Whither V.P. Biden; Welcome Gov. Brown

One of the more entertaining aspects of following politics is watching how journalists cover Sarah Palin. To a person, they swear up and down that they’ll never write about her again. Then she’ll say something – as she did last month, when she told a reporter that she’s “seriously thinking” about running for president – which puts everyone in a tizzy. And they all write about her again. It never fails.

It got even better when, during the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, she gave a rambling, mostly incomprehensible, speech that lasted about 34 minutes.

That was followed by an equally puzzling reaction by many conservatives, who said this speech probably ended her chances to be taken seriously as a candidate.

They waited until now to come to that conclusion?

Far less attention was paid to the remark made the other day by Joe Biden – you may recall, he’s the vice president – on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Yes, there is a chance,” he told George Stephanopoulos, in response to a question about whether he would challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. “But I haven’t made my mind up about that. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then. There’s plenty of time.”

Biden 2016 001It might be unfair to put Biden and Palin in the same paragraph – we haven’t done that since their 2008 VP debate – but they both may have the same chance for their respective party’s presidential nomination. Which is: not good.

Writing off Palin is what the lamestream media are supposed to do. It’s part of their mission. But writing off a sitting vice president, in an election where the top spot is going to become open, just doesn’t happen that often. Aside from the rare instance where he has shown no interest (see Cheney, Richard), every sitting vice president in recent memory who wanted his party’s nomination for president got it. Think Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Al Gore in 2000. In fact, for the last time a V.P. was denied the nomination you’d have to go back to 1952, when Harry Truman decided not to seek re-election and Alben Barkley said he wanted it. The Democrats that year chose Adlai Stevenson.

Sitting vice presidents who won their parties' prez nominations: Nixon (1960), Humphrey (1968), Bush (1988), Gore (2000).
Sitting vice presidents who won their parties’ prez nominations: Nixon (1960), Humphrey (1968), Bush (1988), Gore (2000).

There’s always been a “crazy uncle” aspect about Biden, but that’s who he is. More important, he’s been an active and valued vice president on a whole assortment of issues. Advocates of same-sex marriage will always remember that it was Biden who broke the administration’s silence on marriage equality by coming out in favor of it (when President Obama was still “evolving”).

Still, when it comes to who Democrats want for their nominee next year, Biden’s name rarely comes up. The number that matters is not necessarily his age … though he’ll be close to 74 at the time of the 2016 election, older than anyone ever elected president. Other numbers are more daunting. A CNN poll released in December showed 66 percent of Democratic voters preferring Clinton, with Biden receiving eight percent. An ABC News/Washington Post poll had it 61-14. Maybe he just picked a bad time to want the presidency when there is history in the making in Clinton’s bid.

It’s kind of sad, in a way, that Biden’s time may have come and gone. More than four decades in office, and people just don’t think of him anymore. A few weeks ago, in fact, he had an op-ed in The New York Times, offering a detailed plan about what needs to be done in Central America. On the lower left hand of the column there was a tiny insert from the editors: “Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the vice president of the United States.”

Just in case people forgot.

(NOTE:  A version of the above was published in Newsday earlier this month.)

Kitzhaber 001The Kitz hit the fanJohn Kitzhaber, once a very popular and successful governor of Oregon, announced Feb. 13 he would resign his post.  The state attorney general announced last week that she was opening up an investigation of the governor, whose fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, has been accused of multiple instances of conflict of interest, that she has been using her position as Kitzhaber’s unpaid adviser to line her pockets with more than $100,000 in contracting fees.  In effect, she was lobbying the governor on energy issues while getting rich.  Such charges/suspicions were out there prior to last year’s election, when Kitzhaber won a record fourth term.  But once AG Ellen Rosenblum — who was originally appointed to her job by Kitzhaber in 2012 — said she was opening an investigation, the pressure mounted.  The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, said enough was enough:  “More ugliness may surface, but it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.  If he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.”

Oregon does not have a lt. gov., so next in line is the secretary of state, Kate Brown, also a Democrat.  When she left a secretaries of state conference in DC on Wednesday to fly back to Oregon, observers knew something was up.  On Friday, the governor, with Rosenblum’s investigation on the way and his Dem allies having deserted him, released his statement of resignation.  Brown will be sworn in as governor on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Kate Brown 001Kate is the new Brown.  Brown served in the state House (starting in 1991) and Senate (in 1996) before being elected secretary of state in 2008 and again in 2012.  Married with two stepchildren, she will, as nearly every media outlet has reported, become the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.   She is also expected to be more liberal than Kitzhaber, who had the reputation of being a maverick who sometimes broke from party orthodoxy.  Politico’s Jonathan Topaz writes that Brown “will likely be challenged” for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 special election, and lists state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and House Speaker Tina Kotek as potential candidates.

“Hilariously large” field in Mississippi 01?  That’s what Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s Sam Hall thinks is possible in the race to succeed Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R), who died of brain cancer on Feb. 6.  It’s a solid Republican seat, Hall points out, even though Travis Childers (D) held it briefly until Nunnelee ousted him in 2010.  Hall’s list of potential candidates is indeed huge, but most fascinating is the idea that Tori Nunnelee, the congressman’s widow, would run in a still date TBD special election and then retire in 2016 when their oldest son Reed, an attorney in the Jackson metro area, would run.  The Democrat with the best chance, according to Hall, would have been Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who “could very well be the most popular elected official in north Mississippi.”  But Presley said he will not run.  He also turned down entreaties to run for governor this year, but he’s rumored to be looking at 2019, when Gov. Phil Bryant (R), a clear favorite for re-election this year, will be term-limited.

A bad weekBob SimonDavid Carr.  Enough, please.

Here’s a trivia question for youJennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report, has this question that has stumped many of her fellow political junkies, including me:  In modern political history, who is the oldest person elected to the Senate for the first time?  She asks that question because ex-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who is being urged to take on Sen. Rob Portman (R) next year, “is 73, and would be 75 if elected to the Senate in 2016.”  Jennifer wants to know if anyone has been elected to the Senate at that age or even older.  Anyone know?

… And here’s anotherJack Ohman, the editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee (and before that, the Oregonian in Portland), wonders, “Has there ever been a moment when contiguous states have had governors with the same last name?”  We have Jerry Brown in California and, as of Feb. 18, Kate Brown in Oregon.  Of course, we had Nelson (New York) and Winthrop (Arkansas) Rockefeller in the 1960s, but they were hardly adjoining states.   Anyone before 2015? 

House of Cards, in English.  As you know in my lead in to our interview with House of Cards’ showrunner Beau Willimon in Episode #62 of the podcast, I had never seen the show before that week.  I knew nothing about it.  Now, I’m learning more, as per this note from Michael Gorman of Chicago: “You said that ‘House of Cards’ was ‘created’ by Willimon.  It was not, being based closely on the arguably better, and far shorter and tighter, British production of the same name by Michael Dobbs and starring the late great Ian Richardson.  Note the initials of the British antihero Francis Urquhart and the American version, Frank Underwood, when considering Willimon’s claim that it is not cynical.”  (David Worthington and Marco Dacaret were also surprised that I didn’t know of the British version.  And Dan Berger wrote, “Just a suggestion — if you decide to do a followup to your House of Cards segment, I’d be interested to have British and American politicians talk about how the two systems compare and how the Machievellian characters compare.”)

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ON THE CALENDAR:

Feb. 24 — Chicago mayoral election (runoff, if necessary: April 7).

March 1 — Filing deadline for Mississippi governor.

March 7 — 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” March on Selma.

May 19 — Kentucky gubernatorial primary.

June 2 — Mississippi gubernatorial primary.

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Bill Armstrong 001This Day In Political History:  In a surprise, Bill Armstrong, one of the Senate’s leading conservative voices, announces he will not seek a third term in 1990.  The 51-year old Colorado Republican, who had been urged by some on the right to seek the presidency in 1988, said he preferred to focus on evangelical activities rather than elective politics (Feb. 13, 1989).

Got a question?  Ask Ken Rudin: [email protected]nkie.com

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