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In search of the college vote

We asked journalist and civic educator Alexander Heffner to cover the college vote for us in the run-up to Election Day. This is the first in a series from his tour of campuses from Claremont to Mount Holyoke to the University of Nebraska — stay tuned for more. 

After two election cycles engaged intimately in the coverage of younger voters, their principal policy concerns, their grassroots engagement and their ultimate turnout on Election Day, I continue my study this fall to reveal what is driving the youth vote during this campaign cycle. In the run-up to November, I am visiting college campuses across the country, from New England schools of liberal arts to major public universities like University of California, Irvine.

Along the way, I have designed an evolving presentation for first-time college voters, aspiring journalists and graduate students that provides an historical overview of the youth vote’s impact on the American political system since 1972, as well as a real-time analysis of Millennials and the current presidential contest.

Over the last half-dozen years, as a reporter for both new and traditional media, I have been schooled in the demographic of digital natives – Millennials. To really understand this group, it is important to identify three important subsets in the context of President Obama’s re-election bid and the broader 2012 campaign.
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‘Dark money’ group spends big in Ohio Senate race

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica | Sept. 11, 2012, 11:57 a.m.

New details have emerged about the Government Integrity Fund, a non-profit dark money group that has spent over $1 million on pro-GOP ads in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio.

As ProPublica first reported Friday, the chairman of the group is Tom Norris, a Columbus lobbyist who employs a former aide to Josh Mandel, the Republican challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown in the race.  The former aide, Joel Riter, also has an office in the same building as the Government Integrity Fund on East State Street in Columbus.

Riter had declined to comment on any role with the Fund, telling us last week, “I’m not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone.”

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A different view of President Clinton’s speech at the DNC


A word cloud of President Bill Clinton's prepared remarks for the crowd at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. (Graphic by Elisabeth Ponsot via

What is your reaction to President Clinton’s speech at the DNC? Did you find his arguments for President Barack Obama re-election compelling? Or, were you more swayed by the Republican message in Tampa?

Watch the video of his speech and share your views in the comments below.

Nonprofits funneling money to presidential candidates

by Kim Barker, ProPublica

Watch Kim Barker discuss this investigation on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Matt Brooks describes the mission of the Republican Jewish Coalition as educating the Jewish community about critical domestic and foreign policy issues.

But the well-dressed crowd that gathered in May for a luncheon on the 24th floor of a New York law firm easily could have figured that the group had a different purpose: Helping Mitt Romney win the presidency.

Brooks, the group’s executive director, showed the 100 or so attendees two coalition-funded ads taking aim at President Barack Obama. Then Brooks made a pitch for a $6.5 million plan to help Romney in battleground states, reminding guests that their donations would not be publicly disclosed by the tax-exempt group.

“Contributions to the RJC are not reported,” Brooks told the people sitting around a horseshoe-shaped table. “We don’t make our donors’ names available. We can take corporate money, personal money, cash, shekels, whatever you got.”

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Eric Cantor scores easy GOP primary win in Va.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor celebrates after a Republican primary win in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Steve Helber

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, just off an easy win in his Republican primary race for the 7th Congressional District on Tuesday, has officially endorsed Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling for Governor of Virginia in 2013.

Congressman Cantor said the Lieutenant Governor has “the right experience, the conservative values and the ability to unite our Party so we can win in 2013,” according to the Bolling campaign’s press release.

Cantor’s support is important for the lieutenant governor, who is facing a weighty challenge from Tea Party-backed conservative candidate Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia since 2009.

Cantor’s formal endorsement comes on the heels of a vote Friday, where the 81-member governing board of the state’s GOP will decide whether the state will hold a primary or convention to determine their gubernatorial nominee. If the governing board elects to hold a primary — ensuring all eligible residents have the opportunity to vote — the move is widely expected to benefit Bolling’s candidacy. A convention, attended by a few thousand conservative activists, is the preferred choice for Cuccinelli’s backers.

Congressman Cantor is the latest in a series of high-profile backings for Lt. Governor Bolling, who also won the endorsement of Governor Bob McDonnell.
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Attacks over illegal immigration fly in Vegas debate

Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speak during a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 18, 2011. Photo: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

When it comes to this year’s GOP race for the presidential nomination, illegal immigration has been a bit of a sore point particularly for Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose  relatively moderate record on immigration has done little to endear him to the conservative base. But in last night’s debate in Las Vegas, the subject of illegal immigration provoked one of the most biting exchanges between Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney that the race has seen yet.

Perry launched the first jab at Romney, accusing him of having hired undocumented immigrants to work in his Massachusetts home.

“Those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized. And Mitt, you lose all your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home, and you knew about it for a year, and the idea that you stand here before us and talk that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”

Romney countered by attacking Perry’s record on supporting the Texas DREAM Act, a state policy that allows undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition to attend college. In a past debate, Perry irked many conservatives by defending that policy and declaring, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” Perry later apologized for the comment, stating that his word choice was inappropriate.

Romney and Perry sparred heatedly and talked over each other for the next several minutes, with Romney explaining how he had hired a landscape contractor who incorporated undocumented immigrants on his crew – but once he discovered the fact, the team was let go. “So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals,” he said.

The audience consistently cheered Romney and booed Perry, particularly as Perry’s attempts to speak over Romney provoked the Massachusetts governor to launch into a critique: “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking. And I would suggest that if you want to become president of the United States you’ve got to let both people speak.”

NPR’s Frank James writes that Romney’s gaffe may hurt him in the future:

That was just the kind of answer you don’t want to give if you’re a politician many voters have doubts about because they believe you’re cynical, conniving and morally relativistic … That “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals” threatens to haunt Romney through the remainder of the primary campaign season and beyond if he gets the nomination. It was a gaffe forced by Perry’s aggressive use of the issue.

However, over at the Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon writes that Romney artfully defend himself for most of the night:

To pull off successful attacks in debates you have to execute with nuance and subtlety. It has to be artful. Perry just looked like he was throwing buckets of paint against the wall. And a lot of it splashed back. But it was better than appearing asleep with paintbrushes in his pockets, like he did in the last couple debates.

Romney was on defense in this debate. A lot. And some blood was drawn. And his hair was mussed. He had it coming from all directions … But once again, Romney parried fairly effortlessly. He stood his ground and refused to yield. Four years ago, he would have allowed himself to be interrupted. Tonight, he was a battering ram whenever anyone tried to interrupt him. He refused to yield. Which communicates strength. Which is what voters want to see.

And at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf laments that “the demagoguery at Tuesday’s forum would have embarrassed past candidates.”

I interacted with a fair number of illegal immigrants growing up in Southern California and reporting in the Inland Empire. It’s true that they broke the law to enter the country. But the vast majority of them behaved with a lot more integrity and personal dignity than the majority of candidates on the Republican debate stage last night.

Pastor’s denunciation of Mormonism as ‘cult’ raises questions about Romney bid

Robert Jeffress speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. on October 7, 2011. Photo: Gage Skidmore

The newspaper headlines were relentless: “Faith could be hurdle in Romney’s White House bid”; “Romney camp consulted with Mormon leaders”; “Can a Mormon be president?” It was 2007, the run-up to the presidential election, and the subject of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s membership in the Church of Latter Day Saints had begun to distract from his upstart bid to challenge front-runner John McCain for the Republican nomination.

So he gave a speech, at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas, on the role of faith in politics. “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” Romney said. “Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion that are appropriate. I believe there are.”

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In Elizabeth Warren, progressives may have found the hero they’ve been seeking

Elizabeth Warren during a debate Tuesday between six Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Scott Brown. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

In the recent debates over job creation and the federal deficit, Democrats have merely tip-toed around the idea of raising taxes on the rich. Democratic leaders considered it a victory when they were able to reach a compromise with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on the country’s highest earners last year, and folded almost immediately when Republicans in Congress stonewalled proposals to close tax loopholes as part of a deficit reduction deal.

President Obama has gotten noticeably more aggressive in recent weeks, arguing that higher earners — who make much of their income in investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than salary — should pay their “fair share.” But even that old bromide has, to some degree, left liberals wanting. Whenever the issue of tax fairness arises, Republicans brandish a tidy riposte: “You should be able to keep more of your hard-earned money.” What is the Democratic maxim?

As Obama has correctly explained, the 2012 election will be as much about “values” as it is about “discretionary spending” and “quantitative easing.” Republicans seem to have a much easier time relaying their values to voters: limited government, personal responsibility, freedom. The Democratic logic, if it exists at all, has been much murkier: Rich Americans should pay more because, well, they can. Not exactly fit for a bumper sticker.

Enter Elizabeth Warren.

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Republicans, searching anew for a standard-bearer, eye New Jersey’s Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It was just six weeks ago that Texas Gov. Rick Perry rode defiantly into a crowded Republican presidential contest and was immediately crowned a savior, the white knight of a restive Republican electorate unimpressed with the wooden Mitt Romney and the seemingly unelectable Michelle Bachmann. Now, with more than a few chinks in his armor, Perry is being brushed aside, his poll numbers sagging precipitously. Fearing once again the prospect of a fractious field without a standard-bearer, Republicans are searching anew for a guardian of the faith, and have apparently settled on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie has been governor for not two years, but conservatives across the country are mesmerized by Christie’s blunt-talking, confrontational style. With Christie, the thinking goes, you get the swagger of a Perry, the polish of a Romney and the track record of, say, a Jon Huntsman. And he would almost certainly be more sure-footed in public appearances and nationally televised debates than Perry has been. Republicans fear the Texas governor has already antagonized large swaths of the electorate after calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and embracing a compassionate approach toward the children of illegal immigrants.

To conservatives, New Jersey’s labyrinthine bureaucracy and general open-mindedness about social issues bears an unmistakable resemblance to the current administration. In his two years as governor, Christie has challenged an entrenched Democratic establishment and tangled with some of the country’s most powerful and well-organized labor unions. His duels with the teachers’ union, in particular, have won him glowing praise in conservative circles. When, at a town hall meeting last year, a teacher complained to Christie about cuts to her benefits and salary, Christie retorted, “You know what then? You don’t have to do it.”

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