TEASER

Posted in Election 2008 on March 24th, 2009 by Ed

Mike linked this Portfolio article by Joe McGinniss last week. It's about Sarah Palin's complete lack of interest in doing her job (hard to get excited about playing in the minors after a few weeks in The Show!) and the growing bipartisan, statewide consensus among Alaskans that she is a sociopath. Highly recommended reading.

It has emboldened me to make a prediction for 2010: Sarah Palin is going to lose her re-election bid if the Democrats can run anyone better than Mickey Mouse. She'll probably have a challenger in her own primary. People in the sticks love nothing more than when one of their own Makes It. And they hate nothing more than when their Superstar decides she is too good for them anymore. Oddly enough, I find the potential trainwreck ending of her political career sad. If anything it's a sign of the utter ineptitude of the GOP leadership and specifically the d-bags who were in charge of the RNC last year. The party had something in Palin; they had something and they blew it.

When was the first time you heard Barack Obama speak? If you're like most people, even his fellow Illinoisians, it was his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. At the time I thought it was sad, a pitiful sign of how bad things were for the Democrats – a guy who hadn't even been elected to the Senate yet was their keynote. But it was strategic and it worked.

What happened was simple: Obama's Senate run in Illinois provided the first opportunity for a lot of the national Democratic leadership to meet him. And they met him. And they said "Holy shit, this guy is going places. We've got a hot prospect; let's make sure we develop him correctly." So rather than ramming him onto the Kerry ticket like idiots in an effort to save a failed campaign, they gave America a 30-minute preview of the future at the Convention. Then what happened? He disappeared. Being a Senator he obviously wasn't totally anonymous, but he faded into the background. He didn't become the leader of his party or the explicit Future and Savior. He went to the Senate and toiled for a few years, and all most Americans remembered was "Wow, who was that guy from the convention? With the goofy name?" It's the oldest marketing trick in the book. Give 'em a teaser, then make 'em wait. Let some excitement build. Let voters who were disheartened about the Democratic Party think, "Maybe next time will be different…"

Palin's Convention speech was the high point of her political career. Being good in controlled settings (i.e., reading a prompter) she created an almost universally positive impression. Republicans practically shit themselves. Democrats were terrified that this new weapon was going destroy them. But the GOP wasted the great opportunity she represented.

If they were smart – and let's be emphatic about the fact that they weren't – they would have said "Here's this rube, this inexperienced, ambitious young candidate with camera skills. She doesn't know her ass from a hole in the ground, but we can teach her." They could have had her give that speech and then disappear for four years, back to the void of Alaska, while they taught her how to sound like she isn't retarded in response to basic campaign questions. She would have left on a high note and then let the buzz build. By 2012…well, to be honest she probably would have been a formidable candidate if the coaches and strategists succeeded in teaching her anything.

Instead they saw a glimmer of potential and immediately foisted her on McCain in an effort to save an absolutely moribund campaign. Not only did McCain not want her but she was nowhere close to ready. She couldn't answer basic questions coherently. She knew almost nothing about politics that weren't Alaska politics. But rather than having four years to learn it they tried to cram it into her overtaxed brain in a matter of days. The result was an unmitigated disaster. They turned the GOP's Next Big Thing into what is likely to be, when all is said and done, one of the biggest disasters in the history of presidential campaigning.

I don't like Sarah Palin but I recognize potential when I see it. She could have been everything to the GOP that Obama was to the Democrats. Now she's in free fall and the only way she'll win the 2012 nomination is if the GOP decides that Obama is unbeatable and no one wants to run. The party is short a savior and Palin is on her way to becoming a combination of a footnote and a punchline. It didn't have to be that way.

IT'S NO SECRET

Posted in Election 2008 on January 22nd, 2009 by Ed

During the 2008 Primary season Barack Obama visited the IU campus and made an appearance at the "Little 500" bike race, the school's signature event as depicted in the film Breaking Away. I prefer to call it Drinking & Biking week, as it is essentially seven days of the campus looking like Bon Jovi's tour bus circa 1986. Obama paid a visit to a portion of this event and boldly waded into a crowd of several thousand balls-drunk 18 through 20 year-olds. At the time I had the same feeling that I had on Tuesday as I saw the crowd of 2,000,000+ strewn about Washington: man, the Secret Service's job blows.

The Secret Service (which I will abbreviate "SS" regardless of the unsavory historical associations with that pairing) spent its first 150 years as part of the Treasury Department, joining Homeland Security only in 2003. Their job was and remains overwhelmingly focused on busting counterfeiters. The figure of the SS agent is stereotyped and quite recognizable – sunglasses, earpiece, lapel pins (which are changed hourly to make identification of fake SS agents easy), dark suits, and folded hands. It leads most Americans to believe that they are the President's private guard; in reality they're probably better described as the private army of the United States Dollar. Their task of protecting the President is a 20th Century invention and it occupies only a fraction of its personnel. And to my way of thinking it is one of the worst jobs imaginable.

The simple fact is that there's very, very little that the SS can do to protect any of its various VIP charges. Watching Obama wade into a group of 5,000 drunk kids or parade before 2,000,000 people and every window in Washington makes it very obvious that protecting the President is like trying to bail out a ship with a bucket – the only thing to do is pray that the water never comes. If it does, well, there's not much to be done.

There just isn't a way for the Secret Service to secure every window, every person, every sewer cover, and every car that will come near enough to the President to do him harm. And let's not even talk about what happens when he goes overseas; trying to secure the President in Central Africa has to involve phenomenal amounts of prayer and finger-crossing. The best defense they have is preventive – discovering and interrupting individuals or groups who may want to harm the President before anything happens. Aside from that, history has shown that the President is vulnerable and there are always a handful of crackpots out there who set their warped sights on attacking him. I'd love to think that the new President and all who succeed him will avoid that problem. The odds are not in his favor, though. Every recent President has had one or more serious brushes with death and only remarkable luck saved a few of them.

Reagan was hit by a bullet that missed all vital organs. Bush Senior was targeted with a huge explosive device that was only discovered at the last moment by Kuwaiti police. A guy walked right up to the White House and opened fire on Clinton with a WWII-era semi-automatic rifle, getting off 29 shots. And, in an incident that received almost no media coverage but saved him from death only by incredible luck, a man had no trouble tossing a hand grenade at George W. Bush in Tblisi in 2005. The pin was removed but a strip of cloth used to disguise the grenade kept it from detonating. He was saved by a scrap of fabric.

I'm afraid for Obama, as I'm sure the Secret Service are as well. There are so many lunatics out there and his election seems to push all of the rage buttons with the bunker dwelling, tax protesting, gun hoarding Militia crowd – black, liberal, foreign-sounding name, Secret Muslim, popular, committed to multinational organizations and diplomacy, and likely to govern in a way that infuriates the US Out of UN Now crowd to no end. I tip my hat to the Secret Service for undertaking the daunting and thankless task of staring down the world's lunatics. Four of the first 43 Presidents have been victims of assassins. That is both horrifying and, when you really stop to think about it, miraculous.

SENATE 2008: THE NEVERENDING STORY

Posted in Election 2008 on January 8th, 2009 by Ed

Like a fifteen inning World Series game, the 2008 Senate elections are bound to be memorable by the fact that they continue ten weeks after Election Day. The Merkley/Smith results from Oregon took several days to filter in and determine a victor, while in Alaska the apparent Election Night victory of Ted Stevens turned into a 3% defeat after a recount and the tally of late absentee ballots. Saxby Chambliss groped his 12 year-old niece's breasts in a commercial aired for his early December runoff rematch with Jim Martin, with Sexy Saxby ultimately prevailing. But the aforementioned storylines, which would constitute a historically significant amount of post-election activity on their own, are the tip of the iceberg. The new Senate has been sworn in and the session has begun yet races remain undecided.

First, the presidential election results and subsequent appointments by the President-Elect put a few additional seats up in the air. One of them turned out to be, um, pretty interesting. Others were more mundane. In Colorado, where Ken Salazar stepped down to accept the Interior post in Obama's cabinet, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter shocked everyone (including Denver Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet) by appointing Denver Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet as his replacement. While this move will have little impact on the current Senate it will make future elections more interesting. Bennet must be considered a weak incumbent and his seat will represent a realistic opportunity for the GOP to make a pickup if they can find a decent candidate.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner filled the VP-elect's vacant seat with long-time Biden aide Ted Kaufman in a particularly ham-fisted attempt to set the table for Biden's Iraq War veteran son Beau to run in 2010. Kaufman has already announced his retirement at the end of his mini-term, proving that subtlety is rarer and more precious than moon rocks in Delaware. As the odds of the GOP winning a Senate race in that state are longer than those of Transporter 3 at this year's Oscars, the machinations of Delaware politics matter little in terms of the ultimate outcome.

Obama's seat, well, that's another story. Despite a petition signed by every Democrat in the Senate urging Blagojevich to resign and under no circumstances to appoint a replacement, Hot Rod decided to appoint relatively boring career party hack Roland Burris as a parting "fuck you" to Illinois and the nation. Here's the problem: according to the Illinois Constitution, Burris' appointment is entirely legitimate. Like most states, the Constitution grants the Governor all appointment powers, meaning that various calls for a special election to fill the seat are irrelevant. The State Legislature can't just decide to call for such an election; the Constitution would have to be amended. Secretary of State White has refused to certify the appointment but is similarly bound by the Constitution to do his job. To give the SoS discretion on such a matter would grant him veto power over the Governor, hence the state Supreme Court will eventually order White to rubber-stamp Burris. As they do on every issue Senate Democrats are already caving, recognizing that once the formality of White's signature is obtained Burris has been legally appointed to the letter of the law.

Who are the assholes here? The Illinois General Assembly. They dragged their feet on impeaching Hot Rod, either out of stupidity or the pitifully misguided belief that the man has enough integrity to resign in the face of certain doom. They left him in Springfield and he continued to exercise his authority, essentially calling everyone's bluff. As much as Obama and the Senate Democrats would like to be rid of Burris and his connection to the corrupt Governor forever, the Illinois Supreme Court's impending decision will leave the Senate with no legal basis for refusing to seat him. Shame on Burris for not having the integrity to turn down Hot Rod's offer like so many other Illinois politicians did.

Last but not least we have Coleman-Franken, and we're going to have Coleman-Franken for quite some time. On January 5th the state canvassing board certified Franken as the winner by an improbably slim 225 vote margin. However, John Cornyn of Texas threatened a GOP filibuster of any effort to seat Franken before the Secretary of State certifies official results. I have to agree with him. We, including Franken, can afford to wait until the outcome of the race is indisputably resolved. It's incumbent upon the Minnesota state government to move as quickly as possible to make that happen. Unfortunately Coleman filed a lawsuit on January 6th, meaning that this will ultimately be resolved in court…and not terribly swiftly either. The first hearings are set for January 26. Christ.

Yeah, it looks like the book on the 2008 Senate elections will not be closed for at least a few more weeks. I'm simultaneously amused and irritated by the prospect. I hope the authors of the 2,400 write-in votes in Minnesota (not to mention the 8,900 bedwetters who cast a vote for "Constitution Party" candidate and Richfield cop James Niemackl) are happy with their decisions.

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BIPARTISANSHIP: IT'S FOR STUPIDS

Posted in Election 2008, Rants on December 22nd, 2008 by Ed

Americans have a soft spot for certain narratives – the Horatio Alger luck-pluck-diligence success stories, small children with terminal illnesses, and, in politics, bipartisanship. Isn't it great when everyone joins hands and gets along? Aren't there some issues on which we are all united in the national interest, the usual partisan bickering and dilatory points-of-order temporarily cast aside?

Certain politicians attempt to use the public's soft spot for reaching across the aisle to their electoral advantage. Two such politicians ran for president in 2008. One of them lost. The other won and is well on his way to proving exactly why I refused to get even momentarily excited about him as a candidate. One of the big reasons I declined to vote in the very competitive primary was a nagging feeling that both paths led to four or eight years of "centrist" New Democrat horseshit. The President-elect gives every indication of assuming the post-Civil Rights era Democratic Party's accustomed role as the battered wife of American politics, assiduously sucking up to their abusive partner in the vain hope that someday the kindness will be repaid. Woefully premature FDR comparisons and messianic zeal among Obama's faithful will quickly turn to disillusionment as the figure they elected starts to look a lot more like Harry Reid than FDR.

As a governing strategy, bipartisanship is for stupids. Post-Gingrich Republicans in Congress have only one goal upon waking each morning: find out what the majority Democrats want to do and say no. Say no procedurally, publicly, and with their votes. Delay, obstruct, distract. Obama's presidency will be no different than Clinton's, which is to say it will be one phony "scandal" after another cooked up by the minority party and dutifully dispersed via the talk radio airwaves. And yet time and time again the Democrats allow themselves to be victimized, and in fact encourage it, by "reaching out" in a show of solidarity to keep the GOP in the loop.

As the minority, the Democrats rolled over for every single major decision of the Bush administration (Authorization for the use of force in Iraq, the Patriot Act, Telecom immunity, Alito, Roberts) while offering nothing beyond token opposition. Think the minority Republicans in Congress will be returning the favor in the next few years, supplicating themselves and getting in line behind President Obama? Yeah, me neither. Think the baffling decision to leave the Department of Defense to a Bush stay-behind soldier and the State Department to Hillary "Remember how my husband's schizophrenic foreign policy of interventionism with zero resolve was a recipe for disaster" Clinton will pay off? Yeah, me neither. Think he's going to win over the lunatic Christian fringe by reaching out to Rick Warren and his kind? Yeah, me neither. Think the Cheney-endorsed national security team is going to produce meaningful Change? Yeah, me neither.

Touched by the let's-all-get-along attitude from the incoming President, Congressional Republicans are reminding the backbenchers that "the duty of the opposition party is to oppose." Translation: sharpen the talons. Get ready to block appointments and scuttle the ship. Run the government even further into the ground so that the GOP may arise in 2010 and 2012 to say "See? Look how much worse things are…"

In the end Obama, like the party he represents, will attempt bipartisan governing for the same reasons as always: because it's the "right thing to do" and to "change the tone in Washington." It is the right thing to do, of course. But like so many other examples from our lives, in politics doing the right thing correlates strongly with getting torn apart by the amoral throat-cutters on the lookout for honest people of whom to take advantage.

CIRCLE ALL THE THINGS WRONG WITH THIS

Posted in Election 2008, Rants on December 18th, 2008 by Ed

While Christmas shopping for my favorite little people I encountered a children's book that must be seen to be believed. It rivals Scouting for Boys and the culinary classic Cooking with Pooh in the pantheon of great moments in children's literature. I present John McCain: An American Life.


Believe it or not, I began looking through it because I was going to buy it. Little John and Lucy went to a McCain rally in September and, regardless of my feelings about the respective candidates, I would sort of like it if the kids thought elections were cool. I could get behind a book about the candidate written at the level of a kindergarten or first-grade audience. You know, "This is John McCain, a very brave man who was in the Navy. He is running for President, and Americans will use their right to vote to decide if he is the best person for the job." I anticipated a lot of pictures of his family, talk about his hobbies, and, well, the kind of material appropriate for a four year-old. And in case you have never been around a four year-old, appropriate reading material usually involves talking mice, dinosaurs, and cartoon characters. This makes a book about politics a hard sell, but clearly there is a way the book could be written to connect to a just-learning-to-read audience.

The best way I can describe what actually appeared in the book would be a snuff film hastily edited to get a G rating from the MPAA. The book covered, in both text and pictures, his divorce from his first wife, being tortured by the Viet Cong, his grotesque injuries from being shot down, and the 150 people who burned to death on an aircraft carrier after an accident involving McCain's plane. Oh, and who could forget the pictures of bombs falling in Vietnamese villages – with additional pictures of the post-bombing carnage.

Mommy, what's a divorce? What's torture? What was the Vietnam War? Why are those people on fire?

I am unaware of what if any involvement the McCain campaign had with this train wreck. It is almost inconceivable that someone near McCain read this and gave it the green light. Perhaps because the Senator's children are all adults now he has lost perspective about what is or is not kindergarten-appropriate. Or maybe being four years old in the McCain household is a really intense experience. For most parents the gap between Stuart Little Has a Picnic and the My Lai massacre in their child's reading development is about a decade long. Three generations of military McCains might have condensed that to about 6 months.

Of course there are children's books written about Obama as well, and once again I'm not critical of the idea of this book. It is the end result, the execution of the idea, that baffles me. The book succeeds only in answering the age-old question of what it would look like if R. Lee Ermey and Curtis LeMay wrote a children's book.

THE BIG LETDOWN

Posted in Election 2008, Rants on December 8th, 2008 by Ed

I am sincerely disappointed in the way things have gone in the month since the election. I'm not referring to anything Obama-related (you people understand that he's not the president yet, right?) I'm referring to the whimper-like sound made by what we all hoped would be an entertaining torrent of right-wing vitriol in response to their resounding electoral thrashing.

Sure, there have been a few moments of hilarity, the odd shrill meltdown or grand bit of delusion. That aside, the reaction has been dominated by infantile whining and an effort to spin a few key talking points – the "center-right nation" thing, the miraculous and meaningful victory of holding a 41st Senate seat. But mostly it has just been the same nonsense; the same repetitive talking points, the same idiotic comments from your local internet trolls, the same bullshit we've been hearing for thirty years. Thus overall the reaction has been a non-event. It has been less than background noise. The creative bankruptcy of the right-wing noise machine has consigned it, for the time being, to complete irrelevance.

I've commented before that watching Fox News is like cracking open a time capsule from January 2003. It is that moment frozen in amber, preserved for posterity. Its anachronistic feel reflects the increasingly obvious fact that the early Bush presidency, and specifically the onset of the Iraq War, was the zenith of the right-wing media. The far right and its ideas were legitimately mainstream. Time and Newsweek wrote about Ann Coulter as a "public intellectual." Every cable news network was cowed (by ratings, the administration, and rampant jingoism) into mimicking Fox in its coverage and parroting the White House line almost verbatim. Judith Miller was America's most famous journalist. The morning fare on talk radio provided the headlines for the evening news. The best-seller list was a roll-call of right-wing pundits.

Fast forward to today. On December 30, Ann Coulter's latest book Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America hits the stores. Oh, it'll sell a million copies to the same million people who buy everything with that bulimic horse on the cover. But be honest – does anyone give a flying shit about what Ann Coulter has to say? Does anyone pay attention to Bill O'Reilly anymore, springing into action as he rails against the War on Christmas? Does anyone treat Rush Limbaugh like a serious political commentator, discussing his daily pronouncements in earnest on the nightly roundtable shows? Does any major media outlet not owned by Rupert Murdoch take its marching orders from Dick Cheney's press releases?

Don't misinterpret me: I know that these people and their demon spawn (every time O'Reilly ejaculates, 1500 new Pajamas Media "reporters" are born) still have audiences. But they used to have an audience like the Super Bowl – that is, even people who don't care are exposed to it – and now it's more like Major League Lacrosse. It has been ghettoized, pushed to the fringe. It has almost no influence on the mainstream, being followed only by the small group of true believers who already agree with it and thus seek it out. It is little more than an echo chamber for the 20% of the population who think George W. Bush has done a good job.

Like an investor who puts everything on a single stock, the RWM didn't just hitch its wagon to George W. Bush – it mortgaged the house, sold the heirlooms on eBay and emptied out Billy's college fund to bet it all on Our Leader. In the process they have utterly alienated almost all of their potential viewership. Murdoch et al have created something that can't even rightly be called conservative media, for it is as hostile to non-neoconservatism (i.e., McCain, Romney, and similar Republicans) as it is to liberalism. They bet everything on the Bush-Cheney-PNAC worldview. Like so many historically bad examples of strategic myopia, this worked really well. Until it didn't.

These people or their eventual replacements haven't been permanently banished from the mainstream. I'm sure we'll hear from them again at some point in the future. But their behavior suggests that it's going to be a while. Nothing will change until they come up with something, anything, that resembles a new idea. They seem content to double down on the same horseshit – blah blah terrorism blah blah supply-side tax cuts blah blah Democrats are socialists blah blah teh gays. I am content to let them, as it ensures that they will make punchlines rather than headlines for the forseeable future.

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GREAT ELECTION HYPOTHETICALS, PART 1 – McCAIN'S VP

Posted in Election 2008 on December 1st, 2008 by Ed

One of the great things about using politics as a hobby is that it is structurally identical to being a fan of comic books, Star Trek, football, KISS, Harry Potter, or anything else. Something happens and then fans endlessly debate questions that cannot be answered except subjectively – whether Team A would have won if it had started the other quarterback, which Star Trek series is the best, whether the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was sufficiently faithful to the book, and so on. This is a roundabout way of inciting a debate about inherently unanswerable questions. We know it's pointless; we do it because we enjoy it.

Here's the setup: Sarah Palin was in fact the most logical and best choice as John McCain's running mate. This has become obvious to me now that strategic decisions can be analyzed with the benefit of hindsight.

The key to this conclusion is the assumption that McCain knew he was going to lose before most of us on the left accepted or admitted it. This is a solid assumption based on post-election tell-alls from McCain campaign insiders (see, for instance, Newsweek's Special Election Project issue). Overpowering pessimism might not have reigned, but the campaign was certainly well-aware that it was not the favorite.

McCain believed he was behind – possibly by a lot – and he needed to choose someone who could potentially put him on top. That is no easy feat. It's really difficult for a VP nominee to rescue a failing presidential campaign. If there was some magical person who obviously and definitely could have closed a 10-point poll gap, McCain would have picked him or her. Duh. But real life doesn't work that way. Getting the big payoff requires accepting a lot of risk. Think about it like an investment.

Let's say John Doe is 60, nearing retirement, and in excellent financial health. He knows he has plenty saved for retirement as long as he doesn't screw anything up. How will he invest his money? Low risk, low return – bonds, savings accounts, and so on. Fred Doe is 60 and nearly penniless. His math is much different. He knows that the only way he'll have enough to retire at 65 is a miracle short-term investment with a huge return. So he takes his $10,000 life's savings and invests in penny stocks or takes it to Caesar's Palace. We'd call that kind of risk-taking foolish from John, but Fred can justify it on account of his dire straits.

McCain's choices fell into two categories: safe ones who wouldn't help and huge risks who could help but probably wouldn't. He could have made a "common sense" pick like Romney, Pawlenty, Huckabee, or Lieberman. We all know that his preferred choice was Holy Joe. But do you honestly believe that McCain/Lieberman would have won? I sure as hell don't. The election might have been closer – McCain may have won Florida, perhaps North Carolina or Virginia too. So what? He lost by 100 Electoral Votes. Does anyone sincerely believe that Joe Lieberman would have been worth 100 EV? Romney? Huckabee? Pawlenty? Doubtful.

Best case scenario: McCain limits Obama to about 290 EV by choosing Lieberman, and that's being very generous. It would have accomplished nothing, in short, except making the "final score" closer.

Palin and Jindal are examples from the second category. With them on board McCain was either going to win by a hair or get blown the hell out. He chose Palin not because he finds her brilliant but because there was no other choice. He was backed into a corner and had to choose the only nominee who might, under some remotely plausible scenario, put him on top. It was a 100% chance of defeat with Lieberman and a 95% chance of defeat with Palin. Which would you choose?

Palin was the only option who could fulfill the 5% victory scenario the campaign constructed. They needed someone new, young, exciting, likeable, and to the right of Falwell on social issues. Palin likely got the nod over Jindal based on her gender and the (unlikely) chance that it could attract some old, bitter Hillary die-hards. The odds are that someone – some insider, some consultant – told McCain that Palin was a complete idiot before he chose her. He knew it. But he had no choice, so he picked her and clung to the hope that she could be polished, trained, protected, and stage managed just long enough to get him past November 4. He knew we'd find out how stupid she is, but he hoped to delay that revelation for eight weeks.

It didn't work, of course, but what would have? Palin was a monumental "blunder" like betting it all on one number in roulette is a blunder – everyone criticizes it, but if you win, who cares? The odds of winning are tiny. There comes a time in a campaign, though, when one realizes that any chance of winning is better than zero. Palin was probably the reason McCain lost so badly but the margin of defeat is irrelevant. He could lose by 30-40 with Lieberman or, with Palin, he could squeak out a win or lose by 100.

Tell me where I'm wrong. Was there anyone McCain could have chosen who would have altered the outcome? Did anyone offer better odds of success – not winning odds, mind you, just better ones – than Palin? My answer is negative on both counts.

NEVER TOO SOON

Posted in Election 2008 on November 26th, 2008 by Ed

As proof that things will get worse before they get better on the right, let's take a too-early but not-really-too-early look at the 2010 Senate races. Yes, believe it or not, in 10 to 12 months the campaigns will become active and the races will begin to take shape.

There will be 35 races – Class III plus special elections for the Obama/Biden seats. That number could increase if a Senator from another class dies and requires a special election in 2010 to replace him or her. It could happen. Byrd is 91. Inouye, Akaka, and Lautenberg will all be 86. All four are Democrats. The GOP would have a good shot at replacing the elderly West Virginian with a Republican should Byrd give up the ghost.

Some Class III retirements have been announced or are expected. Sam Brownback (KS) is retiring. Ted Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and Jim Bunning will be 78, 80, and 80 in 2010. All are in poor health. One or all may opt to retire. Inouye will be 86. Yikes.

Of the 35 races, 19 are GOP-held compared to 16 currently occupied by Democrats. Again the numbers put the GOP in an uphill battle. Many of the 16 Democrats will be in cakewalk races – Leahy (who was in The Dark Knight. No, really.), Schumer, Lincoln, Mikulski, Reid, Bayh, Feingold – or in open races in states like IL, DE, or MA. Not a lot of vulnerable Democrats ready to be conquered.

The potential GOP pickups are few. Ken Salazar (CO) is beatable in theory, but the GOP has had a hell of a time conjuring up decent challengers (as evidenced by the recent Udall-Schaeffer beatdown) and the state took a turn for the blue in 2008. Chris Dodd (CT) was seriously affected by his Countrywide/Freddie scandal and could be vulnerable if challenged by Republican Governor Jodi Rell. I question whether she would surrender the security of the Governor's mansion to challenge a nationally-recognized incumbent Democrat in this climate. If she does, this will immediately be among the most hotly contested races. Otherwise, Dodd cruises. Barbara Boxer (CA) could face term-limited Governor Schwarzenegger. If nothing else, the race would be entertaining. Is he a legitimate threat or a sideshow?

The GOP also has some safe seats, including Shelby (AL), Bennett (UT), and Crapo (ID). But there is a whole mess of seats they are going to have trouble defending. Briefly:

  • The Kansas open seat. This is the early contender for race of the year. The GOP will probably nominate House member Todd Tiahrt. The Democrats will counter with wildly-popular but term-limited Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Yes, most competitive and entertaining race could be in…Kansas. Seriously. No Democrat but Sebelius could make this a race.
  • Murkowski (AK) is in for a fight. She is not popular, with considerable public resentment at the fact that her now-disgraced father appointed her to the seat. She won with just 49% of the vote in 2004. A strong Democratic challenger (none spring to mind – maybe Knowles again?) could topple her. Then again, so could a certain primary challenger.
  • Voinovich (OH) is in trouble. The Ohio GOP remains a mess and any one of a number of Democratic Reps could challenge him, as could Iraq War veteran and activist Paul Hackett.
  • Burr (NC) is the strongest early contender for the "Incumbent who loses by 15%" title. I bet the man has not slept in about three weeks. Elizabeth Dole just went down – by 10% – to a weak challenger. Dole is considerably better known, more powerful, and richer than Burr. Burr's challenger could be a powerhouse like Gov. Ensley or rising House star (and former NFL player) Heath Shuler. Yeah, it's early, but I'll go out on a limb and say Burr is about to get cornholed.
  • Jim "I'm Bat-Shit Insane" Bunning will be 79 and is in big trouble if he does decide to run. After a nobody got within 1% of Bunning in 2004, Congressmen Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth or Governor Steve Beshear are all in great position to topple Bunning if he defers retirement.
  • If Specter (PA) dies or retires this is almost certainly a Democratic pickup, but at the moment he claims he will run. Regardless of challenger strength, I have a hard time picturing PA voters casting an octegenarian six-term veteran with cancer out on the street.
  • Martinez (FL) won by a hair in 2004 and may not be so lucky again. Treasurer Alex Sink has already thrown his hat in the ring, but more well-known opposition could come from Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Robert Wexler. I have an unsubstantiated feeling that Wexler could pummel Martinez.
  • John Thune (SD) narrowly beat Tom Daschle in 2004 and could be in trouble against Stephanie Herseth or in a rematch with Daschle (unlikely).
  • David Vitter (LA) only won in 2004 because the Democrats ran three candidates thanks to Louisiana's unique election rules. Against a strong challenger, Senator Call Girls will be in trouble.

    Races that could be exciting under a limited set of circumstances include:

  • Gregg (NH) is in trouble if Gov. John Lynch runs, but there's little incentive for him to do so against the popular Senator. No one else can test Gregg.
  • McCain (AZ) would have been in trouble against Gov. Napolitano (hypothetical matchups had him badly behind) but she accepted a Cabinet post, making her foray into 2010 electoral politics unlikely.
  • If 77 year-old Chuck Grassley (IA) retires, former Democratic Gov. Vilsack is the clear favorite to replace him – or perhaps challenge him.
  • Coburn (OK) could be threatened by (and only by) 45 year-old Governor Brad Henry, who was re-elected with an overwhelming 68% of the vote in 2006. He has stated that he will not run. If he does, watch out. But I suspect he is waiting for 2012 to take down Inhofe, at which point Gov. Henry will still be a mere 49 years old.

    Democrats will not have Obama on the ticket to boost turnout, but implausably the party is in great shape to pick up even more seats in 2010. I have a hard time identifying a lot of vulnerable Democrats but no such trouble amassing a list of Republicans who won by a hair in 2004, which was a very favorable year for the GOP. If the first 18 months of the Obama presidency go well, the post-2010 Senate might be almost inconceivably lopsided. Republicans will need to mount something of a rally before 2010 in order to keep their numbers from dipping into the mid-30s. Ouch.

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    SENATE QUICKIES

    Posted in Election 2008 on November 25th, 2008 by Ed

    Joe Biden will be replaced by his longtime Chief-of-Staff Ted Kaufman. Net effect: absolutely none. Kaufman curiously noted that he's "OK with retiring in two years" which will do little to calm talk of Biden's Iraq veteran son replacing him in 2010.

    Obama's replacement will come down to Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, or Danny Davis, three House veterans who will blow away whatever dipshit the GOP finds to oppose them. Insert your own "a Jew, a Latino, and a black guy walk into the governor's office" joke here.

    Coleman-Franken drags on and will drag itself right into court sooner or later. Bank on it.

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    SILVER LININGS

    Posted in Election 2008 on November 24th, 2008 by Ed

    Let me quote myself on October 13 of this year, discussing the Senate races in the home stretch:

    If the big victory they can take away from this election is "We have enough Senators to threaten a filibuster!" then the GOP has truly suffered a beating of historic proportions.

    The battle to get to 58 will be a pretty easy one but there will be rapidly diminishing returns beyond that point. Fighting their way to 60 will require an improbable victory and a few more years of kissing Joe Lieberman’s ass, bending to his every whim.

    And here we are, the Democrats hitting 58 Senate seats with two clusterfucks yet to be resolved. The odds of hitting sixty are not great; in fact, let us go ahead and assume that the GOP wins either the Franken-Coleman recount showdown or the Martin-Chambliss runoff. At this point I would like to cue streamers, fireworks, and celebratory 80s rock anthems. Congratulations guys, you did it! That is the big victory for the year: holding on to 41 Senate seats. G-O-P! G-O-P! G-O-P!

    I think all of us who were thrilled by the outcome of this election are mindful of hubris. We know how quickly tables can turn in American politics. But looking at this election in isolation, I struggle to find the silver lining for the GOP.

    The Fox News crowd were prepared on Election Day to give McCain a big "exceeding expectations" win. That is, if McCain avoided losing in a complete rout they could note that, given all of Obama's advantages, McCain did far better than he should have. Alas, the Electoral College was lopsided. McCain lost every major swing state, including his Hail Mary state of Pennsylvania. Obama's victory was big enough that without CA and NY he still would have won. Ouch. No Kerry 2004 "Well, it should have been a Bush blowout but we made it close with a terrible candidate, so that's good!" silver lining here.

    The popular vote could be a source of solace. The Electoral College magnifies victories and makes reasonably close elections feel lopsided. The popular vote gap was 7% – nearly 9,000,000 votes. Not an overwhelming blowout, but certainly nothing to be happy about from the right.

    The Senate? Well, if losing eight or nine seats in one election (bringing the total over the last two races to at least -13 R) counts as a victory it is a victory for the forces of delusion. The practical impact of the Democrats' failure to attain sixty seats is almost nil.

    The House? We pay so little attention to the poor old House. Certainly it offered a glimmer of hope for the GOP? No, they lost another 21 seats (possibly more when the few remaining races are sorted out). Their deficit is now more than 80 seats: ~256 to 175. High-visibility and ultra-conservative incumbents like Marilyn Musgrave and Steve Chabot lost. Moderates like Christopher Shays and Jon Porter lost. Dennis Hastert's seat is now held by a Democrat. The GOP lost a House race in Idaho. Ouch.

    Perhaps the GOP succeeded by experiencing defeat today to set up tomorrow's victories. This election could be salvaged if they established a clear Obama Alternative, a dynamic leader to bring better outcomes in 2010 and 2012. Well, they established Palin…as a punchline to several years' worth of late-night jokes.

    I'm sorry, folks. I just do not see the "bright side." The only good thing about this election for Republicans is that it is over. Maybe the magnitude of their defeat will turn out to be the silver lining. With the other party solidly in control of the Federal government, the GOP's best bet may be to hope that things go poorly and start pointing fingers.

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