Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why the President Doesn't Have Much Time, 2010 Projection Update, The Bizarre World of NY-23, Hate Crimes Take 2

The Clock is Already Winding Down
President Obama has precious little time left if he is going to get major legislative accomplishments in his term.

That seems an odd statement to make just looking at a calendar in the abstract. Today is only day 279 of the Obama Presidency, a mere 19% of his term having expired. But, let's think about how the calendar shapes up.

  • In 2010, the focus will shift to the mid-term elections. If you think Blue Dog Democrats in the House and at-risk Democrats in the Senate are nervous now about making major legislative change, this will increase exponentially as the mid-terms near. The White House has as much as admitted that major accomplishments won't happen in the 2010 congressional sessions.
  • The congress that convenes in 2011 and 2012 will likely be significantly less favorable to bold policy changes. It will almost certainly be more Republican (more on that later) and a narrowly controlled Democratic-majority congress isn't likely to be willing to make big waves.
  • In what is left of 2009, congress still has to deal with a fair amount of routine appropriations legislation (as covered here), in addition to debating the President's proposals. There are also several holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's to work around.
So, in reality, the President has only about the 67 days left this year to get his biggest changes done -- and that's including the holidays and appropriations bills mentioned above.

Enough to make one wonder if he can really get health care and energy policy done, isn't it?

Intrade (the internet gambling site), rates the odds against health reform with a public option at 2.8 to 1 (it does not have a separate bet for whether health reform without a public option will pass.) The odds on cap and trade? 1.2 to 1 against.

Still breathing, but the deck is against the President getting both of his stated policy priorities done.

The 2010 Mid-Terms
(1) The Senate
Major changes in ratings from the polling of the past month:

Nevada -- the last 3 polls have shown Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trailing by very small margins, but consistently trailing. This one, at least for now, moves from toss-up to Lean GOP Pick-up.

California -- Barbara Boxer is comfortably up by double digits in a couple of recent polls, despite the high profile run of Carly Fiorina. This one moves from Lean Dem Hold to Likely DEM Hold.

Louisiana -- Vitter still leads comfortably, but two polls that put the lead at around 10% indicate that he is not 100% safe. This seat moves from Safe GOP Hold to Likely GOP Hold.

New Hampshire -- New polls are split and the aggregate is right around the zero line, therefore this one moves back from Lean DEM Pick-up to Toss-up.

Ohio -- the Democrats have been slipping in the rust belt the last month and this one is no different. Recent polls show small GOP leads...not quite enough to move this one back in the GOP column, but certainly enough to take it from a Lean DEM Pick-up to Toss-up.

So where does this leave us?
Safe DEM Holds (7)
Hawaii, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

Likely DEM Holds (4)
California, Indiana, North Dakota, Massachussetts*

Lean DEM Holds (2)
Arkansas, New York (Gillebrand)

Lean DEM Pick-ups (1)

Toss-up -- DEM Controlled (2)
Illinois, Pennsylvania

Toss-up GOP Controlled (2)
New Hampshire, Ohio

Lean GOP Pick-ups (4)
Colorado, Delaware, Connecticut, Nevada

Lean GOP Holds (3)
Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia

Likely GOP Holds (6)
Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Louisiana

Safe GOP Holds (6)
Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Current Senate: 58 Democrats, 2 Independents, 40 Republicans

* Special election to be held in January, not November

Projection: GOP +3-7 Seats, central projection of GOP +5 Seats
2010 Senate with all toss-ups to GOP: 51 Democrats, 2 Independents, 47 Republicans
2010 Senate with all toss-ups to DEM: 55 Democrats, 2 Independents, 43 Republicans
2010 Senate with all LEANERS to GOP: 48 Democrats, 2 Independents, 50 Republicans
2010 Senate with all LEANERS to DEM: 62 Democrats, 2 Independents, 36 Republicans

Still no path to GOP control (even in the all leaners to GOP case, Lieberman and Sanders caucus with the DEM's and Joe Biden breaks the tie to retain Democratic control), but the most favorable reading on 2010 yet for the GOP.

(2) The House
The generic polling has as wide a range as I've ever seen it. Rasmussen shows GOP +5%, whereas CBS News has DEM +13%. That's an 18% spread between non-partisan polls (although some might question the partisanship of both the organizations mentioned there), an extremely rare circumstance.

My aggregation of all the polls puts the average at DEM +1%.

This puts my projection at GOP +17-22 seats.

If you believe the Rasmussen poll, that would imply a GOP pick-up of approximately 34 to 41 seats, enough to nearly seize control of the House. I don't see that yet.

So, in total, the GOP stands to gain in the mid-terms, but control of either body still looks unlikely.

Many have looked for a repeat of the Gingrich revolution of 1994. At this point, the structure of the election looks unfavorable to such a large swing for several reasons:
  • Democratic majorities are much more sizeable, particularly in the Senate
  • The rotation of Senate seats that are up in 2010 is unfavorable to the GOP, unlike in 1994. 2012 will be a much better map for potential GOP pick-ups than 2010.
  • There are far less projected House vacancies in 2010, a key opportunity the GOP seized in 1994.
New York 23 and the Divided GOP
The 23rd district in New York is a moderately pro-GOP district (approximately 4% more Republican than the nation as a whole, based on the Presidential election results in November.) The President's popularity is down significantly. The GOP nominated a moderate for the seat. The GOP should be in good shape to retain this seat in the upcoming special election to fill the seat vacated by Army Secretary John McHugh, right?

Not so fast.

A splinter in the GOP has led to an indepedent / conservative party candidate that is receiving the endorsement of major national GOP figures such as Sarah Palin, splitting the GOP vote and creating a scenario where a Democratic win seems likely.

Congressional district level polling is a dicey exercise with limited accuracy, but two different independent polls show the same story -- Doug Hoffman (C) is stealing support from Dede Scozzafava (R), leading to a 4 to 5 point lead for Bill Owens (D).

This is close enough to shift, but Hoffman, currently in third by a fairly wide margin, is picking up money and endorsements, all of which probably plays into Owens' hands.

More an exception case than a bellweather because of the strange circumstances, it looks like the DEM's might be poised to add another seat to their House majority.

Hate Crimes Follow-up
Sometimes I write things that provoke a lot of repsonse. My posting on my opposition to hate crimes laws certainly was one of those times.

A lot of the feedback I found uncompelling. Yes, I'm aware that the historical reason for these laws was white juries in the South in the civil rights era that would not convict white of attacking blacks. Yes, this is a noble reason for wanting such a law. No, it does not change my view that this is the wrong solution to a real problem.

One piece of feedback that gave me pause though, was a point made by a reader. "You state that what is in a person's mind shouldn't be the basis for the severity of punishment. But isn't that exactly the difference between a first degree and second degree murder? An interpretation of a person's intent?" I must admit, this is a very strong point. We do use this distinction, based not inherently on the act itself, but based on evidence on what someone was thinking as a basis for the severity of punishment for murder. There is a legitimate parallel between that and a hate crimes law.

I still fear hate crime laws are a slippery slope towards thought policing and open the door to a more restrictive view of free speech. But I am not as confident in my opposition as I was 24 hours ago.

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