Early thoughts from the Wisconsin election

I know, the election technically isn’t over, and there’s certainly a recount coming. But we know the general outlines of what happened (i.e. really close). I think Koppenburg’s lead is too high to overcome in a recount, but this analysis doesn’t really depend on her winning.

Overall, so I don’t bury the lead, I feel pretty good about what happened, despite the fact that I thought Kloppenburg would win it in a walk because of the heightened interest of Democrats in the race and the Milwaukee and Madison county executive races. But there was a little disappointment for me as well. Anyway, here are my thoughts.

So first, I have to address something that was said by several of the best commentators (including David NYC and DCCyclone) that I think, at best, is a half truth – the idea that its really hard to beat an incumbent judge, and therefore it would be amazing if we even came close in this race. That’s true with the vast majority of judicial races, but only because there’s generally no controversy with those races. Two years ago, Wisconsin ousted a sitting judge, and just last year we saw three Iowa judges on the Supreme Court ousted. This was a race where millions of dollars were spent on behalf of both candidate, and there was such heightned awareness that turnout was almost double what the state predicted. When a judicial election involves some sort of widely publicized controversy, there is much more of a chance at ousting a sitting judge. Had Kloppenburg lost, I would not have bought this line as any excuse for losing.

To get it out of the way, here’s the one piece of bad news. When I made my prediction of a big Kloppenburg win, I was hoping the conditions of 2010 would exist, only in reverse. That is, the Republicans wouldn’t turn out, since it was the Dems energized by the issues, and Repubs, either having gotten what they wanted or unhappy with the final results, would not show up. Sort of a reverse of what we saw with HCR last year. I’m here to tell you I was obviously wrong. Republicans were still pretty energized. They turned out in far higher numbers than I would have predicted, and they were able to outspend the Dems.

But, despite this, I find myself a happy man today: Dems are back. The party faithful are finally energized enough to win a major contested election (albeit a close one) and they did it without the help of a tea party candidate or any other third party. To me, this bodes well for 2012, because I think economic conditions are going to continue getting better, and combine that with the weak Republican presidential field I think we are in good shape. Dems have come a long way in the six months following the 2010 debacle.

Also, Koppenburg (likely) won – which is huge, given the role the Supreme Court will play in helping to turn back Walker’s odious agenda. A win is a win, no matter how close.

What this means for the recall, I can’t say. Someone soon will do the analysis and show which Senators are in districts Prosser won and which were in districts Koppenburg won. I firmly believe the Republicans have already spotted us two seats in the upcoming recall election, so we just need to win one more. Two things these results say to me: Dems should pick targets wisely – no resources should be wasted on the two Republican Senators least likely to be ousted, and we might want to further triage, and we also need to pay attention to any Dems that are being recalled – if they are in Prosser districts, their victories are not assured.

But overall, a pretty good night for Team Blue.  

2010 Politicos of the Year

So, everyone else does lists at the end of the year. Why shouldn’t we? Here following, my picks for the 2010 Politicos of the year (in reverse chronological order).  

10. Suzana Martinez – NM-Gov

Martinez was a unknown district attorney when she took on Lt. Governor Dina Denish in a state that had not only overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008 but elected an all Democratic slate to Congress. She succesfully tied Denish into scandal-ridden outgoing governor Bill Richardson and won. The fact she did so in such a Democratic state makes her acheivement marginally more impressive than the Republicans other woman-minority governor-elect, Nikki Haley.

9. Lisa Murkowski – AK-SEN

Ran won of the worst primary campaigns in history, followed by the first successful write in campaign in 50 years. The kudos she deserves for the later far outweigh the mocking she deserves for the former.

8. Jerry Brown – CA-Gov

The former and future governor of California survived the most expensive attack campaign in American history. Almost without breaking a sweat.

7. Kamala Harris – CA-AG

A rising star, and the first woman to win this traditionally conservative law and order position. It’s no accident she’s being compared to Obama.

6. Rick Snyder – MI-Gov

“One tough nerd” managed to beat out three better known candidates in the Republican primary and crush his Democratic opponent in a state that gave Obama a landside win. Good luck with governing it.

5. Rick Scott – FL-Gov

Just as Time Magazine once picked the Ayatollah Khoemeni as “Man of the Year” we have to put Scott up there as a politician of the year. He beat out Florida’s AG for the nomination, and went on to defeat the much respected CFO of the state, despite being acclaimed as the “Madoff of Medicare,” among other titles.

4. Pete Sessions – R-Texas

It’s hard to single out one candidate in the Republican sweep of the House races this year, although some (Bob Dold? Chip Cravaack? Bill Flores) stand out. So, I’m putting Pete Sessions as a placeholder for everyone, because despite criticism about the NRCC’s tepid fundraising he managed to do better than either the RGA or the NRSC, partially through being very agressive about targeting races. Of course, we’ll see how he does in 2012, when the landscape may not be as promising.

3. Marco Rubio – FL-SEN

Almost everyone (except Kos) was declaring Rubio dead in the water when Charlie Crist released his first fundraising totals after announcing for Senate in 2009. Now, it’s Charlie Crist who is dead in the water, and Marco Rubio who is the potential Republican presidential candidate.

2. Harry Reid – NV-SEN

Here’s how much respect I have for Harry Reid as a politician: I think he would have beaten any of his opponents for Senate in 2010. He’s that good – his commercials were some of the best of the cycle.

1. Scott Brown – MA-SEN

It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the year, it was assumed Martha Coakley, as Steve Singiser put it, “is likely to be the first woman elected to that chamber from the State of Massachusetts.” Even after all that’s happened since Brown’s victory, it’s hard to come up with a more shocking political result in a long time (the only one I can come up with is Harris Wofford’s win over Richard Thornburgh way back in 1991). What’s more, at this writing, Brown seems to be holding on to his popularity. Because Brown became the early face of the Republican wave that would sweep most strongly in the House elections, but also in the Senate, Governor and all the way down to the state legislatures, I think he should be 2010’s Politico of the Year.


1. Christine O’Donnell

Oh I hope she goes to jail. I really do. Even then, she probably won’t shut up. But I do have to say: thank you Erik Erickson and all the Tea Party organizations who gave us Dems a freebie in Delaware this year.

2. Joe Miller

Would have probably one a place as one of the best had he maintained his momentum after the primary. Instead, he lost to a write-in. Ultamite choke.

Del Ali

The head of polling organization Research 2000 is not a politician, but he was involved enough in politics that he makes my worst list for this year. Hope Kos wins his lawsuit.

Alan Grayson

Republicans should send a big thanks to Grayson for taking so much cash from well meaning progressives to fund an 18 point loss – one of the worst of any incumbent this cycle.

Blanche Lincoln, Paul Hodes (tie)

I guess you can give Lincoln credit for beating Bill Halter in the primary, but considering she was chairman of a major committee (Agriculture) in the Senate, shouldn’t she have been able to keep this race closer than a 22 point spread? As for Hodes, remember back in 2008 when Kos told us Hodes would finish off Judd Gregg (or whoever took Gregg’s place) in 2010? Yeah, well Hodes lost by almost 24 points. That was worse than Lee Fisher, or almost anyone else in a supposedly competitive race.  

2010 – NOT the year of the woman

So the starting point for this diary was another diary, which I can’t seem to find, but which I remember from the heady days of early 2009, when Dems seemed poised to pull a 1934 (at least in the Senate) and gain seats for the third cycle in a row. This diarist made the point that with such candidates as Katherine Sebelius in Kansas, Janet Napolitano in Arizona, Robin Carnahan in Missouri, Jennifer Brunner in Ohio and Christy Vilsack in Iowa, 2010 was poised to be a true year of the woman in politics, and particularly Democratic woman.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen.

So how’d women do in 2010. Well, Democratic women did terribly in general, but for women overall, there was the (kinda) good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s review.  

The (kinda) good – the Governors

The Governors races were a mixed bag for women, which qualifies as good. The three losses were all due to retirements (Jodi Rell, Jennifer Granholm and Linda Lingle) and were balanced by three wins – Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. The later two are women of color, and regardless of your view of politics it’s kind of cool to see a woman of Indian descent governing the state where the civil war started. Of course, all these were Republicans. There were some big losses for women as well, notably Meg Whitman in California, Karen Handel in Georgia and (from my perspective, the most heartbreaking), Alex Sink in Florida. Still, women held their own, and given there wasn’t a huge amount of potential for women beyond the California, Georgia and Florida’s races, I’m going to label the governor’s results good.

The Bad – the Senate

Women held their own in the Senate – there will still be 17 Senators in the next session of Congress, with Kelly Ayotte replacing Blanche Lincoln. But given the potential: Robin Carnahan in Missouri, Elaine Marshall in North Carolina, Jennifer Brunner in Ohio, Roxanne Conlin in Iowa, Sharon Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Jane Norton in Colorado as well as earlier in the cycle, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, not to mention the candidates who didn’t run, holding their own was certainly not a good result. Women can take comfort from some of major retentions: Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Kirsten Gillibrand and probably the biggest win other than Ayotte, Lisa Murkowski (possibly the most gratifying win considering what a major ass**** Joe Miller turned out to be). But overall, the results were bad, considering the optimism that people had two years ago for this cycle.

The Ugly – The House

Here’s all you need to know: according to the Center for American Women in Politics, the number of women in the House will drop for the first time since 1979. That’s right: while nine Republican women won (and no incumbent Republican women lost House races), 10 Democratic women lost. The number of women in the House goes from 73 to 72. In addition to that, Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking woman in the U.S. government, will lose her position come January.


So, yeech, right? Beyond the ugly numbers, there were a couple of interesting victories. Vicky Hartzler took out the reigning chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, scoring one of the bigger upsets of the cycle (and I’m a progressive, but does anyone think this would have gotten more publicity if the parties were reversed?). Jaime Herrera was the first Republican woman of Latino heritage elected outside of Florida. Renee Ellmers took out a seven term Dem Rep in North Carolina. And Colleen Hanabusa not only became the only Democratice women to oust a Republican incumbent, but made Hawaii the first state with more than one seat to have an all woman House delegation.

But still, yeech.

The future – 2012

For the governors races in 2012, things don’t look great. Bev Purdue in North Carolina is one of the more unpopular incumbents, and Christine Gregorie is in a little better shape but has not announced whether she will run for a third term in Washington.

The good news about the Senate is that only two female incumbents, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Kay Bailey Hutchinson in Texas look to be in any sort of trouble, and the latter will likely retire. Feel free to speculate who might be some potential female challengers for the Senate.

We can only hope the House elections go better in 2012. Certainly quality candidates like Ann Kuster in New Hampshire are likely to run again and hopefully win. It feels like it can’t get worse than this year.  

The 10 best (and five worst) campaigns of the 2010 cycle

So here we are at the end of the 2010 race (well, almost at the end – there are still a couple of uncalled races). These are my picks for best and worst campaigns of this cycle. What are yours? And tell me if you agree or disagree with any of these


Harry Reid – NV-SENATE This was a masterpiece, one of those campaigns that will be studied for decades as an example of how to win in a negative environment. Reid’s ads were brilliant, his strategy was forward thinking (i.e. he started knocking out potential opponenents in 2008) and he did a great job with GOTV and the other essentials. Yes, he got lucky in his opponent (and very unlucky in the cycle he was running), but given how at one point it looked like the Republicans could run a ferret against Harry Reid (oh wait, I guess they did) and still win, this still was an amazing comeback story.

Ron Johnson – WI-SENATE Yes, Feingold had underperformed in the past, but he had also survived a Republican year in 2004, and his outsider cred had beaten Republicans three times before. But Johnson ran a canny campaign that turned Feingold into a Washington insider, and managed to pull the biggest upset of an incumbent Senator of the cycle.

Rick Scott – FL-GOVERNOR This one pains me, because I think Scott is a loathsome individual. But the fact of the matter is, to get such a loathsome individual across the finish line against an incumbent Attorney General and the respected CFO of the state, you have to have a pretty good campaign. Best move: tarring Sink with the same corruption brush that had been used against Scott, even though the cases weren’t even close to similar.

National Republican Campaign Committee The NRCC and Pete Sessions got ridiculed a fair amount on this site and others for their poor fundraising compared to the DCCC, but it turns out they were probably the smartest of any of the big campaign committees, opening up new opportunities throughout September and October. They certainly outperformed the more respected RGA.

Barbara Boxer – CA-SENATE Boxer is thought to be in trouble every campaign cycle, and everytime she outperforms expectations. Give the woman some respect.

John Kasich – OH-GOVERNOR Yeah, Portman blew his opponent away, whereas Kasich race was much closer, and yes Ohio’s economy is in the crapper, but he still had a tough job in beating Ted Stickland, who’s unpopularity never reached the level of some other Midwestern governors. Along with Scott’s win, the biggest victory (in terms of influence) for the Republicans on election night.  

Marco Rubio – FL-SENATE Rubio showed some mad (and for us Dems, potentially scary) political skills in first driving Crist out of the Republican party, and secondly, beating both his opponents with just under 50 percent of the vote.

Bob Dold – IL-10 It’s hard to single out one House campaign as being better than the others in a wave year, but Dold won a seat almost none of the pundits thought he could win, and (with Costa apparently holding on) pulled off the most Democratic seat of the cycle. Gotta give the guy props for that.

Lisa Murkowski – AK-SENATE (write in campaign only). Murkowski ran one of the worst campaigns up until the primary, but the fact she seems about to win as the first write in candidate for Senate since the 1950’s is pretty amazing, and deserves some credit.

Ben Chandler One of the few Dems to survive Tuesday’s apocalypse. In a R+9 district, no small feat.


Meg Whitman, CA-GOVERNOR How could you spend so much money, and lose so badly?

Lee Fisher, OH-SENATE Fisher’s campaign was basically all downhill after he won the primary.

DCCC We all loved Chris Van Hollen after the 2008 cycle, but I think he made a huge strategic error in not cutting more Democrats loose when he realized how bad the wave was going to be.

Alan Grayson, FL-08 One last thing to say about Grayson – when is the last time a Democrat was responsible for the most sleazy, misleading ad of the campaign?

Jim Oberstar, MN-08 Of all the committee chairs to lose this cycle, Oberstar was the only one to lose in a Democratic district (according to PVI). He should have seen this one coming.  

Mark Hanna’s Senate Projections

So I figure like a lot of you already have, I need to put my ass on the line and make a projection this year. I delayed this as long as I could, wanting to see how things shake out and hoping things got a bit better for Team Blue. They did, and they didn’t: we got Christie O’Donnell, but Russ Feingold is now locked in a tight race.

So here we go. For the record, I have a Republican pickup of six seats right now. Pickups are designated in bold. I have determined for my purposes, its cowardly to call a race a tossup, so I don’t have that category in my rankings. I don’t have the Dems picking up any Republican seats, although I hold out the most hope in Kentucky. I’m going to try to do this for governors races (and if I get really ambitious, the House) at a later date.  

Safe Dem

Oregon – Ron Wyden – D-incumbent

New York A – Chuck Schumer – D-incumbent

Maryland – Barbara Milkulski – D-incumbent

Hawaii – Daniel Inouye – D-incumbent

Vermont – Patrick Leahy – D-incumbent

Safe Republican

Alabama – Richard Shelby – R-incumbent

Arizona – John McCain – R-incumbent

Idaho – Mike Crapo – R-incumbent

South Dakota – John Thune – R-incumbent

Iowa – Chuck Grassley – R-incumbent. I thought this one might have more potential at one point, but I don’t see it now.

Oklahoma – Tom Coburn – R incumbent

South Carolina – Jim DeMint – R incumbent.

Georgia – Johnny Isakson – R incumbent

Kansas – Jerry Moran – Republican challenger

Utah – Mike Lee – Republican challenger

North Dakota – John Hoeven – Republican challenger. Wouldn’t it have been great if Kos had been able to convince the tea partiers to challenge him?

Likely Democrat

Delaware – Chris Coons vs. Christine O’Donnell. If Mike Castle decides to run here, I might revisit this. But for now, I’m assuming he doesn’t do a write in, and Coons wins it pretty big.

New York B – Kirstin Gillibrand v. Joe DioGuardi. It’s possible DioGuardi could pick up some momentum in the next month. Gillibrand is still somewhat unknown downstate, but even thought this might get closer I think DioGuardi is too weak of a candidate

Lean Democrat

California – Barbara Boxer vs. Carly Fiorna. Boxer has never been the most popular politician, but Obama is not as unpopular in California as elsewhere and Fiorna is a very beatable opponent. This might be close, but Boxer will pull it out.

Washington – Patty Murray vs. Dino Rossi. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the way this race is going. I was very worried about Murray a month ago. Not so much now.

Connecticut – Richard Blumenthal vs. Linda McMahon. I worry about this one, but in the end, I just don’t see how McMahon overcomes the anchor that is pro-wrestling in mostly white collar Connecticut. Blumenthal needs to step up his game though. This needs to change to likely Republican.

Nevada – Harry Reid vs. Sharon Angle. The polls have been close, and some might argue Angle has a bit of momentum, but I think Reid pulls it out because minorities in Nevada are consistently underpolled, and the Democratic machine is strong.

West Virginia – Joe Manchin vs. John Raese. I’m actually more worried about this one than any of my other Lean Democrats. This is definitely 1996 Nebraska Senate Race (popular incumbent governor is defeated by underdog Republican) vs. 2010 PA-12 (Democrat wins against business guy in potentially hostile non-urban environment). I think Raese is a weaker candidate than Chuck Hagel in 1996, so I’m still giving this to Manchin. But it’s gonna be close.

Pennsylvania – Joe Sestak vs. Pat Toomey. I know, I know. The polls don’t show this right now. But Sestak should not be underestimated as a campaigner, and I still think once he gets on television he will close just like he did against Specter. Also, I still see Toomey as too conservative for Pennsylvania. I hope so, anyway.

Likely Republican

Arkansas – Blanche Lincoln vs. John Boozeman. I think this one will be closer than anyone predicts. Lincoln has a lot of money, and Boozeman seems to me to be a weak candidate. But I think it’s too large of gap at this point for Blanche to overcome, especially without any union support.

Indiana – Dan Coates vs. Brad Ellsworth I had high hopes for this one a couple of months ago, but Ellsworth isn’t getting the job done, and Coates is proving to be a pretty good fundraiser, and non-crazy. I just don’t see Ellsworth making up lost ground at this point.

North Carolina – Richard Burr vs. Elaine Marshall. Burr was/is definitely vulnerable. But Marshall is the wrong candidate running in the wrong year.

Florida – Charlie Crist vs. Kendrick Meek vs. Marco Rubio. Some people may see this as premature, but unless something happens to change the dynamic (say, Meek endorsing Crist or vice versa), I think Rubio wins this pretty easily.

Louisiana – David Vitter v. Charlie Melancon. For the forseeable future, there is going to be no right year for a Democrat to run for Senate in the Louisiana. Melancon is also hurt by the gulf oil spill fading as an issue.

Ohio – Lee Fisher vs. Rob Portman. Like Florida, some people may say this is premature, but Fisher is fading fast, with no money to make up lost ground. I expect the DSCC to abandon this race just as the Republicans abandoned Mike DeWine in 2006.

Lean Republican

Kentucky – Rand Paul vs. Jack Conaway. I do think this is still a race, but Paul is still a couple of gaffes away from losing. The debate next week will be crucial.

Alaska – Joe Miller vs. Lisa Murkowski vs. Scott McAdams. I go back and forth on whether this is lean or likely Republican, but I do think Murkowski’s write in campaign will hurt Miller more than McAdams (as opposed to if she were on the ballot). Still, I don’t see this as a genuine tossup yet.

New Hampshire – Kelly Ayotte vs. Paul Hodes. I’ve always thought Hodes is a weak campaigner, and Ayotte has got a united Republican party on her side. New Hampshire is moving rapidly to blue, but I’m not sure it’s rapidly enough to save Hodes, although Palin’s endoresement of Ayotte will hurt her from this point forward.

Missouri – Robin Carnahan vs. Roy Blunt. Actually, this should be Robin Carnahan vs. the national environment, because in the 2006 or 2008 she would have probably beat Blunt easily. Not this year, though, and Obama is very unpopular in Missouri. This is tossup, but favors the Republican at this point.

Colorado – Ken Buck v. Michael Bennett I think Buck is a stronger candidate than people give him credit for, stronger than Angle and Paul certainly. This is one race that I expect to trend against the Democrats as time goes on, although Bennett will be helped by the clusterf*ck for the Republicans in the governors race.

Illinois – Mark Kirk vs. Alexi Giannoulias This one may surpise some people, and it’s the pursest tossup of any race I have on my list. What makes me think Kirk wins: there’s a lot of unhappiness with Democrats in Illinois right now, Kirk is moderate, Kirk gets the benefit of Brady’s downstate pull and Pat Quinn is turning out to be a disaster of a candidate. Kirk is so far the luckiest Republican of this cycle – if the Illinois primary had been a couple of months later, he would have been tea-partied out of existence.

Wisconin – Russ Feingold vs. Ron Johnson This one breaks my heart, because I love Russ Feingold as a Senator. But I don’t think anyone can doubt he’s behind at this point, though by how much is debatable. He needs to change the momentum here, fast.  

Triage – Who do you make the call to?

So, most of us saw the NY Times story. If not, here’s the link.


So, you’re Chris Van Hollen, and you’re having a crappy Labor Day weekend, because you have to make the calls to Democratic incumbents saying: it’s probably not happening this year. Who do you call? Here’s my five choices. List yours below (or argue with mine) If you think it’s too early to make these calls, who do you think is going to get the call sooner rather than later?

Mike Acuri – NY-24. Acuri’s health care vote hurts him, but why he’d be on my list is Richard Hanna barely lost to him in 2008, in a good Democratic year, and has as much COH last time I checked as Acuri. I think this one is lost.

Steve Driehaus – OH-1 Steve Chabot barely lost this seat to Driehaus in 2008, and this is going to be a bad year for Democrats in Ohio. Chabot has a COH advantage as well.

Betsy Markey – CO-4 I know StephenCLE, for one, would disagree with this, but I don’t think Markey’s going to get as much benefit off the governor’s race in Colorado as he does. Cory Gardner is a good candidate, this is a tough district for Dems anyway, and a recent Republican poll had Markey down by 11. Markey does have more COH then Gardner, but he has enough to compete. Markey’s mention in the NYT story probably isn’t a coincidence.

Travis Childers – MS-01 This one is tough. I can see why it’d be a difficult choice between Childers and Frank Kratovil in Maryland on who gets a call, since both represent similar Repubican districts, but I think Childers has a tougher opponent and a tougher district.

Tom Perriello – VA-5 I saved the worst for last. Perriello is one of my favorite congressmen, but I just don’t see how he survives this year. Rob Hurt is a good opponent, and the polls are grim, even if you think those Survey USA polls exaggerate. He gets the call.  

Macro vs. Micro – 10 “weak” candidates that won in wave elections

One of the things that has come up in this election is whether the macro vs. micro climate, and which is better in terms of determining the outcome of this year’s election. Simply put, Republicans have nominated some pretty bad candidates (Angle, Paul, and possibly Buck, although I think the verdict might still be out on the latter) who would be unelectable in a different year.

Anyway, I thought it would be a fun exercise to put together a list of 10 candidates who were preceived as weak choices for their respective parties at the time, but went on to win in “wave” elections. Feel free to disagree or nominate your own choices below.

Gary Hart (D) vs. Peter Dominick (R), CO-SE, 1974

Peter Dominick was a two term Senator who had served only two years before as the chairman of the NRSC. His opponent was the upstart campaign manager of George McGovern’s disasterous bid for the presidency, which lost the state of Colorado by a substantial margin. But Hart took advantage of the post-Watergate environment to crush Dominick 57.2%-39.5%, beginning a political career that would end in Monkey Business thirteen years later

Alfonse D’Amato (R) vs. Elizabeth Holtzman (D) and Jacob Javitz (I), NY-SE, 1980

D’Amato, the presiding supervisor of the town of Hempstead was given little chance against longtime New York Senator Jacob Javitz, but taking advantage of Javitz’s illness and the conservative tide in 1980, he upset Javitz in the primary. Javitz decided to run as an independent in the general election, but instead of taking moderate Republican votes away from D’Amato he split the liberal and moderate base with Elizabeth Holtzman, who was vying to be the first woman Senator from NY, and in the year of Reagan’s first landslide D’Amato won a close race.

John LeBoutillier (R) vs. Lester Wolff (D), NY-6th District, 1980

Another New York race. LeBoutillier was the original wingnut, a 27-year old rabidly conservative Republican who beat a 16-year incumbent to win election to this Long Island district in this very Republican year. He only lasted one term before being ousted. He’s currently a columnist for NewsMax.com

Jesse Helms (R) vs. Jim Hunt (D), NC-SE, 1984

The always very controversial Helms was considered dead meat against North Carolina’s very popular Democratic governor Jim Hunt. Up until the last couple weeks of the campaign, Hunt was still the favorite in what was then considered one of the nastiest campaigns ever run in American history. But Helms rode the Reagan landslide win that year to hang on to his Senate seat.

Kent Conrad (D) vs. Mark Andrews (R), ND-SE, 1986

Andrews was a longtime North Dakota congressman who joined the Senate in 1980, receiving 70 percent of the vote. He looked so unbeatable for reelection that the state’s Democratic congressman, Byron Dorgan, took a pass. But North Dakota tax commissioner Kent Conrad stepped up to the race, and in a bad year for farm-state Republicans, beat Andrews in a suprise upset

Steve Stockman (R) vs. Jack Brooks (D), TX-9th District, 1994

Jack Brooks had been a congressman for 40 years and was chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Stockman was pretty much of a nobody who held no political office, although he had run against Brooks once before, in 1992, losing pretty badly. However, Brooks sponsorship of a crime bill opposed by the NRA along with being in the Republican wave year of 1994 doomed Brooks. Stockman, who was dogged by controversy throughout his term, lost to Nick Lampson in 1996.

Rod Grams (R) vs. Anne Wynia (D), MN-SE, 1994.

Grams was a one term congressman and former broadcaster who is likely the most conservative senator ever to be elected from Minnesota. Wynia was a well respected state legislator who was the benificiary of a campiagn by prominent Minnesota DFLers to elect a woman to the Senate. But, in the year of Republican sweep, Grams beat her in a very close race. He lost to Mark Dayton six years later.

Bill Frist (R) vs Jim Sasser (D), TN-SE, 1994

One more from the 1994 election debacle. Bill Frist was a prominent Tennessee physician and major stockholder in his family’s health care company. Jim Sasser was on the short list to succeed George Mitchell as Senate Majority Leader, and he was from a state the Clinton-Gore ticket had won two years before. But Tennessee took on a decidedly conservative bent in 1994, and Sasser lost by 13 points

George Allen (R) v. Jim Webb (D), VA-SE, 2006

In this case, it may not be that Jim Webb was neccesarily a weak candidate, but George Allen was perceived as so strong. A popular former Virgina governor and future Presidential candidate, Allen was viewed as the prohibitive favorite to win reelection, but in an upset prompted by his own stumbles and a good campaign run by Webb, he lost in a very close race.

Kay Hagan (D) vs. Elizabeth Dole (R), NC-SE, 2008

We all are familiar with this recent one, so no need to rehash it. Suffice it to say that no one would have predicted two years before an obscure state legislator would beat the head of the NRSC so badly.  

What to watch for from now until Labor Day

These are the dog days of summer as far as politics go, when the polls are many but the insight they offer is fleeting, because it’s too damn early to know anything, and when campaigns are coming up with their grand strategies that will unleash victory once people start paying attention, which right now, they mostly aren’t.

Nonetheless, I thought it might be instructive to chronicle what I think political junkies should be paying attention to right now, seperating the wheat from the chaff. This is my opinion and by no means comprehensive, so give your own thoughts on this as well.

Right now, the year is battling between 1994 (an all out disaster for the governing Democratic party) and 1982 (where the losses were small and manageable for the ruling Republicans). I don’t see much of a sign it’s going to be 2002 (where the dominant Republicans actually picked up seats), but who knows. Anything can happen in the next three months.

So here’s what I’m paying attention to:

Unemployment: Not the weekly unemployment numbers, which can fluctuate, but the monthly unemployment reports. We have two of these coming out before Labor Day, and while both are important the September 3rd one will set the narrative for the remainder of the fall. I think we will see some growth in jobs and a either a small fall or rise in the unemployment rate, which will not be good news for the Dems, but not the worst news either. If job creation goes negative for either month, however, or their is a more than 3 percent rise in unemployment, it’s very bad news for the Dems. Conversely, a big rise in job creation or drop in unemployment could mitigate some losses for Dems in November. Keep in mind that while unemployment didn’t seem to matter in 1982 or 1994 in predicting election results, there are reasons to expect it might play a more outsize role in the coming election (in 1982, Reagan had began to tame inflation, which made people feel better about the rise in unemployment, and 1994 was more about Clinton’s failed health care plan, his stance on gun control and perceived mistakes then the economy).  

Obama’s approval rating: Obama is right now about where Clinton was at this time in 1994 and Reagan in 1982 (Reagan actually may have been slightly less popular). Clinton dropped further, of course, and the result was a disaster for Democrats. Conversely, Reagan also dropped throughout 1982, and the results were not a catastrophe for the Republicans. What was the difference? I think it was this: while Reagan was not popular in 1982, he was not as polarizing as Clinton was in 1994 (remember this was after the gays in the military mess, the haircut on Air Force One, the consistent advocacy of gun control and other culture war situations). In other words, where Democrats did not successfully make the election about Reagan in 1982, Republicans made it about Clinton in 1994 (just as Dems made it about Bush in 2006 and 2008). So, it’s not just Obama’s approval rating, but the intensity of opposition to him. Right now, it’s pretty intense, but with most of the big ticket items (HCR, the financial bill) out of the way, there is reason to hope it may drop down to Reagan 1982 levels. That could be a big factor.

Money, money, money Right now, we know the Dems will have a financial advantage headed into fall, but how much is the question. Pay attention to a couple of things: 1). What’s happening with the RNC, which could determine how far behind the Republicans will be this year 2). Whether Karl Rove’s new group or any of the other shadowy advocacy organizations will make a difference in the Republican’s cash deficit and 3). Any snippet of information you can get on some of the Republican candidates who were outraised by the their Democratic counterparts (like the ones in Pennsylvania), that indicate they might be catching up.

Races to watch

While we’re going to see lots of polls about the close Senate and Governor races (and even some House races), many of those polls aren’t going to break either way until the fall. Here are the races I’m watching the closest this summer:

Marshall vs. Burr Marshall just came out with an internal poll indicated she was two points ahead. Great, but here’s the thing: she needs some independent proof of this. The DSCC and DNC are not far enough ahead of their Republican counterparts they are going to be able to do for her what they did for Kay Hagen against Dole two years ago. She’s going to need some evidence she can actually win this thing, because she doesn’t have enough money right now to beat Burr without an influx of funds. This summer will tell all.

Vitter vs. Melancon Given it looks like Vitter will likely survive his primary, see Marshall above. Melancon needs more than an internal poll to show he can win this thing against Vitter. He won’t be as financially disadvantaged as Marshall, but Louisiana is not a Democrat-friendly state right now, and if by Labor Day Melancon is still down by seven points or more, prepare to write him off. (even five might be too much)

Grassley vs. Conlin This one isn’t really on anyones radar, but it could show whether the national mood is anti-Republican or anti-incumbent. Grassley is running a lackadasical campaign, and Conlin is a great fundraiser. But if Grassley is up by double digits as of Labor Day, it’s probably over.

I think these three races will be indicative of where were heading. If by the time Labor Day rolls around, we are writing all of them off, it’s not going to be a good year for the Dems. If even one of them is competitive, it may be better than anyone expects.

Things not to pay attention to

The stock market, the weekly first-time unemployment numbers (unless they drop below 400,000), or housing starts. All of these fluctuate way too much to have much impact on the way the election will go

Party preference numbers People pay too much attention to these. Not only do they bounce all around (this week see Gallup vs. Quinnipiac vs CNN) but it’s still too early for them to tell us anything about how the races will shape up in the fall. The national mood now won’t neccesarily be the national mood three months from now (when the party preference numbers WILL matter)

Commntators either on Red State or to Steve Singiser on Kos (not Singiser himself, who’s great) The former are constantly predicing 90 seat House gains and 11 seat Senate gains for the Republicans, the latter seem to think Dems will be at 64 or 65 seats because they will win all of the toss ups in the fall, and even some seats that are currently leaning Republican. For relief, go to Nate Silver and 538.com. He’s not always right, but he’s always realistic (and when he has that occasional slip-up, like with his commentary on WV-Senate, he corrects it pretty quickly).  


Best in Show: The Top 10 Places For Horse Race Analysis On The Web (and 5 sites you can ignore)

I thought this might be a fun little distraction from the normal give and take on poll results and political shenanigans this site usually deals with. All of us on SSP are political junkies by definition, and I decided it might be a fun exercise to list my favorite sites for Horse Race analysis.

A couple of points: When I say Horse Race, I am not taking into account policy analysis, or anything else that is not related to elections and campaigns. I care only about how well the site in question covers the day-in and day-out of candidates, poll numbers and campaigns in general. I don’t care about bias, as long as that bias doesn’t interfere to much with the actual analysis. So, keep this in mind when you look at my top 10. I base this ranking on three criteria, which I call HRR or HR squared, if you prefer:

Honesty If the site has a bias, is it still up front with its partisans when a polling result is bad? Does it try to hide or downplay situations which might hurt the candidates the hardcore readers of the site would tend to support?

Reliability Is the site reliable in terms of what it tells you? Or, through carelessness or bias, does it not give you the whole picture when it comes to a specific election?  

Realism Is the site realistic in terms of what a specific polling or election result means or will mean, or when they look at the state of the race in general? Or does it try to spin the result to comfort readers of the site?

Obviously, my number one site would be Swing State, but since I’m writing this diary on the site it seemed prudent to leave it out of consideration. But I truly think it’s the best, and it’s the only one I post on.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings:

The 10 Best Horse Race Sites:

1). Five-Thirty Eight (Nate Silver). Nate has been a game changer since he started his own blog a couple of years ago. Consistently the best analysis on the web, backed by the zeal of a true statistician. His fellow commentators are pretty good as well, although I occasionally have qualms about Tom Schaller (who I think sometime phones it in). But Silver himself is the real attraction here, and in a class by himself.

2). Post Politics (Chris Cillizza) The Post has some halfway decent commentators in Dan Balz and (with some major qualifications) Dana Milbank, but Cillizza is the real attraction here. He’s not always right, but he’s always interesting to read, and more than often right on target in his analysis. Bonus points for fun things like his Friday rankings, which make his commentary go down smoothly. Minus points for his commentators, which used to be very amusing in how off-topic they could get, although things are a bit better lately.  

3). Real Clear Politics A right-of-center compilation blog that usually has something for everybody, and some good original commentary (if occasionally too Rassmussen believing) from Jay Cost and the Real Clear Politics Blog. Probably the most comprehensive site for politics on the web. Bonus points for their daily Best Of the Blogs, which guides you to a lot of stuff you might not otherwise look at.

4). Politico (esp. Ben Smith and Josh Kraushaar) Let the hate posts begin. About a month ago I read someone on SSP post that Politico posts nothing but right wing talking points. Interesting, because just a couple of weeks before, I had read on a conservative blog how Politico was nothing but a left wing hack job. Here’s the truth: Politico is biased toward gossip and conflict and gets lead astray by its sources on both sides of the aisle. But it’s second only to Real Clear Politics in terms of the breadth of its political information, Ben Smith is a terrific commentator, Josh Kraushaar’s 2010 area gives you almost all the information you need on the races that matter this year, and Mike Allen is the first thing the White House reads every day. “Nuff said.

5). The Rothenberg Political Report Rothenberg is probably the best individual political commentator on the web, and although he can be wrong, he’s always pretty insightful. Demerits for most of his stuff being subscriber only, but what he actually posts on his blog for the public is worth reading.

6). National Journal/Charlie Cook Most of National Journal’s best work is subscriber only, as is true of their occasional contributor Charlie Cook. Cook has also been a tad too pessimistic about the Democrats for my tastes this cycle, although that may be changing with PA-12. But Cook’s weekly column is usually worth a read, if only to give you the state of Beltway wisdom in its purest form, and National Journal occasionally lets good things out from behind its firewall for the public to see.

7). Daily Kos (Kos/Steve Singiser) I know, this blog is descended from Kos, so of course it’s going to be on here. But here’s the scoop: while Kos pugnacious progressivism leads him to make some very wrong predictions (e.g. his guarantee that John Corzine was going to win the New Jersey’s governor race), when he’s on, he’s very on and very prescient. He was one of the first to predict Charlie Crist would never get the nomination for Senate on the Republican side, back in the days when the likes of Cillizza were predicting Crist’s money advantage would prevail. Steve Singiser, Kos’ other main political guy, writes well about specific races, but his real strength is his take on the weekly state of the nation poll, which is both spin-free and always worth reading.

8). National Review/Jim Geraghty – The Campaign Spot Geraghty certainly prints his share of right wing talking points (and is the source for some of them) and like Real Clear Politics has a tendency to believe every Rassmussen polll, but if you can look past that he is often very insightful and unpredictable: he doesn’t neccesarily tell his readers what they want to hear. He also is very well connected among Republican professional political types, giving their sometimes brutally honest perspectives on the races. And if you want to see what the worst nightmare could look like for this fall, don’t forget to check out his analysis of 90 Dem held seats and how the Republicans could theoretically win them.

9). Pollster.com The most comprehensive site for polling information. Mark Blumenthal and team rival Nate Silver in their ability to go deep in analysing what the polls actually mean.

10). CQ Politics/Taegan Goddard CQ Politics is a comprehensive, if uninspired site for political news and opinion. The true reason to go there is Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, a listing of the political happenings of the day with pithy, often snarky and always readable thoughts on what it might all mean.

And the 5 sites you can avoid

Washington Examiner (Michael Barone) This pains me to say it, because Barone is one of the most storied political guys around: the man behind the seminal Almanac of American Politics. Too bad his commentary these days seems to be picked up mostly from RNC talking points when its not just repeating the same thing you can find in half a dozen other places.

Huffington Post The most popular political site, Huff Po has apparently made a decision not to invest much in election coverage, probably because no celebrity wants to write about it.

Red State Okay, so I’m a hypocrite – of course I go to Red State, for two reasons. First to find out who the tea party is backing these days, and secondly to take in Erik Erickson’s unintentionally hilarious writings and rantings. My recent favorite: when he announced that Carly Fiorna had to get out of the race for Cal Senate in favor of wingnut Chuck DeVore, despite reprinting a poll in the same column in which Fiorna was winning and DeVore was a far away third. Priceless. The rest of the commentary on Red State is a toxic stew of angry prose and right wing propaganda and not worth anyone’s time.

Talking Points MemoTPM is one of my favorite sites to go to for Josh Marshall’s always excellent take on the day’s news and the great reporting on various political (mostly Republican) scandals. That said, I find the horse race writing (contained mostly in the TPMDC part of the site) pretty uninspired. I think Josh and his team need to kick it up a notch.

The Atlantic/Marc Ambinder Ambinder is one of the most respected members of the political commentariat. So why does his writing leave me “meh”? Too much of the “on the one hand, on the other,” type of prose. Of the rest of the team, Chris Goode is, well, good, and Josh Green is a rising star but its not a must-read the way it should be, and does not measure up to the great Atlantic bloggers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates.  

PA-12 – A game changer in terms of 2010 analysis?

The result that caught me by surprise on Tuesday night was PA-12. I wasn’t surprised Critz won, but by nine percentage points in what was supposed to be a Republican year in a district where both Obama and HCR have polled abysmally?

Does this mean that we should start questioning how Republican 2010 going to be? Is even a prediction of a 20-seat Republican gain in the House and and a three seat gain in the Senate too optimistic for the Republicans?

At this point, I think the answer might be a definite “maybe”.

A couple caveats. I’ve heard the argument that Critz benefited substantially by having the election on the same day as a competitive Dem primary. I’m not buying it. Might have been good for one percentage point at best. The best analysis I’ve seen of this issue is (oddly) National Review, where Jim Geraghty strikes this meme down cold.

I also don’t buy the Dems had a registration edge here: that’s no more a factor than it was in the New York districts where the Republican candidates still lost despite a Republican edge. With Obama’s low approvals, this district was tailor made for a Republican win, not a big win for the Democrat.

So below the fold, here’s my thoughts about what PA-12 shows.

1). The enthusiasm gap is a myth (for now)

Most polls have found an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Dems favoring the former, although the gap has been shrinking in recent weeks. But when push comes to vote, it doesn’t seem like the enthusiasm was there, at least on the Republican side. My theory: disapproval of Obama, unlike the disapproval of Clinton in 1994 or Bush in 2006, is not translating into motivation. My guess is that Obama will hover at 50 percent until November, but he doesn’t seem to inspire the dislike that Clinton and Bush inspired (and of course, if his approval remains at 50 percent it will be higher than either Bush in 2006 or Clinton in 1994). The polls that were picking up a close race or even a small Burns lead were picking up at least some voters who thought they might be motivated to vote for the Republican, but when election day actually came, found better things to do. (minor point: pollsters should not bother to poll congressional districts for special elections. I’m looking at you, PPP). Last thing: the Republican party still has not recovered its reputation, and this is contributing to its problems of getting the vote out.

2).  Candidates and campaigns matter

Critz turned out to have the perfect campaign for this district. He took conservative stands (more conservative than Murtha), including opposing HCR (although also opposing repeal), he talked about how he had helped Murtha bring money to the district, and he painted Burns as a right-wing outsourcer who wanted to raise the sales tax and slash social security. It also helped that his most competitive primary opponent, Barbara Hafer, withdrew, meaning he did not have to endure interparty sniping (see below). One reason why the DCCC has become so adept at winning these special elections is by ensuring the Democrats have only one main candidate who fits the district well (I realize there were minor candidates in PA-12). The one place they weren’t able to do that is Hawaii, which come Saturday is a probable loss. The quality of Democratic candidates, and the campaigns they run, will have a good effect in countering any residual gap in enthusiasm that appears.

3). The Republican civil war is hurting Republican candidates.

Burns not only was running against Critz, but also William Russell, who was so bitter about Burns getting the endorsement for the special election that he refused to say anything supportive of his candidacy. Russell took 43 percent of the vote in the primary, and one can imagine a lot of his voters refusing to vote for Burns in the special. This didn’t cost Burns the election, but it certainly hurt (in contrast, I don’t think either of Critz’s primary opponents actively attacked him). While I don’t think Russell campaigned as a tea party guy, this civil war between Republican candidates, tea party endorsed or not, is playing out across the country, with negative implications for the Republicans across the board. Yes, we also see interparty warfare breaking out among Democrats, but mostly in a few Senate races (and of the ones that are left, only Halter-Lincoln comes to mind as comparable).

So, my thought is that we may need to revise our predictions of Republicans gains, to 1 oor 2 or perhaps even in the Senate and the low teens in the House. The caveat: this could change for the negative, if the economy goes south again (Greece, anyone?), if a terrorist attack occurs, or something else unexpected happens. It’s only May, after all. (I’m not sure it can change for the better – I’d say even in the Senate and low teen gain in the house is about the best we can do).