Post Politics: Afghanistan, Va. and N.J. races, more

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the U.S. reaction to Karzai's election, the N.Y. 23rd race, the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and more.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Big votes tomorrow in NY, NJ and Virginia, health care still moving, lots to discuss. Looking forward to your questions.

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Falls Church, Va.: Will Dede Scozzafava be returning the campaign funds she got from the national GOP?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect she won't be, if only because she dropped out so late. Embracing Owens, the Democrat, might have reflected her annoyance with the GOP, but not sure how many votes it will move. I assume most voters who were backing Dede will move to Hoffman.

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Prescott, AZ: Yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman said "I wish people would come out and debate me on the public option instead of questioning my motives." Rachel Maddow wanted to have such a debate with Sen. Lieberman and she claims he is ducking her show. Why would Lieberman claim he wants "debate" but then avoid her? It's not like he is scared of cameras, usually the guy chases them like a moth.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lieberman has a lot of Democrats riled up again, this time over his attacks on the so-called public option. I"m not sure about his Maddow appearances or lack there of. I suspect he means he wants people to debate his views instead of questioning his liberalism or conservativism or what have you. That ship has sailed I suspect for him.

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Bellingham, Wash.: So is it really a referendum on the Obama presidency if the Republicans manage to reclaim a congressional seat they've held for 100 years?

Perry Bacon Jr.: no. One thing to note: Obama won this district and won New Jersey and Virginia easily last year. No matter who wins these races, the Democrat will perform much worse than Obama did. It that a sign of localized races, general frustation with the economy and not anything larger? I don't know. I will say this though: I was out with McDonnell on Friday and he seemed eager to highlight national issues like the economy and climate change.

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Mesilla Park, NM: I'm sure you are sick of "media bias" questions and I apologize for asking another one - however, given the rather startling news re: ethics investigations, do you think the press reports on sleaze equally? For instance, my Governor is a pay-for-play pro and seems to get a pass in the national media despite political intervention by the DOJ who "killed" a federal grand jury investigation. Didn't we just go through a months long period of convulsion because of politicalization of federal prosecutors?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The New Mexico governor Bill Richardsson was basically denied a Cabinet post on the basis of a scandal for which little has proven. The Post has highlighted the problems of Jack Abramoff, a mainly Republican lobbyist, but also John Murtha, a veteran Democrat. Not sure I see much here, although I know Andrew Brietbart, who I worked on these ACORN videos and is a big media critic who I wrote a piece about last week, claims conservatives scandals are covered much more than liberal ones.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Two days ago, Fox News reported that GOP Congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava had "released" her supporters to support the Conservative Party candidate, but today I read that she has endorsed the Democratic candidate. What gives?

Perry Bacon Jr.: NOt sure about first report, but I think people assumed she would endorse the Republican until she didn't.

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Anonymous: Perry, in the ongoing Barack vs Fox fight: Yesterday Rush Limbaugh described Fox as part of the conservative media. Host Chris Wallace neither corrected nor clarified Mr. Limbaugh's statement. Putting aside FNC's fair and balanced mantra for a moment do you think Mr. Wallace wasn't listening or was he too intimidated to correct the radio talk show performer?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Maybe Chris thought Rush would laugh out loud if he said Fox wasn't conservative.

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Ashland, Mo: Two questions, other than people lost in political analysis, who would classify the New York dropout a moderate Democrat let alone a moderate Republican? If the conservative wins, how is the Republican party damaged by switching to the likely winner much as Torecelli dropping out for Lautenberg?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree Dede was liberal for a Republican. The damage could come if the small goverment kind of Tea Party activists keep pushing out more moderate candidates to embrace conservatives ones and Republicans then lose seats. Arlen Specter was in trouble as a Republican, but I think Pat Toomey will have a tough time winning in Pa. Charlie Crist was a shoe-in for the Senate, Rubio is more of a risk.

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Baltimore: The filibuster is out of control. Why should 40 Republicans get to veto what the majority wants? Do you think we'll ever get filibuster reform? It wasn't always like this -- filibusters used to be rare.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Democrats filibustered lots and lots of things from 2003 to 2007.

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New York, NY: Perry, first let me applaud you here on this chat for often taking tough questions about your work -- some of your colleagues are less-than happy to respond to criticism, so it's a huge feather in your cap that you often will engage. So hoping you'll engage this one:

Last week you wrote: "I think we may have misstated the strength of the opposition to the public option in the first place, but i think the members changed their view on this as well."

But it's not like there weren't clear indications all along that the media was overstating the strength of opposition to the public option. In fact, much of the polling was consistenly overlooked and/or poo-pooed by you and your colleagues here.

My question to you is -why- did the media overstate the strength of the opposition to the public option. What could you do better the next time? Does this situation perhaps indicate you might be listening to the wrong "experts"?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm skeptical of polling on issues as complicated as the public option that I think I fairly complicated. I'm still convinced the most energy around that issue is conservatives opposed it, as opposed to liberals backing it. Polls often don't influence what Congress does because polls don't reflect intensity, who is calling offices, etc. I think the big thing here was not the polls, but the intensity of the public option supporters in Nevada, as they pressed Harry Reid on this issue.

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NY 23-Hoffman is not a Republican!: You just wrote regarding Dede Scoffazza: "Not sure about first report, but I think people assumed she would endorse the Republican until she didn't". You are making a large mistake. Hoffman is not the "Republican" candidate. He is a 3rd party candidate.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Hoffman has described himself as a Republican and I suspect would join the HOuse GOP conference if he won.

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Ashburn, Va: McDonnell was out pushing national issues? Makes sense, he can whip up the right's anger without having to be responsible for coming up with any solutions. I still say that an effective Deeds campaign with a genuine message would have made for a much tighter race.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not sure I agree, but a lot of people who have followed this race say McDonnell has a run a smarter campaign than Deeds.

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Re: Baltimore: But doesn't that mean that both parties are out of control in their use of the filibuster?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know. I don't know that the Founders intended all legislation to required 60 votes. That said, is that bad? I dont' think the sign of an effective Congress is pushing through as much stuff as possible, but the quality of what they push through? If you're a Democrat, the threat of a filibuster helped slow Bush's Social Security effort. If you're a Republican, I would argue the filbuster is now stoppign climate change legislation.

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Washington, DC: I'm sorry, but if Hoffman, Christie, and McDonnell all win tomorrow, then anybody who doesn't read that as a vote of "no confidence" in the Democratic White House and Congrees is either smoking dope or named Robert Gibbs.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I"m with you.

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Hypocrisy Breeds Coverage: Are conservatives's scandals covered much more prominently by the media than liberal ones? I don't really see a difference in how the media handles (actually, once a scandal is out there, they pretty much act like barracuda no matter who is on the hot seat), but I will say that in cases where the scandal is a private or personal one, there might be more focus on lawmakers who espouse a particular view (family values, no equal rights for gays) that is belied by their particular brand of scandal.

Hypocrisy is great news fodder. Should Larry Craig have been in the news so much for the victimless crime of soliciting sex in a public restroom? I don't know. But his votes against gay rights and for so-called "family values" sure did make it a bigger story than it otherwise might have been.

Perry Bacon Jr.: We covered John Edwards sex scandal too. Craig though was accused a crime, which will always get your covered if you're a lawmaker.

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Philadelphia: Three quick notes on NY 23:

1. It has only elected Republicans essentially since before the Civil War. A Democrat winning would be the story.

2. New York's Republican Party is both unusually boss-ruled and unusually non-ideological. In most places, a candidate like Scozzafava would have attracted a primary challenger, who probably would have beaten her. Instead, the challenge came from the Conservative Party.

3. Few states have anything like the Conservative Party. Remember when they ran William F. Buckley Jr. for mayor? Or his brother James for Senate? Usually they make deals for patronage with the Republicans, but every now and then they get riled. It appears that state Conservative leader Mike Long just doesn't like Scozzafava.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree with No. 1 for sure, and will cede to your knowledge of New York politics for the others. Owens winning would be a big story, particularly in light of the GOP paving the way for Hoffman.

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Kansas City, MO: Bush won Virginia in 2000 with 52.5% but Warner won the governorship in 2001 with 52.2%. Looking back, two month after 9/11, the Republicans should have won easily. How was Warner's win, and McGreevey's win in NJ viewed regarding Bush?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Any Democrat winning in New Jersey is a non-story. Warner didn't nationalize his campaign to win at all, I would argue McDonnell has talked more about Obama/Washington, etc. That said, I think the Virginia race is only a reflection of what I'm seeming nationally, a bit of a spike on conservative energy.

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Fredericksburg: Do you think Obama will forget about climate-change legislation next year? It doesn't look like he'll get any Republican votes, Rust Belt Democrats seem nervous, and lots of folks seem to think he needs to focus on legislation with a more immediate economic payoff.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know. I was dissing the public option prospects for a while, so I'm going to be more cautious now. Politically, I think making progress on a big issue always helps bring monentum to a president, even if it's an issue that I don't think most voters are that connected to. That said, the Democrats HAVE TO do as much as they can on the economy in the next year, because that's the biggest issue for voters.

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Anonymous: In 2008 Rahm led the congressional Democrats to victory by running pro-life and pro-gun Democrats in red districts. Why do the Republicans think that more rigid adherence to party orthodoxy will expand their tent or are they seeking a narrower constituency?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I disagree with this view. The candidates Democrats recruited in 2006 and 2008 are pro-life and pro-gun, but the Democrats never do anything on those issues anyway. Those members don't really move the caucus to the center, because those issues rarely come up. The 2006 and 2008 Democrats don't differ on the broad strokes of the Democratic agenda, health care, the economy, etc. Similarly, I think Republicans will accept some pro-choice people in some races, but I think people who backed the stimulus, like Crist, are in trouble becasue that's a core GOP issue. Were the Democrats in 2006 wrong to oppose Lieberman in a primary? I thought that was a smart decision, Connecticut would go to whichever Democratic won, and Lamont was more liberal. The danger is in states like Pennsylvania, where you migth lose seats in this strategy.

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Richmond, Va.: The ethic probes that were leaked seem kind of slimy to me. It seems like all of these people have been branded guilty by The Post. Is the press to quick in wanting to destroy politicians without regard whether the charges are credible or not.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think we were careful to say these are investigations and allegations.

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Tuckerton, NJ: Hi Perry. I think the three major elections coming up on Tuesday - NJ, Va. gubernatorial races and the NY-23 special election - illustrate perfectly why so much of the general population is disatisfied & generally disinterested in politics. The NY Congressional race has been overrun with national political leaders, specifically associated with the Republican Party endorsing an third-party candidate who, at least until recently, doesn't even live in the district. And here in New Jersey, the two primary candidates include a Bush Republican and a former Goldman Sachs CEO. And to make matters worse, the former Goldman Sachs guy, the incumbent, is considered a "liberal" Democrat.

It doesn't take Columbo to figure out why so many people feel so disenfranchised from the process does it?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think we are seeing a kind of Perot-like movement in this country where many people are upset about goverment, unemployment, immigration, etc. and not sure either party has the right answers. That's what I see in the whole Glenn Beck/Tea Party movement and I think both parties have to examine what's happening here. I think next year may be an anti-incumbent year in which Democrats struggle to hold Congress but statehouses run by Republicans have some problems as well.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why all the fuss about the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District? It a Republican dominated district and no bellwether. By Contrast there has been scant media coverage of a a congressional special election in a Democratic leaning district in Northern California. By my count if the Democrats win the seat in California, as expected, and one of the three other elections (governors races in NJ and VA) they come out even. So much for leading indicators of the 2010 mid-term elections.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I do wonder how much these elections are predictive, if only because so much will change by next November. I think the New York race is as much about internal Republican poliitcs as anything else, Virginia is in the Post coverage area and New Jersey has heavy WH invovlement, so they're all worth doing.

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Connecticut, born and bred: How come none of you ace political reporters are asking Joe Lieberman a very simple and obvious question - why is he against the public option when polls clearly show that more than 60 percent of Connecticut residents support it? Aren't elected officials supposed to represent the beliefs of their constituents? We ain't Texas - start listening to us Joe, or in 3 years I guarantee that you'll be out of office.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, Connecticut, lots of poeple there didn't like the Iraq War, and Lieberman still has his seat. I take him at his word he thinks the public option is bad public policy.

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Helena MT: Perry, do you think the Democratic caucus is sorry they gave Joe Lieberman a chairmanship? I mean, the chairmen are a part of the leadership and should be counted on to support bills important to leadership at least through cloture (don't have to vote FOR them, but allow them to be voted on by the rank and file). Do you think Senator Boxer regrets supporting Lieberman during his primary fight in 2006?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Denying him his chairmanship would have looked petty, particularly right after the election. I wonder if Boxer would have backed him in 2006, knowing he would go on to become such a prominent McCain supporter.

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Re: Democratic Sex Scandals: As I recall, Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer got lots of attention from the press for their problems.

Perry Bacon Jr.: exactly.

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Richmond, Va.: Help me out, Mr. Bacon. It was acknowledged by everyone that the Afghan elections were a fraud. It was determined by everyone that new elections should be held, but today the opposition has pulled out because new elections would be a fraudulent too. Exactly why are we there, and why is our national treasure and billons of dollars being spent in this faraway land that has never bended -- and never will -- to any outsider's rules?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know the answer to this question, but I think it's one Obama will get in a variety of ways if he decides to increase troops there.

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Precedent for a Filibuster by one's own party?: Given that with their 60-seat majority, it's the Democrats who would actually have to filibuster their own healthcare bill to keep it from coming to the floor, I'm wondering if there is any precedent for somebody filibustering their own party's bill in Congress?

Perry Bacon Jr.: sure. Tom Coburn tried to block spending bills when the GOP was in charge.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the questions folks.

Perry

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