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Judgment Day Is Coming for the Incumbents, Again

Mississippi and Harlem couldn't seem more different, but lawmakers in both places face the same criticism: They've just stayed too long.
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Judgment Day coming for the incumbents, again

Three weeks after their first matchup, Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel face off again Tuesday in what’s become the cycle’s marquee Establishment/Insurgent-Tea Party Senate battle. In the last days of the runoff campaign, Cochran and his supporters are touting his ability to haul in federal dollars and disaster relief for the defense-contractor-rich Gulf Coast, and establishment favorite John McCain will stump for Cochran in Jackson today. Meanwhile, McDaniel’s invoking the names of national Tea Party heroes (and McCain foes), telling crowds that “next time Ted Cruz stands on that floor, next time Mike Lee stands on that floor, next time Rand Paul stands on that floor to fight for you, a son of Mississippi will stand next to them.” A thousand miles north, in a place that couldn’t seem more different than the deep South, 84-year-old Rep. Charlie Rangel is fighting for his political life again, trying to convince voters to return him to Congress for a 23rd time so he can use his seniority despite ethical woes that cost him his chairmanship. He’s up against Adriano Espaillat, a state lawmaker 25 years his junior who would be the first Dominican-born member of Congress – representing the growing Latino population in the historically black power center of Harlem. Cochran and Rangel may fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they share one big problem: the criticism that they’re overstaying their welcome for constituents who are ready for a change. If this really is an anti-incumbent year, Rangel and Cochran should both be headed for retirement after tomorrow.

Battle lines in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, Rep. James Lankford will try to stave off a challenge by former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon to decide the next likely senator from the state. It’s tempting to paint this as yet another Establishment/Tea Party battle; Lankford’s role in GOP leadership has been questioned by conservatives frustrated by the status quo (see: Cantor, Eric), while Shannon has racked up endorsements from Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. But proceed with caution: Unlike the other GOP incumbent/establishment types who have faced trouble, there’s really not a lot of room to Lankford’s right. And Shannon, who enjoyed a meteoric rise to being the state’s youngest and first African American House speaker, is no outsider to politics. He’s the state Speaker of the House for gosh sakes -- how much more establishment can you get? If no candidate clears 50% of the vote, the top two head to an Aug. 26 runoff. That’s looking very possible now. Also on our radar for Tuesday: primaries in Maryland (O’Malley wants his LG in office defending him), Utah and Colorado, where immigration and gun control legislation are hot topics. Bottom line: Tomorrow’s primaries… a LOT more interesting than you might realize!

Kerry arrives in Baghdad

As Sunni militants continue to gain ground, Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials to push for a new, more inclusive government capable of coordinated resistance against the insurgents. All signals point to that being a government NOT led by al-Maliki, though U.S. officials are taking pains to stop short of ACTUALLY calling for Maliki’s departure. On Sunday, Kerry said that the U.S. “would like to see the Iraqi people find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq.” There’s clearly skepticism that al-Maliki is capable of uniting the sectarian groups in a meaningful way, but the U.S. is also trying to appear as if it’s not picking and choosing the country’s leadership – especially as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses Washington of trying to put Iraq “under its hegemony” again. Complicating U.S. efforts to prod the government into action is what appears to be the collapse of the Iraqi army’s offensive capabilities. The U.S. advisers headed to Iraq now are set to encounter an army sorely lacking in training and equipment and demoralized by thousands of desertions. This trip is basically about Kerry trying to convince al-Maliki to go, but he’s also having to play defense, telling reporters over the weekend that “the United States of America is not responsible” for what is happening today in Iraq, despite criticism that this is the long-unintended consequence of the Iraq War itself.

Obama sits down with Mika Brzezinski

On Friday, President Obama sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. Asked if he second-guessed his earlier decision not to arm the moderate Syrian rebels, Obama responded, “If what you're suggesting is that there was a simple [solution] in Syria that would have avoided the civil war and chaos there, that's just not true. You know, you had a ruthless dictator that started killing his own people. And you had the makings of a moderate opposition that still exists and that we still work with. But not an opposition that was going to be in a position anytime soon to be able to compete with an army, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia supporting the regime. They just weren't going to be able to do that. And they certainly weren't going to be able to immediately compete with a bunch of hardened jihadists who had moved into the vacuum in some of these areas.” The management of the Arab Spring by this administration looks like it will be a debate that isn’t going away anytime soon. There are a growing number of second-guessers out there about different decisions the administration made, including the first big one, pushing out Mubarak, hich may have raised the expectations of folks throughout the region that the U.S. would get as involved in their countries during uprisings as the U.S. did in Egypt. (Exhibit A: Syria).

White House pushes family-friendly workplaces

Since his first campaign, Obama has promised to push for policies to make life easier for working families, including paid maternity leave and beefed-up childcare programs. Stymied by Congress, the White House today is hosting a summit to highlight how businesses can attract and retain better workers by offering more family-friendly programs. House Speaker John Boehner’s office has this response to the White House’s event. “Trouble is, too many middle-class families aren’t working at all. And those that are lucky enough to have a job are barely getting by with stagnant wages and higher costs on nearly everything. The House has passed bill after bill to help working families. In a recent guest post on the Speaker’s blog, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), chair of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, highlighted several of these solutions, including legislation allowing private-sector workers the same comp time flexibility as their public-sector counterparts.” Don’t miss the political backdrop of this event: Democrats want to exploit what is a growing gender gap between the two parties. And working mothers are a VERY important part of the swing vote that Democrats are counting on winning to save the Senate.

Far away from normal

On Sunday, the Washington Post wrote that Hillary Clinton has a wealth problem -- after her seemingly out-of-touch “dead broke” comment and then her more recent remark to The Guardian that she and Bill Clinton are different than other members of the 1%. “[W]e pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she said. But we’d argue that wealth isn’t always a problem when it comes to winning the White House; it’s how you talk about your own wealth. Remember that FDR, JFK, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush all won the presidency. What is potentially problematic for her is -- years removed from her husband’s administration -- having so many uber-rich friends and being disconnected from ordinary Americans’ struggles. Consider this statistic: It’s been 22 years since Hillary Clinton’s has truly been able to walk alone in public (that’s how long she’s had Secret Service protection). Hillary’s current situation reminds us of a line then-candidate Barack Obama gave to NBC’s Tim Russert when he asked Obama if he’d run for president again if he didn’t win in 2008. Obama’s answer was no. “[O]ne of the things that we bring to this race is we're not that far away from normal. You know, it wasn't that long ago that we were living in a small condo and it was getting too small for our kids, that we were trying to figure out how to save money for our children's college education and paying off student loans. That, I think, gives us some insight into what ordinary Americans are going through right now. Eight years from now, [Michelle] isn't so sure that we won't be in a different orbit, and we won't have that same feeling for what people are going through.”

Rand Paul vs. Dick Cheney

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), if he runs for president, could very well be the most interesting story in 2015. And it will center on challenging the GOP’s traditionally hawkish foreign-policy/national-security positions – a debate that really hasn’t happened inside the party since the Bush years. Here was Paul on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked if Dick Cheney was a credible critic on the latest conflict out of Iraq: “I think the same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq war. You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out.” And here was Cheney firing back: “Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist,” the former vice president said on ABC. “He doesn't believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world." When you think about it, no other prominent Republican officeholder has criticized Cheney and Bush’s handling of Iraq so explicitly. On another topic, one thing we’re watching is how Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is leading his own anti-Common Core push with “the Ron Paul curriculum” – an “education in liberty” for students K-12. But here’s our question: how much does this marketing pitch (self-teaching, interlocking disciplines, big-picture thinking) sound like the things conservatives love to hate about Common Core itself -- which is dictating a curriculum in the first place.

Everything old ain’t new again

And speaking of 2016, don’t miss the latest results from our NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll over the weekend. Our survey found that near-majorities say that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would both “represent too much of a return to the policies of the past” if elected president in 2016. And speaking of Jeb Bush, he has some TERRIBLE numbers in the latest Iowa-Quinnipiac poll. Just 28 percent of respondents gave him a favorable rating (and a tepid 55 percent of Republicans!), versus 36 percent who gave him a thumbs down. In a head-to-head match with Hillary Clinton, he’s down 36 percent to her 49 percent support.

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