Saturday, January 16, 2010

Massachusetts and Beyond, Presidential Approval Continues Slow Slide, Health Care Slogs Along, Haiti Relief - A Donation Worth Making

2010 Updates - A Very Unusual Year
Is the Senate race in Massachusetts a DEM blow-out, a GOP blow-out or a pick 'em race headed into next Tuesday? It all depends who you believe.

There have been two conflicting polls released in recent days that illustrate the danger of using numbers from partisan oriented polling firms in projecting races. A poll released yesterday by PJM/Cross Target, a Republican-affiliated polling firm, showed Republican Scott Brown with a shockingly large 15 point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley. The same day, a Democrat-afilliated Blue Mass Group poll shoed Coakley with an 8 point lead in the same race. A 23 points spread on two polls trying to measure the same race on the same day? And it just happens that the Democratic poll has the Dem leading big and the GOP poll has the Republican leading even bigger? Please, stop insulting our intelligence.

Back in the real world of neutral polls, this is a pick 'em race. The two last credible polls that we have are a Suffolk poll showing Brown at +4% and a Rasmussen poll showing Coakley at +2%, both released this week. Both Suffolk and Rasmussen are legitimate, neutral polling firms. The Rasmussen poll has a 1,000 voter sample size, with the Suffolk poll having a 500 voter sample size, which gives more weight to the Rasmussen poll in our aggregation method. I typically like to have at least 3 recent polls to make a good statistical projection, but going with what we have, Brown would have the slimmest of leads.

This is clearly a pick 'em race, not a blow-out in my books.

Massachusetts moves from Lean Democratic Hold to Toss-up.

I don't project toss-ups going into election night, so I WILL be making a projection soon as to the final outcome of the race, based on whatever data I have at that point.

In the November Senate races, there are multiple changes, most of them bad for the DEMs. Let's review the states with new polls.

California -- a new Rasmussen poll shows incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer leading business woman Carly Fiorna by only 3%, in what would've been a walk for the DEMs a year ago. California moves from Likely Democratic Hold to Lean Democratic Hold.

Nevada -- Harry Reid is in big, big trouble bag home. A January 14th Rasmussen poll shows Reid down by 12 to 14% versus likely GOP challengers and a January 8th Mason-Dixon poll shows him trailing by 8 to 10% against the same challengers. Nevada moves from Lean GOP Pick-up to Likely GOP Pick-up.

North Dakota -- with incumbent Sen. Byron Dorgan retiring, it appears the Democrats will lose his seat. Hoeven leads by 21 to 25% against likely Democratic opponents, according to a January 15th Research 2000 poll. Based on those numbers, this is starting to look like a safe bet for the GOP, but we'll hold it one notch short until we see another poll. North Dakota moves from Lean GOP Pick-up to Likely GOP Pick-up.

Connecticut -- the one piece of good news for the Democrats is that with Chris Dodd out of the way, his seat is probably the safest in the Senate for Demcorats to retain. A January 14th Quinnipac poll shows Blumenthal with amazing leads of 35 to 42% against likely GOPers. This race stays a Safe Democratic Hold.

New Hampshire -- more confirmation that Ayotte has a small-to-moderate lead. A January 12 Rasmussen poll shows her at +9%, largely agreeing with a January 7th ARG poll that showed her at +7%. This one stays a Lean GOP Hold.

Ohio -- continued evidence of a narrow GOP lead here. Portman is up 3% in a January 12 Rasmussen poll. This stays Lean GOP Hold.

We don't have new polls yet in Missouri and Pennsylvania, so they stay where they are, but I would say my current ratings, particularly in Missouri are probably suspect, given the national trend since the last polls we have.

All of which leaves us with:
Safe Democratic Hold (6)
Connecticut, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin

Likely Democratic Hold (3)
Indiana, Wisconsin, Hawaii

Lean Democratic Hold (3)
New York (Gillebrand), Illinois, California

Lean Democratic Pick-Up (1)

Toss-Up -- Democratic Controlled (3)
Massachusetts*, Delaware, Pennsylvania

* Special Election, January 19th

Likely GOP Pick-Up (2)
Nevada, North Dakota

Lean GOP Pick-Up (2)
Colorado, Arkansas

Lean GOP Hold (5)
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona

Likely GOP Hold (5)
Georgia, Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Florida

Safe GOP Hold (7)
Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Net Projection: GOP +3 to 6 Seats
Best Case GOP (all leaners): GOP +10 Seats
Best Case DEM (all leaners) DEM +4 Seats

We still have a wide range of possible scenarios that could happen by November. And as it should be with ten months to go before the election. But it definitely continues to trend GOP as the President's numbers slip and Democrats keep falling all over themselves.

The GOP needs a gain of 11 seats, assuming Joe Lieberman continues to caucus with the DEMs, in order to regain control, so we still don't have a scenario for GOP control of the Senate, although we are getting closer.

In the House, polls continue to show varying scenarios, but my aggregate number has actually been relatively stable.
The latest read: GOP +4.0% on the generic ballot
Projection: GOP +44 Seats

The GOP needs 40 seats to regain control, so for the third time in a row, I'm projected a GOP takeover of the House, at least at this point.

President Obama -- A New Low in Poll Numbers

President Obama's numbers have slipped a little over a point since the new year as you can see from the poll trend below, bringing him to a new low for his Presidency. There were a slew of new polls released this past week, so the averages are pretty strong, based on a very broad sample.

The trend shows up in the President's monthly numbers, which now stand at +3.6% approve minus disapprove for the month of January, also a new low. The President's numbers have declined every month but one in his Presidency.

So is there any good news for Democratic enthusiasts in these numbers? A little. The President, while at a low for his Presidency, is still modestly above the zero line, which means there are still slightly more people who approve of his performance than disapprove. And when you run for re-election, you don't need to win by much, you just need to win.

Secondly, there is some reason to be optimistic that likely improvement in the economy between now and November will bolster his numbers. Still, these numbers are bad for this stage in the Presidency.

While there has been an ongoing debate between the competing schools of thought that "all politics are national" and "all politics are local", the truth is that all politics are BOTH and that weakening numbers for Obama are no doubt having an impact on Senate races, including the Massachusetts toss-up that was considered a walk by everyone just a few months ago.

Health Care - Everything is Complicated Again
As negotiations continue between the White House and Congressional leaders to come up with a consolidated health care bill that can pass both Houses, a deal has been struck on the tax on high benefit plans that was a part of the Senate bill, but was opposed by some House Democrats, who feared it would impact benefits of union workers. The compromise? Exempt union plans from the tax.

This is a bad compromise, an agreement that is both fundamentally unfair (why should union members get tax treatment that is different from non-union members with the same benefits?) and also takes the teeth out of what was probably the one good piece of cost containment in the bill. These types of bad deals seem like par for course lately in a divided Democratic party.

The Coakley/Brown race further complicates things. If Brown wins, he is Republican #41 in the Senate, which shatters the fragile 60 vote coalition that the Democrats had put together to get the first bill passed. This upset, if it happens, would leave the Democrats with several options:
#1 Just have the House pass the Senate bill -- this appears to be a non-starter according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, since the Senate bill contains the Caddy Tax we discussed above. But if the Brown upset happens, perhaps her stance will soften and she will push the bill through with the agreement that a later bill would deal with provisions that House members don't like.

#2 Hurry up and pass something before Brown is seated -- it will likely take at least 10 days to certify Brown the winner, possibly more if the race is extremely close and a recount is needed (recall the months it took to seat Al Franken in the bitterly contested Minnesota race last year) and the Democrats could try to pass something before Brown takes office. This would open them up to brutal criticism -- after all Massachusetts Democrats changed the law to allow a temporary appointment in the Senate and using that vote to circumvent the will of the Massachusetts people to ram through a bill that is unpopular in the polls would make for some easy GOP ads in November. It would, however, be a legal move and Democrats might just bite the bullet to pass a bill, but it would be a dangerous move for sure.

#3 Recruit Olympia Snowe -- Senator Snowe voted the bill out of committee and it would be hard to argue that the bill isn't more conservative now than it was then. Senator Snowe voted against the bill on the floor the first time around, complaining the Democrats were moving too fast, but she should have had plenty of time to think and read by now. Still, will Senator Snowe really want to be the deciding vote for such a massive Democratic accomplishment?

#4 Use Reconciliation -- this option is very messy as only portions of the bill could be attached to a process requiring only 51 votes in the Senate and could lead to an incomplete bill taking effect, but if all else fails, Democrats may seek this nuclear option. Of course, they still need 218 votes in the House, which is no slam dunk, but they may consider this to avoid the disaster of nothing passing.

This bill obviously isn't a done deal yet and we will all have to stay tuned.

Haiti -- Worth Our Giving
If you have a heartbeat, you can't help but be touched by the awful destruction in Port au Prince, Haiti, following a massive earthquake that may have killed as many as 100,000 people.

One of the most inspiring features of American culture has always been our willingness to give in times of need. Americans give more money to charity, in absolute dollars, in percent of income, by any measure you like, of any people in the world.

An aid is needed. Economic times back home are tough. But what we face is nothing compared to the grisly mess faced in Haiti. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to help.

I urge all readers to give. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have teamed up to organize aid efforts. The unity these two are showing in the face of the crisis should tell you that this relief effort has nothing to do with politics. What is needed is money to help dying, starving, threatened people.

Please, please, go to:

and give whatever you can to the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund. If all you can afford is $10, still give it, that $10 could be the difference between a Haitian living and dying.

I have no affiliation with the fund.

Thank you for reading and thanks in advance for your generosity.

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