Friday, July 30, 2010

Huge GOP Gains Weren’t Always Inevitable This Year

By Stuart Rothenberg

Sometimes, you can almost hear the conventional wisdom and expectations shift, even when they are based on faulty premises.

I’ve heard dozens of times over the past few months that large Democratic losses in the House were inevitable this year because of sweeping Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008.

Indeed, on Monday’s edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP Congressman from Florida, echoed that point, asserting that a “realignment” in the House was inevitable this year, even if unemployment were at 4 percent.

The reality is quite different. When I first started talking to Republican and Democratic insiders in December 2008, none of them believed that anything was “inevitable” in November 2010.

Throughout the winter of 2008-2009 and the spring of 2009, strategists for both parties acknowledged that midterms were usually challenging for the party holding the White House.

Democrats noted that the combination of Republican retirements, Democratic incumbency and financial advantages, and new Democratic opportunities — resulting from demographic changes during the decade and stronger recruiting in GOP seats previously neglected — would keep their net losses low, probably in the single digits.

After losing 51 House seats over two disastrous election cycles, Republicans knew they had plenty of opportunities and held on to the hope that long-term trends would create a favorable climate for their resurgence. But they expressed concerns about the damage to their party’s brand and were deflated when, in late March, an upstate New York special election was won by a Democrat.

In May 2009, my newsletter, the Rothenberg Political Report, noted that “small Republican gains would seem the most likely outcome” of the midterms, adding that the House “is not at risk in next year’s elections.”

No wonder GOP prospects were so limited. President Barack Obama’s job approval in an April 2009 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey stood at 61 percent approve/30 percent disapprove, and equal percentages of respondents (43 percent) said the country was headed in the right direction versus on the wrong track — a dramatic improvement from the previous November.

But while Democrats initially talked about keeping their losses to fewer than 10 seats, somewhere during the summer that number grew to a dozen and then to 15 seats.

In mid-September, I wrote in the Rothenberg Political Report that prospective GOP gains ranged from “only a handful of seats to a couple of dozen or more, depending on how things develop over the next year.” This much wider range reflected deteriorating national conditions for Democrats — Obama’s sliding approval numbers, declining right direction/wrong track results and a worsening in the Democratic Party’s image.

My point in resurrecting all these numbers and projections is that it was not always inevitable that Republicans would make large House gains, no matter what you may read and hear now.

Yes, House midterm election losses by the president’s party have often been substantial, as in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1974, 1966 and 1958. But at other times, the president’s party hasn’t done nearly so poorly, with either small gains or losses of fewer than 15 seats in 2002, 1998, 1990, 1978 and 1934.

Indeed, as many of us have repeatedly noted, the president’s party has gained seats in two of the past three midterm elections.

Let’s be clear about where we all would be if unemployment were actually at 4 percent right now.

Most of the hand-wringing about jobs and the economy would be gone, stronger employment numbers would mean a more vibrant economy (which almost certainly would mean higher federal and state revenues and lower deficits) and polling undoubtedly would show the president with better numbers, Congress with a higher approval rating and the Democratic Party more popular than it is now. Because of that, the huge enthusiasm gap that now exists and is likely to fuel GOP gains in November would be much smaller or nonexistent.

All of that would likely mean far smaller Democratic losses in the fall. Nobody, but nobody, would be talking about the inevitability of huge Republican House gains (or the possible loss of the House) if that were the case.

Actions, indeed, do have consequences. In this case, the combination of an aggressive Democratic agenda, a weak jobs recovery and a large deficit has created a political environment very different from the one 18 months ago, when Democrats won a special election in New York’s open 20th district by demonizing Republicans for waffling on, then opposing, Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

It’s very difficult to imagine Republican gains in the House of fewer than two dozen seats, and my own newsletter, after going race by race, recently placed likely GOP gains in the range of 28 to 33 seats, if not higher.

The House surely is at great risk, and anyone who asserts that Democrats are certain to maintain their majority after November is simply not worth listening to on the subject. The trajectory of this election cycle is clear. But don’t delude yourself. It didn’t have to be this way.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 29, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Florida Governor: Just Where Exactly Did Rick Scott Come From?

By Stuart Rothenberg

The story of Florida gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott (R) surely is one of the weirder stories in what is already an unusual political year.

Scott began his bid for the state’s top office as a political unknown who had run a company, Columbia/HCA, which was accused of defrauding Medicare and settled the case by paying fines and restitution amounting to $1.7 billion. That’s billion, with a “b.”

Now, Scott is the odds-on favorite to win the Aug. 24 GOP primary over state Attorney General Bill McCollum, making him his party’s gubernatorial nominee in the fall.

Scott would go into the general election no worse than even money against the likely Democratic nominee, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, and Independent Bud Chiles, son of former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.

An attorney who came from a Kansas City, Mo., family of modest means, Scott started the Columbia Hospital Corp. in 1987. The company grew by buying hospitals until 1994, when Scott purchased HCA Inc., combining the two companies into one, Columbia/HCA.

That company continued to grow, but Scott left it in 1997, ousted by the company’s board of directors during the unfolding fraud investigation. According to Scott’s campaign website, by that time Columbia/HCA had “become the world’s largest health care company.”

After leaving Columbia/HCA, Scott bought or founded other health-care-related businesses. But perhaps his next dramatic move was the founding of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a national advocacy group “dedicated to the free market principles of choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility in health care.”

CPR, started with $5 million of Scott’s money, was a vocal opponent of the public option that was espoused by many Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Scott appeared in many of the group’s TV spots.

When Scott, who has never run for office before, announced his bid for the GOP nomination on April 9, the Republican race looked like a foregone conclusion, with McCollum not seriously challenged for his party’s nomination.

An April 8-13 Quinnipiac University poll found McCollum leading state Sen. Paula Dockery (who dropped out of the primary in late May) 56 percent to 7 percent in the GOP race and Sink by 4 points in the general election. Scott’s own initial poll in the race showed him trailing McCollum 54 percent to 2 percent in the primary.

Scott’s late entry and massive media buy took everyone by surprise.

The first public survey with Scott in the race, conducted May 3-5 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, showed McCollum leading Scott 38 percent to 24 percent, with Scott’s name ID at 28 percent favorable/1 percent unfavorable. Ten days later, an Ipsos Public Affairs survey showed McCollum’s primary lead at 46 percent to 22 percent.

By early June, a Quinnipiac poll had Scott leading McCollum in the primary, 44 percent to 31 percent, while a McLaughlin & Associates poll for the attorney general found the GOP race even at 40 percent each.

An automated July 16-18 Public Policy Polling (D) survey showed Scott leading the primary 43 percent to 29 percent for McCollum.

Remember, the guy leading the Republican primary was forced out of his job because his company had to settle a massive fraud case that amounted to $1.7 billion. Again, that’s billion, with a “b.”

How did Scott get to this point, where he is likely to be the GOP nominee?

First and most obviously, Scott’s money made the difference. He has put at least $20 million into his race and outspent McCollum by about 2-to-1, according to a Scott campaign insider. His money has underwritten a blizzard of ads, and he was so fast out of the gate that his candidacy took people in the state, including McCollum, by surprise.

Second, Scott, bald and with a long neck, doesn’t look or sound like your usual politician. His TV ads, produced both by OnMessage Inc. and Nelson Warfield, have effectively presented him as a force for change and McCollum as a career politician. Those are perfect messages this cycle.

Even a McCollum TV endorsement spot featuring popular former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has not moved the needle for the attorney general, and Scott campaign strategists believe that multiple McCollum endorsements, including those of former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), have only reinforced the change/politics-as-usual contrast that has benefited Scott so heavily.

Third, Scott appears to have benefited from an early McCollum mistake that presented the insurgent with an opening.

Shortly after the Arizona Legislature passed the state’s controversial immigration enforcement law, McCollum commented, “I don’t think Florida should enact laws like this — quite that far out.” A week later, after the Arizona Legislature amended that law, McCollum expressed his support for it. Two days later, when asked again about the Arizona law, McCollum responded, “We don’t need that law in Florida.”

Finally, although McCollum and his allies have hammered Scott in paid media over Columbia/HCA’s $1.7 billion settlement, voters seem to be ignoring Scott’s warts, whether because they are more concerned with how government is affecting their lives or they have become so cynical about politicians that none of them look like bargains.

If this isn’t an isolated case, it raises questions about the efficacy of personal attacks against candidates who otherwise can reasonably present themselves as vehicles for change.

It’s hard to believe that Scott would be doing as well if he were running in any other cycle or, possibly, against a different kind of opponent. But this may just be the perfect cycle for him, both in the primary and in the general election. Democrats ought to be careful about treating him as a weak general election opponent.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 27, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Nixon Grandson Finds the Going Rocky in Bid for Congress

By Stuart Rothenberg

Republican insiders are quietly skeptical that the grandson of the late President Richard M. Nixon, attorney/businessman Chris Cox, will make it out of the Republican primary in New York’s 1st Congressional District.

Cox, 31, made a splash when he entered the race. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger held a fund raiser for him, and Cox bragged that his consulting team included former strategists from the John McCain Presidential campaign, including Mark Weaver and Mark Salter. The candidate’s father is chairman of the New York State Republican party.

But Cox’s campaign hasn’t been smooth. Former McCain advisers have left the campaign, and, in an interview, the candidate, who lived and worked in Manhattan before moving to a relative’s house in Suffolk County, wasn’t able to explain how he would create jobs.

Cox now appears to be trying to make himself the Tea Party candidate, a strange development given his political bloodlines, Princeton education and the $1 million he has already loaned his campaign.

Cox, 31, is engaged to Andrea Catsimatidis, 19, whose father is a billionaire businessman and owns, among other things, the Gristedes supermarket chain.

Businessman Randy Altschuler appears to be the favorite in the GOP race in a district that takes in the eastern half of Long island. Attorney George Demos is also in the Republican race, and he has hired veteran consultant/guru Arthur Finkelstein. The Republican nominee will take on Democratic Cong. Tim Bishop in the fall in a contest that bears watching.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sharron Angle's Pink Slip to Harry Reid

Republican Sharron Angle is trying to raise money by asking people to send a Pink Slip to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's not going to win any awards for creativity, but with amount of money she's raising, it's tough to criticize.

Sharron Angle's Pink Slip to Harry Reid

Monday, July 26, 2010

NRCC’s Independent Expenditure Is Armed With Shields

By Nathan L. Gonzales

First in a series of profiles of committee independent expenditure directors.

Republican strategist Mike Shields survived back-to-back Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008 and lived to tell about it. This year, he’s on the front lines of the Republican effort to take back the House majority.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will spend tens of millions of dollars on dozens of races this fall, but because of campaign finance law, the bulk of that money will be spent in independent expenditures and without coordination with the NRCC staff.

As director of the independent expenditure effort, Shields will have the final say in deciding where to spend those critical, independent dollars.

“It’s nice when you have someone that has your back,” Shields said. “In this job, you make a decision and you live or die on your own.”

This is a new role for Shields after four years as chief of staff to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), but he comes in with a depth of confidence and trust within the GOP caucus for having guided the Congressman through two extremely tough re-election bids.

“He knows the skills needed to survive,” NRCC Executive Director Guy Harrison said about Shields. “He knows about being outspent and running in a challenging environment.”

Reichert is consistently a top target of Democrats because he represents a district that favored presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama.

After defeating Microsoft manager Darcy Burner by 3 points in 2006, Reichert increased his margin of victory to 6 points in a 2008 rematch in a district that Obama won with 56 percent. With Shields at the helm of his campaign, Reichert localized his race by focusing on Burner’s résumé and as a result survived a national trend that swept away many of his colleagues.

Shields, 40, has seen both sides of a political wave.

His first full-time job in politics was at the Republican National Committee on the first day of the 104th Congress after Republicans won the majority in the 1994 elections.

Shields put his studies at George Mason University on hold to take the $17,000-a-year job clipping newspapers (by hand back then). He arrived at the RNC at 4 a.m. each day to compile the packets before the second employee, Chairman Haley Barbour, got to the office.

“It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” Shields said.

The job wasn’t glamorous, but it let him out early in the afternoon, and instead of going home Shields hung around the press office and learned how to write releases.

Shields’ interest in politics actually started much earlier in his life and 3,000 miles away.

He was born on Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and grew up in England, which sounds like the recipe for an intriguing accent, but Shields sounds like he could come from just about anywhere in America.

After Shields’ father retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years, his contract work for the National Security Agency took the whole family to England. The move was a homecoming for Shields’ English mother.

As part of a military family, the concept of being “on mission” was a way of life for Shields. “I learned about being a part of something bigger than myself,” Shields said.

As a self-described “political nerd,” Shields considers Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan to be his surrogate political parents. In school while his classmates were protesting NATO’s nuclear missiles based in the U.K., Shields wore a “Peace Through Strength” button on his uniform.

Shields returned to the U.S. for college and was scheduled to graduate in 1992, but little by little his part-time political work became full time, and he still hasn’t finished his degree at GMU. George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove has a similar line on his résumé.

In July 1996, Shields moved to Georgia to become communications director for Friends of Newt Gingrich, the then-Speaker’s campaign operation. Six months later, Shields returned to D.C. to become his national political spokesman and ended up working with Gingrich for five years.

After a very brief foray in the federal work force following the election of Bush, Shields returned to elections work. (“I figured out I’m a campaign person, a political person,” Shields said.)

He moved to Alabama and managed the gubernatorial campaign for Tim James, son of the former governor. James was thumped by Rep. Bob Riley in the June 2002 primary, finishing third with 9 percent.

Then Shields moved north to Pennsylvania to handle press for Rep. George Gekas (R), who was locked in a battle with Democratic Rep. Tim Holden after redistricting threw the two incumbents into the same newly drawn district.

Gekas lost by 2 points but recently called Shields “the best-versed operative that I had run into, that was D.C.-based.”

Eight years later, Holden is on the extended list of GOP targets that Shields might choose to invest in this fall.

Shields spent two years at the NRCC as research director before applying to be chief of staff for Reichert.

“We had all the same values: wanting to serve the country and having the heart of a servant,” Reichert said. “I offered him the job right there.”

Just three months into Reichert’s first term, GOP leadership in the House moved to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die controversy. “It was one of [my] first and most important decisions,” Reichert said.

According to the Congressman, Shields fostered a healthy debate among the staff and, ultimately, Reichert voted against intervening, putting him at odds with the majority of his party members, who sought to prevent removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube.

In early 2009, Shields was hired again by the NRCC to be director of special projects. At the time, Democrats were riding high and it looked like Republicans might be headed for a third straight difficult election cycle. Shields’ résumé made him an excellent candidate for the NRCC. Now, the environment has shifted but the Republicans’ confidence in Shields remains strong.

“He’s a House Republican guy. This is what he knows and this is what he’s done,” said NRCC Deputy Executive Director Johnny DeStefano, who is also political director for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“Mike has seen the operation on all sides. He has a good cross-section of experience to come back and lead this thing,” said Carl Forti, the former NRCC veteran who led the committee’s IE effort in 2006. “He knows the product is only as good as your research.”

Reichert is vulnerable once again (this time he faces wealthy former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene) and could benefit from Shields’ assistance, but any help will be from afar.

Now that he’s on the IE side, Shields sits in his Alexandria office and the Potomac River serves as a moat that prevents him from coordinating with the NRCC, incumbents and candidates.

To handle the load, Shields is working closely with media consultant Brad Todd and his firm, OnMessage Inc. Todd is a top adviser to NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).

There is a level of freedom in the IE world because Shields can’t get calls from worried incumbents, needy challengers or overbearing spouses. But with that freedom there is an increased level of responsibility.

“There is no hiding. You have to do a good job,” Shields said. “In the end, it’s all about winning.”

This story first appeared in Roll Call on July 20, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, July 23, 2010

CA, WA, WI Senate Races Move Toward GOP

Right now, Democrats look poised to lose five to eight seats, and any net loss short of that would have to be regarded with relief by Democratic strategists. But as recent developments in Nevada and Illinois have demonstrated, things can change quickly in the fight for control of the Senate. Click here to read Stu's latest column on the Senate.

Here are our latest Senate ratings.
#- Moved benefiting Democrats
*- Moved benefiting Republicans
Takeovers in Italics

Pure Toss-Up (1 R, 2 )
Bennet (D-CO)
OH Open (Voinovich, R)
PA Open (Specter, D)

Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (3 R, 3 D)
Reid (D-NV)
FL Open (Martinez, R)
IL Open (Burris, D)
IN Open (Bayh, D)
KY Open (Bunning, R)
MO Open (Bond, R)

Toss-Up/Tilt Democrat ( 0 R, 3 D)
Boxer (D-CA) *
Feingold (D-WI) *
Murray (D-WA) *

Lean Republican (2 R, 2 D)
Burr (R-NC)
Lincoln (D-AR)
DE Open (Kaufman, D)
NH Open (Gregg, R)

Lean Democrat (0 R, 0 D)

Republican Favored (1 R, 0 D)
Vitter (R-LA)

Democrat Favored (0 R, 1 D)
CT Open (Dodd, D)

Safe Republican (11 R, 1 D)
Coburn (R-OK)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Isakson (R-GA)
McCain (R-AZ)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
KS Open (Brownback, R)
ND Open (Dorgan, D)
UT Open (Bennett, R)

Safe Democrat (0 R, 6 D)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Inouye (D-HI)
Leahy (D-VT)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Schumer (D-NY)
Wyden (D-OR)

Senate Is in Play, but GOP Has Reasons to Worry

By Stuart Rothenberg

Until about 10 days ago, I agreed with the conventional wisdom that control of the House of Representatives was up for grabs this fall but that Republicans had yet to put the Senate into play. I no longer believe that.

The chances that the next Senate will have a Republican majority are not great, but even three months ago there were not enough Senate seats in play to imagine a Republican gain of 10 seats. Now there are, with 11 Democratic seats definitely competitive.

But at the same time that Republican prospects have brightened overall, they suddenly look less bright than previously in at least a couple of states: Nevada and Illinois.

Just a few months ago, Democratic nominees Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias looked like sure losers in their races, but their candidacies have been resuscitated by their GOP opponents.

Even Republican political operatives acknowledge privately that former Nevada state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has been an even worse candidate than they had thought. And while recent polling in the Silver State may overstate Reid’s prospects in the fall, it seems clear that the contest has evolved from being purely a referendum on Reid and President Barack Obama to being a choice between Reid and Angle.

That’s a far less advantageous position for the challenger and a far better one for Reid. Angle’s prospects have now slipped from being a clear favorite to only 50-50.

Reid remains a political basket case, but he certainly has a fighting chance in a contest of two unappealing nominees. And Angle has the benefit of a Republican wind at her back that could still turn into a gale-force wind. Republicans might want to ship Angle out of the country for a few months to improve her prospects.

In Illinois, polls suggest the race remains tight, but Republican Rep. Mark Kirk’s reputation has been hurt, creating another contest between two damaged candidates. This race, as one political wag noted, is now “the crook versus the liar.”

That’s an improvement for Giannoulias, whose own reputation with voters has been poor for months and who has the added problem of a damaged Democratic brand in Illinois.

If Kirk has indeed stopped the bleeding, as some Republicans insist, he may be able to take advantage of a favorable political environment. But this race could be competitive all the way to Election Day, a disappointing fact for Republican strategists who once expected Kirk to put the race away sooner rather than later.

Giannoulias’ weak fundraising is a disappointment, of course, since it reflects a lack of Democratic enthusiasm for him. And while Obama is helping him raise the money he needs to run a competitive race, that won’t say much about the Senate nominee’s fundamental appeal.

So where does the fight for the Senate now stand beyond Nevada and Illinois, which have become more competitive? Democrats are now very likely to lose Senate seats in North Dakota, Arkansas, Delaware and Indiana.

Pennsylvania and Colorado remain tossups, though Keystone State Republican Pat Toomey appears well-positioned, financially and strategically, against Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Colorado’s primary is still more than two weeks away.

Three more Democratic seats, which I didn’t regard as particularly competitive six months ago, now could possibly change hands: Wisconsin, Washington and California.

In Wisconsin, incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold and challenger Ron Johnson are running even in two automated polls that have their critics: Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm.

If you had any doubt that the race is in play, all you need do is watch Feingold’s first TV spot, in which the Senator accuses Johnson of wanting to “hand over the Great Lakes to the oil company” for drilling. The ad isn’t merely intended to firm up Feingold’s image or remind voters about his accomplishments. It’s an attack spot.

Johnson, a businessman and first-time candidate, is running against spending, the deficit and Washington. He’s a classic “change” candidate in an anti-Washington, anti-politician environment. Though he is likely to make a mistake or two as a candidate, Johnson is a threat to Feingold.

In Washington state, challenger Dino Rossi (R) is running slightly ahead of Sen. Patty Murray (D) in a Rasmussen survey but narrowly behind in three others. In all recent surveys, Murray is under 50 percent on the ballot and in a competitive contest.

Rossi has already run two statewide races, losing one very narrowly, so he understands how to be a candidate. If the national economy hiccups between now and November, the challenger will have the opportunity to ride a Republican wave. Murray has a slight edge in the race, but it’s a serious contest.

The 11th Democratic seat at risk is the one held by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, and I will readily admit that I’ve been skeptical about former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s prospects.

As a longtime HP stockholder, I knew of the criticism of Fiorina, and I have a very hard time believing that California will send a pro-life, conservative Republican to the Senate. But if Massachusetts voters can hand the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat to Republican Scott Brown, it’s probably unwise simply to dismiss Fiorina’s chances entirely.

Polls continue to show Boxer in trouble, with mediocre job ratings and unimpressive showings in general election ballot tests. Just as important, Fiorina is a quality candidate — poised, smart and with the kind of personal resources that allow her to run a full-scale campaign.

In 1994, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) survived an aggressive challenge from wealthy businessman Michael Huffington (and his Greek-born wife, Arianna), probably because the challenger’s hiring of an illegal immigrant became a major issue at the end of the contest. Sixteen years later, California is less receptive to Republican candidates. But Boxer is not and never has been as highly regarded by California voters as Feinstein.

Can Fiorina win? Six months ago, I would have said “no.” Today, my answer is “maybe.”

Of course, Democratic prospects in the Senate, as in the House, depend on the size of the GOP wave. At least four Republican seats — Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and Florida — are at risk, and any Democratic gains in those states would further lengthen the GOP’s long-shot opportunity to get to 51 seats. (I don’t regard any other Republican-held Senate seat as at-risk.)

Right now, Democrats look poised to lose five to eight seats, and any net loss short of that would have to be regarded with relief by Democratic strategists. But as recent developments in Nevada and Illinois have demonstrated, things can change quickly in the fight for control of the Senate.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 22, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oregon Senate: The Memo Said “Wyden Is Vulnerable in 2010”

By Stuart Rothenberg

Last week, the folks at Moore Information, a long-time GOP survey research firm based in Portland, Oregon, distributed a poll memo asserting that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has been in the Senate since winning a special election in 1996, is vulnerable this year.

Was I skeptical? Sure. But I read on because in a year such as this, any Democrat might be in trouble, even those who haven’t had tough re-elections in the past.

The memo, conducted for GOP Senate hopeful Jim Huffman, included data about the generic Senate ballot (voters preferred a Republican to a Democrat by 11 percentage points), a Wyden re-elect (44% re-elect/45% new person) and an so-called informed ballot test conducted after information was presented about the candidates’ backgrounds.

The memo also included an Obama job approval and a right direction/wrong track question, in addition to a couple of questions about issues.

No, there was no initial Wyden-Huffman ballot, no Wyden ID (with favorable and unfavorable) and no Huffman ID.

When I asked pollster Bob Moore for that data, he declined to produce it, noting that the campaign had not authorized its release.

Obviously, those crucial poll results weren’t released because they contradict the conclusion that Wyden is vulnerable. They almost certainly showed Wyden far ahead on the ballot test and with strong favorable ratings.

In fact, most recent Oregon Senate polls have found Wyden at or above 50% when matched against Huffman and leading the Republican by from 10 to 20 points.

A quick check of the two candidates’ pre-primary April 24 FEC reports showed Wyden with $3.7 million in the bank to Huffman’s $224,000.

Given how favorable the national political environment is for Republicans, Wyden may well find himself in a tougher race this time than he had in 1998, when he won with 61%, or in 2004, when he won with over 63%.

But simply asserting that an incumbent is in trouble doesn’t make it so, and nothing in the Moore Information memo suggests that it’s true. In fact, leaving crucial information out suggests that the Huffman campaign has something to hide.

Pennsylvania 15: Callahan Running Against Rudy Giuliani?

By Stuart Rothenberg

When I met Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D), I was impressed. Democratic insiders had told me he would be a good candidate, and they were right.

He’s articulate, personable, and able to talk about his accomplishments in a persuasive way. He’s also a proven vote getter and a strong fundraiser. His June 30 FEC report showed just under $1 million in the bank, only $55,000 less than what incumbent Cong. Charlie Dent (R) showed in his report. Callahan has raised $1.4 million this cycle to Dent’s $1.7 million.

Maybe that’s why I was so surprised to receive a press release from the Callahan campaign recently attacking former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – or as the press release described him, “High powered Wall Street Attorney Rudy Giuliani.”

“We may never know just how much money Rudy Giuliani’s high powered Wall Street law firm made from Congressman Dent’s bailout vote, but it’s clear that Giuliani is here to return the favor,” Callahan was quoted as saying in his campaign’s release.

The so-called bank bailout vote may well be a good issue for Callahan, and his effort to connect Dent to “Wall Street special interests,” another phrase in the release, is understandable and standard political fare.

But does Callahan really want to run against Giuliani, who probably has a pretty good image in the district from his years as New York City Mayor after the 9/11 attack?

Callahan, who is running in Pennsylvania’s politically competitive 15th Congressional District, is one of the few Democratic challengers who has a chance of knocking off a GOP incumbent in this very Republican political environment. But running against “America’s Mayor” may not be the best way of defeating Dent, a moderate Republican who is every bit as good of a candidate as Callahan is.

NEW 2010 House Ratings

We reiterate our view that substantial Republican gains are inevitable and are increasing our target for most likely GOP gains from 25-30 seats to 28-33 seats. However, it is important to note that considerably larger Republican gains in excess of 39 seats are quite possible.

Here are our latest House ratings:
#= moved benefiting Democrats
* = moved benefiting Republicans

88 Total Seats in Play
12 Republican seats
76 Democratic seats

Pure Toss-Up (2R, 14D)
AL 2 (Bright, D) #
AZ 8 (Giffords, D) *
AR 1 (Open; Berry, D)
FL 2 (Boyd, D) *
HI 1 (Djou, R) *
IL 10 (Open; Kirk, R)
IN 9 (Hill, D) *
MI 7 (Schauer, D)
OH 16 (Boccieri, D) *
PA 3 (Dahlkemper, D) *
PA 7 (Open; Sestak, D)
SC 5 (Spratt, D) *
TN 8 (Open; Tanner, D)
TX 17 (Edwards, D) *
WA 3 (Open; Baird, D)
WV 1 (Open; Mollohan, D) *

Toss-Up/Tilt Republican (0 R, 12 D)
FL 8 (Grayson, D)
IN 8 (Open; Ellsworth, D)
MI 1 (Open; Stupak, D) *
MS 1 (Childers, D)
NV 3 (Titus, D) *
NH 1 (Shea-Porter, D) *
NH 2 (Open; Hodes, D) *
NY 24 (Arcuri, D) *
ND A-L (Pomeroy, D) *
PA 11 (Kanjorski, D) *
VA 2 (Nye, D)
VA 5 (Perriello, D)

Toss-Up/Tilt Democrat (0 R, 5 D)
IL 11 (Halvorson, D) *
IL 14 (Foster, D) #
NY 19 (Hall, D) *
SD A-L (Herseth Sandlin, D)
WI 7 (Open; Obey, D) *

Lean Republican (3 R, 6 D)
CA 3 (Lungren, R)
FL 24 (Kosmas, D) *
FL 25 (Open; M. Diaz-Balart, R)
KS 3 (Open; Moore, D) *
MD 1 (Kratovil, D)
NM 2 (Teague, D)
OH 1 (Driehaus, D)
OH 15 (Kilroy, D)
WA 8 (Reichert, R)

Lean Democrat (1 R, 16 D)
AZ 1 (Kirkpatrick, D) *
AZ 5 (Mitchell, D)
CA 11 (McNerney, D) *
DE A-L (Open; Castle, R)
GA 8 (Marshall, D) *
ID 1 (Minnick, D)
IN 2 (Donnelly, D) *
IA 3 (Boswell, D)
KY 6 (Chandler, D) *
MO 4 (Skelton, D)
NJ 3 (Adler, D)
NM 1 (Heinrich, D)
NY 1 (Bishop, D)
NC 8 (Kissell, D) *
OH 13 (Sutton, D) *
OH 18 (Space, D)
VA 9 (Boucher, D)

Republican Favored (5 R, 5 D)
AR 2 (Open; Snyder, D) *
CA 45 (Bono Mach, R)
CO 4 (Markey, D) *
LA 3 (Open; Melancon, D) *
NE 2 (Terry, R)
NY 29 (Vacant; Massa, D) *
OH 12 (Tiberi, R)
PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
PA 15 (Dent, R)
TN 6 (Open; Gordon, D)

Democrat Favored (1 R, 18 D)
CO 3 (Salazar, D)
CT 5 (Murphy, D)
FL 22 (Klein, D)
LA 2 (Cao, R)
MA 10 (Open; Delahunt, D) #
NY 13 (McMahon, D)
NY 20 (Murphy, D)
NY 23 (Owens, D)
OR 5 (Schrader, D) *
PA 4 (Altmire, D) #
PA 8 (Murphy, D)
PA 10 (Carney, D)
PA 12 (Critz, D) #
PA 17 (Holden, D)
TN 4 (Davis, D) *
TX 23 (Rodriguez, D) *
VA 11 (Connolly, D) *
WA 2 (Larsen, D) *
WI 8 (Kagen, D)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tancredo Seriously Exploring Gov Run as Independent

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Former GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is known nationally for leading the charge against illegal immigration, is seriously exploring a run for governor of Colorado as an Independent and will announce his intentions soon.

“We cannot win the governorship in the current environment,” Tancredo said in an interview with the Report on Wednesday, “The two Republican primary candidates are not electable.”

Former Rep. Scott McInnis was the front runner for the GOP nomination until serious allegations of plagiarism surfaced, charges that some Republicans believe have mortally wounded his campaign. Businessman Dan Maes is also running for the Republican nomination, but questions about his tax returns have him on the defensive as well.

Since the filing deadline passed on May 27 and the primary is less than three weeks away (August 10), Tancredo cannot join the GOP race.

“There is no way left to do it as a Republican,” Tancredo said, explaining, “I have to get so many things in order, but believe me there’s an option.” The former congressman said he’d have an announcement within the next couple of days. According to other sources, he’s interviewing potential running mates for an Independent bid.

But even an Independent bid would take some maneuvering.

The filing deadline for third-party candidates passed on June 15, but according to one Colorado political source, Tancredo is exploring the possibility that he may be able to get on the ballot if a currently filed third party candidate drops out. In that case, Tancredo may be able to get his name on the ballot as a replacement.

Some Republican strategists are concerned that if Tancredo is able to get on the ballot, he would split votes with the Republican nominee, essentially handing the governorship to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the likely Democratic nominee. Gov. Bill Ritter (D) decided not to seek re-election.

As for Tancredo, he says that scenario wouldn’t be his fault.

“I’m not doing it to the party, the party is doing it to itself,” Tancredo said.

Louisiana Senate Hype: Don’t Believe It

By Stuart Rothenberg

When former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor entered the Louisiana Republican Senate race, more than a few political journalists took notice, hyping the GOP primary challenge to Sen. David Vitter. Not surprisingly, Politico was particularly robust in talking about the new danger for Vitter, who has had some public embarrassments.

A week after Traylor entered the race, Politico reporter Shira Toeplitz wrote that a controversy over Vitter’s response to a question about the President’s citizenship “immediately led to speculation that Vitter was making a play to the right in the wake of a new primary challenger.”

The Politico article quoted one Tea Party leader and activist as suggesting that Vitter was protecting his right flank. It didn’t even allude to some of buzz about Traylor’s political and personal weaknesses, and it conveniently ignored those who doubted Vitter’s comments had anything to do with the new ‘threat” from Traylor.

Now The News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana) reports that Traylor has “his own ethical questions,” and even experienced Louisiana political strategists openly contemptuous of Vitter doubt that Traylor can raise enough money and mount a full-blown challenge quickly enough to seriously threaten Vitter in the state’s August 28 primary.

Vitter has plenty of critics and almost as many enemies in the state, but he has always figured out where he needs to be politically to retain his seat, and there is no evidence yet that Traylor will become a serious threat to the senator in the GOP primary.

Reporters like to write about Vitter because it gives them the opportunity each time to detail his juicy past problems, but until there is evidence that Traylor is making headway in his uphill bid, the Republican primary isn’t much of a story.

Schumer Hordes Cash, Bests DSCC in Available Funds

By Nathan Gonzales

New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D) is stockpiling money for a reelection race that hardly exists and has more cash on hand than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through June.

Schumer, a former DSCC Chairman, showed $23.8 million on hand through June and is up by at least 20 points in public polling. Meanwhile, the DSCC had $21 million in the bank and a growing list of vulnerable seats.

The cash disparity is notable considering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is in jeopardy of losing reelection this year and Schumer is jockeying with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) to become his replacement.

But how much leverage can Schumer have in a potential leadership race if his party and some of his colleagues go down in flames this fall while he sits on millions of dollars?

Unlike the House side, the DSCC has a very narrow cash edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, so Democrats could use any help they can get. We’ll see if that help comes in the form of a check from Schumer.

We Don’t Need a DNC Lecture on Midterms

By Stuart Rothenberg

The folks at the Democratic National Committee’s communications shop apparently believe that those of us — political analysts and handicappers, campaign professionals, journalists and political junkies — who have spent years following Congressional elections and dissecting polls are idiots.

And because we aren’t real sharp, we need the DNC to explain things to us. I guess we are supposed to forget that the committee is an advocacy group and that its primary goal is electing Democrats, not dispassionately reporting on campaigns and projecting election outcomes.

The DNC’s memo, “Putting Voter Sentiment and Recent Polls in their Proper Perspective,” came only days after House Democrats erupted in anger following White House Communications Director Robert Gibbs’ acknowledgement that Democrats could lose control of the House in the fall. As such, it needs to be seen as part of Democrats’ efforts to push back against Gibbs’ very accurate but impolitic assertion.

The memo includes selected poll numbers from various sources to make two major points: The 2010 midterms won’t be anything close to the political waves of 1994 and 2006, and the party faithful “have every reason to be hopeful that we can weather a treacherous political climate and maintain strong majorities in the House and Senate.”

Of course, for every national poll number that seems to lend credence to the DNC’s argument, there is one that it happens to omit that undercuts the memo’s fundamental point.

For example, while the DNC memo uses the president’s job performance numbers from two recent polls that showed him with a net positive rating (50 percent approve/47 percent disapprove in the ABC/Washington Post poll and 52 percent approve/44 percent disapprove in Bloomberg’s survey), the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (45 percent approve/48 percent disapprove) and Gallup’s July 5-11 survey (46 percent approve/47 percent disapprove) showed a net negative approval for President Barack Obama.

Gallup’s most recent Obama weekly approval rating of 46 percent (July 12-18) is identical to President Bill Clinton’s 1994 pre-election Gallup approval rating (Nov. 2-6), just days before the Democratic Party got slaughtered in Clinton’s first midterm.

The DNC memo addresses generic ballot results only in passing, noting that “generic support for Republicans this year is nowhere near that of Democrats in 2006.” In October 2006, the Washington Post survey showed Democrats with a 13-point advantage, but the most recent ABC/Post survey had Republicans only up by a single point.

Apparently someone at the DNC hasn’t figured out that that’s a 14-point swing in the generic, and a swing that large is likely to produce a considerable swing in House seats.

Interestingly, Gallup’s generic ballot, which the firm asserts has proved to be a “highly accurate predictor of the national vote for the House of Representatives in midterm election years,” has shown the two parties roughly even among registered voters throughout the year.

If you take that as good news for Democrats, think again. This far out from Election Day, Democrats usually have an advantage. But midterm elections are all about turnout, and Republicans normally have a turnout advantage.

That’s why the folks at Gallup note that “the closer the registered voter results get to an even split, the better Republicans can expect to do, given usual turnout patterns.”

This year, of course, Republican enthusiasm is high — the highest since Gallup started asking its relative enthusiasm question in 1994 (“Compared to previous elections, are you more enthusiastic about voting than usual, or less enthusiastic?”). Moreover, Gallup’s net enthusiasm score is “the largest relative party advantage Gallup has measured in a single midterm election-year poll.”

I should note that some of the DNC’s observations are on the money. Yes, the Republican Party’s image is still in the tank. And yes, Obama is more popular now than President George W. Bush was at the time of the 2006 midterms. But those statistical realities are not news to those of us who follow elections, and they may have only a small effect on the size of the Republican wave in November.

Finally, it’s interesting that the DNC memo relies solely on national survey data. Trying to understand the fight for the House and Senate by looking only at national numbers is like driving a car with one eye closed.

District-level and statewide poll data show Democratic candidates in anywhere from dangerous to terrible shape.

The Democratic generic ballot has dropped precipitously in most competitive Congressional districts, and many Democratic incumbents, both in the House and Senate, are performing horribly in ballot tests.

How bad are the Democratic numbers? About as bad as they were in 1994, and about as bad as Republican numbers were in 2006.

We have no way of knowing for certain how badly Democrats will be punished by voters in November. But unless things turn around completely, the damage will be severe. Both the House and now the Senate are at risk.

Gibbs may have been undiplomatic to admit the obvious. But Democrats don’t look in touch with reality when they waste their hard-earned credibility distributing memos that guarantee that their party will “maintain strong majorities” in both chambers of Congress.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 20, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

White House Lays Foundation for Post-Election Damage Control

By Nathan L. Gonzales

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs created a firestorm by admitting that the House majority is in play, but House Democrats should be more worried about his subsequent analysis rather than his political prognostications.

“But I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that,” Gibbs said on Meet the Press on July 11. “This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.”

Did you catch that?

This fall’s elections will depend how individual Democrats campaign, not the performance of the President. And it sounds an awful lot like the spin coming out of the Democratic losses in Virginia and Massachusetts not long ago.

Gibbs’ remarks probably weren’t accidental or merely off the cuff analysis. That’s not how White House operatives normally operate. Given that, Gibbs’ comments have to be seen as part of the messaging coming out of the White House.

Nine days before Gibbs sat down with David Gregory, veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz wrote a piece about Democratic prospects in November, and senior Obama advisers David Axelrod and David Plouffe sounded similar themes.

“Plouffe and other Democratic strategists say Obama will play an important role in making the case that the Republican Party is one of obstruction and indifference,” Balz wrote, “But they think the outcome in November will depend as much on the skill of candidates in mobilizing potential supporters who are now disinclined to vote”

Again, the emphasis is on the candidates – not the national political context.

“The Democratic National Committee has begun a program designed to increase turnout in November among the first-time and irregular voters who backed Obama in 2008,” Balz wrote later in the piece, “But advisers say many of these voters won't show up in November unless candidates make personal connections with them.”

Again, it’s incumbent upon Democratic candidates to make the personal connection with voters. If they don’t, it’s their own fault.

House Democrats have good reason to be paranoid, because the White House has already started laying down the argument that if the party gets clobbered in November, it’s because it ran too many Creigh Deedses and Martha Coakleys and not because voters are upset at the President and the direction of the country.

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Print Edition: 2010 House Overview

The July 19, 2010 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers, but here is the introduction to the House overview:

House Outlook For 2010

The national political environment shows no sign of changing between now and November, a bad sign for Democrats.

National polls generally continue to show President Barack Obama’s job approval ranging from the mid-40s to the low 50s, and voters are strongly inclined to deliver another message of change.

With few exceptions, polling shows the GOP with a slight edge on the generic ballot question, marking a dramatic reversal from ‘06 and ‘08. Too many Democratic candidates are well under 50% in ballot tests, and party strategists are worried about their ability to turn out Obama voters in the midterm elections. Maybe more important, Independent and swing voters are turning to GOP candidates.

The Democratic strategy is clear: redefine the 2010 election from a referendum on the President, the Congress and the economy into a choice between Democrats and Republicans. Then, blame the GOP for the current state of affairs, define them as opposed to positive change and destroy Republican candidates race by race. That’s a good strategy, but it isn’t likely to work well enough to deny the GOP a big gain.

We now have 23 Democratic seats at least tilting toward the GOP, with just two Republican seats going in the Democrats’ direction. The large number of Democratic toss-ups and leans show why Democratic control of the House after November is very much in doubt.

We reiterate our view that substantial Republican gains are inevitable and are increasing our target for most likely GOP gains from 25-30 seats to 28-33 seats. However, it is important to note that considerably larger Republican gains in excess of 39 seats are quite possible.

Subscribers get the full 10-page issue including race-by-race analysis of the most competitive districts in the country.

The print edition of the Report comes out every two weeks. Subscribers get in-depth analysis of the most competitive races in the country, as well as updated 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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Missouri 8 : For Sowers, Raising Money Is the Easy Part

By Stuart Rothenberg

Tommy Sowers, the Missouri Democrat who is challenging Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in a conservative southeastern Missouri district, is getting plenty of attention.

An Iraq War veteran, Sowers got a big article in this newspaper almost a month ago (“Emerson’s Challenger Looks Better Than Most,” June 17), but he received ink earlier in the Daily Caller (March) and in Politico (April). He’s also drawn attention in the New Republic and AOL’s Politics Daily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he receives more coverage.

Sowers’ bio and positioning — he’s running as an economic populist and a social conservative in the state’s poorest, most blue-collar, most rural district — is just the kind of story that reporters love.

He earned an undergraduate degree from Duke and a Master of Science in Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and he is a dissertation short of earning a doctorate in government from LSE.

The former Green Beret’s fundraising has been impressive given the district. He raised more than $680,000 through March 31 and just announced that he had raised more than $1 million through June 30. He had almost as much money on hand as Emerson did at the end of the first quarter.

The Roll Call article about Sowers mentioned a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., hosted by some big names, including former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Democratic-strategist-turned-talking-head Paul Begala.

But Sowers’ March Federal Election Commission report also showed contributions from “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, Manhattan philanthropist Donald Rubin (who spent $22 million on a Park Avenue penthouse five years ago), Credit Suisse executive Todd Sears, who has been active in gay rights groups, former New Line Cinema Chairman Robert Shaye, former Young & Rubicam CEO Ed Vick, Aspen writer and poet Bruce Berger, members of New York’s affluent Tisch family and dozens of lawyers, investment executives and Duke University alumni.

Remember, Sowers is running in southeastern Missouri where the largest communities are Cape Girardeau (about 37,000 residents), Rolla (about 18,000) and Poplar Bluff (17,000). According to 2000 Census figures, only 12 percent of district residents have a college degree, one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

While the liberal Missouri website Show Me Progress recently described Sowers as a “credible challenger” to Emerson, there is little suspense about the election’s outcome in November.

The Congresswoman, who first won the seat in 1996 following the death of her husband, Rep. Bill Emerson (R), is a prohibitive favorite. She is leading now by overwhelming margins in multiple polls, including an April American Viewpoint survey for the Republican that showed her leading 71 percent to 18 percent. Emerson has hired a strong consulting team and won’t be taken by surprise.

The Congressional district is very conservative and reliably Republican in federal contests. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) clobbered Barack Obama 62 percent to 36 percent there in 2008, a margin not much different from President George W. Bush’s over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) four years earlier. The district’s Democratic performance index, as calculated by the National Committee for an Effective Congress, is 43.4, making it a difficult target for Democrats even in a favorable political climate.

And yet, there is no denying Sowers’ ability to raise money and to create a buzz. The only question is why. With so many Democratic seats in trouble, why would even a wealthy Manhattan or Beverly Hills liberal contribute to an obscure candidate in southeastern Missouri who has no chance of winning?

Observers note Sowers has a strong network of friends and an appealing personality. And they don’t fail to mention his good looks. “Do you think if he looked like [Rep.] Henry Waxman [D-Calif.] he’d get this response?” asked one Democrat rhetorically.

Sowers’ campaign manager, Jonathan Feifs, explains the fundraising success this way: “I think folks realize that it’s an uphill climb. But they realize that their support will allow him to communicate a message that will materially affect our chances of winning.”

Actually, I’ve seen this movie before, in both 2006 and 2008. At that time, it was named Scott Kleeb.

Kleeb was the handsome, denim-wearing Democrat, Yale Ph.D. in history who ran in Nebraska’s 3rd district in 2006 and for the Senate in 2008. He raised more than $1 million for his first run and more than $1.8 million for his Senate bid.

Kleeb got plenty of national media attention and Democratic buzz — I was at the Aspen Ideas Festival a couple of years ago and heard people excitedly talking about Kleeb coming to Aspen for a fundraiser — but he lost by 10 points in 2006 and by 18 points in 2008 (slightly behind Obama’s statewide performance).

At least Kleeb was running in an open seat in 2006 (though one lost by Kerry by 51 points in 2004), with an unpopular sitting Republican president and in a great year for Democrats — probably the best year since Watergate.

This cycle, Sowers has a strong wind in his face and is running in a district that Obama lost by 26 points and where Democratic Congressional initiatives are not likely to be popular.

With so many Democratic candidates running in close contests, you’d think party contributors might try to be strategic about their giving. Instead, many have opened their wallets to a personally appealing candidate who, by every indication, has no chance of winning. It’s difficult to believe those dollars wouldn’t be of better use in other races.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 15, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is Jim DeMint Barack Obama’s Ace in the Hole

By Stuart Rothenberg

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who once proclaimed that he’d rather have “30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything,” continues to endorse Senate candidates and give leaders in his own party migraine headaches.
But one politician must be smiling from ear to ear when he follows DeMint’s antics: President Barack Obama.

That’s because, more than Florida’s Marco Rubio, Kentucky’s Rand Paul or Colorado’s Ken Buck — all endorsed by DeMint in GOP Senate primaries against the wishes of party strategists and insiders — the president stands to benefit the most, long term, from DeMint’s rhetoric and actions leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.

DeMint’s “believers” comment offers one of those false choices that boil everything down to extremes: Either you are a “conservative” or you aren’t. There aren’t any shades of gray.

The South Carolina Republican apparently doesn’t concede that even “conservatives” can have different styles and different opinions about how much compromise is necessary to move the country in the right direction.

So far this cycle, DeMint has endorsed a number of Republicans in competitive primaries, including Rubio, Paul, Buck, Utah’s Mike Lee and California’s Chuck DeVore. In Nevada, he indicated a preference for Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle, clearly marking his opposition to former state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden.

Oddly, DeMint has not yet endorsed J.D. Hayworth in Arizona or Joe Miller in Alaska, even though both men are attacking their opponents, Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, for being insufficiently conservative.

One GOP strategist familiar with DeMint’s thinking explained the Senator’s nonendorsement so far this way: “He’s willing to rock the boat but is being careful not to turn over the ship.” That sounds dangerously close to pragmatism over principle, doesn’t it?

Clearly DeMint walks more cautiously when incumbent colleagues are involved, which explains why he didn’t endorse in the Utah contest until Sen. Bob Bennett was eliminated at the GOP state convention, as well as why he hasn’t endorsed in Alaska. (DeMint did back Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey before Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties.)

Given Hayworth’s record in Congress, DeMint probably isn’t likely to get involved in Arizona. But a pre-primary endorsement against Murkowski is not off the table, though Miller almost certainly needs to develop into a greater threat to Murkowski than he now is.

The endorsements of DeVore and, to a lesser extent, Buck are particularly noteworthy because both men are much weaker general election candidates than their primary opponents.

Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, told me that electability is an issue for DeMint: “He isn’t going to endorse someone who can’t win a general election.”

Well, I can’t find anyone who knows something about California politics who thinks that DeVore could beat Boxer this year or any year.

Polling conducted shortly before the California primary showed DeVore running about as well against Boxer as ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina or former Rep. Tom Campbell. But basing a conclusion about viability on that single factor would demonstrate incredible naiveté about California politics.

Some of DeMint’s choices certainly can and will win in the current political environment, which strongly favors Republicans. Kentucky’s Paul and Nevada’s Angle have better-than-even chances of winding up in the Senate, and it’s difficult to argue that any of Angle’s closest primary competitors would have been stronger against Reid than she will be.

But that’s not true everywhere. Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton would be a much stronger GOP nominee than Buck in Colorado, and many “movement conservatives,” including former Sen. Bill Armstrong, have endorsed her.

So why is DeMint with Buck? Some savvy political observers believe that it has less to do with ideology and more to do with DeMint simply liking to stir the pot, to cause trouble for those in the establishment.

But forget electability for now. It’s not why White House strategists have reason to cheer on DeMint.

The South Carolina Republican apparently believes that American voters are heavily ideological — and strongly conservative — and that if Republicans stand their ground on the right, a majority of Americans will see liberals for what they are and come rushing over to embrace conservatives, not only in the midterms but also into the future.

In fact, anyone who has watched or studied American politics since the Vietnam era knows that American voters — particularly the kind of swing voters who decide elections — are not an ideological bunch. That’s why you have Iowa voters sending both conservative Chuck Grassley (R) and liberal Tom Harkin (D) to the Senate.

By beating the conservative drum the way he does — demonizing conservatives who he says aren’t conservative enough, helping nominate candidates more interested in throwing grenades than in passing legislation and belittling compromise in a country built on political compromises — DeMint makes it easier for Democrats to paint his own party in an unflattering light.

A Senate Republican Conference filled after November with DeMint-like ideologues, troublemakers and self-righteous conservatives is a caucus that is sure to sound rigid and uncompromising, arrogant and doctrinaire. Style doesn’t matter to true believers, but it does to the American people.

And that’s why Obama is smiling.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 13, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Outside Groups Aiding GOP Cause This Cycle

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Several Republican outside groups are promising to spend big money in key House and Senate races this fall, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll have the dollars to have an impact.

When American Crossroads, a newly formed 527 group, raised a meager $200 in May, Republicans had flashbacks to last cycle. In 2008, Freedom’s Watch burst onto the scene promising to spend $200 million to bolster GOP candidates but ended up spending less than a quarter of that amount.

Crossroads, and its new affiliate 501(c)(4) American Crossroads GPS, bounced back to raise almost $8.5 million in June — but that was still a fraction of the $50 million the group plans to spend between now and Election Day.

Freedom’s Watch was largely built around the ability and inclination of one person (wealthy gaming executive Sheldon Adelson) to contribute. When his funds dried up, the group’s ads disappeared from the airwaves or never materialized in the first place.

Republicans are determined not to make the same mistake twice.

“We have a very broad fundraising base that is reaching out to lots of people,” according to Crossroads President Steven Law.

Carl Forti, a veteran of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was executive vice president of issue advocacy for Freedom’s Watch last cycle and is now with Law at Crossroads as the group’s political director. Jonathan Collegio, who also worked at the NRCC as well as the National Association of Broadcasters, just signed on to be the communications director.

But Crossroads is not the only Republican group soliciting donations and looking to get involved this year.

Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie are trying to put infrastructure in place to take advantage of conservative enthusiasm, frustration and anger now that Republicans are in the minority. Their blueprint isn’t dissimilar to what former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta set up in 2004 on the Democratic side with the Center for American Progress.

The GOP group, American Action Network, is a 501(c)(4) led by Rob Collins, who was a top adviser to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Pete Meachum recently left his position as chief of staff to retiring Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) to join the group as well.

The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) led by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential campaign, will focus on policy and the think tank element of the group.

Resurgent Republic is a collection of prominent Republican pollsters that looks like the GOP counterpart to Democracy Corps, which is run by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and operative James Carville.

All the groups have boards of directors filled with former Senators, Congressmen, governors and Cabinet members who are expected to help raise millions of dollars. There is scuttlebutt that these groups are receptacles for disenchanted donors to the RNC, but since these outside groups are not subject to federal contribution limits, they aren’t necessarily competing for the same dollars.

Republican operatives are increasingly confident that these groups will be well-funded, but in the aftermath of the Freedom’s Watch fiasco, it’s all speculation until the money comes in. Groups such as Crossroads have until July 20 to file their June financial statements with the Internal Revenue Service.

Even if the money materializes, it has yet to be determined whether and how the dozens of competitive races will be divided between the groups.

Crossroads appears to be primarily focused on the Senate (since it has already announced it is targeting key races in 10 states), while the American Action Network will focus on the House. But it appears that both groups want to reserve the right to play in any race they want, depending on the situation and the desires of their donors.

Crossroads just extended its television ad buy against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into a fourth week and has now spent close to half a million dollars against the Nevada Democrat.

According to Law, Crossroads also plans to develop “full-service” political operations in the largest states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

“Many independent groups tend to be media heavy, and we’ll certainly emphasize advertising,” Law explained, “but we want the capability to have boots on the ground and communicate directly with voters.”

As hot races develop over the next four months, there will be a temptation for multiple groups to swoop in on particular high-profile contests and take credit for an eventual victory, according to another GOP strategist.

“The question is, is anyone there to pick up the scraps and put races into position to win?” according to the source, who referred to’s important role in the 2006 cycle when the liberal group focused on second- and third-tier Democratic opportunities and helped turn them into top-tier contests.

“I don’t know if there is a plan to do that. I don’t know if there is money to do that,” the Republican added.

For now, there is some communication between American Crossroads and the American Action Network, particularly since the two groups share an office suite on New York Avenue Northwest in Washington, D.C.

There is also considerable overlap in people involved in the groups. Rove has his hand in multiple groups, and Gillespie is involved with the Action Network, Crossroads and Resurgent Republic in addition to being chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focuses on state legislative races.

Former NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds is on the Action Network board and is vice chairman of the RSLC. (Reynolds was New York Assembly Minority Leader before he came to Congress.) Former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan is chairman of the Crossroads board and is involved with an RSLC redistricting project as well.

“We are sharing information among many of the groups that are involved this election cycle with the goal of minimizing a duplication of effort,” said Law, a former chief legal officer and general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Crossroads can communicate with the chamber, Action Network and other outside groups but is prohibited from coordinating with the party campaign committees.

“There’s not some master plan,” according to one GOP consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of potentially getting work for the groups. “The ‘well-organized right’ is never well-organized.”

This story first appeared in Roll Call on July 6, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

NBC's First Read Misses A Key Point

By Stuart Rothenberg

In looking at the reasons why Republicans might win the House in November, as well as why they might not, NBC’s First Read made the following point: “winning 39 seats is a tall order. After all, when Democrats won back the House in 2006 -- during the height of violence in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina -- they picked up 30 House seats. The GOP will need almost 10 more than that.”

The numbers are right, but they lack context and, therefore, are misleading.

Yes, taking over 42 or 43 Democratic-held districts is a challenge (some GOP seats are likely to fall in November, increasing the number of Republican victories needed to take over the House), and those are big numbers historically. But First Read missed a crucial point: A party’s chances of winning House seats depends on a number of things, not the least of which is where it starts in an election cycle.

In other words, winning a net of 30 or 40 seats is difficult when you are starting at 203 seats (which is where House Democrats were right before the 2006 elections), but it isn’t quite as difficult when you start at only 179 seats, which is where Republicans are now.

Democrats gained over 50 seats over the past two cycles, eating into the Republican core. The fact that so many Democratic members of Congress are now representing Republican-leaning districts means that the GOP has an unusually large number of opportunities.

Regaining those “core” districts will be easier than winning inherently competitive or Democratic-leaning districts.

Nebraska Governor’s Race News Just a Yawner

By Stuart Rothenberg

The Omaha World Herald has reported that Gov. Dave Heinemann (R) may run unopposed in November following the exit from the race earlier this month of Democrat Mark Lakers. While that would be an interesting development given the rarity of incumbent governors running unopposed, it wouldn’t change Democrats’ chances of winning the office in November.

Even with a name on the ballot, Democratic prospects were at zero.

Heineman has been a popular governor, and no top tier Democrat decided to challenge him in what would have been a quixotic effort.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

2010 Gubernatorial Ratings

Republicans are set up to gain a large number of governorships nationwide. At a minimum, the GOP could gain eight, giving the party 32, but larger gains are very possible.

Note that we've revised our ratings categories to give readers a better idea where races stand.

Takeovers in italics.

Pure Toss-Up
CO Open (Ritter, D)
CT Open (Rell, R)
FL Open (Crist, R)
ME Open (Baldacci, D)
MN Open (Pawlenty, R)
NM Open (Richardson, D)
OR Open (Kulongoski, D)
Strickland (D-OH)

Toss-Up/Tilt Republican
VT Open (Douglas, R)
WI Open (Doyle, D)
Quinn (D-IL)

Toss-Up/Tilt Democrat

O'Malley (D-MD)
Patrick (D-MA)
CA Open (Schwarzenegger, R)

Lean Republican
GA Open (Perdue, R)
MI Open (Granholm, D)
PA Open (Rendell, D)
Brewer (R-AZ)
Perry (R-TX)

Lean Democrat
HI Open (Lingle, R)

Lean Independent
RI Open (Carcieri, R)

Republican Favored
Culver (D-IA)
AL Open (Riley, R)
NV Open (Gibbons, R)
SC Open (Sanford, R)
TN Open (Bredesen, D)

Democrat Favored
Lynch (D-NH)

Safe Republican

KS Open (Parkinson, D)
OK Open (Henry, D)
SD Open (Rounds, R)
WY Open (Freudenthal, D)
Heineman (R-NE)
Herbert (R-UT)
Otter (R-ID)
Parnell (R-AK)

Safe Democrat
Beebe (D-AR)
NY Open (Paterson, D)