Friday, May 29, 2009

New Ads, New Media, and an Old President

It’s Friday, May 29, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Two new ads are out today. The first is a radio ad for Virginia’s leading Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe. It features President Bill Clinton speaking highly of his old friend and is going to be played on black-oriented radio stations. Of course, President Clinton didn’t keep very strong ties to the black community during his attacks on Obama in the South Carolina primary last year - but perhaps by now they’ve forgiven him.

Meanwhile, one of McAuliffe’s primary opponents, Brian Moran, has posted one of McAuliffe’s new mail pieces on his website, evidently to show McAuliffe being a dirty campaigner. The piece lists four unnamed candidates for governor and lists their opinions. Then the recipient scratches off to see the candidates’ names - like a lottery ticket. Frankly, it’s a pretty innovative mail piece.

The second ad is a TV spot for at-risk Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), trying to convince voters that his work as Senate Finance Committee Chairman wasn’t all about bailouts.

Next up, the Obama Administration has been using New Media as an integral part of their transparency efforts. The Open Government Dialogue website functions as a suggestion box for citizens to brainstorm ideas to improve policy. The most supported suggestion: it comes from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). He says the White House should give Congress a mandatory 72-hour review period before approving any spending bills - a coy protest of how Congressional Democrats pushed through the stimulus bill.

Other top suggestions include encouraging local governments to adapt such transparency efforts, prosecuting Bush-Era officials, and - you guessed it - legalizing marijuana.

Finally, the Torture Debate takes a new turn today in Michigan where President George W. Bush finally defended the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques himself at a rare public appearance. Speaking to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan, he also noted that our national security is at risk when “Ideologues…recruit when they find hopeless people. If you’re hungry, diseased, impoverished, you’re more easy to recruit.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How Are Democrats Losing Colorado?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Colorado.

In 2008, Colorado proved to be a good state for Democrats. President Obama won the state with a 54% - 45% margin, while Senator Mark Udall won his first state-wide election by a 53% - 43% margin.

Additionally, both houses of the State Legislature as well as the Governor’s office are controlled by Democrats.

But all that appears to be changing. In recent months, Democrats have lost considerable support from residents of the Centennial State. A Public Policy Polling survey from last month finds President Obama with a 49% approval rating - far below the national average - with 45% disapproval in the state of Colorado.

Udall, meanwhile, suffers 41% approval and 46% disapproval ratings.

And this means trouble for the 2010 elections. According to another April poll, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter’s approval rating is 41% while his disapproval rating is 49%. Furthermore, a plurality of respondents said they would back Republican Scott McInnis over Ritter. Other state-wide offices appear to be slipping away as well.

The one saving grace for Democrats is that virtually no one in Colorado knows much about Democratic Senator Michael Bennet - so few that a quarter of voters say they know too little to have an opinion about him. Bennet was selected by Ritter to replace Ken Salazar, who was appointed by Obama to head the Interior Department.

Bennet’s race looks particularly interesting. He’s an east-coaster who moved to Colorado twelve years ago, eventually became Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and was never really involved in politics. But he’s somehow raised $1.4 million already for his 2010 campaign, and his top Republican opponent is a District Attorney that has cost his constituency $100,000 in court fees for raiding a tax service company without properly following the Fourth Amendment. Nonetheless, Bennet has a greater disapproval rating than his approval rating and he is slightly behind one of his speculated GOP opponents.

As one Denver Post columnist put it recently, “what a bummer it can be to be a Democrat in Colorado.”

Why are the Democrats slipping?

There are only a few ways to try to explain this trend.

First, Democrats have been fortunate in Colorado recently with the help of Hispanic voters. Census Bureau estimates for 2008 say that 20% of the population in Colorado is Latino. Yet only 14% of respondents to the Obama/Udall poll identified as Hispanic.

Since the recession began, Colorado has been the state with the largest decline in immigrant employment, thus many are leaving. Of course, non-citizens cannot vote, but it is possible that Hispanic citizens are leaving the state as well. A recent study found that the “immigrant unemployment rate is now 5.6 percentage points higher than in the third quarter of 2007, before the recession began. Native unemployment has increased 3.8 percentage points over the same period.”

If immigrant unemployment is rising faster than native unemployment, it suggests that employers are waning from hiring immigrants at the moment - either because of a sense of nationalism sparked by the recession, or because of a crackdown on employment of illegal immigrants - and by extension waning from hiring Hispanics in general.

It’s a pretty loose theory.

Second, particular Democrats are lagging, not necessarily the entire party. For example, liberal blog currently has Sen. Bennet listed as “down” because he’s “not a natural campaigner by any means [and] has been sloppy.”

But Bennet is not that far behind other Democrats in his approval rating. In fact, none of his GOP opponents - whether or not they have announced - is viewed more favorably than unfavorably by the voters. So this explanation does not work too well.

Third, all politics is local, and state-level Democrats have been making the party unpopular. This is probably the best theory.

From a conservative columnist’s recent Op-Ed in the Denver Post:

“We're now slogging through a recession that Ritter recklessly failed to prepare for, his legislative allies are split and ineffectual…Democrats this session failed on a number of cherished goals, including a tuition break for illegal immigrants, easing sentences and ending the death penalty, quitting the Electoral College, and nanny-state rules for cellphones and seatbelts.”

These have been some big issues in Colorado’s State House. Thanks to TABOR, Colorado has difficulty producing surpluses in good economic times and the budget gets punished for it during bad economic times. It’s similar to the fiscal mess in California that has persisted since the passage of Proposition 13. Since a Democrat is in the Governor’s office, he is going to get the blame.

Other issues mentioned above are going to be equally unpopular. The Electoral College issue, for example, is one that probably doesn’t sit well with voters. The state Senate approved a bill to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which a state’s electoral votes would go to the overall national winner of a presidential race. Once enough states join the compact to reach 270 votes, the compact would go into effect. Because Colorado is a smaller state, they would effectively get less say in a presidential contest. Besides, a good communications director can easily argue that the bill is taking the vote away from Coloradans, and make a GOP political gain.

Voters do not necessarily separate the actions of national party leaders from the state party leaders. Hence, these local issues may very well be influencing Obama’s approval rating in Colorado.

Of course, even that theory is not concrete. As more stories and research on this issue develop, we will keep you informed as to why Democrats are letting Colorado slip away from them.

UPDATE: One explanation that hadn't been discussed is the possibility that Coloradans simply have an unusually low opinion of politicians in general (at least at the present time). For one thing it almost seems unreal that support for the Democrats would diminish so quickly in just six or seven months. Additionally, the favorability ratings of Republican challengers aren't too high either - which we mentioned before.

If this is the case the Democrats would not have to worry too much. As Kelly Fero told us in January, "In the end, every election is about accomplishing two goals: taking away the voters' permission to vote for your opponent and granting them permission to vote for you as an acceptable alternative." If all it takes is demonstrating oneself as the lesser of two evils, the Democrats will still have an even playing field come 2010.

New Anti-Reid Ad

The NRSC has released a bizarre new ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a fundraiser for him in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

We thought you might enjoy that - although it still might not compare to some of these.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All Things Sotomayor

We usually don’t do posts about the same topic two days in a row, but there is a terrific string of stories on Politico today about President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

The first story is an excellent overview of the political implications behind the Sotomayor pick. Obviously the nomination of a Hispanic woman brings with it the furthering divide between the GOP and the Latino community, but there are less obvious implications on the local level with midterm elections next year.

Second is the “How and Why” behind Obama’s selection. For example, Politico writes that with the nomination coming during the current Congressional recess “Obama caught the Republican minority off-guard, with critics not equipped to respond with the force they would during the session.”

The last story from Politico is about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and his opposition to Sotomayor. Like Rush Limbaugh did yesterday, Gingrich accuses her of being a “racist” for a comment she made in 2002. And although RNC Chairman Michael Steele has been warning Republicans not to say things like that, RNC New Media Director Todd Herman - the man in charge of the social networking message - went dramatically off-message when he posted “new racism = no better than old” today on Twitter.

Finally, the New York Times had an interesting story today about the upcoming confirmation battle. Of course, they forgot to mention the ad that’s ready to hit the airwaves.

Additionally, five of the past eight posts on have been about Sotomayor - most of which use Silver’s skills in research and mathematics to defend the nominee from her opponents.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Will the Senate Confirm Sotomayor?

President Obama nominated Second District Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court this morning.

Here is the full video of the announcement. Watch it until the end for some insightful analysis from the NBC correspondents.

There is already a great deal of criticism coming from the right. Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) today called the appointment “the clearest indication yet that President Obama’s campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bipartisan way were mere rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, said Sotomayor was “a radical pick that divides America…This appointment would provide a pedestal for an avowed judicial activist to impose her personal policy and beliefs onto others from the bench at a time when the Courts are at a crossroads.”

Here they are referring to the now widely circulated video of Sotomayor sitting on a panel at Duke University in 2005.

But this was undoubtedly already seen by the President’s staff during the vetting process, and a little more footage indicates that she was talking about precedent and not actually policy - making it a perfectly reasonable statement.

However, the criticisms won’t end there. In a 2002 speech at Berkeley she said that a judge’s personal background “affect the facts that judges choose to see” and “I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging, but I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.”

At face value, that already is enough to fuel the fire against Sotomayor in the confirmation process, where Republicans will accuse her of judicial activism. But these remarks will be complemented by her recent ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano, in which she sided with the city of New Haven, Connecticut over a group of white firefighters after the city threw out the results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough.

This explains why Huckabee said “If she is confirmed, then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice.”

Nonetheless, Republican leaders have already said they will reserve judgment on Sotomayor until they have more information.

From Politico:

“Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele released a restrained statement, declaring: “Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.”

But it already looks like she may have obstacles to overcome. In 1998, Senate Republicans held up the confirmation to her current bench for a year. When she was finally confirmed, it was with the approval of only seven of the current forty Republican Senators. Some, specifically Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have begun to sound skeptical of whether they will support her again.

Among the Republicans who voted against her were current Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Minority Whip John Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and a particularly important one, ranking Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Each of them will be instrumental going in to the fight against her confirmation.

It will be an ugly battle, but will she still be confirmed?

As the media digs through her life and career, we will learn more about Sotomayor and more about what could prevent her from being confirmed.

As of now, she should have no problem getting through the Judiciary Committee, although she may not have the luxury of any GOP votes there.

The only way for Republicans to defeat her confirmation then is a filibuster. This action would have several backlashes for the GOP

First, each of the Republicans that fight for a filibuster will be subject to the political pressure of looking like a hypocrite. When several Democrats tried to filibuster Justice Samuel Alito the Senate Republicans had a fit over what they perceived as a misuse of filibusters.

Second, they would fail. It is unlikely that every single Republican will vote against cloture. The GOP Senators from Maine, in particular, will likely support her confirmation. It is also probable that Senators such as Judd Gregg (R-NH) will support cloture (even if he opposes her confirmation) in order to appease their liberal constituents. Gregg, Snowe, and Collins all approved her confirmation to her current bench.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many Republicans will not want to oppose the first Hispanic nominee for the High Court. As blogger Glenn Thrush wrote this morning, “every GOP leader with a pulse knows that opposing her could accelerate the stampede of Latinos out of the GOP in the southwest, west and Texas.”

As of now, we can expect Sotomayor to be confirmed.