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Incumbents beware: Challengers look to join the ‘Brat Pack’

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  June 23, 2014 at 9:13 AM EDT
Red, white and blue chairs are set up before the start of a Tea Party Express rally for Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel outside of a Hobby Lobby store Sunday in Biloxi, Mississippi. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Red, white and blue chairs are set up before the start of a Tea Party Express rally for Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel outside of a Hobby Lobby store Sunday in Biloxi, Mississippi. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Tuesday’s elections feature current officeholders trying to hold on
  • In Mississippi, Cochran’s hopes might rest with black voters
  • Charlie Rangel in tough fight – does he become first Democratic incumbent to lose?
  • Hillary Clinton exposed for vulnerability on wealth
  • In Iraq, ISIS gains ground; Obama says U.S. can’t play “whack a mole”

New life for anti-incumbent challengers? Incumbents were pitching a shutout this election. That is until Ralph Hall, Thad Cochran and, of course, Eric Cantor. In the span of three weeks, Hall, the oldest member of Congress, was defeated; Cochran was forced into a runoff; and Cantor went down, becoming the first majority leader in history to lose in a primary. On Tuesday, Cochran’s fate will be decided in the runoff against tea party opponent Chris McDaniel, a state senator; the first Democratic incumbent this cycle could lose — Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York; and also in New York, moderate Republican Rep. Richard Hanna could be in jeopardy against tea party candidate and state Rep. Claudia Tenney, who says she wants to be part of the “Brat Pack.” Another incumbent without an easy path to victory is Rep. James Lankford, who is running for the GOP nomination for the open Senate seat in Oklahoma. Though he’s picked up momentum in recent weeks, he is expected to be forced into a runoff against T.W. Shannon, the black state House speaker with Native American roots and backing from Sen. Ted Cruz, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Politico notes that since Cantor’s loss, other longshot candidates have seen new life — and money — for their campaigns, including Joe Carr, running against Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Milton Wolf in Kansas, trying to take out longtime conservative Sen. Pat Roberts.

The latest in Mississippi: But Tuesday’s headliner will almost certainly be the GOP primary contest in the Magnolia State, where Cochran is scrambling to save his political life. A new automated survey taken Friday by Democratic pollster Brad Chism found McDaniel with an eight-point lead, 52 percent to 44 percent. McDaniel campaigned with former “Love Connection” game show host Chuck Woolery and others at a rally in Biloxi on Sunday. “The entire county is watching,” McDaniel told the crowd. “Don’t fall for the fear tactics. Don’t fall for the desperation.” Cochran is looking to get a last-minute boost from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who will stump for his veteran GOP colleague Monday at a war memorial in Jackson. After placing a close second in the primary on June 3, Cochran is hoping to expand the electorate in Tuesday’s runoff. As the New York Times’ Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin wrote last week, Cochran is “taking the unlikely step of trying to entice black voters to help decide the most high-profile Republican contest in the country.” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump broke down the numbers from the June 3 race, noting that “counties with larger black populations voted more heavily against McDaniel,” and “turnout in the Republican primary in the state’s most black counties was about half that in the least black counties.” Voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary on June 3 can’t participate in Tuesday’s race. Only about 83,000 voters cast ballots in that contest, leaving Cochran with untapped potential supporters if he can convince them to vote across party lines. But that is much easier said than done.

Is it the end for Rangel? The 84-year-old founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of Harlem’s original political power brokers has served since 1971. But a confluence of issues threaten Rangel’s re-election to what he says would be his final term — hangover from his ethics scandal from 2010; as a result of redistricting and immigration, what was once a majority black district is now majority Hispanic; and a third candidate, a popular young black pastor, the Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr., could siphon off some badly needed African-American voters. Rangel, who leads in a Siena poll 47 percent to 34 percent, only defeated Dominican-born state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is running again, by 1,100 votes in 2012. That was the first election Rangel faced in this newly redrawn district that tipped the balance to Latinos. Hispanics now make up 55 percent of the district, while black voters are just 27 percent and whites are 12 percent. Nearly four out of every 10 people in this district were not born in the United States, and immigration only continues. Still, one Democratic operative told Morning Line they expect Rangel likely wins narrowly.

That’s rich… Clinton’s vulnerability on wealth: If her book tour has revealed anything about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she has a hard time talking about her and her husband’s wealth. When income inequality is a major motivator for her party, the Clintons are undoubtedly part of the 1 percent. She makes $200,000 per speech; her husband has made upwards of $100 million since leaving the White House, and yet she talked of being “dead broke” after leaving the White House. Her latest problem dealing with the issue came in an interview with The Guardian. She was asked how she could credibly talk about the issue of income inequality while being a member of the elite, and she answered this way: “They don’t see me as part of the problem, because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.” Yet, it was revealed the Clintons use tax strategies to shield some of their wealth from the estate tax. The Washington Post’s Phil Rucker notes that it’s a “potentially serious problem for Clinton as she considers a 2016 presidential run.” And: “Some influential Democrats — including former advisers to President Obama — said in interviews last week they fear that Clinton’s personal wealth and rarefied, cloistered lifestyle could jeopardize the Democratic Party’s historic edge with the middle class that powered Obama’s wins.”

Iraq latest: As Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, gains ground, the New York Times paints a sobering picture of the Iraqi Army, saying Western officials believe the government forces “will not soon retake the ground it has ceded” because they are “combat ineffective.” That puts President Barack Obama in a difficult position. He wants out of Iraq, but also doesn’t want part of his legacy to be that a terrorist group gained a foothold and safe haven under his watch. Obama said in an interview on MSNBC, repeating a line from a CBS interview Sunday, that the U.S. “can’t play whack a mole” with these militant groups and think that will solve the world’s problems. Further highlighting the American — and GOP — rift on what to do about Iraq were Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and former Vice President Dick Cheney on the Sunday shows. Paul charged, “It’s now a jihadist wonderland in Iraq, precisely because we got over-involved.” Cheney, instrumental in the 2003 Iraq invasion under George W. Bush, took a shot at Paul, saying his brand of isolationism “didn’t work in the 1930s; it sure as heck won’t work in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1972, President Nixon signed the Higher Education Act of 1972. What famous regulation of school athletics was a part of the law? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Friday’s trivia: After President George H.W. Bush suspended U.S.-Palestine Liberation Organization dialogue in 1990, when did US-PLO dialogue finally resume? The answer was: under Clinton in 1993.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama will deliver remarks at the White House Summit on Working Families at 1:40 p.m. ET Monday. Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden and Jill Biden will also participate in the event. The president is scheduled to announce a series of proposals to help working families in America.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave his first interview since being installed as House GOP majority leader. In a nod to the tea party, he said he wants to do away with the Export-Import Bank, even though he voted to extend its charter, and intimated that immigration reform won’t happen because the borders need to be secured, but also talked about the possibility of doing something on infrastructure.

  • A new Quinnipiac University poll released Monday of the 2016 presidential race in Iowa finds Hillary Clinton running ahead of five potential GOP challengers. Clinton bests New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by eight points; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan by six points, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by seven points; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 13 points.

  • HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has appointed former UnitedHealth Group executive, Andrew Slavitt, to be in charge of policy and operations at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

  • The House Ethics Committee released a report Friday showing that Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, broke House rules, when he accepted gifts and free trips totaling $59,063.74.

  • At a House Ways and Means Committee Hearing Friday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., accused IRS Commissioner John Koskinen of lying about lost emails that investigators were looking for.

  • Despite his lack of name recognition in the state, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was well-received in Iowa this weekend, where he spoke at a Democratic convention and campaigned with gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch. After his New Hampshire visit the weekend before, this latest trip increased the presidential speculation.

  • Former Sen. Chuck Grassley chief of staff David Young won what the Des Moines Register calls a “stunning upset victory” Saturday to be the GOP nominee in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

  • The Washington Post’s Ben Terris follows Tea Party Patriots President Jenny Beth Martin (a job that’s on track to pay her $450,000) in Mississippi, where she’s been knocking on doors to turn out the vote for McDaniel.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz’s particular brand of legal expertise — appellate litigation, Jeffrey Toobin writes in a New Yorker long read on the senator, explains a lot about “the kind of politician Cruz has become — one who came to Washington not to make a deal but to make a point.” Toobin continues, “Citing Margaret Thatcher, Cruz often puts his approach this way: ‘First you win the argument, then you win the vote.’”

  • Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian reports that Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby replaced her campaign manager “as she seeks to retool her campaign against Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley after a difficult month.”

  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared to be backtracking on his commitment to the state’s gun control laws during a meeting with state sheriffs last week.

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law Friday that allows residents to fire a “warning shot” in order to ward off attackers. The new law expands on Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.

  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed portions of the state budget on Friday, striking language favored by Republican lawmakers that would block the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Reporting from Colorado, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar looks at how Republicans, even hard-liner gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, won’t tie Eric Cantor’s loss to immigration and are avoiding talking about immigration in their primary campaigns.

  • In the Maine gubernatorial race, Democrat Mike Michaud leads Republican Paul LePage narrowly 40 to 36 percent with independent Eliot Cutler pulling in 15 percent, according to a University of New Hampshire poll.

  • Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in prison on racketeering charges, is ahead in the polls for an open U.S. House seat.

  • Income inequality and raising city-wide minimum wages were hot topics at this weekend’s United States Conference of Mayors.

  • The United States Postal Service claims that 25,000 full-time equivalent jobs will be lost if the postal service stops Saturday service.

  • Days before his primary, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York’s 18th Congressional District became the second openly gay member of Congress to marry his partner while in office.

  • In case you were wondering — Sen. Rand Paul’s favorite book? “The Brothers Karamazov.”

  • 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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