On Runoff Day, the Tea Party's Alive and Kicking in Texas

Image: Konni Burton
Tony Gutierrez / AP

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Texas Runoff Day

Today, the Lone Star State holds its runoffs for contests where no candidate got more than 50% in its primaries back in March. A couple of races to watch: The first is the GOP runoff for lieutenant governor between incumbent David Dewhurst and challenger state Sen. Dan Patrick. Patrick is the favorite here, given that Dewhurst finished second in a four-man field (with 28%), while Patrick was first (with 41%). Remember Dan Patrick’s name -- think Ted Cruz meets state politics, but with the added facts that he’s a former Houston sportscaster and bar owner. If he becomes lieutenant governor, arguably the most powerful position in Texas politics, Patrick could push the Texas Republican Party even further to the right, in both deed and rhetoric. And that could make Greg Abbott’s first term as governor VERY interesting, if he goes on to defeat Wendy Davis in November as many folks in the know privately believe will happen. If Democrats are able to make any political gains in the Lone Star State come 2016, 2018, or 2020 -- and we stress the word “if” -- observers might look back at today’s runoff. Also, don’t be surprised if Patrick-vs.-Leticia Van de Putte (D) is a closer general-election contest in November than Abbott-vs.-Davis. The other runoff to watch today pits 91-year-old incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) against challenger John Ratcliffe. If Hall loses the runoff (he got 45% of the vote back in March), he’d be the first incumbent to go down to defeat this midterm cycle.

Tea Party appears to be alive and kicking in the Lone Star State

Perhaps the larger theme regarding today’s runoffs is that the Tea Party -- which has suffered losses in other parts of the country earlier this month -- is alive and well deep in the heart of Texas. “[A]fter a strong showing in Republican primary elections in March, Tea Party-supported candidates appear poised for further gains in runoffs on Tuesday, including a good chance of ousting the state’s three-term lieutenant governor and pushing the Republican-dominated Legislature further to the right,” the New York Times writes. “Several other Tea Party candidates appear to have the edge in Tuesday’s runoffs, including Konni Burton, a Tea Party activist armed with a Cruz endorsement in her bid to win the Republican nomination for a Fort Worth-based State Senate seat being vacated by Ms. Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor.” One of the reasons the Texas GOP has stayed so strong (while other Sunbelt states with large Hispanic populations have become more competitive) is that the leaders of the Texas GOP never used harsh rhetoric in the immigration debate. To the contrary, George W. Bush and Rick Perry both have been prominent Republicans espousing immigration positions to the left of the GOP base. If the Texas GOP ends up being led by folks who are using rhetoric in contrast to Bush and Perry and other longtime Texas GOPers, it could provide the opening Democrats have been looking for to fire up and organize what is still a fairly up-for-grabs Texas Hispanic electorate.

Obama makes surprise trip to Afghanistan, heads back to DC to deliver Memorial Day speech

With his administration facing increasing criticism over the allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals around the country, President Obama did two things over the Memorial Day weekend. The first: He flew to Afghanistan in a surprise trip to thank the U.S. troops there. “To all of you, I’m here on a single mission, and that is to thank you for your extraordinary service. I thank you as your Commander-in-Chief because you inspire me,” he said on Sunday. It never hurts a president to fly into a war zone to thank American troops, especially when the treatment of veterans has become such a hot political topic at home. The second: He addressed the VA story upon returning to Washington, where he delivered a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. “We’ve been reminded in recent days -- we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,” Obama said yesterday. “These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours -- now and for decades to come.” Later this week, on Wednesday, the president will deliver a big foreign-policy speech when he delivers a commencement address at West Point.

Burr gets blowback from veterans groups

Interestingly, no additional Democrats over the long Memorial Day weekend came out for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. In fact, maybe the biggest political development was that a few veterans groups accused GOP Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, of over-politicizing the VA mess when he called out these groups for refusing to demand Shinseki’s resignation. “Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than 40 years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate,” leaders of the Veterans of Foreign Wars wrote to Burr, per Politico. “Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly senator, you should be ashamed.” The Paralyzed Veterans of America added, “Only a politician would be so bold as to believe he or she knows better what veterans want and need than actual veterans themselves. You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country.” Wow. Burr’s decision to criticize these groups -- and the backlash it prompted -- represents a classic case of political overreach. And it changes the conversation from the Obama administration’s handling of this VA story, to Republicans stepping on the political pedal, as well as why Senate Republicans blocked additional VA earlier this year. “Relations between the organizations and Senate Republicans have been strained since February, when Republicans blocked a vote on broad veterans legislation, written by [Sen. Bernie] Sanders, that would have bolstered health and dental care, authorized 27 new clinics and medical facilities, added to veterans education programs, and dealt with veterans who suffered sexual trauma while in the military,” the Times says.

When going a little too far doesn’t help your cause

Burr may have unintentionally helped the Obama White House out politically on this one. Going for what some could argue was a political kill (in Washington speak) against Shinseki, Burr overplayed his hand. And now these veterans groups, which had been sitting on the sidelines in this VA story, are now hitting congressional Republicans. The White House still has a political mess on its hands, but Burr has now taken away some of the advantage the GOP was leveraging out of this.

The news out of Ukraine

Also over the Memorial Day weekend, we saw developments in Ukraine. The first was that the country elected a new president, Petro Poroshenko, who “promised Monday to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east and said he was willing to begin talks with Moscow,” the AP notes. The second development was that Ukraine’s military launched what seemed to be a successful attack against pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. “Pro-Russian separatists said Tuesday they sustained big losses in a gun battle Monday for control of this city’s international airport as sporadic shooting continued around the airport,” the Washington Post writes.

The polling on Edward Snowden

Given Brian Williams’ upcoming interview with Edward Snowden, which will air on Wednesday night, here is some of the polling we’ve conducted on him and the NSA-surveillance story over the past year: Per a Jan. 2014 NBC/WSJ poll, 37% said they opposed Snowden’s release of information on NSA surveillance, while 23% said they supported it; 39% didn’t have an opinion. According to a July 2013 NBC/WSJ poll, Snowden’s fav/unfav rating was 11%-34%, just slightly better than George Zimmerman’s in that same poll (14%-39%). And also in that same July 2013 NBC/WSJ poll, 56% said they were more worried that the U.S. will go too far in violating privacy rights, versus 36% who said they were more worried the government wouldn’t go far enough in monitoring the activities and communications of potential terrorists. That was a reversal from back in 2001 (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks) when those numbers were essentially flipped.

Cochran campaign highlights blogger arrest in new TV ad

Finally, in Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) campaign is using the arrest of Chris McDaniel supporter Clayton Kelly in a campaign ad, and it begins this way: ‘It's the worst: a Chris McDaniel supporter charged with a felony..."

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