Morning Fix: The sticky wicket of Afghanistan
1. The sticky policy and political wicket that is Afghanistan is highlighted in two national polls released over the last 24 hours . The two surveys -- one by the Washington Post/ABC and the other by CBS/New York Times -- showed President Obama's approval numbers falling on his handling of the issue and the American people deeply divided on the right course in the country. In the CBS survey, 38 percent approved of the president's handling of Afghanistan while 43 percent disapproved -- a nine-point jump in disapproval since mid-October. In the Post poll 52 percent of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting (as compared to 44 percent who say it was) while there was deep division over whether the president should send a larger number troops to the region (46 percent) or send a smaller force (45 percent). What these numbers make clear is that there is no right answer from a political perspective for Obama when it comes to Afghanistan -- just a series of choices that range from bad to worse. No matter what Obama chooses then -- and a decision on troop levels is expected as soon as next week -- he will have to sell it to the American people, a high-stakes political game as the calendar turns from 2009 to 2010.
2. Hoping to answer the barrage of advertising slamming vulnerable House Democrats for their vote in support of the president's health care bill, Americans United and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees are funding ads in eight congressional districts thanking members for their vote. The ads, which will cost the two groups $750,000 for a week's worth of broadcast and cable commercials, are a direct rebuttal of ads being funded by 60 Plus Association and the Chamber of Commerce; the narrator says that "the insurance lobbyists weren't happy when" the Democratic member voted for the bill because they know that the legislation "would stop them from raising premiums and stop them from denying coverage when you're sick." (Check out a sample ad being run in support of Indiana Rep. Baron Hill.) That liberal interest groups feel compelled to respond to the attacks being made by their conservative brethren suggest that the ads are working and the members on the receiving end are getting jumpy. Here's a full list of the districts where the Americans United/AFSCME commercials will run: Arkansas' 1st (Marion Berry), Arkansas' 2nd (Vic Snyder), Connecticut's 5th district (Chris Murphy), Indiana's 8th (Brad Ellsworth), Indiana's 9th (Hill), North Dakota's at-large (Earl Pomeroy), Virginia's 5th (Tom Perriello) and Virginia's 11th (Gerry Connolly).
3. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, downplayed the schism between the establishment and conservative wings of the party -- comparing the current state of affairs within the party to what occurred in the wake of Ross Perot's independent presidential candidacy in 1992. "We worked very hard as a party to go after those Perot voters," recounted Barbour who was chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time. "We invited them to participate in our party, invited them to come to meetings." He added that Republicans must take a similar tack when it comes to the tea party crowd who has energized -- and roiled -- party politics with the intensity of their distaste for not just the Obama administration but the GOP party apparatus as well. Barbour pointed to Republican successes in New Jersey and Virginia earlier this month as evidence that if conservatives are brought into the fold and listened to, they will turn out for Republican candidates -- noting that Gov.-elect Chris Christie won 94 percent of the conservative vote despite running as a moderate. "Republicans cannot take for granted that those people are all going to vote for us," added Barbour.
4. And/But....Buried deep in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey are eye-opening numbers about the commitment to ideological purity within the two parties. Asked whether they would rather see a Democrat nominated who disagreed with them on many issues but had a good chance of winning or a candidate who agreed with them on most issues but had a poor chance of winning, 58 percent of Democrats chose the former option while 38 percent took the latter. Forty three percent of Republicans said they would prefer a candidate who could win while 53 percent said they would rather a candidate who they agreed with ideologically no matter his or her electoral chances. The emphasis on ideology over electability among self-identified Republicans was born out in the special election in upstate New York earlier this month when conservatives -- led by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin -- drove state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava out of the race due to her lack of adherence to core party principles. The "big tent/small tent" debate is playing itself out in other places around the country -- most notably in Florida's Senate race -- and for those moderate candidates these CNN numbers have to be worrisome.
5. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo continues to publicly insist that he has made no decisions about a run for governor in 2010 but, according to a terrific article by Danny Hakim of the New York Times, Cuomo is already mulling potential running mates. The most intriguing name being floated is New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson who lost narrowly to Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month. Why all the behind the scenes intrigue for Cuomo? Because he remains very wary of offending the black community by pushing out Gov. David Paterson (D) -- particularly after Cuomo unsuccessfully challenged then state Comptroller Carl McCall, an African American, in a 2002 primary for governor. A source close to Cuomo insisted that the story was overwritten and that no such detailed conversations about a running mate are going on. But, the story does suggest that Cuomo is significantly further along in the planning of a gubernatorial bid than has been revealed publicly.
6. Norm Coleman (R) isn't expected to make a decision on the 2010 governor's race until next year but a new Rasmussen poll suggests the former senator has plenty of time to make his decision. Coleman led the Republican field with 50 percent while state Rep. Marty Seifert at 11 percent was the only other potential candidate to break double digits. Coleman's lead is almost entirely attributable to name identification gained from his time as mayor of St. Paul and his six years in the Senate but it does suggest that if he decides to run, he will be a clear favorite. On the Democratic side, former Sen. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak each received 30 percent of the vote while none of the other candidates scored in double digits. Coleman would give Republicans a chance to hold this seat, which is being vacated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) after two terms. But, if Coleman takes a pass this race looks extremely difficult for any other GOP candidate given Minnesota's Democratic tilt.
7. Kansas Democrats -- finally -- have a candidate for governor in the person of businessman Tom Wiggans. "Now more than ever as our state and our families deal with this difficult economic climate, we need a successful business leader in the Governor's office," Wiggans said in a statement announcing his candidacy. Wiggans, who has never sought elected office before, is likely to run as an outside to the political process -- a smart move in this climate -- and cast Sen. Sam Brownback (R) as more of the same. Not a bad idea but Brownback is extremely well funded and popular in a state where Republicans really have to make mistakes to lose statewide races. Acting Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) all but handed this seat to Brownback months ago when he not only announced that he would not run but also selected as his lieutenant governor someone who had pledged not to run. What Wiggans gives Democrats is a warm body in the event that Bronwback makes some sort of major campaign error.
8. Connecticut state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) is considering the prospect of dropping out of the Senate race against Chris Dodd for a challenge to Rep. Chris Murphy (D) in the 5th district. Caliguri acknowledged the possible race switch in a statement issues Tuesday, noting that he was being encouraged to make the change by state party chairman Chris Healy. "Senator Caligiuri's potential entry into the fifth congressional district race spells trouble for Democrat Chris Murphy and shows Republicans are ready to provide new leadership in the Congress," said Healy. Maybe. Murphy, who ousted longtime Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) in 2006, has proven to be an able politician and the northwestern Connecticut district went for President Obama by 14 points in 2008. Despite those challenges, Caligiuri has a far better chance in a House race than he did in a Senate primary that includes former Rep. Rob Simmons as well as two self-funders.
9. It's quiz time! The Post political quiz today is all about -- you betcha! -- former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The Fix, who has spent more time reading, writing and thinking about Palin than is healthy, scored a 100 percent. Can you match it?
10. West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd becomes the longest-serving member of the chamber today and, as expected, C-SPAN -- the Fix's favorite network -- is all over it. Check out video of Byrd running down his list of the greatest Senators (Richard Russell, LBJ, Mike Mansfield Norris Cotton), offering up e advice for a new member of the body ("work hard in your committees") and reflecting on how he would change his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act if he could.
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