Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust in Alaska, The Pre-Season View of the Elections, What You Can Expect the Wednesday After

The Tea Party Breaks Another Establishment Republican
I'll admit it, this one caught me surprise. Lisa Murkowski wasn't even on the radar for being at risk of losing her Senate seat in the Alaska Republican primary. Yet virtual unknown Tea Bagger Joe Miller pulled off a narrow but stunning upset. This shows a few things, in my opinion:
(1) The Tea Party is becoming the overriding force in Republican primaries in some states
In Utah, Kentucky, Nevada and Alaska, Tea Party loyalists upset establishment-backed candidates to take Senate nominations. In Florida, while Marco Rubio is not exactly a Tea Bagger, the movement certainly had an influence in pushing Crist out of the Republican race.

(2) But Let's Not Overstate the Case
The Tea-Party candidates have lost where the establishment had good candidates. They couldn't defeat Mark Kirk in Illinois. The didn't even come close to unseating John McCain. In Delaware, Castle won the GOP nomination virtually unopposed, despite basically being the antithesis of a Tea Party Republican.

The movement is evolving in an attempt to be more mainstream, but my fundamental belief that this is a fringe movement is unchanged. They still have yet to win a general election race, with disasters in the House special elections where they have taken over the GOP base. They still have only one shot at winning a Senate seat in a mainstream race, the battle for Harry Reid's seat in Nevada, and victory is far from assured there. Even in the ultra-conservative states where they are winning nominations, such as Kentucky, the seats are not a lock.

(3) If the Tea-Party Wins, the GOP Loses Long-Term
In a Republican year, you can run candidates that are further to the right and potentially still be victorious. But things change quickly in Washington. Remember all that talk of the permanent Democratic majority? Yeah, that's so 18 months ago. In a more balanced year, Tea Party Republicans will have big challenges holding on to GOP gains. The Republican party would have been better served to get more Castles and less Pauls if they want to make more permanent gains.

(4) The Underlying Cause Has Traction
As radical as a lot of the Tea Party movement is, the fundamental concern about deficits, taxes and the size of government has real traction and resonance with the American people. When deficits rise, people get mad at Washington. This is a lot like Ross Perot's movement in 1992, which ultimately netted him 19% of the Presidential vote, and might have netted him more if he'd been a better candidate.

But United We Stand faded quickly, as I would expect the Tea Party to do, because as the economy improves, the anger subsides.

This all makes for a fascinating election year.

An Updated Looked at November
The traditional view of elections is that campaigns really start in earnest on Labor Day. People start to tune in, debates begin and media buys pick way up. That being said, campaigns have been starting earlier and earlier, so we already have some good perspective on where the races stand heading into this critical season. Let's look at the latest.

We'll go race by race, from most Democratic-leaning to most Republican-leaning.
Safe Democratic Holds (4)
Hawaii, no new polls
Maryland, 1 new poll: Mikulski +16%
New York (Schumer), no new polls
Vermont, no new polls

Likely Democratic Holds (4)
Oregon, 1 new poll: Wyden +20%
Connecticut, 2 new polls: Blumenthal +7%, +10% (close to moving from likely to lean)
New York (Gillebrand), 3 new polls: Gillebrand +15%, 20%, 25%
West Virginia, 1 new poll: Manchin +6% (close to moving from likely to lean)

Lean Democratic Holds (2)
California, 2 new polls: Boxer +5%, Fiornia +2% (close to moving to toss-up)
RATING CHANGE (from Toss-Up to Lean Hold): Nevada, 3 new polls: Reid +1%, 3%, 4%

Democratic Controlled Toss-Ups (2)
Wisconsin, 1 new poll: Johnson +1%
Illinois, 2 new polls: both polls tied

Republican Controlled Toss-Ups (1)
RATING CHANGE (from Lean Ind Pick-Up to Toss-Up): Florida, 4 new polls: Crist, +4%, +7%, Rubio +5%, +10%

Lean GOP Pick-Up (3)
Colorado, 2 new polls: Buck +4%, +9%
Pennsylvania, 3 new polls: Toomey +6%, +9%, +10%
RATING CHANGE (from Lean Hold to Lean Pick-Up): Washington, 2 new polls: Rossi +3%, +7%

Lean GOP Hold (6)
Missouri, 2 new polls: Blunt +1%, +13%
Kentucky, 3 new polls: Paul +5%, +5%, +10%
New Hampshire, 2 new polls: Ayotte +8%, +13% (close to moving back to likely hold)
RATING CHANGE (from likely hold to lean hold): North Carolina, 1 new poll: Burr +9%
RATING CHANGE (from likely hold to lean hold): Alaska, 1 new poll: Miller +6%
RATING CHANGE (from toss-up to lean hold): Ohio, 2 new polls: Portman +6%, +7%

LIkely GOP PIck-Ups (2)
Delaware, 1 new poll: Castle +12%
Indiana, 1 new poll: Coats +21%

Likely GOP Holds (2)
Georgia, 1 new poll: Isakson +12%
RATING CHANGE (from Safe Hold to Likely Hold): Iowa, 2 new polls: Grassley +8%, +20%

Safe GOP Pick-Ups (2)
Arkansas, 1 new poll: Boozman +38%
North Dakota, 1 new poll: Hoeven +44%

Safe GOP Holds (8)
Kansas, 2 new polls: Moran +33%, +46%
Louisiana, 2 new polls: Vitter +12%, +21% (close to moving to Likely Hold)
South Dakota, no new polls
Alabama, 1 new poll: Shelby +32%
Idaho, no new polls
Oklahoma, 1 new poll, Coburn +42%
South Carolina, no new polls
Utah, 1 new poll: Lee +25%

All of this leaves us with the following projection ranges for the Senate:
Current Senate: 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independents
Projected Senate: 48-50 Democrats, 47-50 Republicans, 2-3 Independents
Central Projection: 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, 2 Independents

As we move closer into election season, I will be eliminating the "toss-up" rankings and focusing more and more on the strict mathematical projections.

In the House, the latest generic polling paints a very bleak picture for the Democrats, indeed, with some of the worst generic numbers on record in some polls. Our average of averages is presently at: Republicans +5.7%. This implies:

Current House: 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans, 2 Vacant
Projected House: 206 Democrats, 229 Republicans
Realclearpolitics House Projections (splitting the toss-ups): 212 Democrats, 223 Republicans
The Cook Political Repot (splitting the toss-ups): 232 Democrats, 203 Republicans
Electionprojection Projection: 215 Democrats, 220 Republicans

Cook has been the most conservative in calling races all year, as he tends to need a lot of data to be willing to project an incumbent to be unseated. The other 3 tallies all tell the same story, whether you look at national polling and extrapolate (as I do) or do race-by-race analysis (as realclearpolitics and electionprojection do), you get the same story: the GOP has the advantage in taking back the House headed into the heart of campaign season.

What You Can Expect After a GOP Rout
So what exactly will happen if the GOP actually pulls off the kind of big rout that I and others currently show? Let's say they win the House and fall just shy in the Senate with 49 or 50 seats. A few things that I think that you would see fairly quickly:
(1) Some cabinet departures -- President Obama has held his top team together for 2 years, but when you see a big rout of an incumbent party, there tend to be a few changes in the Cabinet, such as when Bush dismissed Donald Rumsfeld. Incumbents don't like to fire their cabinet members during the election season, because it can be a sign of weakness, but after a loss, it happens a lot. Likely candidates? My top one would be TIm Geithner. Can't think of anyone that would be upset with a change at Treasury. Gates has also announced he will likely depart sometime in 2011, but this is unrelated to job performance, as he is highly popular in both parties.
(2) A Quick Search for Common Ground -- if the GOP controls the purse strings in the House, President Obama better figure out something that they can agree on. Middle class tax cuts? Payroll tax holidays? Maybe a revenue-neutral gas tax?
(3) Gridlock -- no immigration reform, no cap and trade....any "signature" issue of the Democrats is DOA in a GOP-controlled House. Depending on your political perspective, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

It certainly is shaping up to be another historic year. Thanks for reading and I'll do my best to keep you posted on all the latest.

Projected New House

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