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News from the Votemaster      

Rep. John Murtha Dies     Permalink

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the longest-serving member of Congress ever from Pennsylvania, died yesterday at 77 after complications from gallbladder surgery, Murtha, a former Marine, was the first Vietnam veteran to be elected to Congress. Although generally a hawk, in recent years he became very critical of U.S. involvement in Iraq and has called for the removal of all U.S. troops as fast as possible.

Murtha's death will set up a furious battle for his seat in PA-12, a swing district with a PVI of R+1. There will be a special election to fill the seat, but Gov. Ed. Rendell (D-PA) has 10 days to determine the date of the election. Congressional Democrats would like it as early as possible in order to try to get another vote (a vacancy is effectively a no vote), but Rendell may schedule it on May 18, along with the state's primaries, to avoid the expense of an additional election and get a bigger turnout.

The consequences of Murtha's death for the health-insurance bill will be lost on no one in Washington. Murtha was a very close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a sure vote for the health-insurance reform bill. The House bill passed last year with 220 votes. Since then, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) has resigned from the House and now Murtha died, bringing the total to 218 votes, the exact minimum needed to pass. However, one of those 218 votes, however, was from a Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who has changed his mind and now vows to oppose the final bill. Cao's district is D+25, so he is dead meat already (he won only because his opponent, "Dollar Bill" Jefferson, was caught by the FBI with a freezer full of illicit cash) but will remain a voting member of the House until Jan. 2011. With Wexler, Murtha, and Cao not voting "aye" when the Senate bill comes up, the Democrats are down to 217 votes, one shy of a majority. It is perhaps noteworthy that deaths in each chamber (Ted Kennedy in the Senate and now Murtha) may have robbed the Democrats of critical votes but so far no Republican has seen the hand of God in these events. On the other hand, the Senate bill is much more conservative than the House bill in many ways--for example, no public option--so one or more Blue Dogs who opposed the House bill may vote for the Senate bill.

Rumors of a Scandal Swirl around Paterson     Permalink

The media has been ablaze with rumors about a scandal about to break over the head of Gov. David Paterson (D-NY). The New York Times is expected to come out with the story today or tomorrow. It may be yet another sex scandal for the beleaguered Paterson, who attained his office when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned in a sex scandal. In Paterson's first statement after becoming governor, he admitted that both he and his wife had had affairs in the past. If he is involved in yet another scandal, he may decide to resign on the spot, saying it is for the good of the people of New York (English translation: he will be crushed in the gubernatorial primary by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo). What will be interesting to watch in the event of a resignation is the reaction of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who has refused to resign in the wake of his own sex scandal. Nor has Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) resigned in the wake of his sex scandal. Paterson has strongly denied the rumors, but such denials are pretty standard under these circumstances.

Should Paterson resign, appointed Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch (D), would become governor--probably. The New York constitution does not provide a mechanism for filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's position, but after Paterson ascended to the governor's mansion, he made an appointment anyway, based on his general authority to make appointments to state offices. The appointment was challenged in court and was upheld, but another challenge could be in the making if Paterson resigns. Still, for the moment this is all speculation, but if the story is true, it could have major political fallout.

Palin Says She Might Run for President in 2012     Permalink

In an interview with Fox News, Sarah Palin said she would consider running for President in 2012 if that were good for the country. Such a statement makes good sense for her. Were she to have said: "Nope, not interested" many of her fans would be sorely disapppointed and her political and economic value would have cratered instantly. Her best strategy for the moment is to keep everyone thinking that she might run, which keeps her in the limelight and allows her to continue making speeches at $100,000 a pop. As soon as she is a noncandidate, her 15 minutes of fame will be over.

The moment of truth for her will occur in the Spring of 2011. At that point if she really is planning on running, she has to start setting up a campaign organization and raising money big time. Even someone as well known as she is can't just announce she is running for President in Sept. 2011 and expect to pull it off. After all, she will be facing experienced and well-funded Republican opponents in the primaries, most certainly former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and possibly former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Palin probably hasn't actually made a decision yet. She appears to be too busy enjoying her new-found celebrityhood. But at some point she will come to realize that running for President isn't done on Facebook. She will personally have to walk through great piles of snow in subfreezing temperatures meeting voters in small batches in both Iowa and New Hampshire. While other countries find this an odd rite of passage, it is the way things happen in the U.S. and despite coming from Alaska, so far there is little evidence that Palin has the desire to put up with an extremely difficult process for months on end. If she tries to avoid Iowa and New Hampshire while her Republican opponents are out there at factories, schools, churches, malls, etc. day after day, they will hit her mercilessly for being lazy and a quitter. Even Hillary Clinton, who was widely accused of expecting a coronation, trudged through the snow day after day after day trying to collect votes one at a time. Palin will have to do the same thing if she wants the job and it may or may not have truly dawned on her how difficult, unpleasant, and demanding the process is.

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