Monday, May 31, 2010

The Obama Bump - It Held But May Be Ending, Update On The Site

The President's Best Month Since January, But the Rise Has Ended
By the polling data, President had his best month in May (note: there will be one more day of data included in the final numbers, but I don't anticipate them changing by more than a tenth of a point to what is published here) since January in terms of absolute approval numbers, with an approve minus disapprove of 3.6%. In terms of trend, it was his best month ever, with a 1.9% improvement over the April numbers, his first statistically significant improvement of his Presidency (his only other increase was from August to September of 2009 but it was less than 0.1%.)

A somewhat more positive jobs picture and the fading of some of the passion of the opposition to health care reform contributed to the President's bump for the month.

But more near-in polling indicates that the party may be over, at least for now. In a technical sense, the President's current number dipped below his monthly average on May 23rd and basically stayed there (with one point even with his average in between), indicating a lower start to his averages for the month of June. In a political sense, the continued (if somewhat overblown) controversy surrounding Joe Sestak and public disapproval of the government's handling of the gulf oil spill appear to be weighing on the President's numbers. His trend the past couple of weeks are below.

The President faces what I would call an empathy gap at the moment. President Bill Clinton was renowned for his ability to connect with people on an emotional level. In fact, perhaps his most famous words were "I feel your pain". President Bush, too, seemed able to connect with people in a crisis. I still remember his words at Ground Zero when he shouted into a bullhorn, after hearing that some of the workers gathered there couldn't hear him, "well, I can hear you...and the people who did this will be hearing from all of us soon." President Obama, in spite of his famously sweeping and inspiring speeches, seems as of yet unable to connect with people emotionally as a President. During both the Gulf Crisis and the ugly recession he has, at times seemed aloof, professorial and not particularly emotional.

Whether these things SHOULD matter or not is academic...they DO matter. Leadership is as much about inspiration as it is doing the technically correct things. And the President clearly has a gap in the inspiration department at the moment.

How The Site Is Doing
I haven't published a traffic history for this site in a while, so I thought I'd let you know how we are doing. Below is the monthly visits to the site every month since February 2009 (the first month for which I installed a counter and began keeping records.)

February 2009 - 235 Visits
March 2009 - 257 Visits
April 2009 - 221 Visits
May 2009 - 210 Visits
June 2009 - 366 Visits (Note: Ad posted on
July 2009 - 216 Visits
August 2009 - 171 Visits
September 2009 - 140 Visits
October 2009 - 191 Visits
November 2009 - 353 Visits (Note: Election for NJ & VA Governor)
December 2009 - 127 Visits
January 2010 - 253 Visits (Note: MA Senate special election)
February 2010 - 121 Visits
March 2010 - 339 visits (Note: Final votes on health care reform)
April 2010 - 171 Visits
May 2010 (through May 30th) - 174 Visits

Total Visits Since Feb 2009: 3,545
Total Visits Last 12 Months: 2,662

What I glean from these numbers is that the typical range for our site during non-political season is between 150 and 225 visits but we clearly see significant increases in site traffic during major elections and other political events. The current all-time high for site visits is 154 on March 21st, the date of passage of health care reform in the House of Representatives, but I suspect that will be surpassed on election night 2010. I also suspect that although I did not have the counter up in 2008, our true all-time high was probably on that election night.

Thank you for reading and for your support. Hopefully I can continue to provide insight and analysis that you find interesting, valuable and provocative.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

What a Mess in the Gulf, Kagan Hearings Set for July, At Long Last Some Action on Gay Rights, Another Incremental Jobs Bills

An Inept Response All Around
We are now over 40 days into the spill on a BP rig in the gulf that is spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean every day and the sad reality is that we appear no closer to solving the issue than we were on day one.

The so called "top kill", an effort to pump heavy mud and solid material into the well to stem the flow of oil has failed and the next plan is a custom fitted cap to limit (but likely not eliminate) the flow of oil while a relief well is dug, which will take at least until August to complete.

Don't expect a full resolution to this spill, already the largest in United States history, until at least August or September, which means that this spill may wind up being 4 to 5 times larger than the horrific Exxon Valdez spill a generation ago. To make matters worse, while the Valdez was devastating to the Alaskan coast, the economic, social and ecological impact of a spill in the gulf is far worse. The entire gulf coasts economy will be impacted in huge ways: fishing will be badly damaged for at least a decade, tourism to the beaches will be destroyed and all of the dependent things in the local economy (fish processing, hotels, restaurants, you name it) will be devastated. The ecological damage will be immense, destroying scores of natural wildlife under suffocatingly thick oil. This is, to put it simply, quite possibly the worst ecological disaster in United States history.

And still the oil flows on. And I'm left with the question why?

I take a very simple view of this. There are only two possibilities. The first possibility is that regulations were utterly inadequate to prevent such a spill or to ensure that a contingency plan was in place to quickly solve it where it to occur. The second possibility is that the regulations existed but were not followed. In reality, it is probably a mix of those two categories, but the more information that I find out, the more it supports the first theory.

I'd never even heard of the Minerals Management Service prior to this spill, but the obvious coziness and outright corruption of that organization has now become clear. How is it possible that it did not require back-ups to a valve failing on oil rig designs? Can you imagine a nuclear power plant that wasn't required to build a back-up system if one part failed? How on Earth did inspections not reveal this kind of risk? The head of the MMS has been fired and that is a good start, but it is utterly insufficient. We basically have a complete failure of a regulatory scheme and a need to start over, with new people and with new authority. I'd start by replacing Ken Salazar, a nice guy who seems to care deeply about these issues, but not the kind of tough enforcer that you need to fix the broken system. Plus, what kind of message does it send if there is no accountability at the top in an instance like this?

The President has appeared weak-kneed and late to the game here. If BP didn't have a plan to quickly solve the issue, than the government should have. If it didn't, it should've been in their with all of its best resources, from day 1, running things. Where is the Army Core of Engineers? Where is the President's Science Advisor? Heck, where is the plan? Are we just going to try stuff and hope it works?

It has been speculated on the right that this is President Obama's Katrina. I'm not quite ready to go that far yet, but let's just say that I'm not at all satisfied with his handling of this crisis. It does not inspire confidence in how he would deal with a natural disaster like a hurricane. And my view of the supposedly smart people around him is heavily wounded.

Kagan Hearings to Begin in Late July
Elena Kagan's hearings to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court will begin in late July, according to the senior Democrats in charge in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans are already complaining that this gives them insufficient time to prepare, which is of course, utter nonsense, since they fully vetted Kagan less than 2 years ago as solicitor general, but as I've pointed out several times over the past few months, is a complaint consistent with a strategy of running out the clock on the current Congress in the belief (almost certainly correct) that the GOP will control more seats in the next Congress. They will complain and the hearings will go ahead anyway. Kagan will be confirmed, barring some unlikely previously unknown damning fact. Her vote totals will look a lot like the vote totals to confirm her for solicitor general (that vote was 61-31.)

Rumors have swirled around Kagan's sexual orientation, given her middle age and the fact that she has never been married. I have no direct knowledge of whether Kagan is gay or not, but can only say that if she is, I would love for her to come out of the closet and be a role model for gay Americans. I think it would be fantastic to have an openly gay Supreme Court justice. However, I don't even know if she is, in fact gay and if she is, she seems to have shown a preference for keeping those matters private, as should be her right.

Americans Worst Case of Employment Discrimination May Soon End
The House has finally voted, as part of the large Defense Authorization Bill, to end the awful, discriminatory and bigoted policy of "don't ask, don't tell" in the United States Military, following a full military review and sign-off by both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the President. The House Amendment passed with only 5 GOP votes and 26 Democrats voting no, despite the fact that new polling shows 80% of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly (although, out of fairness, I'm sure that the numbers if you polled the enlisted military would be far lower.)

The same day, the Senate Defense Committee agreed to a similar amendment to the Defense Authorization, with all Democrats on the committee voting for it, joined by Republican Susan Collins of Maine (thank goodness for those last two remaining Republican moderates in the US Senate.)

The road is certainly not over. The House has passed its version of the Defense Authorization Bill, but the Senate must still pass it's version, then both houses pass a reconciled conference report on the bill before in can go to the President for signature. Following that, the military review must be completed and the sign-offs from Gates and Obama take place before the policy goes into effect.

Because of the delay above, I renew my call on President Obama to show some leadership and suspend prosecution of gay members of the military until this work is completed. It is a crime that we continue to discharge brave members of the armed services for no other reason than being gay. And it is a crime that 4 out of 5 Americans, including the majority in some very red states, now recognizes as wrong. The American people are progressing their thinking a lot faster than Washington is.

Another Do-Little "Jobs" Bill
There is little question that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the Stimulus Bill) is the President's signature piece of economic policy in his first two years. A massive $787 billion collection of expenditures and tax cuts spread over the first three years of his term, is more or less defines his economic approach in his first term. The reality is that most of the spending associated with that bill, which has, in a lot of ways, faded from public attention, is yet to take place. Here are the latest stats on the spending associated with the bill:

Spending: $236B out of $499B (47% complete)
Tax Cuts: $163B out of $288B (56% complete)
Total: $399B out of $787B (51% complete)

That's right, the stimulus bill is just barely half executed. And it was designed that way, not just as a short-term shot in the arm (which is what people typically think about when they think stimulus), but as a multi-year, multi-tiered approach to driving economic growth. Big tax incentives on the front-end for things like Cash for Clunkers or the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit to spur sales of cars and homes. By the way, remember how everyone on the right said Cash for Clunkers simply pulled forward sales that would have otherwise occurred later an that the auto industry would be back in the doldrums after it expired? Checked the stats lately? Auto sales are now up 25% year over year WITHOUT the credit. So, it's hard to argue the effectiveness of the short-term incentives.

Tier two was infusions of entitlements and state cash to stave off massive state budget cuts that would drive unemployment and to put cash in the hands of the unemployed and needy that would immediately be reinserted into the economy driving growth. This stage has had mixed success, with states staving off cutbacks....until now that the money is running out. Perhaps the money served it's purpose by saving those cuts until the economy was on more solid footing, but there is no doubt that there are state budget crisis everywhere right now that have to be solved.

The third stage, which we are really now entering in earnest is about infrastructure spending. Road and bridge upgrades. Green energy programs. Things which create jobs but are also investments in the future of our economy. There is road work upgrading I-295 near me (a badly needed project.) Solar panels have gone up on light poles all around me, provided by private industry, but subsidized by stimulus funds. This is all good stuff, whether or not it is enough to immediately bring down the unemployment rate. In fact, my criticism at the time is that I wished far more of the bill were devoted to infrastructure spending (only $275B out of the $787B packaged was devoted to such items, scarcely over a third.)

So with a clear approach already laid out and in progress, why is congress passing silly little $48B (and yes, $48B is tiny in the scheme of our economy) jobs bills? Because they are trying to show that they are doing "something" about the persistent near 10% unemployment rate and the 8+ million jobs lost in the recession. The truth is that the latest bill, a collection of small tax cuts which is about 50% offset by some tax hikes, does little either way to impact the economy. But it looks like action. And as mad as people still are about unemployment, they want to show some action.

The latest "jobs bill" is a small aside that will be quickly forgotten. But, keep the faith, unemployment will come down. The fundamentals are returning to the economy, with economic growth taking place and good employment growth over the past two months, for the first time since the recession started. But it is now obvious to me that it will take a painfully long time to get down to an acceptable level of unemployment (I define "acceptable" as somewhere around 7%, "good" as somewhere around 5%.) We'll see if the American people have that kind of patience. I suspect not.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Complete Latest 2010 Rundown

Big changes have been brewing this month as the field is starting to be set for November, with several key primaries taking place. This has had several effects. First, it makes a lot of the match-ups more clear. Second, it focuses voter attention and has caused some shifts in the polls. There are lots of changes and new polls in over half the Senate races to analyze. So, let's get to it.

The US Senate
We have new polls in 21 of the races and 7 ratings shifts. First, the ratings shifts:

Arkansas -- Blanche Lincoln has been badly damaged by a bruising primary fight that she may not survive. She faces a razor-thin run-off. Looking at either outcome of the primary run-off, both Democrats trail by a range of 11 to 20 points. This race moves from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Likely GOP Pick-Up.

Colorado -- this race is one where the field is not at all settled. There are no less than 6 feasible match-ups and polls that range from DEM +6 to GOP +7. For now, I'm moving it from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Toss-Up. We'll have a much clearer picture after the primary.

Pennsylvania -- Joe Sestak has surged in the polls following his primary win over Arlen Specter, despite stories about the White House offering Sestak a job to step aside (honestly, if true, this would reflect badly on the White House, not necessarily Sestak, who clearly did not accept the quid pro quo.) The latest polls in the race range from GOPer Toomey +2 to Sestak +3. This race moves from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Toss-Up.

Nevada -- the Harry Reid money machine is working wonders out in Nevada. He has cut into the lead of both potential GOPers and now trails by only 1 to 3 points in latest polling. This race has bounced between "lean" and "likely" GOP pick-up all year, and, for now, moves back to Lean GOP Pick-Up.

Connecticut -- Blumenthal's bad case of foot-in-mouth disease over false Vietnam War service claims have cut into his lead, although it is unclear exactly how much. Polls released within the same week show his lead at 3 points (Rasmussen) and 25 points (Quinnipiac). I don't know which poll is more right, but the divergence is enough to demonstrate that the seat is, at the least, not completely safe. It moves from Safe Democratic Hold to Likely Democratic Hold.

New York (Gillebrand) -- no Guliani in the race, no Pataki in the race, no likely GOP winner. Gillebrand leads all comers by 25+ points in polling. Moves from Toss-Up to Likely Democratic Hold.

Florida -- Crist is a live contender as an Independent and leads in 2 out of 3 recent polls, with Marco Rubio leading in the other. This moves from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Toss-Up. Let me make sure to clarify that this is a toss-up between Independent Crist and Republican Rubio...Democrat Meek has virtually no shot in the race.

Other new polling not cause rating changes:
Illinois -- Mark Kirk is up 3 to 8 points in latest polling. Still a Lean GOP Pick-Up.

California -- Barbara Boxer is up 3 to 9 points in the newest polls. Still a Lean DEM Hold.

Washington -- Patty Murray is up 1 to 4 points in 3 new polls. Still a Lean DEM Hold.

Indiana -- former Senator Dan Coats is up 15 points in 1 new poll. The race stays a Likely GOP Pick-Up.

Oregon -- Ron Wyden is up 13 points in 1 new poll. Still a Likely DEM Hold.

Wisconsin -- Incumbent Russ Feingold is up 3 to 9 points against 3 possible opponents in a new poll. While this would put the race in the "lean" column versus the "likely" column if confirmed, it is one single poll and I generally do not moving ratings based on 1 poll unless they dramatically diverge from the existing rating. Accordingly, the race stays a Likely DEM Hold for now, but is definitely one to watch for changes.

Ohio -- DEMs are up 1 to 3 points in 3 new polls. Remains a Lean DEM Pick-Up.

Missouri -- Blunt is up 8 in a new Rasmussen Poll. Remains a Lean GOP Hold.

New Hampshire -- Ayotte is up 12 points in 1 new poll. Remains a Likely GOP Hold.

Kentucky -- possibly the most confusing set of polling out there, with one poll showing Paul up by only 1 point, another showing him up by 3 and a third showing him up by 25. Given the lack of consensus, I am going to leave the race a Likely GOP Hold, but this is another one to watch closely.

Arizona -- McCain is up 13 to 29 points in 2 new polls. Remains a Likely GOP Hold.

North Carolina -- another race with wide divergence as Burr leads DEM challengers by 1 to 13 points in 2 new polls. Similar to the other 2 races, this will remain a Likely GOP Hold for now, but I will continue to watch the polling for more clarity.

After all of that, we are left with:
Projected Democratic Holds (10)
Safe Holds (3)
Maryland, New York (Schumer), Vermont

Likely Holds (5)
Hawaii, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New York (Gillebrand)

Lean Holds (2)
California, Washington

Potential GOP Pick-Ups (8)
Toss-Ups (2)
Colorado, Pennsylvania

Lean Pick-Up (2)
Illinois, Nevada

Likely Pick-Up (3)
Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana

Safe Pick-Up (1)
North Dakota

Potential Democratic Pick-Up (1)
Lean Pick-Up (1)

Potential Independent Pick-Up (1)
Toss-Up (R vs. I - 1)

Projected GOP Hold (16)
Safe Hold (8)
Louisiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Likely Hold (7)
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Kansas

Lean Hold (1)

Which all leaves us with:
Current Senate: 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independents
Projected Senate: 49-51 Democrats, 46-49 Republicans, 2-3 Independents

Still lots of close races and lots of potential changes before November, but the Democrats are in modestly better shape than a month ago, although they still obviously stand to lose a substantial portion of their cushion. The Senate will operate very differently if the GOP has 46 to 49 Seats and the DEMs need to pick-up 6 to 9 GOP votes to break a filibuster versus the one today.

The House
Our average of averages on the generic ballot question has tilted modestly more blue in the past month and now stands at dead even, exactly a 0.0% differential. Because the DEMs have such a sizable majority, which would therefore still imply House GOP pick-ups.

Current House: 255 Democrats, 177 Republicans, 3 Vacancies
Projected House: 229 Democrats, 206 Republicans

Mid-point of the realclearpolitics projection (even split on toss-ups): 219 Democrats, 216 Republicans
Mid-point of the Cook Political Report projection (even split on toss-ups): 235 Democrats, 200 Republicans

So, at this point, no one is predicting a GOP win outright in November, though all of us, to a varying degree, are predicting GOP seat pick-ups.

Are things settling down or just getting started? I'm betting on the later, but we'll all have to find out together.

Lots of news to cover in my next blog including the gulf oil spill and the administrations reaction, the jobs bill, "don't ask, don't tell" and a Supreme Court update.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lessons from the Primaries and PA-12, 1 Easy Step to Squandering a Lead in Connecticut, Squeaking Through a Cloture Motion

What Happened Tuesday
Tuesday's primaries were interesting, although in my mind, none of the results unexpected.

First, and probably most significantly, Rep. Joe Sestak defeated incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for Specter's Pennsyvlania Senate seat. Poor old Snarlin' Arlen. A lifelong moderate, he realized earlier this year that a Republican Party that never really liked him all that much had shifted to the right and was finally ready to dump him. So, he switched parties and joined the Dems, amidst promises of support from the President and the Democratic Establishment. The only problem is, the President doesn't get to vote in Democratic Primaries in Pennsylvania. And the Democratic voters in PA couldn't find a compelling reason to vote for a guy that they had spent the last 24 years voting against in general elections. So, in place of a moderate, they nominated a liberal. It's a shame that the US Senate is going to lose a moderate at just the time when more moderate voices are needed (it will either have a liberal in Sestak or a conservative in Republican Pat Toomey), but it's not that unexpected.

In terms of the general election race, Sestak has surged in the polls since the primary and now holds a modest lead over Toomey. This certainly is shaping up to be one of the more competitive and interesting races of the 2008 cycle.

Secondly, the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th district provided a clear-cut victory for a moderate (some would even say conservative) Democrat over a conservative Republican. PA-12 is a difficult district to charecterize, having voted 8 points more Republican than the nation in 2008 but 5 points more Democratic than the nation in 2004. It is one of those districts in Appalchia where President Obama significantly underperformed, but has a large advantage for Democrats in party registration. It is a socially conservative district but economically more liberal. And there was a Democratic Senate primary going on in Pennsylvania that may have aided Democratic turnout. Combine all that and Democrat Mark Critz' victory on Tuesday was a modestly positive bellweather for the Dems, but not something that should automatically make them feel good about November. And it is a district that will have a rematch in less than 6 months. It is worth noting as well, that this is yet another loss for the tea party movement. The tea party has yet to have one of their own actually win a general election.

In Kentucky, the tea party did win a primary as libertarian Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for the Senate. This is a race that the GOP should win, but Paul presents some unique challenges. First, he has some pretty radical views, such as the view that the government should not require businesses not to racially discriminate. It is an honestly held belief, he doesn't believe in much government intervention of any sort, but still problematic. Secondly, he is not particularly in line with the social conservatism of Kentucky, favoring libertarian principles like marijuana legalization. But, this is Kentucky, one of the reddest states in the country. So, Paul will certainly be favored to be the tea party's first real general election victory, but this is not a lead pipe cinch.

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln, already in big trouble in the general election, is evidentally also in trouble from the left in the primary. She failed to get 50% of the vote and will face a very tight run-off.

3 senate primaries and not one establishment candidate with a clear cut victory. If there was any doubt that the voters are out for blood this year, this should seal the deal.

How to Blow a 40 Point Lead
If you have a 40 point lead in a Senate race in Connecticut, you just keep your mouth shut, stay on script and don't create any waves, right?

But what if you wanted to plot a way to blow that lead? Can you think of a better way then making false statements about being a Vietnam War veteran, when, in fact, you actively sought deferrments from being drafted?

Richard Blumenthal has managed to create a potentially competitive race out of one he was going to win in a walk. What an idiot. He may still win, he has a history of goodwill and popularity in a deep blue state. But telling offensive lies in a year when the voters are looking to throw out anyone that even resembles an incumbent is a good place to start if you want to lose.

Note: I will be publishing a complete updated 2010 rundown within the next week or so.

Really? A 60-40 Vote?
It took two tries and some arm twisting, but the Democrats were finally able to invoke cloture on the manager's amendment to move forward with the financial reform bill. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) opposed cloture as he felt the measure did not go far enough. The Maine Moderates, Sen's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both R) crossed the line to vote for the measure. Other than that, it was a strictly party line vote.

Is the GOP just following my strategy of running clock to get to the mid-terms or are they really going to oppose financial reform on final passage? I can't imagine anyone facing a re-election fight that is even remotely competitive would want to have a no vote on record. But I'm starting to wonder.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

After 16 Months of Rain, a Cloud Break?

I was looking through the latest polling of President Obama's approval today and I found something upward trend. Not a huge trend. Not a November 2008 kind of trend. But a trend none the less. A real, obvious trend upward in Obama's numbers. And after 16 straight months with steady declines, a trend upward is big news.

In the last 3 weeks, the President's approve minus disapprove has gone from +1.4% to +5.2%. A 3.8% rise is real and statistically significant. The trend line is below.

May isn't yet half over, but the President, unless the polling falls flat on its face in the second half of the month, is poised to post his first gain in approval since he took office. Monthly numbers below.

So is this the beginning of an upward trend? I've speculated about this many times before, only to see the President resume his downward slide. But this time feels different. Employers are hiring again. Consumers are spending. Sure, there is a Greek financial crisis that could ruin the EU and by extension, the US recovery. But, for now, people are slowly starting to regain faith that maybe the President made the right calls in an economic disaster.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. He is still polling significantly below his vote margin in November 2008 (+7.2%). That is the significant threshold that he must break through to demonstrate a real recovery in his popularity. Right now, he is convincing wavering Democrats. He needs to convince upset Independents.

Watch these poll numbers very closely over the next few months. If the President is below 7.2%, the Democrats will suffer the kind of big losses in the mid-terms that I have been projecting based on current poling. If the President breaks back through, the whole game could change. Washington and California would be out of sight for the GOP. Illinois and Pennsylvania would swing back to Democrat holds. Suddenly Ohio and Missouri would look like real Democratic pick-ups. The DEMs could be looking at 57, 58, 59 seats going into the next Senate, not 50 or 51. They could be looking at a comfortable majority in the House, versus a razor-thin win or loss.

But that's all IF the President continues his recovery. And that's a big IF. There are still sharks in the water of the economy and sharks in the water in Washington and on the campaign trail. But it is funny how quickly things always change in politics.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

The LDP Fizzle, Bennett Kicked to the Curb, FInancial Reform Moves Along

It's Still a Hung Parliament, But the LDP Faded Fast
Just a couple of weeks before the British Parliamentary elections, it looked as if the LDP might win the most popular votes after Nick Clegg mopped the floor with the two "major" parties in the first debate. Clearly, the LDP faded faster than the polling had indicated, as my election-eve projection had them almost even with the incumbent Labour party, a mark that they decidedly fell short of. I warned you my margin of error would be larger than in a U.S. election, as I'm simply not as familiar with the ins and outs of British politics, and I missed the mark by a considerable margin. Here's the scorecard on the elections:
(1) Popular Vote
Projected: Tories = 35.5%, Labour = 27.7%, LDP = 27.5%, Minor Parties = 9.3%
Actual: Tories = 36.1%, Labour = 29.0%, LDP = 23.0%, Minor Parties = 11.9%
Error: Tories +0.6%, Labour +1.3%, LDP -4.5%, Minor Parties +2.6%

So, you can see, the margins for the other three buckets were relatively close, the LDP just underperformed all around and the votes distributed to all three groups.

(2) Seats
Projected: Tories = 282 Seats, Labour = 258 Seats, LDP = 81 Seats, Minor Parties = 29 Seats
Actual: Tories = 306 Seats, Labour = 258 Seats, LDP = 57 Seats, Minor Parties = 28 Seats
Note: 1 seat still to be decided pending May 27th special election, following the death of a candidate leading up to the normal election date.

So, you can see exactly what happened versus my predictions -- the LDP underperformed, allowing the Tories to take 24 swing districts and pad their plurality.

The Tories did not reach the 326 that you need to govern, so the LDP is still in the driver's seat in terms of "king-making". Although they are more ideologically aligned with Labour (both hold views to the left of the Tories on economic policy), Clegg severely dislikes incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown, therefore the only two outcomes that I see are that Clegg forges an unlikely marriage with David Cameron and the Conservatives, or Brown agrees to step down and Clegg forms an alliance with a new Labour leader.

Bennett Kicked to the Curb
Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) has been cast aside by the Utah GOP nominating convention. Utah has a strange party selection process that is two-tiered, whereby the party has a caucus to determine the top two candidates, who then move on to a primary. Bennett finished third in the caucus and therefore will not be on the ballot in the GOP primary. He also cannot run for re-election as an independent, a la Joe Lieberman, because the filing deadline in Utah has passed. His only recourses are to either retire quietly or to run as a write-in candidate.

So what went wrong? Most of the anger in the Utah GOP centered around Bennett's vote for the original TARP bill, although there were other minor criticisms. This is kind of a shocking turn of events to me, as Bennett is a pretty conservative guy, scoring a mere 10% voting record from the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action, half that of the 20% vote scored by his fellow Utah Senator, and renowned conservative, Orrin Hatch.

But, there are a number of environmental things to consider:
(1) The state caucus is the most conservative of the conservative
The odd system in Utah lends itself to turns like this. Bennett surely would have won a primary had he been on the ballot, but the state caucus largely represents the most loyal, active and conservative Republicans.

(2) Anti-incumbent sentiment cuts two ways
Sure, it looks like a bad year for the DEMs....that's because they are in power. People aren't specifically ticked at the DEMs, they are ticked at government in general and Bennett is part of the system.

(3) It is Utah, after all
If this were Illinois or New York, this would be a true shocker. But the GOP can lean far to the right in Utah, a state in which Bill Clinton finished 3rd in the 1992 Presidential race, and still win.

So am I sad to see Bennett go? Not really....not because we aren't ideologically aligned, heck, he's probably more ideologically aligned with me than whoever will wind up being Senator. But because he reaped what he sowed. Bennett, like a number of Republicans, ran in 1992 on a promise of a two-term limit as part of his advocation for term limits in general. He got three. Seems like he got 6 years more than he deserved from his promise.

Just a thought, and it's a long shot, but wouldn't it be crazy if Bennett runs as a write-in and somehow splinters the GOP vote, allowing a Democrat to take the Senate seat? It's unlike Bennett will even run, but it's fun to conceive these crazy scenarios.

Financial Reform is Moving, Albeit Like a Snail
The Senate this week voted on a series of amendments to financial reform. All indications from my seat are still that in the final tally, Democrats will comfortably have the 60 votes that they need for passage. But the GOP is doing a good job of running clock, just as I said would be a politically wise move for them.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Everything You Need to Know About the British Elections, The Tea Party Losses Yet Again

The British Parliamentary Elections
Ah, Mother England. It could be the United States of America in 1992. The United Kingdom is in the middle of what has been possibly the wildest, most unpredictable elections in its history. I don't write a lot about foreign elections, but let me attempt to recap.

The Labour Party, which has been in power since Tony Blair's rise to power in 1997 is under fire, not only from the other so-called "major" party in the UK, the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but from the upstart Liberal Democratic Party, which had, up until very recently, been considered a joke in British politics.

The Labour Party was widely considered to be in trouble, facing the same headwinds that all incumbent governments across the world face of ugly economics, high unemployment and growing government debt. But it was assumed that Gordon Brown's Labour might lose to David Cameron's Tories (Conservatives), not to the much-mocked LDP.

That all changed in the first-ever U.S.-style televised debate between the three parties, when the charismatic LDP leader Nick Clegg, mopped the floor with the two so-called "major parties". The LDP briefly surged to a least until everyone realized that their policies were a little nutty.

Now, with the LDP peaking too soon and the Conservatives stuck in the mud, Labour has a chance for a big comeback. Enter Gordon Brown's "bigot-gate", where, while not realizing he was on mike, Prime Minister Brown accuses a grandmother of being a bigot, for reasons which aren't very clear to me. The lady had just had a wide-ranging conversation with Brown. She did at one point reference immigration, but the quote was simply "and you can't even talk about the immigrants". For all I know, she could be a bigot, but her words certainly weren't sufficient to make that determination. Brown shows his detachment from the common (wo)man. Labour continues to languish.

So where does that leave us?

Here is my aggregation of the British polls going into the election tomorrow. I'll caveat this with the fact that I am not nearly as familiar with British polling as with American polling, so I would anticipate that the margin of error on my projections could be larger than normal:

Conservatives = 35.5%
Labour = 27.7%
Liberal Democrats = 27.5%
Minor Parties/Undecided = 9.3%

So, it looks like a fairly good margin of victory in the popular vote for the Tories, and a very close second/third finish between the incumbent Labor party and the LDP. The LDP has been fading in late polling and the Conservatives coming up.

But, wait. The British have almost as screwed up a system as our electoral college. The winner of the popular vote does not necessarily win the election. Instead, each parliamentary district is awarded to a party, with the winner of the majority of seats becoming Prime Minister. If not party wins a majority of seats, you have a "hung parliament" and the parties would have to form coalitions in order to get the majority required to form a government.

Because of the concentration of the LDP support, while they may get about the same number of votes as Labour, they are almost assured to win less seats. Based on my projections and past election results, I attempted to model the number of parliament seats that would be won by each party. Here are the results:

Conservatives = 282 Seats
Labour = 258 Seats
Liberal Democrats = 81 Seats
Other Minor Parties = 29 Seats

Needed for Prime Minister's Seat: 326

So, the likely result will be that there will be a hung parliament, with the LDP playing king-maker, able to make either Labour or the Tories the party in power. Politically, they are closer to Labour, but Clegg has run on such an anti-Labour platform, that an alliance with the Conservatives is possible.

If the Conservatives can get to approximately 40%, they might take an outright majority of the seats.

Two points here
1. This will be a very interesting election
2. The British election system is even more in need of reform than the American system

Stay tuned...

GOP Shuns the Tea Party in Indiana
In the Indiana Republican Senate primary to replace retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D), former Senator and mainstream conservative Dan Coats has beaten back the tea-party movement to claim the GOP nomination.

Also, yesterday, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) easily beat back a tea-party challenge (actually 3 of them) to be renominated for the Senate by the GOP.

In Ohio, Rob Portman won the GOP nomination, as the tea party couldn't even field a favorite of theirs to run.

This builds on the earlier tea-party loss in the GOP primary in Illinois?

The meaning of all of this?

1. The GOP nationally sees a huge opportunity and is in it to win it. Wingnuts need not apply.
2. As I've said for months -- the media is wrong, the tea party movement is a joke with no traction. They have not won a single election yet and so far have only been able to torpedo the GOP chances in races that they got involved.

But wait, you say, what about Florida and Marco Rubio? Let's set the record straight on this one -- Marco Rubio has been very careful not to claim membership in the tea party. He has carefully and smartly kept his distance. And Charlie Crist was ousted for being perceived as too close to President Obama and being an insider in an anti-incumbent year. I said the tea party movement was a joke, not that Republicans didn't truly dislike President Obama.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Latest 2010 Updates, The Giant Gulf Oil Spill, The GOP Clock Play

2010 -- A Big Year for the GOP
The Republican wave continues in polling for the 2010 race. Here are the latest updates for the Senate races. As always, I'll begin with race designation switches, followed by polls that reconfirm existing ratings:

Illinois -- moves from Toss-Up to Lean GOP Pick-Up as Republican Mark Kirk has been up by 4% and 8% in the latest two polls. This race pits a moderate against a liberal and the moderate appears to be winning.

Washington -- moves from Likely Democratic Hold to Lean Democratic Hold, as Patty Murray could be in real trouble this year. In the one poll available, she leads three potential GOP candidates by only 2 points and actually trails prospective Republican candidate Dino Rossi by 10 points. This race could shift further with additional polling.

Delaware -- moves from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Likely GOP Pick-Up as moderate at-large Rep. Mike Castle is up by 23 points in an April 30th Rasmussen poll. Castle is popular state-wide and appears to be headed for an easy victory.

Indiana -- moves from Lean GOP Pick-Up to Likely GOP Pick-Up as Coats leads by 16 and 21 points respectively in the latest two polls. Without Evan Bayh, Democrats appear sunk in this race.

Ohio -- some rare good news for the Dems as this race moves from Toss-Up to Lean DEM Pick-Up. Fisher appears headed to primary victory and leads by 3 points and 4 points in the latest two polls. This one has been very close for as long as we have been tracking it.

Florida -- moves from Likely GOP Hold to Lean GOP Hold, not because the Democrats have a shot at this seat, but because with Charlie Crist running as an independent, there is some chance that GOP-nominated Marco Rubio will not win. Rubio is still showing as up by 7% in a three-way race, so he is still favored to win, but it is quite plausible to see a reverse of what happened with Joe Lieberman in 2006 , when Republicans abandoned the Republican nominee to support the independent. This could happen with Democrats in Florida, as Meeks really has no shot. Crist may well still align with the GOP in the Senate even if he wins, but since he is running as an independent, that's what we'll consider him for rating purposes.

Other polls reconfirm existing ratings:
Arkansas -- Baker is up by 7 and 12 points in two new polls. Stays a Lean GOP PIck-Up.

North Dakota -- Hoeven is up by a staggering 45 points in a new poll. This may be the biggest rout for an open seat since Barack Obama won his Senate seat in 2004. Stays a Safe GOP Pick-Up.

New Hampshire -- Ayotte up 15 in the latest Rasmussen poll. Stays a Likely GOP Hold.

Arizona -- McCain up by 22 in the latest Behavioral Research Center poll. Stays a Likely GOP Hold.

North Carolina -- Burr up by 18 to 22 in two new polls. Stays a Likely GOP Hold.

Georgia -- Isakson up 16 points in a new poll. Stays a Likely GOP Hold.

All of this leaves us with:
Projected Democratic Holds (9)
Safe Holds (4)
Connecticut, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Vermont

Likely Holds (3)
Hawaii, Oregon, Wisconsin

Lean Holds (2)
California, Washington

Potential Democratic Pick-Ups (1)
Lean Pick-Up (1)

Potential Republican Pick-Ups (9)
Toss-Up (1)
New York (Gillebrand)

Lean Pick-Ups (4)
Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois

Likely Pick-Ups (3)
Delaware, Indiana, Nevada

Safe Pick-Ups (1)
North Dakota

Projected Republican Holds (17)
Safe Holds (8)
Louisiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Likely Holds (7)
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Kansas

Lean Holds (2)
Missouri, Florida

Net Projection: GOP +7 to 8 Seats
(10 seats needed to win control)

So, the GOP continues to project big gains. In order to take the Senate, they would need to hold Ohio, win Kristen Gillebrand's Senate seat and win either California or Washington. Still tough, but certainly not impossible, given the trend.

In the House,

Our generic polling average of averages has Republicans at +1.7%. This projects a GOP Pick-up of 35 seats, just shy of the 40 needed to retake the House. This result has been pretty consistent over the past couple of months.

Look at the race by race analysis, the Cook Political Report, shows 6 likely GOP pick-ups and 28 races marked as toss-ups, with 26 of those being Democratic seats, leading to a range of GOP Pick-Up from 4 to 32 seats. As I've said before, Cook tends to be pretty conservative (numerically, not politically) with his projections, so if the race is trending GOP, he will tend to lag most observers in projecting the size of the gain.

Realclearpolitics has the GOP projected to pick up a net 17 seats, with an additional 35 races rated as toss-ups, 34 of them being Democrats. This implies a GOP pick-up of 16 to 51 seats. This is far more in line with what I would expected, given the generic polling.

The GOP will have a big year in November, I think that much is assured at this point. Will they retake either or both houses of Congress? The next 6 months will tell us.

A Big, Nasty Oil Spill
We all know by now that the massive oil spill coming from a BP offshore oil platform is now approaching the gulf coast (as if the gulf coast needed another environmental disaster). This will have a devastating effect for years to coming on the environment, the fishing industry, tourism and public health. It is a terrible shame. And, apparently, something that happened because equipment designed to prevent these kinds of spills failed.

The political ramifications of this will be significant. This gives everyone pause about the role and regulation of offshore drilling. Clearly, additional measures need to be taken to ensure that this does not happen again. I'm not ready to say offshore drilling is a bad idea, simply that we need much better regulation of safety mechanisms. Oil rigs should be treated like nuclear plants, with intensive regulation. And the companies profiting from those rigs should pay for the cost of that regulation and oversight. And BP damn sure needs to pay not only for the clean-up, but for the damage to local economies that this spill will do.

No Shot Clock in Sight
In the era prior to the shot clock in college basketball, there was a play called the four corners that was designed to run minutes off the clock with every play. If I'm a Republican, I have a very simple strategy for the rest of this congress: run out the clock. I don't yet know if the GOP will have control of the House or Senate next year, but I do know that they'll have more seats than they do now.

So what does running the clock out look like?
(1) Move financial reform, but go slow
The House and Senate could easily be tied up for a month or two debating a financial reform bill. As I've said, I firmly believe that the final bill will pass with bi-partisan support. But the GOP has the tools to take their sweet time doing it.

(2) Run clock on a Supreme Court Nominee
President Obama will likely name his pick for the court in late May. Republicans could easily kill at least a month debating even a non-controversial candidate.

(3) Get tied up in the budgeting process
The House and Senate have to pass a full series of appropriations bills this year. Take it slow

In short, I think this strategy will be employed and utterly precludes a bill on immigration or climate change this year. That means the President will have a much tougher road with a more Republican congress next year. Perhaps he will be forced to live up to his promise of bi-partisanship.

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