The Live Fix: Chris Cillizza on Meg Whitman, Van Jones, McDonnell's Thesis and Macaca Moments

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009; 11:00 AM

Every Friday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

A transcript follows.


Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone!

The Fix family has successfully moved into Falls Church. A new coffee spot -- a Starbucks on Broad Street -- has been secured as the new unofficial sponsor of the Fix Live chat. A pumpkin spice latte -- they're back! -- has been bought.

It's chat time.


Arlington, Va.: Do you think that Obama will have a primary opponent in 2012?

Chris Cillizza: Hello my Arlington neighbor.

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no.

I know there is some unrest on the left towards President Obama but I can see no scenario where liberals grow so disenchanted with the president that a legitimate primary challenge emerges in three years time.

Remember back to 2000 when liberals were not satisfied with Al Gore and helped urge Bill Bradley to run. Gore, who was the sitting vice president, crushed Bradley thanks to the strength of the establishment which was firmly behind him.

The establishment -- and, still, much of the left -- is with Obama. It's inconceivable to me that they would abandon him.


Anonymous: Whatever happened to the Line? I feel like it hasn't been around in weeks!

Chris Cillizza: The Line, like the Fix, has been on hiatus since mid-August.

I had to get the family moved and get a few other things taken care of -- making the Fix even better etc. -- and I needed a few weeks off to recharge the proverbial batteries.

Everything will go back to normal on Tuesday! And, look for the new Line next Friday. It's only one more week and you've already made it this far.


Anonymous: Putting Curt Schilling aside, who else do you think jumps into the race to replace Kennedy? Has there been any word on Joe Kennedy's plans?

Chris Cillizza: The Schilling thing is SO far-fetched. He has shown repeatedly that he LOVES publicity and this is just the sort of thing that is tailor-made for him. My favorite part of the Schilling story? When reporters found out he was a registered independent, meaning that he couldn't run as a Republican. Good research, Curt!

Back here on earth, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley got into the race formally yesterday -- signaling that she isn't planning to bow to the Kennedy legacy.

Still, the big domino yet to fall is former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, the nephew of the late Sen. Kennedy. While Joe Kennedy has his problems (Venezueluan oil, controversial divorce), he would still likely keep several other candidates out.

My guess is that if Kennedy runs, Coakley stays in and Rep. Steve Lynch from Southie probably still gets in.

But, with Kennedy in the race, Reps. Ed Markey, John Tierney and Michael Capuano probably sit it out.

Without Kennedy, this race is an absolute free for all.

And, remember, we are dealing with a VERY abbreviated election schedule with the Democratic primary set for Dec. 8.


Tacoma, Wash.: I don't know about the "establishment", but no real health-care reform including a public option and I'll be sitting on my hands come 2012, so it better happen before then. Without it, he's a complete failure.

Chris Cillizza: Ok. A different perspective. It's clear that the left is not at all happy with the way the Obama Administration has gone about trying to pass health care reform and the possibility that the public option will be jettisoned to pass the bill through the Senate.

How deep that unhappiness goes and how long liberals harbor it will make a difference to Congressional Democrats in 2010 and to President Obama in 2012.


Fairfax County, Va.: Great to have you back! Do you feel tanned, rested, and ready? Or is caffeine still the answer?

Chris Cillizza: Fairfax County! These are my people.

I am not:

1. Tan (I spent most of my break packing boxes)

2. Rested (I have a six month old)

I am ready, however. And, yes, I love fancy coffee drinks that cost $4 plus. At least I admit it.


Los Angeles: Pumpkin Spice Latte FTW! Did former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman just lose her Republican primary campaign with her gushing praise of Van Jones?

Chris Cillizza: Several questions about Meg Whitman's praise for embattled Obama official Van Jones...

It certainly doesn't help Whitman to be on You Tube praising Jones no matter the context.

But, in a state as big -- and political disinterested -- as California, I am not convinced this is Whitman's "macaca" moment.

California voters have only a passing interest in politics EVER and most are certainly not paying much attention to the three way Republican governor's primary right now.

There's no question that state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Rep. Tom Campbell (Whitman's primary opponents) will bring up Whitman's comments about Jones in TV ads next year.

But will it still have the salience? My guess, and it is a guess, is no.


Chris Cillizza: Producer par excellence Paul Wiliams has provided the Whitman video on Jones for those who haven't seen it.


Falls Church, Va.: Your colleague Ezra Klein has been recommending primary challenges against congressional Democrats who oppose a public option in health-care reform. If Obama ultimately goes with a no-public-option plan himself, why wouldn't the left expand the primary challenges to include him?

Chris Cillizza: The "Falls Church" tagline is too alluring for me to resist.

It's not that I don't think that primary challenges could succeed against Democrats who oppose the public option. (They could.)

It's that at the presidential level, the lift to run a serious primary challenge is incredibly high -- from an organizational and financial perspective -- that it's nearly impossible to run a series primary challenge to an incumbent president.

Don't believe my Gore-Bradley example? How about Kennedy-Carter in 1980?


Chris Cillizza: A quick correction: The producer par excellence of this chat is Andrea Caumont. She deserves the credit!


re: Boxes: Two weeks packing them; two years unpacking them. Enjoy!

Chris Cillizza: Tentative unpacking deadline set by Mrs. Fix is Christmas time.

I am skeptical.


Kennedy race: What about Teddy Jr.? I don't mean to sound crass, but that effective, thoughtful eulogy was a stunning way for all of us to meet him for the first time as an adult. The last I saw of him was when he was about 14. He's turned out well.

Chris Cillizza: In politics, it's almost impossible to sound crass.

I have definitely heard the idea of Teddy Jr. and I continue to hear a smattering of chatter that Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the Senator, is actually open to running.

Neither of those whispers make that much sense to me, however. If either Teddy Jr. or Vicki wanted the seat, they would probably have let some signal slip before now, knowing that doing so would likely keep everyone else on the sidelines for fear that they would run.

Coakley's decision to announce yesterday makes me think that she believes that neither Teddy Jr or Vicki will run and that Joe Kennedy is not unbeatable in a primary whether or not he runs.


Reading, Mass.: How is "Venezueluan oil" a problem for Joe Kennedy? You are aware that this oil goes to the poor and needy via Citizens energy. A little context would be nice.

Chris Cillizza: I am aware of that. But, remember that campaigns are largely conducted through 30-second television ads. And those are not exactly heavy on context.

So, we have to deal with the political reality of what Citizens Energy dealing with Venezuela means. That was all I was talking about.


2012: I wonder if Tacoma would really sit on their hands in 2012 if Congress does not pass a health care program Obama wants (and Tacoma likes), even if someone like Sarah Palin is the GOP candidate. That's going to push health care reform forward?

Chris Cillizza: Right. Again, it's easy to say Obama should pass a plan with a public option and that if he doesn't you either won't vote or will vote for the Republican.

But saying and doing are two different things.


Rockville, Md.: Enough votes in the Senate. Only one or two needed by my count. What Democratic senators are on the line?

I suspect the House will be the problem. And lots of stuff can go in the Conference report bill.

Chris Cillizza: Don't think there are enough to get to 60, which is what Democrats need unless they want to try and pass it via reconciliation that requires a simple majority.

Ben Nelson (Neb.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.) have expressed skepticism about a plan with a public option.

Reconciliation is, of course, an option but one with real political consequences if Democrats go that route.


Silver Spring, Md.: If there's no public option I won't be working for Democrats and voting safely third party in 2012 as I did in 2000. I will be third party all the way. We may only be 10% of the Democratic base (far left) but we're pissed. Yes, it's only six months in, but our agenda is being ignored. I was in the minority for ten years, I don't take kindly to being marginalized by my own party.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the thought.


Arlington, Va.: The more we hear about Van Jones, the worse it seems to get. Can he weather the storm, or will he become too radioactive for the WH to be associated with?

Chris Cillizza: My guess is that Mr. Jones (Counting Crows reference!) won't survive this. His best ally is the fact that this is Labor Day weekend and most people are either a) on vacation or b) going on vacation.

Side note on "Mr Jones" by the Counting Crows: it is based on "Ballad of a Thin Man" by Bob Dylan. So COOL.


re: but no real health-care reform including a public option and I'll be sitting on my hands come 2012: First, Obama's approval rating among Democrats actually went up in August to 88 percent. Try to go up against that.

Second, it is clear that the far right does not have a monopoly on misinformation about health care reform. The idea that the public option is the most important part of reform, or that no "real" reform will occur without it, is about as big a myth as the "death panels."

Chris Cillizza: Another perspective on public option vs no public option


Richmond, Va.: I am EXTREMELY left-leaning, but I'm realistic and understand the existing establishment Obama has to work within. It's stupid, frankly, to expect him to come in and magically change everything about the world instantly. He has good values and goals, but we all know it will be difficult to make changes and he will not acheive all of them. I will continue to support him. No matter what happens, he has already prevented further downfall in our economy. Before he was elected, many experts were saying we were headed for a depression worse than the Great Depression of 1929. Obama's stimulus plan rescued us, so he can credit himself with essentially saving the world.

Chris Cillizza: Love Richmond. Great city. And, a terrific chic-fil-a just north of city.


re: unpacking: We have always set the six month rule in our household. As long as it isn't something seasonal that would stay in boxes anyway, if we haven't unpacked it in six months we take the box to the nearest Goodwill/Salvation Army drop off.

Chris Cillizza: Good policy. One wonders if Mrs. Fix reads these chats.....


Speaking of "macaca" moments...: ...given that McDonnell was 34 when he wrote his Master's thesis (as opposed to some callow youth of 22), don't you think an awful lot of married Virginia women will take exception to his view of the lower morality of married women who practice birth control? I know I'm deeply offended by his insult to my morals, and I'm guessing that all but the most rabidly religious right-wingers would agree with me.

Chris Cillizza: The Thesis!

My colleague Amy Gardner broke the story of Bob McDonnell's thesis which advocates a strongly socially conservative approach to electoral politics and it has dominated the race since then.

McDonnell, who had been cruising so far in the race, has been on defense every day since the story broke and they have yet to be able to extinguish the fire. (McDonnell's explanation that his views have broadly moderated since the Thesis was written didn't seem to satisfy people.)

The key in deciding whether the Thesis story has badly damaged McDonnell is to look at how he performs in northern Virginia in future polling. To date, McDonnell has been overperforming in NOVA (there are signs near the Fix house that proclaim "Fairfax's own Bob McDonnell) but the voters in this region tend to be socially liberal and could be alienated from McDonnell by this story.


re: Yes, it's only six months in, but our agenda is being ignored: Yes, because we all know that a President is only allowed to do stuff for the first six months of his Administration. After that, all he gets to do is diplomatic stuff.

It's Democrats like these that make me really annoyed to be a Democrat.

Chris Cillizza: Democratic on Democratic action!


Santa Rosa, Calif.: Zowie! Your obvious answers to obvious questions are without peer!

No, really!

And if you'd field one of the tough ones once in a while, maybe the assets of your Fix feature would outweigh its liabilities!

How about it? Are you allowed to cover First Amendment issues, or is that something the Washington Post would rather not talk about?

So I await your response, eagerly, and with a worm on my tongue!

(Baited Breath)

And have a good weekend! :)

Chris Cillizza: Um, was there a question in there?

Also, if there really is a worm on your tongue, I would recommend going to the ER immediately. That can't be good.


Franconia, Va.: Primary challenges to Democrats who don't support public option? What's the announcement speech? "If I had been in Congress, I would have destroyed the Obama presidency by unrealistically voting according to a line in the sand despite simple arithmetic in the Senate. Our wimpy incumbent is sensible and realistic and didn't do the Republicans' dirty work for them by sabotaging the president. So vote for me instead. I am a wing nut."

I think most Democratic voters are still loyal to President Obama, whatever Ezra Klein and others may think. Jeepers.

Chris Cillizza: Great use of the word "jeepers"


Austin, Tex. (NoVA native): Bully for Falls Church. So listen, if Creigh Deeds doesn't get traction with this issue over Bob McDonnell's thesis, is the Va. governor's race a wrap? What's Deeds' Plan B? Does he have one?

Chris Cillizza: A good question.

Deeds had been struggling mightily to find any sort of traction in the race prior to the Thesis. (And, yes, I think it is awesome to capitalize it.)

Deeds' tried to re-launch his campaign with a "major" speech that essentially reiterated all the points he had been making for months. (Deeds admitted as much in an interview after the speech, which was, um, not smart.)

The Thesis has clearly energized Deeds and Democrats and given them a solid attack line against McDonnell who up until now had been very tough to hit.

If the Thesis is not the silver bullet for Deeds, he has to hope that the economy doesn't go any more south (unemployment is at 9.7% it was announced this week) and that the President's approval ratings bounce back a bit.

This race -- unlike New Jersey which is clearly a referendum on Gov. Jon Corzine -- will feel the national winds.


Falls Church, Va.: Howdy neighbor! Are you trying out Starbucks for size? What about Stacy's? I work from home on Fridays in Falls Church and now fear going to Starbucks as I don't want to appear stalker-ish (I'm not! I swear!).. Welcome to the 'hood, such as it is..

Chris Cillizza: If you see me in the Starbucks (or anywhere else in Falls Church) make sure to introduce yourself.

Just not between 11 and noon on Fridays as I can interrupt my chat flow!


DC: Who's in more trouble -- Chris Dodd or Harry Reid? What can they do to improve their re-election chances?

Chris Cillizza: Great question.

I had long thought that Dodd was in worse shape but two recent independent polls -- one by Mason Dixon, the other by Research 2000 -- makes me think I have been underestimating the electoral peril that Reid faces.

In a new Research 2K poll (sponsored by liberal blog Daily Kos), Reid is losing to state Rep. Danny Tarkanian and soon to be former state party chairwoman Sue Lowden.

Not good.

Since no one in the state knows anything about Tarkanian or Lowden, these sort of numbers are rightly understood as evidence of an anyone but Reid sentiment in the Nevada electorate.

As Majority Leader, Reid also has to carry the legislative water of the White House for the next 15 months and, depending on what the Obama Administration decides to push, that could be very problematic for Reid back home.

Dodd, on the other hand, has had a good few months capped by the Senate Ethics Committee finding that he had done nothing wrong in his dealings with the failed mortgage giant Countrywide.

Dodd is far from out of the woods but things are looking slightly better for him. Reid, on the other had, appears to be trending downward.


Greensboro, N.C.: What's going on in the North Carolina Senate Race? Will Richard Burr sail through re-election, or will the Democrats find a credible challenger?

Chris Cillizza: North Carolina is the last major target for Senate Democrats where they have yet to find a serious candidate.

The news, which broke a few weeks ago, that Rep. Bobby Etheridge is thinking about running is a very good development for Democrats.

Etheridge has been elected statewide before (he was elected to eight years as the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction) and has been mentioned as a statewide candidate for years.

If Etheridge runs, this is a very serious race. If he doesn't, it may wind up looking like a big missed opportunity for Democrats.


Hanover, N.H.: One tip, try to get on the good side of Joe Kennedy II's twin sons, Joe III and Matt.

I saw them working and campaigning for Barack Obama and they really have that Kennedy political "it" so it's worth investing your time in them now so you'll get that access later ("Hey, I interviewed you back in the day when nobody cared about you")

Chris Cillizza: Source building! See, people from New Hampshire are always thinking.


the Thesis: Even better to capitalize the "The," too.

Chris Cillizza: The Thesis!


Austin, Tex.: How would you assess Houston Mayor Bill White's chances of picking up the Senate seat out here? What are the key factors, as you see them? I'm guessing John Cornyn will go all out to keep the seat red.

Chris Cillizza: Any Democrat faces a tough road to win statewide in Texas at the moment.

White has the benefit of hailing from one of the state's biggest media markets and having demonstrated that he can raise money.

But, he still has another major Democratic in the field -- former state Comptroller John Sharp -- and, as you mentioned, Texan John Cornyn chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Make no mistake: Cornyn will spend whatever it takes to keep this seat Republican.


College Park, Md.: What do you like about doing commentary on cable news? What do you not like about it?

Out of Chris Matthews (my bet), Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, which one is scariest?

Chris Cillizza: I like engaging in spirited conversations with people who dedicate their lives to studying the history, present and future of political debate in this country.

I dislike the shouting elements of cable, a practice which i do everything in my power to not engaged in.

None of that trio is scary!

But, I am in a fantasy football league with Olbermann so he could be potentially frightening depending on how the draft goes.


state Rep. Danny Tarkanian : Is he a "Baby Tark the Shark"?

Chris Cillizza: He is. He is the son of the towel chewer. My guess is that his showing in polls at the moment is inflated because people in Nevada think he is his dad.


Falls Church formerly Sommerville, Mass.: As someone who grew up in MA and voted in both Brookline (yes, for Barney) and Sommerville (yes, for Joe Jr), let me just share that the younger Kennedys are not held in the same high regard as the older generation. Everyone in Joe Jr's and Patrick's district remembers the Kennedys' ability to outspend everyone else, which was a factor in them winning. That said, as recently as a generation ago ANYONE with an Irish last name was a vote getter in the Boston area. And it's true - all longtime residents in MA know someone who has some personal contact with Teddy.

Chris Cillizza: Falls Church out in force today!

And, I think that if Joe Kennedy II does run, it will test just how strong the Kennedy political legacy remains in the Bay State.


Washigton, D.C.: What's the word on Mike Castle? Does he jump into the Senate race? Being a part of the minority party in the House can't be much fun. Am I right to think that the longer he waits to announce a decision, the less likely he is to challenge Beau Biden?

Chris Cillizza: Huge question mark.

I have heard conflicting things on Castle's intentions although my reporting seems to suggest he will either run for Senate or retire from the House.

If he does run statewide, Delaware will be a TERRIFIC Senate race in 2010 as Castle is probably the only Republican who could get elected against Beau Biden.


In the interests of equal time: Who's the scariest, Limbaugh, Beck or O'Reilly?

Chris Cillizza: Don't really know them.

El Rushbo always gets back to me when I email him looking for a quote on a story I am working on though!


Evanston, Ill.: Does the Fix have the fix on any college football games this weekend?

Chris Cillizza: The Fix will be spending his entire weekend shepherding Fix Jr around the DC Metro area as Mrs. Fix's Catholic University Cardinals open the 2009 field hockey season.

A prediction? CUA Field Hockey celebrates Labor Day at 2-0, having beaten McDaniel on the road on Saturday and Randolph Macon at home on Sunday.

Book it!


Chris Cillizza: Folks,

The pumpkin spice latte has been consumed, the blueberry oat bar is in the gullet and the dentist's office (ugh!) beckons.

That's it for me today. Didn't get your question answered? There's always next Friday. Same time, same channel!

Have a great Labor Day and remember: the Fix is BACK on Tuesday!



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