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 fivethirtyeight.com 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, fivethirtyeight.com 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.