Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mitt's Bad Trip

If a Democratic strategist adopted an alias and described his vision of Mitt Romney's trip overseas, it wouldn't have been better than what's actually happened. We can give Mitt credit for one bit of truth: He didn't want his trip to mirror Barack Obama's overseas adventure in the summer of 2008, which saw oversized crowds giving him thunderous ovations, and it certainly didn't. Remember that the McCain camp's only response was that the US didn't need a rock star president. To solidify that aspiration, McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate where she became, you know the answer, a rock star.

Romney's trip appetizer, as it turned out, was his disparaging remark about the London Olympics, which look terrific on television, and that's where 99% (oh, that 99%) of the world's viewer's will come in contact with it. Will the games lose money? Surely. Will there be empty seats, fraudulent tickets and missed buses? Yes. Will it matter to those watching on TV? Not at all. What will matter, and has rightfully gained all of the headlines, is that Romney missed a free opportunity to act statesmanlike, responsible, upbeat, friendly and most important, presidential. He snuffed it badly.

Then it was on to Israel for the main course, which was a full blown endorsement of the most contentious issues facing the Israeli's and Palestinians. Mitt called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, even though it's a divided city, and said that the real reason why Palestine is behind Israel is its culture. The Jerusalem line is one that many American politicians use to galvanize Jewish support for their candidacies, but the US is not going to be able to unilaterally, or bilaterally with Israel, determine that city's status. No Palestinian politician will agree to it and the larger Muslim Middle East will fight to the death to preserve and defend its holy sites against an Israeli assumption of Jerusalem.

It's the culture remark that tells us more about Romney than we probably want to know. How much does culture determine a people's success or failure? In the United States, culture has been used both historically and currently to explain why African-Americans live in poverty or have a stunningly high rate of single-parent families or a high obesity rate or why they want to live in segregated communities, not to mention that they made good slaves and like to eat certain foods. Likewise, the culture argument has been used to paint Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, Latinos, Asians (with and without regional breakdowns) and the LGBT community as, well, you probably know the stereotypes. All of them are false. All of them are ugly. All of them have been used to discriminate against and paint groups as un-American and dangerous.

Onto that pile of malodorous claptrap comes the well-shod foot of the presumed Republican nominee.

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

Thus, if culture makes all the difference, then it must mean that Palestinians want to live in the dangerous, fetid, unsettled, poverty-stricken land that they do. If they had a different culture, then they wouldn't. Never mind the politics, the sanctions, the wall, trade embargoes and blowing up the houses of relatives who are suspected or convicted of being terrorists. It's culture.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm Jewish. I support Israel 100% and believe that its existence is vital to the region and the world. But I'm not going to chalk up Israel's economic vitality and thriving society to culture alone or as the most important factor in its success. Israel has a terrific friend in the United States, and we're in a position to funnel billions of dollars in aid to its government and provide a likewise amount in weapons and defense. Much of the Middle East was supported by the Soviets during the Cold War, and when the USSR collapsed, so did many of those country's economies. Add in the rise of Islamic terrorism and you have a situation where many people weren't even able to make a cultural choice for their country. It was made for them by a ruling elite (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) or a religious movement that had more guns than anyone else (Afghanistan, Iran, the PLO).

And yet, to Romney, it's culture that is the main determinant of a country's success. That strikes me as condescending, discriminatory and wrong. It's convenient to blame culture because then you get to define the elements of that culture. So Palestinians are deficient and Israelis are superior. In Syria, Alawites must be superior because they have the government and the weapons, but if Assad losses, that must mean that the rebels, and their concomitant groups are superior. Countries that receive enough rainfall to water their crops must have superior cultures, while arid areas must be deficient. OK, you get the point (and you most likely did 3 paragraphs ago).

The desert was light and fluffy, courtesy of Romney's staff in Poland that was probably upset at all of those inconvenient questions about his trip, so they said some naughty things. But the damage has been done. Romney had hoped to make this trip about his commander-in-chief credentials and it became about everything but that. If these were isolated events, we could forgive Mitt, but with all of the other silly things Romney has said during the campaign, we need to begin worrying that he would damage more than his campaign. That's something we truly cannot afford.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Presidential Polls: Obama, Romney Will Win, Lose

The polling in the presidential race over the past week has led to some interesting analysis, and depending upon your view of the numbers both candidates can claim to be winning, which also means that both are losing.

The latest RealClearPolitics composite shows the president with a small lead, but his aggregate score of 46.4 is rather low for an incumbent and gives Mitt Romney many opportunities to catch and surpass him. A case in point is an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday showing Mr. Obama with a 49-43% lead. The problem is that the poll oversamples Democrats by 11 points, 46-35%. My sense is that Democrats will not turn out in November in those numbers, so the poll is not as representative as it first appears. The other issue is that the poll uses registered voters (RV) as opposed to likely voters (LV), which at this point in the campaign might be worthless.

Another poll released on Tuesday by PPP/Daily Kos/SEIU shows the race to be tied at 46%, which would be great news for Romney if not for some troubling poll internals. First, it assumes that Romney will attract 17% of the African-American vote and 39% of the Latino vote. By November, that might be possible, but other polls show President Obama garnering support from those groups that approaches 80-90%, so this poll might be a bit optimistic. Further, the poll oversamples Democrats by 7%, which, again, is possible, but it also shows that 32% of respondents identify themselves at members of the Tea Party. That's high. Finally, this is an RV poll using automated technology and did not call cell phones. All of this adds up to a poll that has a lot of holes in it for both sides to peek through a spin as they please.

The national tracking polls give us little to go on, with Rasmussen giving Romney a 1 point lead and Gallup giving that same lead to Obama.

The real action is with state polls, and for the most part these have been good news for the president. A Rasmussen poll of Michigan gives Obama a 48-42% lead using likely voters, and a Survey USA/KSTP poll  of likely voters in Minnesota has Obama up 46-40%. Good news for Obama, but it shows a decline in his support from previous Minnesota polls which could be a signal of slippage or statistical noise. Your choice, it seems, depending upon which way you lean. A SurveyUSA poll of Florida using likely voters has the president with a 48-43% lead, but the same release showed Republican Senate candidate Connie Mack leading Democrat Bill Nelson by 48-42%. That kind of ticket splitting doesn't make sense, so we'll need another Florida poll to sort that out.

There has also been some considerable punditry about where this race is heading despite the polling. Two schools of thought seem to be controlling the debate. One says that the negative ads that Obama is running in swing states, combined with an improving economy in those states, will lead to his reelection. The other thought is that Obama has spent almost $100 million dollars on negative ads and only has a small lead on Romney and no poll has him at 50% or above on the national level (some state polls do have both candidates with sizable leads depending on the state). Both camps are looking for any significant movement in the polls, but won't likely see much until mid-August when Romney unveils his pick for Vice president and the conventions get under way in earnest.

Of course, it's the states that matter most in our electoral system and Obama is going to want to lock down as many of his 2008 wins as possible, and the above discussion suggests that he's moving in that direction. Still, polls are close in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina (where Romney leads) and Pennsylvania. This is where the election will be won or lost and Romney has yet to advertise seriously in any of those states (he can't until after the GOP convention).

Stay tuned for more as the polls are released.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Control Guns

I have a proposition for anyone who thinks that our state and national gun laws make sense and/or adhere to the legal intent of the Second Amendment. Wake up Thomas Jefferson, John (and Sam if you'd like) Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George Washington and any other member of the founding class not named Aaron Burr. Give them a week or so to acclimate themselves to the modern day United States, and then ask them if this is what they had in mind when they debated and wrote the Constitution: 

Unhindered by federal background checks or government oversight, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people inside a Colorado movie theater was able to build what the police called a 6,000-round arsenal legally and easily over the Internet, exploiting what critics call a virtual absence of any laws regulating ammunition sales.

With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon. 

He also bought bulletproof vests and other tactical gear, and a high-capacity “drum magazine” large enough to hold 100 rounds and capable of firing 50 or 60 rounds per minute — a purchase that would have been restricted under proposed legislation that has been stalled in Washington for more than a year. 

I didn't think so either.

With all due respect to the current Supreme Court, which ruled in the case, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al. v. HELLER, (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed,  that possessing a handgun is an individual right (and in the process overturned two centuries of precedent), the framers could not have seen this development. They were rational, reasonable men. They knew that freedom and liberty were just and correct goals, but that they had limits.

Tell that to the NRA. I support the NRA's existence and even most of its goals. We do have a right to a well-regulated (there's a dormant phrase) militia and people do have a right to hunt and protect themselves. But what James Holmes amassed was not meant for hunting, protection or self-defense. He planned and carried out a massacre of innocent people at a time when they were relaxed and vulnerable. There are clearly lots of things wrong with him that society can't anticipate or cure. He had a fairly clear record and was a brilliant student. Ominous music didn't play when he entered a room. But did he have the right to those guns? Is that what the Second Amendment protects? I think not.

After the shootings at Virginia Tech, there were many gun rights advocates who suggested that the answer to the problem was more guns. They said that if students and faculty members were armed, that they could shoot the shooter and limit the carnage. That debate has been reignited. Is this the kind of society we want to live in? Where anyone (after background check and safety course) can carry a concealed weapon anywhere? Do more guns equal less violence?

Anyone hunting for a political debate on this issue will go hungry until at least November 7 because gun rights advocates are already suspicious of President Obama and Mitt Romney doesn't want to say anything provocative or alienate his base. Meanwhile, gun control politicians such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York continue to press the issue. Honestly, I'd feel safer in a midtown Manhattan movie theater than in a multiplex in a state with fewer gun laws. Call me crazy.

But back to the framers. I understand that they feared a tyrannical national government that would encroach on people's liberties, so they included an amendment that left to the states the right to have its citizen's armed. I get that. What they didn't intend was that citizens would have free reign to arm themselves to the teeth with weapons that threatened the public order. They would have drawn a line at Holmes's arsenal because it's detached from the intent of the amendment. We have limits on speech, religion and state's rights. It's only logical that we look at the totality of our gun laws and ask ourselves if they adequately protect us from people who seek to do us harm. At this moment, the answer is no.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Registered and Likely: A Tale of Two Voters

A number of polls have been released in the past few days that continue to show the presidential race to be very close. What's worth discussing at this point is the difference between polls that measure registered voters (RV) and those that have switched over to likely voter (LV) models. There's a terrific article by Mark Blumenthal of HuffPost/Pollster that discusses this issue and he comes to some interesting, and ultimately unsatisfying conclusions. From the article:

The consistent difference between the registered and likely voter samples raises the question: If likely voter screens applied at the end of the campaign nudged the horse race numbers in a more accurate (and more Republican) direction, why not apply such screens now?

The answer, in part

These "measures of engagement and intention to vote are useful as indicators of likely turnout on the aggregate level" at this stage in the campaign," Pew Research associate research director Michael Dimock explained to The Huffington Post in June, "but they are only loosely predictors of whether an individual is or is not likely to vote this November."

"As we get closer to Election Day," he added, "particularly after the conventions and into the debate season -- these indicators become stronger."

With this in mind, let's take a look at some recent polls that use LV models. Purple Strategies released a number of swing state polls showing Obama leading in Ohio (+3), Virginia (+2) and Colorado (+1) and Romney leading in Florida (+3). All of these results are within the margin of error and seem to suggest that Obama does well in states where he polls well with women and lags where men and independents do not support him. The Florida results are also in line with a Mason-Dixon poll that also uses an LV model and shows Obama with a 1 point advantage. Likewise, a new Rasmussen poll of Virginia also shows Obama with a small lead of 47-46%.

The Rasmussen daily tracking poll uses an LV model and shows Romney with a 1 point lead today, within the margin of error.

If it's true that Republicans tend to do better with LV models, then we can assume that Obama is truly ahead in the states where he leads and that Romney will need to move the dials a bit to overtake him.
On the RV side, a new Quinnipiac poll of New Jersey gives Obama a 49%-38% lead while slightly oversampling Republicans. New Jersey is D 33/R 20/I 47 while the poll was D 34/R 24/ I 37.

Presumably, even if Quinnipiac went to an LV screen, Romney would not be within threatening distance of the president. My view is that New Jersey will remain blue this November.

A PPP Poll of Iowa has Obama leading by 48-43% with a D 35/ R 34/ I 30 split, when in reality, Iowa breaks D 31/ R 32/ I 37. PPP, which has a Democratic leaning house effect, has also slightly underpolled Republicans and overpolled Democrats. This leads me to believe that Iowa will probably lean Romney once polls move to an LV model.

At this point in the campaign, using likely voter models do not seem to be diverging a great deal from polls that use registered voters. As we get closer to the campaign's major events, that will change. Romney has yet to choose a running mate, and that will help his numbers. The conventions will also provide major bumps for both candidates, as will the results of the first televised debate. If voters are settling in on one candidate, that will become evident by the middle of September, and as long as respondents tell the truth about their voting habits (what is the percentage of people who lie about such things?) we'll get a fairly accurate view of any election trends.

Right now? Enjoy the summer, baseball and the Olympics.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Whither Christie?

Tired of the playground brawl that is the presidential election? Does the thought of two wonky, somewhat unpopular guys playing nyah-nyah get you down? Well, there's always the drama created by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

But now that's getting old too.

Yes, it seems as though the GOP's darling is playing a little thinner these days and his antics don't carry quite the same weight as they did eight months ago when he was denying himself, and the poor old United States, a run for the presidency. For the record, Christie will not be Mitt Romney's running mate, nor will he be the Republican Party's candidate for president any time soon, if ever. He might be a featured speaker at the GOP convention or get a cabinet post in a Romney administration and leave the frustrations of Trenton behind, but my sense is that he'd get bored being one of the lesser cabinet members and he could conceivably get us into some kind of war if offered State, Defense or Trade Representative. Secretary of Education? Here's what would happen on his first day in office:

Transportation? Why, use a helicopter to get around the traffic.

The truth is that people in other parts of the country think they know Chris Christie, but really, how do you export that personality to the rest of the country? I've always disliked the stereotype of a "New Jersey attitude" and believe it to be harmful to the state, but even I won't deny that Christie does exude a certain Garden State brusqueness. The problem is that it's getting old here. A few months on the road and you'd see video of people with their mouths agape and eyes aghast at the man. Is he still popular with the base? No doubt. But the rest of the country has some manners, and the governor has shown that at critical times, he doesn't. Even worse, if Romney doesn't win in November, then Christie might get tagged as a loser for supporting him. That would seriously damage his aura.

Don't get me wrong. Christie can point to some significant legislative accomplishments including a 2% cap on municipal spending and the public worker pension and benefits bill that makes teachers, police and firefighters pay more while allowing him to delay full pension payments to the state. And rumor has it that he's about to sign a teacher tenure reform bill that streamlines the process of firing an ineffective teacher, but not after two negative evaluations. That he was able to get the NJEA to the table on tenure is a win for him, but it's only a small part of what he wanted to accomplish, and he's frustrated. The suburbs are pushing back on Charter Schools, and the legislature will not give him that tax cut that is the gold standard of every Republican lawmaker looking to win national acclaim.

The problem is that the Democrats will continue to hold the legislature even if Christie wins reelection in 2013. What fun would that be? And how many more YouTube videos can you make berating retired public workers, soldiers and lefties who question his policies? (No, I will not provide links to those videos, but you can find them easily enough.) So in this summer of discontent, the good governor has some decisions to make. None of them are easy, but all will have long term impacts on his career. I expect that he will carry on as he has been because what he's done so far is not an act. It's who he is. And that might be the biggest problem of them all.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poll Popping For Numbers Junkies

After a respite following the Supreme Court's decision in the health care case, a flurry of polls has been released in the past two days showing the presidential race nationally and in the states to be close, but slightly in the president's favor.

The best news for Obama comes in a PPP poll of Wisconsin that shows Obama leading Romney by 50-44%. What makes this result even more impressive is that PPP had a D/R/I split of 30/32/38, while the Wisconsin state breakdown is D 38/ R 34/ I 28, thus under-counting Democrats and overcounting Independents. If Obama is +6 under those conditions, then Romney is in trouble if he wants to peel away this state. Further, a Marquette University poll shows Obama ahead 51-43% using likely voters and a D 29/R 33/I 36 breakdown. As with PPP, this underpolls Democrats, providing even better news for the president.

A new We Ask America poll of Pennsylvania has Obama ahead of Romney by 47-40%, but unfortunately they don't provide cross-tabs or other data on their polls, so it's difficult to assess their overall validity. They do advertise that the poll is of likely voters and it does confirm a trend towards the president evident in the RCP average for the Keystone State, so the results do make sense. It would be nice to have some more data, though. We Ask America also released a New Mexico poll, but its results, Obama +11, only confirms other polls that show that state firmly in the blue column.

As for the national polls, here's a terrific analysis by HuffPost/Pollster's Mark Blumenthal that essentially shows that the overall race hasn't budged in months (see chart below).

Blumenthal does point out, though, that when pollsters begin moving from registered voters to likely voter models, probably just before the conventions, we will probably see Mitt Romney pick up support since LV polls tend to favor Republicans. My take on these national surveys is that Romney has not yet risen above 47% support. If that's his ceiling, he's in trouble. If he begins polling above that consistently, then he will likely win in November.

Of course, there are some ominous signs for the president in some of the numbers. His approval ratings haven't budged and he's still underwater on his job performance. Jay Cost has an interesting analysis of why this does not bode well for Obama. Also, Obama's standing among blue collar men has dropped to new lows according to both the Quinnipiac and ABC/WaPo surveys. The president didn't rely on this group in 2008, but they will be key in close swing states such as Iowa and Ohio.

A spate of Senate polls has good news for the Democrats (and Angus King in Maine, who will probably caucus with the Democrats if he wins) in Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Florida provides the best news for the GOP with Connie Mack leading Bill Nelson by 9%.

That's the snapshot at this moment in time and the summer usually doesn't provide much guidance as Americans focus more on their vacations, finding a job, and the Olympics. The political scene will begin to heat up next month and we'll get a better sense of the state of the race.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

What's At Stake

OK lefties, let's face some serious reality. The unemployment picture is probably not going to improve much between now and the election and Congress is certainly not going to pass any landmark law that's going to help either the jobs picture, the debt, social programs or the environment.

At this point in the election cycle, many people will be making up their minds about whether the president deserves a second term or whether to give someone else a chance. These people are not paying attention to the election at the same level that we are and many of them won't care about the GOP's policies that might negatively impact them. They will only see that the country is going in the wrong direction.

That's where we must step in. Begin now to make sure that your wavering friends and neighbors know the consequences of electing Republicans to all three branches of the government, and giving them free reign to enact their tax-cutting, social program-starving, feed-the-rich diet program they've promised America. Posters, bumper stickers and, yes, social media posts are a nice way to reach people, but the best is through one-to-one contact. Be friendly. Try to educate and explain as opposed to being strident and oppositional. I know it's difficult given the passion you feel, but most people just want to get information and go on with their day.

This is a winnable election against a much-less-than-inspiring opponent, but the Republicans will have more money to spend and we know that they spare no penny, fact or anti-fact to make sure that their message gets out. We need to fight that penny for penny and fact for fact.

Start now. Fight hard. Be persistent. Tell the truth. Smile. We only have until November 6, but I believe that we, and the country, will win.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Polling Report: July 6, 2012

This is a double numbers day, with both a polling report and the release of the jobs numbers for June. There are only four months to go before the election, the focus on the economy has already been intense, and the fallout from the ACA decision is only complicating matters. Looking for clarity? Consult the I Ching.

How the jobs report will impact the election will take time to sort out. Meanwhile, the polling numbers have moved in the president's direction over the past month, slowing a trend towards Romney that had existed in May and early June. The big picture would seem to be working against the president because the economy is still slow, but Romney has evidently caught John Kerry disease, what with his recent vacation pictures and saying that students should get as much as education they can afford. He's going to have to stop the rich guy stuff if he wants to win.

As of today, the national race looks like this: Obama has 47.0% support and Romney 44.4% according to the latest RCP average. Obama's job approval has taken a hit, and he's underwater in most polls, but that doesn't seem to have affected his overall numbers. Yet. The honest truth is that most people, and specifically most independents, aren't paying attention to the election and won't until the early fall. Right now it's people like you and me who are fretting over every poll and uttered word that comes out of each campaign. For most other people, the election will take a back seat to finding a job, baseball, vacations, the Olympics, and most daily activities.

The state polls are still showing Obama leading the electoral college voting with leads of 221-181 (RCP), 240-191, (Pollster), 303-235 (Election Projection), 326-212 (Electoral-vote.com) and 217-206 (New York Times). North Carolina has moved to Romney's column for now and it will take a big turnout effort by Obama to repeat his 2008 victory. Ohio has moved towards the president, influenced mainly by a late June Quinnipiac poll that has Obama +9. The president is also presently holding on to Florida and Virginia, but those leads are tenuous and if the jobs numbers are very bad, watch for those states to show some movement away from Obama. I still expect the president to win Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but he'll need to spend resources in each of those states this summer. Romney will force Obama to defend Wisconsin and Michigan for now, and if the polls remain close in those two states it will mean trouble for Democrats.

Protocol requires that I have a paragraph that uses hedge words to keep you interested, so here goes. Romney was having a good month until his campaign began to send some mixed messages and then he completely botched his response to the health care case. That's led to a conservative backlash from the Wall Street Journal and Rupert Murdoch. Still, for as bad a month as he's had, he's still in the race and independents, who are certainly not enamored of the president, might decide that the country needs a change. Obama has momentum now, but the long-term trends could support Mitt. It's probably safe to assume that we've got a fight on our hands.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Tough Week for the Right

Remember the beginning of June? Lousy jobs numbers, Obama's muddled message and the popular assumption that the president was going to lose court cases on immigration and health care? Hope and change came quickly and it's the Republicans who are back on their heels. For now.

Not only was the Supreme Court's health care decision a deflating coda to the term that also saw most of Arizona's immigration law struck down (though the right can still claim a victory over checking papers), the news that Chief Justice Roberts actually changed his decision is proving to be too much on the rightward flank. Never mind  that the court struck at the heart of the left wing's argument that the Commerce Clause allows Congress to require people to buy health care, or that the states would lose all of their Medicaid funds if they don't comply with ACA. That turncoat Roberts voted to uphold the law!

What's worse is that the Republican message machine went into overdrive, using the court's ruling to call Obama a taxer gone crazy, only to have Mitt Romney say that it's not a tax. Conservatives already suspicious about Mitt's devotion to their cause will turn even redder over that.

The polls are not being any kinder to Romney as support for the health care law rose after the decision, though a majority still do not support it. The silver lining is that the GOP base is fired up big time and that could pay dividends in November.

But Mitt is not the only Republican facing headwinds. Chris Christie called a special session of the New Jersey Legislature on Monday to get the Democrats to support his proposed tax cut, but to no avail. He even tried to make some room in the budget by line item vetoing $650 million dollars worth of social programs that serve women and children, but those darn lefties wouldn't budge. 

This is but one week in a long campaign, but the GOP was banking on a health care win to bolster their summer message. It might actually work to their advantage to have the ruling go against them because their fundraising has increased and Obama is still polling below 50% in most surveys. Still, I think they saw a different scenario and Mitt's going off message will not help. More fireworks for the fourth of July.

Ain't this a great country?

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