Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Players Enter Redistricting Fight

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While Republicans and Democrats battle for the upper hand in selling the recently enacted health care bill, party operatives on both sides of the aisle are solidifying their strategies behind the scenes for the upcoming redistricting fight that will have an impact on Congressional politics for the next decade.

Democrats are making a change at the top of one if their key groups, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, since Executive Director Brian Smoot is leaving his post to run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure effort.

“I will be working with the trustees to identify a new director to ensure a smooth and seamless transition,” Smoot said. A decision on his replacement is expected to be made very soon.

The next round of reapportionment and redistricting will be the first since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money and therefore is expected to severely limit Members’ involvement in the process.

The parties are forced to use hard dollars or rely on outside groups without Member involvement. But the trust recently asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion to clarify Members’ roles in certain redistricting activities.

“The Trust seeks to confirm that Members of Congress may solicit funds for the Trust outside the limits and source restrictions prescribed by the Federal Election Campaign Act,” according to the February 19 letter signed by Marc Elias of Perkins Coie on behalf of the trust. “[S]uch solicitations are not intended to influence any federal or non-federal election and will not advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for office.”

“An advisory opinion is a shield, not a sword,” Elias explained in an interview about potential FEC complaints filed by opponents in the future.

Even though redistricting is an inherently political task, Democrats want the FEC to continue to differentiate between legal activity and electioneering.

Republicans are anxiously awaiting the opinion as well. “Everyone wants to see what [the FEC] says,” explained one GOP operative.

“I’m very interested,” laughed prominent GOP attorney Mark Braden, who is working with Making America’s Promise Secure. Depending on how the FEC crafts its response to the trust, it could allow MAPS, a 501(c)(4) that is coordinating the legal and data aspects of redistricting for Republicans, to raise money with Members’ help as well.

A favorable or neutral opinion from the FEC wouldn’t change the strategy for the trust or MAPS, but it could ease the fundraising lift. The FEC has 60 days from when it received the letter, in mid-February, to respond.

Overall, the trust is just one part of the Democrats’ three-legged redistricting stool. The trust handles the legal component while Foundation for the Future, a 527, handles the data and analytical component in preparation for drawing the maps. But the political and electoral element is critical, too.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and its executive director, Michael Sargeant, recently announced a $20 million effort to capture state legislative chambers in order to control the redistricting process.

“The bottom line: The results of the 2010 state legislative elections will define how key reforms and policies are decided for the next decade,” Sargeant said in a March 15 memo.

The Democratic Governors Association is also part of the electoral component since governors in most states have a role in signing off on or vetoing maps. The DGA recently hired veteran Democratic operative Harold Ickes as fundraiser in chief to highlight the importance of gubernatorial races in the redistricting process.

As Democrats ramp up, Republicans are finally catching up with the formation of a new group that features some high-powered GOP players. Last month, the Republican State Leadership Committee, led by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, launched its REDistricting MAjority Project.

“We want to make sure Republican legislators have pens in their hands,” former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) told Roll Call. Reynolds and others are quick to point out that the redistricting process starts with controlling as many legislative chambers as possible.

The former Congressman is vice chairman of the RSLC and heading up REDMAP, which is organized as a 527 and has a budget of $20 million for nonfederal races this November. Even if the FEC allows Members to raise money for the trust, current Members still could not get involved with a 527 such as REDMAP or Foundation for the Future.

REDMAP’s formation relieves some tension on the Republican side. Traditionally, the RNC has coordinated the GOP’s redistricting effort, relying heavily on soft money. Now post-BCRA, the party was forced to completely restructure its redistricting effort. The RNC will play more of an advisory and educational role this time around.

In contrast, Democrats have relied on outside groups in the past, such as labor unions for fundraising and coordination, making it easier for them to adapt to the new rules this time around.

The Republicans finally seem to be streamlining their operation. REDMAP has essentially joined forces with the American Majority Project, which was created in December and led by former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock, former North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes and former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.

While REDMAP and the Republican Governors Association focus on the 2010 elections and winning seats at the redistricting table, MAPS will handle the data and technical element of redistricting as well as coordinate for the party’s legal strategy for the inevitable legal battles after the maps are drawn.

This story first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 29, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Post-Health Care Reform Landscape

Earlier today, Stu talked about the political landscape in the wake of the health care reform fight on CBS News' Washington Unplugged. You can watch the video below or click here.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Is the Time Ripe for Third-Party and Independent Bids?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Both the Republican and Democratic brands are damaged. Voters think the country is headed off on the wrong track and still clamor for change. Every primary and general election hopeful who can (and some who reasonably can’t) is running against Washington, D.C., and against professional politicians.

So is this the time for third-party candidates and Independents to show their political muscle and become serious players in the fall campaigns and in November?

In a few places the answer is “yes.” In most, it’s still a thundering “no.”

There are really three types of Independent hopefuls: contenders, spoilers and pretenders.

Independent candidates for governor in at least three states, all of them in New England, are running serious races, and the number of credible non-major-party candidates could grow if Minnesota’s Independence Party nominates someone with serious credentials or personal resources.

Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, now an Independent, may well have the best shot of the New England bunch of winning his state’s top office in November, thereby replacing retiring Gov. Don Carcieri (R), who is finishing his second term.

Chafee bears a well-known political name. His father, John, served four terms in the U.S. Senate, and he served one. Both men ran as Republicans. And like his father, Lincoln Chafee was a liberal Republican whose record angered conservatives both in Rhode Island and nationally.

The likely GOP nominee for governor is former gubernatorial aide John Robitaille, whose electoral high water mark is losing a state legislative contest by four votes. Two Democratic statewide officeholders are competing for their party’s nomination, state Treasurer Frank Caprio and state Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Chafee currently leads in public polls in three-way ballot tests, and his appeal across the partisan spectrum makes him a contender.

In Maine, Independent Eliot Cutler looks like a very credible candidate in a contest that now, some two months before the state’s primary, boasts a field of candidates that is almost large enough to deserve its own ZIP code. The winner will replace retiring Gov. John Baldacci (D), who won re-election four years ago with 38 percent of the vote.

A native of Maine who served on the staff of former Sen. Edmund Muskie (D) and then in President Jimmy Carter’s Office of Management and Budget, Cutler was a partner in the Washington, D.C., powerhouse law firm of Akin Gump Strass Hauer and Feld.

Cutler rightly points out that Maine has not been reluctant to elect Independent governors — in 1974 James Longley won the state’s top job as an Independent, and Angus King won two terms the same way, in 1994 and 1998. The last major party nominee to win at least 50 percent of the vote in a Maine gubernatorial contest was Joseph Brennan in 1982.

While incumbents in Maine and Rhode Island are term-limited and unable to seek re-election, Massachusetts incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is running for a second term despite having a job-approval rating in public polls of under 40 percent.

Two Republican businessmen, Charles Baker and Christy Mihos, are competing for the GOP nomination, while Patrick has avoided a primary. But in the fall, an Independent, state Treasurer Tim Cahill, will be a factor.

Cahill, initially elected in 2002 and reelected four years later, ran and served as a Democrat until last year, when he switched his party affiliation to Independent. A critic of the Obama health care plan and an opponent of tax hikes, he has the kind of appeal that could hurt the GOP’s chances in November (which explains why Republicans are attacking him). Polls generally show Cahill running a strong third, getting about one-fifth of the vote.

The Independence Party nominee in Minnesota has not yet selected a nominee. The frontrunner for the nomination appears to be Tom Horner, a former newspaper reporter and editor who worked as press secretary and then chief of staff for then-Sen. David Durenberger (R).

But elsewhere, third-party nominees may prove to be less important than current speculation suggests, and even less important than in 2008.

A recently much-ballyhooed Quinnipiac University poll that was cited by some in the media as having potentially “bad news” for the GOP because it showed Republicans leading Democrats by 5 points in a head-to-head generic ballot test but losing to Democrats by 11 points in a three-way ballot test that includes a tea party representative is pretty much without value.

Polls are useful only when they reflect reality, and tea party candidates running as Independents or third-party nominees aren’t likely to have the resources or credibility to draw in the double digits when the fall rolls around. Most tea party types are mere pretenders.

Elsewhere, a third-party candidate probably cost then-state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) a Congressional seat in Ohio in 2008, but given the change in national mood, that’s not likely to be the case again this year when Stivers once again runs against Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in the state’s 15th district.

Certainly some races will turn out to be so close that an Independent could turn out to be a spoiler. But right now, that’s almost impossible to predict.

Interestingly, two of the three New England Independents are current or former officeholders, while the other, Cutler, has been in and around Washington for years. That puts to rest the idea that most Independent candidates are true outsiders.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 29, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Republicans Risk Sour Grapes Label With Talk of Repeal

By Stuart Rothenberg

Hold the phone, Martha. Congressional Republicans may give Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama a big present with a beautiful bow wrapped around it.

Apparently unaware that Americans who strongly oppose the Democratic health care overhaul are already poised to vote Republican in November, many GOP officeholders and candidates have decided to focus their energy on repealing the recently enacted law.

Even before the Democratic bill passed the House, some Republican campaigns unleashed a blizzard of e-mails promising to repeal the measure.

Within 24 hours of the bill’s passage I had received “repeal” e-mails from New York Congressional hopeful Chris Cox, Missouri Congressional candidate Bill Stouffer, Kansas Congressional candidate Wink Hartman, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, Arizona Congressional hopeful Jim Ward, Connecticut Senate candidate Rob Simmons, Texas Congressional candidate Quico Canseco, Wisconsin Senate hopeful Terrence Wall, Arizona Congressional candidate Jesse Kelly, Arkansas Senate wannabe Gilbert Baker and New Hampshire Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte.

No, that’s not the whole list. But you get the gist.

Some of these Republicans are in primaries or in rabidly anti-Obama states, so there is at least some logic to their calls. And, admittedly, some of the e-mails are little more than frantic, over-the-top fundraising letters aimed at tapping the anger among conservatives directed at the law. Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) e-mail is an obvious case in point.

But for others, calling for repeal of the law moments after the bill’s passage is a statement of ideological faith, a rallying cry for conservatives who never liked the bill and wish it had never passed.

On Sunday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) posted on his Web site that he would introduce a bill this week repealing “President Obama’s government takeover of health care.”

“Unless this trillion-dollar assault on our freedoms is repealed, it will force Americans to purchase Washington-approved health plans or face stiff penalties. It will fund abortions, raise taxes and insurance premiums, while reducing health care choices and quality,” the Senator wrote.

“This arrogant power grab proves that the President and his party care more about government control than the will of the American people. Americans told Washington to keep its hands off their health care in opinion polls, at public protests, and at the ballot box, but their pleas were ignored.”

Not to be outdone, on Monday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the mere mention of whose name can send Democratic true believers into cardiac arrest, posted on, a conservative Web site, that she had already “filed legislation to repeal Obamacare in hopes that we can start from scratch and give the American people true health care reform that won’t break the bank nor rob us of our individual liberty and freedom.”

OK. We get it. They didn’t like the bill and don’t like the law. And they voted against it. Fine.

But trying to refight the last war, on the same battlefield and with the same forces, isn’t dedication; it’s political stupidity.

Obviously, repeal is not possible now with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, and by demanding repeal, Republicans look like a bunch of spoiled children who didn’t get their way rather than adults focused on fixing a problem. Voters won’t like that.

From a political point of view, it’s an amateurish mistake. In fact, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been goading Republican candidates into taking a stand on repeal for months, understanding the damage that Republicans could do to themselves by making the midterm elections a referendum on themselves, instead of on the president and Congress.

That doesn’t mean Republicans should forget about health care, of course.

Polling has long shown that the public isn’t crazy about the law (forget the quick post-passage polls that reflect short-term events), and as long as Republicans don’t make their quest for repeal into this cycle’s version of the Clinton impeachment zoo, the GOP stands to benefit from the issue in many states and districts this fall.

Now that the bill has been enacted into law, Republican political leaders and candidates should talk about the overhaul’s problems and relate those problems back to the public’s larger concerns, whether growing debt, higher taxes or government intrusion into people’s lives. But talking about the law’s ramifications and keeping the focus on the Democrats’ performance is very different than ranting about repeal.

More importantly, Republicans probably shouldn’t forget what Democrats unwisely did forget for a year — that Americans care more about jobs than anything else.

The 2010 elections are likely to be about jobs and the economy, and that’s what Republicans should be talking about as they criticize the Obama administration and Democratic Congress, whether they are talking about health care, cap-and-trade or the 2009 economic stimulus bill.

By demanding repeal immediately after passage, Republicans resemble unsuccessful candidates who keep challenging election results and refuse to concede. Voters don’t like candidates who sound like sour grapes, and they won’t like a party that sounds that way either.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on March 25, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Election Preview Panel

In the wake of the health care vote, Stu participated in a CQ-Roll Call Election Preview panel moderated by Taegan Goddard of Political Wire. You can watch the video here.

For Democrats, This Isn’t Simply Another Chicken Little Story

By Stuart Rothenberg

For Democrats, the sky is falling, according to two national polls, one conducted by Peter Hart and Bill McInturff for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and the other by OnMessage Inc. for the Republican National Committee.

The results of the two surveys are very much in sync and present an increasingly disturbing picture for Democrats.

OnMessage’s March 9-11 survey found President Barack Obama’s job rating at 49 percent approve/47 percent disapprove, while the Hart/McInturff survey (March 11, 13-14) found it at 48 percent approve/47 percent disapprove.

Both found far more Americans believing the country was headed off on the wrong track (66 percent in OnMessage and 59 percent in Hart/McInturff) than in the right direction, and both found the once strong Democratic advantage in the generic ballot, which measures how people plan to vote in November (OnMessage) or which party they would like to control Congress after the next election (Hart/McInturff), has narrowed or disappeared.

The Hart/McInturff poll shows only 35 percent of respondents saying the February 2009 stimulus legislation was a good idea, while 42 percent said it was a bad idea.

Even worse for Democrats, by 61 percent to 30 percent, Americans now say it is better to have different parties controlling Congress and the presidency rather than to have one party controlling both branches — a significant increase in the “different parties” response compared to the October 2008 Hart/McInturff poll.

On specific issues, Democratic numbers have weakened dramatically, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling

When asked which party would do a better job dealing with health care, the Democrats’ 31-point advantage in July 2008 has slipped to a mere 9 points now. The party’s 16-point advantage in July 2008 on dealing with the economy has evaporated completely, and the parties are now even. And on taxes, the Democrats’ 1-point advantage in July 2008 has turned into an 11-point GOP advantage.

No matter what happens with the health care bill (and it may well have been passed by the House by the time you read this), the issue has severely damaged Democratic prospects for the fall.

Not surprisingly, the OnMessage survey shows Democratic support for the bill and Republican opposition, but it also shows 2-to-1 opposition from voters who identify themselves as undecided about which party they plan to support in the midterm elections. In question after question in the OnMessage poll, these “generic undecided voters” look like very much like Republican voters.

After scouring dozens of polls over the past couple of weeks, I have found only a few poll questions that can give Democrats much hope for November.

First, the Republican brand still stinks. Voters aren’t clamoring for Republicans to run anything in Washington, D.C., and polls continue to show that Americans still think that former President George W. Bush bears more of the responsibility for the nation’s economic pain than anyone else.

Unfortunately for Democrats, their own brand has fallen like a rock.

In April, almost a year ago, the Hart/McInturff poll found 45 percent of Americans with a positive view of the Democratic Party and 34 percent with a negative view. In the most recent Hart/McInturff survey, the Democratic Party’s positives have sunk to 37 percent and its negatives have risen to 43 percent. Yes, those numbers are slightly better than the GOP’s (31 percent positive/43 percent negative), but not enough to help Democrats in the fall.

As for Bush, he won’t be on the ballot or in the public’s consciousness in November, so Democrats will have to spend a great deal of time (and money) trying to make the midterms a referendum on the former president rather than on the sitting president. The chances that most Democratic candidates will succeed in that effort are exceedingly small.

Privately, many Democratic insiders acknowledge that the party’s outlook is increasingly bleak for the fall. Health care reform, once seen as a party strength, has turned into a significant liability, and few think the economy will turn around far enough or fast enough to help Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.

Even before this election cycle started, midterm election turnout trends put Democrats at something of a disadvantage. But now, every poll that I have seen suggests that Republicans are dramatically more motivated than are Democrats, which means a more conservative and Republican electorate this year than in 2008, as well as much-improved Republican prospects.

I have been hesitant — and I remain hesitant — to get too far in front of the election cycle, since circumstances can change and Democrats could well have an important financial advantage in the key post-Labor Day time period. But let’s be clear about what is developing: Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership have dug themselves into a deep and dangerous political hole, and the only question right now seems to be the severity of the drubbing.

As one smart Democratic strategist told me recently, “All of the elements are in place for a disaster like 1994. But it could be even worse.”

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 22, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can Polling Memos Change the Narrative About 2010 Races?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Here’s a bulletin for you: Anytime a campaign releases a polling memo, it is making an argument, not merely offering survey data for your information. Polling memos aren’t written to make you smarter.

This shouldn’t need to be said, of course, but when I see reporters swallowing spin as if it were information — as one Louisiana Gannett reporter did recently in writing about the state’s Senate race — I get very uncomfortable.

A number of Democratic polling memos from reputable polling firms have been circulating over the past couple of weeks — two from Anzalone Liszt Research about the Louisiana Senate race and about Rep. Bobby Bright’s (D-Ala.) re-election prospects, and one from Harstad Strategic Research about the Colorado Senate race — and readers should understand what’s going on with them.

I am not, I must emphasize, challenging the data. These are credible polling firms, and almost every pollster I know has released these kinds of memos in the past. I am only using Anzalone Liszt and Harstad as examples.

The purpose of the Louisiana poll memo is to alter the developing narrative that the state’s Senate race is essentially over and that Sen. David Vitter (R) won’t be seriously threatened by Rep. Charlie Melancon (D). The Alabama memo seeks to create a sense of inevitability about Bright’s re-election prospects and undercut GOP challenger Martha Roby’s credibility (and fundraising and buzz).

The Colorado memo seeks to rebut polling that shows appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) trailing in his race and to help him build momentum for his primary and the fall election.

I recently asked a pollster, not for attribution of course, about these kinds of memos and received a gloriously forthright answer: “Anyone who does a survey for strategic reasons isn’t going to release strategic information.”

Pollsters say that their surveys present only a “snapshot” of a race at a particular moment. That’s true. But often the snapshot presented in a memo is misleading, and the pollster knows it. Memos include numbers intended to build an argument that seems empirically based but isn’t. They don’t present the whole picture, because the whole picture isn’t in their client’s interest.

Even highly regarded, methodologically legit pollsters tell me to call them up privately if I want to get their real assessment about a race — don’t go by the memo they release. I get this from both Republican and Democratic pollsters, and I have received the same advice for years.

Actually, most pollsters hate to write these kinds of memos, but their clients want them to create a more favorable narrative, so they write them, usually using their words very carefully.

The Bright memo begins “Congressman Bobby Bright is well positioned to win re-election in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district. Bright’s personal popularity and positive job rating are extremely high.” The memo looks at the Congressman’s excellent favorable/unfavorable ratings, respondents’ answers to questions about Bright’s qualities and his leads of 24 to 32 points over possible November opponents.

The memo ends with the following paragraph: “Bright leads Roby among virtually all gender, race, and geographic subgroups. Bright earns double-digit margins with white voters, African American voters, Independent voters, and in both the Montgomery and Dothan media markets.”

Bright, a conservative Democrat, won election to Congress because of the Democratic wave in 2008. He beat a politically damaged GOP nominee who had emerged from a bruising primary by six-tenths of a point (50.2 percent to 49.6 percent), winning by 1,790 votes out of more than 286,000 cast.

However highly regarded Bright is, this is a Republican district. President Barack Obama drew only 37 percent of the vote in it in 2008, losing it to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by more than 25 points.

Bright does start off well-positioned for his re-election bid, but he is almost guaranteed to have a razor-close race against Roby, a Montgomery city councilwoman and the likely GOP nominee. Maybe he’ll win; maybe he won’t. Whatever the outcome, he won’t win by 20 points or carry white voters by double digits.

If Bright holds on to win re-election, he’ll win by a point or two. Given that, the Anzalone Liszt poll tells us little about November. Voters apparently don’t know anything about the Republican candidates, and it’s so far from Election Day that most voters haven’t given much thought to what their vote might mean or who they really will vote for in the fall.

The Bright memo reminds me of a June 15, 2009, Anzalone Liszt polling memo that listed all of Democrat Creigh Deeds’ advantages in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial race.

That memo asserted: “Deeds has a high favorable rating, and a lower unfavorable rating, even though McDonnell spent more on television [during the primary]. Deeds also holds critical issue advantages that will make it difficult for McDonnell to make up ground.”

The memo said that Deeds held a 4-point lead in the race and was able to win votes across the state “including traditional Republican strongholds.” “At the same time, McDonnell will have a difficult time making inroads in increasingly Democratic Northern Virginia,” it asserted.

Of course, McDonnell won 59 percent to 41 percent, turning a 4-point deficit in the poll into an 18-point victory. Deeds didn’t do well in “Republican strongholds,” and McDonnell carried Fairfax County, the state’s largest county and the epitome of what is meant by “Northern Virginia.”

Polling memos sometimes contain useful nuggets of data, but they often leave out other important data and stress the narrative the campaign wants to create. Don’t take them at face value.

This column first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 18, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

New Governors Ratings

We've changed our rating in six gubernatorial contests, four in the direction of the Republicans.

In two states, Arizona and Nevada, the GOP's chances have gotten better with the expectation that Govs. Jan Brewer (AZ) and Jim Gibbons (NV) will not be their party's nominee. Republican chances have also gotten better in Massachusetts, where Democratic Treasurer Tim Cahill's run as an Independent is making unpopular Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) reelection extremely challenging. In Oregon, former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) is looking like a mortal, even though Republicans still have an uphill climb.

We never expected Gov. David Paterson (D) to be the Democratic nominee in 2010, but his retirement announcement clears the path for popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D). It's interesting that Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is switching parties to run as a Republican, but, at this stage, there is little reason to believe he'll be a serious threat to Cuomo. And in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) narrow primary victory doesn't inspire confidence, but Republicans nominated Downstate legislator Bill Brady who has to work hard to avoid getting swamped in Chicago and the suburbs.

In the spirit of the NCAA tournament, two other states are on the bubble. It might be generous to Democrats to call Florida a Toss-Up since Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) has demonstrated a consistent lead in the polls. But he hasn't been near 50%, so we'll keep it there for now. And it might be generous to give Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) the advantage in California since he's either even or trailing former eBay Executive Meg Whitman (R) in the polls. But the Democratic nature of the state might save him in the end.

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings.
# - Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans

Lean Takeover (4 R, 7 D)
  • CA Open (Schwarzenegger, R)
  • CT Open (Rell, R)
  • HI Open (Lingle, R)
  • VT Open (Douglas, R)
  • Culver (D-IA)
  • KS Open (Parkinson, D)
  • MI Open (Granholm, D)
  • OK Open (Henry, D)
  • PA Open (Rendell, D)
  • TN Open (Bredesen, D)
  • WY Open (Freudenthal, D)
Lean Independent (1 R, 0 D)
  • RI Open (Carcieri, R)
Toss-Up (3 R, 4 D)
  • Brewer (R-AZ) *
  • FL Open (Crist, R)
  • MN Open (Pawlenty, R)
  • CO Open (Ritter, D)
  • Patrick (D-MA) *
  • Strickland (D-OH)
  • WI Open (Doyle, D)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (2 R, 3 D)
  • Perry (R-TX)
  • GA Open (Perdue, R)
  • O'Malley (D-MD)
  • Quinn (D-IL) #
  • ME Open (Baldacci, D)
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (3 R, 2 D)
  • Gibbons (R-NV) *
  • AL Open (Riley, R)
  • SC Open (Sanford, R)
  • NM Open (Richardson, D)
  • OR Open (Kulongoski, D) *
Currently Safe (5 R, 3 D)
  • Herbert (R-UT)
  • Heineman (R-NE)
  • Otter (R-ID)
  • Parnell (R-AK)
  • SD Open (Rounds, R)
  • Beebe (D-AR)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • NY Open (Paterson, D) #

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Project Runway Meets the Campaign Trail: The Brown Jacket

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In a toxic climate, candidates are shedding the politician label and donning a critical wardrobe item to weather the electoral storm: the brown barn jacket. Candidates are running to demonstrate their political independence by following this year’s hottest campaign trend in an effort to relate to the common folk.

Over the last few years, the barn jacket has struggled at the ballot box. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry’s wardrobe choice was widely panned as he donned the jacket for a hunting photo opportunity.

In 2008, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin wore the female version, but it wasn’t enough to make independent voters warm up to the GOP ticket.

But after this year’s Senate special election in Massachusetts, the barn jacket is back and candidates are merging the runway with the campaign trail in their television ads.

Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory breathed new life into the fashion statement. His spokesman even suggested that the jacket hang in the Smithsonian.

Now, we’re seeing the jacket pop up all across the country. Republican Buz Mills is running for governor in Arizona and putting his trust in the jacket.

The fashion trend knows no partisan boundaries. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D), who is looking at competitive primary and general elections this year, just went on television with his first ad, and of course he’s wearing the jacket.

For multi-million dollar campaigns, an $85 investment in a Men’s Sandstone Chore Coat by Carhartt may be the best investment a candidate will ever make.

But as the weather warms up, campaigns may be missing their opportunity to relate to regular people. We’re either going to see some incredibly hot and sweaty candidates or they're going to have to find a new fashion statement. Pressuring Democrats in Health Care Fight

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With House Democratic leaders ratcheting up their arm-twisting and whipping operations in advance of the high-stakes health care vote, pressure on vulnerable Members is also mounting from one of their own party’s most reliable attack dogs.

“Our members worked extremely hard to help get a Democratic majority elected,” said Ilyse Hogue,’s director of political advocacy and communications. “Not to just get elected, but to pass legislation.”

On Monday, the liberal group backed that up with an e-mail to its members that threatens primaries for Members who vote against the bill and the release of a new six-figure national cable TV ad campaign that targets Democrats who are wavering on whether to support the controversial legislation.

Among the specific targets are Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.). The group is spending more than $61,000 in Altmire’s district, more than $36,000 in Murphy’s district and more than $49,000 in North Dakota.

Pomeroy voted for an earlier health care package passed by the House, while Murphy and Altmire voted “no.” All three are now wavering on how they will vote later this week.

“Tell Congressman Jason Altmire to listen to us, not the insurance companies,” an announcer says in the spot that is running in his district.

In 2006, and its members spent almost $448,000 to help Altmire defeat then-Rep. Melissa Hart (R) in Pennsylvania. That was the second-largest investment the group made in any House or Senate race that cycle, according to’s post-election report.

The group recently stepped up to reassert its influence and fundraising prowess am

ong liberal Democratic activists by helping Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter raise more than $1.2 million in the week after he announced a primary challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D).

According to Hogue, Lincoln “distinguished herself early in the health care fight as an obstructionist.”’s latest action rekindles the tension between its push for progressive purity and party strategists’ efforts to get incumbents re-elected in competitive districts.

“They’re the friend who comes and yells at you at your own dinner party,” said one Democratic strategist, who acknowledged that has become a decidedly mixed bag for the party.

Part of the problem for Democrats is that they never quite know where the liberal group will aim the collective power of its 5.2 million members next.

“They live in a slightly different universe,” according to another veteran Democratic strategist. “They don’t look to fit their strategy in concert with everyone else.”

With Democrats in control of the White House, the House and the Senate for the first time in’s dozen years of existence, Hogue acknowledged they are in uncharted waters.

“We’re taking less of a party approach and more of an individual approach,” she said about the group’s activities this cycle.

In an e-mail Monday, the group asked members to “pledge to support progressive primary challengers to House Democrats who side with Republicans to kill health care reform.”

But the candidate filing deadline has already passed Pennsylvania, as well as in North Carolina, where invested $179,000 in 2008 to help elect now-Rep. Larry Kissell (D). Kissell also voted against the House health care reform bill.

The filing deadlines have passed in 15 other states as well, so it will be impossible to field progressive primary challengers there.

On one hand, votes for health care reform and the cap-and-trade bill are deemed political suicide, but Hogue argues that in the case of Arkansas, Lincoln’s favorable rating has fallen so far with the Democratic base because of her approach that she’ll have trouble turning out Democrats she needs to get re-elected.

The Democratic infighting is good news for Republicans, who have had their share of ideological spats showcased this cycle and who have been on the receiving end of attacks in the past.

“Their focus isn’t on Republicans anymore,” quipped one House GOP operative about the group’s recent focus on progressive purity. In some ways, Republicans have moved on as well.

The National Republican Congressional Committee recently attacked South Carolina Democratic challenger Rob Miller for being a “darling” of, but similar attacks appear to be tapering off as ACORN rises to the top of the list of Democratic bogeymen for the GOP.

This year won’t be the first time has waded into Democratic primaries. They helped Donna Edwards defeat Rep. Albert Wynn in Maryland in 2008 and Ned Lamont defeat Joe Lieberman in the Senate primary in Connecticut in 2006, even though Lieberman went on to win re-election as an Independent.

“They do have the ability to help Democrats with urgent resources,” according to the Democratic strategist. and its members infused state Attorney General Martha Coakley’s (D) campaign with more than $600,000 in the Massachusetts Senate special election and helped elect Rep. Bill Owens (D) in last year’s special election in New York’s 23rd district.

But the group has provoked its share of controversy.

It sponsored a contest in 2004 that resulted in someone uploading a commercial to its Web site that paralleled President George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler. was also heavily criticized in September 2007 after the group ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline, “General Petraeus or General Betray-Us?” According to multiple Democratic strategists, that was a low point for the organization.

Still, the group has certainly benefited the Democratic Party.

In the spring of 2006, aired a series of “red-handed” television attack ads that helped soften up second- and third-tier Republican incumbents and ultimately helping Democrats win the majority. Overall, the group spent $4.4 million in contributions and independent expenditures in 33 targeted House and Senate races.

In 2008,’s spending held steady at $4.6 million in 20 House and Senate races, but the group’s members gave $88 million and 20 million volunteer hours to help elect Barack Obama as president of the United States.

This story first appeared in Roll Call and on on March 16, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.