CNN’s POLITICAL GUT CHECK | for May 20, 2014 | 5 p.m.
— n. a pause to assess the state, progress or condition of the political news cycle
GAME DAY: FIVE PRIMARIES TO WATCH
IN KENTUCKY ... Tuesday's marquee battle is in Kentucky, where Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell is being challenged by businessman Matt Bevin, who enjoys strong support from many tea party groups and influential conservative anti-establishment organizations. While this race has seen big spending by the campaigns and outside groups, McConnell is expected to cruise to re-nomination for a sixth term.
See HOT SOTS: Final pitches are in for the Kentucky primary contenders
IN IDAHO …The other high-profile outsider vs. establishment battle of the night is in the House. Eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson faces a serious primary challenge from Bryan Smith, an attorney who claims that Simpson is not conservative enough and is soft on spending. Smith is backed by some tea party groups and by the DC-based anti-tax group Club for Growth, which has a history of backing conservative primary challengers.
IN GEORGIA … Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss's announcement last year that he wouldn't run for re-election triggered a free-for-all GOP primary battle. Reps. Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and Jack Kingston, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, and businessman David Perdue are the major candidates. Kingston, Handel, and Perdue, rather than the more conservative Broun and Gingrey, are on top of public opinion polls.
IN OREGON …The race for the GOP Senate nomination in Oregon, a vote-by-mail state, has only recently grabbed national attention, mostly due to some high-profile support for Portland pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Monica Wehby. She recently won endorsements from Mitt Romney and another 2012 GOP presidential candidate: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." … The wild card: A last-minute story over the weekend revealed that after a breakup with a wealthy man she was dating, Wehby was accused of "stalking" him, according to a police report.
IN PENNSYLVANIA … Republicans can't have all the fun. The Democratic gubernatorial primary contest in the Keystone State has been one long, wild ride. In this race to the left, Rep. Allyson Schwartz has been touting her strong support for Obamacare – a rare sight this midterm election year – as she plays catchup with businessman Tom Wolf, who leads in the polls. Wolf was virtually unknown at the start of the year, but he spent big bucks to flood the airwaves with ads. – Paul Steinhauser
See more: 2014 Midterm Users Guide
Watch CNN’s live coverage of the primaries and head to http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/politics/2014-midterm-elections for online coverage. Follow @GutCheckCNN and @CNNPolitics for election results on Twitter and Facebook.
THE FINAL CHAPTER: In a multi-part series leading up to November, CNN's Peter Hamby takes a closer look at the players who will tip the balance in the midterm elections and define the final chapter of the Obama era.
AND SO IT BEGINS: HOW MITCH MCCONNELL CRUSHED THE TEA PARTY … They can laugh because their private poll numbers look a lot like the public ones: McConnell is coasting to a convincing win over Bevin on Tuesday, making Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary the greatest tea party challenge that never was. Of all the establishment GOP chieftains up for re-election in 2014, McConnell, the wily Senate minority leader who on any given day is either a proud obstructionist or a sly dealmaker, had the biggest tea party target on his back. But like other conservative primary challenges across the country this year, Bevin’s campaign sputtered, in no small part because of McConnell’s heavy hand back home.
The real fight, everyone here agrees, begins on Wednesday, when the still-unpopular McConnell begins his general election campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in what's shaping up to be the toughest re-election fight of his career. McConnell's unfavorable ratings are dangerously high and he is, to many, the face of Washington gridlock.
See the entire first chapter: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/politics/hamby-midterms/index.html?hpt=po_c1
DEVELOPING … FIRST ON CNN … 26 VA FACILITIES UNDER INVESTIGATION: CNN has learned the VA’s Office of Inspector General is currently investigating 26 facilities for allegations related to appointment wait times. Last week at a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the Inspector General said 10 facilities were being investigated. - Nelli Black
THE BUZZ: DE BLASIO TO TABLOIDS: APOLOGIZE TO MY WIFE … Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an unusual and stern rebuke of New YorkCity’s tabloid newspapers on Monday, calling on them to apologize for publishing front-page headlines that suggested his wife, Chirlane McCray, had admitted to being a reluctant mother to the couple’s daughter, Chiara. The mayor’s remarks — he called the coverage “disturbing and inappropriate” — were primarily directed at The New York Post, which featured a front-page photograph of Ms. McCray next to a headline, in two-inch type: “I Was a Bad Mom!” – New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum
MARKET WATCH: U.S. stocks end lower on weak retail figures. Dow dips 138 points. Staples and Dick's Sporting lose more than 12%.
Mitch McConnell was the only Republican Senate challenger in 1984 to defeat a Democratic incumbent. Whom did he defeat?
Did you miss it?
Leading CNNPolitics: Mitch McConnell would face biggest challenge yet in Alison Grimes
On the eve of primary day here, McConnell appears confident he has crushed his challenger from the right, Matt Bevin. But it remains to be seen how much of a toll the manpower and money he has spent against Bevin will take - whether it will weaken him in what is expected to be the toughest campaign against a Democratic challenger in the three decades he has been in office. – Dana Bash and Rachel Streitfeld
Leading Philadelphia Inquirer: U.S. judge strikes down same-sex marriage ban in Pa.
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriages, a landmark ruling that could clear the way for the Commonwealth to become the 17th state to legalize gay marriage. The decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III marked the first and most significant to date in a series of court challenges to the state's 1996 ban. – Amy Warden and Angela Coloumbus
Judge Jones WRITES IN THE DECISION:"We are better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them onto the ash heap of history."
Gut Check Full Service: Judge Jones was appointed by President George W. Bush as a federal judge in 2002.
Leading Drudge: Record 10,996,447 On Disability
The total number of disability beneficiaries in the United States rose from 10,981,423 in March to 10,996,447 in April, setting a new all-time record, according to newly released data from the Social Security Administration. The number of Americans receiving disability benefits continues to exceed the populations of Greece, Tunisia and Portugal, and is approaching the population of Cuba. – Terence P. Jeffrey
Leading CNNMoney: Koch brothers fight aid for Detroit
Billionaires Charles and David Koch appear to be set against the state of Michigan helping out the bankrupt city of Detroit. Americans for Prosperity, a political group backed by the Koch brothers, wants to stop the state from providing $195 million in aid. The money would be used to limit deep cuts to retirees' pensions and avoid selling off the artwork in the city-owned museum. – Chris Isidore
Leading HuffPo: Truth & Consequences: Koch Brothers revealed in damning expose
The billionaire Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars because they don't want the government messing with Americans' lives or businesses. But a film coming out this week aims to show that they're perfectly willing to put their own thumbs on the scales of other people's freedom, often with heartbreaking consequences. – Michael McAuliffe
Leading Politico: Dems desperately seek an Obama midterm strategy
For months, President Barack Obama has been telling donors that there’s nothing more important to him than the November elections. But many Democrats say their biggest worry for the fall is the president himself. The problem, according to the nearly two dozen top Democratic operatives and outside allies who shared their frustration with POLITICO, is Obama’s investment — or lack thereof — in the midterms. – Edward Isaac Dovere
Leading New York Times: Obama Faces New Test in Mismanagement at Veterans Hospitals
Growing allegations of mismanagement at veterans hospitals across the country are threatening to engulf President Obama in another scandal that brings into question his ability to make government work. As a candidate, Mr. Obama denounced delays and poor care for veterans at hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and vowed that his administration would fix the backlogs and dramatically improve care for those returning from the battlefield. – Michael Shear
The political bites of the day
– Final pitches are in for Kentucky primary contenders –
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL IN BOWLING GREEN: "Change the U.S. Senate and make me the offensive coordinator instead of the defensive coordinator … Sports fans know you can score on defense, but it's hard. When you're on offense, you get to call the plays and set the agenda for Kentucky and for America.”
MATT BEVIN ON MSNBC: “Mitch McConnell is not a conservative. He just pretends to be one every six years in order to try to trick his way into the U.S. Senate. That’s just what it boils down to unfortunately.”
Gut Check Full Service: BEVIN ON SEN. RAND PAUL: “I would say he’s a conservative. No question about it.”
– Boehner: No ‘big difference’ between Tea Party and average conservatives –
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO, AT HIS WEEKLY NEWS CONFERENCE:“I think the Tea Party has brought great energy to our political process. … (Primaries) are hard fought battles and sometimes … there is not that big of a difference between what you call the ‘Tea Party’ and your average conservative Republican. We are against Obamacare. We think taxes are too high. We think government’s too big. So, I wouldn’t continue to sing that same song.”
– Barbour: Tea Party vs. Establishment narrative story ‘overblown’ –
Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour on MSNBC:The Tea Party versus GOP establishment narrative “is very overblown. A lot of it is being driven by political consultants in Washington, who are making a fortune off of this. And a handful of national groups who are pouring in all the money.”
– Aiken: People need 'to see me in a different light' –
NORTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE CLAY AIKEN ON NBC’S “TODAY SHOW”: “Getting the opportunity to talk to people about the issues that are affecting them and talk about how I want to help people gets people to see me in a different light. It's a blessing in the fact that it gets me in the room, but I have to overcome the fact that people see me in one way and not the other.”
– Reid defends screening of Koch film against potential rule violations –
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid AT A HILL STAKEOUT:“There's nothing that's ethically wrong with our going (and) talking about some documentary. The man that has produced this documentary produced seven other documentaries about the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and about the Koch brothers. I mean, it's what the First Amendment used to be aboutuntil it became the Supreme Court's ‘you have more free speech the more money you have.’”
– Rep. Miller says White House engaged in VA spin control –
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-FLORIDA, to CNN:“It baffles me that they have 30 individuals working full time on the subpoena and they can only get 201 emails … (White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors) is the guy they brought in to control the spin from the central office. (Nabors) purely was put in there from the White House because it was spinning out of control.”
Gut Check Full Service: The White House announced on Tuesday that Nabors is heading to Phoenix to interview the interim director of the Phoenix VA office and others. Prior to leaving, Nabors is spending time meeting with groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
What stopped us in 140 characters or less
Paul Steinhauser (@psteinhauserCNN)
First on CNN: DNC makes big dent on its debt... down to around $7 million. DNC brought in $8.9 million last month http://cnn.it/1gJY7TV
Abby Huntsman (@HuntsmanAbby)
Repubs in GA have spent more than $14 M to reach about 5 million voters. Only 600,000 expected to turn out. Yikes. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/ga-ky-primaries-lots-attention-votes-23776342…
Rep. Jack Kingston (@JackKingston)
"It seems like we're the party selling asparagus and they're giving away ice cream." #gapol
Amanda Terkel (@aterkel)
The negative press may be a bit too late to deny Monica Wehby the GOP nomination in Oregon Senate race http://huff.to/1k2NbQJ
Robert Costa (@costareports)
If Simpson, Wehby, McCon win, and Perdue finishes 1st, it'll be a testament, more than anything, to how Rs are nom'ing polished candidates
Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman)
Between Dems campaign against Wehby and the Abramson v NYT escapade, the "War on Women" might be a spent force by '16 http://www.mediaite.com/online/dems-smearing-of-female-goper-yet-another-blow-to-the-war-on-women/…
Michelle Jaconi (@mjaconiCNN)
Note: @billclinton robocall for @MMargoliesPA says his economic plan resulted in economic expansion "that ALL Americans participated in"
Phil Elliott (@Philip_Elliott)
The @KarlRove-backed @AmericanXRoads set to spend $15M - likely much more, really - on Senate races. http://goo.gl/8kYG5N #2014
Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics)
Remember backlash a year ago when Crossroads said it would play in GOP primaries? That backlash is now gone http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/why-gop-establishment-poised-victory-tonight-n109776 …
#CreditSuisse has pled #guilty and will pay $2.6 billion for helping U.S. clients evade #taxes. http://cnnmon.ie/1lXPVyg
Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel)
Credit Suisse helped ppl dodge taxes. But itsPAC in April gave to @CoryBooker @SenatorReid @WhipHoyer @johnboehner +http://docquery.fec.gov/pdf/285/14961156285/14961156285.pdf …
Vaughn Sterling (@vplus)
w/MJ hologram halftime? RT @NewsBreaker: NEW: Minnesota is awarded Super Bowl in 2018. Reaction here http://bit.ly/1tgpzur – @StarTribune
TRIVIA ANSWER from @sarafischer
In 1984, Mitch McConnell defeated Democratic incumbent Walter Huddleston. McConnell was the only Republican Senate challenger that year to defeat an incumbent Democrat. McConnell also became the first Republican to win a statewide Kentucky race since 1968.
As we noted in yesterday’s Gut Check, a Democrat has not been elected to the Kentucky Senate since 1992. Currently, the only Democrat in Kentucky’s six-member House delegation is Rep. John Yarmuth.
GUT CHECK WINNER’S CIRCLE
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Congrats to Robert DuPree (@RFDuPree) for correctly answering today’s Gut Check trivia question.
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