Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Robert Byrd's legacy

Robert Byrd, the longest serving Senator in American history died yesterday in his 51st year in the Upper Chamber. He was elected in 1958, the sixth year of the Eisenhower Presidency. He's the only West Virginian to serve in the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, the US House and the US Senate. He's also the only person ever to carry every county in a contested statewide race in the Mountaineer State. He's been Majority Leader, Minority Leader and President Pro Tem of the Senate as well as the Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. There have been powerful senators since the founding of the nation (Dan Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Nelson Aldrich, Joseph Robinson, Lyndon Johnson, Howard Baker, et al) but few come close to the generational impact of Robert Byrd. A recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 he had a raw, angry interior that he used to take vengeance on enemies raal and imagined inside and outside of the Senate. The modern media praised his newfound liberalism and forgot his racist past, his devotion to pork barreling and his rambling, incoherent and personal attacks-especially on George W. Bush.

It looks as if there won't be a contested election in November of 2010 for his seat so if the Republicans want to run a strong candidate for the full term they can do it in 2012. As I've noted before that will be a tough year for Democrats anyway as they stand to lose a substantial number of seats nationwide and can't afford to fight for this one as well. However, their bench is deep, starting with their popular governor Joe Manchin who will probably run for the seat. However, whomever is the GOP candidate for President is that year, he (or she) will carry West Virginia by at least 12 if not 15 points so Manchin will have an uphill climb as Obama will not do well-especially now that he's pushing Cap and Trade which is universally reviled in the state.

The short-term impact is that the Banking bill that was agreed upon last weekend will be sent back to the Conference Committee because it doesn't have the votes to get by a GOP filibuster. Obama wanted it signed by July 4th but he's going to have to wait a while as tense negotiations will have to take place to peel off a couple Republicans to vote for cloture. I suspect strongly they'll get it but it may take until the August recess-time they don't have if they want to pass other major bills. The more time they spend (even if its just a few extra days) threatens to stuff a bunch of work into the rump session that will meet from the Monday after the election until just before Christmas. It is anyone's guess how much they'll get done before then but it is not out of the realm of possiblity that they'll not get the Banking bill or Cap and Trade done before the election. If that happens, they'll be several major items that will somehow need to get done-including the tax bill, the budget, immigration and DADT. It is hard to think that most of that would get through-at least in the way the Obama Administration wants it to so it will be very interesting to see what makes it and what's passed to the next Congress.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watch out for the "emergency" VAT in December

How are we going to start paying off a 1.7 trillion dollar annual debt? Answer: a European style Value Added Tax (VAT). Near the end of the year, the President's Blue Ribbon Deficit Commission will come out with a report which will basically say the deficits are unsustainable (what a surprise) and suggest a round of spending cuts and tax increases. I suspect strongly that the Obama Administration will warn the public that without large tax increases we'll suffer dramatic economic hardship (a.k.a. the Chinese won't be our T-Bills because they would become unreliable) and ask the Congress for the VAT to cope with the "emergency." It would be very hard to pass but in the rump session after the election I wouldn't doubt the Democratic majority's ability to push legislation through. After passing such an unpopular health care bill over massive public opposition using budget "reconciliation" I believe they could pass just about anything they really wanted.

Republicans strike hard in the mid-South

In Arkansas and Tennessee four Blue Dogs are retiring: Bart Gordon and Jim Tanner in the Volunteer State and in the Natural State Marion Berry and Vic Snyder. The GOP is working hard to pick up all four seats and, if the election were held today, probably would sweep them all. If the Republicans take both Arkansas' seats they will end up controlling three out of four in the state. Along with John Boozman unseating Blanche Lincoln in the Senate (I think he'll win by 15 points) it will be a good year for Republicans in a state where Democrats have been very successful electing members of their congressional delegation since Reconstruction. In Tennessee the GOP has had much more success in the last 25 years (they voted for Bush in 2000 instead of home state son Al Gore) and should be able to make substantial gains not only in the House elections but will probably pick up the governor's chair as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The race is on in North Carolina CD 8

We've heard a lot of talk about the vulnerablity Congressman Bob Etheridge of North Carolina after he assaulted a young person on camera but the real race and perhaps the real test of Democratic strength is in the state's 8th Congressional District where first-term incumbent Larry Kissell will take on political newcomer Harold Johnson. The GOP establishment was quite relieved when Johnson emerged from the runoff Tuesday night with a solid majority and they feel strongly that this seat is theirs for the taking. However, if Kissell can fight back he still may be able to retain the seat. This will be a classic matchup of the power of incumbency vs. the classic anti-incumbent.

North Carolina is a bit more liberal than people think. It has elected Democratic governors and Senators for years and in 2008 President Obama was able to scratch by with a victory in the state. CD 8 stretches from Charlotte to about Fayetteville which would lead you to think that it is a fairly typical southern conservative district-but that's not true. Northerners have flocked to the Charlotte area in recent years and many of them are more liberal than their Carolinian neighbors who have lived there for generations. These transplants, along with a traditional Blue Dog Democrats and African-Americans have created a powerful voting bloc in the state (that's a large part of the reason Republican Senator Richard Burr doesn't have very high reelection numbers) and its this coalition that Larry Kissell rode to victory in 2008. There will be early indicators on election night whether or not the House will flip and this will be one of those seats where an examination of the returns will tell us a lot. In November keep your eye on the two Democratic seats in New Hamsphire and three vulnerable Democrats (Donnelly CD 2, Open CD 8, Hill CD 9)in Indiana. If they lose the House will be in the hands of the GOP by midnight.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Senior citizens will play a major role in the 2010 elections

Voters over 65 years old consistently vote in presidential and midterm elections. They have more influence in the midterms because most other main voting blocs don't vote in the same numbers when there is no presidential race at the top of the ticket. This year, the GOP is running about 25 points ahead with senior citizens and that will have a major impact on House and Senate elections across the country. Usually the GOP leads in this cohort by 5-7 points but this year it is clear that older voters are ready to vote Republican in large numbers. Along with the loss of independent voters and a generic ballot strongly favoring the GOP this year will be quite the wave. Again, I will say that 55 House seats (at a minimum) will flip.

Boswell's goose is cooked in Iowa

It looks like Leonard Boswell will lose in Iowa. The most vulnerable member of the 3 House Democrats in the Hawkeye State, he's ten points down to his main challenger, a Republican State Senator and, unless something radical happens he'll probably lose. This is a seat that Nancy Pelosi can't afford to lose to maintain control of her majority.

In the open seat battle in Washington CD 3 the GOP candidate is up about ten points and is in good position to flip this seat to the Republican party. This district is one of the most purple in the nation so its no surprise that because of Democrat Brian Baird's retirement its a prime target for the Grand Old Party.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Time running out for Congress to pass ambitious legislation

As crazy as it seems the clock is ticking on this Congress. There will be a break for July 4 and the whole month of August the House and Senate will be in recess. In September they will reconvene until early October when they'll take a break to finish campaigning. After the November election they'll have a session that will take up most of the rest of that month and last until just before Christmas. And that will be it-this Congress will be history and a much different one will be sworn in in January, 2011.

This summer the Obama Administration has three main priorities: One, get Elaine Kagan onto the Supreme Court. Two, get some kind of Cap and Trade bill done. Three, have some kind of financial regulation bill passed. Kagan will almost certainly be on the Court when it convenes in October but the other two initiatives are on rocky ground-I would bet some kind of financial bill will pass but I don't think the climate bill has much of a chance.

There are other big issues that are lurking. The Congress won't pass the budget until at least after the election. The blueprint was supposed to be done weeks ago but the Democratic leadership doesn't want to force its members to take a tough vote that will ensure large deficits for years to come. This week House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer floated the idea of tax hikes on the middle class. There will already be immediate increases on January 1st as the last of the Bush cuts expire but it seems clear that the Democratic leadership, especially in the House, want to raise income taxes, capital gains taxes and business taxes before they lose their majority in January. They may also try to pass a Value Added Tax (VAT) but it probably would die in the Senate.

Two other major issues are the possible repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy (which has a 50/50 chance of passing) and some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. I think the Democrats will try to jam both of these through in the lame duck session in November-December along with anything else that hasn't cleared the legislative calendar.

There is also "card check" and a campaign finance reform bill dangling out there as well. Card check won't pass unless its stuck as a rider onto some other bill. I don't know if campaign finance reform will pass or what difference it will make in the fall elections.

I suspect the lame duck session will be one of the busiest, nastiest few weeks we've seen in a while in Congress. How will Harry Reid manage it-especially if he's been defeated by Sharron Angle?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why isn't anyone running against Gillibrand in New York?

The answer is: Why would they? The November contest will only give her the seat for the next two years-she's finishing out Hillary Clinton's term. In 2012 she'll have to run for a full term and I suspect strongly that a prominent New Yorker (George Pataki, Rudy Guiliani or Peter King) will jump in. Pataki and Guiliani have 100% name ID and could raise large amounts of money. Certainly Gillibrand will have an advantage in 2012 because New York is such a blue state and key Democratic groups will come out to vote for their candidate for President (which, by the way may not be Barack Obama but Hillary Clinton-more on that later) but voters in that state will split their tickets. They voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and, in the same election, reelected Republican Senator Al D'Amato. As the state turned deep blue in the late 1990's they elected GOP governor George Pakaki. I suspect strongly that the Republicans will look closely at this seat, especially if they see that this could be the crucial 60th GOP vote in the Senate in January, 2013. In that case they will beg Pataki or Guiliani to run. In the end, Guiliani is probably the better bet because it looks likely that Pataki is going to take a shot at the Presidency in 2012.
By the way, who is running for the GOP in 2012? Pataki looks to be in. Tim Pawlenty is probably going to jump in. Newt Gingrich is almost a lock to run. If his wife gives him the go ahead Mitch Daniels will run as well. Will Sarah Palin run? No-but she'll be a kingmaker during the primaries and at the convention.

Who will win the Florida Senate race?

Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist (and, to some extent, Kendrick Meek) are in a death match to fill the open Senate seat in Florida. Right now Rubio and Crist are essentially tied and nobody really can tell who will win in November. The biggest question is: How many Meek voters, knowing their candidate cannot possibly win, will cast their votes for Crist as their second alternative? We've seen that the lower Meek's polling average is the more Crist pulls ahead. In some of the latest polling Crist is garnering 20% of the African American vote. I can't imagine that will hold as Meek is a liberal Democrat and an African-American. In Florida, the core of the Democratic party is this particular bloc as it votes almost uniformly (around 94%) for Democrats in state-wide races. A good example is the 2000 Presidential contest where Al Gore received 94% of the African-American vote. What's more, African-Americans were 12% of the population of Florida in 2000 but represented 15% of the voters that day which created (as we all know) a near-tie for Florida's Electoral Votes. Had that bloc voted in accord with its overall percentage of population, George Bush would have won the state by over 100,000 votes. 2010 will have a much smaller Democratic turnout that 2000, 2004 and certainly 2008 which hurts Crist. Republican rank and file voters are itching to elect Rubio, a Reagan-like Cuban who is young (around 40) telegenic and articulate with a clear conservative message. He'll probably get 95% of the GOP vote and a good chunk of the Independents and certainly most of the Cuban vote (which will help him in heavily Democratic Southeast Florida-especially Dade County). If he gets over 40% of the statewide vote he should win. If he gets more than 43% he'll certainly win. If the Democratic Party could throw Kendrick Meek under the bus they certainly would but the primary has already passed and he's on the ballot to stay. Moreover, all signs point to Meek running a tough, aggressive campaign and he should get a large chunk of Democratic votes. The question is; will Meek take enough votes from Crist to ensure a Rubio victory? If someone tells you they know the answer they're a liar or a fool or maybe both.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Democrats Banished in the Plains

How many House Democrats will be left in the Plains states? It certainly looks like Earl Pomeroy (ND) and Stephanie Herseth (SD) are on their way out. Both are down by double digits and only poll in the low 40's. Both have strong statewide name ID and, at this time in the election season, should be beating their opponents simply because they are better known. As we know, this year is simply not a normal year as the Generic Ballot has the GOP up at least 5 and in some polls up 10 points. The Plains states are generally conservative although they seem to have little problem voting for Democratic representatives while at the same time casting ballots for Republican presidents. In Nebraska, Dennis Moore is retiring and his seat will almost certainly flip to the GOP. In Texas, Chet Edwards is in deep trouble and will probably lose in November. The Democrats really can't afford to lose any of these seats and still hope to maintain control of the Lower Chamber. I've said before that I strongly suspect they'll lose around 55 seats and it is because of endangered incumbents like the ones mentioned above that will cause the large shift. With losses of around 10-12 in the Midwest, 3 in Virginia, 2 in New Hampshire, 3 in Florida, 3 in New York, 3 in Pennsylvania, 3 in Ohio, 2 in Tennessee and a smattering of single seats around the country it is very easy to get to 55. Last week Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI-the next Vice President of the United States-you heard it here first) thought there was a "50-50" chance the GOP would flip the chamber. I think he's trying to lower expectations to encourage the rank and file to keep working hard preparing for the fall elections. The Republicans lead in the Generic Ballot and in voter enthusiasm and this, combined with a low Presidential Approval Rating will translate into victories across the country in November.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What do the 2012 Senate races look like?

What will happen in 2012? I know it is early but I'd like to do a little forecasting. Certainly after this election the GOP will have between 48-52 seats and I suspect in 2012 they will do much better. The Democrats will have to defend a lot of seats and many of those will be very vulnerable. Let's look at some of them:
Feinstein-California. Probably safe. Unless things really go south for the Democrats she'll win again. The only way the GOP picks up this seat is if she retires.
Carper-Delaware. Safe. There's nobody in the Delaware GOP who can beat him.
Nelson-Florida. In big trouble. If Rubio loses this year I'm sure he'll run against Nelson in 2012. Rubio would trounce Nelson and I bet if this scenario plays out he will retire instead of face a loss.
Akaka-Hawaii. Safe. He's getting pretty old. Perhaps he will retire.
Cardin-Maryland. Vulnerable. He's got a solid edge because of a heavy Democratic registration edge but he could be beaten by Mike Steele or Bob Ehrlich.
Stabenow-Michigan. Very vulnerable. She's a weak candidate and Michigan is in absolute turmoil. There will be plenty of possible GOP challengers.
Klobuchar-Minnesota. Very vulnerable. The obvious GOP challenger is Norm Coleman who graciously conceded last year after the controversial election against Al Franken.
McCaskill-Missouri. Very vulnerable. She will lose in 2012-no question.
Tester-Montana. Very vulnerable. Elected by a hair in 2006 he'll face a stiff challenge. If the At-Large GOP House member Dennis Rehberg runs he'll crush Tester.
Nelson-Nebraska. Politically dead. He has no chance to be reelected and will almost certainly retire.
Menendez-New Jersey. Vulnerable. He faced a stiff challenge in 2006 from Tom Kean Jr. and I'm sure he'll get a challenger again. Especially after the success of Chris Christie there is a template for Republicans to win in blue states.
Bingaman-New Mexico. Probably safe. He's been in since 1982 so perhaps he'll look at retirement.
Conrad-North Dakota. Very vulnerable. As the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee he's presided over the largest deficits in American history-a fact that doesn't go over well in North Dakota. He's been able to pretend he's a moderate for many years but he supported the health care bill which is universally hated in that state.
Brown-Ohio. Very vulnerable. Arguably the most liberal senator in the country he'll face a stiff challenge from any number of GOP varsity players.
Casey-Pennsylvania. Very vulnerable. A complete moron, Bob Casey will get a challenger in 2012 and may well lose. He is a terrible debater with the classic deer-in-the-headlights look about him that will probably cost him his seat.
Whitehouse-Rhode Island. Safe.
Webb-Virginia. Vulnerable. He won by around 10,000 votes in 2006 and he'll have to face a deep GOP bench.
Byrd-West Virginia. Safe. When will this guy retire? He was elected in 1958.
Cantwell-Virginia. Somewhat vulnerable. She beat Slate Gorton in 2000 by a little over 2,000 votes. If Patty Murray gets beat this year (a distinct possiblity) then the GOP will send out someone tough to try to take her out.
Kohl-Wisconsin. Safe. An absolute nonentity in the Senate, I think he'll retire after four terms.
Lieberman-Conn. Unknown? Who knows what this guy does?
Sanders-Vermont. Safe.
Kyl-Arizona. Safe
Lugar-Indiana. Safe.
Snowe-Maine. Safe.
Brown-Massachusetts. Vulnerable. Any number of Democrats will aim to knock him off. I think he'll survive.
Wicker-Miss. Safe.
Ensign-Nevada. Vulnerable. He'll probably have to retire after his sex scandal.
Corker-Tennessee. Safe.
Hutchinson-Texas. Safe but probably retiring to run for governor in 2014.
Hatch-Utah. Safe.
Barasso-Wyoming. Safe.

I think it very likely that the GOP will pick up at least seven seats in 2012 but, if they ran the table, could get twelve. As crazy at it may seem that would give them around sixty. You heard it here first.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can Sharron Angle beat Harry Reid?

Yes. Will she? Probably. I know Reid desperately wanted to face Angle as he thought she was the weakest candidate for the general election. That's probably true; both other major GOP candidates polled better against Reid than Angle did but that doesn't really say much for what will happen in November. Reid does have a major cash advantage, the backing of the unions, the President and much of the gaming community in Nevada. However, he's the Majority Leader and will be constantly attacked for the legislation that has passed in the last two years-especially the major health care reform package that he bullied through the Senate last December. Moreover, Nevada is suffering terribly from the effects of the recession, especially in Clark County (Las Vegas) where he'll have to pull a lot of votes to win. Angle will probably crush Reid everywhere in Nevada except Las Vegas but I suspect strongly that she'll get more votes there than the experts think. The real estate slump and the extremely high unemployment rate have struck hard in Vegas and the voters there are in a foul mood. Reid's approval rating is stuck under 40%-a number that makes it very difficult for him to win. Certainly Angle is very conservative and I'm sure Reid and his allies will call her every name in the book-you can expect this to be the ugliest Senate race this year. Harry Reid has been in Nevada business and politics since the 1960's and he has 100% name recognition. Because of that I suspect strongly that most voters have pretty much made up their minds about him and aren't planning on voting for him. He'll have to turn them against Angle which will be quite difficult and very expensive in the months to come.
I know many people think Angle cannot beat Reid because she is so conservative. I would refer them to the 1994 Senate election in Tennessee between three-term incumbent Jim Sasser and a heart surgeon from Nashville named Bill Frist. Sasser had been a veritable institution in Tennessee politics and considered his reelection a slam dunk. In his commercials he told voters that in 1995 he would become part of the Democratic leadership in the Senate and would be able to bring back money, jobs and influence to the state. There was one problem; Bill Clinton was president and Sasser lost by about 17 points. He didn't nearly have the negatives Reid had and was facing a novice politician. He had been a moderate on most issues and had become a powerful voice in the Senate for his state. But it all came to nothing as he was trounced on election night, 1994. Harry Reid has some of the highest negatives for any politician running for reelection in modern history. He is responsible for the left-wing legislation that has poured out of the Senate in the last two years. He doesn't have a lot of room to manuever. Can he win? Sure. Will he? I wouldn't bet on it. Don't let the "experts" try to convince you that Sharron Angle can't win. To say that they defy political history which is replete with examples of powerful people who have been taken down in defeat (Jim Sasser, Tom Daschle, Tom Foley). Nobody is politically bulletproof; especially in Senate elections.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Will Barbara Boxer lose this fall?

What will happen in the Senate race in the Golden State? The last GOP Senator (Pete Wilson) was elected in 1990 and the state has not voted for a Republican president since 1988. First elected in 1992, Barbara Boxer is running about even with Carly Fiorina and this race has the potential of being a dead heat in November. Boxer cruised in 2004 to her third term and she has some great advantages: One, Democrats lead Republicans in registration by about 15 points. Two, she has quite a bit of money and can raise a lot more. Three, the President has come to California to help her and will probably do so again. However, Fiorina is a formidable candidate and isn't afraid of Boxer. She's been a CEO, she's a cancer survivor, and, being a woman will help narrow the gender gap the Republicans generally suffer from. I don't think she'll be able to raise as much money as Boxer but she'll have enough to get her name and message out to the voters. Moreover, California is feeling the effects of the recession more than most states. In some areas the unemployment rate is 25%-the same level that it was for many years of the Great Depression. Will this environment put Fiorina over the top? Boxer has 100% name ID in the state and still only polls in the low 40's-usually a sign of impending doom. In that kind of scenario people are simply looking for permission to vote for the other person. If Fiorina can successfully manage her campaign and position herself as a real moderate she'll have a puncher's chance of winning. If she does, she'll have brought down a titan of California politics. In my next posts I'll look at the Senate races in Washington and Nevada.

Friday, June 4, 2010

If the elections were today....

If the election were held today the Democrats would lose 55 seats in the House and at least six in the Senate. Depending on the size of the wave the Democrats could end up losing 80 seats in the House, and if the GOP runs the table in the Senate, could lose 11 in the Upper Chamber. On the Senate side, Arkansas, North Dakota, Indiana and Delaware are certainly GOP pickups. Nevada, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Colorado are leaning to the GOP and California, Wisconsin, and Washington State are tossups. It is not out of the realm of possiblity that the GOP could sweep those states-they picked up twelve in 1980. If they get ten that will give them 51 and the majority. It will be very interesting to see if Blanche Lincoln survives in Arkansas (I don't think she will) and which Republican woman will emerge in the Nevada Senate primary to challenge Harry Reid. California will also have its primary and the winner will face the ultra-liberal Barbara Boxer. There are tons of primaries and after next Tuesday we'll get a good idea of where the races are so we can make some good guesses on where they will end up.

The Last Gasp of the Blue Dogs

The "Blue Dog" coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the House has been contracting for forty years. Since the 1960's, many Blue Dogs, watching the leftward drift of their party, have retired, lost their seats or switched to the GOP. The years 1966, 1980 and 1994 saw significant shifts as more traditionally conservative Democratic districts became GOP bastions of strength. In twenty years we will look back at 2010 and say that this was the year the Blue Dogs dissapeared. There are three races in particular that are worth watching that illustrate the point; Chet Edwards (Texas), Ike Skelton (Missouri) and John Spratt (South Carolina). Edwards represents a very red district outside of Midland while Skelton (who is also the chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee) represents a conservative area of west-central Missouri. Spratt's district sprawls over much of northestern South Carolina. All are moderates and have significant power in the House and all are in trouble. The GOP doesn't need any of these seats to win control of Congress but they are contesting each and may in fact win them all. I'm convinced Edwards will lose; the Republicans in his district have given him stiff challenges before and he's down significantly in the polling that has been conducted. Spratt's challenger is within the margin of error and the Missouri GOP is gunning for Skelton. What will hurt Spratt and Skelton is the turnout of their respective bases-they must come to the polls or they will probably lose their elections. This year the GOP's base is much more motivated so you'll see the Democratic Party spend a lot of time and money this summer and fall working on the GOTV effort-especially with voters who cast ballots for the fist time in 2008. With retirements in Tennessee and Arkansas and the probable loss of Travis Childers in Mississippi as well as other Blue Dogs in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio the January 2011 House will have very few, if any of this vanishing breed left. It is quite possible that Gene Taylor of Mississippi will be the only one left and when that happens we'll see the end of a process that started almost fifty years ago.