Monday, December 31, 2007

In Iowa, Will Edwards Divide and Conquer?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While the Democratic race has often, and quite accurately, been described as a choice between change (Barack Obama and John Edwards) and experience (Hillary Rodham Clinton), it has, in the final days before Iowa, become another kind of choice as well.

Democrats must decide whether they want a candidate who is angry and confrontational, and who sees those favoring compromise as traitors (Edwards), or a candidate who presents himself as a uniter (Obama), or a candidate who presents herself as someone who understands the ways of Washington and can get things done (Clinton).

While Clinton and Obama both acknowledge the importance of working with various interests, including Capitol Hill Republicans and the business community, to come up with solutions to key problems, Edwards sounds more and more like the neighborhood bully who plans to dictate what is to be done.

The former North Carolina senator is running a classic populist campaign that would have made William Jennings Bryan (or Ralph Nader) proud. Everything is Corporate America’s fault. But he’s also portraying himself as fighting for the middle class and able to appeal to swing voters and even Republicans in a general election.

Edwards certainly would dispute that there is an inherent contradiction between his populist rhetoric and his alleged middle class appeal. But his approach to problems is likely to frighten many voters, including most middle class Americans and virtually all Republicans.

For months, observers have noted that Americans are tired of the polarization and gridlock that has defined Washington, D.C. at least since 1994 (except for a brief period following September 11th). But if Iowa Democrats choose Edwards, they are choosing anger, confrontation and class warfare. In a sense, they are displaying buyer’s remorse (from 2004) and choosing a more attractive, charismatic Howard Dean-like candidate this time.

Ironically, Edwards criticized Dean for being too angry in 2004, yet this time the former North Carolina Democrat has adopted Dean’s confrontational style.

Edwards portrays himself as a fighter for the middle class, but his message is decidedly working class and left. The North Carolina Democrat’s message seems well-suited for 1933 or 1934, but not nearly as ideal for 2008. Yet, Iowa Democrats, like many of their partisan colleagues around the country, are so angry at President George W. Bush that they might be willing to give voice to their anger by voting for Edwards at the caucuses.

Four years ago, angry anti-war candidate Dean drew 18 percent of caucus-goers, while populist Dick Gephardt drew another 11 percent. Edwards, himself, attracted 32 percent of 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus attendees.

But let’s be very clear: Given the North Carolina Democrat’s rhetoric and agenda, an Edwards Presidency would likely rip the nation apart – even further apart than Bush has torn it.

On Capitol Hill, Edwards’s “us versus them” rhetoric and legislative agenda would almost certainly make an already bitter mood even worse. He would in the blink of an eye unify the GOP and open up divisions in his own party’s ranks. Congressional Republicans would circle the wagons in an effort to stop Edwards’s agenda.

Would Clinton or Obama fare better in the nation’s capital? It’s hard to tell, but the answer probably is “yes.”

Obama surely wouldn’t arouse the immediate resentment and opposition that Edwards would, giving the Illinois senator a far better chance of accomplishing important things during the first two years of his term.

And while many Republicans around the country revile anyone named Clinton, the New York Senator might not face as much hostility as some assume from Capitol Hill Republicans. After all, Senator Clinton has worked well with her colleagues from both parties, and she knows better than anyone how important it is to build successful bipartisan coalitions on Capitol Hill.

Just as important, a President Edwards might well find that his view of the American economy is built on sand. For while Edwards bashes corporate America and “them,” this nation’s economy depends on the success of both small business and big business.

Scare the stuffing out of Corporate America and watch the stock market tumble. That’s certain to make retirement funds – including those owned by labor unions and “working families” – happy, right? Stick it to Wal-Mart, and their 1.8 million employees are at risk. Beat up on IBM, and you are beating up on their 330,000 employees. Take a pound of flesh from General Electric, Citigroup, Home Depot and United Technologies, and you’ve put the squeeze on just under 1.2 million employees.

So, Iowa Democrats are faced with much more than a choice of change versus readiness for the job. They will be deciding what kind of party and what kind of country they want. And they will be making an important statement about the tone they want in Washington, D.C.

The question facing Iowa Democrats is whether they want to send a message of frustration, or whether they place a higher priority on getting things accomplished in 2009. Edwards’s bet is that, unlike 2004, they’ll choose anger and confrontation.

This column also appeared on RealClearPolitics on December 31, 2007.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Republican Race Twists & Turns Even Before Bhutto Assassination

By Stuart Rothenberg

Even before the death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, there were signs of continued churning in the GOP race, with Arizona Senator John McCain pulling even with and ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, according to knowledgeable observers.

In Iowa, the Republican contest continues to be a two-man race, with Romney so far retaining considerable strength against former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In fact, in spite of a recent Los Angeles Times poll showing Huckabee with a 14-point lead over Romney, there is some reason to believe that Romney has closed that gap and that the GOP contest in the Iowa caucuses is much closer than the Times poll suggests.

While McCain is not yet in the mix in Iowa and shows few signs of joining Huckabee and Romney in the GOP top tier in the state, he could well finish a surprisingly strong third in the caucuses, which could get him positive media attention and boost him in New Hampshire.

For Giuliani, the Arizonan's growing strength is a significant problem. Fourth-place finishes for Giuliani in the first two contests, along with a resurgent McCain, could make McCain both more appealing to moderates and more likely to emerge as the consensus choice of conservatives as the race moves forward. That would make it much more difficult for the New Yorker to jump-start his campaign and almost impossible for him to pull away on February 5th, as he hopes to do.

The Republican races in Iowa and New Hampshire remain very fluid. But it now seems quite clear that reports of John McCain's political demise were far too premature.

The Bhutto assassination is likely to have an effect on both parties' nomination fights by elevating foreign policy and international concerns.

On the GOP side, McCain and Giuliani are likely to benefit, with Romney and Huckabee having a harder time to convince late deciders of their ability to handle an international crisis. Huckabee is in the weakest position by far, since his "good old boy" appeal becomes a weakness rather than a strength.

Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is the obvious beneficiary on the Democratic side, since neither Illinois Senator Barack Obama nor former Senator John Edwards have the credentials or stature to match Clinton's. Still, it is far from certain whether the news from Pakistan will have a profound impact on the Democratic contest.

For many months, I argued that the focus on day to day developments and meaningless national polls was unwise and reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the Iowa and New Hampshire decision-making process. Only in recent weeks have Republican and Democratic caucus attendees and primary voters been focusing on choosing a president - the same thing that happened in the 2004 Democratic race.

Given the difficulty in predicting turnout, particularly in Iowa, it's wise for pundits, journalists, talking heads and real people to spend their time watching the developments, including the swings in momentum, rather than in mindlessly picking winners and losers. Both nominations currently are up for grabs.

This column also appeared on RealClearPolitics on December 28, 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reviewing the Best and the Worst of Politics in 2007

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s the end of the year, and, presumably many of us are tired of all the supposedly insightful political hot air that we’ve been mindlessly blowing over the past 12 months. That means it’s time for an end-of-the-year column featuring my take on the best and worst, my most favorite and least favorite, winners and losers of 2007.

This year’s version resembles the Golden Globes, with a bevy of worthwhile nominees in each “category” and, usually, an ultimate winner who stands above the crowd. Congratulations to each and every one of the nominees. I know how proud you must be just to have made the list.

The Worst Political Idea of 2007
• Bill Clinton asserting that he opposed the Iraq War from the start
• Tom Tancredo for president
• The House’s Armenian Genocide Resolution
• Allowing Alan Keyes into the December Des Moines Register/Iowa Public TV debate
• Eliot Spitzer’s proposal of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants

The winner: Lots of bad ideas here, but the winner clearly is Alan Keyes participating in the Register debate on Iowa Public TV. We all know that Keyes runs for president for two reasons: It’s his job, and he likes to hear himself talk. Neither of those is sufficient reason to include him in a debate. Plus he entered the race about 15 minutes ago.

My Favorite Partisan Blog
Nominees: None.
The winner: None.

Biggest Electoral Embarrassment of 2007
• Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.)
• Robin Weirauch (D-Ohio)
• Vladimir Putin (UR-Russia)
• Bart Peterson (D-Ind.)
• Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Va.)

The winner: Peterson’s defeat for re- election as mayor of Indianapolis was the stunner of the year, but Fletcher’s was the most embarrassing. Fletcher.

Biggest Electoral Win of 2007
• Steve Beshear (D-Ky.), elected governor
• Bobby Jindal (R-La.), elected governor
• Bob Latta (R-Ohio), elected to Congress
• Cal Ripken (Orioles), elected to Hall of Fame
• Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), re-elected governor

Not a lot to choose from in an off year. The winner? It’s obviously between Ripken and Jindal. Sorry, can’t pick one over the other.

Most Distinctive Voice in Congress
• Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
• The late Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.)
• Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.)
• Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
• Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)

The winner: If Dirksen were still alive, he’d win hands down. But the choice is clear: Rangel, Rangel, Rangel.

Dead Celebrity I’d Like to Campaign For Me if I Ever Ran for President
• Winston Churchill
• Seabiscuit
• Roger Maris
• Mel Torme

The winner: A very tough choice, but voters can’t resist animals. Seabiscuit.

Most Surprising Retirement Announcement of 2007
• Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.)
• Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)
• Stuart Rothenberg (Roll Call)
• Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.)
• Tiki Barber (N.Y. Giants)

The winner: Lott.

Fantasy Baseball Surprise of 2007
• Troy Tulowitzki (SS, Rockies)
• Jorge Posada (C, Yankees)
• Brandon Phillips (2B, Reds)
• Jeremy Accardo (RP, Blue Jays)
• Ryan Braun (3B, Brewers)

The winner: A 35-year-old catcher (with a lifetime .277 average) who hits .338, has an on-base percentage of .426, scores 90 runs and knocks in 91? C’mon. Posada.

Strangest Presidential Campaign Moment During 2007
• Dennis Kucinich singing “Sixteen Tons” to the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
• John Edwards’ “withdrawal” non- announcement (thanks to another publication)
• Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani
• Mike Gravel at any Democratic debate
• Mike Huckabee’s surge

The winner: “Sixteen tons and what do you get? ...” Tennessee Ernie Kucinich.

Greatest Indecision by a Candidate/Non-Candidate
• Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
• Elwyn Tinklenberg (D-Minn.)
• Steve Stivers (R-Ohio)
• Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.)
• Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.)

The winner: Almost an impossible choice here. Some couldn’t make a decision at all. Some kept changing their minds. How do these folks ever buy furniture? But the award has to go to Tinklenberg, who for the second cycle in a row reversed himself. This time, he has reversed himself twice, and the year isn’t over yet.

Person Most Likely to be Elected President of the United States in 2008
• Barry Bonds
• Britney Spears
• Ron Paul
• Nicolas Sarkozy
Nathan Gonzales

Winner: They all have the same chance.

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

New Print Edition: 2008 Gubernatorial Outlook

The December 21, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. This is our final issue of the year.

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...

2008 Gubernatorial Outlook

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republicans and Democrats each took over a governorship this year, but there was no net change in the nationwide totals. Democrats go into next year with 28 governorships to the Republicans’ 22.

Three states elected governors this year. In Kentucky, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) defeated incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), after only four years of Republican control. In Louisiana, Cong. Bobby Jindal (R) won the open seat vacated by Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) and avoided a runoff in the process. And in Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour (R) easily won reelection over wealthy attorney John Arthur Eaves (D).

Next year is an “off-year” for governor races, with only eleven states selecting a chief executive. In 2010, with Congressional redistricting on the horizon, 36 states will elect a governor, including California, Texas, Florida, and New York. At least 19 of those 36 races will be open seats.

Currently, only three of next year’s eleven races look truly competitive. Incumbent Govs. Matt Blunt (R-Missouri), Mitch Daniels (R-Indiana), and Christine Gregoire (D-Washington) face serious challenges and dissatisfied electorates. Other states like Vermont and North Carolina could develop into competitive contests but aren’t there yet.

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) will likely surpass its fundraising goal of $12 million this year, $3 million more than in 2003 (the comparable year), but short of the $20 million raised by the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The DGA should finish the year with close to $6.5 million on hand, five times more than ever before because the group is focused on a four-year cycle of races and didn’t spend every last cent this year. Both committees plan to finish 2008 with millions in the bank in preparation for 2010.

This cycle, the most likely scenario is that Democrats gain a governorship or two.

For a state-by-state analysis and recent polling data, you must subscribe to the print edition of the Report.

2008 Gubernatorial Ratings

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings. Democrats currently hold 28 governorships compared to 22 for the Republicans. *Updated January 21 to reflect Blunt's decision.

TOSS-UP (2 R, 0 D)
  • MO Open (Blunt, R)
  • Daniels (R-IN)
  • Gregoire (D-WA)

  • Douglas (R-VT)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Huntsman (R-UT)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • Schweitzer (D-MT)
  • DE Open (Minner, D)
  • NC Open (Easley, D)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why Mitt Romney Can’t ‘Solve’ His Mormon Problem

By Stuart Rothenberg

Reviews from conservatives of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s speech on religion have generally been good. Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Romney did “very, very well.”

“The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortune,” she predicted.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt called the speech “simply magnificent,” but went even further, immodestly declaring, in a way not intended to encourage discussion or disagreement, that “anyone who denies it is not to be trusted as an analyst. ... On every level it was a masterpiece.”

Notwithstanding those assessments (and some polling that suggests he helped himself with his speech), it’s unlikely that Romney’s speech at the George Bush Library in Texas achieved his goal of convincing skeptical evangelicals that he is a candidate they can support.

Indeed, the gushing reviews once again demonstrate that many observers still don’t fully understand why evangelical Christian voters are having a problem with Romney’s Mormon religion. It’s not merely that they disagree with his church on matters of theology or, as some may believe, that they are intolerant. The issue is far more fundamental than that.

Many evangelicals won’t vote for a Mormon for president of the United States for the same reason that almost all Jews would not vote for a candidate (for any office, I expect) who is a member of Jews for Jesus. For Jews, the Jews for Jesus movement is a deceptive attempt to woo Jews to Christianity under the guise of remaining true to Judaism.

Likewise, for evangelicals, Mormons are not “Christians” in the sense that evangelicals understand the term, and by portraying themselves as “Christians,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deceptively wooing evangelicals or potential adherents away from Christianity.

Evangelicals see Mormons as trying to blur the line between Christianity and Mormonism, just as Jews see Jews for Jesus as trying to blur the lines between Judaism and Christianity.

In each case, evangelicals and Jews would not want to elevate to high office someone who might give legitimacy to a group that passes itself off as something that it is not, and that threatens their own group.

Any president’s religious views are likely to receive attention in the national media, and the authority of the office is likely to translate to added authority and respectability for the president’s religion.

Given this fundamental belief (which is hardly irrational), when Romney said, midway in his speech at the Bush Library, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” he was actually reminding evangelicals who are uncomfortable with Mormonism that his election would help erase the lines between what they view as the two very different religions.

To people who have been taught as children that Mormonism is a cult and who regard some of the more unusual Mormon beliefs as heresy, one speech from Mitt Romney is not going to allay all of their fears.

For many Catholics and Jews, the idea that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is somehow a threat to evangelical Christianity probably seems absurd. But that is what many believe, and that view makes Romney’s religion a grave concern to evangelicals, no matter how much they agree with the former governor’s views or admire his values.

Anyone who has followed the internal fights of Judaism, with Orthodox Jewish authorities refusing to accept the practices of the Reform, the Reconstructionist or even the Conservative movements, should begin to understand the fundamental problem that many evangelicals have with the Mormon Church.

Many in the media portray evangelical attitudes toward Mormonism as a form of bigotry and religious intolerance akin to the anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic sentiment that was once so prevalent in this country and is much rarer these days. But it is a very different kind of concern, a concern about the meaning of Christianity.

Few in this country would disagree with Mitt Romney’s assertion at the Bush Library that, “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should be rejected because of his faith.” And just as few would doubt his promise that, if he is elected president, “no authorities of my church ... will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.”

But Romney’s “Mormon problem” bears little resemblance to John F. Kennedy’s “Catholic problem” in 1960. Few evangelicals worry that the former Massachusetts governor will call Salt Lake City for instructions on how to proceed as president.

And Romney’s problem isn’t merely that evangelicals won’t vote for nonevangelicals. They will and they have voted for Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Some have even voted for Mormons for lower office.

Given that evangelicals see Mormonism as deceptive and an attempt to pass itself off as a form of Christianity, one speech about tolerance and the importance of faith is not likely to convince evangelicals to support Romney. I’m willing to bet that American Jews would overwhelmingly feel the same about voting for someone who is a “messianic Jew.”

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Mike Huckabee the None of the Above Candidate?

By Stuart Rothenberg

A slew of new polls have confirmed that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Iowa surge has catapulted him to the lead in the GOP caucuses. He shows movement in other state and national polling as well, though not in New Hampshire.

The Huckabee boomlet has been stunningly swift, even surprising those who say they saw it coming many weeks ago.

The source of Huckabee’s appeal to conservative and evangelical Republicans is pretty simple. He’s not a flip-flopping Mormon or a pro-abortion-rights, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun-control adulterer. And he’s never put his name on a bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) or Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), or lambasted the Christian right.

In a sense, Huckabee is the second coming of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who now seems about as relevant as a typewriter at a bloggers’ convention.

Thompson, of course, was conservatives’ first great hope of keeping the Republican Party on a course set out by Ronald Reagan more than a quarter century ago. If you recall, he was going to be the “new Reagan.”

Thompson shot up in the polls even before Republican voters had given him a good look. They didn’t know much about him other than he filled a role they wanted filled.

When the real Thompson seemed less energetic and appealing than the imagined Thompson, Republicans fell out of love with him. They were still looking for someone not named Giuliani, Romney or McCain when they found Huckabee, a quirky (diet- conscious former pastor) Southerner who talks in a conversational style, emphasizes conservatism and common sense, and seems to lack the flaws other Republicans have.

Huckabee always looked like the conservative alternative, and he is now filling that role. His strength in Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire, suggests that he is appealing to social conservatives in general and evangelicals in particular.

But let’s be clear about Huckabee’s support: While he has surged primarily because he isn’t one of the other guys, he’s in a far stronger position than Thompson was when the Tennessean was riding his wave.

Thompson was rising in the polls when he was merely an idea and hadn’t spent a day on the stump as an active candidate. Huckabee has been in Iowa for months, finishing second in the state’s straw poll and participating in a seemingly endless number of televised debates.

Iowans have seen Huckabee and been impressed by his debate performances and down-to-earth style and message. So, unlike Thompson, Huckabee has some definition and voters have warmed to him over the months.

For the past month or more, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s camp has been discussing how to deal with what many inside the campaign saw as the growing threat from Huckabee. Instead of attacking Huckabee when the Arkansan started to make his move, which surely would have entailed risks but might have blunted the surge, Romney consultant Russ Schriefer and campaign manager Beth Myers decided to sit tight. Recent polls have forced a change of strategy.

Romney can survive a competitive loss in Iowa if he can go on to win five days later in New Hampshire. But losses in each of the first two contests would all but eliminate him.

Iowa conservatives probably don’t know as much about Huckabee as they think they do. In the next month, they will learn more about his support for additional taxes and spending, his moderate position on illegal immigration, his role in the release of a convicted rapist who went on to sexually assault and murder a woman in Missouri, and his wedding registries at two department stores that were created two decades after he was married so that he could receive gifts as he exited the governor’s office.

Huckabee doesn’t have elaborate campaign organizations in place after Iowa, but it’s not all that difficult to construct a scenario that would allow him to be one of the two Republicans left standing after South Carolina, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And that means he can’t be dismissed as a contender. In fact, nobody can. Certainly not Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Not even Thompson.

Still, the Huckabee surge seems odd, very odd, on at least a couple of levels.

First, journalists like Huckabee and say he sounds “reasonable.” Yes, he’s socially conservative, but they like his views on immigration, taxes and government, as well as his sense of humor and appreciation for popular culture. They find him charming. For conservatives who see most journalists as the enemy, those words are faint praise.

Second, and of far greater importance, Huckabee has zero experience and credibility on foreign policy and national security — the top issue to many Republicans since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the one issue that the Republican nominee may be able to use to hold onto the White House.

With wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia looking like the old Soviet Union, the president of Venezuela sounding like a crackpot and terrorist forces still looking to inflict pain on the United States and its allies, defense and national security issues are certain to be important in next year’s election.

Given the importance of these issues, does anyone think Huckabee has the gravitas, experience and credentials to carry an argument to Democrats on foreign policy? It’s hard to see how he could make Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) inexperience in foreign affairs an issue or challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) credentials to lead the war against terror.

And if electability truly is an important issue for the GOP, Huckabee could be a disaster. While some have argued that he could hold conservatives on abortion and civil unions and appeal to swing voters and even Democrats on immigration, spending and domestic priorities, it is more likely that he would lose conservatives on taxes, spending and immigration and alienate moderates and Democrats on social issues.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 13, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Print Edition: North Carolina Senate & Illinois 14

The December 14, 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...

North Carolina Senate: Not Quite Nipping at Her Heels

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In the wake of the 2006 election, Democrats were ready to challenge every Republican incumbent under the sun. Even North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole was regarded as a target, and a Democratic poll showed her potentially vulnerable.

But time has not been kind to Democratic plans. The DSCC’s initial recruitment efforts failed, and subsequent polling data showed the Republican incumbent is popular in her state.

Now, Democrats have two candidates, state Sen. Kay Hagan and wealthy businessman Jim Neal, battling for the nomination, but each faces significant hurdles and both are only starting to assemble their campaigns. The whole story is in the print edition.

Illinois 14: Speaker’s Shadow

Once you’ve been Speaker of the House, there aren’t a lot of places to go after that.

After the 2006 election results, Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert passed the gavel to California’s Nancy Pelosi earlier this year, and political observers thought Hastert would exit stage left immediately. But he gave initial indications that he was going to stick around.

When Hastert finally announced he would leave, he was coy about the timing. The former Speaker formally resigned on November 26, and the special primary is scheduled for February 5 in conjunction with the presidential primary. The general election is scheduled for March 8. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ohio 5: GOP Tries to Avoid Unpleasant Surprise in Ohio Special

By Stuart Rothenberg

Note: This columned appeared in Monday's Roll Call, the day before the special election.

The reliably Republican nature of Ohio’s 5th district would seem to make it an unlikely target for Democrats, but a target it is in Tuesday’s special election.

And while political operatives from both parties scramble to downplay expectations, there is more than enough evidence to conclude that the race to fill the seat of the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) is going down to the wire.

Republican Bob Latta, who should, under normal circumstances, win the race rather easily, finds himself in an uncomfortably competitive race against Democrat Robin Weirauch, who already has lost two bids for Congress in the district.

A nasty Republican primary, during which the Club for Growth ran TV ads attacking Latta, combined with the political environment in the Buckeye State that one GOP political observer described as “very toxic,” has some Republicans privately expressing the fear that their party could lose a seat that it should not be forced to worry about.

While a mid-November GOP poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Latta showed him at 50 percent of the vote and leading Weirauch by 14 points, both parties are spending heavily in the race.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started the fight by putting $150,000 behind TV spots in the district. The ads attempted to paint Latta as ethically challenged, including one ad that linked him to two discredited Ohio Republicans, former Gov. Bob Taft and fundraiser Tom Noe.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has little money in the bank and trails the DCCC’s fundraising badly this cycle, responded by putting $300,000 into TV and print advertising attacking Weirauch. Both parties have put in additional resources recently, so that total DCCC spending has approached $244,000 while NRCC spending is around $383,000, according to pre-election Federal Election Commission reports.

Given the Republicans’ cash-poor position — $2.5 million on hand through October compared with the DCCC’s $29.2 million — and their desire not to expend resources in a district that is normally considered safe for them, the NRCC’s actions strongly suggest that the committee believes the seat is at risk.

Democratic insiders have not claimed that their party’s nominee is ahead and insist the DCCC is spending cash primarily to force the NRCC to do the same. But the DCCC is not spending its resources in Virginia’s 1st district, which also is the site of a special election Tuesday, and the NRCC almost certainly would not have spent as heavily as it has if Republican strategists thought the DCCC was throwing its money away in Ohio.

A smart Democrat who is following the race closely told me recently that given the uncertainty about who will vote in the special election, it really doesn’t matter whether Weirauch is ahead or behind by a few points in late polling. “It’s all about turnout,” the Democrat said.

And that’s exactly why Republicans have pounded Weirauch as a liberal in the campaign’s final days. The Democrat, who is backed by EMILY’s List, is far better off if the election is about Latta, divisions in the GOP ranks, the war in Iraq or popular Gov. Ted Strickland (D), than if it is about her.

One savvy Republican agreed that the outcome rests primarily on turnout.

“If Republican voters stay home, [Latta] will get beat,” the GOP observer said. “Are Republican voters so depressed that they won’t show up to vote? How angry are the supporters of [GOP primary loser state Sen. Steve] Buehrer? Are they willing to sit back and let her win so that he can beat her next time?”

Democrats acknowledge that President Bush remains personally popular in the district, though they note that even in the district that he carried in 2000 and 2004 with 61 percent, a majority of voters are critical of his job performance.

And it is the district’s fundamental bent and the GOP’s activity that has Democratic insiders cautious about their party’s chances of pulling off an upset.

As one Democrat who is following the race closely said, “We have a field operation, television ads, mail, a governor’s visit and everything else [that is necessary to win]. But it’s still a Republican district, and there are a lot of people in suits staying at the Hampton Inn in Bowling Green. They probably are Republicans, because people don’t normally wear suits in Bowling Green.”

Democrats are at a distinct partisan disadvantage in the district, but specific circumstances of the special election, from the electorate’s mood to the divisive Republican primary, are just what they had hoped for. That has forced the NRCC to spend heavily simply to defend a normally safe seat. We’ll know soon whether Republicans have succeeded.

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Status-Quo on Tuesday Is Good News for GOP

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republicans got some good news Tuesday when they won special elections in Ohio and Virginia to retain two Congressional seats that became open upon the death of sitting GOP U.S. House members.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t seriously contest Virginia’s open 1st District, but the DCCC and the National Republican Congressional Committee ended up pouring considerable resources into Ohio’s 5th C.D.

Republicans have reason to feel good about holding both seats, particularly given the nasty GOP primary in Ohio 5 and the party’s continued problems in the Buckeye State.

Ohio Democrat Robin Weirauch didn’t do any better than she did last year even though the seat was open, she was running for the third time, and Democrats tried to tie Republican nominee Bob Latta to discredited former Ohio Republican officeholders.

GOP strategists were successful in turning out Republican voters, some of whom are less than enthusiastic about the President. In other words, the NRCC still knows how to motivate the party faithful.

Democrats can take pleasure that they forced Republicans to spend heavily to defend a solidly Republican district. Part of the Democrats’ 2008 House strategy obviously is to force the NRCC to play in as many districts as possible, bleeding the under-financed GOP dry and, possibly, sneaking off with a few extra seats next fall.

The NRCC was able to hold the Ohio district, in part, by outspending the DCCC. It will not be able to do that very often next year. But before you give the DCCC a trophy for forcing the NRCC to spend money on the race, remember that the Democrats just tossed away $250,000 in Ohio 5 and have nothing to show for it.

Unfortunately, the NRCC’s post-election press release once again reads far too much into the results in Virginia and Ohio.

“The results of the special elections…are further confirmation of a shifting political environment, an electorate desperate for change in Washington, and a wide-open congressional playing field,” asserts the NRCC in its release.

First, let’s deal with - and dismiss - the easiest point, that the results demonstrate that voters want change. If anything, the results argue against change, since both districts are reliably Republican and the GOP nominees held the seats.

National polls certainly show that voters want change, and voters in Ohio’s 5th District and Virginia’s 1st C.D. may want change, as well. But the election results don’t show that.

Does the NRCC want people to believe that Democratic victories would have been a sign that voters don’t want change? That would not be a credible argument.

The other two NRCC points are more reasonable, but that isn’t saying a lot since the first one was so absurd.

In arguing that there is “a wide open congressional playing field,” the NRCC may mean that there are lots of seats in play this cycle. There may, in fact, be more competitive seats this cycle than last, but Tuesday’s two special elections don’t prove that.

Given that GOP special election nominees held reliably Republican seats, all the results prove is that Democrats will have a hard time winning solidly Republican districts next year. That suggests that Democrats aren’t likely to gain another 30 or 40 seats in 2008, hardly an earth-shattering conclusion.

Has the landscape changed from 2006? Possibly, since Democratic nominee Weirauch didn’t come all that close to upsetting Republican Latta. But let’s not go overboard. All we can say right now is that there isn’t a Democratic tsunami in Ohio, as some Republicans had worried.

The ’08 landscape may indeed be very different from the landscape in ’06, but the specials don’t offer compelling evidence either way.

The bottom line? Some good news for both parties �" and a whole lot of relief at the NRCC. Given the DCCC’s effort to swipe a Republican seat in a special election, as well as the damage and bad press a Republican defeat would have brought, the day was an especially good one for Republicans.

This story also appeared on RealClearPolitics on December 12, 2007.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

‘Resign to Run’ Would Alter White House Field

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In Arizona and Georgia, running for higher office often involves an extra bit of sacrifice. It’s not just the time and money, but ambitious politicians often are required to resign their current office in order to run for another one. The rationale is simple: Keep politicians focused on the job they were elected to do.

With the large number of legislators in the Democratic and Republican presidential fields, maybe it’s time to consider a national resign-to-run law.

Five Members of the Senate and four Members of the House actively are seeking their party’s nomination. And each of them is missing a considerable amount of votes and spending time on the campaign trail in states other than the ones they were elected to represent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has missed more than half of the votes in the 110th Congress. Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have each missed at least a third of this year’s votes. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has missed 18 percent.

Dodd took things one step further by moving to Iowa with his wife and enrolling his daughter in kindergarten there, all while representing Connecticut a thousand miles away.

GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Tom Tancredo (Colo.) and Ron Paul (Texas) have missed more than a quarter of the votes in the House, while Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has missed about 12 percent, the best percentage of a sitting legislator running for president.

Politicians missing votes while on the campaign trail is not a new story, but resigning to run is not discussed as a solution.

“If you are of the belief that the sole responsibility of an elected official is to that office, then it’s a good thing,” according to one Democratic operative in Georgia, where a politician’s seat is declared vacant once he qualifies for another office, unless his current term of office is scheduled to end before the term of the office he is seeking begins. Georgia passed the law in 1983 after then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller (R) unsuccessfully ran for the Senate.

The concept of resigning to run for president is not unprecedented. Then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) resigned his seat — and his position as Majority Leader — in June 1996 in order to concentrate on his presidential campaign. But that was after he had the Republican nomination sewn up.

If Senators and House Members were forced to resign their seats to run for president, even for the nomination, it could decrease the number of candidates and potentially shorten the length of the campaigns. But a couple of ingredients are missing before such a reform even can be considered.

First, there would have to be a movement for change.

“There would have to be a backlash,” said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Roll Call contributing writer, explaining that now, the only criticism a candidate usually receives for missed votes comes from opponents and not from the grass roots.

Second, enacting a national resign-to-run law would be a logistical nightmare. “In the past, there has been a propensity to leave it to the states,” Ornstein said. State laws range from Arizona’s and Georgia’s resign-to-run to Connecticut, where Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID) simultaneously ran for re-election and for vice president in 2000.

Because states have the right to govern their own elections, the reform would require a constitutional amendment. If simple majorities could force Members to resign, then the law could be easily manipulated for partisan reasons.

In general, election reform measures are difficult to pass at the state level because of skeptical voters. Three-quarters of the state legislatures would have to ratify a constitutional amendment.

An amendment also would require two-thirds support in the House and Senate. Asking legislators to restrict their freedom to run for president seems like an impossible fight, but Georgia legislators made a similar move two decades ago. Only two amendments to the U.S. Constitution have passed in the past 35 years, and it has been 15 years since the last one went into effect.

But it’s not even clear that requiring legislators to resign in order to run for president would hurt their candidacies. John F. Kennedy was the last sitting Senator elected president back in 1960, and a sitting House Member hasn’t been elected since James Garfield in 1880. Maybe sitting on Capitol Hill isn’t the best way to get to the White House anyway.

A national resign-to-run law could leave a wake of political activity, with more special elections and open seats. It also potentially would complicate the decisions of Senators residing in states where their party does not control the governorship.

Critics of the proposal believe decreasing the number of presidential candidates is unhealthy for democracy and that it’s unfair to punish sitting lawmakers.

“I don’t think you should artificially limit who can run fro president,” Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) said.

But no one would be prohibited from running for president, just unable to hold his or her elected position while running for another office.

“It eliminates those people who are, perhaps, not that serious,” one Georgia Democratic operative said about the potential of weeding out candidates who simply want to push a specific issue rather than win, or are just “shopping” for another office.

“I understand the philosophy at the state level,” Napolitano said. “But I’m not persuaded it would play well on the national level.”

In Arizona, legislators do not have to give up their seat to run for another office if they are in the final year of their term. But the early nature of the presidential primary calendar would force candidates to campaign before they get to that final year.

Even with a resign-to-run law, aspiring candidates likely would be creative in their efforts to skirt the law.

“It’s viewed more as a speed bump,” according to one Arizona Democratic insider.

Democrats are charging Arizona state Senate President Tim Bee (R) with violating the spirit of the state’s law by opening a Congressional exploratory committee while still holding his office. In the previous cycle, Gabrielle Giffords (D) resigned her state Senate seat to run in the 8th district and benefited from the law when the Republicans’ best candidate couldn’t make it out of the primary because he waited to resign his legislative seat until late in the campaign.

Giffords’ risk proved to be worth it, but there are no guarantees. Earlier this year, then-state Sen. Jim Whitehead (R) was the favorite to succeed the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R) in the 10th district special election in Georgia. Abiding by state law, Whitehead resigned but subsequently lost the special primary in an upset.

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Another Game of Political Chicken, but With a Twist

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republicans and Democrats are at it again. It’s another game of chicken as the end of the year approaches. Who’ll back down first?

Will Democrats, desperate to pass legislation, give ground on key spending decisions, or will President Bush, weakened by the war and prodded by those GOP legislators who fear Capitol Hill gridlock will cost them even more seats next year, give Congressional Democrats the victories they are demanding?

By all measures, the president doesn’t have many high cards in his hand. His job-approval numbers are terrible. He has little or no clout on Capitol Hill. His party’s poll numbers are already in the tank, with far more voters showing confidence in the Democratic Party than in the GOP.

Democrats, on the other hand, are on the political upswing after last year’s elections. The party’s image is relatively good, and the party’s agenda seems in sync with most voters. The party’s House and Senate campaign committees are flush with cash, and Democratic voters seem enthusiastic and optimistic. Another good Democratic election seems likely, especially if Republicans look to be blocking change and defending the status quo.

Given that political environment, the president has to blink first, right?


The problem for Democrats is that the president has nothing left to lose. With his job ratings hovering between 30 percent and 35 percent, and Bush insistent that his political legacy will ultimately depend on what happens in the Middle East decades from now, what incentive does he have to capitulate and give legislative and political victories to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)?

If you said “none,” buy yourself an ice cream cone.

Just as in the Kris Kristofferson-Janis Joplin song “Me and Bobby McGee,” “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and that’s why the president is free to act as he has, ignoring Congressional Democrats’ demands the way he has.

Bush’s standing with American voters means that many will blame him for gridlock, since they don’t hold him in high regard and seem to blame him pretty much for everything. But since he’s not running for anything again, he doesn’t have to feel their wrath.

Both Capitol Hill Republicans and GOP voters already have moved on. For them, the Bush administration is yesterday’s news, and they are hoping that the 2008 elections will be as much a referendum on Democrats’ control of Congress — and a choice between the presidential nominees — as a referendum on the Bush years.

Congressional Democrats, of course, aren’t going to warm to the president even if he gives them everything they want during the next nine months. Instead, they’ll simply brag that they’ve rolled him when they get what they want. And grass-roots Democrats want Bush’s head much more than they care about legislative victories.

That leaves independents (call them ticket-splitters, swing voters or moderates, if you prefer), whose opinions might be affected by legislative gridlock. Almost all of these voters currently look like Democrats in their attitudes and are likely to blame Bush for anything they don’t like, from Iraq and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to the weather. But they aren’t thrilled with Democrats these days either, and nobody can be certain how they’ll behave when the two parties point fingers at each other.

But won’t Congressional Republicans want to avoid a deadlock, fearing that they’ll be blamed?

Maybe, but the Democratic victory last year has many Republicans believing that the party needs to get back to its traditional opposition to government spending immediately, and GOP legislators who come from reliably Republican districts (or states) figure that they can ride out the next political storm the way they did the last one, after which the political weather will change.

Moreover, the drip, drip, drip of good news from Iraq — lower casualties and the general perception that “the surge is working” — has stiffened GOP backbones and given Republicans a reason to stand with the White House.

As the calendar turns from 2007 to 2008 and the parties pick their nominees for 2008, George W. Bush may seem less and less relevant. Since there probably is nothing that he could do now to alter his reputation significantly, he has little incentive to give Democrats victories on matters where he believes they are fundamentally wrong — just as they have no reason to give him victories on matters with which they deeply disagree with him.

But along the way, someone will blink. Just don’t assume that it can only be the president and his party.

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Nomination Fights Could Turn on Candidate Exits

By Stuart Rothenberg

Shrinkage, though not the type that threw George Costanza into a frenzy in one memorable “Seinfeld” episode, could be a significant factor in the races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rudy Giuliani (R) probably having the most to fear from it.

While we often portray campaigns as foot races, where each candidate’s “speed” (appeal) is measured against other contestants, the metaphor breaks down in presidential nominating contests. That’s because voters choose among the active candidates, and as the field thins, so do voters’ options.

When a candidate exits a race, his or her supporters often pick a new candidate to support (sometimes even in a different party), changing the dynamics of the next primary contests.

This dynamic could apply even in the first contest, Iowa. That’s because the Democratic caucuses involve an initial test vote of candidate preference in each local caucus, followed by a realigning by supporters of candidates who don’t meet a minimum threshold.

Since a number of Democratic hopefuls are likely to fall under the 15 percent threshold in individual caucuses, their supporters will have to make interesting decisions about whom to support when they realign. Will they try to “stop” Clinton? Or will personal decisions affect their actions?

If the Democratic contest primarily is a referendum on Clinton — and not all savvy observers buy into that characterization of the race — then she is by far the Democratic hopeful most vulnerable to quick shrinkage of the Democratic field.

According to that scenario, since the New York Senator has nearly complete name recognition and began the contest as the party establishment’s choice, anyone who isn’t for Clinton now probably is unlikely to back her as long as there are alternatives.

Moreover, since both Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) have been running as “change candidates,” and implicitly as alternatives to Clinton, the exit of one of them would largely benefit the other.

Obama and Edwards employ different rhetoric, but they have appeal to Democrats who have resisted the early Clinton bandwagon. If these “change” voters coalesce behind a single alternative, whether as early as New Hampshire or even in early February, it certainly could impact Clinton’s prospects.

And then there are the supporters of Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.). Backers of those two Senators apparently aren’t looking primarily for a “change” candidate and place a greater value on experience.

If and when those two veteran Senators drop out of the race (or fail to meet the threshold in individual Iowa caucuses), where will their supporters go? Are they more likely to line up behind Clinton rather than one of the “change” candidates, or do they, as one smart Democratic insider wondered aloud in a recent conversation, constitute the true anti-Hillary vote, since they picked two long-shot, establishment hopefuls over Clinton?

Those observers who doubt that the Clinton referendum model accurately reflects the way Iowa and New Hampshire participants will make their decisions suggest that voters in both states will ultimately choose on the basis of qualifications and readiness for the job, which strongly favors Clinton.

“Some may have questions about her electability. Others may be tired of the Clintons. But I don’t think that [Democrats] have a real problem with her,” said one astute Democrat. “And when you get down to it, it’s old white women who are the Iowa caucuses attendees.”

To these observers, it doesn’t matter whether there are two or 10 “change” candidates in the Democratic contest. These observers view Iowa 2008 as merely a repeat of Iowa 2004, Iowa 2000 and Iowa 1984: a minority of Democrats look for authenticity and reform, while most caucus-goers ultimately look for someone who is ready to be president.

While differences between the top five or six Democrats primarily are stylistic, that’s not the case on the GOP side. And it’s the reason the makeup of the field at any particular point is likely to be absolutely crucial in the GOP race.

Giuliani clearly benefits from the large field. As the single most liberal candidate in his party’s field (at least on cultural issues from guns to abortion), the former New York mayor would be at a distinct disadvantage in a one-on-one contest against a conservative alternative.

While the party’s social conservative vote currently is fractured and Giuliani draws some conservative support, his vulnerability grows when Republican voters are faced with a stark conservative versus moderate choice, boosting the salience of ideology in the race and forcing social conservatives to confront the former mayor’s positions on hot-button issues.

Giuliani’s fundamental assumption appears to be that the early GOP contests will play out in a way that will leave the Republican field largely intact into late January and possibly even early February. If that happens, the conservative vote would continue to be divided and conservative candidates would end up spending much of their time jostling with each other, while Giuliani could finish first with a plurality in key, winner-take-all states.

If he is correct, he could end up as the de facto nominee before conservatives realize what has happened. That’s surely the ideal scenario for the former mayor.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 3, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Ever-"Present" Obama

By Nathan L. Gonzales

This article first appeared on RealClearPolitics on February 13, 2007, on on February 14, 2007, and on on February 16, 2007.

Finally and officially, Barack Obama is running for president. His symbolic announcement, in the Land of Lincoln, called for a new era in politics. Obama downplayed his thin federal experience while championing his record on the state and local level, and he talked about the need to change Washington, set priorities, and "make hard choices."

"What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions," Obama said in his announcement speech. But a closer look at the presidential candidate's record in the Illinois Legislature reveals something seemingly contradictory: a number of occasions when Obama avoided making hard choices.

While some conservatives and Republicans surely will harp on what they call his "liberal record," highlighting applicable votes to support their case, it's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield - even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day - that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.

We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.

For example, in 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.

In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.

In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the Audacity of Hope, on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."

And finally in 2001, Obama voted "present" on SB 609, a bill prohibiting strip clubs and other adult establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and daycares.

If Obama had taken a position for or against these bills, he would have pleased some constituents and alienated others. Instead, the Illinois legislator-turned-U.S. senator and, now, Democratic presidential hopeful essentially took a pass.

Some of these bills may have been "bad." They may have included poison pills or been poorly written, making it impossible for Obama to support them. They may have even been unconstitutional. When I asked the Obama campaign about those votes, they explained that in some cases, the Senator was uncomfortable with only certain parts of the bill, while in other cases, the bills were attempts by Republicans simply to score points.

But even if that were the case, it doesn't explain his votes. The state legislator had an easy solution if the bills were unacceptable to him: he could have voted against them and explained his reasoning.

Because it takes affirmative votes to pass legislation in the Illinois Senate, a "present" vote is tantamount to a "no" vote. A "present" vote is generally used to provide political cover for legislators who don't want to be on the record against a bill that they oppose. Of course, Obama isn't the first or only Illinois state senator to vote "present," but he is the only one running for President of the United States.

While these votes occurred while Obama and the Democrats were in the minority in the Illinois Senate, in the Audacity of Hope (page 130), Obama explained that even as a legislator in the minority, "You must vote yes or no on whatever bill comes up, with the knowledge that it's unlikely to be a compromise that either you or your supporters consider fair and or just."

Obama's "present" record could hurt him in two very different ways in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination and, ultimately, the White House. On one hand, those votes could anger some Democrats, even liberals, because he did not take a strong enough stand on their issues. On the other hand, his votes could simply be portrayed by adversaries as a failure of leadership for not being willing to make a tough decision and stick by it.

Obama is one of the most dynamic and captivating figures in American politics at this time, and he has put together an excellent campaign team. He clearly is a factor in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

But as Democrats - and Americans - are searching for their next leader, the Illinois senator's record, and not just his rhetoric, will be examined under a microscope. As president, Obama will be faced with countless difficult decisions on numerous gray issues, and voting "present" will not be an option. He will need to explain those "present" votes as a member of the Illinois Legislature if he hopes to become America's commander-in-chief.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Print Edition: Michigan 9 & Colorado Senate

The November 30, 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...

Michigan 9: Missed or Growing Opportunity?
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republican Cong. Joe Knollenberg’s narrow victory in 2006 may have been a blessing and a curse for Democrats.

His under-whelming margin over an under-funded challenger sparked interest in the 9th District seat that was previously left off competitive race lists, based on the congressman’s fourteen years in office. Coupled with victories at the top of the ticket, Democrats are excited about a new opportunity in the suburban district with a better funded and more experienced candidate.

But last year’s battle also lit a fire under the incumbent, and he won’t be taken by surprise. Knollenberg has ramped up his activity in the district, fundraising, and political operation earlier than ever before. He’ll try to follow the 2006 blueprint of some of his House colleagues who took their races seriously from the beginning and survived the partisan wave. The whole story is in the print edition.

Colorado Senate: Clear Choice

Democrats are on the move in Colorado, but this cycle’s open Senate seat race isn’t going to be as easy as some of the early prognosticating indicated. With or without Sen. Wayne Allard (R) in the race, this would have been a top Democratic opportunity.

Now, state voters will have a clear choice between liberal Cong. Mark Udall (D) and conservative former congressman Bob Schaffer (R). Neither man is running from party or ideological labels, but each believes he fits the state better.

While Democrats are battling the storyline that this open seat is a done deal, Schaffer is trying to convince potential donors and supporters that this is a winnable race in the face of the current national environment. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.