Monday, October 29, 2007

Rothenberg Highlights Dangerous Not Quite Dozen Open Seats

By Stuart Rothenberg

For a number of cycles now, I’ve periodically focused on open House seats as a way of evaluating the direction of the overall cycle. No, there still aren’t a dozen open seats that could possibly flip party control. But there are enough open seats worth rating. The list below starts with the seats most likely to change party control. I’ll revisit these opens — and others that will develop — throughout the cycle.

Ohio’s 15th: Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce barely held on last time, defeating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by half a percentage point in a come-from-behind win. Kilroy is back for a rematch, but Pryce has decided to call it quits. Two obvious potential Republican candidates quickly indicated no interest in the seat, and the GOP is still looking for someone who can keep it in the party’s column next year. While George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) were in a virtual dead heat three years ago, Franklin County (Columbus) has been moving toward the Democrats. Given that, this district looks like the top takeover possibility in the nation so far.

Minnesota’s 3rd: Rep. Jim Ramstad’s retirement adds to Republican woes given the competitiveness of the suburban district that takes in a chunk of Hennepin County, west of Minneapolis. The district went for Bush by 3 points in 2004. State Sen. Terri Bonoff is a credible Democratic candidate, while state Rep. Erik Paulsen is expected to carry the banner for the GOP. A tossup.

New Mexico’s 1st: Republican Rep. Heather Wilson’s run for the Senate opens up a seat that she has held, though with significant difficulty, since a June 1998 special election. Last year, she was re-elected by 861 votes. The open seat has Democrats salivating, figuring that the combination of the vacancy and the public mood should put the seat into the Democratic column. So far, two Democrats are in the race, Albuquerque Councilman Martin Heinrich, whose Web site describes him as a “natural leader,” and former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham. But Republicans are upbeat about their chances, with Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White already in the race and others looking. Kerry carried the district with 51 percent in 2004. A tossup.

Illinois’ 11th: Bush carried the district by 7 points (53 percent to 46 percent) in 2004, and Republicans can’t take an open seat for granted. State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) already is in the race, while the GOP field isn’t yet settled.

Arizona’s 1st: GOP strategists breathed a sigh of relief when embattled Rep. Rick Renzi (R) announced he wouldn’t seek re- election, but that still means this district is in play. Former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick probably will carry the Democratic banner, while the Republican field is still taking shape. Bush won the district by 8 points, 54 percent to 46 percent, in 2004.

Ohio’s 16th: Republican Rep. Ralph Regula’s retirement was expected, and it isn’t clear whether it helps or hurts Democratic takeover chances. State Sen. John Boccieri should be a strong Democratic nominee, but Bush won the district by 8 points in 2004 (54 percent to 46 percent), and Republicans are likely to have a strong nominee. State Sen. Kirk Schuring and Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller are competing for the Republican nomination.

New Mexico’s 2nd: Rep. Steve Pearce’s district is more reliably Republican than Wilson’s, and the race in this district is only starting to form. Bush carried the district 58 percent to 41 percent over Kerry, so any Democrat would have an uphill, though not impossible, fight.

Illinois’ 18th: Democrats insist that they’ll have a shot at winning Republican Rep. Ray LaHood’s district, but the odds are long. Two Republicans, state Rep. Aaron Schock and former Peoria City Councilman John Morris, will battle it out for their party’s nomination. Democrats think former basketball coach Dick Versace will surprise in a district Bush won 58 percent to 42 percent in 2004.

Aren’t there other opens? Sure, but when the chances of a partisan takeover start to approach zero, they don’t belong on this list.

Democrats haven’t given up hope about competing in retiring Rep. Terry Everett’s very Republican Alabama Congressional seat (if they can recruit the mayor of Montgomery into the race), but they probably should. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) seat will be open, but it is likely to be filled in a late winter/early spring special election.

Republicans dearly would like to snatch away a Democratic open seat, but the two current prospects, Maine’s 1st district, currently represented by Tom Allen, and Rep. Mark Udall’s 2nd district in Colorado, don’t look very promising right now.

Finally, where is Rep. Tom Davis’s Virginia district? The seven-term Republican has been readying for a Senate race for years, so why isn’t his 11th district seat on the list?

It now appears certain that Davis will not run for the Senate. But will the Congressman run for re-election or walk away from Congress? He hasn’t announced his decision yet, but the odds are he’ll run again. So I’m not treating Davis’s seat as open unless and until he says that it is.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 25, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Partisan Politics and Democrats’ Turkey Problem

By Stuart Rothenberg

If there is anything that points out the difference between most Republicans and most Democrats, it is Congress’ effort to pass a resolution that labels Turkey’s slaughter of Armenians almost a century ago as “genocide.”

The White House has opposed the action, which has been pushed by House Democrats. While some Republicans have been supporting the measure (and supported previous attempts to please Armenian-Americans by embarrassing Turkey), the current resolution is primarily a Democratic initiative on Capitol Hill.

But if you cut through all of the politicking and even put aside the specifics of the current controversy, you see that fundamentally, the issue is this: For Republicans, politics is never having to say you’re sorry. For Democrats, politics primarily is about an endless number of apologies and condolences, and a feeling of unquenchable guilt, though it tends to be institutional, not personal.

Republicans apparently figure that what’s past is past, so you might as well forget about it. You got a problem? Deal with it. As a party, the GOP isn’t big on apologies, reparations or public assertions of sympathy.

It’s not that Republicans never experience guilt. Actually, they are drowning in it. But it’s personal guilt, some of it apparently coming from original sin (except for Rep. Eric Cantor [Va.] and Sens. Arlen Specter [Pa.] and Norm Coleman [Minn.], no doubt).

As former President Bill Clinton proved, Democrats are much better at publicly feeling people’s pain, even if it occurred more than 100 years ago and all of the people actually involved in the incident are long gone. It doesn’t even matter whether the United States was involved. Democrats pretty much are ready to apologize or commiserate for anything, anyplace and anytime.

Luckily for Democrats, we’ve had centuries of people oppressing people around the world, so there is almost an endless supply of brutalities and injustices deserving of attention, classification, condemnation and apology.

In fact, so many unfortunate things have happened over the past few centuries that the next Democratic Congress can spend pretty much all of its time, if it wants to, apologizing to groups and demanding that other people apologize, too. Democrats have only begun to scratch the surface on groups they want to apologize to.

The problem for the Democrats is that the controversy over Congress’ steps to assert that Turkey was guilty of a policy of genocide isn’t a laughing matter — at least it isn’t to the Turks. Instead, it is the first truly dumb thing that Democrats may have done since the party won both chambers of Congress last year.

It now looks as if House Democrats may put the Armenian genocide measure in the deep freeze, hoping that everyone forgets about it. But while that may limit the damage that the party could cause itself, burying the measure wouldn’t inoculate Democrats completely from the fallout caused by their initial efforts to pass the resolution.

I recently asked a couple of Democrats — an incumbent Member of Congress from a Democratic-leaning district who is on record supporting the measure and a long-shot Congressional challenger in a Republican district — whether they now favored the genocide resolution, and both acted as if the measure were infected with botulism.

The resolution has strained U.S.-Turkish relations at exactly the worst time, when a Turkish incursion into Iraq could complicate the already complicated American military and political mission in Iraq.

“Democrats are harming the future of the United States and are encouraging anti-American sentiments,” Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted about 10 days ago.

Democrats, of course, have been criticizing President Bush for years for allegedly contributing to an increase in anti-Americanism around the world, so Erdogan’s comment gives Republicans ammunition to use against Democrats.

If Turkey’s military forces cross into Iraq to attack Kurdish guerillas, Republicans could well try to change the subject of Iraq by blaming Democrats for antagonizing the government of Turkey and undermining the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Democrats have been successful for the past few years by keeping the focus on GOP failures and by criticizing Bush administration policies. But the House leadership’s miscalculations on the “genocide” resolution points out both that making policy is more difficult than criticizing and that House Democrats are likely to make their share of problems when they become more ambitious.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 22, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It’s Still Clinton & Romney in New Saint Anselm Survey

By Stuart Rothenberg

A new poll conducted by SRBI Research of New York City for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College shows New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton holding a commanding 21-point lead in the state’s Democratic primary and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with a smaller, but still considerable, 10-point lead in the GOP race.

In an ominous sign for Republicans in the general election, almost 46% of respondents who say they are paying “a lot” of attention to the campaigns say they plan to participate in the Democratic primary, while only 36% say they will vote in the GOP contest. Among those paying “some” attention, 38% plan to vote in the Democratic contest, while only 34% plan to vote in the GOP primary.

These numbers suggest that Democrats are already invested in the Democratic race, while Republicans are less engaged. It’s uncertain, of course, whether Republican voters will become more interested in the GOP primary as the actual vote approaches, or whether they are generally less interested in the 2008 election, which could mean depressed Republican turnout in November.

New Hampshire’s undeclared voters, who are allowed to select the party primary in which they wish to participate, currently are more than twice as inclined to vote in the Democratic primary. Almost 41% of undeclared votes say that they now plan to participate in the Democratic primary, while just under 19% say that they are planning to vote in the GOP contest.

Clinton’s standing in the survey is impressive. She attracts the support of more than 42% of Democratic primary voters, with Illinois Senator Barack Obama winning just 22% and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards attracting only 14%. Polls conducted over the past few months in Iowa show Obama, Edwards and Clinton much more closely bunched.

Clinton leads among both men and women, in all parts of the state, among both Catholics and Protestants and among self-described conservatives, moderates and liberals participating in the Democratic contest.

In the Republican race, the new poll shows Romney drawing over 32% to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s almost 22%. Arizona Senator John McCain comes in third with over 15%, while libertarian Congressman Ron Paul draws over 7%, good for fourth place.

McCain’s showing in the new survey undoubtedly is affected by the fact that so few undeclared voters have at this point decided to participate in the Republican race. He won the Granite State GOP primary in 2000, in part, because of a strong showing among undeclared (Independent) voters.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee finishes fifth in the GOP primary poll with just under 6%, and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson finishes sixth with less than 5%. Neither has demonstrated the kind of movement in the Granite State that would suggest they are becoming factors in the state’s Republican race.

The survey found that Romney’s lead among self-described conservatives is even larger than among all GOP primary voters. He draws over 35% among conservatives, while Giuliani is just under 20% among those Republican primary voters.

While Romney continues to trail in national surveys of Republicans, he leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Victories for him in both states would make him a formidable force for the Republican nomination.

A Clinton’s win in the Granite State Democratic primary would all but guarantee her the Democratic nomination if she also wins the Iowa Democratic Caucuses.

The telephone survey of 1,514 likely primary voters was conducted October 15-21. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.6%. The margin for Democrats is +/- 4.1%, for Republicans is +/- 4.5% and for undeclared voters is +/- 4.8%.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Print Edition: New Hampshire Senate & New York 19

The October 22, 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...

New Hampshire Senate: ’02 Part Deux
By Nathan L. Gonzales

The match-up in New Hampshire’s Senate race is nothing new, but the environment couldn’t be any more different.

In 2002, President George W. Bush was popular in the wake of the September 11 tragedy, and Cong. John Sununu (R) defeated Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in a hard fought Senate contest. Thinking her political career was over, Shaheen moved to academia, while Sununu went to work in the Senate.

Five years later, President Bush and the Republican Party are incredibly unpopular and public is growing more and more dissatisfied with the war in Iraq. Democrats took over the Senate in 2006, but now have their sights set on getting to 60 seats, and New Hampshire is near the top of the takeover list.

Sununu already faced long odds for reelection in a region where Republicans are becoming an endangered species. But now, with former Gov. Shaheen finally in the race after initially refusing Democratic entreaties, Sununu starts the race as the underdog. For the rest of the story, you must subscribe.

New York 19: [Insert Music Pun Here]

It’s easy for Republicans to look at New York’s 19th District as a pick-up opportunity. President Bush won the district by seven points in 2004 and freshman Cong. John Hall (D) is often described for his musical talents before his political acumen.

But Hall is not a political novice, and he’ll be running for reelection as an incumbent – with all of the advantages of incumbency – in a national environment that, so far, continues to favor the Democratic Party. Last year, he defeated incumbent Cong. Sue Kelly (R) who, unlike some of her GOP colleagues, was not tainted by scandal.

This cycle, Republicans who spend every waking moment strategizing about how to win back the House are dreaming about the prospects of wealthy businessman Andrew Saul (R), with his considerable personal resources. Subscribe now to the newsletter to get the whole story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Republican Recruiting

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In the face of growing dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and President Bush, Republicans have recruited an increasing number of military veterans to run for Congress in 2008 — including some soldiers currently serving overseas who will begin campaigning upon their return.

Those Republican veterans may be emboldened by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jim Ogonowski’s (R) impressive showing in Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts, which he lost by only 6 points.

In the previous cycle, it was the Democrats who gained hordes of media attention for recruiting military veterans to run for the House. They became known as the “Fighting Dems,” with wounded Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth of Illinois as the poster child.

This cycle, Republican veterans believe their experience will give them credibility with skeptical voters and that their military resumes allow them to effectively run as outsiders.

“Voters recognize that they want leaders with experience,” said former Air Force B-1 bomber pilot Paul Phillips, one of three Republicans looking to take on freshman Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio).

The two situations are not precisely comparable because the Democrats’ effort was in large part to strengthen the image of a party that had traditionally ceded national security and military issues to the Republicans. But it is Republicans who now face voter skepticism in the shadow of the president’s handling of the Iraq War. A September CBS/New York Times survey showed that 42 percent believe the Democratic Party is more likely to make the right decisions on Iraq, compared to 32 percent for the Republican Party.

Yet Republican candidates believe that voters won’t be focused on Bush’s poll ratings by the time they go to the voting booth in 2008.

“The president’s approval doesn’t come up,” said Tom Rooney (R), a veteran of the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and candidate in Florida’s 16th district. “Voters are looking toward the future.”

Based on the 2006 election returns, the Democrats’ effort to send veterans to Congress was mixed, with a majority of the Fighting Dems going down to defeat. For example, Iraq War veteran Tim Dunn couldn’t even get his candidacy to the primary in North Carolina’s 8th district and Lt. Col. Andrew Horne couldn’t make it out of the primary in Kentucky’s 3rd.

Duckworth, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, announced her candidacy on ABC-TV’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous” and received considerable national media coverage. Her loss to Peter Roskam in the 6th district was bitter in light of the fantastic Democratic gains in November. State Sen. Mike Weaver (Kentucky’s 2nd district) and Lt. Col. Jay Fawcett (Colorado’s 5th district) also lost in the general election despite hyped candidacies.

Of course, some of the Democrats were successful, including JAG attorney Patrick Murphy’s defeat of incumbent Rep. Michael Fitzgerald (R) in Pennsylvania’s 8th district. He’s now the only veteran of the Iraq War in Congress. Former Navy Vice Adm. Joe Sestak also was victorious in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, Christopher Carney, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve won in Pennsylvania’s 10th district, and Tim Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, knocked off an incumbent in Minnesota’s 1st district. And on the Senate side, decorated Vietnam War hero and former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb defeated incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) in Virginia.

A Long Roster of GOP Candidates

A couple of years ago, some Democrats even chastised Republicans for their lack of military candidates. “Too few Republicans have ever sacrificed for their nation and their utter contempt for it shows,” wrote prominent liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (who served in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1992) in December 2005. But now, Republicans are compiling an impressive list of candidates with military credentials.

Phillips, who was the lead air strategist at the Combined Air Operations Center in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is running in the GOP-leaning 18th district in Ohio, but must first win a competitive Republican primary. Similarly, Rooney is running in a district that Bush won by 10 points in 2004, but has two primary opponents including Palm Beach Gardens Councilman Hal Valeche, who is a Vietnam veteran, and state Rep. Gayle Harrell.

Rick Goddard (R) flew 227 combat missions in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The now-retired Air Force major general also is former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. While Goddard is running in Georgia’s 8th district, which Bush carried handily in both 2000 (57 percent) and 2004 (61 percent), he is trying to topple Rep. Jim Marshall (D), a fellow veteran. The Congressman earned two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart in Vietnam and was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Orthopedic surgeon and Lt. Col. Wayne Mosley (R) just returned from Iraq and is a potential challenger to Rep. John Barrow (D) in Georgia’s 12th district. Mosley has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and earned the Combat Medic Badge and two Army Commendation Medals.

Iraq War veteran Kieran Michael Lalor (New York’s 19th) and retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Rocque (New York’s 20th) are running in districts Bush carried in 2004, but will face primaries followed by tough Democratic incumbents. Vietnam veteran Spence Campbell (North Carolina’s 11th) would face a similar challenge if he decides to run.

Some Still on Duty

A few of the Republican candidates still are serving overseas and not actively campaigning (because it’s prohibited by law). It has happened before: James A. Garfield was elected to Congress from Ohio in 1862 while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, and would later become the nation’s 20th president.

Duncan D. Hunter (R), the son of outgoing Congressman and presidential candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), is a U.S. Marine captain currently serving in Afghanistan. His wife, Margaret, continues to campaign, and blog, on his behalf in California’s 52nd district until he returns, which is likely in December. Hunter, who also served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, faces a June 3 primary.

Charlie Summers, a Republican in Maine’s 1st district, also is receiving campaign help from his wife as he serves in Iraq — and isn’t scheduled to return until next August. Summers, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, also is a former two-term state Senator and former state director for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Former Army intelligence officer Chris Minor (R) is running in Indiana’s 2nd district against freshman Rep. Joe Donnelly (D). Minor earned a Bronze Star during Operation Iraqi Freedom and retired from active duty in 2006. He currently is in Baghdad as a private contractor and analyst for the U.S. State Department and should return early next year. [RPR Update- Minor is now out of the race.]

Other Republican candidates face significantly longer odds. “I’m an outsider. I’m not part of the Republican machine,” retired Lt. Col. Allen West (R) said in a phone interview from Afghanistan. “I bring the experience of being here. I can tell them what kind of enemy we are facing.”

West, who is running in Florida’s 22nd district against Rep. Ron Klein (D), has been working for a private company in Afghanistan since June 2005, training officers in the Afghan army. He is returning to the United States on Nov. 2.

West, who served in Iraq as a battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Division, disagrees with some of Bush’s terminology. “Terror is a tactic, not an enemy,” West explained. “We’ve become terrain-oriented, not enemy-oriented.”

Rooney never served overseas on active duty because he was teaching at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. And that’s where he often used West as a living textbook when teaching cadets the rules of engagement. It wasn’t until later that the two candidates would meet.

“We are at war with an enemy that fights in a way that’s not traditional,” Rooney explained in an interview, and “we need an examination of the rules of engagement by Congress.”

In 2003, West was accused of using improper methods when interrogating an Iraqi policeman whom West believed had information about a potential attack on him and the troops under his command.

He was facing a court martial and up to 11 years in prison, but after a military hearing, West was fined $5,000 and allowed to retire with full pension after 20 years of service. Now he’s running for Congress.

Republicans were hoping former Naval Submarine Base New London Cmdr. Sean Sullivan (R) would catch fire against Rep. Joe Courtney (D) in Connecticut’s 2nd district, but his campaign has been slow to take off.

A couple of Iraq War veterans are challenging fellow Republicans in primaries, including Eric Egland in California’s 4th district and Matt Salisbury in Idaho’s 1st. Salisbury, 34, was an Army Airborne Ranger disabled in Iraq, where he served from 2004 to 2005. Egland graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as an intelligence officer. Navy Reserve Officer Andy Harris, a physician and state Senator, is challenging Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the GOP primary in Maryland’s 1st.

Republicans also have military veterans running in other less-competitive districts in Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Doug Roulstone (R), former captain of the USS John C. Stennis, took 36 percent against Rep. Rick Larsen (D) in Washington’s 2nd district last year, and is running again.

“There are not enough veterans in Congress on any side [of the aisle],” said Rooney, who attended basic training with now-Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

Democratic Vets Have Re-Upped

Democrats do have a handful of military veterans running for Congress in competitive seats, including a couple of candidates who ran unsuccessfully last year.

Charlie Brown, a former rescue helicopter pilot in the Air Force, lost to Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) 49 percent to 46 percent in November, but is running again. Eric Massa lost 51 percent to 49 percent in New York’s 29th district to Rep. Randy Kuhl (R), and is running again. Massa is a former special assistant to then-NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

Democrats are excited about the candidacy of John Boccieri (D) in the now-open seat in Ohio’s 16th district. Boccieri is a young, good-looking state Senator and Air Force Reserve major with 11 years of military service. More than one Republican insider admits Boccieri is a fantastic candidate.

Army Captain Jon Powers (D), who served in the Iraq War, is challenging former NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (R) in New York’s 26th district. And former state Sen. Gary Peters (D), a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve is running in Michigan’s 9th district.

Lt. Col. Rand Lewis (D), who served 29 years in the Army, and Navy veteran John Laesch, who received 40 percent in Illinois’ 14th district in 2006, also are running but face competitive primaries in Republican-leaning districts.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on October 18, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mood + Money + GOP Retirements = Democratic Bonanza

By Stuart Rothenberg

Still more than a year out from the 2008 elections, only a fool would assert unequivocally which party will gain House seats and how large that gain will be. But even with more retirements likely and candidate recruitment still far from over, it is starting to look like another potentially very good year for Democratic House candidates.

National Republican Congressional Committee strategists have more than their fair share of problems. The biggest may be the damage to the Republican brand, which stems from President Bush’s problems as well as from a series of highly publicized scandals and ethical problems among Republicans.

While Republicans no longer control Congress, Democrats are still likely to benefit from the electorate’s desire for change. For many Americans, Bush is still in charge, and voting Democratic up and down the ballot is the surest way to change the country’s direction.

Some Republicans are arguing that the Democrats will be punished by voters who want to send a message to all incumbents, regardless of party, and that when it comes to House races, Republican candidates can run as vehicles for change.

That’s possible, but unlikely, except in those cases where a House Democrat has his or her own personal problems.

Given the GOP’s image problem, the party’s failure to accomplish much of anything during its last two years in control of Congress and the party’s role in blocking additional funds for embryonic stem-cell research, immigration and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, it will be relatively easy for Democrats to position themselves once again as the party that is most likely to bring about change.

Nobody can be certain exactly what the Democratic financial advantage means because it has been years since the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had one. But it is likely to be another significant Democratic asset over the next year.

For at least the past four or five cycles, the NRCC has been able to throw cash at races at will, propping up weak GOP incumbents (including a few who seemed allergic to fundraising) and putting Democratic seats into play. Now, it’s very possible that Democrats will have that opportunity, making it difficult for Republican challengers to knock off allegedly vulnerable Democratic incumbents and forcing the NRCC to defend late-developing threats during this cycle.

The recent flurry of Republican retirements — Reps. Jerry Weller in Illinois, Jim Ramstad in Minnesota, Heather Wilson in New Mexico and Deborah Pryce and Ralph Regula in Ohio — could be only the tip of the iceberg for 2008. All of those open seats are excellent Democratic targets.

Democrats have reason to hope that a slew of new challengers against Republicans who won unimpressively last year — Tim Walberg and Joe Knollenberg in Michigan and Jon Porter in Nevada, for example — could flip those districts in 2008.

Presumably strong Democratic recruits against a number of GOP incumbents who were overlooked last time — Reps. Jim Saxton in New Jersey, Sam Graves in Missouri and Vito Fossella in New York, among them — could give Democrats a number of new opportunities.

The DCCC’s best opportunities could well be in districts where inexperienced or underestimated challengers came close to upsetting GOP incumbents and are trying to return for a rematch. That list includes Republican Reps. Robin Hayes (N.C.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Jim Walsh (N.Y.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and possibly Mark Kirk (Ill.)

Of course, it’s way too early for Democrats to declare victory. Republican candidates will spend the next year putting responsibility for the nation’s trouble on the Democratic Congress, and the presidential race could rebrand both parties in a way that minimizes Republican headaches.

Democrats undoubtedly will have trouble holding on to a handful of basically Republican districts that they won last year only because of unusual circumstances.

Districts that Bush won comfortably in 2004 and formerly represented by Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) could easily dump freshman Democratic Congressmen to return to their normal partisan ways, as could districts in California, Kansas and Florida.

GOP prospects of regaining previously Republican House seats that surprisingly fell to Democrats in 2006 should be improved by a partisan, ideological presidential contest.

Still, the public’s overall desire for change — so strong among Democrats and independent voters who voted Democratic in unusual numbers last year — remains a big challenge not only for Republican challengers but also for GOP incumbents who survived last time but face a more experienced, better-funded test in 2008.

At this point, anything from little net change in the House to a considerable Democratic win seems possible. The one thing that seems certain is that Democrats will once again control the House after next year’s elections.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 18, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Louisiana Governor: Jindal Poised to Crack 50%

By Stuart Rothenberg

It ain’t over til it’s over, but Republican Bobby Jindal now appears likely to get at least 50% of the votes cast in Saturday’s Louisiana gubernatorial election. If he does, he will avoid a runoff and be elected governor, taking the office from the Democrats.

Jindal faces a handful of other candidates, including wealthy businessman John Georges (I), wealthy state Senator Walter Boasso (D) and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D), and polls have been mixed about his chances of getting an absolute majority of the vote.

But private polling suggests that Jindal has been improving his standing over the past week, and the Republican’s get-out-the-vote operation appears to be a considerable additional advantage for him.

Turnout remains a huge unknown, and given the large number of candidates and Saturday balloting, anything could happen. But the odds have now improved dramatically that Jindal will attract at least 50% of the vote and win election without a runoff.

Coming on the heels on Jim Ogonowski’s unexpectedly strong showing in the Massachusetts 5 special election, a clear-cut Jindal win would allow Republicans to press their case that the political environment is not as bad as it was for them.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on October 18, 2007.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Edwards, Clinton and Questions About Their Electability in ’08

By Stuart Rothenberg

For weeks now, the campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has been hammering away about New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s greatest alleged vulnerability: her electability. It’s a good strategy, at least in theory, since Democratic voters will not nominate someone for president who they think will lose the White House again.

Unfortunately for Edwards, there is little evidence that Clinton cannot be elected president or that Edwards has a measurably better chance of being elected than she does.

First, the good news for Edwards, as well as for critics of Clinton.

The former first lady’s personal negative ratings are higher than any politician would like. Her unfavorable ratings generally are about 10 points higher than either Edwards’ or Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.). Clinton’s unfavorable ratings in most national surveys fall in the 40 percent to 45 percent range, and they are in that same range in Quinnipiac University polls in key states such as Ohio and Florida.

Given those numbers, it isn’t surprising that a mid-September CNN/WMUR-TV poll found New Hampshire Democratic voters saying that Clinton is less likable than Obama or Edwards.

According to an early September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, one in five adults had a “very negative” view of the New York Senator, demonstrating an intensity with which other Democrats are not saddled.

Anecdotally, when I’m around the country talking about politics, I inevitably seem to run into Democratic voters who tell me they want to vote Democratic next year but don’t think they can vote for Clinton.

But the rest of the evidence argues that the New York Senator would be at least as strong a Democratic nominee as either Edwards or Obama.

On the question of “how confident” survey respondents would be in the various candidates’ “skills and ability necessary to be president,” Clinton easily bests her Democratic adversaries in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

Surveys also show that she widely is regarded as having many of the attributes needed by a president. An early September CNN poll found six in 10 respondents picked Clinton as having “the right experience to be president,” while only 15 percent picked the second-place Democrat, Edwards, and 9 percent picked Obama.

The same survey also found a plurality of voters (42 percent) selecting Clinton as the Democrat best described by “Is most likely to bring needed change to the U.S.” Obama was second with 30 percent, while Edwards was a distant third at 10 percent.

A CNN/WMUR-TV poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters found much the same. Clinton was seen by 54 percent of those polled as having “the best chance of beating the Republican nominee in the general election next November,” as having the “right experience to be President,” and as most likely to bring change.

Surely even a bigger problem for Edwards is that recent ballot tests show Clinton beating the leading Republican contenders, and in most cases, running as well or better than her main Democratic rivals.

August’s Quinnipiac national survey showed Clinton leading former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani by 3 points, while Edwards was up by a single point and Obama and Giuliani were even. Matched against former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), Clinton held a 49 percent to 38 percent advantage, while Obama was up 46 percent to 35 percent and Edwards was leading Thompson 49 percent to 32 percent.

CNN’s early September national survey found Clinton beating Giuliani 50 percent to 46 percent, while the former mayor held a 49 percent to 45 percent advantage over Obama.

Finally, there is the whole question of Edwards’ description of his own appeal.

On “Meet the Press” last weekend, Edwards said: “I am the candidate running for president on the Democratic side who’s actually won an election in a red state running against the Jesse Helms political machine. I know what you have to do to win in battleground states, and to win in tough, tough Congressional districts ... I understand people who vote in those places, and they connect and relate to me.”

Edwards beat incumbent Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth in 1998, a bad year for Republicans nationally. He made Faircloth the issue and benefited from the contrast between the two candidates.

But had Edwards run for re-election in 2004, he might well have lost to then-Rep. Richard Burr (R). By that time, Edwards had established a relatively liberal record in the Senate, making him much less appealing to state voters.

Edwards, of course, couldn’t carry his own state during the 2004 presidential race, and the Democratic ticket didn’t carry a single Southern state (though it is certainly unfair to blame him entirely for the ticket’s lack of appeal in Dixie).

The former North Carolina Senator seems to think that his Southern accent and stories about his father’s work in a textile mill and his mother’s days as a letter carrier will ingratiate himself with moderate and conservative populists. But after Republicans hammer him for his expensive haircuts, huge home and liberal views, his appeal to swing and socially conservative voters will suffer. For now, Edwards’ negatives aren’t as high as Clinton’s because he hasn’t been a national target for more than a dozen years.

It is of course true that Clinton could stumble in the next few months. But for Democrats hoping that doubts about her electability will derail her candidacy, the current evidence is skimpy.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 15, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Say What? Obama's Word Games

By Nathan L. Gonzales & Stuart Rothenberg

In at least one way, “incumbency” is like being pregnant. You can’t be “a little pregnant,” and you can’t be partially an incumbent.

But that pesky fact hasn’t gotten in the way of Sen. Barack Obama, or his campaign, and their awkward attempts to label Hillary Clinton as such.

On October 12, the Obama campaign sent out a memo entitled, “Quasi-incumbent finally gets scrutiny and stumbles,” referring to New York’s junior senator. But it’s really pretty simple: Either you are or you aren’t an incumbent.

“Quasi-incumbent” might be a cute way to describe someone who was appointed to a political office and is running for a full term for the first time. It might even be a cute way to describe someone who held an office, gave it up and was trying after a year or two to regain it again.

If a sitting Vice President were running for President, he or she might be referred to as a “quasi” or “pseudo-” incumbent, though that wouldn’t be true technically.

But applying the label to Senator Clinton is just plain wrong, since neither she nor her party has been near the White House in seven years.

Obama’s attempt to pair Clinton with the unpopular current President is nothing new. In late July, speaking about foreign policy, the Illinois senator said, “I don’t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney. I don’t want Bush-Cheney light,” referring to Clinton. At least by using the word “continuation,” Obama is apparently aware of whom the current commander-in-chief is.

Later, the October email reads, “Senator Clinton in all these states is the quasi-incumbent,” referring Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Well, not only is Clinton not president of the United States, she never has been, and has never even been on the ballot in any of the four states mentioned. That would make it difficult for her to be an incumbent of any kind.

For a candidate who claims to be above politics, the quasi-incumbent Obama’s claim is either ridiculous or rhetorically dishonest.

It’s also ironic that in the first sentence of the October email, Obama attacks Clinton for “purely tactical posturing.” But the entire purpose of the Obama memo is to position himself as the “outsider.” Obama’s posturing and mislabeling is nothing new, since campaign manager David Plouffe’s August 6 campaign update email to supporters stated, “No longer can the quasi-incumbent candidate survive a stumble or two early.”

And finally, the October email reads, “The Clinton operation is the greatest money machine in the history of American politics.” But Plouffe’s August email boasted, “Your financial generosity has allowed us to build the best and deepest grassroots organization in history at this stage of a Presidential election,” and the Obama campaign is constantly touting how they out-raised Clinton this year in primary money. So which is it? Who has the biggest machine?

The Obama campaign ought to give the American people and those in the media, some credit. And for a campaign that claims to take the high road, Obama is stooping to the lowest common denominator of politics by playing word games.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Have the Republicans Picked Another Losing Fight on SCHIP?

By Stuart Rothenberg

The Republicans’ circular firing squad is now assembled. All that’s left is for someone — President Bush, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — to yell the appropriate command: “Fire!”

With their House and Senate caucuses deeply divided, Republicans have one week to figure out exactly how they are going to avoid a public relations — and a political — disaster. How can they minimize the damage from the president’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill?

There is no doubt that at some point Republicans are going to need to draw a line in the sand and fight Democrats, and GOP rhetoric about “bigger government” and “government spending” is the way to go. The question is whether SCHIP is the right issue, and this is the right time, to do so.

Many Republicans think it is not.

“It’s just stunning to me,” one veteran Republican strategist told me this week, “that after seven years of Republicans complaining that the president won’t use his veto, [the White House and Republican Congressional leaders] choose their big showdown to be over children’s health care. Good Lord, it probably polls at 80 percent!”

Added the GOP insider: “If we had been talking about cutting spending and waste in government for years, we could oppose SCHIP. But now we are finally going to get religion on spending?”

So what advice would this Republican give his party’s Members of Congress? “If I were in a swing district, I’d vote to override. There’s no way I’d take a bullet on this. But if I were in a good Republican district, I’d vote to sustain the veto.”

Those comments are not atypical of what many Republicans are saying.

One Republican Member of Congress I spoke with was just as explicit. “It’s stupid politics. The leadership is putting pressure on Members [to sustain the veto], promising to rebuild the brand. I don’t know why our guys are following [Bush] into the sea like lemmings.”

While some Republicans are hoping the White House and Congressional Democrats can fashion a face-saving compromise for the Republicans looking for a way out, that seems unlikely. Politically, Democrats have Republicans just where they want them, and the Democrats’ Congressional leaders and party strategists have no incentive — none — for letting the GOP off the hook easily.

“The Democrats have some Republicans bleeding like stuck pigs,” one House Republican remarked, noting that Democratic attacks certainly are taking their toll on Republican Congressmen who are likely to have tough re-election fights next year.

But isn’t McConnell correct when he asserts that Democrats are using the SCHIP vote to score political points? Of course he’s right. But so what? Each side uses votes for its political purposes.

Republicans ought not delude themselves that the SCHIP bill introduced by McConnell will inoculate them against future Democratic attacks. Since Democrats control the calendar in both chambers, they likely will be able to outmaneuver Republican legislators.

What happens, for example, if Democrats, unable to override a Bush veto, propose extending the current SCHIP until the middle of next year, when they could come back with the exact same bill that Republicans are blocking now? How would Republicans like having this same fight next year, only a few months before the 2008 elections?

If you are looking for evidence of the political potency of this issue, all you need to do is look at the one statewide race now in progress that involves a sitting Republican Member of Congress.

Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal is running for governor in Louisiana, and the vote on SCHIP could take place in the House of Representatives just a couple of days before voters in the Pelican State go to the polls.

The Congressman, who opposed the House SCHIP bill but supported the conference committee compromise, which was much closer to the Senate’s version, has indicated that he is planning to vote to override the president’s veto.

Some grass-roots conservatives are cheering on Republicans to “support the president,” as if SCHIP is somehow a test of GOP loyalty. Yet many of those same conservatives broke with the president on immigration, Medicare Part D and even No Child Left Behind, when they thought that Bush was wrong.

The apparent divisions within Republican ranks make it difficult for party leaders to argue, as they are doing, that they are standing on principle in opposing an expanded children’s health care program. As one Capitol Hill Democrat told me, “You make a principled stand when you are united — not when you are divided.”

Bang! Bang! It’s almost time to count the casualties.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 11, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

For Incumbents, 2008 Is Shaping Up as the Year of the Primary

By Stuart Rothenberg

With a strong majority of voters dissatisfied with the performance of President Bush and Congress, and with seven in 10 Americans telling pollsters that the country is on the wrong track, it isn’t entirely surprising that a dozen serious primaries could develop for Republican House incumbents this election cycle.

Some of the primary challenges will disappear when incumbents finally call it quits and end their re-election campaigns, as is likely to happen in California’s 4th district, where Rep. John Doolittle (R) currently has three primary opponents. But most of the primary threats to incumbents now developing will not evaporate, and some additional challenges are still possible.

Here is a rundown of some of the more interesting primaries developing against GOP incumbents:

Colorado’s 5th: Freshman Rep. Doug Lamborn faces two Republicans he defeated in the 2006 primary, Jeff Crank and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn. Crank, who served as an aide to former Rep. Joel Hefley (R), finished second last time, while Rayburn was third.

Georgia’s 10th: Rep. Paul Broun won a special election in July to fill the open seat of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood (R), but Broun will face a challenge for renomination. State House Majority Whip Barry Fleming is poised to challenge Broun in the primary.

Indiana’s 5th: Former Marion County Coroner John McGoff knows he has an uphill fight against veteran Rep. Dan Burton, but that isn’t stopping the challenger, who has been active in GOP politics.

Maryland’s 1st: Rep. Wayne Gilchrest has faced primary challenges before, but this cycle’s could be his toughest. State Sen. Andy Harris is preparing to run, and his credentials — he’s an obstetric anesthesiologist who served in Operation Desert Storm — suggest he could have appeal. He’s backed by seven of the eight state Senators whose districts overlap with Gilchrest’s Congressional seat, as well as by former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

North Carolina’s 3rd: Rep. Walter Jones Jr. has been vocal about his differences with President Bush over Iraq, and that has earned him a potentially serious challenge from Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin, an Air Force Academy graduate who served in the Army before retiring in 1994.

Ohio’s 2nd: Rep. Jean Schmidt has turned her reliably safe Republican Congressional district into a marginal seat, and that has encouraged ex-Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati city councilman, to take her on in the GOP primary.

Utah’s 3rd: Rep. Chris Cannon must be getting accustomed to the idea of primary opposition. Anti-immigration candidate John Jacob drew more than 44 percent in last year’s GOP primary, and he is back for another try. But two other Republicans are preparing to take Cannon on as well — former gubernatorial chief of staff Jason Chaffetz and former county prosecutor David Leavitt. [Update- Jacob is not running.]

And that’s not all. Florida Rep. Ric Keller and Texas Rep. Ralph Hall also are getting primary opposition, as are Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin, assuming she runs for re-election.

On the Democratic side, a number of incumbents also are facing opponents who want to deny then renomination. The list includes:

Illinois’ 3rd: Net-roots favorite Mark Pera, an attorney and the Lyons Township school board president, already has picked up the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America in his bid to oust Rep. Dan Lipinski, who inherited the Congressional seat from his father.

Illinois’ 8th: Two-term Rep. Melissa Bean doesn’t have a lot to fear from primary challenger Randi Scheurer, a peace activist whose husband, Bill, is running in the general election as an Independent. But the primary points up the fact that Bean is in a squeeze, with the left angry at her moderation and conservatives complaining that she is too liberal.

Maryland’s 4th: Rep. Albert Wynn won his seat in 1992, but he almost lost renomination last year to Donna Edwards, who drew 46.4 percent in the 2006 Democratic primary. Edwards, an attorney and liberal activist, is challenging Wynn again, attacking him for authorizing the invasion of Iraq, for supporting the bankruptcy bill and for backing the energy bill. Wynn is fighting for his political life.

Ohio’s 10th: While Rep. Dennis Kucinich basks in the notoriety of his presidential campaign, teacher (and former reporter) Rosemary Palmer is trying to take his seat. Palmer, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2005, has blasted Kucinich for voting against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill. She has been endorsed by Paul Hackett, the Iraq War veteran who has become a celebrity to liberal bloggers.

Tennessee’s 9th: Freshman Rep. Steve Cohen faces Nikki Tinker again in a majority-black West Tennessee district. Cohen, who is Jewish and white, won his party’s nomination last year in a crowded primary. Tinker, 35, is black and finished second to Cohen in that race. A one-on-one race against Tinker obviously presents a huge challenge for Cohen.

In addition, former state Sen. Donzella James, who drew about one-third of the vote in the ’06 Democratic primary against Rep. David Scott (Ga.), may run again.

Meanwhile, California state Sen. Jackie Speier has been mentioned as a possible primary challenger to Rep. Tom Lantos, and Washington Rep. Brian Baird, who announced that he would vote to fund troops in Iraq, could face an anti-war primary opponent.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 9, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2008 House Ratings

Here are our latest House ratings. Any seats not listed are currently considered to be at limited risk for the incumbent party. Democrats currently hold a 233-202 majority in the House. For race-by-race analysis, you must subscribe to the print edition of the Report.

  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • AZ 1 (Open; Renzi, R)
  • IL 11 (Open; Weller, R)
  • MN 3 (Open; Ramstad, R)
  • NM1 (Open; Wilson, R)
  • VA 11 (Open; Davis, R)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • IL 8 (Bean, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • OH 15 (Open; Pryce, R)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • IL 10 (Kirk, R)
  • MI 9 (Knollenberg, R)
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • NJ 7 (Ferguson, R)
  • NY 25 (Walsh, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • OH 16 (Regula, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • GA 12 (Barrow, D)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • MN 1 (Walz, D)
  • NY 19 (Hall, D)
  • NY 20 (Gillibrand, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • CA 4 (Doolittle, R)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
  • FL 8 (Keller, R)
  • IL 6 (Roskam, R)
  • IL 14 (Open; Hastert, R)
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • MO 6 (Graves, R)
  • NJ 3 (Saxton, R)
  • NY 13 (Fosella, R)
  • PA 14 (Murphy, R)
  • VA 2 (Drake, R)
  • WV 2 (Capito, R)
  • WY AL (Cubin, R)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • CT 5 (Murphy, D)
  • IN 2 (Donnelly, D)
  • IN 8 (Ellsworth, D)
  • KS 3 (Moore, D)
  • KY 3 (Yarmuth, D)
  • ME 1 (Open; Allen, D)
  • PA 7 (Sestak, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • TX 23 (Rodriguez, D)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Washington 8: Outcome of Northwest Rerun Could Rest on the National Mood

By Stuart Rothenberg

Darcy Burner is back, and the former Microsoft employee is understandably optimistic about her rematch against GOP incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert.

Burner, 36, came out of nowhere to draw almost 49 percent against Reichert last year in a suburban Seattle district that has been inching away from its Republican roots and toward Democrats.

The challenger appears to be more relaxed this time, at least compared to when I interviewed her in the previous cycle. Back then, as a neophyte candidate, she seemed more concerned with demonstrating her maturity than connecting with people.

Burner’s fundraising surely is much better this time. She is likely to show $400,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30, almost four times what she had on hand at the end of 2005. Burner and Reichert each spent just more than $3 million in their previous race.

But in addition to being a more experienced candidate, Burner also is more outspoken. Indeed, she calls herself “more straightforward” in talking to voters, and that certainly includes her comments about some of the most controversial issues of the day.

In one Web video this year, produced by the liberal blog OpenLeft, Burner uses language not normally employed by candidates: “I’m Darcy Burner and I want to tell you that the FISA bill that just got passed in the House completely sucks.” In that video and in another, she criticizes some in her own party for not standing up to the Bush administration.

Burner, who is likely to be a favorite of liberal bloggers and anti-war activists, is undoubtedly correct that sentiment has turned further against the Iraq War, and against the president, in the district over the past year. And depending on where Iraq stands a year from now, that might be enough to get her a victory.

But Reichert will not go down easily, and the district’s arithmetic still gives him a narrow advantage. Prior to winning an open seat in Congress in 2004, he served as King County sheriff, and he became a celebrity for his work in catching the “Green River Killer.”

Democrats hoped to win this suburban Seattle district when Republican Jennifer Dunn retired, but Reichert won the open-seat contest by 5 points and held on last year by almost 3 points in the face of a Democratic tsunami that defeated many GOP incumbents.

Though the 8th district is one of those suburban districts that have been moving away from the GOP over the past decade, it is not without its challenges for Burner.

Ten legislative districts (each of which elects three state legislators) overlap the territory of the 8th district. In 2000, 20 of those 30 legislators belonged to the GOP. Four years later, those same 30 legislative seats divided equally between the two parties. Now, after the 2006 elections, 21 of the legislators are Democrats, while only nine are Republicans.

Democrat Al Gore carried the district by 2 points in his 2000 presidential bid, and Democrat John Kerry carried the district by 3 points four years later.

But it would be a mistake to think that the Congressional district has turned into a Democratic bastion. Dino Rossi (R) carried it in the 2004 gubernatorial race, and Reichert’s re-election last year in the face of a huge national Democratic surge says something about his appeal and the district’s competitiveness.

Burner is betting that the presidential year will bring out a dramatically larger electorate in 2008 and that she can benefit from the additional voters. It certainly is the case that these presidential year voters are more casual in their voting behavior and, therefore, more likely to be influenced by short-term factors, including Iraq, than by strong partisan attachment. That should help her.

But again, the numbers, available from the Washington Secretary of State’s office, offer Reichert reason for optimism.

More than 80 percent of the district’s voters reside in King County, while the rest live in Pierce County. Dunn’s 35,700-vote plurality in King County in 2002 plunged to a 4,400-vote margin for Reichert in 2004, and to a mere 300-vote margin last time for the Republican. Obviously, if that trend continues, he will lose, probably in 2008.

But unlike suburbs in Pennsylvania and Maryland that have ousted their GOP incumbents recently, King County still went ever so slightly for Reichert in November, even in a huge Democratic year. Burner might carry the county next time, but can she carry it by enough?

Although only 18.9 percent of the 2006 Congressional vote came from the Pierce County portion of the district, that electorate is not insignificant. Reichert carried Pierce by more than 7,000 votes last year, down a bit from his 11,700-vote margin in 2004 and Dunn’s 10,000-vote plurality in 2002. But Pierce County’s vote in the 8th is clearly not following King to the Democrats.

Given the presidential year turnout, Reichert probably can expect to grow his margin in Pierce in 2008, providing him with a larger cushion to offset the loss of additional votes in King.

Reichert’s ultimate fate depends on voters’ willingness to distinguish him from President Bush and see him as an “independent” legislator.

His votes this year for an increase to the minimum wage, for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, for lower interest rates for student loans, and to repeal tax cuts for oil companies — much like his earlier opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and his vote against giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Terri Schiavo case — are weapons that he can use to deflect Democratic attacks and to portray himself as independent.

If the 2008 cycle is as bad as or worse for Republicans than last year, Burner could easily defeat the Congressman. But if the mood shifts even slightly, minimizing the burden of carrying the GOP label, Reichert could find himself looking stronger in 2008, not more vulnerable.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 4, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Print Edition: 2008 House Overview

The October 5, 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...

House Outlook For 2008

With only a little more than a year to go until the general election, there is still considerable uncertainty about which party will gain House seats and how big that gain might be.

Republicans have a handful of strong prospects, primarily in districts that they should not have lost in the first place. A normal partisan rebound could easily return districts in Texas, Florida, Kansas, Pennsylvania and California back to the GOP. In addition, the party has some strong candidates in competitive districts currently held by Democrats.

But the national environment could well be as hostile to Republicans next year as it was in 2006, and the combination of GOP retirements, repeat Democratic challengers and some strong Democratic recruits in new districts gives Democrats an opportunity to add seats.

In the past, the NRCC has been able to rely on a strong financial advantage over the DCCC, something it can no longer count on. The Democrats’ financial edge gives them much greater flexibility, and an opportunity to make decisions about late-breaking races.

The Presidential race could impact the two parties’ House prospects, as well. The most likely scenario is that it would strengthen GOP prospects in reliably Republican districts while creating Democratic opportunities in swing districts, particularly outside the South.

While it is still too early to predict specific outcomes, it’s clear that Democrats will retain the control of the House in next year’s elections. Put another way, the Democrats’ upside potential is much greater than the GOP’s, and Republicans may well have to concentrate, once again, on damage control and on minimizing their losses.

For the rest of the Report, including a state-by-state rundown of the competitive races, you must subscribe to the print edition.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Biden and Dodd: Still Looking for Their Opening

By Stuart Rothenberg

As the World Series approaches, two U.S. Senators, Connecticut’s Chris Dodd and Delaware’s Joseph Biden, find themselves roughly in the same place that they were at the beginning of spring training: second-tier hopefuls for the Democratic presidential nomination regarded by journalists and most Democrats as mere long shots.

Both men continue to need at least one of the frontrunners to make a mistake, which would give them an opening. That already has happened in the Republican race, where early favorite Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) stumbled, but it has not happened in the Democratic contest.

In the race for the White House, Biden and Dodd are classic “in-betweeners.” As longtime members of the Senate who have had visibility and clout, they surely deserve to be taken far more seriously as presidential candidates than either Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) or former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

Yet Biden and Dodd are just as clearly not in the same league as two of their Senate colleagues, Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), or even as former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).

Just look at the fundraising numbers. Through the second quarter of this year, the Biden campaign had taken in $6.5 million, while Dodd’s campaign had hauled in a more respectable $12 million. Those fundraising figures dwarf Kucinich’s ($1.1 million) and Gravel’s ($239,000) but don’t come close to Edwards’ ($23.1 million), Obama’s ($58.9 million) or Clinton’s ($63 million).

Money, of course, isn’t everything. But Dodd and Biden remain asterisks in national and early state polls, trailing the three first-tier candidates. They also trail a fourth candidate, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has made far more headway in surveys of likely Iowa caucus attendees. (Richardson had raised $13.3 million through the end of June.)

Conversations with Democratic insiders and strategists not working for any of the candidates produced a handful of explanations for Biden’s and Dodd’s problems.

Their biggest problem seems to be the amount of space already taken by the top-tier hopefuls.

“The press never covers more than three candidates for anything. If you’re fourth, you’re out of luck,” said one Democratic strategist.

“Clinton, Obama and Edwards take up a lot of space, a lot of airtime and a lot of votes,” said another Democrat, agreeing that there simply was not a room left for other candidates who needed the visibility to gain credibility.

Biden, 64, and Dodd, 63, have another problem: Both essentially are establishment candidates, having served a total of 62 years in the Senate (Biden 35, Dodd 27). Yet the cycle appears to be much more about change and fresh faces.

That isn’t to say that experience doesn’t matter. But, as one Democrat put it, “The establishment, experience niche has already been filled [by Clinton].”

Biden’s great strength going into the race is his expertise in foreign policy. Early on, he proposed a federal approach to post-war Iraq, an approach that seems to have become increasingly popular and that passed the Senate as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill.

But Biden’s rhetoric and position on Iraq always have been more measured than many in the party’s grass roots would prefer, which has greatly limited his appeal to the anti-war left. Just as important, Clinton has done a good job stressing “expertise” and “experience,” and her more moderate positioning on the war initially (compared to Edwards and Obama, for example) made it difficult for Biden to distinguish himself on the issue.

Now that the country, Democratic activists and all of the Democratic candidates have become more critical of Bush’s Iraq policy, Biden has little opportunity on his party’s “right.”

Far more than any other Democrat (with the exception of Richardson), Biden has earned a reputation for being refreshingly candid, even when others in his party don’t want to hear it. No, he isn’t the Democrats’ John McCain, but he’s the closest thing they have in the race to the maverick Arizona Republican.

Biden has been endorsed by 10 Iowa state legislators and, as former Roll Call reporter Chris Cillizza noted recently, is moving staff to the state as he “puts all his chips on Iowa.”

Dodd’s problems are worse. “He doesn’t have a hook,” said one party insider, adding, “he’s had a lot of trouble distinguishing himself.” Another Democrat says Dodd is “as conventional as Kucinich is unconventional.”

In other words, Dodd sounds like a generic Democratic politician, and he has displayed surprisingly little warmth as a candidate. Even his efforts to crank up his volume over Iraq haven’t done much more than make him a less compelling carbon copy of Edwards.

Last week, Dodd’s campaign crowed that Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga had voted for the Senator in a recent straw poll. This follows an endorsement of Dodd by the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) early in the previous cycle.

But these endorsements aren’t likely to boost his standing in national or early state polls, which is what he needs to convince skeptics that he is a contender. Even California-based Moulitsas seemed skeptical after acknowledging that he had “voted” for Dodd: “Not that this means he’s likely to get my vote in [the] February [primary]. I don’t throw away my votes, so unless he’s become surprisingly competitive in January, I’ll be looking elsewhere.”

Neither Biden nor Dodd has much of a reason to end his candidacy until Iowa. But after months of campaigning, the two Senators face the same challenges that they did in January.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on October 1, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nationwide Listening Tour for Clinton?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While all the presidential candidates are talking about change, next spring might be just the right time for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to dust off an old strategy to demonstrate a fresh approach.

Burdened with high personal negatives from the outset, Clinton may have an opportunity to improve her image and standing by embarking on a 50-state tour.

The front-loaded primary calendar presents the real possibility that both presidential nominations will essentially be decided by the time Americans wake up on Feb. 6, setting the table for one of the longest general election campaigns in history.

In the vein of her 1999 tour of upstate New York, Clinton could use the extra time to personally introduce herself to voters in normally Republican areas in an effort to humanize the frequently demonized. Some analysts are saying the same thing now that they were back then, that she’s too polarizing and not well-liked. But she proved them wrong.

Provo. Omaha. Oklahoma City. The locations may seem illogical for Clinton (or any Democratic presidential nominee, for that matter), but a visit to these places may push voters to take a second look at the former first lady when they had previously made up their minds. And even in Republican states, the Senator could find pockets of sympathetic audiences on college campuses or with organized labor groups.

“When people meet her, her negatives erode,” according to one influential Iowa Democrat who is backing Clinton.

“She’s one of the warmest politicians I’ve ever met ... in person,” Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the prominent liberal blog Daily Kos, said on “Meet the Press” last month. “And for some reason when you see her in these public — in debates, you know, she comes across as colder.”

Of course, the number of people Clinton would actually see is miniscule compared to some 120 million general election voters, and she won’t win states like Utah or Nebraska (just like she didn’t win most places in upstate New York in 2000). But if the tour improves her image among independent voters overall, she could do better in the traditional swing states. It’s also unlikely she could damage her image any further.

“If it was going to be done, this would be the year,” said James Carville, a longtime adviser to the Clinton family, when asked about the feasibility of a national tour.

In her first ad of the presidential campaign, Clinton opened with, “As I travel around America, I’ve heard from so many people that they’re just invisible to their government.” Clinton and her top competitors, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), have all trumpeted the need to unite Americans. And by visiting each state, Clinton could demonstrate a populist message.

Although it’s rare, a nationwide tour in 2008 would not be novel. Back in 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon pledged to visit all 50 states, in part to draw attention to the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the union.

But the tour was arduous — Nixon didn’t begin until after he officially secured the nomination at the Republican convention on July 28 — and his promise forced him to visit the remote, Republican-heavy state of Alaska on the Saturday before Election Day. Nixon’s tour was subsequently criticized after he lost one of the closest presidential races in history, with his detractors saying his time would have been better spent in a more competitive state like Illinois or Texas (both of which he lost).

Any other candidate could embark on his own 50-state tour, but there could be additional benefits specific to Clinton. A hypothetical nationwide journey could help restore the Senator’s relationship with the net roots, which currently ranges from lukewarm to hostile. Clinton ran a distant third with 11 percent behind Edwards (39 percent) and Obama (21 percent) in a September Daily Kos straw poll.

Many online activists believe in and champion Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, a belief that Democrats should challenge Republicans everywhere, regardless of the partisan makeup of a particular state or district. By campaigning in every state, Clinton would be giving some credence to the philosophy.

Similarly, it could be an excellent party-building opportunity for Democrats, with fundraisers in states and districts that haven’t seen a Democratic presidential candidate in decades, if ever. Both the campaign and the local parties could benefit from the excitement and attract new donors who wouldn’t normally show up at an event.

Carville cautioned that a nationwide tour would have to be more than a gimmick. “It has to be part of the message,” he said in an interview.

“You can bet that every television network and major newspaper will be recording every waking moment of the Republican and Democratic nominees,” said a television network source. “If it is Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani, times that by ten.”

A 50-state tour would not necessarily increase media attention, since it likely will reach suffocating levels anyway, but it would provide an easy storyline with colorful graphics tracking Clinton’s progress and the embedded reporters chronicling each stop.

The timing and pace of the tour could go in at least a couple of different directions. The candidate could start early in the spring, after the nomination becomes inevitable, hit a state per day and plan to visit certain states before they hold their primaries. This way it could be done in less than two months and completed close to the time the nominee is chosen anyway.

Another option could be to tour the country during the dog days of summer and schedule Colorado and the Democratic National Convention as the final destination. Clinton could increase interest and suspense by “picking up” her vice presidential running mate along the way in his home state.

Of course, this proposal is not without negative consequences. “It’s not a ridiculous idea,” Carville said. “But it has more problems than benefits.”

“Some [Democrats] on the ballot don’t want her to come [to their state],” explained one Democratic insider. Clinton’s visit could create awkward, and potentially damaging, political situations for Democratic candidates and incumbents. That might result in an abnormally high number of convenient scheduling conflicts for local Democratic candidates as Clinton travels to Republican-leaning districts and states.

Republicans have their backs against the wall and low morale, and some Democrats are afraid to give them any reason to be energized and motivated. Indeed, the 50-state presidential tour may create tension between boosting Clinton’s White House prospects and damaging her party’s chances downballot.

The candidate also would have to balance other campaign-related demands on her time, such as fundraisers, debates and debate prep, not all of which are completely under her campaign’s control. “Once you say you’re going to do it, you’ll have to do it,” Carville said, noting the logistical nightmare of touching down in all 50 states.

And in what might be the biggest pushback, a national tour also would divert time, energy and resources away from traditional battleground states. Campaigning in heavily Republican, and even Democratic, states runs directly contrary to the emerging micro- targeting mentality.

Of course there is no guarantee that Clinton will be the nominee, with the first caucuses still at least three months away. But the 2008 early primary calendar and the unprecedented amount of money being raised could give Clinton an opportunity to capitalize where Nixon failed. And there’s nothing to stop any of the other Democrats from doing it as well.

By spending time reaching out to voters all across the country, Clinton could attempt to soften the Beltway brand she’s earned from her past 16 years in Washington.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on September 27, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, October 01, 2007

For President Bush, the Reservoir of Goodwill Is Bone-Dry

By Stuart Rothenberg

About six weeks ago, an influential Capitol Hill Democrat told me he suspected that both Democrats in Congress and the White House were itching for a fight and, he said, if there was one in the fall, he certainly wanted it to be about the “kids’ health,” not about appropriations bills.

It now looks as if that Democrat will get his wish, as the White House digs in and President Bush readies his veto of Congress’ expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Most observers, including practically all Democrats and most in the national media, figure that there is never any political benefit in voting against or vetoing legislation and additional spending on “kids’ health.”

That’s not entirely true. Any issue can be redefined to make it less appealing to voters at large.

When, during his first term, President Bill Clinton initially proposed a major health care overhaul, some wondered how Republicans could oppose it without looking as if they were against lower health care costs for consumers. But opponents of the Clinton proposal won by defining it as bureaucratic, unwieldy and interfering with patients’ choice.

The defeat of the Clinton plan was a stunning political victory for Republicans — a victory they would use to help build a Republican electoral wave in less than two years.

The problem now for opponents of SCHIP legislation is that the single most visible and identifiable person standing in the way of the House-Senate conference compromise is Bush.

The current Bush is very different from the one who, during a Nov. 4, 2004, news conference, responded to a question about his agenda for a second term by saying: “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

Less than three years after that news conference, the president has no political capital left, no reservoir of goodwill either on Capitol Hill or in the country at large with which to rally opposition to the measure. His political capital has morphed into political baggage.

The president’s job-approval ratings have been abysmal for months, and Americans are critical of his job performance across the board, not just when it comes to Iraq.

Democrats have no reason whatsoever to be deferential to him, and voters are not likely to give him the benefit of the doubt during a political debate filled with charges and countercharges, particularly when he is on one side and a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress is on the other.

Conservative Peter Ferrara wrote recently in National Review Online that the SCHIP program, “supposedly to help poor children,” would in fact “finance subsidies to families earning as much as $82,000 a year.” He then echoed the Bush message that the “massive SCHIP expansion mostly involves a takeover of private insurance coverage.”

Other Republicans, including Texas Rep. Joe Barton and Georgia Rep. Nathan Deal, have complained that the proposal will mean higher taxes and a new burden for taxpayers. Whether they are correct almost doesn’t matter right now.

The bill’s GOP co-sponsor, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, has debunked the assertion that states could unilaterally set their income limits as high as $82,000, and 18 Republicans supported the bill that passed the Senate in early August, including Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Kit Bond (Mo.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.).

Individuals can decide for themselves whether the final bill deserves passage, but one thing is crystal clear: The combination of considerable Republican support for the proposal combined with the president’s and the Republican Party’s weak standing means that opponents of reauthorization of SCHIP are shooting themselves in the foot.

Republicans, of course, are correct to want to get back to criticizing Democrats for too much spending and too many new or expanded government programs, and they already have started that drumbeat. But they won’t be very effective in doing so until more time passes since they did their own spending, and until they have regained some of their credibility as a party. It’s quite likely that Republicans won’t make much headway with their argument until a new president is elected.

So the GOP is stuck on SCHIP where it has been on so many issues over the past few years — divided, with a politically crippled president and, now, defending a position of political weakness. No wonder Democrats are gloating.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 27, 2007. Copyright 2007 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.