First Thoughts: Opening Ceremonies for 2014 Midterms

Image: Richard Tisei

Former Republican Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Tisei smiles at supporters in Wakefield, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, after announcing he will run for the state's 6th Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. John Tierney. Tisei is one of three openly gay Republicans nationwide expected to run in this year's midterm elections for Congress. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola / AP

Campaign 2014 season is already off and running… Here come the U.S. military cuts -- and the political fight they’re certain to trigger… Look who’s not coming to today’s RGA presser -- Chris Christie… Scott Walker sidesteps questions about those Wisconsin emails… Governors losing their halos… Enter the Wolf: Tea Party candidate Milton Wolf and his posting of gruesome X-ray images on Facebook… And majorities in Ohio back gay marriage, legalized marijuana.

Campaign 2014 season is already off and running: Lost in all of the recent attention on the Olympics and the upheaval in Ukraine was this important political development at home: The 2014 campaign season is already under way. Indeed, call this week the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Midterm Olympics! Consider: Texans are currently voting for next week’s primaries in the Lone Star State; Floridians are already casting absentee ballots in the March 11 special congressional election there; Illinois holds its primary the week after that (March 18); and former President Bill Clinton campaigns tomorrow for Alison Grimes in Kentucky’s competitive Senate race. Oh, and the shadow of the 2016 presidential race -- at least on the GOP side -- creeps into the picture with the upcoming CPAC political conference in DC area taking place March 6-8. Folks, campaign season is now in full gear. And that’s with even a Congress that’s back at work (after its Presidents Day recess) and a President Obama back in D.C. (after his brief trip to Mexico last week), because both entities also are essentially in campaign mode for the next eight months, as we wrote last week. Congressional Republicans and the White House are punting anything political tough for their own political bases (immigration and Social Security) in order to avoid problems in this campaign year.


Here come the U.S. military cuts -- and the political fight they’re certain to trigger: Here’s a different political story, but one that could resonate almost loudly as the 2014 campaign: The federal government is planning to shrink the military as both the wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan have come to an end. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports: “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today will fire the opening salvo today in a bloody budget battle when he recommends drastic budget cuts billions of dollars and would take US military forces lower than to pre-World War II levels. The proposal would also eliminate the entire wing of Air Force A-10 "tank killer" attack aircraft and the cold war U-2 spy plane.” Why is it a political issue? Here’s the New York Times: “[S]ome members of Congress, given advance notice of plans to retire air wings, have vowed legislative action to block the move, and the National Guard Association, an advocacy group for those part-time military personnel, is circulating talking points urging Congress to reject anticipated cuts. State governors are certain to weigh in, as well. And defense-industry officials and members of Congress in those port communities can be expected to oppose any initiatives to slow Navy shipbuilding.” The old politics of Washington would dictate that this would be a knockdown drag out fight between the Pentagon and Congress. But consider the new politics of Washington where earmarks are taboo not something to run on anymore. This fight will get loud, but will it resonate with voters if it looks like members of Congress are simply fighting for pork?

Look who’s not coming to today’s RGA presser -- Chris Christie: Yes, Chris Christie continues to help the Republican Governors Association by raising boatloads of money ($18 million so far since becoming chairman). And, yes, his GOP colleagues believe he should remain RGA chair despite the scandals rocking his administration ("Best I can tell, he's got support from the members from Maine to Nevada," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told NBC’s Carrie Dann over the weekend). But if you want a reason why Christie’s troubles ultimately could be unsustainable for Republican governors, consider this: The RGA today is holding a press briefing in DC -- without its chairman. At 1:15 pm ET, RGA Vice Chair Bobby Jindal, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Bill Haslam, and Gov. Rick Perry will brief reporters at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But Christie won’t be there. RGA spokesman Jon Thompson tells First Read: “He left D.C. [Sunday] to return to New Jersey for his daughter's 18th birthday and to prep for his budget address on Tuesday. He'll be missing the White House meetings too, not just this.” Thompson adds, “It's good to remember the RGA is not just one person -- it's all 29 GOP governors, and there are 10 governors with leadership positions in the organization.” Still, it will be a bit jarring to see the PAST chairman (Jindal) leading the presser today instead of the CURRENT one (Christie).

Walker sidesteps questions about those emails: Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appeared on Fox News Sunday to answer questions after 27,000 pages of emails surfaced in a case of a former Walker aide who pleaded guilty in 2012 to mixing politics with official business. “This is old news,” Walker said. “This is about a case that was closed last March. A Democratic district attorney in Milwaukee County spent multiple years looking at all this information.” But when Fox’s Chris Wallace asked Walker about 1) the email from his then-Chief of Staff Thomas Nardelli instructing Walker’s 2010 campaign team and county-executive office to coordinate on a daily conference call, and 2) another email suggesting that Walker’s aides communicated via private email accounts, the governor sidestepped the question. “I'm not going to get into 27,000 different pieces of information. The bottom line is a Democrat who led the district attorney's office looked at all this, decided not to charge anything other than the individuals you mentioned -- people who had worked for county in the past, but don't work for me today.” Yet he was a question that DID NOT get asked: What does it say about your leadership that some of your top aides (see Timothy Russell and Kelly Rindfleisch) were convicted for illegal activities?

Governors losing their halos: Given the Christie and Walker stories, one of us over the weekend wrote how many of the nation’s governors -- usually some of the most popular politicians in the country -- are losing their halos. “America’s governors used to hold their heads up high when they came to the nation’s capital. But this year? It’s complicated. For last several years, governors have been able to distance themselves from their counterparts in Congress and the White House: While Washington bickers, stalls and grandstands, governors across the country are getting things done. But when they gather this weekend for the annual National Governors Association meeting, many of them find themselves in trouble back home with scandals and dicey re-election campaigns. Two of the country’s most prominent governors – Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin – are facing scandals and investigations that could hurt any possible presidential bid in 2016.And a slew of Democratic and Republican governors are facing difficult re-election bids this November, such as Govs. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., Rick Scott, R-Fla., Paul LePage, R-Maine, Tom Corbett, R-Pa.” After hosting a dinner last night for the nation’s governors, President Obama -- who has lost his post-re-election halo himself -- delivers remarks at the White House to the nation’s governors at 11:00 am ET.

Enter the Wolf: This year, six incumbent GOP senators are receiving Tea Party primary challenges, and the first one takes place next Tuesday in Texas (between Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Steve Stockman). And here’s the central question: What is more powerful -- the anti-establishment/anti-incumbent force inside the party, or these challengers’ big flaws? On Sunday, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported this story on Milton Wolf, the Tea Party candidate taking on Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). “… Wolf posted a collection of gruesome X-ray images of gunshot fatalities and medical injuries to his Facebook page and participated in online commentary layered with macabre jokes and descriptions of carnage. Wolf … said in an interview the medical images were legally uploaded to public social media sites and other online venues for educational purposes. They also served, he said, to demonstrate evil lurking in the world. However, Wolf and others viewing these Facebook postings relentlessly poked fun at the dead or wounded. The gunshot victim, Wolf joked online, wasn't going to complain about the awkward positioning of his head for an X-ray. In a separate Facebook comment, Wolf wrote that an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire resembled a wounded alien in a ‘Terminator’ film and that the image offered evidence people ‘find beauty in different things.’” Wolf later apologized for the X-ray postings. By the way, as anyone familiar with politics knows, these stories don’t arise by accident. It’s a reminder that establishment Republicans are starting to take Wolf seriously, especially in light of the embarrassing residency issue for Roberts.

Majorities in Ohio back gay marriage, legalized marijuana: By now, you know most polling shows majorities of Americans support both gay marriage and the legal possession of small amounts of marijuana. But it’s even a bit more striking when you consider that’s also the case in the quintessential swing state of Ohio. Per a new Quinnipiac poll, 51% of Ohio voters support legalized marijuana, and 50% of them back same-sex marriage.

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