Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Scorecarding the MA Senate Race -- How'd I Do?, Did the Whole Game Just Change?

Results Versus Projections
So, the votes are counted, other than a few stray overseas absentee ballot and we have a clear picture of how well I projected the Massachusetts Senate result.

First, the obvious, I got the ultimate outcome right. Unlike many political sites, such as the highly reputed Cook Report, which simply rated the race a "toss-up" going into Tuesday, I always make a projection, regardless of the closeness of the margin. And we were right again. Combine that with getting the end result right in the New Jersey and Virginia Governors races this past November and going 48 for 50 in calling state results in the Presidential race, as well as nailing dead on the popular vote margin in 2008 and I think this site has a track record that rivals any political expert in terms of projecting elections over the past two years.

Now, on to the specifics of Massachusetts. Below are the actual (unofficial, but verified) vote percentages from Massachusetts versus my final projections:
Scott Brown: Actual 51.9%, Projected 50.8%, Error = 1.1%
Martha Coakley: Actual 47.1%, Projected 47.1%, Error = 0.0%
Joe Kennedy: Actual 1.0%, Projected 2.1%, Error = 1.1%

Note that the projection was exactly correct on Martha Coakley's vote percentage and that the error on the other two candidates was entirely due to Joe Kennedy receiving less than half of the statistical projection and those votes going to Scott Brown. If you re-read my blogs leading up to the election, I noted that minor independent candidates almost always poll better than they actually do...I even reasoned that Kennedy might lose about half of his support on election day. I also noted that it stood to reason that late departures from the Kennedy camp would favor the Republican over the Democrat. You can't statistically project that type of phenomenon, but I've seen enough of these elections to detect the pattern.

So, all told, I think I did extremely well in projecting an extremely difficult race to call, given all the rapid-moving dynamics and the inherent difficulty in projecting a special election.

I feel much better about these results than I do in the New Jersey and Virginia Governor's races, where the results were correctly projected, but the margin in both was off by just over 3%.

Time to Rethink the Whole Agenda?
While the result in Massachusetts was not unanticipated in most political circles, you could feel the ground shift as the results were called.

Democrats were calling for starting over on health care. Republicans possessed a swagger that they haven't had since early last decade. Centrist commentator Mort Zuckerman, who supported President Obama last November, blasted the President for the lack of openness, the ugly deals cut on health care and the general tone of his administration.

I'm reminded of a frequently used phrase in Washington: elections have consequences. And this election appears to be having broad-reacihng consequences.

Democrats have wisely ruled out ramming a bill through congress before Brown takes office. House Democrats have ruled out passing the Senate bill. This means, effectively, back to the drawing board. Are they even going to try for a bill? If so, what will it take to win over Olympia Snowe? Will they go just far enough to get to 60 or go much smaller and hope to win 70 or 75 Senate votes? What of the rest of the President's agenda? Will the Senate even debate Cap and Trade? Is immigration reform anywhere on the horizon? What of the budget for next year?

The direction of debate will largely be shaped by the President's State of the Union address next week. For a man who rose to power in large measure on the prowess of his powers of communication, this is THE most important speech of his career. Bigger than his 2004 DNC speech. Bigger than his speech on race. This speech will set the course for the next year of his Presidency and beyond.

In that vein, here is my unsolicited advice:
(1) Talk about deficit reduction
I've harped on this for months...the administration has not, as of yet, presented a credible deficit reduction program in any way shape or form. It has been accurately noted that Independents, who Obama won big with in November 2008 but who turned to a little-known State Senator named Scott Brown yesterday, tend to be socially liberal but fiscally conservative. They want stem cell research, abortion rights and don't so much mind gays in the military, but they detest runaway spending and deficits. Also, more than anything, they despise harsh partisan rhetoric and backroom deals.

The President can't solve the deficit in a speech. And the solutions are ugly...raise taxes, reform entitlements, cut social programs, cut the military, etc. But the President CAN support Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) sensible proposal for a non-partisan deficit reduction commission that would come back with a proposal to curb the deficit that Congress would be required to give an up or down vote to, as a whole. This process worked when military bases needed to be closed in the 1980s and 90s, and if you recall that era, there was no more contentious issue then. Giving full visible support to such a proposal would be a big win with independents and would garner bi-partisan support in Congress.

(2) Move quickly on the easy, bipartisan parts of health care. A bill to prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions, allow the purchase of insurance across state lines and to set up exchanges for the uninsured, that allowed reimportation of perscription drugs and that provided some modest tort reform could pass with big GOP support. The President could finally get the bipartisanship that he has been promising but utterly failed to deliver on.

(3) Refocus on jobs and fast. The elements are in place to drop unemployment. The problem is, Mr. President, people don't think you are working on it. Talk about what you are doing. Talk about the green energy economy. Talk about productivity investments. Make people believe that you #1 care and #2 are competent to do something about it.

(4) Advertise a little. Tell people about the 4 million kids who have health insurance that didn't when you administration took office. Talk about the troops coming home from Iraq. Talk about the credit card protections for consumers that you have put into place.

Have we entered a new era of gridlock or the dawning of a new age of bipartisanship?

I fear the former but hold out hope for the later. The President must take the first step, but the GOP will have to be willing to play ball as well.

If you like this site, tell your friends.

No comments: