Fresh Attack Angles on Obamacare To Keep Issue Alive

As the GOP opens the legislative year attacking the lack of security surrounding the Obamacare website sign-up process, a broader list of attack angles to be employed by GOP lawmakers is being reported by Politico.

This signals a months-long assault on Obamacare with a panoply of new storylines — and good news for Republicans who rightly believe keeping a primary focus on Obamacare problems, not extraneous issues — is the way to optimize Senate and House pickups in November.

Some of the new angles include attacks on unfair IRS implementation, ongoing confusion with the tax code for individuals, confusion surrounding employers’ responsibilities, and other bureaucratic nightmares sure to occur as the new law in implemented.

The GOP attacks will, by their very nature, require rebuttals and clarifications from the White House and vulnerable 2014 Senate and House  Dems doing all they can to avoid talking about Obamacare — thereby guaranteeing it remains a front and center issue back home.

Gordon Hensley

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley More Vulnerable Than Appears

Having worked on two of former GOP Senator Gordon Smith’s campaigns, and having spent a bit of time on the ground in Oregon, there’s no question incumbent Jeff Merkley has an advantage going into his 2014 reelection. Nevertheless, the incumbent’s body language of late — and his clear worry about the broken Obamacare promise of keeping your policy if you choose to do so, demonstrates he’s quite concerned.

Monica Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, has the right stuff to win this race. In 2004 Wehby was the chief petitioner of Ballot Measure 35, which would have limited non-economic damages in medical lawsuits. Voters narrowly defeated the measure, but Wehby has remained active in medical policy circles and serves on the board of the American Medical Association.That’s great for fundraising.

A critic of Obamacare, Wehby said she opposed the requirement that individuals buy health insurance, and has significantly ramped up criticism of Merkley and his embrace of the President’s signature health reform issue.

A Catholic mother of four, Wehby, 51, grew up in Tennessee, then studied at Notre Dame and Baylor. She moved to Portland 15 years ago to work at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel.

While there is a GOP primary, keep an eye on this race in general and Wehby in particular. It has the feel of possibly breaking late against the incumbent if she wins the primary and runs a strong campaign.

Gordon Hensley

Mary Landrieu Ends 2013 On the Run

Along with President Obama’s broken promise regarding Americans’ ability to keep their health care plan comes the growing electoral problems for Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu — who ends 2013 on the run more than any other Senate Dem incumbent facing reelection in 2014. Arkansas Senator David Pryor, however, is worse off — he’s already a dead man walking. So the ‘good’ news for Landrieu is that she’s still upright.

Pryor will end up being the first 2014 Senate Dem written off by the DSCC, as he is polling in the low 40′s and has little chance of winning his uphill battle against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton — a candidate right out of central casting. No need to rehash his stellar resume.

Mary_LandrieuLandrieu is a more interesting case due to the fact she’s a seasoned pol who has been able to survive by cobbling together a reliable coalition of African American voters and just enough white voters — approximately 32% — to win reelection (albeit against relatively weak GOP candidates).

But this time, the Obamacare debacle will likely catch up with her, and her enormous statewide December ad buy of $250k (excluding New Orleans) to defend her Obamacare vote illustrates her problem.

While GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy still needs to show more aggressive fundraising, more robust attacks on Landrieu, and get past a tea party candidate who is not without some merit, Landrieu is right on the bubble as we end the year.

Gordon Hensley

McCain-Feingold Diminishes Party Ad Spending — Big Time

In a piece by Liz Wilner for the Cook Political Report, she reports: “In the 2014 midterm elections, outside groups are on track to account for a majority of all TV ad spending. In a recent talk for the association of local TV broadcasters, the University of San Francisco’s Ken Goldstein, using CMAG data, calculated that outside groups’ share of spending on TV advertising in midterm elections escalated eight-fold within eight years: from just 6% in 2002, to 26% in 2006, to 48% in 2010.

Conversely, groups’ growing share of TV ad spending has come mostly at the expense of parties, whose share shrunk from 32% of TV ad spending in 2002 to 21% in 2006, to a paltry 8% in 2010, per Goldstein and CMAG data.

That’s astounding when you think about it.

As lobbyist Bruce Mehlman observes, “McCain-Feingold drove money [and] power from broader, transparent party committees to opaque, single-issue outside groups.”

A firm verdict of failure has been rendered on the ostensible rationale for McCain-Feingold.

Gordon Hensley

Tavenner Sidesteps Culpability on Obamacare Rollout

CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, caught in the middle of the firestorm surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout debacle has, legitimately, been spared much of the blame. Tavenner retains much of the bipartisan support she had when the U.S. Senate confirmed her on a 91-7 vote in May, 2013.

tavennerBy the time she was conformed, the website and its technical components were far down the track, and she was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Tavenner, who served as Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources under Governor Tim Kaine, has historically had a strong relationship with health care business interests as well as GOP leaders like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and others.

It is highly unlikely she will lose support of her GOP benefactors due to the fact she is not a liberal bureaucrat, and highly regarded as a competent manager. Instead of being a scapegoat for the Obamacare rollout, she will end up being a key part of the solution — but if, and only if, the Obama Administration can retain the political support necessary to survive the most significant crisis of his Presidency.

Tavenner is an asset to Obama — and now she has to perform.

Gordon Hensley

Credit Cuccinelli Campaign for Keeping It Close Amid Negative Ad Avalanche

The news, obviously, is that Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia Governor’s race — but it was a win where he was holding on at the end; holding on as the Cuccinelli forces did the only thing they could after getting badly outgunned on TV: use President Obama’s late appearance to make the race a referendum on “Obamacare.” Smart play — and the only play after getting buried in negative advertising.

Still, this late tactical move by Cuccinelli was well executed as they were handed a gift from the increasingly unpopular President. Why show up in Virginia parallel to the Sebelius hearings and all of the negative chatter about Obamacare? It’s mystifying why McAuliffe would even want him there. They obviously calculated they needed him to meet turnout objectives. But still — McAuliffe paid a price for the Obama appearance.

As the finger-pointing is just getting started about having ‘abandoned’ Cuccinelli (he was), the Cuccinelli campaign operatives who sat there day after day after day in the bunker getting pummeled deserve credit for hanging in there. Like a football game, where the leading team just can’t put the other team away, the Cuccinelli guys ‘hung around” and looked for the opportunity they needed.

Yes, they lost — and its a big “L” on the win/loss scorecard. But ‘losing’ in a big league race in this manner — where they went down swinging and kept it close despite being financially abandoned — is no sin.

Gordon Hensley

Lamar Alexander Takes On Tea Party In TN Reelect

As reported in today’s Washington Post, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is taking on the tea party frontally in his re-election campaign, and it’s a smart formula that will work for him. While, on the one hand, he’s co-opting tea party anti-Obamacare messaging by consistently attacking the program, Alexander confidently showcases his authenticity and long record in Tennessee as a bipartisan problem solver.

Alexander is in touch with who he is: a pragmatic moderate to conservative lamarRepublican who has remained consistent throughout his lengthy tenure as a Governor and U.S. Senator. Running away from that record, and pretending to be someone he’s not is a non-starter, and remaining true to his governmental philosophy is admirable in the face of so many Republicans running scared in primaries.

Yes, Alexander has more leeway to question Tea Party orthodoxy because his opponent, State Rep. Joe Carr, is vastly underfunded. But it’s also a strategy that will end up working for Alexander in a state whose political culture embraces a more collegial, compromising political modus operandi.

Gordon Hensley

Cuccinelli Getting Blown Out on Airwaves

Listenting to the growing chorus of complaints about the competence of gubernatorial campaign of Ken Cuccinelli, one most frequently hears that he “doesn’t have a message” or that his entire campaign consists of simply slamming the ethics-challenged Terry McAuliffe.

That’s not entirely fair, nor is it accurate. Cuccinelli’s biggest problem is that he and his allies are getting blown out on TV by McAuliffe and his network of allies — especially in the expensive DC market. Anyone watching TV in DC can see the stark difference in ad volume.

cuccinelliAccording to Washington Post reporting, McAuliffe has spent $3.9 million on TV versus $2.9 million for Cuccinelli; McAuliffe allies have spent an additional $1.1 million versus just $477k for Cuccinelli backers.

Cuccinelli, in fact, has invested plenty of his resources attempting to define and develop his jobs message — the problem is that the other side has dumped a load of highly focused, effective, simple anti-Cuccinelli advertising that he’s “focused on his own agenda — not on us.”

Cuccinelli’s ‘agenda’ — according to the other side — centers around the issues of abortion, alleged anti-woman viewpoints, and other hot button issues that have driven his unfav near or even above 50%, according to some polls.

Unfortunately, the spending disparity will continue to grow, and there no easy strategic answers for the GOP candidate.

However, the charge that Cuccinelli hasn’t attempted to develop his rationale more fully is unwarranted. The other side simply has too big of a cash disparity, and a more potent negative message.

Gordon Hensley

Bogus AP Story On McAuliffe Warrants More Outrage

Before a news organization runs with a story that can affect the course of a major political campaign, much less one’s reputation, they need to have the facts nailed down. And when the facts are wrong, the media outlet deserves to be skewered and held accountable just as a campaign would for disseminating flatly false information.

The fact I support Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race is irrelevant to this matter. This is a matter of ensuring the Associated Press is held to the highest levels of journalistic integrity — as its intrinsic legitimacy as a news organization serves as the lifeblood and ‘true north’ of the media at large. It always has. And that’s why the magnitude of the sloppy reporting is so shocking.

Last night, AP published a story that rocked Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and involved allegations that a person identified in court documents by the initials T.M. had lied to prosecutors. The story flatly said that McAuliffe was the “T.M.” in question.  One hour and 38 minutes later, the AP retracted the story, saying they had no evidence that McAuliffe was the person involved.

The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the ‘T.M.’ who allegedly lied to prosecutors,” the retraction said. Other outlets’ reporting notes that McAuliffe’s name had indeed come up, but only as one of dozens of investors with the Rhode Island estate planner at the center of the case.

Thus far, there has been little follow-up reporting on how AP allowed this story to ‘hit the wire’ — and AP needs to be 100% transparent about the reporting and editing chain of command.

Charlie Cook: Wendy Davis Will Lose

While it’s hardly an earth-shattering prediction, it’s still news: Charlie Cook told a National Journal member briefing this morning that while Democrats will use the Texas Governor’s race as a party building exercise, Wendy Davis is “going to lose; she has no chance of winning.”