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September 29, 2006

What Gives at the St. Pete Times?

Here's a question. In the world of today's media, you'd think that if a reporter learned that a 52 year old single male member of Congress had sent a 16 year old boy some creepy emails, that would be the makings of a pretty damn big story. So why did the St. Petersburg Times sit on the story for almost a year? (via Cillizza):

The boy, who is not being identified because of his age, told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview last November, when the Times first learned of the e-mails, that he cut off correspondence with Foley. [emphasis added]

What gives? Did the boy ask the St. Pete Times not to print? Why would that be if a) he'd already sent excerpts from Foley's emails back to Congressional staffers and b) he agreed to be interviewed by the paper? Maybe the paper held off purely out a concern about libel, but the suddenness of Foley's resignation (and the fact another page has apparently come forward) suggests this wasn't necessarily the toughest nut to crack. And since Brian Ross and ABC News had no problem breaking the story wide open, the libel argument doesn't seem to hold much water.

So if the St. Pete Times could have nailed the story down a long time ago and didn't, that leads us to two fairly divergent pieces of speculation: Was the paper planning on springing the story closer to the election and got scooped by CREW and ABC News? Or was the paper deliberately ignoring the story in an effort to cover for Foley? Neither seems all that likely to me, so I'm at a loss as to what motivated the St. Petersburg Times to keep a lid on this story for the better part of a year.

The Dem Outlook

Stan Greenberg and James Carville have released a new strategy memo based on recent polling conducted in the 45 most competitive Republican-held House districts. The full memo is here (pdf) . Full poll results here (pdf) . Those crunched for time can get the gist of the findings from Carville and Greenberg's concluding paragraph:

Democrats are winning the 15 most competitive Republican-held districts by a 3-point margin and have the opportunity to expand their lead further if they develop a sharp critique of Congress. Clearly, this election could break further and most likely for the Democrats.

September Surprise

The AP reports Republican Congressman Rep. Mark Foley of Florida has resigned after questions were raised this week "about e-mails he wrote a former male page, according to a congressional official."

Foley represents the 16th district, which stretches from North Palm Beach on the eastern side of the state all the way across to Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast. The district has a Cook PVI of R+2 and voted for Bush over Kerry 54-46 in 2004 and for Bush over Gore 53-47 in 2000.

Waving Goodbye...(Plus a Note on Foley)

Well...whaddayaknow. There ain't no stinkin' 2006 electoral wave.

The conventional wisdom seems to have been wrong. For months upon months (upon months upon months) every pundit was explaining to us that this was a "national" election in which voters would not even be thinking or caring about local issues. They weren't even going to see the names of the local candidates on the ballot. All they would see is "Yes to George Bush / No to George Bush." As Bush is so hated, no Republican would be capable of stopping the tide.

For my part, I have disagreed with this assessment since I first started writing for this site. I have been arguing for months upon months (upon months upon months) that there is no such thing as a nationalized House election -- that, rather, there is at best a localization of national issues. Most voters do not view their votes as proxies on the state of the nation. They view their votes as decisions regarding two individuals. I have been arguing that national conditions mostly set the context by inducing one party to run better candidates.

A quick scan across the electoral playing field indicates that "I" was right. Or, more specifically, a quarter century's worth of scholarly consensus on congressional elections was right. The major effect of national conditions was to induce strong Democrats, but weak Republicans, to declare candidacies. So, we see more Republican than Democratic seats on the table because Republican challengers have short resumes and no funds while Democratic challengers have long resumes and plenty of funds. Nevertheless, almost all of these races are being fought on local issues and local personalities. Look at the polls that show Republican candidates who should be getting bowled over in a wave looking fairly respectable. More importantly, look at the recap of advertisements and campaign maneuverings that the House Race Hotline offers every day -- in district after district, the fight is local. It is all about the personalities in the race, and who would best represent the district's values in Washington.

What, you might ask, about the "wave" elections of 1974, 1982 and 1994? Weren't the rules of the game thrown out then? Nope. They never were. None of those elections were national in the sense that the pundits take them to be. They were all explicable according to this basic "strategic politicians" theory. The only real exception was 1994 -- which is further explicable by arguing that national issues were localized by crafty Republicans who tied Clinton's liberal legislative record to conservative Democratic incumbents.

So -- what exactly has happened in the last month? There are two hypothesis that explain the change in tone. I'll let you pick which one you think is correct.

Hypothesis #1: There was never a wave coming because waves, in the sense that media pundits mean them, do not exist. The appearance of a wave existed because the campaigns had not actually started yet, but the pundits had to write about the campaign. So, all they did was talk up the national data points. They received "confirming" evidence of their theses from meaningless summer polls that queried voters who had not put any independent thought into the election and were just parroting back the media storyline ala John Zaller's RAS theory (i.e. respondents Receive only a little information about politics, Accept the few data points that they manage to pick up, and Sample from those data points to respond to queries by pollsters) . When the campaign actually started, the debate in each election "became" local because that is the way it always is. The candidates change the storyline, voters get different pieces of data, and, ultimately (and once again), everything comes down to voters' evaluations of candidates.

Hypothesis #2: This was going to be the first ever modern nationalized election. For the first time, voters were not even going to be thinking about the candidates. It was all gonna be about the President. But then, around Labor Day, George Bush -- the man whom a majority of the country has tuned out (not to mention the man who was inducing the anti-GOP wave in the first place) -- gave a few speeches about the global war on terror and turned the races local. His job approval ticked up between 3% and 4%, and that was it for the wave.

Some concluding points -- does the absence of a "wave" mean that the Democrats stand no chance to pick up the House? Of course not! As I said, the media-type wave does not exist. Voters do not suddenly, magically switch from voting locally to voting nationally. Most of them always vote by the same method. What changes is almost entirely on the side of the candidates. So -- there really has never been a "wave" in that sense. That's a good thing, too. If you need a "wave" to switch the House, the Federalist Party would still be in charge.

So -- that means that the Democrats do not need a "wave" to take the House. This is what we have to wrap our minds around: the whole Wave = Dem Win/No Wave = GOP Win is a false dichotomy, one that was always going to wind up damaging the appearance of Democratic prospects come Labor Day (Side note: for a long time, I have thought that (a) the media has a Democratic bias, but that (b) this bias damages Democratic electoral prospects more than it helps them. This wave business seems, to me, to be another instance of that occurring. Ultimately, the problem for the Democrats is first that the media understands very little of how American politics operates from a broader frame than just the day-to-day Washington soap opera; and second that since they know so much about the soap opera, they incorrectly presume that they know just as much about the broader frame). The Democrats were always going to win or lose the House depending upon candidate recruitment, candidate fundraising and the quality of their candidates' campaigns. National conditions have aided them greatly in putting together a good slate of candidates. But the GOP has a lot of incumbents running. More than usual for this type of national climate.

So what is going to happen? The truth is that I do not know. As everybody has been shifting their estimates toward the GOP, I have found myself shifting toward the Democrats a bit. The reason is that there are a whole swath of GOP seats where, on an individual level, the party looks obscenely weak. I am thinking (in order of obscenity): TX 22, AZ 08, IA 01, CO 07, OH 18, PA 10, NC 11, IN 09, IN 08, IN 02. That's 10 seats. Half of them look like "gimme's" for the Democrats. That's 1/3rd of what they need. That is a lot. I am starting to think that the performance of stronger-looking incumbents in swing districts -- FL 22, PA 06, PA 07, CT 02, CT 05 -- is not so much a sufficient condition for the GOP to hold the House, but really more like a necessary condition.

And this, of course, was before Foley resigned. Here's a fun question: just how many more Republican congressman are going to resign before Election Day and, as a consequence, essentially cede their seats to the Democrats? At this point, at least 20% of what the Democrats need will come from this type of seat.

Make no mistake -- this is bad news for the GOP. Tim Mahoney, the Democratic challenger, has no experience as an elected official. However, he is self-funding, so he has the cash to capitalize on this. And, as National Review is reporting, Foley's name stays on the ballot (though, according to what they have on their site, any votes he receives goes to whomever the Florida GOP designates as the nominee -- though, if this is not cold comfort for the GOP, that metaphor has no significance whatsoever).

The GOP Not Giving Up on TX 22

Yesterday, the Waco Tribune-Herald ran an interesting story about the race for Tom DeLay's old seat, Texas 22. The lead:

The national Republican Party has joined the fight to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, donating more than $100,000 to the Republican candidate's write-in candidacy and sending Vice President Dick Cheney to a Houston fundraiser for her next week.
This is interesting -- and a sign that the national Republicans might not have up on Texas 22.

The story goes on to indicate that the money is going to be spent on GOTV operations -- which is consistent with the theory that internal numbers show that in a head-to-head matchup, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs runs well against Nick Lampson, and the strategy is to get her name into voters' minds so that it is effectively a head-to-head matchup.

For those of you who might not know, Texas Democrats challenged the right of Texas Republicans to put a new name on the ballot after Tom DeLay withdrew. The Democrats won in court, and so Democratic candidate and former Representative Nick Lampson is running without major party opposition. The Republicans, meanwhile, rallied around Houston city councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs as their write-in "nominee."

Despite the district's partisanship, which is heavily Republican, most analysts have written off this district. Lampson wins by default, right? However, this thesis seems inconsistent with the GOP sending money to Sekula--Gibbs -- not to mention donating the time of the the Vice President. You do not give sparse resources to a lost cause -- at least not if you are a strategic utility maximizer.

Scholars have found that the national political parties are indeed strategic in their allocation of resources. They tend not to give money to hopeless quests (although they do tend to over-donate to incumbents -- but Seuka-Gibbs is not an incumbent). You get money if the party thinks you can win with their help. What is more, scholars have found that the National Republican Campaign Committe is the most strategic of all the national committees. So, if the NRCC is chipping in $100K, then it must believe that the GOP still stands a chance in the district. How much of a chance is unclear -- $100K is just a drop in the bucket against Lampson's warchest, which by now must be at least $2 million. However, the NRCC doesn't give $100K because you have a pretty face.

Personally, this surprises me. My inference was that the seat was lost when the courts ruled against the GOP, and that the coalescing around Sekula-Gibbs was merely a way to establish a presumptive nominee for 2008. That Governor Rick Perry has scheduled a special election on November 7 to fill the rest of DeLay's seat seemed to me to be consistent with that (though certainly its intention was also to give Sekula-Gibbs a final, in the voting booth, name recognition bump for the general). However, you don't donate $100K of scarce party resources, and send Cheney down to Sugar Land, if your intention is to set yourself up for 2008.

So keep your eye on NRCC and RNC activity here in the next few months. If we see them sending more dollars and fundraisers into the district, then that is a sign that their internal polling is telling them that, even though Sekula-Gibbs is a write-in, she can still win the full seat. $100K is a sign that they think there might be a chance, and is therefore worth spending some dough to take a closer look. It is not, in itself, a sign that they believe victory is possible. If they send more money that way, that will tell you the GOP still thinks the seat is a toss-up.

Again -- this is not enough to allow us to confidently infer GOP intent. There are other red-flags about the seat's actual competitiveness that emerge from this article. Sekula-Gibbs' campaign manager had once boasted that they expected $3 million from the national GOP, which is a sign that the campaign manager might not be all that great. I doubt she heard that. There is no way the national GOP would ever contribute that much. I do not think, given the limitations imposed by BCRA, that such an allocation would be rational. Almost all of that would be bought up in advertisements, which eventually have a diminishing marginal return. Also, the article notes that Sekula-Gibbs is not one of the candidates the NRCC is supporting. An NRCC spokesman claims that this is an oversight, but she is still not up on their page yet. Interesting.

Bottom line -- it might be too soon to write off Texas 22.

Why Lamont is in Trouble

Just to add a thought to John's post yesterday about Lieberman's strength in CT. Lamont is certainly hurt by the fact that the Republican in this race, Alan Schlesinger, is a total dog. But he's also hurt by the Democrats' recently improved chances of winning back the Senate.

Connecticut was always a heart vs. head matter to a certain degree, but now it is without question a total waste for Dems to pour resources into this internecine battle when they have real opportunities in Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia - not to mention they have a candidate fighting for his political life in a must win race in New Jersey. Believe me, Chuck Schumer is not dumb enough to waste money trying to drag Ned Lamont across the finish line when he has a halfway decent chance to win back the Senate.

Lamont claims his fundraising is going well, but earlier this week he had to write his campaign a personal check for $750,000 to keep pace with Lieberman down the stretch. All the big names in the Senate who've said they support Lamont aren't going up to campaign for him (except one, that is, who really, really wants to be President in 2008 and thinks becoming a darling of the nutroots is the way to do it) because they see Lieberman with a good chance of returning to the World's Most Exclusive Club in November. So there are a number of factors working against Lamont that make it really hard to see how he pulls this one out.

Allen's Penance

I know George Allen wants to fight back against the smear campaign currently being conducted against him, but this strikes me as one of those predictably pathetic gestures politicians turn to when they're in trouble.

Don't pander. Stand up, have a press conference, tell voters what you've done to beneift black Virginians over the course of your career, and bring out some African-American character witnesses to reassure voters that you are who you say you are.

RCP Exclusive: Interview with Senator John McCain

I sat down with Senator John McCain on Wednesday. The following is a transcript of his remarks on various subjects which has been slightly edited for clarity. I began by asking McCain for his thoughts on the leaking of the National Intelligence Estimate:

McCain: First of all, I think the timing has got to be political. It was issued in April, and now here we are in October, September-October, so what do you think? So I think it's clearly political. Also, only parts of it were leaked. And I don't know what the whole thing is still, because the administration released their parts of it, but the casual observer would conclude it's political and designed to damage the administration there's no doubt about that. So when I say that's the only conclusion that I draw.

Second of all, I guess, that there's clearly some validity to the fact that when we have not had the success that we had hoped in Iraq, that always emboldens our enemies. That's what happens in wars. And I would still argue that, if that's true, then it makes a more compelling case for us to succeed in Iraq because if we fail further, then that will embolden them more. So in a way, they bolstered our argument, my argument, that the benefits of success in Iraq are enormous and the consequences of failure are catastrophic.

By the way, I don't mean to stray from the subject but a really entertaining thing happened day before yesterday. The Democrats had this hearing with two generals and a colonel, and it was a Rumsfeld-as-piñata encounter. But the interesting thing is that at the very end they made a terrible, cardinal error: they asked the generals and the colonel what we should do and they answered "stay the course," "more troops," "can't afford to lose." Oops. Hearing over. I thought it was wonderful. I'm sure they weren't pleased to hear the generals say we need more troops and we have to stay the course and we can't afford to lose. I'm sure some staffer probably got reprimanded or fired for allowing such a question to be asked.

So, look, have we got problems in Iraq? Sure. Anyone who doesn't believe that isn't observing events on the ground. Have we made mistakes in Iraq? Sure we have. Have there been significant problems in Iraq? Yes. But, we cannot afford to lose this. The Iraqi army is getting better, that's the good news. The police aren't. In fact Talibani told me that yesterday, for us to say that's not true. I met with President Talibani yesterday, and he complained about the police.

Are some parts of Iraq very much under government control, peaceful, and things are getting better? Sure. Anbar province is a disaster. Parts of Baghdad are obviously at unacceptably high level of sectarian violence. Do we need more troops over there? Hell yes.

RCP: How many more, do you think?

McCain: Oh, I was asked that on Sunday and I said twenty to thirty thousand, but that really translates into closer to one hundred thousand, because if you're going to have twenty or thirty thousand there, you've got to have double that number back in the reserves so you can rotate.

RCP: Do you think the NIE as a political matter, is doing damage at the moment? Or do you think this is this not real news because it was from April?

McCain: It's not real news, but it helps Democrats refocus on Iraq from the war on terror. So that, I think, would probably - an objective might say that part's helped them. But as far all the sudden swinging American sentiment - Americans have pretty well made up their mind about the war.

RCP: Let me ask you -

McCain: But I want to mention this about the war. Americans are frustrated, they're saddened, and they want to get out. But they don't want to get out according to a calendar. They want to get out according to conditions on the ground. And still, significant majorities, although frustrated and may think that we shouldn't have gotten in there in the first place, sill don't agree with this set a date with for withdrawal. Thank God.

RCP: What should be done about the continued leaking of classified information? How would a McCain administration deal with leaks?

McCain: I'd try and enforce the law. I think that there is significant damage done when classified information is leaked. But I want to add, we also have to guard against governments, whether they're Democrat or Republican, classifying everything which does not bear the need or meet the criteria for classification.

RCP: Do you think that's the case now?

McCain: I think that's the case with every administration. By the way, this does not apply to the NIE. The NIE is classified and should remain classified. But there are times when all administrations, because they don't want negative publicity, will overclassify information. That's just reality. So we have to have, I think, some system where somebody says "this doesn't need to be classified." Time after time I've read information over the years that has been declassified for various reasons and the first thing you say to yourself is, "why was this classified to start with?" But having said that, I think, the leaking of classified information is a danger to national security and we should act accordingly.

RCP: So you think the leakers should be prosecuted?

McCain: Yes, and I think they did that in the.... Frankly, I don't know how this Plame case came out. Seems like the leaker is not the one that's in trouble. But, at least they attempted in the Plame case to try to track it down.

Next, we talked about the status of the military commission bill, which was still in flux at the time but ended up passing the Senate yesterday by a 65-34 vote. I asked McCain on Wednesday morning if he was "totally satisfied" with the bill as it stood, and he replied:

McCain: Oh, you know, if I'd have written it all myself? No. But I'm satisfied with the result. It's a process we go through here. Except the one major bump in the road, we've had good faith negotiations with the White House on it. [Stephen] Hadley and [Steven] Bradbury have been honest brokers, and I know that the President directed them to sit down and work this out because we had the same goal.

On the issue of immigration, McCain said he would vote in favor of the fence (scheduled for today) but said he'd probably "insert a statement in the record along with my vote to say, 'this is not the total solution.'" McCain seemed hopeful that a deal on comprehensive reform could still be worked out at some point in the future.

McCain: Here's how I think the compromise comes out. We set up a framework that all of the necessary measures to secure our border - not seal, by the way, the Israelis found out you can't seal a border - to secure our borders have been taken. In other words, authorize increased number of border patrol, facilities that need to be built, a fence, and the money appropriated so that we can go to our constituents and say "look, here's what every expert says is necessary to secure our borders, and these are the measures we've taken. " And that's going to take us a couple of years - to build the fence, install the sensors, build the towers and hire the border patrol, etc- and now we're going to try to address a temporary worker program and somehow dispose of the 11 or 12 million people who are already here.

Just, for example, the temporary worker program. Suppose tomorrow we said "ok, anybody who works here as a temporary worker is going to have to have a biometric tamper proof visa." It would take us a year and half or two years anyway to set up such a program, starting from scratch. So our proposal is: take the steps necessary to secure the border, have it in place, but also start trying to address these other two issues, because the great fear of our base, and it's understandable and legitimate, is that we do what we did in the 1980s: promise to secure the borders, give amnesty, and yet the flow continues.

RCP: Are suggesting or are you open to doing those in two parts, passing a security bill first and then bringing on a temporary worker later?

McCain: As long as we're committed to addressing these issues. We still have a difference in belief. There are some who believe all we need to do is secure the border. The President, I, and so many others believe it has to be comprehensive reform. And when I talk to audiences about this and say, don't you think we have to do something with these 11 or 12 million people, even if it's round them up and send them back, which I don't know how you do, but don't you think we have to address the issue? Everybody grudgingly nods their head. Do you think we need, particularly in agriculture, a temporary worker program? People say yes.

So this is a bridgeable gap. But again, the fear of our Republican base, and it's legitimate, because of what happened in the 80's is we say: OK, now we're going to give these people a path to citizenship and we're going to have a temporary worker program, but we don't secure the border so 10 years from there are 12 million more who've come across the border. They want a commitment to make the border secure. I understand that.

The discussion segued into a brief remark by McCain about the Democrats' election strategy, followed by his feeling about Republican prospects this November:

McCain: [Minority Leader Harry] Reid's plan, let's be honest, is do nothing. Go into the election in November saying it's a "do nothing Congress." So whether his people are for or against a fence, or for or against the detainee issue, or for or against suveillance program, or for or against whatever, he doesn't want anything done.

I hate to get into arcane stuff with you, but we were about to finish the defense appropriations bill, and we went out on the August recess. There were two or three amendments remaining, and we could have wrapped it up - as we usually do on Thursday nights when people are trying to get out - and Harry Reid said "No. No, we can't finish it. We've got too much work to do." So it spilled over into September. Guess what happened in September? A big amendment to call for Rumsfeld's resignation on the defense appropriations bill. What did that do? It ate up a week. That's a clear strategy on their part, and I'm not saying that's a bad strategy if I were a Democrat, I'm just saying, that's the strategy.

RCP: Let's talk about the election real quick since you mentioned it. You probably travel as much around the country as anyone, if not more than anyone -

McCain: They say more

RCP: I've seen your schedule. I believe it. What are you hearing from people out there, at the district level, at the state level, and how do you see things turning out in November?

McCain: I'm of course nervous. History shows that the off year election of a second term president is bad for the party in power, and Iraq overlays everything. It is the most important issue - and it should be. We're at war.

But one of the areas I worry about - first, could I say I think the last two or three weeks thanks to focus back on the war on terror, 9/11, some good speeches by the President, a number of things, we're seeing some upward motion. And that's good news. Some of our House seats are less in danger than they were before...

RCP: Although, curiously, and we watch the polls pretty closely, and one of the things we've noticed is that even though there has been an uptick in Bush's job approval and a close in the generic vote, some of the Senate polls haven't shown the same sort of movement.

McCain: I was down in Florida campaigning with Charlie Crist. And we went all over Florida - and you know that Florida is like three or four different states. Every place that we went people were upbeat. They've got a great governor, Jeb Bush, the economy is good, the Republican party is doing well.

Then you fly to Ohio for Mike DeWine, who is one of the finest members of the Senate I've ever known and, boy, it's a bleak landscape out there. So it's somewhat regional, this political environment. In many parts of the country I think we're going to be fine. I think there are other areas of the country where we have significant challenges - Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan - across that area they've lost manufacturing jobs, the war in Iraq has hit them hard.

But there's one other aspect of this that doesn't get discussed and should be. Every time I talk to the party faithful about spending, they get angry. They are angry. They don't get angry, they are angry. The part of our base that has to do with fiscal discipline is angry at us - and they should be. There's no reason why they shouldn't be. When I mention the Bridge to Nowhere, they know it. They know it. And so, one my major concerns is that - they won't vote Democrat, that doesn't bother me - but they might stay home. That's a concern that I have in talking to all these Republican audiences.

I still think we can maintain control of both Houses. I think we can win some of these races that are very close now. Do not give up on Rick Santorum, he's a great campaigner. Mike DeWine has many years of service to the state of Ohio, I'm still optimistic about him. I think George Allen will emerge - I know George Allen well, he's a very fine and decent person - I think he can emerge from this imbroglio he's been stuck in here. So, I'm still upbeat and I'll still work as hard as I can to help these candidates.

If the House goes Democrat, I believe we'll see gridlock, but worse than that you'll see a blizzard of subpoenas. The Democrats are like that old story about the scorpion and the frog: they're going to sting just because that's the way they are.

RCP: How important do you see this election being in the grand scheme of things with Iraq and the war on terror?

McCain: Every even numbered year politicians go around and say "this is the most important election in history." I think it's a very important election. I think it was more important to reelect George Bush in 2004. Every day I feel happier that George Bush was reelected. But I'd put it up there as one of the most important elections because of the national security challenges we face around the world.

Vice President Pawlenty?

In picking the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to host the 2008 Republican National Convention, GOP leaders signaled the importance of the upper Midwest to their '08 electoral strategy.

The electorally important trio of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin combine for a not insignificant 27 electoral votes. Al Gore and Joe Lieberman carried all three states in 2000, but with margins unusually small for Democrats. In 2004 President Bush flipped Iowa into the Republican column for a crucial seven electoral votes. Wisconsin was close but Mr. Bush came up short for the second straight time by a little more than 10,000 votes. With the red-blue divide well entrenched in more than half of the 50 states, each party is already strategizing over such key battlegrounds in hopes of reaching the magical 270 electoral votes needed to win the Presidency.

Iowa's seven electoral votes were huge in 2004, providing the Bush-Cheney ticket with a margin in case Republicans did worse than expected in three western battlegrounds of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Even if he lost two of these states, Iowa would have preserved President Bush's victory. If Republicans in their third shot could finally take Wisconsin from the Democrats, this would provide a cushion against even the loss of the "big" battleground of Ohio. That's why just holding Iowa and flipping Wisconsin into the GOP column would severely complicate Democratic strategy to get to 270 electoral votes.

But the big enchilada for the GOP is Minnesota. The Bush-Cheney ticket won 46% in Minnesota in 2000 and 48% in 2004. Governor Tim Pawlenty faces a tough reelection battle this year, but he's generally believed to have a slight edge. Assuming Mr. Pawlenty can take care of business this fall and remain reasonably popular through the summer of 2008, the 45-year old-will almost certainly be near the top of the short list for the eventual GOP Veep nominee.

Republican wins in the Midwest trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa would essentially force Democrats to have to flip both crucial battleground states of Florida and Ohio -- unless they were to make major inroads in the southwest quartet of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona (with 29 electoral votes).

Don't be surprised to see the Democrats settle on Denver for their convention (Denver and New York are the finalists) and also take a long, hard look hard at New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for VP and maybe Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano if Senator Hillary Clinton is not the Democratic nominee.

September 28, 2006

China Tariff Takes a Hit

Today around 2pm, news broke that Sens. "Smoot" Schumer (D-NY) and "Hawley" Graham (R-SC) gave up for now on their China bashing tariff of 27.5 percent. This is a very good thing indeed.

Placing a huge tariff barrier between American and Chinese trade would have the same effect as imposing a large tax on the consumers, businesses and investors of both countries. It would completely disrupt economic growth worldwide.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson deserves credit for getting this delay and preventing a vote in the Senate that surely would have passed with very bad economic symbolism.

Fortunately, there is no similar tariff bill in the House. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham apparently will now work through the Senate Finance Committee where Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is generally opposed.

China is far from our best friend in world affairs, but the widening economic links between our two countries is a definite plus for prosperity as well as diplomacy.

Dems Bounce Back to Double Digits in Generic Ballot

There are three new generic polls out today that do not contain good news for Republicans. Hotline's number among likely voters has gone from a 40% - 40% tie in August, to a 13-point bulge for the Democrats, 46% - 33%. A FOX News release today gives the Dems an 11-point edge (49% - 38%) while Zogby has the Dems ahead 42% - 33%. All of this has bumped the RCP Generic Average back up into double digits, giving Democrats an 11.5% edge. This bounce back for Democrats in the generic numbers may be one of the reasons we have seen such little movement towards Republicans in the contested Senate races.

Pravda U.K.

Alan Dershowitz slams the Guardian in today's Jerusalem Post:

The Guardian, which used to be a liberal British newspaper, has become the full-fledged Pravda of the British hard Left, especially when it comes to its one-sided bashing of Israel. Like Pravda, it will not publish alternative points of view, even when the alternative point of view seeks to correct willful mis-statements of fact. It's gotten to the point where a reader simply cannot trust the credibility of the reporting.

I thought the Beeb already held the mantle of being the "Pravda of the Britsh hard left." I guess if you throw in Robert Fisk's home paper, Independent, there's enough market share to support three Pravdas in the UK.

The Price of Gas Is Down in Missouri. Why Isn't Jim Talent Up?

There has been some talk in the past few days about the Senate - as opposed to the House - switching hands this year. This is an interesting possibility - counterintuitive to the current conventional wisdom, and therefore, as Mickey Kaus noted this week, a strong candidate for the next conventional wisdom.

Of course, this idea has the advantage of squaring with historical precedence. It is always theoretically more satisfying when the most recent observation falls into line with previous ones. And the history of the Senate and House is that the latter only switches when the former does. I made mention of this in the Spring, but in retrospect I believe I made too much of this point. An important factor in Senate elections, one of which I failed to take full account, are the specific seats on the table. Sometimes the class of Senate seats that are up for a vote strongly favor one party over another. This happened in 1986 - which was an otherwise ho-hum year, except that all of the weak candidates who were swept into office along with Reagan in 1980 faced the electorate without the Gipper at the top of the ticket.

What seems to be driving this new intuition about the Senate? Much of it has to do with Virginia and Tennessee both ostensibly on the table. These are new phenomena, though the only truly surprising result is how poor George Allen has been on the campaign trail thus far. A lot of rust has developed since 2000 when he defeated Robb. As for Tennessee, I received a tip-off about it coming on the table after all the complimentary media profiles of Harold Ford over the course of the summer. The press seemed to have been looking for any excuse to get that race into the game. The fact that the more moderate Bob Corker won the GOP nomination dampened the media's hope that this one would be competitive. However, a few late summer robo-polls and...presto! They were back in business! Of course, just as these two races have emerged, so also have New Jersey and Maryland. Thus, the net number of vulnerable seats has remained constant. So, this inclines me to the suspicion that there is something more than numbers moving people to speculate that the Senate is on the table.

I think the change in the collective evaluation is due, in part, to the following: none of the vulnerable Republican incumbents on the Senate side seemed to have gained any appreciable traction thanks to Bush's rising job numbers and the falling price of gasoline. Perhaps pundits have found themselves surprised by this - and so are beginning to suspect that the GOP is in worse shape than they initially believed.

For my part, I am not surprised by the fact that Senate Republicans have enjoyed little-to-no bump from Bush and gas. And I do not think the final estimate needs to be rethought. (As a Wahoo during his tenure as governor and during his 2000 candidacy, I know that you underestimate George Allen at your peril; Tennessee flirted with Bob Clement in 2002 before giving Lamar Alexander 54% of the vote.) However, pundits do need to reevaluate what they take to be causal factors of vote choice. Regular readers of mine know that I have been on this topic for months - to little avail. Since the Spring, I have been arguing that the punditocracy has consistently misunderstood the relationship between national conditions and congressional vote choice. The economy and presidential job approval have a very complicated relationship with non-presidential elections.

We should not be surprised that neither of these factors are having an effect in the vulnerable GOP-held Senate seats. And if pundits are indeed puzzling over this lack of an effect, and they are thinking that maybe they need to change six months worth of confidence that the GOP would hold the Senate, maybe they should instead rethink how they understand congressional elections to actually work. For what we are seeing right now is consistent with what political scientists have found to be true: presidential job approval and economic evaluations have a complicated, and largely indirect, relationship with individual vote choices.

First off, the economy. What gives? Gas prices are falling. Consumers are more confident. The Dow is once again peaking. Why is this not helping Jim Talent in Missouri? It is not helping him because the theories of Anthony Downs and the rational choice theorists of the 50s and 60s - that the individual voter is "rational" and makes a selection based upon an assessment of his self-interest - have never found much empirical validation at the micro level. There has never been strong, consistent evidence to indicate that economic rationality exists in this way - though economic conditions do show a strong, statistically significant impact on net seat swings. Nevertheless, people do not seem to vote their pocketbook - when we control for other factors, like partisanship and demography, we see that pocketbook voting has little-to-no independent effect on individual vote choice. At best, we can say that long-term economic evaluations have an effect on partisanship, which in turn has a strong effect on vote choice. But that is about it. So - we should not be surprised that falling gas prices in Missouri have not helped Jim Talent. There is little in the scholarly literature to induce one to believe that a $0.30 drop in the price of regular unleaded would help him.

Second, presidential job approval. Unlike economic evaluations, this has been found to have some relationship to individual vote choice. However, it has by no means been a consistent effect, and it is not as strong as pundits take it to be. For the elections of the 1970s, for instance, scholars failed to find a strong relationship between presidential job approval and individual vote choice - though there was indeed a relationship between the two discovered in the 80s and as late as 2002. Nevertheless, the strongest effect that presidential job approval has is not direct, but rather indirect. Presidential job approval is what establishes, more than anything, the partisan political climate in this nation. When a President has high marks, his party seems to be strong. When he has low marks, his party seems weak. This affects the strategic considerations of ambitious partisans on the other side of the aisle. They will run when their opponent's party is disadvantaged. So - in the case of Talent, it is unsurprising that he is not getting much, if any, boost from Bush's higher numbers. Bush's numbers already had their largest effect when Claire McCaskill, without doubt a top-tier candidate, decided that the mood in her state was sufficiently anti-Republican to give her a good shot at victory.

All in all, then, I personally am not surprised to see Republican Senate candidates remaining relatively flat. And I would hope that the pundits who for months have been declaring this election to be a referendum on national conditions would take this opportunity to reevaluate the size and scope of the effect that national conditions have on congressional elections. It is more complicated than they have implied, and this recent, "peculiar" development demonstrates that point.

I am not saying that I can fully delineate how these variables factor into vote choices. I know that I cannot. I do not think there is any scholarly consensus on this matter, either. I doubt that even the best of the best in the academy could tell you exactly how the President and the economy factor into congressional elections. What I can say is that the theory upon which so many pundits have been relying, the idea of the electorate being magically transformed into a "nationalized" one that thinks about their pocketbook and Bush rather than the individual candidates in the race, is incorrect in important respects. They need to reevaluate. Otherwise, this will not be the first time between now and November that a result will surprise them so much.

More on Partisanship

Gentleman and scholar David Adesnik of Oxblog responds to my post from yesterday with a post of his own questioning the suggestion that "un-smart partisanship is a problem mainly of the left."

A couple of quick points. First, I think David misses the mark by suggesting what I wrote could possibly be interpreted as "invective" (definitions include: 1) vehement or violent denunciation, 2) a railing accusation; vituperation, 3) an insulting or abusive word or expression). I also think he did a bit of disservice by clipping my quote to exclude the two reasons I list that drive a lot of the current partisan anger on the left. My point isn't that it's bad that the most active partisans on the left have been given a voice, but rather that the circumstances under which that voice has been found - the agonizing losses in 2000/2004 and the war in Iraq - have contributed to the tone of the partisan discourse on the left.

Did I mean to imply this type of "un-smart" partisanship is exclusive to the left? Certainly not. And it's not hard to imagine that if the blogosphere had exploded five or ten years earlier, right wing partisans would have been the ones struggling with the problem of managing their visceral dislike - hatred, even - of William Jefferson Clinton. Some still do.

But it's also hard to dispute that if you compare the largest and most highly partisan sites on both the left and the right, there is an obvious difference in style, tone and substance. Markos Moulitsas and Duncan Black seem to revel in the use of obscenities and of ridiculing people who disagree with them with terms like "wankers." Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake tosses around names like "Rape Gurney Joe" to describe Joe Lieberman - not to mention depicts him in blackface - and occasionally uses language so foul it would make a long-haul trucker blush (see her reference to Ana Marie Cox in this post as one example).

Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin and the guys at Powerline operate at very high-octane levels of conservative partisanship, to be sure, but they almost always manage to do so within the bounds of reasonable discourse. That doesn't necessarily make their ideas or argument any "smarter" than the ones that appear on left-wing sites, and they are often criticized - fairly in some cases, unfairly in others, in my opinion - for the partisanship of their views. But you certainly won't see Hugh Hewitt featuring a post on his site titled "Wanker of the Day."

David continues in his post to write something on which we can both agree:

After the discussion was over, I went over to Tom and made the following suggestion. Smart partisanship is partisanship that keeps the interest of the other side. Smart partisanship is something you disagree with, but feel that you have to read because you want to know what the best argument is for the other side.

That's the ideal I keep in my head when I blog. When I write, I keep an imaginary not-me on my shoulder that has the opposite opinion about everything. My goal isn't to get him to agree with me, but to prevent him for saying "This is a waste of time."

Of course, this method hasn't prevented lots of dumb partisanship from showing up on this blog. But I do believe that this ideal has helped make OxBlog a site that attempts to engage its critics rather than one that vents its authors' spleen.

Absolutely. I try to keep up with what Josh Marshall, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Chris Bowers, Kevin Drum write precisely because they try (for the most part) to make smart, interesting arguments. Hopefully, they continue to read conservative-leaning sites for the same reason.

There is smart partisanship on both sides, though as I said it seems to me there is more of the invective filled, less substantive variety on the left these days. In my view that type of partisanship is easier to dismiss and in some ways counterproductive to goals of the people who practice it. But that's just my opinion.

Early Birds in Iowa

The Des Moines Register reports on the Dems' big push for early voting through absentee ballots:

More than 50,000 Democrats had requested ballots, according to the Iowa secretary of state's office as of Wednesday, compared with just more than 11,000 Republicans, continuing a trend by Democrats in Iowa of emphasizing early voting.

However, later on we read this:

In the past two statewide elections, Democrats have run up early leads with absentee votes.

In 2002, they held on to win the governorship, re-electing Tom Vilsack.

However, their early-voting edge was erased in 2004, when President Bush carried the state in his re-election bid.

"A large part of our effort is turnout," said Cullen Sheehan, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. "We're trying to get Republicans to vote.

"If they do it early, that's great. Our success has been to get people out on Election Day."

The Iowa Governor's race between Republican Jim Nussle and Democrat Chet Culver is an absolute dead heat right now.

PA-6: Gerlach Up is Bad News for Dems

A new Keystone Poll in Pennsylvania 6 has Rep. Jim Gerlach ahead 44% - 41% among likely voters. This follows on the back of a partisan poll by Public Opinion Strategies showing Gerlach ahead by 11 points. Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum trails in all of the polls in his Senate race, which is what you would expect for the most vulnerable incumbent Senator this cycle. Gerlach is certainly one of the top five House incumbents the Democrats are targeting; and this latest poll showing him running ahead of Lois Murphy not exactly good news for their overall prospects of winning the House.

Jim Gerlach's is rated the most vulnerable House incumbent on RCP's list and is #1 on the Hotline's Chuck Todd's list as well. If the Democrats expect to take over the House, this is a seat they probably have to win. If Gerlach is 50/50 to win on election day, Democrats are going to be hard pressed to net the 15 seats they need for control.

The recent polling evidence continues to support the point I made earlier this week (which the New York Times echoes today) that the Senate increasingly looks like a better opportunity for Democrats.

Lieberman in Control in Connecticut

Senator Joe Lieberman leads by 10 points, 49% - 39%, over the Democrat Ned Lamont in a poll released this morning from Quinnipiac University. Poll Director Douglas Schwartz says: ""Ned Lamont has lost momentum. He's gained only two points in six weeks. He's going to have to do something different in the next six weeks or Sen. Joseph Lieberman stays in for another six years." In our opinion Lamont peaked about a week before the August primary and has been slowly losing altitude ever since. Ironically, it was Lieberman who came out of the primary with momentum which was hugely important as it served to mute the bump Lamont would have been expected to receive for pulling off the improbable upset.

The number that I find so problematic for Ned Lamont is 5%. That is the horserace number that the Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger has in this latest Quinnipiac. The other polling firms that have the Lieberman-Lamont horserace closer than Quinnipiac still have Schlesinger in the 3% - 7% range; Schlesinger's RCP Avg is 5%. Republicans and registered Independents make up over 65% of the electorate in Connecticut, and given Lieberman won 48% in the Democratic primary, Lamont is going to be very hard pressed to outgun Lieberman when the entire electorate will be voting in November.

The RCP Average in this race shows Lieberman ahead by 6.7%. Pundits can talk all they want about the anti-war sentiment in the Northeast and how Lieberman will lack the party infrastructure so important to getting the vote out, at the end of the day if the Republican nominee can't get into double-figures it is going to be very hard for Ned Lamont to win.

September 27, 2006

Good News for George Allen

Good news (for a change) for George Allen in his Virginia Senate race. In the first poll in a couple of weeks, a new poll by SurveyUSA for WUSA-TV Washington DC and WDBJ-TV Roanoke gives Allen a five-point lead, 49% - 44%. All things considered this has to be seen as good news for the Allen campaign given the recent news coverage. The poll was taken Sunday - Tuesday while the latest scuttlebutt over accusations that he used the N-word in the 1970's was hitting in the media. Each individual day's polling was all over the place so it is clear there is a tremendous amount of volatility in this race.

But given the news flow for Allen the past month, the fact that Webb has actually lost ground from SurveyUSA's poll taken August 18-20 is not great news for his ultimate prospects in November. Webb can't expect the news flow/press coverage to continue to be this favorable from his point of view from here until the election, especially with Allen having the money to get his message up on air to counter a Washington media that is overwhelmingly hostile to his candidacy. I don't think the Allen people can breath easy though, this is only one poll and I'll be interested to see where some more polling pegs this race.

Cardin's Big Gun

Maryland Democratic Senate candidate Ben Cardin brought in one of the biggest guns in the country for an endorsement :

"You gotta put this guy in the Senate," [Barack] Obama told a crowd of several hundred at the University of Maryland in the home county of the Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is black.

With the crowd chanting "U-ni-ty," Cardin appeared with several black officials from Maryland, including Mfume, the former congressman who lost to Cardin in a crowded primary on Sept. 12.

It's interesting to note that the event was staged in College Park and that Reuters reports there were only a "few black voters in the mostly white crowd." That would seem to suggest that the Cardin camp feels Obama's appeal is at least as great among liberal white suburbanites as it is with African-American voters.

Germany's Thatcher

Reuters:

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Wednesday not to bow to fears of Islamic violence after a Berlin opera house canceled a Mozart work over concerns some scenes could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.

"I think the cancellation was a mistake. I think self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practise violence in the name of Islam," she told reporters. "It makes no sense to retreat."

Preview: The McCain Interview

Senator John McCain was kind enough to sit down with me for about twenty minutes in his office this morning - no small feat given the Chinese fire drill that's taking place in the Senate right now as Republicans race to finish a number of huge bills by the end of the week, and also because McCain was rushing off to attend the funeral of one of his dearest friends.

We touched on a variety of big issues like the NIE, Iraq, the military commission bill, immigration, and Republican prospects for the coming election. I'm hoping to have the full transcript of the interview available tomorrow.

How Partisan Is Too Partisan?

That's the question we tried to tackle at the Pajamas Media event last night at the National Press Club. The gist of my remarks was that it is a very difficult, if not impossible question to answer. Indeed, I came to the conclusion that it's probably best to fall back on the answer people most often give when asked to define pornography: "you'll know it when you see it." Here are three observations I tried to make last night about partisanship.

In general, I think partisanship is a good thing. As the editor of a political web site whose mission is to seek out and publish the best political commentary, opinion, and analysis across a broad range of viewpoints, partisanship is often what gives force to an argument and makes it compelling.

That said, there is a difference between "smart partisanship" and a much less attractive alternative that relies on invective rather than argument and employs the widespread use of insults and obscenities. This is a problem the left continues to struggle with given that the new media revolution (to use a pretentious phrase) has taken place almost entirely in the last five years under the tenure of George W. Bush and given voice to a core of the most active liberal partisans who A) believe he wasn't legitimately elected in the first place - or legitimately reelected in 2004 - and who B) believe the President and his administration deliberately misled the country into the current war in Iraq.

One reason the question of "how partisan is too partisan" is almost impossible to answer is because concept of partisanship is itself too subjective. The example I cited last night was the Swift Boat Veterans from the 2004 campaign. Basically half the country - meaning the 48% who voted for John Kerry - viewed the Swift Boat Veterans as an egregiously partisan attack. The other half of the country - or at least a good portion of the 51% who ended up voting for George W. Bush - thought it was perfectly legitimate, indeed newsworthy, that more than 100 of John Kerry's fellow Vietnam vets, including nearly all of his commanders, came forward and went on record to say that he was unfit to serve as Commander in Chief for a variety of reasons.

I think most would agree that if 100-plus members of the Texas Air National Guard had come forward in the same manner to denounce George W. Bush in either 2000 or 2004, liberals would have had a much different opinion on the matter - and the media would have covered it extensively.

Another example is to look at what's currently happening in the Virginia Senate race. Many of the same folks who moaned and screeched about the Swift Boat Vets attack on John Kerry two years ago as too partisan see nothing untoward about the attack being leveled against George Allen - which essentially boils down to a "he said-she said" affair between Allen and one person who went on the record (supported by anonymous sources) alleging he used the n-word thirty-five years ago.

The final point I tried to make last night is that naked partisanship, even of the most extreme kind, is preferable to partisanship masquerading as objectivity. I was thinking specifically about Dan Rather's Memogate episode and also the recent "fauxtography" incidents during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. The idea that evidence can be manufactured, images enhanced, and that "fake but accurate" is a new standard for professional journalists are all deeply disturbing and corrosive results of partisanship and bias in the media.

In a broader sense, the whole notion of objectivity in the media has fallen away on partisan lines. Conservatives look at FOX News and find the coverage exactly as advertised ("fair and balanced") while liberals see FOX as a shameless propaganda machine and mouthpiece of the Bush administration. Liberals read the New York Times and believe they're getting an objective take on the news, conservatives see a paper thoroughly riddled by liberal partisanship engaged in an agenda-journalism crusade against the Bush administration.

There aren't any profound conclusions to draw - not by me anyway - except that when it comes to discussing "how partisan is too partisan," the left and the right will have to agree to disagree. It was a great event last night and I was honored to be included among such a distinguished panel of guests.

The April NIE

The April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate - about which there has been much spin and too little factual analysis - was declassified in part Tuesday at the order of the president. It followed the Sunday NYT story which began, "A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks." A more objective reading indicates that the sixteen intelligence agencies agreed that:

* Though US-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged Al-Queda and disrupted its operations the number and geographic dispersion of terrorists is increasing;

* The global terrorist movement is becoming more diffuse, adapting to the methods we're employing to fight it; and

* Europe is judged an important target by the jihadists.

More importantly, at least to the politics of the week, is the one paragraph that deals with Iraq. It says: (1) that the Iraq conflict has become a "cause celebre" for the jihadists; (2) that resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world does cultivate supporters of the jihad movement; and (3) that if jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves and are perceived as having failed, this will reduce or eliminate Iraq as a recruiting tool.

The report also says that the recent condemnations of terrorist actions by Muslim clerics signal a trend that could grow into a religious counter to the jihadist ideology.

In short, the NIE confirms what the president has been saying for months. Iraq has become a central battle in the global war against terrorists because they believe it is one. If we are defeated there, the jihadists will be strengthened enormously and - conversely - if they lose, our strength is enhanced to at least as large an extent. Democrats, such as US congressional candidate Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, are reading the NIE through a politically clouded lens. Hodes is quoted in the Tuesday Washington Post as saying, "The report underscores that the longer Bush and his enablers...keep us in Iraq, the more we undermine our own security." Actually, it says no such thing.

Why the GOP Seems Weak in Red Areas

Michael Barone recently penned an interesting piece that amplified a point that I made last week -- that the GOP seems peculiarly strong in some areas where Bush was weak in 2004, and peculiarly weak in some areas where Bush was strong.

Barone offers a tentative explanation that the political divisions that have defined America since roughly 1996 might be in motion. This might be true -- and I personally have thought that the "Red State/Blue State" dichotomy seems hewn into granite only because, in the chaos of the 24 hour news cycle, a month -- let alone eight years -- seems like an eternity. The problem is entirely on the side of the newsroom -- in America, it is very easy to have eight years of a phenomenon that does not amount to an indeliable element of American political existence. (We call that the Eisenhower Administration.) The news media and its pundits might not recognize that, but that's their problem.

I think that Barone's theory is interesting. I do not intend to dispute it here, for I think he might be on to something. My intention is to lay out a causal process that seems to exist in these districts that is independent of Barone's idea (of potential GOP trouble in rural America) or my idea discussed last week (of potential GOP trouble among Republican identifiers).

The set of races that are in conservative districts but are nevertheless on the table are all peculiar. We have IN 02, IN 08, IN 09, KY 04, NC 11, PA 10 and VA 02. Mr. Barone mentions CO 04, but Musgrave's vulnerability is really just due to the fact that she is a two-term representative** who only won with only 51% in 2004 and has drawn a (relatively) qualified and well funded challenger. She is in the lead in a bad year for her party -- which, for an incumbent, means that she is not really a peculiarity in need of explanation.

What of these 7 seats? Most of them seem to me to be explicable by the same causal process. On the one hand, partisanship is aiding the Republicans. On the other hand, the lack of a "personal vote" for the GOP incumbent (i.e. the type of vote that the House member enjoys because he/she is well-liked and widely regarded in the district) is aiding the Democrats. Ditto also is the national political environment, which I doubt is influencing vote choice directly in any appreciable manner -- but rather has brought forward top-tier challengers in 5 of these 7 races.

This dynamic seems to be playing out in two broad types of ways. So we'll take each type one at a time.

On the one hand -- in IN 09 and KY 04, former Democratic members of Congress are running to reacquire their seats. These two -- Baron Hill and Ken Lucas, respectively -- lost their seats in 2004. Hill lost outright to Mike Sodrel and Lucas chose to honor a term limits pledge and refrained from running. Both of the seats switched to the GOP because, I think it is fair to say, of the secular shift in rural areas from the "blue dog" Democrats to the Republicans. But they were two of the last seats to shift because of the quality of Democratic incumbents. The Democrats managed to win and/or hold these seats despite the secular trend in American politics. That says a lot about the two Democrats running -- they are of extremely high quality. Hill inherited the seat from Lee Hamilton -- and therefore won an open seat election in a conservative district. Lucas won the seat out from under the GOP when Jim Bunning ran for the Senate. The GOP only picked up the seat because he retired (temporarily, of course) and the Democrats nominated George Clooney's dad. So -- these are extremely high quality challengers.

Thus -- what we have in these two contests are two independent causal factors cutting sharply in two different directions. Sodrel and Davis both enjoy the advantage of district partisanship -- which is what yielded them the seats in the first place. However, they enjoy nothing of the "personal vote" that comes with incumbency because they are running against very strong challengers -- which is why the Democrats were able to keep the seats as long as they did. In the background here, of course, is the negative environment for the GOP -- which is undoubtedly what induced both Hill and Lucas to make another run for their old seats.

As for IN 08, NC 11, PA 10 -- all of these feature exceedingly weak incumbents who have run, in the past, relatively undisciplined campaigns and/or who have been generally undisciplined in their work to retain the steas. John Hostettler in IN 08 insists upon running the type of House campaign that went out of style when people started to buy a second television set. He raises no cash and eschews much of the professional advice upon which incumbents rely today. Charles Taylor in NC 11 has been haunted by ethics queries and is known to take controversial stands in Congress (like opposing a 9/11 memorial). Don Sherwood had an extramarital affair with a woman who eventually came to accuse him of abuse.

I think it no coincidence that the three weakest incumbents in the whole House are all in highly competitive races. There is a margin for error for incumbents in places like this that is greater than in swing or Democratic-leaning districts. You have some wiggle room to "be yourself" (for better or worse!). When your partisanship aligns with your district, there is relatively little pressure upon you. There is also the inclination to not run a full-time campaign and focus extensively upon reelection. This stands in sharp contrast to members like Bob Simmons, Jim Gerlach and Patricia Madrid -- all of whom expect strong challengers and tight races, rain or shine. They are in full-time campaign mode and are highly disciplined members of Congress. Reelection stands at the forefront of their minds. Discipline is the name of the game.

But for many members, that is simply not the case. Reelection in a conservative district, after having served for a good long time, is less of a pressing concern for a Republican. I think that might explain the trouble of these 3. None of these men would do anything to intentionally diminish their chances of reelection -- my sense is that they just have not correctly assessed the risks that they could face in any given election, and have not ordered their campaign/governmental/personal existence as well as they should have. They never did the work to develop, or they put at risk, the personal vote that incumbents enjoy -- under the ostensible presumption that district partisanship would see them through.
In other words -- these 3 races, just as the prior 2, are explicable as being as close as they are because (a) the districts are very Republican, but (b) the Republican incumbents, for a variety of reasons, have failed to develop any kind of personal relationship with their constituents that is sufficiently large. The negative political environment forms the context that has given these members strong challenges.

That leaves IN 02, Chris Chocola, and VA 02, Thelma Drake. Both of them lack the kind of personal vote that the average incumbent enjoys, but they do not have the severe types of problems that characterize the members in these other districts. They should seem as safe as Musgrave seems, and right now they do not. Interestingly Moveon.org was in both districts early and seemed to have "softened" Chocola and Drake up. It seems that Drake is rebounding, and therefore we do not need to "explain" her (just as we do not need to explain Musgrave). However, Chocola seems to be faltering. I am not sure why. But, an explanation that captures the variation in 5 out of 6 races is not too bad.

My intuition is that this only offers a partial explanation. Weak incumbents who lack the personal vote should be in trouble - but 5 of these 7 seem to be in an obscene amount of trouble. Here is where Mr. Barone's theory about an emerging GOP problem in rural America might also be having an independent effect. It might also indicate a general softness for GOP candidates nationwide, which is what I hypothesized last week. My theory is still that the consensus estimate relies too heavily on these seats. Either the GOP will come home in sufficient numbers to bail out a few of these fellas, or Republicans in less conservative districts are in more trouble than we might apprehend.

**CORRECTION: The original version of this post incorrectly identified Congressman Musgrave as a freshman. She has been elected twice, in 2002 and 2004.

September 26, 2006

CO-7: Perlmutter 'Surging'

On the heels of last night's debate between Republican Rick O'Donnell and Democrat Ed Perlmutter in Colorado's 7th Congressional district, KUSA-TV is out with a new SurveyUSA poll showing Perlmutter with a commanding 17-point lead in the race, 54-37. That's a huge jump from the last SUSA poll in August showing the race a 45-45 tie. All caveats about putting too much stock in any given poll still apply, so be on the lookout for further polling to see if this race has really gotten away from O'Donnell.

A Confession

I confess I don't have the attention span to sift through David Corn's response to Christopher Hitchens on Niger/yellowcake/Wilson/Plamegate and Hitchens' subsequent response to Corn. It sure looks interesting, though.

Spin Cycle

One noticeable difference this election versus the last cycle is the amount of spin both sides are generating. I'm on the mailing lists for Republican and Democratic Senatorial campaign committees and the Republican and Democratic House campaign committees. The amount of email these folks are sending out this year on a daily basis is staggering. Every possible event, detail, statement or gaffe is immediately pumped out via email under the most dramatic and accusatory headline imaginable.

As one might expect with both sides spinning so hard, every now and then one group will go a bridge too far. Today it happened to the DCCC, which just sent out an email leading off with the following:

"According to a new report by the National Association of Realtors, for the first time since April of 1995, around the time the GOP took over Congress, home prices have declined nationally, and are likely to continue to fall for the rest of the year. [emphasis added]

Presumably, the DCCC is trying to make the fatuous argument that Republicans are to blame for the current drop in housing prices, but instead they seem to have produced an advertisement crediting Republicans for the decade long housing boom.

This Is How It Works

Apparently, Josh Marshall doesn't think Larry Sabato needs to explain his n-word charge against George Allen, only that Allen needs to respond to it personally. This is NOT the way it's supposed to work, and I'm surprised Josh doesn't know better.

Josh and I graduated from Princeton University together in 1991. I didn't know Josh at all in school, but that hardly matters. Suppose I went on national television tomorrow and said that 15 years ago he had used the n-word in college. And when the interviewer of the show asked me how I knew Josh had used the word, or whether he'd ever used the word in front of me I responded, "I'm not going to get into that."

I'm sure Josh would agree that would be unacceptable. Let me be clear that I'm not suggesting Larry Sabato is lying. What I am suggesting is that Sabato should have back up an accusation like the one he made, and that Josh Marshall should be asking Larry Sabato to produce the goods before asking George Allen to respond to the charge directly.

UPDATE: The USA Today blog reports: USA TODAY political reporter Jill Lawrence spoke with Sabato this morning. She reports he told her that he never heard Allen use the n-word, but believes the future senator did because "people I know and trust" have told him it happened.

The Washington Times on GOP Optimisim

The Washington Times offered an article today about improving GOP prospects that, to me anyway, seemed long on conclusions and short on evidence. Their thesis:

There has been a palpable shift in the mood in Washington in recent weeks. No longer are insiders in both parties sharing predictions of a Democratic rout of Republicans.

Some on both sides had expected an election debacle for the Republicans, driven by the Iraq war, high gas prices and the perception that a Republican-led Washington can neither shoot nor spend straight.

Now those perceptions have changed.

First off, let me just note the strategic use of metaphor in this lead. This is metaphor-as-bet-hedging, which is typical of the press. No longer is there going to be a "rout" of Republicans. No longer are people expecting an "election debacle." This is interesting because -- what exactly is a "rout"? Is it 15 or 30 seats? Or 50 or 70? What is an "election debacle"? Is it that the GOP merely loses control? Or is it maybe that they lose control so badly that they cannot reacquire it in 2008? Who knows! What we do know is that nobody can point to anything specific in this article on November 8 and declare that the Times was wrong! Why? Because the Times has chosen to couch its thesis only in metaphor. One thing that has turned me sour about the press and its pundits is this kind of strategic use of the metaphor -- it subtly and quietly introduces ambiguity where clarity is possible and preferable. I think that this happens because no news outlet wants to put itself on the line, but they also do not want to appear as though they are not putting itself on the line. So -- they hedge their bets by way of metaphor.

Anyway, I will get off the literary high horse and get on with the argument. As I said, the evidence that the Times provides does not seem to me to justify the enthusiasm among DC Republicans.

For instance, here is something offered up by Ken Mehlman that the Times accepts without question.

Comparing the 2006 midterm elections to previous major shifts, Mr. Mehlman says he sees none of the signs that preceded those landslides. In 1974, following the Watergate scandal, there was a surge in the Democratic primary-voter turnout and a decline in Republican voter turnout. The reverse was true before the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress.

So far this year, there has been no indication of a Democratic surge. In 36 of 39 primaries, the Democratic turnout has been lower than the average of the past 20 years. Only Connecticut, North Dakota and Vermont had higher-than-average Democratic turnouts this year.

The Times goes on to imply, though not by way of more Mehlman quotations, that this indicates that Democrats are not activating their base voters as well as they did in 1974. There are two major problems with this. First, they do not need to. They Democrats "only" need 15 seats. Provided that base amplification has a linear relationship with final seat swings, they need to amp the base by a little less than 1/3 the amplification of 1974 or 1994, all else being equal. The Democrats netted 48 seats in 1974, the GOP netted 52 in 1994. The Democrats only need 15 this time around. So -- what the Times notes might actually be consistent with a Democratic takeover.

Second, the argument that low primary turnout is a sign of a relatively placid base does not square with what we know about primary elections. Primaries do not tend to have high turnout because voters are so excited for November that they just have to go out and vote in March. They are not like football preseason. They tend to have high turnout because there are competitive races that attract voter attention. And competitive races in the primary tend to occur when more than one strategic, high quality politician see a good chance at actually getting into Congress, and throw their hats into the ring.

So -- why were Democratic primary races relatively uncompetitive this year? There are at least two reasons, one that favors the GOP and one that favors the Democrats. To the GOP's advantage, there are not many open seats that they have to defend. Strategic, high quality politicians most frequently come out of the woodwork for open seats because they know how hard it is to take on incumbents. Fewer open seats means fewer potential pickup opportunities for the Democrats -- good news for the GOP. To the Democrats advantage, the party can and does play a role in encouraging/discouraging candidates to or from running, and it appears that the national Democrats have done a good job at this. They succeeded in (a) getting good people in about 25 races and (b) helping clear a path for these people through the primaries by discourating competitive, but inferior, candidates from offering a challenge to the recruited candidates. Now -- the Democrats have suffered some embarassments in the recruitment/derecruitment game, notably in CA 11, KY 03 and NH 02. However, this seems to me to be explicable by their unprecedented activity in pre-primary maneuvering. If your failure rate is 15% of the time, you are going to have a lot more failures when you try 50 times than when you try 10 times. If your successes are not mentioned -- and, in this case, they are not because a successful recruitment/derecruitment will have the appearance of the party not being involved -- it will look as though you are stumbling when you really are not.

Taking a step back, this Times article is very peculiar to me. The Times is certainly a right-leaning paper. But right-leaning news outlets, beyond talk radio at least, do not seem to me to be historically guilty of being pollyannaish about the Republicans (I think the left-leaning ones like The New York Times are typically pollannaish about Democratic prospects, which in turn actually damages Democratic prospects). So -- the Times is clearly picking up on a vibe that the GOP elites seem to feel, but do not really justify it well at all. This means one of either two things (or possibly a mixture of both): (a) there is no justification to the vibe, and modified GOP expectations will yield disappointment on November 8; (b) there is some justification to the vibe, but the data that is driving this expectation is not yet publicly available.

I am not sure which it is. This is one of the drawbacks of living in Wrigleyville. I am not in any kind of loop. Of course -- if you are like me and think that separation from the center of power enables one to analyze power more clearly, overall one is better off being a stone's throw from the Cubs home than the Nationals home.

Specter Speaks

I attended Senator Arlen Specter's address at the National Press Club yesterday (video at C-Span) . Specter discussed the extraordinary work left on the Senate's schedule: military commissions, NSA legislation, immigration, the federal shield law, and eleven appropriations bills. Specter remarked that never in all his years had he seen so much work of such high importance left to the final days of the session.

In addition to his fifteen minute long remarks, Specter spent close to an hour answering questions from the audience covering a wide range of subjects. Here are some of the more interesting pieces of Specters remarks and responses:

On Military Commissions: As he stated on CNN the day before, Specter reiterated that while he thought the compromise on classified evidence was "correct," he remained "strongly opposed" to the provision taking habeus corpus out of the hands of the federal judiciary. Specter said the great writ is explicitly authorized under the Constitution for cases of insurrection or invasion, neither of which we currently face. He'll be introducing an amendment to that effect this week.

On the NSA Program: Specter said there had been major changes in the bill over time but that it had been refined to the point where he thought the "chances are pretty good it will pass." In fact, responding to a question about his relationship with President Bush, Specter responded that he and the President had a great relationship and that he had negotiated directly with the President on aspects of the NSA legislation.

On Immigration: Specter was clearly peeved at being bullied by the House, saying it seemed clear that "the House of Representatives doesn't think much of the bicameral system." Specter said he thought enforcement was vital and that he supported a fence, but that immigration reform shouldn't be handled in such a "piecemeal" way. As Chair of the Conference committee on immigration Specter said he remained open to finding a comprehensive solution. "If somebody has a better idea," he said, "I'm open to listen."

On Judges: Specter defended his record as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, saying the 5.3% vacancy rate in the federal court system is the lowest it's been in 20 years. He rattled off a number of successful appointments, including Pryor, Brown, Owen and Kavanaugh, as well as Alito and Roberts. Specter said he put Boyle , Haynes and Meyers right back on the Committee list after President Bush sent them back up, and he stressed that he's been running a tight ship, getting folks through the committee in a timely fashion. Specter used John Bolton's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as an example of why it's important to move expeditiously on nominations, saying, "if Bolton had testified or one day he would have been confirmed. Let them [nominees] hang out to dry and you can forget about it."

On Bolton: Specter said he supported Bolton and thought he was doing a good job. "He's smart, industrious, and cantankerous" Specter said, adding that he considered those to be "three good qualities."

On Signing Statements: Specter said President Bush's use of signing statements is "inappropriate under the Constitution." If the President likes a bill, Specter said, he should sign it. If not, he should veto it. But the President can't pick and choose which provisions of a bill he (and the rest of the executive branch) is going to follow.

On Torture: when asked about the Bush administration's use of torture, Specter challenged the premise of question. "I don't know that any officials have authorized torture," Specter said. "I don't think they have." He also referred to our current interrogation techniques as "rugged" but legal.

On the Election: when asked whether the GOP deserved 2 more years of Control, Specter said yes, for the following two reasons: 1) they've done a good job and 2) look at the alternative! Specter said his view was that the odds are "strongly in favor" of the GOP hanging onto the Senate and "somewhat in favor" of them hanging onto the House.

On Santorum: when asked what single piece of advice he'd give to Rick Santorum right now, Specter said Santorum should begin emphasizing the bill the two of them authored on stem cells. Specter was proud of the fact they had reached a compromise consistent with Santorum's religious, moral and ethical concerns and that also promoted life-saving science that would benefit millions of Americans. Specter thought that was an issue that would benefit Santorum in the election.

Will the Dems Get the Senate?

Last Wednesday on the back of the Gallup poll indicating a tie in the congressional ballot 48% - 48% and Quinnipiac's poll showing DeWine essentially tied in Ohio (Brown 45%, DeWine 44%) I asked whether we were seeing movement toward the GOP. The Columbus Dispatch did show a 3-point move toward DeWine, but still has him trailing by 5-points. So a little movement toward DeWine, but when you look at the Univ. of Cincinnati and the SurveyUSA polls that showed 4 and 10-point leads respectively for Brown, on balance, the other polling did not confirm Quinnipiac's one-point race.

The two other Senate races I suggested to keep an eye for new polling were Pennsylvania and Missouri:

If Rick Santorum can pull to within 3-7 points in the RCP Average (currently at Casey +8.6%) and Jim Talent can bump his lead up to 2-4 points (currently he has a scant 0.3% edge in the RCP Average) that would be a further indication that a real tightening is taking place across the board. On the other hand, if Bob Casey holds on to closer to a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania and Claire McCaskill stays tied or pulls ahead in Missouri, that would not be consistent with a GOP tightening.

Well we have a host of new polls on the Pennsylvania race and none of them are good news for Republicans. With the Green party candidate off the ballot the latest Quinnipiac poll, released today, gives Casey a 14-point lead, the IssuesPA/Pew poll has Casey up 23% (which is obviously exaggerated), the Philly Inquirer and Rasmussen Reports both have the race at 10 points. With the RCP Average now back up to Casey +12.8% it's pretty clear that the bump for the President and Republicans in the Generic ballot has done little to help Rick Santorum.

We don't have anything to report from Missouri, but of more concern for the GOP is the shape of the races in Tennessee and Virginia, both states thought likely for the Republicans to hold. Harold Ford appears to now have a legitimate shot at winning this seat for the Democrats. The latest RCP Average has this race tied, and there is a recent Democratic poll from BSG giving Ford a 6% lead. In Virginia, George Allen's campaign continues to slowly unravel taking this race from an easy Republican hold to a toss up today.

Now, Republicans hold structural advantages in all three of these states (MO, TN & VA), and at the end of the day would probably be favored to hold all three, but the fact that they are legitimately in play with a month and half to go, means the Democrats now have a real shot at capturing control of the Senate.

As I discuss in my column today on where the election may be headed.

The Democrats' odds of capturing the Senate have actually improved the last two months at the same time their national numbers vis-à-vis the Republicans have declined. The better analogy politically for 2006 may be 1986 when the Democrats picked up 8 Senate seats and only 5 House seats. Because of Reagan's landslide in 1980 there were many weak GOP incumbents in 1986 that were taken out. Today Republicans have less of an issue in that regard as their 1994 weak incumbents were taken out in 2000 (Grams, Abraham, Ashcroft, Gordon, and Roth). The point of the '86 analogy is not that the Democrats are going to take over the Senate, but rather that because of the inability to gerrymander states, Democrats might be headed for better success in the Senate than the House.

Just based on the most recent RCP Averages the Democrats are headed for a 4 seat pick up in the Senate and that includes the GOP picking up New Jersey.

With six weeks to go Chuck Schumer looks to be getting the best of Elizabeth Dole.

Aides Gone Wild

There seems to be a rash of stories detailing the stupid, unethical and - in at least one case - possibly illegal behavior of campaign aides this year:

In Minnesota, an aide to Democrat Amy Klobuchar got caught pirating an unreleased television ad from the campaign of Republican Mark Kennedy.

Also in Minnesota, an aide to Republican Rep. John Kline was caught on tape in a parking lot outside a Democratic event yelling about "jap" made cars.

In Maryland, an aide to Democrat Ben Cardin lost her job for posting racially insensitive remarks on a personal blog.

Now we can add two more incidents o the list of campaign aides gone wild:

In Colorado, an aide to Democratic Rep. John Salazar is currently "on leave" after sending out a personal email blasting Republican Tom Tancredo. After Tancredo wrote a letter urging the Pope to resist calls to apologize for his recent remarks, Salazar's staffer wrote that Tancredo "has has always been articulate in expressing his hatred of Islam and immigrants."

In New Hampshire, an aide to Republican Rep. Charlie Bass is in hot water for doing a bit of "sock puppetry" on liberal blogs on behalf of his boss.

I'm sure the list will grow a bit longer before November 7 rolls around.

Whopper of the Day

"But there has never been any doubt that [Bill] Clinton was more serious about combating terrorism than his successor, George W. Bush." - John Nichols, writing in The Nation.

September 25, 2006

Where's the Beef?

I happen to like and respect Larry Sabato a lot. But tonight on Hardball he was just flat out wrong to declare in one breath that George Allen had in fact used the n-word and then in the next breath to tell Chris Matthews that he "wasn't going to get into" the specifics of how he knew the accusation to be true.

You simply cannot make such a damning accusation on national television without backing it up. It's both irresponsible and unfair. If you're not going to source that kind of remark, you shouldn't make it in the first place.

Sabato is not an insignificant figure in the world of politics. Quite the contrary. Since he's now publicly supported the accusation that George Allen has used the n-word, isn't it reasonable to ask him to explain how or why he knows it to be true?

The Homecoming

Here's the view from a new Democracy Corps memo (pdf) analyzing the latest round of polls:

An objective analysis of averages derived from all of the polling conducted and released since Labor Day, as well as trends on a number of key measures, indicate there is undeniable truth to the notion of Republican gains...

However, the memo continues:

there is no consistent data indicating that the shifts toward Republicans have come among Independents or swing voters. Bush and the Republicans in Congress reached their low points this spring and summer because of deterioration within their Republican base. As the campaign gathers steam, we would fully expect these voters to return to the Republican fold or to alternately simply drop out of the electorate (and thus not be measured in likely voter surveys). Either way, until Bush and the Republicans make significant inroads among Independent voters, they will not be able to make up the significant deficits they still face before Election Day.

I agree with the first part of the final paragraph but not necessarily the last part. One of the key insights of the Bush '04 team was that the election would be won by focusing on expanding the base, not spending vast amounts of time and resources trying to win over a small slice of independents and undecideds.

It's true that Bush and the GOP's standing among Independents has deteriorated over the last two years which makes the current political climate very difficult, but the flip side is that turnout will be much lower this year than in '04, putting even more of a premium on getting Republican base voters to the polls on November 7.

Santorum Sinking

The post-Labor Day polls seem to be bringing little good news for Senator Santorum. Like the Gallup poll giving Casey an 18-point lead in late August we don't put a lot of stock in the IssuesPA/Pew poll showing Casey ahead 23 points, but there is no question that after a tightening to the 5-8 point range in mid-August, the recent polls indicate Casey has restored his double-digit lead. Put simply, this is bad news for Republican chances to hold this seat.

Santorum at a minimum needed to keep this race in the 5-8 point range. A 9 - 12 point range (or higher) in the RCP Average in late September, is not good news for an incumbent Senator. The polls are likely to close again, but Casey at this stage holds the definite advantage.

Wal-Mart Benefits the Public Again

In a tremendous demonstration of market power and benefit to consumers, Wal-Mart has decided to offer some generic versions of medicines for only $4 per prescription. The market reaction in other drug companies was swift and brutal with the two largest drug store chains, Walgreens and CVS, each losing at least 7% of their market value as stock traders reacted (probably over-reacted) to the competition. Other drug store chains and generic drug makers also had significant sell-offs.

The way to look at the market impact of Wal-Mart's announcement is that the market value loss in all those companies is a reflection of how much less consumers will end up paying for medicines because of the move. It is not so much about the 291 drugs on the initial list of the $4 program, but the possibility that other more profitable drugs will eventually be targets of Wal-Mart's competitive power.

It's a subject I'll be writing more about soon, but this is another great example of Wal-Mart benefiting the consumer and particularly the middle- and lower-income consumer. Yet the Democratic Party, nominally the champion of the little guy, has made attacking Wal-Mart one of its primary campaign strategies despite the fact that many Wal-Mart shoppers are Dems and, given that they could be shopping elsewhere, it is reasonable to presume that they love saving so much money at Wal-Mart.

New Jersey Senate Race

The recent polling in New Jersey seems to confirm that Senator Menendez is indeed in trouble. The Democrat hasn't had the lead in a non-partisan, telephone poll since the beginning of August, and right now he trails Kean 44.3% - 41.0% in the RCP Average. Given the macro negative backdrop for Republicans and the Democratic tilt of New Jersey, Menendez's inability to get his numbers out of the low 40's we take as a real warning sign for his reelection. This race is not only clearly a toss up, but it is fast becoming one of the more likely seats to switch parties.

Missouri Senate: Talent vs. McCaskill

Missouri is in many ways the bellwether race in the Battle for the Senate. First, from a pure numbers standpoint of the Democrats needing six seats to flip control, a loss in the "Show-Me-State" basically puts that out of the realm of possibility. And second, the way this race tips the next six weeks will be a good indication of where the entire election is heading.

This is a contest the Republicans should win. Senator Talent is an attractive young star in the GOP Senate caucus who lost a tough race for Governor in 2000 by 20,000 votes. He then came back and won by 20,000 votes two years later over Mel Carnahan's wife Jean Carnahan, who had assumed the seat under unusual circumstances following her husband's death (before the 2000 election) and win over John Ashcroft.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill lost a close governor's race two years ago to Gov. Matt Blunt 51% - 48% and thus starts out of the gate with a high level of name recognition and a solid base of support. However, McCaskill lost 90 out of 97 counties statewide and has a problem of being perceived as too liberal outside of metro St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouri is a relatively, culturally conservative state that President Bush won by 3% in 2000 and 7% in 2004 and running the standard Republican playbook hitting McCaskill as too liberal on judges, the war, and taxes should be enough for Talent to carry the day.

If not, it would be a sign that Republicans are going to be in for an awfully long election night. The fact that this race is a toss up speaks to the difficulties Republicans are facing this midterm. The current RCP Average in this race gives Talent a tiny 0.3% lead, 46.3% to 46.0%.

George Allen is in Trouble

In May earlier this year I saw George Allen in New York City when he was riding high and clearly running for President in 2008. That must seem a long time ago to Senator Allen, as over the past six weeks he has fallen from one of the top-tier GOP candidates contending for the '08 nomination to a tongue-tied, mistake-prone, freshman Senator on the verge of becoming the biggest upset in the 2006 midterms.

Back in February I wrote that:

Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb has seriously complicated Senator George Allen's plans to run for President in 2008. With John McCain and Rudy Giuliani dominating the early GOP 2008 polls, George Allen had moved into position as the leading conservative candidate running for president and because of that distinction he was increasingly seen as an early frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Mark Warner's decision to pass on a head to head match up against Allen to focus on his own run for the White House was seen as a break for Senator Allen, clearing the path for Allen to begin looking ahead toward 2008. However, Warner's void left the Democratic field wide open and James Webb is now in a position to create quite a few problems for Senator Allen - not the least of which is that Webb has a better shot at beating Allen than Warner.....

James Webb is the type of candidate Democrats desperately need, and he has an appeal to the exact voters (middle class whites, concerned about national security) Democrats have been steadily losing the last 30 years. Webb is a 1968 graduate of the Naval Academy, winner of the Navy Cross and former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. He is a Zell Miller/Andrew Jackson type of Democrat, (the exact opposite of North Carolina's John Edwards) and is in a position to credibly get to the right of Allen on national security issues.....

Senator Allen still remains the solid favorite in this race because he is a formidable candidate in his own right and Virginia is a strong Republican state. But if Webb does get the Democratic nomination, Allen will have to put his 2008 ambitions on hold and take care of 2006 Virginia business first.

It was clear early on in this race that Webb (if he did get the Democratic nomination, he only won the primary 52 - 48) was not going to be a patsy that Allen could afford to ignore. Because of Webb's pedigree and Jacksonian Democratic credentials he had the ability to sneak up on Senator Allen and win -- if the national Democratic tide were strong enough. But at the end of the day, because Allen was a relatively popular former governor and incumbent Senator in a red state, Jim Webb was always probably looking at a 53% - 47%, 55% - 45% type of loss.

This is of course all "pre-Macaca."

The "Macaca" incident has in hindsight completely changed the dynamic of this race in a way I didn't anticipate at the time. Some of this is the fault of the Allen campaign and how they managed the damage control, but much of it is a function that "Macaca" acquired the legs it had because of the fodder in George Allen's background on race. As much as we were right in identifying James Webb as a potential problem for Allen back in February, we were flat out wrong as to the effect of "Macaca" this August.

Bottom line, George Allen is in trouble. And if these next round of polls show this contest tied or Webb ahead, Allen will be in big, big trouble. This is not to say that this race should be chalked up to the Democrats, only that there is a serious, potential upset brewing in Virginia.

However, before one gets too caught up in the anti-George Allen fever of the day, Senator Allen has some powerful factors working in his favor. He has a lot of money, he is running in a red state, and Allen is a very attractive and likable candidate......usually. He won his Senate seat in 2000, 52% - 48% over a tough conservative Democrat in Chuck Robb, when most other close 2000 Senate races were going to the Democrats. But the biggest ally George Allen has, is he still has six weeks to get back on track. The Allen campaign would be smart to start unloading on Jim Webb today, because the longer this race stays tied or very close, the higher the odds climb that Webb pulls off the big upset.

A Tell on Immigration?

Is the fence headed for a big showdown in the Senate, or merely a quiet death? Mickey watched Senator Frist on Stephanolpolous yesterday and has suspicions it's the latter.

Pundit Review Radio

Here's the link from last night's show. We talked a little about Bill Clinton, the current move toward the GOP in the national polls, hit some of the key Senate races this year, and even managed to play a bit of the '08 parlor game. Thanks to Kevin and Greg for having me on.

September 24, 2006

Akaka Wins

Ed Case conceded earlier this morning to Akaka in the Democratic Senate primary in Hawaii. With 65% reporting, Akaka led Case 55% to 45%.

Other primary results: Hirono leads Hanabusa in the Democratic House primary race to replace Case and incumbent Republican Governor Linda Lingle will face off against Democrat Randy Iwase.

Adwatch '06: Roskam vs. Duckworth

Things are heating up in Illinois 6. Here is Peter Roskam's first television ad currently airing on cable:

The Duckworth campaign is touting this column by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn slamming Roskam for refusing to repudiate a NRCC mailer accusing Duckworth of supporting "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

Roskam and Duckworth face off in their first debate tonight on WBBM radio at 9:30pm Central time. Should be a very interesting match up. More info on the race in IL-6 here.

Media Alert

I'll be on Pundit Review Radio tonight during the second hour (8p-9p). You can catch listen live on WRKO.

September 23, 2006

Bill Clinton and Osama Bin Laden

The two big stories today seem to be the rumor swirling around that Osama bin Laden has died from typhoid or a serious "water-borne illness." Time is reporting that:

Fugitive Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, believed to be on the run in rugged terrain in the Afghan-Pakistani border region since the September 11 attacks five years ago, has become seriously ill and may have already died, a Saudi source tells TIME, echoing earlier reports in the French media.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that Saudi officials have received multiple credible reports over the last several weeks that Bin Laden has been suffering from a water-borne illness. The source believes that there is a "high probability" that Bin Laden has already died from the disease, but stressed that Saudi officials have thus far received no concrete evidence of Bin Laden's death.

"This is not a rumor," says the source. "He is very ill. He got a water-related sickness and it could be terminal. There are a lot of serious facts about things that have actually happened. There is a lot to it. But we don't have any concrete information to say that he is dead."

The Strata-Sphere has a good roundup on the bin Laden rumor.

The other story that is generating interest in political circles is former Preisdent Bill Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace for tomorrow's FOX News Sunday. You can watch Wallace comment on the interview here. The transcript makes compelling reading and Clinton goes off on more than one occasion:

WALLACE: ...but the question is why didn't you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?

CLINTON: OK, let's talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits but I want to talk about the context of which this...arises. I'm being asked this on the FOX network...ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 911 commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 commission report. I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn't do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush's neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn't have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn't do enough said that I did too much. Same people.....

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn't get him

WALLACE: Right...

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn't..... I tired. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke... So you did FOX's bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know..

WALLACE: We asked.... Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday sir?

CLINTON: I don't believe you ask them that.

WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of...

CLINTON: You didn't ask that did you? Tell the truth.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole?

CLINTON: tell the truth.

WALLACE: I...with Iraq and Afghanistan there's plenty of stuff to ask.

CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about. You said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion dollars plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care.

WALLACE: But President Clinton... We were going to ask half the question about it. I didn't think this was going to set you off on such a tear.

The vaunted Clinton PR machine seems to have lost a few steps this past moth. Their attack on ABC and the "Path to 9/11" only highlighted the exact stuff concerning the Clinton administration's approach to bin Laden they wanted to play down. And then here with the FOX News Sunday interview Clinton is only going to generate more focus on exactly what he did or didn't do as President to get bin Laden.

Should be interesting television tomorrow morning.

September 22, 2006

Mehlman to Dean: Thank You Very Much

So the Wall Street Journal gave the chairman of each political party equal time in today's paper, and this is what we got (Dean | Mehlman). Honestly, Ken Mehlman is probably still doing backflips in his office even as I write, because Howard Dean did him a tremendous favor by helping clarify the choice for voters in the coming election.

Here's what I mean: Republicans want this election to be all about national security. Duh. It's quite obviously the most important, most salient issue Republicans have to run on and if you believe the polls it's darn near the only issue on which the public still prefers the GOP to the Democrats.

Ken Mehlman knows this, which is why he spent the first 642 words of his op-ed this morning talking about national security and the global war on terror. Given the venue, one might have reasonably expected Mehlman to spend a good deal of time touting the unheralded virtues of the Bush economy. He didn't.

In the eighth paragraph Mehlman finally got around to providing a cursory 200-word description of the GOP's domestic agenda (tax cuts, promoting small business, school choice), but that was it. The message was all about national security.

Now read Dean's article. He begins with this: "We need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror -- and to end the war on America's families." But if you were looking for an explanation in the 1,056 words that followed as to why we need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror, you came away disappointed - because Dean never really offered one.

Instead, he launched into a litany of detailed complaints against the Bush economy (falling incomes, stagnant wages, rising heathcare costs, and falling retirement coverage) led off by a muted but obvious piece of populist class warfare right out of Bob Shrum's faded playbook: "An economy that favors the top 1% at the expense of everyone else might be good for President Bush's politics, but a shrinking middle class is bad for capitalism, democracy and America."

Ten paragraphs and 736 words into the article, Dean made mention that Iraq has hurt the economy and that Democrats would spend more on homeland security. Then, finally, in the second to last paragraph, Dean wrote this:

"We will have a defense policy that is tough and smart, starting with phased redeployment of our troops in Iraq, and shore up our efforts to attack al Qaeda and fight the war on terror. We also will close the gaps in our security here at home by implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations."

That's it. Fifty-three words. As a proportion of his overall message, Dean spent 5% of his time talking about national security (13.5% if you include the graf about homeland security). Mehlman spent 65% of his time drawing a fairly vivid picture of the global war on terror.

If Democrats want to take back control of Congress this November, one thing they cannot do is to let Republicans draw a clear line between the two parties on national security and to present voters with a distinct choice between who is more serious, more attentive, and more committed to protecting the country. They need to try and blur the line and muddy the choice by talking about national security (and Iraq) every chance they get.

That's why Ken Mehlman must have been so happy to see his op-ed running alongside Howard Dean's this morning in one of the largest papers in the country. By essentially ignoring the issue of national security and the war on terror, Howard Dean helped draw exactly the contrast Republicans want (and need) most this year.

Separation of (Lindsay's) Powers

No one outside the military justice community is likely to be aware of the September 20, 2006 decision in United States v. Lane by the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. It would be an uninteresting case, just a druggie being booted out of the military for the crime of cocaine use, but for the unusual Constitutional issue it decided: whether a sitting senator, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, can serve both as a member of the Senate under Article 1 of the Constitution and as a military judge under Article 2. The Court of Appeals ruled "no", in resounding terms.

The Constitution's Article 1 Section 6 says, in part, that, "No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the authority of the United States...and no Person holding any Office under the United States shall be a member of either House during his Continuance in Office." This is part of the Separation of Powers, known as the "incompatibility clause." The Supreme Court has said that, "The Constitution thereby...prohibits members of Congress from holding other offices through [this] limitation..."

Relying on Supreme Court cases dating back to 1879, the Court reversed and remanded to the lower court, writing that:

In this case, a Member of Congress is serving in a position that requires the exercise of judicial power to affirmatively find beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused committed a criminal offense, that there is no prejudicial error, and that the sentence is lawful and appropriate. A position that requires the exercise of those powers is an office of the United States and cannot be filled by a person who simultaneously serves as a Member of Congress.

This ruling effectively tosses Sen. Graham off the Air Force Court of Military Appeals. Sen. Graham is a member of the Judiciary Committee. One can only wonder what he would say to a judicial nominee who was as apparently ignorant of the Incompatibility Clause as he.

Detainee Compromise is Bad News for Dems

Judging by the reaction of the New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages, one would think that Jed Babbin's characterization of this deal as a "near-total win for the White House" is perhaps not that far away from the truth. The title of The Post's editorial ("The Abuse Can Continue") reveals just how far away they are from the average American on this issue. People on the street don't see these interrogations of terrorist suspects as "abuse" but rather what our operatives "have to do" to get the job done and to protect us from religious fanatics determined to kill as many innocent Americans as possible.

Liberals will hate the analogy to "24," but at the end of the day the public sees this debate as between those trying to give the America's Jack Bauers the legal cover to do what they think is necessary to keep Americans safe, while opponents play the role of bureaucratic suits and elitists more concerned about what the rest of the world might think. It is a straw man thrown out by critics of the President to say that this is about the "rule of law," because the entire process the White House has engaged in has been all about the "rule of law" and getting the people's representatives in the House and the Senate to pass a bill the President can sign into law.

And now with McCain and Bush on the same page, Democrats are in a very uncomfortable position politically, given there is an election in a little over a month. Do they side with the President or with the New York Times and the Washington Post? It is a classic lose-lose situation.

Democrats would have been better off having McCain and Warner side with the President immediately and just allowed this bill to pass without much of a fight and move on.

McCain is now in a supreme position to really deliver big time for Republicans, and if he backs the compromise and President Bush 100% Democrats are going to get the screws put to them politically. And, if they make the very unwise decision to fight Bush and McCain on this interrogation issue, the entire election could change dramatically, and not in a direction that will make Democrats happy when they wake up on November 8th.

Headline Watch

What a difference a headline makes:

Top Republicans Reach an Accord on Detainee Bill - Kate Zernike, New York Times

Terror Bill Agreement Seen as Win for McCain - Kate Zernike, Arizona Republic

The Compromise on Terrorist Interrogation and Military Commissions

The compromise on terrorist interrogation and military commissions reached yesterday is a good one, but it sets up a House-Senate conference battle in which too much is at risk. Sen. Frist may put it up for Senate floor debate today.

In short, the compromise:

· Precludes a private right of action (i.e., the ability of a person to enforce in court) in either habeas corpus litigation or a civil case, the "rights" granted under the Geneva Conventions; · Specifies the war crimes that will comprise violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and says no foreign or international law can be used by US courts to further define those crimes; · Gives the president further authority to promulgate higher standards of conduct for terrorist interrogators; · Defines, reasonably well, the "cruel or inhuman treatment" vague terms used in the McCain amendment of 2005 and Common Article 3; · Restores the definitions for "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in the pre-McCain Amendment Title 18 Section 2340, US Code; BUT · Retains the McCain amendment definitions as well.

The interpretation of law requires that the general language in the McCain amendment will yield to the specific language in Section 2340. Unless.

Unless the House-Senate conference mucks it up again. So far, this is a near-total win for the White House. But the fight is a long way from ending. McCain obviously will try again in conference. If he wins there, all gained so far will be lost.

Cartoon of the Day

Cartoonist Mike Shelton has a gem in today's Orange County Register:

shelton.gif

The NY Times & Congressional Job Approval

Yesterday, the New York Times offered an analysis of their most recent poll -- asserting that Congress' horrible marks are signs of major trouble for Republicans.

There are a whole host of inferential problems with using congressional job approval as an estimate of seat changes in the next election. At the end of its write-up on the job approval number, which is indeed ridiculously low at 25%, the Times backed off the implication, seemingly aware of the trouble. They have good reason to.

Here is a quick list of reasons why congressional job approval is not the first thing I look to in a poll to get a gauge on November. The 4th reason explains why it is not even the last thing.

1. The implication of the poll is that it reflects an anti-incumbency feeling -- and a very great one at that. However, we can rest assured that 90% of incumbents will be reelected in November. Accordingly, the fact that so many people (a) are voicing disapproval of Congress and (b) will eventually vote for their member anyway is a sign that whatever phenomenon it is picking up is not, in itself, necessarily actionable. At the most, we can only conclude that congressional job approval sets up some kind of context for a vote against the incumbent. This begs the question: are the other factors there, and to what extent are they there? That is what really matters.

2. The ecological fallacy (once again) rears its ugly head. This poll is a poll of the nation. But the House vote is not a national contest. It is a series of 435 individual contests. Accordingly, the distribution of sentiment matters a great deal. And a national poll gives us no indication on how these feelings are distributed -- and so does not, in itself, point to anything whatsoever.

3. Relatedly, there is no necessary reason to accept the idea that this will affect Republicans negatively. These numbers are surely being driven, in part, by voters who are disappointed that Congress has not been sufficiently conservative. They would register disapproval, but this disapproval is not actionable on Election Day. At best, the voter can abstain -- but Republican representatives in competitive districts, those who need their conservative base activated, are very effective at making sure the voters distinguish between the institution and them. That's what the "Homestyle" is all about.

4. The first 3 reasons demonstrate the insufficiency of using congressional job approval as a measure of final vote outcomes. I would actually take things a step further and argue that it is entirely unnecessary. I have written about congressional job approval previously -- and my conclusion was that it is probably a spurious cause of congressional election results. The reason for this is not just that it has a horrible track record in predicting final seat swings -- which itself is a sign that, at best, it is spurious. More importantly, it actually does a better job predicting how many seats the party of the President will gain/lose, regardless of whether the party of the President is actually in control. of Congress. This makes no sense, and supports the idea of spuriousness. My theory is that presidential job approval drives both final elections and congressional job approval.

Let me be clear -- I do not doubt that there is some feeling out there in the nation that this statistic is tapping into. And this feeling is ultimately what will cause Republicans to lose a good number of seats. My objection is that the Times, like many outlets, paints congressional job approval as a cause of what will happen in November. When they point to 1994, that is what they are doing. But the data, as well as the logic, indicates that this is likely a spurious cause. At best, all we can say is that congressional job approval, sometimes but not always, somewhat, but not very much, co-moves with final November results.

Generally, this has been something I have noticed in this season's coverage of the Election. Pundits tend to make a laundry list of causes of GOP trouble. I do not doubt that the GOP is in trouble. What I do doubt is the laundry list. I think that many of the things they point to are in fact all effects of something that is going to cause the result in November. In other words, there is some singular cause that (a) induces congressional job approval to tank, (b) induces right track/wrong track to tank, (c) induces "do you want to reelect your incumbent?" to tank, and (d) induces final election results. (a) through (c) do not cause (d). But, if you are only taking a brief look at the data (for instance...oh I don't know...maybe just looking back to one previous incidence, that happens to be the outlier), and are not careful to distinguish between correlation and causation, you'll conclude that (a) through (c) do indeed cause (d).

This is a symptom of a broader problem I have noticed. Journalists and their editors recognize that they are not able to put together externally valid samples to gauge public sentiment. They know that they need pollsters. However, for some reason, they believe that they can interpret the results. In actuality, interpreting polling is as difficult as creating polling. It requires a thorough grounding in the logic of causal inference -- which is something that journalists obviously lack. They seem to completely lack it, too -- if they knew anything about this logic, they woukd know how difficult and tricky it can be, and they would either outsource the task of interpretation, study up, or express some hestitation. But they don't. They interpret polls just as college freshmen interpret Aristotle -- with a gusto and authority that only comes with complete ignorance of the subject.

A professor friend of mine once told me that the problem with political journalism is that journalists are doing political science with an M.A. in English. I think there is a lot of truth to that -- and the misuse of polling data in journalist circles is one thing I would point to.

Late Breaking Polls

A couple of late breaking House polls from SurveyUSA. First, Republican Heather Wilson is up 5 points on Democrat Patricia Madrid in NM-01and, perhaps more importantly, this is the first independent poll showing her topping the 50% mark. Also, in CO-04, SurveyUSA has incumbent Republican Marilyn Musgrave running 4 points ahead of Democratic challenger Angie Paccione.

These are very interesting results, and they only add to the intriguing point Jay raised yesterday. Here we have two Republican incumbents running for reelection. Yet Wilson is running stronger than one might expect this year in a marginally Dem-leaning district with a Cook partisan voting index (PVI) of D+2 that voted 51-48 in favor of John Kerry in 2004. Meanwhile, Marilyn Musgrave is in a tight race despite the fact she's in a heavily Republican district with a Cook PVI of R+11 that gave Bush a 19-point victory over Kerry in 2004.

So what gives? To rephrase Jay's point in the form of a question, is Democratic strength overstated or understated this year?

September 21, 2006

Media Alert

I'm scheduled to be on Hannity & Colmes later tonight (roughly 9:15pm Eastern) with Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers and Fox News contributor Robert Novak discussing some of latest polling on Election 2006.

D'oh!

Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin whiffs on one of the biggest no-brainers in the history of politics.

An Invitation

Next Tuesday evening (9/26) I'll be taking part in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. hosted by Pajamas Media. We're going to tackle the question, "How Partisan Is Too Partisan?" which should be a fairly entertaining discussion.

Fellow panelists include Michael Barone, Paul Mirengoff, Mark Blumenthal, Cliff May, Nidra Poller, Richard Miniter, and Jane Hall. Glenn Reynolds will moderate.

Cocktails start at 5:30pm, panel at 6:30pm. Email here if you'd like to attend.

Immigration: Gold Rush or Fool's Gold?

Very interesting stuff. After everyone - including the media and, apparently, pro-immigration groups - ingested the conventional wisdom that immigration was dead until at least after the November election, pro-comprehensive reform forces are suddenly being routed on the Hill by the security-firsters.

The House started the ball rolling last week with the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Yesterday, the Senate voted 94-0 to take the measure up and President Bush said on national television he'd sign it. House Republicans then followed up the fence bill by passing a voter ID requirement yesterday along near party lines. Today, they're putting the pedal even further to the metal with seven more immigration related votes scheduled, including the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006, the Community Protection Act of 2006, and the Immigration Law Enforcement Act of 2006.

Obviously, Republicans have come to the conclusion that security-first immigration measures are critical to their reelection prospects this year. But this piece by John Kamman analyzing the impact of immigration on races in Arizona this year quotes Tamar Jacoby, the notoriously pro-immigration Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, saying that while Republicans think they've struck an electoral gold mine by getting tough on illegal immigration, it's really just fool's gold:

If immigration does give a victory to the GOP hard-liners, it would be the first time a get-tough approach has been such a powerful force in a federal election, a Washington, D.C.-based policy analyst says.

"In the past 10 years, a lot of politicians have looked at polling and said, 'Here's this big pocket of voters who don't like immigration,' " said Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

"It has turned out in every instance to be fool's gold (as a campaign issue)," she said.

Kamman goes on to write the following:

Statewide, public opinion so far indicates only modest support for the super-enforcement policy advocated by Hayworth in the district stretching north from Ahwatukee through Scottsdale and by GOP nominee Randy Graf in the district running from Tucson to the Mexican border.

I find that a bit strange, given that just a couple clicks away on the AZ Republic web site you can find this story by Dan Nowicki reporting how Jon Kyl is currently pulverizing Jim Pederson over a remark he made on a local radio show caling the Simpson-Mazzoli bill (a.k.a. amnesty) "the last effective (immigration) measure that passed Congress." Senate races are statewide contests, aren't they?

The fact is, amnesty is a dirty word, and House Republicans have done a good job of framing "comprehensive reform" as amnesty, and also of linking illegal immigration to concerns about national security. My feeling is that this makes the House-led approach more like a gold mine - at least in the short term and the coming election. The fear of some, however, is that tough measures by the GOP now will turn out to be fool's gold in the end, if they alienate a big chunk of the fast-growing bloc of Hispanic voters in the future.

Can Michael Steele Win in Maryland?

Maryland continues to be a major sleeper race in the battle for the Senate. The morning after last week's Democratic primary I suggested:

The conventional wisdom for Maryland has always been that an Mfume win is what the GOP needed to really put this traditionally Democratic seat in play. However a Cardin win may lay the foundation for the same path to victory Gov. Bob Ehrlich followed in 2002. Now 2002 was a very different year in tone and tenor for Republicans, and at the end of the day, the current macro-negativity toward President Bush and the GOP is what makes Cardin the clear favorite here in the general. However, Steele should not be counted out in this race.

An unenthusiastic black vote was a crucial element to Ehrlich's win four years ago, and the rejection of Mfume will not help the Democrats in that regard. So not only will Cardin likely be looking at smaller than otherwise black turnout, Steele as the first African-American to win statewide in MD, is perfectly positioned to challenge for a large portion of Maryland's sizable African-American electorate. A smaller black turnout overall, coupled with Steele perhaps capturing 30% of the statewide African-American vote, could make this a very interesting race election night

Just last night WMAR-TV in Baltimore released a poll done by SurveyUSA giving Steele a one point lead 48% - 47%, and more importantly showing him receiving 33% of the African-American vote. That 33% number is more than double the 15% African-American support for Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich in the same poll. While Maryland Democrats are working hard to paper over any lingering animosity from the primary, Mfume's much closer than expected loss (the final was 43.5 %- 40.6%) has produced a quiet bitterness in parts of the black political community toward Cardin and the Md. Dem establishment. With the Ehrlich - O'Malley race for Governor likely to tighten and be extremely close at the finish, if Steele can maintain that 30%+ support among black voters this race becomes a total toss up.

Getting Seasick With Gallup

Republicans in the last few days have found themselves buoyant -- thanks in large measure, it seems, to what about 2,000 respondents had to say to Fox News and Gallup about which party they prefer in November. Suddenly, in the "generic ballot," the GOP is even with the Democrats.

Unfortunately, some of these buoyant Republicans seem to be the same people who took great heart in my column about the perils of the generic ballot. I am not sure how the two positions are reconcilable -- how you can join me in rejecting the generic in August and now embrace it in September. But I would note that I saw myself quoted by many bloggers as saying, "The generic ballot has a Democratic skew...it is just not trustworthy!" The "..." eliminated a very important point, which was that the skew is just the begining of what are very serious problems. So, I am not entirely surprised by the positive reception the recent Gallup generic has enjoyed on the right.

Republicans might be buoyant, but personally I'm getting seasick. In the last month, the Gallup generic has gone back and forth. In late August, it had the Democrats up only 2% among registered voters in the generic ballot. Then the Dems sprang ahead to a 12% lead in the course of about 15 days. And then, another 15 days later, the "likely voters" are driving another tie.

Gallup has done this to us before. As I have mentioned, there is a large and sustained Democratic skew to the generic ballot. But the skew is not omnipresent. A few times it offered up outlying results in the summer such that, when you take the average of their summer polls together, you actually get a result that underestimates Democratic strength. I found this to be the case for a few election years when I analyzed the June/July data. 1986 was a major problem for the model because of its underestimation of Democratic strength. Why? In any estimate where you use one variable (generic ballot) to predict another (final House vote), the error has to be distributed in a bell-shaped fashion. When it is not, often the problem is due to an outlying incidence. Your model is predicting one value that is much, much farther from the actual result than any of the other predictions. This was the case with 1986. In this situation, standard operating procedure is to toss the outlying observation (or to fix the data point if there was a calculation/recording error) after you have determined that there is not some kind of hidden centrality to it (e.g. is the exception actually the rule?). Otherwise, you risk throwing off your ability to draw a prediction, which of course is the whole point.

So, from my perspective -- I have seen Gallup go bouncing back and forth like this before. It was a major pain in my you-know-what this summer as I was trying to make sense of the generic ballot. I'm not jumping on this bandwagon. Note that this should not be taken as good news for Democrats or for Republicans. I would ask that liberal bloggers avoid the "..." that I saw on the right last month. I think the generic ballot is so awash with analytical problems that any kind of direct use of it is trouble.

However, if you are comparing the generic ballot to some other final result, you might not encounter this problem. Emory University's Alan Abramowitz uses the generic ballot as a measure of partisan strength to help predict seat changes, as opposed to vote changes, in an upcoming scholarly article in the journal PS. By using a different dependent variable (seats instead of votes), and by using it in the context of other predictive variables, you can eliminate these problems. But comparing the generic ballot to final popular votes, which is what most everybody else uses it for, is inferential trouble.

September 20, 2006

Adwatch '06: Lamont's 'Turncoat'

According to the Associated Press, Ned Lamont predicts this ad calling Joe Lieberman a turncoat "will appeal to his base and undecided voters" in Connecticut. Watch and decide for yourself:

Get all the latest news and polls on the CT Senate race here.

How Much Trouble Is Chocola In?

I noted with interest the recent publication of a Research 2000 poll from Indiana's 2nd Congressional District. It showed Democratic challenger Joe Donnelly with an impressive 8% lead over 2 term representative Chris Chocola. Even more worrisome for Chocola is that Donnelly has hit 50%. What is more, several previous polls have given Donnelly a lead outside the margin of error.

The Indiana 02 race serves as an interesting contrast to what has been happening in many districts around the nation. Races that, perhaps in the Spring, seemed to be vulnerable for the Republicans are now appearing to be less vulnerable. I am thinking in particular of CA 11, KY 03, NV 03, NH 01, NH 02, NJ 07, NY 19, NY 20. There were either strong candidates in the mix, strong fundraisers in the mix, or weak incumbents in the mix to give the NRCC worries about these districts as late as Memorial Day. But -- Democratic challenges have not really materialized in any of these places. What is surprising is that these districts are, at best, only marginally Republican. So, it is surprising to see these districts dematerialize for the Democrats. Back around Memorial Day, most of these were at the top of my watch list (well -- not CA 11 so much).

On the other hand, there were just as many downright conservative districts that seemed to be toss-ups back around Memorial Day. Of these I am thinking of IN 08, IN 09, KY 04, NC 11 and VA 02. Much like the aforementioned marginal districts, all of these featured one or two things that disadvantaged the Republican incumbent. Either he/she was new, not a very good candidate, saddled with ethical questions, facing a top tier challenger, etc. However, they were all districts in what really must be classified as heavily Republican turf. Off the top of my head, I believe Bush's average share of the two-party vote in these six districts was something like 59%.

Accordingly, one would expect that, if districts were going to fall off the map, it would be these districts. But these conservative districts really have not fallen away. They have stayed competitive. The Democrats, it seems, stand a better shot at taking out a Republican incumbent in a district that went 59% for Bush than they do in a district that went 52% for Bush.

And then there is IN 02. This was really on nobody's radar as of Memorial Day. And it seemed to have been off the radar for good reason. Chocola won his sophomore effort with 54% of the vote. Not terribly impressive for a second run, but not too shabby, either. Unlike somebody like John Hostettler in IN 08 or Charlie Bass in NH 02 -- he was not a quirky candidate. He ran a traditional, and traditionally funded, campaign. He spent $1.4 million, twice as much as his opponent, in 2004. A good show. His district is not the most Republican in Indiana, but Bush did win it in 2004 with 56% of the vote. The best news for Chocola seemed to have been that he drew the same challenger as 2004 -- Joe Donnelly, who has never held elective office. This, to me, was a sign that the Democrats were not successful in their recruitment endeavors for IN 02, if they tried at all (they probably did). A political neophyte who loses by 9% two years prior is not your "go to guy" to pick the seat back up.

But, in the Spring, Moveon.org moved in with ads against Chocola, and his numbers started to soften by the summer. And they have gotten softer. And softer. And then in mid-September, Research 2000 releases a poll that shows Chocola down by an eye-popping amount. And, Chocola only offered tepid protest.

IN 02, just like IN 08 and the rest of the aforementioned tight races, feature two important Republican advantages. First, incumbents are running for reelection in all locations; while these incumbents are relatively weak, none of them have any damning weaknesses (Charles Taylor in NC 11 comes the closest to that, but he wheathered ethical questions several cycles ago). None of them are Tom DeLay or Bob Ney weak. But they are also not Conrad Burns or Rick Santorum weak. Incumbency is still an advantage, not a liability, for them; though its boost will be muted in these districts because none of them have really built for themselves the "personal vote" that insulates so many others. What will be of more significant advantage in these districts is that they are all Republican in their partisan orientation. All of them, historically, vote for Republican presidential candidates at a larger percentage than the nation as a whole. This implies that, at the least, a strong plurality of voters in these districts are Republicans.

If Chocola was down 8 in a district that leans Democratic usually, it would be time to write him off. And the NRCC most certainly would. But, with a district that leans Republican, he can still expect at least some of the voters in the district to "come home" to him. Whether enough of them will is hard to say. Charlie Cook has IN 02 as a toss-up. Stu Rothenberg sees it leaning to Donnelly. Both of them could make strong arguments that ultimately would boil down to how much of Chocola's base is going to come back his way. At this point, the expectation that Republicans will come home in sufficient numbers is still nothing more than an expectation -- and so, minimally, you'd have to go with Mr. Cook.

This race, and this as yet unfulfilled expectation, gets to an interesting phenomenon about this election. It is strange that so many of the races identified as toss-up or even as leaning Democratic are actually in solidly conservative districts. It is also strange that the downgrading of races that seems to have taken place recently is in relatively moderate districts. This indicates to me some instability in the consensus estimate of vulnerable races. By the estimates of most analysts, we should expect the Democrats to get 20% up to even 40% of their seats from conservative districts. In 1994, the GOP picked only about 12% of their seats from districts that were as liberal as these were conservative.

Now -- of course -- this could just be the way things work out this time around. All of these incumbents in conservative districts have weaknesses. Some of them have significant weaknesses. If each of them has a non-zero chance of defeat, there is necessarily a non-zero chance that all of them could lose. However, it seems unlikely that such a large proportion of Democratic gains would come from these districts, given that we know that (a) people tend to vote their partisanship in congressional elections and (b) when they vote against their partisanship they tend to do so to support the incubment. In other words, we should not expect the GOP to lose such a large proportion of its seats in solidly Republican districts, but rather in marginally Republican districts and marginally Democratic districts. What I mean is that such hefty Democratic gains in Republican areas would violate the narrative of congressional elections. You'd eventually see somebody at some academic conference panel on the 06 elections start talking "realignment," which would be extremely peculiar as the House has never once been the first mover in a realignment. It tends to be the last.

What does this mean moving forward? Well -- if 30% of GOP loses do not happen in solidly Republican districts, if the final number is more like 12% -- one of two things would have occurred. (A) the Democrats, come October, start to fizzle out in these races as Republicans "come home" to Republican incumbents; ultimately, the Democrats pick up less than the consensus estimate. (B) The Republicans, come October, start to see a much more sizeable playing field, as Republicans in moderate districts start to abandon Republican incumbents just as is happening in these districts; ultimately, the Democrats pick up more seats than the consensus estimate. Those aforementioned races that are of late off the radar would come back on.

Simply stated, the fact that there are right now so many solidly conservative districts on the toss-up list is a sign either that Democratic strength is overstated or understated.

Mark Warner's Fishing Expedition

Two interesting, interrelated stories out today. The first is Jason Horowitz's account in the New York Observer of a recent Mark Warner fundraiser in New York City. Warner is quietly but aggressively trying to land a few big fish in Hillary's back yard with his "I'm electable, she's not" pitch. One of those attending the event told Horowitz:

"If the donor community of New York were locked into Hillary Clinton's candidacy, these events would not be taking place. They have not made a blood-oath commitment to Hillary and they want to win, and they want to see who can do that."

But Warner's effort to exploit any chinks in Hillary's fundraising armor is probably made more difficult by the second piece of news out today, which is the report in The Hill that former DNC head and longtime Clinton bag man Terry McAuliffe has signed on to chair Hillary's 2008 run.

I attended a private Warner fundraiser in the north suburbs of Chicago a few months back and found exactly the same thing as Horowitz. Most of those I talked to generally liked Hillary but immediately brought up concerns about her electability. In fact, the host of the event described himself as a liberal who was not politically active prior to 2004. After being crushed by the reelection of George W. Bush, however, he set out to find a Democrat with the sort of profile he felt could win back the White House: a moderate/centrist who could connect with Middle America and compete in the South. Alas, it was a pretty short list. He called Warner's office (he was still Governor of Virginia at the time) and left a message saying he wanted to talk. To his surprise, Warner called back.

This story is one Warner has to replicate many times over, and fast, while there's still money to be had and a considerable resevoir of doubt remaining about Hillary's electability. Warner only has so much time to tap into the pragmatic streak running through the Democratic party which, despite some outward appearances, remains wide and fairly deep.

Once Hillary's 2008 locomotive gets fully on the tracks, with $50+ million in the bank and a frontloaded primary schedule (which could grow even more so if New Hampshire moves into January or even December '07 and Iowa follows suit) it will be difficult to stop, especially as she begins to spend her considerable funds (and Bill starts to work his magic on voters) shrinking those doubts about her electability.

Is There Movement Toward the GOP?

On the back of yesterday's release by Gallup showing the GOP pulling to even in the Generic Ballot, 48% - 48% among likely voters, today's Quinnipiac poll in Ohio showing Senator Mike DeWine essentially tied with Rep. Sherrod Brown (Brown 45%, DeWine 44%) could be another piece of data suggesting that we may have seen a shift in the landscape for this year's midterms over the past four weeks. The University of Cincinnati has also released a poll today with Brown ahead only four points, 51% - 47%. Falling gas prices, the DOW near all-time highs and a renewed focus on the war on terror is not the backdrop one would associate with a massive Democratic "wave" in November.

We'll see whether this tightening in Ohio is confirmed by other polling in key races. There is a lag effect with much of the state polling, and to date most of the state polling has not been confirming a significant tightening toward Republicans. It will be important to watch whether today's Ohio Senate polls are a harbinger of better polls on the state level for the GOP.

The two races in particular I am keeping my eyes on for new polling are Pennsylvania and Missouri. If Rick Santorum can pull to within 3-7 points in the RCP Average (currently at Casey +8.6%) and Jim Talent can bump his lead up to 2-4 points (currently he has a scant 0.3% edge in the RCP Average) that would be a further indication that a real tightening is taking place across the board. On the other hand, if Bob Casey holds on to closer to a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania and Claire McCaskill stays tied or pulls ahead in Missouri, that would not be consistent with a GOP tightening.

President Bush's job approval is another number to watch. The RCP Average has been hovering around 40% for about a month and currently resides at 40.8%; the direction Bush's job approval average moves away from 40% will be another good tell as to which way this election will break.

Deflationary Pressures Out There?

I'm sure the folks at the Fed are watching the commodity selloff of gold, silver, and various energy areas. And I'm equally certain they are watching the drubbing of metals and mining stocks, where Freeport-McMoRan was off yesterday around 5 percent and Phelps Dodge, U.S. Steel, and Alleghany Technology were down about 3 percent. The CBOE gold index was off 4.5 percent in yesterday's trading and 26 percent since May 10.

Money is tight. That's the message of the inverted yield curve where the 5.25 percent fed funds rate is way above most other maturities that are around 4.70 percent. The monetary base hasn't grown all year; it's been flat-lined by Fed actions to withdraw cash and raise their target rate.

The core PPI has dropped two straight months. Housing and autos are deflating. Yahoo is complaining about a big slowdown in ad revenues.

Working through the TIPS bond market model, the real fed funds rate is 2.85 percent, about 50 basis points above the real TIPS bond rate of 2.35 percent, which represents the economy's so-called natural rate.

The dollar bottomed two years ago and a combination of tight money plus reduced terror risk premiums are hauling in gold and oil prices.

As somebody who thought a couple of months ago that a neutral fed funds rate would be 5.5 percent, I am now coming to believe that a neutral rate would be 25 or 50 basis points lower.

Believe it or not, there are deflationary pressures building up out there.

The '06 Proxy Battle

This year, it's George W. Bush vs. Nancy Pelosi.

This Just In....

George Allen says he is, in fact, part Jewish. What does this have to do with anything? Your guess is as good as mine.

Backing the Pope

The former Archbishop of Canterbury has chimed in with a strong defense of the Pope, calling his recent speech "extraordinarily effective and lucid." Here is more of what had to say in a lecture at Newbold College, as quoted by The Times:

Lord Carey said that Muslims must address "with great urgency" their religion's association with violence. He made it clear that he believed the "clash of civilisations" endangering the world was not between Islamist extremists and the West, but with Islam as a whole.

"We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times," he said. "There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths." [snip]

Lord Carey, who as Archbishop of Canterbury became a pioneer in Christian-Muslim dialogue, himself quoted a contemporary political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who has said the world is witnessing a "clash of civilisations".

Arguing that Huntington's thesis has some "validity", Lord Carey quoted him as saying: "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power."

This type of language will probably earn a fatwa against Lord Carey of Clifton at some point, of course, but it seems we are indeed finally getting down to the nut. As I wrote back in February, five years after 9/11 and the scores of terrorist attacks around the globe since, the world is still waiting for moderate Muslims to stand up and take back their faith:

The problem, of course, is that while the West is the target of Islamic fundamentalism and terror, the West is not in control of the outcome of the battle. Ultimately, that responsibility rests in the hands of moderate Muslims. No amount of appeasement, or bombs, or isolation, or troop withdrawals by the West is going to change the core dynamic of the struggle between those who want a modern, tolerant version of Islam and those who want to impose a 9th century version of sharia.

Every religion has its fundamentalists - Christianity no less than Islam. The difference between the two (as well as other major religions) is that over time and through much struggle Christians developed an external, peaceful tolerance toward those who would offend or insult their faith and, just as importantly, an internal discipline and intolerance toward members who would commit heinous acts of violence against innocent people in the name of their Lord. Islam, for the most part, still has that equation backwards.

And so we wait and continue to wonder: where are the moderate Muslims today? Where have they been for the last five years? We saw protests against terrorism in the streets of Amman last year - but only after the horrendous suicide bombing of a wedding shocked the consciousness of Jordanians. Aside from that, we've seen nothing demonstrating the magnitude and seriousness one would expect from hundreds of millions of people outraged over the fact their religion's good name has been hijacked and distorted by a small group of fundamentalists.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn: moderate, peace-loving Muslims are either unable to win the battle against fundamentalism, or they are unwilling to win it. We are fast approaching the day when the continued lack of demonstrable effort on the part of moderate Muslims serves to disabuse the West of the notion that Islam "is peace." That would be a terrible thing, and it would make the struggle of moderate Muslims that much more difficult in the end. The time for action is now.

Viva la Diva

Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI says Democrat Maria Cantwell is taking "a diva's approach to debates" with Republican challenger Mike McGavick:

The Cantwell campaign loftily ignored McGavick's proposal that the two debate each other in all of the state's nine congressional districts. It has alternately stiff-armed and snubbed a bevy of civic and good government groups who have offered neutral forums.

One outfit -- the Bellingham City Club -- is refusing to be cowed.

"Unless the Cantwell people say 'yes' by Sept. 23rd, we'll announce to our 240 members that their October program will feature only one Senate candidate because the other candidate won't come," said Andy Anderson, ex-KVOS-TV news director.

"It's been frustrating as hell for us, but that's the way she likes to operate, I guess," added Anderson, who has worked for two Democratic congressmen.

Cantwell has so far agreed to a single debate, Oct. 12, before the Spokane Rotary Club. A Western Washington debate is likely to be finalized today. Cantwell apparently turned down a consortium led by The Olympian newspaper yesterday.

An unholy trinity of shopworn excuses is used to cover the senatorial fanny.

Read the whole thing. Cantwell's reputation for being difficult (to put it politely) is well known, but her behavior is hardly surprising. Unfortunatey, it's now a time honored tradition for politicians - usually incumbents but in some cases challengers who find themselves out in front like Bob Casey in PA - to play hide-the-ball when it comes to debates to keep from "elevating" their opponents by engaging with them and also to avoid putting themselves in situations where there might actually be an outbreak of spontaneity. Along with acute gerrymandering, it's one of the disappointing realities of the current political system.

September 19, 2006

Election '06 Polls: Fast & Furious

The polls are starting to come fast and furious these days. As I mentioned yesterday, you can view a scrolling list of polls from around the country updated throughout the day on the RCP latest polls page. Here are a couple of recent polls worth noting:

* IN-2: A new Research 2000 poll shows incumbent Republican Chris Chocola trailing Democrat Joe Donnelly by 8 points, 42-50.

* IA-1: In the race to fill Jim Nussle's seat, a new Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co. has Democrat Bruce Braley leading Republican Mike Whalen by 7 points, 44-37, with 17 percent undecided.

* WI Gov: A new Rasmussen poll has incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle up just 3 points on Republican challenger Mark Green (47-44). Doyle hasn't hit 50% in any non-internet based poll all year - an obvious cause of concern for any incumbent.

* MI Gov: A new SurveyUSA poll has the race between incumbent Democrat Jennifer Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos tied at 47, which is exactly where they were in this survey last month. A Detroit News poll last week which had Granholm 8 points showed a similar trend over the course of the last month: no movement.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Go see for yourself.

Ian Bremmer on Iran, China and The J Curve

Ian Bremmer is one of the best geo-political strategists in the world today. He was in Chicago last week promoting his new book The J Curve where he delivered a fascinating presentation to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs (formerly the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations). Here are a few nuggets of insight I found particularly interesting:

-- Bremmer appeared to be bullish on the political situation in terms of stability for both Brazil and Mexico
-- He voiced concern about the long-term political stability situation in China, especially if there is a slowing in Chinese economic growth
-- Bremmer was very concerned about the Iranian regime and the worry that Iran's leaders actually preferred an international crisis as opposed to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue.

Political stability in China will almost certainly become a huge issue some time in the next five years, and because of the massive interconnectedness in the global economy this could have a profound impact on the U.S. Bremmer also suggested that $70 oil was covering up a multitude of problems simmering beneath the surface in Iran and that a plunge in oil prices could undermine the current Iranian regime to the point they felt compelled to provoke an international incident or war.

In the event you missed it, last week we ran a two-part Q&A with Bremmer on The J Curve (Part I | Part II). I highly recommend his book to anyone with an interest in U.S. foreign policy or global affairs.

Hurricane Katherine

Over the last few months Katherine Harris has singlehandedly destroyed Republican hopes of unseating Democrat Bill Nelson in this year's Florida Senate race. But Democrats are now touting a new poll suggesting that the havoc Harris has wreaked in Florida might be even worse than imagined. Christine Jennings, the Democrat running in the race to replace Harris in Florida's 13th Congressional District, released a poll yesterday showing her leading her Republican opponent, Vern Buchanan, by eight points - 46 to 38 with 16% undecided.

The poll notes that Buchanan, a wealthy owner of car dealerships, emerged victorious after a hard fought five-way primary (into which he dumped a more than a mil of his own money) and also that Katherine Harris is sporting a net negative favorable rating in her old home district and trailing Bill Nelson by 9 points. Pollsters Hamilton Beattie & Staff conclude that the "fractured base of support" for Buchanan coupled with the "scandal plagued tenure" of Harris put Florida 13 "in the top tier of Democratic pick-up opportunities for the 2006 election cycle."

Let's not get carried away, shall we. This is still a Republican district: Bush carried it 56/43 in 2004 and it has a Cook partisan voter index of R+4. Buchanan has money, and you can expect the Republican base to firm up behind him in the coming weeks. Still, it's worth noting that Katherine Harris's ethical issues and her tragicomic Senate campaign have probably made this a much closer race than it would be otherwise.

More on McCain and the Detainee Issue

Some email reaction to my earlier post on the political ramifications of McCain's opposition to the President's position on interrogations.


"He (McCain) is already a hopeless cause with McCain-Feingold and The Gang of 14, this "torture" debacle seals the deal against McCain. In combination with Republicans already on thin ice with respect to rampant spending, nakedly corrupt pork barreling, immigration, judicial nominees, John Bolton, a McCain presidency would be a new floor in the disastrous descent from the principles of 1994. Republicans just haven't figured out how to rule yet.

I respect McCain's past service to the country as much as I detest his media darling conniving. This torture imbroglio is nothing but moral posturing. It is hurting the men and women trying to protect this country. McCain will pay for it among conservatives."

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"My take on McCain is this: given that he knows that he is despised by much of the conservative base that controls the nominating apparatus in 2008, his only hope of capturing the GOP nomination is for the GOP to lose control of both houses of Congress in 2006. If this happens, McCain can then "ride to the rescue" in 2008 as the only Republican hope with sufficient crossover appeal to keep the White House in GOP hands. Therefore, McCain is fomenting division within GOP ranks this autumn, realizing that people have short memories, and winning is what ultimately matters in 2008. I believe McCain's odds of winning the GOP nomination are greatly enhanced if the GOP does not control Congress over the next two years.

I do not believe McCain is mounting an independent candidacy.

I do believe that McCain is playing a scorched-earth approach to getting the nomination. And it could backfire.

That said, I do believe that a compromise will be found on the detainee issue. Quickly."

I agree that a debacle for the GOP this fall does work to McCain's advantage in terms of both the nomination and the general, but I find it very hard to believe that could really be the calculus behind McCain's position. James Pinkerton has a much more pro-McCain take on The Huffington Post suggesting McCain: "might have discovered a principle that's more important to him than the presidency."

I do agree with the last point in the second email that I suspect a compromise will be found on this rather quickly, as it is in both President Bush and Senator McCain's best interest.

Adwatch '06: Johnson Gets Tough

johnsonad.gif Michael Barone flagged this ad by Connecticut Republican Nancy Johnson as one of the number of examples which led him to the conclusion laid out in his column this week: namely, that the GOP has, once again, effectively framed the issue of national security to its advantage in the coming election. Click here to watch the ad, and tell me how you can possibly disagree.

What is John McCain's 2008 Strategy?

Senator John McCain's handling of the detainee issue with the President could have very long-reaching political ramifications. By and large, McCain had been doing a pretty good job over the last ten months aligning himself with President Bush and signing up high-profile Republicans for his 2008 run. McCain seems to have learned his lesson from 2000 that if he wants to be President as a Republican, he first has to win the Republican nomination.

On a personal level as someone who firsthand experienced brutal torture as a Vietnam POW I am sure McCain is acting on this issue out of personal conviction. So while the substance of his position may not be open much compromise, the public relations angle of how he handles this blowup certainly is. Looking at this issue politically, McCain's approach only works if the McCain camp has strategically come to a decision that the Republican nomination is simply unattainable and that an independent bid is his only realistic chance to win the Presidency. But that logic doesn't make a lot of sense as McCain has no reason to think he doesn't have a very good shot of winning the GOP nomination.

At this stage in the '08 nominating battle McCain, Giuliani and Romney clearly look like the Big 3. And while Giuliani looks good in some of these early polls, McCain still has to be regarded as the front-runner. That is what makes this fight with the President all the more perplexing. Perhaps McCain feels his history as a decorated POW in Vietnam will provide him cover on this issue and it some sense it definitely does. But McCain has only so many more sticks he can shove into conservative eyes before he really starts to hurt his chances for the GOP nomination.

The political error McCain and his advisors are making, insofar as it relates to 2008, is that this isn't about the specifics of the policy, which will be sorted out in time and which McCain's war record does provide him cover with conservatives. What really hurts him looking toward 2008, as far as the nomination, is his unwillingness to engage in partisanship. As we enter the election season, partisan Republicans see President Bush getting engaged and turning the 2006 debate toward issues that will help Republicans keep Congress - and they see John McCain personally stepping in and halting GOP momentum.

Partisanship is what conservatives want to see from John McCain. One of the reasons the socially liberal Giuliani is acceptable to many conservatives is his willingness to be partisan. If John McCain still wants to be President - and if he wants to win the Presidency running as a Republican - then he pretty quickly needs to start picking fights with Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and not President Bush. If McCain is running for President as an Independent, then he's following a perfect strategy.

Bush, GOP Rising in New Poll

The new USA Today/Gallup poll holds more good news for Republicans. President Bush's job approval shot up five points to 44%, his highest rating in the USAT/Gallup poll since September of 2005. Republicans also drew even with Democrats in the generic ballot queston, a two-point improvement from the August survey and another highwater mark.

As you can see from the updated RCP Averages on the screen to your right, Bush's job approval is now up to 41.3% and the Democrats' lead in the Generic Congressional Ballot has shrunk to just +6.5%.

Get more on today's politics and elections news at RealClearPolitics here.

September 18, 2006

Frist Moves on Immigration

Majority Leader Bill Frist just announced he's going to bring the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which passed the House late last week, to the floor of the Senate this week for a vote. Frist writes on his blog:

Americans deserve secure borders ... and Americans deserve to know where their Senators stand on border security. This week, when the Senate votes on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Americans will know which of their representatives are committed to real action on border security and which aren't.

The swift moves on enforcement-only legislation in the House and the Senate come as a bit of a surprise, given that the MSM churned out a round of stories not too long ago reporting that Republicans were going to put immigration legislation on the shelf until after the election.

This Just In...

First the nutroots called Rahm Emanuel "an extreme ideologue." Now they're calling him "a stupid corrupt man" because he told Howard Fineman and Holly Bailey he's working with Chuck Schumer to tap new donor bases. As I said, this is the sort of ranting that should strike fear in the heart of sensible Democrats everywhere.

TNR's "Rove Juggernaut"

Thomas Edsall has a long piece in this week's The New Republic (registration, but not subscription) which is quite good. While I don't necessarily agree with many of Edsall's points, he makes a number of astute observations:


--Many Democrats--and writers such as Thomas Frank--have called for the party to reconnect with the white, working-class, male voters it has lost over the decades. The problem with this call to populism is that the party's most influential wing is not populist; it is elitist--affluent, well educated, urban, indifferent (or hostile) to organized religion, and, on the controversial social issues of abortion and gay marriage, well to the left of the general public. The values of this elite tend to prevail in party debates and in the crafting of Democratic platforms.

--This has led to a profound realignment in U.S. politics. Once characterized mainly by the economic split of the Great Depression--a split that played to the Democrats' advantage for the better part of a generation--the parties now divide differently. Put simply, the Democratic Party has become the political arm of the subdominant, while the GOP is home to the dominant groups in American life.

-- Indeed, the pervasiveness of risk in today's economy has made many Americans feel it is safer to look out for yourself and your kin than to place your fate in the hands of a politically controlled collective. Risk is now, for better or worse, a central feature of American life--for managers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and workers. Both substantively and stylistically, Republicans speak to this prevailing mood in a way that Democrats do not.

--The Iraq war may someday be viewed as a political overreach of sorts, it seems unlikely that it will lead to a fundamental realignment of the electoral landscape. To be sure, there are plenty of unknowns that could bring about such a realignment: the approaching retirement of baby-boomers, the growing ranks of Latino voters, another terrorist attack, a serious economic decline. But, unless Democrats are rescued by a major trend or an unforeseen event, they will probably be making Karl Rove look good for many years to come.

I think Edsall's conclusion here is more or less correct. The Latino issue is a salient point and Republicans are vulnerable on both sides of this issue. If mishandled by the GOP it could help Democrats significantly in the long-term. However, as far as another terrorist attack, as long as the anti-war left is prevalent on the Democratic side, another terrorist attack is not going to help the Democrats in the long-term.

The sleeper issue is the growing investor class (I include homeownership along with stocks when talking about this group) which is a significant macro trend that strongly favors Republicans. This is one of the reasons Democrats fought so hard to prevent letting individuals have any control over the retirement money they put in Social Security. The more the public begins to rely on itself, the less need it has for government which in turn, needless to say, deeply undermines a core philosophy of the Democratic party. But the increasing tolerance for risk among that portion of the American public is a double-edged sword that could potentially lay the seeds for a Democratic revival in the event of a risk-precipitated economic collapse. In other words, another depression would be the "unforeseen event" that would end this Republican trend.

'Handicapping the Midterms': Tonight at 7 o'clock

Tonight, from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Eastern, I'll be on Open Source Radio discussing the 2006 midterms. Here's a list of places you can listen on public radio, and you can also listen at the Open Source Radio Web site.

The panel tonight is headlined, Handicapping the Midterms. I'll be on, starting around 7:20, talking about The Elephant in the Room. And we'll also be joined by Chuck Todd of The Hotline and Ari Berman of The Nation.

Should be fun.

Political Video(s) of the Day

I wanted to focus on the Allen-Webb "Meet the Press" debate on Sunday, so -- in the interest of fairness -- let's have two clips today. In both, the candidates are grilled on some of their more embarrassing statements.

Here's James Webb being grilled on his comments about women in the military:

And here's George Allen getting worked over about Macaca and other racial issues:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Election 2006 Polls: Chafee Trails

In the first public post-primary poll taken in Rhode Island, Rasmussen Reports has incumbent Republican Lincoln Chafee down 8 points to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, 43-51. As you can see from the RCP Election page on the RI Senate race, every major political analyst rates this race a toss up, and more post-primary polls will help give a better picture of just what Chafee is up against.

For those who are unaware, at RealClearPolitics you can find a scrolling list of the all the latest polls in the country here. Also available are pages tracking the latest polling and RCP Averages for key 2006 Senate and Governor's races.

Weldon's New Numbers

Curt Weldon's camp, probably responding to Joe Klein's article in Time this week and growing speculation about Weldon's potential vulnerability, released a poll this morning showing the 10-term incumbent up 19 points on Democrat Joe Sestak.

Obviously, take these numbers for what they are: results from a partisan poll. But even if the real lead is half of what the Weldon poll shows, that's fairly good news for him given the political climate in PA this year. Still, Weldon's spokesperson couldn't resist making sure expectations in this race are properly managed, saying in the press release that, "We fully expect these numbers to close as Joe and left-wing groups embark on their negative attack campaign against Curt."

Get all the latest on the race in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District here.

The 2nd Biggest Rock Star in America

Here's how Senator Tom Harkin introduced Democratic colleague Barack Obama in Iowa yesterday:

"I really tried to get Bono this weekend. I couldn't get him so I settled for the second-biggest rock star in America today."

No kidding. On one hand, the Democrats' infatuation with Obama is understandable: he's a remarkably gifted orator and as charismatic a politician as you'll find in the country. On the other hand, it seems a bit weird, if not desperate, that Democrats are rushing to anoint a man who has only two years of experience at the federal level and whose positions many Democrats don't really know much about.

Nevertheless, the excitement over Obama dwarfs that of any other Democrat in America, including all those considering possible runs in 2008 - with the possible exception of Al Gore. Just how big of a shadow does Obama cast? The Des Moines Register painted the scene yesterday:

As Obama arrived with Harkin, a dozen television cameras from Chicago and national news outlets met him. Boom microphones gave away his presence as he made his way slowly across the Warren County Fairgrounds. [snip]

The presence of Obama eclipsed the maneuvering of two prospective Democratic presidential hopefuls, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Iowa's Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Warner, who plans to campaign in Des Moines and southeast Iowa today, walked the fairgrounds with a handful of staff members, and approached a group of Iowa City Democrats who did not recognize him.

Likewise, Vilsack stood about 50 feet from the media scrum surrounding Obama, answering questions about Iraq from Grinnell College students.

Finally, Tim Jones of the Chicago Tribune delivers a witty, cautionary graf in his coverage of the event:

Despite the overall positive reception for Obama, it should be noted that Iowa is not into coronations. Candidates are expected to pay homage to ethanol, know the difference between barrows and gilts, and appreciate the virtues of loose-meat hamburger. But above all, if they are to win the hearts of Iowans they are expected to spend a lot of time here, in pastures and living rooms.

Ethanol is an easy play these days, but the loose-meat hamburger thing may be a bit tougher.

Allen vs. Webb

Jim Webb impressed yesterday in his debate with George Allen on Meet the Press. Here are write ups on the debate from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Virginian Pilot, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The most noticeable difference to me was that Webb came off as more direct than Allen. As the current president has proven, being direct is a valuable political asset even when voters disagree with your positions. Russert hit Allen with a number of questions which defied simplistic answers, so Allen had to set off explaining. He did a decent enough job of defending his positions, but remember the oldest axiom in politics: if you find yourself explaining, you're losing.

In spots Allen showed a lack of responsiveness, right down to the final question about his willingness to serve a full term in the Senate. Even though it was the typical kabuki dance we've come to expect from a politician with aspirations of higher office, it contributed to the overall perception of the debate.

Though Webb acquitted himself well on Sunday, don't expect this one debate to change the dynamic of the race. Allen took a hit in the polls for his "macaca" comments but still holds a 4.7% lead over Webb in the current RCP Average. Virginia is still a healthy red state, and George Allen is a well known, well liked incumbent with tons of cash who also happens to be a fantastic retail politician.

Rod the Pinata

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune wrote a terrific column yesterday about Governor Rod Blagojevich's transformation from human to pinata:

Rod is suspended from a string, swinging foolishly, and deservedly so. He said he'd end "business as usual" and hasn't, and so a crowd of thwackers has formed around him. They reach for the broomstick, eager to swing until he opens and spills.

And underneath it all is Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka. She's trailing but she's got to be hopping up and down, clapping, hoping the candy will fall into her lap before Election Day.

Kass has it right. A new small-sample poll released this morning by the Chicago Sun-Times has Topinka down 30, which is a much larger deficit than other recent polls show. Still, the latest RCP Average shows Topinka trailing Blagojevich by 15.5% and she's also badly outmatched in the money race. With only 50 days before the vote, Topinka is almost certainly going to need a silver bullet from prosecutors pursuing ongoing investigations of the Blagojevich administration to pull this race out.

Welcome

We're very excited to announce a new partnership between The RCP Blog and Time.com.

If you're a first-time visitor, you can peruse the front page of RealClearPolitics here and learn more about RCP here. Longtime readers will be able to access The RCP Blog through the RealClearPolitics home page, just as you've always done, and now you'll also be able to reach us through Time's web site as well. Everything else remains the same. RCP will continue to feature the best in political commentary and opinion, the day's top political news, all the latest polls, transcripts and video, as well as detailed analysis of the midterm battle for the Senate, House, and Governorships.

We're thrilled about partnering with Time.com and are looking forward to an absolute rollercoaster ride during the coming election and then right on into the madness of the race for the White House in 2008. So whether you're a first time visitor or an old friend, we hope you'll climb aboard and come along for the ride.

-The Editors, Tom Bevan and John McIntyre

September 17, 2006

Islam Means Peace, Christianity Means Appeasement

The NYT lapses into self-parody in this morning's Pope appeasement editorial.

I look forward to the Times editorial directing Muslim clerics to apologize to Christians for their insensitivity in, say, burning down churches in the West Bank.

The AP's Switcheroo

Here's an email we received yesterday morning at 10:26 am:

Hey guys,

Even though I'm a big fat liberal, I've been a big fan of your site since it first launched, and I visit it every day. It's a terrific resource.

However, I do have a criticism regarding the way you posted yesterday's (9/15) AP Piece "Polls Shows GOP Not Making Its Case". That's the way the AP titled it, at least. You guys decided to title it on your site "GOP Gains Ground In Battle For Congress".

I understand that there may have been some data in their polling that made you feel that way, and I also know that you often amend the titles of pieces you post. But this is the first time I've seen you actually alter the title of a piece to make it the opposite of what its author intended. Don't you think that's a bit disingenuous?

The emailer is right that if you look at the AP headline now, it reads "Poll Shows GOP Not Making Its Case:"

ap.gif

Since I was the one who published the AP story yesterday and was 100% sure that I copied the original headline at the time (between 6:30 and 7:30am), I did a little investigating.

First, you can see pretty clearly that the original headline, "GOP Gains Ground In Battle For Congress," was written based off of the copy in paragraphs six and seven:

Seven weeks before congressional elections, the poll of 1,501 adults conducted Monday through Wednesday showed that the GOP offensive has helped Republicans gain some ground.

Bush's public support has increased -- 40 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance -- and Republicans have erased an advantage Democrats had last month on the measure of which party would best protect the country. Voters now view Republicans and Democrats as equally capable.

As it turns out, a Google search this morning turned up at least one major media outlet still carrying the original headline:

cbs.gif

So, sometime between roughly 6:30 am and 10:26 am the Associated Press switched the header on the story about its own poll results from being pro-GOP to something decidedly more negative.

Impeach Bush!

Guess who said yesterday that President Bush should be impeached? It's not who you think.

September 15, 2006

Hating Bush Is Not a Program

Sometimes, when your enemy is giving you advice, you're wise to ignore it. But, were I a Democrat, I'd be listening to Peggy Noonan:

The Democrats' mistake--ironically, in a year all about Mr. Bush--is obsessing on Mr. Bush. They've been sucker-punched by their own animosity.

"The Democrats now are incapable of answering a question on policy without mentioning Bush six times," says pollster Kellyanne Conway. " 'What is your vision on Iraq?' 'Bush lied us into war.' 'Health care? 'Bush hasn't a clue.' They're so obsessed with Bush it impedes them from crafting and communicating a vision all their own." They heighten Bush by hating him.

One of the oldest clichés in politics is, "You can't beat something with nothing." It's a cliché because it's true. You have to have belief, and a program. You have to look away from the big foe and focus instead on the world and philosophy and programs you imagine.

Mr. Bush's White House loves what the Democrats are doing. They want the focus on him. That's why he's out there talking, saying Look at me.

Because familiarity doesn't only breed contempt, it can breed content. Because if you're going to turn away from him, you'd better be turning toward a plan, and the Democrats don't appear to have one.

Hating Bush is not an answer to any question the country faces this fall. But it's the only answer the Democrats ever seem to have.

Political Video of the Day II

George Allen fans might want to skip this one ... Stephen Colbert has some fun with the senator holding what he calls -- why, oh God, why -- an "ethnic rally."

You can watch Allen's own footage of the "ethnic rally" here.

'Re-launching' Conservatism?

Does the conservative movement need to be "re-launched"? Does anyone know who's been putting this ad in The Hill?

Political Video of the Day

George Allen has a hard-hitting ad up against James Webb, all about the recent Ronald Reagan "endorsement" controversy:

I especially like the sneering reference to "fiction-writer James Webb." Uh, guys ... Ronald Reagan was an actor. Actors and writers and even former bodybuilders can make it in this game.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

A Plea For Clarity - Jed Babbin

Since the president sent the detainee interrogation - military commissions legislation to the Hill last week, there's been much debate over its scope and propriety. The McCain-Graham-Warner bill, passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) yesterday, declines to clarify the crimes for which US soldiers and CIA interrogators can be held liable for war crimes under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told the SASC, before it passed the bill, that if the bill were enacted in that form, the CIA would have to cease operating its secret interrogation/prison facilities.

Here's a memo Gen. Hayden sent to all CIA employees yesterday before the SASC acted:

Last week the President publicly confirmed a CIA detention and interrogation program that has been instrumental in defending the homeland, attacking Al Qa'ida and saving thousands of American and Allied lives. Unclassified background on the program and some of the individuals now being brought to justice because of it are available on the DNI's web site.

Since the President's speech, there has been a lot of commentary on Capitol Hill and in the press on the way ahead for these and any future detainees. A lot of the discussion has to do with how military commissions will be conducted--rules of evidence, how classified information could be presented to the court, how to view the whole question of coercion. These are obviously important issues but, at their heart, they are issues for the Department of Defense (which will conduct the commissions) and the Department of Justice (which crafted the language in the Administration's bill). Far more central to us at CIA is the discussion of what is commonly known as "Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions.

In his speech the President talked about "an alternative set of procedures" used by the CIA in interrogating key Al Qa'ida detainees. The Justice department has ruled that these procedures have been consistent with our obligations under the Constitution, US law and our international treaty obligations (e.g., the Convention Against Torture).In June, however, the Supreme Court in the Hamdan decision for the first time in US law extended the protection of Geneva's Common Article 3 to what everyone agrees are the "unlawful enemy combatants" of Al Qa'ida.

Clearly, for us to continue the program that the President described, we now need to ensure that it is consistent with the provisions of Common Article 3. Our problem is that Common Article 3 was crafted to be intentionally general and vague; it forbids "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." These terms have never been further defined in US law. Indeed, when the Senate ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, it determined that the words "inhuman" and "degrading" were so vague that using them in a criminal statute would violate U.S. Constitutional due process standards. The Senate therefore provided a definition for those terms as a condition of ratifying the Convention, and later used that same definition for the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

I have made several trips to Capitol Hill in the last few days. In each instance I have asked the Congress for clarity. We need their help in defining the Nation's (and CIA's) responsibility under Common Article 3. I did not ask them to redefine Common Article 3. I did not ask them to create a CIA "carve out." I did not ask them to back away from our Nation's commitment to Geneva. I am simply asking Congress to help define our responsibilities so that we and the Department of Justice can judge the appropriateness of any procedures we would propose to use. The Bill submitted by the Administration does this by declaring that US responsibilities under Common Article 3 are met by compliance with the Detainee Treatment Act (including Senator McCain's Amendment) passed last December. Other language is certainly possible but we must have a definition that is not subject to multiple interpretations.

I have met with the full Senate and House Intelligence Committees and outlined in detail the past and present of the CIA detention and interrogation program. I have also promised them that, once we have achieved sufficient clarity in law with regard to Common Article 3, I would come back to discuss with them in detail the way ahead.

I know that these are not simple issues and honest people can and will disagree. And these are also--given the complexity of the issues, the current "energy" in the political process, and the sometimes sporadic nature of the press coverage--very confusing issues, as well. I just wanted to give you some clarity on how we view what has been going on and what we have been saying. At the end of the day, the Director--any Director--of CIA must be confident that what he has asked an Agency officer to do under this program is lawful. That's the story here.

Why would McCain, a former POW, Graham, a JAG lawyer, and Warner, himself a veteran of combat, be willing to leave our people at risk of prosecution under unclear laws?

National Review Wants the GOP To Lose

Following in the footsteps of Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg now takes to the pages of the Times (the LA ones, this time) and argues that GOP defeat -- at least in the House -- could be quite the good thing.

He writes:

What would actually happen? Well, the first thing we'd hear would be the metaphorical snap of the rubber glove as the House prepared to investigate the executive branch with a zeal and thoroughness normally reserved for prison guards who enjoy looking for contraband just a little too much. Subpoenas would fly. Perhaps printers would churn out bills of impeachment.

But as ugly as some of this might be, the silver lining would be fairly thick. First, as a matter of simple gitchy-goo good government, one has to admit that the executive branch could use an independent audit. Amid the orgy of spending and deal cutting, the GOP-controlled House has largely abdicated its oversight responsibilities. Someone's got to check the receipts.

Second, as a matter of rank partisanship, letting the Democrats run wild could be good for both the GOP and conservatives, as my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru recently pointed out in the New York Times. If you think Americans are itching for change now, wait until they break into hives after two more years of Republican monopoly on power.

But a Pelosi-run House could so horrify voters that it would probably prepare the soil for a Republican presidential candidate in 2008. Pelosi is, if anything, a moderate in the Democratic caucus, but she is indisputably far to the left of the American center, in part because she and her colleagues mistake passionately angry bloggers for the mainstream. Letting voters see this crowd try to have its way for two years would only help the GOP in the far more important 2008 election.

Moreover, it could very well boost President Bush's popularity in his final two years -- popularity he would need to conduct foreign policy, which tends to dominate the final years of all presidencies.

I'm hearing this from a lot of conservatives -- and, really, have been hearing it for the past year and a half.

It doesn't mean the Republican Party will lose the House. But it doesn't point to an energized base, either.

Armey on 1995-1996

With my book, The Elephant in the Room, out this week (last plug, promise), today we run a Q&A excerpted from the book with former Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Here he is on what went wrong in 1995-1996:

What went wrong with the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996? How did the Republicans miscalculate?

Newt's position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They're the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we're seen as antithetical to government. I said if there's a shutdown, we're going to get the blame. Here's the other thing: You're heard saying rather boldly in June that you're going to shut the government in the fall. You've set the stage for the press to report that the Republicans are now doing in October what they said they'd do in June. Even if, in fact, they thought it was the right strategy to shut down the government, they should have kept their mouths shut about it. The fact of the matter is what happened was, they honestly believed that Clinton would not shut down the government. It was a fiasco that was harmful and dangerous to us because we made it that way.

How could the Republicans have done things differently in 1995?

Just keep our mouth shut, go through the year, stick to our guns, stand quietly on the ground that we had, live by continuing resolutions until we break them. What we did was we precipitated a political confrontation, and we got our butts kicked. If we had just quietly done the nation's business, and let it drag into the next year -- it did anyway -- I think Clinton would have come along. What you had to do with Bill Clinton was don't give him any schmooze. The quiet "no," this is what he couldn't deal with. If you take me out in the back street with Muhammad Ali and give me a gun, I'll shoot him, right, and nobody will notice, but if you let me get in the ring with him, he's gonna kick the tar outta me. Clinton, if you give him the political arena, he's a Muhammad Ali. Newt thought he was big enough and smart enough and strong enough to handle Clinton, so that's what it was really about. Newt was really swelled up with -- the speaker's a very important job, I'm a really important man, I'm as important as the president. He had a compelling need to prove that the speaker was as big as, or bigger than, the president. A lot of it was naïveté on our part. We'd never been there before. Quite frankly, I look back at it, we did a remarkable job for people who'd never been in control of anything. But the idea that we could meet Clinton on his ground and beat him, I just think was naïve on our part.

I tend to agree with Armey that a lot of what went wrong back then was tactical. But it's had the lasting effect of making Republicans scared to pursue small-government policies. Now, we're left with Republicans wondering if it wouldn't just be better to lose?

Can the GOP Play Defense?

That's the question I ask in my Chicago Sun-Times column today.

What Shays Says

Connecticut Republican Chris Shays was the guest at the Christian Science Monitor's monthly breakfast meeting yesterday. Shays told the crowd there has been "no progress" made in Iraq since January and he slammed President Bush by saying "the president has no credibility on whatever he says" about Iraq.

Here's what Shays said about the Bush administration's plan for troop levels in Iraq:

"The reason they don't share this plan with you is, the plan has been wrong once, it has been wrong twice, it's been wrong three times, it's been wrong four times. So they have decided they would rather have you think they don't have a plan than a plan that doesn't work...

It [the plan] is classified. But I can just tell you that what they expect to happen at the end of this year is absurd ... what I am looking for from this administration, and I have told them I will not give up, I want a number of what you need in a worst-case scenario. And when you give me that number, I can give all of you a timeline that tells the Iraqis when they have to step up.... It may be we have to add people before we subtract people."

Shays also told the group that, "I don't know if I am going to win this election. I don't know. I am not going to argue with people who say it is a tossup, whatever." Not sounding very confident.....

Election '06 Briefs: Ritter Pulling Away

Here's a quick run down on some key races around the country:

CO Gov: A new Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 poll shows Democrat Bill Ritter trouncing Republican Bob Beauprez by 17 points. Last week there were rumors that the gaffe-prone Beauprez might drop out of the race, but at the moment it looks like he'll stay in and limp along - though it's looking less and less likely he's got any shot of winning. Visit the RCP '06 Election page on this race for more.

MI Gov: The Detroit News has a very interesting poll out today. Incumbent Democrat Jennifer Granholm is maintaining her lead over Republican Dick DeVos (the new poll is 50-42, the one taken two weeks ago was 49-42) but her disapproval rating has shot up to 60%. Also of concern for Granholm is that the survey was completed on Tuesday, before another wave of bad economic news swept over Michigan. Ford is topping the headlines again today announcing more job cuts, plant closings, and an employee buyout program that could potentially slash the union ranks in the company by half.

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed are dissatisfied with the state of Michigan's economy, and 54% say it's the top issue of concern in this year's election. You'd think this would set up perfectly for the businessman DeVos, but there's a bit of a disconnect: according to the poll DeVos leads Granholm slightly (46-42) when asked "who do you believe will do a better job reflecting your views and opinions...promoting economic growth and creating good paying jobs." However, on a separate question asking "who do you trust more to do what is right to improve Michigan's economy and provide more good paying jobs for Michigan residents in the future?" Granholm leads DeVos by a margin of 48 to 39.

Furthermore, 74% of Granholm supporters and 78% of DeVos supporters responded that their vote had "nothing at all to do" with feelings about George W. Bush. Yet in a separate question asking who is "at fault" for Michigan's economic woes, 44% responded President Bush's policies were to blame while only 28% cited Governor Granholm's economic policies. Visit the RCP '06 Election page on this race for more.

MI Sen: The Detroit News poll numbers on the Michigan Senate race show incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow extending her lead over Republican challenger Mike Bouchard to 19 points, up from 13 points in the poll taken two weeks ago. Stabenow is now up a healthy 13.3% in the RCP Average.

IL-06: The Battle for Henry Hyde's Seat

il-06.gifYes, Virginia -- there are Republicans in Chicago! Technically, at least. Illinois's 6th Congressional District takes in O'Hare Airport, which is legally within the city, but feels like a suburb. The heart of the district is really in DuPage County, a western suburb comprising the towns of Elmhurst, Villa Park, Lombard, Wheaton and Bloomingdale. Residents in the 6th tend to be white and affluent, and have become culturally moderate over the last decade and a half. Legendary conservative Henry Hyde won his seat in 2000 with only 59% of the vote, and in 2004 with only 56% of the vote. President Bush carried the district with 53% both times.

Rep. Hyde's tenure as chairman of the International Relations Committee is coming to an end, so -- after 16 terms -- he is stepping down. The GOP has rallied behind state Senator Peter Roskam, probably the strongest GOP challenger this cycle, with a knack for raising tons of money. Democrats have nominated Iraq War veteran and political novice Tammy Duckworth -- a candidate with an impressive personal story, but who struggled early in her quest to take the seat. She had a disappointing primary result (barely winning with 44% of the vote) and subsequently fired her campaign manager. Since then, however, she has done a good job in raising cash. Of note is the fact that she is actually not a district resident. She lives in the part of Hoffman Estates that is in IL 08 (the site of another tight race between Democrat Melissa Bean and Republican David McSweeney). Her Democratic primary opponent, Christine Cegelis, used this fact to soften Ms. Duckworth's numbers in the spring. Mr. Roskam may be tempted to do the same in the fall.

Mr. Roskam would likely get a boost from a strong result from GOP gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar-Topinka. Though she trails incumbent Democrat Rod Blagojevich, she stands a good chance of winning DuPage County by a big margin, which would benefit Mr. Roskam.

Armed Services Committee Makes Fundamental Error - Ross Kaminsky

I have been a critic of President Bush's attitude surrounding executive power in the context of the war on terror. His position seems essentially to be that since it is a war without borders and with few other limits either he can do almost anything he wants which he claims to be part of fighting that war. I strongly disagree with that type of argument and have some sympathy with arguments that his attempt to expand the power of the President eats away at the separation of powers which is fundamental to our Republic.

However, this does not mean Bush is always wrong on legal issues surrounding the war. Thursday provided a case in point as Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republicans John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, passed a bill out of the Committee which directly contradicts Bush's position on treatment and trial of terrorist captives.

The Bill would effectively give terrorist captives protection under the Geneva Conventions; allow them to see classified evidence against them, and "bar statements obtained through torture or inhumane treatment."
The only part of that I agree with is barring statements obtained through torture. As part of the discussion surrounding this issue, the President wanted to clarify "the terms ``cruel, inhumane and degrading'' in describing treatment barred by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Bush seeks to define the treaty as barring ``severe physical or mental pain'' and ``severe physical abuse.''"

Bush's position here is exactly right. The terrorists are not entitled to Geneva Convention protections. To the degree that we must do something because of the incorrect Supreme Court ruling on the issue, we should do the minimum possible to comply. And, as Condi Rice said, where such treaty requirements are vague, we have a right to interpret them in any reasonable way we see fit. Indeed, we should interpret them in the way least generous to those whose motive is to destroy us.

The disappointing (and apparently disappointed) Colin Powell weighed in with a letter to John McCain saying that "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism". Powell, along with McCain and friends miss the point: The ultimate "moral basis" of our fight against terrorism, in fact the moral basis for the very existence of government, is the protection of our citizens' lives.

The people (and I use that term loosely) whom we are discussing here would never offer such niceties as Geneva Convention protections to Americans they capture; we have seen enough beheadings to understand that...unless you are McCain, Warner, Graham, Susan Collins, or a Democrat.

The idea that our "reinterpreting" the Conventions in this area would leave our soldiers vulnerable to poor treatment later is a red herring.

But even if it were true, it's hard to care. What good is language that protects soldiers of a country which no longer exists? Yes, that is a bit of hyperbole, but you get my point: Government does many things, most of which it has no authority to do. What it does have authority and true responsibility for is to defend us. Giving terrorists the rights of Americans is the last thing in the world we need to do.

These Senators and Colin Powell have turned the thing on its head. Here are the right answers:

1) Bush's position on these issues does not weaken our "moral authority".

2) If someone thinks it does, I say "who cares?" Protect my life first and deal with your genteel qualms after we're safe. (I am a strong civil libertarian, but Bush's position on these issues does not threaten the liberties of Americans; I am not shy to oppose him where it does.)

3) And most importantly, the Committee's actions demonstrate clear weakness to an enemy who understands nothing but brute force.

On a domestic note, this action gives Republican voters one more reason to stay at home in November. Strength against terrorists is one of the only areas in which the public still has more confidence in Republicans than in Democrats. The actions of these four Armed Services Committee Republicans are an attack on their own Party and American citizens everywhere.

September 14, 2006

Chicago

Holy cow!

I've learned not to insult Chicago (or Chicago) in the presence of an expert.

I'll have to come up with a list of similar silly ideas from the New York City Council. Near the top: banning toy guns. (They've also passed anti-Wal-Mart bills, but that's to be expected at this point.)

TOM ADDS: Ryan, not to be a stickler, but I have to correct you again. In Chicago, the expression Holy Cow! means only one thing.

Political Video of the Day

An anti-Casey ad in Pennsylvania:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Defending Chicago

I know Ryan was just making a joke in his post below, but I have to step up and defend Chicago - the band, that is. Their second album, released in 1970, has withstood the test of time, and if you peruse the list of songs on their first Greatest Hits Album (released in 1975) you'll see a number of classics. After that, however, it was pretty much all downhill.

As for the city, the big box ordinance is bad policy and counterproductive to economic growth, but it's hardly the stupidest idea to come out of the City Council. To wit:

Earlier this year the Chicago City Council passed a law banning foie gras. Just months ago former Alderman Ed Burke went even further, proposing a ban making it illegal for restaurants to use oils that contain trans fats.

Last year the City Council banned smoking at all restaurants and some bars. Six months later they tried to ban smoking on the city's beaches.

In 2000 the City Council passed a resolution by a margin of 46-1 urging Congress to consider reparations for slavery. Two years later the Council made history by passing the Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance requiring companies bidding on city contracts to file a form disclosing "whether or not they profited from slaves."

I could go on. By the way, we're just talking about the City Council. Don't get me started on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which is an entirely separate yet equally disgraceful monument to bureaucratic corruption, inefficiency and nepotism.

Earlier this year Board President John Stroger had a debilitating stroke a week before what was shaping up to be a tough primary. He ended up winning easily (53-47) thanks in part to a sympathy vote, but has been unable to resume his duties as board chairman and hasn't been seen in public since the day of his stroke.

Instead, Stroger engineered a backroom deal from his bedside to clear the way for his son, poorly regarded by many of his fellow Democrats, to take the job.

The young Stroger is on the ballot and favored to win this November. To bring this post full circle, Todd Stroger is currently an Alderman sitting on the City Council who supports the big box ordinance and voted unsuccessfully to override Mayor Daley's veto this week.

Buzz Tracker on FOXNews.com

So, we have a bit of big news. Today we're excited to announce we've entered into a partnership with FOX News to launch a co-branded BuzzTracker page on FOXNews.com. This is huge not only because it makes FOX the first major media web site to utilize a tool for tracking the hottest chatter in the blogosphere, but also because with a large and growing audience the FOXNews/RCP Buzztracker page will become a focal point for bloggers and one of the largest drivers of traffic to all corners of the blogosphere.

You can access the new BuzzTracker page either through RealClearPolitics or the FOX News web site. As I said, we couldn't be happier about partnering with FOX News.

One final thing: we have another big announcement coming in the next few days. So stay tuned.

Bad Ideas in Chicago

In the worst idea out of Chicago since, well, the band Chicago, unions in the Windy City are utterly determined to force big businesses to pack up and move to the suburbs.

They've been trying to punish Wal-Mart with a law passed by the City Council, But Mayor Daley has vetoed, and he made the veto stick yesterday. Still the unions won't back down. The Chicago Tribune weighs in with an editorial:

Unfortunately, supporters of the big-box law won't stand down. "... We may have lost this battle with the mayor. It doesn't mean the war is over," warned Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Unemployment.

Sorry, we meant the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The losers have come up with even worse ideas. There's talk of forcing a higher minimum wage on all companies that have at least 1,000 employees.

Yes, let's single out the most successful companies and push them to the suburbs.

There's talk of a citywide minimum wage that would be higher than the state and federal minimums.

Yes, let's give all companies that pay minimum wage a reason to flee the city.

Punishing productivity is the only thing the unions know how to do. Kudos to Wal-Mart for once again refusing to play ball with these thugs.

(HT: The New Editor)

War on Islam? On Brown People?

It's always interesting to try to parse the difference between whom the Right and the Left think America is actually at war with.

In that vein today at TAPPED, Ezra Klein -- one of the more reasonable folks over there -- offers what I think is a very unreasonable attack on how the Right sees the War on Terror. Or, as Ezra puts it: "THE WAR ON TERROR/ISLAM/RADICAL ISLAM/BROWN PEOPLE."

Ezra concludes that, "the Islamic world is right. In the minds of those behind this campaign, this is indeed a war against Islam. The enemy is religious, his skin is brown, his God is Allah." Why? Because conservative commentators by-and-large think the term "War on Terror" is a cop-out from naming our real enemy, radical Islam.

Who does Ezra think we're at war with? "Most liberals I know think we're literally at war with al-Qaeda, its operational affiliates, and its imitators," he says. Under this rationale, I suppose, the Afghanistan campaign makes sense; but Iraq only makes sense if we're at war with "Islam" and "brown people."

Where this goes wrong is that we could wipe Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its imitators off the face of the earth tomorrow, and we'd still be contending with radical Islam as well as state sponsors of terror such as Iran and Syria. The liberals, after all, are the ones (not entirely incorrectly, I might add) saying that we need to deal with "root causes," such as poverty and oppression and hatred of America abroad.

So, no, it's not as if Al Qaeda & Co. are just a "state" we could defeat. There's an ideology and a religious movement ultimately behind those targeting America.

So, the rationale for Iraq? No, it wasn't because we felt like bombing some brown people who worship Allah. It was because of the WMD question. It was to intimidate Iran and Syria (oops...). And it was because a group of conservatives and Democrats -- mostly neocons -- believed (rightly or wrongly) that introducing democracy into the Arab world was the best way to begin a transformation of the region that would leave it more stable and more peaceful.

(Again, oops ... at least in the short term. In the long term, the question is still open.)

So, trying to treat the War on Terror as somehow racist, or as a "crusade" by another name, as Ezra does, is extremely unhelpful. Americans have no lust for a conquest of the Middle East. They'd be perfectly happy with a policy of benign neglect, if not for the planes flying into buildings.

The people who flew those planes were part of Al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda is just one symptom of the disease: radical Islam. You don't treat the sympton. You treat the disease.

GOP Base Coming Home?

The political season has kicked into high gear this week and the initial news cycle features a bounce in President Bush's Job Approval ratings. Our numbers today show the President at 47%, up six points in a week and the best numbers he's enjoyed since mid-February. What's fueling this? The Republican base is coming home. Today, 85% of the GOP faithful voice approval of Bush's performance. Earlier this year, that level of support had fallen as low as 66%. Of course, it's still early. It's just one poll. It might be statistical noise or perhaps a temporary bounce following the 9/11 activities and the President's recent speeches. However, it might also be an early signal that the White House strategy to re-focus the debate is starting to energize the base. Only time will tell.

About That Wal-Mart Article ...

The New York Times offers a whopper of a correction today:

Editors' Note

An article in Business Day on Friday reported that the Walton Family Foundation had made contributions to four conservative research groups whose analysts wrote articles favorable to Wal-Mart Stores for newspapers and journals around the country. The Times article said that the groups and their employees had consistently failed to disclose the donations, and it said in the first paragraph that the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research was one of them. But a Manhattan Institute author had told The Times that he had indeed disclosed contributions from the Walton Foundation in an article he wrote, a fact that should have been included in the Times article.

The article also reported that Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation and Karl Zinsmeister, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute, were among those who wrote articles favorable to Wal-Mart after their foundations received a donation.

Both those groups were called for comment for the Times article. Mr. Kane, who was not called, subsequently said that he did not know about the Walton Family Foundation contribution and that he had criticized Wal-Mart's call for a higher federal minimum wage in an article he wrote. The Times also did not ask Mr. Zinsmeister to comment, but he declined to do so when reached after the Times article was published. Both Mr. Kane and Mr. Zinsmeister should have been asked to comment before publication.

Other than that, Mr. Editor, how was the play?

AZ-8: GOP Wounds Healed?

The NRCC has jumped behind conservative Randy Graf after Tuesday's primary win, even though Steve Huffman hasn't officially conceded yet and departing Rep. Jim Kolbe is refusing to endorse Graf.

The conventional wisdom on this race is that the Dems are now going to have an easy time of it against Graf. I'm not so sure, and I have a feeling that Mickey may be right again.

The Arizona Star notes that Giffords, the Democrat, focused on Iraq and healthcare during the primary, but is now going to be in a contest where immigration dominates the political landscape.

Giffords is lining up with President Bush, John McCain and Jim Kolbe on immigration, using them as cover. But that cover may prove illusory given the salience of the issue with voters - including rural Democrats - and the large percentage of registered independents in the district. I pointed to this article in the Arizona Daily Star when it came out in June, but it's worth looking at again:

Demos find border a top issue for rural voters

By Daniel Scarpinato

Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.18.2006

SIERRA VISTA -- When Victor Walker knocks on the doors of fellow Cochise County Democrats to talk about his candidate of choice for Congress, the topic quickly turns to immigration.

"The common theme is, 'People broke the law, they should be treated like lawbreakers,' " says Walker, former Cochise County Democratic Party chairman, who is campaigning for Gabrielle Giffords.

"They want to vent. The issue comes home particularly when your property is being trashed. They don't like that," he says.

The tough talk by Democrats in border areas of the state is in striking contrast to the way liberals tackle the issue in nearby Tucson, or for that matter, in Washington. Elsewhere, they use words like compromise and comprehensive. In this neck of the woods, Democrats talk enforcement.

If Graf frames the issue properly by stressing enforcement and national security and can also tag Giffords as a supporter of "comprehensive" immigration reform, that seems to me a battle Graf can win.

Why Michigan is In Play

Two stories from today's Detroit News tell the story. First, a combination of declining sales and restructuring costs have the Ford Motor Co. saying it will post close to a $9 billion loss this coming year.

Not surprisingly, the other story is that Michigan's unemployment rate ticked up to 7.1% in August, which is 2.4% higher than the national average. The News ominously reports that, "the tick upward is the start of a new round of climbing unemployment rates that will continue until late 2008, economists say."

UPDATE: A reader emails a good point: my use of the pure difference between Michigan's unemployment and the national average (7.1-4.7 = 2.4) actually understates the case. In percentage terms, Michigan's unemployment is 51% higher than the national average. That's a number that will get voters' attention.

NH-1: Bradley Gets a Gift

John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union-Leader reports that Tuesday's upset of Jim Craig by antiwar activist Carol Shea-Porter in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional district has Jeb Bradley smiling, and breathing easier.

How did Shea-Porter pull off the shocker? She organized and earned votes the old fashioned New Hampshire way by going door-to-door. But DiStaso speculates on other factors that contributed to Craig's demise:

Shea-Porter may be a great organizer, but she recognizes that to compete as the nominee, she needs big bucks quickly. She doesn't have them now.

She shouldn't look to the DCCC, said state Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan.

"I don't expect there will be money coming in from the DNC or the DCCC or affiliate groups now, because they traditionally get involved only if the candidate has a significant amount of money," she said, "and Carol has chosen to run a more grassroots campaign as opposed to spending time doing fundraising.

"I'd love to see them come in now," said Sullivan, who wasn't at all happy that the DCCC got involved in the primary. "I don't expect it, though."

Sullivan said the DCCC virtually dropped Craig a while back. Officials there touted him early and talked about putting him on the lucrative "red to blue" list. He never made it.

The bottom line? Sullivan put it bluntly.

"The DCCC getting involved in this primary was a mistake. It hurt Jim Craig. I think New Hampshire is still the kind of place where people don't like outsiders trying to tell us what to do."

And then there's the Presidential primary flap.

Although the DCCC and the Democratic National Committee are separate, they are affiliated. So, when you have the Washington-types at the DNC trashing New Hampshire and demoting its precious event to second-class status, there's going to be a backlash.

Just maybe Jim Craig was victimized by that, too.

It's not any one thing. But put it all together, and you have the makings of an upset.

MN-5: Ellison Gets A Pass

Andrea Stone blows a kiss to DFLer Keith Ellison in USA Today this morning. Here's the only hint of scrutiny in the column:

Ellison says he never brought up his religion or his race -- he would be Minnesota's first black member of Congress -- during the campaign. Voters did, however, ask about his position, as a Muslim, on Israel, the separation of church and state, abortion rights and gay rights. He says he supports them all.

Ellison had a tougher time explaining revelations about late campaign-finance reports, unpaid parking tickets and a suspended driver's license. More controversial were his ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Ellison worked with his group as an organizer of 1995's Million Man March.

So there you have it.

Meanwhile, Ellison's opponent, moderate Republican Alan Fine, said yesterday that Ellison is unfit to represent Minnesota's 5th district. Fine went on to say he is "offended as a Jew that we have a candidate like this running for U.S. Congress."

Sin of Omission

In stories today covering the trial of cop killer Raul Gomez-Garcia, neither the Denver Post nor the Rocky Mountain News point out that Gomez-Garcia was living in the United States illegally at the time of the killings.

NBC/WSJ Numbers

Here are the vitals from the latest NBC/WSJ poll out this morning and the updated RCP Averages:

Bush Job Approval
NBC/WSJ: 42%
RCP Avg: 42.5%

Generic Congressional Ballot
NBC/WSJ: Dems +9 (R 39, D 48)
RCP Avg: Dems +9.7 (R 41.3, D 51.0)

Congressional Job Approval
NBC/WSJ: 20%
RCP Avg: 28.3%

Direction of Country
NBC/WSJ: 31% Right Direction, 54% Wrong Direction
RCP Avg: 28.0% Right Direction, 65.3% Wrong Direction

Ann Richards, RIP

Cancer takes the life of the former Governor of Texas. She was 73.

September 13, 2006

Ponnuru: Down with the GOP!

Following a meme that's been going around conservative circles for the better part of two years (at least in private conversation), Ramesh Ponnuru takes to the op-ed page of the New York Times to declare that when it comes to the 2006 midterms: We're better off losing.

To wit:

The question is whether [the GOP] will have a reduced majority or no majority. And outright loss might be preferable. A narrower House majority would most likely accomplish even less than the current one has. The party's small moderate caucus would gain in power and use it to frustrate conservatives. With no conservative reforms on the horizon, congressmen would revert to the pork strategy.

A straight loss, on the other hand, would make the Republicans hungrier and sharpen their wits. Freed from the obligation of cobbling together thin majorities for watered-down legislation, Republicans would be able to stand for something attractive. Some conservatives worry that Republican officialdom will see defeat as a reason to turn left. But that didn't happen after the last major Republican defeat in 1992. Then, conservatives were able to persuade the party that it had not lost power because it was too far right. They would make the same case this winter, but with more voices in the news media than they had back then.

As Ponnuru also points out, winning in 2006 wouldn't be so great for the Democrats, who would have the illusion of power, but no real ability to act.

So, there you have it ... 2006: The hot-potato election.

TX-22: Lampson vs. 6 Syllables and a Hyphen

tx-22.gifTexas's 22nd District stretches across the southern suburbs of Houston - from Sugar Land in the West to Pasadena in the East. It has been the locus of rapid development in the last few decades, and it is quite conservative. Bush enjoyed 67% of the vote in this district in 2000, and 64% in 2004.

We all know why it is as vulnerable as it is this year - Tom DeLay. After initially being indicted by Austin D.A. Ronnie Earle, DeLay ostensibly perceived he could win reelection. His tepid performance in the spring primary, and - in all likelihood - soft internal poll numbers, convinced him otherwise. He resigned from Congress and withdrew from the ballot. Texas Democrats sued Texas Republicans to keep the latter from putting a new name on the ballot. The Courts sided with the Democrats.

This is the sort of condition we need to have to see a district as conservative as TX 22 go to the Democrats: either the Republican has to be under indictment or there has to be no Republican on the ballot. And so there is none. Former representative Nick Lampson - who represented Texas's 9th District (prior to the 2003 redistricting) - is poised to win. This despite the fact that his political roots are in Beaumont, TX in Jefferson County, which is over 100 miles from Sugar Land and that, in the 108th Congress, he racked up only a score of 23% from the American Conservative Union.

This will be a win by default. As the saying goes - you can't beat somebody with nobody.

Technically, the Republicans have nobody. But the local GOP has managed to coalesce around their "nominee" - Houston City Councilwoman Shelly Sekula-Gibbs. She is their write-in choice for the seat. The obvious question: how will enough voters manage to write-in a candidate whose name has six syllables and a hyphen? They will get some help from Texas Governor Rick Perry, who recently mandated that, on the general election ballot, there would also be a special election ballot to fill the remainder of DeLay's term in the 109th Congress.

Will this be enough? The smirk, or grimace, on your face is your answer.

Barone on Tuesday's Vote

Barone says it's all about turnout - and a little bit of spin.

Another Blogger Straw Poll

There's another GOP Bloggers straw poll. This month's is trying to get a sense of how abortion is playing into people's choices for 2008. You can fill it out right here:

The Silly Season is Here

Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offers proof that the silly season has truly arrived with this odd and amusing story. Apparently, a couple in Pennsylvania has put up a web site selling baby clothes with anti-Santorum sayings on them like a bib that reads, "I'd beat Rick Santorum in a battle of wits." They also offer some other, shall we say, less savory quips.

Anyway, upon being alerted to the web site the Santorum campaign responded sarcastically that it is "deeply unfortunate Casey is encouraging babies to be negative campaigners, but it's not a surprise, given the negative campaigns he is known for." Casey's camp, apparently the only party inolved without a sense of humor, denied any connection to the web site and accused the Santorum campaign of "making false attacks."

The September 10th-ers

I'm not thrilled with the title the editors put on Janet Albrechtsen's piece in today's Australian, but the column itself is on the mark:

THERE is no polite way of saying this. Useful idiots have their place. They stir us out of our complacency lest we fall back into a lazy September 10 way of thinking.

With impeccable timing, just days before the fifth anniversary of September 11, The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Alan Ramsey bemoaned the Howard Government's terrorism laws and its recent commentary for unfairly targeting Muslims.

As evidence, he filled his papier-mache style Saturday column by quoting, among others, the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network. The network complained that "all people arrested under the legislation have been Muslim, and all of the 17 proscribed terrorist organisations are linked to Muslim organisations".

Like a joke without a punchline, that argument falls rather flat. Just how flat was neatly showcased later on Saturday evening as I settled into a seat at my local cinema. The previews included the Australian Government's new advertising campaign to stamp out domestic violence. In the short, powerful ad, five men admit to shoving, slapping or abusing women.

Their behaviour towards women is comprehensively denounced as unacceptable and illegal.

Did the ad target men? Undoubtedly. Did that make it unfair? No. Domestic violence is overwhelmingly a crime committed by men against women. But just because every person in the ad is a man, do we conclude that all men are women-bashers? Of course not.

That same logic applies to terrorism laws. Terrorism against Westerners is overwhelmingly a crime committed by Muslims but no one imagines that laws aimed at catching Muslim jihadists mean all Muslims are terrorists. [snip]

However, September 10 people stubbornly adhere to a genre of multiculturalism that prohibits judgments about, or criticisms of, minorities or their culture. Hence, commentary by the Prime Minister and others that is critical of some within those minority cultures is deemed racist. In a nutshell, no pointing the finger at the unequal treatment of women by some Muslims even if that means putting up with the odd honour killing. Similarly, terrorism laws that in terms apply to all of us equally but in practice fall disproportionately on Muslims, are deemed discriminatory.

This mushy thinking is driven by the notion that being a member of a minority culture in a Western country is prima facie evidence of victimhood. And victims need to be protected from bullies banging on about protecting Western lives and values. That mentality has only encouraged Muslims to keep waving the victim card. It lets them off the hook. Instead, they should be confronting what London's former police chief John Stevens has called the "undeniable, total truth: that Islamic terrorism is their problem".

Even though I've quoted liberally from the piece, there's more worth reading.

Political Video of the Day

Matt Lauer vs. George W. Bush on torture, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Cardin vs. Steele

Rep. Ben Cardin looks to have won by 8 points over former congressman and former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, 45.8% - 37.7%. The Final RCP Average in this race pegged Cardin with a nine-point lead so this final is pretty much in line with expectations. Survey USA's final poll of 47% Cardin, 38% Mfume looks to have nailed this race.

The conventional wisdom for Maryland has always been that an Mfume win is what the GOP needed to really put this traditionally Democratic seat in play. Two weeks ago, however, I speculated that a Cardin win may lay the foundation for the same path to victory Gov. Bob Ehrlich followed in 2002. Now 2002 was a very different year in tone and tenor for Republicans, and at the end of the day, the current macro-negativity toward President Bush and the GOP is what makes Cardin the clear favorite here in the general. However, Steele should not be counted out in this race.

An unenthusiastic black vote was a crucial element to Ehrlich's win four years ago, and the rejection of Mfume will not help the Democrats in that regard. So not only will Cardin likely be looking at smaller than otherwise black turnout, Steele as the first African-American to win statewide in MD, is perfectly positioned to challenge for a large portion of Maryland's sizable African-American electorate. A smaller black turnout overall, coupled with Steele perhaps capturing 30% of the statewide African-American vote, could make this a very interesting race election night.

Quote of the Day

"If the Republicans go around licking their chops, hoping that Hillary's the nominee because that will be an easy mark, they're going to be making a huge mistake," he says. "They underestimate her at their own peril." - Mike Huckabee in the Washington Examiner.

AZ-08: The GOP and the West

AZ-08 and Rhode Island Senate were the two big primaries for the GOP yesterday, and they provide something of a study in why the GOP is in so much trouble this year.

The national GOP -- from the perspective of holding the seat, at least -- was certainly lucky to see Chafee pull it off (probably on the strength of independents, more than Republicans). Meanwhile, the national GOP "lost" AZ-08 (as it had given money to Randy Graf's opponent in the primary).

However, the Senate is a bit safer than the House, so the national GOP may have lost the more important of the two primaries (and Chafee, as John mentions below, is hardly "safe" in any event -- he just has an even chance, whereas Laffey would have been dead meat out of the starting gate).

So why is all of this such a revealing indication of the GOP's problems in '06? Well, in the Blue Northeast, even Lincoln Chafee, the biggest "moderate" of them all, is in the fight of his life due to the massive unpopularity of President Bush, the war in Iraq, and the GOP Congress. Meanwhile, in the Red interior West, a seat Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) won 60%-36% in 2004 is now a likely Democratic pickup -- because of the national mood, and because the GOP continues to move in what I've been calling a "southern" direction.

What do I mean by "southern"? Well, more about "values" than about "freedom." More about growing government than about shrinking it. And obsessed with illegal immigration. AZ-08, according to the latest Almanac of American Politics, is 18% Hispanic and 87% urban. Republicans hold a 6% edge over Democrats, but 26% of voters in the district are independents.

If the GOP loses the House this fall, it's going to lose it in the Northeast and the West -- while holding onto its southern base. If there's a real landslide and the Senate goes, too, it will be because of seats like Sen. George Allen's in Virginia -- where Allen might prove too "southern" even for Virginia.

Chafee's Win a Boost to Senate GOP

Chafee's win yesterday is good news for GOP chances of holding the Senate, as the more conservative Laffey would have had no chance of winning the general in November. In our pre-primary analysis we suggested that a "solid win" by Chafee would be good news for GOP prospects of holding this seat. And while 54% - 46% is certainly not an overwhelming result in a primary for an incumbent Senator, given the trends we have seen of incumbents going down in neighboring Connecticut and then earlier this year in Pennsylvania state races, we would characterize last night's margin as a "solid" result for Chafee. Fellow Northeastern, moderate Arlen Specter scraped by in his primary two years ago, 51% - 49%.

As the head-on-head polling with state Attorney General Whitehouse indicates (Chafee leads by 0.3% in the latest RCP Average), this race now looks to be a clear toss-up with roughly 50 days remaining. Chafee will get a boost both from his win and the manner in which he won. The fact that hard-core conservatives may be mad with him is not exactly a negative heading into a general election this year in Rhode Island. However, this is clearly a Democratic state in a part of the country where anti-Bush sentiment runs extremely high. Chafee will have to run the better campaign to win.

A Squeaker in AZ 08

Arizona's Eighth Congressional District - which includes Tucson, Bisbee and the southwest portion of the state - is open this year, thanks to the retirement of long-time moderate Republican Representative Jim Kolbe. It is one of the Democrats' top targets. The Republican side features what appears to be a down-to-the-wire contest between conservative, former representative Randy Graf (who challenged, and nearly defeated, Kolbe in the 2004 Republican primary) and current state representative Steve Huffman, who is perceived as the more moderate of the two major candidates. The NRCC, concerned that Graf cannot defeat the leading Democratic contender, former state senator Gabrielle Giffords, recently spent some cash on advertising for Graf. This type of pre-primary endorsement activity - incidentally - has been a phenomenon that has happened all across the country - and it has annoyed state/local party leaders greatly.

As of this writing, Graf is leading Huffman by 1.5% with about 53% of precincts reporting. Importantly - there as yet have been no reports from Cochise County, which is the most conservative in the district and whose precincts make up about 18% of all AZ 08 precincts. Most of the reports have so far been from Pima County, home of Tuscon. Not only is Cochise County more conservative - but it was also party of Graf's old district. Ditto for the 5 precincts in AZ 08 in Santa Cruz County - also not yet in. Graf used to represent these as well. Huffman's district is entirely contained in Pima County. This is bad news for Huffman and the NRCC. Graf will probably carry a majority in Cochise - and if, by the time all votes from Pima are in, Huffman is still behind, Graf will probably win.

(JOHN ADDS: With 99.7% of the precincts reporting Graf indeed looks to have won by some 3,500 votes, 43% - 37%. This is an open seat the Dems are likely to win.)

September 12, 2006

Smith Smackdown

Former FEC Commissioner And Tireless Free Speech Advocate Brad Smith delivers quite the smackdown to Sen. Russ Feingold in this op-ed: "Yes, senator, McCain-Feingold does censor political speech."

A sample:

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., takes issue with The Examiner's editorial criticism of the McCain-Feingold bill and its "ban" on certain broadcast ads. The indignant senator responds that the law "doesn't ban or censor any speech."

Feingold's position is disingenuous. For just a few sentences after telling us the law "doesn't ban or censor any speech," he tells us that McCain-Feingold was necessary to prevent some voices from being "drowned out" by others. As McCain-Feingold does nothing to affirmatively create or encourage speech -- it offers no subsidies or platform for political speech -- the only way it can prevent anyone's voice from being "drowned out" is through the suppression of other speech -- and that is indeed what McCain-Feingold does, as the senator must know.

Smith goes on to dismantle the common objection from "reformers" that citizen groups are still allowed to speak by way of PACs. Suffice it to say, they shouldn't need permission, and this alternative is wholly inadequate.

Counting the Ways

Time for another installment of the "why Democrats don't like Hillary Clinton" series. This time, David Lightman of the Hartford Courant goes to a barbecue in Iowa and gathers up every conceivable negative reaction and/or objection to Hillary. Here's a sampling of Lightman's tour de force:

- "She has too much political baggage"

- "She's too divisive"

- "She's been too much of a lightning rod for a very long time"

- "She's just not the straight talker we'd like to see"

- "The country just isn't ready for a female president"

- "She hasn't taken enough tough stands"

- "She doesn't have a lot of credibility with a lot of people"

Yeah, yeah. We'll see how Democrats feel six months from now after Hillary (and Bill) have actually spent some time campaigning in Iowa - if she decides to run at all, that is.

Cult of Death Update

This story struck me as a sobering reminder of just how deeply perverse and pathological Islamic fascists are. A jihadi terrorist killed the governor of an Afghan province with a suicide bomb on Sunday, and then another one suicide bombed the funeral service on Monday killing 7 - including two children - and wounding forty.

Rocky Top Rumble

A new SurveyUSA poll shows Democrat Harold Ford with a three point lead over Republican Bob Corker in the Tennessee Senate race, 48 to 45, with 6 percent undecided. This is the first independent poll of the year to show him in the lead, though others have had the race very tight and within the margin of error.

Right now, the RCP Average has this race a flat out tie. Mason-Dixon hasn't polled in this race since the end of July (they had Corker up 13 at the time) but they should be out soon with a new poll which will help clarify things even further.

Get up to speed on all the latest polls here.

RELATED: Listen to Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Bob Corker here.

Political Video of the Day

On primary day, a look ahead at the GOP's 2006 general election theme:

You can't get much more direct than this ad from Progress for America. Republicans: hate terrorists. Democrats: more ambivalent.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

FL-22: Shaw's Stand

In the universe of peculiar congressional districts - Florida's 22nd district ranks up there with the best of them. The district covers much of South Florida's eastern beachfront property - from Palm Beach County all the way to Broward. fl-22.gifAlong the way, it picks up bits and pieces of Plantation, Coral Springs, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Glen Ridge. What makes it peculiar is the studiousness with which it avoids precincts composed of African-Americans, who were placed into Alcee Hastings' 23rd Congressional District. As Michael Barone notes, "The resulting district is affluent, elderly, with a large Jewish population politically very active in condominium groups."

In both 2004 and 2000, the district gave Bush 48% of the vote. It has been held by Clay Shaw, the #2 Republican on the influential Ways and Means Committee, for 13 terms. The Chairman, Bill Thomas of California, is not seeking reelection. So, if Shaw wins this election, he will likely become chair of this powerful tax-writing committee. The key word in that sentence is "if."

This time, Shaw has drawn a well-funded opponent, Ron Klein, state senate minority leader. Klein has distinguished himself as the best-funded of all Democratic challengers to date, which is why he is such a formidable challenger. Shaw, for his part, is the best funded of all Republican incumbents. Both candidates are already running ads. Republicans hope to make the campaign an issue about the global war on terror; Democrats hope to turn it into a referendum on Iraq. Sound familiar?

Capitalism Soldiers On - Larry Kudlow

Osama bin Laden threatened to bankrupt the United States. And, as recently as two days ago, al Qaeda's deputy leader al-Zawahiri said he was going to force our economic collapse.

Well, reality presents a far different picture. The U.S. and the world economies have prospered mightily since September 11, 2001.

The bulk of this credit goes to the ingenuity, entrepreneurship and stick-to-itiveness of Americans who go to work everyday. These hardworking men and women are an optimistic lot. They possess a great deal of faith in our nation, in our future, and in God.

Federal policies to cut interest rates and tax rates set the backdrop for this economic recovery and growth. Since that fateful day five years ago, non-farm payrolls have increased 4 million. 7.7 million more people went to work according to the household survey, which registered a declining unemployment rate.

Real GDP, total business investments, and household consumption all increased around 15 percent.

Inflation has run slightly above 2 percent. Household net worth has grown by 32 percent. American trade with the rest of the world increased 61 percent.

While fundamentalist Islamic radicals vehemently hate capitalism and freedom, and are doing everything they can to destroy our markets and economy, both have prospered worldwide despite these murderous hatemongers' wicked goals.

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek correctly points out that terrorism has been unable to slow the world economy. On the contrary, global trade has risen over 30 percent since 2001. Similarly, the world economy has expanded by more than 20 percent, with developing countries tallying a 30 percent gain.

Mr. Samuelson rightfully observes: "Terrorism so far has been an economic blank."

Interestingly, world stock markets have boomed during this 5-year terror period. The broadest U.S. average--the DJ Wilshire 5000--is up almost 30 percent. Even more fascinating, emerging markets around the world have gained over 200 percent. Even the stock index of the Arab gulf states has soared about 250 percent

Of course, the greatest story since 9/11 is that there have been no more 9/11s. Smart American security policies and the hard work of dedicated counterterrorism agents are successfully responding to this evil's potent challenge.

It is precisely this security that has enabled American workers and investors to prosper mightily and harness the economic and political freedoms the totalitarians hate so much.

The fact is, while terrorists have increased their attacks worldwide, they have been unable to stop the forward march of free market capitalism and globalization. These two powerful, resilient forces have produced extraordinary new wealth and increasing living standards worldwide.

This remarkable economic and stock market advance of the past five years clearly points to the fact that radical Islam and its murdering militants are completely isolated and doomed to failure.

Freedom, capitalism and prosperity roll on.

Election '06 Briefs: D-Day for Chafee

RI Sen: Today's the big day for Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. Expect it to be very close. Laffey has run an effective outsider campaign, fueled by $700,000 from the Club For Growth. Chafee, on the other hand, has gotten more than $1 million in support from the NRSC as well as establishment support for his GOTV effort.

Meanwhile, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is waiting in the wings. With a million five in cash and help from the DSCC he'll be a heavy favorite against Laffey and a formidable challenger to Chafee - should he survive today's vote.

MD Sen: The other big race on the docket today has national implications as well. A SurveyUSA poll released last night shows Cardin with a 9-point lead. Whether this poll is accurately capturing the feelings of African-Americans remains to be seen, and if black voters turnout for Mfume today we might be in for a very close race.

The conventional widsom is that Cardin will be a stronger candidate against Republican Michael Steele, but as John wrote recently about this race, "if Mr. Cardin holds on to win after what has been a racially tinged primary against Mr. Mfume, Democrats could face the very real prospect of a disappointed African-American base in the fall." In other words, a close Mfume loss today could be a boost to Steele's chances.

AZ-8: The nasty GOP battle in this Congressional district primary comes to a close today and will provide a telling indicator of the base's feeling on immigration. As most people are aware, the NRCC took the extraordinary measure of stepping in to help support moderate Steve Huffman, while the Democrat in the race has launched a wave of attack ads against Huffman, hoping to draw the more conservative Randy Graf in the general election. Interesting note: Arizona's primary is open, and there are 114,330 "independents/others" among Pima County's 422,950 registered voters (party breakdown is 165,140 Democrats and 138,975 Republicans).

IL Gov: A new Tribune/WGN poll has good news and bad news for Rod Blagojevich. The good news: he's up 12 points on Judy Baar Topinka who despite finally launching her own ad campaign last week has yet to break 40 percent in any public poll. The bad news: eight weeks before the election the Governor is still at 45%. With Green Party candidate Rich Whitney pulling 6 percent, Blagojevich won't need much more to win, but it demonstrates just how soft his support is this year. Against a better, more well funded opponent (and a state Republican party that wasn't so anemic), Blago would be in a decent amount of trouble.

September 11, 2006

Good, Bad, or Ugly?

A must-read from the Washington Post this weekend on how House Republicans are planning to limit their losses:

Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.

...

GOP officials said internal polling shows Republicans could limit losses to six to 10 House seats and two or three Senate seats if the strategy -- combined with the party's significant financial advantage and battled-tested turnout operation -- proves successful. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to win control of the House and six to regain power in the Senate.

Let it never be said that the GOP isn't better at the nuts-and-bolts of this stuff. Although, that's a recent phenomenon.

Dem Hopes in the Empire State

Picking up on Jay's post below, the New York Times has a surprisingly frank assessment of the Dems' fading hopes of House seat pick ups in the Empire State this year:

just a few months ago, Democrats envisioned significant gains in New York, perhaps picking up as many as four seats, possibly even five. But that goal now seems increasingly remote, and there is an emerging consensus among political analysts that the party's best chance for capturing a Republican seat is the battle to succeed Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert, one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress, who is retiring.

The Times article, written by Ray Hernandez, looks at NY-20 in some detail, pointing out that the DCCC hasn't stepped in and devoted resources to the race, though Moveon.org has been active running ads against Sweeney. But despite some glaring mistakes which Jay touches on below, Sweeney has managed to maintain a solid lead in this race. Hernandez writes:

The Sweeney-Gillibrand race shows how Republicans have deliberately focused on local circumstances and personalities rather than on national issues, at a time when President Bush continues to show weakness in the polls around the country.

For example, one advertisement that the Sweeney campaign began airing in June talks about the congressman's "humble roots" in Troy, a blue-collar city in the district, and describes his father "as a union guy who worked three jobs." Fittingly, the advertisement is called "The Kid From Troy," and it concludes that Mr. Sweeney's rise to Congress is nothing short of a "New York story about America's promise."

Ms. Gillibrand, whose campaign released a poll showing Mr. Sweeney ahead by a smaller margin, sought to play down the significance of polls showing her far behind and predicted that the Democrats' campaign committee would begin funneling resources into her race as she closed in on Mr. Sweeney.

Gillibrand's poll, conducted by Global Strategies has Sweeney up 8. This race will probably tighten in the end, but as the Times reports, Dems are a lot less hopeful about this race than they were eight weeks ago.

New York-20: Sweeney vs. Gillibrand

This Hudson River district has been represented by Republican John Sweeney since 1998. He won handily in 2004, 2002 and 2000. This time around, he is facing a well-financed, albeit inexperienced, challenger in Kirsten Gillibrand - who is receiving tactical advice from the Clinton operation. The district went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Its place on our list is largely due to the financial prowess of Gillibrand, which in turn has to do with the weaknesses of the Sweeney campaign. He has been in ill-health, and as late as May it was still a question as to whether he would even run for reelection.

Apparently his illness did not prevent him from attending a frat party at Union College on April, 21 - at which he was reportedly intoxicated. It is one thing for a 23-year old Super Bowl star to "drink like a champion," but when an ill-of-health member of the House Appropriations Committee allegedly does so (and, minimally, puts himself in a position where people can make such an allegation) - that is political trouble. If Sweeney goes from winning by 32% in 2004 to losing in 2006, his evening at the Alpha Delta Phi House will probably be a key reason.

Good news for Sweeney came just prior to Labor Day - as a Siena Research poll found him up by 19%. This despite his bad press and the activity of the Gillibrand campaign.

Patriotic Video of the Day

The Buckingham Palace band, playing the American national anthem after 9/11:

(via Sullivan)

Just one note ...

Just one note on Tom's Political Video of the Day: Those Redskins fans have to be happy McCain-Feingold doesn't yet apply on the Internet. If they ran that ad on TV, they'd be looking at an FEC fine ... or worse.

Political Video of the Day

Some devoted Washington Redskins fans have started a humorous web site "dedicated to keeping Heath Shuler out of Congress, and therefore out of Washington, DC." The mission statement of www.stopshuler.com reads:

No, we are not residents of North Carolina's 11th District, nor could we pick it out on a map (it's up in the mountains, right?). No, we aren't working for any of Shuler's rivals. We simply are Redskins fans and we love the city of Washington. And quite frankly, both are better off since Heath left town, and we don't want him back.

With that as background, here is their latest attack ad on Shuler:

Frum on McCain

David Frum doesn't think John McCain can be nominated or elected in 2008.

9/11 Replay

I don't know what anyone else is watching this morning, as far as 9/11 retrospectives. I'm watching the CNN.com Pipeline real-time replay of their coverage from that morning (Fox News is doing the same thing online). It's very difficult to watch. Complete chaos. Witnesses on the phone panicking. Anchors speculating that maybe a navigation system was malfunctioning. A complete inability to comprehend that a second plane had hit, even though it happened live, on camera.

I actually never saw this initial coverage, because I was in D.C., not in front of a TV, and then we were all evacuated. I watched the towers fall on a portable TV some guy had on my bus.

9:25: The word terrorism is breached for the first time I've heard this morning, in a quote from an unnamed government official.

9:31: President Bush makes his first remarks, sounding extremely shaken.

Well, you get the idea. Again, it's very difficult to watch. Much more so than I thought it would be. But for those remembering this day, five years on, maybe you want to tune in.

The Sour Mood in Columbus

The Columbus Dispatch reports on a new local survey showing continued public discontent:

Despite the Bush administration's aggressive attempts in recent weeks to justify America's presence in Iraq, the popularity of the war and the president himself are at all-time lows in the Columbus area.

A new poll on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack shows Bush's approval rating at 38 percent -- the first time it's dipped below 40 percent in regular surveys for The Dispatch by Saperstein Associates.

Also for the first time, fewer than one in three say the war is worth the toll in American lives and other costs.

That's a big reason Rep. Deborah Pryce is in what she call's "a knife fight" with Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in OH-15 and why Republican Pat Tiberi in OH-12 was last seen running in the opposite direction of President Bush and Don Rumsfeld.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported yesterday, interests groups are back with a vengence in Ohio, spending tons of cash to try and influence key races across the state and up and down the ticket. Pryce has been getting hammered with ads from Moveon.org accusing her of "protecting contractors like Halliburton." But Pryce had more than a two-to-one cash advantage over her opponent at last filing (end of June) and she went up with a $1.8 million ad buy starting the first week of September.

So far, there isn't any public polling available in this race, but all signs point to it being very competitive. We currently have OH-15 ranked nineteenth on our list of competitive House races, and National Journal has it up two spots to number 15 in its latest rankings. Larry Sabato rates the race "leans GOP," and last week Charlie Cook (and Amy Walter) moved OH-15 from leans GOP into the toss up column.

September 10, 2006

IL-8: Bean's Game

The Northwest Herald slams incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean for playing hide-the-ball:

The voters of the 8th District deserve the opportunity to see the candidates together for themselves.

Interest in campaigns peaks in October, and we suggest two or three high-profile debates on successive weeks.

What is Bean she afraid of? She should be reasonable and be responsive to the voters. She should stand before them with her challengers and talk about the issues.

She might not want to dignify McSweeney and Scheurer with her presence. But she dismisses voters with that kind of arrogance.

Election '06 Briefs: Can Chafee Survive?

More Election '06 briefs from around the country:

RI Sen: The question on everyone's mind is whether Republican Lincoln Chafee can survive Tuesday's primary vote against Steve Laffey. It's going to be close. The Providence Journal says Chafee and Laffey are pulling out all the stops in the final days. The New York Times and LA Times carry profiles on the primary and the resulting implications for Republicans maintaining control of the Senate.

Meanwhile, the New York Sun says Chafee's "dis" of UN Ambassador John Bolton earlier in the week may backfire on Tuesday. The polls in this contest are of no help, but you can see them, as well as more news stories on the RCP Election Page for this race.

VA Sen: New Mason-Dixon poll has George Allen nursing a 4-point lead over Democrat James Webb. That's a 12-point "macaca" drop from the last Mason-Dixon survey taken in July. This race is now within the margin of error with 9% undecided. Get all the latest Election 2006 polls here.

CT Sen: Well, this is a bit embarrassing. After Ned Lamont went out and slammed Joe Lieberman for creating a "media spectacle" in 1998 by condemning President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the Lieberman campaign released the text of an email, sent to Lieberman by one Ned Lamont right after the speech, which read:

"I supported your statement because Clinton's behavior was outrageous: a Democrat had to stand up and state as much, and I hoped that your statement was the beginning of the end."

Lamont says he stands by his statement - the most recent one attacking Joe Lieberman, that is. More news on this race, including a Hartford Courant article detailing Ned's lukewarm encounter with an Iraq war veteran at a recent picnic, can be found on the RCP Election Page for the CT Senate Race.

NJ Sen: If you're Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, these are not exactly the kind of quotes you want to see appearing in the paper less than sixty days before your election:

"It's not at the point where party leaders are saying to Bob, 'You gotta get out,' but it could get that way fast," one insider said by phone from a party conference in Atlantic City where Menendez called the subpoenas politically motivated.

"It's all the buzz down here: Are we going to go back to the switcheroo? Can we?" he said.

Oh, boy. Somebody probably has Bill Bradley on the phone right now. Stay on top of the twists and turns in this race here.

NC-11: Republican Charles Taylor is in a dogfight with former QB Heath Shuler. Dems have been hopeful of beating Taylor in the past, but they think this year might be the year they can unseat the 8-termer. More polls, news and info here.

Georgia 8 & 12: The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story on two overlooked House races in Georgia that could end up hurting the Democrats' chances of capturing control this November.

As always, there is much more on the RCP Politics & Elections Page. If you haven't bookmarked it yet, don't wait.

September 09, 2006

Election '06 Briefs: Menendez Strikes Back

NJ Senate: Democrat Bob Menendez struck back yesterday after news leaked out that the U.S. Attorney's office had launched a federal probe into his financial dealings with a NJ not-for-profit. Not surprisingly, Menendez called the charges a politically motivated smear. But a passage buried at the bottom of today's Philadelphia Inquirer illustrates why this story probably isn't going away any time soon:

Menendez has said that he got an informal approval from the House ethics committee before he went ahead with the lease. His spokesman, Matt Miller, said yesterday the ethics committee has no record of that conversation, which took place more than a decade ago.

The ethics committee does provide members with advisory opinions, both in writing and verbally. But verbal opinions afford members little protection, and cannot be used to head off an ethics investigation if their conduct is called into question.

RI Senate: With only days left to save his political hide, Lincoln Chafee unloads with both barrels on Steve Laffey in a new tv spot. More news on the Rhode Island Senate Primary here.

AZ-8: The Arizona (Tucson) Star editorializes today that the NRCC has "no business" getting involved in the Republican primary in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. Tom Tancredo isn't happy outside meddling in the race either.

VA Senate: Yesterday Jim Webb made news launching an ad with a clip of Ronald Reagan praising him in 1985. Today he's making news again, though in a bad way: Nancy Reagan has asked him to take the ad down.

MO Senate: A very interesting story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that bodes well for Jim Talent.

VA-2: Thelma Drake's campaign has released a new poll showing her up 7 points on Phil Kellam, contradicting the results of the RT Strategies/Constituent Dynamics IVR poll released earlier in the week showing Kellam with an 8-point lead. Drake's pollster slammed the RT Strategies/CD poll saying, "This looks totally unscientific and unreliable. The geographic model is way off."

Get more news from races all around the country on the RCP Politics & Election page.

September 08, 2006

An Ominous Trend for Mike

One poll shouldn't necessarily be cause for panic, but the folks in Mike McGavick's campaign must have a sick feeling in their stomach after seeing the trendline in the latest Rasmussen poll. In the last three weeks Cantwell expanded her lead from 6 to 17 points, going from 46% up to 52% while McGavick slipped from 40% to 35%.

I'm sure McGavick's campaign has been in the field as well. The first question is whether they've seen the same trend. The second question is what, if anything, they can do to reverse it.

The Times Slimes

The New York Times slimes think tanks that receive ludicrously small amounts of money from a Wal-Mart-related foundation, in a story on the front of the business section today.

As Daniel Drezner points out in the link above, these donations are tiny in the scheme of think-tank giving. And, what's more, it's simply no surprise that free-market organizations ... support the free market against attacks from labor unions.

A truly pitiful hit-piece from the Times.

Reagan Democrats

Is James Webb in Virginia going to give the term "Reagan Democrat" a new meaning?

Let History Be the Judge

President Bush likes to say history will judge his actions. Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic, no psychotic Bush basher, thinks it will judge him harshly (sub required):

The question history will ask is whether Bush's presidency was as bad as Richard Nixon's or only as bad as Jimmy Carter's ... If the country seriously intends to prevent terrorism, then spying at home, detaining terror suspects, and conducting tough interrogations are practices that the government will need to engage in for many years to come. Instead of making proper legal provisions for those practices, Bush has run the war against jihadism out of his back pocket, as a permanent state of emergency. He engages in legal ad-hockery and trickery, treats Congress as a nuisance rather than a partner, and circumvents outmoded laws and treaties when he should be creating new ones. Of all Bush's failings, his refusal to build durable underpinnings for what promises to be a long struggle is the most surprising, the most gratuitous, and potentially the most damaging, both to the sustainability of the antiterrorism effort and to the constitutional order.

I think this is generally correct. While many of the individual actions the administration has taken in an aggressive fight against terrorism are defensible or outright correct, what's almost impossible to defend is why the administration has run what is likely to be a generation(s?)-long conflict like a temporary emergency. With a Republican Congress that would grant the president wide latitude to fight the war, the decision to treat the executive like a monarchy has been particularly unnecessary.

(HT: Sullivan)

Hillary: Is She Done or Over?

Tom's right that Hillary Clinton is right (if Rupert Murdoch can start agreeing with Hillary, so can we) about there being "no do-overs" in life or in politics.

What this points to, however, is just how big a gap there's going to be to Hillary's left as we come into 2008. The famed netroots want to cut her off at the knees (even though they've proved unwilling to even nip at her heels in her Senate reelection campaign this year).

If a candidate emerges to court this crowd -- and Mark Warner is doing everything he can right now, by cozying up to its leaders and throwing lavish blogger parties -- that will be a powerful force to reckon with in the primaries.

Much of the far Left's foreign policy right now, after all, is based precisely on pining for a "do over."

Hillary: No Do-Overs

While other potential Dem contenders for 2008 have prostrated themselves before the antiwar left and recanted their vote for the war, Hillary makes it clear she ain't gonna be joining that club:

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been hitting the Bush administration hard over the Iraq war lately, but said yesterday she has no regrets over voting for war.

Clinton's hawkish comments were made on ABC's "Nightline" when she was asked about supporters who want her to say she's sorry for voting to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq.

"I understand that, because certainly the feelings about Iraq are very raw and deep, and I share them," she said, according to a transcript of the broadcast. "But I don't think that's responsible."

She added, "I can only look at what I knew at the time, because I don't think you get do-overs in life. I think you have to take responsibility and hopefully learn from it and go forward."

This is the most refreshingly honest and sensible thing I've heard Hillary say in a while. It's also why I hate questions that begin, "if you knew then what you know now..." The fact is that based on the intelligence we had at the time everyone - including foreign governments and almost every member of the United States Senate - thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

You don't get to pretend after the fact that that wasn't the case, nor do you get to travel back in time with the knowledge we have today. Hillary's right: there are no do-overs. Criticizing the war effort is fine, but rewriting the history that led up to the invasion and then abandoning your vote to score a few cheap political points is not governing responsibly.

The Battle of the Philly Burbs

Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District is a part of the fast-growing Philadelphia suburbs -- one of several areas in the nation that speak to the peculiarity of the Bush 2004 reelection. Whereas most reelected presidents increase their share of the vote nationwide, President Bush's share of the vote increased in some areas and decreased in others. The Philadelphia suburbs are one area where Mr. Bush did worse in 2004.

This is one reason why the congressman from Pennsylvania's 6th District -- 2nd term Rep. Jim Gerlach -- tops most lists of endangered House incumbents. In 2004, he beat Lois Murphy, a well-funded former aide to Gov. Ed Rendell, by a scant 6,500 votes. Ms. Murphy is back for a rematch this year, and -- by mid-summer -- had raised almost as much as she had in all of the 2004 cycle.

Mr. Gerlach will have his work cut out for him in this district. Both candidates are up with TV spots already in Republican-leaning Berks County. Mr. Gerlach won the 6th's portion of Berks by a little more than 4,000 votes, and he will probably have to beat that margin this year. As a sign of just how close this race will be, a late July poll sponsored by Ms. Murphy had Mr. Gerlach down only one point, which was probably received by nervous Republicans as good news. An RT Strategies/CD poll taken in late August has Mr. Gerlach down by five points, 50% to 45%.

No Legs

Arnold apologizes. Assemblywoman Garcia appeared with Arnold, says she's not upset and that she often calls herself a "hot blooded Latina."

The GOP's Summer of Macaca

While I certainly don't think Gov. Ahnold meant anything offensive by this, in the Summer of Macaca, it's not so great to have a tape recording like this surface:

On the recording, Schwarzenegger's Democratic chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, says Assembly Republican leader George Plescia of San Diego resembles a startled deer. That draws a chuckle from the Republican governor, who a moment earlier had referred to Plescia's predecessor, Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, as "Bakersfield boy."

But Kennedy offers praise for Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, the lone Latina Republican in the Legislature. The governor and Kennedy debate her ethnicity, and Schwarzenegger opines that whether she is Cuban or Puerto Rican doesn't matter much.

"I mean, they are all very hot," the governor says. "They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it."

He goes on to recall a former weightlifter and competitor, Cuban-born Sergio Oliva. "He was like that," Schwarzenegger says.

The LA Times will be looking to run with it. We'll see if it gets legs.

Election '06: Colorado House Races

The internecine war in Colorado 5 continues:

Retiring 5th Congressional District Rep. Joel Hefley rejected charges Thursday that his refusal to support Doug Lamborn to succeed him could damage the gubernatorial campaign of Bob Beauprez and other Republicans seeking statewide office.

Hefley scorned attempts by Lamborn's campaign manager to cast him as the villain if Republican voters stay home on Election Day rather than support Lamborn in the heavily Republican 5th Congressional District.

"A lot of people are saying they're going to stay at home, not because of anything I'm doing, but because of the kind of sleazy campaign that Lamborn ran," Hefley said.

In Colorado 7, which is on everyone's short list of the most competitive races in the country, Republican Rick O'Donnell and Democrat Ed Perlmutter are battling over Perlmutter's role in the bankruptcy of a controversial insurance firm. This race is, and will most likely continue to be a dead heat until the end.

Finally, to Colorado 4, where there's a good deal of discussion about Marilyn Musgrave's vulnerability. John touched on the subject in mid-August after a SUSA poll came out showing the race close, and the latest RT Strategies/Constituent Dynamics poll (also IVR, by the way) has Musgrave up 6 points on Paccione but still under 50%. Paccione got some good news yesterday, when the FEC cleared her of charges of improper conduct.

Political Video of the Day

Here's one about Chris Gabrieli, a candidate in the Democratic primary for governor in Massachusetts this year.

He's actually doing OK in the polls (second in a tight field of three, according to a recent Boston Globe poll). Nonetheless, this video of the candidate greeting extremely uninterested commuters is pretty funny:

UPDATE: The AP takes note of this video, and two others, that have surfaced in the Massachusetts governor's race.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Dems in Trouble in New Jersey

RCP was ahead of the curve in ranking this race as a toss up when most of the other major analysts rated New Jersey as Leans Democrat (Rothenberg being the exception). Charlie Cook moved it to a toss up yesterday, and with the news of the federal probe into Menendez's finances along with continued polling showing Menendez stuck in the high 30's and low 40's, expect the full consensus to move towards the reality that this race is indeed a toss up.

Republicans have not won statewide since Christine Todd Whitman in '97, but the string of NJ Democratic scandals highlighted by the Lautenberg/Torricelli swap and then the McGreevy scandals might have exhausted the New Jersey public's tolerance for business-as-usual politics in New Jersey. Tom Kean, Jr. being the son of the moderate, and popular, former Gov. Tom Kean is ideologically and temperamentally well suited to win statewide, and is in a strong position to pick this seat up for the GOP.

We would even be inclined to move this race to Lean Republican if it were not for the strong Democratic machine still in power. Expect this race to be close, and ugly, but if Menendez can't get his numbers up above 45%, and soon, he is quickly going to become the underdog.

Election '06 Senate Briefs

Here's a quick hit on some of the most competitive Senate races in the country:

New Jersey: Kathy Kiely of USA Today looks at the Hispanic angle in the New Jersey Senate race. Republican Tom Kean currently leads by 2.3% in the RCP Average over Bob Menendez. UPDATE: Bad news for Menendez this morning: WNBC reports the U.S. Attorney's office has launched a federal probe into Menedez's financial dealings with a non-profit agency he's been closely associated with over the years.

Washington: The Seattle Times reports Maria Cantwell has $5.1 million cash on hand heading into the final sixty days, nearly a 2-to-1 advantage over Mike McGavick. McGavick stumbled recently with his with his bungled confession, but this morning the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on ethical questions facing the Cantwell campaign.

As I wrote the other day, the next batch of polls is going to tell the tale in this race. Right now, based on the polls taken in the last two weeks of August, Cantwell holds a solid single-digit lead.

Connecticut: Ned Lamont has himself wrapped up deep in the Clinton drama. While he's currently pondering Hillary's offer to campaign for him, Lamont took the opportunity yesterday to slam Lieberman's 1998 public condemnation of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Lamont said he shared the moral outrage over Clinton's affair, but accused Lieberman of using it as a PR stunt for himself and turning it into a "media spectacle."

The Lieberman camp recently released a poll showing Joe with a 16-point lead over Lamont. The latest independent public polling shows the race much closer than that, with Lieberman holding a 5.3% advantage over Lamont in the RCP Average.

Maryland: With a heated primary coming to a close next Tuesday, the Baltimore Sun reports that Ben Cardin took a pounding yesterday from his rivals in a radio debate. The polls are all over the place in this race: a SUSA survey released last week showed Mfume up 4, and a Gonzales Research poll taken the week before had Cardin up 13. Meanwhile, Michael Steele waits patiently for a challenger. This week the Steele camp unveiled a fantastic new television spot aimed at building support within Maryland's large African-American community.

Michigan: President Bush will be in Michigan at a fundraiser for Republican Mike Bouchard. The Detroit Free Press calls Bouchard "an emerging threat" to Stabenow, and the Detroit News looks at Bouchard's latest commercial stressing law and order.

This is shaping up as a race to watch, though as I wrote just yesterday, Bouchard is facing an uphill battle. Sixty days out his opponent leads by 10.8% in the RCP Average and has more than $4 milion in the bank (as of the last filing in mid-July).

Virginia: Democrat James Webb is going up with his first ad, which includes a clip of Ronald Reagan praising him in a 1985 speech. We are due for some new polls in this race: the last two surveys taken in late August showed the race tightening considerably in the wake of Allen's widely publicized "macaca" gaffe. We'll know soon whether those remarks were merely a bump in the road or something more serious.

Missouri: Good news and bad news for Democrat Claire McCaskill. The good? Bubba is coming to town tomorrow. He'll raise more than a million for her campaign, not to mention her media profile for a news cycle or two. The bad? McCaskill is getting ripped by Republicans for making the following remark yesterday: "George Bush let people die on rooftops in New Orleans because they were poor and because they were black."

This attack, which Senate Majority Leader Frist called "unconscionable," may not hurt her in St. Louis, but it's bound to turn off some independent and crossover voters in the rural parts of the state where this race is probably going to be won or lost. Right now the polls have this race a dead heat: Talent is leading by a mere 1.5% in the latest RCP Average. Any mistakes by either candidate coming down the strech could end up being fatal.

September 07, 2006

Just Another Smear Campaign

In The New York Sun today, I review Wayne Barrett's new book sliming Rudy Giuliani.

Did I mention I didn't like it?

The Battle in CT-4

Connecticut's 4th Congressional District - which includes Stamford, Bridgeport and Greenwich - is probably best understood as a suburb of New York City. Just as he did in Long Island and New Jersey, Bush actually improved upon his 2000 margin in 2004, a "9/11 Bump." Unfortunately, it did little to help 9-term Congressman Chris Shays, who actually recorded his worst-ever margin in 2004 against well-funded Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell. Much of Shays' poor result had to do with his refusal to go negative.

This year, Farrell is back for a rematch, and she is better funded than ever. Like Lieberman, Shays is not running away from his strong support of the Iraq War. However, recently Shays backed off the staunchness of his support to (a) criticize the Iraqis for not doing enough, (b) criticize the President for not offering a timetable based upon "benchmarks" like provisional elections to spur the Iraqis into action, and (c) comment that he has seen no progress in the country since January. Will Shays' "the Iraqi's are not doing enough" angle work?

Farrell, for her part, is offering what seems to be the standard Democratic position - that the President should fire Rumsfeld and offer a timetable for withdrawal. The subtext of this debate will almost certainly hurt Shays - whose district seems to be one of the few in the nation that is actually shaping up as a direct referendum on the situation in Iraq. Coming to his rescue might be Lieberman - who will probably play a major role in all three contested Connecticut House races, but who will play his largest role here, thanks to the similarities between Shays and him.

Another X-Factor - if, by October, the Republicans sense that they will keep the House, will they do everything they can to save Shays? He has been, in many respects, a thorn in the GOP's side over the years. He alienated many colleagues by the way he pushed for the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act - implying that those who opposed it were corrupt. However, he has been one of the most vocal supporters of Bush's foreign policy. So, just how heartily will the Republicans support Shays? They might value a 2-member majority without Shays more than a 3-member majority with him.

Political Video of the Day

You may have heard of Unity '08, the group dedicated to healing our nation's partisan wounds by nominating a Republican and a Democrat on the same ticket in 2008.

Well, there's a lot more to be said for division than there is for unity:

You can check out the blog here.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Still Betting Against the GOP - Larry Kudlow

Despite a series of excellent speeches from President Bush on national security and terrorism, the online betting parlor Tradesports.com has actually bet against Republicans in the House and Senate races.

The Senate still looks secure with the Senate GOP 2006 contract at 78 bid (think 78 percent), but that is down about 5 percentage points in the past week or so. Meanwhile the House GOP 2006 contract has fallen four points to 38 bid. This suggests only a 38 percent chance of a Republican hold in the House.

Personally, I like what Mr. Bush has been saying. However, worldwide bettors seem not to think that the President is making the sale. As disappointing as these odds-makers are reporting, my simple thought is that the GOP House and Senate absolutely must force key votes on the Patriot Act, the NSA wiretapping of international calls and the telephone company data-mining patterns, the SWIFT terrorist financial tracking program, military tribunals, and airport profiling.

And while they are at it, Congress should make a big fuss about imams who preach America's destruction in mosques, schools, prisons, and elsewhere. In other words, the President is doing what he can by dominating the news cycle with national security and terrorism defense, but now it's up to Congress to adopt a tough-minded and strong-willed anti-terrorist legislative agenda.

'Democrats want this debate'

The latest Carville-Greenberg 'Democracy Corps' memo (PDF) claims that Democrats should welcome an election focused on national security this fall. In fact, it says, Democrats can win "the third national security election."

Here's the crux of the argument:

National security is winnable this cycle for Democrats because:

The Republican advantage on national security has dropped sharply. Democrats enter this election in a very different position on national security issues relative to previous cycles. The Republican advantage on national security is significant, but no longer insurmountable; it has dropped by half since 2003; voters trusted Republicans to do a better job than Democrats on national security by a 29-point margin, 54-25 majority in August 2003, but only by a 48-33 percent plurality now. On other related measures, Democrats have reached parity or even pulled ahead; for example, Democrats now have a 6-point advantage on "foreign policy," compared to a 6-point deficit three years ago.

Democrats increase their lead when they engage on Iraq and national security. After working through a survey focused almost exclusively on the Democratic and Republican arguments on Iraq and national security, the Democratic margin in the congressional ballot improves from 5 to 8 points. Democrats gain even more ground with Independents - moving from a 13point advantage to 19-point advantage. The gains are less pronounced in the swing congressional districts and states with close Senate races, but Democrats do not lose any ground here. This is now the third survey we have conducted that shows Democrats increase their lead when they engage the debate on Iraq and national security; earlier surveys for both MoveOn and Democracy Corps showed the same result. Democrats should not be reluctant in taking on these issues.

The more voters hear, the more they move toward the Democrats on national security and terrorism. As voters hear Democratic plans and arguments on these issues, their view of the party changes in a very particular way. Their view about which party would do the better job on Iraq does not move - this is already polarized and pretty locked-in, with Democrats holding a narrow 2-point advantage at both the start and end of the survey. But as voters hear Democrats addressing these issues, they feel much more positively about the party on terrorism and national security, with the Republican advantage on both issues falling by half (on terrorism from a 15 point disadvantage for Democrats to a 6-point disadvantage; national security from down 15 points to down 7 points), and even more dramatic gains for Democrats among the voters who will decide this election.

The first point is interesting. The second and third points strike me as falling under the rubric of: If you're explaining, you're losing.

Color me skeptical.

Free Speech: See Ya in '07!

Cato's David Boaz reminds us all that today is a good day to mourn free speech in America.

Election 2006: Michigan Gov & Senate

Rasmussen is out with a new poll showing Dick DeVos inching to a 2-point lead. We now have four polls in this race taken during the last two weeks of August, and incumbent Jennifer Granholm's lead in the RCP Average is 1.7%.

For the latest RCP Averages in the most competitive Governor's races in the country, click here.

Swtiching over to the Senate race, the same four polls show incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow holding a solid 10.8% lead over Mike Bouchard in the RCP Average. Bouchard faces a serious uphill battle to make this race competitive given that he had to spend a boatload of money in the primary and, as of mid-July, Stabenow was sitting on close to 4 1/2 million cash in the bank.

For the latest RCP Averages in the most competitive Senate races in the country, click here.

Election 2006: Pennsylvania - 7

Is Republican Curt Weldon in trouble? Here's a look at the race in Pennsylvania's Seventh Congressional District. So far, the only public poll we have on this race is a Democracy Corps survey from mid-May showing Weldon with a 10-point lead. But Weldon's rather bizarre plan for Iraq, reported in The Hill this morning, gives the feeling he might be in more serious trouble.

Stay tuned as we continue to roll out Election 2006 analysis on the battle for the House.

September 06, 2006

Understanding Bush's Speech

A source within the military forwards the following observations on Bush's speech:

The "old media" and Drudge have it all wrong. Bush is not reversing course and they are not getting "Geneva Rights."

Today, the President has wagered all of his "political chips" and sided with the uniformed Combat Arms Branches instead of the JAG Chiefs.

First, whenever the President brings up that the illegal combatants are not uniform, that is a clear sign to those of us in the military that these individuals are not covered by Geneva.

Second, he is very clear that the CIA Detention program remains alive and well. ONLY after all information is obtained will they be turned over to DOD for military trial. Then they will face a death sentence.

Third, the President directly attacks the opinion by SCOTUS.

Lastly, Congress is now up against the wall. There is now a "face" that the public will see in regards to this legislation. IF Congress does not pass legislation, these 14 detainees tied to 9/11 will not receive ultimate Justice. What member of Congress wants to argue for them?

This was indeed a brilliant maneuver by Bush and I am thankful that he is running with it.

This sounds right to me. I'm not so sure Bush "put one over on the media" so much as they may have just flat out missed the story.

UPDATE: Sure enough, the White House has already issued the following email titled "Setting the Record Straight:"

*The President's Legislation Specifically Authorizes The Creation Of Military Commissions To Try These Suspected Terrorists For War Crimes. The Bill ensures that these commissions are established in a way that protects our national security and ensures a full and fair trial for the accused.

* Detainees Have Been Transferred To The Custody Of The Department Of Defense, At The U.S. Naval Base At Guantanamo Bay.

* Neither The President's Proposed Legislation Nor The Detainees' Transfer To Guantanamo Gives The Detainees POW Status. [emphasis added]

Changing Times Are Challenging Times - Brian Wesbury

It may sound trite, but technological change defines our world. And the changes are so rapid and dramatic that even the most astute observers cannot possibly grasp all the implications. Nonetheless, we see the benefits almost every day.

Last week, for example, we got a phone call from Russ Roberts, a professor at one of the best Economics schools in the country, George Mason University. Russ is also the features editor at the Library of Economics and Liberty and he wanted us to know that he had just posted the first of a two part interview with Milton Friedman. In a great service to the world, Russ is interviewing leading economists and thinkers (many of them Nobel laureates) and making those taped interviews available at www.econtalk.org.

Because Russ is such a good economist, and these interviews are not constrained by the demands of television or print media, they are very valuable. They cover serious topics in depth and once again reveal the powerful nature of the Internet.

In the interview, Friedman said he was optimistic about the future, but he also fretted that the low inflation of the past 20 or 25 years could make people "bigger suckers." He feared that without specific rules in place to restrain the central bank, the government would try to use inflation as a form of taxation. He said, "sooner or later, government's are going to want to spend money without taxing it and the only way to do that is to print money--to create inflation."

"When I see in the Federal Reserve reports that the inflation anticipation for 10, 20 years is on the order of 2 percent a year," Friedman added, "I find it very hard to believe it. Sooner or later, the government's going to get out of hand."

These fears seem justified. The YOY change in the "core" PCE deflator has been at or above 2% for 28 consecutive months. In the past five years, the dollar has lost 56.7% of its value versus gold and 29.7% of its value versus the Euro. This is a clear sign that the Fed has printed too much money. Yet, concerns about inflation seem almost non-existent. Have we been lulled to sleep?

In another EconTalk interview, Harvard professor Robert Barro points out that "strong growth" in China and India caused a "dramatic reduction in world poverty over the last 25 years or so, and also some movement away from income inequality." The reason for this unprecedented improvement in living standards is twofold: the spread of technology and the adoption of capitalism and free markets.

It is true that technology is causing consternation and fear as "creative destruction" pushes the US and the world into a dramatic transformation, the likes of which we have not seen since the Industrial Revolution. But to suggest that we move away from free markets and utilize government power to slowdown the impact of technology and globalization, is to ignore the lessons of history.

We should not fear the economic revival in China and India. The world economy is not a zero sum game. The people exiting poverty are becoming entrepreneurs, inventors and customers. The forces of technology lift living standards as long as government stays out of the way. The right answer to closing the income gap, and raising living standards, is more freedom, not less.

Technology means opportunity. For example, some analysts bemoaned the loss of 13,500 retail trade jobs in August and even more so the 96,000 jobs lost in the past year. But this is not necessarily a sign of problems in the retail sector, which is also being affected by technology. Online spending is soaring, and product research and comparison is much easier on the Internet. As a result, we do not need as many employees working in retail. Between 2000 and 2006, inflation-adjusted (or real) retail sales per retail employee increased by 13.5% - from $19,200 to $21,800 per month. Even though total retail sales are at an all-time high there are roughly 70,000 fewer retail employees today than in 2000. This allows retail prices to remain low, which is an automatic boost to living standards.

Changing times are challenging times. But as Friedman and Barro remind us, the best government policies are still the tried and true policies of stable money, low taxes, and free markets.

(Brian Wesbury is the Chief Economist for First Trust Advisors in Chicago, IL)

Nussle in Abortion Tussle

The Des Moines Register reports on accusations by Iowa Democratic Chairwoman Sally Pederson that Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jim Nussle has shifted his position on abortion:

"Jim would sign a law that bans second- and third-trimester abortions because it saves lives," Nussle campaign manager Nick Ryan said in a prepared statement. Campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella declined to discuss whether Nussle would insist on exceptions to such a ban, such for victims of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.

This year, Nussle's response to the Project Vote Smart questionnaire said he supported the position that abortions should be legal only within the first trimester of pregnancy. During the past four congressional campaigns, he did not support that position, according to copies of questionnaires provided by the nonpartisan voter information service.

The change prompted Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, to accuse Nussle of attempting to shift his position. On none of the surveys did Nussle indicate he supported the position that abortions should always be illegal.

"He's inconsistent in what he's saying. I don't know what his position is, and I think voters need to know," Pederson said.

Culver, Iowa's secretary of state, did not complete the questionnaire.

This doesn't seem like a very big deal, but in a race this close every little advantage helps. No doubt it's only the beginning of the sort of thing we can expect over the next two months.

'06 Adwatch: Tim Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty takes advantage of the back to school season with a new ad on education:

The proposal touted by Pawlenty mandating that 70% of education funds must be spent in the classroom has been stuck in the legislature and is opposed by the presumptive Democrat/DFL challenger, Mike Hatch.

Minnesota holds its primary next Tuesday.

Democrats and Terror

Kevin Drum lays out the Democratic "consensus" on the War on Terror:

If you take out, say, the Chomsky wing on the left and the Lieberman wing on the right, there's a surprising amount that the rest of us agree on.

Domestically, we nearly all agree that we should spend more on things like port security and chemical plant security. We mostly agree on strengthening cooperation between the FBI and the CIA, but we oppose large-scale infringements of civil liberties like the NSA program as both wrong and unnecessary. We oppose torture and we oppose rendition. We support a far more serious energy policy for both environmental and national security reasons.

On the overseas front, we largely agree that, in the long term, we can only eliminate militant jihadism if we eliminate support for jihadists among the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East. This requires genuine support for democracy, serious economic and trade programs aimed at the Middle East, and a public diplomacy program vastly superior to the laughable efforts currently underway. We support a far more active role for the United States in negotiating a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. We support a hardnosed dedication to diplomacy and negotiation, Richard Holbrooke style. We recognize that the moral high ground isn't just a nice thing to have, it's crucial to winning support for our policies -- and that means a renewed dedication to taking seriously international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. Military action, when absolutely necessary, should be as sharp and pointed as possible, oriented toward counterinsurgency, not invasion and regime change.

What else? Nearly everyone in Democratic circles agrees that the war in Iraq was a mistake, though there's still a fair amount of disagreement about what to do about this now. On Iran, I think most Democrats believe, along with Fareed Zakaria, that we need to take a deep breath and put aside the current Republican hysteria on the subject. Bombers and cruise missiles aren't going to solve our problems here.

Thus, Drum says, the problem isn't the Democrats' foreign policy, it's that they haven't marketed it correctly:

At this point, it strikes me that our problem is less about agreeing on policy than it is about agreeing on marketing. We have enough consensus on policy that we can move forward if we only have the courage of our convictions about this stuff. We need to talk about our approach out loud, we need to believe that people aren't too scared or stupid to make sense of it, and we need to be clear that we think Republicans are taking a hysterical approach to national security that's both partisan and foolish. For some reason, though, most Democrats seem unwilling to risk saying this with any serious conviction, relying instead mostly on generic attacks on George Bush. Or so it appears to me.

Let me suggest a reason Democrats are unwilling to push this line in public: The American people would squirt milk out their collective nose if anyone actually proposed that the United Nations or "arms control regimes" were the solution to our problems in the Middle East.

I'm not saying I disagree with everything on Drum's list. Our public diplomacy has been pitiful; we have done significant damage to our reputation in the world with the mess in Iraq (whether you believe we were right to go in or not); and Republicans have made terrorism an unnecessarily partisan issue (though, the Democrats, by not seriously engaging the issue, have basically made that inevitable).

You can also find more Democratic reaction to Bush's recent speeches on terrorism at our Buzz Tracker page.

Bush: Rooting for the GOP ... Or Not?

Mickey Kaus offers an intriguing reason Bush might be less-than-crushed to see the Democrats take the House this fall:

b) But if a Democratic House really would pass a McCain-Kennedy style immigration bill, maybe President Bush isn't as horrified at the prospect of Speaker Pelosi as he seems. He'd achieve at least one major part of his second-term domestic agenda. Legacy time! That might be worth a few Conyers-led hearings. ...

Of course, that's one reason a Democratic-led House might not pass a Bush (or McCain) immigration bill.

Bush Responds to DeVos, Sort Of

Bush's once-delayed summit with the Big Three automakers has been rescheduled, but not until after the election in November.

Will that be good enough to help Dick DeVos, who has been sliding in the polls and trying to fend off attacks from the Granholm campaign by slamming the President for "ignoring" the auto industry?

Get all the latest news and polls for the Michigan Governor's race on the RCP Election 2006 Page.

Your (Former) Speech Rights

As John McCain runs for president, grassroots groups -- many of them anti-abortion activists -- continue to have their speech squelched:

In March 2002, when President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance "reform" bill, his signing statement noted, "Certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns." So, he said, "The courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions."

But, as Bush should have known, you can't trust those no-good "activist judges" to get anything right. And, in four years since, they haven't: The law's most heinous provision - which in effect bars unions, corporations and nonprofits from criticizing incumbent politicians' votes on controversial bills on TV or radio for 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary - still stands.

Yet another McCain-Feingold lawsuit proceeds in D.C. today.

GOP Chaos in AZ-08

The Arizona Republic has the story:

The race for Congress in southern Arizona, deemed one of the most important in the nation, has deteriorated into a harsh demonstration of Republican disarray.

With dissension in GOP ranks, Democrats stand a better chance of picking up one of the 15 seats nationwide they would need for a majority in the House. [snip]

Party officials wouldn't discuss why they've bought a reported $122,000 in television ads touting Steve Huffman, who is behind in the polls, but the implication is that the party thinks front-runner Randy Graf can't beat a Democrat.

The TV ads are the national committee's only investment in advertising in a contested primary this year. A state or national party rarely expresses a preference for a primary candidate, much less provides independent advertising.

Democrats have stepped in with ads of their own attacking Huffman's record as a state lawmaker for eight years. It is the only case this year in which the party has targeted a primary opponent, and it, too, signals that Democrats see Graf as easier to beat than Huffman.

Chafee vs. Laffey

One of our reasons for listing the Rhode Island Senate contest as Leans Democrat is the very real possibility that Chafee doesn't even make it to the general election against Whitehouse. Two new polls taken Monday-Wednesday last week are all over the map, with a Rhode Island College survey giving Laffey a 17 point lead (51% - 34%) and POS survey indicating Chafee ahead by 14 (53% - 39%). Let's just say that it looks like it is going to be close, with a Laffey win, guaranteeing a Democratic pickup, and even if Chafee holds on we suspect he will be hobbled going into the general.

A solid Chafee win next Tuesday, would be good news for GOP prospects of holding this seat.

(The POS poll was done for the NRSC, which is not good news for Chafee.)

September 05, 2006

Rudy: Is He Good for Israel?

Haaretz says Rudy Giuliani is the best '08 candidate for Israel.

Not going to help him with the Buchanan wing.

Political Videos of the Day: Fightin' Dems

Here are ads from two Dems who've come out swinging on Iraq. First, here's Patricia Madrid's new ad against Republican Heather Wilson in NM-01:

A new Albuquerque Journal poll released over the weekend shows Wilson nursing a three point lead over Madrid, 45-42, with 10 percent undecided.

The other is Patrick Murphy, who is challenging vulnerable Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional district:

Did McGavick Blow It?

Two weeks ago I wrote about Mike McGavick's preemptive confession of a 1993 DUI conviction, saying:

The only way this can hurt McGavick is if there is something else in his background that turns up between now and November 7. Then, having gone out of his way to confess to voters "the worst and most embarrassing moments" of his life, McGavick would look doubly bad - and he would pay for it dearly at the polls.

Over the weekend it was reported that McGavick omitted and/or misstated some of the details of the event. This isn't as bad as "something else" coming out, but it's pretty darn close because now, whether intentionally or unintentionally, McGavick has made it look as if his grand confession wasn't so grand after all, and that he was really to trying to fudge and finesse. Instead of the confession having the intended effect of building goodwill and preemptively defusing a potential landmine, the episode now has people scratching their heads and wondering whether McGavick is perhaps a little too slick. (And others asking if he's the new Gary Hart!)

Keep your eyes on the next batch of polls on this race to see whether McGavick is staying in this race or whether the publicity from his less than totally forthcoming confession may have blown his chances.

Ohio Debates

Ken Blackwell and Ted Strickland squared off in their first debate today. Here's a brief write up by the AP. They'll have three more debates: September 20 in Cleveland, October 4 in Cincinnati, and October 16 in Columbus.

Strickland has really blown this race wide open, extending his lead in the latest round of polls to 21 points in the RCP Average. Sixty days is still a long time in politics, but given the stiff anti-GOP headwind in Ohio, Blackwell is going to need something approaching a miracle to make up that much ground by November 7.

Get all the latest news and polling data on the Ohio Governor's race on RCP's Election 2006 Page.

Election 2006: Game On

So we've finally reached the home stretch. The GOP has made its agenda clear: immigration is on the shelf, and the focus will be national security, spending, with tax cuts and a potential battle over judges thrown in as well.

The Washington Post plays up the potential political effect of rising interest rates this morning, but gas prices are more potent as a political issue and, as Larry mentions below, they're dropping in a very noticeable way. That could potentially benefit Republicans if it continues. (Related note: promising new oil find in Gulf of Mexico. Who's against drilling, again?)

Democrats have made their agenda clear as well: work to tie every candidate in the country to President Bush, pushing a theme of "incompetence" that runs from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to homeland security. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this is going to require Dems to thread a needle here in the last sixty days, keeping up pressure on Iraq while dodging the perception of being soft on national security - especially as Republicans pound them over the terrorist surveillance program, the Patriot Act, etc. in the coming weeks.

Efforts to put together a coherent positive agenda have largely failed to materialize, and Democrats are left hoping that "nothing will beat something," which is to say they hope public anxiety and dispproval of President Bush and Republicans (or, nearly as desirable, anger at incumbents in general) will be enough to carry the day and give them control.

As things stand right now, the Dems seem poised on the cusp of success. Again, as Larry points out in his post with the Tradesports numbers, this is going to be a very close election. Barring some significant turnaround Republicans are almost certainly going to lose seats, the question is whether the loss will end up being greater or less than 15 in the House and 6 in the Senate. Now that it's finally game on, the picture is going start coming into better focus as we head toward November 7.

The Lebanon Ambulances - Jed Babbin

The fauxtography and clearly-faked stories (reported by AP and others) about the alleged Israeli air strikes on ambulances in Lebanon were so absurd that no comment seemed necessary. At the time, nothing needed to be added to the great work by Zombietime, LittleGreenFootballs and Powerline, among others. But the ambulance story lingers and now there's even some effort to rehabilitate the reports. It wouldn't be important but for the new UN committee that's looking into Israeli - not Hizballah - "war crimes" in Lebanon, and the efforts in several EU nations to bring war crimes charges against Israeli pols. It's time to quash this ambulance business once and for all.

The one bunch of experts we haven't heard from is the fighter jocks, guys who have made their living by killing people and breaking things in the air and on the ground with missiles, bombs and guns. I sent an e-mail to some of my fly-guy pals, asking for their take on what would be left after - as AP reported - the vehicles were hit with air-to-ground missiles. The responses - which ranged from the hilariously profane to "they gotta be kidding" -- included the following. (Remember, these guys were all engineers before they became fliers, so their vocabularies are abnormal. Here are their responses, without translation from pilot-speak):

From a retired Navy captain:

They could have used a rocket or missile like a Maverick but the warhead would have ripped the ambulance apart and scattered the parts all over a football field. Bottom line for thinking about the damage from things dropped off a jet: Think of the impact of a baseball thrown by a good fast ball pitcher.... about 95 mph.... now make that a bowling ball..... OK.... now make it a 500-pound hunk of steel and have it hit an ambulance dead center on the roof where the exhaust/ventilation hole is. That would be impressive huh?? OK, NOW for the reality.... think about the energy transferred into the vehicle and its unlucky inhabitants from something that weighs 500 pounds and traveling at about Mach 1 which is about the terminal velocity of a bomb dropped from about 15,000-20,000 feet by a fast mover..... oh.... and it's about 6 foot long so squeezing through that little vent hole would be a tough shot even for a Naval Aviator!!

From a retired Air Force colonel:

Well, one would have to see the specific ambulances. A proximate hit (i.e, the missile impacted/exploded close to the vehicle as opposed to a direct hit, would cause different levels of destruction. Some do miss, you know. The Pk is not always 1. Also, was it a missile, or a bomb? There are also area weapons, like ones that airburst above the vehicles and set loose a torrent of shrapnel. These would not necessarily destroy the vehicle, but would really shred it up. Also, are there combustion products? Punctured fuel tanks usually burn and carbonize a lot of the car and melt a lot of the plastics. Some of these pictures reveal obvious fictions. For example, one vehicle had a big hole in the center of the roof (where identical vehicles nearby had a cooling unit installed) and numerous smaller holes in the roof with little damage to the vehicle interior. This one was obviously Ratheresque - the smaller holes all had considerable areolar oxidation (rust) around them just hours after the alleged attack. Must be the salt air. This is what happens when journalism majors, who can't even jump start their cars, control the information flow.

Another retired Air Force colonel:

If an ambulance were hit by anything at all like an AGM-65 Maverick, there would be nothing left. Even antique 2.75" AAFR Rockets would make a total mess of it. Hell, one 20mm HEI cannon shell would do a number on it.

And another former Navy fighter pilot:

As to the lethality of such equipment, suffice it to say, little within a 100 ft. CEP would be recognizable. About the only thing that would survive such a weapon's destructive power would be an anvil....if you could find it.

From a former Navy attack helo driver, who used to operate with the SEALs:

It is possible that the air to ground missile came from an attack helicopter. The smallest such missile would be a 2.5" folding fin aerial rocket with a 10 lb (or possibly 17 lb) high explosive warhead. My experience is that such a force is highly detrimental to an enemy bunker. And...even if the warhead were a white phosphorous (WP---Willy Pete) marking round it is doubtful that anyone would survive (plus there would be a whole lot of white smoke).

My considered opinion is that they "speak with forked tongue."

If those ambulances had been hit with any air-launched missile or air-delivered bomb, they'd be scattered pieces of smoking debris. No one inside would have survived to parade for the television cameras. Period, end of story.

Rethinking My November Pessimism - Larry Kudlow

As pessimistic as I have become about Republican chances to keep the House, there may yet be hope. Front-page stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times essentially predict significant GOP losses and a growing likelihood that the Dems will finally capture the lower chamber for the first time since 1994. The reason I'm starting to rethink my pessimism is simply that the mainstream media always gets it wrong. As soon as they start ganging up on the GOP on the front pages, the likelihood becomes greater that the tide may be turning the other way.

President Bush was out defending the economy this Labor Day, as he should. It's a much better story than the MSM will ever acknowledge. Despite a barrage of MSM articles and columns attacking the Bush economy for helping the rich at the expense of the non-rich, the reality is that average hourly earnings for non-management workers are rising at 3.9 percent, the fastest rate in about five years. Real disposable income is growing 2.5 percent. These are key political benchmark economic figures.

Meanwhile, gasoline prices are falling rapidly. This could be a very important factor in the November races. The average U.S. price for unleaded gas fell to $2.74 per gallon on September 3, down from $3.02 a month ago. It could fall to $2.50 by Election Day.

Two polls also hold out hope for the GOP. The online betting parlor Tradesports.com shows the race to be a toss-up. The House GOP 2006 Contract is 41.3 cents bid, and 42.9 cents offered. Too close to call. Another poll is the U.S. stock market, which surprised everybody with its August strength -- backed by a solid economy, which is still the greatest story never told. Stocks are very close to five-year highs. This forward-looking barometer of politics, the economy, and national security would be sagging badly if it really believed a Democratic tsunami this fall would raise tax rates and undermine national security.

I'm still hoping the Republicans emphasize homeland terrorism defense through expanded NSA wiretapping, electronic surveillance of all kinds, detention of suspected terrorists, and behavioral profiling at airports. That plus a strong economy just might do it. But the GOP must deliver strong and repetitious messages on these key issues in the next 64 days.

September 04, 2006

Will Boyle Get Through?

Speaking of possible filibusters that might provide a boost to the GOP, Barbara Barrett takes a look at the nomination of Terrence Boyle in today's Raleigh News & Observer:

The U.S. Senate returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday after its summer recess, but for just a month. There is scant time for the whirlwind surge of business that members want to complete so they can get home and defend their seats in the midterm elections.

Senate observers say no judicial nominee has waited longer for a floor vote in the U.S. Senate, and yet Boyle's chances -- hindered until now by controversy -- could rest on the political winds whipping through Washington.

With such a tight schedule, a divisive floor battle on a Court of Appeals nominee might not make the Senate's priority list.

Or, a Boyle vote could be propelled to the top of the agenda to galvanize conservative voters in a year already proving dicey for the GOP. [snip]

If Republicans lose control of the Senate in November, confirming Boyle will be even tougher, said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"This may be their last bite at the apple for nominations like Boyle's," Ornstein said. "But it sure seems to me this is not likely to go forward without a big controversy." [snip]

Dole also has talked with members of the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of moderate senators often seen as swing votes on judicial nominees, and says she is finding "growing and considerable support" among that group.

Chris Oprison, a former Boyle clerk and corporate lawyer in Washington, has spent hours meeting with staff members in key Senate offices this summer.

"I think we're on the cusp of getting him a vote," he said.

Minority Leader Harry Reid has called Boyle "unacceptable" and has hinted at a possible filibuster.

One this is for sure, September is going to be one of the most exciting, frenzied, and perhaps most consequential legislative sessions in recent memory.

Dodd's Jihad

Poor Chris Dodd. His jihad against John Bolton has lost some steam over the last 12 months given the UN Ambassador's solid performance since President Bush recess appointed him last August.

Nevertheless, Dodd tells the Hartford Courant he's "arming himself for battle" against Bolton when he returns to the Senate this week. Presumably Dodd knows, but doesn't care, that a filibuster of Bolton before the midterms could provide a much needed boost to Republicans. I'd be astonished if the Dems are foolish enough to risk sacrificing even the slightest electoral advantage to assuage Dodd's ego and vindicate his petty, personal vendetta against Bolton.

September 03, 2006

What's in the Referral? - Jed Babbin

There is a document - maybe several versions of it - that if disclosed to the public would shed much light on the genesis of the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation of the Plame non-leak. We know, or think we know, much about Joe Wilson and his "mission" to Niger, the leak of Valerie Plame's employment apparently by then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the fact that the Justice Department knew of Armitage's responsibility for the leak before Fitzgerald was even appointed. But we yet don't know:

• How Joe Wilson, contrary to decades of CIA policy, was sent to Niger without a security agreement requiring him to remain silent about the mission and what he found during its course;

• Why the CIA never required a written report from Wilson;

• Who - within the CIA and the State Department - crafted the mission, chose Wilson (Plame, a low-level analyst, lacked the clout to do more than recommend) and enabled him to blab about his "findings" when he got back; and

• Why did the Justice Department apparently reject the CIA's request for investigation at least twice, and why did George Tenet reportedly call to demand the investigation, and what was the basis for his demand?

Some or all of this - clearly the last point - must be contained in the demand for an investigation. Called a "criminal referral," it's the memorandum any agency can send to Justice to demand an investigation. The Plame/Wilson investigation was launched by such a referral, one that was classified at least at the "secret" level by CIA. It has never been disclosed.

The Justice Department should disclose this document forthwith. Whatever "classified" data in it will almost certainly have - long since - lost their value as secrets. Any that remain valuable can be redacted. The public should know what the basis for the investigation demand was, and why the CIA was so adamant about it. And there's one other thing.

If there are intentional misstatements in that memo, whomever signed it may be guilty of a criminal act. Maybe this is something Fitzgerald could more profitably spend his time on. No, actually, a regular US attorney should be tasked to do it. No more special prosecutors. Enough is enough.

Media Alert

I'll be on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont this evening (7-9pm Eastern) discussing the 2006 elections. You can listen live over the Internet here, or catch the show on radio in one of fifty syndicated markets listed here.

The Hillary Whisperer

Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times provides today's must-read piece for Hillary watchers:

Her final decision is likely to be made next spring. One close friend of the Clintons said: "There is no way she won't run for president." According to a member of "Hillaryland", her close-knit inner-circle, she would be letting herself and her supporters down if she declined to take a shot at the White House.

Others are not so sure. If she balks at the presidency, "she can win a huge amount of goodwill by donating her money to colleagues in the Senate," another associate said.

Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a close friend of the Clintons, believes she will be able to see off all challenges in primary elections should she stand. "She is very tough and very determined. Nobody is going to think she is not strong enough on national security. If she decides to run, clearly she will have the necessary resources and she will give people reasons to vote for her."

September 01, 2006

Political Video of the Day

Here's a light one going into the holiday weekend...

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips doing a little damage control after calling her sister-in-law a "control freak" on an open mic in the bathroom during a speech by the president:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

A Date With Robert Fisk

Anne Leary brings to my attention that Robert Fisk will be in town on Sunday speaking at the 43rd annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami will deliver the keynote address on Saturday night. Incidentally, the twenty-six page program for the convention (pdf) makes for interesting reading as well.

Is Topinka a Drag?

Paul Green and Michael Redmond have a good analysis on the Illinois Governor's race in today's Chicago Sun-Times. They argue Judy Baar Topinka must do the following three things to win in November:

One: Given the real possibility of a larger-than-usual Cook County vote (due to the County Board president race), Topinka must find a way to cut the governor's winning percentage in this Democratic stronghold. In 2002 Blagojevich garnered 67 percent of the Cook County vote -- a similar performance by him in 2006 could by itself doom Topinka's statewide hopes.

Two: The five collars [DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties] must go overwhelmingly for Topinka and up Jim Ryan's 2002 winning percentage (58 percent) by at least 5 percentage points. Key here is whether "social conservative" Republicans will support their party's nominee or reject her because of her moderate views on abortion and gay rights.

Three: Traditional GOP north and north-central Downstate counties must have big turnouts and a huge Topinka vote. The recent Downstate bus caravan was perhaps Topinka's shrewdest political move so far in the campaign.

What's interesting is how the Governor's contest may impact the races in Illinois 6 and Illinois 8, two of the most competitive House races in the country. There's very little enthusiasm on either side of the Governor's race right now: conservatives are lukewarm on Topinka and Democrats' feelings toward Rod Blagojevich range from indifferent to deeply disappointed.

But in the "deep red" collar counties of which IL-6 and IL-8 are both composed, that lack of enthusiasm represents more of a disadvatage to Republicans Peter Roskam and Dave McSweeney, though it's hard to say just how much. At best, both men are going to have to earn every vote, because they aren't going to get any help from the top of the ticket.

Kohl Is Key

Herb Kohl might well be described as one of the most low key members of the Senate. Today John Nichols writes that Kohl might also be the key to Internet neutrality.

Election Polls

New Mason-Dixon poll shows the Democratic primary in the Florida Governor's race tightening. More on the RCP Election '06 Poll Page.

Feingold's Folly

This makes Russ Feingold look rather silly, I think:

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, in Ames Thursday, raked the Republican administration for fighting a war in Iraq and also blamed the war on growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear energy program.

"We made the situation in Iran worse," Feingold told a packed audience of Iowa State University students, Ames residents and local politicians in the Maintenance Shop in ISU's Memorial Union. "They took this period to develop nuclear capacity."

Feingold said since fighting in Iraq, the United States is in a weaker military and diplomatic position. He said the U.S. should respond by persuading Iran to "back off on nuclear weapons" rather than with military threats.

"It's a far better approach than warmongering," he said.

Where to begin. How about Feingold's suggestion that invading Iraq had anything to do with Iran's decision to "develop nuclear capacity." Iran's nuclear program, including its parallel clandestine operation to develop nuclear weapons, far predates March 2003. Is Feingold arguing Iran wouldn't have taken the period of the last three years to develop nuclear capacity if we hadn't toppled Saddam? That is, to put it mildly, frighteningly naive.

So is the notion that we're going to persuade Iran to "back off on nuclear weapons" by taking the military option off the table. The White House has let the Europeans negotiate until they were blue in the face, it has offered grand bargains, direct talks, and it has worked dilligently through the United Nations, all the while making clear that a military strike is a highly unlikely, though still viable, last resort. That is far from warmongering.

Iran has thumbed its nose at the international community's every offer, how Feingold thinks that a policy of more carrots and less stick is going to magically convince Iran to give up its decades long ambition to acquire a nuclear weapon is beyond me.

That Tierney Column

On Tuesday, Tom linked to a John Tierney column on TimesDelete about the decline of South Park Republicans.

Reason has now reprinted that column on its Web site for free, so that it can escape from the black hole of the Times' bad business decisions.

This, from South Park co-creator Trey Parker, pretty much sums it all up: "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?"

Time for Joe to Go

The Washington Post's editorial on Joe Wilson today is just brutal. What a stupid waste of time all around:

It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Will he go crawl into a hole now?

The Journey Continues

Stayed up way past my bed time last night watching one for the ages.

Will Maryland Blacks Turn Out for Cardin?

At the beginning of 2006, Republicans had hopes that three high profile African-American candidates could provide the party of Lincoln with major breakthroughs and begin the process of chipping away at the Democratic Party's stranglehold on the black vote. Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann's campaigns for governor received most of the early attention. Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele was always the third candidate mentioned in this group of African-American GOP prospects, though he was generally thought to be a considerable long shot to succeed Senator Paul Sarbanes in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland.

But with Labor Day fast upon us, it looks like Mr. Steele is the one who has the best, and perhaps only, shot of winning this fall. While Messrs. Blackwell and Swann have faltered, Mr. Steele has quietly put himself in position to pull off an upset in November. A poll released this week by Maryland-based Gonzales Research shows Mr. Steele trailing Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin by five points, 44% to 39%, and ahead of former Congressman Kweisi Mfume by four points, 42% to 38%. The Democratic primary will occur on September 12 and despite a current consensus to the contrary, it could turn out to be a lose-lose contest for the Dems.

The polling is split on which Democrat has the edge in the party's internal nomination battle -- Gonzales Research has Mr. Cardin ahead, SurveyUSA has Mr. Mfume in front. And the contest has its own racial dimension, with Mr. Mfume, a former NAACP president, complaining about a white-controlled Democratic machine trying to hand the nomination to Mr. Cardin. Most analysts feel that Mr. Steele would have a solid shot against Mr. Mfume in the general, and the polling tends to bear that out, with Mr. Steele running anywhere from 5 to 10 points better against Mr. Mfume than Mr. Cardin.

However, if Mr. Cardin holds on to win after what has been a racially tinged primary against Mr. Mfume, Democrats could face the very real prospect of a disappointed African-American base in the fall. One of the key reasons Governor Bob Ehrlich was able to become the first Republican in over 40 years to win the Maryland statehouse was an unenthusiastic black vote for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002.

With Mr. Steele having just picked up a high-profile endorsement from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, if Mr. Cardin is the Democratic nominee, Mr. Steele is poised to capture a quarter to a third of Maryland's very large African-American vote. That means the conventional wisdom may be wrong on Maryland's Senate race: A primary win by Mr. Cardin might be what Michael Steele needs to pull off the upset.

Olbermann's Rant

I just watched the Olbermann video that Tom posted yesterday. It is simply stunning in its intellectual cluelessness and dishonesty. In what has to be the most bizarre attempt at an analogy with the 1930's I have ever seen, Olbermann tries to make the case that the "cowboy," "unilateralist," and "war-mongering" Bush administration is really the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement government in the 1930's. His Chamberlain analogy is historical malpractice of the highest magnitude. Just stunning. Does Olbermann really think Americans are that stupid?

There are plenty of rational criticisms to be made of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld's policy on the war. Senator Joseph Biden wrote a fair and very reasoned op-ed in last Thursday's Washington Post. George Will has been a vocal critic on one corner of the right. Bill Kristol and John McCain are no fans of Rumsfeld's stewardship. But unlike Olbermann, they all make real arguments and offer alternatives, and thus can be taken seriously. Keith Olbermann can not.