Monday, April 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

Allahpundit at Hot Air on Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY):

Backing [Sen. Susan] Collins so effusively when he could have demurred with a simple “I always support Republicans over Democrats” might have been the last straw, definitive proof that he’s "over-correcting."

Poll: Collins +36%

Sen. Susan Collins campaign staffer Lance Dutson points to a new poll on the Maine Senate race out from Republican-leaning pollster Rassmussen:

Collins (R) 60%

Bellows (D) 24%

This is a real shot in the arm for Collins and unwelcome news for the Bellows camp: After six months in the race--including some stunningly positive press coverage and surprisingly strong grassroots funding--Bellows and her team are bound to be discouraged to have narrowed their deficit by just three points since the race's only prior poll.

On the other hand, Rasmussen is a right-leaning outfit with a history of GOP-friendly bias, so it would be useful to have these numbers corroborated by another pollster with a better track record.

Either way, this result confirms that Collins isn't just ahead; she's well ahead. If the race stays on its current trajectory, she cruises to victory.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bellows Q1: $433K

Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows showed some momentum in her second quarter of active campaigning, building on her impressive first quarter totals.

These aren't the kind of blowout figures we're seeing in Kentucky. And Bellows raised less than half as much as Sen. Susan Collins.

But Maine has 1/3 as many people as the Bluegrass State. And the kind of grassroots race Bellows seems intent on running just isn't that expensive in a small state. So as long as she can amass the funds necessary to build out her staff and continue to get the message out, her campaign remains on its chosen trajectory.

Whether such an approach is viable in Maine in 2014 is very much an open question. But it seems quite likely at this point that Bellows will have the funds necessary to test that premise.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Collins Q1: $877K

Not a bad haul for Maine's senior senator, but not a giant quarter either: She raised $963,000 in the comparable quarter last cycle. And of course there's always the question of where that money came from.

We'll know in a few weeks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pawn in a Larger Game

Regular readers know that there's a long and sordid history of left-leaning interest groups--and environmental organizations in particular--succumbing to a kind of willful blindness when it comes to Sen. Susan Collins and her record.

We saw it in 2008 with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) endorsing Collins even though she had a significantly worse record than her Democratic opponent according to LCV's own scorecard.

We also saw it in the wake of Collins's support for the 2011 incarnation of the Ryan budget, with Maine's senior senator earning praise from a children's advocacy organization just two weeks after voting to gut Head Start and food stamps.

There are, alas, many other examples. (Equality Maine is one organization that has, at least at times, charted a different course.)

So it was galling but not surprising when it was announced that a TV ad supporting Collins was going to be running in Maine as part of a multi-organization, multi-state pro-environment (or was it pro-renewable energy?) advocacy campaign.

On the Collins ad in particular, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was teaming up with something called Mom's Clean Air Force (MCAF) to pay for a spot in local TV markets touting a pair of Collins votes that the Maine-centric ad suggests--against a backdrop of buoys and lobster traps--have helped protect "our" way of life.

Forget that both organizations are based in Washington DC and that no one on the ground in Maine was consulted about or involved in the decision to run the ad, according to David DiMartino of strategic communications firm Blue Engine Media, who spearheaded the campaign.

Forget also that Collins, a Keystone XL pipeline supporter with a lifetime LCV score of 67% (and dropping), has sided with climate deniers and corporate polluters in vote after vote in recent years--at one point famously blaming the weak economy for her lack of urgency on climate change.

That record notwithstanding, EDF and MCAF apparently felt so strongly about touting Collins's supposed pro-environment bona fides--based on two votes out of literally dozens scored by LCV in the last few years--that they could think of no better use of their hard-won funds than to take to the airwaves to tell Mainers about their own senator.

In purely environmental advocacy terms, it was hard to make sense of. So I reached out to EDF for answers. (I was less persistent in my efforts to speak with MCAF, a group with a shorter track record and a smaller footprint.)

I was eventually put in touch with EDF's Keith Gaby and we had a spirited fifteen minute back-and-forth.

Unfortunately, Gaby wouldn't confirm EDF's relationship with MCAF; or the size of the ad buy; or EDF's contribution to the buy; or the channels the ad was placed with.

He also refused to shed any light on the process through which the decision to green-light the ad was reached; or why it was launched as part of a multi-state, multi-organization effort; or whether it was dishonest for two DC-based organizations with no apparent Maine presence to craft an ad that poses as a message to Mainers by Mainers.

But his answers to my question about why EDF chose to single out Collins were illuminating.

After I rattled off a series of high profile anti-environment votes by Maine's senior senator (including the 2005 Cheney energy bill which LCV called the "most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory"), Gaby stipulated that Collins has taken any number of actions that EDF disapproves of.

Still, he argued, Collins, as a Republican, had taken particular risk on the votes EDF was touting. It was an idea he circled back to repeatedly as he made his case for lavishing praise on the three-term incumbent.

When I questioned that premise--and the idea that she deserved special recognition on the basis of her party affiliation--Gaby seemed to think I was kidding or being cute. He was genuinely flummoxed.

He ventured, ultimately, that it's "self-evident that a member of a political party" faces pressures by virtue of that membership. (That Collins actually chooses to subject herself to those pressures by running as a Republican didn't seem to weigh into his calculus.)

He argued, further, that highlighting the votes of a fellow Republican might "encourage others" in the GOP to see the political upside of taking more environmentally-friendly stances.

The overarching idea seemed to be that support for Collins could be used as way to reward her for breaking with her GOP colleagues (however sporadically) and to incentive other Republicans to think about taking pro-environment positions. That seemed to be about the size of it.

There are, of course, any number of reasons to be skeptical of Gaby's argument. (I've dealt with some of them here and here.)

But I'll make three new points:

First, at least as it applies to Collins, the encouragement-via-praise approach has been tried and it's failed: Collins had a 68% lifetime rating with LCV when it endorsed her in 2006, presumably with hopes similar to those espoused by Gaby. Today her lifetime rating stands one tick lower at 67%. And she never got behind the only viable climate change proposal that surfaced in the Senate during that period.

Second, it's clear as day that EDF's agenda here has almost nothing to do with Collins or a couple of cherry-picked votes--let alone the interests of Mainers. Rather, it's about a larger game.

Whether the goal is actually to try to change the political dynamic around environmental issues or whether it's simply about appeasing wealthy right-leaning donors (or something else entirely) is impossible to say. But plainly, Collins is being used as a pawn. The fact that she's happy to be used in this way doesn't make the ad itself--or the calculation behind it--any less disingenuous.

Third, whatever their aims, groups like EDF would have more credibility in this kind of effort if they were willing to pair their praise of Collins with a commitment to call out her bad acts. After all, you can't advance the cause of environmental defense through happy talk alone; constituents deserve an accurate picture of the political challenges that stand in the way of success.

For mission-based organizations, the imperative to be straight with with members, donor and stakeholders requires candor. Or it ought to.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn alerts us to the fact that according to MCAF's own website, MCAF "is a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund, which provides the funding and staff support."

EDF's unwillingness to confirm this relationship is rather curious.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dealmaking and "Dealmaking"

Voices inside the beltway were buzzing again this past week about Sen. Susan Collins's role as an aisle-crossing beacon of bipartisan dealmaking, with the narrative crafted mostly around her comments and supposed efforts on the minimum wage issue.

We pay much less attention to this type of chatter than we used to and it's worth reiterating why: Particularly on the most salient topics of the day, there's often a large gap between Collins's words and actions--between what she professes to believe and what she's actually willing to do.

We've seen this on climate change, with Collins saying the right things and voting to advance a serious proposal right before the 2008 election when it had no chance of passing only to abandon ship once the prospects for reform become real.

And we saw it with the Obama health care proposal, when Collins told voters during the 2008 campaign that she thought his plan was "pretty good" and was open to supporting it--only to fight it tooth and nail once she won reelection.

Collins's willingness to talk out of both sides of her mouth on these issues and others makes the job of reporters harder; it forces them to peel back the rhetorical facade and to do the boring, difficult work of sifting through her actual record in office if they want to get at the truth.

For a mix of reasons including journalist time constraints, Collins's branding and the stake that the DC press corps has in sustaining the "moderate narrative" such digging rarely happpens. And so we get the kind of coverage we saw last week.

But on the minimum wage in particular, it's easier than usual to see that Collins is playacting rather than looking for actual solutions--that she's guilty of the very political point-scoring approach that she professes to be combating. All you have to do is look at her proposal.

Specifically, Collins is trying to tie even a modest minimum wage hike to an Obamacare "fix" that would add $140 billion to the federal debt over ten years, cost 1 million Americans their job-based health coverage and leave 500,000 fewer Americans insured.

It's pretty safe to say that such a proposal--completely unrelated to the minimum wage itself--counts as a poison pill in the current political context. And so it's not the sort of thing you'd try to tack onto a wage hike if you were truly animated by a concern for improving the lot of the working poor.

On the other hand, it's exactly the kind of plan you'd propose appending if you were facing a surprisingly vigorous challenge and your main concern was to make a show of attempting compromise in order to win praise from beltway pundits--without actually moving the ball forward.

On that score, Collins's efforts have been an unmitigated success.

Quote of the Day

David Friedlander:

At times, [Democratic Senate candidate Shenna] Bellows can sound like a spokesperson for the Ron Paul Army.