Sunday, October 27 2002
QUOTE OF THE DAY: This hilarious paragraph is from a Las Vegas Review-Journal story assessing the prospects of Democrat Dario Herrera in Nevada's 3rd Congressional District:

"Herrera's chances of winning are very slim," pollster Brad Coker said Thursday. As for Herrera's 48 percent unfavorable rating, Coker said, "I've seen worse, but most of those people are in jail."

AHA!: I've found someone else who agrees with me that Townsend will beat Ehrlich next week. Also, a story in today's Baltimore Sun says the candidates are frantically crisscrossing Montgomery County trying to make up for lost time. The Townsend folks say they'll need 65% or more out of Montgomery County to win and KKT's county chairman claims that, "Kathleen Townsend has probably the best grassroots, get-out-the-vote effort in Montgomery County history." I've already started clearing out some space in my wallet for a visit from my good friend Andrew Jackson.... - TB 4:48 pm.

NYT GRADES: A reader sends the following:

Even as a moderate liberal I find it increasingly difficult to stomach Krugman and I swear, Dowd has gone bonkers. Never been a fan (or a reader for that matter) of Herbert. Never really understood how he got there anyway. But what about Friedman? He's still churning out B/A work.

I did skip over Friedman in my initial post, primarily because he (along with William Safire) frankly isn't in the same category as the rest of The Times' columnists. Particularly with respect to the Middle East, Friedman at least makes intellectual, often insightful arguments (whether you agree with them or not) based on facts and a deep understanding of the region. By and large, he has produced some real admirable work over the last year and I think his writing reflects that he is one of those liberals (a la Dick Gephardt) whose views - at least on foreign policy - who were fundamentally altered by September 11. Speaking of Friedman, it's time to grade his column today:

Title: There is Hope (10/27)
Author: Thomas Friedman
Grade: B

Comments: Friedman writes a first hand account of the Bahraini elections held Thursday. Here's the money graph:

What the more enlightened Arab leaders understand today is that with the mounting pressure of globalization, population explosions and dwindling oil revenues, their long acceptance of political and economic stagnation — which they managed with repression and by refocusing anger onto Israel and America — is becoming unsustainable. While the first big explosion happened in New York City, these regimes know that unless they get their houses in order, and on a more democratic track, the next explosion will be on their doorsteps.

While Friedman goes on to make the specific argument that Bahrain's ethnic composition makes it a potential model for a postwar Iraq, the overall tone of the article suggests something more: that democracy is a panacea for Arab societies. This is simply untrue. As we've just seen in Pakistan, without addressing cultural factors that spawn hate and envy of Western Civilization, democracy can easily provide another outlet for radical Islam rather than be a cure for it.

That being said, I agree with Friedman that any movement toward democracy - even in the most limited form - is positive and a reason for hope.

On a related note, here's an interesting interview with the Prince of Morocco on the subject of democracy in the Arab world. -TB 6:06 am

Saturday, October 26 2002
With this tragedy less than 24 hours old the speculation has now turned to how Senator Wellstone's death will effect the balance of power in the Senate. My initial gut reaction, and my feeling still, is Coleman is finished. The cold-hearted political reading to me is, this tragedy has increased the likelihood of the Democrats retaining the Senate. This is not to say the Democrats will definitely hold on to the Senate, only that it is more likely this morning than yesterday.

Wellstone had pulled slightly ahead of Coleman, due to his vote against the President's Iraq resolution. As that bump for Wellstone faded and Coleman continued to pound on Wellstone's ultra-left record and the reneging on his pledge to only serve two terms, in my mind, that in the end would be enough for Coleman to squeak out a victory. Irrespective of however you broke down the Wellstone/Coleman race with 10 days to go, the reality was this was a 50/50 contest and either guy could have easily have won. Today I think the Democrats have a very good chance of holding on to the seat. There is also the strong likelihood that this will give a boost to Senator Carnahan's struggling candidacy in Missouri. Talent had looked like he was going to take that race, but the tragedy yesterday and its eerie similarity to the crash two years ago that killed Mel Carnahan and his son, will inevitably increase Mrs. Carnahan's sympathy vote. I still think that Talent will win, but Senator Carnahan's odds of holding on have improved.

What the Democrats actually do in Minnesota is still very up in the air, and I suspect that we will know in the next 24-48 hours. The law seems to indicate that they need to find a replacement for Wellstone by Thursday. However, as we have seen in New Jersey and Florida two years ago, the law doesn't matter all the time. The Democrats will make a cold political decision on what gives them the best chance to hold on to the seat. The early indication is because the law seems to be very clear and because the current governor is not a Democrat, they are looking for replacement. The early front-runner and clear Democratic choice is Walter Mondale. As a former Senator (1964-1976), Vice President (1977-1981) and the Democratic nominee in 1984, Mondale is unquestionably an elder statesman in the Democratic Party. That status coupled with the Wellstone sympathy vote makes him a heavy favorite versus Coleman. Where things are likely to get more tricky is if Mondale refuses to run. The other candidates mentioned in the Minneapolis Star Tribune - Wellstone's son, David, Democratic U.S. Reps. Martin Sabo and James Oberstar, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, former Secretary of State Joan Growe, former DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Freeman, former US Senate candidates Rebecca Yanisch and Mike Ciresi, former state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, State Auditor Judi Dutcher. - do not have the same stature as Mondale. Coleman would definitely have a chance if one of these were to be the replacement. But my gut feeling is the sympathy vote here would still be enough to let the Democrats win. However, unlike Mondale these candidates would not be an open and shut case. Which presents the DFL and the Dems with a potential dilemma. If they don't think their replacement will win they may try to go the Missouri route (even though the law seems to clearly say they can't) and keep Wellstone's name on the ballot and work out some deal with Governor Ventura. Because of the legal nightmare this would create the Democrats will probably not go this way, unless they feel it is the only way they can win. Since this option would involve making up the law as we go, it's impossible to say which side would have the advantage.

The bottom line is, if Mondale decides to run this critical toss-up state becomes a safe Democratic hold. If it is Humphrey, Page or another lesser candidate I would give the edge to the Democrats based solely on the sympathy vote, though Coleman would certainly have a chance. And if the Democrats try and run with Wellstone on the ballot, who knows what will happen, the only thing I do know, is that it would be a mess. -JM 9:27 am

Friday, October 25 2002
I read the New York Times editorial page - but only because I have to. Otherwise I would probably avoid it altogether, or do what more and more people seem to be doing with respect to the Paper of Record's famous back page: check in every now and then for a laugh. It's just not a serious space anymore. Every once in a while there is a halfway decent column, but for the most part the triumvirate of Krugman, Herbert, and Dowd (for the moment I'll give a pass to Keller and Kristof) churn out ideological screeds that have little basis in fact - and in Maureen's case, little basis in reality.

But because I have to read the Times, and because I'm one of those people who likes to try and highlight the positives, I've decided to help the Times' editors identify the best work of their columnists by grading them. I'll try to do it daily, if I can stomach it. Let's take a look at today's grades:

Title: Saudis in Bikinis (10/25/02)
Author: Nick Kristof
Grade: C
Comments: Kristof takes to the streets of Riyadh to try and gin up some indignation over the repression of women but ends up frustrated and confused. I'm not really sure what Nick's point is (and neither is he) other than to say that even though all the women he interviewed were completely happy, we should still condemn the Saudis for their treatment of women. How should we do this? It sounds like Nick wants to organize a big "point and jeer" campaign.

Title: Dead Parrot Society (10/25/02)
Author: Paul Krugman
Grade: F-
Comments: Krugman plumbs new depths of vituperation, calling Bush, "as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory" and averring, "the Bush administration lies a lot." His basis for making these comments? The Dana Milbank article that appeared in the Washington Post recently citing three instances in which Bush allegedly "embellished" the facts. Taking a critical look at the piece, however, Milbank can easily be accused of doing the same to dramatize the angle of his frontpage byline. But Krugman isn't content with using a couple of recent quotes to call Bush a liar with respect to the war on Iraq. Instead, he goes further, extrapolating the argument to declare Bush has been lying all along about everything, and for good reason: "There's method in this administration's mendacity. For the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade." This allows Krugman to circle back the standard liberal line: Bush is for rich people, against the environment, controlled by the NRA and Christian coalition, blah, blah, blah. It's a sloppy, rote formula, and one Krugman uses all too frequently these days in his relentless attacks on the Bush administration.

So there you have it. Feel free to email me with your own grades and comments. - TB 10:56 am

Thursday, October 24 2002
MORE MARYLAND: Patrick Ruffini serves up a detailed analysis of the Maryland race and concludes it will end in a one or two point Ehrlich victory. Also, a reader offers the following observations on Townsend:

As previous writers have noted, there's a lot to be said for her, in that there is little to be said for unstable marriage or messy divorce, no criminal record, no drug abuse, no alcohol abuse, no wild sexual escapades, no strange sexual preferences, no dumping of secretaries in the drink and taking off, no killing teenage love interests...not the kind of stuff you usually see in the tragically (and sometimes humorously) flawed Kennedys. But then again, there's nothing particularly positive to say. KKT is just a run of the mill academic egghead. In the absence of her maiden name she would very likely be just Kathleen Townsend, 10 points behind Ehrlich.

I agree there has been a ton of ink spilled over KKT's milquetoast personality and legendary dimwittedness, but that hardly prevents her from firing up her base or disqualifies her as a credible candidate. The argument about whether her based is excited enough to propel her to victory rests to a large degree not on who she is but who she is running against. Is Ehrlich enough of a "gun-loving, abortion-hating right wing bogeyman" to get liberals - especially African American liberals - to the polls on Tuesday? We'll have the answer in twelve days. - TB 7:58 pm

ANGRY WHITE MALE?: Pay attention to the media coverage of this case. Seth Gitell has a great piece on how the arrest shatters preconceived notions about the case and what we should learn. In a more narrow, political context, John thinks the fact the sniper wasn't an "angry white male" saved Ehrlich from a potential disaster.

WATERGATE: A reader reminds me not to forget Watergate in my analysis of why the two parties seem to approach the issue of fraud differently:

The Republican party was once deeply tainted by [Watergate]. Republicans do learn from their mistakes, though. Maybe the scandals haven’t caught up to [Democrats] yet because voters have yet to hold their party accountable for these shenanigans as they did the Republicans in 1976.

Good point. -TB 1:32 pm

THE IOWA WAVE: This story in Roll Call plus new polls on the Iowa Senate and Governor's must have Dems giddy. Three incumbent Republican house members are in trouble while the incumbent Democrat Governor and Senator are crushing their Republican opponents - all this in a state with serious budget problems.

WE THE PEOPLE: Check out the list of wacky stuff on the ballot this year. -TB 11:49 am

Wednesday, October 23 2002
BINGO!: If you have about three minutes and a Real One video player, you need to see this story about the Doyle campaign in Wisconsin. They organized a bingo game at a home for mentally retarded people and then, after priming them with sodas and treats (not to mention a prep speech that was cancelled after the cameras showed up), took them upstairs to cast their votes for Governor by absentee ballot. I'm sure Josh Marshall thinks this is completely acceptable behavior. Either that or a plot by the McCallum campaign......

I'm no holier-than-thou idealist, and I'm sure both sides play fast and loose with the rules. But I don't think there is any question that when it comes to campaigning there seem to be lines Republicans aren't willing to cross while Democrats go zooming by. Of course this is a generalization. But I've noted at least a dozen or so stories in this blog over the last couple of weeks of possible voter fraud, etc. and I can't remember one that involved Democrats accusing Republicans. Is this just because Republicans are the only ones crying foul? Possible, but not likely. Media organizations love these types of stories during election season and would aggressively pursue charges against a Republican campaign.

The other thing that leads me to believe there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue is need. Doyle is in a moderately close race, but not that close. Every poll has him up 8 or more points and his opponent - an incumbent Governor polling in the mid-30's - shows no signs of threatening.. Tom Harkin was cruising with a 15-point lead when his campaign sent a mole into the Ganske meeting. It just boggles the mind why these people would A) not recognize the unethical nature of such behavior and B) risk it anyway when it's not necessary. Unless, that is, they simply don't make any value judgments with respect to A or B and just consider it business as usual. - TB 5:32 pm

MARYLAND TROOPS: A cynic would conclude from this story that John is right: any and all means will be used to preserve Townsend's precious turnout in Montgomery county. I don't have a problem, however, with trying to protect citizens going to the polls. If the sniper isn't caught by November 5 it won't matter, turnout is going to be severely depressed with or without National Guardsmen. One thing I would have a problem with is postponing the election, if only because of the terrible precedent it might set for future wackos who don't like a particular candidate, etc.

On a related note, I've been hearing from a couple different places that Townsend DOES NOT have the intensity she needs in her base to win this election. It appears the saturation coverage of the sniper case has both deflected and diluted KKT's ability to speak to her base and get them fired up. I'm sticking by my prediction - for now - but I'm a whole lot less confident than I was a couple of days ago. - TB 4:49 pm

SEEDS OF DEMOCRACY?: This is a nice companion piece to the NY Times stories on protests in Iraq (here and here) that have received so much attention. Bahrain is holding its first elections in 30 years and four "leading political groups" are boycotting the election. Oh, and the Crown Prince felt compelled to announce that the sudden decision to hold elections had nothing to do with pressure from the US. I'd be inclined to bet a whole bag full of dinars he's lying.

I don't want to overstate the case of democracy taking hold in the Middle East. Still, the threads of the stories beginning to come of out the region suggest the begginings of change - no matter how insignificant or cosmetic they seem - in favor of democracy and against the sort of tyranny that has dominated that part of the world for so long. - TB 1:00 pm

LA RUNOFF: Republicans are desperately trying to keep Mary Landrieu under 50% on election day to force a runoff in December. Doesn't look like it's going to happen. According to this poll, Landrieu only needs to capture one in five undecideds to top the 50% mark. And in the latest Mason-Dixon poll, she's at 44% and including 31% among white voters, which bodes well for her on election day.

DOUBLE TAKE: I read Andrew Sullivan regularly. So when I saw this passage from John Corry's piece today, I knew it sounded familiar. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing Corry of a 'Doris Kearns Goodwin' here, but the analogy is conspicuously similar. See for yourself:

"It gives us John Burns's brilliant reporting out of Iraq -- Burns makes Nicholas Kristof, the other Timesman who's been there, look like a college sophomore -- and it also gives us great quantities of schlock." -John Corry, The American Prowler 10/23

"The superb New York Times reporter, John Burns, has been writing peerless reports from Iraq (they make Nick Kristof look like a college stringer), and he delivers these two paragraphs today." -Andrew Sullivan, 10/21

SPREADING LIKE A VIRUS: Now we've got vote fraud accusations coming out of Arkansas. Meanwhile, SD Republicans are calling on Ashcroft to send in officials to monitor the election. Here's another story concerning possible fraud deep in the heart of Texas. -TB 10:00am

Tuesday, October 22 2002
COUNTDOWN TO DECENCY: Call it whatever you want, Mike, it ain't going to matter. You should have stayed the race. Turning and running only made you look weak, and that weakness now takes away from any message you're trying to put back on the table - admirable as it may be.

NEGATIVE SHADOW: Terry McAuliffe and the DNC are going to try and take the "bump" out of Bush's campaign trip by shadowing him with attack ads on the economy. It's a smart idea, but will it work? So far, the evidence doesn't indicate that Bush and the GOP are going to pay a heavy price this election for a lagging economy.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It may be too late to save Allard. People complain about the Simon gubernatorial campaign in California. They ought to look at Allard's campaign. What a disaster. Our chances of taking back the Senate could really hinge on this boob." - RNC Staffer quoted in The American Prowler.

POLLS EVERYWHERE: We've just posted the latest polls to our Senate, Gubernatorial and House pages. Two others worth mentioning are the Ohio Governor's race (Taft -R 51%, Hagan -D 44%) and the Michigan Governor's race (Granholm - D 54%, Posthumus - R 41%). Both polls were conducted by Survey USA from 10/18-10/20.

Also, Insider Advantage is releasing their latest tracking poll on the Florida Governor's race this afternoon. I'm told it doesn't look too favorable for Jeb. You can sign up here to get the IA tracking poll at a special discount for RCP users. I highly recommend it - you'll want to have the inside scoop on this race down to the wire.

EXPECTATIONS GAME: Check out the language in this AP story about the Carnahan/Talent debate. She's already known inside the beltway as a policy lightweight (that's a friendly term), but it looks as if the media's expectations for her were so low just showing up was a victory. No wonder she turned down the invitation to debate on "Meet the Press."

MY MONEY'S ON KKT: Okay, John and I have a $20 bet on who wins in Maryland - but only if the sniper is caught in the next 13 days. - TB 3:09 pm

MORE ON MARYLAND: I have a disagreement with Tom on this race. As someone who grew up in Baltimore, I had been telling people as late as this summer I didn't think Ehrlich had a chance. However, today not only does he have a chance, he is going to win. In my trips back to the state, it is clear all the intensity is on Ehrlich's side. There is no question Townsend will win 85%-90% of the black vote, but will there be that 120%, full-throttle effort by the Baltimore City political machine to churn out Democratic votes? I don't think so. And for her to win she is going to need the same type of effort by the Democratic machine, that Parris Glendening got in 1994. (By the way, that election was stolen from the Republican Ellen Sauerbrey in Baltimore City, she "officially" lost by 5,993 votes, out of over 1.4 million cast statewide.)

The other BIG factor that has the real potential to give the race to Ehrlich is the whole DC sniper situation. Everyone has been focussing on KKT's gun control ads and whether Ehrlich's pro-gun positions will hurt him with the Sniper story on all the headlines. What you are not hearing is, this guy has just killed again today in Montgomery County. Glendening won the the 1994 and 1998 races carrying only two of Maryland's 23 counties - Prince George's and Montgomery. Townsend is leading in only these two counties and Baltimore City. She needs a massive turnout from Montgomery and Prince George's County to win. Montgomery and Prince George's are the two counties that surround DC, and are the only two counties to date where the sniper has killed in Maryland. If this guy is not caught in the next two weeks, turnout will be SEVERELY depressed in these two critical counties for KKT. And she will LOSE. End of story.

Be prepared in the next two weeks, if this guy is sill at large for the Democrats to ask for "special" voting allowances because of the Sniper situation.  -JM 9:45

IT'S NOT TERROR: A telling editorial in the Arab News offers the weak argument that we shouldn't rush to judgment over the recent bombings around the world because, after all, it could just be the work of organized crime. Here's the money equivocation:

Terrorism is a high-profile and wicked menace. However, year in, year out, the world’s drug barons arguably kill far more innocent victims and wreak far greater social damage than ideological murderers. Yet the Washington led-response to their activities has never approached the determination currently being deployed against international terrorism.

I don't think the "let's ignore Islamofascism and focus on drug lords" argument is going to fly - at least not in this country. - TB 9:02 am

MD GUV RACE: Ehrlich leads by a whisker in the latest poll and for the first time in decades Republicans are within striking distance of taking back the Governor's mansion. It ain't gonna happen.

A good friend of mine who works for a nonprofit group in Baltimore tells me the African-American community is going to turn out huge for KKT. Since Ehrlich's collapse at the Morgan State University debate a few weeks ago, he has essentially given up on the black vote and headed for the 'burbs. Last week the candidates were invited to speak before a huge gathering of African-Americans and address the issues on their agenda. Townsend attended, Ehrlich went to the Redskins game.

Unless Townsend's ploy to use the DC sniper case against Ehrlich backfires, she is going to win this race because of overwhelming support from the black community.

GOP CHAFING: The potential intrigue in this year's election gets the political junkie juices flowing: the ramifications of a Talent win in Missouri and, of course, the specter of another defection. The Washington Times reports that a two-seat pickup by Republicans this November would put the GOP on "Chafee Watch." Can't you just see the press conference with Daschle announcing the deal? Imagine the astonishment of Democrats and the media if the GOP held their own press conference the next day to introduce the newest Republican member of the Senate, Zell Miller from Georgia. It's a little out there, but it could happen. - TB 8:28 am

Monday, October 21 2002
New Gallup poll results. The headlines will read, "Bush Job Approval Sinks to Lowest Level Since Before 9/11." What you won't see is that support for military action in Iraq ticked up to 56% and has remained more or less constant over since June. For a look at the bigger picture click here.

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF: It looks like Bush v. McBride is only a few weeks away.

SHAMEFUL LEAP: The day after the Bali bombing I read Maureen Dowd's column and it struck me: if the paranoid, cynical anti-war left in the United States really believes Bush is worse than Saddam and that he is only interested in oil, then how long would it take before someone blamed his administration for the terrorist attack in Bali as a plot to extend the War on Terror? The answer, as it turns out, is about two weeks.

The dubious arguments advanced by this group of liberals is intellectually equivalent to those of the often-ridiculed "black helicopter" crowd on the right. Yet, astonishingly, we find these asinine theories advanced not only by academics, but by certain members of the United States Congress and three-quarters of the NY Times editorial page.

Barely a day goes by without some new take on the morally inverted argument that "Bush is more dangerous than Hussein" and that the President will whatever it takes (lie, cheat, steal) to invade Iraq for personal reasons (oil, revenge, imperialistic urges). Given this line of logic, is it really such a stretch to conclude that Bush would kill to advance his goals by staging the bombing in Bali? It was only a matter of time before someone took this shameful leap.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Another post on possible vote fraud? Nope. But there is a story out of SD that deserves a little attention. Libertarian Senate candidate Kurt Evans dropped out of the race on Friday and endorsed John Thune. According to the latest KELO-TV poll, Evans was at 5% (referred to in the poll as "other") and his support was unchanged from the previous month. If Evans' endorsement results in a point or two bump for Thune - and there's no reason to believe it shouldn't - that might be enough to push him over the top.

Okay, I couldn't resist posting some more numbers on SD voter registration. Again, the numbers aren't conclusive. But Democrats are either doing a fantastic voter registration drive on Indian reservations or a number of bad registrations have been submitted. Giving out gifts two weeks before an election is also a helpful tool to win votes....

TERROR INC.: For anyone who isn't getting the picture, read this. Contrary to what the folks at The Nation think, al-Qaeda's resurgence doesn't mean 1) we have failed in the War on Terror or 2) dealing with Iraq and North Korea are separate, distracting issues. What is does mean, however, is that we are truly enjoined in a battle between good and evil where the targets are global and circumstances fluid. Hezbollah is gathering support from Iran and Syria. Al-Qaeda is using a network of wealth to support bombings through cells in various countries.

All of these forces are swirling out in the world, probing for weakness, seeking alliances. And, like a moth to a flame, they are all drawn to the same thing, the ultimate source of power: a nuclear weapon. It's only a matter of time before they coalesce around a regime ready and willing to offer them the strength, power, and protection of a nuclear weapon. If allowed to acquire a nuke, Iraq could easily be that regime. Which is why we must pursue with the swiftest possible speed rounding up the terrorists who do the killing, controlling the nuclear weapons they aspire to kill with, and disabling the regimes that facilitate their growth.

THE SD SAGA: Here's the latest. The Republican Attorney General is quoted as saying, ""I'm still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you've heard about those. I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that."

AGING VOTE: Two observations about this study reported by the Washington Post. First, as a practical matter, this bodes well for Democrats in that aging voters (especially those in the middle and lower income brackets) are easily frightened and motivated by ads saying that Republicans will rob them of their Social Security and are against prescription drug coverage. Second, on a personal level, I can't help but wonder about the findings. As reported in numerous surveys, the online market for news and political information continues to explode, driven primarily by youthful online users (average age of around 35). Even niche sites like ours that offer content typically associated with a much older crowd have a much younger demographic composition than you would expect.

While people may question the depth of their knowledge and sense of history, the current 18-34 year-old population is an incredibly tech-savvy generation that literally feeds off the Internet on a steady diet of news, entertainment and information. They are perhaps more in tune with current events that any previous generation. However, as the study apparently indicates, this has yet to translate to any real gains at the ballot box.

POETIC INJUSTICE: In a little "poetry cafe" in Manhattan, rabid anti-Semite and NJ Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka soldiers on. - TB 8:23 am

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