Archive for November, 2006

Irish Blogging

Posted: November 23, 2006 in Uncategorized

Am currently in Dublin, catching up on a few days’ worth of email. I’m heading to Belfast soon, and should arrive by late in the afternoon. Expect more details of my trip and photos in the days ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

PS – Here’s a joke I heard while sightseeing.

What’s the difference between God and Bono?
God doesn’t walk around pretending to be Bono.


After a long night and the dust finally settled, Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate. The message from voters was loud and clear: “Throw the bums out.” Here’s my analysis of what happened during the election and why.

I. Voters Don’t Like Crooks
Democrats had seized on corruption as an issue beginning in 2005. “Culture of corruption” became an all-purpose catchphrase for them to attack the Republican majority. Resignations of Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, along with ongoing investigations into Jerry Lewis, and Curt Weldon gave credibility and political ammunition to the Democrats on the issue.

I noticed that in the past few months Democrats began focusing their attacks on Iraq and political/ideological synchronicity to the President, making corruption a secondary or tertiary issue. I was stunned when CNN exit polls showed that voters ranked corruption as the number 1 issue of the election. This means that the Democrats had effectively nationalized the elections as a referendum on the status quo in Washington, and the “culture of corruption” line of attack was more effective than even they had probably anticipated. Take a look at this list of congressional casualties of the corruption issue:

Tom DeLay? Gone.
Bob Ney? Gone.
Duke Cunningham? Gone.
Katherine Harris? Gone.
Curt Weldon? Gone.
Richard Pombo? Gone.
Conrad Burns? Gone.

With the exceptions of Harris, Cunningham and Weldon, all of the others got tangled up in the Abramoff scandal. Cunningham is serving a prison sentence for taking bribes from defense contractor Mitchell Wade, and Katherine Harris is being scrutinized for her dealings with Wade. Weldon is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation whether he used his office to influence or benefit contracts for his daughter. He was already down in the polls to Joe Sestak, but the fact that the investigation was revealed with less than a month to go before the election may have been the final straw for voters. I should note that the first three lawmakers on the list all resigned from Congress, two of which pleaded guilty to various offenses. The last four were voted out, and are under a cloud of suspicion but still innocent until proven guilty. While there were certainly other local and national political considerations that played a factor in the case of the lawmakers who were voted out, the corruption issue weighed on them heavily.

Now that the Democrats control both the House and the Senate, and have subpoena power, the public may be able to find out how deep the Jack Abramoff/Mitchell Wade rabbit holes go.

II. We Like You, We Really Do, But You’re Fired.
That was the message from voters to moderate Republicans across the country.

A few days ago, I noted that the Democrats were adopting the Republican strategy of consolidating their control of House seats in ideologically friendly geographic regions, particularly the Northeast, but also in areas of the Midwest, Pacific, and Rockies. The strategy worked with devastating results for Republicans.

The biggest scalp the Democrats claimed in this strategy was Lincoln Chafee. It is absolutely astonishing to consider that a member of one of the most respected political families in Rhode Island, with a 63 percent approval rating and a long track record of disagreement with the Bush Administration and his Republican colleagues (Iraq, global warming, reproductive rights, etc.), was defeated 53-47 by Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse successfully argued that while voters may like Chaffee personally, a vote for him was a vote to maintain GOP control of the Senate.

Chafee is not happy with the administration or the GOP-controlled Senate [see him sticking a finger in Bush’s eye over the John Bolton re-nomination, effectively killing it in the GOP lame-duck session Foreign Relations Committee], and is now thinking of ditching the GOP, although I’m not sure what good that would do him at this point. Although not as bitter in tone as some of his immediate post-election defeat comments, check out his op-ed in this Sunday’s New York Times.

Rhode Islanders might have liked him, but the (R) in his political affiliation might as well have stood for Radioactive this year. I have a feeling that if Chafee had either defected to the Democrats or gone the Lieberman route and declared himself an independent in the Democratic caucus, he would still have his job.

Another House Republican who voted against the Iraq war, Jim Leach of Iowa, got the boot from voters as well.

Mike DeWine was given the pink slip by his constituents, but in his case he was facing a politically hostile environment for Republicans in Ohio, in the aftermath of corruption scandals involving Bob Ney, Tom Noe, and outgoing governor Bob Taft.

Another big victim of the GOP moderates purge was Nancy Johnson of Connecticut. Democrats and her challenger Chris Murphy threw the kitchen sink at her for her role in crafting the legislation for the Medicare Part D bill. Because senior citizens tend to vote in higher numbers than other demographic groups, and because they were the ones most directly affected by the new Medicare plan, Johnson was toast, losing 56-44. Chris Shays survived a nailbiter of a race, and Rob Simmons is about 160 votes behind Democratic challenger Joe Courtney, and that race is undergoing a recount as of this writing.

III. It’s the War, Stupid.
To paraphrase James Carville’s famous catchphrase from the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, Iraq was the issue this year. Unlike 2002 and 2004, this time around it was a radioactive albatross hanging from the neck of every single Republican who supported it, including one who didn’t [Lincoln Chaffee].

Republicans committed several tactical blunders on how they treated the Iraq issue this election.

1) Victims of Their Own Marketing Campaign: They lived and died by the “stay the course” talking point ad nauseum for about two years. When they saw that the phrase was not a winning slogan in the final stretch and tried to distance themselves from it, it became impossible for voters and the media not to see the ploy for the politically obvious and expedient flip-flop that it was. Republicans effectively tarred and feathered John Kerry in 2004 for his shifting positions on issues, and Democrats immediately pounced on this.

2) Off with Rumsfeld’s Head
: President Bush could have and should have replaced Donald Rumsfeld a long time ago. If he had done so, it would have neutralized him as a campaign issue, and it might have helped Republicans get away from the “stay the course” rhetoric which caught up with them in the end.

By waiting until after the elections to announce the change, with new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, it gives the impression [wrongly] that he is capitulating to the Democratic position and offering them a symbolic sacrificial lamb. Republicans are now criticizing the President for his decision to postpone replacing Rumsfeld until after the election. Newt Gingrich led the charge, pointing the finger directly at the President:

“If the president had replaced Rumsfeld two weeks ago, the Republicans would still control the Senate and they would probably have 10 more House members. For the president to have suggested for the last two weeks that there would be no change and then change the day after the election is very disheartening.”

3) Cheney Off Message: During the final stretch of the election, Vice President Cheney continued to party like it was 2004, effectively undercutting the White House message of being flexible and willing to change course with this little gift to the Democrats during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So will the vote on Tuesday have any effect on the president’s Iraq policy?

CHENEY: I think it’ll have some effect, perhaps, on the Congress, but the president’s made clear what his objective is: It’s a victory in Iraq and it’s full speed ahead on that basis. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday.

CHENEY: No. You can’t make policy, national security policy on the basis of that.

IV. The Social Conservatives’ Big Losses
As if Mark Foley wasn’t a big enough problem for Republicans, along comes Ted Haggard one week before the election and turns the evangelical world upside down after allegations he used meth obtained from a male prostitute he was involved with for three years.

The Democrats had painted a bulls eye on Rick Santorum’s back since 2004, and they scored a direct hit on him on election night. He was the biggest scalp claimed by the Democrats on Election Day, the number 3 Republican in the Senate. Rumors are that he has presidential ambitions, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Rick Santorum on the national stage. I heard someone say to expect a “Draft Santorum” movement among conservatives for 2008.

Several ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage and/or civil unions passed, although it narrowly lost in Arizona. However, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that although the gay marriage ban initiative on the Wisconsin ballot passed, it had the secondary effect of firing up liberal voters, some of whom voted for the ban, who got Democratic governor Jim Doyle re-elected, while giving Democrats the majority in the state Senate and made gains in the state Assembly.

More significant to religious and social conservatives is that Missouri passed its stem cell amendment 51-49 and the South Dakota abortion ban, intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, failed decisively when presented to the voters, 56-44.

V. The End of the Gang of 14
Also worth noting is that two members of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” in the U.S. Senate lost their re-election campaigns this year: Chafee and DeWine. Four other members of the group [Joe Lieberman, Robert Byrd, Ben Nelson, and Olympia Snowe] were re-elected.

The gang’s influence as a shadow judiciary committee is dead for two reasons. First, their memorandum of understanding stipulated that it only applied to the 109th Congress, which is about to end in 2 months. Second, the need for the committee as a moderating influence in preserving the filibuster is no longer necessary, given that Democrats will now control the U.S. Senate and only need to hold their majority together to deep-six any judicial nomination they don’t like.

VI. Democrats Pitch a Shut-Out
The Democrats were able to shape the dynamics of the race, forcing the GOP to play defense across the map and limit the number of vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Incredibly, not a single Democratic incumbent in any of the House, Senate, or Governor’s races lost. I’m still researching to confirm this, but I think this is the first election where a party did not lose any incumbents.

VII. Republicans (Inadvertently) Do the Democrats’ Bidding
Some examples where immediate partisan political benefit (real or perceived) for the Republicans trumped long and short-term strategic thinking.

1) The Connecticut Senate Race: There was never any doubt that a Democrat was going to take this seat, whether it was Ned Lamont or Joe Lieberman. After losing the Democratic nomination, Republicans sent money and operatives to work on Lieberman’s independent campaign. Exit polls show that Lieberman lost the majority of Democratic voters (again), but won on the backs of Republican and independent voters.

The problem here is that while Republicans would obviously prefer to have a senator like Lieberman than Lamont (particularly on the Iraq issue) the resources and millions of dollars in contributions that went to Lieberman could and given the benefit of hindsight probably should have been put to better use by contributions to Republican candidates or parties in tighter Senate races like Montana, Missouri, or Virginia, where the margin of victory for the Democratic candidates was 2 percentage points or less.

While Lieberman might have been tempted to defect if the Democrats had remained in the minority, there is no way he would do that now that they control the Senate. Adding insult to injury, Lieberman recently re-declared his allegiance to the Democratic party, with a D in his title instead of the I that got him re-elected.

Bottom line: this time it was the Republicans who got shafted by what some of his critics within the Democratic party were pointing out this election year – his tendency for wanting to have things both ways. Unless he returns a lot of favors to his GOP supporters in the years ahead, he shouldn’t expect to call them for help if he runs again in 2012. Regardless of which party he pledges loyalty to, Lieberman will have an enormous amount of influence as the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and as the potential swing vote that could mean the difference in a one vote majority or minority for a nomination, spending bill, or legislation.

UPDATE: Looks like I spoke too soon. Lieberman made not-so-subtle comments hinting he might caucus with the GOP this past weekend on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: If in fact they ask for discipline in the Democratic caucus, and you start to feel uncomfortable with it, would you consider crossing across the—going across the aisle, and joining the Republicans, if they gave you the same chairmanship that you had, and respected your seniority?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Well, that’s a hypothetical, which I’m, I’m not going to deal with here. I’m going to be an optimist, and take some encouragement from the fact that this was an election in which, in the House and Senate, Democrats came to the majority of both chambers by electing moderates mostly. This was an election that might be called the return of the center of American politics. And I think that my colleagues and leaders in the Democratic caucus get that. The fact is that this was not a major realignment election in my opinion. This was the voters in Connecticut and elsewhere saying, “We, we, we’re, we, we’re disappointed with the Republicans. We want to give the Democrats a chance.” But I believe that the American people are considering both major political parties to be in a kind of probation, because they’re, they’re understandably angry that Washington is dominated too much by partisan political games, and not enough by problem solving and patriotism, which means put the country and your state first.

MR. RUSSERT: Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed over and joined the Democrats.


MR. RUSSERT: And they gave—they gave him his committee chairmanship.


MR. RUSSERT: You’re, you’re not ruling that out at some future time?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I’m not ruling it out, but I hope I don’t get to that point. And, and I must say, and with all respect to the Republicans who supported me in Connecticut, nobody ever said, “We’re doing this because we, we want you to switch over. We want you to do what we think—what you think is right, and good for our state and country,” and I appreciate that.

If Lieberman does cross over to the GOP full-time during the next six years, Democrats should give the Ned Lamont campaign and the bloggers who supported it a great big “I told you so” award.

2) John Kerry’s Botched Joke: It happened during the final stretch of the campaign, and Republicans decided to warm up the Anti-Kerry Machine that beat up on him to great effect and success in 2004, with President Bush and Vice President Cheney again leading the charge. It sucked the media oxygen for a good 2-3 days, and fanned the partisan flames for conservative bloggers and talk radio hosts. My guess would be that it was meant to energize the base by giving them a figure or issue to rally around and focus their energies on.

The problem is that Kerry, like the Saddam Hussein verdict, forced the Republicans to talk about Iraq and reminded voters of the messy situation in that country. While neither of the two events was beneficial to the Democrats, there was little or no upside for the Republicans either given that Iraq was an albatross hanging around the GOP’s collective neck.

The only downside to this for the Democrats was to John Kerry, who was effectively neutralized as a surrogate during the final stretch of the campaign and probably deep-sixed any chances of getting the Democratic nomination in 2008 once and for all.

3) President Bush on the Campaign Trail: The ultimate anecdote of how much of a political liability the president has become to Republicans was his visit to Florida to stump for Republican candidate Charlie Crist, who snubbed him and went to campaign elsewhere in the state, essentially skipping his own event with the president.

During the final stretch of the campaign, President Bush visited states he won in 2004 to help shore up support for Republican candidates. The itinerary included stops in Missouri and Montana on behalf of Jim Talent and Conrad Burns, both of whom were locked in tight Senate races. The presidential visits may have done the opposite of the intended effect, by firing up Democrats and others voting against the incumbents, and possibly pushing undecided voters into taking a decision against Burns and Talent. We may never know.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. See this recent column by the National Journal’s Chuck Todd:

The Bush factor
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that President Bush may have been the deciding factor that killed the GOP’s momentum in some key Senate races over the last week. One Republican consultant is convinced that Bush’s last-minute visit to Missouri on behalf of ousted GOP Sen. Jim Talent did the incumbent in. According to the network exit polls, Democrat Claire McCaskill crushed Talent among those late-breaking voters who decided in the final three days (a full 11 percent of the electorate). Bush also made a last-minute trip to Montana, where anecdotal evidence indicates the president’s rally for Republican Conrad Burns stopped the incumbent’s momentum in Billings.

Finally, for the record I’d like to re-visit my pre-election predictions. In the House, I predicted a 15-25 seat gain for the Democrats. The number stands at 29 right now according to CNN, but could go higher once the official counts [and in some cases, recounts] in 9 unsettled House races are finished. I was conservative in my estimates, figuring the Democrats would get a narrow majority. Depending on how the outcomes in those 9 undecided House races play out, Democrats could have a 30-38 seat majority. [UPDATE: Again, this is why I’m not a mathematician. The Democratic majority currently stands at 11 according to CNN’s most recent calculations, excluding the as-of-yet undecided races.]

In the Senate, I correctly predicted the composition of the Senate (49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, 2 Independents, giving the Democrats an overall 51-49 majority), but because of a typo in the Missouri Senate race projection (I mistakenly typed Talent would win when I meant to type McCaskill), that threw off my math when calculating the Democrats’ gains in the Senate. This is why I’m not a mathematician.

Now, on to 2008…

Plenty of time to be sedated later, though.

By this time tomorrow, the ballot boxes will be open and in 48 hours we will know who’s going to run the Congress for the next two years, barring any Florida recount-esque electoral debacles.

Here’s some reference material to follow the races tomorrow.

The Hotline
CQ Politics
Political Wire
CNN 2004 Election Analysis and Results
CNN 2006 Election Analysis and Results
CNN Political Ticker
MSNBC/National Journal Politics
ABC News Politics
Washington Post Campaign 2006

A few weeks ago, I facetiously suggested that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies open up a field office on Capitol Hill because of all the investigations going on. They might not do that, but the Feds gave a huge hint that they’ve still got work to do.

FBI willing to go undercover in Congress if necessary
By Greg Gordon
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON – The new chief of the FBI’s Criminal Division, which is swamped with public corruption cases, says the bureau is ramping up its ability to catch crooked politicians and might run an undercover sting on Congress.

Assistant FBI Director James Burrus called the bureau’s public corruption program “a sleeping giant that we’ve awoken,” and predicted the nation will see continued emphasis in that area “for many, many, many years to come.”

So much evidence of wrongdoing is surfacing in the nation’s capital that Burrus recently committed to adding a fourth 15- to 20-member public corruption squad to the FBI’s Washington field office.

In the past year, former Republican Reps. Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney have pleaded guilty to corruption charges. FBI agents are investigating about a dozen other members of Congress, including as many as three senators. The Justice Department also is expected to begin seeking indictments soon after a massive FBI investigation of the Alaska Legislature.

If conditions warrant, Burrus said, he wouldn’t balk at urging an undercover sting like the famed Abscam operation in the late 1970s in which a U.S. senator and six House members agreed on camera to take bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab sheikhs.

“We look for those opportunities a lot,” Burrus said, using words rarely heard at the bureau over the last quarter century. “I would do it on Capitol Hill. I would do it in any state legislature. … If we could do an undercover operation, and it would get me better evidence, I’d do it in a second.”

Looking at the state of the horse race less than a week before Election Day, the Bush Administration and its political allies in Congress have been unable to change the basic dynamic that will determine which party will control the House of Representatives.

During most election seasons right now, the playing field of competitive races is shrinking, with both parties allocating more resources to fewer races.

Of course, this isn’t your typical election season. Political observers are talking about a Democratic wave hitting the country, but of course the full impact of that wave won’t be known until after the ballots are counted.

Democrats seem to have adopted the Republican strategy of trying to lock its hold on ideologically friendly geographic areas (Republicans in the South, Democrats in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest). Some of the Democrats’ biggest targets this year are Republican incumbents in Connecticut (Chris Shays, et. al.), New York (Tom Reynolds, et. al.), New Hampshire (Charlie Bass), and Pennsylvania (Curt Weldon, et. al.), although there are also state and local issues that will play a role in whether they are re-elected or not.

If there is a wave, look for several, if not a majority of these blue state Republicans to fall victim to it. In the Midwest, expect Ohio to be ground zero for any Democratic wave, given the political woes of the state and national GOP. Democrats could pick up Republican seats in blue states like Illinois and Minnesota. The Rothenberg Political Report lists 40 House races as toss-ups, all but three of them held by Republicans.

Pickup opportunities seem to be expanding the map for the Democrats all across the country. Look at two examples:

To most political observers, the race to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Osborne shouldn’t even be a contest. Republicans have held Nebraska’s 3rd district for the last 48 years. Democrats are throwing money and resources into Scott Kleeb’s campaign. Republicans sent President Bush himself to hit the campaign trail for Republican nominee Adrian Smith. Nebraska voted for President Bush 66-33 in 2004.

A little farther out west, local and national Democrats are salivating at the possibility of picking up Dick Cheney’s old seat in Wyoming, a state which overwhelmingly voted for President Bush in 2004, 69-29. How concerned is the GOP? Concerned enough that the NRCC dropped over $241,000 on TV ads attacking Democratic candidate Gary Trauner, and they sent Cheney himself out to Wyoming about a month ago and again a few days before the election to rally the troops for incumbent Rep. Barbara Cubin, who took a hit in the polls after threatening to slap a wheelchair-bound Libertarian candidate for pointing out her campaign contributions from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. CQ Politics is now ranking this race as a toss-up.

If Republicans lose these two seats, in solidly red states, then Election Day will be an unmitigated disaster for them. To put it into perspective by reversing the situation, that would be like a Republican candidate having a shot at winning a congressional race in a solidly blue district like Berkeley, Washington DC, or Boston. The fact that they’re even spending money and resources defending them should tell you a lot about the national dynamics for the GOP.

Look at President Bush’s campaign itinerary during the last week or so of the campaign. He is hitting states that voted for him during the last presidential election and with the exceptions of Colorado and Missouri, he is staying away from swing states where his presence could hurt Republicans on the ballot. On Saturday, he is stumping in Colorado for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, one of the states where Democrats made gains in 2004 at the state level and are hoping to continue the trend this year.

This stop is interesting because Musgrave is one of the leading Congressional proponents of a federal amendment to ban gay marriage, and because of the Ted Haggard gay prostitute and meth bombshell which dropped in Colorado earlier this week. I should also point out that there is an amendment to ban gay marriage on the ballot in Colorado this year as well. Social conservatives might be more energized to get out the vote and try to get the bill passed in the aftermath of the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. On the other hand, the initiative could fail in the aftermath of the Haggard allegations.

Whether the 2006 midterm elections will be like 1994, 1974, 1982, or 1964, or an entirely different animal altogether, is something we’ll find out in a few short days.

House Prediction: Democrats take over the House of Representatives, winning between 15-25 seats on Election Day.

Senate Outlook

Posted: November 4, 2006 in 2006 Elections, Senate

Control of the Senate will hinge on ten races. The incumbents in all but three of them are Republicans. The Tennessee race is for the seat being vacated by Bill Frist to run for president in 2008, the Maryland seat is being vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes, and the New Jersey seat is the one that used to belong to Jon Corzine, now held by Bob Menendez who is defending it in his first Senate campaign.

The races are:

  • Arizona
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhose Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia

A state-by-state analysis follows:

Incumbent – Sen. Jon Kyl (R)
Challenger – Fmr. Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson (D)

The race had been written off by both parties until recently when the DSCC dropped $1 million on TV ad time in Arizona markets and sending in Bill Clinton following what they say are promising early voting numbers. This could just be a bluff to make Republicans commit money and resources to defend another Senate seat. The Republicans are doing the same thing with last minute ad buys in Michigan to try to take out Debbie Stabenow.

Although Democratic governor Janet Napolitano is cruising to re-election, I don’t think Pederson is going to be able to ride her coattails.

Prediction: Kyl wins by 5-10 points.

Incumbent Party – Rep. Ben Cardin (D)
Challenger – Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R)

Republicans are enthusiastic about this race, but I think New Jersey is a better pickup chance for them as far as blue states go. There may also be a down ballot effect at play here, because of Steele’s role as Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s deputy. Ehrlich is behind in the polls to Democratic challenger Martin O’Malley, and some of that may be rubbing off on Steele.

Prediction: Cardin wins by 7-12 points.

Incumbent – Sen. Jim Talent (R)
Challenger – State Auditor Claire McCaskill (D)

This race has been in the news a lot recently because of the recent Michael J. Fox ad on stem cell research supporting Claire McCaskill which drew the ire of Rush Limbaugh, who proceeded to make it a national issue by attacking Fox on his radio show.

The race is a true tossup, with recent polls showing both candidates leading within the margin of error. President Bush hit the campaign trail for Talent today, and it might help him. This one will go down to the wire, and might be the race that ultimately decides which party controls the Senate next year.

Prediction: Talent wins by 1-2 points.

Incumbent – Sen. Conrad Burns (R)
Challenger – State Sen. Jon Tester (D)

This race had been written off by the Republicans until the last week or so, when polls showed the race tightening. Now, Senate campaign committees and outside groups from both parties are dumping dollars into Montana airwaves for a round of last minute ad buys. Check out this amusing anti-Tester ad from the Free Enterprise Fund: “Brokebank Democrats.”

The problem with Burns is that he has one of the highest disapproval ratings of any U.S. Senator, and Democrats are hammering away at him over his Jack Abramoff connection. Montana has been tilting towards the Democrats for the past several years, with a popular Democratic governor and a Democratic majority in both houses of the state legislature.

Given the state’s political climate, along with the widespread “throw the bums out” attitude that seems to be building across the country, I think Burns is done.

Prediction: Tester wins by 1-5 points.

New Jersey
Incumbent – Sen. Robert Menendez (D)
Challenger – State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R)

This is the most endangered Democrat-held seat. State Republicans (and perhaps to a similar degree, the electorate at large) are not happy with the Democratic party. People still remember the scandals from Jim McGreevey’s administration, which came back into the news after McGreevey published a memoir and the state supreme court voted in favor of gay marriage.

Kean has been good at making ethics and corruption an issue against Menendez, and that has certainly hurt him in the polls, most likely among independents.

This shouldn’t be a close race, but there are three things working in Menendez’s favor. 1) Remember polls in 2004 showing New Jersey a toss up? Both Bush and Kerry sent surrogates to fight it out, but New Jersey went to Kerry 53-46, 2) Governor Jon Corzine has a 60 percent approval rating according to a recent poll, in spite of having raised taxes, and 3) The anti-incumbent, anti-Republican mood in the country, combined with the fact that New Jersey is a blue state, Menendez should be able to hang on.

Prediction: Menendez wins by 5-10 points.

Incumbent – Sen. Mike DeWine (R)
Challenger – Rep. Sherrod Brown (D)

In less than two years since Ohio voters secured President Bush’s re-election by about 110,000 votes, the state has become politically hostile territory to state and national Republicans.

Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges and resigned from Congress today before beginning to serve a jail sentence next year. Democrats are running challengers to Republican incumbents all over the state, including Deborah Pryce, the fourth highest ranking House Republican.

The Toledo Blade
uncovered a major scandal involving a prominent Republican fundraiser with ties to Governor Bob Taft. Taft now has an astonishing 80 percent disapproval rating in a recent Quinnipiac poll.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is running for governor and is falling behind his Democratic rival Ted Strickland by nearly 30 points according to the same Quinnipiac poll.

The RNC and RNSC have seemingly given up on DeWine, having pulled all advertising from the state airwaves during the final two weeks of the election. Another issue which will fire up state Democrats is a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage.

The writing is on the wall clear for all to see – Ohio is not the place to be if you’re a Republican this year. Besides taking over the governor’s mansion, I’d say it’s likely that the Democrats are going to take the majority of the state’s congressional delegation, effectively laying the political groundwork for 2008.

Prediction: Brown wins by 5-10 points.

Incumbent – Sen. Rick Santorum (R)
Challenger – State Treasurer Bob Casey (D)

Santorum has one of the highest negative ratings in the country, only slightly ahead of Conrad Burns. He has trailed Casey by double digits in most polls this year and he has been unable to change the dynamic of the race or make his case to Pennsylvania voters.

Issues about his state residency, a Republican effort to collect signatures and finance a Green Party candidate to siphon Democratic and liberal votes off from Casey, Santorum crowing about having found weapons of mass destruction, and making a bizarre analogy comparing the Iraq war to the Lord of the Rings have energized state Democrats.

Santorum should start updating his resume and look for a lobbying job.

Prediction: Casey wins by 8-12 points.

Rhode Island
Incumbent – Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R)
Challenger – Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

Chafee narrowly survived a primary challenge from conservative Cranston mayor Steve Laffey earlier this year. As the other New England centrist to face a primary challenge this year [behind the more high-profile race in Connecticut] Chafee has to run a delicate balancing act. He had to convince primary voters that he was genuinely a team player and a loyal Republican, and once he was re-nominated, he had to convince the electorate at large that he could be independent of the Senate Republican leadership and President Bush on issues such as the John Bolton nomination and global warming.

Rhode Island is not friendly territory to Republicans or President Bush, and voters may simply want to send a resounding “NO!” message to Washington, regardless of whether they like Chafee or not. Chafee said as much in one of his most recent ads.

Prediction: Whitehouse wins by 7-12 points.

Incumbent Party – Mayor Bob Corker (R)
Challenger – Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D)

This race has been looking competitive for the past few weeks, and has the dubious distinction of having been the focus of one of the most controversial ads of this political season. I think that Ford will come close but I don’t think he’ll be able to pull it off.

Prediction: Corker wins by 1-5 points.

Incumbent – Sen. George Allen (R)
Challenger – Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb (D)

This has been one of the most interesting Senate races to watch this year, in the same way that you can’t help watch or stare at the scene of an accident when you’re driving in your car. This race should have been a slam dunk for Allen, a springboard for the 2008 presidential campaign. Instead, he is fighting for his political life and he should be considered damaged goods by GOP activists, operatives, and fundraisers when it comes to his political ambitions. Bob Novak recently wrote he thinks Allen is going to lose because he let the race devolve into a “circus campaign,” and I think he’s right. All of Allen’s major problems in this race are self-inflicted, either by himself (i.e. the Macaca incident) or his people (the Mike Stark incident).

Prediction: Webb wins by 1-5 points.

One politically interesting scenario which would be amusing to watch and incredibly frustrating to both parties is if Joe Lieberman is re-elected as an independent and we have a tied Senate at 49-49-2 [the other independent in that formula would be Vermont’s Bernie Sanders who is replacing retiring independent James Jeffords].

Given the amount of Republican money and volunteers he’s taken during the general election, I think it’s almost a given that they will call in favors if Lieberman gets re-elected, regardless of whether the Democrats take over the Senate or not.

The nightmare scenario for Democrats would be if both parties lock up their caucuses in a vote for a contentious issue [i.e. Iraq, a Supreme Court nomination]. Sanders will vote with the Democrats, but if Lieberman wavers to the Republican side, that would put the vote at 50-50 and give Cheney the tie-breaking vote.

If that scenario happens, Lieberman would wield enormous political influence in the Senate. He would be a de facto second Senate president, with the ability to play kingmaker on a variety of bills.

Senate Prediction: Democrats win 8 out of the 10 races I discussed, for a net gain of 6 seats (the number they need to take control of the Senate) and a Senate tally of 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents.

I will have my assessment on the races for the House of Representatives done soon.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about this incident involving George Allen, his supporters, and liberal blogger Mike Stark.

I’m suspecting this tape has been leading local newscasts in Virginia for the past few days. The video has gotten national airplay on cable news when discussing the final days of the Allen-Webb Senate race.

This image, of campaign supporters getting into a physical altercation with a political opponent, is the worst nightmare for a candidate or political strategist. The last thing they want voters to read or hear about in the days before the election are the words “police,” “investigation,” and “criminal charges” in connection with their campaign.

The race was already tight enough as it is, and Allen is being very careful with what he says and who he talks to in the aftermath of the Macaca incident and all of the other mistakes that have made what should have been a shoo-in re-election campaign into a toss-up.

This is one hell of an October surprise, one that the Webb campaign couldn’t have planned any better themselves. If they had the time and money, I’m pretty sure this footage would be used in a political ad for the final days of the race, although it might not even be necessary given the amount of media coverage of the incident. If Allen loses next week, this incident might have been the final nail in the coffin for Virginia voters, even if it didn’t involve Allen himself.

Insulting the Troops

Posted: November 2, 2006 in 2006 Elections

This story is completely overblown.

By now you’ve all heard the controversy over John Kerry’s widely cited comments during a campaign event with Phil Angelides earlier this week.

Kerry has said that he messed up the punchline for the joke. I have no reason to doubt that, because to think the contrary would imply that he planned those comments in advance, which no rational person would think was the case.

But between the event on Monday and Kerry’s two apologies today [the first being a half-hearted “apology” during a phone interview with Don Imus], the Republicans dusted off the Anti-Kerry Machine that worked so well for them in 2004 and turned him into a political piñata.

The only real upside effect to this for Republicans is firing up the base, which it did to great effect in 2004 every time Kerry stuck his foot in his mouth. Remember how they hammered him to great effect over “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it”? Other than the red meat value of energizing their base, I see no benefit to Republicans in trying to keep this story alive. However, there is no down ballot effect on the Democrats, since Kerry is not on any ballot this year.

This might have been an issue in the Tennessee Senate race, where Harold Ford was Kerry’s campaign co-chairman two years ago and Bob Corker might have tried to make an issue out of it at the last minute. Ford defused that possible scenario by criticizing Kerry and calling for him to apologize. Jon Tester also criticized him.

The only real damage to this is that it neutralized Kerry as a surrogate or campaigner during the final week. Politically, Kerry did the correct thing by removing himself from the equation and not becoming a distraction to the Democratic candidates he was going to be campaigning for. If this had happened weeks or months ago, Kerry’s absence as a fundraiser would have hurt the Democrats. You can argue over whether the apology was or was not necessary, but in giving it Kerry has taken away the Republicans’ ability to continue to push the story. By neutralizing the issue and removing himself from the races, Kerry is doing the right thing for his party.

That would have been the end of it, but along came John Boehner and the Democrats figured out very quickly that two can play at that game.

Howard Dean and Harry Reid immediately entered the fray, putting out statements calling on Boehner to apologize. I doubt this will get anywhere near the amount of traction that Kerry’s comments got, but Republicans made it fair game as an issue and Democrats are fighting back.