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.