TIME 2014 Election

Pelosi and Hillary Join Forces to Rally Democratic Women

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Doris Matsui, Nancy Pelosi
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gathers with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, and other Bay area congresswomen after speaking at a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates hosted by Pelosi at the Fairmont Hotel Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in San Francisco. Eric Risberg—AP

The event brought together Clinton and Obama supporters from 2008

Three generations of Birmingham family women turned out on Monday to see House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rally for female Democratic candidates.

“It was fabulous, a wonderful event,” gushes Alanna Birmingham, 17, clutching one of the lunch’s floral centerpieces, a keepsake for her to take home. “You could just feel the energy in the room, all this beautiful female energy.” Birmingham was there with her mother and grandmother in a show of political unity the family hasn’t always enjoyed, especially when it comes to Hillary Clinton—and they weren’t the only ones.

Billed as “The Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon,” the event raised $1.4 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from the 820 mostly women in attendance bringing the DCCC’s money lead of its GOP counterpart to a whopping $38 million with just two weeks to go before the election. The event also featured a set by singer Carole King (including a rendition of “Sweet Seasons” where she changed the lyrics to “Some times you win; sometimes you win” instead of lose).

But the 2014 midterms, where Dems are expected to lose seats in both chambers and possibly control of the Senate, were not the elections on most women’s lips at the lunch. Cynthia Birmingham, Alanna’s mother, was there to show early support for Clinton’s anticipated 2016 presidential bid, in part to make up for not supporting her primary candidacy in 2008. “I’m so excited to support Hillary in 2016,” she says.

Birmingham wasn’t the only one. California Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller and Barbara Lee—all close allies of Pelosi—were all in enthusiastic attendance on Monday and all endorsed Obama during the primaries in 2008. Indeed, many saw then Speaker Pelosi’s call in 2008 on super delegates to respect the will of the voters in their home states, rather than endorsing the candidate of their choice, as one of the nails in the coffin of Clinton’s candidacy. Though Pelosi very carefully never endorsed either candidate in 2008.

The event was a healing one for the Birminghams as well. Ann Birmingham, Alanna’s grandmother and Cynthia’s mother-in-law, was also in approving attendance, happy to see her women kin supporting the candidate she’s long adored. “I loved and supported Hillary back in 2008 and I will love and support her in 2016,” Ann says. “I was terribly disappointed when she lost.”

But all that was forgotten on Monday with Clinton and Pelosi hugging and kissing onstage and united in their common cause to not only elect more women to Congress, where women make up less than 20%, but to start a women’s empowerment movement in politics. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” both women—and the crowd—chanted over and over throughout the program.

“For too many women, for too many families they don’t just face ceilings for their dreams,” Clinton said, referring to the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, or the 18 million Americans who voted to make her the first female Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, she famously referenced in her concession speech, “they feel floor has collapsed beneath their feet.”

Clinton lavished praise on Pelosi’s ground-breaking leadership as the first female speaker, a post she held from 2006 until Democrats lost the House in 2010. And Pelosi started her speech saying she hoped she would soon be surpassed. “I’m frequently introduced as the highest ranking woman in U.S. office; I’d like to give up that title. And soon,” she told a roaring crowd. “If Hillary Clinton, mother and grandmother, decides to run for president she will win… and she will be one of the best prepared leaders, one of the top presidents in the Oval Office. That she happens to be a woman is a bonus and a wonderful, wonderful thing. But she happens to also be a leader of visions and values.”

Indeed, Cynthia Birmingham says she’s supporting Clinton this time around because she’s an experienced, proven leader at a time when the country most needs that experience. “No one else in the field even comes close,” she says, “Hillary just blows them all away. It’s not so much that she’s a woman, but that she’s the best person for the job.”

TIME 2014 Election

10 People Who Will Face Pitchforks if Their Party Loses the Senate

Left: Reince Priebus; Right: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Left: Reince Priebus; Right: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz Susan Walsh—AP; Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

The blame game is already in full swing, here’s a list of folks from both parties who’ll likely bear the brunt of the finger pointing should disaster strike

One side is going to lose, the Democrats or the Republicans. Such is the nature of most American elections. And that means someone will get blamed.

With polls showing a down-to-the-wire outcome in Senate races across the country, the blame game has already begun. The stakes, and tempers, will likely be higher if Republicans lose than Democrats, given the environmental headwinds that Democrats face. But neither side is immune from the fallout.

Below is a look at the top five folks who should, and probably already are, looking over their shoulders should their party lose the Senate this year.

If Republicans lose:

  1. Reince Priebus: The Republican National Committee chairman took over the party after the 2010 tea party wave and presided over its 2012 and 2014 strategy, promising voters and party leaders that the GOP would be resurgent. If the party falters next month, Priebus, whose two-year second term expires early next year, may find himself in the hot seat. The party’s much-publicized post-2012 autopsy remains a work in progress, and donors, who have helped the committee raise record amounts in recent years, may begin asking what he has to show for it. Working in Priebus’ favor is his firm control over the 168-member governing body of the party, but some are already threatening to abandon him if the GOP can’t take the Senate.
  2. Sen. Mitch McConnell: Even if the Senate minority leader survives the toughest challenge of his political career in what will surely by the most expensive Senate race in history, he’ll face a backlash from his conference if they lose the Senate. Not only will they say he sucked money from other races to fund an estimated $100 million battle to keep his seat, but he will now have overseen three consecutive losing cycles where odds and momentum should’ve handed Republicans control of the Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz has already refused to say if he’d vote for McConnell for leader—in the majority or the minority. Other candidates have also been muted or mum in their support for their potential leader. A loss of the Senate could mean a loss of McConnell’s leadership role if his party is outraged enough.
  3. Sen. Jerry Moran: The Kansas senator waged a stiff campaign to become the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, promising to lead his party to the majority. In doing so, he edged out Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who was initially ambivalent about taking the post and became the vice chair of the group. But Moran’s leadership has been the subject of intense scrutiny among Republicans, many who would have preferred Portman to be in the top slot. The NRSC’s campaign against the insurgent Republican candidates has further put a target on his back should the party fail to win.
  4. Senate Conservatives Fund/ Sen. Ted Cruz: Boosting insurgent candidates against entrenched Senators forced Republicans to spend millions shoring up seats that would otherwise have been safe, waging primary battles instead of focusing on November. If Republicans lose, many moderate and business-types are sure to blame their party’s conservative elements. The Texas Senator was the face of that movement, and is hoping to capitalize on the scorn in order to boost a likely bid for the White House.
  5. Outside Money Groups: Republicans pioneered the use of Super PACs and shepherded in the rise of shadowy outside money groups in the 2010 and 2012 elections. But the groups’ outsized influence is waning, as Democrats have caught up on fundraising and have proven to deploy their resources more effectively. Republican donors were livid with former Bush political guru Karl Rove over the ineffective nature of his pro-Romney efforts in 2012. If Republicans fail to take the Senate, those calls will likely be louder and broader than ever before.

If Democrats Lose:

  1. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The knives were already out of Wasserman Schultz’s back before early voting even began. Questions remain about how much President Obama supports the chair of the Democratic National Committee after his press secretary was asked if he has “complete confidence” in her last month and Josh Earnest responded that Obama had “strong confidence” in Wasserman Schultz. Strong does not equal complete. Though her second term does not expire until 2016, there are ways to force her out and certainly having the President turn against her publically would be hard to overcome.
  2. President Barack Obama: With approval ratings at 40%, the lowest they’ve been during his presidency, Obama was a pariah on the campaign trail. The most accomplished campaigner of the last six years, he was invited to just Illinois, Connecticut and Maine in 2014 to stump for candidates. With such stubby coattails, a loss of the Senate would be a tough referendum on the President’s legacy, especially since his astronomical popularity is what helped Democrats to historic majorities in the House and Senate in 2008. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And oh, how angry Democrats will be with the President for dragging him down with him should they lose the Senate.
  3. Organizing for Action: The President’s historic “movement,” Organizing for Action, was supposed to be the magic bullet that could whip believers into a frenzy of electoral activity. If Democrats lose, critics will surely blame the overhyped OFA machine, which drew money early on from other needy areas and then never delivered. So much for hope and change.
  4. Guy Cecil: By all accounts the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran the best possible campaign against the prevailing headwinds. The wizard had turned out a previous miracles, salvaging the Senate from odds and expectations in 2012. Losing it in 2014 won’t kill his career. But it may cost him his rumored next job: campaign manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, especially if Democrats start blaming the lady herself for not helping enough.
  5. Hillary Clinton: The former Secretary of State is likely to declare a repeat bid for the White House in the coming months, but for years multiple groups have raised millions plotting her re-ascendance. Some Democrats have already argued that this money could have been better spent on 2014 Senate races, a chorus that may grow if the Democrats lose by a hair. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have been in demand among vulnerable Democrats all year, but she only hit the road after completing much of her book and paid-speaking tour. As Clinton gears up to run for president the last thing she may want to hear is ‘could you have done more.’
TIME 2014 Election

Vulnerable Democrats Run Away From Obama

Democratic Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes And Senate Minority Leader McConnell Locked In Tight Race
Kentucky's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky. on Aug. 2, 2014. Win McNamee—Getty Images

There's a reason the President isn't often seen on the campaign trail

In Monday night’s one and only debate for the Kentucky Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic challenger refused to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I have my disagreements with the President,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said. “The President is not on the ballot this year.” She added that it was her “constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box” to decline to name for whom she’d voted.

Though she did so clumsily and has been widely criticized for it, Grimes isn’t the only Democrat seeking a Grand Canyon of distance from Obama this campaign cycle. The President’s approval rating is at 42.6% and his disapproval rating is 10-percentage points higher at 52.3%, according to an average of national polls by Real Clear Politics. And he’s even more unpopular in states where Democrats are locked in tight races for control of the Senate like Kentucky, which he lost in 2012 by 23 points; Alaska, where he lost by 14 points; and Arkansas, which he lost by 24 points.

Democrats are hoping this election won’t be a referendum on the president, as midterm elections so often are. With just days left in the campaign, each race has become a smaller-scale war of parochial issues—most of them on which candidates can easily distance themselves from Obama.

As early as a year ago, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who is warding off a strong challenge in Arkansas, highlighted how he opposed the President’s gun control legislation in his first television ad of the cycle. “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” Pryor said in the ad. “I listen to Arkansas.”

On energy, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska both ran ads distancing themselves from Obama’s positions. “[T]he Administration’s policies are simply wrong on oil and gas production in this nation,” Landrieu said in her spot. Begich bragged that he “took on Obama” to fight for oil drilling in the Arctic and voted against the president’s “trillion-dollar tax increase.”

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in his first debate with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner that he is the “last person” the Obama Administration wants to see visiting the White House.

And while endangered Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan met Obama on the tarmac in North Carolina in August, going so far as kissing him on the cheek—footage that ended up in campaign commercials against her—she made clear ahead of his trip that she believes his Administration “has not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans.” (Obama was there to deliver a speech on veterans issues.)

Even Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who isn’t up for reelection this cycle, has taken the President out to the woodshed in recent days for not doing enough to protect Americans in the wake of the financial crisis. “They protected Wall Street,” she told Salon in an interview. “Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. And it happened over and over and over.”

Meanwhile, Warren, like former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is proving to be a powerful and popular surrogate these midterms, welcome in places like Kentucky and West Virginia where Obama dare not set foot.

All of which is why Obama’s spending his weekends during the final sprint to the election day golfing, rather than on the campaign trail. He’s done a huge amount of fundraising, but so far only two campaign events for incumbent governors in Illinois and Connecticut. There are a handful of other solid blue states where Obama can help—in his native Hawaii, for example—but First Lady Michelle Obama is much more in demand than he is. Michelle—who has an approval rating of 69%, higher than both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at the same point in their husband’s presidencies—has campaigned for Senate hopefuls in Michigan and Iowa and a gubernatorial candidate in Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And she’s scheduled to stump for gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist in Florida on Friday, not to mention a bevy of voter registration events in other states.

Running away from an unpopular second-term President is practically becoming a tradition in American politics. Before the 1998 midterm elections, Bill Clinton was plagued by the Monica Lewinsky scandal—though Republican overreach helped his party actually gain seats. And thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush wasn’t very popular with his party in 2006, even before the financial crisis. Republicans lost both chambers of Congress that year.

“It’s a common phenomenon, running against a lame duck president,” says Prof. James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “In the last two years of his Administration, Presidents have tended to be very unpopular, having used up their political capital.”

Still, Obama bears the distinction of being so polarizing that running against him has proven successful for Democrats almost from the moment he was elected. In 2010, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin ran an ad that showed him shooting climate change legislation endorsed by Obama with a gun. That same year Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly ran ads distancing himself from the President. Both men bucked an anti-Democratic wave to get elected to the Senate.

Democrats this year are hoping to repeat their strategy. Grimes ran an ad in September that showed her shooting skeet while declaring: “I’m not Barack Obama.”

Read next: Hey, Mitt Romney Cracked a Good Joke

TIME 2014 Election

New Hampshire Republican Disfigures Senate Race with Sexist Blog

"Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin?"

What is going on in New Hampshire? You’d think the state with the first-in-history all female delegation—both senators, both House members and the governor—would be more enlightened, or at least more sensitive, when it comes to female candidates.

First, State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican, wrote a blog post that sounds more like it was written by a blog troll, than an actual author. In it he compares the looks of the two candidates for New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District: incumbent Democrat Annie Kuster and challenger Marilinda Garcia, a 32-year-old Republican. He goes so far to call Kuster, a 58-year-old mother of two, a drag queen.

How attractive is Marilinda Garcia? You know how opposition ad makers usually go out of their way to find a photo of the opponent not looking his or her best. Well…Democrats and Annie Kuster supporters can’t seem to find a photo of Marilinda Garcia looking bad at all.

As for Annie….oh as for Annie…and before I continue, I offer that caution, caution, caution, gain [sic].
Let’s be honest. Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin? And I hope I haven’t offended sin.
If looks really matter and if this race is at all close, give a decided edge to Marilinda Garcia.
Unlike Vaillancourt, New Hampshirites don’t seem to judge their candidates by appearance since Kuster is ahead in most polls and the non-partisan Cook Political Report has the seat “leaning Democratic.” Garcia, of course, put out a statement disavowing Vaillancourt’s remarks:
“State Rep. Vaillancourt’s recent comments about Rep. Ann Kuster are sexist and have absolutely no place in political discourse. Both Rep. Kuster and I have experienced this unfortunate reality of being a woman in politics. I hope that as time moves forward and more female candidates run for political office around the country, people will focus on the content of our ideas rather than what we wear and how we look.”
Then former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who is challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for her seat, proved definitively that alcohol, college kids, politics and cameras are a toxic mix for any candidate. According to a video posted by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Brown had to ignore lewd and sexist heckling about his opponent and Elizabeth Warren, to whom Brown lost his Massachusetts Senate seat in 2012.
Brown appeared not to hear repeated shouts of “F**k Jeanne Shaheen!” “Elizabeth Warren sucks!” and “F**k her right in the p***y!” Apparently, there’s clearly something in the water in New Hampshire.
TIME 2014 Election

Midterm Elections See Surge in Tough-to-Lure Candidates: Young Moms

Staci Appel Iowa
Staci Appel with three of her six children in Iowa. Appel for Iowa

“It is a big change. Women in the Club”

Staci Appel is up at 5:30 every morning, rousing her six kids from their beds, getting them showered and fed breakfast—usually cereal and milk, but sometimes pancakes or scrambled eggs on special days. She and her husband, Brent Appel, a justice on the Iowa Supreme Court, pack their lunches and throw in a load or two of laundry, if there’s time.

Then, the former Iowa state senator hits the campaign trail. Appel is running for Congress, a job that will take her to Washington D.C. for most of every week if she wins. “We’ll handle it like everything else we’ve handled: as a family,” says Appel, who ran for office at her children’s encouragement and with the unflagging support of her husband. “We’re no different from any other family: juggling kids and work.”

What’s different, though, is that Appel is running for Congress at all. Hers is one of the toughest demographics for either party to recruit: a mother of young children. Until now, women have typically waited until their children were older to get into politics. On average, women enter politics four years later—at the age of 51 versus 47—than men, according for Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. But not so this cycle: A remarkable number of young mothers are running for Congress.

“It is a big change,” says Michele Swers, a Georgetown political science professor and author of “Women in the Club.”

“Having younger women in office is a positive trend because Congress runs on seniority so these younger women will have a better chance of getting the seniority needed to become committee chairs and party leaders,” Swers says.

The first woman to give birth in Congress was Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, a California Democrat, in 1973. These days, more than a dozen women in Congress have school-aged children, but it’s still a tiny percentage of the 99 women currently serving in both chambers. Democrats have nine young mothers running for Congress or governor this cycle, according to EMILY’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, and Republicans have at least three.

Part of the problem is many mothers of young children view representing more than half-a-million people in Congress as too daunting a job to balance at a time when family obligations are the most intense. But some members—like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, the top women on the House GOP leadership team who had all three of her children in office, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who recently wrote a book encouraging young women to run—are working to change that. Both women actively court younger mothers to run, pointing to themselves as examples of healthy work-life balance. Both say the freedom of being able to set their own schedules—and essentially be their own bosses—makes the job doable for mothers.

The optics of being a young mother is also changing. In 2008, commentators openly wondered if Sarah Palin had to bandwidth to be the vice president and the mother of a special-needs infant, and in 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum openly wondered who was taking care of rival Michele Bachmann’s children while she was on the campaign trail. But this cycle, female candidates are wearing the mom label with pride.

“What is interesting is to see how women use their motherhood as a credential for office holding, instead of an impediment or barrier to office holding, as it has often been historically framed,” says Kelly Dittmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. “In doing that, women candidates are more likely to show their children in campaign output and talk about them in messaging, contrary to previous generations where women were told to be cautious about showing their young children as it might raise voter questions about how or if they will be able to balance the conflicting demands of politics and parenthood.”

Indeed, some say, it’s almost too much pride. Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land was mocked last week by liberals on Twitter for so often appending her statements with, “as a mom.”

But for Appel, those words are partly why she’s running. In the state Senate she helped pass universal pre-K for all Iowans and toughen standards for children’s seats in cars and texting while driving.

“We bring a different perspective to the table,” Appel says, “one that I believe Congress could benefit from.”

Read next: How 2014 Became the ‘Gotcha’ Election

TIME 2014 Election

Democrats See Obamacare Silver Lining in 2014 Playbook

From fierce opposition to a "fading issue"

A year ago, the health care reform law was an albatross around the Democrats’ collective neck. Its disastrous roll out dominated headlines. Republicans gleefully predicted they would build on their House majority and take back the Senate in the midterm elections thanks to the unpopularity of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Republicans may well still pick up House seats and win the Senate—but if they do, it won’t be because of Obamacare. The “incredibly fading issue,” as U.S. News and World Report recently called it, it has become “background noise” in an election dominated by parochial interests, as Politico put it. Indeed, some Democrats are going so far as to predict that Obamacare could end up a silver lining come Election Day.

The Affordable Care Act is now the second-most important issue for unmarried women, according to a new poll by Democracy Corps for the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, a key demographic Democrats are hoping to turn out this November. Unmarried women vote reliably Democratic, but tend not to turn out in midterm elections. If Democrats can turn out that one group at the same levels they voted in 2012, forecasts indicate Democrats would keep the Senate and take back the House.

That kind of turnout is highly unlikely. But every little bit counts as Democrats try to fend off the kind of wave election that drowned them in 2010. That year, a genuine backlash against Obamacare helped Democrats lose the women’s vote for the first time since Ronald Reagan, and the House with it. In most battleground Senate races, Democratic candidates are winning by double-digits with women, particularly unmarried women

The law is also popular with minorities, another demographic with which Republicans have struggled. Some 74% of minorities support the Affordable Care Act, according to the Democracy Corps poll. “The health care law has become much more important as a reason why people are voting for Democrats,” says Stan Greenberg, a co-founder of Democracy Corps. “The threat of repeal appears to be giving unmarried women and minority voters a reason to vote.”

Republicans seem to have felt the tide receding. In April, Obamacare was the subject of 54% all political TV ads; by July that number had fallen to 27%, according to a July report from nonpartisan analysts Kantar Media CMAG. “Obamacare will not be the most important issue,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres, co-wrote in an August memo outlining 57 alternate lines of attack for outside spending groups such as Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network.

Still, opponents still use the issue far more than supporters; overall this election cycle, anti-Obamacare groups have spent 15 times as much on ads than groups supporting the law, the Kantar Media CMAG found. “Did Obamacare dominate the midterms as some Republicans had predicted? Definitely not,” says Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “But has it been used widely by GOP candidates for House and Senate in their TV ads and on the stump? A resounding yes. And that makes sense. Midterm elections are low-turnout battles between the two party bases. Any hot button issue that gets partisan voters to cast a ballot is used extensively. Obamacare still causes Republicans’ blood pressure to rise.”

The Affordable Care Act almost surely remains a net negative for Democrats. “It helped bake voters’ opinions into the general election cake,” says Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The early advertising effort also kept vulnerable Democratic incumbents on the defensive. This was particularly helpful in states in which Republicans had primaries.”

Support for Obamacare remains in the red, with 51.1% opposing the measure and only 38.7% supporting it, according to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls. Which is why the handful of positive ads Democratic candidates have attempted to run on behalf of the law—most notably in Arkansas and West Virginia—have been resoundingly mocked by Republicans.

But all the negative attention paid to Obamacare also had another side effect for Democrats. The four states that have seen the highest per capita anti-Obamacare ad spending—Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—have conversely seen higher rates of enrollment, according to a July study by the Brookings Institution. “In the states where more anti-ACA ads are aired, residents were on average more likely to believe that Congress will repeal the ACA in the near future,” wrote the study’s author, Niam Yaraghi. “People who believe that subsidized health insurance may soon disappear could have a greater willingness to take advantage of this one time opportunity.”

TIME 2014 Election

Bill Clinton Makes Homecoming Trip a Rescue Mission

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton speaks during the closing plenary session of the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City on Sept. 24, 2014. GSA/Demotix/Corbis

The former President is playing big in several races in his home state

Correction appended, Oct. 7.

Three months into his bid to represent Arkansas’s Fourth District in Congress, James Lee Witt got a call from former President Bill Clinton. Witt was outside a town called Magnolia, and Clinton proceeded to rattle off like baseball stats how much he’d won Magnolia by and who would be good to connect with there.

“He then told me every county he’d won and every county he’d lost and all the percentages,” recalls Witt, who served as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for all eight years of Clinton’s presidency. “He still remembers the people who supported him and those that didn’t. But if you supported him, you have no truer friend.”

Witt should know. He’s banking on Clinton’s help to win in November. Clinton’s calls to Witt happened every few months in the beginning of the campaign. Now that the election is just a month away, the calls are more frequent, as are the former President’s visits.

And Witt, who spoke to TIME last spring, isn’t the only candidate Clinton has a personal tie to running in Arkansas these days. His former driver during his 1982 gubernatorial campaign, Rep. Mike Ross, is running for governor. Sen. Mark Pryor, whose father was a mentor to Clinton, is in the reelection battle of his career. And Patrick Henry Hays, who was an Arkansas traveler for Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid, is running for Congress in Arkansas’ Second District. All of which is why Clinton is kicking off his midterm sprint in his home state Monday and Tuesday with five events across Arkansas.

For embattled Democrats, Clinton is worth his weight in political gold. “When he was elected President, he never left,” Vince Insalaco, chair of the Arkansas Democratic Party, told TIME in May. “He’s got some wonderful coattails in Arkansas. He’s a giant energizer of the base and he’s able to bring a lot of money out.”

His four candidates will need it in an election trending away from Democrats and President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Arkansas. The state, largely due to Clinton’s efforts, hasn’t tacked as far in the GOP’s direction as the rest of the south.

Still, Clinton might be Sisyphus this cycle with the races leaning decidedly Republican in recent weeks. Witt’s coveted seat is rated “likely Republican” and the seat Hays is seeking is ranked “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election forecaster. The same group ranks Arkansas’ gubernatorial and Senate races “toss ups,” but GOP Rep. Tom cotton leads Pryor by 3.7 percentage points and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson leads Ross by 5.6 percentage points, according to averages of Arkansas polls by Real Clear Politics.

Republicans downplayed the importance of Clinton’s influence in Arkansas. “I’m not worried about Bill Clinton’s support for Mark Pryor,” Cotton told ABC News on Sunday. “I’m worried about Mark Pryor’s support for Barack Obama.” And banker French Hill, who is running against Hays, told Roll Call this summer that, “President Clinton has a lot of friends in Arkansas. … But I don’t believe it will have a major impact in this race because I believe the electorate is looking for somebody who’s got a business background, that’s a conservative person to help represent the district.”

For Clinton, this isn’t just about politics. Not only is he personally invested in the four Democrats, but Hutchinson served as one of the Republican floor managers of Clinton’s 1998 impeachment trial in the House. Which is why his involvement goes beyond rallies and fundraisers: He calls all four candidates on a regular basis to strategize with them on how to win in a state he prides himself on still knowing intimately. After all, the airport, his Presidential library and a fair number of roads across the state are named for Arkansas’ only son to be elected to the nation’s highest office. “He’s a terrific campaigner, excellent fundraiser and premier strategist,” says Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas’s School of Public Affairs. “He is very valuable to Democrats, their biggest and best asset on the trail.”

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the chair of the Arkansas Democratic Party. He is Vince Insalaco. The original version of this story also incorrectly identified French Hill’s opponent. He is Patrick Henry Hays..

TIME ebola

Ebola Just the Latest Hardship for Liberian Patient in the U.S.

Ebola US Thomas Eric Duncan Brother
A man who gave his name only as "Joe" and stated he was the brother of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan talks to members of the media in front of a home in Kannapolis, N.C., Oct. 1, 2014. Chuck Burton—AP

Thomas Eric Duncan endured war, refugee camps, and joblessness before getting sick

Update: Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola on Oct. 8

For Thomas Eric Duncan, the visa to visit his family in the United States was a golden reprieve: a chance to escape the poverty and sickness surrounding him in the Liberian capital of Monrovia; a chance to visit family and friends, including his mother, sister, son and girlfriend; and a chance, maybe, to stay on and build a better, safer life. All those opportunities now hang in the balance as Duncan fights Ebola for his life in a Dallas hospital.

Duncan’s is the first case of Ebola diagnosed on U.S. soil, and in many ways, the 42-year-old is lucky to have developed the disease here. He caught it, according to the New York Times, helping carry a heavily pregnant neighbor back from the hospital where she was turned away from the overflowing Ebola ward. The 19-year-old girl died that night, early on Sept. 16. Her 21-year-old brother, who also helped carry her, died a week later in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Duncan, by contrast, has a whole ward to himself in Dallas and a team of top doctors.

Duncan flew to the U.S. on Sept. 19 and exhibited the first symptoms of Ebola four or five days later. For weeks his sister, Mai Wureh, a nurse from Charlotte, N.C., and his mother, who was in Texas when family members spoke to her three weeks ago, had been desperately trying to get Duncan out of Liberia and over to the U.S., fearing for his life.

Wureh told the Associated Press on Wednesday that her brother had clearly told Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on his visit to their ER on Sunday that he’d recently arrived from Africa, but due to a miscommunication, no infectious protocols were raised and Duncan was sent home with antibiotics for his fever. It wasn’t until three days later when the family, worried at how sick he’d become, called the Texas Department of Health and alarms were raised, according to CNN.

Duncan has not had an easy time of it in recent years. He spent years in a refugee camp in Ghana during and after Liberia’s civil war, only returning home, “three or four years ago,” according to Rebecca Sele, a cousin of Wureh’s ex-husband, James. Sele, also a nurse who lives in Windsor Mill, MD, kept in touch with Wureh even after her divorce a decade ago.

Sele tells TIME she isn’t sure what kind of visa Eric, as the family calls him, has but “many Liberians try to stay as long as they can, trying to avoid the Ebola. Life is hard there. First civil war, then no jobs, no work. Then Ebola. Mai spends all her time working to send money home. She supports her siblings.”

One of Duncan’s brothers died a couple of years ago and the others have struggled to make ends meet, tinkering with cars and bartering for trade. According to the Times, Duncan worked as a driver for the past year for Safeway Cargo, the Liberian customs clearance agent for FedEx, until he quit abruptly on Sept. 4, soon after a visit from his sister.

This was Duncan’s first trip to the United States, according to Gabriel Wureh, Mai’s ex-husband’s brother, who lives in Bowie, MD. Wureh, who hadn’t spoken to his former sister-in-law in years, got in touch with her on Facebook after the news broke. For Gabriel Wureh, the news hit close to home because he’d just returned from Liberia a month ago himself.

Wureh quarantined himself for 21 days in the family’s home in an abundance of caution, according to his son, Eugene. That said, the accountant said he was never afraid in Liberia and he plans to go back soon to finish his business there. Like Mai, he is trying to help family in Liberia, including Mai’s ex-husband, James, who moved back there eight years ago.

Such is the story for many Liberians living in the U.S., trying to make ends meet and help sustain increasingly desperate relatives back home. “It’s so expensive living here and then you do–she does–nothing but work, work, work to spend money home,” Sele says. “Frankly, I’m worried about Mai, she’s always been a pillar for her brothers and sisters.”

The Dallas County Department of Health has asked Duncan’s family, including Mai, to remain in isolation at an apartment in The Ivy complex in the Fair Oaks area of Dallas for three weeks to ensure that if any of them have caught the disease, they do not pass it to others. The incubation period of the disease is two to 21 days.

“Mai’s afraid to leave her house,” Sele says. “She’s surrounded by reporters. It’s such a tough situation on top of what was already a tough situation.” Making it tougher? If Duncan survives, on Thursday the Liberian government said they would prosecute him for lying on an exit form that asked if he’d come into contact with Ebola patients.

TIME 2014 Election

Meet the Woman Who Could Keep Control of the Senate Up for Grabs

Amanda Swafford Libertarian Georgia Senate
Courtesy Swafford for US Senate

Libertarian Amanda Swafford considers forcing a Jan. 6 run-off in the Peach State’s Senate race a victory for third party candidates everywhere

There is a nightmare scenario that keeps most politicos working on both sides of the aisle up at night: after the midterm elections, and even through the anticipated Dec. 6 run off in Louisiana, control of the Senate likely won’t be decided until Jan. 6, the date a run-off in Georgia will take place, if any one candidate fails to muster 50% of the vote. It is this scenario that Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford, who regularly pulls 5% in most polls, relishes.

“In that situation, if we did force a runoff,” Swafford tells TIME, “I’d say that’s a clear mandate from people of Georgia for a small government and less involvement in people’s lives.”

Small government has hardly been a theme in the race between Republican businessman David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, who are competing to fill retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’s seat. The two have spent millions firing at one another: Perdue accused Nunn of funding terrorists through her work with the Bush Family Foundation and Nunn said Perdue lost jobs and discriminated against female workers as CEO of Dollar General.

“If that nastiness continues in a run-off, the folks responsible for the run-off will probably just stay home,” Swafford says of her supporters. “And they will have to find new voters in order to win and they will be exceptionally hard.”

Perdue now leads Nunn by 3.4 points, according to an average of Georgia polls by Real Clear Politics. But Perdue has only broken the 50% threshold in one out five of the most recent polls, and he’ll need at least 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off. Swafford’s “mere presence on the ballot creates the potential for a run-off,” says Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate races at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “Overall, Libertarians tend to draw more from Republicans, so she is a bigger problem for Perdue than Nunn.”

But Swafford says that may not be the case with her voters, who she maintains are open to whomever makes the best case. Swafford isn’t even sure she’d caucus with the Republicans if, by some miracle, she were to be elected.

And so an unlikely figure could impact national politics. As of the end of June, Swafford had raised $7,683 for her senatorial bid. The single 37-year-old has kept her day job as a paralegal as she has mounted her campaign. “It makes for a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says, “but I believe electing someone to the Senate like me, who knows what it’s like to work a job, have a boss, and make ends meet on a regular budget, would bring a valuable perspective to the Senate.”

Swafford is pro-choice and for the legalization of marijuana. And, like most Libertarians, she’s deeply suspicious of President Obama’s engagement abroad, particularly in Syria and Iraq. “Last year, the President wanted to bomb Syria for their chemical weapons, now he’s asking for their help to defeat another enemy,” she says. (Obama hasn’t actually asked Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for help in defeating ISIS.)

Swafford benefits from Georgia’s strong Libertarian history. It is home to 2008 Libertarian Presidential candidate Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman. And that same year, John Monds made history by becoming the first Libertarian candidate to draw more than a million votes—statewide or nationally—though he still lost his attempt to become Georgia Public Service Commissioner. Four years later, Libertarian David Staples made another bid for the same office and again broke the one million-vote threshold, though again fell short. But, unlike Swafford, both of those men faced only one rival from a major party, not two.

Swafford says she had no choice but to run statewide: Georgia’s ballot access laws for third party candidates for state races are some of the most restrictive in the country. “So, it’s either run for city council, or statewide,” says Swafford, who was elected to her hometown city council in Flowery Branch in 2010. If they lose this Senate seat, Georgia Republicans who control the state legislature might consider rethinking those restrictive third party laws. Because if politicians like Swafford can’t clinch state office, spoiling a statewide race is the second best—and clearly effective—option to get their ideas out. It turns out, some politics might be better off local.

TIME 2016 Election

The Pros and Cons of ‘President Grandma’

Hillary Bill Chelsea Clinton Baby
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hold their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky after their daughter Chelsea Clinton gave birth in New York on Sept. 27, 2014. Jon Davidson—Reuters

The challenges and benefits of running for the land’s highest office as a grandmother

Hillary Clinton has had many titles: mother, First Lady of the United States, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and, most recently, grandmother. In her last presidential campaign, it was her experience as a senator and, to a lesser extent, first lady, that were the selling points of her campaign. But if she runs again in 2016, she won’t just be touting her experience as top diplomat, she’ll also sports a different kind of distinction: the first viable presidential contender who also happens to be a grandmother.

There are pros and cons in politics to the title of grandma, some of them uniquely Clintonian. At a time when Clinton’s recent remarks about not driving a car since 1996 and struggling to make ends meet after Bill Clinton’s presidency made her seem out of touch with the populist times, being a grandmother makes her relatable.

“As we saw in 2008, she had a more difficult time relating to voters on a personal level,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “Being about to tell stories about having a first grandchild might serve as one way to connect with the millions of Americans who watched Chelsea grow up and who are now grandparents’ themselves. Any benefit will surely be tiny, but it could drive up empathy a bit.”

If Clinton chooses to promote her grandmotherly status, it would be the opposite tack that she took in 2008 where she was so concerned about showing voters she wasn’t a weak woman that she buried the historic nature of her campaign. In that regard, Clinton is the opposite of most women running for office, who try to avoid mentioning their families because they don’t want to seem soft. Being perceived as tough “is particularly important for executive offices, where strength and toughness, and singular leadership, are valued most,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. “Of course, some of this will be very unique to Hillary Clinton, as she struggled in her last presidential campaign to empathize with voters and was often criticized for being too hard.”

Being a grandpa almost never hurt a male presidential candidate. Few remarked on Mitt Romney’s grandchildren except, perhaps, at the large number of them. Let’s face it: There will be a double standard for Clinton compared to any other male politician running for President. The image of a blue-haired granny is a tried-and-true American stereotype, and one that is antithetical to the image of the commander-in-chief with his finger on the button.

But again, Clinton’s previous campaign and life experience defies that contrast. “While it might be different for other candidates, particularly female candidates who are less known and still need to prove their competence, I think for Hillary Clinton it is a positive,” said Michele Swers, an associate professor in American Government at Georgetown University and author of “The Difference women Make.”

“Clinton spent years developing her persona of expertise and toughness,” Swers said.

But the biggest risk of being the grandma-candidate is that it does remind voters of Clinton’s age. On Election Day 2016, she’ll be 69, just months younger than the oldest U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, when he was elected in 1980. And it was Clinton’s husband Bill, who successfully painted the last President to be a grandparent in office, George H. W. Bush, as old and out of touch when he beat him in the 1992 election.

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