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Posts by Stuart Rothenberg
May 20, 2013
Another public poll, this one from Public Policy Polling, shows a tight race for Senate in Massachusetts. But more interesting is what the Democratic firm does not discuss in its very brief memo about the June 25 special election.
The survey showed Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., leading Republican Gabriel Gomez by 7 points, 48 percent to 41 percent. That marked a slight increase from Markey’s 4-point margin in a PPP poll two weeks earlier. It’s a single digit margin that is similar to most other post-primary polls.
Even when the PPP numbers seem reasonable, as these do, the firm’s memos accompanying its data usually have a clear Democratic tilt, highlighting results that seem to enhance the Democrat’s standing in the race. This memo is particularly misleading. Full story
Some Republicans are so excited at the thought of multiple controversies dogging the White House over the next few months (or longer) that they are already foaming at the mouth.
For example, on his syndicated radio show late last week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee compared reports of the IRS targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to what happened in Nazi Germany.
And, of course, you knew that some conservatives and Republicans (such as Glenn Beck, Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann) couldn’t resist mentioning the “I” word — impeachment — almost immediately as they struggled to show their anger and contempt for President Barack Obama and his administration.
But Republicans ought to remember that they have seen this movie before, and the ending was not what they hoped for or expected.
There’s no doubt that the three controversies — Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press — play into the GOP’s hand by raising questions about “big government.” They give Republicans an opportunity to challenge the administration’s truthfulness and to argue for a check on the president during his final years in office.
While the president hasn’t been implicated directly, that certainly doesn’t eliminate the political risk for the White House or for Democrats over the next few month or possibly all the way to next year’s midterm elections.
But let’s not forget: Republicans failed to capitalize on President Bill Clinton’s inappropriate conduct by over-playing their hand and pushing impeachment. Not only did they fail to drive him from office, the GOP ended up losing a handful of House seats in the 1998 midterms instead of adding seats as initially expected.
Republicans allowed themselves to look as if they were primarily interested in scoring political points and overturning the results of the 1996 election, even if it meant paralyzing the government.
That same danger exists once again for the GOP.
With fundraising playing such a huge part in our politics, some conservative groups will be tempted to use the trifecta of controversies to play to their bases to boost anger and fundraising.
This, in turn, will make the issues appear more and more partisan, giving the president the same opportunity that Clinton used when he sought to rise above “politics” and called for members of both parties to address public policy challenges.
Of course, there are differences between 1998 and 2013.
Though Clinton undoubtedly lied about his behavior and besmirched his office, he was caught in a personal scandal. As we have seen repeatedly, while personal scandals provide fodder for late-night comedians and social commentators, voters seem willing to overlook them. Just ask current South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford.
Obama’s problems certainly haven’t yet been laid at his doorstep, and there’s no reason to believe that he was directly responsible for the controversies in the ways that Clinton and then-Gov. Sanford were. But the current controversies go to the heart of how government operates and how it communicates with its people, raising more fundamental questions than the Clinton and Sanford personal scandals did.
In other words, voters easily understand the notion of individual weakness — and redemption. But they have a much harder time accepting government mistakes and misjudgments.
If Sunday’s TV appearances by big-name Republicans are any indication, party leaders have decided to use a “culture of cover-ups and political intimidation” argument to link recent controversies and put them in a far broader context, making it easier to link them to the White House. Columnist George Will even identified potential fourth and fifth scandals in his May 16 column, “Obama’s Tapped-Out Trust.”
Democrats used the same strategy during President George W. Bush’s second term — and only a slightly different phrase, “culture of corruption” — during their effort to regain the House in 2006. Winning 30 seats and the majority showed that they were successful.
Obviously, the great danger now for the president and his party is that one of the existing controversies expands dramatically or even that another controversy emerges that fits neatly into the GOP’s storyline. While the just-released CNN poll doesn’t show the president has been hurt by the controversies, those findings shouldn’t lull Democrats into a sense of security. They already have reason to worry about candidate recruitment.
Republicans certainly can continue to raise questions about the administration’s behavior, but they would improve their prospects if they can use those controversies to raise questions about the Obama team’s performance and goals.
The White House, on the other hand, must hope that Democrats can portray Republicans as placing a higher priority on embarrassing the president than on dealing with the day-to-day concerns of real people. For Obama, a foreign policy crisis might even be just what the doctor ordered.
May 18, 2013
There is no doubt that the three major controversies on which President Barack Obama finds his administration on the defensive — Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservatives and the seizure of AP phone records — have changed the political narrative of the day. Instead of mobilizing all of his resources to promote his agenda, the president and administration officials are having to spend time and energy answering and rebutting Republican charges.
But it isn’t clear how much of an impact, if any, the controversies will have on the 2014 midterms. Even if (when) those controversies fade, however, there could be short-term consequences for both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the area of recruitment.
Are potential 2014 candidates now looking at the environment and concluding that next year won’t be as good a Democratic year as they had hoped? Are they reassessing their intentions, concluding that the IRS scandal, in particular, will produce an energized and united GOP? Full story
May 14, 2013
Former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s announcement that she is passing on a Senate race in 2014, combined with secondhand reports that U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson (son of retiring South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson) has also decided against a Senate bid, must have put big smiles on the faces of Republican strategists.
It’s early in the 2014 election cycle, but these developments in the Mount Rushmore State definitely affect the two parties’ prospects. The GOP now has an advantage in the contest.
Former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds is already in the race. But the lack of a big name Democratic standard-bearer could encourage the state’s at-large congresswoman, Kristi Noem, to enter the Republican primary.
Noem would be a formidable fundraiser, and conservative support might well coalesce around her.
Some Republican insiders are even speculating that Herseth Sandlin passed on the Senate race in the hope of getting Noem to run for the Senate, allowing the Democrat to jump into the race for her old House seat.
Democrats won’t be without a credible Senate candidate, however. Rick Weiland, a former aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, has announced his candidacy and has already won the support of his former boss.
But Weiland’s record of success in running for federal office isn’t good. He lost by about 20 points in 1996, when he faced Republican John Thune in an open House seat contest after Tim Johnson had decided to run for the Senate. Weiland then lost a Democratic primary to Herseth in 2002, when Thune left his House seat to run for the Senate. (Thune lost that race by 524 votes to Johnson but came back two years later to defeat Daschle.)
I remember Weiland, and he wasn’t a bad candidate. But that’s not the same thing as saying that he has Herseth Sandlin’s demonstrated skills or Brendan Johnson’s obvious asset (his family name) in a general election, especially during a midterm election with Barack Obama in the White House.
Bob Burns, a South Dakota State University political science professor, is quoted in an article in the Argus-Leader questioning whether someone like Weiland could win, or whether Democrats needed a moderate like Herseth Sandlin.
Without Herseth Sandlin, Democrats’ prospects of retaining this seat sink. A formal announcement from Brendan Johnson that he isn’t interested would be another blow to Democratic hopes. But even now, Tim Johnson’s South Dakota Senate seat looks increasingly likely to switch parties next year.
Forget background checks and gun control, divisions within the GOP on immigration, and Republican intransigence on negotiating a budget deal with the president. The current triple play of Benghazi, the IRS and now the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records has the potential to be a political game changer for 2014.
It’s hard to overstate the potential significance of the past week. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a dramatic reversal of the nation’s political narrative — from how bad the Republican brand is and how President Barack Obama is going to mobilize public opinion against the GOP in the midterm elections to whether the Obama administration has become so arrogant that it believes it can stonewall Congress and the public.
The series of revelations presents an unflattering picture of an administration that just 10 days ago looked poised and confident. Now it looks out of touch and unresponsive.
The danger for Obama, of course, is that many Americans will start to doubt his administration’s veracity and values. If that happens — and for now it is only a danger, not an inevitability — then the president could well turn into a serious liability for Democrats in next year’s elections.
The recent revelations seem to confirm some of the complaints and accusations coming from some of the GOP’s most conservative elements, and that could both damage the Democratic brand and improve the Republicans’.
In the near term, the controversies could help the candidacies of Gabriel Gomez, the Republican nominee in the June 25 Massachusetts Senate special election, and even Ken Cuccinelli, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor of Virginia. Given the administration’s problems, voters are more likely now than they were two weeks ago to use this year’s contests to send a message of dissatisfaction to the White House.
Longer term, it isn’t clear whether the current controversies will hurt the president and his party in 2014. But if the administration’s problems linger or even grow, Democratic enthusiasm could wane, depressing turnout in next year’s elections. Weaker turnout would have serious ramifications for Democratic candidates, particularly in swing and red districts and states. It could also hurt party recruiting and lead to a flurry of retirements.
It’s unlikely that the three controversies will pass quickly. The IRS scandal, in particular, is likely to linger, as drips of news and allegations come out over the next few weeks.
The White House is likely to have to spend many hours and much energy responding to questions and generally dealing with these issues, making it more difficult for the president to push his legislative agenda. If history is any guide, that could add to the impression of an embattled president who is merely trying to keep his administration afloat.
And that definitely is not the message that Democratic strategists have been hoping would carry the party to a successful 2014 midterm elections.
May 13, 2013
A Harper Polling survey conducted for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, an obscure conservative group that has supported Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun and Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, is one of those polls probably meant for fundraising and little else.
Though writing about the poll and the polling memo automatically gives them more attention than they deserve, those of us in the media can’t merely ignore these kinds of questionable polls conducted for groups that seem more interested in fundraising than in affecting elections.
The May 6-7 IVR survey of 379 respondents tested former Gov. Sarah Palin, 2010 GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in a three-way Republican primary ballot test, as well as Palin-Miller and Treadwell-Miller in head-to-head ballot tests.
The Harper Polling memo claims that Palin “leads” in the three-way ballot (Palin 32 percent, Treadwell 30 percent, Miller 14 percent), even though her 2-point advantage over Treadwell is well within the poll’s margin of error.
Both Palin and Treadwell lead Miller in head-to-heads, but the lack of a Palin-vs.-Treadwell ballot test deserves to raise eyebrows about the group’s motivation in underwriting the survey. Even including Palin in the poll seems odd. Treadwell has already formed an exploratory committee, while there is no reason to believe that Palin is in the least bit interested in a Senate race.
The polling memo says that “Palin boasts the strongest image” among GOP voters, but that is far from an entirely accurate assessment.
Palin’s name ID ratings are 62 percent favorable/30 percent unfavorable, while Treadwell’s are 54 percent favorable and 15 percent unfavorable. His favorable rating is lower than Palin’s, but his favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is much better. Her ratio is about 2-to-1, while his is close to 3.5-to-1. Treadwell’s unfavorable rating is half of Palin’s.
As for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, according to its 2012 end-of-the-year Federal Election Commission report, the group raised $1.17 million. Almost 90 percent of that came from small-dollar, unitemized individual contributions.
But the fund spent only a little more than $205,000 (less than 18 percent of total receipts) on contributions to candidates or on independent expenditures. More than half of the fund’s federal disbursements during the same period — $545,248 of $951,096 — went to Strategic Fundraising, a well-known Minnesota-based GOP fundraising firm.
May 12, 2013
A new poll conducted for Republican Gabriel Gomez’s campaign shows Gomez trailing Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey by just 3 points.
The May 5-7 poll of 800 likely special election voters by OnMessage Inc., a Republican political consulting firm, found Markey leading Gomez 46 percent to 43 percent, with 11 percent undecided. According to an OnMessage polling memo, respondents “were stratified by county based on previous election results to reflect historic voter trends.” Full story
May 11, 2013
Maybe it’s because two-term presidents suffer from hubris, or merely that after an administration has been in office for years, it inevitably makes mistakes (and too often tries to cover them up). But recent news reports ought to make Democrats at least a little nervous about the next few months and even 2014. Full story
May 8, 2013
Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District tell us little new about the 2014 elections. But it does serve as a reminder about one important factor in American politics that shouldn’t be ignored when the midterms roll around: partisanship.
At the end of the day, most Republican voters in the district decided to vote Republican, even though their nominee had more than his share of warts.
Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch might well have won in a more competitive district, but she could not convince Republican voters — conservative Republican voters — that she was a safe choice or that Sanford was unacceptable. Full story
May 7, 2013
The recent Washington Post poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race showed Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli leading former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe by 5 points among registered voters (46 percent to 41 percent) and by 10 points among likely voters (51 percent to 41 percent).
As most know, early polls often reflect name recognition, the public’s initial impressions of the candidates, the strength of the two parties’ brands in the state, partisan intensity, the popularity of the incumbent, or even the popularity of the sitting president. But early polls don’t necessarily predict what will happen after campaigns spend millions of dollars to move public opinion. Full story
May 6, 2013
With the special election in South Carolina just one day away, both Republicans and Democrats are unsure of the outcome.
Former Palmetto State Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, began with a narrow advantage over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, but even Republicans pulling for Sanford believe that he has failed to run the strong race he needed to in order to hold onto the reliably GOP seat. Full story
May 3, 2013
Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics.com joins the growing chorus of political handicappers who have been arguing that we aren’t likely to see a partisan wave next cycle. Trende’s analysis, which also addresses the “six-year itch,” is spot on (as it usually is).
There is no evidence right now that Republicans are headed for large gains in 2014, and midterm House waves for the president’s party are not merely rare. There has never been one in the modern era (describe that however you’d like).
No, that doesn’t mean that there won’t ever be a midterm wave for the president’s party, but given the number of cases — there have been 17 midterm elections since the end of World War II and 28 midterm elections since the beginning of the 20th century — it’s very reasonable to start off with the premise that the president’s party won’t benefit from a midterm wave in 2014.
If events and polls show something different happening, then assessments can change. Full story
May 2, 2013
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the party’s super PAC, the House Majority PAC, have spent well over half a million dollars in an effort to win a special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, a reliably Republican seat that is competitive only because Republicans nominated controversial former Gov. Mark Sanford.
But even if Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch wins the special election and gains Democrats another House seat, the party will likely have to spend millions of dollars to have any chance of holding the seat in the 2014 midterm elections. In the meantime, the additional seat will not affect the fate of legislation that the House is likely to deal with during the next year and a half.
Given that, why would Democrats invest that much money in the special election?
“The competitiveness of this race proves that when Republicans nominate fundamentally flawed candidates, Democrats can put even overwhelmingly Republican seats in play,” said Jesse Ferguson, the deputy executive director of the DCCC, who notes that the same thing might happen in other districts in 2014. Full story
May 1, 2013
The Senate special election in Massachusetts took an interesting turn this week, when former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez drew more than 50 percent of the vote to win the GOP nomination.
Gomez will face Rep. Edward J. Markey on June 25. Markey won the Democratic nomination with 57 percent of the vote over Rep. Stephen F. Lynch.
The total GOP primary vote was less than what Lynch received in the Democratic race, and the Bay State’s Democratic bent is undeniable. But Gomez has an interesting story, and at least the GOP didn’t nominate an old white guy who had served in the Massachusetts Legislature. (Gomez beat former U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan and Dan Winslow, a current member of the state House.)
Democrats won’t allow themselves to be surprised the way they were when Scott P. Brown beat Martha Coakley in the last Senate special election, in early 2010, and the national party’s image can’t do anything but hurt Gomez’s already uphill chances. But there is no reason to rush to judgment on this race, at least for a couple of weeks, and it’s worth watching to see how it unfolds. Obviously, Markey begins as the clear favorite.
April 29, 2013
Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson is one of a handful of economic writers I pay a lot of attention to. If you are a political junkie, you should read his April 28 piece The Twilight of Entitlement, which has profound implications for American politics and for the nation’s psyche.
Samuelson isn’t talking merely about Social Security or Medicare when he writes about “entitlements.” Instead, he is talking about a set of “attitudes and beliefs” best expressed by President Bill Clinton when he said, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dream.”
That’s no longer the case, the veteran columnist writes, noting increased financial anxiety and less optimism about the future in at least two recent surveys.
The post-World War II period offered growth, opportunity and optimism for Americans, but, if Samuelson is right, we have already entered a period which is more about dividing a relatively stable pie than about sharing in a growing pie.
“Popular national goals remain elusive. Poverty is stubborn. Many schools seem inadequate. The ‘safety net,’ private and public, is besieged,” he writes, arguing that Americans no longer believe that they can count on a strong economy, secure jobs, home ownership, fixed tax burdens, college education and an ever expanding government safety net. Full story