More Than Mississippi: What to Watch on Primary Night

Image: Charles Rangel Campaigns In Harlem One Day Before New York Primary

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23: U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) speaks to the media while campaigning in New York's 13th District on June 23, 2014 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The 84-year-old congressman faces a Democratic primary election tomorrow against New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images) Andrew Burton / Getty Images

More than Mississippi: Tuesday’s other contests to watch

Tonight’s Senate Republican runoff in Mississippi is getting all of the attention -- and deservedly so. Will another GOP incumbent (Sen. Thad Cochran) go down to defeat? Would a victory by a Tea Party challenger (Chris McDaniel) give Democrats an opening in the fall? And are McDaniel’s supporters, who are volunteering to be “poll watchers,” walk a fine line in Mississippi (of all places) if they start questioning the intentions of African Americans participating in the runoff? But don’t lose sight of the other races worth following tonight. Indeed, today is the last big, multi-state primary day until August. In Oklahoma, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), state House Speaker T.W. Shannon (who is African American), and others are running in a GOP primary to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). A recent poll showed Lankford at 43% and Shannon at 35% among likely Republican voters. (Note: If no one clears 50%, the top two advance to an Aug. 26 runoff -- yes a TWO MONTH runoff!) In New York, the political world is looking to see if another high-profile congressman (this time Rep. Charlie Rangel) loses his primary against a challenger (Adriano Espaillat). In Colorado, who will be the Republican nominee to take on Gov. John Hickenlooper in November -- Tom Tancredo, 2006 gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler. (By the way, Hickenlooper has been doing verbal gymnastics on guns this last month that perhaps indicate that he perceives himself a lot more vulnerable than folks in DC may realize.) And in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) is trying to become the state’s first African-American governor. Polls close at 8:00 pm ET in Mississippi, Maryland and Oklahoma, and at 9:00 pm ET in Colorado and New York. Utah, which is also holding primaries, has polls that close at 10:00 pm ET.

Cochran does have one advantage in tonight’s runoff: money

While McDaniel is the odds-on favorite to win tonight’s GOP Senate runoff in Mississippi, it’s worth pointing out that Cochran has CRUSHED him in fundraising and spending. It’s not even close. Here are the statistics per NBC’s Natalie Cucchiara: As of June 4, Cochran had $407,574 in cash on hand, while McDaniel had $60,157. In contributions from June 4-23, Cochran raked in nearly $1.25 million vs. $181,000 for McDaniel. So if Cochran does indeed lose, it won’t be due to money. McDaniel’s campaign has been almost ENTIRELY bankrolled by outside groups.

How to fix Washington

By now, most Americans say they’re fed up with political polarization and Washington’s dysfunction. So how do you change it? Well, the folks at the Bipartisan Policy Center have published a report listing recommended reforms -- when it comes to elections, congressional activity, and public service -- that make a lot of sense. And before you roll your eyes and claim this is just another think tank thumb-sucker that will go nowhere, it’s being fronted by Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, two guys who were fairly hard-charging political figures in their own right. A few of their ideas to fix this mess:

  • Redistricting commissions must have bipartisan support;
  • States should move away from low-turnout caucuses and conventions;
  • The country should hold a National Primary Day in June for all congressional primaries;
  • All political contributions (even those to outside groups) should be disclosed;
  • Congress should have five-day workweeks (imagine that!);
  • The president should hold regular monthly meetings with congressional leaders (it’s amazing that has to be written down);
  • Conference committees should help craft key legislation;
  • Americans 18 to 28 should commit to one full year of service to their communities or nation.

Reasonable and doable recommendations

It’s worth noting that two of the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center -- Daschle and Lott -- hardly served in kumbaya times in Washington. During their tenures in the Senate, there was a government shutdown, impeachment proceedings against the sitting president, the divisive 2000 recount. Even so, Washington today seems MUCH WORSE than during those times. Also, all of their recommendations (like establishing a National Primary Day to boost turnout, a five-day workweek on Capitol Hill) aren’t big asks. They are very reasonable and doable proposals.

Andrea Mitchell interviews John Kerry

Meanwhile, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has interview Secretary of State John Kerry, who is back in Iraq for a second day of diplomacy. Some of the highlights:

Mitchell: You come here as part of your mission to hold Iraq together, yet [Kurdish leader Barzani says right off the bat that there is a new reality, a new Iraq - they want independence, what do you say about that?

Kerry: A united Iraq is a stronger Iraq, and our policy is to respect the territorial integrity of Iraq as a whole and president Barzani understands that…

Mitchell: Opposition leaders here today said they don't want American intervention even as our special forces are beginning to embed in small groups with the Iraqi command

Kerry: Well, that's not intervention, but what we are trying to do is help - and I understand that what they don't want. President Obama and the American people don’t want that, either.

The Export-Import Bank controversy

We are indeed living in interesting political times when the future of the Export-Import Bank has become a full-blown controversy. Here is the AP: “The White House and an influential pair of business organizations [the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers] called for renewal of the Export-Import Bank on Monday, one day after newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said the agency should be phased out. The bank's existence is fast emerging as a flashpoint in the internal Republican struggle between the business-backed establishment and tea party groups.” Here is a question to ponder: Is the Republican Party -- at some point -- going to risk losing its status as the party of big business by butting heads with the Chamber (on this, immigration, transportation infrastructure, the debt ceiling)? The groups that want to phase out the Ex-Im Bank may see that as a goal in an effort to quash “crony capitalism.” But what happens, politically, if the business community ever decides that the GOP might not be good for business? They aren’t ready to sign up for Obama’s Democratic Party, but will business be comfortable with the Clintons?

That time when Obama called the Ex-Im Bank “a fund for corporate welfare”

All of that said, it turns out that President Obama himself -- during his 2008 campaign -- criticized the Ex-Im bank. Here is that speech: “I am not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it’s there. There are some that don’t work like we had hoped – like the Bush Administration’s billion-dollar-a-year reading program that hasn’t improved our children’s reading. And there are some that have been duplicated by other programs that we just need to cut back – like waste at the Economic Development Agency and the Export-Import Bank that has become little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The emphasis is ours.

What many are forgetting about the ongoing IRS controversy

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the IRS controversy story -- which is now more than a year old -- hardly makes the Obama administration look good by losing emails and by having an official (Lois Lerner) take the 5th Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress. But it’s also important to remember what the story is all about: whether explicitly political organizations should be filing as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations under the tax code. Republicans say that just conservative-sounding groups were targeted; Democrats respond that liberal groups were targeted, too. But here’s the story many are missing: Why should primarily political groups get tax exemption as a 501c4? Folks are in an uproar because they couldn’t take advantage of a borderline shady way to raise money for political purposes? The IRS is not a good guy here, but are there real actual “victims,” either?

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