Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rick Santorum Wishes Obama Was More Like Jesse Helms

Huffington Post, 11-19-14 / OpEdNews, 11-22-14

This week, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced he'd make a decision next year about running for the White House again in 2016. Last week, while guest hosting a right-wing talk radio show in Iowa, the ultra-conservative former Pennsylvania Senator gave the country a glimpse of what a Santorum presidency might look like.

Over the air, Santorum lamented the "breakup of any kind of cooperation in Washington D.C.," and said "this president is very much to blame for this," because Obama hasn't been enough of a gentleman. Unlike the late Republican Senator from North Carolina and hate-mongering demagogue Jesse Helms.

"There was no one nicer than Jesse Helms," said Santorum. "I mean, I don't think a single Democrat would tell you that on a personal level, there was anybody that was more gentlemanly, more kind than Jesse. He stood up for what he believed in, but he was always a gentleman about it."

This echoed the controversial comments made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) last year, when he told a crowd at the Heritage Foundation that Helms was the first political candidate he had ever donated to, and "we need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate." He'll have at least one new Helms clone by his side next year, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, who managed to hide her extreme right-wing views from enough voters to win a Senate seat. Santorum campaigned for Ernst in early November, telling volunteers her victory would "set a tone for 2016."

Santorum and Cruz are Helms' ideological descendants, so it's not surprising they would speak highly of the man. But as sane observers are well aware, the real Jesse Helms spent more than five decades stirring the pot of bigotry and hatred to win elections and further his political career.

Ten lowest points of Helms' shameful legacy include:

(1) Creating scurrilous, race-baiting ads and handbills in 1950 for a white segregationist candidate.

(2) Denouncing the civil rights movement in TV and radio commentaries broadcast in North Carolina throughout the 1960s.

(3) Defeating his Greek-American opponent in 1972 in part by using the slogan, "Jesse Helms: He's One of Us!"

(4) Distributing tens of thousands of leaflets in 1976 during the Reagan-Ford primary fight in N.C. that alleged Gerald Ford was considering picking a black running mate.

(5) Opposing and delaying every effort ever proposed to impose U.S. sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, no matter how mild.

(6) Filibustering against renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 1982.

(7) Spending 16 days filibustering against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday in 1983, and ending up the only Senator to vote against it.

(8) Using shameless gay-bashing and fears of Jesse Jackson registering black voters to win re-election in 1984.

(9) Unleashing a wave of blistering, race-baiting attack ads against his 1990 black Democratic challenger Harvey Gantt, including some of the most racially divisive political advertising of modern times.

And finally, perhaps Helms' greatest crime:

(10) Leading the opposition in the U.S. Senate to increased federal funding for AIDS research all throughout the 1980s, which left real blood on Helms' hands, because even a modest increase in spending could have saved tens of thousands of gay Americans who died horrible, painful deaths in the years before effective AIDS drugs were developed.

But according to Santorum, we shouldn't believe Helms' well-documented history of fearmongering and inflaming racial tensions, because he was a politician who exhibited "probably the starkest contrast of what the press used to portray and what the reality was."

While on the subject of Jesse Helms, Santorum also told listeners how fondly he remembers the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the man who blamed gays, feminists, and the ACLU for the 9/11 attacks. At the time of his death in 2007, Falwell was described as "a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry" by Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

During the 1980s, Falwell's Moral Majority PAC raised $69 million for GOP candidates and claimed to speak on behalf of 6.5 million members. It helped elect presidents Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1988, and re-elect Sen. Helms in 1984. Falwell founded the Moral Majority in the 1970s to organize evangelical Christians behind conservative Republican candidates, and claimed it was Roe v. Wade that sparked his movement. Yet the so-called "Religious Right" he helped lead first came together to preserve the right of Christian schools to maintain racial segregation.

The divisive political figures Santorum admires tell us all we need to know about how he would lead America if ever given the chance. Hopefully we've come too far as a country to go back to the days when far right-wing demagogues using religion to cloak their narrow-minded agendas were guiding our national politics. We can be thankful Santorum's chances to succeed as a presidential candidate are remote, and his time on the national stage will eventually end up in the dustbin of history alongside the chapters on Helms and Falwell, where they all belong.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Why Kay Hagan Lost In North Carolina

The Huffington Post, 11-13-14

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- When the smoke cleared, the most expensive contest of 2014 had become the costliest Senate race in U.S. history. More than $111 million was spent by both sides in the North Carolina battle for incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan's seat.

Hagan ultimately came up short, losing by 45,673 votes out of 2.9 million cast to Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.

So what happened? As a sitting Senator running for re-election at a time when the recovering economy still hasn't translated into income gains for most voters, Hagan faced historical headwinds, and President Obama's deflated approval ratings didn't help. But beyond those national factors, here are two critical reasons why Hagan lost her seat:

(1) Wealthy right-wing outside groups led by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove spent tens of millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote efforts against Hagan.

Big money was put up to poison the well of Hagan's support among North Carolina voters. Hagan had a huge target on her back, described in one news story after another as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats. The Koch brothers' political machine began pummeling her with attack ads over her support for the Affordable Care Act before it was even signed into law in early 2010.

The pace intensified in 2013, and by February of this year, the Koch brothers' dark money group Americans For Prosperity had already expended $8.2 million on TV, radio and digital ads designed to defeat her. At that point in the cycle, it was an unparalleled sum to have been spent in one state, more than all Democratic outside groups had sunk into every 2014 Senate race in the country combined.

   

   

N.C. voters couldn't escape the attack ads, which carpet bombed the state. "If anyone hasn't seen those ads, they haven't just been under a rock," said Vanessa Johnson, a voter from Winston-Salem. "They've been down in Bedrock with the Flintstones!" According to the Wesleyan Media Project, fully two-thirds were negative, the highest percentage of negative ads aired in any Senate race this year.

Crossroads GPS (the dark money group co-founded by Karl Rove) piled on, falsely claiming Hagan cast the "deciding vote" for the Affordable Care Act, and blaming her for the discredited myth that the law cut over $700 billion from Medicare. "That means North Carolina stands to lose over $16 billion in Medicare payments," one ad warned.

Other Crossroads GPS ads were full of similar distortions, accusing Hagan of wanting to "raise (the) social security retirement age," "reduce (the) home mortgage interest deduction," "increase out-of-pocket Medicare expenses," and "give us cuts to our Medicare."

   

   

In her own campaign ads, Hagan stressed her moderate, centrist philosophy, but the Koch brothers and Karl Rove defined her as a Barack Obama puppet from early on. Outside groups reported spending $34.5 million by election day to tear down Hagan and prop up Thom Tillis.

Besides financing a deluge of attack ads, the Koch brothers realized they needed to compete with the Democratic Party's ground game. So Americans For Prosperity greatly expanded its field organizing this year in North Carolina and others states with key Senate races. They announced plans to put half of the $125 million they would spend on the midterms into a stronger ground campaign, hiring 500 field staffers nationwide. In the Tar Heel state, this built on AFP's earlier organizing efforts.

A top priority of the group for years, North Carolina was one of the first states where it set up local chapters, helping build what (AFP President) Tim Phillips says is one of its "deepest state infrastructures," with more than 130,000 activists that helped defeat a Medicaid expansion in the state Legislature last year and now is singularly focused on defeating Hagan. - Politico, 2/12/14

Hagan pushed back, making the Koch brothers' attempts to buy the election a campaign issue in her ads and campaign speeches. "The people of North Carolina need to know what their agenda is," Hagan said last February. "They want to have tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and, at the same time, put that burden on the middle class and the poor."

But her counterattacks may not have resonated with voters. "It's utterly ineffective. Elections have to be about voters and what candidates will do for them," argued Thomas Mills, a top advisor to the state's unsuccessful Democratic Senate nominee in 2010, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. "And this strategy is more about the candidates. It says, 'Look at me! Help me -- they are spending money against me.' There's no connection between that and voters."

____________________________________________________________________________

(2) Democratic voters were fired up about opposing Thom Tillis and the GOP agenda in North Carolina, but not overwhelmingly behind Kay Hagan.

Overall turnout was 44 percent of North Carolina's registered voters, the exact same percentage of voters who cast ballots in 2010, the last time there was a midterm Senate battle. It was nowhere near the state's record in modern history for midterm turnout, when 62 percent of registered voters showed up for the hotly contested 1990 Gantt-Helms race.

With 1.42 million votes in all, Tillis fell slightly short of the 1.46 million ballots cast in 2010 for Richard Burr, North Carolina's senior Republican Senator. But it was enough to beat Hagan's 1.38 million total, even though that was 230,000 more votes than the 1.15 million received by Burr's Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall.

Democrats cast 49 percent of all early votes, with the GOP accounting for only 31 percent. But on election day, just 36 percent of voters were registered Democrats, versus 35 percent Republicans. The 29 percent of independent voters broke for Tillis by a margin of 49%-42%, and helped push him over the top.

Why didn't more Democrats turn out for Hagan?

According to Mark Chilton, a veteran elected official in liberal Orange County, N.C. who won his first election in 1991 as a 21-year old undergraduate, "Hagan made the strategic choice to run as a centrist and the tactical decision to run a Beltway-approved, paid TV-oriented campaign." As a result, it was harder for voters to feel part of a popular movement devoted to electing her. "The Democrats needed a different electorate to show up at the polls," said Chilton. "But the same-old strategy got us the same-old electorate, and the same-old results."

Quoted in Mother Jones, an unemployed former construction worker from Raleigh expressed the lack of enthusiasm many low-income voters may have felt about their Senator, even those who planned to vote for her. "Kay Hagan, to me she's wishy-washy, she's two-faced," said Michael Curtis. "But Tillis is an out-out crook."

Hagan is no populist. Rather, she has been a centrist, business-oriented Democrat from the time she entered public office, when she was first elected to the N.C. Senate in 1998. Although she settled in North Carolina after attending law school at Wake Forest University, Hagan grew up in Florida. She is from one of the wealthiest and most politically connected families in the southwest central part of the Sunshine state, and her uncle was former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles.

Before public life, she was a corporate lawyer and eventually a vice president at North Carolina National Bank, which was later bought by Bank of America. She ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008 "with backing from the business and political establishment," as noted by a profile at the time.

Once elected, Hagan supported enough of President Obama's first-term agenda to be accused by Tillis and his billionaire backers of voting with Obama 96 percent of the time. She voted for the 2009 economic stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, and against extending the Bush tax cuts.

   

But she also veered to the right on several issues. She endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline, and in the election's closing weeks made the unfortunate decision to support a West African travel ban, after getting hammered by Thom Tillis' truly shameless attempts to whip up Ebola hysteria. He was the first Senate candidate to call for a travel ban, and opened the floodgates to a wave of GOP demagoguery over Ebola.

Hagan turned her back on the DREAMers when she was one of only five Democratic Senators to vote against the DREAM Act in 2010. Latino activists swore they would remember when Hagan faced re-election, and they did, disrupting some of her rallies and erecting billboards around the state denouncing Hagan's immigration-related stands. Yet their efforts may have been a wash, helping inoculate Hagan against Tillis' charges that she was too pro-immigration. Exit polls showed Latino voters only made up 3 percent of the N.C. electorate in 2014, with inconclusive results as to which candidate they preferred.

With her corporate background and a campaign that stressed her centrism, many low income voters in North Carolina, be they white, black, or brown, may not have felt Kay Hagan was leading the fight on their issues. It would explain why voters who earned less than $30,000 a year only made up 19 percent of the 2014 electorate, down from 25 percent in 2012. This was a body blow to Democrats, because the ones who did vote backed Hagan 63%-30%. By contrast, 24 percent of all voters made more than $100,000, and went for Tillis by a 59%-39% margin.

And it left an opening for the GOP to try and convince voters that Thom Tillis would do the most to look out for their economic interests and create jobs.

   

44 percent of North Carolina voters named the economy as the top issue facing the country, and split 52%-44% for Tillis. 64 percent of N.C. voters who cast ballots this year favored a higher minimum wage, according to exit polls. But 29 percent of them voted for Tillis, even though he explicitly opposed it, and Hagan wanted to raise it to $10.10 an hour. The minimum wage was one of the few economic issues where she drew a sharp contrast between herself and her opponent, but an insufficient number of low-income voters noticed.

During a presidential year with substantially higher turnout, Hagan more than likely would have been re-elected. When she won her first Senate term in 2008, Hagan outperformed Barack Obama in North Carolina by over 100,000 ballots, leading the statewide ticket with 2.25 million votes.

In this year's midterm election, with opposition to her party's sitting President giving Republicans all the motivation they needed to vote, enlarging the electorate was Hagan's only hope of surviving the onslaught of right-wing money determined to take her down. Her campaign ran the largest field operation ever in an N.C. Senate race, with 40 offices, 100 staffers, and an estimated 10,000 volunteers.

Yet by the time the polls closed, not enough Democratic voters had gotten excited enough about Kay Hagan to save the day. "I don't think a field operation can create enthusiasm - it can mobilize enthusiasm," observed Democratic strategist Gary Pearce.

No one should count Hagan out of politics too soon. She could still make a comeback run in two years for Republican Sen. Burr's seat. But Mark Chilton sums up what's on the mind of many North Carolina Democrats right now.

"We can lazily chalk up this result and many others across the country to 2014 being a bad year for Democrats," said Chilton. "Or we can seriously ask ourselves whether we need a new approach - on policy, on style, and on demography."

Monday, November 3, 2014

How You Can Help Save the Senate

The Huffington Post, 11-3-14

The battle for the Senate has been a cliffhanger for months. Races in at least ten states that will decide the balance of power have remained too close to call, despite corporate pundits' haste to forecast a GOP victory. Now, on the eve of Election Day, it's tempting to throw up your hands, sit back and wait for the returns to come in.

That's exactly what Republicans are hoping we'll do. Give up hope and do nothing.

What's the alternative?

How can progressives channel our outrage over the possibility of the GOP ruling both houses of Congress for the remaining two years of Obama's presidency? Pushing whatever legislation they want to further their far-right agenda and keep our country from moving forward? Holding the power to control the nation's courts by blocking judicial nominations, including seats on the Supreme Court?

If you can, take tomorrow off from work. Call your local Democratic campaign office, and show up to volunteer. Don't fool yourself into thinking one more volunteer won't make a difference. It will, and they need us. Bring your cell phone. Whether it's making phone calls to voters or going out to knock on doors and flush folks out who haven't voted yet, your efforts will pay off.

If your state is true blue or red and doesn't have a close Senate or House race, it's even easier to make a difference. From the comfort of your own home, or wherever you happen to be, the number one way you can help is to call voters in other states.

Through its Voters Rising campaign, MoveOn.org has helped volunteers around the country make over five million calls to progressive voters in targeted states so far, voters who are on the fence about voting in the midterms. You can help reach even more. There are still calling shifts available that you can sign up for right now.

Calling voters is empowering for both you and the people you'll talk with. Make a little time to do it. You'll speak with good-hearted citizens in other states who share your views and may have just been waiting for the extra push you'll give them in order to vote this year.

The reality is that there's never a better time than the few days immediately before an election to call voters and remind them to go to the polls. In 2004, I worked to elect John Kerry in North Carolina. Our office was overrun with volunteers in the campaign's closing days, spread out in every room and hallway with cell phones and call sheets. But there's always more phone calls to be made than there are volunteers available to make them.

With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, the stakes are high in 2014. Spend some time between now and tomorrow night dialing for voters, and you'll go to bed on Tuesday knowing you helped make a difference in this election.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

GOP Voter Intimidation Efforts Are In Full Swing

The Huffington Post, 11-4-14

With the Nov. 4 elections now days away, last minute voter intimidation tactics intended to benefit Republican candidates are being reported nationwide.

In Kentucky, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign has sent out official-looking mailers that scream, "ELECTION VIOLATION NOTICE." The mailers claim to contain "facts related to a possible fraud being perpetrated on citizens across Kentucky," and warn voters that "You are at risk of acting on fraudulent information."

2014-11-01-KYMailerfront.JPG

Inside, the text of the mailers reads as if they were sent from election boards, claiming "information that has been red-flagged as 100% false is being purposely spread by the campaign of the federal candidate named below: Alison Lundergan Grimes."

2014-11-01-KYMailerinside.JPG

Haven King, the Clerk of Perry County, Kentucky, contacted WYMT News about the mailers on Halloween. "This means nothing; I don't know what people are trying to do," said King. "There's nothing fraudulent to my knowledge going on and the people in Perry County if you are registered to vote, you will be able to vote and you will be able to vote at your precinct."

McConnell's Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, immediately filed suit seeking to stop the mailers from being distributed, and called for a state and federal investigation. The mailers appear to have violated at least two Kentucky statutes that are punishable by felony charges.

Also in Kentucky, the Attorney General's office has received a complaint about voter intimidation directed towards college students. A full page ad was published in the Berea Citizen warning students that their right to vote is "subject to be challenged" if they go to the polls this year, and students who are found to be registered improperly "could face significant penalties."

The vice president of Berea College Student Government, Jacob Burdette, called it "an attempt at voter suppression," and told students not to be discouraged from voting. "Our message is, if you consider Berea home and you've taken steps to make it such, with regards to voting, go vote." The group behind the ad was labeled "Concerned Citizens of Berea," and the newspaper's publisher would only identify them as a "group of private citizens."

Groups like Claim Your Vote have been fighting back against this sort of phony information being used to mislead students, which comes on the heels of GOP-led efforts to block the student vote in New Hampshire and North Carolina.


One particular type of voter intimidation cropping up around the country this year is voter shaming.

In Iowa, Republican National Committee-sponsored ads are appearing in Facebook users' news feeds, implying that their neighbors will know if they don't vote Republican. Which is, of course, totally false.

2014-11-01-IowaGOPFacebookad.JPG

In Florida, where incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott is locked in a tight battle with former Governor Charlie Crist, an Orlando-based PAC called Citizens for a Better Florida Inc. has sent out mailers that threaten to reveal who voted in the group's next mailing, to be delivered after the election. The front of the mailers state, "Your Neighbors Will Know. It's Public Record."

2014-11-01-CitizensForABetterFloridamailerfront.JPG

The PAC's money comes from the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee, which shares the same address with Citizens for a Better Florida.

2014-11-01-CitizensForABetterFloridamailerbackcolor.JPG

According to the Tampa Bay Times:

Records show the group formed in 2008 and has raised more than $2 million, much of which it has used to assist the campaigns of Gov. Rick Scott and other statewide Republican candidates.

Over the past month alone, the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee raised almost $1 million, including $795,000 from the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.

Voter intimidation tactics like these recall the ugly ways that African-American votes in the South were suppressed during much of the twentieth century. As recently as 1990, postcards were mailed to 125,000 black voters in North Carolina threatening them with jail if they voted. The postcards went out in the closing days of the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between incumbent GOP Senator Jesse Helms and his Democratic challenger Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte, a race Helms won by 107,000 votes.

2014-11-01-BlackstudentsandHelms.jpg
N.C. students protesting apartheid cross paths with Helms, 1984

Why do the Republicans feel a need to engage in such shady voter intimidation schemes year after year? Why are they so afraid of letting people go to the polls and choosing whichever candidates they prefer, free from interference with their right to vote?

Maybe they realize that if voters were allowed to make up their own minds, too many of them might refuse to be intimidated by GOP scare tactics any longer.

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