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invisible primary

An invisible primary is said to begin when a candidate formally announces their plans to run for office. The invisible primary comes to a close when the actual primary season begins.

The invisible primary is a testing-ground for candidates and …

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candy desk

The “candy desk” is where a supply of candy is kept in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. George Murphy (R-CA) originated the practice of keeping a supply of candy in his desk for the enjoyment of his colleagues in 1965. In …

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teabaggers

A term “teabaggers” is a derogatory nickname used to refer to supporters of the conservative “Tea Party” movement.

CBS News: “It’s the sort of word you might expect to hear from a smirking 14-year-old boy: Critics of the Tea …

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heck of a job

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.

The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in …

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frugging

“Frugging” is an unethical fundraising tactic where a telemarketer falsely claims to be a researcher conducting a poll, when in reality the “researcher” is attempting to solicit a donation.

The Washington Post cites Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions advocacy group as …

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turkey farm

In politics, a “turkey farm” refers to a government agency or department that is staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires. In particular, it is used to refer to hires that are underqualified but are put in …

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bunk

“Bunk” is empty or nonsense talk.

In 1820, Rep. Felix Walker from Ashville, North Carolina justified his long-winded and somewhat irrelevant remarks about the Missouri Compromise by arguing that his constituents had elected him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” …

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incumbent rule

The “incumbent rule” is a rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” …

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push card

A “push card” is a small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event.

They’re also sometimes called palm cards because they’re designed to be small enough to fit in …

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flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline …

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bundling

“Bundling” is the practice of rounding up contributions from friends and associates to bypass campaign finance limits.

San Antonio News-Express: “Welcome to the world of bundlers: a semi-secretive though perfectly legal practice in which super-duper fundraisers deliver bundles …

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carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, …

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stemwinder

A “stemwinder” is a rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of …

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gypsy moth Republican

A “gypsy moth Republican” is a pejorative term used by conservative Republicans to describe a moderate members of their party who represent a Northeastern or Midwestern urban part of the United States — an area that is also the habitat …

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chum

“Chum” is campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to …

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political suicide

“Political suicide” is an unpopular action that is likely to cause a politician’s subsequent defeat at the polls or be cause for him or her to resign from public office.

However, as William Safire notes in Safire’s Political Dictionary, …

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psephology

Psephology is the scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used …

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favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, …

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cookie-cutter campaigns

A “cookie-cutter campaigns” are political campaigns run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number …

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czar

A “czar” is an unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments.

Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official …

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cuff links gang

According to Time, a “cuff links gang” refers to the group of friends who helped Franklin D. Roosevelt run for Vice President in 1920 “and to whom he gave sets of cuff links in remembrance of that unfortunate political …

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full Ginsburg

The “full Ginsburg” refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on …

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triangulation

The act of a political candidate presenting his or her views as being above and between the left and right sides of the political spectrum. It’s sometimes called the “third way.”

The term was first used by political consultant Dick …

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gaffe

A “gaffe” is an unintentional comment that causes a politician embarrassment.

The term often refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say because it is politically damaging.

Michael Kinsley

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advance man

The “advance man” is someone who makes arrangements and handles publicity for the candidate during a campaign. The advance man travels to a location ahead of the candidate’s arrival and sets everything up so that things run smoothly for the …

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sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, …

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inside baseball

The term “inside baseball” refers to any subject matter which is considered too highly specialized to be appreciated by the general public. In politics, inside baseball usually refers to the technical details and the finer points of political strategy, as …

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soft power

Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option rather than the use of coercion.

The phrase was first coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in the late 1980s and is now widely used in international …

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patriot

A patriot is a person who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.

However, a patriot does not necessarily support their leader’s actions or a nation’s policies. For example, the colonists who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution also …

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boll weevil Democrat

A Boll weevil Democrat was a conservative southern Democrat in the mid 1900s, largely known for his opposition to civil rights. They used the term because the boll weevil, a southern pest, could not be eliminated by pesticides – politicians …

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Farley file

A Farley file is a log kept by politicians on people they have met previously.

It’s named for James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file …

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RINO

Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a disparaging term that refers to a Republican candidate whose political views are seen as insufficiently conforming to the party line.

The phrase, without the RINO acronym, became first popularized during the Theodore …

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sergeant-at-arms

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have a sergeant-at-arms, whose job it is to maintain order in the legislative chamber.

In the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms can also be instructed to request the presence of senators if not …

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whisper campaign

A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumors, innuendos or other sneaky tactics to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, a campaign might create use automated phone calls or …

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Mama Grizzlies

“Mama Grizzlies” is a metaphor used by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for conservative women.

In speeches during the 2010 midterm election campaign, Palin challenged these “mama grizzlies” to rise up and “take this country back” and invoked …

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push poll

A “push poll” is a form of interactive marketing in which political operatives try to sway voters to believe in certain policies or candidates under the guise of an opinion poll.

More akin to propaganda than an actual unbiased opinion …

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Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” refers to the news media, especially with regards to their role in the political process.

The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. …

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well

The “well” of the U.S. House of Representatives is the area in front of the rostrum.

Members wishing to speak generally do so from the well, and Congressmen who are censured are required to stand in the well to hear …

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Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To use it, the House adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen …

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petitioning

Petitioning is a phase in a campaign where organizers collect signatures to put a candidate’s name on the ballot.

How many signatures are needed depends on the jurisdiction and the office sought; some states allow candidates to pay a fee …

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exit polls

An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

Exit polls are conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually …

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body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The …

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mudslinging

In politics, “mudslinging” is a tactic used by candidates or other politicians in order to damage the reputation of a rival politician by using epithets, rumors or mean-spirited innuendos or insults. The term is often used interchangeably with the more …

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mark-up

The mark-up is the committee meeting held to review the text of a bill before reporting it to the floor.

Committee members do not make changes to the text but can vote on proposed amendments.  In conclusion, members vote on …

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killer amendment

The use of a “killer amendment” is a legislative strategy of using an amendment to severely change a bill’s intent for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

The member proposing the amendment would not vote in …

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hideaways

Hideaways are personal, unmarked offices in the Capitol originally assigned to senior senators. They are conveniently located near the Senate floor.

The hideaway location of an individual Senator is a closely held secret, most with no names on the doors. …

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franking privileges

Franking privileges allow lawmakers to send mail to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Franking privileges in Congress date …

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Shivercrats

Shivercrats were a conservative faction of the Texas Democratic Party in the 1950s named for Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D).

The term was first used in 1952 after Shivers backed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

Interestingly, …

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aardvarking

Aardvarking is recruiting candidates for public office with the main objective of having their names begin with the letter A.

GOP consultant Roger Stone: “In the late 1970’s a Republican consultant and I examined a series of races on …

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vote-a-rama

U.S. Senate rules include a special section for consideration of the annual Budget resolution. The Budget is not subject to filibuster, but all amendments must be germane and are voted on consecutively without real debate.

During a vote-a-rama, each amendment …

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Copperheads

The Copperheads were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted a peace settlement with the Confederates.

Republicans started calling them Copperheads, likening them to the poisonous snake. Interestingly, they accepted the label but because the copperhead to them …

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one-minute speeches

Also called, “one minutes”, a speech typically given at the beginning of the day by a House member on a chosen topic.

One minutes can also be scheduled at the end of legislative business. It is at the discretion of …

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dark horse

In politics, a “dark horse” is a candidate for office for whom little is known or for whom expectations are low, but who then goes on to unexpectedly win or succeed. While history is replete with examples of dark horse …

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convention bounce

A convention bounce refers to the surge of support a presidential candidates may enjoy after the televised national convention of their party.

The size and impact of a convention bounce is sometimes seen as an early indicator of party unity.…

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hopper

Legislators introduce bills by placing them in the bill hopper attached to the side of the clerk’s desk.

The term derives from a funnel-shaped storage bin filled from the top and emptied from the bottom, which is often used to …

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earmarks

Funds that are allocated to a specific program, project or for a designated purpose. Revenues are earmarked by law. Expenditures are earmarked by appropriations bills or reports.

According to the Office of Management & Budget definition, earmarks include:

  1. Add-ons. If
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morning business

Morning business is routine business that is supposed to occur during the first two hours of a new legislative day in the U.S. Senate.

This business includes receiving messages from the President and from the other legislative chamber, reports from …

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leader time

Leader time is the ten minute time allotted to majority and minority leaders at the start of the daily session.

Leaders use the time to discuss any important issues or the day’s legislative agenda. All or part of the leader …

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Dear Colleague letter

A “Dear Colleague letter” is an official communication distributed in bulk by a lawmaker to all members of Congress.

Dear Colleague letters typically include issues related to co-sponsoring or opposing a bill, new procedures or upcoming congressional events.

Although …

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junket

A junket is a pleasure trip taken by a politicians with expenses paid for with public funds.

President Obama was accused of wasteful spending on a junket to New York in May, 2009 for dinner and a show with his …

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recess appointment

A recess appointment is a presidential appointment typically requiring Senate approval that is made during a Senate recess.

To be confirmed, the appointment must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress or the …

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codel

A “codel” is short for “Congressional Delegation”, and defined as a trip abroad by a member or members of Congress.…

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recall election

A recall election allows voters to oust an elected official, by means of a direct vote,while that official is still  in the middle of their term. Recall elections are relatively rare and usually take place after the official does something …

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ex officio

The term “ex officio” comes from the Latin phrase “from the office,” and in politics it refers to someone who is part of a political body just by virtue of holding a different elected office.

The most common example of …

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photo-op

A photo-op is short for a “photo opportunity,” an event specifically staged for television news cameras or photographers to increase a politician’s exposure.

The term was reportedly coined during the Nixon administration by Bruce Whelihan, an aide to Nixon Press …

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