Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Filibuster Threats

This Hill story on fractured Democratic opposition to the filibuster reveals that many Democrats (of all ideological stripes) are defenders of this senatorial prerogative; at least ten members of the 59-member caucus are willing to express public reservations about allowing 51 votes to rule the Senate absolutely. Considering how hostile many "progressive" activists and commentators are to the filibuster, it would not be surprising to find that other members of the Democratic caucus are secret sympathizers to the filibuster, which protects minority rights in the Senate and helps ensure that a temporary narrow majority cannot steamroll all opposition. Many Democrats praised the filibuster during the Bush years and were able to use it to ward off Bush administration proposals.

But there's more to this story about the filibuster. Even if opponents of the filibuster do not have the votes to kill it, they believe that they have much to gain by threatening to kill it. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) are among the leaders of a movement to destroy the filibuster with a so-called "constitutional option," a movement talked up by Ezra Klein. Here's the potential game plan for the exercise of this "option":
If Vice President Joe Biden -- who has spoken out against abuse of the filibuster and has been studying ways to reform it -- were to rule on the first day of the next session that the Senate has the authority to write its own rules, Republicans would immediately move to object. Democrats would then move to table the objection, setting up the key vote. If 50 Democrats voted to table the objection, the Senate would then move to a vote on a new set of rules, which would be approved by a simple majority.

The simple act of holding the vote would have a therapeutic effect on the Senate even if it fails, said Udall, as it would inspire fear that abuse of the rules could lead to their destruction.

The point here is not that opponents of the filibuster believe that they can succeed; they only need to appear to believe that they can succeed. This appearance of success could intimidate believers in the filibuster to try to cut a deal to save the procedure.

Of course, the use of this option could easily open Democrats up to this narrative: having taken a beating in the 2010 Senate races, Democrats now change the rules to make it easier for them to pass legislation. Assuming that the midterms do result in significant gains for the Republicans (not exactly a ludicrous assumption), the public momentum would seem to be against the Democrats. This kind of rule-changing could easily seem a desperate move to grab as much power as possible in the waning days of "progressive" ascendancy.

While many "progressives" would be glad to push through the most radical measures possible on a 51-vote margin (or maybe even a margin of 50-50 +tie-breaking vote by the VP), many Americans hold a contrary view that, if a measure can't achieve broad bipartisan support, maybe it really isn't that moderate and that maybe moderation is, after all, a good thing. And many of the bills the Democrats most blame the filibuster for blocking are quite unpopular. Many voters might not see the filibuster as frustrating but as defending popular sentiment.

Because the filibuster protects the minority---no matter who this minority is---it provides many advantages to a senator over the long term. Yeah, it might frustrate a few measures, but sometimes that partial frustration is a building block for good governance (see checks and balances). Defenders of the filibuster should not lose heart---and certainly should not roll over for some blustering political intimidation.

NH Senate Battle

PPP has released a new poll showing former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte up big over her biggest challenger, Bill Binnie, in the race for the GOP nomination for New Hampshire Senate. She leads 47-14, a healthy margin. Ayotte also leads Paul Hodes, the presumed Democratic nominee, in the general election. According to PPP, her margin is slipping, but other polls show her with a stronger lead.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Commonalities on Illegal Immigration

A new CNN poll on illegal immigration reveals some interesting facts:
  • Majorities of Americans in all ethnic groups are either angry or dissatisfied about the number of illegal immigrants in the United States.
  • A huge majority of Americans (57%) would rather focus on enforcing immigration laws and deporting illegal immigrants than provide a path to citizenship.
  • Americans in all ethnic groups (by almost a supermajority or almost supermajority for each group) believe that opposition to illegal immigration is based on a concern about economic conditions and the laws rather than an animus towards "Latinos."
These numbers show that the attempt by some to recast the issue of illegal immigration solely along racial lines has not been entirely successful. They also show that the support of enforcement is a position with broad support. Despite the demagoguery of some activists and political leaders, most Americans---of all stripes---think that this debate is not grounded on racial issues but instead on topics of economic security and respect for the laws.

Little Cash, Big Difference?

Jim Geraghty pulls together a list highlighting 20 GOP candidates for whom a little money could go a long way. For example:
Martha Roby, Alabama’s 2nd district: The NRCC was high on Roby early this cycle, but she found herself in a furious and expensive primary fight that drained her coffers to $121,000, while Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright quietly accumulated a war chest of $734,000. The good news is that advertising is cheap in this district..

Rick Crawford, Arkansas’s 1st district: Republicans have had high hopes for this race since longtime Democratic representative Marion Berry announced his retirement — it is a heavily Republican-leaning district, rated R+8 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Democrat Chad Causey has only about $90,000 on hand, according to his most recent filings, but he has a well-developed fundraising network; he’s spent an astonishing $663,000 since beginning his campaign. Crawford has spent only $221,000 and has $213,000 in the bank. It is another relatively inexpensive district in which to buy advertising, covering northeastern Arkansas, although some of the district is in the expensive Memphis television market.

David Harmer, California’s 11th district: Harmer made a long-shot bid against Lt. Gov. John Garamendi in a special election in California’s 10th district last year and outperformed all recent GOP bids for that seat by a wide margin. Now running in the neighboring district, he has proven to be among the best fundraisers of the entire GOP class of challengers, raising $1.8 million in this fairly media-expensive district. Like many others on this list, a tough primary fight left him severely outgunned in terms of cash on hand: $233,000 to incumbent Democrat Jerry McNerney’s $1.2 million.

Cory Gardner, Colorado’s 4th district: As one of the NRCC’s young guns and a prominent state legislator, Gardner has already demonstrated an ability to raise enough funds for a competitive race in normal circumstances. But the Democrat he seeks to unseat, Betsy Markey, took a big hit for her team by voting for Obamacare, and many liberal donors and organizations are throwing cash her way to save her. Gardner’s impressive $762,000 of cash on hand is dwarfed by Markey’s $1.5 million. Markey won this vast, largely rural R+8 district with the help of Marilyn Musgrave’s mistakes last time, but this is one of those seats the Democrats would love to keep, to prove voting for health-care reform was not a career-killer outside deep-blue districts.
The whole list is at the link, including candidates in Illinois, Indiana, New York, and South Dakota.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Electoral Pluralisms

Tara Ross has an incisive column up detailing some of the logistical problems of the National Popular Vote plan. Here's the core of her argument:
The compact has at least one fundamental flaw that should bother even those who are otherwise opposed to the Electoral College: It does nothing to address the 51 sets of currently existing state election codes (all states plus Washington, D.C.). These codes will remain in place and cause confusion and litigation after the bill is enacted.

Today, each state conducts its own presidential election in partial reliance on its own set of local election laws. These laws may differ from those of sister states, but the differences are irrelevant at the national level. At the end of the day, voters in Massachusetts don’t care about the laws governing California’s election. They are voting with (or against) other Massachusetts voters in a contest for Massachusetts’ electors. Similarly, California will hold its own contest. NPV changes this practice. It continues to rely on 51 existing sets of local laws, but it pretends that it can cram all these differing processes into one coherent national outcome. It can’t. The result will be utter chaos.

As one small example, NPV could prevent full recounts from being held. No recount could be conducted, for instance, if no individual state statute was triggered — even if only a few hundred votes separate the top two contenders. Or perhaps a few states could conduct recounts while the rest of the states watch from the sideline. Recounting states may not agree on logistics, such as how to tally a hanging chad. NPV claims that it’s trying to make “every vote equal.” It will not achieve that goal by throwing voters into one pool for election purposes, then allowing their votes to be tallied differently.

These are not the most minor objections. Say different states have different standards for what counts as a vote or not (one thinks of the Florida recount of 2000 here). Under the current order of the Electoral College, as long as those standards are applied consistently within the state, those standards will remain locked within that state.

Under the National Popular Vote plan, however, the standards of one state will bleed into those of another. States with looser standards for what counts as a vote (e.g., a dimpled chad or whatnot) will have their votes count for more than states with more rigorous standards.

Through balancing the diverse structures of each state, the Electoral College does not seek to create a specious uniformity. Through federalist pluralism, it offers a decentralized method of electing the president.

Panic Rising

TPM writer Brian Beutler begins to play up the idea that, if Republicans do take over the house, they really could kill (or at least cripple) Obamacare:

But if they [Republicans] do retake the House, even by a slim margin, they could still make a great deal of mischief, effectively sentencing Obama's history-making accomplishment to death by 1000 cuts...

Pence cited the "power of the purse" -- Congress' prerogative to appropriate funds to federal agencies -- as a key tool at the Republicans' disposal if they win back the House. That's not just bluster.

"The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you're suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills," says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In short, implementing the health care law costs money. "Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed," van de Water said. "If HHS and Treasury don't get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It's not sexy but it's serious."

This can work one of few ways. House Republicans, in negotiations with the Senate, could demand appropriation levels beneath what's necessary to effectively implement the law. If the two chambers reach an agreement -- even an agreement that leaves the health care law cash strapped -- Obama would be hard pressed to issue a veto. "It's hard for the president to veto a bill because it doesn't provide enough money."

Part of this story may be an attempt to rally the "progressive" troops by emphasizing that Obama's signature legislation may be in danger.

But another aspect of this story reflects upon broader left-right narratives. Members of the right have been making this argument for a long time: that Republicans can seriously damage Obamacare even if they can't immediately have a total repeal of it. Many on the left took to ridiculing the idea of repeal and dismissing any other Republican options about changing or challenging Obamacare, which was now supposedly a new immutable pillar in the American public square.

Beutler's article may be a sign of lefty anxiety that the fate of Obamacare isn't so secure after all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Still Winnable

A new Rasmussen poll has been released about the West Virginia Senate race. The results are the same as earlier polling: the anointed Democratic frontrunner, Gov. Joe Manchin, is beatable. Yeah, he leads the newly announced Republican candidate, businessman John Raese, by 16 points (51-25). But a massively popular governor who only gets 51% against a state businessman who has just announced his candidacy isn't exactly in the strongest position. (Raese did have statewide races in 1984 and 2006, but his profile isn't exactly that high in voters' minds.)

Digging into the poll numbers a little more reveals that the Republican candidate does indeed have a path to victory. As Ed Morrissey notes, Raese only racks up 56% of the support of Republicans right now; Manchin has 29%. If Raese can win bring those Republicans back home (probably not the hardest task), he can take a big bite out of Manchin's lead. Raese already leads among independent voters by twelve points. And there could be much more potential for growth here. As Morrissey suggests:
And actually, the partisan splits are telling. Raese actually beats Manchin among independents, 42/30, even though 35% of unaffiliated voters don’t know Raese well enough to have an opinion of him. Only 7% of independents don’t have an opinion of Manchin, which means a lot of independents who do have an opinion don’t want to vote for him.
Currently, 43% of West Virginia voters view Manchin as a moderate, and 65% view him to be in the mainstream (only 40% believe Raese to be in the mainstream). Flipping some of those numbers could shake the foundation of Manchin's campaign.

Health-care could be a key wedge to pry Republicans and independents away from Manchin. Obamacare is wildly unpopular. 64% of voters want it repealed. Where does Manchin stand on Obamacare? He endorsed it.

With an approval rating of 32%, Obama himself isn't very popular in West Virginia. And many WV voters view the economy to be in rough shape and getting worse: 64% rate it as poor, and 63% say economic conditions are deteriorating.

If Republicans can connect Manchin to the national Democratic party, they can win over moderates, independents, and Republicans in West Virginia. Health-care reform, Obama's unpopularity, and the economy could prove keys to a Raese victory.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Importance of Competence

While Americans maintain a healthy skepticism about the size of a centralized federal government, they also have aspirations for this government. The eternal grousing about governmental waste and incompetence is an indirect proof of these aspirations; they complain because they expect, or at least wish, their government to be effective. Because the United States is a democratic republic, many Americans look upon the federal government as one vehicle for achieving their ends of happiness.

It is a fact of politics that public opinion about the individual leaders of a given political movement shapes public opinion about the principles of that movement. Since the public is deeply alienated by administrative incompetence, it is important, as a matter of practice and of holding power, for the leadership of this movement to be competent—and not merely competent in winning elections, but competent in governing. The seeds of many an electoral defeat are sown by an incumbent’s very own policies.

There are two important components of competence in government: knowing the effects of various policies and being able to respond appropriately in moments of crisis. While the world is complex enough that we cannot know all the implications of a given policy (this complexity is a strong argument for a skepticism about top-down masterplans), being able to evaluate the broad or immediate effects of a policy is key for successful government. So many policy debates are questions of agency—which policy details will most effectively achieve our ends? For example, if we’re looking to stimulate the economy, what is the best way to do that—through government spending programs, payroll tax holidays, targeted subsidies, etc.?

Despite what some technocrats may wish, politics is not solely about debating the best way to achieve certain aims. It is also about discussing what ends are worth achieving and what limits we should place on ourselves in order to achieve these ends. But knowing how our actions will affect our search for our chosen ends is a key component of achieving these ends. It can be said that many of the negative results of the policies of the Bush administration (excesses and shortcomings in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, the financial crisis, the buffeting of the middle class) were not sought for, but these policy failures did not bode well for the Republican party or for small-government thinking.

The ability to respond well in moment of crisis may seem merely a specialized application of a general sense of competence, yet, in politics and as much else, making the transition from general theory to practical application can be a considerable jump. Responding effectively to a crisis places especial weight upon the ability to make use of civic powers with speed and insight. This response involves projecting a complex and partially unstable mix of calmness, energy, passion, and technical skill. Leadership at moments of crisis can make a president or break him. The contrast between the performances of President Bush on 9/11 and during the aftermath of Katrina in 2005 is instructive in this regard. The first elevated his presidency; the second hardened narratives about administrative incompetence and helped cripple his second term. President Obama’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf has undercut his narrative of effectiveness and has no doubt not helped his poll numbers.

Crisis places particular burdens upon the structure of an administration’s decision-making process. Can an administration succeed in getting a diversity of expert opinions? Can it then succeed in synthesizing these opinions in a workable action plan? Does it have appropriate figures in the chain of decision making, linking the Oval Office to boots on the ground? Can it shape a media narrative of adversity and effective response rather than one of incompetence and back-pedaling?

It is easy to dismiss questions of administrative competence in the face of ideological demands. But, on balance, it is probably better to have serving in office those who broadly agree with certain political principles and are competent legislators/administrators/etc. than to have those who can tick off all the key points of dogma without any sense of how to get things done—in Washington, in state capitals, or in local offices. The fact of the matter is that the United States has a huge and complex federal government; state governments are also huge and complex. Skill and probity in running this government serve as key political qualifiers.

Good government and small government can be complementary. Ronald Reagan did not only come into Washington pledging to cut the size of government; he also came to restore the faith of Americans in the capacity of the federal government to work, to be managed, and to manage. While some may pose a theoretical opposition between the aim of small government and that of effective government, in practice the two aims often reinforce each other. A government that seems efficient does not need to arrogate more powers to itself. Confidence in American institutions so often leads to increased confidence in the action of one’s fellow Americans (and vice versa), a confidence that is key to maintaining an authentically liberal society.

Governmental efficiency and decentralization complement each other in another way. Often, decentralization is itself the most efficient way to run a government. The flexibility that decentralization brings can, in many circumstances, allow an institution or a set of institutions to respond more effectively to on-the-ground facts.

The details of government matter; politics is about means as well as ends. As the GOP seeks to regain power in 2010 and beyond, competence in administration and in legislative design will be key for both electoral and governmental success.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Educational Arguments

Austin Bramwell has an interesting piece up on educational reform. He explores some of the underside of "accountability" measures for teachers:
Except that the school accountability movement is almost certain to achieve the very opposite of what it intends! Suppose that you are an aspiring teacher. Suppose, further, that you are one of those saints who would to prefer to teach in a high-crime, poverty-stricken area than, say, in a wealthy suburban district where students gobble up AP credits and compete for admission to elite colleges. Would you in fact choose to teach the most underprivileged? All else being equal, under school accountability, you would not. For, if you do end up serving the underprivileged, there is a good chance that you or your school will ultimately be demoted or punished as “failing.” School accountability tells teachers to avoid potentially under-performing schools.
More at the link.

WV Sen: Capito Out

GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito bowed out of the race for Robert Byrd's West Virginia Senate seat. The Charleston Daily Mail has a roundup of some of the legal and strategic reasons behind Capito's exit from the race.

Capito's decision opens up the Republican nomination to a variety of possible contenders. A candidate must file by Friday. As I've written before, this is one race that Republicans should not give up. West Virginia is favorable territory for 2010, and a little money could go a long way.

The key thing to remember: likely Democratic nominee Manchin is vulnerable. He supported Obamacare (imagine all the ads that could be put together from this video of Manchin endorsing the health-care "reform"). Manchin may enjoy high numbers now, but an assertive Republican campaign could easily make voters think twice about sending him to Capitol Hill.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Unemployment Trap

The recent jump in Democratic support in Gallup's generic Congressional poll may just be statistical noise or a random fluke. However, as Allahpundit and other commentators have suggested, this jump may reflect public unhappiness with Republican maneuvering on the debate over extending unemployment benefits. In any case, the debate about unemployment points to a broader danger for Republicans.

In the current economic condition, unemployment benefits are a new third rail in American politics (sorry; couldn't resist that Beltwayism). Republicans have to be very careful about the way they tactically handle this issue. They cannot afford to be cast by the Obama White House as fanatics for tax cuts while America burns. The fight over unemployment benefits is a fight Obama wants; Republicans should not fight him on his terms.

While Americans are certainly concerned by the increase of deficits, they are even more immediately concerned by the plight of the chronically unemployed. Republicans should use a little messaging jujitsu and turn around this concern. Here are some talking points that could spring the trap back on Obama and the Democrats:
  • This debate about unemployment benefits is another way for the Democrats to dodge the fundamental issue of this economy: anemic job growth. While we all want to help out the unemployed, the best way to do that is to get the economy moving again. The massive deficits of the Obama administration have radically underperformed by the administration's own standards. We need a free market way forward.
  • The kinds of deficits we're seeing right now do not merely undermine the financial security of our children and grandchildren: they undermine our own financial security, right now. These huge deficits risk threatening the credit status of the US government and, by extension, all of those dependent upon federal credit. At a certain point, deficits do not stimulate but bleed the economy.
  • Why is Obama talking about George W. Bush's tax cuts? Posturing recriminations about the past will not put food on anybody's table (other than a few spinmeisters).
  • Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are the ones holding the extension of unemployment benefits hostage. If they wanted to, they could certainly find enough waste and inefficiency to cut to pay for this extension.
  • Again (repetition warning), Democratic posturing over unemployment is just a distraction. It's easy to play the class warrior and Monday morning quarterback. But looking forward, the fact remains that the best way of dealing with the unemployment problem is to lower unemployment. The command-control vision of the stimulus has failed. It's time for a set of decentralized, pro-growth policies.
One of the main strategic points that Republicans need to emphasize is the importance of an authentic, sustainable pro-growth business model. The growth of the Bush years came, in part, at a considerable price, a price only compounded during the Obama administration so far.

Republicans need to be able to articulate or at least to suggest a hopeful way forward (whatever its merits, Paul Ryan's "roadmap" at least moves in this direction). They can turn the debate about unemployment benefits into a debate about economic policies for the future, and push beyond a (quite understandable) concern with the deficit into a more wide-ranging portfolio of economic and financial reforms.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mass Electoral College Battle: Back to the House

The Massachusetts State Senate passed the National Popular Vote plan late at night last night. The vote was 28-10. A top Senate source tells me that the bill will next have to return to the House for a vote on enactment, and then go back to the Senate for another vote for enactment before it goes to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick.

The State House News Service reports on an interesting detail:
Senators turned back through a 17 to 21 vote a Republican amendment to add a non-binding ballot question on the issue to the November ballot. Democrats said that it would be too late to add it to the ballot.
This was a close vote. I suppose there's some irony in the the fact that the advocates of the National Popular Vote plan, who wrap themselves in the mantle of democratic virtue, fought so hard to kill a bill that would actually, you know, allow people to vote on changing the electoral structure of Massachusetts.

It looks like the House and/or the Senate could vote on the amendment again for the enactment votes. And pushing for the referendum could be a viable goal: the Senate's vote on the amendment (17-21) was a lot closer than the final vote on engrossing the bill (28-10). The House still has a chance to give the people a voice in this matter (to use the rhetoric of the NPV), and the Senate could still move for a referendum. If the NPVers are so confident that the public will support their plan, why the anxiety about a referendum?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Process, Substance, and Political Reality

This Politico piece by John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei contains some interesting moments in the midst of a more conflicted analysis. Perhaps one of the loudest notes of a process-obsession can be seen in the following two paragraphs:
“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, who spoke on background to offer a candid take on the state of play. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left…And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

But there are many other reasons for Obama’s woes. Based on interviews with officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill, and with Democratic operatives around town, here are a half-dozen reasons why Obama is perceived as failing to win over the public, even though by most conventional measures he is clearly succeeding...
The words of this Obama adviser may be a sign that the rhetoric of historical "achievement" and scale is more than merely a talking point for the Obama administration: they may actually believe that radical change is, in and of itself, a good thing.

Politics is, alas, more complicated than merely getting what you want, and getting the policies that you desire is no guarantee of a successful presidency. Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon got things done, but how many people would call these three men successful presidents?

Whether you are succeeding by the conventional standards of the Beltway does not necessarily have that much to do with actual political and electoral success. And the results of Obama's policies cannot be adjudicated by the opinions of the DC cognoscenti: reality is there, and the voters will eventually encounter it.

The voters have seen, for example, that the Obama administration's economic model for the stimulus was wildly inaccurate. According to this model, unemployment would be kept under 8% with the stimulus. The unemployment rate has stayed well above 8%. Obama staked massive political capital on this stimulus bill and rammed through a bill with close to no Republican support.

Democrats---on the stimulus, on health-care, and on other topics---chose to turn their backs on bipartisanship and their plans have not delivered. Is it any wonder that independents are abandoning the administration?

Obama was able to pass his health-care reform package over massive public opposition, which is a substantive legislative accomplishment. However, the partisanship, double-talking, and legislative hardball involved in passing health-care reform have made the passage seem less a victory for the republic and more a triumph of cynicism and ideology.

The title of Harris and VandeHei's piece is appropriate: "Why Obama Loses by Winning." Thus far, Obama has been able to chalk up a number of legislative wins, but the substance of these wins may undermine the electoral future of Congressional Democrats and, potentially, the Obama administration. In politics, as elsewhere in life, you might at first enjoy getting what you want, but, if you don't want the right things, you may end up regretting your achievements.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cao Leads Big

Joseph Cao (LA-2) won in 2008 substantially due to scandals surrounding his Democratic opponent, William Jefferson. While many dismissed Cao as a one-term wonder due to the overwhelmingly Democratic tilt in his district, the Hotline reports on a poll showing him leading his likely Democratic opponents by up to 25 points. Cao leads in all racial groups.

Cao led state Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) by a 51%-26% margin, according to a survey conducted May 27-June 2 by LA pollster Verne Kennedy. Cao leads Richmond by a 67%-13% margin among white voters, and by a narrower 39%-36% margin among African American voters.

That African American vote will play a decisive factor in the New Orleans-based district. African Americans make up 61% of the voter registration rolls, but recent turnout statistics show African Americans are seriously underrepresented at the polls.

Kennedy writes in a memo to Cao's campaign that he believes turnout among black voters will top out at 57%. Accordingly, 57% of the sample was African American, while 39% was white. Cao's lead comes even as both candidates were identified by party -- meaning voters said they would vote for Cao even though they knew he was a GOPer.

"Strong evidence exists that a fundamental change has occurred among African-Americans in the New Orleans area, where performance overrides ethnic voting," Kennedy said. "And since Joseph Cao is also a minority candidate who has an outstanding record of personal and political accomplishments, African-Americans identify with him and are willing to give much higher support to a non-African-American than in previous elections."

Tim Mak has more.

Don't Forget North Carolina

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr is often listed as one of the most vulnerable Republican Senate incumbents. Unfortunately for Burr, recent polling underlines the danger he could be in.

While he does lead his Democratic opponent, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, by ten points, a 46-36 race isn't exactly comfortable territory for an incumbent. Burr's 28/27 favorable/unfavorable rating isn't great news, either. Marshall has a 25/12 rating. She is a lower profile figure right now, so public opinion could change once the race heats up.

The example of 2008 might only stoke the anxieties of Burr supporters even more. Incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole led her Democratic challenger Kay Hagan in the beginning of 2008, but she never got much above 50%. By the end of the summer, Hagan had gained a lead, and she ended up ousting Dole 52-44.

Burr has a number of advantages going into this race: money, the Democratic Congress, and Barack Obama. He maintains a healthy fund-raising lead over Marshall, and the voters of North Carolina are exasperated with the performance of Congress and the president. Only 36% approve of Obama's performance; 45% disapprove. If Burr can make the case that a vote for Marshall is a vote for the current powers-that-be on Capitol Hill and in the White House, he could end up with a strong win.

A warning to Burr, though: don't get too negative. The viciousness of Dole's attack ads on Hagan may have helped boost Hagan's support in the closing days of 2008. The types of voters that Burr needs the most to improve his image with (women, self-described moderates, independents) are perhaps the ones most likely to be turned off by over-the-top attack ads. Burr will need to walk the fine line between rousing his own supporters while winning over voters in the middle.

This is a race Republicans can win. A loss by Burr would be crushing to Republican hopes of regaining the Senate. The political environment of 2010 is not that of 2008. If Burr can make the most of this change, he can look forward to another six years in the Senate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Electoral College in MA Update

A top Republican leadership source in the Massachusetts State Senate informs me that there is considerable concern that the National Popular Vote proposal could pass the State Senate. This anti-Electoral College measure would open up the possibility of making Massachusetts award its electoral votes to whatever candidate wins the national popular vote. The measure has already passed the Massachusetts House. If the measure passes the Senate, it would still need to go to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick, who has offered tentative words of support for the proposal in the past.

This source also reminds me, though, that this anti-Electoral College proposal has passed both branches of the Massachusetts legislature in previous sessions and still not made it to the governor's desk. Here's a good narrative of the debate about the Electoral College in Massachusetts over the past few years.

The legislative session ends on July 31. Defenders of the Electoral College would be wise to contact their state senators now. My source indicates that the bill is on the calendar to debate tomorrow, though Senate debate on this measure has been pushed back numerous times. There are both Republican and Democratic defenders of the Electoral College in Massachusetts. This is not a done deal in the Commonwealth, but supporters of the Electoral College will need to fight hard.

Not a Lock

There seems to be a slightly growing underground sentiment that it is not worth running a serious Republican candidate against likely Democratic candidate Gov. Joe Manchin in the likely special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. A Rasmussen poll showing Manchin leading Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) 53-39 would seem, according to this sentiment, to be proof of the folly against running against Manchin.

It seems to me that it would be a considerable strategic blunder for Republicans not to contest this seat. West Virginia is hugely favorable territory for a Republican pick-up. Republican presidential candidates have won the state for the last three presidential elections; Bush and McCain each won it by about 13 points in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Though West Virginia has a long tradition of supporting Democrats, and Democrats still dominate in many state and local offices, the state is deeply dissatisfied with the current status quo in Washington, DC. Obama's approval rating? 35%, according to multiple polling outfits.

It's true that Manchin is hugely popular in West Virginia, but he can still be tied to the national Democratic party. While his approval rating sits at the sky-high value of 80%, he at the moment seems only able to muster 53% against Capito. This number suggests that voters are capable of approving of him as governor without backing him for Senate. A Republican candidate for Senate could build on that sentiment.

And health-care is definitely an electoral albatross that Republicans can hang around his neck. 67% of West Virginia voters want health-care "reform" repealed. In March of 2010, Manchin indicated that he supported passing Obamacare. He will no doubt try to run away from that position now by emphasizing his various objections to the health-care bill, but the fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, he supported passing a bill that 67% of WV voters now want repealed. He is also on record as being very open to a "public option."

Let's look again at the 53-39 match-up of Manchin and Capito. First of all, that's only a 14-point deficit for the Republican. Manchin's lead is hardly insurmountable; consider how much races in California, Florida, Massachusetts, etc. have swung around in the polling. Secondly, he's pulling this lead against a member of Congress whose district only encompasses about a third of the state's voters. Manchin starts off with a much higher public profile, but he's not exactly running away with this race. Capito has plenty of space for her candidacy to grow. She has a 59% approval rating, with 8% of voters being unsure about her. Opinion about Capito does not seem fixed on a statewide level. Only 11% of voters view her very unfavorably; 23% view her somewhat unfavorably, so she could probably push some of those voters over into the favorable column.

In the probable election to come, Manchin will try to dance away from the Obama agenda (citing his objections to cap-and-trade, etc.). But Republicans can tie him to this agenda. The passage of the health-care bill was just one instance of supposedly "independent" Democrats marching to the White House's tune; every single Democrat in the Senate voted for Obamacare.

If the GOP is serious about retaking the Senate, it needs to put serious effort into every single seat that has even the remotest potential of flipping. West Virginia is no place to surrender before the fight begins.

Friday, July 9, 2010

SD-AL: Race Tightening

A new poll shows a tightening race between incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) and Republican challenger Kristi Noem for South Dakota's only House seat:

The Rasmussen Reports survey of 500 likely South Dakota voters showed Noem with 49 percent to 44 percent for Herseth Sandlin. That is 7 percentage points narrower than Noem's lead in a June 14 Rasmussen Report, taken six days after the Republican won a three-person U.S. House primary.

In that June primary, Noem had 53 percent to 41 percent for Herseth Sandlin, who did not face a primary opponent. At the time, Rasmussen attributed Noem's particularly strong showing to the "bounce" among likely voters that congressional challengers often receive after winning a contested primary.

Herseth Sandlin voted against health-care "reform" in both 2009 and 2010. But she seems to be an opponent of repealing that law (emphasis added):

As verification of that, Herseth Sandlin’s staff last week offered internal e-mail exchanges from March 25, several days before her conversations with [potential Democratic challenger] Weiland. The e-mails said Herseth Sandlin was “not convinced that efforts to repeal the health care reform bill would be either practical or wise.” They also said she believed it made more sense to work on improving weaknesses in the bill.

But Weiland was still seeking a firm assurance against a potential repeal vote from Herseth Sandlin in their discussions the following week. Asked last week to recall those conversations, he said he felt like the negotiations produced the assurance he wanted.

“When it came down to it, my priority was to make sure Stephanie wouldn’t work to repeal that health care bill. We discussed it at length, and she offered assurance that that was not her intent. Once we had that clarified, I said ‘OK, I won’t run against you,’” Weiland said. “Whether you call it quid pro quo, I don’t know about that. We agreed that we needed to work on the bill, not repeal it. That’s what mattered to me, her assurance that we would work with the bill and not repeal it. I got what I wanted, and she got what she wanted.”

Noem's people are hitting this point hard, banking on a belief that many in South Dakota would like to wash away this law.

IL-02: New Battleground

IL-02 is represented in Congress by Jesse Jackson, Jr. This district has not sent a Republican to Congress for decades.

Yet the Republican party has a new standard bearer in this district: minister and community activist Isaac Hayes. A former Democrat, Hayes is making a play for Jackson's seat by hitting Jackson on one of the areas where he may be most vulnerable: ethics. As Kyle Stone writes:
But with Jackson making headlines more recently as "Senate Candidate No. 5" and allegations that his supporters offered to pay then-Governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate, Hayes sees his opening. And while Jackson's role in the Blagojevich scandal remains unclear, he has not escaped unscathed. Named one of the fifteen most corrupt members of Congress by the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Hayes is rightfully making Jackson's integrity gap a campaign issue.
Hayes's campaign is wisely staying away from a lot of national hot-button rhetoric and is focusing on a few key talking points: "Integrity in Illinois," "Jobs and Small Business Investment," "Parental Choice in Education," and "Safe Neighborhoods."

By reframing conservative notions about personal responsibility, decentralization, and civic opportunity, Hayes may be able to break through conventional dogma about Republicans in his district. For example, in his response to the the Supreme Court's overturning of the Chicago gun ban, Hayes argued that this ruling will provide increased protection to families and private property.

Consider Hayes's discussion of improving the business environment:
The role of government is to create the conditions to spur innovation and sustainable economic growth. Due to a lack of real leadership, Illinois is 48th in job creation, ahead only of Massachusetts and Ohio. We need a trickle-in economy that reduces the barriers to producing goods and services, stimulates investment in business infrastructure and equity markets, and provides business training, seed capital grants and support to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch a microenterprise. Congress must work to free up the credit markets so that families can once again finance a new home, a new car, or a college education for their kids. It is time to get America moving again and that starts by helping families through these tough times. Families like those in Ford Heights which has a 53% poverty rate.
This is a very pro-growth message, but one tailored to the conditions of many poor communities in IL-02. Note that here Hayes is not talking about how it's the government's job to create innovation or economic growth, but to create the conditions for innovation and growth.

Hayes's swipe about the "lack of real leadership" clearly plays to anti-incumbency sentiment. Hayes's continued focus on ethical issues may also appeal to voters tired of the Congressional status quo; he even embeds these issues in his web address (

A Hayes victory here would certainly be hard-fought. But some polls do show scandals taking their toll on Rep. Jackson.

And whether or not Hayes wins in 2010, a strong Hayes showing would be the first step in restoring Republican standing in IL-02. In 2008, Jackson won with nearly 90% of the vote. As Republicans seek to rebuild the party, they should do their best to increase their appeal in this kind of heavily-Democratic districts. The current political paradigm may be shifting, so the GOP should make the most of the opportunity of 2010. If a Republican could get even 30% of the vote in this heavily African American district, that could lay the groundwork for a stronger Republican showing in 2012 and beyond. A short-term expenditure here could lead to long-term favorable outcomes for the GOP.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Troubling Precedents

The experiment of health-care "reform" in 2006 Massachusetts was often interpreted as a prototype for Obamacare. Massachusetts has already run into problems that opponents of Obamacare suggested would happen on the federal level: costs overruns, increasing premiums, threats to the sustainability of free-market health-care, and so forth.

As Joseph Rago writes in the WSJ:
The state's universal health-care prototype is growing more dysfunctional by the day, which is the inevitable result of a health system dominated by politics.

In the first good news in months, a state appeals board has reversed some of the price controls on the insurance industry that Gov. Deval Patrick imposed earlier this year. Late last month, the panel ruled that the action had no legal basis and ignored "economic realties."

In April, Mr. Patrick's insurance commissioner had rejected 235 of 274 premium increases state insurers had submitted for approval for individuals and small businesses. The carriers said these increases were necessary to cover their expected claims over the coming year, as underlying state health costs continue to rise at 8% annually. By inventing an arbitrary rate cap, the administration was in effect ordering the carriers to sell their products at a loss...

Mr. Dynan added that "The current course . . . has the potential for catastrophic consequences including irreversible damage to our non-profit health care system" and that "there most likely will be a train wreck (or perhaps several train wrecks)."

Sure enough, the five major state insurers have so far collectively lost $116 million due to the rate cap. Three of them are now under administrative oversight because of concerns about their financial viability. Perhaps Mr. Patrick felt he could be so reckless because health-care demagoguery is the strategy for his fall re-election bid against a former insurance CEO.

The deeper problem is that price controls seem to be the only way the political class can salvage a program that was supposed to reduce spending and manifestly has not. Massachusetts now has the highest average premiums in the nation.

Rago here hits upon a key point: free markets are useful for allocating scarce resources. Unfortunately for many state-run-health-care dreamers, the federal government cannot create more health-care by fiat. Health-care delivery depends upon individuals being able to provide services and other individuals being willing to take these services.

The attempt to put arbitrary caps on the growth of insurance company spending will likely have one or two results: the bankruptcy of insurance companies and/or a decline in the care that individuals may receive. Patrick's health-care caps seem to be putting over half of the major insurance companies in Massachusetts into a kind of death spiral, one that results from state power and leads to further state power. It was in part these artificial caps that caused the insurance companies to post big losses. These losses have then given the opportunity for the state government to seek to oversee the failing company. Arbitrary government mandates distorted the market for the health insurance companies' business, and the only solution (coincidentally enough) is more government control! While this set of policies may benefit government bureaucrats, how much it benefits the citizens of Massachusetts remains unclear.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Primary Calendar Change?

A key RNC committee proposes changes in the primary calendar for 2012, the Hotline reports:

The new rule, written after months of painstaking negotiations among senior members of the national committee, would push the beginning of the presidential nominating process back a month, to Feb., as part of a plan to prevent wealthy candidates from stealing the nomination.

GOP caucuses and primaries would be held that month in the 4 early states -- the rule codifies IA, NH, SC and NV as states allowed to hold contests in a "pre-window." Every other state would be allowed to hold their nominating contests on or after the first Tuesday in March.

But there's an important caveat, members of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee said: Any state that holds its nominating contest before the first day of April -- that is, any state that rushes to front-load their nominating process -- will have to award their delegates on a proportional basis.

That's a dramatic change from previous party rules; many states awarded delegates on a winner-take-all basis, setting up key dates on which candidates could win big chunks of delegates and shut out their rivals. In '08, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) won all of FL's delegates, even though he won just 36% of the vote. Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee won a combined 59% of the vote -- and no delegates. Giuliani, who had viewed the state as a firewall, dropped out of the race that night.

This is a welcome change for Republicans in a variety of ways. As Ed Morrissey notes, this change would allow for candidates with lower initial name recognition to have a stronger shot at the nomination and wold also draw out the primary contest.

One of the principal benefits of a drawn-out primary calendar that starts with smaller states is that it allows candidates who might not start out with the most money or the highest name ID to prove themselves to the voters, building a movement state-by-state, county-by-county. A national primary or a primary that is extraordinarily front-loaded greatly incentivizes the ability to raise money fast and generate free national media coverage. This set of incentives might not always lead to the strongest general election candidate.

Stretching out the primary calendar may also have other electoral benefits for Republicans in the 2012 cycle. 2008 witnessed the slightly unpleasant spectacle of the primary campaign beginning in earnest at the end of 2006/very beginning of 2007, a situation only exacerbated by the front-loaded primary schedule. Some of the most intriguing possibilities for the GOP nomination (such as Bobby Jindal, Scott Brown, and Chris Christie) could only benefit from spending a little bit more time ripening on the national stage. Christie, for example, would hardly be a plausible candidate if he had to stop governing at the end of this year in order to conduct a year-and-a-half primary campaign. But by around the middle to later part of 2011, if his budget gamble has paid off, Christie could make a very strong case indeed.

There is no historical necessity for a primary battle to begin almost two years before the election. Bill Clinton waited until October of 1991 to declare that he was running. And a drawn-out primary fight in 1992 only strengthened his candidacy.

Regardless of which party controls Congress after the 2010 elections, 2011 looks likely to be a very fluid year. Especially if Republicans end up controlling the House and/or the Senate, they will need to have as much focus on governing as possible throughout 2011. Pushing back the primary calendar and drawing it out can only help them in this regard.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hardest Word

What's the term missing in Craig Crawford's analysis of the way in which various factions can benefit from the absence of immigration "reform"?
  • Obama fulfills a campaign promise to push for reform in hopes of stirring the Latino vote for November.
  • Republican moderates get a chance to favor reform in hopes of controlling the damage to their party among the nation's fastest growing demographic group.
  • Reform foes get a chance to provoke anti-immigrant sentiment in hopes of winning more seats in Congress.

All the above are probably better off not getting reform done by November. Preserving it as a live issue is a win-win for campaigning -- more so than actually passing it.

Of course, the immigrants facing discrimination and deportation don't stand to win if nothing ever actually gets done. And after the next election there will probably be even fewer votes for the big reform that Obama advocates.

Oh yes---illegal, as in the illegal immigrants facing deportation. Despite what Crawford's syntax implies, it is sadly true that both legal and illegal immigrants can face discrimination, but both do not face deportation. Many of the foes of immigration "reform" (notice how that word is so often applied here to obscure what many Beltwayers really mean: mass legalization) are much more strident in their criticism of illegal immigrants than immigrants as a whole. Indeed, many critics of "comprehensive immigration reform" go out of their way to praise legal immigrants and the contributions of immigrants to American society.

Crawford's language here offers that all-too-common conflation of concerns about illegal immigration with concerns about immigration. It implicitly paints opponents of illegal immigration as rabid xenophobes, and suggests that foes of a mass legalization of the "undocumented" are nativists of the worst sort.

This conflation muddies our political discourse. There is a huge distinction between wishing to enforce our immigration laws and having a rank hatred of the other. In reality, some of the people most hurt by illegal immigration are legal immigrants; illegal immigrants can often undermine the wage-earning power of legal immigrants.

Crawford's observations are not without merit. It is true that some Democrats and some Republicans have something to gain by talking about the controversy about immigration "reform." It is also likely that there would be fewer votes for "reform" in 2011 than there are now. But this slippery use of "immigrant" has troubling implications. In a civil society, distinctions are important, especially distinctions of language. False equivalences (e.g., illegal immigrant=legal immigrant) threaten our ability to think through and respond to problems. For a situation as complex and emotionally charged as the state of our immigration system, we need as much precision as possible.