Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Perry, not Blunt, to Chair RGA in 2008

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In a development not yet made public, knowledgeable Republicans say that Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is likely to take over the Republican Governors Association in 2008. The move is significant because RGA Vice Chairman Matt Blunt (R) has been in line to become chairman next year. Governor Blunt is the son of U.S. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R).

The reason for the change is clear: the Missouri Republican's own '08 reelection is in doubt, and he will need to spend all of his time and energy trying to win a second term. He faces state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D), a formidable foe. Perry isn't up for reelection again until 2010, which gives him more time to help the RGA with fundraising and candidate recruitment.

The Perry-for-Blunt switch is still pending official approval until the GOP governors' vote at their annual conference in November, but savvy observers expect the change to be accepted without controversy.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 27, 2007.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Idaho Senate: Democratic Prospects Still Slim

Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s status for 2008 has been a question mark, even before Roll Call broke the recent news of his June arrest. Craig had yet to give the NRSC an official, or even unofficial, heads up about whether he would seek a fourth term. And he showed a less than intimidating $549,000 in campaign cash through the end of June. Now, for a senator previously undecided about running again, the recent developments increase the possibility of an open seat in Idaho.

Former Democratic Cong. Larry LaRocco is already in the race and running. He had only $44,000 on hand through June 30. It’s unclear whether other, potentially more formidable Democrats will consider the race now. Larry Grant, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 1st District last year, has committed to running for Congress again next year, though an open seat could get his attention.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is likely to run in an open seat. When Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) was appointed to President Bush’s cabinet, Risch served as governor, but did not seek a full term in 2006, allowing Cong. Butch Otter (R) to run and win. Five-term Cong. Mike Simpson (R) represents half the state and may get some mention as well.

Rancher Rex Rammell (R) is also likely to run, and there is no love lost between him and Risch. As governor, Risch issued an executive order to kill a herd of Rammell’s domestic elk when they escaped from his ranch.

Even though it’s an open seat, Democrats still face a very difficult bid in Idaho. George W. Bush won the state with 67% in 2000 and 68% in 2004, behind only Wyoming and Utah. Idaho hasn’t gone Democratic for President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when Barry Goldwater (R) won only a handful of states. The last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race was legendary Sen. Frank Church (D) in 1974. But he lost reelection six years later.

In a potential preview of next November, Risch and LaRocco squared off statewide less than a year ago in the 2006 race for lieutenant governor, with Risch winning convincingly 58%-40%.

Since Craig hasn’t made an official announcement yet about what he will do next year, there is still time for things to shake out. Nationwide, Democrats are prepared for another good year in Senate elections, but an open seat in Idaho starts as Safe Republican.

Idaho Senate: Craig Arrested, Pleads Guilty Following Incident in Airport Restroom

Roll Call's John McArdle has this Breaking News:

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd conduct complaints in a men’s public restroom, according to an arrest report obtained by Roll Call Monday afternoon.

Craig’s arrest occurred just after noon on June 11 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in the Hennepin County District Court. He paid more than $500 in fines and fees, and a 10-day jail sentence was stayed. He also was given one year of probation with the court that began on Aug. 8.

A spokesman for Craig described the incident as a “he said/he said misunderstanding,” and said the office would release a fuller statement later Monday afternoon.

There is much more in the full story on their website.

Emanuel Continues to Show Political Savvy

By Stuart Rothenberg

I have received so many silly news releases over the years that when I get a truly smart, politically astute one, I just have to take note of it.

Not surprisingly, this one came from the office of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). Emanuel, of course, chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the previous cycle and is widely regarded as among the savviest political strategists on Capitol Hill.

The brief three-paragraph release, which is dated Aug. 9 and bills itself as a “response” to President Bush’s “announcement of a renewed push for corporate tax cuts,” is an example of how to make friends and influence people, instead of how to pander to true believers while giving the opposition more ammunition.

Emanuel’s release opens with the news that Bush favored cutting corporate taxes to keep U.S. business competitive internationally.

But while other Democrats would have immediately launched into a message of class warfare, Emanuel’s release continues: “The Democratic Congress remains committed to working with the White House, American businesses and Congressional Republicans to grow our economy, strengthen American competitiveness, and help middle class families struggling to make ends meet.”

Initially, then, the Emanuel release stresses cooperation, bipartisanship, economic growth and American competitiveness. That’s a smart approach, particularly given Congress’ low job ratings and the public’s antipathy to partisan posturing and legislative gridlock.

When the Emanuel release does turn to the substance of the Bush approach, it notes that “corporate profits are at a record high” and proceeds to stress Congressional Democrats’ commitment to “delivering tax relief to American families,” including Congress’ efforts “to end the Parent Penalty Tax on middle class families — also known as the Alternative Minimum Tax.”

So instead of sending a message that the party is against tax cuts or against business, Emanuel puts the party in favor of tax relief, particularly tax relief for middle-class families. And instead of throwing down the gauntlet or beating up the already-damaged Bush, the release puts the onus on the president to “cooperate” with Democratic efforts to deliver tax relief.

None of this, of course, obligates Emanuel or any member of the Democratic Caucus to support Bush’s corporate tax cut idea. I doubt few if any will. And it certainly doesn’t prevent them from using more red meat rhetoric when talking with the party’s base.

You can bet that when the time is right, Emanuel’s message machine will go into overdrive portraying Bush as out of touch with the middle class and proposing corporate tax cuts that add to budget woes and undercut the government’s ability to fund existing programs. But not now. Now is the time to sound like a grown-up.

Emanuel’s approach is exactly what it has been for more than a year: measured and even modest. He understands that Democrats are still auditioning for 2008 and the race for the White House, and it is important for Democrats not to give Republicans ammunition at the same time that Republicans are digging themselves even deeper into a political hole.

Independents and ticket-splitters will decide whether the 2008 election is a tight one or another Democratic blowout, and the language, approach and tone of the Emanuel message is a perfect way to convince convincible voters that Democrats aren’t the dangerous tax-hikers that Republicans have insisted they are.

Republican Congressional challengers are already accusing Democratic Members of Congress of supporting tax increases, and you can bet those GOP attacks will intensify into next year.

But the approach used by Emanuel and his communications staff could cushion Democratic officeholders and candidates against the GOP charges, allowing Democrats to keep the focus on the Bush and Republican records over the past eight years.

We’ll see whether other Democrats are as savvy as Emanuel, or whether they can’t resist a knee-jerk attack. Once again, they’d be smart to follow the Illinois Democrat’s lead.

This column first appeared on on August 16, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 24, 2007

New Print Edition: 2007-08 Gubernatorial Outlook

The August 24, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check. Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

2007-08 Gubernatorial Outlook
By Nathan L. Gonzales

The next two years are very light when it comes to gubernatorial races. Voters will go to the polls in three states this fall (Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi), and only eleven states have a gubernatorial contest in 2008. Of those states, fewer than a handful are likely to develop into serious contests.

The prize will be in 2010 when 36 states elect a governor, including big states such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York, and congressional redistricting is on the horizon.

Democrats currently hold 28 governorships nationwide, compared to 22 for the Republicans. With Kentucky likely to switch to the Democrats and Louisiana at least leaning to the Republicans, the most likely scenario is for no change in the net number of governorships heading into 2008.

For the rest of the overview, and a state-by-state analysis of all fourteen races, you must subscribe...

2007-08 Gubernatorial Ratings

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings. We have moved to our pre-election categories. Democrats currently hold 28 governorships compared to 22 for the Republicans. 2007 races are in italics.

  • Fletcher, (R-KY)
  • Open; Blanco (D)
TOSS-UP (1 R, 0 D)
  • Blunt (R-MO)
  • Daniels (R-IN)
  • Gregoire (D-WA)
  • Barbour (R-MS)
  • Douglas (R-VT)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Huntsman (R-UT)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • Schweitzer (D-MT)
  • DE Open (Minner, D)
  • NC Open (Easley, D)

Arizona 1: Renzi's Out, But Who Benefits?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Normally, when an incumbent member of Congress decides against seeking reelection, it damages the chances of his or her party to hold the House seat. That isn't the case with Republican Rick Renzi's announcement that he will retire rather than seek another term in Arizona's 1st District.

Renzi's announcement, first reported by Roll Call, isn’t exactly a shocker. An FBI raid of his family business raised questions about the Republican's viability in next year’s elections, and GOP operatives expressed doubts weeks ago that the Congressman would run for a fourth term.

Renzi won reelection by just seven points last year over Democrat Ellen Simon, who was not regarded as a top tier challenger.

This time, Democrats have rallied around the candidacy of state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a former city attorney for Sedona. It’s unclear, however, if the open seat will encourage other Democrats to look at the race.

Arizona's 1st C.D. was drawn to be a competitive district, and Republicans are likely to come up with a very credible general election nominee. Renzi was severely damaged goods, and as long as an ethics cloud hung over his head, his reelection prospects were not good. His retirement confirms that Democrats have an excellent opportunity to win the district, while at the same time gives Republicans a chance to find a stronger candidate who can retain it.

This race is now a toss-up.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 23, 2007.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Louisiana Governor: Backlash Anyone?

By Stuart Rothenberg

In one of the hardest hitting – Republicans will undoubtedly say “dirtiest” – television ads aired in history, the Louisiana Democratic Party is accusing Rep. Bobby Jindal of being anti-Protestant.

The bizarre charge is delivered by an unidentified woman in a new Louisiana Democratic Party TV ad produced by Carvin/Seder Communications, a Louisiana-based consulting firm whose clients have included former Governor Edwin Edwards (D-La.), Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D).

In the TV spot, the announcer charges that Jindal wrote articles that “insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants,” and she holds up an article in which she says Jindal “doubts the morals and questions the beliefs of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and other Protestant religions.”

The ad directs interested viewers to a website, (However, unless you are a subscriber to The New Oxford Review, you won’t be able to read Jindal’s entire articles.)

Polls have shown Jindal with a large lead in this year’s race for governor, which will take place in October. A November runoff would follow if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.

The ads are an obvious attempt to destroy Jindal in Protestant North Louisiana (they are not running in the heavily Catholic southern part of the state), a generally conservative part of the state where he underperformed four years ago, when he narrowly lost his last bid for governor to Kathleen Blanco (D). Blanco chose not to seek reelection – a wise move considering reviews of her performance after Hurricane Katrina and her standing with state voters.

Democrats were unable to come up with a top tier candidate for the race, but they hope that either State Sen. Walter Boasso (who recently jumped from the GOP to the Democratic Party) or Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell can knock off Jindal in a runoff.

The state Democratic Party’s charges are so inflammatory that they place a huge burden on Democrats to justify them. While the TV ad accuses Jindal of being intolerant, it automatically raises questions about the Louisiana Democratic Party’s judgment, and Republicans are certain to charge that it is Democrats who are interjecting religion into the campaign.

The Jindal campaign has already fired off an email to supporters charging that “old-guard political operatives” have “declared a war on Bobby's Christian Faith” and adding that “these desperate political operatives are launching an attack on ALL people of Faith.”

For Democrats willing to play with fire, the decision to run the ad may have been an easy one. Jindal appears headed for victory, so anything that could disrupt the campaign and peel votes away from the Republican can only improve the Louisiana Democratic Party’s chances of forcing a runoff.

Still, the ad is bound to shock viewers, both for the charges in it and because a major state party would produce such a spot. Stay tuned to see what kind of backlash the ads generate and whether they substantially damage Jindal’s standing in the race for Governor.

Monday, August 20, 2007

For Mark Warner, There May Be Too Many Options

By Stuart Rothenberg

Most people would like to have more choices in their life. But for some, life offers too many options. Take the case of Mark Warner, the former and possibly future governor of the commonwealth of Virginia.

Warner was a popular governor who was prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term in 2005. But at 52, he still has plenty of years ahead of him. The only questions are, what does he do next and when does he do it?

Warner doesn’t have to worry very much about that pesky matter of money. He’s got plenty of it, so the allure of the private sector and millions of dollars a year in compensation isn’t likely to be as great for him as for some in public service.

In October, the former governor dropped a political bombshell when he announced he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. Journalists and Democratic insiders had assumed he would be a candidate.

When he announced his decision not to run, the former Virginia governor made it very clear that he was not closing the book on government or politics. Instead, he explained that he was not willing, at that point, “to put everything else in my life on the back burner.”

“My decision does not in any way diminish my desire to be active in getting our country fixed,” he added. “It doesn’t mean that I won’t run for public office again. I want to serve, whether in elective office or in some other way. I’m still excited about the possibilities for the future.”

Warner’s statement was a classic “it’s not the right time” decision, and many people took him to say that he didn’t want to spend the next 18 months of his life on the road running for president.

By all reports, Warner truly enjoyed being governor, and that office will come vacant again in just two years. Might he decide to run for another term, which is allowed under state law?

Or with Sen. John Warner’s (R) seat likely to open up next year — I know of no one who thinks the veteran Senator will seek a sixth term in 2008 — will Mark Warner choose to become his party’s Senate nominee next year?

Or will the former governor decide he’d rather be available to be selected by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Barack Obama (Ill.) to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president in ’08?

Warner would seem to be a perfect running mate for Clinton. A moderate from Virginia who made millions in the private sector and served as governor, he complements her geographically (South to her Northeast), ideologically (moderate to her liberalism) and in experience (his state office to her federal).

True, Warner hails from Connecticut, not the Old Dominion, and he’s more a yuppie than a rural Southerner. But he could help her carry his state, send a message about her pragmatism and boost Democrats’ appeal among moderates. Yes, the party’s left might complain, but they want to win more than anything else, and a Clinton-Warner ticket would look awfully strong in November.

The problem for Warner is one of timing.

In Virginia, the Democratic State Central Committee will decide no later than March 12 whether to select a 2008 Senate nominee in a June primary or convention. For a primary, the filing period would run from March 25 to April 11. In either case, Warner likely would have to make a decision about the Senate race well before the party’s presidential nominee has settled on a running mate.

Of course, Warner could enter the Senate race and still be available to join the national ticket in July or August, if the party’s presidential nominee were to select the Virginian as a running mate. But that would be messy, and, as one national political operative told me, a Warner Senate bid surely would be a factor dissuading the party’s presidential nominee from asking him to join the ticket.

If Warner stays available and isn’t picked for No. 2, his options change. A Cabinet post in a Democratic administration would be very possible, but he couldn’t run for the Senate until at least 2014 (assuming a Republican were to win it in 2008), since he obviously wouldn’t challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) when he comes up for re-election in 2012.

Governor in 2009? Yes, that would be an option, especially since Warner could have a major role in redistricting after the 2010 Census. But it has its downside.

Warner and his family now reside in Alexandria — where he lived before he was governor — and a move back to Richmond would affect his family, creating school issues. And politically, if he doesn’t do as well during his second term as he did during his first, what will that do to his reputation?

“Being governor again would be like getting a perfect score on an exam and retaking it again,” joked one Democrat and Warner ally who acknowledges the risk.

Yes, Mark Warner has plenty of options. All he has to do is pick the right one. The choice, however, may not be as easy as it looks.

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

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mississippi 3: Pickering Seat Likely to Stay in GOP Column

Republicans are likely to retain the Mississippi Congressional District being left open because of the retirement of Rep. Chip Pickering, but that doesn’t mean that Mississippi 3rd District voters won't see a competitive campaign.

Contrary to initial reports, Pickering will not resign his seat. Instead, he will serve out his term but not seek reelection. GOP insiders describe the district as overflowing with potential Republican candidates and expect a multi-candidate primary.

Atop the list are two statewide names: Tate Reeves and Amy Tuck.

Reeves is Mississippi's 32 year old state Treasurer, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Elected in 2003, he is a strong fundraiser and has been a high profile state official. While some insiders have already assumed that he will be a candidate for governor in 2011, the Congressional open seat could have appeal for him.

Tuck, 44, is finishing her second term as Lieutenant Governor. She is term limited and cannot seek reelection. A former Democrat who switched to the GOP in 2002, she is widely regarded as a strong campaigner. "Nobody works the crowd better than Amy," says one savvy Republican about the woman everyone describes as "a political animal."

But Tuck's Southern populism, which includes support for extensive government spending on public works projects, means that she has a problem with some base Republicans, and she hasn’t always agreed with Governor Haley Barbour (R).

Other Republicans who are being mentioned include state Senator Charlie Ross, who recently lost the GOP primary for Lieutenant Governor, state Senator Walter Michel and State Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.

Observers say that it is unlikely that Barbour or the state party can narrow the GOP field to a single consensus candidate. "Congressional seats are lifetime appointments in Mississippi," jokes one Republican strategist who expects a number of candidates.

Pickering had expected to run for the Senate by this time, either for the seat of Sen. Trent Lott (R) or Sen. Thad Cochran (R). But Lott surprised observers by seeking reelection in 2006, and Cochran appears to be running for another term next year. That would keep Pickering in the House for an extended period, which may explain his decision.

Pickering's exit from Congress doesn’t mean that he will not run for the Senate when a Mississippi Senate comes open.

This initial analysis first appeared on Political Wire.

11:30AM UPDATE: More names continue to be floated in the Pickering open seat. The two big names still being mentioned on the GOP side are outgoing Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and state Treasurer Tate Reeves. State Sen. Charlie Ross, who just lost a primary for lieutenant governor, also is on most lists.

Among the new Republican names being mentioned are columnist/radio talk show host Craig Ziemba of Meridien (a former military pilot), Rankin County GOP Chairman Gregg Harper and state Rep. Greg Snowden.

Jackson tax lawyer Delbert Hosemann, who recently won a primary and is the GOP nominee for Secretary of State, could also run for Congress if he loses his races later this year. If neither Ross nor Hosemann end up running for Congress, state Sen. Dean Kirby might consider the race. Hosemann lost a 1998 U.S. House race to Democrat Ronnie Shows.

On the Democratic side, the top name mentioned is former Governor Ronnie Musgrove. “It makes me feel good that people still remember by name,” Musgrove, who lost his bid for reelection to Republican Haley Barbour in 2003, told the Report. But while he didn’t completely rule out a run, he made it clear that he is not actively considering the race. We would be very surprised if he sought the seat.

After Musgrove, two additional Democrats receive mention: State Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto (who is a friend of Mississippi author John Grisham) and former state senator Rob Smith. Smith is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, and like Hosemann, could consider a U.S. House bid if he loses in the fall.

3:00PM UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (R) is officially out of the race. A statement today from her office read, “Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said Friday she will not be a candidate for Congressman Pickering’s seat.”

But the list of potential candidates on the Republican side continues to grow. Deputy Director of the Mississippi Development Authority Whit Hughes, Mississippi State Director for USDA Rural Development John Rounsaville, and former Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan are all mentioned as potentially interested. In addition, GOP operatives close to the governor have been mentioned.

For the Democrats, former Gene Taylor (D) aide Shawn Bullard is mentioned. He is a former TV journalist in Biloxi who is now president of the Duetto Group in Arlington.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

White House Cash Likely to Diminish

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While many Americans are wrapping up their summer vacations and getting their kids ready for the upcoming school year, the 2008 presidential candidates already are thinking about third-quarter fundraising figures.

The uncertainty surrounding the date of the Iowa caucuses increases the importance of those numbers, which constitute one of the few tangible measures of candidate support before actual voters have their say.

In the 2004 cycle, candidates released their fourth-quarter fundraising numbers in late December 2003 in an effort to show momentum heading into the Jan. 19 caucuses. But if Iowa holds its caucuses before Christmas this year, fourth-quarter fundraising numbers won’t be available, enhancing the importance of the third quarter.

The early intensity of the presidential race is unprecedented, and the fundraising success to date of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is matched only by George W. Bush’s money juggernaut of 2000 and 2004.

Now, the candidates are faced with rising expectations set by their own early fundraising prowess. Historically, over the past two presidential cycles, the third quarter of the off year has been a difficult one to raise money, with candidate fundraising dropping off in July through September. This cycle’s candidates will try to leverage the Internet and other techniques to overcome the slump.

“A lot of low-hanging fruit has been taken off the branches,” GOP fundraising consultant Steve Gordon said.

Veteran Democratic strategist Don Foley puts it a bit differently.

“It’s a mature field,” he said. “They’ve gone to their friends and tapped the obligatory money, so now the hard part begins.”

There are two key recent exceptions to the third-quarter slumping trend.

In 1999, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the only major candidate to increase his fundraising in the third quarter. He raised $3.1 million after bringing in only $2.5 million from April to June.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (D) raised a hefty $14.8 million in the third quarter of 2003, a then-fundraising record for a Democratic presidential candidate in a quarter. It was another piece of evidence that his campaign had amazing momentum, after he raised $2.6 million in the first quarter and $7.6 million in the second. In fact, Dean raised more money in the third quarter than his four main Democratic opponents combined.

At the time, both McCain and Dean were running as “outsiders” and their insurgent campaigns placed a high priority on fundraising on the Internet. Now, no single candidate of either party has the online market cornered and this cycle’s crop of candidates will prove whether the message matters more than the fundraising vehicle in overcoming the third-quarter slump.

Of course, neither McCain nor Dean won his party’s nomination, proving that fundraising is still a flawed indicator of electoral success in presidential contests.

Dean’s chief Democratic competitors, then-Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), then-Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and the eventual nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), all saw their third-quarter fundraising slip from their take in the previous three months. And Bush’s fundraising in 1999 fell in the third quarter only because he brought in an amazing $28.3 million in the second quarter.

If history is a guide, most of the candidates will see their fundraising numbers decline, and Edwards is no exception. In 2003, the former North Carolina Senator’s fundraising steadily declined from $7.4 million raised in the first quarter to $4.5 million in the second and $2.6 million in the third.

This year, Edwards raised $14 million in the first quarter and $9 million in the second. Based on his 2003 trend, he should come in close to $5 million raised through the end of September. Decreasing resources makes Edwards’ Iowa showing that much more important if he is going to compete in the next round of states.

A slower third quarter is not necessarily a fatal blow for a candidate. Kerry’s fundraising dropped by a third between the second and third quarters in 2003, and he went on to win the nomination.

Other candidates don’t see a significant drop-off in their fundraising but also don’t get the big boost like Dean. In 2003, Gephardt’s fundraising was very steady — he raised $3.6 million in the first quarter, $3.9 million in the second and $3.8 million in the third — yet he couldn’t gain momentum.

This year’s equivalent could be Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who raised $4 million in the first quarter and $3.3 million in the second, or Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who raised $2.1 million in the first quarter and $2.4 million in the second. Their numbers have been steady, while their campaigns haven’t caught fire.

The third quarter is a particularly hard time for second-tier candidates to raise campaign cash, Foley said, noting that extensive polling shows potential donors which candidates have the best chance of winning.

Sometimes there is no distinction between the frontrunners in third-quarter finance reports. In 1999, former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and then-Vice President Al Gore (D) raised just about the same amount of money. There could be a similar result this year with Clinton and Obama.

It remains to be seen whether Obama’s message of hope and change will be matched by a third-quarter fundraising bump. Or will Clinton or someone such as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) use the period to gain momentum?

All in all, the amount of money raised thus far in the race is staggering. Clinton and Obama raised more money in the first quarter of this year than Dean raised in the first nine months of 2003, and he was considered to be bringing in money by the truckloads.

And way back in 1991, Bill Clinton raised a little more than $200,000 through September, and he would go on to become president.

Almost halfway through the third quarter, the campaigns are giving no clues on the current state of their fundraising. But in the constant news cycle void of actual voting results, this fall’s fundraising reports will be scrutinized even further.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ohio 15:Pryce Opts Not to Seek Reelection

Amid reports that eight-term Republican Congresswoman Deborah Pryce (R) is “considering not seeking reelection,” several GOP insiders now tell the Rothenberg Political Report that Pryce has decided against running for another term and will announce her decision tomorrow at an 11am news conference.

Pryce’s district includes part of Franklin County (Columbus), but she also represents two less populated counties, Madison and Union.

Pryce, who trailed much of last cycle before slipping by challenger Mary Jo Kilroy (D) by 1,055 votes, chaired the Republican House Conference, making her the highest ranking GOP woman ever in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Republican won her seat in 1992 in a three way race that included a social conservative who complained that Pryce was too moderate. She won her next six races easily, often with more than 65 percent of the vote.

The Ohio political environment was toxic for Republicans last year, and Democrats won the governorship, a Senate seat and a U.S. House seat. Three other Congressional Republicans, including Pryce, had close calls.

George W. Bush carried the district easily in 2000, 52 percent to 44 percent, but won it only narrowly, 50 percent to 49 percent, four years later.

Kilroy has already announced that she is running again, and Democrats seem to have rallied behind her. A Kilroy-Pryce rematch would have been brutal, undoubtedly an unappealing prospect for the Congresswoman. In addition, one Republican operative noted that Pryce has been extremely close to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and that Hastert’s decision not to seek another term could well have played a role in Pryce’s decision.

It is unclear whether Pryce’s decision not to run again – and the open seat – will change the dynamic in the Democratic race.

At least one GOP name is already starting to circulate as possibly interested in the open seat: Jim Petro. A former Ohio attorney general and former state auditor, Petro, 58, lost to Ken Blackwell in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary. Blackwell went on to be decimated in the general election, losing to Democrat Ted Strickland by 23 percentage points.

Democrats were prepared to make Pryce’s seat a top target again this year, but Republicans countered that if the Congresswoman was able to survive in 2006, she would be unlikely to lose in 2008.

The open seat confirms the obvious: Pryce’s Ohio Congressional district will again be a battleground in 2008, and Democrats have reason to feel even more upbeat about their prospects in an open seat.

The Rothenberg Political Report had rated the Ohio 15 race as “Lean Republican,” but it now moves to “Toss-Up” as an open seat.

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's Time for Them to Go

By Stuart Rothenberg

Each party has now had at least a handful of debates consisting all of the "credible" candidates, which means that the sponsors have been "fair" and given exposure to everyone. Now it's time to be fair to voters, which means shrinking the number of participants in the next flurry of "debates."

In other words, it's time for them - Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Dennis Kucinch and Mike Gravel - to go. Go to Iowa. Go to New Hampshire. Go somewhere. But get them off the stage with the credible candidates.

We can all differ on exactly where to draw the line, but let's at least draw one.

You want to set an artificial percentage of support in national polls or Iowa and New Hampshire surveys? Fine. Just do it. You prefer excluding House members (since a sitting House member hasn't won a Presidential election in more than a century) and candidates who haven't been in office for a decade? Ok.

I'm not saying that it's time to winnow the debate fields down to the top tier candidates on either side. No, I wouldn't exclude Senators McCain, Brownback, Biden and Dodd or former Governor Huckabee. True, they are long-shots in the Presidential race, but there is a huge difference between them and the group above that I mentioned - the no shots.

The long shots have raised money, put together experienced campaign teams and have at least some chance of being nominated. They certainly deserve more time on the national stage, while the Tancredo's and Kucinich's of the world have had their moment to make their cases and push their issues.

Yes, I know. Excluding candidates from forums and debates will generate a barrage of complaints from those who are excluded and from critics of "the establishment." They'll moan and groan that the media (or corporate America) is silencing them, denying the platform that they need to be heard. Of course they can't win if the media "silences" them, they'll say. "It's "censorship!" they'll scream.

Oh baloney. You could give Ron Paul and Mike Gravel an hour of free TV time from now until Christmas and they still wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of being nominated by their respective parties.

Right now, Hunter, Tancredo and Paul together take up more than 35 percent of the time in a GOP debate (assuming participants get roughly equal amounts of time to answer questions). That's valuable time that the credible candidates don't get.

The point of debates, after all, is to help voters decide who they favor for President, not to give everyone who wants to be President exposure.

In the Democratic debates, Gravel and Kucinich together take about one-quarter of the time. That time could be better used to give the other hopefuls - one of whom will be the Democratic nominee for President - to answer questions.

Eliminating the five hopefuls from the upcoming debates might cost David Letterman a joke or two about Dennis Kucinich's wife, but that's about it.

But would excluding a handful of hopefuls at this point, months before the actual delegate selection begins, be "fair?"

Absolutely. Debate hosts invariably weed out candidates as not credible, so it's not a matter of whether to limit participants but how to do so. This year, Republican Presidential candidate John Cox, who finished fifth in an Illinois GOP primary for Congress in 2000 and third in his party's 2002 Illinois Senate primary, hasn't been invited to debates. And he shouldn't be, since he has no chance of winning.

So let's stop the charade. The broadcast and cable TV networks have given their platforms to Gravel and Paul and Hunter. Now it's time to limit participation in major events to candidates who have at least some chance of being nominated for President.

The Iowa caucuses are coming up quickly. It's time to give more time, and more scrutiny, to the credible candidates, and the best way to do that is to exclude the "no chance" hopefuls from future debates.

This column first appeared on RealClearPolitics on August 10, 2007.

Friday, August 10, 2007

New Print Edition: Ohio 15 & New Hampshire 1

The August 10, 2007 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks and the content is not available online. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check. Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

Ohio 15: Buckeye Bull’s-Eye
By Nathan L. Gonzales

Deborah Pryce wasn’t supposed to be a member of the 110th Congress. In 2006, the Republican congresswoman found herself running for reelection in the face of an unpopular President, a scandal-ridden GOP governor, and a leadership post in the House that gave Democrats an easy avenue to tie her to disgraced Cong. Mark Foley (R-FL).

With just a few weeks to go, Pryce was down double digits in the polls and standing on the back of a flatbed truck challenging her opponent to debate.

But she pulled it out.

Now, Pryce is headed for a rematch with Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in Ohio’s 15th District. Once again, the Columbus area will be an epicenter for political activity as the presidential nominees battle for the Buckeye State’s 20 electoral votes.

Pryce’s supporters are under no illusions that 2008 will be a rosy environment to run another reelection race, but with Bob Taft (R) out of office and President Bush about to follow, they don’t figure it will be any worse than 2006.

Subscribers get the entire story...

New Hampshire 1: Surprise, Surprise

Virtually nobody expected Carol Shea-Porter to prevail on Election Night. And most observers didn’t even expect her to win the primary. But when the votes were counted, the Democrat had defeated Cong. Jeb Bradley (R) and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the night.

Public polling just a couple days before the Election showed Shea-Porter no closer than five points, and down by as many as 14 points.

But the Democratic wave was particularly strong in New Hampshire last November, sweeping out both Republican members of Congress, and giving the Democrats control of both chambers of the state legislature.
Republicans in the Granite State are still recovering from the 2006 losses, President Bush’s numbers are as low as anywhere in the country, and Sen. John Sununu (R) looks like the most vulnerable incumbent in the country right now.

Confident in victory and her grassroots campaign, Shea-Porter has opted out of the DCCC’s Frontline incumbent protection program.

But Shea-Porter could be in for a rude awakening if she thinks another grassroots campaign will be enough to hold the seat. The Presidential year, plus the political target on her back, makes that unlikely.

Subscribers get the entire story, as well as Report Shorts on Louisiana Senate, Oregon Senate, California 11, Colorado 2, Illinois 18, Michigan 9, and New York 29.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

And the Senate Race Is On in South Dakota

By Stuart Rothenberg

I have had an almost-finished column sitting on my desk since the end of June. It’s not that I couldn’t finish it. I just decided to put it on hold, indefinitely.

But the recent coverage of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign’s (Nev.) statement that it’s time for Republicans to go after South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson’s seat has caused me to defrost that piece.

Ensign’s comments, and the counterattack from Johnson’s spokeswoman, Julianne Fisher, actually were preceded by an editorial in the Rapid City Journal. The newspaper’s editorial board called for “more transparency” about Johnson’s condition and urged the Senator “to communicate directly with the media and the people of South Dakota.”

Last week, Roll Call reported that Ensign and the GOP were “no longer putting off mounting an aggressive campaign to unseat Sen. Tim Johnson.”

That announcement brought an unnecessary overreaction from Fisher, who called Ensign’s comments “a classless attack by a desperate chairman.”

“We don’t fear John Ensign and the national Republican hit men,” said Fisher, who apparently was taught that there is no need to use a match when a flamethrower is available.

“Classless.” “Desperate.” “Hit men.” My, my. I’m not sure which statement applies best: The lady doth protest too much, methinks, or, people who live in glass houses ... .

Anyway, let’s all take a deep breath and start over.

I, too, have been concerned about the fact that we haven’t heard directly from Sen. Johnson himself.

We all know the Senator’s world changed on Dec. 13, 2006, when an aneurysm in his brain because of a congenital condition put his life, to say nothing of his political future, at risk. The next day, Johnson underwent brain surgery at The George Washington University Hospital in the nation’s capital.

Slowly, the two-term Democrat is trying to change his life back to something resembling what it was. But the process has been difficult.

The Senator’s family and staff never sugar-coated Johnson’s prospects, but they also allowed precious little information out about his condition. Starting in March, we started to see photographs of the Senator, and, increasingly, his office has released statements from him.

The most misleading information to come out of the whole story probably came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who, the day after surgery was performed on Johnson, said he had seen his colleague and “he looked great.”

“Mr. Reid declined to say whether he believed Mr. Johnson looked well enough to be able to return to the Senate, saying that anything he said would only raise more questions among reporters. ‘To me,’ [Reid] said, ‘he looked very good,’” according to a New York Times piece.

We now know the idea that Johnson might have looked well enough to return to the Senate some 24 hours after surgery was ridiculous. And while the South Dakota Democrat may have looked “great” to Reid, it’s hard to believe that most people would have described Johnson that way, since he apparently needed a full-time ventilator, had significant damage to the right side of his body and was in critical condition for weeks after the surgery.

Everything is relative, of course, and I’m not suggesting that Reid intended to be misleading. But it is clear that Johnson was not in great shape then. In fact, some close to Johnson were less than happy at Reid’s overly optimistic statements, believing they didn’t accurately reflect Johnson’s state at that time.

In mid-March, Johnson’s office released four photographs of the Senator. In a Rapid City Journal piece that included one of the photographs, staff writer Bill Harlan noted that “Johnson has not spoken to reporters” and that the Senator was recovering “at an undisclosed health-care facility” because “the family wanted Johnson to have privacy.”

Two of the photographs showed Johnson with a newspaper (one with his wife). Two others showed him outside with his wife and daughter.

Given the lack of contact between the Senator and reporters, the photographs easily could have been interpreted as an effort by his family to show that things were returning to normal for him. But, in fact, things were still a long way from normal for Johnson.

The heavily staged shots made it easy to disguise the fact that his right side continued to be very weak and his speaking skills were a far cry from what they had been before the aneurysm. Johnson, of course, was under no obligation to call attention to his physical limitations at that time.

On May 16, Johnson’s office posted a photograph of him standing with a physical therapist that presented a fuller picture of his condition.

Democrats close to the Senator told me in June that they wanted to wait until Johnson’s speech is virtually back to normal before re-introducing him to South Dakota voters and the national media. Their fear is that, while his cognitive abilities are back, a verbal stumble or two by the Senator would create a buzz about his abilities and create a media frenzy.

When I first heard the explanation, I was skeptical. Just put him in front of a camera with a fair reporter or even talking to camera so people can see and hear him, I thought. Virtually everyone will be sympathetic, knowing he has been fighting his way back from a serious medical problem. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if my initial reaction was wrong.

More and more journalists seem to be after controversy, and the prospect of dozens of know-nothing talking heads with titles such as “Republican strategist” and “Democratic strategist” pontificating on television about a subject they know little about got me to wonder if keeping Johnson out of the public eye until he was more fully recovered wasn’t the right thing.

But after the Rapid City Journal editorial, the Ensign comment and the Fisher reaction, I, too, think Johnson needs to come forward, at least by the time the Senate returns after Labor Day.

More than anything else, Fisher’s comments changed my mind. She came out of the gate like an attack dog in responding to a comment by Ensign that was both reasonable and probably unwise.

Her response reflected the current campaign mentality of attack, attack, attack. Combine that with the fact that the Johnson campaign has raised more than $1.2 million since his medical emergency, and it is hard not to conclude that the Senator or at least his friends want to be able to do political things while at the same time keeping Republicans from acting the same way.

Johnson ought not get a free pass this election anymore than any other Member of Congress who has had great personal misfortune should. The question now, as it should be next year, is whether Tim Johnson can do the job and whether he is representing his constituents effectively and as they wish.

Johnson can do part of his job from his home in Virginia but not all of it. I’m told he can get around and that his speaking is improving. He needs to return to public life if he is physically able to do so. And if he isn’t, his office needs to explain, and show, why he isn’t.

We all know the Senator has been through a terrible time. I don’t think anyone is expecting to see the same man we saw last year. But if he is raising cash, and if his staff is attacking the NRSC chairman because he said Republicans are going to try to defeat Johnson next year, the game is on.

Personally, I think Ensign was mistaken to bring up the South Dakota seat now. Why not wait until September, when the Senate has been back for a few days, to note that the campaign season has begun everywhere, even in South Dakota?

I strongly doubt Republicans can knock off Johnson next year if he comes back looking and sounding capable enough to do his job. But until we see Johnson, who knows?

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

Monday, August 06, 2007

Even in Bad Environment, NRCC Finds Willing Candidates

By Stuart Rothenberg

The national political environment looks pretty crummy for Republicans these days, and I’m not at all sure that it will improve between now and the time voters go to the polls next November. But that hasn’t stopped a handful of potentially strong GOP challengers from launching their bids against Democratic incumbents.

I recently met five GOP House candidates who are running for Congress and attended a National Republican Congressional Committee candidate school, and I was impressed.

Two of the hopefuls, Sandy Treadwell (New York’s 20th) and Tom Rooney (Florida’s 16th), face primary opposition before they can claim to be their party’s general election nominees, while the three others — David Cappiello (Connecticut’s 5th), Quico Canseco (Texas’ 23rd) and Nick Jordan (Kansas’ 3rd) — currently are without major primary opposition.

Treadwell is a former New York secretary of state and state GOP chairman, and he has the look and thoughtful style of a Senator. He is running for the right to take on freshman Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in a very Republican, upstate district that fell because the sitting Republican Congressman, then-Rep. John Sweeney, embarrassed himself one too many times.

Rooney, an attorney, Army veteran and former assistant attorney general in Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s (R) administration, is low-key and extremely earnest. He hopes to be his party’s nominee against freshman Rep. Tim Mahoney, who won by riding the Democratic wave — and the embarrassing resignation of the district’s incumbent Republican Congressman, then-Rep. Mark Foley — to victory.

Cappiello, a state Senator from Danbury, is feisty and a critic of the Iraq War. A moderate on social issues, he has proved to be a hard worker and appears to be extremely comfortable in the role of candidate. He hopes to oust Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy, a young former state Senator who defeated veteran Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) by a surprisingly comfortable 12 points last year.

Canseco is a wealthy businessman who hopes to win back the district lost by former GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla in a December runoff. An attorney and banker, he has been active in state GOP politics and he oozes optimism — maybe a bit too much optimism at this point in the cycle — about his chances of knocking off Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D), who now is serving his second tour of duty in the House.

State Sen. Nick Jordan may have the toughest road of the five Republican challengers, since he faces five-term Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, who has benefited from deep divisions between social conservatives and moderates in the local Republican Party. Jordan, a businessman who was appointed to his seat in 1995 but elected the next year, somehow must bridge that chasm.

One reason these Republicans are optimistic is that they are all running in either competitive or Republican-leaning districts.

In 2004, President Bush drew 57 percent of the vote in Texas’ 23rd, 55 percent in both Florida’s 16th and Kansas’ 3rd and 53 percent in New York’s 20th. The only one of the five districts that he lost was Connecticut’s 5th, which Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carried by just five-tenths of a percentage point.

On paper, of the five hopefuls, the ones with the best shot at winning a seat in Congress initially appear to be Treadwell and Rooney, which probably is why they are the two who have primary opposition right now.

In both cases, GOP incumbents self- destructed in the previous cycle, giving long-shot Democrats the rare opportunity to both ride a partisan wave and contrast themselves with personally damaged Republican officeholders (or, in the case of Foley in Florida, a former officeholder).

Republican strategists point out that an uptick in turnout because of the presidential year will bring out new voters who didn’t participate in the midterm election and therefore never could have voted for the new Democrats in these districts.

But incumbency has proved to be a sizable advantage over the years, and Gillibrand, Murphy and Mahoney have two years to make a connection with voters, as Moore has done in a Republican-leaning district. Indeed, Moore is not alone. Even with the 2006 Democratic wave, eight Republicans continue to represent districts won by Kerry, clear proof that incumbency still has some benefits.

Finally, it’s important to remember that five credible, personable challengers better be only the tip of the iceberg for the NRCC if the committee hopes to have a good 2008. The Republicans need to field dozens of top-tier hopefuls if they are going to make significant House gains next year, and they must hope the candidates will be able to make their races local contests, not referendums on Iraq and the Bush presidency.

Anyway, remember the names Treadwell, Rooney, Cappiello, Canseco and Jordan. They all have potential, and they could well be involved in some of the more competitive races this cycle.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 2, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Watts Video Shows He Has a Ways to Go in Texas

By Stuart Rothenberg

Having watched thousands of campaigns over the past couple of decades, I have come to understand that the candidate you meet in July of the off-year is not always the same person you see again 15 months later. Candidates, and their campaigns, often improve with experience, and they start to look better if and when their opponents start to fade.

Texas Senate hopeful Mikal Watts is getting plenty of attention these days because he has committed to putting as much as $10 million behind his bid for the Democratic nomination (against state Rep. Rick Noriega, a favorite of some in the party’s net roots) and his challenge to incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R).

A number of weeks ago, I noted my skepticism about whether Cornyn is beatable next year, and I’m not yet ready to change that tune. Yes, the Senator’s job rating in one June survey wasn’t intimidating, but most Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, have seen their numbers slide as a result of the public’s dissatisfaction with the state of the nation. We don’t yet know what the situation will be like next October.

But my doubts about Democratic prospects in the race don’t mean I am ignoring the contest. Being a handicapper requires that I re-evaluate and reassess. And if, at some point, I’m convinced Cornyn is in serious trouble, I’ll be more than happy to note it.

I haven’t yet met Watts, so I have little to judge him by except for his campaign bank account — currently standing at more than $4 million — and his Web site.

His money obviously is impressive. But money rarely is enough. If it were the only thing that mattered, Michael Huffington (R) would have been elected to the Senate from California in 1994, Al Checchi (D) would have been elected governor of that state in 1998 (or at least won the Democratic nomination), Blair Hull (D) would now be a senator from Illinois and Tony Sanchez (D) might have come close in his Texas gubernatorial bid in 2002.

So Watts’ wallet gets my attention, but where do I look after that? His video is one of the few things on his Web site, other than a bunch of photographs of early campaign events, a bio and a donation form. So I watched it.

The first half of the four-minute, 15 second video is straightforward enough. Watts introduces himself and talks about his education, his parents, his own family and his interest in public service. He’s a trial lawyer, so it’s not surprising that he’s poised, articulate and polished.

The second half of the video probably is the silliest, most transparent attempt to deliver a message I have ever seen.

Watts wants us to know that he is a “fighter” and a “leader,” and he apparently thinks that viewers of his video are a little dense. You’d either have to be in a coma or not understand English to miss Watts’ message. The Democratic hopeful uses a form of the word “fight” 11 times in the last two minutes and 15 seconds of the video. And he uses a form of the word “leader” another eight times during that same period.

In one section of the video lasting 37 seconds, Watts uses the word “fighter” six times — an average of once every 6.17 seconds:

“I have been a fighter my entire career, fighting for the rights of average, working families here in Texas. And I have proven that I will stay in that fight and give it my all until we win. Texans are looking for a Senator who is a leader, who will fight for them. Someone who will fight for families here in Texas rather than special interests there in Washington. I am certain that as we travel around the state and see more and more good Texans, that my message of real leadership and real change in Washington is a message that is going to hit home here in Texas. I am confident that Texans will join me in this fight.”

There are plenty of attributes that voters want in their candidates. They certainly want leaders and, at least now, forces for change. I certainly wouldn’t criticize Watts or any candidate for mentioning them. It’s the way he talks about them that is so aggravating. It sounds as if he thinks he’s the first guy to run on those buzzwords.

And there are other things in the video, such as his statement, “I have traveled around all portions of Texas, and I have talked to hundreds of Texans — hundreds and hundreds of them actually.”

The 2006 U.S. Census Bureau estimate of the population of Texas was 23,507,783. Watts says that he has spoken to “hundreds and hundreds” of Texans. He might have waited until he had talked to at least “thousands and thousands” of Texans before deciding that he had an idea what people in the state want.

Then there is his comment that Texans have “come to expect leaders” like Lyndon Johnson, not “partisans like John Cornyn.” Well, Cornyn may very well be a partisan, but Johnson wasn’t one? Is he kidding?

I’m not certain whether Watts’ rhetoric is classic political boilerplate or an effort to neutralize the positioning of Noriega, a state legislator and veteran of the war in Afghanistan. If and when I meet Watts, I may have a completely different view of him and his prospects. But for now, I’d suggest that he re-do his video, making it more professional and more thoughtful.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 30, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.