The unknown Elena Kagan
1. When Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her her confirmation hearings Monday, she will be a tabula rasa for large swaths of the American public.
While Kagan has spent the six weeks since she was nominated by President Obama to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the high court meeting with senators and preparing for this week's hearings, the American public's gaze has been elsewhere.
The ongoing oil spill on the Gulf Coast has been the story of the past month and, even last week when the Kagan hearings were rapidly approaching, the resignation/firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal by Obama turned the Supreme Court nominee into a secondary story -- at best.
National polling bears out the fact that Kagan is barely known. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week, nearly six in ten (57 percent) didn't know enough about Kagan to offer an opinion. (Among those who did know enough about her to form an opinion, 11 percent felt positively toward Kagan, 13 percent negatively and 19 percent were neutral.)
Asked what they thought of Kagan joining the court, 47 percent said they didn't know enough to venture an opinion. That's nearly double the percentage of people who said the same of now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor in July 2009 in NBC/WSJ polling.
Under different circumstances, Kagan's relative anonymity would set up the hearings as a genuine jump ball, with both parties trying to win the perception battle over the coming week.
But, with the 2010 midterm election only 127 days off, a fight over Kagan isn't one that Republicans are likely to pick--barring some sort of major revelation about her. (They will, of course, make some show of a fight in order to please their base, which cares deeply about judicial nominations.)
Polling, too, affirms that most Americans believe Kagan should be confirmed -- even though they don't know much about her. Fifty-eight percent of those tested in a June Washington Post/ABC poll said she should be confirmed, including 52 percent of independents.
Republicans know that in an election you have to pick your fights. And, it's hard to imagine they want to fight over Kagan.
2. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is making a round of endorsements in Maine today, upping to 24 the number of states in which the former Massachusetts governor -- and potential 2012 presidential candidate -- has backed candidates in the 2010 cycle.
Romney, through his Free and Strong America PAC, is endorsing Paul LePage in the open-seat Maine gubernatorial race, businessman Jason Levesque in the 2nd district race against Rep. Mike Michaud (D) and businessman Dean Scontras in the 1st district race against freshman Rep. Chellie Pingree (D).
The governor's race -- in which LePage will face off against state Senate Majority President Libby Mitchell (D) -- is the marquee contest in the state this year, with Republicans insisting they can win it after eight years of Gov. John Baldacci (D). The Cook Political Report, however, ranks the race "lean Democratic."
At the House level, Michaud breezed to re-election with 67 percent in 2008, while Pingree won her first term with 55 percent. Romney's PAC is donating the maximum $750 to LePage, and is backing Scontras and Levesque with $2,500 each.
The endorsements are the latest indication that Romney is working to align himself with Republican candidates across the country -- even in states where they may be potential long shots.
Romney has endorsed 100 candidates this cycle, and his PAC has contributed more than $300,000 to those candidates' campaigns. The list of states in which he's endorsed includes California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Connecticut, New York, Arizona and Virginia.
In some of those states, Romney has taken risks in backing candidates whose wins were far from certain. Last week Romney saw one such gamble pay off when his endorsed candidate, state Rep. Nikki Haley, won the gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina -- a state that will be critical to Romney's 2012 hopes. (Since the Palmetto State moved its primary up in the nominating calendar, no candidate has won the nomination without carrying the state first.)
In other cases, Romney has cast his lot with candidates who fell short. In Utah, for example, Romney backed Sen. Bob Bennett (R), who lost his re-election bid at the state convention. Romney waited until the day after last week's primary to endorse the eventual winner in the race to succeed Bennett: businessman Mike Lee.
Win or lose, no potential 2012 candidate has the political operation -- led by Matt Rhoades -- that Romney enjoys. He is methodically building up chits to cash in if (when) he runs for national office again.
3. Illinois Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias says he has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Rod Blagojevich (D) at the request of the disgraced former governor's lawyers.
Blagojevich has been accused of trying to sell an appointment to fill the Senate seat vacated when Obama was elected president, in exchange for personal favors. Giannoulias, the state's treasurer, said he introduced the person who has been identified as Obama's choice for the seat, Valerie Jarrett, to a union official. Blagojevich allegedly sought favors from the White House through that union official.
Giannoulias has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and none of his actions have raised any suggestions of impropriety. At the same time, testifying at a high-profile corruption trial is something a candidate for Senate would rather avoid.
(Democrats recently got some mileage out of New Hampshire GOP Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte's testimony before a panel looking into a Ponzi scheme that occurred during her time as state attorney general.)
Giannoulias's name came up at the Blagojevich trial last week, when in a recording, former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris mentioned that Giannoulias had called about the Senate nomination -- presumably to pitch Jarrett as a candidate. Giannoulias' campaign said he believed in Jarrett as a candidate and was not acting at the president's behest.
"Despite what the Republicans are trying to say," Giannoulias told the Chicago Sun-Times's Lynn Sweet. "I am really not a part of this circus."
4. Unsuccessful Iowa governor candidate Bob Vander Plaats made a failed attempt at hijacking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor this weekend. But, judging by the result, he could be emboldened to run for governor as an independent.
Vander Plaats, an avowed conservative who placed second behind former Gov. Terry Branstad in the Republican primary earlier this month, challenged Branstad's chosen lieutenant governor candidate -- state Sen. Kim Reynolds -- at the state party convention on Saturday.
Reynolds won -- 56 percent to 44 percent -- but Vander Plaats' strategy created some nervousness within the Branstad ranks before it was all said and done.
Vander Plaats said Friday that he was considering an independent run for governor, confirming a week's worth of rumors. The Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich reported Saturday that Vander Plaats left the convention without taking questions -- a move that will surely fuel rumors of an independent candidacy.
The fact that Vander Plaats took 41 percent of the vote in the primary and 44 percent of delegates at the state convention suggests there is an element of the GOP in Iowa that isn't wedded to supporting Branstad and Reynolds in the general election. And an independent Vander Plaats could put a real kink in the Republicans' efforts to take down Gov. Chet Culver (D).
The strong(ish) showing for Vander Plaats is also a reminder of how much control conservatives retain in the Republican nominating process. And that bodes well for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee if either, or both, choose to run for president in 2012.
5. A new Boston Globe poll shows Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) maintaining a seven-point lead over former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker (R) in his bid for re-election with state Treasurer Tim Cahill (I) falling to the single digits.
Patrick leads Baker 38 percent to 31 percent while Cahill is a distant third at 9 percent. Patrick's margin is unchanged from a January Globe survey but that's about the only thing that's not different in this topsy-turvy race.
In January, Patrick stood at 30 percent to Cahill's 23 percent and Baker's 19 percent. But Cahill has tumbled following a $1 million TV and radio ad blitz by the Republican Governors Association over the past two months casting him as "just another reckless Beacon Hill politician."
Cahill was sitting on $3.4 million cash-on-hand as of the last reporting period compared to $2.3 million for Baker and about $1 million for Patrick, meaning that it's still too early to count Cahill out.
Still, if the new numbers hold, they suggest that the battle for the governor's mansion is now a two-man race -- a development that should cause concern for the governor's camp.
In a head-to-head contest, Baker can more easily cast the election as a referendum on Patrick, whose approval rating is at a less-than-impressive 41 percent among likely voters in the new poll.
Moreover, 42 percent of likely voters surveyed did not know enough about Baker to have an opinion on him, compared to 4 percent for Patrick. That's a sign that Baker has room to grow and makes how he is introduced to voters in the coming months that much more important.
With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake
June 28, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Morning Fix
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