SENATE 2012: SON OF A…

Posted in Election 2012 on June 7th, 2011 by Ed

We've already talked quite a bit about the upcoming presidential race. It may turn out to be less than enthralling, though, if the GOP nominates a dud and Obama finds himself on solid ground as the campaign heats up. The odds that the race will be competitive have increased with the seemingly accidental anointing-by-attrition of Mitt Romney, who is both the only remaining viable contender and the only one with a realistic shot at the incumbent. Regardless, the Senate races may end up being the more interesting story in 2012.

Way back in 2006** I noted that the terrain was unfavorable for the GOP because it was forced to defend a considerably greater number of Senate seats compared to the Democrats. Well, given the success of Democratic candidates that year it is now the Democrats who are disadvantaged by high levels of exposure in 2012. There are 33 races scheduled. Retirement is taking six Democrats but only two Republicans (both in safe seats). Of incumbents seeking reelection, the Democrats must defend 17 seats compared to only 8 for the Republicans. Obviously these numbers are subject to some change if additional incumbents retire, although most of the official announcements of candidacy have already been made.

The Democrats currently hold a 53 seat majority in the chamber including the two caucusing independents (with the high likelihood of replacing a retiring Joe Lieberman with a real Democrat). Most of the early analysis treats the loss of the chamber as a foregone conclusion. Is it?

Of the six retiring Democrats, one (Kent Conrad, ND) is a Republican lock. North Dakota's odd all-Democrat congressional delegation as late as 2009 was an anomaly the party could not expect to enjoy forever. That leaves 52.

In Nebraska, Ben Nelson is highly unlikely to be elected to a third term. The GOP field is weak but it may not matter in a state like Nebraska. Though Nelson is not 100% dead in the water, the vultures are circling. That leaves 51.

The four tightest, most exciting races this year will be a group of toss-up seats currently held by Democrats: WI (Kohl retirement), VA (Webb retirement), MT (Tester vs. Rehberg), and MO (Clare McCaskill). The Democrats would have to win three of those just to hold a 50-50 tie in the chamber, and that's not even counting additional races that are likely to be competitive like Florida (Bill Nelson), New Mexico (Bingaman retirement), Minnesota (Amy Klobuchar), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown). The odds of the Democrats winning seven or eight of the eight races mentioned here seem poor unless A) Obama somehow wins in a 2008-type landslide, or B) the Tea Party saves them by nominating unelectable tools in key races.

But wait! There are two Republican-held seats that will be a challenge to hold. Scott Brown must run for a full term in Massachusetts, and in a presidential election year his odds are not good – 60%+ of that state is going to be casting an Obama vote in all likelihood and Brown's seat is tenuous to begin with. Second, John Ensign's retirement in Nevada has set up a Congressman vs. Congresswoman race between Dean Heller (R) and Shelly Berkeley (D). That will be a barn burner, especially if Obama does well in Nevada again.

Republican moderates are getting primaried as well. In Indiana, Dick Lugar is a lock for re-election but Teatard Dick Mourdock is currently polling ahead for the GOP nomination. If Lugar is unseated the statewide race could be competitive. The same is true in Maine where Olympia Snowe has two Tea Party Express challengers. Neither will be a strong general election candidate.

In short, the Democrats are fighting a the war of 2012 on about 12 different fronts. It is unrealistic to expect that the party can prevail in so many tight races and toss-ups unless Obama somehow achieves a 1984-style blowout victory at the top of the ticket. That does not appear likely. At this early stage the odds are good that the Republicans will net a gain of at least four seats, giving them the Senate majority. If Obama returns to the White House alongside that outcome, we can expect gridlock on a biblical scale for at least two years. If the Senate and the White House both switch party control, then America can look forward to the kind of solid political leadership that Wisconsin and Florida have been enjoying since the 2010 midterms.

(**Holy shitballs. I have been writing this thing five times per week for eight years at this point. I can't tell if that shows impressive levels of commitment or if it's just pathetic.)

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SENATE 2010: FINAL BOARDING CALL

Posted in Election 2010 on November 1st, 2010 by Ed

As we reach the end of yet another long, grueling circus of a campaign, let us reflect on a few of the larger issues in play on Tuesday before charging into the predictions. (N.B.: I got exactly one Senate race wrong in 2008 and two in 2006, and in both years I was inadvisedly blinded by my hatred of Mitch McConnell and Bob Corker. Past results do not necessarily indicate future performance, but to continue this trend I should get 0 wrong in 2010 and then -2 wrong in 2012.)

The GOP has done a poor job of managing expectations, setting themselves up for defeat even in victory. Do not misunderstand me. I don't mean literal defeat, as in failing to gain seats in both chambers. They are taking the House with 99.5% certainty and they will pick up at least four Senate seats, possibly more. The problem is that their year-long rhetoric and the overwhelming sense of cockiness radiating from the party elite really puts them in a bind. They and their media surrogates have been predicting such an overwhelming, crushing defeat for the Democrats on Tuesday that even a slightly better-than-expected performance by the blue party will read as a GOP defeat. The problem with predicting a 60-seat pickup is that when you "only" pick up 40 it looks like you underachieved. Gaining 40 House seats is really good for one election. But the Democrats would be able to look at a 40-seat loss and say "Is that it? What happened to the tidal wave of Teabaggers we've been hearing about?" In fact, I will be very surprised if the Democratic talking point after Tuesday is anything other than "This hardly looks like the revolution Glenn Beck promised."

Now. On to the races.

I hate House predictions. There are just too many races in play for one person to meaningfully track, analyze, and comment on them. The vast majority of predictions are the GOP gaining between 50 and 55 seats. My poorly-informed guess is that they will underperform that slightly based on the strength of some of the recent generic ballots. Generic ballots are a terrible tool overall, but Alan Abramowitz has done some pretty neat analysis of Gallup's generics over the years suggesting that a 4-6 point advantage for the GOP in generics corresponds to a 44-50 seat pickup in the House. I'll go with the 45-50 range and give Alan the credit if I'm right.

And now the Senate.

First, I've moved four additional races out of the Competitive category since the last update:

Lincoln is toast in Arkansas, and after some initial indications that the races might be somewhat competitive Portman (OH) and Ayotte (NH) have really pulled away from their Democratic rivals. All three of those seats are likely safe R, and of course the surprise nomination of Christine O'Donnell has taken the Delaware race out of play.

That means that of our 37 (!!!) races this year, more than 2/3rds of them – 27 in all – are slam-dunks:

These races represent a 3-seat pickup for the GOP, with the North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana races switching parties.

Finally, let's look at (few) the competitive races:

Isn't that something? Only 10 competitive races, and I'm being generous to include two of them (MO and KY). First, let's talk briefly about the six races with solid predictions:

  • Illinois: Giannoulias's lead in recent non-Rasmussen polls, combined with the sheer power of the state Democratic Party in even the worst of times, suggest he will take this one by a hair. Ironically, it may be Libertarian Mike Labno (currently polling about 6%) who sinks Republican Mark Kirk in the final tally.
  • Kentucky: I'd bet money on Rand Paul with a high level of confidence, but his recent surge of bad press leaves just a sliver of hope for Jack Conway. It's been a while since the Bluegrass State sent a Democrat to the Senate, and this hardly seems like the year to do it. Paul wins.
  • Missouri: Roy Blunt appears to have this one in the bag, and I'm calling it competitive only because of my longstanding policy of never betting against a Carnahan in Missouri.
  • West Virginia: Joe Manchin has run a great campaign, including a dumb but stunningly effective TV spot, and has the lead in the late stages of a very tight race. This would be a big moral victory for the Democrats.
  • California: Bless their little hearts for trying, but this race has simply never been that close despite the best efforts of the right to say so. Obama won this state by over a million votes. Boxer should be able to hang on by a few thousand.
  • Washington: Murray has a slim lead in the polls heading into the final turn. That combines with two factors – the liberal tendencies of the state and the meatheadedness of GOP opponent Dino Rossi – to favor Murray. Her lead has never been large but it has been consistent.

    And finally, the four Coin Flip races. I would not bet money on any of these. I would not even bet someone else's money on any of these. They are, with one exception, Too Close to Call in every sense of the phrase. I hate making predictions on these because so much will depend on turnout and the small number of late deciders. These races are close enough for just about any small change to matter.

  • Wisconsin: The numbers on this one aren't that close. Ron Johnson leads in the polls and you should probably bet money on him. But Feingold is good, and he got a very late boost by winning the endorsement of essentially every newspaper in the state over the past week. Ron Johnson has done everything possible to hurt his own chances, mostly by opening his mouth near cameras and reporters. The numbers say Johnson, but I'll take a risk and say that this race ends up breaking the GOP's heart. Feingold by a hair (Hold D).
  • Colorado: No clue on this one. None. It is as close to a statistical and qualitative tie as any race can be. Bennet is a bland, forgettable non-entity and Ken Buck is a raging asshole. Who wins when those two personality types face off? Based solely on Colorado's recent trend toward the left and Bennet's late break in the polls, I'll go with the incumbent with 0% confidence. This race comes down to turnout. Who is more organized, Colorado Springs or Boulder? Bennet by half a hair (Hold D).
  • Pennsylvania: Toomey has led throughout and PA is odd politically, with the old joke noting that it is Philly and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. My brain says I have to stick with Toomey on this one, but as close as this race has gotten (and given Obama's 10-point win in 2008) we can't look entirely shocked if Sestak pulls an upset. Toomey wins it (Pickup R).
  • Nevada: Good lord. Harry Reid is just awful. Sharron Angle is categorically insane. How is a voter to choose? Note the curious fact that nearly every poll shows a statistical tie and the distance between Reid and Angle is attributable entirely to a handful of Rasmussen polls that show her with 5-point leads. HMM. Angle could very well win this one given the number of A) lunatics and B) Midwestern retirees living in Nevada, but Reid may very well pull it out. Without Rasmussen's data, this race is a tie. FWIW. Angle by like 7 votes (Pickup R).

    So if Ed is right, that leaves the GOP with a pickup of five seats. I am probably wrong about Wisconsin, if the poll numbers are to be trusted, but odds that I am wrong about WI are as good as the odds of Reid prevailing in NV so it could be a wash. But my theory is, what fun would it be to make the same predictions as everyone else, just blindly following the polls? I'll go out on a limb and call Feingold an upset winner along with tight Democratic holds in Colorado, Illinois, and Washington.

    Final prediction: +5 GOP: 46 R, 52 D (+ 2 Independent Democrats)

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    SENATE 2010: TWO MONTHS OUT

    Posted in Election 2010 on September 9th, 2010 by Ed

    The Senate races are badly in need of an update, not only because it has been ages since the last ones but also because we finally know the full slate of nominees on both sides (excepting the GOP side of the Wisconsin race). The landscape looks much different today than it did back in April, and right off the bat I want to make a number of updates to reflect that:

    The Wisconsin race has turned into a competitive one owing to the conservative lean of much of the non-urban portion of the state and the generally unfavorable environment for Democrats. The biggest thing working against the GOP in the Badger State is that both of their contenders are nobodies. The Feingold-Tommy Thompson matchup never materialized and we're left with two no-name businessmen to duke it out in the 9/14/10 primary. Most analysts have this as a toss-up but given the weak competition I have some confidence that Feingold will hold on.

    Worse news for the Democrats: Blanche Lincoln (AR) appears to be toast and Evan Bayh's old seat (IN) is highly likely to change hands. Those are two good pickups for the GOP, and I will not be shocked to see the DNC, DSCC, and other funding sources cutting their losses on these two races soon. On the plus side for the Socialists, Dick Blumenthal appears to have the CT open seat well in hand, thanks in part to the tremendous crapulence of GOP nominee Linda McMahon, wife of WWF chairman/wrestler Vince McMahon. That should be a safe hold, and the Delaware race for Biden's open seat is less of a certain GOP pickup at this stage.

    One race with the potential to get very interesting is in Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski has launched a write-in campaign in response to her narrow primary loss to Teabagger Joe Miller. Dividing the conservative vote could have disastrous results, opening the door for unknown Democrat Scott McAdams.

    That is about the extent of the Democratic good news, however. The updated uncompetitive/safe races yield a three-seat pickup for the GOP:

    The competitive races illustrate the problem with something I tried for the sake of simplicity this year: limiting races to two categories, either competitive or safe. In reality there are competitive races and there are races that are truly too close to call. Those are the four toss-ups you see here. The rest of the races are leaning pretty clearly one way or another (excepting Pennsylvania, which I'll explain in a moment).

    Current polling shows Toomey with a decent lead over Sestak in PA, but I still have that one as a Democratic hold because of the exceptionally poor track record of Pennsylvania Republicans in the last few elections. Whether it's McCain choosing PA to make his 300-esque last stand or polls predicting Rick Santorum's re-election, statewide Republicans just don't seem to do as well as predicted lately. The state is just too urban for Republicans to have an easy go of it, although motivating 2008-like voter turnout is a pipe dream in the midterm.

    With the GOP likely to pick up two from this bunch (the aforementioned AR and IN seats) that gives the GOP a five-seat gain with four toss-ups. If they win all four the Senate will be 50-50, generously counting anal warts like Lieberman and Ben Nelson as Democrats. The Democrats also must contend with the potential for those two corrupt little bastards to switch parties if the would-be GOP leadership offers them something useful.

    From the Democratic perspective, the key over the next two months will be to throw everything at Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, and Missouri. Delaware is the most Republican-leaning of the coin flip races, and Mike Castle is a quality opponent. Washington is the safest bet, and Colorado can probably be held at tremendous cost. In Missouri, Roy Blunt's lead in the polls withers under the inviolable rule of Missouri politics: never bet against a Carnahan. That one will remain too close to call until the bitter end, most likely.

    In future updates I'll focus more on the specifics of the four toss-ups plus Pennsylvania. For now, if everything goes right for the GOP the Senate will be 50-50. With anything less than a total collapse from the Democrats, the more likely outcome is 51 to 53 Republicans the morning after the election.

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    STRANGE CURRENCIES

    Posted in Election 2010 on May 18th, 2010 by Ed

    Life and the job market have established that I'm not worth a whole lot and I generally lack useful knowledge or skills, but I know a thing or two about polling – at least enough to recognize something funny going on. And the disconnect between the current dominant media narrative and some of the numbers we're seeing looks an awful lot like shenanigans.

    First, looking at the generic Congressionals you'd hardly know that for the past year the media have breathlessly covered TEA PARTY!!11!! and the impending GOP revolution:

    Hmm. Now, generics are among the least useful polls, mostly because of Fenno's Paradox – people disapprove of Congress but keep re-electing their own Congressman. More broadly, the phenomenon means that expressing generic preferences for a party doesn't tell us who these poll respondents will actually vote for in their own district. With 95% of incumbents being re-elected in recent years, it's more likely than not that a person's generic preference and actual vote are poorly correlated. Nonetheless, if there was some sort of "revolution" brewing, I have to imagine that we'd see slightly more favorable numbers for the GOP. We're five months out and they're losing to the generic Democrats.

    Second, a lot of the numbers coming out of Rasmussen are supporting the theory that they are going the way of Zogby and making the purposeful transition from legitimate pollsters to GOP Propaganda Services. This year they have been the only agency – like, literally the only one – consistently showing Rubio in the lead in Florida. Even when other agencies were showing Crist winning a three-way matchup, Rasmussen had Rubio up 20. That makes absolutely no sense. Variance among polls is expected but not on the order of 20% unless one of the parties involved is seriously off the scent. Check this out (all Rasmussen):

    5/3/10 500 LV
    Rubio 34%
    Meeks 17%
    Crist 38%
    Undecided 11%

    13 days later:

    5/16/10 500 LV
    Rubio 39%
    Meeks 18%
    Crist 31%
    Undecided 12%

    And while that was happening:

    Rubio Favorability

    04/21/10 Rasmussen
    Favorable 52%
    Unfavorable 37%

    5/16/20
    Favorable 46%
    Unfavorable 43%

    And…

    Crist Favorability

    04/21/10 Rasmussen
    Favorable 55%
    Unfavorable 40%

    5/16/20
    Favorable 57%
    Unfavorable 41%

    So his favorables fell 6% as he was taking the lead away from Crist in the head-to-head (to head) matchup. I've been to two county fairs and a live Carrot Top show, and this is the dumbest thing I've ever seen.

    The problem inherent to Rasmussen (and every other agency, to some degree) is their bizarre, proprietary "likely voter" model. You can basically make a poll result look however you want by carefully parsing the definition of a LV. Rasmussen's LV model was disastrously wrong in 2008, as it was structured around the assumption that only old, white Republicans actually show up. I'm willing to bet that they're doing something similar here. If the electorate is defined as geriatric teabaggers, Rubio's going to look pretty good. Maybe the gamble will pay off for Rasmussen – midterm turnout is unpredictable and their guess may be as good as any regarding who is actually going to show up for this thing. Maybe it will be nothing but teabaggers. Maybe it won't.

    I remain 100% convinced that this will be a year of Republican gains, but the numbers trickling in as the election heats up are wildly inconsistent with a sweeping Republican victory. Anti-incumbency might be the closest thing to a theme this year (just ask Bob Bennett, Arlen Specter, or Blanche Lincoln). Whatever happens, the teabaggers will declare victory but their Glenn Beck approved candidates have done horribly thus far. Defeating Bennett in the Utah primary was probably the first victory they can claim, and even that was probably unrelated to his opponents' Teabag credentials.

    As expected, we're starting to see a little bit of a pullback from the GOP high water mark after the Scott Brown MA special election victory, after which gasbags were predicting a GOP takeover of both chambers of Congress. Predictions are getting a little more muted and a number of Democratic Senate candidates are not quite as dead as previously claimed. They'd actually be in great shape if they could re-energize the base that came out in droves in 2008. The odds of that happening without a major legislative victory apart from a confusing, watered-down health care bill are quite slim.

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    SENATE 2010: COMPETITIVE RACES

    Posted in Election 2010 on April 14th, 2010 by Ed

    I decided to simplify things a bit for 2010, dividing the races into two basic categories (uncompetitive and competitive) for starters. Given how meaningless predictions are this far in advance of the elections, there's no benefit to trying to be more parsimonious until more information is available. Information such as the names of the candidates in a lot of races. You know, things of minor importance like that.

    Last time around we introduced the uncompetitive races. There are 18 of those and they will produce a net gain of 1 seat for the GOP (the Dorgan retirement in North Dakota will be a cakewalk for GOP Governor John Hoeven). That leaves a very symmetrical 18 races in the competitive category. There is a lot of variance in this group, from just a bit competitive to too close to call. They will sort themselves out as the election progresses. Here they are with preliminary predictions:

    A couple of these are particularly likely to get interesting. The open seat in Ohio may end up being the closest call in this election. Portman is a strong GOP candidate but his party is still a damaged brand name in the state. Neither of the Democratic candidates are great. However, the nominee (probably Brunner) will have a real chance to win. This will come down to turnout and how well the bases are motivated.

    All of the previous statements about Ohio are doubly true in Illinois. Those races are eerily similar – popular young GOP Congressman running against mediocre Democrats in states in which the playing field is tilted to the left at the moment. I will believe a Republican winning a statewide race in Illinois when I see it, though, and not a second sooner.

    I think the Florida race could become a wild one. If Charlie Crist was the nominee he would waltz to victory. However, he is down 20-30 points to Teabagger icon Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. That's great for winning the nomination, but there is a legitimate possibility that he's too nutty to win the general election. Kendrick Meek is not a strong opponent. This election, however, is going to be less about Rubio vs. Meek and more about Rubio vs. Rubio. Can he convince people he is a normal, quasi-mainstream politician or will he Teabag his way into oblivion? Rubio has the early lead; let's see how he does with more exposure.

    Pennsylvania will be very competitive, especially if Sestak unseats non-Democrat Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination. Colorado seems to be trending Republican but the party (as is always the case) can't even find a decent nominee to run against weak incumbent Michael Bennet. I have Missouri going blue simply because I've learned over the years never to bet against a Carnahan in that state. Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln are both in big trouble, but incumbency is a powerful thing. At the very least, I think those races will get a lot closer than they are at the moment.

    Is anyone else getting disproportionately excited? No? I guess that's just me.

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    SENATE 2010: OVERVIEW AND UNCOMPETITIVES

    Posted in Election 2010 on March 29th, 2010 by Ed

    I know how many of you have been checking this site 10, 20, perhaps even 100 times daily just waiting for the beginning of the 2010 Senate series. Wait no more.

    Monday! Monday! Monday!
    One day only! (only…only…)
    GIN and TACOS (tacos…tacos…) will begin:

    (unnaturally deep voice) balls to the wall coverage (end deep voice)

    Of the 2010 races in the United States Senate! Senate! Senate!
    At the Madison County Fairgrounds
    We'll sell you the whole seat…BUT YOU'LL ONLY USE THE EDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDGE

    That's right. My analysis: let me show you it.

    The past 12 months have been a useful lesson in the breakneck speed with which the winds change in American politics. Throughout 2009 we saw Barack Obama go from the penthouse to the shithouse. Congressional Democrats went from cakewalking through the 2006 and 2008 elections to losing a Senate seat in Massachusetts of all places. Suddenly the media and the Beltway were grandly predicting entirely improbable midterm gains for the GOP – ten Senate seats, eighty-plus in the House. The streets would run red with the blood of all who dared oppose them.

    Well, that was January. Two months later the predictions have come back down to Earth. The midterm loss is a very real phenomenon in American politics, holding true in all but two elections in our 220 years of history (1998 and 2002). On top of the historical inevitability of Democratic losses this year, the Senate and House majorities have gotten about as large as one could reasonably expect in modern politics. Once you get to 59 or 60 in the Senate, the odds of further gains approach the size of Jim Inhofe's IQ. So no one, extremists or the uninformed aside, would call Vegas and bet money on anything but Republican gains this year. That's a given.

    That said, Michael Steele might want to hold off on the ticker tape parade.

    Conservative commentators have gleefully monitored the President's falling approval rating and that of the current Congressional leadership while conveniently overlooking the following:

    They should be careful pointing out how little the public likes Harry Reid. I mean, they're not exactly erecting statues of and sacrificing the fatted calf for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. The second cautionary tale, and one that the non-Fox media are starting to pick up on, is that the Teabaggers simply aren't that large of a group. No matter how hard talk radio hosts try to convince themselves and the rest of us that it is some giant revolutionary movement sweeping the country, it's becoming painfully clear that it is a small group funded by the usual suspects and composed mostly of certified nutbars – the ranting coworker or psychotic uncle we all go out of our way to avoid. The Great White Hope is more likely to fizzle out (How'd their primary candidates do so far?) than to become more influential as the election progresses.

    So the big picture is pretty unexciting: a gain of 3 or 4 seats in the Senate for the GOP, with considerable margin for error given how much the political tides can turn in the next seven months. There are a great many races that appear to be toss-ups at the moment, as one would expect in March, and the summer months largely will determine which way they break. It'll be a nice year for the GOP, but if they're anticipating a repeat of 1994 they're going to be disappointed.

    Let's take a brief look at the uncompetitive races. Right now I have 18 in this category; the won't be worth our attention unless something exceptional happens. It happens, but it doesn't happen often. Jim Webb didn't have a chance against George "Macaca" Allen a few years ago, but that race became competitive out of nowhere about a month before the election.

    Two races in this group have some potential to move. In Wisconsin, Feingold will have a tough race on his hands if former Governor and Bush Cabinet secretary Tommy Thompson decides to run. He has been on the fence for months and frankly I don't think he'll do it. He's about to turn 69 and despite his popularity in Wisconsin, he wouldn't even be a favorite against Feingold. Could he win? Sure. But the money would still be on Russ. The second race is the Gillibrand special election in New York. She's not much of a candidate – sort of a mushy Clintonite centrist – but I've grown sick of listening to the GOP talk about their grand, brilliant plans to win one of the NY Senate seats. They've been hatching one scheme and one unbeatable miracle candidate after another for the last decade. The outcome is always the same. They're throwing George Pataki's name around (as they always do) and it remains to be seen if he'd be as good as his party thinks he would be. Right now I'm guessing he declines (again) and Gillibrand walks over whichever Republican Congressman throws his name on the ballot.

    To be continued and updated as necessary. Welcome back.

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    OH YEAH? WELL…

    Posted in Election 2010 on April 29th, 2009 by Ed

    Eight years ago DeLay-Gingrich-Bush style politics bit the Republican Party in the ass. Hard. Today we see that what separates the GOP from higher-order primates is the ability of the latter, and inability of the former, to learn from such a mistake.

    The year was 2001. Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) had committed a grievous ideological error. By opposing President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal, Jeffords forced the White House to accept compromise legislation with a mere $1.2 trillion in tax cuts. If that doesn't sound like a crime in need of immediate and vicious retribution, well, then you don't understand the brilliance of the people who were in charge back then. Frist, Bush, DeLay, and the rest of the GOP power brokers were unambiguous: Jeffords had to pay.

    The GOP leadership in Congress refused to renew a dairy subsidy bill that was important to Vermont farmers or to fully fund Jeffords' pet legislation, the dastardly and controversial "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." Jim, you partisan hack. The White House added petty insults like refusing to invite Jeffords to an event at which a Vermonter was given the national Teacher of the Year award. "Heh heh heh," the GOP braintrust chuckled amidst considerable back-slapping and cigar-puffing, "we showed that fruity Yankee."

    Unable to conceive of what Jeffords could possibly do in response to their coordinated onslaught, they were legitimately shocked when he responded to their "fuck you" with a resounding, "Oh yeah? Well fuck you." Jeffords left the GOP and threw the majority to the Democrats for the first time since 1994.

    The GOP learned nothing from the ordeal, of course, and in the intervening eight years it has grown even less tolerant of "RINOs" (moderates) or any deviation from the ideological gospel. It would be facile to say that Arlen Specter's flip represents mere opportunism. In reality, this represents the culmination of fifteen years of hostility and harrassment directed at the dopey Pennsylvanian. Politicians expect that from the opposition, but not from their own party.

    Back in 2005 Jeffrey Toobin wrote an excellent piece about how all-or-nothing GOP "nuclear option" politics were slowly crushing all of the party's moderates. Having already claimed the careers of most of his liberal Republican colleagues, Specter bore the full brunt of the talk radio hostility alone.

    Specter, of Pennsylvania, was elected in 1980. These days, in his office overlooking the Supreme Court, he surveys, not happily, the current state of his party—especially the disappearance of moderates like him. “We had a lot of senators,” he said. “We could go on and on and on,” and he named, as examples of this group, Bob Packwood, Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Charles Mathias, and John Heinz. “And we don’t have them now. So it’s not good for the Party, and it’s not good for the country. It’s not good for the Party because you need balance. You need to be a national party.”

    By 2005 Specter, a 25 year Senate veteran, was reduced to taking orders from Texans and Alabamans who had been in the Senate for about five minutes. The party humiliated him by forcing him to audition for his Judiciary chairmanship – on national television.

    “I have not and would not use a litmus test to deny confirmation to pro-life nominees,” Specter said, in the weary monotone of a Soviet prisoner forced to confess his ideological errors. “I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor, and I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination.”

    “Everyone who pays attention knows that Senator Specter comes from a state and a segment of the Party that are to the left of the President and the Republican caucus,” John Cornyn, a conservative first-term senator from Texas, said. “I have been pretty pleased from what I’ve seen of Senator Specter’s performance so far.”

    Specter didn't need the GOP, and the GOP didn't think it needed him. After nearly being defeated by a wingnut primary challenger in 2004, he won the general election by 11% – in a state John Kerry won. He didn't have a hard time getting Pennsylvanians to vote for him; it was the DC radio hosts, the cowboy-hatted hick Congressmen from Texas, and the Colorado Springs televangelists that were giving him grief. As he geared up for another brutal primary challenge from far right "Club for Growth" candidate Pat Toomey, we don't need deep insights into Specter's mind to understand how readily he might conclude "You know what? I don't need this shit."

    And he doesn't.

    What did all the hostility toward Specter accomplish? What did Rush and Hannity and the Free Republic forums get in return for savagely attacking this nondescript guy for more than a decade? Well, they successfully drove him out of the party just as the GOP desperately clings to their last shred of influence in DC – the 41 seats needed to defeat cloture. As the increasingly readable David Frum said,

    For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren’t real Republicans – that they don’t belong in the party. Now he’s gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.

    Specter could have waited, of course, until late 2009 or early 2010. He claims that the timing of his announcement was dictated by the legalities of forming his re-election campaign. Maybe. In reality I think this is an old man, one who has had a brush with death and answers only to his conscience at this point, twisting the knife. This was carefully timed to inflict maximum damage. He is once again responding predictably to the actions of a party that never seems to learn the lesson that every ideological vendetta leads to ruin. Frum asks,

    For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?

    Good question. They have plenty of time to ponder it.

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    SENATE 2010 UPDATE: SOMEONE LOAN DODD A SWORD

    Posted in Election 2010 on April 9th, 2009 by Ed

    It's been a while and the ginandtacos snark-to-useful-information ratio has listed dangerously toward the former, so it's time to refresh the 2010 Senate races…just as the 2008 race is finally, maybe, possibly wrapping up. Norm Coleman, the conservative equivalent of legendary Japanese WWII holdout Hiroo Onoda, is just about out of bullets and even the wingnut illuminati are abandoning ship. Are we honestly still talking about this in April? Of course we are. The man in question, after all, is the reigning Ginandtacos.com Cocksucker of the Year.tm

    While the good people of Minnesota do not get to move on yet, we are free to do so. On to 2010! I won't touch every race, but here are some of the highlights/developments since the last post:

  • The Kansas race (Brownback retirement) went from the potential barn-burner of the year to a non-event when Kathleen Sebelius accepted a Cabinet post. I fail to see her running from the Cabinet or resigning that post 8 months after accepting it. Without her, this race…isn't one.
  • The Governator has ruled himself out of the CA race, and rather emphatically if I may say so. He's about as popular as dick cancer right now, so I'm not shocked. The GOP is talking about throwing Carly Fiorina out there. Fiorina-Boxer will be a one-sided beating of historic proportions.
  • Everyone and their brother is either lining up or making noise about challenging Senator Hookers, a.k.a. David Vitter, in Louisiana. With challengers from both parties, he's toast.
  • Florida (Martinez retirement) is turning into a gangbang. Jeb's out, but Charlie Crist may be in. Crist would be the favorite, but it will be an expensive, brutal race with national attention. How badly does he want it? Badly enough to have his…uh, "romantic history" dredged up again? Kenny Meek looks like the strongest Democrat, but Crist would probably take him. The rest of the GOP field sucks.
  • Robin Carnahan is running in Missouri (Bond retirement). If there's one thing Missourians love, it's electing Carnahans to statewide office. Roy Blunt, one of the biggest hacks in Congress, intends to run. Good luck.
  • It does not appear that the GOP can talk Jim Bunning's insane ass out of running again, so he may face primary challengers. Democratic challenger and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who nearly took down Bunning in 2004, is the consensus challenger again. Bunning barely held on in 2004 and this time he's A) crazier, B) in the minority party, and C) absent George W. Bush's coattails.
  • Man, is Arlen Specter screwed. He has a 27% approval rating among Republicans in PA. He's also dying of cancer. He's also 80. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz is likely to be the Democrat who will beat Specter or whatever rank amateur tops him in the primaries.
  • Dick Burr (*snicker*) still hasn't slept since Elizabeth Dole went down in November. Widely considered to be an anonymous-to-terrible incumbent in a state that has taken a serious lurch to the left recently, Burr is likely to go down to Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper or one of several Democratic House Reps.
  • Oh, Chris Dodd. Someone loan Chris Dodd a sword, as he badly needs to fall on one at the moment. Chris, a lot of people like you and all that, but you're toast. Already in serious hot water because of the Countrywide Financial scandal, and now his name is attached to the AIG bonus clusterfuck. The facts may or may not exonerate Dodd, but the damage to his name and public image is already done. Better for Dodd to walk away and let some other Democrat club the lame field of challengers (Gov. Jodi Rell, who'd probably win, is out). The alternative is a Peter Fitzgerald-Carol Mosley Braun type election in which a horrible candidate gets elected simply because a corrupt incumbent defiantly refuses to step aside. Chris, you're done. Unfortunately the candidate is often the last person to get that message. Is he a narcissist or does he care about what's best for his party?

    That's all for today. I'm sure most of you are having a hard time getting excited about it 18 months out, but trust me – this cycle will have plenty of entertainment value.

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    SOLEMN VOWS

    Posted in Election 2010 on February 23rd, 2009 by Ed

    Imagine it is late May 1945. The American and Soviet armies are racing toward Berlin and the Third Reich is in its last days. Its leaders are busy destroying evidence of their atrocities or killing themselves. The German army's goal is no longer to fight but to avoid the Soviets and surrender to the Americans. Imagine now that just days before Hitler dies and Berlin falls, Die Fuhrer takes to the radio and tells the world "You know, if we win this war we are going to burn your countries to the ground. You're all screwed. Mark my words."

    That didn't happen. But it would have been pretty funny, right? You would almost be tempted to pat him on the head and say "Aww, that's so cute! 'If we win this war'! Good one, Adolf!" Decimated and in the final stages of its complete collapse, well…it would be somewhere between delusional and comical to hear the Germans talking about what would happen if they won the war.

    Now. Watch this video and tell me you don't want to pinch Congressman Louie Gohmert's cheeks when he talks about what the GOP is going to do to the stimulus legislation if they re-take the majority in 2010. Then, brushing up on addition and subtraction if necessary, check the math required for that to happen.

    Oh, Louie. You card!

    Every time I look at the 2010 Senate races I have to stop and give myself a lecture about hubris. Then I waste a lot of time trying to figure out if my analysis is biased. I try pretending that I'm a GOP strategist hired to put a good spin on his party's odds. I make up fantastical scenarios in which voters do things completely at odds with the last three decades worth of elections. And none of it is enough to convince me that the GOP can keep the status quo in 2010 let alone win back any of its nine-seat deficit.

    Eighteen months is a long time. Who knows that will happen between now and then. Perhaps President Obama will do something awful or fail so spectacularly that the country will run screaming from the Democratic Party with a vigor we can scarcely imagine today. In order for the GOP to win ~10 Senate seats and about 80 in the House, I'm thinking Obama would have to turn our nuclear arsenal over to North Korea. And triple everyone's taxes. And strangle a puppy during the State of the Union. Without going into all the details (which will come in good time, for those who care) consider the following:

  • Four GOP incumbents are retiring, three of them in states (MO, FL, and OH) in which the other Senator is a Democrat. In contrast, one Democrat is retiring in a state, Delaware, in which the GOP might not even offer a challenger.
  • Two states the GOP considers a slam-dunk, Kansas and Oklahoma, will be contested by term limited and wildly popular Democratic Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Brad Henry. And the Kansas seat is open (Brownback retirement).
  • Roland Burris is likely to be ancient history by January 2010, ending GOP hopes that the candidate will be so terrible that they can pull off an improbable Illinois win (a la Peter Fitzgerald vs. Carol Mosley Braun).
  • The usual GOP fantasy scenarios in which they make high-profile races in California and New York competitive ("We have really good challengers this time, we swear!") are about as likely as me waking up tomorrow with stigmata.
  • Like Layne Staley, whose obituary was famously prepared and kept on file at Spin Magazine for over three years, four Republican incumbents have political epitaphs at the ready: Burr (who hasn't slept since the November election), Specter (Ed Rendell + Cancer = Bad), Bunning, and David "More Hookers, Please!" Vitter.
  • Two additional GOP incumbents are under heavy retirement speculation: Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg, the latter stating that he will "probably not" stand for re-election after the Cabinet appointment fiasco.

    Maybe things will change. Maybe every remotely competitive seat will have an outstanding Republican challenger who runs a great campaign. Maybe the Democrats will blow their existing advantage through sheer ineptitude. Maybe I'll look back at this post after a Red Tidal Wave of Awesomeness on November 2, 2010 and feel embarrassed that I short-changed the GOP juggernaut. Or maybe we'll wake up on November 3 with 63 Democrats in the Senate, wondering aloud what exactly it's going to take for the GOP to get the message.

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    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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