Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Surplus shocker!

Speaker of the House John Boehner is seen in February 28, 2012 file photo on Capitol Hill in Washington. REUTERS/Larry Downing

For anyone who thought the term “budget surplus” had been exorcised from the U.S. government’s lexicon, the Treasury Department offered up some interesting news today. 

For the first time since September, 2008, the government’s monthly receipts outpaced its expenditures, resulting in a $59 billion budget surplus in April. The end of the 42-month drought does not mean Washington has solved its budget problems. Indeed, for the first seven months of this fiscal year, $720 billion in cumulative deficits have been racked up.

But you’ve got to start somewhere and April’s result hinted at a slowly improving economy. Other such bits of evidence surfaced in government data released on Thursday: New applications for jobless benefits fell last week and March trade figures showed consumers gobbled up foreign goods at a fast clip while U.S. exports surged to a record high.

House Speaker John Boehner, the highest ranking elected Republican, wasn’t convinced that it was “Morning in America” for the U.S. economy (to steal a phrase from the ever-optimistic Ronald Reagan). “The American people are focused on the economy and they are asking the question, ‘where are the jobs,’” Boehner said at a press conference.

West Virginia primary ballot included felon, Virginia’s lacked candidates

 

A convicted felon not only made West Virginia’s Democratic primary ballot, he won 72,544 – or 41 percent - of votes in the contest against Democratic President Barack Obama, and could receive at least one of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer.

The inmate, Keith Judd, is serving a 17-1/2 year sentence at a federal prison in Texas for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999.

Judd’s performance was taken as a sign of deep animosity in West Virginia toward Obama, who was handily defeated in the state’s 2008 primary by Hillary Clinton and lost there by 13 percentage points to Republican John McCain in the general election. Joe Manchin, the state’s former governor who is now a Democratic senator, declined to say on Tuesday whether he had voted for Obama.

Pro-Romney Super PAC rekindles “Mommy Wars” in new ad

A pro-Romney Super PAC is out with a new ad resurrecting the frenzy over Hilary Rosen’s accusation last month that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life.”

The ad, released by Restore our Future just in time for Mother’s Day, notes that Ann Romney raised five sons and survived breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. “But what does White House insider Hilary Rosen say about Ann Romney?” a narrator asks before playing a clip of Rosen’s remark.

Bill Maher is also featured in the ad, where he’s identified as an Obama donor and shown saying, “Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house.” Maher made the comment during a larger discussion about the meaning of Rosen’s remarks on his show, “Real Time,” on April 13:

Conservative group accuses teachers unions of “bullying” children

Teachers unions are “bullies” that are “destroying our children’s future,” argues a new ad campaign developed by the State 
Government 
Leadership 
Foundation, a Republican group that works for conservative causes at the state level.

“These bullies make hundreds of thousands of dollars and protect failing teachers at the expense of children,” the narrator says as images of a “union official” counting twenty-dollar bills and intimidating schoolkids flash across the screen. “Teacher union bullies block education reform while American kids fall further behind the Chinese.”

According to the group’s press release, the ad, which debuts during Teacher Appreciation Week, “targets
 states
 where
 teachers
 unions
 have
 most 
onerously 
abused 
their 
influence
 over 
our
 nation’s
 public 
schools,
 including
 New 
York,
 New
 Mexico,
 Michigan,
 Illinois, 
New
 Jersey
 and
 Connecticut.”

Washington Extra – The Pentagon and the poor

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) shows a copy of the "FY2013 Budget - The Path to Prosperity" during a news conference at Capitol Hill in Washington March 20, 2012. U.S. House Republicans placed a major election-year bet Tuesday on a deficit-slashing budget proposal the party hopes will win over voters and quell any concerns about the plan's most controversial element - a sweeping revamp of Medicare. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

Never ones to shy away from a budget fight, the current crop of House Republicans pushed ahead with their latest deficit-reduction ideas – ones that weren’t exactly designed to win bipartisan support. 

By throwing last summer’s delicately-crafted budget deal overboard, this updated plan mandates deeper cuts to social programs for the poor while adding money to military accounts. Food stamps, child tax credits and Medicaid healthcare would all feel the knife, while the Pentagon would escape all of the cuts that otherwise would begin triggering in January.

The animal nature of the 2012 presidential race

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom Democrats have raked over the coals for once transporting Seamus, the family dog, in a crate strapped to the roof of the car during a road trip, hit back during a fundraiser at a hotel in downtown Indianapolis on Monday evening, telling the audience that “even the animals are suffering in the Obama economy.”

Democrats have used the tale of Seamus, who lost control of his bowels on the trip to Canada, to portray Romney as an uncaring former private equity executive. But Romney, who makes his corporate acumen the linchpin of his electoral pitch, focused on the story of a couple he met on the trail who owned a struggling veterinary clinic.

The business was down 40 percent and the couple were forced to move to a smaller home and were thinking of selling their business, Romney told the room of roughly 200 supporters, many of whom paid between $2,500 and $50,000 to attend the fundraiser hours before Indiana voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s hotly contested primary.

New Obama campaign ad emphasizes work to come

Ready, set, go.

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign released a new television ad this morning — titled “Go” — that lauds the president’s handling of the economic crisis his administration inherited.

The 60-second video, which does not mention Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney, rehashes the economic meltdown in 2008 and emphasizes that it happened before Obama took office. It casts the president as the protector of the struggling middle class and points to some of his most notable — and least controversial — accomplishments: bailing-out the auto industry, ordering the strike that killed Osama bin Laden, ending the war in Iraq.

“We’re not there yet. It’s still too hard for too many,” a male narrator says. “But we’re coming back … Because you don’t quit. And neither does he.”

“Talking about” Obama and Romney on Facebook

When President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death earlier this week by unexpectedly addressing the nation from Afghanistan, several commentators cited it as an example of the ”advantage of incumbency”: the president’s visibility and ability to dominate the news are greater, just by virtue of being president, than those of challenger Mitt Romney, and he should be expected to benefit from the groundwork his campaign laid during the 2008 campaign, particularly its vast network of supporters, donors, and social media connections. 

Indeed, across a number of social media platforms, Obama’s following dwarfs Romney’s: Obama has 26 million Facebook ”Likes” to Romney’s 1.7 million; while Obama has nearly 15 million Twitter followers, Romney hasn’t yet hit half a million; on Google+, Obama has just over a 1 million users in his circles, compared to Romney’s just over 500 thousand; on Instagram, Obama has 636,790 followers to Romney’s 9,695. In absolute numbers, Obama seems to own a towering advantage over Romney.

But on Facebook at least, sheer number of “Likes” may not tell the whole story, or even the most important part of it. Last fall, Facebook launched ”people talking about this,” a metric that counts interactions with a Page — things like “liking” a Page, commenting on a post, or sharing a photo from a Page — over a seven-day period to measure user engagement.

The Obama campaign’s Friday morning silence

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign was relatively quiet early on Friday morning, marked by an absence of national media outreach and hits on presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The Chicago-based leviathan was indeed gearing up for the president’s first campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, a campaign staffer said.

The silence stood in contrast to some deafening news: the jobless rate in April ticked a tenth of a point lower to 8.1 percent, as hiring slowed and people left the workforce — which Romney called a “disappointment” during an early morning CNN appearance — dampening hopes that strong winter hiring marked a crescendo in America’s recovery.

Ditto on a response to the international kerfuffle over blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, whom White House critics and human rights groups say may have been persuaded to leave his protective shelter at the U.S. embassy in Beijing so that high-level U.S.-China talks could go more smoothly.

Fan-in-chief Obama draws popular basketball coach for Virginia rally

President Barack Obama’s big re-election campaign rally in Virginia on Saturday will feature a speaker who could be the most popular man in the battleground state.

It’s not a politician, like Tim Kaine, the former governor now running for the U.S. Senate, who will also be at Virginia Commonwealth University for the event. Two other Democratic Virginia politicians, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb, will not be there.

It is Shaka Smart, VCU’s basketball coach, who will host the rally before Obama speaks.