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Brown campaign to test GOP health care message

BY Domenico Montanaro, Simone Pathe and Rachel Wellford  April 10, 2014 at 9:21 AM EDT
Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • The unofficial kickoff to the 2014 midterms
  • Brown’s campaign to test anti-health care message in purple state
  • White House officials attempt to explain botched health care rollout
  • Why Obama’s not LBJ – real power comes from numbers, not talking
  • Vote on Ryan budget

The unofficial kickoff to the 2014 campaign: Republican Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts, is set to make it official at 6 p.m. ET that he’s running again for the Senate — not from Massachusetts, but New Hampshire. With no other major holdouts, the 2014 field is essentially set. Call Brown’s official entry the unofficial kickoff to the 2014 campaign. By the way, in the next few weeks, look out for our new PBS Morning Line Top 10 Senate Races (Most Likely to Change Control). But what are Brown’s chances? First, he’s a recruiting coup for Republicans. He’s affable and proven to be a good campaigner. His entry into the race against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen signals the expanded playing field Republicans hope will help them take back the Senate. (For more on that, check out our PBS NewsHour segment on why Democrats are worried about the Senate.) While Shaheen has the early edge in polling and fundraising, Brown will make Democrats have to spend money there, diverting resources from defending other key states. And Brown gives the GOP the best chance to raise the needed money in the state.

But Brown also faces challenges — (1) not the least of which is being from Massachusetts and relocating for the purpose of running for the Senate. (They have a name in New Hampshire for people from Massachusetts who cross the border into their state, but we digress….) But (2) more fascinatingly, perhaps the best story to watch of this race will be that Brown, who rocketed to political fame during the height of the tea party and because of the conservative backlash against the health care law after Ted Kennedy’s death, is running with a hotly anti-“Obamacare” message in a state that has seen success with the health care law (and where Brown has already heard about it from a Republican). Brown is expected to use the state’s Live Free or Die motto to hit the health care law: “[A]long with our money and our health plans, for a lot of us it feels like we’re losing our liberty, too. Obamacare forces us to make a choice, live free or log on — and here in New Hampshire, we choose freedom.” His campaign will be a high-profile test in 2014 of the Republican message against the health care law in a purple state, where most of the voters are independents.

What went wrong with the health care rollout: Speaking of the health care law, White House officials sat down with the New York Times to talk about what went wrong with the website and rollout. Michael Shear writes that the officials “said they focused too much on their ultimately unfounded fear that not enough insurance companies would participate in the health marketplaces and that premium prices would be too high. In turn, they said, they ignored what became the real problem, a website that was virtually inaccessible in its opening days.” But that doesn’t explain a couple of things — (1) Why did White House officials in the days before the rollout of the website try to sell it as the second coming of Expedia? And (2) Why weren’t they able to do both? It makes it look like they couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It doesn’t help paint a picture of competence in government, and that may prove to be the most lasting — and damaging — effect of the botched rollout.

President Obama to speak at Civil Rights Summit; Clinton blasts Supreme Court on voting rights: The president heads to Austin, Texas, where he’s set to make remarks at 12:50 p.m. ET at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the landmark civil rights legislation. George W. Bush also speaks around 5:30 p.m. ET. Former President Jimmy Carter spoke Tuesday. And Bill Clinton made an address Wednesday night, in which he waded into the Voter ID debate, endorsing the idea of photos being issued with Social Security cards. He also blasted the Supreme Court for its ruling stripping parts of the Voting Rights Act. Said Clinton: “It sent a signal throughout the country. We all know what this is about. This is a way of restricting a franchise after 50 years of expanding it … Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for?” Watch for what is likely to be a political speech from President Obama. He will go big-picture on civil rights, but catch this quote from a senior administration official to the Wall Street Journal: “Civil rights in 2014 is all about equal opportunity for everybody.” And that’s followed by: “The White House and civil-rights leaders say the argument is consistent with Mr. Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage and to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. His party believes both efforts are good policy, and a way to energize women and minority voters ahead of the November midterm elections.”

No, Obama’s not LBJ, but it’s all in the numbers: With Obama at the LBJ library talking civil rights, it’s a convenient time for others to compare President Obama to President Johnson and to talk about how LBJ worked members of Congress harder and knew the levers of power. All that’s true about LBJ, and it’s also true that President Obama is more reticent to do that kind of schmoozing. But schmoozing is likely overrated. Let’s be realistic — LBJ had HUGE majorities in the House and Senate that President Obama doesn’t have right now. Consider: LBJ was working with a 65-to-35 majority in the Senate and a 258-to-176 majority in the House. Let those numbers settle in. Yes, many southern Democrats were more like Republicans now, but President Johnson could afford to lose a significant number of members of his own party. When Mr. Obama had big majorities in his first two years, he got big agenda items through, too. Think about what else might have passed if the president had those same majorities now — immigration reform, another round of stimulus, infrastructure spending, carbon caps, education measures, the Paycheck Fairness Act (which predictably failed Tuesday to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster) and more. LBJ also had more levers of influence at his disposal. Favors for districts? Not in this political climate. Think earmarks, which may be the most lasting legacy of John McCain’s presidential run.

Ryan budget to get a vote: The Ryan budget is set to get a vote between 11 a.m. and noon Thursday, per PBS NewsHour’s Quinn Bowman. A vote on a Democratic budget alternative will take place before it, perhaps around 11. Republicans say they expect it to pass. Some GOP members to watch: David Jolly, who won the hotly contested race in FL-13; Frank Lobiondo (NJ-2), Mike Coffman of that CO-6 race we mentioned Wednesday, especially since he has flipped on “personhood” and ENDA; Chris Gibson of that other NY-19 race we noted yesterday says he’s a no already; David McKinley (WV-1); and Joe Heck (NV-3).

LINE ITEMS

  • Mississippi gets the notorious distinction of being the worst place in America to vote, according to an annual survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The longest wait time in 2012 was Florida, where voters waited an average of 45 minutes. Kudos to New Jersey, a big state with just a 4.7-minute wait time. But Maryland, DC, and Virginia all ranked near the bottom with wait times of half-an-hour or more.
  • Another fascinating analysis that caught our attention Wednesday was Kantar Media’s breakdown down of the most-run political ads of the past 10 years. The top 10 are all from the 2008 presidential election. The most-run ad was from Obama, hitting McCain for his health care plan, although it was dubbed misleading by fact checkers. The top Republican ad, No. 5 overall, was from the McCain campaign, but it included shots of former Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. That should tell you everything you need to know about our politics over the past 10 years.
  • The doctor who was the largest recipient of Medicare dollars in 2012 was Miami ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Sound familiar? It should. Melgen is the major Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., benefactor who has had his offices raided by the FBI in the last year. Menendez is also under federal scrutiny for intervening with the Medicare director on Melgen’s behalf.
  • A state judge in New Jersey found Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien and deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Ann Kelly do not have to turn over records to the state legislature related to the bridge scandal.
  • The New York Times reports that Russia withheld information on a Boston bombing suspect.
  • Paul Ryan raised nearly $1.4 million in the first quarter of this year, his largest haul in any single quarter since he’s been in Congress.
  • After voting with Republicans to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, left open the possibility of caucusing with the GOP if they win control of the Senate in November.
  • Mark your calendars…Hillary Clinton’s latest book is due out June 10.
  • American Future Fund is backing former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel in the crowded GOP primary.
  • Roll Call’s Emily Cahn looks at the handful of vulnerable Democrats who have welcomed Mr. Obama’s endorsement this cycle.
  • Fifteen of the 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony Wednesday on the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, have accepted donations from at least one of the companies since the 2010 cycle.
  • At least one Democratic-oriented and one Republican-oriented Super PAC have already received million-dollar contributions in the first quarter of the election year.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver is taking up Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was struck down last December by the federal district court in Salt Lake City.
  • Standard and Poor’s downgraded New Jersey’s debt rating Wednesday, calling into question Christie’s budget practices.
  • Some in the tea party are not that into Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse, despite Freedom Works’ endorsement.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is crossing the border…into New Hampshire.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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