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News from the Votemaster

Perdue Wins Georgia Republican Senatorial Primary

After a bitter seven-way Republican senatorial primary and an equally bitter two-way runoff, wealthy businessman David Perdue defeated Rep. Jack Kingston yesterday by a margin of 51% to 49%. He will face Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of legendary former senator Sam Nunn in the November general election. The seat is open due to the retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). This is one of only two Republican-held seats that the Democrats have a somewhat realistic shot at picking up, the other one being Mitch McConnell's in Kentucky.

The original primary featured two extremely conservative congressmen, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, one conservative congressman, Jack Kingston, a former Georgia secretary of state, Karen Handel, businessman David Perdue, and three unknown candidates. Perdue and Kingston finished first and second and thus got to battle it out in the runoff yesterday.

Perdue, the cousin of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, has never held elective office before, but spent $3 million of his own money on his campaign. He was formerly CEO of Dollar General, a chain of stores selling low-price merchandise, generally in cities too small to attract Wal-Mart. Perdue is pitching himself as an outsider with business experience who can drain the swamp in D.C. Democrats are going to turn him into an out-of-touch reincarnation of Mitt Romney. While he never said he likes to fire people, he was once CEO of Pillowtex, a Georgia textile manufacturer that went bankrupt putting 7500 people out of work. Like Romney, Perdue is prone to gaffes. During the primary, he dismissed Karen Handel as a mere high school graduate. While it is true that 99% of all senators have a college degree (Mark Begich is the only senator without one), quite a few voters lack one and such remarks just reinforce his image as a rich snob trying to buy a Senate seat. Despite Perdue's business background and Kingston's background as an 11-term congressman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed Kingston in the runoff, spending over $2 million on his behalf, presumably because they felt he was the stronger general election candidate

Polling in this race has been a disaster. Until the polls closed, all the pollsters were predicting a solid victory for Kingston. It didn't happen. It may well have been that among registered voters and among likely voters Kingston was the favorite, but among actual voters, Perdue had the edge. The problem with predicting runoffs is the low turnout. In 2012, 2 million people voted for Mitt Romney, so more or less there are 2 million Republican voters in Georgia. Yesterday the turnout was 482,000, so fewer than a quarter of Georgia's Republicans showed up to vote in the runoff. To make accurate predictions, the pollsters have to guess which one-out-of-four registered Republicans will actually vote, and that is not easy.

Georgia is a red state, but not so red as to be out of reach to the Democrats. Romney carried it in 2012, but got only 53% of the vote. Over 30% of the population is black and nearly all of them are Democrats. If Nunn can get all of them to vote and also win 29% of the white vote, she will win. But that is a pretty big "if." Minority voters are notorious for skipping midterm elections, so she has her work cut out for her. On the other hand, she had no primary opponent and has spent the year until now raising money and setting up a ground game.

Also going for her is the Democrats' $60 million Bannock Street project, which has 4000 paid staff members who are studying a very thorough database of voters in 10 key states with the goal of getting their base voters to the polls in November.

Supreme Court Will Probably Get to Rule on the ACA (Again)

The justices on the Supreme Court probably thought they were done with the ACA ("Obamacare") when they ruled 5-4 that the individual mandate was a tax, and as such, Congress had the authority to impose it. No such luck. Two appellate court rulings yesterday are sure to toss the hot potato back to them. It is a complicated story with all kinds of (political) ramifications.

It started yesterday when the U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2 to 1 that federal subsidies to individuals to comply with the mandate only apply to state exchanges, not the federal one. Their reasoning was simple: that's what the law actually says. When the ACA was being drafted, the Democrats drafting it assumed that every state would set up a health insurance exchange and that the federal one would be need only in unexpected emergencies. So the law was written stating that subsidies are available for insurance bought on an exchange "established by the state." Needless to say, that was extremely sloppy. All they had to do was add four words to make it: "established by the state or the federal government." But they didn't. So two federal judges appointed by Republican Presidents voted to forbid subsidies on the federal exchange, which is used in 36 states. The one judge on the panel who was appointed by a Democratic President said it was clear what the intent of Congress was and voted to uphold the subsidies.

The subsidies are crucial to making the ACA work because many low-income people are faced with a federal law requiring them to buy insurance but they clearly cannot afford it. Without the subsidies, the whole law will collapse, which is what many Republicans are hoping for.

Two hours after the D.C. court of appeals said no to subsidies on the federal exchange, the 4th circuit court, based in Richmond Virginia, voted 3 to 0 to approve them. Two of the judges in the 4th circuit case, Stephanie Thacker and Andre Davis were appointed by Obama. The third one, Roger Gregory, was nominated by Bill Clinton but not confirmed until George W. Bush was President. Thus the bottom line is all six judges who ruled yesterday followed their party's position.

The federal government has already said it wants the D.C. case to be heard "en banc," which means that all 11 judges on the D.C. circuit bench will get to vote. Seven of these judges were appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. It is likely that they will split along partisan lines, as did the six judges yesterday. In any event, it is virtually certain that the case will end up in the Supreme Court again.

There, the four justices who opposed the ACA in the first place are almost certainly going to oppose it again. The three women and Stephen Breyer will support it. Thus once again, chief justice John Roberts will be in a terrible bind. If he votes with the conservatives, then every Democratic-appointed judge will have supported the ACA and every Republican-appointed judge will have opposed it. It makes the courts look terribly partisan, something Roberts really doesn't want. So he might grit his teeth and rule that it is what Congress meant, not what it wrote into the law that counts, much as he no doubt would hate to do this. Of course, judging a law but what the legislators "meant" rather than by what they wrote down opens a real can of worms for the future, so this case is one Roberts would really, really, prefer not to have, but he is likely stuck with it.

This case has short-term and long-term political implications. In the short term, millions of people have already signed up for insurance on the assumption that they would get subsidies. Now that those subsidies are uncertain (the Supreme Court certainly will not rule on this until well after the midterm elections), these people, all of whom have incomes below 400% of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for a single person and $94,200 for a family of 4), have a very clear personal stake in where the dust settles. It is not hard to imagine Democratic campaign consultants already writing ads that basically say: "vote Democratic to make sure the Republicans don't take away your insurance." Of course, the Republicans will pitch ads to their base saying: "let's kill off this monster law once and for all." On the whole, these opposing pitches probably work better for the Democrats since their voters are normally pretty nonchalant about voting in the midterms whereas Republicans regard it as the civic duty to vote in all elections. If the battle over the ACA motivates young, poor, and minority people to vote, it helps the Democrats; Republicans don't need motivation, they vote anyway.

In the long term (2016), this case could thrust the judiciary into the presidential campaign. Many liberals are begging 81-year-old justice Ruth Ginsburg, who has had cancer twice, to retire so Obama can appoint her successor. She has steadfastly refused. Suppose she has a secret plan to have maximum impact: she announces her retirement in June 2016. Obama then nominates a successor and the Republicans refuse to take it up (if they are in the majority) or filibuster it (if they are in the minority). Then all of a sudden: "Who do you want to appoint her successor?" could become a huge campaign issue. In any event, as the courts get more partisan, the issue of judicial appointments could easily play a bigger role in the presidential campaign.

Fiery Pastor Jody Hice Wins Runoff for Broun's Seat

When firebrand conservative Rep. Paul Broun gave up his safe House seat for an ultimately unsuccessful Senate run, House speaker John Boehner heaved a sign of relief at the thought of being rid of the guy who said Todd Akin was right about "legitimate rape," who claimed evolution was a lie from the pit of hell, and who whined about his mere $170,000 salary as a congressman. Boehner no doubt thought that it couldn't get worse. It could and it did. In a runoff yesterday to pick the Republican nominee to succeed Broun in GA-10, the voters chose former pastor and current talk radio host Jody Hice. Hice believes that First Amendment protections do not apply to Muslims, homosexuality is a disease like alcoholism, and women must obey their husbands. To get a better feel for where Hice stands, note that Karen Handel, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all supported Hice's opponent because they felt Hice was too far to the right. Given the GOP tilt of the district, Hice is nearly certain to prevail in November and will be nothing but trouble for Boehner. He may also be nothing but trouble for the Republicans in the midterms as well. Democrats are certain to run ads in Georgia and other states trying to make Hice the face of the Republican Party to scare independents.

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---The Votemaster
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