National Security

Taking the Hill

The eight races the military-industrial complex is watching.

National security issues generally don't play a big role in congressional races. But Pentagon spending represents billions of dollars -- and that translates to jobs. In states like Virginia and Maine, that means that defense is a local economic issue that can drive voters and affect the outcome of contests. And even if candidates themselves don't address national security, the departure of the politician they are vying to replace can have repercussions on Capitol Hill.  Changes to the make-up of the Senate and House armed services committees could frame the way the Hill grapples with sequester, war planning, and the speed at which the United States leaves Afghanistan. Just as the elections will shake up foreign policy no matter who wins, they're likely to do the same for defense. Here are 8 races to watch:

Virginia, Senate: Tim Kaine (D) vs. George Allen (R)
No race is as intermeshed with defense issues as the fight for Virginia's Senate seat between Democrat Tim Kaine, who supports cuts to the Pentagon budget, and Republican George Allen, who opposes them. The commonwealth is a major military hub, housing the Atlantic Fleet and other commands in the Norfolk region. The Pentagon also employs hundreds of thousands of federal workers and civilian contractors in Northern Virginia. So nearly every Virginia ad that mentions defense has just one thing in mind: jobs. The proposed cuts in defense spending growth, as well as the automatic cuts looming in January, have led Allen's campaign to warn voters that 200,000 Virginia jobs could be lost if Kaine is elected and President Obama is returned to the White House. The numbers have been criticized as a scare tactic, but it's a real concern for voters -- more than national security, at least. Of course, the top military brass helped craft Obama's defense proposal and Republicans and Democrats in Congress put the cuts into law themselves. That means that, ads aside, it won't be easy for Allen to increase defense spending unless there's also a change in the White House.

What the polls say: Kaine is up 1.8 percent over Allen, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

Connecticut, Senate: Chris Murphy (D) vs. Linda McMahon (R)
Joe Lieberman's seat in Connecticut -- the center of U.S. submarine-building -- is a hot commodity. The state loses a powerful advocate in Lieberman, who holds key defense-related posts in the Senate. He is the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, behind Chairman Carl Levin, of Michigan. Lieberman also chairs the Air Land Subcommittee and is chairman of the full Homeland Security Committee. Now, those posts are up for grabs. The next junior senator from Connecticut will have to fight for the same key defense interests, though, including the submarine base in New London, from a backbench spot. Submarines were one of the few big-ticket weapons the Obama administration put on hold to save taxpayer money, by delaying construction on one of the two submarines being built each year. Mitt Romney has pledged to reverse that decision -- but he would need help from Republicans in the Senate to do it. Connecticut's seat would help.

What the polls say: Murphy is up by 5 points according to the RCP average.

Massachusetts, Senate: Scott Brown (R) vs. Elizabeth Warren (D)
In a recent candidate questionnaire, Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren were asked if they supported continuing combat operations in Afghanistan. Brown said yes. Warren said no. There are few liberal Democrats in Congress who outright oppose the war in Afghanistan, and fewer still in the Senate. A Warren victory, which polls before Tuesday show is more likely, would remove Brown from his seat on the Armed Services Committee and as the ranking member of the Air Land subcommittee. It's unclear if Warren would seek or receive an Armed Services post, but the message from New England would be clear: If Obama can win a second term, his heretofore quiet liberal base that wants out of the war may finally start to give him an earful. Either way, Massachusetts houses roughly 115,000 defense-related jobs and is one of the top recipients of Pentagon dollars, so the commonwealth is nervously watching the budget fight. From that perspective, the difference between a Warren and Brown vote on the Senate floor come next Congress could not be more stark. A Warren win flips one more key vote in the divided chamber into Obama's column, and for taming defense spending.

What the polls say: Warren is up 3.5 percent according to the RCP average.

Florida, House, 22nd district: Allen West (R) vs. Patrick Murphy (D)

Rep. Allen West ranks 4th from the bottom on the House Armed Services Committee, but he has cast himself as a defense guru in his race against Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, and the Army veteran could have an impact in the budget battles to come. "He's a good representative of ‘defense Keynesiasm,'" said Laura Peterson, of Taxpayers for Common Sense. West, she said, is a "fiscally conservative tea-partier but also a vet who supports defense spending as a job creator." West is the embodiment of the predicament facing the House Republican caucus: make a budget deal and alienate tea-partiers, or make a deal that alienates the military rank-and-file and veterans. It's hard to see how both of those constituencies end up on the same winning side, when Senate Democrats and the White House refuse to take defense spending off the negotiating table. But West is seen as increasingly influential in the House. "If he sticks around, he's likely to get louder on HASC," Peterson said, "and it shows that brand of conservatism might have more legs generally."

What the polls say: West is up 1 percent over Murphy according to the RCP average.

Maine, Senate: Charlie Summers (R) vs. Cynthia Dill (D) vs. Angus King (I)
There is a three-way fight to replace Olympia Snowe between former Maine secretary of state Charlie Summers, former state senator Cynthia Dill, and former governor Angus King. The race is one to watch, not only because Snowe is one of the few Republican moderates left in the Senate (she has said she is stepping down because of Washington's increasingly toxic partisanship), but because the state is home to Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics, and the 200-year-old Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Since the 1980s, BIW has made DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy and is currently building two of the service's three massive DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, giving it enough work for decades. On the other hand, Portsmouth, which refurbishes nuclear attack submarines (one of which was recently set ablaze by a yard employee who apparently wanted to leave work early), barely survived a 2005 BRAC proposal to shutter the base. It remains to be seen how effective Snowe's successor will be at keeping the old shipyard open. Adding another element of uncertainty, King, the likely winner, has refused to say which party he would caucus with. Conventional wisdom says he'll side with the Democrats, but the closer the chamber's Democratic-Republican split, the more power he will have.

What the polls say: King is up 17 points according to the RCP average.

Nebraska, Senate: Bob Kerrey (D) vs. Deb Fischer (R)

As a member of the powerful Appropriations and Armed Services committees, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson has wielded significant clout on defense policy and spending. In particular, he has chaired the Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, where he oversees all manner of nuclear weapons-related policy. His successor in the chairmanship will preside over the subcommittee at a time when the Air Force is looking at how to replace its 40-year old Minuteman III ICBMs and the Navy is aiming to replace its Ohio-class nuclear missile submarines -- all while the Pentagon debates whether to cut a leg of the nuclear triad. While we don't know who will get Nelson's numerous committee assignments, we do know who is running to take over his Senate seat: Former Nebraska senator, governor, and Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey and state senator Deb Fischer. Kerrey spent most of the last decade far from Nebraska as president of The New School in Manhattan while Fischer made a name for herself in Nebraska by opposing bills that would ban smoking in restaurants and other public indoor spaces. If Kerrey wins, he will almost assuredly get a seat on SASC given his military background and former membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission. But, according to the polls, that's not likely to happen.

What the polls say: Fischer is up 13 points according to the RCP average.

Missouri, Senate: Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Todd Akin (R)
The Missouri contest garnered national attention for Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments. But from a defense perspective, the race is more interesting for the impact that a McCaskill loss would have on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she has been outspoken on accountability and oversight, and on the Homeland Security Committee, where she chairs the subcommittee on contracting oversight. With the billions of dollars spent on defense contracting in war zones and beyond, McCaskill has raised a number of questions about how the money is spent, what it gets the American taxpayer, and how to fix fundamental problems with Pentagon monitoring of critical contracting failures that have helped the cost of war to skyrocket. There are of course plenty of other issues Missouri faces when it comes to defense -- aviation manufacturing being the biggest. But McCaskill's efforts to go after war-profiteering since she was elected in 2007 have been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans.

What the polls say: McCaskill is up 6.3 percent over Akin, according to the RCP average.

New Hampshire, House, 1st district: Carol Shea-Porter (D) vs. Frank Guinta (R)
Can defense issues resurrect a lefty candidate? After she was elected in 2006, Democrats put Shea-Porter on the House Armed Services Committee, thinking that Pentagon oversight and work on behalf of veterans might keep the ardently anti-war activist more in line with her district's politics. It didn't work. Guinta beat her in 2010. Now the two are at it again, and Shea-Porter is using her defense credentials to get her seat back. "I was honored to pass legislation to help active duty soldiers and veterans, families, working men and women, senior citizens, and students," she says on her campaign web site. And she's using the issue to attack Guinta as a tea-partier who has voted for "billions in cuts to veterans programs," according to one ad that Politifact ruled later is "mostly false." Shea-Porter's race could turn on a number of factors, but it's going to come down to the wire: "The polls have been all over the place, which suggests the race really go could either way," according to an analysis on Real Clear Politics.

What the polls say: Nevertheless, Shea-Porter is up by 3 points, according to the RCP average. 

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The List

Get Fat. Grow a Beard. Or Do This.

Five job ideas for Tuesday’s big loser.

Whatever happens on Nov. 6, the U.S. unemployment rolls are going to have one new member next year. Sure, the election loser could sit on some corporate boards, collect speaking fees, or work on his memoirs. But here are a few ideas on how Barack Obama or Mitt Romney could keep busy and make a difference… even if it’s not in the White House.


IOC President

Romney has made his successful stewardship of the Salt Lake City Olympics a centerpiece of his campaign, running campaign ads featuring former Olympians and rarely letting a speech go by without mentioning his role in saving the 2002 games, which were running behind schedule, overbudget, and mired by corruption scandals when he took over as CEO. He's even written a book about the experience. So why not turn it into a full-time gig?

Even as revenues have grown, the International Olympic Committee has been plagued for years by allegations of corruption and vote-buying among its board members, criticized for its cozy ties to authoritarian governments and political insensitivity. Current President Jacques Rogge is required by term limits to step down in 2013. Yes, the IOC board traditionally elects the president from among its own ranks, but perhaps they might make an exception to bring in a leader with an international profile, a squeaky-clean reputation, and experience in managing international sporting events.

Downsides? Romney may have ruffled some feathers with his controversial comments about the London Olympics in July, and things might get awkward with 2014 Winter Games host/"No.1 geopolitical foe" Russia, but these don't seem like insurmountable obstacles. And hey, we know his French is pretty good.

Green Energy Czar

Yes, it certainly seems an unlikely move from the candidate who used the Oct. 3 debate to attack Obama for wasting $90 billion on funding for green energy startups. But as Romney well knows from his business career, not every investment is going to pay off. If Obama were interested in finding a way to bring his former opponent into the fold -- something he's done before -- he could put the former management consultant to work overseeing the government's green investments, separating the game changers from the potential Solyndras.

This wouldn't be entirely unprecedented for Romney, who was in favor of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions before he was against them. His Massachusetts government put in place some of the country's first statewide restrictions on carbon emissions and in 2005, he helped negotiate a nine-state regional agreement on emissions reductions. Romney has certainly shown a penchant for reinvention over the years. It might not be too late for him to go back to his roots and help make the green economy a reality.

Ambassador to Israel

Another outside-the-box idea for how a second-term Obama administration could make use of Romney. For all the talk of who-threw-whom under the bus, there aren't that many differences between the two men on substantive policy toward Israel. Both favor continuing heavy military aid to the Jewish state, both are committed -- at least in public -- to negotiating a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both favor a mix of sanctions and negotiations with Iran without ruling out the possibility of military action.

But tone and personal connections do matter in diplomacy. Obama and Netanyahu have had a frosty relationship from the start, while Romney and the Israeli prime minister are old friends who share more than a few allies and donors. Preventing a war in the Middle East in the next four years may require reigning in the hawkish Israeli leader, who looks like a lock for re-election. But such a message might be more effective if delivered by someone Netanyahu trusts.

Revamp Mormon Aid

Former U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have often devoted their time to aid work, and Romney clearly has thoughts on how international aid can be made more effective. But rather than starting his own foundation, why not work with a group he's already close to: the Church of Latter-Day Saints?

Though people generally associate Mormon missionaries with proselytizing, many devote their missions to humanitarian work, and the church has been involved in activities including disaster relief, immunization drives, and clean-water projects in 179 countries. The church touts the fact that it has donated more than $1 billion to humanitarian causes since 1985 -- though this is actually not that high considering that it may take in as much as $8 billion in tithing every year.

Romney -- a rather sizeable donor to the church in his own right -- could push to increase that number, encourage more young Mormons to do humanitarian work on their missions, and implement some of the ideas about integrating private sector development into foreign aid that he shared in his Clinton Global Initiative speech this year -- a message to which the business-minded LDS church would surely be receptive. And of course, some more good press for the oft-misunderstood church could only help the next member to run for office.

Presidential Candidate

Romney was runner-up in the GOP primary in 2008. If he's runner-up in the general election this year, it only means he got one step closer to the White House. Yes, he didn't exactly ignite the passions of the GOP base this year, but with another four years to shake the Etch-a-Sketch, he might just find the right formula. After all, he won't have to run against Obama again. And if his dire predictions about what's in store for the country if the president is reelected turn out to be correct, 2016 should be a cakewalk.


Pull a Grover Cleveland

Only one American president, Grover Cleveland, has served non-contiguous terms (Martin Van Buren, Teddy Roosevelt, and a few others tried), but there's no reason why Obama should treat the next four years as the first four of his retirement. After all, if he really believes what he's been saying about Mitt Romney's agenda, come 2016, the American people will be looking to end their coming national nightmare, right?

Aside from the fact that American voters don't like losers (see Dukakis, Michael), the biggest potential obstacle to this plan is the economy. If the analysts prove right and the United States sees even a mild economic recovery in the next four years, Romney will be able to claim vindication for his economic program. This would tip the scales against Obama for sure, but it may not be a dealbreaker. The fact that Obama is even in contention this year with unemployment at 7.9 percent suggests that Americans have more complicated economic views than many give them credit for. If Romney presides over a modest recovery, but Wall Street sees more benefit than Main Street and inequality -- already the worst among advanced industrial countries -- continues to rise, Obama's message of support for the middle class may win over more voters the next time around. Of course, he'll have to duke it out with Hillary, who might have a different idea about how Election 2016 should go down.

Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

Sure, Obama's first swing at Middle East peace was an embarrassing whiff, but that hardly makes him unique. For close to 40 years now American presidents have been working on the Arab-Israeli peace process and, if anything, we're farther from a comprehensive agreement. Obama could follow Jimmy Carter's lead and dedicate his golden years to getting the Palestinians and Israelis to strike that "elusive" compromise he talked about in his Cairo speech.

And it's not just that peacemaker Obama would make things less awkward in Oslo; the president is tailor-made for the job. As a student, as a community organizer, and as a professor, Obama spent his pre-political years searching for ways to bring people together. While studying at Harvard Law School, he was famously elected president of the Law Review not because of his superior legal mind, but because of his ability to play nice with both liberals and conservatives. Out of office and away from the bitter partisanship of Washington, it's not difficult to imagine the charismatic professor getting both sides to stop pointing fingers and start negotiating in good faith.

Of course, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have their own differences to work out, which admittedly makes this plan a bit of a stretch, at least in the short run. Maybe the thing to do is for Obama to warm up by subbing in for U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and get back to Arab-Israeli peacemaking when he's got the Syrian conflict sorted out.

Write Dreams for Our Children

Practically every 20th century president wrote a memoir after leaving office, but since Obama got this out of the way with Dreams from My Father at the tender age of 34, he'll have time to work on something more forward-looking. In Dreams for Our Children, he might stick to the themes of identity, purpose, and coming-of-age, but this time he could discuss what they mean for the country. What kind of immigration policy is appropriate for a nation of immigrants? What is our responsibility to future generations? How must the United States deal with developing nations that are increasingly assertive on the world stage?

A memoir would afford Obama an opportunity to have an impact on an issue near and dear to his heart -- as 2000 runner-up Al Gore has with climate change. With the political constraints of the presidency behind him, Obama might be able to voice a few inconvenient truths of his own. The crisis in higher education -- and its impact on American competitiveness -- is one possibility, as is the need to retool American manufacturing so that it can compete in the 21st century.

Keep fighting the war on terror

Obama may have run as a peacenik the first time around, but the former constitutional law professor will be remembered for his aggressive counterterrorism policies. In four years in office, the president has authorized six times as many drone strikes as his predecessor, expanded drone warfare into Somalia, and decimated Al Qaeda's leadership. Oh yeah, and he killed Osama bin Laden.

True, Romney probably won't be feeling all that generous toward his opponent if he squeaks out a victory, but the governor could certainly learn a thing or two from the man who has personally overseen America's Third War and reportedly approved each individual drone strike before it was carried out. But if it's hard to imagine Obama as the director of the CIA, it's not unreasonable to think he could become a sort of Henry Kissinger for the post-Cold War world, called on by sitting presidents for advice on fighting a faceless and increasingly stateless enemy.

And aside from minor quibbles over who is America's No. 1 geopolitical foe, Obama and Romney actually seem to agree on a lot when it comes to foreign policy. In the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, for instance, the two candidates agreed on everything from the timeline in Afghanistan to the Libyan intervention to the crisis in Syria. Romney even congratulated Obama for "taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda" before pivoting unexpectedly to one of the more memorable lines of the evening: "But we can't kill our way out of this mess." Sounds familiar, doesn't it? That's because it's straight out of Obama's playbook, circa 2008.

Bring Back NBA Europe

Okay, so this one is more of a personal interest. But the president is still young -- only 51 -- and if Hiroshi Hoketsu, a 71-year-old Japanese equestrian rider, was in good enough shape to compete in the London Olympics, then the famously fit Obama might just have a few years of B-level professional basketball in him yet.

And it's not like he hasn't been training. He's been known to hoop it up on occasion with NBA giants like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and invites former college and professional players to his regular pick-up game. These "ridiculously challenging" games, as Michal Lewis described them in a recent Vanity Fair profile, pit the president against opponents who are all "roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor[s] of a 30-inch vertical leap." And nobody goes easy on the president. As a former Florida State point guard quoted in Lewis's article put it "If you take it easy on him, you're not invited back."

European basketball might not be as glamorous as the NBA, but Obama, who was a member of his high school's state championship basketball team back in Hawaii, is still wildly popular across the pond and might actually be able to drum up some interest in the sport. Remember when Kobe Bryant was going to go play in Italy or Greece or whatever? Well, this would be an even bigger shakeup in the world of professional sports.