The Message of This Election Year: Congress Should Listen To The People

A year ago, it was nearly unthinkable that Eric Cantor would not be returning for his eighth term as the representative from Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. His primary defeat in June sent shockwaves through the halls of Congress and, as Election Day nears, it’s worth recalling the former majority leader’s fate.

Initially, some thought that Cantor’s stance on immigration reform was the cause of his undoing, but polling data did not bear this out. A more likely cause was the perception that he had spent too much time in Washington and lost touch with his constituents back home. In a piece for U.S. News & World Report, GOP strategist Ford O’Connell wrote that Cantor “walked the halls of power instead of the streets of his suburban Richmond district.”

Looking back, the biggest surprise of that election wasn’t the downfall of a senior leader in Congress, as much as the fact that this doesn’t actually happen more often. Study after study shows approval ratings for Congress at an all-time low.

Read more from Steven Kull at the Richmond Times-Dispatch

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The Reagan Reflex

The Speech was the speech that Reagan gave on prime-time television on October 27, 1964—fifty years ago this week—as a campaign address in support of Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential nominee. It accomplished less for Goldwater than it did for Reagan himself; it propelled him, immediately and justifiably, into a kind of stardom that he had never quite achieved in Hollywood. That half hour on NBC did for Reagan and modern conservatism what “The Ed Sullivan Show,” six months earlier, had done for the Beatles, rock music, and popular culture: it drew a bright line between the past and the future. The Speech—rechristened, for that occasion, as “A Time for Choosing”—helped to define the G.O.P. and conservative politics for more than a generation.

There is a tension between being the “next Ronald Reagan” and being one’s own person. Some Republicans recognize this. “Ronald Reagan is dead. Accept it,” Ford O’Connell, a Party strategist, wrote, in a recent book. “The Reagan fixation is a drag on the future success of the GOP.… It undermines the candidates because it becomes a crutch for their inability to articulate an actual agenda or a forward-looking vision.” Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter, has cautioned that “the next GOP presidential nominee cannot be … prone to Reagan-era rhetoric about tax rates and regulatory burdens.”

Read more from Jeff Shesol at The New Yorker

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Hillary Clinton Backtracks On Job-Creation Gaffe

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to walk back comments she made Friday when she told Boston Democrats that corporations don’t create jobs, a gaffe that caught fire on the Internet over the weekend and had the likely 2016 White House contender in full backpedaling mode yesterday.

“I short-handed this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear about what I’ve been saying for a couple of decades,” Clinton said in a stump speech in New York for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, according to multiple media outlets.

The Herald reported Saturday that Clinton’s original remarks, made at a Hub fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martha Coakley, sent shock waves through the Twittersphere. “Don’t let anybody tell you it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton told a packed ballroom at the Park Plaza Hotel.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who preceded Clinton on stage and has recently opened the door to a presidential run of her own, sounded a similar theme in 2011 when she said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”

Yesterday, observers on both sides of the aisle questioned whether the centrist Clinton was hearing Warren’s footsteps coming up on her left flank.

“It’s clear that Hillary Clinton is looking over her shoulder and realizing she can be very vulnerable to a challenger in the Democratic party,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell. “In many ways, she’s the quarterback who has the yips. She’s about to be named the starter, and she’s showing her nervousness.”

Read more from Matt Stout at The Boston Herald

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Senate Control In Limbo Until 2015?

Election Day 2014 is just eight days away, but control of the Senate might not be known for two more months. 

Observers and pundits on both sides expect Louisiana's Senate race to go to a December runoff between Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy.

However, less attention is being paid to Amanda Swafford, the Georgia Libertarian who could deny Senate candidates in her state a required 50 percent majority on Election Day.

Georgia's runoff wouldn't occur until Jan. 6, the day after the new Congress is set to meet. Could these Southern states block the one thing every election watcher truly wants: a clear answer on the morning of Nov. 5?

The runoffs pose challenges for both parties, not just coordinating logistics and new spending, but motivating volunteers and voters all over again, along with crafting an effective message and strategy under untested and unusual circumstances.

Republicans admit while their supporters are more enthusiastic than Democrats, turning them out to the polls during an oddly scheduled runoff election might be more of a challenge. 

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s (R-Ga.) 2008 runoff, noted Democratic voters are typically consolidated around urban centers, but Republicans are scattered throughout the state’s rural areas.

“It's probably easier if you're a Democrat to round up the voters than it is for Republicans,” he said.

That’s where enthusiasm for Republicans, in both states, becomes paramount. O’Connell noted that, in 2008 Chambliss brought in high-powered surrogates to draw attention to his candidacy, a tactic that becomes even more important when the fight is drawn out over three months.

Read more from Alexandra Jaffe at The Hill

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President Hillary Clinton Key To Nancy Pelosi’s Return As Speaker

Nancy Pelosi has made clear she wants to make history again. Not this year but in 2016, when she hopes to reclaim the House speakership under a President Hillary Rodham Clinton and shatter the glass ceiling to smithereens.

But first she must hold down Democratic losses on election day, or risk seeing that vision slip out of reach.

“If the Republicans were to net 12 or 13 seats, it would be next to impossible for Nancy to take over the speaker’s gavel even if Hillary won” in 2016, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The Republicans would almost have a Hillary-proof majority.”

Republicans now hold 234 House seats out of 435. Just a dozen more would give them their biggest majority since Harry Truman was president in 1946.

Although California has reformed its election laws to remove control of redistricting from politicians, gerrymandering in the rest of the country means only about 50 House seats are in play in any election, O’Connell said. With the GOP dominating deeply conservative states, primarily in the South, O’Connell calculates that the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 would have to win in a landslide to pull along enough of the party’s House candidates to reinstall Pelosi as speaker.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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Election 2014: Rise Of Independents Scrambles The Math

Independents are on the rise in the 2014 election – both as candidates and voters – and in some states, the impact could be profound.

The starkest example is in deep-red Kansas, where independent Senate candidate Greg Orman threatens to unseat three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R), in a race with no Democrat. A victory by Mr. Orman could cost Republicans’ their goal of retaking the Senate. The race is a tossup.

Next come the voters themselves. For the past decade, Americans have been abandoning the two major parties in growing numbers and identifying as independent. In its latest analysis of the US electorate, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans self-identify as independent – the highest number Gallup has found since it began interviewing people by telephone 25 years ago.  Only 25 percent of Americans call themselves Republican and 31 percent identify as Democrats, Gallup found.

“Both parties are in the dumpster with Americans,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “At the rate we’re going, by 2016 the two dirtiest words in political language are going to be Republican and Democrat.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Mark Warner A Reliable Obama Foot Soldier Despite Bipartisanship Claims

Sen. Mark R. Warner touts his bipartisan approach as the key reason he deserves a second term, and his Senate record confirms he regularly works with members across the aisle on his legislative priorities.

But when it comes time to vote, the record also shows Mr. Warner has been a reliable foot soldier for President Obama’s agenda.

The Virginia Democrat earned a perfect 117 for 117 voting record on the Senate floor to back Mr. Obama when the president took stances on legislation this year, according to reports.

That is a contrast with Mr. Warner’s pitch to voters, which centers on the bills he writes and sponsors — an area in which he has worked more with Republicans than all but six of his fellow Senate Democrats.

Mr. Warner began building his bipartisan record with his 2001 election as governor, after which he ended up in the middle of a bruising fight over taxes and spending.

“He’s gotten away with being liked by both sides in Richmond and he likes to tout his bipartisan work, but he’s really been a pack mule for Obama and the Democrats,” Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell said.

Read more from David Sherifnski at The Washington Times

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For Obama, Ebola Czar Not What The Doctor Ordered

The new Ebola czar was supposed to lessen President Obama's political pain. Instead, the intense scrutiny of Ron Klain, the man tapped to manage the Obama administration’s response to the deadly virus, has compounded the president’s problems.

Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, officially starts his job on Wednesday but already has plenty to prove. Just two weeks before the midterms, Obama can ill afford for competency questions to linger.

“The White House is doing a terrible job on the public confidence front,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It sounds today like the Obama administration thinks Ebola is a fad that will just go away. I don’t think they’re really grappling with the actual concerns out there.”

Read more from Brian Hughes at The Washington Examiner

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Ebola Blame Game Takes The Stage At Midterm Election Debates

First there was ISIS. Now there's Ebola.

The Ebola health crisis is the latest global issue to become a fixture this campaign season, spilling into debates, campaign rhetoric — and even a few ads.

Political arguments about Ebola can roughly be divided into three groups.

Democrats argue that budget-cutting Republicans have deprived the government of the resources it needs to keep Americans safe from the threat of Ebola. That's the argument Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado made at a recent debate.

His opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, offers argument No. 2. Republicans are tying the issue to larger questions about President Obama and his competency. Gardner specifically pointed to priorities at the CDC.

Third, some Republicans link the Ebola crisis to border security.

Exchanges like these are playing out in campaigns across the country and in local and cable news interviews.

"It's a terrible thing to say, but fear is a heck of a motivator," says Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Even though the elections are just a few weeks away, O'Connell says it's almost impossible for candidates to break into this news cycle unless they're talking about one of two things: ISIS or Ebola.

O'Connell says that strategy has already proven successful for some candidates. Just look at Republican Scott Brown in New Hampshire.

"He started talking about ISIS ... then he started weaving in Ebola, and all of a sudden [Sen.] Jeanne Shaheen's lead was cut in half," O'Connell said. "What's going on here is Republicans are making a national security leadership argument, if you will, and Democrats are making a governing agenda/budgets argument."

Read more from Juana Summers at NPR

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Five Reasons Warren Might Run

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says she is not running for president in 2016. 

But that hasn't squashed liberals' hopes. Warren remains in second place among Democrats in most 2016 polling of early caucus and primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll released Tuesday among likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa put former secretary of State Hillary Clinton way out front with 53 percent support and Warren a distant second at 10 percent. 

But here are five scenarios that might prompt Warren to change her mind:

2.) Donors rally behind Warren. Warren has already proven herself to be a prodigious fundraiser. She raked-in $42 million during her 2012 bid to defeat incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, according to campaign disclosure records.

"The progressive base of the Democratic Party — and its donors — are not convinced that Hillary is the answer in 2016, let alone the future of the party," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell. "So there is a shred of daylight for Warren to make a serious run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, regardless of whether Hillary is in the race or not."

3.) It's now or never. At 65, Warren is only one year younger than Clinton, even though age concerns tend to be raised more often in the latter’s case.

"At 65 years of age, Warren has to be wondering out loud if there will be room for her in the Democratic presidential calculation in either 2020 or 2024," O'Connell said. 

Should Warren run for president in 2016 and win, she'd be 67 when taking office. Ronald Reagan was the oldest president to take office: he was 69 when first inaugurated in 1981. Clinton would be 69 at her inauguration should she win the White House in 2016.

Read more from Kevin Cirilli at The Hill

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