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Sunday, December 04, 2016
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  • FORT WAYNE – Every election results in individual and categorical winners and losers that impact the longer-term future of politics. Here are a few of my selections. Indiana winner: The Pence/Coats establishment. It directed the quasi-slating of the victorious state ticket: Todd Young for Senate, in part by moving Eric Holcomb out and into position to become governor; Suzanne Crouch as lieutenant governor; Curtis Hill as attorney general; and Jennifer McCormick as superintendent of education. In political years, especially by Indiana standards, they are “fresh faces” ready to ready to rejuvenate the brand.  Indiana loser: An exhausted Democrat re-tread brand. Evan Bayh is one of the most decent men to represent our state, but coming back after clearly moving to Washington and becoming Big Bucks Bayh was a huge mistake, and his biggest mistake was trying to deny those changes. John Gregg had a detailed list of what he wanted to accomplish, and is generally considered “affable” when not nuking his opponents. The problem is that Gregg’s solutions, and Bayh’s, were the same liberal re-tread ideas that Hoosiers had passed up long ago.
  • CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. – It is hard to say which is the bigger shock: Todd Young’s large lead over Bayh or Eric Holcomb being in a tie with John Gregg. This WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana poll released on Friday will certainly have national reverberations. Essentially it suggests that while Young needs to not take his pedal off the floor, pushing until the end, that the Democrats will not capture this Senate seat. As the polling trend had been suggesting, they should have focused in other states. Essentially Republicans have closed ranks in Indiana, just as they appear to be nationally. The national fault line has fairly evenly divided the country.  Donald Trump is admired by only a fraction of the GOP but the same holds true for Hillary Clinton within the Democrats. In fact, her enthusiasts among Democrats may be less than Trump’s within the Republicans, though those who dislike her within the Dems may be fewer nationally. In Indiana, the anti-Clinton sentiment is much more intense than the national anti-Clinton sentiment. Not only is this state more socially conservative but more anti-international trade (e.g. NAFTA), pro-coal and pro-gun. None of which helps Clinton. She has neither the charm or hope that President Obama offered, and he did not openly promote international trade as Bill Clinton had done. Furthermore, talk radio has been pounding on the Clintons for 20 years.  
  • FORT WAYNE – It was around 2 a.m. on a cold January night in Washington. Looking down at the White House from our room at the Hays-Adams Hotel, the lights were dim outside but it had a glow coming from the lights within. I was about to go live, worldwide, on BBC’s morning news show. The evening before, President William Jefferson Clinton had delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. “These are good times for America” he had told us. His message, however, had been overshadowed by the press conference the day before in which he famously said: “I have not had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”  The producer explained that many of the newer democracies around the world, mentioning Russia in particular, watched the BBC shows to explain what was happening in U.S. politics because they found American news made too many assumptions about what they understood. Most listeners had no clue who other legislators were. So keep it simple. So as I prepared to go live worldwide, I thought I was ready because I had already done this many times on their major shows. Like always, there was some chitchat first with the news producer in London. The focus was on Clinton’s speech and briefly on whether the Monica mess would impact his ability to govern. But I was not ready for the first question. Que music. Host comes on. Introduces who I am and then asks something like this: “Why are Americans so moralistic that you get all upset when a president drops his pants in the White House? Why should he have to apologize?”
  • FORT WAYNE – The second WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll provides additional good news to every television station as well as other Indiana media, because if you think you’ve seen a lot of candidate ads for senate and governor, wait until you see what is coming. Congressman Todd Young has come from far behind to, at worst, within 1% of the early assumed winner, former governor and senator Evan Bayh. The race that may decide who controls the United States Senate is essentially tied. Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg holds a two-point edge over Lt. Gov. Holcomb, but that means that they also are basically tied in the race that will determine which direction our state will head. Even the presidential race has tightened a bit, and there are some signs that while Donald Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, are still likely to defeat Hillary Clinton here, the race could tighten even further. 
  • FORT WAYNE – In 2004 I had the unique distinction of participating in what was certainly among the most disastrous debates ever for a federal level candidate. The Democrats had nominated Maria Parra. She was a Michael Moore-style liberal but certainly an otherwise qualified candidate. Parra had an MBA from IU-Bloomington and had a successful business career in the health care field. Our debate was to be held in the studio at WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne taped “as live” with no audience. This was different than all other debates that I’d ever agreed to participate in, but her campaign insisted on the conditions. The Democrats wanted Andy Downs of IPFW as sole host as opposed to the normal panel we had at debates. When I arrived at the station, it became clear that her campaign had invited all the local media to observe. Whatever my weaknesses are, one of them was not an unwillingness to talk to media, so I didn’t care, but the constant changing of conditions without consultation was getting irritating. However, she didn’t make it through her opening statement. She took off her microphone, got up and went to her staging room.  Andy and I sat there stunned.  I remember Andy saying, “What should we do?” as did the producer through our earphones. I immediately said, “Keep your voices down, the media can hear us.” So I softly said I was willing to do whatever was necessary because the entire nation was likely to see this tonight if we didn’t fix this immediately. Our area would be the laughing stock of the country.
  • FORT WAYNE – The major shift in the WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll taken this week from earlier polls is crystal clear: Todd Young has closed the wide margin that Evan Bayh once had in the Senate race. The Gregg-Holcomb race for governor remains extremely close.  Donald Trump, as other polls have shown, has a large lead in Indiana. Two months ago, when Evan Bayh first announced that he was going to run for the Senate, the first poll had him up 54-33%. Since that time he has been under heavy criticism for his Washington D.C. residency and lobbying ties in all forms of media. A Monmouth poll had Bayh’s margin down to 48-41%. The WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll shows it has now fallen to 44-40%. However, the underneath numbers suggest more serious problems ahead for Bayh.
  • FORT WAYNE – The challenge of this year’s gubernatorial election is different. Contrary to feelings inside most campaign bubbles, almost no one is paying attention and few voters care about the race. This helps both Eric Holcomb and John Gregg because both begin as relative unknowns to most but party loyalists. Name identification is not the same as having an image attached to it. It helps Holcomb because attempts by Gregg to connect him to Mike Pence don’t work except to appeal to hard-core Democrats. The obsession with all things Trump, and secondarily with all things Hillary, means that voters at this point connect Pence with Trump. While Trump/Pence could lose in Indiana, it certainly doesn’t appear so and my guess is that Indiana would be one of the last states to go even in a Democrat tsunami. So why would you tie Holcomb to Pence. What could matter, if Holcomb capitalizes upon it, are his even closer ties to Mitch Daniels. Daniels is a popular and respected figure, possibly more in memory than at the time. It would make Gregg appear to be running against both Pence and Daniels.  On the other hand, Gregg has a different problem than Holcomb. For someone who served in his first elective office 42 years ago and was Indiana House speaker in the last century, he also remains a relative blank slate.
  • FORT WAYNE - Of course it is important to remember that we aren’t even half-way through August in this seemingly interminable election cycle.  Normally we’d say that people are on vacation, voters don’t focus until after Labor Day and many not until October, many have little or no knowledge about the candidates, blah blah. However, nothing about this election year is normal. About the only things left to know about the Clintons are: 1.) what groceries they bought the second week of July in, say, 1977; 2.) how unfaithful has Bill Clinton continued to be; and 3.) what did Hillary delete from her e-mails. We know more personal things, true and alleged, about the Clintons than about any two people in American political history.  As for Donald Trump, he’s like Elvis, bigger than life and heavily mythical. Trump’s conned people his life. In everything. He’s the loud-mouthed guy almost everyone knows, who got financially lucky or was crooked but not caught, and then flaunts his wealth obscenely.  Everything he owns, wears, says and even marries says: “Hey, look at me. I’m insecure.” Bullying and blaming others are just other manifestations of insecurity. What we don’t do is make such people President of the United States. Unfortunately, the Republican Party is learning that even nominating such a person potentially has implications beyond just losing the Presidency. Trump is like a virus that can permanently weaken the whole party.
  • FORT WAYNE – The Democrats have given us deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra in this time warp. Clinton.  Bayh. Gregg. Even the Russians are back. This year Indiana and national Democrat Party have chosen to offer voters a full slate of retread tires. Hillary Clinton, defeated by Barack Obama eight years ago, has re-emerged. She was impatiently tapping the table, chair and floor waiting for the Obama interlude to end so we could bring back the glorious days of the Clinton Era. At least Hillary offers the historic chance for America to establish that failure is not because you are a woman or a man. Failure in governing is not because one is white, black or brown. She has already proven that women can use unfair methods to get nominated. Now Hillary wants the opportunity that liberal ideas are the problem, not gender or race.  But this is an undeniable fact. No one should underestimate the inspiration she is far beyond just grown women. The fact is that little girls across this nation feel differently about their potentials this week. That isn’t just Democrat hyperbole.  In Indiana, the Democrat retreads offer no such breakthroughs. They are just old tires. Bayh has launched his campaign with an attack ad on Todd Young’s supposed desire to destroy Social Security.

  • FORT WAYNE – In yet another bold move, the Indiana Democrats have announced that former Gov. Henry Schricker will be pulled out of deep retirement to replace John Gregg as their 2016 candidate for governor. Polling was clearly showing that Gregg’s previous campaign stressing his moustache had been working better than his current ads.  “Many of us thought John had lost his creative edge and just turned into a complainer,” said one disgruntled Democrat. “We needed somebody wearing a white hat.”   Some snarky Republicans pointed out the fact that Schricker is dead and couldn’t even vote for himself. Democrats quickly countered that they consider Starke County, Schricker’s current residence, part of the Region where such things don’t matter. They also noted that Hoosier voters seem to be more focused on name identification than any other variable this year. The Schricker strategy to bail out the gubernatorial race was a by-product of the amazing initial excitement generated among Democrats of Evan Bayh’s return from the politically dead to force Baron Hill out of the Senate race.
  • FORT WAYNE – The next step in this presidential campaign – at least the next logical step though both likely presidential nominees regularly slip in missteps that rather overwhelm normal progression – is the selection of vice presidential running mates. There isn’t a lot of worldwide precedent for vice president with a king or queen. With Trump or Hillary occupying the throne, one conjures up a vision of a graying Prince Charles with great-grandchildren bouncing on his knee when he isn’t opening up a home and garden show somewhere. On the other hand, this is the first time in my lifetime when the presumptive presidential nominee of both parties could blow up before they even become eligible for impeachment. Voters might actually think more about the back-up plan more than normal. I will focus on the Republicans, where accepting the veep slot entails far more risk. With no inside information at all, if Trump has an “inside” even in his own head, and assuming political logic (risky), here is my order of likelihood for Trump’s veep: 1) Who knows, 2) Pence, 3) Fallin, 4) Gingrich, 5) somebody who already said “no” like Kasich, or 6) Christie.
  • FORT WAYNE – While I am more of a beer guy, or bourbon, Donald Trump has driven me to whine. If I’m not careful, between now and the fall election I could become sort of a political alcoholic filled with constant whine, whine, whine. But the only way to avoid the addiction is to totally abstain from politics, or at least have long dry stretches of Trump withdrawal while focusing on baseball.  Some days Trump makes me angry, as do Hillary and the President, but in today’s context of everyone being angry, mine hardly reaches that threshold anymore. When I raise my voice, my face slightly reddened, and make declarations, it sounds like Trump when he’s in a good mood. Or Hillary, when she’s whispering. At least the President just smirks. To be considered angry today, you really have to haul out some big verbal guns. Or threaten to use a real gun. Speaking of liberal hysteria, they holler at Trump (correctly) for turning terrorism by an Arab American into an “I told you so,” yet every shooting becomes the same for liberals. Primarily another notch on their gun control ban advocacy belt. 
  • FORT WAYNE – In some ways Trump’s campaign is mirroring James Blaine’s famous “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” campaign of 1884.  Blaine didn’t actually say the phrase, Dr. Samuel D. Burchard did while addressing the Religious Bureau of the Republican National Committee. The actual quote was: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion. We are loyal to our flag.”  In other words, “Hold your nose, vote for Blaine, and let’s make America great again.”  It is fascinating that a “Religious Bureau” of the RNC even existed in 1884. “Rum” of course was part of the battle over prohibition, particularly about the immigrants from Germany and the Irish who drank too much. It was a “code word” with multiple signals. “Romanism” was the hot-button word for the waves of Catholic immigrants. The immigrants were less educated, poorer, took their jobs at much lower wages, and wouldn’t speak English.  
  • FORT WAYNE  – Politics this year has been truly amazing to watch. Both major parties seem poised to nominate candidates for president so unpopular that President Obama is beginning to look better every week to many Americans. The President’s approval rating in the latest Gallup poll is the highest it has been since May, 2013. A common complaint has been that all the choices were bad.  “Can’t we do better than this?” is often asked. The clear answer should be, “No. Your expectations are totally out of whack with reality.” The Democrat choices may have lacked charisma, but even tail-enders Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb had decent records of public service. Webb represented the right flank of the former Democrat Party, and O’Malley was once a hope of the liberal branch (moderates in the current party). The only thing missing from the Democrat options were African-Americans and Hispanics. But the Democrats did offer lots of diversity among whites. Hillary Clinton is one of the last remnants of the neo-liberal Democrat Party who were led by Southern governors such as Jimmy Carter and her husband Bill Clinton.
  • FORT WAYNE – In one of the few seriously contested drawn out primary campaigns, we Hoosiers decided the Republican nomination. It would have been a great distinction if it hadn’t been Trump. But what’s done, is done. Kind of. Actually, we are going to have to live with this for at least the rest of this political cycle. What impact will Indiana’s gift to the American political system have going forward? While Donald Trump seems capable of filling any news cycle all by himself, political junkies and people who care about how our governments work will be carefully studying how the Donald impacts other races.  Here are a few opening thoughts for Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence: Conventional wisdom decided that the drop-off from the Republican presidential ballots to governor was bad news for Gov. Pence, and was because of his refusal to buckle to the demands of those who disagreed over the LGBT rights issue. It was a large drop-off, but the reasons why cannot be determined with such certitude. I tested my theory that Trump voters were often Democrats who crossed over, saw no contest, so the only way to show they weren’t for Pence was to skip voting for governor.  Exhibit A in my case is Lake County. In the contested primary of 2008 Lake had 130,000 Democrat voters versus 11,000 Republicans.  In 2016 there were 76,000 versus 44,000. The ratio which was more than 11:1 in 2008 but less than 2:1 in 2016.  There clearly was crossover voting in an area where one would assume Trump appeal to Democrats.
  • FORT WAYNE – From the time Ted Cruz launched his campaign at the legendary gym in Knightstown where the movie “Hoosiers” was filmed, and referred to the “rim” as a “ring,” one had a feeling that our moment in the sun might not go well. Based upon Donald Trump’s strategy, you’d think all of us were still dribbling basketballs everywhere. IU’s Bobby “Night” was trotted out to declare that Trump was the most prepared man ever to be president.  Purdue’s Gene Keady played along.  Notre Dame’s Digger Phelps called Trump “one of the great coaches of this country,” though he did not endorse Trump University as an alternative to Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s embarrassment deepened further when football coach Lou Holtz joined in.  As a Notre Dame alum, I admit that Lou Holtz is at least a nominal friend and hero of mine. But his statement supporting Trump illustrated the silliness of everything that is going on. Holtz: “The main reason I’m endorsing him: I’ve played his golf course, I’ve stayed in his hotel. He does nothing but go first class in everything.  He wants this country to be first class as well.”
  • FORT WAYNE – In this absurdist comedy named the “Republican Farce,” which is being directed and controlled by Donald Trump, nothing is as it seems. Ben Carson is on the ballot, still, but gets some concessions from Trump in return for his support. Classic deal-maker Chris Christie, still on the ballot, becomes “inactive” (i.e. cancels appearances, doesn’t campaign) in return for who knows what. Will Christie be attorney general in a fantasy Trump Presidency?  The Donald knows how to cut deals. You do it in private. As he eloquently states, what you say in public is not what you say in a room of 10 people when you are cutting the deal. The Cruz-Kasich “deal” –  which Trump calls corrupt, collusion, weak, pathetic, and people would go to jail for in the non-government world (all 100% false) – is very public and not collusion. Christie and Carson, who actually made “deals” and did not release specifics (Carson appears to have wanted access and allies given access; Christie likely has a tacitly acknowledged real deal which would be illegal if it was binding), colluded with Trump.  Kasich and Cruz merely agreed to focus on where they were strongest. But the Donald out-maneuvered them once again. Somehow, using the media effectively again, Trump has managed to convince people that Kasich/Cruz cut a private deal while it was Trump who actually did so multiple times. In other words, Trump again is by far the most political while insisting that he is not.
  • FORT WAYNE – It is March 30, 1987, all over again. The clock is winding down. The Hoosiers trail Syracuse by a point. Keith Smart launches a shot from the corner that gives Indiana a one-point victory and the national championship. Indiana is on top of the world. My son Nathan won’t forget. He was seven. I was working on Capitol Hill for then Congressman Dan Coats. Doc Bowen was secretary of HHS at the time. He brought Coach Bobby Knight and the team to the HHS auditorium where we Hoosiers could have a private celebration. I sped out to west Fairfax, pulled Nathan out of school and we attended the small gathering together. Getting out of school, unplanned, because of a basketball thing was probably what he remembered most. It was a big thing for Dan too. He kept the videotape. When you visited his house, you got to watch Keith Smart do it over and over.  Perhaps he still does. “The Shot” was actually “The Shot #2.” In 1986, one of the greatest movies of all time had been released. “Hoosiers” was a movie version of the original “The Shot,” where small town Bobby Plump defeated the powerful Muncie Central with a last-second winning basket.
  • JAMESTOWN, N.Y. – I am writing this column on beautiful Chautauqua Lake. It begins what is called the “Southern Tier,” the area of New York that abuts Pennsylvania. Its mountains are scenic, but for the most part, it is America that has been left behind. In 1874 two Methodists established the Chautauqua Movement here. It promoted Sunday School initially and then moved to all adult education through tent meetings, retreats and communities in general. The movement died out years ago. I grew up in a furniture retailing family. Jamestown, with its New York hardwoods, was once the second largest producer of furniture in America until time finally passed it by, hammered first by the non-union South and then by foreign imports. So it’s gone. Lucille Ball is from here, and the Luci-Desi Museum is its primary tourist draw.  Of course, not too many people walk around saying “I love Lucy” anymore. 
  • FORT WAYNE – In northeast Indiana, a significant number of Democrats often vote in the Republican primary in order to influence local elections, since seldom do Democrats have seriously contested primaries. When they do so, our region’s numbers look significantly different. For example, in 2008 I received 40,161 votes in the primary out of 52,000 Republican congressional votes cast. My Democrat opponent received 76,428.  The presidential contest between President Obama and Hillary, not to mention the hot gubernatorial battle, certainly influenced the Democrat primary vote.  In the 2010 primary, an off-year race, I was targeted by many conservatives and the Democrats saw an opportunity. The Democrat congressional primary vote was only 11,000, an incredible drop from 76,000. My primary vote remained roughly the same (38,441) but the total GOP congressional vote increased to over 80,000.  These points are suddenly salient again as the Trump train heads our way. Will the Sanders and Clinton races keep Dems busy as in 2008?
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  • Daniels calls on Trump to tackle the $14 trillion in national debt
    “It is an enormous impediment to long-term growth in this country. The president-elect didn’t cause this problem, but I think he is that president for whom it will not wait another four years. I’ve said in at least two presidential election cycles, this country cannot wait out another presidency without getting serious about this problem. I’m pretty sure I’m right this time.” - Purdue President Mitch Daniels, calling on President-elect Donald Trump to tackle the $14 trillion national debt. Daniels made his comments as one of three co-chairs of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. In 2011 as the former White House budget director positioned for the 2012 presidential race, Daniels cited the "great red menace" of national debt in a speech to CPAC, then wrote about the topic in his book "Keeping The Republic."
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