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Political Rundown: Countdown To The Midterms

DON"T USE TOO SMALL Claire McCaskill
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo
Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day.

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day or perhaps just some pleasure to read.

Trial lawyers as superheroes

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has been in the spotlight for her harsh criticism of General Motors. The carmaker has been in hot water recently for not ordering recalls over faulty ignition switches. And McCaskill, D-Mo., is the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee charged with looking into the matter.

McCaskill noted during a recent conference call that the GM controversy came from a source that’s typically vilified in American politics.

She said the reason the furor became public wasn’t because of federal regulators or even GM. Rather, she said, the “credit here goes to a trial lawyer for finding this problem and confronting General Motors with it.”

“It is because a family of a young woman who was killed in one of these crashes due to this faulty ignition switch, that lawyer hired an engineer,” McCaskill told reporters. “And the lawyer and the engineer discovered the dirty secret of General Motors about this ignition switch.”

She went on to say that GM “underestimated, frankly, the trial lawyers in the country and their ability to get to the bottom of this.”

“I think people need to realize, there’s an awful lot of badmouthing of trial lawyers,” McCaskill said. “They perform an incredibly important safety function in this country. You can look at time after time when it’s been lawyers that have discovered corporate misdeeds and dangerous products – not federal regulators. And certainly not the corporations.” 

Indeed, the evil trial lawyers have become a cliché of American political discourse – at least from the Republican side of the aisle. The GM situation isn’t likely to end that stereotype.

But especially since Republicans have been just as critical against GM as Democrats, perhaps this is a situation where both sides of the political fence can hold their fire against a traditional punching bag. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Red + blue = purple

Let's stay in the Senate for a moment. Many news outlets and analysts are predicting that the GOP may take over the U.S. Senate in November. They only need six states. But, as Politico notes, if that happens, Republicans will "still need Democrats to get anything done." That will make Democratic moderates, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, very crucial -- and perhaps (along with Maine's independent senator, Angus King) a target for a GOP takeover. Downplaying doomsday scenarios, Missouri's own self-described moderate, Sen. Claire McCaskill (she's everywhere), told Politico:

“It’s very hard to get 60 votes if you don’t compromise, and so this notion that they’re going to be able to exact this right-wing agenda? That’s fantasyland.”

But of course, a GOP majority in the Senate -- and in the House -- could make life pretty miserable for President Barack Obama in his last years in office. (Hope there aren't any jobs that need filling by presidential appointment.) If gridlock is bad now, imagine what it could be like.  (Susan Hegger)
Counting down
So, between now and November, though, we have 11 days to worry about. What? You were thinking six and a half months? Politico is counting down the "Eleven days to November: the key primaries leading to the 2014 midterms." Political scientist Larry Sabato handicaps each of the races -- looking at the candidates, their chances and what victory or loss might bring. Sabato is rather non-commital, though, about where all this might end.
For that, you might check out the Washington Post and its one chart that explains why Republicans have every reason to be optimistic about the 2014 midterms. And that one chart? It's President Barack Obama's approval ratings among key Democratic groups. They're down. Way down, in some groups. And that's important even though Obama isn't, of course, on the ballot. A Democratic base unenthusiastic about the president and his policies is more likely to stay home on election day, while the GOP base, which continues to be adamantly opposed to Obama and the Democrats, is much more motivated to turn out. (Susan Hegger)
Closer to home

This week’s likely renewed showdown in the Missouri state Capitol over “right to work,’’ a proposal to ban closed-union shops, has once again put the state in the national spotlight.

A story in the Washington Post lays out how Missouri legislators are in the midst of a labor fight that’s been going on in other states for a couple years, as conservatives press their case to curb union rights in the workplace.

The national focus is particularly interesting because it comes just a month after Missouri legislators attracted national attention over the other hot-button issue of late: reproductive rights.

In fact, the two Washington Post stories on the two matters – although unrelated in content – use the same word to describe Missouri’s status – “battleground” – in the national debate over both issues.  (Jo Mannies)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.