Sunday, April 30, 2006

RI Senate: Chafee's Challenge Remains Unchanged

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Secretary of State Matt Brown's (D) exit from the Rhode Island senate race is not all that surprising and does little to change the fundamental landscape of the race. A couple of serious missteps early were the undoing of Brown's underdog run.

Brown's decision to spend virtually all of his campaign funds on early television advertising didn't vault him into permanent contention with his Democratic opponent, former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. And Brown's attempts to circumvent campaign finance laws severely undercut his message as a candidate who would "clean up" Washington. With no money and no message, Brown's exit was inevitable.

But Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (R) biggest hurdle for reelection continues to be defeating Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in the September 12 Republican primary. Through the end of March, Chafee showed over $1.8 million in the bank compared to the Club For Growth-backed Laffey, who had just over $1 million.

Meanwhile, Whitehouse is sitting on over $1.8 million himself, now without a primary opponent. But if Chafee can survive the primary, he will have the edge going into November.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on April 27, 2006.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Senate Outlook: Steady as She Goes

By Stuart Rothenberg

The fight for control of the U.S. Senate in November is remarkable for two main reasons. First, Democrats seem poised to make significant gains — the kind of gains that, even if they fall short of winning 51 seats later this year, should leave the party well positioned for 2008.

Second, the contours of the fight for the Senate have changed little since mid-2005. The seats that were vulnerable last summer are still vulnerable today. Certainly, there have been changes in individual races, but overall, the landscape has stayed remarkably consistent.

The five most vulnerable Senate seats up this year are all held by Republicans.

Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) will need a remarkable comeback to overtake challenger Bob Casey Jr. (D). Santorum is a quicker and more energetic candidate, and he will have more money. But Casey is riding the Democratic wave effectively, tapping voters’ dissatisfaction with the White House and desire for change.

The contest is certain to tighten, but Casey is running well in all areas of the state, and he should win as long as voters see the election as a referendum first on President Bush and second on Santorum.

Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Conrad Burns (Mont.) constitute the next tier of vulnerable Republican Senators.

Burns finds himself in a GOP primary and headed for a serious general election fight, against either state Auditor John Morrison or state Sen. Jon Tester. Ethical questions continue to swirl around Burns, and his prospects would plunge if specific accusations against him (or his staff) emerge in court documents.

DeWine’s prospects continue to be poor, primarily because Republicans remain very much in the tank in the state. The Senator’s low-key, “average guy” persona is an asset in a neutral or favorable environment, but not right now. Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown’s voting record gives DeWine plenty of ammunition, but Brown also is a proven vote-getter and has run before as a statewide candidate.

Chafee continues to be locked in a difficult race for renomination. If he can squeeze past Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, Chafee has a good chance of winning a second full term. But neither race is a slam dunk. Rhode Island Democrats now seem certain to nominate former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, after the implosion of Secretary of State Matt Brown’s campaign. [Editor's Note: Brown dropped out on Wednesday.]

Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (R) is the fifth most vulnerable Senator up this year. Talent, who in many ways looks like a good fit for the state, has won just about half of the two-party vote in his past two races — the 2000 governor’s race and the 2002 Senate contest — making him a classic “half full/half empty” politician going into ’06.

Democratic nominee Claire McCaskill didn’t distinguish herself in losing a race for governor in 2004. Still, the national mood and the weak poll numbers for Republican Gov. Matt Blunt could be enough to sink Talent.

What is the most likely Democratic seat to change hands in November? Despite the conventional wisdom, it’s not Minnesota.

Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) is running an aggressive campaign to win that open seat, and his high-energy effort is worth watching. Kennedy may well be a better candidate than his Democratic adversary, Hennepin County District Attorney Amy Klobuchar, but that may not matter. Given the Democrats’ national edge this year, Klobuchar is a slight favorite.

Nor is Maryland the Republicans’ best shot for a takeover. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) has charisma and the full support of the national and state GOP, and he definitely merits watching in the state’s open seat contest. Racial tensions within the Maryland Democratic Party make it possible for Steele, an African American, to appeal to some voters who ordinarily wouldn’t even consider a Republican.

But Steele would face a decidedly uphill fight against Rep. Benjamin Cardin, the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination. If former Rep. Kweisi Mfume wins the Democratic nod, Steele’s general election chances would spike considerably.

No, all things being equal, the GOP’s best chance for a Senate win is in New Jersey, where state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., the son of a former governor, is running on a message of reform against appointed Sen. Bob Menendez (D).

Both the national mood and the state’s bent favor the Democrats, but the state offers Republicans one of those “special circumstances” that could allow Kean to pull off an upset. (Other states where unusual circumstances might enhance otherwise long-shot GOP opportunities include Washington, Michigan and West Virginia.)

Kean is trying to position himself as a reformer like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a message that could resonate in a state with a history of corruption, a governor who has proposed an unpopular budget and a Democratic candidate with baggage.

Democratic chances of netting six seats, enough to transfer control of the Senate, are still well under 50-50. Even after sweeping their five top targets, Democrats would still need another victory, probably in either Arizona or Tennessee, or possibly Virginia, where some observers think that Sen. George Allen (R) may yet find himself in an uncomfortably competitive fight for re-election. None of these is impossible, but a Democratic victory in any of them would be a noteworthy upset.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 24, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Swimming Upstream: GOP Opportunities in the House

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the Democrats, their recruiting, and their quest to net the fifteen seats necessary to gain the majority in the House. But Democrats may actually need to takeover sixteen or seventeen seats in November to compensate for potential losses of their own.

In the last 50 years, no party has been completely shutout in the takeover columns in the House. That means, that even in “wave” elections including 1994, the party bearing the majority of the losses has managed to pick off at least one incumbent or one open seat from the other side.

In 1958, Democrats took over 49 seats (defeating 35 Republican incumbents and winning 14 GOP open seats), while Republicans still defeated a single Democratic incumbent. Eight years later, Republicans took over 43 Democratic seats, but Democrats simultaneously took over four GOP-held seats.

In 1980, Republicans took over 37 Democratic seats, but Republicans managed to pick off four seats from the Democrats’ column. And in 1994, Republicans took over 56 Democratic seats (defeating 34 incumbents and winning 22 Democratic open seats), yet Democrats still won four Republican-held open seats.

So, if Republicans are going to pick off one or more Democratic seats in November, it will likely come from this list (in order of most likely to turn over to least likely).

1. Ohio 6 (Open). Democrats hit a severe bump in the road when state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) failed to garner the 50 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the primary ballot. Now, Wilson is running an expensive write-in campaign in the May 2 primary. State Rep. Chuck Blasdel is the likely GOP nominee, but he is still recovering from a hit he took for owing back-taxes. If Wilson doesn’t get the nomination, Republican prospects improve dramatically. If he is the nominee, it’s a very competitive race.

2. West Virginia 1 (Alan Mollohan). Cong. Mollohan is under pressure from Republicans and now the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post to step down from his role as ranking member of the House Ethics Committee. [Note: Mollohan did step down from the committee on Friday.] Under scrutiny is the dramatic increase in his personal wealth over the last four years and money he directed to a handful of non-profit companies he helped set up, back in the state. State Delegate Chris Wakim (R), a West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran, showed $118,463 in the bank on March 31 and could take advantage if Mollohan’s political situation becomes more dire.

3. Georgia 8 (Jim Marshall). Former Cong. Mac Collins (R) is running a rejuvenated campaign against Democrat Jim Marshall in a redrawn district. Marshall had over $1 million on hand through the first quarter of the year compared to almost $700,000 for Collins. President Bush carried the 8th District in both 2000 (58%) and 2004 (61%).

4. Illinois 8 (Melissa Bean). Businessman David McSweeney spent almost $2 million of his own money in winning the Republican nomination with 41% in a crowded field. He will now face freshman Cong. Melissa Bean (D), one cycle removed from knocking off long-time incumbent Cong. Phil Crane (R). Bean’s profile seems to fit the district, and she showed an imposing $1.75 million in the bank through the first quarter. But the district is reliably Republican.

5. Louisiana 3 (Charlie Melancon). No one really knows what the size or makeup of the electorate in Louisiana will be. But Cong. Melancon (D) is facing a credible challenge from state Sen. Craig Romero (R). Romero showed over $614,000 in the bank at the end of March while Melancon was closer to $1 million.

6. Vermont At-Large (Open). Democrats are lining up behind state Senate President Peter Welch, while Republicans are rallying behind former Adjutant General Martha Rainville. Democrats successfully wooed the Progressive Party candidate out of the race, which would have divided the more liberal voters. Rainville still faces a primary from conservative state Sen. Mark Shepard. Welch showed $612,775 on hand through the first quarter, Rainville $255,424 (although she just started campaigning after leaving her official post), and Shepard $27,795.

7. South Carolina 5 (John Spratt). The Democratic congressman is facing his toughest reelection in ten years from wealthy state Rep. Ralph Norman (R). Norman showed $619,401 in the bank on March 31 while Spratt, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, had over $1 million in a congressional district President Bush carried 57%-42% over John Kerry in 2004.

8. Texas 17 (Chet Edwards). Every cycle, Republicans love to target Chet Edwards (D), who represents President Bush’s home district. The GOP nominee is Van Taylor, a Marine and Iraq War veteran and Harvard Business School graduate. National Republicans believe that his profile, lack of a legislative voting record, and personal wealth add up to a winning formula for knocking off the incumbent. Edwards showed over $942,000 in the bank on February 15 for his effort.

9. Georgia 12 (John Barrow). Like his colleague Marshall, Cong. Barrow is running in a newly-configured district. But the 12th District still leans Democratic. Former Cong. Max Burns, whom Barrow defeated in 2004, showed over $680,000 in the bank on March 31 compared to over $1.1 million for Barrow.

10. Iowa 3 (Leonard Boswell). Republicans successfully recruited state Senate President Jeff Lamberti into the race against Boswell. John Kerry won the 3rd District by a mere two-tenths of a point in 2004. The congressman began April with over $745,000 in the bank, while Lamberti showed over $504,000 at the same time. Reasonable opportunity, but maybe the wrong cycle for Lamberti.

Honorable Mention. Ohio 13 (Open). Four Democrats are battling for the Democratic nomination on May 2 to replace Cong. Sherrod Brown (D) who is running for the U.S. Senate. If wealthy shopping mall heiress/2004 14th District nominee Capri Cafaro wins the nomination, Republicans believe she has enough personal baggage for this race to catapult to the top of their takeover opportunity list. Lorain Mayor Craig Foltin is the likely Republican nominee.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on April 21, 2006.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Will White House Shake Up Alter Public Opinion?

By Stuart Rothenberg

As Rob Portman moves into a new Administration post and Scott McClellan moves out of one, some members of the national media are abuzz. Will this help President George W. Bush as he and his party head to the ’06 midterm elections?

The answer is no.

Bush haters, of course, won’t change their opinions no matter what. But the President must start to convince swing voters -- as well as Republicans who have grown disappointed with his performance -- that some significant personnel and policy changes are on the way.

The President needs to give Americans an opportunity -- and a reason -- to reevaluate his performance and the state of the nation -- and to conclude that things are going better than they thought.

That isn’t going to happen by naming a new OMB director or a new press secretary. While political junkies and insiders may know who those people are and what they do, most Americans are busy with their own lives.

A major Administration shake-up, which would almost surely include the Secretary of Defense, might well get the public’s attention, leading to talk that the President was making some fundamental changes -- changes that would impact average Americans down the road.

But anything short of that is likely to be greeted with a collective yawn by most Americans, as they focus on American Idol or The Apprentice or CSI: Whatever.

The President needs what he has needed for over a year: good news, especially about Iraq and the war on terror. Unless he gets that, it’s unlikely that most Americans are inclined to reevaluate the President’s performance, no matter how good the unemployment numbers.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on April 19, 2006.

Friday, April 21, 2006

New Print Edition: House Outlook

The new April 21, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

House Outlook For 2006
Stuart Rothenberg

While Democrats have failed to recruit the top tier candidates that they would like in places such as Arizona 1, Pennsylvania 15, Missouri 6 and Iowa 2, they have broadened the playing field elsewhere and recruited enough credible lower first-tier/upper second-tier hopefuls to win the House if the Democratic wave is big enough in November.

The national mood remains bleak for Republicans. President George W. Bush’s poll numbers have not rebounded, and there is no reason to believe that they will before the fall midterm elections. The public still gives low marks to Congress and tells pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

At the district level, voters are more critical of GOP incumbents than they usually are at this point in the election cycle. Democratic voters are already polarized against Republican House members, so Democratic challengers can focus their efforts at wooing Independents and disgruntled Republicans, rather than mobilizing their Democratic base.

The only bit of good news for Republicans has been the growing mention of ethically challenged Democratic congressmen in the media. That could dilute the impact of ethics as a purely partisan issue, but the issue is still likely to hurt Republicans disproportionately in the fall, especially since GOP congressmen and staffers will continue to get attention by being linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

We believe that the House definitely is “in play,” and the key to whether Republicans can maintain control is whether they can discredit individual Democratic challengers who otherwise would be positioned to win. We are increasing our estimate of likely Democratic gains from 5-8 seats to 7-10 seats (they need to net 15 seats for control), with a bias toward even greater Democratic gains.

For the entire House Overview including state-by-state analysis of the races and ratings for our chart of 52 competitive seats..subscribe now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

California 50: Well, Let’s Not Exaggerate Things

By Stuart Rothenberg

The press releases from national Democrats about last week’s special election to succeed disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) are so out of sync with the actual election results that I don’t even know where to begin.

“Francine’s dramatic win shows that Democratic, independent and Republican voters simply want change,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said in a DCCC release the day after Democrat Francine Busby drew 43.9 percent of the vote in a crowded open primary to select a candidate to fill Cunningham’s open seat.

“In an overwhelmingly Republican district, the success of Democratic candidate Francine Busby in yesterday’s election demonstrates that the American people want our country to move in a new direction,” echoed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who at least was sensible enough not to use the word “victory” or “win” in her statement to characterize the results of Tuesday’s balloting in California’s 50th district.

Democratic operatives rightly understand that they need to repeat their message of change often if they are to help build a tidal wave of dissatisfaction that leads to Democratic control of the House of Representatives in November.

But it does no good to claim victory when there was none. Busby didn’t win anything except the Democratic nomination, which gives her a place in the runoff.

Contrary to what you may have heard from Democrats, Busby’s 43.9 percent showing doesn’t even constitute some sort of breakthrough for the Democrats in this Southern California Congressional district. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) drew an almost identical percentage against President Bush in the district, and both Al Gore in 2000 (43 percent) and Bill Clinton in 1996 (45 percent) drew a similar percentage of the vote in the district.

Busby did better in the district than did Democrat Gray Davis in the 2002 governor’s race — Davis drew only 37 percent — but that’s hardly an indication of a groundswell of support for the Democrat in the special election.

Busby’s showing appears to be at the upper range of the “normal” Democratic vote in the district. That’s not bad, but it isn’t as good as some Democratic partisans had once hoped.

The DCCC’s release says that Busby’s “dramatic win” [sic] “shows that Democratic, independent and Republican voters simply want change.” Obviously, that’s untrue. There is no other way to characterize it.

If Busby had won more than 50 percent of the vote, and a seat in Congress, the DCCC honestly and accurately would have described the result as a dramatic win. But not when she secures only 43.9 percent of the vote. And any assertions about Republicans’ sentiments, barring some sort of exit poll or empirical evidence from heavily Republican precincts — which may or may not exist — is simply mindless message-spouting.

I’ve tried to figure out why Emanuel, in particular, crowed about the primary results as if Busby had drawn more than 50 percent of the vote. I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation. Why mislead reporters into believing that Busby had indeed “won” the seat — that’s what a couple of astute reporters I talked to assumed when they initially saw the DCCC release — when doing so might raise skepticism about future assertions?

Some Democrats I talked with suggested that since Busby finished first in the primary, the results constituted a “win.” But everyone who follows races knows that the issue in the open primary was whether Busby would reach the 50 percent mark and win the seat outright, not whether she would finish first in the large field.

Some Democrats apparently now want to debate the meaning of the word “win.” You’d think that the party wouldn’t want to go there again.

Anyway, when I checked a couple of the prominent Democratic Web logs, I found them far more realistic than some Capitol Hill Democrats.

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos was cautious about the results, with many who posted comments expressing some disappointment with the final totals. Chris Bowers on was upbeat about the runoff (too optimistic for my money), but most of the comments posted were stunningly reasonable and realistic.

(What? Rothenberg said something nice about the blogs? Impossible! That jerk spouts the conventional wisdom and defends the views of the morally bankrupt political establishment, especially those myopic insiders and Washington, D.C.-based consultants, doesn’t he?)

So where does the Busby bid stand seven weeks before the runoff? Busby is an underdog but Republicans certainly can’t take this election for granted, and they will have to spend whatever it takes to elect the GOP nominee, former Rep. Brian Bilbray.

GOP strategists already know that this will be a very difficult cycle for them, and the last thing they need is for Democrats to win a reliably Republican seat five months before Election Day. Turnout issues (a Democratic gubernatorial primary could boost Democratic turnout) and the uncertainty associated with any primary (including conservatives’ willingness to support a Republican nominee who’s relatively moderate on some issues) surely give Democrats reason to think an upset is not out of the question.

The DCCC must decide how much to invest in the race. Should it spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to counter what surely will be a GOP media blitz?

Can Busby win? Maybe. Will she win? Probably not. Two things are clear. One, Busby didn’t exceed most expectations. And two, it’s unwise to write her off yet.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 17, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A June Loss in San Diego Could Spell November Disaster for Republicans

By Nathan L. Gonzales

A win on June 6 by Democrat Francine Busby in the special election runoff to replace Duke Cunningham (R) in California’s 50th Congressional District would be more than a symbolic victory for the Democrats. Democrats would then need a net gain of only fourteen seats, but more importantly, the field of competitive open seats would widen significantly.

Former Cong. Brian Bilbray (R) starts the runoff with the advantage, but a Busby win is not out of the question. And a victory in San Diego in June could buoy Democratic prospects in other Republican open seats with similar political profiles.

Illinois 6. Democratic nominee Tammy Duckworth has received more national, even worldwide, media attention than any other congressional candidate in the country because of her military background and tour of duty in Iraq. But even with the full support of the national Democratic Party and much of the congressional delegation, Duckworth narrowly slipped by 2004 nominee Christine Cegelis in the Democratic primary. Republicans have a very strong nominee in state Sen. Peter Roskam, but this race in the suburban-Chicago area has the potential to be influenced by a poor national environment. President Bush defeated Kerry 53%-46% in the district in 2004, and Al Gore 53%-44% in 2000. Cong Henry Hyde (R) is retiring after decades in Congress.

Minnesota 6. Both parties have crowded fields in the competitive race to succeed Cong. Mark Kennedy (R) who is running for the U.S. Senate. President Bush carried the district 57%-42% in 2004 and 53%-42% four years before that. On the GOP side, state Sen. Michele Bachmann, state Rep. Jim Knoblach, and state Rep. Phil Krinkie are the serious contenders for the nomination. While former Blaine Mayor Elwyn Tinklenberg and 2004 nominee/former 2006 Senate candidate Patty Wetterling are battling for the Democratic nomination. The primary isn’t until September 12, but the nominees from each party will likely be chosen at endorsing conventions later this spring.

Wisconsin 8. Cong. Mark Green (R) is vacating his Green Bay-area seat in order to run for governor. State Assembly Speaker John Gard is the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but still faces state Rep. Terri McCormick in the September 12 primary. Physician Steve Kagen, businessman Jamie Wall, and former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum are facing off on the Democratic side. President Bush carried the district in both 2004 (55%-44%) and 2000 (52%-43%).

Nevada 2. Cong. Jim Gibbons (R) is also running for governor, but his wife, Dawn, is one of three Republicans vying to replace him. Dawn Gibbons, a state Assemblywoman, is facing Secretary of State Dean Heller and state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in the August 15 Republican primary. The winner will face State University System Regent Jill Derby (D) in the general election. In 2004, Bush won the sprawling, rural-Nevada district 57%-41% and 57%-37% over Gore in 2000.

New York 24. Sherwood Boehlert (R) is retiring from Congress, creating an open seat in upstate New York that Bush carried 52%-46% in 2004. State Sen. Ray Meier is the likely Republican nominee. Oneida County District Arcuri is the favorite on the Democratic side, but could face public health officer Les Roberts in the September 12 primary. Democrats are hoping strong performances from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) at the top of the ticket will boost down-ballot congressional races like this one.

In a neutral environment, these races would be Democratic long shots and Roskam and Gard are particularly strong candidates. But if Democrats are winning in seats like California 50, where Kerry received only 44% in 2004, more GOP open seats like the aforementioned five quickly come into focus. Democrats still have almost two-dozen better opportunities, so if the battle for the majority is being fought in these open seats, Democrats may have enough seats in play to win.

The June election result in California 50 will signal one of two extremes: 1) The Democratic wave is potentially weaker and further away than we thought, or 2) The Democratic wave is real and already sweeping normally Republican districts into the Democratic column.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on April 14, 2006.

Monday, April 17, 2006

California 50: Race Far From Over

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The result of Tuesday's special election in California's 50th Congressional District has Democrats claiming the mantle of victory and foreshadowing sweeping change in the U.S. House of Representatives in the November election.

But the reality of the situation is much less clear.

This week's election was not a win for Democrat Francine Busby. She was the top vote-getter in an 18-candidate field, but she was the only serious Democrat in the race compared with a half-dozen active Republican candidates who split the larger Republican vote.

For Busby, the first 44 percent of the vote she garnered was the easy part, but the last 6 percent she will need to win will be much more difficult. Her performance was unimpressive considering she received roughly the same percentage that Sen. John Kerry , D-Mass., received in the district (44 percent) against President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

President Bush and the Republicans have endured virtually 16 straight months of bad news and falling poll numbers since then, and Busby's inability to break through the Democratic ceiling in this special election should make Democrats uneasy.

The 50th District is a seemingly perfect scenario for Democrats to test their "culture of corruption" message. They can run against not only indicted former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but the district's very own former congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned after pleading guilty to charges of bribery and tax evasion.

But rational Democrats are not calling the 50th District race a bellwether because they understand the Republican nature of the district. Make no mistake, Cunningham's behavior put this seat in play, not DeLay's, Abramoff's, or President Bush's.

Democrats are treading lightly in setting expectations because they face the possibility of losing on June 6, thereby losing much of the punch from their "culture of corruption" message. National Democrats and Busby are claiming victory and talking about "exceeding expectations," but that is little more than a firewall of positive rhetoric for when she fails to reach 50 percent in the runoff.

So what does it all mean? Nothing yet.

Tuesday's result represented a status-quo election. Busby benefited from the focused support of a national Democratic Party determined to chip away at the Republican majority this spring, rather than waiting until November. But her initial showing failed to demonstrate widespread voter discontent with the Republican Party...

Read the rest of the column in the April 16, 2006 edition of the North County Times.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

California 50: By the Numbers

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democrats are claiming victory after Francine Busby's 44% showing in Tuesday's special election to replace Rep. Duke Cunningham (R). But her fight to get over 50% in the June 6 run-off in the San Diego-area congressional seat is certainly uphill.

Busby's showing was equivalent to John Kerry's performance in the 50th District in the 2004 presidential contest, when he lost to President Bush 56% to 44%. But the district has a much longer history of supporting Republicans.

George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the district 54% to 34% in 2000, despite losing California by eleven points. In 1996, Bob Dole carried the district 55% to 45% while losing statewide 51% to 38%.

In the 1998 governor's race, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) defeated Gray Davis (D) 52% to 48% in the district (he lost statewide 58% to 39%), and four years later, GOP nominee Bill Simon lost statewide (47% to 42%) but defeated Gov. Davis 56% to 37% in the 50th C.D.

The best performance by a Democrat in the district appears to be Sen. Dianne Feinstein back in 2000, when she won the district 48% to 45%, while winning statewide 56% to 37% and out-spending her Republican opponent $10.3 million to $4.3 million.

But in a one-on-one race in June, 48% won't be enough for Busby and the Democrats to take the seat.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on April 13, 2006.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Have Democrats Expanded the Field for ’06 House Races?

By Stuart Rothenberg

For more than a year now, House Democrats have insisted that they want to widen the political playing field by recruiting strong candidates in districts they often have ignored. Now, with about 40 percent of state filing deadlines having already passed, it’s time to ask: How have the Democrats done?

The short answer is that Democrats definitely have added new districts into the mix. They are competing seriously in places that they haven’t for years. But Democratic recruiting is also falling short in some districts they’ve repeatedly targeted, and most of the competitive districts this time — not counting open seats — have been targeted time and again.

In upstate New York, Democrats have never had a serious candidate against Rep. John Sweeney (N.Y.), even including his 1998 open-seat victory, when he replaced retiring Rep. Gerald Solomon (R). Sweeney outspent his Democratic opponent in that race by more than two and a half to one, coasting to a 13-point victory. Since then, he has been re-elected with no less than 65 percent of the vote.

His 2006 opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, already has raised $750,000 in her bid to unseat Sweeney. As I’ve written previously, she is a well-connected, appealing candidate who should give Sweeney a run for his money.

In Pennsylvania’s 7th district, Republican Rep. Curt Weldon has been held under 60 percent only once in 10 races — last year, when he drew 58 percent while outspending his Democratic opponent $678,444 to $23,763. This time, Democrats have nominated Joe Sestak, a 31-year veteran of the Navy who retired with the rank of vice admiral.

Sestak has raised almost $450,000 for his challenge, and while his lack of political experience is a potentially serious problem, his fundraising and profile suggest that he will be Weldon’s toughest opponent in a very long time.

Democrats also have put Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) in the political crosshairs for the first time since 1992, when the Republicans won her seat with 44 percent in a three-way race that featured a pro-life conservative who sought to sink the more socially moderate Pryce. Since then, Pryce has never been held below 60 percent. Her 2004 opponent, Mark Brown, apparently didn’t file a Federal Election Commission report, yet drew 40 percent against her.

This year, Democrats are backing Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy against the Congresswoman. The challenger’s fundraising isn’t overwhelming, but she looks to be a serious opponent for Pryce, particularly in an expected Democratic wave.

In Arizona, Democrats are making a run at Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who hasn’t faced a tough challenge since 1998, when former Democratic state party chairman Steve Owens drew 44 percent against the Republican. Two years earlier, Hayworth nipped Owens by a single point.

Hayworth hasn’t faced a serious challenge since then, though he drew only 59.9 percent in the previous cycle while outspending his Democratic challenger $1.35 million to $4,898. This time, Democrats have recruited Harry Mitchell, 65, who recently gave up his seat in the state Senate to concentrate on his Congressional bid. (Term limits would not have allowed him to run for re-election.)

Mitchell, a former mayor of Tempe and the current state Democratic chairman, entered the race only last month, so he begins far behind the curve in this Republican district. But he is held in high regard in Tempe and is deemed a threat to Hayworth.

Democrats also have mounted a significant challenge to Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), whom they have targeted from time to time.

In Ohio, Rep. Steve Chabot (R) faces John Cranley (D). Cranley wasn’t much more than a nuisance when he challenged the Republican Congressman in 2000, but he looks more formidable this year.

Kentucky state Rep. Mike Weaver (D) is a stronger challenger than Democrats have had since Rep. Ron Lewis (R) was elected to Congress in 1994.

And, of course, Democrats would cite their recruits against GOP Reps. Bob Ney (Ohio) and Thelma Drake (Va.) as evidence that they have widened the playing field.

The question for Republicans in all of these races is whether the incumbents can regain their campaign skills quickly as they adjust to a new political environment.

In the case of Weldon, for example, the Congressman’s comment questioning the decision by opponent Sestak to have his ill daughter treated at a Washington, D.C., hospital rather than one in or near the state (she has a malignant brain tumor) suggests that the Republican’s campaign antennae aren’t exactly in tip-top shape.

And while Democrats have put at least a handful of new districts into play — again, not counting open seats, which are almost always more competitive than districts where incumbents are seeking re-election — the party is lacking strong candidates in some districts that Democrats have been talking about and targeting for years.

These GOP-held seats include North Carolina’s 8th district (Rep. Robin Hayes), Alabama’s 3rd district (Rep. Mike Rogers), Arizona’s 1st district (Rep. Rick Renzi), Pennsylvania’s 15th district (Rep. Charlie Dent) and Missouri’s 6th district (Rep. Sam Graves). In addition, the Democrats came up with only a low-second-tier opponent in Nevada’s 3rd district (Rep. Jon Porter).

But no party ever recruits strong challengers in every hypothetically competitive district — and even second-tier Democrats might be good enough to win if the Democrats’ midterm wave is large enough.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 10, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Both Parties Guilty of Ballot Games

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While some Democrats are incensed about the way former Majority Leader Tom DeLay chose to exit his race for reelection in Texas 22, both parties are guilty of being coy with election laws, primaries, and filing deadlines to gain a partisan advantage.

Of all the accusations hurled at DeLay, being politically unaware is not one of them. The congressman certainly could have bowed out before the March 7 primary, but he waited another three weeks so he could have direct role in choosing his successor. His move unquestionably gives the Republicans a better chance to hold the seat Bush carried 64%-35% in 2004.

Meanwhile in Illinois 17, Democratic Rep. Lane Evans bowed out of his reelection bid just seven days after the March 21 primary. The congressman's health (he has Parkinson's disease) has been a factor for the last decade, but it is remarkable that he couldn't have decided it had reached a critical point before the filing deadline or even the primary.

Now, Evans's political decision and timing gives Democrats a decidedly upper-hand. If Evans had decided not to run for reelection, Republicans would have made a harder push to get a better candidate in a district Kerry only won 51%-48%. Now, Democrats have the freedom to choose their own nominee, without a pesky multi-candidate primary, while Republicans, according to state law, are left to boost their nominee's (former television anchor Andrea Zinga) chances as best they can.

Other blatant ballot maneuvers include Rep. Bill Lipinski (D, IL-3) dropping out of his race in late August 2002 to ensure his son Dan would replace him in Congress. And in 2004, Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA-5) first filed for reelection as a Democrat but re-filed as a Republican just hours before the filing deadline, leaving him with no general election opposition and permanent enemies within his former party.

But one of the most notorious ballot maneuvers was in 2002 when embattled Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli (NJ) took himself out of the race on September 30, just five weeks before the general election. Millionaire businessman Doug Forrester (R) was on his way to knocking off the incumbent, but instead faced then-former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), the hand-picked nominee.

Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances (death, for example) where a nominee is unable to be on the ballot. But more often than not these days, politicians are scouring filing deadlines and state laws in an effort to subvert the actual voting portion of democracy.

This column first appeared on Political Wire on April 9, 2006.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No Time to DeLay: Now What for the Democrats?

By Stuart Rothenberg

In announcing that he was ending his Congressional career and would resign his seat in the United States House of Representatives, Representative Tom DeLay (R) gave Democrats just what they wished for: His head.

DeLay’s exit won’t deprive Democrats of their “culture of corruption” argument. DeLay and discredited lobbyist Jack Abramoff will still make the headlines, and Democrats have enough ammunition stored up to allow them to run on ethics and scandal from now until November. No, Tom DeLay won’t be erased from photographs and past news stories, so Democratic candidates can still use him as an example of alleged Republican abuses.

But for former congressman Nick Lampson (D), who has been running for months to oust DeLay from his seat in Texas’s 22nd Congressional District, DeLay’s announcement is a political disaster.

Make no mistake about it. Lampson’s real chance of winning this House contest was in making DeLay the issue in the race. Lampson probably can’t win because of his own record or his views. He could only win if voters were so repulsed by DeLay that they were willing to vote for anyone, even a Democrat, to get rid of him.

Lampson’s problem is that he is a Democrat running in a very conservative, very Republican district. Sure, there are Democratic voters in the district, and Lampson will get their votes. But he’ll need to attract GOP voters if he has any chance of winning. And without DeLay on the ballot, that will be much, much harder to do.

Lampson has called for a quick special election to fill the vacant House seat once DeLay exits Congress. No wonder, he has loads of money in the bank and has been running for months. A quick election would benefit him, which is why he is screaming for a quick one.

Republicans now seem inclined not to hold a special election at all, leaving the seat vacant until November. That’s a better scenario for them, since it will give the GOP time to select a strong standard-bearer for the fall and build the resources it needs to overwhelm Lampson. (A number of potentially strong GOP officeholders have been mentioned as possible Congressional candidates, so Lampson is almost certain to face a well-tested, politically appealing Republican on the November ballot).

George W. Bush carried the 22nd District overwhelmingly in 2004 (64%-35%), and there is no reason to believe that voters wouldn’t prefer a new Republican – without Delay’s ethical baggage – to a Democrat who lost his own seat after redistricting.

Delay will still hang like a cloud over the ’06 midterm elections, and Democrats appear to be well-positioned to make major gains nationally, including possibly taking control of the House of Representatives. But in DeLay’s Texas Congressional district, the sun is finally breaking through for Republicans.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on April 7, 2006.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It May Look and Smell Like a Poll, but Is It?

By Stuart Rothenberg

I read “Beware of Online Polls” on the Hotline Web log only a few hours before I received a press release from Tennessee GOP Senate hopeful Ed Bryant’s campaign screaming that “Zogby Poll Confirms Bryant Strongest Candidate.” Bryant’s memo was mostly balderdash, and it’s not alone. I’m seeing other silly press releases and references to controversial polls, so I figured it’s about time to discuss online polls.

The Hotline entry, written by the always astute Chuck Todd, warned readers about the Wall Street Journal Online/Zogby International’s online polls and noted that some of the results “don’t make any sense.”

He asserted, correctly in my view, that pollsters have not yet figured out how to conduct online polls in a way that’s accurate. Like the Hotline, both Roll Call and my newsletter, the Rothenberg Political Report, don’t report online polls. Well-regarded pollsters are right to say their methodology is unproved.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones skeptical about online polls. Other media outlets, including CNN and the print edition of The Wall Street Journal, generally don’t report on online polls either. Many media outlets also ignore polls taken by automated phone systems rather than real people, because of concerns about their accuracy. Unfortunately, others in the media aren’t as discriminating.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not merely defending the status quo when I question online polling. Polling is based on statistics, and sampling techniques matter if you care at all about accuracy and reliability.

There are plenty of veteran pollsters who challenge the reliability of online polls. One of them, Warren Mitofsky, who served as executive director of the CBS News election and survey unit for more than 20 years and started the CBS News/New York Times Poll in 1975, told me recently that online polls have “no scientific basis” because “their samples are people who volunteer.”

Those samples don’t represent the general population, and efforts to weight online results “are bogus,” said Mitofsky, a trustee of the National Council on Public Polls, an association of public polling organizations established more than 35 years ago.

While he acknowledges that some people defend online polling — in fact, online pollster Harris Interactive is a member of the NCPP — Mitofsky also argues that his highly skeptical views about online polling “are widely held among people with a knowledge of methodology. Those people don’t even take [online polling] seriously.”

Gallup Poll editor-in-chief Frank Newport, an old friend, told me that “Gallup does not do online polling to represent the general population.” His complaint, echoed by other pollsters who preferred not to be identified, is that online polls rely on volunteers, and that a self-selected universe is not necessarily representative of all adults or all voters — even if polling firms weight respondents on the basis of age, gender, partisanship, etc.

“People who volunteer to do polling, typically, are very different from people drawn at random,” insisted one veteran pollster whose firm does conduct online polling, but only “when we have a defined sampling frame.” A sampling frame is a type of listing from which pollsters can draw respondents in such a way as to give everyone in the universe a roughly equal chance of being selected.

So why would the WSJ’s Web site collaborate with a pollster to conduct and publicize online polling, especially when the newspaper itself collaborates with NBC News and two highly regarded pollsters, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, to conduct and release traditional, high-quality telephone polls?

I figured I ought to ask about its online polls, but I was greeted coolly and put off when I called an editor at the Web site. Instead, a Dow Jones public relations person called me and insisted that I needed to submit my questions in writing. I pointed out that WSJ reporters would find that requirement unacceptable when researching a story, but he wouldn’t budge. So I submitted the questions, along with a complaint about the requirement.

Here is what I got back from a Dow Jones spokesman: “We run the Zogby Interactive polls on The Wall Street Journal Online because we believe that they provide news value for our readers, who can also review the methodology themselves on our site.”

I take that to mean that Dow Jones doesn’t care whether the data is accurate or the methodology appropriate, only that they have numbers and that makes them “news.” Thank goodness the folks at the print edition of the WSJ have more sense and journalistic integrity.

Why would a media Web site run polls that most polling experts call unreliable and unscientific? I can’t be sure about the WSJ Online, since they wouldn’t answer my questions. But, generally, I suspect that part of the answer is ignorance, and some of it is sloppiness. Most of it is simply about business — putting up “content” to draw page views.

Many reporters and editors simply know little about methodology, and I expect some of them regard talk about such things as arcane.

But I also suspect that some don’t really care about whether the numbers are entirely reliable or whether they meet some standard that they don’t understand. Media Web sites and 24-hour cable television networks consume a great deal of information, and for some, it doesn’t matter whether the data is right, only that it exists.

Fortunately, most major media Web sites, reporters and producers know that not all polls are created equal, and they take steps to assure that they are offering only reliable data. They don’t leave it to readers and viewers to analyze and evaluate survey sampling techniques.

Reporters, producers, news writers, Web loggers and everyone else who distributes news and analysis — including candidates — need to understand that not all polls are created equal, and that online polling is both extremely controversial and generally not accepted as credible by most polling experts. Hawking those polls doesn’t add to the credibility of a media outlet, or a candidate.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 6, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, April 07, 2006

New Print Edition: KY3, MI Senate, & Senate Ratings

The new April 7, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

Kentucky 3: Bucking the Trend
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republican incumbents in districts carried by John Kerry are bracing themselves for the potential Democratic wave this November, but Kentucky’s 3rd District Cong. Anne Northup (R) is hoping to be the exception rather than the rule.

For four consecutive cycles, Democratic candidates have challenged Northup in her Democratic tilting district, but all went down to defeat. This year, Democrats are hoping they can begin a different kind of streak.

National Democrats made a heavy push to get 2002 nominee Jack Conway (D) into the race, but he declined to run again. But two Democrats are battling for the nomination, which will be decided on May 16: Iraq War veteran Andrew Horne and newspaper publisher John Yarmuth. Meanwhile, Northup continues to build an intimidating campaign war chest.

For the rest of the story including the lay of the land and analysis of the Democratic primary and general election, as well as the Bottom Line..subscribe now.

Michigan Senate: Wading Upstream

Republicans spent much of last year cycling through a list of potential candidates, but they are still taking their best shot at Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Even after names like Cong. Candice Miller, Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon, and Jane Abraham dropped off the board, three Republicans remain in the race to take on the incumbent.

But even though the national environment is proving to be ominous for President Bush and his party, Republicans believe the economic situation in Michigan may give them a unique opportunity.

The state’s economy has lagged behind in recovery compared to its Midwest neighbors, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s (D) job approval numbers have suffered as a result. Two-thirds of the voters believe the state is headed down the wrong track and millionaire businessman Dick DeVos (R) is already running television ads against the governor.

Republican Senate candidates Mike Bouchard, Keith Butler, and Jerry Zandstra are hoping to take advantage of the potential opportunity if state voters are looking for a change and want to take out their anger on the two top officeholders in the state on the ballot this November: Stabenow and Granholm.

Michigan remains a battleground state. John Kerry won it back in 2004, 51%-48%, over President Bush. But Republicans control both the state House (58-52) and the state Senate (22-16). Voters do not register by party in the state.

For the rest of the story including analysis of the Republican primary, as well as the Bottom Line..subscribe now.

**A final note to our Print Subscribers: Beginning with this issue, we will be updating our 2006 Ratings (rotating House, Senate and Governors) more frequently from now until Election Day.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Do the Democrats Need to Nationalize the Midterm Elections?

By Stuart Rothenberg

I often get asked whether Democrats will be able to nationalize this year’s midterm elections. It’s both an important and reasonable question, since the answer will determine what kind of year the parties will have in November.

But, alas, it’s the wrong question to ask.

The better question is whether Republicans will be able to localize the midterm elections.

Most election years start off with a bias toward localized elections. When voters are content, they are inclined toward the status-quo and feel no urgency to fire their elected representatives. When they are confused — often because control of the government is divided, and they don’t know who to blame — they also generally stick with incumbents, who are usually better financed.

In both of those general circumstances, voters tend toward inertia, which benefits those already holding power.

But with Republicans holding majorities in both chambers of Congress since 1994, and with voters showing great dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation and with the performance of the president and Congress, this year’s midterms will be about change.

While Democrats can try to feed the electorate’s desire for change, the mood already exists. They don’t need to create it. That means the midterms already have been nationalized, and that’s the main reason why so many Republican incumbents are showing low poll numbers.

If the 2006 elections were about individual Members and their particular challengers, Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (R) would be leading challenger Claire McCaskill (D) by 6 points to 8 points (maybe even more) rather than running even.

If this year’s elections currently were localized, Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) would have a large early lead over her opponent Mary Jo Kilroy (D), rather than a narrow one. Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) would be a strong favorite for re-election rather than only even money. And Democrats wouldn’t even be able to talk with a straight face about threatening Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), or of stealing retiring Rep. Mark Green’s open Wisconsin Congressional seat from the GOP.

Democrats might benefit from a 10-point plan or a coherent, unified strategy on Iraq, but they don’t need it to create a “national” election. The public’s mood has already done it.

Given that, the real question is whether Republicans will be able to “localize” the ’06 midterms between now and November — whether they can re-elect their incumbents despite that general political atmosphere, which strongly favors change and the Democrats.

The answer to that question will determine whether Republicans can minimize their losses in both chambers, and even whether they will still control the House after November.

Localizing would require Republicans to change the nature of the cycle. In other words, the burden is on them to alter the natural path of this year’s midterm elections.

Recently, Republicans have proved better at what they like to call the “blocking and tackling” of elections — raising and spending money, getting out their voters and running the sort of aggressive campaigns that have allowed them to win considerable majorities in Congress. They’ve used their incumbent advantages well.

But this cycle is different. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is unusually aggressive, both in tactics and fundraising. And unlike the past decade, it has a strong wind at its back.

So it’s up to Republicans to try to re-create past environments, by turning voters’ attention away from President Bush, the war in Iraq, the control of U.S. ports and Jack Abramoff’s and Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) legal problems, and by making the midterm elections about the Democratic candidates in each race.

It’s pretty simple then what the National Republican Congressional Committee and GOP candidates must do. They must make Democratic candidates unacceptable to voters. Whether that means uncovering personal ethics issues involving Democrats or demonizing them on national security or other issues, it’s up to Republicans to change the current trajectory of the elections.

If that happens, it won’t be until late — certainly after Labor Day and probably not until October — when most races truly engage, when voters start paying close attention to races, and when Republican attacks will either discredit Democratic challengers or fall on deaf ears.

NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) continues to insist that it’s wrong to portray the ’06 contests as nationalized. “It always gets back to local elections, local politics, and that’s how we are going to win a Republican majority in 2006, again,” he told NBC “Nightly News’” Chip Reid last week.

That’s simply not true. The 1966, 1982 and 1994 midterms certainly were not “local” events, and insisting otherwise doesn’t make Reynolds right or enhance his credibility.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 3, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

War, What is it Good For?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

If you listen to some conservative evangelicals these days, we are all standing in the middle of the battlefield of a great war. The War on Terrorism you say? Nope. Bigger. It’s the War on Christians. Whose side are you on?

A recent conference sponsored by Vision America entitled, “The War on Christians and The Values Voter in 2006,” and another event, “Justice Sunday III” sponsored by Focus on the Family Action, have once again shown that some conservative Christians revel in their role as victims.

Some Christian leaders have stepped out of both appropriate and rational bounds in their attempt to label the current state of play in the United States a war.

It’s inaccurate and borderline offensive to equate the current “struggle” of Christians to African-Americans during the civil rights era, the plight of Jews during the Holocaust, and even the suffering of Jesus Christ himself on the cross. But that’s what this particular group of Christians has done recently.

During “Justice Sunday III” back on January 8, evangelical leaders like Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sang “We Shall Overcome,” along with the congregation in attendance, drawing a comparison with blacks a half-century ago.

But back in the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans were struggling to gain full voting rights, to use whatever bathroom they wanted, and to sit in a seat of their own choosing on a city bus. In comparison with today, Christians certainly have voting rights and even patted themselves on the back for reelecting a Republican president and electing majorities in both the House and the Senate.

During this week’s War on Christians event, conservative author Michael Horowitz, who is Jewish, said, “You guys have become the Jews of the 21st Century.” What? Some Christians may not like the moral direction of this country, but no one in the United States is being killed or sent to a concentration camp because they are a Christian.

Also during the conference, Vision America President Rick Scarborough introduced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), stating, “I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ.” I don’t seem to recall DeLay’s indictments or admonishments by the House Ethics Committee involving an account of his faith. And did almost 40% of Republican primary voters in DeLay’s own congressional district this spring vote against him because he was a Christian?

After DeLay’s speech, Scarborough offered a piece of encouragement, “God always does his best work after a crucifixion.” Wow. To equate DeLay’s legal, political, and electoral problems with Jesus’ crucifixion is simply offensive, and Christians should be outraged over the analogy. I guarantee if Jim Wallis of Sojourners compared the demonization of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) at the hands of conservative media outlets to the crucifixion of Jesus, these same evangelicals would be livid.

Evangelicals who agree with Scarborough’s sentiment on DeLay should re-watch Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and then ask themselves if they think that is what the Republican congressman is going through.

This is simply a war with no end because certain Christian leaders and groups have too much to gain monetarily. The war rhetoric is usually accompanied by fundraising pleas through weekly emails and helps spawn events like the War on Christians conference where individuals plopped down $149 each to attend (married couples appropriately got a discount at $259).

The war metaphor is actually a good strategy because it’s so vague. Is the War on Christians a cultural, legal, or electoral battle? To these people it doesn’t matter, it’s more like a moving target depending on the year.

Even when conservative evangelicals win, they lose. They want credit for reelecting the president but then feel ignored. “In the latest election, values voters were used,” said Scarborough, who is upset that Bush and the Republicans have not acted on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and other social issues of concern. So, even though these evangelicals voted for Bush and the Republican majority, the President is apparently now part of the movement against Christian causes.

With a victim mentality, conservative Christians will be able to prolong the war indefinitely, simply by exchanging opponents when necessary. But while some evangelicals are more interested in fighting a war, others want to move beyond inflammatory rhetoric to enact real change in the country.

This column first appeared on Town Hall on March 31, 2006.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Things Continue to Fall in Place for John McCain

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s still a long time until the Iowa caucuses formally kick off the 2008 race for the White House. But it’s hard not to conclude that events are lining up perfectly for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), should he decide to make another run.

A weakened President Bush and a damaged Republican Party are more likely than not to convince GOP activists around the country — including some conservatives and party regulars who ordinarily would not warm to McCain — that the Arizona Republican is the only man who can carry the party’s banner in 2008.

The threat of a Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) presidency has always been McCain’s ace in the hole. Even conservatives who worry about McCain’s independent streak — including the Arizona Republican’s support for campaign finance reform and his co-sponsorship (with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, no less) of a guest worker program — might well find McCain preferable to a Clinton victory.

Even if Democrats bypass the New York Senator and turn to an allegedly “more electable” moderate such as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, many Republicans may come to believe that only McCain can keep the White House in GOP hands.

What nobody has yet commented on, however, is how the 2006 midterm elections now seem all but destined to boost McCain’s presidential prospects.

Democrats are headed for significant gains in both chambers of Congress in November. Even if they fail to win control in at least one chamber, they are likely to be seen as the clear winners and Bush and his party as the clear losers on Election Day.

That result, no doubt, would produce a wave of stories about the GOP’s troubles, with columnists, politicians (Democratic and Republican) and TV talking heads yammering on about the Republican Party’s demise. There would be plenty of talk about infighting within the party, and there would be even more punditry about how the Republicans are in a sorry state just two years before the next presidential election.

The election results, in other words, are likely to increase panic among some Republicans, who will fear that the Democrats’ success in running on a message of change during the midterm elections is an omen of things to come in ’08.

This kind of reaction from Republicans and the media is likely to enhance McCain’s attractiveness as a presidential candidate. The more gloom and doom surrounding his party, the better McCain looks. The more the GOP needs to counterpunch with its own message of change, reform and leadership, the more attractive McCain appears to Republicans, independents and even some Democrats.

Even Republican critics of the Arizona Senator agree that McCain has broad general election appeal, and his primary foes would have a harder time rallying their fellow Republicans against him if the only thing standing between Democratic control of the entire federal government is McCain.

Remember, the ranks of Senators up for re-election in 2008 include 21 Republicans and only 12 Democrats, giving Democrats an engraved invitation to win a majority in the Senate if they can put together sizable gains this November. You can bet that virtually all of those Republicans would like to have McCain running with them at the top of the Republican ticket.

McCain will be in much demand this year, as Republican incumbents look to inoculate themselves on issues such as ethics, government spending and even the war.

Ethics, government transparency and political corruption could well grow as issues over the next couple of years, especially if Democrats take the House in November and begin to use their powers to scrutinize the Bush administration and other Republicans. Again, McCain, known as an advocate of campaign finance reform, looks like the best antidote for the GOP.

Timing is everything in politics, and while McCain has been making himself more acceptable to Bush loyalists by standing with the president’s general approach to Iraq and the war on terrorism, the administration’s problems and the president’s weakness also have been combining to enhance the Arizona Republican’s appeal within his own party.

How far has McCain come to be accepted by religious conservatives in his party? He will be the graduation speaker at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in May.

These are very good times for McCain, whose military background and reputation as a reformer and a straight shooter seem a perfect fit for the issues of the day and the Republican Party’s current problems. And that’s why he has emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, overtaking my initial favorite, Virginia Sen. George Allen.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on March 30, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Democrats' Security Rebound is More About Bush

By Stuart Rothenberg

Pardon me if I had a feeling of déjà vu, but the sight of dozens of Democratic members of Congress and "first responders" together "rallying" in Washington, D.C. to prove that Democrats are tough on terrorism and the party of "real security" brought back memories of Boston’s Fleet Center and all those senior military men vouching for John Kerry and the Democrats.

With Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Dick Durbin (D-IL) standing in the front row of a throng of Democratic House and Senate members, who in their right mind is going to think of Democrats as "pro-military" or tough on defense and national security matters?

Polling confirms that Democrats look better these days on national security, but it isn’t because of rallies like the one yesterday at Union Station in the nation’s capital. It’s because the war in Iraq has not gone well and President Bush fumbled the ball on the Dubai ports deal. But the party still has long-term problems on the issue because many grass roots Democrats and party leaders simply don’t believe in projecting U.S. power (including military power) the way Republicans do.

The "new" Democratic agenda to achieve "real security" looks remarkably similar to everything Democrats have been saying for years. Only a recent comment by Rep. Nancy Pelosi that Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission immediately upon taking control of Congress sounds like the sort of detailed promise that would constitute a true agenda.

Democrats need more of those specific plans -- promising to "eliminate Osama Bin Laden" and "achieve energy independence for America by 2020" seems like political hot air -- if they truly want to be taken seriously.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on March 30, 2006.