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Monday, August 30, 2010

For Democrats, A Year of Warning Signs Ignored

I have been arguing for many months that the 2010 midterms would be a devastating election for Democrats - not the typical midterm rout for the president's party but rather a political earthquake. The first real rumbles of the earthquake began in the Summer of 2009 when town hall protests over health reform became front page news. At the time, many in the traditional press and within the Democratic party leadership dismissed the protests and the protesters as the rantings of a vocal, uninformed, angry minority with little national significance.

Then came the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama, the President and Vice President nearly took up residence in the state to help incumbent John Corzine, but he lost to Chris Christie. No matter, the press and party officials declared - it was a local race and Corzine was a bad candidate - no national significance.

Virginia was once a reliably Republican state and hadn't voted for a Democrat for President since Johnson in 1964. Barack Obama won it by a comfortable margin in 2008 and suddenly Virginia was declared a swing state. In 2009 Creigh Deeds won the Democratic nomination for governor against Republican Bob McDonnell. Deeds was an experienced state senator and he ran a tough campaign for the nomination, defeating Terryy McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and Virginia congressman Brian Moran. Deeds won nearly 50% of the vote in that three way race - an impressive feat. In the general election, Deeds ran as a moderate and sought to portray McDonnell as an extremist, 1950s throwback, based entirely on a graduate thesis that McDonnell had written in college.  McDonnell won 59% to 41%.  No matter, the press and party officials declared - it was a local race and Deeds was a bad candidate - no national significance.

The health care debate continued into the fall and on Christmas Eve the US Senate passed a health reform bill in a strict party line vote. At the time, Pollster.com showed that the public opposed the bill by a 50% to 40% margin.  No problem, thought Democratic party leadership, people will eventually support the bill.

Then came Massachusetts... seemingly out of nowhere a little known Republican state senator by the name of Scott Brown defeated the Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakely to fill the U.S. Senate vacated by the late Ted Kennedy.  Coakley was an experience Massachusetts politician. She was the District Attorney of Middlesex County and in her 2006 campaign to become Attorney General she carried 73% of the vote. In the 2009 primary for the Democratic Senatorial nomination she topped a four person race receiving 47% of the vote. As the general election race tightened, President Obama came to the state to campaign for Coakley, but she lost to Brown 52% to 47%. No matter, the press and party officials declared - it was a local race and Coakley was a bad candidate, prone to gaffes - no national significance.

In late March, the Senate passed the House version of health reform - using the reconciliation process to circumvent an expected Republican filibuster. At the time, the public opposed the bill by a margin of 50% to 42%. No problem, thought Democratic party leadership, people will eventually support the bill.

During all of  this time - from Summer 2009 to late Spring 2010 - there were increasing indications that things were getting bad for Democrats. Charlie Cook's Political Report and Stuart Rothenberg's  Rothenberg Report were regularly updating House and Senate race rankings and an ominous trend was evident. With each new update, more Democratic House seats were in play and Republican seats seemed safer and safer. Then Democratic Senate seats were moving to the danger column. At the same time, and in no way unrelated, President Obama's approval rating was falling. In the Summer of 2009 the President's approval rating was hovering around 52% and his disapproval was about 40-42%. By the late Spring of 2010 he was even-up at 47%.
 
In April 2010, I wrote about a new Pew Poll that suggested a major shake-up was coming in November. I wrote then "2010 has the potential to be a wave election that will surpass 2006 and 2008 and rival 1958, 1974, and 1994." The Rothenberg Report listed 79 House seats in play and 68 were held by Democrats. It was in April that I first suggested that a GOP Senate was a real possibility. In May, I warned that low Democratic turn-out in primary elections was an ominous sign of things to come. In late June, after Republicans gained a rare, but now common, lead on the so-called generic ballot I wrote that an "Electoral Bloodbath" was coming. I noted that "Senate races that should be safe bets for Democrats in Washington, California, Oregon, and Illinois are all competitive or tied." Just this month I predicted that a GOP wave was coming and argued that a gain of 70 House seats and a Senate majority are both distinct possibilities. At that time, the Rothenberg Report listed 88 competitive Seats and 76 were held by Democrats. Rothenberg was also predicting GOP Senate gains of 5-8 seats.
 
Today, Al Hunt has declared the Democrat's Senate majority "In Danger." Charlie Cook has officially put the number of possible GOP House gains in a range that would mean reclaiming the House and recently offered this tidbit "there are a whopping 32 Democratic incumbents who have trailed GOP challengers in at least one public or private poll. At this point in 2006, there were only 11 Republican incumbents who trailed in at least one public or private poll, yet 22 went on to lose." And Mark Halperin, the Senior Political Analyst for Time magazine, Time.com, and MSNBC, recently predicted "Republicans are in a position to pick up as many as 60 seats." Meanwhile, the President's approval rating is in negative territory, the GOP continues to lead the generic ballot, and Pollster.com shows that opposition to health reform is at roughly the same level it was in December 2009 and March 2010.

For nearly a year, Democrats ignored the significant signs of a restless and unhappy electorate. Warnings in VA, NJ, and MA were dismissed. Legislation that was overwhelmingly opposed was passed  under less than admirable circumstances. The party now stands less than 70 days from the 2010 midterms and they are poised to pay a political price most closely aligned with the dramatic elections of 1974, 1994, and 2006. Don't be surprised if in January 2011 Republicans find themselves in control of the House, the Senate,  a majority of the Governorships, and the State Legislatures - a complete reversal from today and from what many were predicting the day after the election in 2008.

Democrats, and many analysts, made a significant error after the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. They became convinced that Americans were gravitating to the Democratic party and they assumed that the new allegiances were secure and not fleeting. It was an assumption based on an outdated understanding of mass based party attachment. A growing number of Americans no longer align themselves with party long term. They are perfectly comfortable voting Democrat in 2008 and Republican in 2010. (Republicans made a similar error after 2002 and 2004 - and may well again after 2010).

Even now, there is little indication that Democrats fully appreciate what is happening. Much as they thought to make excuses for the losses in NJ, VA, and MA they have sought to explain opposition to health reform, the President, and the party's overall agenda by looking outward rather than inward. As such, many defenders of the faith have taken to declaring that opposition to the party's agenda is driven by fear, hatred, and racism. The flaw in this argument being that Democrats are in dire straits because they have lost folks who previously voted for them - so for Democrats to be correct then these voters must have overcome their intolerant and racist tendencies in 2006 and 2008 but now Republicans or Tea Partiers have managed to fan the smoldering flames. It's hard to imagine how the Democrats hope to win over voters after spending months defaming them. Worse, if Democrats create a caricature of their opposition they will never take seriously the lessons of any electoral defeat and learn no lessons from the loss. Gallup reports today that Republicans have taken an historic 10 point lead on the generic ballot - bigotry and nativism are simply insufficient explanations of such significant developments.

Democrats thought that they had a foundation of popular support on which to build their policy priorities - they were wrong. They are now convinced that opposition to their agenda is based on economic anxiety and intolerance. Those who are desperately trying to paint this election as being driven by the economy are simply looking for convenient excuses and failing to recognize the substantial changes in the American political system and the growing disconnect between the electorate and the elected in recent decades.  These are crucial miscalculations. And at this late date, there is really nothing they can do to correct their errors or stop the coming wave.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Newsweek Poll Creates more Questions than it Answers

Please see my latest post, regarding the New Newsweek poll.

Update: According to Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com Princeton Survey Research provided him with the data on the missing cases that were not included in the offical release. With that data in hand, Blumenthal was able to replicate the survey results and the 45% to 45% tie. My original post was intended to criticize Newsweek for releasing data that did not allow for replication of its reported results. I stand by the criticism. I would add as well that given the impact that the inclusion of the 5% of unaffiliated voters had on the final results they should have been included in the final release. That 5% overwhelmingly favored Democrats - a fact that should have been addressed - or given the small size of the sub sample discarded.

Original Post:
In a front page story on their website Newsweek proclaims "NEWSWEEK Poll: Democrats May Not Be Headed for Midterm Bloodbath." According to Newsweek, the poll's results suggest  "the party is better off this year than Republicans were in 2006, when the GOP lost 30 House seats, and than the Democrats were in 1994, when they lost 52 House seats."

What did the poll find?  That President Obama's approval rating is at 47% and Democrats and Republicans are tied at 45% on the generic ballot. Compared to other recent polls the Newsweek survey does show the Democrats to be in far better shape - problem is, the Newsweek poll actually confirms what other polls have found and should give Democrats great cause for concern.

Newsweek reports that Republicans and Democrats are tied at 45%. The folks at Newsweek were kind enough to break down that support by party - see Table One.

 
 
According to Table One, Democrats are winning 90% of the Democratic vote and Republicans are winning 94% of the Republican vote - Independents favor Republicans by a 45% to 33% margin - resulting a 45% to 45% tie...
 
Something seem fishy? It should. Consider the breakdown by party - 284 Republicans, 280 Democrats and 247 Independents - that's 33% Republican, 33% Democrat and 29% Independent (a few folks must have reported no party).  It is mathematically impossible for Democrats and Republicans to be tied at 45% if each party is receiving similar shares of their own party vote, but Independents prefer Republicans by 12 points.  If Democrats are winning a few less of their own votes as compared to the GOP, and they are losing Independents - they simply cannot be tied.
 
If you apply the actual sample size to the reported results then you end up with what is shown in Table Two.
   

The two right columns show the actual share of the respondents who supported each party - if one looks at the actual sample then Republicans are leading the generic ballot by a margin of 46% to 40%. Contrary to the headline and tenor of the story, a 6 point lead for the GOP among registered voters would signal a coming bloodbath. It would also be consistent with most recent polls.

Newsweek includes a disclaimer that reads: Data are weighted so that sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density.
 
Notice that no mention is made of party identification - but the only way to arrive at a 45% to 45% split is by significantly altering the party identification of the survey respondents. I do this in Table Three.
 
 
                                *** See Update

In order to get to a 45% to 45% race, one must change the sample such that 37% are Democrats, 30% are Republicans and 33% are Independents. There are few other combinations that get you to 45% but all involve a significant increase in Democrats and considerable decrease in Republicans. Newsweek offers no explanation for such a dramatic change to its own sample, but there is no reasonable argument for such a party breakdown (According to data provided to Mark Blumenthal by Princeton Survey Research the 5% of unaffiliated respondents supported Democrats by a 40% to 29% margin - this data was not included in the official release).
 
In the 2008 election Democrats were 39% of the electorate, Republicans 32% and Independents 29% - no one believes that Democrats will hold a similar advantage in 2010. In 2004, the last good Republican year, Democrats and Republicans were 37% of the electorate and Independents were 26% - roughly equal to the actual Newsweek sample.

If you want to become truly confused, look to the last page of the survey where Princeton Survey Research (Newsweek's pollster of choice) reports the results of the following question "In politics TODAY, do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, or Independent?" They report that respondents were 32% Republican, 36% Democrat, and 27% Independent - so the last page provides a partisan breakdown that does not match the breakdown reported on the first page. Worse - if you plug the reported breakdown into Table Two or Table Three Republicans still lead by 47.4% to 42.6% - the poll is pure nonsense.

Now it's possible that after weighting for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density the partisan ID of the sample would change - but if one reasonably assumes that the party ID shown on the final page of the survey is the weighted breakdown then the poll's results still cannot be explained. Newsweek should release fully the effects of it's weighting so that a true assessment of its poll can be made.
 
So Newsweek may be reporting that all is well and that 2010 will not be a bloodbath, but they had to do some serious data weighting to arrive at that conclusion. Something that Newsweek has done before and that I wrote about in National Review Online in 2008. When I "corrected" Newsweek's data back in 2008 I showed that their poll reporting an 11 point lead for Barack Obama over John McCain was more like a 4 point lead - guess who was closer to the actual election result (hint: It wasn't Newsweek then and I do not think that it's Newsweek now).

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Maryland, Comparing Ehrlich/Murphy to Townsend/ Fustero is Ridiculous

A new poll conducted by Center Maryland/OpinionWorks found what most analysts had long expected - that former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich is in no danger of losing the GOP nomination to newcomer Brian Murphy. The survey of 600 likely General Election voters (and a much smaller sample of 170 Rebublicans) found that Ehrlich leads Murphy 75% to 13% with only 11% undecided.

The poll is devastating news for the Murphy campaign. It shows that after two weeks of generally positive news, a high profile interview on a national cable news station, multiple interviews on statewide television, talk radio, and newspapers- all the result of a surprise endorsement by Sarah Palin - Murphy has barely topped 10%. One cannot help but wonder - how low was his support before the last two weeks?

Center Maryland is to be commended for conducting this poll, it fills a much needed void in the Maryland race, but the write-up on the poll contained a very poor analogy.  It their write-up, Center Maryland states
But with 11 percent of likely Republican primary voters still undecided, it’s possible that Murphy could break through Maryland’s “Fustero line” – the 20 percent threshold that political observers suggest might represent a weakness in Ehrlich’s hold over his party base.
For many political observers, the performance of established gubernatorial candidates in primary elections against unknown or relatively unknown challengers marks an opportunity to assess how well those candidates will hold their base in general elections. Eight years ago, when then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote to an unknown retired grocery clerk named Robert Fustero, many analysts quickly suggested that she was having trouble energizing core Democratic constituencies. Townsend ultimately lost to Ehrlich two months later. Similar questions might be raised about Ehrlich if Murphy were to exceed 20 percent of the vote in the September Republican primary.
This is simply a ridiculous analogy and no serious observer of Maryland politics should ever compare the Ehrlich/Murphy race to the Townsend/Fustero primary. In 2002, the campaign of Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was deeply embarrassed when David Fustero managed to win 20% of the primary vote. Fustero had no organized campaign of which to speak, virtually no money, and was all but ignored by the press. As the primary approached he was campaigning via letters to the editor. Fustero had spent less than $1,000 on his candidacy, compared to Townsend's $2.3 million. Fustero should not have received 5% of the vote, let alone 20%. It's safe to say that few who voted for Fustero had ever seen his name before reading it on the ballot - it was a pure protest vote against Townsend.

Murphy, on the other had, is an organized and reasonably well funded candidate. He has respectable name recognition, has run a rather good insurgent campaign and he's received plenty of press coverage. He has also raised over $200,000 and spent $170,000 on his campaign. It may well be much less than the $1.3 million that Ehrlich has spent, but there is a sizable difference between $1,000 and $170,000.

The question should not be whether breaking the "Fustero Line" of 20% indicates weakness by Ehrlich, the real question should be how is Murphy not doing any better than 13%? Reaching 20% on primary day will not signal dissatisfaction with Ehrlich, rather it would mark a low bar of achievement for Murphy's campaign. Spinning it any other way is just nonsense.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poll: Maryland Voters Seem Comfortable with O'Malley and Ehrlich

A new poll confirms that the race for governor in Maryland continues to be tight. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich tied at 47% to 47%. The race has been tied all summer and nothing much has changed.  Recent campaign fundraising reports show that Martin O'Malley has a $4.7 million cash advantage over Ehrlich - and these numbers suggest that O'Malley will need that advantage to turn out the vote. Ehrlich needs to use these numbers to convince potential donors that he can in fact win this race - so long as he has the money to compete.

There are several truly interesting findings in the latest poll and as always they offer areas of hope and concern for both campaigns. An equal share of voters consider each candidate to be "mainstream." This should worry team O'Malley - in a state that is 2 to 1 Democrat one would expect voters to see the Republican as less mainstream. Likewise, the candidates have equal favorability ratings. The O'Malley camp wants to convince voters that the Ehrlich years were not good for the state - but this finding suggests that voters have a rather positive recollection of Ehrlich's tenure.

Likewise, 77% of respondents describe Ehrlich as Somewhat or Very Conservative. For O'Malley, 25% describe him as Moderate and 55% describe him as Somewhat or Very Liberal. These numbers tell us something important about the Maryland electorate - commentators obsess over the Democrats' 2 to 1 voter registration advantage in the state portraying Democratic voters as a monolithic group. This is simply wrong. While the Democratic Party in much of the nation has slowly purged itself of the social conservatives who once called it home there is still a strong element of those old school Democrats in Maryland - call them "Boll Weevils" or "Blue Dogs" they are Democrats by tradition, even though the party is no longer aligned with many of their core beliefs. This is why Republicans win in counties where registered Democrats outnumber them. In only 7 of Maryland's 24 counties (Baltimore City is, in effect, a county) do Republicans hold an advantage - and it's often a slim one (Harford only recently switched from plurality Democrat to plurality Republican). Yet Ehrlich carried 21 counties in 2002 and 20 counties in 2006.

A look at Maryland's Senate makes that clear - the sea of red are legislative districts represented in the state Senate by Republicans - yet most of the counties included in these districts are majority Democrat.
O'Malley should should be a bit concerned that he is tied with a candidate that 3/4 of Marylanders consider to be Somewhat or Very Conservative - it may suggest that that many voters like that about Ehrlich - or that in 2010 many voters are looking for a conservative candidate.

O'Malley can take heart in the fact that his job approval rating has finally topped 50% - reaching 54% in this poll. President Obama has a 56% approval rating, so the president is unlikely to be a drag on the O'Malley ticket.

All things considered, I would give an edge to Bob Ehrlich based on the favorability and mainstream ratings, but mostly based on the last two questions in the survey:

9* Generally speaking, how would you rate the U.S. economy these days? Excellent, good, fair, or poor?

  •  1% Excellent
  • 7% Good
  • 37% Fair
  • 55% Poor
  • 1% Not sure

10* Are economic conditions in the country getting better or worse?

  • 31% Better
  • 41% Worse
  • 23% About the same
  • 4% Not Sure
I would not want to be associated with the party in power heading into an election in which 55% of potential voters rate the economy as poor and 41% say it is getting worse. That's a strong tide for O'Malley to fight.

If Ehrlich can get his fundraising in order this may well become his race to lose.

* Image courtesy of RealClearPolitics.com

Democrats' "Extreme" Strategy May not Work

Facing awful polling numbers, an unpopular President, and a dreadful economy Democrats have sought to change the narrative of the 2010 midterms by portraying Republican candidates as being "outside the mainstream" and "extreme." This is hardly a new strategy and Republicans have often sought to define Democratic candidates as too liberal for the American mainstream.

There is mounting evidence, however, that the strategy will have little effect on the outcome of the 2010 election. With the President sinking to new lows in public approval, seemingly everyday, and the Democratic led Congress reaching all time lows of public approval it's increasing hard for the Democrats to define their opponents as extreme.

The Hotline is reporting today that "A prominent Democratic pollster is circulating a survey that shows George W. Bush is 6 points more popular than President Obama in "Frontline" districts -- seats held by Democrats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees as most vulnerable to Republican takeover. That Bush is more popular than Obama in Democratic-held seats is cause for outright fear."

You read that correctly, President Bush - who left office with a 35% approval rating - is more popular than Barack Obama in key congressional districts currently held by Democrats - that is devastating.

It is also clear that the Republicans are going to push back hard against the extremist label. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has released a very hard hitting ad suggesting that Republicans are not the extremists in this election.



Adding his voice to the chorus of bad news, Charlie Cook has just released a revised estimate of the House 2010 outlook:
With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. At this point, only 214 House seats are Solid, Likely or Lean Democratic, while 181 seats are Solid, Likely or Lean Republican, and 40 seats are in the Toss Up column. While this would imply an advantage for Democrats, given the continuous erosion we have seen in dozens of contests so far this cycle, races shifting from Solid and Likely Democrat to Lean Democratic and Toss Up, we would be surprised if there was not more movement over the 78 days from now until Election Day.
There are barely 80 days to go and Democrats still have not found a narrative that works for them - and they are running out of time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

2010: An Historic GOP Wave?

There is general agreement that the GOP is likely to make significant gains in the coming midterm elections. All questions now focus on just how many seats the Republicans will gain in the House and Senate. In some respects that is a moot point. With only 41 seats in the U.S. Senate, Republicans have been able to block or force significant alterations to many Democratic initiatives. Health reform was only possible by way of the reconciliation process - after 60 Democrats voted for an initial bill prior to the loss of their supermajority. By most accounts Republicans will gain at least 4 and perhaps 7 seats in the Senate. With 45 or 48 seats Republicans will be able to block any and all legislation they so choose.

In the House, most analysts see Republican gains of 30-35 seats, just shy of the 39 needed to regain control. A recent release by Gallup reported that the average seat gain for the minority during a midterm when the president's approval is below 50% is 36 seats. Simply put, Republicans are within striking distance of reclaiming the House. Democrats will not be able to govern with a scant 4 seat majority in the House.

Translation: The midterm election is likely to mark the end of President Obama's current agenda - even if the Democrats retain control of Congress.

That said, I continue to think that the 2010 midterm is taking the shape of a growing GOP wave - one that will likely result in far more than 35 seats gained in the House and likely 8 or 9 seats gained in the Senate.

Why am I so convinced of this?  Consider this chart from Pollster.com averaging the so-called generic ballot question. Republicans currently hold a 6.1 percentage point lead. Democrats lost their lead as the health care battle was starting last year and have never recovered. Recent efforts to undermine faith in the GOP, to link them to the Tea Party, and to tie them to George W. Bush have clearly failed.



History is the other reason that I see the likelihood of significant GOP gains. Consider the most recent Gallup tracking poll tally for the generic ballot:

It shows Republicans leading by a 50% to 43% margin over Democrats - the trend since March shows that the parties have been near parity, with a slight advantage for Republicans. More recently, the trend has clearly favored the GOP.

Now, consider the next chart - it shows the generic ballot question from 1950 through 2006. Notice anything interesting? Since 1950, Republicans have only led the generic ballot twice - in 1994 prior to the so-called Republican Revolution and in 2002 just before George W. Bush became the first president since FDR to see his party gain seats during the first midterm of his first term.


In neither case - 1994 nor 2002 - did the GOP top 50% in the generic ballot. Rather they were the choice of a plurality. In fact, until this week the GOP had never reached 50% in Gallup's generic ballot question. At only four points since 1950 had the GOP even achieved parity with Democrats - yet they have been on a level playing field since March and are now pulling away.

We are in uncharted territory. Since the 1950s the American electorate has always had a generic preference for Democrats. That era has ended. If the generic ballot is accurately capturing public sentiment - and there is no reason to doubt that it is - the GOP is poised to score a tremendous and impressive electoral comeback in November. One that seemed all but impossible just 18 months ago.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is Ehrlich Debate Challenge a Smoke Screen?

Update III: And now it makes sense - Ehrlich raised $3.2 million, but only has $2 million in the bank. So O'Malley has a tremendous cash advantage. No wonder Ehrlich wanted to change the story.

Update II: The Ehrlich camp is reporting that they raised $3.2 million - essentially on par with what the O'Malley camp raised during the same period. There is no doubt that O'Malley will have raise more cash - in total - but Ehrlich will have more than enough to run a competitive race. I'm not sure why they waited until Friday to release this data.  I assume that they worried about comparisons between Ehrlich's cash on hand and O'Malley's. 

Update: Julie Bykowicz is reporting at the Baltimore Sun that team Ehrlich is going to wait until tomorrow to release their numbers. To me, this is further evidence that the numbers will be weak and the debate challenge was a smoke screen. It is a tried and true tactic in politics to issue bad or otherwise unflattering news on a Friday so that it will be lost in a weekend full family activities and other real life distractions.

Seemingly out of the blue, and one month before the nominating primary, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich has issued a pretty detailed debate challenge to his likely Democratic opponent, Governor Martin O'Malley.

The general election is 3 months away and the race is pretty much tied - why issue a debate challenge now?  Call be suspicious but I have to wonder if Ehrlich is trying to change the storyline and there are three possible stories that he's trying to quash:
  1. He wants people to stop talking about Brian Murphy. His rival for the GOP nomination has been receiving a great deal of free press following his surprise endorsement from Sarah Palin. Murphy has been all over the pages of the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun and has landed interviews on local TV and radio as well as the Fox Business channel.
  2. O'Malley just announced that he has a campaign war chest loaded with $6.7 million - a hefty sum heading into the campaign and a number that may dampen enthusiasm among Ehrlich supporters.
  3. Speaking of fundraising, Ehrlich still has not released his current fundraising totals. O'Malley released his yesterday (so that he could brag about the impressive haul) but the Ehrlich camp seems to be waiting. I find it odd that they would issue a debate challenge on the same day they intend to release their fundraising totals - unless those totals are less than impressive. Ehrlich wanted to raise $3 million, if he came in under that number the press spin would be very negative and it would make Ehrlich appear weak against the fundraising prowess of O'Malley.
I suspect Ehrlich issued the debate challenge to grab back some headlines, but wait until his campaign releases their fundraising totals. If those numbers are below $3 million, then we'll know exactly why he issued the challenge - distraction.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

With Palin Endorsement is Murphy a "Mama Grizzly"?

Sarah Palin waded into Maryland politics last week when she released a short statement endorsing Brian Murphy in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Palin said Murphy is "a pro-life, pro-second amendment, commonsense conservative and a firm believer in the free market and the cause for energy independence. Brian has the private sector experience that is so lacking in government today. He knows how to incentivize industry to get our economy moving again." Murphy, a little known 33 year old, is fighting an uphill battle against the well known and well financed former governor Robert Ehrlich.

Though some are quick to dismiss the impact of Palin's endorsement, it is worth noting that Palin's track record so far this election cycle has been pretty good. And for Murphy, the endorsement provided two things that he desperately needed - free advertising and better name recognition. CNN,the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post have all committed new ink to the Murphy campaign. Murphy even landed an interview on the Fox Business channel and the endorsement was covered by all the local news stations. In the near term, this endorsement will help Murphy, but it is unlikely that Palin will come to the state and campaign for him and equally unlikely that there will be a long term effect.

As for the impact of her endorsement on Robert Ehrlich's campaign - I think that Tom Schaller got it mostly right in the Baltimore Sun: "Mr. Ehrlich said the snub didn't matter, but he knows better and ought to be giddy. Ms. Palin would have done far more harm to his candidacy by endorsing him, and if anything she gave Mr. Ehrlich the opportunity to polish his preferred image as a non-ideological pragmatist."

Come the general election, Governor Martin O'Malley will likely claim that Bob Ehrlich is a dangerous, right-wing conservative, out of step with Maryland voters. Ehrlich can respond by reminding voters (the majority of whom will be Democrats) that he was too moderate for Sarah Palin.

Liberal commentators like Schaller are too quick to dismiss Palin and her impact on politics - this is a mistake. Palin has had a tremendous effect on national politics since being plucked from obscurity in 2008. But her brand of conservatism is simply a poor fit with Maryland, a state that has sent only three Republican governors to Annapolis since 1950 and each - Theodore McKeldin, Spiro "Ted" Agnew, and Ehrlich - was a moderate Republican with significant bi-partisan appeal (yes, even Agnew). Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin in Maryland and although many Maryland Democrats are of the conservative "Blue Dog" variety they are not Republicans. Any statewide Republican candidate needs to win about 25% of the Democratic vote - an endorsement from Sarah Palin is not an effective strategy to achieve that mark.

Brian Murphy should enjoy the exposure that Palin's endorsement has afforded him, and his time in Maryland politics may yet come, but not this year and not in this race. In the end, Palin's endorsement of Murphy will have roughly the same impact on the campaign as the economic stimulus bill signed by President Obama last year had on the economy - the effect will near-term, limited, and mostly inconsequential - other than to boost the political fortunes of his opponents.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same Sex Marriage and "Judicial Activism"

On Wednesday, August 4 a federal judge voided California's ban on same sex marriage (proposition 8) declaring that it violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The issues tends to be a bit divisive and as one can imagine the reaction to the ruling has varied - but there is one narrative that I find especially troubling. On supported of Proposition 8 said this: "The whole nation is watching, and the whole nation should be quaking to think that a single judge sitting in California can reverse the will of 7 million voters."

This is a variation on a similar theme often raised after controversial judicial rulings - that judges should not act counter to the will of the voters or their elected representatives. I will defer to the judgement of Alexander Hamilton on such matters. In Federalist 78, Hamilton addressed this very subject:
Some perplexity respecting the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution, has arisen from an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power. It is urged that the authority which can declare the acts of another void, must necessarily be superior to the one whose acts may be declared void. As this doctrine is of great importance in all the American constitutions, a brief discussion of the ground on which it rests cannot be unacceptable.

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.
Hamilton's point is clear - no act of law, whether approved by voters or representatives may violate the Constitution.

So who should determine what the Constitution means? The people? Their representatives? Again, Hamilton provides the answer:
The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body.
Interpretation of the law and of the Constitution is the sole responsibility of  the judiciary and if a law is found to violate the Constitution it does not matter if it was approved by 7 or 7 million voters - it is void. The same applies to any legislation enacted by the House and Senate and signed by a president.

Soon, the Supreme Court will likely be asked to consider whether the individual mandate included as part of comprehensive health reform violates the Constitution. The decision by the court to void the mandate would be significant as the health reform law did not include a severability clause - meaning that a decision to invalidate the mandate would likely invalidate the entire bill.

I will not presuppose what the court will decide - but I remain confident that the judges will do just what the are supposed to do - interpret the Constitution and uphold its will above all else.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Midterm Update - The GOP Wave Has Not Crested

Last week, some pundits wondered aloud if Democrats were staging a mini rally against Republicans. The Gallup tracking poll reported a Democratic lead in the so-called generic ballot question for two consecutive weeks. Charlie Cook wrote "One interpretation of recent results is that the momentum in this critical midterm election has shifted and the Republican wave has subsided. Another interpretation is that it's too soon to tell whether much has changed at all."

The latest Gallup poll shows that Republicans have reclaimed a 5 point lead. A review of the generic ballot question from several polls available at Realclearpolitics.com shows that Republicans currently lead in every national poll.



The Republicans enjoy an average lead of 6% - and nearly every poll is limited to registered voters and not likely voters. This is significant as Republicans appear far more motivated to vote in the 2010 midterm, so the average "likely voter" is probably much more Republican than the typical "registered voter." A recent survey by Pew found that "Fully 56% of Republican voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections – the highest percentage of GOP voters expressing increased enthusiasm about voting in midterms dating back to 1994."Among Democrats, only 42% reported such enthusiasm. To add a bit oh historical perspective "The Republican Party now holds about the same advantage in enthusiasm among its party’s voters that the Democratic Party held in June 2006 and the GOP had late in the 1994 campaign." Pew is actually understating the historical significance as this is the first time that any party has recorded an enthusiasm rating above 50% in the last 16 years.
 
What impact will this enthusiasm have come election day? Cook notes in his column that a 5 point lead among registered voters for Democrats typically translates into a tie with Republicans among actual voters - because registered voter numbers historically underestimate actual Republican turn-out. In October 1994 Gallup reported that Democrats enjoyed a 46% to 44% lead over Republicans in the generic ballot - on Election Day Republicans won the national popular vote 52% to 45%. So a 2 point Democratic lead among registered voters translated into a 7 point Republican lead among actual voters and a gain of just over 50 House seats.
 
The current 6 point lead held by Republicans would likely translate into a pick-up of at least 40 - if not 50 - seats in the House. If the actual lead come election day is closer to 10 points it would not be unrealistic to see Republicans pick-up roughly 70 seats in the House - and likely come within a single vote of retaking the Senate.
 
Events can still change, Democrats can still reclaim an advantage - though one must wonder how. A look at the generic ballot trend going back to President Obama's inauguration shows that voters began to turn on the Democrats just as the health reform battle was heating up last summer and despite a slight tightening in lat spring 2010 the trend has been favoring the GOP for over a year. As Republicans learned in 2006, once started it's hard to alter that trend.
 
 
The latest House race assessment from the Rothenberg Report finds that 88 House seats are "in play." Of the 88, only 12 are held by Republicans, and the Rothenberg report excludes some Democratic seats that now seem to be in danger including Illinois’s 17th congressional and North Carolina's 11th. In the Senate, Rothenberg predicts GOP gains of 5 to 8 seats and even sees the once safe seats in CA, WA, and WI as moving toward the GOP. All of this, coupled with President Obama's newly reached low of 41% approval in the USA Today Gallup poll, point to significant GOP gains in November. The coming wave has not crested.