Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Numbers Game

Patrick Ruffini provides some interesting analysis of partisan affiliation numbers for Massachusetts. This analysis puts an optimistic spin on Scott Brown's chances in the January 19 special Senate election:

Then there is a bit of recent electoral history. It's true that Massachusetts has deserved the mantle of the most Democratic state in its recent history. But that Democratic loyalty is not quite as strong as it was. Massachusetts is now within two points of California in Presidential partisanship, handing Obama a 26-point win to California's 24 points. In California, a larger and more diverse state, we are talking about a possibly competitive Senate race with a recent history of electing Republican governors. Let's also remember that Massachusetts Democrats are not Obama Democrats. Despite the blessing of Kennedy and Kerry, Obama lost the state by 10 points on Super Tuesday. In October 2007, Republican Jim Ogonowski came within 6 points of beating Niki Tsongas in the MA-5 special, and that was in a bad political climate for Republicans. And a final point that bears remembering: Massachusetts has a Cook PVI of D+12. In a strange low-turnout election scheduled during the winter months, Joseph Cao won LA-2 in a D+25 district. Martha Coakley may not be stashing cash in the freezer, but weird things happen in special elections (as NY-23 also showed us). And an extra, final point: in a sleepy, low-turnout special election in CA-10, that no one believed Republican David Harmer could win and which attracted minimal support from national Republicans and the blogosphere as everyone was focused on Doug Hoffman, we came within 10 points. The Cook PVI rating of that district was D+11. That could have been a lot closer with extra resources and political capital spent.

All in all, taking a calculated risk in MA-SEN is worth it. Nobody doubts this is an uphill fight, but I don't want to be the guy who decided not to take a stand only to find out that we lost by 6 on election night when everyone assumed the Democrat would win running away and didn't fight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Raising the Volume

MA GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown is ratcheting up his attacks on Obamacare and his Democratic opponent's support of those policies.

With Democrats in Congress now using their narrow majority to write a final health care compromise, Brown called a press conference to say he would relish the chance to block the bill, asserting the current proposals would raise costs for Massachusetts residents and businesses without providing any benefits.

“I could be the 41st senator that could stop the Obama proposal that’s being pushed right now through Congress,’’ Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, told reporters at state GOP headquarters in downtown Boston.

Over at NRO, Jim Geraghty is skeptical about the fate of Republican Scott Brown in the MA special election for Ted Kennedy's seat. A few emailers try to convince Geraghty to look on the bright side for the GOP. Here's the rallying cry from one correspondent:
This election is about GOTV and turnout.

The GOP raises millions every cycle from Massachusetts. We realize we're not target #1. But is spending a few hundred thousand on a GOTV effort targeting Registered R's and Independents who vote R to much to ask? Is Mailing an Absentee Ballot Application to R's and R-Leaning U's (Unenrolleds, as in "not enrolled in a party" as in "independents") that has been done to great effect in the past to much to ask?

Is $30,000 to call every GOP household to remind them to vote to much to ask?

Steele said the RNC was going to help us compete in the Northeast. Where is even the TOKEN help?
Another emailer notes:

The real king makers in Massachusetts are the independents. The special election is expected to be low turnout. The independents in NJ and VA broke two thirds for the Republicans last month. It is not inconceivable Mass' independents could move the same way....If Brown loses a close race, the national Republican committees will rue the day they shortchanged this special election in the bluest of blue states.
With all that could be riding on this race, the national Republican leadership could indeed feel more than a slight sting of disappointment.

See also Ed Morrissey on the national GOP's (lack of) spending on Brown's behalf.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Longest Shot

Following up on this suggestion from Ace and Bill Kristol and an correspondent of Kristol, it really does seem like the Republican challenger for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat, state senator Scott Brown, might stand to gain a lot if he runs as the anti-Obamacare candidate. If Brown were to win, he could become the 41st vote to stop Obamacare. Since, as Kristol notes, the Senate would not be able to vote on the final version of Obamacare after the MA special election on January 19th, Brown's election could be a pivotal turning point. Opponents of Obamacare might find a very high rate of return in investing time and money in Brown. Kristol's email correspondent suggests that the GOP should have "certain Senatorial election committee to pay attention to the race or send money or have actual prominent Republican types come to the state to campaign for the very telegenic State Sen. Scott Brown." All good suggestions. The odds of succeeding may be slimmish, but the benefits of success would be huge.

Moreover, it would be so much in Brown's favor to run as the anti-Obamacare candidate. What his campaign needs the most is oxygen. After all, consider this narrative: Republican reformer, who has won elections in a Democrat-friendly district, takes on an ossified Democratic machine headed by a wildly unpopular Democratic governor. In a low turnout election, the intensity of opposition to an increasingly unpopular president's plans could help tip the scale in his favor. This narrative of success could become a reality, if Brown can make this election more than a ho-hum, off-year, predetermined Democratic "safe seat" faux-contest. Running under the radar will not help his campaign.

Instead, he needs to make it a newsworthy campaign. Independents are a key voting block for either party in Massachusetts, but they are especially crucial for a Republican. Brown needs to get their attention, whip up Republican support, and persuade skeptical Democrats that things in the Capitol have gone too far. Health-care is a perfect issue to pull the spotlight in Brown's direction. With independent support for Obamacare sinking lower and lower, health-care could be a catalyzing issue. This attention could provide Brown with much-needed donations and publicity.

The public polls have been few and far between for this election, an indication of how "safe" many firms view this contest. But there are some interesting ancillary numbers. The current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, who was resoundingly elected in 2006, has had a collapse in his approval rating. His approval numbers now stand in the mid-30's (if not in the teens). Independent disapproval of Obama in places like California and Oregon is in the mid-40's and climbing towards 50%. In New York, hardly a bastion of rock-ribbed conservatives, 53% of independents now disapprove of Obama. So states that have been friendly to Obama are witnessing a crumbling of support, especially among independents. There are no polls that I can find asking Massachusetts voters about Obamacare, but, based on national polls (which show a clear majority disapproving of the Democrats' current flavor of health-care reform), one would not be surprised to find a significant level of opposition. Massachusetts can elect Republicans for statewide offices (they elected GOP governors for four terms in a row), and, in special elections, they have come very close in the recent past to picking up Congressional seats (Republican Jim Ogonowski ran 45-51 against Democrat Niki Tsongas for Marty Meehan's House seat in 2007).

By making his senatorial campaign a national one, Brown could transform the playing field into one that favors him. Portraying himself as the de facto last hope for a brake on Obamacare could make good political and electoral sense for Brown. The growing resentment at a Congressional majority bent on forcing through ever-more unpopular legislation could catapult Brown to the Senate chamber. The road to victory for Brown could begin with stepping up to the podium and saying, "I'm Scott Brown, and I'm here to save your health-care."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Late-Night Tactics

Though many are pessimistic about the chances of stopping the Senate's version of the health-care bill, here are a few points to keep in mind for the Congressional GOP in the weeks ahead for the health-care fight:
  • Undercut the myth of inevitability. The aura of inevitability right now only helps the backers of Obamacare; few Democrats would want to risk angering the (often irritable) White House in a failed attempt at rebellion. In politics nothing is inevitable. All it takes is one Democratic Senate waverer to stop this thing in its tracks and force a more substantive debate on the bill. Even passage of a bill from the Senate in no way guarantees the passage of the bill as a whole. Does every Senate Democrat want to get stuck with supporting an unpopular failed bill?
  • Work across party lines. Even if Congressional Democratic leadership has turned its back on Republicans, Republicans need to reach out to Democrats in both the House and Senate. Appeal to concerns about cost, care for the elderly, abortion, effective medical care, legislative due process, electoral concerns---anything. Republicans must forge a bipartisan coalition of interests and values; that's perhaps their only hope of changing the course of this legislation.
  • Keep emphasizing the facts. Democrats are obviously afraid of the facts of this bill. That's why they're trying to rush it through. This morning's Face the Nation witnessed the spectacle of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) parrying focused criticisms of the text of the bill with invective against insurance companies. That level of vitriol shows how politically uncomfortable the Democratic position can be. Time---and transparency---is on the side of critics of misguided reform.
  • Keep appealing to the public. As a corollary to the preceding point, one of Obamacare skeptics' best resources is the court of public appeal, as "Henry Clay" suggested months ago. This bill, unlike Medicare when it was first introduced, is deeply unpopular. Skeptics need to use this unpopularity to their utmost advantage. Let wavering Democrats know the price they're going to pay at the polls if this measure passes; use public appeals to increase this potential price.
  • Find a sane middle ground for reform. There is a sensible, incremental territory to be found for reform. Republicans should propose and support amendments that push the current reform in that direction. Appeals to positive change can help provide another lever for maneuvering public opposition to the bill.
Republican and Democratic skeptics of Obamacare have considerable institutional forces aligned against them. But the battle is not over yet. The history of the debate about health-care reform in 2009 has been loud predictions of success for Obamacare followed by delays and increasing levels of public opposition. There is no reason why the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 should not continue in that tradition.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Courage is not holding out for the best subsidy deal for your home state or rushing something through for the sake of doing something. Courage is standing up to the winds of one’s Congressional leadership and president. It is being willing to put the brakes on what has been described as the legislative process at its very worst, when a massive, potentially revolutionary bill is shoved through in a matter of a few days from its unveiling due to a calculated political urgency for the sake of partisan pageantry. It is fighting for transparency and deliberation in what is meant to be a deliberative body.

The controversy of this bill—not public need or universal acclaim—motivates this rush towards passage. Precisely because it is so influential, this bill requires time for debate and analysis. A poorly written rush job could have implications neither its defenders or opponents foresee. The founders intended the Senate to cool public passions through sustained interrogation of legislative matters. Today, in an Alice-in-Wonderland transmogrification of original intent, we see the Senate on the verge of ramming a bill through in the dead of night on the eve of a holiday in order to avoid public scrutiny. Perhaps due to similarities between the two, legislating has become confused with trophy-hunting.

With a winter storm descending upon the Capitol, the search for that man or woman of courage continues.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Filibuster Psychology

Right now, the leadership has to keep the potential Democratic filibusterers isolated. Being the 41st vote to stop Obama/Reid/Pelosicare would be a very uncomfortable position for any Democrat. Being isolated makes each potential filibusterer more vulnerable to party wrath. On the other hand, being part of a group (albeit a small group) of filibusterers could offer considerable protection. Leadership might be able to turn against one of you; it would have a harder time turning against four or five.

So we see this weird dance going on, in which would-be filibusterers can hide in a fog of other potential filibusterers. It's in the moderates' best partisan interest to look out for each other and offer potential objections and suggest that they may filibuster. Meanwhile, the leadership is trying to pick off each of these moderates and make all of the moderates feel insecure about the intentions of the others to filibuster. Leadership may be succeeding in this attempt. If the moderates are serious about bringing a real reform to this bill, keeping a united front (and being certain of the willingness of the other senators to filibuster) could be a key tool in forcing real changes in the bill.

Shifting Lines in the Sand

Ben Nelson today after the failure of his amendment to limit the availability of abortion coverage under the new health-care proposal:
"I want to continue to work on this," he said, not ruling out his support, at least "not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the project we're working on... This makes it harder right now [to support the bill]. We'll have to see if they can make it easier."
[Nelson] he did not reiterate his pledge to filibuster the bill.

"We'll just have to see what develops," Nelson told reporters. "I have no plan B."

That allows him substantial wiggle room, if he ultimately decides not to defect from the health care bill, and indeed, after the vote Nelson returned to private negotiations with liberals and other conservative Democrats over the public option.

He's not a firm no vote just yet.

"Not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the [public option compromise] to see if that can improve the bill from my perspective."

Ben Nelson on December 3, 2009:
"It is Stupak language [limiting abortion coverage]," Nelson said. "I've said at the end of the day if it doesn't have Stupak language on abortion in it I won't vote to move it off the floor."

Asked whether that meant he was intent on stalling the bill, Nelson said: "I just said that, didn't I? This isn't anything new, I've said this for a long time and people are finally hearing it."
Was he just bluffing about this threat?