TIME 2014 Election

Michelle Nunn’s Leaked Memos Offer Rare Glimpse of Campaign Calculation

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

The leaked documents offer a rare inside look at campaign strategy

As a Democrat in a Southern state, Senate candidate Michelle Nunn has a tough path to victory. The road became a little bumpier Monday, when a conservative magazine published a series of internal strategy memos outlining the Nunn campaign’s perceptions of the candidate’s weaknesses.

The memos are a guide to practically everything the Nunn campaign worried about last winter—except how to run damage control on the memos themselves.

Obtained by reporter Eliana Johnson of National Review, the documents detail the challenges Nunn must surmount to win election as a moderate Democrat in conservative Georgia. Among the vulnerabilities identified are the perception that Nunn is “too liberal,” that she is “not a real Georgian” and that Republicans will tie her to national Democratic leaders who are deeply unpopular in the Peach State.

The documents warn of weak spots stemming from Nunn’s role as CEO of a nonprofit foundation. They reveal the campaign’s clinic assessment of how it must mobilize traditional liberal constituencies, like African-Americans, Jews and Asians. And they expose the campaign’s plan to sell Nunn with “rural” imagery that might soften up Georgia voters skeptical of a candidate reared partly in the suburbs of Washington, where her father served as a Georgia senator.

According to National Review, the documents were briefly posted online in December.

Beyond the potentially damaging aspects, the memos offer a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the mechanics of running a campaign. They cover everything from scrubbing a voter file to modeling turnout (1.4 million votes is Nunn’s magic number, according to a memo from Democratic strategist Diane Feldman). The documents map the architecture of Nunn’s outreach machine and detail which constituencies to target. Much of the information will reinforce negative impressions of how campaigns work, including suggestions for how to drive a message week-by-week and the ways it can whack Republican opponents.

In short, the memos are a classic example of what is known in Washington as a Kinsley gaffe: when a politician errs by accidentally revealing the truth. (The phenomenon is named after the journalist Michael Kinsley, who coined the phenomenon.) The existence of the memos is not a surprise; any campaign worth its salt undertakes a study of its perceived weaknesses. The Nunn memos are remarkable less for their judgments than for the fact that a hapless adviser apparently posted them on the Internet.

“Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said,” Nunn campaign manager Jeff DeSantis told The Hill.

From time to time, these leaks happen. In 2007, internal strategy memos from Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign were obtained by the Boston Globe, including a 77-page PowerPoint presentation dotted with analyses of both Romney’s weaknesses and those of his GOP rivals. Around the same time, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy blueprint materialized online after a leak. The Atlantic nabbed similar documents from Hillary Clinton’s team the following year, revealing her campaign’s concerns about “frontrunner-itis” and its strategy for exploiting Barack Obama’s “lack of American roots.”

Recent polls have shown the Democrat in a tight race with Republican nominee David Perdue, who edged Rep. Jack Kingston in a Republican Senate runoff last week. A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo released (intentionally) last week assails the GOP businessman’s “record of putting himself first,” a signal that Nunn’s campaign will borrow a page from the populist playbook President Obama’s advisers deployed against Romney. As they fight to hold control of the Senate, Democrats view the race as a rare pickup opportunity on an unforgiving electoral map.

How much will the leak hurt Nunn’s prospects? It’s tough to say. But when you’re trying to sell a candidate as authentic, a long look at the careful packaging can’t help.

MONEY

This Hedge Fund’s $6.8 Billion Tax Break Is Going to Enrage You

If it looks like a loophole... Jupiterimages—Getty Images

Short-term trades are usually taxed like regular income. But not if you are a hedge fund with a helpful banker.

If you invest or do any stock trading outside of a 401(k) or IRA account, you know that how long you hold your stocks can make a big difference at tax time.

If you buy and then hold an investment for at least a year, your profits will be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate — 15% for people in most tax brackets and 20% for those in the very top one. Fast in-and-out trades, on the other hand, face a much bigger tax bite because they are taxed as ordinary income. What’s more, you can be hit with those higher rates even if you aren’t a day trader: For example, if you own an aggressively managed mutual fund that does a lot of trading, you may get capital gains distributions you have to pay tax on.

Now it appears that some high-powered hedge funds found a clever way around those higher rates, basically by turning short-term trading gains—often really short-term, as in minutes—into long-term ones. According to a report issued this week by a the Senate subcommittee on investigations, that move might have netted one fund managed by Renaissance Technologies a tax saving of $6.8 billion over several years. That billion with a B.

By what magic does a trade of a minutes become a long-term, buy-and-hold investment eligible for lower taxes? Well, it appears you just had to find a bank that will wrap your trading into something called a ” basket option.”

Here’s how it worked: Instead of buying and selling the stocks directly, hedge funds would go to a bank—the Senate report singled out Barclays and Deutsche Bank—and buy an options contract linked to the value of a basket of securities. Think of the basket of securities as being like a stock fund; and just like a stock fund you might have in your 401(k), the composition of that basket is constantly changing. In the Renaissance case, the basket changed based on computer algorithms looking for tiny inefficiencies in asset prices, which meant constant buying and selling.

At some future date, the hedge fund could exercise the option and get back the amount it paid for the option plus or minus any returns on investments in the basket. And here’s where the tax break happened: If the hedge fund waited at least year to exercise the option, all those quick in-an-out trades inside the basket got wrapped up in one big long-term trade.

The really clever (or, some might say, devious) part is that the basket of securities was all along actually still managed by the hedge fund. Technically, the banks hired Renaissance managers to run the basket backing the options that they sold to Renaissance. Did you catch that?

In Senate testimony this week, execs from the banks and Renaissance offered their side. They say that while it’s true there were tax advantages to this set-up, it wasn’t only a tax shelter. For example, in addition to changing the tax treatment, using an options contract also gave Renaissance a lot of leverage, since they only put in part of the money to buy the basket. That amplified their wins as well as losses. (The Senate’s not too happy about that part, either, though. Since 2008, big investors using borrowed money looks more like a bug than a feature.) It also limited Renaissance’s exposure to catastrophic losses, since they couldn’t lose more than they paid for the option, giving the banks some skin in the game on the portfolios. In tax law, something that works like a tax shelter can still be okay if it has another economic purpose.

The Internal Revenue Service, though, indicated in 2010 that moves like this don’t pass the smell test.

Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center explains here why it is that the IRS might not yet have clamped down on this particular maneuver. Short answer: It’s tough for the IRS to go after big hedge funds and their investors. They are outgunned. Gleckman wonders if we have a “two-tiered” tax system, one for the rich and another for the rest of us.

At the subcommittee hearing, there were really two arguments in play. One was whether the tax law technically allows quick trades to be turned into long-term investments in this way.

The other was whether it should. That doesn’t seem like a hard question.

TIME Congress

Sen. John Walsh Plagiarized Final Paper for Master’s Degree

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

A Walsh campaign spokeswoman says the plagiarism was a "mistake"

Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh plagiarized portions of a final paper required for his Army War College master’s degree, which he earned in 2007 at the age of 46, his campaign confirmed Wednesday. The charges endanger the Democrats’ control of the Senate as the Republican Party is attempting to pick up a net six seats this fall.

As first reported by The New York Times, Walsh passed off passages of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” as his own, without proper attribution to Harvard University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace documents. Walsh told Jonathan Martin, a Times reporter, that he did not plagiarize, but an aide did not contest the charge, according to the Times article.

Lauren Passalacqua, a Walsh campaign spokeswoman, told TIME in a statement that the plagiarism was a “mistake.”

“This was unintentional and it was a mistake,” wrote Passalacqua. “There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional. Senator Walsh released every single evaluation that he received during his 33-year military career, which shows an honorable and stellar record of service to protecting Montana and serving this country in Iraq.”

Walsh served in the Montana National Guard for over 30 years before winning Montana’s lieutenant governor race in 2012. Earlier this year, after President Barack Obama nominated Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be the next ambassador to China, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh to the Senate. Walsh is currently running for another term in the Senate against Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

Outside election experts have given the edge to Daines. The Charlie Cook Report ranked the race as “lean Republican” in June, and Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, recently wrote that the seat was one of the three best Republican pickup opportunities in the Senate. Walsh has been gaining on Daines, however — a recent poll by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed that Walsh had trimmed an early 17-point Daines advantage down to seven points.

TIME Senate

The ‘Nuclear Option’ Might Just Save Obamacare

Filibuster reform meant Democrats could pack the federal courts — including one that is now poised to overturn a ruling that would hobble Obamacare

Sure, the Senate has been a wasteland for eight months now, but for some Democrats it was worth sacrificing what little comity was left in the name of a bigger legacy builder for President Obama: taking the “nuclear option” on the filibuster so they could prevent Repubicans from jamming up appointments to the federal courts. And this week’s federal court decisions on Obamacare would seem to have validated that decision.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Internal Revenue Service lacked the authority to allow the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange to hand out subsidies. The same day, another three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of appeals in Richmond upheld that exact clause.

The Obama Administration is appealing the D.C. decision — which would effectively hobble the healthcare law’s subsidies—and that appeal will go before the D.C. Circuit’s full panel of 11 judges. The D.C. Circuit court is known as the second-most powerful court in the land as it often settles questions of policy given its location in the nation’s capital.

It is also the court Democrats blew the Senate up in order to stack, by stripping the minority of the ability to filibuster certain nominees—a move so toxic it became known as the nuclear option. Seven of the court’s judges were appointed by Democrats, so odds are good the court will reverse the three-judge panel’s decision and agree with the Fourth Circuit.

Such a move would prevent the case from ascending to the Supreme Court, where Republican nominees have a five-four edge, though there are similar cases pending in courts across the country, so the issue could still be decided by the Supreme Court.

But Obamacare defenders will be breathing easier knowing that the D.C. Court leans in their favor. So, maybe it was worth shredding what little bipartisanship that remained to the Democrats in Obama’s second term. The President’s greatest second term legacy may well prove to be stacking the federal courts—not just the DC Circuit but many others—for a generation. Will that be worth all the lost legislation, like reforming the VA, immigration reform, appropriations bills, and so on? Time will tell.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Contends with Congressional Backseat Drivers on Ukraine

Congress again threatens to push Obama foreign policy with legislation

A Malaysia Airlines jet is shot down over the Ukraine and Congress is, of course, full of back-seat foreign policy advice for President Obama. The problem is when they start passing some of this advice to be signed into law.

Some say Obama has already been too aggressive. “[T]he crisis in Ukraine started late last year, when the EU and U.S. overthrew the elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych,” said former Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican. “Without U.S.-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that hundreds would have been killed in the unrest that followed. Nor would the Malaysian Airlines crash have happened.”

On the other side of the hawk spectrum, Republican Senators such as Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk felt compelled by the tragedy to call on Obama to pass energy, banking and defense sectoral sanctions against Russia, which has been supporting Ukrainian separatists but denies having anything to do with the downing of the plane. Thus far the Obama Administration’s punishment for Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and rabble rousing in eastern Ukraine has been targeted individual sanctions and visa restrictions.

“I don’t know how anybody can say our response has been anything but timid and cautious,” said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “Hopefully on the positive side, this will galvanize the international community to take the kind of steps that should have been taken months ago to push back on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and cause him to pay the kind of price that he should pay for this outrageous act.”

Kirk also called on Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a wrongful death suit. “I want to hear that the Department of Justice will bring one hell of a wrongful death suit against Russian assets located in the United States to make sure that there is significant cost paid by Russia for this action of shooting down with an international airliner with a weapons system that is directly related to Russian armed forces,” he told CNN.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, went so far as to call on Obama to arm the Ukrainian government. “Now is the time to provide Ukraine with the weapons and other military assistance they have requested and require to defeat the separatist groups and secure their country—assistance that, had we provided it earlier, might have enabled Ukrainian forces to succeed in this effort by now and thereby prevented last week’s tragedy,” McCain said on Monday.

So far, all Obama has threatened is to levy unspecified costs against Russia, along with urging the Europeans to step up on sanctions.

Congress, and particularly the party in opposition, has often expressed strong views on the President’s foreign policy. Despite the fact that, constitutionally, foreign policy is the purview of the Oval Office, Congress drove the War of 1812 and was a key factor in the Mexican-American War. They also dragged Franklin Roosevelt’s heels in getting into World War II and had an enormous impact on Vietnam policy, not to mention Democratic efforts to defund President George W. Bush’s actions in Iraq.

But Obama not only has to contend with opposition complaints about his foreign policy, but with some friendly fire as well. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has been the driving force to get Obama to beef up sanctions against Iran, support Israel more strongly and hold a tougher line on Cuba. Menendez has helped push through sanctions that the Administration has explicitly said it didn’t want, something he could do again against Russia if the Administration doesn’t act.

Obama has not had an easy time with Congress on much of anything, but particularly on foreign policy. The other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is quick to condemn, and yet when they are asked to act, for example with Syria or Libya, they suddenly remember the separation of powers. Congress in both instances failed to pass any kind of resolution approving action in either country. That’s because polls show that from Libya to Syria to the Ukraine, the American people have zero desire to engage in more wars. Which means that despite the sturm und drang coming out of the hawkish wing of the GOP, Obama is probably more likely to listen to Paul’s libertarian Dovish wing.

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

Senate Family Leave Policies Divide By Generation, Rather Than Party

Assualt Presser
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

Some older Dems could learn from their junior GOP colleagues

What do Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and David Vitter (R-LA) have in common? Not much politically, but when it comes to family leave policies, they are closer together than they are with older Senators from their own parties, like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK).

Congress is not subject to the laws it passes, so each U.S. Senator has the discretion to make up his or her own maternity leave policy. TIME surveyed Senators about their paid family leave rules, and while one might imagine that most Dems would provide the longest leave and most Republicans the shortest, that’s not at all the case. With some notable exceptions, the divide is much more generational than by party.

Democrats Gillibrand and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), both in their 40s, offer 12 paid weeks, as do Republicans Vitter and John Thune (R-SD), both in their early 50s. But it was much more common for members, especially older members, to offer half that time off. Democrats Feinstein and Carl Levin (D-MI), who at 80 clock in as the Senate’s oldest members, offer just six weeks paid family leave, as do Republicans Michael Enzi and James Inhofe, both in their 70s.

There are exceptions. Independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine were the left’s outliers. Though both men are septuagenarians, they had some of the best family leave policies in the Senate offering 12 paid weeks off. The other exception was Senate majority leader Harry Reid who also offers 12 paid weeks off.

About one third of all Senators–34 of them–answered questions about their family leave policies, 64 senators did not answer repeated requests for comment. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rand Paul (R-KY) declined outright to disclose office policies.

Six paid weeks is way ahead of the minimum under the law, but by progressive standards it’s downright miserly—especially as Senate Democrats hold press conferences practically weekly calling for paid family leave. Democrats have made the issue one of the centerpieces to court female voters ahead of tough November elections where they could lose the Senate.

President Barack Obama last week called on Congress to pass family leave legislation. “Only three countries in the world report that they don’t offer paid maternity leave—three—and the United States is one of them,” he said in his weekly radio address ahead of a White House summit on Working Families. “It’s time to change that.”

The White House itself has a paid six-week family medical leave policy, it announced last month. That’s ahead of the rest of the government—and most of the private sector—which allows only 12 weeks unpaid leave for an event such as the birth or adoption of a child. But many on the left are calling for longer paid family leave—12 weeks—as studies have shown that longer bonding times between parents and babies are beneficial to the long-term health of the child.

–With reporting from Caroline Farrand Kelley in Washington.

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

GOP Target Pryor Surviving TV Attacks in Arkansas

WARREN, Arkansas — Television ads have relentlessly attacked Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor for more than a year, and not even his famous name is off limits. Says a little girl in a spot set at a spelling bee, it’s spelled “O-B-A-M-A.”

In a state where Democrats have become an endangered species in the past decade, the televised onslaught ought to have long since laid flat the Senate incumbent perhaps most vulnerable come November.

And yet you’d hardly know it from how at ease Pryor is among the crowd at Bradley County’s annual Pink Tomato Festival. To a warning from supporter Sam Wherry, who said he fears House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss has recharged tea party conservatives, “they’re really going to come after you now,” Pryorreplied: “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Work off-the-air is what’s keeping Pryor alive. He’s shown a remarkable personal touch with voters who are comfortable with his family name, for decades a powerful political brand in Arkansas. And his aggressive effort to counter televised attacks by emphasizing his independent political style has him still standing in a race few outside the state expect he can win.

“If you want to stop that gridlock and stop all that partisan bickering and all that, you have to have people in Washington that want to stop it,” he said.

If Republicans are to gain the six seats they need to win control of the Senate in November, Pryor’s seat is sure to be among them. President Barack Obama is less popular here than in about any other place, and the dollars from groups such as American Crossroads will continue to find any way possible — from the scandal at the Veterans Administration to escalating violence in Iraq — to tie Pryor to the president.

“I don’t think Mark Pryor’s road is going to get any easier,” said GOP nominee Tom Cotton, a first-term U.S. House member seeking a move up to the Senate.

It’s a race that sets up well for Cotton, even if devout Arkansas Republicans admit the combat veteran and Harvard-trained lawyer lacks Pryor’s personal ease with voters. GOP presidential nominees have carried Arkansas with increasing margins in every election since Bill Clinton’s last run in 1996. Eight years ago, Democrats made up a majority of the state’s congressional delegation; today, Pryor is the only one who isn’t a Republican.

This is also the first real race of Pryor’s political career. The son of David Pryor, a former governor, senator and congressman, Mark Pryor won election to the Senate in 2002 after scandal sunk his GOP opponent. He didn’t draw a challenger six years later.

“This year he’s forced to run on his own record,” said Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist based in Little Rock.

This campaign started early, with Pryor, Cotton and their advocate groups starting with television ads in February 2013. For Pryor, the quick start on TV was a move aimed at avoiding what some feel was the mistake made by his former Democratic colleague, Blanche Lincoln, by not engaging in her re-election effort early enough ahead of a lopsided loss in 2010.

Along with supporters, Pryor has bombarded voters with ads about the freshman Republican’s support of last year’s partial government shutdown and opposition to the 2014 farm bill.

“They tried to strangle my candidacy in the cradle, and it obviously isn’t working,” Cotton said.

Obama figures into the attacks of both. Cotton’s side has called Pryor an Obama rubber stamp for voting for the 2010 health care bill and the $787 billion economic stimulus package in 2009. Pryor, meanwhile, got some unintentional help from then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who paid for ads urging Pryor to support Obama’s call for expanded background checks for gun buyers. Pryor doubled down on his opposition to the idea.

“They are trying to say I’m just like Obama. Bottom line is it’s just not true,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m probably the most independent senator in Washington.”

Through June, both sides had spent roughly $16 million in television advertising pounding home those arguments. So much so that both men appeared to be fighting to win their place on the November ballot in the state’s May primary. In fact, both were unopposed.

But along with, or maybe in spite of, the TV ads, it is Pryor’s connections to the state that are keeping him competitive. His campaign borrows his father’s logo, a somewhat outdated looking image of a red, white and blue image of Arkansas emblazoned simply with “Pryor.” A new touch is the small script at the bottom: “Arkansas Comes First.”

Pryor did more listening than talking while strolling the Bradley County courthouse grounds at the Pink Tomato Festival. He nodded silently as Wherry, an influential African-American Democratic activist, pressed him about the race, and later as farmer Jonny Pitillo fretted aloud about the price of cotton.

The next morning, Pryor lit up with laughter the mostly black congregation of a Little Rock Baptist church. Tucked into his sermon was a subtle message, too, about how much all those television ads really ought to be worth.

“One thing that comes through loud and clear in the Bible is that it’s not just the words but the doing that leaves an impression,” he said.

 

 

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Limits Presidential Recess Appointment Powers

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq on June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington D.C. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

The setback for President Obama is unlikely to stem the increasing political debate over the reach of executive power

Handing a victory to those who fear the executive branch has overreached in recent years, the Supreme Court has reined in the President’s power to appoint officers of the government when Congress is in recess. Weighing competing clauses of the constitution, the justices ruled Thursday that the President cannot circumvent the framers’ requirement that he seek the Senate’s advice and consent on executive branch appointments if Senators are only formally in recess for three days.

The ruling undermines hundreds of decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 and for half of 2013, when the board comprised unconfirmed recess appointees. Those decisions will be revisited by the board that has since been confirmed by the Senate.

Nominally, the ruling is a win for Republicans who have made Obama’s use of presidential power a central plank of their mid-term election strategy. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican former chair of the Senate Judiciary committee applauded “the Court’s willingness to stand up to President Obama’s flagrantly unconstitutional power grab,” while House Speaker John Boehner called the ruling a “victory for the Constitution, and against President Obama’s aggressive overreach.”

In fact, over the years, Republicans presidents have used recess appointments as often as Democrats. In 2013, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found that Ronald Reagan had made 232 recess appointments, Bill Clinton had made 139, and George W. Bush had made 171. As of Jan. 2013, Obama had made 32. In that light, the ultimate effect of the Court’s ruling will be a slight shift in power to Congress from the executive branch.

Paradoxically, in recent years, Democrats have responded to Republican efforts to block Obama’s appointments by changing Senate rules to streamline the confirmation process. Last fall, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid forced through an ad hoc rule change effectively doing away with filibusters of all presidential appointments, except Supreme Court nominees—a dramatic move that curtailed the Senate minority’s ability to block presidential priorities. Reid said Thursday that thanks to that rule change, “today’s [Supreme Court] ruling will have no effect on our ability to continue ensuring that qualified nominees receive an up-or-down vote.”

By any ranking, America is one of the most free countries in the world. But particularly in recent years, as the 20th century threats of Communism, Fascism and National Socialism have faded, political discourse in the U.S. has tended toward apocalyptic predictions of democracy’s overthrow. Under George W. Bush, the left held that presidential signing statements threatened a fascist takeover of the country, while the right vigorously defended their use. Under Obama, the right sees the same presidential signing statements as an unconstitutional exercise of “king-like authority” while the left decries right-wing obstructionism.

The Supreme Court ruling Thursday on the fairly narrow issue of recess appointments is unlikely to placate either side’s concerns for long. House Speaker Boehner is set to bring an election-year law suit against the president next month in a self-described effort to “defend the Constitution and protect our system of government and our economy from continued executive abuse.”

–with reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

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