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November 28, 2006

Should Dems Whistle Past Dixie?

Thomas Schaller has gotten buckets of buzz (see forum at The Democratic Strategist) with his book "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South," the thesis of which is well-encapsulated in the title. The consequences of the strategy he has advocated in his book and TDS articles are far-reaching, and so it seems fair to give his critics' post-election arguments a hearing. New Donkey Ed Kilgore adds to the fray in his Salon post "Yes, Democrats do need the South!" Rebutting Schaller's contention that the '06 election verifies his book's argument, Kilgore notes:

Since Democrats did in fact gain ground in the South and did not lose a thing, Schaller is at pains to show how meager those gains were in comparison with the gains in other regions. But he largely ignores the constraints of the Southern political landscape this year. In a quirk of the electoral calendar, only five Senate seats were up in the South (accepting Schaller's definition of "the South" as the 11 states of the old Confederacy), four held by Republicans. Democrats won two, for a net gain of one senator, which is a perfectly proportional contribution to the conquest of the Senate. Similarly, there were six gubernatorial contests in the South, five in seats held by Republicans. Democrats won two for a net gain of one, again a proportional contribution to the national results. (Democrats also won the single Southern governor's races held in 2004 and in 2005, which means they now control five of the 11 executive offices.)

Kilgore concedes that Democratic candidates for the House did not do quite so well in the South. However, he explains:

There's no question Democrats underperformed in Southern House races, picking up five net seats (with a sixth and a seventh possible in disputed races in North Carolina and Florida). But it should be remembered that nearly half the region's House seats are in three super-gerrymandered states, Texas, Florida and Georgia. Schaller emphasizes two near losses by Democratic incumbents in my home state of Georgia. But in fairness, he should acknowledge that both of these districts were re-gerrymandered by the Republican Legislature last year, making Jim Marshall's district (the 8th) significantly more Republican, and taking John Barrow's home base out of his district (the 12th) entirely. The close Georgia outcomes also owed a lot to the decision of the national GOP to make Marshall and Barrow two of the three incumbents they spent heavily to defeat, in the end falling short.

In terms of state legislatures, the South doesn't look all that red either. Schaller has recently noted that the South accounted for a small percentage of Democratic gains in the state legislatures. Kilgore responds:

But the national seat-gain number is distorted by big Democratic pickups in the mammoth New Hampshire House, and Democrats were already stronger in Southern legislatures than in many other parts of the country. As of today, each party controls five Southern state legislatures, with one split (Tennessee). Not too shabby.

Kilgore has more to say about the South's larger number of electoral votes, compared to the "promised land" of the Mountain West and about recent demographic trends favoring Democrats below the Mason-Dixon line. Kilgore's concern that Schaller's argument will morph into an attack on southern culture appears to be less well-founded. And, to be fair, Schaller's book is subtitled "How Democrats Can Win Without the South," not "How Democrats Must Win Without the South" (In addition to his TDS articles, Schaller has another post-election analysis here and he answers some of his post-election critics here). But if Kilgore's rebuttal falls short of making the case for a true "50 state campaign" in '08, he has made a pretty good case for an all regions campaign.

November 27, 2006

Freshman Districts Vulnerability Ranked

OK, it may be a little early to start worrying, since they haven't even been sworn in yet. But DavidNYC has a nifty chart at Swing State Project ranking each of the districts of incoming House of Reps freshman according to the "partisan voting index" (PVI). The chart provides a useful tool for evaluating which districts may be most vulnerable for Dems to defend in '08. Hopefully, the DNC, DCCC and Speaker-elect Pelosi will take note and allocate some assistance accordingly. The comments following the article offer some perceptive insights as well.

November 26, 2006

'Economic Populists' vs. "The Rubinites' to Shape Dems' Future

Louis Uchtelle's "Here Come the Economic Populists" in The New York Times Week in Review spotlights the internal struggle within the Democratic Party between "economic populists" and "the Rubinites." While the marquee conflict between the two groups has been globalism vs. protectionism (or 'free trade' vs. 'fair trade'), there are other major issues at stake, as Uchitelle explains:

As the two groups face off, Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, contends that the populists are pushing much harder than the Rubinites for government-subsidized universal health care. They also favor expanding Social Security to offset the decline in pension coverage in the private sector.

Fortunately, there are common areas of agreement uniting the two factions:

Both would sponsor legislation that reduced college tuition, mainly through tax credits or lower interest rates on student loans. Both would expand the earned-income tax credit to subsidize the working poor. Both would have the government negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare’s prescription drug plan. And despite their relentless criticisms of President Bush’s tax cuts, neither the populists nor the Rubinite regulars would try to roll them back now, risking a veto that the Democrats lack the votes to override.

The economic populists clearly have the momentum as a result of the November 7 election, and their numbers will swell when the freshman are sworn in. But the Rubinites may still have considerable leverage in the Party. The one thing that seems certain is that the era of runaway globalism is coming to a close.

November 24, 2006

Dems' Challenge: Recruit More Women Candidates

On one level, 2006 has been a great year for womens' political empowerment, with Nancy Pelosi set to serve as the first woman Speaker of the House in the new congress. After that, however, women's gains were modest, according to statistics compiled by the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP). Women added two new U.S. Senators (both Democrats) and one governor. With two congressional races still to be decided, women increased their numbers in the House of Reps by less than one percent.

In terms of statewide elective offices, women actually lost two seats nationwide (from 78 in '04 to 76 in '06). Women recorded a small gain in the nation's state legislatures, picking up 46 seats, for a new nation-wide total of 1,732. If there is any consolation in these figures, it is that Democrats did much better than Republicans, with Dems now holding 68 percent of women's legislative seats. As CAWP Director Debbie Walsh explains:

What's most notable for 2007 is the growing party disparity, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republican lawmakers...We're concerned that, with state legislatures providing a vital pipeline to higher offices, we'll see fewer Republican women positioned to move up.

When the new elected officials take office, women's share of political offices in the U.S. will be:

Governors 18%

U.S. Senators 16%

House Members 16.3 % (pending two undecided races)

State Legislators 23%

The Dems' strong majority of women office-holders notwithstanding, the total figures are still less than impressive. The clear challenge for all national, state and local Democratic organizations is to recruit, train and support more women candidates.

November 22, 2006

Southern Demographics and Electoral Vote

Before swallowing the "skip the south" meme whole hog, Democratic presidential aspirants should take a look at R. Neal's post "The Changing Southern Demographic" at Facing South. Neal's summary of the trend of the South's African American demographic is especially interesting:

...While the Black population in the South is growing in numbers, the percentage of Black population as compared to the total has declined overall, presumably because of the increase in Hispanic and other minority population. The percentage of Black population decreased in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, increased in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, and stayed the same in Louisiana and Tennessee. (The figures for Louisiana seem off, but perhaps the data was collected before Katrina.)

A key word in the above graph being "overall." But Neal also provides this snapshot table:

Percentage of Black population (2005):

Mississippi 36.5%
Louisiana 32.5%
Georgia 29.2%
South Carolina 28.5%
Alabama 25.8%
North Carolina 21.0%
Virginia 19.1%
Tennessee 16.4%
Arkansas 15.3%
Florida 15.0%
Kentucky 7.2%
West Virginia 3.1%

Pretty much the whole south, with the exception of KY and WV (are they really southern, anyway?) has a higher percentage of the Democrats' most loyal constituency than the nation as a whole. Five southern states have double or better the national average. Given these numbers --- and a strong presidential candidate -- Dems should be able to win a few southern states.

November 19, 2006

How '06 Shake-up May Tilt Electoral College

LA Times columnist Ron Brownstein's article "The electoral college map is morphing" merits a read by Democrats interested in what the '06 election bodes for the 08 presidential contest. Among Brownstein's more encouraging observations:

More important, Colorado emerged next to Virginia as the top new target for Democrats. A party nominee who could hold all the states Kerry won in 2004 and add just those two states would obtain an electoral college majority.

In Colorado in 2004, Democrats captured both chambers of the Legislature and got Ken Salazar elected to the U.S. Senate. This year, Ritter won the governorship in a landslide — helped by commanding margins in the vote-rich Denver suburbs that propelled Bush's two victories in the state.

Brownstein also suggests that Democratic wins in statewide races in Arkansas, Montana and Ohio offer additional hope. Brownstein doesn't discuss demographic changes underway in many states that could tip the balance in favor of Dems during the next two years. But it's clear that winning the states carried by Gore or Kerry, plus one or two others adds up to an electoral college majority.

November 17, 2006

Dems Poised for Big Senate Gains in '08

All eyes and ears may be tuning into the Presidential prospects of '08, but WaPo's Chris Cillizza takes an early peek at the '08 Senate races in The Fix's The Friday Line, and the view is very good. As Cillizza explains:

A cursory evaluation of the 2008 Senate playing field shows Democrats seemingly well-positioned to build on their 51-seat majority. Of the 33 seats up for reelection, just 12 are held by Democrats. And of those 12, only two Democratic incumbents received less than 54 percent of the vote in 2002 -- Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).

....Republicans must defend 22 seats and have more obvious vulnerabilities. At first glance, just three GOP senators -- Norm Coleman (Minn.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.) -- look vulnerable, as each won in 2002 with less than 54 percent of the vote. But the complicating factor for Republicans is that there are a number of rumored retirements that may come before 2008, creating more open-seat opportunities for Democrats.

Cillizza also provides a race by race run-down. Bottom line is that the nine seat pick-up needed for a fillibuster-proof Senate majority is within reasonable range, but a 16 seat-pick up needed for a veto-proof majority is probably not. Ironically, Dems probably wouldn't need it, because if we pick up nine Senate seats, we will likely win the presidency as well. (corrected 11/20, thanks to Kevin Drum)

November 16, 2006

Fair Trade May Give Dems Edge in '08

The 2006 mid-terms may go down as the turning point when fair trade finally became a major cutting-edge issue. Many commentators have noted that a backlash against "free" trade played a pivotal role in Democratic victories in the mid-west and rust belt. The call for fair trade was a common denominator in the Democrats' Senate victories over incumbents, as Harold Meyerson explains in his American Prospect article "The Fair-Trade Election":

The Democratic pickups -- Missouri's Claire McCaskill, Montana's Jon Tester, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehouse, and Virginia's James Webb -- all unseated free-trade incumbents with campaigns that stressed the need to pay far greater attention to the downward leveling that globalization entails. Tester ran ads attacking trade agreements for putting "our jobs and the viability of family farms and ranches across Montana in jeopardy." Webb's Web site states, "We must reexamine our tax and trade policies and reinstitute notions of fairness."

Likewise in the House races, as Christopher Hayes notes in his article in The Nation "The New Democratic Populism":

A postelection analysis by Public Citizen found that campaigns cut twenty-five ads attacking free-trade deals, and that trade played a significant role in more than a dozen House races won by Democrats. In the entire election, Public Citizen noted, "no incumbent fair trader was beaten by a 'free trader.'"

Fair trade may prove to be the issue that helps Democrats make inroads into the south, where the textile industry has been devastated in a number of communities. Democrat Heath Shuler's victory in his North Carolina House race benefitted from his embrace of fair trade as a priority.

Fair trade is an issue that has clearly arrived in a big way for a growing number of voters in industrial heartland communities. Yet, with characteristic elitism, President Bush has already taken some pot shots at the newly-elected fair trade Democrats. Let's hope the GOP's next presidential nominee will be equally clueless.

November 15, 2006

Make Nice -- Not

Post of the day goes to Paul Waldman, whose "Democrats, Don't Wimp Out" at TomPaine.com does a refreshing number on the "Let's be nice bipartisans" school of thought about what congressional Democrats should do now. Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, puts it this way:

...What Democrats need to do is spend the next two years crushing their opponents like bugs. It’s not about mercy, it’s not about manners, it’s about three fundamental goals: limiting the damage the Bush administration can do, passing whatever legislation they can in the short term to help the American public and laying the foundation for future progressive victories.

For example, with respect to empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, Waldman counsels:

...Democrats should wage the fight...Two outcomes are equally likely: Either they won’t be able to pass such a bill in both houses, or they’ll pass a bill and Bush will veto it. Either way, it shows whose side they’re on, and whose side the Republicans are on.

His point is nicely-echoed by American Prospect co-editor Robert Kuttner in his web-exclusive piece "Bye Bye, Bipartisanship":

Pelosi has said her first actions will include legislation to raise the federal minimum wage and create an effective prescription drug benefit under Medicare. If Bush signs these progressive bills, we can all sing bipartisan Kumbaya. If he vetoes them, Democrats can keep reminding voters which party serves whose interests.

Waldman has an interesting idea for dealing with the GOP's lapdog media:

...Democrats should say the following to Fox: You want to spread GOP propaganda all day? Be our guest...But don’t expect any Democratic newsmakers to legitimize you with their presence. We’ll go on every other network, be interviewed by every legitimate news organization. But we don’t consider ourselves under any obligation to pretend that buffoons like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson are news professionals who deserve a moment of our time. We’re not going to try to fight you; we’ll just act like you don’t exist.

There's more, and Waldman concludes:

Democrats need to understand that they are engaged in a war of ideas, one that stretches far beyond any one Congress or presidency....Democrats should wake up every day thinking, “How can we keep Republicans on the run?” Never give them a moment’s rest, never let them advance their agenda, keep them on the defensive so they have to apologize for being the standard-bearers of a discredited ideology and a disgraced president. Do that, and every legislative battle and election to come will be that much more likely to swing in your favor.

Kuttner lays it out with equal clarity:

Forget treacly calls to come together to solve national problems. There are huge, principled differences here. The voters rejected the policies of the governing party and gave Congress a mandate to help regular people for a change.

If Waldman's and Kuttner's calls to arms seem draconian, answer one question: If the tables were turned, would the GOP hesitate to consolidate their power and crush the opposition?

November 14, 2006

Will Dems' Winning Formula Hold in '08?

E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes a persuasive case in his column in today's WaPo that, after all of the spin has been rolled out on all sides, the relevant message of the election is that the Dems' winning formula was progressives plus angry moderates equals victory. In addition, Senator Lieberman would do well to give some thougthful consideration to Dionne's take on his win:

Some Republicans say that Sen. Joe Lieberman's reelection as an independent suggests that rejection of Bush's Iraq policies was not, to use Rove's word, the "determining" factor in the election. But exit polls make clear that Lieberman won despite his support for the war, not because of it.

Connecticut voters disapproved of the war by a margin of two to one, and nearly two-thirds favored withdrawing some or all of our troops. Lieberman, who enjoyed residual affection among Connecticut Democrats, managed to carry close to 40 percent of the vote among those who favored troop withdrawals, including a remarkable 29 percent among those who favor withdrawing all our troops.

The botched, misguided Iraq policy was not the only source of moderates' anger, nationwide. Many polls show an enormous backlash against corruption and scandal in the GOP, while economic concerns fueled voter discontent in the pivotal midwest. The '06 formula may have to be tweaked for '08 -- but it's clear Democrats will nonetheless have to provide credible leadership to address these issues.

November 13, 2006

New Dems Provide Strong Voice for Environment

Mother Earth was one of the winners on November 7, according to Amanda Griscom Little's Salon article "Green Gains". Little reports that the League of Conservation Voters re-elected 8 of its 9 supported candidates and defeated 9 of the 13 "dirty dozen" it targeted for defeat. And it gets better, as Little explains:

Jerry McNerney (a Democrat), also has the environment to thank for his stunning victory over House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo (a Republican), who for 14 years represented the Golden State's 11th Congressional District and rose to become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. A no-name wind-energy engineer, McNerney made clean energy his signature issue and painted himself a zealous eco-warrior against the backdrop of Pombo's relentless efforts to drill in sensitive natural areas, butcher the Endangered Species Act and open millions of acres of public lands to development.

...The new Democratic senator-elect from Montana, Jon Tester, beat out Republican environmental foe Conrad Burns with a similarly enthusiastic environmental platform. An organic farmer turned state senator, Tester centered much of his TV advertising on his plans to make Montana a stronghold of the new energy economy. As president of the state Senate, he pushed through a 2005 law requiring utilities in Montana to derive 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2015.

This same message also cropped up during the campaign of Missouri's new Democratic senator-elect, Claire McCaskill, who ousted Republican Jim Talent, an avid proponent of oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And it was a theme in the gubernatorial races of Democrat Bill Ritter in Colorado, who beat out his drilling-happy Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, and Democrat Ted Strickland in Ohio, who walloped Republican Ken Blackwell with a campaign that included a promise to spend roughly $250 million on next-gen alternative-energy projects.

In addition, Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi has named energy independence one of the top action priorities for the incomming House of Representatives. As Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club political director says "Voters...gave a green light to a new energy future."

November 12, 2006

Sunday Post-Election Articles Speculate on Dem Future

Sunday after the election offers a bountiful harvest of post-election wrap-ups in the major dailies. Some of the better ones include:

In "Liberal groups expect postelection results" LA Times reporters Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook focus on potentially divisive issues facing Dems as the try to consolidate their victory. The LA Times also has American Prospect Editor Michael Tomasky's "Dems put the 'big tent' back together," arguing that Dems shouldn't buy into the 'conservative victory' view of the election, and instead should build the left-center coalition that has always been the key to their most significant wins.

The New York Times post-election wrap-up "Incoming Democrats Put Populism Before Ideology" by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike probes some of the newly-elected Dems to assess prospects for bipartisanship. Leon Panetta's "Govern, Don't Gloat" op-ed argues that now is a good time for some Democratic humility and a genuine spirit of bipartisna cooperatrion. Nonetheless, No good Democrat should miss "2006: The Year of the ‘Macaca’," Frank Rich's blistering critique of GOP bigotry and fear-mongering in campaign '06.

WaPo's Jonathan Weisman's "Democrats Find Lessons In GOP Reign" mulls over the lessons Dems should glean from the failure of Gingrich's scorched-earth philosophy of congressional leadership. Wapo is also featuring Joe Trippi's "The Democrats: Is Winning Winning?", predicting more trouble for the GOP ahead and assessing prospects for Dem '08 candidates from Bayh to Vilsack.

And speaking of hot prospects, check out the Boston Globe's Politics Section for a host of articles on Deval Patrick's historic election as Governor of Massachusetts, rich with lessons for winning strategies. Then relax, take a moment to savor the victories of '06, because campaign '08 begins in ernest tommorrow.

November 11, 2006

Mining Tips From Best '06 Ads for '08

Yes, we're all sick of lame political ads. But now is not the time for good Dems to hibernate, because there's still a lot of interesting analysis to be digested if we want to learn how to win even bigger in '08. So take a gander at the Campaign for America's future web page "Truth in Advertising: 2006 Campaign Ads Reveal Progressive Populism." There you be able to watch ads deemed most effective for the successful campaigns of Ron Klein, Sherrod Brown; Claire McCaskill; Bob Casey; Amy Klobuchar; Bill Ritter; the Appollo Alliance; The DNC and the DCCC. Bit of a slow load, so go pour a drink, kick back and see how the winners do it.

Then read the PDF analysis by Robert L. Borosage, Eric Lotke and Robert Gerson discussing the framing psychology, spending decisions, issues spin and image-shaping in the aforementioned ad campaigns.

November 10, 2006

What Does '06 Turnout Mean for Dems?

The Center for the Study of the American Electorate has posted its preliminary report on the 2006 turnout, and the numbers may hold some clues for Dems looking to '08. Overall the report concludes that "a modestly increased percentage of Americans turned out" at polls across the nation -- 40.4 percent of eligible citizens, compared to 39.7 percent in the '02 mid terms. This was the highest percentage since 1982 (42.1%).

Turnout increased in 21 states, but decreased in 26 states and the District of Columbia (CA, OR and WA absentee ballots are still being counted). The five highest turnout rates were recorded in MN, SD, MT, UT and ME, the lowest five in MS, LA, DC, NC, and AZ.

The highest Democratic turnout percentage increases over '02 were recorded in NE (+10.7%); WI (+14.8%); VA (+13.2%); SD (+9.9%); WY (+9.8%); OH (+9.6%); VT (+8.6%) and NH (+8.6%). The highest Democratic turnout declines were in LA (-8.8); IL (-5.1%); AL (-5.0%); MS (-3.8%); GA (-3.5%); NC (-2.7%); and MA (-2.6%).

The most obvious conclusion is that the GOP GOTV operation praised in the MSM didn't make a dent in the congressional elections. Even if the GOP did have a superior GOTV operation, it couldn't overcome the rising tide of discontent or the limitations of Republican candidates. Good GOTV can make a difference in a close election, but not enough when a strong trend is surging.

The Democratic turnout decline in southern states lends some credence to the argument that Democratic resources would be more profitably invested in other regions. However, it could also be argued that these figures indicate not enough effort has been invested in developing southern candidates and campaigns.

Lastly, note that two of the top five turnout states, MN and ME allow voter registration on election day. Having picked up six governorships and nine state legislative chambers, Democrats may now be in a position to enact same day registration bills in more states. Note also that only three states have no voting restrictions on convicted felons or even prisoners, and two of them, ME and VT are top five turnout states.

November 8, 2006

Was Election a Triumph for Dem Conservatives?

Ezra Klein kicks off the soon-to-be-heated discussion about the meaning of the election with a provocative article in the American Prospect, "Spinned Right." Klein shoots the interpretation of the election results as a triumph of conservative politics full of holes. A sample:

...the conservative election meme is a myth. Hard-right ballot initiatives, from the abortion ban in South Dakota to the gay marriage ban in Arizona, went down to defeat. It's the first time that’s happened to an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative. Meanwhile, the stem cell initiative in Missouri passed.

More tellingly, every Democrat elected supports raising the minimum wage. They all support stem cell research. Only nine describe themselves as pro-life. And the most conservative Democrats, mainly those running in the South, largely went down to defeat. In Tennessee, Harold Ford, whose campaign focused on his church-going ways and conservative values, lost. Jim Webb is up by a few thousand votes. Meanwhile, unabashed progressives like Sherrod Brown, Ben Cardin, Sheldon Whitehouse, and former socialist Bernie Sanders cruised to victory. As Tom Schaller has noted, the flip-rate in the South was a meager five percent. The real transformations came in the liberal Northeast, where a slew of not-quite-left-enough Republicans were felled by a phalanx of progressive candidates, and the Rust Belt, where economic populists took out a series of traditional conservatives.

New Donkey Ed Kilgore and other Dems take a different view. As Kilgore notes:

But the results do not provide a good argument for Democrats to write off Enemy Territory and focuse on their Blue State geographical base.

15 of the 28 Democratic House gains were in Red States, most of them in Red or Purple Districts.

3 of the 6 new Senators are from Red States.

3 of the 6 gubernatorial pickups for Democrats were in Red States.

About half of the state legislative gains were in Red States.

We are beginning to turn Purple States blue, and Red States purple. I can't imagine why any Democrat would think of this as bad news, but there is clearly a point of view among Democratic intellectuals that messing around with voters in Red State areas, particularly in the South, represents an exposure to ideological contamination.

This interesting debate is just cranking up, and it will likely go on for a long time. One thing all Dems can all agree on; it's a hell of a lot more fun to argue with each other after an historic victory.

Tester's Narrow Lead May Give Dems Senate Control

All eyes on Montana, where the Senate race may also be headed for a recount, as Democrat Jon Tester holds on to a 1,700 vote lead as of 10:25 a.m. EST. According to Mary Clare Jalonick's AP report in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Burns, a three-term incumbent, and Tester, an organic grain farmer from Big Sandy, were separated by only about 1,700 votes and .04 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Tester had 194,914 votes and Burns had 193,179 votes. Libertarian Stan Jones had 10,166 votes.

...Vote tallies were still coming in Wednesday morning, more than 10 hours after polls were scheduled to close - a situation caused by equipment glitches, high turnout and a recount in Yellowstone County because of errors there.

A losing candidate can request a recount at his own expense if the margin is within 1/2 of a percent, which would be a margin off roughly 2,000 votes in the Montana U.S. Senate race.

...Tester told CNN that the campaign did not see any irregularities in the voting so far, noting there is record turnout..."We are making sure that every vote that gets cast gets counted," Tester said.

Don't bother checking the Montana Secretary of State's website for updates, since it lags behind the Associated Press totals.

Webb Has Edge in VA Nail-Biter

The probability of a Virginia recount may not be the happiest of prospects, but it looks very good for Jim Webb, according to Tyler Whitley's report in the from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (updated at 9:18 a.m.):

As of 8:45 this morning, Jim Webb's lead over Sen. George Allen had grown to more than 8,000 votes, out of more than 2.3 million cast. Only six of 2,411 precincts remained to be counted, according to the State Board of Elections.

All but one of those precincts, in Isle of Wight County, were for absentee ballots. The counties where absentee ballots had yet to be counted were Halifax, Loudoun and two in James City. Absentee ballots also were yet to be counted in Fairfax City.

Hard to see how Allen can goose a victory out of an 8K deficit from those counties. Whitley's article also includes some inside skinny on exit polls and a good rundown of the race.

November 7, 2006

Where to Look for Early Clues Tonight

Since most of the competitive races are in the eastern standard time zone, it should be possible to see which way the elections are tilting early in the evening -- assuming a strong trend materializes. WaPo's Chris Cillizza has a useful resource for those who prefer to get their returns from television in his article, "The Fix's Election Night Viewers Guide." While at the Wapo website, also check out Jeffrey H. Birnbaum's "Early Night for Poll Watchers?" for some good tips. For clarity on how to evaluate exit polls, visit Mark Blumenthal's "Exit Polls: What You Should Know 2006" at Pollster.com Those who prefer a more pro-active approach should try "Newslink: TV Stations by State," a good gateway to local TV stations across the nation, many of which offer local webcasts in real time. The best gateway to local newspaper websites can be opened at www.newspapers.com. And chill up some bubbly -- with a little luck, a better America begins tonight.

November 6, 2006

State of the Race: Final Update

By Ruy Teixeira

The blizzard of polls released over the weekend and today suggest some tightening of the race, but do not appear to fundamentally alter the assessment I offered five days ago in my last update. Tuesday should still be a very good day for the Democrats.

Start with Bush's approval rating. Taking the latest polls into account, Charles Franklin's trend-based estimate now stands at 38 percent. Pretty bad for the incumbent party.

Turning to the generic congressional ballot, confusion abounds, so let me try to separate signal from noise as best I can.

There have been seven polls released in the last couple of days. Here are the results for likely voters (LVs):

CNN (Fri-Sun): +20D
Newsweek (Thu-Fri): +16D
Time (Wed-Fri): +15D
Fox (Sat-Sun): +13D
USA Today/Gallup (Thu-Sun): +7D
ABC News/Washington Post (Wed-Sat): +6D
Pew (Wed-Sat): +4D

Quite a spread! And here are the same polls, this time for registered voters (RVs):

CNN (Fri-Sun): +15D
Newsweek (Thu-Fri): +16D
Time (Wed-Fri): +15D
Fox (Sat-Sun): no RV data
USA Today/Gallup (Thu-Sun): +11D
ABC News/Washington Post (Wed-Sat): +10D
Pew (Wed-Sat): +8D

Somewhat closer together, but still a fair amount of variation.

Here are some observations on these data that may help make sense of them.

1. Charles Franklin's trend-based estimate (which actually doesn't include the most recent two polls, CNN (+20D) and Fox (+13D)) still estimates the Democratic advantage at 11 points.

2. The average LV Democratic advantage in these 7 polls is around 12 points. The average RV Democratic advantage is around 13 points. Still very good in either case.

3. Note that, reflecting the widely varying methodologies these pollsters use, the relation between RVs and LVs in these polls varies widely. Some (CNN) have the Democratic advantage among LVs actually larger than among RVs; some have it exactly the same (Time, Newsweek); and some have it smaller (Pew, Post, Gallup--interestingly by exactly the same 4 point margin).

4. Of course, it is entirely possible that some of these pollsters' LV methodologies are better than others. And there are certainly reasons to be skeptical that Democrats will actually manage a double digit lead in the popular Congressional ballot on election day. So let's say that, for example, Gallup has it about right--and they do have a good track record in the last several offyear elections.

Well, as Gallup points out, a seven point lead ain't chopped liver. Here's some of what they have to say:

Gallup has modeled the number of seats a party will control based on that party's share of the national two-party vote for the House of Representatives using historical voting data in midterm elections from 1946 to 2002. The model takes into account structural factors such as the party of the president and the majority party in Congress entering the elections. The results suggest that a party needs at least a two percentage-point advantage in the national House vote to win a majority of the 435 seats. Based on this historical analysis, the Democrats' seven-point margin suggests they will win a large enough share of the national vote to have a majority of the seats in the next Congress.

More specifically, taking the final survey's margin of error into account, the model predicts that the Democrats could gain anywhere from 11 seats on the low end to 58 seats on the high end -- with 35 seats being the most likely number. Given that Democrats need to gain just 15 seats to wrest control from Republicans, a Democratic takeover appears likely.

5. Some of the variation in the LV samples is no doubt due to varying estimates of how many Democrats vs. how many Republicans are projected to be in the voting electorate. Pew, which gives the Democrats the smallest estimated lead, has Democrats and Republicans at parity among likely voters. Gallup gives the Democrats a 2 point edge in representation among LVs. And Fox, whose estimated Dem lead among LVs is very close to the average of all these polls, gives the Democrats a 4 point representation edge.

It will be interesting to see on election day who's got that part of equation right.

6. Turning to independents, even in the Pew poll, independents are giving the Democrats a 10 point advantage. Gallup and Fox have independents voting Democratic by 15 and Newsweek has the margin at 25. This will be an important data point to track and indicates, even at the low end of this range, the Democrats will be well-served by high turnout of independents in this particular election. To remind folks once more of the historical context on the independent vote:

As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points in an actual election, a level they managed to achieve in both 1986 and 1990. Indeed, since 1990, they’ve lost independents in every congressional election: by 14 points in 1994; by 4 points in 1998; and by 2 points in 2002.

So this election could represent quite a turning point in this pattern.

As for the race by race data, not a great deal has changed since my last post five days ago. For example, the Bafumi-Erikson-Wlezien seat shift model, which forecasts the level of seat shifts through computer simulations of the 435 individual House contests, looks like it would produce about the same result today as it did two weeks ago (a 32 seat Dem gain), if I'm understanding the inputs into their model correctly. (This is very similar to Alan Abramowitz' forecasting model--not based on computer simulations--which calls for a Democratic pickup of 29 seats).

Also, Democracy Corps has released their final survey of 50 competitive Republican House districts and they're showing a slightly compressed, but still impressive, 5 point Democratic lead in the named Congressional ballot in these districts. Note also, that the DCorps survey shows the Democrats with a 16 lead among independents in these districts.

Majortity Watch has not done any new polls, so nothing to report there. Over at Pollster.com, where Mark Blumenthal and Charles Franklin collect all the available public polling on all the House races their current scorecard assigns 219 seats to the Democrats with 29 tossups. Assuming the Democrats and Republicans split the tossups, that would bring the Democratic total to 233 seats--a gain of 30 seats over where they now stand.

Over in nonpartisan pundit-land, Charlie Cook is holding steady in his prediction of a 20-35 seat Democratic pickup (let's pick the midpoint and call it 28 seats). Stuart Rothenberg has the Democratic gain between 30 and 36 seats (let's call it 33). And Larry Sabato has the Democratic gain pegged at 29 seats.

You know, I think I'm beginning to detect a pattern here. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out when the real world talks back.

Turning to the Senate, the latest Pollster.com 5-poll averages show the Democrats up by 6 in NJ and 4 points in MD, the two seats the Republicans have been given some chance of picking up. And they are leading by 1,3,13,6,12 and 2 points, respectively in MO, MT, OH, RI, PA and VA. Thus, figuring strictly on the basis of these data, one would see the Democrats picking up six seats, but with agonizing nail-biters in at least MO and possibly also in VA and MT.

Of course, several of these races are so close in the polls, one can hardly pronounce with a huge degree of confidence that the Democrats will, in fact, get their six seats. But it certainly seems like a reasonable possibility. Checking our nonpartisan pundits, it's worth noting that both Rothenberg and Sabato see the Democrats getting the six seat pickup. Cook is more circumspect, calling for a 4-6 seat Democratic pickup.

Well, that's it for the updating. On to the biggest poll of 'em all: election day!

November Polls: Dems' Average Lead in Double Digits

Democrats are ahead by an average of over 11.5 percent in the seven major polls taken in November of LV party preferences in generic ballot congressional races. The breakdown, according to PollingReport.com: CNN +20; Newsweek +16; Time +15; Fox/Opinion Dynamics +13; USA Today/Gallup +7; ABC/Washington Post +6; and Pew Research Center +4.

Will Blue Wave Deliver Senate?

Will the Dems win the Senate? For an insightful analysis, check out Chris Bowers' MyDD post "Nearly Final Senate Polling Averages." Bowers provides capsule run-downs of 18 senate races and sees a 4 or 5 seat net pick-up for Dems, falling one or two seats short of the magic number to win a majority. But he says he will have a final post later in the day, which could possibly reflect some new poll information. Want more reason for hope? See the latest Time Magazine Poll. Although the polls have narrowed in several key senate races, the Dems still enjoy a double digit lead in the "enthusiasm gap:"

Republicans may be approaching voting day without one of the big advantages they enjoyed in November 2004 — their ability to motivate supporters to go out and vote. Among registered Democrats polled, 52% say they're more enthusiastic about voting than usual, compared with just 39% of Republicans. Thirty-seven percent of Republican respondents are less enthusiastic than usual, while only 29% of Democrats feel that way.

The Time Poll also reports a very substantial defection of evangelicals favoring Dems and significant gains for Dems among both men and women. Also Larry Sabato predicts Dems will win a Senate majority with a net six seat gain, but hedges a little calling it "our least confident prediction."

November 5, 2006

Sunday Wrap-Ups: Blue Tide Still Rising

The Sunday before election day is a good time to see how the top political beat reporters for major newspapers see the election shaping up, and after all of the cautionary notes have been sounded, the consensus among the big three is to expect good news for Democrats.

Ron Brownstein gets the nod for best Sunday pre-election wrap-up in the major rags with a pair of L.A. Times articles "Voters in center may get their say" and "Democrats straining for knockout punch." In the first piece Brownstein explores the theme that Democrats are pulling ahead because they more aggressively fought for swing voters in the political center, while the GOP has been preoccupied with shoring up its base. Perhaps the nut quote comes from former NRCC Chairman Thomas Davis III (R-VA):

...[the message] is going to be that swing voters still count, and sometimes the more you cater to your base, the more you turn off swing voters

Some Democratic poll analysts think this could be an understatement. "I think their whole model is going to lay shattered in pieces," says Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg.

Brownstein cites some impressive poll data showing Dems with a double-digit lead among independents:

a compilation of more than 41,000 automated survey interviews conducted last week in competitive congressional districts from coast to coast, the nonpartisan Majority Watch project found that independents preferred Democratic candidates over Republicans by 52% to 39%.

In his second article, Brownstein zeros in on the see-saw Missouri senate race, which may decide whether Democrats win a majority in the U.S. Senate and which he believes has evolved into the marquee contest for Tuesday:

The 15-round struggle between Talent and McCaskill has been the heavyweight title fight of 2006. Each has proved skilled, resourceful and resilient, able to land a punch and take one. The winner will have earned his or her ticket to Washington and the opportunity to tilt the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Dan Balz and David Broder provide a by-the-numbers tour of races across the nation in their WaPo wrap-up "Democrats, on the Offensive, Could Gain Both Houses," and note an even larger lead for Dems among independents (18 percent) in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. The New York Times leads with "G.O.P. Glum as It Struggles to Hold Congress" by Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner, focusing on the voter turnout battle and races getting late cash infusions from the parties. Three days out, things are looking extremely good.

November 2, 2006

State of the Race Update III: Six Days to Go !

by Ruy Teixeira
cross-posted at the Washington Monthly's Showdown '06 blog

When I last checked in about the state of the race--about ten days ago--things looked pretty good for the Democrats. Now they look even better.

Take the generic congressional contest, for example. In the nine polls finished since 10/20 that are listed on PollingReport.com, the Democrats' average lead is 14 points. That's huge by historical standards. Democrats haven't seen these kind of leads this late in an off-year election campaign, since the elections of 1974 and 1982, when they gained 43 and 26 seats respectively.

Of course, the generic congressional contest does not tell you directly about how the myriad individual races will turn out (we'll get to the race by race data in a moment) so some caution is advised in assessing just what this gaudy lead is likely to mean for the Democrats on election day. But here's some food for thought. Three political scientists, Joseph Bafumi, Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, have recently released a paper that forecasts the level of seat shifts from the generic congressional vote question, using model-based computer simulations of the 435 individual House contests.

The gruesome methodological details may be found in the paper, but the bottom line is that their simulations predict a 32 seat pickup for the Democrats. As we shall see when we get to the race by race data, this is not such a crazy prediction.

But before we get to the race by race data, let me flag a couple of more things from the national-level data. One is the probable role of independents in this election. As I remarked in my initial post on this blog:

The Democrats are also running even larger leads among independents in the generic Congressional ballot–typically 6-7 points higher than their overall lead.....

With that in mind, consider the following. As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points in an actual election, a level they managed to achieve in both 1986 and 1990. Indeed, since 1990, they’ve lost independents in every congressional election: by 14 points in 1994; by 4 points in 1998; and by 2 points in 2002. So, even leaving questions of relative partisan turnout aside (and I suspect the Democrats will do better, not worse, in this respect in 2006), the implications of a strong Democratic lead among independents in this year’s election, if it holds, are huge.

National polls continue to confirm a very wide lead for Democrats among independent voters. For example, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed the Democrats running an amazing 28 point lead among independents, a finding that was discussed at length in the Post story on the poll. As I have continually stressed--and the mainstream press is now starting to pick up on--the Roveian fire-up-the-base-and-screw-the-middle strategy only works mathematically if losses in the political center can be minimized. Now they can't and the GOP is likely to pay the price--and very probably not just in this election.

Let me also draw your attention to a very interesting study released by the Pew Research Center that, among other things, compares a wide range of demographic groups' current voting intentions to their voting intentions at this point in the 2002 campaign. If you read one poll in detail this election cycle, let it be this one. The Pew data show huge swings toward the Democrats among many important voter groups including seniors, middle income voters, non-college educated voters, whites, rural residents, married moms, white Catholics--the list goes on and on. In effect, these shifts have turned yesterday's swing voters into Democratic groups and many of yesterday's Republican groups into swing voters.

Turning to the race by race data, polls show an ever-widening number of House seats in play. And, according to data from the Pew Research Center study and from a series of polls from Democracy Corps, Democrats are favored overall by voters in these districts. The latest Democracy Corps analsyis--"Iraq Weakens Republican Hold" is particularly noteworthy, since it shows Democrats making especially good progress in "third tier" competitive GOP seats, where GOP incumbents had the best chances of holding onto their seats. The reason, as the memo's title implies: Iraq. As more and more voters insist on seeing a change in this area, the fault lines are going deeper and deeper into GOP territory.

The scale of the possible seat shift can be assessed by looking at a number of different sites. A project of RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics called "Majority Watch" has been polling 60 competitive House districts--55 of which are currently held by Republicans--and currently characterizes 24 of these districts as strong Democratic, 18 as leaning Democratic and 2 ties. Splitting the 2 ties, that indicates a possible Democratic gain of 38 seats (43 wins minus the five seats they already hold in the competitive 60 seats).

Over at Pollster.com, Mark Blumenthal and Charles Franklin look over all the available public polling on House races and assign 222 seats to the Democrats with 25 tossups. Let's say the Democrats and Republicans split the tossups (though in a wave election like this one, it's more plausible that these races would break toward the Democrats). That would bring the Democratic total to 234 seats--a gain of 31 seats over where they now stand.

The political scientists' forecasting model prediction of 32 seats doesn't see so far-fetched in light of these data. It's also worth noting that Charlie Cook now predicts Democratic gains of 20-35 seats (with a hedge toward a higher number than 35). Using the midpoint of his range, that would put the Democrat gain at around 28 seats--again, not far off the 32 mark.

Turning to the Senate, the latest Pollster.com 5-poll averages show the Democrats up by 5 in their only truly competive seat (NJ) and leading by 5,6,10 and 11 points, respectively in MT, RI, OH and PA. Then Webb has popped into a 3 point in VA--reversing a deficit to Allen that he had running for a number of weeks. After that, McCaskill-Talent is now dead-even in MO and Ford is down a point to Corker in TN. Therefore, it is possible that the real nail-biter in this election could be MO, if VA does come through for the Dems and Corker manages to hold on against Ford in TN.

So, things look good--very good--for the Democrats. What could turn this situation around for the GOP? At this point, it appears that the GOP is putting its faith overwhelmingly in one factor: turnout. Rev up their 72 hour turnout program they argue and--presto!--many of those Democratic margins will disappear on election day and the Democratic wave won't amount to much more than a splash.

I am highly skeptical. As I and others have been arguing for awhile, the GOP turnout machine is overrated and is simply not capable of turning defeat into victory in the manner alleged by GOP operatives and apparently believed by many in the press and even some Democrats. In this regard, I strongly recommend reading Mark Mellman's very nice deconstruction of the GOP turnout myth in today's edition of The Hill. Read the whole thing, but here's some of what he has to say:

How much difference can turnout really make? Consider the punishing arithmetic. Take a House race that this year would otherwise be 52-48 Democratic. What would turnout efforts have to achieve to overturn the putative victory?

Use white evangelical Protestants as an example. They comprised 23 percent of the national electorate in both 2000 and 2004, so let’s say they are the same proportion of our imaginary Congressional District. Say the 72-hour program was spectacularly — increasing their turnout by 20 percent while every other segment of the electorate held constant. In that case, evangelicals would constitute 26.4 percent of the electorate.

Assume for the sake of argument they continued to give the GOP the same 78 percent of their votes they gave to George Bush in 2004. Such heroic efforts would still result in a Democratic victory. And if white evangelical Protestants only offered 68 percent of their votes to Republicans, all that work would result in less than a 1-point shift in the vote. And that calculation makes the very unlikely assumption that one side enjoys great success while the other does nothing.

How likely is a 20 percent increase in turnout based on a GOTV effort? The best serious academic estimate is that all the GOTV work in the presidential campaign of 2004 increased turnout not by 20 percent, but by about 3 percent....

Can’t micro-targeting help them achieve spectacular successes? Anyone who has ever modeled data knows there is much more salesmanship than science in Republican claims about these efforts. Our firm and others on the Democratic side have been using these models for half a dozen years or more and we know they can make our efforts much more efficient; expand our GOTV and persuasion universes; and provide message guidance. So when races are otherwise marginal, the lift models provide can make all the difference between winning and losing. But no model is going to turn what would otherwise be a 5-point loss into a victory.

But didn’t the GOP prove its efforts were much more effective than the Democrats’ in 2004? No. Check the data. In Ohio’s base Democratic precincts turnout was 8.2 points higher than it had been in 2000. In base Republican precincts, turnout increased by a slightly lesser 6.1 points. Winning a state is not the same as doing a better job on turnout.

As important as turnout and GOTV efforts can be, the GOP needs to find something more to hold back this wave.

Well said. Readers would be well-advised to keep Mellman's analysis in mind as they read the press coverage leading up the election and get ready for what should be a very exciting and interesting election night.

November 1, 2006

Responding to Swift Boat 2

Democratic campaign strategists searching the blogs for tips on how to respond to the GOP's Swift Boat 2 scam will find plenty of good ideas --- if they look in the right places. Here are three for openers:

Start with this short and sweet response from Ohio's Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, quoted here in an Associated Press wrap-up:

The people who should apologize are George Bush and Mike DeWine for sending our troops into battle without body armor and without examining the cooked intelligence.

Leftcoaster Steve Soto has an eloquent litany of sharp retorts in his post "Look In The Mirror For Apologies Mr. Bush." For instance:

As long as the White House is demanding apologies, let's all get in the spirit. Mr. Bush, you should apologize for making a joke about not finding WMDs, as thousands die in Iraq for your lies. But why stop there?

Mr. Bush, apologize for letting Osama Bin Laden escape at Tora Bora in December 2001, and for encouraging the Pakistanis to back away from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in September in Waziristan.

Mr. Bush, apologize to our troops for sending them into harm's way through a campaign of lies and public disinformation, and then joking about it as the soldiers died for your mendacity.

Mr. Bush, apologize to our troops for using them in a war that had nothing to do with those who attacked us on 9/11, and for knowing you were lying about this at the time.

...Mr. Bush, apologize to the troops for their inadequate veterans' benefits, why their families have to go on food stamps, why their families have to send them flak jackets, and why you don't attend the funerals of those killed in action.

And do check Simon Rosenberg's perceptive take at the New Democratic Network's NDN Blog. The whole thing is very good, but we'll just offer a sample here:

Within several hours of John Kerry's slip of the tongue, the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, found time to rush to the mikes to somehow, perhaps, to change the subject from how badly they've botched just about everything.

As James Carville said "Kerry may have blown a joke. Bush has blown a war."

I'm not really worried about the Kerry remark. Yes the right-wing spin machine will grab and toss it hard into the debate. Yes the news organizations will oblige, and pick it up for a day or so. But at the end of the day, the uncommon good sense of the common people will prevail. For they have already decided that this election will not be about nothing, but will be about the future of our country.

It rocks on, so read it all.