As we mark the seventh day of the seventh month of this election year, here are seven questions to ponder.
- Has Obama Bottomed Out? Last week’s Quinnipiac poll on the best and worst presidents since the Second World War had this surprise: Barack Obama topped the list for worst president. The same poll also gave the President a 40% approval rating. You can dismiss the former number – Obama’s numbers will likely take off once he’s a former president, as has been true for his predecessors. But in the meantime, the nation will hold two elections while Obama’s in office. And in 2014, that spells potential trouble for Democrats. If Obama’s job approval is still at 40% come November, that would be worse than where the he stood in 2010 (44%), worse than Ronald Reagan in 1982 (42%), and only slightly ahead of where George W. Bush was in 2006 (38% – these numbers courtesy of Gallup). The bottom line: a sitting president with a 40% approval rating is a drag on 2014 Democratic candidates – by 2016, maybe fatally so for Hillary Clinton or whomever the Democrats nominate.
- Will Pasta-Throwing Pay Off? In just the last two weeks, Democrats have sought the high ground on working families, union dues, reproductive rights, climate change, immigration reform, plus the two government branches’ inability to place nice. What do these topics have in common? Answer: the long-on-odds hope that each or any will rally a deflated Democratic base. Think of the nation’s commander in chief as chief chef – Obama cooking a batch of pasta and throwing a strand against the wall to see if it sticks. And so it will continue into July and August – even September and October, if need be: Democrats seizing any controversy that arises with the hope that it corrects what Obama has likened to “a congenital defect” – his party’s faithful taking a siesta in midterm elections.
- Will the Border Crisis Become a Mariel Moment? In 1980, approximately 125,000 Cubans came streaming into the U.S, in what became known as the Mariel boatlift. The refugees found their way to Florida; federal officials there, as at present in Texas, couldn’t handle the influx. The solution: move a portion of the Marielito population to Fort Chafee, Arkansas – much to the chagrin of that state’s governor, Bill Clinton (refugees also were transferred to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). The result was an election-year nightmare for both Clinton and Carter. Refugees rioted on fort grounds; local residents armed themselves in fear of a breakout. Carter and Clinton each failed to be re-elected. Last week, the heated debate over the surge of Central American immigrants across the Texas border boiled over in Southern California, where local residents protested the arrival of undocumented immigrants for processing. As Washington figures how to process this latest wave of border-crossers, will it result in a backlash against a sitting governor or senator, as it sank Clinton?
- Is Immigration Back in Play in California? This fall marks 20 years since Californians approved Proposition 187, which sought to curtail public benefits for illegal immigrants. Not that the matter’s gone forgotten: a bill introduced last month in Sacramento would officially delete Prop 187 provisions from the state’s education and health codes (though the initiative passed, a federal judge blocked its implementation – thus Prop 187 remains on the books but not in effect). While legislative Democrats seek to resurrect the vitriol toward the ballot measure – presumably, to thwart California GOP attempts to make inroads with Latino voters – there may be an opening for the state’s Republican nominee, Neel Kashkari, by questioning whether his opponent, Gov. Jerry Brown, has properly led on the topic. Two decades ago, then-Gov. Pete Wilson was at the forefront of border-state governors seeking reimbursement for state costs associated with illegal immigration (Wilson took the federal government to court in pursuit of $10 billion in health, education and incarceration costs). What Kashkari could question: why hasn’t Brown, as governor of the state with the nation’s largest immigrant population, organized fellow governors into a third-party solution for ending the immigration reform logjam in Congress? Kashkari sees the topic in economic terms; perhaps it’s time to cast it in leadership tones as well.
- Betty We Hardly Know Yee? In the nation-state that prides itself as the cradle of the Information Age, it took California election officials four weeks to figure out the second-place finisher in last month’s primary for State Controller. The surprise choice: State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, who ended up 481 votes ahead of former Assembly Speaker John Perez (a margin of “just 1/110th of 1 percent out of more than 4 million votes”, Perez noted in a statement). Not that the affair is truly settled: Perez has until the end of Monday to decide if he’ll pursue a recount. Three things to note about such a recount: (a) it’d be a first for a statewide election, in modern California history; (b) it’d be expensive; (c) it’d probably benefit the top-finisher in the primary, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen, who has emerged in this election as a rising GOP star.
- Why Did the Legalized Marijuana Initiative Go to Pot? After Coloradans passed Proposition 64 and Washingtonians approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, both legalizing the retailed sale of marijuana, California was expected to follow suit in 2014. Only, last week backers of such an initiative in California announced their failure to qualify the measure for the November ballot. Chalk it up to: (a) internal division – the initiatives figured a higher presidential turnout in 2016 would be a safer gamble; (b) Gov. Brown, who’ll be out on the campaign trail and taking reporters’ questions, is no fan of legalized marijuana; (c) the jury’s still out – Colorado reports strong revenue, while Washington’s struggled syncing the marketplace with government oversight. As it turns out, there will be a West Coast vote on marijuana legalization this fall – north of California, in Oregon.
- Will Obama Borrow Hillary’s Yankees Hat? Hillary Clinton grew up a Chicago Cubs fan. As her political ambitions turned to New York, she proclaimed her fondness for the baseball’s “Evil Empire” (inveterate Hillary Haters point out that it wasn’t until she resigned her Senate seat that the New York Yankees returned to championship form). Perhaps President Obama should do the same – give up his loyalty for a Chicago team (for Obama, the White Sox) for the one in the Bronx. Why? In 1998, the Yankees won the World Series in a four-game sweep. Two weeks later, then-President Bill Clinton defied political gravy when his party actually gained five House seats and broke even in the Senate. Such a move would indicate the White House’s sense of urgency – and its lack of baseball knowledge. Sixty years before Clinton’s surprise success, Franklin D. Roosevelt also faced a second midterm election. For FDR, it came a month after another Yankees’ World Series win – in 1938 and in 1998, a four-game sweep. Only, FDR had the opposite luck. His party lost six seats in the Senate and 72 in the House; the New Deal came to a screeching halt. The better Obama fit: the San Francisco Giants, who’ve twice won the World Series during his presidency (2010 and 2012), after losing twice in different Bush Administrations (1989 and 2002).
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen