Though Arizona is a reliably Republican stronghold, President Obama's re-election team is making an against-the-odds push to win the state in November. They won't find much success, however, if Obama isn't even on the ballot, an outcome Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) says is "possible" if he doesn't get sufficient proof that Obama was born in Hawaii. You heard that right, says Nick Martin at Talking Points Memo. A year after Obama released his official long-form birth certificate to end such nonsense, "the man in charge of running Arizona's elections has gone to the birthers." Could Bennett really keep Obama off the November ballot? Here's what you should know:
What did Bennett say, exactly?
In a radio interview late last week with conservative Phoenix talk show host Mike Broomhead, Bennett said that he asked Hawaii eight weeks ago to certify that Obama's birth certificate is real and legitimate. The state of Hawaii, in turn, requested proof that Bennett is who he said he is. Bennett blames Hawaii for making this an issue, telling Broomhead, "I was frankly expecting that they would very quickly and very simply say 'yes.'" If, after eight weeks, "they can't say yes to that simple question then it makes me wonder if we have to take it to another level." Asked if he would keep Obama off the ballot if Hawaii's response is inadequate, Bennett answered: "That's possible."
Why hasn't Hawaii responded to Bennett?
The Aloha State was flooded with so many requests for Obama's birth certificate that it passed a law in 2010 largely exempting Obama from the state's public-records law. Hawaii spells it all out on a special page on the state's website, says Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News. Bennett knows about this page, and has yet to "explain why this is insufficient evidence in his eyes." In any case, Hawaii's attorney general did respond on Sunday, saying that Bennett's request "did not meet the requirements under Hawaii law."
What is Bennett thinking?
He says he's just doing his job, and responding to some 1,200 constituents urging him to demand Obama's birth certificate. "I believe the president was born in Hawaii — or at least I hope he was," he told Broomhead. "But my responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications for the office they are seeking." Maybe he's just trying to make Arizona "the loopiest, looniest oh-so-laughable state in the land," says Laurie Roberts in The Arizona Republic. As "my mother would ask: If you got 1,200 emails asking you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?"
Is Bennett a birther?
He insists that he isn't. That may be true, says Schlesinger in U.S. News, but "he's certainly catering to them."
Has he asked to see Mitt Romney's birth certificate?
No. But if Hawaii fails to comply with his request, Bennett said, he might "ask all of candidates, including the president, maybe to submit a certified copy of their birth certificate. But I don't want to do that."
Why is birtherism still alive?
"Sometimes, when you want to believe something badly enough, no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind," says Brian Montopoli at CBS News. Bennett isn't alone either. He was moved to act by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is going full-birther, and three GOP congressmen have recently said they're not sure if Obama is American. "The birther movement would be funny if it weren't so dangerous," says Catherine Poe at The Washington Times. It's "rampant paranoia," and it's unsettling that some Americans will always believe that Obama "is not one of us and he tricked us to become president."
Could Arizona really keep Obama's name off the ballot?
Technically, yes, as Bennett is the top Arizona elections officer. But even given Arizona's history of embracing birtherism, it seems unlikely that Obama will be kept off the ballot in the end. Obama's 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), told a local TV station on Friday that "the president of the United States is not going to be taken off the ballot," and the Obama camp said Bennett's "flirtation with a conspiracy theory that has been debunked time and time again will have no bearing on the election."