Lots at stake tomorrow, June 5, with primaries in five states, in addition to what would be only the third recall of a sitting governor in U.S. history. Here's the lineup:
Wisconsin: Republican Gov. Scott Walker, first elected in 2010, is the target of Democrats and labor unions, incensed over his move to curtail collective bargaining rights for the state's public employees. He, along with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP members of the state Senate, are subjects of a recall. The unions and their allies amassed close to one million signatures to get the recall measure onto the ballot. But the money battle has been won by Walker and his allies; the governor has raised more than $20 million since his election, far more than his opposition, to stay in office. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat narrowly defeated by Walker in 2010, would take over should Walker be recalled. But all polls, including those conducted by the Democrats, show the Republican ahead, albeit by single digits. Once, the recall election was touted by Democrats as a harbinger for what could happen nationally in November. Now the Dems are already pointing fingers and playing the blame game, but either way the results are expected to be close. For organized labor, which took a beating in 2010 but whose fortunes were thought to be on the upswing (see last year's defeat of Issue 2 in Ohio), the recall is seen as a referendum on its political power.
Those two other recalled governors. Walker is trying to avoid becoming the third governor ever successfully recalled. The first was Lynn Frazier of North Dakota, who was in his third two-year term when he was recalled in October 1921. Frazier, who represented a wing of the state's Republican Party, was caught in a battle over state control of the banks and the influence of private business interests. He narrowly lost the recall election to another Republican, Ragnvald Nestos. But the following year he was easily elected to the Senate and served three terms.
The second was Gray Davis of California, who was recalled in October 2003. Part of the problem for Davis was that he was never especially liked in the state and was unpopular even within his own Democratic Party. Part was his decision to support a car tax to deal with the state's growing budget shortfall, which awoke a sleeping conservative opposition. And part was the celebrity candidacy of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who won the election to replace Davis (recalled by a 55-45 percent vote) by a whopping 17 points.
Five other states hold primary elections on Tuesday.
California. The rest of the country may have been going through congressional upheaval of the past several cycles, but not California. In fact, no incumbent member of the House from California has been defeated in the general election since 2006, when Rep. Richard Pombo (R) lost to Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney. But an independent redistricting commission has turned the Golden State electoral map into shambles this year, resulting in major retirements and complicated redrawn CDs. Leaving on their own are GOP Reps. David Dreier, Jerry Lewis, Elton Gallegly and Wally Herger, and Democrats Dennis Cardoza, Lynn Woolsey and Bob Filner — many, though not all, victims of redistricting. (Filner is running for mayor of San Diego.) Plus, two sets of Democratic incumbents have been forced to run against each other: Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley and Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson around Compton. Under California's new election laws, all candidates regardless of party run on the same ballot, with the top two finishers — also regardless of party — advancing to the November general. In what has been an all-but-ignored Senate race, Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein is all but assured of another term.
New Jersey. The Garden State loses one congressional seat this year, and it looks like it will come from the Democrats. The seat of Rep. Steve Rothman (D) was eliminated and he was placed into the same district as GOP incumbent Scott Garrett, a district that clearly favored Garrett. But rather than take on Garrett, Rothman decided to challenge fellow Democrat Bill Pascrell in the redrawn Bergen County 9th CD for his seat — a decision that has infuriated many Democrats who wished he would have run against Garrett for the good of the party. In the 10th CD, Newark City Councilmember Donald Payne Jr. is among those Democrats attempting to win the primary to replace his father, who died in March. In the battle for the Senate, the real contest will be in November, where Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is being challenged by state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R).
New Mexico. In the battle to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D), it looks like Rep. Martin Heinrich and former Rep. Heather Wilson will be the respective Democratic and Republican nominees. Both have huge leads in their primaries. Four years ago, Wilson gave up her House seat to run in another open Senate race but lost the GOP primary to a more conservative candidate; she has since worked hard to mend fences with the right wing of her party.
Montana. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. The likely Democratic nominee is state Attorney General Steve Bullock. On the Republican side, former Rep. Rick Hill is thought to be his party's frontrunner, but he is being challenged by ex-state Sen. Corey Stapleton, among others. Sen. Jon Tester (D), seeking a second term, is expected to face a tough challenge in November by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).
South Dakota. Two Democrats are squaring off for the right to take on freshman Rep. Kristi Noem (R) in November.
Reyes loses, McCotter self-destructs. At least two more members of the House won't be returning to Congress in 2013. In a surprise, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-Texas) was defeated in the May 29 Democratic primary by former El Paso City Councilmember Beto O'Rourke. Reyes, in office 16 years, had the active support of both President Obama and former President Bill Clinton. O'Rourke is all but assured of winning the seat in November. And Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) inexplicably failed to file enough valid signatures to get on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. McCotter, who originally said he was exploring waging a write-in effort, announced last week he will retire. Democrats, who were not optimistic about winning the seat with McCotter in the race, suddenly are.
Minding your P's and 'Cuse. A wonderful time in upstate New York last Thursday, first with a one-hour interview on WRVO in Oswego, N.Y., on Thursday afternoon on politics, and then a WRVO-sponsored event Thursday evening at the Syracuse Center before 400 fans of public radio. Special thanks to WRVO and General Manager Mike Ameigh for a most enjoyable experience.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Time for some questions from readers.
Q: Has any vice president been asked to step down between one presidential term and the next? If Biden stepped down or "retired" would it improve Obama's chances in 2012? — Richard Ely, Bloomfield, Conn.
Q: When was the last time that a standing VP has bowed out (willingly or otherwise), besides Franklin Roosevelt's running mates? — Sam Appleby, Denver, Colo.
A: The last vice president to step aside was Nelson Rockefeller, an unelected VP who announced in late 1975 that he would not seek to keep his job on the 1976 ticket led by President Gerald Ford. Given the strong primary challenge coming from former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Ford was under increased pressure from the right to dump Rocky and replace him with a conservative. Pushed or not, Rockefeller made life easier for Ford by deciding to withdraw from consideration in November of 1975.
Rockefeller, of course, was not elected to his post; he was named by Ford (and confirmed by Congress) after Ford became president following Richard Nixon's Watergate-inspired resignation in August 1974. The last elected VP dumped from the ticket was Henry Wallace in 1944. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ambivalent about keeping Wallace on for another term in '44, said that the ultimate decision should be made by the delegates to the Democratic convention assembled that year in Chicago. Wallace led on the first ballot but Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri moved ahead on the second, and by the time that ballot was concluded Truman was a clear winner.
As for Vice President Joe Biden stepping down and being replaced by Hillary Clinton, this is not going to happen, despite widespread speculation. For more background, see the Nov. 7, 2011 Political Junkie column.
Q: Regarding your last podcast, is John F. Kennedy in 1960 really the right analogy to Mitt Romney being the first major-party Mormon nominee? If he gets elected, I think that is the right analogy. But Al Smith in 1928 was the first major-party Catholic nominee. — Jonathan Levy, Chicago, Ill.
A: I agree. Smith is a far better analogy than JFK.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Because there was no Junkie column last week, I'm posting links for the past two shows.
May 30: By some counts, Mitt Romney goes over the top, but his message is distracted by more Donald Trump "birtherism." Plus: what happened in the Texas GOP Senate primary and a look ahead to the Wisconsin recall.
May 23: Obama loses some 40 percent of the vote in more primary states. Plus: Veepstakes focus on Tim Pawlenty and Susana Martinez.
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. Here are the last two weeks' episodes:
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to the most recent contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!
Previous winner: Michael Weinman of San Francisco, Calif.
ON THE CALENDAR:
June 5 --Wisconsin gov. recall election. Also: primaries in California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.
June 12 — Special election in Arizona's 8th CD to succeed Gabrielle Giffords (D), who resigned. Also: congressional primaries in Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia.
June 26 — Congressional primaries in Colorado, New York, Oklahoma and Utah. Senate primary to watch: Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) vs. challenger Dan Liljenquist. House primary to watch: Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) vs. challenger Adriano Espaillat.
June 27 — TOTN Political Junkie segment from Aspen, Colo.
July 31 — Georgia primary. Texas runoff primary.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in political history: Sen. Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican in his third term, dies of acute myeloid leukemia at age 74 (June 4, 2007). Thomas was a low-key, very popular conservative whose pet cause was expanding oil and gas exploration on public land. He was first elected to the Senate in 1994, replacing fellow Republican Malcolm Wallop, who retired. He was re-elected in 2000 and 2006, both times with more than 70 percent of the vote. Earlier, in 1989, he won a special House race to succeed Dick Cheney, named by President Bush as defense secretary.
Because state law mandates the governor, regardless of his party, name a successor from the same party as the previous senator, Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) will name state Sen. John Barrasso (R) as Thomas' successor on June 22.
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