Thursday, March 5, 2009

Approval Ratings - Does Obama Have Anything to Worry About?

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday shows Obama doing well with public opinion.

In the survey, 68 percent have a favorable opinion of the president, including 47 percent whose opinion is "very positive" — both all-time highs for Obama in the poll. Moreover, 67 percent say they feel more hopeful about his leadership and 60 percent approve of his job in the White House.

Yet the percentage of Americans who are confident that Obama has the right goals and policies for the country — 54 percent — is slightly smaller, suggesting that the president is more popular than his policies are.

On the other side of the spectrum, Republicans are taking a lot of heat for being too partisan.

Just 26 percent view the Republican Party positively, which is an all-time low for the party. That's compared with 49 percent who have a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

On the economy, not only do voters believe Democrats are better suited for fixing it than Republicans (48%-20%), but they are giving Obama a long leash. Only after 18 more months of recession (by September 2010) will the majority of voters blame Obama for the weak economy - about the same number that expect it to be over by then.

If the economists are right, this is good news for Obama. Nate Silvers from charts the different expectations between economists and voters.

But perhaps most significant figure in the poll was this:

…these attitudes about Obama have helped fuel a big jump in the percentage of Americans who believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction, according to the poll. In January’s NBC/Journal poll, 26 percent said the country was on the right track; now 41 percent think that.

Will this Democratic honeymoon last?

Although American generally viewed the GOP negatively, the Republican message seems to be rubbing off.

The top three concerns about Obama's stimulus were that it contains too much pork-barrel spending, that its tax cuts are too small and that the spending is focused in the wrong areas.

What's more, 61 percent say they're more concerned that the federal government will spend too much money and will increase the size of the deficit, than they are concerned that the government will spend too little money in trying to get out of the recession.

In fact, while Obama’s approval rating has been consistently hovering between 60-70%, his disapproval rating has been growing steadily.

From Gallup Daily:

And the figures from the Real Clear Politics poll averages seem to confirm this trend.

As long as the old Reaganite arguments work, the GOP will continue to use them - even if it means appearing partisan in the short term. After all, once public opinion shifts on economic policies (to “doesn’t stimulus mean big government?”) the political environment could be dangerous for Democrats.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring Elections - UPDATE

Here are the winners from yesterday’s local elections in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Los Angeles

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa avoided a run-off in his re-election last night, as did City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel in her race for City Controller.

In the City Attorney race, Councilman and former prosecutor Jack Weiss appears to be headed for a run-off against Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich. In the race to replace Weiss, former Assemblyman Paul Koretz and David T. Vahedi will face each other in a run-off as well.

The run-off election date is May 19th.


In the IL-5 race to replace White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the U.S. House of Representatives came to a close. Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley took the Democratic nomination with 22% of the vote in a field of 12 candidates.

He will face Rosanna Pulido of the Republican Party (which had 6 primary candidates) and Matt Reichel of the Green Party (which had 5 primary candidates) on April 7th. However, the district tends to vote Democratic 2-1, and Quigley is obviously the favorite.

Tomorrow: we’ll discuss the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that gives President Obama some hopeful numbers - as well as some numbers that should draw concern.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is Opposing the Stimulus Locally Just a Political Strategy?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Milwaukee.

On Saturday, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal explaining his opposition to the stimulus bill.

"Recently, a firestorm ignited in Wisconsin when I, as Milwaukee County executive, refused to submit a wish list to Gov. Jim Doyle for items in the federal "stimulus" package.

Gov. Doyle -- like other politicians -- had lined up at the federal trough begging for billions in "free money" to cover budget deficits and to fuel new spending. He and others simply couldn't understand and were outraged that I didn't join them, and that I didn't relent even after the president signed the stimulus bill into law."

In his State of the County Address last month, Walker said that the stimulus money should be used for suspending Wisconsin’s 5% sales tax for the rest of the year - which he claimed would save the typical Wisconsin family $3,000 for 2009 (although state and federal figures demonstrate it would be closer to $600).

A firestorm did ignite. Local businesses hoping for stimulus assistance cited the economic advantages of the bill, including spending on much needed waterway projects. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said “While those proposals could have some effect on consumer spending, the better use of stimulus money is on projects that put people to work.” And letters to the editor of the newspaper rushed in, accusing Walker of bad ideas, and being a "one-trick pony" (his one trick being tax-cuts).

So Walker wrote his Wall Street Journal piece in part as a rebuttal to such arguments. On the issue of public works projects, for example, he writes, "While the stimulus package might create a few construction jobs, the federal money will run out and those workers will lose their jobs."

You might be thinking that Walker either failed Economics 101 or never took the course (and you may very well be right) but there is another glaring factor. As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett pointed out "I think he's getting ready to run for governor, that's what it was."

In fact, Walker raised over $272,000 in the final months of 2008 (more than twice what he raised in the 6 months prior) bringing his cash-on-hand to over $360,000. Recently he made a trip to Washington DC for a fundraiser with Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional Delegation. His next County Executive race would not be until 2012.

In addition, he has been increasing his attacks on Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. In his editorial he wrote:

"Wisconsin is afflicted with fiscal woes. In every budget he has signed, Gov. Doyle postponed difficult decisions using accounting gimmicks and excessive bonding to pay for ongoing operational costs. The most egregious example is the damage done to the transportation fund over the past six years, which uses state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to fund road projects. The governor has raided the segregated fund for a total of $1.2 billion to cover ongoing operational costs for government programs. He's partially replaced the raided funds with $865.5 million in bonds."

And yet Wisconsinites generally support the stimulus plan that he is so vehemently against.

So what are the political motives for Walker to oppose the stimulus?

In 2006 Walker sent out letters to supporters indicating his wishes to run for governor. But after the Wisconsin GOP indicated they did not want a primary - and that Congressman Mark Green was their best shot - Walker ended a short-lived candidacy.

For 2010 he may have to compete with such Republican names as former Congressman Mark Neumann, businessman Mark Todd, and former State GOP Chair Rick Graber, who has recently returned from an ambassadorship to the Czech Republic. Whether facing them in a primary or an inner-party battle, Walker will want to portray himself as the most fiscally conservative. He will not want to repeat what happened last time.

Despite what his own constituents may think about the stimulus, Walker has to oppose it. After all, he hopes Milwaukee County is just a stepping stone for him.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Elections Tomorrow in Los Angeles

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Los Angeles.

Voters in the City of Angles will go to the polls tomorrow for local elections. Three races in particular - City Attorney, City Controller, and the District 5 Council Seat - are hotly contested.

City Attorney

Councilman Jack Weiss is facing three opponents in the race for City Attorney. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, while Weiss was a good prosecutor (when he practiced) he does not have a lot of friends.

Complaints about Weiss' accessibility, his close alliance with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his openness to development began rolling in during the first round of questions. [At a recent forum Weiss missed] one opponent, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Berger, took out a photograph of Weiss and jokingly invited the audience to throw darts.

…Councilman Greig Smith said Weiss would be the first to admit that he's been "difficult to work with at times -- that's an understatement." Said Councilwoman Jan Perry: "I don't deal with him. It's easier not to."

Some council members privately grouse about Weiss' dismissive manner, his frequent absences from the council floor and his tendency to disappear when council members are honoring residents who have recently died.

And while many of these colleagues are willing to praise him for his skills as a prosecutor, he has had difficulty winning community support. One opponent, Holmby Hills, has an array of important endorsements from the Police Chief, labor unions, gun-control advocates and women’s organizations.

Sometimes experience isn’t everything.

City Controller

The race for City Controller has become particularly ugly in recent days after Councilwoman and candidate Wendy Greuel released this ad:

Her opponent responded with a press conference the next day:

Patsaouras has also been getting hit by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who has been at odds with him since he was appointed to the board of the Department of Water and Power 3 years ago. A recent union mailer criticized his supervision of a Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarter constructions. "Nick's development even included a bust to memorialize him," the mailer said.

It now seems that both candidates are running the risk of appearing too negative.

City Council - District 5

Meanwhile, the race to replace Weiss on the City Council is wide open. Most candidates are trying to distance themselves from Weiss. Neighborhood council member David Vahedi has earned some support from a coalition of groups that attempted a recall campaign against Weiss in 2007. Vahedi ran against Weiss in 2005.

Yet Vahedi has his work cut out for him. The candidate with the most name recognition, former State Assemblyman Paul Koretz, is running a tough campaign on a very anti-Weiss platform. He has also picked up the support from the County’s Labor Federation and has a detailed pro-homeowner plan to protect local residents hit hard by the housing market crash.

And then there is the former Chamber of Commerce chief, Robyn Ritter Simon, who has touted the fact that she is the only mother in the race. Playing on that theme she has “made public safety a central theme of her campaign, saying that it remains the district's top priority, despite debates about traffic and development.”

Whether the Westside district will go with a homeowner message, be drawn to a message of motherhood, decide on who will be least like their incumbent, or go with one of the three other candidates will only be realized after Tuesday.

Other Races

Most other races in the city are much more predictable. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to win without difficulty, as do most sitting members on the city council. That does not mean they aren’t spending money. One Councilman, Eric Garcetti opted to run this ad before Tuesday’s primary.

But according to the LA Times yesterday, the uphill battle that the challengers face aren’t discouraging them. Because they do not have the money that the incumbents do (some have less than 1% of the funds their opponents have) they are using the internet to spread their word.

As recently as two months ago, David R. Hernandez said, he didn't even know what Facebook was. Today, he uses the popular Internet social-networking site to help spread the word about his steeply uphill campaign for Los Angeles mayor in Tuesday's municipal primary.

"I now have about 500 'friends' [on Facebook], and I am able to get them all news about my campaign in less than two minutes," said Hernandez, who also has run for Congress (twice), county supervisor and community college district trustee -- falling short each time.

Another mayoral candidate, David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg, has pointed to his use of the internet in his own campaign - updating his blog,, with his own earned media from TV, radio, and newspaper.

But this use of internet will not be enough. Los Angeles is a sprawling city where few residents will search out candidates on the internet.

"Internet technology has created campaign opportunities for underfunded candidates that didn't exist before," said Steven Afriat, a veteran Los Angeles political consultant who is not involved in any of Tuesday's municipal contests. But technology cannot make up for a weak message or an unqualified candidate, Afriat added. Otherwise, he said, "the Internet just becomes the lipstick on the pig."

And, of course, the campaign for Measure B will come to a close tomorrow as well.

Come back to WAYLA on Wednesday to see who wins!