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Post Politics Hour

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and more with Washington Post staff writer and The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza.

Cillizza was online Friday, June 5 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Chris Cillizza: Hello all! Me and my caramel macchiato are ready to go!

My question to you all for today...are primaries a good thing or a bad thing for a party. Why? Examples?

Let's rock!

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Chris -- Thanks for taking questions today. Gov. Pawlenty was predictably cagey when asked how his decision not to run again would impact his role in the never ending Franken/Coleman recount, now with the Minnesota Supreme Court. With a reelection campaign no longer looming, it does seem that he would have less incentive to sign the election certificate and let Coleman drag it out even longer (something Minnesotans do not have the stomach or patience for, though). At the same time, though, couldn't Pawlenty do himself a lot of good by looking conciliatory and bipartisan and doing his part to end this thing? What do you think?

Chris Cillizza: St. Paul! Great town. Love the little park right by Xcel Center...that's where the MSNBC set was during the convention...one of my favorite memories.

The Tpaw question is a good one. My sense is that Pawlenty would really like the whole Coleman-Franken election challenge to just go away -- he is being forced to pay middle man in what amounts to a no-win situation for him.

My guess is that if Coleman loses his appeal in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, he will concede. If you listen to the rhetoric coming out of Senate Republicans lately, it suggests that there is little appetite for a Coleman federal legal challenge.

A Coleman concession is the best case scenario for Pawlenty who wants to be focused on "big" ideas and putting a political team in place to prepare for a possible presidential run.

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Washington, D.C.: One of your recent columns presented three older, white men as the purported "face" of the Republican party, none of whom is actually an elected official or party leader. I wonder what you were thinking when you ignored such high-visibility Republicans as Sarah Palin (a woman), Michael Steele (African-American), Bobby Jindal (Indian-American), or Eric Cantor (Jewish-American). Your ignoring of these Republicans, all of whom are elected officials except Steele, who is the Republican party's leader, shows how wrong you were in the point you were apparently trying to make -- that the Republicans are just a bunch of old white guys. Maybe your three "picks" show up a lot on the cable shows and the op-ed pages (how many times has MSNBC mentioned Rush Limbaugh's name today?), but they're not the face of the Republican party to members and voters like me. Sorry, but you really blew this.

Chris Cillizza: "You really blew this" -- interestingly, that's my life motto.

The column you reference was regarding a detailed analysis by Gallup of polling they had done in May that showed that 89 percent of the Republican party was white with 63 percent of that number describing themselves as conservative.

My point was simply that these sorts of numbers fed into the idea that the GOP was the party of old, white men -- with Cheney etc. as the face of that wing of the party.

People like Palin, Jindal and Steele are all leaders within the GOP but my guess is that if you asked someone on the street to name a Republican they might pick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich before they would name any of the trio mentioned above.

Just a guess.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Why was New Jersey bumped off the governor line? The next New Jersey gubernatorial race will be in 2009 when incumbent and embattled Governor Jon Corzine won't have the benefit of presidential or even U.S. Senate coat tails. Also, Republican challenger Chris Christie is not thought of as an ultra conservative, which if he were would hurt him in the state. Corzine has consistently trailed Christie in polls of the race.

Chris Cillizza: LOVE IT!

It was a REALLY tough call...and I guarantee that NJ will be back on the next Govs Line with Christie having officially secured the Republican nomination earlier this week.

The problem I have with NJ is that Republicans have insisted that they can win every statewide race in the state for the past five elections or so and, every time, they come up short.

I know polling shows Christie ahead and Corzine is clearly in trouble. But, NJ is a Democratic state where voters stay undecided until the last minute and then, inevitably, opt for the Democratic candidate.

If we are ranking Republicans' pickup chances in 2009 govs races, I think VA is a better chance. But, NJ could be an upset possibility given Corzine's weaknesses.

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Winnipeg, Canada: Primaries are terrible for Republicans. Any candidate that wins the party's nomination will be almost unelectable by the general public unless they have a propaganda genius running the campaign.

Even then, if the candidate governs according to campaign promises, the nation goes into the dumpster and the candidate becomes a late-night comic's dream. If, on the other hand, the candidate tries to govern intelligently, the base arranges for a primary contest, and the candidate's career stalls. Not pretty.

Chris Cillizza: The view from Winnipeg...whatever happened to the NHL's Winnipeg Jets?

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Athens, Greece: Hi Chris. Can you explain me what's with all the Pawlenty love?

He isn't wildly succesful or popular at his home state.

He doesn't appeal strongly at any particular constituency.

He isn't known as a good strategist (like Barbour) or policy wonk (like Jindal).

He has even less charisma than Sam Brownback.

So how the hell is he going to be a contender for the Republican nomination?

Chris Cillizza: Athens goes NEGATIVE on Tpaw!

Here's the Pawlenty argument: elected twice in a swing Midwestern state, popular with social conservatives but not a fire-breather, great personal story (dad was a truck driver, first person in his family to go to college), and a populist streak that could play well with voters in economic distress.

And, if you look at the potential 2012 GOP field, it's not exactly star studded at the moment....

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Cincinnati: Open primaries are the best. Take the two leading vote-getters regardless of party and have a run-off unless one candidate receives 50% of the vote (similar to Louisiana). In a liberal state you will probably have a liberal and a centrist, in a conservative state a conservative and a centrist, and in a purple state, two centrists leaning in opposite directions. This should limit extreme right or left candidates from winning a race unless their positions reflect that of their electorate.

Chris Cillizza: The so-called "jungle" primary. Great point.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Morning, Sizzler! Here's the $64 question: will Barack's overhaul of the economy be successful enough in eighteen months that he can avoid the usual off-year loss of Congressional numbers? Or will history hold sway? thanks

Chris Cillizza: Well hello there.

That is indeed the central question of the first term of the Obama presidency.

Conflicting reports on that front this morning; the national unemployment rate went over 9 percent for the first time in more than two decades in May but the rate of job loss slowed....

It's still too early to know how voters will feel about the economy in 2010. Keep an eye on the coming special election in new York's 23rd district to see how both national parties road-test their economic messages.

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Winnipeg, Canada: Re: Jets Haven't you heard? The Jets went to Phoenix where even Wayne Gretzky couldn't turn them into a winner. Now the Phoenix Coyotes are on the block, and one of the options under consideration is for the Coyotes to rise again as the Winnipeg Jets-- almost phoenix-like, you might say.

Chris Cillizza: I loved the Winnipeg Jets logo. And, as a native of Connecticut, I am sympathetic to towns abandoned by the NHL.

I still listen to "Brass Bonanza" sometimes when I miss the Whalers.

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Bangor, Maine: Primaries reinforce the value of parties, but the larger and more interesting question might be, if you agree (but also more amorphous): What is the value of parties? What role(s) do they play? What should they?

Chris Cillizza: WOW.

That's a MUCH bigger question than I can answer in a chat.

My quick answer: I do think political parties have value as they help to shape debate on policy issues, offer competing visions for the country etc.

But, I could be persuaded otherwise....

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Richmond, Va.: Virginia politics! Some thoughts from you, please. Who is likely to win the Democratic primary for governor next week? If you say McAuliffe, what are the chances of folks seeing him as the rich "chosen" one and getting upended by someone like Creigh Deeds? Also, if the Republicans win the governorship in Virginia what will be the "message" nationally? Your thoughts on this would be very interesting to many of us I am sure.

Chris Cillizza: What a fascinating race....

For weeks it looked like Terry McAuliffe was going to use his ebullient personality and huge money edge to blow Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran out of the water.

But, Deeds is moving up fast -- spurred by the endorsement of his candidacy by the Post and the growing sense that he is the true heir to the legacies of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

As we wrote in the "Morning Fix" this am, McAuliffe's endorsements from Brian Schweitzer and Ed Rendell today are not likely to have a significant impact on the race but they get the Macker a few days of good press just days before the vote on Tuesday.

The critical voting bloc is African Americans who don't have an obvious candidate in the race. Mc Auliffe needs to win black voters to win the race as unlike Moran or Deeds he doesn't have an electoral base.

This is going to be a GREAT last weekend. I am excited just writing about it.

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New York, NY: "The Hill" is reporting that even though the Republicans in the Senate are distancing themselves - at least officially -- from attacks on Sonia Sotomayor, the Republican leadership is still urging conservative activists to continue attacking her. Do you have any more insight? Also, since Sotomayor is pretty-much a shoe-in, what is the GOP strategy here? Is it just to rally the base and increase donations?

Chris Cillizza: I talked about this last night on "Countdown".

Some of this is politics as usual. Elected officials in both parties typically avoid making the harshest attacks, leaving that to outside interest groups who don't ever have to stand in front of people and ask for their votes.

Long term, my guess is that Senate Republicans work to make Sotomayor squirm a bit during her confirmation hearings over her "wise Latina" remarks in order to be able to tell the base that they held her accountable.

But, with 59 Democrats in the Senate, Republicans know that barring some sort of damaging revelation regarding Sotomayor, it's quixotic to try and keep Sotomayor off the Court.

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Popularity of Pawlenty: It's the milque-toastiness that actually adds to his appeal. In this 24-7, camera-snapping, blogging era, any tiny character flaw is magnified, writ large. Unfortunately, that has led to a succession of candidates who strive for perfect polishing & whitewash anything that could be considered, well . . . human. Package that into a generic Christian religious bent & you've got a potential front-runner.

Chris Cillizza: Another explanation of Tpaw's potential appeal.

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Princeton, NJ: Question: Who will be the Dem's candidate in the NY 23rd? (beats me)

Comment: Saw Klobuchar on C-Span. I think they should declare the other seat vacant, and give her two votes.

Chris Cillizza: One Democratic possibility is Viggo Mortensen aka Aragorn. Not kidding. He apparently lives in the district when he is not slaying orcs or making out with elfin Liv Tyler.

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Roseland, NJ: Since I don't live there I'm curious: how are Virginians feeling about Tim Kaine since he became head of the DNC? Is there any resentment that he should be spending more time in VA in the governor's office? Or has he been handling his double-duties well?

Chris Cillizza: The weird thing about Virginia is that all governors are limited to just a single term, a weird law that has the effect of making the gov something of a lame duck in his final year.

There's so much focus on the race to replace Kaine -- and discussion on what if any national implication the race will have -- that Kaine's double duty as governor and DNC Chair doesn't get much scrutiny.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact, however. The DNC's fundraising has been pretty weak so far this year, a reality that Democrats attribute to Kaine's status as a part time chairman until 2010.

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Speaking of the VA Gov. Race...: How is Bob McDonnell's whole "Pretend not to be a Republican" strategy working out for him?

Chris Cillizza: Well, in the new Daily Kos poll his fav/unfav is something like 56/34 so....pretty darn good at the moment.

McDonnell will enter the general election as a slight favorite over any of the three Democrats but once the D nominee begins to turns his fire onto the Republican, expect McDonnell's numbers to come back down to earth.

The VA race is going to be close. And, for Republicans, it is simply a must-have. If they can't win in Va (or NJ for that matter) it's hard to see the party making the case that they are on the way back to relevance.

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Claverack, NY: If Andrew Cuomo jumps in the race for governor... does Rudy Giuliani keep his powder dry?

Chris Cillizza: I don't know but my guess would be yes.

Cuomo is crushing Gov. David Paterson in hypothetical primary matchups and, although he has yet to say anything about a 2010 race, it's hard to imagine he doesn't run with the numbers so tilted in his favor.

Cuomo would be a far stronger general election candidate than Paterson and, given the Democratic lean of NY, would be a favorite against even Giuliani.

Giuliani is making lots of money in the private sector and likely knows that if he loses the next race he runs in he is done in elected office. So, he needs to pick that next race carefully. Is a run against a Cuomo the right race to pin your political future on?

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Fairfax, Va.: How likely do you think it is that Obama's speech in Egypt this week is likely to help lower tensions in the Middle East and succeed to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians where most other presidents have failed?

Chris Cillizza: It really is impossible to know just yet.

I do think that Obama is a unique position to make the case for Middle East peace given his background: a Muslim father, having spent time in Indonesia as a kid and with a name like Barack Hussein Obama.

But, when you talk about a conflict with roots as long as those of the Middle East, it's hard to imagine any one person in four or eight years can solve it.

Stranger things have happened but this is a long process -- a fact Obama himself would almost certainly acknowledge.

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Hackensack: Dude, if Aragorn runs I'm packing up my broad sword and mithril chainmail and moving to the 23rd.

Chris Cillizza: Is this Gimli?

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Minneapolis: A little inside news; If TPaw were to actually get the Republican nomination, he WOULD NOT carry his home state. MN has the longest running record (since 1972) for voting the Democratic ticket. We even voted for Mondale in '84. HOWEVER, Mr. Pawlenty is not as well liked as the outside world thinks. He is seen as too smarmy and quite weak seeing as how he lets the Republican party tell him what to do. Mr's Rove and Cheney: "Timmy we don't want you to run for the senate seat this year (2002), instead we want you to run for Governor" Timmy: "um, okay."

Chris Cillizza: Minneapolis drops the hammer on Tpaw.

Also, remember that if Al Gore had carried his home state in 2000 he would have been president.

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Lyme, CT.: Once the entertainment world sees there is a path to success in politics, which entertainers do you see on the horizon who could make serious and possible successful entries into elective politics?

Chris Cillizza: Me.

Patti Blagojevich.

Sanjaya.

Janice Dickinson.

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Viggo: "One Democratic possibility is Viggo Mortensen aka Aragorn. Not kidding. He apparently lives in the district when he is not slaying orcs or making out with elfin Liv Tyler."

Why would he ever go home?

Chris Cillizza: Agreed.

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Viggo Mortenson!!!: Viggo Mortenson running for office? OMG, that's priceless! I think he's a great, great actor (I can't wait to see him as the father in film version of Corman McCarthy's The Road), but someone who has heard him speak off the cuff on numerous occasions, he's incoherent in the absence of a script. VERY spacy, VERY stream of consciousness. And he's also somewhat to the left of Code Pink and Bill Ayers.

Chris Cillizza: But, he was Aragorn.

He could say to voters: "Come with me if you want to live."

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Dallas: I just saw "Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story." Do you think Atwater still has an impact on present-day politics? Did you notice any of his tactics being used in McCain's presidential campaign?

Chris Cillizza: Of course Lee Atwater continues to have an impact. The guy basically invented modern negative politics, which, whether you approve of them or not, have clearly had a major impact in the way campaigns work these days.

Atwater has also spawned a generation of political operatives in South Carolina and beyond who continue to exert his ideas on the political process.

From a political junkies perspective, he was taken way too early.

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Merrimack, NH: How do you think the same-sex marriage decision in New Hampshire will affect our 2010 Senate or House races? And are the Republicans actually having trouble finding someone to run for Senate, or are there people who want to run but are waiting for one of the Sununus to make an official statement that the younger Sununu won't be running?

Chris Cillizza: GREAT question.

New Hampshire has moved toward Democrats in a major way over the last two elections and some Republicans believe that there will be a snap-back effect in 2010.

If so, we may look at the same sex marriage decision as the start of that GOP comeback. How does it play among the famously independent voters of New Hampshire?

New Hampshire is packed with competitive races -- open U.S. Senate seats, an open seat race in NH-02 and a top tier challenge to Rep. Carol Shea Porter -- so we should have ample chance to assess the impact of the same-sex marriage decision next year.

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Boston: I thought EJ's column yesterday pretty much nailed the dynamics of our country's political dialogue.Your thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: Rush and Newt Are Winning

Chris Cillizza: EJ is not only a wonderful man, he is a brilliant columnist. I tell people they should read everything the guy writes. Just thoughtful and smart.

I would say the same of Mike Gerson on the conservative side.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, DC: Explain please the Brian Schweitzer endorsement of Terry McAuliffe. I just don't get it.

Chris Cillizza: Well, with the primary just a few days away, the McAuliffe camp likely knows that an endorsement by the chair of the DGA will get lots of press -- and positive press at that.

Not sure that Schweitzer moves a single vote to McAuliffe but good press in the final weekend of the campaign is valuable in and of itself.

As for why Schweitzer did it, I have no idea. Honestly.

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San Francisco: Since you raised the question in The Fix, I'd like your thoughts. How can Randy Johnson NOT be considered for the Hall of Fame? That should be a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. Do you honestly think he's not worthy of being admitted?

Chris Cillizza: I think he HAS to be in the Hall. In this era where pitchers just don't win as many games, 300 wins is a HUGE accomplishment.

This also allows me to make a gratuitous plug for the Fix Political Hall of Fame, which we will unveil next week.

It is going to rock. So stay tuned.

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Primaries- ARGH: I am not opposed to primaries especially if there are more than one contender for the one spot ie: Governor. However as a Virginian I have had ENOUGH of the phone calls for MacAuliffe, Kory, Hull, and WHOEVER else is running for WHATEVER office they are running for; We have been INUNDATED with calls. At least 5-6 an evening with at least 3 being from the same candidate. I am about to NOT vote for any of them ever for any reason. EVER. Of course, this leaves me with not a whole lot of people to vote for. Sigh. I am waaaay sick of elections. Please make them stop.

Chris Cillizza: The inevitable effect on voters of a hotly contested primary: disgust.

Ah, democracy!

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Columbia MO: Apparently Atwater regretted the tone he had injected into politics, but not until the end of his life. Odd how the lesson didn't take...

Chris Cillizza: Fair point.

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Chris Cillizza: And that's all we have time for! Thanks for spending the hour with me. And remember to check out The Fix for the best and brightest of political news.

Coming this afternoon: the 10 most influential Republican leaders!

Have a great weekend.

Chris

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