Extra Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

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Good Afternoon!!

It’s looking like Massachusetts may be on the verge of electing another Republican governor, and suddenly I’m feeling even sicker than I have been with this cold I can’t get rid of.

Breaking news this morning from The Boston Globe, Charlie Baker jumps 9 points in new Globe poll.

Republican Charlie Baker has opened up a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley, 45 percent to 36 percent, according to a new Globe poll that depicts a far more comfortable advantage than either candidate for governor has enjoyed in months.

The poll reflects an October surge in independent voters toward Baker’s column. It was independents who provided Governor Deval Patrick with his margins of victory in 2006 and 2010.

Baker’s standing has improved from last week’s poll, which showed the two candidates dead even. It can be attributed largely to the gains he has made in voters’ perceptions of who would improve the economy and manage state government, areas that already were tilting his way. At the same time, Baker has offset the deficits he faced on issues such as education and health care, where Coakley still holds an edge, but a diminished one.

“There is just positive movement in every single metric we can ask around Baker,” said pollster John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducts the weekly poll for the Globe. “The more voters have gotten to know him, the stronger he performs.”

What is it with this supposedly liberal state? Since I moved here more than 40 years ago, we have had mostly Republican governors. I can’t understand why Massachusetts would elect another one, especially after our experience with Mitt Romney. We’ve also never had a woman elected governor. Republican Jane Swift was governor for two years, but that was because, as lieutenant governor, she took over for Paul Celluci, who resigned to become ambassador to Canada under George W. Bush.

As for getting to know Baker, what does that mean? Do voters really know his history? Or are they responding to political advertising?

Overall, Baker has moved from 38 percent support to 45 percent since late August. Coakley dropped 5 points this week, the poll found, after having held steady throughout much of the fall. Baker’s growth, said Della Volpe, has come almost entirely from voters who have made up their minds since the beginning of September. Eleven percent of voters remain undecided….

The poll depicts an electorate highly susceptible to the recent barrage of political advertising on television. Two weeks ago, Coakley, the state’s attorney general, led Baker by 5 points in the same poll. According to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG, a firm that tracks political television commercials, $2.2 million in ads paid for by gubernatorial candidates and allied groups — more than 1,700 individual spots — aired on broadcast television from Oct. 12 through Oct. 19.

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I didn’t know much about Baker until I read a very disturbing story in the Globe this week, Mental health record may be predictor for Charlie Baker. It turns out Baker was the architect of a damaging mental health privatization policy in Massachusetts that is still reverberates across the state today. (I’ve emphasized some points in the article with bold type.)

It was early 1991, Baker was Massachusetts’ new undersecretary for health, and the 34-year-old Harvard grad was having his first look at the state’s decrepit mental hospitals.

Soon after, a special state commission recommended closing nine of the state’s most antiquated institutions, including Danvers and two other hospitals for mentally ill patients, and moving much of that care to the community. It was Baker’s job to get it done. His strategy involved a first-in-the-nation use of a for-profit company with power to approve or deny treatments for low-income mental health patients.

Baker’s blueprint saved Massachusetts millions of dollars at a time when the state was staring at a nearly $2 billion deficit, but it left thousands of mental health patients often waiting weeks for treatments. The controversial approach became his template for rescuing financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care a decade later.

The aftershocks of both initiatives are still being felt as the now 57-year-old Republican runs for governor, and those experiences, say Baker supporters and critics, provide a window into how he might handle similarly fraught and costly issues if elected.

Baker’s claim to fame is that as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he  kept the company from going bankrupt. Democratic ads have publicized the fact that he “raised premiums 150 percent and tripled his own salary to $1.7 million during his decade at Harvard Pilgrim.” One of the ways he saved money for Harvard Pilgrim was by laying of lots of workers and outsourcing their jobs to India. He even won an “Outsourcing Excellence Award” in 2008.

Back to the Globe article on Baker’s mental health record. There were vast financial profits for the state, and some low income mental health patients did benefit short-term. But overall,

…the separate move to privatize mental health care, with a for-profit company controlling treatment and costs, meant 800 state mental health workers were laid off and their work farmed out to private clinics that received less state money. Long waiting lists ensued for community services.

“It was a disaster,” said Dr. Matthew Dumont, former director of the Chelsea Community Counseling Center, where the number of psychiatrists and other caregivers, including Dumont, was cut from 23 to six. Dumont said the clinic was no longer able to provide a critical service he believes was a lifeline for mental health patients — home visits.

Over the next several years, suicide rates among mental health patients who had received state services soared. That prompted a blistering 1997 report from a legislative panel that criticized the Weld administration for lax monitoring of patients and failing to investigate their deaths in a timely way.

Two years later, a Brandeis University study gave the state high marks for innovative community-based mental health programs launched during the 1990s, but found too many patients waiting for services….

“It’s still a revolving door,” said Dumont, the former director of the Chelsea counseling center who lives with the legacy of privatizing mental health services when he evaluates patients for the state’s public defender agency. He said he has to scrounge to find places that will take indigent defendants who have been in and out of mental health facilities.

Read about Baker’s future plans for mental health care in Massachusetts at the link.

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What’s happening in Kentucky?

Is Mitch McConnell getting nervous about holding onto his Senate seat? The Hill reports today that McConnell has just written a personal check to his campaign for $1.8 million dollars to counter the recent DSCC purchase of TV ads in support of challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. From The Hill:

A week ago it appeared the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was giving up on the race when it pulled the plug on television advertising after a $1.4 million buy.

But the Democratic Party committee plunged back into this fight this week by announcing it would spend another $650,000 on television ads to help Alison Lundergan Grimes against McConnell. The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, followed up with a pledge to spend $850,000 in the state.

McConnell has a stable lead in polls, but doesn’t want to let the new Democratic ads go unmatched. He has long pledged to his Republican colleagues that he would not take any party funds to help win reelection.

Maybe it doesn’t mean anything; we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile a couple more articles on the Kentucky Senate race.

The Courier-Journal, Grimes pledges to fight for Kentuckians’ rights.

On the stump, she’s a Clinton Democrat. In GOP attacks, she’s a cheerleader for Barack Obama. Political allies — and opponents — know her as the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

For her part, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes calls herself a “Kentucky filly,” charging toward victory in her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and become the state’s first female U.S. senator.

“This is a strong … independent Kentucky woman,” Grimes tells crowds on the campaign trail, while pledging to defend Medicare and Social Security benefits, fight for a higher minimum wage and support pay equality for women.

“She will fight for the people of Kentucky like we have never been fought for before,” she promises, speaking in the third person.

But 16 months after announcing her candidacy, political observers say Grimes still faces challenges in defining herself to Kentucky voters who overwhelmingly dislike Obama and have largely turned away from Democrats in most federal elections.

Apparently, it’s all about how much Kentuckians feel about Clinton and Obama. I hope Bill has plans to stump for Grimes again close to election day.

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Brian Beutler at The New Republic reports on McConnell’s refusal to respond to questions about privatizing Social Security.

The reporters appear to be referencing this encounter McConnell had at the Louisville Rotary Club with reporter Joe Sonka. At the event, McConnell had expressed remorse that he couldn’t wrangle any Democrats into supporting George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to, as McConnell put it, “fix Social Security.”

Sonka asked him if he’d revisit that effort in 2015, and McConnell said, “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance. We’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”

So McConnell dodged a pretty straightforward question about the Republican policy agenda, and, should he become majority leader, his own substantive goals.

A central theme of McConnell’s campaign is that Kentuckians shouldn’t replace a guy who stands to become an agenda setter in Washington with Grimes, who would be a freshman with comparably little power. Vis a vis less politically contentious issues, he’s more than happy to explain how he’d use that power.

One of the goals McConnell has been open about is “going after the EPA,” which he claims is hurting Kentucky’s economy.

So it’s inconsistent of him to hold his cards close to the vest when the issue is privatizing Social Security rather than gunning for the EPA. It would’ve been easy enough for him to say that private accounts are going to stay on the shelf, where they’ve been, for all intents and purposes, since 2005. Or that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle, since President Obama would surely veto such a bill. Instead he said the agenda isn’t up for public discussion until he’s granted the agenda-setting power.

I’m sure McConnell realizes that his constituents wouldn’t be too happy about attacks on Social Security . . .

The Texas Voter ID Law

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From MSNBC, a depressing story about the Texas voter ID law, Texas woman threatened with jail after applying for voter ID.

An Austin, Texas woman told msnbc she was threatened with jail time for having an out-of-state driver’s license when she went to apply for a voter identification card so she could vote under the state’s controversial ID law. She said she was so intimidated she left without getting the ID she needed — and which she’d been trying to get for a year.

Lynne Messinger’s account highlights the obstacles that some Texans face as they try to obtain a voter ID — despite the state’s assurances that getting one doesn’t pose a burden.

Messinger, 62 and a musician, said she brought her birth certificate to aTexas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS) office in south Austin Thursday in an effort to get a voter ID. She needs one because Texas’s strict ID law doesn’t accept out-of-state driver’s licenses.

Messinger said she spoke to a clerk at the desk, and explained that she had a California driver’s license. She has houses in both California and Texas and goes back and forth between the two, but decided several years ago to switch her voting residency to Texas.

The clerk left for a few minutes, then told her to take a seat. At that point, Messinger said, a state trooper summoned her into his back office, saying he needed to speak to her. Once inside his office, Messinger said the trooper insisted on seeing all the documentation she had brought, and demanded to know where she lives and pays taxes. He even told her she could be jailed for driving with a California license.* It is illegal to drive in Texas on another state’s driver’s license 90 days after moving into the state.

“It was like a Nazi interrogation about how I cant be driving with a California ID,” Messinger said. “I was completely intimidated and freaked out.”

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Here’s a very interesting read on Chief Justice Roberts and Voter ID laws from The Atlantic, On Race and Voter ID, John Roberts Wants It Both Ways. The author, Garrett Epps discusses Roberts’ views on race, and concludes that “[t]he idea that government must not discriminate by race seems to be important to the chief.” But . . .

Which brings us to Veasey v. Perry, the voting-rights case in which the Court issued its 5 a.m. order on Saturday. That order allowed Texas’ draconian voter-ID law, known as SB 14, to take effect for the midterm elections next month—the first general election to which it will be applied. It is customary to speak of SB 14 as a “tough” voter-ID law, but it might be better to speak of it as a discriminatory voter-ID law, inspired by the intent to disfranchise black and Latino voters.

That’s not my inference; it was the considered factual finding of federal district Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. (Ramos is an Obama appointee, but one endorsed for the bench by Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn.) Ramos based her conclusion on a nine-day trial in which both the state and the plaintiffs presented evidence about SB 14’s history and effect. That effect is startling—Ramos found that the law might disfranchise as much as 4.5 percent of the state’s eligible voters. But more important is her conclusion about the law’s intent (emphasis added):

The record as a whole (including the relative scarcity of incidences of in-person voter impersonation fraud, the fact that SB 14 addresses no other type of voter fraud, the anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic sentiment permeating the 2011 legislative session, and the legislators’ knowledge that SB 14 would clearly impact minorities disproportionately and likely disenfranchise them) shows that SB 14 was racially motivated.

This is a devastating finding. The judge is not saying that the law has a disproportionate effect on minorities; she is saying that it was specifically written to prevent them from voting. Because it was intentional race discrimination, she found, it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the prohibition of racial restrictions on the vote in the 15th Amendment—and also the prohibition of poll taxes in the 24th Amendment.

Read much more at the link. It’s an important article.

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Washington School Shooting

More details are coming out about the school shooting in Washington state. From The Seattle Times, Teen shooter targets 3 girls, 2 male cousins.

A freshman homecoming prince, reportedly angry about a girl, pulled out a gun and opened fire in a crowded cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School Friday morning, killing one classmate and wounding four others before fatally shooting himself.

At 10:39 a.m., as hundreds of students gathered for lunch on the sprawling campus, Jaylen Fryberg walked up to a cafeteria table, pulled out a gun and shot three teen girls and two teenage male cousins, witnesses and authorities said….

Fryberg and a girl were confirmed dead. The girl’s name was not released.

Two boys and two girls were taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. As of Friday night, the two girls were alive and in intensive care with gunshot wounds to the head, said Dr. Joanne Roberts, chief medical officer for Providence. It will be several days before a prognosis could be made, she said.

The wounded boys were identified by family members as Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Nate Hatch, 14 — both cousins to Jaylen Fryberg. Both also were shot in the head. They were initially taken to Providence and later transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Andrew was in serious condition and Nate was in critical condition.

“He shot people he cared about,” said friend and football teammate Dylen Boomer.

I guess we’ll learn more as time goes on. These school shootings make no sense to me.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread and enjoy your weekend!


Lazy Saturday Reads: Two Republican Candidates in Trouble

 Rick Perry readsGood Afternoon!!

Poor Rick Perry. He just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was his indictment on two felony charges. Then he had to face the further indignity that being indicted on felony charges means he can no longer swagger around with a concealed weapon on his person. According to the Washington Times,

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment on felony corruption charges means he can no longer carry a concealed weapon under state law.

Federal law also prohibits him from being able to buy more guns or ammunition, as long as the indictment is pending, Reuters reported.

I wonder if he knows that? Because when he was in New Hampshire last week, he told voter he didn’t understand the charges against him. From ABC News last Friday, Aug. 22:

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.

Speaking to a group of business leaders here, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.

Asked about his indictment during a question-and-answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.

A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – over a 2013 veto threat.

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At The Wire, Arit John has a funny post in which he describes Perry’s confusion as just one step in the grief process over the indictment, Rick Perry Enters the Final Stage of Indictment Grief: Confusion.

Maybe Rick Perry should have read up on his indictment charges before he started using them as a campaign talking point. During a speech last week, the Texas governor said he was being indicted for bribery, which isn’t actually true.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he said,according to the Houston Chronicle. But Perry is actually being indicted for abuse of power and coercing a public official, after he threatened to veto District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s budget if she refused to resign after her drunk driving conviction.

This is another oops moment for Perry, but it also signaled his transition into the 5th and, likely for him, final stage of indictment related grief: confusion. After grinning mugshot denial, angry ads “setting the record straight,” bargaining over who should pay the lawyers and depression over a loss of Second Amendment privileges, all that’s left for Perry is to be slightly unsure of what, exactly, people are accusing him of doing.

Read the details at the link.

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Then there are the embarrassing stories about how Perry hasn’t paid the National Guard troops that he sent to guard the Texas-Mexico border. From Gawker:

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard soldiers to the Mexico border to much fanfare earlier this summer, he couldn’t say how long they’d be there. It turns out he also couldn’t pay them: At least 50 soldiers haven’t seen a paycheck and are getting sustenance and vehicle fuel from a local food bank.

Via KGBT News, the sudden call-up took those weekend warriors away from their day jobs and deposited them in the Rio Grande valley, but the service hasn’t covered their losses yet….

Perry—who’s busy being indicted for criminal abuse of power—and the National Guard didn’t respond to reporter queries earlier this week, but the pay lag could be related to the governor’s refusal to fund the mobilization he ordered, and his insistence that the federal government cover it. (In the meantime, Perry was supposedly attempting to finance the deployment “by diverting $38 million in public safety funds earmarked for emergency radio infrastructure,” the L.A. Times has reported.)

Yesterday afternoon, the Austin Statement reported that unnamed “National Guard officials” were claiming the stories about hungry troops were exaggerated, but it sounds like they may be just trying to clean up Perry’s mess.

The Guard said it had identified 50 service members who, because of their early August start date, weren’t going to be paid until Sept. 5.

None of those 50 troops have notified leaders that they had used the food bank, officials said.

According to the Guard, troops receive one meal while on duty, plus a $32 per diem food reimbursement that is included in their paychecks.

According to Omar Ramirez, Food Bank RGV’s manager of communications and advocacy, the food bank made extra preparations after being contacted by someone from the Texas National Guard Support Foundation, but that he wasn’t aware of any troops being served.

“Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard,” he said.

OK, but if the $32 dollars is included in their paychecks, then that means the troops have to front the money for two meals a day until Sept. 5, right? Read the rest at the link.

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Finally, yesterday Perry learned that his latest anti-abortion bill–the one that Wendy Davis filibustered–has been struck down by a federal judge. From AP:

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new restrictions that would have left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday. There are currently 19 abortion providers in the state, according to groups challenging the law.

“The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion,” Yeakel wrote in his 21-page ruling.

The trial in Texas was the latest battle over tough new abortion restrictions sweeping across the U.S.

The law would have required clinics “to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers,” according to The New York Times.

Adopted as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure last year, the rule would have forced the closing of more than a dozen of Texas’ remaining abortion clinics because they were unable to afford to renovate or to open new facilities that met the standards for such things as hallway width, ceiling height, advanced ventilation equipment, staffing and even parking spaces.

The closings would have left Texas, the second-biggest state by population and by size, with seven or eight abortion clinics, all in major cities like Houston and Dallas. Women in El Paso in West Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley in the south would have lived more than 150 miles — a distance ruled constitutional by a federal appeals court — from the closest clinic in the state, in San Antonio.

Fortunately for Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, her opponent Greg Abbott plans to appeal the decision.

Mitch McDonnell at Morris' Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McDonnell at Morris’ Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McConnell is also experiencing some difficulties in his Senate reelection campaign in Kentucky. He has been in a close race with Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes–they’ve been running neck-and-neck for a long time now. And recently McConnell has had a couple of setbacks. First there was the secretly recorded audiotape released by The Undercurrent Youtube channel, of McConnell’s remarks at a “meeting for millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers,” in which he promised to continue blocking Obama proposals and emphasized his opposition to raising the minimum wage. The contents of the tape were first reported in The Nation.

Last week, in an interview with Politico, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlined his plan to shut down President Obama’s legislative agenda by placing riders on appropriations bills. Should Republicans take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, McConnell intends to pass spending bills that “have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”

What McConnell didn’t tell Politico was that two months ago, he made the same promise to a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers. The Nation and The Undercurrent obtained an audio recording of McConnell’s remarks to the gathering, called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society.” In the question-and-answer period following his June 15 session titled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights,” McConnell says:

“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible]. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”

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The article notes that the McConnell campaign has received $41,800 from Koch Industries in addition to outside groups who get funding from the Kochs.

“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.”

In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans. At one point in the negotiations, he offered a deal to extend unemployment only if Democrats agreed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA does not add to the federal deficit.

More from The New York Times:

The [Undercurrent] channel released audio of three other Republicans in tough Senate races — Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst, a state senator in Iowa — all of whom praised Charles G. and David H. Koch and the millions of dollars they have provided to help Republican candidates….

Republicans said the recordings were insignificant. Josh Holmes, a senior McConnell campaign aide, said the senator was in no way suggesting a strategy to shut down the government unless Mr. Obama capitulates.

Nonetheless, the audio recordings are likely to become fodder for the campaigns in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kentucky. Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, have tried to demonize contributions by the Koch brothers as corruptive to the political system.

In Arkansas, especially, the audio could touch a nerve. Mr. Cotton, a freshman House member, skipped a popular political event in his state, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, to attend the Koch brothers’ meeting in California. According to the audio, he was repaid with praise for his willingness to hew to the most conservative line, even if it meant voting against legislation popular in his state.

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Then yesterday, McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign because of a scandal involving his work for the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa in 2012. From CBS News:

Benton’s resignation, effective Saturday, comes barely two months before Kentucky voters choose between McConnell, a five-term incumbent and the top-ranking Senate Republican, and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In Iowa this week, former state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support from one Republican presidential candidate to another before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from candidate Michele Bachmann, whose Iowa campaign he headed, to candidate Ron Paul, then lied to federal investigators about the money, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors refused to say which campaign paid Sorenson. A representative for Bachmann didn’t immediately return voice and email messages seeking comment Friday. A phone message for Paul also wasn’t immediately returned.

Benton, a tea party insider, worked as a top aide to Paul. On Friday he said that he has been the target of “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors” about his role in past campaigns that are “politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”

Benton had been hired to help McConnell appeal to Tea Party extremists in Kentucky. Is it possible McConnell misjudged his constituents? I sincerely hope so.

So I’ve ended up focusing this post on just two struggling Republicans–but there are plenty of others I could write about. I don’t think we should give up on Democrats holding the Senate yet. I know there is plenty of other news, but I thought I’d shift the focus to electoral politics today. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!