Friday, June 19, 2009

Democrats and Republicans Getting Mixed News

It’s Friday, June 19, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Things are looking good for Democrats in Pennsylvania. A new Rasmussen poll finds that both incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and his possible primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) lead former Rep. Pat Toomey (D-PA) in hypothetical 2010 Senate race match-ups. Specter leads by a 50% - 39% margin, while the less-known Sestak is ahead of Toomey 41% - 35%.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds finds himself behind GOP nominee Bob McDonnell by just a point (45% - 44%). This is an improvement for Deeds since just two months ago when McDonnell led 38% - 31%. Now, with 11% of Virginia voters undecided, it’s going to be a very close race.

But Republicans are also gaining some ground. In New Jersey, for example, the Republican Governors Association is putting their money into two new ads attacking the relatively unpopular incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ). We’ll be sure to bring you those ads as soon as they’re released.

Luckily for Corzine, he has much more money than opponent Chris Christie, and can saturate the expensive New York City and Philadelphia media markets. Overall, that will make for a very costly and very negative race. According to Patrick Murray of the Monmouth University Polling Institute “New Jersey has a history of nasty races [and] this could potentially go down as the nastiest.”

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) reported today an intake of $4.5 million for the month of May. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) - conversely - raised a meager $3.45 million. Of course, about $1 million raised by the NRSC was a simple transfer of resources from the Republican National Committee fund. Nevertheless, the DSCC is still $4.17 million in debt, while the NRSC is now debt-free.

Finally, you’ve probably heard about Sen. Barbra Boxer’s (D-CA) frustration with General Michael Walsh calling her “ma’am” instead of “Senator” - which the GOP is now jumping all over - but believe us, that is nothing compared to this:

One last thing: if you’re in the Milwaukee area on Sunday, join us at noon at South Shore Park for HSG’s second annual summer party! HSG is the parent company for WAYLA and we’d love to see you there.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Twitter’s Role in Iran Being Overblown?

Following the presidential elections in Iran last week, protests have broken out in the streets for at least 5 days now with no real end in sight. What is truly remarkable about the situation is how much credit Twitter - the new-media social networking website - has been given for this “revolution”.

It is true that Twitter has been a uniquely accessible service for the protesters. While the government - in an effort to crack down on the information leaving Iran - has been slowing internet connection and removing websites such as Facebook, Twitter has been okay because it is so compatible with SMS text messaging. Furthermore, as cell phone reception is turned off in some areas, Twitter feeds can still be updated by “relay” websites.

But the Iran-Twitter fascination grew even more when the U.S. State Department announced that they asked Twitter to postpone some scheduled maintenance because, as Secretary Clinton says, “keeping that line of communications open and enabling people to share information, particularly at a time when there was not many other sources of information, is an important expression of the right to speak out and to be able to organize.”

She also added, humorously, “I wouldn't know a twitter from a tweeter, but apparently it is very important.”

So of course it wasn’t long before some in the media said that the State Department controls Twitter. The operators of the social networking service responded saying:

“When we worked with our network provider yesterday to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network…

…It's humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that state officials find their way toward highlighting our significance. However, it's important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process. Nevertheless, we can both agree that the open exchange of information is a positive force in the world.”

But is Twitter really that significant in Iran’s protests?

The simple answer is “not really” - its role is being overblown by American media which are (for the most part) doing a particularly poor job covering the developments in Iran.

From an article in the Washington Post:

It is hard to say how much twittering is actually going on inside Iran. The tweets circulated by expatriates in the United States tend to be in English -- the Twitter interface does not support the use of Farsi. And though many people may be sending tweets out of Iran, their use inside Iran may be low, some say.

"Twitter's impact inside Iran is zero," said Mehdi Yahyanejad, manager of a Farsi-language news site based in Los Angeles. "Here, there is lots of buzz, but once you see most of it are Americans tweeting among themselves."

And as Thomas Friedman points out in his recent New York Times column:

“…the Islamists and their regimes have a trump card: guns. Guns trump cellphones. Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet. The [only reason the] Sunni Awakening in Iraq succeeded because the moderates there were armed.”

And if you look at opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi’s Twitter feed (as of noon EST today) he only has about 15,000 followers - a small fraction of the number of protesters right now - and as you would probably imagine, many of those followers are from places other than Iran.

What the American fascination with Twitter in these protests has produced is suspicion on the part of the Iranian regime. The government of Iran now blames “intolerable” American meddling in their domestic affairs for the current demonstrations - exactly what President Obama was trying to avoid! As much as we Americans want to reject it, the actions taken by our State Department do give some weight to that argument.

What is much more interesting about Twitter is not the impact it has in Iran, but rather the impact it has in American politics.

A few weeks ago, we mentioned how RNC New Media Director Todd Herman tweeted “new racism = no better than old” in reference to Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Despite the fact that RNC Chairman Michael Steele was trying to stay away of accusing her of racism, the Rush Limbaugh rhetoric found its way onto Twitter.

Now Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker finds a slew of tweets made by GOP activists and operatives that keep them anywhere but on-message.

Take this recent tweet by Mike Green of Starboard Communication, a Republican consulting firm: “JUST HEARD THAT OBAMA IS GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT’S WHITE AND IT WORKS.”

It wasn’t long before Green apologized - using two tweets - for his comment.



As Hertzberg points out, a simple “I made a mistake” would have sufficed, but the relatively long apology (for Twitter) was probably something his firm made him do.

Then there’s Rusty DePass, a GOP county chairman from South Carolina, who posted a rather crude update on Facebook referring to an escaped gorilla from a local zoo: “I’M SURE IT’S JUST ONE OF MICHELLE [OBAMA]’S ANCESTORS—PROBABLY HARMLESS.” In his less sincere apology, he told the press “I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest…the comment was hers, not mine” (referring to her belief in evolution).

New media can be extremely useful to political campaigning (which is why we use Twitter, follow us at because it’s cheap and it reaches out to a broad audience that is no longer interested in seeing political TV ads or mailers. But it’s also creating problems with keeping operatives and activists on message - an incredibly important component of campaigns.

Of course, you can see more debate about the relevance of Twitter in Iranian politics by going to this article at But make no mistake about it, Twitter is going to play a much larger role (even if it’s less reported on) in the United States - especially come 2010.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Politics, Money Makes All the Difference

It has been remarkable following gay rights issues in Washington over the past 48 hours. The White House has announced that President Obama will be signing an executive order sometime today to extend federal employee benefits to same-sex couples. Yet it all started because of a gay-oriented fundraiser that several gay activists and bloggers became upset about.

It wasn’t long before several prominent gay rights advocates - including a leader from the Human Rights Campaign - pulled out of an Organizing for America fundraiser featuring Vice President Biden because the administration had thus far made no move to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Much of it stems from a Justice Department brief filed in California recently that not only defended DOMA, but drew parallels between the gay marriage case before the court and several possible precedent cases involving incestuous marriages.

From a Politico update yesterday:

"I will not attend a fundraiser for the National Democratic Party in Washington next week when the current administration is responsible for these kind of actions," [activist David] Mixner wrote of a motion to dismiss a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act that drew a parallel between same-sex marriage to incestuous marriage. "How will they ever take us seriously if we keep forking out money while they harm us? For now on, my money is going to battles within the community such as the fight in Maine or the March on Washington! I am so tired of being told by Democratic operatives to 'suck it up' because so many other profound issues are at stake."

It was a good idea - not only is the LGBT community a critical base of support for Democrats, but they are a generally wealthy one.

Suddenly the Obama folks were caught off guard. DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias, scrambling to come up with a quick response, could only say “If this debacle of a brief represented the president's views, I'd boycott too,” and then sent an email that not only said “So...counterintuitive as it may feel at this moment...come to DC for our dinner June 25, and hear what the Vice President of the United States has to say as he joins Governor Kaine and Governor Dean and Barney Frank and others in celebrating Gay Pride” but also reassured the recipients that there would be protesters outside the event!

Finally - out of nowhere - the White House made it clear last night that Obama would introduce basic benefits of domestic partnerships to LGBT federal employees.

Of course, the benefits cannot include some health and pension benefits due to DOMA restrictions - which the White House says Obama wants Congress to overturn - and so the decision received mixed reactions.

Now, this is not to say that the decision to create domestic partnerships for federal employees was based solely on dollars and cents. It is certainly the President’s wish to extend gay rights, and we can expect a move on issues such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and repealing DOMA in the future.

But the fact that the economy, health care, and other issues have been priorities (that could be derailed if the administration was to upset the GOP with gay rights issues) has stalled the President from making this move so far.

It looks like this serious uproar from gay rights advocates (and more importantly, donors) just got the ball rolling.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Campaign Updates (6/16/09)

WAYLA has decided to start bringing you periodic updates of campaigns and elections. Today we’ll look at some Senate race developments here in the U.S. as well as the presidential election in Iran.


Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey has had an impressive few weeks with money, as it turns out, according to his campaign announcements on Monday. Not only has he brought on state GOP fundraisers Amy Petraglia and Carey Dunn to his campaign, but also his opponent’s former Finance Director, Louisa Boyd. She left Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) after he switched parties back in April.

Additionally, Toomey has now raised $1 million. While it’s still less than Specter (who has $6.7 million cash-on-hand) it’s still an impressive milestone. It’s also important to mention that Specter may have to take on Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) - who currently has $3.3 million cash-on-hand in his federal account) in a primary. Primaries cost money too, and this one might bring down Specter’s (or Sestak’s) budget while Toomey can continue to raise money.


Conservative Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) today announced his endorsement of Marc Rubio for the 2010 Florida Senate race. DeMint chose not to endorse the NRSC’s pick - Gov. Charlie Crist - because the popular governor is too moderate.

Yet despite the backing of conservative activists and DeMint, Rubio is still trailing Crist in money and the polls. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, finds Crist ahead with primary voters about 54% - 23%.

On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL) made it official that he will not pursue the Senate seat, and joined fellow south-Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) in endorsing Miami’s Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL). Meanwhile, Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) is talking about running for that seat herself.


Another Republican has joined the race to take Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-AR) seat. Tom Cox, a conservative activist who ran his state’s Tea Party protests, announced his candidacy on Monday. He will join state Senator Kim Hendren and businessman Curtis Coleman in a primary.

One thing that could hurt his candidacy: last year federal authorities raided his boating business and arrested 15 illegal immigrants. He told the Associated Press he had "every reason to believe [the workers] were legal and they were wonderful employees." Explaining that to GOP Primary voters in Arkansas might be difficult.


Continuing to follow the Iranian presidential election closely, we did a post yesterday in which we found no conclusive evidence that the election was either rigged or clean. Although it felt like a tough point to make with how the Iranian opposition supporters are reacting (and now how some GOP politicians are reacting) the bloggers at apparently agree with us - for the most part.

On Saturday, Nate Silver argued that the statistical analysis trying to prove a rigged election is not very compelling. Then on Sunday he posted the results of the election by province and used his own analysis to argue again that the results are ambiguous to charges of rigging. Finally, on Monday he suggested that voter intimidation may have been a bigger factor in Ahmadinejad’s victory than fraudulent ballot counting. Of course, in that Monday post he was largely refuting the very poll we referred to in our own post.

Meanwhile, Renard Sexton argued that while the analysis of election-rigging is inconclusive, he points out some fishy numbers coming out of Tehran. Not only is Ahmadinejad’s vote percentage outside of a statistical trend, but he defeated reformist Medhi Karroubi (note: NOT the main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi) by some unlikely margins. Today, Sexton commented on the announced recount by the Guardian Council and the proposed re-vote, and what course of action would be best depending on what dirty election tricks actually took place.

For all these stories and more, stay tuned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fallout of the Iranian Elections

Typically the elections we focus on are all in the United States, but following the highly contentious election in Iran recently, we felt it would be good to give some insight on that democratic dysfunction.

Among reports of voter fraud, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wrote in a statement Sunday “Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.”

Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday there was “some real doubt” as to the election’s legitimacy while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called the election a “sham” in a Fox News interview today.

Was the election stolen?

Unfortunately, there were no international vote monitors to pass judgment on the legitimacy of the election results, but certainly things look a little fishy.

It was considered by most election analysts to be a close election, but official results find incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won with over 62% of the vote - a landslide victory.

It was also an unusually big race. There was an 80% turnout on Election Day and polls had to stay open for an extra 4 hours to make sure everyone could vote. The campaigns spent millions of dollars (possibly more than $100 million) making it the most expensive in Iran’s history. They also took a cue from the Obama campaign with new methods of voter contact and ended up sending over 110 million text messages per day by then end of the race.

But polling was often unreliable because both campaigns used internal or friendly polling as propaganda. One of the only truly independent polls - conducted by ABC/BBC pollsters in mid-May - found Ahmadinejad leading main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi by a 34% - 14% margin with 27% undecided.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered the Guardian Council to investigate claims of voter fraud. Yet the Guardian Council answers to the Ayatollah who has already confirmed the results of the election twice - thus they’re unlikely to disagree with him.

It’s tough to say whether the results truly reflected the will of the people. Much of the race came down to a class struggle, with the poor supporting the populist Ahmadinejad and the middle and upper class elites supporting Mousavi. Iran currently has a 12.5% unemployment rate and about 20% of Iranians live under the poverty line.

This would suggest that perhaps the results of the election are more legitimate than Americans believe. In fact, Iran has long been one of the few countries in the Middle East with a well-functioning democratic system - even if it’s only partially democratic.

Still, Mousavi was complaining about the prospects of voter fraud before Election Day, and with no independent international verifiers, it cannot be confirmed.

Now Iran is posed to lose their democratic privileges altogether. The ongoing protests could easily be seen as a direct challenge to the Ayatollah’s rule. As a result, police have beaten and even killed rioters while opposition leaders have been imprisoned.

Ultimately, we have to reiterate the written statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. All we can really say about it is that we obviously hope “that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.”