TIME 2014 Election

Meet The Tea Party’s Next Target

Lamar Alexander, Rand Paul
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., confer after a press conference in Nashville, Tenn., on June 30, 2014. Erik Schelzig—AP

Conservatives have their sights set on Lamar Alexander, but he'll be tough to beat

For an unknown candidate, political campaigns are not glamorous. “I’m sick, tired, hungry and broke,” jokes Joe Carr, a Republican Senate candidate in Tennessee. For a year, Carr has been traveling up to 2,000 miles a week, crisscrossing the state to pitch sleepy crowds, slogging along in a quixotic bid to unseat a powerful incumbent. The polls weren’t budging. The money wasn’t coming in.

But Carr was convinced his primary challenge to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander was primed to catch fire. The spark may have finally come last month, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was bounced in a GOP primary by an unknown challenger named Dave Brat. The black swan upset buoyed Carr’s campaign, opening a fresh spigot of cash and prompting comparisons to the Virginia economics professor who was written off by everyone until he toppled Cantor. A poll highlighted in conservative media on Monday showed Alexander’s lead shrinking to just seven points after series of other surveys showed Alexander with a comfortable lead.

Now Carr, a little-known state representative and businessman, says he has a real shot on Aug. 7 to oust Alexander, the courtly senior U.S. senator and a Tennessee institution for the past four decades. “I think it’s very much a 50-50 proposition,” Carr told TIME in a phone interview Tuesday as he traveled to a campaign event in Cleveland, Tenn. As for the comparisons to Brat, he adds, “there are common threads.”

Indeed there are, beginning with the obstacles. Both were unknown challengers summarily ignored by not only the national media but also national Tea Party groups. Both were massive underdogs against well-known figures with huge campaign war chests.

Like Brat, Carr gathered steam slowly. He won the endorsements of some local Tea Party groups, then gained favor with conservative talk-show hosts. Both hammered the incumbent for supporting “amnesty,” an issue with special resonance as the migrant crisis on the southern border escalates. Both caught the attention of Laura Ingraham, the conservative pundit who campaigned for Brat and endorsed Carr on July 14.

Now the dominoes are falling into place for a legitimate challenge, Carr’s allies say. Ingraham will visit Nashville to rally support for Carr next week. “I’m all in for Joe Carr,” she said on her radio show. “He’s no-nonsense, a citizen legislator.” The Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund gave an endorsement. A local Super PAC chipped in with a six-figure TV ad buy. Carr has a growing ground network, and the yawning gap in the polls is beginning to shrink. “Things are happening at exactly the right time,” said a Carr campaign consultant.

So can Carr spring the upset?

It still looks like a long shot. Alexander has a lead in the polls, a massive cash advantage and a savvy campaign that is courting conservatives by accentuating his role in opposing the Affordable Care Act.

A former governor and president of the state’s flagship university, he has succumbed to none of the usual traps of incumbency. While he never mentions Carr’s name, Alexander has campaigned like a man at risk, unlike former his colleague Richard Lugar, who lost a 2012 primary in Indiana. He is a ubiquitous presence in Tennessee, thwarting the gripes about absentee representation that soured the base on Cantor. Another Tea Party candidate may also cut into Carr’s support. Throw in the fact that Tennessee’s primary is an open contest that permits crossover voting, and Alexander (whose campaign did not respond to an interview request) just doesn’t look much like a vulnerable candidate.

“He’s covering all his bases,” said John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who conducted polling on the race. “He shows no serious weaknesses.”

Then there is the matter of the challenger himself. While Brat’s smooth rhetoric helped him spring an upset, Carr’s candidacy has some rough edges. According to the Memphis Flyer, Carr voiced some support for former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s disastrous comments about rape and pregnancy. Before deciding to challenge Alexander, Carr bailed on a race against Rep. Scott DesJarlais, the embattled Tennessee Republican who opposes abortion except when when it comes to his mistress. And when Carr announced his candidacy last summer, the banner ad on his website urged voters to support “Carr for U.S. Sentate” [sic].

Which is why Alexander may be less Eric Cantor than Lindsey Graham, another southern Senator whose bouts of bipartisanship make him a target for disaffected conservatives. Graham helped author the Gang of Eight immigration overhaul that Alexander is now catching flak for supporting. And while the Tea Party painted a bulls-eye on his back, Graham went out and pasted his six primary opponents by 40 points.

That’s how it normally goes for Senate incumbents, who won re-election last cycle at a 91% clip. Beating Alexander will be hard. But Carr is convinced he can do it. “We’ve got a great chance to win,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if Joe Carr is the Republican nominee on Aug. 8.”

TIME Congress

Compromise Disrupts the Daily Vitriol in Washington, D.C.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

The political war of words hasn't stopped, but Republicans and Democrats are proving they can still get stuff done together

The rhetoric in Washington Tuesday was as poisonous as ever, with President Barack Obama lashing out again at House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner returning the favor. “The American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job, do something,” Obama said, in an attack. “Giving speeches about a long-term highway bill, it’s frankly just more rhetoric,” Boehner responded in kind.

But under the hood, things did not look quite so dire. With little fanfare, the tiny sounds of compromise on infrastructure funding and immigration policy echoed through the marbled halls of Washington. House Republican leadership decided to break with their conservative flank to support a ten-month highway funding bill that the White House endorsed. Then House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats would also support the measure, just a week after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized it.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans found themselves echoing the rhetoric of the White House as they push for a legal change that will allow for the quicker deportation of Central American children who cross the border illegally, a move that has infuriated liberals. “This would be done in a humane and responsible way,” said a Republican aide close to the House working group working on immigration, echoing the White House talking points on the proposal.

Despite the hesitant cooperation, both sides tried to use the potential for agreement as a way score political points. “Breaking news,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, dryly after he was asked about the transportation deal. “Maybe the presidential rhetoric is having an effect.” Republicans, similarly, tried to cast the fleeting agreement as a victory. “The point is there are ways to get things done—they rarely included campaign speeches by the President,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

To be sure, many areas of disagreement remain, and the limited cooperation with 10 legislative days before Labor Day is more a function of clearing the docket of urgent business before the long midterm-election-year recess than a genuine breakthrough. The GOP remains divided over the $3.7 billion budget request from the White House to deal with the border fix, and there is no sign of a larger deal on immigration reform. The historic standoff over deficit spending levels remains unresolved. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected proposal by Republican Whip John Cornyn to change deportation process for Central American minors.

But the week’s work proves that even in a city riven by division and broken trust, work still gets done on occasion, even if neither party shows any interest in ending the daily onslaught of recriminations over the coming months. “Now that President Obama has endorsed the House highway bill, we hope he will urge Senate Democrats to pass some of the nearly 50 House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner. “The American people are still asking, where are the jobs? And it’s time for the president to fight the Senate gridlock from his own political party.”

At the White House, Earnest said the temporary bipartisanship wouldn’t change the president’s summer plans to continue on offense. “Republicans have put their political ambitions ahead of the interests of middle-class families so many times, but like I said, I’m willing to give credit where it’s due,” he said of the highway agreement. “But it’s not going to stop this administration from continuing to advocate for the kind of long-term highway reauthorization that’s in the best interests of the American economy.”

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

TIME 2014 Election

Political Opposites Campaign in West Virginia

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

The economy and coal take center stage in a Senate race

On a steamy Monday afternoon in the Jay Rockefeller ballroom of the Clarion Hotel here, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant stood arm in arm with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They faced an adoring crowd of more than 200, some of whom had driven five hours for the event.

“The way I see this, Citibank and Goldman Sachs and all those other guys on Wall Street, they’ve got plenty of folks in the U.S. Senate willing to work on their side,” Warren told the crowd. “We need someone one on our side willing to work for America’s families and Natalie’s that fighter.”

Across the state in Charleston, Tennant’s opponent to fill the seat of the man the ballroom was named for was also holding a special event: This one featured House Budget Committee Chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigning for Tenant rival and Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

“It’s time to get West Virginia back to work, and that starts with sending Shelley to the Senate,” Ryan said. “Few states have been hit harder by President Obama’s devastating policies than West Virginia, but Shelley Moore Capito has been right there on the front lines fighting back. She has put forward solutions in the House to create jobs and to create a better West Virginia for hard working taxpayers.”

The subject of these two opposing events was strikingly similar: West Virginia’s struggling middle class. But the takeaways were vastly different. Ryan blamed President Barack Obama for West Virginia’s stagnant growth. Warren tied Capito to her banker husband and accused her of being in bed with Wall Street at the expense of every day West Virginians. “Shelley Moore Capito thought it was more important to protect Wall Street than Main Street and that’s why I’m here today,” Warren said.

Both Ryan and Warren have become their respective parties’ spokespeople for populist politics. Ryan has been giving speeches about poverty, while Warren just inked a best-selling book, A Fighting Chance, that focuses on the challenges the middle class faces. With West Virginia’s unemployment rate holding at 6% and per capita income at $34,477—making it the fourth-poorest state in 2012—West Virginians’ top concern remains the economy.

Thus the populist campaign messages.

Polls show Capito, who has a five-to-one money advantage over Tenant with more than $4 million in the bank, leading Tennant by 10 percentage points, according to an average of state polls done by Real Clear Politics. But Tennant is betting that Capito’s House Banking Committee voting record and elite background—she’s the daughter of a former governor—will hurt her West Virginia voters.

“I mean, campaigning with Paul Ryan says it all,” Tennant told TIME. “I couldn’t be more on the right side of West Virginians.” Tennant is careful to note in her speeches that she put herself through college working a minimum wage job and started her own small business.

Tennant has made Capito’s votes for Ryan’s controversial budgets an issue in the race. “She has voted to cut Social Security, to turn Medicare into a voucher system,” Tennant said of Capito. “This is about putting working class families first, not making it harder for them.”

American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-led Super PAC, went up with a web video Monday morning hitting Tennant for campaigning with Warren. The video paints Warren as “anti-coal” and says the campaign event shows “liberals uniting.” “Natalie Tennant’s statement today that Elizabeth Warren is ‘just like West Virginians’ says all you need to know about how out of touch she is with this state,” says Amy Graham, Capito’s spokeswoman. “She is a supporter of President Obama, a supporter of Elizabeth Warren and she’s going to have a hard time convincing West Virginia voters she’s not associated with their extremely harmful and deeply unpopular policies.”

Ryan also hit Warren for her anti-coal stances. “The design is to put coal out of business,” Ryan told an unemployed miner.

After the Shepherdstown event, reporters asked Tennant about Warren’s stance on coal, and Tennant said that while the two don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, she invited Warren to West Virginia to show she could and work with anyone. Warren, for her part, avoided any talk about coal or her more liberal social stances, saying Tennant and she are united by their defense of American families.

And while coal and the Obama Administration’s new Environmental Protection Agency limits on coal-fired power plants remain a big issue in West Virginia, the economy remains the paramount issue.

“Look at this room, we are going win this race,” Tennant told the standing crowd. “We are going to win this race. I believe it. I can see it. The votes are there for us.”

TIME 2014 Election

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Is Saving the GOP Establishment at Ballot Box

Tom Donohue
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 9, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

Business group has been major force in 2014 races

On the day after New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial elections last fall, Mitch McConnell showed up at a board meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with another race on his mind. He announced that the day’s most consequential contest had been neither Chris Christie’s victory nor Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat. Instead, the Senate minority leader explained, it had been a GOP primary in South Alabama.

The Chamber had shelled out about $200,000 in the sleepy district on the Mississippi border to rescue a mainstream candidate who was struggling to fend off a Tea Party firebrand. The race had emerged as a test of whether the GOP could thwart a conservative insurgency that threatened to swallow it. Backed by the Chamber’s money and muscle, the establishment candidate eked out a victory. If it wasn’t for you, McConnell told the audience, according to two people present, it wouldn’t have happened.

The visit was both a token of institutional gratitude and a sign of things to come. Since last fall, the Chamber has cemented itself as the GOP Establishment’s heaviest hitter in the fight to reclaim the party from Tea Party zealotry. It has forked over about $15 million to boost business-friendly candidates in 2014 elections, more than any other Republican group. And it has amassed an undefeated record in nearly a dozen races so far, including key victories over candidates backed by the national outfits that powered the shutdown.

The Chamber’s formula has been simple. It has spent heavily in key races, worked with local partners who know the issues, and tapped celebrity endorsements to lift chosen candidates. “We’re looking for ways to break through,” says Scott Reed, the Chamber’s chief political strategist.

The business lobby’s involvement in GOP primary campaigns is something new, a shift sparked by frustration with conservative groups who supported the nomination of lackluster candidates and a succession of reckless fights. “For us, it was a different approach to take a big risk early in Alabama,” says Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s national political director. “That could have had a disastrous effect.” From there, the Chamber has triumphed around the country, from a House race in Idaho against a candidate backed by the powerful Club for Growth to a Senate primary in Georgia whose field included two Tea Party favorites that could have tipped the general election to a Democrat.

Money has been a major ingredient. The Chamber poured $2.5 million into the Georgia primary, helping to usher its candidate, GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, into the runoff later this month. It spent some $500,000 on a single ad in the Idaho House GOP primary pitting Rep. Mike Simpson, a top ally of House Speaker John Boehner, against a Club-backed candidate. In all, the Chamber could spend up to $60 million in the 2014 cycle.

When needed, the group has brought in national figures to close the deal. In Simpson’s race in Idaho, that meant enlisting Mitt Romney, whose favorability rating in the district approaches 90%. In Florida, it meant a testimonial from popular former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Perhaps the best example of this approach came in last month in Mississippi. Strategists with the Chamber scrambled to find an edge after incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary, barely squeaking into a runoff three weeks later against a conservative insurgent with momentum. Cochran’s ouster would have been vindication for national Tea Party groups and a boon to their fundraising efforts. As the Establishment fretted that the race was lost, the Chamber called a Hail Mary for a Magnolia State superstar.

On June 19, former University of Southern Mississippi quarterback and NFL MVP Brett Favre endorsed Cochran in a direct-to-camera television ad. “I’ve learned through football that strong leadership makes the difference between winning and losing,” Favre, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, explained in the 30-second commercial. “Mississippi can win big with Thad Cochran.”

The ad went viral online, and in the final week of the race the Chamber spent $100,000 per day to air it across the state. The air cover helped Cochran eke out a win five days later by a little over 7,000 votes. As it happens, the original plan called for even more local firepower. The Chamber had hoped to team Favre with New York Giants QB Eli Manning, a former Ole Miss star, before Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, who advises NFL teams and players, nixed the idea. (Manning “is not political,” Fleischer wrote in an email to TIME. “It had nothing to do with the NFL.”)

Despite the electoral success, the Chamber has continued to struggle in the GOP-controlled house, where conservatives have been frustrating the group’s agenda on immigration reform and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Some Democrats have seized on these setbacks, encouraging the Chamber to switch sides. Though officially nonpartisan, the number of Democrats endorsed by the Chamber has plunged from about three dozen in 2008 to just three only six years later.

“From the Export-Import bank to tax extenders to immigration reform, Democrats and business are on the same side on a range of issues,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement to TIME. “The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party so far to the right that business is now closer to mainstream Democrats than Republicans.”

Not as the Chamber sees it, however. “We might have a common view with them on Ex-Im,” says Engstrom, “but the Democratic Party has fundamentally walked away from us on the issues.”

TIME 2014 Election

Friendly Fire Over Colorado Fracking Could Cost Democrats the U.S. Senate

U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014.
U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014. David Zalubowski—AP

The reelections of the Democratic governor and U.S. Senator in Colorado are threatened by ballot initiatives pushed by a renegade House Democrat

Correction appended July 15, 2014

With a nail biter election on the horizon that flip control of the U.S. senate, the biggest concern of many Colorado Democrats is one of their own—a wealthy congressman named Jared Polis who is pushing statewide ballot initiatives that party strategists fear could increase Republican turnout in November.

Polis has introduced and is helping garner enough signatures for a state ballot effort would restrict oil and gas fracking, a major issue in his home district where four of the five biggest towns have banned it.

The initiatives have so scared Democrats that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has spent the better part of the last month trying to come up with a legislative compromise so he could call the state legislature back into a special session to waylay Polis. But with an Aug. 4 deadline to lock in ballot initiatives, hope for a legislative fix is dwindling.

Meanwhile, Democrats have privately and publicly called on Polis to withdraw the initiatives, but he has refused to do so, saying the Democratic base supports these moves. While that is true, the fracking issue could motivate Republicans more, by making the oil and gas industry front and center this election year.

“The concern among many Democrats is that the ballot initiatives that we’re talking about are very very appealing the farther left you go; troubling at the center; and on the right, they are turn out machines,” says Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist and Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager. “If you’re in a safe district, you’re not concerned. But if you’re a Democrat that has to win statewide these things look a lot different.”

At stake isn’t just Democrat Hickenlooper’s tough reelection, but that of fellow Democrat Senator Mark Udall—and, given the electoral map, potential control of the Senate. Oil and gas groups are gearing up to pour in $20 million in Colorado to defeat the initiatives, which they say would essential halve or effectively halt fracking in Colorado. Fracking generated $29.5 billion in economic activity in Colorado in 2012, creating 111,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $74,811, according to the Colorado Petroleum Association.

“Oil and gas has been the spark of the recovery for Colorado and these initiatives would destroy that,” says Stan Dempsey, head of the association. “Why [Polis] thinks that only he has the perfect solution rather than the experts at the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission is beyond me.” Dempsey notes that the industry just went through an extensive rule making process last year in Colorado.

First elected in 2008, Polis is a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, who founded a number of ecommerce companies, including ProFlowers.com. In 2008, he became the first openly gay parent elected to Congress, and while in office sponsored the Race to the Top education reform and has been a defender of the virtual currency Bitcoin. He represents a relatively safe seat, and given his personal fortune is not beholden to leaders or rich patrons to fundraise.

He first got involved in fracking issues in early 2012 when he lobbied Encana Corp. to halt construction on wells close to Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colorado. “Many families have moved out of that area,” Polis tells TIME. “It absolutely hurt the housing market, then people saw fracking going in.” Polis says that having fracking within eyesight of a building reduces property values between 5% and 15%. He also cites environmental concerns given that there were 400 spills last year alone, many of them in populated areas.

Polis says he isn’t anti-fracking and that he believes in an “all of the above” energy policy. “It’s exciting that our state is contributing to American energy independence,” Polis says. But, he adds, he wants companies to act more respectfully of the population. One of his initiatives would require extending setbacks to 2,000 feet from existing buildings, a move that would cut in half the amount of available land or fracking in Colorado, Dempsey says.

Polis argues that it’s such a big issue for his constituents, he cannot ignore the problem. He would prefer a legislative solution, but the “window for that is closing,” leaving him no choice but to proceed with his ballot initiatives. He has contributed personal money to the push to get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

The Colorado Petroleum Association’s Dempsey compares Polis’s tactics, given the ongoing legislative process, to “negotiating with a gun to our heads.” “If he was serious he’d set aside the ballot initiatives, sit down with all the stakeholders and thrash out a compromise,” Dempsey said of Polis. “But it’s his way or the high way and the high way is going to be an expensive and potentially divisive political fight.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the fracking setback in the Polis ballot initiative. It is 2,000 feet.

TIME 2014 Election

The Best 6 Political Campaign Ads of the Summer (So Far)

Charlie Crist, Democrat For Mayor

From sign language to football coaches, here are six of this season's best political ads.

These are the dog days of election year politics. The fields are mostly set, and the final battle is still too far away to matter much. Plus, who wants to think about politics in summer? The answer: The campaign ad makers. Political Mad Men have no problem working the heat into their spots, or doing even better by making political spots so compelling we can’t look away even when we would rather be swimming.

So without further ado, here is our take on 2014′s top 6 political ads of the summer, so far.

6.”Sunshine” – Charlie Crist, Democratic candidate for Governor of Florida

Charlie Crist pays homage to the sunshine state of Florida through this ad’s theme. The high-quality video clearly outlines what Crist accomplished in his last term and what his goals are should he be reelected, which gives viewers a clear picture of what this candidate wants you to think he is about.

5.”Question from Don – Retired Coal Miner” – Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from Kentucky

This Alison Lundergan Grimes ad pulls off a political attack in an effective, tactful and even funny manner. Rather than loud accusations and a laundry list rant about her opponent Mitch McConnell, the complaint comes from the mouth of a concerned constituent who doesn’t attack but simply asks a question. The long silence gets a bit uncomfortable.

4.”Janey” – Kay Hagan, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from North Carolina

This Kay Hagan ad hooks you in with a personal story involving a dad, who served in the military, and his daughter, who died of leukemia after drinking the base’s contaminated water. By selecting a particular issue and highlighting Hagan’s work within it, the ad neatly showcases her accomplishments.

3.”Coach” – Mike McFadden, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Minnesota

This ad is sure to stick in your memory because, hey, it’s not every day you see a grown man get hit in the crotch by a kid. The boys from his football team play spokespeople, adding a punch of cuteness and believability to his political message. He nails the all-American dad image with this advertisement, and when you are running against comedian-turned-senator Al Franken, it’s always good to be funny.

2. “Meet My Mom” – Emily Cain, Democratic candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District

This ad stood out from others for one reason: there was no sound. Emily Cain’s mom, an interpreter for the deaf, signs the whole advertisement, which has subtitles running across the bottom. The idea is unique and the mother-daughter relationship,­ a seemingly common tactic this ad season, offers a sense of familiarity and friendliness. The connection between the Deaf Community and voting for Cain might have been a bit of a stretch, especially because the ad didn’t offer any campaign promises or pros of the candidate, but the ad does stand out.

1.”In A Box” – Darius Foster, Republican state candidate for District 56, Alabama’s House of Representatives

While most political ads focus on the politician, Darius Foster switches it up by focusing on the constituents. His ad shows him as a man of the people. Foster doesn’t pile on promises and boost himself up, but instead offers personal facts about himself ranging from his recent attendance at a Lil Wayne concert to the fact that he’s the first in his family to attend college.

TIME 2014 Election

Chris McDaniel Wants a Do-Over in Mississippi

McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg
Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg, Miss., on June 24, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

Alleges rampant voter fraud tipped the election to incumbent Thad Cochran

The Republican Senate primary race in Mississippi ended last month — but the drama is only beginning.

The state Republican Party on Monday officially certified incumbent Senator Thad Cochran’s narrow victory over Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in the June 24 runoff vote. But McDaniel is still refusing to concede, alleging that rampant voter fraud tipped the race to the incumbent and threatening to launch a rare legal challenge with the goal of a political do-over: rerunning the race.

“The allegations of criminal misconduct against the Cochran campaign and his close associates continue to mount,” McDaniel, a conservative state senator, said in a statement July 8. “Mississippians deserve a full accounting of the unbecoming tactics the Cochran campaign used in their attempt to drive ineligible voters to the polls in June.”

At the heart of the controversy is the McDaniel campaign’s claim that Cochran’s team enlisted ineligible Democrats to boost the vulnerable incumbent, whose narrow loss in the original June 3 primary prompted the runoff. According to the state party, the certified election results indicate Cochran squeaked through by a margin of 7,667 votes out of a total 382,197 ballots cast.

The Cochran campaign was frank about its strategy of courting Democrats to pad Cochran’s support. And there’s evidence the strategy worked. According to a New York Times analysis, Cochran’s vote totals leaped from the primary to the runoff in Democratic counties that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama. And Cochran racked up big margins in places like Hinds County, one of the state’s most liberal precincts.

The question is how many of those votes were valid. Mississippi law doesn’t prohibit voters from crossing the aisle to support a candidate in a different party. But it forbids doing so for voters who already cast ballots in their own party’s primary. That means Democrats who voted in their June 3 primary couldn’t legally cast ballots in the Republican runoff.

Cataloging crossover votes is the responsibility of individual counties, according to Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman with the Mississippi secretary of state’s office. So it may be some time before the matter is settled. “We’re meticulously documenting all of the evidence of illegal crossover votes, of which there is an abundance — many, many thousands,” said Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s spokesman.

In the meantime, the challenger is using the pent-up fury of the conservative movement to replenish his coffers. A fundraising solicitation splashed across the front of his campaign website claims: “Democrats steal the Mississippi runoff.” But McDaniel’s campaign has yet to offer hard evidence to support those allegations. It says it has been blocked from reviewing poll logs by uncooperative circuit clerks.

To Cochran’s team, the explosive claims are a textbook case of a sore loser looking to use the stakes of the election to retire campaign debt. McDaniel loaned his campaign $100,100 before the primary. It’s unclear whether the money raised for a possible legal challenge will go toward the debt.

But the fight doesn’t look likely to abate anytime soon.

TIME 2014 Election

McDaniel Campaign Begins Legal Challenge in Mississippi GOP Primary

McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg
Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel delivers a speech to supporters in Hattiesburg, Miss. on June 24, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

The Tea Party challenger says a write-in campaign is not off the table

This year’s most hotly contested Republican primary elections entered a new round of controversy Thursday morning, when the Tea Party challenger attempting to unseat incumbent Senator Thad Cochran officially initiated a challenge to the results of a runoff last week.

Insurgent candidate Chris McDaniel Thursday sent a “Notice of Intent to Challenge” to the Cochran campaign, the first step in an attempt to invalidate the election by revealing voting irregularities. Early next week the McDaniel campaign will file its official challenge with the state Republican Party, which oversees the primary election, McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritsch told TIME. A legal challenge in the courts will follow, Fritsch says.

“Most important in this challenge is the integrity of the election process. That’s what this is really all about,” Fritsch said. “What you have here are multiple criminal allegations, criminal misconduct.”

Cochran won a runoff against his more conservative challenger by about 6,700 votes, in part by appealing to moderates and Democrats, who were legally allowed to vote in the Republican runoff in Mississippi if they did not vote in the June 3 Democratic primary. McDaniel alleges that a significant number of Cochran votes came from Democrats who had violated that rule.

The McDaniel campaign has thus far found more than 4,900 votes it calls into question, Fritsch says. The campaign has not yet received access to records in 31 counties or to 19,000 absentee ballots, Fritsch says.

A Cochran campaign spokesman, Jordan Russell, told TIME he could not confirm the campaign had received the notice from McDaniel but called the challenge “baseless.”

“It’s not going anywhere. There’s no evidence of any wrongdoing,” Russell told TIME. “Frankly, it’s a publicity stunt, an attempt to help him to retire his campaign debt.”

Conservative activists were outraged by Cochran’s narrow victory, won with the support of Democrats after McDaniel bested the long-time Senator in the June 3 primary (neither man won more than 50% of the vote, automatically triggering the runoff). Some in conservative circles have called for McDaniel, a firebrand State Senator and former conservative radio host, to mount a write-in campaign, which may not be legally feasible under Mississippi law. A write-in effort would be good news for Democrat Travis Childers, a former congressman from Mississippi who under normal circumstances would face extremely long odds against a Republican in the deeply conservative state.

“We’ve got thousands and thousands of people telling us to do that” Fritsch said when asked if McDaniel would consider a write-in effort. “Oh no. We’re not taking any actions off the table right now.”

-With reporting from Zeke Miller

TIME 2014 Election

With Change Proving Difficult, Barack Obama Returns to Hope

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking about the economy at Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis on June 27, 2014 Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

But his plea for hope contained some cynicism of its own

On the shore of the placid Lake Harriet on Friday, President Barack Obama looked like he wanted to stick around. Most comfortable in campaign mode, outside the White House bubble he resents, far from congressional obstruction and close to the voters who once adored him, Obama tried to rekindle the campaign spirit.

Obama had traveled to the heartland for ice cream and speechifying, with his poll numbers in the dumps and his governing agenda even more troubled. It was a blast from the past. “Cynicism is a choice, and hope is a better choice,” Obama said in Minneapolis, harkening back to his 2008 campaign theme.

That Obama has grown frustrated by Congress is nothing new, but the fact that he is wearing it on his sleeve is. In raging against a dysfunctional legislative branch and taunting congressional Republicans to “sue me,” Obama is conceding what had long been obvious: His days of getting legislation through this Congress are over. He’s started to call for “conversations” instead of legislation, most recently over efforts to expand paid family leave, and he is rolling out executive actions on everything from LGBT nondiscrimination to immigration reform because Congress won’t act.

For Obama, “hope” has always been the portal back to the history-making 2008 campaign, an ideal he struggled to revive in his re-election campaign. His most recent swing has tried to light the fire once again, complete with the Springsteen soundtrack and his familiar rally-the-troops line, “Don’t boo, vote.” But 5½ years into his presidency, there is little hope left for change anytime soon: the fall’s midterm races appear destined to maintain the status quo for Democrats, or worse.

Since his re-election, Obama has launched his “final campaigns” to sell the Affordable Care Act and boost vulnerable Democrats this fall. But the campaign launched last week in Minnesota is different. It is for his legacy. For the handful of largely symbolic executive actions he hopes will place him on the right side of history. To try to isolate him from the nightmare that has become Washington, stanch his hemorrhaging poll numbers and reconnect him with a skeptical public.

On Tuesday in Washington, having returned to the bubble, he hit the themes again in a speech at the Georgetown waterfront. “Sometimes in our culture right now we just get cynical about stuff, and we just assume things can’t change because nothing seems to change in this town,” Obama said. “But that’s not true. It can change as long as everybody gets activated, as long as people still feel hopeful and we don’t fall prey to cynicism.”

But that plea for hope has some cynicism of its own.

As he spends the summer heat returning to his roots, calling on Americans to embrace hope in campaign-style events across the country, Obama is also dialing up his own frustration with a political system that is by all accounts broken. “I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind,” Obama said in Minnesota, turning his taxpayer-funded event into a broadside against Republican obstructionism. “So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.”

“They don’t do anything except block me,” Obama complained. “And call me names.”


TIME 2014 Election

Parties Look for Political Edge in Supreme Court Contraception Ruling

Supreme Court Hobby Lobby
Lori Windham (C), senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, addresses the news media in front of the Supreme Court after the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores June 30, 2014 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

How Hobby Lobby plays into both party’s 2014 election push

Republicans and Democrats wasted no time Monday looking for a political advantage in the Supreme Court’s ruling that a Christian arts and crafts company doesn’t have to comply with the employer mandate to provide contraception coverage in President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for November’s midterm elections, and given its potency to rile up base voters in both parties, it could echo on the campaign trail for the final four months of the campaign. Democrats and pro-abortion rights groups used the decision as an example that Republicans are indeed waging a war on women—one that reaches far beyond verbal fumbles on rape and abortion. “Today’s Supreme Court decision is a stark reminder of how important it is for Democrats to keep hold of the Senate,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect pro-choice women. “When the future of our judiciary branch and women’s access to healthcare is at stake we need every woman to get out and vote in November.”

Republicans held the decision up as a victory for religious freedom, and a strike against Obamacare. “Today’s decision is a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “The President’s health care law remains an unworkable mess and a drag on our economy. We must repeal it and enact better solutions that start with lowering Americans’ health care costs.”

They also pointed to polls showing that a majority of Americans do not support the government forcing companies to provide free family planning. A poll conducted for the conservative Family Research Council last month found that 53% of Americans, including 50% of women and 50% of Hispanics, opposed forcing companies to provide such coverage while 43% support such a move.

But Democrats are betting the midterm elections will be all about the women’s vote and that Monday’s ruling will not play well with female voters. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama “believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them,” emphasizing that the decision would “jeopardize the health of women.”

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz pursued the same theme. “This decision takes money out of the pockets of women and their families and allows for-profit employers to deny access to certain health care benefits based on their personal beliefs,” she said. “Nearly 60% of women who use birth control do so for more than just family planning.”


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