By Stuart Rothenberg
The last time I saw Roy Barnes was the day before Election Day in 2002. The Democrat was hobnobbing with CNN executives, reporters and producers in a hip Atlanta condo.
I’m not certain that Barnes, who was then governor of Georgia, knew that he was less than 24 hours from suffering a stunning re-election defeat. I know I was surprised, as were many others, including some Democrats who talked about Barnes as a presidential candidate in 2004.
Now, Barnes is ready to make another gubernatorial run, hoping that changed circumstances and a considerable dose of new-found humility will help him win a second term as Georgia’s chief executive.
Barnes’ defeat more than six years ago can be traced to his controversial decision to change the state flag, his alienation of state teachers and his inability to resolve the state’s transportation problems.
National Democratic strategists were euphoric at the news that Barnes wanted to make a comeback. The Democratic field without him was far from intimidating, and Barnes’ campaign skills and past fundraising success has most state political observers rating him the early favorite in the Democratic race. Polling substantiates that.
Also in the race is state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, state House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and Lt. Gen. David Poythress, a retired Georgia adjutant general who also served as secretary of state and state labor commissioner. But observers are skeptical that any of them can raise enough money to compete with the former governor.
Baker, who is black, would seem to be a formidable opponent in the primary. African-Americans, after all, account for more than 45 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, and Baker has not had a difficult race since he was appointed to his office in 1997 by then-Gov. Zell Miller (D).
But Baker has compiled a generally pro-business record, and he angered African- American leaders when he appealed a lower court decision that reduced the charge against and ordered the release of Genarlow Wilson, a 17-year-old high school athlete who was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a party. (The Georgia Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the 10-year sentence was “grossly disproportionate” and released Wilson.)
Unfortunately for Barnes, the primary is likely to be his easier challenge.
While the GOP field is not intimidating, the state has changed considerably since Barnes’ last campaign, and it is not to his advantage.
When Barnes was first elected governor, Democrats controlled both chambers of the state’s General Assembly and had won 14 of the previous 15 gubernatorial contests. But the GOP made considerable gains in the 2002 elections, and shortly after Election Day, a handful of Democrats switched parties to give the GOP a majority in the state Senate. Republicans won the Georgia House in 2004, the same year they captured a second U.S. Senate seat — putting two Republicans in the Senate for the first time since the passage of the 17th Amendment (which transferred Senators’ selection from the state legislatures to a popular election).
Georgia has now become a red state, with a Republican governor, two GOP Senators and solid Republican legislative majorities. Democrat Barack Obama drew 47 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential race.
Following the surprising exit of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle from the race, the frontrunners for the Republican nomination appear to be Rep. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Karen Handel. State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and state Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson are regarded as long shots. Oxendine, who was first elected to his office in 1994, leads in some polling but has been dogged with ethics controversies and isn’t seen as the likely GOP nominee.
Observers see Deal as a more formidable general election candidate, though they agree that his service in Washington, D.C., may not be an asset given Congress’ image.
Handel, who earned a GED and worked in the nation’s capital for Hallmark Cards and later in the Bush-Quayle White House before moving to Georgia and being elected to the Fulton County Commission, is regarded as less prepared to stand toe-to-toe with Barnes in a debate.
Democrats hope that, while partisan trends in the state have worked against Barnes, the state’s current problems will work to his advantage. They note that the state’s economy is an albatross around the GOP’s neck, and Georgia Republicans have failed to deliver on their promises to deal with the state’s transportation problems.
Republican legislators recently cut $3 billion in spending, and party leaders may need to call a special legislative session to cut another $1 billion from the state’s budget.
Barnes’ prospects will depend on both the strength of the Republican nominee and the quality of the former governor’s campaign. Some observers are concerned that while Barnes talks of having changed his approach (by listening more to others) and promises to run a very different campaign than he did in 2002, he is surrounding himself with many of the same people who served him as governor and who worked for him in his last race.
Veteran consultant Ray Strother, for example, will come out of retirement to consult, while Chris Carpenter, who was deputy chief of staff during Barnes’ term as governor, will serve as campaign manager.
The state’s Republican bent means that Barnes starts off as an underdog. But depending on who wins the GOP nomination, how the state’s finances look 15 months from now, and whether Barnes can control himself and not sneer at his adversaries, the former governor may find himself with an opportunity to prove he has learned his lessons.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 25, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, June 29, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
Thursday, June 25, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
The GOP field in the 2010 Florida Senate race was supposed to clear quickly when Gov. Charlie Crist (R) announced his bid. But someone forget to tell former state Speaker Marco Rubio (R).
Most observers believe that Rubio, who jumped into the race before the governor, has little chance of wrestling the Republican nomination away from Crist. Even if that’s true (and I’m agnostic on that question at this point), there is still reason to keep an eye on the GOP contest.
Rubio, who turned 38 years old recently, began his career as a city commissioner for West Miami, eventually winning a seat in the Florida House during a 2000 special election. He was elected Speaker of the House for 2007 and 2008.
Rubio eyed a statewide bid for months, and insiders confirm that he initially intended on waiting to commit himself to a race until Crist revealed his plans. If Crist ran for re-election, Rubio would run for the Senate. If Crist switched to the Senate race, Rubio would run for governor.
But when Crist sat on his decision, Rubio jumped into the Senate contest, insisting that he was in the race no matter what Crist decided. (Rubio explained his decision by asserting that he couldn’t wait to finalize his plans, an assessment that few others share.)
Most observers doubted that the Miami-area Republican was serious. They believed that if Crist opted for the Senate, Rubio would run in the open gubernatorial race or possibly for state attorney general, depending on what Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) did.
But when the dominoes fell, McCollum was in the gubernatorial race, while Crist and Rubio were running for Senate. So, instead of coasting into the high-profile attorney general’s office, Rubio is now in a fight with the top state elected official of his party — and a man with a job-approval rating well over 60 percent.
Initial public polling in the Senate primary shows Crist over 50 percent and leading Rubio by more than 30 points. That’s a big problem for Rubio, considering that state voters aren’t traditionally all that interested in politics and the local media prefers covering crime, growth issues and tourism concerns rather than politics.
Geography is another problem for the former Speaker. His Miami base is not an asset in a primary or a general election, since the area is seen by voters in North Florida and in the crucial I-4 Corridor (from Tampa/St. Petersburg to Orlando and Daytona) as different from their own communities and interests.
Money is a challenge for Rubio. Florida is a large, expensive state that includes 10 media markets (including three extremely pricey ones), and Rubio must prove that he can raise enough money to run a credible campaign. He will be heavily outspent by the governor.
Pretty daunting, isn’t it? So what’s Rubio up to?
GOP insiders say the former Speaker is being encouraged to run by friends of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who like Rubio also believes that Crist was too quick to yield to state legislators about backtracking on some of Bush’s accomplishments.
Tensions in the state between Crist supporters and Bush loyalists haven’t been much of a secret, and allies of the former governor apparently have been happy to encourage Rubio’s Senate ambitions, hoping that even if he can’t win the nomination, Rubio can damage Crist’s reputation, thereby undermining his national ambitions.
Rubio’s opening salvo against Crist, a Web video, suggested that the former Florida Speaker hopes to make the 2010 contest into a referendum about both ideology and change, portraying the governor as a selfish politician who has put his own ambitions first and who would not be a reliable opponent of President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill.
“Some politicians support trillions in spending, borrowed money from China and the Middle East, mountains of debt for our children,” says an announcer shortly before a photograph of Crist and Obama comes into focus in the Rubio video. “Today, too many politicians embrace Washington’s same old broken ways ... ” continues the announcer, the photograph of the two men filling the screen.
“Movement conservatives” already call Crist “a squish,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see plenty of them in the Sunshine State embrace Rubio. The question is how much the former Speaker can broaden his support. A recent endorsement from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is meaningless but reflects Rubio’s approach.
Supporters of Rubio talk about the primary as a national race, with the former Speaker appearing on Fox News and raising money nationally from conservatives. Rubio has already begun to court the Club for Growth, and knowledgeable sources tell me the club is “actively considering the race and Rubio’s candidacy.” Some observers see Rubio as trying to imitate then-Rep. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) 2004 primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter, which became a cause célèbre for many on the right.
Some insiders whisper that Rubio expects to lose but is running statewide to establish himself for a future race, possibly the seat held by Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2012. That’s possible, but running for and winning election as Florida’s attorney general would seem to be a better way for Rubio to set himself up for a run for governor or the Senate.
“People thought initially that Marco wouldn’t even be a nuisance [to Crist],” said one Rubio supporter. “But that sentiment is starting to turn. They realize that his candidacy isn’t a sign of selfishness. Nobody thinks that running against the governor is the easiest road Marco Rubio could have taken.”
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 22, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
By Nathan L. Gonzales
Three years ago, the Ohio River Valley was the epicenter of the battle for control of Congress. But in just two election cycles, the long swath of Republican territory has moved from red to blue to virtually uncompetitive on the Congressional level.
Inspired by a spring 2006 column by Roll Call contributing writer Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call alumni Chris Cillizza and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post embarked on the “Ohio River Ramble” that fall, posting dispatches from nine contiguous and competitive districts that run from Evansville, Ind., to Wheeling, W.Va.
At the time, Republicans held seven of the nine districts, and George W. Bush carried all but one (Kentucky’s 3rd) in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. But the competitive nature of the races and the fact that the GOP was playing defense foreshadowed the Democratic tidal wave that was about to hit.
Now, Republicans control only two of the nine seats. And with few recruits and more limited resources, only one of the districts even looks competitive in 2010 at this point.
There has been plenty of attention paid to the extinction of House Republicans in the Northeast. But if the GOP is going to win back the majority anytime soon — as House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was the latest to predict — it’s difficult to see the party gaining 41 seats without making significant inroads in Middle America territory such as the Ohio River Valley.
Republicans are actively recruiting in Ohio’s 18th district, but the party has struggled to find a top-notch candidate ever since then-Rep. Bob Ney (R) pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and left Congress under a cloud of scandal in November 2006. Rep. Zack Space (D), won the open-seat race to succeed Ney and then easily disposed of his little-known GOP opponent in 2008.
“Republicans aren’t going to take back the majority without this district,” one GOP operative said about Ohio’s 18th. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won there with 52 percent in 2008, and Bush won 57 percent in 2004 and 55 percent in 2000.
The Ohio River territory demonstrates that developing a list of targets is much more sophisticated than matching a district’s presidential preference against the current Member’s party identification. If it were that simple, Republicans would clearly have more opportunities to go on offense in the region, since McCain carried all but two of the nine districts — Ohio’s 1st and Kentucky’s 3rd.
Whether it’s the current political environment, the strength of the incumbent or the threat of losing the seat in two years because of reapportionment and redistricting, Republicans have simply come up empty in terms of recruiting in many of these districts. Currently, GOP strategists are most excited about the opportunity to reclaim Ohio’s 1st district, where President Barack Obama won by 11 points but former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is running to reclaim the seat that he lost in 2008.
Chabot was one of the Republicans’ few success stories in the area in 2006, as he narrowly held on to win re-election.
In 2006, Democrats won four of the seven GOP-held seats in the region as part of their 30-seat pickup nationwide.
Meanwhile, Republicans were unable to capitalize on the flurry of ethical questions surrounding Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) at the time, and the veteran lawmaker won re-election.
The GOP also missed an opportunity when then-state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) failed to gather 50 valid signatures to qualify for the primary ballot in Ohio's 6th district open-seat race. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stepped in to help Wilson win the primary as a write-in candidate and then win the general, and he was re-elected with 62 percent.
Republican Mike Sodrel and Democrat Baron Hill faced off four consecutive times in Indiana’s 9th district. But after Hill defeated Sodrel by 5 points in 2006 and 20 points in 2008, Democrats are optimistic that he will have an easier road to re-election in 2010. And in the neighboring 8th district, now-Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) demolished then-Rep. John Hostettler (R) by 22 points in 2006 and then cruised to a 30-point win in 2008.
All four districts went for Bush twice and then McCain, yet now there is only a faint pulse of competitiveness.
“John McCain carried 49 districts that are currently represented by a Democrat,” National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Ken Spain said. “Our goal is to put a number of those seats in play and create new opportunities in places where we feel we have strong candidates looking at running.”
But a big part of the Republicans’ problem is the strength of the Democratic incumbents.
“The No. 1 factor is candidate quality,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group. “And we have really good Democratic candidates in those districts.” Yang works for Ellsworth and Hill, and also worked on state Sen. David Boswell’s (D) unsuccessful run in Kentucky’s 2nd district last year.
Republican recruitment prospects against Wilson, Ellsworth, Hill and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) are dim, if not dormant. Republicans may find a candidate to run against Mollohan, who was unopposed in 2008.
“We may have a better opportunity in a more marginal district where the incumbent is soft,” admitted one GOP strategist, who also explained that the longer these incumbents go without serious challenges, the more difficult they will be to defeat in the future.
With multiple, inefficient media markets, advertising in the Ohio River Valley districts can be an expensive affair for the DCCC and the NRCC.
In 2006, the two campaign committees combined to spend more than $25 million in independent expenditures in the nine races. Two years later, the two parties spent less than $6 million in the same nine districts, as Republicans had less money and the races became less competitive. Even less money is likely to be spent in the region in 2010.
As the pendulum decidedly swung toward Democrats in the past two cycles, there have been a couple of bright spots for Republicans. Democrats have targeted Kentucky’s 2nd district twice, but then-Rep. Ron Lewis (R) turned back state Rep. Mike Weaver (D) in 2006, and now-Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) held the seat when Lewis retired in 2008.
Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) has solidified his position over the last three years in the 4th district. After losing his initial race to then-Rep. Ken Lucas (D) in 2002, Davis won the open-seat race two years later when Lucas retired. In 2006, Davis faced off against Lucas, but the Republican prevailed easily. Last cycle, Davis won with more than 60 percent of the vote, and he’s not at risk in 2010.
Republicans have also held Ohio’s 2nd district and West Virginia’s 2nd district despite Democratic attempts to target GOP Reps. Jean Schmidt and Shelley Moore Capito, respectively.
House Republicans have not made any one region their top priority in 2010, instead focusing on fielding a diverse crop of challengers and trying to regain strength across the country. It’s psychologically necessary for the morale of the party, according to one House GOP operative.
Still, many Republicans acknowledge they face a significant challenge overall.
“We have a problem everywhere,” one GOP strategist said.
This story first appeared in Roll Call on June 18, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.
Monday, June 22, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
Since my April 6 column (“The Most Vulnerable Senator Up for Re-Election in 2010?”), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has had his ups and his downs. His supporters happily point to a number of “ups.”
After playing a highly visible role in the bank bailout, Dodd led the charge on a credit card bill that should find favor with consumers. The Senator received positive ink about the bill and about his role in its passage, and he will use it to make the case for his effectiveness to state voters.
And now, the Connecticut Democrat also finds himself pinch-hitting for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) as the Senate takes steps to write a health care reform bill.
So Dodd is square in the middle of the biggest legislative battle that President Barack Obama is likely to face in his four-year term, and if Congress can get a bill to the president’s desk, Dodd can also take credit for being a major player in that dramatic piece of legislation.
Some observers have commented that Dodd has “rebounded” from an April Quinnipiac University poll that showed him trailing former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) by a stunning 16-point margin. They point to a May 20-25 Quinnipiac survey of 1,575 registered voters that showed Simmons with “only” a 6-point lead over Dodd, who is in his 29th year in the Senate.
But Democratic insiders say they never believed the large deficit, and they remain convinced that while the Senator is weaker than they would like, he has weathered the worst of the political storm.
And Democratic political operatives point out that Dodd eventually will face a Republican who will have spent resources and positioned himself to get through a GOP primary, and that the Republican nominee will have warts that can be exploited.
“Gravity will take hold in a very blue state. If [Dodd] were running in North Carolina, this would be a very, very difficult race,” one Dodd ally said.
All of that is true. But for every step forward that the Connecticut Democrat takes toward re-election, he seems to take one backward.
Months ago, Dodd’s problems involved a sweetheart loan he received (possibly unknowingly) from the CEO of Countrywide Financial as a “friend of Angelo” and questions about his role in a bill that didn’t limit bonuses to executives from mismanaged financial institutions. (His move to Iowa during his quixotic 2008 presidential run remains a sore spot with some voters, too.)
Now, the Senator is taking some hits in local media for allegedly failing to list on Senate financial disclosure forms the accurate value of a cottage he owns in Ireland.
“A new appraisal of the Irish cottage owned by Sen. Christopher Dodd concludes that it is worth about three times as much as Dodd has been reporting on his financial disclosure forms,” two Hartford Courant reporters began their June 13 front-page story.
The same article raised the issue of Jackie Clegg Dodd’s income. Dodd’s wife is on the boards of a number of health care companies, and the Senator’s Democratic primary opponent, Merrick Alpert, a businessman who served on Vice President Al Gore’s advance team, didn’t hesitate in lobbing criticism.
“The fact that Mrs. Dodd receives half a million dollars a year to sit on the boards of companies that are regulated by Sen. Dodd’s committee is further evidence of the need to clean up the corrupt system in Washington,” Alpert said, according to the Courant.
While some observers continue to speculate that Dodd eventually will decide to take a graceful exit and not seek re-election, all of the evidence is to the contrary.
Knowledgeable Democrats say the Senator is increasingly committed to the race, and they point out that a number of his closest advisers — including pollster Stan Greenberg and his wife, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), strategist Jim Jordan, media consultant Saul Shorr, campaign manager Jay Howser and Chief of Staff Miles Lackey — are unlikely to shy away from a fight.
“The Senator seems fully committed to running,” one savvy observer says. “There is no sense that he will re-evaluate his options in the future. In fact, he and his people think they are in a little better place now. They feel like they’ve dealt with a lot of [stuff] and things can’t get much worse. Plus they look at the Republican primary” and feel good.
My own view is that it’s unwise to over-interpret the Quinnipiac University poll numbers from month to month. Dodd’s showing in the April survey looks unreasonably poor given the March and May results, so portraying the May numbers as a “rebound” is unwise.
That said, there is a general pattern in the Senator’s poll numbers. Dodd has now been stuck in the upper 30s or low 40s in the general election ballot test for three straight months, and his job approval (38 percent) and favorable name ID (40 percent) in the most recent Quinnipiac survey are equally horrendous for a veteran incumbent. He has been seriously damaged personally.
Dodd’s problems seem unlikely to simply go away, and the kinds of controversies that have dogged him could continue to “drip, drip, drip” for many months. He must now “educate” voters on his accomplishments — which is why he already has run two ads on Hartford TV — and make his re-election a referendum on Barack Obama, George W. Bush and his eventual GOP opponent.
That’s an embarrassing position for a five-term incumbent to be in, and it suggests that he will be in a tenuous position for re-election for months, no matter what happens with health care reform.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 18, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
When I interview candidates, the meetings normally last 45 minutes to an hour. That’s the only thing they have in common. Each meeting is different because each candidate is unique.
But rarely do I have a meeting like the one that I had recently with Peter Schiff, the well-known investment guru who takes credit for predicting the bankruptcies of the auto companies, the problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing bubble and the recession (which he says actually is a depression — and will get worse). If you are looking for modesty or humility, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Schiff, whose father, Irwin, is a noted tax protester who currently resides in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., says he is considering a run for the Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut, though he seemed blasé about a race and may merely be looking for attention. If he is seriously pondering the race, he ought to stop doing so immediately.
Schiff is the first candidate I’ve ever interviewed who proudly says he can’t recall the last time he voted. “I’ve never seen a real reason to vote,” he says without hesitation, adding that he registered to vote only recently in Connecticut. Apparently, he’s never heard of the concept of civic duty or considered the meaning of 200 years of American history.
Not surprisingly, he is also the first candidate I’ve ever interviewed who brags that he can raise most of his money out of state and can win by bringing supporters from around the country into Connecticut to campaign for him. (That certainly worked for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, didn’t it?)
Finally, Schiff is the only major party hopeful I’ve ever interviewed who said there is no difference — absolutely no difference — between Republicans and Democrats, between President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Schiff obviously isn’t a politician, but he isn’t a complete political neophyte either. He served as an economic adviser to presidential hopeful Ron Paul (R) during the Texas Congressman’s 2008 campaign, and he endorsed Libertarian-turned-Republican Murray Sabrin’s bid for the New Jersey GOP Senate nomination in 2008.
Sabrin, I should add, came in to see me during that race and made much the same case as Schiff. He drew 14 percent of the vote in a three-way primary.
Schiff is a darling of libertarians, and they have taken to the Web to raise money for him and to tell him how much they want him to run for the Senate. Maybe they can do for him what they did for Paul.
Schiff thinks that he might be able to win in Connecticut because, unlike Paul, he has to win in “only” one state, while Paul had to win in the entire country. Maybe someone should tell him that Paul didn’t come close to winning either the Iowa straw poll or the Iowa caucuses, two low-turnout events that were made to order for the Texan given the enthusiasm of his supporters.
A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse,” Schiff is president and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, a Darien, Conn.-based investment firm that its Web site says specializes in international securities.
He’s well-dressed and articulate. He’s also adept at talking about the nation’s economic programs, and he has logged a good deal of time on cable’s business programming. But being an entertaining guest on CNBC doesn’t automatically translate to being a serious candidate for the U.S. Senate.
If and when Schiff focuses on what he’d do to get the American economy out of the ditch, he’ll scare the living daylights out of state voters, who are more concerned with their jobs and government services than with Austrian economics. Simply put, a majority of Connecticut Republicans are not ready for the second coming of Ron Paul.
Schiff seems to think that voters are heavily ideological. During my interview with him, he said he’ll attract support from across the country because, if elected, he would represent them and their views.
I don’t know whether Schiff, who lives in Fairfield County, has ever been to Willimantic, Torrington, Coventry or Naugatuck, but someone needs to mention to him that telling Nutmeg State voters that he would “represent” people in other states isn’t necessarily the best way to get elected in Connecticut. Nor is it wise to tell Republican primary voters, even in Connecticut, that there is no difference between the two parties.
Schiff may or may not be right about what ails America. That’s not the issue. But I saw no evidence that he understands how to talk to voters who have the kinds of problems that average Americans in Connecticut face each and every day, no evidence that he’d be effective in the Senate and no evidence that he has even the vaguest idea how to put together a campaign.
For a man who supposedly makes decisions on the basis of data and analysis, Schiff seemed to lack any empirical evidence that he could win a Senate race, let alone a primary. Maybe that’s because he’d really rather appear on the Daily Show or spout off in national publications than do what is necessary to win a Senate seat.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 15, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The June 12, 2009 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers.
The print edition of the Report comes out every two weeks. 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 preview of introduction to this edition:
Alabama 2: All Is Calm, All is Bright
By Nathan L. Gonzales
When Bobby Bright decided to run for Congress, many people weren’t sure which party he was in. The former mayor of Montgomery went on to win last fall as a Democrat, but he’d prefer you forget that last part.
Bright’s victory encapsulated many of the problems Republicans faced over the last two election cycles. GOP Rep. Terry Everett retired, leaving Republicans with yet another open seat to defend. Democrats did a good job of recruiting Bright, a moderate Democrat who fit the district well. Republicans suffered through a bitter primary and runoff. And Barack Obama’s candidacy energized a sizable African-American electorate.
But Obama barely topped one-third of the vote in Alabama’s 2nd District, and Bright won by less than a point, making him a top Republican target in the 2010 midterms.
Republicans are excited about Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby’s candidacy, but hope to avoid another messy primary above all else. Meanwhile, Bright will test whether personal relationships trump partisanship. Subscribers get the full story in the print edition of the Report.
California 44: Showcase Showdown
By Nathan L. Gonzales
With the Democratic wave crashing all across the country, few people were watching as GOP Cong. Ken Calvert was nearly swept out of office as well. But after his close call last cycle, all eyes are on Southern California to see if the 44th District is Democrats’ top opportunity or merely a missed opportunity.
Democrats in Washington didn’t pay a lot of attention to educator Bill Hedrick last cycle because he didn’t raise much money and didn’t put together what is normally considered to be a credible campaign. Nevertheless, Hedrick came within two points of knocking off the incumbent.
Hedrick is running again and the DCCC is working closely with him to take his campaign to the next level. But the Democrat won’t sneak up on Calvert this time.
California is an increasing source of concern for Republicans, who aren’t sure if they’ve reached the electoral floor. And before Calvert can focus on his Democratic opponent, he must fend off a primary challenge and answer to some Republicans who are dissatisfied with his personal life and voting record. Subscribers get the full story in the print edition of the Report.
Monday, June 15, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
The Virginia gubernatorial race just got a whole lot tougher for Republican nominee Bob McDonnell.
Instead of nominating a liberal from Northern Virginia (former state Del. Brian Moran) or an upstate New Yorker normally identified with the national Democratic Party (Terry McAuliffe), Old Dominion Democrats opted for a rural state Senator, Creigh Deeds, thereby giving the party a standard-bearer in the fall who can run as heir to the Mark Warner-Tim Kaine legacy of pragmatism.
One national Republican strategist has a simple formula in explaining recent Virginia elections, and it doesn’t seem far off the mark: The guy who looks extreme or stupid and is the focal point of the race loses.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Sue Terry lost the 1993 election to Republican George Allen because he defined her as too liberal. The same thing happened four years later, in 1997, when Jim Gilmore (R) defeated Northern Virginia car dealer Don Beyer (D).
On the other hand, now-Sen. Jim Webb (D) narrowly defeated Allen in the 2006 Senate race because Allen’s “macaca” remark (and his subsequent explanation of it) made him look intolerant and inept. Democrats used 2005 GOP gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore’s accent to paint him as a none-too-bright hick. And Republican Bill Bolling won the state’s No. 2 office in 2005 by painting his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Leslie Byrne from Northern Virginia, as a kooky liberal.
Deeds’ rural roots and momentum make him a tough adversary for Republicans. He won’t be as easily defined (or demonized) as a liberal as Moran or McAuliffe would have been.
But McDonnell’s early campaign suggests that he too understands where the state is and how he needs to appeal to voters. He isn’t going to allow himself to be branded as an intolerant, ignorant redneck who is still fighting the Civil War. It will be up to Deeds and Virginia Democrats to brand the Republican as “too extreme” for Virginians. (Common Sense Virginia, a group funded by the Democratic Governors Association, has been hammering the Republican in TV spots for weeks.)
Deeds’ statewide strength on Tuesday is worth emphasizing. In winning 10 of the state’s 11 Congressional districts, he demonstrated broad personal and political appeal, at least among Democrats.
By all accounts, the Deeds-McDonnell race looks like a very competitive one, with campaign decisions, candidate performance and news developments deciding the winner.
Recent election results show how competitive the Old Dominion has become. Webb won his Senate seat by winning 49.6 percent of the total vote in 2006, while Mark Warner won the governorship in 2001 with 52.2 percent and Kaine won the state’s top office in 2005 with 51.7 percent. George W. Bush carried the state in 2004 with 53.7 percent, while President Barack Obama won with 52.6 percent.
Of course, McDonnell beat Deeds in the state attorney general’s race four years ago by just 323 votes, and Bolling beat Byrne to become lieutenant governor by drawing only 50.5 percent of the vote. (Any talk that McDonnell has an advantage in this year’s gubernatorial race because he “beat Deeds four years ago” should be swiftly dismissed as absurd.)
What lessons should we draw from the results?
First, money is a necessary but not sufficient resource. The biggest spender didn’t win the Democratic nomination, nor did the guy who was almost invisible on TV. Deeds didn’t have the most cash, but he had enough.
Second, polling in the state wasn’t as horrible as many of us assumed. While none of the surveys had Deeds winning by 24 points, most surveys picked up Deeds’ momentum. Public Policy Polling and SurveyUSA, in particular, had Deeds opening up a double-digit lead in their last polls. They deserve some applause for that, considering the difficulty of predicting the electorate in a low-turnout election.
Third, too many press spokesmen caught up in their own spinning and campaigns often get too cute by half in trying to use poll numbers — that they often know are misleading — to energize supporters.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post quoted McAuliffe senior adviser Mo Elleithee on Election Day as saying, “In the last 48 hours, the lead that Senator Deeds had taken in the last week started to collapse,” and an Elleithee Election Day get-out-the-vote e-mail cited the last night of a three-day tracking survey that showed Deeds and McAuliffe tied at 33 percent.
The e-mail was filled with disclaimers that the one-night results are “not definitive” and that the campaign never makes decisions “on one night’s worth of interviews because the sample is too small.” Nevertheless, the campaign released those numbers and constructed an argument based on them. The full three-night poll was never released, nor did Elleithee note that internal campaign polling over the previous week showed Deeds was pulling away and would win handily.
One McAuliffe campaign insider I spoke with after the results were in acknowledged that in the campaign’s final days “we knew things looked really bad, but things looked volatile.” That explanation is not convincing. In fact, those running the McAuliffe campaign knew very well what was happening.
The only conclusion possible is that the campaign was not telling the truth and that it was selectively using numbers that it knew should never be used to make a point that it knew was very dubious, at best.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 11, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
In May, I made an appearance on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” one of MSNBC’s political shows. The segment’s main focus was the current state of the Republican Party.
When the segment ended and I walked off the set, I knew that that would likely be my last appearance on “Hardball.” I had decided that I would not accept another invitation to appear on the program, should one come.
For those of us who enjoy following politics and are interested in the news, there are fewer and fewer options on television. The Sunday shows and PBS programming — “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” for example — remain, and there are a handful of others worth watching elsewhere (e.g., “Morning Joe” on MSNBC is fun, informative and thoughtful, and CNN and C-SPAN have their moments). But too often, caricature and vitriol have replaced reporting and analysis.
The networks continue to present national news programs each night, but politics can’t compete with “American Idol” or “CSI,” so cable stations have filled the vacuum with endless hours of what cable executives seem to think constitutes “news” and “politics.”
America’s cable “news” networks have concluded — on the basis of considerable research and evidence, I’m sure — that most viewers don’t want straight news and analysis as much as they want to hear what they already think or to watch predictable partisan attacks.
The three big cable “news” networks don’t exist to provide a public service, after all. They have corporate officers and stockholders to answer to, which means they need more and more eyeballs to generate more advertising dollars.
Their answer: talk radio on TV. Forget about the serious implications and political fallout that follow an event or policy, and instead attack your opponents repeatedly using half-truths, glittering generalities and inapplicable analogies. Given the high ratings of Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the cable gurus probably are right. Advocacy has won out over neutrality.
Chris Matthews is a smart, politically astute observer of politics, but my last appearance convinced me that “Hardball” has evolved from a straight political news program with quality guests to one that has more in common with its network’s prime-time slant. Like most of the evening programming on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, “Hardball” has become a partisan, heavily ideological sledgehammer clearly intended to beat up one party and one point of view.
During the show on which I appeared, Matthews referred more than once to Republicans as “Luddites” and took every opportunity imaginable to portray them as crackpots. The show’s topics inevitably pander to the most liberal Democratic viewers and present Republicans and conservatives in the least flattering of terms.
I don’t mean to single out Matthews for criticism because he actually understands politics and I believe that he would prefer to do a serious political show. Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the newest addition to MSNBC’s unfortunate lineup, Ed Schultz, are far worse than “Hardball.”
Depending on your politics, Fox’s one-two prime-time punch of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity is either just as bad as the MSNBC crowd or much worse. They can’t talk about Democrats without labeling them as socialists or unpatriotic. O’Reilly’s obsession with General Electric and that company’s CEO is bizarre, though any program that treats Dick Morris seriously as an independent analyst obviously has major problems.
When I surf the channels and pause for a moment on O’Reilly or Hannity, I rarely see guests who aren’t openly partisan. But MSNBC’s left-leaning shows do use political reporters and columnists who would bridle at the notion that they are ideologues or favor one party over the other. This is particularly true of “Hardball,” which at one time seemed to want to fill the void left by the cancellation of CNN’s terrific daily political program “Inside Politics.”
For all of the talk about blogging and Tweeting, television is still where it’s at. TV is still what gets reporters and analysts noticed, making them mini-celebrities. It’s hard to turn down any invitation, I guess, and those with network contracts unfortunately don’t have the luxury of being able to say no.
Trying to be an unbiased reporter or neutral analyst on a heavily biased television program is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Either you end up fighting the host’s premises and rephrasing loaded questions, or you are tacitly accepting the way the host defines a situation, making yourself an accomplice to a political mugging.
Obviously, it isn’t up to me to dictate to others who fashion themselves as neutral whether they should appear on these kinds of programs. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway, and for some, financial issues or public relations may be overriding considerations.
But I know that I don’t want to appear on shows that push a partisan or ideological agenda and that care more about demonizing one point of view than having a real discussion. At the very least, I hope others will take a few moments to consider whether they, too, should appear on these kinds of programs.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 8, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Monday, June 08, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
Democratic political strategists know that for all of their party’s advantages next year, they’ll almost certainly have significant turnout issues in more than a half-dozen highly competitive districts — even if President Barack Obama remains popular.
“Last cycle, our challenge was to make certain newly energized Obama voters continue to vote Democratic down the ballot. This time, our challenge is getting those same voters back out to vote again,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Jon Vogel told me recently.
At least nine Democratic-held districts in five different states — Alabama’s 2nd (Rep. Bobby Bright) and 5th (Rep. Parker Griffith), Ohio’s 1st (Rep. Steve Driehaus) and 15th (Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy), North Carolina’s 8th (Rep. Larry Kissell), Virginia’s 2nd (Rep. Glenn Nye) and 5th (Rep. Tom Perriello), and Georgia’s 8th (Rep. Jim Marshall) and 12th (Rep. John Barrow) — could see a steep drop-off in the midterm among demographic groups that were energized by Obama’s candidacy and supported Democratic candidates across the board last cycle.
Eight of the districts have sizable African-American populations, including Ohio’s 1st district, which is more than one-quarter black and includes most of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
The other district, Ohio’s 15th, is based in Columbus and includes Ohio State University, a huge source of young voters for the Obama campaign. (Younger voters are also important in Virginia’s 5th, which includes Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.)
African-Americans and college-age students turned out in considerable numbers for Obama, and it is far from clear whether they will do so again in the midterms. In fact, exit polls over the past few elections have shown that turnout for both groups has dropped in nonpresidential years.
For example, African-Americans made up 11 percent of all voters in 2004 and 13 percent of all voters in 2008, but only 10 percent of the 2006 midterm electorate. For younger voters, the drop-off is even more stark. Voters 18-29 years old constituted 18 percent of all voters in 2008 and 17 percent of all voters in 2004. But in the intervening 2006 midterm, they accounted for only 12 percent of all voters.
Along with the drop in turnout is the corresponding, but different, issue of vote choice. While black voters and 18-29-year-olds turned out in bigger numbers last year, they also gave a much greater percentage of their vote to Obama (and presumably to other Democratic candidates).
Without Obama on the ballot to bring out voters or define the overall election by his candidacy, it is uncertain how the two key voting groups will cast their ballots in individual contests. Some of these voters might return to their traditional voting preferences, especially if a number of Republican moderates are on the ballot.
Obviously, one huge question is how personally involved the president will become in the elections.
Obama has shown some limited willingness to play in some House and Senate races. Before his election, he recorded automated telephone calls for the Democratic nominee in last year’s special election in Louisiana’s 4th district and appeared in a TV ad for now-Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). More recently, he has played a role in the New York and Pennsylvania Senate races and headlined fundraisers for Senate candidates. He will do a joint fundraiser for the House and Senate campaign committees later this month.
On the other hand, the president has generally tried to stay above the partisan fray, preferring calls for unity and bipartisanship and avoiding heavily partisan rhetoric.
Democratic campaign strategists acknowledge that while they would be happy to have the president fully engage in the midterms, they cannot assume he will be greatly involved. So, they are planning their own efforts to mobilize Democratic voters.
DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has already sat down with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine to discuss how the two committees can coordinate their efforts to turn out Democrats next November.
Party insiders say their efforts will include targeting, messaging and building an infrastructure that will help national Democratic groups help Members’ campaigns to turn out key groups.
While strategists already can identify those districts where a drop-off in voting by African-Americans and younger voters could prove fatal to Democratic incumbents, the DCCC plans for much more elaborate targeting to allow the committee to communicate with those voters.
The DCCC also plans on investing resources into developing and refining its messaging to those voters. With the committee regarding “message” as an integral part of its field program, the DCCC is likely to engage in some extensive message testing to find out the best way to mobilize Obama voters who might otherwise sit out the midterm elections.
“For us,” Vogel says, “the question is what kind of message will get those voters to turn out.”
Finally, the DCCC will work with individual Members’ campaigns to build an infrastructure — and a tailored field campaign — in each district.
The DCCC’s recently hired national field director, Marlon Marshall, will play a key role in building organizations in key districts. Marshall, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) field director during the 2008 Democratic primaries, ran the Obama campaign’s Missouri field operation during the general election.
So far, GOP recruiting in districts that could see a drop in Democratic turnout has been promising. Former Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is running again, and Steve Stivers, who narrowly lost to Kilroy last time, appears likely to opt for a rematch. Republican candidates against Bright and Barrow appear formidable, at least initially.
The National Republican Congressional Committee will need to win a few of these districts if the party is going to gain seats next year. But their efforts won’t surprise the DCCC, which has already taken concrete steps to minimize any drop in turnout.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 4, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, June 05, 2009
Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings.
# - Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans
- CA Open (Schwarzenegger, R)
- FL Open (Crist, R)
- HI Open (Lingle, R)
- RI Open (Carcieri, R)
- KS Open (Parkinson, D)
- OK Open (Henry, D)
- TN Open (Bredesen, D)
- WY Open (Freudenthal, D)
- Brewer (R-AZ)
- Gibbons (R-NV)
- MN Open (Pawlenty, R) #
- SD Open (Rounds, R)
- Corzine (D-NJ)
- MI Open (Granholm, D)
- PA Open (Rendell, D)
- VA Open (Kaine, D)
- Douglas (R-VT)
- GA Open (Perdue, R) #
- Doyle (D-WI)
- NM Open (Richardson, D)
- Herbert (R-UT)
- Rell (R-CT)
- AL Open (Riley, R)
- SC Open (Sanford, R)
- Quinn (D-IL)
- Paterson (D-NY)
- Ritter (D-CO)
- Strickland (D-OH)
- ME Open (Baldacci, D)
- Heineman (R-NE)
- Otter (R-ID)
- Palin (R-AK)
- Perry (R-TX)
- Beebe (D-AR)
- Culver (D-IA)
- Lynch (D-NH)
- O'Malley (D-MD)
- Patrick (D-MA)
- OR Open (Kulongoski, D)
Thursday, June 04, 2009
By Stuart Rothenberg
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s comments last month to RNC state chairmen calling for the party to turn the corner “on regret, recrimination, self-pity and self-doubt” and to declare “an end to the era of Republicans looking backward” weren’t ill-advised or inappropriate. They were just irrelevant.
That’s because the chairman of the RNC simply doesn’t have the authority or power to dictate to Republican Congressional leaders or to the Club for Growth how to behave. Nor can he tell talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell or former Vice President Dick Cheney what they can say and how they can say it.
Republicans are a mess right now for one reason: They are focused on what divides them from each other rather than on what unites them in their opposition to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
This isn’t unusual. Indeed, it’s the normal state of affairs for a political party after successive political beatings. Anyone who has been in Washington, D.C., for the past 20 or 30 years has seen this before.
I’ve attended countless panel discussions over the years featuring either Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, or Will Marshall, founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, debating Robert Borosage, now a director of the Campaign for America’s Future, or veteran labor strategist Steve Rosenthal over the reasons for the Democratic Party’s problems and what the party needed to do to right its ship. This is standard stuff we are witnessing now from Republicans.
Still, the current GOP infighting is different from previous fractures in a couple of ways.
Previously, most of the infighting took place among interest groups, in conferences and in newspapers. This time, the Republican bickering involves a former vice president of the United States and a former secretary of State, and it is played out daily, indeed hourly, on cable “news” networks and talk radio.
Since a party divided against itself isn’t likely to be a party that attracts new voters, the high-profile participants and the saturation coverage add to the GOP’s very real problems. But the coverage also exaggerates the permanence of those divisions.
Steele is powerless to stop the public infighting, and he’s powerless to stop the cable networks and political talking heads from chattering on and on about the GOP’s divisions.
For some of the combatants, the feuding has as much to do with ratings as with the substance of the argument. For others, the incessant coverage is a way to pour gasoline on the fire.
How will the bickering end? It’s pretty simple. The public infighting will play out until all of the participants find something better to do. And for Republicans, that “something” will be focusing on a common adversary, the Democratic agenda.
The more controversial Obama’s administration becomes, the more Republicans of various ideological stripes will find things to agree on. That’s certainly not lost on the president’s political advisers, who understand that one of the benefits of Obama sounding conciliatory and moderate is that it helps keep the Republican rift very much apparent.
While there is no doubt that Republicans are divided and the RNC chairman cannot wave a magic wand — or give a speech to state party chairmen — to heal the divide, the GOP has one thing going for it now: The next national election is still a year and a half off.
Interestingly, while talk shows rant about the meaning of “Republican,” candidates from both wings of the party are considering their options for 2010.
They know that the hand-wringing will pass and that sooner or later — they certainly hope by the middle of next year — both moderate and conservative Republicans will be so concerned about the direction of the nation that they put aside their differences and direct their aim at Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or possibly even the president.
Indeed, for GOP gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, who will face general election voters in just five months, theoretical discussions about the future of the Republican Party are a giant waste of time. Those nominees will need the votes of conservatives, moderates, independents and even some Obama voters if they are going to win their races.
Times are indeed tough for the GOP, and the party may suffer more defeats before it starts to string together some victories. But most of the yapping about the ideological rift within the Republican Party simply isn’t worth listening to any longer. Unfortunately for Michael Steele, there isn’t much he can do about it.
This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 1, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Here are our latest House ratings.
- NY 23 (Open; McHugh, R)
- - None -
- AL 2 (Bright, D)
- ID 1 (Minnick, D)
- MD 1 (Kratovil, D)
- MS 1 (Childers, D)
- NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
- NH 2 (Open; Hodes, D)
- OH 1 (Driehaus, D)
- OH 15 (Kilroy, D)
- CA 3 (Lungren, R)
- CA 44 (Calvert, R)
- WA 8 (Reichert, R)
- AL 5 (Griffith, D)
- CO 4 (Markey, D)
- FL 8 (Grayson, D)
- NC 8 (Kissell, D)
- PA 10 (Carney, D)
- VA 5 (Perriello, D)
- AK A-L (Young, R)
- CA 45 (Bono Mack, R)
- DE A-L (Castle, R)
- FL 10 (Young, R)
- IL 10 (Kirk, R)
- MI 11 (McCotter, R)
- MN 3 (Paulsen, R)
- MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
- PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
- GA 8 (Marshall, D)
- HI 1 (Open; Abercrombie, D)
- IL 14 (Foster, D)
- LA 2 (Cao, R)
- MI 7 (Schauer, D)
- NM 2 (Teague, D)
- NY 19 (Hall, D)
- NY 20 (Murphy, D)
- NY 24 (Arcuri, D)
- NY 29 (Massa, D)
- PA 7 (Open; Sestak, D)
- TX 17 (Edwards, D)
- VA 2 (Nye, D)
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
The May 29, 2009 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers.
The print edition of the Report comes out every two weeks. 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 preview of introduction to this edition:
House Outlook For 2010
The Republican brand remains damaged, and GOP registration is down in most states, but 2009-10 surely will be a better cycle for Republicans than the last two.
Midterms are almost always difficult for the party in the White House, and questions about Democratic turnout are significant. Still, Democrats have many advantages (including money), and they aren’t likely to suffer significant House losses unless the President’s popularity plummets – which is unlikely given Barack Obama’s personal skills.
Retirements will play a significant part in determining which party will gain seats and how many they will net.
Republican attempts to recruit candidates in districts they have often ignored are not likely to pay huge dividends immediately, but are an important way for the party to begin its long trek back from minority status.
Even with their 257 districts, Democrats still have a number of opportunities in seats currently held by the GOP. But they also have a considerable number of conservative and Republican seats to defend. Given possible shifting of the national political landscape, some of these districts could grow increasingly vulnerable over the next 18 months.
It’s still far too early to put a number on net changes this cycle, though small Republican gains would seem the most likely outcome.
One thing is clear: With Republicans holding 178 seats and needing an impossible 40-seat gain to win a majority, Democratic control of the House is not at risk in next year’s elections.
Subscribers to the print edition get the state-by-state analysis of the most competitive races in the country.