Post Politics: Correspondents' Dinner, Online Comments, Specter's Future, More

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and The Fix Blogger
Friday, May 8, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration with Washington Post staff writer and The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza. Cillizza was online Friday, May 8 at 11 a.m. ET.


Chris Cillizza: Good Friday morning everyone.

The Fix family is double teaming this chat. I'll be doing the writing and Charlie Fix (my ten week old son) will try not to cry too much so that I have to take a break from chatting.

WARNING: He is likely to get hungry sometime between 11 and noon. So, there may be a lacuna (or two) in the chat. I will try to keep them brief.

Lots going on with Arlen Specter's party switch sill roiling the waters and the White House Correspondents Dinner (aka "nerd prom") coming up tomorrow night.

So, let's get going.


San Antonio, Tex.: Have you heard anything new about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) resigning her seat to run for Governor? The whispering in Texas is getting pretty loud. Do you think a special election in Texas would give Democrats a better chance to win that seat?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks San Antonio for starting us out on the right foot -- a political one!

KBH is definitely running against Rick Perry for governor in 2010 but it's not totally clear to me when (or if) she will resign her Senate seat to do so.

Initially, she had been expected to leave the Senate within the first six months of the year but that time line has been pushed back so most smart observers believe she will step aside either this fall or winter.

When she does, there will almost certainly be a special election to replace her and, yes, Democrats have a MUCH better chance of winning a special than they would a normally scheduled election.

Establishment types within the Democratic party seem to favor Houston Mayor Bill White although former state Comptroller John Sharp is also running.


Merrimack, N.H.: What do you think of Romney's semi-move to NH? Is he just setting up a presidential run or is he thinking of running for Senate or something? (And since, despite the early primary, NH has only ever produced one president, why do people think moving here would help?)

Chris Cillizza: I think the Mitten saw what happened to John "I'm not sure how many houses I own" McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign and realized that a guy who owns four or five houses might rub some people the wrong way in this sort of economic climate.

Romney's decision to keep the N.H. house is a convenient one for his political prospects, though I would say that even if he had sold that home and lived in Utah or Michigan for the next several years he would still have to be considered the favorite in the New Hampshire primary in 2012.

And, make no mistake, Romney is gearing up for another run. Make sure to check the Fix this afternoon for my latest Friday Line ranking the most influential Republicans in the country. Mitt is WAY up there.


Fairport, N.Y.: I notice you post your blog VERY early in the morning (Charlie Fix is a nice addition by the way). Do you rise at 3 a.m. to prepare your blog?

Chris Cillizza: Charlie thanks you for the shout out. And, by "thanks you" I mean that he sucks on his left fist and makes some cooing noises.

As for when I write, I don't want to take all the mystery from the Fix, do I?


Oakland, California: Chris, I'm curious. Do you read the comments that follow The Fix posting? Do you know if any of your colleagues read the comments postings?

Chris Cillizza: I do read the comments.

Since we started the Fix, we (me and my great editors) have been trying to figure out ways to make the comments section more of the sort of discussion you might have with a friend in a coffee shop and less the kind of discussion you might have with your mortal enemy after 100 beers.

It's not an easy task. Features like "Wag the Blog" where we solicit reader ideas to a specific questions and feature the best of those comments in a separate post have helped things but politics is an area where people feel passionately and they tend to like to voice their opinions loudly and longly.

So, it is a work in progress. I'd like to see us move toward something more like Huffington Post does where commenters rate each other and those with the highest ratings get precedence. Sort of like rating the buyers and sellers on Amazon.

I think that would make for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.


Tacoma, Wash.: Who is going to win the battle in the Republican party between the hard right and those who think the party needs to be more moderate and inclusive?

Chris Cillizza: This is a central question to determining what the Republican party will be over the next four to eight years.

Although some within the party deny it, there is clearly a divide between the more establishment Republicans (Romnney, Huntsman, Barbour, Cantor) and the movement conservatives (Palin, Huckabee, Sanford, El Rushbo).

Is it possible that a candidate could emerge in 2012 to bridge those divides? Maybe. But it's hard to imagine at the moment.

All that said, I don't think the fight within the GOP right now is any different than what went on with Democrats in the earlier part of this decade -- more centrist vs more liberal -- or what has gone on in political parties for centuries when they are washed out in several straight elections.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think Specter is so beholden to national Democrats for support in his re-election campaign that he'll be a more reliable party vote?

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the question, Congressman Sestak.

Look, Specter HAS to know that his first week as a Democrat hasn't exactly gone as planned.

He's looked listless and, at times, totally lost -- an odd thing for a politician held in such high regard as a strategist by so many of his colleagues.

Tom Ridge deciding not to run makes Specter's path to re-election much clearer but there remains a real chance that Sestak run against him in the Democratic primary and just the specter of that challenge should force Specter to hue more to the Democratic line.

Watch Specter's positioning on the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA is coming back in some re-written way this year and if Specter doesn't get on board with it the second time around, organized labor will likely throw their lot in with Sestak.

And, that would be a huge problem for Secter.


Pittsford, N.Y.: I notice the WHCD is all over the press this year -- is it a bigger deal this year than in the past or just getting more coverage?

Chris Cillizza: I think the Correspondents Dinner is always a bigger deal in the first year of a new Administration.

There are so many new faces and a sense of excitement about politics that isn't the case in year six or seven.

And, since you mentioned the Correspondents dinner, let me use this time to engage in a bit of shameless self promotion: I'll be offering tweets from inside the room on Saturday night (and maybe even the occasional picture) at my Twitter feed:

Check it out. Seriously. All the cool kids are doing it.


Gonzo Gong-Show: What's more surprising, that Gonzo was invited to the correspondents' dinner or that he accepted?

Chris Cillizza: I am intrigued that Alberto Gonzales will be in attendance. On wonders if any of the celebrities there might confront him about Gitmo ala Laurie David and Karl Rove two years ago?

At This Dinner, A Dollop of Vitriol


Durham, N.C.: Do you think Obama will try to select a justice who is a major liberal intellectual leader, like the two Stanford Law folks (who also happen to both be gay), or will he take the safe route and elevate a moderate appeals court judge?

Chris Cillizza: I wish I knew.

My guess is that Obama and his team are looking for some combination of the two profiles you outlined.

On the one hand, Obama is at the apex of his political popularity at the moment while Republicans are struggling to stay relevant so he is likely to get whoever he picks confirmed -- barring some sort of bombshell revelation.

On the other, Obama seems genuinely committed to trying to reach across the aisle and isn't then likely to poke Republicans in the eye with a pick regarded as liberal.

Who knows?


Milwaukee: Chris, For the first time, MSNBC is showing the White House Correspondents' Dinner. You referred to it as the "nerd prom." What do you mean?

Chris Cillizza: "Nerd Prom," I believe, should be credited to Twitter sensation Ana Marie Cox.

What it means is what it says: a prom for nerds. It's sort of like how Washington is Hollywood for ugly people....


Washington, D.C.: "I'd like to see us move toward something more like Huffington Post does where commenters rate each other and those with the highest ratings get precedence."

You do realize that this will mean that conservative voices will be read with about the same frequency that they are heard on your op-ed page.

Unless you want to create a Huff Post-type amen corner, I think it's a bad idea.

Chris Cillizza: Right, that's the problem.

Again, my goal is to elevate smart liberal and conservative voices. I was sighting HuffPo not for its ideology but for its system of allowing commenters to grade one another.

I am open to any and all ideas about how to make dialogue on the Fix more on point and less vitriolic. If you've got one (or many) feel free to e-mail me at


Chris Cillizza: And no for a "Charlie Fix is sobbing break"....back in moments.


Chris Cillizza: BACK!


Fairfax, Va: I was listening to Rush Limbaugh last Friday and he just casually mentioned you as a writer he liked over at the Washington Post. So I have to ask...what does it feel like to get a shout-out on the EIB network, and what on earth have you been up to?

Chris Cillizza: El Rushbo!

Someone else told me he had mentioned me...I think it was just a timing issue because he and I were exchanging e-mails for a story I was working on about the future of the GOP.


Pennsylvania: "the kind of discussion you might have with your mortal enemy after 100 beers."

This made me laugh. Thank you.

But it's so true. I can't believe how mean people get in the comments section. I'm passionate about politics, too, but haven't some of these people heard about civil discourse?

Chris Cillizza: Yeah, it can be a little draining to read the back and forth (ad infinitum) sometimes.

Again, I am glad that people use the Fix as a forum to voice their opinions but I want to ensure that some folks who have thoughtful things to say don't get dissuaded by the volume in the room -- if you know what I am saying.


Denver, Colo.: Fix - first and foremost, while the new Wolverine movie is okay, it just about ruined Tim Riggins for me. Almost like seeing Tami Taylor in Season 5 of "24". Should the characters on "Friday Night Lights" be barred from appearing in other shows and disillusioning us?

As for politics, have you heard much about Ryan Frazier here in Colorado. He has announced a run for U.S. Senate against Michael Bennet. Young, intelligent, charismatic. He can blow the bricks off buildings when he speaks. Maybe one of those "new faces" the Republican Party is looking for?

Chris Cillizza: SUCH a good call.

I refuse to see the "Friday Night Lights" movie with Billy Bob Thornton because no one other than Kyle Chandler should be allowed to play Coach Taylor.

And, let's be honest, Wade Aikman is a no talent ass clown of a coach. I mean, seriously.

As regular followers of the Fix know, Connie Britton (Mrs. Coach) and Kyle Chandler are going to be at the Correspondents Dinner tomorrow night and I am probably going to embarrass myself and try to meet them like some weirdo Trekkie.

As for Colorado, I do hear lots of good things about Ryan Frazier and I know the establishment within the party out there is high on him.

I think everyone in the GOP is waiting to see what former Rep. Bob Beauprez decides about taking on Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

I could see Frazier running against Beauprez anyway but think he wants to see where the race shakes out before he makes any final decision.


Rolla, Mo.: Yes, Washington, D.C., the WaPo editorial page is full of liberal voices like Krauthammer, Gerson, Kristol, Will.

Chris Cillizza: Booyah!

I am using this post to note that Rolla, Missouri is where the Carnahans -- the dominant family in Show Me State politics -- hails fron.


Sestak: If President Obama calls Sestak and personally asks him not to run, would he stay out? Is that the type of thing President Obama might do?

Chris Cillizza: OOOOOH.

GREAT question.

I don't think that is the sort of thing President Obama would do since LOTS of people asked him to stay out and let Hillary Clinton be the presidential nominee in 2008.

That said, if the president makes good on his pledge to campaign for Specter then that will be a huge lift for the incumbent -- particularly in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.


Rome, N.Y.: Hi Chris and Fix Jr. Sarah Palin will not attend the correspondent's dinner. It's reported that Todd Palin will. Is it common for male political stars to send their spouses to important events as surrogates outside the campaign season? Does Todd Palin have any political hopes or chances?

Chris Cillizza: I don't think the First Dude has any political aspirations of his own.

In fact, I think he would be perfectly happy if his wife announced tomorrow that she wasn't running for president in 2012.

Todd doesn't seem to me all that comfortable in the national eye. Plus, he is already famous: he's won the Iron Dog like five times.


Kingston, N.Y.: Chris, this morning on C-Span's Washington's journal, there was a caller who thanked the journal's unbiased reporting and then added that other than Fox News, they were the only news he considered fair and balanced.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but have the lines between opinion and news been so blurred that people don't know HOW to disagree with civility and to actually listen without bias?

Chris Cillizza: Yes.

I think part of the problem is that we have gotten into the habit of only listening to/reading/watching those people who agree with our particular political opinions.

As a result, we find it unfathomable -- and angering -- when someone does disagree, even if that disagreement is based on an honest difference of opinion backed by facts.

My solution? Everyone should read the Fix. People from the left and right hate me equally -- just read the comments sections.


Northern Virginia: I think what I hate the most about the comments sections on the Post generally and sometimes on the Fix is that there especially appears to be zero tolerance (by the commenters) for gentle humor, whimsy, silly feature story or change of pace stuff... everything that adds a little chuckle to the grim round of politics.

I'm not sure why that is, but please don't steer away from that element of what you do, just because there seems to be a nonpartisan "anti-joy" contingent out there in the comments, sucking the good cheer from our world.

Chris Cillizza: Totally agree.

I mean, if everyone took themselves a little less seriously we'd all be in a better place right?

At least that's what my life coach -- Dana Milbank -- tells me.


Chicago: Chris,

Which do the Republicans have a better chance of nabbing--Illinois's Senate seat or our governorship?

Chris Cillizza: Whichever race Rep. Mark Kirk runs for and, I believe, that is the Senate.

Kirk is going to make an announcement on his future plans in the VERY near future and sources tell me he is leaning toward a Senate bid.

I saw Kirk last night at the Hotline trivia contest -- where his team crushed my team -- and he didn't give anything up.


Chris Cillizza: Charlie Fix update: sitting in my lap (not crying) but forcing me to type with one hand.


On the lighter side of politics: The Los Angeles Times today carries a story about the indicted ex-mayor of Vernon, Calif. (population about 90), who is still pulling in a pension of about $500,000. I imagine this is even more than you would make from a WaPo pension. I don't know if he's the highest paid elected official, or ex-official, in the country. Any idea?

Chris Cillizza: Well, as you know, most reporters these days make seven figures....


Indianapolis: Can you preview your Friday Line rankings? A lot of Mitch Daniels chatter has resurfaced, and I'm wondering if he'll be on the list again.

Chris Cillizza: And ruin the excitement?

When I opened up this question to answer it, Charlie Fix immediately started I am taking that as a sign I shouldn't answer.

Seriously, the Line will be up by 12:30 or 1 so you won't have to wait that much longer...


Ithaca, N.Y.: Are you a fan of "FNL"?

What are your thoughts on the upcoming New York governor's race? It looks like it is going to be an interesting primary season that could, with a charismatic Republican, turn into a competitive general.

Chris Cillizza: On the first question, let's just say that I spent an afternoon recently looked for a grey "Dillon Panthers" shirt on the Web. Anyone know where to find one?

On the second, I think that Paterson is in severe jeopardy of losing the primary if Andrew Cuomo runs. If, for some reason, Cuomo decides not to primary the governor, then Paterson is in serious trouble in the general election -- assuming Republicans get a credible candidate like Rudy Giuliani or even (gulp) Rick Lazio.


Princeton, N.J.: It's process vs content. The reason people love or hate you regardless of their politics is because you are a technician - only process (and you're the best). BUT what we need is more articles and columns on content.

For example we get zillions of articles on the process of health care reform--who will vote for X, but not, Y, but zero, zilch on the facts of health care--how does our system compares to other countries, what are overhead rates for private insurance, how much do drug cos. spend on ressearch vs. marketing, etc..

Chris Cillizza: The Fix: Policy free since 2005!

I am having bumper stickers made.


Tami Taylor Sighting: I embarrassed myself so much when I met Tami Taylor at the Democratic Convention. I literally gushed, "Tami's relationship with Julie is the most realistic mother/daughter relationship ever portrayed on TV!"

She was sweet about it but she definitely kept her distance.

Chris Cillizza: Hilarious. I was at the Google party with her in Denver and followed her through like three rooms thinking of what to say to her.

Realizing that the only things I would say would replicate Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney ("Remember when you were in the Beatles....that was awesome..."), I thought better of it.


"... the kind of discussion you might have with your mortal enemy after 100 beers.": For some, after about 100 beers, even best friends start looking like mortal enemies.

I encourage any efforts the Fix may make at filtering the rants of trollish knuckle-draggers at both ends of the political spectrum.

Chris Cillizza: I thank you.

And perhaps we should have MORE drinking contests on the Fix.


Chris Cillizza: And now Charlie is in full meltdown mode...good times...

So, folks I am going to call it a day. Thanks for your great questions and for your ongoing support of the Fix.

Make sure to check it out this afternoon for my Friday Line on the most influential Republicans in the country!

And, don't forget to sign up for the Fix Twitter feed ( to follow all the happenings at tomorrow night's Correspondents dinner.

Thanks and have a great weekend.



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