By Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez
Monday, November 29, 2010; 7:52 AM
1. Sen. John McCain was asked for the umpteenth time on Sunday about his former running mate, Sarah Palin. And while his previous responses elicited plenty of headlines, his latest might take the cake.
The Arizona Republican, responding to a question from CNN's Candy Crowley about Palin being "divisive," noted that Ronald Reagan was often seen as divisive as well.
It wasn't a direct comparison to Reagan (McCain never said Palin is similar to Reagan), but it was a comparison nonetheless. And the reaction was swift, as it often is when it comes to Palin.
So the big question follows: Is it a valid comparison? The answer: In many ways, yes.
The fact is that Reagan has benefited tremendously from the years since his presidency, and people look back on him in a much favorable light than they did during his presidency.
According to Gallup polling data, Reagan's average approval rating during his presidency was 53 percent -- lower than John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
As for the operative word here -- "divisiveness" -- Reagan had a claim to it. Many more Republicans approved of him than Democrats, and even at his peak, just 68 percent of Americans approved of him, a number lower than everyone but Richard Nixon over the last 65 years.
The reason Reagan couldn't get higher than that was because there was a segment of the population, about one-third, that was dead-set against him. Reagan is often listed in polls of people's favorite presidents, but because of that one-third, he's also among the leaders for people's least favorite presidents. His detractors often feel just as strongly as his supporters about Reagan's legacy.
Recent polling shows Palin is on par with all of that. According to Quinnipiac University, nearly three quarters of Republicans view her favorably, while just 8 percent of Democrats do. And a recent AP-Gfk poll showed 34 percent of people viewed Palin "very unfavorably." Those are people that will be difficult for Palin to satisfy under any circumstances, much like the one-third of people who refused to support Reagan even after he was shot in 1981 and the economy improved in 1986.
Where Reagan differs from Palin, though, is the so-called "Reagan Democrats." Even in his darkest days, about 20 percent of Democrats supported the former president.
Palin hasn't gotten anywhere close to that; there are basically no Palin Democrats. And given the passions she evokes, it's hard to see how such a group would form. Right now, she has plenty of work to do just to woo independents, who oppose her more than they support her right now.
No comparison is perfect, because unlike Reagan, Palin has never been president. But if you're asking whether Reagan was divisive, the answer is yes.
Is Palin similar to Reagan? That's a different question.
2. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (D) is up with his second TV ad in the race to succeed Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D).
The minute-long spot features John Dudlak, the president of the Chicago Paper Tube and Can Company, praising Emanuel for his "tenacity" in helping to keep the company from moving to Wisconsin.
Emanuel "made the city and the state and the developer see the logic of keeping employees in Chicago," Dudlak says, adding: "It's just that he wants to do what's right, and he will just latch on to it and he'll pursue it and pursue it and get it done."
Late last week, Chicago election law attorney Burt Odelson filed a challenge to Emanuel's residency status, claiming that the Democrat should not appear on the Feb. 22 ballot because he has lived in Washington, D.C., not Chicago, for the year leading up to Election Day. Emanuel's camp has contended that the argument his residency is moot because he has voted in Chicago, owns a home in the city and left for the purpose of government service.
Fifteen residency challenges have been filed against Emanuel, and more may be on the way ahead of tomorrow's deadline. Even if the arguments are baseless, as Emanuel's camp contends, they're likely to prove an unwelcome distraction for his camp in the race.
3. All eyes are (again) on Minnesota, as the hand recount in the race to succeed retiring Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) officially kicks off today.
Former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) led state Sen. Tom Emmer (R) by 8,770 votes on Election Day, a margin that puts the Democrat comfortably ahead of his rival but is still slim enough to send the race to an automatic recount.
State election officials are slated to finish counting ballots by Dec. 7, with the winner expected to be certified by Dec. 14. If neither side contests the results, the winner could be sworn into office early next year; a court challenge could mean that Pawlenty remains in office until the process is resolved.
Despite the comparisons to the 2008 Senate recount in the race between Sen. Al Franken (D) and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R), a protracted battle appears unlikely this time around: Dayton's lead is much larger than Franken's 215-vote margin was in 2008, meaning that Emmer will be hard-pressed to make up ground; and Minnesota changed up some of its election rules after the 2008 Senate battle in an effort to make it more difficult for either side to challenge ballots.
4. Attorney Joe Miller's (R) challenge in the Alaska Senate race continues, more than a week after the ballot count ended with Miller's main rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), besting him by five percentage points in the three-way contest.
Miller's camp is disputing about 8,000 ballots in the race, but even if all of those ballots were to be thrown out, Miller would still come up short in his bid to unseat Murkowski, who waged a write-in bid after Miller beat her in the GOP primary.
That slim window of opportunity has led to increased criticism of Miller; the Alaska Republican Party and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) are among those who have called on Miller to end his challenge.
Still, Miller is pressing on, urged by his supporters to continue his fight to ensure the integrity of the election. His challenge is not only an exercise in principle, however; the longer the battle lasts, the greater the risk that Murkowski may lose her seniority.
5. Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) will decide in early 2011 whether to seek a rematch with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), according to the Associated Press.
Talent told AP that he is "seriously considering" a return to elective politics.
"I do feel like this is a time where everybody has to think about what they can do to help the country," Talent said. "This is an obvious possibility for me. I have done it before, and I think I could put on a strong race."
The other big name in the mix is former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who stepped aside for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in the open 2010 Senate race which Blunt won. After running an insurgent campaign against the party-favored candidate in the 2008 governor's race, Steelman earned some goodwill by stepping aside and supporting Blunt.
She told AP that she has no timeframe for a decision but that she will make it irrespective of other candidates' deliberations.
"I've been talking to people around the state," Steelman said. "I've had a lot of encouragement, very positive feedback."
McCaskill is thought to be among the most vulnerable Democrats in the country in 2012, as her state has turned sharply against President Obama over the last two years. McCaskill on Sunday emphasized her independence from the president and the Democratic Party in an interview with Fox News's Chris Wallace, noting that she bucked her party on cap and trade, omnibus spending bills and comprehensive immigration reform.
Other potential GOP opponents for the senator include Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner.