Littwin: The Big Dog cuts to the chase
November 1, 2014
Bill Clinton may have his flaws — some pretty significant ones at that — but you can't deny the Big Dog his genius. And he has a particular genius for cutting to the chase.
So, in case you haven't figured out what the Mark Udall-Cory Gardner Senate race is about, Clinton has come to town to explain it while here for two days touting Udall, Hickenlooper and Romanoff.
In the year of women's issues, the Democrats had already brought in their Big Three — Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama — to energize the voters. But Bill comes in as the closer. And he's still got wicked stuff.
And so he tells the audience at the Hinkley High School gym in Aurora that Gardner is offering up a "pretty slick deal." And it's one, Clinton says, you should turn down. Few politicians can match Clinton in making the sale, so, if nothing else, you feel compelled to listen.
Let's be honest. Gardner's campaign has little to do with getting rid of Udall because he's Udall — any more than Udall's attacks on Gardner are really about Gardner. Udall has issues on which he stands out. Privacy, definitely. And the environment. But Gardner is framing the race as a "New Republican" versus a Democrat who votes, as you may have heard, with Barack Obama 99 percent of the time. You've heard it ad nauseum because that stat is about 99 percent of what Gardner talks about. The race, sadly, is about personhood versus partisanship, and that's pretty much it.
The New Republican doesn't spend even 1 percent of his time talking about what a Republican-led Senate would accomplish. You can understand why. That would be real fearmongering.
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Gardner's campaign is about making Udall a surrogate for an unpopular president. If Obama's numbers were 10 points higher, Udall would be breezing to re-election, the Denver Post would have endorsed him and Gardner would be busy plotting his move up the House leadership ladder.
I did some checking to put the 99 percent in context. I went to OpenCongress, which tracks how often senators and congressmen vote with the majority of their party. OpenCongress scored Udall at 95.5 percent as of July 1. Last year, his number was 94.9. Here's the strange part: That puts him in the middle of the Democratic pack. Many of the votes are procedural, of course, but you get the point. We live in hyper-partisan times.
Clinton called Udall the "poster boy" for aisle crossing, which may be just a slight exaggeration. But he did mention Udall's cross-party work on deficit reduction, immigration reform, farm bills and Rocky Flats. And he mentioned, too, how Gardner wants to repeal Obamacare while Udall wants to fix it. Not many Democrats are willing to defend Obamacare. Bill Clinton seems to be just warming up for his defense of Hillarycare, and he makes a strong case.
But let's go a step further. How do you think Gardner scored in the past two years? Yep, I know you're with me here. Approval ratings for House Republicans register somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, and that's on a good day. And according to OpenCongress, Gardner voted with the majority of House Republicans 95.5 percent of the time as of July. And in 2013, it was 97.5 percent. Sound familiar?
OK, so it's not about Udall and the Senate or about Gardner and the House. It's not about whether Udall said ISIS wasn't dangerous (he didn't) or whether Gardner voted to shut down the government (he did).
It's about an unpopular president who carried Colorado twice and whose numbers have cratered since. This is not shocking. Look at George W. Bush's numbers after six years. The question is whether any president can survive two terms these days. Check your history, unless, of course, you live in Jefferson County, in which case you'll just have to trust me.
And while Obama is at a low point, Ebola has reached America and we're fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Some liberals are disappointed. And some independents who voted for Obama feel betrayed. And, as Clinton put it, the economy is coming back but many people don't yet feel it. The overall numbers may have improved, but middle-class income remains stagnant or worse and has for many years.
But here's how Clinton framed the race for the crowd: Gardner, he says, "wants to take Mark Udall off the ballot and put the president on the ballot."
Everyone knows that. But here's where Clinton sees the slick part. Obama won't be around for much longer. A Senate seat gets you six years in Washington, and Obama will be gone in two. So, isn't there more at stake here than an anti-Obama vote?
"He'll vote against you for six years," Clinton said of Gardner, "but it'll feel so good on Election Day. Isn't that basically what's going on? He's saying, 'Give me a six-year job for a two-year protest.'
"I wouldn't take the deal."
Do you buy the logic? The crowd did, cheering its approval. Of course, it was an all-Democratic crowd that was ready to cheer whatever Clinton said. Cutting to the chase, the race remains a toss-up, and it's only a week until we actually learn how it turns out.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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