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October 31, 2006

Senate Update

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

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

Key Senate Races Tonight on the FOX Report

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

It's the Morality, Stupid? Prove It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adwatch '06: Pete Ricketts

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

More on Stuck on Stupid

Two points on the John Kerry slam on our troops. When the Harry Reid land sale scandal broke, I wrote that the 527 Media would bury the story, and they did. This time, neither the NYT nor the networks will be able to contain the fire Kerry started and continues to stoke.

Kerry's remarks began as just icing atop the Democrats' contempt for the military. It's a subset of Jack Murtha's remarks about how the army is broken, how our troops are disgruntled and why we have to bring everybody out of Iraq to rebuild the force before it falls apart all together. Question for Messrs. Tester, Brown, Menendez, Webb, Ford and Ms. McCaskill: do you agree with John Kerry's remarks?

Sen. John McCain didn't agree and demanded - in pretty strong language -- that Kerry apologize. Which came out about the time Kerry was saying that only right wing nuts who've never worn the uniform or fought in a war were decrying what he said.

Kerry just made it much worse. He just held a news conference on it and insisted that his sneering remarks at Pepperdine University were aimed at the president, not at the troops. Look again at the film clip and judge for yourself. At the press conference, Kerry's words got more and more heated as he went on. He's still accusing Republicans of twisting his words, refusing to debate and failing in Iraq. His rather risible explanation for his remarks was that when he talked about those who didn't do well in school, he was talking about the Bush administration. At this rate, Republicans should hope Kerry keeps talking all throughout the week and until the polls close on Tuesday.

Kerry's Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Endorsement for Steele

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

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

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

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

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

McCain Calls on Kerry to apologize (via Drudge)

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

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

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

Iowa & the Rural Vote

Veteran Iowa political reporter/columnist David Yepsen writes today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Harold Ford "Racist Ad"

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

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

A reader from Tennessee responds to Dionne:

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

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

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

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

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

John Kerry: Stuck on Stupid

Hard to believe, but true:

The John Kerry for President 2008 juggernaut just keep on a hummin'.

One Week Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shameless Rod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asked and Answered

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

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

The Harris Odyssey

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

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

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

Even that probably wouldn't do it.

Quote of the Day

"I'd like to welcome President Clinton. ... And I see she's brought her husband." - Mick Jagger, at Bill Clinton's 60th birthday bash on Sunday.

October 30, 2006

Sullivan's Broad Strokes

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

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

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

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

15. There has been much talk recently about whether gays and lesbians should have the legal right to marry someone of the same sex. Which of the following comes closest to your position on this issue? Do you... Support FULL marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, or support gay civil unions or partnerships, BUT NOT gay marriage, or do you oppose ANY legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples?
Civil Unions
No Legal Recognition

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

George Allen in Trouble

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

From our updated Virginia analysis:

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

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

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

More on Connecticut House Races

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

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

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

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

The Illinois Twins

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

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

Cook PVI
2004 Presidential Vote
Bush +6
Bush +12
2000 Presidential Vote
Bush +9
Bush +14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCP House Update

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

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

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

Net Democratic Pick Up = 18 Seats

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

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

Penetrating the Media Cocoon

As closely as we're all watching the polls, it's surprising to hear someone such as Newsweek's Howard Fineman saying and writing that, "...an overwhelming majority of the American public wants Rummy out." He repeated that on Chris Matthews's show on Sunday morning.

Mr. Fineman has apparently missed the new Zogby poll released last Thursday. According to that poll, "Asked whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be fired because of the situation in Iraq, 42% agreed, while 49% said he should not be fired. Another 8% said they were unsure." Which means Mr. Rumsfeld is about 10 points more popular than the president. It makes one wonder what it takes to penetrate the media's cocoon.

More Questionable House Polls

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

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

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

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

October 28, 2006

News & Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2006

George, Dave & Jeff

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

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


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

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

Adwatch '06: Steele's Stem Cell Smackdown

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

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

VA-2: Battling For Vets

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines From the Money Game

From the FEC today:

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

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

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

FL-16: Signs Will Go Up

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

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

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

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

Apparently Democrats will not appeal the ruling.

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

Two Very Different Ways to Look at This Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VA Sen: Webb's Words

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

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

It'll be interesting to see how the mainstream media handles this story - if they cover it at all - and how the notoriously prickly Webb responds.

October 26, 2006

MD-Sen: Cardin Pulls Out

This item from the Washington Times reporting that Ben Cardin pulled out of an NAACP-sponsored debate tonight doesn't leave a very good impression - especially coming as it does on the heels of the thumping he took from Michael Steele and Kevin Zeese in a debate yesterday.

The report may or may not be accurate in the particulars - Cardin's camp says he never confirmed attending the event and that he'll be debating Steele at the statewide NAACP event on Saturday - but as a political matter it certainly does give off the smell of fear and also provide Michael Steele another the opportunity to make in-roads with African-American community. That's the last thing Cardin needs as the race heads into the home stretch.

PA-4 Update

Melissa Hart's campaign conducted a brief conference call this afternoon with Neil Newhouse, Principal of the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, to discuss the variance in polling in this race, specifically the recent Susquehanna poll showing Hart leading Democrat Jason Altmire by just four points, 46 - 42, with 11 percent undecided.

Newhouse started by saying he thought all the screens applied in the Susquehanna poll seemed reasonable and basically matched what they use at POS. But when you take a look at the order of the questions, you can spot the problem. The Susquehanna questionnaire (available Download file">here in pdf) stars with a number of routine questions: right track/wrong track, most important problem facings U.S. today, Bush JA, Congress JA, and name ID/favorable/unfavorable ratings and then a reelect question for Hart.

Newhouse said normally, at this point, most pollsters proceed directly to the ballot question. Susquehanna did not. Instead, they asked the following:

Have you seen, read or heard anything either on TV, the radio, in the newspaper or through any other source about the recent resignation by Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley due to email messages of a sexual nature he sent to teenage males working in the congressional page program?

The people who responded "yes" (which was 94% of the overall sample) were then asked this follow up:

Will what you have seen, read or heard about this issue make you more likely or less likely to vote Republican in the upcoming election for Congress or will it have no impact on your opinion?

Only after bringing up Foley did Susquehanna immediately proceed to ask voters whether they preferred Hart or Altmire. Mystery solved.

Newhouse said he was "astounded" that the firm would bias its sample by placing a Foley question ahead of the ballot question and said that he thought it was remarkable that even with that bias Hart still came out with a four point lead.

Another interesting note from Newhouse which serves to support Jay's speculation earlier this week that movement toward the Democrats in second and third tier seats may be simply a lack of campaign activity on the part of Republican incumbents rather than proof of an impending GOP meltdown.

Here's what I mean. Newhouse said that his polling showed the race in PA-04 tightening down to about a six-point lead in the first part of October. However, in the last ten days Hart went up with a response ad and the NRCC also came in with some negative ads. Guess what happened? According to Newhouse, Altimire's unfavorable rating tripled over the last two weeks, from 28 fav/7 unfav to 32fav/22 unfav and Hart's lead in the race expanded back out to 12 points, stabilizing beyond the margin of error.

Keep in mind, this is the view coming from the Hart campaign and their pollster. Still, the argument that the Susquehanna questionnaire is problematic seems very legitimate, and the other nuggets of information seem to fit with previously explored possibilities.

The Year of the African-American

Some have termed this the "year of the African-American," though as things currently stand only one of the five black politicians standing for higher office is really safely on the path to victory (Democrat Deval Patrick in Massachusetts). Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. and Republican Michael Steele are running slightly behind, but still well withing striking distance of their respective opponents for the Senate. And Republicans Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell, both of whom came into this election with extremely high hopes, are trailing their opponents badly and most likely headed to defeat in ten days.

Here are some of the biographical spots and videos that each have run to tell their own individual story to voters over the course of the campaigns.

This ad from Michael Steele hit the airwaves just this week:

Though it isn't biographical, Harold Ford, Jr. has a new ad out as well:

This commercial from the Swann campaign is a few weeks old:

Here's the first commercial run by Deval Patrick way back at the beginning of the campaign:

Lastly, here is a four-minute biographical video of Ken Blackwell:

The Senators' Dilemma

Political science is a discipline that sticks its toes in many different pools. We're a little bit country. We're a little bit rock 'n' roll. We're a little bit psychology, a little bit sociology, a little bit history, etc.

We're also a little bit economics. Specifically, many political scientists have undergone a good bit of training in what is known as "rational choice theory." The essential idea behind the theory is that human activities - even activities on a grand scale - can be understood as the product of the interactions of egoistic, goal-oriented "utility maximizers" in a given social setting. In other words - large scale results can be understood as the product of people pursuing interests and goals via purposive activity in the context of some kind of social setting.

So - having gone through more than a bit of this training myself, I interpreted the basic data point of the recent Washington Times story about Republican senators' failure to contribute money in a way quite different from the Times itself. The Times first reports the fact that top Republican senators with large war chests have failed to give money to the NRSC, and then it interprets this as stinginess. The Times writes:

The stinginess alarms some of the Republican Party's top campaign strategists, especially because it is in such stark contrast to the millions of dollars that Democrats have transferred to their candidates in need. (snip) "Time is running out," one senior Republican aide said. "People will not want to look back and wonder what more could have been done. That would be a real shame."

"Stinginess" has two basic meanings - one is a moral meaning and one is not. The Times implies the moral meaning - which, I think, has only a very small role in politics. Republican senators are not being generous. They see that their brethren are in trouble, and they are refusing to help them. They are thinking only of themselves and their own goals.

My question: just how often do we take generosity or selflessness to be key concepts in politics? Politics is not like the ministry, after all! This kind of stinginess is indeed the cornerstone of rational choice analysis of politics - actors are egoistic rational utility maximizers, i.e. they do that which personally benefits them most. Sure - this theory does not capture everything about politics, but it sure does capture a lot.

The other definition of "stingy" is much more interesting. It basically boils down to parsimony, i.e. the act of maximizing goals while minimizing costs in the situation in which you find yourself. Sometimes, depending upon the situation, you end up with a socially inefficient outcome, even though you have acted rationally. Situations like these, because they are obviously inefficient, often induce outside observers to charge the actors with moral mistakes, when in fact the problem was just the nature of the interaction.

I think that is what we have here.

It seems to me that this is one of those scenarios, which are broadly defined as collective action problems. They are most frequently modeled by what is known as the "prisoners' dilemma."

In its most basic format, the prisoners' dilemma consists of two people trying to coordinate their activities to provide a good that (a) both can enjoy but that (b) is too expensive for either to provide all alone. Every person has a choice to contribute or not to contribute. If both parties contribute, the group benefit will be greatest. If neither party contributes, the group benefit will be zero. However, if person A contributes and person B does not, person A does worse than if nobody contributes and B does better than if both parties contribute. And vice-versa. The reason is that the whole cost of the good is actually greater than your individual benefit from it. So, for the good to be provided, both sides have to chip in. However, you are best off having the other person provide the good and worst off providing it all by yourself. Accordingly, the equilibrium - i.e. the expected result - in the interaction is that nobody contributes and the good is not provided.

Government typically solves problems like this. For instance, provisions of roads and national defense are instances of solved collective action problems. The government solves the problem by coercion: if you fail to pay your taxes, you will (presumably) be punished. This is also why PBS gives you a tote bag for supporting Sesame Street.

Depending upon the good, the failure to provide it is very often explained in moral terms. For instance, the failure of the West to solve world hunger is often understood as a moral failing. However, the solution to hunger requires the coordination of multiple nations. No nation can feasibly solve it by itself. All parties must coordinate - and so the prisoners' dilemma rears its ugly head - even as third parties accuse the West of moral failings.

The Washington Times slips into this type of moral language in the article. They understand the GOP caucus's failure to fund the NRSC as "stinginess" or lack of generosity. But I think this misses the point. I think what is going on with the GOP Senate caucus is a prisoners' dilemma, and therefore moral language is not really appropriate.

Everybody would be best off if the NRSC had plenty of resources. The benefit to all Republican senators would be a minimization of the chance that the GOP loses the Senate. However - every individual would be best off if all the others provided for this and he/she could "free ride" without paying any costs. Similarly - they would be worst off if all the others "free rided" and he/she supplied all of the necessary money (which would inevitably be illegal, as no senator has enough to fully fund the NRSC). Accordingly, the equilibrium result is precisely what we see - an under-funded NRSC and senators with fat bank accounts. It is a socially inefficient, yet individually rational, outcome.

Why, then, does the DSCC not seem to be suffering from the same problem? There are many possible reasons - but my feeling is that it boils down to a clever chap named Charles Schumer. The outcome of the above interaction is predicated upon (a) the fact that everybody involved has correctly assessed that this is the actual state of play and (b) the absence of side benefits (e.g. the tote bag that PBS gives you for contributing) or punishments (e.g. the big-time trouble in which Blade now finds himself). My sense is that Schumer is very adept at both (a) and (b). He has probably done a good job making sure that people do not recognize that this is a prisoners' dilemma and/or ensured that the "stingy" will be heartily rebuked if the Democrats win a majority.

So, maybe, the fact that Elizabeth Dole has been a relatively poor NRSC chairwoman is again creating problems for the Republicans. Whereas Schumer is quite adept at "herding cats," Dole is not. Accordingly, she has been unable to effectively alter Republican senators' perception of the interaction or their assessment of the costs and benefits of contributing.

Also - the Democratic side features two people running for President - Kerry and Clinton. Both of them have interests independent of the majority to contribute. It is in their interests to seem like team players - and so the act of contribution carries a benefit. I would thus note with interest that Mitch McConnell - who intends to run for Majority Leader - is the most "generous" of Republican senators. He, like Kerry and Clinton, derive a personal benefit from the mere act of giving. And so, according to the Times, has given more than any Republican senator.

Hewitt vs. Sullivan

Hugh Hewitt has an entertaining interview with Andrew Sullivan on his new book The Conservative Soul. You can listen to the podcast here.

Chris Matthews: Only Republicans Run Negative Ads

Yesterday Chris Matthews was working himself up into a Keith Olbermann like lather over the Republican ad in Tennessee on Harold Ford attending a Playboy party:

it's not that the Democrats don't know how to make these ads, they just feel they have gotten above it, that this is really bad stuff. It's like they are like Michael Corleone. They have gotten out of the business of running dirty ads. The Republicans are still in that business. They say, look, I have left that behind. That's the Democrat's attitude. We're not going to run that kind of campaign.

"They have gotten out of the business of running dirty ads." What planet is this guy on? Can he really be so blatantly partisan and holier than thou to honestly think Democrats don't go negative? Gimme a break. Matthews must really think the public is stupid.

Does he not remember the NAACP in 2000 running ads with a pickup truck dragging a chain while James Byrd's daughter accused George Bush of lynching her father again?

Or in Maryland, what about the Oreos thrown at African-American Republican Michael Steele when he was running for Lt. Gov., and who just last week in the middle of his campaign for Senate had the #2 Democrat in the House of Representatives refer to him as "slavishly" serving his GOP masters?

Chris Matthews is full of it, neither party has a monopoly on virtue in this country, and he knows it.

The Ford ad was a hard hitting ad that is fair game in today's political environment. The left is trying to counterattack with their standard "Republicans are racist" charge to energize black voters and bully moderates and independents into thinking Republicans are mean people - and that's what Chris Matthews holier than thou schickt is all about.

The Money Game

Here are a few of the noticeable headlines today at FEC info:

**Charles Taylor (NC-11) wrote himself a check for $580,000.

** Yesterday AFSCME dumped $302,430 opposing Peter Roskam (IL-06); $255,780 opposing Dave Reichert (WA-08); $162,604 opposing Nancy Johnson (CT-05).

** MoveOn.org reported raising $2.4 million in the first two weeks of October and doled out earmarked contributions to federal candidates including: $176,045 to Arcuri for Congress (NY-24); $160,274 to Carney for Congress (PA-10); $206,162 to Christine Jennings for Congress (FL-13); $190,174 to Lois Murphy for Congress (PA-06); $161,187 to Zack Space for Congress (OH-18); and $187,418 to Cranley for Congress (OH-01); among others

*** Emily's List spent $1.4 million between 10/1 and 10/18.

*** At the moment the only IE's for today are from the RNC, which dropped $176K on media and phones opposing Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

NM-1: Debating Wilson's Chances of Survival

The folks in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District finally got a chance to see Republican Heather Wilson and Democrat Patricia Madrid on stage together last night. When asked if she won, Wilson told the Santa Fe New Mexican, "I don't think there's any question about that."

It looks like that's not just spin, because University of New Mexico political science professor Christine Sierra watched the debate and agreed that Wilson got the better of it, though she didn't land any knock out blows:

"If anybody got a bump up, it would have been Wilson, because she looked smoother and more comfortable in front of the camera," said University of New Mexico political science professor Christine Sierra.

But, that doesn't mean Madrid fared poorly, Sierra said.

"I think Patsy Madrid's major challenge was to not make any mistakes, given the momentum, and I don't think she made any major mistakes."

But this exchange from the story in the Albuquerque Tribune seems like it might be have been a pretty good hit for Wilson:

On lobbyists in Washington: The candidates were asked about the ethics of accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists.

Madrid: "You have to be careful about taking large sums of money from lobbyists, but even if you do, it is only to give them access, to let you know about what their concerns are. Certainly it's not to have you vote or rule in any certain way or to obligate you in any way."

Wilson seized on Madrid's statement. "I can't believe what I just heard. Mrs. Madrid accepted $125,000 from a casino owner in southern New Mexico who had business pending in her office. $125,000. And then she just said, `That's only to give them access.' Only to give them access. No one buys access in my office. . . . Any New Mexican that wants to talk to me, it's not conditional to paying at the door."

And another:

One of Wilson's questions to Madrid: Can you cite something in your long career in public service that reassure New Mexicans you will prevent a tax increase?

Madrid: "Your president and you have voted for tax relief for the top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country, costing us an immeasurable amount of money. If I go to Congress, I will vote to repeal that tax relief. I do support tax relief for the middle class, even the upper middle class."

Madrid asked Wilson whether she thought Bush was a good president and if so, why. Wilson didn't answer the question directly and went on to cite issues where she disagrees with the president.

As you might expect, the Tribune says the debate didn't change a lot of minds among the people they interviewed. Wilson is currently the 7th most vulnerable incumbent on the RCP Ranking of the 50 Most Competitive House seats this year, and #14 overall. After leading for the first nine months of the race, Wilson has fallen behind Madrid in all of the most recent polls.

Keep an eye on this race. It's a crucial contest for the GOP and probably will serve as a good indicator of how Republicans are faring as the election comes to a close.

Connecticut 2: Simmons (R)* vs. Courtney (D)

Here is one of the reasons Rep. Rob Simmons is doing well in Connecticut 2.

The latest poll from the University of Connecticut has Simmons ahead 46% - 44%. This race is currently ranked #22 on RCP's list of seats liable to switch parties.

Democrats are perplexed why the national generic movement away from the GOP hasn't appeared to help their challengers in Connecticut going up against the embattled trio of Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays. DCCC head Rahm Emanuel was in the Connecticut 2 yesterday to give Courtney a boost.

In our October 20th analysis we felt Simmons retained the advantage in the home stretch, and we still do. Interestingly Michael Barone, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of American congressional races, in his recent ranking of House seats, rated Simmons in the "Sure Republican" category.

October 25, 2006

Adwatch '06: Is the RNC Ad Against Ford Racist?

Liberals are hot under the collar about this ad by the RNC being run against Harold Ford in Tennessee:

Josh Marshall called it the "Ford's an Uppity Negro' spot." Really?

In a previous post Marshall also said the entire ad was constructed to deliver the message to voters that "Harold does white chicks":

What policy issue is she [the white woman] talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, 'I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.'

Actually, Josh contradicts himself by pointing out that the woman's appearance in the ad is 'connected' to something: Ford's attendance (alleged at the time, finally confirmed by him the other day) at a 2005 Superbowl party hosted by Playboy.

Initially, I thought the ad would have been just as effective with an African-American woman saying she met Ford at the Playboy party, but it probably wouldn't have - but only because the "ditsy blond bimbo" is a more accurate caricature of what we all picture when we think "Playboy bunny."

The Playboy party - which I personally think is a silly issue that Ford could have easily defused long ago - has been part of this campaign because it is about values. It's never had anything to do with race. And yet now all of the sudden its "racism" based on the color of a Playboy bunny look alike?

I don't buy it. This whole thing seems to me to be a desperate effort by the left to gin up cries of "racism" in hopes of saving a shot at a Senate seat that looks, at least at the moment, to be slipping through their fingers.

Generics vs. Individual Contests

Karl Rove on "All Things Considered" yesterday speaking with NPR's Robert Siegel on the elections in less than two weeks:

Rove: I see several things; first, unlike the general public, I'm allowed to see the polls on the individual races and after all this does come down to individual contests between individual candidates. Second of all, I see the individual spending reports and contribution reports. For example at the end of August in 30 of the most competitive races in the country, the house races, the Republicans had 33 million cash on hand and Democrats had just over 14 million.

Siegel: We are in the home stretch though and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about.

Rove: Not that you would exhibit a bias, you just making a comment.

Siegel: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

Rove: No, you are not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally........I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

Rove crystallizes the disconnect going with the analysis in this election. The press and pundits appear to be overly obsessed with the generic national polls that show big Democratic leads but when you start to break down the individual races that Democrats have to win to get control of each chamber it is far from a sure thing that the Democrats will capture either house. The Senate has improved noticeably for Republicans these last few days, the current RCP Senate Averages now project only a 4 seat pick up for the Democrats, two short of what they need for control.

Looking at the House, RCP currently has 9 seats ranked as leaning Democrat and 15 races ranked as toss ups, which provides a fairly broad range of 9-24 seats for the Democrats - if you were to allocate toss ups all one way. Continuing with a crude estimate if you split toss ups down the middle Dems would take the House barely with a 16-17 seat Dem pick up, with a 1/3rd-2/3rd kind of split giving the Dems a gain in the 14 - 19 range.

For a number of reasons, the confidence level is considerably higher in the Senate and I would use the Senate playing field as a barometer with the House ranges. With the Senate in the 4-5 seat range for Democrats, I feel pretty good about a 14-19 range in the House. If the Senate shifts up to 5-6 seats I would bump the House range into the high teens/low twenties and it is when the Senate gets to the 6-7 seat pickup area for Democrats where I think you start to get the real possibility of Democratic gains over 25 in the House.

For those who think Democratic control of Congress is a lock, another concern is that all these scenarios are with the national generic ballot currently showing a 15+ point deficit for the GOP -- a deficit that is far more likely to shrink between now and election day, rather than grow.

The Scariest of Them All

Another thought to frighten Republicans this year: if Democrats take control Baghdad Jim McDermott will be Charlie Rangel's right hand man on the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for crafting U.S. tax policy. The 10-term Congressman from Washington's 7th District will also become Chairman of the Subcommitte on Human Resources.

How Bad Will Iraq Hurt the GOP?

I think one of the reasons many in the press, political analysts included, buy into the theory Republicans will get wiped out this year is they look at the deteriorating situation in Iraq and think: "How can the Republicans not get killed?" And there is no question that working against the GOP big time is the reality that Iraq is demonstrably worse than in was in 2004. And by worse, I mean the odds for U.S. success was considerably better in 2004 than it is today. But the Beltway culture and attitude toward the war isn't the same as the rest of the country and in 2004 that mindset helped create the conventional wisdom that President Bush was going to lose to John Kerry. I suspect the same attitude toward the war today facilitates the ease with which reporters and Washington analysts jack up projections of huge Democratic gains.

But because the media has been so negative on Iraq for years now I don't know that the Democrats, from a political standpoint these last few weeks, are reaping all the rewards they might otherwise have received. Take the New York Times for example. On a scale of 1 -10, with 10 being that Iraq is an utter disaster, they have been reporting Iraq as an 8 or a 9 almost from the beginning.

So now when the status in Iraq has objectively worsened, where do they go to amp their coverage? I'm sure "Pinch" Sulzberger, in true Spinal Tap spirit, is desperately looking for the knob that takes the negativity up to eleven, but they are just about maxed out. In other words, from a political standpoint the qualitative erosion of the situation in Iraq over the last 2-3 months may not be yielding the corresponding equal public relations effect one might expect.

And so in the month before an election when the public sees endless stories about the disaster in Iraq, many just roll their eyes. Again, this is not an argument that Iraq is not hurting Republicans, it clearly is. My point is it may not be hurting the GOP as much as DC-media types think it should, or will.

The other reason Iraq perhaps isn't killing Republicans as much as it could is because Democrats are nowhere to be seen on the issue. Iraq is unquestionably the biggest issue facing the country and the Democrats, to put it nicely, have punted. And they punted because there was no way for them to reconcile the netroots/Lamont faction of the party with more common-sense leaders like Joe Biden or Joe Lieberman. Heck, the netroots side kicked Joe Lieberman out of the party in August.

In September, the White House had found a way to frame the war debate around wiretapping and extracting information from terrorists and it was working to help Republicans, but the Foley scandal blew that carefully orchestrated plan right out of the water. With only two weeks left, it remains unclear how the final news cycle will play out. There is numbness among the public to the situation in Iraq, people know in their gut that it is not going well and ultimately President Bush and Congress have to answer for that, but they are far from sure that Nancy Pelosi is the right answer. Iraq helps the Democrats, but how much, we will find out on Election Day.

AZ-1: Reports of Renzi Investigation

Yesterday, just two weeks before the election, Rick Renzi in AZ-1 hired a lawyer after reports surfaced that the feds are looking into his involvement in a land swap deal from a couple of years ago. Renzi's new lawyer, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, told the Arizona Republic he's been unable to confirm any investigation so far and that neither Renzi nor any of the folks in his "circle" have been contacted by the feds.

Renzi is currently #42 on RCP's list of the 50 most competitive House races in the country. He may be headed higher, depending on how this plays out.

A Needle in the Media Haystack

This morning I was shocked to stumble across the rarest of things: a negative press clip of Barack Obama. Actually, it's not even that bad, but it is markedly different from the universal gushings we've seen recently. Jon Friedman of Marketwatch writes:

Barack Obama was the man of the moment at this week's American Magazine Conference in the desert -- but he failed to dazzle his audience.

He showed a conference of magazine editors and publishers that he can withstand the heat of the national spotlight. He has clear ideas about where the Bush administration has gone wrong in Iraq, its energy policy and the budget. But he failed to wow the crowd. At no point during the time he spoke to the throng did he leave any of us with a moment we'll remember, other than the spectacle of seeing up close someone famous. He has become a celebrity as an appealing Senator, author of the much-discussed new book "The Audacity of Hope" and a likely presidential candidate.

He was almost equal parts solid and stolid.

Al Gore Thinks About 2008

Barack Obama says he'll "consider" running for president and the national media swoons. Granted, he said that on Meet the Press, which is not quite the same thing as telling a college student who asks you to run for president that you'll "give it some thought." But, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, that's what someone claimed Al Gore said yesterday:

Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, has returned to prominence with his crusade to address global warming and climate change.

"I'm a recovering politician. I'm on about Step Nine," he joked to the audience.

As he was leaving the auditorium, however, Gore was confronted by Cindra Zugel of Mukilteo, wearing a campaign button that said, "Al Gore for President in 2008."

She told him he has a responsibility to run for president, to change U.S. energy and environmental policy. "He said, 'We'll give it some thought,' " said Zugel, who considers Gore "the only choice" for 2008.

Democrats have been devoid of a "savior" over the last few years, and suddenly they have two. Maybe they should join forces. Gore-Obama in '08, anyone? I can hear reporters and editorial boards across the country swooning over the thought.

PA 04 Poll Results

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review just released some polling data on PA 04 -- a suburban Pittsburgh district that features incumbent Republican Melissa Hart and Democratic challenger Jason Altmire. The results were somewhat surprising, giving Hart only a 4% lead, with 11% undecided.

This week I hypothesized that one reason that second- and third-tier districts show soft GOP leads was because GOP candidates had yet to unload their expansive war chests. Accordingly, voters were still "floating" with the national news media and their assessment of the mood. This district would be an archetypical example if this hypothesis is true. Hart, as of 10/1, had more than $1.1 million in the bank, compared to Altmire's $275 K. By that date, she had only spent $763 K. According to the theory I offered: when she unloads that war chest, these numbers will move in her direction.

The internals of the poll are consistent with this "floating" hypothesis. The last paragraph is the the tip-off:

For Altmire, an equal number of those surveyed -- 26 percent -- were aware of his name with a favorable impression as were those who had not heard of him. Thirty-one percent knew his name but had no opinion of him, while 18 percent were aware and felt unfavorably toward him.

It seems that Altmire's support does not seem to reflect genuine pro-Altmire sentiment, but rather a general political mood . Hart can, and will, spend $2 million in all to define both him and herself -- setting herself apart from what the district is upset about, and casting Altmire as an unacceptable alternative to what frustrates the voters. And Altmire lacks the cash to respond.

This poll will probably feed the "a wave is a'comin'" storyline -- but this hypothesis is clearly underdetermined. These results are entirely consistent with what I theorized earlier this week -- probably more so than the "wave" hypothesis, given Altmire's poor name ID numbers.

If we see a Hart lead of 4% of less after she has spent her money, then the GOP should worry about this district.

Nevertheless -- this poll is a sign that the GOP is going to have to spend money to defend its "outer-rim" districts: PA 04, WY AL, MN 01, etc. I think money will save all of them, but money is what is needed. That is the price they must pay for their unpopularity.

Footnote: I am not a pollster, but it struck me as very peculiar that the Trib would commission a poll for last weekend in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, Pitt played Rutgers at Heinz Field. On Sunday, the Steelers played the Falcons. How many men do you think answered the phone over the weekend? If I was back in my dear hometown district (or, should I say, "hometahn district"), I know that I would have hung up right quick (a head counter for the local Alderman actually showed up at my door during the 2nd Quarter of the Steelers game -- and I don't think I have ever been so quick to tell somebody "No thank you!"). I can't help but wonder: is this sample representative of the 4th? I doubt that it is. The 4th was watching Panther and Steeler football (a bad, bad, bad weekend, I must say...). Does that help one candidate or another? My sense is that it helps Altmire. Most of the voting population of the 4th is the northern suburbs in Allegheny and Butler Counties -- and football fans there tend to be white men, i.e. anti-tax Republican voters.

October 24, 2006

Stem Cell Ad War in Missouri

You've probably heard about the Michael J. Fox ad on stem cells that aired on behalf of the McCaskill campaign during the World Series the other night. Here it is:

And here's the response ad:

Ford's Straight Answer

Harold Ford, Jr. tries to stop the bleeding over the question Playboy party with a very straight answer - maybe a little too straight, in fact.

Lunch with Rumsfeld and Pace

Yesterday, along with four other journalists, I lunched with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We had a wide-ranging discussion on North Korea, Iraq, and the reports that there was a coming change in administration policy toward Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld said that the President had asked him to stay out of politics in this election, and he was determined to do just that. Several of us tried to nudge or kid him into it, and the most we could get was a "nice try" or two.

Rumsfeld explained that the conference the president held last weekend with him and our top generals didn't signal a major shift on Iraq. This conference wasn't something out of the ordinary and in the two or three others held before the president had used this session to talk through ideas with his top advisors. As to the idea that the Congressionally-created Baker-Hamilton "Iraq Study Group" might recommend major policy shifts, Rumsfeld demurred. He said that outside groups such as that one can often be helpful by bringing new viewpoints to the analysis. The Baker group - which interfaces mostly with National Security Advisor Steven Hadley -- has met with Rumsfeld at the White House and will be coming to the Pentagon for more discussions in mid-November.

I asked if the Baker group was trying to answer the right questions. Are we talking about Iraq without talking about a regional solution? Rumsfeld said he wasn't familiar with the mandate Congress had given the Baker group. When I pressed him that too many people want to talk about Iraq without placing it in context he said, "I think it's awfully hard - I know some people would like to do it - but it's awfully hard to look at Iraq and not look at it in the context of the world we live in, and the area that it is in, and the activities of Iran and Syria and the broader question of the Shia-Sunni interaction that's taking place." The problems of the Middle East are, inferentially, regional and cannot be solved within the borders of any single nation.

Asked if he was planning to resign after the elections, Rumsfeld said that if he were, he'd have spoken to the president about it and that no such discussion had taken place.

We talked about North Korea and the ability of the world to achieve its nuclear disarmament. Mr. Rumsfeld said that the problem had been the lack of cohesion among the international community and that the president's approach intended to create that cohesion and thus the leverage to accomplish the necessary solution. Rumsfeld was quick to explain that the problem of nuclear North Korea was much different than the problem posed by Iran. He gave us copies of what is now his favorite picture. It's a night time satellite photo of the Korean peninsula taken (apparently repeatedly or in some time-lapse format) from February 1 - March 31, 2006. It shows nearly half of South Korea bathed in artificial light, and all of North Korea - except the capital, Pyongyang - utterly dark. "If you think of North Korea, it is very different from Iran. There's people who are starving. They have people who are going in the military who are under five feet and less than one hundred pounds. There's a lack of nutrition in the country." The sort of deterrence that worked before may work against North Korea, though Rumsfeld said the principal danger from North Korea is proliferation: "He'll sell anything."

Much of the discussion centered around the ability of America to fight a long war. Both Rumsfeld and Pace used the example of the Cold War to illustrate their conviction that America does and will continue to have the ability to stay in the war against terrorists until it's done. Rumsfeld elaborated.

He said that Americans were raised - "socialized" was the word he used - to believe that our military can win any war by going out and defeating a nation or an army. But times have changed. He said of Iraq, "There's no way the military can lose. There's also no way the military can win all alone. That isn't the nature of it...There's no major army, navy, air force to go and attack and destroy." In wars like this, there will be no "clean wins."

How long will it take? How will the American people support a war such as this? Rumsfeld said, "We have to be smart enough and wise enough as we were in the Cold War to recognize the danger, and to recognize that it takes perseverance."

Gen. Pace added, "We're back to the common understanding of the threat. The American people are willing to withstand a long-term challenge as exemplified by the Cold War and the Soviet Union...The good news is that since 9-11 we haven't been attacked here at home. What that means is that some Americans don't yet grasp fully the very real nature of this threat to the survival of the nation."

The Battle for the Senate

In our opinion, Brad Coker at Mason-Dixon continues to do the best state polling. Today he has released a basket of eight Senate polls for MSNBC in the competitive Senate races that will determine control of that chamber (Maryland is the only race which might be competitive where he did not poll).

I spoke with Coker this morning, and he breaks these races down into three distinct groups. The first group is Pennsylvania, Ohio and Rhode Island, which he describes "as slipping away from the Republicans." RCP has all thee of these races as "Leans Democrat," and right now these look like three pretty firm pick ups for the Democrats.

The next group is Montana, New Jersey and Missouri - all races where Mason-Dixon shows the Democrat ahead by three points. Coker describes these three as "leaning Democratic" and, interestingly, he ranks New Jersey as the most likely state Republicans could get out of this group, followed by Montana, and then Missouri. Both New Jersey and Missouri have been ranked Toss Ups for some time by RCP, and today on the back of the Mason-Dixon poll we are moving Montana to a Toss Up, one week after downgrading Burns from the #2 most vulnerable incumbent to #4.

I don't know that I agree with Coker's order of vulnerability in these three, but I don't take it as good news for the GOP that he ranks the seat in Missouri as the least likely of the bunch for the GOP to win. Since Mason-Dixon's last survey in these three states, Missouri has moved 3 points toward the Democrats; Montana has moved 4 points toward the GOP, and New Jersey in unchanged. I suspect Republicans will win one of these three states barring a complete GOP meltdown. Coker seems to think from where things stand today the odds favor the Democrats taking all three.

Finally, we have the two seats in Virginia and Tennessee. Coker sees the Republicans almost having the same edge here as the Democrats have in the last group (MT, MO, NJ). Mason-Dixon's work has Bob Corker ahead in Tennesse by 2 points and George Allen ahead in Virginia by 4. Coker feels that if Republicans were to lose either one of these races he sees little chance they could win in Montana, New Jersey and Missouri - which effectively means they would lose the Senate. As a corollary, if the GOP could win one of the MT, MO, NJ group, Coker sees very little chance they would lose in Virginia or Tennessee. I tend to agree with that characterization, though the ethical troubles of Menendez in New Jersey makes that race a bit of an independent situation.

At the end of the day, Coker sees the evidence today pointing to a 50-50 tie with Republicans retaining control. I agree that the GOP maintains an edge in Virginia and Tennessee and thus is likely to retain control, but as I said earlier, I suspect Republicans will pull out one of three in Missouri, Montana and New Jersey to keep their losses to four and a 51-49 edge in the Senate. This also happens to be where the current InTrade markets peg the Senate playing field as well.

When It Rains, It Pours

Harold Ford, Jr. is on a bit of a streak at the moment, and it's not the favorable kind. His press-conference crashing stunt last week seems to have backfired. He's also now involved in a war of words with Steve Cohen, the Democrat running to replace him in TN-9, where Ford, Jr.'s brother lost out in the primary but is running as an Independent. And there's the new Mason-Dixon poll I mentioned earlier showing that Bob Corker has edged back into the lead against Ford. But there's more.

In the Tennessean today, questions about Ford's presence at a Playboy party at the 2005 Superbowl continue to linger, in part because the Ford campaign has done a truly miserable job of dealing with the issue.

And yesterday Bob Corker was on the trail with Rudy Giuliani pounding Ford over his refusal to vote in favor of a non-binding resolution in the House condemning President Clinton's pardon of 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist organization FALN. Instead of voting for or against the resolution, Ford voted "present." The resolution passed in the House by a vote of 311 to 41 with 72 present. A similar measure passed the Senate by a vote of 95-2.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

According to Michael Powell, Ford's senior adviser, Ford said publicly at the time that he would not have pardoned the individuals, but "the measure was brought to the floor in a partisan attempt to embarrass the president. It was a nonbinding resolution."

Maybe so, but this is the kind of issue that makes a fairly cut-and-dried impression on voters, and it's probably a vote that Ford wishes he could have back.


Here's the score from the new batch of Mason-Dixon Senate polls: Republican incumbents Santorum, DeWine, Chafee, Burns, and Talent currently trail. There's your five seat pick up for an evenly divided Senate. Corker has moved slightly back ahead in Tennessee, and Allen is holding a small but steady lead in Virginia.

On the Dem side, Cantwell has extended her lead in Washington and Menendez is maintaining a slight edge in New Jersey, though he's stuck around 45% with eleven percent undecided.

It's possible Dems could tip either Tennessee or Virginia (or both), and end up taking control of the Senate. On the other hand, with Allen stabilized and Harold Ford, Jr. undergoing a bit of a late stage meltdown, it seems to me a more likely possibility that Republicans hold TN, VA and Talent squeaks by in Missouri, leaving the GOP with a razor-thin majority.

And there's also still a chance that Conrad Burns pulls out his race in Montana or Kean, Jr. scores an upset in New Jersey, which could reduce GOP losses to just three seats.

Perception Can Become Reality

One of the Democratic strategies this cycle is to flood the zone with partisan and suspect polls showing as many House races as possible in play to piggy back on the national generic polls that show legitimately bad news for Republicans. A perfect example of this is in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today which runs with the headline:

Poll: Heller, Derby Tied in House Race. Democrat Erases Republican's Nine-Point Lead

CARSON CITY -- Democrat Jill Derby and Republican Dean Heller are tied in the race for the 2nd Congressional District seat, according to a poll by the Mellman Group of Washington, D.C.

Each drew 40 percent of the votes in a telephone poll last week of 400 voters in the district. Minor party candidates received 5 percent and 15 percent were undecided.

In Mellman's last poll, conducted in early September, Heller led Derby 44 percent to 35 percent.

It is not until you get down to the 8th paragraph when the reader is told that the Democrat Derby's campaign paid for the poll.

This is a calculated tactic on the part of the Democrats that they have been using very effectively as other reporters, pundits and the blogosphere pickup on the headline to play up the story that more and more Republican districts continue to be thrown into play. This is all designed to build up the impression that the bottom is totally falling out for the GOP. Perception can become reality if the GOP is not careful and Republicans have been behind the eight-ball this entire cycle in managing the public relations campaign.

Maybe Nevada's 2nd congressional seat is going to go to the Democrats this year, but this is a district where Al Gore managed a whopping 37% of the vote in 2000 and John Kerry pulled down 41% in 2004. All the independent polls post-Labor Day show the Republican Heller ahead. We don't view a poll paid for by the underdog candidate, showing a tie, as evidence that a race is necessarily in play, and until we see some non-partisan data that NV-2 is really in play we will continue to rate this as a lean Republican contest.

For the Record

Earlier I wrote "it's hard to see how Barack Obama could defeat a candidate with the experience, credentials, and mainstream appeal of John McCain or Rudy Giuliani." A reader challenges Rudy's credentials:

Pray tell us the experience and credentials of Giuliani, who was elected to one office in his career, Mayor of New York City.

What other credentials does he have besides a great performance on 9/11? Does he even know where Iraq is? Do you know what "experience" is?

I doubt it now.

Please. For the record, there are 8 million people in New York City. To put it in perspective, that would make the Big Apple the eleventh largest State in the Union on a population basis. And you could argue that a place as dense, diverse, and complicated to run as New York City makes it a much more difficult job than, say, being Govenor of Arkansas.

Furthermore, Rudy's eight year record of achievement in New York City is nothing short of miraculous. Ask the people who live there. He reduced crime, lowered taxes and bascially breathed new life into a city that was in decay and dying.

That's a heck of a lot more impressive to most people than people who sit in an exclusive club in Washington D.C. and show up to run for President with a list of votes that may or may indicate any real level of skill, leadership or achievement.

October 23, 2006

Quote of the Day II

"If the Democrats win, it will be a Forrest Gump victory - essentially things swirled around them over which they had very little control and they ended up scoring touchdowns, designing happy signs, and making money on shrimp." - Pollster John Zogby

More Obama

Richard Baehr of the American Thinker weighs in with a nice piece on Obama from a conservative point of view.

If you want a more predictable, gushing liberal point of view, read Joel Connelly in the Seattle PI.

Obama Answers - Sort Of

On Friday I wondered how Barack Obama would respond when Tim Russert confronted this weekend him with the '08 question. Now we know:

"Given the responses that I've been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility, but I have not thought about it with the seriousness and depth that I think is required," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "After November 7th, I'll sit down and consider it, and if at some point, I change my mind, I will make a public announcement and everybody will be able to go at me."

And then there was this interesting exchange on Obama during the round table discussion at the end of the show:

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, before we go, you just heard Senator Barack Obama, who nine months ago said, "I will not seek the presidency or vice presidency." And today, he rather candidly said, "Well, that's what I believed then and I may be changing my mind." What's your take on that?

MR. BRODER: He's under a lot of pressure and is riding a wave of his own in terms of publicity, to jump in. It would be a big gamble for him because his potential is so huge and he is, at this point, pretty green in terms of experience. Lacks any executive experience. Never has had to sit in a job where he was the single decision maker, as a president is. But he is an enormously attractive candidate and I thought he handled it--you very well this morning.

MR. NOVAK: Certainly, Tim, I, I took that as an announcement of possible candidacy that was, that was making news on, on MEET THE PRESS. I think he's a very attractive personality, but I think the fact that everybody's so excited about him, and everybody's writing about him, indicates there's a lot of vote--of Democratic resistance to Hillary Clinton and the whole field that we have. Because I have seen the candidates who have really been inspirational candidates with their rhetoric: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton. And talk about a loser from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson. I don't see this in a Barack Obama; I don't see much humor, I don't see much irony. I'm not yet convinced that that--this is the answer to, to a Democratic victory.


MR. RUSSERT: Voters seem more...

MR. HARWOOD: ...I talked to a former top aide to Bill Clinton last night who said Barack Obama will run in 2008, Hillary Clinton will not. So we'll see what happens there.

MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton will not?

MR. HARWOOD: That was his prediction.

I don't know if I believe the part about Hillary taking a pass on '08, but I'm starting to buy into the hype that Obama might run.

If he doesn't, Obama is staring at the potential likelihood of another 10 years in the Senate, at which point he won't have the cache of being a hot new commodity and he'll also have built up a substantial voting record - and probably a very liberal one at that.

Obama is only 45 years old, so he does have the flexibility to take a pass and come back in '12 or '16. On the other hand, JFK was elected at 43, and Bill Clinton took office at 46.

But the real question isn't age, it's whether Obama is ideologically well-suited for the current moment in history. JFK had legitimate credentials as an anti-communist Cold Warrior which were well-suited to his time, and Bill Clinton also had the political chops to sell himself effectively as a centrist "new Democrat" during a time of peace and prosperity.

It seems to me there are two relevant questions for Obama: After eight years of George W. Bush, will the country be thirsting for a "less divisive" and/or "less partisan" figure in 2008 and can Barack Obama effectively sell himself as that candidate? And in a post 9/11 world will the country be willing to vote for someone who has neither military service nor much in the way of national security experience?

One final factor, too, is looking across to the matchups on the other side. It's hard to see how Barack Obama could defeat a candidate with the experience, credentials, and mainstream appeal of John McCain or Rudy Giuliani - assuming either of those men could make it out of the Republican primary.

Now that I've worked my way through the various questions facing Barack Obama and '08, I've changed my mind. I think the hype is only hype.

Don't Make Nice

Paul Krugman delivers a special treat for the nutroots today, arguing that if the Dems take power they should be as vicious as they can be or, put in a more nutroot-friendly formulation, equally as vicious as he believes Republicans are:

Now that the Democrats are strongly favored to capture at least one house of Congress, they're getting a lot of unsolicited advice, with many people urging them to walk and talk softly if they win.

I hope the Democrats don't follow this advice -- because it's bad for their party and, more important, bad for the country. In the long run, it's even bad for the cause of bipartisanship.

There are those who say that a confrontational stance will backfire politically on the Democrats. These are by and large the same people who told Democrats that attacking the Bush administration over Iraq would backfire in the midterm elections. Enough said.

I especially liked this part:

There are those who believe that the partisan gap can be bridged if the Democrats nominate an attractive presidential candidate who speaks in uplifting generalities. But they must have been living under a rock these past 15 or so years. Whoever the Democrats nominate will feel the full force of the Republican slime machine. And it doesn't matter if conservatives have nice things to say about a Democrat now. Once the campaign gets serious, they'll suddenly question his or her patriotism and discover previously unmentioned but grievous character flaws.

This is truly delusional. If you go back, as Krugman suggests, and look at the Presidential election for the past 15 or so years, what you'll find is that regardless of the political noise surrounding the election, the candidate who ran the better race won.

I'm sure Krugman thinks that Michael Dukakis got "slimed" by Lee Atwater and Willie Horton in 1988, but the reality is that Dukakis was a candidate with serious vulnerabilites, many of which were compounded during the campaign by his own doing.

Four years later Bill Clinton prevailed over a rather inept reelection campaign by George H.W. Bush (albeit with the help a third party candidate). He also cruised to reelection over a lackluster effort by Bob Dole in 1996. Where was the vaunted Republican "slime machine" then?

In 2000, George W. Bush really had no business winning, and he did not because of "slime" but because Al Gore ran a very sub par campaign - which is another way saying he followed every last bit of Bob Shrum's advice. Gore flopped in the debates and ended up unable to carry his home state of Tennessee.

In fact, if there was any slime in 2000 it was the Democrats who were the guilty party, when an operative with ties to the Gore campaign dropped Bush's decades-old DUI on the Friday before the election. It almost worked, too.

Clearly, Krugman seems to be speaking about the 2004 campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans when he writes, "Once the campaign gets serious, they'll suddenly question his or her patriotism and discover previously unmentioned but grievous character flaws."

If you reread that sentence and take out the words "question his or her patriotism," it's a fairly accurate description of what Jim Webb and the Democrats are doing to George Allen in Virginia right now. Did Allen open that door with his "macaca" comment? Sure.

But the difference between the two is that in the case of John Kerry, you had more than a hundred of his fellow veterans come forward, on the record, saying they felt he was unfit to be Commander and Chief.

Furthermore, the back and forth over the details surrounding Kerry's medals obscured the fact that the real thrust of the objection of the Swiftees had to do with what John Kerry did after the war, not during it: his tossing of his medals (or someone else's) over the White House fence, his blanket condemnation of U.S. troops before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his 1970 trip to Paris to meet and talk with Communist leaders of North Vietnam. These three events aren't "slime," they are irrefutable facts. And whether Krugman likes it or not, they are absolutely fair game as a topic of discussion in a Presidential contest.

The point is that contrary to Krugman's myopic, one-sided view, politics is a rough business. Both sides know it, and both sides play it that way. Neither party has a monopoly on slime, nor does either side have a monopoly on virtue.

Quote of the Day

"The press is never going to report judicial opinions accurately. They're just going to report, who is the plaintiff? Was that a nice little old lady? And who is the defendant? Was this, you know, some scuzzy guy? And who won? Was it the good guy that won or the bad guy? And that's all you're going to get in a press report, and you can't blame them, you can't blame them. Because nobody would read it if you went into the details of the law that the court has to resolve. So you can't judge your judges on the basis of what you read in the press." - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Will Money Alone Save the GOP?

Barron's seems to think so.

But their analysis is flawed. For several reasons -- all of which are part of this fundamental fact about campaign cash: it is a necessary, but insufficient, criterion of electoral success.

(1) A dollar is worth more to a challenger than an incumbent. The reason is that challengers have to introduce themselves to the electorate, while incumbents do not. The electorate always has a very well-formed opinion of the incumbent, and so the marginal dollar will just be less effective for him than the challenger. So, a challenger who spends $2,000,000 will change more minds than an incumbent who spends $2,000,000.

(2) Not all campaign dollars are created equal. The marginal dollar required to run your first political ad is worth less than the marginal dollar required to run your seventeenth political ad. Why? Because your first ad is more likely to convince voters than your seventeenth. Thus -- some differences, say between $50,000 and $1,000,000, are much more critical than other differences, say between $3,050,000 and $4,000,000.

(3) Weak incumbents raise more money than strong incumbents. Statistical analysis actually shows that the more money an incumbent spends, the more likely he/she is to lose. Is it because his/her advertising is just that bad? No. Of course not. It is because incumbents who are vulnerable are the ones who raise and spend lots of cash. So -- the fact that Republican incumbents have more money than their Democratic challengers can be a sign both of strength (in the case of safe members with less than $1 million in the bank going up against challengers with less than $50,000) and weakness (in the case of weak members with more than $3 million in the bank going up against challengers with $2 million).

(4) Well-funded challengers almost always have good angles. That is how they have become well-funded. Strategic donors in the opposing party have sensed a weakness in the incumbent, or a strength in the challenger, and have decided to fund the latter's attack. Simply stated, they think the attack angle will work. So, well-funded challengers almost always have campaign strengths that dollars are used to actualize.

Why, then, is Barron's historical track record so accurate? Three reasons: (1) A direct dollar-to-dollar evaluation is probably more appropriate in open seat elections, and so they will make a genuine theoretical "purchase" there; (2) The reelection rate of incumbents has been rising slowly-but-surely in the time period that their data spans, and incumbents almost always have more money than their challengers; (3) Money is indeed important, and so Barron's model can be expected to have some predictive accuracy -- it is just that it is not important in the way that Barron's thinks. Even a misspecified model can be highly accurate in its predictions. Its problems will show up in other ways (e.g. non-random error, which I am guessing is probably the case here; they are probably more likely to be wrong for some cases than for others, e.g. self-funders).

(In point of fact -- most media types tend to make predictions based upon misspecified models. And the biggest problem is not misspecification, but that they do not realize that they are actually using models in the first place. This is one of the many problems that occur when English majors do political science.)

Again: the way to think about money is to think of it as a necessary but insufficient criterion of electoral success. Challengers need enough money to (a) introduce themselves to the electorate and (b) offer themselves as a credible alternative -- but that almost never requires them to actually spend more money than the incumbent.

Accordingly, Barron's method of a simple tabulation of the Republican-held contested districts where the Democrats have more money underestimates Democratic strength.

It also seems to me to be poorly applied - for instance, in predicting Busby to win over Bilbray, they fail to account for the fact that (a) most of Busby's money was spent in the Special Election and (b) Busby raised/spent more in the Special Election and still lost. They also seem to fail to properly account for (i) self-funders, like Jack Davis in NY 26, who have the capacity to draw funds quickly; and (ii) the fact that the most promising of challengers always get large influxes of cash after the Quarter III reports are published.

The correct way to evaluate the money situation is to (i) establish a reasonable "floor" of dollars minimally necessary for electoral success and (ii) estimate the number of challengers who will meet that standard. Unfortunately, nobody has really done that -- and I have been struck by the number of GOP-held seats that have "become" marginally competitive despite challengers who obviously have insufficient funds.

So -- if Barron's is way too bullish about the GOP, others have been way too bullish about the Democrats. Money matters -- not in the way that Barron's thinks. But it matters more than what others have implicitly estimated.

October 22, 2006

A Few Race Updates

In case you missed these on RCP's front page here are some updates in close races in the battle for the House and Senate.

Tennessee Senate: Bob Corker (R) vs. Harold Ford (D)

Ford, who has run a very strong campaign to date, appears to have made his first serious mistake with an ill-advised attempt to crash a Bob Corker press conference Friday in Memphis. You can watch the WMC Memphis TV coverage of this here "Harold Ford Junior Crashes Corker Presser." Corker appears to get the best of this confrontation and this is the kind of thing that can make a difference in a race as close as this one. Ford's bid in the InTrade market has fallen below 40 for the first time in quite a while.

Florida 22: Clay Shaw (R)* vs. Ron Klein (D)

Shaw's seat is a very competitive district that went 52% - 48% in the presidential race for the Democrat in both 2000 and 2004. After one of the closest House races in the country in 2000, Republicans in redistricting removed the Miami-Dade portion which Shaw lost 67%-33% in 2000. With a more favorable district he won handily in both 2002 and 2004 with over 60% of the vote.
This race had been high up on Democratic target lists but looks to have slipped as the campaign has entered the final stretch. Klein probably would have won this district how it was drawn in 2000, but running in the current 2006 lines he looks likely to come up a little short.

Pennsylvania 7: Curt Weldon (R)* vs. Joe Sestak (D)

Weldon, like his Pennsylvania colleague Don Sherwood is in a world of trouble. Of the three GOP Philadelphia suburban districts that the Democrats had set their sights on this cycle Weldon's seat had always thought to be the one least likely to flip, today it is the most likely. After Don Sherwood and Jeff Hostettler, Weldon is now the most vulnerable incumbent on RCP's list. Whatever the merit of Weldon and his daughter's situation with Russian business deals, the sight of FBI agents carting boxes out of your daughter's apartment three weeks from an election where you are in a very close race is not good news. Weldon is a fighter and his problems are not as acute as Sherwood's in PA-10, but his district is a Democratic-trending district that voted 51% for Gore in 2000 and 53% for Kerry in 2004. We think Weldon is in trouble here in 2006.

Pennsylvania 10: Don Sherwood (R)* vs. Chris Carney (D)

President Bush was here on Thursday trying to give Sherwood a boost in the home stretch. Sherwood has big, big troubles but this is a Republican district that gave Bush 60% just two years ago. Santorum's people will be in here hard which may spill over and help Sherwood on the margins, but were skeptical that he can pull this race out.

Connecticut 4: Chris Shays (R)* vs. Diane Farrell

Hard to believe that Democrats have a very good shot at capturing the House even though they might now win any of the three Connecticut House races they have targeted for over a year. Shays is generally considered to be thought the most vulnerable GOP incumbent of the three CT seats in play (CT-2, CT-4, CT-5); however Shays is running an energized campaign and appears to be benefiting significantly from Lieberman's strong Independent run. Shays raised $840,000 this last quarter eclipsing the record set by his opponent Diane Farrell earlier this year. This race will in all likelihood be a total toss up until the end. Ironically Ned Lamont may be the little bit that keeps this seat in the GOP column.

New York 26: Tom Reynolds (R)* vs. Jack Davis (D)

Reynolds looks to have stabilized his situation a little, but Foley has placed this race fully in play. The GOP appears to be running better in House races everywhere in the Northeast (CT and NH), except upstate New York. Republicans are going to lose seats in New York, Reynolds is hoping they keep it contained to Sherwood Boehlert's open seat in New York 24, because if there is another one to go down he is next in line.

Colorado 4: Marilyn Musgrave (R)* vs. Angie Paccione (D)

Even though this a relatively conservative district having delivered 58% for President Bush in 2004 Musgrave was always considered a potentially vulnerable incumbent because she only pulled 51% in 2004 after originally winning the seat with 55% in 2002. This race is currently #28 on RCP's House list and may have to drop lower if Musgrave continues to poll as impressively as she has in the last two public survey which both show her with 10 point leads. The DCCC pulled a significant amount of ad support for the Democratic challenger about two weeks ago which might have shut the door on Paccione's upset hopes.

Illinois 8: Dave McSweeney (R) vs. Melissa Bean (D)*

The Chicago Tribune poll is bad news for McSweeney, and while there is no question this race is considerably closer than 19 points, Bean has made the right votes in this district in her first term to assure Republican-leaning business types she can be a Democrat they can work with. RNC polling in this race shows McSweeney only down two, but today you would have to give the edge to the incumbent Bean.

October 21, 2006

A Media Conspiracy

I detect a devious conspiracy among the mainstream media to swing this election back in favor of the GOP:

The Woman Who Would Be Speaker: Uncompromising Pelosi Set to Seize Opportunity
By Lois Romano, Washington Post Staff Writer

Madam Speaker? Pelosi Likes the Sound: In line to lead the House if the Democrats win control, the Californian brings discipline, fundraising skill -- and a lightning-rod nature.

By Faye Fiore, Times Staff Writer

Not to mention this:

NEXT ON 60 MINUTES: Two Heartbeats Away
Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. ET/PT

Nancy Pelosi could wind up as the House speaker if Democrats win a majority in the upcoming election, making her second in the line of succession to the presidency. Lesley Stahl reports.

What next? An Adam Nagourney front-pager profiling John Conyers and his secret post-election impeachment plans? It looks like the dastardly Karl Rove has done it once again. Somehow he's conned the MSM into promoting the one thing that might actually have enough juice left to get Republicans to the polls en masse in 17 days: the prospect of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

October 20, 2006

Gen. Caldwell Conference Call and Dannatt Counterpoint

Earlier this morning I participated in a conference call with MGen. Bill Caldwell, Multinational Force - Iraq spokesman. Caldwell made two interesting points.

First, the release of the militia leader, Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi - part of Moqtada al-Sadr's organization - was requested, not demanded by the Maliki government. Equally important is the fact that Saedi was arrested (at about 3:30 am on the 17th) on charges of being part of illegal violent activities against Iraqis, not for organizing or participating in attacks on Coalition troops. He added that the MNF had a special organization that was tracking the illegal militias and had detained about two dozen leaders and more than five hundred members this month alone.

There has been a lot of misreporting of what the president said to George Stephanopoulos who posed the comparison between Iraq and Vietnam (written by NYT columnist Tom Friedman). I asked Caldwell about his understanding of what the president said. He agreed with my characterization of the president's remark as being limited to comparing the enemies' attempts to influence US public opinion. Caldwell said, "We've already seen on jihadist websites that they've said US elections are coming and they want to inflict the maximum number of casualties to influence the US people" to get out of Iraq. Those saying that Bush agreed to any broader comparison between Iraq and Vietnam are reporting what they wanted to hear, not what the president said.

The other news is a counterpoint to the recent rebellion against civilian authority by British Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt I wrote about a few days ago. Dannatt, in an interview with a UK paper, blasted the Blair government's Iraq policy. Here, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker is arguing with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld over the 2008 Army budget, but he's doing it the right way.

Rumsfeld's relationship with the Army began badly when then-chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki slow-rolled Rumsfeld's plans for transforming the army into a more flexible force. When Shinseki retired, Rumsfeld reached into the ranks of retired generals to bring back Schoomaker, an old special forces hand, to lead the army and transform it under fire. But now Schoomaker thinks the Army is being shorted by about $25 billion in 2008 and Rumsfeld disagrees. Their disagreement reached a low point when the Army refused to submit a 2008 budget based on the lower number. But the disagreement is professional, not personal, and it's being handled just that way. Rumsfeld agreed that Schoomaker could take his case directly to the White House and argue with OMB to get the additional money. I'm told by a Pentagon source that one or more senior members of the Defense Department controller's office went with Schoomaker. Schoomaker, unlike Dannatt but like almost every US general officer since Douglas MacArthur, understands that civilian control of the military is essential in a democracy. It's ok to argue with the boss and be upset with his decision, but you work within the system to resolve the dispute. Though the disagreement is serious, Rumsfeld and the Army are not at war with each other. But each respects the other enough to resolve policy differences the right way.

Connecticut 2

A new poll in the hotly contested CT-2 race gives GOP incumbent Rob Simmons a small two point lead, 46% - 44%. We have an updated analysis on this race:

Rob Simmons in Connecticut 2 is a not a guy who is being caught by surprise that he is in a tough race. Kerry and Gore both got 54% in his district, and he is regularly targeted as a prime pickup target by Democrats. This year is no exception. Simmons was extremely visible in the fight to save the New London sub base in his district and he is using that dramatic success very effectively in the campaign against Courtney.

A just-released poll by the University of Connecticut gives Simmons a small two point lead. Lieberman's likely substantial victory over Democrat Ned Lamont (he leads Lamont by 12.2% in the latest RCP Average) is also working to help Simmons on the margins as well as the very popular Republican Gov. Jodi Rell who is cruising to reelection.

This race continues to drop on our list of competitive house seats and is currently ranked #22.

Will Any Dem Seats Fall in the House?

So much of the focus this cycle has been on Republican seats in play. On RCP's list of the most likely House seats to switch parties, the first Dem seat doesn't appear until #33 with Melissa Bean in Illinois 8. But there is a basket of five seats Republicans are looking at for possible pickups (IL-8, GA-8, GA-12, VT-AL, and IA-3) and the odds would suggest that the GOP may be able to pick up one of these five. The two seats in Georgia, helped by a strong Sonny Perdue at the top of the ticket, are generally thought to offer Republicans their best hope for a pickup.

Today the Indianapolis Star has a front page story which is extremely interesting given how much of a battleground Indiana has become because of the three Republican districts in play (IN-2, IN-8, and IN-9).

A new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Julia Carson narrowly trailing Republican Eric Dickerson -- an outcome that, if it holds on Election Day, would be one of the biggest upsets in Indiana politics.

Dickerson led Carson 45 percent to 42 percent in the poll conducted for WTHR (Channel 13), The Indianapolis Star's news-gathering partner.....The WTHR poll -- conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and based on responses of 468 likely voters in the 7th Congressional District -- was startling, though, particularly in the wake of a poll of 400 likely voters, taken in September for WISH (Channel 8), that showed Carson with a lead of 20 percentage points. WTHR reported its poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Dickerson, a former auto dealer, has run his race largely on his own. He beat the Republican Party's endorsed candidate in the primary and has run his campaign with virtually no state or national support since.

"It's just another confirmation that our campaign is very, very serious and we do intend to win this race," Dickerson told WTHR.

Indiana 7 is a reasonably secure Democratic district, giving 58% for Kerry in 2004 and 55% for Gore in 2004. But Carson has had some serious health issues and she's also been unable to get over 55% of the vote since the seat was redistricted in 2002 making it more attractive to Republican candidates.

We're skeptical just how much this seat may really be in play, but this is certainly a race we are going to keep an eye on.

Selling Books or Running For Prez?

Nine months ago on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert asked Barack Obama point blank: "So you will not run for president or vice-president in 2008?" Mr. Obama responded flatly, "I will not." In a cover story for Chicago Magazine the following month Mr. Obama reiterated his intention not to run for President in 2008.

These days, however, as he hits the circuit to promote his new book "The Audacity of Hope," Mr. Obama is conspicuously coy in responding to questions about 2008, saying only that he's "focused" on the 2006 midterms just nineteen days away. In the meantime, Mr. Obama is using his considerable star power to exploit the media machine to its fullest. The new issue of Time Magazine, which landed on the newsstands on Monday, carries his picture on the cover, an excerpt from his book, and a 3,178-word buff and shine piece by Joe Klein.

Yesterday Mr. Obama and his wife appeared on Oprah (the show was taped back on Oct. 3) where he again easily dodged the 2008 issue. This morning David Brooks begins his column in the New York Times by writing, "Barack Obama should run for President." Tonight Mr. Obama will field an hour's worth of softballs from Larry King.

And on Sunday Mr. Obama will come full circle and return to the set of "Meet the Press" where, presumably, Tim Russert will pull out a video clip from January and confront Mr. Obama with his unequivocal statement that he doesn't intend to run 2008. That should make for quite an interesting moment.

What Amazes Me Most...

What amazes me most about this campaign season has been, without question, the media.

I do not ever recall the national political press corps, and its attendant pundits, vacillating back and forth so incredibly violently.

"It's a wave election!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"It's a national election!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"It's a blow-out!" "No it's not!" "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!"

"Democratic enthusiasm can trump Republican GOTV machinery." "No it can't!" "Oh yes it can!" "Oh no it can't!"

It's been like a Monty Python sketch, hasn't it? "The GOP is dead, I tell you!" "Oh no it isn't...it's just restin'!"

Based upon memory, I can recall five discrete vacillations. You had GOP bullishness around March. That lasted until about the end of April. Then the CA 50 campaign induced Democratic bullishness. That lasted until the actual election, which then again induced Republican bullishness. That lasted until about mid-July, where there again began a period of Democratic bullishness. This shifted around 9/11, which initiated another round of GOP bullishness. Right now we are in a stage of Democratic bullishness.

So -- that's five vacillations in six months!


What is most unbelievable is that it is literally nothing more than vacillation. It is not like a real debate, where new evidence swings things one direction and then another. It's the same darned evidence being paraded on both sides. Democratic strengths X, Y and Z are emphasized for a while. Then, they are totally abandoned to emphasize GOP strengths A, B and C. Nobody in the press ever actually gets around to debunking, reconciling, aggregating, weighing X, Y, Z, A, B and C! They just change their emphases! The story line changes when somebody in an elite position in the media "remembers" the other side's factors. "And...oh yeah! Well...it looks like things have swung again!"

If we all take a step back and ponder this, I think we come up with two different hypotheses:
(1) The election has been as variable as the media has taken it to be. The most variable in modern history.
(2) The election has been relatively constant. The media is the variable factor. They vary because they incorrectly think congressional elections work like presidential elections and/or some strange soap opera called "As the Beltway Turns." They just generally have no idea what they are doing. So, they are always getting tricked into false positives, which they soon discover to be false positives, and which they then justify as "Well -- it's a-swingin' back the other way!" And, as they are the media, i.e. our window to the world, (1) appears to be true.

I prefer (1). Just kidding!

Here's an idea -- rather than take bets on how many seats the Democrats will pick up -- why don't we take bets on how many more times the media consensus will swing? The last swing was at the end of last month -- and as there is, on average, a swing in the consensus every 1 month and 1 week, the odds are that there will be at least one more, on or about November 5.

But my money is actually on 2 more swings. I think there will be a brief flirtation with "Maybe it won't be that bad for the GOP..." around the end of this month. And then a "Oh...YES IT WILL!"

And then, on Election Day, if they are "right," they will trumpet their keen political sensibilities -- "We called this sucker, didn't we?" "Oh...yeah we did. We had it all along!" "Good for us!"

If they are "wrong," they will trumpet their keen political sensibitilies and procliam how the party ostensibly on the outs managed to perform an unheard-of come-from-behind feat of great political cunning at the last minute to snatch defeat from the jaws of...

...and blah, blah, blah. The truth is that they are never right nor wrong. They are just unfalsifiable. If Karl Popper were alive to witness this campaign season, his head would explode. I'm actually thinking about wearing a tight-fitting Steelers football helmet between now and Election Day to prevent exactly that from occurring.

October 19, 2006

Keith Olbermann and the Democratic Party

Keith Olbermann certainly represents the netroots wing of the Democratic party, and his "Special Comment" on the Miliatry Commisions Act that ran on Countdown last night (see below) is a clear example of the thinking that pervades this increasingly powerful part of the Democratic base.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:
A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

It is this wing of the party that successfully purged Joe Lieberman from the Democratic ranks this summer. And while the Democrats are poised to pickup seats this fall in both houses, the growing power of the Olbermann wing of the party does not bode well for long term Democrat success.

The Democratic Party needs more Jim Webbs and less Ned Lamonts. They are fortunate that Lamont is going to go down in the general in a couple of weeks - even though it will probably cost them 1-2 house seats in Connecticut that Democrats would have otherwise won had Lieberman been running on the Democratic ticket. Webb is an attractive candidate who is well suited for conservative-leaning Virginia, which is an under-appreciated reason he is faring so well against George Allen. Unlike Lamont, Webb has a real shot at pulling out a victory in a couple of weeks, but he will need a last minute push in the polls as Allen looks to have stopped the bleeding and is nearing the magical 50% level in the RCP Average.

Small Movement Toward the GOP?

A few polls are beginning to show a little better news for Republicans the past 24 hours. SurveyUSA has a new Senate poll in Maryland that has Republican Lt. Gov. Micheal Steele tied with Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin 46% - 46%. We have updated our analysis on this race which is still in the "Leans Democrat" column.

If the general outlook for Republicans can improve just a little between now and election day Steele may have shot at the upset because of his ability to eat into critical African-American votes the Democratic nominee would usually count on as in the bag. Steele is pulling 25% of the black vote in SurveyUSA's latest poll down from 33% in their September poll. If it looks like he can get a 1/3rd of the African-American vote on election day this race becomes a true toss up.

A quick glance at the RCP Chart in this race shows Steele's new found momentum.

In Colorado 4 SurveyUSA has the Republican incumbent ahead by 10 points, 48% - 38%. Musgrave is currently #28 on RCP's list of most likely House seats to switch parties, so it is good news for the GOP that this race has perhaps stabilized for Musgrave. Chris Chocola in Indian's 2nd CD comes in at #12 on the list and he is decidedly in more trouble, a new Research 2000 poll out today has him trailing Jim Donnelly by 5points, 50% -45%. We have an new updated analysis up on that race:

IN-2 is in many ways one of the bellwether House races for control of Congress. Indiana's second congressional district voted 53% for Bush in 2000 and 56% for the President in 2004. Chris Chocola lost to former Rep. Tim Roemer in what was Indiana's 3rd district in 2000, but managed 47% of the vote. In 2002, in an open seat race, he defeated a formidable opponent in Jill Long 50% - 47% in Indiana's new 2nd district. And in 2004 he handily won reelection against his current opponent Joe Donnelly 54% - 45%.

Perhaps his easy win in 2004 bred a certain level of overconfidence in Chocola, but he without question finds himself in a battle today. Donnelley has led in most of the public surveys, including a Republican poll released just a week ago by a point, Donnelley 45% - Chocola 44%. Indiana's decision to lease a major toll road in Chocola's district appears to be really hurting the incumbent along with the switch to daylight savings time, a quirk that had been in effect in parts of the district. The latest Research 2000 poll just released today gives Donnelly a 5 point edge, 50% - 45%.

Chocola has the resources, and this is a Republican leaning district, but he may have let this race get away from him over the summer.

This is exactly the type of race Democrats need to win to capture the House.

There are a whole bunch of RT Strategies/CD and Zogby Interactive polls out as well in competitive House, Senate and Governor races. The batch of RT Strategies House polls look to favor the Democrats. In NY-20 (which is #37 on RCP's list) they have the Democratic challenger up a whopping 14 points, 54% - 41%. However, a newly released traditional telephone poll by Sienna taken at exactly the same time as the RT Strategy/CD poll has the Republican incumbent Sweeney up 14 points, 53% - 39%. Needless to say both polls can not be right.

And then there are the basket of Zogby/WSJ.com internet polls that on balance show pretty good news for Republicans in the Senate. In RCP's current "Toss Up" ranked senate races the Zogby polls have the Republican ahead in all four - Missouri: Talent +2, New Jersey: Kean +2, Tennessee: Corker +7 and in Virginia: Allen +3. If Democrats take all of the races RCP has leaning their direction today they would need to win 3 out of 4 of these races to win the Senate. The current RCP Average and InTrade markets give Republicans the edge in Virginia and the Democrats the edge in New Jersey with split verdicts in Missouri and Tennessee.

The Last Word on Slavishly

A reader emails:

I'm a bit bothered that Steele and the Republicans are making a big deal out of "slavishly." He's not running against Hoyer. As far as I'm concerned the use of "slavishly" - even when referring to an African American - is no worse than using the world "niggardly" that landed a DC government employee into some trouble a few years ago. It's an adverb, not a slur.

Paul Mirengoff made a similar point about the word "slavish" the other day: "This word is used all the time in politics to attack those who support a particular line. Let's not draw any inferences from ordinary usage of the English language."

Let me stipulate that I don't think this is a HUGE deal, but I do disagree. Etymology and definition, as well as context, do matter in the use of words. Niggardly has nothing whatsoever to do with race, and to castigate someone for using the word in its proper context simply because it happens to sound similar to a racially offensive term is ludicrous.

The definition of "slavishly," however, does very clearly mean "of or befitting a slave" and/or "being or resembling a slave; abjectly submissive." Technically the word is race netural, though in America, for obvious reasons, the word is loaded with racial implications - especially when used either as an adjective or an adverb to describe an African-American. As the emailer points out, that doesn't make the use of the word a slur, but it does make it a gaffe and a very poor choice of words.

Let's also remember that while Hoyer's remark may appear innocuous enough in isolation, it is of a piece with the history of the way members of the Democratic party in Maryland, both white and black, have treated Michael Steele. Steele has been previously been referred to as a "token," an "Uncle Tom," and had Oreo cookies thrown at him, etc.

So I think Steele has every right to make it an issue, and he's obviously chosen to do so. As I said before, however, I have no idea whether the episode is going to provide any traction for Steele at all, especially since Hoyer went ahead and issued a fairly prompt apology.


They don't mean anything, but it's part of the process nonetheless:

- Washington Times endorses Republican George Allen for Senate.

- Chicago Tribune endorses Democrat Tammy Duckworth in IL06.

- Providence Journal endorses Democrat Joe Courtney in CT02.

- San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Democrat Dianne Feinstein for Senate.

- Dallas Morning News endorses Republian Kay Bailey Hutchinson for Senate.

- Arizona Republic endorses Republican Rick Renzi in AZ01 and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in AZ08.

The Most Dangerous Job in America

According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor records done by the Chicago Sun-Times, the most dangerous job in America is.....working at City Hall in Chicago.

Has Hugo Chavez Peaked?

Andres Oppenheimer writes a really intriguing column in the Miami Herald today:

Has Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez reached his peak? Will his political star begin to fade following his latest setbacks at the United Nations and his failure to get his protégés elected in Peru's and Ecuador's first-round elections?

Like many of you, I found myself asking these questions while watching Chávez's international embarrassment at the United Nations, where he has so far failed to win a much-coveted Latin American nonpermanent seat on the Security Council. Chávez had been working around the clock to win the seat, visiting more than 30 countries over the past year and donating more than $1.3 billion all over the world in exchange for promises to support Venezuela over U.S.-backed Guatemala in the U.N. vote.

Yet, when the voting started Monday, Venezuela -- which claimed to have the support of more than 100 countries, versus about 90 for Guatemala -- not only failed to get the needed 128 votes, but ended up far behind Guatemala. Since the voting is secret, it became apparent that many countries that received Venezuelan petrodollars had publicly supported Chávez but then voted secretly for Guatemala. Voting resumes today after a day off.

Read the rest.

The Hillary Killer?

Glenn Thrush of Newsday says Hillary's folks are watching Obama closely:

Clinton's allies, donors and operatives have always known that the charisma-dripping Democrat from Illinois was toying with a presidential run. But Obama's refusal to rule out a White House campaign sends shudders through the Clinton camp.

"They were in a tizzy about the possibility of Al Gore running, they were in a tizzy about Mark Warner and now they're in a tizzy about Barack Obama," said a Democratic operative with ties to Clinton.

Personally, I think Hillary might secretly relish a slug fest with Al Gore. Obama is a different matter. I have never seen anyone get such universal, sustained adulation by the media (David Brooks joins in this morning).

My favorite quote is by John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, and it's as true today as it was when he wrote it eight months ago:

"As far as the media are concerned, Obama walks on water. If he ever develops gas and burps, half the nation's newspapers will run front-page stories declaring his breath to be lavender. The other half will declare it to be peach. CNN's Wolf Blitzer will shout that it's a combination of the best peach and the best lavender."

Brilliant. And true.

A Correction

In a post yesterday I incorrectly asserted that Duke President Richard Broadhead had expelled members of the lacrosse team. He did not. I stand by my criticism of Broadhead's handling of the matter, but the error in my post is significant. My apologies.

October 18, 2006

Lessons of History

In case you missed it, yesterday afternoon we posted this story about Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman which deserves an additional mention.

The setting is New Year's Eve, 1862, one of the darkest moments of the Civil War, and President Lincoln is up late penning a final version of the Emancipation Proclamation to be issued the following day. Tell me the following passage does not strike you as it did me:

The fireworks thundered all night. Then, as the sun rose, the streets around the White House began to fill with citizens who had come from far and wide to greet Mr. Lincoln at the president's customary New Year's levee.

Lincoln did not drink, and in any case this was not a night for him to celebrate. Military dispatches from Murfreesboro, Tenn., were appalling. On December 31 the Rebels, led by General Braxton Bragg, had attacked William Starke Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland. "Our entire line suffered terribly this morning," said telegraph superintendent Colonel Anson Stager's telegram. "Four regiments of regulars lost half of their men, and all of their commanding officers....

Majors Rosengarten and Ward were killed, Generals Stanley, Rousseau and Palmer were wounded....The Fifteenth Wisconsin lost seven captains. General Negley's artillery is still mowing the rebels in the center." In his third dispatch Stager admitted, "The greatest carnage of the war has occurred." Soon the president, and the country, would learn that there were 24,000 casualties at Murfreesboro. Two weeks earlier at Fredericksburg, 18,000 soldiers had been killed and wounded, and the president had said, "If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it."

Walt Whitman's brother George, a first lieutenant under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's command, survived the Union disaster at Fredericksburg in December, advancing over a narrow turf the Rebels had so perfectly enfiladed that one gunner remarked, "A chicken could not live in that field when we opened on it." Walt called Burnside's charge "the most complete piece of mismanagement perhaps ever known in the earth's wars." Public confidence in the commander in chief collapsed, and his cabinet was at loggerheads, so that he was able to hold it together only by the most ingenious diplomacy.

"I am heartsick," lamented Senator William Pitt Fessendon of Maine, "when I think of the mismanagement of our army....There never was such a shambling, half-and-half set of incapables collected in one government before or since the world began." New York lawyer George Templeton Strong wrote in his famous diary: "Even Lincoln himself has gone down at last. Nobody believes in him any more."

One would hope this might serve as a lesson to those who bleat day in and day out with such certainty about the incompentence of this administration and its management of the war. History is long, and far more patient and circumspect than many of those who live in it. It will take a generation or more before we can get a proper view and make proper judgments about this President and his policies.

Hoyer's Apology

Steny apologizes for "slavishly" remark.

An emailer says the Hoyer episode brought back a memory:

I couldn't help but be reminded of the turning point in New York's 1992 Senate campaign. In that race, incumbent Al D'Amato trailed Robert Abrams, the state's attorney general, in the polls all year, until Abrams made an off-handed remark, calling D'Amato a "fascist." D'Amato, an Italian-American, and his supporters, immediately and vocally took offense, calling it an ethnic slur. They kept the issue alive for days, and Abrams was taken completely off-guard. After some prolonged fumbling, Abrams eventually apologized. But it was too late- D'Amato had gained the momentum and won a slim victory, in a terrible Republican year.

Could Steny Hoyer's "slavish" remark be Cardin's "fascist" moment?

Maybe, though it's somewhat different when a supporter/associate of a candidate makes this type of mistake than when the candidate does it himself (or herself). Still, if Cardin has one worry it's that African-Americans will defect to Steele, and Hoyer's unfortunate choice of words is just the type of thing that might increase the odds of that taking place.

I'm not sure if Steele is going to get any mileage out of this or not - but he's certainly trying. In that case, he might as well respond to Hoyer the same way D'Amato did to Abrams back in 1992: write a letter saying that "only when the political damage became too great did you offer an apology. I neither forgive nor excuse your behavior."

Kaus's Question

Still on fence patrol, Mickey Kaus asks: is George Bush ashamed to sign this bill?

This Just In...

War hero and POW John McCain survived five years of torture at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam but says he'd probably just "commit suicide" if he has to face a Congress controlled by Democrats.

He joking, of course, but you know what they say about every joke containing a seed of truth....

Comments on Gerrymandering

Some interesting emails on redistricting:

As a prospective Republican Congressional candidate in advance of the 1992 election, I witnessed the North Carolina redistricting process that the Wall Street Journal called, I think, "political pornography". Two "minority/majority" districts were created that ensured the election of 2 black Congressmen and those districts remain today. The net effect of this was the Balkanization of most of North Carolina's minority population, and this effort was done by a Democratic State House and Senate with the complicity of the then Bush 41 Justice Department. The result, which has been replicated through other parts of the country, has allowed Republicans to virtually assure themselves of a majority in the House and has allowed minority Democrats a similar luxury of assured reelection.

Look no further than the hard left within the Congressional Black Caucus to see what becomes of candidates who have no or token opposition. And Republicans are not without blame here either. By removing a largely monolithic voting block from diverse Congressional districts, redistricting has created largely white and quite conservative Districts, where there is also little or no opposition. And what do we get? Congressmen and Congresswomen who are primarily interested in appealing to their narrow bases back home. Only when both parties, or the Courts, realize the damage that this has done to our country, will some of the negative tenor of political discourse begin to subside. Sadly, I am not hopeful.


Gerrymandering may be anti-democratic, but at least it's being done by partisans who make no excuse for their partisanship. In the case of appointing retired judges (often the suggestion, as if former judges don't have their own political motives), the public is supposed to trust that such committees don't have their own agendas. I would rather have politicians whose motives are out in the open do the redistricting than unelected and accountable 'worthies' do the deed.

Conservatives love to argue against campaign finance reform, arguing (fairly in my view) that disclosure is the way to go. Voters can make up their own minds based in part of the identity of the donors to a given campaign. The same spirit should be at work in the case of redistricting. I would rather have politicians whose intent is plain to see as opposed to unaccountable committees. There is no such thing as an unbiased district map.


I think Jay Cost and Bruce Reed both missed the most insidious threat posed by gerrymandering and that is extremism. When parties have safe districts party extremists get elected. That has fueled the rancor that occurs in Congress and the dissatisfaction of the American electorate with Congress.

When the party extremist is elected over 50% of the electorate is bound to be disappointed. The partisans of the losing party grow increasingly embittered by their perpetual disenfranchisement. The moderates of both parties are often disappointed as well because the Congress is populated by extremists that are unwilling to agree on policies that seem obvious to the majority of the electorate.

The extremism in Congress means that most Congressmen think it is more important to take a stand than to be effective. Compromise is a weakness not strength. When one party won't compromise with the extremist legislators gain more power. If the Democrats won't compromise with the Republicans the details of legislation become more extreme because the party leaders can't afford to lose any votes from their right wing extremists. The same thing will occur if the Democrats gain power but it will be the left wing extremists that gain power.

Unfortunately under the present system we are perpetually condemned to swing from the radical right to the looney left. As a moderate Republican I am forced to support Republican candidates because I am more afraid of the anti-war left than I am the social reforms of the radical right. I'm sure many moderates of both parties are in the same position I am, forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

Three Weeks is a Long Time

Three weeks can be a lifetime in today's new media world, especially in a mid-term election like this one. At the very beginning of August, the RCP Generic Average in the congressional ballot gave the Democrats a solid double-digit edge in the 12%-14% range. Three weeks later on Aug 21st the RCP Average stood at Dems +5.6%. This was followed by a pullback toward the Dems before another surge by the GOP around the 9/11 anniversary and the White House's intense focus on terrorism related issues. Democrats were enjoying another pullback toward a 10-point lead when the Foley Scandal broke on September 29. In the almost three weeks since, Republicans have seen their momentum destroyed and have been utterly pushed back on their heels across the board.

In the last few days we have seen an increasing number of dramatic predictions of massive Democratic gains in November. National Journal's Charlie Cook is talking about a "once or twice in a generation election" like 1994 and 1974 where the incumbent party lost 52 and 49 seats. And Jim VandeHei writes in today's Washington Post:

Democrats said private polls have convinced top party officials that they could pick up 40 or more seats -- nearly double their internal projections from a week ago.....

So Cook and VandeHei are pumping the Democratic blowout line today, which is fine. But I don't know how much that tells us about what the playing field is going to look like in 19 days on November 6. Is it possible that 2006 is another 1994 or 1972 or 1932? Sure, it's possible. Is it likely? Well, that is another story.

Three weeks is a long time. The former trader in me asks: "at what point is the bad news priced in for the GOP?" And where is the Democratic wave talk going to go next? Are we going to see stories in a couple of weeks playing up Democratic prospects of winning 60-70 seats? Or is it more likely we will get a swing back to the GOP and see the inevitable stories wondering "Did the Democrats Peak Too Soon?"

My money would be on the latter. And if that is the case, what does that do to the analysis of where these extremely close races are really going to break?

While I won't discount the wheels totally falling off the GOP bus, and I acknowledge the possibility that Republicans could lose 30 - 40 seats, the evidence I see today ranks that as a lower probability than the GOP holding both Houses. In other words, Republicans have a better chance of retaining control of Congress than they do of losing the Senate and 40+ House seats. That may not be the conventional wisdom bantered about at the moment, but as I said, three weeks is a very long time.

What Duke's President Should Have Said

In case you weren't aware, on Saturday the University of Miami football team got into a hellacious on-field brawl during the middle of its game against Florida International University (you can see it all here on YouTube). Despite the nastiness of the episode, which resulted in the suspension of 13 Miami players (and another 18 from FIU), Donna Shalala, the former head of HHS who is now President of the University of Miami, appeared at a team press conference to defend her students:

''I believe that the young men we have recruited for our football team are young men of great character, but they did a very bad thing,'' Shalala said. ". . .It's time for me to say publicly that I believe in them, that I believe that they did something awful, but that I want them to continue at the University of Miami. And it's time for me to say to the community and to those that have been sending me e-mails that this university will be firm and punish people that do bad things.

"But we will not throw any student under the bus for instant restoration of our image or our reputation. I will not hang them in a public square. I will not eliminate their participation at the university. I will not take away their scholarships. . .

If only the President of Duke University, Richard Broadhead, had said something similar in the aftermath of the affair with the lacrosse team.

Cleary, what happened in Miami is vastly different than a he said-she said rape allegation, but Broadhead's knee-jerk reaction to believe the word of a stripper over his students, to cancel the season and expel members of the team from the University without giving them so much as a chance to defend themselves and prove their innocence is reprehensible and unforgivable.

As we've seen from watching the course of the investigation, it's looking more and more like three boys have had their lives destroyed by a false allegation put into the hands of an irresponsible and abusive prosecutor. Duke's President shares the blame - and the shame - for the way this case has gone by throwing these kids under the bus right from the start.

This Just In...

Another big scoop in today's New York Times: "The bellwether state of Ohio appears to have become hostile terrain for Republicans this year..."

Making a Horserace

Today's Arizona Republic offers a textbook example of the media's irresistible desire to create the drama of a horserace: "Pederson finds momentum in Senate race." Really? Where's the proof for that claim? Read the article and all you'll find is this:

Yes, he is on his third set of campaign inner-circle advisers, but he says his current team of young bare-knuckle go-getters was worth the wait. The first time he rolled through Sedona and Prescott last spring to campaign, only about five people showed up at either stop.

He has kept plugging away, and at this rally, in the middle of a workday, there are more than 50 fervent supporters cheering him on. Close to 100 meet him at another rally in Prescott on the same day.

It is this type of progress that fuels Pederson's disbelief in recent polls that have him consistently trailing by 9 to 10 points and buoys his belief that Arizona voters will turn out a three-term Republican incumbent.

Taking the word of the candidate who doesn't believe the polls is hardly solid ground for claiming he's got momentum. If Jon Kyl told the Arizona Republic he didn't believe the polls either and thought he was up by 20 points, would they run a headline that said "Kyl Crushing Pederson in Senate Race?" Obviously not.

If you look at the trendlines in the polls in this race, right now there is precious little evidence to suggest Pederson has "big mo." That's not to say definitively that Pederson doesn't have momentum or that he won't gain ground - indeed the natural tendency of any race is to tighten toward the end - only that the Arizona Republic offers nothing to support its claim.

Senate Debates Redux

In Washington state, incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell faced a more aggressive Mike McGavick last night in their second, and final, debate. Adding to last night's fun was the presence of Libertarian candidate Bruce Guthrie, who recently mortgaged his home to loan his campaign enough money to qualify for the debate. The Seattle PI reports that Guthrie gave an "earnest presentation of his sometimes out-of-the-mainstream views," but he won't be much of a factor in the end.

The latest poll in this race by SurveyUSA (10/13-10/15) showed some slight movement for McGavick, closing the gap from 12 points in September (42-54) to eight points this month (43-51), but the other polls are now three and four weeks old so we'll have to wait and see just how much tightening occurs. The rule is to never say never in politics, but in this particular state in this particular year, with only three weeks left it's very hard to see the incumbent losing.

All the way across the country in New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Tom Kean, Jr. mixed it up again yesterday on a radio debate. The two clashed on immigration and Iraq but, according to the Star-Ledger, the debate was relatively tame until the last 20 minutes when the moderator allowed the candidates to question each other directly:

That's when the program slid out of control as Menendez and Kean interrupted each other's answers and bandied back and forth such rejoinders as "That's just not true."

Amid the tumult, Menendez pointedly asked whether Kean, if he could go back to the 2004 presidential election, would vote for Bush or Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Kean said, "I've disagreed with this administration," but then acknowledged he would vote for President Bush.

When Kean asked Menendez about corruption allegations and a campaign appearance last week with Democratic state Sen. Wayne Bryant, who faces a federal inquiry into tax-paid jobs he holds outside the Legislature, Menendez lit into his opponent.

"You're campaign has been a campaign of smear," Menendez said. "You smear because you fear. ... You throw out allegations like most people throw out garbage."

Menendez currently leads Kean by 3.5% in the latest RCP Average, though I would expect to see more polls in this race very soon.

October 17, 2006

Gen. Dannatt's Declaration

There are a lot of ways to look at the "Revolt of the Generals" that reached its high point in the Tom Ricks book, "Fiasco." As I wrote on RCP last July, some of us, including me, can't understand how anyone can think them credible when none of the six generals involved raised their concerns, as they could have and should have, through the chain of command while they are on active duty. But however you judge these generals' credibility, you have to credit them for one thing: none of them publicly rebelled against civilian authority when on active duty. Which brings us to the outrageous conduct of Gen. Richard Dannatt, the chief of staff of the British Army.

In an interview with the UK's Daily Mail, Dannatt condemned the British presence in Iraq and suggested it end quickly. Here's the money quote:

He says with great clarity and honesty that "our presence exacerbates the security problems". "I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

"History will show that a vacuum was created and into the vacuum malign elements moved. The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra.

"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East.

"That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

Sir Richard adds, strongly, that we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. "As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

"That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

The problem with what Dannatt said isn't whether he's right or wrong. Britain is a democracy and national policy is made by civilians, not military officers. Military officers aren't elected: for them to dictate policy - as every American officer learns from the first day he enters ROTC, one of the military academies or officer training school - is tantamount to dictatorship. Every one of us has sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States even at the cost of our lives. Part of that is to preserve the subordination of the military to civilian command.

There is no compromise possible on civilian command. So far, British PM Tony Blair hasn't disciplined Dannatt. If he doesn't, the British general staff should resign en masse in protest. It's your duty, gentlemen.

GOP Doing Better in Northeast

If you notice on our updated House list, the highly targeted Republican incumbents in Connecticut and the Philly suburbs have dropped and appear to be a little more secure that they were over the summer. Of those six seats (CT2, CT-4, CT-5, PA-6, PA-7, PA-8) the GOP is actually in a position to potentially hold all six and could easily keep their losses to only two. Weldon and Shays appear the most vulnerable of that group on our list.

This seems to be the one geographic pocket of good news for Republicans and looks to be confirmed by the release of NPR-sponsored data from GQR and POS that shows the Northeast as clearly the region where Republicans are doing the best in contested house seats. The NPR poll has Republicans trailing in the named congressional ballot by 11% in the West, 8% in the Midwest and 11% in the South versus only 2% in the Northeast.

Jay commented on this a while back, speculating that perhaps Northeastern Republicans, who are always in for tough races, recognized this year would be particularly hard for them and thus have been campaigning aggressively for some time whereas some Republican incumbents in what are thought to be safer GOP districts might have gotten caught a little flat footed.

Another factor in the Connecticut races is that it now looks clear Joe Lieberman's independent bid for Senate is really helping the trio of Connecticut Republicans. It certainly would be ironic if the GOP held the House because of Ned Lamont's big August win.

Steny's Choice of Words

Did the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives (who is white) really tell a Maryland crowd that Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele (who is black) has had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party?" Unbelievably, the answer is "yep."

Class Warfare, Pay-Go, and the Democratic DNA

Most supply-siders and conservative pundits believe that if the Dems manage to take the House and Senate, President Bush's investor tax cuts will be safe because they have been extended to 2010.

Folks also think President Bush will veto any tax hike legislation that a new Democratic Congress might pass. Yes, yes, I believe Bush would definitely veto a direct tax hike bill. But the political story will be much more complicated than this.

Because if a Democratic Congress passes new "pay-as-you-go" rules, then the tax cuts will be severely jeopardized.

A revenue-oriented Pay-Go would show the static revenue loss each year that is scored by the Congressional Budget Office. This means that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, John Spratt and other Dems would be able to craft a so-called big bang deficit reduction package that would (falsely) cobble together spending cuts with tax revenue hikes.

President Bush might eventually be confronted with a Hobbesian choice of vetoing a so-called $500 billion dollar deficit reduction package that would overturn and rollback cap gains, dividends and the top income tax rate.

Inside the DNA of the Democratic party remains an obsessive desire to raise the income tax rate back to President Clinton's 39.6 percent. There exists a class warfare mentality that seeks to tax and penalize the rich. It is an obsessive, biological instinct to soak American success stories as some kind of Soviet style income leveling exercise that is supposed to make the non-rich feel better.

This is all nonsense--typical liberal left-wing pabulum.

The key point here is that Bush's tax cuts have done an amazing job in reigniting the U.S. economy. The 2003 tax cuts rallied the stock market, generated 6 ½ million new jobs, and have paid for themselves with soaring revenues that have, in turn, plunged the deficit. But this is all in jeopardy because of the potential of new pay-go rules.

I've checked with OMB budget officials on this. They confirm my green eyeshade memory from the days when I was President Reagan's associate budget director. Unfortunately, bad habits and bad thoughts have long shelf lives.

So, let me warn my fellow conservative friends and the investor class: a Democratic sweep come November will put Bush's hugely successful tax cuts front and center on the chopping block.

It's a sobering thought.

Initial Crunching of the FEC Numbers

This is a project I hope to do more thoroughly in the next couple of days -- but I thought I might just highlight some surprises I have found thus far on the Democratic side.

My "population" of Democratic seats thus far is the 18 Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents who populate Charlie Cook's toss-up category. The comparison is to those challengers of incumbents from 2004 who eventually raised the minimum amount of money to beat an incumbent that year ($1.5 million). I have not really had a chance to examine whether candidates in races considered to be marginal contests are on track to raise enough cash. This is the question that most interests me -- whether the FEC reports indicate that analysts are underestimating the current playing field. Nevertheless, here are some quick observations on these 18:

1. The average cash on hand for these 18 is about $250,000 larger than it was in 2004. So also is the median cash on hand. Overall, this group of challengers has a lot of money left for the final push.

2. The average total receipts for these 18 is about $450,000 larger than it was in 2004. So also is the median cash on hand. Overall, this group of challengers has been more adept at raising cash than the 2004 crop.

3. There are a few "stragglers" in terms of cash on hand -- some of which are surprising. Democratic challengers Joe Courtney in CT 02 and Steve Cranley in OH 01 have very little cash on hand left. Courtney only has about $210,000 in the bank. Cranley, believe it or not, only has $119,000 in the bank. I had to double check that figure. I just could not believe it. Their numbers are below both the median/mean of 2004 and 2006. This is especially surprising because they have raised more than the median/mean of 2004 and only a little less than 2006. This might be indicative of cash management troubles in these campaigns. I think this is bad news for Democrats in these races.

4. There are a few more "stragglers" in terms of funds raised. Joe Donnelly in IN 02, Brad Ellsworth in IN 08, Ken Lucas in KY 04, Chris Carney in PA 10 and Phil Kellam in VA 02 all have raised less than the mean/median of either 2006 or 2004. This, I think, is much less significant for Ellsworth and Carney because their opponents are, respectively, under-funded and under an informal public ethical scrutiny. They just need less cash because their opponents are, in varying respects, lousy. But I was very surprised to see Donnelly so under-funded, especially given the great poll numbers he has enjoyed. I know that Rahm Emanuel was working hard in the summer/fall to direct cash his way. But it might not matter against Chocola this year. I think the Democrats must be quite disappointed with both Lucas and Kellam -- who both face well-heeled opponents who do not have "baggage." Neither of them registered impressive fundraising totals by mid-Summer, and - while most of the underwhelming fundraisers in this 18 picked up the pace - these two continued to under perform.

If we take money to be a necessary, but insufficient, criterion for success - then this analysis probably dings Democratic prospects a little bit. 5 of these 18 candidates seem to have some problems. I think it could really matter for 4 of the 5.

However, the bigger question remains: how many Democratic challengers were able to do better-than-expected in terms of money? Are any marginal Democratic candidates in a position to come to the mainstream? Are these 5 the exception to a rule that will put a net of more seats on the table? I don't know yet. That will require a much more thorough sifting through the money data. Stay tuned.

Duckworth Strapped For Cash

Speaking of money, the latest filings are in and while it appears some Democrats are faring very well in the money race, Tammy Duckworth isn't one of them.

Despite having raised more money than Republican Peter Roskam this cycle overall ($2,846,923 to $2,459,989), Duckworth has only $200,000 in cash left for the last 21 days of the race. Roskam has over a million five sitting in the bank.

Eric Krol of the Daily Herald said Duckworth supporters were "left scratching their heads" at the news:

For Duckworth backers who might fear the campaign peaked too early, the response coming from her spokeswoman Monday wasn't too encouraging. Spokeswoman Christine Glunz said she didn't know how much money Duckworth has raised since Sept. 30 and didn't know when Duckworth would begin airing TV ads again. [snip]

Duckworth, a Hoffman Esates veteran who's running as a fiscal moderate, has spent her money on a large staff, expensive consultants and an early $1 million TV campaign designed to rebut a wave of attack ads run by the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Duckworth may be broke but she's not totally defenseless. Krol reports the DCCC is dropping $2.3 million in ads attacking Roskam that begin airing today. Still, given that Duckworth has already blown $2.6 million and the race is basically a dead heat, I would think Roskam has to be given the edge.

Rumors have been circulating that Roskam's internal polls show him up five points, and he is a well established figure in the district with a strong GOTV operation while Duckworth is a newcomer whose organization is mostly hired hands brought in by Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC.

This Just In...

RNC dumps $700k into ads opposing Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

Updated RCP House and Senate Rankings

We have updated our Senate and House rankings this morning. A couple of small changes on the Senate side. First, Ohio has have moved to "Lean Democrat" from the "Toss Up" category. It had been our opinion that Sherrod Brown's very liberal record in the Ohio congressional delegation would provide enough fodder for DeWine to keep this race close and coupled with the Republican GOTV make this race a toss up on election day. It may get back there, but it looks like the Republican Party's implosion in Ohio is just becoming too much for DeWine to overcome. Today's Quinnipiac poll shows DeWine moving from essentially tied in mid-September (Brown 45% - DeWine 44%) to down a sizable 12-points. Granted this is only one poll, and a Rasmussen Reports survey taken over the same time gives Brown only a 6-point lead. But with the RCP Average now at Brown +6.8%, and climbing, and with Strickland headed for a huge win in the governor's race, Sherrod Brown has to be considered the favorite.

In Montana, we have bumped Conrad Burns down to only the fourth most endangered incumbent. RCP still has the race rated "Leans Democrat" but, perhaps tellingly, Tester has not been able to put Burns away. The conservative tilt to Montana and the fact that Burns can probably expect strong national support from the GOP down the stretch gives Republicans a shot to hold this seat.

The current RCP Senate Averages project a six seat pick up for the Democrats - but that is with Missouri and Tennessee showing Democratic leads of only 1.4% and 0.8%, and these races are just too close to give either side a clear advantage. Projecting only those races where one party has greater than a 3.5% lead in the RCP Average points to a 4-6 seat pickup for Democrats in the Senate.

On the House side the polling is a lot more suspect. A rough count of RCP's updated House list looks like the Democrats would pickup some where in the neighborhood of 13 - 19 seats (they need 15 for control.) If the final three weeks of the election continue to go the same way the last fourteen days have gone for Republicans, that number could go a lot higher. But the odds would favor a pendulum swing back toward the GOP at least once in the next few weeks.

John Hostettler and Don Sherwood are the only incumbents to crack the Top 5 most vulnerable Republican held seats, and as of today it is hard to see how either of them wins. Indiana State University released a poll this week of 625 likely voters showing Hostettler down 23 points, and while he is almost certainly not down that much, Hostettler's 19th century brand of campaigning may finally catch up to him this year. In Pennsylvania 10, Sherwood's affair and assault allegation in the post-Foley environment looks likely to end his congressional career. The only other incumbent in the Top 10 is NRCC chair Tom Reynolds in New York 26 who looks to be the second direct casualty of the Mark Foley scandal, right after Foley's own seat in Florida's 16 Congressional district.

Numbers 11-20 on the list is where the House will likely be won or lost. In that group of ten seats there are eight Republicans incumbents: Ohio 15 (Deb Pryce), Indiana 2 (Chris Chocola), Pennsylvania 7 (Curt Weldon), North Carolina 11 (Charles Taylor), Connecticut 4 (Chris Shays), Indiana 9 (Mike Sodrel), New Mexico 1 (Heather Wilson), and Pennsylvania 6 (Jim Gerlach). If half of these embattled GOP incumbents can hold on, Republicans stand a good chance of hanging on to the House - but just barely.

The Parlavecchio Letter

Randy Bergmann, the editorial page editor of the Asbury Park Press, writes on his blog that Bob Menendez once did an interesting piece of "constituent service:"

In 1998, back when U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez was Rep. Menendez, he wrote a letter to federal prison officials asking that a father and son who were in jail on racketeering and drug charges be allowed to transfer to a facility closer to home, allowing them to be reunited at Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institute. A Menendez spokesman said the then-congressmen had no relationship with the mobsters, Nicholas and Antonino Parlavecchio, and that writing the letter on behalf of prisoners seeking transfers so visitation would be more convenient was not unusual.

Interesting, no? Especially since Menendez is now running a brutal ad against Tom Kean, Jr. for getting some oppo research on Menendez from a Democrat who is sitting behind bars.

Amy Fagan writes in the Washington Times this morning that Republican hopes of winning in NJ hinge on corruption charges against Menendez. But Kean has been pushing the corruption argument against Menendez since the day the news broke back in early September and after an initial round of polls showed him jumping out to a slight lead, Menendez has moved ahead in nearly every poll taken in the last three weeks and is up 3.5% in the most recent RCP Average.

October 16, 2006

Media Alert

I am going to be on Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 tonight with Roll Call's Mort Kondracke and the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page from 8:30 to 9:30pm Chicago time tonight. Listen live here.

A Thin Reid

Harry Reid will amend his filing to the Senate Ethics committee to make a more full and accurate accounting of his sweetheart Las Vegas land deal. Meanwhile, he's also now going to rectify a "clerical error" which saw Reid use $3,300 in campaign contributions to pay Christmas bonuses to the staff at the Ritz-Carlton building where he lives in an "upscale" condominium.

The AP quotes the former chief enforcement lawyer of the FEC as saying Reid looked to be exploiting a "gray area" in the law:

"What makes this harder for the senator is that this is his personal residence and this looks like an event that everybody else at the residence is taking out of their personal money as they're living there."

Amendments, clerical errors and gray areas. Not exactly the type of pre-election storyline Dems want to see surrounding their leader in the Senate.

Taking Shots at Joe

Lieberman and Lamont met today to debate for the first time since before the August 8 primary. Republican Alan Schlesigner was on stage as well, despite the fact he's only polling at 4%. According to the write up from the Associated Press both Schlesinger and Lamont took turns whacking Lieberman, though Lamont did apologize for the charge made by one of his supporters last week that Lieberman had lied about his civil rights record. (If you're interested, here's the spin from the Lamont camp and the Lieberman camp, respectively.)

Lieberman continues to cruise along in the polls, up a handsome 12.4% in the latest RCP Average.

More DeWine Push Back

Ken Mehlman pushes back further on the Nagourney piece in a 'hastily arranged' press conference (via The Hotline):

"So I wanted to correct the record, make clear that Ohio remains a top priority. And as I said, no state will receive more resources out of the RNC anywhere in the country than the state of Ohio this year. And there is millions more to spend in the coming three weeks, both on turnout and on message."

Saddam's Impact

Will Saddam Hussein's verdict have an impact on the U.S. election? It could be possible.

A Bit More on Today's Column

I have received some excellent comments, in the constructively critical vein, from people today about my column that operationalizes the Big 3 rankers.

A criticism that is worth discussing is whether I can come up with the averages that I did. The averages that I came up with are dependent upon the assumption that each House race is statistically independent of every other House race. In some instances, relatively few, this is a problematic assumption for my column. In others it is not.

First off - what does it mean for one observation to be statistically independent of another? It means that the observation of a "success" in one instance makes the observation of a "success" in another instance neither more nor less probable.

When would it be problematic? Take, for instance, the races in PA 06 and PA 07. These are in the same media market, and one race might be affecting another race. In that instance, we might not be able to consider them independent of one another. Democratic success in PA 06 could help induce Democratic success in PA 07.

But what about, say, FL 22 and IL 06? Is the race in Miami affecting the race in Chicago? Certainly not in a causal sense. To say that FL 22 causes IL 06 is to make a spurious causal claim. In fact, a set of causes is affecting both FL 22 and IL 06, which have no causal affect upon one another. Causally speaking, they are independent of one another. Provided that we have delineated all of the causes that are affecting these races, they are also statistically independent of one another, too.

The proviso of the last sentence is the important point. Think of it this way. Suppose we had, in the first instance, perfect information about the probability that FL 22 would switch to the Democrats, and perfect information about the probability that IL 06 would switch to the Democrats. In the second instance - we find that FL 22 switches. Would we change our estimate of IL 06? No. We would not. Why? Because we already had perfect knowledge about everything that causes IL 06. FL 22 is not one of those causes, and therefore the result in FL 22 does not induce a change in our probability distribution.

On the other hand, if we had, in the first instance, imperfect information about both races, and we found that FL 22 had indeed switched, would we change our opinion about IL 06? We might. If we believe that IL 06 and FL 22 are caused by the same set of forces, a "success" in FL 22 might incline us to update our prediction of a "success" in IL 06. This is akin to what social scientists call Bayesian updating of prior beliefs.

In other words, the column came down to the perfection of information - or, more specifically, the amount of stock you are willing to put into the rankings of the rankers. The rankers have weighed all of the various causal forces affecting each race, and have grouped them based upon those causes. If they have fully and properly delineated and weighed those causal forces, then any variation within their categories should be random. Therefore how one race goes in a given column has no effect on how another race goes.

The "if" in the last sentence is the heart of the issue. And I punted on that one. I said:

Before we get into this - note that this should not be taken as an endorsement of any of these rankings. The idea here is that I am correcting the conventional wisdom based upon the data it most frequently uses. I am not making any comments about whether that data is valid.

This was not a cheap, sophistic move on my part. It was consistent with my overarching analytical question: given that the media uses these rankings to analyze these races, do they have reasons to predict a 25+ seat blow-out? The answer is no. To argue that we should expect something more dramatic, they must be presuming that these rankers have made many pro-Republican errors in their assignments of probabilities. Have they done that? Perhaps. But the point is that this assumption violates their other assumption: that Cook, Rothenberg and CQ are valid guides. To "expect" 25 seats, rather than 15 to 18 - is to disagree with them. You are, of course, free to do that. But don't use them as your evidence for that expectation! That was my point.

Another "Denial Denial"...

...this one from Frist.

More on DeWine

A reader points out that this version of the New York Times story on DeWine has a , linked via the Columbus Dispatch, has a very interesting addition.

But Robert T. Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said he did not believe the reports.

"Somebody's giving out some bad information," Bennett told The Dispatch last night. "That's crazy. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that at all.

"That's contrary to what the polls say, and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has access to the same polls that I see. You don't get out of a 5-point race."


The GOP Giving Up on DeWine?

That's the story this morning from The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, who leads off an otherwise newsless and self-evident article (Basic thesis: the parties are strategic utility maximizers. My reaction: Wow...what a scoop! We haven't known that for 20+ years!) with this explosive lead:

Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year's fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said.

The decision to effectively write off Mr. DeWine's seat, after a series of internal Republican polls showed him falling behind his Democratic challenger, is part of a fluid series of choices by top leaders in both parties as they set the strategic framework of the campaign's final three weeks, signaling, by where they are spending television money and other resources, the Senate and House races where they believe they have the best chances of success.

This is extremely surprising -- so surprising that I cannot help but wonder if there is more to the story than this. We'll take it for granted that DeWine is falling behind in their internal polls - though last week the Bliss Institute's poll found him with a slight lead. What I find hard to believe is that the GOP would believe that it is an acceptable strategy for holding the Senate to do the following:
Republicans are now pinning their hopes of holding the Senate on three states -- Missouri, Tennessee and, with Ohio off the table, probably Virginia -- while trying to hold on to the House by pouring money into districts where Republicans have a strong historical or registration advantage, party officials said Sunday. Republicans also said they would run advertisements in New Jersey this week to test the vulnerability of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the few Democrats who appear endangered.
The GOP has decided that their best chance for holding the Senate is to focus on just three races? Ostensibly, they have already ceded 4 seats in all -- PA, MT, RI and now OH. That means they have to go at least 2 for 3 in these three contests. That sounds awfully risky to me.

What is more, one has to guess that the GOP knows that, ultimately, political advertising has a diminishing marginal return. One dollar does not yield a constant return of votes, thanks to the advertising "din" that is created in October. So how does pouring their vast fortunes into 3 races maximize the probability that they hold the Senate?

This article indicates that resources are going to be redirected from Ohio to Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. That's a rational thing to do if and only if the marginal redirected dollar will do more to help the party in these other states than in Ohio. So - it is not simply enough for DeWine's chances to be falling on the wayside. It also requires that, given these falling chances, the marginal dollar is best spent in these other races rather than in the DeWine race. This implies that the party was not already going to spend everything it felt it should in these other states, which in turn implies that their resources are relatively scarce -- which is exactly the opposite of what we have been hearing from them for months. Giving up on a race that is still probably winnable - even if the chance of victory is now at 33%, for instance - is something that a party does when it is suffering from scarce resources. And that is not one of the many GOP problems this year.

And of course, this does not take into account the fact that The Washington Post on Friday reported that the GOP was making Ohio part of its Waterloo-type stand. On Friday -- the final stand was to be made in Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee. Today -- it is to be made in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. Nagourney indicates that this is part of a "fluctuating" Republican strategy -- and he wasn't kidding!

Nor, for that matter, does it take into account the story last week from David Espo indicating that the NRC was involving itself in the Ohio Senate race, stepping on the toes of the NRSC in the process. Espo wrote:

In an unusual move, the Republican National Committee is investing heavily in television advertising in Senate races in Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri in what officials describe as a firewall strategy designed to limit Democratic gains in the Nov. 7 elections and maintain the GOP majority.
So - DeWine has gone from fire wall to down-in-flames in less than a week? It was so important to hold his seat that the RNC was stepping on the NRSC's toes -- and now they are pulling up stakes?

Nor for that matter does it take into account a subsequent paragraph in the article:

Republicans said they remained confident that the party's considerable financial advantage would allow them to hold back a Democratic onslaught over the next three weeks, and they said they were preparing to spend significantly to bulk up any Republican who their polling over the next few days suggested might be faltering.
How does this sort of strategic principle not cover the DeWine race? Did I not read just a few paragraphs up that DeWine is indeed faltering? Did DeWine insult Mehlman's tie or something last week?!

I think there is something more to the story -- and whatever that "more" is, it exists in the undetailed details implicit to this paragraph:

Mr. DeWine has proved to be a successful fund-raiser on his own, and, with $4.5 million on hand, already enjoys a large financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, Representative Sherrod Brown; he is not dependent on financial support to keep campaigning. The Republican National Committee and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee have already spent $4.6 million on his race; party officials said they concluded that there were now simply more opportune races to focus on.
Maybe, then, the Times is drawing the wrong inference from their sources. Maybe they are interpreting Republican accounting procedures (i.e. the party being satisfied with the overall amount spent between the RNC, the NRSC and DeWine) as news of DeWine's demise. This paragraph certainly reads differently from the opener, does it not? This one reads as though DeWine is in fairly good financial shape, and the GOP is moving on to less well-heeled candidates. That certainly makes more sense.

Minimally, there seems to me to be a tension between different paragraphs of this story. And it is obvious that there are tensions between this story and the news from last week. Unfortunately, the agents who could clear it up for us, the national Republican organizations, will not do it because,

Brian Nick, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, "The committee doesn't discuss internal strategy in terms of where financial resources are allocated."

October 15, 2006

GOP Problems Hit Minnesota

On Friday in our updated analysis of the Minnesota Senate race we suggested that:

Kennedy's problems may be a warning sign for Minnesota Republicans in both the Governor's race and Kennedy's current House seat MN-6. Both of these races Republicans were felt to have the edge, but current polls indicate toss-ups.

Today the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a new poll out giving DFL candidate Mike Hatch a 9-point lead over Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The Star-Tribune's polls typically skew towards the Dems; their final Senate poll in the Coleman-Mondale race in 2002 gave Mondale a 5-point lead, he ended up losing by 3. In 2004 their final poll had Kerry ahead by 8-points, he won by only three. And then finally in Pawlenty's first race for Governor in 2002 he did 5 points better on election day than the Star-Tribune's final poll.

All of this is meant to point out that the 9-point lead for Hatch is probably fairly overstated. The RCP Average currently has Hatch with a 2.3% lead, which we suspect is far closer to where this race truly stands. And while down 2.5% is better than being down nine, it's not great for a Governor that many were playing up as a possible VP candidate in 2008. If the wheels don't completely come off for the GOP in these last three weeks we suspect Pawlenty will still pull it out, but he clearly finds himself caught up in the national GOP problems.

This race and the Michigan Governor's race is just another data point that gives you a good idea which way the political wind is blowing. Pawlenty who most felt was safe to hold his seat is now in real a dog fight to keep his job and Granholm in Michigan looks like she has reestablished her footing in a race the GOP had hopes for only 4-6 months ago.

The Pre-Mortem

Glenn Reynolds lays out six reasons the GOP is in trouble this cycle before concluding:

At the end of this process, the Republicans have managed to leave every segment of the base unhappy, mostly over things that weren't even all that important. It's as if they had some sort of bizarre death wish. Looks like the wish will come true . . . .

As I've said before, the Republicans deserve to lose, though alas the Democrats don't really deserve to win, either. I realize that you go to war with the political class you have, but even back in the 1990s it was obvious that we had a lousy political class. It hasn't improved, but the challenges have gotten greater. Can the country continue to do well, with such bad political leadership? I hope so, because I see no sign of improvement, no matter who wins next month.

I'm surprised profligate spending isn't on Glenn's list, because I think it points to a broader problem that connects a lot of the dots. Clearly, part of what has been so depressing to the GOP base is that there is a sense that in just 12 short years Republicans have surrendered some of the fundamental principles which swept many into office in the first place.

It is, as I've written before, a case of unfulfilled expectations. Conservatives have worked hard over the years to elect people who promised to change the culture in Washington D.C. Instead, it looks as if the culture of Washington changed them.

October 13, 2006

Adwatch '06: Fitzpatrick vs. Murphy

This is fairly devastating new stuff from incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick's campaign against Democratic challenger Pat Murphy in PA08:

Murphy's latest video is a 90-second attack against Fitzpatrick over stem-cells:

Santorum's Aggressiveness

Here's a take from someone who thought Santorum KO'd Casey last night. I agree with the point that Santorum's aggressiveness seemed to be a very deliberate strategy which he used to beat on Casey during the debate and then tried to reframe to his advantage in his closing statement when he said:

"I'm a passionate guy. I'm tough, I'm a fighter. But you know what? I'm an Italian kid from a steel town. What do you expect from me? I'm a guy who had to grow up having to scratch and claw. I wasn't born into a family that had a great name. My dad's an immigrant to this country. I've worked hard, just like you do in western Pennsylvania to fight for the things you believe in."

Maybe Santorum's performance will play with voters, maybe it won't. But even if it does, last night isn't likely to change any of the underlying dynamics in this race, all of which are still working against him. Three weeks out from the election Santorum is an incumbent who is polling between 36-41%. Those numbers indicate fundamental problems with his candidacy which are unlikely to be remedied by a single debate performance - no matter how good it might have been strategically.

Family Law

Deb Price examines whether lawmakers are skirting the rules when they bring spouse and/or family members along on trips.


That's the title of the new strategy memo by James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Ana Iparraguirre of Democracy Corps based on new polling in the 49 most competitive Republican-held congressional districts. They write:

We do not often get to write such a report -- changes so large over such a short period that they certainly portend a whole new playing field for the November election. This survey of 1,200 likely voters was conducted in only Republican-held seats, yet Democrats are ahead by 4 points overall in the named congressional vote (49 to 45 percent); indeed, they are ahead by 2 points (48 to 46 percent) in the bottom tier of presumably safest seats.

This vote represents a dramatic change in the state of the race over the last two weeks. The end of the Congress -- with the increased pessimism and anger about Iraq and the Foley scandal and subsequent partisan brawl -- has moved voters to shift their assessments of the parties and their votes. The 1994 election broke at the end; this one just broke. The shift is evident on every indicator -- party, Bush, war, intensity and morale.

The authors go on to say they believe Democrats "have a chance to consolidate gains large enough to affect congressional control over this decade." Read the rest of memo (pdf) and the full poll results (pdf) and judge credibility of that claim for yourself.

Rod's Bad Week

While we're on the subject of corruption, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is having one hell of a week. On Tuesday he pulled out of a debate scheduled for 10/26. The next day he refused to answer repeated questions about whether he's hired a defense lawyer to fend off an ongoing criminal probe.

On Thursday, of course, the Governor's longtime pal Tony Rezko was indicted. Today, Rezko failed to show up for court and is now considered a "fugitive."

Rod is sticking to the "I was lied to" defense, claiming his problem isn't seedy associations with corrupt individuals but naivete. But Rich Miller lays that defense bare in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Once again, Illinoisans are forced to wonder whether their governor is an idiot or a crook or an idiotic crook. You've no doubt heard that Gov. Blagojevich's buddy Tony Rezko was indicted by the feds this week for numerous public corruption capers.

Rezko was the ultimate Rod Blagojevich insider. He raised millions of dollars for Blagojevich's campaign fund. After the election, Rezko recommended tons of people for big-time state jobs. He got people appointed to state boards and commissions, including some who "coincidentally" contributed large sums of money to Blagojevich's campaign right around the time of their appointments. There have been many such "coincidences" in the last four years.

But Rezko was more than just a political pal. Much more. Rezko was one of the governor's most trusted friends. Rezko had an eight-year business partnership with the governor's wife. They attended personal and family events together.

Rezko also appears on the governor's gift disclosure report. Actually, Rezko wasn't listed on the report until Blagojevich was visited by his friendly neighborhood FBI agents, and then suddenly the form was amended.

The Topinka campaign is finally energized and on the attack, though as I said the other day it remains unclear just how much the Rezko indictment is going to help her. This story is all over the place right now, and it could remain there for a while longer especially if Blagojevich tries to go into hiding.

Blagojevich is also still dealing with the fallout from the $1,500 gift given to his young daughter on behalf of a longtime friend that came just two weeks after a job appointment (watch the video of Rod staring blankly, stumbling and simply unable to answer reporters's questions on the matter here) and from questions about the curious nature of the recent property tax assessment on his house.

We should have new polls out in this race soon which hopefully will shed a bit of light just how much Rod's bad week has hurt.

The Election, The Spin and The Expectations Game

One consequence of the Foley scandal is that election expectations have skyrocketed for Democrats. Last week in Roll Call Stuart Rothenberg wrote: "The national atmospherics don't merely favor Democrats; they set the stage for a blowout of cosmic proportions next month." This week the National Journal's Charlie Cook writes: "The fact that the situation has turned grim for the GOP can hardly be disputed......for Republicans to salvage their majorities in the House and Senate, quite a bit would have to change"

After Speaker Hastert's press conference one week ago David Shuster reported to Chris Mathews:

Every Republican that we spoke to today said this has almost guaranteed that the Republicans are not going to keep control of Congress.

If this is anything like Shuster's reporting on Karl Rove's imminent indictment in the Plamegate scandal, perhaps Republicans are a lock to hold onto Congress. But that is another story.

George Will got into the act as well:

If after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain (the House), they should go into another line of work.

Howard Fineman added:

If the Democrats can't take the Hill now, they deserve to go the way of the Whigs.

So what happens if we wake up Wednesday morning after the election and the Democrats have failed to take either chamber on Capitol Hill? Given the expectations that have been hyped these last two weeks (and really the entire year), it is not going to be hard for Republicans and President Bush to claim an enormous victory.

The reality will not be quite that black and white, of course. In many ways the absolute worst thing for the GOP (not necessarily President Bush) would be to hold Democratic gains in the House to 13 seats and go into the next Congress with a totally unmanageable four-vote majority. It can credibly be argued they would be better off for so many different reasons to lose 17 seats and give Nancy Pelosi the unenviable chore of managing a four-seat majority.

Holding the Senate has higher strategic value for Republicans, even if it comes with Vice President Cheney voting to break a 50-50 tie. However, in the bigger historical picture losing 4 or 5 Senate seats is hard to spin as good news for the GOP given early expectations in this cycle. Democrats were defending six states they won with 51% or less in 2000, including Florida and Nebraska - both winnable races for the GOP if they had just fielded their best candidates. The same can be said of North Dakota, which in total gave the GOP seven states they should have been able to make very competitive this election. Instead Republicans are stuck hoping that Menendez's ethical lapses in New Jersey will keep them from being totally shut out.

Now to be fair elections don't occur in vacuums and the relatively poor job approval numbers for President Bush, voter frustration over the mess in Iraq along with the 6-yr midterm trends in favor of the out party are rather powerful forces working for the Democrats. And at the end of the day strategizing Senate cycles into the future is only of so much value because of the tendency of the real world to intrude. September 11, 2001 is a perfect example.

It can argued both ways which party benefits more from winning control of the Senate or the House in 2006, but what really can't be disputed given the expectations and hype that have preceded this election is that a failure of the Democrats to capture at least one chamber in the next Congress will be seen as a victory for President Bush. And if that were to happen that would make him 4 for 4 in elections since 2000, something his critics should ponder.

The Party is Over for Bob Ney

Republican Congressman Bob Ney pled guilty to taking bribes from Jack Abramoff in federal court today. He's facing up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 worth of fines.

Among those connected to Abramoff's extra-legal largesse, Ney is unique in that it was well known he was person referred to as "Representative #1" in Abramoff's January plea agreement. Since that time, I 've often wondered why Ney never showed enough decency or loyalty to the Republican party to step aside earlier. Consider the arc of the Ney story over the last ten months:

- January 3: Exposed as Representative #1 in Abramoff guilty plea
- January 20: Announces bid for reelection
- May 2: Wins primary in OH-18 with 68% of the vote
- May 18: House Ethics Committee announces investigation
- August 14: Withdraws from race
- September 15: News of guilty plea becomes public
- October 12: Pleas guilty in federal court

In retrospect it looks even worse, because Ney lied his way through the primary protesting his innocence even though he probably had a pretty good idea even at that point that he wasn't going to beat the rap against him. (The Republican leadership bears some of the blame as well for not taking a stronger stand against Ney earlier, by the way).

Through a combination of arrogance, ambition, and corruption Ney has arrived at the worst of all possible outcomes: he's going to prison next year as a convicted felon, and by dragging out the process (culminating with a guilty plea 3 weeks before the midterm elections) he's done about as much damage as he could possibly do to the Republican party under the circumstances.

Quote of the Day

"It's going to be nice not to have Hugo Chavez across the Connecticut River representing Vermont at-large. Bernie Sanders and his Sander-nistas should go back to taxi-driving in the Bronx of New York City, where they came from to begin with." - Republican Charlie Bass, caught on tape at a private fundraiser taking a jab at Bernie Sanders.

Bass's opponent, Paul Hodes, called the remarks offensive, but Bass responded: "I guess it's just a reflection on the fact that you can't really have fun anymore in a campaign. I had no ill will of any sort against anybody or any place or anything. It was all said as a couple of introductory lines in jest. I apologize if anybody was offended, but quite honestly I just think we've reached a point where you can't make a joke."

Courage Under Fire

As a follow up to my post the other day, here's another story worth reading: " NH Guardsman wins Silver Star for valor while under fire."

This Just In...

Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post reports the Dems have taken a liking to the "politics of personal destruction" in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.

Harry's Hang Up

The details surrounding the Las Vegas land deal of Minority Leader Harry Reid that exploded onto the scene Tuesday afternoon may or may not turn out to be unethical. The most fascinating part of the story so far, at least to me, is the one that's been least commented on: the hang up.

Hang ups come in a few different varieties. There's the accidental "I had the phone pinched between my shoulder and my ear and hit the wrong button" hang up, and there's also the "I'm so enraged I can't stand it any more" slam the phone down hang up.

Harry's hang up was different. It was an "I'm above answering these questions from you" type of hang up, and one that could be fairly characterized as a bizarre mixture of petulance and contempt.

Let's assume for the moment that the land deal is exactly what Harry Reid says it is: a simple, straightforward, perfectly legal transaction that is being misreported or blown out of proportion. Why on earth wouldn't Reid simply state as much for the record? He could have said "we've been over all this before," or he could have said "you are way off base." Heck, he could have said just about anything. Instead, Reid hung up.

If you believe actions speak louder than words, what are we to make of the fact that the most powerful Democratic elected official in the country feels like he can just hang up in the middle of a tape recorded interview with the largest news syndicate in America?

Florida 13

A month ago I speculated about the negative effect Katherine Harris is having in her old Congressional district. Things have only gotten worse since then.

This week Democrat Christine Jennings released another poll showing her lead over Republican Vern Buchanan expanding to 12 points (50-38) from eight points last month. Also this week, a new independent poll by RT Strategies/Constituent Dynamics shows Jennings leading Buchanan by four (47-44).

So is Jennings really ahead? I think so, especially since this is how Buchanan's spokesperson responded to the Jennings poll:

Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts disputed the poll's findings but would not release any poll numbers to refute it.

"Our internal polling shows that the momentum is on Vern's side," she said, adding that Buchanan's polls show him "within the statistical margin of error."

Again, the only poll that counts is the one taken on election day, and Republicans have a solid registration advantage in the district, so it comes down to a matter of turnout. With Charlie Crist running strong in the Governor's race but Katherine Harris lagging badly in the Senate contest, the GOP ticket in Florida is a mixed bag - especially for Buchanan in Harris's old district. If Buchanan does manage to pull this one out, it'll only be by a hair.

Three Big Debates

There were some big senate debates last night. Here are the round ups:

Pennsylvania - Santorum vs. Casey: The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized the debate as "barroom brawl - minus the fists." And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was even more descriptive

The two candidates interrupted each other, talked over each other, ignored time limits, ignored the moderator and generally stopped just short of playground name-calling and shin-kicking.

To say that KDKA moderator Ken Rice lost control of yesterday's debate between U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and state Treasurer Bob Casey would be fallacious, because it suggests that he ever had control to begin with.

Reading the two round ups it looks as if Santorum got the better of Casey, but it doesn't seem as if he landed any knockout blows or that Casey made any life-threatening gaffes.

The most recent Morning Call poll with Casey up only 5 points has given Santorum some hope, but other recent polls show him trailing by twice that, and he's behind by 9.8% in the RCP Average.

Washington - Cantwell vs. McGavick: The Seattle Times describes their short 30-min debate as "frosty but civil." Right after the debate in Spokane the two candidates met again before the editorial board of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. The Seattle PI reports that "Neither candidate landed any crippling blows during the two polite face-offs....That wasn't good news for McGavick, who needs something to boost his lagging poll numbers."

Cantwell does have this race pretty much in hand at the moment, leading by 9.4% in the RCP Average.

Montana - Burns vs. Tester: The Helena Independent Record says the two men disagreed "pointedly" about every issue except one (not invading North Korea) before a packed house last night.

Tester has maintained a small but stable lead in this race all year long, and at the moment there doesn't seem any reason to believe that won't continue through the last three weeks. Tester leads Burns by 5.0% in the latest RCP Average.

October 12, 2006

UNH Granite Poll

A new UNH Granite Poll (pdf) shows McCain continuing to lead the race for 2008 in New Hampshire with 32%. Giuliani remains in second with 19%, and Mitt Romney has moved up to 15% from the high single digits into third place. Fourteen percent remain undecided. On the Dem side it is Hillary 30%, Edwards 16%, Gore 10%, Kerry 9%, Biden 5%, Clark 4%, and 17% undecided.

Brit Army Chief Drops Bomb on Blair

General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff of the British Army, blasts Tony Blair (and, by association, George Bush) on Iraq in a just-released interview with the Daily Mail, saying the Brits should get out "sometime soon." More from the Daily Mail:

But it is Sir Richard's views of the situation in Iraq that will enrage Downing Street.

He says clearly we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems."

"We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear."

As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time.

"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

"That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them." [snip]

"I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning," he said.

"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East."

"That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naïve hope history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

This is not some leftwing Labour backbencher. It's the head of the army of our closest and most loyal ally in Iraq saying we should "get out sometime soon." How much this will affect the debate in the U.S. is hard to say, but it's certainly difficult to characterize Dannatt as a "cut and run" type.

SurveyUSA Shows Movement Toward Dems in OH & MO Senate Races

On Tuesday, SurveyUSA released polls in Tennessee and Kentucky that showed post-Foley movement toward Republicans. Tonight they have released polls in Missouri and Ohio that show movement toward Democrats. Ohio's Senate poll moved four points toward Sherrod Brown and now has him with a 14-point lead over Mike DeWine, considerably higher than the RCP Average that has Brown ahead 5.7%. In Missouri, SurveyUSA shows an 8-point move toward Democrat Claire McCaskill giving her a 51% to 42% lead, - again, considerably higher than the RCP Average which stands at McCaskill +1.8%.

So in the Midwest, in four competitive contests in post-Foley surveys from the same polling firm, we have two polls that show 5 and 7 point moves toward Republicans and two polls with 4 and 8 point moves toward the Democrats. I spoke to SurveyUSA's Jay Leve earlier today and he likened the situation to a "bubbling hot tub" where there are no real discernible trends toward either party but rather independent races each going their own way for their own reasons.

FOX News released a generic poll late today that contained (relatively) good news for the GOP as their congressional generic ballot actually moved two points toward Republicans from their last poll in late August. The bad news for Republicans is the RCP Generic Average stands nearly six points higher and gives Democrats a sizable 14.8% lead.

Web 2.0 and Disappearing YouTube Videos

In light of the disappearance of the Zucker video earlier this week lampooning Madeline Albright and the Clinton administration's approach to North Korea and the Harry Reid video experience today on YouTube this is an interesting article by Robert Cox in the Washington Examiner.

If you doubt the Internet is causing a sea change in politics, just ask "independent" Senate candidate Joe Lieberman, who came out on the wrong end of a blogger-fueled campaign for the Democratic nomination in Connecticut.

That was no accident.

In the waning days of Howard Dean's abortive presidential campaign, I met many of the talented folks who played a role in turning the Dean Web site into a powerful fundraising tool that propelled an unknown candidate into the national spotlight. At various blogging conferences since, I have had the opportunity to observe many of these bright minds strategizing on how to best leverage the emerging world of blogs and other "social networking" services known as "Web 2.0" to advance their liberal political agenda and win elections.

Their common refrain: "We need to own the Internet the way the right owns talk radio."

A-List blogger and talk radio show host Hugh Hewitt's response was typical: "It doesn't matter who creates the tools used by bloggers, but what bloggers do with those tools."

When I suggested that ceding control of the major "nodes" in the online world to the left was a huge mistake, they were dismissive. It became clear they could not imagine one day finding themselves boxed out of what is fast becoming the biggest force in electoral politics.

Enter Fox News pundit, author and top-rated blogger Michelle Malkin. Last week she received notice from YouTube, the world's most popular video sharing service, that her video had been deemed "offensive." The result? Her account was terminated and her videos deleted.

YouTube refused to say why her videos were "offensive" and there was no avenue available to challenge the decision. Today, her videos are gone and her voice is suppressed on the most important video "node" on the Internet......

Malkin may have been the first casualty in the coming information war but she certainly will not be the last. Yet online conservative elites seem not to care. They fail to realize that voters are increasingly accessing news and information from these new media sources and that these sources are using their editorial discretion to publish and promote a liberal -- not conservative -- agenda.

Adwatch '06: Corker vs. Ford

The Corker campaign has unveiled a new ad featuring an unmistakable narrator:

The Ford campaign is out with an add of its own with an appearance by popular incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen:

CO-4: Paccione Takes a Hit

The Rocky Mountain News reports the DCCC yanked $200K for an ad buy for Democratic challenger Angie Paccione in Colorado's 4th Congressional district. The most recent poll, taken by Mason-Dixon last week, has Musgrave ahead by 10.

Warner is Out

Mark Warner won't run for President:

So about a month ago, I told my family and people who know me best that I would make a final decision after Columbus Day weekend, which I was spending with my family. After 67 trips to 28 states and five foreign countries, I have made that decision.

I have decided not to run for President.

This past weekend, my family and I went to Connecticut to celebrate my Dad's 81st birthday, and then we took my oldest daughter Madison to start looking at colleges.

I know these moments are never going to come again. This weekend made clear what I'd been thinking about for many weeks--that while politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge--at this point, I want to have a real life.

And while the chance may never come again, I shouldn't move forward unless I'm willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.

This has been a difficult decision, but for me, it's the right decision.

This is shocking news. Unlike Kos, however, I'm not totally convinced by the explanation. Maybe it was a family decision, maybe it was something else. But when I saw Warner in Chicago back in April it seemed clear he was totally committed to runnning, and he hasn't offered the slightest hint in the seven months since then to indicate otherwise. He's gotten great press and been very well received by Democrats all across the country, so I find it hard to believe he'd just up and call it quits at this moment unless there is more to the story.

Only GOP Scandals Worth Covering Before an Election?

Watch this report from the Associated Press and tell me if this was a Republican what the mainstream media would be doing with this story?

I don't know the specifics of this land deal and whether Reid is getting a bum rap, but I can guarantee you that the media would not be downplaying this story if it was a Republican leader with the exact same circumstances.

TOM ADDS: One tidbit also worth noting from the print version of the Associated Press story: "AP first learned of the transaction from a former Reid aide who expressed concern the deal had not been reported properly."

The Media Scandal

Why is it that none of the major television networks or newspapers have managed to pay attention to the biggest real scandal of the 2006 campaign season, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's real estate shenanigans? According to yesterday's AP report, Reid pocketed a $1.1 million windfall on the sale of some Las Vegas property he didn't own at the time of the sale. This makes Hillary Clinton's futures trading venture look like amateur hour. And it's time for conservatives to act because the biggest scandal is that the media are burying the story.

According to the AP report, the deal was put together by Reid's longtime friend Jay Brown, "...a former casino lawyer whose name surfaced in a major political bribery trial this summer and in other prior organized crime investigations." Apparently Brown structured the deal so that Reid could transfer his ownership interest to Brown without disclosing it to the public. And here's the kicker: Reid didn't disclose the sale on his financial disclosure forms filed with the Senate.

Not to make too big a deal of this, but falsifying that report - as Reid apparently did - is a federal crime. Under Title 18 US Code Section 1001, it's a false official statement. For which Reid could be sent to jail. If you're looking for this on tonight's network news or on the front page of tomorrow's New York Times (next to the newest revival of the Foley minutiae) you won't find it. There's ample time for Mark Foley, the discredited generals' revolt, and even the comprehensively discredited Lancet report on civilian casualties in Iraq. But cover a real scandal, with real misconduct that's punishable under federal criminal law?

Just imagine if this were Bill Frist, not Harry Reid. Calls for his resignation from Senate leadership (probably the Senate itself) would be loud and long, the Senate Ethics Committee would have already convened an investigation, the FBI would have been called in to verify the deeds and signatures and the 527 Media carrion crows would be in full cry. There would be front-page stories about connections to organized crime and lead items on the evening news about how this will sink the Dems' chances in November. But it isn't Frist, or any other Republican. It's Reid, on the verge of what the media hope is his tenure as Senate Majority Leader. So there's no reason to cover the story, right? The media culture says that's so.

Every talk show host should be booking the editors of the NYT, WaPo and LA Times, the news directors of CBS, ABC and NBC to ask why they aren't covering this story. Every columnist should be calling them for interviews. Just ask, "why aren't you covering this story?"

Blago Pal Indicted

A shoe drops in one of the myriad investigations swirling around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Federal prosecutors alleged Wednesday that Antoin "Tony" Rezko used his influence as one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's closest advisers and fundraisers to seek millions of dollars in kickbacks and campaign donations from firms seeking state business.

Rezko's indictment comes less than a month before voters must decide whether to re-elect Blagojevich, a Democrat who won four years ago on a platform of ethics reform in the aftermath of the scandal-tarred tenure of George Ryan.

The governor is not accused of any wrongdoing and the indictment does not mention him by name. But the long-rumored charges have been hanging over Blagojevich's campaign for months.

The indictment alleges that Rezko schemed to extort businesses that came before two state boards with the help of co-conspirator Stuart Levine, a campaign contributor re-appointed to the boards by the governor.

Blagojevich, in a Wednesday evening news conference at his campaign headquarters, described Rezko as a friend and supporter. But the governor played down Rezko's extensive influence in the administration, which ranged from recommending appointees to the governor's Cabinet to low-level jobs at the Illinois Tollway. The governor said he had no personal knowledge of any alleged wrongdoing.

So far Blago has been managing a steady lead against Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka, thanks in large part to a huge war chest and a seemingly endless wave of negative television ads. There is a general sense here in Illinois - perhaps equally as strong among many Democrats as most Republicans - that Blagojevich is terribly corrupt, so we'll have to wait and see if the indictment of one of his associates really does anything to change the dynamic of this race.

Quote of the Day

"Hillary's problem isn't that she's too moderate - it's that she's too inauthentic. You can smell the fear on her...It wafts around her like a cheap perfume: Eau de Don't Let Me Screw Up and Flush My Chances Down the Toilette. As a result of her fear of losing and the soul-sapping tyranny of trying to please and placate everybody, she's become more processed than Velveeta." - Arianna Huffington, quoted in the new issue of the NY Press.

The Money Squeeze

As a follow up to Jim Hoagland's piece in the Washington Post today about the financial squeeze we're putting on North Korea, this interview with Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt warning banks about doing business with Iran is also worth reading.

Some Thoughts On Redistricting

Bruce Reed had a great post on his Slate blog yesterday that discussed the implications of partisan redistricting. I highly recommend it. Here, I would like to offer first a critique and then, building on that critique, an amplification.

First off, I do think he lays too much blame on the GOP for the current district maps -- it is true that the redistricting of 1992 and 2002 benefited Republicans more than Democrats. But Democrats (a) benefited as well and (b) would be just as eager to engage in it if they could. As Michael Barone is wont to note -- all partisan debates about process are inherently dishonest. To wit -- the "sketchiness" of the DeLay redistricting of 2003 is matched only by the "sketchiness" by the Democratic-engineered maps of the 1990s, which ensured that Texas continually sent a Democratic majority caucus to the Congress despite the fact that, since 1994, a majority of its voters consistently voted for Republican House candidates. Barone is right: partisan debates about political process are little more than B.S.

Of course, I take Reed to be an honest broker here. Partisan jabs aside, he makes an interesting, and quite conservative, normative argument against the change in the nature of the House. He writes: "Rigged districts defeat the very reason we have a House of Representatives in the first place. The founders wanted one chamber that would be held accountable to the popular will every two years."

The House, of course, is not the only chamber to shift from the Framers' original vision. So also has the Senate. In the original design, the House was supposed to be the volatile chamber and the Senate designed to instill stability upon the Congress. However, since Senators have become popularly elected, the more stable branch has actually become the less stable branch, and vice versa. If the vision of the Framers is a normative goal, then perhaps the fact that the House is now more stable, and less inclined to electoral swings, is not such a bad thing.

What is more -- on balance, our institutions are much more democratic (or at least offer the promise of democratic participation, even if people are not actually participating) now than they were at the time of the Framers. The presidency, of course, was not intended to be a nationalized, "first branch" kind of office. And it is now. Nominations for all offices in the days of the Framers were made by legislative caucuses. Then they were, slowly but surely, handed over to party organizations that morphed into machines. Today we have primaries. We even have primaries for the presidency. So -- if the goal is to exercise maximal accountability over elected officials, or at least to have the opportunity to exercise such accountability, 2006 is to be greatly preferred over any other year, static House and all.

Redistricting is not, of course, the only culprit in the "ossification" (my word) of the House. Republicans might have managed to increase the incumbent reelection rate to 98.8% in 2004, but it has averaged 95% since World War II (even in 1994, it still hit about 93%). There are at least five secular trends that cannot be pinned on Rove or DeLay that have helped create the situation we currently "enjoy."

1. The professionalization of the House. The national government's power has quantitatively and qualitatively increased over the last century. As this has happened, so has the appeal of being in the House increased. Combine that with the ease of transportation and other societal changes that have reduced the costs of being in Washington for about half the year - and you have a professional class of legislators. Professional legislators are simply less inclined to voluntarily leave, and open seats have always been the prime source of party switchover.

2. The decline of the state party organization. What Reed seems to be lamenting, above all else, is the decline of competition. Democracy may be more present than ever, but competitive democracy is on the wane. This is probably true, and much of this can be traced to the decline of our state political parties. In the last century, competition for House seats decayed as state party organizations, traditionally in charge of nominating candidates, crumbled in the wake of progressive reforms like the primary system, which terminated the major function of the state parties. Without parties to actively offer up candidates, the number of contested races declined. Candidates became self-starters -- and so contests only emerged in "swing" districts as quality candidates eschewed making a run in a district they thought they would lose. Accordingly, many districts where a party could poll a respectable 40% to 45% -- and therefore win the odd election here and there -- ultimately became entirely uncompetitive.

Strong parties (the kind that the media just downright hates!) are a key ingredient in robust partisan competition. Of these five factors, I would peg this one as the most important (the order of the list is roughly temporal, with most recent trends being last). Unfortunately, political reformers of previous decades undercut the powerful-but-flawed party organizations of the past without replacing them with anything of sufficient power. Today - from a certain perspective, our parties are as weak as they have ever been. It is therefore no surprise to me that competition for the House is at such a low point.

3. The increase in campaign costs. Today's challengers will spend at least $1.5 million to win a House seat from the other party. Very few people have the capacity to raise that kind of cash -- and most donors are not willing to fork over that kind of money for only the glimmer of a hope that an underdog candidate will "ride a wave" into Washington. Increased costs, combined with strategic donors, mean fewer serious challengers come filing deadlines, and therefore less competition.

4. The rise of "new media." Independent of its effect on campaign costs -- new media has effectively personalized House contests. National issues are now seen through the prism of the personalities of the candidates in the race. This necessarily helps House incumbents, who are already well-known in their districts.

5. The tightly aligned nature of the current electorate. The Republicans, in the last 40 years, have slowly-but-surely exploited the tensions inherent to the Roosevelt realignment of 1932. FDR cobbled together a motley crew of political interests under the Democratic Party's banner. The GOP -- in large measure due to their "acquisition" of cultural conservatism -- were able to capture Southern Democrats on the presidential level, and then, ultimately, on the congressional level. Today, most congressional districts are "in sync" -- they vote on the congressional level as they do on the presidential level. This reduces political competition in the House -- as the portions of the nation that are most likely to be dissatisfied with Republicans are also the most likely to be represented by Democrats, and vice-versa.

Has redistricting had an independent effect? Most definitely. The point here is that the trend toward the ossification of the House has been a long time coming and has multiple causes.

Redistricting probably has its greatest role by amplifying most of these trends. Strangely shaped districts maximize sympathetic partisans and therefore the possibility of synchronicity between presidential and congressional elections. Strangely shaped districts require communication across multiple media markets, and are therefore more expensive. Strangely shaped districts ensure that the only political entity whom everybody knows is the incumbent House member, who therefore enjoys a kind of prestige hegemony. Strangely shaped districts cut across county lines and therefore defy control by any local party organization.

Final thought - the move to reform these districts smells to me a lot like the moves to reform our political system over the last 100 years. Our track record at reforming our system - insofar as the political parties are managing the aspect of the system in question - has been horrible. Much of this, I think, is explicable by a tension inherent to America since the time of the Founding (ironically embodied in Madison himself): we absolutely, positively need strong political parties for our democracy; however, we absolutely, positively hate strong political parties! Time and again, thanks to this tension, we have undercut the parties by "reforming" them - and, time and again, our system has failed to improve. Elections did not become more "democratic," government did not become more "responsible." In many instances - like the rise of the primary system, city managers, odd-year elections, and "non-party" ballots - our system has become appreciably less competitive and our government less responsible.

What makes me nervous about "non-partisan reforms" to our districting process is that I worry that they are based upon that good old-fashioned American hatred of our parties, and therefore advocates (a) underestimate the service that the parties perform for us, (b) overestimate the extent to which we can get along without the parties, and (c) underestimate the extent to which the parties, or at least what is left of them, can "manipulate" and "exploit" the reforms, twisting them into something much more unlikable than what initially existed. I mean - look at the absolute, unadulterated mess that the two parties have made of the presidential nominating system!

All in all, I am very wary of proposals that seek to limit party power even further, even if it seems quite obvious that competition or responsibility would increase. That was exactly the argument used by reformers who wanted the primary, my least favorite reform designed to enhance participation, competition and responsibility. Accordingly, I will close with a question: in how many of your community's last five primaries did you vote?

October 11, 2006

Mehlman Looks at the Landscape

As a follow up to Jay's post below about the problems with the media's "the GOP is demoralized" consensus, this interview with RNC Chair Ken Mehlman also makes for interesting reading:

On new polls suggesting that the Republicans could be, in the words of some analysts, in free fall

Let me first say I do think that we are in a very challenging environment. I think that the situation with [Rep. Mark] Foley has made it even more challenging, but ... I have not seen a significant impact in most of the races around the country and I certainly haven't seen a free fall.

The three issues that I think we're dealing with [in the polls]: first of all is the partisanship of the electorate. In the last 25 years, the electorate has ranged from plus-4 Democrat to plus-2 Republican in '02. In the most recent poll's partisanship, USA/Gallup is plus-9 Democratic electorate, ABC News is plus-11 Democratic electorate, CBS/New York Times plus-5, Newsweek plus-8, Time plus-8, AP/Ipsos plus-8. So, every one of these polls has an electorate that looks more Democratic than any electorate has looked in 25 years.

Second, the Gallup specifically is the outlier in the change in the generic ballot. The Pew poll that came out recently showed no change in the generic ballot since the Foley scandal; other national polls have shown on average a 2-point dip, the Gallup showed a 23-point dip, which I don't think is convincing.

The third issue of course is the relevance of the national polls in predicting House races and the challenge that Democrats always have is that our voters are more efficiently distributed. You saw that in the recent battleground that came out between [pollsters] Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas, which showed an 8-point Democratic advantage on the generic ballot. But in the Republican districts that the Democrats have to win to win back Congress, it was even. In the Democratic districts, it was a 21-point Democratic advantage.

There's much more, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day

"I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day. Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody." Republican Congressman Chris Shays, noting that his opponent, who last week called on Speaker Hastert to resign over the Foley episode, brought in Senator Teddy Kennedy for a fundraiser this week.

New York Crash

UPDATE: Barbara Starr of CNN is reporting that NORAD has decided to initiate combat air patrols over some U.S. cities as a precautionary measure.

Also, the White House has issued a statement saying that all indications are that this is an accident but that they don't have enough information at this point to definitively rule out other possibilities.

A Hero Among Superstars

If you only click on one link all day, make it this one (Windows Media Player req'd).

When It Hurts To Ask

You know the old saying, "it never hurts to ask?" Tell that to Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell:

Mr. Bell left a voice mail message on Mr. [Kinky] Friedman's personal cellphone Tuesday, asking for a meeting at the mystery writer and former bandleader's ranch near Kerrville, Mr. Friedman said.

Mr. Bell later confirmed he sought a meeting so he could try to talk Mr. Friedman into dropping out of the four-way race, which is in its home stretch. The election is Nov. 7.

"I had hoped to talk to Kinky privately, but now that it's been reported by the Dallas Morning News, I'm going to ask him publicly: Please join me in defeating Rick Perry," Mr. Bell said in a statement his campaign issued late Tuesday. [snip]

Mr. Friedman, campaigning in Brownsville, said of Mr. Bell and his advisers: "They're desperate and scrambling."

Asked whether he would consider the Democrat's request to step aside, Mr. Friedman said: "No. You're kidding ... for Chris Bell? What do you take me for?"

Friedman went on to frame the question as a sign of his strength and Bell's weakness saying, "What can it possibly mean other than that we're killing him?" I bet Bell wishes he could have his question back.

In other news in the race, Grandma Strayhorn says she's on the move against incumbent Rick Perry:

Strayhorn said an internal poll taken last week found a 13-point swing, with Perry dropping by five points and her numbers climbing eight points.

She said the poll shows Perry's support at 35 percent and her support at 28 percent of likely voters.

"That was huge movement," she said. "We're right on target. We can win this race."

Get all the latest on the race here.

Adwatch '06: Sodrel vs. Hill

Guess who is featued in Baron Hill's latest ad attacking incumbent Republican Mike Sodrel in IN09 for not representing "Hoosier values?"

Sodrel has responded with an ad of his own slamming Hill:

On The "GOP is Demoralized" Consensus

In yesterday's entry, I discussed the much-vaunted Republican GOTV machine. I asserted that there is little evidence to conclude whether or not it has been efficacious. Oh sure - we have media/journalistic accounts and anecdotes that outline Republican activities in 2004. And these indeed sound very impressive. But it is one thing to outline what the Republicans do, and it is quite another thing to measure the effectiveness of those doings. And we simply lack the data for the latter task.

But this is not to say that we cannot draw some reasonable conclusions about it. The fact that political actors - on both sides of the aisles - believe that it is efficacious says something important.

I left yesterday's post with this question: is the GOP base less "spirited," and therefore less susceptible to mobilization? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to this question. What I intend to outline here could be classified as a critique of the media consensus on the matter. All in all, I suspect that the base is - to some unknown extent - dispirited. My intention here is not to rally my own laundry list of polls to "prove" GOP spiritedness. Rather, I intend to criticize the method media analysts have used to "prove" GOP dispiritedness.

What follows are two rejoinders to the arguments typically offered by the media to justify the dispirited storyline.

1: Underdetermination: When bloggers are critical of media polls, they almost always criticize the one element of a poll that is least susceptible to criticism: the external validity of the sample. This is precisely what pollsters - at least those who follow industry standards - are qualified to do. It is their technical specialty, and so it always seems odd to me to hear non-specialists discuss the external validity of a sample (e.g. the partisan makeup of a set of respondents) - especially when there are other, more fertile, grounds for critique.

The most salient critique stems from the fact that pollsters - at least as far as I know - are not political psychologists. The pundits who interpret their polls most certainly are not. And, while they are quite qualified to put together externally valid samples - they are not necessarily qualified to interpret their own results. And I see a lot of lousy interpretations of polling data in the press - which is to say that I see many inferences from polling data that are (a) deemed to be necessary when they are not or (b) deemed to be probable when they are not.

The inferences drawn from media polling about Republican spiritedness speak precisely to this point. For instance - people look at the crosstabs for a question like: "How much attention have you been paying to the 2006 campaign?" and see that Democrats are registering a much higher positive response rate than Republicans. From this, they infer that Democrats are more likely to vote than Republicans. That is all this is - it is an inference: the response to the polling question is not the voting act itself, nor does a certain answer to the question obligate the respondent to vote or not vote. To move from answers to the question to estimates of the voting act is to draw a causal inference. You are inferring that that which caused the answer to the question will also cause the choice to vote or not vote: Republican voters are not planning to vote and, accordingly, are not paying attention; Democratic voters are planning to vote and, accordingly, are paying attention.

But is this necessary? Is it even probable? Here is another hypothesis that is entirely consistent with that inference: Republican voters assess that the climate is a negative one for their party, and they are paying less attention to politics because they do not like interacting too much with a negative environment -- but when their Republican candidates start to campaign, they will liven up, as those candidates are - by dint of their advertisements - offering something much more positive. That seems to me to be an equally reasonable inference - perhaps even more reasonable, as it recognizes the importance of candidate campaigns in stimulating the electorate.

Do not take this the wrong way. I am not pushing this particular hypothesis over the consensus one. What I am doing is asserting that the consensus hypothesis is underdetermined. There are other, equally reasonable, inferences to be drawn from these media polls - and these equally reasonable inferences are at odds with the media consensus. With the data we have, there is no way to arbitrate between the different interpretations -- because media polls are explicitly designed for maximum news value, not maximum Truth value. They are not like the American National Elections Survey - where we could cross-reference a whole host of questions to test competing hypotheses more thoroughly. We cannot do that with media polls - hence the problem of "underdetermination."

Let me add a general warning. It is one thing to draw an inference about voter preferences. That seems to me to be fairly straightforward. If you call up a voter in Findlay, Ohio on his way out to vote - and he tells you he is going to vote for Sherrod Brown, you can draw a very reasonable inference from that response: the guy is voting for Brown. However, we are not discussing something so simple. Voter spiritedness seems to me to be a very thorny theoretical issue, one that gets to the heart of voter psychology, which is a complicated and difficult subject. It requires much training in statistics, method, and existing scholarly research. When I came to graduate school, I initially focused on political philosophy. I "jumped" to American politics several years ago, and found that -- all in all -- the reading load was much easier to bear. It is just easier for me to understand Robert Dahl's Who Governs? than it is to understand David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. It is less abstract and more obviously related to the day-to-day of my life. Except for the public opinion/vote choice literature. I almost met my end in my public opinion graduate course reading Sniderman, Brody and Tetlock's Reasoning and Choice!

Public opinion is a very hard subject -- wickedly hard, given that at first glance it seems downright easy. The reason it is so complicated, I think, is that those who study it are ultimately interested in how the average voter thinks. However, if you have advanced to a level of political knowledge where you begin to wonder how the average voter thinks, you have probably ceased to lose all "sympathy" (in the Humean sense) to the cognition methods of the average voter! The difference between the two of you now is information -- as you acquire more and more political information, you begin to make political decisions/conclusions in a radically different manner than the average voter. Thus, experts -- broadly defined -- must study the average voter as one studies the "other." Political scientists are aware of this, and so develop very rigorous theories that treat the average voter with this kind of respect. Political pundits seem to me to have no awareness of the difference between themselves and the average voter, and so proceed to blithely make all kind of factual/methodological mistakes in "interpreting" him/her. I think they ultimately go wrong because generalize their own cognition processes to the rest of the electorate, which I think is very egotistical - but that is a subject for another day!

Simply stated, I think that most of those in the media who try to "do" voter psychology without lots of years of training in it are probably talking out of their you-know-what's.

2: The Ecological Fallacy: It is looking increasingly like the difference between a Democrat-run House and a Republican-run House is coming down to who wins the following districts in the Midwest: IN 02, 08, 09, KY 04, OH 01, 15, 18. In terms of mobilization, this is a very specific slice of the GOP electorate. To what extent does it differ in politically relevant ways from the rest of the GOP-inclined electorate? Indiana and Kentucky, according to SurveyUSA, have a relatively high estimation of Bush. Ohio has a relatively low estimation of Bush. Are its GOP voters different in terms of spirit in the same way? If they are, then the ecological fallacy has reared its ugly head once again: when the extent of spiritedness varies within the whole nation, we cannot draw inferences about the parts of the nation from surveys of the whole nation.

Those national polls that tell us about GOP spiritedness are almost always polls of the national GOP base. Common sense indicates that the GOP base is probably somewhat dispirited everywhere -- so the difference between California base voters and Kentucky base voters is probably one of degree only. But the size of the degree is impossible to judge.

This is a species of a general problem that has dogged the media in their endeavors to explain the House (and, to a lesser extent, the Senate) contests that are quickly approaching. This battle is being fought in, at most, 40 House districts, or little less than 10% of the nation. How can we so blithely use national survey data to draw inferences about the situation in this small sub-sample? This is invalid reasoning!

One might call this the Washington Redskins fallacy - the Skins so often like to cherry-pick good players/coaches from other teams, ostensibly under the conclusion that, since Steve Spurrier (for example) was the head coach of the Gators, and the Gators were such a good team, Spurrier will make the Skins a good team. This does not follow - as we all know. The mistake is called the ecological fallacy: you cannot draw inferences about parts of a whole from data of the whole.

Again - do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing for one interpretation of GOP spiritedness over another. My broad point in this entry is that we lack the data to make a valid inference either way because (a) the data leaves our preferred hypothesis underdetermined and (b) the data does not speak to electoral outcomes, as the latter will be determined by a tiny portion of the whole.

More Debates

More debates last night:

MI Gov - Granholm (D)* vs. DeVos (R): Detroit News story | Detroit News editorial | Detroit Free-Press story | Detroit Free-Press analysis

PA Gov - Rendell (D)* vs. Swann (R): Philly Inquirer story | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story

KY03 - Northup (R)* vs. Yarmuth (D): Louisville Courier-Journal story

RI Gov - Carcieri (R)* vs. Fogarty (D): Providence Journal story

Even Ted Kennedy had to spend some time debating his challenger. And in a race of some local import here in the Chicago area (Cook County Board President), Republican Tony Peraica and Democrat Todd Stroger faced off.

Washington 8 Debate

Republican Congressman Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner met for their first and only face off last night. The Seattle PI called the debate "mean-spirited and bare-knuckled" as the two went after each other and Reichert tried to maintain his composure before combative Burner supporters in the crowd:

Burner never had Reichert, the former King County sheriff, on his heels, but he did get visibly angry as she and the crowd vented their frustration about issues ranging from the Iraq war to health care.

He countered with measured responses to her campaign's criticisms and consistently tried to redirect the debate away from the broader direction of the Bush administration and back to his own accomplishments and policy decisions.

"This is the United States of America, and at some point, Ms. Burner, you are going to have to come out from behind the bushes and recognize I am your opponent," Reichert said. [snip]

"I understand independence. I understand taking a stand. I understand firing people. I understand hiring people. I understand promoting people. I understand discipline. I understand terrorism. I understand the law. I understand your rights," Reichert said in an increasingly strident voice. [snip]

The audience jeered when Reichert said he "worked 19 years to catch a serial killer," a reference to his work apprehending Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, but he held his ground.

"It's not comic to the victims and their families," he said.

The Seattle Times report adds:

The candidates were allowed to ask each other a question. Reichert asked what Burner has done for her community, and she said she worked for good values at Microsoft, volunteered as a youth sports coach and on a community board near her home in the Carnation area.

Burner asked Reichert to defend his wavering and "unprincipled" stances on stem-cell research, global warming and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reichert explained some of his votes and said it would be easy for voters to support him based on his long record.

Meanwhile, the 8th district is "awash in ads." Liberal blogs
are slamming Reichert for a mistake in his latest ad which, according to David Postman at the Seattle Times the Reichert campaign has said they will correct.

This race is going to be tight, and bitterly fought, until the very end.

Battle in CO-5

I meant to comment on this Mason-Dixon poll from CO-5 the other day. Even despite the post-primary ugliness and dissention in the district on the part of the GOP, it's still a bit of a shocker.

Republicans say they'll easily hold the seat, but Democrats believe that retired USAF officer and Gulf War vet Jay Fawcett has a shot at the upset. Either way, it's probably true that this year is the best chance the Dems have ever had to crack the CO-5 nut, which has never voted their way in 34 years. The Rocky Mountain News has more details.

America's Mayor

Jason Horowitz of the New York Observer accompanied Rudy Giuliani to the McSweeney event in Schaumberg I wrote about last week.

I've seen Rudy in person three or four times now and the reception he gets from crowds wherever he goes is nothing short of reverential. Most people I've talked to about Giuliani, both in person and via email, say they'd be willing to set aside disagreements on social issues and vote for Giuliani because national security and the global war on terror are ultimately the most important issues to them.

Whether this holds true for the folks who do the nominating a year and a half from now, or whether it's merely an initial false positive for Giuliani is something we really can't know with any certainty until we see the process begin to work and get a sense of how strong the alternatives will be. As I wrote a while back:

Eventually Giuliani will have to climb down off the pedestal we've placed him on, go to Rotary Club meetings in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, shake hands and tell conservative Republican voters what he stands for beyond just being a symbol of resolve in the midst of a national crisis that happened half a decade ago

Right now, Rudy's still on the pedestal.

The GOP Gov Hit List

The Republican Governor's Association is targeting races in the following six states: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan and Oregon.

At first blush, I'm suprised to see Wisconsin missing from the list. If you believe the polls, Mark Green seems to be in a much better position of scoring an upset than Topinka in Illinois or Hutchinson in Arkansas.

Go here for a full list of Governor's races, along with competitive contests in the House and the Senate.

Following the Money

On the new list of independent expenditures filed yesterday, one entry stands out. According to PoliticalMoneyLine, the Kentucky State Democratic Central Committee just dumped $104K on an ad buy supporting Mike Weaver in Kentucky's 2nd Congressional district.

Kentucky 2 is a hard-core GOP district (Cook Partisan Voter Index R+13). Bush won there by 31 points in 2004 and six -term incumbent Ron Lewis beat his Democratic opponent 68-32. With what looks to be much better pick-up opportunities in KY03 and KY04, this seems like a colossal waste of resources - unless Dems in Kentucky have reason to believe Lewis showing signs of being vulnerable, of course.

Lewis was the first to cancel a fundraiser with Speaker Hastert in the wake of the Foley scandal back on October 4 and his opponent, a former Army Colonel and state rep with a very conservative voting record, is pushing the Foley issue hard - maybe a little too hard, in fact.

It's very hard to see how Weaver pulls the upset, but the fact Kentucky Dems are spending so much money in KY02 makes it a race worth keeping an eye on.

October 10, 2006

Conversation with Casey

On Tuesday afternoon, I was among a small group of journalists who participated in a conference call with Gen. George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force, Iraq. Casey said that the situation in Iraq was more complex than it has been before in his 2+ years in Iraq. And he said quite a bit more.

First, Gen Casey said that the conflict in Iraq was evolving from one of the insurgents against our forces to one among the various insurgent groups. He differentiated between Sunni extremists (including the death squads) and other Sunni resistance. Added to that, of course, are the Shia militias. Casey also said that Iraq's neighbors - Syria and Iran - were "unhelpful." When I followed up on that point, he said that Syria was still a safe haven for terrorists and the primary route for foreign terrorists entering Iraq. Syria is doing nothing to stop the flow. As to Iran, Gen. Casey said he had no doubt that Iranian money and weapons were going into Iraq and that Iran was providing training to insurgents.

The Maliki government has been in place for only about 150 days, and the turnover in the highest Iraqi government posts has been a source of instability. Gen. Casey said that Maliki was properly focused on unity, security and prosperity. I asked him if Iraqi politicians were worried about American political events. He said that Iraqi politicians were aware that the patience of the American public was waning. Their understanding of that fact, he added, contributes to the sense of urgency they already have.

It's hard to forecast, from Gen Casey's remarks, how the Iraqis might react to Democratic takeover of Congress next month. Will they fall apart before the Dems start cutting the funds for the war? Or will they be forced to come together quickly if they're faced with that prospect? I wouldn't bet much on the former.

Good News for the GOP in Tennessee and Kentucky

SurveyUSA has two new polls out tonight one in the House and one in the Senate that show Republicans Bob Corker in Tennessee and Rep. Geoff Davis in KY-4 actually picking up support since their previous polls in September. In Tennessee in polling taken all post-Foley (Oct 7-9) Bob Corker is now ahead of Rep. Harold Ford (Corker 48% - Ford 46%) in the battle for the seat held by retiring Majority Leader Bill Frist. That is a 5-point turnaround for Corker since SurveyUSA's last poll. In Kentucky's 4th congressional district Rep. Geoff Davis has seen a seven-point swing since mid-September and now leads 47% - 44%, again in polling taken all post-Foley (Oct 7-9).

So far there have been six national generic polls in the field after October 5th, and as I wrote earlier this morning, it is pretty clear from the RCP Generic Average that the Foley scandal has hurt Republicans at least as far as the generic ballot is concerned, but how much this would translate to individual races and whether this was only a temporary blip down were still very open questions.

I laid out the concerns for Republicans this morning, but of concern for Democrats is at the end of the day people don't vote for the generic candidate and voters in New York City, San Francisco and Kansas don't have a say in who is going to win Congress this year. It is voters in states like Tennessee and districts like Kentucky 4 where this election will be won and lost. And in a day of bad poll numbers for the GOP they would gladly trade a whole host of individual race polls showing improved Republican prospects in critical toss-up states and districts for every generic ballot predicting doom for the GOP.

Newt's Postscript

Newt Gingrich signs off his latest Human Events column with the following postscript:

As you listen to Nancy Pelosi promise to clean up what she calls a "swamp" of congressional problems, remember the following facts from her record:

1. Pelosi voted three times to make a convicted page sexual predator, former Congressman Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), chair of a congressional committee.

2. In 1990, Pelosi voted against censuring Barney Frank for having his live-in boyfriend run a prostitution ring from Frank's apartment.

3. Pelosi raised no objections when Clinton pardoned Democrat Congressman Mel Reynolds (Ill.) who had been convicted of felonies for having had sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker.

The historic Nancy Pelosi is an authentic representative of San Francisco liberal values and hardly has the record to lecture anyone on cleaning up the Congress.

Will GOP Mobilizaiton Make A Difference?

Peter from Pasadena writes with an excellent question:

I am hoping that at some point you might comment at the site on the election and polling impact of the micro-targeting and 72-Hour turnout techniques that we have heard so much about the Republican Party using. These techniques have evidently been responsible for anomalous and ahistoric levels of GOP turnout when specifically and thoroughly applied in the last few election cycles. Are they powerful enough to drive surprise elections results on November 7? If so, to what degree?

This is a really fantastic question. Unfortunately, it admits of little more than an anecdotal/intuitive answer. The effect of voter mobilization upon final vote turnout is something that has been under-studied in scholarly circles. I think this has to do with a lack of data. Offering a rigorous test of voter mobilization -- one that makes a serious attempt to identify whether the apparent link between turnout and mobilization is not simply a product of spurious causality -- would be difficult to do because parties, candidates, and outside interest groups do not offer the details of their programs to social scientists.

To appreciate this, consider what we would have to do to really test the effectiveness of mobilization. You would build a model that predicts the final vote in a district that depends upon a whole host of factors like demography, candidate spending, voter interest, etc. To inquire whether the 72 Hour Program makes a difference, you would include a measure of it in your model. Ultimately, your goal would be some kind of equation that predicts how a party's share of the vote. For instance:

Republican Share of Vote in District = Baseline + Influence of Demographic Features + Influence of Candidate Spending + Influence of Voter Interest + Influence of Resources Dedicated to GOTV Effort

The idea here is that each of the factors on the right-hand side of the equation has an independent effect on vote choice. We would expect the GOP GOTV's efforts to be positively related to GOP share of vote, holding all of the other variables constant, and that its positive relationship is not explicable by simply random factors (i.e. the difference between the reported effect and 0 is outside the "margin of error").

The problem is that we cannot really "operationalize" the final variable, resources dedicated to GOP GOTV effort, because we lack the data. This is a general problem with the parties: they are public-private organizations, and only required to release financial data at a level of specificity that is much lower than what we need to "run" this model. What is more, they are not required to release information on how they organize their operations - so we cannot even necessarily use a measure like "RNC Spending In State" because who knows to what extent the state/local parties are picking up the tab for GOTV efforts. There is plenty of legal "money laundering" that goes on between party organizations.

So - we cannot say conclusively that the GOP's 2004 efforts had a decisive effect, nor can we make a conclusive argument for 2006. We simply lack the data.

My intuition is that mobilization will make a difference, though not as much as it did in 2004 and 2002. Observing political actors gives us some prima facie evidence on this front. I tend to heavily discount the "conventional wisdom" of journalists/pundits because the nature of their jobs is to just offer endless pontification -- day in, day out. There is no consequence if a pundit is wrong. No real reward if a pundit is right. So, they can go down any randomly incorrect causal path and it will not make one whit of a difference in the world. Their job is just to "blah blah blah" all day, right or wrong. Political operatives are very different. Unlike the pundit class, where there really are no stakes whatsoever, the stakes are high among politicians and their strategists. And I have noticed that all political operatives seem to be in awe of the GOP's current program. The GOP views it as their secret weapon. The Democrats view it as that which could doom them. Apparently, its force is so great that it induced Dean, Schumer and Emanuel -- three incredibly assertive and self-confident "alpha" males, who between them strongly hold two radically different visions of the future of their party -- to reach an armistice. That is something.

More generally -- voter mobilization is a long-standing tradition of American politics. If it did not work, I suspect that strategic politicians would have moved away from it long ago. So, the fact that we cannot demonstrate its efficacy via a statistical model does not mean that it is ineffective. Our inability is a testament to our lack of data.

As I mentioned, I think the difference will be less than it was in 2004 and 2002. The presumably dispirited state of those the program seeks to mobilize seems to me to necessarily reduce its efficiency (i.e. it will cost the GOP more money to be as effective as it was in the past). Mobilization reduces the costs (and increases the benefits) of voting by reminding people to vote, by helping them get to the polls, by making them feel like they are performing a civic duty, etc. Accordingly, its effectiveness is predicated upon the voter's assessment of the costs/benefits of the voting act. If GOP voters are seeing lower benefits to voting because of dispiritedness, then the same amount of mobilization activity will be less effective, as the average voter needs "more" to get him to the polls.

But just how dispirited is the GOP base? Is the media correct about their assessment of it? I'll try to tackle that tomorrow.

Mehlman Takes Control in Bid to Hold Senate

From a Republican strategist who I have found to be quite perceptive and insightful over the years......

The AP story on Drudge last night about the RNC taking the unusual step of running ads in the Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri Senate races, on its own with out coordinating with the NRSC, is a tell. What many of us that work in this business know very well is that Liddy Dole is completely inept and the NRSC is not the powerhouse it was under George Allen. It is clear that the RNC knows we are going to lose seats in both the House and the Senate, and it is probably worse for the last two years of the Bush Administration to have lost the Senate than it is to have lost the House.

I don't think they are writing off the House per se, it is just that Dole's handling of the races -- candidate recruitment, fundraising, message discipline, staffing, consultant selections, etc... -- has been below par and the RNC wants to insure Republicans hold at least one chamber. Today's WaPo story about the GOP bracing for a loss of 7-30 in the House is probably right, but overblown. At the end of the day even with all of the Foley nonsense I STILL don't think it will reach 15. It could, but I don't think so.

Adwatch '06: Sherwood vs. Carney

Want to know how much trouble incumbent Republican Don Sherwood is facing in PA-10? Watch these two ads. First, the ad from Sherwood's Democratic opponent, former Naval officer Chris Carney:

Now the reply from Sherwood himself:

Foley Scandal Whacks GOP in Generic Ballot

In last Thursday's "Election Analysis in a GOP Market Meltdown" I suggested:

I wouldn't put a lot of weight in any of them (the polls) until we see polling that has been in the field this Wednesday (Oct 4) and later.....the only thing I would say for certain is the political volatility has exploded, but I would sure be nervous if I was holding a lot of long GOP futures.

Well we now have five major media outlets out with polls, all in the field October 5th and later, and the RealClearPolitics Generic Average has moved 5.5% towards the Democrats, to a whopping 16.6% spread. With four weeks until Election Day that can not be spun as good news for Republicans.

It's clear now that the Foley scandal has hurt Republicans in national Generic polling, what isn't clear is whether this movement will flow through to individual Senate, House and Governor races across the nation. Common-sense suggests that it will, what is unknown is the degree. What is also unknown is how much this is a temporary drop due to the intensely negative media coverage.

I do think the generic numbers will move back towards the Republicans rather soon and I also am skeptical as to how much this negativity towards Republicans generically will flow through to individual races. But in a midterm election where motivating core supporters to get to the polls and where so many races, both in the House and the Senate, are so close the real danger for Republicans is this scandal provides the margin the Democrats need to get over the top in the 3-4 brutally close Senate races (Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and New Jersey) and another 15-20 House races (#'s 10 - 30 on RCP's list).

This is the Republicans fear - and it is a legitimate one.

October 09, 2006

Does Santorum Have Some Hope?

Maybe Rick Santorum isn't completely out for the count in his battle for a third term in Pennsylvania. Rasmussen Reports released numbers that were in the same ballpark as Zogby and Quinnipiac giving Casey a 13-point lead, but Muhlenberg College in their Morning Call Poll taken in six days of polling, all post-Foley, gives Casey only a 5-point lead, 46% - 41%.

This could be an early sign of something interesting developing or it could just be an outlier. It certainly would be ironic if Rick Santorum closed in Pennsylvania while the media was fanning the flames of Foley and IM's in Washington.

More Foley

John Fund has a good article today (Tom also commented on earlier) on the how Congressional staffers may have significantly contributed to, if not in fact caused, the Foley scandal. I don't know how much at the end of the day that absolves Denny Hastert, I fully believe the Speaker when he says he didn't know about the salacious and repugnant IM's or behavior until ABC broke the story 10 days ago, but that doesn't mean that Hastert's staff didn't know considerably more, and ultimately the Speaker has to take the responsibility for what his office knew and didn't do.

Bloomberg's Al Hunt takes a look at the political hypocrisy in the high-minded moralizing in these Washington sex-scandals, but he tries to score a cheap partisan point at the end of an otherwise good column, with a charge that Democrats and their allies in the press have been repeating since this story broke:

Other Republicans will pay a price because leaders were told about Foley's habits and failed to stop him. As my colleague, Margaret Carlson, wrote, they were more interested in saving a seat than saving a child.

That is a nice catchy sound bite, but the problem is there is no truth to it.

GOP leaders or their staff may have been protecting Foley for a number of reasons, but wanting to save the "seat" is not one of them. Florida 16 is a strong Republican district and the easiest thing for GOP leaders to do if they wanted to "save the seat" would have been to chuck Foley to the wolves and put up any other Republican in the district. The district is so Republican in fact, Joe Negron, has a shot at winning (I'll admit surprisingly) even though Republicans have to vote for Mark Foley on November 7.

The reason this misrepresentation is repeated over and over in the press is because it is one of the most damaging PR aspects of this scandal for Republicans. The change that Republicans were covering up Foley's gay predatory behavior to save his seat in the battle for the House is a killer politically -- and if it were true -- Republicans would be doomed.

They may have been covering for Foley for other reasons, but it wasn't to save his seat.

Can GOP Get National Security Back Into Focus?

By almost any standard, the testing of a nuclear bomb by a rogue regime is a pretty significant event. It is also, one would hope, worthy of a great deal of attention and a far more serious debate than the one we've been having for the last ten days over a few pervy IMs from a gay Congressman.

Obviously, with only 30 days or so left to the election, this represents a pretty big, and perhaps final opportunity for Republicans to put the focus back on national security - though with a slightly different twist. In addition to talking about Democratic weakness in fighting terrorism (Patriot Act, NSA terrorist surveillance program, detainee interrogation program, etc), Republicans will almost certainly start talking loud and long about missile defense.

Specifically, since part of the GOP playbook this year has been trying to scare voters with the idea of Speaker Pelosi, expect Republicans to make her record on missile defense an issue. It won't be hard. A quick Google search turns up this 2003 speech to the Global Security Institute where she accepted the Alan Cranston Peace Award by telling the crowd:

"The United States does not need a multi-billion-dollar national missile defense against the possibility of a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile."

Or they might refer to her floor statement of March 18, 1999 when she urged her colleagues to vote against a bill (HR4) to establish a national missile defense system, saying flatly, "we do not need a missile defense." Pelosi joined 101 other Democrats - exactly half the party's caucus in the House - in voting against the measure.

Republicans might also point out, for the record, that the Senate version of the bill passed the day before by a vote of 97-3. All three who voted against were Democrats: one now deceased (Paul Wellstone), one who will chair the Judiciary Committee in a Democratically-controlled Senate (Pat Leahy), and one who will be the right hand man to Majority Leader Reid (Dick Durbin).

For their part, Democrats will claim that North Korea's nuclear test represents a failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy over the last six years. Republicans will undoubtedly respond by pointing out that Bill Clinton's policy toward North Korea in the final six years of his administration (aka the 1994 Agreed Framework) was an abject failure. We've had this discussion before already, but Republicans will be more than happy to sling mud back and forth and refight the issue of whose to blame over North Korea because it keeps the focus off Mark Foley and off Iraq

It may not be exactly the fight the GOP wanted to have for the final four weeks of the midterm election, but it will certainly do. Beggars, after all, can't be choosers.

Can the GOP Hold FL 16?

Over the weekend, a few articles were published that argued that the GOP stands a chance in FL 16. Do they? This is an interesting question, one worth taking a second to investigate.

First off, most proponents only argue for the possibility that Republican state representative Joe Negron, the man the state party selected to "accept" Foley votes, has a chance. Their objections seem to be against the argument that a Mahoney win is a foregone conclusion. So -- it is not as though they are giving Negron better than even odds. They are just asserting that the odds are non-zero.

The best argument to this effect is district partisanship. Bush carried FL 16 easily in both 2004 (by 8%) and 2000 (by 6%). Republicans outnumber Democrats by a wide margin in this South-Central district. However, even though it is an extremely powerful determinant, partisanship is not really an immediate determinant of congressional vote choice. Most people don't vote for a guy they dislike because he caucuses with the correct party. Partisanship seems to help form the context that helps create evaluations of the candidates on the ballot. Another background determinant, more powerful than district partisanship, is level of political information. Political information is one reason you often see Republicans voting for Democratic incumbents, and vice-versa. They simply do not know anything about the other person on the ballot -- and, for most voters, the choice is ultimately based upon evaluations of the two candidates.

In other words, candidate evaluation is the immediate cause of vote choice -- what the voter thinks of the two candidates is usually how he will vote. Personal partisanship is one factor that goes into the evaluation - people are inclined to evaluate positively those who share their party ID. But so also is information - people cannot fully evaluate those about whom they know nothing.

My feeling is that while district partisanship is indeed an asset for Negron, voter information is a huge and decisive liability. Negron is simply "asking too much" of voters in the district.

For voters in Florida's 16th Congressional District to cast a ballot for him, they are going to have to possess unique information to even begin to evaluate him as a candidate. Not only do they need to know things about him to develop sufficiently positive opinions of him, they also need to know that he is actually on the ballot. This forms a prerequisite for Negron's victory because -- in a Foley v. Mahoney match-up -- Mahoney wins in a walk. This is Negron's major problem, and I would estimate that it is a decisive one. There will be a lot of voters on Election Day who do not know of the situation, or at least know of it sufficiently well enough to be able to vote for "Foley." They will walk into the voting booth, perhaps knowing a little bit about Negron from advertisements or mailings, perhaps knowing enough to intend to vote for him, but will be surprised to see Foley's name on the ballot next to Mahoney's. As ultimately their choice boils down to which man they prefer more, they will vote for Mahoney.

Why is this the case? It is not because average voters are stupid, mind you. It is because they just do not know as much about politics as you do. Their store of political knowledge is much smaller. If you are reading this post, it probably means that you can be counted as a political elite - so defined by partisanship, issue salience, level of information, etc. You, therefore, are not like the average voter. Unfortunately, the pundit class usually fails to make the proper distinctions between the elite voter and the average voter - but the differences are very important. The latter know much less about politics than the former. As information is a prerequisite for vote choice, Negron has a huge disadvantage.

(Side note: for those who might be inclined to think I am being condescending, I assure you that I am not. The issue here is knowledge base, not intelligence. I think that the media/pundit class is actually condescending when it comes to the average voter. Compare our arguments about FL 16. Which is more condescending: to argue that voters will not know what a vote for "Foley" means; or to argue that they will know, but that they are so shallow and focused on symbolism that they cannot "hold their noses" long enough to vote for their political interests, and instead vote against those interests?)

For Negron, the way to overcome this is to get the message out. Theoretically, he could overcome it. The problem is a lack of political information - which could be supplied with a sufficient number of dollars spent on advertising run for a sufficient length of time. His task would be to make sure that his minimal winning voting coalition understands the situation - that half-plus-one of the partisan electorate (a) knows that a vote for "Foley" is a vote for Negron and (b) prefers Negron over Mahoney. At most, district partisanship inclines the electorate in FL 16 toward (b). It does not speak to (a), which is a necessary condition - and a hard one to meet.

So -- I would say that the answer to the title question is "No." Negron might have district partisanship aiding him, but a vote for him requires a level of information that is just too great for the average voter to acquire just 4 weeks before Election Day.

Bush on N. Korea Nuke Test

Statement by the President on North Korea's nuclear test:

"Last night the government of North Korea proclaimed to the world that it had conducted a nuclear test. We're working to confirm North Korea's claim. Nonetheless, such a claim itself constitutes a threat to international peace and security. The United States condemns this provocative act. Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond.

"This was confirmed this morning in conversations I had with leaders of China, and South Korea, Russia, and Japan. We reaffirmed our commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and all of us agreed that the proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council.

"The North Korean regime remains one of the world's leading proliferator of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria. The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable of the consequences of such action.

"The United States remains committed to diplomacy, and we will continue to protect ourselves and our interests. I reaffirmed to our allies in the region, including South Korea and Japan, that the United States will meet the full range of our deterrent and security commitments.

"Threats will not lead to a brighter future for the North Korean people, nor weaken the resolve of the United States and our allies to achieve the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Today's claim by North Korea serves only to raise tensions, while depriving the North Korean people of the increased prosperity and better relations with the world offered by the implementation of the joint statement of the six-party talks. The oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve that brighter future."

The Magic Fence

Now it's here, now it isn't. Mickey wonders whether President Bush is subtly trying to make the fence disappear with a pocket veto. It seems to me he's gathered enough evidence to justify his paranoia. Duncan Hunter certainly shares the concern, given how hopping mad he was during a Friday press conference.

Sure to add to the debate is this piece from Sunday edition of the San Antonio Express-News calling the construction of a fence along the border "far from a sure thing."

RCP News

Lost in the Foley explosion last week and Hastert's press conference on Thursday was RCP's announcement of several new features and partnerships we are very excited about.

For PDA users, we have launched an RCP Mobile feature. The new RCP Mobile can be accessed from the top left corner of the front page. RealClearPolitics has also partnered with FeedBurner to provide customized emails on a host of topics including all of the competitive 2006 races. Sign up for email updates in the top right corner of the site where it says "Email Update." RCP's publisher Alan Warms has more on this news and the business aspects at his blog and Fred Wilson posted some comments as well.

Additionally, which many of you may have already noticed, we have partnered with InTrade, the premier information trading market in the world to integrate real-time political market quotes into RCP's election coverage. We're thrilled to be working closely with InTrade's co-founder and CEO John Delaney on this project.

Every competitive Senate and Governor race on the RealClearPolitics' election pages now has all of the latest polls, RealClearPolitics Poll Average and chart, live quotes from InTrade, analysis, past election results, demographics and links to the latest FEC filings -- designed to provide you with all the relevant pieces of data needed to assess each contest.

(This page provides an easy jumping point to access most every competitive race in the nation.)

Re-Reporting For Duty

kerry4.gifTalk about burying the lede. Brian C. Mooney of the Boston Globe writes 1,200+ words about the possibility of another John Kerry run for the White House in 2008 before having Charlie Cook point out the obvious:

"I have been through 38 states since the last election and see no enthusiasm for another Kerry run," said Charles E. Cook Jr. , publisher of the non partisan Cook Political Report. He described "a strong feeling among Democratic voters that they need to go with someone new, that he had his shot."

Despite his vows not to be "Swift Boated" again and his sudden post-election desire to start talking publicly about his faith, I cannot imagine Democrats giving John Kerry another opportunity. He not only had his chance but, all things considered, he had an exceptionally good chance in 2004 at winning back the White House.

Not to mention that Kerry would be facing a much tougher field in 2008. Hillary Clinton will not be a paper tiger like Howard Dean turned out to be. John Edwards will be a much stronger candidate this time around (especially with the addition of Nevada to the calendar) and Wes Clark will also be stronger and more polished if he decides to run. Russ Feingold is no Dennis Kucinich, and while he may not end up pulling a ton of votes, Feingold will be a strong presence on the left, even despite Kerry's recent move in that direction. And then there is the looming presence of Albert Arnold Gore, Jr., who could really put a damper on any hope of a Kerry comeback.

The Battle For Florida 16

The Palm Beach Post reports on the frenzied battle currently taking place in Mark Foley's district:

Despite Negron's uphill climb -- with just 14 days until early voting starts -- few professional politicians are ready to hand the seat to Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney.

Negron's best hope, analysts said, is the demographics of the district. Florida's Republican-dominated legislature gave the district a more socially conservative base when they redrew the districts in 2002, by dropping much of southwest Palm Beach County from the district and adding most of Charlotte County.

The changes increased the number of registered Republicans by just two percentage points, but the difference in performance has been staggering.

The old district wanted Al Gore as president and Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate in 2000. Voters in what would become the new district picked George W. Bush and Bill McCollum, who lost to Nelson by five percentage points.

In 2004, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez finished six points higher than Democrat Betty Castor in the district. The rest of the state also chose the Republican, but by just one-tenth of a point. [snip]

The only way for Negron to undermine Mahoney's year-long campaign and to overcome the horrendous publicity attached to Foley's name, analysts and politicians said, is for state and national Republicans to bring in their sluggers on short notice and make an epic push to mobilize Republican voters.

"If the party comes forwards and really helps him get the Republican base to the polls, he can win," said state Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who ran for the seat briefly in 2003. "You absolutely have to make sure you get the voters to the polls."

The National Republican Campaign Committee spent $21,000 on a poll for Negron last week, according to a Federal Elections Commission filing, and sent in a campaign manger. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman plans to travel to the district to help raise money.

"Things are happening," Negron said. "The party is not going to just throw up its hands in despair. This race has national implications."

Here's another interesting tidbit from the Florida Herald Tribune:

For 18 months, Negron was a candidate for the state attorney general's post, until he dropped out in July.

He estimates that about 60 percent of the $1.5 million raised in that contest can be applied to the current race.

I don't want to paint too optimistic a picture for Negron, even with a decent amount of money and support from Jeb Bush and others in a conservative leaning district, he faces an incredibly tough challenge to reach out to enough voters in just 30+ days to introduce himself and to educate them about the need to overcome their disgust and cast a vote for Mark Foley on November 7. Negron really is sailing in uncharted waters.

The Kolbe Revelation

John Fund writes today:

Now Washington is filled with speculation that Mr. Trandahl [former House Clerk] and other staffers might have been trying to cover up for Mr. Foley. On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Jack Kingston, vice chairman of the Republican Conference, raised the idea that "there was a staffer or two who decided to maybe protect Mark Foley for reasons unknown."

The Washington Post has reported that Mr. Trandahl is on the board of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign and is "personally close to the now-disgraced former lawmaker, who announced through his lawyer this week that he is gay."

Now the Washington Post is reporting this morning that retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe, the only openly gay Republican member of Congress, was shown sexually explicit messeages between Mark Foley and a page six years ago:

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship. Last week, when the Foley matter erupted, a Kolbe staff member suggested to the former page that he take the matter to the clerk of the House, Karen Haas, said Kolbe's press secretary, Korenna Cline.

Kolbe's press secretary said "corrective measures" were taken, though it is unclear exactly what that phrase means other than it appears Kolbe confronted Foley about the messages shortly after he learned about them.

If this story turns out to be true and no other actions were taken against Foley, it would appear there was an effort on behalf of at least one gay Republican member of Congress to "protect" Mark Foley by handling the matter privately and by not referring an obviously sensitive and serious incident through the proper chain of command in the House.

October 08, 2006

What's Going on in Iran?

While the UN's "Perm Five" meet - as usual to no effect - to talk about Iran's nuclear program, the people of Iran are reacting strongly to continued oppression. Over the past few days there have been repeated but unconfirmed reports such as this one from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that supporters of a non-political ayatollah are rioting against his re-arrest.

Ayatollah Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has reportedly rejected politicization of Islam and condemned the Tehran regime for it. If these reports are correct, this is an important split among the Shia of Iran. It is precisely this kind of fissure we should support and seek to widen. If the reports aren't correct, they still show one of the paths to destabilizing Tehran. Even if Boroujerdi is a fiction, there may be others like he is portrayed to be. If he is real, he is a hero of Iran and someone we should be trying to support overtly or covertly or both.

October 07, 2006

Updated House Rankings

Yesterday we updated our list of vulnerable House seats. In the wake of the Foley scandal it is worth checking out. PA-10 continues to move up, and with scandal back in news the incumbent Don Sherwood who has his own little scandal because of a 5-year affair (Sherwood has admitted the affair, but denies charges that he assaulted her) looks to be in big time trouble and is now our most vulnerable incumbent. NY-26 where NRCC chair Tom Reynolds had been relatively safe is now clearly in a race for his personal political survival against wealthy businessman Jack Davis. Open seats continue to be the biggest problem for the GOP and make up 6 of the top 10 most vulnerable with FL-16 and OH-18 as new entrants. The highest ranked Democratic seat IL-8 continues to drop and doesn't hit the list until #30.

Foley '06 Fallout and the New York Times

The New York Times has a front page story on the GOP fallout from the Foley scandal with a sub headline: "In Wake of Page Scandal Party's Religious Wing Appears Dispirited." Adam Nagourney goes on to write:

More immediately -- and more alarmingly for Republican strategists who have looked to the party's powerful voter turnout operation to save the party this year -- there are signs that the furor is sapping the enthusiasm of a group essential to Republican victories in 2002 and 2004: religious conservatives.

One little problem with this assertion, is it really true? From the evidence we have seen, to date, it is not.

There is no question that the scandal destroyed the momentum that President Bush and the White House had built with the refocus on terrorism and national security issues, culminating with the vote in Congress on detainees and interrogations. And I should be clear to say, this is not meant to be an argument that the Foley scandal has not hurt Republicans significantly, there is a real possibility that it has put the GOP in a hole so deep they can not get out of it over the next four weeks. But I think the damage, so far, has been more with moderates, Independents and libertarians rather than with religious conservatives.

As far as the extant to which it has ultimately hurt GOP '06 election prospects, I think we will have to wait and see more polling, and more importantly, see whether this story can sustain itself with the same intensity next week. Where Republicans have definitely been hurt are races like Rick Santorum and Michael Steele for the Senate. Both Santorum and Steele were facing an uphill climb (pre-Foley), but they had a hope that if Republicans could sustain some of the momentum President Bush had built, and had their campaigns executed well, they had a chance at puling out wins. With the Foley explosion likely to have destroyed two crucial weeks on the calendar and with it not only halting GOP momentum but throwing Republicans back even further, I think is safe to say the Foley scandal has put these races out of reach.

But Pennsylvania and Maryland were Senate races the GOP was likely to lose anyway. The real question is does this scandal provide the margin for the Democrats in Missouri, Tennessee and Ohio in the Senate, as well as 15-20 more House races than Democrats otherwise would have won?

October 06, 2006

More Barone

Michael Barone has more thoughts on Foleygate. Like everything else he writes, it's a must read.

Protesting Bush

Just to be clear, this is not a staffer from Congressman John Conyers' office heading in to work:

(Photo credit: Betty Udesen, Seattle Times)

It is, in fact, one of the protesters who marched in my former home town of Seattle yesterday in what was termed a "National Day of Mass Resistance." Watch this multimedia slide show from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a more full experience of what the rally was like, including audio of the protesters chanting "Number One Terrorist? U.S., U.S."

The protest was organized by a group called The World Can't Wait, which lists the convicted terrorist sympathizer Lynne Stewart and America-hating icon Gore Vidal among those on its advisory board. The group's official "call to drive out the Bush regime" offers a list of grievances against the current administration before concluding:

People look at all this and think of Hitler - and they are right to do so. The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.

These folks should think twice about uttering any phrase that contains the word "balance" in it. Just a thought.

Dem Corps Poll

New post-Foley scandal Democracry Corps poll out. The survey of 1,000 likely voters was in the field Sunday, October 1 through Tuesday, October 3. I skimmed the topline numbers quick and they didn't seem drastically different.

Foleygate in MN-6

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune went back and interviewed a half dozen people from the sixth congressional district to see how the Foley scandal was playing and found:

"They're disgusted and repelled by the Capitol Hill sex scandal, but they say the still-unfolding tale isn't likely to change their vote on Nov. 7."

Six people is not exactly a statistically significant sample, but it's interesting reading nonetheless.

Media Alert (s)

I'll be on Hannity & Colmes tonight (9p-10p Eastern) along with Scott Rasmussen to discuss some of the latest Senate polling.

Also, Sunday evening I'll be on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont (7p-9p Eastern) talking more Election 2006. I've been told Joe Mathews, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and author of "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy," will be one of the other guests, so it should be interesting.

Joshua Micah McCarthy

What is up with Josh Marshall "browsing around looking for Foley pics" and then posting pictures of Republican members of Congress with Foley? What are we trying to say, Josh? Guilt by association? Implicit support of pederasty?

It's not only intellectually feeble (as Stefan Sharkansky points out here) but also just a dirty, low-down McCarthyite tactic. We might expect that sort of thing from Kos and others, but it's well beneath Josh and, I think, an unfortunate new low for him.

Adwatch '06: Doyle vs. Green

In the Wisconsin Governor's race, Jim Doyle's campaign is running this hard hitting but seemingly very effective ad against Republican challenger Mark Green:

Green is also up with a new ad slamming Doyle over that issue Tamar Jacoby assures us is "Fool's Gold." See what you think:

The GOP Toolkit

The Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday featured Brian Nienaber, VP of the Republican polling firm the Tarrance Group, and Celinda Lake, President of the Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners, reporting on the results of the latest Battleground Poll. Even though the survey was completed before the outbreak of Foleygate, both pollsters agreed that Republicans are in serious trouble and could lose both the House and the Senate.

Nienaber wins the quote of the day award for putting the pre-scandal Battleground numbers into the following post-scandal context:

"The three issues on which Republicans polled a clear advantage are terrorism, safeguarding America from terrorism, keeping taxes low, and protecting moral values. I think moral values is not going to be part of our tool kit anymore," Nienaber said wryly.

Taxes and terrorism are all that's left in the GOP tookit. Those are still two pretty powerful tools - but they aren't much help if the conversation remains all about sex.

TX Free For All

Expect a free for all when Independents Kinky Friedman and Gradma Strayhorn join incumbent Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Chris Bell on stage tonight for a debate in the Texas Governor race. Libertarian candidate James Warner got stiffed and won't be allowed to participate.

Pelosi's Analysis

Aside from saying that as Speaker of the House one of her agenda items would be pushing through a tax increase, here is what Nancy Pelosi told the AP about the politics of Foleygate:

The potential for political gain is clear to her [Pelosi].

"It's an opportunity for growth among women" for the Democrats, she said. "They don't always vote and this could be a motivation."

With married women, in particular, it's a huge issue, she added.

Among older voters, too.

"If there's an ethical issue, seniors take a hike" and abandon politicians they blame, she said.

"If we hold onto seniors we win the election."

I still think Pelosi made a minor political mistake yesterday by rejecting the proposal to have Louis Freeh recommend improvements to the page system, and when the AP brought it up in the interview Pelosi again dimissed the idea out of hand as a Republican ploy designed to protect their majority. Maybe so, but opposing efforts to improve the page system makes Pelosi look like the one who is more concerned about playing politics with the issue.

Cindy's Regrets

Cindy Sheehan says in an interview (audio) that she regrets calling George Bush a "lying bastard:"

The discourse in our country is oftentimes not productive. I believe that I did engage in some of that before. I'm trying really hard to keep my language better than it was before.

You asked me if I regretted anything, and I just thought of something I regret. I regret calling George Bush a lying bastard. I don't regret saying that he lied, because it's obvious that he did, but I regret that heavy rhetoric and that language that I used.

But that was a long time ago, when I was still very...very angry and bitter. I'm not bitter anymore. I'm still angry, and justifiably so, but I'm not bitter, and I regret that language and I regret when other people use it too.

So I think that our rhetoric has to be a little more loving than their rhetoric, because we can't fight hatred with more hatred, we have to fight it with love. And we can't fight violence with more violence, it has to be with peace. So I've become more peaceful inside myself, so my actions and my language can be a bit more loving and peaceful.

The entire interview 20 minute long interview can be heard here.

Where The Senate Stands - Part I

There is a new batch of Senate polls out today from USA Today/Gallup on the heels of the Reuters/Zogby round yesterday. So let's take a brief state-by-state look at where things stand after processing all the new information:

New Jersey
There's an overwhelming amount of evidence that after trailing for some time Bob Menendez has edged ahead in this race. There have been six polls taken in the last 10 days in New Jersey, and Menendez is ahead in five of them, with leads ranging from one to eleven percent. The ReaClearPolitics Average shows Menendez up by 3.3%. Menendez has also moved to a slight favorite in trading on the Intrade futures markets.

The Democrats could hardly get better news than a Menendez recovery in New Jersey, because it looked for a while like he was going to be doomed by the federal probe into his finances and that a Kean victory would demolish any hopes of Democrats winning back the Senate. That could still happen, of course, but things look a whole lot different with Menendez out in front.

This has turned into an absolute street fight. Three out of the five polls taken in the last ten days show Harold Ford with a slight edge, one shows Corker ahead by a single point, and one is a flat out tie. Ford is currently up 2.0 points in the RealClearPolitics Average and he's now also a slight favorite on Intrade (53 bid vs. 40 bid for Corker).

Corker has been bumbling and stumbling along, and recently revamped much of his campaign team. They had better get it together quickly. Ford is running a strong campaign and getting the better of it right now, though the crucial battle for middle Tennessee is really just getting under way. Ford is probably also helped on the margin by the fact that incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen is running away with the Governor's contest. In a race this close even the shortest coattails might make the difference.

Another ridiculously close race, and probably the key to determining who wins control of the Senate. The last four polls taken in this race come out to a 44.3 to 44.3 tie in the newest RealClearPolitics Average, with just over 9 percent undecided. The Intrade markets show Republican Jim Talent improving his position from the other day (55 bid to 46 bid), which is probably a reaction to the Reuters/Zogby poll out yesterday showing him with a four-point lead. I would expect it to swing back to a dead heat based on the USAT/Gallup out this morning showing McCaskill up three.

Stem cells are playing a bigger role in this race than probably any other in the country, and McCaskill put the issue front and center again this week by bringing in Michael J. Fox for a fundraiser. Meanwhile, the NRSC launched an attack against McCaskill this week for allegedly saying one thing to rural voters and another to her urban constituents. The goal is to protect Talent's lead in rural areas, which is where this race will be won or lost.

Probably the only bright spot in the country for the GOP is that despite the macaca, ham sandwich, and n-word controversies, George Allen seems to have stabilized a small lead in the latest round of polls. Four of the five polls taken in the last two weeks show Allen with leads ranging from 3-11 points. One poll, by the very reputable Mason-Dixon, has the race a tie. Allen holds a 5.3% lead in the updated RealClearPolitics Average, and he's moved out to a strong lead in the Intrade markets.

Obviously, this race is far from over. Yesterday Jim Webb announced a big fundraising quarter, saying that he has close to $3 million in the bank for the final weeks of the race. That will certainly keep the pressure on Allen and make this race very competitive right to the end. But Allen has plenty of money too, and after all the stuff that has been thrown at him, the fact he hasn't ever lost the lead says a lot about his strength as a candidate and the structural advantages he has in this race.

Rhode Island
The USA Today/Gallup poll showing Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse with an 11 point lead is a bit out of whack with the other recent polls in this race. Reuters/Zogby has Whitehouse's lead at 4 and Mason-Dixon pegs it at 1. Nevertheless, Whitehouse is pretty clearly in the lead at the moment and the latest filing shows he's got a strong cash advantage over Chafee. McCain was in town for Chafee earlier this week, but Whitehouse is countering by bringing in Barack Obama next week.

I know the GOP was very pleased with its turnout operation during the primary, but it's going to have to be firing on all cylinders on November 7 if Chafee wants to hold onto his seat.

Again, the USA Today/Gallup poll released today is a bit at odds with other recent independent polls, showing Democrat Ben Cardin with a big 15 point lead over Republican Michael Steele (a new partisan poll released by Republicans shows Steele within four). Right now Cardin leads in the RealClearPolitics Average by nearly 10 percent. Realistically, Steele needs to cut Cardin's lead in the RCP Avg at least in half by the final week of the campaign to have any real shot at the upset.

Cardin and Steele engaged in their first debate earlier this week, though from the press reports it seems unlikely to have any effect. The two are scheduled to square off on Meet the Press at the end of the month.

The big question in this race is how the African-American vote responds. Will blacks vote in decent numbers for Steele? Will they stay home? The Washington Times reports this morning that there is "undercurrent of discontent with the Maryland Democratic Party's lack of black statewide candidates." John wrote a couple of weeks ago about this possibly being a factor. It's a question we won't really have a definitive answer to until the morning after the election.

Denying Woodward

What do former Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and former NSA Director Brent Scowcroft have in common? All three went on record this week questioning some of the assertions made by Bob Woodward in his new book, State of Denial.

In an interview with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, Mr. Edsall said he had "real problems" with one of the scenes described in the book. When pressed about the authenticity of Mr. Woodward's recollection and the larger question of his credibility, Mr. Edsall said he's "not sure Woodward makes things up." Rather, he continued: "There are significant problems in Bob's reporting techniques, and the product that he produces, that every reader of his work should be aware of."

Also on Tuesday Mr. Card said in a nationally televised interview that he was "concerned that the perception that he [Woodward] was creating may be a perception to reflect his bias, than the reality that I lived in." Mr. Card disputed Mr. Woodward's charge that he and First Lady Laura Bush pushed to oust Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying, "Laura Bush never said to me that she wanted to have Secretary Rumsfeld removed. Never."

On Wednesday, Mr. Scowcroft released a brief statement to the press on State of Denial which read, in part: "There are statements in the book, directly or implicitly attributed to me, that did not and never could have come from me."

Mr. Woodward's work has come under criticism before, but this time those questioning his methods and accuracy are a surprising set of strange bedfellows: a left-leaning former Washington Post colleague, a White House insider, and a Republican who has been fiercely critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. That's quite an achievement for Mr. Woodward.

October 05, 2006

Foley Fallout By the Numbers

Here's the detail on the AP-Ipsos poll, which was in the field on Monday, October 2 through Wednesday, October 4 - all post Foley. Congress job approval rating remains essentially unchanged, not totally surprisingly since it's hard to register much lower than an already dismal 25%. But here are the two questions most relevant to trying to decipher the potential fallout from Foleygate:

Which comes closest to your feelings about the Republican leadership in Congress?
Satisfied, but not enthusiastic
Dissatisfied, but not angry
How important will recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress be to your vote in November?
Not at all important
Slightly important
Moderately important
Very important
Extremely important

Perhaps most interesting is that in the generic ballot question among REGISTERED voters, Democrats increased their lead over Republicans to 16 points this poll (54-38) versus the 12 point lead they had in the AP-Ipsos poll taken in mid-September (51-39). However, Democrats actually lost ground in the generic ballot question (albeit slightly) among LIKELY voters in the new survey, dropping from a 14-point lead last month (53-39) to a 10 point lead this month (51-41). That could just be statistical noise, of course, but it certainly is interesting - and not at all what one would expect.

By the way, that poll I teased earlier in the day containing bad news for Tom Reynolds is now available here.

Notes From a GOP Rally

Republican David McSweeney, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean in Illinois 8th Congressional District, held a rally out in Schaumberg today. I'd say there were probably 200 people or more crowded into the banquet room, which is not a bad showing for a Congressional event. The crowd seemed energetic but also a bit tense: as were waiting for the dignitaries to arrive word was circulating about Speaker Hastert' s impending press conference and what news it might bring.

For his part, candidate McSweeney appeared energized as well, and it didn't take long before he answered the question of whether he would be willing to touch the Foley matter at all. After saying that he would fight to reform Congress if elected (and also promising to slash Congressional salaries and pensions by 25%), McSweeney told the crowd he wanted to know why Mark Foley hadn't been arrested yet. The room applauded approvingly.

McSweeney went on to say there should be "zero tolerance" for that type of behavior, that Republicans shouldn't hide from the scandal and that he supported a "full investigation" as well as replacing the current House Ethics Committee with an independent panel that could deal with these type of situations more effectively.

The big draw for the event was Mayor Rudy Giuliani (making his second fundraising turn for McSweeney this year), who appeared along with former Illinois Republican Governor Jim Edgar. Giuliani didn't mention the Foley scandal at all, and he spent his time speaking almost exclusively about the importance of having a Republican majority in Congress to help continue fight an aggressive War on Terror.

McSweeney has an uphill fight on his hands against Bean. If the Foley scandal does depress Republican turnout he's done. But if it doesn't, or if the details of the scandal shift enough to somehow leave voters in this conservative-leaning district (Cook PVI R+5) disgusted with the whole lot in Congress and McSweeney can effectively sell himself as an outside-the-beltway reformer, he still might have a chance.

Election Analysis in a GOP Market Meltdown

Before my RealClearPolitics days I use to be a floor trader on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange and when you are a trader managing multiple different positions in a variety of different sectors every now and then you would get hit with a macro event that would trump the underlying technical or fundamental conditions of a particular stock. Well in the political world we are seeing that in the unfolding Foley scandal, and the multiple moving pieces in what is an extremely fluid situation. There are a bunch of polls out in many different individual races the past few days, but I wouldn't put a lot of weight in any of them until we see polling that has been in the field this Wednesday and later.

The internal GOP polling that FOX News reported earlier today that Republicans were looking at massive losses if Speaker Hastert stayed on board was probably a leak designed to pressure Hastert to step aside, but that doesn't necessarily make that report worthless. Rasmussen Reports released information this morning, in polling conducted Tuesday and Wednesday nights, that 61% of American adults believe Republican leaders have been "protecting Foley for years." Hard to tell how much sentiment like that, if accurate, effects Bob Corker in Tennessee or Heather Wilson in New Mexico - 1, but we should start to see generic ballot numbers soon, as well as individual race polls taken after Wednesday.

I watched Speaker Hastert's press conference intently, and from my perspective I didn't see anything that was going to quiet this firestorm from the GOP's perspective and provide Republicans with an opportunity to halt the implosion and get back on the offensive. Perhaps the news on the Drudge Report that the lurid IMs were a "prank gone awry" will be the catalyst to halt the GOP free fall, we'll see. I am sure there are more shoes to drop on this story.

However, until we start to see some polling post Oct 4th the only thing I would say for certain is the political volatility has exploded, but I would sure be nervous if I was holding a lot of long GOP futures.

The Question

Why would Nancy Pelosi object to appointing former Clinton FBI Director Louis Freeh to provide recommendatinos on improving the page system? That strikes me as a mistake. The last thing Pelosi wants is to be seen as delaying and/or obstructing a comprehensive review of the page system for partisan political gain.

Blunt is Back?

More vacillation from House GOP leaders. Republican Majority Whip Roy Blunt, who most people agree did a pretty good job of sticking the shiv into Hastert last night, is apparently back on board the Hastert bandwagon, if you believe what he says in his latest press release:


LINCOLN, NE--House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) today issued the following reaction to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's statement regarding the House Page system:

"The Speaker has led the House and has helped lead the country wisely and well. He is an effective leader of unquestioned integrity, and his statement today is proof of his commitment to protecting those who serve in the House Page Program.

"Mark Foley's actions were despicable, and he deceived us all. I know that if the Speaker had known what we know now about Foley's disgusting activities, he would have personally moved to have Foley expelled from the House of Representatives.

"We all now realize that this terrible situation could have been handled differently. We are all upset; we are all horrified; but we all stand together with our Speaker.

"Those who are trying to create the appearance of disunity between myself and the Speaker should know: There is not, and has not been, any daylight between the Speaker and me."

If Blunt's comments yesterday are his idea of solidarity, I'd hate to be a Republican ally who finds out what "daylight" from Blunt really looks like.

DrudgeReport: Filthy Foley Online Messages Page Prank

Matt Drudge has the siren out and this story continues to get more bizarre:


According to two people close to former congressional page Jordan Edmund, the now famous lurid AOL Instant Message exchanges that led to the resignation of Mark Foley were part of an online prank that by mistake got into the hands of enemy political operatives, the DRUDGE REPORT can reveal.

According to one Oklahoma source who knows the former page very well, Edmund, a conservative Republican, goaded Foley to type embarrassing comments that were then shared with a small group of young Hill politicos. The prank went awry when the saved IM sessions got into the hands of political operatives favorable to Democrats. This source, an ally of Edmund, also adamantly reports that the former page is not a homosexual. The prank scenario was confirmed by a second associate of Edmund.

The news come on the heels that former FBI Chief Louis Free has been named to investigate the mess.


Is This Really Where Democrats Want to Go?

From MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Scarborough Country:

what the Republican base is going to be shocked by over the next week or so this is the next stage of this story as it will develop--is how many closeted gay Republican men were involved in processing this information about the closeted gay man, Mark Foley.

And this from The Nation's David Corn, posted yesterday:

There's a list going around. Those disseminating it call it "The List." It's a roster of top-level Republican congressional aides who are gay...... What's interesting about The List--which includes nine chiefs of staffs, two press secretaries, and two directors of communications--is that (if it's accurate) it shows that some of the religious right's favorite representatives and senators have gay staffers helping them advance their political careers and agendas. These include Representative Katherine Harris and Henry Hyde and Senators Bill Frist, George Allen, Mitch McConnell and Rick Santorum.

Peter Mulhern forewarned of this strategy on the part of the Democrats in his piece yesterday.

Democrats didn't keep Mark Foley's sins on ice and serve them up shortly before an election to make Dennis Hastert look negligent. They did it to drive a wedge between the GOP and its evangelical supporters by publicizing the fact that the Republican leadership in Congress gave the benefit of a substantial doubt to a known homosexual.

The tactical calculation behind the Foley scandal is the same as the calculation that drove both John Kerry and John Edwards to babble on about Mary Cheney's sexual orientation in nationally televised debates. Democrats believe that they can suppress the evangelical vote by suggesting that the GOP is too gay friendly and they aren't about to let mere scruples stand in their way. Kerry's lesbian gambit failed because the targeted voters were not the troglodyte simpletons of the Democrats' imagination. They largely recognized and resented the condescension motivating the attack, and affirmed their respect for tender love within a family.

Maybe the Democrats are right about evangelicals this time and maybe they aren't.

All of the focus to date has been on the Republican conduct in this scandal and as I wrote earlier this morning I think the GOP House leaders have handled this whole thing miserably. But at some point the Democrats run the real risk of crossing a line that tilts the pendulum back the other way and whether it is the outing of gay republicans or the over the top ads like the one Democrat Wetterling is running in MN - 6 where she says:

Congressional leaders have admitted covering up the predatory behavior of a Congressman who used the Internet to molest children.

The pendulum will swing back at some point toward the GOP, but Republicans will have to stop the bleeding first, and I don't know that Louis Freeh is enough.

Freeh to Lead Probe Into House Page Program

Roll Call is reporting Louis Freeh will be named to oversee an investigation of the House page program:

FREEH WILL LEAD PAGE PROBE: Sources said Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will announce today that former FBI Director Louis Freeh will oversee an investigation of the House page program, which has been rocked in recent days by the scandal surrounding resigned Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Hastert is expected to hold a news conference in Illinois this afternoon.

The Pathway for Hastert's Resignation

The pathway for Hastert's resignation, one would think, has been laid. He is on record last night saying that he would resign if he thought it would help the GOP. Today the GOP leaks internal polling saying if the Speaker stays on Republicans are looking at "massive" losses, up to as much as 50 seats.

Coming After Hastert

FOX News is now scrolling an alert that says "GOP Poll Shows Massive Losses if Speaker Stays Till November." Bill Hemmer then quoted a report from Major Garrett saying prominent internal GOP polling suggests Republicans could lose up to 50 seats were Hastert to stay on through the election.

I find the 50 number a bit over the top, but what I think this leak shows, is there is now a coordinated plan within Republican ranks to dump Hastert.

The Speaker is about to have a press conference, where from all the news reports he insists he will not step down, but I don't see how he can put this fire out at this point.

Will The Dems Overplay Their Hand?

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press writes that national Democratic party leaders have "showed restraint" in the Foley mess. But local Democratic candidates are pounding the issue hard and, as we saw in the case of Patty Wetterling, pushing the bounds of this scandal as far as it will go.

One liberal group, American Family Voices headed by headed by ex-Clinton deputy Mike Lux, has been pumping out phone calls into the top 50 Republican-held districts around the country with pre-recorded messages telling voters that GOP leaders in Washington have "covered up for a child sexual predator."

There's a new AP-Ipsos poll out purporting to show just how badly voters have been turned off to Republicans because of the scandal, but the news story doesn't provide any specifics. But even without specifics, you know Foleygate is taking its toll. I'm told there will be a poll out this evening showing some bad news for Tom Reynolds in New York.

The question is whether there is any feasible way for Republicans to recover in time for the election and/or whether Democrats manage to incite a backlash by driving the issue so hard over the next four weeks. At this point if you're a Republican, it doesn't look very promising at all.

Quoting the Donald

The Palm Beach Post ran a story yesterday titled "Betrayed upper crust likely to cut off Foley" that included this quote one of the community's crustiest members:

Donald Trump said Tuesday he has been monitoring the news but stopped just short of saying he'd ban Foley from Mar-a-Lago.

"He's not a member, and I can ban whoever I want," Trump said. "I see Mark at the club very often, but he is always someone else's guest. I have a feeling he won't be asked to come very often anymore. Personally, I don't much like men who want to kiss young boys."

Kass On Hastert

John Kass in today's Chicago Tribune:

there's nothing quick about what's happening to Hastert. What we're seeing is a painfully slow impaling.

I don't think he'll survive it, and if he does, his party won't stand a chance in November.

So Hastert slides down, painfully, with every new allegation from congressional aides about who knew what in the matter of disgraced and former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who resigned after ABC News revealed copies of sexually explicit instant messages between Foley and a young male congressional page.

Despite my disagreements with him about Illinois politics, Hastert has always seemed to be a decent fellow. I don't believe he'd ever countenance such behavior. I think he must have been betrayed by an incompetent staff.

New Features

Yesterday I mentioned the new feature we've launched with Intrade. Today we're announcing the launch of two more cool features on RCP. Details here.

More on Hastert and Foley

From a longtime reader:

As the Foley mess has evolved, it has become increasingly clear that not everyone in the House Leadership is being as honest as they should. In my humble opinion, it's time for the Speaker and the rest of the Leadership to step down. It will be messy and it will not completely appease the media but it will, if done correctly, help the base and that is the most important thing right now. The GOP needs to portray a message to the base that we take our ideals seriously and that we know that we've strayed from conservatives principles (both economic and social) and the party is determined to get back to its core principles. Only then can the party energize the base ahead of the November election.

One of the benefits of such a move would be that the media would over the next week or two focus on the only person left who we know is a candidate for Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and nothing helps the GOP base like the image of a Speaker Pelosi. None of this will move many independent votes but it will have the impact of energizing the base if the message is that the party is getting back to its core principles.

As a political matter, Hastert and much of the House GOP leadership is finished. Hastert will not Speaker in January regardless of the election outcome. The only relevant political question is whether he should step aside now or face the music later. I would argue that it's better it happens now.

Advice to GOP Leaders: Just Tell the Truth

Yesterday I wrote that Republicans would be wise to follow Hugh Hewitt's advice and rally around Speaker Hastert. However, I added an important caveat:

Dennis Hastert and the rest of the Republican leadership are in a position to know whether Hewitt's characterization of the time line and facts are accurate. If it is, this advice is not only the right way to go forward; it is the only winning strategy for Republicans in the 2006 Election. (emphasis added)

Well, it is increasingly is looking like Hastert's characterization of what his office knew and when they knew it has been less than honest. At worst, it looks like the Speaker's office deliberately misrepresented how much they knew of the Foley "problem." A more charitable - but still damning - interpretation is that it looks like they simply did not think it important enough to take the matter as seriously as they should have. Put simply, Hastert's assertion that all they knew about were a couple of overly "friendly" emails from Foley, and nothing more, until the salacious IM's this past Friday appears to be less than true.

The complete disarray of the House Republican leadership these past few days is beginning to support the common-sense conclusion that these guys knew more about this "problem" than they are letting on. Majority Leader Boehner has been all over the map, first telling the Washington Post he talked to Hastert, then saying he didn't, and then going back to his original position on a radio program on Monday. NRCC chair Tom Reynolds fingered Hastert on Friday when the story first broke and then backed off and appeared to get behind Hastert and has fired his chief of staff who is now talking to the press. (When fielding questions at a news conference with Governor Pataki recently, Reynolds was perspiring precipitously, clearly looking like a man under enormous strain.)

And then yesterday, Minority Whip Roy Blunt, who is #3 in the GOP leadership and who clearly has designs for the post-Hastert top slot (apparently as minority leader), appeared to disembark the Titanic with these comments:

I could have given some good advice here which is, you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of and you absolutely can't decide to not look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to.

Bottom line, this is metastasizing into an unmitigated disaster for Republicans. The fact that 1) the timing of this is obviously politically inspired, 2) the anti-GOP press has been deliberately conflating the emails and the IMs and what exactly they "knew," and that 3) Democrats tend to condone their sex-scandal offenders (Gerry Studds and Bill Clinton) are all irrelevant.

Republicans have to get all of the facts and the truth out to the American people, and they need to do it with no regard to the political consequences this November before they can even contemplate going on the offensive and trying to take a fight to the Democrats. If the truth means that one, two, three, or none of their leaders need to step aside, so be it. Because right now the House Republican leaders look inept, confused, pathetic, and more concerned with their individual power and position than with the truth.

October 04, 2006

Scowcroft on 'State of Denial'

Brent Scowcroft released the following statement today (View image):

"I have spoken to Bob Woodward a number of times about a variety of subjects over the years, but I did not agree to be interviewed for his latest book. Further, there are statements in the book, directly or implicitly attributed to me, that did not and never could have come from me. I never discuss any personal conversations that I may have with President George H.W. Bush, and he never discusses with me any conversations that he has with President George W. Bush."

Scowcroft's office confirmed the authenticity of the statement and said it was released earlier today to the Associated Press. Curiously, I can find no mention of it on any AP-driven news site.

Begala's Not So Civil Discourse

Anybody remember the penultimate paragraph from a column Paul Begala wrote on November 13, 2000? It has stuck with me as one of the truly despicable pieces of discourse of the last few years - and believe me, there have been quite a few. Here's a refresher:

Yes, Barnicle is right when he notes that tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican. But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture. You see the state where James Byrd was lynch-dragged behind a pickup truck until his body came apart -- it's red. You see the state where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay -- it's red. You see the state where right-wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees -- it's red. The state where an Army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry: they're all red too.

You really can't paint with a much broader brush than labeling half the country racist, anti-gay bigots and neo-nazis. What struck me about Begala's comments at the time was that he wasn't some no-name nutroot blogger crying out for attention (they didn't exist yet), he was a top strategist in the Democratic party. He remains that today - even though his penchant for most uncivil type of discourse seems as great as ever. Here is Begala concluding his first post at the new Washington Monthly Election '06 blog:

The Capitol needs a change. Hell, it needs to be fumigated. And as the stench and filth of GOP sleaze slowly oozes away, let us never forget that these slimeballs, these dirtbags, these moral midgets think they're better than you and me.

Such highmindedness. As I said, this stuff isn't coming from a member of the kooky lunatic fringe but from a top Dem political strategist and one of the people who has their hand on the rudder of the Democratic party.

A New Poll and a Killer App

Rasmussen Reports has a new poll in the Connecticut Senate race showing Joe Lieberman up 10 points on Ned Lamont, which is an eight point jump over Rasmussen's last survey just two weeks ago. Republican Alan Schlesinger continues to get no traction whatsoever, and while Lieberman hit the 50 percent mark, Lamont's support slipped to 40% in this poll. On the heels of the QPoll in mid-September also showing Lieberman up 10, the Rasmussen poll compounds the problems facing Lamont which I wrote briefly about last week.

By the way, now is probably a good time to draw attention to a great new feature we've added to our RCP Election pages: we're now providing real-time quotes on each race from the Intrade futures market. If you look at the Connecticut Senate race, for example, as of the time I write the market has Lieberman at more than a three to one favorite over Lamont (77.7 bid vs 22.0 bid).

Here are the lastest Intrade numbers (as of this moment) from other competitive Senate Races:

Missouri: Talent (GOP) 50.9 bid | McCaskill (Dem) 49.0 bid

New Jersey: Kean (GOP) 53.0 bid | Menendez (Dem) 43.0 bid

Ohio: Brown (Dem) 75.0 bid | DeWine (GOP) 24.9 bid

Tennessee: Corker (GOP) 50.0 bid | Ford (Dem) 50.0 bid

Virginia: Allen (GOP) 65.0 bid | Webb (Dem) 35.0 bid

Maryland: Cardin (Dem) 74.2 bid | Steele (GOP) 24.7 bid

Minnesota: Klobuchar (Dem) 90.0 bid | Kennedy (GOP) 9.0 bid

Montana: Tester (Dem) 82.0 bid | Burns (GOP) 15.0 bid

Pennsylvania: Casey (Dem) 84.5 bid | Santorum (GOP) 10.0 bid

Rhode Island: Whitehouse (Dem) 72.0 bid | Chafee (GOP) 26.0 bid

Washington: Cantwell (Dem) 88.9 bid | McGavick (GOP) 7.0 bid

Michigan: Stabenow (Dem) 90.0 bid | Bouchard (GOP) 9.0 bid

As you can see, right now the Intrade markets have the Dems with a net pick up of three seats (taking PA, OH, MT, and RI but losing NJ) with two more (TN and MO) absolute coin flips.

So if you're not already visitng the RCP Election pages on a regular basis for all the latest polls and news on these races, we've just given you another reason to check back early and often, as they say.

Foleygate Hits Illinois

Interestingly, the state most roiled by the Foley scandal outside of Florida is probably Illinois. Obviously, there's the focus on Speaker Hastert. But there is also a good bit of attention being given to Rep. John Shimkus from the 19th District who heads the panel overseeing the House page program. Neither of the two men are in danger of losing their seat, though the scandal has provided a boost in media and money to their respective challengers.

More importantly, the Hastert-Shimkus connection to Foleygate is now at the center (at least for the time being) of two very competitive House races. Democrat Tammy Duckworth and Republican Peter Roskam sparred over the issue yesterday, with Duckworth using the scandal as a pretext to call on Roskam to return $39,000 in contributions from Hastert, Shimkus, and Boehner. Roskam said he backs Hastert's call for a full investigation and declined to criticize the Speaker, telling reporters, "I'm not saying I don't believe Hastert. I'm saying this story is evolving literally by the hour."

That followed an exhange on the issue between incumbent Democrat Melissa Bean and Republican David McSweeney before the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Monday. McSweeney called for the page program to be shut down, saying:

"As sad a commentary as it is, with what's going on in Washington, D.C., I think we should shut down the program. There were problems in the '70s and '80s with the program. ... It hasn't worked unfortunately."

McSweeney called Hastert a man of integrity and said he supported the Speaker's call for a '"full, no-bounds investigation."

Both of these races are close (IL-6 | IL-8) and will probably continue to be influenced by the way this story keeps playing out in the future.

Newt: Hastert Shouldn't Resign

From the AP (Via Drudge):

Gingrich, a Republican who represented a district in Georgia, said it appeared Hastert did all he could by sending another congressman to confront Foley about the charges. Beyond that, Gingrich said, the information he had at the time wasn't "actionable."

"You look him in the eye," Gingrich said. "You say, 'This is dangerous. It's inappropriate. You can't do it.' And, in this case, we now know that U.S. Rep. Foley lied. Now, when you catch him in the lie, you then take stronger action. But until you catch him, you can't presumptively do that."

Gingrich suggested there is a double standard that Republican scandals reflect badly on all Republicans while Democratic scandals, such as Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, don't affect other Democrats. He also questioned the timing of the release of the information, just a few weeks before the midterm elections.

Even if there was suspicion about Foley, Gingrich said, there is little that could have been done legally.

"You just had the Democrats vote against wiretapping for the purpose of getting terrorists, but it's OK to wiretap for the purpose of getting Republicans?" he said. "I don't understand the double standard."

Hewitt's Advice on Foley and Hastert

Hugh Hewitt has given the best political advice for Republicans on how to deal with the Foley scandal.

The Washington Times wants Speaker Hastert to resign. To do so would be to capitulate to Democratic-activist-induced and MSM-abetted hysteria. Not only should Hastert not resign, he should use every opportunity to swing back hard at a MSM deeply compromised by its ideological extremism and a Democratic Party committed to retreat and defeat in Iraq and fecklessness in the war generally.....

Hastert did not know that Foley was a predator, only that Foley had sent a too-friendly e-mail to one teenage page, the sort of e-mail that would have been completely unremarkable if it hadn't come from a gay Congressman. To have attempted to censure Foley for that e-mail would have been to impose a rule on Congressmen concerning their contacts with minor pages and interns that has no precedent anywhere. The warning about appropriateness that Foley did receive is exactly what ought to have happened and did.

Confirmation of that conclusion is provided by two newspapers. (St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald)

Until Friday Hastert and other GOP Congressmen knew only what Florida newspapers knew and which those newspapers considered insufficiently newsworthy to run a story about.....

Two major newspapers have known about the e-mail for eleven months. There was no story because there was no scandal in the e-mails, only in the IMs, which shock and outrage everyone who reads them, and which have been concealed somewhere for more than three years --itself a scandal, but not one to be laid on the Speaker.

Dennis Hastert and the rest of the Republican leadership are in a position to know whether Hewitt's characterization of the time line and facts are accurate. If it is, this advice is not only the right way to go forward; it is the only winning strategy for Republicans in the 2006 Election.

A resignation by Speaker Hastert would guarantee a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. Given the headwinds Republicans are battling this cycle, chucking Hastert under the bus would be the final nail in the GOP's 2006 coffin. The New York Times understands the politics involved, which is why they are running with the opportunity the Washington Times' editorial provided to fan media speculation over whether "Hastert can survive." Today's front page article "Hastert Fights to Save His Job" reports:

behind the scenes senior Republicans weighed whether he could survive the scandal surrounding former Representative Mark Foley. Among the options being considered by senior Republicans is for Mr. Hastert to announce that he will stay on as speaker through this year but not seek re-election to the post assuming Republicans retain control of the House, said people on and off Capitol Hill who were involved in the discussions.....who asked not to be named.

The Washington Post gives a more honest portrayal of where "senior Republicans" really stand on the issue of whether Hastert should resign:

Hastert and fellow House Republicans stressed that they will contain the fallout from revelations that senior GOP leaders had known for months about the inappropriate communications between former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and at least two teenage male pages..... A public show of support for the speaker by many House members masks fears that Hastert's hands-off management style since 1999, when he ascended almost accidentally to one of the highest offices in the land, may finally end his career.

As the Post's piece alludes, Hastert's days as Speaker were numbered for many reasons, none of them having to do with the Foley scandal. Given where we are in the fall campaign and the facts that we know, as of today, there is little chance Hastert will be pushed out. In fact, Hastert's aggressive round of talk radio appearances yesterday suggest Republican leaders are beginning to take Hewitt's advice and go on the offensive after a very wobbly 48 - 72 hrs after this story first broke. Hewitt's most important point will not be lost on Republican strategists:

There was no story because there was no scandal in the e-mails, only in the IMs, which shock and outrage everyone who reads them, and which have been concealed somewhere for more than three years --itself a scandal, but not one to be laid on the Speaker.

Expect to hear a lot more from Republicans on who knew about these IM's, when they knew about them, and how they happened to make their way into the press five weeks before an election.

October 03, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

There are daytime soap operas, and then there is >the Foley scandal, which is rapidly achieving a status all its own.

Video of the Day

George Allen's campaign bought two minutes worth of television time to air the following message across Virginia last night:

Break for 2008

Fed up with the Foley scandal already? Take a break to peruse another always fun but completely irrelevant poll on the 2008 presidential race. This one is from WNBC/Marist (Sept 18-20) which reports the following horserace numbers - with a candidate's movement up (+) or down (-) versus Marist's last national poll in February '06:

Rudy Giuliani 23% (+1)
Condi Rice 20% (-2)
John McCain 15% (-7)
Newt Gingrich 7% (+2)
Mitt Romney 4% (nc)
Bill Frist 4% (+2)
George Allen 2% (nc)
George Pataki 2% (nc)
Undecided 21% (+4)

Hillary Clinton 35% (+2)
Al Gore 16% (-1)
John Edwards 10% (-6)
John Kerry 9% (-2)
Joe Biden 5% (+1)
Mark Warner 2% (nc)
Tom Daschle 2% (na)
Undecided 16% (+7)

So there you have it. The biggest increases on either side over the last six months are among the number of undecideds. Break over. Now back to coverage of the scandal currently in progress.

Oh, and By the Way

The DOW hit an all time high today. Gas prices dropped for eighth consecutive week and oil dipped below $60 a barrel today - a seven month low.

There should be a new unemployment number for September shortly, but we've already had sub-5% for nine consecutive months, including record lows (and rising wages) among Hispanics.

Will any of the good economic news matter? Or will instant messages from Maf54 overwhelm it all?

Corker's Shake Up

I just published a post on Bob Corker's struggles over the weekend, and now he's fired his campaign manager with only five weeks left in the race.

Corker has brought on Tom Ingram, Senator Lamar Alexander's now former Chief of Staff, to direct things down the stretch. We'll have to watch and see whether Ingram has the right touch to get the Corker campaign turned around.

- Latest polls and news on the Tennessee Senate Race.

Boehner Responds

Majority Leader John Boehner's office just emailed out the text of a letter he sent to the Washington Times this morning. It reads as follows:

October 3, 2006

Dear Letter to the Editor:

I disagree with the editorial board of the Washington Times ("Resign, Mr. Speaker," Oct. 3, 2006). We are all outraged about Mark Foley's abhorrent and reprehensible conduct. He preyed on children entrusted to our care and he disgraced our institution.

Mr. Foley lied to his fellow members, he lied to the Clerk of the House, and I believe everyone wishes they knew more and knew it earlier so we would have caught Mr. Foley's lies and deceit. Those of us in the Republican leadership have done our best to provide an accurate chronology of our recollections and conversations with Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) regarding Mr. Foley, but one thing is certain: no one in the leadership, including Speaker Hastert, had any knowledge of the warped and sexually explicit instant messages that were revealed by ABC News last Friday. Had Speaker Hastert or anyone else in our leadership known about Mr. Foley's despicable conduct, I'm confident the Speaker would have moved to expel Mr. Foley immediately and turn him over to the appropriate authorities.

Our congressional pages and their parents deserve a fair and full investigation by the Justice Department, and I'm confident they will get one. We also need to know why these messages surfaced only last week, on the final day of legislative business before the November elections. If this evidence was withheld for political purposes, one can only speculate as to how many additional children may have been endangered before this information was finally revealed.

John Boehner (R-OH)
House Majority Leader

Mail on Foley

A reader points out one of the main reasons the Speaker of the House is coming under such fire:

Hastert ignored it [the news of Foley's "friendly emails"] in a particular and peculiar way. There's a page program with three congressman sitting on it--the obvious move would be referring the matter to this program, with a strongly worded observation that it looks like this is a potentially serious matter.

But that didn't happen--Democrat Kildee and even Republican Caputo never were notified. That's per se managerial malfeasance--there's a structural mechanism to address issues arising with this particular congressional program, and Hastert simply sat on the information he had. Any CEO would be forced to resign.

Of course, we're all making observations with the benefit of hindsight and armed with the additional knowledge of the much more graphic and disturbing evidence from Foley's 2003 IM's. Clearly, if Hastert had known about those it would have been an absolute no brainer to run Foley out of Congress.

That leads to the next email, which raises the question many Republicans have been starting to ask:

While teen pages were at risk, Democratic operatives held what they new until it was politically favorable, letting the predator Foley continue to do harm. Hastert needs to be taken to the carpet for his neglect but where is this other part of the story? Who knew and held the story for political gain? Someone needs to find where this story originated and how long they had it.

The answer to that question may not save Hastert, but if it does turn out, as some have speculated, that Democratic operatives did know about the salacious IM's from 2003 but held them back for some time to dump for political gain 5 weeks before the election, I think you'll see the focus and the cries of outrage on this story shift toward Democrats and complicate things dramatically.

Stealing Elections

John Fund's book on election fraud won't go out of style as long as we still have elections. He talks about the subject on the latest installment of the Glenn and Helen Show.

Foleygate Mushrooms

Foleygate has clearly mushroomed into a mini-nuke for Republicans. Democrats were getting nowhere with the "culture of corruption" argument. Voters didn't care. But when you take the Foley mess and modify the message to "culture of sleaze," that gets voters' attention. Here is quick tour of some of the Foley related stories from around the country.

Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post look at the potentially devastating effect of the scandal on the GOP base.

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny take a similar angle in the New York Times.

The most interesting, and potentially most damaging story on the scandal is the report by Noam N. Levey, Maura Reynolds and Richard B. Schmitt in the Los Angeles Times that Foely's "proclivity" for young male pages goes back years and was fairly widely known on the Hill.

In addition to the editorials I posted on below, here are a bunch more from the New York Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, New York Daily News, Rocky Mountain News, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, and the Palm Beach Post.

The Hartford Courant reports on how the Foley scandal is playing in CT House races.

The Hill reports that the ripple effect of the Foley scandal may drag down Republican Tom Reynolds in his tough reelection battle.

Back in Illinois, Senator Dick Durbin called the Foley scandal "disgusting" and "unforgiveable" and called for an investigation of House leadership. And Speaker Hastert's opponent in IL-14 is holding a press conference today calling on him to resign - not just his leadership position but from Congress altogether, saying, "Anyone who knows an Internet sex predator may be stalking children under their care and allows almost a year to go by without taking steps to secure the safety of those children should be held accountable."

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't plug another great effort by conservative cartoonist Mike Shelton in today's Orange County Register:


Granholm on the Offensive

Embattled Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm squared off against Republican challenger Dick DeVos last night. The Detroit Free-Press writes that, "Granholm went on the offensive early and kept DeVos on the defensive throughout much of the debate."

The more conservative-leaning Detroit News characterized the debate this way: "All in all, like the $26 million advertising campaigns, their first debate was a nasty, down-and-dirty encounter between the charismatic governor and the successful Grand Rapids-area businessman who wants her job Nov. 7." The News also reports that "Granholm dropped the bomb of the hourlong sparring match when she chided DeVos for failing to disclose information about his investment in a nursing home chain reportedly involved in abuse of Alzheimer's patients."

This race is close and Granholm wanted to avoid any big stumbles. It sounds like she easily accomplished that while landing some blows of her own against DeVos.

Nussle By a Nose

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register says Repubican Gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle won last night's debate with Democrat Chet Culver - but not by much.

Dueling Hastert Eds

Two conservative op-ed pages come down on different sides of Speaker Hastert's responsibility in the Foley case. The Tony Blankley-led Washington Times issues a call for Hastert's resignation:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

On the other hand, Paul Gigot and crew at the Wall Street Journal offer a limited defense of Hastert, suggesting there wasn't a whole lot more that could have been done at the time (late 2005) given that the only evidence available were a couple of emails to two former pages which Mr. Foley apparently defended as completely innocent:

What next was Mr. Hastert supposed to do with an elected Congressman? Assume that Mr. Foley was a potential sexual predator and bar him from having any private communication with pages? Refer him to the Ethics Committee? In retrospect, barring contact with pages would have been wise.

But in today's politically correct culture, it's easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in emails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert's head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys. Are these Democratic critics of Mr. Hastert saying that they now have more sympathy for the Boy Scouts' decision to ban gay scoutmasters? Where's Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on that one? [snip]

Yes, Mr. Hastert and his staff should have done more to quarantine Mr. Foley from male pages after the first email came to light. But if that's the standard, we should all admit we are returning to a rule of conduct that our cultural elite long ago abandoned as intolerant.

While I'm still not yet convinced Hastert deserves to lose his leadership position over this, I find the WSJ's "political correctness prevented taking action against a gay man" argument unconvincing.

On one hand, many would argue Foley's sexual orientation made his contact with former male pages all that much more deserving of scrutiny. On the other hand, Foley's sexual orientation is somewhat beside the point: this story would be less exotic but just as damaging if Foley were chasing 16 year old girls around the Capitol, sending them salacious IM's about being horny and wanting them to take their clothes off.

The bigger point is that extracurricular contact with pages is forbidden by House rules for obvious reasons, and Foley should have either been investigated or at least given a final warning, issued in writing, telling him that the behavior was unacceptable and had to stop.

Instead, we have a situation where, once again, the House of Representatives looks like its being run as a big club where members get preferential treatment and the rules don't really apply. Whether it's a Congressman hopped up on booze and pills smashing his car into a barrier at 3am who gets a ride home instead of a ticket, or a Congresswoman who smacks a police officer with a cell phone and doesn't get tossed in the clink, or members of Congress (most notably the Speaker) throwing a fit because the FBI had the audacity to actually search a member's office for evidence in a criminal corruption investigation, there is a sense that the people's House operates of, by, and for its members.

Obviously, the Foley case is more damning in the salaciousness of the details and the fact it involves minors, but it's really all of the same piece.

October 02, 2006

Adwatch '06: Cranley Hits Chabot

Democratic challenger John Cranley deftly makes his point against Republican Congressman Steve Chabot with the help of a Bush impersonator (via Bowers):

More Foley Fallout

Many readers have emailed insisting the Foley scandal will hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections. To be clear, I think the Foley scandal could seriously hurt Republicans this fall. As I wrote yesterday:

I do think this unfolding Foley scandal in the House has the potential to cause significant problems for the GOP across the board - including on the margin in these Senate races - we will have to watch how this news plays out over the next several days.

The point of my post today was that I thought Newt Gingrich did a pretty effective job on FOX News Sunday explaining the Republicans' position in the House and that the "gay-bashing" angle of the story may mitigate the degree to which it becomes an election issue. (Brit Hume's comments touched on the gay issue tangentially by bringing up Gerry Studds and Barney Frank.)

I do think the first several days of press coverage have hurt Republicans in a generic sense, and there is no question it has cost them at least one House seat (Foley's). The press is also not going to be an ally for Republicans in their attempts to set the record straight on what the time line was with the emails and instant messages, and at the end of the day the average person is going to see a Republican congressman engaging in repugnant behavior that was tolerated for way too long by his colleagues. That may or may not be fair to the House GOP leadership, but that is the impression that is forming - which is obviously not positive for the GOP.

More on Foley and the GOP

I saw a lot of speculation on the Sunday shows as to whether the Foley scandal would damage GOP candidates this cycle. I'm with John on this one. My sense is that it does not.

To hurt the GOP's electoral prospects, it has to hurt GOP candidates. So -- the big question: which candidates? For the issue to be effective, especially at this point, it would have to be linked to specific House incumbents. That seems to me to be a hard sell. A very hard sell indeed. We have gotten to that point in the campaign where the principal focus is, or at least it should be, the individual races. All of those multi-million dollar campaign warchests are now being emptied to focus the voter on the strengths/weaknesses of the candidates in each race. So -- for Foley to work outside FL 16, you'd have to tie somebody to him in a clear, convincing manner. Talking in the abstract about something harming a party's electoral prospects generally is really inappropriate come October. If you do not have specific candidates who will be harmed in specific ways, then you have little basis for your argument.

That is not to say that the psychological effect will not be strongly felt among GOP elites. I imagine they must be extremely frustrated right now. After that win in California's 50th district, the GOP has just had some bad luck. They were unable to field a replacement in TX 22 after DeLay resigned and withdrew. They failed to get the preferred candidate in AZ 08, and now seem to have little-to-no chance in retaining Jim Kolbe's seat. Meanwhile, they are looking quite weak in both IA 01 and CO 07. There is also a great deal of baggage for the GOP in both OH 18 and PA 10. Handing the Democrats FL 16 will probably serve as a major depressant, as it is now seems to be the 5th-to-7th seat where Democrats have a distinct advantage.

Mixing a Liberal Cocktail

One of the benefits of being part of a newspaper's editorial page is that writers almost never have to sign their name to anything they write - no matter how wrong, intellectually dishonest, or just plain stupid it might be.

That's something Hartford Courant editorial writer David Medina might want to reflect upon after putting his John Hancock on this unintentionally comical op-ed appearing in the paper this morning which is one part ode to Hugo Chavez:

A child living in the slums of Caracas today probably stands a better chance of becoming a doctor than a child attending public school in Hartford. The Venezuelan child also eats better and lives longer and more comfortably than at any time in his country's recent history.

One part rebuke to Democrats:

Instead of criticizing Chavez, Democrats should only hope to have someone as colorful and daring as Chavez running for president in 2008. Had they done so in 2000 and 2004, they'd probably be running the country right now.

And two parts pure Bush derangement syndrome:

For the record, President Bush is not the devil.

He might want to torture and maim suspected terrorists in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, but he is not the devil.

He might want the FBI, the CIA and the NSA to listen in on your most private conversations without the benefit of a court order, but, no, President Bush is not the devil.

He might want to gut the nation's affirmative-action laws and deck the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with oil rigs, but even those actions, evil as they may seem, wouldn't make President Bush the devil.

Deceitful Democrats, on the other hand ...

And this is one of the people mixing up the unsigned editorials at the Courant every day.

Will The Foley Scandal Have Legs?

Two reasons why the Foley scandal might not have a huge impact beyond reducing the number of seats the Democrats need to capture by one, as Florida's 16th district is almost certainly now going to go to the Democrats in November. From FOX News Sunday yesterday:

1) WALLACE:Before we get to the Clinton interview, let's start, as we always do, with the latest news.

It now turns out that, as we said, top Republican House leaders knew for months that Congressman Mark Foley sent inappropriate e-mails to at least one 16-year-old male page.

Speaker Gingrich, did House Republican leaders do all they should have?

GINGRICH: Well, I think if you look at what they actually knew, which was that the family did not want anyone involved and the actual notes were relatively innocuous -- there was nothing sexual in those notes. They had him counseled. They had the head of the page program, Congressman Shimkus, talk to him very directly. And I think they thought it was over. The newest incident only surfaced when ABC News interviewed Foley, and he resigned within two hours, or I think the House leaders would have moved to expel him.

WALLACE: But during all those months, they left Foley in the House Republican leadership. They left him as the head of the congressional caucus dealing with exploited children. No second thoughts about that?

GINGRICH: Well, you can have second thoughts about it, but I think, had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would have also been accused of gay bashing. I mean, the original notes had no sexual innuendo, and the parents did not want any action taken.

WALLACE: Well, how would it have been gay bashing?

GINGRICH: Because it was a male-male relationship. And they had no -- there was no proof, there was nothing that I know of in that initial round that would have led you to say in a normal circumstance that this is a predatory person. It's very clear -- and let me remind you, in 1983, I moved to expel two members for dealing with pages inappropriately, because I do think we have an en loco parentis responsibility. But I think it would have been very hard to have done much more than they did with the first action. And in the second action, had he not resigned, I think they would have expelled him.


2) WALLACE: Brit, bigger issue here. Does this feed into a sense that, certainly at least the Democrats are arguing, that it shows an arrogant Republican majority that, you know, is more concerned about incumbency than about, in this particular case, protecting kids?

HUME: It is serious misbehavior on the part of Congressman Foley. Whether it stems from some overall arrogance or just the weakness of the human flesh is another question.

It's probably worth noting here that there's a difference between the two parties on these issues. Inappropriate behavior towards subordinates didn't cost Gerry Studs his Democratic seat in Massachusetts, nor Barney Frank his.

Nor did inappropriate behavior toward a subordinate even cost Bill Clinton his standing within the Democratic Party, even though indirectly, he was impeached for it. Mark Foley found out about this, was found out to have done this, and he's out of office and in total disgrace in his party.

From the facts we have today, I think both Hume and Gingrich hit on important threads to the Foley story that may prevent this from blowing up into a full blown issue in the election. That is of course with the facts that we know on the story as of today, if the facts change or are materially different, and there was a substantive cover up by the Republican leadership in the House, then it is a whole different ballgame.

DeWine vs. Brown

I missed the first few minutes of the debate yesterday on Meet the Press between Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown. From what I saw, however, I thought DeWine did well and, on balance, got the better of Brown by painting him as part of the "fringe" of the Democratic party, especially on matters of national security.

Frankly, if you take a close look at Sherrod Brown's answers defending some of his votes in the House, they were a mess. First, Brown stumbled when Russert asked what Iraq would look like today if his vote in favor of getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the fall of 2006 had passed. That was followed by this particularly brutal exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: Back in October in '03, about six months into the war, you voted against $87 billion to fund the war. Would you consider, if the president does not change the course and you're elected to the U.S. Senate, measures to cut off funding for the war?

REP. BROWN: No, I would not vote against the troops in the field.

MR. RUSSERT: Why did you do that in '03?

REP. BROWN: I voted against the $87 billion because there was a better way to do it.

This appears to be a new twist on John Kerry's famous gaffe from 2004: "I voted against it but now I'd vote for it."

A bit later DeWine tagged Brown on his multiple votes in favor of cutting intelligence spending and against the Patriot Act, leading to this stumble and obvious change of direction:

MR. RUSSERT: All right. I'm going to give him 30 seconds to respond to that, then I want to move to the future.

REP. BROWN: Well, the, the--again, the--on the intelligence, the intelligence...

MR. RUSSERT: But you voted against the Patriot Act?

REP. BROWN: I did vote against the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act had a lot of good things in it, but it, it, it went too far. And it's, it's not--the Patriot Act is law now, but we've not done what we should do in Afghanistan.

In my opinion, Brown lost this debate for the same reason I thought George Allen lost his encounter with Jim Webb a couple of weeks back: Brown seemed the more evasive of the two. When Russert asked him directly what to do if Iraq is indeed a "failed state," Brown stumbled before quickly heading back to his canned talking points about "the status quo."

The one section where I thought Brown did well was when he talked about "fair trade" - the kind of populist rhetoric sure to resonate with voters in economically depressed Ohio. But even that ended badly: Brown went to rebut a DeWine comment about taxes but instead mentioned DeWine's now famous ad with doctored pictures of the WTC and walked right into another hit against his votes on national security:

SEN. DeWINE: Tim, Tim, I, I said there was a mistake made in the picture, but there was no mistake in the facts.

REP. BROWN: This is how he runs ads. They aren't--"It was a mistake. It was a mistake."

SEN. DeWINE: You're still not denying the facts. Are the facts incorrect?

REP. BROWN: But no--just, just like Mike DeWine, it doesn't hold the drug companies accountable, doesn't hold the Defense Department accountable...

SEN. DeWINE: He won't, he won't answer the question, Tim. Ten votes against intelligence, 10 votes against...

REP. BROWN: He didn't even fire--he didn't fire the ad agency.

MR. RUSSERT: Was there anything other than the smokestack--smoke...

REP. BROWN: What was wrong with the ad?

MR. RUSSERT: Was there any factual other mistakes in terms of...(unintelligible).

REP. BROWN: Well, other, other than the smoke--the doctoring a photo?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, you made that point. You made that point.

REP. BROWN: That's a, that's a pretty important point. It just shows that Mike DeWine...

SEN. DeWINE: There he goes.

These debates aren't huge events in and of themselves, but they do provide a look at how the candidates are working the angles against one another. Brown is clearly a formidable challenger and he's making the most of discontent with both Iraq and the economy, as well as the particularly awful environment for Republicans in Ohio. But he does have some serious vulnerabilities on national security issues. If DeWine can effectively exploit those vulnerabilities over the next five weeks - and if Ohioans agree that national security is an issue of primary importance to them in this election - he may be able to pull this race out.

The Clintons, Bin Laden and 2008

I understand Bill Clinton's desire to attempt to influence history's judgment of his administration's efforts to reign in Al Qaeda and get Bin Laden, both for the sake of his personal legacy and his wife's campaign to be president. However, I question the wisdom of the Clinton's very aggressive moves over the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11" and the recent blowup with Chris Wallace on FOX News. Yesterday's FOX News Sunday is a perfect example of why I don't think Bill Clinton really wants the facts to be exposed over who did more, or what administration did what, to get Bin Laden prior to 9/11.

WALLACE: But, Mr. Scheuer, I can see you beginning to shake your head. I mean, whether or not they had certifiable proof about the Cole, they certainly knew that Al Qaida had been involved in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa. In your opinion, as somebody who was up close and personal, why didn't the Clinton administration go after Al Qaida after the USS Cole?

SCHEUER: Mr. Wallace, my opinion is not all that important. I went to a little Jesuit school in Buffalo called Canicius, and the priests taught us never to lie, but if you had to lie, never lie about facts. Mr. Richard Clarke, Mr. Sandy Berger, President Clinton are lying about the opportunities they had to kill Osama bin Laden. That's the plain truth, the exact truth.

Men and women at the CIA risked their lives to provide occasions to kill a man we knew had declared war and had attacked America four or five times before 1998. We had plans that had been approved by the Joint Operations Command at Fort Bragg. We had opportunities, many opportunities to kill him.

But that's the president's decision. That's absolutely the case. It's not a simple, dumb bureaucrat like me; that's not my decision. It's his. But for him to get on the television and say to the American people he did all he could is a flat lie, sir.

WALLACE: Mr. Benjamin?

BENJAMIN: Well, I simply disagree. The plans that Mike is referring to about being approved were actually disapproved by his own chain of command. The CIA did not have confidence in the operation that was drawn up, and we couldn't go forward with it.

After the attack on the East Africa embassies, the covert operations were restarted, and again the same assets that were being involved earlier proved to be feckless and didn't deliver the goods.

SCHEUER: ... saying this, that what Mr. Benjamin, who I have a great deal of respect for, but what I say doesn't matter. What matters is the documents that back up what I have to say or what Mr. Benjamin has to say.

The 9/11 Commission ignored those documents, didn't publish them to the American people, let no one involved with the effort to get bin Laden testify to the American people.

This is not a question of interpretation or judgment. This is a question of fact. And the documents will show the president had the opportunity.

It seems to me Bill Clinton would have been better off just accepting the politically correct conclusions of the 9/11 Commission, ignoring ABC's "The Path to 9/11," and letting the public continue take the politically benign view that his administration, the administration of President Bush, and indeed the entire government didn't do enough to accurately assess and deal with the threat posed from Al Qaeda and bin Laden prior to 9/11.

Correcting real inaccuracies in the "The Path to 9/11" is one thing, but in the Wallace interview Clinton was brazenly trying to rewrite history by suggesting "I got closer to killing him than anybody" and implying he was on the cusp of invading Afghanistan "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan." Clinton's ability to massage the truth may have clouded his brilliant political judgment as there is just too much public evidence on the record disputing the story Clinton is trying to tell. Looking toward the '08 campaign from the Clintons' perspective, it doesn't make any sense to dredge up which administration might have been more at fault pre-9/11. The Clintons would be better off focusing on what they perceive as the Bush administration's mistakes post-9/11 and how to best fight the war moving forward.

October 01, 2006

New Polls in Ohio, Montana and Tennessee

MSNBC is trumpeting three new Mason-Dixon polls in Montana, Ohio and Tennessee as "Democrats Run Strong in Senate Races." Having spoken with Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon earlier this week, I was extremely interested in what Mason-Dixon's new round of polling was going to show - especially given MSNBC's headline this morning. Mason-Dixon does some of the best state polling in the country, so I take their numbers very seriously and my first reaction looking at the horserace numbers is that they aren't really that bad of news for Republicans. The truth is Democrats must win 2 of these 3 races if they hope to do well this cycle, and today's polls in these three states suggest that they are only holding a strong advantage in Montana.

After Pennsylvania, Montana is the Republicans biggest vulnerability and today's poll showing Burns at 40% and trailing by 7 points is nothing but bad news for the GOP. Burns can't be totally counted out because Montana is a conservative state, but the poll only confirms this looks like a Democratic pickup.

The Ohio numbers are a mixed bag for each side. On one hand it is bad news for an incumbent Senator to be trailing by two points and only polling at 43%, but on the other hand trailing by two is whole lot better than trailing by 5, 6, or 10 which is where several other recent polls have pegged this race. You would have to give the edge to the Democrats and Brown in Ohio, as of today, but the Mason-Dixon poll is only more confirmation that this will be a dog fight to the end, not that Brown is likely to win.

The Tennessee results at first blush look bad for Republicans as this is a race they had hoped would not be this close. But when I look at Ford 43% - Corker 42%, the question that comes to mind is how is Ford going to get that 43% over 50%? When Corker and the Republicans get their ads cranked up in this race I think he is going to have a considerably easier time getting his number to 50% than Ford, given the conservative leanings of Tennessee. Harold Ford has run a very strong campaign to date and is an extremely impressive politician, but his family baggage and the fact his base lies in the western part of the state in Memphis, as opposed to Corker's base in the east is going to work against him in the home stretch. Ford may lead by one in this poll, but Corker holds the advantage.

Given where political expectations stand today just winning Pennsylvania and Montana and one other from Ohio, Rhode Island or Missouri will not be considered a good night for Democrats, especially with Menendez's ethical cloud appearing to give Republicans the edge in capturing New Jersey.

(As a side note, I do think this unfolding Foley scandal in the House has the potential to cause real problems for the GOP across the board - including on the margin in these Senate races - we will have to watch how this news plays out over the next several days.)

Election '06 Briefs: Corker's Struggles Continue

One of the many new polls out today (see them all here) is a Mason-Dixon survey showing Democrat Harold Ford continuing to run a statistical dead heat against Republican Bob Corker, 43-42, with fourteen percent undecided.

Here's the write up on the poll from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

"It's a close race, and Ford has obviously gained some ground since the primary, when our last poll had Corker up by double digits in late July," said J. Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon Poll. "Middle Tennessee is the battleground. Ford's doing well in West Tennessee and Corker is holding his own in East Tennessee," Coker said.

Both candidates are expected to spend significant time in Middle Tennessee. Ford headed to a county fair in Lawrenceburg Saturday after three rallies in Memphis, and plans to campaign at the Tennessee Titans game here today. Corker was in Nashville Friday.

Significantly, Corker is leading among the vital segment of voters who identify themselves as independents, 43 to 33 percent, with 23 percent undecided. Both candidates appear to be holding their party bases: Ford has the support of 88 percent of Democrats while Corker is backed by 76 percent of Republicans.

Coker, the poll director, said independents' votes "could be the key. The independents and Middle Tennessee voters will decide the race."

Without discounting the importance of the independent vote, Corker's support among Republicans seems on the low-ish side, and it'll be crucial for him to bring home the base vote in this race (It'll be just as crucial for Ford to turn out the black vote, which he's currently winning 91-3).

Certainly, part of Corker's troubles can be chalked up to the difficult political climate for Republicans this year. But even so, at its core this race boils down to the simple fact that Corker is seriously underperforming and Ford is overperforming initial expectations.

In today's Tennessean, columnist Larry Daughtrey looks at a few reasons why the Corker bandwagon seems stuck in the ditch:

• Corker has not recovered from a primary that was more bitter than even a close observer would suspect -- a primary in which more than half of GOP voters wanted someone else.

The primary opponents, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, have made token gestures of support, but their followers are lukewarm, at best. There are elements in the party who would secretly like to see Corker get his comeuppance.

It's all tied up in the early maneuvering for the 2010 governor's race. Corker is closely tied to the Haslam family in Knoxville, the Pilot Oil folks, as is Sen. Lamar Alexander. If Corker wins, that would give the Haslams a dominant position in the party and perhaps launch Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam toward the governor's office. There are other wannabes out there.

• Corker's credibility has become a subterranean issue, and it's gutted the effectiveness of his negative advertising. His incorrect assertions about the voting records of Bryant and Hilleary in the primary, called lies by some independent observers, have made voters distrustful of all his claims.

Are people finally ignoring the untrustworthy babble of 30-second spots?

Corker may have undermined his best commercial last week, the one where he assures his mom that he reduced crime in Chattanooga by 50 percent. There are plenty of statistics out there to suggest this simply isn't so. The Democrats were quick to pounce with a claim that Corker was caught on film lying to his mother. Ouch again.

• Ford has proved to be tougher and smarter than expected. Tossing a football outside a sorta joint appearance last week, Ford called Corker "a wimp" for dodging more debates. It's only a matter of time until he puts the two words together: wimpy parakeet. Triple ouch.

This is a race Corker should win. But if he can't get off the defensive and start taking control of this race, it's going to be a very late night (and perhaps a very disappointing one as well) for Republicans on November 7.

The SPT Explains

Scott Montgomery, the Government & Politics Editor of the St. Petersburg Times, lays out the paper's handling of the Foley case here. As you can see from the comments, folks on both the left and the right don't seem too happy with Montgomery's explanation.