Tales from the Trail

GOP’s Steele – political elite has been blind-sided

Recent electoral wins have pulled the Republican Party out of a tailspin that started at the height of its power in 1994, but it will be well-selected local candidates, more than the national party, that drives the agenda in November’s mid-term elections.

So says Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANSMost political pundits expect the GOP to pick up many House and Senate seats in the fall as part of a backlash against the incumbent Democrats and frustration over the weak economy and high unemployment.

“This fall I think you’ll see much more reliance on the candidates carrying the water in their states,” rather than the national party apparatus, Steele said during a lively exchange with students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In victories such as the recent upset win by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, “we have trusted the candidates to shape the ground game and the campaigns and the messages,” Steele said. Brown was elected to Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat in January, a victory that surprised the Democratic Party and deprived them of the 60-seat supermajority needed to pass legislation over Republican procedural hurdles.

Steele said letting candidates shape their own campaign and message took advantage of populist sentiment at work across the United States.

With jobs the priority, Obama invites culture war?

AFGHANISTAN/Has President Obama opened a Pandora’s Box marked “Culture War” by moving — however slowly – to repeal the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military?
    
Conservative punditry hasn’t weighed in yet. But  there’s no reason to doubt  the issue will be red meat for those who want to sink the Obama agenda and send congressional Democrats to the unemployment office in November.
    
“Our service members wear the uniform to fight and win wars, not serve as liberal-social-policy guinea pigs,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, tells Time magazine.
    
Sen. John McCain, a top Republican on military affairs, accused the administration of acting by fiat to circumvent Congress and the military’s chain of command after the Pentagon announced a year-long review of the policy.
    
“You’re embarking on saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs, and of course, without taking into consideration all the ramifications,” he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday.
 
Polling data show most Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the risk for Obama is that Republicans and their talk-show allies will cry up the issue and steer the now palpable frustrations of voters against him and his fellow Democrats.
    
Democrats, who got a taste of that voter frustration in Massachusetts last month, now hope to win favor by making the economy their USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSItop priority.
    
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer favors repeal but seems happy to let the Pentagon take the lead until after this year’s election.
    
“What I want members to do in their districts? I want them to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Those are our messages,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “The American public clearly wants us focused on growing the economy, adding jobs. That is a principle responsibility.”

 Photo credits: Reuters/Andrees Latif (U.S. Marines in Helmand Province); Reuters/Jim Young (U.S. Capitol)

Click here for more political coverage from Reuters

Now a U.S. senator, Scott Brown is ready to take on Obama

USA-POLITICS/MASSACHUSETTSFresh from a stunning election victory that shook the confidence of the national Democratic Party, Scott Brown says he’s ready for a showdown with President Barack Obama — on the basketball court.
    
Brown, known only a few weeks ago as a dude with a truck, says he challenged Obama to hoops when the two spoke by telephone on the night the Massachusetts Republican won Teddy Kennedy’s dyed-in-the-wool-Democratic-blue seat in the U.S. Senate.
    
“The only time I spoke to him was election night and I did challenge him to pick his best, and I’ll take my daughter Ayla who plays for Boston College, and we’d challenge him to a little 2-on-2. I think we’d have the upper hand,” Brown said in an interview with TV comedian Jay Leno. TELEVISION-LENO/
    
“He looks like he’s in great shape. It’d certainly be a tough game,” he said.
    
Brown didn’t mention how the president responded.
    
Obama, a hard-core hoophead, has shot baskets on the campaign trail, with U.S. troops in the field and with kids on the South Lawn of the White House. At 48, he would have a two-year advantage over the 50-year-old Brown. But as Sports Illustrated magazine notes, the president can’t dunk and doesn’t have a hoopster nickname. 
    
USA-OBAMA/Brown does have a nickname. At Tufts University, he was known as “Downtown Scotty Brown,” possibly for his long-distance jumpshots.  And that’s not all. In a given week, Brown told Leno, he swims close to 2 miles, bikes about 95 and runs 15 or 20 miles. 

If Obama’s really looking for ways to reach out to Republicans, a friendly game of basketball might make a nice change from all the ankle-tripping, elbow-jabbing, floorboard-thumping contests on Capitol Hill. 

Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Snyder (Brown Victory); Reuters/Mario Anzuoni (Leno); Reuters/Jim Young (Obama and Young Hoopster)

If healthcare wasn’t enough, Obama just picked another fight

One thing is clear. President Barack Obama is not afraid of a fight.

He battled all last year with Republicans and some of his own Democrats trying to get healthcare reform through the political headwinds. OBAMA/

Now he’s going to take on Republicans with trying to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays serving in the military.

“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Poll suggests political consequences from U.S. healthcare deal

HEALTHCARE/OBAMAThink today’s U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts could be bad news for President Obama? Then consider what pollsters are saying now about the healthcare reform debate’s potential effect on the November congressional elections.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows little overall movement in public sentiment since August — only 44 percent of Americans favor healthcare reform vs. 51 percent who oppose it.

But findings also show popular support for reform losing some of its cohesion. As recently as November, 30 percent of USA/HEALTHCARE/POLITICSAmericans “strongly” backed proposed changes. But people in that category now account for only 22 percent. That compares with 39 percent who are strongly opposed.

Hizzoner Rudy says Obama lags Bush on security

Has President Barack Obama been softer on security than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush? Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani makes the answer sound simple. USA-POLITICS/

“We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America.

Giuliani’s remark glosses over important details, including reports that Guantanamo detainees released by Bush renewed ties with al Qaeda in Yemen where U.S. officials believe the Christmas Day bomb plot was hatched.

Healthy lifestyle discount or insurance loophole?

Dozens of healthcare reform advocates are sounding alarm bells over a Senate proposal to allow companies to reward employees who quit smoking, exercise or engage in other healthy activities.

The groups, including the American  Heart Association, say the measure would create a “dangerous”  loophole that would allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with health problems if it is included in the final healthcare yoga2reform legislation.

The healthcare overhaul aims to stop insurance companies from excluding coverage for people with pre-existing conditions or charging people more based on medical history. But Sue Nelson of the American Heart Association said the provision is written in a way that would allow insurers to raise premiums but then provide discounts, as much as 50 percent, for people who quit smoking or join gyms and exercise more.

Democrats may face a new challenge: rising conservatism

The Democratic Party’s hopes of retaining control of Congress in November are already reeling from a spate of Senate retirements and the political flap surrounding last month’s failed bomb attack on a Detroit-bound airliner. Now comes a potential new hurdle: growing conservatism among the American public.

Gallup polling data show that conservatives became the biggest potential voting bloc in 2009. Forty percent of Americans called themselves ‘conservative’ last year, compared with 36 percent who said they were ‘moderate’ and 21 percent who described themselves as ‘liberal.’
USA/
The findings, which have an error margin of 1 percentage point, come from an aggregate of 21 separate Gallup and USA Today/Gallup surveys, spanning nearly 22,000 interviews.

Gallup polling data also show that the number of Americans calling themselves moderate has fallen over the past decade, while conservatives and liberals have gained ground.

Obama admits security “screw up,” but some wonder who’ll pay

President Barack Obama may have hoped to limit the political fallout from last month’s attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by admitting there was a “screw up.” Will firings follow? Some think Obama’s unusually sharp rhetoric raises the odds that heads will roll.

One such observer is U.S. Rep. Peter King, an influential New York Republican.
SECURITY-AIRLINE/USA
“If the situation is as bad as the president says it was, as far as so many dots not being connected, so many obvious mistakes being made … I would think once the president set that stage, that to show that he’s serious, someone will have to go now,” King told ABC’s Good Morning America.

But the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee says he can’t tell which official should pay because the Obama administration hasn’t let Congress know who did (or didn’t) do what, when.

Obama’s security tweaks unlikely to quiet political opponents

President Barack Obama will tighten airline security today in a bid to thwart any future attack like last month’s plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. But will that silence his political opponents? Not likely. With congressional elections looming in November, the stakes may be too high.

Take Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, for example. He’s running for governor of Michigan and criticizing Obama’s handling of the bomb plot in hopes of making Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, look soft on security.

“If you agree that we need a governor who will stand up the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security, please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign,” he said in a widely quoted letter to prospective supporters.
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The letter caused an uproar among critics who accused Hoekstra of playing politics with national security. But the security issue seems destined to become a leading theme for Republicans in this year’s election battle for control of Congress, which they hope to turn into a referendum on Obama’s policies.