Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Surprising General Election Opening for Republicans?

By Stuart Rothenberg

As this cycle began, Democrats looked united and prepared to take advantage of deep divisions in the Republicans’ ranks. But the increasingly bitter and personal attacks exchanged by Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) suddenly raise the possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee will have to heal wounds that are as deep as those in the GOP.

Could Democrats, who are unified in their dissatisfaction with George W. Bush and have been pleased with their presidential field, really become so divided that they give a surprising opening to the eventual Republican nominee? Yes.

The turn in the Democratic race probably shouldn’t be surprising, considering the stakes involved and the reputation of the Clintons for doing whatever needs to be done to win. But few seasoned political observers expected the Democratic contest to degenerate as far as it has into a nasty slugfest.

Had Clinton won both Iowa and New Hampshire and locked up the Democratic nomination quickly, we wouldn’t be witnessing the current Democratic messiness. But when Obama shocked Clinton in Iowa, the race morphed dramatically, forcing the campaigns to re-examine their assumptions and strategies.

Clinton apparently concluded that she no longer could afford to stay above the fray, and her husband (and the family’s allies) reacted with the ferocity of a wild animal protecting its young.

A mud fight could benefit Clinton in a number of ways: by raising questions about Obama’s preparedness for office, by drawing him into a messy, unattractive brawl, and by generally turning off independents and new voters, with whom Obama has had a clear advantage.

Obama’s conundrum is simple: How does he defend himself without adopting the Clintons’ tactics, thereby making him look like just another politician?

Forced to fight back or look weak and indecisive — a fatal error in a party that still thinks Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) lost in 2004 because he failed to answer his critics quickly and aggressively enough — Obama has fought back, portraying the Clintons as inconsistent and untrustworthy. The Illinois Democrat’s campaign has even established a “truth squad” to answer charges from the Clinton campaign that the Illinois Senator’s campaign believes are distortions or untruths.

The longer the Clinton-Obama race remains a fair fight with a lot riding on each primary, the greater the pressure on each side, and the more likely that the attacks will be personal, not policy-centered. While truces will be proclaimed, the pressure on both sides to turn up the rhetoric will be irresistible.

The Clinton versus Obama contest already has divided the party’s traditional coalition along demographic lines. And that probably now guarantees that a sizable part of the Democratic Party will be unhappy with the eventual nominee and will believe that the nominee used unfair tactics to win the nomination.

If Obama becomes his party’s nominee, he will have a hard time winning some of the downscale, working-class Democrats who have been crucial to Clinton’s early successes.

“Barack Obama doesn’t come across as the voice of the blue-collar American,” noted one Democratic consultant who agrees that some Clinton voters will have a hard time warming to Obama’s style.

If Clinton is nominated, some of Obama’s coalition of African-Americans, upscale voters, independents and new voters could easily resent the Clinton campaign and have trouble lining up behind the former first lady, particularly against a strong GOP nominee who reaches out to them.

Black voters aren’t likely to defect en masse to the GOP, but many might regard an Obama defeat as evidence that the Democratic establishment didn’t play fair and took whatever steps it needed to deny Obama the nomination. And you can pretty much bet that some high-profile black leader will comment that the Democratic Party is happy to get black votes but isn’t willing to nominate a black candidate.

Two Democratic operatives who don’t have a horse in the presidential contest told me this week that while Clinton almost certainly could succeed in persuading African-Americans to back her in the general election, she would be forced to spend time doing that rather than wooing independents or weak Republicans.

This, of course, opens up another whole can of worms. Would Clinton need to ask Obama to join her as her running mate, even though the two camps seem increasingly hostile? And if Clinton is the nominee and seems to pander to African-Americans to keep them energized for a ticket without an African-American on it, would that create problems for the party among swing voters?

Clinton’s even bigger problem in a general election could be with independents, who might be put off by the former first lady’s tough tactics. Obama won a plurality of independents who participated in the Democratic contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

At this point, it’s wise not to exaggerate the Democrats’ problems. After all, a weak economy, the war in Iraq and a Bush administration with low job-performance numbers will give any Democratic nominee the advantage in the general election. But Democrats have a developing problem, and ignoring it will not make it go away.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 28, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Maybe Candidate ‘Electability’ Isn’t So Decisive After All

By Stuart Rothenberg

Ever since Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) beat Howard Dean in Iowa in 2004 and went on to win the Democratic presidential nomination, we have heard that voters are becoming more strategic in their decision- making. They want to nominate someone who can win, not merely the candidate they agree with or like.

If anything, that view has been elevated to a political truth this cycle. Journalists and pundits tell us that Republicans want a nominee who can beat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), while Democrats want to make certain that they win the White House in 2008, ending eight years of GOP control of the executive branch.

And yet even a cursory view of the early entrance and exit polls, as well as of the discussions in both parties of late, yields but a single conclusion: So far, electability isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

When asked in this year’s Iowa entrance poll which candidate quality mattered the most to them, only 8 percent of Democrats said electability, while a majority, 52 percent, said “can bring change.” Only 7 percent of Republicans cited “electability” as the candidate quality that mattered the most to them.

Just four years ago, a stunning 26 percent of Democrats in the Iowa entrance poll said that “can beat Bush” was the most important quality they were looking for in making their choice of whom to support in the caucuses.

The numbers in New Hampshire were not very different. This year’s Granite State exit poll found just 6 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans responding that electability was the top candidate quality they were looking for. Four years ago, 20 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said the ability to defeat George W. Bush was the top candidate quality they were looking for.

Of course, it’s possible that Democrats decided earlier this year that either of their top two presidential contenders could win the White House in the fall, which would mean that caucus and primary participants could focus on qualities other than “electability.” Still, the data undermine all of the early media attention to “electability” as a key factor in this cycle’s presidential nominating process.

Of the top-tier Democratic candidates, former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) has invested heavily in the “electability” argument, and it has not done him much good. Of late, a couple of Clinton surrogates raised electability in their effort to discredit Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) before the Nevada Democratic caucuses, and the Obama campaign has fired back this week with an e-mail arguing that the Illinois Senator is the most electable Democrat in the race based on recent polling.

But if “electability” hasn’t seemed all that important to Democratic voters so far, the issue has all but disappeared in the GOP race.

Rarely do the top Republican candidates mine for votes by emphasizing their ability to win the general election, even though there is persuasive evidence that one or two Republican candidates would have a better chance to keep the White House in November.

On Saturday night, interviewing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) after his victory speech, Fox’s Sean Hannity raised electability, suggesting that it may have been a reason McCain had won. While the Senator readily agreed that he was the “most electable” Republican in the field, he quickly changed the subject to what he would do as president.

McCain’s response was wise, since voters usually prefer to hear politicians speak about policy rather than process, but it nevertheless is noteworthy that the Arizona Republican didn’t spend at least a little more time talking about his ability to defeat Clinton in the general election.

National head-to-head general election tests demonstrate that McCain runs better than any other Republican against either Clinton or Obama. McCain runs even or a few points ahead of both Democrats, while other GOP hopefuls fare far worse.

Yet not only has McCain not pushed that argument, but he also continues to have problems in primaries with self-identified Republican and conservative voters — two groups that you would think would be particularly sensitive to an electability argument (especially if Clinton is the eventual Democratic nominee).

The cross tabs from Iowa and New Hampshire certainly should have Democrats at the very least concerned about the electability question, especially if Clinton is her party’s nominee for president.

If McCain does find a way to win the GOP nomination, he’ll have considerable appeal to independent voters and moderates — just the kinds of voters who have preferred Obama over Clinton. That would give McCain a clear road map to a victory, something few other Republicans have.

Electability ultimately may decide one or both party nominations later this year. But so far, it hasn’t been that big of a deal, even in those places where it was of great concern to Democrats four years ago.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call on January 24, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Missouri 6: Graves Vs. Barnes- A Royal Rumble in Kansas City

By Stuart Rothenberg

“At-risk” incumbents come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes their vulnerability follows from their voting records or their personal lives. Other times, it has nothing to do with them personally and everything to do with the quality of their opponents or the makeup of their electorates. And sometimes, it’s the fault of broad national trends.

Republican Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.) has more than one of these problems this cycle, and he’ll need all his political skill to fend off a high-profile Democratic assault on his seat.

Graves, who served in both the Missouri state House and state Senate, was first elected to Congress from his Northwest Missouri district in 2000, when he won an open-seat contest against Steve Danner, a Democratic state legislator who was trying to succeed his mother, retiring Rep. Pat Danner (D).

Graves hasn’t had a tough race since, winning with more than 60 percent of the vote each time. His 2004 opponent, Charlie Broomfield, was hyped for a time by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as a challenger with deep pockets and the potential to upset Graves. But that race never developed.

Missouri’s 6th district is politically competitive, but it isn’t quite the tossup district that Democrats like to portray it. Most of the state legislators who represent it in Jefferson City are Republicans, and George W. Bush carried it handily (winning all 26 counties in the district), with 57 percent, in 2004.

But Graves definitely is in for a fight for his re-election.

First, he has drawn a formidable opponent in Kay Barnes (D), who served two terms as mayor of Kansas City, the largest city in the state. She left office last May.

Barnes takes credit (and has received plenty of it) for revitalizing the city’s downtown, and like many Democrats, she is offering a “time for a change” message that should resonate with voters. She already has the backing of EMILY’s List, the pro-choice Democratic fundraising group, and she has the look of a feisty campaigner and a strong fundraiser.

Second, the national and state environments are not likely to benefit Graves. The president’s poll numbers are low, Congress is not held in high regard, and the state’s sitting governor, Republican Matt Blunt, who is up for re-election in November, has more problems than GOP strategists would like.

Third, Graves has not always helped himself. While the state’s senior Senator, Kit Bond (R), has endorsed the Congressman for re-election, the two GOP officeholders have not always had the warmest of relations.

In December, a Roll Call investigative piece by reporter Paul Singer raised questions about free use of an airplane that the Congressman received from a contracting firm in his district. Graves’ office has said that there is nothing wrong with him borrowing a plane. But in the wake of several recent articles about his financial holdings, Graves has amended his personal financial disclosure forms to clarify his family’s investments in ethanol plants.

One of Graves’ campaign consultants/ strategists, Jeff Roe, is so controversial — The Kansas City Star said he has a reputation for “ruthlessly laying waste to his opponents” — that he has rubbed even some Republicans the wrong way. For example, Missouri Speaker Rod Jetton (R), who has had his own run-ins with Roe, has been more than kind to Barnes’ Congressional bid.

Barnes portrays Graves as too conservative, criticizing his votes against the Democrats’ SCHIP proposal last year, against a bill that would have strengthened penalties against those involved in dog fighting and against a Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage. And she promises to outwork him.

If Barnes is correct, the 6th district’s rural areas are accounting for less and less of the Congressional district’s vote, and even those voters in the rural areas have shown a greater willingness to vote for popular Democrats.

Democratic strategists are absolutely euphoric about Barnes’ candidacy, and during my interview with her late last year I found her to be both energetic and articulate.

But while Barnes is a strong challenger, she certainly isn’t a perfect one. Democrats seem to gloss over her weaknesses and liabilities in their understandable enthusiasm for her.

For example, while her work in Kansas City is an asset, only part of the city is in the 6th district, and it’s the more Republican part. Most of the city is in the very Democratic 5th district, which won’t help Barnes.

Unlike the last Democrat to hold this Congressional seat, Barnes will have trouble presenting herself as a cultural moderate. Her support from EMILY’s List means campaign cash, but it also tags her as pro-choice in a district that is culturally more conservative.

And Barnes’ appearance on the cover of a magazine published by Kansas City’s gay- lesbian-bisexual-transgender community isn’t likely to go over well in the district’s rural counties, where she hopes to make inroads because she was born and raised in St. Joseph.

Finally, Barnes’ “change” argument may not be so easy to sell as she hopes. Not only is she 25 years older than Graves, but she may not be helped by the kind of “change” epitomized by the Democratic presidential nominee, whether that is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).

Democrats view Missouri’s 6th as an example of their ability to widen the playing field in 2008 by putting into play districts that were not seriously contested in 2006. They are right about that. But it’s too early to know whether they really can win it this year. Neither party can take this race for granted, which makes this a race worth watching.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 22, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Missouri Governor: Blunt Not Seeking Reelection

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) is expected to announce that he will not seek reelection to a second term, according to Republican sources.

Blunt was in the midst of an extremely competitive race with state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D). Because of his low job approval numbers, the governor's decision may not make the seat any more vulnerable for the GOP. But it does send Republicans scrambling for a candidate with less than a year before the election.

History Working Against Senate GOP

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While voter sentiment about the parties and the top issues may change between now and November, one thing will remain: The Republicans’ historic disadvantage in the number of Senate seats they are forced to defend this cycle.

From the beginning, the playing field was stacked against them. Coming into the cycle, the Republicans held 21 seats up for re- election, but the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) and the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) spawned special elections in those states.

So Republicans are now defending 23 seats, the most the party has ever had to defend in a cycle.

In comparison, Democrats are defending 12 seats. And at 35 total seats, this year is the largest Senate class since 1994.

“We are very aware of the overwhelming hurdles we have in front of us,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Rebecca Fisher, who stressed that GOP candidates are well-positioned on the issues.

The 11-seat difference is the largest since 1980, when Democrats defended 24 seats compared with 10 seats for Republicans. And not surprisingly, over the last 60 years, when the partisan breakdown of a particular class dramatically tilts against one party, that party almost always has lost seats.

In the 1980 elections, Democrats lost a dozen seats, along with the White House. Six years later, when Republicans had to defend that same class and the playing field was tilted against them (22-12), they lost eight seats. More recently, in 1994, Democrats defended nine more seats than the Republicans (22-13) and lost a net of eight seats in the Republican wave.

Going further back, Democrats defended the overwhelming number of seats in 1970 (24-10) and lost three seats, in 1968 (23-11) and lost five seats, in 1960 (23-12) and lost one seat, and in 1950 (23-13), when they lost five seats.

Over the last 60 years, the only time a party has faced a significant structural disadvantage and gained seats was in 1964. Democrats defended more seats (26-9) but gained two more, further evidence of the anti-Goldwater landslide.

In 1976, Democrats defended more seats (21-11) and fought Republicans to a draw in Senate races. That year, when the Democrats were winning their first presidential election since 1964, 14 seats changed partisan hands with no net change. (Harry Byrd of Virginia was re-elected as an Independent.)

But for Republicans, the problem is not only the number of their seats in play, but the type of seats. The GOP is defending five open seats while all of the Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election. Up to this point, the Republicans are solid favorites to keep Idaho and Nebraska in their column. But Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado are three of the most vulnerable seats in the country.

The five-seat disparity in open seats hasn’t occurred since 2000, when Democrats defended five open seats to the Republicans’ zero. Democrats managed to hold onto four of those seats, but lost Nevada when now-NRSC Chairman John Ensign won the seat vacated by Richard Bryan (D).

Republicans are also suffering from a lack of Democratic opportunities that could potentially balance out any losses. Over the past 50 years, no party has ever been shut out of the takeover column for two consecutive cycles. Since they didn’t take over a seat in 2006, Republicans will have to defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), or pull off an upset somewhere else, to avoid setting a modern political record.

Despite the fact that President Bush carried Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, and West Virginia in 2004, none of them looks like a great opportunity for Senate Republicans with less than 10 months to go.

The NRSC’s financial disadvantage compared with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee makes it difficult for them to “force” additional seats into play. Democratic incumbents Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Carl Levin (Mich.) sit in three of the dozen most-expensive states in the country in which to advertise, according to Media Strategies and Research. Through November, the DSCC held a $25.5 million to $10.4 million cash advantage over the NRSC.

Democrats will have to spend a considerable amount of money if they hope to defeat Sen. John Cornyn (R), since Texas is the fourth-most-expensive state. Virginia also could be expensive, but Democrats are hoping that former Gov. Mark Warner can maintain his early lead and allow the committee to spend elsewhere.

On the other hand, Republican incumbents such as Susan Collins (Maine) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) make attractive targets because they represent two of the cheapest advertising states. Democratic Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) sit in the fifth- and sixth-cheapest states, but Republicans don’t yet have serious challengers against them.

Republicans can take some solace that this particular class of Senators has been very stable and hasn’t been prone to dramatic partisan shifts. In fact, this class hasn’t yielded a net change of more than three seats for either party in over 50 years. But there is always a first time for everything.

The immediate news doesn’t get any better for Republicans, who will be defending more seats (19-15) in 2010 as well. But in 2012, Democrats will be defending 23 seats (24 counting Joe Lieberman) compared with only nine Republicans, the smallest GOP Senate class in at least 60 years.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on January 16, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Can Giuliani Get Into the Republican Game in Florida?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has taken quite a hit recently both in the national media and in national polls. Journalists have noted that his crowds during the first two weeks of January were small, leading some to conclude that the mayor’s presidential race may be over even before it has begun.

But as we’ve already seen a number of times during this presidential campaign, it’s wise not to jump to conclusions, and Giuliani’s strategy has not yet been tested. There’s no need for you to be the first on your block to write off the New Yorker.

Giuliani’s fading strength in the national polls, his eroded standing in Quinnipiac University’s Florida polling and his poor crowds recently stem from the same factor: He didn’t compete in the early contests, where most of the attention and all of the initial excitement was located.

For many months, I’ve said that I thought Giuliani’s Florida/Feb. 5 strategy was both silly and plausible, and there is no reason to change that assessment at this point.

The mayor has tried to stay relevant in the Republican race by participating in debates, but those appearances alone didn’t make him a factor in Iowa, New Hampshire or Michigan, and he simply got lost. He’s likely to stay lost until after South Carolina, when he’ll take off his warm-up outfit and rush into the game long after all of the other players already have scored some points and drawn cheers from the fans.

Rudy’s strategy is fundamentally flawed because it allows the other candidates to control the process. They are the focus of attention, not him. If he is relevant at the end of January, it is only because no strong favorite has emerged from the early contests.

So Giuliani took the unwise gamble of passing on the early states, figuring that defeats there would destroy his candidacy. However risky, unwise and silly his strategy, it so far has worked as his strategists hoped. Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan were won by different contestants, and no matter what happens in South Carolina this weekend, the New Yorker will have a chance to alter the dynamics of the GOP race on Jan. 29, when he enters the Republican mix.

The crucial point is this: Giuliani didn’t fall in the national polls because Republican voters decided he doesn’t have the stuff to be president. He didn’t see his crowds thin because rank-and-file Republicans finally turned thumbs down on his more moderate social views (on abortion, gay rights or gun control). And he didn’t fall off the media’s national radar because Republicans remembered his friendship with Bernie Kerik or his messy personal life when he was still serving as mayor.

Giuliani’s star dimmed during the first half of January, not because he committed a gaffe but because he made himself irrelevant. When he becomes relevant at the end of January, both voters and the national media will once again turn to Rudy, and that’s when he’ll have his shot.

This isn’t to say that his strategy hasn’t already affected his prospects. If you don’t play, you can’t win, and you can’t build up any momentum along the way, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney already have done. On the other hand, momentum apparently is overrated this year, since neither Huckabee’s victory in the caucuses nor McCain’s in New Hampshire catapulted them to a win in the next contest.

Possibly more important, Giuliani’s Florida/Feb. 5 strategy requires a lot of money, since it is based on a strong showing in a large number of states, many of them heavily populated, stretching from coast to coast.

You can win Iowa, as Huckabee proved, without a lot of cash. And you can overcome a large financial disadvantage in New Hampshire, as McCain demonstrated. Both of those states require and reward retail politics. But Giuliani’s strategy requires a lot of money, and he’s rapidly running out of it, according to most reports.

The first three Republican outcomes demonstrate that the GOP is badly fractured. That’s good for Giuliani, who benefits from the chaos and can offer himself up to Republicans as someone the entire party can get behind. However, McCain’s inability to attract the support of conservatives ought to create concern inside the Giuliani camp, which, like that of the Arizona Senator, ultimately needs support from those Republican primary voters.

Despite the early national polls, Rudy Giuliani never was the clear frontrunner in the GOP race. He merely was the biggest national celebrity in a contest that is not a national one. Still, after ignoring Iowa, pulling out of New Hampshire (after spending millions there) and bypassing Michigan and South Carolina, the former mayor continues to have his admirers and a scenario that says that he can win the Republican nomination.

Yes, even though the Republican nomination is still up for grabs and Giuliani’s strategy has so far paid off, he remains only a long shot for the Republican nomination. But given the weirdness that is the 2008 presidential race, that’s not half bad.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 17, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shifting Standards of Victory

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With less than a handful of states under our belt in the presidential race, it’s time for both the candidates’ campaigns and the media to agree on a uniform way of evaluating the results and determining candidate placement on the medal stands.

Post-Nevada, both the Clinton and Obama campaigns are claiming victory, and each has a reasonable explanation. Sen. Hillary Clinton defeated Sen. Barack Obama 51% to 45% in the Silver State’s popular vote (which, more accurately, reflects delegates to the state convention). But Obama appeared to edge Clinton in national delegates 13 to 12, because of how the national delegates are proportioned.

The newfound focus on national delegates is fascinating since no one talked about Clinton taking more national delegates than John Edwards in Iowa. Instead, observers near and far were anxious to shove the New York Senator into third place in the first critical contest because it made for a better storyline.

In Iowa, Clinton earned 15 national delegates, one behind Obama (16), and one ahead of John Edwards (14). But that didn’t stop Edwards from swiping the rhetorical silver medal. The former North Carolina senator edged Clinton 29.748% to 29.468% in state delegates, but if Clinton had received a single state delegate more (she already had 737) she would have been at 29.5% and her percentage would have been rounded up to 30%, putting her in a statistical “tie” with Edwards.

So, if all of the sudden national delegate counts are the new fad, Edwards has three third place finishes under his belt.

In fact, both “votes” and delegates matter. And in the case of Nevada, Clinton and Obama finished in a near dead heat. One “won” in delegates, while the other “won” in caucus votes. The reality, however, is that the Nevada results, by themselves, don’t boost either Democrat’s prospects dramatically.

This item also appeared on Political Wire.

A Big McCain Win, But Trouble in the Weeds

By Stuart Rothenberg

Sen. John McCain won a narrow victory in South Carolina on Saturday, but the final results and the exit poll continue to show a very fractured Republican party without a single candidate who has emerged as a consensus choice.

Once again the devil is in the details, and anyone who digs through the exit poll will find that the GOP race is still wide open.

McCain won again, as he did in New Hampshire, on the basis of strong support from self-described moderates and liberals, and by attracting the votes of Independents. He won among primary voters who believe abortion should be legal, who believe that illegal immigrants should have a path to citizenship and who had a negative opinion of the Bush Administration.

McCain and Huckabee each won about 30 percent of the GOP, with Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson drawing another 16 percent each. Huckabee easily won conservatives, evangelical Christians, and voters who favored deporting illegal aliens.

Did McCain measurably improve on his 2000 showing in South Carolina? Not if you compare the 2000 and 2008 exit polls.

In 2000, McCain won 29 percent of self-described conservatives. This time, he won just 26 percent. In 2000, he drew 26 percent of Republicans. This time he won 30 percent – an improvement but not a dramatic one. McCain won 48 percent of veterans in 2000 against George W. Bush but only 37 percent this time.

If McCain didn’t increase his percentages, why did he win? McCain won because of the fractured GOP field. Huckabee, Thompson and Romney divided the GOP vote and conservatives, allowing McCain to win with only a third of the total primary vote.

McCain’s formula for victory can work in states that allow Independents to vote, but it’s still unclear whether he can compete successfully in states with closed primaries, which includes a number of Super Tuesday states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Montana, New York, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

McCain’s victory is disappointing news for Rudy Giuliani, who is waiting in Florida. Giuliani’s poll numbers have been slipping, and McCain’s momentum could make him appealing to some Florida Republicans who had been considering the former New York Mayor.

Some observers surely will see McCain’s victory in South Carolina as fundamentally changing the GOP race. But the evidence is not there yet that that is the case. If you look deep, deep into the weeds, the Republicans are still in a very wide-open race.

This item also appeared on Political Wire.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Print Edition: 2008 House Outlook

The January 16, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. This issue is our quarterly House Outlook. We post our ratings online, but the race-by-race analysis (with districts, candidates and primary dates) is only available in the print edition.

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

While the nation watches the race for the White House, the two parties’ House campaign committee and hundreds of candidates for Congress are focusing on a different electoral battlefield.

Democrats continue to have several advantages in the fight for the House: retirements/open seats, money and the broad national environment. Growing concerns about the economy could also drag down the President’s (and his party’s) numbers further, giving Democratic candidates another powerful message.

But there is some reason for GOP strategists to hope that there will be a shift in the national mood when each party has its nominee for President and the electorate starts to focus on the future, not the past. That, of course, will depend on the nominees themselves, as well as how the nominees sell in particular districts and particular parts of the country.

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 our race-by-race analysis, you must subscribe to the print edition of the Report.

REVISED March 6: Change Illinois 14 Special to Toss-Up

  • AZ 1 (Open; Renzi, R)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • IL 11 (Open; Weller, R)
  • IL 14 (Open; Hastert, R)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • MN 3 (Open; Ramstad, R)
  • NM1 (Open; Wilson, R)
  • OH 15 (Open; Pryce, R)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • NJ 3 (Open; Saxton, R)
  • NJ 7 (Open; Ferguson, R)
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • OH 16 (Open; Regula, R)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • FL 24 (Feeney, R)
  • IL 10 (Kirk, R)
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • MI 9 (Knollenberg, R)
  • MO 6 (Graves, R)
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • NY 25 (Walsh, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • IL 8 (Bean, D)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • KS 3 (Moore, D)
  • MN 1 (Walz, D)
  • NY 20 (Gillibrand, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)
  • TX 23 (Rodriguez, D)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
  • CA 4 (Open; Doolittle, R)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
  • FL 8 (Keller, R)
  • IL 6 (Roskam, R)
  • LA 6 (Open; Baker, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • NM 2 (Open; Pearce, R)
  • NY 13 (Fosella, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • PA 18 (Murphy, R)
  • WV 2 (Capito, R)
  • CT 5 (Murphy, D)
  • GA 12 (Barrow, D)
  • IN 2 (Donnelly, D)
  • IN 7 (Open; Carson, D)
  • IN 8 (Ellsworth, D)
  • PA 7 (Sestak, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Romney’s Michigan Showing Adds Complexity to Evangelical Vote

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Three states down, three different results among evangelical voters for the Republican presidential candidates.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a plurality of evangelicals (34%) in Michigan, despite some reservations within the community about his Mormon religion. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee placed second (29%) and Arizona Sen. John McCain third (23%) among evangelicals.

After Huckabee’s convincing win among evangelicals in Iowa (he took 46%) and the three-way tie among evangelicals in New Hampshire, Romney’s showing is evidence that no candidate has a lock on the evangelical vote.

It also suggests that while evangelicals hold to uniting theological themes, there is limited uniformity in how evangelicals apply their faith to politics and choosing a particular candidate.

Evangelicals were a larger part of the electorate in Michigan (39%) than in New Hampshire (24%), but a smaller percentage than in Iowa (60%). South Carolina will be the next test case for the evangelical vote on Saturday.

Eight years ago, the exit poll asked primary voters if they were part of the “religious right.” First of all, what does “religious right” even mean? Second, surely there were evangelicals in 2000 who did not consider themselves part of the “religious right,” but we don’t know how many. Unfortunately, that’s the only vaguely similar question we have in analyzing potential evangelical percentages in upcoming Republican primaries.

In 2000, one-third of the Republican primary voters in South Carolina said they were part of the “religious right,” a slightly smaller percentage than similar voters in Iowa that year (37%). If that trend still exists today, it would poke a hole in the theory that South Carolina is full of uber-conservative evangelicals ready to deliver the state for Huckabee.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Romney Rides the Republican Wave in Michigan GOP Primary

By Stuart Rothenberg

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose father served as Michigan's governor and campaigned as a hometown favorite, won the Michigan Republican primary Tuesday by rolling up clear wins among self-described conservatives and Republicans.

Romney’s victory resuscitates a failing campaign, adding further chaos to an already confused Republican Presidential race.

Second-place finisher John McCain came up short in a state that he won eight years ago because Independents and Democrats failed to turn out at the same rate that they did in 2000.

Eight years ago, Michigan Democrats constituted 17 percent of primary voters in the GOP contest, while Independents constituted 35 percent of primary voters. Self-identified Republicans were less than half (48 percent) of all GOP primary voters then.

But this time, more than two out of three voters in the GOP primary identified themselves as Republicans, and Romney won them comfortably. McCain won Independents and Democrats this time as he did eight years ago.

McCain continued to do well, as he did in New Hampshire, among primary voters who disapproved of the war in Iraq, who described themselves as moderates and who identified Iraq as the nation’s top problem.

In addition to winning conservatives and self-identified Republicans, Romney did well among voters who valued experience, supported the war in Iraq, favored deporting illegal aliens, said that abortion should always be illegal, said that they were “enthusiastic” or “satisfied” with the Bush Administration, and lived in the Detroit suburbs.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee finished a distant third, drawing notable support only from evangelical Christians, from voters who said abortion should always be illegal and from voters who said that the religious beliefs of their candidate matter “a great deal.” However, he lost evangelicals to Romney.

The primary results once again raise questions about McCain’s ability to attract Republican voters, who will be crucial in a number of upcoming contests that allow only registered Republicans to participate.

McCain voters are far more secular than the typical Republican, far less satisfied with President Bush and far less conservative. That’s not a formula for winning the Republican Presidential nomination.

Michigan Republicans also showed little interest in Huckabee’s message of economic populism, even though the state has been suffering for years from economic problems. That raises questions about the breadth of Huckabee’s appeal even in his own party.

Romney continues to show strength among upscale, core Republican voters, an important constituency in future GOP contests. Still, Michigan is Romney’s first major win (he also won the Wyoming caucuses), and he has expended considerable resources in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

Romney must now decide whether to compete fully in South Carolina, where McCain and Huckabee are expected to run well, or to focus on Florida.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has bypassed the first few contests to compete in Florida and on February 5, benefits from Romney’s win, since it keeps the GOP race wide open.

Monday, January 14, 2008

GOP Showdowns Ahead in Michigan and South Carolina

By Stuart Rothenberg

If you think Mike Huckabee can’t possibly win the Republican nomination for president, you are deluding yourself. If you think Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has the GOP nomination in the bag, you need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The Republican race is still up for grabs. But as I write this, three days after New Hampshire and four days before Michigan, the GOP contest looks like a fair fight between McCain and Huckabee, with Mitt Romney needing a miracle in Michigan to stay alive.

McCain’s win in New Hampshire has given him the look of a winner, but his winning coalition may not be easily replicated in many states.

Voters who opposed the war in Iraq and were dissatisfied or angry with the Bush administration flocked to McCain, as did moderate and liberal Republicans and independents. He tied Huckabee among evangelical voters, but New Hampshire evangelicals are different from Iowa evangelicals.

McCain still must prove that he can win a closed primary and that he has enough support among Republican regulars to win his party’s nomination. He may, in fact, do so. But even if he wins in Michigan (which he also won in 2000), he still has a formidable task ahead of him, especially when the narrative gets back to immigration and some of the other things in his record.

Huckabee may not be a very good general election nominee for the GOP, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a big-time threat for the party’s nomination.

Many conservatives simply won’t warm to McCain, and social conservatives seem likely to be drawn to Huckabee throughout the South and in the Midwest, too. The calendar sets up well for him, with Michigan, South Carolina and Florida all places where he can play seriously, particularly if a conservative or two (that is, Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson) drop out.

The Wolverine State is not generally regarded as a conservative bastion, but Christian conservatives are a significant part of the GOP coalition there.

While McCain won Michigan in 2000, largely on the strength of his showing among Democrats and independents (who together accounted for 52 percent of all GOP primary voters), more than half of 2000 Republican primary voters said abortion should “never” be legal or should be legal in “few cases,” and more than a quarter (27 percent) identified themselves as members of the religious right.

But those figures understate Huckabee’s potential appeal in the state, and his initial Michigan TV spot is a perfect example of why the former Arkansas governor shouldn’t be underestimated in the contest.

Instead of promoting his “Christian values,” Huckabee, who may figure that he already has the inside track with religious conservatives, immediately launched a populist economic ad in a state that has become the nation’s economic basket case.

The opening in Huckabee’s spot — “When you grow up and life’s a struggle, you have a whole different understanding of what most people are going through” –— and the closing — “I believe most Americans want their next president to remind them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off” — show he’s looking to broaden his support among those who are hurting economically.

Huckabee’s economic populist message should resonate well in the state and allow him to grow his support, according to one veteran GOP insider with a long track record in Michigan.

The first Michigan poll after New Hampshire showed McCain moving to the front and Romney holding a narrow advantage over Huckabee. Those numbers will change before Tuesday, but they offer the scary possibility for Romney that he could finish third in a state that he must win. (An effort by liberal blog Daily Kos to get Michigan Democrats to vote for Romney in the GOP primary obviously is a wild card.)

If McCain reassembles his 2000 Michigan coalition and Huckabee adds those hurt by the state’s economy to his socially conservative supporters, Romney will find himself squeezed, limited to the same kind of upscale Republican regulars who supported him in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former Massachusetts governor cannot afford to allow that to happen.

No matter who wins in Michigan, McCain and Huckabee seem destined to meet in South Carolina on Jan. 19, with Thompson and possibly Romney also in the contest.

Huckabee would seem to have the early edge, since 61 percent of South Carolina’s 2000 GOP primary voters identified themselves as conservative, one-third said they were part of the religious right and Huckabee’s Southern roots give him a special appeal.

But again, it’s better to look before you leap. McCain definitely can play in the Palmetto State.

McCain drew 42 percent in the state’s GOP primary against George W. Bush in 2000, not an insignificant showing by the Arizonan (especially in light of the infamous telephone campaign conducted against him). More than one in four Republican primary voters eight years ago was a veteran and 30 percent were self-described independents, a group McCain won with 60 percent in that race.

The Palmetto State is conservative, but it is also the epitome of establishment Republicanism. That’s why former Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.) defeated Pat Buchanan rather handily in the state’s 1996 presidential primary after losing to the populist former speechwriter in New Hampshire. And that race could be a model for McCain, who may become the party establishment’s choice to stop Huckabee.

The contest for the Republican nomination is really a series of very different contests, and each depends at least in part on the makeup of the field as well as on the outcome of the previous contest. For voters, as well as campaign watchers, that could make for a very fluid next four weeks.

This column also appeared in Roll Call on January 14, 2008. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Kerry’s Endorsement Won’t Help Obama

By Stuart Rothenberg

Shortly after Massachusetts Senator John Kerry announced his endorsement of Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, more than a few voices suggested that it could be a significant plus for Obama’s campaign.

One reporter described Kerry’s announcement as a “major endorsement,” and said that it “could boost Obama's presidential bid by attracting more support from the Democratic establishment, which has largely supported Clinton, the former first lady.”

Another political reporter suggested that the endorsement could “provide some organizational muscle to Obama,” while a third reporter offered the very curious comment that the endorsement would help because Obama “needs to show donors, voters and activists that he can attract more traditional support and win over the decision makers in the party.”

One media political blog reported that University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said that “Kerry can help by making some Democratic loyalists, particularly older women, take a second look at Obama.”

Even my good friend Chris Cillizza of seemed to accept that the Kerry endorsement was a significant plus for Obama. He, like many others, cited Kerry’s “3 million-plus person e-mail list from his run for president,” which he said “should be a financial windfall for Obama’s campaign.”

Cillizza added that “the remnants” of Kerry’s “national operation in every state” will mean “donors, activists and operatives” who can help Obama’s existing backers. Finally, he quoted an anonymous “Kerry advisor” (whom I expect isn’t so anonymous to veteran political reporters) crowing about Kerry’s organization in South Carolina.

The problem with all of these assessments is that they don’t hold up under scrutiny. Virtually all of them are based on the fundamentally flawed assumption that an endorsement in a Presidential race can somehow transfer the past supporters of one politician to another. That almost never happens.

Exactly how and why would Kerry’s endorsement help Obama attract support from the Democratic establishment? Are there a lot of people in the “Democratic establishment” who can’t make up their mind about which Democrat to support (or are supporting another candidate) but will follow the lead of a single U.S. senator, especially when many, many more elected officials have supported Clinton?

And why on earth would “older women” so value Kerry’s endorsement that they would “take a second look at Obama?” Where is the evidence or even the logic to that? If the supposedly incomparable Oprah Winfrey couldn’t deliver women voters to Obama in New Hampshire, why would John Kerry be able to do so in South Carolina or California?

Given that Obama has virtually matched the party’s top fundraiser, Hillary Rodham Clinton, dollar for dollar since he entered the race and has performed stunningly well in the early Democratic Presidential tests, there is no evidence or logic behind the assertion that Obama needs “to show donors, voters and activists that he can attract more traditional support and win over the decision makers in the party.”

Attracting more “donors, voters and activists,” of course, would help Obama, but it borders on ridiculous to say that there are a lot of voters out there who are waiting to see that Obama can attract “more traditional support” before they support him. That’s not how real people think.

Chris’s comment about Kerry’s list, which was echoed by others, at the very least, seems misleading. Some of those 3 million people must have already contributed to either Obama or Clinton. Am I gullible enough to believe that Clinton donors on that list will now write a check to Obama because Kerry has endorsed him?

And while Kerry may be able to raise money for the party’s campaign committee or House and Senate candidates, that’s very different from raising money for a Presidential hopeful in a race where the top three candidates are already well known. Will he raise some for Obama? Yes, of course. But it’s not likely to be so much as to affect the Obama-Clinton contest.

Finally, the idea that Kerry could be a significant help to Obama in South Carolina, a state where Obama is far stronger than Kerry ever was, is difficult to believe.

Too many observers, I’m afraid, seem to think that every campaign development is important and changes the political equation. Even smart people, like Chris, who will tell you that most endorsements by individual members of Congress don’t matter much, get swept along with the campaign hype.

They all should remember the words repeated most recently by Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who, when asked about an endorsement in his own race, said, “I find that with any endorsement, you get half of their friends and all of their enemies.”

Even if some endorsements matter, there is no compelling evidence that I know of that Kerry’s will. Indeed, the endorsement by Kerry, who is more associated with the past than with the future, fundamentally contradicts the Obama message and could turn out to be a liability.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

For Republicans, Iowa Better Be an Aberration

By Stuart Rothenberg

Three months ago, the Democratic presidential nomination looked up for grabs, but the party had a narrow favorite, an identifiable frontrunner. Today, after Iowa but before New Hampshire, the Democratic nomination looks up for grabs, but the party still has an identifiable frontrunner — only it’s a different candidate.

Three months ago the Republican contest looked like a chaotic brawl, with no clear favorite and a bunch of scenarios still in play. Today, looking at the Iowa results and contemplating Tuesday’s Granite State primary, the GOP contest looks like a chaotic brawl, with no clear favorite and a menu of potential scenarios.

Something big happened on the frozen turf of Iowa on Thursday, but the state’s caucuses still were only the first test of a process that, for both parties, could drag on at least a bit longer than many assumed.

By now, you’ve read and watched at least three days of post-Iowa reporting and analysis. You know who voted for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), how Mike Huckabee (R) finished first ahead of Mitt Romney (R) and what Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have at stake in New Hampshire. So what’s left to discuss? November.

Obama’s win makes him the instant Democratic frontrunner, though one victory is not a strong basis for beginning work on a Democratic National Convention acceptance speech.

Huckabee’s victory makes him one of his party’s credible contenders for the GOP nomination, but nothing more. South Carolina may be fertile territory for Huckabee later this month, but there are far too many question marks about his candidacy and appeal to see him as anything more than that.

The former Arkansas governor may well have hit his high water mark in the nation’s first presidential contest. We will see.

But one thing does seem pretty clear: If it’s Obama versus Huckabee in November, Republicans might want to prepare a bomb shelter and store plenty of food, water and reading material. That general election would more likely than not be a massive blowout for Democrats.

Politics, like basketball, is a lot about matchups. Can your taller guards post up the opposition’s short backcourt and take advantage of the mismatch? Can your quick team press the opposition when it’s bringing the ball up court, quickening the pace of the game and forcing the other guys out of their half-court offense?

Even if you aren’t a basketball junkie, you probably get the point. You want to take advantage of your strength and exploit the other team’s weakness, rather than allowing them to do that to you.

For Huckabee, Obama is a true nightmare. For Obama, Huckabee is a godsend.

Obama is a change candidate extraordinaire. Just look at him. Listen to him. Huckabee wants to be a change candidate as well. But he’s a pale reflection of Obama, and not just in skin color.

If Obama has an obvious weakness (and almost every politician has one), it’s his lack of experience and a possible weakness on national security matters. Democratic voters in Iowa didn’t care a lot about that, preferring to focus on him as a vehicle for bringing about change in this country, but that doesn’t mean Republicans won’t try to exploit that weakness.

Indeed, if the GOP ultimately nominates McCain or Rudy Giuliani, you can easily imagine how they would contrast their experiences with Obama.

But Huckabee is unlikely to be able to take advantage of Obama’s potential vulnerability. Sure, Huckabee served as governor of Arkansas for more than two full terms, but that doesn’t give him the credentials to raise questions about Obama’s ability to lead the war against terror or protect American national security.

Huckabee certainly could make the “executive experience” argument. But the last guy who had executive experience at the state level, Republican George W. Bush, hasn’t exactly been a rousing success as chief executive.

Anyway, Huckabee would have serious problems holding together the Republican coalition against Obama, with major defections from the GOP’s country club/business wing. Huckabee’s economic populism simply is at odds with too many in his party, which is why, in winning the nation’s first caucuses, he lost Republicans earning more than $100,000, those living in urban areas and those for whom a candidate’s religious views were not seen as terribly important.

It isn’t difficult to imagine Obama cleaning up in the suburbs and Huckabee taking little more than religious conservatives and populist Democrats. This assumes, of course, that Obama continues to emphasize a unifying message of hope, rather than a heavily left-of- center message of economic redistribution and liberal social policy.

True, Huckabee is a happy warrior, and that might be a considerable asset against someone like former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who sounds too angry, or Clinton, who often seems stiff. But against Obama, that potential Huckabee asset evaporates. Obama’s upbeat message of bringing people together, which would be magnified by the historic development of an African-American as president, would overwhelm whatever appeal Huckabee’s happy warrior style might have.

Finally, an Obama nomination would create a turnout headache for Republicans. Party strategists have been counting on Clinton’s nomination to produce a massive GOP turnout, so if she isn’t on the Democrats’ national ticket, Republican operatives will be forced to spend energy and resources making sure that Republicans vote in November.

Both parties probably still have some surprises in store, so anyone who reads too much into the Iowa results is asking for trouble. And for national GOP strategists, almost any matchup is preferable to Huckabee-Obama.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on January 7, 2007. Copyright 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Did Edwards' Slip Help Clinton in New Hampshire?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While some will suggest that Sen. Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire victory can be traced to her emotional comments shortly before the primary, and others will credit Bill Clinton, there is some evidence to suggest that the collapse of the John Edwards campaign in the Granite State may have given Clinton a victory that multiple polls promised would go to Sen. Barack Obama.

Edwards’s weak 17% showing in New Hampshire was a significant drop from his 30% finish in Iowa just a few days earlier. (It’s probably more accurate to conclude that Edwards drew 23% or 24% in Iowa, not 30%, since that’s what the Iowa entrance poll found. Edwards undoubtedly benefited in the caucuses from realignment, which boosted his final percentage past Clinton, though more people went into the caucuses saying that they would support her. Still, Edwards’s 6-point drop between the Iowa entrance poll and the New Hampshire exit poll is worth noting.)

It’s not that Edwards is unpopular with his party’s voters. A solid 79% of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters had a favorable opinion of him, and many said that he “cares about people.”

But exit polling from New Hampshire shows that the former North Carolina senator flopped with a number of groups that, given the tone and message of his campaign, he should have scored with – groups with which Clinton made noteworthy gains.

Granite State Democrats seemed to regard Edwards as irrelevant on Tuesday.

Among the 61% of Democratic primary voters who said that they were “angry” with the Bush Administration, only 16% voted for Edwards, who clearly ran the angriest campaign of the top three Democrats.

Of the 55% of Democrats who said that the top candidate quality they were looking for was “Can bring about change,” Edwards drew only 12%, while Obama won the votes of 58% and Clinton drew the support of 27%.

Given that Edwards pounded away with a ‘change” message for months – and drew 20% in Iowa among those wanting a candidate who could “bring change” – his New Hampshire showing on this dimension was disappointing.

A majority of New Hampshire Democratic voters (58%) said that they were “very worried” about the economy. That was an issue that Edwards dealt with repeatedly. Yet among those Democrats who felt that way, only 17% voted for Edwards, while 41% picked Clinton and 36% picked Obama.

It would be reasonable to assume that Edwards’s former supporters would switch to Obama, the other “change” candidate in the race, and the Democrats who seemed to have momentum going into New Hampshire. But that apparently didn’t happen.

Instead, it was Clinton whose numbers generally rose as Edwards’s slipped.

This item also appeared on Political Wire on January 9, 2008.

Different Picture of Evangelical Voters in New Hampshire

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Less than a week after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee rode to victory on the shoulders of evangelical voters, he hit a speed bump in New Hampshire with the same group.

In Iowa, 60% of GOP caucus goers were self-described born again or evangelical Christian. Huckabee won the group with a commanding 46%. Mitt Romney finished second (19%), Fred Thompson third (11%), and Sen. John McCain tied with Cong. Ron Paul at 10%.

But in New Hampshire, McCain, Huckabee, and Romney fought to essentially a three-way tie (28%, 28%, and 27% respectively) among evangelicals, who made up nearly a quarter of Granite State Republicans.

The drop off in the size of the evangelical electorate is not surprising, but McCain’s dramatic improvement is particularly noteworthy. Tuesday’s results prove that evangelicals are not a monolithic block of voters, despite the laziness of some observers in claiming otherwise.

In Iowa, Huckabee won 56% of caucus goers who said that religious beliefs mattered a great deal to them (36% of the electorate). McCain, Romney, and Thompson all tied at 11%, a distant second. But in New Hampshire, McCain defeated Huckabee 34%-28% among voters who prioritized religious beliefs, although their share of the electorate was much smaller (14%) than in Iowa.

And among the one-third of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire who said they attended church weekly, McCain finished first with 32%, Romney second at 28%, and Huckabee third with 24%. On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama won weekly churchgoers (18% of the Democratic electorate) with 37%. Sen. Hillary Clinton was second with 32%. Unfortunately, the same question was left off of the Iowa entrance poll, making comparisons difficult.

While McCain did well among evangelicals, he also easily won those who strongly supported civil unions in the state, adding even more complexity to the New Hampshire electorate.

According to one Republican observer, Huckabee’s Southern charm just didn’t play as well in the Granite State as it did in Iowa. The good news for the former Arkansas governor is that evangelicals in the upcoming battlegrounds of Michigan and South Carolina are more likely to be friendlier to his style and message than Tuesday’s flock. But only more results will determine whether McCain has newfound appeal to evangelicals or if New Hampshire is an aberration in the race for the Republican nomination.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Winners & Losers From Iowa

By Stuart Rothenberg

After months of speculation about who’ll win Iowa, we finally have winners and losers. Some of them are obvious, while others may not be. One thing for sure is that a rousing speech on caucus night doesn’t mean a candidate has won. In some cases, losers seemed to yell even louder than winners.

Iowa Winners

1. Barack Obama.
The easiest pick of the night, Obama’s win means that he goes to New Hampshire as a winner. No, the Democratic contest is not over, but if he wins in the Granite State, he’ll be hard to stop in South Carolina. And if he sweeps those three, he may never look back.

Entrance polling showed Iowa Democrats responded strongly to Obama’s message of change – half of Democrats said that the top quality they were looking for in a candidate was his or her ability to bring about change, and of those respondents, 51 percent voted for Obama. The Illinois Democrat’s campaign also clearly benefited from the surge in Democratic turnout and from the participation of Iowans who had never before caucused.

Obama won among caucus-goers who said the war was the top issue, as well as among those who identified the economy or health care as the most important issue. He won “very liberal” and “somewhat liberal” Democratic caucus attendees handily, and nosed out Clinton among self-described moderates. All in all, an impressive performance.

2. Mike Huckabee.
In May, Huckabee wasn’t even on the radar screen in Iowa. At the end of the day, he was outspent, and he won what is always regarded as an “organizational race” without much of an organization.

Huckabee clobbered the rest of the GOP field on two key candidate qualities: “shares my values” and “says what he believes.” That’s a good place to start when you are running for your party’s Presidential nomination.

But Huckabee did as well as he did on Thursday only because of the make-up of Thursday’s Republican caucus-goers. The former Arkansas Governor won the caucuses because he cleaned up among the most conservative and most religious attendees. Six out of ten GOP caucus-goes were evangelicals, and he won them 46 percent to 19 percent over Mitt Romney.

Among the 36 percent of GOP attendees who said that the religious beliefs of the candidates matter “a great deal,” Huckabee won 56 percent – five times more than Romney, McCain or Thompson. But New Hampshire doesn’t look like natural Huckabee territory, and the Arkansas Republican’s long-term prospects in the race are not as bright as they may look today.

3. John McCain.
Sure, McCain finished essentially tied for third with Fred Thompson, but Romney’s less than sterling showing could dry up some of the former Massachusetts governor’s support in New Hampshire, and that could boost McCain’s prospects on Tuesday. The only problem for the Arizona Republican: If the Obama bandwagon draws even more Granite State Independents into the Democratic primary, depriving McCain of potential supporters.

4. Rudy Giuliani.
The win by Huckabee means that the GOP race is as confused as ever, and that’s a plus for the former New York City mayor, who benefits from confusion in the early contests. Giuliani’s chances for the Republican nomination don’t look all that bright, but he would have been much worse off if Romney had won in Iowa.

Iowa Losers.

1. John Edwards.
Anyone who listened to Edwards’s caucus night speech had to be asking, “What’s he smoking?”

After drawing 32 percent in the 2004 caucuses and spending the next four years camped out in the state, Edwards finished essentially tied for second on Thursday. To make matters worse, the other “change” candidate in the contest, Barack Obama, finished first. And, Obama’s optimistic change message trumped Edwards’s angry, populist message.

Edwards, who railed against corporate greed, focused on jobs and trade and aimed his message at the “little guy,” lost union households to both Clinton and Obama.

Edwards will now have major resource problems, and he isn’t likely to do well in New Hampshire. If his comments last night are any indication, he isn’t likely to go quietly. But the former North Carolina senator is in serious trouble. He needed to win in Iowa, and he didn’t. It’s just that simple.

2. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton’s problem isn’t that Edwards nosed her out for second; it’s that caucus attendees preferred change over experience, raising questions about her fundamental appeal. The calendar isn’t her friend over the next month, and she’ll be peppered with process questions when she’d rather talk about things that voters want to hear.

Nobody should count the New York senator out. Iowa, after all, is just a single state, and Clinton and Obama ran virtually even among self-described Democrats in Iowa, which offers her hope in true closed primary states. But Clinton no longer is in the driver’s seat, as indicated by the fact that she lost women, 35 percent to 30 percent, to Obama in the caucuses.

3. Mitt Romney.
How do you go from a prohibitive favorite in the Iowa caucuses to a surprisingly distant runner-up to Mike Huckabee? Ask Romney. He did it.

Romney won with upscale Republicans, more moderate and urban GOP caucus-goers and those for whom the religious beliefs of the candidate didn’t matter a lot. But he got swamped by conservative evangelicals who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. He won’t have that problem in New Hampshire, but he has a different one there: John McCain.

Romney needs a win in the Granite State or in Michigan to stay in the hunt. One of his biggest problems is that caucus attendees didn’t think that “he says what he believes.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Coverage

Just a heads up, Stu will be on the NewsHour on PBS tonight analyzing the Iowa results with Amy Walter of the Hotline. You can click here for your local listings. There will also be a special 11pm (Eastern) show on the caucuses.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008 Back Issues

The following are past races covered in the print edition of The Rothenberg Political Report. Back issues are not sold individually and are not available online. Subscriptions are available via credit card on the website or by check. All subscriptions are delivered via regular U.S. mail.

December 19, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 27
Illinois 10: The Strong Survive
Ohio 1: I Like You, But...

November 24, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 26
Georgia Senate: Still On My Mind
Louisiana 4: Fight to the Finish

October 31, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 25
Final Pre-Election Issue
Senate Outlook
House Outlook
Gubernatorial Outlook
Presidential Battleground

October 24, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 24
Senate Outlook
House Outlook
(Special 16-page edition)

October 17, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 23
Senate Outlook
House Outlook
Gubernatorial Outlook
Presidential Battleground

October 10, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 22
Senate Outlook
House Outlook
Presidential Battleground

September 26, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 21
Senate Outlook
House Ratings

September 18, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 20
Gubernatorial Outlook
House Ratings
Presidential Battleground

September 10, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 19
2008 Senate Overview

August 22, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 18
Minnesota Senate: No Laughing Matter
Alabama 5: Rare Defensive Posture

August 18, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 17
Louisiana Senate: Lonely Challenger
Michigan 7: Grrrrreat Race

July 25, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 16
House Outlook for 2008

July 16, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 15
Mississippi Senate: Blue Plate Special?
Alaska Senate: Legendary Status

June 27, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 14
Colorado 4: Fighting a Trend
Louisiana 4: Deja Vu Ya'All
Updated 2008 House Ratings

June 13, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 13
New Mexico Senate: Simply Enchanting
Minnesota 3: Toss-Up
BONUS: Updated 2008 House Ratings

May 30, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 12
Virginia 11: Viva! Democrats!
Kentucky Senate: Follow the Leader

May 14, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 11
2008 Senate Overview

May 2, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 10
Mississippi 1: Something Special
Florida 24: Race to November

April 25, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 9
2008 Gubernatorial Outlook

April 18, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 8
2008 House Outlook

April 7, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 7
New Jersey 3: South Jersey Sans-Saxton
New Jersey 7: Open for the Taking

March 21, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 6
Louisiana 6: Democratis Geauxing for More
Pennsylvania 11: Perfect Strangers

March 7, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 5
Alaska At-Large: Young Blood
Arizona 8: Bee Ready

February 22, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 4
2008 Senate Outlook

February 8, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 3
Illinois 8: Raising the Stakes
Kansas 3: Moore Vulnerable?

January 30, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 2
Nevada 3: One Ticket to Paradise
Ohio 2: Popular Target

January 16, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 1
2008 House Outlook