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Could the GOP Pick Off a Senate Seat in Illinois?

This past Friday marked a crushing blow to Roland Burris's chances of remaining the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, as Gov. Pat Quinn (former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's replacement) called for Burris's resignation. In his speech Friday, Quinn stated that while he had known him for 37 years, Burris should never have accepted the job from Blagojevich. Furthermore, he said the Senate's current proceedings are too important for Burris to remain in with the degree of criticism currently surrounding him. Quinn referenced the barely-approved stimulus, stating "It needed every single vote in order to pass."

Also on Friday, President Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs came just short of calling for his resignation, stating "The appointment of Senator Burris was based largely on the representations that he made, factual representations that he made to the people of Illinois through interviews and through his testimony to the impeachment committee... some of those stories seem to be at variance with what's happened."

Both statements arrived shortly after Burris seemed to reverse his positions after speaking with a panel of Illinois lawmakers. Burris had initially claimed he made no contacts with the Blagojevich administration before his appointment but told the panel that he indeed spoke with aides to Blagojevich and the governor's brother. Burris said money was requested from him but that he was unable to find contributors. Burris has not commented to the media about these revelations since. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and the state's U.S. Senator Dick Durbin have also joined in, with Durbin stating that Burris' "future in the Senate seat is in question", yet leaders in both parties have said the U.S. Senate will not look to expel him.

The Illinois Republican Party, which has been calling for a special election since the Blagojevich firestorm began, released a statement declaring, "Blagojevich Democrats created this embarrassing mess for the people of Illinois and as the party in power it is their responsibility to find a solution. We are pleased Governor Quinn chose to join Republicans in our call for a special election. [Illinois Democrats] have turned Illinois into a national embarrassment and the people deserve a vote to choose a senator they can have confidence in."

The Illinois Legislature is currently sifting through several proposals for how and when a special election would occur if it indeed does. One amendment would set a certain date for a vote after removing Burris from office. The Senate President has said he would support removing Burris meaning it may come down to the Speaker of the Illinois House. Quinn offered a proposal that the state legislature create a process for a special election to occur 115 days after a vacancy which the governor would fill with a temporary Senator until the election.

As to whether Republicans have a prayer at taking the President's former seat is debatable. Democrats currently hold every statewide office. They have dominated recent Presidential elections and have a large double-digit voter id advantage over Republicans. However, several names of potential Republican nominees for the seat have floated around as potentials if a special election occurs. The three most frequently referenced are Congressmen Mark Kirk (IL-10), Peter Roskam (IL-6), and John Shimkus (IL-19). Kirk, in particular, is a viable candidate, winning reelection by 6 points in a district that voted over 60 percent for Obama. Peter Roskam's Press Secretary, Matt Vriesema stood strong on the issue, telling RealClearPolitics, "We didn't have to be in this situation. They could've taken care of this months ago and had a special election then. Now we have an embattled Senator with no pull there, leaving our state with one Senator." Vriesema added that Roskam is taking a good look at the seat while Kirk's office could not be reached for comment.

Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Andy McKenna, told RCP, "We think Illinois deserves a special election. The people of Illinois have no confidence in Senator Burris. We have a strong Republican delegation, my guess is they all have interest and are looking into it and waiting for the process to play out." Whoever Republicans choose to run for the seat, the decision carries the added bonus of not jeopardizing their current House seat as the special election will not take place during their respective reelection bids.

One Illinois Republican operative stated that Republican hopes rest on the fact that "Democrats control everything. This is the mess they created. They called for a special election - Durbin started it - Republicans jumped on board, Democrats backed out, then Rod made the appointment. Republicans proposed the Senate removing him from office; there's the option of him resigning. Either way it's a disaster for the Democrats." He pointed to an Illinois statewide poll conducted on December 15 by McLaughlin & Associates which when asked if they'd support a candidate for office who endorsed Blagojevich for Governor in 2006 "even though he was already under investigation for 3 years", 70 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for that candidate.

Republicans will clearly have enough ammunition to fill commercials should a special and general election occur for Obama's former seat. The question is whether Republicans can win in such a heavily Democratic state, one even prouder of that fact that their former Senator sits in the Oval Office.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an associate editor as RealClearPolitics.

RNC Chair Race Reaches Finish Line

With this Friday's RNC Chair election fast approaching, the divide between what committee members are looking for has come down to the two buzzwords of competency versus change. The race has been seen as a virtual tie among two or three candidates all along because no candidate has convincingly proved himself a man of both attributes. The current Pledged Vote race according to Your RNC stands at Duncan: 36, Dawson: 19, Steele: 18, Anuzis: 16, Blackwell: 13, Saltsman: 0.

Atop the competency column lies incumbent Mike Duncan whom every committee member supporting him says is the best fundraiser, organizer, and leader of what one committee chairman argued is basically a $300 million corporation to be run for the next two years. While change was what everyone originally looked for, he said, it is now competency. As one committee member stated, "Most members of the committee went in after the previous election wanting change, wanting a chairman of Romney, Gingrich, Jeb Bush. But as we got farther away from the two election cycles people realized that Superman's not running and the most important quality is competence to run the rebuilding of the party, raise money, and spend it wisely." Duncan needs competency to rule the day on Friday.

Close behind Duncan in reputation for competency is Katon Dawson who frequently speaks of his long time involvement in the RNC and his success in turning around the Republican South Carolina Party. National Committee Chairwoman Demetra DeMonte, who has endorsed Dawson, told RCP yesterday that Katon "is a nuts and bolts guy. He knows the importance of organization, he's great at raising money and getting Republicans elected." Dawson knows that Duncan is the establishment, experienced pick and thus has also tried very hard to attain the 'change' label as well - citing his ability to grow the party's grassroots infrastructure. Dawson seems to have impressed many in one-on-one conversations with committee members, showcasing his very likable, gracious personality. Yet to no fault of his own, Dawson is exactly what some members seeking change are not looking for: a white southerner - especially one who's only national exposure had been news about his previous membership in an all white country club. An attack piece was distributed this week picturing what USA Today's headline would be if Dawson were to win.

Atop the Change column is Michael Steele. He has continued to impress Committee members with communication skills many had witnessed during his frequent appearances on Fox News. National Committeeman Pat Brady told RCP he endorsed Steele "because it's very important that the Republican Party have the best possible messenger, and that person is Steele". Not many outside of the race would disagree with that, the question is whether Steele's previous endorsements of moderates in the party and questionable fundraising skills will significantly hurt him. While Steele has not framed his campaign around his race, he does have the notable advantage of being an African American in a party desperately needing to bring in minority voters in future elections. His election to RNC Chair would be the surest 'Change' message the RNC could send to voters.

As mentioned in our previous update, Saul Anuzis of Michigan, Duncan, and Dawson have an important advantage in being RNC committee members themselves because members often like to pick one of their own. One potential variable is whether a thirst for change will cause an opposite effect this time around.

The importance of this election should not be overlooked. The RNC Chair will control the party's agenda for the next two years and unlike the previous eight, there will be no one above him in the party's ranks. The election held Friday will be determined by the vote of 168 RNC committee members. A majority of the voters, 85, is needed to win on the first ballot. Rumors circulated earlier this week that Steele and Duncan had made a deal in which Duncan would throw his support to Steele if he does not win on the first ballot, something many believe is crucial to his chances. Steele categorically denied the rumor, saying he declined the request out of hand.

Depending on who you talk to, the top tier candidates vary from Duncan and Dawson, Duncan and Steele, or all three with some even throwing Anuzis in third place. Ken Blackwell looks to be behind all three and Chip Saltsman is considered all but finished. This election looks to be a nail biter.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an associate editor at RealClearPolitics.

RNC Chair Update

With the vote for RNC chair set for January 31, the six candidates in the race are working overtime to win votes from the 168 committee members. For background on the race, read here.

CNN reported this morning that Michael Steele will release a memo today announcing the names of a dozen RNC members who have pledged to vote for him. Yesterday National Committeeman Ron Kaufman, who has pledged to vote for incumbent Mike Duncan, spoke with RCP about the state of the race, saying it now stands as a four way tie between Duncan, Steele, Katon Dawson, and Saul Anuzis.

The 3 committee chairmen running (Duncan, Dawson, and Anuzis) carry a notable advantage, he said, due to Committee members wanting to pick one of their own rather than an outsider. Kaufman compared the scenario to the House of Representatives picking a non-Congressman as Speaker of the House. While most were originally looking for change in the new RNC Chair, Kaufman said competence is the quality voters are now looking for.

Katon Dawson spoke to RCP earlier today, saying his status as the fourth longest serving state chairman is a crucial factor in the race, as is his record of turning around the South Carolina state party. Dawson stressed the importance of "having a unique understanding of the job, as everything you do besides being spokesman of the party is the tactical part of running an organization."

As our previous update detailed, Michael Steele had an impressive debate performance last week demonstrating his strong communication skills. Mike Duncan seems to have the greatest advantage in networking within the committee. Anuzis has been running the most hard working, tech savvy campaign. And Katon Dawson has impressed many as a likeable and competent manager. The bottom line: this race remains wide open.

The Race for RNC Chair

The six candidates running for chairman of the Republican National Committee were in Washington Monday at a debate sponsored by the Americans for Tax Reform. Attendees included state chairs Katon Dawson of South Carolina and Saul Anuzis of Michigan; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele; Chip Saltsman, the former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee; and incumbent RNC Chairman Mike Duncan. Each is trying to win a plurality of votes among the 168 RNC members who will gather in the nation's capital at the end of the month. Other than a question about how many guns each candidate owns, the discussion centered almost exclusively on fiscal policy and the future of the party. Each candidate emphasized the party's need to close the technology gap with Democrats and to expand the party's appeal to minority groups.

Here is a rundown of each candidate, including their background, debate performance and an analysis of their place in the race:


Katon Dawson

Background: Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party. Dawson hasn't been helped by the fact that the biggest news surrounding his candidacy has been his former membership and recent resignation from an all-white country club in Columbia, S.C.

Debate: Dawson argued that South Carolina's state party was in disarray in 2002 until he stepped in and led the party's financial and electoral turnaround with Mark Sanford elected governor, two Republicans sent to the U.S. Senate, and 8 of 9 state-wide offices won. "Winning is possible", he concluded. Yet, as Ken Blackwell joked on stage, South Carolina is hardly a battleground state.

Analysis: Dawson seemed lost in the shuffle as he failed to convey an adequate set of credentials or aura of change (Southern white guy) that the Republican Party may be looking for.


Saul Anuzis

Background: Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Anuzis has done as much if not more than any candidate to create name recognition for his candicacy among Republicans and those in the media. His blog, That's Saul, Folks, has given him a tech-savvy rep and essentially put him on the map.

Debate: Anuzis painted himself as the Tim Pawlenty-like blue collar Republican best able to attract 'Reagan Democrats' back to the party. He cited his background as Lithuanian, having not learned English until he was seven, and a resident of suburban Michigan where his working class neighbors are leaving the party in droves. Referencing his previous membership in the Teamsters and as a Republican in a blue state, Anuzis did his best to come across as the strongest fighter among the bunch.

Analysis: Anuzis displayed a strong grasp of specific policy issues as a former backer of Jack Kemp and knowledge of the technical party politics ranging from the local to state level. He has obviously spent significant time working in the nuts and bolts of the party and his hard effort to become noticed among better known candidates may make him the dark horse of the race.


Ken Blackwell

Background: Former Secretary of State of Ohio and the first African American candidate to run for the state's governorship from a major party. He is Vice Chairman of the RNC Platform Committee and is regarded as a strong social conservative. Blackwell gained stature among Republican activists for his role in helping President Bush's 2004 re-election in Ohio and leading the move that banned same sex marriages in the state. Blackwell was a late entry into the field and recently released a list of supporters for his chairmanship which included Steve Forbes and James Dobson.

Debate: Blackwell referred to his candidacy as a "shareholders revolt". He spoke of the need to reinvigorate the conservative base, of which he has many supporters. He cited his experience of over 30 years as a party activist and officeholder, stating "I know how to win elections." Blackwell was not referring to his 2006 bid for Governor of Ohio in which he lost to Democrat Ted Strickland by a margin of 24 percent.

Analysis: Heading into the debate, Blackwell was definitely considered to be a top contender for the RNC position. Yet depending upon the importance of the debate in the minds of voting members (which no one knows), Blackwell's performance was far from spectacular. His playful comments added spark to a sometimes monotonous debate but he seemed overshadowed by Steele's greater ability to connect with the audience.


Michael Steele

Background: GOPAC chairman, and former lieutenant governor and state party chairman of Maryland. Steele is the most recognizable of the six contenders because of his frequent appearances on Fox News and the rare position of being a prominent African American in the Republican Party. Steele has been criticized by some conservatives as too moderate, with his involvement with the Republican Leadership Council, an organization of Republican moderates, as the greatest example (though Steele has said that he no longer is part of the organization because of its involvement in GOP primaries). Steele has also received criticism for his willingness to support moderate candidates in the party such as Wayne Gilchrest, a former Maryland congressman defeated in a 2008 primary. Yet despite the questioning by some of his conservative credentials, it has never seemed to hurt him politically. He was able to win Republicans' support during his 2006 run for the Senate, which he lost; and despite his association with moderate to liberal Republicans like Christine Todd Whitman and John Danforth, he is personally in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade and is against government funding for stem-cell research.

Debate: Steele said he sees the state of the Republican Party with a "glass half-full" attitude despite what he referred to as two consecutive "devastating" losses. He had no problem criticizing the Bush administration for its shortcomings, such as "a failure to communicate, Katrina, the bailout." At numerous times during the debate he emphasized the lack of influence the RNC chair has in creating significant change in the party, from attracting minorities to reorganizing its local infrastructure. Steele was easily the best communicator of the debate, speaking lively and clearly about his intentions for the party. Yet what was most notable was his organizational advantage, as "Steele" posters lined the balconies while many attendees wore "Steele" name labels or carried signs across the room.

Analysis: Steele gave the best performance of the debate, though how much that will influence RNC voters is unknown. He is the most charismatic and telegenic of the six running. Questions remain about whether his past support for a more moderate party or relatively weak fundraising record will hurt him. If the debate and chatter are any measure, Steele appears to have the edge in this race.


Chip Saltsman

Background: Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 1999 to 2001 and manager of Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign. Saltsman created the biggest news surrounding his candidacy when he sent out a collection of songs to members of the RNC, one of which was titled "Barack the Magic Negro." Newt Gingrich and Mike Duncan criticized Saltsman for the move while Blackwell stood in his defense saying it showed the "hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race."

Debate: Saltsman talked extensively about his work fighting tax hikes in the state of Tennessee. He said his motive to run for the position is not about the party but about the country, so that more voices can be heard. Citing statistics showing that young Americans describe themselves as entrepreneurs wanting to run a business, he described his vision for a party platform of an "opportunity society" that could bring back the youth vote that Democrats have dominated in recent elections.

Analysis: While his experience in Tennessee politics and managing Mike Huckabee's campaign were clearly impressive he, like Dawson, failed to stand out enough to be seen as a top tier contender.


Mike Duncan

Background: The incumbent, Mike Duncan was elected to replace former RNC chair Ken Mehlman in 2007. Duncan was dubbed the 'Invisible Chairman' by California RNC Committeeman Shawn Steel in a December Politico article, in which Steel said Duncan was "installed in January 2007 by Karl Rove to be unobtrusive -- a mission he has carried out brilliantly. Many, if not most, Republican leaders and activists don't know who he is." There is some truth to Steel's criticism: During the 2008 election, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, consistently appeared on major television networks and cable news shows defending Democratic candidates and attacking Republicans. Duncan hardly ever presented his views through the media. Duncan's advantage, however, was the prowess he showed in fundraising which allowed the RNC to significantly fund John McCain's campaign, allowing it to run almost neck and neck with Obama's fundraising machine until the last two months of the campaign. Duncan is also disliked by many in the conservative blogosphere and grassroots. Some have claimed he deserves credit for wins in the two runoff elections in Georgia and Louisiana, but as the incumbent he also bears the burden of Republicans' many crushing defeats.

Debate: Duncan noted the RNC's strong fundraising in the 2008 election, which enabled McCain to stay close to Obama and helped Republican congressional candidates across the country. Duncan also tried to characterize himself as an agent of change, a difficult theme for an incumbent to sell, especially one seemingly without strong communicative skills.

Analysis: Duncan proved himself to be the opposite choice to Steele. As a white Southerner lacking the ability to strongly convey his views to Americans through the media, Duncan's strengths lie in organization, experience, and fundraising skills.

Talk after the debate seemed to suggest that the race was a Blackwell-Steele contest. Yet this came mostly from party activists and media types, not necessarily those who will vote. Duncan's advantage with networking RNC members should not be overlooked. As of now, it seems an open race between Blackwell, Steele, and Duncan, with the vote set to take place Jan. 31 at the RNC winter meeting.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.

The Future of Conservatism

National Review and Hillsdale College hosted a panel yesterday entitled 'The Future of Conservatism' with panelists Ross Douthat of The Atlantic, David Bobb of Hillsdale College, Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, and Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg of National Review.

Underscoring the influence of David Brooks' bi-weekly column, the parameters of the debate revolved almost exclusively around Brooks' column from November 10 entitled 'Darkness at Dusk' in which he described the current debate amongst conservatives as split between 'Reformists' and 'Traditionalists.' Brooks wrote of the Traditionalists as conservatives who believed the Republicans sold out their small government principles to win elections, which ironically caused them to lose. Reformers, said Brooks, seek a modernized conservatism willing to use government "to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety." David placed Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, himself, and a few others in the Reformist group and placed Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as leaders of the Traditionalists (perhaps to imply something about the latter group's intellectual capacity).

Ross Douthat described his own 'Reformist' philosophy as pro-family - with the philosophy that government can be used to strengthen this bedrock of American society. In the process more Republican voters would form as single and divorced individuals vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Douthat outlined three traps facing the right: Demographically, Douthat said the Judis/Teixeira theory of an Emerging Democratic Majority may ultimately prove true. The McGovern coalition of educated whites and minorities are increasingly Democratic, while Republican groups such as white men are declining. Douthat argued that the second trap, socio-economic, is the result of an economic growth in America that has caused high inequality and stagnant wages among the working class - good news for political liberals. Third, Douthat said conservatives have failed to apply old views to new principles. In debates such as climate change and public school reform, conservatives have largely stayed out of the debate while the only struggle has been between liberal reformers and entrenched special interests.

Gene Healy, the token Libertarian of the group - and thus a Traditionalist - admitted he knew nothing about winning elections and didn't care how to win them. Conservatives, he argued, should try to convince people of their views, not try to be relevant or cool. His arguments were summarized by his question, "When did it become the public intellectual's role to see what ideas can pass politically?"

Ponnuru, shifting back to the reformist viewpoint argued that conservatives forget that innovation is a conservative tradition. Reagan adjusted from Goldwater on taxes, socialism and others. Citing Reagan's famous quote, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem," Ponnuru noted that conservatives forget Reagan's preface, "In this present crisis..." Something is wrong with a political movement, he claimed, that deems our economy as great while wages remain stagnant. This election was a case study, he explained, of how out of touch Republicans and conservatives are with problems of everyday Americans.

Jonah Goldberg, who will probably be the first and last conservative panelist ever to cite 'Jaws 2' in making an argument, rebuked what he saw as the Reformist tendency to act as an army of 'Karl Roves' rather than pushing politics to the right as conservatives, not Republicans. The purpose of conservatives, echoing Healy, is to say what's true even if the result is defeat. Goldberg also noted that the failure of George W. Bush (he could have also mentioned John McCain) had already proven that the Reformists' desire for bigger government conservatism does not work politically or in implementing policy.

Despite this overwhelming negativity about the current state of conservatism, there was one point of optimism touched on by both Douthat and Goldberg. As Douthat noted, the Democratic tent has grown enormously larger over the last eight years. It now encompasses (especially among the young) almost any individual opposed to Bush's performance as president. There is hardly a unified set of principles from which these various factions agree on. As Peter Beinart wrote in Time last week, there are cultural issues in Obama's coalition that will significantly divide different groups. Obama, as many have agreed, was a blank slate from which people placed their differing desires for change. Thus, the argument goes, the overflowing Democratic tent is now bound to see real fissures open up as Democrats finally implement their own ideas. Goldberg inadvertently touched on this point when he used this quote from Edmund Burke: "Example is the school of mankind." While the Democrats have grown with the unpopularity of Bush, Goldberg seemed giddy with his declaration, "Okay Democrats, now govern."

In summation, Brooks noted that the panelists displayed a greater detachment from the Republican Party than he'd seen in years past. But it was the Reformist/Traditionalist debate among conservatives that appears likely to continue as long as conservatives remain in the political wilderness.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.

The GOP's Growing Latino Problem

Dramatic Republican losses in the past two election cycles have been attributed to various factors. Yet the Republicans' decreasing support among Latinos should be among the most important problems to Republicans fearful of remaining in the political wilderness.

According to the Pew Research Center, whites represented 57% of Americans in 2005 with Latinos bypassing African Americans to become 14% of the population. By 2050, Latinos are projected to double in population to 29% with whites representing 47%. In the 2004 election, President Bush performed very well among Latinos for a Republican nominee, gaining 44% of their vote to Kerry's 53%. This year, Obama crushed McCain among Latino voters by a margin of 67 to 31 percent. The number of Latino voters increased by almost 25 percent compared to four years ago. According to the AP, 28% of Latinos polled had voted for the first time, compared to 12% for the entire electorate. Among these new Latino voters, Obama won by a resounding 76 to 23 percent.

One example of the power of the Latino vote is their influence in heavily blue states like Illinois and California. In 2004, Bush won a majority of white voters in both states despite losing them by double digits overall. The reason Bush lost was that he carried only 32% of the Latino vote in California and a meager 23% in Illinois. In the crucial state of Florida, however, Bush won the Latino vote 56 to 44 percent and carried the state.

In an increasingly diverse nation, Republican nominees will have to start winning astronomical percentages of the white vote to keep up with their drastically low support among Latinos and other minorities. Obama increased Kerry's percentage of the white vote by only 2%. He increased African American support from Kerry's 88% to 95%. Yet in states such as North Carolina and Virginia - where the African American percentage of the vote was high - their proportion of the vote was actually slightly less than 2004. Along with their increased percentage of the population and their rising voting numbers, Latinos were highly represented in key battleground states such as Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

In Florida, for example, there are many reasons Obama won the state other than increasing his support among Latinos. As the Miami Herald reported, Obama's campaign registered 200,000 new voters, put in 50 field offices, brought in 600,000 volunteers and poured $40 million into the state. However, we can see that by comparing Florida's results in 2004 and 2008, it was the Latino vote that turned Florida from red to blue.

In 2004, Bush won Florida 52 percent to Kerry's 47 percent. This year, Obama won the state 51 to 49 percent. Obama's support among Florida's white voters was the same as Kerry's in 2004. In the tables below we can see that if McCain had maintained Bush's share of Florida's Latino vote, he would have won Florida despite Obama receiving 10 percentage points more of the African American vote than Kerry.

2004 Florida

White-70%

Black-12%

Latino-15%

TOTAL

(R) Bush

57%

13%

56%

52%

(D) Kerry

42%

86%

44%

47%

 

2008 Florida

White-71%

Black-13%

Latino-14%

TOTAL

(R) McCain

56% (-1)

4% (-9)

42% (-14)

49% (-3)

(D) Obama

42% (-)

96% (+10)

57% (+13)

51% (+4)

 

 

2008 FL Revised

White-71%

Black-13%

Latino-14%

TOTAL

(R) McCain

56% (-1)

4% (-9)

56%

51%

(D) Obama

42% (-)

96% (+10)

44%

49%

In Colorado, McCain actually outperformed Bush's percentage of the Latino vote. Yet this was hardly cause for McCain to celebrate. Bush lost Colorado's Latino vote 68-30, while McCain lost their vote 61-38. To make matters worse for McCain, Latinos increased their percentage of the Colorado electorate from 8% in 2004 to 13% in 2008. In 2004, Bush won Nevada 51%-48%, this year Obama won the state by double digits, 55% to 43%. Latinos increased their percentage of the vote by 5 points, from 10% to 15%. And while Kerry performed well among Latinos in Nevada, winning over the demographic 60-39, Obama crushed McCain 76 to 22 percent. Once again, McCain's percentage of the white vote was only slightly changed from Bush's percentage in 2004 when Bush won the state. Obama changed Nevada from red to blue because of the Latino vote.

The most obvious case of McCain suffering from low support among Latinos is New Mexico. In 2004, Bush won New Mexico 50% to 49%. This year, McCain lost New Mexico in a landslide, receiving just 42% of the overall vote to Obama's 57%. What explains this 16 point turnaround for the Democrats? Hint: It's not the white vote. Bush won among New Mexico's white voters 56-43, with white voters compromising 57% of the vote. McCain was able to keep up with Bush's 56-43 margin among white voters with a 56-42 margin over Obama. But in 2004, New Mexico's Latino vote made up 32% of the vote and voted for Kerry 56-44. In 2008, Latinos increased their percentage of the electorate by 9 points up to a dramatic 41% of the vote. They also gave Obama a 13 point boost from four years ago for a 69-30 percent blowout. White voters comprised only 50% of the New Mexico vote this year, down 7 points from 4 years ago. In summation, although McCain was able to win by double digits among New Mexico's white voters as Bush had in 2004, McCain was still routed by 15 points because of the shift by Hispanics to the Democratic candidate and their surge in the percentage of the vote. Once again it was the Latino vote that proved the crushing blow for McCain.

Had McCain, the Republican Party's most Latino-friendly candidate, not won the nomination of his party this year, we might assume that Obama would have performed even better than he did among Latinos. This data speaks volumes about the future of the Republican Party in an increasingly racially diverse America. When Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996, white voters made up 83% of the electorate. This year, white voters compromised 74% of the vote. Latinos are still voting at disproportionately low numbers in comparison to their percentage of the population. One can assume that as Latinos become more assimilated in American society, the higher their percentage of the electorate will become. The future of the Republican Party depends on winning back their dwindling support among Latinos.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.

John McCain's Immigration Achilles

When John McCain won his party's nomination earlier this year, many conservatives reacted disapprovingly. They had not voted for McCain. They had split their votes so evenly among the other conservative nominees (especially in South Carolina and Florida) that McCain won by default. However, some of these Republicans kept themselves upbeat, or were told not to sit this election out, because McCain's electability in the general election was said to be far higher than his Republican opponents.

A key component to McCain's electability was his moderate stance on the immigration issue; a stance which would allow him to heavily contest the Latino vote as President Bush did with 44 percent of their vote in 2004. Bush's increased support from Hispanics was crucial to his victory over Kerry. In Illinois and California, Bush was trounced by 9 and 11 percentage points, respectively. Yet Bush still won a higher percentage of the white vote in both these states. The reason he lost was because Kerry won an overwhelming percentage of the Hispanic vote. In California, Bush won only 32% of the Latino vote, in Illinois he won a meager 23%. Yet in Florida, a state Bush pulled out a crucial victory in, he won the Hispanic vote by a 56-44 margin.

Many hypotheses have been given for why McCain's primary campaign collapsed last summer. Explanations range from blaming McCain's campaign manager Terry Nelson for creating a bloated apparatus it could never financially support to McCain's history of low fundraising dating back to the 2000 Presidential campaign. But the key reason McCain's campaign fell apart was that it directly coincided with his bold stand for comprehensive immigration reform in the face of extremely strong resistance from conservative Republicans in Congress, conservative talk radio, and the conservative electorate. Conservatives publicly opposed what they deemed the 'amnesty bill' more than almost any other bill in recent memory and it was McCain who took more of the blame than any other Republican.

When McCain's political career had been in jeopardy, he chose to stand by the Latino/moderate-Republican community and took on the conservative base he would desperately need to run for President. Conservatives stopped donating to his campaign and his once front runner-like operation fell apart. But for a variety of reasons, mostly pure luck, McCain came back and eventually won his party's nomination. There was no reason to believe that if Obama was to be his opponent, McCain could not garner significant Latino support.

In February, when McCain had won Florida and looked to have become the presumptive nominee, Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal wrote that McCain was the best pick for his electability. He could "stem the flood of Hispanics from the GOP. His new immigration strategy was on display in this week's debate: He'll talk about the importance of securing the border, and say no more. With this he hopes to mollify conservatives, and will leave it to others to remind Hispanics of his record. Florida was a useful test case, with Mr. McCain winning more than half the Hispanic vote. Another quarter went to Rudy Giuliani, who has since thrown in with Mr. McCain. Mr. Romney got 14%."

Now, a day before Election Day, the Latino vote is polling heavily against McCain. A Zogby poll showed 21 percent supporting McCain with 70 percent for Obama. Another poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found 23 percent supporting McCain and 66 percent supporting Obama. The man who has won numerous awards from Hispanic organizations in his political career and garnered 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last Senate race is set to lose this election when stronger support from the Latino community, especially in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida, would place him in much better position to win.

The theory that Latinos who heavily favored Clinton over Obama in the Democratic primaries would move to McCain has not materialized. If anything, the primary seems to have strengthened their self-identification with Democrats. The lack of support from Latinos is not the only reason McCain may lose tomorrow. But it's a very significant one.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.

To Attack or Not to Attack

This is the dilemma facing John McCain heading into tonight's town hall debate. Should John McCain, sliding quickly in the polls, go after Obama with questions about his background and personal associations - questions the McCain campaign has made clear it plans to raise for the remainder of the race. Should McCain follow Palin's lead and unload an Ayers/Rev. Wright/machine-politics missile at Obama in the hope of raising fear and unease about a candidate much of the public still knows little about.

The problem with such an attack, described well today by John Dickerson at Slate, is that McCain runs the risk of being criticized by an audience member (during the audience's question-answer segment) for going negative and not focusing on 'real' issues. Such was the circumstance for George H.W. Bush in the 1992 town hall debate. As Dickerson puts it, "You don't want Joe Six Pack calling you out."

The McCain camp has to assume that tonight's audience members have not been living in a box for the last few days. They know of the McCain camp's new strategy to go negative - and perhaps there's an Obama-leaning member of the crowd who wouldn't mind humiliating McCain with a devastating zinger. Such an attack from a 'Regular Joe' in the audience, rather than an 'elitist' reporter, would be a disaster. Furthermore, David Axelrod announced today that should McCain unleash a personal attack, Obama will be ready with a counter punch.

But perhaps this dilemma for McCain has been oversimplified by the media. There is a third route McCain can take tonight. If we assume it is too risky to attack Obama on Ayers, Wright, etc., and we assume the McCain campaign is not dumb enough to play this debate straight-laced with simple policy answers to Tom Brokaw's questions, then McCain is left with the possibility of combining these two strategies together.

McCain should be on the attack from the get-go on every policy question he receives, pounding Obama relentlessly. With each question, McCain can time and time again bring up a specific scenario in which he himself worked across the aisle to get something done. The attack will be the tricky part.

The McCain campaign seems to believe that their sole challenge is to attack and change the subject from the economy. But what McCain also needs to drastically improve is the cohesion of his attacks. As James Carville noted this morning on Good Morning America, attacks from McCain and the rest of the campaign have been flying out from all different directions. Obama is either too liberal, too inexperienced, has relations with despicable people, or lacked good judgment on the surge, etc. There simply hasn't been a core theme with which these attacks can be unified into a core case against Obama.

If McCain is to be effective tonight he will pick one overlying theme with which to hit Obama. For example, experience. With each question McCain answers he needs to show why his experience will make him the better president and why Obama's lack of experience would make his Presidency a disaster.

Steve Schmidt has not received the amount of credit he deserves for turning around what was only a few months ago an abysmally dysfunctional campaign. But Schmidt has not solved the message problem. While David Brooks and other conservatives have argued that McCain lacks a unifying economic and policy message as well, McCain needs to use a core attack message unrelated to the personal attacks of late. Voters need to leave the debate with a specific reason for uneasiness about an Obama Presidency lingering in their minds.

If Obama comes away the clear victor tonight, this race is likely over.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics

Why Postpone the Debate?

Contrasting arguments can be made about McCain's call to delay tomorrow's first Presidential Debate centered on foreign policy. 

McCain's supporters could argue that after being briefed on the severity of the fiscal crisis by his economic team yesterday, McCain was very concerned about the fate of the bill and the scope of the potential damage if it was not passed.  Because of vocal Republican opposition, McCain might have felt he needed to take action.  As Chris Todd noted on NBC this morning, if Republicans do block this bill and financial chaos ensues, McCain will be hit hard as the current leader of his party.  Furthermore, McCain had no way of knowing how long the bill would take to get passed.  Media reports are now saying Congress and the President are very close to a deal (some believe the Democrats are pushing this as fast as they can to prevent McCain from taking any credit). 

If McCain believed the bill had a chance of not being passed until Friday or after (which may be the case) then it would seem almost harmless (except to the University of Mississippi) to delay the debate until a very important bill trying to prevent the collapse of our financial institutions is passed.  Plus, we do know that Presidential candidates take days before the debates to practice and rehearse (Obama had planned on spending the three days before this debate doing so).  It would thus seem plausible that McCain would like the amount of time generally afforded Presidential candidates to prepare for this debate after the bill is passed.

The second argument made publicly by McCain's critics and Obama himself is that the debate can take place no matter the circumstances.  Obama's response yesterday was that the President should be able to handle two things at once and thus McCain and him can both assist in the bill's negotiations and continue with the debate Friday night anyway.

However, there is a third argument to be made, and one not being made public by the Obama campaign. It says that McCain's campaign had no serious belief that they would be able to significantly alter the fate of the bill.  Instead their decision was purely political. They wanted to halt Obama's recent rise in the polls both nationally and in battleground states during this financial crisis.  McCain would be able to portray himself as the 'Country First' candidate, putting politics aside to pass bipartisan legislation for the good of the nation.

The reason it is hard to believe in the skepticism being aired against McCain's actions is that delaying the debate hardly seems like the most politically advantageous move for McCain.  If McCain's motives were purely political, why would he postpone a debate that itself presents a perfect opportunity to halt Obama's momentum?  Rather than make the controversial decision of halting his campaign and stimulating skepticism among many, McCain could have just used Friday's debate as a way to halt Obama's recent rise.  Friday's debate subject is McCain's bread and butter.  The type of tone and directness required by a Presidential candidate discussing foreign policy favors McCain's certitude over Obama's more vague and irresolute demeanor, something he showed throughout the Democratic Primary debates. 

Obama's debating skills have been far overestimated due to his tremendous ability to give speeches.  Many forget that Hillary Clinton gained significantly from almost every debate she had against Obama, whether it was in front of an all African American audience or just days before she was crashing downward and expected to lose New Hampshire. If McCain's reason for delaying the debate was purely political, the Republican nominee might have been better served to ask for tomorrow's debate to be held sooner than later. 

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics

Second-Guessing Plouffe

Obama's unprecedented success in fundraising, grassroots support and registering new voters during the Democratic Primary may have been the catalyst for an overconfident plan engineered by campaign manager David Plouffe.

It was only a month ago that the Obama campaign was eager to talk about giving the McCain campaign a run for its money in Georgia, as well as other states in the Deep South, orchestrated through greater African American turnout and strong grassroots organization.

Money was sent to Alaska, North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia, Montana and North Carolina as part of an offensive strategy in traditionally red states. But in a talk with McCain's traveling press corps last week in Chicago, Plouffe stated that the campaign has now ceased advertising in the Peach State and is diverting much of those resources to North Carolina (Recent polls coming out of there have not been favorable either).

As the Wall Street Journal noted after Plouffe's talk, "The withdrawal is dramatic considering the amount of resources the Obama campaign dispatched to Georgia and throughout the South." Yet Plouffe made sure to emphasize that the campaign was still going "full steam ahead" in North Dakota, Montana, and Indiana (The RCP Electoral Count now has Montana, North Carolina, and North Dakota as 'Leaning McCain' and Georgia as 'Solid McCain'. Plouffe did not rule out Alaska either, although it is now certainly in McCain's hands).

The Journal took the information session to be "a grudging concession by some Obama campaign operatives that certain states once deemed winnable may be more of a long shot than once thought." In other words, the once vaunted "50-state strategy" is now anything but.

Consider what could have been a more sober strategy from the start. The campaign could have concentrated its advantage in resources, money and volunteers on the traditional, smaller set of battleground states to absolutely overpower the McCain campaign. Instead, Plouffe has always seemed to revel in the idea of creating as many electoral scenarios as possible for an Obama victory. The campaign has taken the risk of stretching itself too thin and reducing its ability to significantly overpower McCain anywhere. Montana Democrats may ultimately waste money and resources registering voters in a long-shot chance of victory when those resources could otherwise be used to shore up Obama's stronghold in northern Virginia or urban areas in Colorado.

Plouffe may still prove to be a genius for designing this ambitious plan. Obama may be propelled to victory by winning previously red states the Democrats have forfeited in the past. But if this plan backfires, Plouffe will be responsible for blowing one of the biggest opportunities Democrats have had to take the White House in a very long time.

If McCain wins this election by squeaking out victories in traditional battleground states like Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Colorado, and others; it will be Plouffe's head Democrats will be after for getting greedy and wasting money where they shouldn't have.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics