Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Mishegas

Alberto Gonzalez is resigning as Attorney General. Yes, another fine man done in by political bickering. Considering his clear mental handicap, you’d think he would be protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act. If only the Bush administration knew it existed, they might have used it to protect him. Fortunately, Fredo won’t remember any of this unpleasantness – or anything else, apparently.

Burglars broke into Sen. Chris Dodd’s Hartford office over the weekend, taking some undisclosed items. I hope this Watergate-ish episode doesn’t derail the Dodd campaign juggernaut.

Fred Thompson plans on announcing his campaign just after Labor Day, using a video to do the job. The video will start with the Law and Order theme music and Thompson will cite his depth of experience as his strong point, having played not just a tough on crime DA, but a CIA Director (“No Way Out”), a White House Chief of Staff (“In The Line of Fire”), and three Presidents, one fictional (“Last Best Chance”), and two real (“Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story” and “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”). His extensive military service includes a Captain (“Flight of the Intruder”), a Lt. Col. (China Beach), a Major General (“Fat Man and Little Boy”), and a Rear Admiral (“Hunt For Red October”) – talk about working your way up through the ranks. He can also point about how favorably this compares with Ronald Reagan, who was a football player and baby sat a monkey.

Likely primary voters and caucus goers in early states were asked how familiar they were with the healthcare plans of various candidates and almost candidates, including Fred Thompson. In Nevada 29% said they were familiar with Thompson's healthcare plan. In New Hampshire it was 15%, in Iowa 18%, in Florida it was 22% and in South Carolina 24% had some idea about his plan. It’s great to see so many people paying such intense attention to the campaign this early. It would be more impressive if Thompson actually had a health care plan – he doesn’t. Still, he played a doctor once (“Class Action”), so he knows the issues intimately.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Numbers and Notes - Perception is Reality

In electoral politics, perception is reality. It did not matter whether George Bush was a “Compassionate Conservative” or not (Heartless Fascist would be a more accurate description), the belief that he was one helped him in the election. It doesn’t matter whether Hillary is a Left-wing Witch or not (Moderate Witch is probably more accurate, but perhaps she’s really a sweetheart), the public perception of that drives her high unfavorability ratings. The nature of a race, especially a primary race, where the candidates do not have bold policy differences, can easily be determined by the public’s perception of the race itself. No perception is more important under those circumstances than the inevitability of victory.
While those who analyze polling data professionally constantly point out that relatively few voters are paying attention to the campaign and that history tells us that once things intensify with actual votes being imminent there is a large change in voters’ allegiances, even fewer people are hearing those admonitions than are paying attention to the campaign. The news media, in particular, tend to treat polling numbers like they were handed down from Mt. Sinai, rather than just acquired by minimum-wage callers or zero-wage computers. A two-point shift is a trend, a four point drop a collapse, and a marginally significant lead is considered insurmountable. The media also enjoys the horse race far more than it does the underlying issues. And they are very bad at covering a whole field of horses, so they narrow it down as much as possible. In the Democratic primary race, that last part has become Clinton vs. Obama. Yes, they mention Edwards, but he’s clearly the third guy, and because of his lack of movement in the numbers, he’s actually less interesting to them than Richardson.
The Gallup Poll, along with being the most famous, is also the most widely quoted. In that poll, Hillary’s lead over Obama is over 20 points. More important, she is at 48%, which, for those of you who are numerically challenged, is very close to a majority. Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll has Hillary’s lead about half of that. Even worse for those men in the race, Hillary’s state-by-state numbers, especially in the big February 5th primaries, are even better. Combining these elements, there is a growing sense of inevitability to Hillary’s nomination.
We can point out forever that no votes have been cast (true), that little advertising money has been spent (also true), and that prior year frontrunners in the Democratic Party have a spotty history of success (true again). The fact still remains that while we are still five months from any votes being cast, we are only six months from the race being over. That last fact changes everything. The February 5th frontloading has changed the entire process. When exactly is the public going to focus on the race, between Thanksgiving and Christmas? There is little reason to believe people focus on anything but family and shopping in that timeframe. In fact, family gatherings could be interesting conversation areas, with those who have opinions formed convincing those who don’t, and could be more important than subsequent commercials.
The aura of inevitability helps raise money and just as important, dries up money for others. Nobody wants to endorse a loser, if the bandwagon is about to leave, you’d better be on it. Notice how organized labor didn’t endorse anyone. Hillary Clinton may be anathema to the AFL-CIO, but they don’t dare oppose her.
A month ago, Obama staffers told The Politico that the polls didn’t bother them, that they were planning on winning Iowa and New Hampshire and turning things around then, so they would be patient. The first time Hillary went over 40% in the Gallup Poll, that all changed. Obama got more aggressive toward Clinton, publicly fighting with her and drawing very public distinctions. Unfortunately for him, the numbers didn’t move. Make no mistake, they know they can’t wait until January to break down her numbers. There are already signs that more Democrats are feeling positively toward Hillary. I interpret those as the feeling that she is likely to be the nominee, so people guess they should start looking at her positives. As for me, I may be pregnant, but I refuse to pretend I’m in love. I believe Hillary will be a disaster for the party and a disaster for the country. The aura of inevitability surrounding her means she must be attacked directly. The lesser candidates can play a part here, but Kucinich, who could easily play a big part in this, is intoxicated with himself. Biden and Dodd are big on Senatorial courtesy and Biden probably has a cabinet position in mind. I believe something big has to happen before January or Hillary will win. Patience may be a virtue, but in this case, it could be fatal.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Karl Loves Hillary

Well, “loves” may be a strong word, but Karl Rove certainly seems obsessed with her. He talks about her constantly, writes about her, tells anyone who’ll listen what he thinks of her. Hell, maybe he even drives by her house at night, for all we know. What is all this about? Is his series of attacks on her a genuine antipathy that he can’t resist revealing? Or is there more here than meets the eye?
The LA Times got into it this week, referring back to the 2004 campaign, when Rove focused his early attacks on Kerry, to the complete exclusion of all others. This had the advantage of establishing early themes, but more important, from his perspective, was anointing Kerry as “the one”, the opponent-to-be. According to Matthew Dowd, who was part of the campaign, Kerry was the one he wanted to run against, since he felt he was most beatable, rather than the Southerner without a record to attack, John Edwards. So he never commented on Edwards, always commenting on Kerry. Did this lead the Democrats in the direction he wanted? Frankly, I think we were headed there with or without him. Still, it was his theory and plan. Now it’s Hillary he talks about on every interview show and Hillary he attacks. The Times, and Dowd, assumes this to be because she is the one he wants the Republicans to run against, thinking she will be their most beatable candidate.
While I think that is part of it, I think there is a lot more to it than that. Rove probably realizes that the Republicans may have serious trouble holding on to the White House. His hope is probably to keep everything he has built from being destroyed. Clinton is the Democrat with the best chance of keeping the GOP a force. First, Hillary will have no coattails at all. Many Congressional candidates are very unhappy about the possibility of her being the nominee, since she is incredibly unpopular in their districts and will be impossible to run with. This is a big problem for candidates, as running away from your party’s Presidential candidate is never a good thing, especially since they agree with her on most issues. Her unpopularity is mostly personal, not issue-oriented, especially in the moderate districts and conservative states where, ironically, she could do the most damage. This may have the effect of limiting the carnage in the Congressional races.
Equally important is Hillary’s polarizing nature. Nothing will hold the Republican Party together better than a Clinton Presidency. They will have no trouble uniting against her; the grass roots, spurred on by the talk show loons, loathe her and will be energized as never before. They will have no trouble raising money to fight her, which is also a key part of keeping the party from being demoralized. Rove is not a fool – he wants Hillary to be the Democratic nominee and I fear he may get her, much to the detriment of the Democratic Party and America.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Democrats Debate -- Labor Pains

So that more of the faithful could attend, last night’s Democratic debate was held in the intimate setting of Soldier Field in Chicago. This resulted in a goodly amount of yelling by candidates, as well as yelling by the crowd, many of whom were far enough away to be anonymous. This debate was the Democratic Leadership Council’s worst nightmare, with serious left-wing red meat being tossed to an audience ready to consume it. Still, the DLC’s horse in the race, Hillary Clinton, did what she had to and avoided too much damage, in spite of several episodes of booing from the crowd.
This debate did have the unveiling of the key theme of the anti-Hillary forces (although the bloggers convention over the weekend really started this ball rolling) – she’s the ultimate insider, it’s Washington insiders who write all these lousy trade deals, she takes money from the lobbyists, she isn’t going to change anything. Both Obama and Edwards hammered at this, while the others notably didn’t.
Here are the candidates and my grades for them, in the order of their polling strength (sort of):

Hillary Clinton: B+ -- Not her crowd, nor her environment, as she doesn’t sound or look good when raising her voice. Given that, she managed to come out okay, especially given her general pro-business outlook. Quote of the night: “NAFTA hurt American workers.” Mostly she blames the lack of enforcement of labor regulations by the Bush Administration, yet she did talk about revisiting it. Since NAFTA was a key part of the abysmal Clinton trade policy, it would seem to be a good jumping off point to start attacking them on it. Attacking Bill is dicey, but forcing Hillary to choose sides could be a solid tactic. Of course, Hillary and Bill will probably just lie about what their positions were, are, or will be (as she does on Iraq), so it probably wouldn’t work.

Barack Obama: A- – Home field advantage helps a bit, but he found themes which could be useful. Both he and Edwards attacked “Washington insiders” and the legislation they write. Hillary, of course, has defended lobbyists – what else can she do, her brother is one. This could be a useful, albeit demagogic, fight. It’s not like the AFL-CIO doesn’t have lobbyists. Still, “lobbyist” is a code word for big business influence and Hillary is certainly vulnerable to that charge.
His best moments were in defending his Pakistan positions. Not for what he said, or the position itself, but for the effectiveness in fighting back against Dodd, Clinton, et al. Looking tough and strong is never bad. The issues may be more complex than he makes them, but the American people prefer action to Senatorial hemming and hawing and this is all good for Barack.

Dennis Kucinich: A+ -- I know he’s not next in the pecking order, but a digression here is needed. This was a perfect place for him, as every position he has is exactly that of organized labor. More important, unlike those who might actually be the nominee, he is free to say what he thinks and to answer in absolute terms. Others may want to amend NAFTA, he wants to get out of it. WTO problems? Withdraw from it. China trade imbalances killing us while they do whatever the hell they want around the world? End their permanent MFN status. He’s listed here because he is killing John Edwards. He already makes differentiating positions on Iraq between Edwards, Obama, and Cinton impossible. He makes trade and labor differences trivial as well. It doesn’t make a difference that Edwards would be a lot tougher on trade issues than Hillary when Kucinich is the real tough guy. While some of the others were desperate up there, he was having a ball. Unfortunately for him, his performance is still irrelevant to his chances, but not to the race itself.

John Edwards: B+ -- He was strong, he was tough, he was pro labor, he attacked Hillary with “I’m not going to be on the cover of Fortune magazine” and saying that the way to change things was not to “exchange one group of insiders for another group of insiders”. He also talked about how many picket lines he has walked and said the key is “who will stand with you when it really matters.” All good stuff, but labor still isn’t endorsing him and that could be fatal.

Bill Richardson: C+ -- What’s the point? He had a good line early about lobbyists money, saying he had gotten money from unions in the past and that “I’ll continue taking your financial support” Wants future trade agreements to include labor agreements which lower wage differences – that’ll be a nice trick.

Joe Biden: A- -- The smartest guy in the stadium. Tough, knowledgable, been everywhere, done everything, wrote legislation about that 20 years ago. Pointed out that the debate over taking action in Pakistan based on reliable intelligence was moot, since the law already says to do that. Favorite phrase : “Let’s be honest about this”
On the other hand, made a clear strategic choice to attack John Edwards on the depth of his labor support. Even in the face of poor audience reaction, he wouldn’t let it go, asking how many picket lines Edwards walked in 1998 and 1999, when he wasn’t running for President. Does he think he has to destroy Edwards to get any sort of traction? He has yet to say anything bad about Hillary, so you have to wonder whether he has ulterior motives beyond this campaign.