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Political Rundown: All Elections, All The Time

From left: Sarah Palin, Cindy and John McCain
Rachael Dickson | Wikipedia

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.

Crystal ball gazing

The 2014 elections are still ahead of us, but you'll be forgiven if you don't quite realize that. Everybody seems to want to skip ahead and go directly to handicapping the presidential race in 2016. So off we go.

On the Hillary front, the Atlantic's Peter Beinart offers the intriguing "Hillary Cracks the Authenticity Code." Looking back at Hillary Clinton's 2008 run, Beinart recalls one of Clinton's major failings as a candidate: her tendency to appear "hyper-programmed and hyper-cautious." Up until it was too late, it seemed, her positions seemed to come not from her heart but from her polls.

Last week, though, a glimpse of the real Hillary came through, said Beinart, when Clinton went on the attack against Edward Snowden. And while he doesn't necessarily agree with her, Beinart was impressed with the genuineness of her stand.

"She said something some liberals will not like — that America needs to spy and that Snowden’s motives are suspect — but which she undoubtedly believes. It sounded authentic because her natural instincts are to see the world as a Hobbesian place and to defend America’s governing institutions against those on the right or left who would delegitimize them."

Clinton's reaction to Snowden and the whole NSA controversy also speaks to her strengths -- her mastery of policy in all its details and her insider status. And that, wrote Beinart, is what distinguishes her and what she shouldn't run away from.

On the GOP front, the names being bandied about for 2016 are senators like Ron Paul and Ted Cruz. One name that has faded from the GOP presidential firmament is Sarah Palin.

A superstar vice presidential candidate in 2008, Palin used her star power in 2o1o and 2012 to get tea party conservatives elected. But now, the Washington Post reports, Palin "soldiers on as a diminished figure in the Republican Party,"  unable to guarantee crowds, support and even victory for her chosen candidates.

"Even as (Palin) travels to Iowa and elsewhere to bolster her handpicked candidates, her influence in these midterm elections has been eclipsed by a new class of stars and her circle has narrowed, with a handful of aides guiding her and a few allies in Washington beyond a group of backbench troublemakers in Congress."

So to steal from B.B. King, the thrill is gone. Still, while Palin may not shine as brightly as today's superstars like Cruz, it's not clear that she is ready to leave the stage entirely. (Susan Hegger)

The spring, summer, fall and winter of our discontent?

OK, it looks like ABC News and the Washington Post are paying attention to the 2014 elections. They just released a poll that has very bad news for the Democrats:

"Weary of waiting for an economic recovery worth its name, a frustrated American public has sent Barack Obama’s job approval rating to a career low – with a majority in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll favoring a Republican Congress to act as a check on his policies. Registered voters by 53-39 percent in the national survey say they’d rather see the Republicans in control of Congress as a counterbalance to Obama’s policies than a Democratic-led Congress to help support him."

Right now, of course, the Republicans control the House of Representatives and are but six seats away from controlling the Senate.

Zoo backers want to build a breeding facility and outdoor attraction offering a safari-like experience in Spanish Lake.
Credit Stephanie Richmond / Courtesy of the St. Louis Zoo
Elephants may be at an advantage in November's elections.

According to the poll, the economy, especially what's perceived as an anemic or nonexistent recovery, overshadows all other issues and is responsible for the Democrats' glum approval ratings. Also contributing to the Democrats' low ratings are the continued unpopularity of Obamacare and Obama's handling of the crisis in Ukraine.

While they may hold the advantage, the Republicans aren't home free. Voters do give Republicans the edge when asked about which party is better trusted with dealing with the deficit and which federal programs to cut. But they lag behind the Democrats on a variety of other issues, including (surprisingly) health care. 

In politics, things can and do change on a dime. But one classic insight into politics remains as true today as when it was first uttered: It's the economy, stupid. (Susan Hegger)

... what it may mean in Missouri

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s last-ditch, and perhaps politically divisive, attempt to resurrect Medicaid expansion comes during a renewed national focus on the issue and what it could be mean for this fall’s elections.

Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon on Aug. 26th, 2009.
Credit Marshall Griffin, KWMU
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon

The nonpartisan National Journal has come out with two sharply different takes on the companion topics of Medicaid expansion and the health insurance exchanges, both outgrowths of the Affordable Care Act.

Missouri figures fairly prominently in the publication’s look at the policy and political backdrops surrounding the 19 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion and the five – including Missouri – counted as still debating the idea.  The decisions affect about 4.8 million lower-income working people, primarily non-elderly adults.

Of those 24 states, only three – Montana, Virginia and Missouri – have Democratic governors.

Meanwhile, the second National Journal piece focuses on the insurance exchanges and questions President Barack Obama’s conclusion that the public is coming around when it comes to improved opinions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and his call for Democrats to promote the program’s successes in their campaigns this fall.

The newest Washington Post-ABC poll (also see above) indicates that the public remains ambivalent about the ACA and the president and also appears to blame both for the continued rising cost of insurance and of health care. That may explain why some Democrats – especially in the U.S. Senate -- remain uncomfortable about promoting their 2010 votes in favor of the ACA.

But a key problem with the poll is that it is a national poll and not broken down by states or regions.  So it’s not monitoring what some analysts say is actually polarized public opinion when it comes to the health-care debate.

According to various regional polls, it appears to break down along the lines of which states have adopted the Medicaid expansion and which states have not.

That polarization is quite evident in Missouri’s state Capitol. And could explain why the governor opted for his "Hail Mary" proposal. (Jo Mannies)

Consistency, the hobgoblin of small minds

The Associated Press had an interesting analysisearlier this week about what looks like contradictory policies among Missouri Republicans.

Credit Missouri Senate Website
State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue

On the one hand, Republicans are gung ho about cutting income taxes – which has led to a big fight with Gov. Jay Nixon. But they’re also backing proposals to raises the state’s sales tax to fund transportation projects and issue bonds for public works projects.

All that prompted Sen. John Lamping – a Ladue Republican who opposes all of those initiatives – to declare “it’s all pretty stupid.” He concluded that "there's no overarching thought” to Republican policies, especially considering that any savings the tax cut may bring could wither away if Missourians pay more sales tax.

It’s noteworthy, too, that Nixon has criticized the tax cut plan, the bonding proposal and the sales tax increase. It may be a rare instance when Lamping and Nixon are in sync on major issues.

The sales tax initiative seems to go against the traditional Republican dogma of opposing tax increases. Lamping has long advocated forgoing a tax increase and instead redirecting existing revenue to transportation.

But House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town and Country, told St. Louis Public Radio on Monday that there is no mixed message. After all, he says, the legislature is merely putting the temporary sales tax proposal up for a vote, while the tax cut bill would implemented and be in place for a lot longer.

In any case, it’s an open question whether voters will approve the sales tax increase if it comes up to a vote. Diehl said it would be a tough sell under any circumstances. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Criminal code

Missouri is not the only state seeking an overhaul of its criminal code. Indiana adopted an updated criminal code during last year’s session and make adjustments this year. Matt Fritz with the Herald-Argus in LaPorte, Indiana, writes about concerns some law enforcement officials have about how their state’s new code will shift some state prison inmates to county jails. 

Meanwhile, an editorial published by the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazettealso takes a look at how the new code will affect prison and jail capacities in Indiana. Finally, the Indiana Business Journal published an articlelast month on tweaks to the criminal code’s sentencing guidelines. (Marshall Griffin)

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.