First Thoughts: Bill Clinton on the Road Again

Image: Former President Bill Clinton greets supporters

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 05: Former President Bill Clinton greets supporters as he campaigns for President Barack Obama on November 5, 2012 at Market Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. President Clinton will hold rallies in Philadelphia, Blue Bell, and Scranton, Pennsylvania as he continues his swing through battleground states. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) Jeff Swensen / Getty Images, file

Clinton’s remarkable staying power on the campaign trail… Remember, it’s been 22 years since he won his first presidential race back in 1992… Rand Paul hits Bill Clinton -- again: “I don't think he represents Kentucky values or Kentucky families in the sense that what he did in the workplace”… McConnell so far in control of his GOP primary race… Why entitlement reform isn’t going to happen for a long, long time… The increasingly partisan governors… All eyes on Jan Brewer in Arizona… Obama to speak on manufacturing at 3:05 pm ET… And RIP, Dr. Egon Spengler.

Clinton’s remarkable staying power on the campaign trail

When former President Bill Clinton campaigns for Democratic Senate candidate Alison Grimes in Louisville, Ky., at 11:30 am ET, he’ll do so as the single-most popular politician in the country right now (a 54%-26% fav/unfav rating in the Sept. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll). He’ll also do so as someone who’s experienced his fair share of political ups (1992, 1996, the 2012 Dem convention) and downs (1994, impeachment, Hillary’s 2008 campaign). But perhaps the most striking thing about Clinton on the campaign trail today -- and for Democrats the rest of this year -- is his staying power on the campaign trail. A whopping 22 years have passed since he won the presidency back in 1992, but he’s still campaigning. To put that into perspective, it would be akin to JFK (had he lived) campaigning for Democrats in 1982; Ronald Reagan stumping for Republicans through 2002; and Obama campaigning for Democrats come 2030. Of course, to have that staying power, you need to be young when first stepping on the national stage (Clinton was 46 when first elected president), still popular with your party, and you have to love the campaign trail. All three apply to Clinton.

Rand Paul hits Bill Clinton -- again

“I don't think he represents Kentucky values or Kentucky families in the sense that what he did in the workplace”: Sticking with the political news out of Kentucky, our colleague Perry Bacon covered a Rand Paul event on Monday at Simmons College, a historically black college in Louisville. And Paul was again asked about his recent attacks on former President Bill Clinton: "I've just been answering questions from the media. I didn't really bring the situation up at all," Paul said. He continued, "People have asked me about Bill Clinton and I've responded. Frankly, I don't think he represents Kentucky values or Kentucky families in the sense that what he did in the workplace, anybody you would talk to, they would fire their president, they would fire any executive who did this to a young intern in the workplace so I don't think that was acceptable and I don't think that he's a great representative for Kentucky families or values."


On McConnell vs. Bevin

Alison Grimes is hoping to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in November’s general election. But first, McConnell has to get through his primary, and all indications are that he’s in control of the race. The Hill: “In the seven months since [Matt] Bevin launched his campaign to topple the Bluegrass titan, statewide observers say his underdog bid hasn’t caught the traction he needs before the May primary. Bevin was already struggling with fundraising and in the polls. McConnell’s maneuvers to allow a debt-ceiling vote to proceed gave his opponents hope, but that golden opportunity was quickly erased by mishandling of his response to the revelation that Bevin signed a letter praising the 2008 Wall Street bailout. ‘It can now be called underperforming,’ Al Cross, a veteran state political commentator and professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, said of Bevin’s bid.” But remember, it’s unlikely that McConnell will break 60%, so this race isn’t a slam dunk for him. The true challenge for McConnell – if he wins the GOP primary – will be getting conservatives back into the fold for the general election. One of the reasons why McConnell’s poll numbers are so low is that some of his detractors are conservatives supporting Bevin. But after the primary, McConnell also needs to make the general election about something other than himself; he can’t afford to have the general become a referendum on him.

Why entitlement reform isn’t going to happen for a long, long time

Want to know why achieving entitlement reform -- even on an incremental, bipartisan basis -- is so difficult in American politics? Because the political parties are poised to pounce on ANY changes to Social Security or Medicare. The latest example is this recent story from the FL-13 special congressional election: “NRCC Hits Alex Sink on Social Security for Backing Simpson-Bowles.” From the story: “‘Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love,’ said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.” For political parties, it’s too tempting to exploit someone wanting to raise the retirement age, raise taxes, or cut benefits. (Folks, it also explains why politicians like President Obama or House Speaker John Boehner never 100% backed Simpson-Bowles.) But that is the only way to truly achieve bipartisan entitlement reform – something that we don’t believe will occur anytime soon.

The increasingly partisan governors

As we wrote earlier, many of the nation’s governors have lost their halo -- and find their popularity not too far removed from their brethren in Congress. One of the reasons why: Some of them have become just as partisan as the folks on Capitol Hill. Here’s’s Benjy Sarlin on yesterday’s partisan fireworks outside the White House: “Republican and Democratic governors gathered on the White House lawn after meeting with President Obama to celebrate their shared role as can-do state executives removed from the partisan bickering in Congress. That is, until they started bickering themselves… ‘The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,’ Jindal said, accusing the president of ‘waving the white flag of surrender’ on job growth… The diatribe prompted an outraged response from Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat… ‘That’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard,” Malloy said of Jindal’s ‘white flag’ comment.” Since we’ve been covering politics, there have been plenty examples of bipartisan governors -- Republican John Engler of Michigan, Democrat Roy Romer of Colorado, Democrat Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, even George W. Bush of Texas back in the ‘90s. Those days are long gone…

All eyes on Jan Brewer in Arizona

A key reason why some of these governors have become more partisan is because they’ve been pushed by their legislatures to pass controversial legislation. Think Rick Snyder in Michigan, Pat McCrory in North Carolina, John Hickenlooper in Colorado. And that brings us to the big political story out of Arizona. As NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reported on “TODAY,” Arizona’s GOP senators and business community are pressuring Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to veto controversial legislation that could allow state businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Remember, Brewer signed into law controversial anti-illegal-immigrant legislation back in 2010, when she was facing a GOP primary. Now she MIGHT be term-limited and no longer have such a consideration. But here’s why we stressed the word “might”: Brewer technically hasn’t served two full terms (she succeeded Janet Napolitano in 2009), so she might challenge for a third term. It will be interesting to see what Brewer ultimately decides to do. Per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, the governor has until Saturday morning to sign or veto the bill. And the smart money is that Brewer will issue a veto. First Read will have more on this later today.


Obama’s day

President Obama meets with House Speaker John Boehner today at 11:30 am ET (it’s closed to the press). Then at 3:05 pm ET, he delivers remarks from the White House on manufacturing innovation. Per the White House, the president will “announce new steps in partnership with the private sector to boost advanced manufacturing, strengthen our capabilities for defense, and attract the types of high-quality jobs that a growing middle class requires.” And in the evening, Obama will speak at two Organizing for Action events. There’s also this news via Politico: The Obama administration is going to announce today big changes to food labels, the first update in two decades.

RIP, Dr. Egon Spengler

And we end with this statement from President Obama on the passing of a hero of your First Read authors – Harold Ramis. The full statement: “Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America’s greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago’s Second City. When we watched his movies – from ‘Animal House’ and ‘Caddyshack’ to ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.”

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