With Mitt Romney sweeping the table against the sad remnants of the sorriest presidential field in years, the real action last night was in the Pennsylvania congressional primaries, where much of Washington's political press was caught completely off guard. Democratic primary voters knocked out two incumbent congressmen—Tim Holden, who’s represented his district between Harrisburg and Allentown for 20 years, and Jason Altmire, who won his district north of Pittsburgh in the 2006 Democratic wave. Both men found themselves in districts sharply redrawn by Pennsylvania Republicans.
For all the talk these days about activists trying to rein in corporate spending on political campaigns and conservative outfits like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more of an upwelling against the individual donors who are, arguably, having an even more outsized role in the post-Citizens United landscape. I wrote recently about fledgling efforts by some state treasurers to consider using their states’ pension funds as a way to encourage greater transparency in political spending by big Wall Street money managers.
Left without a manufactured scandal or over-hyped gaffe to talk about these past few days, the media circus has turned its attention to matters of a higher order: campaign semiotics.
This morning I wrote about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell trying out the Etch-a-Sketch on his abortion stance. But as Mitt Romney showed just moments later, he remains the unquestioned master of this machine. Here, children, is how it’s really done: March 5: At a town hall meeting in Ohio today, Romney was asked how he planned to help students better afford college.
The Washington Post’s Metro section, which despite depleted resources continues to do a bang-up job covering the D.C. region, had a sharp story on Sunday raising the terrifying prospect that Etch-a-Sketchism is a highly contagious disease. Apparently, for Republican politicians, mere contact with Mitt Romney is enough to lead them to start erasing and revising central elements of their political profile to make themselves palatable to the electorate at hand.
In September 2009, I was in Pittsburgh covering the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention when word arrived that Max Baucus, then-chairman of the Senate finance committee, had released his version of the Democrats’ universal health care legislation. It included a hefty tax on the high-priced health care plans enjoyed by many union members and fell far short of the employer mandate that unions were demanding.
In yet another high-minded day on the campaign trail, the two sides are now battling over the propriety of President Obama’s having yesterday invoked his modest upbringing thusly: “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” This was taken by campaign reporters, and the Romney campaign, as a not-so-subtle swipe at his well-born opponent, who this morning fired back: “I’m certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life. He was born poor.
What's the best way to run for president as a private equity titan and son of a CEO in a time of rising worry about economic inequality, against an opponent who likes to note that he "wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth"? Well, you could accept your lucky lot in life and do everything possible in your proposals to offer opportunity to the less well-off. Or you could start revising your own biography. From today's Washington Post: Romney is sensitive to perceptions that he grew up wealthy, so Obama’s “silver spoon” remark could strike a nerve.
Another day, and yet another story about the Romney campaign’s efforts to get their man to open up more to voters. This time, it’s Jason Horowitz’s turn to tackle the subject, in the Washington Post Style section, and he does as good a job of it as anyone, if you ask me, because he correctly diagnoses the problem as one of “trying too hard.” And like previous examples of the “what’s up with Mitt” genre, the piece includes examples of anecdotes that Romney’s supporters ardently believe that the candidate would do well to invoke more often on the trail.
When, a few months ago, I went to visit the spanking-new Pennsylvania Avenue offices of Americans Elect, the group that has spent millions of dollars (provided by undisclosed donors) to get a centrist third choice candidate on the presidential ballot, the first thing I noticed was the lone decoration on the main wall in the front lobby: a framed July 2011 column by Tom Friedman touting the organization.