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Posts in "Column"
September 29, 2014
Only three times since the Civil War, as any political junkie knows, has the president’s party gained House seats in midterm elections — in 1934, 1998 and 2002. It now seems quite clear 2014 won’t be another exception to that rule.
But a year and a half ago, that wasn’t a sure thing. In fact, while everyone understood the House playing field would be narrow once again in 2014, questions about the GOP’s political dexterity raised the possibility of small net Democratic gains this cycle. Full story
September 8, 2014
While the current Rothenberg Political Report ratings don’t show it, I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.
But I wouldn’t be shocked by a larger gain.
Rothenberg Political Report ratings reflect both where a race stands and, more importantly, where it is likely headed on Election Day. Since early polls rarely reflect the eventual November environment, either in terms of the candidates’ name recognition and resources or of the election’s dynamic, there is often a gap between how I categorize each race (my ratings) and what I privately assume will happen in November.
That gap closes as Election Day approaches, of course, since polling should reflect changes in name identification, candidate and party spending, and voter attitudes as November approaches.
September 4, 2014
A few weeks ago, I noticed a piece in Time headlined “The Best 6 Political Campaign Ads of the Summer (So Far).”
I’ve written columns about “the best” this or “the worst” that, so I’m certainly not opposed to columns that list personal assessments or even personal preferences. But my reaction to the Time magazine piece was quite different. The more I thought about it, the less I liked the headline and the article.
I should note that the writer of the piece did not write that the six ads cited were the best six ads — as the headline indicated — but only referred to “our take on 2014’s top 6 political ads of the summer.” In addition, the sub-headline teased about “six of this season’s political ads,” language that was also different from the article’s title.
Anyway, the piece listed and described six ads that were either the top ads, the best ads or merely among the best.
The ads were interesting or entertaining or both, I thought. I liked a number of them, but didn’t think all of them were great. But the problem is that even if I did love all six of them, did that make them the best ads of the summer?
I don’t think so. Full story
August 19, 2014
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Brad Hutto, wants you to know two things: He has a path to victory against the two-term Republican, and it doesn’t require him to run from traditional Democratic positions.
“I’m not a Blue Dog,” Hutto said proudly during a recent interview with me and my colleague Nathan Gonzales. “I’m a Democrat.”
Hutto doesn’t hide his views, which are right in sync with those of Democrats nationally. He figures that the four-way race for the Senate this year — against Graham, Libertarian Victor Kocher and independent Thomas Ravenel, a former Republican state treasurer of South Carolina — gives him a chance to win the contest with far less than half the total votes cast. Full story
August 5, 2014
I certainly didn’t know foreign policy would be front and center in the final months before the midterm elections when I wrote in late April that these issues “could have an indirect yet significant impact on the midterm elections.”
But now, it looks increasingly as if foreign policy — particularly problems in the Middle East and relations with Russia — will add to the president’s woes.
While international issues are a low priority to most Americans, the daily dose of bad news from the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine makes it difficult for the public to appreciate any good economic data and will likely depress the public mood. That’s important given that Election Day is just three months away (and voting starts even earlier in some states).
Obama’s problems certainly are not identical to those of President George W. Bush in 2006, when opposition to the Iraq War mobilized Democrats and independents against the White House, sinking the GOP and turning both chambers of Congress to the Democrats. And yet, it’s difficult to miss parallels between the two men and their situations. Full story
July 23, 2014
Maybe you believe in coincidences. I usually do — but not four months from an election.
Almost simultaneously, two different memos appeared from Democratic pollsters insisting the Montana Senate race has closed and the outcome of the contest is very much in doubt.
One memo, by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, meets existing standards of transparency and while I have issues with the firm’s conclusions, I was happy with the way the data were presented.
The other memo, by widely respected, Colorado-based Harstad Strategic Research, was dreadful and little more than spin. It fails to meet the minimum standards of disclosure about polls, and devoted more time to promoting the firm’s candidate, appointed Sen. John Walsh, and vilifying Republicans (and the media), than discussing data. Full story
July 22, 2014
Having written about House and Senate races for the past 30 years, I’ve seen plenty of press releases, polling memos and campaign strategy emails. But rarely have I received anything as silly as a July 9 press release from New Hampshire Republican Senate hopeful Scott P. Brown’s campaign, which presented the challenger’s alleged “Path To Victory.”
First, let me note that Brown is virtually certain to be the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. If the Republican wave is large enough in the fall, or if Shaheen makes enough errors between now and Election Day, Brown could win. It isn’t impossible, just unlikely at this point. (The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call currently rates the contest as Democrat Favored.)
That said, the press release from Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, screams to be picked apart. Full story
July 15, 2014
The bottom line looks about the same in the fight for control of the Senate in November — but some of the pieces of the puzzle have moved around dramatically over the past few months.
Republicans need a 6-seat gain to take over the Senate next year. Three Democratic-held Senate seats continue to be headed to the GOP: Montana and open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia.
Most Democrats are pessimistic about all three, though some party insiders continue to hold out hope that appointed Montana Sen. John Walsh can close his early deficit against his Republican challenger, Rep. Steve Daines. If that should happen, of course, national Democratic money could flow into the race. But for now, Daines appears to have a clear advantage.
From that point on, things get a bit dicier for Republicans. Full story
July 7, 2014
Last week’s news that the U.S. economy gained 288,000 jobs in June seems to confirm the upbeat economic assessments coming from many of the nation’s economists and Wall Street analysts.
The question is whether the data and increased optimism one might hear on CNBC will have an effect on the American electorate and alter the current trajectory of the midterm elections.
On a fundamental level, anything that improves overall sentiment about the direction of the nation is good news for President Barack Obama, and anything that is good news for Obama is good news for Democratic candidates around the country.
Good news could generate enthusiasm among base Democratic voters and, possibly, increase the chances that swing and independent voters won’t see the midterm balloting only as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and the president’s performance.
June 24, 2014
The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is sure to lead to another round of speculation that the 2014 midterms might not produce a partisan-wave election, but rather one where large numbers of incumbents from both parties are sent packing by voters.
In fact, I recently heard one of the best political observers around suggesting that 2014 “might be like 1992, 1978,” election years when incumbents “from both parties went down in surprising fashion.”
I have written about anti-incumbent warnings before, but I hope to try to nip the anti-incumbent narrative in the bud this cycle — right now, in fact, before it spreads. I admit: I’m not optimistic. Full story
June 2, 2014
CLEVELAND, Miss. — The rain pounded the Mississippi Delta for the better part of three days late last week, but the nasty weather and a hard-fought primary contest didn’t stop Sen. Thad Cochran from attending the Delta Council’s annual event on May 30 on the Delta State University campus. The council is an economic development organization, started in 1935, that includes eighteen Delta and part-Delta counties in the state.
A year earlier, the Mississippi Republican (and the state’s other senator, Republican Roger Wicker) had accompanied the 2013 event’s featured speaker, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, to the Delta. That was just before the Senate — and then, in July, the House — passed the farm bill, which has always been of great importance to the region’s farmers.
But this year, Cochran found himself in a nasty fight for re-nomination against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a self-described “constitutional conservative” who is all about cutting spending and government, and who charges that Cochran has helped grow government and empower the Washington establishment.
If you assumed Cochran would use this year’s Delta Council event to defend his record, criticize McDaniel or ask for support from those hundreds of people in attendance, you’d be mistaken. In fact, he didn’t address the assembly. He didn’t need to. Most of those in attendance had already decided whom they will support in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
May 19, 2014
Not every hopeful passes through our offices, of course, and many candidates have won elections without ever subjecting themselves to an interview. There is no ring that needs kissing here.
But many candidates seem to think that it’s something they should, or even want to, do. A young Illinois legislator named Barack Obama came by twice. House candidates Paul D. Ryan and Kirsten Gillibrand came in for interviews, as did Senate hopefuls John Edwards, Ted Cruz and Erskine Bowles. I have interviewed both long shots and prohibitive favorites, candidates who looked like winners and those who didn’t.
I have interviewed so many hopefuls that when a candidate doesn’t come by, especially if there has been some buzz about the him or her being sheltered and not doing many interviews with seasoned political reporters, I invariably think of Phil Maloof.
May 14, 2014
I am not at all certain who or what Ben Sasse is. I interviewed him in February, and heard him speak to a large, sympathetic group not long after that. And, of course, I’ve seen him interviewed by others. But I still don’t have a handle on what kind of senator he will be.
In that regard, at least, the Nebraska GOP Senate nominee is very different from Sen. Ted Cruz. After talking with Cruz a couple of times when he was still seeking the GOP nomination last cycle, I understood the Texan’s philosophy and his approach to politics in general and the legislative process in particular.
“Cruz is not willing to compromise even if it means being irrelevant to the legislative process,” I wrote in a July 31, 2012, Roll Call column, adding, “If elected, Cruz certainly will join the GOP’s ‘Uncompromising Caucus,’ which includes [then-South Carolina Sen. Jim] DeMint, [Utah Sen. Mike] Lee, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a handful of others, making it more difficult for his party’s leadership …”
But Sasse (pronounced “sass”) seems to have been able to be all things to all people during his Senate bid this year. That means he’s a skilled politician, but it could also mean that some Republicans will feel terribly misled after seeing him in action in the Senate. Full story
May 12, 2014
My new statistical model of the open Wisconsin Senate seat suggests that Democrats now have only a 54.496 percent chance of holding the seat. That’s a dramatic change from just three weeks ago, when my model showed them with a 55.501 percent chance.
The change results from three main developments: (1) changes in the national generic ballot that are likely to filter down the ballot, (2) changes in my turnout model, specifically among voters with Scandinavian surnames, and (3) the unexpected development that Pisces has entered the House of Scorpio, indicating an increasing sexual energy that should benefit Republicans, who have had a long-term advantage with macho male voters.
In addition, multiple public polls conducted by high school students now suggest that the state, which went for Republicans Dwight Eisenhower (in 1952 and 1956) and Richard M. Nixon (in 1960), but flipped in 1964 to support Democrat Lyndon Johnson, could possibly be poised to either flip again or not flip again, depending on the meaning of the word flip. Full story
May 6, 2014
Who is winning the primary campaign war within the GOP between pragmatic conservatives and the anti-establishment wing of the party?
It’s a simple question, but it isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. Part of the problem is deciding which candidates and races are part of the war.
The anti-establishment wing of the party actually consists of two different elements: economic libertarians, supported most notably by the Club for Growth, and tea party groups such as FreedomWorks, the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project and the Tea Party Express. (Anti-establishment voices like Sarah Palin and RedState’s Erick Erickson fit in with the tea party groups.)
Some groups and individuals have already proved that their endorsements and independent expenditures matter, while the impact of others remains an open question.
The Club for Growth, for example, is strategic in its approach and considers competitiveness before entering a race. It plays only where it thinks it can win. But FreedomWorks has a long list of endorsements that includes plenty of unthreatened incumbents, and while the Madison Project has endorsed Milton Wolf’s challenge to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., so far the group has helped Wolf raise a mere $150 of its $10,000 goal for the candidate, according to the Madison Project’s website.
In other words, not all of the primaries that pit pragmatic conservatives against anti-establishment hopefuls are serious fights. The primary for Senate in North Carolina on Tuesday, for example, is not one of them — at least not yet — depending on whether state Speaker Thom Tillis is forced to face one of his GOP opponents in a runoff.
For now, in North Carolina and other races, a tea-party-backed candidate without any resources isn’t a real threat to an incumbent or a well-heeled pragmatic conservative.
In fact, there are only a relative handful of races that qualify as establishment versus anti-establishment campaign fights.