Monday, December 22, 2008

This train only stops in Dixie

Lately it seems like every time I think of a political, social or economic trend that I want to write about, a quick search of the Internet demonstrates that the article I was going to write has already been written.

Such is the case this week with the National Journal article by Ronald Brownstein, A Dangerous Imbalance for the GOP. The Republican Party enjoyed a minor civil war this month as its Dixie Senators derailed a bipartisan plan in Congress to save the Big Three automakers from bankruptcy, and President Bush responded by digging into the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to give Detroit the money that Congress would not.

There are two reasons why the GOP Senate caucus chose to scotch the original deal in Congress. One, union-hating Republicans would love to break the back of the United Auto Workers, as they continue to spread the myth that Detroit autoworkers are better paid than those in the non-unionized south. Two, today's GOP is strongest in the sunbelt/Old Confederacy states which just happen to be the hub of manufacturing for America's foreign-owned auto manufacturers, including Toyota, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen.

Brownstein in his article reaches the same conclusion that I did regarding this mess, at least in terms of the politics involved. That is, that the Republican Party is acting in a very shortsighted way if its long-term goal is to build strength nationally. The GOP is currently dead or dying in the northeast, midwest and on the west coast. It's treading water in the northern plains, and still strong only in the southeast. Brownstein observes that,

"it's telling that so many Republicans from reliably conservative places were willing to attach the party to a policy that could economically devastate Rust Belt states where the GOP is already declining. That gamble shows how the party's loss of regional and ideological equilibrium can reinforce itself. Because Republicans from swing and Democratic-leaning states now constitute such a distinct minority in the party caucus, they lack the numbers to prevent it from adopting positions unpopular with their voters. The caucus majority can impose a direction that solidifies the party where it is already strong but further endangers the minority."

To summarize, the longest journey begins with a single step. The GOP's first step towards becoming a majority party in America again begins with taking actions that will build support where it is not already strong. The Democratic Party endured this same painful process after the 2004 election. Thanks to Howard Dean's leadership at the DNC in 2006 and the Obama campaign in 2008, the 50-state strategy employed by the Democratic Party paid huge dividends in making it victorious in places where people doubted it every could be.

Can the Republican Party break out of its downward spiral in the foreseeable future? I certainly hope not. In fact, I hope they just keep singing the same tune, and leave the rest of us alone. I'll even give them the song (with thanks to Mr. Johnny Cash),

Hey porter! Hey porter!
Please open up the door.

When they stop the train I'm gonna get off first

Cause I can't wait no more.

Tell that engineer I said thanks a lot,

and I didn't mind the fare.

I'm gonna set my feet on Southern soil

and breathe that Southern air.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2010: Joe messes with Texas

All 150 seats in the Texas state House were up for reelection in 2008, as they are every two years. Democrats picked up three seats, so that Republicans now control the House by a 1-seat majority, 76 to 74. There were a number of very close races this year. The closest was in the 105th District, where Republican incumbent Linda Harper-Brown defeated Democratic challenger Bob Romano by 19 votes out of more than 40,000 cast. Democrats also won some very close contests, including a victory in the 11th District by only 103 votes out of nearly 53,000 cast.

Now then, I realize that probably, your reaction to what I've just written is, "Why should I care?"

Take a look at this map showing which states will gain and lose seats in Congress in the 2011
decennial redistricting. Good golly, it's depressing. Blue states losing seats all over the place.

Notice the big red blotch right in the middle of the map? That's right, Texas will gain an incredible four more seats in Congress for the 2012 elections. Democrats need to find a way to get two more seats (and thus the majority) in the Texas House in 2010 so that the Party will have some leverage in the 2011 redistricting.

Let's take a trip in the Wayback machine for some context. Texas gained two seats after the 2000 census. At that time, Democrats still controlled the Texas state House, while Republicans had the Governor's office and the Senate. A new congressional map was drawn up by a panel of judges in 2001. The 2002 elections elections changed the state's delegation from 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans to 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

So the Republicans netted two more seats. Sounds reasonable, right? Not if you're Congressman Tom DeLay.

In the 2002 elections, Republicans gained control of the Texas House, and retained control of the Texas Senate and Governor's office. Tom DeLay became U.S. House Majority Leader. You would think that job would have kept Tom plenty busy.

Think again. In 2003, DeLay found the time to lead an effort for Texas to embark on an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting of its Congressional seats.
DeLay made it clear from the outset what the goal of this redistricting would be: elminate as many Democratic Congressmen as possible. Texas's Republican Senator John Cornyn described the plan as "an opportunity to help the Republicans stay in power in Washington." Well, at least the GOP was being honest for once.

Democratic legislators in Texas organized an unusual plan to stop the redistricting effort: they fled the state en masse, making it impossible for a quorem to exist, thus blocking the redistricting plan from coming to a vote. This effort ultimately failed and the DeLay plan became law.

DeLay's biggest obstacle was never Texas Democrats. It was the court system, which might well have decided to throw out DeLay's plan as discriminatory to minorities. So when DeLay and Company sat down to gerrymander the districts, they shrewdly targeted all ten white Democratic Congressmen, while leaving the districts of the seven minority Democrats alone.

As a result, Republicans gained four seats in the 2004 election, so that Republicans now held 21 of the state's 32 seats (in 2009 they will have 20).

Ok, that was a long history lesson to make my point, but here it is: if Republicans still control everything in Texas in 2011, and they sit down redraw their Congressional map with four more seats to play with, Democrats are likely to suffer. One of the few bright spots for the GOP in the past few years has been the fact that many of the fastest growing areas of the country have been voting Republican for a long time. Democrats will need to work harder in the next decade to turn the sunbelt from red to blue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

On Blagojevich, and all about the dollars

"I think in Illinois as is true in American politics generally, there are two view of politics. ... [one] that goes in for public service and sacrifice, and another that says, 'you're wheeling and dealing and what's in it for me. If, in fact, the various allegations end up proving to be true, this is ... the far end of the spectrum of that business mentality of politics." -President-Elect Barack Obama, speaking on the Governor Rod Blagojevich scandal, December 11, 2008

"It's all about the dollars, always about the dollars." -Joe Pesci, Casino, 1995.

As of this moment Rod Blagojevich is still the Governor of Illinois, despite his recent arrest for (among other things) attempting to sell Illinois' open Senate seat for cash or influence. I don't intend to write much about the outcome of this whole thing (whenever that will be) if I can avoid it.

So I'll give you an exclusive on Blago right now.

The year was 2002. Rod Blagojevich, Congressman and son-in-law of Chicago's post powerful Alderman, ran for Governor in the Democrat primary against Chicago Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas. With the backing of the Daley machine, Rod got the nod, and in November he broke the GOP's 26-year hold on the Governor's office in Illinois.

I was volunteering for Lisa Madigan's campaign for Attorney General. We won, just barely. A year later, I went to work for the IT Department at the AG's office. The 2002 campaign got me hooked on Democratic activism in a big way. By 2005, I was volunteering for Lisa Madigan and for Alderman Tom Tunney in Chicago's 44th Ward. At the same time, I was a director for both Drinking Liberally and the Illinois Democratic Network.

I met a lot of people. I had friends working on campaigns at the city, county, state, congressional, and Presidential levels. I was also a member of a labor union, The Illinois Federation of Teachers, and I knew a lot of people in the other big public employees' union, SEIU. And from all those people I met, I learned a lot of things about some other people. Specifically, candidates and elected officials.

You know something all those campaigns my friends and I work on have in common? They all love to have people come in and volunteer to help them win elections. You can be a complete stranger, but if you're willing to make a few phone calls and stuff some envelopes, you can hang around all day, and get a chance to see and hear everything that's going on.

But in all the years I spent attending Democratic political events, not once did I have someone shake my hand and say, "I'm volunteering for Rod Blagojevich." I had some friends working for Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, who is a terrific leader, but not one for Rod. I did however have a friend tell me that she tried to volunteer at a Blagojevich office and they sent her away.

This is what I'm saying, friends. Rod Blagojevich had the only campaign I ever saw that refused to let people in the door for fear that someone would find out what they were up to.

Blago had his own army of people of course: city workers who owe their positions to Mayor Daley. (I'm not trashing Daley, I happen to think he's a great mayor.)

There was no reason at the time to think that Blagojevich was up to anything too sinister, as it's an old Chicago tradition that political organizations tend to prefer volunteerism from people they already know (and can tightly control). An entire book was written about this phenomenon in 1979, We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent: An Oral History of the Daley Years, by Milton R. Rakove. The idea described by the book's title is that if you're a Chicago politician up to no good, you don't want anyone hanging around who wasn't "sent" by someone you already control. That way, noboby rats you out.

Rod ratted himself out. I guess he never learned that trick the Mafia uses of only making important phone calls from pay phones. So long, buddy. By the way, I'm not sure they allow that poofy hair cut you like at the Terre Haute Federal Pen. But of course former Illinois Governor George Ryan can fill you in on that when you get there.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The new political landscape: Good, Bad and Ugly

Third in a series of reflections on the 2008 election
This post is just some stuff from around the country I find interesting.

The Good

>Democrats picked up a seat in the U.S. House today as ballot counting was completed in the very last undecided race. Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy beat Republican Steve Stivers in Ohio's 15th District. Counting had been held up since last month by a court challenge. Democrats will control the House next year by a margin of 257-178.

> In Hawai'i, Republicans lost 2 seats in the state Senate and one in the state House. Democrats now control the House 45-6 and the Senate 23-2. This means that all of Hawai'i's Republican state legislators can now ride to the Capitol together in a Honda Pilot.

> The 2009 New Hampshire state Senate will be America's first legislative body in which a majority are women.

> Democrats are cheering the defeat of one of our own today. Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana was handed a stunning defeat yesterday in a special election by a virtually unknown Republican. Jefferson is awaiting a federal trial on 16 charges of corruption, and is infamous for a FBI search of his home which turned up $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer. We're lucky to be rid of Jefferson, and winning this seat back in 2010 will not be a problem.

> A Texas-size battle is heating up as Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is threatening to resign from the Senate and take on Governor Rick Perry in the Republican primary for the Gubernatorial race in the Lone Star State in 2010. Perry would be tasked with appointing a replacement Senator who would immediately forced into a special election. It would be fun to watch these two GOP titans tear each other apart. As for the special election however, I wouldn't give Democrats a snowball's change in El Paso of winning.

The Bad
It was no surprise last week when incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss defeated Democrat Jim Martin in a runoff election in Georgia. Chambliss, who received five deferments to avoid military service during the Vietnam era, is well-known for the television ads he ran during the 2002 Senate race in which he defeated incumbent Max Cleland. The ads paired images of Cleland, a triple amputee and decorated Vietnam veteran with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

The state of Georgia has developed a knack for electing a lot of America's most despicable politicians to high office. You may remember, for example, former Senator Zell Miller's crazy tirade attacking John Kerry at the Democratic Convention in 2004. Or Governor Sonny Perdue, whose principal campaign promise was to give Georgians the opportunity to restore the Confederate battle flag to the Georgia state flag. (As it turned out, Perdue was lying. Once in office, he endorsed a new state flag not based on the battle flag). Last, and least, we have Congressman Paul Broun, who recently accomplished the neat rhetorical trick of simultaneously calling Barack Obama a Marxist AND comparing him to Hitler.

The Ugly

My nominee for Most Interesting Post-election Analysis goes to Mark Schone of In an article entitled The GOP's Southern problem, Schone talks about the voting patterns of white folks in the South.

It’s no secret that white southerners vote Republican because they’re socially conservative. But as Schone demonstrates, this conservatism is deeply rooted in an us-versus-them mentality that motivates native white southerners in places with large black populations to automatically vote the opposite way that blacks vote. The statistical correlation is uncanny. Mississippi and Alabama have the highest percentage of black voters in the country, and virtually all of the white population there is native born. In these two states, whites voted about 90% Republican in this year’s Presidential election. In South Carolina, which is a little less black and has some white immigration, whites voted 74% Republican. In Virginia, which has a much smaller black vote and a lot of immigration, white voter support for Obama was close to the national average of 43%.

Apparently if black southerners support a political party that favors cracking eggs at the small end, white southerners will automatically support the party that favors cracking them at the large end, similar to the warring kingdoms in Gulliver’s Travels.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

House rehab project going great!

Second in a series of reflections on the 2008 election

It appears that when the dust finally settles from this election , the Democrats will net a gain of about 23 seats in the U.S. House. This means that in 2009, Democrats will hold an advantage of about 259 to 176 over the Republicans. A majority this large means that in the House next year, most substantive policy arguments will not be between Democrats and Republicans. The political argument will be among Democrats themselves, with progressives squaring off against the more conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs.

This is a good thing. As far as I'm concerned, the Republican Party should remain completely marginalized as long as its core principles continue to be warmongering, greed, bigotry, environmental destruction and spending money like drunken sailors.

That Democrats were able to pick up more than 20 House seats this year while minimizing losses demonstrates a triumph of strategy and tactics. Democrats had gained 30 seats in the 2006 elections, and three more in special elections this year. Thus they had already made most of the gains they could hope to make among House seats held by Republicans in less-conservative districts. This year, Democrats ambitiously targeted House seats that are more staunchly Republican. Republican themselves were forced to admit that few if any of their incumbents were completely safe this year, given that their party's brand had been so completely discredited by President Bush as well as a lot of GOP elected officials who tied themselves closely to Bush's policies.

Here, in no particular order, are some observations on this year's House races from around country.

* The GOP has ceased to be a force in the northeast. Republicans now hold 3 of New York's 29 seats, down from 10 in 2004, and zero of New England's 23 seats, down from 5 in 2004.

* Virginia swung from giving Bush a 10-point victory in 2004 to a 5-point victory for Obama this year. Successfully targeting Virginia paid big dividends down the ballot, as Democrats picked up three House seats there.

* California continues to be the textbook model of the "incumbent protection plan." During the last redistricting in 2001, as a compromise measure the state legislature redrew its districts in such a way as to virtually guarantee each of the state's 53 House seats for one party or the other. In 2004, zero seats changed hands. One did so in 2006, and this year the number will again be zero or one.

* Demonstrating that no Republican seat is safe: Democrats picked up two of the most conservative seats in the entire country: AL-02 and ID-01. Yes, Idaho. It looks like us crazy liberals of the Pacific Northwest are finally starting to bleed into super-conservative Idaho. Wyoming is now the only state without at least one Democratic Congressman or Senator. Look out, Wyoming!

* The GOP this year took away 4 Democratic seats after failing to take a single seat in 2006. But even these four are nothing to shout about. First of all, all four seats were held by freshman Democrats who had taken their districts away from the Republicans in 2006. Second, in all four races there were extenuating circumstances:
FL-16: Only went GOP because of a Democratic scandal.
KS-02: Novice Dem ran an incompetent campaign.
LA-06: Democrat was torpedoed by another Dem running as a third-party independent.
TX-22: Super-Republican district we won in 2006 only because no Republican was on the ballot after Tom Delay's retirement.

Finally, a prediction: We are probably headed for an era when very few House seats change hands in each election. Democrats have picked up most of the seats they ever will in moderate-to-conservative areas, while the GOP is simply not making inroads anywhere.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obama's perfect game

First in a series of reflections on the 2008 election

"The election of the first African-American President of the United States is an extraordinary and historic moment, not only for our country, but also for the world, where it will serve as a beacon of empowerment across societies. This victory represents a new promise, a realization of the long-held dreams of generations of Americans who have fought and continue to fight against the ugliness of inequality in all its forms." -New York Governor David Paterson

Ok, there's my eloquent quote regarding the significance of President-elect Obama's victory. Now I'll get back to business as usual on this blog: talking about campaigns, candidates, strategies and number-crunching.

I'll make this as succinct as possible: Obama's campaign was perfect. Let's review what the strategy was. First: win DC plus all of the 21 states won by either Gore in 2000 and/or Kerry in 2004. That represents 264 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

Second: Win Colorado and Nevada, or win at least one of the swing states in the east: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio or Virginia. Note that Obama was considered foolish by some to target all of these states, particularly North Carolina.

On November 4, Obama won all of the above. He also carried two and possibly all three of the "insurance" targets that he added to his strategy late in the campaign: Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska-02.

Here, in no particular order, are some other interesting facts regarding Obama, McCain, the polls, the results and the impact of the Presidential race.

* Obama's 50-state strategy of spending resources and engaging voters nationwide paid huge dividends. Democrats gained seats in most state legislatures this year. At the Congressional level, many Democrats in red states won their hard-fought races with the help of their local Obama office, which was furiously registering new voters and getting out the Democratic message.

* The McCain campaign failed miserably in the Northeast. This was the one region of the country where Obama had serious coattails. In New York for example, a 62%-37% victory by Obama was good enough for Democrats to capture three U.S. House seats as well as New York's state Senate.

* McCain captured only 31% of the Hispanic vote. This is down significantly from the 40% Bush received from Hispanics in 2004. George Bush as a candidate as well as his brother Jeb as Governor of Florida showed a remarkable talent for building up support among Hispanics for the Republican brand. It appears that support is fading fast.

* My most astute pick this year was Obama taking Indiana. The aggregate of polls showed Obama losing Indiana 50%-48%, but I suspected Obama would win because of the results of the Democratic primary in Indiana this past Spring. In that contest, Obama far outperformed expectations due to support from the Lake counties, which are really suburban Chicago.

* And finally, a consolation prize for McCain: Louisiana loves you. This was the only state where the polls were significantly different from the final outcome, and furthermore, the only state that is arguably becoming more rather than less Republican. The polls suggested McCain would win Louisiana by about 10%. He instead won by almost 20%. Congratulations GOP, your bungled response to Hurricane Katrina has forced so many poor and middle-class Democrats to flee Louisiana that you can now guarantee victory in the Pelican state. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

2008 Election Predictions

Presidential, popular vote:

Obama 53.3%, McCain 45.7%

Analysis: While the current aggregate of national tracking polls shows Obama with a 6.1% lead in the popular vote, I believe that the final results will be close to those predicted by the Iowa Electronic Market. The IEM has recently been showing a 7.4% spread between the two candidates. Nationwide, we are heading for a Democratic landslide.

Here's a few important statistics to consider from states that have early voting:
2. As of Thursday 10/30: From Georgia: "Early voting is already 33% higher than 2004 numbers, and is equivalent to 31% of all votes cast in Georgia in 2004. Of early voters, 35% are African-American, compared to 25% of the total voting population in 2004. Also, nearly 56% of early voters are women, another excellent sign for Democrats." This explains why I think the national tracking polls showing Obama leading McCain by only 5-6% are showing the race as closer than it really is. I don't think that the models these pollsters are using are fully taking into account the dramatically higher turnout among Democrats, African-Americans and women this year.

Presidential, electoral vote: Obama 378, McCain 160
I'm calling 30 states plus DC for Obama and 20 for McCain. I'm pretty confident about all of these picks except Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska-02 and North Dakota.

U.S Senate

Democrats pick up 9 seats for a 60 to 40 seat majority
Most pundits, even the conservatives, are predicting that Democrats will pick up the these 8 Republican Senate seats: Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia. Al Franken in Minnesota has been in the weakest position among these races, but his opponent, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, is now drowning in a bribery scandal.

In addition to those 8 seats, I'll guess that Democrats will also pick up one of these three: Georgia, Kentucky or Mississippi. While none of the three Democratic challengers in these races are showing a lead in the polls, I think that the big turnout by African-Americans for Obama in southern states will produce some coattail victories. I'm not the only one who thinks this.
Here's an analysis discussing the possibility that pollsters are low-balling Democrat Jim Martin's support in Mississippi, and here's a pollster admiting that their own poll may be under-sampling African-Americans in the Lunsford-McConnell race in Kentucky.
Note also that there's a good chance that the Georgia race will go to a December run-off. That would be one wild race, especially if Democrats are angling for a 60th Senate seat. Here's another update on early voting in Georgia, this one again demonstrating that voters there are going Democratic in much bigger numbers than the polls have indicated.

U.S. House

Democrats pick up 29 seats for a 265-168 majority
The most thorough analysis I can find is predicting a gain of only 26, but I've seen a lot of good news for Democratic candidates in the last week or so. I also feel good enough about the four races on my wish list to predict victory in all of them.

Washington: Incumbent Democrat Christine Gregoire to defeat Republican Dino Rossi. In 2004, Rossi got enough crossover support from Democratic voters to nearly defeat Gregoire despite the fact that John Kerry beat George Bush by 7% here. This year however, Obama is leading McCain in Washington by at least 12%. Rossi isn't going to beat that spread.

North Carolina and Missouri: Democrats to narrowly hold the open seat in North Carolina, and pick up Missouri.

California Prop. 8 (Repeals gay marriage): DEFEATED!
Prop. 8 was gaining ground up until recently due to a furious campaign paid for by the Mormon church. However, the controversy generated by this effort has caused the Saints to scale back their efforts to force their bigotry on everyone else, and recent polls suggest that Prop. 8 will lose.

New York State Senate
Democrats to gain the majority. I mention this because Republican control of the NY Senate (by one vote!) has been the only thing stopping NY Dems from making good on their intention to legalize gay marriage. Another giant step for equality!

To everyone who has read my blog this year, thank you. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Penultimate pre-election post

It's really coming to an end. One more blog post about this and that, then it's time for my final predictions. I've been writing about this election for three and a half years.

From my May 10, 2005 post on my old geocities blog:
The 2008 Presidential Race and the New York State of Mind
I'm looking to the vanishing point on the horizon. What's out there? I can just barely see it: the beginnings of the Presidential race of 2008. Do we have a chance? What's our best bet? Believe it or not, there is already some polling data available for the '08 race. LINK. And I find myself smiling a little. Why? Because it's possible that the Republicans will nominate a candidate so poor they can't possibly win. I give you the Republican front-runner for 2008: Rudy Giuliani. In the wake of 9/11, most people seem to have forgotten just who the Mayor of New York was: A bumbling, bizarre figure with approval ratings hovering around 40%.

Poor John McCain has been running for President for about 10 years. Next week the quest ends, unfulfilled. Early voting shows McCain losing by a landslide. The Republican Party has already moved on. Its web site has plenty of material attacking Obama and Biden, but the home page makes no reference to the McCain ticket when you bring it up.

John, why couldn't you go out with some dignity? When Walter Mondale knew he was going to get blown out of the water by Ronald Reagan in 1984, he stayed positive. He didn't go around screaming that Reagan was some kind of radical terrorist.

Speaking of a politician leaving the stage in with no respectability left to him, who are you, Senator Ted Stevens? Stevens was convicted this week of seven felony counts of failing to report gifts he received from an Alaskan oil pipeline company.

Why, Ted, why? If Alaska were a country, Stevens would be its George Washington. A great war hero who was already well-known when Alaska joined the Union, he's been its leading statesman for decades. Why did he insist on risking his career and reputation in this way? Why at the age of 84 is he unwilling to retire? Why did he make so many claims during his trial that he knew could be easily disproven by the prosecution?

I suppose that Ted Stevens, like Sinatra, must do it "his way." Anyway Ted, thanks for handing the Democratic Party your Senate seat next week and for trashing your party's already ruined reputation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

9pm Eastern, 6pm Pacific

November 4, at 9pm Eastern, 6pm Pacific. That's the time that the news networks should be calling the Presidential race for Obama. Polls will close at that time in 12 states, and the networks will call each state for one candidate or the other, unless the vote is very close in any given state.

Here's an approximation of what the electoral map will look like at that time:

Obama 286, McCain 145

An early election night victory for Obama may cause big problems for Republicans in the West (as if they didn't have enough troubles already).

A famous anecdote tells that in 1980, when the networks awarded the Presidency to Ronald Reagan early in the evening, disgusted Democrats in California actually got out of line to vote and went home. This of course had a devastating effect on Democrats in races down the ballot. Republicans may experience the same phenomenon this year if Obama is declared the next President while the polls are still open in eleven western states. I, for one, will not be sorry for them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election wish list

Barack Obama is going to win and Democrats will do well all over the country. Here's my wish list of all the other election goals that are most important to me. These are all things we can reasonably hope to achieve, not one of them is big long shot.

1. A 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate
To do this we'd have to win 9 of the 11 competitive races for seats currently held by Republicans. Tops on my list are of course a victory for Al Franken in Minnesota, and a win for Bruce Lunsford in Kentucky over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

2. No on California's Prop. 8, the Equal Marriage Ban
What kind of stupid state allows its Constitution to be amended on a major civil rights issue by a simple majority vote on a ballot referendum? Yes, that's right, if Prop 8 gets 50% of the vote on November 4th, California's Constitution will be amended to take away the right of gays to marry. Up until recently, progressives weren't too worried about this, as Prop 8 was down by about 15 points in the polls. But a huge advertising blitz by hate-mongering conservative churches has drummed up support for Prop. 8 and made the final outcome any one's guess. Frustratingly, only one pollster is surveying this issue. If Prop 8 succeeds, the cause of equality in this country may be set back for decades.
Update 10/23: A new poll shows Prop. 8 going down to defeat 44-52. Let's hope so!

3. and 4. Christine Gregiore for Governor and Darcy Burner for Congress (WA-08)
Here in Washington, we're hoping that a big victory for Obama will help Christine Gregoire to reelection over right-winger Dino Rossi, and help brilliant anti-war candidate Darcy Burner in her dead-heat race versus incumbent Republican Dave Reichert.

5. Elwyn Tinklenberg defeats Michele Bachmann in MN-06
Super-crazy Michele Bachmann was elected to Minnesota's most conservative congressional district in 2006. She was considered to be a good bet for reelection until five days ago, when she appeared on MSNBC and said that she was concerned that Barack Obama, "may have anti-American views." When asked by Chris Matthews "How many people in the Congress of the United States do you suspect as being anti-American?" she replied "What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?" The incident has so damaged Bachmann's campaign that the National Republican Congressional Committee is pulling its media purchases from Bachmann's race. That means they're conceding the race, and it would now take a miracle for her to beat Tinklenberg.

6. Larry Kissell defeats Robin Hayes in NC-8
Nobody paid much attention when unknown teacher Larry Kissell challenged four-term incumbent Republican Congressman Robin Hayes in North Carolina's 8th district in 2006. After the election however, the Democratic Party wound up kicking itself for not supporting Kissell as he lost by just 329 votes. In this year's rematch, Kissell has run a great campaign, and he's now expected to win. Crazy coincidence: Four days ago, just one day after Congresswoman Michele Bachmann did the same thing, Hayes made a disastrous remark in public that has hamstrung his campaign and caused the Republican Party to give him up for dead. Speaking at a John McCain rally, Hayes said that, "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.” He then repeatedly denied that he had made the statement and accused reporters of "irresponsible journalism," until an audio recording attesting to the statement was released.

7. Dan Seals defeats Ron Kirk in IL-10
Republican Ron Kirk narrowly won this congressional district just north of Chicago in 2000, and has managed to hold on since then despite the district's Democratic lean. He is also a titan of fundraising, and every two years has enough cash on hand to make campaigning against him a daunting challenge. Dan Seals is an outstanding (if underfunded) Democratic candidate. Hopefully, Obama's big coattails in Illinois will be enough for him to win.

8. A 100-seat majority in the U.S. House
If Democrats pick up 32 seats on November 4, they'll control the House 268-167. There's no particular significance to a 100-seat majority, its just a good target for us this year. The best estimate I can find today suggests we'll net about 26 seats, but I think this may be low considering some of the Republican debacles of the last few days. Let's go!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Predictions Preview: U.S. House races

This year Democrats will add more than 20 seats to their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. I’ll make my final predictions just before November 4. I’ll spend the rest of this post explaining where we are, how we got here, and where we’re going.

Heading into the 2006 election, Republicans controlled the House 232-203. As I correctly predicted, Democrats picked up 29 seats on election day. Subsequently, they grabbed four more seats in one run-off and three special elections, so Democrats now control the House 236-199.

For one party to make big gains in the House in two consecutive two elections is very exceptional. One of the biggest contributing factors is the fact that this year 26 members of the Republican caucus are retiring, while only 6 Democrats are doing so. This is not really a surprise, as the House changed hands last time around, and Republicans have been reminded that being in the minority is a lost less fun. Prospects for the GOP in this year's House races are also damaged by the fact that George Bush and Company have turned the Republican brand into political poison, and the McCain campaign hasn't done much to help the situation.

So with the Democrats poised to swing a gain of 60 seats or more in two election cycles, the question arises as to who deserves the most credit. The easy answer: Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and his 50-state strategy.

One of the hallmarks of the Bill Clinton era (for purposes of this discussion the years 1992 through 2004) was that while Clinton himself won, the Democratic Party’s fortunes waned at every other level in much the country. Increasingly, the Party chose only to target swing states, and to try to get the majority in Congress by pouring resources into a few “winnable” districts. This strategy failed miserably. The mid-90’s through the early 2000’s saw Republicans solidify their hold on Congress.

The GOP also made major gains at the state level. One effect of this was that Democratic hopes for making gains in the House were severely damaged after the 2001 decennial redistricting of seats. Rachel Morris of the Washington Monthly describes what happened: After 2000, Democrats found themselves entirely locked out of redistricting in four large swing states where Republicans had won all three branches of government: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. "In those states we got hammered," one Democratic redistricting operative said. In Pennsylvania, GOP legislators, urged on by DeLay and assisted by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), produced a map that delivered the party 12 of the state’s 19 congressional seats. Florida, the quintessential swing state, wound up with 18 Republicans and seven Democrats. Gore won 50.7 percent of the vote in these four states in 2000, and that year Democrats held 35 of their 77 House seats. After 2002, Democrats held only 26. (Mark Gersh, a Democratic redistricting expert, concluded in a study of that election that Democrats were "steamrollered, not by George W. Bush, but by redistricting"). And while Republicans had made the most of states where they had unilateral control, even when Democrats had more influence they often brokered deals to protect incumbents rather than seeking to gain more seats.

The political landscape looks very different in 2008, thanks to the 50-state strategy. Committed to the idea that there is no place in the country where Democrats cannot win, Howard Dean has seeded the local level with committed candidates, building them into state candidates for future races, while also opening more Party offices in red and purple states and working tirelessly to fire-up volunteers. Barack Obama has unreservedly endorsed Howard Dean and has also committed himself to redrawing the electoral map by putting new, traditionally Republican states in play. And like Dean, Obama has rewritten the rules concerning where and how Democrats would compete, and compete successfully.

McCain plumbs the depths of failure, and an amazing endorsement

John McCain is not learning much from experience. In this week’s third and final Presidential debate, he repeated every mistake he made in his first two performances. Once again, he was angry, dismissive and obsessed with trivialities that no one cares about.

The strangest thing about McCain’s debate performance however was his choice to devote so much of his speaking time to “Joe the Plumber.” According to McCain, his friend Joe is an Ohio plumber seeking to purchase the business for which he works, and Joe’s plans would be jeopardized by Obama’s tax increase on incomes over $250,000. Joe the plumber happened to meet Obama a few days ago, and at that time expressed his concerns to Obama regarding the candidate’s tax plan.

Unfortunately for McCain, none of the things he alleged regarding Joe’s background are true. The man is not a licensed plumber, he has no plans to buy the business in question, and he does not make a lot of money. Oh yeah, he’s also not from Ohio and his name is not Joe, it’s Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. Sam is a registered Republican, and McCain did get one thing right: Samuel J. Wurzelbacher does not like Obama.

All of this reflects terribly on McCain. He made no fewer than 21 references to "Joe" in the debate. There was never any question that this would make Wurzelbacher an instant celebrity, thus causing all the falsehoods in McCain’s anecdotes to be revealed. The entire episode serves to remind the public of two things. First, that McCain has little if any regard for the truth, and second, that McCain’s campaign is stunningly incompetent.

Also today, some truly incredible news: The Chicago Tribune has endorsed Barack Obama for President. This is the Tribune’s first endorsement of a Democrat for President in its 161 year history.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The good guys are going to win

All at once, the clouds are parted.
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams...
-Rush, Permanent Waves.

The McCain campaign has virtually collapsed. It's "rallies" have deteriorated into angry mobs of only a few thousand people. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have gone three-for-three in winning the debates. And today, a state investigator in Alaska has concluded that Sarah Palin abused her power as Alaska's governor and violated state ethics law.

I no longer need to analyze various scenarios under which either candidate will win. It's going to be a landslide.

Currently, the aggregate of national polls suggests that Obama will defeat McCain by 8%. The excellent suggests than Obama will win by 5.3%. Finally, the Iowa Electronic Market shows Obama ahead by a gaudy 12.8%. This last one is kind of scary because the IEM is always the most accurate forecast.

We need to push for the biggest blowout victory we can get. Why? Well, if I might echo the sentiments of the leader of the liberal blogosphere, Markos Moulitsas, "The day after the election, I want to see an electoral battlefield littered with defeated Republicans, their ranks demoralized, their treasury in heavy debt, and no real leadership to take the helm. I want a vacuum so complete, that a bloody leadership battle between the neocons, theocons, and corporate cons shakes the GOP to its core, and leaves it fractured and ill-equipped to stymie the progressive agenda, much less ramp up for an even bleaker (for them) 2010."

In terms of specific objectives, Democrats need to take over a total of nine Republican Senate seats to reach the magic number of 60 and stop Republican filibusters. Even a few weeks ago, this goal seemed completely unrealistic. Today, this possibility is within reach. Here's my Senate race analysis with fresh updates.

With an Obama landslide, we can stop the hate-mongers trying to take away the right of millions of Californians to marry. We can capture the New York State Senate. And Obama's coattails can help Democrats in close races all over the country. I'm looking at you, Governor Christine Gregiore.

What happens after that? Well, here's what I'd like to see.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

John McCain, New Dealer!

The format for last night's Presidential debate was terrible. The guests at the so-called Town Hall were not allowed to do anything but ask their pre-approved questions without any follow-up. The candidates were not allowed to address each other directly, nor were they allowed to follow-up on each other's answers. The questions were also poor, culminating in, "What would you do if Iran invaded Israel?" Here's my answer: Iran has never started a war, and this was supposed to be a "domestic policy" debate.

Obama did a good job by not making any mistakes, and by always looking directly at McCain when McCain was speaking. John McCain however repeated all the mistakes he made in the first debate. He mostly refused to look at Obama, instead furiously scribbling notes on his legal pad right up to the closing minute. McCain also again felt it necessary to talk a lot about old guys who most people don't know anything about, including Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.

The strangest thing about this debate however was McCain's surprise support for authorizing the treasury secretary to buy the mortgages of homeowners in financial trouble. Now, first let me say that this is a fine idea and I give credit to McCain for supporting it. What's significant is that the Republican nominee for President has embraced an idea that's straight out of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

This proposal would essentially revive the function of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. From the New York Times: "The HOLC was established in June 1933 to help distressed families avert foreclosures by replacing mortgages that were in or near default with new ones that homeowners could afford. It did so by buying old mortgages from banks — most of which were delighted to trade them in for safe government bonds — and then issuing new loans to homeowners. The HOLC financed itself by borrowing from capital markets and the Treasury. The scale of the operation was impressive. Within two years, the HOLC received about 1.9 million applications from distressed homeowners and granted just over a million new mortgages. (Adjusting only for population growth, the corresponding mortgage figure today would be almost 2.5 million.) Nearly one of every five mortgages in America became owned by the HOLC. Its total lending over its lifetime amounted to $3.5 billion — a colossal sum equal to 5 percent of a year’s gross domestic product at the time. (The corresponding figure today would be about $750 billion.) As a public corporation chartered for a public purpose, the HOLC was a patient and even lenient lender. It tried to keep delinquent borrowers on track with debt counseling, budgeting help and even family meetings. But times were tough in the 1930s, and nearly 20 percent of the HOLC’s borrowers defaulted anyway. So the corporation eventually acquired ownership of about 200,000 houses, nearly all of which were sold by 1944. The HOLC closed its books in 1951, or 15 years after its last 1936 mortgage was paid off, with a small profit. It was a heavy lift, but the incredible HOLC lifted it."

John, as a real New Dealer myself, I salute you for reviving a great government program that helped so many people. But I'm afraid that you're going to make a lot of conservatives very angry.

Friday, October 03, 2008

McCain moves on Minnesota, VP debate fallout

John McCain has announced his end-game strategy to win the Presidency. He's decided that in order to reach 270 electoral votes, he must win either Minnesota, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. This strategy is reflected by the fact that Minnesota is the only battleground state where McCain continues to out-spend Obama.

Ok, fine. This gives me an excuse to talk some more about the election I care about most this year beyond the race for the Presidency: Al Franken's attempt to unseat incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman.

So what's really going on in Minnesota? Well, that depends on who you want to believe. You can look at one set of polls showing Obama leading McCain by 11 and Franken leading Coleman by 2, or you can look at another poll that shows Obama leading by only 1 and Franken trailing by 10. Independent candidate Dean Barkley might have 19% support, or he might have only 3% support. Arrgh!

Obama last visited the state on August 7. It's time for him to get serious about Minnesota and delivering the kind of big win that will have coattails for Al Franken. Al Gore will be campaigning with Franken tomorrow. That's good, but it's not enough.

In other news, Sarah Palin gave an interview today with (surprise) Fox News in which she indicated that she was "annoyed" with the way Katie Couric treated her in Palin's disastrous interview with CBS.

Said Palin, "It's like, man, no matter what you say, you are going to get clobbered. If you choose to answer a question, you are going to get clobbered on the answer. If you choose to try to pivot and go to another subject that you believe that Americans want to hear about, you get clobbered for that too."

I mention this because it's emblematic of her attitude toward the press and her performance in last night's debate. She's offended by the idea of journalists asking her questions. She believes it's presumptuous of the press to think they know what she should talk about. She knows what she should talk about. That's why when she didn't like the debate questions that Gwen Ifill asked her last night, she simply changed the subject and stuck to her prepared responses.

Democrats were a little concerned before last night that Palin would give a performance that would reignite the kind of excitement she generated during and after the Republican convention, but it didn't happen. Joe Biden did a good job. With 32 days to go, it's all over but the shouting (angry shouting, that is, from John McCain).

Update: This just-released Star-Tribune poll has Franken up by nine. Hooray! Also, points out that despite allowing McCain to outspend him on the air in Minnesota, Obama has 28 field offices there while McCain has only 9.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Markets falls, Republicans fall more

For conservatives, it's the end of the world as we know it. I feel fine. Let the progressive era begin.

First in this week's news: The McCain-Palin ticket is no longer competitive in the race for the Presidency. A quick consultation of the Iowa Electronic Markets or demonstrates that we are now looking at an Obama landslide.

What happened? Well, McCain didn't do himself any favors in Friday's debate. He peppered every answer with trivia about the USSR, Vietnam, Henry Kissinger, the KGB, and D-Day. I'm surprised he didn't mention his close relationship with Calvin Coolidge. He made himself look like a very old man, a geezer with a "You kids get off my lawn!" attitude. Obama by contrast was cool and collected, and was able to match wits with McCain on all the things McCain claimed Obama could not understand.

More trouble in Republican land. Sarah Palin's disastrous interview with Katie Couric has led to some conservatives calling for her to step down. Unfortunately, that problem is small potatoes compared to what happened today. McCain this morning decided to take credit for the coalition supporting the Wall Street bailout. Right before the bailout went down to defeat.

It's clear that voters are blaming Republicans for the stock market crash and failing economy, and the implications are dire for GOP incumbents up for reelection in five weeks. It has now become much more likely that Democrats will win the toss up Senate races in states such as North Carolina and Oregon. Furthermore, several GOP incumbents considered to be completely safe bets for reelection are now possibly endangered, including Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Saxby Chambliss in Georgia.

But there's more to it than that. It's clear that the entire philosophy of conservatism, at least in its Reagan/Bush/neocon form, is dying fast. As NBC's Howard Fineman pointed out today, "The era of cowboy capitalism has died, largely of self-inflicted wounds. Who knows what’s coming now? I do: A new era of tight business regulation and government intervention in the markets."

They'll be plenty of time to talk about the death of conservatism after the election. Another more immediate concern this week is the ongoing trial of Senator Ted Stevens. If Stevens is convicted of failing to reports gifts in the form of renovations to his home worth $250,000, he'll undoubtedly lose his reelection bid. The case against him seems incredibly strong, but if he's somehow acquitted, he's assured of another graft-soaked term in the Senate.

Finally, I highly recommend this article from BeyondChron in San Francisco. It explains how the Senate seats most likely to flip from Republican to Democratic this year, Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Colorado, all happen to be in swing states that will pick the next President. The fact that Republicans in these states are dispirited gives Obama help in winning the election.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The latest stunt from crazy John McCain

So I had just finished drafting a blog post about how the bubble had finally burst on Sarah Palin mania, leaving the McCain campaign just as far if not farther behind Barack Obama in the polls than it had been before the conventions. A new Washington Post poll shows Obama leading McCain by a whopping nine percent, and Palin now has the lowest favorability rating of any of the four candidates. Polls also show Obama benefiting the most from the Wall Street meltdown.

And just like that, McCain comes up with another crazy gimmick to try and save his sinking candidacy. Now he wants to suspend his campaign as well as the debates to return to Washington to participate in the effort to create a bailout plan for Wall Street. Apparently, he thinks Congress is incapable of managing without his help, despite the fact that he has by far the worst attendance record of any Senator for the current Congress. An instant poll also shows the public reacting very poorly to the idea of halting the campaign and the debates.

McCain's snap judgement on suspending the Presidential race is indicative of an emerging pattern of rash behavior on his part, as well as a demonstration of his inability to deliver ideas in a calm and collected manner. George Will observed this week that McCain, under pressure on the financial crisis, "is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high."

The other big news this week is the McCain campaign's weird war on the media. The first part of this conflict came into focus this past Sunday, when McCain's team accused the New York Times of seeking to undermine their campaign. These charges were delivered in the form of a conference call with reporters in which McCain's aides suggested a numbers of criticisms of Barack Obama that they felt the media had failed to adequately explore. However, as The Politico observed, "The call was so rife with simple, often inexplicable misstatements of fact that it may have had the opposite effect: to deepen the perception, dangerous to McCain, that he and his aides have little regard for factual accuracy." When a reporter sought clarification on a few things, McCain's team responsed not with facts to back their accusations, but instead with a charge that the reporter was "in the tank" for Obama.

The second part of the McCain's team multi-front war on journalists is evidenced by the continued cloistering of Sarah Palin. Palin of course has never held a press conference. But the McCain team's careful shielding of Palin goes far beyond that. On Tuesday, the press pool was told that they would not be admitted to Palin's photo-op meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and genocidal maniac, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The press is naturally becoming frustrated with the situation. In a commentary last night, CNN's Campbell Brown laid into John McCain, accusing him of sexism for casting a "chauvinistic chain" that ran over his running mate, and suggested that the time has come to "free Sarah Palin." Better yet, in 41 days let's all free ourselves from the Republicans.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gubernatorial Races 2008

New Senate race updates 9/20, click here.

Only 11 states hold their election for Governor in the same years as Presidential elections, and only three of those are competitive this year.

Missouri: A pickup for Democrats. State Attorney General Jay Nixon will defeat U.S. Representative Kenny Hulshof to replace retiring Republican Governor Matt Blunt. As a bonus, Democrats also have a good chance of picking up Hulshof's U.S. House seat.

North Carolina: It's a wild time in the Tarheel state, as the Presidential race, gubernatorial race, and the U.S. Senate race are all toss ups. Governor Mike Easley is prohibited from running for a third term, and Lt. Governor Bey Perdue is looking to move up, while the Republicans are running Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Despite the fact that a strong candidacy by Libertarian Michael Munger is siphoning support from McCrory, recent polls give McCrory a slight edge. This race is currently a draw.

Washington: No one in Washington has forgotten the wild race for the Governor's office in 2004, when, after multiple recounts, Christine Gregoire beat Dino Rossi by 129 votes out of more than 2.7 million cast. Gregoire's narrow win was indicative of limited support for her among Democrats and independents in Washington, as John Kerry beat George Bush in the state that year by a comfortable 53.3% to 46.0%.

This year is a rematch, and Gregoire is in trouble. Rossi outspent Gregoire 2-to-1 last month, and recent polls have shown him with a small lead. Today's Seattle Times describes Gregoire's newest tv ad as, "not quite true." Despite Gregoire's lackluster campaign, she does have some advantages. With the Republican party on the defensive everywhere, Democrats can afford to send a big name like Al Gore to the state to raise money and support just before the election. With six weeks to go, the race is a draw.

Monday, September 15, 2008

McCain's convention bounce over, time to review Obama's electoral strategy

First topic: New York Senator and Democrat Chuck Schumer appeared on Meet the Press yesterday and announced that the McCain campaign had "peaked."

I agree. There are a lot of signs this week that the nice bounce in the polls that McCain got after the convention is over, and Obama is still winning this race.

The most important development last week was the savage beating McCain-Palin took at the hands of the mainstream media. Palin was excoriated for her many, many scandals and improprieties in Alaska in this New York Times article. McCain meanwhile is trying to deal with a storm of accusations that his campaign is telling bald-face lies in its advertsing and its claims about McCain's and Palin's records. The key to these accusations is that they come from legitimate fact-checking organizations rather than partisan sources with axes to grind.

How do I know that the McCain bounce is over? First of all, I'm no longer seeing McCain gain ground in state-by-state polling. A Virginia poll released this morning shows Obama leading 50-46.

Second, McCain and Palin's approval numbers are sinking fast, no doubt due to the recent firestorm of criticism of McCain's sleazy campaign tactics and the revelations about Palin's scandal-plauged career. The change is particularly significant for Palin, with her approval rating now at only 47%, and her disapproval rating rising to 43%. This is not a good situation for a VP nominee.

Third, the numbers have now stabilized in the most accurate of all polls, the Iowa Electronic Market. The IEM is still predicting that Obama will get about 52% of the vote, McCain 49%. These numbers haven't changed siginficantly in the last four months. As long as this poll continues to show that Obama is going to win, I can sleep nights.

Fourth, McCain can't getting anyone interested in seeing him speak. This morning in Jacksonville, FL, only 3,000 people turned up to see McCain speak. About 1 million people live in the Jacksonville area.

Second topic: Obama's electoral vote strategy. The one significant change in the polls since the conventions has been that McCain has managed to shore up support in a lot of the red states. This has made the playing field look a lot more like it did in 2000 and 2004.

Here's Obama's strategy:

Obama is very likely to win all the states Kerry won in 2004, plus Iowa. That gives him 259 electoral votes, just 11 short of the number needed to win. These states are represented on the map below in blue. The states Obama can target are in white, and the McCain states are in red.

Strategy one: Obama wins by taking one of the six swing states in the East: FL, NC, VA, OH, IN and MO. Obama is pretty much even money in OH and VA, and he's trailed slightly in the other four. The point is, I think he's likely to carry at least one of these six.

Strategy two: Obama wins by taking CO and either NM or NV. Since he's consistenly had the lead in both CO and NM, his chances on this one are very good.

Strategy three: A surprise win in a red state. Obama has made it clear he thinks he can compete in Montana, North Dakota, and Nebraska-2. Nebraska and Maine are not winner take all. If Obama wins in Omaha, he gets one electoral vote. That may not sound like much, but if Gore had done it, he would have won.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The ghost of Ferraros past

It's convention time, and things look grim for the Party's Presidential nominee. Despite his best efforts, he hasn't been able to figure out a way to catch up to the dynamic and popular nominee from the other party. So he decides to shake up the race with a big surprise: he selects as his running mate a woman known to only a handful of Americans.

The gamble appears to work. The selection generates a lot of excitement in the party, and the ticket is receiving the lion's share of media coverage. Most importantly, the ticket accomplishes what few thought it ever would: new polls show that it is now slightly ahead of the opposition to win the election.

Unfortunately, the excitement doesn't last. People begin to ask whether this obscure person chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee has the experience necessary to lead the country should she get elected and something happens to the President that suddenly thrusts her into the most powerful leadership position in the world. Worse, the news cycle begins to become dominated by attention to her personal scandals. The bloom is off the rose, and come November the ticket loses the election.

The year was 1984, and the ticket was Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro for the Democratic Party. Now it's 2008, and like Mondale, John McCain has chosen to energize his base by selecting a Vice Presidential nominee who represents an exciting change from expectations. Credit where credit is due: I didn't think that McCain would ever catch up to Obama in the polls, but his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has done just that.

I honestly believe that the new momentum that Palin has given McCain will quickly dissipate, just as Mondale's selection of Ferraro did, and for the same reasons. First of all, the race will quickly return to focusing on Obama and McCain, with the VP nominees as little more than a sideshow. Although McCain may have caught up with Obama in national polling, I saw something yesterday that I think is very telling about how weak his candidacy actually is. McCain yesterday held his first public event since the Convention in which he did not appear with Palin at his side. The turnout was so small that he and his supporters were actually drowned out by Obama supporters who came to heckle the event. Compare this to Barack Obama, who only needs to appear in a public park to draw as many as 72,000 people.

Second, Palin's lack of experience is a negative. She's been the Governor of Alaska for less than two years after being the mayor of a town of 5,000. I don't think Democrats should focus on talking about this, because harping about it may win her sympathy more than it hurts her. Better to let the situation speak for itself: The McCain campaign is so afraid of Palin making major gaffes when speaking that they have refused to make her available to the press and the public except under carefully controlled circumstances.

Third, Palin's tenure both as Mayor of Wasilla, AK and as the state's Governor have been plagued by scandal, cronyism, mismanagement and gross hypocrisy. Every one of these things has already caused headaches for the McCain campaign, and they will continue to do so.

Fourth, Palin's extremist views make her a candidate without broad appeal. I not saying this is definitely a detriment, after all, George W. Bush's views are no less extreme than hers, and people voted for him. But the problem exists none the less. As one pundit pointed out this week: "Palin is a right winger. She opposes abortion even in the case of rape, incest AND even if the health of the mother is in jeopardy. She favors shooting wolves from airplanes and has addressed her husband's Alaska Independence Movement affiliation which calls for a vote on Alaska separating from the United States."

I don't think Palin will save McCain. Should be a good show, though.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Eight weeks and counting

I've was in Hawai'i last week, now I'm back and it's time for stretch run to the election.

I've updated the Senate race predictions page. Things are looking good. The fascinating election poll site is now predicting that Democrats will pick up an incredible seven Senate seats this year, bringing us to 58. If that happens, and if majority leader Harry Reid can hold the caucus together, he would need to scrape up only two Republicans on any given vote to break up a filibuster.

Only one other observation right now. Ron Paul will be on the ballot in Montana as the Presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, and he will also be on the ballot in Louisiana. This shouldn't affect McCain's ability to win Louisiana. In Montana however, a Paul candidacy is a killer for McCain, as Obama has been running neck and neck with him. And Montana's three electoral votes are supposed to be a gimme for the GOP.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Palin pick: now that's what I call desperate

John McCain has stunned the political world by selecting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin is a former runner up in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant and former Mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, AK. She has been the Governor of Alaska since December, 2006. She holds a Bachelor's degree from the Univeristy of Idaho, and she enjoys mooseburgers.

Whew! What to say? Palin is a total unknown to Americans. She has no foreign policy experience to go with what is already a mighty thin resume. Currently, she's embroiled in an investigation into her conduct during her brief tenure as Governor.

So what's McCain doing? First of all, it seems like he's making a play for Hillary Clinton supporters. Second, since McCain is not a social conservative, he's been heavily pressured to choose a running mate that will appeal to the Party's evangelical base. But to choose someone with as little experience as Sarah Palin has made McCain look desperate for something to shake up the race.

Forget about what Democrats will say about her, conservatives themselves are expressing alarm at the choice of Palin:

Pat Buchanan: "She Just Is Not Ready to Be Commander-in-Chief."

The National Review: "
a reckless choice; it strikes me that way. And McCain's age raised the stakes on this issue. Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?"

AP conservative Ron Fournier: "She is younger and less experienced than the first-term Illinois senator, and brings an ethical shadow to the ticket. Just 20 months ago, she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 6,500 where the biggest issue is controlling growth and the biggest annual worry is whether there will be enough snow for the Iditarod dog-mushing race. "

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough: "It Sounds Like a Harriet Miers Decision. Let's Find a Woman, Whether She's Experienced or Not."

But here's my favorite: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney expressed anger today that they had both been given serious consideration but had then been passed over for Palin.

I have been worried about Pawlenty as McCain's choice, because it would significantly reduce Al Franken's chances of beating Norm Coleman in Minnesota's Senate race this year. Without Pawlenty on the ticket (and hopefully with Minnesotans angered by that fact), Obama might beat McCain in Minnesota by a big enough margin to help Franken win.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Convention pre-game show

The Democratic Convention in Denver starts Tuesday. Next weekend, the spotlight shifts to the Republicans when John McCain will select his VP pick just before the GOP Convention kicks off in St. Paul. Here are some observations on the current landscape.

* I believe that the McCain campaign has reached high tide. His recent ads attacking Obama have been giving him a little bump in the polls, bringing him to within a point or two of Obama in the popular vote. McCain has also done a good job of shoring up support in the red states, to the point that I can only name a couple of states that Bush carried in 2004 that Obama would be guaranteed to carry this time around. On the other hands, I haven't seen McCain making any inroads at all in the blue states.

Two reasons why I think McCain is as close now as he ever will be to Obama. First, The Democrats' Convention is likely to be a much bigger success than the Republicans'. While Obama will be appearing before upwards of 100,000 people this Thursday, the GOP Convention is likely to be more funeral than celebration, with Republicans choosing to stay away from St. Paul in large numbers. The debates begin less than two weeks after the conventions. I expect Obama will again have the edge, giving him a further boost heading into election day. The second reason why I think Obama will start pulling away is his recent decision to fight back against McCain's barrage of personal attacks. This was in evidence this week when Obama began running an attack ad against McCain pointing out that the Arizona Senator doesn't know how many houses he owns.

*Obama picks Biden. I'm satisfied with Biden. Traditionally, it's a good idea to pick a VP candidate who can serves as an attack dog, and this is job that Biden does well. Certainly he'll do it better than our last two wishy-washy VP picks, who let Dick Cheney beat them in the 2000 and 2004 debates. Biden has a few scandals, but they're too old for any one to care. Funny how that works. You would think the fact John McCain dated Cindy for most of a year while he was still married to his first wife would disqualify him in the eyes of the public, but few people care simply because the affair took place three decades ago. Did I mention that McCain is 72 years old?

*Democrats have two goals this year. The first is electing Obama, the second is electing enough Democratic Senators to break the disgraceful Republicans filibusters of the last two years that have made it nearly impossible for the Congress to accomplish much of anything.

Here's how it works. Any Senator can place a "hold" on a bill that can keep it from moving to a vote. It takes 60 "yea" votes to invoke cloture and break a filibuster. Currently, Democrats control the Senate 51-49. I would say Democrats are guaranteed to pick up five seats in November, and maybe a couple more. With 56 to 58 votes in the bag on any bill, it then just becomes a matter of siphoning off a couple of Republican votes, and Democrats can pass any bill they want to. Another important note: 2010 will also likely be a good year for electing more Democrats to the Senate, and with 60 seats or more in the hands of the good guys, the sky's the limit for doing what's needed to fix the country.

* Link of the week: This article on the resurgence of liberalism in America is music to my ears.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

McCain campaign finally gets organized, jumps straight into the gutter

New Senate race updates 8/2, click here.

Observers agree that while Obama and Clinton were in their protracted struggle for the Democratic nomination this past spring, the McCain campaign failed to take advantage of the situation. The Arizona Senator's campaign was instead hindered by resignations of staff members and a lagging effort to build a national organization.

Recently however, McCain seems to have finally settled on a consistent theme to carry him through to November. That theme is: Abanbon completely earlier promises to run a clean campaign free of personal attacks. Instead, try to destroy Barack Obama with vicious smears and attacks on his patriotism. And no accusation, no matter how demonstrably untrue, is off the table.

The public got a taste of Senator McCain's new gutter-based game plan in July when he suggested that Obama "would rather lose a war than lose a campaign," and McCain also began running an ad showing Obama side-by-side with Fidel Castro.

More recently, McCain has desperately tried to counter the positive news coverage of Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe by running an ad suggesting that Obama called off a planned trip to visit wounded troops because he was told he could not bring cameras with him. In reality, Obama called off the visit only because he was informed that it would not have been appropriate because the was on trip paid for by his campaign and because he was accompanied by campaign staff rather than his Senate Office staff.

In squabbles such as this, most journalists usually avoid taking sides because they value the appearance of objectivity. But in this case even the mainstream media is calling the McCain ad "literally untrue." Ironically, McCain also prepared an Obama attack ad scheduled to run if Obama had made the hospital visit, this one suggesting that was using wounded troops as campaign props.

Can McCain go any lower? Yes! This week, it's an ad implying that Obama's support is nothing more than media hype, and suggesting that he be compared to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Is McCain proud of himself? Yes he is.