Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Six Weeks To Go

The elections are six weeks from today. The Nattering Nabob (that’s me) will check in on a regular basis on the horse race aspects of things and this is my first visit to the action.
Much of the punditocracy in Washington has been talking about the Democrats taking control of the House. The generic polling data has indicated that the people clearly want a change and have even talked about getting rid of their own Congressman to do it. The problem is the electoral map is rigged. In some cases, merely by demographic shifts – liberals moving to liberal communities and even more significantly, conservatives seeking out like-minded places to raise their families. In many cases, gerrymandering has rigged things. The GOP carving up of Texas and Georgia was the most notable, but what happened out here in California was, in some ways, worse. Years ago, the Democrats and Republicans carved up the state to preserve their own seats, not just in Congress, but in the state legislatures as well. The reason for this is the arcane budgetary process we have, which the Republicans, by virtue of having more than a third of the seats, retain veto power over. So they locked in that, conceded Dem control of the legislature and Congressional delegation. The results of this were at their most sickening in 2004 – not one legislative seat in the entire state changed parties. Since CA has 10% of the House, gains in other states will have to do the job, since the most the Dems will gain here is one – if they’re lucky. Overall, this should be very tight and, with potential party-switchers factored in, this may not be over until someone is actually elected Speaker.
So we’ll focus on the Senate, where there is specific polling data to look at. The GOP needs 50 seats for control, so let’s see if we can build their majority. They start with 40 seats not up this time, add in ME, IN, MS, UT, WY, TX, and NV and they’re at 47. Arizona is interesting, in that Jon Kyl is an incumbent who seems to be having trouble. Most polls seem to have him up from 5 to 10 points and frankly, it’s hard to see the upset happening here. Pederson’s big hope there is that Gov. Janet Napolitano’s expected huge (13-15 point) win comes with serious coat tails. There is hope here for the Dems, but until I see a poll with Pederson closing fast, I’ll assume Kyl holds on – giving the GOP 48.
The good news for the Dems is that there is no other race I’m assuming the Republicans have. The bad news is that RI, NJ, VA, TN, MO, OH, and MT are very much in play. The Dems will need 6 of 7 to win control, so let’s take a quick walk through them.

RI – The good news is that Whitehouse is winning, the bad news is that a good guy like Lincoln Chaffee is the kind of Republican most in danger. There used to be a lot of his kind, moderates of an independent bent, with traditionally conservative economics and moderate social policies. Whitehouse is consistently up in polls, but not by a lot – this result could be a negative bellwether for the Dems on election night. It’s a little ironic that a guy named Whitehouse is going to win because folks in RI can’t stand the White House.

NJ- Over in PA, Dem empty suit Bob Casey is winning a GOP seat on the basis of his father’s name and popularity. In NJ, the GOP strikes back with Tom Kean’s boy. Kean has been consistently ahead by 3-5, but the latest Rasmussen poll has it at 1. That could be a blip or the start of a trend – it better be a trend for the Dems, because losing this seat would doom them.

VA- First, I’d like to welcome George Allen to the tribe – Happy New Year, Georgie. (You notice how every election cycle someone finds out he has Jewish blood? Last time it was John Kerry. You notice how this doesn’t help them at all?) Okay, I’m not really hoping this is a happy new year for him – I hope he loses. It’s really possible, as this race has gradually drifted from the “are you kidding?” column, to the “safe” column, to the “leaning” column to the “holy shit, we could lose this” column. We’re six weeks out and the debate is centering around whether Allen regularly used the word “nigger” or just occasionally did. Since he isn’t a hip-hop artist, it’s not a good debate for him. Add in “macaca” and a closeted Jewish mother and you have a campaign that is a mess. Locals are often unhappy about Senators who have bigger (Presidential) plans and that could also hurt George. I think Webb has a really good chance of the upset here.

TN- Harold Ford is trying to become the first black Senator from the South since reconstruction. I know, this falls under the heading of “I’ll believe it when I see it”, but every poll has it tight and getting tighter. The most recent poll has Ford ahead, but I’d wait for confirmation from at least one more before I start celebrating. One more thing – black candidates for statewide office almost always do worse on election day than the polling data indicates. It looks tight, but there’s work to do.

MO- A true tossup. Claire McCaskill lost a tight race for Governor in 2004 and many in MO are sorry she did. Incumbent Senator Jim Tallent is a social conservative and stem-cell research is a big issue there. This race is a good test of how far to the right MO has drifted. Latest polls seem to be trending to McCaskill, ever so slightly.

OH- Mike DeWine has been racing to the middle as fast as he can. Democrat Sherrod Brown has been leading in the polls for a while. DeWine’s campaign seems to be “I am not George Bush’s butt boy” – Brown disagrees. Hey – the folks in OH know they’re responsible for Bush’s second term, this can’t be helping DeWine.

MT- What is a three-term Republican Senator in a Mountain state which Bush won by 20 points two years ago doing in trouble? Well, start by taking money from Jack Abramoff, then follow that up by attacking the competence of firefighters from Virginia who came to help put out forest fires, and you end up with a disapproval rating well above 50%. If Tester wins this, MT will have a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators – weird, huh? He has a lead in the polls and this looks like it’s going to happen – I included it here because I’m leery of assuming a three-term incumbent is headed for defeat.

If you think politics are nasty and divisive now, imagine them with a 50-50 Senate and a 218-217 House.


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