Charlie Cook, the political analyst extraordinaire, held court Tuesday morning before a gathering of economists in suburban Virginia and offered his forecast for the 2014 mid-term elections and beyond.
Cook, the Editor and Publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for NBC News and National Journal, has a good track record of calling congressional and presidential campaigns. Here are highlights of what he had to say at a conference of the National Association for Business Economics:
- Republicans should be able to pick up the six seats they need to take back control of the Senate from the Democrats, who currently hold a 55 to 45 seat majority. But Cook says he doesn’t underestimate the Republicans’ proclivity for blowing near sure things, as they did in 2010 and 2012. And regardless of which party emerges victorious in November, it will cling to power by a thread – with no more than a one or two seat majority.
- The Republicans will easily retain control of the House in November – hardly a brave prediction. But Cook predicts that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will announce his retirement shortly after the election. The typically affable, golf-playing Boehner “loves life,” Cook notes, and is “never going to be carried out in a pine box.”
- The job of speaker and leading the fractious, Tea Party dominated GOP conference is a thankless and frustrating task, Cook said, and Boehner likely will say, “I’m out of here” at the end of the year. Not surprisingly, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has been acting more statesmanlike and accommodating in recent months, which suggests to Cook that he is preparing to succeed Boehner when he retires.
- There’s at least a “30 percent chance” that former Secretary of State Hillary and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will decide not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. For sure, she would be the prohibitive favorite if she decides to run, Cook said. But personal considerations -- including her age, health and other factors -- might lead her to forego another bruising, protracted bid for the White House, like the one she waged against President Obama in 2008.
“The logic is, right now she’s 66 years old, she will be turning 67 later this year in October . . . which means she will be 69 two weeks before the election in 2016,” Cook said. “Now, can you get elected at 69? Of course you can. That’s exactly the age Ronald Reagan was in 1980 . . . But you’ve got to really think long and hard” about how badly you wants to run in a situation like that. “No one knows better than she does how hard it is to run for president,” he added.
- Once the currently cluttered early field of 2016 GOP presidential aspirants begins to sort itself out, the two real standouts will be freshman Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
- Paul, a libertarian and Tea Party champion, arrived in Washington with the reputation as a political bomb thrower. Instead, he has emerged as a thoughtful, smooth and politically shrewd conservative who can operate on both sides of the aisle. He by no means should be dismissed “as a nut,” Cook said. And Walker, a former county executive who rose to prominence as a conservative reformist willing to take on organized labor, has proved to be an articulate champion of conservative Republican causes and ideology. Cook predicted that he will overcome his current political woes back home.
- Cook thinks that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pretty much out of the picture for now. Even before the “Bridgegate” scandal erupted earlier this year, Cook said he had a hard time seeing how a moderate like Christie could appeal to his party’s conservative base. “The heart and soul of the Republican presidential nomination process is in the base,” he said.
- Cook was highly dismissive of freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another Tea Party darling who has locked horns with Republicans and Democrats alike and helped trigger a government shutdown since arriving in Washington. “He is what we thought Rand Paul was going to be,” Cook said. “You know, a guy coming to the Capitol with an Uzi spraying in every direction . . . and then trying to be the most disruptive force he can possibly be.”
- While Cruz has gained enormous national media attention for his tactics, his alienation of so many Republicans and Democrats will come back “to bite him,” Cook said.
- There is little that Obama can do at this point to improve on his lowly job approval ratings, which have averaged about 41 percent for several months. The president’s unusually high negatives in the polls means he will be of little help to Democrats in the mid-term election campaign.
“The president has sort of a high floor and a low ceiling [in the polls] and so there’s not a lot of elasticity. I don’t see much chance of him getting out that that range anytime soon.”
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