Yes, it is possible for Republicans to craft an appeal that is friendly to blue collar, downscale whites that does not amount to warmed over race-baiting. From this blog to thoughtful conservatives like Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, the point has been made repeatedly that a pro working class message actually ought to bolster Republicans with blacks and Latinos, and that a renewed emphasis on upward mobility should resonate with whites as well as minorities caught in the tow of economic anxiety.
But to be fair about it, there is also a version of a white working class pitch that does looks pretty much exactly like thinly disguised backlash politics. It plays out when the argument against immigration reform transitions to warnings about alien cultures convoluting our national identity; when the GOP’s most conspicuous discretionary spending cuts would be food stamps; when virtually every complaint of racial discrimination is dismissed as professional activism or “divisiveness”; and when the outrage over government assistance seems most strident when the recipients are perceived (often wrongly) to be black or brown.
Therein, another dilemma for Republicans during this period of reevaluation: any serious strategy requires Republicans to go well beyond drop-bys on black radio stations or college campuses, or ratcheting up the ad budget for black publications, to the heavier lift of separating conservatism from its excesses. Outreach that moves voting numbers must consist of a conservative vision more interested in closing gaps and inequality than in widening those divisions.
In practical terms, that does not mean that Republicans abandon skepticism over programs that maximize their enrollment without making any dent in poverty or need. Certainly, it does not mean that Republicans ought to accept a stacked deck in which opposition to liberal priorities is conceded as turning back the clock of progress. But it should not be implausible for the conservative movement to get more comfortable denouncing its outliers, like Georgia’s anti-immigration provocateur, DA King, who is doing a pitch perfect imitation of a Latino baiting xenophobe even if he somehow isn’t one (because of his wealth and propensity for lavishing money attacking opponents, a riskier, therefore, more meaningful move than the distancing that happens every so many months from a character like Iowa’s immigrant bashing Rep. Steve King).
Nor should it be so difficult for Republicans to start pairing controversial, but defensible stances with sensitivity toward certain minority fears. For example, enthusiasm for voter ID needs to be balanced with support for restoring rights for at least some released felons, namely non-violent ones who are reconnecting with their communities and showing a commitment to function as law abiding citizens. Rather than denigrating food stamps across the board, congressional Republicans ought to shift their aim toward entirely legitimate reform—like restructuring the earned income tax credit into a monthly draw that might, for low wage workers, replace food stamps—and the occasional misuse of nutrition assistance shouldn’t sound more morally offensive to conservatives than the payment of over a billion dollars in farm subsidies to landowners who have not planted a crop since the turn of the century.
And this is a point worth dwelling on for Republicans: it is not that the conservative agenda per se alienates minority voters, but that the impetus behind that agenda can seem so devoid of compassion and so distrustful of the vulnerable. And in the same vein, an electoral appeal intended to shore up Republicans with working class voters need not contribute to racial polarization, not unless it appears that the only low wage Americans who move the right are the ones who are white.
Nate Cohn’s piece in the New Republic, which relies on results from a Pew survey out this week, offers some blunt conclusions on the challenges of Republican rebranding: relatively few rank and file Republicans actually want the party to shift toward more moderate ideological positions, and those who do are generally matched by GOP voters who would just as soon shift to the right, and substantially outpaced by the numbers who prefer the status quo.
To be sure, there are methodological challenges that Cohn acknowledges but deserve more analysis: for example, a survey that assumes that voters are correctly identifying, or that they even mean the same thing, when they describe their party’s “current position”, is begging for a set of false positives. But anyone who spends time at Republican activist events can attest that the gist of the data feels about right. To the extent there is enthusiasm for redefining the party, it is more oriented around hopes for “better messaging” or a “more positive way of framing our arguments” than a wholesale desire to revisit actual substantive policies.
That’s a challenge, for a variety of reasons that I will keep addressing in these pages, but I’ll pull out one aspect of it for an extra word of elaboration: the goal of broadening the party without changing it very much explains a lot about one particular African American outreach effort that is becoming faddish on the right: capitalizing on prospective tensions inside the Democratic base between blacks v. Latinos by emphasizing the potential costs that legalizing undocumented immigrants might have on black low wage workers.
I happen to be a skeptic of the Senate immigration legislation, who would prefer Republicans counter it with an amalgamation of approaches that cross conventional lines: support of something like the DREAM Act that prioritizes immigrants who migrated as children or teenagers, combined with a more rigorous employment verification regime and tougher border enforcement, and strengthening the penalties for illegal immigration to match, say, Canada’s felony status for undocumented workers and genuinely stiff sanctions for smuggling.
But that skepticism does not translate into an intuition that black unemployment or limited access to jobs dominated by illegal immigrants is a major economic consequence of reform. The evidence of any trends to that effect seems highly selective. Most of the case rests on an overreliance on data showing that illegal immigration diminishes low level wages even further, without accounting for the obvious: the alternative to reform is not some national dragnet that would deport most of the illegal immigrant population, and open up previously immigrant dominated jobs, but a muddling through with the status quo in which the undocumented population ratches up each year and may hit 14.5 million by 2018. Nor do the arguments that blacks are adversely affected by a pathway to citizenship grapple with another just as apparent fact: the long waiting period for actual citizenship will still mean that the current undocumented pool remains for most of the next decade what it is today: a collection of workers who have become accustomed to abysmal wages and can’t sue or comfortably complain to federal safety regulators. In other words, a more attractive labor source to certain elements of the low skill retail, construction and agri-business sectors than blacks with legal status could conceivably be.
And the heavy flaws in the effort to lure blacks with immigrant bashing don’t compare with another underlying political reality: if a politician’s sympathy for low income blacks surfaces only in the context of thwarting immigration legislation, but has no antecedents in other contemporary policy fights, like extending unemployment benefits, or preserving the recently expired FICA tax cuts, that candidate is unlikely to plausibly position himself as a champion of low wage black aspirations.
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Artur Davis: Another Poor GOP Strategy For Pursuing Black Votes
Having written favorably about Chris Christie in the past, and having taken to task Rand Paul on other occasions, it won’t be surprising that I lean toward the governor and not the senator in the much discussed back and forth between the two over national security and electronic surveillance. I am also in the camp that views an internal dust-up between presidential level Republicans as a good thing that promises that the party is headed toward a 2016 field that is decidedly less one-note than the one in 2012.
In fact, it’s worth hoping that the conversation between the two current Republican front-runners (as subject to change as Cory Booker’s claim that he won’t run for president in 2016) rapidly expands to encompass the domestic side of the equation. To date, it hasn’t, and the vague, far from congruent, alignments of center-right conservatives and libertarians around various economic and social issues has made this week’s tensions seem artificially stark. In fairness, the non-congruent, hazy nature of these domestic divisions has prevented any coalescing into the kind of binary lines that might lead to more clarity.
So, rather than a coherent libertarian v. center-right debate, the 60 percent of Republicans who endorse some revamp of the party have splintered into social moderates who prioritize expanding the party’s appeal to suburban professional women and 18 to 29 year olds; right leaning populists who want to recast the party as a skeptic of crony capitalism and oversized banks, and who reject amnesty for illegal immigrants as a threat to downscale workers; establishment types who want to revive the Bush vision of “compassionate conservatism” and pro-immigration reform; social conservatives who also see merits in amnesty and more emphasis on poverty and education; to libertarians who want to reconcile a move to the center on gay marriage (although generally not abortion) with a hard right turn on entitlements and domestic spending. And the soft borders between these camps mean that in some respects, a Paul has as much of a claim to a reformer mantle as a Jeb Bush.
It is not altogether clear where Christie falls on that grid. And to be sure, for the same pragmatic reasons that Republicans are transitioning swiftly from “Hillary never would have made Obama’s mistakes” to criticisms of Benghazi and the old Clintonian penchant for influence peddling, liberals can be counted on to temper their praise of Christie as a “responsible adult” with jabs at his resistance to gay marriage and his “demonization” of teachers. For equally clear tactical reasons related to nomination politics, Christie would be foolish to wear the label as the moderate trying to upend the conservative grip on the party. (In fact, one assumes that Christie appreciates that his long standing toughness on anti-terror tactics also shores up his conservative credentials in a party where to most, Edward Snowden resembles a subversive more than a patriot).
But there are reasons to think, and to wish, that Christie offers a potential of shaping at least some of the disparate elements of reform into the kind of conservative vision I have praised: one that takes middle class economic anxiety seriously, that is not allergic to market based strategies to address the chronically poor and the uninsured, and that treats a more cohesive, less fractured society as a valid goal of the political right. Some of that promise is rooted in a gubernatorial record that has been impressively attentive to education reform, and that whether he ends up being wrong or right on Medicaid expansion, at least acknowledges the moral dilemma of a low wage poor population that lack health care through no fault of their own. And some of the case for Christie as the best prospective champion of reform is admittedly derived from atmospherics, like his penchant for rebuking some of the less becoming traits on the right, i.e., a NRA web attack ad that featured Barack Obama’s daughters.
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Artur Davis: What The Next Christie/Paul Fight Should Look Like
Having had the ill-timing of criticizing Barack Obama’s limited reactions to the Zimmerman trial at precisely the moment he was making extended comments on the subject, I’ll add a few updated thoughts, some tough on Obama, some equally tough on conservatives.
First, I read Obama’s 16 minutes on race not so much historically (the Jeremiah Wright speech was substantially more decisive to his career, and the entirely peaceful, mostly civil furor over the verdict does not begin to compare to the drama around either Lyndon Johnson’s “We shall overcome” epic a few days after Selma, or John Kennedy’s masterpiece the night after George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door) but as a pretty fair brief for what he does and does not bring to the national debate. When engaged, the president ratifies the convictions of his admirers and the roughly half of the country that sees the world as he does compellingly, more so than any public figure not named Bill Clinton. Given that successful politicians need to keep their base inspired, that’s no small thing.
But what Obama has been perpetually unable to do is to break down the resistance of Americans who don’t share his worldview. He has, in fact, no history of shifting public opinion on any single cause he adopts: from health care, to immigration reform, to expanded gun background checks, to tougher climate change regulations. Obama’s defenders aren’t off-base in their insistence that he has the misfortune of presiding during a hyper-partisan time, but that excuse seems to conveniently wish away Obama’s 2008 rationale that he was singularly equipped to reverse that same polarization.
So, the responses to even Obama’s best speeches disconcertingly resemble the old split screens after the OJ Simpson acquittal a generation ago: rapture on one side, stone cold indifference or hostility on the other. It does not help that from a hard tactical perspective, Obama has not been adept at the Clintonian maneuver of telling tough truths to his base that build credibility across the divide. Instead, he has taken the easy route of addressing black on black crime in the context of gun availability but rarely through the larger prism of young men devaluing their neighbors and themselves to the point of making violence routine. He has infrequently, at least since his 2008 Philadelphia speech on race, evoked the mutual recriminations between blacks and whites that are so pervasive that they have degraded casual language and can ever so often still produce fatal outcomes. For instance, I’m in the camp that thinks something like this circle of shared hostility is really the proximate cause in Sanford, Florida that turned suspicious looks into words, and that segued into a confrontation that ended in death.
But whatever Obama’s inadequacies as a national persuader, conservatives are wrong to dismiss Obama’s talk as just so much “divisiveness” or “race-baiting”, to pick out a few choice adjectives. It’s a revealing error of judgment, though: to see Obama’s observations about the persistence of racial indignities as something unduly provocative is to purchase a myth much too common on the political right—that racial limitations are nothing more than a proxy for something else, perhaps class or educational differences, and that stressing over discrimination is just a liberal wedge tactic. While, as Gallup just documents, well below a majority of blacks describe bias as the most significant obstacle they face, the number who genuinely believe race has vanished altogether as an impediment is infinitesimal, well below the roughly 900,000 or so African Americans who voted for Mitt Romney. The evidence against too pollyannish a thesis on race is sweeping, from surveys documenting the large numbers of whites who harbor stunningly stereotypical views of blacks on subjects ranging from intelligence to work ethic, to the rickety foundations black owned businesses enjoy even when they are propped up with government loans, to astonishingly low numbers of blacks on some of the most prestigious fast tracks in America (elite law firm partnerships, Wall St brokerage firms, senior leadership at Fortune 500 firms to signal out a few).
The right’s tendency to embrace too sanguine a view of race, and to brush off consternation over profiling and stop and frisk as the lament of professional activists, may actually be the single most intractable reason why Republicans fall flat with parts of the black population who are affluent enough that their security doesn’t depend on Obamacare, welfare, food stamps or some other element of the safety net. And the fact that a good chunk of the conservative base is resistant to the notion that there are institutional barriers that flow from those cultural suspicions of blacks has opened a blind spot: precious few on the political right are willing to update their vision to contain reforms that might alleviate some of those burdens, or to acknowledge the reductions of those burdens as a price of restoring a freer market and a more cohesive culture.
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Artur Davis: What Conservatives Need To Take From Obama’s Race Speech
Count me as being in the camp that thinks the press’s fixation on Anthony Weiner’s sexual misdeeds was not worthy of the live cable deathwatch before his latest confessional press conference: in fact, it was the raw equivalent of inadvertently wandering into a pornographic chat-room and the browser breaking down. That’s not to excuse the most brazen or lurid elements of Weiner’s actions, or to venture into the parlor game over what Weiner’s conduct, particularly if it persisted after the implosion of his career, says about his judgment or some other cryptic zone within his psyche.
But I’ll hold onto a broader point that I made over a year ago in the context of a set of similarly unbecoming revelations about a figure decidedly more consequential than Weiner: the late John F. Kennedy, who—if we believe an woman who stayed silent for almost 50 years until a book deal incentivized her—gave Weiner a run for his money in promiscous crudity and unlike Weiner, poached on his own official staff and even shared his spoils with another member of his entourage. My argument, then and now, is that given a choice between trying to extrapolate character from sordid private conduct that gets unmasked and the readily available public record, I’ll take the latter, because it almost always gives off fewer false positives and tells us infinitely more about just how a particular personality would use or misuse power.
In the context of JFK, his public courage on civil rights and forging a détente with the old Soviet Union struck me as more dispositive of what and who he was than the considerable evidence that his presidency would not have survived if the door had come off the hinges of his private life. The opposite is just as true for, oh, several thousand public figures whose private pristineness has never much interfered with their pursuit of enrichment at the public’s expense, or their trading of reelection for the price of failing to lead, or their mediocrity in wasting a role of responsibility out of laziness or disinterest.
Weiner is obviously no Kennedy, and but for highlighting the wrong handle and sending a dirty tweet to the wrong twenty-something, would have stayed stuck in obscurity. Therefore, he is like those thousand or so other mortal politicos who don’t require a deep character dive to understand. In fact, the public profile of the former congressman tells any discerning observer plenty: therein lies the thin record of a legislator of genuine intelligence who still managed to avoid shaping any major bill in the decade or so he spent in the House; who routinely subordinated his hearings and floor time to his cable appearances; and whose penchant for verbally abusing staffers and changing staff leadership was noteworthy even in an environment where petty, whim-driven browbeaters are a dime a dozen.
If Weiner’s “narcissism”, the sin people with keystrokes keep assigning to him, is the fault that legitimizes the dig into his personal misdeeds, there is just as probative an exhibit in the first couple of months of his candidacy for Mayor: the Sunday Times profile that sounded weirdly but exactly like an ex athlete touting how easy it is to get free stuff, and bragging about the sale price of his jersey. And on a routine day, his stump speeches and debate performances have resembled more a mash-up of his extemporaneous speeches on the House floor than any deeply thought out platform for the world’s greatest city. He seems, for example, under the spell that a city that, if it had to keep books like a company would be insolvent, could sustain its own publicly run health insurance program: that, more than his sex talk, is what unmasks him as a fantasist.
I might cut the press voyeurism some slack, and might even justify the elevation to mainstream discourse of a website whose disclaimer mentions that it does not get in the weeds of discriminating between the true and the untrue (I avoid a link in the interest of not abetting their traffic) if dirty messages were actually necessary to unearth the real Anthony Weiner. But they aren’t. And that’s no ad hominem kick on a guy I admit I liked when I served with him: no, it’s instead a sober reflection about going into dark places on the flimsy excuse of finding light.
Barack Obama’s initial banalities on the George Zimmerman trial—sympathy for the loss Trayvon Martin’s parents suffered, respect for the jury process—felt tepid and his observation today that Trayvon Martin could have been Obama 15 years ago felt cliched. Revealingly, to some of Obama’s fans, the pedestrian response was strategic given that Obama’s ventures into race during his presidency, from the flap over a black Harvard professor being arrested outside his home to his observation last year that an Obama son might have resembled Trayvon, have backfired. In the suggestion of the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, given that track record, better the power of his family’s example when they walk across the White House lawn than any risky but more textured contribution to this week’s exposed wounds on race.
Of course, cheerleading about the role model value of a black man in high places has never been a thing that black commentators have embraced for its own sake, at least not when it involves the face of a Republican or even a black Democrat who was insufficiently progressive. And to lower expectations for Obama to the point that saying little is deemed more beneficial than saying much concedes one of the central premises for why a lightly experienced politician five years from a state senate seat was elevated so quickly to the presidency. It is also another instance of a second term where Obama ranges from spectator to occasional sideline critic on the domestic priorities of his own government: on immigration reform and expanded gun background checks, on the renewal of No Child Left Behind, on second tier fights over food stamps and student loans, the formula has been standard partisan ripostes after the fact and an avoidance of any mobilizing strategy that lasts beyond a morning news cycle.
So, in the vacuum Obama leaves, either an Attorney General with a hapless profile who is obscure to most white Americans, or a set of voices who have been punch lines for about a decade, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have been ill-cast as the spokesmen for one view of the Florida verdict—that Martin is not atypical but a specter of myriad ways young black men are devalued—and the very staleness of their advocacy has been easy fodder for critics on the right who are too sanguine about the reality that astonishingly few blacks have confidence in the race neutrality of the legal system.
It is not hard to imagine what Obama might have done this week. He certainly could have lamented the most overlooked aspect of the trial, that Zimmerman and Martin very likely profiled each other, that each saw a threat and affront magnified by the other’s color, and that the ugliness of that kind of mutual recrimination too regularly spills over into every facet of black and white interaction. At the same time, there has been a need this week for the African American community to self-examine the sizable inconsistency between the elevation of a child killed by a white man into a cause célèbre and the national anonymity of, say, Hadiya Pendleton, the black majorette killed by a stray gang bullet a week after performing in Obama’s inaugural parade: couldn’t Obama have made that point more powerfully than, say, a conservative commentator like Rich Lowry, or Zimmerman’s brother on CNN, if the president’s vision of his leadership had only led him to try?
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Artur Davis: Obama’s Inadequacies on Race
Thomas Edsall’s column on the South’s racially polarized politics is so many clichés—the notion that thinly disguised bigots are astride the region’s Republican Party, that they have meanly pushed black state legislators to the margins, that they are presiding over some modern reign of terror on the black and poor, and that the Supreme Court has just made it fundamentally worse by setting aside a major provision of the Voting Rights Act.
But he is not wrong about a premise that lurks throughout his argument: more than any place in America today, the South is a zone where ideology and party do correlate almost entirely with racial identity. Measured against the backdrop of a national electorate where Barack Obama actually exceeded four of the last five Democratic presidential performances with whites, the South’s “white equals Republican” reality is jarring. To a disconcerting degree, routine ideological debate over spending priorities, education, and voting requirements turn into a perpetual argument over whether the intent of every policy is to disadvantage minorities. It’s a stultifying kind of environment.
At the risk of repetition, I’ll mention one more time that liberal critics like Edsall miss the perverse contributions that racially gerrymandered districts have made to the marginalization of black political interests: by guaranteeing that black voters are cordoned off into their own singular political communities and have only a marginal presence elsewhere, courts have ensured that those interests will never really be elevated outside black voting precincts. And the meme that it is malicious Republicans who have driven those gerrymandering trends ignores altogether the extent to which African-American Democrats and federal courts have sanctioned, actually demanded, those district lines.
It’s also worth reiterating another observation I have made in these pages. The Democrats whose fortunes have declined so precipitously in the region since 2008 are still only recently out of power in the Deep South, at least at the legislative level, and have a mixed to poor record of alleviating a range of sins Edsall and most liberals complain about, from tax systems that over-burden the working class, to bargain basement Medicaid programs, to thin levels of social services, to weak environmental protections.
To be sure, southern Republicans can go depressingly tone deaf in their choice of priorities, from North Carolina’s rollback of criminal procedure protections in a state where weak employment is surely something more voters are fixated on, to Alabama’s meat-ax approach to illegal immigration, to the lack of GOP support in most of these states for the kind comprehensive education reform that might boost the region’s abysmal rankings in data that measure the quality of life for children. And yes, the South certainly lacks its share of imaginative, Mitch Daniel type Republicans who see entrenched poverty as the kind of dilemma conservative ought to be engaged in addressing.
But to the extent that minority southerners are, in Edsall’s terms, “hindered from shaping the policies that determine social and economic mobility and the overall quality of life”, the reasons are more complex than the cause effect that Edsall suggests. The solutions have as much to do with ending a bipartisan accommodation to special interests that are averse to cutting edged innovations as they do with taking Republicans to task. Of course, had Democrats not squandered capital on expanding casinos, and soft-pedaling clear-cut evidence of corruption within their own ranks, they might well have found a high ground that stanched their bleeding with at least suburban, educated whites who might be receptive to a progressive platform. And if the all too recent Democratic rule over southern legislatures had really produced the “New South” that Edsall and others are claiming is under siege, he might have a moral point rather than a partisan political one.
Let’s start with what did not happen in a Sanford, Florida courtroom this past weekend. No, Trayvon Martin is not Emmett Till. Not unless you believe that a jury that deliberated for 67 minutes before acquitting Till’s killers is comparable to the panel that slogged for 12 consecutive hours, 16 hours total, to weigh George Zimmerman’s fate. Not unless you equate a travesty in Mississippi that allowed the victim’s mother to be quizzed about whether she had a burial policy on her child, that permitted defense lawyers to argue that acquittal would make the jurors’ white forefathers turn in their grave, with the universally applauded professionalism of the trial judge in Sanford, and an evidentiary playing field that seemed if anything tilted toward the prosecution. (Pre-trial rulings shielded the jury from ever hearing unflattering details that Trayvon sought to purchase a gun and had a poor disciplinary history in school).
No, the Zimmerman trial and the consternation in many quarters over the verdict is not responsible for reigniting racial tensions in America. To the contrary, it only laid bare what we already know too well—that too many blacks and whites circle each other in exaggerated fear, through lenses so fractured that a black child out of place can look like a menace, while a nervous, plodding white man can seem an affront to a young black man’s dignity and manhood.
And no, some of George Zimmerman’s defenders aren’t playing some vicious race card by pointing out the slew of teenaged black on black deaths in the inner city, and wondering why the outrage is more muted. To the contrary, they are speaking a truth that more black politicians and activists ought to be galvanized about: that the young, African American and poor are most at risk from each other.
I wish I could say with more confidence what actually did happen. Three weeks of obsessive trial watching did not resolve for me the question of which unwise act was more meaningful legally: one man recklessly following another and then confronting him without the license that a badge confers, or another young man landing blows and running the risk that the guy he struck might be bringing a gun to a fistfight. Forensic testimony didn’t shed light on whether Zimmerman pulled a trigger because he was enraged or because he was taking a pounding that had him thinking worse was coming. I still don’t know whether the prosecution’s failure to put on testimony from people in his church or community who knew the innocent, sunny side of Trayvon Martin was the product of overly cautious trial tactics or a result of looking and finding the cupboard bare.
And I wish, against all odds, that the millions of Americans who share those uncertainties won’t do the easiest thing. That would be to let the ambiguities of this case merge with disdain at the demagoguery over the result to create the moral dodge of wishing it would all fade away. The people who are about to overplay their outrage aren’t all wrong, not by any stretch. They are right to wonder how long it will take for the wrong interpretation of this trial to spin off a tragic imitation. They are right to remind us that Zimmerman’s defense looks nothing like the advocacy most defendants of any color receive when their freedom is imperiled: the lure of publicity and the money raised from the backlash at the media’s rush to judgment made Zimmerman a magnet for a high quality lawyering that is rare in criminal courtrooms. And they are right when they remind us that one’s view of the justice system correlates much too much with race and status. When the demonstrations and sensational tweets are done, all of the above will remain the same.
From The Daily Caller:
Artur Davis might actually have a shot at being the first politician in half a century to be elected to Congress in two different states.
Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has represented his state’s 10th congressional district for over three decades. In the 2012 election cycle, he cruised to his 17th consecutive term by a healthy 21-percent margin, despite his district having gone to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a 1-percent margin.
Reportedly, Wolf has yet to indicate whether he will seek an 18th term and retire. But should he forgo reelection, the race for his successor will be wide open, according to preliminary polling — making it possible for even former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, who switched political parties in 2012, to be elected in that district as a Republican.
With the exception of a brief spell in the late 1970s, Virginia’s 10th congressional district — which stretches from West Virginia to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. — has traditionally leaned Republican. But if Wolf were to retire, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would almost certainly have interest in an attempt to take the seat.
A survey conducted by a Republican polling entity on June 30-July 2 — with a sample of 432 and margin of error of 3.44 percent — shows no clear front-runner among a handful of potential Republican candidates that included Davis, Virginia State Sens. Jill Holtzman Vogel and Dick Black, Virginia State Dels. Barbara Comstock and Tim Hugo, and Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart.
The survey, commissioned by Davis and given to The Daily Caller by someone who has been shown the data and a polling memo connected with it, reveals Vogel and Black as front-runners but both coming in at under 17 percent with 31 percent of respondents undecided.
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Continuing to pick over the remains of the Supreme Court’s news-making week, there is one other piece that should be examined. As my last posting argued, the Court’s decision to avoid the merits of Prop 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is hard to defend as a work of judicial analysis, given the anti-democratic veto power it puts in the hands of a Governor and Attorney General who disagree with laws their own constituents voted into existence. But I would argue that there is a real chance that taking Prop 8 on the merits might have ended disastrously for social conservatives, and that we have just gotten a good look at what the next super-showdown on the subject will look like.
The basis for all of that: a not well remembered Supreme Court decision from the mid nineties, Romer v. Evans. The case involved a Colorado constitutional amendment that sought to preempt a series of grassroots campaigns around the state geared toward winning more local protections for homosexuals. Under the amendment, which voters approved statewide, local jurisdictions were precluded from passing any form of initiatives that had the effect of making sexual orientation a “protected class”, analogous to race or gender. In a majority opinion by Anthony Kennedy, the Colorado amendment was struck down on the ground that it blocked one class of the state’s citizens, its gay community, from exercising the ability to win favorable results in the political process, and that even under the lowest level of equal protection review, rational basis, there was no valid justification for such a limitation. One of the informal legal advisors for the litigants challenging the amendment: a rising Republican appellate whiz who had just missed being confirmed for a federal judgeship a few earlier, named John Roberts.
Romer did turn heads in 1996 because it was the first instance of the Supreme Court invalidating a law that was aimed at gays. But the reasoning, that a law couldn’t survive constitutionally if it simply reflected disapproval of homosexuality, seemed light years beyond the political culture at the time, which included a near unanimous passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by a Democratic president. And for all practical purposes, Romer seemed to have almost nothing to do with DOMA, didn’t discourage it or generate any real challenge to it, and is not lauded in liberal legal circles in the same manner as Lawrence v. Texas’ 2003 overturning of local sodomy laws.
That was then. This week, Romer is cited heavily in and was one of the linchpins of the ruling ending DOMA, and had the Court chosen to decide whether Prop 8 violates the equal protection clause, it could not have avoided Romer’s potentially broad reach. Does a state referenda limiting marriage to its traditional definition somehow preclude gays from petitioning California’s legislature or judges to change that definition? Would the five justices who discarded DOMA have bought any rationale that there was a reason for Prop 8 other than moral apprehensions about homosexuality?
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Artur Davis: The Gay Marriage Case That Will Really Matter