Friday, May 28, 2010

PA Senate: Race for the Independents

The Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll lays out a brief narrative of the battle ahead for Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak: it's all about the independents. Right now, Sestak is still basking in the glow of his primary win over the incumbent Specter, and he's jumped (a little) ahead of Toomey in the polls. The Kos poll shows the race as 43-40 in Sestak's favor.

That leaves about 17% of the voters undecided. Moreover, Sestak and Toomey split the independent vote: 35-35. Both candidates have a lot of room to grow with independents.

The Pennsylvania election still seems very fluid. Either candidate could win by a clear margin. If Toomey is successful at running as a reform candidate who capitalizes on voter dissatisfaction, he could end up with a Senate seat.

Sestak's victory freed Pennsylvania Democrats from the burden of incumbency, but Toomey may gain by stressing Sestak's allegiance to an incumbent party. Portraying Sestak as a paint-by-numbers Democrat could help pull independents to Toomey's side. Perhaps ironically for some Republicans, the emphasis on rumors of a White House "offer" to Sestak (to get him to abandon his run against Specter) may help burnish his credentials with independents.

As the PA party primary showed, races can turn suddenly. This race could be waiting for a catalyzing moment, propelling one of these men over the top.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Has the GOP Beat Up on Tim Cahill Enough?

The 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial election seems at the moment to have three main contenders: incumbent Deval Patrick (D), former health-care executive Charlie Baker (R), and State Treasurer Tim Cahill (D-turned-I). Both Baker and Cahill are running to Patrick's right; both are critics of the new federal health-care law.

Cahill seems to have made a play for the Tea Partiers. He has appeared on Glenn Beck's show and has been a fierce advocate for a fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail. The Baker campaign and GOP operatives have regarded Cahill with some great skepticism. They wouldn't want to be caught in a hard-fought three-way in which Patrick ends up inching ahead with a vote percentage in the high 30's.

So the Republican Governors Association has unleashed a wave of negative attacks upon Cahill, with TV spots, mailings, and internet ads. The motivation is understandable: crush Cahill by alienating him from an irritable electorate, and make the MA governor's race a Baker-Patrick face-off. These attacks have been effective, increasing Cahill's unfavorability rating by 18 points and bringing him down to a 22% favorability rating.

However, these relentless attacks upon Cahill may also have helped Patrick rehabilitate his own image. His favorability rating has crept up to 45%. He now leads both opponents with 42% of the vote according to a Suffolk University poll---with 45% according to Rasmussen. Baker is stuck in the low thirties/high twenties, and Cahill has fallen to the low teens.

These numbers are doubly good for Patrick. Not only do they show him with a strong lead. Add together both Baker's and Cahill's numbers from the Suffolk poll, and their combined might is only 43%---only one point more than Patrick's own numbers. Eight percent of the electorate supports a Green Party candidate, giving Patrick more of a well of support to draw upon in a close match. So even if Baker can get all of Cahill's voters (or vice-versa), he still would probably lose to Patrick.

These months of in-fighting among the right have brought an electoral boon to Patrick. At the certain point, the GOP is going to have to pivot to start taking on Patrick in a more sustained way. Patrick can lose this race (his approval ratings over the past year or so have been pretty poor), but not if the center and the right keep turning their fire on each other.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Gillibrand Dilemma

The situation of Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand offers a microcosm of certain obstacles the GOP still faces for 2010. Her approval rating:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s approval rating needs a jumpstart. Only 27% of registered voters in New York State think Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office. This includes 3% who say she is excelling and 24% who believe she is doing a good job. 37% rate New York’s junior senator as fair, and 14% say she is performing poorly. More than one-fifth — 22% — are unsure.
Sounds like an incumbent ripe for a loss, right?

Not quite. Polls show Gillibrand trouncing her likely Republican opponents. Yeah, voters aren't exactly wild about her (many are outright unsure), but Republicans have so far not been able to benefit from the lack of enthusiasm. New York has a Democratic lean, but GOP candidates for governor have been quite successful there, and Republican Al D'Amato did serve as senator from 1981 to 1999. There no reason why a Republican can't win the Senate seat there.

Voter unhappiness (and voters are plenty unhappy) with the status quo is not enough to guarantee Republican control of the House or Senate. The voters of PA-12 weren't exactly Obamamaniacs. But that wasn't enough for the Republican to win. New York voters may not love Gillibrand. But that may not be enough for the Republican to win, either.

Politics is still partly a local game, and the details of individual candidates and messages matter---a lot. Waging hundreds of affirmative campaigns across the country will be key for Republican success in the fall.

From the Department of Self-Promotion

I have a new essay up on FrumForum about reforming the Republican party. It begins:
If Republicans are able to regain some measure of power in 2010—an increasingly likely possibility—their victory will, as of this moment, be due less to Republican policy successes and more to a fantastic display of self-immolation on the part of their Democratic rivals.

The tactics of opposition, however, are not a substitute for a forward-looking policy portfolio. Running as the not-Democrat may be, at the moment, an effective electoral tool, but it need not be an effective political one in the long term. Democrats ran very effectively against George W. Bush in 2006 and 2008, yet they now seem to have hit the rough waters of actual governance. It was in part the policies of the 2000s that set the stage for the GOP’s electoral drubbings in 2006 and 2008.

Whether or not Republicans are able to take control of Congress and the presidency again in the next few electoral cycles, they will need a new policy regime...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dino Rossi seems like he's going to run against Patty Murray for a Senate seat in Washington, offering the possibility of another Republican pick-up. Murray's a long-term incumbent, however, and she may have a deep base of popular support.

SurveyUSA puts her approval rating at 47-46, not exactly great territory for an incumbent. The numbers also show that independents disapprove of her 50-43. Again, those aren't great numbers, but they aren't the sign of a radically alienated electorate. Even 26% of Republicans approve of her performance.

Rossi's going to need to stress the idea of himself as a credible, common-sense candidate (hardly a stretch for a guy who came within a few votes of becoming governor). Independents are open to being swayed away from the Murray bandwagon, but Rossi will need to make that case.