Ben Buchwalter

Dodd Challenger Alpert on Immoral Pols, Term Limits, & Linda McMahon
February 1, 2010, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

As it became increasingly clear that Conn. Senator Chris Dodd was not a viable candidate to hold on to his seat in 2010, speculation began to swirl about which Democrats would rise to pick up the banner. The media discussed Dick Blumental and Ned Lamont, but continually left out Merrick Alpert, who launched his primary challenge to Dodd long before Dodd tanked in the polls. I called Alpert to talk about his realistic chances, immoral politicians, and of course, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, one of the leading Republican candidates. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

MJ: Which Republican candidate would you most like to face in 2010?

MA: I’d be happy to go after any of them. They’re taking turns seeing who can be further right. They stand up saying Afghanistan is a good idea and health care reform is a bad idea. As far as I’m concerned, you can pair them all together and I’ll run against them all.

I would have told you 2 months ago that former congressman Rob Simmons would be the nominee, but Linda McMahon is spending such an obscene amount of money. Whether you’re trying to buy an election with your own money or with money from special interests, you’re trying to buy an election. Whoever wins that cage match, I’m happy to take on.

After Dodd decided to resign, I spoke with Alpert again about how this changed the race. I half-expected him to go after Blumenthal, who already showed a huge advantage over all other candidates. But here’s an excerpt of what he said:

But instead of going after Blumenthal, Alpert, a lifelong Democrat who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, was eager to add to his list of McMahon criticisms, saying “she’s bad medicine for Connecticut.” In between brief exchanges with supporters during his 5-day, 90-mile walk through Connecticut, he said over the sound of car honks that McMahon “is as phony as the place that she made her money. In none of her ads does she ever mention world wrestling. You would think that she and her husband owned a deli when in fact they made a fortune on lingerie wrestling matches. I’m not looking to explain that to my kids.”


In Democrats’ Future, Bennet Stands Out

I wrote a few months back about the significant void left by Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden as they embarked to begin their new fancy government positions. Since they were arguably the three most high profile Democratic senators, careful choices for their replacements was especially important. To adequately fill those positions, we needed Obama’s vision, Biden’s experience, and Clinton’s clout.

The choices fell far short of this standard. Roland Burris was appointed by the scandal-plagued Illinois Governor to fill Obama’s seat. Though Burris seems like a good man, the controversy surrounding his appointment was not exactly inspiring. And from what I can tell, Burris has offered no substantial vision or agenda. I had high hopes for the potential appointees Jesse Jackson Jr. and Tammy Duckworth, but Blago’s controversy unfortunately disqualified each of these contenders.

In New York, Caroline Kennedy – though severely imperfect – would have fulfilled Hillary’s standard of clout in the Senate. As a Clinton, Hillary was able to draw upon Bill’s successes and the movement they both inspired as a complement to her intellect and political competence. As a Kennedy, Caroline could have done the same. But it was not meant to be. The support behind Caroline Kennedy was weak and short lived. Kristin Gillibrand, the eventual choice to replace Hillary Clinton, is a moderate in one of the country’s most liberal states and is sometimes referred to as “Tracy Flick,” a reference to the film Election about a ruthless candidate for High School Students’ Council. Though I hope she will deliver, Gillibrand doesn’t exactly symbolize clout or vision.

Biden’s replacement, his long time aide Ted Kaufman, is the oddest but it fills Biden’s experience niche well. The choice is odd because many agree that Kaufman will hold the seat until Biden’s son, Beau Biden, Delaware’s Attorney General, returns from a tour in Iraq, when he will run for Senate in 2010.

Among this rag-tag group of boring appointments, the replacement for Colorado Senator Ken Salazar – the incoming interior secretary – stands out. Michael Bennet, the superintendent of Denver Schools, has some serious potential to be a powerful voice in the future of the Democratic Party. Prior to serving as superintendent, he was the Chief of Staff for the popular Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, who was also considered to replace Senator Salazar.

Bennet, also considered for Education Secretary, has a serious record of education reform. But he was the least experienced candidate considered for Salazar’s Senate seat so we’ll have to wait to see his positions on other important issues.

A former Denver School Board member, Lucia Guzman, indicated that Bennet’s inexperience and vision could be a strength in his forthcoming Senate career.

“He’s like how Barack Obama has been depicted, constant and confident […] He’s a visionary, able to look far and wide and very deep into the issues at hand.”

Friday Brain Dump

Just wanted to highlight some things I’ve been thinking about.

  • Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo was arrested last night on the Rwanda-Conto boarder. Nkunda’s stated mission was to protect Tutsis in the region from Hutus who fled from persecution after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Though Nkunda has only leveraged control of a few villages in the months of his campaign against the Congolese government, he has spread terror and threatened an already unstable relationship between Rwanda and the Congo. There were even rumors that Nkunda was working with the Rwandan government, a thought that, if true, would throw the region into chaos. Hopefully, the arrest of Nkunda will ease those tensions and restore the peace process in this post-conflict region.
  • Caroline Kennedy drops bid for Hillary’s seat citing tax problems and a housekeeper malfunction. I really haven’t tuned in to the Kennedy saga. But now that it’s over, it all seems weak. And I am not thrilled about Kristen Gillenbrand (a moderate), Governor Patterson’s choice to fill Clinton’s seat. New York State does not necessarily need to elevate a moderate in order to win reelection in 2010. The state is as liberal as they come, so it deserves representatives who match that progressive spirit. (More on the new senators from NY, IL, and DE later this weekend.
  • The media decries the dearth of partisanship among Obama staff and officials. Omg and wtf. Then again, the blogosphere is basking in the change. So if liberal crazies are happy, it would follow that conservative wingnuts wouldn’t be.
  • I wanted to point out an op-ed by Muammar Quaddafi, the leader of Lybia, calling for a one-state solution in the mid-east under the name of Isratine. He’s got some pretty powerful and realistic ideas that call for sacrifices on both sides of the conflict, which is the only way we’ll get anywhere in the peace process.
  • The Maverick (McCain) is back? I guess its easy to have principles when no one is looking to you for leadership. (snap!)

Happy Friday.

Will Dems GAIN (!) in 2010?
December 9, 2008, 2:32 am
Filed under: 2008 Election, General Politics | Tags: , ,

It has become a cliché of American politics that after two years of a President’s first term, his opposition party will fare extremely well in the midterm elections to take back the Senate, House or both. This happened disastrously in 1994 due to Clinton’s bungling of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and his attempt to pass Universal Health Care, which prompted a wave of Republican dominance and Newt Gingerich’s control of the House. Ouch.

So the big question of the day seemed to be: will the Democrats lose their large 58-seat (at least) lead in the Senate and their 257-seat majority in the House in the 2010 elections? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be no. But this does not necessarily mean that Democrats are going to remain wholly popular for the next two years. They are likely to hold onto their leads because in the political climate of 2010, some of the most popular Democrats will be up for reelection and some of the least popular Republicans will face their potential doom.

Let’s start with the Senate. Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight gives a pretty complete rundown of the most competitive races in 2010 and the chances that those seats will change parties. Among other states, he points to Kansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky and Nevada as the most likely to change parties. And in only one of those states – Nevada- would the Democratic incumbent (the vastly unpopular Harry Reid) lose to the Republican. And many argue that this is not as likely as conservatives would have you believe.

But the deep red state of Kansas is very promising for Democrats. The two-term Senator and 2008 Republican Presidential nominee Sam Brownback has announced that he will retire before that election. This will undoubtedly precipitate a contentious Republican Primary battle followed by a strong Democratic Challenger, Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius, the popular Governor of Kansas was seriously considered as a VP candidate for the Obama ticket. When she was passed over for that position, it was a foregone conclusion that she would be offered a place in the Cabinet. But she has recently taken her name out of consideration, which suggests that she could be gearing up to take Brownback’s open seat in 2010.

Pennsylvania is another likely Democratic pickup. Arlen Specter, the long-time Senator is expected to undergo intense opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in two years. He is vulnerable for a couple of reasons: his age, health, and the fact that Pennsylvania has become a deeper shade of blue in the past two elections. In 2004, he squeaked by Pat Toomey of the conservative Club for Growth in the Republican primary election. Toomey is expected to try again for Specter’s spot. The Democrats have also lined up a few strong candidates, most notably Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Iraq War Veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy. Chris Bowers of OpenLeft handicaps the match ups here.

Silver also says that the Democrats have a pretty good chance to pick up seats in Ohio and Kentucky because of vulnerable Republican incumbents, but it is unclear so far which Democratic candidates would vie for those seats.

Keep in mind, that the seats vacated by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton will be targets for the Republicans because the interim candidates will not have much experience to run on in 2010. But those states, Illinois, Delaware, and New York are not traditionally strong red states, which gives Democrats a strong advantage.

All in all, due to the unique political climate of 2010, Silver predicts that the Democrats will net between 1-3 seats, which would be enough to propel them above the 60-seats needed to prevent a Republican filibuster. In a midterm election for a Democrat’s first term, that would be incredible.

Since the races for vacancies and challenges in the House are much more complicated, I will let the pundits speak for themselves. Read this interview published on with NBC National Political Director Chuck Todd, Chris Hays, the Washington Editor of the Nation, and Amy Walter, the editor-in-chief of the Hotline for the National Journal Group.

The exciting aspect to take away from these predictions is that the Democrats could maintain their advantages in the Executive and Legislative branches for the duration of Obama’s first term. According to the likely political climate of 2010, it would take a serious bungling of foreign and domestic affairs for the Republicans to take back their advantage. And I’m talking Bush bungling.

Matthews Not Running for PA Senate Seat
December 8, 2008, 5:41 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, General Politics | Tags: , ,

Politico reports that Matthews will sign a long-term contract with MSNBC, which means that he will probably not run for Specter’s seat that opens up in 2010.

Last Thursday, Chris Bowers of OpenLeft handicapped the race on the Democratic side for Specter’s seat. He now predicts Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Rep. Patrick Murphy to be the Dem. front runners.

Matthews to Leave MSNBC?
December 4, 2008, 2:58 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012 | Tags: , ,

MSNBC suggested yesterday that Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, should resign from the show if he intends to run for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania to out seat Republican Arlen Specter, as rumors suggest that he will.

Matthews recently denied his interest in the Senate seat after it was reported that he spoke to officials from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party about strategy.

His celebrity could be a plus or a minus. It would benefit him because he has much more pre-election exposure to voters than an unknown or local leader would. But it could, as former Democratic Congressman Joe Hoeffel suggested, make him seem “out of touch with the state.”

Either way, it would be a tough fight for Matthews. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, he trails Specter by 12 points. But that is before he has even announced his candidacy, and 60% of likely voters said that they did not have enough information to make a firm choice. And a brand new Ramussen poll shows Matthews behind by only three points. And Kleefeld says that most of the undecideds in this poll would likely “end up breaking to Matthews as the Dem nominee.”

Matthews’ most difficult obstacle might come in the Democratic Primary. Other potential candidates to challenge Specter are Rep. Allyson Schwartz and state Rep. Josh Shapiro, both from Montgomery County, and Rep. Joe Sestak, from Delaware County.

If Matthews emerges from the primary the victor, then I think he would be an exciting and charged candidate to take on Arlen Specter. So stay tuned to see whether he resigns, or if this is simply a bargaining tool to get a better contract from MSNBC when his contract expires next June.

Here’s David Sirota of OpenLeft on why Chris Matthews would be an awful addition to the U.S. Senate.

Help Wanted: Vision, Experience, Clout
November 23, 2008, 5:01 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Congress | Tags: , , ,

The new Obama administration has promised to change Washington. Whether they succeed in changing the bitter partisanship and menial bureaucracy, one thing is sure: the group of Senate Democrats will change a great deal.

For the past four years, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have been three of the most prominent Democratic voices and critics of George W. Bush in Washington. They have all stood out for different reasons.

Obama, the charismatic and sole African American in the Senate has been lauded since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention as the Democratic Party’s next Visionary. Joe Biden has been a Senator from Delaware for 36 years. He, along with Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts (though Biden to a lesser extent) is one of the party’s most consistent progressive voices. Holding stints as chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, he is one of his Party’s most experienced leaders. Hillary Clinton has been an outstanding, though moderate, Senator from New York for the past six years. And as the former First Lady, Clinton has more clout in Washington than most of her Democratic colleagues.

So as Obama, Biden and Clinton begin their new roles as President, Vice President, and Secretary of State (rumored), Senate Democrats will begin the search for replacements for these candidates. And that is a difficult undertaking.

Barack Obama, Illinois
Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) must choose Obama’s replacement. And since Obama has already resigned his seat, the pressure has begun for the second-term governor.

There are a lot of factors to consider. First, as holds true for all of these replacements, Governors must choose a candidate who would be a strong contender for reelection in only 2 years – all three Senate replacements will face Republican challengers in 2010. So Blagojevich should not choose a political neophyte who could appear vulnerable to the Illinois GOP.

There are also demographic concerns. Obama, as the Senate’s only African American, occupies an essential seat. His election as President, a momentous occasion for African Americans, once again made the U.S. Senate 0% black. So should Blagojevich appoint an African-American replacement? If he chooses to, then Jesse Jackson Jr. would be the obvious choice. Jackson Jr. represents an urban area including Chicago’s south suburbs in the Illinois House of Representatives. Though he holds high favorability ratings, it is reported that Blagojevich and Chicago’s six-term mayor Richard M. Daley do not like him.

I’m hoping that Jackson gets appointed because, though it is not the only or most important qualification, I think it is imperative that we maintain an African American presence in the Senate. Even if that presence is negligible, it sets a foundation that will undoubtedly strengthen before long.

The other leading contender for Obama’s seat is Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and Illinois Veterans Affairs Director who is a close Obama ally. Duckworth is an Asian American and would add an invaluable minority and female voice to the Senate. From what I can tell, both Jackson Jr. and Duckworth are incredibly worthy of Obama’s seat.

Joe Biden, Delaware
Joe Biden has held this seat for 36 years, since he was 30 years old. The only way that Biden could have lost this seat was to give it up himself or by some tragedy. But with Biden’s election as Vice President, current governor Ruth Ann Minner or Governor-elect Jack Markell – both Democrats – will be charged with filling this legendary seat.

The immediate front-runner was Biden’s son Beau, the state’s current Attorney General. But Beau Biden has recently said that he would not accept the position if appointed because he must fulfill his commitment to a yearlong tour in Iraq.

So likely choices are the state’s Lieutenant Governor John Carney, Secretary of State Harriet Windsor, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron Steele. As these candidates are relatively unknown, I’d expect the Delware GOP to mount an all-out offensive for this seat in 2010.

Hillary Clinton, New York
Keep in mind, Clinton has not yet formally accepted Barack’s nomination for Secretary of State. And that nomination has not yet been formally given. This is also interesting because if she does not accept the nomination, she could probably hold this Senate seat for life. But being a Clinton means you seek the highest position possible when it is offered. And service is not an option. I think that Hillary will definitely accept both out of ambition and out of duty.

New York Governor David Patterson will choose her replacement if she accepts the nomination. There are anywhere between 10-20 possible selections for this seat. Patterson has vowed that he would not appoint himself, as he hopes to seek re-election for Governor in 2010.

The leading contender is Andrew Cuomo, the New York Attorney General. In a nearly worthless poll, 43% of New Yorkers said that they would prefer Mr. Cuomo. 42% were unsure, and the remainder – 15% – were split between state reps Nydia M. Velázquez, Steve Israel, Nita M. Lowey and Gregory W. Meeks. Update: Chris Cilliza of Washington Post lists the probabilities of each potential NY candidate.

This is the seat that I am most excited to see filled because the list of potential Clinton replacements is incredibly diverse, including women, African Americans, Latino Americans, and of course, white men. Patterson could go with the safe, and likely smart choice, Andrew Cuomo, or a risky and dynamic unknown future Senator.

The Power of Vision
By virtue of filling powerful senate seats with new appointments, experience and clout is difficult to replicate. But vision can certainly be reintroduced. Remember, Barack Obama was elected to the Senate only four years ago. And he has already become one of the greatest American visionaries of the past half-century.

So I hope that Governors Blagojevich (IL), Minner (DE) and Patterson (NY) will appoint exciting candidates that will bring powerful visions to the Senate. Such vision could have three results. 1.) Vision can inspire a massive movement; 2.) Vision can turn into steady and effective governance, and therefore translate to experience; and 3.) a powerful Vision can create the clout needed to usher in a new post-partisan era in Washington.