Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

We hope that you've enjoyed our coverage this year and appreciate your readership. We know you can't fathom life without the Rothenberg Political Report, but for the next week or so, you'll have to make due. We'll be back next year and ready to jump into 2010.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Stu and Nathan

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Florida 22: West Seeks 2010 Rematch With Klein

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Retired Lt. Col. Allen West (R) lost his recent challenge to Rep. Ron Klein (D) in Florida’s 22nd district, but his campaign continues. West announced his 2010 candidacy this week.

Despite being heavily outspent and neglected by the national and state Republican parties, West lost to Klein by 10 points, 55 percent to 45 percent, in a terrible environment for Republican candidates and in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004.

There is definitely resentment between some grass-roots conservatives and the state GOP for its lack of support in the race. But even though Klein is a freshman, he is viewed as a political heavyweight for his fundraising prowess and for knocking off longtime Rep. Clay Shaw (R), 51 percent to 47 percent, two years ago.

Klein spent $2.3 million against West, who managed to raise only $550,000, bringing the Democrat’s two-cycle total spending to $6.5 million.

Even though West announced his intentions early, he may not have the GOP field to himself. For now, everyone is waiting on former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) to decide whether he will run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez (R).

Klein is viewed as a potential Senate candidate, particularly if Bush declines to run. And if Klein leaves the 22nd sistrict open, state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R) is seen as a likely candidate. Incoming state Senate President Jeff Atwater (R) is viewed as a rising star in the party and will be term-limited in 2010, but is unlikely to run for the 22nd district.

If Klein seeks re-election to his Congressional seat, it’s difficult to see national and state Republicans making a significant financial investment in the race unless the national mood changes significantly.

West served in Iraq as a battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Division, and later worked for a private company training officers in Afghanistan’s army.

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

He was facing a court martial and up to 11 years in prison, but after a military hearing, West was fined $5,000 and allowed to retire with full pension after 20 years of service. Rep.-elect Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a former teacher at the U.S Military Academy at West Point, described West as a living textbook when it comes to the rules of engagement.

This story first appeared on on December 17, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Print Edition: Illinois 10 & Ohio 1

The December 19, 2008 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. This is our final edition of the year. Our first issue next year will be the 2010 Senate Outlook. Happy Holidays!

Normally, 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:

Illinois 10: The Strong Survive

By Nathan L. Gonzales

With Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) sweeping to victory at the top of the ticket and Democrats picking up another 21 House seats nationwide, you might have thought that Cong. Mark Kirk (R) was headed for defeat too.

After all, two years earlier, Democrat Dan Seals ran a strong campaign, and came fairly close to defeating Kirk, despite a lack of attention from the national party until late in the race. This time, Seals started earlier, emerged from the shadows of neighboring congressional races, and believed the increased turnout from the presidential race would help his cause in a suburban district that is trending Democratic. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Ohio 1: I Like You, But…

Ohio was a huge Democratic disappointment in 2006. Democrats picked up 30 seats nationwide, but only won a single seat in Buckeye State (the one vacated by scandal-tainted Bob Ney) after targeting a handful of opportunities.

But this last year, Democrats fared better. The picked up Cong. Deborah Pryce’s 15th District, after being unable to defeat her in 2006, the open 16th District, and defeated Cong. Steve Chabot in the 1st District. And it’s Chabot’s defeat that makes many Democrats most proud. Subscribers get the whole story in the print edition.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rothenberg’s End of the Year Awards for 2008 Campaigns

By Stuart Rothenberg

After each election, I offer my selections for the “best” and the “worst” of the cycle. As in past years, I’ll offer up a few worthwhile nominees for each category before I make my selections.

If you don’t agree with these choices, feel free to send your ideas to my editors or to your favorite blogger (but not to me).

Master of Self-Destruction


Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.)
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)
Tom Feeney (R-Fla.)
Jon Powers (D-N.Y.)
Bill Sali (R-Idaho)

This list is scary. All of them strongly undermined their own appeal. But Bachmann won her race, so I’ll remove her from consideration. Stevens, who would have been a shoo-in for re-election without his ethics problems (Democrat Mark Begich almost certainly would not have run), is over 80 years old and I’m headed in that direction myself, so I’ll remove him from consideration.

It’s a hard call. Powers misrepresented himself to voters by puffing up his résumé, while Feeney was caught in the Jack Abramoff flap. Both were bad but not unusual. That leaves me with having to choose between Sali, who would have been re-elected indefinitely if he had made any effort to get along with people, and Mahoney, the hypocrite’s hypocrite. Tough call. I can’t make it. How about calling it a tie?

Strongest Republican swimmer against the tide


Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)
Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
Chris Lee (R-N.Y.)

Reichert has turned back two strong challenges in terrible environments in a swing district that has gone Democratic at the presidential level, and Paulsen beat a tough opponent in a Minnesota open seat. Mark Kirk’s nearly 10-point win in a suburban Illinois district was stunningly strong, and Chris Lee was one of the few Empire State Republicans to win. But my winner for this category is Collins, who annihilated a serious opponent who represents half the state in Congress. Collins is one of the few targeted Republican Senators who actually never was in trouble, a remarkable achievement given the national mood.

Time to stop running


Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.)
Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho)
Duane Sand (R-N.D.)
Elwyn Tinklenberg (D-Minn.)
Linda Stender (D-N.J.)
Jim Oberweis (R-Ill.)
Victoria Wulsin (D-Ohio)

This is a long list, and it’s hard to pick a “winner” in this category. Sodrel has now run in four consecutive elections. It’s time for him to find something else to do. LaRocco’s last two showings suggest that maybe running statewide in Idaho isn’t his best option. (And please don’t make me write again about another Wulsin versus Rep. Jean Schmidt race. Please.) But if Oberweis and Sand haven’t yet figured out that they ought to try something quite different, I’m not sure they ever will. So they split my vote.

Most Overhyped House Candidate


Dean Andal (R-Calif.)
Kay Barnes (D-Mo.)
Steve Greenberg (R-Ill.)
Dennis Shulman (D-N.J. )

All of these candidates are strong competitors for the most overhyped Congressional hopeful. But my vote goes to Barnes, a former mayor of Kansas City who once was paraded through Washington, D.C., as evidence of the Democrats’ strong early recruiting but who lost by 22 points to Republican Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.).

Biggest Long-Shot Winner


Tom Perriello (D-Va.)
Don Young (R-Alaska)
Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
Walt Minnick (D-Idaho)
Anh Cao (R-La.)

Anh Cao? Anh Cao? Holy Cow!

Best Name in the New Congress


Phil Hare (D-Ill.)
Joe Pitts (R-Pa.)
Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)
Anh Cao (R-La.)
Todd Platts (R-Pa.)
Zack Space (D-Ohio)

We are all lucky to have so many Members with “interesting” names. I expected Marcia Fudge to win this category in a walk. But coming up to nip her at the wire: Anh Cao! This makes him a rare double winner this year and should get him an appearance on David Letterman.

Most Religious-Sounding Name


Rob Bishop (R-Utah)
Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.)
Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.)

Three bishops, an Israel and a hazan — I mean a cantor. (Go ask somebody Jewish if you are confused by this reference). Two Republicans and three Democrats. Two Jews, a Baptist, a Mormon and a Roman Catholic ... sounds like the opening line to an offensive joke. Obviously I’m too politically correct to choose just one. I’ll pass.

Most Overhyped, Self-Important, Delusional Presidential Candidate


Cynthia McKinney
Ron Paul
Ralph Nader
Bob Barr
Alan Keyes

Another impossible choice given the long list of grossly inflated egos. You probably didn’t realize that Alan Keyes was on the ballot in three states and that he has founded a new political party, America’s Independent Party. Don’t look so surprised.

Three of these people never, ever smile: Barr, Paul and Nader. So I’ll focus on them, since their apparent humorlessness makes them all the more offensive.

Nader is a sad case, since he had some influence in this country and has now run so many times and echoed the same message so often that he has become pitiful — too pitiful for me to award him this category.

That leaves Paul and Barr, both of whom ought to know better.

Paul was treated as a serious contender by too many in the media, and, judging from the e-mails I received, by too many of his supporters. He raised a good deal of cash but never was a serious contender for the GOP nomination. Never.

A onetime U.S. attorney and former Member of Congress, Barr came within an eyelash of being the Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia in 1992, losing a runoff to Paul Coverdell, who went on to win the seat in November. Some argued that Barr had such potential appeal (possibly in the 3-6 percent range) that he might throw the presidential race in Georgia — or even the White House — to Barack Obama. (Don’t look at me. I thought the idea was nuts and said so repeatedly.)

Anyway, according to the Georgia secretary of State’s office, Barr ended up drawing 28,812 votes, or 0.7 percent of the vote as the state’s Libertarian Party nominee for president. Nationally, Barr drew 524,237 votes — about 400,000 fewer votes than the 1980 Libertarian nominee, Ed Clark, drew.

Overhyped? Over-covered by the national media? The answer is BOTH Ron Paul and Bob Barr.

Finally, let me end 2008 with a correction. A few weeks ago I wrote that one of my errors for this cycle was that I assumed there would be one or two wild upsets that I had not expected. That was true on Nov. 4, but the recent upset win of Republican Anh Cao in Louisiana changes that. So, I was NOT in error in expecting that there would be an off-the-wall upset that I hadn’t expected in the 2008 elections. But I was in error in expecting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to defeat Cao.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 15, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

White House 2012 Polls: Not So Fast

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Barack Obama hasn’t even been sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, and the media can’t wait to name a leading candidate to take him on in four years.

Incessant speculation and polling are staples of today’s media, and any talk about the 2012 presidential race should be labeled as fantasy, not treated as news or analysis.

Not only are Americans — and many reporters — eager for a break after a seemingly eternal presidential race, but it is simply too early to predict which candidates will actually run for the White House four years from now and, more importantly, which issues will be center stage.

Four years ago, Obama had not yet been sworn into the U.S. Senate, after an easy general election win over Alan Keyes (R). Now, he is the president-elect.

Obama gave a memorable speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, but no one predicted he would be standing on the steps of the Capitol taking the oath of office in January 2009.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Nov. 16-17 in 2004 showed New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) defeating Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John Edwards (N.C.) and John Kerry (Mass.) in hypothetical 2008 general election matchups.

A month later, another Fox poll showed Clinton defeating Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and New York Gov. George Pataki (R) in potential 2008 matchups. It also showed Kerry defeating Bush, 45 percent to 37 percent.

In addition, a Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates (R) survey taken Nov. 14-16 in 2004 showed Clinton defeating Edwards, 46 percent to 28 percent, for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. On the Republican side, Giuliani led Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), 42 percent to 24 percent.

A look at polls of presidential races going even further back proves early speculation is extremely premature, and most often wrong.

Eight years ago, speculation about the 2004 race was initially muted as the Florida recount and subsequent Supreme Court decision delayed the results of the 2000 race. But a Zogby International poll taken Dec. 15-17 in 2000 showed Vice President Al Gore leading the 2004 Democratic primary field. That’s not all that surprising because part of the electorate believed — and still believes — he won the 2000 race.

Clinton, who hadn’t yet been sworn in as the junior Senator from New York, was second in the survey at 18 percent. Former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) was third with 7 percent, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the Rev. Jesse Jackson (D) and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) all received 5 percent or less.

Eventual 2004 nominee Kerry received 3 percent in the poll, just a couple points ahead of then-California Gov. Gray Davis (D).

Early presidential polls are more about name identification and past support, rather than revealing much about candidates’ future appeal and success, or the likelihood that they will run at all.

That’s why people should be very skeptical about all of this 2012 talk.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey taken Dec. 1-2, 34 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said they were likely to support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) if he were the party’s nominee. A similar 32 percent said they would support Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

The survey was not a horse race poll, pitting candidates against each other, but instead an attempted measure of party support. But of course, ranking becomes inevitable.

The survey is somewhat futile because the vast majority of Republicans are going to support the GOP presidential nominee, no matter who it is. McCain received 90 percent of the Republican vote on Nov. 4. And President George W. Bush received 93 percent and 91 percent in his two elections, but that’s beside the point.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) finished third with 28 percent, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) received 27 percent, Giuliani had 23 percent, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) had 19 percent, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) had 7 percent.

It’s a cliché, but four years is about two lifetimes in politics. Four years ago, Palin was the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the former head of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and barely even known in Alaska. Now she is regarded as one of the national leaders of her party.

It’s impossible to recognize all of the potential candidates that could affect the dynamic of the 2012 field. And it’s too early to start tracking trips to Dubuque, Iowa.

A Selzer & Co. Inc. poll taken Jan. 15-21, 2001, for the Des Moines Register showed Gore leading the field in the Hawkeye State with 39 percent. Clinton was second with 12 percent, and Gephardt was third with 9 percent, followed by Kerrey (6 percent), Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (5 percent), South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (4 percent) and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (4 percent).

Of those seven candidates, only Gephardt participated in the 2004 Iowa caucus, and he finished fourth with 11 percent. Kerry, who tied for ninth place and received 2 percent in the 2001 poll, ended up winning Iowa with 39 percent. Edwards (32 percent) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (18 percent) finished second and third but were not part of the early speculation.

Before the handicapping can begin, it helps to know who is actually running.

An early January 1997 poll by Opinion Research showed Colin Powell leading the 2000 GOP presidential race with 32 percent. Former Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) was second with 15 percent, and Bush was third with 10 percent. Of course, Bush won the nomination and the presidency, while Powell and Kemp didn’t even run.

On the Democratic side, polls in early 1997 showing Gore with the advantage in the 2000 race proved to be correct. But he was the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination as the sitting vice president under a term-limited Bill Clinton.

Back in December 1992, Kemp was the first choice of Republicans for the 1996 race with 17 percent, according to a poll for Gannett News Service. White House Chief of Staff James Baker was at 16 percent, while Kansas Sen. Bob Dole received 15 percent and outgoing Vice President Dan Quayle had 13 percent. Even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney received 9 percent. Of the five candidates, only Dole ran.

It is still unclear how many of the current field of conventional wisdom candidates will actually run in 2012. But there are other unanswered questions.

How do the former officeholders stay relevant? By the time 2012 rolls around, Gingrich and Giuliani will have been out of office for more than a decade, while it will be six years each for Romney and Huckabee.

Besides the volatile list of potential candidates, it is even more impossible to predict how voters will prioritize issues in four years.

Just a year ago, the war in Iraq dominated the news and boosted Obama to the Democratic nomination. When the general election rolled around, the economy was far and away the top issue on voters’ minds and helped the Illinois Senator defeat McCain.

Because the economy is in such tough shape, it is not unreasonable to predict that it will be the top issue again in 2012. But who knows for sure? One terrorist attack or major international event could shift the issue landscape back to foreign affairs.

And if foreign policy is the top issue, how does that affect a potential GOP field of candidates largely void of significant overseas credentials?

Obama’s presidential candidacy and election demonstrates that most of politics is timing and factors outside of a candidate’s control. Without knowing the issue landscape, it is impossible to handicap the potential field of candidates.

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shocked About the Blagojevich Scandal? You Shouldn’t Be

By Stuart Rothenberg

Much like the feigned outrage that Capt. Louis Renault (actor Claude Rains) exhibited in the movie “Casablanca” at the idea that gambling was going on in Rick’s Café Americain, the shock that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) hasn’t been entirely ethical is a bit hard to take.

Blagojevich has been the subject of an extensive FBI investigation for years, at least going back to October 2005, when the Chicago Tribune reported on a grand jury investigation into the administration’s hiring practices. And many politically aware Illinois residents, from businessmen to political insiders, have been joking that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Blagojevich heads to the slammer.

Of course, nobody could have expected that the governor was so bold as to talk to associates about how he might profit financially from the “sale” of Barack Obama’s Senate seat, so surprise about that is in order.

There has been plenty of speculation about how Blagojevich, and New York Gov. David Paterson (D), for that matter, might benefit politically from Senate appointments, ingratiating themselves with certain groups or removing potential political rivals from the field of play. But that’s generally regarded as fair game, since money isn’t changing hands.

Still, the recent avalanche of questionable conduct — including public corruption investigations and alleged or proven criminal conduct — involving personal financial gain by elected officials is mind-boggling and more than a little unsettling and troubling.

Let’s see, Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Frank Ballance (D-N.C.), William Jefferson (D-La.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) come quickly to mind.

Last April, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D), who also served in the state Senate, was convicted of fraud, while in September, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) was forced from office. In late July, the offices of Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Commissioner Jimmy Dimora (D) and Auditor Frank Russo (D) were raided by federal investigators as part of an ongoing public corruption investigation.

In Massachusetts, then-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D) was indicted for extortion last month after the FBI videotaped her accepting cash from a developer and stuffing the money into her bra. She eventually resigned her seat, but weeks after the report surfaced and a day after she had been indicted.

We don’t need to go through the long litany of elected officials from New Jersey, Louisiana and Illinois, who have over the years enriched themselves and their friends, or the more recent scandal ensnaring legislators from Alaska.

And I’m certainly not going back far enough to mention Kentucky’s legislative scandal or former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) or former Rep. Jim Traficant (Ohio) or former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland (R) or the officeholders ensnared in the ABSCAM investigation in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The reality is that when large amounts of government money are involved, some people — including some officeholders — will take the opportunity to use their ability to influence the distribution of that money to line their own pockets.

Some states, and some communities, still have a culture of corruption that makes this possible. How many times have you heard people joke that, “Well, it’s New Jersey!” to explain an indicted officeholder?

Well, it’s not an entirely surprising comment given the bribery conviction of former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski (D), former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo (D) and former Paterson Mayor Martin Barnes (D) for bribery.

Of course, New Jersey isn’t the only state with a reputation for politicians with questionable ethics.

And yet, corruption doesn’t have to be accepted as simply part of the political game.

Incoming President Barack Obama has talked about political reform and changing the way things are done, and his call for Blagojevich’s resignation is a wise move. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) certainly seems serious about cleaning up his state, and once-cynical voters have responded.

In addition, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has seemed much tougher, at least in rhetoric, on its own Democratic colleagues who have been under a cloud than were GOP leaders on their embattled Republican colleagues when they ran the House.

If there is something to be learned it is that the lack of a vibrant two-party system seems to provide an environment in which extensive corruption can flourish. Party leaders and political associates often look the other way when they are afraid that they are going to see something unseemly, if not illegal. Political competition tends to keep everybody honest.

Second, Congress and other federal officials better pay a great deal of attention to the considerable funds that will be thrown around over the next months to try to stimulate the U.S. economy. Money, it appears, seems to attract rats, and lots of money will attract lots of rats.

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Republicans Should Quit Celebrating and Face Reality

By Nathan L. Gonzales

It’s understandable that Republicans are looking for any glimmer of good news after getting drubbed in consecutive election cycles. But their celebration over recent victories in Georgia and Louisiana is over the top and leaves the party ignoring electoral reality.

“Our success in Georgia with U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and in the two Louisiana Congressional races makes for three wins in a row for a GOP that was supposed to be destroyed, demoralized, and humiliated on Election Day,” Ron Kaufman, the Republican National Committee Budget Committee chairman, wrote in a memo this week to RNC members.

Republicans look like the football team dancing in the end zone in the fourth quarter of a game when they’re down by 40 points.

“It would seem that the media reports of our demise and of how long it would take for Republicans to catch up were greatly exaggerated,” Kaufman chided in the memo, which also included the potential creation of a Center for Republican Renewal, an RNC Speakers Bureau, and Partnership 2010, which would include a paid RNC staffer for every state.

Kaufman’s memo comes on the heels of House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) memo, “The Future is Cao,” after attorney Ahn Cao (R) defeated indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) in Louisiana’s 2nd district.

“As House Republicans look ahead to the next two years, the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative, and work aggressively to earn the trust of the American people,” Boehner wrote.

Republicans clearly have their theme, and they’re sticking to it, even if the latest three victories don’t pave any path back to electoral significance.

While it’s nice to claim victory in the first three contests of the Obama era, Republicans should not forget that they held a GOP seat in Georgia, held a GOP seat in Louisiana’s 4th district and defeated an indicted Democrat who hid $90,000 cash in his freezer in Louisiana’s 2nd district.

The Georgia race should not have even made it to a runoff, so to boast about a Chambliss victory is a bit disingenuous. The GOP Senator outspent his Democratic challenger by more than 4 to 1 through Oct. 15, in a state that President George W. Bush carried by 17 points in 2004 and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried by 5 points on Nov. 4.

It’s like congratulating the New York Giants on defeating the Detroit Lions on a last-second field goal in overtime.

Democrats have enjoyed recent success in districts similar to Louisiana’s 4th, and Republicans had a very competitive primary there, but GOP leaders should not get too excited about holding a district Bush carried with 59 percent four years ago.

Looking to the future, Republicans cannot regain the majorities in the House and the Senate just by holding their own seats and defeating incumbents with frozen cash on hand.

Instead, Republicans should face the reality of the current electoral landscape. Over the last two cycles, they have lost more than 50 seats in the House and at least 13 seats in the Senate. Republicans have dug a tremendous hole for themselves, and it will take more than talking points to dig out.

Republicans need to come to terms with the fact that over the last four years, Democrats have gained control of every level of government.

In the House, Republicans had a 232-202 majority after the 2004 election. Next year, Democrats will have a 257-178 edge. In the Senate, Republicans had a 55-45 majority after the 2004 election. Next year, Democrats will have 58 or 59 Senate seats.

After the 2004 election, Republicans held 28 governorships compared with 22 for the Democrats. After Nov. 4, Democrats held 29 governorships compared with 21 for the Republicans, although the GOP will gain one back if Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) leaves, as expected, to join Obama’s Cabinet.

After the 2004 election, Republicans controlled the state legislature in 20 states compared with 19 Democratic-controlled states. Now, Democrats control the state legislature in 27 states, with the Republicans holding only 14.

And there are over 800 more Democratic state legislators than Republicans in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site. Four years ago, Democrats had a mere 10-seat edge out of more than 7,000 nationwide.

Given this new GOP optimism, if Democrats keep their cash in banks rather than in appliances, they could be in the majority for a very long time.

This story first appeared on on December 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Louisiana 2: Former Landrieu Chief of Staff Aided Jefferson Challenger

By Nathan L. Gonzales

There are plenty of Democrats who aren’t particularly sad that indicted Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson (D) will not be returning to Congress after his upset defeat on Saturday. Those Democrats may be surprised that Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) former chief of staff, Ron Faucheux, helped Republican Joseph Cao defeat the embattled Congressman.

Faucheux is president of Clarus Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm, which conducted surveys for Cao in the 2nd district race. According to an e-mail sent by Faucheux on Sunday afternoon, Clarus helped the GOP attorney score “one of the biggest Congressional upsets of the year.”

Cao defeated Jefferson, 50 percent to 47 percent, in a low-turnout general election that was postponed because of Hurricane Gustav.

Faucheux was elected to the Louisiana House at age 25 and served there with Landrieu. He later moved to Washington, was editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine for a decade and served as chief of staff to Landrieu for a year, beginning in 2006.

“I’ve worked for many years trying to bring reform and good leadership to my home state of Louisiana,” Faucheux said. “I’ve helped candidates I believe will do that, without regard to partisanship.”

In August 2005, the FBI raided Jefferson’s home and allegedly found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. The Congressman won re-election — 57 percent to 43 percent — in 2006 against Democrat Karen Carter in a runoff. In June 2007, Jefferson was indicted on 16 charges of corruption. He is awaiting trial.

Faucheux formed Clarus in June 2008, combining his consulting business, Faucheux Strategies, with the research division of Qorvis Communications. He was an adviser to Landrieu’s successful re-election bid last month, but Faucheux never talked with the Senator about his work on the Cao race.

“Clarus is a nonpartisan research firm focused on corporate, association and nonprofit clients, not political campaigns,” Faucheux explained. “Candidate work is an exception.”

The Faucheux-Cao connection is just one example of the small world that is Louisiana politics.

Faucheux ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New Orleans in 1982, losing 53 percent to 47 percent to incumbent Ernest Morial, the city’s first African-American mayor. Faucheux finished second in the initial all-party primary with 45 percent, less than two points behind Morial. Jefferson , then a state Senator, finished third with a distant 7 percent of the vote.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In This Case, It’s Fair to Blame the Messenger

By Stuart Rothenberg

It’s December, and we’re all filled with the holiday spirit. So I thought it was time for me to write a piece disagreeing with one of my fellow Roll Call columnists.

David Winston argues in his Dec. 1 column that Republicans lost in November, and will lose again, if they continue to rely on “the issue-less, relentlessly negative campaigns that party operatives have promoted for years; campaigns aimed almost entirely at turning out an angry base rather than appealing to a broader coalition.”

“The negative campaign strategy, tactics and training that have characterized Republican operations for most of the past two decades are more than outdated. They simply don’t work,” he writes.

He then blasts the National Republican Congressional Committee for running nothing but negative ads last cycle (based on a quick check of YouTube) and complains that the party missed an opportunity to have a “conversation” with the American public.

But Winston doesn’t stop there. He repeatedly calls for the GOP to adopt a “forward-looking, inclusive, modernized agenda,” and he asserts that his party has ignored new media technology and must embrace “a modern approach to campaigns.” Near the end of his piece, he refers to the “antiquated notion that all politics is local.”

While I certainly agree that the GOP “base vote” strategy is no longer appropriate given the bent of independents and the shrinking Republican identification, Winston’s insistence that Republican candidates fared so poorly because the party failed to have a positive agenda and candidates relied almost exclusively on negative campaigning is simply wrong.

Let’s be very clear: Republicans got spanked for the second election in a row because the GOP brand was badly damaged by President George W. Bush. Of course, Republican ineptness (and ethical lapses) on Capitol Hill also hurt the party, as did news events and a changing issue mix. But all of this can be traced back to the president’s performance over the previous eight years.

The idea that Congressional Republicans could have redefined their party before the elections is not credible. Sitting presidents and presidential nominees define a party.

As for “negative” campaigns, when your party’s reputation is in the toilet, trying to drive up your opponents’ negatives is one of the few things you can do.

For years, I watched NRCC operatives Terry Nelson, Mike McElwain and Jonathan Poe successfully hold onto GOP House majorities by bombing Democratic challengers with attacks, making many of those challengers unacceptable alternatives to inept Republican incumbents. Those “negative attacks” worked because the party had the resources to drive them home even in mildly unfavorable environments.

Last cycle and this year, Democratic candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were every bit as negative as the NRCC used to be. And in both cycles, Democrats had the financial resources and national mood to make those attacks particularly effective.

The truth, of course, is that good negative ads still work, though Republicans had a harder time making their negative attacks stick on Democrats in 2006 and 2008 because the public has had such an unfavorable view of the president and his party.

Republicans were no longer viewed as credible messengers (regardless of whether the messages were positive or negative), and it’s hard to have a “conversation” with someone who isn’t listening.

Even with that problem, the NRCC and Republican candidates’ “negative” attacks on Democrats Linda Stender (N.J.), Mike Montagano (Ind.) and Darcy Burner (Wash.) in the final months of the 2008 campaign may well have saved those seats for the GOP this cycle.

Winston cites the NRCC ads on YouTube as evidence of Republican negativity. Well, if you check the DCCC’s ads on YouTube, you’ll see dozens of negative ads compared with a single positive one (for Kansas incumbent Nancy Boyda, who asked the DCCC to stay out of her race and who lost).

As for Winston’s comment that the idea that all politics is local is “antiquated,” he’s only half right. Politics is neither entirely local nor entirely national. It depends on the cycle.

We clearly have seen two consecutive “nationalized” cycles where the wind was strongly at the Democratic Party’s back and in the GOP’s face. Changing the wind, as Winston seems to suggest, was impossible, so the only hope that Republican candidates had was to try to localize their races, thereby changing the nature of voters’ choices.

Finally, it is difficult to dismiss Winston’s argument that Republicans need a “modern agenda” and must employ “new media technology.” But parties often run out of ideas after eight years in the White House, and not every new technology (such as Twitter, which he cites) is a game changer.

There are plenty of things that the GOP needs to fix to come back from its back-to-back defeats — from raising more money and getting better candidates to repairing its image and coming up with an appealing agenda. But it’s time to jettison the idea that Republicans lost in 2008 primarily because they were “too negative.”

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 8, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Democratic Governors Excited for Partnership With Obama

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Democratic governors offered nearly universal praise for President-elect Barack Obama after their meeting last week. The feeling must be mutual as Obama continues to tap the gubernatorial ranks to fill out his Cabinet.

“I saw them taking notes,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said about Obama and Vice president-elect Joseph Biden’s level of sincerity and engagement in the bipartisan meeting with the nation’s governors. Obama and Biden gave some brief remarks and then opened the floor for questions.

The meeting took place in conjunction with the National Governors Association gathering in Philadelphia. And although the bulk of the conversation took place behind closed doors, subsequent interviews with Democratic governors revealed a high level of excitement about the next administration.

“There were no real secrets in the room,” New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) said. According to governors in the meeting, the conversation with Obama included talks about an upcoming stimulus package, infrastructure, energy and Medicaid, as well as an overall discussion about how the federal government can partner with the states.

According to Schweitzer, the incoming chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the discussion about Medicaid was particularly important. As the economy suffers and people lose their jobs, they are added to the state’s Medicaid rolls, at the same time when tax revenues are diminishing. Because governors can’t run up budget deficits in their states, there was talk of countercyclical payments to the states.

“He gets it,” said newly re-elected Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D). “He gets what the states are facing.”

Democratic governors were encouraged by the meeting because of the stark contrast to their relationship with the Bush administration.

“We need a partner ... someone who would listen,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), who described the meeting as a “wholesale success.”

While the Democratic governors were obviously excited to have the ear of the new president-elect, they were impressed with the way Obama asked for and handled input from the GOP governors as well.

According to participants in the room, there was a “powerful” exchange between Obama and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who expressed significant concern that another stimulus package would potentially increase the size of the federal debt.

“We don’t want a provider, we want a partner,” said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), the outgoing chairman of the DGA. Other governors expressed similar sentiments, saying they weren’t looking for a block grant or a blank check, but instead the ability to shape the infrastructure into specific projects that work in their states.

Beyond the NGA meeting, Obama has looked to governors for more than advice. He will appoint Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) to head Homeland Security and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) to head the Commerce Department.

There is a downside for the DGA. Because Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor, the secretary of state ascends to the governorship, and she happens to be a Republican. The GOP pickup wipes out the DGA’s gain of a governorship from the Nov. 4 election and would return the Democrats to 28 governorships nationwide.

In New Mexico, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) will move up, assuming Richardson is confirmed.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) appears to still be in the mix for a Cabinet post. She is term-limited in 2010 and can’t seek re-election, but she is considered a top potential candidate for a U.S. Senate seat expected to be vacated by Sam Brownback (R). In a recent interview, Sebelius simply said the future was “a little uncertain.” Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson (D), former chairman of the state Republican Party, is waiting in the wings if Sebelius joins the Cabinet.

Sebelius and Napolitano sat next to each other on a train to Washington, D.C., after the Obama meeting in Philadelphia. They were two of 16 governors who hopped aboard a DGA-chartered rail car for a field trip to the group’s annual meeting in Washington.

[Update: According to the Lawrence Journal on Sunday, Sebelius has taken herself out of consideration.]

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

Corzine Sympathizes With Menendez’s DSCC Duties

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Three years ago, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) appointed then-Rep. Bob Menendez (D) to his Senate seat after Corzine was elected governor of the Garden State. Now, Menendez is slated to further follow in Corzine’s footsteps, taking the helm at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Corzine once led during a time when the political landscape was quite different.

“He should have talked to me before he took it,” said a smiling Corzine during an interview Tuesday on a train en route to the Democratic Governors Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. “It’s the most exhausting thing I ever did,” he added. “It’s like having two jobs at once.”

Corzine led the DSCC during the 2004 cycle, when President George W. Bush won re-election and Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate.

“We held our own,” said Corzine, who said he was most proud of the Senate victories of Barack Obama in Illinois and Ken Salazar in Colorado that year.

With Menendez at the helm, it means that three of the past five DSCC chairmen have been from New Jersey. Before Menendez and Corzine, Sen. Robert Torricelli led the committee during the 2000 cycle.

After his time at the DSCC, Corzine ran successfully for governor in 2005. He is up for re-election next year, and while he has not made an official announcement, Corzine, sounding confident, said, “I fully intend to run.”

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Minnesota Senate: Gregoire Offers Recount Advice to Franken

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Al Franken certainly isn’t the first candidate to endure a long recount. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) knows all about close races and recounts, and she recently offered her advice to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee in the protracted Minnesota Senate race.

“I told him, don’t let [Republicans] market that something is wrong with the recount,” Gregoire said Tuesday, reflecting on her personal call to Franken. “Don’t let that happen. Recounts happen in America.”

Franken is in the middle of a recount in Minnesota and trails narrowly in his race against Sen. Norm Coleman (R). Gregoire was first elected in 2004, after trailing in two machine recounts by 129 votes and 47 votes, and finally prevailing by 129 votes in a third, manual recount.

“[People should] respect the recount process. It’s part of the system in our country,” Gregoire said in an interview Tuesday while on her way from the governors’ meeting with President-elect Barack Obama in Philadelphia to the annual Democratic Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C.

Former state Sen. Dino Rossi, the 2004 Republican nominee, ran against Gregoire again in 2008, but the Democrat prevailed by a much wider margin, 53 percent to 47 percent.

This story first appeared on on December 2, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

New Hampshire Senate: The Polls Didn’t Lie

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Even though New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) trailed former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in the polls for almost two years, that didn’t stop some GOP operatives from maintaining a sliver of optimism about the race, even in the campaign’s final months.

But Republicans were too focused on the margin between the Senator and his Democratic opponent (whom he defeated six years ago in a better political environment) in public polls and in private GOP surveys and didn’t put enough weight on Sununu’s standing in ballot tests in the race.

In 35 public polls taken from March 2007 through the end of October 2008, Sununu trailed in all but one of them. A December 2007 American Research Group poll showed the Republican with an astounding 11-point lead, which was a clear outlier.

A crop of polls in early to mid-September showed Sununu narrowing a consistent double-digit gap to single digits, as the Senator invoked his campaign plan. Unlike some of his colleagues, Sununu chose not to advertise early, and instead kept his campaign cash until the fall.

While Shaheen’s lead narrowed below double digits in the fall, Sununu’s number remained unchanged — stuck in the low 40s. The strange December ARG survey was the only public poll in which the Senator exceeded 45 percent in a ballot test.

In the end, Sununu lost to Shaheen 52 percent to 45 percent.

The Republican’s decision to save his money until the fall probably didn’t hurt his chances. Some of his Republican colleagues advertised early (Gordon Smith in Oregon and Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina) and still lost re-election.

But Sununu was banking on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) competing in and even potentially winning New Hampshire in the presidential contest (McCain wound up losing the state by 9 points) and hoping that the 2006 GOP bloodbath in the state was an aberration.

That proved to be wishful thinking. And what’s more, Sununu received support from only 37 percent of female voters against Shaheen — the lowest total by a Republican Senate incumbent in the country.

This story
first appeared on on December 1, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Can Anyone Bring America Together in an Era of Division?

By Stuart Rothenberg

President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to bring America together. While that rallying cry sounds good to many people, it would require a Herculean task that may well be impossible.

We are currently in a media environment dominated by loud, often-nasty ideologues who care more about belittling and demonizing the opposition than promoting ideas and civility.

While some of our politicians and political leaders certainly deserve blame for contributing to the animosity, the problem goes beyond them and to the larger culture.

Just go to the Web or turn on a cable TV news network, and you’ll see and hear the kind of coarse, downright mean characterizations of politicians that have made civility and rationality all but impossible when discussing politics or political issues.

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have chosen to be every bit as unfair and misleading as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly at Fox. MSNBC brings on writers from the very-left-of-center Nation magazine, much as Fox brings on the agenda- driven Dick Morris — offering partisan, ideological drivel that masquerades as serious political analysis.

Many of these talk-show hosts have no interest in being even-handed, preferring instead to play to the partisan preferences of their viewers. So they mischaracterize their opponents; ask loaded, self-serving questions intended to damage the opposition; and pass falsehoods and half-truths off as accurate characterizations of their adversaries.

What’s lacking, of course, is any sense of humility. The Olbermanns and O’Reillys of the world hardly ever express any doubts about their own views or display a sense of modesty. They are right and their opponents are wrong. Always.

Unfortunately, these efforts at pandering to true believers have borne fruit. Conservatives now watch Fox, while liberals tune into MSNBC. The public deserves some of the blame, of course, because these networks are only giving people what they want.

CNN, the alternative on the cable side, hasn’t sunk to the depths of the other two cable news networks, but it too has chosen to elevate personality over the news. Indeed, the celebrity aspect of alleged news coverage continues to grow, often adding to political polarization. The media’s post- election obsession with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is a good example.

Beyond the media’s contribution to divisiveness is the reality that November’s exit poll continues to show deep divisions in the country — divisions that will not be healed easily, no matter the president-elect’s intentions.

The country’s deepest and most-explosive division revolves around culture.

Four in 10 voters attend religious services at least weekly, and they went for John McCain, 55 percent to 43 percent. Almost an equal number of voters, 42 percent, said they attend religious services only occasionally, and they went for Obama, 57 percent to 42 percent. And among those voters who never attend religious services, Obama won by 37 points, 67 percent to 30 percent.

On guns, another longtime indicator of cultural values, divisions remain deep. A substantial 42 percent of Americans own guns, and they voted for McCain, 62 percent to 37 percent. Those voters who don’t own a gun, 58 percent of all respondents in the exit poll, went for Obama by 32 points, 65 percent to 33 percent.

It’s true, of course, that if Americans no longer care about cultural issues, as some suggest, these differences are unimportant. But with gay marriage clearly remaining a major issue on the national radar and with Supreme Court vacancies and appointments nearly certain in the next few years, it’s unlikely that cultural issues will evaporate.

Further, the size of Obama’s victory and the nature of the problems that he will confront don’t suggest the end of division.

Obama’s 53 percent victory was a solid win, far more decisive than the last two presidential elections. But it was hardly a blowout.

His apparent margin of 6.8 points (based on near-final numbers from CNN) was well below the true landslide margins in Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s re-elections (23.2 points and 18.2 points, respectively), but it also was below Bill Clinton’s re-election (8.5 points). Maybe more importantly, it was significantly below Reagan’s margin over Jimmy Carter (9.6 points) and slightly below George H.W. Bush’s 7.8-point margin in the 1988 open-seat race.

In other words, America did not “come together” to elect Obama. The country was divided, and while most Americans now hope that he can solve the nation’s problems, the new president’s choices will invariably require him to make trade-offs — trade-offs that are likely to anger some, maybe many, Americans.

While many Americans say they would like the country to come together, what they often really mean is that they would like others to change their views.

Obama has the oratorical skills to capture the public’s attention, and the nation’s pessimism about the future actually gives the president-elect a unique opportunity to rally support.

But unless our new president is smart enough and lucky enough to preside over the transformation of the American economy, and unless he places a higher priority on uniting the country, rather than pursing an ideological agenda, we are likely headed for more nastiness and division sooner or later.

This column
first appeared in Roll Call on December 1, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Maine Senate: Collins Demonstrated Widespread Appeal in Victory

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) was one of the few Republicans who looked increasingly solid as the campaign developed, rather than more vulnerable. Her 61 percent to 39 percent victory over Rep. Tom Allen (D) was impressive, but even that margin doesn’t paint the whole picture of how well she did — and the Senator did it at the same time then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) carried Maine by 17 points.

Collins won an amazing 40 percent of Obama voters. That was against a sitting Democratic Congressman who has represented half of the state for more than a decade. She also won one-third of self-described liberal voters and one-third of Democratic voters. Wyoming’s two Senators were the only other Republican Senate candidates to reach those numbers. And there is a difference between liberals in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Portland, Maine.

Collins also won approximately two-thirds of self-described moderates and independents.

But her support with liberals and voters in the middle didn’t hurt her among the GOP base. Collins won 90 percent of Republicans, which was more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) were able to keep in the tent. She also won 85 percent of conservatives, placing her behind only Roberts and Wyoming’s duo.

Collins also scored an impressive 59 percent with female voters. In comparison, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won 34 percent of women in the Maine presidential contest. Maine’s junior Senator also won almost two-thirds of the male vote.

Collins’ victory shows that not all pre-election storylines materialize into reality. Running for re-election in a blue state, against a Democratic Congressman who represented half of the state, and in the shadow of her colleague, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), was supposed to guarantee supreme vulnerability.

But Collins ran like a vulnerable incumbent from the beginning, and despite a late September Mellman Group poll that showed an 8-point race, the outcome was never in doubt.

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