the summer (or pray for some scandal to ensnare Kirk).

As for Quinn's budget, I'm no so certain it's a loser for him just yet. As he showed last year, Quinn has enough backing from the public-sector unions to stage thousand-strong protests at the Capitol which will generate huge coverage. Teachers and students, social workers, etc,. all crying out for funding is a powerful image, and one Quinn will be able to use effectively.

Moreover, I'm inclined to take Madigan's comments about Quinn's budget ("The people of Illinois don't want a tax increase.") with a grain of salt. No Democrat wants to lose the governor's mansion, least of all Madigan. Some solution is going to be worked out that will save face for Quinn, even if he doesn't get his tax increase.

But I'll add some good news for Democrats:

  1. Despite all his problems, Giannoulias is still edging out Kirk in the polls. Democrats are likely waiting on the next wave of polling to decide whether it's time to ditch Obama's basketball buddy, but until then he's still ahead.
  2. Bill Brady has yet to show that he's ready for this election. Since officially becoming the nominee, Brady has righted himself and is beginning to focus his campaign on jobs and the economy. But it's not like it takes a David Axelrod to understand that's what Brady should have been doing all along. His next step is to start tapping into that Tea Party anger out there on the right, if only to start bringing some enthusiasm to his campaign. Something like an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal or along those lines could bring some much needed national conservative attention.
  3. This is still Blue Illinois, and the big guns haven't been fired yet. I'm talking about the president, whose favorability in his home state is still high enough that an appearance or two down the road could help all Illinois Democrats significantly.

Kirk: Giannoulias' Association w/Criminals Continues

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Blake D. Dvorak

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The Kirk campaign is continuing its assault on Giannoulias following yesterday's arrest of the owners of Boston Blackies for check-kiting allegations, which involved Broadway Bank. The owner, Nick Giannis, has also contributed around $115,000 to Giannoulias over the years. Turns out, however, as the Kirk campaign is circulating, that Giannis already had a felony conviction back in 1996 for firearm possession.

The Giannoulias campaign has said that it will donate the Giannis money to charity, which the Kirk campaign had called for yesterday. Smelling blood, the Kirk campaign isn't giving up, and released a list of questions this morning for Giannoulias:

Questions for Alexi Giannoulias:

1)      Did you and your family know about Nick Giannis' felony conviction when Broadway Bank approved $6 million in loans for him?

2)      When was the last time you spoke to Nick or Chris Giannis before their arrests?

3)      Were you ever made aware by the Giannis family or others that a federal investigation was underway?

4)      Will you agree to donate the Giannis family campaign contributions to Bright Start families who lost their college savings under your risky investment strategy?

The Morning Briefing, 3-12-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Hits Keep Coming for Giannoulias

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Blake D. Dvorak

Not good news for the Giannoulias folks:

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The owner of the Boston Blackie's restaurant chain -- a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias -- was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner's son and an employee.

Boston Blackie's owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie's manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.

Giannoulias' family owns Broadway Bank, one of the banks named in the court documents. The bank was not a victim of the alleged scheme, officials said.

Nick Giannis was caught at the Canadian border with his Greek passport this morning.

He and the younger men used other Chicago area banks -- including Giannoulias' family's Broadway Bank -- to carry out their "sophisticated, complex" check-kiting scheme, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said.

When pressed about whether Broadway Bank officials knew about the alleged scheme, Alvarez simply said, "These are the three we feel are responsible for this particular case."

Giannis contributed $115,000 to Citizens for Giannoulias between 2005 and 2008 alone and secured millions of dollars in mortgages with Broadway Bank, records show.
On cue, Kirk responds:

"The check-kiting scheme conducted by a top Giannoulias contributor and Broadway Bank client appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of reckless business relationships, questionable banking practices and potentially illegal activity," Congressman Kirk said.  "Alexi Giannoulias should return the massive $119,800 in Giannis campaign contributions given Giannis was caught attempting to leave U.S. jurisdiction."
I don't think there's any doubt that Giannoulias won't return the money. But those, um, reservations circulating around Democratic circles are only going to grow louder. Still on the horizon is the actual shutdown of Broadway Bank, which will be national news.

The question must be asked: Is the clock ticking on Giannoulias for Senate?

Giannoulias Goes On the Offensive

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Blake D. Dvorak

At a press conference today Alexi Giannoulias, who's taken his hits recently from all sides, went on the attack against Mark Kirk. From the AP:

At a news conference Thursday, Giannoulias criticized Kirk's legislative record on banking regulation. He says Kirk voted to bail out Wall Street firms but opposed attempts at reform.

A Kirk campaign spokesman hasn't returned messages seeking comment.

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Well, the Kirk campaign has responded with that ol' campaign stand-by, "The Fact Check." Here's a portion of what the campaign sent out:

FACT: Congressman Kirk was among the first members of Congress to support financial reforms.  In 2005, while Alexi Giannoulias was making risky loans at Broadway Bank, Mark Kirk was one of only 73 members of Congress - Republican or Democrat - who voted to tighten regulations at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  (Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:HZ00600:)

FACT: Congressman Kirk also remains a leading proponent of cracking down on Wall Street criminals.  In 2008, Congressman Kirk joined Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA) in calling on the FBI to increase funding dedicated to White Collar Crime investigations.  (New York Times, "F.B.I. Struggles to Handle Financial Fraud Cases," 10/18/2008)

FACT: With regard to legislation giving more control over the private sector to the Treasury Department, here is what Congressman Kirk told the Chicago Tribune: "We quickly forget that it was our government-run financial institutions - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - that caused this crisis.  With huge taxpayer losses in General Motors, AIG and Citibank, we should not put our trust in the management of the U.S. Treasury Department.  Instead of putting the power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary, we should use the independent Risk Authority Board to alert us when large institutions enter crisis and provide specific authorities to Federal judges to intervene." (Congressman Kirk, Chicago Tribune Questionnaire, 2010 Primary)
Kirk needs to be a bit careful here. The whole anti-banker stuff is mostly coming from the left and Democrats. Although the Tea Partiers and others on the right are very upset at bailing out these banks, their issue has much more to do with spending than with anti-Wall Street/banker sentiment.

Now Kirk certainly wants to pick off as many Independents and Democrats as he can, so at one level attacking Giannoulias the Banker is not bad politics. But if he starts harping too much on all the ways he attempted to rein in Wall Street, he'll start alienating supporters on the right -- the very folks who think Kirk should be grateful he has their support at all.

Which is why Kirk needs to keep his line of attack on Giannoulias the Incompetent; Giannoulias the Big Spender; Giannoulias the Inside-Deal-Maker. You get the point. Otherwise, conservatives might start thinking that their concerns about Kirk -- that he'll shift according to political necessity -- were more than idle.

Blago on Letterman

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Blake D. Dvorak

The clown show continues:



It would be funnier if this guy didn't have two daughters, who have to watch their parents sink to the lowest depths of D-list celebrityhood.

(h/t Illinois Review)

Oh, Those Unintended Consequences

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time:

Illinois' primary election would be pushed back to March under legislation the House sent to Gov. Pat Quinn today.

If the governor signs the measure into law, the state's experiment with a February primary would end after just two elections.
Hey, you don't know till you try, right? I'm sure there were very good, well-researched reasons legislators weighed back in 2007 when they moved to a February primary. You don't just start messing around with well-established voting days for just any reason. And now I'm sure those same legislators have reassessed that earlier decision with equally well-research reasons for changing it back. Three cheers for the democratic process! Hip, hip...Wait...what's that? Oh:

Lawmakers pushed back the 2008 presidential primary to February to try to help then-Sen. Barack Obama get an early win in a big state. That worked. But last month, the early primary date was partly blamed for the debacle that left Democrats with Scott Lee Cohen as the party's lieutenant governor nominee before he dropped out under pressure. Democrats are still searching for a Cohen replacement.
Morons.

The Morning Briefing, 3-11-10

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Congressional Races

Quinn Calls for 33% Tax Hike

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Addressing the General Assembly today, Gov. Pat Quinn called for a 33% hike in the state income tax to raise $2.8 billion a year and help close the budget deficit. From the Trib:

Quinn wants to increase the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent --- a 33 percent increase --- with the corporate tax rate rising from 4.8 percent to 5.8 percent. The tax hike would bring in $2.8 billion a year.

"I believe this 1 percent for education makes sense, and I think the people of Illinois will understand. We must invest in the future, even in these tough economic times," Quinn said. This is urgent. We don't have six months. We don't have six weeks. I challenge the General Assembly to take immediate action to enact the 1 percent for education initiative."

Last year, Quinn unsuccessfully tried to raise the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 4.5 percent and provide some tax relief.
Bill Brady, talking to reporters after the address, said, "This budget doesn't do anything to bring back the 250,000 jobs we've lost in just this last twelve months." Here's a video, courtesy of Cap Fax:


It's a bold move to call for a tax increase as you're running for reelection. But that's part of Quinn's calculation: He wants to be credited with doing the people's business regardless of political consequences. And many in the media and on the left will say as much.

But it's still a tax increase and voters still generally despise them.

It might seem that Brady's job is easier: Call Quinn a tax-and-spender and promise no new taxes in a Brady Administration. But not so fast. Unless Brady can convince voters that all hell won't break lose without a tax hike, he'll be in danger of appearing unserious -- and, as Jim Edgar said, "naive." That requires a detailed budget blueprint -- not a campaign slogan like "10% cut across the board."

It also requires a bit of economics. Brady need to explain to voters that his opposition to tax increases is about the economy, not the budget. He needs to make the case that his primary concern as governor is to improve the state's economy and put Illinoisans back to work. Which means the budget crisis is almost secondary.

Journalists, politicos, policy wonks, etc. hate hearing that. For many of them, the state's fiscal health is the economy, and for Brady to focus on one at the expense of the other is incomprehensible. And that's why there's going to be a lot more backlash against Brady for opposing tax hikes than Quinn for proposing them: All the schools that will close; all the inmates who will be released; all the social services that won't be delivered -- these stories will dominate coverage of Brady's economic agenda. 

New Bob Dold Web Video

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Blake D. Dvorak

Republican Bob Dold is the first-time politician looking to hang on to Mark Kirk's 10th congressional seat. The seat has been in GOP hands for the better part of the last century. With that kind of historical background, one would think Dold is a shoo-in come November. But the district has been voting Democratic for several years now at the presidential level, and Mark Kirk had to fight off Dan Seals in two tough campaigns.

Some Democrats questioned whether it was wise to give Seals a third shot, when he couldn't beat Kirk in two thoroughly Democratic years ('06 and '08). The other way to look at it is that it was the moderate Kirk who won those campaigns, not the GOP, and with him gone, Seals has a much higher name recognition than the newbie Dold.

Whatever the case, Dold needs to get his name out there quickly, and that's where web videos come in:



Another wrinkle in this race is the attention the parties' congressional committees are giving it. The DCCC just announced that Seals is part of the "Red to Blue" program, which highlights just 13 races throughout the country worthy of special notice to donors. Meanwhile, the NRCC has Dold as one of its Young Guns, which basically does the same thing. (Also on the NRCC's Young Gun program are Adam Kinzinger (11th) and Randy Hultgren (14th).

Marin: Alexi Facing Heat to Withdraw

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Blake D. Dvorak

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I won't say that Carol Marin's prediction today is the first I've heard or thought about it, but since Marin's sources are a bit better than mine it's probably more than idle musings. From her Sun-Times column:

Prediction: Pressure on Giannoulias to get out

...

Giannoulias has tried to get out in front of the seemingly imminent failure of his family's Broadway Bank, but there's no way to put that story behind him as long as the FDIC could move in at any time and take it over.

Giannoulias met with David Axelrod at the White House on Tuesday. At the same time, Republicans were sending out dispatches with a reminder of President Obama's recent denunciation of "fat cats who are getting rewarded for their failure . . . bankers don't need another vote in the U.S. Senate."

Expect heat on Alexi to exit the kitchen.
First, about that White House pow-wow, the speculation in the media is that the administration will support Giannoulias, but not go out of its way (see here, here and here). This is Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs' formal (a wee bit too formal?) statement on that matter:

Alexi Giannoulias is the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate and has the support and the backing of the White House.
Second, instead of trying to read the tea leaves from press secretaries who are paid to be vague, why not just look at the polling? From TPM Poll Tracker:



FoxChicago reported this morning on a new Rasmussen poll, not yet released on Rasmussen's site, showing Giannoulias +3 (44-41). And as First Read reported, the Giannoulias campaign is pushing back at the idea of withdrawing:

The Giannoulias camp pushes back, noting that at least two polls show him leading Republican Mark Kirk, and that the campaign just signed up a major Obama fundraiser.
For the interested, that fundraiser is Jordan Kaplan, who worked on both Obama's 2004 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns. Yet Fox's Scott Brown notes that this is a return engagement for Kaplan, who previously worked for Giannoulias back in the exploratory committee days early on. I guess the point is that it's not like the Obama White House "gave" Kaplan to Giannoulias.

Still, the polls are what they are, and they don't (yet) show much reason for Giannoulias to withdraw. Yes, they're closer than Team Giannoulias would like right now when it looks like it's going to be a GOP year. But it's not as if Giannoulias is foundering at the moment.

Getting back to Marin's prediction, much depends on the political fallout from Broadway Bank's imminent collapse. If the heat intensifies, then Giannoulias might have to admit that he's carrying a bit too much baggage in a year that portends huge Democratic losses.
 

Rasmussen: Brady +10 (wait ... what?)

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Blake D. Dvorak

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Yup, that's what the latest Rasmussen Report poll shows, strangely enough:

Brady: 47
Quinn: 37
Undecided: 9

More from the poll:

The new survey finds Brady leading by 17 points among women but just three points among men. Voters not affiliated with either party favor Brady 59% to 18%.
Brady is viewed very favorably by 17% of Illinois voters, while only 11% view the Republican very unfavorably. Nineteen percent (19%) have no opinion of him.
Just 12% in Illinois view their governor very favorably, while 24% view Quinn very unfavorably. Only five percent (5%) have no opinion of Quinn.
Rasmussen suspects that the surge for Brady is likely the result of his recent victory, officially, over Dillard. Still, a DailyKos/Research2000 poll from late last month showed Quinn ahead 15 points (47-32), and because this is Illinois, no one really questioned its veracity.

Taking both both polls together, I'd say this race is much tighter than the Quinn team would prefer at this point, so Brady and Republicans should be excited.

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