Sunday, August 31, 2008

Despite Accounts, Democrats All on the Same Page in Denver

By Stuart Rothenberg

Even a few journalists have started to wonder whether the dominant narrative of the first days of the Democratic National Convention is entirely accurate.

Sure, a chunk of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) supporters initially didn’t completely embrace Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) as the Democratic Party’s nominee, but isn’t it merely a matter of time before most of them do, especially given Clinton’s full-throated endorsement of Obama?

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, thinks they will. Although she was an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton throughout the primary process, Weingarten has had no trouble switching her allegiance to the Illinois Democrat.

“I will be as fiercely supportive of Barack as I was for Hillary,” she told me during an interview in the Pepsi Center even before Clinton’s call for party unity.

There is plenty of anecdotal and survey evidence that not all Clinton supporters have been as quick as Weingarten to switch her allegiance, and some liberal women may never get over what they regard as the party’s snub of the New York Senator or the way they believe that the Obama campaign mistreated Clinton.

But in all likelihood, most liberal-leaning former Clinton supporters will slide over to the Obama column rather quickly after they are bombarded with information about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) positions on abortion, taxes and Iraq, as well as Obama’s personal story.

On the other hand, while Clinton also won the support of downscale Democrats during the primaries, many of them will be harder to sway — and few of them were in the Pepsi Center to hear Clinton on Tuesday night.

The one thing that jumps out after any detailed examination of delegates in Denver is that while they are a diverse group when it comes to race, sexual orientation and age, they are unabashedly liberal and upscale.

While 42 percent of Democratic voters have a high school education or less, a miniscule 5 percent of delegates match that education level according to polling done for CBS News and the New York Times. And while only 13 percent of Democratic voters did post-graduate work, a stunning 55 percent of delegates to the Denver convention have done post-graduate work.

While Democrats often portray themselves as the party of “working families” — and 44 percent of Democrats have a family income of less than $50,000 — only 10 percent of delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention had a family income of less than $50,000 per year. Fifty-four percent of delegates came from families with an income of more than $100,000 a year.

This isn’t entirely surprising. Each party has elites who are disproportionately active and can afford the time and expense of attending a national convention. Still, the once-typical image of Democrats as downtrodden, struggling workers isn’t reflected in the makeup of national convention delegates, and it’s not yet entirely clear that this group of Merlot-drinking Democrats truly understands what white, Catholic, working-class Democrats in Michigan really want in a presidential nominee.

Still, these delegates, party strategists and operatives have figured out that they need to sell themselves as a “big tent” party, and they have effectively done so with a variety of high-profile candidates and officeholders around the country.

Whether it’s pro-life statewide officeholders, such as Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey or Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, or culturally conservative Congressional candidates, such as incumbent Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina or Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, or recent special election winners, such as Reps. Travis Childers (Miss.) and Don Cazayoux (La.), the Democratic Party has gone out of its way to woo potentially electable candidates who don’t fit a single mold.

At the same time, Republican strategists have found themselves boxed in by party ideologues who seek to purge GOP incumbents who are less conservative on taxes and social issues. While Republican delegates will be nominating a “big tent” Republican next week, moderate Republicans increasingly have problems getting nominated and elected in House races even in districts where a moderate is a better fit.

Democrats have simply become more pragmatic when it comes to nominating and supporting candidates for higher office. Much as Republicans during the 1980s dropped their calls for eliminating the Department of Education and for a total ban on all abortions, Democrats have addressed their weakness on gun control, faith and even government spending by changing their rhetoric.

Obviously, we will see over the next few years how serious they are about those changes, but there is no doubt that Democrats over the past four years have changed their tune in such a way as to make the party more appealing for voters. That’s a lesson that Republican activists and interest groups might study.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Democrats Focus on Faith Agenda, Activists Interrupt

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democrats continued their unprecedented outreach to faith voters in Denver this week as they worked to expand the values issue agenda to include more than hot-button social issues. But after two official faith panels at the Colorado Convention Center on Tuesday, it’s clear that abortion is still a hot issue both within and outside the party.

Sojourners Chief Executive Officer Jim Wallis moderated the panel “Common Ground on Common Good,” where panelists discussed poverty, immigration and education. Fourteen “Pro-Family, Pro-Obama” signs accompanied the group on stage, a clear effort to co-opt the common language of socially conservative activists.

After initially discussing other issues, the panel finally confronted the elephant in the room. Former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer (D) spoke first about the 95-10 Initiative (to reduce 95 percent of abortions in 10 years) but was careful to include that it should be done “within the law and legal system today.”

But even though Roemer didn’t advocate for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) campaign clearly thought it was necessary to balance his more moderate remarks on the issue.

“I’ve been a pastor for 35 years and I’m in favor of choice,” the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite of Chicago Theological Seminary said to roaring applause, the loudest of the panel.

Just minutes after she began, two men from the audience interrupted her by shouting, “Is abortion murder?” and “Does the child have a choice?” It was not apparent whether the men were Democrats, delegates or outsiders.

“This is an example of a lack of common ground,” Thistlewaite responded. Obama campaign staff politely removed the men from the room and Thistlewaite continued to give her full remarks, making the distinction between reducing abortions and reducing the need for abortions, which she favors.

“I’m tired of all the shouting on this question. The shouting has to stop,” Wallis said following Thistlewaite, but it wasn’t clear whether he was talking about the protesters, Thistlewaite’s passionate remarks or both.

The protesters were the Rev. Lee Hartley of Clarksville, Mo., and Ron Hartman, who are in Denver all week with Operation Rescue, a conservative anti-abortion rights group. Neither man had convention credentials. And even though neither posed a physical threat, a half-dozen police officers showed up following the incident and stood in the back of the room for the duration of the panels.

The incident appears to be one of the only interruptions by an outside group at an official convention function. But the incident demonstrates the tension the abortion issue causes, even within the party. As some Democrats want to moderate the party’s stance on abortion to reach out to more conservative faith voters, the larger pro-choice contingency within the party won’t go quietly.

Two more faith panels were scheduled for Thursday.

This item first appeared on on August 28, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jones Will Be Missed by Neighbors

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who died last week, was not one of those Members of Congress who makes Washington, D.C., their home and rarely goes back to their district. I know, because I lived above her in a D.C. apartment building for the past five years.

Even though her time in Washington was limited, it didn’t stop Jones from leaving her mark on her Capitol Hill neighbors.

“She was always in a good mood, always had a smile, and wanted to see how you were doing,” neighbor Betsy Abdella remembered.

Jones was known for coming home at night during the middle of the week to find a neighbor out on his or her patio, and stopping by to share in conversation and a glass of wine.

Jim Hunton knew Jones as a “neighbor and dear friend” for the past eight years and reflected on Jones’ hospitality. During condo board meetings of the small nine-unit complex on the Senate side of the Hill, the Congresswoman often served a “just-prepared delicious bowl of chili and fresh cornbread.”

While Jones was quick to embrace her D.C. neighbors, she never betrayed her Cleveland roots.

“She never made it home,” neighbor Tim Abdella said. Jones’ patio was slightly overgrown with ivy from lack of use and frequently talked to Abdella about rehanging some paintings in her modest two-bedroom condo.

The pictures were a lasting reminder of Jones’ husband, who tragically died more than four years ago. His final project was painting a wall in their living room, but Jones never had it completed after he passed away.

I will miss the murmur of her television late at night when Congress was in session, and like the rest of her neighbors, we’ll miss her contagious smile and warm heart. And I appreciate how she never demanded to be treated differently from anyone else.

“She didn’t want to be on a pedestal. She wanted to be like everyone else,” Betsy Abdella said. “She wanted to be your neighbor.

“Many, many of us will miss you, Stephanie,” Hunton added. “We loved you.”

This story first appeared in Roll Call on August 27, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Jersey 5: National Celebrity Doesn’t Equal Victory in House Elections

By Stuart Rothenberg

It isn’t difficult to find Democratic Congressional candidates who have a chance of knocking off a GOP incumbent or winning a Republican open seat. Democrats should net at least 10 Congressional seats this November, possibly many more. It is going to be a very good Democratic year at the Congressional level.

Perhaps that’s why I get bothered by claims from candidates who have little chance of winning but sound as if they too are on an undeniable path to victory.

In New Jersey, for example, two Democrats, John Adler and Linda Stender, have an excellent chance to win in November, while 5th district hopeful Dennis Shulman does not. But you wouldn’t always know that from the national media coverage, which includes a New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin and an article in Time, that the clinical psychologist and blind rabbi has received.

Shulman is a likable guy with a great story and a sense of humor. He’s overcome incredible odds to achieve the level of success that he has. But he isn’t the first candidate for Congress with a compelling personal story and rash of national media stories hyping his candidacy who is likely headed for defeat.

Two years ago, many journalists and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thought that Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth, who suffered serious injuries in combat, would defeat Republican Peter Roskam in an Illinois open-seat contest. Duckworth received more national media attention than I’ve ever seen for a House candidate. Money flowed into her campaign. She was a good candidate, but the district tilts Republican, and Roskam was a quality candidate, too.

Two years before Duckworth, another New Jersey House hopeful was treated like a celebrity by some media organizations. Steve Brozak, a one-time Marine with an MBA from Columbia, got the star treatment from the Wall Street Journal and found himself being interviewed on CNN. Brozak didn’t have much of a chance — he drew 41.7 percent of the vote against Rep. Mike Ferguson (R) — but reporters still liked his “story.”

This time the beneficiary of overhype is Shulman, who is running against Rep. Scott Garrett, a conservative Republican who represents a very Republican district in northern New Jersey. Garrett won the seat when moderate Republican Rep. Marge Roukema retired in 2002. Though Democrats said he was too conservative for the district, Garrett won the general election against a well-financed Democrat by more than 20 points.

Two years later, Garrett won again, but this time by “only” 16 points, 57.6 percent to 41.1 percent. In 2006, in a horrible political environment for Republicans, Garrett’s winning percentage dropped again, this time to “only” 55 percent, as he won by “only” 11 points.

So in three races against Garrett, no Democrat has hit the 44 percent mark, a good reflection of the fundamental partisan nature of this district.Toobin’s characterization of Garrett’s district in a July issue of the New Yorker is particularly off the mark. He says the district “has been leaning Democratic in recent years” even though Tom Kean Jr. (R) easily carried it in the 2006 Senate race against Sen. Bob Menendez (D) and George W. Bush won it twice rather easily.

Toobin, who is a wonderful legal analyst but whose forte is simply not politics, says the district “includes such suburbs as Ridgewood and Tenafly, in Bergen County, and some rural communities along the Pennsylvania border.” That description is technically true, but misleading. Tenafly was Garrett’s worst-performing town in 2006, while Ridgewood was his fifth-worst-performing out of 86 towns. But Garrett carried Bergen County last time, and he rolled up a 2-1 victory — and a large 17,000-vote margin — in the two “rural” counties, Sussex and Warren.

The Shulman campaign has made much about the DCCC listing it as one of its “emerging races,” as well as the DCCC’s decision “to buy advertising time in the district.”

In fact, the “emerging races” label means the Shulman campaign hasn’t yet made the committee’s “Red to Blue” list and that he is still seen by Democratic strategists as a long shot who may or may not ever be regarded as a potential winner. More importantly, the only “advertising time” the DCCC has bought so far is some radio on gas prices designed to generate press. The DCCC has reserved more than $50 million in TV time for the fall but has identified only two New Jersey races as targets for the ads, the state’s open 3rd and 7th districts involving Adler and Stender, respectively, not the 5th.

Finally, at times, the rabbi seems very un-rabbi-like. He is quoted as using the “s” word very matter-of-factly in Toobin’s piece and using the “b.s.” word in Time. I expect a lot of folks in the district may wonder about that.

And Shulman’s rhetoric seems more like a Democratic insider than a man of the cloth, such as his comment that Garrett is “in the pocket of Big Oil” and that the runup in energy prices “is the direct result of Big Oil and their cronies like Scott Garrett blocking sound energy policy for years.”

That’s boilerplate Democratic campaign rhetoric and not likely to help any Democrat carry this Republican district.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 27, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Florida 21: South Florida Race Heats Up in Denver

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Both parties’ candidates in Florida’s 21st district are in Denver this week, but don’t expect them to cross paths.

“He won’t debate me in Miami, so I’ll debate him here,” former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (D) said on the convention floor Monday night. His opponent, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), is in town as part of the Republicans’ “Truth Squad.”

Unlike some of his fellow Congressional candidates, Martinez was more than happy to take a break from the campaign trail to attend the week’s festivities.

“It’s very important to be here, to be known and to make connections,” Martinez said in an interview in the Pepsi Center, as the convention band blared just feet away.

The former mayor is a delegate, but he’s also hoping to leverage his time in Denver into campaign momentum this fall. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) introduced Martinez, along with a handful of other candidates, from the floor of the convention Tuesday afternoon.

Martinez expects Diaz-Balart to attend the Republican convention next week in Minnesota, but he does not plan to make it a campaign issue. “He’s a Republican. He should be there,” Martinez said.

Check Roll Call and on Thursday for results from a new survey on the race conducted exclusively for the newspaper. Democrats believe three GOP-leaning districts in the Miami area, including the 21st, are vulnerable because of an increasing number of non-Cuban Hispanic voters.

This item first appeared on on August 26, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Should Democrats Be Feeling Any Kind of Buyer’s Remorse?

By Stuart Rothenberg

As Democrats kick off their national convention to nominate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as their nominee for president, there is little or no evidence that activists or insiders are having second thoughts about the party’s standard-bearer.

In other words, buyer’s remorse has not settled in, and it probably won’t unless Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) nips Obama at the wire 10 weeks from now.

Yet only the most uncritical party insider could avoid asking himself or herself the obvious question as delegates gather in Denver: Did Democrats, who two years ago placed no higher priority on selecting a candidate than on picking someone who could win back the White House in 2008, really pick the right person to carry the party’s banner this year?

Obama remains the favorite to win in November, but he has not yet come close to locking up the race, even with a political landscape that is slanted so completely in his party’s favor.

Because of that, it’s hard not to wonder whether his party would be in a far more secure position to win the White House if Democrats in Denver were preparing to nominate Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner or any of a number of other Democrats, possibly including New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On one hand, voters remain very unhappy with the Bush administration and with the direction of the country, and Obama remains one of the party’s strongest messengers for “change.”

Moreover, the Illinois Democrat’s ability to excite younger voters and mobilize African-Americans is unmatched when compared to other potential Democratic nominees. Unlike what Clinton or Biden could have done as the party’s presidential nominee, Obama may be able to change the traditional political arithmetic this year, benefiting Democrats up and down the ballot in many states.

But Obama’s shortcomings, most particularly his limited experience, his difficulty connecting with older, working-class white voters and his inability to ease voter doubts about his ability to handle foreign policy crises, make him inherently a riskier choice for the White House.

The Senator’s supporters, of course, argue that events have proved the soundness of his judgment, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities during the next two and a half months to do what Ronald Reagan did in 1980 — convince undecided voters that he has the toughness, astuteness and levelheadedness to protect U.S. interests abroad and deal with tough, even ruthless, adversaries.

But at least at this point in the campaign, with the surge in Iraq apparently paying dividends and the Russian invasion of Georgia reminding Americans of the dangers that still exist internationally, Obama looks far more fragile as a nominee than he did five months ago, riding the wave of change.

Surprisingly to those who thought that Republican presidential standard-bearer McCain would run an upbeat, largely positive campaign, the Arizona Senator has hammered away repeatedly at Obama’s readiness for the top job, keeping himself very much in a race that he should not be in.

While Democrats have been salivating for more than a year about making the ’08 race a referendum on outgoing Bush and the war in Iraq, McCain’s campaign has succeeded in making the election as much about Obama. And the Republican has brilliantly turned Obama’s celebrity status, big crowds and media infatuation into a synonym for shallowness.

A four-day lovefest in Denver is likely to energize Democrats attending the event and the millions of others who will follow it through the media, convincing all that a Democratic victory is nearly inevitable. That’s what happened in Los Angeles in 2000 and four years later in Boston, when first Al Gore and then Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) accepted their party’s nominations.

Given that, it’s very unlikely that even a single Democratic delegate will leave Denver on Friday believing that Obama will lose. But the more important question is whether two months from now Democrats will be so certain of victory, or whether they will start to wonder if they selected a nominee who made them feel good about themselves but lacked one or two of the basic qualities that voters are looking for in a commander in chief.

For many undecided American voters, the question is likely to be a simple one: Do they feel comfortable with Obama sitting in the Oval Office, making decisions that will affect people’s lives, including the nation’s security?

Only a few months ago, it was Clinton’s campaign raising questions about Obama’s readiness for the presidency. McCain has picked up that message and delivered it repeatedly and with considerable effectiveness. The Illinois Democrat needs to address that problem quickly, and he’ll need more than soaring rhetoric about change and unity to be successful.

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

Monday, August 25, 2008

At the Conventions

The entire staff of the Rothenberg Political Report is attending the conventions over the next two weeks. We'll be posting some of our thoughts and analysis over at, which is free for the conventions, and right here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Print Edition: Minnesota Senate & Alabama 5

The August 22, 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.

PUBLISHING NOTE: As our long-time readers are well aware, we alter our publication schedule toward the end of every election year to provide the fullest coverage before Election Day. After the conventions, we plan to publish three times each in September and October.

Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

Minnesota Senate: No Laughing Matter
By Nathan L. Gonzales

With comedian Al Franken in the mix, everyone expected Minnesota’s Senate race to be anything but ordinary. With two and half months to go, it’s certainly been a roller coaster and remains one of the most competitive races in the country.

Norm Coleman (R) is one of the Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbents and is working hard to distance himself from an unpopular President in a state most likely to be carried by Barack Obama (D).

At the beginning of the cycle, Republicans were delighted at the prospects of facing Franken and his treasure trove of risqué jokes and writings. But even though he started the race with high unfavorables, that got even worse over the spring, Franken is raising a ton of money and keeping the heat on Coleman.

In a week, all eyes will turn to Minnesota for the Republican National Convention, but even after the delegates leave the state, keep your eyes on one of the most exciting Senate races in the country. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Alabama 5: Rare Defensive Posture

Democratic open seats are rare these days. But Republicans are on the offensive in Alabama’s 5th District, even though they have never held the seat.

Republicans nominated Wayne Parker (R), who has lost two races to out-going conservative Cong. Bud Cramer (D), and are looking forward to the open seat race. Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Parker Griffith is running as Cramer’s protégé and looking to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beware: Evangelical Polling Ahead

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Evangelicals are in the spotlight for the thousandth time this election cycle, after both Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared at Rick Warren’s church on Saturday night.

But there is a significant problem with analyzing the evangelical vote. Pollsters can’t seem to agree on what constitutes an evangelical or how many evangelicals there are in the country.

The discrepancy in definition makes thoughtful analysis almost impossible because polling numbers can’t be used interchangeably. Unfortunately, the difference is lost on most reporters.

According to 2004 exit polling during the presidential race, 23 percent of Americans described themselves as “white evangelical/born again,” and gave President Bush 78 percent of their vote. Four years earlier, the exit poll showed that 14 percent of presidential voters were part of the “White Religious Right” and voted for Bush with 83 percent. The question was rightly modified between elections, because “Religious Right” is a narrower group, but the modification makes comparison difficult.

ABC News, in its polling, evaluates self-identified “white evangelical Protestants,” who constitute about 20 percent of American adults. The definition isn’t necessarily wrong, even though it excludes a small number of Catholics who might consider themselves evangelicals, but it’s another definition. Obama is winning about 25 percent of the white evangelical Protestant vote, according to ABC polling.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, in their polling, first ask respondents if they are Catholic or Protestant. Then they ask all Protestants and people who said they had no religion, “Would you describe yourself as a fundamentalist or an evangelical Christian, or would you not describe yourself that way?”

The result is yet another definition. This time it’s a group of 18 percent of Americans who describe themselves as “Protestant fundamentalist/evangelical,” who are voting for McCain 64 percent to 24 percent. First of all, it’s unclear how many people said evangelical versus fundamentalist, but just using the latter term probably turns off some respondents. Secondly, the NBC sample likely includes African-Americans, which makes it impossible to compare to the other samples.

Finally, the Barna Group, a religious research firm, recently released a poll that confuses the matter even further.

According to the Barna survey, self-identified evangelicals make up 42 percent of the population and are going for McCain by a narrow 39 percent to 37 percent. That is a much larger self-identified evangelical sample compared with other pollsters, and much more Democratic.

It is not entirely clear why the self-identifying Barna sample is almost double what is in the other polls since Barna didn’t release demographic profiles of the samples and sub-samples. It is likely that the sample includes a large number of African-Americans, who may have similar theological beliefs to white evangelicals but vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

But Barna doesn’t rely on self-identifying evangelicals. Instead, it asks a series of nine theological questions based on the National Association of Evangelicals’ Statement of Faith to find out who is really an evangelical.

After the test, Barna concludes that 8 percent of the population is actually evangelical. The definition may be the most pure, but it makes cross-analysis with other polls useless. Barna evangelicals were voting for McCain 61 percent to 17 percent in an August survey, compared with 78 percent for McCain in June.

An e-mail from the Obama campaign touted the survey as “great news” because the race was tightening. But 17 percent is statistically identical to the 15 percent Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received from the group in the 2004 White House election, and it is irresponsible to make thoughtful conclusions from such a small sub-sample with a high margin of error.

Barna also separates out “non-evangelical born again” Christians with a less stringent theological test. Those voters, which would likely include African-Americans, went for Obama 43 percent to 31 percent. “All born again” Christians, presumably including evangelicals, African-Americans and some Catholics, went for Obama by a similar 42 percent to 32 percent, according to Barna.

The political behavior of evangelical voters is going to be a favorite media story for months and years to come. But as evangelicals come under the microscope more often, the more theological nuances and differences are laid bare. Until there is some sort of standard definition set in the polling world, analysis of the evangelical vote should be met with extreme caution.

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

Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Polling Often a Poor Predictor

By Nathan L. Gonzales

House candidates and campaign committees are ramping up efforts to collect polling data from districts across the country, as they look to develop messages and lock in targets for the November elections. But using last cycle as a guide, what looks and smells like a vulnerable incumbent in summer polling leads to mixed results on Election Day.

This cycle, Democratic polls have shown Rep. Jon Porter (R) ahead by 4 points, but well under 50 percent in Nevada’s 3rd district, Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) behind his Democratic opponent (41 percent to 40 percent), and Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) unable to put the race away at 47 percent to 38 percent.

But how will they fare in November?

Two years ago at this time, Indiana Rep. Chris Chocola (R) was well on his way to losing re-election. He trailed 48 percent to 38 percent in a mid-July Cooper & Secrest Associates survey done for Democrats and lost by 8 points in the general election.

Fellow Indiana Reps. John Hostettler (R) and Mike Sodrel (R) trailed by 4 and 6 points, respectively, in nonpartisan polling taken in early September. Two months later, Hostettler lost by 22 points and Sodrel by 5.

In 2006, some incumbents in tight races in the summer went on to win narrowly.

At the end of August in Pennsylvania’s 6th district, a Benenson Strategy Group Democratic poll had Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) trailing Democrat Lois Murphy 44 percent to 42 percent. Gerlach won 51 percent to 49 percent. Embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) led narrowly 41 percent to 39 percent, also in a late August Benenson survey, but he went on to win 49 percent to 46 percent. And Rep. Heather Wilson (R) led 45 percent to 42 percent at the end of August, according to nonpartisan polling, in New Mexico’s 1st district and won re-election with 50 percent.

Other incumbents such as Rep. Rob Simmons were in tight races through the summer and lost. The Connecticut Republican trailed 41 percent to 40 percent in a late August survey for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and he lost narrowly in November.

Florida Rep. Clay Shaw (R) had a narrow lead, 42 percent to 38 percent, in late August DCCC polling but went on to lose Florida’s 22nd by 4 points. And in New Hampshire, Rep. Charlie Bass (R) led 43 percent to 42 percent in mid-August, according to Democratic polling, and lost by 7 points in November.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) led 49 percent 44 percent in a mid-August Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Democratic poll, but was trounced in November by 10 points.

While not an incumbent, former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) led Rep. Geoff Davis (R) 50 percent to 36 percent, at the end of July in a Cooper & Secrest survey, in Lucas’ former Kentucky district. Davis went on to win the general election handily by 9 points.

Some incumbents had huge summer leads and squeaked by in November. Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) led by 26 points in an early July DCCC survey (and even by 14 points in a mid-October poll) and won 51 percent to 49 percent.

In Washington’s 8th district, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) led Democrat Darcy Burner 54 percent to 41 percent in a SurveyUSA poll at the end of August and only won with 51 percent on Election Day.

And finally, much is made over incumbents and the 50-percent threshold. Despite the fact that with the margin of error of most polls, 49 percent could really be 54 percent, or 44 percent for that matter, the threshold isn’t necessarily predictive.

A mid-June 2006 Public Opinion Strategies GOP poll showed Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) ahead 49 percent to 34 percent, and he lost re-election 50 percent to 46 percent.

But a poll done at the end of July 2006 for Democrat Tom Hayhurst in Indiana’s 3rd district had incumbent Rep. Mark Souder (R) hovering at 50 percent. The Congressman went on to win by 8 points, 54 percent to 46 percent. Similarly, an early July Cooper & Secrest poll had Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) at 50 percent and he won by a dozen points.

And a mid-September Cooper & Secrest Democratic survey in Florida’s 8th district had GOP Rep. Ric Keller ahead, 46 percent to 39 percent. He went on to win by the same 7-point margin, but with 53 percent.

So what do all these numbers mean?

Take summer polling with a grain of salt, because while it can identify vulnerable incumbents, these Members could still win re-election.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Late Veep Pick?

By Stuart Rothenberg

I thought it odd last month when there was a flurry of talk about Senators Barack Obama and John McCain possibly announcing their running mates. Make a selection more than a month before the conventions, thereby eliminating the big reason for getting excited in late July and most of August? It seemed like a crazy idea to me.

Now, with the announcements near, some again are wondering why Obama and McCain have waited so long to announce their picks.

Let's be clear: Early picks are the exception, not "late picks." Most selections over the past 25 years have taken place the week before the conventions, so if Obama's and McCain's picks are "late," it's only because the conventions are late. Blame the International Olympic Committee, if you must.

1980 Bush (R) -- July 17, during the Convention (July 14-17)
1984 Ferraro (D) -- July 12, the week before the Convention (July 16-19)
1988 Quayle (R) -- Aug. 16, during the Convention (Aug. 15-18)
1988 Bentsen (D) -- July 12, the week before the Convention (July 18-21)
1992 Gore (D) -- July 9, the week before the Convention (July 13-16)
1996 Kemp (R) -- Aug. 10, two days before the Convention (Aug. 12-15)
2000 Lieberman (D) -- Aug. 7, the week before the Convention (Aug. 15-17)
2000 Cheney (R) -- July 25, the week before the Convention (July 31-Aug. 3)
2004 -- Edwards (D) -- July 6, three weeks before the Convention (July 26-29)

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 20, 2008.

Louisiana 4: Thompson Counters With Own Poll

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The polling soap opera continues in Louisiana's 4th district.

With critics fervently seeking to discredit John Fleming's poll in the Republican primary, one of his opponents finally released numbers of his own on Monday.

An Aug. 10-11 OnMessage Inc. survey for former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson showed Fleming leading the GOP primary with 27 percent. Thompson was second with 23 percent and trucking executive Chris Gorman was third with 17 percent.

All of the candidates were well-liked among likely Republican primary voters. According to the survey, Fleming had a 50 percent favorable/10 percent unfavorable rating, while Thompson was at 43 percent favorable/4 percent unfavorable. Gorman was 44 percent favorable to 7 percent unfavorable.

Fleming's poll, taken at the end of July, had him ahead with 43 percent to Gorman's 17 percent and Thompson's 15 percent. No "push questions" were asked prior to the ballot, but biographical information was given that could have distorted the results. A Democratic poll in mid-July also showed Fleming ahead.

All of the candidates are advertising, which could account for some of the movement in the numbers since Fleming's survey. But amid all the bickering, there is a clear trend - Fleming is leading the primary race.

And it appears that his critics should spend less time worrying about Fleming's poll and more time on winning a race that's just three weeks away.

The primary winner will face Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche (D) in the fall battle to replace retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.).

This item
first appeared on on August 18, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Louisiana 4: Poll Draws Criticism from Opponents

By Nathan L. Gonzales

A seemingly innocuous poll has created quite a stir in a very competitive Republican primary in Louisiana’s 4th district.

Earlier this month, physician John Fleming released a poll, conducted July 25-27 by Southern Media & Opinion Research, showing him leading the GOP race with 43 percent. Trucking company executive Chris Gorman was second with 17 percent and former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson was third with 15 percent.

But after the release, there has been a significant effort by Fleming’s opponents, especially the Gorman campaign, to discredit the poll. They are questioning the methodology and claiming there were “push questions” before the ballot question.

An examination of the first part of the survey (through the trial heat), released by Fleming’s campaign, shows that it did not include a clean ballot test, as independent observers have come to expect. But, on the other hand, it’s inaccurate to call the early questions “push questions.”

The poll started with standard questions including voter identification, a right direction/wrong track question about the state, favorable/unfavorable questions about President Bush, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R). It then asked respondents to identify the most important issues their Congressman needs to address and the most important issues to them personally.

Respondents were then asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the three Republican Congressional candidates. But instead of being asked only about the candidates’ names, those taking the poll were given brief biographical information about the three Republican hopefuls, including the candidates’ ages, occupations, marital status and number of children. Military service was also noted, but since Fleming is the only one to serve, his bio was the only one to include it.

The initial ballot followed, but referred to “Dr. John Fleming” while the other candidates did not have a salutation.

It’s unclear whether the biographical information made a difference. But in a race where all three candidates started virtually unknown, the bio information could have had an impact.

It’s also not unreasonable that Fleming leads the race. A July 16-21 Kitchens Group poll for likely Democratic nominee Paul Carmouche, over-sampled the Republican primary and showed Fleming ahead with 27 percent to Gorman’s 20 percent and Thompson’s 14 percent.

The Gorman campaign has declined to release any recent polling of its own to dispute the results.

After the initial ballot in Fleming’s poll, the campaign tested messages and issues — a standard procedure often referred to by political insiders as “push questions” — and followed with a second ballot test that was not released.

Because message testing does not constitute a “push poll,” and because the push questions came after the initial ballot, those questions did not influence the initial ballot. The way the first ballot was introduced to those being polled, however, could have produced distorted results.

This item first appeared on on August 18, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Print Edition: Louisiana Senate & Michigan 7

The August 18, 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.

PUBLISHING NOTE: As our long-time readers are well aware, we alter our publication schedule toward the end of every election year to provide the fullest coverage before Election Day. We are trying to send another issue to the printer before the Democratic convention, and we plan to publish three times each in September and October.

Here is a brief sample of what's in this edition...

Louisiana Senate: Lonely Challenger
By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s not just Republicans’ brightest spot in Senate races, Louisiana is their only shot of winning a Democratic Senate seat this cycle. But it’s not going to be easy ousting Sen. Mary Landrieu (D).

Between the political environment, no Democratic retirements, and South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson’s health problems, Landrieu finds herself as the lone defensive front in the Democratic battle plan on the Senate side.

National Republicans dreamed of Cong. Bobby Jindal (R) taking on Landrieu, but he was just elected governor last fall. Instead, Republicans convinced state Treasurer John Kennedy to switch parties and take on the incumbent.

Kennedy may not be the perfect candidate, but Landrieu has a history of extremely close races. And despite surviving without a serious misstep, Landrieu continues to hover near 50% in a state that Republicans are enjoying some recent success on the heels of Jindal’s win.

This isn’t exactly the first time the two have faced each other. In 1995, Landrieu ran for governor while Kennedy ran the campaign for former Gov. Buddy Roemer (R). The candidates finished less than 9,000 votes apart.

It’s most likely to be another barnburner in the Bayou. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Michigan 7: Grrrrrreat Race

There are certain conservative members of Congress that Democrats seem to love to hate. Michigan’s Tim Walberg has been in office less than one term, and yet Democrats hold him in low regard and are already targeting his defeat.

Walberg’s 7th Congressional District leans slightly Republican by the numbers, but Democrats are excited about their candidate, state Senate minority leader Mark Schauer, in part because of his demonstrated ability to win in GOP-leaning areas.

Last cycle, Walberg defeated moderate Cong. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary and fell just short of 50% in the general election against a candidate that spent hardly any money. All of those factors fuel Democratic excitement for taking over this seat in November. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

DCCC on Offensive in GOP Open Seats

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Despite having a majority of seats in Congress, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is on the offensive this cycle, with plans to pour money into dozens of districts represented by Republicans.

On Thursday, the DCCC dropped two more direct-mail pieces in a pair of GOP-held open seats.

In New Jersey’s 7th district, the latest mail piece has a graphic of a confidential file folder labeled “Leonard Lance’s 17-year record in Trenton,” with the flip side pointing out the Republican state Senator’s “Record of Campaign Cash, Pay Raises, and Special Favors for Big Oil and Insurance Companies.”

This is the DCCC’s second mailbox attack in the last five days against Lance, the GOP nominee in the race to replace retiring Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.). An Aug. 9 direct -ail hit sounded the same themes, highlighting “Leonard Lance’s Trenton Values.” The front of the piece read, “For State Senator Leonard Lance? A 40% Pay Raise. For You? Higher Property Taxes.”

In total, the independent expenditure arm of the DCCC spent $26,221, paid to American Mail Direct Inc., on the two pieces. Neither piece mentioned the Democratic nominee, state Assemblywoman Linda Stender, or even mentioned that Lance is a Republican.

The DCCC also spent $41,117 in direct mail over the last five days in Illinois’s 11th district, where state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) is facing off against concrete contractor Marty Ozinga (R) for retiring Rep. Jerry Weller’s (R) seat.

“Which candidate for Congress is going to bat for us?” asks the direct-mail piece that was dropped Thursday. “Debbie Halvorson always steps up to the plate for middle-class families.” In contrast, “Marty Ozinga plays ball in the ‘Bush League.’”

Last week’s DCCC-funded mail piece featured a large picture of an ambulance on the front and asked, “Which candidate for Congress thinks a trip to the ER is a solution to our health care crisis? ... Marty Ozinga thinks a trip to the ER means you have health care,” while “Debbie Halvorson is leading the fight for affordable health care in Illinois.” Both pieces were produced by MSHC Partners.

The DCCC also spent $2,142 on phone banking (paid to the Clinton Group) and extended its television ad buy by $39,288 in the 11th district. The committee also spent $43,845 extending its media buy in Texas' 22nd, where it is defending Rep. Nick Lampson (D).

This item first appeared on on August 14, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When It Comes to Election 2008, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

By Stuart Rothenberg

America’s long national nightmare — the 2008 election — is coming to an end. But don’t worry. We still have another painful, gut-wrenching three months of campaigning, TV ads, direct-mail pieces and political telephone calls that will fill up our answering machines, jam our mailboxes and disrupt our family dinners.

Yes, the longest campaign in history is about to ratchet up in intensity to a level that you’ve never seen and possibly can’t yet imagine.

If you want to know what to expect, imagine the hype of the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the Oscars, multiply it by about a million, and you’ll have at least some idea about the political frenzy that you’ll start experiencing with the two national party conventions in late August and early September and continuing all the way to early November.

Consider the amount of money that the national party committees are sitting on.

As of June 30, The Republican and Democratic national committees, the two Congressional campaign committees and two Senate campaign committees were sitting on a combined $207 million.

On the GOP side, the majority of the cash was held by the Republican National Committee ($68.7 million of the three committees’ total of $101.7 million), while on the Democratic side, the fattest wallet was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($54.6 million of the three Democratic committees’ total $105.3 million).

Add to that bankroll the roughly $84 million in federal matching funds that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will receive and spend and the more than $200 million that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is expected to raise and spend between the Democratic National Convention and Election Day, and you may start to see what kind of political deluge we are in for.

Of course, you still need to add in the many tens of millions that individual House and Senate candidates will spend between Labor Day and Nov. 4, and the spending from “outside groups” such as Freedom’s Watch, environmental and labor groups or other individuals or interests.

None of this includes the spending and time that the media will devote to hyping the election, which has drawn so much interest nationally and internationally that the suits who run big media companies have finally figured out that they can make money covering politics — as long as they cover it like the latest Paris Hilton development.

You can bet that between now and November, each of the campaigns will have to deal with at least one campaign snafu or controversy. And the media’s coverage of those problems will be suffocating.

So be prepared for more mindless chatter on the cable television networks, and more guests described as “Republican strategist” or “Democratic strategist” that nobody in politics has ever heard of.

Obviously, campaign spending won’t be distributed evenly, so the folks in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado and a few other states will see a disproportionately large amount of the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent in the presidential race and in other campaigns between now and Election Day.

To them go our sympathies.

All of this leads to one question: Will this money really affect the election outcomes very much?

While it’s likely to have an impact in U.S. House races, and could determine the winner in a Senate race or two, it very well may not play a major role in deciding who will be the next president of the United States.

Few TV ads really change people’s minds this late in a race, and the national conventions, debates and “free media” coverage of the candidates from now to November are likely to have a much greater impact on how voters see Obama, McCain and their choice. If Obama closes the deal with undecided voters, it’s not likely to be because of a TV ad, but rather his overall exposure to those voters.

By this time in the election cycle, voters have seen more ads that they care to and have heard candidates and their surrogates promising everything imaginable. Another ad is, well, just another ad — meaningless blather about change or jobs or health care or taxes — that’s aimed at getting votes and getting elected.

Who knows what either McCain or Obama will do once he gets into the White House?

But that won’t stop the parties, campaigns and outside groups from their voter contact and get-out-the-vote efforts. You can never be criticized for raising and spending too much money, only for not raising and spending enough.

So, let the sprint to Election Day begin, with even more ads and more hype than we’ve already had to this point. There will be plenty of “news” shows and political ads to watch, plenty of news coverage to read. I’ll be watching “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Partisans Commission Nonpartisan Polls

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The roles of partisan, strategist, journalist and advocate are fuzzier than ever before. Democratic activist and blogger Markos Moulitsas has commissioned a series of polls in U.S. Senate races across the country this cycle, using the nonpartisan polling firm Research 2000.

“I know the polling I run will be often dismissed by outsiders as partisan polling anyway,” Moulitsas said, “so I wanted a nonpartisan pollster to combat that perception.”

Partisan interest groups do polls all the time, but Moulitsas is breaking the mold by making all of the results public, including the cross tabs, on his popular blog, “I publish everything I get from R2K, so it’s all public for whoever wants to use it,” Moulitsas explained. “I publish every poll I take, even if they suck for Democrats — and a bunch have.”

By polling primarily in second- and third-tier races, Moulitsas runs the risk of paying for some lackluster results. For example, Research 2000 polls had Democratic candidates trailing by wide margins in Oklahoma (by 22 points), Maine (by 23 points) and Nebraska (31 points and 27 points in two separate surveys).

Part of Moulitsas’ rationale is to illuminate potentially competitive contests in otherwise ignored states. But it’s not a cheap endeavor.

He’s commissioned at least 20 polls to date, at an estimated cost, according to one Democratic pollster, of between $6,000 and $8,000 each, for a total cost of between $120,000 and $160,000 so far this cycle. Moulitsas declined to discuss the specific cost or terms of his arrangement with Research 2000, but all the surveys are paid for by Kos Media LLC, which derives its revenue from advertising and site subscriptions.

The polls are the latest example of growing tension between Democratic activists who believe Democratic strategists in Washington aren’t paying enough attention to longer-shot races.

“I run a site for political junkies addicted to polls. And polling organizations weren’t polling some of the races I was interested in,” Moulitsas said, while pointing to his December 2007 Alaska survey as an example. That was one of the first public polls to show an extremely competitive race, with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) leading Sen. Ted Stevens (R) by 6 points.

Because all of the results are public at, strategists, candidates and committees on both sides of the aisle can benefit from the numbers, particularly in races with a dearth of information, like Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska. Operatives at both the Republican and Democratic Senate campaign committees digest the Daily Kos/Research 2000 numbers with other public polls, but ultimately make spending and strategic decisions based on polls they pay for themselves.

Even though Research 2000 is an established, nonpartisan firm that does work for more traditional media outlets as well, the Kos numbers may still be viewed more skeptically because of the relationship with a liberal, Democratic Web site.

“I’m not going to change how we do questions or how we do polls [depending on who pays for them],” Research 2000 President Del Ali explained, while also being up-front about the business side. “I’m out to make money.”

“I’m turned off with the mainstream media in general,” Ali said. “These bastards [in the media] care more about celebrity. [Moulitsas] is covering what should be covered.”

This item first appeared on on August 8, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Colts Coach Favors Obama

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Once criticized for speaking to a conservative Christian group, Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy favors Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the presidential election.

“I was an Obama guy in the primaries,” Dungy said in an interview with Kenny Mayne in the Aug. 11 issue of ESPN the Magazine. “I remember hearing Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech when I was 7, but I never thought I’d see an African-American with an opportunity to win the presidency. So this has been stunning to me.”

“I haven’t made up my mind, but I’m definitely leaning toward Obama,” Dungy said.

On one level, the preference isn’t surprising, since both men are high-profile African-Americans. And with Indiana being talked about as a potential battleground state, few individuals are more popular than Dungy outside the sport of basketball.

But the coach’s nod doesn’t come without a potential downside for Obama.

Back in March 2007, Dungy was criticized, particularly by gay activists, for accepting an award from the Indiana Family Institute, specifically because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. In advance of his appearance, some individuals wanted the Super Bowl-winning coach do disavow the conservative Christian group’s views. But Dungy, who isn’t shy about his faith, did precisely the opposite.

“I’m on the Lord’s side, and I appreciate IFI for the stance their taking, and I embrace that stance, okay, and that’s important,” Dungy said in his speech.

“Family is important, and that’s what we’re trying to support. We’re not anti anything else, we’re not trying to downgrade anyone else, hate anyone else, but we’re trying to promote the family, family values, the Lord’s way, just like I’m trying to win on the football field the Lord’s way. No different,” Dungy added.

Obama already has strained relations with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, whether it is rumors about him choosing former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn (D) to be his running mate or campaigning with gospel entertainer Donnie McClurkin in South Carolina early in the primary season.

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

Friday, August 08, 2008

Louisiana 4: Fleming’s Poll Shows Wide Lead in Primary

By Nathan L. Gonzales

John Fleming is ahead in the crowded GOP field in Louisiana’s 4th district, according to a recently-released poll for his campaign.

Fleming, who is a doctor and a businessman, received 43 percent in the survey, conducted July 25-27 by Southern Media & Opinion Research. Businessman Chris Gorman, who works for his family’s trucking company, was second with 17 percent, and former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson was third with 15 percent.

Retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R) threw his support behind Thompson, hoping to propel him to the top of a field of previously unknown candidates. But according to this survey, Fleming is in the driver’s seat with a month to go before the Sept. 6 primary.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Caddo district attorney Paul Carmouche (D), in what is expected to be a very competitive race, particularly in light of recent Democratic success in the special elections in Louisiana’s 6th district and Mississippi’s 1st district. Carmouche is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of “Red to Blue” candidates who are targeted to receive help from the national party.

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

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Obama’s Choices for Veep Are Far Better Than McCain’s Are

By Stuart Rothenberg

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain hasn’t had a bad couple of weeks. First, the presumptive White House nominee turns the conventional wisdom on its head and outpoints Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) on the Democratic hopeful’s trip to Europe. Instead of Obama using his photo opportunities with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convince American voters that he’s ready to run this country, his trip nets him surprisingly little beyond criticism about his self-image.

And then, a McCain TV spot dictates the terms of the political discussion, drawing Obama into a messy confrontation and successfully driving home an important point about Obama’s substance and readiness for the White House. Sure, most Beltway insiders have bashed the ad, but, given the success of the conventional wisdom so far, that’s probably reason enough to figure that McCain has hit the right message.

But the next big decision that each candidate has to make — the veep — is likely to benefit Obama, not McCain, at least if the names most widely circulated as on the “short list” of potential running mates are correct.

Each of the three Democrats mentioned most often — Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) — has very real assets. Any of them would be a good pick for Obama.

Biden would bring maturity and experience. The Delaware Democrat performed well during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, and his expertise on foreign policy issues, and particularly his generally thoughtful approach to Iraq, would be an asset.

Does Biden tend to be long-winded? Sure. Would he be an asset in adding electoral votes to the Democratic ticket? No. Would he make a Democratic ticket made up of two Senators? Obviously. But so what? None of those things matter nearly as much as the assets that he’d bring to the ticket and, yes, the country.

Bayh has served two terms as governor and is in his second Senate term. He comes from what has been a “red state” in presidential elections, and his moderate record as governor earned him praise even from Republicans. Cautious and reliable, Bayh is a team player who could be counted on not to say the wrong thing. He was a vocal supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the primaries and picking him could also help unite the party.

Kaine is the purest play for underscoring Obama’s “change” message, since he would bring a non-Washington dimension that neither Biden nor Bayh would bring. And, of course, he comes from a Southern state that until recently was widely regarded as a Republican bastion and that could end up picking the next president.

Of the three officeholders mentioned for the second spot, however, Kaine has the least experience, which includes service on the Richmond City Council, including two terms as the city’s mayor, a single term as lieutenant governor and his current service as governor. Kaine, in short, doesn’t address any Obama experience deficiency.

The Republicans widely regarded as the most likely to be picked by McCain — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — bring much less to the table than do the three Democrats.

Pawlenty, 47, is a personable two-term governor who barely won re-election two years ago. An early McCain supporter, he is conservative enough to make the GOP base happy. But he likely wouldn’t bring Minnesota over into the Republican electoral vote column, and he certainly wouldn’t change the dynamic of the presidential race.

That leaves Romney, who has received more mention than any other Republican recently as McCain’s likely choice, the Arizona Republican’s obvious contempt for Romney during this year’s GOP primaries notwithstanding.

A former governor who is widely seen as comfortable discussing economic issues and who has survived extensive media scrutiny, Romney passes the political “smell test” on stature and on the ability to step into the nation’s top job if need be.

But like Pawlenty, Romney doesn’t dramatically enhance the appeal of the GOP ticket or change the election map. And some of the reasons given for Romney’s alleged appeal border on the absurd.

A number of observers have suggested that Romney could help McCain in Michigan, a potentially crucial state for the Republicans in November. The logic here, I suppose, is that Romney’s father, George Romney, was governor of the state, and Mitt’s ties there could help deliver the Wolverine State to the McCain column.

The last election that George Romney won in Michigan was in 1966 — 42 years ago. Given that only 12.5 percent of Michigan’s population was age 65 or older in 2006, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate, relatively few Michigan voters still alive could have voted for George Romney.

And if that doesn’t convince you that the Romney name isn’t a huge asset now and would bring very much political value to the Republican ticket in the state, consider that George Romney’s wife, Lenore, ran for Senate in Michigan in 1970, while her husband’s term as governor was expiring, and she drew less than 33 percent of the vote against Sen. Phil Hart (D).

It may well be that McCain doesn’t need a dramatic pick that changes the race’s landscape. After all, if Obama fails to close the deal with voters, the election could fall in McCain’s lap. Still, Democrats have to be upbeat that their party’s vice president choice could help cement Obama’s narrow advantage in the race.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 4, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wal-Mart Sends Mixed Political Signals

By Nathan L. Gonzales

If indeed Wal-Mart is mobilizing its employees to vote against Democrats, it’s sending a mixed message with its political action committee donations.

Wal-Mart is on pace to give more money to House Democrats this cycle than House Republicans for the first time ever. And as Wal-Mart’s contributions reach further and deeper into the Democratic Caucus, it’s becoming more difficult for the company’s critics to demonize the corporate giant.

Through June 30, 54 percent of contributions to House candidates delivered by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PAC for Responsible Government this cycle have gone to Democrats. Last cycle, Wal-Mart contributed 67 percent of its House candidate money to Republicans. And in 2004, Republicans received 80 percent of the contributions.

“Wal-Mart has been behaving like a lot of companies since Democrats gained the majorities,” Center for Responsive Politics Communications Director Massie Ritsch said.

But Wal-Mart isn’t just another company; it’s America’s largest corporation.

Wal-Mart’s PAC was moderately active during the 1998 and 2000 election cycles — dishing out $894,000 over four years — but ramped up its political giving in 2002, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Web site. The corporation gave $1.4 million that cycle, and boosted its contributions to more than $2.7 million in both the 2004 and 2006 cycles.

In an age where taking money is synonymous with doing someone’s bidding, more and more Democrats, including party leadership, are cashing Wal-Mart’s PAC checks. Apparently Wal-Mart is not the devil it once was.

Through June, Wal-Mart’s PAC had contributed to 86 House Democrats this cycle, amounting to just more than one-third of the Caucus. That’s more than the 77 House Democrats Wal-Mart supported in 2006 and the 62 that received PAC money in 2004.

Since 2004, Wal-Mart has given $27,500 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), $22,500 to House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), $12,000 to Chief Deputy Whip Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), and $20,500 to House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (N.Y.).

If Friday’s story in the Wall Street Journal — which claimed that Wal-Mart human resources managers were warning employees that an Obama White House would lead to unionization and ultimately hurt them and the company — gains traction, then it could impact how future Wal-Mart political contributions are received.

“Democrats who have received Wal-Mart money should strongly consider giving it back,” Change to Win Executive Director Chris Chafe said. “Because at its work site, Wal-Mart is telling its employees to vote against Democrats and working families and that’s not something the Democratic Party should be affiliated with.”

“We aren’t done yet,” Wal-Mart Regional Media Director E.R. Anderson explained. “Decisions are still being made as we seek to partner with Members and candidates who are interested in solutions on health care, economic opportunity and the environment.”

Ironically, many of those Members also oppose the company on some important legislation, specifically the Employee Free Choice Act.

“EFCA is a really bad bill,” Anderson said. “But there are so many important issues. We can’t limit our outreach or relationship building.”

If Wal-Mart maintains its giving pace from the past two cycles, it still has approximately $800,000 to dole out, but the contributions would have to be overwhelmingly Republican to bring the PAC back to its traditional pattern.

Fifty-two percent of Wal-Mart’s total candidate giving this cycle has gone to Republican candidates, because the Senate giving is still heavily Republican. It’s still a marked change from 2006, when it was 68 percent Republican and 2004 and 2002 when Republicans received 78 percent of Wal-Mart’s candidate contributions.

“The contributions reflect Wal-Mart scrambling to keep up with the political reality of the day,” said Meghan Scott, a spokeswoman for a group called Wake Up Wal-Mart. Backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers, Wake Up Wal-Mart is one of two high-profile groups organized in 2005 to force Wal-Mart to change its business practices.

Through a well-orchestrated public relations campaign and political partnerships, Wal-Mart is trying to blur the partisan lines.

In recent months, Wal-Mart has touted its $4 price tag for certain prescription drugs and efforts to become more environmentally friendly (including becoming the largest seller of more efficient light bulbs). The company also unveiled a new, softer logo earlier this summer, after 16 years of the old one.

In February 2007, Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer H. Lee Scott Jr. and Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern jointly called for universal health care coverage by 2012. Even though they disagree on the details, the moment was symbolic.

“As the company makes changes, it becomes harder to be critical,” Wal-Mart Watch Executive Director David Nassar told the New York Times in June. “Because our critique has to become more nuanced.”

During the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) attacked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) during a debate for previously serving on Wal-Mart’s board. Then in June, Obama hired a known Wal-Mart defender, Jason Furman, to be his economic policy director despite plenty of criticism from labor unions. The anti-Wal-Mart attack line also seems to have fallen by the wayside as Obama tries to appeal to red-state voters, many of whom consider Wal-Mart to be a part of their everyday lives.

In analyzing Wal-Mart’s contributions, a couple of distinct Democratic groups stand out.

Wal-Mart has a formal relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus, including the Strive for Excellence Scholarship Program and Emerging Leaders internship program, and has a history of hiring high- profile African-American lobbyists.

In 2004, Wal-Mart’s PAC contributed $69,500 to the CBC, its members and its members’ PACs. Two years later, the PAC’s total CBC contributions reached $108,050. This cycle, it’s already reached $100,500, with more money left to be handed out.

The Blue Dogs PAC, its members and their PACs have cashed $203,500 worth of Wal-Mart PAC checks this cycle, exceeding their 2006 total ($185,000) with four months left. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have received $64,500 in Wal-Mart money this cycle, matching their 2006 take.

In a few cases, it is clear that Wal-Mart values incumbency rather than a political party. For example, in Texas’ 23rd district, Wal-Mart gave then-Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) contributions in 2004 ($7,500) and 2006 ($15,000), but this cycle gave $10,000 to the man who defeated him, Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

In Florida’s 22nd district, then-Rep. Clay Shaw (R) received Wal-Mart PAC money in 2004 ($5,000) and 2006 ($10,000), but the company gave $10,000 this cycle to Rep. Ron Klein (D), who defeated Wal-Mart’s candidate in 2006. Similar giving patterns can be seen in Pennsylvania’s 4th district, Indiana’s 2nd, Georgia’s 12th, North Carolina’s 11th and Indiana’s 9th.

In New York’s 24th district, Wal-Mart’s PAC contributed $5,000 for then-Rep. Sherwood Boehlert’s 2004 re-election and $10,000 to Ray Meier, the Republican who ran unsuccessfully to replace him in 2006. But this cycle, Wal-Mart has maxed out ($10,000) to Rep. Michael Arcuri (D), whom it once opposed.

Wal-Mart’s Senate spending is traditionally smaller, and very Republican. Since 1998, Wal-Mart has contributed at least 69 percent of its Senate money to Republicans. That trend continues this cycle with Republicans receiving 83 percent of the PAC’s Senate candidate contributions through June 30. But even still, more than a third of the current Democratic Senators have taken money from Wal-Mart over the last three cycles.

Similar to the House races, Wal-Mart appeared to be hedging its bets in a few states. In 2004, Wal-Mart contributed $6,000 to then-incumbent Sen. Tom Daschle (D) and $4,500 to former Rep. John Thune (R) in their South Dakota battle. Wal-Mart also contributed to both the Republican and Democratic Senate candidates in Colorado, Georgia and Louisiana that cycle. In the Tennessee open seat race in 2006, Wal-Mart gave $10,000 each to Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R).

Wal-Mart is still a Republican company at the grass roots. When contributions from individual employees and their families are added to the PAC contributions, Wal-Mart’s total giving this cycle shifts to about 56 percent Republican, according to CRP. Less than 1 percent of the contributions to Wal-Mart’s PAC comes from donations over $200. In comparison, 4.5 percent of Target’s PAC (Target Citizens Political Forum) money and 74 percent of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. PAC receipts come from donations over $200.

Wal-Mart has also consistently given to all three Republican campaign committees over the last three cycles, including $30,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as well as $15,000 to the Republican National Committee.

In 2004, Wal-Mart gave $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It has never contributed to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but it did give $2,500 last cycle to then-DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel’s (Ill.) PAC.

“We look forward to working with the committees — both parties, both houses — and we will continue to work with elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to bring about solutions for all Americans,” Wal-Mart’s Anderson said.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on August 4, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will Third-Party Candidates Make the Difference in Top Races?

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Every cycle there is buzz about third-party candidates drawing votes from one candidate and throwing the election to another. This cycle is no different. But not all third-party candidacies are equal.

In Ohio’s 15th district, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) are battling for the open seat vacated by Rep. Deborah Pryce (R). Retired state legislative and budget analyst Don Elijah Eckhart is running as an Independent, and is attracting some attention after the Ohio Right to Life endorsed his candidacy.

The situation isn’t a complete surprise, since Eckhart ran for the state Senate four years ago as an Independent against Stivers. Eckhart received the Ohio Right to Life nod in that race too and received 14,509 votes (9 percent), while Stivers cruised to re-election, 58 percent to 34 percent.

Eckhart may draw a few percentage points in GOP-heavy Union and Madison counties, but they comprise only 13 percent of the 15th Congressional district, which is dominated by Franklin County.

“Don knows that big money leads to favoritism and corruption,” according to his Web site. “He is self-funding this campaign to set an example.” On June 30, Eckhart had $370 on hand, after giving his campaign $5,228.40 and raising a couple of hundred dollars from individuals.

Eckhart is “reaching out to Christian voters via ads on Christian radio,” according to a story in Tuesday’s Columbus Dispatch, and “making contact” with 12 churches in Union County. According to his Federal Election Commission filing, Eckhart spent a little more than $2,000 on radio ads through June 30, with the much of the rest of the money going for the Web site and parade candy.

If the margin in this district is 1,062 votes again, as it was in 2006 when Pryce edged Kilroy, then Eckhart could make a difference. But don’t expect him to make a big splash.

In New Jersey, Democrats believe Bridgewater Councilman Michael Hsing’s Independent candidacy will aid state Assemblywoman Linda Stender’s (D) effort in GOP Rep. Mike Ferguson’s open 7th district.

Stender lost narrowly to Ferguson in 2006 and faces state Sen. Leonard Lance (R). Lance survived a crowded and competitive primary on June 3 and finished with only $81,000 in the bank on June 30 after spending more than $400,000. While Lance regrouped, Stender was sitting on $1.2 million and is already airing television ads.

Hsing had $92,000 in the bank on June 30. The registered Republican, who was born and raised in Taiwan, told the local media that he raised most of his $114,000 from the minority community outside the district. He’s only spent $22,000 thus far, since he dropped out of the Republican race early on, claiming that the system was “rigged.”

Again, if the race is extremely close, anything or anyone can be the difference maker. But there is little evidence that Hsing has strong ties within the Republican Party or will have the money to raise his profile in a very expensive Congressional district.

In Michigan’s 9th district, Jack Kevorkian is running as an Independent. Known as “Dr. Death,” Kevorkian announced his candidacy in March and recently filed enough valid signatures to be on the November ballot.

The 80-year-old physician was released from prison in June 2007 after serving eight years for second-degree murder for helping a man die in 1998. Kevorkian is also terminally ill with Hepatitis C.

Kevorkian hasn’t filed with the FEC, meaning he hasn’t raised or spent more than $5,000, but he could still be a factor in the race. According to private polling from the middle of June, Kevorkian is very well known and unpopular, but drawing a significant percentage of the vote.

He’s also drawing a disproportionate number of Democrats, hurting former state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters’ (D) effort to oust Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R). On July 16, the Congressman showed almost $1.9 million on hand to almost $1.1 million for Peters.

Democrat Michael Jackson’s Independent candidacy in Louisiana’s 6th district could have the greatest electoral impact. The African-American state Representative drew 27 percent against fellow state Rep. Don Cazayoux (and three other Democrats) in the March 8 special primary and 43 percent against Cazayoux in the April 5 runoff.

Cazayoux went on to win the special general election, but his narrow 49 percent to 46 percent margin over a flawed Republican candidate shows that the new Congressman doesn’t have much room for error in a district that is approximately one-third black. Cazayoux faces a more credible Republican challenger this fall.

Even though Jackson is not expected to raise much money, he clearly has an electoral base in the district and could make the difference in the race.

This item first appeared on on July 30, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, August 04, 2008

DCCC Money Could Tip the Balance in Races at the Wire

By Stuart Rothenberg

With House Republicans still reeling over the party’s brand problems, President Bush’s unpopularity and the Democrats’ advantage on every domestic issue, money remains a major headache for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

At the end of June, the NRCC had $8.4 million in the bank, compared with $56.6 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The NRCC has trailed the DCCC in fundraising this cycle — taking in $80.3 million to the DCCC’s $109 million — but also has spent far more money than the Democratic committee: $72 million for the NRCC to $55 million for the DCCC.

Critics of the Republicans say that the NRCC spent far too much money early in the cycle on phone-bank fundraising, which the campaign committee relied on during good times but which has failed to bring in money after the 2006 elections. In addition, the NRCC outspent the DCCC in special elections this cycle, had unusual auditing expenses and had a larger debt to eliminate.

In any case, the NRCC’s current disadvantage is far worse than it was two years ago. At the end of June 2006, the DCCC had a small $5.5 million advantage — $32 million on hand for the DCCC to $26.5 million for the NRCC. This June, the DCCC’s advantage is more than $42 million.

And the DCCC’s advantage is likely to grow as this cycle progresses.

Last cycle, from July 1 to Oct. 18 (the Federal Election Commission’s pre-general-election report), the NRCC raised $46.57 million, about $15 million more than the DCCC raised over that time. This cycle, with Democrats headed for another good election and certain to make considerable gains to their House majority, it’s likely that the DCCC will reverse those numbers, outraising the NRCC between now and mid-October.

As a result of the DCCC’s financial advantage, Democratic strategists will have plenty of options after Labor Day about where to spend money.

Two years ago this week, in this newspaper, staff writer Lauren W. Whittington wrote that the DCCC had reserved TV time “in markets covering as many as two dozen targeted districts at an estimated cost of $30 million.” This cycle, the DCCC has already reserved $53 million in air time in 51 Congressional districts, a significant increase over two years ago.

But that’s just the first two rounds of the DCCC’s media buy. Additional spending on races is likely.

Republican insiders expect that the NRCC will have something in the order of $28 million or $29 million to spend in races, which includes the committee going into debt to the tune of about $8 million. That would be a manageable debt for House Republicans, who came out of the 2006 election with a debt exceeding $18 million.

Two years ago, the NRCC spent more than $35 million on its top 12 races (and a stunning $21.1 million on its top half-dozen contests), a level of spending that Republicans are not likely to reach for all races this time.

House Democrats have been saying that their campaign committee spent about $70 million in 47 races last cycle. It is difficult to believe that the DCCC won’t be able to exceed that figure this time, especially since the committee had much more money in the bank on June 30 this year than it did two years ago.

Democratic operatives repeatedly warn that they expect “outside” groups (that is, 527s) to supplement the NRCC’s spending, offsetting some of the advantage that the DCCC now holds over the NRCC.

While strategists at Freedom’s Watch, one of the groups expected to spend money to help elect House Republicans, modestly warn that the group hasn’t yet raised the money to be a factor, it seems likely that some substantial nonparty committee spending will supplement the NRCC’s spending, though not to the extent that it would erase the DCCC’s advantage.

But DCCC spending will also be supplemented by party allies. For example, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is already advertising against Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.).

The DCCC’s big financial advantage could well turn out to be a difference-maker in at least a handful of Congressional races, maybe more. Party strategists can afford to invest in some second- and even third-tier contests to see whether they might steal one from the GOP, while the NRCC will have to be smarter in making their more limited resources go further.

Still, both party committees will have interesting decisions to make. How many races will the NRCC play in? And will the DCCC be a major player in expensive media markets, including Chicago and New York, or try to make a difference in more difficult, but less expensive, races in places such as Idaho and Wyoming?

Probably the biggest decision of all is likely to rest with the DCCC. Given the party’s opportunities and the unusually favorable atmospherics, will the committee roll the dice and go heavily into debt, even beyond the $11 million it is expected to, in order to go for the GOP’s jugular?

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 31, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Kentucky Senate: Lunsford Parts Ways with Media Consultant

With less than 100 days remaining until Election Day, Democrat Bruce Lunsford has parted ways with his media consultants, Struble Eichenbaum.

Lunsford, a wealthy businessman who is expected to invest millions of dollars of his own money into the campaign, was a late entry into the race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). He won a competitive Democratic primary on May 20 and immediately turned his sights on McConnell in what is expected to be a competitive but difficult challenge to the long time Republican lawmaker.

Struble Eichenbaum was part of the consulting team that helped Steve Beshear (D) knock off incumbent Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) in last year’s Kentucky gubernatorial race. Lunsford lost to Beshear in the primary, and was subsequently recruited to run against McConnell, in large part because of his personal wealth.

Fred Yang of Garin Hart Yang worked for Beshear, and against Lunsford, in 2007, but remains part of Lunsford’s Senate team.

Republicans remain extremely confident about McConnell’s chances, privately noting that they have plenty of ammunition against Lunsford.

Hey, Big Spender: Incumbents’ Strategy Differs

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In a year when many GOP incumbents are considered vulnerable, there appear to be two classes of Republicans emerging when it comes to campaign cash: those who spent money early and forfeited their cash advantage and those who maintain their advantage by either saving their money or raising enough to compensate for early spending.

Alaska Rep. Don Young (R) has only a narrow cash-on-hand advantage over the likely Democratic nominee, former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, after blowing through more than $2.3 million through June 30. The bulk of Young’s spending has been on attorneys’ fees, and the Congressman is in serious jeopardy of losing renomination in the Aug. 26 GOP primary.

In Washington’s 8th district, Rep. Dave Reichert (R) spent $805,000 through June 30 and now has less cash on hand than his opponent, Darcy Burner (D). Reichert’s high-overhead fundraiser with President Bush and an expensive fundraising adviser were key factors. Through June 30, Burner had more cash on hand, $1.2 million to $916,000.

Florida Rep. Tom Feeney (R) has met his fundraising match in former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D). The Congressman raised $1.4 million through June 30, compared to $1.1 million for his Democratic opponent. But because Feeney, the former Speaker of the Florida House, spent $663,000 already, he trailed in cash on hand, $936,000 to $795,000.

Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R) is essentially even in cash on hand with former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) after spending heavily on early television ads.

Other GOP incumbents, such as Michigan Rep. Joe Knollenberg ($822,000), Nevada Rep. Jon Porter ($900,000), Pennsylvania Rep. Phil English ($745,000), and Virginia Rep. Thelma Drake ($661,000), have also spent heavily early and led their opponents in available funds.

A number of Republicans are perennial Democratic targets and spent money early in their effort to solidify their standing. They’ve also left themselves in a good cash-on-hand situation, despite their spending, heading into the home stretch.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) spent $693,000 through June 30, running a full campaign operation for months, but had almost $1.7 million in the bank. His opponent, Jim Himes (D), had more than $1.4 million. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) spent $1.2 million, and still had almost the same amount on hand, and four times that of his opponent, Larry Kissell (D).

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) faces a tough re-election race in the heart of Barack Obama country. The GOP Congressman spent almost $1.1 million through June 30, but had more than $2.8 million on hand, the second most cash on hand for a Republican in the House, behind only Ron Paul (Texas), the erstwhile presidential contender. Kirk faces a rematch with 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Seals ($1.2 million cash on hand) this fall.

Freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) also sits in a competitive, suburban Chicago district, but he does not appear to have a tough Democratic challenger. Roskam spent $684,000 through June 30. Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) also spent a lot of money early, to the tune of $1.1 million. Despite paying a $120,000 Federal Election Commission fine, the Congressman still had almost a 3-1 cash advantage over his opponent.

And in Florida’s 13th district, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) still maintains an almost 3-1 cash advantage, even after spending nearly $1.4 million through June 30.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) spent $947,000 on her race through June 30. But she still had an astounding $2.8 million in the bank, and appears to be slipping further down the list of GOP opportunities.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) has already spent $750,000 on his re-election in California’s 11th district. But fortunately for him, his GOP opponent Dean Andal has disappointed as a fundraiser, and McNerney led in cash on hand, $1.4 million to $663,000.

Two other freshman Democrats have spent a considerable amount of money, but still don’t know their GOP opponents. Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney spent $1.35 million through June 30 on his re-election and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota spent $841,000.

In Illinois’s 8th district, Rep. Melissa Bean (D) spent almost $1.2 million through June 30, but she still had more than $1.5 in the bank and the self-funding threat of her challenger, Steve Greenberg (R), has yet to materialize.

This item first appeared on on July 29, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Illinois 6: Roskam’s Poll Shows Him in Strong Position

Freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (R) is in strong position for the fall, despite trying to win reelection in Sen. Barack Obama’s (D) back yard, according to a poll just released by his campaign.

According to a July 20-22 survey by Public Opinion Strategies for the congressman’s campaign, Roskam leads Democrat Jill Morgenthaler 59 percent to 29 percent in a general election match up. Roskam also appears to be well-liked, enjoying 59 percent favorable to 20 percent unfavorable personal ratings in the survey.

Obama is expected to do very well in the 6th District at the top of the ticket, and is winning it by 8 points, 49 percent to 41 percent, over Sen. John McCain (R). In 2004, President Bush won the district with 53 percent over Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Last cycle, Roskam won the open seat 51 percent to 49 percent over Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, in one of the most competitive and most expensive House races in the country. Roskam was an obvious target this cycle because of the closeness of his 2006 race. But Morgenthaler’s candidacy has disappointed. She finished June with $278,000 in the bank, compared to $1.2 million for Roskam.

Top Spending House Candidates Meet Mixed Fate

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Spending the most money in a race doesn’t guarantee you a seat in Congress.

In California’s 4th district, former Rep. Doug Ose (R) spent $6.9 million, making him the top spending House candidate this cycle to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Ose lost in the June Republican primary, derailing his comeback bid.

GOP businessman Jim Oberweis, who lost the special election in Illinois’ 14th district, spent more than $4.1 million through June 30. He is the GOP nominee once again in the fall general election, but is the underdog.

Businessman Dan Meuser lost the GOP primary in Pennsylvania’s 10th district after spending almost $3.5 million.

Internet entrepreneur Jared Polis will try to buck the trend on Aug. 12, when he faces a competitive three-way Democratic primary in Colorado’s 2nd district. He spent almost $4 million through June 30, with weeks left to spend more of his personal money.

Businessman and scientist Bill Foster (D) has spent almost $3.5 million this cycle, winning, and trying to hold, the Illinois 14th district seat. Another special election winner, Niki Tsongas (D), spent almost $3 million through June 30 in Massachusetts’ 5th district. Both candidates are heavy favorites in November.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spent $2.6 million, and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who spent $2.5 million, also made the top 10 list, but their seats aren’t in jeopardy either. Their money is doled out primarily to other candidates instead of their own re-election races.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young is in the political fight of his life and has to survive in both the primary and general elections. Young has already spent more than $2.3 million this cycle, through June 30, although a chunk of that has gone to legal fees and not necessarily his re-election.

The most curious House candidate to crack the top 10 is physician Deborah Honeycutt (R) in Georgia’s 13th district. She ran unopposed in the primary, but spent more than $2.4 million through June 25 in her long-shot race against Rep. David Scott (D).

Honeycutt raised more than $1.3 million last cycle, when she lost to Scott 69 percent to 31 percent. After raising money from direct mail targeted at values voters, less than 10 percent of her campaign money was spent on media and campaign materials, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Web site.

This item first appeared on on July 28, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.