Thursday, September 27, 2007

Should the NRSC Spend Any Time on Lautenberg?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Twice within the past week I’ve seen or heard comments that Republicans may decide to take a shot at Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) next year, since his poll numbers suggest vulnerability.

While it’s unquestionably true that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has few offensive opportunities in 2008 and is looking for states where it might put Democratic seats into play, the existing evidence simply isn’t compelling that the committee should spend even a penny of its very limited resources in the Garden State.

If history is any guide, and it should be, New Jersey has become bluer over the past 20 years. The last Republican Senate victory in the state was in 1972, when moderate Clifford Case won a fourth term. The last GOP presidential victory was in 1988.

This cycle, the alleged evidence of Lautenberg’s weakness comes from an Eagleton Institute poll conducted in early August. That survey showed Lautenberg with ID ratings of 38 percent favorable/24 percent unfavorable, and with job performance ratings that were worse, at 37 percent approve/32 percent disapprove.

By traditional standards, the Senator’s “re-elect” (“Thinking about the job that Lautenberg has done as U.S. Senator, do you think he deserves to be re-elected, or do you think it’s time for a change?”) was horrendous: 24 percent said he deserves to be re-elected, and 61 percent responded that it’s time for a change.

The first problem with using these poll numbers to conclude that Lautenberg is at significant risk is that New Jersey poll numbers almost always are deceiving. Incumbents invariably start their re-election campaigns with mediocre survey numbers because many state voters get much of their media from New York City or Philadelphia and aren’t especially attuned to the activities of their own Senators.

In May of last year, only 20 percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac University poll said they had a favorable view of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D), who had been appointed to the Senate seat and was carrying plenty of baggage during his first Senate race. Only 34 percent said they approved of Menendez’s job performance.

When matched against his Republican challenger, Tom Kean Jr., Menendez was leading by only 6 points and was at just 40 percent of the vote, a dangerous place to be for any incumbent. Other polls during the first six months of the year showed Menendez actually trailing Kean.

In November, Menendez won by 9 points, 53 percent to 44 percent. And that was the best Republican showing in a New Jersey Senate election since 1994, the Republican tsunami year when challenger Chuck Haytaian drew 47 percent of the vote against Lautenberg.

Lautenberg’s “re-elect” question is particularly misleading. Since voters hold Congress in such low regard and think the country is headed off on the wrong track, it isn’t surprising that they say it’s “time for a change” rather than that Lautenberg deserves to be re-elected. Since 36 percent of registered voters said they either had not heard of Lautenberg or had no opinion of him, it is easy for them to opt for change over continuity.

It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Lautenberg’s age could be a problem for him, and the Eagleton survey asked split-sample questions about it. But again, the results are not exactly what they seem.

Half the sample was told that Lautenberg, the third-oldest member of the Senate, would be 84 years old at the start of his next term, while the other half was told that he would be 90 years old at the end of his term. Not surprisingly (and quite logically), more than six in 10 respondents said that he would not “be able to represent New Jersey effectively.”

The only problem for Republicans is that the Eagleton survey question is, in all likelihood, not predictive and, like too many poll questions, misleading.

The age questions isolate a single factor, but that’s not the way campaigns or elections work, or the way voters make their decisions. There are multiple messages going back and forth throughout a campaign, and in 2008, partisanship and the parties’ images, Iraq, George W. Bush, health care and “change” are likely going to be more important than Frank Lautenberg’s age.

Moreover, there is more than enough evidence that voters will re-elect older candidates, as long as they don’t seem out of touch or act in such a way as to raise fundamental questions about their abilities. West Virginia voters just re-elected increasingly frail Sen. Robert Byrd (D) when he was just shy of his 89th birthday, while Hawaii voters re-elected Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) at age 82. South Carolina voters re-elected Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) when he was over 90 years old and clearly unable to perform his duties independently.

Lautenberg’s age could become an issue, but it certainly is not guaranteed to become one or to threaten his re-election prospects, the Eagleton survey notwithstanding.

Finally, the national GOP’s brand is badly damaged and the Garden State Republican Party’s own vital signs are not good. Republicans have a very thin bench in the state, and it’s far from clear that they can find a top-tier Senate nominee next year.

We won’t know exactly where this race stands for months — until Republicans have a nominee and we see how the Iraq War stands. But whatever Lautenberg’s present or future vulnerabilities, he’s a Democrat running in a state and national political environment that favors Democrats. That gives Republicans no reason for even a shred of optimism.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 24, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Where the Presidential Nomination Races Are ... and Where to Look

By Stuart Rothenberg

More than three months before the crucial Iowa caucuses, there are good reasons for treating national surveys with great skepticism and for placing greater weight on the candidates’ standing and strength in Iowa and New Hampshire.

First, the candidates actually have been campaigning for months in those two states — meeting voters and airing ads. Voters, therefore, are basing their decisions on more than name recognition. They have looked at and listened to the hopefuls and made informed judgments about each of the candidates as a potential nominee and a potential president.

Of course, Iowa and New Hampshire voters have changed their opinions quickly in the past as the caucuses and primary have approached, and they may do so again this cycle (see my April 5 column, “Already, Too Much of the ’08 Coverage Is Quite Misleading”). But you are likely to take note of that change sooner if you are looking at state polls rather than at national survey numbers.

Second, the Iowa and New Hampshire results will create a dynamic that will affect the media’s coverage of the race, as well as the public’s perception of the candidates and the nature of their choices. After Iowa and New Hampshire, there will be winners and losers, candidates who failed to meet expectations, and, probably, those who exceeded expectations.

Simply put, developments in the early tests will affect the attitudes of voters in late January and February primary and caucus states. Could a candidate jump-start a candidacy in early February? Possibly, but certainly only if the January contests break just right.

If polls are snapshots, why are the national ones badly out of focus?

National polling currently includes too many respondents from states where no TV advertising has been aired and where the candidates have barely set foot. Respondents in those states aren’t paying close attention to the races and are basing their responses primarily on name recognition or general impressions. That is why celebrity candidates run best in national surveys.

If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) wins the Iowa caucuses, as many expect, he’ll become a hot political property for the media, which should boost his national standing and prospects, even though he now runs a distant fourth in national polling.

In fact, given Romney’s strong showings currently in Iowa and New Hampshire, his prospects for the Republican nomination currently are as good as or better than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s or former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (Tenn.).

One veteran Iowa Democrat who is deeply involved in his party’s caucuses thinks that the GOP die already is cast. “Romney will be the Republican nominee,” the insider said. “He has the best organization by far in Iowa. Nobody else comes close. The second-best Republican organization in the state probably is [Mike] Huckabee’s. Rudy’s got nothing in the state. Neither does Fred Thompson.”

Winning Iowa certainly wouldn’t guarantee Romney his party’s nomination. Ronald Reagan was nosed out by George H.W. Bush in the caucuses in 1980 yet won New Hampshire and the GOP nomination. Eight years later, George H.W. Bush replicated Reagan’s path.

Still, Romney’s early strength in New Hampshire, combined with a probable win in Iowa and the likelihood that independents in the Granite State will both vote in significant numbers in the Democratic race and not unite behind a single GOP hopeful (as they did in 2000, when they backed Arizona Sen. John McCain), make the former Massachusetts governor the frontrunner in the nation’s first primary, at least at this point.

Romney’s opponents have yet to launch their inevitable flip-flopper attacks on him, and we don’t yet know how those attacks will affect his candidacy. But if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney surely will be the frontrunner in the Republican race. Given that, he should be included in the list of GOP frontrunners, even now.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) lead in the national polls could crumble quickly if she places second or third in Iowa. Clinton, former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) are currently bunched together in the Hawkeye State, and anything could happen in the Democrats’ caucuses.

Clinton’s resources, experience, national political organization and, yes, gender give her an advantage in the race for the Democratic nomination. Those factors, as well as the fact that she is widely known, make it reasonable to call her a narrow favorite for her party’s nomination. But the national poll numbers greatly exaggerate her current standing in the Democratic race.

I’m not suggesting that national poll numbers are irrelevant. They do reflect national name recognition and the initial standing of the candidates. But so many important developments will occur before voters in Florida, California or Illinois get to cast their primary votes — developments that will color the public’s perception of the two presidential races — that the national numbers, as well as poll numbers in later states, have little predictive value now.

National numbers simply don’t deserve anything close to the attention that they are receiving in the national media, and particularly on TV. If you really want to know how Romney and Clinton are doing, keep your eye on Iowa and New Hampshire.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 20, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Print Edition: Illinois 8 & Connecticut 4

The September 21, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check. Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

Illinois 8: Her Multi-Front War

She couldn’t have realized how difficult it would be to juggle the spoils of victory. After losing her initial congressional run in 2002, Democrat Melissa Bean never looked back and went on to defeat long-time incumbent Cong. Phil Crane (R) in 2004.

In 2006, Bean became a Republican target, in part by representing a Republican-leaning district. At the same time, she faced a liberal, anti-war, third party candidate. Her 51% take last year in Illinois’ 8th District makes her an alluring target once again. And she’s likely to face at least nominal primary and third party challenges from the ideological left.

Subscribers get the whole story....

Connecticut 4: Democratic Takedown?

Even before the Democratic wave of 2006, Republican Cong. Christopher Shays nearly lost reelection in Connecticut’s 4th District. But last year, as colleagues to the east and west were falling, the Republican congressman won another term.

Now, Shays is no longer a Democratic target; he is the Democratic target, as the sole Republican congressman left in all of New England.

Susbcribers get the rest of the story...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ignored in 2006, Kissell Has Plenty of IOUs to Collect

By Stuart Rothenberg

Larry Kissell is both an example of Democrats’ opportunities and a foreshadowing of their problems. But since their opportunities are much closer, most Democratic insiders certainly can live with problems that are years away.

Kissell, 56, is making his second bid to knock off incumbent Rep. Robin Hayes (R) in North Carolina’s 8th district. The Democrat worked in the textile industry for more than two decades before transitioning to become a high school social studies teacher.

Hayes barely hung on in November, winning by just 329 votes. Still, that was an accomplishment for the five-term Congressman given the number of veteran Republicans who went down to defeat. Hayes seems less than frightened at the prospect of a rematch, arguing that he didn’t run an aggressive race last time.

While it is true few thought back in January 2006 that the North Carolina 8th district race would be a photo finish or even that Hayes would be in serious trouble, the Congressman’s campaign spent $2.4 million during the election cycle, suggesting he didn’t merely coast to re-election. In October, Hayes ran a TV spot attacking Kissell on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, a sign that the Republican’s campaign knew it was in a real contest.

Kissell spent only $800,000 last time, and neither now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) sent him a check. The DCCC also ignored the race, believing that it had better opportunities elsewhere.

That’s already changed. Pelosi and Emanuel already have contributed, and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has made it clear that the committee sees Kissell as its candidate, even though the names of other potential candidates, including state Rep. Rick Glazier, still circulate. Kissell showed $101,000 in the bank on June 30.

The DCCC seems to get excited about the party’s prospects in Hayes’ district every two years (without great success), so it’s best to be skeptical about all the Democratic optimism and euphoria. Moreover, there’s no need to put a bet down on the winner at this point.

But Kissell seems to be the kind of Democrat who could carry this district if things break right for him.

He is a moderate Democrat who calls himself a “supporter of the Second Amendment,” says he would have voted for the supplemental appropriations bill that funded the Iraq War for three more months, and would have opposed the Cornyn/Kyl Senate bill’s approach on immigration because it established a procedure for citizenship for people in this country illegally.

No, Kissell is no closet Republican. He supports abortion rights and is opposed to further free-trade deals until he sees jobs returning to his district. But in style and on a number of issues, some on the Democratic left will likely have trouble with him.

One of the reasons Democrats now represent 233 seats in the House is that their Members sit in a number of conservative, Republican-leaning districts. To the extent that they add to those numbers, they create an inherent tension within their Caucus as well as within their party. It’s an entirely natural process, one that the Republicans faced when they held 232 seats.

This isn’t a problem for Democrats right now, and it’s one of those headaches that party campaign strategists don’t mind having, since it develops from success. But it’s also a fact: The bigger the majority in the House, the more likely internal divisions are to surface in the majority party.

You need not be a seer to figure out what will happen if Democrats gain six or eight House seats in addition to adding four or five Senate seats and winning the White House. All you need to do is look back at history.

It’s as simple as this: Republicans will go through a period of self-flagellation and self-examination, while Democrats will bask in the sunlight, eventually pushing a more liberal agenda that puts their less liberal Members — who represent Republican-leaning or conservative areas, such as North Carolina’s 8th — in an impossible position.

Depending on the specific circumstances, this will give way to growing Democratic in-fighting, including efforts by liberal Democratic groups to purge the party of “Democrats In Name Only” (DINOs, if the GOP experience is any indication of abbreviations and nicknames). Republicans will then look for candidates, regardless of their ideological bent, who can take advantage of Democrats’ weaknesses. And if Kissell is in Congress, he’ll be a GOP target.

It’s far from clear that Kissell will make it to Congress. He is counting on the presidential year turnout, voters’ perception that he can win and additional resources to help him overcome Hayes. But while he is earnest and likable, Kissell is low-key and has the charisma of a high school social studies teacher. And Hayes undoubtedly will be loaded for bear this time.

Hayes starts off with an edge in this race, but Kissell’s challenge definitely is worth watching. And if the Democrat wins, he’ll still be worth watching to see how he deals with party and local pressures to perform in office.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call on September 17, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Golden State Ballot Measure Is Only a Long Shot for GOP

By Stuart Rothenberg

Political operatives from both sides of the aisle are buzzing about a GOP-inspired ballot measure in California that, if passed, would divvy up the state’s Electoral College votes by Congressional district, with only two electoral votes going to the winner of the statewide popular vote.

If it passes, the initiative could give the 2008 Republican presidential nominee as many as two dozen of the state’s 55 electoral votes, even if he gets trounced in the statewide vote. George W. Bush carried 22 of California’s 53 Congressional districts in 2004, meaning that he would have received 22 of the state’s Electoral College votes under the initiative’s method of dividing those votes.

How significant is that number? It would be comparable to swinging either Pennsylvania or Illinois, each of which has 21 electoral votes, from the Democratic to the GOP column. That’s certainly significant.

But while the initiative might make it to the June primary ballot, when little else of importance is expected to be before the voters and turnout is likely to be small, there is a good reason not to get too excited about it: The initiative’s prospects probably aren’t as good as they initially appear.

Yes, polling shows the measure has appeal. An August Field Poll showed 47 percent of registered voters saying they prefer changing to a district-by-district allocation of electoral votes, while 35 percent preferred the current winner-take-all approach. Democrats split almost evenly on the two alternatives, while a solid majority of Republicans and a plurality of independents favored the change.

But the hurdles for the initiative are many.

First, there is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who is less than enthusiastic about an initiative fight with strong partisan overtones. He has been trying to work with Democrats in Sacramento and sees an initiative battle over changing how the state awards electoral votes as damaging to his relationship with the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Second is money. Veterans of the initiative process generally say it could cost Republicans $1.5 million to $2.5 million to get the 433,971 valid signatures needed to put the measure before the voters in June. That’s not a huge number for California, and it is very doable — but it’s only the start.

Once on the ballot, the measure would face a barrage of advertising from opponents, and Republicans might need to raise in excess of $10 million to give the measure a fighting chance of passage. One GOP insider involved with the effort says there is “a fair amount of donor interest” so far, but that hardly seems enough to raise what would be needed.

Maybe even more important, one top Washington-based GOP fundraiser I talked with recently said that while he was aware of the measure, he knew of no organized effort in the nation’s capital to raise money for the California fight. Party strategists agree that some of the financial muscle to support the initiative would need to come from Washington, D.C.

“It would be a tough sell with Arnold’s lack of enthusiasm,” said a Republican who has been a successful fundraiser for the party and GOP candidates about the difficulty in raising cash to support the initiative. That isn’t to say that D.C. fundraising could not be jump-started in the next couple of weeks, but so far, national Republican fundraisers aren’t energized.

Third, Democrats won’t sit idly by and allow the measure to pass. One group, Californians for Fair Election Reform, is airing two radio ads attacking the proposal, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean already has blasted the proposed ballot measure. It’s also possible that Democrats could well put a competing initiative on the ballot to draw support away from the GOP effort or to confuse voters generally. And when voters are confused about ballot measures, they vote “no.”

“Election reform measures are so removed from everyday lives that they are incredibly difficult to pass,” notes Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which monitors ballot measures for and works with “progressive” groups.

Fourth, Democrats seem entirely capable of raising the $20 million or more that they might need to defeat the measure at the polls. “National politics is a lot sexier than state politics,” said one Democratic strategist, who predicted “big money people in L.A. and San Francisco” would love to play in presidential politics.

Finally, the initiative probably isn’t starting with a high enough level of support to survive a campaign directed against it or voters’ general tendency to vote against initiatives.

The last electoral attempt to change the way a state’s electoral voters were distributed was a Democratic-backed attempt in Colorado in 2004. A survey less than two months before that election showed it leading with more than 50 percent of the vote, but on Election Day, the measure, which would have apportioned the state’s electoral votes proportionately, went down to defeat 65 percent to 35 percent.

A Democratic attempt in North Carolina earlier this year to change how the state distributes Electoral College votes was short-circuited when national Democratic strategists expressed fear that it would validate the Republicans’ California effort.

Republican strategists figure that if they can get the initiative on the ballot, anything could happen. At the least, it would force Democrats to spend money and energy to defeat it. So while the odds are against the initiative’s ultimate passage, Republicans are enjoying the trouble they are causing.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 12, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

In 2008 Election Cycle, How Bad Is Bad for Senate Republicans?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While the 2008 elections are still more than a year away, Democrats appear well-positioned to score additional gains in the Senate. Many observers assume that those gains will be modest, but the party has a serious chance to replicate — or even exceed — its gains of 2006.

Recruitment and fundraising problems are only symptoms of a larger difficulty facing the GOP: the national political environment. With the Republican brand battered and voters still dissatisfied with the direction of the country and likely to respond to a message of change, many Republican incumbents have low personal and job ratings, an ominous sign of vulnerability.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee starts out with three migraines — New Hampshire and open seats in Colorado and Virginia. By the end of the year, Democratic candidates could be running ahead in ballot tests in all three states.

Three other states where Republicans lead seem headed for tight races: Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. All three states lean Democratic in presidential races, and the GOP’s weak national standing increases the risk for Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.), each of whom would likely win re-election comfortably in a neutral political environment.

In addition, the uncertainty about Nebraska, where Sen. Chuck Hagel is less than even money to run for re-election, and questions about New Mexico and Alaska, where incumbents long assumed to be safe have ethics clouds hanging over their heads, make a Democratic gain of five to seven seats a serious possibility next year.

Democrats are defending just 12 of the 34 Senate seats up next year, and the party seems to have but two problems: Louisiana and, possibly, South Dakota. Barring a surprise retirement or a shocking scandal, 10 Democratic seats appear to be safe: Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Even if the Republicans come up with competitive candidates in these 10 states, a GOP victory in any of them would be remote without an open seat.

The Republicans’ main problem right now in the Pelican State is the lack of a certain challenger to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). None of the GOP Members of the House delegation is inclined to run, and the party lacks a deep bench with statewide name identification, which is why former White House political strategist Karl Rove spent time wooing state Treasurer John Kennedy into the GOP and also into the Senate race.

While Kennedy initially appeared to turn down both the switch and the Senate contest, his subsequent announcement that he was changing parties and running for re-election as a Republican this year obviously changes everything. It would be surprising if he didn’t run for the Senate, as a Republican, against Landrieu.

In any case, given Landrieu’s close calls and the Republicans’ expected victory in the gubernatorial race this fall, Democrats ought to expect that Landrieu will face a tough challenge.

South Dakota is a trickier question. While national Democratic strategists and operatives close to Sen. Tim Johnson insist that he will seek another term, some Democrats are quietly skeptical. They suggest that when the Senator, who suffered a life-threatening medical emergency in December and returned to the Senate this month, needs to make a decision about the future, he may not choose to seek re-election.

If that were to happen, Republican strategists would place heavy pressure on popular Gov. Mike Rounds to run for an open seat, and while the governor doesn’t seem very interested now, he might find it hard to resist an open seat.

One Democrat familiar with South Dakota politics argues that given Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s apparent preference to run for governor — her grandfather was governor and her father ran unsuccessfully for the office — the Democratic Congresswoman might well decide against an uphill run against Rounds for the Senate. But all of this is moot if Johnson runs for re-election.

The best-case scenario for Democrats assumes that the 2008 elections again turn into a referendum on the previous four years, on Iraq and, at least to some extent, on Bush’s presidency.

The best-case scenario for Republicans is that the presidential race is close, the Democrats’ ticket both energizes Republican voters and frightens independents, and, for a variety of reasons (including the withdrawal of some U.S. forces from Iraq), voters return to their traditional voting patterns.

At the moment, and despite Congressional job-approval poll numbers, Democrats appear more likely to take advantage of the public’s dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the electorate’s desire for change.

Obviously, things could change in the next 14 months. But for now, Democrats have every reason to hope for — and Republicans to fear — another terrific Democratic Senate year. And if that happens, especially if it is combined with a Democratic president, things will really change in Washington, D.C.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call on September 10, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Young Operatives Guide Governors Associations

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The fate of governors nationwide currently is in the hands of two very young operatives.

Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Nathan Daschle, 33, and Republican Governors Association Executive Director Nick Ayers, 25, lead multimillion-dollar campaign committees that could impact Congressional redistricting and even produce a future president of the United States.

Ayers is from Atlanta and attended Kennesaw State University, 20 miles north of the city. But before he finished school, at age 19, he signed on to help Republican Sonny Perdue in his long-shot bid to defeat incumbent Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D). After Perdue’s 51 percent to 46 percent upset victory, Ayers continued to work as a political adviser to the governor.

In 2004, Ayers guided Karen Handel’s (R) successful run for the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. (She is now Georgia’s secretary of state after her 2006 victory.) After Handel’s initial victory, Ayers focused on Perdue’s 2006 re-election race, which he won convincingly, 58 percent to 38 percent.

When Perdue was subsequently elected chairman of the RGA, the Georgia Republican appointed Ayers to manage the committee.

While Ayers is a political animal, Daschle’s profile is much different, despite his political pedigree.

Daschle was raised in Washington, D.C., and is the son of the former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). Nathan Daschle graduated from Northwestern University in 1995 and went to work on Tom Strickland’s (D) unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in Colorado. Ironically, GOP operative Dick Wadhams managed the campaign of then-Rep. Wayne Allard (R), who defeated Strickland, and of John Thune (R), who defeated Sen. Daschle in 2004.

“Dick Wadhams has been terrorizing my family for many years,” Daschle joked.

After Colorado, Nathan worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council as a legislative associate and for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as a legislative representative. He went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 2002, and then to work as an attorney at Covington & Burling.

In 2005, Daschle became director of policy and counsel at the DGA, where he served until becoming executive director earlier this year.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on September 6, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Governors Associations Retooling for the Long Haul

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Two Washington, D.C.-based campaign committees are changing their strategies — moves that could benefit Members on Capitol Hill and undoubtedly will affect redistricting after the 2010 Census.

The Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association don’t get a lot of attention in this city because their targets are primarily outside the Beltway, but both are adopting long-term strategies and positioning themselves to assist ambitious politicians looking to climb the political ladder.

“We have to operate on a four-year cycle,” said DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle, the son of former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), noting the wide inequity of governorships up each year. For the first three years of the “cycle” (2007-2009) there are only 16 races, compared with 36 races in the fourth year (2010). And of those 36 races, at least 19 will be open seats.

Unlike the parties’ House and Senate campaign committees, which elect chairmen for two-year terms, the RGA and DGA have generally operated on a year-to-year basis, with annual chairmen and rotating staff.

Even though the DGA’s four-year strategy, called Project 2010, is the first organized effort of its kind for the committee, Republicans give Democrats credit for initiating the long-term concept during the 2005-2006 races. Project 2010 is likely to be formally launched later this year.

Republicans are developing a long-term strategy of their own, pushing for continuity at the RGA.

In January, Republican governors changed the RGA bylaws to allow a governor to serve more than a one-year term as chairman. Proponents of the change hope that removing the honorary status will create some healthy competition for the post, motivate the chairmen to invest in the committee and not allow other governors to ignore the committee for the three years they aren’t up for re-election. Previously, many governors didn’t think much about the Washington-based RGA when they weren’t running for the office.

The current RGA chairman, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, chose not to be the first to seek a second term to avoid it looking like he changed the rules for his own benefit. But he is hoping to leave his mark at the committee — and current Executive Director Nick Ayers will be part of that legacy.

RGA Vice Chairman Matt Blunt (Mo.) was slated to become chairman in 2008, but because of his tough re-election race next year, Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) is likely to ascend to the top slot, according to knowledgeable GOP sources. But as part of the move, Perry has agreed to keep Ayers and other staff on through 2008. The Republican governors’ official vote on the move won’t take place until November, but it is expected to be a formality. It’s unclear, however, whether future RGA chairmen will buy into the staff-continuity concept.

Unlike the RGA, the DGA has a history of keeping some staff beyond the one-year terms, including former executive directors Penny Lee (2005-2006) and B.J. Thornberry (1999-2005). Daschle is likely to stay on through 2008.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson chaired the DGA for both 2005 and 2006 when Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was vice chairman in 2005, did not succeed him in the top slot because of her competitive re-election race last year. His successive terms were a rarity. According to the DGA’s bylaws, governors are prohibited from a second term as chairman, except by unanimous vote of the executive committee.

Like Blunt, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is up for re-election next year and is slated to become chairman of the DGA. But Manchin is in no danger of losing his bid for a second term and will balance the roles of candidate and chairman. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is the current chairwoman.

For the next 14 months at least, both committees are likely to have young executive directors at the helm, with the 25-year-old Ayers at the RGA and Daschle, 33, at the DGA.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the two gubernatorial committees are not fierce adversaries. They share similar struggles, battling for relevancy in a city obsessed with control of the House and the Senate.

The DGA also is trying to define itself as a powerful subsection of the party because its governors work outside the increasingly unpopular city of Washington. Democratic governors represent 295 electoral votes (270 are needed to win the presidential election) and 15 Democratic governors preside over states that President Bush won in 2004. The committee also promotes its governors as leaders on policy issues, such as education and health care, and highlights their proven appeal in Republican-leaning states.

Each committee makes a similar case to potential donors, using Congressional redistricting and policy briefings as tools to generate interest.

The unbalanced election years — including a gubernatorial race every year — necessitates a four-year plan, particularly in budgeting, according to one experienced Democratic operative. Unlike the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which trail their Democratic counterparts in fundraising, the RGA is outpacing the DGA in fundraising ($12.4 million to $5.3 million through the first six months of the year), but a fundraising advantage tends to matter less than in federal contests.

The ultimate effectiveness of the DGA and RGA directly affects Congress in two primary ways. First, governors in 33 of the 38 governorships up in 2009 and 2010 will play an active role in redrawing Congressional boundaries following the 2010 Census. Democrats currently hold 28 out of 50 governorships nationwide.

Secondly, Members of the House and Senate could benefit if they become candidates for governor themselves.

This year, Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) is the heavy favorite to become the next governor of Louisiana, and no current Member of Congress is likely to run for governor in 2008. But the list of potential 2010 candidates already is starting to grow, even three years out.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) says she may run for governor in Texas, even if Perry seeks a third term. Rep. Artur Davis (D) of Alabama has made no secret of his statewide ambitions. And Reps. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) are mentioned as potential gubernatorial candidates. Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) also may run.

Over the past few cycles, Members of Congress have a mixed record of running for governor. In 2002, four House Members ran successfully for governor, including then-Reps. John Baldacci (D-Maine), Bob Riley (R- Ala.), Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) and Bob Ehrlich (R-Md.). Former Reps. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), Tom Barrett (D-Wis.) and Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.) all lost gubernatorial bids that cycle. One year later, then-Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) successfully moved from the House to the governorship in Kentucky, even though his re-election prospects this fall are dim.

Last cycle, three more Members — former Reps. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), Butch Otter (R-Idaho) and Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) — were elected governor. Reps. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), Jim Davis (D-Fla.), Mark Green (R-Wis.), Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) all lost bids.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on September 6, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, September 10, 2007

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Democrats Fuel Draft Hysteria but Political Gain Unlikely

By Stuart Rothenberg

Some Democrats have decided to try to transform the military draft into what the Social Security issue was 25 years ago.

Time and time again since the late 1970s, Democratic candidates and campaign committees sought to win the votes of seniors by raising questions about whether Republicans would dismantle Social Security if they ever won control of Congress.

The Democrats’ scare tactics on Social Security were not without basis. Republicans opposed the creation of Social Security, and for more than a decade, many conservative GOP candidates and high-profile officeholders, including former Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.), bashed the system and berated Democrats for establishing it.

Because the charges were not made up out of whole cloth, Democrats used the issue effectively for a number of election cycles. Only when enough Republicans changed their tunes and promised not to touch the government-run retirement plan did the issue fade. Even more recent GOP attempts to “privatize” part of Social Security didn’t scare seniors, since Republicans promised to grandfather them into a modified Social Security system.

More recently, Democrats have tried to use the comments of Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the deputy national security adviser, that a military draft “has always been an option” to scare young people (and their parents), with the obvious purpose of energizing opposition to the Iraq War and for the Democratic Party.

Immediately after Lute’s statement, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards sent out a release asserting, misleadingly, of course, that “President Bush is floating the idea of a draft” and referring to “the apparent steps the Administration is taking towards a draft.” (Not surprisingly, the campaign followed with a similarly misleading fundraising appeal.)

Unlike Edwards, New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped into the discussion in a much more measured way. She wrote Bush a letter asking the White House to clarify its position on the draft, which the White House answered by saying the president does not support a draft.

The most misleading and irresponsible coverage of Lute’s remarks didn’t come from the American press or, aside from Edwards, most American politicians, but from the British press.

The Daily Telegraph’s headline roared, “White House Considers Return to Conscription,” while the Sunday Express offered, “U.S. May Bring Back the Draft.” Neither headline, of course, was even close to accurate.

In Kentucky, a group with the interesting name of Campaign to Defend America is running an anti-Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) TV ad suggesting that the Bush administration is planning to bring back the draft. (Perhaps not surprisingly, prominent liberal, Democratic blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga wrote that ideally “the party and allied organizations” would run a similar ad “from now until Election Day, not just in Kentucky, but in every contested Senate state and House district.”)

This draft frenzy wouldn’t be so noteworthy if it weren’t for an even bigger one in late 2004, shortly before that year’s elections.

In September 2004, the liberal group Rock the Vote, which technically is nonpartisan but often sounds and behaves like an extension of the Democratic Party, sent out e-mails to 650,000 people telling them they had been drafted, in an effort to turn them out on Election Day.

A number of critics of the Bush administration — most notably liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but also editorials in the Philadelphia Daily News and The Baltimore Sun — tried to fan the flames to help the draft frenzy grow, even though there was no basis for believing a new draft possibly could get through Congress.

Not surprisingly, one of the loudest voices warning that Bush would bring back the draft if he were re-elected came from Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.).

Bush’s campaign immediately rejected Kerry’s charge, and since his re-election, the president never has suggested that he favors reinstituting the draft. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress in 2005: “There isn’t a chance in the world that the draft will be brought back.”

When liberals raised the specter of a draft before the past presidential election, House Republicans gleefully brought up New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel’s bill to re-establish the draft only so they could bury it and discredit those warning of a new draft.

In fact, the hype, both in 2004 and more recently, about a draft has little to do with conscription and a lot to do with trying to mobilize opposition to the Iraq War.

Shortly after a 402-2 October 2004 House vote against a measure requiring two years of national service, the president of Rock the Vote, who opposes a draft and presumably should have been pleased with its lack of support, blasted Congress for “playing political games.”

In fact, there is no chance — absolutely none — that Congress would support reviving the draft given anything even remotely close to current international circumstances. Anybody who doubts that doesn’t know much about American politics.

Rangel remains one of the few supporters of a draft, but shortly after the midterm elections handed Democrats the House majority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and senior Congressional Democrats dismissed the notion of a new draft.

It’s unlikely that the draft will become a major issue. At this point, everyone is on the same side. Neither party favors a draft, and no presidential hopeful in his or her right mind supports it. That won’t stop Rock the Vote and other anti-Iraq War voices from trying to scare voters (particularly the young), but it limits the impact of their tactics.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 6, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, September 07, 2007

New Print Edition: New York 25 & Washington 8

The September 7, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check. Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

New York 25: Familiar Faces
By Nathan L. Gonzales

After years of working as a staff member on Capitol Hill, Democrat Dan Maffei came within just a couple points of becoming a member of Congress himself. But his narrow loss in 2006 lit a fire under long-time incumbent Jim Walsh (R), and a rematch may be more difficult than persuading a couple thousand people to switch their votes.

Washington 8: We’ve Seen This Before

Democrats have spent the better part of the last two years pairing President Bush with Republican Cong. Dave Reichert. Their goal: Make the 2008 House race a referendum on Bush.

But in something of a surprise, the GOP congressman, who survived the Democratic wave of 2006, has now invited the President to Washington’s 8th District for a fundraiser.

Reichert may be on the leading edge of a number of Republican incumbents who realize that Democrats are going to attack him for being in the same party as the unpopular president, so he might as well have some money to defend himself.

Last year’s Democratic nominee Darcy Burner was unable to ride the wave to victory in the suburban Seattle district, but she’s running once again and has, at least temporarily, a clear shot at the Democratic primary.

Subscribers get the entire newsletter...

Ohio 5: Karen Gillmor Out, Latta In

By Nathan L. Gonzales and Stuart Rothenberg

Karen Gillmor (R), widow of Cong. Paul Gillmor (R), has decided to forego a run for her late husband’s seat, according to normally reliable Republican sources. State Rep. Bob Latta (R) is now likely to get in the race.

Latta served in the state senate (1997-2000) and ran for the 5th District back in 1988, but lost to Paul Gillmor in the primary by 27 votes. Latta was running for the open seat vacated by his father, Delbert Latta (R), who served in Congress for three decades beginning in 1958. (Congressman Latta served briefly on the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment.)

Bob Latta is term-limited and represents similar territory in the Bowling Green area with state Sen. Randy Gardner (R), who is also mentioned as a potential candidate.

On the Democratic side, Robin Weirauch, who was her party’s nominee against Gillmor in both 2004 and 2006 is expected to run in the special election. Last year, she drew just over 43% of the vote.

The 5th District gave President Bush over 60% in the 2004 election, and, though Democrats Ted Strickland and Sherrod Brown carried the district in 2006, Republicans start with a significant advantage.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How Thompson Hurt His Own Prospects — and Helped Romney’s

By Stuart Rothenberg

After former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson acknowledged in mid-March that he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were quietly acknowledging the obvious: Their candidate was political roadkill if Thompson entered the contest anytime soon.

But things look very different now. Thompson’s decision to delay his entry into the contest until this week not only damaged his own prospects but, more importantly, breathed life into a Romney candidacy that easily could have been snuffed out before it had begun.

Initially, coming from the right side of the ideological spectrum, Thompson appeared to fill the vacuum created when Virginia Sen. George Allen was eliminated as a credible presidential candidate. Even more important, the attorney-turned-actor-turned-Senator- turned-actor seemed to appeal to conservatives looking for “another Ronald Reagan.”

Romney, a Mormon with little national name recognition and no following in all- important Iowa, had problems with evangelical Christians in his party, and his flip-flopping on gay rights and abortion meant he’d have a tough time appealing to party conservatives.

So a Thompson bid would attract the same kind of Republicans that Romney hoped to attract and fill the void in the race that the Massachusetts Republican hoped to fill.

But that was before Romney ran more than 3,000 gross ratings points of television ads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and before the former Massachusetts governor had introduced himself to the voters of those two key states.

Romney did such an effective job building the best Republican organization in the Hawkeye State that two other GOP candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain, blinked at the thought of challenging him at the Iowa straw poll, leaving that event to him and to second-tier Republican hopefuls.

Polling in Iowa and New Hampshire currently shows Romney leading in both states, with Thompson trailing badly.

In Iowa, Romney generally draws around 30 percent in polls of likely caucus attendees, while Giuliani and Thompson fight it out for second, drawing in the low to mid-teens. In New Hampshire, Romney gets the support of about 30 percent of primary voters, while Giuliani is about 10 points back and McCain and Thompson battle it out for third, often in the low teens.

If Thompson’s delay allowed Romney to establish himself in the two key early states, it also allowed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to create some buzz from a second-place showing at the straw vote.

Huckabee remains a second-tier hopeful, primarily because he lacks the resources to compete with the top-tier candidates. But Huckabee’s strong debate showings, popularity among members of the media and straw vote showing has attracted some grass-roots attention, particularly among conservatives. The Arkansas Republican has received a noticeable bump in American Research Group polling in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Any support Huckabee has garnered over the past few weeks undoubtedly would have been available to Thompson over the summer, when the Tennessean was hemming and hawing about his potential candidacy rather than energetically wooing caucus attendees and primary voters.

With Thompson out of the race, conservatives uncomfortable with Romney have had the opportunity to look elsewhere, and some have been impressed with the former Arkansas governor.

If all of this isn’t enough of a reason to wonder about Thompson’s strategy and chances, a mid-January Michigan primary could be another headache for the former Tennessee Senator.

Initially, even if Thompson fell short in Iowa and New Hampshire, he looked well-positioned in the third big GOP presidential contest: South Carolina — that is, until Michigan legislators decided to move the state’s primary to mid-January and ahead of South Carolina’s.

A mid-January Michigan primary alters the nomination process significantly for Republicans, since it adds a big, expensive state into the early mix and makes the first Southern state the fourth contest, not the third. Money does not now look like one of Thompson’s great assets.

In delaying his entry into the Republican race, Thompson has looked indecisive and weak. He has lost potential supporters and contributors to other campaigns. And he has limited the strategic options of his campaign.

But maybe more than anything else, he gave an opening first to Romney and more recently to Huckabee that neither would have had. So instead of squeezing them out of the race in the summer, Fred Thompson finds himself squeezed in the fall.

Is Thompson a problem for Romney? Sure, but not as much of a problem as Romney now is for Thompson.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 4, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

EMILY's List Releases New Endorsements

EMILY’s List, which describes itself as "the nation's largest grassroots political network" and says that it "is dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to federal, state, and local office," has mailed its second round of endorsements this cycle.

The mailing, which is headed to the group’s entire list of more than 100,000 members, includes one Presidential hopeful, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, one incumbent governor seeking reelection, Washington State’s Christine Gregoire, and one incumbent House member, Melissa Bean of Illinois.

The mailing also includes endorsements for four candidates for the United States House of Representatives: challengers Christine Jennings of Florida 13 and Kay Barnes of Missouri 6, and open seat hopefuls Chellie Pingree of Maine 1 and Joan Fitz-Gerald of Colorado 2. Pingree and Fitzgerald are likely to face spirited primaries.

Jennings hopes to have a second shot at Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who narrowly defeated Jennings in November amid Democratic complaints of voting irregularities, while Barnes, the former mayor of Kansas City, is the party’s likely challenger to Republican Rep. Sam Graves.

Of the seven endorsements, only Clinton benefited from a previous EMILY’s List mailing this year.

The group has endorsed five other Democratic House candidates this cycle: Laura Richardson and Niki Tsongas, both of whom won special elections, and freshmen Kirsten Gillibrand (New York 20), Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona 8) and Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire 1).

This item first appeared on Political Wire on September 5, 2007.