Friday, November 21, 2008

One Senate Race Decided, Presidential Map "Final", Obama Cabinet Rumors, The Politics of Depression

Senate Update
Here's where we now stand in the US Senate:
Ted Stevens has conceded the Alaska Senate race after the late mail in votes gave Mark Begich a small, but insurmountable lead. Republicans are probably relieved to be rid of Stevens, who, as a convicted felon for taking illegal perks from campaign donors would have faced an ugly expulsion fight in the Senate if he had won.

This leaves the Democrats with 56 Senate seats and the Republicans with 40. Independent/Socialist Bernie Sanders from Vermont gives the Democrats an effective 57 seat working majority. Throw in Independent Former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who appears to have buried the hatchet with Harry Reid and now intends to caucus with Democrats and the Dems have 58 seats secured for most issues.

We still have two races undecided and they are still important as they determine the size of the working majority and therefore the number of Republicans that Democrats will need to break filibusters.

In Georgia, because Saxby Chambliss did not receive 50% of the vote on election day (due to an independent drawing a small percentage of the votes), there will be a run-off in December. I continue to expect Chambliss to win -- a run-off will undoubtedly have lower turnout than the Presidential race, particularly among African-Americans and that will favor Chambliss. Advantage GOP.

In Minnesota, it is very close and very ugly. The state is in the midst of a hand recount that will take weeks after the initial count gave Republican Norm Coleman a lead of just 215 votes over Democrat Al Franken. 215 votes is a very tight margin (0.008% of votes cast) and anything could happen in the recount, although any lead is better than no lead for Coleman. With 46% of the vote recounted as of today, Franken has picked up 43 votes, putting the current margin at 136. At this pace, he would not overtake Coleman, but obviously, we don't know the weighting of which precincts the recounts came from, so we can't really project. There are also already over 800 ballots challenged by one side or another and a stack of provisional ballots that the Franken campaign is challenging should be included. This one is a real mess by the looks of it. I still give Coleman a small edge in prevailing. The deadline for resolving all of this is December 5th. We'll see.

If Chambliss and Coleman hold on, the GOP has 42 seats and moderate GOP senators such as Olympia Snow and Arlen Specter become very important in key filibuster votes.

Presidential Race is Official -- Sort Of
The last state winner has been declared in the 2008 presidential race -- John McCain was declared the winner in Missouri after a recount left him with an over 3,000 vote lead. This is in line with the map published here two posts ago.

So, the 2008 race is in the books right? Close, but not technically. The electoral college does not officially meet to elect the president until December 15th. No reason for Obama supporter to fret, the electors are all party loyalists and have pledged to support their candidate. But you do occasionally get interesting little footnotes, like the elector in 1988 who flipped the ticket and voted for Lloyd Bentsen for President and Michael Dukakis for Vice-President.

Obama Cabinet Rumors
The famously tight-lipped and disciplined Obama camp has been letting a lot of leaks out lately. No official cabinet appointments, but a lot of informal information out there. Here is the latest:
Secretary of State -- Hillary Clinton -- seems like this one is almost a done deal
Secretary of Treasury -- Timothy Geithner (New York Federal Reserve Chairman) -- Wall Street loved the pick, rallying stocks today, although the markets only gained back a small percentage of the 50% crash over the past few months.
Secretary of Homeland Security -- Janet Napolitano -- Demoratic Governor of Arizona -- happiest guy about this would be John McCain, who was like to face a fierce fight for his Senate seat from Gov. Napolitano otherwise.
Secretary of Health & Human Services -- Tom Daschle -- former Senate Democratic leader
Secretary of Defense -- Robert Gates -- wouldn't be much of a stretch for the guy currently in the job
Attorney General -- Eric Holder -- Deputy AG under Clinton
Bill Richardson is also rumored to be strongly considered for a cabinet role, but it is unclear which one.

A well qualified group who will all sail through to easy confirmations. But I must say -- I was hoping to see more Republians (guys like Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell) to bridge the divide as Obama has often spoken. I'd also like to see fewer Clinton retreads, although I concede that about the only qualified Democrats alive for cabinet positions worked in the Clinton administration.

The Politics of Depression -- How to Judge Obama's First 100 Days
In an economic mess like we are in, it is unrealistic to expect President Obama to take us to prosperity in his first few months, but here are some things to look for:
(1) A Sensible Economic Stimulus Plan
Obama has spoken frequently about the need to rebuild our national infrastructure and the need for a new green economy. I can't think of two better aims for an economic stimulus plan that would build jobs and also accomplish important and lasting policy objectives.

If Obama gets a package that centers around one or both of these things, I will consider it a success. If he gets no bill or one that is just pork-laden giveaways, we will know he failed.

(2) Disciplined Management of the Bailout
The management of the bailout has been an utter disaster so far, with shifting focus every day, from buying toxic mortgages to recapitalizing banks, to buying stakes in insurers. All the money has flowed with no strings attached, creating embarrassment and very little economic benefit.

Getting the right team in and getting order to how the money is managed is critical.

(3) An Auto Solution
The talks in Washington this week around the auto industry got nowhere fast, thanks in no small part to the absurd behavior of the Big 3's CEOs who left me emotionally wanting the whole industry to go bankrupt just to teach them a lesson. Of course, we can't let Detroit go out of business, but getting to a plan that forces meaningful change in the industry rather than just a cash extension to continue the same bad management practices they have had is crucial.

It's worth noting that Toyota is not in trouble and now builds as many cars in the US as GM. Just some food for thought.

(4) Meaning Change in the Capital Markets
Controls on mortgages, changes to short-selling rules, sound monetary policy -- all of this needs to be handled to solve the long-term economic issue.

(5) All Other
If Obama gets ANYTHING done on Healthcare, Immigration, Social Security, Iraq, etc. in the first 100 days, it's a victory. I would expect that the first 100 will be almost entirely economically consumed.

That's it for now -- stay tuned.

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