Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Print Edition: Georgia Senate & Louisiana 4

The November 24, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as quarterly House and Senate ratings, and coverage of the gubernatorial races nationwide. To subscribe, simply click on the Google checkout button on the website or send a check.

Here is a brief preview of this edition:

Georgia Senate: Still On My Mind

By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s not over yet. The 2008 election continues with a runoff election in Georgia. And Democrats must defeat Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) to have any chance of reaching the symbolic 60 seats in the Senate. But thanks to the ongoing recount in the Minnesota Senate race, the December 2 vote in the Peach State may not be the final word. Get the whole story in the print edition.

Louisiana 4: Fight to the Finish
By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s a good thing that Louisiana voters are used to going to the polls in December. Even though the state junked the jungle primary for more traditional primaries, Hurricane Gustav pushed the races back a month. Now, voters will go to the polls in Northwest Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District on December 6.

It’s yet another GOP open seat where Republicans are in serious jeopardy. And both parties are trying to maintain focus after an election where Democrats gained at least another 21 seats in the House. Get the whole story in the print edition.

New York Senate: GOP Would Have to Defy History to Take Seat

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While Republicans might be dreaming of picking off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) Senate seat if she resigns to become the next secretary of State, history shows the odds of that happening are not on their side.

If Clinton steps down from the Senate, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor, and a special election would be held in 2010 for the remaining two years of her term.

But Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010, and historically, the same party wins both of a state’s Senate seats when they are up for election simultaneously.

Over the past 60 years, there have been 25 times when both Senate seats in one state were up for election. In 22 of those instances (88 percent of the time), one party won both seats.

The most recent example was this year, when Wyoming and Mississippi held elections for both of their Senate seats.

In Mississippi, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) ran virtually even in polling with appointed-Sen. Roger Wicker (R) for most of the year, but fell well short on Election Day, garnering 45 percent to Wicker’s 55 percent. Sen. Thad Cochran (R) was not targeted and won re-election easily with 62 percent.

And in Wyoming, Sen. Mike Enzi (R) and Sen. John Barrasso (R), who was appointed in 2007 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), were each elected with over 70 percent of the vote.

Further analysis of the three instances where the two Senate races were won by candidates from different parties show an even tougher road for Empire State Republicans. That’s if they are even able to convince a big-name challenger to run.

In two of the three instances, the split results maintained the partisan status quo before the election.

In Idaho in 1962, Democratic Sen. Frank Church won re-election while appointed Sen. Len Jordan’s (R) victory retained the Republican seat. And in South Carolina in 1966, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond won re-election, just as Democrat Fritz Hollings kept a Democratic-held seat after defeating an appointed Senator in the primary.

In the final case, in New Hampshire in 1962, Sen. Norris Cotton (R) won re-election, while his party lost the state’s other Senate seat. But the Senator who had been appointed to fill that vacancy and who ran to fill the rest of the unexpired term, Maurice Murphy Jr. (R), lost in the primary, and Thomas McIntyre (D) defeated Rep. Perkins Bass (R) in the general election. (Bass is the father of former Rep. Charlie Bass, who lost re-election in 2006 in New Hampshire’s 2nd district.)

So if Republicans are able to win in New York, it will be the first time in almost five decades that an appointed Senator has lost election in the same cycle that his party won the state’s other Senate seat.

This story
first appeared on RollCall.com on November 20, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another Cycle, Another Bunch of My Misjudgments

By Stuart Rothenberg

Like everyone who makes a living in the reporting and handicapping business, I made my share of mistakes this election cycle.

While I didn’t jump on the “McCain is toast” bandwagon during the summer of 2007, I didn’t really expect him to come back to win the Republican presidential nomination. And while I never dismissed Barack Obama’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination, I certainly didn’t expect it until well into the Democratic nominating process.

Who thought that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would lose Iowa but win New Hampshire? And who in their right mind really thought that McCain would pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate? Don’t look at me.

Anyway, I thought I’d point out some of my dumber assessments and evaluations for those of you who don’t already think that I’m totally clueless about politics. (This, obviously, excludes many bloggers, who already think that I can’t find my own navel.)

I think my biggest blunder was believing (and writing) that McCain should pick someone such as Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) for his running mate.

After watching what the Palin selection did to the GOP convention and to the entire Republican Party, I think a divisive pick, whether a pro-abortion-rights Republican or a Democrat with a liberal record on cultural issues and the environment, would have been a giant mistake.

Yes, selecting Lieberman or Ridge would have made a statement about his maverick or bipartisan approach (and that would have been a plus), but it would have created a chaotic Republican convention during which conservatives would have been in full revolt.

The GOP would have been in disarray for weeks, and McCain’s numbers, I now believe, would have tanked during that period. Lieberman or Ridge might have been more of an asset during the nation’s financial meltdown in late September and early October, but conservative Republicans would have been so turned off by a Lieberman or Ridge VP selection that I’m not sure they ever would have warmed to McCain — or voted for him, which they did.

Next, while I always thought that Obama could win Colorado and Virginia, I didn’t treat North Carolina and Indiana as in play until much too late. It’s easy to get locked into an assessment, and I did in this case.

Turning to the Congressional elections, I made two very different errors at different points in the cycle.

Initially, I assumed that voter sentiment would shift after the 2006 cycle, producing a more “normal” electorate and allowing Republicans to get out from under the “time for a change” sentiment that smothered them during the midterms. It never happened.

The public’s mood soured even worse after 2006, and the book never really closed on the 2006 election cycle until this month’s elections were over.

Then, as the 2008 balloting approached, I obviously underestimated some of the Republicans’ ability to swim against the tide. I expected Democratic House gains to be in the 27-33 range, at least a few seats higher than they are likely to net.

In individual contests throughout the cycle, I was too late in seeing the wins by Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Walt Minnick (D- Idaho), as well as Democrat Travis Childers’ victory in the special election in Mississippi’s 1st district.

I hadn’t met either of the candidates in the Mississippi special, so I mistakenly assumed that the district’s Republican bent would be enough to elect Greg Davis. My job is to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.

I also totally messed up when I repeatedly warned readers that I expected a handful of GOP seats to fall that I had not even rated as vulnerable. This happened in 2006, when I failed to note that then-Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) could go down to defeat. This time, since the Democratic wave was smaller than I expected, not a single true long-shot won. I remain surprised by that.

My single biggest rating mistake was rating Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska’s at-large House seat as “Democrat Favored.” I expected Young, who received his share of bad press over the past couple of years and is under federal investigation, to be defeated by challenger Ethan Berkowitz (D). I was wrong. Young won, and he did so by more than a razor-thin margin.

Finally, I wrote that the Louisiana Senate race would be a tossup all the way until Election Day, even asserting it was “likely to be decided by a point or two.” It wasn’t. In fact, my own newsletter moved the race from “Toss-Up” to “Narrow Advantage” for Mary Landrieu on Sept. 26. Landrieu ended up winning 52.1 percent to 45.7 percent, a 6-point win. Landrieu’s 52 percent showing was in line with her earlier wins (50 percent in 1996 and 52 percent in 2002), but the margin was not all that close.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 20, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2010 Senate Playing Field Likely to Grow

By Nathan L. Gonzales

After losing at least a dozen Senate seats over the last two election cycles, Republicans start the 2010 cycle on the defensive once again.

Republicans, and incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), will defend at least 19 seats this upcoming cycle compared with the Democrats’ 15 seats. President-elect Barack Obama carried 19 of the 34 states where there are seats up in this Senate class.

But the 2010 Senate playing field will expand to include Delaware and could include many more depending on Cabinet appointments, resignations and Members’ health.

In 2008, Republicans started the cycle defending 21 seats to the Democrats’ 12. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s (R) resignation and Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas’ (R) death brought two more GOP seats into the mix, for a total of 35 Senate seats up for election earlier this month.

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D) will soon resign his seat in Delaware, the Democratic governor will appoint his successor and a special election will be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of his term. That would bring the 2010 totals to 16 Democratic seats up and 35 seats up overall.

Obama already resigned his Illinois Senate seat, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will choose his successor. But the president-elect’s seat was already scheduled to be up for re-election in 2010.

Obama may appoint Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) to be his secretary of State, and her New York Senate seat is not scheduled to be up until 2012. If she resigns, Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor and a special election would be held in 2010 to fill the remainder of her term. That would bring the Democrats’ total to 17 seats and an overall total of 36 seats.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is considering a run for governor in 2010 and may eventually resign her seat (which is not up until 2012) along the way. That would bump up the Republican defense to 20 seats, with 37 seats up overall.

Thirty-six Senate seats were up in 1950 and 1962. Democrats defended 23 seats in 1950 and suffered a net loss of five seats to the Republicans. In 1992, Democrats defended 21 seats and there was no net change.

In 1954, Democrats defended 22 of the 38 seats up for election and gained two seats.

And in 1962, a whopping 39 seats were up for election. Democrats were defending 21 of them and gained four.

That was the most Senate seats up in a cycle in the last 60 years, and if things play out, 2010 could equal or exceed that number.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) trails Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) in the Alaska Senate race. But if Stevens were to win, he would likely be expelled, and a special election would immediately be held for the next two years. But another election would be held in 2010 for the remaining four years. So that’s another race that could be added to the 2010 docket. [Update- Stevens lost, so Begich will serve a full six-year term.]

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and may resign her seat in order to run. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010. That could make 39 total seats up.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) was just re-elected easily but is mentioned as a potential secretary of State option. But if he gets the nod, that means Clinton didn’t get it, so it wouldn’t affect the math of the cycle. Fellow Bay State Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) is not up for re-election until 2012, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year.

And in West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) isn’t up again until 2012, but he turns 91 on Thursday and recently stepped down as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Any way you slice it, 2010 could be a very expensive cycle for the Senate campaign committees, with races in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and potentially two seats up in New York and California.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Even in a Wave, Some Get Just What They Deserve

By Stuart Rothenberg

It isn’t easy being a candidate for Congress. It takes an unnatural amount of time and effort to put together a winning campaign, and even then, circumstances can conspire against a candidate who does everything right.

But being a confident candidate, even one with a credible campaign, doesn’t justify absurd claims and press releases. Some campaigns simply are in denial when it comes to what is important or what is possible, and it is those campaigns that drive me crazy.

Wealthy Democrat Jim Harlan was convinced he could beat Republican Rep. Steve Scalise in Louisiana’s 1st district, even though the district is the state’s most educated, most affluent and most Republican. George W. Bush drew a stunning 71 percent in the district in 2004, an even stronger showing than he had in Wyoming.

Harlan put more than $1.2 million from his own pocket into the race, and his campaign directed some of the most ridiculous attacks of the cycle against his opponent. For example, the Harlan campaign criticized Scalise for misleading voters by claiming he had a 100 percent voting record, even though he did have a perfect attendance record. “Scalise actually missed 1,453 votes in the 110th Congress before taking the seat in May,” charged a bizarre Harlan press release.

In the end, while Harlan’s campaign bragged about being added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program and touted a late September Kitchens Group poll showing Scalise with an 11-point lead, the Democratic challenger drew an embarrassing 34 percent of the vote, losing by 32 points. He never had a chance, but his campaign acted as if a win was likely.

Then there was Steve Greenberg, a Chicago- area Republican who promised that he would beat moderate Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in Illinois’ 8th district. Greenberg got plenty of ink for being a one-time professional hockey player, and his family’s wealth was supposed to assure that he’d batter Bean with enough TV spots to win in the Republican-leaning suburban district. He was one of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s early hot recruits.

But if Greenberg ran a quality campaign, it must have been in a parallel universe where everything is opposite from this one. While Bean raised $3 million for her re-election effort, Greenberg didn’t even reach $1 million, and he put only $156,000 of his own money into a race that quickly turned from potentially competitive to a yawner.

Unlike Greenberg, New Jersey Democrat Dennis Shulman didn’t give up. Shulman, a blind rabbi and psychologist, acted as if articles about him and his candidacy in Time magazine and the New Yorker, as well as an endorsement from the mayor of New York City, made him a celebrity and a serious threat to incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Garrett. They didn’t. Most people in his district don’t read those magazines or care what Michael Bloomberg thinks.

Garrett’s district strongly leans Republican, and Bush won it with 57 percent in 2004, running more than 11 points ahead of his statewide total. Credible Republican statewide candidates always carry the district even if they are getting pounded statewide.

Despite all the self-generated hype and over-the-top campaign rhetoric, Shulman drew 42 percent against Garrett — almost 2 points worse than Paul Aronsohn (D) did two years earlier and only 1,300 votes more than 2004 Democratic nominee Anne Wolfe did.

Then there is Republican John Stone, a conservative activist and former Congressional staffer, who got slightly more than one-third of the vote in Georgia’s 12th district and blamed his loss to incumbent Rep. John Barrow (D) on the NRCC.

Stone’s own fundraising stunk, and he had no chance in the current environment to win in a 45 percent African-American district that was carried by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) four years ago. But that didn’t stop him from trying to avoid responsibility for his own failure.

The case of Indiana hopeful Mike Montagano (D) is in a class all by itself. Like a few other allegedly serious hopefuls I’ve met over the years, he was short on credentials and maturity. Even worse, he either couldn’t or wouldn’t take positions on issues.

Montagano, who received considerable financial help from his father, clearly was in over his head in this race, and his ability to win 40 percent of the vote says something about incumbent Rep. Mark Souder’s limited appeal and district voters’ willingness to vote for any Democrat on the ballot.

Finally, we have the case of Nick Leibham (D), a young, appealing challenger to incumbent Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) in a district that seems to have a ceiling for Democrats in competitive federal races that is below 50 percent, no matter the circumstances.

Leibham assured us that he was the guy to knock off Bilbray, even though Kerry drew 44 percent in the district and Francine Busby drew 45 percent and 43 percent in the ’06 special and ’06 general election, respectively.

The special election should have been a particularly good opportunity for Democrats in the district, since the seat was left open following Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham’s resignation, plea bargain and incarceration. But after a spirited campaign against a Republican who had been a lobbyist and in an environment when Republicans around the country were in terror, Bilbray beat Busby by 7,200 votes (4.6 points).

This year, Leibham drew 45 percent against Bilbray, just what Busby did in that special.

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Arizona Senate: History Points to Another Term for McCain, if He Wants It

By Nathan L. Gonzales

If history is a guide, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is well-positioned for another six years in the Senate, should he choose to run for re-election in 2010.

Democrats would love for outgoing Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) to run for McCain’s seat, but it’s unclear whether President-elect Obama will tap her to be a part of his administration. McCain won Arizona 54 percent to 45 percent against Obama last week.

Frankly, there isn’t a ton of historical precedence, but since the direct election of Senators began, both sitting Senators who lost their presidential bids went on to win another term.

After losing the 2004 presidential race, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) returned to the Senate and won re-election last week, 66 percent to 31 percent.

South Dakota Sen. George McGovern (D) lost the 1972 presidential race and won re-election two years later with 53 percent. McGovern was subsequently swept out in 1980, defeated by then-Rep. James Abdnor (R), while Republicans netted 12 Senate seats nationwide.

Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) was up for re-election in 1964, but he ran for president instead and lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson.

And in 1996, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) resigned his seat in June in order to focus on his ultimately unsuccessful presidential race.

This story
first appeared on RollCall.com on November 12, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Illinois 5: Crowd of Candidates to Follow Emanuel’s Vacancy

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Chicago Democrats probably thought they wouldn’t see another Congressional vacancy for decades. But now that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is stepping off the House leadership ladder to become White House chief of staff, a growing number of prospective candidates are sizing up a shot at his 5th district seat.

Deborah Mell (D) was just elected to the Illinois state House, and has yet to be sworn in, but she is likely to run for Congress. Mell, who is openly lesbian, is the daughter of powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell (D) and is the sister-in-law of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

She’ll have plenty of competition for the seat, where turnout for a special election in early 2009 is expected to be low, and local politics could reign supreme. Once Emanuel’s resignation is official (which is not likely to take place until January), Blagojevich must set the primary and general election dates to be held within 120 days.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be the overwhelming favorite in the special general election in a Northwest Chicago district where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received 67 percent in 2004, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) presumably did even better last week.

Former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath (D) challenged the unpopular Blagojevich in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. The governor won with more than 70 percent, but Eisendrath is a potential Congressional candidate. Another vocal Blagojevich critic, attorney and state Rep. John Fritchey, could run as well.

Hyatt Hotel heir J.B. Pritzker is another potential Democratic candidate. He backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Democratic presidential primary, was ranked No. 149 on Forbes’ 2007 list of richest Americans, and ran for Congress in 1998, when he finished third with 21 percent in the 9th district race, won by Jan Schakowsky (D). His sister, Penny Pritzker, is one of Obama’s big financial supporters.

A host of local politicians could look to make the jump to Congress as well.

Democratic Aldermen Gene Schulter, Tom Allen, Marge Laurino, Pat O’Connor, Manny Flores and Tom Tunney are all mentioned. Tunney, a restaurateur, is the only openly gay member of the Chicago City Council. Flores briefly ran at the beginning of the 2008 cycle for the adjacent seat held by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) when it appeared as if the Congressman was retiring. But he quickly deferred when Gutierrez announced he was seeking another term.

Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D) is another potential candidate. He is thought to be close to Emanuel and Obama chief strategist David Axelrod, but Claypool might also be aiming for county board president in 2010.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, former state Representative and 2002 Congressional candidate Nancy Kaszak, and former Clinton White House aide and 2002 candidate Peter Dagher are possibilities as well. Kaszak took 38 percent against Blagojevich back in 1996 in the 5th district Democratic primary, and was the runner-up to Emanuel in 2002.

Attorney Michelle Smith, former Emanuel chief of staff John Borovicka, and businessman Cary Capparelli could be in the mix, too. Capparelli is the son of former state Rep. Ralph Capparelli.

With a large number of credible candidates and no runoff provision under state law, the next Member of Congress in Illinois’ 5th could come with 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote, according to Chicago attorney and political columnist Russ Stewart.

In 2002, Emanuel won an eight-candidate primary with just over 50 percent of the vote. Kaszak was second with 39 percent. Dagher finished third with 5 percent while five other candidates failed to crack 2 percent.

This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Illinois Senate: Jackson Pushes Puzzling Poll

By Nathan L. Gonzales

There is nothing wrong with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) positioning himself for President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, which Obama plans to relinquish on Sunday. But his new poll portraying him as the frontrunner to replace Obama is worthless.

The Zogby International poll of 802 likely Illinois voters, conducted Nov. 5-6, showed Jackson leading a field of “candidates” with 21 percent. One media outlet subsequently described Jackson as the “statewide favorite to fill the seat.”

In reality, there is no race to replace Obama. And the only poll that matters is a survey of one person: Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). He will choose Obama’s successor, and it doesn’t matter what any of Illinois’ likely voters think.

Apparently, Jackson commissioned the poll in an attempt to pressure Blagojevich into picking him by showing a groundswell of support and to fend off criticism that he couldn’t hold the seat in the 2010 general election.

But Jackson’s poll is the equivalent of asking Americans who Obama should choose to be secretary of State and then deeming that person the frontrunner. Like the survey Jackson paid for, such a poll would be silly and worthless.

Even the numbers within Jackson’s poll aren’t particularly convincing. Jackson’s advantage likely stems from higher name identification. And he most likely has his father’s help with that. The survey shows that almost eight in 10 people in Illinois prefer someone else to replace Obama. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Of course, Blagojevich may end up picking Jackson. But this Zogby poll tells us nothing about Jackson’s chances and gives no insight into the appointment process.

This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 13, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Polls Show GOP Losing Edge on Taxes

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republicans aren’t just losing ground in the House and the Senate. They’ve ceded their traditional advantage on some key issues, including taxes.

An Oct. 17-19 Opinion Research Corp. poll for CNN showed that Americans believed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would do a better job handling the tax issue than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 50 percent to 44 percent.

Despite Republican efforts to brand Obama as just another tax-and-spend liberal, the Democratic nominee was very disciplined on the campaign trail, explaining that under his plan, 95 percent of Americans would not see a tax increase and that under McCain’s plan, health care benefits would be taxed.

On Election Day, most voters were skeptical — of both parties.

According to national exit polling, 71 percent of voters believed that their taxes would go up if Obama were elected president. But 61 percent believed their taxes would increase in a McCain administration.

An earlier Oct. 30-Nov. 1 Opinion Research poll showed that 48 percent of likely voters thought it to be very likely or somewhat likely that their taxes would be lower four years from now under President Obama. Only 40 percent believed that to be the case under President McCain.

A pre-election survey conducted in four battleground states by the Republican firm OnMessage Inc. for the American Issues Project, a conservative group that favors small government, a strong national defense and low taxes, confirms that the line has been blurred between the supposed tax cutting and tax hiking parties.

Fifty-one percent believed their taxes would go up under Obama, compared to 41 percent who believed they would see a tax increase under President McCain. But almost one-quarter of respondents believed their taxes would go down under Obama, compared to only 9 percent who believed they would pay fewer taxes under McCain.

The OnMessage poll surveyed 1,200 likely and early voters in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Colorado Nov. 2-3.

There are numerous factors for the shift, but the electorate’s changing priorities are not helping the GOP.

Back in 2000, 14 percent of general election voters said that taxes were their most important issue, and 26 percent said a tax cut should be the most important issue for the new president. George W. Bush won the former group with 80 percent and the latter with 71 percent.

This story first appeared on RollCall.com on November 11, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is 2008 a Realigning Election? Numbers Offer Some Clues

By Stuart Rothenberg

The big question that everyone is asking is whether this month’s general election marked the beginning of a political realignment that will create a new dominant party. Have Americans shifted their loyalties and fundamental assumptions about the parties and about the government, or did we just witness a short-term reaction to years of bad news?

Let’s be clear: The election results in 2006 and 2008 constitute the kind of one-two punch that is rare in modern American political history. It would be silly to portray this year’s election as a minor hiccup. The nation elected a liberal African-American Democrat from the North as president, and it gave him a majority of all votes cast.

Moreover, in the past two elections, Democrats gained at least a dozen Senate seats and at least 50 House seats, taking total control of Congress. At the state level, they now have 4,090 state legislators to the GOP’s 3,221.

Polls show that the Republican advantages on foreign policy and pocketbook issues have either shrunk or disappeared. While there remains a stark contrast on cultural matters between the parties, Democrats have sought to mute that difference on both guns and values, and those issues clearly were not what the 2008 elections were about.

If demographics are indeed destiny, then the 2008 national exit poll at the very least raises questions about where the GOP goes from here.

For the first time ever, whites constituted less than 75 percent of the electorate, a considerable problem for the Republican Party given its historical problems attracting minorities. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) drew just 55 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) drew 67 percent of it four years later — a remarkable showing considering that many of those voters preferred Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Democratic contest and supposedly were resistant to voting for a black candidate.

While the highly anticipated surge in younger voters never materialized, those voters younger than 30 who did participate went overwhelmingly for Obama, 66 percent to 32 percent. That 34-point margin was almost four times the 9-point margin that Kerry had with voters younger than 30.

As many analysts have pointed out, if these younger voters carry that Democratic preference with them through their lives, they could constitute a strongly Democratic cohort for the next 40 or 50 years.

Just as bad for Republicans is the fact that over the past dozen years, there has been a noticeable shift in voters’ attitudes toward government, according to an exit poll question that has also been asked for years in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

In December 1995, only a third of respondents said that “government should do more to solve our country’s problems,” while 62 percent said that government “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.” But in this year’s exit poll, a slim majority, 51 percent, said government should do more, while only 43 percent said it was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.

That’s a potentially significant change in attitudes that suggests voters may be more willing to accept a more activist government that regulates business and seeks to affect outcomes, rather than merely ensures a neutral playing field.

Democrats and liberals would prefer the story to end here, but it doesn’t. Other data paint a different picture.

First, in an election with a highly unpopular Republican president and a severely damaged Republican brand, the Democratic share of the presidential vote increased from 48 percent of the vote in 2000 and 2004 to 53 percent of the vote in 2008, hardly a landslide figure or evidence of a new dominant political coalition.

Obama’s victory was built largely on a number of factors: higher black turnout, a bigger Hispanic vote, big numbers among younger voters and first-time voters, and more support from independents. It’s far from clear that any of those numbers will be replicated in 2010 or 2012, because these groups could well have been motivated by Obama’s personal appeal, not ideological or partisan dogma.

Second, one of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) biggest problems among core groups was a 5-point drop among white men. President Bush carried 62 percent of white men in 2004, while McCain won only 57 percent of them.

The drop easily could have been caused by growing concerns about the economy, as well as the lesser salience of national security concerns between 2004 and 2008, rather than a fundamental shift in partisan loyalties.

Third, the lack of any statistically significant shift in self-described ideology of voters also argues against a fundamental realignment. In 2004, 21 percent of voters called themselves liberals, while 34 percent said they were conservatives. This year, 22 percent said they were liberals and the same 34 percent identified as conservative.

Finally, the 2008 exit poll found far more Democrats turned out than Republicans. In the exit poll four years ago, self-identified Democrats and Republicans each constituted 37 percent of the sample, but this year 39 percent of voters were Democrats compared with 32 percent of Republicans. Fewer Republican voters meant fewer votes for Republican candidates.

While this change could reflect a fundamental shift in self-identified partisanship, it could merely be a dip in GOP turnout caused by any number of factors (possibly dissatisfaction with McCain’s candidacy, the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate or the issue agenda of 2008) or a one-time shift in partisanship. Party ID, after all, reflects the popularity of the party at any moment, and the damage to the Republican brand certainly could have caused a short-term dip in GOP identification.

At this point, it is far too premature to claim that 2008 was anything more than a dramatic reaction to an unpopular president and to a party hurt by its own ineptness. Obama will have a chance to change the nation’s political landscape. But his election, by itself, isn’t necessarily a sign of a new partisan alignment.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Republicans, This Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Lives

By Stuart Rothenberg

For members of the Grand Old Party, this is a day to celebrate. Your long national nightmare, otherwise known as the Bush administration, is over.

Of course, there will be plenty of hand-wringing, finger-pointing and even internecine warfare among party activists and their interest-group allies over the next few weeks as various constituencies within the party seek to assign blame for Tuesday’s Democratic sweep, though it was not nearly as bad as it could have been considering the public mood and the Democrats’ financial advantage.

Some will predict the end of the GOP. Others will merely consign it to minority party status for years because of demographic changes.

I know that this will happen because I’ve seen it before: each time a party has suffered big losses, frustration boils over. It happened after the 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1994 elections.

Moderates and ideologues in the losing party always seem to disagree about who was at fault and what steps the bloodied and bruised party needs to take to get back on the winning track. After the 1964 and 1974 elections, some predicted the disappearance of the Republican Party. And reports of the death of the Democratic Party were greatly exaggerated after the 1972, 1994 and 2004 elections.

While the near term is not rosy for Republicans, party members will now be able to turn the page, on what was tantamount to a four-year election cycle.

Maybe President Bush wasn’t responsible entirely for high gasoline prices, a mortgage foreclosure and financial crisis, Republican ethics lapses on Capitol Hill, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a seemingly endless litany of depressing news stories. But the GOP was never going to recover its standing until the Bush years ended. Tuesday night marked the beginning of the end.

Now, Republicans will be able to slide back into a role in which they are more comfortable — as the “out” party criticizing Democrats for expanding government, spending excessively and promoting a liberal cultural agenda. And they can return to their core beliefs and traditional messages of fiscal responsibility, a strong defense and traditional values.

Of course, Republican poll numbers will not improve quickly, and Democrats are likely to run against Bush and the GOP for at least the next eight years, the way they ran against Herbert Hoover for decades and Republicans ran against Jimmy Carter long after he had left the White House and returned to Plains, Ga. But at least Republicans have taken the first step to recovery.

Democrats have plenty of reasons to revel in their victory and particularly in President-elect Obama’s convincing win. With large majorities in both chambers of Congress (though not as large as I expected) and myriad problems to address, they’ll be able to change the nation’s priorities and policies.

But with victory comes expectations, and it is those expectations that could easily morph into problems for the president-elect.

Obama must satisfy Americans, most of whom are pragmatic, as well as base Democratic constituencies, most of which aren’t. And he must propose specific policies and spending priorities, some of which are likely to give Republicans fodder for attack.

The public’s fear and pessimism about the future gives Obama the flexibility that few incoming presidents have. With huge majorities in both chambers of Congress and big problems seemingly everywhere, the new president will find a receptive public and Congress that will give him an unusually long honeymoon, especially after he informs Americans that things are even worse than they thought.

Still, Republicans need this clean break with the past if they are to rebrand their party.

The GOP has lost its advantage on crucial issues, and its ability to regain its standing on those issues will depend on the actions of Obama and the Democratic Congress. But odds are that the GOP’s comeback on those issues — at least some of them — is imminent.

The always-thoughtful Peter Beinhart recently wrote that America’s “culture wars” have ended and that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) may be “the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time.” I suspect that he’s wrong and that the cultural divide will once again reappear, giving Republicans one of their fronts back in the political wars.

Beinhart is correct that the nation’s economic concerns towered over abortion, same-sex marriage and guns in 2008. Cultural issues did take a back seat. But that wasn’t because those issues are now passé or because demographic changes make them irrelevant to American voters.

Democrats have spent years trying to inoculate themselves on “values,” particularly on guns, and if the party governs in a moderate way, it will indeed neutralize those issues. But if the party, aided by the courts, advocates a culturally liberal agenda, you will see those issues surface once again west of the Hudson River all the way across to the California state line.

Similarly, events could give taxes, fiscal responsibility and national defense issues back to the GOP just the way Republicans handed them to Democrats over the past few years. That’s not inevitable, of course, but it’s very possible, depending on the Democratic agenda.

So now we will find out what kind of president Obama will be. Will he be an idealist or a realist, an ideologue or a pragmatist? And exactly how does he think he can “bring America together?” His answers to those questions will likely determine how successful his presidency will be.

It is always fascinating to watch a new president. But this time it may be even more fascinating to watch than most.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 6, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Governors Assemble as GOP Searches for Next Leaders

By Nathan L. Gonzales

In the aftermath of a second consecutive drubbing at the polls, the Republican Party is in search of a leader. Politicians in Washington, D.C., aren’t particularly popular these days, so it’s only natural for the GOP to turn to its governors.

Conveniently, the Republican Governors Association will hold its annual conference next week, Nov. 12-14, in Miami. The RGA will announce a new chairman, highlight a number of governors from around the country and stake its claim as the future of the GOP.

“Our only ability to win back the hearts and votes of the American people is to develop solutions and solve problems,” RGA executive director Nick Ayers said. “And the only place to do that is at the state level with our governors.”

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is expected to be named chairman of the RGA for 2009, according to GOP sources. The former three-term Congressman will take the reigns from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and serve a one-year term — in a year when just Virginia and New Jersey will elect governors.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is expected to make the jump from RGA finance chairman to vice chairman in 2009. The former Republican National Committee chairman will then be the heir apparent to take over as chairman in 2010, a gigantic year for gubernatorial races.

Thirty-six states will elect governors in 2010, including big states such as California, Texas and New York, as well as important states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. After Tuesday’s elections, Democrats hold 29 of 50 governorships, but they will be defending 20 of the 34 states up in 2010.

“Republican governors will step up as the future faces and leaders of the GOP nationally and offer pragmatic solutions to refresh the party’s image,” former RGA executive director Phil Musser said. “Governors will play central roles in the future of the party.”

Two of the last three Republican presidents were former governors and served two terms each.

Barbour, Perry, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will all deliver speeches open to the media next week. Pawlenty was on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) short list of potential running mates, while Sanford and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal received mention as well.

McCain’s actual choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is said to be undecided about attending the RGA conference. According to GOP sources, she is unlikely to make the cross-country trip to Miami after recently returning to Alaska. Her appearance would be a “bold stake in the ground,” according to one GOP strategist.

Two years ago, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used the annual RGA conference as an opportunity to raise money and lay a foundation for his 2008 presidential bid. Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are not expected to attend this year’s conference because they are not sitting governors.

Republican governors were not insulated from the most recent Democratic wave. Even though only 11 governorships were up in 2008, the GOP suffered a net loss of one governorship (Missouri) and fell short in two takeover opportunities that were tossups going into Election Day (North Carolina and Washington).

But like their Democratic counterpart, the RGA is ramping up for 2010. “No one will look at the infrastructure and say it’s to blame,” Musser said about the RGA. Even though Sanford is expected to take over, the staff brought in by former chairman Sonny Perdue (Ga.) and retained by Perry is expected to largely stay intact.

This story
first appeared on RollCall.com on November 7, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, November 07, 2008

From coast to coast, Democrats rule the day

By Nathan L. Gonzales and Stuart Rothenberg

(CNN) -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's historic and convincing victory in the race for the White House wasn't the only good news for Democrats on Tuesday.

In 2006, Democrats swept into the majority in both the House and Senate, riding on a wave of change. Two years later, Democrats continued the trend, electing Obama as the first African-American president and growing their majorities by significant margins in both chambers of Congress. Read the rest of the story on CNN.com.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Stu Talks about the Election Results

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Watch Stu Tonight on the NewsHour

You can catch Stu's Election Night analysis on the NewsHour on PBS.

The Fat Lady Sings and Democrats Are Preparing to Rejoice

By Stuart Rothenberg

Although many in the media have acted as if the presidential contest were competitive, it’s been apparent for weeks that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been headed for a clear win.

Call it a wave or a blood bath, as I did in this space almost a month ago, on Oct. 7 (“For Republicans, Another Blood Bath Looms on Horizon”), the combination of a strong anti-Republican mood, news events that fueled the public’s strong desire for change, and the Democrats’ huge financial and organizational advantage this cycle also guaranteed big Democratic House and Senate gains.

The presidential race has been a foregone conclusion since shortly after the nation’s financial crisis exploded in the news a little more than a month ago. The virtual elimination of national security as a top issue, combined with Obama’s coolness in the face of the public’s near hysteria, helped him close a deal that he previously had not closed.

Polling for the past few weeks has shown voters increasingly comfortable with the Illinois Democrat, giving him better and better reviews on a number of issues and characteristics. His favorability rating (56 percent positive/35 percent negative) in the Nov. 1-2 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is better than Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.), and the two men are even on the question of who “has a background and a set of values that you can identify with” — down from a 10-point McCain advantage in August and a 6-point McCain advantage in the Sept. 19-22 poll.

Even more important, now a majority of whites, 51 percent, say Obama has the background and values with which they can identify. Reputable national polls have shown Obama lengthening his lead, and the polls’ internals show why that is happening.

While it certainly is true that this isn’t a national presidential election as much as it is 50 state elections, it’s unwise to ignore the national numbers and focus on much less reliable state polls, some of which allegedly show the race closing. Obama already appears to be over the 270 electoral vote mark, and if that’s the case, it doesn’t really matter if he wins Ohio or North Carolina.

The fights for the House and Senate were over well before the presidential contest was decided. We’ve known for months that this would be a good Democratic year. All that remained to be decided was exactly how good a Democrat year it would be.

Democratic gains of seven or eight Senate seats, with a decent shot at nine, have appeared likely for weeks, and that’s still where Democrats are. Senate races in Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire have been over for months. Democratic challengers appear to have a distinct advantage in Alaska, North Carolina and Oregon.

A mini-comeback by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) has all but erased the small but consistent advantage that Al Franken (D) has had for a few weeks, now making that state’s Senate race a pure tossup.

Obviously, to reach the psychologically important 60-seat mark Democrats will need to win two out of four competitive races: Minnesota, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia, a tall order given the Southern states’ political dynamics. But it isn’t impossible, especially in a wave election.

It’s certainly possible that we will all wake up Wednesday morning with Democrats gaining eight seats and Georgia headed for an early December runoff, with the outcome there determining whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) will have 60 seats or 59 seats (or 58, depending what Senate Democrats do about Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman).

In the fight for the House, anything from a Democratic gain in the mid-20s to a much bigger Democratic net gain of around 40 seems possible, with gains in the 27-33 seat range most likely.

Anyone wanting to chart the night might pay special attention to three groups of races.

First, there are the purest of tossups. If one party wins most of them, that will say something important about the overall results of the elections. Those districts include half a dozen Republican seats: open seats in Kentucky’s 2nd district, Maryland’s 1st, and New Jersey’s 7th, and re-election contests involving Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio’s 1st), Thelma Drake (Virginia’s 2nd) and Dave Reichert (Washington’s 8th).

Second are a number of Republican seats that are tossups but that seem to favor Democrats ever so slightly, particularly in a wave election. If Republicans hold on to many of these districts, the night may not be as good for Democrats as many assume. These include three open seats — Minnesota’s 3rd district, New Jersey’s 3rd and Ohio’s 15th, along with the re-election bids of Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minnesota’s 6th), Christopher Shays (Connecticut’s 4th) and Jon Porter (Nevada’s 3rd).

Finally, there are GOP seats where the Republican has anything from a slight edge to a much more considerable advantage. If many of these seats fall to Democrats, Republicans could well lose 40 seats. These districts include Ohio’s 2nd (Rep. Jean Schmidt), South Carolina’s 1st (Rep. Henry Brown), Virginia’s 5th (Rep. Virgil Goode), Indiana’s 3rd (Rep. Mark Souder), California’s 3rd (Rep. Dan Lungren), and the open seat being vacated by Rep. Barbara Cubin (Wyo.).

Wave elections normally sweep in a number of candidates who, under normal circumstances, would not win in their own right. That’s likely to happen this year, especially given the Democrats’ financial advantage. A remarkable turnout for Obama could also benefit Democrats downballot.

If you are looking for upsets that few others are paying any attention to, be sure to keep an eye on the Louisiana Senate race, a couple of Texas House races (7th and 10th districts), Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s race, and the open seat in California’s 4th.

Finally, turnout (on both sides) remains a huge factor. Most observers and many pollsters have been expecting a spike in younger voters, African-Americans and first-time voters nationally. Whether that happens, and how big a spike that might be, will affect the bottom line today.

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

Election Night Viewer Guide

By Nathan L. Gonzales

So many races, so little time. With the presidential race and more than 75 competitive races for the House and Senate, it can be a little overwhelming trying to follow them all. But the polls close early in the evening in a few key states, providing a window into what the rest of election night should look like. After the initial bellwether races, you can catch a nap before the Alaska results come in early Wednesday morning.

7 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Georgia Senate. It’s ironic that one of the first races of the night could be the last race to be decided. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). If neither man gets more than 50 percent, then the race moves to a Dec. 2 runoff, when turnout is an uncertainty. Democratic strategists feel like they need to win this race today, and if they do, they could very well reach 60 seats in the Senate.

Kentucky Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is fighting for his political life. And like Georgia, his seat is critical if Democrats want to get to 60 seats. Both McConnell and his opponent, wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford (D), have high negatives, but McConnell comes into election night with a slight advantage. This is one state Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should carry easily.

Kentucky’s 2nd. Republicans are trying to hold onto 20 competitive open seats, including this district. In comparison, Democrats only have one vulnerable open seat (Alabama’s 5th). State Sen. Brett Guthrie (R) is battling state Sen. David Boswell (D) in a district that President Bush carried with 65 percent in 2004. This race could be an indication of whether conservative Democrats are voting Republican like they have recently. A wide discrepancy in polling makes predicting the outcome difficult, but this early contest is a must-win for Republicans.

Virginia Presidential Outcome. Based on the other battleground states, the commonwealth is a must-win for McCain. He simply can’t afford to lose Virginia’s 13 electoral votes because he isn’t challenging Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a comparable Democratic state. Republican strategists are concerned that the networks will call Virginia early, dampening GOP enthusiasm in western states and hurting their candidates downballot.

7:30 p.m. Poll Closing Time

North Carolina Governor. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) is trying to buck both the national and state trend by taking over a governorship that Republicans haven’t held since the early ’90s. Coming into Election Day, McCrory is locked in a dead heat with Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D). McCrory could be a rare bright spot for the GOP. The presidential contest is worth watching, but if Obama wins the state’s 15 electoral votes, he probably already won Virginia and is picking out furniture for the Oval Office.

North Carolina’s 8th. Rep. Robin Hayes (R) squeaked by teacher Larry Kissell (D) in 2006, but probably comes into Election Day as an underdog. Kissell complained about the lack of help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee two years ago, but he has received $2.4 million in help this year. Meanwhile, Hayes has been on his own, without help from the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee. Like fellow Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Hayes is also running against a strong Obama trend in his district.

Ohio’s 1st. Like Hayes, Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is no stranger to competitive races. But Democrats believe Obama will help their candidate, state Rep. Steve Driehaus, particularly because the district is 27 percent African-American. Chabot has run a good campaign and comes into Election Day even or slightly ahead of Driehaus, but with less than 50 percent of the vote in polls. If Chabot loses, Democrats are likely topping a 30-seat pickup. If Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) loses in the neighboring, and very Republican, 2nd district, Democrats are probably reaching 40 seats.

Ohio’s 15th. Republicans will lose the open 16th district, but state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) remains competitive in Rep. Deborah Pryce’s (R) open seat. Republicans drove up Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D) negatives, and Stivers comes into Election Day within striking distance. This race is a test of how undecided voters break in open-seat races and to see if third-party candidates are getting as much of the vote as they have been polling.

8 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Florida Presidential Outcome. If McCain holds onto Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, the presidential race could come down to Florida. If Obama wins the Sunshine State’s 27 electoral votes, it’s almost mathematically impossible for McCain to win the presidency. The Illinois Senator comes into Tuesday with a slight lead in polls, but with less than 50 percent, so undecided voters will be critical.

Florida’s 21st and 25th. Both Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) and his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), are extremely vulnerable. Bush carried both districts by at least a dozen points in 2004, but Democrats have been surging in voter registration and are benefitting from an increase in the non-Cuban Hispanic population. If both brothers win, Republicans are doing better than expected. A split decision looks most likely. But if both lose, it’s going to be a long night for the GOP.

Illinois’ 10th. Rep. Mark Kirk (R) is running for re-election in Obama’s backyard. The Congressman has run a great campaign and Democrats haven’t found the silver bullet to take him out. But Kirk will still have to run well ahead of McCain, who’ll probably lose the district by 20 points. Amazingly, Democrats could net 30 seats in the House and still not defeat Kirk.

Mississippi Senate. This is another critical seat on the Democrats’ road to 60. Republicans had been nervous that the lack of party identification would hurt their candidate this special election between appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R) and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), but Wicker comes into Election Day with a narrow advantage in the polls. This race is a good indication of whether African-American turnout is dramatically and disproportionately larger than usual.

Pennsylvania’s 11th. Republicans are left with only a handful of good opportunities to defeat Democratic incumbents, and this is one of them. Longtime Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) trails Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R) in public and Republican polls, but the Democratic nature of the district could save him. A GOP win here won’t be enough to soothe the pain of a nationwide blood bath.

9 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Minnesota Senate. One of the cycle’s most intriguing races is coming right down to the wire with comedian Al Franken (D) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R) locked in a dead heat. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley has drawn 12 percent to 20 percent of the vote in recent polls, meaning Coleman or Franken could win with not much more than 40 percent. Coleman’s late resurgence means Democrats need to win two out of four races to hit 60 seats: Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi.

Minnesota’s 3rd. This is a great race with two great candidates in an extremely competitive district. State Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) is trying to hold yet another GOP open seat against young Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D). The DCCC has been exercising its fundraising muscle here, spending $2.3 million to $776,000 for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The two candidates come into Election Day essentially tied, but in this political environment, you would rather be Madia.

Michigan’s 7th. Rep. Tim Walberg (R) is one of a large number of GOP incumbents who come into Election Day running even with their opponents, and stuck in the low to mid-40s in polls. The key is whether undecided voters break disproportionately for Walberg’s opponent, state Sen. Mark Schauer (D). The race is a tossup, but the national environment, Walberg’s showing in the polls, and the fact that McCain surrendered Michigan, gives Schauer a narrow edge.

Louisiana Senate. With so much focus on the Democratic push for 60 seats, Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) re-election has gone largely unnoticed. Polling is dramatically different, depending on which side of the aisle you’re sitting on. Republicans believe they are within striking distance in a state McCain should win easily. Don’t forget to peek in on this race.

Wyoming’s At-Large. Gary Trauner (D) is a good candidate who came close to winning the seat two years ago against Rep. Barbara Cubin (R). Even though it defies conventional wisdom, Trauner is actually having a more difficult time with the open seat now that the weak incumbent is retiring. Trauner has been consistently competitive in the polls, but the undecided voters are likely Republicans. If Trauner wins, Democratic gains are probably well into the 30s.

10 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Nevada’s 3rd. Rep. Jon Porter (R) resurrected his political career by attacking state Sen. Dina Titus (D). After Porter’s original Democratic opponent dropped out, Titus got into the race, and was instantly formidable because of her high profile from the 2006 gubernatorial race. But Republicans proceeded to remind voters about why they didn’t vote for her two years ago, and Porter is back in a dead heat. But he’s still in the low- to mid-40s, so again, the question is whether enough undecided voters will back the incumbent.

11 p.m. Poll Closing Time

Washington Governor. Christine Gregoire (D) and Dino Rossi (R) have been running against each other for five years, and the race has hardly budged. Gregoire prevailed in 2004 after three recounts, but could never put any distance between herself and Rossi during her first term. Obama will win the state handily, but Rossi still has an opportunity to win.

California’s 4th. Republicans shouldn’t lose this district. Democrat Charlie Brown came close to defeating Rep. John Doolittle (R) two years ago, but Doolittle was plagued by ethics questions. Now that he’s retiring, conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) is trying to hold the open seat, but has run an underwhelming campaign. Brown is running again and put together the kind of campaign necessary to take advantage of the opportunity.

California’s 50th. Republicans shouldn’t lose here, either. Democrats have cried wolf in this district before, and never won it. But a recent Democratic poll showed Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) holding a narrow, 44 percent to 42 percent, lead over attorney Nick Leibham (D). The survey also showed Obama winning the district by 11 points. Bush won it by 11 points in 2004, so if the district has turned around that much, all bets are off, and Democrats could get over 40 seats.

1 a.m. Poll Closing Time.

Alaska Senate. Much of the suspense of the race was eliminated when Sen. Ted Stevens (R) was convicted on all seven counts. But his race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is still fascinating to see how much support Stevens still has. Former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D) continues to be the heavy favorite over incumbent Rep. Don Young (R) in the House race. McCain will win Alaska, but it may be months or years before we know whether this vote was the beginning or end of Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) national profile.

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

Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 Senate Outlook

As the 2008 election cycle wanes, Democrats remain poised to make major gains in the Senate. As our chart indicates, seven GOP seats are likely to fall to Democrats, with an eighth, Minnesota, a toss-up. If Al Franken (D) ousts Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in the Gopher State, Democrats would need to win one of three other seats – Georgia, Kentucky or Mississippi – to get to a net gain of 9 – and 60 votes in the Senate, assuming that Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman remains in the Democratic caucus.

Democratic candidates trail in all three of those contests, but questions about turnout (particularly African American turnout), which won’t be answered until Tuesday night, continue to make outcomes uncertain. If no candidate in Georgia receives an absolute majority of the vote, the state will have a runoff on December 2nd to pick a winner.

The only Democratic-held Senate seat of any interest, Louisiana’s, continues to be confusing, since polling is contradictory. Unlike many, we continue to believe it’s worth watching for a possible upset since GOP polling shows the race very close and Republican John Kennedy gaining on the incumbent. Obviously, a victory by Kennedy over Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) would be a significant upset according to most and make a nine-seat Democratic gain far more difficult.

As we have been saying for a couple of weeks, the most likely outcome is a Democratic net gain of 7-9 seats. Click here for our final Senate ratings.

2008 House Outlook

As Election Day nears, we see no reason to veer from the view that we have held for months – that the 2008 House elections will give Democrats another big victory. Some Democratic challengers and open seat hopefuls already are over 50% in polling, but many are still in the mid-to-upper 40s. We believe that many of these candidates will win as late deciders generally break against incumbents (and most incumbents in trouble are Republicans) and, except in reliably Republican districts, against the GOP.

We also are skeptical that Republican candidates – again, especially Republican incumbents – who are in the low and even mid-40s in late polling, will win. Nervousness by Democratic strategists about the party’s challengers who have small but consistent leads over GOP incumbents or in swing districts is understandable but unfounded, in our view. Most of these contests are likely to break toward Democrats, rapidly increasing the party’s net gains well into the 20s and quite possibly well into the 30s.

As we previously mentioned, the Democratic wave is so large that it is likely to carry some second- and third-tier Democratic nominees to victories in normally reliable Republican seats. Republican and conservative seats in Idaho, Colorado, New York, New Mexico and even Minnesota are likely to fall, but if more of those kinds of seats fall than we now expect, Democratic gains could exceed our current estimate. We continue to expect a major surprise or two (at the very least) in the House results.

Democrats are likely to lose at least a couple of incumbents, but their total losses could get up into the 3-7 range if Republicans have a good night and Republican voters turn against Democratic incumbents in a surprisingly large number of races.

Waves are inherently unpredictable, but we continue to expect Democratic gains to range from the mid-20s to the high 30s, with the most likely outcome to fall in the 27-33 seat range. Based on the large number of vulnerable GOP seats, any Democratic gain of fewer than 25 seats would constitute a good night for Republicans and suggest that late-breaking voters slid toward the GOP. Anything approaching a 40 seat gain would be a stunningly strong night for Democrats and demonstrate that the party’s wave continued to build from 2006 through Election Day and that turnout boosted Democratic net gains. Click here for our final House ratings.

2008 Presidential Outlook

The race for the White House is all but over – and in our eyes only a dramatic last-minute could possibly change the expected outcome. Senator Barack Obama has more than the 270 electoral votes he needs to be elected President. Click here to get our presidential ratings.

2008 Gubernatorial Outlook

For much of 2008, only four of the eleven races were considered competitive: Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, and Washington. Now the competitive playing field has narrowed to just two, and our range continues to be a Democratic gain of one governorship to a Republican gain of a governorship. Click on our final ratings here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

2008 Senate Ratings

Our estimate is a Democratic gain of 7-9 seats.

# = Moved benefiting Democrats
* = Moved benefiting Republicans

Likely Takeover (4 R, 0 D)
  • Sununu (R-NH)
  • CO Open (Allard, R)
  • NM Open (Domenici, R)
  • VA Open (Warner, R)
Lean Takeover (3 R, 0 D)
  • Dole (R-NC)
  • Smith (R-OR)
  • Stevens (R-AK)
Toss-Up (1 R, 0 D)
  • Coleman (R-MN)
Narrow Advantage for Incumbent Party (3 R, 1 D)
  • Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Landrieu (D-LA)
  • McConnell (R-KY)
  • Wicker (R-MS)
Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party (1 R, 0 D)
  • Collins (R-ME)
Currently Safe (11 R, 11 D)
  • ID Open (Craig, R)
  • NE Open (Hagel, R)
  • Alexander (R-TN)
  • Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Cochran (R-MS)
  • Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Graham (R-SC)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Roberts (R-KS)
  • Sessions (R-AL)
  • Baucus (D-MT)
  • Biden (D-DE)
  • Durbin (D-IL)
  • Harkin (D-IA)
  • Johnson (D-SD)
  • Kerry (D-MA)
  • Lautenberg (D-NJ)
  • Levin (D-MI)
  • Pryor (D-AR)
  • Reed (D-RI)
  • Rockefeller (D-WV)

2008 House Ratings

Our estimate is a Democratic gain 27-33 seats.

# = Moved benefiting Democrats
* = Moved benefiting Republicans
^ = Newly added

PURE TOSS-UP (11 R, 3 D)
  • AL 2 (Open; Everett, R)
  • AL 5 (Open; Cramer, D)
  • CA 4 (Open; Doolittle, R) #
  • FL 21 (L. Diaz-Balart, R)
  • KY 2 (Open; Lewis, R)
  • LA 4 (Open; McCrery, R)
  • LA 6 (Cazayoux, D)
  • MD 1 (Open; Gilchrest, R) #
  • MI 7 (Walberg, R)
  • NJ 7 (Open; Ferguson, R)
  • OH 1 (Chabot, R)
  • PA 11 (Kanjorski, D)
  • VA 2 (Drake, R)
  • WA 8 (Reichert, R)
  • FL 25 (M. Diaz-Balart, R)
  • IL 10 (Kirk, R)
  • MO 9 (Open; Hulshof, R)
  • NY 26 (Open; Reynolds, R)
  • CT 4 (Shays, R)
  • GA 8 (Marshall, D)
  • ID 1 (Sali, R)
  • KS 2 (Boyda, D)
  • MN 3 (Open; Ramstad, R)
  • MN 6 (Bachmann, R)
  • NE 2 (Terry, R) #
  • NV 3 (Porter, R)
  • NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D)
  • NJ 3 (Open; Saxton, R)
  • NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
  • OH 15 (Open; Pryce, R)
  • PA 3 (English, R)
  • OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
  • SC 1 (Brown, R)
  • TX 22 (Lampson, D)
  • VA 5 (Goode, R) ^
  • WY A-L (Open; Cubin, R) #
  • CA 11 (McNerney, D)
  • CO 4 (Musgrave, R) #
  • FL 8 (Keller, R) #
  • IL 11 (Open; Weller, R)
  • MI 9 (Knollenberg, R)
  • NM1 (Open; Wilson, R) #
  • NM 2 (Open; Pearce, R) #
  • NC 8 (Hayes, R)
  • AZ 3 (Shadegg, R)
  • CA 3 (Lungren, R)
  • CA 46 (Rohrabacher, R)
  • FL 13 (Buchanan, R)
  • FL 16 (Mahoney, D)
  • IN 3 (Souder, R) ^
  • NV 2 (Heller, R) ^
  • TX 7 (Culberson, R) ^
  • TX 10 (McCaul, R) ^
  • WV 2 (Capito, R)
  • AK A-L (Young, R)
  • AZ 1 (Open; Renzi, R)
  • FL 24 (Feeney, R)
  • NY 13 (Open; Fossella, R)
  • NY 25 (Open; Walsh, R)
  • OH 16 (Open; Regula, R)
  • PA 10 (Carney, D) #
  • PA 12 (Murtha, D) ^
  • VA 11 (Open; Davis, R)
  • WI 8 (Kagen, D) #
AZ 5 (Mitchell, D) #,
AZ 8 (Giffords, D) #,
PA 4 (Altmire, D) #,
IL 6 (Roskam, R) *,
MO 6 (Graves, R) *

2008 Presidential Battleground Ratings

Total Electoral Votes
(270 needed to win)

Obama - 273 (safe/likely) + 80 (lean) = 353
McCain - 131 (safe/likely) + 28 (lean) = 159
Toss-ups = 26


  • Indiana (11)
  • Missouri (11)
  • Nebraska (1)*
  • North Dakota (3)
Lean McCain
  • Arizona (10)
  • Georgia (15)
  • Montana (3)
Lean Obama
  • Florida (27)
  • Nevada (5)
  • North Carolina (15)
  • Ohio (20)
  • Virginia (13)
Safe/Likely McCain
  • Alabama (9)
  • Alaska (3)
  • Arkansas (6)
  • Idaho (4)
  • Kansas (6)
  • Kentucky (8)
  • Louisiana (9)
  • Mississippi (6)
  • Nebraska (4)*
  • Oklahoma (7)
  • South Carolina (8)
  • South Dakota (3)
  • Tennessee (11)
  • Texas (34)
  • Utah (5)
  • West Virginia (5)
  • Wyoming (3)
Safe/Likely Obama
  • California (55)
  • Colorado (9)
  • Connecticut (7)
  • Delaware (3)
  • Hawaii (4)
  • Illinois (21)
  • Iowa (7)
  • Maine (4)
  • Maryland (10)
  • Massachusetts (12)
  • Michigan (17)
  • Minnesota (10)
  • New Jersey (15)
  • New Hampshire (4)
  • New Mexico (5)
  • New York (31)
  • Oregon (7)
  • Pennsylvania (21)
  • Rhode Island (4)
  • Vermont (3)
  • Washington (11)
  • Wisconsin (10)
  • D.C. (3)

2008 Gubernatorial Ratings

Here are our latest gubernatorial ratings. Democrats currently hold 28 governorships compared to 22 for the Republicans. Our estimate is a Democratic gain of one governorship to a Republican of one governorship.

# - Moved benefiting Democrats
* - Moved benefiting Republicans

  • Open (Blunt, R) #

TOSS-UP (0 R, 2 D)
  • Gregoire (D-WA)
  • NC Open (Easley, D)

  • Daniels (R-IN) *
  • Douglas (R-VT)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Huntsman (R-UT)
  • Lynch (D-NH)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • Schweitzer (D-MT)
  • DE Open (Minner, D)

Double Whammy: Money, McCain Burden Republicans

By Stuart Rothenberg

While President Bush’s unpopularity and the nation’s struggling economy are huge problems that guarantee a good Democratic election next week, two other factors — the massive Democratic fundraising advantage and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) surprisingly weak showing in dozens of Congressional districts — are turning this election into a dramatically better one for Democrats.

We have all known that money would be a problem for the GOP, but the Democrats’ financial advantage, and the subsequent political benefit, has been breathtaking.

According to the Campaign Finance Institute, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $67.7 million in independent expenditures through Oct. 28, compared with only $14.5 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

So far, according to the CFI, the DCCC has spent more than $1 million in 34 Congressional districts — and more than $2 million in nine — while the NRCC has spent more than $1 million on just one GOP candidate, Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Democratic fears that “outside groups” would make up for the NRCC’s disadvantage proved to be completely unfounded.

In Minnesota’s 3rd district, where each party has nominated a strong candidate, the DCCC has spent more than $2.2 million on its nominee, Ashwin Madia, while the NRCC spent $500,000 on GOP nominee Erik Paulsen – a massive $1.7 million IE advantage for Madia in the race. Without that advantage, it’s difficult to believe that the contest would still be so competitive in a district that tilts slightly Republican.

In North Carolina’s 8th district, the DCCC has so far spent $2.3 million on behalf of Democratic nominee Larry Kissell, who lost narrowly two years ago to Rep. Robin Hayes (R). The NRCC, in contrast, hasn’t spent a nickel on an IE effort on Hayes’ behalf. Hayes likely will lose next week. He’d likely win without the DCCC’s IE for Kissell.

In western New York, the DCCC has spent almost $1.8 million to elect Alice Kryzan, an upset primary winner, in a Republican-leaning open seat, while the NRCC spent only $354,000 to elect Republican Chris Lee. Lee may still win, but Kryzan surely wouldn’t without the DCCC’s spending.

In seat after seat, the Democrats’ spending advantage is having a significant impact. While it is impossible to know exactly how the spending will translate into seats, it seems reasonable that the DCCC’s advantage will add at least a dozen seats, and perhaps many more, to the Democrats’ election night haul, depending on the size of the party’s net gain and which seats flip.

Over on the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had “only” a 2-1 advantage in IE spending over the National Republican Senatorial Committee through Oct. 24, $53.2 million to $27.4 million.

The DSCC’s IE advantage has changed the political equation in at least two states — North Carolina and Oregon. Without outspending the NRSC by more than $5 million in each of those races, the DSCC almost certainly would not be able to defeat Republican Sens. Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.). Now, both are likely to lose.

Late DSCC spending in Georgia and Kentucky could produce victories in those races, and Democratic prospects in Mississippi would be significantly worse without the DSCC’s IE of $5.8 million there (compared with the NRSC’s spending of $3 million for Roger Wicker). It’s not yet clear whether DSCC IE spending will help turn any of those contests to the Democrats. Still, Democrats will win at least two additional Senate seats this cycle because of the party’s financial advantage.

But at least Republican strategists and neutral observers have known for months about the GOP’s financial disadvantage and the Democratic IEs. Few expected McCain to be a liability rather than an asset to many Republican candidates in downballot races.

McCain was widely regarded as the one Republican candidate in the GOP presidential race who could appeal to swing voters, keep the presidential contest competitive and minimize the damage that moderate Republican nominees would suffer in an anti-Bush environment.

But polling in dozens of normally Republican districts shows McCain running well behind Bush’s 2004 showings, and far behind where many of us thought he might be at this point.

According to GOP polling, McCain is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in reliably Republican districts such as Colorado’s 4th and Virginia’s 5th. He’s essentially running even in Kansas’ 2nd district and Nebraska’s 2nd, two more Republican districts. Currently, Republican Members represent three of these four districts, yet Democrats could sweep all four next week.

Of course, if Republican Congressional candidates lose in all of those races, it’s not McCain’s fault. But Republican strategists had expected McCain to run far stronger in those districts than he is, and they believe that would have helped the party’s House candidates.

If McCain is doing poorly in those districts, it’s not hard to see the kind of a drag he has become in districts likely to go for Obama even in the best of circumstances.

Connecticut moderate Rep. Christopher Shays was able to squeeze out a 52 percent win in 2004 even as Bush was losing the district with 46 percent of the vote. But this time, with McCain running 20 points behind Obama in the district in two media polls, it is unclear whether Shays can run far enough ahead of McCain to survive.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) face similar problems, because McCain is running stunningly poorly among their constituents. Of course, Sununu, who is expected to lose to Jeanne Shaheen (D), might have lost anyway, and Kirk, who probably would win if McCain were running even a little stronger in the district, may win anyway.

This column first appeared on RollCall.com on October 30, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

New Print Edition: Final Pre-Election Issue

The October 31, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. The print edition comes out every two weeks (even more frequently as Election Day approaches). 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.

The latest edition includes our latest Senate, House, and Gubernatorial ratings, as well as our Presidential Battleground ratings. It's our final pre-election issue, but check back through Tuesday for any last minute updates.