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Sunday Political Brunch: The Roy Moore Fallout -- December 17, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – Democrat Doug Jones will be the new U.S. Senator from Alabama. That is certain. What is not certain, is all the fallout from the contentious Senate race. Yes, there are some positive signs for the Democratic Party, yet the Republican Party still holds a big advantage. 2018 will be fascinating, so let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“The Shelby Factor” – I was a reporter in Alabama in the late 80s and early 90s, and covered Senator Richard Shelby (R) Alabama, when he was still a Democrat. And, I was there in Washington, DC to cover him switching to the Republican Party in 1994. His most interesting twist came right after the 1994 midterm elections where Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. He switched parties- in part – after a slight in 1993 when Shelby received only one ticket to a White House event honoring his University of Alabama football team for winning the national championship. He and President Clinton became bitter enemies. Ouch!

“The Polling” – As I was after the 2016 Presidential campaign, I am again deeply concerned about the political polling taking place in America. I use polling as an instructive tool whereas I feel a lot of my competitors in the media use polling as a crutch. It’s important to put it in perspective: it’s at best a “guestimate” - a lone snap-shot in time. It’s not a predictor of anything; it’s more reflective. The disparities are stark and concerning. On Monday, a Fox News poll had Doug Jones leading by 10 points; while an Emerson College poll had Roy Moore up by nine points; and a Monmouth University polls had the race dead-even at 46 percent apiece (a pretty good reflection of the outcome). So, why were the polls “all over the map?”

“Bad Optics” – I’ve been covering state, local, and national politics for forty years now. When I see a bad image, I call it out. No one will ever forget 1988 Presidential nominee, Gov. Michael Dukakis, driving an Army tank and looking like Snoopy at the helm. It was a disaster. This past week – on the eve of a critical Senate election – Roy Moore (who despises the mainstream media) chose instead to be interviewed by a 12-year-old child-reporter by the name of Millie March. Who thought this was a good idea? Moore was already facing accusations of sexual improprieties with 14 and 16 years old young ladies – and I grant that those accusations go back forty years -- and were not proven. But what campaign manager would think seating the candidate with a 12-year-old girl was good optics? It was maybe the worst political strategy I’ve seen in my 40 years. Wow!

“NOT a Precursor of 2018” – Ever since Donald Trump was elected President, there have been nine special elections across the United States. By many in the media, the races were billed (wrongly) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. Remember legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s rule, “All politics is local.” These were not national races in most regards, but local. So far Republicans have won five House seats they previously held, and Democrats won one House seat they already held. Democrats won two Governorships (one had been Republican) for a net gain of one. Democrats have also won a U.S. Senate seat for a net gain for one. The count so far is Republicans 5; Democrats 4. Despite the enthusiasm in Alabama Tuesday, Democrats face a tough road ahead.

“Why Doug Jones Won?” – First, he was a good, credible candidate for the Democrats in the Deep South – an area where they’ve struggled to field quality candidates for three decades. He’s a former U.S. Attorney with some high-profile prosecutions in major cases. Three other U.S. Attorneys I know, have parlayed that kind of resume into higher office: Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, and Rudy Giuliani, to name a few. Jones had the chops. Plus, he was facing a very polarizing Republican, who’d twice been elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, only to be twice-removed. In this race, Moore was his own worst enemy. I say that because this was a race unique to Alabama. The oddity of circumstances is in no way is a predictor of what happens nationwide in 2018. That said, the Democratic Party - and in particular, the NAACP - ran a very effective "get out the vote" campaign that could be adopted elsewhere.

“The ‘Trump Factor’ or, Non-Factor?” – President Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange, (R) Alabama in the race, in the primary. Strange lost. Trump then – at the 11th hour this past week – endorsed Roy Moore - who ultimately lost. This is a President with the highest negative ratings we’ve ever seen. He may volunteer to campaign for lot of House and Senate candidates in 2018, only to be given a polite, “No thanks!” He is the Republican lightning rod in 2018, and a lot of incumbent GOP lawmakers may not want to be standing anywhere near him.

“The Immediate Impact” –Senator Luther Strange (R) Alabama will remain in place until Doug Jones is sworn in, early in 2018. Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota will also remain in place until he officially resigns. That keeps the Republican Senate majority at 52-48 for next week’s anticipated final vote on the tax reform bill. Yes, Democrats want the vote delayed until Jones in sworn in, (giving them better odds at winning), but that won’t happen.

“Why All of This Matters” – As mentioned in previous weeks Democrats are defending 23 U.S. Senate seats this year; Republicans only eight. Republicans hold 34 Governors seats; Democrats 15; and independents 1. Republicans control 32 state legislatures; Democrats 14; with four states in divided government. I think you know where I am going here. 2018 is a real uphill fight for Democrats. Yes, they may chip away at the margins, but any notions of overtaking these GOP advantages in any significant way is daunting. The real test may come in 2020, with a Presidential ticket leading the charges.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author and analyst based in West Virginia.

What are your thoughts? Just click the comment button at: www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: Is this a Franken-stein Strategy? -- December 10, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – The avalanche continues. Senator Al Franken, (D) Minnesota announced he will be stepping down amid sexual misconduct allegations, and now Representative Trent Franks, (R) Arizona, is announcing the same. This comes after numerous scandals in the political, entertainment, business and media industries. Yes, all the charges are serious, but what’s the political fallout? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Can You Have it Both Ways?” – To me the announcement that Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota was resigning was jarring for several reasons. Unlike Representative John Conyers, (D) Michigan, who flat out resigned, and quit, and left office on Tuesday, Senator Franken said, “Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.” Coming weeks? What does that mean? December 29th? January 18? April 7th? It’s a weird, open-ended pledge that lacks clarity. Is it a political strategy?

“The Politics, of… well, Politics!” – Call me cynical; yet call me practical. The reason Al Franken did not flat out quit on Thursday is deeply seated in politics. Republicans and President Trump keep promising the tax reform vote will take place before Christmas. As we saw with the Obamacare repeal attempt, and the latest tax reform vote, it could come down to just one vote. An empty seat from Minnesota could screw up the whole thing, so the Democratic Caucus (which was nearly unanimous in wanting Franken to resign) wants him to stay to be that critical one deciding vote, if needed. Politics – often is about convenience and expediency – and not necessarily about what’s right. Neither party holds the franchise on this.

“Is it Apples and Oranges?” – Another fascinating moment in the Franken speech came when he said, “I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” Really? Why should Franken bail if his actions are seemingly (in his mind) no less egregious than the behavior of Donald Trump and Roy Moore? I think there’s more to this.

“More on Moore” – As I suggested in my “Sunday Brunch” two weeks ago, there is a lot of political strategy surrounding how a candidate or office holder deals with scandal and controversy. I noted that the Franken and Conyers accusations on Capitol Hill had delegated the forty-year-old accusations about Judge Moore to the back pages of news sites. The firings of media giants Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor also buried the Moore story further in the weeds. But now Conyers and Franken and several others are seemingly gone, with the Alabama Senate race just days away. Was all this a coordinated Democratic strategy to lift Moore’s accusers back into front page headlines? I believe that is quite likely.

“How News Works” – As I often tell people, the news business operates in a vacuum. Sometimes you are just sucking up crumbs of information and news, and then sometimes a tidal wave comes in and dominates coverage to an extent that it wipes everything out. Yes, Roy Moore got bounced to the back pages (or off the air entirely), as more contemporary allegations of sexual misconduct filled the front pages. Trust me, this really helped his campaign bounce back. In fact, President Trump endorsed him and the Republican National Committee started giving him money again. Moore was blessed by the accusations against others of his lot. Weird, but true. Matt Lauer’s and Charlie Rose’s bad news, was manna from Heaven for Moore. Now, it may not last through Tuesday.

“The Franken-stein Strategy” – I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but the Democratic calls for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, looked orchestrated. What started with six female Senators calling for him to resign, converged to over three-dozen Democratic Senators – male and female alike – calling for his resignation before sundown. As I always tell folks, it’s not when the opposing party tells you to quit that you lose; it’s when your own party tells you to get out, that it’s over. Just Google Richard Nixon.

“The Short-Term Goal” – I firmly believe this was a widely-orchestrated strategy (probably a Hail Mary pass) to win the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama on Tuesday. The polling has this as a toss-up between Democratic nominee and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, the former two-time Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. In the final three days, I bet you will see an all-out assault on Moore as a sexual predator of teenage girls. It will be ugly. That plus the banner headlines will have been cleared of John Conyers and Al Franken, by resigning and begging forgiveness. Suddenly Moore is the lone alleged sexual offender left on the stage. Is this just bizarre? Yes, but it could work; if Moore loses, it has.

“The Politics of It All” – Here’s the math. In 2018, Democrats are defending 23 U.S. Senate seats; Republicans only eight. Right now, the GOP holds a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate. Keep in mind that Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota, is up for reelection in 2018. She’s popular and widely regarded as a safe seat. However, if Al Franken truly resigns (and factually he has not done so yet), his seat will then be up for a special election in 2018. Democrats do not have a stranglehold on this often-described liberal state. Moderate Republicans have done well here, and in recent memory held one, or both, U.S Senate seats. It’s possible the Franken seat could be captured by former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) Minnesota or former Senator Norm Coleman, (R) Minnesota. This is no longer a “safe” seat for Democrats. It’s now “in-play.”

Should Senator Al Franken resign immediately, or is it okay that this could drag on for weeks? Just click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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