First Thoughts: A tale of two problems

A tale of two problems: Obama WH races to fix its website issues… But no one inside the GOP is trying to prevent an all-out ideological civil war from breaking out… Dems are winning the 2014 money race so far… But the Obamacare website problems threaten Dem gains in 2014… Sebelius still under fire… CMAG: $2.4 billion is the over/under on what will be spent on local broadcast 2014 TV ads… And an anonymous Obama administration tweeter is exposed -- and fired.

*** A tale of two problems: Combining the two biggest political stories over the past week, we have this question: What has been the more significant disaster -- the problems associated with the federal Obamacare website, or the state of the Republican Party after the shutdown? There is one important difference between the two stories. While the Obama administration is throwing every resource to fix its website issue, is anyone inside the GOP trying to prevent an all-out ideological civil war from breaking out? In fact, it seems to be just the opposite: Gas is being thrown on the internal GOP fire. We saw two examples of this yesterday, and both involved Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The first was a fundraising letter that Liz Cheney, who’s challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), sent yesterday. “Liberal Republican senators like John McCain and Olympia Snowe have endorsed my opponent,” Liz Cheney wrote in the letter, per Politico. “We must be doing something right if these folks are fighting so hard to preserve the status quo.” The second example came at a town hall that McCain held, where he sparred with a supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “We know what Ted Cruz stands for, OK, and that is the shutdown of the government,” McCain said. “I … fought for 25 days against Obamacare, OK? And so I'll take to nobody who fought against Obamacare. I'm an old military guy. I know when a mission can succeed and I know when it can't -- and it couldn't succeed.”


*** The Tea Party vs. non-Tea Party divide: As we’ve pointed out before, there is a telling split inside the Republican Party -- between those Republicans who say they support or identify with the Tea Party and those Republicans who do NOT. It’s basically a 1-to-1 split in the party, about half Tea Party and half not. Per our most recent NBC/WSJ poll, Tea Party Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans were doing (during the shutdown) by a healthy 72%-25% margin. However, a plurality of NON-Tea Party Republicans actually DISAPPROVED of their OWN party’s job in Congress by a 49%-42% margin. There’s also this: Among Tea Party Republicans, Ted Cruz has a 52%-4% fav/unfav rating. But among non-Tea Party it’s 13%-23%. And this split isn’t just playing out in DC; it’s also playing out in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. So what does this mean for 2014, let alone 2016? Read on…

*** Dems winning the 2014 money race: Roll Call says that Democrats -- so far -- are winning the 2014 money race. And this is perhaps the biggest FALLOUT from the shutdown. “Not only have the Democratic campaign committees that back House and Senate candidates outraised their GOP counterparts, but unrestricted super PACs that support Democrats have pulled in close to three times what GOP super PACs have so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s a dramatic reversal from 2012, when conservative super PACs spent roughly 70 percent of the non-party outside money in the elections. In the first six months of this cycle, Democratic super PACs raised $23.9 million, compared with $8.9 million for GOP super PACs, according to the CRP.” The good news for the GOP is that the Republican National Committee has so far outraised the Democratic National Committee, $61 million to $49 million. But that’s the ONLY financial good news. And here is something to keep in mind: Not only are Wall Street types and other business-centric GOP donors sitting on their hands right now, don’t be surprised if some actually decide to give money to Democrats in 2014 before getting behind, say, a Chris Christie in 2016. Here’s why: If you’ve got LOTS of money, and you want to see the Tea Party defeated, the way to do that is see Democrats win back the House in 2014 and then have the Tea Party be the party’s fall guy. Remember, what allowed George W. Bush to keep conservatives at bay in 2000 was the GOP debacle in ’98.

*** Health-care website threatens Dem gains: Of course, this potential upside for Democrats in 2014 could erode almost immediately if the health-care website rollout continues to be a problem. And the biggest news of the day is skittish Democrats, up for re-election in 2014, going public with their concerns. Yesterday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to the president urging him to extend the enrollment date and to clarify the penalty that the non-insured must pay if the website problems aren’t fixed. “The Affordable Care Act has already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans and once fully implemented, this law has great promise. However, I am concerned about the problems that people are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act’s website,,” Shaheen wrote. “Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014… Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced. If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage.” This is a telling development. During the shutdown fight, Democrats displayed tremendous unity. But this letter suggests that same unity might not exist regarding these website problems, particularly among those like Shaheen who are up for re-election next year. 

*** Sebelius still under fire: What’s more, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius remains under fire. Last night, she gave an interview to CNN, in which she said that President Obama didn’t know about the problems with the federal health-care website until after the rollout. SEBELIUS: “I think it became clear fairly early on. The first couple of days.” CNN: “But not before that, not before Oct. 1, there was no concern in the White House or at HHS?” SEBELIUS: “I think that we talked about having testing going forward.” What the White House and Sebelius are trying to do is buy time to fix the website problems (see the web video message Obama sent yesterday). Yet while politicians like Shaheen might not have much patience, it’s important to note that the stakeholders here – that is, the insurance companies who have so much at stake – will have plenty of patience. They want the system to work as badly as the Obama White House does. Meanwhile, House Republicans have a new web video knocking the online chat-help function. As we reported yesterday, the administration knows the clock is ticking; they believe, realistically, they have about three weeks to get this website running at full capacity. It’s all about being prepared for a potential surge of applicants in December before the first deadline to get health insurance before Jan. 1.

*** $2.4 billion to be spent on midterm TV ads? The group CMAG has projected that the over/under on the amount of money that will be spent on local broadcast advertising in 2014 is $2.4 billion. That’s where this money comes into play.

*** Anonymous tweeter exposed -- and fired: And maybe the best story of the day? It’s Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast piece about how an Obama administration official was fired after being caught for firing off anonymous tweets that criticized the administration, Republicans, and journalists. “Jofi Joseph, a director in the non-proliferation section of the National Security Staff at the White House, has been surreptitiously tweeting under the moniker @natsecwonk, a Twitter feed famous inside Washington policy circles since it began in February, 2011 until it was shut down last week. Two administration officials confirmed that the mystery tweeter was Joseph, who has also worked at the State Department and on Capitol Hill for Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Joe Biden. Until recently, he was part of the administration's team working on negotiations with Iran.” Here's one of the tweets: "Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met Anthony Wiener? Almost as bad a pairing as Samantha Powers and Cass Sunstein." But worth chewing on: What’s the difference between what this staffer did – and what anonymous aides do when they give blind quotes to news organizations book authors dishing on their co-workers? Then again, we can’t ever remember a blind quote wondering why Huma Abedin married Anthony Weiner. And there were so many angry tweets, not your usual blind quotes.

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