Monday, June 30, 2008

What’s in a Name for a Political Party? Maybe Victory in ’08

By Stuart Rothenberg

The other day, my wife, who keeps up on current affairs but is hardly a political junkie, told me that after following the presidential campaign and hearing daily about the Republican Party’s problems, she had an idea for the GOP: It should change its name.

We’ve all heard over and over that the Republican “brand” is damaged, and that that problem is a weight around the neck of Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) presidential bid, as well as around the necks of downballot candidates for office. It’s hard to argue with that view, since every poll shows the voters have a negative view of the GOP.

That leaves Republican strategists with two choices: Change the party’s image in a hurry, or dump the brand and launch a new one.

Change the party’s reputation between now and November? Surely you jest! That simply isn’t possible. With President Bush still in the White House through the November elections and the party unable to get much traction anywhere, it’s impossible for the party to remake itself.

Talking about re-branding the GOP over the next five months, in the middle of a presidential campaign and during a Congress in which Democrats have most of the weapons, is sheer fantasy.

So the Republicans — let’s keep calling them that for the moment — need to drop their brand and roll out a new one that is more appealing to voters right now. It’s been done before. Esso became Exxon, after all.

Let’s see, what could Republicans call themselves?

Again, my wife, taking a break from Russian literature and always adept at problem-solving, had an idea.

“How about the ‘Good Guys?’” she asked, demonstrating a latent talent for public relations.

Not bad, I thought. A potentially broad appeal. Hard to pigeonhole ideologically. It’s both a party name and a marketing message.

Consider the headlines: “The Good Guys Respond to Obama Attacks.” “George Soros Pours in Millions to Defeat the Good Guys.” “The Good Guys Argue Obama Lacks Experience, National Security Credentials.”

Most voters barely get past the headlines, and swing voters, in particular, aren’t known for digging deeply into issues or arguments. Re-branding the Republicans as the Good Guys may be all that the party needs to do to attract a generation of voters who think that Angelina Jolie is a deep thinker.

But the “Good Guys” would be a strange name for a political party. It sounds more like a fast-food restaurant or a car wash or an auto dealership. No, that wouldn’t do. The Republicans need to find a new name that clearly conveys the fact that they are a political party.

Then my wife, taking a moment from reading “Crime and Punishment” for the 36th time, chimed in, “How about the ‘Party of Change’? Wouldn’t that sound good?”


You can see the headlines, now, can’t you? “Party of Change Nominates McCain.” “Party of Change United Behind McCain.” “Congressional Leaders of Party of Change Push Education, Tax Reform.” “Obama Attacks the Party of Change.” “It’s Democrats Versus Party of Change.”

So far, Democratic presidential standard-bearer Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has fully embraced the “change” message and successfully presented himself as the strongest messenger for change. But with their name change, the Republicans, er, the Party of Change, can roar, “We are the Party of Change, while the Democrats aren’t!”

Talk about altering the political playing field.

Now the key for the Republicans, er, Party of Change, is for Bush to hang onto his Republican label. That way, the newly minted party can “triangulate” by asking voters whether they want to go with the status quo (Bush) or a risky Obama, with the failed Republicans or the dangerous Democrats?

The answer, of course, is neither. Instead, Party of Change leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) can urge Americans to get behind the Party of Change and its nominee, the battle-tested maverick McCain. That way, the newly minted party can tap both the desire for change and the fear of change.

In this way, Republicans can get the albatross of the Republican Party from around their necks, while at the same time picking up the banner of change. Their candidates can rail against the status quo and argue that while Obama talks about change, he isn’t the nominee for the Party of Change! And every time Obama talks about “change,” he’ll be advertising for the Party of Change.

If you listen to Obama and every Democrat running for Congress, they all talk non-stop about change and the nation’s problems without offering many details of what they’ll do. And that’s because so many voters mindlessly respond to calls for change without thinking about what is involved.

Sure, re-branding the Republicans is risky. Some Republicans won’t figure out what’s happening and will end up voting for the now-defunct (except for Bush, Tom DeLay, Larry Craig and a handful of other Republicans who’ll keep the old name to give the Party of Change deniability) brand.

Republican leaders have been talking about trying to figure out what the party stands for. So far, they don’t have a clue. Changing the party’s name would answer that question. The Party of Change stands for, well, CHANGE.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 26, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Net Roots Reach for 60 Senate Seats

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The Democratic net roots are reaching out and reaching deeper into the list of vulnerable Republican Senate seats.

On Tuesday afternoon, prominent Democratic blog MyDD launched its “Road to 60” campaign on ActBlue, the online Democratic fundraising vehicle. The goal is to “turn long shots into competitive races and competitive races into top tier ones,” MyDD contributor Josh Orton wrote in the introductory post. The group is looking to douse the Republican firewall by directing money to the lower tier of Senate races.

The MyDD effort mixes Democratic challengers in top-tier races, such as Mark Begich (Alaska), with longer-shot candidates, such as Jim Slattery (Kansas), Kay Hagan (North Carolina) and Rick Noriega (Texas). Noriega has already received significant attention from Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the DailyKos Web site.

Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s inclusion on the list shows more pragmatism from a group of activists generally known for supporting only liberal candidates. Other Democratic efforts are focused on the purification of the party.

“Admittedly, this campaign is a bit more tactical and less ideological than others,” Orton added, “But we will always highlight the progressive work of the candidates profiled and encourage them to stand up for progressive values.”

This item first appeared on on June 24, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New Print Edition: Colorado 4 & Louisiana 4

The June 27, 2008 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...

Colorado 4: Fighting a Trend
By Nathan L. Gonzales

There are few certainties in life: death, taxes, and Marilyn Musgrave’s tough reelection races are near the top of the list.

Since her election in 2002, the Colorado congresswoman has seen a continuous downward slide in her reelection percentages. Whether it’s because of her personal style, third party candidates, or heavy outside spending by liberal groups, Musgrave’s foes smell blood in the water and are targeting her once again.

Businesswoman and former Senate aide Betsy Markey is the Democratic nominee and will try to do what two previous state legislators could not – defeat Musgrave.

But Musgrave will be ready and well financed, and her 4th District still leans Republican, by the numbers. Still, with more Democratic groups targeting her defeat and the NRCC on its heels, this might well be the cycle Musgrave won’t pull it out. Subscribers get the rest of the story.

Louisiana 4: Déjà vu, Y’All

Republicans have seen this movie twice already, and it doesn’t have a pretty ending.

After special election wins in Mississippi’s 1st District and Louisiana’s 7th District, Democrats have their sights set on a handful of other Southern seats, including northwest Louisiana’s 4th District.

The seat is open after Republican Cong. Jim McCrery announced his retirement in December. Democrats went out and recruited long-time Caddo District Attorney Paul Carmouche, considered one of the few Democrats in the district who can win the seat.

Meanwhile, Republicans will likely nominate either former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson or wealthy businessman Chris Gorman, but still have a four-way GOP primary to sort through.

It’s another classic Southern district that went heavily for President Bush, but has enough of an African-American population that could make things interesting with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Subscribers get the rest of the story.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Washington 8: August Dress Rehearsal

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democratic and Republican strategists won’t have to wait until November to test the political strength of at least one vulnerable House Republican. Because of the state of Washington’s new “Top 2” primary, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) will face off against 2006 nominee Darcy Burner (D) on Aug. 19.

In the new system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election. But unlike the old Louisiana system, it doesn’t matter whether a candidate passes the 50 percent threshold in the primary. The top two advance anyway.

In 2004, Evergreen State voters passed Initiative 872, putting the system in place, and the United States Supreme Court upheld it in March. The primary is open, which means voters do not have to choose a party affiliation.

Some Republican candidates are trying to take advantage of another wrinkle in the system that allows candidates to self-identify their party. Candidates can state their party preference, which will appear behind their name on the ballot, regardless of what party they are actually a part of.

For example, 2004 gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi chose “Prefers G.O.P. Party,” in his rematch against Gov. Christine Gregoire, who “Prefers Democratic Party.” First district, no-shot challenger Larry Ishmael also chose “Prefers G.O.P. Party,” despite its redundancy.

Reichert, on the other hand, is going with the standard “Prefers Republican Party,” as is 5th district Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. But Reichert has a much more difficult re-election fight on his hands.

In 2006, the Congressman was re-elected to a second term, 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent. Burner never really stopped running and is outpacing Reichert in available campaign funds in a suburban district that Democrats would love to have in their column. Through March 31, both candidates raised almost $1.4 million, but Burner had $922,000 on hand compared with $698,000 for Reichert.

It’s unclear how much stock the candidates or parties will put in the results of the August primary. But the new system will give strategists and observers real votes to mull over, instead of just polls.

This item first appeared on on June 25, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

North Carolina 8: Result Is No Shocker

By Nathan L. Gonzales

North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes (R) is vulnerable.

This is a surprise?

A newly released Democratic poll showed challenger Larry Kissell (D) edging out Hayes in a general election matchup. But the survey just confirmed the obvious and does not signify movement in a race that was already highly competitive.

In November 2006, Hayes and Kissell battled to a virtual draw, with the Congressman prevailing, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent, or a margin of 329 votes.

Six months later, an Anzalone Liszt Research survey for Kissell’s campaign had the race essentially tied, with Hayes at 45 percent and the schoolteacher at 43 percent.

In November of last year, a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) survey conducted for the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund showed Kissell leading Hayes, 49 percent to 47 percent.

And now in June 2008, an Anzalone Liszt Research survey for Kissell’s campaign showed the schoolteacher leading the incumbent narrowly, 45 percent to 43 percent.

The closeness of the race can be viewed two ways. On one hand, it shows Hayes’ inability to create some breathing room between him and his opponent, who nearly won last cycle and will be better funded this time. On the other hand, Democrats may have lost their opportunity to knock off Hayes in the worst Republican environment in decades two years ago. Either way, Hayes won’t be taken by surprise.

The Republican is a perennial Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee target. First, it was because of some of his trade votes, but now it has more to do with the competitive nature of the district. President Bush won it with 54 percent in 2004, but the recent Anzalone survey showed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) leading in the presidential race, 50 percent to 37 percent, in a district that is more than one-quarter African-American.

After winning an open seat in 1998 with 51 percent, Hayes was re-elected with 55 percent two years later, defeating Democratic lawyer Mike Taylor both times. The 8th district was subsequently redrawn, giving Hayes more Democrats, and drawing the attention of the DCCC.

Hayes would go on to defeat young attorney/former Yale running back Chris Kouri (D) with 54 percent in 2002 and young beauty queen Beth Troutman, who is now a Charlotte TV news anchor,with 56 percent in 2004.

This might be the year Democrats knock off Robin Hayes, but it’s no surprise that the race is close and the Congressman will be ready for the fight.

This item first appeared on on June 20, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Are Senate Races Moving in One Partisan Direction?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Senate election cycles normally take one of two paths. Either all the close races fall toward one party in a political “wave,” or individual races are decided by race-specific factors, particularly the quality of the candidates, the power of incumbency and local issues.

We’ve had cycles when both parties have suffered a substantial number of defeats with only a minimal net change of Senate seats (1976 and 1978 are prime examples), but that’s not going to happen this cycle. Republicans have only a single reasonable opportunity for a takeover this year.

We’ve had four noteworthy Senate “waves” in the past 28 years, in 2006, 1994, 1986 and 1980, and it’s possible that we’ll see another one this year. But it’s also possible that all the talk about Democratic Senate opportunities is just a bit over-hyped, and that Democrats will have a good year, not a great one.

One way of anticipating whether a wave is likely to develop is to monitor competitive Senate contests periodically to determine whether they are moving in one direction. That’s what I intend to do in this column. Of course, any wave may not show itself until after the two presidential nominating conventions. Still, the way individual Senate races move in the near term may offer some clue about a trend.

I must begin with one caveat: In evaluating races, I do not factor in certain widely circulated polls, including those conducted by Rasmussen Reports, that I regard as less reliable. (In other words, I treat some polls as if they don’t even exist.)

Democrats continue to be well- positioned to take over three GOP-held seats: open seats in Virginia and New Mexico, and Sen. John Sununu’s seat in New Hampshire. There is no evidence of significant movement in any of those contests, though Republicans continue to insist that Sununu’s race will close.

Democrats, of course, don’t need movement in any of the contests. They lead in all three.

The fourth most vulnerable Senate seat, the open Republican seat in Colorado, remains competitive. But given the state’s recent political behavior and the national mood, GOP insiders have little reason to be optimistic about their chances.

The next most vulnerable Senate seat, in Minnesota, has moved toward the Republicans in recent weeks. GOP strategists have successfully put presumptive Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee Al Franken on the defensive, both over his nonpayment of certain taxes and, more importantly, a variety of statements he has made over the years.

Franken has defended his remarks by insisting that they were part of his shtick and intended as satire, not statements of his beliefs. But his language has been crude and his comedy often biting, and even some Democratic officeholders have expressed concern about his judgment.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman has benefited in the polls of late, and even though Franken has time to change the dynamic of the race, it now seems likely that the comedian turned politician will have to defend himself repeatedly over the next four months. At the very least, that puts the challenger constantly on the defensive, improving Coleman’s prospects.

There are no signs of movement in Alaska, and that’s good news for Democrats. Polls continue to show challenger Mark Begich (D) leading Sen. Ted Stevens (R) narrowly. The longer that race stays tight, the better for Democrats, who are trying to knock off a state political icon.

The fact that the Maine race has not closed in surveys widely viewed as reliable is disappointing news for Democrats. GOP Sen. Susan Collins continues to be well-regarded and has a comfortable lead over her challenger, Rep. Tom Allen (D). Sitting in a blue state that went for Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Collins would seem to be a perfect target in a “wave” election, but so far, her prospects are undimmed.

Democrats remain upbeat about Jeff Merkley’s chances of ousting Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, but I’m not convinced that they are any closer to doing that now than they were four or five months ago.

True, the recent decision by Independent John Frohmayer to drop his Senate candidacy is good news for Merkley. But it is difficult to see it as all that significant, especially since Democrats spent so much time and effort arguing that Frohmayer’s candidacy was inconsequential when he was a candidate. If they were right that he wasn’t going to be a factor in the race, they cannot now claim that his exit is all that important.

Still, this definitely is a race to watch for possible “wave” evidence, and Smith almost certainly will have a fight on his hands all the way to November.

If a wave develops, the three best places to watch may well be North Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi. Democratic prospects in all three seem to have improved recently (especially after post-primary polling in North Carolina and Kentucky), giving the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee more options in the campaign’s final months.

Even Republicans seem increasingly nervous about Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who hasn’t released polling numbers since February and has been up on TV since late May. Dole’s opponent, state Sen. Kay Hagan (D), has some liabilities, but I have little doubt about her work ethic.

Finally, the Louisiana Senate race, pitting incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) against her GOP challenger, John Kennedy, hasn’t changed at all. Polls show the Senator ahead, but the fundamentals almost guarantee a close race.

In sum, developments in two states, Minnesota and Maine, should have Republicans optimistic, while Democrats have reasons to be happy about some longer-shot races, as well as their top takeover opportunities.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 23, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Colorado 4: Defenders of Wildlife Set to Take On Musgrave

By Nathan L. Gonzales

An environmental group is about to launch a substantial ad campaign against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) in Colorado’s 4th district.

According to Federal Election Commission 48-hour notices, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund placed a $200,000 ad buy on June 19. The group also spent $11,794 on ad production to Wild Bunch Consulting.

According to one Democratic insider, this could be a sign that environmental groups are targeting Musgrave’s defeat this cycle, as they did then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) in 2006.

The Defenders have already aired an ad against Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in New Mexico’s Senate race.

This item first appeared on on June 23, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Change in Congress Comes in All Ages and Sizes

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While age is an underlying issue in the presidential contest, Democrats have candidates young and old running as change agents at the Congressional level.

Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D), 70, is a strong challenger to Rep. Sam Graves (R), 44, in Missouri’s 6th district. Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche (D) just turned 65, but is in a strong position to win the Republican open seat in Louisiana’s 4th district.

In New Jersey’s 5th, blind rabbi Dennis Shulman (D), 58, is a longer-shot challenger to Rep. Scott Garrett (R). And in Florida’s 21st district, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (D), 59, is giving Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) his first real race in years.

Arizona Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) was a 67-year-old freshman in the 110th Congress, after defeating Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth last cycle.

On the flip side, Democrats also have a number of candidates born right around the time Jimmy Carter was elected president. Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D), 30, stands a good chance of coming to Congress next year as he tries to take over the very competitive Republican open seat in Minnesota’s 3rd district.

In Colorado’s 2nd district, wealthy businessman Jared Polis, 33, will come to Congress if he can make it out of the crowded Democratic primary on Aug. 12. Iraq War veteran Jon Powers (D), 29, also faces a competitive primary in New York’s 26th district. But if he’s the nominee, Powers will also face a general election fight.

Glenn Nye (D), 33, is hoping to knock off Rep. Thelma Drake (R) in Virginia’s 2nd district, while attorney Nick Leibham (D), 34, is hoping to oust Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) in California’s 50th.

André Carson, 33, was elected to Congress earlier this year in a special election to replace his grandmother, the late Rep. Julia Carson (D), in Indiana’s7th district. He defeated 30-year-old state Rep. Jon Elrod (R), who recently announced he was dropping out of the general election race.

Republicans have their own roster of youthful candidates. Duncan D. Hunter (R), 31, is a virtual lock to replace his father in California’s 52nd district.

Illinois state Rep. Aaron Schock (R), 27, could be the youngest Member of the next Congress. He’s favored in the fall, but he still has to win downstate Illinois’s 18th district seat, which is being vacated by Rep. Ray LaHood (R).

In New York’s 1st district, 28-year-old Iraq War veteran Lee Zeldin (R) is a long shot against incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D).

This item first appeared on on June 19, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Hampshire Senate: No Poll Vault for Sununu

By Nathan L. Gonzales

“It will close.”

That was the common analysis during the previous cycle’s Senate race in Pennsylvania, when poll after poll showed then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) trailing his opponent, then-state Treasurer Bob Casey (D). But after millions of dollars of advertising, the race never did close, and Casey won in a romp.

Now, New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) finds himself in a similar predicament.

Through this point last cycle, two-dozen polls showed exactly the same thing; Santorum trailed Casey by an average of 11 points and the incumbent failed to top 43 percent in the ballot test. Indications are that Sununu will suffer the same fate as Santorum.

Sununu has trailed former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in all but one of 11 polls, dating back to March 2007, by an average of 12 points. And he hasn’t topped 42 percent, except in the mid-December American Research Group poll that was clearly an outlier. [Click here for the comparison poll chart.]

The most recent survey, conducted April 28-May 2 by Dartmouth College, showed Shaheen ahead 46 percent to 36 percent.

But Sununu is undaunted in his effort for a second term.

His supporters repeat the mantra that he was also behind in the polls during his 2002 race against Shaheen, making it a core of their comeback argument. In fact, that’s not the whole truth. From July 2001 to early October 2002, Sununu led Shaheen, most often well outside the margin of error. And he wasn’t even the nominee until September 2002. A June 23-July 1 University of New Hampshire survey showed then-Rep. Sununu leading Gov. Shaheen comfortably, 51 percent to 42 percent, heading into the summer.

Two polls in mid-October gave Shaheen a narrow edge, but Sununu led for the bulk of the race. This year he will have to come from much further behind.

“John Sununu knows how to win campaigns in New Hampshire,” Sununu adviser Julie Teer said. “Our campaign has a strategy in place, and we are following it according to plan.”

While the Senator has been hands-on and Team Sununu has been tight-lipped about his strategy, there is no question that it revolves around reminding voters about Shaheen’s gubernatorial record.

“I think her service as governor demonstrated a real lack of leadership, failure to deal with the most important problem facing the state ... education funding,” Sununu told Roll Call in a May interview.

But since her 2002 loss to Sununu and since she’s been out of office, Shaheen’s standing has improved. A late April UNH survey had her personal rating at 56 percent favorable to 29 percent unfavorable.

Up to this point, Sununu has focused on fundraising. The Senator raised more than $4.1 million through the first three months of the year and finished March with $4.3 million on hand. Shaheen raised more than $2.5 million and topped $1.8 million in the bank. Even with a financial advantage, there is no guarantee that Sununu’s plan to remind voters and redefine Shaheen will work.

“No matter what we did or how often we did it, it didn’t matter,” said Santorum media consultant John Brabender, whose candidate outspent his opponent $25.3 million to $17.5 million in the 2006 race. “It was like banging our head against the wall.”

Santorum began advertising statewide more than a month before Casey, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

“When you have two established brands, you’re not going to throw up advertising and see things move,” Brabender said. “The Santorum polling eight months out looked the same as it did one day out.”

“The issue that hurt me was the nationalization of the election,” Santorum said in a recent interview, explaining the differences between his race and Sununu’s challenge.

“Shaheen will be as much of an issue in this race as Sununu. He has an opponent with a clear record. I did not,” he added, noting Casey’s uncontroversial statewide offices and family legacy in the state.

Six of Sununu’s colleagues were defeated in the previous cycle trying to localize their elections, and late August polling by USA Today/Gallup showed that moving large numbers of voters late in a campaign can be difficult. By the end of August, Santorum was down by 18 points and lost. Then-Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) was down by 6 points and lost, while then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) was down 3 points and lost, too.

Then-Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and George Allen (R-Va.) were either tied or slightly ahead in their races by the end of the summer and lost re-election. And Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (R) was up by 6 points that summer and went down to defeat. Voter opinion had either solidified or undecided voters broke dramatically against the incumbent.

Republicans may have to reach back almost a quarter of a century to find precedent for an incumbent coming from so far behind to win. In 1984, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms (R) was running for a third term and found himself down by 20 points to Gov. Jim Hunt (D) with 18 months to go.

“Barring an act of God, Jesse Helms can’t win,” a Washington Post reporter wrote. But Helms had a plan.

According to the book “Tarheel Politics: Myths and Realities” by Paul Luebke, the Senator attacked early, going after Hunt on television in the fall and winter in the year preceding the election. Helms effectively redefined the popular governor and helped himself by polarizing the electorate along racial lines by opposing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

By May 1984, Helms was already back in the lead, but he would go on to win only narrowly, 52 percent to 48 percent. This year, it’s June, and Sununu still trails his opponent.

Helms benefited greatly from the top of the ticket, where Ronald Reagan won the state with 62 percent and Republicans took back the governorship. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expected to compete, and potentially win, in New Hampshire, but it won’t be by 24 points. And Democratic Gov. John Lynch (D) will be re-elected easily. He won with more than 73 percent in 2006.

Even though the presidential race will drive turnout, there is no guarantee it will lift Sununu enough.

“The same voters aren’t pulling the trigger for both of them yet,” said UNH Survey Center Director Andrew Smith, whose April poll had McCain winning the state by 6 points and Sununu losing by 12.

Unlike Helms, Sununu has chosen not to advertise early. Part of the strategy is due to cost, since the expensive Boston media market covers the vast majority of the state. The other calculation is that the voters who matter aren’t paying attention, and that New Hampshire’s late-breaking voters make it different than any other state in the union.

Shaheen has already been on television statewide, seeking to define herself. And at least six of Sununu’s GOP colleagues who are up for re-election this year have chosen to air early commercials as well, including Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

“Different candidate. Different state. Different campaign plan,” said Sununu media consultant Fred Davis, who is part of an upgraded campaign team. In general, the Sununu team is almost dismissive of the Senator’s vulnerability, über-confident in its plan, and claims the race is “neck and neck” in its unreleased polls.

Sununu’s supporters believe that New Hampshire in 2008 will be a decidedly different, and better, environment, and they believe McCain will be extremely strong at the top of the ticket.

That’s good because the Granite State was the scene of a Democratic tsunami in the previous cycle that re-elected a governor, threw out both Republican Members of Congress and flipped both the state Senate and state House to Democratic control. But even if this is a better year than 2006, it will be nowhere near 2002 — when Republicans were popular — for Sununu.

McCain will need to help Sununu, and Republicans in general, regain their appeal to independent voters, who led to the defeat of Sununu’s colleagues last cycle. According to exit polling, Santorum lost independents by 44 points, DeWine by 30 points, Burns by 24 points, Allen by 12 points and Talent by 8 points. Chafee actually won independents by 10 points and still lost. It almost goes without saying, but independents are critical for Sununu.

It appears that Sununu wants both a nationalized race with a popular McCain and a localized election where voters respond to Shaheen’s tenure as governor.

“Sen. Sununu has a strong track record of proving the political prognosticators wrong, and we have every reason to believe that streak will continue,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Rebecca Fisher said.

In the end, Sununu’s plan may not matter.

“There are some things that are simply beyond the Senator’s control,” Santorum said.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on June 19, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Good Candidates for House Come in All Shapes and Sizes

By Stuart Rothenberg

Every election cycle, I meet a lot of candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Some, in fact many, have more liabilities than assets. But some actually impress me. This column is about four of them, and I’d advise keeping an eye on each at least until November.

Gregg Harper (R), Mississippi’s 3rd district. An attorney and former Rankin County Republican chairman, Harper, 52, did what many candidates promise to do but, in fact, don’t. He put together a successful grass-roots campaign.

With one of his primary opponents flush with money and the other a well-known state Senator who had the governor’s media consultant at his disposal, Harper was the long-shot Republican hopeful with little cash and no district-wide recognition.

But his years toiling in Republican political vineyards — whether working in phone banks for a Mississippi GOP candidate in 1978, serving as a Republican observer of the Florida recount in 2000 or working as a legal volunteer for President Bush’s campaign in Ohio in 2004 — paid off.

Harper is straightforward, astute and earnest. It’s clear that he is an extremely hard worker, and that people who meet him are willing to go to work to help him. That’s a very good sign.

In a rarity these days, Harper refused to use negative information about one of his opponents. But don’t think Gregg Harper is politically naive. He isn’t. And he will win the open seat in November.

Betsy Markey (D), Colorado’s 4th district. If I were Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), I’d be very, very worried about challenger Markey.

Before moving to Colorado in the 1990s, Markey spent much of her time in and around the nation’s capital, whether working on Capitol Hill for then-Rep. Herb Harris (D-Va.), in graduate school at American University, as a presidential management fellow working in the Treasury and State departments, or as a businesswoman living and working with her husband in the Maryland suburbs.

In Fort Collins, she briefly owned a coffee shop. She became Larimer County Democratic chairman in 2002 and then was hired by Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to be his regional director for northern and eastern Colorado, the part of the state in which she is running for Congress.

Unlike many candidates, Markey, 52, doesn’t sound like some robot regurgitating talking points and refusing to answer questions that might put her in an awkward position. She actually responded to questions only after listening to them and thinking about them. Amazing!

The Colorado Democrat is articulate and personable. I’m convinced she’ll run a solid campaign and prove to be an appealing alternative to Musgrave, who clearly has not bonded with a majority in the GOP-leaning district.

Erik Paulsen (R), Minnesota’s 3rd district. I wouldn’t say my interview with Erik Paulsen went well. I’d say it was spectacular. His response to a question on immigration policy was the single best answer that I have ever received — and I’ve certainly asked the same question to at least 100 other candidates.

Holding a degree in mathematics from St. Olaf College, Paulsen initially used his math background to work as a financial analyst for a cable TV shopping channel. But after a brief internship in the St. Paul office of then-Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R) and a short stint as a field representative in Boschwitz’s re-election campaign, Paulsen opted for politics over the business world.

He eventually worked in a couple of capacities for Rep. Jim Ramstad (R), including as state director, before winning an open state legislative seat at the age of 29.

Paulsen, 43, is sharp, articulate and politically savvy without seeming overly ambitious or arrogant. He clearly thinks about policy and can talk about it without being boring or long-winded. He is one of the more politically appealing candidates that I have interviewed.

I haven’t met Paulsen’s Democratic opponent yet, so I can’t handicap his chances completely. But Paulsen definitely gives Republicans a strong nominee in their effort to hold a shaky open House seat.

Kathy Dahlkemper (D), Pennsylvania’s 3rd district. I’m not sure if Dahlkemper is quite in the same class with the other three candidates I’ve already mentioned, but, given her lack of political experience, she clearly has what it takes to be a top-tier challenger to Rep. Phil English (R).

A dietician by training, Dahlkemper, 50, joined her husband’s business, Dahlkemper Landscape Architects & Contractors, in 1997. The family business has been in Erie since 1955, and the Dahlkemper name is well-known and highly regarded in the area.

Dahlkemper’s other claim is that she co-founded the Lake Erie Arboretum. But when it comes to campaigns, she is a neophyte. That probably explains why she seemed to rely more on talking points than Paulsen or Markey.

But the Democrat scores well on sincerity, and she acts like your neighbor rather than a career politician. And unlike Markey, who has EMILY’s List support, Dahlkemper is a pro-life Democrat in a district with plenty of conservative Democrats.

A likable, articulate, common-sense citizen-politician, Dahlkemper has the tough job of trying to upset veteran English, who co-authored legislation that recently passed the House to extend unemployment benefits. She certainly is the underdog in the race, but English would be wise not to underestimate her appeal.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 19, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Barney Frank: A Definite No To Nunn

By Stuart Rothenberg

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Rothenberg Political Report Friday that he “would have a hard time voting for the [Democratic] ticket” if Sen. Barack Obama picks former United States Sen. Sam Nunn as his vice-presidential running-mate.

Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the first member of Congress to announce that he is gay, has expressed those views to Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy, who are leading the search for Obama’s running-mate, as well as to others close to the Illinois Democrat.

The Massachusetts Democrat cites a number of examples of what he calls Nunn’s “real record of hostility” toward gays, placing greatest emphasis on Nunn’s September 1996 vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which failed in the Senate by a single vote.

Nunn, who had already announced that he would not run for reelection in 1996, was one of five Democrats who opposed that bill. The others were Howell Heflin (Ala.), Wendell Ford (Ky.), James Exon (Neb.) and Robert Byrd (W.V.).

Frank argues that adding Nunn to the Democratic ticket would cost Obama support in the gay community and would make it impossible for the Massachusetts Congressman to be a strong advocate for the Democratic Presidential nominee.

“I would be virtually useless in trying to convince other gays and lesbians to support the ticket,” said Frank.

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

  • AL 5 (Open; Cramer, D)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • AZ 1 (Open; Renzi, R)
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • LA 6 (Cazayoux, D)
  • MN 3 (Open; Ramstad, R)
  • NJ 7 (Open; Ferguson, R)
  • NY 13 (Open; Fossella, R)
  • NY 26 (Open; Reynolds, R)
  • NM1 (Open; Wilson, R)
  • OH 15 (Open; Pryce, R)
  • OH 16 (Open; Regula, R)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
  • IL 10 (Kirk, R)
  • LA 4 (Open; McCrery, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NJ 3 (Open; Saxton, R)
  • OR 5 (Open; Hooley, D)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • FL 24 (Feeney, R)
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • MI 9 (Knollenberg, R)
  • MO 6 (Graves, R)
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
  • AZ 8 (Giffords, D)
  • IL 11 (Open; Weller, R)
  • IN 9 (Hill, D)
  • KY 3 (Yarmuth, D)
  • KS 3 (Moore, D)
  • MN 1 (Walz, D)
  • MS 1 (Childers, D)
  • NY 20 (Gillibrand, D)
  • NY 25 (Open; Walsh, R)
  • PA 4 (Altmire, D)
  • VA 11 (Open; Davis, R)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D)
  • AL 2 (Open; Everett, R)
  • CA 4 (Open; Doolittle, R)
  • FL 8 (Keller, R)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • IL 6 (Roskam, R)
  • KY 2 (Open; Lewis, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • MO 9 (Open; Hulshof, R)
  • NM 2 (Open; Pearce, R)
  • PA 3 (English, R)
  • PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
  • PA 18 (Murphy, R)
  • VA 2 (Drake, R)
  • WV 2 (Capito, R)
  • IL 8 (Bean, D)
  • IL 14 (Foster, D)
  • OH 18 (Space, D)
  • PA 8 (Murphy, D)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vetoing the Vice Presidential Names: Let the Fight Begin

By Stuart Rothenberg

As the names of a seemingly endless number of would-be vice presidential running mates in both parties circulate this summer, the one thing you can be sure of is that there will be an increasing effort by groups to make certain some of those mentioned are not selected.

In a signed opinion piece last week, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart warned presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) about selecting former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) as his running mate. The reason: Nunn “helped lead the fight against allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military and was the force behind the disastrous ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ compromise.”

“If Obama taps Nunn, he could end up adding gay men and lesbians to the list of disgruntled Democrats. They might not vote for [Arizona Sen. John] McCain, but they might very well stay home,” Capehart writes. The editorial writer makes that assertion even though, in the same piece, he notes that Nunn recently said that “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be revisited.

Frankly, the assertion that gays — liberal and Democratic gays, that is — may sit out the presidential race if Nunn is chosen by Obama is difficult to take seriously.

Given Obama’s record in Illinois and in the Senate, his overall ideology and the effusive endorsement of him earlier this month by the Human Rights Campaign, “the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group,” it’s absurd to suggest that politically interested gays who otherwise agree with Obama and share his values would withhold their vote if he selected Nunn to join his ticket.

But of course, that opinion piece wasn’t meant to be political analysis. Rather, it was an attempt to muscle Obama away from Nunn as a running mate — to create even the impression that selecting the former Georgia Senator might create trouble for Obama. And avoiding trouble is the first rule for picking a running mate.

You’d think that Obama’s position on gays in the military might be a little more important than his running mate’s. And you might even think that a potential running mate would be evaluated on more than a single issue to see whether he or she could serve the president, and the country, in an important and useful way.

You can bet that sometime soon conservatives and some people in the pro-life community will throw down the gauntlet and warn their eventual nominee, McCain, that he better not select former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as his running mate.

Ridge, it’s certainly true, was more pro-choice than pro-life, and social conservatives surely would prefer a different partner for McCain. Republicans will stay home if Ridge is picked as McCain’s running mate, we will be informed by conservative leaders who probably won’t have compelling data to support their point but will rely on the same kind of scenario that Capehart made in the Post.

Then there are the likely complaints that will come from supporters of Israel at the mention of Obama possibly considering adding outgoing Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) to the Democratic ticket.

Hagel, who served in the Army in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts, has the kind of credentials (including an extensive business background and a Republican pedigree) that would play right into Obama’s message of bringing people together. But the pro- Israel community doesn’t regard Hagel merely as unhelpful. It sees him as a problem, and you can bet Democratic activists will attempt to steer Obama away from the Nebraskan.

There are, of course, good reasons to eliminate certain names and to continue to consider others. Obama already has problems in the pro-Israel and Jewish communities, so adding Hagel to his ticket would severely aggravate an existing problem.

Geography, age, experience, foreign policy or military expertise, gender, ideology, party and even ethnicity are all factors that both campaigns will consider, even if only in passing. But both Obama and McCain should think more broadly about the message their selections will send.

Both presidential hopefuls are running on a message of change. Obama talks specifically about bringing Americans together, while McCain talks more about changing the way Washington, D.C., works. What better way to kick off the key phase of their campaigns then to pick a running mate who displays their dedication to their message?

For Obama, that certainly doesn’t mean selecting former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) to make working-class Democrats feel more comfortable or even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to “unify” the party. Instead, it means picking a Republican, such as Hagel, or possibly a Democrat who has been politically successful in a Republican state. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana are obvious examples.

No, they probably couldn’t deliver their states to Obama, but that’s not the point. With the first truly big decision that Obama would make, he would be showing his seriousness about his fundamental message by picking someone who epitomizes it.

For McCain, picking a conservative is a no-brainer. It just isn’t necessarily the best choice. It’s too predictable and reeks too much of traditional politics.

Like Obama, McCain has the opportunity to show with his first major decision that he wants to change the way things work. Picking Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman certainly would do that, but Ridge or a quirkier pick, such as former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, would also send the same message.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 16, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NRSC Picks Independent Expenditure Director

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Faced with an extremely tough playing field and environment, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has designated Sam Van Voorhis to direct its independent expenditure effort this year.

Van Voorhis, a direct-mail consultant with NextWave Communications, will handle uncoordinated committee spending on TV ads, direct mail, phone banks and polling. He will oversee work done by polling firms Public Opinion Strategies and the Tarrance Group and by media firms McAuliffe Message Media and Weeks & Co.

As previously reported, Jim Jordan is handling the IE duties for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Jordan has held multiple roles at the DSCC over the years, including executive director, political director and communications director, and he managed Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign early in the race.

On the House side, Clinton Key and Evan Kozlow are directing the National Republican Congressional Committee’s IE effort. Key is the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association and former aide to Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R). Kozlow most recently managed Tom Kean Jr.’s (R) Senate bid in New Jersey last cycle and previously managed races for two other New Jersey Republicans: Rep. Scott Garrett and gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler.

Jon Vogel is handling the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee IE. He was the DCCC’s political director this cycle before moving over to the other side of the wall. Vogel is a former finance director for New York Democrats Rep. Steve Israel and former Rep. Mike Forbes, and last cycle was the DCCC’s Northeast regional political director.

This item first appeared on on June 16, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blogs Gaining Credibility at Senate Committees

By Nathan L. Gonzales

When Charles Schumer (D) was elected to the New York State Assembly in the mid-1970s, some of his older colleagues were still getting used to the television technology, the Senator joked at a recent meeting with Roll Call reporters and editors. Now, the Empire State’s senior Senator counts blogs as part of his daily information appetite.

Schumer’s aides at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee include a number of blogs in his daily packet of media clippings, which also include relevant stories from the day’s newspapers and television shows. But the DSCC chairman is also known to read them on his own.

Items from the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, America Blog, Talking Points Memo, Swing State Project and Senate Guru are usually included, as well as state-specific blogs in 2008 Senate battlegrounds.

Blogs are also getting more attention at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

GOP aides scan national blogs such as Red State, Townhall and Hot Air for information, as well as state-specific blogs, such as the Dead Pelican (Louisiana), Minnesota Democrats Exposed and the Politicker Web sites in states with Senate races.

Just a couple of election cycles ago, including blogs alongside newspaper and television clippings would have been unthinkable, but this is just one example of how the flow of information is changing and affecting political campaigns.

This item first appeared on on June 13, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why a McCain Win May Be Bad for GOP, Good for Democrats

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republicans and conservatives are rallying behind Sen. John McCain’s White House bid, but not because they are so enamored with him or his agenda. Instead, their loyalty is based on their perception that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as president, particularly with large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, would be utterly disastrous.

Regardless of whether you agree with them about the results of a Democratic presidential victory later this year, a McCain victory might produce its own series of domino-like events that ultimately might hurt the Grand Old Party.

Illinois political columnist Russ Stewart has argued that the 2008 winner, regardless of party, will face such intractable problems that he will be a one-termer, damaging his party over the next four years and turning the White House over to the opposition in 2012.

I don’t necessarily agree with Stewart that a McCain victory in November would lead to the “eradication” of the GOP, but it’s easy to see how a McCain presidency could end up being a nightmare for Republicans.

In the worst-case scenario, a McCain victory in November could likely lead to a Republican bloodletting that would tear apart the GOP well before 2012, contribute to another good Democratic election in 2010 and hand Democrats such a strong advantage during redistricting that Republicans wouldn’t be able to recover for years.

The scenario is simple: McCain wins and immediately follows his own instincts — meaning he tries to patch together a series of coalitions on ethics, immigration, spending and global warming.

Some of the initiatives require bipartisan efforts, while others rely heavily on Democrats with a smattering of Republicans. A few McCain policies, particularly those involving the war in Iraq and the larger war against terror, depend heavily on Republican support.

The one thing that is sure is that a McCain presidency wouldn’t merely be a “third Bush term.” That’s a smart campaign slogan for Democrats, and it should be effective. But anyone who knows McCain and has followed his efforts over the years — including his 2000 campaign against George W. Bush — knows that, if the Arizonan gets to the White House, he’ll follow his own instincts, not the current president’s road map.

I can’t disagree with one Republican operative from California who argued cogently recently that McCain would likely try to govern as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a nominal Republican, has.

Like Schwarzenegger, McCain would almost certainly find himself saddled with considerable Democratic majorities in the legislative branch. If the new president wanted to do anything, he’d need Democrats’ help, and unlike the current occupant of the White House, President McCain wouldn’t be shy about going after it. He would not approach his job in partisan terms.

Unlike Bush, who came to Washington, D.C., believing that the intensity of Republican support was more important than the breadth of his appeal, it wouldn’t take McCain a long time to reach across the aisle for a legislative strategy to deal with many seemingly intractable issues.

After all, the Arizona Republican has always been willing to work with Democrats, whether on campaign finance, immigration, global warming or ending water-boarding.

In fact, even before his inauguration, President McCain would likely evoke howls from conservatives. He’d probably put together a Cabinet that would reflect a bipartisan approach to issues, and his initial agenda, on everything but the war in Iraq, probably would generate more complaints from Republicans than Democrats.

McCain’s presidency would likely divide Republicans over a number of emotional issues, either because his positions are directly contrary to many in his party (including some with daily microphones) or because he wouldn’t push divisive cultural issues that some in his party would prefer that he advocate.

Nothing undermines a political party’s reputation more than public infighting, so the GOP’s reputation, which almost certainly would benefit in the short term from a McCain victory, would suffer.

The fighting between McCain and conservatives would no doubt spread to the 2010 midterm elections, when two sets of Republican candidates — supporters of the president and conservatives angry at the direction of the party and the country — would likely battle it out in primary after primary.

This wouldn’t help the GOP’s prospects in the midterm election, which could start off bleak and only get bleaker if the war in Iraq had not taken a turn for the good by then and the economy was not roaring along. With, for the second consecutive cycle, more Republican Senate seats up for election than Democratic seats, the GOP could find itself on the wrong end of another “change” argument, handing Democrats an ever growing majority.

The midterm Republican civil war between McCain loyalists and conservatives would also damage Republicans in the U.S. House races and in crucial gubernatorial and even state races. Conservatives who supported McCain over Obama would now see their choices very differently.

Of course, Democrats won’t want to lose the ’08 presidential race and a chance to end the war in Iraq in the hope of solidifying themselves for a decade. And an Obama defeat surely would produce its own round of Democratic recrimination and finger-pointing. But ultimately, an Obama defeat wouldn’t damage Democrats the way it eventually would Republicans.

It’s probably a measure of how bad 2008 looks to be for Republicans that even if they win, they lose.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 12, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

South Carolina: Former Bengals Coach Wins Primary

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) cruised to renomination Tuesday, but the untold story in the Palmetto State’s primaries is how a former NFL coach took down an incumbent.

Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche defeated incumbent Ben Trotter in the Republican primary for the Pickens County Council. Wyche made his political debut by taking down Trotter, 61 percent to 39 percent, in a race the featured almost 3,700 votes cast. The former coach still has to win the general election.

Pickens County is located in Rep. Gresham Barrett’s (R) 3rd district in the northwest part of the state. Unless Barrett makes a sudden move for the exits, Wyche will have to wait to join Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) in the Congressional NFL caucus.

Graham defeated Buddy Witherspoon, 67 percent to 33 percent, in the Senate GOP primary.

This item first appeared on on June 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Print Edition: New Mexico Senate & Minnesota 3

The June 13, 2008 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 Mexico Senate: Simply Enchanting

By Nathan L. Gonzales

New Mexico will be one of the top presidential battlegrounds this fall, and Republicans are keeping their fingers crossed that the state hosts a hot Senate race as well.

Democrats cleared the field for Cong. Tom Udall, and he starts the general election with a significant lead over Republican Cong. Steve Pearce. Pearce just secured the GOP nomination on June 3 with a narrow victory over House colleague Heather Wilson.

GOP Sen. Pete Domenici’s retirement created the difficult open seat hold for the Republicans. And now, Pearce has to regroup, replenish his depleted campaign funds, and figure out a way to run against the national environment that still favors the Democrats. For the rest of the story, you must subscribe to the print edition.

Minnesota 3: Toss-Up

If you’re looking for a truly toss-up race in a swing district, look no further than Minnesota’s 3rd District.

The suburban Minneapolis district is precisely the type of territory and district that Democrats have experienced recent electoral success. And moderate Cong. Jim Ramstad’s (R) retirement left this seat prime for the picking.

But even in this environment, the race is not a shoo-in for the Democrats. Their nominee, Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia is articulate and energetic, but also young and unknown.

The Republicans have Erik Paulsen, a former state House majority leader who votes like a conservative but doesn’t breathe fire or focus on social issues. So voters will have to replace a centrist like Ramstad with a candidate on either side of his ideology.

The 3rd District race may sit in the shadow of the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and comedian Al Franken (DFL) for most of the fall, but may actually be a better bellwether as to how bad Election Night really is for the Republicans.
For the rest of the story, you must subscribe to the print edition.

New Mexico Senate: Udall Launches Third TV Ad

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The Republicans just chose their Senate nominee in New Mexico, but Rep. Tom Udall (D) is on the air with his third television ad.

The Democratic nominee to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Udall didn’t face primary opposition on June 3, but during the last three weeks of the primary campaign, he still ran a 60-second bio ad as well as a 30-second ad on improving veterans’ benefits.

Udall’s third ad focuses on the economy and alternative energy, and begins airing Wednesday statewide. “The George Bush economy is crushing America,” the ad begins, but it doesn’t mention his general election opponent. The Albuquerque media market covers more than 85 percent of New Mexico, but Udall has also been advertising in the Amarillo, Texas, and El Paso, Texas, markets, which reach some areas in his state.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R) aired plenty of ads in the bitter primary against his House colleague Heather Wilson (R), but he spent virtually all of his campaign money (almost $2 million) securing the nomination.

Udall starts the general election with a significant lead in the polls and the overall advantage in the race.

This item first appeared on on June 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mississippi Senate: Is the GOP Counting Its Chickens Too Early?

By Stuart Rothenberg

CLEVELAND, Miss. — For months, the top issue on the minds of the folks in Northwest Mississippi was the fate of the farm bill in Congress. But a close second was politics. And what they were thinking is not good news for the already weary national Republican Party.

Much as the recent special House election in the state’s 1st district was mistakenly assumed to be an automatic win for the GOP, the Mississippi Senate race is too often assumed, at least in the nation’s capital, to be a Southern slam-dunk for Roger Wicker (R), who was appointed earlier this year to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Republican Trent Lott’s retirement. It isn’t.

My recent conversations with dozens of politically attuned observers in the 18-county region of Mississippi known as the Delta have convinced me that GOP strategists face the same problems in the Senate race that allowed Travis Childers (D) to win the House special election last month.

Wicker is widely regarded as an extremely “nice guy,” a relatively low-key, consistently conservative former state legislator who was elected to Congress in 1994 and re-elected six more times before being tapped by Gov. Haley Barbour (R) for the Senate.

The Democrat in the Senate race is former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a tenacious campaigner and world-class schmoozer. Musgrove served in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor before being elected to the state’s top job in 1999. Four years later, his political career was abruptly cut short when he was defeated for re-election by Barbour, who is himself a skilled politician.

While Musgrove may not be as conservative as Childers, he is conservative enough to appeal to white swing voters, the same group that elected Childers in the 1st district and could play a similar role in the Senate contest.

As governor, Musgrove praised controversial Alabama Judge Roy Moore and invited him to display his Ten Commandments monument in the Mississippi Capitol. That’s the same monument that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled had to be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building.

Musgrove also signed legislation requiring “In God We Trust” to be displayed in every state classroom, as well as legislation banning gay couples from adopting children in the state and prohibiting the state from recognizing adoptions by gay couples in other states.

As in the House special election, the Wicker-Musgrove contest to fill the remaining four years of Lott’s term will not identify the two nominees by party on the ballot, depriving Wicker of a likely advantage in a presidential year.

Veteran Magnolia State observers believe that Musgrove will be able to tap the public’s desire for change and their disgust with Washington, D.C. They believe that the damage to the Republican Party’s national brand limits the extent to which Wicker can benefit from his party, and that Musgrove simply is a better campaigner and has strong appeal with the “Bubba” vote.

Wicker was not helped when President Bush vetoed what he referred to as the “bloated farm bill.” While both Wicker and the state’s senior Senator, Thad Cochran (R), supported the measure and voted to override Bush’s veto, Delta farmers weren’t amused by the president’s remarks, and they don’t see presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as sympathetic to them, either.

Two mid-May polls showed a competitive Senate race. A Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll found Musgrove ahead 48 percent to 40 percent, while a survey conducted by Research 2000 for Daily Kos, a liberal Democratic Web site, showed Wicker leading 46 percent to 42 percent. The Daily Kos poll included candidate party ID.

Regardless of which survey is closer to the truth, together they suggest Wicker has plenty of work to do if Republicans want to hold onto this seat.

Wicker’s biggest advantage right now is money. The Republican ended March with more than $2.7 million in the bank, a massive financial advantage over Musgrove, who showed $337,000 on hand at the same time.

The appointed Senator has already run his first TV spot, an ad running in the Biloxi media market that hails him as “a longtime friend of the Gulf Coast.” The ad emphasizes that he “achieved bipartisan support,” noting his “work with Cochran, Lott “and Congressman Taylor,” a reference to popular Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor.

Republicans correctly note that, unlike Childers, Musgrove begins with some problems he can’t ignore.

In the past, the former governor had close relations with and raised huge sums of money from the trial lawyer community. But convictions of judges and trial lawyers over the past couple of years, including wealthy, influential Dickie Scruggs, has both soiled the reputation of that industry and raised questions about future trial lawyer contributions.

A round of federal indictments this spring in connection with the state’s awarding of contracts (during Musgrove’s term as governor) for the building of a Mississippi Beef Processors plant has given Republicans another line of attack against Musgrove.

The Democrat’s campaign manager has insisted that her candidate “had nothing to do with the awarding of any of the contracts,” and the former governor has not been charged with anything. Still, it’s easy to see how Republicans can use the issue.

Musgrove may also suffer from the fallout surrounding his divorce.

Many local observers believe that Musgrove has the advantage in the race. Whether they are right, there is little doubt now that Wicker and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have a serious fight on their hands. Said one savvy local observer, “Wicker needs to Bubba up.”

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 9, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Religious Outreach Could Land Obama in Legal Trouble

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is about to launch his latest outreach to religious voters, but the name of the group could land him in legal trouble.

First reported on Friday by Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, Obama's “Joshua Generation” is designed to help the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee appeal to young evangelicals.

But “Generation Joshua,” a division of the Home School Legal Defense Association, has been established since 2003 and is pursuing legal action against the Obama campaign.

“This is an improper invasion of our trademark and we've retained legal counsel to notify the Obama campaign to stop this,” HSLDA’s co-founder, chairman, and general counsel, Michael Farris, told Roll Call on Monday morning. The conservative group planned to notify the Obama campaign on Monday afternoon.

Although recent Democratic presidential nominees have had a hard time attracting support from evangelical voters, some Obama partisans believe the candidate has broad appeal.

“There's unprecedented energy and excitement for Obama among young evangelicals and Catholics,” a source told Brody about the new group’s effort. “The Joshua Generation project will tap into that excitement and provide young people of faith opportunities to stand up for their values and move the campaign forward.”

On the flip side, “Generation Joshua is designed for Christian youth between the ages of 11 and 19 who want to become a force in the civic and political arenas,” according to the group’s Web site.

Farris believes the similarity in names is no accident.

“It's impossible to miss this, as Web savvy as they are,” said Farris, who also wrote a 2005 book called, “The Joshua Generation: Restoring the Heritage of Christian Leadership.”

Both groups, and the book, reference the Old Testament and the generation of people that led the Israelites into the Promised Land. But because the Joshua Generation and Generation Joshua are both interested in organizing youth for political purposes, Farris believes the name confusion is a violation of the older organization’s trademark.

Obama has been referencing the Old Testament story in speeches at Howard University and in Selma, Ala., so the name of his outreach effort is not a particular surprise.

Farris was an early supporter for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in the presidential race and is awaiting Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) vice presidential choice before making an endorsement. Generation Joshua is a 501(c)(4) organization, but the HSLDA PAC has been active, making in-kind contributions to more than 30 Republican candidates — and no Democrats — during the past four years.

“If they're going to pick Biblical analogies, they should pick policies to correspond,” Farris said.

This item first appeared on on June 9, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, June 09, 2008

How Different Will the 2008 White House Map Look From ‘04 and ‘00?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama talks about changing the map in this year’s presidential contest. So do Republicans, who argue that Obama’s poor showing among some Democratic constituencies gives Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) an opportunity to pilfer a couple of traditionally Democratic states in November.

There will be changes, but don’t expect the 2008 presidential map to look wildly different from those of 2000 and 2004.

Barring a full-scale McCain meltdown or the public’s wholesale rejection of the GOP (neither of which can be ruled out), only a handful of states are prime candidates to swing from their traditional partisan bent in recent presidential elections.

Most of the states that went for George W. Bush in 2000 are likely to end up in the Republican column again this November, while almost every state that former Vice President Al Gore won eight years ago is likely to go for Obama this year.

Increased turnout by black and young voters could improve Obama’s showings in some states, as could his appeal among upscale whites. But those gains aren’t likely to be large enough to flip many states, and so far there is no evidence that red states in the Deep South are potentially winnable for Obama because of their large black population.

The two states that switched from the Democratic column in 2000 to the GOP four years later, Iowa and New Mexico, are worth watching, though both are more likely than not to revert back to the Democrats in November. The one state that went Republican in 2000 but switched to the Democratic column four years later, New Hampshire, should be competitive once again this year.

Beyond those three, another six to 10 states bear watching as candidates for changing their “normal” partisan vote this year.

Four states won twice by George W. Bush and ordinarily in the GOP’s column — Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio — should be prime Democratic targets. The first three have large numbers of upscale white voters who may respond to Obama’s appeal, while the closeness of the race in Ohio four years ago suggests an ongoing Democratic opportunity.

Three normally Democratic states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are likely to be top Republican targets for switching. All three have substantial numbers of “Reagan Democrats,” who are likely to be a tough sell for Obama, making those states potential McCain upsets.

In addition, a handful of other states that have been presidential battlegrounds over the past 20 years — Florida, Nevada, Missouri and possibly Maine — could be in play. But because they have in the recent past been seen as competitive, their inclusion on this list doesn’t suggest a dramatic change.

There is little evidence that Obama can pick off any of the remaining 22 other states that have a history of voting reliably Republican in presidential contests.

Three states that were once competitive — Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee — no longer seem so.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) smashing victories in Kentucky and West Virginia confirmed what has been a developing story since early in the primary season: Obama has limited appeal among downscale (those with lower income and less formal education), older white voters.

For whatever reason — and a number of possible explanations come to mind — they don’t find him an appealing candidate. Many, of course, ultimately will end up voting for Obama anyway, but some are likely to prefer McCain in the general election, while others will stay home.

Even minimal defections from this group should cause concern among Democratic strategists, since the party has been able to count on this constituency in the past.

In 2000, for example, Al Gore carried voters age 60 and older (who constituted 22 percent of all voters in that election), 51 percent to 47 percent, and he won a majority of voters with an income of less than $50,000 per year (47 percent of all voters).

In both 2000 and 2004, exit polls found 11 percent of Democrats voting for Bush. In contrast, 8 percent of Republicans voted for Gore in 2000 and 6 percent crossed over to support Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) four years later. Obama may be able to improve on those percentages among Republicans, but it seems unlikely that he will be able to limit Democratic defections to below what they were in the past two contests.

A close electoral map invariably raises the specter of a possible split decision — with one nominee winning the popular vote and the other winning an Electoral College majority. As in 2000, this seems like a serious possibility.

Obama is likely to “waste” votes in Illinois, New York and California (winning them with large majorities), and he may gain some ground in normally Republican states — getting closer than most Democrats normally do, but not winning.

If this happens, and if Obama narrowly loses one or two larger, traditionally Democratic states, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, we could see an updated version of 2000, with McCain winning the White House at the same time that Obama gets more than half a million more votes.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 5, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Arizona 3: New Poll Reveals Little

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Polling memos are only as valuable as the numbers in them. A May 27 Bennett, Petts & Normington memo in Arizona’s 3rd district claims that Rep. John Shadegg (R) is “extremely vulnerable” but provides few and flimsy numbers from the actual survey to support the claim.

The May 18-20 survey, conducted for Shadegg’s Democratic challenger, attorney Bob Lord, showed the Congressman with a 31 percent re-elect number and 75 percent name identification.

But those numbers are only useful with context. The memo doesn’t give the other half of the re-elect question (the percentage of people who say they will vote for a “new person”). And 75 percent name ID is not terrible for a Member of Congress in a major metropolitan area, according to a second Democratic pollster not involved in the race.

It’s the numbers missing from the polling memo that tell the real story. The initial head-to-head ballot between Shadegg and Lord is nowhere to be found. Want Shadegg’s job approval number? Won’t find it here. The favorable/unfavorable numbers for the candidates (including Lord’s name ID) are not included either.

What does the memo include? Favorable and unfavorable ratings for Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), who isn’t on the ballot this year, and President Bush, who isn’t running either, but at least its standard to include his numbers when Democrats are making their case. And it refers to results of state legislative races that aren’t in the district.

The survey (and memo) also showed a presidential matchup, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) leading Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) 48 percent to 43 percent in a district President Bush won with 58 percent in 2004. If McCain is underperforming Bush by 10 points in Arizona, Republicans should brace themselves for an electoral massacre that will make 2006 look like a birthday party.

Shadegg did have some issues with decisiveness after retiring and then un-retiring earlier this election cycle. But the missing numbers in the Democratic poll must have been pretty good for the Congressman, or else they would have been included in the polling memo.

This item first appeared on on June 5, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, June 06, 2008

New Mexico 2: Turnout Down in Competitive District

By Nathan L. Gonzales

There has been plenty of talk about Democratic excitement and turnout exceeding Republican turnout this year and how that bodes well for Democratic prospects in November. But in New Mexico’s open 2nd Congressional district on Tuesday, something odd happened: Republican turnout remained largely unchanged, while Democratic turnout slid.

In 2002, both parties had competitive primaries when the seat became open. More than 43,000 people voted in the Democratic primary (won by John Arthur Smith) compared with 35,182 on the Republican side. Despite the primary difference, now-Rep. Steve Pearce (R) won the general election easily, 56 percent to 44 percent.

On Tuesday, Democratic primary turnout in the district was down by about 5,000 voters from six years ago, while Republican turnout was up by a few hundred. There was a competitive GOP race for the Senate on Tuesday, featuring the 2nd district’s outgoing Congressman, Pearce. But Democratic turnout statewide was actually up from the Feb. 5 presidential primary, while it dropped in the 2nd district. Almost 145,000 people voted statewide in the presidential race on the Democratic side compared to more than 151,000 Democratic primary voters in Tuesday’s congressional races.

Restaurateur Ed Tinsley finished second to Pearce in the 2002 primary but is this year’s GOP nominee. He starts the general election as the favorite over former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague (D). Republicans certainly can’t take the seat for granted, but Democrats should have plenty of other better opportunities this fall.

This item first appeared on June 4, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When Running Is a Family Affair

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Former Rep. Jim Slattery (D) officially filed his long-shot bid to unseat Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

It’s common for candidates to make their announcement with family in tow, but Tuesday's event was different because Slattery’s son, Mike, is simultaneously running for the state House. Both Slatterys face primary opponents on Aug. 5, but they hit the campaign trail together at least through the summer.

In Maine, former state Senate majority leader Chellie Pingree (D) is running in the 1st Congressional District to replace Rep. Tom Allen (D), who is running for the Senate. Pingree is the favorite in the crowded June 10 primary, while her daughter, Hannah, is running for her fourth term in the state House.

Hannah Pingree, currently the state House Majority Leader, was first elected in 2002, the same year her mother lost the Senate race to Sen. Susan Collins (R).

Democratic Michigan Rep. Sander Levin’s son, Andy, was mentioned as a potential candidate in Michigan’s 9th district this year but ultimately decided not to run.

Former Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R-Ohio) son, Pat, is a Hamilton County commissioner who ran in the 2nd Congressional district special election last cycle. Pat DeWine finished a distant fourth in a June 2005 special primary election. And Mike DeWine ended up losing his re-election bid, 56 percent to 44 percent, 17 months later.

This item first appeared on on June 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

California 4: Brown's Poll Signals Tough Road Ahead

By Nathan L. Gonzales

As California state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) was on his way to a primary win over former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) in the Golden State’s 4th district, a new poll released by the likely Democratic nominee, Charlie Brown, showed him leading both Republicans in hypothetical general election matchups.

A May 14-15 Benenson Strategy Group survey for Brown in California’s 4th District showed him leading McClintock 42 percent to 40 percent, and ahead of Ose, 38 percent to 34 percent. The poll of 400 likely voters had a 5-point margin of error.

Bearing in mind that Brown has been running in the district for three years and received almost 46 percent last cycle against embattled incumbent John Doolittle (R), the numbers show that Brown still has a long road ahead of him. Republicans had not even begun to set their sights on the Democrat because of their heated nomination battle.

Brown will need to open up a wider lead in a district that gave President Bush 61 percent in 2004, and he shouldn’t feel particularly confident in the current status of the race.

But not all open seat candidates face the same challenge. In Ohio’s 15th district, where another rerun candidate, Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) lost to Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) by less than 1 percent in 2006, is in slightly better shape than Brown. A May 20-22 poll for Kilroy’s campaign, also by Benenson, gave her a 47 percent to 37 percent edge over state Sen. Steve Stivers (R). An Independent candidate received 5 percent.

Not only does Kilroy lead her Republican opponent by a wider margin, but she’s also running a better Democratic district. Bush won it narrowly 50 percent to 49 percent over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

This item first appeared on on June 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Will Bob Barr and the Libertarians Be a Factor in the Presidential Race?

By Stuart Rothenberg

It was sometime toward the end of Saturday afternoon, May 24, that I concluded that the Libertarian Party is about as politically tone-deaf as anyone or any organization that I have ever observed.

I had just watched a few hours of the party’s presidential nominating convention on C-SPAN and listened to party leaders falling all over themselves about how former Republican turned Libertarian Bob Barr would carry the party to new heights.

And I had heard Barr’s running mate, professional sports handicapper/gambler Wayne Allyn Root, say that he couldn’t have a better teacher than Barr to learn from and then mumble to those around him that he would be the party’s nominee for president in 2012. (Root finished third in the presidential balloting and threw his support to Barr after the former Georgia Congressman agreed to pick Root as his vice president.)

You’d think that, at the very least, Libertarians would look coldbloodedly at their own status and avoid the usual delusional propaganda that we all are force-fed by Democrats and Republicans. After all, they are a mere asterisk on the American political landscape, and some of the convention participants were funny and self-deprecating. But no, even the Libertarians are glued to the ridiculous rhetoric that they are “in this to win.”

The Libertarian Party nominated Barr on the sixth ballot, concluding, apparently, that his political experience and name recognition would give the party the visibility and credibility that supporters crave. Talk about a total misread of Barr and of politics.

Barr, who has logged plenty of airtime on TV since he first was elected to Congress in 1994, certainly will get some media attention between now and November. But no matter what some people say, not all media coverage is good media coverage.

The Almanac of American Politics 2000, authored by conservative Michael Barone, called Barr “humorless,” “pessimistic” and “sarcastic.” “He says that he has no close friends on Capitol Hill and usually sleeps in his office,” Barone wrote of Barr.

The three-times-married, four-term conservative Republican Congressman has plenty of baggage (including speaking to a white supremacist group), a long record of contradictions — he introduced the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 but now opposes it and says he will work to repeal it — and a reputation for being arrogant and polarizing.

So with Americans apparently unhappy with the direction of the country and disapproving of the job the Republican president and a Democratic Congress is doing, the Libertarian Party has nominated a ticket that includes a prickly, cold, personally unappealing former Republican Congressman and a fast-talking, self-promoting bookmaker who describes himself as the “King of Vegas.”

Root’s own Web site includes a quote from comedian Bill Maher about the political hopeful: “He is loud, colorful, opinionated, often outrageous and controversial.” Oh great.

Root, by the way, is the author of “Betting to Win on Sports” and “The King of Vegas’ Guide to Gambling: How to Win Big at Poker, Casino Gambling & Life!” Publishers Weekly said his 2005 book, “Millionaire Republican: Why Rich Republicans Get Rich — and How You Can Too,” “is rarely coherent” and “feels like an infomercial harangue interspersed with the sort of off-the-wall rant that you would expect if you asked your bookie for his political philosophy.”

Now that’s just what most Americans want in a vice president of the United States and what the Libertarian Party needs.

Four days after Barr was nominated, I was reading through the Libertarian Party’s Web site and came across this gem under 2002 in “Our History”: “The ‘Incumbent Killer’ strategy was used to control elections the LP could not yet win. It led to the defeat of Republican Congressman Bob Barr and Democratic Senator Max Cleland.”

Leaving aside the party’s dubious and delusional suggestion that it defeated those two Members of Congress, as well as three gubernatorial candidates and another U.S. Senator, isn’t there something strange about the party nominating for president the same person that its Web site is bragging about defeating just six years earlier?

No, Barr, who announced in December that he was leaving the GOP for the Libertarians and had no plans to run for office, won’t be a factor in November.

People who will vote for Barr won’t vote for either Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) under any circumstance, so the Libertarians aren’t taking votes away from either man. This is a big country, and the Libertarians may well get half a million votes. But out of 120 million or so cast, that’s a drop in the bucket. In presidential politics, the Libertarian Party has established itself as nothing more than a party of protest.

Some voters have always thrown away their votes, casting them for parties and candidates who have no chance of winning. That’s fine, of course. It’s a free country, and if some voters want to make a statement about Iraq, drug legalization, taxes, the two-party system or whatever, that’s their right. But the Libertarians deserve no more attention than any other largely irrelevant third party — which isn’t much at all.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 2, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.