It's taken awhile, but Tea Party activists and social conservatives are finally beginning to get smiles on their faces. Whether that will last through the November election is another story.
After watching their insufficiently conservative (in their view) presidential nominee lose last November, their opposition to taxing-the-rich fall by the wayside thanks to congressional Republican acquiescence, and changes in same-sex marriage and immigration coming faster than they might have wished, some on the right were becoming inconsolable.
Their spirits were lifted, of course, watching the Administration get stuck in controversies over Benghazi and the IRS. And they couldn't help but chuckle as the media, whom they regarded as Obama cheerleaders during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, reacted harshly to Justice Department tactics over news leaks.
But they were absolutely ecstatic some ten days ago in Virginia, at the state Republican convention. That's where an unabashedly conservative ticket — for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — was nominated. Ken Cuccinelli, the current A.G. best known nationally for his fierce opposition to abortion and Obamacare, was designated the gubernatorial nominee without opposition. State Sen. Mark Obenshain, whose late father was one of the founders of the Virginia conservative movement, got the nod for atty. gen.
But the real story was in the battle for lt. gov. E.W. Jackson, an African-American minister, former Marine and Harvard Law grad, with no money to speak of and who was given little chance, wound up winning the nomination on the fourth ballot. This is the same E.W. Jackson who ran for the Senate last year and finished last in a field of four in the primary with just five percent of the vote.
This year he was expected to finish once again out of the running, but he gave a speech that knocked the socks off the convention delegates. If Mitt Romney (and John McCain before him) were suspect conservatives — "squishes" — with no real ideological footing, Jackson is the real deal. His take-no-prisoners rhetoric delighted the convention delegates. Cuccinelli, running for governor, may want to soften his own pitch, focusing more on jobs and the economy than hot-button issues, in order to win over independents and moderates in November. Jackson? No way.
If primaries attract more voters from the mainstream, the purpose of having party conventions decide the nominee is to attract true believers, and that's who showed up in Richmond two Saturdays ago to nominate Jackson. And these activists are not the type to heed the warnings from national party leaders, who urge moderation and inclusiveness.
Besides, that's not Jackson's style.
He has in the past said that gays were "very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally," and compared homosexuality to pedophilia. He has said that Planned Parenthood has been "far more lethal" to blacks "than the KKK." Obama, Jackson says, sees the world "from a Muslim perspective."
Social conservatives love it.
And so do Democrats.
They are convinced that Jackson will frighten away swing voters and doom Cuccinnelli's chances as well. Even though the governor and lt. gov. are elected separately, you know the "Cuccinelli-Jackson ticket" will be the battle cry of the Dems in their effort to elect Terry McAuliffe, who has problems of his own, governor.
Some Republicans are noticeably concerned. Michael Steele, the party's first and only national black chairman, is one of them. "The Republicans I'm talking to are saying, 'What the hell are they doing in Virginia?'" he was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. "Is this '101 ways to lose an election?'" Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said that Jackson's "antigay slurs are indefensible." National Journal's Alex Roarty writes that Fleischer's comment "is indicative of the fact" that Jackson's campaign "is already under siege, so much so that some operatives are speculating he might yet drop out of the race."
Don't bet on it. Even more so than last year with Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin — another Republican whose incendiary comments defined his candidacy but who refused to drop out of the race — Jackson is not about to apologize for or soft-pedal his views.
And that puts Cuccinelli in a bind. His path to succeeding term-limited Gov. Bob McDonnell could be threatened if he distances himself from Jackson and in the process alienates himself with his party's base. Either way, he is going to be peppered throughout the campaign with demands for him to either repudiate or embrace Jackson's comments.
The IRS and politics. Nobody thinks that the controversy over the Internal Revenue Service and its pattern of singling out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status is going away any time soon. And that suits Tea Party folks, who have been railing against the IRS for years, just fine. That the agency may have violated the rules for ideological purposes is just one issue Republicans would love to focus on in the 2014 midterm elections.
President Obama has said it is "outrageous" and "unacceptable" to have agency officials play politics, and he's right. It's also correct to point out that many former presidents have used the IRS for political purposes; think FDR during the New Deal or Nixon during Watergate.
But only one former IRS commissioner in memory has ever run for public office. T. Coleman Andrews, IRS commish under Eisenhower, resigned his post in 1955, citing his opposition to the income tax. The following year he challenged Ike as a candidate for president on the States Rights Party ticket, calling for repeal of the tax. The ticket of Andrews and former California Congressman Thomas Werdel finished with 111,000 votes nationwide.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Here are some questions from this week's e-mailbag:
Q: I know you don't like to make predictions well in advance, but how about a quick yes/no on the chances the Republicans will win a majority in the Senate next year. — W. Franks, Alexandria, Va.
A: Don't hold me to this, but as of this writing, I say no. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to get to 51, and I don't see where they do it. As of now I have the GOP winning open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia, where Tim Johnson and Jay Rockefeller respectively are retiring. Arkansas and Louisiana are possibles, and maybe North Carolina too. But that's five. Anyway, check back with me in a couple of months, when we'll have a clearer picture of who's running and who's not.
Q: There are three Hispanic senators currently serving together — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Robert Menendez. Is that the most there has been at one time? — Sandy James, Denver, Colo.
A: There were also three serving together between Jan. 2006 and Jan. 2009: Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Menendez, who was appointed to his seat in January 2006. Salazar left in Jan. 2009 to join the Obama Cabinet as Interior Secretary, cutting the number to two, and Martinez resigned in August to become a lobbyist, leaving Menendez the only Latino in the Senate ... until the elections of Rubio in 2010 and Cruz in 2012.
Before them, there were only three total, and all were from New Mexico: Octaviano Larrazolo (R), a former governor who was elected to fill a vacancy in 1928 but illness prevented him from seeking a full term; Dennis Chavez (D), who served from 1935 until his death in 1962; and Joseph Montoya (D), first elected in 1964 and defeated in a third-term bid in 1976.
Q: In this week's trivia question about which former mayor won the most votes in presidential primaries, you also asked a follow up about which former Republican mayor had that honor. You never gave the answer. Was it Dick Lugar or John Lindsay? — Anthony Stevens, Raleigh, N.C.
A: Neither. It was James Rhodes, the former mayor of Columbus, who was Ohio's favorite son presidential candidate in 1964 (when he got 615,000 votes) and '68 (614,000 votes). Lugar, the ex-mayor of Indianapolis, attracted just 127,111 votes in his 1996 White House bid. By the time Lindsay ran for president, in 1972, he was still the mayor of New York City and had already switched to the Democratic Party; he won a total of 196,406 votes that year.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the Obama/IRS controversy, with special guests Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont-McKenna College in Calif., and Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster and president of the Polling Company Incorporated. You can listen to the segment here:
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a TOTN T-shirt, but also a 3-1/2 inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??
Last week's winner: Steve Coughlan of Amherst, N.H.
ON THE CALENDAR:
June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned. Also: New Jersey gov. primaries.
June 11 -- Virginia Democratic primary.
June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.
June 26— Final "Political Junkie" segment on Talk of the Nation. TOTN ends on Thursday, June 27.
Aug. 6 — Seattle mayoral primary.
Sept. 10 — New York City mayoral primary.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at email@example.com.
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This day in campaign history: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, says at a Los Angeles news conference that if he loses to Sen. Eugene McCarthy in next week's California primary he might end his candidacy. Kennedy calls his defeat by McCarthy in yesterday's Oregon primary a "setback to my prospects ... which I could ill afford." Most observers feel that the real winner yesterday was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who is competing with Kennedy and McCarthy for the nomination but is not on the ballot in any primary (May 29, 1968).
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