Saturday, December 12, 2009

The tea party revolution: principle and purity

I'll be the first to admit it: if the Democratic Party doesn't get our act together, we're going to get killed in the 2010 elections. The Republicans have jumped ahead in Gallup's generic Congressional ballot. President Obama's approval rating has been on a long, slow slide since peaking this past spring. Senate Democrats' attempts to pass a health care bill are looking increasingly farcical.

On the positive side, the fractiousness of the right in this country seems to be increasing even as their electoral prospects appear to be improving. It's beginning to remind me a bit of what's happened to the political left in Canada.

Canada is a very liberal country. There have been four national parliamentary elections in Canada since 2000, and in each one the candidates on the left have received nearly two-thirds of the vote. So how did Stephen Harper's Conservative Party "win" the last two elections? It's because the Conservatives are the only right-wing party in Canada, while the vote on the left if split between no fewer than four major parties: the Liberals, the New Democrats, Bloc Quebec and the Green Party. If progressives ever want to govern in Canada again, one might think it wise for them to unite under one banner (or at least cut it down to two or three banners).

The United States is never going to develop into a multi-party system. And yet I see some hope that squabbling on the right may keep conservatives from achieving the kind of unity they need to get back into power. A new three-way ballot offered by the Rasmussen poll showed the generic Democratic candidate garnering 36% of the vote, compared to 23% for a "Tea Party" conservative candidate and only 18% for a Republican.

This poll mirrors the recent congressional race in New York's 23rd district, in which Democrat Bill Owens won a surprise victory because conservative support was split between the Republican nominee and the Conservative Party nominee. New York has a unique system in which third parties are allowed to cross-nominate the candidates of the major parties, so for the most part the race in the 23rd can be seen as a fluke that won't be repeated in a lot of other places.

The Washington Post this week provided a good summary of the mixed feelings that the Republican world has regarding the Tea Party conservative activist movement: "Publicly, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and other GOP leaders praise the tea party movement as a crucial component of the party's base that will help Republicans make substantial gains in 2010. But the push from the right has also worsened infighting over the GOP's course."

Even if the GOP doesn't have to worry about the tea part activists backing third party candidates, it's clear that the movement is still going to cause the Republican establishment all kinds of headaches. In Florida, the National Republican Senate Committee has backed popular, moderate Governor Charlie Crist for next year's open-seat Senate race. Unfortunately for them, party activists are backing very conservative state representative Mark Rubio for the nomination. At a minimum, this will mean an expensive and divisive primary battle for the nomination that the party would prefer to avoid. At a maximum, Rubio will actually get the nomination and prove unpalatable to Florida voters in the general election and hand the seat to the Democratic nominee. The same thing is happening in Kentucky, where the establishment Republican candidate for Senate Trey Grayon is being challenged for the nomination by the libertarian Dr. Paul Rand. A recent poll shows Rand with a small lead to get the nomination. While Grayson would probably be favored to win in the general election over the Democratic nominee, Rand would not.

The Republican base is clearly moving to the right. Hopefully this movement will alienate more voters than it attracts, because right now Democratic prospects for 2010 election are not very bright.

Monday, November 30, 2009

This candidate certified 80% pure

This is a post about a novel idea that the Republican party has thought up to boost their fortunes. Before I discuss it, I'd like to quick review the biggest challenges the two parties face going into the next election.

The first problem for Democrats is the current anti-incumbent mood of the public. People aren't happy about the state of the economy, and they're bound to take it out on current office-holders if things don't improve. That means trouble for the party in power. The second problem is apathy among Democrats. Democratic voters mostly stayed home in the 2009 election; in 2008 they represented 39% of the electorate, but only 33% of the electorate in this November's races. Furthermore there's indication that Democrats may stay home again in 2010.

The biggest problem the Republican Party has (now that people are starting to forget the scorched-earth policies of George W. Bush) is that not many Americans want to be card-carrying members. While nearly 30% of voters called  themselves Republicans at the time of the 2008 elections, only 22.7% do so now. The party hasn't seen numbers this poor since its post-Watergate nadir in the 1970s. Other difficulties for the GOP include problems raising cash, the fact that it is increasingly identified as a regional party of the American south, and the fact that its leadership is increasingly made up of its nuttiest and least-informed members (Sarah Palin is clearly the party's most popular spokesperson).

So putting aside the Democrats problems for another day, here's what the GOP has come up with to get their party moving again: a "purity" test for candidates. I'll let the New York Times fill you in: "Republican leaders are circulating a resolution listing 10 positions Republican candidates should support to demonstrate that they “espouse conservative principles and public policies” that are in opposition to “Obama’s socialist agenda.” According to the resolution, any Republican candidate who broke with the party on three or more of these issues– in votes cast, public statements made or answering a questionnaire – would be penalized by being denied party funds or the party endorsement."

For the record, the resolution would force Republicans to toe the line on at least 8 of these 10 issues:
(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill
(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
(4) Workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check
(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat
(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

Also from the Times,"the chief sponsor of the proposal, James Bopp Jr., defended the use of a 10-point list on key positions like fiscal conservatism, gun rights and abortion. He found it predictable that Democrats would be critical, saying they “relish criticizing the Republican Party for not being true to our conservative principles, which was unfortunately true with regard to support for spending, deficits and bailouts during the Bush administration, which I publicly criticized at the time. They will attack any effort to reassure voters that we are serious about restoring our conservative bona fides.”

I actually find it refreshing to hear a Republican admit that while the party talks a good game on keeping spending under control, the reality has been very different. So to pass a resolution saying in essence, "if you say one thing and do another, you'll be called to account for it," I think that's just fine.

The thing is, this proposal isn't meant to threaten politicians who don't keep their promises, it's a strong-arm tactic that attempts to force all of the party's candidates to hold identical viewpoints on the issues. I fail to understand how this actually helps Republicans to build their party and regain the majority in Congress.

Contrast the Republican strategy with the Democratic game plan. The Democratic Party supports liberal candidates everywhere it's possible to elect a liberal, and more conservative candidates in conservative districts. I support the Democratic strategy for a couple of reasons. First of all, it works. We have a large majority in Congress, and one reason for that is that we've managed to elect a Democrat in a lot of conservative districts. Some people believe these "blue dog" conservative Democrats are more trouble than their worth, but I don't. Although some of the blue dogs have made themselves pretty annoying, a Democrat who votes with us 60% of the time and who helps us raise money and build our party is preferable to a Republican who never votes with us. The second reason why I don't favor forcing Democrats to adhere to a narrow range of opinion on the issues is that is makes us the "big tent" party. We welcome people with different points of view.

The GOP purity test is nothing new of course, Republican Senator Jim DeMint offered essentially the same idea earlier this year when he said that he "would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs." And I still like what conservative columnist Peggy Noonan had to say about DeMint's remarks, "Good luck stopping an agenda you call socialist with 30 hardy votes. "Shrink to win": I've never heard of that as a political slogan."

 So, is the GOP leadership so deluded that it really thinks that the purity test will help them? Honestly I don't think they believe that this sort of thing will help them build their party. Rather, I think James Bopp Jr. and his friends believe that the purity test resolution will help them build their own power within the party. The Republican leadership has noticed that the party has lost most of its moderate voices, which means that what remains of the base has become far more conservative. By throwing some red meat to the grassroots, Mr. Bopp is assuring his own prosperity, whether his organization prospers or not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Iowa: corn, beans and incumbents who always win

Lately I've been thinking of my youth growing up in Iowa. And not just because I'm reminded as we begin the holiday season that the state Song of Iowa is sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum.

A pair of Iowa politicians that no one's heard from in a while have returned, like a couple of ghosts of Christmases past who won't leave us alone. Four-time Iowa Governor Republican Terry Brandstad has returned to run against incumbent Democratic Governor Chet Culver. I ventured over to wikipedia to remind myself what Governor Brandstad's accomplishments were in his sixteen years in office. Branstad's page lists exactly ONE mighty achievement for the good Governor: linking Iowa's school district's in a broadband network.

Well, since no one seems to remember much of anything Branstad did in his most-of-two-decades in office, I'll have to rely on my own memory. The Branstad I recall was mostly interested in raising revenue on the back of Iowa's poor and middle classes. When he took office in 1983, Iowa's sales tax was three percent. Within a few years, where I lived in Story County it was six percent. And as far as the good "conservative" Governor was concerned, too much was never enough when it came to raising the gas tax, creating state lotteries, and legalizing gambling. And almost everyone seems to have forgotten the incident in which Branstad's son killed two people while driving drunk but was only convicted of a misdemeanor.

I had a suspicion that when Branstad and today's Republican Party got their first chance to meet each other that they would find out that they don't have much in common.The new "conservatives" are nothing like the moderate, frequently sensible Reagan coalition Branstad remembers from his first successful race for Governor in 1982. And the young Republican activists who drive the party and who have no idea who Branstad is are going to find out what Iowans knew in the 80's but chose to ignore: Terry Branstad is a very dim bulb.

Sure enough, when the GOP faithful and Branstad finally got together last week, it was not exactly a love-in. Attendees at the event described Branstad as "arrogant" and "no threat to the liberal status quo." (I think "no threat to the liberal status quo" means "not conservative enough.") Branstad's remarks at the event included defending himself on approving the first state lottery bill by saying that it was a response to his getting booed at football games. He also seemed to insult blind people. Branstad's second meeting with Iowa Republicans a few days later didn't go much better, with the Des Moines Register describing the audience as having, "no sense of excitement for the candidate."

So who's our other specter from Iowa's political past? It's Terry Brandstad's first opponent for Governor, attorney Roxanne Conlin, running against crusty old Chuck Grassley in next year's Senate race. I can give you a lot of reasons why Conlin isn't going to beat Grassley. Here's one big one: it is to Iowa's lasting shame that it has never elected a woman to Congress. Here's another reason: Conlin has served as the president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Yeah, that'll be real popular.

There is one upside to nominating the head of the trial lawyers. Conlin will be able to raise an incredible amount of money and drive Grassley nuts with negative ads. The old man has recently shown that he's incredibly thin-skinned when it comes to criticism.

Iowa loves its incumbent politicians, and is likely to reelect them no matter which way the wind is blowing in 2010. That will give Senator Grassley another six years of the guaranteed government health insurance that he's already enjoyed for over fifty years but doesn't believe should be available to you in any form.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Expect the inquisition!

Anyone reading this article is probably familiar with Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch. In this sketch, an ordinary scene is interrupted by the arrival of Michael Palin, playing a Catholic Cardinal, who proceeds to tie an old woman to a chair and inform her, "you are accused of heresy on three counts -- heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed, and heresy by action -- *four* counts."

Something very like this happened this fall in the special election for New York's 23rd congressional district. The Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, was an experienced legislator who had no trouble winning the endorsement of Republican luminaries such as Newt Gingrich. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: GOP activists decided that Scozzafava just wasn't conservative enough. "Tea-bagging" conservatives abandoned Scozzafava and began supporting third-party candidate and right-wing ideologue Doug Hoffman, eventually forcing Scozzafava to drop out of the race. Result: Democrat Bill Owens carried the day, winning in a district parts of which had not voted Democratic since before the Civil War.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Republican "small tent" strategy, espoused by GOP Senator Jim DeMint, who feels that he, "would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs." Interestingly, the Hoffman debacle in New York doesn't seem to have phased DeMint one bit. DeMint criticized National Republican Senate Committee John Cornyn's efforts to find moderate candidates who can appeal to a broad spectrum of the public this week saying, "He’s trying to find candidates who can win. I’m trying to find people who can help me change the Senate...To think we can grow the party by picking people who are more liberal and don’t share our core values doesn’t make any sense."

I'm unclear how as to how DeMint thinks he can grow his party with the strategy "pass our litmus test on every issue or be kicked out of the Party." Well, Kentuckian Henry Clay used to say, "I'd rather be right than President." Clearly, DeMint would rather be right than have a majority in Congress.

I stress this point because the DeMint strategy is such a sharp contrast with how the Democratic Party functions. Democrats are only too glad to support conservative "Blue Dog" candidates in conservative areas that are unlikely to elect very progressive candidates. For example, here's the Act Blue web page to raise money for the Senate campaign of Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, a candidate who agrees with progressive Democrats on precious few issues.

Electing the Blue Dogs has its pros and cons. Pro: it allows Democrats to hold large majorities in Congress and to pass important legislation. Case in point: last night's landmark passage of the Health Care Reform bill in the House by a narrow 220-215 vote. Con: it also allows conservative Democrats to throw their weight around and insert the odious Stupak Amendment that takes away women's reproductive rights into the Health Care bill.

The benefits of having the majority and being able to pass the laws we need are worth having a few conservatives in the Party. And there's another advantage as well. There's always going to be debate on Capitol Hill. I'd rather have the debate on legislation be between liberal and moderate Democrats than between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Until the GOP comes up with some real answers to American problems, they deserve to be marginalized.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Conservatives and missle defense: too much is never enough

Conservatives are not happy with President Obama's decision to re-focus our missile defense program in Europe. I've been meaning for some time to write on the subject of missile defense, though I'm hardly an expert on anti-ballistic defense technology. I do however know something about American history, so I'll frame today's post around a timeline.

1969: The US and the USSR begin the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

1972: President Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sign what would become known as the ABM Treaty: an agreement to limit strategic offensive weapons and strategic defensive systems. (Good job, President Nixon. Wow, it's amazing how bad your Republican successors look compared to you sometimes).

1983-1993: The United States operates the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" program. Total cost: over $30 billion. Number of space-based weapons launched: zero. Hm.

2001: President Bush withdraws from the ABM Treaty. The new arms race is on!

2007: President Bush announces that the US will build a ABM system in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend Europe and the United States from long-range missiles launched from Iran. A few problems with this plan: Iran does not have, not is it near to obtaining, long-range missile capability. Both Czechs and Poles oppose the plan. The treaty withdrawal brings post-Cold War relations between Russia and the United States to an all-time low.

2009: President Obama scraps the Bush plan from 2007. The US will now focus its European missile defense plan on defending against Iran's short-to-medium range missiles.

Europe is thrilled by the decision! Why? Here's a summary from Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor: "European officials were skeptical of the missile shield for several reasons: They argued it was technically dubious, did not protect Europe but was mainly planned to stop ICBMs launched against America, that its costs were high, that it was imposed on Europe without proper consultation, and that it gave Moscow an issue to (fairly or unfairly) gripe over."

Relations with our Russian allies improve! President Dmitry Medvedev announces that Russia will not follow through with its threat to deploy missiles and bombers near Poland in the event the antimissile system was installed.

Iran (the alleged threat upon which this whole defense program is based) is furious! Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states that Obama's policy is, "something that is in the doctrine of anti-Iranianism."

So good job, President Obama. Our allies are happy, and our enemies taken aback. We've avoided a new arms race between the superpowers, and we're saving money. That's what we want, right? Well not if you're the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Yeah, yeah, I know. If Obama drinks a Budweiser, conservatives will furiously announce that he should be drinking Coors.

But come on, conservative think-tank guy Baker Spring, is this really the best you can do? Spring: "the U.S. will have no long-range, intercontinental, defense capabilities until 2020. If projections that Iran will produce a long-range missile by 2015 are correct, 2020 is too late."

So what the United States needs to do is to develop an expensive defensive capability to guard against attack from a country that has never in its history started a war, so that we'll be protected from an offensive capability that country doesn't actually have and only theoretically might be able to develop? I disagree.

Spring: "In defense policy, safety, not savings, should be policymakers' ultimate goal... Many painful lessons throughout history have shown that national security should not be shortchanged." 

Really, Mr. Spring? Is the United States, the country that spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense, "short-changing" national security? I think not.

Spring: "this shift will weaken America's missile defense capability against real and emerging threats, harm U.S. allies, and embolden its enemies."

Again, our allies approve of what President Obama is doing. They never supported the Bush policy. Do you, Mr. Spring, really know better than them? And again, the Obama policy shifts our defense from a phantom threat to protecting against an offensive capability Iran actually has.

One more thing. I love the bit about how Obama might be "emboldening our enemies." Excuse me, but after President Bush let insurgents bleed us white in Iraq and Afghanistan for most of a decade, is there any way that our enemies could possibly be more emboldened?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Idiot Wind II: The Future Belongs to the Curious

When we last left our long-suffering friend Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, he was wandering the streets of America looking for a citizen prepared to offer an opinion on the question, "What is the sum of two plus two?" The first man Winston met was was incurious on the subject, and suggested that it was impossible to know the sum of 2 + 2, as reliable sources on the subject are likely unavailable.

And so Winston met a second man:
Winston: Excuse me sir, do you have an opinion on the sum of two and two?
Man: Oh yes! I'm very interested in mathematics. As a matter of fact, a friend just sent me an email on the subject of two plus two, and I forwarded it to all my friends.
Winston: That is gratifying. What did the email say?
Man: It said that two plus two equals nine.
Winston: I see. Sir, did it occur to you to check if two plus two actually equals nine before you sent this email out to all your friends?
Man: Sorry, I don't understand your question.


Poor Winston, he just met a conservative American who receives and sends a lot of viral emails.

The viral email is the 21st century equivalent of the old chain letter. It's a message that quickly propagates from person to person in a word-of-mouth manner. Let me tell you about my recent experience with viral email.

My friend Janet recently asked me what I thought about a chain email that she had received from another friend. The email was a strident attack piece on Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. It said, among other things:

Madam speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to put a Windfall Tax on all stock market profits (including Retirement fund, 401K and Mutual Funds! Alas, it is true - all to help the 12 Million Illegal Immigrants and other unemployed Minorities!

As soon as I read the email, I thought, "Something tells me that this is a totally false accusation that right-wingers have been emailing each other for years without spending any thought as to whether it's actually true." Sure enough, it took me about 3 seconds to debunk this one. All I had to do was type "Nancy Pelosi windfall tax" into google and it took me to a complete history of these totally false claims and the equally false chain emails they have spawned. This garbage has been floating around cyberspace for years, but no matter how many times it's debunked, the people who keep sending it to each other just don't care.


I'm fascinated by the idea of people who are interested enough in politics to talk about what's going on in Washington, but who are so completely intellectually incurious (not to mention gullible) that they won't spend a few minutes looking up the facts before they send an email to their all their friends containing a bunch of stuff that is easily demonstrated to be untrue.

Obama's birth certificate has been a common theme in recent viral emails circulated by conservatives. No rational person could examine the evidence and reach a conclusion other than that the President was born in Hawai'i. Of course if you refuse to examine the evidence and, at the same time, choose to believe whatever you hear through the grapevine, then of course you might wind up sharing the opinion of the majority of Republicans, who either believe that President Obama is not a citizen, or are "not sure."

And so Winston continued down the street, and he met a third man.

Winston: Sir, have you opinion on the subject of two plus two?
Man: I'm quite passionate on the subject. Two plus two equals six and one-half. So my faith teaches me.
Winston: Sir, may I ask if you've considered taking two things, pairing them with two other things, and then counting to see how many things you have all together?
Man: Empiricism is irrelevant. Examining the natural world for the answers to life's questions is a fool's errand. Two plus two equals six and one-half. It is written.

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 50% of Americans believe that man evolved from a lower order of species, while 44% believe that man appeared on Earth in his current form within the last few thousand years. And it is undoubtedly the case that virtually all of those 150 million or so Americans who believe that all those fossils are some kind of elaborate hoax do so because that's what they're taught to believe by America's evangelical Christian churches.

I've heard it said the surest sign that a civilization is in decline is that it becomes more superstitious rather than less superstitious. I don't know if America has become more superstitious in recent years, but it certainly gave that appearance when it elected George W. Bush and a lot of other politicians just like him. One thing I do know is that this particular kind of superstition leads, once again, to a lack of intellectual curiosity.

Consider the case of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District in 2005. This case was the first direct challenge brought in federal court against a public school district with the object of requiring the presentation of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution. Fortunately for America's public school students, Judge John Jones ruled against the conservative school board's attempt to introduce "intelligent design" into the curriculum, writing in his decision, "The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

The Judge's decision was a scathing rebuke of the school board, who were attempting to force Dover's science instructors to read a certain statement to students. The statement read in part, "Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations."

Was the school board aware that the defining characteristic of a scientific theory is that it makes falsifiable or testable predictions, something which the Theory of Evolution does, but "intelligent design" does not? Probably they were not aware, I should think. My point here is that is seems clear that the school board actually had no idea what the definition of a scientific theory is, nor did they care to learn. They also didn't care, by the way, that they were sticking the taxpayers of Dover, PA with a bill for the millions of dollars in legal fees that it cost to stage the whole embarrassing affair.

Winston saw one more man on the street. "I'll give this one last try," he thought.

Winston: "Sir, have you anything to say on the subject of two plus two?"
Man: I'm aware that the issue has been under study for a long time. It's fascinating stuff.
Winston: Indeed. Have you personally formed an opinion on the issue?
Man: No, but I assure you, I'm very interested in the debate over this controversy.

Winston, alas, has just had the misfortune of interviewing a lobbyist for a tobacco company. It was the tobacco industry who created the template for turning widespread consensus on any given subject into a never-ending "controversy." In the early 1950's the American public began to learn that smoking carries the risk of cancer. The industry response was to set up a meeting of tobacco executives. As described by Allan Brandt in The Cigarette Century, the goal of this group was,

"to produce and sustain scientific skepticism and controversy in order to disrupt the emerging consensus on the harms of cigarette smoking. This strategy required intrusions into scientific process and procedure... The industry worked to assure that vigorous debate would be prominently trumpeted on the public media. So long as there appeared to be doubt, so long as the industry could assert "not proven," smokers would have a rationale to continue, and new smokers would have a rationale to begin."

This same strategy is still with us today on many different fronts. It's the means by which Republicans deny that global warming is a serious, man-made problem. It's the means by which they pay lip service to calls to halt pollution, without actually doing anything to stop polluters. As described in the excellent book The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney, the GOP started using this strategy all the time after they got control of Congress in 1995. It's easy. Just invite some scientists to testify before Congress on the dangers caused by certain forms of pollutions. Next, hear testimony from pseudo-scientist-quacks who are actually paid representatives of the polluters, and who will say the exact opposite of what the legitimate scientists just said. Then throw up your hands and say, "Well, we certainly can't regulate when there's no scientific consensus on the problem."

And so Winston Smith came to see me after he interviewed these men on the street, who would not or could not say what 2 + 2 equals. I wanted to cheer him up, so I gave him a ticket to Bill Maher's show on HBO.

And here's what Bill said in his monologue on August 7:

"Sarah Palin says she would never apologize for America. Even though a Gallup poll says 18% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth. No, they're not stupid. They're interplanetary mavericks. A third of Republicans believe Obama is not a citizen, and a third of Democrats believe that George Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, which is an absurd sentence because it contains the words "Bush" and "knowledge."

"And if you want to call me an elitist for this, I say thank you. Yes, I want decisions made by an elite group of people who know what they're talking about. That means Obama budget director Peter Orszag, not Sarah Palin."

Winston and I capped off the day by watching President Obama's address on health care and the need for a public option on insurance. "Ah," Winston said, "There's a man who sounds like he knows that two plus two equals four."

Good night, and good luck.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Idiot Wind, Part I: Winston Smith Meets the Man on the Street

"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

So wrote Winston Smith in his diary in George Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The character of Winston Smith lived in a totalitarian state that not only told him that 2+2 =5, it brainwashed him until he himself believed it. If Winston were magically transported to 21st century America, he would undoubtedly be relieved to find that our government would allow him to believe that 2+2 equals whatever he thinks it equals.

But beyond that, I think that Winston would quickly become very disillusioned. Why? Because Winston assumed that granted freedom of inquiry, people would actually be inclined to ask, "What does 2 + 2 equal?" And, being inclined to ask that question, that they would further believe that it's actually possible to determine an answer based on reliable media sources, the opinion of experts and/or empirical evidence.

Suppose Winston met four people on an American street, and to each one he asked, "Does 2 + 2 equal 4?" I think the first man might answer, "Who knows? There are no trustworthy sources on the issue."

I've been reading a newly published book from journalist Charles B. Pierce entitled, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Pierce has looked at recent events in America, such as the Terri Schiavo debacle, the opening of the Creationist Museum in Kentucky, and most of the work of the George W. Bush administration, and determined that that in the U.S., "fact" is merely what enough people believe, and "truth" lies only in how fervently they believe it. According to Pierce,

"The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of the intellectual elites...although both of these things are part of it. The rise of idiot America reflects -for profit, mainly, but also, more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power- the breakdown of the consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people we should trust the least are the people who know best what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

This is how idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkeyneck preacher out of the Church of Christ's Own Parking Structure in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an "expert" and, therefore, an "elitist."

I thought the phenomenon that Pierce is talking about was neatly demonstrated this week in the Time Magazine cover article on Glenn Beck, a man who is himself a fountain of anti-intellectualism, and who leads an army of like-(empty)minded persons.

Regarding the September 12th rally that Beck organized on the mall in Washington D.C., Time says, "If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists. If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic. Either way, you may not be inclined to believe what we say about numbers, according to a recent poll that found record-low levels of public trust of the mainstream media."

The author of this article could, of course, have added the following: "The ACTUAL number of attendees at the rally, according to the estimate of the DC police department, was 60,000 to 75,000." But that, of course, would constitute real journalism on the part of Time Magazine, as well as acknowledgement that it is literally possible to determine how many people attended the rally.

It's not that Time is being lazy. It doesn't take a lot of effort to do what I did and look on abcnews.com or politifact.com to get the DC police estimate. Time Magazine has always been a fundamentally conservative publication, and it surely recognizes that people who are picking up their Glenn Beck issue are conservative as well, not to mention willfully ignorant. So why should they not shrug their shoulders and say, "Yeah, sure, there's no way to know how many were there. Could have been a million."

In the second part of Idiot Wind, I'll be discussing the three other Americans Winston Smith meets in his man-on-the-street interviews on the subject of the sum of two and two. Things are going to get worse for Winston before they get better.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chuck Grassley: 50 years of nothing, now evil as Hell

Charles Grassley has been a fixture in Iowa politics for over 50 years. First elected to the Iowa House in 1958, he later became a congressman and was elected to the Senate in 1980. Growing up in Iowa, he never bothered me much. He was too moderate and bland to trouble about.

He's always been conservative, but on the other hand, he's refused to associate with the tax-slashing libertarians of his party. He even used to appear in pro-labor union tv commercials. But I guess the biggest reason why it was hard to get upset about Grassley was that he never used to actually do anything. For example, in 1992, Grassley's Democratic opponent Jean LLoyd-Jones pointed out at a political rally I attended that during his first 12 years in the Senate, Grassley never proposed a single piece of legislation. Poor Jean, she only garnered 27% of the vote against Grassley even though Clinton beat Bush by a comfortable margin in Iowa that year. Well, Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress and maybe it never will.

But now it's 2009, and the old friendly and nonthreatening Grassley is gone. Meet the new Grassley: vicious, dishonest and totally uncaring about the health care crisis in America.

Let's review Senator Grassley's contributions to the health-care compromise that he has supposedly been working on in the Senate for the last four weeks. As of early August, the Senate Finance Committee was the only one of the five committees of jurisdiction to have not completed its work on health care legislation. Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana then announced that a "Gang of Six" Democrats and Republicans would draft a compromise proposal, and that the proposal could be expected to be dramatically different from President Obama's proposal. The Baucus plan would instead drop employer mandates and replace public option insurance with health care co-ops. In reality, the health care co-op idea is unworkable, but let's put that aside for the time being and get back to the Grassley record.

The first sign that something was very wrong came when Grassley appeared to get on board with the "deathers," people who falsely believe that that end-of-life counseling provisions in the House health care bill amount to government sponsored euthanasia. In response to a question about the provision, Grassley said people were right to fear that the government would "pull the plug on grandma." More recently, he's reversed course, admitting that there are no "death panels" in the bill. And who does he blame for his own dishonest and alarming statements? Why, left-wingers of course. Grassley recently told MSNBC that death panel talk is, "nothing more than a distortion coming from far-left with bringing up these end-of-life concerns."

So, now that the Gang of Six has had a month to talk, have they come up with the compromise they promised? Hardly. Grassley nows says that the soaring federal budget deficit "puts a stake in the heart" of the health care reform package. According to Grassley, major concessions will now have to be made for him to support any bill. And even if he gets everything he wants, he still won't vote for the bill unless a majority of the Republican caucus agrees to vote for it.

Grassley and fellow Gang of Six member Mike Enzi of Wyoming have used the pretense of negotiating a compromise to pursue the goal of stopping health care reform by any means necessary. Here, finally, we see something like honesty from these two.

Senator Grassley: "If I had not been at the table, there would have been a bill through the committee the week of June 22, and it would have been through the Senate by now because there’s sixty Democrats."

Senator Enzi: "If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care."

Finally, I'd like to point out that that Grassley's recent observations on health care problems in America have, well, let's say they've left something to be desired. He recently suggested, that those who want quality health care should do what he did, "go work for the Federal government." He's also ardently against public option because it will effectively work the same as Medicare, which "hasn't been a good experiment" in "government price setting." In reality recent studies indicate that Medicare actually works better than private insurance, giving enrollees, "greater access to care, fewer problems with medical bills, and greater satisfaction with their health plans and the quality of care they receive."

Senator Grassley, I used to think you were a pretty decent guy. I kind of suspected that you were going off the deep end when you belittled the health care crisis in America by suggesting that the government is not capable of running a cafeteria: "Us Senators have to think in terms of a government run insurance plan. We just had to turn the Senate dining room over to a private enterprise because it was losing so much money when the Senate was running it. So you got to be careful about government run programs." For the record, I used to eat in that cafeteria when I was an intern for Senator Tom Harkin. The reason why it loses money is because it charges far below costs so that Senators and their staffs can eat cheap. Now, like blogger Iowavoter from bleedingheartland.com, I'm afraid Senator Grassley that you have lost your mind. Please consider retirement. Thank you.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Obama's birth, and the dumbest conspiracy theory on Earth

Have a look a President Obama's birth certificate. It's been verified by Hawai'i's Registar of Vital Statistics and by the state's Health Director as well. Need more evidence? Both Honolulu newspapers published Obama's birth announcement in 1961. A family friend of the Obamas who was living in Hawai'i in 1961 recently talked about her memories of Barack Obama's birth.

Unfortunately, some irrational people are still not convinced. Alan Keyes and Pat Boone for example. Or Congressman Roy Blunt. Or the majority of Republicans.

What?!

That's right, according to a dailykos.com poll, 28% of Republicans do not believe that Obama was not born in the United States, and another 30% are "not sure."

Am I surprised? No, I guess not. After all, these are the same people who've rejected the conclusive empirical evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and that mammals evolved from more primitive species. Heck, the same dailykos poll that asked about the birth certificate also found that only 24% of Republicans believe that America and Africa were once part of the same continent.

The relationship between the Republican leadership and the "birthers" is a complicated and stormy one. Congressman Mike Castle, one of the nicest people in the Republican Party, was trying to have a friendly talk with some senior citizens recently when he was interrupted by a birther who went a tirade in which she screamed at him for several minutes while waving her own birth certificate. But what's a sane Republican to do? After all, as the polls demonstrate, these people are not a minority fringe, they're the majority of the Republican faithful.

Furthermore, as much as the Republican leadership might claim that they'd like to put the issue to rest, in principle they like what the birthers are doing. As Ofari Hutchinson of huffingtonpost.com recently noted,

"Republicans have a nice little con game going with the birthers. Here's GOP Chairman Michael Steele speaking recently. "The birthers are an unnecessary distraction." Steele blasted the birthers for giving the Democrats a brush to paint the GOP as a bunch of conspiracy driven wackos. Steele admonished the birthers to get over it and hit Obama hard on health care, the economy, the deficit; in other words to pound him on the issues that count. The problem with this is that it took Steele months to finally purse his lips to gingerly rap the birthers, and even then he delivered his criticism in a statement.

In fact, the last thing that Steele and other GOP top cats want is for them to go away. The more the media slams them, the more Democrats lampoon them, and the more respected GOP luminaries denounce them, this serves only to stir more internet chatter and right wing talk show gab that Obama may not be a true blue American."

One last observation. Republican Congressman Eric Cantor has come up with some great spin on the development of the birther movement. According to Cantor, it's a vast left-wing conspiracy! I kid you not. His office has released a statement saying that Cantor, "finds it ironic that those most eager to talk about the President’s citizenship are in fact some of his biggest cheerleaders–whether it’s Chris Matthews or others on MSNBC, the Huffington Post, or camera toting liberal bloggers chasing people through the streets of Washington."

Of course if that's what Congressman Cantor believes, then he and I actually have something in common: we both believe that the majority of Republican voters can be easily duped by a lot of nonsense.

Update 08/05/09:

US News and World Report has jumped on the "it's a left-wing media conspiracy" bandwagon.

"(S)ome conservatives argue that the media's interest in the "Birther" movement is biased and partisan, an effort to paint Republicans as nutty."

No additional effort is needed to paint Republicans as nutty, they're already doing a fine job of that all by themselves.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The door opens for the GOP; they slam it shut

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk is a winner. Since the year 2000, the voters of Illinois' 10th Congressional District have been sending him to Washington DC despite the fact that the 10th is moderately Democratic. Representing some of the wealthiest suburbs north of Chicago, it voted for Gore over Bush 51-47 in 2000, for Kerry over Bush 52-47 in 2004 and for Obama over McCain by a staggering 61-38 in 2008.

The Illinois Republican Party has fallen on hard times. When I moved to Chicago in 1995, the GOP controlled the Governor's and Attorney General's offices as well as both houses of the state legislature and a majority of Illinois' Congressional seats. Today, that's all gone. But Mark Kirk has survived.

Next year, there will be an open seat race for the Senate seat held until this year by Barack Obama. This contest should represent a golden opportunity for the GOP to stage a comeback in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois Democrats have been rocked this year by the impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois' most popular elected official, has announced that she will run for a third term rather than enter the Senate or Gubernatorial contests. Finally, continued weakness in the economy has caused the Obama Administration's popularity to sag a bit in the rust belt.

So the Republican Party should have been jumping for joy this past Wednesday when Mark Kirk signaled to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn that he would run for Senator. Unfortunately for Kirk, his meeting with his party's top muckety-mucks didn't go too well. In fact, he was forced to immediately turn around and announce that he wouldn't run for Senate after all.

Why? According to the Washington Post, "Kirk's decision...followed a meeting of the Illinois Republican congressional delegation on Thursday in which his colleagues refused to back Kirk in a primary against Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna due, in large part, to his vote in favor of President Barack Obama's climate change bill."

In other words, given the opportunity to run a candidate who is popular, successful and a titan of fundraising, Republican overlords have decided that they'd rather back a candidate who is a total unknown and who has no experience in running for office, but who is ideologically pure enough to suit them.

You can read a couple of good commentaries on this story here and here. American statesman Henry Clay used to say, "I'd rather be right than President." His spirit lives on in today's Republican Party.

Update 7/25/09: McKenna has stepped aside, so Kirk is back in the race. Kirk has quite a mountain to climb. He has to convince GOP big-wigs to get over their reluctance to back him. He has to convince rural down-state Republicans that he's not a Republican-in-name-only from Chicago. And he has to win in a blue state against a Democrat who has already won statewide election and who undoubtedly will receive support from President Obama. I wish Kirk no luck.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A perfect 68

Fourth (and last) in a series of reflections on the 2008 election
Al Franken was sworn in today as Minnesota's junior Senator. Finally, the book is closed on the 2008 election.

There's a lot of reasons why I'm happy about this. I've been a Franken fan for a long time. I'm also glad that we've finally beaten Norm Coleman, who was elected only because of the death of Paul Wellstone, the greatest progressive of his era.

But let me jump back to election night '08 for a minute. At close to four in the morning, I was watching the late returns from Minnesota. When the last votes from Duluth finally came in, it looked like Coleman had won by a few votes. I was stunned, because Franken had been leading all night. I was further stunned because it looked like the Repbulican incumbent Senators in Alaska and Oregon had won reelection, despite widespread predictions that they would lose.

Sure, I didn't have a lot to complain about. Obama had won big. Governor Christine Gregoire had defeated challenger Dino Rossi. (The Seattle Post-Intelligencier had all but declared Gregoire doomed the day before. Of course it turned out that it was the P-I itself that was doomed, but that's another story).

Late returns counted after election night would eventually give victory to the Democratic challengers in Alaska and Oregon and to Al Franken as well after a long recount process.

This means that in the last two elections I have correctly predicted the outcomes of all 68 Senate elections. People ask me, "Joe, how do you do it?" Actually, no one's ever asked me that, but if they did, here's what I'd say:

These days, there are so many polls and so much analysis you can read online that it's fairly easily to predict the outcome of most races. On top of that, I look at which party has momentum. Most of the very close races break the same way in any given election. Lastly, I look for small things that tell me how a campaign is going.

For example, I knew that respected incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole was going to lose her Senate reelection race to second-tier challenger Democrat Kay Hagan after I read this. If you want to win a close race, you need college-age people who will work 80-plus hours a week. Apparently the Dole campaign was run principally by old folks that she and Bob Dole had known for decades.

Similarly, I'm not yet ready to predict that Louisiana Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon (Me-LAW-saw) will defeat incumbent Republican Senator David Vitter next year, but I am intrigued by this article. It suggests that in any close congressional race in Louisiana, if one candidate is Cajun and the other is not, the Cajun will win.

In conclusion, we now have 60 Democrats in the Senate, but we haven't really won anything unless our ballot box victories translate into the legislative victories we want. Let's start with public option.

Monday, June 22, 2009

America's other health care crisis: Senate Democrats have no backbone

Our Democratic President wants universal health care insurance for Americans. The American people are expressing clear support for this goal. Democrats in the Senate support health care reform, but they aren't on board with the President's plan. However, they haven't agreed on an alternative plan of their own either; instead they're squabbling over a number of different proposals. Republicans of course are against health care reform. They don't believe America is in a health care crisis. Republicans in Congress are gearing up to oppose any Democratic plan that comes to the floor of the Senate. Of course if the Democrats remain so disorganized that they can't actually bring any of their plans to a vote, the Republicans don't have to do anything.

The eight sentences above explain why the Clinton health care proposal of 1994 failed. Unfortunately, these same eight sentences also describe the current state of President Obama's health care proposal.

"Health care is a right." That was the clear message of the Obama campaign in 2008.

Before we go any further, let's review some facts:

America spends two to three times as much as other leading industrialized nations on health care costs per capita. Despite this, nearly one in five Americans under the age of 65 are without health insurance. We have an infant mortality rate that is higher than Cuba or Slovenia and about twice as high as Japan. The main reason why we spend so much and get so little? It's the fact that 31% of health care costs in this country are not for health care, but instead for administrative overhead costs incurred as a result of our perpetual war between providers of health care and the private insurers that they are trying to get to pay for that care.

To my mind, these facts point to a health care crisis in this country that calls for sweeping reform. Of course the Republican Party didn't agree that reform was needed when the Clinton administration proposed it in 1994, and they don't agree today. But I digress. For once, I'm not writing to beat up on the GOP, I'm writing to beat up on certain Democrats.

Before I talk about the Democratic Senators who are foot-dragging on the President's plan, let's review what the plan is. Obama has proposed a National Health Insurance Exchange that would include both private insurance plans and a Medicare-like government run option. Coverage would be guaranteed regardless of health status, and premiums would not vary based on health status either. For the record, this is a great plan and I support it.

Here's a great summary about how the plan works from Jacob Hacker of the The New Republic: "If you don’t have coverage from your employer, you can choose from a menu of health insurance products that includes not just a range of private health plans but also a public insurance plan provided on the same terms nationwide.

The argument for this new public plan is that it would have lower administrative costs; greater leverage to hold down prices; and the transparency, broad patient data, and incentives for long-term investment in health to improve the quality and efficiency of care. Along with new regulations, it would also be the primary check on a private insurance industry that has, for too long, neglected both quality and efficiency, focusing its creative energies instead on new ways to shift costs onto and screen out the sick."

Allowing everyone to buy into a public insurance program if they so choose is known as public option. And how do Americans feel about public option? Overwhelmingly, they support it. So you would think that Congress would be ready to get behind the President's plan. Democrats in the House have done just that, drafting a bill includes a robust public plan that would operate nationally and compete with private insurers.

Meanwhile in the Senate, spineless Democrats are calling public option dead on arrival. Kent Conrad, for example, is proposing a plan that would allow consumers, states, and anybody else so inclined to create cooperatives that would purchase health care for their members. Why does his plan not include public option? Because, according to Conrad, public option doesn't have the votes, with all Senate Republicans and at least three Democrats opposed to it.

Senator Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a Democratic moderate, has also stated his support for killing public option. Just today, Senator Feinstein of California, who is hardly a conservative, downplayed the possibility of the Obama plan becoming law because she doesn't know that the President, "has the votes right now."

So nearly half the Senate, including some Democrats are totally opposed to public option, even thought it enjoys the support of the President and the public? How can this be? Well, for an explanation, let's return to the Jacob Hacker article I cited earlier:

"The idea of public plan choice was part of all the leading Democratic candidates’ health plans, Senator Max Baucus’ November 2008 White Paper, and the vision of reform articulated earlier this year by key congressional Democrats. All with little attention outside health policy circles--until conservatives, health insurers, and some provider groups decided the public plan was public enemy number one. And so, the misinformation campaign began: A public plan available alongside private plans only for Americans without workplace insurance was suddenly described as a "government takeover” of medicine, the "road to rationing," and (that old standby) "socialized medicine." Republicans drew their lines in the sand, and Democrats started their favorite parlor game: compromising among themselves even before the real debate begins."

The spinelessness that Conrad, Baucus, Feinstein and others are showing on this issue is unbelievable. Apparently, they not prepared to even try to rally support for Obama's plan.

So, are we getting the Conrad co-op plan, that some are now claiming is the only compromise bill with any chance of passage? Actually, there's no reason to think that we will in fact get the Conrad plan, since there's no indication that it enjoys broad support in the Senate. Meanwhile, there are other plans in the Senate. A lot of other plans. Senator Kennedy has proposed a plan that requires private insurers to insure everyone, but his plan like Conrad's does not provide a public option. Senator Rockefeller has proposed a plan that, to its credit, does include public insurance.

So 2009 is shaping up to be exactly like 1994, when Democrats couldn't agree on a health care compromise and eventually gave up completely. Apparently, Senate Democrats may once again be too incompetent and spineless to bring any bill at all to a final vote. No wonder Republicans don't seem worried about opposing health care reform. Why should they be afraid to oppose what the public wants and needs if they never have to cast a vote?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Somebody shut these guys up! Wait... don't bother.

There's a couple of old statesmen you may have seen in the news lately. They've been dominating the political tv talk shows. One of them has been roundly criticized by Congressional Republicans, who basically told him shut up and go away. The other recently made remarks that National Republican Senate Committee Chairman referred to as, "terrible."

So who are these guys that are getting so much condemnation from Republicans? A couple of chatterbox Democrats? Nope. They're Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, two specters who seem determined to haunt the GOP forever.

You remember Newt, right? He used to be Speaker of the U.S. House. He forced the government to shut down in 1995 because he didn't like the seat that President Clinton gave him on Air Force One. In 1997, he was cited for ethics violations and in 1998 he pushed the impeachment of President Clinton over an affair in the White House while he himself was having an affair. After the 1998 elections, when his fellow Republicans decided that they didn't like him anymore and forced him to resign, he said, "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals."

And you remember Dick, I'm sure. He's the former Vice President who insisted that the 9/11 highjackers were connected with Saddam Hussein as part of his pretext for going to war with Iraq, but who now admits that he never saw any intelligence connecting Hussein and the highjackers. He also continues to claim that Saddam Hussein was actively working with al qaeda. This of course was proven false years ago. Cheney also says that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp revealed that Iraq had trained al qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare. Guess what? This is also untrue. Yes, Cheney is very big on interrogation of prisoners. He's also recently claimed that CIA documents prove that torture has yielded valuable intelligence information. More guess what? This claim is also untrue. Finally, to bring this paragraph full circle, I'd like to mention one more thing about the former VP that's kept him in the news. It's been revealed that during the run up to the war in Iraq, he ordered the torture of a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was "suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection." The object of torturing this person was, of course, to try to gin up ties between Iraq and al qaeda as a pretext for the war. And of course Cheney ordered the torture even though the Bush administration has already been informed that torture often yields false confessions.

And look! Dick and Newt are now a dynamic duo: it's the Torture Works Tour!

For all practical purposes Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich (along with a certain obese junkie radio host who shall remain nameless) are the leaders and spokesmen of today's Republican Party. Neither one holds any official position either in public office or within the Party. Cheney's approval rating stood at 15% this time last year, while Gingrich's was at 25% while he was Speaker of the House over a decade ago.

So why doesn't the GOP get serious about making Dick and Newt go away? Perhaps it's because the official Republican leadership may actually be less popular, as hard as that is to believe. House Minority Leader John Boehner currently registers a 15% approval rating, just ahead of the Republican Congressional caucus as a whole, coming in at 12%.

Did I mention that President Obama's current approval rating is 67%? Hey, Dick and Newt, please, just keeping right on talking.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Predictions: Senate Races 2012

Most recent updates: 11/1: IN, NE, VA
Current Senate: 53 Democrats, 47 Republicans.

Current 2012 election prediction: 55 Democrats, 45 Republicans.
Democrats to pickup AZ, IN, MA, ME and NV.
Republicans to pickup MT, NE and ND.

(5/1/10) As of this writing, Democrats control the U.S. Senate 59 seats to 41. They will lose some seats in 2010, so if they fare poorly in 2012, Republicans will gain control of the Senate. There are two big questions for 2012. First, how strong will Obama be at the top of the ticket? If he remains popular and beats his GOP opponent by a wide margin, Democratic candidates down the ballot will get a lot of help. Second, how many Democrats will retire? In the past several elections, the Republicans have had no luck in picking off Democrats incumbents, but better luck in picking up seats where the Democratic incumbent has retired or passed away. Of the 33 seats up for election, Democrats hold 24 while Republicans hold only 9. The blue team will be playing a lot of defense.

Races are categorized as either likely or unlikely to be competitive. This post will be updated continuously until election day.

Likely to be competitive:

Arizona
Rating: Leans Democratic takeover
Republican: Congressman Jeff Flake
Democrat: Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona
Overview: (2/19/11) This open seat race will turn on two things. Number one: which Arizona voters show up at the polls. Will it be the electorate who gave Barack Obama 45% in 2008 despite having fellow Arizonan John McCain on the ticket, or will it be the electorate who gave insane xenophobe Governor Jan Brewer a comfortable victory in 2010? Number two, will Democrats be able to recruit a top-tier candidate? That's something they haven't been able to do in any high-profile statewide race in Arizona in many years. The blue team's dream candidate is Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who's recovering from her attempted assassination.
(11/03/11) A recent poll gives Obama a 5-point lead over Romney in Arizona. C'mon Democrats, find a candidate already!
(11/12/11) Thanks for listening, Arizona. Richard Carmona, former Surgeon General for G.W. Bush, is a shrewd choice for the blue team. Arizona is more or less evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and independents. Carmona has appeal for independents. The question is, does he also have the kind of political skills needed to win a Senate race?
(6/2/12) Flake has a comfortable lead. Unless his campaign implodes, he will win.
(8/10/12) The most recent PPP poll shows this race tied(!) Unfortunately the same poll shows Romney leading Obama by 11. So for Carmona to win, he'd have to get the vote of quite a few Romney supporters. Not likely. Of course if Romney's candidacy continues to implode, Carmona has a real shot.
(9/14/12) Another PPP poll shows Romney leading in Arizona by 9, but Flake by only 1. This race is begging for Democrats to make a serious commitment.
(9/21/12) A Republican poll shows Carmona leading 44-39. No, not a misprint. Obama has cut Romney's lead here to 3. If the GOP doesn't stop the bleeding now, Flake loses.
(10/16/12) I'm switching this to Dem pickup. There have been two polls of this race in October, both showing Carmona ahead. Flake's campaign, seems, well, flaky. Yes I went there. Combine that with the fact that Obama may be LEADING in Arizona, and this is looking like the sleeper race of the year.

Connecticut
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Congressman Chris Murphy (Joe Lieberman retiring)
Republican: Businesswoman Linda McMahon or former Congressman Chris Shays
Overview: (1/25/11) So long, Joe Lieberman. No one will miss you very much. Republicans aren't likely to get a big name into this open seat race. Obama carried Connecticut by 23 points in 2008, and the Democrats are clearly going to get a top-tier nominee.
(9/12/11) In 2010, a year when Republicans won everywhere, Linda McMahon spent $50 million to lose Connecticut's Senate race by 12 points. Guess what, she's running again! Hooray!
(6/2/12) Neither party knows for sure who will be nominated in this race. But Linda McMahon is the likely Republican nominee, and I'm very confident she cannot win.
(8/29/12) The Democrats' effort to retain control of the Senate is like a boat that keeps springing new leaks. McMahon has outspent Murphy 4-to-1, and apparently it's paying off: a new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama leading 52 to 45, and McMahon leading 49 to 46. Who the heck are these supposed Obama-McMahon voters?! But it's not time to panic yet. Today's PPP poll shows Murphy ahead 48 to 44. And Nate Silver of the New York Times is still projecting a 10-point spread for Obama.
(9/28/12) Murphy's ahead in the polls, and McMahon is trying to do damage control over remarks that she'd like to "sunset" social security. Game over.

Florida
Rating: Leans Democratic hold 
Democrat: Bill Nelson (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Connie Mack (likely)
Overview: (5/24/09) Nelson won reelection easily in 2006, but is likely to be a GOP target in purple-state Florida. Republicans will need to find a top-tier recruit to beat Nelson.
(5/1/10) Nelson's path to reelection is getting easier. Popular Governor Crist's defection from the GOP demonstrates that the Florida GOP is in disarray. Registered Democrats also now outnumber Republicans by 700,000.
(3/26/11) Congressman Connie Mack has decided not to run. Things are looking up for Nelson.
(7/3/11) Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott has a 29% approval rating, so he's not doing his party any favors heading into 2012. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos will definitely give Nelson a run for his money, but Democrats still have the edge in this one.
(11/3/11) So Connie Mack is running. He brings a lot of name recognition to the race, but his political acumen seems a little shaky.
(11/12/11) Mack is doing well out of the gate, trailing Nelson by only 2.
(4/2/12) Mack hasn't caught Nelson in the polls, and Obama appears to be leading here by around 7, the same margin by which he defeated McCain.
(6/2/12) The polls show this race more or less tied, and Romney is giving Obama a run for his money is Florida. I'm almost ready to change my rating on this one to Toss Up. But not quite yet.
(9/14/12) NBC/WSJ/Marist poll shows Obama ahead by 5 here, Nelson ahead by 14. Feeling pretty good about this one.

Hawai'i
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (Dan Akaka retiring)
Republican: Former Governor Linda Lingle
Overview (3/26/11) Even in an open seat race, this one should be about as safe as it gets for Democrats. Any Hawai'ian Republican who is thinking about running for office in 2012 has to consider that three-quarters of the voters there will start their ballot by voting for local boy made good Barack Obama.
(10/13/11) The GOP got its dream candidate today. If former Governor Lingle were running for an open Senate seat in any year other than 2012, she'd be a good bet to win. But to claim victory next November, she'll need about one out of every three Obama supporters to split their ticket. Possible, but not likely.
(9/14/12) Hirono worked hard for this nomination and will win in November.

Indiana
Rating: Leans Democratic takeover
Republican: State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (incumbent Richard Lugar defeated in primary)
Democrat: Congressman Joe Donnelly
Libertarian: Clinical researcher Andrew Horning
Overview: (5/8/11) Once upon a time, no one even considered the possibility that a six-term incumbent Republican Senator would face a serious primary challenge for reelection. Even when the Senator in question is considered to be something of a sell-out to conservative principles. But that was before the Tea Party decided that they'd rather be right than win elections. As Indiana state Treasurer, Richard Mourdock endeared himself to America's kookiest by filing a lawsuit to stop the TARP bailout of Chrysler Corporation. So, America is better off if the auto industry in this country ceases to exist? Apparently, this makes sense to enough people that Mourdock is considered a serious threat to Indiana institution Dick Lugar. The prospect of a Mourdock victory has prompted a top-tier Democrat to jump into the race in the person of Congressman Joe Donnelly. With Indiana sure to be a swing state in 2012, this race should be a good one. Also, "Mourdock" sounds like the villain in a Disney movie.
(4/2/12) The Lugar vs. Mourdock race for the GOP bid is very close. One of the biggest surprises of 2008 was Obama's 50 to 49 victory over John McCain in Indiana. A recent CNN poll shows Obama leading Romney by a whopping 11 points here. So whichever Republican gets the nod, he may have to overcome both the lack of general enthusiasm for his candidacy among his party's voters and the fact that his party's Presidential nominee is running behind.
(5/16/12) "Bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view." "To me, the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else with a microphone or in front of a camera." - Richard Mourdock. Donnelly's internal poll shows this race a tie. Let's hope so.
(9/14/12) There are no recent polls here, but I think Donnelly has a shot. Obama outperformed the polls in Indiana in 2008.
(9/21/12) A Donnelly internal poll has him ahead by 3. I really can't say any more about this race until someone polls the Presidential race in Indiana. If Romney is ahead by double digits, Mourdock should win. If Obama has closed the gap, it's looking good for Donnelly.
(9/28/12) The Howey/DePauw poll shows Romney leading by 12, but Donnelly leading Mourdock by 2. That's some major crossover support for Donnelly among Republicans. I also don't believe that Romney can beat Obama by 12 here.
(10/16/12) There was a debate today between Donnelly, Mourdock and Libetarian Andrew Horning. Just what the GOP did not need in this race: an intelligent third-party conservative who provides an attractive alternative to the odious Mourdock. Horning is polling as high as 7%; if he gets half of that, Mourdock is doomed.
(11/1/12) Who looks at Todd Akin's comments on rape and says, "Yes! What a great strategy!"? Mourdock might still win this, but not if Donnelly's internals are anywhere near accurate.

Maine
Rating: Leans Independent takeover (who will likely join the Democratic caucus)
Independent: Former Governor Angus King
Republican: ? (incumbent Olympia Snowe retiring)
Democrat: Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap?
(1/5/10) Snowe is preceived as the most liberal Republican Senator. Conceivably she could lose the Republican primary to a right-wing challenger, or possibly she could just get fed up with attacks on her by conservative activists and retire. If Snowe is not the GOP nominee, this race leans Democratic pickup.
(9/19/10) Snowe and the Tea Party are on a collision course. Tea Party activists flexed their muscle by nominating one of their own in the gubernatorial race in moderate Maine this year. Snowe meanwhile is drawing a huge target on her back by criticizing the movement, saying, "Ideological purity at 100 percent is a utopian world and I don’t know who lives in utopia. I’ve never lived in utopia." This is going to be a fight to remember.
(1/15/11) Alas, the Tea Party can't seem to find anyone to take on Snowe in the GOP primary. If Snow is renominated, she wins this race.
(2/29/12) Hey, Olympia Snowe and I have something in common: neither of us can stand today's Republican party. I don't know who the nominees in this race will be, but I do know that President Obama carried Maine by 17 points in 2008, giving Democrats the inside track to elect Snowe's replacement.
(4/2/12) Former Governor King's entry into this race as an independent seems to have scared off the top-tier potential nominees for both the Democrats and the GOP. There's widespread assumption that King will join the Democratic caucus. (Hey, the GOP is already attacking him.)

Massachusetts
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Republican: Scott Brown (incumbent)
Democrat: Professor Elizabeth Warren
Overview: (12/09/10) A new poll shows Brown with (53/29) favorability ratings, and good polling numbers against potential Democratic opponents. Ok, maybe there are enough ticket-splitters Massachusetts for him to win a full term.
(1/15/11) Some Massachusetts Democrats are now saying they don't think Brown can be beaten. One possible solution: nominate a Kennedy.
(7/28/11) Does Brown really have a 62% approval rating? If so, he'll win. Elizabeth Warren would give Brown a run for his money, but this race is looking more and more like an uphill climb for the blue team.
(9/12/11) This poll suggests Warren trails Brown by only 9. If she can get around to declaring her candidacy, there's hope.
(11/3/11) This race is now a dead heat, despite the fact that Warren has fairly low name recognition. This suggests Brown is in trouble.
(12/4/11) Warren now leads according to a recent poll. More bad news for Brown: MA Republicans can't be as excited about Newt Gingrich at the top of the ticket as they would have been about their former Governor, the now fading fast Mitt Romney.
(6/2/12) The polls show this race as a dead heat. However, Obama leads Romney by 20. With that kind of spread, it's just gonna be hard for Brown to win.
(8/22/12) A new PPP poll shows Brown ahead by 5. Not good. But then we are in that convention-time stretch when the Romney ticket is getting a little bump. Warren will have an important role at the Democratic convention, and I think this race will be decided late.
(9/21/21) Watched the Warren-Brown debate last night. Wow, Scott Brown is a complete jerk. Things are looking up for Warren. She's running a strong campaign. Another important point: a month ago, Obama was leading here by around 16; now it's more like 23. That's enough to overcome a lot Obama-Brown crossover votes.


Michigan
Rating: Leans Democratic hold 
Democrat: Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)
Republican: Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra
Overview: (1/5/10) Michigan's economy is in tatters, and its incumbent politicians are getting the blame.
(12/18/10) Considering that Michigan moved hard to the right in the 2010 election, Stabenow is polling remarkably well. No reason to panic yet.
(11/3/11) Wow, almost a year since I commented on this one. Considering how successful the GOP was in Michigan in 2010, you'd think they'd be trying harder to make this one competitive. Yet Stabenow still leads her most likely opponent, Pete Hoekstra, by 15 points.
(08/29/12) Hey, I finally have something to say about this one. Polling has been all over the place in Michigan. A couple of recent polls show Romney tied with Obama here, and Hoesktra tied with Stabenow as well. If Nate Silver of the New York Times is to be believed (and he pretty much always is) the recent polls showing good news for Romney are under-polling the minority vote. Right now Nate's projected Obama to win Michigan by five, which should be enough for Stabenow to win as well. But this race has turned into yet another headache for the blue team.
(9/21/12) High tide seems to have passed for Hoekstra (and the Republican ticket in general). Stabenow leads comfortably.

Missouri
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Claire McCaskill (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Todd Akin
Overview: (1/5/10) Missouri is the perpetual swing state. This fact keeps every politician there at least somewhat vulnerable all the time. A strong challenge to McCaskill is within the realm of possibility.
(6/30/10) Gad. Apparently Jim Talent wants to run against McCaskill in 2012. Talent lost a statewide election in 2000, then lost against McCaskill in the 2006 race for this same Senate seat. Missouri's got a lot Republicans, can't they find anybody new?
(11/3/11) Seems like state Senator Sarah Steelman is McCaskill's most likely opponent. I'm inclined to say that as an incumbent Senator, McCaskill is likely to have enough money and organization to win. On the other hand, President Obama is none too popular in this part of the country. Also consider the way incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln got stomped next door in Arkansas in 2010.
(6/2/12) McCaskill is blessed by the fact that the GOP race is currently a three-way tie. So on the one hand, McCaskill can expect to face a weak opponent. On the other hand, she'd better hope that the Obama campaign doesn't falter (a recent PPP poll shows him leading by 1% here), because she has little margin of error.
(7/30/12) Yikes! These are some ugly poll numbers for McCaskill. This is the one part of the country where Democratic prospects have really diminished. I'm still in shock that Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas could only get 37% of the vote as an incumbent Senator in 2010. Sorry, Claire but I now think you're going to lose. Please prove me wrong.
(8/10/12) McCaskill lucked out; Akin is the weakest, most extreme candidate. I also hear he's low on funds. But this race stays 'Leans Republican takeover' until I see some better polling numbers for McCaskill.
(8/22/12) Akin has dominated the recent new cycle by making some outrageous comments on rape, reproduction and abortion. And by "outrageous" I mean "entirely consistent with the beliefs of other Republicans." Anyway, it looks like a badly wounded Akin is staying in the race. If the conservative Rasmussen organization thinks Akin is 10 points behind McCaskill, that means he's really down by at least 15 points. The blue team has caught a huge break.
(9/28/12) Akin continues to make stupid remarks, and won't get any funding from the Republican party. But make no mistake, Akin's not out of this. McCaskill hasn't been able to build any kind of polling lead on Akin, and Nate Silver is only showing a 67% chance of her winning.

Montana
Rating: Leans Republican takeover
Democrat: Jon Tester (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Denny Rehberg
Libertarian: Dan Cox
Overview: (5/24/09) Tester squeaked into office in 2006 with only 49.7% of the vote against an unpopular incumbent in a strongly Democratic year. That said, I still think he’s a good bet for reelection.
(12/18/10) Jon Tester has voted to support the Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act, which would have provided path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. The progressive netroots who worked hard to elect Tester in 2006 are having some serious misgivings. An ominous development, but until a major Republican challenger emerges, there's no way to know just how much trouble Tester is in.
(1/19/11) The GOP has gotten their strongest possible candidate in the person of the state's lone U.S. House member, Denny Rehberg. This race is trending against incumbent Jon Tester.
(7/3/11) Tester polling and job approval numbers are ok but not great. One thing's for sure, he's not trying to build his street cred with progressive Democrats.
(5/16/12) The most recent PPP poll shows Tester ahead by five. Maybe he knows what he's doing.
(9/14/12) Rehberg's candidacy is being crippled by the Libertarian candidate, Dan Cox. According to PPP, Tester leads Rehberg and Cox 45-43-8. The same poll shows Romney leading by only 5, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock also leading by 5 to win the open seat. If the Romney-Ryan ticket gets any weaker, we'll be looking at a Democratic sweep in Montana.
(9/28/12) The most recent poll of this race shows Rehberg ahead by 3. I'm getting a bad feeling about this one. In the past few weeks, Democratic Senate candidates have been getting a boost all over the map as the Romney campaign has floundered. So why isn't Tester putting up better numbers?
(10/16/12) The only poll of this race in October shows Tester ahead by 2 with Libertarian Cox at 8%. I may need to flip a coin on this one, but it's beginning to look like one of several races where the Libertarian party will play spoiler and save the day for blue team.

Nebraska
Rating: Likely Republican takeover
Democrat: Former Senator Bob Kerrey
Republican: State Senator Deb Fischer
Overview: (2/8/10) Up until 2009, Nelson was considered to be one of the most politically astute members of Congress, maintaining high approval ratings and winning reelection by large margins in red-state Nebraska. In 2010 however, his approval rating stands at only 42%. He's fallen to earth principally because of his votes on health care reform. He should draw a strong challenge in 2012, but he's still got plenty of time to improve his standing and win another term. Nebraska isn’t as red as it used to be; Obama won an electoral vote in 2008 by carrying Nebraska's 2nd congressional district.
(2/28/10) In 2006, Nelson had the highest approval rating of all 100 Senators. I mention this fact for the following reason. Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut have been the three Senators most determined to derail their own party's health care reform proposals. Now all three have seen their approval ratings crash and burn. This is not a coincidence. Get with the program, Ben.
(1/15/11) Barring some dramatic new development, Nelson is going to lose. His best hope in this race was for the GOP to nominate a Tea Party nut job, but that's clearly not going to happen. Attorney General Jon Bruning is already in the race, and if he's not the nominee, some other top-tier candidate will be.
(11/3/11) PPP has an interesting poll on this race. Nelson doesn't trail by much, and he's picking up the support of 1 in 5 Republican voters. So he's not finished. But let's not kid ourselves, he's still likely to lose.
(12/27/11) According to Politico, Nelson's retirement is "a serious blow to Democratic efforts to hold on to the majority in the chamber next November." Uh, well, no, actually. Nelson was going to lose anyway.
(2/29/12) So former Senator Kerrey may run after all, giving us a at least a a shot in this one. I saw Kerrey speak during his Presidential run in 1992. Man, was he dull. Oh well.
(4/1/12) This race is not competitive. Bruning will win. OOPS
(5/16/12) Congratulations Deb Fischer. The Senate needs more women.
11/1/12) Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is endorsing Kerrey. The most recent poll shows Fischer leading by only 3. A miracle in the making?

Nevada
Rating: Leans Democratic takeover
Republican: Dean Heller (appointed incumbent) (incumbent John Ensign resigned 5/3/11)
Democrat: Congresswoman Shelley Berkley
Overview: (3/26/11) Senator John Ensign confessed to an affair with the wife of a member of his own staff, then was kind enough to set the staffer up with a lobbying job and use his influence to get corporate friends to give the guy lobbying work. Gee, what a nice guy. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not legal, and Ensign is retiring. Hopefully, we'll get a top-tier recruit for the blue team: Congresswoman Shelley Berkley. Obama carried Nevada by a whopping 12.5% in 2008. If he puts up similar numbers in 2012, the GOP will need a pretty substantial crossover vote from Democrats to survive. Right now, that seems unlikely.
(4/24/11) With Ensign's resignation, Heller now gets to run as an incumbent. As Nate Silver points out however, there's no reason to believe this gives Heller any particular advantage.
(7/3/11) A new Republican poll shows Berkley leading Heller by 3. I think Berkley now has the edge.
(6/2/12) Obama leads Romney only narrowly here, and the Berkley campaign has been ok but not great so far. So how can I argue that Berkley's going to win? Well, Nevada Democrats have a record, at least recently, of out-performing the polls. Going into election day 2010, Sharron Angle had about a 4% lead in the polls over Harry Reid, yet (as this web site predicted) Reid triumphed on election day. Quite comfortably as it turned out.
(9/28/12) PPP currently has Obama ahead by 11, and Berkley ahead by 4. NBC/WSJ/Marist has Obama ahead by 2, and Heller ahead by 4. This race is all about turnout. Berkley just needs Obama to win by around 7 points, and she'll be able to overcome the Obama-Heller crossover votes.
(10/16/12) I'm not the only one pointing out that Nevada Democrats have been outperforming the polls. Similar stories here and here.

New Jersey
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Menendez (incumbent)
Republican: State Senator John Kyrillos
Overview: (5/24/09) State-wide races in New Jersey are always sort of competitive, but I don’t think Menendez will be in any trouble.
(5/17/10) New Jersey never seems to like its public officials very much. Just six months after he was elected, Republican Governor Chris Christy has an approval rating of only 33% according to one poll. Another current poll shows Bob Menendez tied with Tom Kean Jr. (his 2006 opponent) should Kean choose to run again in 2012. The good news for Menendez is that he's running in the same year as Barack Obama, who crushed John McCain by 15.5% in New Jersey and who is still popular there today. The Republican who is eventually nominated to run against Menendez will likely need a huge crossover vote from Obama supporters to win. That is not likely to happen.
(6/02/12) The GOP has failed to secure a top-tier candidate. Menendez has nothing to worry about.

New Mexico
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Congressman Martin Heinrich (incumbent Jeff Bingaman retiring)
Republican: Congresswoman Heather Wilson
Overview: (2/19/11) "Pure downside for Democrats" is how pundits are describing the retirement of popular incumbent Jeff Bingaman. Well, let's look on the bright side. President Obama carried New Mexico by a staggering 15.1% in 2008. If he can give the Democratic ticket that kind of advantage again in 2012, the GOP will have a hard time catching up.
(4/24/11) The blue team will definitely get a top-tier nominee in this race.
(7/3/11) State auditor Hector Balderas beat his Republican opponent by more than ten points in that most Republican of years, 2010, and currently leads in a new poll for the 2012 Senate race.
(4/2/12) Polls of this race have consistently showed a small race for Heinrich. With Obama holding a huge lead over Romney here, Wilson faces long odds.
(8/10/12) Wilson has been polling within 5% of Heinrich, but the devil is in the details. How is she going to win if Romney loses? Well, women don't like Romney. If Obama carries New Mexico by five points or less, there a chance that Wilson can get enough crossover votes from women supporting Obama to win. But Heinrich still has the inside track.

North Dakota
Rating: Leans Republican takeover
Democrat: Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp
Republican: Congressman Rick Berg
Overview: (11/15/10) North Dakota politics are a little different. The state has no voter registration; just show up and vote. In Presidential elections it's a reliable red state, yet for many years it has elected Democrats, and fairly liberal ones, to its two Senate seats and lone House seat. Democrats with seniority in Congress are good at bringing home federal dollars. In 2010 however, the writing is on the wall for North Dakota Democrats. They've just lost Byron Dorgan's Senate seat and the House seat long held by Earl Pomeroy. That means Kent Conrad is in trouble too. It's not hopeless however. A curious thing about President Obama: in 2008 he spent an inordinate amount of time campaigning on the northern plains. I recall seeing polls from Montana and North Dakota actually showing his race against John McCain within the margin of error in those states. An Obama rally in Grand Forks, ND was the largest political rally in North Dakota since an FDR visit in 1934. So it's possible Obama can give Conrad a boost in 2012.
(1/25/11) Conrad is out. Ok, so Obama will probably lose North Dakota in 2012 by 8 points or so. That means for the Democrats to win, their candidate, who will not be someone who currently holds statewide office, will have to get crossover votes from people voting Republican at the Presidential level, because for some reason they don't like the GOP's Senate nominee, even though that nominee is very likely someone who already holds statewide office in North Dakota. Not much chance of that.
(12/4/11) Well this is welcome news: Heitkamp leads Berg in a recent poll. As I mentioned earlier, Heitkamp will need to get Republican crossover support to win. But she's done that twice before. In both 1992 and 1996, she received nearly two-thirds of the vote in winning election as state Attorney General, despite the fact that Bill Clinton lost North Dakota by 12% in '92 and by 6% in '96.
(7/12/12) At long last, a major-league pollster has looked at this race, and found Heitkamp ahead 47 to 46. But the same poll shows Romney ahead by 13. Not sure if Heitkamp can get enough crossover voters to beat that.
(9/28/12) The Heitkamp team keeps releasing internal polls showing her ahead. But let's not kid ourselves. The fundamentals favor Berg in a big way. Given Romney's sagging campaign, I can see a path to victory for Heitkamp, but well... let's say she has a 1 in 4 chance of winning.

Ohio
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Sherrod Brown (incumbent)
Republican: State Treasurer Josh Mandel
Overview: (5/24/09) The heart of Ohio is still conservative, and Brown is not a conservative Democrat, so this one could become competitive.
(11/3/10) The rust belt went Republican big time in yesterday's mid-terms. Look out, Mr. Brown.
(12/8/10) Brown's approval numbers are very weak. If he gets a top-tier Republican challenger, or if Democrats fail to win back the confidence of the upper midwest in 2012, odds are Brown will lose.
(11/3/11) Similar to Michigan, we have a race where the Republicans should have a good chance, but can't seem to get started. Brown leads comfortably.
(4/2/12) So far, Mandel isn't catching on. With Obama leading Romney here as well, Brown is looking good.
(8/29/12) As if the Democrats didn't have enough problems trying to hold onto the Senate, we have our first non-Rasmussen poll showing Mandel tied with Brown. On the other hand, this is Republican convention week. Polls conducted around GOP convention time in 2008 suggested that McCain could actually beat Obama, and we all now how that turned out.
(9/21/12) Five different polls conducted this month in Ohio each show Brown ahead by at least 6. The GOP has spent a fortune in Ohio on their "rising star" Mandel. Seems like the star isn't rising quite high enough.

Pennsylvania
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Casey, Jr. (incumbent)
Republican: Businessman Tom Smith
Overview: (2/28/10) As of early 2010, Pennsylvania appears to be trending Republican. Casey however is a moderate who has maintained a high approval rating among Democrats, and pretty decent numbers among Republicans as well.
(1/15/11) Casey continues to poll well against potential GOP opponents.
(11/3/11) Anyone in the Republican party want this nomination? Hello? Is this thing on?
(4/2/12) Looks like this one's in the bag. Casey has a huge lead over all potential opponents, and Pennsylvania Republicans may by unenthused this November when Mitt Romney rather than hometown boy made bad Rick Santorum will bethe GOP standard bearer.
(8/10/12) Tom Smith is as anonymous a guy named "Tom Smith."

Texas
Rating: Guaranteed Republican hold
Republican: Former state Solicitor General Tex Cruz (Kay Bailey Hutchison retiring)
Democrat: Former state Representative Paul Sadler
Overview: (1/15/11) Hutchison had actually promised to resign this seat early, but reneged, saying, "My experience will be better used fighting this effort by the president and the Congress to do so much to take away the essence of America." She wants to protect our essence? Hey, she's turned into General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove! The only way Democrats are going to win this race is if the GOP nominates a completely unpalatable tea bagger ala Christine O'Donnell from Delaware or Sharron Angle from Nevada, who gave away the Senate races in those states to Democrats in 2010.
(4/24/11) Democrats would like to stitch together a coalition of latino voters (who represent about 38% percent of Texas' electorate), veterans and other persons tired of business as usual in Texas to elect former General Ricardo Sanchez. Texas is drifting slowly from red to purple state, but I'm not sure it's moving quickly enough for Democrats to start winning statewide in 2012.
(8/10/12) Ted Cruz is an interesting guy. Any way, we'd better get used to him. He'll be part of the national political scene for the next four or five decades. Democrats are probably lucky he can't run for President.

Utah
Rating: Guaranteed Republican hold
Republican: Orrin Hatch (incumbent)
Democrat: State Senator Scott Howell
Overview: (5/24/09) Hatch will be 78 in 2012. Might he retire? Would an open seat race be competitive in uber-conservative Utah? Dare to dream.
(5/12/10) Hatch is undoubtedly not amused by the easy way party activists ended the career of fellow Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett this month by failing to renominate him at the state convention. Hatch might see himself as the next target and choose to retire, or he might just lose the race for the GOP bid the same as Bennett.
(12/18/10) Rumors of Hatch's retirement abound. In an open seat race in Utah, the chances of a Democrat winning are slim and none, and slim has already left town. So what about a scenario where the electorate is split between a Democrat, a Republican, and some sort of Tea Bagger independent conservative? Even then, it would take a miracle for the blue team to win. Consider what happened in Alaska in 2010. There were two Republicans and one Democrat on the ballot, and the Democrat still only got 23% of the vote.
(7/28/11) A recent poll shows Matheson could actually defeat Hatch. Hmm. It's fun having this contest on my "competitive races" list, but really, a Democrat is about as likely to win a statewide race in Utah as it is likely that it will rain White Castle cheeseburgers here in Seattle. (The nearest White Castle is 1,000 miles from Seattle you see.)
(11/3/11) The Teabaggers say they want to defeat Hatch, but they can't find a candidate. Try harder guys.
(6/2/12) I was hoping for some fun here, but no luck. Howell's a smart guy. Too bad he doesn't have a prayer.
(9/21/12) Forget anything positive I said about Howell, he's a complete jackass.

Virginia
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Former Governor Tim Kaine (incumbent Jim Webb retiring)
Republican: Former Senator George Allen
Overview: (5/24/09) There’s no way Democrats are going to get a free pass in purple-state Virginia, but I think Webb is another good bet for reelection.
(11/3/10) Apparently, Webb doesn't want to be a Senator any more. He isn't fundraising. Calling Tim Kaine? Oh yeah, George Allen, the guy Webb defeated in 2006, wants his job back.
(1/25/11) Allen is in. Will he win his seat back? It depends on whether he can behave himself this time. The reason Allen lost his seat in 2006 wasn't just that he made a racial slur at a campaign rally, it's that he kept making the same kind of mistakes, and seemed incapable of learning from them. First he kept changing his story about the racial slur, as if the public wasn't capable of noticing that even if one of his stories about the slur was true, that meant all the other explanations he gave about it were lies. Then his campaign staff beat up a blogger. Allen might win this election, but given his record, it will only take one major mistake to sink his candidacy.
(4/24/11) Democrats' first choice is in: former Governor Kaine. He's probably has the edge in this race.
(7/3/11) Kaine leads by one in a new poll. Allen needs to hope that the GOP can find a Presidential nominee who can generate more interest in the upper south than John McCain did in 2008.
(4/2/12) This NBC/Marist poll suggests that Obama is leading Romney by 17% in Virginia. What a minute... 17%?! Hey, that's a lot of punctuation. Kaine appears to be leading as well. I think Virginians have already made up there mind about George Allen.
(9/21/12) A month ago, polls showed that Romney could carry Virginia. Today, Obama's ahead by about 5. Kaine's lead over Allen mirrors this.
(11/1/12) Kaine is leading in some, but not all polls. President Obama however seems to have pulled back into the lead here after trailing by a point or two. And again, there's no such thing as an Obama-Allen crossover vote.

West Virginia
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Governor Joe Manchin (incumbent)
Republican: Perennial candidate John Raese
Overview: (6/30/10) Senator Robert Byrd will be deeply missed by the progressive community. Democrats have recently fared quite poorly when one of their Senate seats has suddenly become vacant. Ted Kennedy's seat has already been lost, Joe Biden's seat will be lost this November and both Barack Obama's seat in Illinois and Ken Salazar's seat in Colorado might also go Republican this fall. Conventional wisdom suggests that very popular Governor Manchin will appoint a placeholder to this seat and then run for it himself in 2012. Since President Obama will probably lose West Virginia by a substantial margin in 2012, Manchin will need some crossover support to win. This will probably not be a problem; in 2004 Manchin beat his Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race by 30 points even though Bush beat Kerry by 13 at the top of the ticket. Manchin is far more conservative than Byrd, but I guess that's life.
(11/3/10) Manchin won yesterday, but he ran a fairly lackluster campaign. In 2012, he's going to need crossover support from Republican voters to hold his seat, because President Obama will probably lose West Virginia by a substantial margin.
(12/18/10) Senator Manchin is quickly establishing himself as a very conservative Democratic, and kind of a strange person. I hope he knows what he's doing.
(8/10/12) Wow, 2012 will be the fourth time Republicans have nominated John Raese and lost. It's baffling to me that a state with such a strong conservative base can't come up with any new candidates.

Wisconsin
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (incumbent Herb Kohl retiring)
Republican: Former Governor Tommy Thompson
Overview: (7/28/11) Heading into 2010, I started hearing that Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold was in trouble in his reelection battle. Ha, I said, that's ridiculous. Wisconsin has been trending steadily Democratic for years. Besides, not one Democratic incumbent Senator lost in 2006 or 2008. Feingold lost by 5 points. Ok, so I won't underestimate Wisconsin Republicans again. I have to say though, the GOP will not have an easy time winning this open seat. Obama will probably carry Wisconsin by a substantial margin, and the voters of Wisconsin are showing some serious buyer's remorse over the Republican state government they elected in 2010.
(4/2/12) Polls show this race as a tossup. I think Baldwin has the edge. Romney is going to beat Santorum in the Wisconsin primary this Tuesday, but not by as much as he should. And Thompson is exactly the kind of non-hyper-crazy Republican that Santorum supporters will find it difficult to support in November.
(7/12/12) So Tommy Thompson's days of tepid support as the default candidate are over. According to polls from PPP and Marquette, businessman Eric Hovde is at least competitive with, or actually leading Thompson. Seems to me that Hovde, as the more conservative candidate, has the edge. According to those same two polls, Tammy Baldwin is either tied with or leading Hovde in the general election. On balance, this seems like good news for Baldwin, as she has consistently trailed Thompson in the polls. There is however an argument that suggests that more conservatives will ultimately be inspired to vote on election day when there's a more conservative nominee on the ballot.
(7/30/12) Yep, Baldwin is benefiting from the shake up on the GOP side. She now leads both contenders. The GOP lost two or three Senate races they could have easily won in 2010 thanks to the teabaggers push for more conservative candidates. It looks like we may see the same in Wisconsin this year.
(8/10/12) Quite the horse race here. Last week’s PPP poll had it Hovde 27, Thompson 25, Neumann 24. The previous week’s Marquette poll had it Thompson 28, Hovde 20, Neumann 18. Baldwin still has to hope she doesn’t get Thompson; the most recent Quinnipiac poll shows her tied with Thompson but leading the others.
(8/22/12) Wisconsin Republicans seem to catch every break. In 2010, it was narrow victories in their gubernatorial and senate races. In 2011, their Governor survived a recall vote. Mitt Romney has chosen a VP candidate from Wisconsin. And now the bitterly contested 2012 senate primary has been won by their strongest candidate, Tommy Thompson. Three new polls show Thompson leading Baldwin by between 5 and 9 points. Unless something changes in this race, Thompson will win.
(9/21/12) Baldwin leads in the last four polls of this race. A lot's changed in a month. First, the wind has gone out of the GOP's sails in Wisconsin. In August, Romney and favorite son Paul Ryan led by 1 in the PPP poll, now they trail Obama by 7. Second, the Baldwin campaign seems to be hitting on all cylinders. Third, something is clearly wrong with the Thompson campaign. Seeing his candidacy falter, Thompson is, "blaming his financial disadvantage and partly blaming Mitt Romney for his standing." I suspect that Thompson's team has feet of clay. It reminds me of Elizabeth Dole's failed reelection campaign in 2008. Seeing their candidate fall behind in the polls, Dole's campaign consultants confided, "We don't want to do campaigns anymore... We're old men, and this is a young man's game." 
(9/28/12) Thompson wants to "do away with Medicaid and Medicare." Yeah, that should go over real big. Baldwin leads in every poll.

Unlikely to be competitive:

California: Dianne Feinstein (D) may not run for reelection, but California is likely to stay blue.

Delaware: Tom Carper (D). With Delawarean Vice President Joe Biden on the ticket, Democrats will win easily in The First State.

Maryland: Ben Cardin (D). (2/28/10) How useless is the Maryland GOP? The Democratic-controlled state legislature gerrymandered the state's 8 congressional seats so 6 would be guaranteed to go Democratic, with Republican voters all shoved into the remaining 2 districts. And in 2008, the GOP managed to lose one of those 2 seats. Cardin has nothing to worry about.

Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar (D). (1/5/10) Strong approval ratings protect Klobuchar from vulnerability.

Mississippi: Roger Wicker (R). (2/28/10) As I noted in a post in 2008, here's how voting works in Mississippi in statewide races: white people vote Republican, black people vote Democratic. The population demographics needed for a serious challenge to Wicker just aren't there.

New York: Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Gillibrand won the special election for the last two years of Hilary Clinton’s term in 2010 and has to run again in 2012. Although Republicans did quite well against Democratic US House incumbents in 2010, I just don’t see the GOP winning a state-wide race in New York in the next cycle.

Rhode Island: Sheldon Whitehouse (D). (2/28/10) Once upon a time, deep-blue Rhode Island actually had a couple of popular Republicans: Senator Lincoln Chafee and Governor Don Carcieri. In 2006, Chafee lost his job to Whitehouse. In 2008 the GOP lost 8 of its meager 18 seats in the 113-seat state House of Representatives. And in 2011 Carcieri will be leaving office with an approval rating in the cellar. Whitehouse has nothing to worry about.

Tennessee: Bob Corker (R). (1/5/10) Tennessee does not like President Obama. Freshman Corker can sleepwalk to reelection. (2/19/11) A new poll shows that if former Governor Phil Bredesen jumps into this race, he could defeat Corker. If Bredesen does have any interest in such a contest, he hasn't said anything.

Vermont: Bernie Sanders (I, member of the Democratic caucus). (2/28/10) Sanders beat his last opponent 2-to-1. The Republican party just doesn't have much of a presence in Vermont, usually the best they can hope for is that the voters will elect a GOP Governor as a balance to the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

Washington: Maria Cantwell (D). (2/28/10) There have been bold predictions in the last couple of years of a Republican resurgence in my home state, but Democrats ran the table on the GOP in 2008 and again in King County in 2009.

Wyoming: John Barrasso (R). (2/28/10) Watching paint dry will be more interesting than this race.