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December 14, 2006

Sheriff Harry Lee and Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson

Here is an interesting email commenting on Rep. William Jefferson's victory in the runoff for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District.

William Jefferson's victory is a bit more complicated than you may know. It involves Hurricane Katrina and the longtime Jefferson Parish Sheriff. Bear with me - this is the type of stuff that only happens in Louisiana.

While his district is largely comprised of New Orleans (predominantly black voters), a portion of Dollar Bill's district includes neighboring Jefferson Parish. As you may know, Jefferson Parish is one of the metropolitan parishes which received most of the "white flight" from Orleans Parish following the 1960's. Today, Jefferson Parish is mostly white, though all socio-economic classes are well represented.

What put Dollar Bill over the top was Jefferson Parish voters! How could this be? During Katrina, a group of (mostly black) people from New Orleans attempted to walk across the downtown Mississippi River Bridge into a town in Jefferson Parish known as Gretna. Jefferson Parish deputies allegedly fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, as Gretna was evacuated and the deputies left behind were unable/unwilling to handle refugees from New Orleans. Dollar Bill's opponent in this race, Karen Carter, has been claiming racism on the part of Jefferson Parish deputies since that time. Accordingly, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee came out against Carter the week before the runoff, asking the rhetorical question, "Does she think I'm crazy?" (He also stated that he was not supporting Dollar Bill.)

You may recall, Harry Lee has made headlines over his several decades-long career, for attempting to stop black pedestrians in certain Jefferson Parish neighborhoods to ask what business brings them to such addresses. Recently, he has been very vocal in discussing black-on-black crime, and has drawn the ire of the NAACP on several occasions. Regardless of how one views his policies, Jefferson Parish voters generally like Harry Lee for his blunt, no holds barred honesty and his efforts to hold back the worst elements from "the City." So it seems many Jefferson Parish voters heeded his call to refrain from voting for Carter.

As this is Louisiana, the tale is even stranger than these facts would indicate. Harry Lee is: (1) a life long Democrat who continues to be re-elected in the most Republican parish in Louisiana: (2) an old hunting buddy of former Democratic Governor, now convict, Edwin Edwards; and (3) fancies himself a cowboy, despite his Chinese heritage.

NPR's All Things Considered had a good write up on Sheriff Lee the other day that lends support to the idea that Henry Lee may have enough clout in Jefferson Parrish to have made a difference in last weekend's runoff:

There's nobody quite like Harry Lee. He's the flamboyant and outspoken sheriff of Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, a sprawling suburb that borders New Orleans. The Chinese-American lawman, now in his seventh term in office, has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth, but it only seems to increase his popularity. The 74-year-old, 300-pound sheriff -- down from 400 pounds, he proudly points out -- sits at his desk surrounded by his large gun collection.

"I'm still as full of piss and vinegar as I was 20 years ago," he says.

For 26 years, Lee has been the top cop and chief taxing authority of the booming jurisdiction of nearly half a million people, and because of peculiar state law, there's little oversight.

"The sheriff of [Jefferson Parish] is the closest thing there is to being a king in the U.S. I have no unions, I don't have civil service, I hire and fire at will. I don't have to go to council and propose a budget. I approve the budget. I'm the head of the law-enforcement district, and the law-enforcement district only has one vote, which is me," he says.
"We know where the problem areas are. If we see some black guys on the corner milling around, we would confront them," he said.

The president of the regional NAACP, Donatus King, wasn't buying it.

"Confronting a group of black people on the street corner merely because they're black and milling around is a form of racial profiling. The NAACP opposes that tactic," King said.

Under pressure, the sheriff said his deputies would not be indiscriminately frisking African-American males.
A few days later, the Times-Picayune ran an unscientific poll. The phone calls ran 22 for the NAACP, 789 for Harry Lee.

Jefferson Parrish elected David Duke its state representative in 1989.

November 30, 2006

A Remarkable Birth

From today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Dayna Klein had only her unborn baby in mind when she instinctively covered her belly after a gunman stormed a Seattle Jewish center last summer.

Tuesday, she finally got to meet the son she saved.

Klein, who survived the rampage July 28 at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that killed a colleague, gave birth to Charley Paz Klein at a Seattle hospital Tuesday night, her spokesman, Howard Bragman, said. The baby weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. [snip]

When the gunman pointed his weapon at her and squeezed the trigger, Klein swung her left hand over her belly to protect her fetus. A bullet went through her arm and grazed her thigh before lodging in the carpet.

"It was a split second that I was able to think. I don't know how, but I was," she told the Seattle P-I after the shootings. "The only thing that occurred to me was, how I was going to save my baby? That was my one shot, my one chance of saving my baby."

Even as she was wounded and bleeding, Klein managed to crawl to her desk and call 911. When the shooter pointed his gun to her head, she handed the phone to him and persuaded him to talk to the police dispatcher. He eventually put his gun down and gave up.

November 28, 2006

Midterm Results Point to Increased Volatility Among the Electorate

Yesterday USA Today carried a story titled "Democratic Gains in Suburbs Spell Trouble for GOP."

Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

This isn't surprising, and it comports with other data showing Republicans lost Independent voters. Over the next several months there will be considerable debate about whether the '06 mid-terms foreshadow the beginning of a more significant realignment away from the GOP towards the Democratic Party.

I think it is wise to be careful not to draw too many sweeping conclusions from the mid-term results, because of Iraq's dominating influence over the election. There is no doubt that Republicans lost Independent and moderate voters, and that they lost voters in the suburbs. The real question is whether this is a one-time event or the beginning of a trend. Was 2006 more of a vote of no-confidence on U.S. Iraq policy, or was it the early stages of a real and sustained move among swing voters to the Democrats?

Independent voters are becoming a more significant slice of the voting public, and to the degree these voters break solidly toward one party - as they did this year - they have the ability to produce dramatic swings in the final election results. However, both parties would be foolish to think that they have an easy "in" with this swing block. Democrats would be naive to think these voters are now solidly behind a Nancy Pelosi agenda and Republicans would be equally naive to assume recent Republican-leaning Independents who deserted them this year are going to automatically return to the fold in 2008.

After the 2000 election Michael Barone referred to America as "The 49% Nation" in the Almanac for American Politics:

In 1996 Bill Clinton was re-elected with 49.2% of the vote. That same year Republicans held the House when their candidates led Democrats by a 48.9% to 48.5% margin. In 1998 Republicans held onto the House when their candidates led in the popular vote by 48.9% to 47.8%. On November 7, 2000 George W. Bush won 47.9% of the vote and Al Gore 48.4%. The same day House Republican candidates led Democrats by a 49.2% to 47.9% margin. Round off these numbers and you have 49%, 49%, 49%, 49%, 48%, 48%, 48% 49%, 48% - essentially the same number over and over.

In the 2004 presidential election 47 out of 50 states voted exactly the same way they did in 2000, with Kerry coming within a tenth, 48.3% of Gore's 48.4%. The favorable political winds from 9/11 and the War allowed President Bush and House Republicans to break out of the 48/49 deadlock with Bush drawing 51% against Kerry, and House Republicans 51% in 2002 and 50% in 2004.

But this year the mess in Iraq and the lack of any clean solution to the conflict destroyed the GOP advantage on national security and provided the catalyst for the Democrats' 52%-53% victory in the House vote.

The size of the Democratic victory is significant, though I think it speaks more to an increase in election volatility rather than a longer-term directional move toward the Democratic Party.

Volatility is retuning to American politics. The "49% Nation" stasis of the last decade is poised to be cracked wide open. This means great opportunity and great risk for both parties. Real world events and the respective leadership we see from each side, along with the choice of nominees for 2008 and the platforms they run on will have massive influence over the voters in the middle who determine the majority.

Depending on the path the parties choose over the next two years, the potential for either an electoral blowout or a significant third party candidate in 2008 is very real.

November 27, 2006

OH-15 Update

Incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce is declared the winner in Ohio 15 by 1,055 votes. The race will now go into a mandatory recount.

All in the Family

Curt Weldon lost his seat three weeks ago, but the FBI investigation into dealings between Weldon, his daughter's consulting firm, and businessman John Gallagher continues apace. The Philadelphia Inquirer has the details - and they aren't pretty. Here's one example involving Weldon's daughter's consulting firm Solutions Worldwide and the Russian natural-gas giant Itera International Energy:

Weldon set up a Library of Congress dinner for Itera in 2002 and, on the floor of Congress, pushed for a federal grant to the firm. A month later, Itera hired Solutions for $500,000 a year.

Whether or not this meets the legal standard of a quid pro quo, it sure seems like an obvious bit of influence peddling. Even more apparent, it's a grotesque violation of common sense for a Congressman to be in any way involved with a party - or even the process - that may result in the awarding of business to a family member.

Weldon isn't alone. One of the consequences of spawning a professional legislative class in this country is the development of family connections in government-related businesses. Tom Daschle's wife was a high-powered lobbyist engaging in business while he was setting the agenda for the minority in the Senate. John Murtha's brother currently works for a firm that lobbies the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (which Murtha will Chair in the new Congress) on behalf of defense contractors. John Doolittle's wife banked a bunch of money from Brent Wilkes as a "campaign consultant" for her husband. Tom DeLay's wife and daughter made a half-million in salary and consulting fees between 2001 and 2006 for helping run his campaigns and political action committees.

These are just a few examples that come to mind, though with a bit of investigation I'll bet the list of spouses, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who are in government-related business and/or on a political payroll would run another few pages at least. That doesn't make all these relationships illegal or unethical, mind you, but it certainly does raise concern - especially when the concept of a "conflict of interest" appears to be so foreign to many publicly elected officials.

November 22, 2006

House Updates

Incumbent Republicans Heather Wilson (NM-1) and Jean Schmidt (OH-2) both clinch wins in their respective races.

Races still outstanding:

* NC-8: Incumbent Republican Robin Hayes is clinging to a 339-vote lead.
* OH-15: Incumbent Republican Deb Pryce holds a lead of 3,717 votes over Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. Thousands of provisional ballots are in the process of being verified and/or counted.
* FL-13: Democrat Christine Jennings is challenging the result in this race, a 369 vote loss to Republican Vern Buchanan.

November 20, 2006

More Election 2006

A few interesting emails commenting on my post-election analysis from a couple of days ago.

Read your commentary related to why the GOP lost the recent election. For the most part you "Hit the nail on the head". Run away spending, failure to stand up and get things done, immigration, sleaze, and of course Iraq all were major factors. In my opinion, the American people want less government interference in their daily life, are sick of unnecessary spending, i.e. Bridge to nowhere, are discussed that the GOP'ers seemingly couldn't get anything done, i.e. immigration reform, and a sense that Iraq was really a mess. Too bad the press is so slanted on Iraq, but they have been that way since Vietnam. I was in Vietnam, and the war I saw was certainly a different war than that depicted by Time Magazine. Unfortunately, to date it appears that the GOP simply doesn't get it as to why they failed in the recent election. So what the heck let the Dem's give it a shot. Really too bad that our political system is so polarized. I personally have thought for sometime that the parliamentary system of government is much more representative of the people who vote for someone to represent them. If there were 5 or 6 different candidates with their beliefs available to vote for, it would be interesting to see what type of representation the American people would elect to represent them. Now it either or, with little choice. It certainly is no longer government for and by the people. Too bad. Well, enough said, your thought which closely mirror mine are in my opinion right on, but unfortunately, it probably going to be too bad the GOP isn't going to get it as it is appearing its "Business as usual". Guess it will be at matter of time before the general somewhat uninformed public gets tired of the Dem's and their ways, and will again turn to the GOP.

**********

I predicted to you last year that the harsh anti illegal immigration rhetoric would alienate otherwise pro LEGAL immigration Hispanics. The GOP will not survive if it is not competitive among Hispanics like it is not competitive among blacks, Jews, the Northeast, far-West and now increasingly in the Midwest. Losing Hispanics will sooner or later make it very difficult to hold on to Texas and Florida. I doubt it can get the majority of Hispanics anytime soon but anywhere between 40-50% should be within reach considering the historic and socioeconomic diversity of the components of the Hispanic community. The GOP needs to come to terms also with the fact that there is real economic anxiety in the Midwest and purist pro globalization policies and attitudes pose real threat to those people "here and now" needs, from healthcare to retirement. These are the people demagogues like Lou Dobbs talk to every day. The pursue of a pro life, traditional values agenda is noble and good for America but if it is seen as a threat to personal freedoms and choices it will not go anywhere. The GOP also has no make people understand better the real threats of Islamic extremism and the potential consequences of leaving behind a failed state in Iraq.
I really think McCain can fill this void. I am just concerned about his age, S/L involvement, marriages, inconsistencies regarding the Religious Right and his plan to MORE troops for Iraq.

**********

May I make several brief comments on this column?

1. Although the Democrats will be running Congress, they are not directly running the war effort, and I think that they will not vote to cut off funding, because their majorities are thin and the leadership will know that some Democrats from more conservative states would side with the Republicans on this issue.

So if the President's efforts to end the war honorably fail, it will be his fault. If he succeeds, the Democrats will be able to take some credit by claiming to have forced him to change tack. It's a win-win for the Democrats.

2. Likewise the '9/11 effect'. If America is lucky enough to escape a further attack before the next election, memories of 9/11 will have faded even more. If there is another attack, the Republicans, who have taken credit for preventing further attacks, will have to take responsibility for not preventing it; they can't have it both ways. Either way, the Republicans lose.

3. Whatever Mr Bush does about Iran, it will be a horrible mess, unless he gets very, very lucky. For all our sakes, I hope he does get lucky, but above all his Presidency has been one distinguished by an unremitting lack of good fortune.

4. Like the Republicans in 1994, the Democrats are hungry. They managed to outsmart the Republicans in the 2006 elections, and you can bet they don't want to mess up their chances in 2008. They know the pitfalls that await over the next 2 years and they don't have to accomplish much to look better than the Republican Congress has since 2000. What a tragic frittering away of opportunity for the Republican Party, and for America, these years have been.

For his part, if Mr Bush wants any kind of domestic legacy, he will have to work with the Democrats. Considering how he was abandoned by Republican candidates during the late election, he might even relish the prospect.

**********

One point I would like to make in terms of a recommendation for the Democrats: it is important to educate the voters that the situation we find ourselves in internationally with regard to Iraq, Iran, North Korea and the general proliferation of nuclear weapons world wide are, after six years in control of all parts of the federal government, the Republicans to own and wear. These should now be considered concrete examples of the failures of the Bush team's approach to international threats and coalition building.


With the exception of the section on Schiavo, this was a solid analysis. Your conclusions about the factors that drove the election were accurate and your prognostications about future democratic opportunities seem spot on.

On Schiavo, MSM manipulation of the issue affected perceptions of middle-ground voters. The facts are these:

1. State government entities prevented the biological parents from providing for their daughter.
2. The law as written was on the side of the husband.
3. The husband behaved in a poor fashion in my opinion.
4. The law as written is generally good.
5. This case was an extreme example that tested the limits of existing statues.

Webb and Tester Good News for Dems

Jim Webb and Jon Tester's extremely narrow wins in Virginia and Montana two weeks ago were obviously huge for the Democrats in that they delivered them the six seats they needed to win control of the Senate. Maybe more important in the long-run than control in the Senate these next two years (which may turn out to me more of a nightmare than a blessing) is Webb and Tester put a new and attractive face on the Democratic party.

Both come from regions of the country where Democrats have struggled for the last quarter century. With the departure of Zell Miller the Democratic party had just about completely lost their Jacksonian heritage which Jim Webb, could perhaps, be the beginning of turning that trend around. Democrats will need more Jim Webbs and less John Edwards if they hope to make real headway in the solidly Republican south. Tester's populism (if he doesn't stray too far to the redistributionist left) will sell well in a libertarian-leaning West that is fed up with out of control federal spending and the mess in Iraq.

Both looked good on Meet the Press yesterday speaking on Iraq and the middle class, but at some point they are going to have to confront many issues where the voters in their conservative-leaning states simply split with the Schumer's, Levin's and Kennedy's who will retain the real power in the new Democratic Senate. Taxes, judges and national security will be where the rubber hits the road with these two.

I suspect Webb has a considerably brighter future than Tester, who if he isn't careful with his votes and alliances may end up like Rod Grams in Minnesota who got swept in with 49% in the 1994 wave and then got chucked out six years later losing to they very underwhelming Mark Dayton.

November 17, 2006

Meet the New Boss...

I'm not sensing much enthusiasm from conservatives over the election of John Boehner and Roy Blunt to the top two GOP leadership posts.

Mary Katherine Ham:

Hey guys? Want more of the same? Isn't that what you meant when you voted Republicans out of office?

Good news. The Republican Party delivers!

Paul Mirengoff's take over at Powerline is about as good as it gets for Boehner and Blunt: "I don't know whether this was the right choice, but it seems like a reasonable one."

Mike Krempasky at Red State fires off a good shot at Roy Blunt: "Congratulations to Represenative Roy Blunt on his re-election to the Whip post. May he be as effective in stopping bad Democratic bills as he was in pushing bad Republican ones."

Meanwhile, Rep. Blunt released a statement that reads, in part:

As a party, we learned some hard lessons last week. But our ideas didn't lose -- we did. Today begins the rebirth of House Republicans' common sense agenda with a leadership team that is more unified than ever, ready to regain the trust of the American people, and ready to restore faith in our ideals.

The "rebirth" of a "common sense agenda." Sounds good, but I suspect most conservatives have a two word response for Blunt and Boehner: "Prove it."

Aftershock

My take on the election in today's Chicago Sun-Times.

November 16, 2006

Letters of Commitment Are Crap

Revising an extending from the post below, I forgot to highlight this delicious nugget on Murtha from the WaPo story which, on the heels of his "ethics reform is crap" exchange with Chris Matthews the other night (dissected and derided by Kaus and Maguire), should raise even more questions about Murtha's integrity:

In a phone call initiated by Murtha that same day, the lawmaker told the longtime politician that he had already signed a letter of support for Hoyer. The congressman said he was stunned when Murtha told him, "Letters don't mean anything."

Ethics reform is crap. Letters of commitment don't mean anything. Very inspiring stuff.

D-Day For Murtha

Jonathan Weisman and Lois Romano set the stage in the Washington Post this morning:

A showdown over the House majority leader's post today has Democrats bitterly divided only a week after their party took control of Congress and has prompted numerous complaints that Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her allies are using strong-arm tactics and threats to try to elect Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.) to the job.

Jules Crittenden writes on his new blog that he's going to 'sit back and enjoy' the fight:

Today offers the kind of spectacle that is a small consolation prize for a party out of power: the victors pummeling each other over the spoils. The election having been lost, today's majority leadership race is a win-win.

Michael Barone looks at why Pelosi is so determined to support Murtha before concluding:

The word from Capitol Hill has been that Steny Hoyer, the current minority whip who ran against Pelosi for that job in 2001, has the votes. Hoyer is an experienced and competent politician who is respected and well liked on both sides of the aisle, and I suspect that many House Democrats are miffed that Pelosi is opposing him.

Murtha is telling people he's got the votes, so today's vote should be very interesting - and potentially surprising, too, since it's a secret ballot.

November 15, 2006

Don't Mess With Lou

Lou Dobbs declares, "I'm a damn proud populist" in the midst of this tirade against his critics on both the left and the right who've been using the term "Lou Dobbs Democrats." He's kinda angry.

More Murtha

Ruth Marcus lays the wood to Nancy Pelosi this morning, calling Murtha "unfit" to be Majority Leader. Suprisingly, Joe Conason isn't happy either:

By siding openly with her friend and ally, Mr. Murtha, in a letter to her colleagues, however, Ms. Pelosi has also ensured that the outcome will render an instant judgment on her authority in her new role. She has sent a clear signal that what she values most is loyalty--and that she is willing to risk embarrassment to enforce discipline. For Democrats who have too often failed to act with any semblance of cohesion or coherence, the Pelosi approach is refreshingly tough and free of timidity.

But as a national leader who vowed to clean up Washington's dirty politics during the 2006 campaign, she may yet come to regret her endorsement of Mr. Murtha. After promising to "drain the swamp," she immediately adopted one of the swamp's hungriest alligators as her pet.

What irony. One of the left's main knocks on President Bush over the years is that he's been too blinded by loyalty and that his administration has suffered from cronyism. Yet here you have the new Speaker of the House, whose drapes haven't even been measured or hung yet, pulling out all the stops to install an ethically-challenged pal for Majority Leader out of blind loyalty and passing over another perfectly competent member (Jane Harman) out of pure pique to turn over the Chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee to a man who was impeached for taking bribes. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, I'd say.

CT-2 Update

The final margin of victory for Democrat Joe Courtney over Rob Simmons in CT-2? Ninety-one votes.

No word on whether the results will be challenged. Simmons will hold a press conference today at 3:30 eastern.

November 14, 2006

The Bush Factor?

The Hotline's Chuck Todd says there is "plenty of evidence" that President Bush was the deciding factor that cost Republicans control of the Senate:

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that President Bush may have been the deciding factor that killed the GOP's momentum in some key Senate races over the last week. One Republican consultant is convinced that Bush's last-minute visit to Missouri on behalf of ousted GOP Sen. Jim Talent did the incumbent in. According to the network exit polls, Democrat Claire McCaskill crushed Talent among those late-breaking voters who decided in the final three days (a full 11 percent of the electorate). Bush also made a last-minute trip to Montana, where anecdotal evidence indicates the president's rally for Republican Conrad Burns stopped the incumbent's momentum in Billings.

Todd cites the exit polls for Missouri, which do indeed show late breakers going to McCaskill, though it's impossible to say that had anything to do with Bush's visit. The data is, at best, inconclusive: Bush had a 45% job approval rating in Missouri, and close to half of those who voted (46%) said Bush did not play a role in how they cast they're vote.

With regard to Montana, Todd cites "anecdotal evidence" to support his argument that Bush somehow stopped Burns' momentum, when in fact those very same exit polls in Montana show just the opposite:

mtexitpoll.gif

It looks like the "rule" that undecideds always break disproportionately for the challenger proved true Missouri, but not in Montana. In any case, it's impossible to say how much Bush's last-minute visits had to do with the outcome in either of these races.

OH-15 Update

Incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by 3,536 votes. But there are more than 10,000 provisional ballots left to be counted, and the Columbus Dispatch reports the Kilroy campaign is still hard at work:

Kilroy's campaign called about 70,000 voters last weekend and aired television and radio ads asking people who cast provisional ballots to contact the campaign and county boards of elections to make sure their votes in the 15 th Congressional District are counted.

According to the article, "95 percent of people who voted provisionally in Franklin County were able to provide a Social Security card or driver's license number that can be used to establish residency." If you assume 95% of provisional ballots end up being verified and counted, a down and dirty sketch of the math shows that Kilroy would have to win 70% of them to flip the seat. Furthermore, if the addition of the provisional ballots brings Kilroy within 998 votes of Pryce (either ahead or behind) - it will trigger a mandatory recount in all three counties.

NM-1 Update

In New Mexico 1, County Clerks are in the process of counting of the 2,698 provisional ballots and 1,058 "in lieu of" ballots still outstanding. Each ballot has to be scrutinized to determine whether it's valid or not before being added the candidate's final tally. By law, the count has to be done by Friday.

Right now, incumbent Republican Heather Wilson has a 1,487-vote lead over Democrat Patricia Madrid.

CT-2 Update

The Hartford Courant reports on the back and forth of the recount in CT-2:

The roller coaster recount in the 2nd Congressional District took a sharp turn Monday afternoon when officials in one small eastern Connecticut town discovered an error that had given Democrat Joe Courtney 100 extra votes.

By nightfall, though, Courtney had gained back 40 of those votes due to the discovery of another error in another small town that had inflated the vote totals of his opponent, Republican incumbent Rob Simmons.

Later the same evening, a computation error in yet a third town gave Republicans an additional 31 votes, according to the state party chairman.

The stomach-churning ride is expected to screech to a halt late tonight, when every community in the sprawling, 65-town district will have completed its mandated recount. By law, the municipalities have until midnight Wednesday to report their revised tallies to the secretary of the state's office, but 56 had completed the process by Monday night and the final nine will do so today.

As of late Monday, Courtney, a lawyer from Vernon, continued to hold a narrow lead over Simmons, a three-term incumbent from Stonington. That margin stood at 82 votes, according to State GOP Chairman George Gallo after Simmons picked up 31 votes in Waterford. On election night, preliminary results gave Courtney a 167-vote advantage, but the margin was tiny enough to trigger a recount.

WA-8 Update

The AP has called the race in WA-8 for incumbent Republican Dave Reichert.

Sober Advice & Reverse Psychology

The Washington Post editorializes against Jack Murtha for Majority Leader this morning, citing his views on Iraq ("his descriptions of the stakes there have been consistently unrealistic, and his solutions irresponsible") and his ethics baggage ("Mr. Murtha has been a force against stronger ethics and lobbying rules.").

The WaPo editorial reads as one would expect: an earnest, sober piece of advice from a left-leaning paper urging Democrats not to follow up a big victory by committing a tactical error.

On the other hand, the liberal editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has no such reservations about wanting Mr. Murtha to take the number two slot in the House:

The American people want change, but it's a fair bet they also want leaders who are credible and responsible. Ms. Pelosi, whom Republicans like to paint as a San Francisco liberal, needs a plain-speaking warrior Democrat like Mr. Murtha at her side. The nation does too.

Lastly, we come to the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which also backs Mr. Murtha as Majority Leader in what might accurately be described as a thinly-veiled piece of reverse psychology:

If Democrats are smart, and truly want to show the American people that they can put internal party politics aside for the benefit of the nation, they'll line up behind Jack Murtha.

Maybe the Trib-Review ed board honestly supports Jack Murtha as the best choice for Democrats, but I doubt it. As a general rule of thumb in politics, when people who consistently oppose the views of your party start advising you to do something, it's a good idea to do the opposite.

November 13, 2006

Iraq Over Ethics

David Corn has an interesting blog post on Pelosi's support of Jack Murtha for Majority Leader:

This morning, I called Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, to ask about the potential congressional reforms House Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi is expected to push on Day One. But before we got to that, Sloan teed off on Pelosi for having endorsed Representative Jack Murtha, the hawk turned Iraq war critic, in his fight against Representative Steny Hoyer to be the House Democratic majority leader, the powerful number-two job in the body. "Murtha has lots of ethics issues," Sloan exclaimed. "What the hell is she thinking? Corruption turns out to be a major issue in the campaign, and you endorse the guy with the more ethics problems?"

CT-2 Update

The town clerk of Lebanon just announced that human error caused a machine to record an extra 100 votes for Joe Courtney.

Courtney's lead over Rob Simmons is now down to just 65 votes. Thirty-five towns in the second district are recanvassing today. Final results should be known by the end of the week.

The Libertarian Effect

In one closely watched Congressional race (Sodrel v Hill, IN-9) and two critical Senate races (Missouri and Montana), the Republican candidate was defeated by fewer votes than the Libertarian candidate received.

[Note: the last data I could find on the Missouri race still had two of the 3746 precincts to report, so it is possible that statement isn't true for Missouri, but if it is not true it is still very close and does not diminish my point.]

In other words, in these two critical Senate races and if the Republican had gotten the Libertarian's votes, the Republican would have won.

For the rest of this article, please recognize that I am speaking of the small-"l" libertarian, and not the Libertarian Party of the candidates mentioned above. A "libertarian", in the shortest definition I can muster, is someone who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In other words, it is someone who wants the government to perform a very small set of legitimate functions and otherwise leave us alone.

I can hardly contain my glee at seeing this happen after years of hoping it would. And in such dramatic fashion, with such important results. I did not hope it would because I wanted Republicans to lose, but because the Republicans had become corrupted (by which I do not mean corrupt in the typical sense.) They became enamored of power, and believed that they could get away with expanding the size, intrusiveness, and cost of government as long as they had government aim for "conservative" goals rather than liberal ones. This loss, and the way it happened, was the best thing that could have happened for Americans who care about a government focused on limited government and liberty.

No, the Democrats are not that government. They believe in anything but limited government, and they only believe in liberty in one's personal life, but not in one's economic life. In a sense, Democrats believe that the citizens work for the government.

Republicans on the other hand have acted in just the opposite way: they believe in economic liberty and they know we do not work for government. But they do not believe in personal liberty. The failure of the strategery of the Republicans, to focus on "the base" by trotting out social issues such as the South Dakota no-exception abortion ban (which lost, I'm pleased to say) demonstrated two things: First, social issues do not have long coat-tails. Second, the GOP base is fiscal conservatives more than it is social conservatives.

Fiscal conservatives, even more than social conservatives, were the demotivated voting block. Fiscal conservatives who are not socially conservative, i.e. voters who are libertarian even if they don't know it or wouldn't identify themselves that way, were the key swing vote in this election and were the reason that the GOP lost Congress...the Senate in particular.

In a recent study called "The Libertarian Vote", David Boaz (Cato Institute) and David Kirby (America's Future Foundation) discuss the growing number of American libertarians, the growing dissatisfaction among them (including me) with the GOP, and the continuing shift in voting patterns caused by that dissatisfaction. Tuesday held the obvious conclusion of this shift.

The party which went from reforming welfare to banning internet gambling by sticking the ban inside a port security bill, the party which went from Social Security reform to trying to amend the Federal Constitution to prevent gay marriage, the party which went from controlling the size and scope of government to banning horse meat became a party which libertarians and Republicans alike could not stomach.

The Democrats are a disaster, though they probably realize they need to move to the center. The Republicans have just been taught a brutal lesson that they also need to move to the center (on social issues) and back to fundamental principles of our Founders on issues of economics and basic liberties. No party can rely on the unappealing nature of their opponent to be a strong enough motivation to win elections, nor should we let them win if being just a bit better than the other guys is all they aspire to.

What I love about libertarian voters is that they vote on principle, not on party. The GOP might not like it, but politics should not be about blind loyalty if your party has lost its way. So, I disagree with suggestions that libertarians are fickle and unreliable voters. Instead the Republicans became an unreliable party. The Democrats on the other hand are extremely reliable -- they will always raise spending and taxes, get government involved where it doesn't belong. But other than the tax cuts of several years ago, the Republicans have been no different other than choosing different areas of our lived to intrude upon.

I hope that the result of the Libertarian Effect, particularly on the GOP, will be that the next election may provide us an opportunity to replace this batch of Democrat placeholders with Congressmen who not only have read the Constitution, but respect it. Congressmen who understand that Republican voters do not elect politicians to have them impose their (or our) morality on the people, but rather to keep government from interfering in our lives and leaving us, in the immortal words of Milton Friedman, "Free to Choose".

The Lure of the Majority

Russ Feingold says he won't run for President in 2008 because "I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget Committees."

Similarly, Jesse Jackson, Jr. recently abandoned a long-expected challenge to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley by saying:

"More than any time since I took my initial oath-of-office, I am excited, eager and downright giddy about the prospects in Washington," Jackson said. "So, I will not be a candidate for the mayor of the city of Chicago in 2007. Instead, I hope to make my seventh term in Congress my best yet." [snip]

"The prospects of being in the majority, on a key committee, with reasonable seniority, is very exciting to me," he said.

Question: how else might the lure of the majority change the political landscape for 2008? Will Hillary Clinton be affected? Or is even the possibility of a Committee Chairmanship too small to appease her appetite for political power? What about Barack Obama? Might his decision to run be influenced by the prospect of spending another eight years in the majority as opposed to the minority?

And what about the opposite effect on Republicans? Are there any Senators who might be induced to enter the '08 fray out of the prospect of facing time in the dreaded minority? None spring to mind, but that doesn't mean we may not see a possible surprise or two.

The Shape of Things to Come

Substantively speaking, there probably won't be a whole lot of difference between a Majority Leader Murtha and a Majority Leader Hoyer But there's a rather significant difference between the two from a public relations standpoint, and it'll be interesting to see if the Democrats choose Jack Murtha to be their second most prominent spokesperson in the House.

As to the Democrats' agenda, "phased withdrawal" from Iraq is tops on the list. Other items include getting the government to take over negotiating drug prices for Medicare, changing rules to make earmarking more transparent, raising the minimum wage, and revisiting federal funding for stem cells.

There had been talk of Democrats taking up comprehensive immigration reform, but the Washington Post suggests this morning that it's "not a priority." However, Mickey quotes a source who says the Dems are indeed planning to move "full speed ahead" on immigration reform.

Regardless, don't look for much of anything to get done in the lame duck session that starts today. The President wanted Congress to take up the legislation on the NSA surveillance program, but it is not going to happen. It also looks like John Bolton's days as UN Ambassador are numbered. Whatever real action is going to take place in Congress isn't going to start until after the New Year.

The House That Rahm Built

A monster profile of Rahm Emanuel in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that only adds to the "Rahmbo" mystique:

In a world where congressmen refer to each other as "my distinguished colleague," Emanuel, 46, is sometimes unable to get through a single sentence without several obscenities. His politics are centrist, but his style is extremist. The top of his right middle finger was severed when he was a teenager, adding to his aura of toughness--especially when he extends that middle finger, which he does with some regularity.

Set aside at least 20 minutes if you plan on reading the whole thing.

November 11, 2006

Warping Young Minds

You remember Kevin Barrett, the September 11th denier who was hired to teach a class on Islam and 9-11 at the University of Wisconsin? Well, he just completed the semester-long course by telling his students, "Your tax dollars are paying for the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. The CIA is paying for resistance in Iraq." I kid you not.

More from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Barrett began Thursday's lecture by reviewing the work of several Muslim writers who believe the Sept. 11 attacks were the work of terrorists. One argues that the attacks reveal broader clashes within Islam; another believes they indicate a blossoming clash between the Muslim world and the West. The writings were among works that had been assigned to Barrett's students to read.

Barrett then moved on to an essay by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, who argues that the Sept. 11 attackers were part of a broad network of terrorism sponsored by the United States and other Western intelligence agencies. Ahmed argues that the U.S. has used terrorism to destabilize other countries and gain control over their resources.

In his lecture, Barrett sprinkled in the phrase according to this analysis periodically at the end of his sentences. But he stated much of Ahmed's argument as fact and offered up his own views or observations to bolster the claims.

On the conventional idea that terrorists were motivated by their belief in Islam, Barrett said: "That's simply not true. That story gets blown out of the water."

And if you think Barrett's views are so nutty even impressionable college kids would shrug them off, think again:

Freshman Jesse Moya disagreed, saying Barrett had been "very objective."

Moya, who said his uncle died in the World Trade Center attacks, said he had entered the course believing the attacks were the work of Islamic terrorists. He now believes otherwise.

"It seems like a more logical explanation that it was the U.S. government," he said.

It's maddening to think that on the day we honor veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country and for the First Amendment rights that give people like Barrett the freedom to spout such views, we've become so thoroughly confused by moral relativism and political correctness that we now allow nutters like Barrett into the classroom to mold and pollute the impressionable minds of our kids with this stuff.

Shaw Speaks Out

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Clay Shaw says that he might have avoided defeat if Rumsfeld had been let go prior to the election:

A speedier sacking of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have salvaged the campaigns of Republicans who lost during this week's rout of the GOP, a somber Rep. Clay Shaw said Friday as he grappled to understand his first election loss in 35 years.

Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who had withstood a series of tough elections, was defeated Tuesday by state Sen. Ron Klein, who repeatedly sought to link Shaw's fortunes to those of President Bush and his hand-ling of the war in Iraq. At least 27 other Republican House members lost their seats as voters signaled discontent with GOP rule -- handing control of the U.S. House and Senate to Democrats for the first time in 12 years.

But the loss came as a shock to the campaign veteran who said internal polling consistently showed him ahead of Klein.

''My guess is it was . . . the tide rolling across the whole country and we got caught up in it,'' a reflective -- and at times bitter -- Shaw said Friday during an hourlong interview in his Fort Lauderdale congressional office, his wife, Emilie, at his side. Shaw noted Republicans were dealing with sex and corruption scandals and a military death toll in Iraq that topped 100 in October. 'I think that was laying heavily in voters' minds.''

Shaw said he shared his belief about Rumsfeld's departure with Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist -- who called Shaw on Friday and told him ``the race he was most concerned about was mine, and that he felt very badly about losing me.''

Rove told him that Rumsfeld wasn't let go until after the election because the president ''didn't want our soldiers to come off with the impression that he was doing that for political purposes, just to get a leg up on this election,'' Shaw said.

Shaw said he agreed it was critical that the troops ''don't feel they're being politicized,'' but said he wished Rumsfeld's ouster had happened sooner.

''My first impression was the actual votes I needed would have been there,'' Shaw said. ``I think the Republicans would have been a little more energized. . . .''

It's really hard to say what sort of effect Firing Don Rumsfeld before the election might have kept more independents with Republicans, but I suspect it might have energized Democrats and demoralized some conservatives as well. If Bush wanted to signal a change and not have the decision look political, he should have let Rumsfeld go either last year or at the beginning of this year.

In retrospect, the smartest political move the Democrats may have made this entire election season was to call for Rumsfeld's head in back in May. Once they did that, Bush was essentially stuck with Rumsfeld because to let him go would have looked like political capitulation.

November 10, 2006

The View From the DCCC

Here's a memo from the DCCC analyzing the results from Tuesday:

Scandals no one expected, a sagging economy for the middle class and a prolonged war in Iraq that shook the undercarriage of support for Bush - all had a tremendous impact on this election. This memo answers the question of how the DCCC won a Democratic majority by winning seats in Republican strongholds and, for the first time since 1922, made major gains without losing one seat in our control.

Targeting: Early on, we took chances by focusing on seats that, to others, may not have seemed competitive -- allowing us to expand the field to 50 districts across the country. Through this effort, we effectively spread out Republican resources, and were able to pick up seats more efficiently than ever before. Once candidates showed their strength, by meeting fundraising and message goals set at the DCCC, we were able to specifically target races where we had the best chances, broadening the field of play and striking late in districts where we thought we could make a difference - like KS2, PA4 and CA11.

Efficient margin of victory: In 2006, Democratic Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidates ran smart campaigns and won by aggregate margins of 11.4% and 7% respectively. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, however, had more seats to focus on but because of our targeting and spending choices, we were able to win a House Majority with an aggregate margin of victory of only 4.8%. Democrats won with 52.4% of the major party vote, compared to 47.6% for Republicans. (Because votes are still being counted, these numbers are not final and may change slightly.)

Multi-Regionality: Through the strength of DCCC recruiting in all parts of the country - finding candidates who ideologically fit their districts -- the result of this election was national in scope. Though wins were concentrated in the east, Democrats won victories in all regions of the country including: 5 in the South and border states, 7 in the Midwest industrial area, 3 in the rural Midwest, 2 in Rocky Mountain states, 1 on the West Coast and, of course, 11 in the East.

Kerry Districts: Only 8 of the 29 races won by Democrats in 2006 were in districts carried by John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. In fact, Democrats actually won 11 districts where Kerry won less than 45%.

2006 vs. Other Historic Elections: In 1994, Republicans won the House by 7% but had far more competitive seats. The 1982 Democrats won 26 seats with by 12% of the vote. The 2006 DCCC faced a number of challenges that the 1994 class and the 1982 class did not face, especially the redistricting that made the terrain more favorable to the GOP. The 4.8% margin for Democrats in varied districts shows why our targeting was effective.

Who Do You Believe?

Paul Krugman: "Tuesday's election was a truly stunning victory for the Democrats....this election marks the beginning of the end for the conservative movement that has taken over the Republican Party."

Charles Krauthammer: "the great Democratic wave of 2006 is nothing remotely like the great structural change some are trumpeting...This is not realignment. As has been the case for decades, American politics continues to be fought between the 40-yard lines.. In this election, the Democrats carried the ball from their own 45-yard line to the Republican 45-yard line. The fact that the Democrats crossed midfield does not make this election a great anti-conservative swing."

Cartoon of the Day - II

Here's another from Mike Shelton at the OC Register:

ocregcartoon.gif

No Apologies

On Tuesday I wrote about a blatant race-baiting radio ad that appeared on the web site of the Democratic candidate for Fulton County Chairman which featured U.S. Rep John Lewis, as well as current Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and former mayor Andrew Young telling voters in no uncertain terms that if Republicans won the election they would turn back the clock on civil rights and that African-Americans might be in mortal danger. Rep. Lewis said in the ad, "On Nov. 7, we face the most dangerous situation we ever have. You think fighting off dogs and water hoses in the '60s was bad," before urging blacks to vote because, "Your very life may depend on it."

Not only has there been no outrage over the ridiculously incendiary ad, but those who partcipated in it offer no apologies. In fact they can't understand what all the fuss is about:

In a luncheon speech to Commerce Club members Thursday, Franklin said she stands by Lewis and Young and apologized only for the ripples her comments might have sent out, not for the content of what she said.

"If you were offended by something I said, I apologize. But I'm actually infuriated by some of the partisan and divisive politics I've seen in the past five years. What I said in that ad, I said right-wing Republicans, I didn't give them any gender or race. I happen to believe that right-wing Republicans have made some big mistakes in America, and I said exactly what I thought.

"John Lewis spoke of his experiences. Andy Young spoke of his. I know I wouldn't be standing here if it hadn't been for Andy Young and John Lewis. The bottom line is that I don't know of anybody in my position who wouldn't stand with Andy Young and John Lewis."

Young said Thursday that he, too, has no regrets about taking part in the ad.

Franklin said the ad was in a response to a mailing by Fulton Republicans that said Democrats win elections by lying and stealing.

"Sometimes you just have to fight back," she said.

Mike Dvorscak, chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party, said Thursday that he had been unaware of any such ad.

"The people on my side of the fence view this as racist," Dvorscak said of the ad. "To talk about rolling back civil rights is preposterous. I'm calling on them, and John Eaves, to publicly apologize to the citizens of Fulton County."

Lewis said the ad was not racist.

"I don't think there was anything racially inflammatory at all," Lewis said this week. "The ad was straightforward. Anyone who saw it as race-baiting failed to see the ad."

Right. Nothing to see here, people, we're just trying to scare the living daylights out of black people by demonizing white Republicans so they'll go to the polls and keep us in power.

And yet I'm sure if you asked Rep. Lewis, he would condemn the RNC ad against Harold Ford in the harshest possible terms as being despicable and playing on racial fears.....

The Connecticut 2 Recount

An update from Kevin Rennie, a columnist with the Hartford Courant and former CT state senator, on the Courtney-Simmons recount. The Democrat challenger led by 167 votes heading into the recount out of some 240,000 cast.


The recount began yesterday in CT-2, a 64 town district. The first town resulted in a net pick up of one vote for Simmons. The only distraction for Republican operatives is their fury over the Rumsfeld resignation. If he had announced his departure in September, they believe, Simmons would have been in a better position on Tuesday night.

Both sides have brought in recount pros from Washington. It's beginning to look like Florida. The Democrats had a training session yesterday. Most of the towns will count the ballots on Monday. Republicans are optimistic they can prevail and the Democrats believe Courtney's margin will increase.

There are 10 towns in the district that used new electronic, bubble ballot machines. The rest of towns used the tradition lever machines. How to recount those electronic ballots may be deeply contentious.

Republicans are licking their chops over one town where they believe the number of votes cast exceeds the number of voters checked in by nearly the number of votes Courtney is leading by.

There is only one immutable rule in the recount trade: recruit no nice people. It's hand-to-hand combat in town halls in eastern Connecticut. In previous recounts, there have been swings in totals. In 1996, Nancy Johnson's recount had changes in local totals of hundreds of votes. One town had a change of over 200, others between 50 and hundred. The net result was a couple of hundred votes more for Johnson.

I had a recount 12 years ago. The results in each town of my Senate district changed totals. One town had an 80 vote error on a machine. This is one area of politics where there is still a lot of spontaneity.

Cartoon (s) of the Day

For all you NASCAR fans, from Pat Bagley at the Salt Lake Tribune:

sltcartoon.gif

Gingrich Blasts Bush

At an event in Atlanta yesterday, Newt Gingrich lit in to President Bush over his Wednesday press conference:

"If the president had decided to replace Secretary Rumsfeld he should have told us two weeks ago," Gingrich said. "I think that we would today control the Senate and probably have 10 to15 more House seats. And I found it very disturbing yesterday in the press conference, the explanation that the President gave.

"We need candor, we need directness," said Gingrich, a potential 2008 presidential candidate."We need to understand the threats we faced with are so frightening and so real, the danger that we'll lose two to three American cities so great, that we cannot play games with each other, cannot manipulate each other, we have to have an open and honest dialogue, and I found yesterday's staments at the press conference frankly very disturbing."

He condemned Bush's admission that in making last week's statement about Rumsfeld, he had known he was being misleading.

"It's inappropriate to cleverly come out the day after an election to do something we were told before the election would not be done," Gingrich said. "I think the timing was exactly backwards and I hope the President will rethink how he engages the American people and how he communicates with candor."

I have to say I fully agree with Newt. The timing of Rumsfeld's resignation, regardless of the President's intention or explanation, made no sense. Had he done it three weeks earlier it might have made a significant difference on election day. But having said before the election that he wasn't going to make a change, his immediate post-election dumping of Rummy looks particularly weak.

Ohio Survivors

Much of the spin leading up to Tuesday focused on the toxic anti-Republican atmosphere in Ohio -- and rightly so. Voters in the Buckeye State did indeed voice their displeasure with Republican leadership on Tuesday by sending incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine down to a 12-point defeat against Democrat Sherrod Brown, and also by choosing Democrat Ted Strickland for Governor over Republican Ken Blackwell by an overwhelming margin of more than 900,000 votes.

With such expectedly lopsided contests at the top of the ticket, it's a bit of surprise to see the results at the Congressional level. In addition to the open seat in the 18th district that was vacated by convicted felon Bob Ney, Republicans were very worried about the prospect of losing three other seats held by Reps. Steve Chabot, Jean Schmidt and especially Deborah Pryce.

If you look at a map of the House seats Republicans lost on Tuesday, however, Ohio stands as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal evening. Just to the west, in Indiana, three closely watched and competitive races all resulted in the Republican incumbent being swept from office. And next door in the east it was equally bad: Republicans lost four out of five competitive House races in Pennsylvania -- including Melissa Hart in the fourth district sitting right on the border with Ohio.

Despite all of this, the three endangered Republican incumbents in Ohio managed to survive. In Ohio 1, Steve Chabot beat John Cranley with relative ease, 51-46. In the heavily Republican second district, Jean Schmidt squeaked by her opponent by a mere 2,300 votes.

Most impressive of all was the survival of Deborah Pryce, number four in the House Republican leadership. The seven-term Congresswoman representing a marginally Republican district in and around Columbus was targeted early by the DCCC and withstood a withering assault this cycle but still came out on top by 3,536 votes on Tuesday.

All three Republicans are no doubt thankful to have survived this year, though the Congress they will return to will look a lot different than the one they remember.

WA-8 Update

Incumbent Republican Dave Reichert continues to cling to a small lead over Darcy Burner as both sides lay the groundwork for a possible recount. Burner has already mounted an effort to raise the $100k necessary to pay for a recount if the margin is larger than .5% or 2,000 - in which case a recount becomes mandatory.

The Seattle Times reports that Washington's Secretary of State Sam Reed is predicting 67% turnout for this race which, if accurate, means that more than 60% of the votes have already been counted. Right now Reichert is leading by 3,120 votes or 1.8 percent, but the Seattle PI reports that there may be close to 50,000 absentee votes still left to count in King County. That fact leaves open the potential this race could still flip, but it's looking more and more like Reichert is going to survive.

November 09, 2006

Mehlman Explains

"I think the people sent our party a message...We've got to recommit ourselves to being the party of conservative reforms." Those are the words of RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, quoted at a CS Monitor breakfast today by The Chicago Tribune's blog, The Swamp.

Here's more:

Asked why he and other party leaders had predicted victory heading into the elections, Mehlman maintained that 30 of the races they were looking at stood "within the margin of error'' in polls heading into Election Day, meaning they could have gone either way with the right effort. He noted that 19 contests were decided by vote-margins of 5,000 or fewer. [snip]

But his party's future depends on recommitting Republicans to core values of reform, he insists.

"The party of reform... to me, it means we are the party that's transforming government to face the problems we have today,'' said Mehlman, pointing to public education, with his party offering parents "more choices in education'' and to immigration. "A welcoming immigration system is consistent with everything we ought to believe in.''

Acknowledging that the Republican Party captured only 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in the midterm elections - down from the mid-40s in the 2004 presidential election, and down from 36 percent in the midterms of 2002 - he said: "It's down, and I'm not happy that it's down.''

The challenge for his party remains reaching out to minorities, and the RNC is committed to doing so, Mehlman said. "America is, every day, less of a white country,'' he said. "We rely too hard on white guys for votes.''

Allen Does the Right Thing

With the Senate hanging in the balance both Conrad Burns and George Allen have done the right thing by conceding their respective races. Hopefully, they have set an example for future politicians in close elections - who lose - of how true statesman and patriots should respect the will of voters and not engage lawyers and the courts in blatant attempts to hold on to power.

Politicians who deliberately and cynically undermine the faith in our elective process do great damage to this country for cheap short-term political gain. Respect for the rule of law and the willingness to live with heartbreaking defeats is critical to the long-term well being of our democratic system of government.

What About the Fightin' Dems?

After Democrat and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett nearly upset Republican Jean Schmidt in the 2005 special election in Ohio's deep-red 2nd Congressional district, much was made of the fact that Democrats, led primarily by Rahm Emanuel, decided to go out and recruit as many candidates with military experience as possible to try and close the gap on national security issues with Republicans.

Newsweek dubbed it "the Vet Strategy" back in December of last year, but the group was more often referred to as the "Fighting Dems". Tammy Duckworth was the most celebrated of the group, at least at the national level, but the roster included 48 other challengers in House races this year.

Now that the election is over we can ask: how did the Fightin' Dems do? Was there any discernable benefit to the strategy of recruiting candidates with military service in their background? Scrolling through the list of results, the answer seems to be a pretty clear "no." Here's a quick rundown of the Fightin' Dems who were in competitive races this year. As you can see, five came up a little bit short, and four managed to pull off the upset:

Losers
Tammy Duckworth lost to Peter Roskam in IL-6, 49-51.

Jack Davis lost to Tom Reynolds by two points in NY-26, 49-51.

Charlie Brown came within three points of John Doolittle in CA-4.

Eric Massa fell four points short of Randy Kuhl in NY-29, 48-52.

Ken Lucas was in a very tight race in KY-4 but ended up losing by seven.

Winners

Tim Walz defeated Gil Gutknecht in MN-1, 53 to 47.

Joe Sestak defeated Curt Weldon in PA-7, 56 to 44.

Patrick Murphy defeated Mike Fitzpatrick in PA-8 by less than 1 percent (about 1,500 votes).

Chris Carney defeated Don Sherwood in PA-10, 53 to 47.

The victories by Sestak and Carney had almost nothing to do with them and everything to do with the troubles of their opponents. There's really no indication that the status of being a veteran helped any of the winners. Conversely, it's not at all clear in the races "Fightin Dems" lost that another candidate without military service wouldn't have run equally as well or better.

Discontent with Republican incumbents over Iraq (and other issues) benefited Democrats whether they were a veteran like Walz in MN-1, a seventh-grade teacher with no political experience like Nancy Boyda in conservative KS-2, or a hardcore leftwing activist like Carol Shea-Porter in NH-1. It really didn't matter.

There is one exception. I think you could make a persuasive argument that Jim Webb's status as a decorated war veteran made just enough of a difference in Virginia to prove decisive. Again, that race had as much to do with Allen's stumbles and mistakes as anything, but in state like Virginia which has such strong ties to the U.S. military and certain amount of reverence for military tradition, Jim Webb's reputation as a one of the most decorated war heroes of his generation (coupled with his conservative stances on other issues, of course) really did provide him with an advantage.

So, to sum up: the "Fightin' Dem" strategy proved not to matter almost every single instance on Tuesday, except in the one case where it did. And what a momentous case it ended up being, too.

November 08, 2006

Republicans Are Lucky They Did Not Lose More Seats

Drudge is displaying a phenomenal statistic.

Preliminary: Senate Ballots cast: 31,591,495 (D) 25,054,569 (R)...

If that is true, it means that the Democrats won the two-party vote by a whopping 12%: 56% to 44%.

If the House went anything like this, it means that the Republicans should count themselves very, very lucky. It could have been worse. A lot worse.

Over the weekend, I offered a projection of 19 seats based upon (a) Gallup's generic ballot prediction of 54-46, and (b) an OLS regression equation of votes to seats for 1996 to 2006.

If these 56/44 numbers are roughly the same for the House as they are for the Senate -- and my intuition is that they might actually be higher because uncontested Democratic seats outnumbered uncontested Republican seats by about 5:1 -- then the model would have predicted Republican losses of 25 or so seats, a figure statistically consistent with the final result of 29-ish (assuming that the Democrats hold CT 02 and GA 12). In fact, inserting the 56/44 popular vote and 29 seat swing into the post-1994 model greatly improves its predictive accuracy. Whereas it explained only 40% of the variation prior, it now explains 91% of the variation.

In the pre-1996 era, a 56-44 result would have produced a 73-seat gain for the Democrats in the House of Representatives. That would have been a 276 D to 159 R House.

56/44 would also mark a 7.4% decrease in the Republican share of the two-party vote. This would be the greatest drop in share of the two-party vote since, I believe, 1938. All in all, these vote numbers -- 73-seat loss and 7.4% vote loss -- most closely represent the 1946 election in which Harry Truman and the Democrats lost 54 seats and 6.4% of the vote. They went from a large majority to a tiny minority in the course of two years.

Of course, by seat comparisons, the 29-ish seat loss mimics the much-less-impressive-but-still-mighty 1982 midterm, when the GOP lost 27 seats and 4.9% of the vote.

What mitigated Republican losses? Why is it that the GOP lost seats akin to 1982 and votes akin to 1946?

I believe that the reason boils down to the structural issues I have been discussing all year. My election eve mistake was perhaps not so much an overestimation of the GOP's structural advantages, as I speculated yesterday, but rather an underestimation of the anti-Republican mood. Read: More Fox/Newsweek/Time/RT-Cook, Less Pew/ABC News/Gallup/Democracy Corps.

When I say "structural basis," I mean two things.

Incumbency advantage is a major part of it. Many would-have-been top-tier Democratic challengers are probably kicking themselves this morning for not having challenged their local Republican, especially with upsets like MN 01, NH 01, KS 02 and PA 04.

Also, the tight alignment of the electorate, which, I think, boils down to the fact that a large proportion of the Republican delegation is in the South. By my count, the Republicans lost 11 seats in the Northeast, 10 seats in the Midwest, 4 in the West and 4 in the South. The West's numbers are not terribly impressive for the GOP, considering that many of the Republican seats in the west are in gerrymandered-into-stasis California, which only saw Abramoff-tainted Richard Pombo go down. However, their success here might also have meant that immigration helped them.

The South's numbers are truly stunning to me. It was in the South that, despite a wide and deep anti-Republican national mood, the party still managed to hold all but 4 seats and almost won 2 Democratic seats. In 2 of these Republican-held seats, the Republican candidate was not even on the ballot, and in 1 of these seats -- he nearly won! The Republican's capacity to hold the South despite the pro-Democratic national mood is a stunning feature of our contemporary politics. Just as urban centers are solid Democratic bastions in the House -- so also is the South.

How the Opens Broke

Given the final result of the evening, it's a bit surprising to see that of the 12 open seats Republicans defended yesterday, they actually managed to win five of them. Here is how the list breaks down:

GOP Open Seats Won By Democrats
District
Cook PVI
Result
Spread
AZ-8
R +1
54-42
D +12
IA-1
D +5
55-43
D +12
NY-24
R +1
54-45
D +9
WI-8
R +4
51-49
D +2
OH-18*
R +6
62-36
D +26
TX-22*
R +15
52-42
D +12
FL-16*
R +2
49-48
D +1
Average
R +3.4
53.8-43.6
D +10.2

As you can see, three of the seats on this list were lost to scandal and/or corruption. Wisconsin 8 is the only one that jumps out as a seat Republicans are probably disappointed by losing.

Now here are the five seats Republicans defended:

GOP Open Seats Successfully Defended
District
Cook PVI
Result
Spread
CO-5
R +17
59-41
R +18
FL-13
R +4
50-50
TIE
IL-6
R +3
51-49
R +2
MN-6
R +5
50-42
R +8
NV-2
R +2
51-45
R +6
Average
R +6.2
52.2-45.4
R +6.8

As I wrote earlier today, I agree with the analysis that Iraq was the dominant factor in last night's election. But not every race fits neatly into that box, as is evident by looking at this list. With the exception of FL-13, where the Republican underperformed the district's Cook PVI (Partisan Voting Index), the Republican margin of victory in the other four races met or exceeded the partisan orientation of the district.

That's not what one would expect to see - especially with respect to open seats in only moderately Republican leaning districts - given anti-Republican tide we saw in motion last night. But for whatever reason, the Democratic surge didn't materialize in these districts last night. There are any number of factors at play in each race that could help account for this, including financial advantage, quality of challenger, and superior GOTV.

But even among that group, Illinois 6 stands out as an anomaly. In an anti-Republican year with Iraq as a backdrop to the entire election, how did Republican Peter Roskam defeat a well-financed, double amputee veteran of the war in a moderate GOP district? I know Roskam had a superior GOTV effort, but my hunch is that he - and probably the others in the group of open seats as well - may have benefitted from the fact they weren't incumbents this year and thus were spared, to at least some degree, the wrath that voters inflicted on Republicans elsewhere around the country last night.

Why I Jumped The Shark

Well - last night surprised me!

I was not a lot wrong. But I was wrong enough. Why did this happen? In retrospect, I see now that I made two analytical mistakes - one theoretical and one methodological.

(1) I overestimated the extent to which our electoral institutions would mitigate GOP loses. I never doubted that (a) the public was in a foul mood, (b) they blamed Bush and (c) this would induce GOP loses.

However, my intuition at the time was that, at least in the House, this would reduce the extent to which the GOP would suffer loses. It did. But not as much as I thought it would. They lost about 10 or so more seats than I thought they would, and about 2 seats more than my 95% range of possibilities. The error here was my overestimation of the change in our electoral structure that 1994 produced.

As it turns out, Charlie Cook did not jump the shark. I did! I let my "institutional bias" take me right over a damned shark! Sorry, Charlie!

(2) I recently put together an estimate of the House playing field based upon challenger financing and party activity. Going into yesterday, I was using this as my "crib" sheet. However, and much to my chagrin, the list was not complete. It missed several seats that switched last night - IA 02, KS 02, MN 01, NH 02, NY 19, NC 08 (almost!), and PA 04. The divergence between the range in my final estimate and the actual result is entirely explicable by the seats my list missed. Where did I go wrong?

I did not include a measure for incumbent financing/activity. If I had, I think I would have picked up on many of these races. The GOP seems to me to have lost all of these because the Republican incumbents were not as active/effective as they could have been. They did not accurately assess the threat that they faced and/or did not take enough steps to mitigate the threat. Others, like Jim Gerlach, Chris Shays and Heather Wilson did - and they survived. Theoretically, the mistake I made here was to presume that the incumbency advantage that obviously exists (this year's incumbency reelection rate is still about 95.2%) is automatic. Incumbents are in a good position to insulate themselves. But they are not automatically insulated. They must actually do the insulating.

From my scan of the seats that flipped, I think that this election supports the theory of Gary Jacobson and Samuel Kernell, which I have discussed at many points in time during the campaign season. Our House elections are not referenda strictly speaking. They are qualified referenda - the qualifications are (a) good recruitment, (b) good fundraising and (c) good campaigns. If they were true referenda, the GOP would have lost many more seats than they actually did. Fortunately for them, most voters did not get a true choice last night because their Democratic challengers were under-funded and under-qualified relative to their incumbents. The incumbents who lost were the incumbents who either faced strong challenges or who themselves ran very weak campaigns.

Indeed, by my count -- there were only 3 Republican incumbents who ran essentially flawless campaigns and nevertheless lost: Nancy Johnson, Mike Sodrel, and Clay Shaw. Mike Fitzpatrick and Rob Simmons both appear headed for loses, so I would add them to the list. The rest of the Democratic pickups, 83.33% in all, were pickups in either (a) open seats, (b) seats held by scandal-ridden incumbents or (c) seats held by ineffective campaigners.

Thus, Republican mistakes, specifically campaign-related mistakes, very clearly were a major factor in the loss of the House. However, my feeling is that the mistakes that were made were the kind of mistakes that are inevitably made in our type of politics. The political parties really have much less power than people think. So, when people blast Tom Reynolds for not forcing Don Sherwood to step down -- my response is, what could Reynolds possibly have done? All you could ultimately do is appeal to Sherwood to bail. You cannot force the guy out. Ditto with Republican incumbents like Leach, Hostettler and Bass. None of them raised nearly enough money to survive this kind of environment. But what was Reynolds to do? Force them to go to fundraisers? These guys are really responsible to and for themselves. They are not like children. Candidates are largely independent of parties today.

I think the reason that the GOP lost so many seats that they "should not" have lost is that many of these incumbents have not faced real challenges since they were elected. Some of them have never faced real challenges. Accordingly, they just were not ready.

Call it evolutionary electoral politics. The strong survive when conditions turn against them. The weak do not. Last night, almost all of GOP loses were their weak seats.

From's Contradiction

Al From, head of the DLC, just issued a statement on the election results which reads:

Yesterday's results indicate a broad and deep Democratic win, from the takeover of the House and strong Senate gains, to a significant shift in governorships and state legislatures. They also obviously represent a striking repudiation of a Bush administration and Republican Party that has so often subordinated problem solving to power seeking, competence to ideology, honesty and integrity to corruption and cronyism, and the politics of national unity to the politics of polarization. The administration's failed Iraq policies became central to the election in no small part because they illustrated all these Republican failures.

This is a victory for the vital center of American politics over the extremes. In pursuing the Bush-Rove formula over the last six years, Republicans have deliberately abandoned the political center, and invited Democrats to occupy it. If you look at the victorious Democratic candidates in "red" and "purple" states and districts, it's clear that they did. And while Democrats benefited from an energized party base, the key to the victory was in the contested center of the electorate, among moderates, independents, middle-class voters, and suburbanites. These voters could represent an expanded Democratic base, and an enduring progressive majority, if Democrats use their new power wisely.

That is why Democrats should view this election as a beginning, not as an end. They must now show they can meet the big national challenges Republicans botched, and provide the American people with the kind of responsible, problem solving government, and ethical, unifying politics, the electorate clearly craves.

The big political test will come almost immediately, in the ability of Democrats to offer a compelling progressive agenda for the country, and in a 2008 presidential contest that will be about the future more than the past. If Democrats act as problem solvers, not polarizers, that future will be very bright.

That last point was underscored by Joe Lieberman's re-election victory in Connecticut, which helps solidify the Democratic Party's credentials as a broad, inclusive coalition able to compete for the vital center of American politics.

Question for From: if the vote yesterday was a "striking repudiation" of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, how can Joe Lieberman's re-election in Connecticut be characterized as a positive development for the Democratic Party?

Rumsfeld Steeping Down

Question: If President Bush had done this two, three, four months ago would yesterday have been different?

Analyzing the Analyses

Which one of these analyses is not like the other:

Fred Barnes: "This one is pretty easy to explain. Republicans lost the House and probably the Senate because of Iraq, corruption, and a record of taking up big issues and then doing nothing on them. Of these, the war was by far the biggest factor. Unpopular wars trump good economies and everything else. President Truman learned this in 1952, as did President Johnson in 1968. Now, it was President Bush's turn, and since his name wasn't on the ballot, his party took the hit."

Susan Page: "The coalition that re-elected President Bush and bolstered Republican margins in Congress just two years ago fractured Tuesday under the weight of an unpopular war, economic unease and a series of scandals."

Dick Meyer: "On Election Day 2006, American voters did almost exactly what history would predict: giving a president in the sixth year of his administration a serious smackdown, as an electorate wary of politicians and parties hedged its bets and chose a divided government.

Since World War II, the parties that controlled the White House for two terms have lost an average of 29 House seats and six Senate seats in their second midterm elections.

This election fits tidily into that pattern."

Ron Brownstein: "For six tumultuous years President Bush has provoked intense opposition while mobilizing passionate support for an ambitious conservative agenda.

On Tuesday, that perilous strategy crumbled -- and triggered his party's abrupt fall from power."

Notice the difference? Barnes, Page and Meyer point to the specific, obvious reasons Bush and his party went down last night: mainly discontent with the war in Iraq mixed in with a bit of scandal and a historical trend that was bound to take its toll. Brownstein, on the other hand, writes that Bush "provoked intense opposition" because of his pursuit of an "ambitious conservative agenda." That's a much broader, and much flimsier argument than the others.

Bush didn't lose Independents in this election because of some "ambitious conservative agenda." He lost them because of Iraq. Period. He lost them because of his inability over the last two years to communicate dual messages to the public on the war: one of strength and one of flexibility. Instead, the public heard all the former and none of the latter, and as the situation in Iraq continued to detoriorate this year the perception hardened among Independents that the President was merely being stubborn and unresponsive.

A decent number of Independents stood with the president in 2004 when presented with the choice between Bush's tough optimism vs. Kerry's tepid defeatism, but over the last twenty four months the clock simply ran out on Bush and the "stay the course" argument with those in the middle.

The Morning After

Front page images from some major papers, to go with the morning coffee:

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The Leftovers

There are a few key races still outstanding in the House. Here is what is left uncalled at the moment:

CT-2: Incumbent Republican Rob Simmons is down 223 votes with 97% reporting. This one is in a recount.

GA-8 & GA-12: Dems lead in both races. Marshall has a 1,200+ vote lead over Collins in GA-8 with 8 precincts still out. In GA-12, Barrow has a 3,300+ lead against Burns with 331 of 346 precincts reporting.

ID-1: Incumbent Republican Sali is up 50-45 with 87% reporting.

NM-1: Incumbent Republican Heather Wilson is holding a 1,300 vote lead over Democrat Patricia Madrid with 99% in.

NC-8: Incumbent Republican Hayes has a 468 vote lead with 100% reporting. Recount city.

PA-6 & PA-8: In the sixth, incumbent Republican Gerlach is up 3,000 votes with 100% reporting. In the eighth, Democratic challenger Murphy is up 1,500 votes on incumbent Republican Fitzpatrick. Though all the votes in both these races appear to have been counted, neither race has been called.

WA-8: Incumbent Republican Dave Reichert is up 51-49 over Democrat Darcy Burner at the moment.

WY-AL: Incumbent Republican Cubin is clinging to a 822 vote lead over Democrat Trauner with 99% reporting.

If the margins in all these races stay as they are - which is a huge "if" - Dems would pick up another two seats, giving them a net of 29 on the night.

November 07, 2006

Illinois 6

The Roskam campaign is feeling confident that the trends are moving in the favor. Margins in DuPage are holding, and they feel they have enough of a cushion to hold off whatever votes Duckworth brings out of the Cook County portions of the district.

New Hampshire 1

New Hampshire 1 looks to have gone to the Democrats. Shea-Porter (D) 52%, Bradley 48% (R) with 93%

Georgia Seats

GA-12: 75% in: Barrow (D) 50%, Burns 50% (R) and GA-8: 67% in: Marshall (D) 51%, Collins 49% (R)

Connecticut Seats

Nancy Johnson has lost in CT-5. Early word from Connecticut was Johnson was going to go down and Shays and Simmons might hold on. With 41% reporting in CT-2, Simmons 50%, Courtney 50%. The Shays race only has 8% in.

Kentucky 4

Kentucky 4 is another one of those Ohio River races it is very close with 54% reporting Davis (R) 48%, Lucas (47%).

Florida 22

With 29% reporting Klein (D) 52%, Shaw (46%). This race we had ranked as a Leans GOP seat and is the first Leans GOP the Dems look like they may take.

Florida 13

With 47% reporting Buchanan 53%, Jennings 47%. This race is one of our Toss Ups.

Virginia Senate

60% reporting and George Allen is hanging tough with a 50% - 49% lead. The exit polls in this race had Webb ahead 52% - 47%.

Florida 16

Florida 16 is a race we wrote off as a Dem pick up when the Foley scandal erupted. But in the last two weeks we have downgraded this race and at the end it occupied the last slot on our Leans Dem list. With 19% reporting the Democrat Mahoney is up 3 points, 50 - 47. Karl Rove the other day said 35%-40% of the votes in this district would be cast by absentee ballot and Republicans had asked for 60% of the absentee ballots. I don't know the timetable on how the absentees are counted in this district and whether they are incorporated in the early precincts returns. But if they are not, Republicans may safe this seat.

Indiana 9

Another key race to watch is Indiana 9. This is a seat right in the middle of our Toss Ups and a race you would think Democrats would need to win if they are to have a big night. With 22% reporting it is Sodrel (R) 48%, Hill (D) 48%.

Kentucky 3

A key race to watch right now is Kentucky 3. This is the last of our toss up races and a win here for the Democrats would not be very good news for Republians. With 64% reporting it is 50% Yarmuth (D), 49% Northup (R).

The InTrade Markets

The InTrade markets continue to trade and it will be wild to watch as the numbers start to come out. In the five critical Senate races we're watching the markets have been relatively stable. Talent appears to have a little higher bid and is trading in the mid 40's; Allen has fallen with his last trade at 30. Steele has moved up to the high 30's, and Ehrlich is at 45 (Steele will almost definitely need a Ehrlich win for him to win). Burns and Chaffee are flat at 30.

So to summarize the movement in this pre-release period: decent movement to Steele and Webb. Small movement to Talent. Chafee and Burns flat. Democrats still hold edges in every race.

Missouri Update

I've been trying to keep close tabs on the Senate race in Missouri. My sources on the ground say turnout appears to be heavy in the suburbs outside St. Louis (St. Louis county) which may or may not be bad news for Talent. I'm told turnout in the city of St. Louis and the metro area of Kansas City is looking to be about average for a midterm. And turnout in SW MO, which is the Republican stronghold where President Bush visited last week, also appears to be heavy, which is good news for Talent.

Both sides expect this one to come down to the wire, with a margin of victory ending up somewhere in the 20,000 to 40,000 vote range out of just over 2 million ballots cast.

The Wild Senate Possibilities

What is wild about today is how wide the potential range could be in the Senate. I touched on this on Saturday with the observation that it was not far-fetched that Republicans could keep their losses to only three in the Senate. This was before the Pew, ABC/WP and Gallup polls that showed a late shift toward the GOP. Just last night the Evans-Novak Political Report predicted that Democrats would only net two seats in the Senate. It is this late shift to the GOP that pushed us to tick down our Senate number that had been at five-six down to four. And when you go down the list of RCP's 5 toss up races the possibilities of only a two seat loss are certainly not impossible.

However, and this should give pause to Republicans who are feeling better on the back of the closing generic polls, even with this late move, the odds still clearly favor a loss in the House. And while we think the most likely outcome in the Senate has moved from five to four, there is still a very real possibility that Democrats could sweep all five of the Toss Up states of Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, Missouri and Montana. With four out of five of these races having Republican incumbents trailing, (albeit by small numbers) a very good argument can be made they will all lose for as simple of a reason as they are trailing incumbents polling below 50%. And if that were to happen and the Democrats just hold Maryland they would get the Senate.

Given each one of these races has its own peculiar dynamics at work and they are all well within the margin of error, coupled with the market odds giving Republicans any where from 25% - 40% chance of wining each race, we felt that a Democratic sweep of all 5 toss ups was less likely than Republicans winning one or two. A tabulation of the InTrade odds at the end of last night as well as first thing this morning pointed to the GOP winning two out of these five as the most likely outcome and given the closing generic numbers that is where we came down as well.

As far as listing the order of how these seats might rate for each side, hat is difficult as there are cross-currents working both ways in all five of these races. We settled on Montana and Missouri as the two most likely to stay Republican, but you could certainly argue it other ways. Robert Novak who is predicting only a 2 seat Dem pickup suggests Burns will lose and Chafee and Steele will win.

Ignoring the weird situation in Rhode Island, Talent and Allen are closest in the RCP Averages and also are bid the highest in the trading markets. However, they are well known incumbents who are stuck near the mid-forties and don't have any momentum. Burns, Chafee and Steele on the other hand all have varying degrees of momentum.

Of the momentum guys we think Burns is the most likely to win simply because Montana is a conservative sate and Maryland and Rhode Island are not. And then between Talent and Allen we give the edge to Talent because he has run a very strong campaign, has some wind from the stem cell amendment vote, and has perhaps the best GOTV operation in the country.

So while we think four seats is the most likely pickup for the Democrats, six or two are legitimate possibilities.

The Closing Generic Polls and RCP's Final Projections

The final round of polls on the generic ballot question show such wide divergence it is hard to draw definite conclusions. However, a look at a chart of the RCP Generic Average does seem to offer visual proof that there has been some movement to Republicans in the last week of the campaign. Furthermore, if you had to rate the track record and reputation of the polling firms that make up the seven polls in the current RCP Average, the three that show single digit Democratic leads (Pew, Gallup, ABC/WP) as well as 6 and 7 point moves toward the GOP, would rank in the top half of that group.

Additionally, we have evidence from respected Democratic and Republican pollsters that there has indeed been a move in the generic ballot toward Republicans. Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Bob Shrum's Democracy Corps' final poll indicated a 7-point move in the generic vote toward Republicans. I spoke with Ed Goes of the Tarrance Group yesterday (the Republican half of the very respected and accurate Battleground Poll) who told me that his generic polling showed a tightening to Republicans leaving Democrats with a 6-point lead as opposed to double-digit leads they saw in October. Goeas also offered that their "likely voter modeling" tightened that 6-point deficit even further.

On balance, all of this supports the proposition that there is indeed a revival of Republican enthusiasm at the end of this campaign and some closing of the huge generic spreads that had been boosting assertions of a massive 35+ seat Democratic wave. This late in the game, however, it is hard to quantify just what kind of difference this makes in all of the individual Senate and House races. But the evidence was persuasive enough for us to down-tick our projected Democratic gains in the House and Senate.

On Saturday we had felt that the most likely Senate pickup for Democrats was five, today in RCP's final projection we think four seats is now the most likely outcome. In the House, the generic close should work to keep Republican losses muted; we've projected 19 seats with a range of 14 - 24. That range gives the GOP a small hope of hanging on to the House if everything breaks their way. If the Democrats win all of RCP's Toss Up races and Lean Democrat seats they could get up to 27 seats. (Jay Cost's analysis of the final Gallup generic poll also suggests a very similar 11 - 27 seat range.)

Bull Connor is Back

One of the biggest stories this election cycle was the "racist" ad run by the RNC against Harold Ford in Tennessee. Condemnations came fast and hard from the left, with critics decrying it as a despicable attempt by Republicans to invoke fears of miscegenation. There were also fantastic charges that the drumbeat in the sound track of a radio ad was meant to trigger subliminal racial messages ("freaking jungle drums" is how one liberal critic described it).

In contrast to the perceived and/or manufactured charges of race baiting against Republicans in Tennessee, let me draw your attention to this report by the AJC Political Insider on what appears to be a last-minute radio ad cut on behalf Democrat John Eaves featuring U.S. Rep John Lewis, as well as current Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and former mayor Andrew Young.

Eaves is running for Chairman of the Fulton County Board, and the Political Insider got the following transcript off of an audio file on Eaves's web site (which is currently unavailable) though they add that right now "it is not clear where the ad is being broadcast, or how frequently -- if at all."

Here's the transcript:

(Sound of kettle drums, followed by pulsing strings)

LEWIS: This is Congressman John Lewis.

FRANKLIN: And I'm Mayor Shirley Franklin.

YOUNG: And I am Andy Young.

LEWIS: On Nov. 7, we face the most dangerous situation we ever have. You think fighting off dogs and water hoses in the '60s was bad. [Now we] sit idly by, and let the right-wing Republicans take control of the Fulton County County Commission.

FRANKLIN: The efforts of Martin and Coretta King, Hosea Williams, Maynard Jackson and many others will be lost. That's why we must stand up, and we must turn out the vote for the Democrats on Election Day.

YOUNG: And especially for John Eaves for Fulton County Commission chairman. Unless you want them to turn back the clock on equal rights, and human rights and economic opportunity for all of us, vote for John Eaves as Fulton County chairman.

LEWIS: Your very life may depend on it. [all emphasis added]

It's hard to imagine a more blatant play on racial fear than suggesting the election of a Republican will result in a return to the days of Bull Connor. The fact that this ad appeared on Eaves's web site is bad enough, but it would be truly despicable if it did air on radio in Atlanta.

RCP Projections

HOUSE: 222 D, 213 R (D +19) On the Republican side, RCP's Final House ratings list thirteen seats in the Leans Democrat category, fourteen in the Toss Ups column and twenty seats rated Leans Republican. On the Democratic side, 2 seats are rated as Toss Ups with 4 Leaning Democrat.

Splitting Toss Ups 50/50, RCP projects Democrats picking up 19 seats in the House of Representatives with an overall range of 14 - 24 seats.

SENATE: 51R, 49D (D+4) Of the original fourteen competitive Senate contests RCP has been tracking, six races have Final RCP Averages in the double digits (PA, MN, WA, MI, OH, and CT) and are safe for each side. Of those six, Democrats will net pick ups in Ohio and Pennsylvania and a nominal hold with Joe Lieberman's win in Connecticut as an Independent. Three races (NJ, AZ, and TN) have Final RCP Averages over 6% and Lean toward each respective party and thus would be holds for each side.

The remaning five races listed in the Toss Up category (MO, MT, VA, MD, and RI) all have Final RCP Averages below 4% and are too close to call definitively for one side. Democrats hold leads in all five of these races, and based off the RCP Averages and the latest InTrade market quotes the most likely scenario would be for Democrats to win 3 of these 5 races. That would net two additional Democratic pick ups and leave them with a total gain of four seats.

Chafee Battles Bill

Bill Clinton swooped into Rhode Island yesterday to try and help push Sheldon Whitehouse across the finish line. Chafee said it was a sign that Democrats were pressing "the panic button," but Whitehouse played up Clinton's visit as a sign of the "national importance" of the RI Senate race - in other words, the importance of dumping Chafee to punish President Bush.

The Providence Journal captured Chafee's retort, which I thought was fairly effective:

Calling Clinton "disingenuous," Chafee said: "It infuriates me, that President Clinton is coming, saying, Get rid of Senator Chafee, the guy that voted against the war,' when his own wife did not. I know they are separate people but I voted against the war. He should be here saying we need more people like Senator Chafee in the Senate working on both sides of the aisle, casting good votes unlike his wife on the war."

He's got a point there, don't you think?

Election Day Hype

Adam Nagourney writes a remarkable walk-back-the-cat piece in the New York Times today:

For a combination of reasons -- increasingly bullish prognostications by independent handicappers, galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers, and polls that promise a Democratic blowout -- expectations for the party have soared into the stratosphere. Democrats are widely expected to take the House, and by a significant margin, and perhaps the Senate as well, while capturing a majority of governorships and legislatures.

These expectations may well be overheated. Polls over the weekend suggested that the contest was tightening, and some prognosticators on Monday were scaling back their predictions, if ever so slightly. (Charlie Cook, the analyst who is one of Washington's chief setters of expectations, said in an e-mail message on Monday that he was dropping the words "possibly more" from his House prediction of "20-35, possibly more.")

Some Democrats worry that those forecasts, accurate or not, may be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party's spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle.

"Two years ago, winning 14 seats in the House would have been a pipe dream," said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization. Now, Mr. Bennett said, failure to win the House, even by one seat, would send Democrats diving under their beds (not to mention what it might do to all the pundits).

"It would be crushing," he said. "It would be extremely difficult."

Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. "I think you'd see a Jim Jones situation -- it would be a mass suicide," he said.

Meanwhile, The Hill has a story on "Great Dem Expectations" and the Associated Press headline reads, "Bush says of vote: 'We're closing strong.'"

Where to Watch on Election Night

John Fund has an an excellent guide of where to watch tonight (which includes a nice plug for RCP, btw). I'll be watching two places: Indiana and Kentucky, as previously mentioned, and also upstate New York.

New York features races in five Republican-held seats (districts 20 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 29), of which it's looking like they'll probably lose two: Sweeney in 20 and the open seat in 24. Keep your eye on the results in the other three races as an indicator of the way the rest of the night may go.

Educating the NYT Reader

On Sunday the New York Times went out of its way to run a lead editorial explaining why, for the first time in history, they refused to endorse even a single Republican this year. Today, the NYT publishes a list of "Election Day Choices" for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, telling readers they may "print out this page for easy reference using the tool in the box at right."

Most newspapers offer summaries of their endorsements as a cheat sheet for their readers - at least the small percentage of those who are willing to take their electoral cues from the editorial board of a newspaper. On the other hand, newspapers usually print such lists because they've endorsed a mix of candidates from both parties.

Why Allen Might Lose

John from Danville, VA offers this intriguing hypothesis:

The only way that Allen keeps his seat is by winning by a percentage point. Even his own people are spinning to the media about an expected loss. There are a number of reasons this inconceivable defeat could take place, "macaca" not to be ignored.

However, this campaign illustrates a strategy that should never be ignored.

In 2000, I was fascinated by a column by Jake Tapper of Salon (now with ABC News). It appeared right after the 2000 primaries when polling showed Gore pulling ahead and the "consensus" of the punditocracy was a Gore victory. Tapper wrote about "how Bush can win." His thesis: check out. He advised that Bush should take a long vacation until the convention. His rationale was that Bush was so bad with the language and the summer was a time when people were tuned out that a vacation would recharge Bush and just provide opportunities for Gore to make mistakes. There was even a cartoon of Bush on a tropical island to highlight the point.

Jim Webb has played this strategy to perfection. At the conclusion of the June primary, Webb had less than 100K in cash and trailed Allen by 16 points.

What did Webb do? He simply took a vacation. He hardly campaigned at all. He ran no media from primary day until Labor Day. His most vigorous campaigning was a one week stretch of "kitchen campaigning" in which he met with a dozen or so people in a home to discuss issues. That's it. (In fairness to Webb, he said that he spent the summer with his son who was about to go to Iraq in September)

This summer, the "insiders" of the Democratic Party and the liberal blogosphere went crazy about the inaction. People were proclaiming it "the worst campaign ever."

What happened? Allen spent 1.5 million bucks on positive T.V. advertising in Northern Virginia. This spending spree led to exactly 0% improvement for him in any poll. Allen's spokesman also alienated every political reporter in the state by attacking them and Larry Sabato on an almost daily basis. And finally Macaca happened at a summer campaign event.

While Webb literally did nothing on the campaign front (except for the occasional fundraiser or small "kitchen" event), Allen wasted 1.5 million dollars, alienated the press corps and made a gigantic verbal gaffe.

Sometimes the best strategy in a political campaign is to "do nothing." First of all, it is true that most people don't pay attention to campaigns in the summer. There's a thousand things more exciting in life than to start worrying about an election in November. Secondly, overexposure can be a bad thing. There gets to be a point where a candidate can just become annoying by being seen so many times. Doing nothing is the perfect antidote to overexposure. Finally, in the age of YouTube, if your opponent campaigns in the dog days, they may make a mistake which you can capitalize on. Meanwhile you do nothing, and there is not YouTube to sink you.


November 06, 2006

What To Make of the Generic Ballot Results?

I have been a harsh critic of the generic ballot for most of the campaign season. Through all of my critiques, however, I have maintained that -- when we get near Election Day -- the generic ballot becomes a useful measure.

I still think that is true, but unfortunately to use it, we have to do some deconstruction. There are some very conflicting generic ballot results that have emerged in the last 24 hours. Among likely voters Time, Newsweek, CNN and Fox News have found little-to-no shrinkage in the margin that separates Democrats from Republicans. Meanwhile, Gallup, Pew and ABC News/Washington Post (not to mention Democracy Corps) have found a fairly dramatic shrinkage.

What do we do with these divergent results? The first thing we do is verify that they are not reducible to statistical variation. The most efficient way to do this is to take the two results from the different camps that are closest to one another: Gallup and Fox News. It is 94.74% likely that there is a real difference between the two polls. While this is not enough to fully guarantee that the results are irreconcilable, it is strong evidence that they indeed are. It seems, then, that we are faced with a choice. We cannot simply average these results out, as we might for candidate ballots. They are very clearly divergent because of different methodologies.

What to do?

The smart move, obviously, would be to go with the poll that has the best track record. And, that is no contest. That is Gallup -- (for better or for worse) by default. Only Gallup has been conducting the generic ballot long enough to evaluate its accuracy, and as it turns out, their generic ballot is incredibly accurate. The final Gallup generic ballot actually explains 89% of all variation in final vote outcomes in midterms since 1950. In fact, for Fox to be correct would require the Gallup generic to underestimate Democratic strength by nearly 3.6%, which is more than twice the size of the largest Democratic underestimation in the history of the Gallup statistic.

Gallup has the historical track record. Practically speaking, it is the poll to follow. In 50 years, we can evaluate the Fox, CNN, Newsweek and Time polls to see how they fare. Until then, Gallup is the indicator.

So, what does Gallup tell us? If we run an ordinary least squares regression analysis that uses the generic ballot to predict the Democratic share of the vote, we get 54% D to 46% R.

That gets to the next big question: how many seats does that imply?

Unfortunately, I do not have more than a rough answer to this question. We can run a straight-up regression analysis that uses final popular vote to predict seat swings. And, with any such regression, we get an estimate of the final result that produces an error or residual. However, two problems with the residual instantly present themselves. First, the variance is not constant across all observations. The model's predictive power varies systematically, depending upon whether or not the observation was taken after 1994. In technical terms, the model is heteroskedastic, which is to say that the variance of the error is not constant across all observations. It is, rather, correlated with when the observation was taken. Second, the error term seems to be correlated to whether or not the observation was taken after 1994. We can fix the second problem by simply inserting a dummy variable into the regression to control for 1994. The intuition behind this is that 1994 simply increased the GOP's minimal seat share. So, a dummy variable to control for post-1994 would be a way to increase the floor. However, the first problem persists even when we insert this dummy variable (which is statistically significant). Even with our 1994 dummy variable, the model's predictive power still varies depending upon when the observation was taken.

What does this mean?

It probably means that the effect of 1994 was more than a simple increase of the GOP floor, though that is certainly the case. It seems that whatever happened in 1994 has systematically diminished the predictive power of vote share. The House seat share is now less responsive to changes in House vote totals. This makes sense in light of what I have been arguing all year -- the post-1994 environment produced many districts where one's vote for Congress and one's vote for President came to align. Accordingly, districts became less responsive to aggregate swings -- as they were sufficiently filled with strong partisans to withstand such divergences.

If this is the case, controlling for 1994 is simply not enough. We need to run two separate regression equations, one for 1994/pre-1994 and one for post-1994.

In the pre-1994 equation, a Democratic victory of 54/46 in the popular vote yields an expected caucus of 261 seats. That would be a 58 seat pickup -- the quintessential wave of which many have spoken. This equation, furthermore, explains an impressive 86% of all variation in House seats. In the post-1994 equation, a 54/46 Democratic victory in the pouplar vote yields an expected caucus of 222 seats. That would be a 19 seat pickup for the Democrats. The standard error of this estimate is about 4 seats, so 68% of the time we would get a result between 15 seats and 23 seats, 95% of the time we would get a result between 11 and 27 seats. Interestingly, vote changes only explain about 40% of the variation in seat changes, which is consistent with the idea that vote changes simply matter less.

Here is the major problem: the latter equation only has 5 observations. While I am confident that (a) there has been some kind of change in the political landscape that (b) cannot be captured by a simple post-1994 dummy variable -- I am not confident of the post-1994 equation. The reasons are several and technical -- but they all boil down to the fact that there are just too few observations. I would like more than 5 observations to draw an inference from votes to seats. What I do know is that it is a problematic inference to use the last 15 or so midterm elections all at once. Something happened in the post-1994 era -- the House is now less responsive than it was prior to this date. This equation implies that its relative unresponsiveness will give the Democrats only a nominal majority. However, I do not think we have had enough observations of the post-1994 era to really draw a confident inference.

We can see, then, in the final day of the campaign the question that I think has been with us for the entire season: just how stable is the current House structure? Just how invulnerable is it to change?

I honestly do not have an answer to the question. I have a hypothesis -- and tomorrow is the day that I will be testing that hypothesis. So...I'll tell you on Wednesday!

I will say that I feel pretty good about that 11 to 27 range. On a good night, I see the Democrats picking up 23 to 27. On a bad night, I see them pick up only 11 to 15. On an average night, well...19 is not terribly far from the estimate I have had in my mind for a while. It is also what Bob Novak currently estimates.

Dean Learns His Lesson

Howard Dean fired a blank the last time he wrote an op-ed that ran side-by-side with Ken Mehlman.

It looks like he learned a lesson, because Dean's effort this morning in USA Today is much improved. He hits the GOP on Iraq, hits the right angles on the issue of terrorism (bin Laden at large, implementing 9/11 commission recommendations), and also sticks it to Republicans on spending and ethics. All in all, a better and more persuasive effort than last time. The question is whether any undecided voters left out there believe what he says.

Gallup vs. Mason-Dixon in the Senate

In the last two days Mason-Dixon and Gallup have released a host of Senate polls. In some critical battleground states for the Senate they have shown quite divergent results and it is instructive to go back and look at how these respective polling organizations did in the key battleground states in 2004 in their final election eve polls.

2004
Ohio
Gallup: Kerry +4
Mason-Dixon: Bush +2
Final Results: Bush +2

Pennsylvania
Gallup: Bush +4
Mason-Dixon: Kerry +2
Final Results: Kerry +3

Florida
Gallup: Kerry +3
Mason-Dixon: Bush +4
Final Results: Bush +5

2006
Montana
Gallup: Tester +9
Mason-Dixon: Tied
Final Results: ???

Virginia
Gallup: Allen +3
Mason-Dixon: Webb +1
Final Results: ???

Tennessee
Gallup: Corker +3
Mason-Dixon: Corker +12
Final Results: ???

So, I would take the Gallup state polls with a grain of salt. In RCP's opinion Burns is within 1-2 points with considerable momentum in Montana, Allen and Webb are knotted in a dead heat with Webb having the slight edge and Corker is more likely to win by 10 in Tennessee than lose.

Does This Math Add Up?

Stuart Rothenberg updated his House rankings a few days ago. And yowsa!! He sees 34 to 40 seats flipping. That is quite a large number.

But take a look at the assignment of races to each category. I don't think those numbers add up.

PURE TOSS-UP (20 R, 0 D)

CA 11 (Pombo, R)
CT 2 (Simmons, R)
CT 4 (Shays, R)
FL 16 (Open; Foley, R)
FL 22 (Shaw, R)
IL 6 (Open; Hyde, R)
KS 2 (Ryun, R)
MN 1 (Gutknecht, R)
MN 6 (Open; Kennedy, R)
NM 1 (Wilson, R)
NY 20 (Sweeney, R)
NY 26 (Reynolds, R)
OH 1 (Chabot, R)
OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
PA 4 (Hart, R)
PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
PA 8 (Fitzpatrick, R)
TX 22 (Open; DeLay, R)
VA 2 (Drake, R)
WI 8 (Open; Green, R)

TOSS-UP/TILT REPUBLICAN (10 R, 0 D)

AZ 1 (Renzi, R)
CA 4 (Doolittle, R)
CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
ID 1 (Open; Otter, R)
KY 3 (Northup, R)
KY 4 (Davis, R)
NV 3 (Porter, R)
NY 25 (Walsh, R)
NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
WA 8 (Reichert, R)

TOSS-UP/TILT DEMOCRATIC (7 R, 3 D)

AZ 5 (Hayworth, R)
CT 5 (Johnson, R)
FL 13 (Open; Harris, R)
GA 8 (Marshall, D)
GA 12 (Barrow, D)
IL 8 (Bean, D)
IN 9 (Sodrel, R)
NH 2 (Bass, R)
NY 24 (Open; Boehlert, R)
NC 11 (Taylor, R)

LEAN REPUBLICAN (3 R, 0 D)

NJ 7 (Ferguson, R)
OH 12 (Tiberi, R)
TX 23 (Bonilla, R)

LEAN DEMOCRATIC (6 R, 1 D)

IA 1 (Open; Nussle, R)
IA 3 (Boswell, D)
IN 2 (Chocola, R)
OH 15 (Pryce, R)
OH 18 (Open; Ney, R)
PA 7 (Weldon, R)
PA 10 (Sherwood, R)

REPUBLICAN FAVORED (8 R, 0 D)

CA 50 (Bilbray, R)
CO 5 (Open; Hefley, R)
KY 2 (Lewis, R)
NE 3 (Open; Osborne, R)
NV 2 (Open; Gibbons, R)
NY 3 (King, R)
NY 19 (Kelly, R)
WY AL (Cubin, R)

DEMOCRAT FAVORED (3 R, 1 D)

AZ 8 (Open; Kolbe, R)
CO 7 (Open; Beauprez, R)
IN 8 (Hostettler, R)
VT A-L (Open; Sanders, D)

That would be 57 Republican seats that are, in some way, vulnerable. Fair enough. As I argued this week, I think this list is a tad too long, but that is all right.

Here is where I run into difficulties. How does this list add up to a net pickup of 34 to 40 seats? Let us assume (1) that each category is -- to some degree -- vulnerable (i.e. that the two unmentioned categories are "Safe Republican" and "Safe Democrat"), (2) that all seats not mentioned here are in their parties' respective "Safe" categories, (3) that each category is equidistant from those immediately preceding and following it (i.e. each category is separated from the two closest by +12.5% or -12.5%), and (4) that the titles mean the same for one party as they do for the other (e.g. the Democrats have as good a chance in "Lean Democrat" as the Republicans do in "Lean Republican").

I think these are all fair assumptions. In fact, I am willing to bet that the average reader would implicitly make these assumptions upon a viewing of Rothenberg's list.

With these assumptions, that would mean that any given race in a given category would have the following probability of Democratic victory:

"Safe Democrat:" 100%
"Democrat Favored:" 87.5%
"Lean Democratic:" 75%
"Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic:" 62.5%
"Pure Toss-Up:" 50%
"Toss-Up/Tilt Republican:" 37.5%
"Lean Republican:" 25%
"Republican Favored:" 12.5%
"Safe Republican:" 0%

What we have, then, are 9 binomial distributions. The average, or expected value, for each distribution is simply the probability of victory for any given seat multiplied by the number of seats in the distribution.

Accordingly, for each category, we should expect the Democrats to win:

"Safe Democrat:" 100% * 198 Seats = 198 Seats
"Democrat Favored:" 87.5% * 4 Seats = 3.5 Seats
"Lean Democratic:" 75% * 7 Seats = 5.25 Seats
"Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic:" 62.5% * 10 Seats = 6.25 Seats
"Pure Toss-Up:" 50% * 20 Seats = 10 Seats
"Toss-Up/Tilt Republican:" 37.5% * 10 Seats = 3.75 Seats
"Lean Republican:" 25% * 3 Seats = 0.75 Seats
"Republican Favored:" 12.5% * 8 Seats = 1 Seat
"Safe Republican:" 0% * 175 Seats = 0 Seats

These expected values sum to 228.5. In other words, these distributions imply that the Democratic caucus will be 228 to 229 seats, which is to say that the Democrats should expect to net 25 to 26 seats.

This is 8 to 15 seats short of Rothenberg's estimate.

Take this from another perspective. Rothenberg's final estimate of net 34 to 40 means that the Democrats will win 63% to 73% of the seats on this list. That would put the mean probability between "Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic" and "Lean Democratic." However, in actuality the mean probability that the Democrats will win a seat is 49%. The median probability is 50%. The modal probability is 50%. In other words, the central tendency is "Toss-Up" (with an ever-so-slight nod to "Toss-Up/Tilt Republican"), not "Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic" and "Lean Democratic."

So -- even if we want to assign the probabilities differently, we will assuredly come short of an expected net of 34 to 40 seats -- provided that, for example, "Lean Democrat" means for Democrats what "Lean Republican" means for the Republicans. For instance, if we give the Republicans everything that has a Republican tilt to it, we give the Democrats everything that has a Democratic tilt to it, and we split the "Pure Toss-Ups" -- the Democrats would net 26 seats.

Maybe this gets to what I was hinting at in my recent critique of Cook. The major race rankers see a massive "wave" coming, but cannot really find the districts to upgrade to fit the wave. Cook's response has ostensibly been to develop a "Gimme a reason, punk!" kind of attitude toward Republican seats -- i.e. any seat where the Republicans blink is a seat that gets upgraded -- candidate financing, party involvement, district partisanship aside. The net result is a set of highly conservative seats that -- despite the negative mood toward the GOP and despite whatever drama might be happening on the ground -- are really unlikely to switch, and, minimally, do not justify the 1994 comparisons that Cook has been supplying with his list. 1994 saw Democrat-held 0 seats from districts in which George H.W. Bush did 9% or worse than his 1992 national average switch to the Republicans; Cook's list currently has 11 such Republican-held seats (i.e. seats from districts where Kerry did 9% or worse than his national average) rated as vulnerable.

Rothenberg's response? Well -- from the looks of it, he is implying that his race-by-race estimates will be wrong - and not just a little bit wrong. A lot wrong. Why does he not correct them so that they show something like 34 to 40? Maybe de does not because he just cannot find the races to fit into a 34 to 40 scenario, but thinks it will happen nonetheless.

This is, I think, what he thinks - though I am not sure he and his staff grasp just how divergent their aggregate estimate is from their race-by-race analysis. His political editor, Nathan Gonzalez, commented to the San Francisco Chronicle:

"As we looked back to 1994 in our analysis, Republicans even won half of the toss-up, tilting-Democratic seats back then," said Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report. "Because this is such a volatile environment, I think there will be a couple surprises, a couple members who will lose that no one was talking about.
In other words -- the list is different from the final number because Rothenberg and Gonzalez expect a surprise. Fair enough (well, not entirely - there are good reasons not to expect certain types of surprises - but we'll talk about that tomorrow). However, this does not cut the mustard. If we do what Gonzalez thinks we should do, if we altered the "Toss-Up/Tilt Republican" to give the Democrats 50% of the seats, that would only give the Democrats an extra 1.25 seats.

Gonzalez needs something much more extreme to get to 34 to 40. This might work: if we gave the Republicans nothing of the seats that are tilting/leaning/favoring Democrats and gave the Democrats half of everything that is "Toss-Up" or tilting/leaning/favoring Republicans, that would give the Democrats 36 to 37 seats. In other words, re-jigger the list to put 20 seats into "Safe Democratic" and 21 seats into "Pure Toss-Up" - which is to say, shift 66% of all vulnerable seats toward the Democrats - and you can hit the mid-point of their estimate.

So - that is the kind of "surprise" that Rothenberg and Gonzalez are expecting. Not a slight shocker on the margins - but a massive movement of seats toward the Democrats that these two have been unable to identify. And, I would note that I am positive that these two have been looking at each seat very closely to identify any kind of Republican weakness. To wit: they have about 20 Republican seats where (a) the Democratic challenger is under-funded, (b) the NRCC is not spending a dime on advertisements, or (c) the DCCC is not spending a dime. Either they know something the Hill committees and party donors do not, or they have inflated their list of Republican targets. Nevertheless, they still think they have underestimated Democratic strength.

In other words, Rothenberg and Gonzalez are expecting that, though they are convinced that the Democrats are as strong as they have been since Skynyrd's Second Helping, and though they have presumably completed a thorough search for any GOP seat with even the vaguest sign of weakness, they nevertheless believe that they have systematically underestimated Democratic strength by 30% to 60%!

That is a lot of error to commit when you are on the look-out for exactly that type of error.

Why are they doing this?

My read of Rothenberg, and Cook for that matter, is that they do not want to be on the low side of the next "1994." They want to minimize the probability of the false negative, i.e. Type II error. In other words, they do not want to fail to predict a seat will switch when it indeed will switch. Or, in the aggregate, they do not want to underestimate Democratic gains.

Meanwhile, neither of them seems to be all that concerned over Type 1 error, i.e. the error of the false positive. If they estimate that a seat is vulnerable when it in fact does not switch -- they don't seem to think that is a big problem. That is what I was getting at this week with Cook and his super-conservative Toss-Up districts, and also Rothenberg with his 20 or so Republican seats that just do not have the money situation to validate a vulnerability estimate,as well as his "fuzzy math" (oh...come on! You knew that was comin' eventually, right?). Rothenberg and Cook seem intent upon not underestimating Democratic strengths, even if it induces them to overestimate those strengths according to the internal logic of their arguments.

From my perspective, the prudent response is to minize total error, regardless of type. Type 1 error and Type 2 error are both error. We need to try to minimize all of it. A 10% reduction in the possibility of Type 2 error does us no good if it causes a 20% increase in the possibility of Type 1 error. You're still more wrong than when you started. You're just wrong-and-high. What is the value of that?

Simply stated, I think these two are tripping over themselves to amp up estimated Democratic gains. And, as I see it, both have stumbled in the last week. Cook cannot predict 1994-in-reverse using his list. He has districts on it that are up to 300% more conservative than the most liberal district to flip in 1994. Rothenberg cannot predict 34 to 40 using his list. My feeling is that they both have definitely minimized Type 2 error. With their lists, they have identified all of the seats that will flip. But the price they have paid is in Type 1 error. They both have a large cache of seats that just ain't gonna flip.

November 05, 2006

The Republican Close

Ten days ago I wrote about the battle between generic polls vs. individual contest and Karl Rove's point to NPR's Robert Siegel that the press and many professional pundits were missing the boat by focusing too much on the national generic polls and not enough on what was happening in the races that were actually going to decide control of Congress.

Rove crystallizes the disconnect going with the analysis in this election. The press and pundits appear to be overly obsessed with the generic national polls that show big Democratic leads but when you start to break down the individual races that Democrats have to win to get control of each chamber it is far from a sure thing that the Democrats will capture either house. ....For those who think Democratic control of Congress is a lock, another concern is that all these scenarios are with the national generic ballot currently showing a 15+ point deficit for the GOP -- a deficit that is far more likely to shrink between now and election day, rather than grow.

Well that massive generic ballot edge the Democrats have enjoyed since the Foley scandal is indeed shrinking. Of the four polls we have seen in November, two have shown 7 and 8 point moves (Pew and ABC/Wash Post) toward the GOP with Newsweek showing a 1-point move toward the Democrats. The Time poll is a little harder to gauge the movement on because they did not poll a couple of weeks ago like the other three and their last poll was taken before the Foley scandal metastasized and blew out the generic numbers. Either way, the most recent RCP Average gives the Democrats a 10.3% edge down from over 15%, so there is little doubt that the generic average is tightening.

Closing momentum is critical in campaigns and when you combine the Generic poll move with the Mason-Dixon Senate polls released this weekend the closing kick appears to be with the GOP, that could make a real difference in a basket of 10 - 15 house races that are extremely close.

The Sure Thing

The 12 regulars on Chris Matthews' weekend program just unanimously predicted that Democrats would take the House. The fact that this group of elite insiders is so universally convinced of the GOP's demise might actually be taken as a sign of hope for Republicans, given the DC chattering class's reliance on conventional wisdom often bears an inverse relationship to reality.

Keep an eye on the Gallup gereric ballot number coming out tonight, if it shows movement similar to the ABC/WP poll there could be a big surprise brewing for many people cocooned in Washington.

The IN-KY Five

If you want a good place to focus on Tuesday night, watch the House races in Indiana and Kentucky. Polls close early in both states, and all five of the seats (IN-2, IN-8, IN-9, KY-3, KY-4) feature incumbent Republicans in very tough races.

If Republicans get swept or lose four of the five, they'll be in for a very long night. But if the GOP can hold onto three or more seats in this group of five, they'll have a shot at holding onto the House.

The most likely holds right now look to be Davis (KY-4), Northup (KY-3), and Sodrel (IN-9), in that order. Chocola has closed the gap in IN-2 and seems like he might be within striking distance. Hostettler in IN-8 is the only one of the five who appears to be headed for almost certain defeat on Tuesday.

Holding onto three or four of these seats won't necessarily mean Republican will keep control of the House - though it will certainly increase their chances. What GOP holds in IN and KY will definitely do, however, is provide an early indicator to dispell the notion of a 35 or 40 seat wave for the Democrats.

Mason-Dixon Senate Polls Good News for GOP

In the key Senate races Mason-Dixon's new batch of polls released this weekend on balance contain good news for the GOP.

Here is the movement in the Mason-Dixon polls from their previous round of polling in October.

Montana: GOP +3
Missouri: GOP +2
Tennessee: GOP +10
Virginia: Dem +5
Rhode Island: GOP +6
New Jersey: Dem +4
Pennsylvania: Dem +1
Ohio: GOP +2
Washington: Dem +1

So in the nine states Mason-Dixon polled both times in the last couple of weeks -- five moved toward the Republicans and four moved toward the Democrats. However the average movement towards the GOP was 4.6%, as opposed to only 2.8% towards the Democrats. More importantly for Republicans, three of the five states where there was movement toward the GOP are very much in play, with Rhode Island making it four out of five. Whereas for Democrats, Virginia was the only real toss up race to move their way.

The three states they did not poll two weeks ago, but did in this last batch also on balance favor Republicans. The 49 - 41 lead for Kyl eases GOP fears that Arizona might have been slipping into play. The big lead in Michigan for Stabenow doesn't do much for Democrats, as not withstanding GOP chatter that this seat was coming back into play; this was a race the Dems had already banked. And the Maryland number indicating Steele pulling to within 3 points of Cardin confirms that Maryland is indeed a serious concern for Democrats.

In the races that matter Republicans got good news in five (Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island and Tennessee) and Democrats got good news in two (Virginia and New Jersey). The Brown 50% - DeWine 44% number in Ohio is also relatively good news for the GOP. A positive for Democrats is George Allen would have to be regarded in serious trouble and likely to lose.

Yesterday, I suggested the range in the Senate was 4-6 with a five seat pickup for the Democrats as the most likely outcome. Today's information would appear to remove the possibility of Democratic pickups above 6, and with the surprising results out of Rhode Island and the continuing confirmation that Maryland is indeed in play, the range can now credibly be as wide as 2-6.

November 04, 2006

House Notes

Some notes from a few of the competitive House races around the country:

NC-11: Democrat Heather Shuler walked out of a radio studio yesterday when incumbent Republican Charles Taylor called in to the debate instead of showing up in person. Shuler said it was proof that "Mr. Taylor can't play by the rules," to which Taylor replied, "It's radio, not television, Heath."

Also, Linton Weeks has a big profile of Shuler in today's Washington Post.

IL-6: Peter Roskam announced the surprise endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars political action committee yesterday. The endorsement caught Duckworth off guard, and in a "hastily announced press conference" she said she the group never contacted her about an endorsement and admitted that her campaign didn't seek one from the VFW while Roskams' camp says they did.

FL-16: The St. Petersubrg Times runs a very bullish piece on Joe Negron's chances of holding on to Mark Foley's seat. One political operative says the intense media coverage of the Foley scandal actually helped Negron make this seat competitive - along with the court ruling allowing signs to be posted letting voters know a vote for Foley is a vote for Negron.

AZ-5: There's been much buzz over the latest SurveyUSA poll showing incumbent Republican JD Hayworth trailing his opponent Harry Mitchell. In the WSJ's Political Diary earlier this week, John Fund reported that Hayworth's internal polls also show him trailing Mitchell by three points.

In an interview on Fox News Channel's The Live Desk with Martha MacCallum on Friday, here's how Hayworth responded to a question about why this race has gotten so tight:

FOX NEWS ANCHOR MARTHA MACCALLUM: "So what is it, Congressman? I just have 20 seconds, but why do you think this has turned into a much tighter race than anybody would have expected?"

HAYWORTH: "Well, because, to the extent that any challenger can make the incumbent the issue, when you have a newspaper calling me names in its lead editorial -- that has an impact with some people sitting on the fence. And we've been subject to all sorts of derision and false charges in this campaign, even attacks on my wife, and ads by my opponent putting me in the crosshairs of a sniper scope. There is indulgence among the area newspapers and the dominant media culture to allow my opponent all sorts of free rein, to heap all sorts of scorn on me. And some of that has worked. But in the final analysis, we're going to prevail because the truth's on our side as we head into Election Day."

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb says Hayworth hasn't done a good job of softening his image. Another Republic columnist, Laurie Roberts, says she's not buying the emerging CW that Hayworth's goose is cooked:

I'm still betting that Hayworth pulls out CD 5. While Mitchell is a moderate and would fit the district well, this is also the state's wealthiest district. When that moment of truth comes on Tuesday, I just don't see voters in north Scottsdale and Ahwatukee going for a Democrat. They may be fed up with the Republicans, but are they willing to embrace the Dems?

We'll know on Tuesday.

Connecticut 5 Update

Here is a CT-5 update from Kevin Rennie, a former Connecticut state senator, columnist with the Hartford Courant and occasional contributor to RCP.

*******************

This year, Nancy Johnson's got the best GOTV effort she's ever had. I hear she's going positive with a look-in-the-camera ad. There is an air of pessimism among some workers who've never been through a tough fight with her before; the last one was 2002 when she was redistricted into a race with a Democrat incumbent from the consolidated district. They believe, however that they can run even with Murphy in Waterbury. The shrewd young Democrat may have a serious mistake by suggesting to Waterbury Democrats he would punish them for the city for Democratic mayor's reluctance to campaign for Murphy. The ugliness was duly reported Thursday in the widely read Waterbury Republican-American.

Waterbury is the Democratic bastion that Johnson lost by nearly 4,000 votes in 2002. The problem is that she needs to come out of the Farmington Valley suburbs of Hartford, traditionally strong Republican towns, with a bigger margin than polls show her winning. Some gentle moderate Republican voters may not have liked Johnson's fierce and clever negative ads that she aired throughout the fall. The UConn poll showing her a few points behind may have prompted some lazy Republicans into action. The three Republicans in Connecticut are having trouble running up their usual numbers among unaffiliated voters this year.

It is very tough to be a Republican in CT this year. Even talented Republican candidates for the legislature who would normally are finding it hard-going. But Johnson knows something about bucking trends. She first won the open Democratic seat in 1982, a bad year for House Republicans.

Lieberman and Rell will create their own wave in the 5th, maybe that will be enough to save Nancy. She deserves a lot of credit at 71 for fighting like a tiger. And she is being assisted by Connecticut pro David Boomer, who ran her 2002 race. He knows the district better than any Republican operative. He brings a cool head and a steady hand to the challenge.

Lieberman's run as an independent has extracted an unanticipated price from state Democrats. The party could usually count on Lieberman to raise several hundred thousand dollars to fund its GOTV operation. He's not doing that this year and primary winner Ned Lamont has not stepped in. He's already poured more than $14 million of his family fortune into his own campaign. Observers have noticed that absence of cha-ching this year. Unions are always important to Democratic Election Day operations but many of them are otherwise engaged helping Lieberman.

The skies this week were full of Republicans parachuting in to work on the fabled 72 hour program. The state party has reserved hotel rooms, transportation and catering service for the three embattled Republicans. Democrats from Massachusetts, since they have no competitive races at home, are crossing the border to help in Connecticut. This is the price of the end of two-party politics in much of New England as Democrats lay siege to the Republicans who survive.

Color Connecticut complicated until Tuesday night.

Senate Status Report

With three days until the election, the situation in the Senate looks like the Democrats will pickup between 4-6 seats. Of the three different possibilities in that range I would rank a five seat Dem pick up as the most likely outcome, followed by six seats, followed by four seats.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island appear solid for the Democrats and get them 3 seats. The Republicans can hold Democratic gains to five seats and preserve control, by winning one out of the basket of these five races: Montana, Maryland, Missouri, Virginia and New Jersey. This also would be the order in which I would rate GOP chances to win these five seats.

This assumes Republicans hold onto seats in Tennessee and Arizona where they currently lead in the polls. Tennessee gets a lot of buzz as being a toss up, and though Ford still has a chance this race is now pretty solidly in the GOP category as the RCP Average shows Bob Corker leading by more than 6%. In Arizona, Jon Kyl leads by 8% in the latest RCP Average.

For the Democrats to get six seats and win control, they would need to sweep all five of the races mentioned above (MT, MD, MO, VA, & NJ). That might sound like a high hurdle, but the Democrats currently lead in the RCP Average in every one of these races (and in NJ by 7). I suspect the GOP has a better chance of pulling out one of those five races rather than being swept. Republicans would need to win two out of these five to keep their loses to only four seats. Today, I would give the Democrats a better shot at sweeping all of these as opposed to the Republicans winning two.

The extremes in the possibilities of pickups on the high-end run to 7-8 and on the low end 2-3. If Democrats can swing either Arizona or Tennessee - which would almost certainly coincide with a sweep of that group of five - they would net 7 seats. If they somehow managed to get both, it would be 8 seats. On the other hand, if Republicans could win just three out of that basket of five seats (MT, MD, MO, VA, & NJ). they would hold Democrat gains in the Senate to three seats or less.

Given Corker and Kyl's big leads 7-8 seats seems unlikely, but with the GOP within 2 points in Montana, Virginia and Missouri and with Steele closing in Maryland, it is not far-fetched to think Republicans could win three out of the five of MT, MD, MO, VA, & NJ and keep their Senate losses to three.

The Military Times Editorial

Some responses to the question I asked earlier about the Military Times editorial calling for Rumsfeld's resignation:

I'm a Major with 18 years of service in the USAF. In the USAF, the AF Times is understood to be useful source of information, but we all know it's not a military publication and it doesn't speak for us. I just came from three years in the bowels of the Pentagon and the SECDEF is generally though of there as tough but fair. Have mistakes been made? Sure, they always are but the professional military learns from it's mistakes.

Rumsfeld should have probably committed more soldiers to the peacekeeping in Iraq. We didn't need more to win the battle but to pacify the country afterward. Problem is the services are so small after the Clinton years that there just aren't enough forces to go much above 140K on a continuing basis. And no one here wants a draft. It would have been nice to get further international support, but that didn't work out, especially after Madrid. I think everyone in the Pentagon, if not the entire DOD hoped the Iraqis would take more responsibility for themselves and not destroy their country's infrastructure and their countrymen. But unfortunately they are not.

The Army Times op-ed probably won't change a single mind in the services. We're all pretty hard-headed and don't generally take our cues from the press. We wouldn't be in the Service if we did.

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I enjoy and appreciate your web site, and visit it frequently (even when deployed in the Middle East). With respect to your question on the impact of the editorial from Military Times Media Group calling for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation, I'd venture that it will be negligible.

Things are obviously not going well in the central region of Iraq, but that has little to do with any miscalculations made by the Secretary of Defense (which certainly occurred). As has so often been the case since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a sizeable Muslim population is squandering yet another opportunity for integration into the modern world.

I just returned from a 6-month mobilization in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I can't say that I'm overly optimistic about the near-term prospects for stability in the region. Lack of significant progress in that respect has more to do with the collective malevolence of the Iraqi people than anything else.

Bottom line on the editorial: no impact.

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From my perspective, the Army Times editorial page is pro-democrat positions and does not reflect the attitude of most troops. I look at the Times for articles about pay, benefits and unit info, not the drivel in the editorial page.

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Secretary Rumsfield should stay! The Army Times and that entire group do not, repeat do not speak for the military. They might speak for some politicians who happen to be currently on active duty in the military.

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I am a retired Navy Commander and I don't believe the Gannett Company is doing themselves much good by publishing an editorial in the Times. All officers and most enlisted personnel know and respect that they cannot publicly criticize their chain of command. Many military individuals associate the Times with the military, but know it is published by a non-military organization. Regardless of their opinion of the Secretary of Defense it still will be perceived that one of their own is violating the rules....the association is too tight. The Military Times Media Group may get their opinion out, but it wouldn't be respected even if it is persuasive!

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One important point you may have missed is that the Gannett takeover of the Military Times publications is a fairly recent development. Although Gannett seems to be pretty well established in the MSM, they do not appear to have significantly downgraded the usefulness and relevance of these military oriented publications. Their targeted audience tends to let them know in no uncertain terms if their editorial positions blunder into the swamps of too much political correctness.

I was an enlisted man in the US Air Force for thirty years and subsequently a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers for another twenty. One of the advantages of being associated with DOD for over fifty years is that it's difficult for them to come up anything you haven't already seen before. The downside is you tend to become a little cynical.

The usual suspects will probably try to make political hay out of the Times editorial but I question whether it will have much real impact. Unlike Robert McNamara, Rumsfeld has shown occasional flashes of common sense, although he sometimes seems dazzled by his own brilliance. Perhaps it has something to do with the rimless glasses.

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The Army Times, which as you noted is published by the same folks that pubish USA Today, is slightly to the left of Tass.

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I've been subscribing to the Air Force Times since 9/11, and was a regular reader long before that. I don't think the editorial itself matters much (I read it online). I read the AF Times for the news, as a way to keep up with current events within the Air Force and the military in general. I suspect that is why many people subscribe. I've never been a fan of the editorial page, which frankly sometimes comes off as a part of a different newspaper (perhaps pasted in from Gannett's USA today). The letters are usually way more informed and interesting than the editorials.

Adwatch '06: Heather Wilson

The most devastating ads in politics are the ones that make themselves - that is, when a candidate's opponent makes a public gaffe that reinforces the most salient arguments against themselves. John Kerry sealed his fate as a flip-flopper with the "I voted for it before I voted against" which the Bush team promptly turned into one its most powerful spots of the 2004 race. This ad from Heather Wilson's campaign is an equally devastating and effective spot against Democrat Patricia Madrid on taxes:

New Hampshire - Part III

The UNH poll I've already referenced twice (see here and here) is a tracking poll, and the new numbers out this morning show Democrat Paul Hodes extending his lead over incumbent Republican Charlie Bass to 13 points (49 to 36) - up five points overnight (the numbers from NH-1 were unchanged).

The Bass campiagn questioned the accuracy of the poll, and the Union-Leader reports on the response of UNH poll director Andrew Smith:

Smith said that statewide, 42 percent of those who first said they were registered undeclared voters later identified themselves as Democrats, while 33 percent called themselves independents and 25 percent Republicans.

Yesterday's 2nd District poll included 102 people, or 35 percent of the sample, who said they were registered Democratic likely voters; 73, or 25 percent, registered Republican likely voters; and 115, or nearly 40 percent, registered undeclared likely voters.

Those numbers differ from the official voter registration figures for the entire state. According to the Sept. 12 primary voter checklist on the Secretary of State's Web site, 26 percent of New Hampshire voters are Democrats, 31 percent Republican and 43 percent undeclared.

Smith said many more Republicans than Democrats were eliminated from his poll because they said they will not or probably will not vote.

Smith said he has used this methodology since about 1985 at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Cincinnati and, since 1999, at UNH.

"I don't weigh this toward any particular party," he said. He also said that unlike the method used by pollsters who try to reflect the voter affiliation makeup of the state in their samples, "I don't try to assume who is going to show up to vote."

He said that many campaigns use lists of people who voted in previous elections as their samples, but he said, "That makes an assumption about what is likely to happen this time around."

Does Haggard Hurt?

Politcally, the story of Ted Haggard may have some impact in Colorado 4, where most people probably know who he is and social conservative Maryilyn Musgrave is in a tough battle to hold onto her seat against Democrat Angie Paccione.

Beyond that, however, I wouldn't expect it to have any effect on races elsewhere around the country. Unlike Foley, Haggard wasn't a member of Congress. And even though he was the leader of the National Evangelical Association, the vast majority of voters around the country have never heard of the guy. So it's hard to see how conservatives will take out whatever disgust they might feel over the allegations against a Pastor in Colorado on their local Republican Congressional candidates. Maybe a few will stay home or decide to vote Democrat over this, but not very many.

November 03, 2006

Registration Data

Curtis Gans of American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate has just published a new report that analyzes nationwide registration data. Based upon the 34 states that have reported registration statistics, he finds that 68% of the voting age public is eligible to vote. This is unchanged since 2002.

Gans also offers some surprising information on partisan registration. He has analyzed the 13 states that have supplied partisan registration voting data, comparing them to prior years. Relative to 2002, the Republicans have actually closed the registration gap. In 2002, the Democrats had a 7.0% registration advantage over Republicans in these 13 states. This year, their advantage is down to 5.8%. I won't report the actual figures because they are inflated (due to deaths and geographical movement), but the trend lines here are, as Gans argues, valid (so long, of course, as Democrats are no more likely to have died or moved than Republicans).

Unfortunately, Gans only offers data for midterm elections -- so we cannot determine whether, in 2004, the Republicans greatly increased their share of registered voters in 2004 and the Democrats have reduced that increase this year. Also, registration seems to square only loosely with final vote outcomes. Between 1978 and 1982, Republican registration increased by 0.8%, but they won fewer seats in the latter year. Between 1990 and 1994, it also increased by 0.8%. (Though I would note with interest that the last time the GOP lost as many seats as Cook and Rothenberg are predicting they will lose, their share of registered voters fell by 2.5%.) And, of course, being registered to vote and actually voting are two entirely different things. So, registration itself does not really give us much purchase on the actual voting public. Also, his report does not -- at least by my read of it -- mention which states are in play. This limits the scope of our analysis -- especially if we think that regional or other state-by-state variables might affect turnout.

Nevertheless, this data offers some interesting qualifications on the "disspirited" storyline that the press has embraced. If Republicans are disspirited, they do not seem to be expressing it by altering their long-term registration habits in these 13 states. The trend line of the last 44 years has not been interrupted in any kind of significant way due to Republican morosity. In the last 44 years, the Republican percentage of registered voters has grown, on average, by 0.47% per midterm year. In the last 28 years, it has grown by 1.4% per midterm year. This year's growth of 0.8% is actually identical to the 1998 - 2002 growth. The Democratic decline, meanwhile, has averaged 0.96% per midterm year in the last 44 years. In the last 28 years, they have declined by an average of 0.55% per year. Between 1998 and 2002, they declined by 1.2% -- though this might have been a "correction" for their 2.4% increase in registrants between 1994 and 1996 (their largest in the 44 year period). This year, their rate of decline is 0.4%.

Hatch Blows Up

Wow. Is Mike Hatch in the process of losing the MN Gov race over the E-85 gaffe by his Lt. Gov candidate? He's certainly showing a remarkable lack of discipline for a candidate in the final days of a very tight race:

Hatch's anger overflowed during a Thursday morning telephone interview.

A Forum Communications reporter asked Hatch about Dutcher's knowledge of ethanol and why she wasn't available to discuss the issue. Hatch abruptly ended the interview with: "You're nothing more than a Republican whore. Goodbye." He then hung up.

It's unclear whether the reporter he was responding to was a woman or not. If so, I would think his campaign might be over. To be continued.

The Connecticut and Indiana Six

Some quick thoughts on the six house races in Indiana and Connecticut. Right now my gut feeling is the Democrats win 2 of 3 in each state. That would comport with a Democratic take over in the House, but not necessarily the wave of 30-40 seats that we hear so much about these days.

Hostettler is almost a sure loser in IN-8 and Shays is likely to lose in CT-4. Chocola in IN-2 is the next most likely to fall, followed by Johnson in CT-5, though both still have chances to hold on, with Johnson having a much better shot than Chocola. Sodrel in IN-9 falls into the same category as Johnson, though he's probably in slightly better shape and I think he will eke it out. Of the six, right now Rob Simmons in CT-2 appears most likely to hold on.

Republicans would probably be very pleased to hold onto three out of six of these seats, and Democrats would be feeling pretty good if they could win five of the six.

More on New Hampshire

As a follow up to my post last night on the new Congressional polls put out by the University of New Hampshire showing bad news for Charlie Bass, the Union-Leader reports today:

The Bass campaign earlier yesterday released its own internal poll, conducted by the American Research Group, showing the race in a dead heat.

ARG had Bass leading Hodes 47 to 44 percent with a 4 percent margin of error. Pollster Dick Bennett said sampling of 619 likely voters, contacted on Oct. 30 and 31 and Nov. 1, included 35 percent Republicans, 31 percent Democrats and 34 percent independents.

He said his poll contained fewer independents than the state average because "undeclared votes are less apt to say that they are going to vote."

Bennett's showed Bass leading among Republicans 92 to 8 percent; Hodes leading among Democrats 83 to 10 percent, with 2 percent for Blevins and 5 percent undecided; and Hodes leading among independents, 46 to 38 percent with 8 percent for Blevins and 8 percent undecided.

"It's a close race," said Bennett. "It looks like Bass will do a little bit better among Republicans than Hodes will do among Democrats. But it will depend on how many independents come out and vote. They will decide it.

"I've never seen anything like it," Bennett added.

I went back and compared the results of the two polling outfits from the 2002 midterm. Here are the results:

2002 Results
NH-1
Bradley (R)
Clark (D)
Und
UNH (10/23-10/29)
49
31
15
ARG (10/25)
53
39
n/a
Actual Results
58
39
NH-2
Bass (R)
Swett (D)
Und
UNH (10/23-10/29)
47
41
8
ARG (10/25)
54
35
n/a
Actual Results
57
41

I don't want to try and read too much into these numbers aside from stating the obvious: in 2002 it seems ARG did a better job in pre-election polls of estimating Republican support. Whether that's because ARG used a better model for predicting turnout and/or whether that model will hold true this year remains to be seen. It's also worth reiterating that the ARG poll from '02 was not associated with either candidate and the one referenced above was commissioned by the Bass campaign.

Battle on Chicago's North Shore

Since barely winning a hard-fought race to replace his former boss John Porter in 2000, Republican Mark Kirk has enjoyed a relatively stress-free tenure in Illinois's 10th Congressional district. In the 2002 midterm, Mr. Kirk coasted to a victory margin of 38% and he racked up a 28-point win in 2004 even as constituents in his affluent, Democratic-leaning district on Chicago's North Shore voted for John Kerry over President Bush by a margin of 53 to 47.

But this year is a bit different. In addition to facing a hostile political environment driven by dissatisfaction with Iraq and an unpopular president, the moderate Mr. Kirk is dealing with a young but impressive challenger in Democrat Dan Seals, a 35-year-old African-American who many compare to Illinois's junior Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Seals has been boosted by financial support from the left-wing "netroots" crowd, and he's also gotten significant organizational help from Democrat Jan Schakowsky from the neighboring 9th district who is facing only token opposition this year.

Democrats have been insisting for weeks that the district is in play, and on Tuesday the DCCC finally put its money where its mouth is by committing more than $25,000 for two direct mail pieces during the final week of the campaign.

But Republicans in the district are confident Mr. Kirk will prevail -- though admittedly not with the victory margin he's achieved in past races. Mr. Kirk has a well-deserved reputation for being a moderate and a record of achievement in the district that (coupled with a decided money advantage) Republicans believe will sufficiently insulate him against the negative political environment.

It's hard to see Mr. Kirk being swept from office by anything less than a huge Democratic wave. But that's exactly what many Democrats believe is coming next Tuesday.

The Kerry Joke

The Hartford Courant says John Kerry's "joke" was "understandably perceived to be a blast at our soldiers." Clearly, the editorial board at the Courant are a bunch of right wing hacks and morons not graced with the ominiscience of Keith Olbermann.

VA Senate: Will Allen Hang On?

If you look at the chart of the RCP Average in the Virginia Senate race, you can see that Allen stabilized a 3-5 point lead in the first week of September which lasted roughly six weeks, until the third week in October. At that point Webb began to close, and later in the week the Allen campaign went to Drudge with the passages from Webb's novels. Since then, Webb has edged into the lead and the race has become a total dead heat.

The New York Times takes a look at the pivotal role women will play in the race this year. And there are rumors of money shortages at the Allen campaign - which they strenuously deny - and talk of how nasty the race has become.

But as in all the other races this year, it's going to come down to turn out. And you don't have to look any further than last year's Governor's race in Virginia to see why Allen has to be concerned. Jerry Kilgore ran a fairly poor campaign - though certainly better than Allen's - and even a big last minute push highlighted by a visit for the President failed to produce much enthusiasm.

Allen has the advantage of being an incumbent, of course, and he's also a well-known and well-liked figure among Virginia Republicans. But even with those assets, with the changing demographics in Northern Virginia, Allen has to be concerned that anything less than a fully enthusiastic by GOP voters on Tuesday may come up just a little bit short.

The Latino Vote

Here's an interesting contrast. The Denver Post runs a front page story playing up the fact that 5,400 new Latinos have registered to vote in Colorado since July 1:

The number of Colorado Latinos who registered to vote has increased 3.5 percent since the beginning of 2005 - more than triple the rate of increase in non- Latino voters.

The majority of those new Latino voters - at least 5,400 - registered since July 1, when voter registration drives began seeking new Latino voters after spring rallies for immigrant rights.

Advocates for immigrants and Latinos say the tally is a snapshot of what can be done as they work to build a stronger political force leading to the 2008 presidential election.

"We realize that you can't win on your issues unless you have a strong voter turnout because that is what Congress listens to," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "The issue of immigration has really galvanized people to vote."

The Houston Chronicle, on the other hand, reports that immigration-rights activists in Latino-rich Texas aren't having nearly the success they had hoped:

"Today we march, tomorrow we vote" was the endless refrain as hundreds of thousands of Hispanics spilled onto the streets of Houston, Los Angeles and other cities last spring in protest of a House bill aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

But with Tuesday's election approaching, immigrant-rights activists are nowhere close to delivering on their vow to add a million or more Hispanics to voter rolls in Texas and across the United States. [snip]

"I haven't seen anything relative to voter registration that is occurring as a result of the marches," said Milwaukee election commissioner Sue Edmond. Her comments were echoed by Danny Clayton, supervisor of voter registration in Dallas County.

Texas, which with California accounts for the lion's share of the national Hispanic vote, posted a gain of 96,023 voters with Spanish-sounding surnames from February to mid-October, according to the Secretary of State's Office. The increase was in line with the growth of registered voters overall, and the Hispanic share of Texas' 13.1 million registered voters remains unchanged at 21 percent, spokesman Scott Haywood said.

The Chronicle lists a number of reasons why the drive to register Latinos is so difficult: 12 million of the 43 million Hispanics in the U.S. are here illegally and can't vote, another 8 million are here legally but haven't taken advantage of citizenship eligibility, and one in three Hispanics in the U.S. is under the legal voting age of 18.

Hatch to Pawlenty: You're No Gentleman!

More on the dust up in the Minnesota Governor's race I mentioned last night over DFL Lt. Gov candidate Judy Dutcher's inability to answer a question about E-85 ethanol during a debate. The Minneapolis Star reports on the rather humorous nature of the back and forth after Pawlenty wondered aloud at a press conference yesterday whether Dutcher was fit to serve apparently not having a clue about one of the biggest issues in the state:

Hatch retorted: "He's not running against Judi Dutcher, he's running against me. He ought to focus on me. ... I know a hell of a lot more about ethanol than Gov. Pawlenty could ever dream to. ... The governor is so desperate, he's so far behind, he's picking on a woman."

To which Assistant House Majority Leader Laura Brod, R-New Prague, responded: "For Mike Hatch to suggest that Judi Dutcher is above criticism because she is a woman is an insult to all the men and women of Minnesota who value honest public debate on the important issues facing our state."

Besides, said Pawlenty, "It isn't about whether you are a woman. It's not about gender. He's trying to use that as a smokescreen."

Well, said Hatch, "The governor upon learning about Judi's gaffe could have chosen to be a gentleman about it, but instead he organized a press conference and went on the attack."

Someone should remind Hatch he's in the middle of, um, what's that thingy called? Oh yeah, a political campaign. The damage control skills need a bit of work.

Three Dirty Words

"San Francisco Values."

Mother's Milk

So much for getting the money out of politics:

Candidates rushed out more than 600 new television ads ahead of network deadlines for the weekend, with many Republicans trying to shift attention from Iraq and President Bush to local issues such as the environment, taxes and immigration. This final thrust will boost spending on political and issue advertising past $2 billion in this campaign, or $400 million more than in the 2004 presidential campaign, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

November 02, 2006

GOP Tanking in NH?

A new University of New Hampshire poll has some very ominous news for Republicans. In the new survey, incumbent Republican Charlie Bass in NH2 is down 8 points to Democrat Paul Hodes, which is an 18-point decline from the last UNH poll in September. And in the first district, liberal antiwar Democrat Carol Shea-Porter has pulled to within 5 points of incumbent Republican Jeb Bradley, 47-42, with 10 percent undecided. Again, this represents a big decline for Bradley (14 points) versus the last UNH survey in September.

RCP on FOX News Tonight

Media Alert: I will be on The O'Reilly Factor and the FOX Report tonight to discuss the state of play in the Battle for the Senate and the House.


I'll Take E-85 For $200, Alex

DFL-er Mike Hatch holds a small lead over incumbent Republican Tim Pawlenty in the hotly contested race for Minnesota Governor. I would have loved to have seen the look on Hatch's face when he heard that his running mate Judi Dutcher came up empty trying to answer a question about E-85 in a debate yesterday:

E-85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that can be used in an increasing number of U.S. vehicles. Farmers around the Midwest are betting that demand for petroleum alternatives will boost the price of corn, the most common source of ethanol, and questions about ethanol subsidies are often the first thing politicians hear on rural stops.

But when a TV reporter asked Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Judi Dutcher about the fuel blend this week, she drew a blank.

''It's like you've asked me the college quiz bowl question,'' Dutcher said in Alexandria. ''What is E-85?''

Pawlenty jumped on the news, telling a crowd today, ""Boy, you'd really not only have to be in the private sector, but you'd have to be under a rock to not know about ethanol and E-85.''

But Hatch fought back, saying "I know a hell of a lot more about ethanol than Gov. Pawlenty could ever dream to,'' and adding that "He's [Pawlenty] not running against Judi Dutcher, he's running against me. He ought to focus on me.''

It's hard to say what impact this will have, if any, on the election. But in a race as close as this one, even small stumbles down the stretch can make the difference.

The Mailbag Overflows With Olbermann

Who knew Keith Olbermann had so many fans? Here's a sampling from today's inbox:

Mr. Bevan,

Spare us. The "millions" who took Kerry's comment at face value and were subsequently offended by it, are almost certainly comprised mostly of the 30% who think things are going well in Iraq. That doesn't make the morons or idiots, but it does make them completely unwilling to face reality, which is hardly much better. If the greatest offense you can muster is at Olbermann for calling out the President for having the gall to demand that Kerry apologize for his non-insult while he himself-the man who ordered the invasion of Iraq-does no more than admit that "mistakes were made", then you should seriously consider re-aligning your priorities with, say, reality.

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Mr. Tom Bevan,

Thanks for your published observation. I was "surfing" and momentarily stopped on MSNBC as Olbermann began his rant. Normally I would have quickly passed but was struck by the arrogance and vitrol in his remarks. I listened to the whole diatribe. Then, I wrote MSNBC expressing my view that such animus in a commentator precluded any possibility that he might be objective. To date, no reply. Again, thank you for pointing out what passes for informed reporting and commentary among the media.

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Are you saying that only former sport broadcasters and politicians from Beacon Hill are arrogant? If Bush and his entire staff are not arrogant, then who is? You sound more than a little arrogant to me.

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When you mentioned Keith Olberman's previous incarnation at ESPN, I recalled a line I heard years ago that rings truer than ever about him: "Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. And those who can't teach gym become sportswriters." Since Olberman is now one step down on the evolutionary scale from sportswriter, I will leave it to others not stuck in Iraq to figure out where that leaves him.

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Keith Olberman's message was one of the best and clearest messages of this campaign season. John Kerry's attempted joke was clearly aimed at President Bush and his administrations' failure in almost every area of his responibility. The administration created the reason for starting this unnecessary war, which 2/3 of the people in the United States now fully understand, and now, as the election approaches they are trying to create diversions to attempt to take people's minds off the real issues.

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Olbermann has shown that he has more than an anger management problem, rather he truly borders on being mentally ill. The number of his non-sensical statements are too many to repeat. What it basically boils down to according to the almighty Olbermann is that Bush, Laura, McCain, our military, those Democrats that called for Kerry to apologize, and the many others who refuse to accept an after-the-fact fabrication about a botched joke, are stupid and dishonest.

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Dear Tom,

You are blinded by your own ideology. Keith Olbermann is a little bombastic and grandiose in featuring himself as the reincarnation of Murrow. So what? Do you ever watch the histrionics of Mr. O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.

Cable news commentators run the gamut from centrist-to-right figures like Matthews, Blitzer et al to the hard right that dominate. With one exception there is not one single progressive voice 24/7 on CNN or MSNBC. FOX of course is a joke. They pretend to be balanced with faux Democrats like Colmes and Kirsten Powers. Kirsten Powers for goodness sake. She and Michelle are actually good pals.

There are millions and millions of people like me that strongly believe that we have a deeply criminal Administration sinking the country. We have no voice whatsoever in the MSM and our views are scarcely mentioned. And you can't stand it that there is one single man speaking out for our silenced constituency? Give me a break.

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Thank you for pointing out Keith Olbermann's arrogance! I could not listen to the entire ten minutes...

I have to wonder... does Mr. Olbermann realize that he sounds like an arrogant buffoon? Like Kerry, he feels his opinion so superior, he must speak... He cares little who he insults.

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Olbermann may be a bit over the top. But, he basically got it right. He's a great antidote to Rush Limbaugh and the rest of those wingnuts...

Finally, from a reader who tried to sit through the whole ten minutes:

I lasted 3:34 (which seemed like 33:40) and for the last 60 seconds or so I was watching the clock painfully trudge by thinking how? how did someone give this bozo a microphone to talk into? You should have an award for the person who lasts the longest watching this clip. I suspect I'm the leader in the clubhouse.

Hoping For a Loss

It'll never happen, of course, but there's no harm in hoping:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's lead over his main rival ahead of the Dec. 3 presidential election narrowed in October to 4 percentage points in polling by Caracas-based public opinion research company AKSA Partners.

Chavez, who had the support of 52 percent of those polled compared with 48 percent for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, has seen his lead dwindle from 13 points in September, AKSA President Alfredo Keller said. AKSA's poll, which assumed just two candidates, is the only one of five released in the past two weeks that shows Rosales gaining on Chavez.

Sabato Predicts

Larry Sabato came out with predictions today: Dems take control of the House picking up 27 seats and also grab control of the Senate with a 6-seat pick up (RI, PA, OH, MT, OH, VA).

The Buzz in Michigan

Mike Allen of Time picks up the buzz of a possible upset brewing in the Michigan Senate race:

Republicans hope that will be one of MANY surprises on election night. They need them. With lots of struggling candidates, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is throwing a $900,000, buzzer-beating lifeline to the Wolverine State and Mike Bouchard, a sheriff who has been running an intense campaign against incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), though with little national attention because of her lead in polls and fundraising.

The Bouchard campaign has long believed that Stabenow is beatable and that her support is soft. The reasons provided to support that argument are not totally unconvincing (Michigan's poor economy, Stabenow's 45 percent job approval rating and her rather undistinguished first-term record) but the results from the most recent polls don't appear to show any signs of movement away from Stabenow. There is still time left, but if Bouchard is going to score the upset he needs to start closing - and fast.

As part of a final push, the Bouchard campaign is out with a sharp new television spot starring the candidate's daughter, Mikayla:

The reference to "the dating thing" is a play off a previous spot starring Mikayla which was equally good:

Keep your eye on the latest polls, news, and analysis on this race via the RCP Michigan Senate Race page.

RCP Senate Update

There is a little bit of clarity creeping into the Battle for the Senate. Today we have moved four races: three toward the Democrats and one towards the GOP. (View the changes on RCP's Senate summary page which you can access from the top right corner of the front page.)

Rhode Island and Ohio have been moved to Likely Democrat. Along with Pennsylvania, that gives Democrats three of the six seats they need for control. Incumbents Santorum, Chafee and DeWine all trail by 9-12 points and are stuck in the low 40's in the latest RCP Averages, and it's very hard to see how they win in an environment where the Generic ballot favors Democrats by 15 points.

New Jersey moved to Leans Democrat and Tennessee to Leans Republican. Both Menendez and Corker lead by 5 or more in their respective RCP Averages and both have the benefit of playing on friendly turf in each state. These races have been Toss Ups for much of the campaign and while it is possible they could close again, right now they look like holds for each party.

This leaves three races as clear Toss Ups: Missouri, Virginia and Montana. Assuming a Ford loss in Tennessee, Democrats will need to sweep all three of these states to win control of the Senate. Montana had been a race that Democrats felt they had in the bag due to Burns' Abramoff problems, but Burns started to creep back into the race a couple of weeks ago and has closed to within 2.3% in the latest RCP Average. Tester retains the slight edge, but Burns has the momentum.

The slow-motion implosion of George Allen in Virginia continues as Jim Webb moved out in front in Virginia in the RCP Average for the first time on Monday. But did he peak too soon? And can the Republican ground game in the conservative-leaning state pull this out for the GOP? Webb probably retains a slight edge at the moment.

Missouri has been a dead heat all year, teetering back and forth between Talent and McCaskill. As of today, the Democrat now has a small edge in the latest RCP Average up 1.4%. This race is basically a coin-flip, but given the anti-GOP atmosphere you might have to give a very small edge to McCaskill.

So Democrats need to sweep three very close races -- and they are in a very credible position to do just that. However, as we've been saying for some time now, the wild card on election night could very well be in the solid blue state of Maryland, where Republican Michael Steele has a legitimate chance to upset Democrat Ben Cardin. We're monitoring this race very closely and currently still have it in the Leans Democrat column, but Steele has all of the late momentum. With Bob Ehrlich closing hard as well in a very competitive governor race, Steele has a shot. Incredibly, a black Republican from Maryland could save the Senate for the GOP.

Olbermann's Arrogance

Keith Olbermann's arrogance and pomposity have reached unbelievable heights this year. But he sets a new bar with this ten minute rant against President Bush (and John McCain) and in defense of John Kerry's "botched joke" from the other day.

It's telling that Olbermann starts his screed against Bush by arrogantly assserting, as Kerry did in his "I apologize to no one" speech the other day, that anyone who might have misinterpreted Kerry's words or taken them at face value is either a total moron or completely evil. "The context was unmistakable" Oblermann says, adding that there was "no interpretation required." Really? Is that why millions of Americans, including many U.S. troops from all around the world were offended by Kerry's remarks? But, of course, Keith Olbermann is clearly much smarter than all those people who were "too stupid" to get Kerry's lame joke - even though he "botched" it.

That's exactly the sort of elitist attitude that Americans hate, whether it's coming from a stuck up Senator from Beacon Hill or a stuffed shirt former sports broadcaster who now fancies himself the reincarnation of Edward R. Murrow. Here's the whole ten minutes of Olbermann's unadulterated arrogance, if you can stomach it:

Big Names, Big Money in TN

Bubba was in town for Harold Ford, Jr. yesterday:

"You know what it will mean if Harold gets elected on Tuesday," Clinton said. "It won't mean what all those columnists and commentators say. It won't mean that it's a victory of race; it will be a victory of going beyond race."

Meanwhile, Corker wrote a last minute check for $1.35 million to his campaign. This pushes Corker's total investment in the race past the $2 million mark and triggers the "millionaire clause" allowing Ford to increase the amount he can get from personal contributions to $12,600 per person. But, as was widely expected, Corker's strategy of waiting to the last possible minute makes it unlikely Ford will be able to take advantage of the clause to come anywhere near matching Corker's cash nfusion.

The Commerical Appeal reports that outside groups have spent $10 million on the TN Senate race so far. Together with the $21 million spent by the campaigns, that makes TN the fourth most expensive Senate race in the country this year.

With the addition of the Reuters/Zogby poll from yesterday, Corker has established a bit of control in this race and now holds a 5.0% lead in the RCP Average. Because of this, we've moved TN from being a Toss Up into the Lean GOP category.

Incidentally, we've also moved the New Jersey Senate race out of the Toss Up category and into the "Lean Dem" column. Bob Menendez has extended his lead in the RealClearPolitics Average to more than 7 percent.

A Reverse Wilder Effect in MD Senate?

The same Baltimore Sun survey that showed Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich closing to within one point of Martin O'Malley shows Michael Steele pulling to with six points of Ben Cardin. There is good and bad news for each side in this poll.

The good news for Steele is he has essentially halved Cardin's lead from eleven to six. The bad news is that in The Sun poll he is only drawing 12% support among African-American voters.

This opens up an interesting thought: is it possible we are seeing the reverse of the "Wilder effect" in Maryland? The Wilder effect is a reference to former African-American Virginia Governor Doug Wilder who was leading by 10+ points in the polls in the final days of the campaign but won by just a nose on election day. The suspected reason for the dramatic drop off in support is that some white voters told pollsters they'd vote for Wilder, but then pulled the curtain and voted for the white guy. The derision of black Republicans among many in the black political class is some of the harshest and meanest in politics. If you don't believe me, just go and look at what many liberal African-American leaders have said about Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice. Is it possible that many African-American voters are giving pollsters the politically correct answer that they are voting for the Democrat, because they know that is what they are "supposed" to say, but might do something different in the voting booth ?

It is moderately good news for Cardin that the same survey that shows O'Malley up only one point in the Governor race has him with a six-point lead on Steele. But the Cardin campaign can't be thrilled with only a six-point lead with Steele only pulling 12% of the black vote. With Steele sporting a 7-point lead among whites, what happens to Cardin's lead if Steele's 12% of the black vote goes to 20% or 25%? That's why this week's endorsement of Steele by powerful Prince George's county black Democrats is potentially huge in this race. This poll was taken Saturday-Monday and thus was taken too early gauge what impact their endorsements may have on the race.

There is more public polling set to come out today.

(Update: Rasmussen has new Maryland numbers that are very similar to The Sun's -- Cardin up 5 and O'Malley up a point.)

November 01, 2006

Correction

In my column on the evening edition tonight, I noted that there has not been a realignment that began with the House. A reader points out to me that Stanford's David W. Brady, in his Critical Elections and Congressional Policy Making (1988) argues that there was indeed one -- the House elections of 1894 were the start of the realignment that was continued in the 1896 Bryan vs. McKinley contest.

Brady writes on page 63:

The election that shows the most dramatic effect is the 1894 election. That election gave the Republicans a large majority in the House as voters swung away from the Democrats (-7.6 percent) and to the Republicans (+5.5 percent). The election of 1896, normally considered the realigning election, produced at the Congressional level an increase for both Democrats and Republicans (+3.3 percent and +3.7 percent swings, respectively).

I was in the "normally considered," i.e. conventional wisdom, camp -- which, in this instance, is not correct.

So -- to correct -- Cook thinks that 2006 is shaping up to be like 1894, not 1896.

Adwatch '06: Chafee vs. Whitehouse

Lincoln Chafee is fighting for his political life in Rhode Island. Here is his latest ad:

And here is the latest ad from his opponent, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse:

Kerry Issues Apology

From his web site:

As a combat veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to their loved ones: my poorly stated joke at a rally was not about, and never intended to refer to any troop.

I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended.

It is clear the Republican Party would rather talk about anything but their failed security policy. I don't want my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will continue to fight for a change of course to provide real security for our country, and a winning strategy for our troops.

So there it is, albeit twenty-four hours late. The only question remaining is how much damage Kerry may have done to Democrats' election prospects by revving up the GOP base with his gaffe just six days before the vote.

Has Charlie Cook Jumped the Shark?

Just yesterday, Charlie Cook updated his race rankings. I have to say, I think he might have jumped the shark.

Reading Cook has felt to me like watching one of my favorite sitcoms. Maybe a bit like Seinfeld: his trajectory this electoral season has seemed like that show. I was with him in the Spring. Good points, well argued. I liked it. Read him every week. Disagreed often (very often!), but the disagreements always got me a-thinkin', which is something I truly enjoy. I checked his site every day. But, slowly but surely, I started to move away from him. He just wasn't "clicking" for me. His recent mentions of Terri Schaivo (Terri Schaivo?!) felt a lot like a few of the Seinfeld episodes in Season 7 -- e.g. "The Calzone" or "The Bottle Deposit" -- that just had weak premises. And now - I think he has finally jumped the shark. Call it his "Bizarro Jerry" moment.

Don't get me wrong. I see where he is going with his race rankings. His latest generic ballot has the Democrats up a quarter century among the most likely voters. And he thinks that this voter disaffection is just going to overrun the Republican Party. He sees this as 1994 in reverse. But an examination of the races he views as competitive just does not square with 1994. It squares more with something like 1860, 1896 or 1932 - the last three "realignment" years.

Exactly what do I mean by this? The following. In 1994, the Republicans won a gross of 56 seats. Most of these seats were districts where George H.W. Bush did better than his national average of 37%. Some of them were districts where he did worse. 6 of the 56 seats the GOP won were districts where Bush did quite worse - where he earned a vote total that was 5% or lower than his national average.

In other words, though the GOP won a lot of districts nationwide - relatively few of them, only 10.6%, came from districts that could, at the time, be considered reliably Democratic. 89.4% of them came from swing or conservative districts.

This is the Democrats' major limitation this year. They just have relatively few Republican-held districts, about 15, where Kerry beat Bush in 2004. And the number of real toss-up districts has also decreased. This is why the major question this year - the one that nobody has the answer to -- is: what happens when the structural advantages that the Republicans enjoy in the House are challenged by a briskly negative voter sentiment?

My feeling is that one of two results is possible: (1) the GOP's money and incumbency advantages will secure most of their vulnerable seats in swing or Democrat-leaning districts, thus giving them at best a slight edge in the House or at worst a slight Democratic majority; (2) the GOP's money and incumbency will not secure these vulnerable districts and the Democrats, though the playing field is relatively small, will win a very large percentage of the challenged districts, thus securing a functional majority of 223 or more (i.e. a net of 20+ seats). Right now, I am in camp (1), though I think that a slight, but non-functional, Democratic majority is the most likely result. Michael Barone and I see eye to eye on the state of the House.

Charlie ostensibly believes that (2) is the case. And I do not fault him for that. But he also would add a third, which I think is just plain not gonna happen: (3) a realignment is a brewin'. For, if Charlie is right about these districts -- that will be the story on November 8: that we have just witnessed a realignment that - for the first time ever - started with the House of Representatives.

Why is this the case? Consider again the previous facts about 1994. Only 6 seats flipped that were in reliably Democratic districts. This was a sign that, though the electorate generally was pretty peeved, Democrats were not really that peeved, at least not enough to toss out their members.

The inverse of this would be seats that gave Kerry a share of the district vote that was 5% or more below the national average.

Now - with that in mind - look at Cook's rankings. Of the 54 Republican districts that are, to some degree, competitive (i.e. that are in "Lean Democrat," "Toss-Up" or "Lean Republican"), 24 of them are districts that fit this definition. That was not a typographical error. According to Cook, 44.4% of the total playing field this year is in solidly Republican territory.

If we allocate those districts according to his categories along a 75%, 50%, 25% chance of Democratic acquisition of each seat, Cook is predicting that the Democrats will capture 10.50 of these seats. Overall, applying the same percentages to his total model would give the Democrats a gross of 24.75 seats. So - Cook sees 42.4% of Democratic gains coming from conservative districts. (N.B. This is just a "for the sake of argument" estimate because, as some have pointed out to me, Cook has an "iron-clad" rule about not allocating incumbents as being more vulnerable than "Toss-Up." Although, I should say that if he allocated incumbents to his "Lean Democrat" category as CQ Politics does to theirs, the percentage would be virtually unchanged, at 42.1%.)

And, I should note that these districts are more conservative than the 6 that the Republicans picked up in 1994. The Democrats did not lose a single district where George H.W. Bush did 9% or worse than his national average. Cook, however, has 11 such districts on his list, i.e. districts where Kerry did 9% or worse. Of the 6 solidly Democratic districts that the GOP won in 1994, the average H.W. Bush share of the vote was 6% lower than his national average - so they were only slightly on the "solid Democratic" side of things. What of the 23 districts that Cook has as being vulnerable? The average Kerry share of the vote in them is 9.6% lower than the national average. That's right: the average partisanship in these districts is more Republican than any 1994 pick-up was Democratic.

My favorite is NE 03, where Kerry failed to convince 1 in 4 voters to pull the lever for him . Coincidentally, if "Lean Republican" gives the Democrats a 25% chance in every seat in the category, then 1 in 4 times we run this type of election, NE 03 would switch. Bizarre...or should I say..."BIzarro."

Like I said - 1994 is not the model for this kind of occurrence. Neither, for that matter, is 1974. Neither is 1958. Cook is actually implying an inverse of 1896, where William Jennings Bryan ceded Democratic strength in the industrial Midwest and the commercial Northeast to appeal to the rural Midwest and West. Implicit within Cook's set of races is Bush giving up the rural Midwest and West, while retaining his position back in the East and the South.

I do not think this is what is going to happen. I would add that there has never been a realigning election that begins with the House. 1994 was not, in the true sense of the word, a realignment. It was - if it was anything - part and parcel of a secular realignment that had been on-going since 1948, and that started on the presidential level. Never has a major realignment started on the House level - and for that to happen now, with the incumbency advantage and all of the other structural benefits House members enjoy, is - to me - downright unimaginable.

I am going to keep reading Cook's columns and checking out his rankings. But, then again, I watched the 9th season of Seinfeld. "Serenity Now!" and all.

Money Crush

A huge dump of money by the two congressional campaign committees yesterday. I've tabulated the spending side-by-side and shaded the districts where both groups committed funds to give a better idea of what's being spent where. Remember, however, these are the filings from yesterday only:

District
DSCC
NRCC
$113,082
$2,467
-
$59,828
-
$20,805
-
$49,925
-
$51,802
$$27,222
-
$10,350
$46,625
-
$62,234
$29,067
-
-

$3,813

$13,303

-

$26,026
$54,475
-
$139,788
$109,127
-
$29,296
-
$16,00
-
IN-3
-
$73,475
$202,789
$31,078
-
$43,930
$202,789
$26,728
-
$29,366
-
$29,366
$34,332
$92,966
-
$21,054
-
$203,999
NE-3
$93,090
-
$1,106,212
$55,889
-
$47,868
$21,723
$4,051
$9,200
-
-
$21,329
$113,933
$126,900
$17,184
$182,010
$320,064
-
-
$5,445
$11,306
-
$27,672
-
-
$154,456
-
$9,256
-
$8,235
-
$68,748
$9,078
-
-
$32,248
$13,759
-
-
$37,935
-
$9,365
$12,480
$141,810

You can see a couple of big numbers that jump out. Dems dumped a million two in NH-2 and $320K in NY-25. Republicans spent $203K in NC-11 and $155K in PA-4.

The Troops Respond to Kerry

This is priceless:

irak.jpg

Why Kerry Should Apologize

After my initial post on John Kerry yesterday I received a few emails from left-leaners who said that it was quite clear to them Kerry was trying to make a joke about President Bush. I watched the video twice and it never occurred to me that was what Kerry was trying to do until he came out at the press conference yesterday afternoon and said so.

I went back and watched the video again and I have to say: given the limited context we have, it's a very close call. I tend to believe John Kerry is not so dumb he would publicly insult the troops. Then again, it may have been an inadvertent slip.

But even if you take Kerry at his word that he simply "botched" a joke, he should still apologize. Because by saying he "botched" it, Kerry is admitting he could have been more clear. And if he could have been more clear, then reasonable people can come to different conclusions about what he said and what he meant - including members of the U.S. military and their families. That's why Kerry's "this is a Rove/GOP/rightwing hit job" tantrum is so patently absurd.

Think about it this way: If I went out in public and told the one about "the Jew, the Catholic, and the atheist" but left out the part about the the Catholic and the atheist, wouldn't it be reaonable to expect people might misinterpret my joke as being anti-Semitic?

Obviously, the proper thing to do would be to apologize, not to go out and give some unhinged harangue saying "I apologize to no one," calling all those who might be offended by my failed joke "crazy" for not understanding exactly what I was trying to say, and screeching about some vast conspiracy out to try and twist my words.

If John Kerry had been more clear with what he says he meant to say, this wouldn't be a story. If John Kerry had been less arrogant, it wouldn't have erupted into a potentially damaging firestorm six days before the election.

UPDATE: A reader emails this link from Think Progress pointing out that Kerry already apologized on the Imus show this morning, saying: " I said it was a botched joke, of course I'm sorry about a botched joke." I dunno. On a scale of 1 to 10 - with a "ten" being a perfectly sincere, direct expression of remorse and a "one" being a totally insincere expression filled with weasely words meant to deflect responsibility, I'd say Kerry's effort ranks about a two and a half.

Dems Peaking at the Right Time?

From Rasmussen Reports:

In the final full month before Election 2006, the number of people identifying themselves as Republicans has fallen to its lowest level since we began reporting this measure of partisan trends in January 2004. As a result, Democrats have their biggest net advantage of the past two campaign cycles.

This information confirms what we see in the congressional generic ballot that currently gives Dems a 15-point advantage in the RCP Average. Today's NBC/WSJ poll shows similar results:

Voters want Democrats, rather than Republicans, to control Congress by 52% to 37%, a 15-point margin. The spread matches the widest ever recorded on this question in a Journal/NBC poll.

There is no question that as we get closer to the election the generic ballot takes on added significance, however the huge unanswered question is just how much this tells us about which party will win the Senate and the House? At the end of the day, this isn't a national election but rather hundreds of individual races where 3-5 contests in the Senate and 20-30 contests in the House will ultimately decide who "wins."

Ehrlich Closing Hard in Maryland Governor Race

When the Baltimore Sun runs a headline six days before the election that says "Governor Race a Toss Up" you know things are not looking good at O'Malley headquarters. Maryland's Republican Governor and The Sun have been feuding virulently since Ehrlich upset Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (KKT) in 2002 to become the first Republican governor in over 40 years in Maryland. Ehrlich still trails in the RCP Average by 4.7%, but that includes a Washington Post poll that over sampled heavily Democratic African Americans and shows O'Malley ahead 10 points.

The Baltimore Sun's poll gives O'Malley a one point edge 47%-46% and it looks like this race is going to be a bitter dog-fight to the end. A positive for the Ehrlich campaign is the race is beginning to take on similarities to the 2002 race that Ehrlich won by 4 points, 52% - 48%. From the Baltimore Sun article today:

Through expensive television and direct-mail advertising, Ehrlich appears to be convincing voters in the Baltimore suburbs that O'Malley has failed to effectively reduce crime and improve city schools. Using his huge cash advantage, the Republican governor has steadily whittled down the mayor's lead in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland. Ehrlich was behind by 15 percentage points a year ago and by 8 points in July.

Ehrlich trailed by double digits to Townsend for months before slowly pulling ahead in the fall and winning at the end. Now 2002 was a very different year in tone for Republicans, Maryland was coming off 8 years of a less than inspiring Glendening administration, and not unimportantly, KKT was universally considered to have run an abysmal campaign. O'Malley is a considerably better campaigner and 2006 is a much better playing field for Democrats than 2002. But Ehrlich has some assets of his own in a booming state economy, an endorsement from the liberal-leaning Washington Post and a very solid approval rating at 54%.

Hard to believe heavily-Democratic Maryland has two red hot races Republicans can win in such a pro-Democratic year.

Kerry Starts to Reverberate Through Campaign

Democratic challenger Jon Tester on John Kerry:

Senator Kerry's remarks were poorly worded and just plain stupid. He owes our troops and their families an apology.

Is this what Jon Tester wants to be talking about six days from election day as he tries to hold off Republican incumbent Conrad Burns?

President Bush: "Kerry Comments Insulting and Shameful"

Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza in this morning's Washington Post:


President Bush last night accused Sen. John F. Kerry of disparaging U.S. troops in Iraq..... After reading Kerry's comments to a GOP audience in Georgia, Bush said Kerry's statement was "insulting and it is shameful. The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave, and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology." The White House tipped off the networks to when Bush would attack Kerry, so the comments could be carried live and make the evening news.


From Time's Karen Tumulty:

So now, when U.S. troops are suffering their worst casualties in nearly two years, he (Kerry) insulted them. Could Karl Rove have dreamed up a better October surprise than having the Democrats' most recent choice for Commander in Chief suggest that the men and women are dying there because they weren't smart enough to get into law school?

His initial impulse, predictably enough, was to fight back against the criticism. He didn't want to fall again into what turned out to be the biggest trap of 2004, when he failed to understand that a relatively small ad buy from a group that no one had ever heard of could be more damaging than he imagined. He was determined not to be "swift-boated" again. So he declared: "If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the President and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp -- rubber-stamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families." But even Rand Beers, his national security adviser in the 2004 campaign, said: "It's unfortunate that Senator Kerry misspoke. No one who has ever been in combat would intentionally impugn our brave troops."

In other words, Kerry has managed on the eve of what could be a watershed election to remind pretty much everyone what it was they didn't like about the Democrats, and especially what they didn't like about him. It might have made more sense just to say he was sorry.

Tumulty is right it is pretty hard from the Republican perspective to dream up a better pre-election surprise than to have the Democrat standard bearer in 2004 on tape disparaging the troops. People can argue back and forth whether Kerry meant what he said or is being misunderstood, but the video will speak for itself to millions of Americans.

October 31, 2006

Senate Update

Here a wrap up of the key Senate races in Missouri, Virginia, New Jersey and Tennessee from tonight's FOX Report with Shepard Smith.



Since then there is a new SurveyUSA poll in Missouri that has McCaskill up 3 points and has swung the RCP Average to McCaskill + 0.2. Right now, just strictly off the RCP Averages, the Dems would pick up 6 seats (PA, OH, RI, MT, VA & MO) and control of the Senate. Missouri and Virginia are still clear toss ups and Republicans do have pick up opportunities in New Jersey and the potential sleeper surprise of the night in Maryland. Michael Steele just picked up a critical endorsement yesterday that should help him build on his momentum coming out of his debates with Cardin. He trails by 5.3 in the latest RCP average.

Key Senate Races Tonight on the FOX Report

Media Alert: I will be on the FOX Report With Shepard Smith tonight around 7:45 est to talk about the key races in the Battle for the Senate.

It's the Morality, Stupid? Prove It

Robert Stacy, an associate professor in the Robertson School of Government at Regent University, writes in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

But when serious threats to our sense of security or moral stability emerge, priorities shift. Woe to the candidate who trots out the latest figures from the Labor Department or the Congressional Budget Office at a time when Americans are feeling moral outrage.

The Foley scandal generated just such a sense of moral outrage. The political fallout from his misconduct will be clear soon enough, and like many other ethical scandals, it may take down or seriously injure more than just the guilty until the public outrage has run its course.

One thing is certain. In 2006, it's not the economy. It's morality, stupid.

Stacey could very well end up being right, but outside of the few Congressional districts where the Foley scandal had an obvious direct impact like FL-16 and NY-24 and the general public disgust registered in national surveys, I'd love to see him cite some specific evidence to support his hypothesis. I haven't seen it.

In fact, one number that caught my attention from the Daily Herald polls on IL6 and IL8 released yesterday was this:

In the 8th Congressional District race, only 2 percent of those surveyed in a Daily Herald/ ABC 7 Chicago poll listed it as the major reason they're picking Democratic U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean over Republican challenger David McSweeney.

To the south, just 1 percent in the 6th Congressional District listed the GOP page scandal as the primary reason they'll back Democratic Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth over Republican state Sen. Peter Roskam.

These districts may be filled with less hardcore cultural conservatives than other vulnerable Republican seats in Indiana and Kentucky, for example, but they are Republican-leaning districts full of conservatives who may be mad at their party for any number of reasons, but the pervy internet indiscretions of a gay Republican Congressman from Florida doesn't seem to be one of them.

Adwatch '06: Pete Ricketts

Republican Pete Ricketts is thought by many to be a rising GOP star. But this year ain't his year, as he's running well behind in the only polls that have been taken in this race. Nevertheless, here is a recent commercial from Ricketts, working the only angle he has against Ben Nelson as best he can:

Kerry's Gift

If Republicans really are depressed heading into this election, there's nothing quite like a public yelling match over John Kerry's willingness to insult U.S. troops to offer a little pick me up. After McCain called on Kerry to apologize, Tony Snow at the White House followed suit, adding that Kerry's remarks were "an absolute insult" to U.S. soldiers and their families.

Instead of taking his lumps and apologizing for his ridiculous comments, Kerry went off:

"If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have."

Nowhere in the statement does John Kerry address the substance of what he said. I understand that Kerry has been eager to show off his tough new, "I WONT BE SWIFT-BOATED AGAIN!!!" strategy that he thinks will help convince Democrats to give him another chance at the brass ring in 2008, but to trot out this tripe to defend an insult against U.S. troops is breathtakingly arrogant - and it's an absolute gift to the GOP seven days before an election.

Kerry over the top response assures that he'll dominate the news chatter for the next 24 hours or more. And you can bet that Republicans in Congressional and Senate races around the country are prepping press releases as we speak (if they haven't already been sent out), calling on their Democratic opponents to disavow Kerry's remarks. It'll be interesting to see how that little drama plays out in the coming days.

Big Endorsement for Steele

Maryland tilts strongly Democratic, but what many people don't realize is a sizable number of Democratic votes in Maryland come from only 3 of the 24 counties in the state. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend got 48% of the vote against Gov. Bob Ehrlich, but only won Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore City. Prince George's county is the most affluent African-American county in the United States and is home to 320, 000 registered Democrats. Yesterday, Prince George's former county executive Wayne Curry and five fellow black Democrats from the County Council endorsed the Republican Michael Steele.

This endorsement carries an enormous amount of weight in Maryland's African-American community in the Washington suburbs. With Steele himself a Washington and PG County native, and his opponent a long-time Baltimore City congressman, Steele is well-positioned to eat into this traditional Democratic stronghold.

A quick look at the RCP Chart of this race shows Steele steadily climbing the last three weeks. He trails Cardin by 5.3% in the latest RCP Average. If he can pull to within 3 points the odds for scoring the big upset will increase dramatically.

Interesting that the two states that sandwich Washington DC may see the biggest upsets on election night.

McCain: "An Insult to Every Soldier Serving in Combat"

McCain Calls on Kerry to apologize (via Drudge)

Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country's call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education. Americans from all backgrounds, well off and less fortunate, with high school diplomas and graduate degrees, take seriously their duty to our country, and risk their lives today to defend the rest of us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

They all deserve our respect and deepest gratitude for their service. The suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq, is an insult to every soldier serving in combat, and should deeply offend any American with an ounce of appreciation for what they suffer and risk so that the rest of us can sleep more comfortably at night. Without them, we wouldn't live in a country where people securely possess all their God-given rights, including the right to express insensitive, ill-considered and uninformed remarks.

If you haven't seen the video clip it is 10 seconds long and right here. His words and tone say everything about John Kerry and it one of the core reasons he is not President.

Iowa & the Rural Vote

Veteran Iowa political reporter/columnist David Yepsen writes today:

Democratic prospects are very good, but some Democrats seem overconfident. Polls aren't predictors, and they can close rapidly in the final days of a campaign.

In Iowa, the much ballyhooed Democratic absentee-ballot program isn't producing the results it produced in the last mid-term election. Democratic strategists still think they'll produce 10,000 to 15,000 more absentee votes than Republicans do, but that's not a comfortable margin heading into Election Day, when Republicans have the superior get-out-the-vote operation.

In his last column, however, Yepsen pointed to the new poll by Center For Rural Strategies showing significant deterioration of GOP standing among rural voters. The poll surveyed rural voters "41 contested U.S. House races"and found Democrats candidates preferred by a 52-39 margin over Republicans. That number was 45-45 last month, according to the survey.

Incidentally, this is the kind of survey that Jay Cost referred to this way:

As a method, I find this "polling of the X most vulnerable races" to be quite suspect. Not in and of itself, but rather because it inclines one to draw race-by-race inferences. But these sorts of inferences cannot be drawn. At all. I view polls like this as akin to entrapment - they are goading you into making an inferential error.

That isn't to say the thrust of the poll isn't accurate - it may indeed be that Republican support among rural voters is sinking this year - only that without looking at the data on individual races it's impossible to say how such a lack of support might manifest itself and what electoral impact it may or may not have seven days from now.

That Harold Ford "Racist Ad"

Today E.J. Dionne bashes Republicans for running negative, racist ads, highlighting the Harold Ford ad in Tennessee that has received so much attention from the media elite:

And there is what will, sadly, become the most famous advertisement of this election cycle, the "Harold, call me'' ad run by the Republican National Committee against Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic candidate for the Senate from Tennessee. To claim that an ad depicting a pretty blonde woman coming on to an African-American politician does not play on the fears of miscegenation on the part of some whites is to ignore history. My hunch is that the sliminess won't work this year.

A reader from Tennessee responds to Dionne:

I have lived in Tennessee for 50 years. Ever since 1970 when Al Gore's father turned against the Vietnam War and thought he did not have to justify himself to voters, Democratic candidates for statewide federal office have explained their losses by playing the race card. It has not changed. Only a blithering moron could look at the "Call me, Harold" ad and see subliminal miscegenation. The problem is that 95% of the Washington press corps, and, oh, 98% of the New York press corp are blithering morons. We hicks in Tennessee see a man who has conducted most of his campaign from a church pew and, for some reason, had trouble explaining why he went to a Playboy party. Gosh darn, we have running water down here, and even flush toilets. Oh, but thanks for reminding me: I have to wash my sheets for the big Klan rally Saturday night. Who is indulging in stereotypes here? Who is obsessed with the notion of a black man and black woman getting together? None of the Tennessee hicks that I know, but apparently most of the enlightened members of the fourth estate in Washington and New York, not to mention a couple of political science profs at Vanderbilt who would run over you to get in front of a camera or microphone to pronounce on something equally silly.

Harold Ford Jr. is going to lose this race, not because he is black, but because he is the scion (gosh we hicks know a few words) of the most corrupt political family in the state since the 1930s. He has moved from college, to law school, straight to Congress, like a champion blue tick hound bred for the hunt. His family has treated the Ninth District Congressional seat like a wholly owned subsidiary and if you don't believe me ask Steve Cohen, one of the most liberal members of the state legislature who thought he had won the Democratic primary for the seat, only to find himself challenged in the general election by Harold's questionable brother.

The last paragraph is a huge reason why Harold Ford is likely to lose this race and is something we pointed it out in our initial analysis. As for the racist nature of the "Harold, Call Me" ad, Ford himself told Chris Wallace on Sunday he didn't think "race had anything to do with that ad." I guess E.J. Dionne, Chris Matthews and other Washington liberals know better.

Ford was quite impressive in his interview with Chris Wallace this weekend on FOX News Sunday and he had run a great campaign up until two weeks ago when he crashed Bob Corker's press conference. Since then he has been stumbling, and he committed another gaffe this past weekend when he accused Republicans of not loving God.

The RCP Average in this race is now up to Corker +3.7% and unless something dramatic happens in the last week, Corker now appears to have established control. However, at only 36 years old, if Corker does go on to win I suspect this won't be the last Tennessee sees of Harold Ford.

One Week Left

In addition to the new chart of 2006 House races that went up last week, yesterday we put up a chart of the most competitive 2006 Senate races and all of the 2006 Governor's races. You can find all the 2006 races RCP is tracking here.

John posted an updated analysis on the House yesterday. Today, let's take a quick look at the Senate.

Dems are holding solid leads in PA and OH and smaller leads in RI and MT. With two polls in the last 24 hours showing Jim Webb edging ahead of George Allen, however, based on the RCP Avgs the Dems would pick up five seats if the election were held today.


Three new polls in NJ
show Bob Menendez stabilizing a lead, and it looks like things are moving ever so slightly in his direction at the moment.

In Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker appears to be in control and has moved out to a 3.7% lead in the current RCP Average.

Missouri remains insanely close: The last two polls - including a CNN poll out this morning - show the race tied, and Republican Jim Talent is up just 1.6% point in the latest RCP Avg. Control of the Senate may literally come down to a few thousand votes in the Show Me state on election night.

Finally, Maryland continues to lurk as the spoiler of the year. Michael Steele is running a near flawless campaign and has the momentum. Yesterday he picked up more endorsements from the African-American community which cannot hurt his bid against Ben Cardin. In what is turning out to be a most unpredictable year, how ironic would it be if Democrats rode a favorable anti-GOP wind and knocked off six incumbent Republicans - including two from Missouri and Virginia - only to be stymied at the end by losing overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland to a black Republican? It's not out of the question.

In addition to the Senate, there are a host of new polls out this morning, all available on RCP's latest polls page which is updated continually throughout the day.

Shameless Rod

How stupid does Rod Blagojevich think the voters of Illinois are? There's a concept called "conflict of interest" which the public understands pretty well and most politicians treat with a certain amount of seriousness. Entering public life doesn't mean that a person and every member of their family has to quit everything else or stop doing business altogether, but it does mean that they should reevaluate any business relationships that might be called into question or give off the appearance of impropriety.

So it's especially insulting that Rod Blagojevich, who is careening his way to reelection amid a flurry of prosecutions and guilty pleas for corruption among some of his closest aides and political boosters, responds to inquiries about his wife's business dealings by assailing the questions as "Neanderthal and sexist." The Chicago Tribune has the story:

The governor's comments were his first on the matter since the Tribune reported First Lady Patricia Blagojevich received more than $113,000 in real estate commissions through a woman who holds a long-standing no-bid state contract and whose banker husband has business pending before state regulators. [snip]

"You know, there's a sexist quality to that story--somehow moms who have their own businesses, who are women, can't do things that way--that's implicit in that story," said Blagojevich, who is seeking re-election and is being challenged by Republican Judy Baar Topinka. "My wife is a professional. She's a licensed real estate appraiser, a licensed real estate broker who works real hard and does a real good job for her clients. ... There's absolutely no connection of one, at all, of one or the other."

The governor then jumped into a black SUV and shut the door, but seconds later climbed back out to continue making his point.

"Working women are very much a part of the real life experience today for families across our state. And to suggest she doesn't have the right to have her own business and pursue her own business is Neanderthal and sexist," Blagojevich said before getting back in the SUV.

The four real estate deals involving the Chicago couple, Anita and Amrish Mahajan, account for the only commissions Patricia Blagojevich received this year.

That's some "professional business" Rod's wife is running: 4 real estate deals worth $113K in commissions, all from the same couple who both have ties to state business. Nope, nothing worth looking at there you knuckle dragging, sexist reporters. The guy really is shameless.

Republicans thought they had fielded a halfway decent candidate in Judy Baar Topinka. Elected Treasure three times, Topinka was the only Republican with enough appeal to hang on when the GOP was swept out of statewide office in 2004. But she's been a surprisingly weak and truly uninspiring candidate. Granted, she's faced an unprecedented crush of negative TV ads as Blagojevich has emptied his huge war chest over the last few months. But even with all the negative headline and scandal issues surrounding Blagojevich she's been unable to gain any traction at all. Blagojevich's unfavorable rating in the latest poll is a ridiculous 57%, but Topinka is still pulling only 38% of the vote, while Green Party candidate Rich Whitney is rising into double-digits.

In a normal year and/or against a better candidate, Blagojevich would go down in a big way. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen this year.

Asked and Answered

Headline from USA Today: If Dems take over the House ...

Headline in the Washington Times: Democrats wait in the wings with subpoenas

The Harris Odyssey

Anyone still interested in tracking what's left of the Katherine Harris for Senate campaign can peruse this profile in today's Washington Post and/or this one by Jim Stratton in the Orlando Sentinel.

In the WaPo story, Darryl Paulson, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, sums up the race this way:

"The only way Bill Nelson could lose this is if he got himself in a drug-induced stupor and ran naked down the main street of his home town."

Even that probably wouldn't do it.

October 30, 2006

Sullivan's Broad Strokes

For a smart guy, Andrew Sullivan sure says some dumb things. Like this, where he sarcastically refers to Rick Santorum's latest attack on Bob Casey as "Christianism in its finest hour." Please.

We can all agree Santorum is getting desperate. And if you look at the chart of the RCP Average for the PA Senate race it's easy to see why: on September 1, Santorum was at 40%. Today, just eight days from the election, he's still at 40%. Nothing Santorum has tried over the last eight weeks have moved the needle at all.

Sullivan might have had a point if Santorum had said something akin to Katherine Harris's "if you don't elect Christians you're legislating sin" remark - and I suppose it's within the realm of possibility that Santorum goes there in the next week. But so far, he hasn't. Santorum's over-the-top attacks on Casey are about national security - the most salient issue Republicans have left on the table this year - and Sullivan makes a fool of himself by trying to fit such a square peg into the round, "Christianist" hole he's created.

So, too, does Sullivan like to smear the GOP as the party of bigots and homophobes. There is significantly more resistance to gay marriage on the right than the left, for sure, so Sullivan's characterization is correct in the broadest, most general sense. But take a look at the results from the latest Newsweek poll which breaks down the question of gay marriage and you'll see that one out of every three self-described Democrats and Independents is against any legal recognition for homosexuals whatsoever:

15. There has been much talk recently about whether gays and lesbians should have the legal right to marry someone of the same sex. Which of the following comes closest to your position on this issue? Do you... Support FULL marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, or support gay civil unions or partnerships, BUT NOT gay marriage, or do you oppose ANY legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples?
 
Marriage
Rights
Civil Unions
No Legal Recognition
TOTAL
24
26
40
Republicans
9
27
58
Democrats
34
23
33
Independents
24
32
33

Note, too, that by combining the Republican responses you find that just over one out of every three self-described Republicans favors either full marriage rights for gays or civil unions. Given that I generally consider myself part of this libertarian-minded group, I find the constant use of broad, smearing strokes by a polemicist of Sullivan's caliber to be about as effective as a brain surgeon wielding a butterknife.

George Allen in Trouble

Rasmussen Reports just released a Virginia Senate poll showing George Allen trailing by 5 points (with leaners). This comes on the heels of a poll they did just last Tuesday which showed Allen up 2 points (with leaners). That's a seven-point move in less than a week. Without leaners it is only three point move, but with election day a week away, leaners very much count.

From our updated Virginia analysis:

If the direction of this poll, not necessarily the magnitude of the move, but the direction is confirmed by other major polling -- George Allen is in big, big trouble. This race had already crept up to #7 on RCP's most vulnerable Senate seats and Allen had real risks heading into election day just by his inability to shake off Webb when he was leading in the RCP Average. Now with Webb moving out to a lead in the latest RCP Average, the Allen campaign better hope this poll is a weekend outlier.

The only big news event in this race was the Allen campaign's dump of sexually provocative passages from Jim Webb's many novels. The conventional wisdom had been that this would hurt Webb in Virginia. Was the conventional wisdom very wrong? Did Allen see his numbers deteriorating and decide he needed to dump the Webb stuff? Or is this is just one poll taken on the weekend that will turn out to be an outlier? We'll find out soon enough.

Allen has now moved up to #5 on RCP's list of most vulnerable incumbents.

More on Connecticut House Races

Interesting email on Connecticut 5 referring to my earlier post on the Courant poll showing Nancy Johnson now trailing by 4 points.


The story on that poll cited by John says that much of Murphy's success is due to him overperforming in the affluent Farmington Valley suburbs: "But the UConn poll apparently shows that Johnson's support there has been cut roughly in half, with Murphy leading among likely Farmington Valley voters by 52 percent to 36 percent."

I live in the Farmington Valley, and all I can say to this statement is: no way. No way is Johnson down by 16 here. I see the yard signs, most of which are for Johnson. I talk to neighbors and I know the people who live in the Farmington Valley. Yes, Murphy will do better here than Johnson's past challengers have, in part because the Valley has gone from Red to Purple in recent years, as many of the new arrivals are the sort of Volvo-driving, Starbuck's-patronizing bobos David Brooks writes about. But there is no way Johnson is down by 16 here.

A Research 2000 poll has just come out in CT-4 which shows Shays trailing by the same spread, 47% - 43%. Shays is generally considered to be the most vulnerable of the three GOP incumbents in Connecticut.

The Illinois Twins

IL6 and IL8 are two of the most hotly contested races in the country, the former being one of the GOP's strongest chances of holding a vulnerable open seat and the latter being one of the very few chances Republicans have this year at stealing a seat from the Dems.

In some ways these district are like a pair of conjoined twins, with the eighth district being the more conservative of the two:

 
IL6
IL8
Cook PVI
R+3
R+5
2004 Presidential Vote
Bush +6
Bush +12
2000 Presidential Vote
Bush +9
Bush +14

Republican Henry Hyde has represented the sixth since 1974. Republican Phil Crane represented the eighth from 1969 through 2004 when voters replaced him with Democrat Melissa Bean.

A new poll from the Daily Herald shows both races to be extremely close, with Republican Peter Roskam holding a slight edge in IL6 and incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean with a slight edge in the eigth. You can find updated analyses on these races here: IL6 | IL8.

One final note. Dennis Byrne writes in the Chicago Tribune this morning about a factor that isn't often talked about but could have an impact: the perceived meddling of the Chicago political machine in the affairs of the suburbs:

If you're a suburban voter and someone knocks on your door asking you how you plan to vote in the congressional election, you might want to ask for some ID.

Chances are the ID would have a Chicago address. That's because Chicago Democrats are being recruited to work against Republican candidates throughout Cook County and collar counties. [snip]

This may not sound like much of a deal to some Chicagoans who have no use for the suburbs to start with, but suburbanites, such as myself, might not like it because we, after all, live out here in part to be away from the city's lousy schools, higher crime rates and politics as it is practiced in Chicago. Suburbs to Chicago: Butt out. Do we send in squads of suburban Republicans to work Democratic precincts? Haven't you screwed up Chicago and Cook County governments enough already? Do we need lakefront and limousine liberals to tell us how to vote?

It'll be impossible to tell until after the election whether the assistance of Chicago Democrats - particularly to Tammy Duckworth's campaign - is a huge asset or whether it turns out to be a bit of a liability, similar to the way Howard Dean's "storm" of nutters from across the country ended up annoying the hell out of Iowa Democrats back in 2003 and January 2004.

Page Two

For those who have the time and are interested in delving more into individual races, here are some additional columns worth reading:

Michael Collins in the Cincinnati Post yesterday wrote about how Republican Geoff Davis, a former Army Ranger and the curent incumbent of KY4, is handling the Iraq issue. (Get the latest on KY4 here).

Mark Z. Barbarak of the Los Angeles Times profiles incumbent Republican Heather Wilson's battle to hang on in New Mexico's first congressional district. (Get the latest on NM1 here).

In this morning's Newsday, Raymond Keating takes an in-depth look at Peter King (R-NY3).

Kate Riley of the Seattle Times wishes Democrat Darcy Burner was running against Rep. Doc Hastings in WA4 instead of against Dave Reichert in the eigth congressional district.

Connecticut 5: Johnson (R)* vs. Murphy (D)

Good news for Democrats in Connecticut 5. The Hartford Courant has a new poll put showing Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson now trailing Chris Murphy 46% - 42%. From RCP's updated analysis on this race:

Today's Hartford Courant poll from the University of Connecticut shows Democratic challenger Chris Murphy ahead by 4 points, 46% - 42%. The worst news for Johnson from the Courant story is this:
Geographically, the UConn poll also shows Johnson in trouble in one crucial area of the district - the affluent, educated Farmington Valley suburbs of Avon, Canton, Simsbury and Farmington. In her past two elections, Johnson has racked up tallies of 60 percent or more in these towns. But the UConn poll apparently shows that Johnson's support there has been cut roughly in half, with Murphy leading among likely Farmington Valley voters by 52 percent to 36 percent.

This is a potentially ominous sign for Johnson, as she will need closer to half the vote in the affluent Farmington Valley suburbs as opposed to a third if she hopes to weather the storm this year. These affluent, educated voters now moving towards Murphy are Republican-leaning voters who are almost definitely upset with the present course in Iraq and are taking it out on Nancy Johnson.

Furthermore, this poll cuts against some of the other evidence that we have seen from Connecticut and could be part of a little bit of momentum Lamont has picked up the last week. The three Connecticut House districts had appeared to be shifting away from the Democrats since August and Lamont's win, but the increased level of negative news out of Iraq may be giving Murphy a critical push at the end, which is also liable to be felt in CT-2 and CT-4.

This race is now ranked #25 on RCP's House list and is considered a Toss Up.

RCP House Update

In the battle for control of the House of Representatives, RCP currently rates 10 seats as Leans Democrat, 14 seats as Toss Ups and 21 seats in the Lean GOP column. On the Democratic side there are 5 seats in play, all rated Lean Democrat.

Using an 80% victory rate for the Lean races and splitting Toss Ups 50/50 produces an 18-seat pick up for Democrats based on where RCP sees the House races this morning. (This will obviously change as we move seats from Lean to Toss Up and vice versa in the closing days.)

Republican Seats
Leans Democrat: 10 seats x 80% Win Rate = Dems Pick Up 8 Seats
Toss Up: 14 seats x 50% Win Rate = Dems Pick Up 7 Seats
Leans Republican: 21 seats x 20% Win Rate = Dems Pick Up 4.2
Democratic Seats
Leans Democrat: 5 seats X 80% Win Rate = Dems Hold 4, Lose 1

Net Democratic Pick Up = 18 Seats

Given the fluidity and uncertainly in this election and because so many of these races are very close, a break one way or another at the end could have an exaggerated effect on the final result. A hard closing move toward Democrats could see most of the Toss Ups fall their way, as well as a significant number of the Lean GOP seats. On the other hand, a firming of the Republican base coupled with a huge GOP get-out-the-vote effort could see Republican losses considerably below the current conventional wisdom. Based on the top 50 seats, as well as the Likely seats in play, we could see Democratic pick ups as few as 7 and as high as 37.

These low and high range scenarios are certainly not the most likely outcomes, but this is not like the last two elections where you could pin the House results into a 10-seat range with a high degree of certainty.

More Questionable House Polls

The Orlando Sentinel at the end of last week played up a poll showing Republican incumbent Tom Feeney in a close race with his Democratic challenger Clint Curtis.

The telephone survey, conducted last week by the reputable polling firm Zogby International, shows Feeney ahead of Curtis by 2 percentage points -- 45 percent to 43 percent -- among voters who have made a decision or are leaning toward a specific candidate.

Is Tom Feeney really in trouble? He won with 62% in 2002, ran unopposed in 2004 and says his internal polls show him with "a solid double-digit lead."

We'll find out how accurate this poll was in 9 days, but we suspect Tom Feeney will be back in the next Congress.

October 28, 2006

News & Notes

Tons of news from all around the country as we head into the home stretch: the final debate in the Ohio Senate race took place last night, as did a spar between Bachmann and Wetterling in hotly contested MN-6. In Illinois, more bad news for Rod Blagojevich yesterday as one of his big campaign donors pled guilty to taking kickbacks while sitting on two state boards. There's much, much more, all available on the RCP Politics & Elections page.

We've also launched a new page showing the current state of play in the battle for the House of Representatives. You can still access these seats ranked by order of competitiveness here.

Still on the sujbect of the House, here's a good piece of analysis on Illinois 6 and Illinois 8 from Eric Krol of the Daily Herald:

Roskam and Duckworth don't agree on much, but both campaigns do agree the race is about tied. They're left fighting for the 10 percent to 15 percent of undecided voters, and to ensure their base supporters turn out as strongly as possible.

The advantage on the undecideds would seem to break Duckworth's way -- if you've lived in the 6th District under retiring Rep. Henry Hyde and aren't the proverbial rock-ribbed Republican, odds are fairly decent you're fed up with either the war, the congressional page scandal or the economy's jobless recovery.

But the advantage on the base turnout would seem to break Roskam's way -- he's been a state lawmaker in the district and has a large corps of committed supporters.

He's also got what's left of the once-vaunted DuPage County GOP, assuming its chairman, Kirk Dillard, has forgiven Roskam for costing him the state Senate GOP leader position four years ago. It's worth noting that in the March primary, an unopposed Roskam collected about 50,800 votes -- 18,000 more than the three Democrats mustered collectively. The Duckworth camp doesn't concede the ground troops point, however, claiming the scores of college-age volunteers coming in to help give them a closer-to-even playing field.

If Roskam never pictured himself in a dogfight with a Democrat, McSweeney certainly didn't count on being down to Democratic U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean by double-digits in most polls.

Just two years ago, the 8th Congressional District voted 56 percent for President Bush. McSweeney viewed Bean's upset as more of a referendum on longtime incumbent Phil Crane than any sign of a true Democratic tide. [snip]

McSweeney's hope is to spend his own money on enough negative ads to bring Bean's numbers down and to count on the lower turnout a non-presidential year brings. Bean hasn't hit 50 percent yet, and there's a third-party, anti-war candidate, Bill Scheurer, who might pull votes from her.

Ultimately, what must be the most puzzling to the Republicans is that they cut a deal with the Democrats to draw up the state's congressional map to keep a 10-9 balance of seats. It's starting to look like they didn't draw those lines finely enough to preserve that advantage.

Get the lastest polls, news, and analysis on these races here (IL-6 | IL8).

October 27, 2006

George, Dave & Jeff

This is funny. President Bush went all the way to Iowa today to help Republican Jeff Lamberti in his race to upset Leonard Boswell in IA-3, and this is what he said:

This campaign only ends after the voters have had a chance to speak. No doubt in my mind, with your help, Dave Lamberti will be the next United States congressman.

Oops.

Actually, wiith the amount of campaigning the President does (as well as the other heavyweights on both sides), I'm surprised we don't see this sort of thing happen more often.

Bush's next challenge? Trying to properly pronounce Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' name on Monday when he heads down to campaign for her in TX-22.

Adwatch '06: Steele's Stem Cell Smackdown

This ad from Republican Michael Steele responding to the Ben Cardin/Michael J. Fox attack on stem cells has been generating a lot of positive buzz today. See what you think:

Here's the original Cardin ad starring Michael J. Fox:

VA-2: Battling For Vets

An interesting local report on the battle for veterans in Virginia 2:

Military voters could help decide the 2nd District congressional race.

According to a Mason-Dixon poll for 13News and its partners at the Virginian Pilot, Rep. Thelma Drake has the edge with active duty voters over Democratic challenger Phil Kellam. While she's preferred by veterans, the gap is much slimmer.

Drake has been reaching out to the military and that work may be paying off. Case in point - a "Veterans for Drake" event this month drew around 60 supporters. That same day, a hastily-arranged "Veterans for Kellam" event attracted three supporters.

See the updated analysis on this race, which remains #33 on RCP's list of the 50 Most Competitive House races this year.

Headlines From the Money Game

From the FEC today:

* Lamont will kick in another $2 million to his campaign. That brings his total investment in both the primary and the general election to a whopping $12.75 million. Ouch.

* The DSCC raised $9 million and spent $22 million between October 1 and October 18. Remaining cash on hand = $9.66 million

* The NRSC raised $3.6 million and spent $6.75 between October 1 and October 18. Remaining cash on hand = $8.9 million

FL-16: Signs Will Go Up

A bit of good news for the GOP in Florida-16:

The First District Court of Appeal ruled that signs can go up saying a vote for Foley is a vote for Negron, if they also say a vote for Mahoney is a vote for Mahoney.

The appellate court both upheld and reversed parts of the lower court which granted an injunction stopping signs from being posted in polling places in counties in the 16th Congressional district.

The order prohibits the Secretary of State from posting its signs, which only mention Negron for Foley. The Judges said those signs "suggest favoritism on behalf of the Republican candidate."

Apparently Democrats will not appeal the ruling.

Florida 16 is currently ranked #3 on RCP's list of most vulnerable House seats. This is unquestionably a boost for the GOP, though it's hard to quantify just how much it may improve their chances of holding the seat.

Two Very Different Ways to Look at This Election

In 2004, there was a lot of talk about whether pollsters were correct to use traditional "likely voter" screens in their samples or whether a less restrictive "registered voter" model would turn out to be more accurate given the massive increases in voter registrations we saw posted all over the country. There's not much discussion of the subject at all this cycle, perhaps due to the fact that it's a midterm and not a presidential year, but it comes to mind because of the conflicting signals in this election and trying to get at just who is going to vote Nov. 7.

In some ways there are two very different ways to look at what is going to happen on election day.

1) Republicans are in big trouble. The generic ballot shows a huge lead for Democrats (over 15%) with fewer than 10 days until the election. Republicans in contested races are either trailing or polling in the mid-40's, and given the national mood toward the GOP as seen in the generic ballot, it is reasonable to assume that these races will break for the Democrats. With the close races tipping the Democrats way they are poised for substantial pickups in the House of 25 seats or more and perhaps the six seats needed for a majority in the Senate.

2)The generic ballot is problematic and is over sampling Democrats, pushing the raw numbers higher for the Dems than they should be. Trying to use the generic ballot to predict who will then win x, y and z house races is a jump that can't be made soundly. In 2004 the voter turnout was 60% of eligible voters. In 2002 and 1998 in the two previous midterms it was 40%. What if a significant number of that 15%-20% who aren't going to show up at the polls this year come from soft voters in the middle? These are the exact group of voters that are helping drive the big polling numbers for Democrats. What if they don't show up in these contested races at the same proportion they are representing in many of these polls? Following this line of thinking, it is possible the bulk of the races that the polls now say are close will actually go to the GOP because the pollsters aren't sampling a representative field of who will actually vote in the contested races.

Simplifying things dramatically, the first view is essentially the one taken by Charlie Cook, and it's why he is out forecasting a 20-35 seat pickup for the Dems in the House and a very good shot for them to take the Senate. The second view is the one taken by Karl Rove, which is why he believes the GOP will hold both chambers, losing less than 15 seats in the House and 3-4 in the Senate.

Both of these scenarios are logical, possible, and have empirical data to support their positions. The harder question is determining which reasoning will prove to be more powerful. Right now, when we drill down and look at the individual races to see where each contest is heading the data, at least in the Senate, appears to be trending toward the Rove position. The question is: will this movement in the Senate toward the GOP hold and will the House turn the same way?

Testing Immigration

You might have seen my profile on Peter Roskam yesterday. I spent last Friday on the trail with him, and one of the issues we talked about at some length was immigration. The reason I bring this up is because yesterday Roskam did an event with Rep. Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the leader of the "security first" crowd in the House of Representatives, which coincided with President Bush's signing of the anti-illegal immigration fence bill at the White House.

As in many other House races around the country, immigration has been playing a big role in Illinois 6. Roskam and the NRCC have devoted a considerable amount of resources to pounding Tammy Duckworth for supporting "amnesty," and I questioned him on whether immigration was an issue that would really move voters or whether it was - hearkening back to the words of Tamar Jacoby - just "Fool's Gold."

Roskam said that of all the issues he talks about with voters in the sixth congressional district, the subject of illegal immigration generates the most intense reaction. "You can feel it in the room," he said.

I asked Roskam whether he's concerned about a backlash on the issue or for being portrayed as anti-immigrant, pointing out that two years ago Republican Jim Oberweis was rejected by primary voters after he aired an over the top ad on illegal immigration that featured himself flying in a helicopter over Soldier Field .

Roskam pointed out a couple of things. First, he said there is a balance that has to be struck on the issue, both in tone and substance - something the Oberweis ad clearly didn't do. Roskam always starts by pointing out that he's very much in favor of immigration, so long as it's done legally and that the laws of the land are being enforced.

immigrationmarch.gif Second, Roskam said he sees that voters' opinions have changed since the immigration rallies earlier in the year where large numbers of Mexican flags were seen flying alongside, and in some cases above, U.S. flags. He also pointed out that voters in his district got a replay of that scene just a few weeks ago when a pro-amnesty immigration group marched right across the length of the entire sixth district on its way from Chicago to Batavia to protest outside of Speaker Hastert's office.

I would assume the President's signing of the fence bill yesterday might help Republicans a bit on the margin, but Iraq is clearly the dominant national issue this year - perhaps especially so in Illinois 6 given Tammy Duckworth's service and sacrifice there - so here's just no telling how much the issue of illegal immigration will motivate Republicans to go to the polls in eleven days.

Will the Washington Post Push Ehrlich Over the Top in Maryland?

Editorial endorsements don't matter as much as they once did, but Wednesday's surprise backing of Maryland Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich by the liberal-leaning Washington Post could make a difference in a race that is liable to go down to the wire. If the GOP weren't suffering from a 15-point deficit in the Congressional ballot two weeks before Election Day and a Republican president with a sub-40 job approval, Maryland's booming economy probably would have been enough to carry Ehrlich to reelection this year. But there is no question that the anti-GOP mood nationally is hurting Ehrlich in Maryland.

Given the Democratic Party's nearly two-to-one voter registration advantage in the state and the almost daily fight with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature not at all used to dealing with a Republican Governor, Ehrlich has known since the day he took office that he would have a very difficult reelection.

Ehrlich's opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, has led consistently in the polls all year long. But unlike gubernatorial contests in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Republicans were once optimistic about their chances but now see Democrats leading by 20-point margins, Mayor O'Malley has been unable to break away from Ehrlich. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, one of the best firms for polling in Maryland, pegs Mr. O'Malley's lead at four points in its latest poll. The latest RCP Average in this race has O'Malley's lead at 7.5%.

After pulling off his 52% to 48% upset in 2002, Gov. Ehrlich has been studiously going around the traditional media outlets in Washington and Baltimore to maintain his support in the 21 of 24 counties that voted for him in 2002. Even though then-Democratic rival Kathleen Kennedy Townsend won 48% of the vote, she carried only Baltimore City and the two D.C. collar counties of Prince Georges and Montgomery.

Also helping Ehrlich is the very energetic Senate campaign being run by his Lt. Gov. Michael Steele against Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin. Steele appears to be tapping into considerable frustration in the black community over the manner in which Cardin was chosen by Democratic power brokers over former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to replace the retiring Paul Sarbanes.

This brings us back to the Washington Post endorsement. Ehrlich has done a good job of keeping his core conservative base energized statewide and he's positioned to reap some benefit from Steele's campaign. But for Republicans to win statewide in Maryland, they have to win Independent and Democratic votes, and the surprise endorsement by the Post could be a catalyst to give some of those moderate Democrats and Independent voters a reason to stick with Ehrlich.

With the last three GOP gubernatorial candidates in Maryland winning a surprising 49.7% of the vote, this race is likely to be very, very close. It might be so close, in fact, that the Washington Post endorsement could make a difference on Election Day.

VA Sen: Webb's Words

Given that Drudge is currently splashing the details of some bizarre, sexually explicit passages from Jim Webb's books on his site, the first line of this big profile of Webb in today's Washington Post is timely, but probably not helpful: "James Webb will tell you that he is first a writer, with several best-selling novels to his name." Oy.

This race is extremely close right now, and with only eleven days left the story of Webb's past writings is probably going to put him on the defensive and and chew up valuable time as he tries to explain and/or justify his choice of words. The counter charge that it's a "smear" by the Allen campaign probably isn't going to hold much water with the public either, since Webb is being confronted with words written by his own hand.

It'll be interesting to see how the mainstream media handles this story - if they cover it at all - and how the notoriously prickly Webb responds.

October 26, 2006

MD-Sen: Cardin Pulls Out

This item from the Washington Times reporting that Ben Cardin pulled out of an NAACP-sponsored debate tonight doesn't leave a very good impression - especially coming as it does on the heels of the thumping he took from Michael Steele and Kevin Zeese in a debate yesterday.

The report may or may not be accurate in the particulars - Cardin's camp says he never confirmed attending the event and that he'll be debating Steele at the statewide NAACP event on Saturday - but as a political matter it certainly does give off the smell of fear and also provide Michael Steele another the opportunity to make in-roads with African-American community. That's the last thing Cardin needs as the race heads into the home stretch.

PA-4 Update

Melissa Hart's campaign conducted a brief conference call this afternoon with Neil Newhouse, Principal of the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, to discuss the variance in polling in this race, specifically the recent Susquehanna poll showing Hart leading Democrat Jason Altmire by just four points, 46 - 42, with 11 percent undecided.

Newhouse started by saying he thought all the screens applied in the Susquehanna poll seemed reasonable and basically matched what they use at POS. But when you take a look at the order of the questions, you can spot the problem. The Susquehanna questionnaire (available Download file">here in pdf) stars with a number of routine questions: right track/wrong track, most important problem facings U.S. today, Bush JA, Congress JA, and name ID/favorable/unfavorable ratings and then a reelect question for Hart.

Newhouse said normally, at this point, most pollsters proceed directly to the ballot question. Susquehanna did not. Instead, they asked the following:

Have you seen, read or heard anything either on TV, the radio, in the newspaper or through any other source about the recent resignation by Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley due to email messages of a sexual nature he sent to teenage males working in the congressional page program?

The people who responded "yes" (which was 94% of the overall sample) were then asked this follow up:

Will what you have seen, read or heard about this issue make you more likely or less likely to vote Republican in the upcoming election for Congress or will it have no impact on your opinion?

Only after bringing up Foley did Susquehanna immediately proceed to ask voters whether they preferred Hart or Altmire. Mystery solved.

Newhouse said he was "astounded" that the firm would bias its sample by placing a Foley question ahead of the ballot question and said that he thought it was remarkable that even with that bias Hart still came out with a four point lead.

Another interesting note from Newhouse which serves to support Jay's speculation earlier this week that movement toward the Democrats in second and third tier seats may be simply a lack of campaign activity on the part of Republican incumbents rather than proof of an impending GOP meltdown.

Here's what I mean. Newhouse said that his polling showed the race in PA-04 tightening down to about a six-point lead in the first part of October. However, in the last ten days Hart went up with a response ad and the NRCC also came in with some negative ads. Guess what happened? According to Newhouse, Altimire's unfavorable rating tripled over the last two weeks, from 28 fav/7 unfav to 32fav/22 unfav and Hart's lead in the race expanded back out to 12 points, stabilizing beyond the margin of error.

Keep in mind, this is the view coming from the Hart campaign and their pollster. Still, the argument that the Susquehanna questionnaire is problematic seems very legitimate, and the other nuggets of information seem to fit with previously explored possibilities.

The Year of the African-American

Some have termed this the "year of the African-American," though as things currently stand only one of the five black politicians standing for higher office is really safely on the path to victory (Democrat Deval Patrick in Massachusetts). Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. and Republican Michael Steele are running slightly behind, but still well withing striking distance of their respective opponents for the Senate. And Republicans Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell, both of whom came into this election with extremely high hopes, are trailing their opponents badly and most likely headed to defeat in ten days.

Here are some of the biographical spots and videos that each have run to tell their own individual story to voters over the course of the campaigns.

This ad from Michael Steele hit the airwaves just this week:

Though it isn't biographical, Harold Ford, Jr. has a new ad out as well:

This commercial from the Swann campaign is a few weeks old:

Here's the first commercial run by Deval Patrick way back at the beginning of the campaign:

Lastly, here is a four-minute biographical video of Ken Blackwell:

The Senators' Dilemma

Political science is a discipline that sticks its toes in many different pools. We're a little bit country. We're a little bit rock 'n' roll. We're a little bit psychology, a little bit sociology, a little bit history, etc.

We're also a little bit economics. Specifically, many political scientists have undergone a good bit of training in what is known as "rational choice theory." The essential idea behind the theory is that human activities - even activities on a grand scale - can be understood as the product of the interactions of egoistic, goal-oriented "utility maximizers" in a given social setting. In other words - large scale results can be understood as the product of people pursuing interests and goals via purposive activity in the context of some kind of social setting.

So - having gone through more than a bit of this training myself, I interpreted the basic data point of the recent Washington Times story about Republican senators' failure to contribute money in a way quite different from the Times itself. The Times first reports the fact that top Republican senators with large war chests have failed to give money to the NRSC, and then it interprets this as stinginess. The Times writes:

The stinginess alarms some of the Republican Party's top campaign strategists, especially because it is in such stark contrast to the millions of dollars that Democrats have transferred to their candidates in need. (snip) "Time is running out," one senior Republican aide said. "People will not want to look back and wonder what more could have been done. That would be a real shame."

"Stinginess" has two basic meanings - one is a moral meaning and one is not. The Times implies the moral meaning - which, I think, has only a very small role in politics. Republican senators are not being generous. They see that their brethren are in trouble, and they are refusing to help them. They are thinking only of themselves and their own goals.

My question: just how often do we take generosity or selflessness to be key concepts in politics? Politics is not like the ministry, after all! This kind of stinginess is indeed the cornerstone of rational choice analysis of politics - actors are egoistic rational utility maximizers, i.e. they do that which personally benefits them most. Sure - this theory does not capture everything about politics, but it sure does capture a lot.

The other definition of "stingy" is much more interesting. It basically boils down to parsimony, i.e. the act of maximizing goals while minimizing costs in the situation in which you find yourself. Sometimes, depending upon the situation, you end up with a socially inefficient outcome, even though you have acted rationally. Situations like these, because they are obviously inefficient, often induce outside observers to charge the actors with moral mistakes, when in fact the problem was just the nature of the interaction.

I think that is what we have here.

It seems to me that this is one of those scenarios, which are broadly defined as collective action problems. They are most frequently modeled by what is known as the "prisoners' dilemma."

In its most basic format, the prisoners' dilemma consists of two people trying to coordinate their activities to provide a good that (a) both can enjoy but that (b) is too expensive for either to provide all alone. Every person has a choice to contribute or not to contribute. If both parties contribute, the group benefit will be greatest. If neither party contributes, the group benefit will be zero. However, if person A contributes and person B does not, person A does worse than if nobody contributes and B does better than if both parties contribute. And vice-versa. The reason is that the whole cost of the good is actually greater than your individual benefit from it. So, for the good to be provided, both sides have to chip in. However, you are best off having the other person provide the good and worst off providing it all by yourself. Accordingly, the equilibrium - i.e. the expected result - in the interaction is that nobody contributes and the good is not provided.

Government typically solves problems like this. For instance, provisions of roads and national defense are instances of solved collective action problems. The government solves the problem by coercion: if you fail to pay your taxes, you will (presumably) be punished. This is also why PBS gives you a tote bag for supporting Sesame Street.

Depending upon the good, the failure to provide it is very often explained in moral terms. For instance, the failure of the West to solve world hunger is often understood as a moral failing. However, the solution to hunger requires the coordination of multiple nations. No nation can feasibly solve it by itself. All parties must coordinate - and so the prisoners' dilemma rears its ugly head - even as third parties accuse the West of moral failings.

The Washington Times slips into this type of moral language in the article. They understand the GOP caucus's failure to fund the NRSC as "stinginess" or lack of generosity. But I think this misses the point. I think what is going on with the GOP Senate caucus is a prisoners' dilemma, and therefore moral language is not really appropriate.

Everybody would be best off if the NRSC had plenty of resources. The benefit to all Republican senators would be a minimization of the chance that the GOP loses the Senate. However - every individual would be best off if all the others provided for this and he/she could "free ride" without paying any costs. Similarly - they would be worst off if all the others "free rided" and he/she supplied all of the necessary money (which would inevitably be illegal, as no senator has enough to fully fund the NRSC). Accordingly, the equilibrium result is precisely what we see - an under-funded NRSC and senators with fat bank accounts. It is a socially inefficient, yet individually rational, outcome.

Why, then, does the DSCC not seem to be suffering from the same problem? There are many possible reasons - but my feeling is that it boils down to a clever chap named Charles Schumer. The outcome of the above interaction is predicated upon (a) the fact that everybody involved has correctly assessed that this is the actual state of play and (b) the absence of side benefits (e.g. the tote bag that PBS gives you for contributing) or punishments (e.g. the big-time trouble in which Blade now finds himself). My sense is that Schumer is very adept at both (a) and (b). He has probably done a good job making sure that people do not recognize that this is a prisoners' dilemma and/or ensured that the "stingy" will be heartily rebuked if the Democrats win a majority.

So, maybe, the fact that Elizabeth Dole has been a relatively poor NRSC chairwoman is again creating problems for the Republicans. Whereas Schumer is quite adept at "herding cats," Dole is not. Accordingly, she has been unable to effectively alter Republican senators' perception of the interaction or their assessment of the costs and benefits of contributing.

Also - the Democratic side features two people running for President - Kerry and Clinton. Both of them have interests independent of the majority to contribute. It is in their interests to seem like team players - and so the act of contribution carries a benefit. I would thus note with interest that Mitch McConnell - who intends to run for Majority Leader - is the most "generous" of Republican senators. He, like Kerry and Clinton, derive a personal benefit from the mere act of giving. And so, according to the Times, has given more than any Republican senator.

Chris Matthews: Only Republicans Run Negative Ads

Yesterday Chris Matthews was working himself up into a Keith Olbermann like lather over the Republican ad in Tennessee on Harold Ford attending a Playboy party:

it's not that the Democrats don't know how to make these ads, they just feel they have gotten above it, that this is really bad stuff. It's like they are like Michael Corleone. They have gotten out of the business of running dirty ads. The Republicans are still in that business. They say, look, I have left that behind. That's the Democrat's attitude. We're not going to run that kind of campaign.

"They have gotten out of the business of running dirty ads." What planet is this guy on? Can he really be so blatantly partisan and holier than thou to honestly think Democrats don't go negative? Gimme a break. Matthews must really think the public is stupid.

Does he not remember the NAACP in 2000 running ads with a pickup truck dragging a chain while James Byrd's daughter accused George Bush of lynching her father again?

Or in Maryland, what about the Oreos thrown at African-American Republican Michael Steele when he was running for Lt. Gov., and who just last week in the middle of his campaign for Senate had the #2 Democrat in the House of Representatives refer to him as "slavishly" serving his GOP masters?

Chris Matthews is full of it, neither party has a monopoly on virtue in this country, and he knows it.

The Ford ad was a hard hitting ad that is fair game in today's political environment. The left is trying to counterattack with their standard "Republicans are racist" charge to energize black voters and bully moderates and independents into thinking Republicans are mean people - and that's what Chris Matthews holier than thou schickt is all about.

The Money Game

Here are a few of the noticeable headlines today at FEC info:

**Charles Taylor (NC-11) wrote himself a check for $580,000.

** Yesterday AFSCME dumped $302,430 opposing Peter Roskam (IL-06); $255,780 opposing Dave Reichert (WA-08); $162,604 opposing Nancy Johnson (CT-05).

** MoveOn.org reported raising $2.4 million in the first two weeks of October and doled out earmarked contributions to federal candidates including: $176,045 to Arcuri for Congress (NY-24); $160,274 to Carney for Congress (PA-10); $206,162 to Christine Jennings for Congress (FL-13); $190,174 to Lois Murphy for Congress (PA-06); $161,187 to Zack Space for Congress (OH-18); and $187,418 to Cranley for Congress (OH-01); among others

*** Emily's List spent $1.4 million between 10/1 and 10/18.

*** At the moment the only IE's for today are from the RNC, which dropped $176K on media and phones opposing Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

NM-1: Debating Wilson's Chances of Survival

The folks in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District finally got a chance to see Republican Heather Wilson and Democrat Patricia Madrid on stage together last night. When asked if she won, Wilson told the Santa Fe New Mexican, "I don't think there's any question about that."

It looks like that's not just spin, because University of New Mexico political science professor Christine Sierra watched the debate and agreed that Wilson got the better of it, though she didn't land any knock out blows:

"If anybody got a bump up, it would have been Wilson, because she looked smoother and more comfortable in front of the camera," said University of New Mexico political science professor Christine Sierra.

But, that doesn't mean Madrid fared poorly, Sierra said.

"I think Patsy Madrid's major challenge was to not make any mistakes, given the momentum, and I don't think she made any major mistakes."

But this exchange from the story in the Albuquerque Tribune seems like it might be have been a pretty good hit for Wilson:

On lobbyists in Washington: The candidates were asked about the ethics of accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists.

Madrid: "You have to be careful about taking large sums of money from lobbyists, but even if you do, it is only to give them access, to let you know about what their concerns are. Certainly it's not to have you vote or rule in any certain way or to obligate you in any way."

Wilson seized on Madrid's statement. "I can't believe what I just heard. Mrs. Madrid accepted $125,000 from a casino owner in southern New Mexico who had business pending in her office. $125,000. And then she just said, `That's only to give them access.' Only to give them access. No one buys access in my office. . . . Any New Mexican that wants to talk to me, it's not conditional to paying at the door."

And another:

One of Wilson's questions to Madrid: Can you cite something in your long career in public service that reassure New Mexicans you will prevent a tax increase?

Madrid: "Your president and you have voted for tax relief for the top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country, costing us an immeasurable amount of money. If I go to Congress, I will vote to repeal that tax relief. I do support tax relief for the middle class, even the upper middle class."

Madrid asked Wilson whether she thought Bush was a good president and if so, why. Wilson didn't answer the question directly and went on to cite issues where she disagrees with the president.

As you might expect, the Tribune says the debate didn't change a lot of minds among the people they interviewed. Wilson is currently the 7th most vulnerable incumbent on the RCP Ranking of the 50 Most Competitive House seats this year, and #14 overall. After leading for the first nine months of the race, Wilson has fallen behind Madrid in all of the most recent polls.

Keep an eye on this race. It's a crucial contest for the GOP and probably will serve as a good indicator of how Republicans are faring as the election comes to a close.

Connecticut 2: Simmons (R)* vs. Courtney (D)

Here is one of the reasons Rep. Rob Simmons is doing well in Connecticut 2.

The latest poll from the University of Connecticut has Simmons ahead 46% - 44%. This race is currently ranked #22 on RCP's list of seats liable to switch parties.

Democrats are perplexed why the national generic movement away from the GOP hasn't appeared to help their challengers in Connecticut going up against the embattled trio of Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays. DCCC head Rahm Emanuel was in the Connecticut 2 yesterday to give Courtney a boost.

In our October 20th analysis we felt Simmons retained the advantage in the home stretch, and we still do. Interestingly Michael Barone, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of American congressional races, in his recent ranking of House seats, rated Simmons in the "Sure Republican" category.

October 25, 2006

Adwatch '06: Is the RNC Ad Against Ford Racist?

Liberals are hot under the collar about this ad by the RNC being run against Harold Ford in Tennessee:

Josh Marshall called it the "Ford's an Uppity Negro' spot." Really?

In a previous post Marshall also said the entire ad was constructed to deliver the message to voters that "Harold does white chicks":

What policy issue is she [the white woman] talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, 'I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.'

Actually, Josh contradicts himself by pointing out that the woman's appearance in the ad is 'connected' to something: Ford's attendance (alleged at the time, finally confirmed by him the other day) at a 2005 Superbowl party hosted by Playboy.

Initially, I thought the ad would have been just as effective with an African-American woman saying she met Ford at the Playboy party, but it probably wouldn't have - but only because the "ditsy blond bimbo" is a more accurate caricature of what we all picture when we think "Playboy bunny."

The Playboy party - which I personally think is a silly issue that Ford could have easily defused long ago - has been part of this campaign because it is about values. It's never had anything to do with race. And yet now all of the sudden its "racism" based on the color of a Playboy bunny look alike?

I don't buy it. This whole thing seems to me to be a desperate effort by the left to gin up cries of "racism" in hopes of saving a shot at a Senate seat that looks, at least at the moment, to be slipping through their fingers.

Generics vs. Individual Contests

Karl Rove on "All Things Considered" yesterday speaking with NPR's Robert Siegel on the elections in less than two weeks:

Rove: I see several things; first, unlike the general public, I'm allowed to see the polls on the individual races and after all this does come down to individual contests between individual candidates. Second of all, I see the individual spending reports and contribution reports. For example at the end of August in 30 of the most competitive races in the country, the house races, the Republicans had 33 million cash on hand and Democrats had just over 14 million.

Siegel: We are in the home stretch though and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about.

Rove: Not that you would exhibit a bias, you just making a comment.

Siegel: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

Rove: No, you are not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally........I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

Rove crystallizes the disconnect going with the analysis in this election. The press and pundits appear to be overly obsessed with the generic national polls that show big Democratic leads but when you start to break down the individual races that Democrats have to win to get control of each chamber it is far from a sure thing that the Democrats will capture either house. The Senate has improved noticeably for Republicans these last few days, the current RCP Senate Averages now project only a 4 seat pick up for the Democrats, two short of what they need for control.

Looking at the House, RCP currently has 9 seats ranked as leaning Democrat and 15 races ranked as toss ups, which provides a fairly broad range of 9-24 seats for the Democrats - if you were to allocate toss ups all one way. Continuing with a crude estimate if you split toss ups down the middle Dems would take the House barely with a 16-17 seat Dem pick up, with a 1/3rd-2/3rd kind of split giving the Dems a gain in the 14 - 19 range.

For a number of reasons, the confidence level is considerably higher in the Senate and I would use the Senate playing field as a barometer with the House ranges. With the Senate in the 4-5 seat range for Democrats, I feel pretty good about a 14-19 range in the House. If the Senate shifts up to 5-6 seats I would bump the House range into the high teens/low twenties and it is when the Senate gets to the 6-7 seat pickup area for Democrats where I think you start to get the real possibility of Democratic gains over 25 in the House.

For those who think Democratic control of Congress is a lock, another concern is that all these scenarios are with the national generic ballot currently showing a 15+ point deficit for the GOP -- a deficit that is far more likely to shrink between now and election day, rather than grow.

The Scariest of Them All

Another thought to frighten Republicans this year: if Democrats take control Baghdad Jim McDermott will be Charlie Rangel's right hand man on the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for crafting U.S. tax policy. The 10-term Congressman from Washington's 7th District will also become Chairman of the Subcommitte on Human Resources.

How Bad Will Iraq Hurt the GOP?

I think one of the reasons many in the press, political analysts included, buy into the theory Republicans will get wiped out this year is they look at the deteriorating situation in Iraq and think: "How can the Republicans not get killed?" And there is no question that working against the GOP big time is the reality that Iraq is demonstrably worse than in was in 2004. And by worse, I mean the odds for U.S. success was considerably better in 2004 than it is today. But the Beltway culture and attitude toward the war isn't the same as the rest of the country and in 2004 that mindset helped create the conventional wisdom that President Bush was going to lose to John Kerry. I suspect the same attitude toward the war today facilitates the ease with which reporters and Washington analysts jack up projections of huge Democratic gains.

But because the media has been so negative on Iraq for years now I don't know that the Democrats, from a political standpoint these last few weeks, are reaping all the rewards they might otherwise have received. Take the New York Times for example. On a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being that Iraq is an utter disaster, they have been reporting Iraq as an 8 or a 9 almost from the beginning.

So now when the status in Iraq has objectively worsened, where do they go to amp their coverage? I'm sure "Pinch" Sulzberger, in true Spinal Tap spirit, is desperately looking for the knob that takes the negativity up to eleven, but they are just about maxed out. In other words, from a political standpoint the qualitative erosion of the situation in Iraq over the last 2-3 months may not be yielding the corresponding equal public relations effect one might expect.

And so in the month before an election when the public sees endless stories about the disaster in Iraq, many just roll their eyes. Again, this is not an argument that Iraq is not hurting Republicans, it clearly is. My point is it may not be hurting the GOP as much as DC-media types think it should, or will.

The other reason Iraq perhaps isn't killing Republicans as much as it could is because Democrats are nowhere to be seen on the issue. Iraq is unquestionably the biggest issue facing the country and the Democrats, to put it nicely, have punted. And they punted because there was no way for them to reconcile the netroots/Lamont faction of the party with more common-sense leaders like Joe Biden or Joe Lieberman. Heck, the netroots side kicked Joe Lieberman out of the party in August.

In September, the White House had found a way to frame the war debate around wiretapping and extracting information from terrorists and it was working to help Republicans, but the Foley scandal blew that carefully orchestrated plan right out of the water. With only two weeks left, it remains unclear how the final news cycle will play out. There is numbness among the public to the situation in Iraq, people know in their gut that it is not going well and ultimately President Bush and Congress have to answer for that, but they are far from sure that Nancy Pelosi is the right answer. Iraq helps the Democrats, but how much, we will find out on Election Day.

AZ-1: Reports of Renzi Investigation

Yesterday, just two weeks before the election, Rick Renzi in AZ-1 hired a lawyer after reports surfaced that the feds are looking into his involvement in a land swap deal from a couple of years ago. Renzi's new lawyer, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, told the Arizona Republic he's been unable to confirm any investigation so far and that neither Renzi nor any of the folks in his "circle" have been contacted by the feds.

Renzi is currently #42 on RCP's list of the 50 most competitive House races in the country. He may be headed higher, depending on how this plays out.

PA 04 Poll Results

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review just released some polling data on PA 04 -- a suburban Pittsburgh district that features incumbent Republican Melissa Hart and Democratic challenger Jason Altmire. The results were somewhat surprising, giving Hart only a 4% lead, with 11% undecided.

This week I hypothesized that one reason that second- and third-tier districts show soft GOP leads was because GOP candidates had yet to unload their expansive war chests. Accordingly, voters were still "floating" with the national news media and their assessment of the mood. This district would be an archetypical example if this hypothesis is true. Hart, as of 10/1, had more than $1.1 million in the bank, compared to Altmire's $275 K. By that date, she had only spent $763 K. According to the theory I offered: when she unloads that war chest, these numbers will move in her direction.

The internals of the poll are consistent with this "floating" hypothesis. The last paragraph is the the tip-off:

For Altmire, an equal number of those surveyed -- 26 percent -- were aware of his name with a favorable impression as were those who had not heard of him. Thirty-one percent knew his name but had no opinion of him, while 18 percent were aware and felt unfavorably toward him.

It seems that Altmire's support does not seem to reflect genuine pro-Altmire sentiment, but rather a general political mood . Hart can, and will, spend $2 million in all to define both him and herself -- setting herself apart from what the district is upset about, and casting Altmire as an unacceptable alternative to what frustrates the voters. And Altmire lacks the cash to respond.

This poll will probably feed the "a wave is a'comin'" storyline -- but this hypothesis is clearly underdetermined. These results are entirely consistent with what I theorized earlier this week -- probably more so than the "wave" hypothesis, given Altmire's poor name ID numbers.

If we see a Hart lead of 4% of less after she has spent her money, then the GOP should worry about this district.

Nevertheless -- this poll is a sign that the GOP is going to have to spend money to defend its "outer-rim" districts: PA 04, WY AL, MN 01, etc. I think money will save all of them, but money is what is needed. That is the price they must pay for their unpopularity.

Footnote: I am not a pollster, but it struck me as very peculiar that the Trib would commission a poll for last weekend in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, Pitt played Rutgers at Heinz Field. On Sunday, the Steelers played the Falcons. How many men do you think answered the phone over the weekend? If I was back in my dear hometown district (or, should I say, "hometahn district"), I know that I would have hung up right quick (a head counter for the local Alderman actually showed up at my door during the 2nd Quarter of the Steelers game -- and I don't think I have ever been so quick to tell somebody "No thank you!"). I can't help but wonder: is this sample representative of the 4th? I doubt that it is. The 4th was watching Panther and Steeler football (a bad, bad, bad weekend, I must say...). Does that help one candidate or another? My sense is that it helps Altmire. Most of the voting population of the 4th is the northern suburbs in Allegheny and Butler Counties -- and football fans there tend to be white men, i.e. anti-tax Republican voters.

October 24, 2006

Stem Cell Ad War in Missouri

You've probably heard about the Michael J. Fox ad on stem cells that aired on behalf of the McCaskill campaign during the World Series the other night. Here it is:

And here's the response ad:

Ford's Straight Answer

Harold Ford, Jr. tries to stop the bleeding over the question Playboy party with a very straight answer - maybe a little too straight, in fact.

The Battle for the Senate

In our opinion, Brad Coker at Mason-Dixon continues to do the best state polling. Today he has released a basket of eight Senate polls for MSNBC in the competitive Senate races that will determine control of that chamber (Maryland is the only race which might be competitive where he did not poll).

I spoke with Coker this morning, and he breaks these races down into three distinct groups. The first group is Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island, which he describes "as slipping away from the Republicans." RCP has all thee of these races as "Leans Democrat," and right now these look like three pretty firm pick ups for the Democrats.

The next group is Montana, New Jersey and Missouri - all races where Mason-Dixon shows the Democrat ahead by three points. Coker describes these three as "leaning Democratic" and, interestingly, he ranks New Jersey as the most likely state Republicans could get out of this group, followed by Montana, and then Missouri. Both New Jersey and Missouri have been ranked Toss Ups for some time by RCP, and today on the back of the Mason-Dixon poll we are moving Montana to a Toss Up, one week after downgrading Burns from the #2 most vulnerable incumbent to #4.

I don't know that I agree with Coker's order of vulnerability in these three, but I don't take it as good news for the GOP that he ranks the seat in Missouri as the least likely of the bunch for the GOP to win. Since Mason-Dixon's last survey in these three states, Missouri has moved 3 points toward the Democrats; Montana has moved 4 points toward the GOP, and New Jersey in unchanged. I suspect Republicans will win one of these three states barring a complete GOP meltdown. Coker seems to think from where things stand today the odds favor the Democrats taking all three.

Finally, we have the two seats in Virginia and Tennessee. Coker sees the Republicans almost having the same edge here as the Democrats have in the last group (MT, MO, NJ). Mason-Dixon's work has Bob Corker ahead in Tennesse by 2 points and George Allen ahead in Virginia by 4. Coker feels that if Republicans were to lose either one of these races he sees little chance they could win in Montana, New Jersey and Missouri - which effectively means they would lose the Senate. As a corollary, if the GOP could win one of the MT, MO, NJ group, Coker sees very little chance they would lose in Virginia or Tennessee. I tend to agree with that characterization, though the ethical troubles of Menendez in New Jersey makes that race a bit of an independent situation.

At the end of the day, Coker sees the evidence today pointing to a 50-50 tie with Republicans retaining control. I agree that the GOP maintains an edge in Virginia and Tennessee and thus is likely to retain control, but as I said earlier, I suspect Republicans will pull out one of three in Missouri, Montana and New Jersey to keep their losses to four and a 51-49 edge in the Senate. This also happens to be where the current InTrade markets peg the Senate playing field as well.

When It Rains, It Pours

Harold Ford, Jr. is on a bit of a streak at the moment, and it's not the favorable kind. His press-conference crashing stunt last week seems to have backfired. He's also now involved in a war of words with Steve Cohen, the Democrat running to replace him in TN-9, where Ford, Jr.'s brother lost out in the primary but is running as an Independent. And there's the new Mason-Dixon poll I mentioned earlier showing that Bob Corker has edged back into the lead against Ford. But there's more.

In the Tennessean today, questions about Ford's presence at a Playboy party at the 2005 Superbowl continue to linger, in part because the Ford campaign has done a truly miserable job of dealing with the issue.

And yesterday Bob Corker was on the trail with Rudy Giuliani pounding Ford over his refusal to vote in favor of a non-binding resolution in the House condemning President Clinton's pardon of 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist organization FALN. Instead of voting for or against the resolution, Ford voted "present." The resolution passed in the House by a vote of 311 to 41 with 72 present. A similar measure passed the Senate by a vote of 95-2.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

According to Michael Powell, Ford's senior adviser, Ford said publicly at the time that he would not have pardoned the individuals, but "the measure was brought to the floor in a partisan attempt to embarrass the president. It was a nonbinding resolution."

Maybe so, but this is the kind of issue that makes a fairly cut-and-dried impression on voters, and it's probably a vote that Ford wishes he could have back.

Mason-Dixon

Here's the score from the new batch of Mason-Dixon Senate polls: Republican incumbents Santorum, DeWine, Chafee, Burns, and Talent currently trail. There's your five seat pick up for an evenly divided Senate. Corker has moved slightly back ahead in Tennessee, and Allen is holding a small but steady lead in Virginia.

On the Dem side, Cantwell has extended her lead in Washington and Menendez is maintaining a slight edge in New Jersey, though he's stuck around 45% with eleven percent undecided.

It's possible Dems could tip either Tennessee or Virginia (or both), and end up taking control of the Senate. On the other hand, with Allen stabilized and Harold Ford, Jr. undergoing a bit of a late stage meltdown, it seems to me a more likely possibility that Republicans hold TN, VA and Talent squeaks by in Missouri, leaving the GOP with a razor-thin majority.

And there's also still a chance that Conrad Burns pulls out his race in Montana or Kean, Jr. scores an upset in New Jersey, which could reduce GOP losses to just three seats.

Perception Can Become Reality

One of the Democratic strategies this cycle is to flood the zone with partisan and suspect polls showing as many House races as possible in play to piggy back on the national generic polls that show legitimately bad news for Republicans. A perfect example of this is in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today which runs with the headline:

Poll: Heller, Derby Tied in House Race. Democrat Erases Republican's Nine-Point Lead

CARSON CITY -- Democrat Jill Derby and Republican Dean Heller are tied in the race for the 2nd Congressional District seat, according to a poll by the Mellman Group of Washington, D.C.

Each drew 40 percent of the votes in a telephone poll last week of 400 voters in the district. Minor party candidates received 5 percent and 15 percent were undecided.

In Mellman's last poll, conducted in early September, Heller led Derby 44 percent to 35 percent.

It is not until you get down to the 8th paragraph when the reader is told that the Democrat Derby's campaign paid for the poll.

This is a calculated tactic on the part of the Democrats that they have been using very effectively as other reporters, pundits and the blogosphere pickup on the headline to play up the story that more and more Republican districts continue to be thrown into play. This is all designed to build up the impression that the bottom is totally falling out for the GOP. Perception can become reality if the GOP is not careful and Republicans have been behind the eight-ball this entire cycle in managing the public relations campaign.

Maybe Nevada's 2nd congressional seat is going to go to the Democrats this year, but this is a district where Al Gore managed a whopping 37% of the vote in 2000 and John Kerry pulled down 41% in 2004. All the independent polls post-Labor Day show the Republican Heller ahead. We don't view a poll paid for by the underdog candidate, showing a tie, as evidence that a race is necessarily in play, and until we see some non-partisan data that NV-2 is really in play we will continue to rate this as a lean Republican contest.

October 23, 2006

Quote of the Day II

"If the Democrats win, it will be a Forrest Gump victory - essentially things swirled around them over which they had very little control and they ended up scoring touchdowns, designing happy signs, and making money on shrimp." - Pollster John Zogby

Don't Make Nice

Paul Krugman delivers a special treat for the nutroots today, arguing that if the Dems take power they should be as vicious as they can be or, put in a more nutroot-friendly formulation, equally as vicious as he believes Republicans are:

Now that the Democrats are strongly favored to capture at least one house of Congress, they're getting a lot of unsolicited advice, with many people urging them to walk and talk softly if they win.

I hope the Democrats don't follow this advice -- because it's bad for their party and, more important, bad for the country. In the long run, it's even bad for the cause of bipartisanship.

There are those who say that a confrontational stance will backfire politically on the Democrats. These are by and large the same people who told Democrats that attacking the Bush administration over Iraq would backfire in the midterm elections. Enough said.

I especially liked this part:

There are those who believe that the partisan gap can be bridged if the Democrats nominate an attractive presidential candidate who speaks in uplifting generalities. But they must have been living under a rock these past 15 or so years. Whoever the Democrats nominate will feel the full force of the Republican slime machine. And it doesn't matter if conservatives have nice things to say about a Democrat now. Once the campaign gets serious, they'll suddenly question his or her patriotism and discover previously unmentioned but grievous character flaws.

This is truly delusional. If you go back, as Krugman suggests, and look at the Presidential election for the past 15 or so years, what you'll find is that regardless of the political noise surrounding the election, the candidate who ran the better race won.

I'm sure Krugman thinks that Michael Dukakis got "slimed" by Lee Atwater and Willie Horton in 1988, but the reality is that Dukakis was a candidate with serious vulnerabilites, many of which were compounded during the campaign by his own doing.

Four years later Bill Clinton prevailed over a rather inept reelection campaign by George H.W. Bush (albeit with the help a third party candidate). He also cruised to reelection over a lackluster effort by Bob Dole in 1996. Where was the vaunted Republican "slime machine" then?

In 2000, George W. Bush really had no business winning, and he did not because of "slime" but because Al Gore ran a very sub par campaign - which is another way saying he followed every last bit of Bob Shrum's advice. Gore flopped in the debates and ended up unable to carry his home state of Tennessee.

In fact, if there was any slime in 2000 it was the Democrats who were the guilty party, when an operative with ties to the Gore campaign dropped Bush's decades-old DUI on the Friday before the election. It almost worked, too.

Clearly, Krugman seems to be speaking about the 2004 campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans when he writes, "Once the campaign gets serious, they'll suddenly question his or her patriotism and discover previously unmentioned but grievous character flaws."

If you reread that sentence and take out the words "question his or her patriotism," it's a fairly accurate description of what Jim Webb and the Democrats are doing to George Allen in Virginia right now. Did Allen open that door with his "macaca" comment? Sure.

But the difference between the two is that in the case of John Kerry, you had more than a hundred of his fellow veterans come forward, on the record, saying they felt he was unfit to be Commander and Chief.

Furthermore, the back and forth over the details surrounding Kerry's medals obscured the fact that the real thrust of the objection of the Swiftees had to do with what John Kerry did after the war, not during it: his tossing of his medals (or someone else's) over the White House fence, his blanket condemnation of U.S. troops before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his 1970 trip to Paris to meet and talk with Communist leaders of North Vietnam. These three events aren't "slime," they are irrefutable facts. And whether Krugman likes it or not, they are absolutely fair game as a topic of discussion in a Presidential contest.

The point is that contrary to Krugman's myopic, one-sided view, politics is a rough business. Both sides know it, and both sides play it that way. Neither party has a monopoly on slime, nor does either side have a monopoly on virtue.

Will Money Alone Save the GOP?

Barron's seems to think so.

But their analysis is flawed. For several reasons -- all of which are part of this fundamental fact about campaign cash: it is a necessary, but insufficient, criterion of electoral success.

(1) A dollar is worth more to a challenger than an incumbent. The reason is that challengers have to introduce themselves to the electorate, while incumbents do not. The electorate always has a very well-formed opinion of the incumbent, and so the marginal dollar will just be less effective for him than the challenger. So, a challenger who spends $2,000,000 will change more minds than an incumbent who spends $2,000,000.

(2) Not all campaign dollars are created equal. The marginal dollar required to run your first political ad is worth less than the marginal dollar required to run your seventeenth political ad. Why? Because your first ad is more likely to convince voters than your seventeenth. Thus -- some differences, say between $50,000 and $1,000,000, are much more critical than other differences, say between $3,050,000 and $4,000,000.

(3) Weak incumbents raise more money than strong incumbents. Statistical analysis actually shows that the more money an incumbent spends, the more likely he/she is to lose. Is it because his/her advertising is just that bad? No. Of course not. It is because incumbents who are vulnerable are the ones who raise and spend lots of cash. So -- the fact that Republican incumbents have more money than their Democratic challengers can be a sign both of strength (in the case of safe members with less than $1 million in the bank going up against challengers with less than $50,000) and weakness (in the case of weak members with more than $3 million in the bank going up against challengers with $2 million).

(4) Well-funded challengers almost always have good angles. That is how they have become well-funded. Strategic donors in the opposing party have sensed a weakness in the incumbent, or a strength in the challenger, and have decided to fund the latter's attack. Simply stated, they think the attack angle will work. So, well-funded challengers almost always have campaign strengths that dollars are used to actualize.

Why, then, is Barron's historical track record so accurate? Three reasons: (1) A direct dollar-to-dollar evaluation is probably more appropriate in open seat elections, and so they will make a genuine theoretical "purchase" there; (2) The reelection rate of incumbents has been rising slowly-but-surely in the time period that their data spans, and incumbents almost always have more money than their challengers; (3) Money is indeed important, and so Barron's model can be expected to have some predictive accuracy -- it is just that it is not important in the way that Barron's thinks. Even a misspecified model can be highly accurate in its predictions. Its problems will show up in other ways (e.g. non-random error, which I am guessing is probably the case here; they are probably more likely to be wrong for some cases than for others, e.g. self-funders).

(In point of fact -- most media types tend to make predictions based upon misspecified models. And the biggest problem is not misspecification, but that they do not realize that they are actually using models in the first place. This is one of the many problems that occur when English majors do political science.)

Again: the way to think about money is to think of it as a necessary but insufficient criterion of electoral success. Challengers need enough money to (a) introduce themselves to the electorate and (b) offer themselves as a credible alternative -- but that almost never requires them to actually spend more money than the incumbent.

Accordingly, Barron's method of a simple tabulation of the Republican-held contested districts where the Democrats have more money underestimates Democratic strength.

It also seems to me to be poorly applied - for instance, in predicting Busby to win over Bilbray, they fail to account for the fact that (a) most of Busby's money was spent in the Special Election and (b) Busby raised/spent more in the Special Election and still lost. They also seem to fail to properly account for (i) self-funders, like Jack Davis in NY 26, who have the capacity to draw funds quickly; and (ii) the fact that the most promising of challengers always get large influxes of cash after the Quarter III reports are published.

The correct way to evaluate the money situation is to (i) establish a reasonable "floor" of dollars minimally necessary for electoral success and (ii) estimate the number of challengers who will meet that standard. Unfortunately, nobody has really done that -- and I have been struck by the number of GOP-held seats that have "become" marginally competitive despite challengers who obviously have insufficient funds.

So -- if Barron's is way too bullish about the GOP, others have been way too bullish about the Democrats. Money matters -- not in the way that Barron's thinks. But it matters more than what others have implicitly estimated.

October 22, 2006

A Few Race Updates

In case you missed these on RCP's front page here are some updates in close races in the battle for the House and Senate.

Tennessee Senate: Bob Corker (R) vs. Harold Ford (D)

Ford, who has run a very strong campaign to date, appears to have made his first serious mistake with an ill-advised attempt to crash a Bob Corker press conference Friday in Memphis. You can watch the WMC Memphis TV coverage of this here "Harold Ford Junior Crashes Corker Presser." Corker appears to get the best of this confrontation and this is the kind of thing that can make a difference in a race as close as this one. Ford's bid in the InTrade market has fallen below 40 for the first time in quite a while.

Florida 22: Clay Shaw (R)* vs. Ron Klein (D)

Shaw's seat is a very competitive district that went 52% - 48% in the presidential race for the Democrat in both 2000 and 2004. After one of the closest House races in the country in 2000, Republicans in redistricting removed the Miami-Dade portion which Shaw lost 67%-33% in 2000. With a more favorable district he won handily in both 2002 and 2004 with over 60% of the vote.
This race had been high up on Democratic target lists but looks to have slipped as the campaign has entered the final stretch. Klein probably would have won this district how it was drawn in 2000, but running in the current 2006 lines he looks likely to come up a little short.

Pennsylvania 7: Curt Weldon (R)* vs. Joe Sestak (D)

Weldon, like his Pennsylvania colleague Don Sherwood is in a world of trouble. Of the three GOP Philadelphia suburban districts that the Democrats had set their sights on this cycle Weldon's seat had always thought to be the one least likely to flip, today it is the most likely. After Don Sherwood and Jeff Hostettler, Weldon is now the most vulnerable incumbent on RCP's list. Whatever the merit of Weldon and his daughter's situation with Russian business deals, the sight of FBI agents carting boxes out of your daughter's apartment three weeks from an election where you are in a very close race is not good news. Weldon is a fighter and his problems are not as acute as Sherwood's in PA-10, but his district is a Democratic-trending district that voted 51% for Gore in 2000 and 53% for Kerry in 2004. We think Weldon is in trouble here in 2006.

Pennsylvania 10: Don Sherwood (R)* vs. Chris Carney (D)

President Bush was here on Thursday trying to give Sherwood a boost in the home stretch. Sherwood has big, big troubles but this is a Republican district that gave Bush 60% just two years ago. Santorum's people will be in here hard which may spill over and help Sherwood on the margins, but were skeptical that he can pull this race out.

Connecticut 4: Chris Shays (R)* vs. Diane Farrell

Hard to believe that Democrats have a very good shot at capturing the House even though they might now win any of the three Connecticut House races they have targeted for over a year. Shays is generally considered to be thought the most vulnerable GOP incumbent of the three CT seats in play (CT-2, CT-4, CT-5); however Shays is running an energized campaign and appears to be benefiting significantly from Lieberman's strong Independent run. Shays raised $840,000 this last quarter eclipsing the record set by his opponent Diane Farrell earlier this year. This race will in all likelihood be a total toss up until the end. Ironically Ned Lamont may be the little bit that keeps this seat in the GOP column.

New York 26: Tom Reynolds (R)* vs. Jack Davis (D)

Reynolds looks to have stabilized his situation a little, but Foley has placed this race fully in play. The GOP appears to be running better in House races everywhere in the Northeast (CT and NH), except upstate New York. Republicans are going to lose seats in New York, Reynolds is hoping they keep it contained to Sherwood Boehlert's open seat in New York 24, because if there is another one to go down he is next in line.

Colorado 4: Marilyn Musgrave (R)* vs. Angie Paccione (D)

Even though this a relatively conservative district having delivered 58% for President Bush in 2004 Musgrave was always considered a potentially vulnerable incumbent because she only pulled 51% in 2004 after originally winning the seat with 55% in 2002. This race is currently #28 on RCP's House list and may have to drop lower if Musgrave continues to poll as impressively as she has in the last two public survey which both show her with 10 point leads. The DCCC pulled a significant amount of ad support for the Democratic challenger about two weeks ago which might have shut the door on Paccione's upset hopes.

Illinois 8: Dave McSweeney (R) vs. Melissa Bean (D)*

The Chicago Tribune poll is bad news for McSweeney, and while there is no question this race is considerably closer than 19 points, Bean has made the right votes in this district in her first term to assure Republican-leaning business types she can be a Democrat they can work with. RNC polling in this race shows McSweeney only down two, but today you would have to give the edge to the incumbent Bean.

October 21, 2006

A Media Conspiracy

I detect a devious conspiracy among the mainstream media to swing this election back in favor of the GOP:

The Woman Who Would Be Speaker: Uncompromising Pelosi Set to Seize Opportunity
By Lois Romano, Washington Post Staff Writer

Madam Speaker? Pelosi Likes the Sound: In line to lead the House if the Democrats win control, the Californian brings discipline, fundraising skill -- and a lightning-rod nature.

By Faye Fiore, Times Staff Writer

Not to mention this:

NEXT ON 60 MINUTES: Two Heartbeats Away
Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. ET/PT

Nancy Pelosi could wind up as the House speaker if Democrats win a majority in the upcoming election, making her second in the line of succession to the presidency. Lesley Stahl reports.

What next? An Adam Nagourney front-pager profiling John Conyers and his secret post-election impeachment plans? It looks like the dastardly Karl Rove has done it once again. Somehow he's conned the MSM into promoting the one thing that might actually have enough juice left to get Republicans to the polls en masse in 17 days: the prospect of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

October 20, 2006

Connecticut 2

A new poll in the hotly contested CT-2 race gives GOP incumbent Rob Simmons a small two point lead, 46% - 44%. We have an updated analysis on this race:


Rob Simmons in Connecticut 2 is a not a guy who is being caught by surprise that he is in a tough race. Kerry and Gore both got 54% in his district, and he is regularly targeted as a prime pickup target by Democrats. This year is no exception. Simmons was extremely visible in the fight to save the New London sub base in his district and he is using that dramatic success very effectively in the campaign against Courtney.

A just-released poll by the University of Connecticut gives Simmons a small two point lead. Lieberman's likely substantial victory over Democrat Ned Lamont (he leads Lamont by 12.2% in the latest RCP Average) is also working to help Simmons on the margins as well as the very popular Republican Gov. Jodi Rell who is cruising to reelection.

This race continues to drop on our list of competitive house seats and is currently ranked #22.

Will Any Dem Seats Fall in the House?

So much of the focus this cycle has been on Republican seats in play. On RCP's list of the most likely House seats to switch parties, the first Dem seat doesn't appear until #33 with Melissa Bean in Illinois 8. But there is a basket of five seats Republicans are looking at for possible pickups (IL-8, GA-8, GA-12, VT-AL, and IA-3) and the odds would suggest that the GOP may be able to pick up one of these five. The two seats in Georgia, helped by a strong Sonny Perdue at the top of the ticket, are generally thought to offer Republicans their best hope for a pickup.

Today the Indianapolis Star has a front page story which is extremely interesting given how much of a battleground Indiana has become because of the three Republican districts in play (IN-2, IN-8, and IN-9).

A new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Julia Carson narrowly trailing Republican Eric Dickerson -- an outcome that, if it holds on Election Day, would be one of the biggest upsets in Indiana politics.

Dickerson led Carson 45 percent to 42 percent in the poll conducted for WTHR (Channel 13), The Indianapolis Star's news-gathering partner.....The WTHR poll -- conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and based on responses of 468 likely voters in the 7th Congressional District -- was startling, though, particularly in the wake of a poll of 400 likely voters, taken in September for WISH (Channel 8), that showed Carson with a lead of 20 percentage points. WTHR reported its poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Dickerson, a former auto dealer, has run his race largely on his own. He beat the Republican Party's endorsed candidate in the primary and has run his campaign with virtually no state or national support since.

"It's just another confirmation that our campaign is very, very serious and we do intend to win this race," Dickerson told WTHR.

Indiana 7 is a reasonably secure Democratic district, giving 58% for Kerry in 2004 and 55% for Gore in 2004. But Carson has had some serious health issues and she's also been unable to get over 55% of the vote since the seat was redistricted in 2002 making it more attractive to Republican candidates.

We're skeptical just how much this seat may really be in play, but this is certainly a race we are going to keep an eye on.

What Amazes Me Most...

What amazes me most about this campaign season has been, without question, the media.

I do not ever recall the national political press corps, and its attendant pundits, vacillating back and forth so incredibly violently.

"It's a wave election!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"It's a national election!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"It's a blow-out!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"Democratic enthusiasm can trump Republican GOTV machinery." "No it can't!" "Oh yes it can!" "Oh no it can't!"

It's been like a Monty Python sketch, hasn't it? "The GOP is dead, I tell you!" "Oh no it isn't...it's just restin'!"

Based upon memory, I can recall five discrete vacillations. You had GOP bullishness around March. That lasted until about the end of April. Then the CA 50 campaign induced Democratic bullishness. That lasted until the actual election, which then again induced Republican bullishness. That lasted until about mid-July, where there again began a period of Democratic bullishness. This shifted around 9/11, which initiated another round of GOP bullishness. Right now we are in a stage of Democratic bullishness.

So -- that's five vacillations in six months!

Unbelievable.

What is most unbelievable is that it is literally nothing more than vacillation. It is not like a real debate, where new evidence swings things one direction and then another. It's the same darned evidence being paraded on both sides. Democratic strengths X, Y and Z are emphasized for a while. Then, they are totally abandoned to emphasize GOP strengths A, B and C. Nobody in the press ever actually gets around to debunking, reconciling, aggregating, weighing X, Y, Z, A, B and C! They just change their emphases! The story line changes when somebody in an elite position in the media "remembers" the other side's factors. "And...oh yeah! Well...it looks like things have swung again!"

If we all take a step back and ponder this, I think we come up with two different hypotheses:
(1) The election has been as variable as the media has taken it to be. The most variable in modern history.
(2) The election has been relatively constant. The media is the variable factor. They vary because they incorrectly think congressional elections work like presidential elections and/or some strange soap opera called "As the Beltway Turns." They just generally have no idea what they are doing. So, they are always getting tricked into false positives, which they soon discover to be false positives, and which they then justify as "Well -- it's a-swingin' back the other way!" And, as they are the media, i.e. our window to the world, (1) appears to be true.

I prefer (1). Just kidding!

Here's an idea -- rather than take bets on how many seats the Democrats will pick up -- why don't we take bets on how many more times the media consensus will swing? The last swing was at the end of last month -- and as there is, on average, a swing in the consensus every 1 month and 1 week, the odds are that there will be at least one more, on or about November 5.

But my money is actually on 2 more swings. I think there will be a brief flirtation with "Maybe it won't be that bad for the GOP..." around the end of this month. And then a "Oh...YES IT WILL!"

And then, on Election Day, if they are "right," they will trumpet their keen political sensibilities -- "We called this sucker, didn't we?" "Oh...yeah we did. We had it all along!" "Good for us!"

If they are "wrong," they will trumpet their keen political sensibitilies and procliam how the party ostensibly on the outs managed to perform an unheard-of come-from-behind feat of great political cunning at the last minute to snatch defeat from the jaws of...

...and blah, blah, blah. The truth is that they are never right nor wrong. They are just unfalsifiable. If Karl Popper were alive to witness this campaign season, his head would explode. I'm actually thinking about wearing a tight-fitting Steelers football helmet between now and Election Day to prevent exactly that from occurring.

October 19, 2006

Keith Olbermann and the Democratic Party

Keith Olbermann certainly represents the netroots wing of the Democratic party, and his "Special Comment" on the Miliatry Commisions Act that ran on Countdown last night (see below) is a clear example of the thinking that pervades this increasingly powerful part of the Democratic base.


For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:
A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

It is this wing of the party that successfully purged Joe Lieberman from the Democratic ranks this summer. And while the Democrats are poised to pickup seats this fall in both houses, the growing power of the Olbermann wing of the party does not bode well for long term Democrat success.

The Democratic Party needs more Jim Webbs and less Ned Lamonts. They are fortunate that Lamont is going to go down in the general in a couple of weeks - even though it will probably cost them 1-2 house seats in Connecticut that Democrats would have otherwise won had Lieberman been running on the Democratic ticket. Webb is an attractive candidate who is well suited for conservative-leaning Virginia, which is an under-appreciated reason he is faring so well against George Allen. Unlike Lamont, Webb has a real shot at pulling out a victory in a couple of weeks, but he will need a last minute push in the polls as Allen looks to have stopped the bleeding and is nearing the magical 50% level in the RCP Average.

Small Movement Toward the GOP?

A few polls are beginning to show a little better news for Republicans the past 24 hours. SurveyUSA has a new Senate poll in Maryland that has Republican Lt. Gov. Micheal Steele tied with Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin 46% - 46%. We have updated our analysis on this race which is still in the "Leans Democrat" column.

If the general outlook for Republicans can improve just a little between now and election day Steele may have shot at the upset because of his ability to eat into critical African-American votes the Democratic nominee would usually count on as in the bag. Steele is pulling 25% of the black vote in SurveyUSA's latest poll down from 33% in their September poll. If it looks like he can get a 1/3rd of the African-American vote on election day this race becomes a true toss up.

A quick glance at the RCP Chart in this race shows Steele's new found momentum.

In Colorado 4 SurveyUSA has the Republican incumbent ahead by 10 points, 48% - 38%. Musgrave is currently #28 on RCP's list of most likely House seats to switch parties, so it is good news for the GOP that this race has perhaps stabilized for Musgrave. Chris Chocola in Indian's 2nd CD comes in at #12 on the list and he is decidedly in more trouble, a new Research 2000 poll out today has him trailing Jim Donnelly by 5points, 50% -45%. We have an new updated analysis up on that race:

IN-2 is in many ways one of the bellwether House races for control of Congress. Indiana's second congressional district voted 53% for Bush in 2000 and 56% for the President in 2004. Chris Chocola lost to former Rep. Tim Roemer in what was Indiana's 3rd district in 2000, but managed 47% of the vote. In 2002, in an open seat race, he defeated a formidable opponent in Jill Long 50% - 47% in Indiana's new 2nd district. And in 2004 he handily won reelection against his current opponent Joe Donnelly 54% - 45%.

Perhaps his easy win in 2004 bred a certain level of overconfidence in Chocola, but he without question finds himself in a battle today. Donnelley has led in most of the public surveys, including a Republican poll released just a week ago by a point, Donnelley 45% - Chocola 44%. Indiana's decision to lease a major toll road in Chocola's district appears to be really hurting the incumbent along with the switch to daylight savings time, a quirk that had been in effect in parts of the district. The latest Research 2000 poll just released today gives Donnelly a 5 point edge, 50% - 45%.

Chocola has the resources, and this is a Republican leaning district, but he may have let this race get away from him over the summer.

This is exactly the type of race Democrats need to win to capture the House.

There are a whole bunch of RT Strategies/CD and Zogby Interactive polls out as well in competitive House, Senate and Governor races. The batch of RT Strategies House polls look to favor the Democrats. In NY-20 (which is #37 on RCP's list) they have the Democratic challenger up a whopping 14 points, 54% - 41%. However, a newly released traditional telephone poll by Sienna taken at exactly the same time as the RT Strategy/CD poll has the Republican incumbent Sweeney up 14 points, 53% - 39%. Needless to say both polls can not be right.

And then there are the basket of Zogby/WSJ.com internet polls that on balance show pretty good news for Republicans in the Senate. In RCP's current "Toss Up" ranked senate races the Zogby polls have the Republican ahead in all four - Missouri: Talent +2, New Jersey: Kean +2, Tennessee: Corker +7 and in Virginia: Allen +3. If Democrats take all of the races RCP has leaning their direction today they would need to win 3 out of 4 of these races to win the Senate. The current RCP Average and InTrade markets give Republicans the edge in Virginia and the Democrats the edge in New Jersey with split verdicts in Missouri and Tennessee.

Endorsements

They don't mean anything, but it's part of the process nonetheless:

- Washington Times endorses Republican George Allen for Senate.

- Chicago Tribune endorses Democrat Tammy Duckworth in IL06.

- Providence Journal endorses Democrat Joe Courtney in CT02.

- San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Democrat Dianne Feinstein for Senate.

- Dallas Morning News endorses Republian Kay Bailey Hutchinson for Senate.

- Arizona Republic endorses Republican Rick Renzi in AZ01 and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in AZ08.

October 18, 2006

Hoyer's Apology

Steny apologizes for "slavishly" remark.

An emailer says the Hoyer episode brought back a memory:

I couldn't help but be reminded of the turning point in New York's 1992 Senate campaign. In that race, incumbent Al D'Amato trailed Robert Abrams, the state's attorney general, in the polls all year, until Abrams made an off-handed remark, calling D'Amato a "fascist." D'Amato, an Italian-American, and his supporters, immediately and vocally took offense, calling it an ethnic slur. They kept the issue alive for days, and Abrams was taken completely off-guard. After some prolonged fumbling, Abrams eventually apologized. But it was too late- D'Amato had gained the momentum and won a slim victory, in a terrible Republican year.

Could Steny Hoyer's "slavish" remark be Cardin's "fascist" moment?

Maybe, though it's somewhat different when a supporter/associate of a candidate makes this type of mistake than when the candidate does it himself (or herself). Still, if Cardin has one worry it's that African-Americans will defect to Steele, and Hoyer's unfortunate choice of words is just the type of thing that might increase the odds of that taking place.

I'm not sure if Steele is going to get any mileage out of this or not - but he's certainly trying. In that case, he might as well respond to Hoyer the same way D'Amato did to Abrams back in 1992: write a letter saying that "only when the political damage became too great did you offer an apology. I neither forgive nor excuse your behavior."

This Just In...

War hero and POW John McCain survived five years of torture at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam but says he'd probably just "commit suicide" if he has to face a Congress controlled by Democrats.

He joking, of course, but you know what they say about every joke containing a seed of truth....

Comments on Gerrymandering

Some interesting emails on redistricting:

As a prospective Republican Congressional candidate in advance of the 1992 election, I witnessed the North Carolina redistricting process that the Wall Street Journal called, I think, "political pornography". Two "minority/majority" districts were created that ensured the election of 2 black Congressmen and those districts remain today. The net effect of this was the Balkanization of most of North Carolina's minority population, and this effort was done by a Democratic State House and Senate with the complicity of the then Bush 41 Justice Department. The result, which has been replicated through other parts of the country, has allowed Republicans to virtually assure themselves of a majority in the House and has allowed minority Democrats a similar luxury of assured reelection.

Look no further than the hard left within the Congressional Black Caucus to see what becomes of candidates who have no or token opposition. And Republicans are not without blame here either. By removing a largely monolithic voting block from diverse Congressional districts, redistricting has created largely white and quite conservative Districts, where there is also little or no opposition. And what do we get? Congressmen and Congresswomen who are primarily interested in appealing to their narrow bases back home. Only when both parties, or the Courts, realize the damage that this has done to our country, will some of the negative tenor of political discourse begin to subside. Sadly, I am not hopeful.

**********

Gerrymandering may be anti-democratic, but at least it's being done by partisans who make no excuse for their partisanship. In the case of appointing retired judges (often the suggestion, as if former judges don't have their own political motives), the public is supposed to trust that such committees don't have their own agendas. I would rather have politicians whose motives are out in the open do the redistricting than unelected and accountable 'worthies' do the deed.

Conservatives love to argue against campaign finance reform, arguing (fairly in my view) that disclosure is the way to go. Voters can make up their own minds based in part of the identity of the donors to a given campaign. The same spirit should be at work in the case of redistricting. I would rather have politicians whose intent is plain to see as opposed to unaccountable committees. There is no such thing as an unbiased district map.

**********

I think Jay Cost and Bruce Reed both missed the most insidious threat posed by gerrymandering and that is extremism. When parties have safe districts party extremists get elected. That has fueled the rancor that occurs in Congress and the dissatisfaction of the American electorate with Congress.

When the party extremist is elected over 50% of the electorate is bound to be disappointed. The partisans of the losing party grow increasingly embittered by their perpetual disenfranchisement. The moderates of both parties are often disappointed as well because the Congress is populated by extremists that are unwilling to agree on policies that seem obvious to the majority of the electorate.

The extremism in Congress means that most Congressmen think it is more important to take a stand than to be effective. Compromise is a weakness not strength. When one party won't compromise with the extremist legislators gain more power. If the Democrats won't compromise with the Republicans the details of legislation become more extreme because the party leaders can't afford to lose any votes from their right wing extremists. The same thing will occur if the Democrats gain power but it will be the left wing extremists that gain power.

Unfortunately under the present system we are perpetually condemned to swing from the radical right to the looney left. As a moderate Republican I am forced to support Republican candidates because I am more afraid of the anti-war left than I am the social reforms of the radical right. I'm sure many moderates of both parties are in the same position I am, forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

Three Weeks is a Long Time

Three weeks can be a lifetime in today's new media world, especially in a mid-term election like this one. At the very beginning of August, the RCP Generic Average in the congressional ballot gave the Democrats a solid double-digit edge in the 12%-14% range. Three weeks later on Aug 21st the RCP Average stood at Dems +5.6%. This was followed by a pullback toward the Dems before another surge by the GOP around the 9/11 anniversary and the White House's intense focus on terrorism related issues. Democrats were enjoying another pullback toward a 10-point lead when the Foley Scandal broke on September 29. In the almost three weeks since, Republicans have seen their momentum destroyed and have been utterly pushed back on their heels across the board.

In the last few days we have seen an increasing number of dramatic predictions of massive Democratic gains in November. National Journal's Charlie Cook is talking about a "once or twice in a generation election" like 1994 and 1974 where the incumbent party lost 52 and 49 seats. And Jim VandeHei writes in today's Washington Post:

Democrats said private polls have convinced top party officials that they could pick up 40 or more seats -- nearly double their internal projections from a week ago.....

So Cook and VandeHei are pumping the Democratic blowout line today, which is fine. But I don't know how much that tells us about what the playing field is going to look like in 19 days on November 6. Is it possible that 2006 is another 1994 or 1972 or 1932? Sure, it's possible. Is it likely? Well, that is another story.

Three weeks is a long time. The former trader in me asks: "at what point is the bad news priced in for the GOP?" And where is the Democratic wave talk going to go next? Are we going to see stories in a couple of weeks playing up Democratic prospects of winning 60-70 seats? Or is it more likely we will get a swing back to the GOP and see the inevitable stories wondering "Did the Democrats Peak Too Soon?"

My money would be on the latter. And if that is the case, what does that do to the analysis of where these extremely close races are really going to break?

While I won't discount the wheels totally falling off the GOP bus, and I acknowledge the possibility that Republicans could lose 30 - 40 seats, the evidence I see today ranks that as a lower probability than the GOP holding both Houses. In other words, Republicans have a better chance of retaining control of Congress than they do of losing the Senate and 40+ House seats. That may not be the conventional wisdom bantered about at the moment, but as I said, three weeks is a very long time.

This Just In...

Another big scoop in today's New York Times: "The bellwether state of Ohio appears to have become hostile terrain for Republicans this year..."

Making a Horserace

Today's Arizona Republic offers a textbook example of the media's irresistible desire to create the drama of a horserace: "Pederson finds momentum in Senate race." Really? Where's the proof for that claim? Read the article and all you'll find is this:

Yes, he is on his third set of campaign inner-circle advisers, but he says his current team of young bare-knuckle go-getters was worth the wait. The first time he rolled through Sedona and Prescott last spring to campaign, only about five people showed up at either stop.

He has kept plugging away, and at this rally, in the middle of a workday, there are more than 50 fervent supporters cheering him on. Close to 100 meet him at another rally in Prescott on the same day.

It is this type of progress that fuels Pederson's disbelief in recent polls that have him consistently trailing by 9 to 10 points and buoys his belief that Arizona voters will turn out a three-term Republican incumbent.

Taking the word of the candidate who doesn't believe the polls is hardly solid ground for claiming he's got momentum. If Jon Kyl told the Arizona Republic he didn't believe the polls either and thought he was up by 20 points, would they run a headline that said "Kyl Crushing Pederson in Senate Race?" Obviously not.

If you look at the trendlines in the polls in this race, right now there is precious little evidence to suggest Pederson has "big mo." That's not to say definitively that Pederson doesn't have momentum or that he won't gain ground - indeed the natural tendency of any race is to tighten toward the end - only that the Arizona Republic offers nothing to support its claim.

Senate Debates Redux

In Washington state, incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell faced a more aggressive Mike McGavick last night in their second, and final, debate. Adding to last night's fun was the presence of Libertarian candidate Bruce Guthrie, who recently mortgaged his home to loan his campaign enough money to qualify for the debate. The Seattle PI reports that Guthrie gave an "earnest presentation of his sometimes out-of-the-mainstream views," but he won't be much of a factor in the end.

The latest poll in this race by SurveyUSA (10/13-10/15) showed some slight movement for McGavick, closing the gap from 12 points in September (42-54) to eight points this month (43-51), but the other polls are now three and four weeks old so we'll have to wait and see just how much tightening occurs. The rule is to never say never in politics, but in this particular state in this particular year, with only three weeks left it's very hard to see the incumbent losing.

All the way across the country in New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Tom Kean, Jr. mixed it up again yesterday on a radio debate. The two clashed on immigration and Iraq but, according to the Star-Ledger, the debate was relatively tame until the last 20 minutes when the moderator allowed the candidates to question each other directly:

That's when the program slid out of control as Menendez and Kean interrupted each other's answers and bandied back and forth such rejoinders as "That's just not true."

Amid the tumult, Menendez pointedly asked whether Kean, if he could go back to the 2004 presidential election, would vote for Bush or Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Kean said, "I've disagreed with this administration," but then acknowledged he would vote for President Bush.

When Kean asked Menendez about corruption allegations and a campaign appearance last week with Democratic state Sen. Wayne Bryant, who faces a federal inquiry into tax-paid jobs he holds outside the Legislature, Menendez lit into his opponent.

"You're campaign has been a campaign of smear," Menendez said. "You smear because you fear. ... You throw out allegations like most people throw out garbage."

Menendez currently leads Kean by 3.5% in the latest RCP Average, though I would expect to see more polls in this race very soon.

October 17, 2006

GOP Doing Better in Northeast

If you notice on our updated House list, the highly targeted Republican incumbents in Connecticut and the Philly suburbs have dropped and appear to be a little more secure that they were over the summer. Of those six seats (CT2, CT-4, CT-5, PA-6, PA-7, PA-8) the GOP is actually in a position to potentially hold all six and could easily keep their losses to only two. Weldon and Shays appear the most vulnerable of that group on our list.

This seems to be the one geographic pocket of good news for Republicans and looks to be confirmed by the release of NPR-sponsored data from GQR and POS that shows the Northeast as clearly the region where Republicans are doing the best in contested house seats. The NPR poll has Republicans trailing in the named congressional ballot by 11% in the West, 8% in the Midwest and 11% in the South versus only 2% in the Northeast.

Jay commented on this a while back, speculating that perhaps Northeastern Republicans, who are always in for tough races, recognized this year would be particularly hard for them and thus have been campaigning aggressively for some time whereas some Republican incumbents in what are thought to be safer GOP districts might have gotten caught a little flat footed.

Another factor in the Connecticut races is that it now looks clear Joe Lieberman's independent bid for Senate is really helping the trio of Connecticut Republicans. It certainly would be ironic if the GOP held the House because of Ned Lamont's big August win.

Steny's Choice of Words

Did the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives (who is white) really tell a Maryland crowd that Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele (who is black) has had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party?" Unbelievably, the answer is "yep."

Initial Crunching of the FEC Numbers

This is a project I hope to do more thoroughly in the next couple of days -- but I thought I might just highlight some surprises I have found thus far on the Democratic side.

My "population" of Democratic seats thus far is the 18 Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents who populate Charlie Cook's toss-up category. The comparison is to those challengers of incumbents from 2004 who eventually raised the minimum amount of money to beat an incumbent that year ($1.5 million). I have not really had a chance to examine whether candidates in races considered to be marginal contests are on track to raise enough cash. This is the question that most interests me -- whether the FEC reports indicate that analysts are underestimating the current playing field. Nevertheless, here are some quick observations on these 18:

1. The average cash on hand for these 18 is about $250,000 larger than it was in 2004. So also is the median cash on hand. Overall, this group of challengers has a lot of money left for the final push.

2. The average total receipts for these 18 is about $450,000 larger than it was in 2004. So also is the median cash on hand. Overall, this group of challengers has been more adept at raising cash than the 2004 crop.

3. There are a few "stragglers" in terms of cash on hand -- some of which are surprising. Democratic challengers Joe Courtney in CT 02 and Steve Cranley in OH 01 have very little cash on hand left. Courtney only has about $210,000 in the bank. Cranley, believe it or not, only has $119,000 in the bank. I had to double check that figure. I just could not believe it. Their numbers are below both the median/mean of 2004 and 2006. This is especially surprising because they have raised more than the median/mean of 2004 and only a little less than 2006. This might be indicative of cash management troubles in these campaigns. I think this is bad news for Democrats in these races.

4. There are a few more "stragglers" in terms of funds raised. Joe Donnelly in IN 02, Brad Ellsworth in IN 08, Ken Lucas in KY 04, Chris Carney in PA 10 and Phil Kellam in VA 02 all have raised less than the mean/median of either 2006 or 2004. This, I think, is much less significant for Ellsworth and Carney because their opponents are, respectively, under-funded and under an informal public ethical scrutiny. They just need less cash because their opponents are, in varying respects, lousy. But I was very surprised to see Donnelly so under-funded, especially given the great poll numbers he has enjoyed. I know that Rahm Emanuel was working hard in the summer/fall to direct cash his way. But it might not matter against Chocola this year. I think the Democrats must be quite disappointed with both Lucas and Kellam -- who both face well-heeled opponents who do not have "baggage." Neither of them registered impressive fundraising totals by mid-Summer, and - while most of the underwhelming fundraisers in this 18 picked up the pace - these two continued to under perform.

If we take money to be a necessary, but insufficient, criterion for success - then this analysis probably dings Democratic prospects a little bit. 5 of these 18 candidates seem to have some problems. I think it could really matter for 4 of the 5.

However, the bigger question remains: how many Democratic challengers were able to do better-than-expected in terms of money? Are any marginal Democratic candidates in a position to come to the mainstream? Are these 5 the exception to a rule that will put a net of more seats on the table? I don't know yet. That will require a much more thorough sifting through the money data. Stay tuned.

Duckworth Strapped For Cash

Speaking of money, the latest filings are in and while it appears some Democrats are faring very well in the money race, Tammy Duckworth isn't one of them.

Despite having raised more money than Republican Peter Roskam this cycle overall ($2,846,923 to $2,459,989), Duckworth has only $200,000 in cash left for the last 21 days of the race. Roskam has over a million five sitting in the bank.

Eric Krol of the Daily Herald said Duckworth supporters were "left scratching their heads" at the news:

For Duckworth backers who might fear the campaign peaked too early, the response coming from her spokeswoman Monday wasn't too encouraging. Spokeswoman Christine Glunz said she didn't know how much money Duckworth has raised since Sept. 30 and didn't know when Duckworth would begin airing TV ads again. [snip]

Duckworth, a Hoffman Esates veteran who's running as a fiscal moderate, has spent her money on a large staff, expensive consultants and an early $1 million TV campaign designed to rebut a wave of attack ads run by the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Duckworth may be broke but she's not totally defenseless. Krol reports the DCCC is dropping $2.3 million in ads attacking Roskam that begin airing today. Still, given that Duckworth has already blown $2.6 million and the race is basically a dead heat, I would think Roskam has to be given the edge.

Rumors have been circulating that Roskam's internal polls show him up five points, and he is a well established figure in the district with a strong GOTV operation while Duckworth is a newcomer whose organization is mostly hired hands brought in by Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC.

This Just In...

RNC dumps $700k into ads opposing Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

Updated RCP House and Senate Rankings

We have updated our Senate and House rankings this morning. A couple of small changes on the Senate side. First, Ohio has have moved to "Lean Democrat" from the "Toss Up" category. It had been our opinion that Sherrod Brown's very liberal record in the Ohio congressional delegation would provide enough fodder for DeWine to keep this race close and coupled with the Republican GOTV make this race a toss up on election day. It may get back there, but it looks like the Republican Party's implosion in Ohio is just becoming too much for DeWine to overcome. Today's Quinnipiac poll shows DeWine moving from essentially tied in mid-September (Brown 45% - DeWine 44%) to down a sizable 12-points. Granted this is only one poll, and a Rasmussen Reports survey taken over the same time gives Brown only a 6-point lead. But with the RCP Average now at Brown +6.8%, and climbing, and with Strickland headed for a huge win in the governor's race, Sherrod Brown has to be considered the favorite.

In Montana, we have bumped Conrad Burns down to only the fourth most endangered incumbent. RCP still has the race rated "Leans Democrat" but, perhaps tellingly, Tester has not been able to put Burns away. The conservative tilt to Montana and the fact that Burns can probably expect strong national support from the GOP down the stretch gives Republicans a shot to hold this seat.

The current RCP Senate Averages project a six seat pick up for the Democrats - but that is with Missouri and Tennessee showing Democratic leads of only 1.4% and 0.8%, and these races are just too close to give either side a clear advantage. Projecting only those races where one party has greater than a 3.5% lead in the RCP Average points to a 4-6 seat pickup for Democrats in the Senate.

On the House side the polling is a lot more suspect. A rough count of RCP's updated House list looks like the Democrats would pickup some where in the neighborhood of 13 - 19 seats (they need 15 for control.) If the final three weeks of the election continue to go the same way the last fourteen days have gone for Republicans, that number could go a lot higher. But the odds would favor a pendulum swing back toward the GOP at least once in the next few weeks.

John Hostettler and Don Sherwood are the only incumbents to crack the Top 5 most vulnerable Republican held seats, and as of today it is hard to see how either of them wins. Indiana State University released a poll this week of 625 likely voters showing Hostettler down 23 points, and while he is almost certainly not down that much, Hostettler's 19th century brand of campaigning may finally catch up to him this year. In Pennsylvania 10, Sherwood's affair and assault allegation in the post-Foley environment looks likely to end his congressional career. The only other incumbent in the Top 10 is NRCC chair Tom Reynolds in New York 26 who looks to be the second direct casualty of the Mark Foley scandal, right after Foley's own seat in Florida's 16 Congressional district.

Numbers 11-20 on the list is where the House will likely be won or lost. In that group of ten seats there are eight Republicans incumbents: Ohio 15 (Deb Pryce), Indiana 2 (Chris Chocola), Pennsylvania 7 (Curt Weldon), North Carolina 11 (Charles Taylor), Connecticut 4 (Chris Shays), Indiana 9 (Mike Sodrel), New Mexico 1 (Heather Wilson), and Pennsylvania 6 (Jim Gerlach). If half of these embattled GOP incumbents can hold on, Republicans stand a good chance of hanging on to the House - but just barely.

The Parlavecchio Letter

Randy Bergmann, the editorial page editor of the Asbury Park Press, writes on his blog that Bob Menendez once did an interesting piece of "constituent service:"

In 1998, back when U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez was Rep. Menendez, he wrote a letter to federal prison officials asking that a father and son who were in jail on racketeering and drug charges be allowed to transfer to a facility closer to home, allowing them to be reunited at Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institute. A Menendez spokesman said the then-congressmen had no relationship with the mobsters, Nicholas and Antonino Parlavecchio, and that writing the letter on behalf of prisoners seeking transfers so visitation would be more convenient was not unusual.

Interesting, no? Especially since Menendez is now running a brutal ad against Tom Kean, Jr. for getting some oppo research on Menendez from a Democrat who is sitting behind bars.

Amy Fagan writes in the Washington Times this morning that Republican hopes of winning in NJ hinge on corruption charges against Menendez. But Kean has been pushing the corruption argument against Menendez since the day the news broke back in early September and after an initial round of polls showed him jumping out to a slight lead, Menendez has moved ahead in nearly every poll taken in the last three weeks and is up 3.5% in the most recent RCP Average.

October 16, 2006

Media Alert

I am going to be on Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 tonight with Roll Call's Mort Kondracke and the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page from 8:30 to 9:30pm Chicago time tonight. Listen live here.

A Thin Reid

Harry Reid will amend his filing to the Senate Ethics committee to make a more full and accurate accounting of his sweetheart Las Vegas land deal. Meanwhile, he's also now going to rectify a "clerical error" which saw Reid use $3,300 in campaign contributions to pay Christmas bonuses to the staff at the Ritz-Carlton building where he lives in an "upscale" condominium.

The AP quotes the former chief enforcement lawyer of the FEC as saying Reid looked to be exploiting a "gray area" in the law:

"What makes this harder for the senator is that this is his personal residence and this looks like an event that everybody else at the residence is taking out of their personal money as they're living there."

Amendments, clerical errors and gray areas. Not exactly the type of pre-election storyline Dems want to see surrounding their leader in the Senate.

Taking Shots at Joe

Lieberman and Lamont met today to debate for the first time since before the August 8 primary. Republican Alan Schlesigner was on stage as well, despite the fact he's only polling at 4%. According to the write up from the Associated Press both Schlesinger and Lamont took turns whacking Lieberman, though Lamont did apologize for the charge made by one of his supporters last week that Lieberman had lied about his civil rights record. (If you're interested, here's the spin from the Lamont camp and the Lieberman camp, respectively.)

Lieberman continues to cruise along in the polls, up a handsome 12.4% in the latest RCP Average.

More DeWine Push Back

Ken Mehlman pushes back further on the Nagourney piece in a 'hastily arranged' press conference (via The Hotline):

"So I wanted to correct the record, make clear that Ohio remains a top priority. And as I said, no state will receive more resources out of the RNC anywhere in the country than the state of Ohio this year. And there is millions more to spend in the coming three weeks, both on turnout and on message."

Saddam's Impact

Will Saddam Hussein's verdict have an impact on the U.S. election? It could be possible.

A Bit More on Today's Column

I have received some excellent comments, in the constructively critical vein, from people today about my column that operationalizes the Big 3 rankers.

A criticism that is worth discussing is whether I can come up with the averages that I did. The averages that I came up with are dependent upon the assumption that each House race is statistically independent of every other House race. In some instances, relatively few, this is a problematic assumption for my column. In others it is not.

First off - what does it mean for one observation to be statistically independent of another? It means that the observation of a "success" in one instance makes the observation of a "success" in another instance neither more nor less probable.

When would it be problematic? Take, for instance, the races in PA 06 and PA 07. These are in the same media market, and one race might be affecting another race. In that instance, we might not be able to consider them independent of one another. Democratic success in PA 06 could help induce Democratic success in PA 07.

But what about, say, FL 22 and IL 06? Is the race in Miami affecting the race in Chicago? Certainly not in a causal sense. To say that FL 22 causes IL 06 is to make a spurious causal claim. In fact, a set of causes is affecting both FL 22 and IL 06, which have no causal affect upon one another. Causally speaking, they are independent of one another. Provided that we have delineated all of the causes that are affecting these races, they are also statistically independent of one another, too.

The proviso of the last sentence is the important point. Think of it this way. Suppose we had, in the first instance, perfect information about the probability that FL 22 would switch to the Democrats, and perfect information about the probability that IL 06 would switch to the Democrats. In the second instance - we find that FL 22 switches. Would we change our estimate of IL 06? No. We would not. Why? Because we already had perfect knowledge about everything that causes IL 06. FL 22 is not one of those causes, and therefore the result in FL 22 does not induce a change in our probability distribution.

On the other hand, if we had, in the first instance, imperfect information about both races, and we found that FL 22 had indeed switched, would we change our opinion about IL 06? We might. If we believe that IL 06 and FL 22 are caused by the same set of forces, a "success" in FL 22 might incline us to update our prediction of a "success" in IL 06. This is akin to what social scientists call Bayesian updating of prior beliefs.

In other words, the column came down to the perfection of information - or, more specifically, the amount of stock you are willing to put into the rankings of the rankers. The rankers have weighed all of the various causal forces affecting each race, and have grouped them based upon those causes. If they have fully and properly delineated and weighed those causal forces, then any variation within their categories should be random. Therefore how one race goes in a given column has no effect on how another race goes.

The "if" in the last sentence is the heart of the issue. And I punted on that one. I said:

Before we get into this - note that this should not be taken as an endorsement of any of these rankings. The idea here is that I am correcting the conventional wisdom based upon the data it most frequently uses. I am not making any comments about whether that data is valid.

This was not a cheap, sophistic move on my part. It was consistent with my overarching analytical question: given that the media uses these rankings to analyze these races, do they have reasons to predict a 25+ seat blow-out? The answer is no. To argue that we should expect something more dramatic, they must be presuming that these rankers have made many pro-Republican errors in their assignments of probabilities. Have they done that? Perhaps. But the point is that this assumption violates their other assumption: that Cook, Rothenberg and CQ are valid guides. To "expect" 25 seats, rather than 15 to 18 - is to disagree with them. You are, of course, free to do that. But don't use them as your evidence for that expectation! That was my point.

Another "Denial Denial"...

...this one from Frist.

The GOP Giving Up on DeWine?

That's the story this morning from The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, who leads off an otherwise newsless and self-evident article (Basic thesis: the parties are strategic utility maximizers. My reaction: Wow...what a scoop! We haven't known that for 20+ years!) with this explosive lead:

Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year's fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said.

The decision to effectively write off Mr. DeWine's seat, after a series of internal Republican polls showed him falling behind his Democratic challenger, is part of a fluid series of choices by top leaders in both parties as they set the strategic framework of the campaign's final three weeks, signaling, by where they are spending television money and other resources, the Senate and House races where they believe they have the best chances of success.


This is extremely surprising -- so surprising that I cannot help but wonder if there is more to the story than this. We'll take it for granted that DeWine is falling behind in their internal polls - though last week the Bliss Institute's poll found him with a slight lead. What I find hard to believe is that the GOP would believe that it is an acceptable strategy for holding the Senate to do the following:
Republicans are now pinning their hopes of holding the Senate on three states -- Missouri, Tennessee and, with Ohio off the table, probably Virginia -- while trying to hold on to the House by pouring money into districts where Republicans have a strong historical or registration advantage, party officials said Sunday. Republicans also said they would run advertisements in New Jersey this week to test the vulnerability of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the few Democrats who appear endangered.
The GOP has decided that their best chance for holding the Senate is to focus on just three races? Ostensibly, they have already ceded 4 seats in all -- PA, MT, RI and now OH. That means they have to go at least 2 for 3 in these three contests. That sounds awfully risky to me.

What is more, one has to guess that the GOP knows that, ultimately, political advertising has a diminishing marginal return. One dollar does not yield a constant return of votes, thanks to the advertising "din" that is created in October. So how does pouring their vast fortunes into 3 races maximize the probability that they hold the Senate?

This article indicates that resources are going to be redirected from Ohio to Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. That's a rational thing to do if and only if the marginal redirected dollar will do more to help the party in these other states than in Ohio. So - it is not simply enough for DeWine's chances to be falling on the wayside. It also requires that, given these falling chances, the marginal dollar is best spent in these other races rather than in the DeWine race. This implies that the party was not already going to spend everything it felt it should in these other states, which in turn implies that their resources are relatively scarce -- which is exactly the opposite of what we have been hearing from them for months. Giving up on a race that is still probably winnable - even if the chance of victory is now at 33%, for instance - is something that a party does when it is suffering from scarce resources. And that is not one of the many GOP problems this year.

And of course, this does not take into account the fact that The Washington Post on Friday reported that the GOP was making Ohio part of its Waterloo-type stand. On Friday -- the final stand was to be made in Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee. Today -- it is to be made in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. Nagourney indicates that this is part of a "fluctuating" Republican strategy -- and he wasn't kidding!

Nor, for that matter, does it take into account the story last week from David Espo indicating that the NRC was involving itself in the Ohio Senate race, stepping on the toes of the NRSC in the process. Espo wrote:

In an unusual move, the Republican National Committee is investing heavily in television advertising in Senate races in Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri in what officials describe as a firewall strategy designed to limit Democratic gains in the Nov. 7 elections and maintain the GOP majority.
So - DeWine has gone from fire wall to down-in-flames in less than a week? It was so important to hold his seat that the RNC was stepping on the NRSC's toes -- and now they are pulling up stakes?

Nor for that matter does it take into account a subsequent paragraph in the article:

Republicans said they remained confident that the party's considerable financial advantage would allow them to hold back a Democratic onslaught over the next three weeks, and they said they were preparing to spend significantly to bulk up any Republican who their polling over the next few days suggested might be faltering.
How does this sort of strategic principle not cover the DeWine race? Did I not read just a few paragraphs up that DeWine is indeed faltering? Did DeWine insult Mehlman's tie or something last week?!

I think there is something more to the story -- and whatever that "more" is, it exists in the undetailed details implicit to this paragraph:

Mr. DeWine has proved to be a successful fund-raiser on his own, and, with $4.5 million on hand, already enjoys a large financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, Representative Sherrod Brown; he is not dependent on financial support to keep campaigning. The Republican National Committee and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee have already spent $4.6 million on his race; party officials said they concluded that there were now simply more opportune races to focus on.
Maybe, then, the Times is drawing the wrong inference from their sources. Maybe they are interpreting Republican accounting procedures (i.e. the party being satisfied with the overall amount spent between the RNC, the NRSC and DeWine) as news of DeWine's demise. This paragraph certainly reads differently from the opener, does it not? This one reads as though DeWine is in fairly good financial shape, and the GOP is moving on to less well-heeled candidates. That certainly makes more sense.

Minimally, there seems to me to be a tension between different paragraphs of this story. And it is obvious that there are tensions between this story and the news from last week. Unfortunately, the agents who could clear it up for us, the national Republican organizations, will not do it because,

Brian Nick, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, "The committee doesn't discuss internal strategy in terms of where financial resources are allocated."

October 15, 2006

GOP Problems Hit Minnesota

On Friday in our updated analysis of the Minnesota Senate race we suggested that:

Kennedy's problems may be a warning sign for Minnesota Republicans in both the Governor's race and Kennedy's current House seat MN-6. Both of these races Republicans were felt to have the edge, but current polls indicate toss-ups.

Today the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a new poll out giving DFL candidate Mike Hatch a 9-point lead over Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The Star-Tribune's polls typically skew towards the Dems; their final Senate poll in the Coleman-Mondale race in 2002 gave Mondale a 5-point lead, he ended up losing by 3. In 2004 their final poll had Kerry ahead by 8-points, he won by only three. And then finally in Pawlenty's first race for Governor in 2002 he did 5 points better on election day than the Star-Tribune's final poll.

All of this is meant to point out that the 9-point lead for Hatch is probably fairly overstated. The RCP Average currently has Hatch with a 2.3% lead, which we suspect is far closer to where this race truly stands. And while down 2.5% is better than being down nine, it's not great for a Governor that many were playing up as a possible VP candidate in 2008. If the wheels don't completely come off for the GOP in these last three weeks we suspect Pawlenty will still pull it out, but he clearly finds himself caught up in the national GOP problems.

This race and the Michigan Governor's race is just another data point that gives you a good idea which way the political wind is blowing. Pawlenty who most felt was safe to hold his seat is now in real a dog fight to keep his job and Granholm in Michigan looks like she has reestablished her footing in a race the GOP had hopes for only 4-6 months ago.

The Pre-Mortem

Glenn Reynolds lays out six reasons the GOP is in trouble this cycle before concluding:

At the end of this process, the Republicans have managed to leave every segment of the base unhappy, mostly over things that weren't even all that important. It's as if they had some sort of bizarre death wish. Looks like the wish will come true . . . .

As I've said before, the Republicans deserve to lose, though alas the Democrats don't really deserve to win, either. I realize that you go to war with the political class you have, but even back in the 1990s it was obvious that we had a lousy political class. It hasn't improved, but the challenges have gotten greater. Can the country continue to do well, with such bad political leadership? I hope so, because I see no sign of improvement, no matter who wins next month.

I'm surprised profligate spending isn't on Glenn's list, because I think it points to a broader problem that connects a lot of the dots. Clearly, part of what has been so depressing to the GOP base is that there is a sense that in just 12 short years Republicans have surrendered some of the fundamental principles which swept many into office in the first place.

It is, as I've written before, a case of unfulfilled expectations. Conservatives have worked hard over the years to elect people who promised to change the culture in Washington D.C. Instead, it looks as if the culture of Washington changed them.

October 13, 2006

Adwatch '06: Fitzpatrick vs. Murphy

This is fairly devastating new stuff from incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick's campaign against Democratic challenger Pat Murphy in PA08:

Murphy's latest video is a 90-second attack against Fitzpatrick over stem-cells:

Santorum's Aggressiveness

Here's a take from someone who thought Santorum KO'd Casey last night. I agree with the point that Santorum's aggressiveness seemed to be a very deliberate strategy which he used to beat on Casey during the debate and then tried to reframe to his advantage in his closing statement when he said:

"I'm a passionate guy. I'm tough, I'm a fighter. But you know what? I'm an Italian kid from a steel town. What do you expect from me? I'm a guy who had to grow up having to scratch and claw. I wasn't born into a family that had a great name. My dad's an immigrant to this country. I've worked hard, just like you do in western Pennsylvania to fight for the things you believe in."

Maybe Santorum's performance will play with voters, maybe it won't. But even if it does, last night isn't likely to change any of the underlying dynamics in this race, all of which are still working against him. Three weeks out from the election Santorum is an incumbent who is polling between 36-41%. Those numbers indicate fundamental problems with his candidacy which are unlikely to be remedied by a single debate performance - no matter how good it might have been strategically.

"Meltdown"

That's the title of the new strategy memo by James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Ana Iparraguirre of Democracy Corps based on new polling in the 49 most competitive Republican-held congressional districts. They write:

We do not often get to write such a report -- changes so large over such a short period that they certainly portend a whole new playing field for the November election. This survey of 1,200 likely voters was conducted in only Republican-held seats, yet Democrats are ahead by 4 points overall in the named congressional vote (49 to 45 percent); indeed, they are ahead by 2 points (48 to 46 percent) in the bottom tier of presumably safest seats.

This vote represents a dramatic change in the state of the race over the last two weeks. The end of the Congress -- with the increased pessimism and anger about Iraq and the Foley scandal and subsequent partisan brawl -- has moved voters to shift their assessments of the parties and their votes. The 1994 election broke at the end; this one just broke. The shift is evident on every indicator -- party, Bush, war, intensity and morale.

The authors go on to say they believe Democrats "have a chance to consolidate gains large enough to affect congressional control over this decade." Read the rest of memo (pdf) and the full poll results (pdf) and judge credibility of that claim for yourself.

Rod's Bad Week

While we're on the subject of corruption, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is having one hell of a week. On Tuesday he pulled out of a debate scheduled for 10/26. The next day he refused to answer repeated questions about whether he's hired a defense lawyer to fend off an ongoing criminal probe.

On Thursday, of course, the Governor's longtime pal Tony Rezko was indicted. Today, Rezko failed to show up for court and is now considered a "fugitive."

Rod is sticking to the "I was lied to" defense, claiming his problem isn't seedy associations with corrupt individuals but naivete. But Rich Miller lays that defense bare in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Once again, Illinoisans are forced to wonder whether their governor is an idiot or a crook or an idiotic crook. You've no doubt heard that Gov. Blagojevich's buddy Tony Rezko was indicted by the feds this week for numerous public corruption capers.

Rezko was the ultimate Rod Blagojevich insider. He raised millions of dollars for Blagojevich's campaign fund. After the election, Rezko recommended tons of people for big-time state jobs. He got people appointed to state boards and commissions, including some who "coincidentally" contributed large sums of money to Blagojevich's campaign right around the time of their appointments. There have been many such "coincidences" in the last four years.

But Rezko was more than just a political pal. Much more. Rezko was one of the governor's most trusted friends. Rezko had an eight-year business partnership with the governor's wife. They attended personal and family events together.

Rezko also appears on the governor's gift disclosure report. Actually, Rezko wasn't listed on the report until Blagojevich was visited by his friendly neighborhood FBI agents, and then suddenly the form was amended.

The Topinka campaign is finally energized and on the attack, though as I said the other day it remains unclear just how much the Rezko indictment is going to help her. This story is all over the place right now, and it could remain there for a while longer especially if Blagojevich tries to go into hiding.

Blagojevich is also still dealing with the fallout from the $1,500 gift given to his young daughter on behalf of a longtime friend that came just two weeks after a job appointment (watch the video of Rod staring blankly, stumbling and simply unable to answer reporters's questions on the matter here) and from questions about the curious nature of the recent property tax assessment on his house.

We should have new polls out in this race soon which hopefully will shed a bit of light just how much Rod's bad week has hurt.

The Election, The Spin and The Expectations Game

One consequence of the Foley scandal is that election expectations have skyrocketed for Democrats. Last week in Roll Call Stuart Rothenberg wrote: "The national atmospherics don't merely favor Democrats; they set the stage for a blowout of cosmic proportions next month." This week the National Journal's Charlie Cook writes: "The fact that the situation has turned grim for the GOP can hardly be disputed......for Republicans to salvage their majorities in the House and Senate, quite a bit would have to change"

After Speaker Hastert's press conference one week ago David Shuster reported to Chris Mathews:

Every Republican that we spoke to today said this has almost guaranteed that the Republicans are not going to keep control of Congress.

If this is anything like Shuster's reporting on Karl Rove's imminent indictment in the Plamegate scandal, perhaps Republicans are a lock to hold onto Congress. But that is another story.

George Will got into the act as well:

If after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain (the House), they should go into another line of work.

Howard Fineman added:

If the Democrats can't take the Hill now, they deserve to go the way of the Whigs.

So what happens if we wake up Wednesday morning after the election and the Democrats have failed to take either chamber on Capitol Hill? Given the expectations that have been hyped these last two weeks (and really the entire year), it is not going to be hard for Republicans and President Bush to claim an enormous victory.

The reality will not be quite that black and white, of course. In many ways the absolute worst thing for the GOP (not necessarily President Bush) would be to hold Democratic gains in the House to 13 seats and go into the next Congress with a totally unmanageable four-vote majority. It can credibly be argued they would be better off for so many different reasons to lose 17 seats and give Nancy Pelosi the unenviable chore of managing a four-seat majority.

Holding the Senate has higher strategic value for Republicans, even if it comes with Vice President Cheney voting to break a 50-50 tie. However, in the bigger historical picture losing 4 or 5 Senate seats is hard to spin as good news for the GOP given early expectations in this cycle. Democrats were defending six states they won with 51% or less in 2000, including Florida and Nebraska - both winnable races for the GOP if they had just fielded their best candidates. The same can be said of North Dakota, which in total gave the GOP seven states they should have been able to make very competitive this election. Instead Republicans are stuck hoping that Menendez's ethical lapses in New Jersey will keep them from being totally shut out.

Now to be fair elections don't occur in vacuums and the relatively poor job approval numbers for President Bush, voter frustration over the mess in Iraq along with the 6-yr midterm trends in favor of the out party are rather powerful forces working for the Democrats. And at the end of the day strategizing Senate cycles into the future is only of so much value because of the tendency of the real world to intrude. September 11, 2001 is a perfect example.

It can argued both ways which party benefits more from winning control of the Senate or the House in 2006, but what really can't be disputed given the expectations and hype that have preceded this election is that a failure of the Democrats to capture at least one chamber in the next Congress will be seen as a victory for President Bush. And if that were to happen that would make him 4 for 4 in elections since 2000, something his critics should ponder.

The Party is Over for Bob Ney

Republican Congressman Bob Ney pled guilty to taking bribes from Jack Abramoff in federal court today. He's facing up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 worth of fines.

Among those connected to Abramoff's extra-legal largesse, Ney is unique in that it was well known he was person referred to as "Representative #1" in Abramoff's January plea agreement. Since that time, I 've often wondered why Ney never showed enough decency or loyalty to the Republican party to step aside earlier. Consider the arc of the Ney story over the last ten months:

- January 3: Exposed as Representative #1 in Abramoff guilty plea
- January 20: Announces bid for reelection
- May 2: Wins primary in OH-18 with 68% of the vote
- May 18: House Ethics Committee announces investigation
- August 14: Withdraws from race
- September 15: News of guilty plea becomes public
- October 12: Pleas guilty in federal court

In retrospect it looks even worse, because Ney lied his way through the primary protesting his innocence even though he probably had a pretty good idea even at that point that he wasn't going to beat the rap against him. (The Republican leadership bears some of the blame as well for not taking a stronger stand against Ney earlier, by the way).

Through a combination of arrogance, ambition, and corruption Ney has arrived at the worst of all possible outcomes: he's going to prison next year as a convicted felon, and by dragging out the process (culminating with a guilty plea 3 weeks before the midterm elections) he's done about as much damage as he could possibly do to the Republican party under the circumstances.

Quote of the Day

"It's going to be nice not to have Hugo Chavez across the Connecticut River representing Vermont at-large. Bernie Sanders and his Sander-nistas should go back to taxi-driving in the Bronx of New York City, where they came from to begin with." - Republican Charlie Bass, caught on tape at a private fundraiser taking a jab at Bernie Sanders.

Bass's opponent, Paul Hodes, called the remarks offensive, but Bass responded: "I guess it's just a reflection on the fact that you can't really have fun anymore in a campaign. I had no ill will of any sort against anybody or any place or anything. It was all said as a couple of introductory lines in jest. I apologize if anybody was offended, but quite honestly I just think we've reached a point where you can't make a joke."

This Just In...

Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post reports the Dems have taken a liking to the "politics of personal destruction" in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.

Florida 13

A month ago I speculated about the negative effect Katherine Harris is having in her old Congressional district. Things have only gotten worse since then.

This week Democrat Christine Jennings released another poll showing her lead over Republican Vern Buchanan expanding to 12 points (50-38) from eight points last month. Also this week, a new independent poll by RT Strategies/Constituent Dynamics shows Jennings leading Buchanan by four (47-44).

So is Jennings really ahead? I think so, especially since this is how Buchanan's spokesperson responded to the Jennings poll:

Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts disputed the poll's findings but would not release any poll numbers to refute it.

"Our internal polling shows that the momentum is on Vern's side," she said, adding that Buchanan's polls show him "within the statistical margin of error."

Again, the only poll that counts is the one taken on election day, and Republicans have a solid registration advantage in the district, so it comes down to a matter of turnout. With Charlie Crist running strong in the Governor's race but Katherine Harris lagging badly in the Senate contest, the GOP ticket in Florida is a mixed bag - especially for Buchanan in Harris's old district. If Buchanan does manage to pull this one out, it'll only be by a hair.

Three Big Debates

There were some big senate debates last night. Here are the round ups:

Pennsylvania - Santorum vs. Casey: The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized the debate as "barroom brawl - minus the fists." And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was even more descriptive

The two candidates interrupted each other, talked over each other, ignored time limits, ignored the moderator and generally stopped just short of playground name-calling and shin-kicking.

To say that KDKA moderator Ken Rice lost control of yesterday's debate between U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and state Treasurer Bob Casey would be fallacious, because it suggests that he ever had control to begin with.

Reading the two round ups it looks as if Santorum got the better of Casey, but it doesn't seem as if he landed any knockout blows or that Casey made any life-threatening gaffes.

The most recent Morning Call poll with Casey up only 5 points has given Santorum some hope, but other recent polls show him trailing by twice that, and he's behind by 9.8% in the RCP Average.

Washington - Cantwell vs. McGavick: The Seattle Times describes their short 30-min debate as "frosty but civil." Right after the debate in Spokane the two candidates met again before the editorial board of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. The Seattle PI reports that "Neither candidate landed any crippling blows during the two polite face-offs....That wasn't good news for McGavick, who needs something to boost his lagging poll numbers."

Cantwell does have this race pretty much in hand at the moment, leading by 9.4% in the RCP Average.

Montana - Burns vs. Tester: The Helena Independent Record says the two men disagreed "pointedly" about every issue except one (not invading North Korea) before a packed house last night.

Tester has maintained a small but stable lead in this race all year long, and at the moment there doesn't seem any reason to believe that won't continue through the last three weeks. Tester leads Burns by 5.0% in the latest RCP Average.

October 12, 2006

SurveyUSA Shows Movement Toward Dems in OH & MO Senate Races

On Tuesday, SurveyUSA released polls in Tennessee and Kentucky that showed post-Foley movement toward Republicans. Tonight they have released polls in Missouri and Ohio that show movement toward Democrats. Ohio's Senate poll moved four points toward Sherrod Brown and now has him with a 14-point lead over Mike DeWine, considerably higher than the RCP Average that has Brown ahead 5.7%. In Missouri, SurveyUSA shows an 8-point move toward Democrat Claire McCaskill giving her a 51% to 42% lead, - again, considerably higher than the RCP Average which stands at McCaskill +1.8%.

So in the Midwest, in four competitive contests in post-Foley surveys from the same polling firm, we have two polls that show 5 and 7 point moves toward Republicans and two polls with 4 and 8 point moves toward the Democrats. I spoke to SurveyUSA's Jay Leve earlier today and he likened the situation to a "bubbling hot tub" where there are no real discernible trends toward either party but rather independent races each going their own way for their own reasons.

FOX News released a generic poll late today that contained (relatively) good news for the GOP as their congressional generic ballot actually moved two points toward Republicans from their last poll in late August. The bad news for Republicans is the RCP Generic Average stands nearly six points higher and gives Democrats a sizable 14.8% lead.

Adwatch '06: Corker vs. Ford

The Corker campaign has unveiled a new ad featuring an unmistakable narrator:

The Ford campaign is out with an add of its own with an appearance by popular incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen:

CO-4: Paccione Takes a Hit

The Rocky Mountain News reports the DCCC yanked $200K for an ad buy for Democratic challenger Angie Paccione in Colorado's 4th Congressional district. The most recent poll, taken by Mason-Dixon last week, has Musgrave ahead by 10.

Only GOP Scandals Worth Covering Before an Election?

Watch this report from the Associated Press and tell me if this was a Republican what the mainstream media would be doing with this story?


I don't know the specifics of this land deal and whether Reid is getting a bum rap, but I can guarantee you that the media would not be downplaying this story if it was a Republican leader with the exact same circumstances.


TOM ADDS: One tidbit also worth noting from the print version of the Associated Press story: "AP first learned of the transaction from a former Reid aide who expressed concern the deal had not been reported properly."

Blago Pal Indicted

A shoe drops in one of the myriad investigations swirling around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Federal prosecutors alleged Wednesday that Antoin "Tony" Rezko used his influence as one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's closest advisers and fundraisers to seek millions of dollars in kickbacks and campaign donations from firms seeking state business.

Rezko's indictment comes less than a month before voters must decide whether to re-elect Blagojevich, a Democrat who won four years ago on a platform of ethics reform in the aftermath of the scandal-tarred tenure of George Ryan.

The governor is not accused of any wrongdoing and the indictment does not mention him by name. But the long-rumored charges have been hanging over Blagojevich's campaign for months.

The indictment alleges that Rezko schemed to extort businesses that came before two state boards with the help of co-conspirator Stuart Levine, a campaign contributor re-appointed to the boards by the governor.

Blagojevich, in a Wednesday evening news conference at his campaign headquarters, described Rezko as a friend and supporter. But the governor played down Rezko's extensive influence in the administration, which ranged from recommending appointees to the governor's Cabinet to low-level jobs at the Illinois Tollway. The governor said he had no personal knowledge of any alleged wrongdoing.

So far Blago has been managing a steady lead against Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka, thanks in large part to a huge war chest and a seemingly endless wave of negative television ads. There is a general sense here in Illinois - perhaps equally as strong among many Democrats as most Republicans - that Blagojevich is terribly corrupt, so we'll have to wait and see if the indictment of one of his associates really does anything to change the dynamic of this race.

Some Thoughts On Redistricting

Bruce Reed had a great post on his Slate blog yesterday that discussed the implications of partisan redistricting. I highly recommend it. Here, I would like to offer first a critique and then, building on that critique, an amplification.

First off, I do think he lays too much blame on the GOP for the current district maps -- it is true that the redistricting of 1992 and 2002 benefited Republicans more than Democrats. But Democrats (a) benefited as well and (b) would be just as eager to engage in it if they could. As Michael Barone is wont to note -- all partisan debates about process are inherently dishonest. To wit -- the "sketchiness" of the DeLay redistricting of 2003 is matched only by the "sketchiness" by the Democratic-engineered maps of the 1990s, which ensured that Texas continually sent a Democratic majority caucus to the Congress despite the fact that, since 1994, a majority of its voters consistently voted for Republican House candidates. Barone is right: partisan debates about political process are little more than B.S.

Of course, I take Reed to be an honest broker here. Partisan jabs aside, he makes an interesting, and quite conservative, normative argument against the change in the nature of the House. He writes: "Rigged districts defeat the very reason we have a House of Representatives in the first place. The founders wanted one chamber that would be held accountable to the popular will every two years."

The House, of course, is not the only chamber to shift from the Framers' original vision. So also has the Senate. In the original design, the House was supposed to be the volatile chamber and the Senate designed to instill stability upon the Congress. However, since Senators have become popularly elected, the more stable branch has actually become the less stable branch, and vice versa. If the vision of the Framers is a normative goal, then perhaps the fact that the House is now more stable, and less inclined to electoral swings, is not such a bad thing.

What is more -- on balance, our institutions are much more democratic (or at least offer the promise of democratic participation, even if people are not actually participating) now than they were at the time of the Framers. The presidency, of course, was not intended to be a nationalized, "first branch" kind of office. And it is now. Nominations for all offices in the days of the Framers were made by legislative caucuses. Then they were, slowly but surely, handed over to party organizations that morphed into machines. Today we have primaries. We even have primaries for the presidency. So -- if the goal is to exercise maximal accountability over elected officials, or at least to have the opportunity to exercise such accountability, 2006 is to be greatly preferred over any other year, static House and all.

Redistricting is not, of course, the only culprit in the "ossification" (my word) of the House. Republicans might have managed to increase the incumbent reelection rate to 98.8% in 2004, but it has averaged 95% since World War II (even in 1994, it still hit about 93%). There are at least five secular trends that cannot be pinned on Rove or DeLay that have helped create the situation we currently "enjoy."

1. The professionalization of the House. The national government's power has quantitatively and qualitatively increased over the last century. As this has happened, so has the appeal of being in the House increased. Combine that with the ease of transportation and other societal changes that have reduced the costs of being in Washington for about half the year - and you have a professional class of legislators. Professional legislators are simply less inclined to voluntarily leave, and open seats have always been the prime source of party switchover.

2. The decline of the state party organization. What Reed seems to be lamenting, above all else, is the decline of competition. Democracy may be more present than ever, but competitive democracy is on the wane. This is probably true, and much of this can be traced to the decline of our state political parties. In the last century, competition for House seats decayed as state party organizations, traditionally in charge of nominating candidates, crumbled in the wake of progressive reforms like the primary system, which terminated the major function of the state parties. Without parties to actively offer up candidates, the number of contested races declined. Candidates became self-starters -- and so contests only emerged in "swing" districts as quality candidates eschewed making a run in a district they thought they would lose. Accordingly, many districts where a party could poll a respectable 40% to 45% -- and therefore win the odd election here and there -- ultimately became entirely uncompetitive.

Strong parties (the kind that the media just downright hates!) are a key ingredient in robust partisan competition. Of these five factors, I would peg this one as the most important (the order of the list is roughly temporal, with most recent trends being last). Unfortunately, political reformers of previous decades undercut the powerful-but-flawed party organizations of the past without replacing them with anything of sufficient power. Today - from a certain perspective, our parties are as weak as they have ever been. It is therefore no surprise to me that competition for the House is at such a low point.

3. The increase in campaign costs. Today's challengers will spend at least $1.5 million to win a House seat from the other party. Very few people have the capacity to raise that kind of cash -- and most donors are not willing to fork over that kind of money for only the glimmer of a hope that an underdog candidate will "ride a wave" into Washington. Increased costs, combined with strategic donors, mean fewer serious challengers come filing deadlines, and therefore less competition.

4. The rise of "new media." Independent of its effect on campaign costs -- new media has effectively personalized House contests. National issues are now seen through the prism of the personalities of the candidates in the race. This necessarily helps House incumbents, who are already well-known in their districts.

5. The tightly aligned nature of the current electorate. The Republicans, in the last 40 years, have slowly-but-surely exploited the tensions inherent to the Roosevelt realignment of 1932. FDR cobbled together a motley crew of political interests under the Democratic Party's banner. The GOP -- in large measure due to their "acquisition" of cultural conservatism -- were able to capture Southern Democrats on the presidential level, and then, ultimately, on the congressional level. Today, most congressional districts are "in sync" -- they vote on the congressional level as they do on the presidential level. This reduces political competition in the House -- as the portions of the nation that are most likely to be dissatisfied with Republicans are also the most likely to be represented by Democrats, and vice-versa.

Has redistricting had an independent effect? Most definitely. The point here is that the trend toward the ossification of the House has been a long time coming and has multiple causes.

Redistricting probably has its greatest role by amplifying most of these trends. Strangely shaped districts maximize sympathetic partisans and therefore the possibility of synchronicity between presidential and congressional elections. Strangely shaped districts require communication across multiple media markets, and are therefore more expensive. Strangely shaped districts ensure that the only political entity whom everybody knows is the incumbent House member, who therefore enjoys a kind of prestige hegemony. Strangely shaped districts cut across county lines and therefore defy control by any local party organization.

Final thought - the move to reform these districts smells to me a lot like the moves to reform our political system over the last 100 years. Our track record at reforming our system - insofar as the political parties are managing the aspect of the system in question - has been horrible. Much of this, I think, is explicable by a tension inherent to America since the time of the Founding (ironically embodied in Madison himself): we absolutely, positively need strong political parties for our democracy; however, we absolutely, positively hate strong political parties! Time and again, thanks to this tension, we have undercut the parties by "reforming" them - and, time and again, our system has failed to improve. Elections did not become more "democratic," government did not become more "responsible." In many instances - like the rise of the primary system, city managers, odd-year elections, and "non-party" ballots - our system has become appreciably less competitive and our government less responsible.

What makes me nervous about "non-partisan reforms" to our districting process is that I worry that they are based upon that good old-fashioned American hatred of our parties, and therefore advocates (a) underestimate the service that the parties perform for us, (b) overestimate the extent to which we can get along without the parties, and (c) underestimate the extent to which the parties, or at least what is left of them, can "manipulate" and "exploit" the reforms, twisting them into something much more unlikable than what initially existed. I mean - look at the absolute, unadulterated mess that the two parties have made of the presidential nominating system!

All in all, I am very wary of proposals that seek to limit party power even further, even if it seems quite obvious that competition or responsibility would increase. That was exactly the argument used by reformers who wanted the primary, my least favorite reform designed to enhance participation, competition and responsibility. Accordingly, I will close with a question: in how many of your community's last five primaries did you vote?

October 11, 2006

Mehlman Looks at the Landscape

As a follow up to Jay's post below about the problems with the media's "the GOP is demoralized" consensus, this interview with RNC Chair Ken Mehlman also makes for interesting reading:

On new polls suggesting that the Republicans could be, in the words of some analysts, in free fall

Let me first say I do think that we are in a very challenging environment. I think that the situation with [Rep. Mark] Foley has made it even more challenging, but ... I have not seen a significant impact in most of the races around the country and I certainly haven't seen a free fall.

The three issues that I think we're dealing with [in the polls]: first of all is the partisanship of the electorate. In the last 25 years, the electorate has ranged from plus-4 Democrat to plus-2 Republican in '02. In the most recent poll's partisanship, USA/Gallup is plus-9 Democratic electorate, ABC News is plus-11 Democratic electorate, CBS/New York Times plus-5, Newsweek plus-8, Time plus-8, AP/Ipsos plus-8. So, every one of these polls has an electorate that looks more Democratic than any electorate has looked in 25 years.

Second, the Gallup specifically is the outlier in the change in the generic ballot. The Pew poll that came out recently showed no change in the generic ballot since the Foley scandal; other national polls have shown on average a 2-point dip, the Gallup showed a 23-point dip, which I don't think is convincing.

The third issue of course is the relevance of the national polls in predicting House races and the challenge that Democrats always have is that our voters are more efficiently distributed. You saw that in the recent battleground that came out between [pollsters] Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas, which showed an 8-point Democratic advantage on the generic ballot. But in the Republican districts that the Democrats have to win to win back Congress, it was even. In the Democratic districts, it was a 21-point Democratic advantage.

There's much more, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day

"I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day. Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody." Republican Congressman Chris Shays, noting that his opponent, who last week called on Speaker Hastert to resign over the Foley episode, brought in Senator Teddy Kennedy for a fundraiser this week.

When It Hurts To Ask

You know the old saying, "it never hurts to ask?" Tell that to Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell:

Mr. Bell left a voice mail message on Mr. [Kinky] Friedman's personal cellphone Tuesday, asking for a meeting at the mystery writer and former bandleader's ranch near Kerrville, Mr. Friedman said.

Mr. Bell later confirmed he sought a meeting so he could try to talk Mr. Friedman into dropping out of the four-way race, which is in its home stretch. The election is Nov. 7.

"I had hoped to talk to Kinky privately, but now that it's been reported by the Dallas Morning News, I'm going to ask him publicly: Please join me in defeating Rick Perry," Mr. Bell said in a statement his campaign issued late Tuesday. [snip]

Mr. Friedman, campaigning in Brownsville, said of Mr. Bell and his advisers: "They're desperate and scrambling."

Asked whether he would consider the Democrat's request to step aside, Mr. Friedman said: "No. You're kidding ... for Chris Bell? What do you take me for?"

Friedman went on to frame the question as a sign of his strength and Bell's weakness saying, "What can it possibly mean other than that we're killing him?" I bet Bell wishes he could have his question back.

In other news in the race, Grandma Strayhorn says she's on the move against incumbent Rick Perry:

Strayhorn said an internal poll taken last week found a 13-point swing, with Perry dropping by five points and her numbers climbing eight points.

She said the poll shows Perry's support at 35 percent and her support at 28 percent of likely voters.

"That was huge movement," she said. "We're right on target. We can win this race."

Get all the latest on the race here.

Adwatch '06: Sodrel vs. Hill

Guess who is featued in Baron Hill's latest ad attacking incumbent Republican Mike Sodrel in IN09 for not representing "Hoosier values?"

Sodrel has responded with an ad of his own slamming Hill:

On The "GOP is Demoralized" Consensus

In yesterday's entry, I discussed the much-vaunted Republican GOTV machine. I asserted that there is little evidence to conclude whether or not it has been efficacious. Oh sure - we have media/journalistic accounts and anecdotes that outline Republican activities in 2004. And these indeed sound very impressive. But it is one thing to outline what the Republicans do, and it is quite another thing to measure the effectiveness of those doings. And we simply lack the data for the latter task.

But this is not to say that we cannot draw some reasonable conclusions about it. The fact that political actors - on both sides of the aisles - believe that it is efficacious says something important.

I left yesterday's post with this question: is the GOP base less "spirited," and therefore less susceptible to mobilization? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to this question. What I intend to outline here could be classified as a critique of the media consensus on the matter. All in all, I suspect that the base is - to some unknown extent - dispirited. My intention here is not to rally my own laundry list of polls to "prove" GOP spiritedness. Rather, I intend to criticize the method media analysts have used to "prove" GOP dispiritedness.

What follows are two rejoinders to the arguments typically offered by the media to justify the dispirited storyline.

1: Underdetermination: When bloggers are critical of media polls, they almost always criticize the one element of a poll that is least susceptible to criticism: the external validity of the sample. This is precisely what pollsters - at least those who follow industry standards - are qualified to do. It is their technical specialty, and so it always seems odd to me to hear non-specialists discuss the external validity of a sample (e.g. the partisan makeup of a set of respondents) - especially when there are other, more fertile, grounds for critique.

The most salient critique stems from the fact that pollsters - at least as far as I know - are not political psychologists. The pundits who interpret their polls most certainly are not. And, while they are quite qualified to put together externally valid samples - they are not necessarily qualified to interpret their own results. And I see a lot of lousy interpretations of polling data in the press - which is to say that I see many inferences from polling data that are (a) deemed to be necessary when they are not or (b) deemed to be probable when they are not.

The inferences drawn from media polling about Republican spiritedness speak precisely to this point. For instance - people look at the crosstabs for a question like: "How much attention have you been paying to the 2006 campaign?" and see that Democrats are registering a much higher positive response rate than Republicans. From this, they infer that Democrats are more likely to vote than Republicans. That is all this is - it is an inference: the response to the polling question is not the voting act itself, nor does a certain answer to the question obligate the respondent to vote or not vote. To move from answers to the question to estimates of the voting act is to draw a causal inference. You are inferring that that which caused the answer to the question will also cause the choice to vote or not vote: Republican voters are not planning to vote and, accordingly, are not paying attention; Democratic voters are planning to vote and, accordingly, are paying attention.

But is this necessary? Is it even probable? Here is another hypothesis that is entirely consistent with that inference: Republican voters assess that the climate is a negative one for their party, and they are paying less attention to politics because they do not like interacting too much with a negative environment -- but when their Republican candidates start to campaign, they will liven up, as those candidates are - by dint of their advertisements - offering something much more positive. That seems to me to be an equally reasonable inference - perhaps even more reasonable, as it recognizes the importance of candidate campaigns in stimulating the electorate.

Do not take this the wrong way. I am not pushing this particular hypothesis over the consensus one. What I am doing is asserting that the consensus hypothesis is underdetermined. There are other, equally reasonable, inferences to be drawn from these media polls - and these equally reasonable inferences are at odds with the media consensus. With the data we have, there is no way to arbitrate between the different interpretations -- because media polls are explicitly designed for maximum news value, not maximum Truth value. They are not like the American National Elections Survey - where we could cross-reference a whole host of questions to test competing hypotheses more thoroughly. We cannot do that with media polls - hence the problem of "underdetermination."

Let me add a general warning. It is one thing to draw an inference about voter preferences. That seems to me to be fairly straightforward. If you call up a voter in Findlay, Ohio on his way out to vote - and he tells you he is going to vote for Sherrod Brown, you can draw a very reasonable inference from that response: the guy is voting for Brown. However, we are not discussing something so simple. Voter spiritedness seems to me to be a very thorny theoretical issue, one that gets to the heart of voter psychology, which is a complicated and difficult subject. It requires much training in statistics, method, and existing scholarly research. When I came to graduate school, I initially focused on political philosophy. I "jumped" to American politics several years ago, and found that -- all in all -- the reading load was much easier to bear. It is just easier for me to understand Robert Dahl's Who Governs? than it is to understand David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. It is less abstract and more obviously related to the day-to-day of my life. Except for the public opinion/vote choice literature. I almost met my end in my public opinion graduate course reading Sniderman, Brody and Tetlock's Reasoning and Choice!

Public opinion is a very hard subject -- wickedly hard, given that at first glance it seems downright easy. The reason it is so complicated, I think, is that those who study it are ultimately interested in how the average voter thinks. However, if you have advanced to a level of political knowledge where you begin to wonder how the average voter thinks, you have probably ceased to lose all "sympathy" (in the Humean sense) to the cognition methods of the average voter! The difference between the two of you now is information -- as you acquire more and more political information, you begin to make political decisions/conclusions in a radically different manner than the average voter. Thus, experts -- broadly defined -- must study the average voter as one studies the "other." Political scientists are aware of this, and so develop very rigorous theories that treat the average voter with this kind of respect. Political pundits seem to me to have no awareness of the difference between themselves and the average voter, and so proceed to blithely make all kind of factual/methodological mistakes in "interpreting" him/her. I think they ultimately go wrong because generalize their own cognition processes to the rest of the electorate, which I think is very egotistical - but that is a subject for another day!

Simply stated, I think that most of those in the media who try to "do" voter psychology without lots of years of training in it are probably talking out of their you-know-what's.

2: The Ecological Fallacy: It is looking increasingly like the difference between a Democrat-run House and a Republican-run House is coming down to who wins the following districts in the Midwest: IN 02, 08, 09, KY 04, OH 01, 15, 18. In terms of mobilization, this is a very specific slice of the GOP electorate. To what extent does it differ in politically relevant ways from the rest of the GOP-inclined electorate? Indiana and Kentucky, according to SurveyUSA, have a relatively high estimation of Bush. Ohio has a relatively low estimation of Bush. Are its GOP voters different in terms of spirit in the same way? If they are, then the ecological fallacy has reared its ugly head once again: when the extent of spiritedness varies within the whole nation, we cannot draw inferences about the parts of the nation from surveys of the whole nation.

Those national polls that tell us about GOP spiritedness are almost always polls of the national GOP base. Common sense indicates that the GOP base is probably somewhat dispirited everywhere -- so the difference between California base voters and Kentucky base voters is probably one of degree only. But the size of the degree is impossible to judge.

This is a species of a general problem that has dogged the media in their endeavors to explain the House (and, to a lesser extent, the Senate) contests that are quickly approaching. This battle is being fought in, at most, 40 House districts, or little less than 10% of the nation. How can we so blithely use national survey data to draw inferences about the situation in this small sub-sample? This is invalid reasoning!

One might call this the Washington Redskins fallacy - the Skins so often like to cherry-pick good players/coaches from other teams, ostensibly under the conclusion that, since Steve Spurrier (for example) was the head coach of the Gators, and the Gators were such a good team, Spurrier will make the Skins a good team. This does not follow - as we all know. The mistake is called the ecological fallacy: you cannot draw inferences about parts of a whole from data of the whole.

Again - do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing for one interpretation of GOP spiritedness over another. My broad point in this entry is that we lack the data to make a valid inference either way because (a) the data leaves our preferred hypothesis underdetermined and (b) the data does not speak to electoral outcomes, as the latter will be determined by a tiny portion of the whole.

More Debates

More debates last night:

MI Gov - Granholm (D)* vs. DeVos (R): Detroit News story | Detroit News editorial | Detroit Free-Press story | Detroit Free-Press analysis

PA Gov - Rendell (D)* vs. Swann (R): Philly Inquirer story | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story

KY03 - Northup (R)* vs. Yarmuth (D): Louisville Courier-Journal story

RI Gov - Carcieri (R)* vs. Fogarty (D): Providence Journal story

Even Ted Kennedy had to spend some time debating his challenger. And in a race of some local import here in the Chicago area (Cook County Board President), Republican Tony Peraica and Democrat Todd Stroger faced off.

Washington 8 Debate

Republican Congressman Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner met for their first and only face off last night. The Seattle PI called the debate "mean-spirited and bare-knuckled" as the two went after each other and Reichert tried to maintain his composure before combative Burner supporters in the crowd:

Burner never had Reichert, the former King County sheriff, on his heels, but he did get visibly angry as she and the crowd vented their frustration about issues ranging from the Iraq war to health care.

He countered with measured responses to her campaign's criticisms and consistently tried to redirect the debate away from the broader direction of the Bush administration and back to his own accomplishments and policy decisions.

"This is the United States of America, and at some point, Ms. Burner, you are going to have to come out from behind the bushes and recognize I am your opponent," Reichert said. [snip]

"I understand independence. I understand taking a stand. I understand firing people. I understand hiring people. I understand promoting people. I understand discipline. I understand terrorism. I understand the law. I understand your rights," Reichert said in an increasingly strident voice. [snip]

The audience jeered when Reichert said he "worked 19 years to catch a serial killer," a reference to his work apprehending Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, but he held his ground.

"It's not comic to the victims and their families," he said.

The Seattle Times report adds:

The candidates were allowed to ask each other a question. Reichert asked what Burner has done for her community, and she said she worked for good values at Microsoft, volunteered as a youth sports coach and on a community board near her home in the Carnation area.

Burner asked Reichert to defend his wavering and "unprincipled" stances on stem-cell research, global warming and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reichert explained some of his votes and said it would be easy for voters to support him based on his long record.

Meanwhile, the 8th district is "awash in ads." Liberal blogs
are slamming Reichert for a mistake in his latest ad which, according to David Postman at the Seattle Times the Reichert campaign has said they will correct.

This race is going to be tight, and bitterly fought, until the very end.

Battle in CO-5

I meant to comment on this Mason-Dixon poll from CO-5 the other day. Even despite the post-primary ugliness and dissention in the district on the part of the GOP, it's still a bit of a shocker.

Republicans say they'll easily hold the seat, but Democrats believe that retired USAF officer and Gulf War vet Jay Fawcett has a shot at the upset. Either way, it's probably true that this year is the best chance the Dems have ever had to crack the CO-5 nut, which has never voted their way in 34 years. The Rocky Mountain News has more details.

The GOP Gov Hit List

The Republican Governor's Association is targeting races in the following six states: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan and Oregon.

At first blush, I'm suprised to see Wisconsin missing from the list. If you believe the polls, Mark Green seems to be in a much better position of scoring an upset than Topinka in Illinois or Hutchinson in Arkansas.

Go here for a full list of Governor's races, along with competitive contests in the House and the Senate.

Following the Money

On the new list of independent expenditures filed yesterday, one entry stands out. According to PoliticalMoneyLine, the Kentucky State Democratic Central Committee just dumped $104K on an ad buy supporting Mike Weaver in Kentucky's 2nd Congressional district.

Kentucky 2 is a hard-core GOP district (Cook Partisan Voter Index R+13). Bush won there by 31 points in 2004 and six -term incumbent Ron Lewis beat his Democratic opponent 68-32. With what looks to be much better pick-up opportunities in KY03 and KY04, this seems like a colossal waste of resources - unless Dems in Kentucky have reason to believe Lewis showing signs of being vulnerable, of course.

Lewis was the first to cancel a fundraiser with Speaker Hastert in the wake of the Foley scandal back on October 4 and his opponent, a former Army Colonel and state rep with a very conservative voting record, is pushing the Foley issue hard - maybe a little too hard, in fact.

It's very hard to see how Weaver pulls the upset, but the fact Kentucky Dems are spending so much money in KY02 makes it a race worth keeping an eye on.

October 10, 2006

Good News for the GOP in Tennessee and Kentucky

SurveyUSA has two new polls out tonight one in the House and one in the Senate that show Republicans Bob Corker in Tennessee and Rep. Geoff Davis in KY-4 actually picking up support since their previous polls in September. In Tennessee in polling taken all post-Foley (Oct 7-9) Bob Corker is now ahead of Rep. Harold Ford (Corker 48% - Ford 46%) in the battle for the seat held by retiring Majority Leader Bill Frist. That is a 5-point turnaround for Corker since SurveyUSA's last poll. In Kentucky's 4th congressional district Rep. Geoff Davis has seen a seven-point swing since mid-September and now leads 47% - 44%, again in polling taken all post-Foley (Oct 7-9).

So far there have been six national generic polls in the field after October 5th, and as I wrote earlier this morning, it is pretty clear from the RCP Generic Average that the Foley scandal has hurt Republicans at least as far as the generic ballot is concerned, but how much this would translate to individual races and whether this was only a temporary blip down were still very open questions.

I laid out the concerns for Republicans this morning, but of concern for Democrats is at the end of the day people don't vote for the generic candidate and voters in New York City, San Francisco and Kansas don't have a say in who is going to win Congress this year. It is voters in states like Tennessee and districts like Kentucky 4 where this election will be won and lost. And in a day of bad poll numbers for the GOP they would gladly trade a whole host of individual race polls showing improved Republican prospects in critical toss-up states and districts for every generic ballot predicting doom for the GOP.

Newt's Postscript

Newt Gingrich signs off his latest Human Events column with the following postscript:

As you listen to Nancy Pelosi promise to clean up what she calls a "swamp" of congressional problems, remember the following facts from her record:

1. Pelosi voted three times to make a convicted page sexual predator, former Congressman Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), chair of a congressional committee.

2. In 1990, Pelosi voted against censuring Barney Frank for having his live-in boyfriend run a prostitution ring from Frank's apartment.

3. Pelosi raised no objections when Clinton pardoned Democrat Congressman Mel Reynolds (Ill.) who had been convicted of felonies for having had sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker.

The historic Nancy Pelosi is an authentic representative of San Francisco liberal values and hardly has the record to lecture anyone on cleaning up the Congress.

Will GOP Mobilizaiton Make A Difference?

Peter from Pasadena writes with an excellent question:

I am hoping that at some point you might comment at the site on the election and polling impact of the micro-targeting and 72-Hour turnout techniques that we have heard so much about the Republican Party using. These techniques have evidently been responsible for anomalous and ahistoric levels of GOP turnout when specifically and thoroughly applied in the last few election cycles. Are they powerful enough to drive surprise elections results on November 7? If so, to what degree?

This is a really fantastic question. Unfortunately, it admits of little more than an anecdotal/intuitive answer. The effect of voter mobilization upon final vote turnout is something that has been under-studied in scholarly circles. I think this has to do with a lack of data. Offering a rigorous test of voter mobilization -- one that makes a serious attempt to identify whether the apparent link between turnout and mobilization is not simply a product of spurious causality -- would be difficult to do because parties, candidates, and outside interest groups do not offer the details of their programs to social scientists.

To appreciate this, consider what we would have to do to really test the effectiveness of mobilization. You would build a model that predicts the final vote in a district that depends upon a whole host of factors like demography, candidate spending, voter interest, etc. To inquire whether the 72 Hour Program makes a difference, you would include a measure of it in your model. Ultimately, your goal would be some kind of equation that predicts how a party's share of the vote. For instance:

Republican Share of Vote in District = Baseline + Influence of Demographic Features + Influence of Candidate Spending + Influence of Voter Interest + Influence of Resources Dedicated to GOTV Effort

The idea here is that each of the factors on the right-hand side of the equation has an independent effect on vote choice. We would expect the GOP GOTV's efforts to be positively related to GOP share of vote, holding all of the other variables constant, and that its positive relationship is not explicable by simply random factors (i.e. the difference between the reported effect and 0 is outside the "margin of error").

The problem is that we cannot really "operationalize" the final variable, resources dedicated to GOP GOTV effort, because we lack the data. This is a general problem with the parties: they are public-private organizations, and only required to release financial data at a level of specificity that is much lower than what we need to "run" this model. What is more, they are not required to release information on how they organize their operations - so we cannot even necessarily use a measure like "RNC Spending In State" because who knows to what extent the state/local parties are picking up the tab for GOTV efforts. There is plenty of legal "money laundering" that goes on between party organizations.

So - we cannot say conclusively that the GOP's 2004 efforts had a decisive effect, nor can we make a conclusive argument for 2006. We simply lack the data.

My intuition is that mobilization will make a difference, though not as much as it did in 2004 and 2002. Observing political actors gives us some prima facie evidence on this front. I tend to heavily discount the "conventional wisdom" of journalists/pundits because the nature of their jobs is to just offer endless pontification -- day in, day out. There is no consequence if a pundit is wrong. No real reward if a pundit is right. So, they can go down any randomly incorrect causal path and it will not make one whit of a difference in the world. Their job is just to "blah blah blah" all day, right or wrong. Political operatives are very different. Unlike the pundit class, where there really are no stakes whatsoever, the stakes are high among politicians and their strategists. And I have noticed that all political operatives seem to be in awe of the GOP's current program. The GOP views it as their secret weapon. The Democrats view it as that which could doom them. Apparently, its force is so great that it induced Dean, Schumer and Emanuel -- three incredibly assertive and self-confident "alpha" males, who between them strongly hold two radically different visions of the future of their party -- to reach an armistice. That is something.

More generally -- voter mobilization is a long-standing tradition of American politics. If it did not work, I suspect that strategic politicians would have moved away from it long ago. So, the fact that we cannot demonstrate its efficacy via a statistical model does not mean that it is ineffective. Our inability is a testament to our lack of data.

As I mentioned, I think the difference will be less than it was in 2004 and 2002. The presumably dispirited state of those the program seeks to mobilize seems to me to necessarily reduce its efficiency (i.e. it will cost the GOP more money to be as effective as it was in the past). Mobilization reduces the costs (and increases the benefits) of voting by reminding people to vote, by helping them get to the polls, by making them feel like they are performing a civic duty, etc. Accordingly, its effectiveness is predicated upon the voter's assessment of the costs/benefits of the voting act. If GOP voters are seeing lower benefits to voting because of dispiritedness, then the same amount of mobilization activity will be less effective, as the average voter needs "more" to get him to the polls.

But just how dispirited is the GOP base? Is the media correct about their assessment of it? I'll try to tackle that tomorrow.

Mehlman Takes Control in Bid to Hold Senate

From a Republican strategist who I have found to be quite perceptive and insightful over the years......

The AP story on Drudge last night about the RNC taking the unusual step of running ads in the Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri Senate races, on its own with out coordinating with the NRSC, is a tell. What many of us that work in this business know very well is that Liddy Dole is completely inept and the NRSC is not the powerhouse it was under George Allen. It is clear that the RNC knows we are going to lose seats in both the House and the Senate, and it is probably worse for the last two years of the Bush Administration to have lost the Senate than it is to have lost the House.

I don't think they are writing off the House per se, it is just that Dole's handling of the races -- candidate recruitment, fundraising, message discipline, staffing, consultant selections, etc... -- has been below par and the RNC wants to insure Republicans hold at least one chamber. Today's WaPo story about the GOP bracing for a loss of 7-30 in the House is probably right, but overblown. At the end of the day even with all of the Foley nonsense I STILL don't think it will reach 15. It could, but I don't think so.

Adwatch '06: Sherwood vs. Carney

Want to know how much trouble incumbent Republican Don Sherwood is facing in PA-10? Watch these two ads. First, the ad from Sherwood's Democratic opponent, former Naval officer Chris Carney:

Now the reply from Sherwood himself:

Foley Scandal Whacks GOP in Generic Ballot

In last Thursday's "Election Analysis in a GOP Market Meltdown" I suggested:

I wouldn't put a lot of weight in any of them (the polls) until we see polling that has been in the field this Wednesday (Oct 4) and later.....the only thing I would say for certain is the political volatility has exploded, but I would sure be nervous if I was holding a lot of long GOP futures.

Well we now have five major media outlets out with polls, all in the field October 5th and later, and the RealClearPolitics Generic Average has moved 5.5% towards the Democrats, to a whopping 16.6% spread. With four weeks until Election Day that can not be spun as good news for Republicans.

It's clear now that the Foley scandal has hurt Republicans in national Generic polling, what isn't clear is whether this movement will flow through to individual Senate, House and Governor races across the nation. Common-sense suggests that it will, what is unknown is the degree. What is also unknown is how much this is a temporary drop due to the intensely negative media coverage.

I do think the generic numbers will move back towards the Republicans rather soon and I also am skeptical as to how much this negativity towards Republicans generically will flow through to individual races. But in a midterm election where motivating core supporters to get to the polls and where so many races, both in the House and the Senate, are so close the real danger for Republicans is this scandal provides the margin the Democrats need to get over the top in the 3-4 brutally close Senate races (Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and New Jersey) and another 15-20 House races (#'s 10 - 30 on RCP's list).

This is the Republicans fear - and it is a legitimate one.

October 09, 2006

Does Santorum Have Some Hope?

Maybe Rick Santorum isn't completely out for the count in his battle for a third term in Pennsylvania. Rasmussen Reports released numbers that were in the same ballpark as Zogby and Quinnipiac giving Casey a 13-point lead, but Muhlenberg College in their Morning Call Poll taken in six days of polling, all post-Foley, gives Casey only a 5-point lead, 46% - 41%.

This could be an early sign of something interesting developing or it could just be an outlier. It certainly would be ironic if Rick Santorum closed in Pennsylvania while the media was fanning the flames of Foley and IM's in Washington.

More Foley

John Fund has a good article today (Tom also commented on earlier) on the how Congressional staffers may have significantly contributed to, if not in fact caused, the Foley scandal. I don't know how much at the end of the day that absolves Denny Hastert, I fully believe the Speaker when he says he didn't know about the salacious and repugnant IM's or behavior until ABC broke the story 10 days ago, but that doesn't mean that Hastert's staff didn't know considerably more, and ultimately the Speaker has to take the responsibility for what his office knew and didn't do.

Bloomberg's Al Hunt takes a look at the political hypocrisy in the high-minded moralizing in these Washington sex-scandals, but he tries to score a cheap partisan point at the end of an otherwise good column, with a charge that Democrats and their allies in the press have been repeating since this story broke:


Other Republicans will pay a price because leaders were told about Foley's habits and failed to stop him. As my colleague, Margaret Carlson, wrote, they were more interested in saving a seat than saving a child.

That is a nice catchy sound bite, but the problem is there is no truth to it.

GOP leaders or their staff may have been protecting Foley for a number of reasons, but wanting to save the "seat" is not one of them. Florida 16 is a strong Republican district and the easiest thing for GOP leaders to do if they wanted to "save the seat" would have been to chuck Foley to the wolves and put up any other Republican in the district. The district is so Republican in fact, Joe Negron, has a shot at winning (I'll admit surprisingly) even though Republicans have to vote for Mark Foley on November 7.

The reason this misrepresentation is repeated over and over in the press is because it is one of the most damaging PR aspects of this scandal for Republicans. The change that Republicans were covering up Foley's gay predatory behavior to save his seat in the battle for the House is a killer politically -- and if it were true -- Republicans would be doomed.

They may have been covering for Foley for other reasons, but it wasn't to save his seat.

Can GOP Get National Security Back Into Focus?

By almost any standard, the testing of a nuclear bomb by a rogue regime is a pretty significant event. It is also, one would hope, worthy of a great deal of attention and a far more serious debate than the one we've been having for the last ten days over a few pervy IMs from a gay Congressman.

Obviously, with only 30 days or so left to the election, this represents a pretty big, and perhaps final opportunity for Republicans to put the focus back on national security - though with a slightly different twist. In addition to talking about Democratic weakness in fighting terrorism (Patriot Act, NSA terrorist surveillance program, detainee interrogation program, etc), Republicans will almost certainly start talking loud and long about missile defense.

Specifically, since part of the GOP playbook this year has been trying to scare voters with the idea of Speaker Pelosi, expect Republicans to make her record on missile defense an issue. It won't be hard. A quick Google search turns up this 2003 speech to the Global Security Institute where she accepted the Alan Cranston Peace Award by telling the crowd:

"The United States does not need a multi-billion-dollar national missile defense against the possibility of a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile."

Or they might refer to her floor statement of March 18, 1999 when she urged her colleagues to vote against a bill (HR4) to establish a national missile defense system, saying flatly, "we do not need a missile defense." Pelosi joined 101 other Democrats - exactly half the party's caucus in the House - in voting against the measure.

Republicans might also point out, for the record, that the Senate version of the bill passed the day before by a vote of 97-3. All three who voted against were Democrats: one now deceased (Paul Wellstone), one who will chair the Judiciary Committee in a Democratically-controlled Senate (Pat Leahy), and one who will be the right hand man to Majority Leader Reid (Dick Durbin).

For their part, Democrats will claim that North Korea's nuclear test represents a failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy over the last six years. Republicans will undoubtedly respond by pointing out that Bill Clinton's policy toward North Korea in the final six years of his administration (aka the 1994 Agreed Framework) was an abject failure. We've had this discussion before already, but Republicans will be more than happy to sling mud back and forth and refight the issue of whose to blame over North Korea because it keeps the focus off Mark Foley and off Iraq

It may not be exactly the fight the GOP wanted to have for the final four weeks of the midterm election, but it will certainly do. Beggars, after all, can't be choosers.

Can the GOP Hold FL 16?

Over the weekend, a few articles were published that argued that the GOP stands a chance in FL 16. Do they? This is an interesting question, one worth taking a second to investigate.

First off, most proponents only argue for the possibility that Republican state representative Joe Negron, the man the state party selected to "accept" Foley votes, has a chance. Their objections seem to be against the argument that a Mahoney win is a foregone conclusion. So -- it is not as though they are giving Negron better than even odds. They are just asserting that the odds are non-zero.

The best argument to this effect is district partisanship. Bush carried FL 16 easily in both 2004 (by 8%) and 2000 (by 6%). Republicans outnumber Democrats by a wide margin in this South-Central district. However, even though it is an extremely powerful determinant, partisanship is not really an immediate determinant of congressional vote choice. Most people don't vote for a guy they dislike because he caucuses with the correct party. Partisanship seems to help form the context that helps create evaluations of the candidates on the ballot. Another background determinant, more powerful than district partisanship, is level of political information. Political information is one reason you often see Republicans voting for Democratic incumbents, and vice-versa. They simply do not know anything about the other person on the ballot -- and, for most voters, the choice is ultimately based upon evaluations of the two candidates.

In other words, candidate evaluation is the immediate cause of vote choice -- what the voter thinks of the two candidates is usually how he will vote. Personal partisanship is one factor that goes into the evaluation - people are inclined to evaluate positively those who share their party ID. But so also is information - people cannot fully evaluate those about whom they know nothing.

My feeling is that while district partisanship is indeed an asset for Negron, voter information is a huge and decisive liability. Negron is simply "asking too much" of voters in the district.

For voters in Florida's 16th Congressional District to cast a ballot for him, they are going to have to possess unique information to even begin to evaluate him as a candidate. Not only do they need to know things about him to develop sufficiently positive opinions of him, they also need to know that he is actually on the ballot. This forms a prerequisite for Negron's victory because -- in a Foley v. Mahoney match-up -- Mahoney wins in a walk. This is Negron's major problem, and I would estimate that it is a decisive one. There will be a lot of voters on Election Day who do not know of the situation, or at least know of it sufficiently well enough to be able to vote for "Foley." They will walk into the voting booth, perhaps knowing a little bit about Negron from advertisements or mailings, perhaps knowing enough to intend to vote for him, but will be surprised to see Foley's name on the ballot next to Mahoney's. As ultimately their choice boils down to which man they prefer more, they will vote for Mahoney.

Why is this the case? It is not because average voters are stupid, mind you. It is because they just do not know as much about politics as you do. Their store of political knowledge is much smaller. If you are reading this post, it probably means that you can be counted as a political elite - so defined by partisanship, issue salience, level of information, etc. You, therefore, are not like the average voter. Unfortunately, the pundit class usually fails to make the proper distinctions between the elite voter and the average voter - but the differences are very important. The latter know much less about politics than the former. As information is a prerequisite for vote choice, Negron has a huge disadvantage.

(Side note: for those who might be inclined to think I am being condescending, I assure you that I am not. The issue here is knowledge base, not intelligence. I think that the media/pundit class is actually condescending when it comes to the average voter. Compare our arguments about FL 16. Which is more condescending: to argue that voters will not know what a vote for "Foley" means; or to argue that they will know, but that they are so shallow and focused on symbolism that they cannot "hold their noses" long enough to vote for their political interests, and instead vote against those interests?)

For Negron, the way to overcome this is to get the message out. Theoretically, he could overcome it. The problem is a lack of political information - which could be supplied with a sufficient number of dollars spent on advertising run for a sufficient length of time. His task would be to make sure that his minimal winning voting coalition understands the situation - that half-plus-one of the partisan electorate (a) knows that a vote for "Foley" is a vote for Negron and (b) prefers Negron over Mahoney. At most, district partisanship inclines the electorate in FL 16 toward (b). It does not speak to (a), which is a necessary condition - and a hard one to meet.

So -- I would say that the answer to the title question is "No." Negron might have district partisanship aiding him, but a vote for him requires a level of information that is just too great for the average voter to acquire just 4 weeks before Election Day.

The Battle For Florida 16

The Palm Beach Post reports on the frenzied battle currently taking place in Mark Foley's district:

Despite Negron's uphill climb -- with just 14 days until early voting starts -- few professional politicians are ready to hand the seat to Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney.

Negron's best hope, analysts said, is the demographics of the district. Florida's Republican-dominated legislature gave the district a more socially conservative base when they redrew the districts in 2002, by dropping much of southwest Palm Beach County from the district and adding most of Charlotte County.

The changes increased the number of registered Republicans by just two percentage points, but the difference in performance has been staggering.

The old district wanted Al Gore as president and Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate in 2000. Voters in what would become the new district picked George W. Bush and Bill McCollum, who lost to Nelson by five percentage points.

In 2004, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez finished six points higher than Democrat Betty Castor in the district. The rest of the state also chose the Republican, but by just one-tenth of a point. [snip]

The only way for Negron to undermine Mahoney's year-long campaign and to overcome the horrendous publicity attached to Foley's name, analysts and politicians said, is for state and national Republicans to bring in their sluggers on short notice and make an epic push to mobilize Republican voters.

"If the party comes forwards and really helps him get the Republican base to the polls, he can win," said state Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who ran for the seat briefly in 2003. "You absolutely have to make sure you get the voters to the polls."

The National Republican Campaign Committee spent $21,000 on a poll for Negron last week, according to a Federal Elections Commission filing, and sent in a campaign manger. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman plans to travel to the district to help raise money.

"Things are happening," Negron said. "The party is not going to just throw up its hands in despair. This race has national implications."


Here's another interesting tidbit from the Florida Herald Tribune:

For 18 months, Negron was a candidate for the state attorney general's post, until he dropped out in July.

He estimates that about 60 percent of the $1.5 million raised in that contest can be applied to the current race.

I don't want to paint too optimistic a picture for Negron, even with a decent amount of money and support from Jeb Bush and others in a conservative leaning district, he faces an incredibly tough challenge to reach out to enough voters in just 30+ days to introduce himself and to educate them about the need to overcome their disgust and cast a vote for Mark Foley on November 7. Negron really is sailing in uncharted waters.

The Kolbe Revelation

John Fund writes today:

Now Washington is filled with speculation that Mr. Trandahl [former House Clerk] and other staffers might have been trying to cover up for Mr. Foley. On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Jack Kingston, vice chairman of the Republican Conference, raised the idea that "there was a staffer or two who decided to maybe protect Mark Foley for reasons unknown."

The Washington Post has reported that Mr. Trandahl is on the board of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign and is "personally close to the now-disgraced former lawmaker, who announced through his lawyer this week that he is gay."

Now the Washington Post is reporting this morning that retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe, the only openly gay Republican member of Congress, was shown sexually explicit messeages between Mark Foley and a page six years ago:

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. Last week, when the Foley matter erupted, a Kolbe staff member suggested to the former page that he take the matter to the clerk of the House, Karen Haas, said Kolbe's press secretary, Korenna Cline.

Kolbe's press secretary said "corrective measures" were taken, though it is unclear exactly what that phrase means other than it appears Kolbe confronted Foley about the messages shortly after he learned about them.

If this story turns out to be true and no other actions were taken against Foley, it would appear there was an effort on behalf of at least one gay Republican member of Congress to "protect" Mark Foley by handling the matter privately and by not referring an obviously sensitive and serious incident through the proper chain of command in the House.

October 07, 2006

Updated House Rankings

Yesterday we updated our list of vulnerable House seats. In the wake of the Foley scandal it is worth checking out. PA-10 continues to move up, and with scandal back in news the incumbent Don Sherwood who has his own little scandal because of a 5-year affair (Sherwood has admitted the affair, but denies charges that he assaulted her) looks to be in big time trouble and is now our most vulnerable incumbent. NY-26 where NRCC chair Tom Reynolds had been relatively safe is now clearly in a race for his personal political survival against wealthy businessman Jack Davis. Open seats continue to be the biggest problem for the GOP and make up 6 of the top 10 most vulnerable with FL-16 and OH-18 as new entrants. The highest ranked Democratic seat IL-8 continues to drop and doesn't hit the list until #30.

Foley '06 Fallout and the New York Times

The New York Times has a front page story on the GOP fallout from the Foley scandal with a sub headline: "In Wake of Page Scandal Party's Religious Wing Appears Dispirited." Adam Nagourney goes on to write:

More immediately -- and more alarmingly for Republican strategists who have looked to the party's powerful voter turnout operation to save the party this year -- there are signs that the furor is sapping the enthusiasm of a group essential to Republican victories in 2002 and 2004: religious conservatives.

One little problem with this assertion, is it really true? From the evidence we have seen, to date, it is not.

There is no question that the scandal destroyed the momentum that President Bush and the White House had built with the refocus on terrorism and national security issues, culminating with the vote in Congress on detainees and interrogations. And I should be clear to say, this is not meant to be an argument that the Foley scandal has not hurt Republicans significantly, there is a real possibility that it has put the GOP in a hole so deep they can not get out of it over the next four weeks. But I think the damage, so far, has been more with moderates, Independents and libertarians rather than with religious conservatives.

As far as the extant to which it has ultimately hurt GOP '06 election prospects, I think we will have to wait and see more polling, and more importantly, see whether this story can sustain itself with the same intensity next week. Where Republicans have definitely been hurt are races like Rick Santorum and Michael Steele for the Senate. Both Santorum and Steele were facing an uphill climb (pre-Foley), but they had a hope that if Republicans could sustain some of the momentum President Bush had built, and had their campaigns executed well, they had a chance at puling out wins. With the Foley explosion likely to have destroyed two crucial weeks on the calendar and with it not only halting GOP momentum but throwing Republicans back even further, I think is safe to say the Foley scandal has put these races out of reach.

But Pennsylvania and Maryland were Senate races the GOP was likely to lose anyway. The real question is does this scandal provide the margin for the Democrats in Missouri, Tennessee and Ohio in the Senate, as well as 15-20 more House races than Democrats otherwise would have won?

October 06, 2006

More Barone

Michael Barone has more thoughts on Foleygate. Like everything else he writes, it's a must read.

Dem Corps Poll

New post-Foley scandal Democracry Corps poll out. The survey of 1,000 likely voters was in the field Sunday, October 1 through Tuesday, October 3. I skimmed the topline numbers quick and they didn't seem drastically different.

Foleygate in MN-6

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune went back and interviewed a half dozen people from the sixth congressional district to see how the Foley scandal was playing and found:

"They're disgusted and repelled by the Capitol Hill sex scandal, but they say the still-unfolding tale isn't likely to change their vote on Nov. 7."

Six people is not exactly a statistically significant sample, but it's interesting reading nonetheless.