Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Low Turnout in Philly Bodes Ill for Specter

    The rain has stopped, but it's still cold, gloomy, and damp here in Philadelphia's Center City district. I'm at a polling place—the 15th Division of the 8th Ward of the City of Philadelphia—and the turnout is very light. Of the approximately 1,000 voters registered to vote at the old Sidney Hillman Clinic on Chestnut Street, only 71 had done so by 4 p.m. "It's very slow," said a poll worker stationed by one of the new electronic voting machines in the auditorium. "Maybe it'll pick up." Sen. Arlen Specter had better hope so. If he is going to hold off the hard-charging Rep. Joe Sestak, Specter is going to need a decent city turnout of traditional (older, Jewish, black, and academia) voters. So far today, he isn't getting it. All of the big-city wiseguys who met for lunch with a close friend of mine are saying, "Arlen by one." Not exactly a strong vote of confidence.
  • Obama Midterm Strategy: Blame Bush and GOP

    When he ran for president, Barack Obama’s effervescent campaign was about hope, optimism, national unity, and, above all, the future. He offered a vision of a new world cooperatively shaped by a new generation. The message was mostly positive and upbeat, in part because it was obvious that outgoing Republican President George W. Bush had made a hash of the economy and led the country into two controversial wars. Americans, Obama strategists felt, wanted the uplift of looking forward.
  • TV Ads and Travel Plans

    One way to assess the horse race in the last days of a campaign is to check the tone of TV ads and the travel plans of big-shot endorsers. Based on that formula, it looks like Rep. Joe Sestak is poised for victory against Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate race next Tuesday.I just checked with the White House to make sure there had been no last-minute changes of plan, and in fact there had not: President Barack Obama will NOT be going to the state—even to Philly, where he is popular—to campaign for the beleaguered Specter. The 80-year-old senator is desperate for a strong turnout in the city and the close-in suburbs. The Philadelphia machine, run for the last 15 years by former mayor and now Gov. Ed Rendell, is getting kind of creaky. Its aging minions aren't excited about working overtime for a guy—Specter—who was a Republican until about 10 minutes ago.Obama could help, especially among black voters, but he's not going again before Election Day,...
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    Tea Party Could Upset Kentucky's GOP Primary

    Next Tuesday’s Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania is grabbing most of the advance attention, if for no other reason than the state’s proximity to the New York–D.C. media corridor.
  • Sestak Torpedo Aimed at Specter: The Word on Grant Street

    Grant Street is where politics is practiced in my hometown of Pittsburgh, so when I need to get my bearings on Pennsylvania politics—or politics in general—I call the people I know who work (or used to work) in the City-County Building or the Allegheny County Courthouse. With the Democratic primary fast approaching on May 18, the buzz is rising on Grant Street, a thoroughfare ruled by Democrats since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.County Executive Dan Onorato is miles ahead of his competitors for the gubernatorial nomination, so the focus is shifting to the increasingly vicious U.S. Senate primary. It's between two Philly-area Democrats: Sen. Arlen Specter (until last year a Republican) and Rep. Joe Sestak, who, before he won a House seat four years ago, was a Navy admiral.The consensus: Sestak seems to be gaining ground, both in the polls and in the for-background-only opinion along Grant Street. No one seems to much like Sestak—they don't know him—but even though the...
  • Can Crist Win by Running Up the Middle?

    Is there a middle in American politics? Charlie Crist's decision to run as an independent will test that proposition in the ultimate testing ground of American politics: the I-4 corridor in Central Florida. The Congress Crist is seeking to enter is more divided along partisan lines than at least a century. In the states, the parties (especially the Republicans) are being pulled in opposite directions by grassroots anger and ideology. Even President Obama—who ran on a theme of unity, colorblindness, and a new harmony in Washington—is talking in partisan, pointillist terms about rallying his base (and not much else) this fall.The consensus among people I talked to in Florida is that Crist had NO hope of winning the GOP primary against conservative tyro Marco Rubio. "This is the only way Crist has any kind of shot," said Mitch Ceasar, a lawyer and well-connected Democratic activist in Palm Beach County.It's clear that Crist, while nominally a Republican, has prospe...
  • On Banking Reform, Time for a Deal

    For the last three days I've been checking in with Senate sources in both parties about the financial-services bill and been told the same thing: ignore the cloture votes, there's gonna be a deal.Well, after three such votes, it now seems like it's time to make a deal—which was the plan all along, and why I predicted in the magazine this week that there will ultimately be a bill.Here's why:The big banks are willing to accept the bill, as long as they can nip and tuck it enough to suit their tastes, which is happening. "We know it's going to happen, and we'll figure out how to live with it," a top banking lobbyist told me on condition that I not identify him. If there are too many intrusive reporting requirements in it for the smaller banks to bear, well, too bad. "Not all the stuff in the legislation is that unreasonable. We'll survive," he said.The new consumer agency will be created, but it won't be a fully independent...
  • 'The Issue not the Bill'

    When I was a reporter in Kentucky years ago they had a standard saying in the legislature about a grandstanding member who'd be talking on the floor but not pushing for a vote: so and so "would rather have the issue than the bill."...
  • Obama Plays Populist

    There are those, like Ezra Klein, who think President Obama somehow wimped out in his speech at Cooper Union. But my take is different. ...
  • Soundbite Sarah Storms the Big Easy

    Wearing a cardinal-red jacket and a knowing smile, Sarah Palin tore into President Barack Obama here in her best barracuda style, driving a crowd of 3,000 cheering southern Republican conservatives here in New Orleans into an early election-season frenzy and eliciting shouts of "Run, Sarah, Run!"...
  • Obama, the Nationals, and the Politics of Opening Day

    Your Gaggler is here at sunny Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on Opening Day, where President Obama threw out a looping, carefully lofty first pitch, and the world-class Philadelphia Phillies are easily dismantling the capital city's (still) hapless home team. ...
  • Will Steele Buckle Under Pressure?

    Tony Perkins has given up on Michael Steele—which matters to Republicans and should matter to Steele. Perkins heads the Family Research Council, a respected traditional-values lobbying group, and he told me today that he had been working for the last year behind the scenes to advise ("prop" up might be the better term) RNC chairman Steele, whose reign so far has been nothing short of a disaster.But even before the Voyeur nightclub fiasco, Perkins told me today, he'd lost patience with Steele, whom he describes as, at best, tone-deaf to social conservatives. Without giving a heads-up to the Bible-Belt right, Steele hired attorney Ted Olson to handle the party's legal matters on campaign-spending laws and rulings.Olson has impeccable GOP credentials, but he's also heading a legal team trying to overturn state laws and referendums that bar gay marriage. When Perkins called Steele to complain the other week, Steele blandly replied that Olson was hired solely because of his skills as an...
  • The Numbers Don't Lie

    A Democratic senator I can't name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between. ...
  • 'The Next Mountains'

    Moving around town in the days after the Big Sunday Night—Health-Care Night—there is a different mood in the air. Passage of the enormous and historic bill, far from exhausting President Barack Obama and the Democrats, has invigorated them. Now they want it all—the whole, sweeping Obama agenda—and they are rushing into the challenge hungrily....
  • John Dingell's Journey

    President Obama's smile as he signed the health-care bill today reminded me of a private smile I saw Sunday night during the big vote—the historic vote—on the measure. Another man was smiling, because he saw the measure as the culmination not of a two-year crusade, but rather one that really had begun 53 years ago....
  • Health-Care Reform's Winners and Losers

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist—or even an alleged expert such as this reporter—to see that the big political winner in tonight's House vote is the president of the United States. After more than a year of fitful but increasingly focused effort, Barack Obama is able to claim victory in an effort that he had made the emblem and focus of his entire presidency. In some ways, the win was a negative one: the humiliation of a defeat would have made him look powerless and inept. And in Washington, appearances beget reality. But, hey, as teams in the NCAA basketball tournament can tell you, a win is a win.The list of winners and losers only begins with the president. Here is my sense of who they are, in both political and real-life terms.WINNERSObama: He staked everything on this and, like the long-distance runners from his father's homeland, he made it (barely) across the finish line.Nancy Pelosi: They said she knows how to count votes, and she does. They can't stand...
  • Meanwhile . . . Outside the Building

    I'm sitting in the House Press Gallery writing a piece for NEWSWEEK. It's almost 10 p.m. and the House is moving toward a vote. On the plaza below, outside the Capitol, I can hear the remnants of a raucous tea-party crowd. They are chanting "Nancy! Nancy!" and "Kill the bill!" They just sang "God Bless America." I've been around a while, and don't remember a crowd of foes trying to shout down a bill from outside as the vote approached. Maybe it's happened. Though the voices are faint, they're worth noting—and remembering. And the GOP runs the risk of being portrayed as the only friends of the insurance business—and the insurers are as unpopular as Congress is.
  • Scene on the Hill: A Sense of Awe or Dread

    It's fair to say that history is being made in the Capitol, which is why, even though it is Sunday night—when this place normally is empty—the halls are alive with people, cameras, floodlights, and a sense of awe or dread.The Democrats are nervous but also almost blasé—maybe a show of confidence designed to erase their own private doubts. I happened to be standing in the corridor outside the Democratic cloakroom when Rep. Bill Delahunt—white-haired, soon to retire, and as genial and canny a member as there is—emerged happily munching on a Reese's peanut-butter Klondike bar. He had a broad smile on his face."This is healthy!" he declared. "This is my idea of health care!"He's a yes vote.In the same corridor I bumped into an excited Alexandra Pelosi, the filmmaker who is also the youngest daughter of the Speaker. She said that she had been out to dinner with her mother—who was trying to go out incognito. They were recognized, and shouted at. One of...
  • Bad News: Health-Care Wars Have Just Begun

    I hate to say this, but the health-care debate has only just begun. You'd think, as Barack Obama told us the other week, that everything that could be said has been said—and that everyone has had a chance to say it. White House aides dream of a time when they can "pivot" and move on to other, less nettlesome topics....