Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kerry Flies the Take-Me-or-Leave-Me Flag

Our junior Senator (with a mere 24 years tenure), John Kerry gave a bunch of us the better part of an hour by phone today. I'll muse a bit on his comments about his pending re-election campaign.

Over at BlueMassGroup, Bob Neer live blogged the Kerry conversation — no mean feat, with a so-so connection, Kerry having to delay and absent himself to run between votes, and a motley crew of bloggers, supporters and even a marine scientist asking questions.

Kerry seemed in his element. I suspect he was sincere when he said it would a regular happening. Netroots and all...

There's more info coming in a future post about crippling Bush program cuts and how Congress is restoring some crucial aspects. Meanwhile, consider that Kerry faces primary opposition and a likely GOP opponent in November. He has the office, his bank account is impressive, and he won his last re-election in 2002 with 80% of the vote.

On today's call, he claimed he does not assume victory ("I never do," as he put it). So, we have to wonder how real is his opposition from both sides? What tack will they take?

Candidates for Kerry's seat have until Tuesday, May 6th, to file with signatures. However, running for U.S. Senate is not trivial and announced candidates are pretty well set. In fact, one has already dropped out and endorsed another; very right wing Republican Kevin Paul Scott abandoned for Jim Ogonowski at the end of January.

Current challengers to Kerry include:
It's not fair and not too meaningful, but the initial Federal Election Commission filings on this race are risible. The other guys start with hundred or thousands and Kerry with millions of dollars. We can expect if not a flood at least a spittoon full of cash, particularly for the Republican nominee. There will be ad budgets.

It's easy to predict that it'll be Ogo, as his team likes to call him (I prefer the Og), against Kerry in November. Kerry will skunk him, but not by 80% to 20%.

O'Reilly Fracture

The Ed O'Reilly candidacy is perhaps the most salient. He positions himself as the progressive against the centrist and has a case to make.

He's a firefighter (and son, grandson and nephew of firefighters) turned criminal defense lawyer turned do-gooder.

Amusingly enough to those of us who consider legendary liberal Senators Kerry and Barack Obama as not left enough, O'Reilly positions himself for the cliché rather than the reality of Massachusetts. Many locals may vote for the most liberal Presidential candidate, but still be socially and fiscally conservative. We saw that too as the Og came pretty close to Niki Tsongas in the Congressional special election last year.

O'Reilly proclaims in fairly simplistic but moderately defensible terms that he is for and Kerry is against:
  • single-payer health care
  • immediate start to withdrawing troops from Iraq
  • marriage equality
  • closing rich folk's tax loopholes
  • impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney
  • mandating local-government use of renewable energy
On today's call, Kerry rebutted some of that and if they end up debating, he'll certainly have different views of those argument. Well, most of those. Kerry is wishy-washy on impeachment and opposed to marriage equality.

He said he's not going to change what he does because of those campaigns. He intends to run on his record.

Of course, in the party primary, O'Reilly will have to plead that voters take a flier on him. Toss the guy who has brought home the projects and done much of what you wanted for 24 years. That's likely an impossible sell.

Moreover, he needs some work on the arguments. His Iraq-withdraw platform is pretty thoroughly thought out. Because he likes an existing bill (HR676) on single-payer, he lists its features and that looks pretty solid too. However, the rest is vague. Education is to fund Head Start fully and examine No Child Left Behind. The environment — he's for protecting it. Likewise, energy is some sketchy education ideas and those local mandates.

O'Reilly seems to be left of Kerry and he has progressive ideas and ideals. There's not much muscle on this skeleton.

Warrin' Beatty

For me, GOP candidate Jeff Beatty is the Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore of the race. He is a winger. He has his own security firm. He was an Army Delta Force captain, and then an FBI and CIA agent.

He has his own section on YouTube, mostly winger cable news hosts talking to him as a terrorism subject-matter expert. Other than an endorsement from a retired officer, there's nothing really related to the current campaign. Beatty is no Steve Garfield.

Beatty has a small set of bellicose and somewhat churlish issues, including:
  • (No) Immigration — No amnesty or benefits for unregistered aliens. Close the borders and keep all the money for genuine American taxpaying workers.
  • Crush 'em and Train 'em in Iraq and Afghanistan. Withdraw timetables are for ignorant sissies. Keep fighting until we get the locals ready to handle their defense. Only then can we discuss phased withdraw. Oh, and he'll pray for our soldiers.
  • Tax Cuts and Program Slashes. Tax cuts are close to an economic panacea. "...you get more take home pay. It's simple!" Then cut spending and shrink government.
  • Guns for All. The Cap'n is a huge Second Amendment guy who'll oppose any effort to hinder gun ownership.
  • Teacher in Every Closet. He wants smaller class sizes and more teachers (and still smaller government with lower expenses?). He's big on school choice (public funding for private schools?) and "Jeff also understands how to make our schools safe." I think we can figure out how.
Shortly, this guy is going to see how much time and money it takes to contest this seat. He's likely out of there quickly, after declaring he raised the issues no one else was man enough to tackle.

Og Super-Pointy Stick

Ogonowski seems to have a permanent political ego swelling after a strong run for 5th CD replacement for Marty Meehan. Showing the often hidden conservative nature of much of exurban Massachusetts, he lost 51% to 45%. Now, he just can't help himself.

He styles himself, George-Washington style, as both a farmer and a soldier. It's seems accurate that he spent 28 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard. Most of that was as a manager. He was not Jeff Beatty. Likewise, his I'm-a-farmer claim needs qualification. He's still a manager. He runs his sister-in-law's 100 acre hay farm. Most of the dried grasses go to his wife for her horse farm. This is certainly not Granddaddy's farm or farming. He's retired military growing hay while the sun shines.

The 5th CD race was to many a surrogate battle. Jim's brother, John, was the known hero, a pilot who died in the 9/11 attacks. Niki's late husband, Paul, was a widely adored U.S. Congressman and Senator. Neither Jim nor Niki really had the credentials to claim Meehan's job outright. The game was afoot.

The Og isn't exactly lying about his background. Yet, the impression from his words is fuzzy to the point of hyperbole. Likewise, his platform is vague.

So far, the initial push is that Kerry is a long-time insider and out of touch with the hay farmer (or insert your job). As the Og puts it on his site:

“It’s a call to change the way Washington does business. It’s public service for the right reasons. That means serving the people and not the lobbyists and Washington insiders.”

Ogonowski claims he will strive to return government to the people and stand up to special interest groups and Washington insiders.

You can dig for specifics. The best set so far comes from his announcement as candidate:

  • Kerry doesn't visit the home district towns enough.
  • "Financial, economic, public and homeland" security is what people want and need.
  • Economic stimulus package = good.
  • Possible carryovers from the Tsongas race may be energy efficiency, stopping illegal immigration, and not bringing troops out of Iraq until the Iraqis can handle their defense.

Obviously, he won't be able to get by with the generalities that characterized the 5th CD race. That was rushed and neither Niki nor the Og had a legislative record and fleshed-out positions. Kerry has 24 years of legislation with a fair amount of goodies for the home folk as well as national laws.

Yet, the Og is great at the kind of VFW bar talk. Those illegals...war on terror...my brother, the hero...Washington insiders... Republicans and conservatives of all stripes will want to play kick the Kerry.

Unfortunately for the man from Dracut, Kerry has the cash as well as the record. It remains to be seen how many wingers and disgruntled voters will want to toss their money at the Og to prove their point. I predict far too few for his needs.

For his part, Kerry talked the talk today. "I'm not taking anything for granted," he told us. He's started his signature drive, centering on party activists and labor unionists.

My own cliché is that in light of the Og's absentee-Senator criticism, it's always good when Kerry hits the pavement. He speaks with lots of voters he doesn't often see. Some will tell him things he doesn't want to hear. Others will say a few things that make him think, act and represent them better.

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