Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Filibuster: Ally of Bipartisanship

The first part of an occasional series in defense of the filibuster

So long as our republic continues to be dominated by a two-party system (a two-hundred-year tradition that does not show any signs of deteriorating), each house of Congress will always have a single party in the majority. A majority party---and not a multipartisan coalition---will always be in control. The outstanding question is, then, how far should this control extend. How much power should a majority qua majority have in a given legislative body?

A 51-vote majority in the Senate could, without the filibuster, pass whatever measures it likes, regardless of the minority's wishes (the House approaches this model). There would be relatively little value placed on bipartisan comity due to the diminished necessity of bipartisanship. With the filibuster as it stands, a simple majority must have some cooperation from the minority in order to be able to pass anything. Under the current filibuster rules, a majority party has two options: be lucky enough to have at least 60 votes in your party coalition or be prepared to work across the aisle. Since those 60 votes have proven to be so elusive, most majorities in the past thirty years have been forced to choose some bipartisanship.

So the filibuster as it currently stands often incentivizes bipartisan cooperation. The threat of the filibuster in part requires deals to be made, deals that give members of both parties a hand in crafting legislation. The emphasis on deal-making cuts against the tendencies of factions to turn upon one another with rhetorical violence. Cooperation counteracts partisan disunion.

The filibuster ensures that a temporary, shallow majority is limited in its power. The problem that Democrats in the Senate face vis-a-vis health-care is not the existence of the filibuster but instead the fact that the public perception of the Democrats' reform bill is exceedingly negative. It is this unpopularity that increases the skepticism of moderate Democrats and guarantees that no Republican will want to vote for this measure. If the public were truly clamoring for the current idea of Obamacare, health-care "reform" would have flown through the Senate. Instead, partisan loyalty ran up against public opinion, and public opinion may now be gaining the upper hand.

The Founders, rightly or not, feared the distorting influence of "faction" in politics. The filibuster pounds away at the partisan echochamber that too many members of both parties can lose themselves in. It encourages the moderation of partisan energies and creates an alternative, but often salubrious, incentive for cross-partisan exchanges. Parties can often create their own petty wisdoms, and the need for broader cooperation helps puncture the balloons of bloviation and self-serving justification.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Health-Care Melee

As Democratic legislators engage in white-knuckle negotiations on health-care, a lot of semi-conflicting reports seem to be emerging. Some suggest that the talks are in a "grim" state. But GOP Sen. Jon Kyl now says that he's heard that the Democrats will use reconciliation to pass health-care reform and/or get the House to agree to some deal on Obamacare:
JK: This is kind of breaking news. As you say, we’re just hearing it. We haven’t been formally advised, but we have it on relatively good authority. And this would be what they call the nuclear option. This would be we can’t do it with 60 votes, because now we have a new Senator from Massachusetts, so we’ll do it with 51. Now it’s called the nuclear option, because it really upsets all of the tradition and precedent within the Senate which on a really big bill on the magnitude of health care, would always have strong bipartisan support, and therefore the 60 vote requirement really doesn’t matter. But here, using an arcane part of the budget that ordinarily relates to tax cuts or tax increases, it doesn’t relate to comprehensive bills with a lot of substantive provisions in them, but just changes in the tax code, usually. They’re going to try to rewrite this bill to, where it would only need 51 votes, and still accomplish most of what the bill will accomplish. Now what this will do is let the Blanche Lincolns and Ben Nelsons and Evan Bayhs and other to say oh, I can’t go along with this now. And of course, that’s exactly what their constituents want to hear. But it doesn’t matter, because their votes in effect at this point don’t count. They don’t matter. All it takes is 51 Democrats to vote for it, and it becomes law. It remains to be seen how long the process will take, and whether, and how much of the provisions of the comprehensive health care reform that we’ve been looking at can be scooped up into this legislation. But it now appears the Democrats are going to try that.
If the Democrats do try to push reconciliation, expect Senate Democrats in many battleground states to try to distance themselves from the measure by saying that of course they don't support it now. The 51-vote rule may be a way of giving some of these Democrats cover.

But how many endangered Senate Democrats are there? If Russ Feingold is potentially in trouble, who's really safe? Which Democrats are secure enough in their seats that they will want to vote for this exceedingly controversial measure?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Growing Numbers

The Rothenberg Political Report upgrades the number of House seats the GOP is likely to gain. A variety of analysts are suggesting that the GOP is increasingly likely to win back control of the House and even the Senate.

Irony Alert

With all due respect for Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), I think he's mis-stating the conditions of the health-care debate for the Senate:
"[Senators] tend to see themselves as a House of Lords and they don't seem to understand that those of us that go out there every two years stay in touch with the American people," he said in an interview with Fox News Radio. "We tend to respond to them a little better."
I think the problem that the Democrats' version of health-care is running into is the fact that members of the Senate (and the House) are in touch with people. The current health-care proposal is very unpopular, and that unpopularity is making senators/representatives very leery about voting for it. It is not senators' obliviousness to public opinion but their attention to it that makes them unsure about health-care.

A bigger dividing line between the Senate and the House is that senators have to appeal to a whole state; they can't sit safe within the gerrymandered confines of an ultra-right/left district. Even Massachusetts isn't safe for statewide Democrats any more. With more and more state sliding in the Republican direction, expect Democratic senators to get more and more skittish. With poll numbers showing him losing to a variety of Republican challengers, is Evan Bayh (IN) likely to vote again for a monopartisan version of Obamacare?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Filibuster Debating

There's a lot of interesting discussion going on about the filibuster in the blogosphere right now. David Frum has some interesting points here, here, and here. One of Josh Marshall's correspondents (a journalist with decades of experience covering the Hill) over at TPM makes this interesting observation:
I really believe that the change in the Senate rules in 1975 which made cloture 60 votes instead of 67 has made the Senate more partisan.

Why? Because it is much easier to get to 60 without serious compromise than to get to 67. Therefore, Democrats can pick off one or two GOP'ers right now and get cloture.

Remember, lots of stuff went through the Senate with a 67-vote cloture rule between 1919 and 1975. Medicare, Civil Rights in the 60's and all kinds of stuff before that.
Were there a lot of bills blocked? Absolutely.

Reverse Wave

The political wave that brought Democrat Ted Strickland to the Ohio governor's office in 2006 may be reversing direction. A new poll has former GOP Congressman John Kasich leading Strickland 51-45. The economy is the biggest issue in Ohio voters' minds.

Meanwhile, out in Illinois, the various candidates for Barack Obama's old Senate seat, Republican and Democrat, are busy trying to out-outsider each other. The Democratic primary is February 2; the winner of that primary will face GOP Rep. Mark Kirk in the general. Kirk is trying to make the most of the state's "change" sentiment. He's also playing up the "corruption" narrative:
Sen.-elect Brown, who snagged Sen. Ted Kennedy's old seat in an upset last week against Democrat Martha Coakley, showed the GOP how to run “a quiet, disciplined campaign rigorously focusing on economic issues,” Kirk told The Hill. “Many of the same concerns, especially about the corruption inside the healthcare bill, are shared by the people of Illinois. Corruption is probably an even bigger issue in Illinois because of the arrest of Governor [Rod] Blagojevich and his trial coming up this summer.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Upgrading the Races

Nate Silver has a thorough analysis of the upcoming 2010 Senate races. Many Republicans' chances have improved considerably.

Margin for Change

Michael Barone (with a generous nod to yours truly---though I do want to emphasize that I am only borrowing Jeffmd's graph) digs into the Massachusetts election results and finds an interesting fact: Coakley won Congressional Districts that voted 64+% for Obama; Brown carried the rest. Applying this metric to other states, Barone finds that only 104 districts in the country fall in that category. A Republican holds only one of those seats.

So will November 2010 see the election of 331 Republicans to the House? Probably not. That number is achievable (Democrats surpassed it in 1936), but highly unlikely.

But these figures do indicate that the Republican party still has plenty of room to grow, places where it can gain without a radically transformative political dynamic. It also makes the notion of recapturing the House for the GOP in 2010 much more believable.

This data provides an interesting frame to this Politico piece talking about some of the challenges Republicans still face. They certainly cast a revealing light on the following paragraph:

The most important ones: 40, the net seats to win the House, and 10, the net seats to win the Senate, are very difficult — perhaps impossible in the case of the Senate — to achieve. Republicans have picked up 40 or more House seats only seven times since 1912, when the chamber grew to 435 seats. They have picked up 10 or more Senate seats only four times in that period. They have done both three times in the past century.

It seems certain they will pick up some seats, perhaps as many as two dozen or more in the House. That would be in line with the historical average pickup for the opposition party in a president’s first term.

Two of the times that Republicans gained that much in the House and the Senate in the same election were 1946 and 1980. They nearly reached that margin in 1994 (netting only 8 Senate seats). 1994 might be the most apposite comparison, but all 3 elections were "change" elections, with a public dissatisfied with a Democratic status quo.

So the numbers are doable, but this article focuses on a true difficulty for Republicans:
But Republicans still will fight against another set of numbers: the large number of voters who simply don’t like the brand the GOP is selling. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found only 30 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Republicans. That is 8 percentage points lower than the favorability rating for Democrats. And 22 points lower than Obama’s.

“The American people are against their agenda,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said of the Democrats. But Westmoreland said the Republicans are “having a hard time” getting their agenda out, too. “We have got to do a better job getting that out.”

Even Republicans aren’t thrilled with Republicans. A CBS News poll showed only 55 percent of Republicans hold a favorable view of their congressional delegation.

And voters also still don’t trust Republicans with big decisions. A recent Washington Post poll found 24 percent trusted congressional Republicans to make the right decisions for the country — 8 points fewer than Democrats and 23 points fewer than Obama.

“Scott Brown didn’t even really run as a Republican,” Dowd notes. “He ran as an outsider.”

The Republican party has not yet proven to the voters that it can be fully trusted with power. The brand has been considerably tainted by the economic/political turmoil over the past few years. And the American people don't seem to want the resurrection of the power structure of 2006.

One of the best ways for the GOP to cope with this---and one that Scott Brown realized---is through running decentralized campaigns. The national GOP should let a thousand flowers bloom in all the races across the country. Individual candidates will have to find individual messages that work. One of the electoral benefits of being out of power is that the GOP does not need to defend a comprehensive set of policy choices: there is considerably less incentive for a party line. Instead, Congressional candidates can offer a variety of responses to present problems. The experimental flavor that the GOP so needs right now is aided by political circumstances.

The GOP should appear open to change and to appear the party of responsible change. They can also benefit from appearing as the party that will fight against irresponsible change.

Americans in 2008 voted for a reform and not a revolution. They may now fear that they have gotten the latter, or some bizarre hybrid of elite continuity and a radical expansion of government power. If Republicans can appear a voice for the former (that is, for reform), they could have much to gain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

PA Senate: Specter in Trouble

In Pennsylvania, former Republican Senator Arlen Specter has two hard races to fight: the primary and the Democratic primary and the general election. While Specter has a comfortable lead in the primary, the general is another story, according to Rasmussen.
Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Next Stop: the House?

Though some of Brown's supporters are already champing at the "Kerry, You're Next" bit, Massachusetts Republican politicos have a challenge that is much closer: the House elections in November. Scott Brown's margin of victory put many towns across the state in the Republican column, and it looks like many Congressional Districts voted for the Republican. Jeffmd did some number-crunching over at the Swing State Project, and here's what he got (a few cities straddling a couple districts are not figured into the totals, but this absence should not affect the districts where Brown was the certain winner):

CD Coakley Brown Coakley% Brown%
1 107,665 103,561 50.97% 49.03%
2 89,493 121,799 42.36% 57.64%
3 82,588 121,627 40.44% 59.56%
4 108,079 110,323 49.49% 50.51%
5 91,585 121,594 42.96% 57.04%
6 104,787 144,168 42.09% 57.91%
7 118,283 101,739 53.76% 46.24%
8 46,795 11,884 79.75% 20.25%
9 76,164 101,140 42.96% 57.04%
10 109,489 163,812 40.06% 59.94%
3, 4 10,341 7,489 58.00% 42.00%
5, 7 3,597 2,915 55.24% 44.76%
8, 9 105,289 46,468 69.38% 30.62%
9, 10 1,254 3,067 29.02% 70.98%

Coakley Wins: 1st, 7th, 8th
Uncertain, but likely Brown wins: 4th, 9th
Brown Wins: 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 10th
This analysis gives Republicans at least 5 districts where Brown was the clear winner. The lucky Democrats are Richard Neal (2nd), Jim McGovern (3rd), Niki Tsongas (5th), John Tierney (6th), and Bill Delahunt (10th). Up until 1997, the 3rd and the 6th districts were represented by Republicans, so those might be the most likely to flip, but Brown won all of these districts with support in the high 50's, topping out at nearly 60% in the 10th District.

The fact that this is a special election should not, as it might in other years, give much comfort to Democratic incumbents. 54% of registered voters turned out for this election. Turnout in Massachusetts in 2006 was 56%, so the numbers for this election are not too much off from the preceding off-year Congressional elections; this election is a fairly close approximation (probably) of what the midterm electorate could look like in Massachusetts.

Don't be surprised if you see some of these Democrats swinging towards the middle over the next ten months. And (will wonders never cease!) here comes Bill Delahunt of the 10th saying that Democrats should "carve up" the health-care bill and pass its most popular portions! He even hopes for a "bipartisan" bill!

Don't also be surprised if the Massachusetts GOP and the RNC start quietly polling to see which incumbents could be vulnerable and trying to recruit worthy Republican challengers for the races in the fall.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

12 Lessons from January 19, 2010

Scott Brown's victory over Martha Coakley has more than a few lessons for political watchers. Here are a few possible implications:
Democrats have inherited the mantle of responsibility. Blaming Bush for the failures of today has reached substantially diminished returns. Pushing massively unpopular bills on a monopartisan basis just makes that mantle weigh even heavier.

The Democratic brand is damaged. Skepticism about the reach of "progressive" power has been bubbling and seems to be climbing into outright alienation. The national zeitgeist made it possible for Coakley to become a radioactive candidate.

Health-care is an explosive electoral issue. It's somewhat obvious, but it should still be emphasized that health-care was a game-changing issue for the election, one not in the Democrats' favor. This issue is sure to pop up in races across the country.

Party unity is a questionable commodity for Democrats. Look for more Democrats who are interested in salvaging their seats to try to take a more independent tack.

Personalities matter. The growing public discontentment with national Democrats was not sufficient for a Coakley loss. A charming, independent-seeming, fire-in-the-belly candidate could have pulled out a win. Unfortunately for Democrats, this candidate was Brown. Gaffes dogged Coakley's steps during the race and a strategic shortsightedness hurt her campaign as well.

GOP recruiting is going to be easier. If a Republican can win in Massachusetts (note the shocked accent), the sky's the limit!

The GOP is on the road to keeping its position as a national party. It's a long time since about a year ago when many were crowing that the GOP was doomed to being a Southern regional party.

The online right has won a scalp. Online interest and activism was crucial in catapaulting Brown into a contending position. Brown seems to have recognized early on the benefits of social networking sites and to have made the most of them.

Elite distrust is rising. The public seems increasing skeptical of managerial policies of the current governmental elite. Brown was able to leverage this distrust into an electoral win. Look for Republicans and Democrats to try to replicate this strategy later in the year.

A tsunami could be coming in November. If this is a representative electoral appetizer for the Congressional races later in the year, 2010 could be a miserable year for many Democrats.

The public is ready to look beyond tired old antagonisms for new solutions. Coakley tried to resurrect the political oppositions of 2006/2008 in order to bolster her campaign. This attempt failed. Brown ran as an independent-minded, forward-looking figure. The public may be sensing the exhaustion of the political narratives that dominated so much of the first decade of the 2000's. The time is still ripe for "change" candidates.

The fight might just be getting started. It seems as though the Obama administration, rather than moderating its position in the face of this and other losses, may be initially inclined to act even more aggressively and assertively from the left. Time will tell if this is mere posturing---and if Democrats in Congress will want to go along with this approach.


The AP is calling the MA race for Scott Brown. Coakley has conceded to Brown.

Poll Results Incoming

In the bellwether town of Gardner, Scott Brown won 57% of the vote. In 2006, Ted Kennedy's victory margin statewide matched his margin in Gardner. Could Brown win with numbers that big?

Jim Geraghty has more town-by-town results.

The Perfect Storm

Jim Geraghty has a nice narrative of the Brown campaign up at National Review.

Election Day Stumping

(A week old but still relevant)
An imaginary speech delivered by a Republican candidate for Senate in Massachusetts:

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate the invitation to speak to you at this time and at this place. The people of Massachusetts have been very supportive of my candidacy. As I go from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, from town to town, and from city to city, I am reminded of the diversity of our Commonwealth, but also of its universal hospitality.

While my opponent was taking a vacation, I was traveling across this state, meeting with the voters. Enough is enough. I can see it in their eyes. I hear it on their lips. Enough is enough. Enough of the corruption. Enough of the incompetence. Enough of the lies. Enough of the thuggery. Enough of the profligacy. Enough of the resentment. Enough of the fear.
Read more here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mixed Signals

Nate Silver gives Scott Brown a 74% chance of winning. InsiderAdvantage puts him ahead by 9. A Coakley internal supposedly shows her leading by 1. Brown has a double-digit lead in three bellwether districts in MA. Tomorrow, we'll see who was closest.

Deconstruction Beginning?

Vice-President Joe Biden makes a few noises about the supposed dangers of the filibuster (which conveniently come once Democrats hold power):
"As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the Constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decisions has required 60 senators," he said at a Florida fundraiser, according to the pool report. “No democracy has survived needing a super majority."
Is the White House going to ratchet up its rhetoric against some of the procedural checks on its power?

Nelson's Price

Despite or perhaps because of his health-care negotiations for the state of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson seems to have taken a significant hit in his approval rating, which now stands at 42% (with 48% disapproving). Being the 60th vote in favor of Obamacare does have its price in Nebraska, apparently.

No Cause for Complacency

The Massachusetts special Senate election seems to have entered the trench warfare stage of a campaign. Coakley's barrage of negative attacks and increased Democratic interest seem to have slowed Brown's meteoric rise in the polls. According to most polls, the negatives for both candidates are going up as the race enters its final stages. There are three possible outcomes. One is that this race ends up in a neck-and-neck grudge match, as partisans from each side grind away at each other without a huge swing in the polls, giving us a close result for one side or the other. Another is that Scott Brown's Republican, independent, and Democratic coalition sweeps the field, far outperforming most polling numbers and winning a decisive victory. The third outcome---and probably the least likely---is the Democratic machine in Massachusetts, buoyed by a visit by Obama, is able to pull things together for a solid victory for Coakley.

The polls for these final hours tell a mixed story. Some of Coakley's internals supposedly have her up by two points (this is probably a calculated leak). According to Bill Kristol, Brown's numbers have him gaining over the weekend and with a clear lead no matter what turnout model is used. If Brown's momentum has slowed, has it reversed, too? Two master internet pollsters have two different results. Charles Franklin at argues for a wide trend increasingly favoring Brown. Nate Silver, however, sketches an ubertrendline showing a reversal of the momentum for this race, with Brown peaking around 1/15 and the race slowly swinging back in Coakley's direction.

Whatever the details of the polls, this is definitely time for Brown's allies to be hopeful, charged up, and excited. It is not time for them to be complacent. In the final 30+ hours of the campaign, the race could still swing in a lot of ways. The Coakley gaffe machine keeps going on and on and on. But Team Brown can't just rely on its opponents verbal infelicities.

Turnout and enthusiasm can make a loss a victory or a narrow victory a crushing triumph. Now is not the time to falter or hold back or relax. Phonebanking and other types of volunteering, donating money, talking to your neighbors, going out and actually voting---there's plenty that individuals can do to support Brown. Brown's allies need to keep pushing the enough-is-enough sense of change and argue on behalf of balance on Capitol Hill. Brown has been successful at casting this race not as Republican vs. Democrat but as moderation vs. extremism, hope vs. demonization, independence vs. hackery. Those themes have carried him far to this point; they may just carry him (and, later in the year, others) to Washington, DC to work for real, positive reform.


Two new polls show Scott Brown leading Martha Coakley heading into Tuesday's special election. Public Policy Polling has this as a 51-46 race. Another poll, conducted by the Merriman River Group and, gives Brown a 9.6% lead (50.8-41.2). In both polls, Brown has a significant lead among independents. The PPP numbers represent an improvement for Brown; last week, he led by only 48-47. There seem to be some undecideds who could swing either candidate's way. There's also some uncertainty about what will happen to those voters supportive of Libertarian Joseph Kennedy. Will they back him or swing to Brown/Coakley? With a special election like this, turnout will be key.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ohio Change

Ohio's 1st Congressional District offers one indication of how the Obama brand has flipped over the past year. In 2008, Democrat Steve Driehaus unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Chabot.

A new FDL/SurveyUSA poll (full details here)shows Chabot leading Driehaus 56-39 in a 2010 rematch.

Obama's approval numbers are down in the district.

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as President?

Approve 42%
Disapprove 55%
Not Sure 3%

The independent numbers are pretty bad: only 28% of independents approve of the job the president is doint.

Driehaus voted in favor of the House's version of health-care reform. This reform is of decidedly mixed popularity in his district:

Would you prefer Representative Steve Driehaus to vote for the version of the health care law that includes the requirement to carry private health insurance? To vote for a version of health care reform that does NOT include this requirement? Or, to vote against any health care bill?

For bill with requirement: 28%
For bill without requirement: 28%
Against Any bill: 40%
Not Sure: 5%

So 40% want him to vote against any bill. That gives him a ceiling of 60% for support for any bill (and that's assuming some bill could be concocted that would satisfy all interested parties). The problem for Driehaus: the Senate health-care bill does carry such a mandate for individuals to have health-insurance. That option only carries 28% support. If Driehaus does vote in favor of the Senate bill as is or without the change in mandates, his support could be further eroded.

Perhaps Driehaus's best chance at reelection would be to differentiate himself from other Democrats on Capitol Hill and act as an independent voice. Health-care could be one opportunity for Driehaus to show his independence. From the looks of President Obama's approval rating in the district, it looks unlikely that he'll be able to save Driehaus; it will be up to Driehaus to save himself.

ARG: Brown Leads

American Research Group comes out with some positive numbers for Scott Brown, showing him leading Democrat Martha Coakley 48-45. The crosstabs show some interesting results. This poll's sample has Democrats significantly outnumber independents (44-36), numbers that do not match the general partisan registration in Massachusetts (where independents are a majority of voters) but could be understandable when one takes into consideration the fact that this is a special election. These numbers also show Brown winning among voters 18-49 (52-42). Has Brown become the youth candidate?

Friday, January 15, 2010


President Obama will, it seems, be campaigning for Martha Coakley after all. He's scheduled to come to the Bay State on Sunday on Coakley's behalf. This is a risky move for Obama and Coakley. Opposition to Obamacare is perhaps one of Brown's biggest electoral draws; Obama's presence in the state only makes the issue that much more central in voters' minds. A loss by Coakley after Obama's campaign trip could damage his brand credibility. After all, if he can't help Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, how many strings can he really effectively pull for, say, Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas?

As things get down to the wire, the momentum seems to be on Scott Brown's side. One of his internal polls supposedly puts him ahead by 11 points; one of Coakley's internals supposedly has him up by 3.

The poll numbers are sort of all over the place, which is understandable. This is a special election, an especially moving target all the way until the final votes are cast on Tuesday. Turnout turnout turnout!

The Wrath of Action

Charles Krauthammer has a strong column up exploring the political situation President Obama has found himself in. He identifies a major cause for the fall of Obama's popularity as the unpopularity of his ideas:

The health-care drive is the most important reason Obama has sunk to 46 percent. But this reflects something larger. In the end, what matters is not the persona but the agenda. In a country where politics is fought between the 40-yard lines, Obama has insisted on pushing hard for the 30. And the American people -- disorganized and unled but nonetheless agitated and mobilized -- have put up a stout defense somewhere just left of midfield.

Ideas matter. Legislative proposals matter. Slick campaigns and dazzling speeches can work for a while, but the magic always wears off.

It's inherently risky for any charismatic politician to legislate. To act is to choose and to choose is to disappoint the expectations of many who had poured their hopes into the empty vessel -- of which candidate Obama was the greatest representative in recent American political history.

Obama did not just act, however. He acted ideologically. To his credit, Obama didn't just come to Washington to be someone. Like Reagan, he came to Washington to do something -- to introduce a powerful social democratic stream into America's deeply and historically individualist polity.

Perhaps Obama thought he'd been sent to the White House to do just that. If so, he vastly over-read his mandate. His own electoral success -- twinned with handy victories and large majorities in both houses of Congress -- was a referendum on his predecessor's governance and the post-Lehman financial collapse. It was not an endorsement of European-style social democracy.

Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait condemns Krauthammer's piece for missing the effects of unemployment upon the president's unpopularity. The left may still be trying to reassure himself that any failure Obama suffers will not be due to the unpopularity of "progressive" policies but instead truly due to a poor economic situation.

However, those economic difficulties are in part policy/political failures. The Obama administration chose to push forward a hyper-partisan stimulus bill, one designed to delay distributing stimulus money. The Obama administration chose to announce a benchmark of success for its stimulus bill vis-a-vis unemployment, a benchmark it has fallen considerably short of. The Obama administration chose to focus its rhetorical energies on health-care reform and cap-and-trade instead of the economy. If the administration and the Democratic Congress had adopted a different approach to the current economic turmoil in early 2009, perhaps the economic picture might be different now. But it didn't, and now it's living with the consequences.

The administration is not a mere victim of the economic dynamic but has itself contributed to this dynamic. And the polled unpopularity of various concrete measures the administration supports on health-care and other issues is not solely (or even principally or significantly) due to the state of the economy.

Krauthammer ends on this note:
Hence the resistance. Hence the fall. The system may not always work, but it does take its revenge.
If the revenge of the political system continues and Obama's agenda continues to encounter turbulence, look for many "progressives" to attempt to deconstruct the system and its myriad checks and balances. Beyond a push to end the filibuster (which more and more "progressives" are mounting), "progressive" drums might be beginning to beat for ending the Senate itself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Brown Surging?

The Boston Herald reports on a new poll released by Suffolk University/7News, showing Brown leading Coakley by 4%. Key snippets:

The poll shows Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, besting Coakley, the state’s attorney general, by 50 percent to 46 percent, the first major survey to show Brown in the lead...

Paleologos said bellweather models show high numbers of independent voters turning out on election day, which benefits Brown, who has 65 percent of that bloc compared to Coakley’s 30 percent. Kennedy earns just 3 percent of the independent vote, and 1 percent are undecided.

Yet even in the bluest state, it appears Kennedy’s quest for universal health care has fallen out of favor, with 51 percent of voters saying they oppose the “national near-universal health-care package” and 61 percent saying they believe the government cannot afford to pay for it.And with 99 percent having made up their minds, voters may be hard to persuade...

The poll surveyed a carefully partitioned electorate meant to match voter turnout: 39 percent Democrat, 15 percent Republican and 45 percent unenrolled.

Brown wins among men and is remarkably competitive among women - trailing Coakley’s 50 percent with 45 percent.

While Brown has 91 percent of registered Republicans locked up, an astonishing 17 percent of Democrats report they’re jumping ship for Brown as well - likely a product of Coakley’s laser-focus on hard-core Dems, potentially at the exclusion of other Democrats whom she needed to win over, Paleologos said...

Brown’s popularity is solid. He enjoys a 57 percent favorability rating compared to just 19 percent unfavorable. Coakley’s favorability is 49 percent; her unfavorability, 41 percent.

Pollster David Paleologos's comments about the causes for Democratic disenchantment are highly suggestive: Coakley may not be able to depend upon a hard-core, base Democratic turnout alone in order to win this election. Will her current negative advertising campaign win over independents and moderate Democrats?

First Impressions

Especially if Scott Brown ends up winning the election on Tuesday, one lesson to take away from this race is the value of establishing a first impression. Due to Coakley's victory-lap vacation from active campaigning, Brown was able to get his message out somewhat unopposed. He was able to focus the Senate debate on a few key issues that played to his strengths. By trying to run a cheery, independent campaign, Brown was able to keep Coakley from casting the race solely as a Republican-vs.-Democrat grudge match on behalf of Ted Kennedy's memory. Instead, the race became about health-care, pragmatic bipartisanship, and the economy (among other issues). All of these favored Brown.

After Brown's image as a scrappy independent and as a brake on radical programs in Washington gained traction, Coakley seemed to have chosen the strategy of a negative assault upon Brown. There is a chance that this strategy of polarizing out the race could work. However, it might also be seen as a significant miscalculation about the mood of Massachusetts and the US as a whole. Both state and nation are increasingly tired of the politics of fear and resentment. Democrats were able to use the "Had Enough?" slogan (one coined by Newt Gingrich) very effectively in 2006 and as part of their 2008 repertoire. So much of the first year of the Obama administration has been defined by the relentless use of demonization---from attacks upon Rush Limbaugh to assertions that skeptics of Obamacare are like defenders of slavery to implications that the Republicans seek to perpetuate a holocaust. Inflaming animosities may be a successful tactic of distraction from the failures of the present, but the public does eventually tire of that torrent of wrath.

Part of what made Barack Obama's campaign a success was its overt emphasis on hope (even as a few fear-inducing digs were made). That optimistic glean helped satisfy the public's desire for an escape from the dead-ender partisanship they saw in Washington. Even if (especially if) the Obama administration has failed to deliver on this glean, the public hunger for a more affirmative politics has only increased.

Brown is very shrewd to be running such positive ads at this point in the campaign. Few voters want to have the bitter taste of venom in their mouths as they vote for a candidate right now. Brown's best hope is to run as a force for the way forward---not just against another person.


The Rothenberg Political Report has further upgraded Scott Brown's chances in the Massachusetts Senate race, now ranking it as a "toss-up." Bill Kristol reports about private polls putting Brown ahead of Coakley. Brown seems to be picking up momentum and charging forward.

UPDATE: Rumors swirl of an internal Coakley poll that shows her leading by a mere two points: 46-44.) And sources inside Massachusetts tell The Daily Caller that Brown is raising about a million dollars a day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Should Unions Support Coakley?

The big unions seem to be mustering their resources for a last-minute push for Martha Coakley (according to sources, the Massachusetts Teacher Association is unleashing a barrage of mailings and phone calls). However, why should they do so, especially when the Obama administration has set its sights on generous union health-care packages? Has the administration been a great success for the individual members of various labor unions? What about the folks in Detroit---how will they be doing if a bad version of cap-and-trade passes?

It's clear why many of the power players in unions support Coakley: they want a place at the table. By buying into the system, various union heads ensure more power for themselves. But various rank-and-file members of the union must ask themselves if the union's official position advances their best interests. What's the point of having a strong union that can secure a good benefits package if the federal government is going to tax those benefits away?

So it might not be too surprising if, in the privacy of the voting booth, many union members pull the lever for Scott Brown.

Balancing Act

Martha Coakley finds herself in the following odd position: the standard Democratic brand is taking a beating even in Massachusetts, but her biggest advantage may be the appeal to Democratic loyalty. As Chris Cillizza notes, Coakley's campaign ads do not emphasize her party affiliation. So she may be trying to differentiate herself from national Democrats. However, the whole "save-Ted-Kennedy's-seat" argument seems to be premised on the fact that Coakley will indeed be just another (albeit very left-wing) Democratic senator. The latter argument undercuts the former, so she needs to make them to different audiences.

Party Loyalty?

Many online "progressives" have begun cataloging the supposed woes that the nationalization of the Massachusetts Senate race has brought upon Scott Brown's campaign. E. J. Dionne kicks it off:
Brown was running well as an insurgent who was somewhat disconnected from the national Republican Party. Conservatives, Republicans and tea-party types were already mobilized to vote next Tuesday. Democrats were asleep. All the national attention to the race now gives Democrats a reason to vote. Brown does better as an independent-minded outsider than as someone who is now recast as part of Washington's partisan battles. He is trying gamely to preserve his independent image, but that has become harder, and the Democrats' advertising is aimed at tying him into the Washington Republican Establishment.
I'm somewhat skeptical of this view and have written about the benefits of attention to Brown: that he would need to appear competitive in order to have a shot at being competitive. The appearance of being competitive would indeed center Democratic attention on this race, but that attention might be the price of actually winning it. Moreover, I've suggested the value of Brown connecting himself to national issues as a way of raising his profile in the race.

Democrats have themselves been gamely trying to attach Brown to the centralized Republican bureaucracy, but have to contend with the fact that it is Martha Coakley, not Scott Brown, who is attending top-dollar partisan fundraisers in Washington, DC.

Kos picks up on this nationalization theme in an interesting post, but he offers this odd claim:
On the other hand, that conservative support has come at a cost. Among other things, Brown has had to promise to be the 41st vote against health care reform. The teabaggers demand ideological purity, and he's had to deliver.
Kos almost seems to phrase this opposition to the current version of health-care reform as some major concession to the lunatic right wing. When a broad majority is not in support of the current version of Obamacare, stating one's intention to filibuster it is hardly an act that defines one as an ideological purist (how many approve of Obama's handling of health-care? 35%).

This opposition in fact is perhaps one of the major draws for independents, who are increasingly dissatisfied with the Democratic Congress and the current health-care proposal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting Closer

Rasmussen has new numbers up: Coakley at 49%, Brown at 47%. More details about party affiliation:
Coakley is supported by 77% of Democrats while Brown picks up the vote from 88% of Republicans. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, Brown leads 71% to 23%. To be clear, this lead is among unaffiliated voters who are likely to participate in the special election.
An earlier Rasmussen poll (which figured things marginally differently) had a 50-41 race in Coakley's favor. Notwithstanding the differences between the two polls, Brown seems to be closing the gap somewhat.

An interesting point about enthusiasm:
The new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote. A week ago, he trailed by two among those certain to vote.
See Michael Barone for more.


To read the Washington Examiner's piece on the antics of big-time DNC operative Hari Sevugan is to see an extensive exercise in the politics of distraction. Sevugan has spent the past day or so trying to inject Sarah Palin into the MA Senate race. The following paragraphs encapsulate the thrust of the activity:

Early Monday afternoon, Sevugan sent out an email to reporters featuring a link to a story on the lefty website TPM. The headline: "Is Sarah Palin Avoiding Mass Senate Race?" The story quoted a Democratic strategist saying that "it's interesting" that Palin is "nowhere to be found in this race." TPM conceded that GOP sources say there has been "no talk" about Palin visiting Massachusetts. But that didn't stop Sevugan, who is quoted declaring that Palin's supporters "are anxious for her to weigh in." At the top of his email to journalists, Sevugan wrote, "Come on, Sarah, why are you being so shy?"

A couple of hours later, Sevugan was emailing again, with a message entitled, "Has the Pit Bull lost her bark?" What followed was a statement from Sevugan on "the surprising silence from Sarah Palin on Republican Scott Brown's bid for the U.S. Senate." Sevugan demanded to know: "Where on earth is Sarah Palin herself? Clearly her supporters are anxious for her to weigh in."

Not long after that, Sevugan sent out another email to reporters, this one with a link to a post by TPM alumnus Greg Sargent, who now writes a lefty blog for the Washington Post. Sargent's post featured Sevugan's question with the headline, "Dems on Palin: 'Has the Pit Bull Lost Her Bark?'"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Money Explosion

Scott Brown's campaign has exceeded its original goal of $500,000 for its "moneybomb" today; as of 5 EST, it's at $626,000 and climbing. Around 3:45 EST, it was at $486,000. That's about $100,000 an hour! This could top out at a very big number.

UPDATE: Around 9:40 EST, Brown's passed the $1 million mark.

Poll Issues: Still the Independents

Jonathan Martin at the Politico posts the following private poll results:
The survey, conducted by longtime Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, has Democrat Coakley, the state attorney general, leading state Republican Sen. Scott Brown 50 percent to 36 percent.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Global Outlier

Many have noted that today's Boston Globe poll is an outlier in showing a 17-point advantage for Coakley (53-36), a bigger advantage than any recent poll has given. While other polls are showing Brown within single digits or even ahead, this Globe poll puts him at a more significant deficit. What gives?

I think a lot of the discrepancy between this poll and other polls boils down to the independents. According to this poll, the Registered Undeclared voters support Coakley over Brown 48-42. This number is wildly out of line with the recent polls released by Rasmussen and PPP, both of which show Brown leading handily with independents, winning at least 60% of their votes (Coakley hangs at between around 20% and 30% of independents). If, using all the other weighting methodologies of the Globe poll, you change the undeclared levels of support to 61% for Brown and 31% for Coakley (her highest number in the most recent polls), you come up with a 47-44 lead for Brown.

Is it credible that Coakley should have such a commanding lead among independents, when so much evidence would seem to suggest increasing independent disenchantment with the Democratic brand? Brown's supporters should not lose heart from this poll. Instead, they should use it as a reminder of how crucial independent support is.

Public Policy Prescience?

I'll be looking into these new MA Senate poll numbers from Public Policy Polling in more depth later, but they certainly seem to show a grim story for Democratic nominee Martha Coakley. According to PPP, GOP nominee Scott Brown leads Coakley 48-47. The numbers from PPP show him with a net favorability rating of +32 (compared with Coakley's +8 rating). Anger about the health-care reform bill in the Senate is clearly driving people to Brown (voters also seem upset about talk about delaying the certification of the election in the case of a hypothetical Brown win). Independents are flocking to Brown 63-31, a margin that is in line with Rasmussen's poll earlier this week.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hypothetical Stumping

An imaginary speech delivered by a Republican candidate for Senate in Massachusetts:

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate the invitation to speak to you at this time and at this place. The people of Massachusetts have been very supportive of my candidacy. As I go from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, from town to town, and from city to city, I am reminded of the diversity of our Commonwealth, but also of its universal hospitality.

While my opponent was taking a vacation, I was traveling across this state, meeting with the voters. Enough is enough. I can see it in their eyes. I hear it on their lips. Enough is enough. Enough of the corruption. Enough of the incompetence. Enough of the lies. Enough of the thuggery. Enough of the profligacy. Enough of the resentment. Enough of the fear.

In Washington, we have seen a majority party turn its back on the promise of hope for the politics of fear, resentment, and avarice. It tries to get the American people to look backward in order to distract them from the failures of the present. On so many issues---spending, jobs, financial services reform, cap-and-trade---the current Democratic Congress is massively out of step with the American people. But no issue has caused as much public unrest as the current attempt at health-care "reform." It is a case in point of the excesses of the current Congress.

The health-care bill that passed the Senate is so toxic and so unpopular that they could only pass it in a party-line vote, and that passage could only come after countless special backroom deals. The public---the Senate itself---was given little time to analyze the text of the bill that passed before the vote was made. But partisanship ensured that such a vote did take place, and that the vote was in the affirmative.

The negotiations for this bill take place in secret. Nearly everything that could be done to shut the public out of Capitol Hill's health-care discussion has been done.

This bill will add additional taxes to many Americans' medical care. It will cut the care for our elderly. It will place new regulations and limitations on the kind of care and medical financing available to you.

Candidate Obama pledged that you could keep your health-care plan if you like it. President Obama now supports policies that will make many Americans' health-care plans an endangered species on the fast track to extinction. Candidate Obama attacked taxing medical benefits. President Obama now supports taxing them. Candidate Obama said he opposed mandates forcing you to buy medical insurance. President Obama now supports these mandates. Candidate Obama promised again and again and again that the negotiations for the health-care bill would be broadcast. President Obama and the Democratic Congress now conduct these very same negotiations in the shadows, away from the cameras. The story of this health-care bill is a long litany of broken promises, partisan pacts, and demagogic tirades.

Is this the change the American people, the people of Massachusetts, want?

When there are so many needs in this country and this state, with jobs still being slashed, with states and other organizations and many Americans' households on the verge of bankruptcy, with skyrocketing deficit spending threatening our financial future, is this the best Washington can do? I know they can do better. We all know they can do better.

It's time to unlock the power of the American people. Supposed stimulus money is doled out to special interests, costing much but raising employment little. These levels of spending add to the yokes of debt of our children and grandchildren. It's time to focus on investing in the future. Let's invest in generating new reserves of energy---not taxing away the energy we do have. Let's focus on restoring industry---not driving it away. Let's focus on reforming the financial regulations to reward prudence and so that the growth of firms does not endanger the stability of the market---not paying off high-rolling insiders. Let's focus on really reforming health-care and improving the quality of care for all Americans. Let's put aside the endless, zero-sum partisanship and try to find solutions with an open mind.

The market can work. The free actions of free people can lead to marvelous results. If we have faith in ourselves and faith in our fellow Americans, we can accomplish great things.

We can, despite what you may have heard, change the way things are done. We can challenge injustice when we see it. We can raise our voice, and Washington will hear us.

On January 19th, we can change the course of this nation. We can take a step towards restoring something like sanity to what's happening on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, I would be the forty-first vote for the Republicans. This vote will force the Democratic majority to work in a bipartisan fashion to forge sensible, effective legislation. It will put the brakes on the current version of health-care reform. It will say to the leadership on Capitol Hill that partisan ferocity is not enough to govern this nation.

Now is not the time for a politics of recrimination. We can only go forward, so we must keep our eyes on the road. We must work to stabilize our finances. We must work to uphold our international obligations. We must work to put our nation on the road to economic and civic renewal. I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats alike to get on that road.

I speak to you at a time of great uncertainty and great crisis. Yet now can be our opportunity---not an opportunity for the extension of political power or personal gratification. No. Now, can be an opportunity to renew the promise of America, to renew the principles upon which America has stood, stands, and, I hope, will stand. Let us work to keep true to the faith, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance."

This is a chance to change things. Let's make the most of it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fighting for Transparency

Scott Brown probably makes a good strategic move in hammering his Democratic opponent over the lack of transparency for health-care negotiations:

“Martha Coakley needs to repudiate the decision by Capitol Hill powerbrokers to move the health care negotiations to backrooms behind closed doors,” said Brown. “Given the significant implications of the health care legislation on the lives of millions of Americans, the negotiations need to be readily accessible for any citizen who wants to see how Washington plans to transform one-sixth of our economy."

“Given that the winner of the special Senate election in Massachusetts will likely cast the decisive vote on the final version of the health care bill, it is critically important that voters know where their candidates stand on the issue of transparency,” added Brown. “I agree with candidate Obama: the negotiations should be televised on C-SPAN, and it is extremely disappointing Harry Reid has decided to move the debate behind closed doors. Now, I am calling on my opponent to make her position clear on this critical issue immediately.”

Those kinds of tactics on the part of Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are sure to rub independents and moderates the wrong way. The level of panic the leadership is inspiring to pass this seems to be a sign of desperation, cynicism, fear, or some combination of the three. Obama swept into office with the promise of being a good-government, pro-transparency reformer, yet now even many "progressives" are disappointed with the way in which the administration has fallen short of this vision.

Instapundit is right to note that Brown is running as the "change candidate." His campaign ads often have an offbeat (at least compared to many political commercials), change-y feel. And his election would certainly change some of Washington's current power structure.

Registering the Facts

Legal Insurrection notes Scott Brown's success in the world of Twitter and argues that his race can indeed be won by the GOP.

Meanwhile, the Cook Political Report has moved the MA special election Senate race from Solid Democratic to Lean Democratic. That puts this race in the same category as Blanche Lincoln's run for reelection (Lincoln currently trails Republican challengers by 10-12 points).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Equality and the Law

David Frum has a good column up at CNN about the interest both the right and the left should have about limiting inequality. He also has some pointed remarks about how tendencies on both sides of the political debate may have contributed to an unequal instability. Here are a key few paragraphs:

For the left:

Here's a story I heard last week from a onetime foreign investor in Argentina. The thing that drove him out of the country was a 5 percent tax on his company. Five percent may not sound like much, but what mattered was not the amount of the tax. It was the way it was imposed. The tax was not enacted by Congress. It was not even ordered by the president.

One fine day, one of his operations received a letter from a government ministry with a sudden demand for payment. As far as he could tell, the demand was ungrounded in any law. He litigated the matter and (eventually) prevailed. But a country where the government could remake the rules at any time was no country for him.

Think it could not happen here? It is happening here. It happened in the Chrysler bankruptcy, when the government muscled bondholders to surrender their legal rights in favor of politically preferred creditors. It happened to AIG bonus-holders, intimidated by Congress into surrendering their contractual earnings.

It is on the verge of happening to the pharmaceutical industry, where one preferred idea of health care reformers is informal government pressure on drug prices.

A modern economy can bear the load of even quite high government spending -- see Denmark, Sweden, Germany, etc. What it cannot bear is arbitrary power. Deals are deals, contracts are contracts, laws are laws, and they must be respected by the government as well as by the governed.

For the right:

Latin American politics has been savage on a scale hardly imaginable north of the Rio Grande: at least 9,000 -- and perhaps as many as 30,000 -- murdered in Argentina's 1976-83 "dirty war" against suspected left-wing radicals, to cite just one example.

The extreme concentration of wealth for which the continent is notorious has tended to frustrate reformists and galvanize radicals, including violent radicals. Latin American "haves" have felt threatened by attack from below since independence two centuries ago -- and they have repeatedly defended their possessions with murderous repression.

Part of the aim of a liberal republic is to have enough socio-political fluidity so that reform can happen within the political process. If a government wishes to maintain its popular legitimacy, it must seem capable of responding to real civic needs and real debate.

Republican legitimacy is also poisoned by reveling in arbitrary power. Law, in grounding the limits of governmental power, helps pave the way for wealth, both civic and commercial.

The Price of Loyalty

One wonders if there's any connection between this:

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in Arkansas shows Lincoln’s support for reelection at 38% or 39% no matter which of four potential Republican challengers she is matched against. In surveys last September and December, her support was between 39% and 41% in these match-ups.

State Senator Gilbert Baker leads Lincoln by 12, and State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren holds an eight-point edge over the incumbent. Curtis Coleman, a private businessman, and Tom Cox, head of the Arkansas T.E.A. Party, both lead her by 10 points. In reality, however, the numbers reflect very little about the challengers and are best viewed as a referendum on the incumbent.

The two-term senator, who was reelected with 54% of the vote in 2004, appears more vulnerable because of her visible and pivotal role in the Senate debate over health care. Lincoln was the last Democrat to vote for allowing the debate to formally begin, but she took a lower profile in the vote for final passage.

And this:

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln on Tuesday said a political deal that benefits Nebraska and may have clinched a lawmaker's support for health care legislation should be removed from the bill.

The Democratic senator from Arkansas said she was disappointed about a provision in the Senate's health care bill that will require the federal government to permanently pay the entire cost of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, while only paying the costs of expansion in the other 49 states for three years.

Conservative Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson lent his crucial support to the bill only after winning the provision for his constituents.

"The people of Arkansas didn't send me to Washington to be a horse trader," Lincoln told reporters before speaking at a Kiwanis Club luncheon in downtown Little Rock.

Lincoln did not say whether she would support a final version of the health care legislation if it included the Nebraska agreement.
While Lincoln may have gratified Senate leadership with her support of Obamacare, the leadership isn't responsible for her election to the Senate and associated political power; the people of Arkansas are. And the radical unpopularity of the Senate's health-care reform measure damages the persuasiveness of her "moderate Democrat" brand there.

Meanwhile, Jane Hamsher, perhaps as a harbinger of a left-right convergence, creates a list of those House Democrats most likely to fall as a result of their support for Obamacare.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Limits of Name Recognition

Via Legal Insurrection, I notice that Chris Cillizza is still doubtful of Brown's chances. I have to quarrel with Cillizza's point about name ID:

First and foremost, the odd date of the special election -- coming so soon after the extended holiday break -- means that Coakley's name identification edge and fundraising prowess are close to determinative.

Even in regularly scheduled elections where voters are habituated to going to their polling place, candidates and their campaigns struggle to get people interested enough in the race to not only pay attention to the competing messages but actually turn out and vote.

With historically low turnout predicted later this month, the fact that Coakley has already been elected statewide is a huge advantage as many voters, paying almost no attention to the race, are likely to go with the name they know rather than an unknown.

I think the shoe's almost on the other foot: Coakley's name ID may help her less on a special election than on a general election. After all, especially because this is a special election after a holiday season, only those really motivated to turn out will vote. I would suspect that special election voters are, on average, more committed to and interested in politics, and they're more likely to be driven by strong feelings. Those strong feelings would seem to favor Brown.

And fundraising may not be the ultimate weapon that Cillizza suggests here. A blogger at Red Mass Group notes the following fact about the primary race:

Because of the higher level of interest and education these voters are more easily effected by grass roots direct contact and less so by mass media and big money.

On the Democrat side, Pagliuca was in second place in the overall poll beating Khazei by a nearly 6 to 1 margin. Pagliuca spent tons of money on mass media while the little known Khazei spent virtually none gaining most of his support in his ground game. When the votes were finally tallied Khazei finished narrowly ahead of Pagliuca.

The other out performer was Capuano. He had more organizational support from his fellow congressmen and the unions. His turnout operation allowed him to significantly close the overall gap with Coakley when the votes were cast.

On the Republican side, Jack E. Robinson bought radio ads and had an aggressive direct mail campaign. Scott Brown spent virtually no money on media while volunteers spent time doing phone banks. Brown won a landslide victory that exceeded even the polls. On both sides of the isle, the ground game defeated the air game with tremendous success.

Passion from supporters can make a huge difference. Moreover, polls in Massachusetts can sometimes underestimate the support of victorious Republicans. Some polls taken just before the 2002 gubernatorial election showed Mitt Romney losing to his Democratic opponent, while a poll taken on the eve of the election had him leading his opponent by 3%. Romney ended up winning by 5%. If undecideds break hard for Brown, and if his ground game can deliver, this race might end up surprising some of even the most seasoned political observers.

Yeah, It's a Race

Rasmussen's new poll of the MA Senate race between Scott Brown and Martha is in line with some of the buzz being generated about the contest online and by other polls. The poll shows Coakley with a nine-point lead (50-41), which for a Democratic candidate with statewide name recognition in Massachusetts isn't much. Enthusiasm could really tip the scales here: among those who are certain to vote in the January 19 special election, Brown is within two points. That's margin of error territory.

This poll suggests that Brown is hitting on the right strategy of appealing to independents. According to the survey, Brown leads 65-21 among independents. He'll need that block to deliver for him in order for him to come out on top on election day. That's a huge lead among independents, if it's true, and there could be room for Brown to grow. While winning independents is crucial for Republicans, Democrats need them, too. In 2006, now-Governor Deval Patrick won independents 45-41 over Republican challenger Kerry Healey. Kerry was able to win 54% of independents in Massachusetts in 2004. These numbers suggest, I think, an even brighter picture for Brown.

If he can deliver on independents like that on election day, along with a buoyant Republican turnout, Brown might just find himself headed to Washington.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brown Closer?

The Weekly Standard has a striking poll leak (emphasis added):
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has obtained the results of a private poll conducted last week by a reputable non-partisan firm. In that survey, Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley led Republican state senator Scott Brown in the ballot test by 50% to 39%--not bad for Brown in a state Obama carried by 23 points. More interesting, perhaps, is that while Coakley's favorable/unfavorable rating was 61% to 32%, Brown's was 56% to 26%--in other words, they were virtually identical at +29/30. That suggests a potentially very competitive race: If Brown can make his case against another Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate, or against rewarding a member of unpopular governor Deval Patrick’s administration, some voters who currently prefer Coakley might be open to voting for Brown, since they view him favorably as well. THE WEEKLY STANDARD has also learned that an earlier poll, done in mid-December by another firm for another client, had similar results in the ballot test--but that the poll also found that the race tightened significantly, down to a low single digits margin for Coakley, among those judged most likely to vote.
If Brown is within 11 points, this could be a close race indeed, especially if you factor in the fact that this poll was taken in the middle of last week. Brown's stock has probably only risen since then. As that snippet from the second poll indicates, turnout could make a huge difference. The enthusiasm gap could---maybe maybe maybe---put Brown over the top.

William A. Jacobson has some pointed words for those in the establishment who are delaying support for Brown until a favorable poll comes out:
Unfortunately, some prominent right-wing commentators and almost the entire Republican establishment have decided to sit this one out unless and until there was a reputable public poll showing that Scott Brown was within striking distance of Martha Coakley.

What foolishness. By sitting this one out these people have increased the likelihood that this first poll will not be favorable to Brown. Anyone ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
It so often happens that victories are made possible by those who are willing to fight for something before they are guaranteed of winning. If Brown is able to win or come close in Massachusetts, part of his success (and coming close would be a considerable success) will be due to the passion and commitment of the decentralized, independently motivated rightosphere. A pack not a herd indeed.

MA Senate Update: Data Rising

Scott Brown continues to hammer away at Coakley and Capitol Hill business-as-usual with the release of a new ad. His campaign continues to hit upon Coakley's avoidance of a one-on-one debate with him.

Brown has also snagged an endorsement from Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Schilling writes:
Our Government is dead set on passing health care legislation the people have made clear we don’t want. Hell they don’t even know what it contains but they’re sure as hell going to try and pass it anyway.

The kickbacks, the corruption, the lying, the phoniness of it all, it’s sickening and only getting worse. The numbers are now beyond comprehension, and there is no one, in office right now, that is giving a hint of those numbers getting smaller or being reduced, it’s just not going to happen, but we can change that.

If this state does the right thing, and elects Scott Brown, it will, in addition to being a comeback/upset of 2004 proportions, put a screeching halt to the Democratic parties fast tracking this country into an abyss.

What Government run/funded program in this countries history has ever been run with an ounce of financial responsibility, prudence, or with the peoples best interest at the forefront? None, that’s which one.

Scott is EXACTLY what this state and this country needs right now.

He’s for SMALLER government, stopping the concentration of power in one political party, a strong military and vigorous homeland defense as well as, and probably most appropriate and meaningful right now, giving all Americans Health Care BUT NOT by creating a new Government insurance Program.

This state can literally change the Nation in one day, think about that and then go vote for Scott Brown and make it happen.

Rasmussen will be polling the Brown-Coakley race tonight; if the results are close, Public Policy Polling intends to run a poll over the weekend (the link also has some interesting electoral speculation). Whether this polling will be good or bad news for Brown's chances remains to be seen.

While John Fund speculates on the race, Jim Geraghty keeps from falling into despair.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

To poll or not to poll?

There is some debate about whether or not a poll would be good for Scott Brown's Senate campaign. One of Jim Geraghty's readers summarizes the argument against the poll nicely:
The last thing we really need here is a poll on the race. There hasn't been any; a poll showing Brown very close would wake up the Democrat machine here. A poll showing him getting crushed could depress his momentum. Right now I'd give Coakley the edge on registration alone, but I don't see her winning by more than 10 percent.
William A. Jacobson adds some further comments along this line:
Any poll now would rest mostly on name recognition, and Coakley wins the name recognition contest today. So any poll taken now will show Coakley with a substantial lead which may not reflect the vote on January 19. Brown's momentum is relatively new, and there are bound to be further gains in the coming two weeks.

Polling also would be particularly difficult for this special election, where turnout could mean everything. A lot of people who say they will vote may not do so, particularly for a candidate with tepid but wide support.
Those are all valid points.

Part of the disagreement about polling derives, I think, from a disagreement about the strategy Brown should use to win in Massachusetts. There's a case to be made for an under-the-radar campaign, in which Brown slowly chips away at Coakley's lead, while she (mistakenly) assumes she has this race in the bag. With the Democratic machine unmobilized and without any national attention, Brown would be able, so the thinking goes, to come out on top on election day. The political world reels in shock, Republicans across the country break out in wild parties, and so forth. That's a possible, and somewhat credible, scenario.

But there's another scenario, too. Under this other one, there are so many institutional factors against Brown (power players in Massachusetts, Democratic registration advantage, etc.) that he would need to run a transformational campaign against them. An under-the-radar campaign would be electoral death, as Brown is crushed beneath the institutional inertia of Massachusetts politics.

I think there are elements of truth to both strategies, and, at the moment, I tend to believe that Brown needs to appear competitive in order to have a serious chance at winning. A public poll showing him closing on Coakley might do that. An infusion of donations could also do that. Perhaps one of the best things for Brown's campaign could be a private poll, one showing him with a chance, that could then be passed around to the RNC and various donors. Special elections have a very weird dynamic. There's almost no way Brown could win an under-the-radar campaign if this were an election on a November of an even-numbered year; maybe there's a chance he could win that way this time.

But Brown will need more than Republicans to win this one; he needs independents and needs to find a way to bring them to the polls (and they're not going to show up for what they regard as a lost cause). Look at these numbers from Jim Geraghty:
But to illustrate how tough the odds are for Brown, let's pretend that every registered Republican in the state, as of 2008, shows up and votes for him. And let us pretend that the independents split evenly, and that only one third of the state's Democrats show up and vote for Coakley.

Under that scenario, Coakley still wins by about 1,045 votes. That's how steep an uphill battle Brown faces in this race.
Brown's biggest hope is to get a number better than 50% from the independents. Independents constitute slightly over half the voters of Massachusetts, and, if Brown can get a good majority from independents, a high turnout from them and the GOP could push him over the top. (Sean Trende plays out the numbers a little more here.) Partisan intensity alone won't get Brown to Washington.