Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

The Day Chris Christie Lost Any Chance of Ever Becoming President

It was yesterday, October 29, in the shore town of Belmar, New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie had come to commemorate the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Former Asbury Park city councilman James Keady, holding a sign that read, “Stay in NJ. Finish the job,” interrupted the governor to ask about his miserable record on Sandy relief.

My favorite line isn’t “Sit down and shut up!” It’s the more creative “I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here, buddy, and done the work!”

Or maybe it’s Christie’s comeback after he offered to debate Keady (“Anytime you like, buddy, anytime, anytime you like”), and Keady said, How about at dinner tonight? Revealing that he’s all bluff and no tuff, Christie shot back: “There’s about a thousand things I’ll do tonight. Going to dinner with you is about number 1,001.”

And do not miss Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, to his left, with that tolerant-spouse-of-an-asshole smile. (The Bruce Braley lookalike standing next to Christie, Belmar mayor Matt Doherty, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth.)

Here are more of Christie’s choice words, from NJ.com:

“I’ll be more than happy to have a debate with you anytime you like, guy, because somebody like you doesn’t know a damn thing about what you’re talking about except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here. I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here, buddy, and done the work…. Turn around, get your fifteen minutes of fame, and then, maybe, take your jacket off, roll up your sleeves, and do something for the people of this state.”

Keady, who said he is a lifelong resident, continued, “I was here for a month after Sandy, and…”

Christie finished Keady’s sentence for him.

” … and there’s been 23 months since then, when all you’ve been doing is flapping your mouth and not doing anything. So listen, you want to have the conversation later? I’m happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.”

Chris Hayes smartly booked Keady for his show last night, where Keady said that of the $1.1 billion allocated to victims of Sandy, “only 20 percent of those dollars have gotten to the people.” He also explained that he took off a month from work to clean up people’s homes and run the clean-up crews. Watch him nail Christie:

OK, let’s give Christie a break: he’s had a rough few days. Kaci Hickox, the nurse he had quarantined against her will, had been kicking his butt public-relations-wise (she’s now out bike-riding in defiance of Governor Paul LePage in Maine); Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had groused that his re-election campaign needed only Christie’s RGA money, and not his presence on the stump); and on Tuesday a Monmouth University poll was released that found 66 percent of Garden State residents are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the Sandy relief efforts.

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Still, Christie’s outburst in Belmar was even less “presidential,” to put it politely, than his long line of earlier tantrums. So far, only the nice moments of that day have made it to the governor’s YouTube channel.

Read Next: “Nurse Kaci Hickox Takes on Bully Governors Christie, Cuomo and LePage”

Nurse Kaci Hickox Takes on Bully Governors Christie, Cuomo and LePage

Kaci Hickox

Kaci Hickox (Photo: ABC News)

When Kaci Hickox stood up to Governor Chris Christie for quarantining her against her will and claiming she was “obviously ill” when she wasn’t, she did more than bring a little sanity to our Ebola-panic politics. She also struck a blow for all the teachers, nurses, public employees, minimum-wagers and workers of all kinds that Christie has bullied, belittled and silenced over the years. It was a sweet sight, and now she may be doing the same to another out-of-control, authoritarian governor, Paul LePage of Maine.

Hickox, a 33-year-old nurse from Fort Kent, Maine, has advantages that so many of Christie’s victims have not: a platform with the whole world’s attention on her for longer than the initial public encounter and, at least for now, widespread public sympathy. She also had photos of the plastic tent that Christie had confined her in, and its outhouse-like toilet. Even some conservatives could relate: her freedom was taken by government jackbooted thugs (though this time they were from New Jersey, not from Obama; he wanted her released). She word-whipped Christie succinctly: “I am not, as he said, ‘obviously ill.’ I am completely healthy and with no symptoms. And if he knew anything about Ebola he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious.”

Facing the possibility that an articulate and courageous nurse might unman him, Christie allowed Hickox to return home to Maine. For that, Rush Limbaugh slammed him for being a serial Obama-hugging weakling: “And so one week before the election, once again New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has caved and is seen as—we need to quarantine Chris Christie, is what needs to happen here, folks.”

Embracing Obama is one viral image that Christie, almost certainly running for president in 2016, simply cannot allow to spread. So he’s been trying to re-he-man up, which in this case he can do only by lying. He’s been insisting that he and his gubernatorial partner, Andrew Cuomo of New York, didn’t cave on enforcing their mandatory twenty-one-day quarantine for healthcare workers returning from West Africa. “Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change,” Christie told Matt Lauer yesterday. To get away with that whopper, he had to lie again about Hickox’s health, offering the medical equivalent of pretending that the George Washington Bridge was closed for a “traffic study.” Josh Marshall dissects the deceptions:

[Christie] said she would only have been forced to remain in isolation, “if she continued to be ill. She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours and she tested negative for Ebola. The reason she was put in the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and she was symptomatic.… The minute she was no longer symptomatic she was released.” [Emphasis added.]

Again, based on everything we know about Hickox’s care, this is false. She was never symptomatic for Ebola and she never had a fever with the exception of one reading which was apparently contradicted a short time later by a more accurate test.

Nor was there any need for her to be symptomatic under the policy that the two Governors announced. The explicitly and expressed goal of the policy was not to hold people who were symptomatic but to hold everyone who’d treated Ebola patients in West Africa in isolation for 21 days in case they became symptomatic. Again, these are Cuomo’s and Christie’s own words.

So Christie is not only lying about the specifics of Hickox case he’s also claiming the policy says something different from what he said it was when he announced it.

The guv went on to insist that he’s not a pandering hysteric, but anybody who worries that stigmatizing Ebola volunteers as unclean might disincentivize health workers willing to fight the epidemic at its roots, is. “I think Dr. [Anthony] Fauci is responding, unfortunately, as are many of the people from the CDC, in a really hyperbolic way,” Christie said, with a straight face.

As for Cuomo, there’s no doubt that he’ll win his bid for re-election next week. But he’s come across as Christie’s indecisive junior partner, flipping and flopping on how to handle the situation day by day. He even flip-flopped within the same lame joke, telling folks who’ve been in contact with infected people to stay at home and “enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, read a book—read my book—you don’t have to read my book, but stay at home for 21 days.”

Cuomo and Christie have a “special relationship,” according to The New York Times, which describes it as coming “across as a nonaggression pact, if not an outright alliance: Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has refrained from commenting on the Christie administration’s role in the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge; Mr. Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association, has declined entreaties to campaign for Mr. Cuomo’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election.”

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(Worse, they may have partnered up in trying to tamp down the Bridgegate scandal. The Wall Street Journal reported last December that Christie called Cuomo to ask to him to rein in one of his Port Authority appointees from investigating Christie’s PA appointees. “A Cuomo spokesman denied the call took place when the story came out, although the Journal stood by its story,” Politico recounts, and little more has been heard about it since.)

Meanwhile, Kaci is standing up to another statehouse bully, Republican governor Paul LePage of Maine, now in a tight race for re-election. Just around the time that Christie went stumping for him, LaPage ordered Hickox to stay at her home, where Maine State Police are monitoring the residence.

She says if she’s not allowed out by Thursday morning, she’ll go to court. “This policy is not scientifically or constitutionally just,” Hickox told Matt Lauer via Skype this morning. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”

If she does develop symptoms, she says she will of course isolate herself, call the health department, and arrange to be safely transferred to a hospital.

But if LePage, Christie, Cuomo, and the rightwing media have their way, even a perfectly healthy Hickox will remain quarantined until November 10—too late to vote, of course.

Watch her here, on today’s Good Morning, America:

Read Next: The Real Poop on Pig-Castrating GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst

The Real Poop on Pig-Castrating GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Good catch by Mediaite. The Morning Joe crew, practically echoing the GOP rebranding of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) as “Senator Uterus,” decided that the Democrats are losing their gender-gap advantage by focusing too much on reproductive rights. But…

Four minutes later: effusive praise for Republican Iowa senatorial candidate Joni Ernst’s pig-shit ad (her second swine-flavored spot of the cycle), which completes the metaphor of her “cleaning up Washington.” The closest the ad comes to an actual policy is Ernst’s promise to “balance the budget,” though the ad conveniently fails to mention she plans to do that by, for instance, shuttering the Department of Education and the EPA.

“I think women really like that first ad,” host Mika Brzezinski said, agreeing with Matt Lewis that Ernst would probably win the seat largely thanks to the two pig ads.

To sum up: ads about actual policies that the GOP passes and implements: bad. Ads not about any actual policies in any sense, but with a poop gimmick: great!

Ernst might be good at castrating hogs, but the real poop on her candidacy is that she’s chickening out on facing newspaper editorial boards. Perhaps afraid they’ll ask about her support of a personhood amendment to the State constitution, she’s reportedly been canceling meetings all over the state. The Des Moines Register, TPM writes, “called Ernst out on her support of a Personhood measure in a blistering editorial on Tuesday.

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“Specifically, the editorial criticizes Ernst for saying during the last U.S. Senate debate between her and Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA), that a Personhood amendment to the state Constitution that she supported ‘is simply a statement that I support life.’ ”

“Simply a statement that I support life”: Those are the exact same words Colorado GOP Senate nominee Cory Gardner has been using to muddy over his support of a federal personhood bill. Kyle Clark of KUSA in Denver forcefully called him out for dodging the issue during a debate last week against Senator Udall.


Read Next: If the GOP Wins the Senate, Expect a Total Assault on Reproductive Rights

Isolated Cases of Reason at Fox Are Unlikely to Become Epidemic

Shep Smith

You can count on one hand the number of cases in this startling outbreak, and we can predict with near certainty that they will not snowball into a full-blown epidemic. But reports continue to filter in of Fox hosts objecting on-air to their network’s fear-driven Ebola coverage.

How could this happen? Maybe Fox got embarrassed about the extent of the wacko hysteria it’s fueling, like the story of a woman in Louisville who sequestered herself because the plane carrying an Ebola-infected nurse from Dallas to Cleveland may have passed over her roof. Or maybe it’s because Fox News chief Roger Ailes wants to blunt accusations that Fox’s panic-mongering is interfering with public-health efforts to keep people safe.

Whatever the reason, last week it was Shep Smith and Greta Van Susteren who were telling their compadres to cool it; this week it’s Fox Business host Neil Cavuto (reportedly one of Ailes’s best Fox friends) ordering the right to lay off Obama’s Ebola “czar,” Ron Klain.

“I have a message for Republicans who continue to attack Ron Klain: Shut up and save it for issues that matter,” Cavuto said. “Okay, so the president’s Ebola coordinator doesn’t have any medical experience. Neither do a lot of you guys, but that hasn’t stopped you from pontificating as if you were Marcus Welby just the same.”

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Cavuto notes that there wasn’t a peep out of the GOP when President George W. Bush appointed a political insider without a medical background to coordinate the fight against bird flu in 2004. (It’s probable that Cavuto caught this info from Fox nemesis Media Matters, where Eric Boehlert published it a day earlier.)

Still, most of the folks at Fox know the party line on Ebola (or on anything else): it’s not Fox that is sensational—it’s the accusations that Fox is sensational that are sensational. Catch the exchange between Kimbery Guilfoyle and house liberal Bob Beckel toward the end of another cockeyed conversation on “The Five”:

Read Next: How the WHO’s blindness and Western biases let the Ebola epidemic run wild

Should Chuck Todd Be ‘Disqualified’ for Saying the Midterm Elections Don’t Matter?

Chuck Todd

A few developments today in the all-important Kentucky Senate race: Bill Clinton is expected to draw large, enthusiastic crowds for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Owensboro and Paducah; Mitch McConnell is on day two of his three-day fake-enthusiasm bus tour (the state GOP party is giving all-expenses-paid trips to volunteers as long as they “contribute to an enthusiastic atmosphere” at his events, according to an e-mail obtained by The Hill); and Chuck Todd continues to defend his now-infamous declaration that Grimes “disqualified herself” by refusing to say whether she voted for Obama.

As you’ve probably seen by now, McConnell put footage of Todd in a heavily rotated TV ad, and, from what I could tell after spending two days in Kentucky, Chuck Todd has become the face of the McConnell campaign.

Now, I don’t know if this exactly disqualifies Todd from moderating the New Hampshire debate tonight between Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, but the host of the storied Meet the Press and a self-described political junkie has said that it really doesn’t matter which political party wins the Senate. He made that case in an interview with President Obama on his debut MTP last month, saying, A couple more extra red or a couple more blue seats, what’s the diff? Three billion dollars, he said, is being spent merely “to see if it’s Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell that’s in charge of gridlock in the Senate.”

Todd then turned to panelist John Stanton, from Buzzfeed, to pooh-pooh Obama’s argument that party control of the Senate is actually, uh, important:

TODD: You know, Stanton, he was trying to make the rationale for why the midterms matter. And when you have to say, “I know some people don’t think, but they really do matter.”

JOHN STANTON: You’ve already lost…..

in terms of legislation passing. If Democrats keep the Senate, and they have, what, a two-seat or a one-seat majority, or if Republicans take it and have a two-seat or one-seat majority, you still are left with essentially the same dynamic in Washington.

But surely Todd, if not also Stanton, knows that even if no legislation passes (presumably the Dems would filibuster and Obama would veto GOP bills), a McConnell-led Senate would still affect the lives of millions of people. A one- or two-seat majority would give Republicans all the committee chairmanships, and that, as Norm Ornstein writes, “would undoubtedly stop confirmation on virtually all Obama-nominated judges, and probably on most of his executive nominees. And we would see a sharp ramp-up of investigations of alleged wrongdoing, with Benghazi and IRS redux. If you like Darrell Issa, you will love having his reinforcements and doppelgängers in the other chamber.”

Even Politico says, “No one should underestimate the significance if the GOP captures the Senate in November…”

Mitch McConnell, who would become majority leader if the Senate changes hands, is already promising to load up the appropriations bills with policy restrictions that could raise the risk of another government shutdown if Obama doesn’t sign them.

With both the Senate and the House in their hands, Republicans could put Obama on defense on everything from Obamacare to the administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, the Keystone XL pipeline, education policy and spending priorities.

And even with gridlock, McConnell could reach his dream of repealing Obamacare “root and branch.” Robert Reich warns in a MoveOn video that the R’s could use the Senate maneuver of “reconciliation,” which requires “only 51 votes to pass major tax and budget legislation instead of the 60 votes usually required.” That means, he says, that Republicans could win tax cuts for the wealthy and loopholes for Wall Street and pay for them with cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and education. (The Dems used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place.)

But issues that matter to real people often evaporate in the heat generated by horse-race pundits like Todd. Grimes is “disqualified” for not answering a question (“By dodging the question, did she cast a spell on herself that reverse-aged her to be ineligible for service in the U.S. Senate?” Jim Newell at Salon asks. “Did her incantation strike names from her ballot petitions, putting her below the threshold to qualify for ballot placement?”). But McConnell lies by claiming he can repeal Obamacare while letting Kentuckians keep their Kynect—without acknowledging that Kynect is Obamacare.

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As The Nation’s Reed Richardson writes: “When confronted about his specious reasoning in a subsequent Facebook Q & A, Todd backed off his judgment a bit (‘disqualifying for some voters’ was his new formulation), but still defended his over-the-top analysis as reflecting ‘political reality.’ But for all his cynicism, Todd still tries to have it both ways. For, later in the same Facebook chat he said he was ‘sick’ over the fact the McConnell camp had already stuck his Grimes-bashing soundbite into a campaign ad.”

Todd goes into still longer explanations with Media Matters, saying his wording was “sloppy.” It seems like his judgment that it doesn’t matter who runs the Senate was, at best, sloppy, too.


Read Next: Grimes Beats McConnell in Kentucky Debate

Shep Smith Slams Fellow Foxers for Fanning Fear of Ebola

Shep Smith

Shep Smith (Photo: Fox News)

Shep Smith, often the sole voice of reason on Fox News, had had enough of his colleagues’ conspiratorial, “hysterical” and “irresponsible” fear-mongering over Ebola.

Earlier this week, Laura Ingraham had called CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden “the Baghdad Bob of the health care community,” Bill O’Reilly and Brit Hume agreed that “the federal government under President Obama [is] not telling the truth” about Ebola, Sean Hannity said he wouldn’t cover the CDC press conference because “I don’t trust them,” and Fox house shrink Keith Ablow decided that Obama is letting Ebola into America because he “may literally believe we should suffer.” And that’s just a sampling of the crazy.

And so yesterday, Shep told his media brethren and the viewers they’re freaking out to take a deep breath and, basically, to ignore Fox. “Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio or television or read the fear-provoking words online,” he said. “The people who write and say hysterical things are being irresponsible.

He gave them an extra strong hit of fact-based reality:

You should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not.…

Suggestions have been made publicly that leaders and medical professionals may be lying to us. Those suggestions are completely without basis and fact. There is no evidence of any kind of which we at Fox News are aware that leaders have lied about anything regarding Ebola.

I report to you with certainty this afternoon that being afraid at all is the wrong thing to do. Being petrified and that’s a quote, is ridiculous. The panic that has tanked the stock market and left people fearful their children will get sick at school is counterproductive and lacks basis in fact or reason. There is no Ebola spreading in America. Should that change, our reporting will change. But there is nothing to indicate that it will.

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There is one concrete thing you can do to fight your fears, he said:

Best advice for you and your family at this moment get a flu shot. Unlike Ebola, flu is easily transmitted. Flu with resulting pneumonia killed 52,000 Americans last year alone. A flu shot will reduce your chance of getting flu. So get one.


We’ve also heard a lack of hysteria from Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, who took on O’Reilly by name. “My colleague, Bill O’Reilly, has called for the head of the CDC to resign. I disagree totally with him. I think Dr. Frieden has done a good job and I want him to continue to lead this,” she said Monday.

“I think Bill O’Reilly’s dead wrong on this one.”

But mostly it’s Shep who, from time to time, actively counters the Fox narrative. (Keep in mind, he’s not risking his job by doing so. Last year he signed a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract, making him Fox’s second-highest paid anchor, after O’Reilly.) On many issues—birtherism, climate change and, most famously, torture (“I don’t give a rat’s ass if it helps,” he once shouted. “We are America! We do not fucking torture! We don’t do it!”)—Smith has bucked the Fox fear-and-hate machine.

Media Matters has put together a handy video of “Seven Times Shep Smith Was Fox News’ Voice Of Reason.” It starts with Smith educating Fox reporter Doug McKelway yesterday over his claim that there’s “widespread panic across the country.”

Are the Beltway Media Helping Mitch McConnell Stay in Power?

Alison Lundergan Grimes

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, file)

The Beltway media are at it again, creating winners and losers long before Election Day. Yesterday I wrote that Alison Lundergan Grimes beat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s one and only Senate debate, and if you watched the debate, you might agree.

But if you had only followed the media coverage, you might well believe that Grimes is a goner, that her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama was of such import that it rightly overshadowed all other issues the candidates fought over—minimum wage, jobs, climate change, student loans, healthcare—and that her demurral was far more worthy of coverage than McConnell’ s actual lies and deceptions about the healthcare of 500,000 Kentuckians.

And if Grimes’s non-answer wasn’t a pretend disaster enough for the media to hyperventilate over, they got more confirmation later yesterday when the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee announced it wasn’t going to spend more to run ads in Kentucky. Well, surely that showed that Big Dems agreed with Big Media that Grimes was out. Money speaks. She’s over. Or so it seems.

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But the media have it wrong. First, on the debate: Columbia Journalism Review did a large round-up of the political media responses to Monday’s debate and found that the coverage was “imbalanced” and that it “calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.”

Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes made national headlines during the debate for again declining to share how she voted in previous presidential elections. At the same time, however, the Washington press corps barely covered a claim by incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell that Obamacare, unpopular in Kentucky, could be repealed without dismantling Kynect, the popular statewide healthcare exchange funded through the law. McConnell’s argument is not only factually questionable, at best, but also seems to be of much more potential consequence to the state’s voters. Monday’s debate was the only televised face-off scheduled before the November election, and the imbalanced coverage calls into question the national media’s role in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.

Grimes’ non-answer received headline treatment on web stories at CBS, NBC ABC, and CNN. The Washington Post devoted an entire piece to the refusal, which led the Associated Press’ story , and Politico and National Journal both listed it as their top takeaway of the debate. Such stories either omitted McConnell’s claim or played it down relative to Grimes’ comment. FoxNews.com mentioned only the latter, meanwhile, and The Wall Street Journal left McConnell’s statement as its story’s kicker, unchallenged.

It’s not as if the media was hearing Mitch’s lie for the first time and simply lacked the time to study up on it. It had all been reported on before:

Liberalmedia and a few national outlets, such as the AP, challenged the five-term senator’s claim back [in May]. Indeed, an Obamacare repeal would have huge consequences for the Bluegrass State, as an estimated half-million residents have signed up for health coverage through its Kynect exchange. A Washington Post Fact Checker column soon after concluded, “the history of individual state exchanges shows it is not credible for McConnell to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the broad health-care system constructed by the Affordable Care Act, such as an individual mandate and subsidies to buy insurance.”

Given the availability of such reporting, not to mention McConnell’s hazy logic in a race in which Obamacare has been a central theme, it’s unclear why the national media didn’t pounce on his answer Monday. What’s more, local coverage of the debate suggests that Grimes’ voting history—a sign of her allegiance to President Barack Obama—is merely one of many concerns or Kentucky voters.

It is true that the DSCC stopped running ads in Kentucky in order to redirect funds to other state races. But the Democratic Senate campaign arm is still funding Grimes’s get-out-the-vote drive, and is “monitoring the race for future investments,” according to a DSCC official. In any case, Grimes is very well-funded herself, having just announced a record breaking nearly $5 million haul for the third quarter.

But the national media were quick to jump to the most melodramatic conclusion. As Daily Kos pointed out:

Today a rumor was spread throughout national media by irresponsible nationally-known media (Chris Cillizza, Jon Heilemann, Mark Halpirin, MSNBC, CNN) that “Democrats have abandoned Grimes”.

Heilemann and Halperin agreed on their program that “Her campaign is dead”.

This rumor was based upon the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) not having pre-purchased ad buys in KY market for last 3 weeks of campaign. The DSCC has been very active in the Kentucky market, with great ads playing. The DSCC acknowledged this was true, but that they were open to purchases if necessary.

Guy Cecil, the Executive Director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, posted at about 8:00pm eastern Tuesday night 10/14, on Twitter:

Guy Cecil ‏@guycecil 3h 3 hours ago

Just signed a $300,000 wire for the KY Get Out The Vote operation for @AlisonForKY. That’s an interesting view of “pulling out of the race”

And for all this, you’d never know that as of Wednesday afternoon, Alison Grimes is only three points behind Mitch McConnell in the RealClearPolitics average.


Read Next: Alison Lundergan Grimes: Secret Koch Conference Recording Is Mitch McConnell’s ‘47 Percent Moment’

Grimes Beats McConnell in Kentucky Debate


(Photo: USA Today/KET)

When Alison Lundergan Grimes began interrupting Mitch McConnell last night in the first and only debate in the Kentucky Senate contest, it became clear, if it hadn’t already, that she just could possibly win this race.

“I hate to interrupt,” Grimes said toward the end of the nearly one-hour debate, and went on to mock one of McConnell’s most frequent verbal tics. “But ‘under this administration’?—we’ve used that ‘this administration’ over and over again. Senator McConnell fails to see he has a role in all the jobs that have been lost in this state.”

It didn’t matter so much what she interrupted him about. The point was to show that she could dominate and rattle the Senate minority leader.

And she did. When it came time for the two candidates’ closing statements, McConnell was reduced to bragging that in a recent poll, “congressional staffers” had voted him the Senate’s hardest-working member. It was so stiflingly inside-the-Beltway that, should he lose, it could serve as his political epitaph.

Grimes still has an uphill fight, of course, and McConnell is up by four points in the latest poll, from Fox. But in last night’s debate, Grimes came off so strong and McConnell was so droning that it could possibly drown out her embarrassing refusal to say whether or not she voted for Obama, who’s more unpopular in the state than even the widely disliked Mitch.

But her ridiculous politician’s spin on that—claiming she wouldn’t answer because “our Constitution here in Kentucky grants the right to privacy at the ballot box”—is less ridiculous and much less consequential to Kentuckians than Mitch’s refusal to say what he really means when he vows to repeal Obamacare “root and branch.” The state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, Kynect, is hugely successful, and Mitch was as slippery as a wet doorknob last night. “That’s fine,” he said. “I think it’s fine to have a website. Yeah.”

As if the website portal to Obamacare isn’t itself a major root. As Talking Points Memo points out:

If Obamacare is repealed, then the federal subsidies for the coverage expansion would disappear and Kentucky would either have to strip that insurance for recent recipients or foot the large bill through the state’s budget.….

Grimes torched “the fictional fantasy land that Mitch McConnell is in” on Obamacare, saying that she would keep the law and tweak aspects of it, such as by extending the “grandfathering” clause so as to let individuals keep insurance policies deemed substandard by Obamacare rules.

She said more than half a million Kentuckians have benefited from the health care law—she didn’t use the word Obamacare—and promised that “I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hand.”

Grimes came across equally strong and McConnell equally out of touch on other subjects—from minimum wage (she called it a living wage; he wrongly maintained that it’s mostly for entry-level young workers) to student loans (she supports the Elizabeth Warren proposal to reduce student loan debt by taxing the rich; he says that would crush this generation’s children’s children and blah blah blah).

And although they both tried to out-coal each other, she accepts man-made climate change and is at least making noises about protecting miners from black lung, while he cited “George Will [who] wrote recently that back in ’70s a lot of scientists thought we were moving towards an ice age.”

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Again and again, she seemed to have more energy and was easier to listen to. His voice, on the other hand, tended to recede, as if pitched through the tunnel of his thirty years in Washington, a tenure she repeatedly bemoaned.

Many in the mainstream media had to allow that Grimes had the stronger performance. But they wouldn’t quite give it to her. For them, more important than the candidates’ stances on healthcare or shutting down the government was her tactical refusal to admit she voted for Obama.

It obscures her “otherwise” very “strong performance,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza said today on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show.

But it is of course media people like Cillizza, and the guy he’d sometimes sub for on The Daily Rundown, Chuck Todd, who largely determine what obscures what.

Mitch McConnell liked so much what Todd said about Grimes’s dodge—that it “disqualified” her—that he made an ad out of it.


Read Next: The Mitch McConnell/Allison Lundergan Grimes Kentucky Horse Race Update

The Mitch McConnell/Alison Lundergan Grimes Kentucky Horse Race Update

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Alison Lundergan Grimes (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Things were beginning to look up again for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat who has a fighting chance of knocking Mitch McConnell out of his over-warmed seat as Senate minority leader. After slipping in the polls and getting outspent by McConnell forces two to one, Grimes surprised everyone last week by surging in the latest Bluegrass Poll, topping Mitch by two points, leaving her within three points of McConnell in the latest RCP poll average.

Then, at an endorsement meeting with the Louisville Courier-Journal yesterday, this happened (see first 40 seconds):

Like so many Dems running in red states, Grimes’s campaign revolves around the chant “I’m not Barack Obama.” Which makes it all the more strange that she didn’t have a stock answer for a question she had to know was coming. “Grimes is fairly new on the national scene, but she’s not new enough not to know how to answer this fairly simply,” Phil Bump writes in The Washington Post. “’Yes, I voted for him,’ you say, ‘but I’ve been disappointed by a lot of the things he’s done, particularly on COAL and JOBS and GUNS’ or whatever.” Chuck Todd, the new host of Meet the Press, is not new enough not to know better than to go overboard by saying, as he did on Morning Joe, “I think she disqualified herself” (a blowhard statement the rightwing blogs are lovin’).

Still, Grimes’s refusal to answer a direct question kind of shreds the image she’s assiduously been building as a strong Kentucky woman who looks tougher handling a gun than Mitch. That—and proving her distance from Obama—was the whole point of her ad “Shooting Skeet.” “It’s that gun ad” says Democratic Representative John Yarmuth of Louisville that’s responsible for her rise in the polls.

Her refusal to answer if she voted for Obama comes right after Mitch’s own bad performance earlier this week: he sounded angry and petulant on the most popular radio show in Kentucky.

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No, we progressives don’t like that Grimes won’t say who she votes for, that she won’t mention Obamacare—even though its Kentucky incarnation as KYnect is extremely successful—or that she’s trying to sound like she’s dirty coal’s best friend.

But the risks of her losing—the GOP winning the Senate and McConnell running it—are worth sucking it up for. If you want to look deeper into Kentucky politics, you should check out “Five Days in Kentucky,” Al Jazeera America’s half-hour special tonight at 8:30 ET, the culmination of shorter reports that have been running all week.

And if you want to dig still deeper into the Kentucky coal debate, you have to see Chris Hayes’s “Coal Country,” also a five-parter running every day this week, on his 8 pm show on MSNBC; it began with a focus on Kentucky, travels to other states, and lands on the future beyond coal.


Read Next: A Kentucky objection to McConnell’s pandering to millionaires and billionaires

Scariest Ad of the Week

NRA ad

Every time I see this ad, or one of the ten others in its series, I start to shudder. It’s not just the Sturm-und-Drang music and the sheer weirdness of the script (“We are surrounded by a world that demands we submit, succumb, and believe in nothing…. the cowards who pretend they don’t notice the elderly man fall and who walk right past the little girl who’s way too young to be here alone, who raise the volume to silence the scream in the night”). It’s also creepy because you don’t find out until the very end what product it’s shilling. But here’s a hint: watching it, you might just feel like you have a gun pointed at your head. Agree, or else.

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Michael Daly at the Daily Beast details why this multimillion-dollar ad campaign is “despicable.”

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