Tales from the Trail

Specter gains chairmanship, loses potential foe

Senator Arlen Specter, who has had some rocky times since switching from the Republican to Democratic party last week, had a really good day on Thursday.

Specter gained some power — the chairmanship of a Senate subcommittee — and lost a potential and powerful reelection foe, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.specter

“After careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate,” Ridge said in a statement.

Earlier on Thursday, Senate Democrats, who had stripped Specter of committee seniority this week, turned around and gave him the chairmanship of a Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs. 

“I want Senator Specter to feel welcome in our caucus,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, the Democrat who surrendered the chairmanship to make way for Specter. 

Specter: Republican Sr becomes Democrat Jr

SENATE/CLINTON/GATES

A week after switching parties, former Republican-turned-Democratic U.S. Senator Arlen Specter has suffered the political equivalent of a kick in the pants.

The action — stripping him of Senate seniority — isn’t expected to change the outcome of any pending legislation. But it puts Specter on notice he must earn his Democratic stripes.

The figurative boot in the butt was administered on late Tuesday by Senate Democrats, who have been irritated by many of Specter’s initial moves as a member of their party.

Michelle Obama’s close encounters with Elmo, Big Bird and U.S. diplomats

Michelle ObamaU.S. first lady Michelle Obama told an audience at the U.S. mission to the United Nations that she was “thrilled” to be back in New York for the first time since her husband Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. president in January. But she said some things are even more exciting than addressing an audience of 150 U.S. diplomats, military advisers and other government officials.

“I’m thrilled to be here but I was just at ‘Sesame Street’, I’m sorry,” she said, referring to the long-running U.S. children’s television program. “I never thought I’d be on ‘Sesame Street’ with Elmo and Big Bird and I was thrilled. I’m still thrilled. I’m on a high. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve done so far in the White House.”

Elmo
One of the biggest rounds of applause during the first lady’s 20-minute appearance at the U.S. mission in midtown Manhattan came when she read a letter the son of one of the mission staffers, Scott Turner, recently sent to the president.  According to Michelle Obama, Turner’s son Jack, a first grader,  wrote to the president:

Lawmaker seeks to end gubernatorial appointment of U.S. senators

capitolWASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold intends to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end the practice of governors filling vacant Senate seats.

With the Illinois governor charged with having tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat — and New York’s governor accused by critics of having held a circus-like review to fill the one formerly held by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Feingold says voters — not governors — should make the call in special elections. 

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end,” Feingold said.

McCain says wishes he were taking oath, promises Obama support

mccain1WASHINGTON – Former Republican White House candidate John McCain said on Monday he wished he were taking the presidential oath of office but pledged his support to former rival Barack Obama instead.

McCain, speaking at a dinner in his honor on the eve of Obama’s swearing-in, reflected on his own career of military and public service when mentioning Tuesday’s inauguration.

“I would have preferred to have sworn again tomorrow the oath I first took more than 50 years ago,” he said.

from FaithWorld:

U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America's ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this "cultural trench warfare" -- with neither side gaining much ground from the other -- for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

"The Democratic Party's advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate," the report, released late on Tuesday, says.

Attacks give McCain a taste of celebrity: Now he’s back for more

John McCain got his own taste of celebrity last week and evidently liked it — he’s back with a new ad ridiculing Barack Obama‘s fame. rtr20efd.jpg

The Republican candidate got a huge boost from accusing Obama of being a big celebrity like Paris Hilton and acting like some sort of political messiah.
 
Until his spate of negative attacks, McCain had been languishing ignored by the media while Obama triumphantly toured the world.
 
But last week McCain nearly tied Obama in the battle for media coverage — the first time that has happened since the start of the general election, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
 
So the Arizona senator is returning ahead of Obama’s weeklong vacation in Hawaii with another advertisement ridiculing his fame. It also paints him as a big-tax Democrat.
 
“Life in the spotlight must be grand,” an announcer says as a camera pans over images of a smiling Obama on the covers of GQ, Vanity Fair and other magazines.
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“But for the rest of us, times are tough,” the announcer says. “Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000. He promises more taxes. On small business. On seniors. Your life savings. Your family.”
 
“Painful taxes. Hard choices for your budget. Not ready to lead. That’s the real Obama.”
 
Scary stuff, but…
 
A study in mid-July by the Tax Policy Center — a venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution — found that Obama’s tax proposals would lift the after-tax income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans by 5.5 percent.
 
McCain’s plans would provide the poor with “virtually no benefit,” it said.
 
Nearly everyone else does better under Obama’s tax proposals as well.

Only the top 20 percent of U.S. wage earners would do better under McCain than Obama. The richest Americans would see after-tax income rise by 5.9 percent under McCain’s plans, while under Obama their after-tax income would drop by 2.8 percent, the study found.Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

As Obama heads to Germany, Republicans appeal to U.S. Berliners

WASHINGTON – With Democrat Barack Obama trying to look presidential abroad and soon to face friendly crowds in the German capital, the Republican National Committee has decided to strike back by appealing to Berliners closer to home.
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The party will air radio advertisements Thursday in Berlin, Pa., Berlin, Wis., and Berlin, N.H., bashing Obama’s voting record on defense issues, accusing him of choosing “Washington politics over the needs of our military.”
 
“Obama said that nobody wanted to play chicken with our troops on the ground,” an announcer intones. “But when it came time to act, he voted against critical resources: no to individual body armor, no to helicopters, no to ammunition, no to aircraft.”

The ad is a rehash of claims made in a television spot being aired by Obama’s rival Republican presidential candidate John McCain. FactCheck.org, in reviewing those claims, said the statements “are literally true but paint an incomplete picture.”
 
It is true Obama voted against a war-funding bill last year after President George W. Bush initially vetoed a version that contained a date for withdrawal from Iraq, the independent monitoring group said. Before that, Obama had cast at least 10 votes for war-funding bills, it said.

Obama’s campaign dismissed the ad as “distasteful and misleading.”
 
The RNC attacks are unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for Obama when he arrives Thursday in Berlin, Germany. A recent poll by the Bild newspaper found 72 percent of Germans would vote for Obama over McCain if they had a vote in U.S. elections.
 
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Bush friend who expressed displeasure over electioneering ahead of Obama’s visit, professed herself an admirer, telling reporters she thought the Democratic presidential candidate was “well-equipped — physically, mentally and politically.”