Saturday, February 27, 2010

Unfinished Business: Why the President Just Can't Get Away from Health Care, Holding Steady Near the Zero Line, How Much Trouble is the President In?

On the Summit and the Health Care Issue
Seems like years ago that we heard about how President Obama was going to aggressively pivot away from health care and on to economic issues and jobs. It was only a few weeks ago and the President made it pretty clear in his State of the Union speech that jobs were priority one. He didn't even mention health care until the second half of his speech. Even liberals in congress were talking about taking a break from the issue that has consumed all of their political capital since the stimulus bill passed early last year.

Yet, here we were last week, with a much anticipated, televised discussion of health care between the President and Congress. It went pretty much to script. Both sides were (relatively) cordial, but the battle lines are clear. Democrats want comprehensive reform this year. Republicans want an incrementalist approach, consisting mostly of things that have to do with cost containment (tort reform, purchase of insurance across state lines) and little to do with expanding access. Simply put, there is a seemingly unfixable ideological divide between the GOP and the President on this issue. But then, we already knew that.

The summit strikes me, while fascinating political theater, as largely cover to start the reconciliation process. No one had any real expectation of a deal, both sides were too dug in. This allows the President to say, "look, see, I tried to work with the GOP, but they wouldn't play ball, so I took action anyway." House and Senate Democratic leaders have already been talking about how to make the reconciliation process work.

In many ways, the Democrats are in far worse shape on this issue than if they had simply decided to go at it alone from the get go. What bill is going to get a majority of votes coming solely from a scared-shitless Democratic caucus is unclear. There are all the issues that had to be navigated when the first bill passed, the Blue Dogs, the anti-abortion Democrats and the liberals who want a bigger bill. Pile on top of that Democrats that are now highly fearful of losing in November and it's hard to hold onto what was only a 4 vote majority for a bill last year.

So, the Democrats still have a tough road to parity unity on this issue, even if they are ditching hopes of a compromise with the GOP. So, the question remains, why does the Democratic party remain so focused on this issue that for the most part has brought them nothing but pain over the course of the past year?

Because they must. It would be the ultimate sign of failure and dysfunction in the Democratic party to fail to do ANYTHING with control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency on the signature issue that the President laid out last year. You could certainly argue in retrospect that this was the wrong issue to pick in a time of painful unemployment, a damaged financial system and two active wars still underway, but it's an academic question at this point -- the DEMs are committed. If they get a bill, they may well lose a lot of seats in Congress. But if they fail, then they have given the American public NO reason to vote for them and will likely get run out of town from the right AND the left.

So, they trudge on. Prepare for the partisanship in Washington to get even worse as the Democrats plot to cut out the power of the filibuster and ram a bill through with Dems only. But let's not forget, that's how President Bush's signature tax cuts became law.

Not Much New in the Polls
President Obama's approval remains about where it has been all month, with a narrow plurality of people approving of his job performance. He will once again post a decline in his numbers in February, continuing a long downward slide from the highs when he took office.

What to Do to Fix the Obama Administration
It's time to talk seriously...President Obama is in trouble. Sure, he still has slightly more people that approve of his performance than disapprove. Sure, President Clinton had a rough first year, then pivoted to the center mid-way through his term and won in a relative blow-out in 1996. Sure, President Reagan looked to be in big trouble after year 1, then saw the economy boom and won in one of the biggest landslides of the modern era in 1984.

And yes, the President may benefit from a better economy by 2012. But he would be foolish to assume that this will be his sole path to re-election. The President needs to take corrective action, as President Clinton did. Here's some starting points.

#1 Admit There is a Problem
Everybody already knows that your administration isn't getting things done the way many had hoped. You haven't communicated well to Congress. Several of your cabinet secretaries, including Ray Lahood, Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano have had high-prfoile slip-ups of either form or substance. The stimulus didn't keep unemployment under 8%, a claim that you never should have made.

So, let's loose the smug coolness and show a little contrition and vulnerability. Yes, we've made mistakes, but we're committed to doing right by the American people, you should say.

#2 Make Some Changes to Show You Are Serious
Obama is a loyal guy and he actually reminds me of former President George W. Bush in that he seems very hesitant to cut a man (or woman) loose, even when it is clear to others that (s)he isn't cutting it. Your team needs a shake-up. I might start with Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs. Get some better communicators in there.

Then, take a close look at the rest of your cabinet and decide who is helping. Arne Duncan is a keeper. So is Hillary. Tim Geithner? I'm not so sure.

I'm not saying throw anybody under the bus, but you need to get the best people if you are going to survive.

#3 Take on Your Own Party on Some Symbolic Issues
Have a photo op with the GOP backing school vouchers and push for a bill. Endorse a GOP plan for a revenue-neutral gas tax increase. Show that you are not the puppet of Pelosi and Reid.

#4 Be Bold on Your Issues
Issue that executive order on Gays in the Military TODAY. Make a moral issue out of eliminating too big to fail.

#5 Advertise Better
Do you know how much better things are going on the ground in Afghanistan? Nobody does. Because the President isn't talking about it.

Scott Brown -- Not a Tea Bagger
Newly minted Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) showed his real commitment to independence and bi-partisanship by crossing the party line to vote for a $15 billion package of tax cuts aimed at small businesses that hire unemployed workers. The entire process for the bill was an exercise in all that is broken with Washington, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) undercutting a bi-partisan effort on a jobs bill by introducing his own package and then the GOP largely voting in lock-step against an idea that they had previously endorsed. Brown walked the line by rightly criticizing the process while refusing to vote against a bill that contained ideas that he supported. Good for him. And more evidence that he is the product of moderate Independent anger, not some Glenn Beck inspired movement.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is a Train Wreck Coming for the DEMS? Site Update

The Hits Just Keep on Coming...
It would be hard to put on a set of lenses partisan enough to find any good news recently for the Democrats relative to their prospects in November. Races continue to slide to the right on our rating scale and a takeover of both houses of congress is more and more feasible every week for the GOP. Here are the latest updates.

Rating Changes
We have six rating changes, all good for the GOP, bad for the DEMs.

Indiana -- as I mentioned in my last post, Evan Bayh's departure tips this race red. It moves from Lean DEM Hold to Lean GOP Pick-Up. A lot depends on candidate choice for the DEMs here.

Washington -- moves down from Safe DEM Hold to Likely DEM Hold as Patty Murray is polling surprisingly poorly, barely reaching 50% in hypothetical match-ups.

Oregon -- seemingly untouchable Ron Wyden (D) is now not completely out of reach. He is up 14% in the latest polling. This race moves from Safe DEM Hold to Likely DEM Hold.

North Dakota -- put a fork in this race unless Hoeven gets caught in a nasty scandal. He leads by 35%+ against all the Democratic sacrificial lambs. This one moves from Likely GOP PIck-up to Safe GOP Pick-up.

Missouri - Roy Blunt leads by 7% in the latest polling, moving this race from Toss-Up to Lean GOP Hold.

Louisiana -- Vitter holds a very comfortable 24 point lead in this race. The race moves from Likely GOP Hold to Safe GOP Hold.

Reconfirmed Ratings
Pennsylvania -- Toomey up by 8 to 9% in the latest polling. This remains a Lean GOP Pick-up.

California -- Boxer leads Carly Fiorina by 4 points. Still a Lean DEM Hold.

Wisconsin -- Feingold still trails marginally if ex-Gov. Thompson decides to run, leads by a fair margin otherwise. Stays a Lean DEM Hold.

New Hampshire - Ayotte still up 7. Stays a Lean GOP Hold.

North Carolina -- a weird race, as incumbent Burr leads by 10-12 points against prospective challengers, but also sports a 35% approval rating and over 25% of voters are undecided. I leave it a Lean GOP Hold for now, but will obviously keep an eye on it.

State of the Senate
This leaves us with....
Safe DEM Hold (4)
Connecticut, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Vermont
But are there really any safe DEM seats this year?

Likely DEM Hold (3)
Washington, Hawaii, Oregon

Lean DEM Hold (2)
California, Wisconsin

Toss-Up - DEM Controlled (3)
Colorado, New York (GIllebrand), Illinois

Lean GOP Pick-Up (5)
Arkansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana

Lean GOP Hold (6)
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Missouri

Likely GOP Hold (4)
Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Kansas

Safe GOP Pick-Up (1)
North Dakota

Safe GOP Hold (8)
Louisiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Projection: GOP Pick-Up of 6 to 9 Seats
Best Case GOP (all leaners): GOP +11 Seats
Best Case DEM (all leaners): DEM +5 Seats

It certainly seems, given the trend, that the GOP best case is more likely than the DEM best case, but you never know what might shift opinion by 5 points. The GOP has a clear path to a 50/50 split in the Senate and a couple of different ways to get to 51/49. And if it was a 50/50 split, who else thinks it is likely that Joe Lieberman would decide to switch allegiances?

The House
Our average of averages on the generic ballot question puts the GOP at +1.8%.

This projects: GOP +35 Seats
Interestingly, in some rare good news for the DEMs, this is the first time in several weeks that my projection methodology does NOT predict a GOP takeover of the House. But it is still darn close to the even line.

Site Update
I hadn't given you an update of site traffic lately, so here are the latest numbers:
October 2009 - 191 visitors
November 2009 - 353 visitors
December 2009 - 127 visitors
All of 2009 - 2,606 visitors
(note: this excludes the first 25 days of January, as site visitor tracking was only set up as of January 26th)

January 2010 - 253 visitors

You will note that site traffic typically peaks in months where an election occurs. November is the highest of the past 4 months with the New Jersey and Virginia Governor races and the New York House special election happening within that month. In fact, we had 131 visitors on election day alone. In January, the Massachusetts Senate election drove an increase in traffic, although we saw less of a spike as I was not live-blogging for that race. I regret not having tracking up in November 2008 as it would be interesting to see what the traffic was like during a Presidential election.

Thanks for your supporting...I hope this site is informative and thought provoking. As always, I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Obama Slide Continues, Evan Bayh is Out and No Democrat is Safe, No Courage on Gays in the Military

First, loyal reader, let me apologize for the absences of posts for the past week and a half. I was traveling on business, followed by some great R&R in Florida, which included a trip down to Daytona for the 500 (where Sarah Palin briefly spoke, incidentally.)

First order of business....I had not updated my Presidential Approval tracking charts in this space on several weeks, so let me give you the latest updates.

Since January 12th (my last publication of these charts), the President has moved both down and up in approval, but the trend is definitely still downward. He crossed a psychologically significant threshold on February 7th and 8th when his disapproves exceeded his approves for the first time in his Presidency. He has since crossed back into narrowly positive territory, but it would be hard to read his current numbers as good for being only 13 months into his Presidency.

His monthly numbers (which smooth out the bumps in daily polling) show a modest decline in January. This marks 12 out of 13 months in his Presidency where his numbers have declined, with September 2008 being flat. He has yet to post an approval increase in any month. February is on trend to post decline number 13.

Evan Bayh Retiring -- Another Lean GOP Pick-Up
The title above pretty well captures my thoughts -- with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) retiring after this term, this is another seat that you would have to favor the GOP to win. Bayh was highly popular in a red-leaning state (although Obama won Indiana in 2008, it was by a 7 point closer margin than the vote as a whole and John Kerry lost by a huge margin in 2004) and the Democrats are now without a candidate and unlikely to find one with much star power. Seems like every week these days brings more bad news for the Democrats 2008 prospects. The possibility of a GOP pick-up of the Senate has gone from unfathomable to far-fetched to entirely possible. It is still more likely than not that the DEMs will retain at least the 48+2 seats they would need to hold control, but the GOP scenarios for victory continue to become more plausible.

On substance, Bayh's departure was essentially a shot at both sides on capital hill. It is frankly rare to hear a retirement announcement so candid. He forwent the usual nonsense about wanting to spend more time with his family and instead ripped into the excessive lack of bipartisanship on both sides of the aisle and took shots at what he views as misaligned priorities in the Democratic party.

Some on the left have simply said "good riddance" to the moderate Indianan, who was never on board with pushing an economically liberal agenda. But the loss of any moderate is a sad day in my book. The Democratic Party needs centrists who will check the Pelosi wing of the party with some populist common sense. And moderates seem to be becoming more and more rare on both sides of the aisle, which probably has contributed to the collapse in bipartisanship more than anything else.

Gays in the Military -- An Absence of Leadership
The senior officiers in the military are is time to allow openly gay members of the military to serve without fear of retribution. Dick Cheney is on board. The Israeli Army -- a fiercely effective force from what is hardly a socially liberal company, has made this policy work for over a decade now. Three quarters of Americans rightly support changing the policy.

But there is no courage. Shame on John McCain for reneging on his pledge 10 years ago to support a policy change when senior military officials supported the change. But far more important, shame on President Obama for not taking action. Proposing that Congress change the law is well and good, but there is no reason for the President to hide under Congressional cover. He could stop prosecutions of gays tomorrow by executive order. Don't gays deserve the same consideration as medical marijuana users? How many more Arabic translators do we need to fire because of this outdated policy? How about a little leadership, Mr. President?

I'll update my Senate race projections in full in my next blog.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Some Welcome Jobs News, RIP John Murtha, Craig Becker Goes Down

When 9.7% Is Actually a Good Number
The news reports are somewhat confusing, but make no mistake about it - the Bureau of Labor Statistics release that showed that the unemployment rate in the US dropped from 10.0% to 9.7% is extremely good news.

Let me deal with the confusion in the news reports. It arises from the report fact that while the unemployment rate fell in January by it's largest amount in years, jobs actually shrunk by 20,000.

The conclusion that one might jump to if you have been following these statistics, is that the only way that this could happen is if a large number of workers became discouraged and stopped looking for work, as the unemployment rate only counts those who are actively looking. Such a phenomenon happened a couple of months ago when the unemployment rate fell from 10.1% to 10.0% but jobs declined. This would not be good news -- fewer jobs and more people quitting the workforce is bad on both fronts.

But this is NOT what happened in January. The so-called "underemployment" rate, which counts those unemployed, those who have looked for work in the past 12 months but are not employed and not presently looking (sometimes called those "marginally attached to the workforce", includes discouraged job-seekers and those who have forgone employment for other reasons) and those who are working part time because they cannot find fulltime work actually fell as well. Those who were working part time because they could not find fulltime work declined from 9.2 million the 8.3 million. Those "marginally attached" number was constant at 2.5 million. Those officially categorized as "unemployed" fell from 15.3 million to 14.8 million.

All told, the "underemployment rate" declined by even more than the official "unemployment rate", dropping from 17.6% to 16.8%, a huge 0.8% decline.

So how exactly is this possible if we lost 20,000 jobs?

The answer lies in the source of the data. The unemployment numbers come from surveying real people about their employment situation. The job creation (or destruction)number comes from surveying businesses about their hiring. While it is impossible for either survey to be 100% accurate -- they are polls after all, both are extremely extensive and have very low margins of error. But the so-called "establishment survey" that looks at job creation has one flaw that causes it not to pick up a nascent recovery as early as the so-called "household survey" which measures unemployment. The establishment survey cannot and does not adequately survey small businesses. It is far harder to measure employment creation at a single-owner convenience store or a small restaurant than it is at Google or GM. Job recoveries generally begin with small businesses, not the Fortune 500, and the establishment survey therefore lags reality in terms of projecting a recovery. The household survey does not have this flaw as people are randomly surveyed, regardless of what the size of the company that they work for is.

So, make no doubt about it, the January unemployment release is the most encouraging sign for the job market since the start of the recession. We are a long way from declaring prosperity -- almost one in ten people is still officialy unemployed, over one in six still underemployed, worse than at any point from in the 25 year period from 1983 to 2008.

But signs of life in the job market and the surest sign yet that we are in a real recovery. Let's hope the trend continues.

John Murtha, In Memorium
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has passed away from surgery complications at the age of 77. While the House does not have the same tradition as the Senate of having "fixtures", John Murtha is certainly the closest thing to a Ted Kennedy in the House. For 36 years, an astonishing 18 terms, he represented Pennsylvania's blue collar 12th district.

Murtha was a tireless advocate for the working class and an unapologetic liberal. A Vietnam vet, Murtha was perhaps best known in recent years for being at the forefront in openly calling for withdrawal from Iraq from very early on.

Murtha was a divisive figure, even within the Democratic party. He unsuccessfully fought for the Majority Leader post when Democrats took the House in 2006, losing out to the more moderate and cerberal Steny Hoyer (D-MD). He was labeled as the "king of pork", unapologetically bringing home more earmarks than any other congressman almost every year. He also made waves in the 2008 Presidential election for calling some of his own constituents racists and stating his belief that they would not vote for a black candidate.

In spite of all of this, Murtha was liked in PA-12, winning with 58% of the vote last November in a district that split evenly between McCain and Obama, implying it is 7% more conservative than the nation as a whole.

This GOP +7% dynamic creates another headache for Democrats. By state law, a special election must be held relatively soon (within 70 days of the vacancy being officially declared.) At this point, it appears likely that the special election will take place May 18th, to align with the Pennsylvania primary, although it is not entirely clear that the vacancy can be "slow-walked" long enough to make that date possible as it would require a vacancy to be declared no earlier than March 9th, a seemingly absurd situation since the former incumbent is no longer living.

Either way, the race is expected to be extremely competitive, and one would have to give the early edge to the GOP, given the GOP +7% dynamic and the overall national mood. Put simply, if President Obama couldn't win this district last November, in a political climate much more favorable to the left, this one seems like a pretty good bet for the right. Of course, candidates matter and who the two parties pick will weigh heavily on the nature of this race.

Craig Becker Fails at Filibuster
President Obama's latest nominee for the 5-member National Labor Relations Board has failed to clear the Senate, with a vote to end a GOP filibuster failing to reach the required 60 votes. The procedural vote was 52-33 in favor of breaking the filibuster, 8 votes short of the 60 required. Moderate Democrats Ben Nelson (NE) and Blanche Lincoln (AR) joined all of the present Republicans in voting no, including newly sworn-in Scott Brown (MA), who was casting only his second vote in the Senate. 15 senators missed the vote including 4 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders. Even with their votes, the DEMs were clearly 3 votes short as they had no GOP support and lost 2 Democrats.

Becker was clearly strongly to the left on labor, consistent with the President's own leanings. He has consistently put strongly pro-union appointees into labor positions, starting with Hilda Solis. It is not surprising that Democrats in right-to-work states would have some concern over a very pro-union appointment. It is somewhat surprising that they would join a filibuster, especially considering Nelson's previously stated belief that filibusters should be reserved for extreme cases. I guess everyone has implicitly agreed that you can't do anything in the Senate without 60 votes.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Latest 2010 Rundown

We are 269 days from general election night in the 2010 mid-terms. Here is the latest run-down.

Since my last full update, I'd already documented 3 individual race changes: Indiana and Wisconsin moving from Likely DEM Hold to Lean DEM Hold with Evan Bayh in a surprisingly close polling race against potential GOP challengers and Feingold actually slightly trailing potential challenger Tommy Thompson and Delaware moving from Toss-up to Lean GOP Pick-up with Beau Biden not running on the Democratic side, leaving the party no strong rival for popular At Large Rep. Mike Castle (R).

We have 2 new updates to add to that list, 1 favorable to the GOP and 1 favorable to the DEMs.

Illinois moves from Lean DEM Hold to Toss-up following Mark Kirk's win in the GOP primary and a subsequent Rasmussen poll showing him leading the race by 6%. One close poll is not enough to swing this race to the GOP, but this one is clearly up for grabs.

Nevada moves from Likely GOP Pick-up to Lean GOP Pick-up - Harry Reid has experienced a quiet, partial resurgence and is trailing the two potential GOP challengers by a range of 6 to 8% in recent polling.

We have also seen a number of polls confirming our current race ratings in states including Colorado, Arkansas, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Kentucky.

This leaves us with the following state of the race:
Safe Democratic Hold - 6
Connecticut, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Washington

Likely Democratic Hold - 1

Lean Democratic Hold - 3
California, Indiana, Wisconsin

Toss-up - Dem Controlled - 3
Colorado, New York (Gillebrand), Illinois

Toss-up - GOP Controlled - 1

Lean GOP Pick-Up - 4
Arkansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Delaware

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

Likely GOP Pick-Up - 1
North Dakota

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 Pick-up of 4 tp 8 Seats (Central Projection +6)
Best Case GOP (all leaners): GOP +11 Seats
Best Case DEM (all leaners): DEM +5 Seats

For the first time in this election cycle, I can actually envision a scenario where the GOP could retake control of the Senate. It's still a very long shot -- it would require them winning all the toss-ups and picking off at least 1 of the 3 Lean DEM holds - Indiana, California or Wisconsin. But it is within the realm of possibility.

Of course, with the momentum behind the GOP, everyone is ignoring the other possibility -- that the race could break back to the left before November. The GOP stands to make big inroads in the Senate today, but there are many, many competitive races and as you can see from our "Best Case" scenarios, the difference between the GOP having a 52 to 46 majority in the Senate and them being relegated to a 62 to 36 minority is just a few percentage points nationally.

If the Democrats did not have an inherently favorable map (they would argue with this, but I'll explain), this might be a far worse situation for them. The way the election cycles have worked however, with their big gains coming in 2006 and 2008 and the 2010 race essentially a replay of the races from 2004, which was a more favorable year to the GOP, the GOP has more turf to defend and less targets to go after than they will in the next two Senate cycles.

Of course, if Democrats can lose Massachusetts, be trailing in Delaware, be even in New York and only slightly leading in California, no map can solve that problem. They are going to have to rediscover at least a little mojo or we could see a real shift on election night.

Our latest average of averages in the generic ballot question shows the GOP at +3.9%. Based on my statistical modeling this implies:

GOP Pick-up of 44 Seats

So at a high-level, I continue to project the GOP to narrowly retake the House in November, although the issue is certainly far from decided.

Since it is very difficult with 435 House races happening simultaneously, I have never attempted to do a race-by-race rundown, but it is worth looking at the reports of those who do. The Cook Political Report is one of the best sties at tracking race-by-race dynamics in House races. Cook currently lists 113 Hosue races as competitive, 24 controlled by GOP members and 89 currently controlled by Democrats. Of those 113 races, he has them rated as follows:
Likely DEM - 37
Lean DEM - 27
Toss-Up - 22
Lean GOP - 10
Likely GOP - 17

So if those ratings were to hold, it would imply a GOP Pick-up of 3 to 25 seats in November.

Of course, the challenge in this is that it is extremely hard to get recent, accurate polling in ANY House race, let alone 113. The "Lean" races could easily shift in either direction and even the Likely races could actually be a lot closer. Cook does a great job trying to document everything, but to a large extent, there is a heavy lag in these numbers. Cook is also well known to be very conservative in his calls - not ideologically mind you, but rather slow to shift races away from the incumbent party -- for instance, he still had the Brown/Coakley race listed as a "Toss-Up" going into election night, when we were solidly projecting a Brown win.

The high end of Cook's range is a feasible scenario -- I could certainly see the GOP "only" picking up 25 seats if the elections were held today. The low end, seems unfathomable in the current environment.

At any rate, the GOP stands to gain as things stand now, the debate is simply over how much.

Double-Witching 2012
Every 4 years, we elect a President in this country. Every 10 years we take a census, which reapportions House seats to the states, thereby leading to all the legislative districts being redrawn, as well as shifting the electoral vote count between the states (since electoral votes are determined by number of Representatives plus Senators.) Therefore every 20 years we have the "double-witching" effect of a Presidential race coupled with the newly redrawn map form the census.

The last time this happened was 1992 and it will happen again in 2012. These races can lead to a high-degree of change as you have generally high voter turnout for a Presidential election coupled with new faces in Congress due to the combination of existing districts and the creation of new districts.

2012 is still a long way away, but it's just interesting to note that although 2010 is shaping up to be a very significant election in terms of political change, 2012 has all the elements to change the game even more.

Next Up -- Assessing the newest unemployment report and what it means, as well as our regular update on Presidential approval

Friday, February 5, 2010

GOP Gives Itself a Shot in IL, Democrats in Disarray on the Hill, On Rahm Emanuel and Things Retarded

Illinois Primary Voters Speak - A Win for Moderates
This past week's Senate primary results in Illinois lend a couple of clear messages to me:
#1 The "Tea Party" Movement is a Red Herring
Scott Brown was never a tea bagger. He was always a moderate conservative, a guy opposed to the Democratic health care plan and worried about runaway spending, but a social moderate and a pragmatist in the best sense of the world. His victory was never a victory for the tea party movement, it was a victory for the GOP and the voices of those who feared a Democratic party with unfettered power.

The tea party did co-opt the Republican Party in New York's 23rd Congressional District this past year, shoving aside GOP nominee Dede Scozzofava in favor of conservative hero Doug Hoffman. The result? They managed to lose a district that is more conservative than the nation, in a year where the country was ready to check the Democrats, letting Democrat Bill Owens slip in with a narrow win.

And this past week in Illinois, the sensible middle spoke again, as moderate Mark Kirk smacked down tea-party hero Patrick Hughes by 37 points to take the GOP nomination for the Illinois Senate seat once held by President Obama and now held by scandal-plagued Blago appointee Roland Burris.

The tea party movement is a joke, a concoction of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and some of their most radical, most Obama-hating friends. They have no platform and no message other than opposing government run health care programs because they might take away people's Medicare (huh?)

This is not to say that anger or at the very least, deep concern, over the proposed policies of the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party isn't real. It is very real. No serious person could read the election of Scott Brown any differently. But it's the vast middle that is driving the shift, not the nut cases on the right, who wouldn't back Obama if he changed his name to Ronald Reagan and started watching the 700 Club.

#2 The GOP is In It to Win It
Part of the choice of Mark Kirk is ideological, part of it is pragmatic. Hughes would have lost, and badly. Kirk is a live contender. This race is a true toss-up right now. The GOP has dreams of taking back the Senate and they are showing a willingness to put up moderate candidates in places like Illinois and Delaware to get there. It may not be enough to clear the massive hurdle of 10 seats, but they are clearly playing for keeps, not just to make a point.

While I've devoted most of the virtual ink to the GOP primary, it is also worth noting that State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis won the Democratic primary the same night by a surprisingly narrow 5 point margin against former State Inspector General David Hoffman.

Polling in the heads up match between Kirk and Ginnaoulis is very tight and we'll keep an eye on how the race develops now that the candidates are decided.

Franken Irate, Health Care Going Nowhere, What Jobs Bill?, What the Hell Is Going On?
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) reportedly had an irate outburst with White House staff in a closed-door session with Senate Democrats this week over the lack of a strategy, particularly around health care. He has a point.

Nobody has presented any sort of real viable plan to do anything this year. Sit back and wait is not a strategy, unless the strategy is to hope people forget you spent the last year on this and move on.

The touted Jobs Bill appears on a road to nowheresville. I'm sure a package will ultimately pass, but Senate Democrats appear to be unable to even say what is going to be in a bill, with some even indicating that they might pass some small business tax cuts now and work the rest out later. Really? And this is different from the GOP being in

The Democrats seem to be in utter disarray since Brown's win, which is amazing, because it came on the heels of their strongest display of unity yet, the passage of the health care bill through the Senate. One election really changed all of this? Apparently so.

If Democrats can't find a way to govern with an 80-seat majority in the House and an 18-seat majority in the Senate (that's right, 59 minus 41 equals 18), then they deserve to go down in November. What we are witnessing right now is pretty pathetic.

On Rahm Emanuel
GOP talking heads, including former Alaska Governor, sometimes Fox News analyst and possible Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, have been calling for Rahm Emanuel's ouster following the revelation that he called liberal groups who would campaign against Democrats opposing health care reform "retarded".

It may surprise you to find out that I agree Rahm Emanuel should be fired. Just not for the same reasons.

is the GOP serious? You get fired for saying retarded in a closed-door meeting? Didn't John McCain call Korean's "gooks" in 2000? Didn't they defend Trent Lott apparently advocating segregation at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party? "Retarded" is THAT much further over the line?

Don't get me wrong -- Emanuel was wrong to say it. It is unsightly and mean-spirited. But, Christ, the guy has apologized to just about every developmentally disabled group he can find. Does anybody ACTUALLY think he was talking about developmentally disabled people? If he'd called the liberal groups "developmentally disabled" would it have been just as bad? Are we really that whiny of a nation?

This is NOTHING like Harry Reid's statement, of which I was highly critical. Reid's statement smacked of racism, or at the very least, an utter lack of understanding of the past 40 years. Emanuel's statement doesn't reveal some deep-seated hatred of mentally handicapped people, it was just a poor choice of words from a guy who is famous for poor choices of words.

So why do I think Emanuel should be fired? Because he has been a mess. He is divisive, sets a horrible tone in his dealings with the hill and has managed to simultaneously divide Democrats and unite Republicans. He represents all of the wrong parts of Chicago politics, he is not a true believer in the Obama agenda and as a tactician, he's been ineffective. Obama needs a guy that can get things done on the hill. That clearly hasn't been Rahm.

More Senate updates coming soon....stay tuned.

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