Off-Year Votes Forecast Rough and Rowdy 2012

Off-Year Votes Forecast Rough and Rowdy 2012; Cain-spiracy Theories Multiply; Obama’s Grinch-y Tree Tax

In Off-Year Elections, Blues Get Bluer and Reds Get Redder

“At the end of the day, I voted for it because I believe that life does begin at conception. But I'll tell you, there are a whole lot of very strong pro-life people in Mississippi who voted against it today because of the ambiguity, the unforeseen consequences.”

-- Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., on “Hannity with Sean Hannity” discussing the defeat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in his state supported by the gubernatorial candidates of both parties.

The potpourri of election results on Tuesday is a political scientist’s delight – there’s a data point to support any argument you like.

Calling for a Democratic avalanche next year? Look at how soundly unions won in their bid to roll back a Republican-supported law curtailing the collective bargaining power of Ohio state workers.

Predicting a continuation of the anti-Obama tide that started in the off-year elections of 2009? Ohioans also repudiated President Obama’s central accomplishment by ratifying a constitutional amendment blocking his prescription for mandatory health insurance.

Mississippians voted down what would have been the most stringent pro-life measure in the country. Hooray for Democrats! But wait, Mississippians also overwhelmingly voted in a severe limitation on eminent domain power and new requirements for voters to show photo IDs. Hooray for Republicans!

The truth is that referenda make poor predictors of future electoral behavior. Abstruse wording of ballot initiatives, picayune local issues and bizarre turnout models mean that it’s hard to say what the larger implications of any of Tuesday’s referenda will be.

We know that unions are fired up and ready to spend a lot of money to protect their only growth business – government worker dues – and we also know that people still hate the 2010 health law. But we pretty well knew that before.

Power Play would instead direct you to the actual votes on actual candidates.

You saw Republicans continuing to dominate Mississippi politics, Kentucky voters reinforcing the already proven fact that there is a path to survival for red state Dems (away from Obama) and Arizona voters punishing a scandal-soaked state legislator.

But the best places to look for signs of 2012 are the two states that first manifested the wave that swept House Republicans into power: Virginia and New Jersey.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie got no boost from his state’s midterm elections, but neither was there any clear repudiation of the governor’s first two years. Republicans lost one seat in the state legislature, fairly typical of midterm elections.

The message here is that blue states may be reverting to type after a season of unpredictability that saw Christie elected as well as Scott Brown picked to replace Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

Down in Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell ranks as one of the most popular chief executives in the nation, commonwealth voters were also reverting to type.

Republicans may end up in control of the senate in Richmond with a gain of two seats, depending on the outcome of a razor-thin vote in one district. Either way, it was an encouraging sign for McDonnell and a worry for Democrats.

President Obama must force Republicans to spend time and treasure defending formerly red state Virginia for his election plan to work. If Virginia and North Carolina are out of reach for Team Obama, it allows Republicans to hone in on must-win states for Obama like Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

While Democrats can point to some successes in retaining power in government-dominated Northern Virginia, Tuesday’s results show that the Washington exurbs are up for grabs and that there is plenty of enthusiasm on the GOP side. It’s certainly not a return to the Democratic boom years between 2005 and 2008 that first allowed Obama to raid the Old Dominion.

It would be a mistake to over-interpret Tuesday’s legislative results, but if there’s one suggestion from Trenton and Richmond it is that the blues are getting bluer and the reds are getting redder.

If that’s the case, get ready for a tough, tight and very ugly 2012 cycle.

Cain Conspiracy Theories Add New Distractions

“These anonymous allegations are false, and now the Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false accusations.”

-- Herman Cain at a press conference responding to new allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

Each successive Republican frontrunner – and always Mitt Romney – has come in for abuse from the Democratic Party and Team Obama.

But the Blue Team has been relatively quiet about Herman Cain, and his supporters would have you know that it’s because he is the candidate whom the Obama Democrats fear most. That’s why, they say, Obama’s fingerprints are all over the growing number of accusations of sexual misconduct against Cain.

Did you know the fifth accuser, cheerful victim Sharon Bialek, lives in the same Chicago apartment building as David Axelrod? Or that the first accuser works for the Obama administration?

This is a flattering form of conspiracy theory in which the root cause of a candidate’s troubles is said to be the deep danger he poses to the political establishment. First, the campaign accused Rick Perry of being behind the plot, but now has a larger theory about “the Democrat machine.” Why are there a half-dozen claims against him? Because Obama and the entrenched interests of Washington fear him the most.

For Cain, it’s something of a strange play for a former lobbyist and Federal Reserve board member to be making, but it is central to the new narrative for Cain’s true believers.

It has shades of Ross Perot’s claims that a plan by George H.W. Bush to disrupt Perot’s daughter’s wedding in 1992 was behind the billionaire’s decision to drop out of the race for a period of time. Even if true, it’s too hard to explain in a way that doesn’t erode the accuser’s credibility.

Cain stepped out Tuesday with a high-powered plaintiffs’ lawyer and the trappings of a traditional presidential candidate: the spray of flags, the pipe-and-drape backdrop and the emblazoned podium. The message from Cain: This is a serious campaign, not a sideshow and he’s ready to sue.

(Attorney Lin Wood has filed big lawsuits on behalf of Richard Jewell, John and Patsy Ramsey, former Rep. Gary Condit, Anna Nicole Smith’s companion Howard K. Stern, Kobe Bryant’s rape accuser and even Jeff Greene, the billionaire Florida Democrat whose 2010 Senate bid was ended by allegations of sleazy yacht parties.)

Wood has helped Cain formulate his best defense so far: I do not remember that specific woman and I have never done anything wrong. Not remembering means Cain can’t be pressed on specific allegations and can fall back on his blanket denial. Cain also was wise to drop the racial angle of his defense. While some Republicans delight in seeing the race card played by the right for a change, it’s a losing proposition with an electorate exhausted by decades of divisive identity politics.

Cain’s problem now is that The Daily has named the Maryland woman who was the first accuser whose claim was made public, Karen Kraushaar. Her claim was first reported 10 days ago by Politico, which obtained documents relating to her claim and settlement from Cain’s former employer.

She had opted to remain anonymous until her name came out and is now getting ready to unload on Cain. Cain’s campaign chief of staff mistakenly said he had “confirmed” that the first accuser was related to former Politico reporter, Josh Kraushaar, who now works for National Journal. This was part of an effort to suggest that she was part of the planting of the original story, and Cain boosters have been portraying her as an Obama appointee out to derail the Cain train.

She is really a government careerist who worked in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, mostly flacking for obscure agencies. She is a bureaucratic version of a spokesperson, not a political spinmeister. Nor is she easily written off as some floozy with financial problems.

The AP reports that she filed a discrimination complaint for lack of advancement and what she believed was unfair treatment in her job after leaving the restaurant association as a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Her claim might fit in with Cain’s original narrative of being a un-PC businessman beset by the nagging claims of uptight officemates, but not as well with the new Cain narrative of trumped up charges being manufactured to derail a threat to the establishment. But it can be argued that her 13-year old complaint (as well as the other complaint and settlement with another woman from his time at the restaurant association) were dredged up as part of the same plot.

But then there’s the receptionist at the conservative Iowa radio station who was reportedly made to feel uncomfortable by Cain earlier this year and the former United States Agency for International Development worker whom the Washington Examiner reports says Cain asked her to set up a private dinner with a “lovely young lady” who asked him a question at a speech the government paid him to give in Egypt in 2002. All part of an Obama plot? It’s possible, but it doesn’t profit Cain to be trafficking in such theories.

The good thing about conspiracy theories in politics is that they tend to deepen the support of true believers. The downside is that they are a turnoff to people who aren’t already converted, who are the major concern for the troubled Cain campaign.

Cain may have been closest to the best response with his third or fourth plan, which focused on moving on and talking about the issues. This conspiracy stuff is a sure path to ending up with 7 percent of the GOP electorate.

The Republican contenders get back on the debate treadmill tonight with a Michigan contest hosted by CNBC. While the discussion will focus on the economy, which is what Cain wants to do, he may be faced with a question about the conspiracy he sees against him.

Like Perot’s daughter’s wedding or George Romney’s “brainwashed” claim of 1968, it could be the end of Cain if he doubles down on his claims. Better to laugh off such claims, even if he believes them, and get back to talking about taxes and telling jokes.

“You’re a Mean One…”

“[To] enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States.”

-- Stated purpose of a new 15-cent tax on fresh Christmas trees being imposed by the Obama administration.

A year from now, if Barack Obama has lost his re-election bid, he will be able to look back on his Agriculture Department’s announcement on Tuesday of a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees as one of the many turning points that led to his defeat.

It’s the kind of punch line -- like Jimmy Carter’s sweater or George H.W. Bush’s grocery scanner amazement -- that can really stick to a president.

The administration says that the tax is really a fee (which doesn’t need congressional approval) and that its purpose is to fund a federal Christmas Tree Promotion Board to advise Americans on the goodness of Christmas trees.

But a visit to any store suggests that Christmas promotion is not suffering. And while tree farmers are no doubt unhappy about the always-growing number of fake trees stashed in Americans’ attics (Power Play is strictly a fresh tree kind of political note itself), a federal tax to collectivize their marketing will seem like a serious Scrooge play for the administration.

Consumers already pay extra to promote blueberries (.6 cents per pound), mushrooms (.005 cents per pound) and popcorn (.06 cents per pound). There are collective marketing and education programs for 18 agricultural products funded by “mandatory assessments” on the products themselves.

(Any idea that there is a difference between a tax levied on a specific good and a so-called “fee” is pure spin. Governments can charge fees for services, like a drivers license or sewer service, but a cost directly levied on a good, product or service is inherently a tax. Don’t be suckered into saying otherwise.)

Not only will a tax on Christmas trees annoy conservatives and people who like Christmas, but it won’t please some of the 22 percent of Democrats who aren’t Christian and might not like the symbol of the traditional Northern European celebration of the birth of Jesus being promoted by the federal government. Where's the Dipwaldi firecracker fund or the gefilte fish promotion board? Perhaps even a Festivus Pole Council for the non-believers?

Power Play predicts that congressional Republicans will try to repeal the tree tax and that the White House will either end up withdrawing the tax or going to some absurd length to explain the fact that the tax is a job creation device because “we can’t wait” to support Christmas tree farm jobs.

Whatever the case, Secretary Tom Vilsack (he of the infamous Shirley Sherrod firing) has yet again borrowed trouble for his boss.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Well, it is unfortunate that Herman Cain, who was claiming to be the victim of unsubstantiated accusations, should himself accused the Perry campaign and now the Democrat regime of something without any evidence whatsoever.

In Kraushaar's statement herself, she said the tip came from the [National Restaurant Association], implying it wasn't political operatives. I would say that the person in Cain's position, and I'm not in any way doubting his defense, I'm just simply saying not good if you are the victim of accusations that you say are baseless to be making the same thing against others.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on