Saturday, November 28, 2009

Presidential Approval for November

President Obama continue to scrape the low point of his Presidency in terms of public approval, although he consistently this month has remained just above his November vote margins. Media reports have talked a great deal about him breaking the "50% approval" threshold in major polls, including the Gallup poll (which many, myself included, consider the gold standard in polling.) While this is true, the more relevant number is his approve minus disapprove and that is holding at around 8%. His monthly tracking is below.

On a monthly basis, with November nearly over, his numbers stand at +8.8%, a 2.4% drop-off versus October, making November his worst month since August, the last month of his awful summer drop-off.

Several trends have emerged over the past 10 months of poling. I've discussed a number of them before, but I'll highlight them now:
(1) President Obama has yet to have a month with any significant month-on-month improvement. He has had months were he has held flat or gained marginally and months that he has lost ground, but none where he has posted a statistically significant gain. He has now reached a critical inflection point where if he does not have such a month, he will slip below his November margin and, within a few month, slip into negative territory.
(2) There seems to be something of a soft floor surrounding his November vote total. To me this indicates that those who did not vote for the President but were willing to give him a chance have largely been lost in the bitterly partisan tone in Washington but that those who voted for the President have by and large stuck with him.
(3) As has been noted by CNN, the President seems to drop in approval every time he goes abroad. Perhaps this is because of some of his visual gaffes (such as the bow/handshake) or because Americans feel he should be focused on the US economy, but it does seem to be a consistent theme. Perhaps he should spend a little more time at home until unemployment drops.

The GOP feels like they have momentum now and there is some evidence in these data to suggest that. But it would be over-playing their hand to assume that opposing the President is now a popular position. They won't win in 2012 with the voters they got in 2008, they need to find a way to dislodge the moderates who supported the President. Time will tell if they can do that, but they haven't succeeded, at least yet.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Tough Road Ahead for President Obama

It is going to be a trying few months for the President. Consider:
(1) He is about to announce an Afghanistan strategy that will infuriate his own party. Liberals will be outraged that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan, while Conservatives will be likely only lukewarm in their support, feeling that he should have reached this conclusion earlier.
(2) He needs every last one of those members of his own party to pass health care reform legislation in the Senate. He also needs to convince moderates like Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR) to vote with him, possibly at the expense of her own job.
(3) While unemployment appears to be stabilizing (at least from the latest unemployment benefit numbers), it is stabilizing at a very high level, with pretty low prospects for it being recovered in time for November.
(4) His third domestic priority, environmental legislation took a huge blow when hacked e-mails from major scientists appeared to reveal a conspiracy to squash anti-global warming scientific evidence. The perception is horrible, regardless of the scientific reality.
(5) His approval in many polls has dipped below the "magic" (in the eyes of the media, not myself) 50% threshold, although his approve minus disapprove remains positive.
(6) The Secret Service is apparently too inept to keep uninvited guests out of his parties -- not a comforting thought if you are the first black US President who sees death threats posted on the internet daily.
(7) Everybody still hates Tim Geithner
(8) You can't seem to stop committing gaffes on foreign soil (bow and handshake, ipods to the Queen of England, etc.) -- and we all know the media would much rather talk about that than substance

A tough road indeed. Poll numbers updated next post (still painfully recreating my poll database from scratch).

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghan Troop Decision Tuesday, Giving Thanks

Obama to Announce Afghan Strategy Next Tuesday
Numerous news sources have confirmed that President Obama will announce his long-awaited decision around troop levels and war strategy in Afghanistan next Tuesday. Reportedly, this will consist of a 34,000 troop increase (in addition to the 68,000 or so troops already in Afghanistan, up from 45,000 or so at the start of his Presidency) along with a request to NATO for an additional 6,000 troops to fully provide the 40,000 troops that were requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal several months ago. In total, if these reports are true, the President will have more than doubled our troop presence in Afghanistan since the start of his Presidency. This is very consistent with his campaign rhetoric about this being a "war of necessity" and that Iraq took our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan, but is also sure to infuriate the left wing in his own party, who have been calling for an accelerated withdrawal from the long conflict.

This decision, if true, continues a pattern that I first noted several months ago -- that President Obama has shown himself to be more liberal on domestic issues than many anticipated (see the stimulus plan, cap and trade and health care) but more conservative on foreign policy issues (this decision, the decision not to join the NATO alliance on banning the use of land mines, the far slower draw down in Iraq than many had hoped for or anticipated.) In both cases, he is being pretty consistent with the platform that he ran on.

I've said before on balance that I believe that we continue to have an important role in Afghanistan, but that a clear objective and exit strategy are necessary with any troop escalation. Let's hope the Commander-in-Chief articulates these things with his announcement on Tuesday.

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and as I always do in this space, I'd like to note things that are worthy of Americans giving thanks for:
I'm thankful that America is still a wealthy enough nation that we can fly to see our relatives and that if we can't afford to fly that we can drive or take the train.
I'm thankful that there are still a few moderates left in American politics, in spite of the partisan divide.
While I find references to President Obama (or ex-President Bush) as Nazis in poor taste, I'm thankful that we live in a country where people have the freedom to protest in ways that I find distasteful.
I'm thankful to have a job in an economy that has 10.2% unemployment and I'm thankful that we live in a country that has a safety net if I don't have one in the future.
I'm thankful that over the past 30 years, we as a nation have increasingly embraced rather than shunned our diversity. All respect to Attorney General Eric Holder, but we are not the cowards that we once were.
I'm thankful that you are reading these words today and that you may find something that I have to say interesting, enlightening or provocative.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you find love and hapiness in however you celebrate it. And a special thank you to those who do not get tomorrow off -- the police officers, fire fighters, grocery store clerks, soliders and air traffic controllers who will be working on Thanksgiving, each contributing to our uniquely American way of life.

On A Personal Note

The hard drive on my computer has failed. Like a fool, I had several pieces of data, including some of my Presidential approval history that I did not have recently backed up. I will attempt to recreate those data, but there may be a delay in the ordinary weekly posting of the President's numbers. I will get this rectified as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy Thanksgiving wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Holdout Was Sen. Voinovich

The one Senator not voting either way on the cloture motion, as I have learned, was Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH). I'm not sure if Sen. Voinovich simply had to be absent tonight or whether his not casting a vote is any sort of political statement. I suspect the former, but don't rule out the later, as Sen. Voinovich is retiring and has been critical of fellow members of the GOP caucus for being overly partisan and obstructionist. Still, on such a critical party-line vote, it is hard to imagine he failed to show up to mark a protest. Surely he would have just voted for cloture if that had been the case.

It is irrelevant as 60 votes were required either way and the 60 of the Democratic caucus were exactly what Senator Harry Reid was able to string together.

Whether he can hold on to those 60 in the coming weeks and secure cloture on the final bill remains to be seen. But we WILL have a debate in the Senate, that's for sure.

Prepare for some more high drama in December. Have a good night.

60-39 to Proceed

The Senate has voted to invoke cloture to proceed to debate Senator Harry Reid's health care reform proposal.

The debate itself will likely take place beginning November 30th. All Democrats and Independents voted in the affirmative and all present Republicans voted in the negative. I did not catch who the 40th Republican that missed the vote was, but I will report it as soon as the Senate posts the roll call results. Other than the one GOP absence, this vote went exactly as I projected it would.

On Terror Trials in New York, The President's Slow Slide Continues, The Unemployment Gap and What It Means, Stimulus Spending Continues

Why Trials of Terrorists BELONG on U.S. Soil

The substantive controversy of the week (putting aside the talk show nonsense about Sarah Palin's legs) centered around the Justice Department's (and presumably the White House's) decision to bring accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the New York area to stand trial in the Federal court system. Republicans have been unrelenting in their criticism, stating that Mohammed should be tried in the military tribunal system and not set foot on foreign soil.

The major aspects of the criticism center around:
#1 The security risk posed by having an accused terrorist on US soil -- that we would become a terrorism target by having a high-profile terrorist like Mohammed in our prison system.
#2 The risks associated with a potential acquittal -- what would we do with Mohammed if he is not convicted?
#3 The notion of conveying the "rights" of US citizens to an accused terrorist

As a longtime supporter of trying terrorists in our court system, let me address these criticisms one at a time.

On security risk:
Can anybody credibly say after 9/11 that major cities in the US are not already terrorist targets? Will terrorists wake up after Mohammed is moved and say "you know, we were going to let this whole Jihad thing go, but now that Mohammed is moved, we are going to resume the war"? It's an argument that utterly strains credibility in my mind. We can't let the threat of terrorism dictate our actions -- we should do what we think is right.

On the risk of acquittal:
This risk is real, but is no different than in any trial. The unibomber, Timothy McVeigh, the DC Sniper, Charlie Manson and many, many other simply awful people have been tried and convicted in our court system. And our system has proved time and time again that when we have sufficient evidence to earn a conviction. The notion that we somehow don't trust the system that is the underpinning of our Democracy makes no sense. Besides, it isn't like Mohammed will be walking the streets of the country if he is acquitted -- he isn't a US citizen and has no right ot be here.

On the notion of rights:
We have a trial system founded on a presumption of innocence and rules of evidence not because we believe that Americans should be afforded special rights that are given to no other humans, but because, as is stated in the Declaration of Independence, we believe that ALL are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights. Affording the right to a fair trial to those who do not share our values will be our ultimate victory over terrorists who attempt to destroy our way of life, destroying our beliefs in the face of fear would be a victory for those terrorists.

Liberty is not without risk, but as I've often cited Benjamin Franklin as saying, those who would sacrifice liberty for a measure of security deserve neither security nor liberty. Those opposing a US trial of Mohammed are being cowardly, plain and simple. We should be strong in our values and fearless in our defense of liberty, even for those who seek to destroy it.

President Obama's Continued Downward Trend

I sound like a broken record on this topic, but President Obama's numbers continue to slide, but continue to be ever-so-slightly above his November vote totals in my aggregation of all non-partisan public opinion polls.

The last two days he has been at +7.7% and +7.8% in his approve minus disapprove, just a hair north of his +7.2% total in the November election. If the current trend continues, it is only a matter of time before he slides below that 7.2% threshold.

His monthly numbers clearly show that same trend, with the President having lost 2.7% in his numbers so far this month after three months of relatively stable numbers. He has yet to have a month where his numbers have posted a substantive gain.

All of this begs the question -- why has the President failed to hold on to the massive public goodwill that surrounded the start of his term?

There are a few reasons -- clearly all President's fall off once they actually take office, the continued highly partisan spirit in Washington has redivided the country, etc., but this ultimately comes down to the same topic: it's STILL the economy, stupid.

Unemployment at 10.2% = dropping approval ratings. So let's talk about unemployment.

There Are Two Americas -- The College Educated and Everyone Else

Now disgraced former Senator John Edwards, when he was running for President, spoke often of the "two Americas". He was speaking about the rich and the poor and the differences in their American experience. An analysis of the unemployment figures clearly shows that there ARE two Americas, but it has less to do about whether you come from wealth and more to do with educational attainment. And the differences are striking.

The latest unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells the story. The overall unemployment rate is 10.2%, as has been widely reported. But it varies greatly by education attainment. Here are the rates by various educational levels:
Less Than a High School Diploma: 15.5%
High School Diploma Only: 11.2%
Some College but Less Than a Four Year Degree: 9.0%
Four Year Degree or More: 4.7%

Pretty striking, huh?

What's more, in the past year, here are the CHANGES in unemployment rate by those various educational levels:
Less Than a High School Diploma: +6.2%
High School Diploma Only: +5.3%
Some College but Less than a Four Year Degree: +4.0%
Four Year Degree or More: +1.7%

As you can see, not only were the less educated worse off to begin the recession (no great shock there) but that differential has been magnified massively over the past year. Interestingly, the four year degree number is fairly close to what is often considered full employment, with unemployment in the 3 to 5% range.

This highlights two things -- those less educated are taking the brunt of the recession as factory and service jobs disappear in a downturn and two, that we ought to be talking about making college education attainable to all Americans if we are going to solve our economic woes over the long-term.

Regrettably, we are doing the opposite, with funding for education being slashed and massive tuition hikes, highlighted in California, becoming the norm.

It is concerning well beyond the cyclical recession if we don't get more of our country more educated and more productive.

Stimulus Spending Continues

The stimulus bill still has a lot of punch yet to pack. As of this past week, reports:

Tax cuts: $83.8 billion spent out of $288 billion allocated (29.1%)
Spending: $136.3 billion spent out of $499 billion allocated (27.3%)
Total: $220.1 billion spent out of $787 billion allocated (28.0%)

So we are not even yet 3/10ths of the way through the stimulus spending. And every bit of it is going to be needed to maintain economic growth and stave off unemployment. You could make a strong argument that the money hasn't moved nearly fast enough, given the spiking unemployment rate. But the positive economic growth last quarter, attributed largely by all credible economists to things like cash for clunkers and the first time home buyer credit that were provisions of the stimulus bill, demonstrate that things could have been so much worse without the bill.

I'll cover the Senate Health Care vote as it happens tonight. I expect a completely party-line 60-40 vote that allows the measure to proceed, just barely, after Thanksgiving, but it certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility that a lone Democrat will defect and send Harry Reid back to the drawing board.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Senate Showdown Looms, On the Virtues and Vices of the Fillibuster, Is the GOP Tide Coming?, Annoying Things

The Vote to Get to a Vote to Start Debate on Whether to Vote
Well, we are finally going to get this thing moving in the Senate, sort of.

Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a critical vote for Saturday night. It's a vote to begin debate. Well, not even quite that. It's a vote to end a filibuster against starting debate.

Let me try to explain. In the Senate, any member who feels like it can try to filibuster anything, with 60 votes halting a filibuster. Opponents of Senate health care legislation have made it clear that they will use ever tactic available to them to stall the process, so they are going to filibuster the motion to START debate on the health care bill. This means that Harry Reid will need 60 votes to invoke cloture (stop debate) on the motion to START debate.

It appears reasonably likely that the Democratic and Democratic-leaning Independent caucus of 60 will hold together to get the debate started. Democrats with misgivings about some of the provisions, such as Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln appear to be hinting that they will fall in line. Independent Joe Lieberman is on record saying he will vote to start debate but will oppose a final bill containing any sort of public option. It appears that there is a near zero chance of any GOP support to break the filibuster.

But, of course, this is just the start of the fun. Then, each amendment to the bill must be debated, again with the potential for a filibuster on each and every amendment. Then a filibuster will have to be broken to get to a final vote on the bill, a bill passed, the bill melded with the House bill that has already passed in conference committee and the whole elaborate dance of filibusters around starting and stopping debate will have to happen again after the final bill (presumably) passes the House.

Tired yet?

Truth is that this vote is not really all that crucial. Not breaking a filibuster doesn't kill the bill, it simply sends Reid and company back to the drawing board to try to find a new way to get 60 votes. And a win isn't that great for the DEMs either -- after all, Nelson, Landrieu, Lincoln, Lieberman, Bayh, etc. all still have to be satisfied with the final product all while holding the liberals together.

Expect many weeks of test votes, filibuster votes and confusion to come. If Harry Reid somehow actually pulls this off, I will take back everything I've said about how ineffective a leader he is. But that's still a big "if".

Is the Filibuster a Good Thing?
It comes up almost every time power changes hands in the Senate -- a debate about the benefits and problems with the current Senate filibuster law.

First, a history lesson. The filibuster is NOT, contrary to the belief of some, a part of our constitution. Our constitution is pretty lean on specifics around the U.S. Senate. Pretty much all it says is that there will be 2 senators from each state, that senate terms will be 6 years, that Senators have to be 7-year U.S. citizens who are at least 30 years old, that the Vice-President is President of the Senate and breaks tie votes, that the Senate has power of advice and consent over appointments and is one of the two bodies that pass laws. There are a few more specifics (specifically enumerated powers, appointment by the state legislature later changed to popular election, etc.), but those are the basics. Not a word about a filibuster or super-majority.

The filibuster DOES have a long history in the Senate, which has always structured its rules to be a more conservative (in the sense of change resistant) than the House. In olden times, a real filibuster required a filibustering Senator to actually stand on the Senate floor and speak for as long as he intended to keep the filibuster up (see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for some romanticized historical perspective.)

In 1919, in an effort to block a single rogue senator from derailing major legislation, the Senate adopted a new rule that two thirds of the Senate could vote to cut off debate from a filibustering few. In 1975, the number of votes required to kill a filibuster was reduced from two thirds to 60%, which is where it stands today.

In decades past, the filibuster was used selectively. Robert Bork was not filibustered as a nominee, nor was Clarence Thomas. Filibusters were reserved for special moments when the minority felt an imperative to obstruct.

This started to change in 1993, when the GOP staged a filibuster against President Clinton's small stimulus bill. But even the GOP of the early 90s was somewhat restrained -- they did not filibuster the Family Medical Leave Act, for instance.

When George W. Bush came to office in 2001, the filibuster became even more prevalent. Democrats started using it to block judicial nominees whose philosophy that they opposed, where the tradition had been to restrict such filibusters to judges deemed unqualified. This infuriated Republicans who threatened a "nuclear option" of completely doing away with the filibuster (although it was unclear if the vote to eliminate the filibuster, could itself be filibustered.) This talk died down after the "Gang of 7" moderate Senators, including then-moderate John McCain brokered a deal to let some nominations through and let other filibusters stand.

But 2009 has ushered in a new era for the filibuster. The GOP has used the filibuster more this year than in any previous congressional year, attempting filibusters on virtually every piece of legislation and every nomination that they oppose.

Clearly there is plenty of blame to go around between the parties for the rampant use of the filibuster as we see it today. But that is hardly the question. The question is -- is the filibuster today a good thing or a bad thing?

Predictably, the party in power (the Democrats) think it is not and the party out of power (the GOP) defends it vigorously. It should be noted that these are the exact opposite of the party positions eight years ago.

For my money, I think the presence of a filibuster is an important thing. Unchecked change with one party in power, although they are democratically elected, is dangerous. Besides, the DEMs have the votes, in theory to break a filibuster, they just need to hold together their own caucus. If they can't even do that, how sorry for them can I feel if their own members vote to filibuster their legislation?

The rampant use of the filibuster is out of control, to be sure. But even in the good old days, universal healthcare would be a filibuster-worthy subject.

So, here's what I would propose:
First, eliminate the filibuster on STARTING debate on a bill and on amendments but allow a filibuster on final passage. Surely, forbidding debate can't be in the interest of careful deliberation, but blocking a bad piece of legislation could be.

Second, how about Harry Reid requiring that if the GOP is going to filibuster that they actually occupy the floor and talk like old times? I think it would be worth bringing the Senate to a halt for a while to see what was really going on. Keep the Senate floor open 24/7. If they aren't going to play ball, don't just run and hide.

Regardless of what I think, the filibuster is almost surely here to stay. Let's see what happens tomorrow night.

GOP Tidal Wave in 2010?

As President Obama's approval numbers continue their gradual decline (new numbers again next blog), more Americans begin to blame the Democrats (as opposed to President Bush) for our economic woes and the right continues to get fired up, is it possible we will see a much more massive GOP sweep in 2010 than I have been projecting?

It's early to say, but I'm beginning to become a believer. As I've said, the most important metric to watch is not the polls, but the unemployment rate. If it starts dropping by early next year and dips down significantly by November, we could see a ho-hum mid-term with little change. If it is still double digits come November, prepare for a "throw out the bums" bloodbath. And the Democrats being in power, makes them the "bums", in case that wasn't clear.

Things Annoying Me This Week
Haven't done this in a while, so here are my awards for really annoying people and things:
(1) To the media for paying more attention to former Governor now sideshow freak Sarah Palin than to serious members of the GOP like Lindsey Graham and Tim Pawlenty.
(2) To the media again for paying more attention to a bow than to the fact that we are in hock to the Chinese for billions and getting worse. I mean, seriously, who on Earth cares about a bow?
(3) To Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for saying that any major piece of legislation must be terrible if it doesn't get 70 to 80 votes in the Senate. I guess he thinks the founding fathers were idiots for not requiring a 71 vote majority for passing, oh, say, the BUSH TAX CUTS....hmmm...maybe he has a point.

Oh well...if politicians and reporters weren't annoying than they wouldn't be politicians and reporters.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

2010 Projection Updates

It is 352 days until mid-term election 2010. That's both a lifetime in politics (think about how much has happened politically in the past year) and shorter than you think (the Massachusetts special election takes place in January, primaries start in Illinois in February.)

Let's take a look at the state of the races:

The Senate

Two changes since our last projection, both favoring the GOP.

In North Carolina, 3 different polls show Burr with anywhere from a 7% to 12% lead against prospective challengers. It is a close call, as I had sort of informally set the bar between "lean" and "likely" at around 10%, but having three different polling firms find the same result is enough for me to shift this from Lean GOP Hold to Likely GOP Hold.

In Ohio, Portman is up by 3-4% against two possible Democratic opponents in a new Quinnipiac poll. This validates an earlier Rasmussen poll that showed him leading by 2% a few weeks ago, and causes me to shift this from a Toss-up to a Lean GOP Hold.

All of which leaves us with:
Safe DEM Hold (7)
Hawaii, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

Likely DEM Hold (4)
California, Indiana, North Dakota, Massachusetts*

* Special election in January

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

Lean DEM Pick-up (1)

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

Toss-up -- GOP Controlled (1)
New Hampshire

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

Lean GOP Hold (3)
Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio

Likely GOP Hold (7)
North Carolina, Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Louisiana

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

This projects:
GOP Pick-up of 2 to 5 seats, central projection of GOP +3 seats

The House
Democrats stand at +2.1% in our aggregated polling data, although the poll range is still extremely wide (from +7% for the DEMs to +5% for the GOP.)

This would imply:
GOP Pick-up of 16-20 seats, Central Projection GOP +17 Seats

So, the GOP still isn't in a position to retake either House, but they are slowly, steadily, eating into swing districts. The Democrats need an economic turnaround or they could be in big trouble.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

A Conversation That Might Have Happened at the White House, Budget Freeze?, Blinking on Afghanistan, Obama Poll Numbers

They Might Have Said This at the White House....
A conversation between President Barack Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that could have happened...

Sebelius: Our health care bill has passed the House, 220-215, Mr. President.

Obama: Great news, Kathleen! So all we have to do is pass a bill through the Senate and I can sign this baby into law, right?

Sebelius: Well, not quite Mr. President. We have to get a bill passed in the Senate, then have a conference committee consolidate the two bills and the combined bill pass both House of congress.

Obama: But we should be able to get it through the Senate, right? I mean, we have 60 seats there...heck, we could even give up 10 Senators and still win, right?

Sebelius: No, Mr. President, we need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Obama: Oh yeah, the filibuster, right. Well, at least we have the 60 votes we need.

Sebelius: Not quite, Mr. President. Sen. Ben Nelson will only support a bill if we include an amendment to ban abortion funding.

Obama: Well, I said reproductive care would be the centerpiece of my health care legislation, but we gave it up in the House, so I guess we'll give in there too, so long as it gets us to 60.

Sebelius: Not so fast, Mr. President, Sen. Lieberman won't back a bill with a public option in it.

Obama: Can't we just get Olympia Snowe from the other side? Then we won't need Lieberman.

Sebelius: Senator Snowe will only back a bill with a trigger mechanism, Mr. President, not a real public option.

Obama: So...I guess we will have to give ground on the public option. We get a bill then, right?

Sebelius: We might get it through the Senate, Mr. President, but 40 House Democrats have said they will vote against the conference report if it contains the abortion provision.

Obama: What? They just passed a bill with the provision in it!

Sebelius: But they say they won't back it this time. Also the progressive caucus won't back a bill without a strong public option.

Obama: can we put it back in?

Sebelius: Then it won't pass the Senate, plus Bart Stupak and 30-some other Democrats who are anti-abortion will vote against it then.

Obama: So...let me get this straight. We passed a bill in the House with a public option and no abortion funding. We can't get a bill through the Senate with a public option or abortion funding and we can't get a bill back through the House with or without abortion funding and we can't get a bill through with or without a public option?

Sebelius: Exactly, Mr. President.

Obama: Can we talk about Afghanistan now?

The Senate may take up the health care bill next week. Stay tuned for more high drama.

A Budget Freeze?

The White House is leaking word that the President's budget for Fiscal 2011, which is scheduled to be released in February, may contain an across the board freeze in spending or even an across the board 5% cut, combined with new taxes to combat the deficit.

Remember when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) proposed an across the board freeze? Then-Senator Barack Obama said that was a "hatchet when what is needed is a scalpel." Of course, we were also going to be out of Afghanistan in the first year of his Presidency...

I have trouble reconciling passing a $787 billion stimulus bill and then EIGHT MONTHS later proposing cuts to core spending. Does the White House think the economy has improved THAT much?

More likely, this is a reaction to the poor Democratic showing in 2009. The White House might be wiser to consider what 2010 will look like if unemployment is still 10%+.

ALL Options Rejected?

One more time back to the drawing board as the President has rejected all presented options on Afghanistan. News reports had been that he was leaning towards sending an additional 30,000 troops but evidently is not yet satisfied with the strategy.

Okay...I'm all for careful deliberation, but at some point you actually have to make a decision. I know all the options suck. They will still suck the next time your advisers talk to you. Go all in, fold or somewhere in-between. Those are pretty much the options.

Time to act, Mr. President. You won't ever know all the facts. But our troops on the ground deserve a clear direction and strategy.

Obama Numbers Stay Within a Range

President Obama's approve minus disapprove is still bouncing around in the +8% range. His worst day yet of his Presidency for his aggregate numbers was yesterday at +7.7%...still ahead of his +7.2% total in November, but by a mere 0.5% margin.

The monthlies tell the same story as the President's November numbers hoover just above +8%.

Next up -- we have some new 2010 polls...and the news in total looks marginally worse for Democrats.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Next Year in Politics

The 2009/2010 Schedule
The 2009 elections are now behind us and there are a mere 359 days until election day 2010. There is a heck of a lot of unfinished business in congress as well as a lot of mid-term primaries and campaigning that will commence shortly.

Let's take a look at the legislative calendar first.

There are 4 major categories of legislation that the congress will need to deal with in the next 359 days:

(1) Fiscal 2010 Appropriations

The status of Fiscal 2010 appropriations is below. The House finished its work on preliminary bills in late July (as it is supposed to.) Many of the bills have been slowly slogging through the Senate, which has been very slow to follow. Of the 17 major departments and categories requiring annual appropriation:
* 6 have been signed into law
* 5 have passed the House and the Senate and await work from a conference committee
* 6 have only had a version passed by the House with the Senate yet to act

The current continuing resolution (the second one passed) allows the 11 departments who are not yet funded to continue operating under Fiscal 2009 policies until December 18th, therefore this is the new "deadline" for congress to act on the remaining pieces of legislation. Of course, congress can always pass another continuing resolution and keep kicking the can down the road.

(2) Cap and Trade
The House has already passed a cap and trade bill, the Senate has been bogged down in various committees trying to construct something that could get 60 votes. There are recent signs of life and compromise on this bill, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) helping to craft a compromise that would bring along moderate members of teh GOP. Clearly whatever clears the Senate will be far more conservative than the bill that passed the House, but the President has some hope of getting something that fulfills this domestic policy priority passed in the next 3 or 4 months.

(3) Universal Health Care
Again, et tu, Harry Reid? The House on Saturday passed its sweeping, trillion-dollar bill. The Senate has no clear path to a 60-vote supermajority, although clearly it is going to require a much more conservative approach than the House. Reverting to a "trigger mechanism" is likely as are other concessions to centrists Lieberman, Snowe and Nelson. If those three get on board with a bill, it will pass. If they oppose it, it will get killed by the a "super minority" of 41+ votes.

(4) Fiscal 2011 Appropriations
In all my writing about Fiscal 2010, I should remind everyone that we are scarcely more than 10 months away from the start of Fiscal 2011 and that the House really needs to start taking up the 2011 bills by June or so. There will be a strong incentive for Democrats to get appropriations passed on time this year, since the incoming congress in 2011 seems highly likely to be more conservative than the outgoing one in 2010.

(5) Other Domestic Policy Priorities
Remember immigration?
How about Gays in the Military?
Entitlement reform? (yeah, right)
If we are going to add any new domestic policy priorities, it has to happen in a narrow window.

So how much time is left to do all of this?
Congress takes a break in November for Thanksgiving, in December and January for Christmas and New Year's, extended breaks in the spring and summer for district work periods and holidays and...let's face it, EVERYONE on both sides of the aisle wants to get home by next August to campaign for re-election.

So the window is fairly narrow.

The House clearly won't be the problem -- both the rules in the House and the nature of the Democratic majority make the House by far the easier of the two bodies to get legislation through. The Senate, as it usually is, will be the bottleneck. Stay tuned to see how things play out.

Election 2010

Don't kid yourself, the 2010 elections are upon us. Let's look first at the Senate.
Since my last update there has not been a ton of polling as pollsters had focused heavily on the 2009 races. Therefore, there are no changes to my projections. As a starting point, there are 39 Democrats, 22 Republicans and 2 Independents who are not up for re-election and will be returning to the Senate in 2011.

In addition, there are 7 Democratic seats that I consider very safe:
Hawaii, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin

There are also 6 GOP seats that I consider very safe:
Florida, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah

Add these in and you have 46 Democratic seats, 28 GOP seats and 2 Independent seats that are either guaranteed or highly unlikely to change hands over the course of the next year.

You can see from this the challenge the GOP will face, even in a pro-GOP year. With 48 Democratic or Democratic caucusing (Independents Lieberman and Sanders) seats basically out of play, trying to get to 51 will be very difficult.

The next category, the Likely Holds -- seats where one party is ahead by 10%+ bring further clarity.

They include 4 Democratic seats:
California, Indiana, North Dakota and Massachusetts*
* Special election schedule for January

And 6 GOP seats:
Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Louisiana

Factoring in these seats, we have:
50 Democrats, 34 GOP seats and 2 Independent seats that are likely to return.

Which leaves us with 14 races likely to be hotly contested:
Lean Democratic Hold (2) -- New York (Gillebrand)and Arkansas (Lincoln)
Lean Democratic Pick-up (1) -- Missouri (Bond's vacant seat)
Toss-up (4) -- Illinois (Obama/Burris open seat), Pennsylvania (Specter), New Hampshire (Gregg open seat), Ohio (Voinovich open seat)
Lean GOP Pick-up (4) -- Colorado (Bennett), Delaware (Biden/Kaufmann open seat), Connecticut (Dodd) and Nevada (Reid)
Lean GOP Hold (3) -- Kentucky (Bunning open seat), North Carolina (Burr) and Georgia (Isakson)

So my current projection, if we split the toss-ups evenly, gives us 55 Democrats, 43 Republicans and 2 Independents. If the GOP sweeps the toss-ups, that gets them to 45 seats. In their best-case scenario, where they sweep the toss-ups and take all the leaners (which is tough, but not inconceivable), they get to 48. They don't get to 51 votes (what they would need for the majority, with Vice President Joe Biden holding the tie-breaking vote if it hits 50/50) under any scenario that I can envision. If they were somehow to bust Democratic double-digit leads in the "likely hold" seats for the DEMs, they could get to 52, but that would require beating Evan Bayh in Indiana, Barbara Boxer in California, winning a special election in Massachusetts AND beating Byron Dorgan in North Carolina. Every single one of these events seems highly unlikely.

On the House side, all 435 seats are up, so the outcome has much more potential to shift. Current aggregated generic polling has the Democrats at +3% (although polling continues to vary widely depending on the poll you believe), short of the 7% they were polling going into 2008 or the 10% that they actually took the congressional vote by in 2008. These numbers would imply a GOP pick-up of 15 to 17 seats, short of what they would need to gain a majority by a significant amount, but a good pick-up for a mid-term. These numbers could shift dramatically if President Obama's poll numbers continue to fall.

Ironically, the Blue Dogs that have been pushing for more moderate policies and generally causing the Democratic leadership pain are the ones most at risk. That's the weird thing about the structure of House races -- the moderate seats are the ones that change hands in swing years.

I'll be with you every step of the way, tracking the races. It's going to be a fun year for elections as obviously much more is at stake than in 2009.

Some Side Notes

Based on 2009 election results, where Rasmussen was indeed more accurate than the majority of other polls, I will include their polling at full weight going forward, until empirical evidence suggest that I shouldn't. reports that as of last week, $123.5 billion in spending and $83.8 billion in tax cuts have been paid out as a result of the stimulus or about 26.3% of the bill's total reach. Given that we have lost 7 million jobs since the start of the recession and the total claim of the stimulus bill was to attempt to "save or create" (whatever that means) 3 million jobs, there is some credence to liberals like Thomas Friedman who feel we are drastically under stimulating. But the political reality is that there is no will to do more, at least explicitly. Small scale moves like extending unemployment benefits again (which the President signed into law this week) or small projects embedded into appropriations bills (of which there are plenty) may happen. Perhaps the Cap and Trade bill would be a good time to include a bunch of infrastructure spending to upgrade our electrical grid and build green power? It might accomplish two goals at once...'s latest grading of the President's promise keeping, shows of the 513 promises that it is tracking:
52 have been kept
14 compromised (half-kept)
7 broken
440 to be acted on (in the works, stalled or no action)

So, the President has acted on 14.2% of his promises. Of those he has acted on, he has been true to his work 80.8% of the time. His term is 20% over, so he is obviously behind schedule if he is going to do everything he promised. But his consistency of approach is actually pretty good compared to history.

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Health Care Reform Clears the House, Obama Polling Update

Health Care Reform Squeaks Through the House

This evening, after some testy debate and late-stage deal-cutting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate anti-abortion Democrats, the House of Representatives passed the most sweeping make over of the United States health insurance industry since Medicare was enacted in the 1960s.

The bill passed by nearly the closest of margins, 220-215, with a lone Republican (Rep. Cao of Louisiana) crossing the line to vote for the bill and 39 Democcrats, largely members of the Blue Dog coalition, defecting to the GOP side. Every member cast a vote in this high-profile vote, including the two winners of special elections on Tuesday, meaning that had Democrats lost those two races, the vote would have been by the slimmest possible margin of 218-217.

The breakthrough that paved the way for a successful vote in the House was the deal Pelosi cut with the pro-lifers to allow a vote on an amendment to explicitly prohibit abortion funding except in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening complications in the new public options or public exchanges. The pro-life Dems teamed up with nearly the entire Republican caucus to successfully pass the amendment by a wide margin. The only other amendment to be offered was the GOP substitute, a much less ambitious substitute that dealt with tort reform and allowed interstate competition for health insurance, but did not even go so far as to ban dropping or excluding coverage for a pre-existing condition. The amendment failed on what basically amounted to a party-line vote.

The bill is far more liberal than anything that is likely to survive the Senate. The bill contains an explicit public option with no trigger and no opt out. It is either just under or just over $1 trillion over 10 years (depending on whose math you believe), around $100 billion larger than either Harry Reid's bill in the Senate or the size requested by the President. It contains a strong employer mandate, unlike the Senate bill and has larger tax provisions on high-income individuals and stiffer penalties for individuals failing to buy coverage.

To a certain extent, it feels like the House leadership took unnecessary risks with such a liberal bill. The bill as passed has zero chance in the Senate, where Harry Reid is struggling to cobble together a 60-vote coalition for a FAR more conservative bill. But at the end of the day, Pelosi and Hoyer got it done, so I can't really criticize their strategy. They managed to appease liberals, who will now be more inclined to vote for a more conservative conference report, having had their say on a bill more to their liking.

The House has now passed all of the President's priorities: the stimulus, cap and trade and universal health care. It has also long since passed versions of all of the appropriations bills for Fiscal 2010.

The bottleneck in Washington is clearly the Senate. It is often referred to as "the world's greatest deliberative body". Perhaps it would be apt to rebrand it "the world's MOST deliberative body". Quantity doesn't imply quality. Time for some up or down votes, boys and girls.

Presidential Approval -- Obama Sinks Another Couple of Points

After a couple of months of relative stability, President Obama's poll numbers have taken a step-change down again, into the +8 to 9% approve minus disapprove band. He continues to flirt every closer to falling below his vote margin last November, but he hasn't crossed it yet, not even for a day. The last 10 days have all been between +8.0% and +8.8%.

The President's monthly numbers reflect the drop-off, which happened just before the end of October. After slightly increasing in September and dropping 1.1% in October, he is on pace to lose 2.9% in November.

Whether this is the start of another decline, a two-point drop-off that has already happened and restabilized, or just a bump in the road remains to be seen.

What is clear to me having looked at over 9 months worth of data, however, is that the President has yet to have a sustained rally -- there are no two or three week periods since he took office where he made upward progress. He's going to need a few of these sooner rather than later to avoid slipping below his November numbers or worse yet, into the negative.

New Site Look and Feel

I've reformatted the site. Let me know if you like the new look. I was thinking of doing this after every election to keep the look current and relevant, but if the majority of my reader's like the old look better, I will restore it.

Next up -- seems like a good time to preview 2010 as well as take a look at the legislative calendar over the next year and assess how much time is really available to make big reforms.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Scorecard for Election 2009 Predictions, What the DEMs Should Really Be Afraid of in 2010, Critical Health Care Vote Upcoming

Election 2009 -- How'd We Do?
The dust has settled on the 2009 "mini-midterms" and as always, I wanted to take a look back at the actual vote tallies versus my projections and see how we did from a prediction standpoint and what may have driven the differences. Note that in New Jersey, I will be focusing on percentages of the "three-party" vote (two two major parties plus Chris Daggett), in Virginia on the two-party vote. As I did not make a projection on write-ins or minor third party candidates, their tallies (which are very small percentage anyway) are ignored.

1. Virginia
My Final Projection: McDonnell 57.0%, Deeds 43.0%
Actual Two-Party Vote Tally: 58.7%, Deeds 41.3%
Average Miss per Candidate: 1.7%
Total Bias: +3.4% Democratic

Obviously, we projected the right candidate to win and win handily, but this site was hardly unique in that projection -- just about everyone was projection McDonnell to win. The error, while higher than I would like, is not as bad as I thought on election night, when the early returns showed an even strong McDonnell lead.

In total, I think part of the miss was just the random error associated with attempting to call a statewide race and part of it was due to lower Democratic and higher GOP turn out. With a race this lopsided, turn out is very difficult to predict, since most voter know that their vote is highly unlikely to make a significant difference.

The broader implications of this race are unclear. Democrats ran a bad candidate who had already lost a statewide race previously to McDonnell. The White House and national party provided little support to Deeds. But, still, this was a major butt-kicking by the GOP to a party that had started to dominate Virginia politics. So my take on the implications: this isn't damning to the DEMs in 2010, but it sure isn't good news.

2. New Jersey
Note: As of this writing, Monmouth county had, for some reason, not reported results and this therefore reflects only about 95% of the total vote in New Jersey. Monmouth is not anticipated to significantly change the percentages.

My Projection: Christie 45.0%, Corzine 44.1%, Daggett 10.9%
Actual Three-Party Tally: Christie 48.1%, Corzine 46.1%, Daggett 5.8%
Average Error Per Candidate: 3.4%
Total Bias (Error on the Margin): +1.1% Democratic

You can clearly see where I missed here, Daggett got far less votes than projected. We made the right call on the outcome of the race with Christie winning and the final margin was within a very respectable level of bias, calling the race within 1.1%.

The two potential causes of a Daggett fade that we discussed likely came into play: First, that in a close race, many voters would not want to "throw their vote away" and therefore switched to one of the two major candidates and second, Daggett was buried so deep in the ballot many voters who may have polled for him may have switch in the booth to one of the two major candidates.

While we can always discuss these possibilites (as we did), there is no statistical way to predict them happening, therefore in odd circumstances like this, there is always a good possibility for error.

The implications in this race are probably more severe for national Democrats than in Virginia. Unlike in Virginia, both the national party and President Barack Obama worked hard to re-elect Corzine. His loss shows that Obama is not a silver bullet for victory. And it also shows that even in blue states, people are very mad about the economy and taxes, the two primary issues in the New Jersey campaign.

3. NY-23
I couldn't make a statistical projection here, but I give myself credit for calling this race to be a close battle, whereas most pundits and projectors viewed Hoffman as having clear sailing. I didn't call the Owens win, but I certainly alerted you to the scenario that unfolded -- Scozzofava voters deciding Hoffman was just too conservative.

Democrats, with little else to celebrate this election, have tried to turn this into a predictor of 2010. It's hard to imagine that every house race in 2010 will feature the crazy drama that unfolded here. This race is unique and as such probably projects little. The one piece of solace that Democrats can take away is that even a re-eneregized GOP is fighting for its ideological soul and that was on full display in this race.

Be Afraid of Unemployment, Not 2009
So should Democrats be afraid in 2010? Absolutely. But not because of what happened on Tuesday, but because of what was reported on Friday. The unemployment rate in October spiked to 10.2%, a new 23 year record. There are now less people employed in this country than there were in 2000. And the reality is that it is unlikely to be pretty by November of next year.

I admit I seriously undercalled the lag between economic growth returning and unemployment dropping. Consider this -- even if unemployment were to begin IMMEDIATELY dropping by 0.1% per month (and few believe we have bottomed out yet -- most are saying we won't until at least December) -- we would STILL have a 9% unemployment rate next November.

Democrats will try to pin this all on George W. Bush and there is some fairness to the argument that macroeconomic changes don't happen over night. But voters don't want to hear it. It seems highly likely they will be feeling a lot like throwing all the bums out a year from now. And there are more Democratic "bums" than Republican "bums" at the moment.

Will the Democrats lose the Senate? I still can't envision a scenario.
Will they lose the House? Possible, as I've said, but still unlikely.
Will they lose seats? Oh yeah.

And if they are struggling to get major legislation passed now, with wide majorities, imagine what it will look like if there are, say, 20 more House Republicans and 5 more Senate Republicans.

We could be in for 1990s style gridlock. And maybe that isn't such a bad thing. Remember those balanced budgets and 3% unemployment rates in the 90s? Sounds nice right about now.

House Health Care Vote Upcoming
The House is just convening for a rare Saturday session to push towards a vote on Health Care Reform. A late compromise was struck between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and moderate anti-abortion Democrats, who favored coverage but wanted assurances that funding wouldn't go to abortions. The moderates will be allowed to offer a floor ammendment to the bill that would specifically prohibit funding from the bill to be used for abortions. As of this writing, that is the only amendment that is likely to be allowed.

Pelosi had to give ground. The Republicans are united against the bill, meaning that Pelosi can only give away 40 votes. Counting the Blue Dogs who oppose the included public option and anti-abortion Democrats, the numbers were adding up more than 40. She had to give ground on one of the two to get a bill passed.

Passage is still not assured, nor is the vote timing. If the Democrats don't feel that they have the votes, they may delay a vote from Saturday evening until Sunday.

This is high drama to watch, but even assuming the Dems get is passed, the key roadblock is the Senate. Keep in mind that the House passed a Cap and Trade bill, the other key domestic policy priority for President Obama, months ago and the Senate has yet to act.

Harry Reid has indicated that the year-end "deadline" President Obama had set (actually, his original deadline was the August recess, but no matter) may slip as the Senate still grapples with how to get to 60. It only gets tougher the later this bill goes...primaries for 2010 start in February. The only way I can see Reid straddling the middle is to give in to Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-ME) proposal to replace an automatic public option with a later-date "trigger mechanism" public option. This would bring along Snowe and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and presumably Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) as well. Without Snowe and Lieberman, the DEMS are at best at 59 votes and possibly only at 57 or 58 (depending on how Nelson, Specter, etc. vote.)

I love watching congress work the weekend. We should make them do it more often.

Next post I'll cover the votes, plus get back to our normal polling updates. It is, after all, time to shift the focus to the 2010 mid-terms.

Thanks for reading. If you like this site, tell your friends. And if you have some thoughts on the 2009 election results, send me a note or post a comment.

Incidentally, we had 131 people view this site on election night and 170 view it in the 48 hours surrounding the election. This is a record for the year, although I suspect lower than November of 2008 (I did not have tracking in place at that time.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Final Thoughts on Election Night 2009

We live in a great democracy, as we demonstrate every year with peaceful elections and peaceful transitions of power. Every year, I am proud and amazed by this country, regardless of the winners and losers in a given year.

This was a good night for the GOP and a bad night for the Democrats. Whether the implications are broad or narrow remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure...there is no political system that I would rather be a part of than ours.

Thanks to everyone for joining me tonight. I am humbled and gratified that you have found at least some of my analysis and thoughts interesting, thought-provoking or useful.

Much more to come on the results and their implications in the coming days.

Have a great night and God Bless America.

Fox News Calls it for Owens

Fox News became the first major network a moment ago to call NY-23 for Democrat Owens. This is the lone piece of good news for the DEMs in what has been a pretty bloody night.

Congratulations to Bill Owens. He walked an incredible tightrope to win a seat that hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1800s.

The Latest Line

In NY-23, with 87% of the vote in Owens leads Hoffman by 3.7%. This race has not been called by the networks yet, but I feel comfortable enough with so few votes yet to call this an extremely likely Democratic Pick-up. It may not be certified until later on as there are reportedly 8,700 absentee ballots to count, which is more than the likely margin of victory.

In Maine, it's tight, but it looks more likely than not that voters have rejected gay marriage, with a margin of 3.8% for repealing the gay marriage law with 74% of the vote in.

In Washington State it is too early to call, but early signs show some indication that voters will approve "gay marriage without the name", with the initiative leading by 3.6% with 45% of the votes in.

These close races may not get called tonight, but I'll have complete analysis later in the week.

My final thoughts on the evening next.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Summing Up the Night

The verdict is still out on gay marriage and civil unions and we don't have an official call in NY-23 (although it is all but over), but I'll try to sum up the night and the three major races.

The GOP smoked the DEM's in this purple state, pure and simple. They ran a better candidate, ran a better campaign and took advantage of the state's center-right economic leanings and misgivings about Democrats use of their power in Washington. This was partly a local race but had national undertones, although President Obama largely steered clear of it. The massive margin (McDonnell ran almost 25% ahead of McCain's perentage last year) should be a wake-up call to Democrats and a reassurance to Republicans that the party is not dead and has not been marginalized in Virginia. Most importantly for the GOP, it breaks a bad losing streak in the state.

Impact on the national scene: relatively minor

New Jersey
An unpopular, ineffective governor meets a solid candidate. This is probably the race with the most national significance as President Obama expended significant political capital stumping for Corzine. Ultimate, it didn't work in this blue state and Christie, a true conservative, won.

Impact on the national scene: significant

Okay, this race is probably not as important as we political junkies like to make it out, but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun.

(1) GOP nominates a moderate who leads in early polls
(2) National GOP abandons party and closes in the "small tent", supporting a third-party conservative
(3) National endorsements chase the Republican out of the race
(4) Republican drops out and endorses the Democrat
(5) Democrat wins (probably) and ironically, wins by a smaller margin than the still-on-the-ballot dropped out Republican's vote total

You couldn't make this stuff up.

Congratulations (I think) to Bill Owens. But don't get too comfortable in that seat, you probably face a tough challenge next year. This is the one big win for the DEMs tonight.

National significance: only us junkies will remember this race next year

Updates on the remaining races soon.

Some Semi-Final Looks at NJ & VA

Finalish margins with 98-99% of the vote in:
Virginia -- McDonnell +17.4%
New Jersey -- Christie +4.7%

In each case, my final projection was off by about 4%.

Complete post-election scorecarding and analysis later this week.

More other news -- as expected, in CA-10, the only other house special election besides NY-23, John Garamendi is crusing to victory to maintain a Democratic hold on that firmly liberal district.

Stay tuned for a few more updates on NY-23 (still looking good for Owens) and Maine (still looking bad for gay marriage)

But next blog, what does this all mean?

Updating Key Races and a Few Non-Key Ones

In NY-23, Bill Owens now leads by 3.6% with 76% of the vote in. This means that Conservative Doug Hoffman would have to win by 15% in the remainder of the precincts in order to carry the district. This one looks like it is almost over with Owens pulling off what surely is the upset of this election cycle.

In Maine, Gay Marriage is losing narrowly, down 3.2% with 60% of the votes counted. If gay marriage loses out it will continue an unbroken streak of gay marriage losing in every state in which it has been voted on. This vote is close, but it is a heat check for the gay marriage movement, which has made progress in courts and legislatures, but evidentally not as much progress with the voting public, even in purple-blue Maine.

Also in Maine, a proposition to expand the availability of medical marijuana appears headed to an easy win, continuing a nationwide trend of decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana.

On the ballot in Washington is a civil union law which is a essentially "gay marriage without the name". In early returns, the measure is losing by 9% with 23% of the votes counted.

One correction from earlier -- I had said that Mary Norwood appeared headed to win the Atlanta mayoral race. However, Georgia election laws require an outright majority to avoid a run-off. She is leading comfortably, but appears to not be headed for 50%, meaning she will face a run-off with second-place finisher Kasim Reed.

In Other News....

David Bing wins re-election as Detroit Mayor. I don't know the race, but winning re-election in a city as much as a mess as Detroit is is impressive. Detroit Mayoral races are non-partisan.

Mary Norwood appears headed for a victory as Atlanta Mayor, significant probably only in that she will be the first white mayor of Atlanta in over 25 years.

Democrat Luke Ravenstahl easily wins re-election as Pittsburg mayor.

Bloomy for a Third Term

Major news outlets have called it for Michael Bloomberg. He leads by 5% with 96% of the votes in. Obviously, this makes an impossibility for him to lose.

Congratulations to Mr. Bloomberg.

So far we have a clean sweep for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. It looks like NY-23 is the Democrats one hope to salvage something out of these off-year elections.

That race and the Maine gay marriage ballot initiatives are the only items left to be decided.

By the way, thanks for your support and readership tonight. We've already had more site visits tonight than we've had in many months.

I'll stick with you until the remaining races are decided.

Hoffman Now a 10:1 Dog

It may be that it is not to be for the tea-party movement in NY-23. The betting odds are crashing on Conservative Hoffman (aka anyone other than Owens.) There are votes to be counted before we call this one, but it is clear that the late polling did not fully reflect Scozzofava's endorsement of Owens in the race. Congressional races are notoriously tough to poll and call, this race was particularly turbulent and the news broke late -- all recipes for potential surprises.

In the official count, Owens still leads by 3% with 64% of the vote in, meaning that Hoffman would need to win by approximately 8 to 9% in the rest of the votes to win.

Interesting stuff.

By the way, does ANYBODY actually believe that President Obama is not glued to a TV watching election returns? Puh-leeze.

Owens Leads by 3 with 54% in, Bloomberg Winning Close

In what would be the shocker of the night (and the only blemish in the GOP sweep), the Democrats may pick-up a House seat in NY-23. It's far from over, but with 54% of the vote in, they maintain a 3% lead. What a crazy race this has been -- pure fodder for political junkies like me.

Michael Bloomberg looks like he will probably win, leading by 3% with 89% of the votes cast. But I think everyone is shocked at the close margin in what looked like a very safe re-election race. Maybe hypocracy does have a price.

Gay marrriage is winning narrowly in Maine with just a small percentage of the vote in.

What Did We Miss?

My projections in both the Virginia and New Jersey Governor's races, while I picked the right candidates, both seem to have been off by somewhere from 3 to 5%, both in the same direction (too favorable to the Democratic candidate.) I think the reasons may wind up being very New Jersey it appears at first blush that a last-second Daggett fall-off (as I alluded to in my first post today) may have broken Christie's way. In Virginia, I don't know if low turn-out or faulty polling models caused the error, but it is worth assessing.

Being off by 3 to 5% is a big deal, when you consider that President Obama won pretty widely and that was only a little over a 7% margin.

Lots of data to pour over.

But for now, we've got some races still to watch.

CNN & AP Call It for Christie

It's officially over on all fronts, time for some acceptance and concession speeches. The GOP will own two more Governor's seats.

We'll shift focus to Maine, NY-23 and the New York Mayoral race going forward.

Mr. Corzine, I Won't Miss You

You failed to deal with the corruption and bueracratic mess in New Jersey. You failed to address meaningful tax reform. You represent all of the worst parts of the Goldman-Sachs wing of the Democratic Party. You failed to earn my vote. And now you are out of office.

I'm no Chris Christie fan, but I can't say I'm sad at this result.

This one appears to be over, even if the major networks are playing it safe so far.

Congratulations, Mr. Christie. Two for two for the GOP so far.

Star-Ledger Calls It For Christie

No word from the major networks yet, but the New Jersey Star Ledger has projected Chris Christie the winner in New Jersey

Corzine at 50:1

The betting odds keep getting longer and longer on Corzine as more votes come in. Did I miscall this one as closer than it was? We'll see....

It Looks LIke It's Over in NJ

71% of the vote in, Christie leads by 6%, math says Corzine needs to win the balance of the votes by 21% to win. This looks *almost* insurmountable. I'm not ready to call it quite yet, but it is certainly getting closer.

Bergen County a Dead Heat

Bergen County is almost dead even so far, with Christie leading by 1%. This is one of those key swing counties I spoke of earlier. Christie still leads by 6% state-wide with 64% of the vote in.

New York 23 definitely looks to be shaping up to be much closer than most thought, with Bill Owens still showing a 7% lead with 19% of the vote in.

The New York Mayoral race looks closer.

So it looks like Virginia held to form, New Jersey may still and New York may be the wlid card.

We'll keep watching.

McDonnell's Margin Looks to Be Bigger Than Predicted

Maybe Democrats, virtually assured of a loss, stayed home. Maybe the polls undersampled Republicans and Independents. Either way, it looks like Bob McDonnell is headed to a more sizeable victory than the 13-14% that most, including myself had been predicting, possibly winning by 17%, 18% or even 19%. Not an error of massive proportions, but one that I will certainly have to analyze and try to understand next week.

Early returns in NY-23 look surprisingly favorable to Owens..but it is early, so I'm not drawing any conclusions.

Christie continues to lead with more and more votes counted in New Jersey. If Corzine is going to close, he'll need to start soon. He would need to win the remaining votes to be counted by about 16% to pull this one off.

Corzine Down to 7:1 Dog

He continues to crash in Intrade. The numbers tentatively seem to support a Christie win, but don't be confused by the current results -- this is a very close race. Camden County will boost Corzine when it comes in. Christie may well win, but certainly his odds are not yet 7 in 8 based on the data I've seen so far.

Tracking for a Close Race in New Jersey, No Real Word on NY-23 or Maine

Christie 50%, Corzine 44%, Daggett 5% with 58% of the vote in. But nothing from Camden County, which will go for Corzine big time. And nothing from Burlington County, which will be a swing district. This is going to be a late, late call, but nothing to disuade me from my prediction of a very close Christie win yet.

No real vote counting yet in NY-23 and Maine, but I'll keep looking.

It Looks Pretty Good for Christie -- I Think

(1) Christie is up by over 9% of the vote with 35% of the vote in
(2) Daggett is pulling in less than 6% at this point

Still hard to get a breakdown, but Christie seems to be marginally winning the swing counties where data are available. Daggett being down means that it is likely that more anti-Corzine voter broke his way.

No conclusions to draw yet and I still expect a close race, but on the little information we have, it looks good for Christie so far.

Early Results in Our Swing Counties in New Jersey

This is raw data, so take it with a grain of salt, but here is how a couple of swing counties in New Jersey are looking:
No results yet from our big three, but we have on fairly complete report from a swing county:
Gloucester Counthy -- 84% reporting, Christie by 3%

Gloucester County exactly reflected the statewide results in 2005, so if this holds in 2009 and this lead holds in Gloucester county, Christie would win by that same 3%.

That's a lot of ifs, but it supports the theory of a close Christie win.

Christie Leads Early

4% of the votes counted in New Jersey and Republican Chris Christie leads Democrat Jon Corzine and Independent Chris Daggett by 55% to 38% to 6% respectively (1% for all other candidates.) I still can't get to county-by-county results, so I can't tell you what this means.

Corzine has plummeted the past hour in online betting, falling from a 3:2 favorite a couple of hours ago to a 3:2 dog in trading right now. These wild swings in one day indicate to me that betters may be chasing ghosts more than results, although it may imply that some people have been able to analyze the returns so far and that it doesn't look favorable to Corzine.

Stay tuned.

What's Up with the NJ Board of Elections?

Polls have been closed in New Jersey for almost an hour and they don't have results up on their web site. News channels are starting to report results, presumably from reports calling in results from local precincts, but there is no reason that New Jersey shouldn't have live results posted.

Looks like with 1% of the vote in that Chris Christie is up by about 11%. I don't have the county-by-county breakdown, so it is very hard to draw any sort of real information out of this.

I'll keep you posted.

Virginia Called

As of 8:01 PM, Bob McDonnell has won in Virginia, projected by CNN. I said earlier to expect it within the hour and it happened. Well, that race was good for 61 minutes of entertainment.
The only thing left to do is to look at the margin and see how I did from a prediction standpoint.

On to New Jersey, where polls have just closed. News on that race as soon as I have it.

Some Quick Math....

Bob McDonnell's lead of 62.9% to 37.0% or a 25.9% lead with 26.2% of the vote in in Virginia, this means that Deeds would need to win all of the rest of the votes by a combined 9.9% in order to hold the Governor's mansion in Virginia for the DEMs. That doesn't sound totally impossible, but it's pretty tough for a guy who has been trailing in the polls by double digits and who is watching election returns come in more or less as the polls would have predicted.

4 minutes until the polls close in New Jersey...more to come.

McDonnell Still Leads Big, Corzine Odds Still Surging

With 12% of precincts reporting, Bob McDonnell still holds a wide lead in the Virginia Governor's race, 63.8% to 36.1% for Creigh Deeds (0.1% for write-in candidates.) Still not much from Nothern Virginia, but it is early and the math is already getting extremely hard to even imagine a way that Deeds could potentially win. Expect some network projections within the hour.

In New Jersey, Jon Corzine is still surging in the betting odds, now trading at better than a 3:2 favorite. Reports of high voter turnout (contrary to my personal experience) and a high number of absentee ballots (which have raised a few eyebrows in a state with a history of political corruption, although there is as of yet no evidence of anything amiss.)

Stay tuned...

Early Virginia Returns -- McDonnell Way Ahead, Nothing from NOVA Yet

With 4.5% of precincts reporting in, Bob McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds in the race for Virginia Governor by a margin of 65.6% to 34.4%. This margin will likely get more narrow as they are no votes recorded yet for the 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts in Northern Virginia, typically the Democratic stronghold in the state.

Still no network projecting a winner.

I still feel about right with my projection from last night.

30 minutes until polls close in New Jersey.

McDonnell "Leading" in Exit Polling, But No Call

I thought I'd seen it all in terms of election projections after the 2000 Florida debacle, but this is a new wrinkle. The polls now being closed 22 minutes in the State of Virginia, the major networks ar enot yet calling the race for Bob McDonnell the Republican but are stating that exit polling is showing him "leading".

I'm not sure what any of this means....if you are "leading" after an election is over aren't you projected to win?

I'll go ahead and project McDonnell the winner, as I have been, but maybe it is modestly good news for Democrats that the margin may be smaller rather than larger if the networks aren't ready to call it yet. Or perhaps they are just gun shy.

36 minutes until polls close in New Jersey.

County Interals from 2005 in New Jersey and How to Assess in 2009

Since New Jersey seems sure to be the closest race of the night, let's take a look back at the 2005 returns and look for clues as to what to watch for tonight.

In 2005, Jon Corzine won 55% of the two-party vote. Since he needs 50.1% of the two party vote, we'll focus on the counties where he won close to 55% of the vote 4 years ago to look at the counties that will likely tip the balance this time.

In 2005, Corzine handily won the following counties(with at least 60% of the vote):

These counties will be interesting only in the MARGIN of victory as he is likely to carry them all again.

In 2005, he LOST the following counties:
Cape May

He will almost certainly lose these again.

Which leaves us with the swing counties and Corzine's %'s from 2005:
Salem -- 51%
Burlington -- 53%
Atlantic -- 55%
Gloucester -- 55%
Bergen -- 57%
Middlesex -- 59%
Mercer -- 59%
Cumerland -- 59%

Mostly South Jersey counties are the swing counties. Of these counties, Burlington, Middlesex and Bergen are the big ones, together representing over 25% of the votes cast in 2005. Pretty much, whoever wins the three counties will win the election. I'll be analyzing the returns through this filter -- who is winning the key swing counties?

I would do a similar analysis in Virginia if I thought it mattered. Hampton Roads is usually the key to Virginia in close races, but let's face it, Virginia is not looking close this year.

Stay tuned -- 48 minutes until we start counting votes.

Betting Odds on the Move

Movements in the betting odds can reveal interesting information about a race on the day of an election. They are not always accurate -- John Kerry's odds spiked in 2004 after Matt Drudge leaked early and ultimately incorrect exit polling results that showed him way ahead, but they are one of the many tea leaves we can read until we start getting the actual vote counts.

Here is the latest on each race:
New Jersey -- since this morning, Jon Corzine has jumped from a 1.1:1 underdog to almost a 1.4:1 favorite. Clearly the late money is betting on Corzine. Is this just long-time watchers predicting another late left turn in New Jersey or do they know something?

Virginia -- steady as she goes. Bob McDonnell is still a 110:1 favorite.

New York-23 -- Hoffman (or, to be precise, anyone other than Owens) is up to a 9:1 favorite (from 2.3:1 yesterday). The late money is going to the conservative insurrection in this fascinating race.

New York Mayor -- Michael Bloomberg is still predicted to be very safe -- 24:1 favorite with no movement in the odds today.

65 minutes until the polls close.

Election 2009 -- Strap In and Enjoy the Ride

Okay, it's not the excitement of 2008. It's not even the fun of a congressional mid-term. In fact, many of you didn't even have an election to participate in today. But this site is here to cover elections, and this is as good as it gets this year.

So let's gear up and enjoy what we have to talk about tonight: two governor's races, a couple of congressional special elections and some interesting ballot initiatives.

Polls start closing soon and as soon as they do, I'll be analyzing the returns, looking at the projections and doing everything that I can to keep you informed.

All I can tell you about so far is my own election experience.

I voted at Marlton Elementary School in New Jersey this morning. I went early, around 6:45 AM. There was no line and only a couple of other people there voting -- anecdotal evidence of potentially low turnout, I was thinking, although this was hardly a statistically significant sampling.

As I entered the booth, a twinge of doubt entered my mind as I hunt for Chris Daggett's name on the Governor row, thinking as I found it buried amongst columns of people I'd never heard of, "he won't win -- shouldn't I just vote for the lesser of the two evils among Corzine and Christie?" I then thought about who I would vote for among those two, and quickly came back to the same conclusion that I did months ago...that I couldn't pull the lever for either. I pushed the Daggett button, voted the down ticket races, voted on a couple of unexciting ballot initiatives (one was about preservation of green areas in New Jersey, another a question on whether to move municipal elections from May to November), pushed the record button and left the booth.

I left with a few thoughts:
(1) I wonder how many other potential Daggett voters walked in the booth, had the same doubts and ultimately voted for Corzine or Christie? This is the sort of thing that pre-election polls just can't measure.
(2) Is turnout really going to be low? If so, does this foretell a Christie win?
(3) How is it that in the greatest nation on Earth, we still don't have an effective back-up mechanism for electronic voting machines? I have no physical evidence my vote was counted and if the memory card in the voting machine that I used died, there would be no way to recover my vote. I renew my call for electronic voting systems with a paper back-up record in case of failure.

Much, much more to come tonight, folks.

Buckle up and enjoy...this is as good as it gets for political junkies this year.

Coverage on New Jersey, Virginia, New York and Maine upcoming.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Election 2009 -- A Viewer's Guide

Let's get right down to predictions, the predictions of others and what to look for tomorrow night as we assess the "mini-midterm" elections for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey and the wild special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District.

First, the backdrop: these races do have national significance, at least to the extent that they reflect the mood of pockets of the country (in this case, the purplish state of Virginia, the blueish state of New Jersey and the purple-red New York 23rd), but are overblown in their coverage for no other reason than that we don't get any other actual voter data until next year, when we have 10 times as many Governor's races and 435 times as many House races, as well as 30-some Senate races.

So, let's not overhype this too much -- these elections matter, but they are not life-changing for the parties.

Having said this, let's get down to the analysis.

Let's begin with Virginia, by far the easiest prediction of the night:
Polls by leader: McDonnell 6, Deeds 0, Even 0
Poll Averages with Rasmussen (without Rasmussen)
Unweighted Average: McDonnell +14.0% (+14.2%)
Sample-Weighted Average: McDonnell +13.8% (+14.1%)
Median: McDonnell +13.5% (+14.0%)
Average of Averages: McDonnell +13.8% (+14.1%)
Final Prediction: McDonnell 57.0%, Deeds 43.0%, Likely GOP Pick-up

What Others Are Saying:
RealClearPolitics Prediction: McDonnell +13.4%
Intrade Odds: McDonnell is a 110:1 favorite

The Intrade odds seem a little excessive to me (I would say 40:1 or 50:1 would be fair, but if I were betting, I might lay $10 on Deeds to take a longshot at $1,100), but it should be an early night in Virginia.

Things to watch: Basically this one just comes down to who has the best polling methodology -- is it Survey USA at McDonnell +18%? Or perhaps Research 2000 at McDonnell +10%? Which averaging methodology works best? Does McDonnell win by closer to 13.5% or closer to 14.2%? No drama in results here short of some type of massive disruption at the polls or foul play -- Bob McDonnell becomes the next Governor of Virginia.

Next, let's move to New Jersey.
Polls by leader: Christie - 3, Corzine - 2, Even - 0
Poll Averages with Rasmussen (without Rasmussen)
Unweighted Average: Christie +1.0% (+0.5%)
Sample-Weighted Average: Christie +1.3% (+0.6%)
Median: Christie +2.0% (+0.5%)
Average of Averages: Christie +1.4% (+0.5%)
Final Prediction: Christie - 45.0%, Corzine - 44.1%, Daggett - 10.9%, Lean GOP Pick-up

What Others Are Saying:
RealClearPolitics Prediction: Christie +1.0%
Intrade Betting Odds: Christie is a 1.08:1 favorite

That's right folks, after weeks of predicting that New Jersey would tilt back blue and ultimately go for Corzine, I'm predicting a Christie win, albeit by a seriously slim margin. The scenario of a late departure to Corzine putting him over the top is certainly possible, but we have very good, recent, polling data available here that does not point to a pending surge. All indications are that this one is going to be a squeaker either way and the statistical evidene says that Christie is more likely than not to win, although by no means assured. The betting odds seem about right, although faced with those odds, I'd be inclined to lay $108 on Christie to win $100.

Things to watch:
(1) Voter turnout -- high is good for Corzine, low is good for Christie. Corzine needs all those new Obama voters to show up in an off-year -- the GOP stalwarts almost always show up.
(2) The Daggett effect -- how many voters dump Daggett late for another candidate? History has shown times where Independents get dumped at the last minute when it is clear they can't win. But will these voters abandon Daggett and if so, who will they vote for?
(3) Ballot Burial -- New Jersey's pro-two party balloting laws bury Daggett amidst a bunch of nobody independents that litter the ballot, while the top two candidates get top billing. This could cost him votes, but again, to where will they go?
(4) Suburban South Jersey -- Newark and Camden will vote for Corzine, the rural northern and central part of the State will go for Christie...but where will the greater Cherry Hill area vote? That's the swing part of the state and will probably tip the election.

This is THE race to watch tomorrow night, and I'll be watching closely.

Finally, to New York-23, where we simply don't have good data to make a statistically-based call. Two days ago, Republican Dede Scozzafava suspended her campaign. Yesterday, she endorsed Democrat Bill Owens.

We have one poll, taken today by Siena that took place after both of these developments. It shows Conservative Candidate Doug Hoffman 41%, Owens at 36% and Scozzafava (who is still on the ballot), showing up at 6%. It appears that the Scozzafava voters (who are mostly Republicans and Republican-leaners, after all) are breaking somewhat more for Hoffman than Owens. 6% of people are either protesting or didn't get the memo that Scozzafava is out.

I can't make a mathematical prediction, but from this little bit that we do know, this certainly appears to continue to be a Lean GOP Hold. On the betting odds below, I'd still bet on Owens. I expected Hoffman to win, but 2.3 to 1 is reasonably long odds for such a turbulent race.

What Others Are Saying:
RealClearPolitics: No prediction
Intrade Betting Odds: Hoffman is a 2.3 to 1 favorite (actually "anyone but Owens" is the 2.3:1 favorite, but for all intents and purposes, that means Hoffman at this point.)

If you live in Virginia, New Jersey or New York's 23rd Congressional District or even if you just have local races to contend with, please vote, regardless of your political stripes. I do my best to project races, but in the end, real votes count, not my predictions. Let your voice be heard!

And tune in to this site for coverage of election night 2009.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scozzofava Out -- What Are The Implications?

Republican nominee Dede Scozzofava has suspended her campaign in the lone federal office race next week, New York's 23rd congressional district. Recognizing that her election prospects were looking increasingly dim, with polls showing her in third place in a three-way battle with both a Democrat and a Conservative party candidate, Scozzofava yesterday released her supporters although stopped short of endorsing Conservative Hoffman, who has surged in the polls following high profile endorsements from national Republicans.

The conventional wisdom is that with Scozzofava out, most of her support will go to Hoffman, who was already at or close to even in the polls and put him over the top, to become the first Independent elected to the House since Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont left the House to become a Senator (although it appears highly likely that Hoffman would, for all intents and purposes, be a Republican once elected.)

The conventional wisdom may be right, but there is also a possiblity that Scozzofava supporters will look at Hoffman as too conservative. We likely won't get polling to tell us.

I'll leave this one a Lean GOP Hold for now.