66 questions about the future of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates

The midterms are over. As Maurice Sendak wrote so eloquently, “Let the wild rumpus begin.”

The 2016 presidential race could well be a wild thing. More than a dozen White House wannabes have been campaigning across the country this year, ostensibly for local candidates for state and federal offices. Hillary Clinton is tanned, rested and ready, and Jeb Bush is being pressured to undertake a second restoration of the Bush Dynasty. There are future dark horses, wild cards and future comedians’ punchlines who tonight are dreaming big dreams.

So many candidates. So many questions. Here are 66 questions for 16 of the potential contenders.

We won’t know all the answers until November 2016.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz:

  • Is Ted Cruz the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the B-1 Bob Dornan of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Ronald Reagan (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Barack Obama (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

  • Is Hillary Clinton the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the Hillary Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the George H.W. Bush of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the Al Gore of this election cycle?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

  • Is Chris Christie the Rudy Giuliani of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Pete Wilson of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Ronald Reagan of this election cycle?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul:

  • Is Rand Paul the Ron Paul of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Bob Taft (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Warren Harding (1920 vintage) of this election cycle?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

  • Is Rick Perry the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the John McCain (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage)of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Richard Nixon (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Pat Paulsen of this election cycle?

>Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:

  • Is Mitt Romney the Mitt Romney of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the Adlai Stevenson (1960 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the William Jennings Bryan (1908 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the Dwight Eisenhower of this election cycle?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:

  • Is Jeb Bush the George W. Bush (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Bradley of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Scranton (1964 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Nelson Rockefeller of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Mario Cuomo of this election cycle?

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum:

  • Is Rick Santorum the Gary Bauer of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Santorum the Alan Keyes of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Santorum the Harold Stassen of this election cycle?

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Barack Obama of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the George McGovern of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Gene McCarthy of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Dennis Kucinich of this election cycle?

>Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley:

  • Is Martin O’Malley the Tom Vilsack of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Bruce Babbitt of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Adlai Stevenson of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Rutherford B. Hayes of this election cycle?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:

  • Is Marco Rubio the John F. Kennedy of this election cycle?
  • Is Marco Rubio the Ted Kennedy of this election cycle?
  • Is Marco Rubio the Colin Powell of this election cycle?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee:

  • Is Mike Huckabee the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Pat Robertson of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Bill Clinton (the man from Hope) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Huey Long of this election cycle?

>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

  • Is Scott Walker the Mike Dukakis of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Phil Crane (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Calvin Coolidge (1924 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • </ul>Dr. Ben Carson:

    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Dr. Spock of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Mr. Spock of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Herman Cain of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Wendell Willkie of this election cycle?
    • </ul>Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb:

      • Is Jim Webb the Gary Hart of this election cycle?
      • Is Jim Webb the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
      • Is Jim Webb the John McCain (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
      • </ul>Vice President Joe Biden:

        • Is Joe Biden the Alben Barkley (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the John Nance Garner (1940 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the Hubert Humphrey (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the George H.W. Bush (1988 vintage) of this election cycle?

Analysis: Confrontation inevitable as Republicans test a ‘weak’ Obama

Live on CCTV as a Beijing-based expert on U.S. politics.

Live on CCTV as a Beijing-based expert on U.S. politics.

A day after Republicans swept to a broad, deep victory in the 2014 midterm elections, I appeared on CCTV’s Dialogue program to discuss the impact of the elections on American politics. Here is a transcript of the interview by host Yang Rui, edited for clarity and slightly tightened.

Yang Rui: How do these midterm elections damage what President Obama wants to do in the remaining two years?

Rick Dunham: Well, I think right now we’re in for a period of tension, we’re in for a period of confrontation between Congress and the President. The Republicans in Congress think President Obama is weak and they’re going to push very hard for their agenda. They’re going to see how far they can push him. I think the White House will want to reach out a bit more, but I think it’s going to be much harder for the White House to reach out because Republicans think he is weak.

Yang Rui: I believe you must have followed the midterm elections very closely. Anything that surprised you despite the results themselves that are not so surprising?

Rick Dunham: No, I actually was not surprised at the Republicans’ sweep of the Senate. Historically, you look back at almost every big wave election year and you have one party winning almost all the close elections, and Republicans only lost one of them –in New Hampshire. What I was surprised at in this election was the incompetent campaign run by the Democratic National Committee and the White House. There were never on the offensive and they let the Republicans attack President Obama. They almost had no positive message during the campaign. That really surprised me. I haven’t seen a campaign this bad since 1980.

Yang Rui: Exactly 20 years ago, President Clinton was facing the majority that Republicans enjoyed in the two chambers of the Congress. What happened was the shutdown of the federal government and the standoff between Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, and the president himself. Now, last year we saw the partial shut down of the federal government, do you think we are likely to see it another repeat of the shutdown?

Rick Dunham: I think it’s highly likely. We saw a short shutdown last year but I think the Republicans are going to push the president to the brink and see if he capitulates. I think it’s almost certain that we’re going to see a shutdown. President Obama is going to have to veto Republican legislation and then force a compromise.

Yang Rui: What are the major obstacles or issues that may be a test of the bipartisan wrangling?

Rick Dunham: I think that number one will be government spending. The Republicans will try to cut the amount of government spending and particularly programs the president likes. The second big one is health care — the president’s health reform law of 2010. House Republicans voted 40 times already to repeal it. I think that the Senate Republicans will try now to push the president and force him to veto.

A government shutdown is likely.

A government shutdown is likely.

Yang Rui: Well that’s very bad. Now I start thinking about what I read from Francis Fukuyama, the guy who is the author of The End of History. Now, ironically he wrote in another book, it’s about political decay in U.S. domestic politics, meaning the architect of American constitution was able to restrict powers but they have not been able to create powers, and that has delivered a lot of friction and frustrations between the two parties. And the efficiency of the government, all at different levels, has been seriously compromised.

Rick Dunham: Well, I agree with the conclusion, but not necessarily his reasoning to get to the conclusion. I think that we see this kind of gridlock in the United States and dysfunctional democracy largely for two reasons. One is the amount out of money in politics that is making it difficult to pass anything. And the second issue is that you have partisan media in the United States. You have a fracture of the traditional media and you have people who get information that’s based on their own preconceived notions. So the country is deeply divided now and it’s very hard to have commonality because you have people on one side going to Fox News and on the other side going to CNN or National Public Radio, and you don’t really have a common area where they can reach agreement.

Yang Rui: And there are very serious disagreements between couples under the same roof.

Rick Dunham: Huge gender gap. Men overwhelmingly voted for Republican this election, women voted just about evenly, Democrat and Republican.

Yang Rui: Then there is the situation with the low turnout.

Rick Dunham: There has been a problem with turnout in America starting in 1990s. There was a spike up when Barack Obama ran in 2008. Turnout was the highest in 20 years but it has gone back down to its pre-2008 levels, and the biggest drop of was minority voters, black Americans and Hispanic voters, both of them heavily Democratic.

Black voters voted nine to one for Democrats but the turnout was far down from where it was, which cost the Democrats the governorship of Florida, it cost them the Senate seat in North Carolina. Those very narrow losses in those states were result of very low minority turnout.

A durable Democratic majority after 2008? Nope.

A durable Democratic majority after 2008? Nope.


Yang Rui: What do you think of the impact of the midterm upheavals on the presidential election two years from now?

Rick Dunham: Well, I think it’s a mixed blessing for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Now there’s no guarantee that she will be the nominee but if she is, the good news for her is that now people are going to be looking at the Republicans, and probably if there’s a backlash in two years it could be against the Republican Congress as opposed to focusing all about President Obama.

The bad news for Democrats is that this election proves that the Democratic electoral majority that elected Barak Obama twice is not strong and is not permanent. The Democrats have to go back and convince minority voters to turn out and they have to go back and convince more women to vote Democratic.

Yang Rui: Thank you very much for joining us.

Here’s a link to the video of the full interview: http://english.cntv.cn/2014/11/06/VIDE1415219400635230.shtml

Thanks to Jade Ladal for her work on the transcript.


The ten best political campaigns of 2014

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It’s been a good year for very bad campaigns. But there also have been some very, very good efforts put forth by candidates across the United States, including a few who have surprised the political establishment and the Pundit Elite.

Here are my picks for the ten best campaigns of 2014 — whether they win on Election Night or not.

1. Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz

How would you like to have been the interim senator appointed by a governor so unpopular that he was defeated in his party’s primary by more than two to one? And how would you like to have been forced to run in that same primary election against the anointed successor of the late and much-loved Democrat you replaced, Daniel Inouye?

Well, that was the predicament faced by Brian Schatz, Hawaii’s former lieutenant governor and now the second-youngest senator at age 42. He worked smart, worked hard, and won — barely — in the primary against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

“I was not overconfident that we were going to be successful,” he said after escaping the primary by seven-tenths of one percentage point. Now he’s coasting to a general election win against Republican Cam Cavasso.

2. Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker

The Bay State may have voted Democratic in every presidential race except one in modern times, but it has an independent streak when it comes to picking its governors. Republican Mitt Romney was chosen by Massachusetts voters back when he was a moderate. And this time a Republican healthcare executive with business bona fides and an independent streak from his party on abortion and same-sex marriage is poised to win a surprising victory.

Charlie Baker, who was defeated by outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick four years ago, has run a campaign so steady that he won the endorsement of the iconically liberal Boston Globe. Indeed, the Globe praised his track record of “steady management and proven results.” He’s also been helped by the mistakes of Democratic nominee Martha Coakley, who is poised for another come-from-ahead defeat.

3. New York Rep. Chris Gibson

It’s not comfortable being a Republican congressman representing a New York district carried twice by President Obama. But two-term Republican Chris Gibson has done it through hard work, skillful constituent service and strategic moderation on issues such as arts funding and gay rights. (The retired Army officer is a Republican co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act designed to protect GLBT Americans from workplace discrimination.) One recent poll shows him 20 percentage points ahead of his Democratic rival in a district that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will win handily.

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4. Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott

The Texas Attorney General has run the most disciplined governor’s campaign the Lone Star State has seen since George W. Bush toppled Ann Richards in 1994. Abbott has not veered off script, and that script is designed to maximize support among swing voters and motivate hard-core Republicans. With the national press corps hoping against hope for a dramatic storyline this year — Texas is “turning blue” or famous filibusterer Wendy Davis pulls off a miracle in the Land of Bush and Perry — Abbott has taken all of the drama out of Democratic dreams.

5. Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner

The Colorado Senate seat held by freshman Democrat Mark Udall wasn’t on many lists of vulnerable seats at the beginning of 2014. But Republican congressman Cory Gardner has been a nightmare for Democrats from Denver to Washington. He’s run an anti-Washington campaign designed to appeal to the swing state’s large bloc of disquieted independents, as well as populists peeved at the sophisticated population of the state capital. Gardner’s campaign site boasts that he is running “to represent all of Colorado, not just those from a particular city or political party.” Take that, Denver.

Democrats have tried to paint Gardner as an extremist and a harsh partisan. But it hasn’t seemed to stick to a candidate known for his high energy and hailed by DC media outlets as a Republican rising star.

6. North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan

From all the Republican TV commercials, you’d think that “Barack Obama” is the name of the Democratic nominee for Senate in North Carolina. But rather than accept southern-fried doom in an anti-Obama year, the first-term Democratic senator has turned the tables on Republican nominee Thom Tillis, and has put him on the defensive about his role as state House Speaker in the extremely unpopular ongoings in the state capital of Raleigh. Contrast Hagan’s competitiveness in final pre-election polls with the flailing efforts of the two other Democratic Senate incumbents in the South, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

7. West Virginia Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito

The last Republican to win a Senate seat in West Virginia was six decades ago. That’s going to change this year as longtime Rep. Shelley Moore Capito sweeps to victory to succeed Democratic legend Jay Rockefeller.

While West Virginia has swung Republican at the presidential level in the past four election cycles, it has favored Democrats for most statewide offices. The 60-year-old Capito, an influential House member, is considered by many to be a pragmatist, conservative on social policies, strong on guns but not hostile to organized labor. Her campaign has been pitch perfect. No wonder Kyle Kondike, the managing editor of the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball, calls her the “best Republican Senate candidate this cycle.”

8. Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie

Win or lose — and he will probably lose — Republican Ed Gillespie has run an exceptionally good Senate campaign in Virginia against a popular Democratic incumbent, Mark Warner. Gillespie has worked harder than just about any candidate in the country, has highlighted a future-oriented set of issues, and has built a statewide organization out of the ashes of Republican defeats in recent years. His efforts have paid off as he has trimmed Warner’s lead significantly over the past two months.

Sen. Warner, you may recall, also was defeated in his first Senate campaign by a venerable incumbent, Republican John Warner, before going on to win the governorship. Gillespie’s excellent campaign should move him to the front of the line of GOP candidates for governor in 2017.

9. Florida congressional candidate Gwen Graham

This is a year of promise for the children of former Florida governors, In Texas, Republican Jeb Bush’s son George is about to become the Lone Star State’s land commissioner. And in the Sunshine State, Democrat Bob Graham’s daughter Gwen is in a tight race with incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Southerland.

Graham has learned the basics of political campaigning from her masterful dad. She has raised more money than the Republican — something very few Democratic challengers have done this year. She has out-organized the incumbent and has mobilized early voting that favors Democrats by 14 percentage points. She has called in dad’s chits and got a campaign visit from former President Bill Clinton. Victory is far from assured, but a strong campaign has given Graham a decent chance in a tough Democratic year.

10. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s worst nightmare is coming true.

Yes, he may lose his job as Majority Leader if Republicans can pick up at least six seats. But he might be seeing the specter of 2016 defeat in Nevada in the person of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. The incumbent governor is running 25 percentage points ahead of his 2014 Democratic opponent. He may just keep on running.

Sandoval, the first Latino to serve as a federal judge in Nevada, would be a good bet to roll the dice against Reid. It would be hard for the Democratic senator to convince voters that Sandoval, who has presided over education reform and a slowly improving economy, is a fringe extremist like 2010 GOP nominee Sharron Angle.


The ten worst political campaigns of 2014

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Pat Roberts has been working overtime to show how he understands the problems of his Kansas constituents.

From pornographic emails to pervasive plagiarism, this has been a good year for bad candidates. We’ve seen hubris, laziness and monumental incompetence.

That’s not really something new in American politics.

What may be new is that some of the campaigns are so bad that even partisan news outlets like Mother Jones and Fox News have called out the perpetrators.

So who has run the worst campaign of 2014? There are lots of candidates in contention for runner-up status but we already have a clear winner of that dubious achievement:

1. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

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Biggest loser: The former #2 man in the House of Representatives. Soon to be a very rich nobody.

A Hall of Shame horrible campaign. Overconfident. Out of touch. The future House Speaker became a former House member with the help of an obscure but spirited Tea Party activist. Cantor is crying all the way to the bank as he cashed in on the capital’s revolving door culture by getting a nice Wall Street-ish job.

2. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts

Win or lose, the veteran Kansas senator, who lives in Washington, was caught napping. He survived a primary scare that he didn’t see coming and then trailed badly against an independent in early general election polls. With the GOP establishment circling the wagons — and hardline conservatives like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz seizing the moment — Roberts has finally gained some momentum, at least for the time being. But win or lose, he’s evidence of what happens when you catch Potomac Fever and don’t keep up with the folks back home.

3. Montana Sen. John Walsh

Democrats were on the defensive from the moment longtime Montana Sen. Max Baucus resigned his seat to become envoy to Beijing. But Dems had high hopes for John Walsh, an Iraq veteran, former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard and former lieutenant governor. Those hopes evaporated when the New York Times reported that Walsh had “plagiarized large sections of the final paper he completed to earn his master’s degree at the prestigious Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.”

Walsh quickly made a bad situation a lot worse. According to the Times, Walsh initially “expressed no contrition for the plagiarism.” Even when withdrawing from the race two weeks later, he remained in denial, saying that the paper “has become a distraction from the debate you expect and deserve.” The Army War College thought it was much more serious, revoking his master’s degree. But he’s still a senator, however lame a duck he may be.

4. Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis

National Democrats thought they had found an instant superstar when the telegenic Fort Worth state senator staged a filibuster against a draconian Republican anti-abortion law in 2013. The party raised tons of money from her pro-choice passion and pink sneakers and shipped almost all of it out of state. It then somehow convinced the celebrity senator that she could be elected governor in one of the most reliably Republican states in the Union. All you had to do was read my 2012 statistical analysis of Texas demographic and electoral trends to know that true partisan competitiveness was from eight to 12 years away.

To make a difficult situation worse, Davis’ campaign has been inexplicably tone-deaf. They seem to be running the kind of a campaign a Democrat would run in Massachusetts or Illinois, not Texas. (In contrast, the last Texas Democrat to be elected governor, Ann Richards, knew how to appeal to the good-ole-boy and good-ole-girl vote without sacrificing her basic principles.)

Final exclamation point, a new television ad that tried to paint Republican Greg Abbott as a hypocrite but ended up making him a victim. Even liberal standard-bearer Mother Jones called it, “to be blunt, bullshit.”

“If Wendy Davis Thinks She Can Win an Election by Pointing Out Her Opponent’s Disability, She’s Wrong,” declared the MoJo headline.

“It’s offensive and nasty and it shouldn’t exist,” wrote Ben Dreyfuss. “She’s basically calling Abbott a cripple.”

That’s what her friends are saying. Texas Democrats should be saying, “Wait ’til next year.” Or is it “next decade”?


5. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

This is not the kind of headline you want on Fox News’ web site if you are a Republican incumbent:

Porn scandal involving former staff puts Pa. governor on defense in already-tough race

It’s not a question of whether Tom Corbett will lose, it’s by how much he will lose. In a very good year for Republican candidates, the GOP incumbent is a very bad candidate. Whether it’s his ties to the Penn State football program’s child sexual abuse cover-up or the scandal involving pornographic emails sent by staffers, the news is relentlessly negative for the embattled incumbent. Democratic nominee Tom Wolf is breezing to victory. The only question is whether Corbett’s margin of defeat is larger than the 20 percentage point repudiation of then-Senator Rick Santorum in 2006.

It’s a hard time to be a GOP spinner in the Keystone State. “This is not an Anthony Weiner situation,” one Republican consultant said on Fox News, trying to put the best face on a very bad situation.

Cold comfort.

6. Ohio gubernatorial nominee Ed FitzGerald

It’s never good when a headline in the Washington Post declares:

The remarkable implosion of Ed FitzGerald

Especially not if you are an Ohio Democrat and Ed FitzGerald is your nominee for governor. Democrats had high hopes for unseating Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose edgy personality and hard-driving policy agenda had alienated a fair number of voters. But their candidate, a local elected official with precious little big league experience, proved truly minor league. A typical lowlight was the revelation of a 2012 incident when he was approached by a police officer while in a parked car with a woman who was not his wife.

How bad have things gotten? With the campaign winding down, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that “the beleaguered Democrat is altering his strategy in an attempt to ensure his troubles don’t doom his party’s entire statewide ticket.” At least he’s not playing stupid “spin” games and trying to convince us that he still is in contention.

7. South Dakota Senate nominee Mike Rounds

Republicans thought this was a sure thing when Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson announced his retirement. Red state. Popular ex-governor. Anti-Obama electorate. Good Republican year. Can’t lose.

Well, yes you can.

Rounds has exhibited a severe case of overconfidence and has run a lackluster campaign (to be generous). Toss in a wild card — the independent candidacy of former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, the only politician to say no to the “American Hustle” hustlers — and you have the South Dakota road show version of the venerable musical “Anything Goes.”

I’ll still be shocked if Rounds loses. But he’s trying his best.

8. Michigan Senate nominee Terri Lynn Land

Like Texas Democrats, Michigan Republicans thought they had a chance to pull an upset on hostile partisan turf by nominating Terri Lynn Land for the Senate seat long held by retiring Democrat Carl Levin. Now, national Republicans will tell you it is one of their biggest disappointments of the year. Land’s campaign has been mediocre, at best, lacking imagination, energy and an overarching strategy. She’s been on the defensive, like her attempts to counter perceptions that her policy positions were “anti-women.” She aired an ad that was described by Republican political consultant Frank Luntz as the worst of the election season (which is saying a lot). In the ad, she drank coffee and looked at her watch and said that, as a woman, she knows more about women than her male opponent. No discussion of any issues.

As the Detroit News reported:

The “Really?” ad, aired in May, sought to reject claims that Land is anti-woman because of her opposition to abortion and federal legislation known as the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Luntz criticized the commercial on “Fox & Friends” for failing to “give any message” or “communicate any sense of substance.”

No wonder Democrat Gary Peters — once considered a “tough sell” — has been consistently leading in the polls for months.

9. California congressional candidate Carl DeMaio

In the category of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, we take you to San Diego, where Republicans have been talking all year about their strong candidate against endangered Democratic incumbent Scott Peters.

Let’s just say the talk has shifted all of a sudden. After all, how many candidates for the House of Representatives find themselves in the bizarre position of denying that they masturbated in front of a staff member? Or groped his genitals?

That’s the plight of Carl DeMaio, a highly touted Republican candidate who had been leading in many polls in California’s 52nd Congressional District. Let’s just cut to the Oct. 10 CNN interview with his former aide, Todd Bosnich.

Bosnich: “I saw his hand —— his penis in his hand. He had a smile on his face. And as soon as I came over, he was looking at me.”

CNN reporter Chris Frates: “So there was no mistaking what was happening?”

Bosnich: “There was no mistaking whatsoever.”

According to TalkingPointsMemo, Bosnich has accused his ex-boss of “making inappropriate advances, massaging and kissing his neck, and groping.”

I should note that DeMaio categorically denies his ex-aide’s account and held a press conference to condemn it as “an outrageous lie” that has been dismissed by law enforcement authorities.

“This is an individual that was let go by our campaign manager for plagiarism, a well-documented plagiarism incident of taking a report from the National Journal and passing it off as his own work,” the candidate told CNN. “He was terminated. He admitted that he plagiarized.”

At his press conference, DeMaio went further: “It’s absolutely untrue and it’s unfortunate that an individual who is the prime suspect in the break-in at our campaign office would manufacture such an outrageous lie.”

Someone is lying. But no candidate wants to be denying this kind of thing in the final weeks of a campaign. Or ever.
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10. Texas Agriculture Commission loser Kinky Friedman

Once considered a serious (or at least semi-serious) candidate for governor of Texas, this singer/songwriter/author has been failing downward. This year, he ran an erratic campaign for Texas Agriculture Commissioner and was defeated in the Democratic runoff by “not Kinky Friedman,” a.k.a., an unknown guy who was the other name on the ballot. Kinky’s top campaign issue this year was legalization of marijuana.

“I want to make this election into a referendum on lifting the prohibition on pot and hemp,” Friedman told KHOU 11 News during a campaign event in Houston. “This is about the future of Texas.”

It certainly wasn’t about Kinky’s political future.


Learning about China’s health-care system the hard way

Students brought good food and good ccheer.

Students brought good food and good cheer.

“I did the best I could,” the surgeon said in his best English. He paused, a bit awkwardly, for a few moments then repeated, “I did the best I could.”

I really didn’t want to look. After about an hour of surgery below the right eye, nearly half of my face was covered by a gauze bandage and surgical tape that made me look something like a character in a SciFi flick, “Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Mummy.”

Through my out-of-focus eyes, the clock seemed to say a few minutes after one in the morning. It had been six and a half hours since I fell off my bicycle on September 23 in a driving rainstorm on an invisibly slick surface on a dark campus pathway. I fell face-first onto a brick pavement, trying unsuccessfully to break my fall with both hands.

In the tenth floor surgical suite in Peking University Hospital Number 3, I felt even worse than I looked. My broken left wrist was in a newly created, hard-plastic cast. My jammed right thumb was throbbing. My left leg near the knee had been sewn up from what, at first, looked like a war wound after something (I still don’t know what) pierced my skin. My face was lacerated for about 6 centimeters where my glasses frames were thrust into my flesh. I hurt everywhere. I couldn’t see clearly, and I’m not sure if that’s because my glasses were missing or because my head was swirling.

I don’t remember much in the immediate aftermath of the crash except the blood and the pain. Three students came to my rescue and one let me borrow her mobile phone to call my office manager. Somehow, I managed to hobble about 1 kilometer to Tsinghua University’s hospital emergency room, where my experience with the Chinese health-care system began. Two hospitals. Two surgeries. A half-dozen x-rays, a CT scan and a tetanus shot. And some very dedicated, highly skilled doctors who are under constant pressure from seemingly never-ending waves of patients.

Republicans derided U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2010 health insurance law as socialized medicine. Well, this really was socialized medicine, with all of its benefits (universal care, low cost) and its liabilities (longer waits and greater bureaucracy).

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I knew I had broken my wrist as I shuffled slowly westward to the hospital over the uneven pavement of Tsinghua’s beautiful lake district, which had become an instant obstacle course of puddles and tree roots. My non-professional diagnosis was quickly confirmed by a battery of x-rays. That was the easy part.

We shuttled up and down the corridors of Tsinghua’s hospital from department to department. The emergency room doctor had me take off my pants to examine the knee area. I’ll never forget the look on his face. Translated into English by my colleagues, he said: “We can’t treat injuries that serious at this hospital.”

One weekafter the injury.

One week after the injury.

It is 8 p.m., 90 minutes after the crash. The swelling is getting worse, as is the pain. And I have gotten no treatment, save the tetanus shot.

My colleagues paid the bill for hospital services in cash — under $100 — and called a taxi to go PUH3, one of the biggest — and, I was told, best — hospitals in the capital, with emergency surgeons on duty 24 hours a day.

Arriving at Peking University Hospital Number 3 at about 8:30, I was overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke outside the front door, where nervous relatives of patients — and more than a few doctors — went for treatment of their nicotine addiction.

Inside the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the sea of humanity. There were lines everywhere, as relatives and friends queued up to sign up for emergency appointments or to pay their bills on the spot. In cash.

(Sidebar remark: My three colleagues used up all 2100 yuan they were carrying with them, the equivalent of about $350. I gave them my ATM card and they emptied another 400 yuan from my Bank of Beijing account so we could pay our debts before my discharge.)

The mass of humanity and the slightly aged facility reminded me of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, circa 1978, or an inner-city Washington, D.C., hospital — except that there were no gunshot injuries or knife wounds. I quickly learned that there were many more people hurting a lot more than me. In a strange way, it calmed me down as I awaited treatment.

My injuries were handled one at a time, slowly but surely. First, 20 minutes of knee surgery. I don’t remember anything after my leg was pierced by several needles with anesthetics. Then came the CT scan, followed by a visit to the specialist who crafted a hard plastic cast to protect my broken wrist while leaving me with some limited mobility of the arm and fingers. I remember a brief trip outside in my antique wheelchair — which got stuck in a water-filled rut — as we navigated through the massive hospital complex in a steady drizzle. Finally, the facial surgeon. Under four layers of gauze for an hour, to protect me from infection, I had a nightmarish thought about Joan Rivers as I occasionally struggled for air. I am definitely not getting a face lift in 25 years.

At long last, I was done for the evening. We returned the well-worn wheelchair and got our deposit back. We paid all of the bills, which totaled a bit under $500. I was thinking that the single CT scan would have cost more than that back home in the U.S. of A. I consider my care a true bargain.

The doctors were young. Some seemed harried. All seemed to be quite competent. The specialists were compassionate. Maybe it was because I am a foreigner. Maybe it was because they care about more than paychecks, wrangling with insurance companies, liability lawsuits or golf tee times.

Chinese hospitals underscore the "waiting" in  "waiting room."

Chinese hospitals underscore the “waiting” in
“waiting room.”

®®®®®®®®®®®

The news over the past two weeks has been uniformly good:

  • I am healing surprisingly quickly. No eye bandage anymore. Hardly any scar. I will not be the next Boris Karloff. I can bend my damaged knee and jammed thumb. The cast could come off my arm in a few more weeks.
  • I have had an outpouring of assistance from my students. Twenty-six students volunteered for two-a-day visits for two weeks. They have helped me with meals, laundry and dish-washing. We have had enlightening and stimulating conservations on topics ranging from linguistics to American and Chinese history. If I haven’t told you before, I love the students at Tsinghua.
  • My fellow professors have supplied everything from flowers to sweets to wine. My co-director, Hang Min, even sprung me from my apartment to go to a delicious Sichuan restaurant in Zhongguancun. Other angels with cars have included Eunice Song and Jiao Jie’s family.
  • I have had time to catch up with family members via Skype. And now that I can type again, I will be able to connect more easily with the rest of my friends. I also can prepare lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations for my classes.
  • Finally, I am planning to return to the classroom tomorrow. Because of the Chinese National Day holiday, I only missed one class in both my Multimedia Journalism grad course and my U.S. Media Culture undergrad course.

This is not the kind of adventure I had in mind when I came to China last year. But we all live and learn, and this has indeed been an interesting learning experience.


Eric Cantor not only joins the list of most shocking House primary losers ever, he tops the list

20140611-182220.jpgSometimes, the hyperbole is right.

The New York Times calls House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s lopsided primary loss to an underfunded Tea Party challenger “one of the most stunning primary election upsets in congressional history.”

It sounded like hyperbole to me, so I started to think. And think. And think. And I couldn’t think of a comparable repudiation of a House powerhouse by his own party’s voters.

Then I called out the search engines — even the ones blocked here in China — and I soon concluded that Cantor, the first House Majority Leader to be ousted by his own party since the post was created 115 years ago, topped the list.

It’s a short list, because so few primary defeats come out of nowhere. There was a bit of a buzz a couple of weeks ago when Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, a former committee chairman and the oldest man ever to serve in the House, was ousted by a Tea Party insurgent. But few among the Pundit Elite were shocked.

This one was different. I was thinking back and I thought all the way back to the dark days of the Vietnam War, when anti-war insurgent Elizabeth Holtzman stunned longtime House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler in the 1972 New York Democratic primary. Celler was the longest-serving member of the House, a 50-year veteran, and his defeat rocked the House leadership almost as much as George McGovern’s landslide presidential loss did two months later.20140611-182200.jpg

General election shockers are nothing new in wave election years or special circumstances. House Speaker Tom Foley was toppled in the 1994 Republican Revolution that ended four decades of Democratic dominance. People were shocked when Dan Rostenkowski, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, lost after getting in trouble with the law over postage stamps and a few other low crimes and misdemeanors. After all, it was Chicago, and what Daley Machine pol loses … to a Republican?

Chicago’s Michael Patrick Flanagan (the Rosty Slayer) isn’t the only challenger to see lightning strike. New York sent Republican Fiorello LaGuardia to Congress in a shocker over Tammany Hall’s own incumbent Democrat, Michael F. Farley, in 1916. LaGuardia went on to become a legendary New York mayor and the subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning musical, “Fiorello!” Farley died in 1921 of exposure to anthrax from his shaving brush.

Rostenkowski’s general election defeat was a final ripple from the the biggest anti-incumbent primary wave in modern history, when 19 lawmakers were purged by constituents angered by the House bank scandal and the lingering aftereffects of recession. The biggest name to fall in a primary that year was Michigan Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Commitee, who was beaten by conservative insurgent Peter Hoekstra.

The next biggest wave of incumbent House member defeats in primaries came in 1946, when 18 sitting House members were ousted so that a group of World War Two vets could come to power. None rivaled Cantor in star power.

Among the newcomers: Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, neither of whom ousted incumbents in primaries. Nixon shocked five-term California Democrat Jerry Voorhis in the general election, while Kennedy earned his way to DC by dispatching nine Democrats (including two named Joseph Russo — one of them recruited by his dad to split the opposition vote).

Many of the biggest primary surprises have come after reapportionment and redistricting, when party leaders try to eliminate upstarts by “pairing” them against powerful veterans. Sometimes, it backfires, like when anti-machine Philadelphia Democrat Bill Green buried ten-term incumbent (and former funeral director) James A. Byrne in 1972.

Party-switchers also have been prime targets for primary defeats, even with the support of their new party. Such was the fate of Texas Rep. Greg Laughlin, who was toppled in a 1996 GOP primary by a supposedly washed-up former congressman (and Libertarian Party presidential candidate) named Ron Paul, a man who lives to bedevil the Pundit Elite.

Occasionally — very, very occasionally — a grassroots insurgent takes out the Establishment favorite. How many of you remember when a young upstart from Weatherford, Texas, named James Claude Wright Jr. unseated four-term incumbent Wingate Lucas, the favorite of Fort Worth publisher and power broker Amon Carter, in the 1954 Democratic primary? (Former Star-Telegram political reporter and DC veteran Larry Neal does.) Wright went on to become one of the most powerful House members of the second half of the 20th century, serving as House Majority Leader and House Speaker.

Does anybody have any other nominees for biggest primary election surprises? As Ross Perot said famously, “I’m all ears.”


An evening bike ride through Tian’anmen Square on June 3, 2014

This guest blog was written as a Facebook post by Felicia Sonmez, one of the best journalists in Beijing. Many thanks to Felicia for giving me permission to share it with you.

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First you get a hunch you’re being followed. Then you think you must be crazy. Why would an old man on a bike be doing a thing like that, on a leafy Beijing street, on such a pleasant spring night?

Then you slow down, and so does he. You start up again and bike faster, and so does he. Finally he gets ahead of you and stops at a corner. You hesitate for a moment, then turn right, back toward the long road to the Square. And before you know it, he’s approaching you on your left side, and suddenly, he’s crashed into you.

“Sorry!” he says.

“What are you doing?” you ask, as he stumbles off his bike.

Rather than stick around to find out the answer, you hurry to get back on your bike and pedal away as fast as you can, without looking back.

Ordinarily, you might be worried about the chance of some stranger following you back to your house. But in this case, you’re almost relieved to get home. He probably works for the government. And they already know where you live.

It’s June 3, 2014, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and also a year to the day since I moved back to Beijing. The visit last month from black-clad plainclothes security agents to our bureau — as well as most every foreign news outlet in Beijing — warning us not to do any newsgathering related to the anniversary has had several weeks to sink in. So have the various warnings that have come down from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Dozens of Chinese activists, rights lawyers, artists, journalists and others with even the most tenuous of links to Tiananmen have been detained over the past few months — enough to make it clear that any reporter would be foolish to think of heading down to the Square on June 3 or 4 and expect to get any reporting done, let alone avoid getting detained.

So, after a day spent in the office, I decided on a whim to hop on my bike and just go for an evening ride around town, to see what I could see. I left my recorder and notebook and home, bringing only my pocketbook, a deactivated smartphone I use for taking photos, and a few H&M shopping bags, which I threw in the basket of my bike.

I was only gone for an hour, and I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter.

I biked down Dongdan North Street until I got to East Chang’an Avenue, about four big blocks away from Tiananmen Square. Central Beijing usually has a fair police presence to begin with, but tonight felt different. Every police car or van that passed was silently flashing blue and red lights, as was every police box on the street, and officers were stationed at every main intersection. I must have passed more than 100 police over the course of my bike ride.

As I approached the corner, there was suddenly a lot of yelling. I looked on as four uniformed police officers dragged a young man across the street and toward the accordion gate that was blocking part of the bike lane.

About a dozen bikers waiting for the light to change watched as the police forced the man onto his knees and yelled at him. I couldn’t make out what the man had done wrong. But a woman with him was making a phone call, and one of the bikers next to me was recording the confrontation on his smartphone. I snapped a few photos, then turned onto Chang’an Avenue and kept biking to avoid causing a scene myself.

The police presence on Chang’an Avenue has been ramping up steadily over the past few weeks, with dogs and armed officers gradually being added to the mix. But tonight was unlike anything I’ve seen. Officers and police vehicles were stationed all along the giant east-west thoroughfare, which has seven lanes of traffic on each side. A few other bikers were riding along like me, including a few guys clad in racing gear and spandex (not like me). Even among those pro-looking riders, there was a palpable tension as they sped down the road under the officers’ watchful gaze.

I approached the Square. It was unlike any time I’ve ever seen it in the eight years since I first came to China. It’s normally a pretty festive place, teeming with tourists snapping photos, as well as a fair amount of police and vendors. That’s how it was two days ago, when I came by with some friends visiting from out of town.

Tonight, it was completely empty. Not a single person was on the Square as I biked by, just a lone white police van parked in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, facing against traffic.

I recalled a conversation with a Beijing lawyer I met recently. Hundreds of thousands of police officers being mobilized across the city — for what? he asked. Just to ensure that a non-commemoration of a non-anniversary remains that way? He thought it was not only a waste, but a shameful one.

I thought, also, of a story the lawyer had told me about a friend of his. It was last year, and news had just broken of the arrest of venture capitalist Wang Gongquan. Wang was outspoken, but his surprising arrest was taken as a sign that the neither the wealthy nor the well-known would be spared in Beijing’s new crackdown on dissent.

Many were spooked. But perhaps that was the intention. Regardless, the day Wang’s arrest was reported, the lawyer said, was the day his friend decided to pack up and leave China.

I kept biking down Chang’an Avenue, slowing down to snap a few photos with my smartphone, and suddenly something struck me. In clearing out the Square and deploying thousands of police across the city to quell any potential disturbances, the authorities had created a spectacle — a memorial, almost — of their own. The vast emptiness at the heart of the capital was a manifestation of the void that has existed since 1989, and of which the world is reminded — though perhaps not quite so vividly — every June.

That was the thought I was planning to end my night on, until I turned north onto Nanchang Jie. I realized after a few minutes that the old man was following me, and he kept pace with me all the way up the street past the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, across the north end of the Forbidden City and to the corner of Beichizi Street.

The bizarre run-in with him, which echoed stories I’d heard from other reporters during sensitive periods in China, quickly turned my mood tonight from pensive to spooked. But perhaps that was the intention. I left before I could find out more — and before my phone, press card, or other belongings could potentially be snatched.


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