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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- March 30, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) -- Political sage and noted statistician Nate Silver is now predicting that Republicans will take over the U.S. Senate this year, but just barely. It has been awhile since we discussed where the Senate stands, so let’s chew on that for “Brunch” this week:

“The Math” – Republicans needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate. While they are leading in some open states - and are threatening some Democratic incumbents - Republicans need to be careful because some of their own members are vulnerable to defeat, including Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In the latest Survey USA Poll, Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes leads McConnell, 46 percent to 42 percent. It would be odd, but the GOP could take control of the Senate, but lose its leader in the process. Ironic!

“Carolina in the Pines” – One of the most interesting races to watch is in North Carolina. Six years ago, Democrat Kay Hagan unseated Republican Senator and two-time cabinet member Elizabeth Dole, a political legend. Dole’s campaign ran an ill-fated political ad questioning the religiosity of Hagan (who was a Sunday school teacher). It backfired big-time. But Hagan’s first term has been unremarkable and she is vulnerable. The latest Public Policy Poll has Hagan in a virtual tie with every potential Republican opponent. The state is “must win” if the GOP wants the Senate back.

“It’s a ‘Gimmie’” – The Republican’s easiest pick-up is likely to be in the State of Montana where the long-time Democratic incumbent Max Baucus left to become Ambassador to China. Republican Rep. Steve Daines leads Democratic Lt. Gov. John Walsh by 14 percentage points in the latest poll from Rasmussen Reports.

“Pryor Record” – By all rights, Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) ought to be a shoo-in for reelection. He has a famous name in Arkansas, where his dad David Pryor also served as Senator and Governor. But Mark Pryor’s unwavering support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, has left him vulnerable. Most polls have Pryor tied with Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), in a state that Republicans have carried in every Presidential election since 2000. Bill Clinton’s home state turns more to the right every year.

“Georgia on My Mind” – As mentioned earlier, Republicans cannot get too cocky or overconfident about their chances of taking control of the Senate. Nate Silver only has them winning by one seat right now and admits a surge by Democrats could keep them in charge. The real race to watch is in Georgia, where several Republicans are vying to succeed retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss, including a sitting Congressman and a former Governor. The Democratic opponent will be Michelle Nunn, daughter of legendary U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. She even spent time working for the Bush family’s foundation, so she can make bipartisan claims in a state where it could make a difference.

“The Wild Cards” – I’ve specifically addressed some of the key races, but there are several other states to watch that could turn the tide, including West Virginia, Michigan, Alaska and South Dakota. This is going to be a wacky year, so hang on tight!

“The Stakes” – Control of the Senate might help end gridlock and divided government on a lot of issues, including long term budget matters and immigration reform. President Obama might work to sign compromises on both of those issues as part of his lasting legacy, as he becomes a lame duck. But even if the GOP takes control of both houses of Congress, not much will happen with Obamacare. That’s because the President can veto any major overhauls to his signature piece of legislation, and Republicans won’t have big enough Congressional majorities to override his vetoes.

Who is leading in your state? Let us know your picks by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Senate

"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- March 23, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – The big East Coast political news on Friday was the FBI, IRS and others raiding the home and State House office of Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D). Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it has had its share of political scandals over the years. So this week we look at a host of political shenanigans – big and small – that have made headlines over the years, here and elsewhere:

“Fox Guarding the State House” – Saturday, Gordon Fox announced his resignation as Rhode Island House Speaker, the most powerful political office in the state. Fox has not been charged with any crime, nor have investigators said exactly what they are looking for. But, with the IRS involved, you know they are probably looking into money that Uncle Sam sent to the Ocean State. I was there as FBI and IRS agents hauled box after box of records out of his house and office (photo above). Stay tuned, as this story is still developing.

“Massachusetts Hat Trick” – Our neighbors to the north and east have seen their share of scandal. In 2009 Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi resigned and was later indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges. That made him the third straight House Speaker from the Bay State to leave office amid criminal allegations. Massachusetts is hockey country, so the three-and-out House Speakers constitute a political hat trick of sorts!

“Illinois Foursome!” – We all know about the legendary political corruption in Chicago, where voting by dead people led to the coining of the phrase, “Vote early; and vote often!” Back-to-back Illinois Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich were sent to prison this century. They joined former Governors Otto Kerner and Dan Walker, both of whom went to prison in the 1960s and 70s. That means four of the past seven Illinois Governors wound up behind bars. Wow!

“American Hustle” - One of this year’s "Best Picture" nominees at the Oscars was a fictionalized account of the “Abscam” scandal of the 1980s. That bribery case forced a boatload of public officials to resign or go to prison, including one U.S. Senator and six members of the U.S. House. Among the more colorful lawmakers who did not take the bait were longtime Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who told the undercover agents trying to bribe him, "I'm not interested; I'm sorry.” Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) went so far as to tell the bribers, "Wait a minute. What you are suggesting may be illegal." Pressler even reported the bribe attempt to the FBI. The moral is, they are not all crooked and corrupt!

“Pennsylvania Six Pack” – In 2012, six members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly were convicted on various charges, along with two of their staff members. It was called, “Bonusgate” and involved paying state employees to work on their campaigns, and giving them bonuses paid out of tax dollars. I mean it is one thing to pay people bribes of out your own pocket, but using taxpayer funds to pay the “bonuses” was even more galling.

“Nip and Tuck” – One of my favorite stories involves former Georgia School Superintendent Linda Schrenko(R), who was running for Governor. She stole $600,000 of money set aside for special educational programs and used some of that money for plastic surgery on her face. Voters saw through her mask. She was not elected Governor and went to prison instead.

“Weird California” – The most populous state has had its fair share of political misdeeds, too, but often with a unique twist. One of my favorites was married State Rep. Michael Duvall (R-CA), who ran on a conservative, family values platform. Duvall, who was apparently not aware there was a live microphone nearby, was bragging to a colleague about two affairs he was having. While a cable TV audience was tuning in, he said of one of his mistresses: "So, I am getting into spanking her. Yeah, I like it. I like spanking her. She goes, 'I know you like spanking me.' I said, 'Yeah! Because you're such a bad girl'!" When the quotes went public, Duvall was toast!

“Clinton-esque!” – As the above example shows, some political scandals are not about money or bribes, but rather lust. President Clinton survived impeachment after perjuring himself before a Federal Judge about an affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. His infamous quote to the public was, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never!” Clinton survived his impeachment, but late night comedians made sure he’d never live down the scandal. Fifteen years later, the jokes live on.

“Watergate” – Certainly the granddaddy of all political scandals was Watergate, which forced President Nixon to resign from office before he was to be impeached. Nixon - speaking before a convention of newspaper editors - probably delivered his most famous quote about the Watergate investigation: “…I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.” It’s fascinating to note that politicians are often able to rebuild their careers and reputations after scandal, and Clinton and Nixon are two prime examples of that. Both became elder statesmen and hardly faded away.

There are too many federal, state and local scandals to mention here. What are your favorites? Let me know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: WLNE-TV ABC6 News

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