Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Election Predictions

Current Senate, 111th Congress: 59 D, 41 R
Prediction: Senate, 112th Congress: 54 D, 46 R

Republicans to pickup AR, IN, ND, PA and WI.
Notes: I'm predicting Democratic holds in Illinois (open), Nevada (Harry Reid) and Colorado (Michael Bennet). These three races are essentially tied, and I might be wrong on all of them. Democrats have some chance of turning a Republican seat in Alaska or Kentucky and a chance of holding Pennsylvania. But don't count on it. The loss of Russ Feingold in Wisconsin is devastating. I'm sure I'll have more to say about that later.

Current House, 111th Congress: 256 D, 179 R
Prediction: House, 112th Congress: 228 R, 207 D

I've never tried to predict the House on a seat-by-seat basis before, so here goes:
Republican gains: AL-2, AR-1, AR-2, AZ-1, AZ-5, CA-11, CO-3, CO-4, FL-2, FL-22, FL-24, GA-2, GA-8, IL-11, IL-14, IN-8, IN-9, KS-3, LA-3, MD-1, MI-1, MI-7, MO-4, MS-1, MS-4, NC-2, NH-1, NH-2, NM-2, ND-AL, NV-3, NY-20, NY-29, OH-1, OH-6, OH-15, OH-16, OR-5, PA-3, PA-7, PA-8, PA-10, PA-11, SC-5, TN-4, TN-6, TN-8, TX-17, TX-23, VA-2, VA-5, WV-1, WA-3, WI-7, WI-8.
Democratic gains: AZ-3, DE-AL, HI-1, IL-10, LA-02, WA-8.

Notes: GOP to gain 49 seats. I've carried a torch just as long as I could for the Democrats to hold onto the House. The pundits and markets however are unanimous on this one: the GOP will gain the 39+ House seats it needs to win control.

The race for control of the House is all about the rust belt. The key to Republican gains this year is the fact that the GOP is going to pick up the Governor's offices in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and possibly in Illinois. Four of those six races are not even close, and that means that incumbent Democrats down the ticket are going to suffer.

House Democrats got some help in New York with the collapse of Republican Carl Paladino's candidacy for Governor. A poll in late September showed Paladino within 6 points of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. But that was before a series of homophobic remarks by Paladino left his campaign in freefall, so that by late October the New York Times was showing a 35-point lead for Cuomo. Before Paladino's collapse, many pundits had been predicting that Republicans would pick up at least 4 and possibly as many as 8 Democratic House seats in New York. Now I'm betting that the GOP won't pick up more than 2 seats.

Democrats to pickup CA, CT, HI, MN, FL and VT.
to pickup IA, KS, ME, MI, OH, OK, NM, PA, TN and WI.
Independent to pickup RI.

Notes: The races in Florida, Oregon and Vermont are all extremely close, but I'm making the same call as Nate Silver of the New York Times on all three, so I'm probably in good shape. The controversial pick here is that Governor Quinn will hold on in Illinois. I just don't believe that the Illinois GOP has a strong enough get-out-the-vote machine to win.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2012 Presidential Diary: #3 - The Republican Field

I want to wrap up this first series on the 2012 Presidential contenders, so that I can get on with making my final predictions for the mid-terms and writing about the subsequent fallout.

Here's the current gallup poll on preferences for the Republican nomination in 2012:

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: 19%
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: 16%
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee: 12%
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: 9%
Texas Congressman Ron Paul: 7%
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty: 3%
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour: 3%
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels: 2%
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence: 1%

Since I don't think Sarah Palin will run, I'm guessing that one of these men will be the Republican nominee. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

Mitt Romney
PRO: Romney finished second in the 2008 primaries. This means that he already has a nationwide network of supporters set up if he wants to run again. Also, the Republican nomination has traditionally gone to whichever candidate seems to be "next in line." For example, Ford got the nomination in 1976 by narrowly defeating Reagan who got the nomination in 1980 by narrowly defeating Bush who got the nomination in 1988 etc. Romney looks great on tv.
CON: Being the former one-term Governor of "Taxachusetts" does not resonate with a lot of today's Republican faithful. He holds a number of moderate positions on the issues that are an anathema to the dogmatic Tea Party of today. Also, Christian conservatives are cool on Mormons.

Mike Huckabee
PRO: Huckabee is the only candidate who has already run for President and who identifies strongly with the white, southern, evangelical Christians who most despise President Obama.
CON: Huckabee is old news. He really did surprisingly badly in his 2008 run for the nomination. He's also developed a taste for making controversial comments that seem "un-Presidential," and he has some skeletons in his closet from his days as Governor of Arkansas.

Newt Gingrich
PRO: He is considered to be some kind of intellectual leading light by many on the right. God knows why. He has a knack for giving fiery speeches.
CON: Where to begin? His rock-bottom popularity among the general public? That fact that he was driven out of Congress in 1998 by fellow Republicans? His three marriages? His many, many scandals?

Ron Paul
PRO: Paul is beloved by millions of libertarians and tea-baggers.
CON: Paul will be 77 in 2012; that's too old for comfort. He is also despised by party big-wigs who aren't too pleased by Paul's stunts like holding a "rival" convention for himself while the Republican convention was going on in 2008.

Tim Pawlenty
PRO: Pawlenty is intelligent. He is scandal-free.
CON: Pawlenty is very boring. Conservatives consider Minnesota to be the "land of 10,000 taxes." He has zero identity with the Christian right.

Haley Barbour
PRO: Barbour is a very smart fellow who has brought many good jobs to the impoverished state of Mississippi.
CON: Americans expect their presidential candidates to look good on tv. Barbour has what we call "a face made for radio."

Mitch Daniels
PRO: A quiet but effective executive leader.
CON: Did I mention that Daniels is quiet? Few people know who he is. Also, he has a comb-over that Newsweek has described as "borderline delusional."

Mike Pence
PRO: Well, let's look at the Republican check list. Is he a gray-haired, white male over 50? Yes. Is he of northern European descent and Protestant religion? Yes. Does he live 1,000 miles from an ocean? Yes. Ok, he's qualified to be the nominee.
CON: Mike who?

Good luck, gentlemen (but not too good).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2012 Presidential Diary: #2 - Sarah Palin

"She is not going to be president and will not be the Republican nominee unless the party wants to lose at least 44 states." - George Will of the Washington Post, writing about Sarah Palin earlier this year.

There is much about the life of former Governor Sarah Palin that makes me jealous. To be able to make or break the careers of both entrenched and budding politicians merely by offering or withholding an endorsement of their campaigns. To have one's political views ghostwritten into bestselling books. To make speeches to adoring fans. To appear, or choose not to appear, on any tv network at any time. And to make more than a million dollars a month without actually working for a living. Now there's a life that I would love.

And if I had that life, would I abandon it to run for President? To spend 18 hours a day on the campaign trail? Just so I can get the toughest job in the world, being President of the United States? No, I don't think I would. And what if I get the nomination, then lose the election? Then I'd be the object of scorn and the butt of jokes, and I'd probably languish into obscurity. No, I wouldn't be interested in that.

Nor do I don't think Sarah Palin will give up the life she has to run for President. Yes, she's been teasing conservative leaders about running, but I don't think she's serious. And not just because she'd be giving up her gravy train life to run for the nation's highest office.

Sarah Palin may never have read a newspaper, but I'm confident that she has some idea what her popularity numbers look like. What they look like, in fact, are the approval numbers of someone who couldn't win a national election if her opponent was a flu virus.

In November of 2009, Palin had an public favorability rating of 43%, unchanged from a year earlier when she'd been the Republican nominee for Vice President. But jumping forward another year, we find that today her approval rating has plummeted to just 22%.

It's a strange contrast. With just a wave of her hand, Sarah Palin destroyed the career of fellow Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski by endorsing her obscure primary opponent Joe Miller. Yet at the same time, Palin has the approval of only 44% of voters who identify as Republicans.

Palin may not enjoy widespread approval among conservatives, but what she does have is the support of the Republican party's most devout activists. This means that she could probably get the nomination in 2012 if she wants it. The nomination doesn't go to the candidate who people think is the most electable, or even the most popular. It goes to the candidate whose supporters show up to vote in the primaries and caucuses.

And in 2010 at least, the Republican primaries are being dominated by Tea Party activists, a group with which Palin is closely aligned. And one thing's for sure: the Tea Party decides which candidate to back based on orthodoxy, not on electability. Case in point: this year's Senate race in Delaware, where popular Republican Congressman Mike Castle appeared to be lock for the GOP nomination and victory in November. That was until an endorsement by Sarah Palin secured the nomination for crazy wing-nut Christine O'Donnell. Palin and the Tea Party would rather lose the seat to the Democrats than see a Republican who might not be 100% conservative win. Perhaps they'll take the same approach to the Presidential race in 2012. We can hope so.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2012 Presidential Diary: #1 - How Obama Would Lose

The 2012 Presidential race will begin to unfold as soon as the 2010 mid-terms are concluded. I've decided to jump the gun a little and write my first 2012 diary. It's going to be a long time before we know who Obama's opponent will be. But one thing we do know: the 2012 race will probably be decided by the same swing states that decided each of the past three Presidential elections.

So if Obama were to lose, what would it look like? Let's begin by looking at the 2008 electoral map of Obama's 365 to 173 victory over McCain.
Next, we consider the 2010 census, which will shift some electoral votes, principally to the sunbelt and Republican-friendly territory. Texas, for example, may gain 4 more votes. If Obama carries exactly the same states and districts that he did in 2008, he's likely to win 6 fewer votes overall, for a 359 to 179 victory.

That means that the Republicans have to find 91 more electoral votes among the blue areas in the map above. So how would they manage to accomplish this?

First of all, if the Republicans are going to win, it means that they're going to carry all the serious red-state territory that Obama narrowly won in 2008. That means Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia and Nebraska's 2nd district, which Obama carried by 1.0%, 0.3%, 6.3%, and 1.2% respectively.
That boots the GOP tally by 40 to 219. They need 51 more.

They can get half of that by winning Florida, which Obama carried by 2.8%. If the Republicans carry Florida, then it gets easy. They just need to carry one more large swing state and one smaller one. For instance, adding Ohio and New Mexico would give them exactly 270.

Without Florida, it gets harder for the GOP, but not impossible. They following combinations would do it: The states they won in 2008, plus IN, NC, VA, NE-2 and,

"Revenge of the rust belt scenario:" The GOP carries Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, winning 273 to 265.
"Looks like 2000 scenario:" The GOP carries Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada out west, while also carrying two of Obama's rust belt states (OH, PA and MI).

Of course the Republicans need to do all this without losing any states they won in 2008. I'm inclined to think that Obama would have carried Arizona had not favorite-son John McCain been the GOP nominee. Hopefully the Republicans will just make it easy for Obama by nominating Sarah Palin. But that's a topic for another day.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Obama and Keynes - Government Must Do what the Private Sector Can't

As I wrote in my last post, Republican congressmen love to slander President Obama's economic policy as "Keynesian." Considering how few people know who Keynes is, they might get the impression that he is Obama's budget director or something. Actually, John Maynard Keynes was a British economist who died 64 years ago. (Note: The President's budget director is Peter R. Orszag. No one really knows who he is either.)

Keynes was writing about the problems of the Great Depression and how government should address them in the early 1930s, and his work came to the attention of the Roosevelt administration. Keynes met and corresponded with President Roosevelt, and his ideas helped shape New Deal economics and have been influential in American economic policy ever since.

Keynes favored interventionist policies for tackling a recession. His theories challenged the earlier neo-classical economic paradigm, which had held that provided it was unfettered by government interference, the market would naturally establish full employment equilibrium. He believed that demand, not supply, is the key variable governing the overall level of economic activity. In a state of unemployment and unused production capacity, one can only enhance employment and total income by first increasing expenditures for either consumption or investment. Without government intervention to increase expenditure, an economy can remain trapped in a low employment equilibrium. Thus Keynes called for government to stimulate demand in times of high unemployment, for example by spending on public works.

The New Deal of the 1930s demonstrated that Keynes was correct. The Roosevelt administration raised taxes and spent lavishly on hiring the unemployed to rebuild the country's infrastructure, something that the Hoover administration had refused to do earlier in the Depression. The contrast in results could not be starker. Under the conservative policies of Hoover, GDP fell 28% in the first three years of the Depression. Under Roosevelt, in just three years GDP grew by more than 10% per year so that by 1936 American productivity had surpassed 1929 pre-crash levels.

In 1978, Keynes' demand-side ideas were at the heart of the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act, which specified that unemployment rates should be not more than 3%, and that the government should create a reservoir of public employment if the private sector fails to meet employment goals. (Hey, this law is still in effect, so where's the reservoir of public employment?)

Belief in demand theory has also long been something that has crossed partisan political lines. Even President Nixon said, "I am now a Keynesian in economics." More recently, Greg Mankiw, a former chairman of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, has said he used "Keynesian logic" in designing his tax cuts. "The idea that demand is an important driver of the economic cycle" -- that's Keynesian -- "is uncontroversial."

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Krugman has recently discussed America's economic problems as having strong parallels to the crises of the 1930s, and recommended Keynesian solutions similar to those used to fight the Great Depression. This past July, Krugman called for more federal stimulus, saying, "The most effective things you can do, in terms of actual bang for the buck, is actually having the federal government go out and hire people," he said. "We are deep in the hole here, and you need to be unconventional to get out of it."

More recently, Krugman has noted that the chief problem with President Obama's economic stimulus is that it hasn't been large enough in scope:

"President Obama’s economists promised not to repeat the mistakes of 1937, when F.D.R. pulled back fiscal stimulus too soon. But by making his program too small and too short-lived, Mr. Obama did just that: the stimulus raised growth while it lasted, but it made only a small dent in unemployment — and now it’s fading out."

"And just as some of us feared, the inadequacy of the administration’s initial economic plan has landed it — and the nation — in a political trap. More stimulus is desperately needed, but in the public’s eyes the failure of the initial program to deliver a convincing recovery has discredited government action to create jobs."

So what, exactly, is it that the government needs to do to get the economy moving? I thought Michael Moore summarized it neatly in a call to action last week:

Announce a New 21st Century WPA.
"Who's hiring? THE GOVERNMENT IS HIRING!" Put together a simple plan to hire enough people to repair our roads, fix up our aging schools, and rebuild our infrastructure. Fund this by taxing the richest 1 percent who have more financial wealth than 95 percent of Americans combined! Unemployment will drop to 5 percent. Can you pass it? Well, you sure can't unless you try! And as you're trying, announce that you will force the Republican senators (who until now simply have had to say they "intended" to filibuster in order to kill a bill) to have to actually filibuster! Make them stand on the floor of the Senate and read from the phone book 24/7. They won't last a day. And America will see them for who they really are.

The WPA was of course the Works Progress Administration, which employed millions of Americans in the late 1930s. It included construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. It fed children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing.

Or we can always go with the Republican plan to fix our economic problems: do nothing.