Friday, August 7, 2009

Martinez Resigns in Florida - Who Will Crist Appoint?

Breaking news this morning: Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) is due to resign by the end of August according to several Republican sources in Washington.

The reason why has not yet been revealed. One comment under the Politico post on the resignation says "Where there's smoke there's fire?" But Martinez has been rumored to be interested in the presidential opening at Florida State University. However, he has denied the rumor in the past.

Either way, it came as a shock to many in the Republican community. One senior GOP operative in Florida says “This was a closely-held and guarded secret and came as a surprise to all of us.” Martinez apparently made the announcement to his legislative staff earlier this morning.

Of course, he already had announced he would be stepping down from the post last year. That prompted Governor Charlie Crist and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio to run for the GOP nomination for Martinez's seat.

When we broke the news on Twitter (about 45 minutes ago) one of our followers asked "Hello interm Senator Crist?"

As governor, Crist has the power to appoint the replacement Senator who will fill in for the duration of Martinez's term - and he very much has the power to appoint himself.

But according to the Scorecard blog:

"National and Florida Republican sources say it's near-certain that Crist will not appoint himself, and instead is expected to appoint a placeholder to fill the seat through the 2010 election.

Taking the seat now and leaving Tallahassee early would risk hurting his solid political standing, Crist allies say, and is unnecessary given his strong positioning to claim the seat next year."

Nonetheless, if he doesn't appoint himself, Crist would have to fill in the seat with someone he is sure would not gain any ambitions to hold the seat in 2010. Luckily for him, he has the rest of the month to make such a decision.

UPDATE #1: Apparently he cited "personal reasons" when he told his staff he was resigning.

UPDATE #2: Martinez had sent a letter to friends that thanks his supporters and touts his work on helping "families struggling to keep their homes" and his opposition to oppression in Cuba.

From the letter:

"My priorities have always been my faith, my family and my country and at this stage in my life, and after nearly twelve years of public service in Florida and Washington, it's time I return to Florida and my family. I look forward to continuing to be an active and constructive voice on issues vital to Florida and our nation, and being an active member of Florida's Republican Party."

He will also be holding a press conference at 3:00pm EST from Orlando.

UPDATE #3: Some are suggesting Crist could appoint his primary opponent - Marco Rubio - to fill the spot and then compete with the interim senator for the 2010 election.

In a statement, Rubio said Crist needs to take "great care" in his decision:

"Florida deserves an interim senator who will go to Washington and serve as a true check on President Obama's push for more wasteful government spending, government-run health care and cap-and-trade," Rubio said. "The last thing Florida needs is a U.S. senator that will stand with President Obama instead of challenging the wrong direction he is leading our country and offering constructive conservative solutions moving forward."

But Florida's GOP operatives are saying that Crist is likely to appoint one of three top Republicans: former FL Secretary of State Jim Smith, FL GOP Chair Jim Greer, or - the most named individual - former U.S. Senator Connie Mack (R-FL). They also say none of these individuals would try to compete with Crist come 2010.

UPDATE #4: Gov. Crist will NOT appoint himself. He told reporters that much as he was boarding a plane to Tampa this morning.

UPDATE #5: Much thanks to our Twitter friend, @NJDemocrat, for finding this bit of information:

Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint former Secretary of State Jim Smith to the spot through 2010.

"It's a done deal," said former House Speaker John Thrasher, an Orange Park Republican close to Martinez.

Smith had supported Tom Gallagher in the 2006 governor's race over Crist. But he's been a jack-of-all trades as a Florida public official, serving as a Democratic attorney general, a Democratic candidate for governor, and Republican secretary of state -- twice.

Crist, who is expected to appoint Smith today, and former House Speaker Marco Rubio are vying for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat.

"He'll be a caretaker," Thrasher said of Smith. "But he's got a great record of public service in this state."

UPDATE #6: Still no verification on who Crist will appoint, and still no word on why Martinez is stepping down. It could very well be another scandal. We'll find out in about an hour and a half from Martinez.

Still nothing found on when exactly we'll see a Crist press conference.

UPDATE #7: Remember when Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) was pressured to pick an African American candidate because President-elect Obama was the only black Senator? Well, it seems that a similar pressure may begin in Florida.

From the AP:

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she hoped Crist would appoint a Hispanic to follow in Martinez's footsteps, "possibly new blood, maybe not somebody who's been in office but maybe someone who is from the private sector."

Martinez's resignation leaves just one Hispanic in the Senate, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

UPDATE #8: On that last note, another name has been added to Crist's short list - former Gov. Bob Martinez (R-FL). Not related to the outgoing senator, Bob Martinez has not been in office since 1991. He went on to serve in the first Bush Administration as Drug Czar, and since then has been consulting law firms. He is 74-years-old.

UPDATE #9: Cristian Camera of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has an interesting take on the resignation, as reported by the National Review:

"Governor Crist and Senator Martinez are strong political allies. I have no doubt in my mind this early resignation is a move that was agreed to by Crist and Martinez to somehow benefit Crist’s candidacy. Expect Crist’s choice of a replacement to be a carefully calculated move to benefit him. Possibly a Hispanic and/or a strong conservative to shore up his conservative credentials to the base."

Martinez has that Hispanic credential and Connie Mack and Jim Greer certainly fit the conservative credentials. No sign when we'll find out.

But Martinez is expected to speak to the press any moment now.

UPDATE #10: Martinez has just wrapped up a rather short press conference announcing his intention to resign. He read straght from the letter that was leaked to the press this morning (see Update 2) and - when asked - said he was leaving for no other reason than to "move on with the rest of my life."

He said he has no specific plans as far as what he'll do next, but it will be in the private sector.

There's no reason not to expect that there's something else going on here. No one simply leaves such a high public office for no reason but to "move on" in life. We'll see where this goes in the days to come.

UPDATE #11: In a press statement, Crist did not say who he would be appointing - only that it would be a placeholder. He said his selection will be made in coming weeks.

And evidently former Senator Connie Mack is NOT on the shortlist. According to the updated article on Politico:

"In an interview with the Miami Herald, Mack said that Crist had previously approached him about filling a vacanacy if Martinez resigned, and he said he was not interested."

So unless some breaking news about a Martinez scandal comes up in the next few hours - which may be a little unlikely for a summer Friday afternoon - this should probably be the last update of the day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Will GOTV Look Like Ten Years From Now?

Part 9 of our 10-part series: 21st "Century Campaigning"

Get-Out-the-Vote (or GOTV) operations have changed dramatically in the last ten years, and – chances are – they’ll change even more in the next ten.

GOTV has always existed in some form or another throughout American electoral history. But modern GOTV methods really began to take shape across the pond. In the United Kingdom’s 1945 general election, Labour Party MP Ian Mikardo and his campaign developed a system in which the Reading constituency he represented was canvassed for Voter ID. The campaign then generated lists of supporters called “Reading sheets” for volunteers to remind to vote on Election Day.

The Reading System also began a GOTV tactic known in the U.S. as “poll watching” – in which campaign workers watch to make sure that voters identified as supporters have made it to the polls already and can be crossed off the list. If not, they get reminded to vote again.

In the United States, national GOTV operations really started to be noticed by the media following the 2000 general election. It was a year where the vote between Al Gore and George W. Bush was so close that getting supporters to the polls could make all the difference in many states.

That fact prompted the GOP to make important strides in the way GOTV was to be done in the future. They developed a new system they labeled “the 72-Hour Program” for the 2002 midterm elections.

From a 2003 Washington Post article on the new program’s implementation:

The 72-Hour Project was born of necessity after the 2000 election, when Republicans discovered that Democrats had done a better job of getting their voters to the polls in one of the tightest presidential races in history.

With prodding from White House senior adviser Karl C. Rove, White House political director Ken Mehlman and RNC Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver, the party undertook a top-to-bottom review of its get-out-the-vote operation, poured more than $1 million into more than 50 experiments to test how best to reach out to voters and then methodically set about implementing their findings in the midterm campaigns.

It paid off. In the subsequent 2002 and 2004 elections the GOP significantly drove up turnout among the Republican-friendly Evangelical community and scored some important victories for their party.

Still, the efficacy of such extensive GOTV programs is of considerable debate. Yale University has devoted an entire website to research done on the effectiveness of GOTV operations.

And Democratic strategist Mark Mellman argues that putting such weight on GOTV really only makes a difference when a race comes down to a couple thousand votes or so.

From a 2006 piece he wrote for The Hill:

“Experiments on turnout by [famed political scientists] Alan Gerber and Donald Green suggest that the most effective means of increasing turnout raise it by less than 10 percent — and that’s for people who get canvassed in person. None of this is to suggest that GOTV efforts are not valuable. When 2000 or 200 votes decide an election there is no question that GOTV efforts can make all the difference in the world. But again, that is simply not the case that is being argued by GOP operatives.

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.”

With this idea in mind, how will campaigns adjust their GOTV strategy so it only counts if a race is going to be close? How will they plan such an important operation ahead of time if they don’t even know if it will be worth it?

And if these questions don’t make campaigns rethink how they do GOTV, maybe some recent trends will.

As we mentioned in our post on Monday, early voting might change a lot of campaign strategy in the next few elections. In fact, when polls showed then-Senator Barack Obama with a substantial edge among early voters, we commented on the importance behind the Obama campaign’s efforts.

“The real advantage of having supporters vote early is that the campaign can focus more time and energy on supporters that vote less frequently (because they are less politically engaged) in the final 72 hours.

So have early voting laws made October a month long GOTV period? It would certainly appear so, as this tactic is sure to be used in presidential campaigns to come.”

But if campaigns are going to devote time and energy to such a “Get-Out-the-Early-Vote” operation, what will that look like? Will they rely on more time-effective methods to convince folks who were already going to vote for them to do it early – methods such as email, robo-calls, text-messages, and direct mail? Or will they actually redirect volunteers from important Voter ID operations to make calls and canvass these supporters?

Ultimately, these aren’t questions that can be answered yet with any certainty – but they are questions that campaigns will have to answer for themselves in the next ten years.

The only thing that is certain is that GOTV will continue to evolve and is likely to look much different in 2020 from what it looked like in 2008.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Sad and Strange History of the John Ensign Scandal

When it was first revealed that Senator John Ensign (R-NV) had had an affair with a former campaign staffer, many in the political realm thought his legislative career might survive the scandal. Politico even suggested that with a quick apology and ending the conversation about the affair - much like Senator David Vitter (R-LA) did - he could continue in the Senate without needing much further damage control.

But over the past month, more and more revelations about the affair have come to light - and it all looks worse and worse for Ensign.

To really understand just how tangled and twisted the entire ordeal was - or, perhaps, is - one needs to see the entire history of the scandal. Luckily for us, the Las Vegas Sun has done a very good job chronicling the story.

The Affair Itself

Ensign began his extramarital affair with Cindy Hampton - the treasurer for his campaign committee and Battle Born PAC, as well as his wife’s good friend - in December 2007 after months of “having feelings” for her. She was receiving about $1,900 a month for those two positions until her salary doubled as the affair began.

Meanwhile, Hampton’s husband Doug was working as an administrative assistant to the Senator on the government side (where he was - for those interested - making over $13,000 a month).

But it was sort of an on-again off-again affair. Apparently it stopped in February when Ensign admitted to Doug that he made a mistake and “vowed to change” - but Doug needed to move on.

February - April 2008

Ensign asked his political consultant - Mike Slanker - to hire Doug at his firm, November Inc. Slanker - who apparently had no knowledge of the affair yet - agreed without much thought.

But a few weeks later, Ensign’s wife, Darlene, called Slanker to let him in on everything. Slanker confronted Ensign about it at his office at the NRSC (Note: while Ensign was the Chair of the NRSC, Slanker’s wife, Lindsay, was its Finance Director). He took Doug Hampton off Ensign’s hands, knowing the two couldn’t really work together anymore.

But here’s the real kicker - the reason Ensign was so desperate to get Doug a new job was so he could go back to pursuing Cindy. The affair continued.

Severance, Gift, or Bribe?

Cindy - like her husband - also left Ensign’s employ at the end of April that year. As a severance from the campaign and PAC committees she received $25,000.

As if that wasn’t a significant amount of cash, Ensign’s parents gave Cindy another $96,000 as a “gift”. Actually, it was technically several gifts, as they wrote a series of checks to make sure they wouldn’t have to pay a gifts tax.

When the story was uncovered this year - over a year since the Hamptons stopped working for the Nevada Senator - ethics groups including Citizens for Responsibility filed complaints arguing that the gift was indeed an undocumented severance pay to the Hamptons.

But what is truly interesting is the fact that this looks so much like a pay-off. When the affair was revealed, Doug Hampton said that he was entitled to “millions” for what the Senator had done to him. Although it cannot be proved (and there’s actually evidence to the contrary) Ensign claimed Doug was blackmailing him.

Besides, who would be more inclined to bribe his way out of a sex scandal than an important Republican Senator with presidential ambitions? Even if the gift was not explicitly a bribe, it sure had the feel of one.

It All Comes Out

Sometime after the affair finally ended (around August 2008) and after Doug left November Inc. (a fascinating email exchange shows that Doug was concerned about his role there while Ensign was a client) Doug Hampton decided to bring it all out.

His course of action was a little peculiar. He sent an email to former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) - of all people - with an attached document that spelled out the nature of the scandal. He said in the email that he had met Santorum a few times, and while the former Pennsylvania Senator might not remember him, he had a great respect for his integrity.

More importantly, Santorum had become a contributor for Fox News.

Now, what Santorum was supposed to do with that information is a little confusing. This is what Hampton writes at the end of the message:

“It is my strong request we speak prior to you calling John but I realize I cannot control what you choose to do with the information…Your wisdom, counsel and insight would be greatly appreciated…as well as your help to resolve this terrible cover up.”

And no one knows exactly what happened after that, but in the end it was Ensign who called a news conference and was the first to explain the affair to the press and public.

In the end, he lost several aids (including his Chief-of-Staff) and any chance of becoming President.

Weird Religious Twists

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the story is the involvement of a group known as “The Family” - a Christian fundamentalist organization and powerful lobby group that houses influential people - including dozens of members of Congress - at its headquarters on C Street.

Writer Jeff Sharlet - who recently published a book on The Family - explains the organization as such:

“The Family began with this idea that God does not work through churches but rather through those whom The Family calls the “New Chosen.” They believe they’re chosen by God. They can’t be expected to pray with the rest of us. They need to pray in private with people of equal status.

When you join one of these prayer groups, you give these men veto power over your life, over every aspect of your life. Wives involved with The Family have said, “In my husband’s life, his brothers come first, I come second.”

Ensign was living there in February last year during his affair. Apparently Doug went to the group to explain what was happening and they told Ensign to end it.

One member of Congress living with The Family that purportedly told Ensign to end the affair was Sen. Tom Colburn (R-OK). Colburn had denied knowing about the affair and - once this part of the story broke - refused to speak about his discussion because he was counseling Ensign “as a physician [he’s an OB-GYN] and as an ordained deacon.”

More simply put, The Family observes a “code of silence” as part of its intense secrecy (a secrecy that seems to rival that of the Freemasons).

The only public activity The Family engages in is The Fellowship’s (their broader organization’s) National Prayer Breakfasts.

In fact, Hampton cites the National Prayer Breakfasts in his email to Santorum, reminding the former Senator that they sat together at one when Santorum was a speaker for the event.

And the emails themselves are filled with religion. In Slanker’s email to Hampton, he tells his new employee that “God has put [me and Lindsay] in this place to help and love”.

Hampton’s reply expands on religion even more:

“To give you an update, the Lord has recently introduced [me and Cindy] to a new counselor…With a lot of hard work on our parts, the counselors help and guidance from the Lord I believe we are headed in the right direction.

…I want you to know that my intent was to reveal or discuss what God is teaching me about the leader he is calling me to be knowing the terrible husband and person I have been…”

Ensign’s Future

Since the news of the affair broke, Ensign’s approval rating has dropped 22% and his disapproval rating has risen 20%.

While voters seemed divided in the mid-July survey over whether or not he should run for re-election, the Nevada electorate does seem to take some of the more revealing details of the scandal “very seriously” - and of these details, the newer fact that he fired his staffer in order to pursue the man’s wife is not among them. Nor is there any mention of Ensign's involvement in the strange, egotistical, fundementalist secret society.

As of now he plans to run for re-election. But that election won’t be until November of 2012. The question we’ll have to wait and see for an answer is “will they remember?”

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Will Healthcare Reform Survive the Tea-Baggers in August?

“It is proof of a bad cause when it is applauded by a mob”

- Seneca (1st Century A.D.)

As Congress prepares for the August recess, President Obama has advised his fellow Democrats to go home to their districts and defend the healthcare reform bills making their way through the legislative process.

But as Democrats are finding out, a mass of anti-reform conservatives are out there disrupting town hall meetings intended to defend reform measures to local constituents.

Here are just a few videos making their way around the internet…

Of course, they are trying to produce an image of overwhelming disapproval of any healthcare reform - as if all Americans were opposed to it. Obviously, this is not the case.

As Nate Silver pointed out this morning, the majority of party-identified Americans are still Democrats - but proportionally, the GOP is much more energized in the current healthcare debate.

As he writes in the post:

“…the Democrats don't have a mass movement right now. They have an electorate that's maybe 60 percent unaware of the threat that things like health care are under in Washington, 20 percent aware but burned out or ambivalent, and 10 percent both aware and engaged but busy fighting with one another. That doesn't leave very many Democrats left to stand up and shout back.”

And while the conservative movement in town hall meetings appears to be very grassroots, it is - in fact - nothing more than astroturf.

The liberal group Think Progress recently obtained (and released) a memo from a conservative group linked to FreedomWorks, which is business-funded and helped organize the April 15 tea party protests. The memo lays out a game-plan for disrupting town hall meetings.

From the memo:

“Our objective was to ‘pack the hall’ with as many people [as possible] ready to challenge [Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT)], put him on the defensive, and give him a reality check … organizing about 30 people and we spread out among the crowd of about 150 people in the hall. We used some techniques early on which immediately made Himes uncomfortable…

…Questions should be prepared … The questions should contain facts and numbers (which are embarrassing and damning to the Congressman’s record)…

…You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

The 10-page document also includes a list of prepared questions to use and ways to coordinate a mass turnout.

Will it work?

Time will only tell, but the news media has already picked up on the disruptions at these town hall meetings. Some think this strategy could backfire - only emboldening Democrats to push for reform - others think it’s a genius way to halt progress by swaying public opinion to mob mentality and scaring politicians.

As former Bush advisor Mark McKinnon says, “town halls have become town hells.”

Democratic members of Congress might want to just scrap town hall meetings this month, but as political scientist Kathleen Hall Jamieson tells Politico “The more intelligent alternative is to take the extensive network the Obama campaign developed and send all of those people to town halls.”

That could mean heated shouting matches between liberals and conservatives at town-hall meetings and one intense August recess.

UPDATE: The DNC has released a new web ad in response to the recent "mob" strategies, pinning them directly with the GOP.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Campaigns Ask You Who You’re Voting For

Part 8 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

Have you ever received a phone call from a political campaign asking you to name the man or woman you’re supporting in an upcoming election? Have you ever worked on or volunteered for a campaign and had to make such a call?

If the answer is “yes” you’ve no doubt wondered why. After all, one’s vote is traditionally thought of as a private decision - a guarantee of the blind ballot. Yet campaigns have a very good reason to ID voters. In fact, they have three very good reasons for doing so.

1) Knowing Where You Are

Ideally, a campaign will identify over half of the electorate (in a two-way race) as strongly supporting their candidate. If this can be achieved, you know you’re going to win even before Election Day. If you have no idea how many voters are supporting you, chances are that means you’re going to lose.

Watching the polls is helpful to get a rough idea of your support - but it is not 100% accurate. Additionally, you cannot track each individual voter. That means that come time for the Get-Out-the-Vote operation (or GOTV) you won’t know exactly who to remind to vote.

2) Laying a Foundation for Your Party

Politics doesn’t stop after one election - it doesn’t stop at all. When you can identify which politicians a particular voter is supporting you can get a good idea of how they will vote in the future. Only a small fraction of the electorate are truly “swing” voters - most will vote for candidates in one particular party the great majority of the time.

By identifying these voters the party can determine how likely they are to support future candidates. This helps these future campaigns plan how they allocate their resources. If a particular voter is identified as a strong Democrat or Republican there is no point in sending them a piece of mail, giving them a phone call, or sending volunteers to their house to try to persuade them. If they’re identified as a swing voter, they are certain to get more contact with the campaign.

Additionally, precincts that have over 65% of the electorate identified as strongly Democratic (in the case of Democratic campaigns) will be covered tooth-and-nail come GOTV time. Every house in such precincts will be hit before the polls close on Election Day. This tactic is designed to drive as much support to the polls as humanly possible for the party.

3) Solidifying Their Support

One of the most significant phenomena in politics is how voters will commit to supporting a particular candidate once they’ve said they support him or her. By neglecting a Voter ID program, a campaign risks losing voters that lean toward its candidate before Election Day. By calling or canvassing these voters and getting them to say out-loud that they support your candidate, they become much more likely to follow through when they head to the polls.

Where’s the evidence?

In 2008, President Obama won his bid for the White House because his campaign rigorously tracked where they were in swing states, used the Democratic Party’s existing infrastructure and information to plan the optimal use of resources, and convinced voters that leaned towards his candidacy to follow through by voting for him. In the end, the Obama campaign had contacted about 37% more voters than the McCain campaign, and Voter ID is by far the most important tactic in voter contact

But 2008 was important for another reason - namely the use of Voter ID in early voting trends. Early voting increased significantly last year, and it had a major impact on how the rest of the campaign was run. By identifying which voters had already submitted a ballot, campaigns were able to devote more time and energy to those who were waiting until the end.

That means saving time by not trying to persuade early voters to support your candidates or reminding them to head to the polls on Election Day. With the saved time, the campaigns were able to focus on voters known to be undecided going into the last few days of the race.

Early voting is becoming more and more popular, and it will be interesting to watch as it continues in the future. Needless to say, campaigns prefer early voting because early voters probably weren’t persuadable to begin with, and it allows the campaign to be more efficient in its outreach activities.

This trend certainly appears to be the most important aspect of future Voter ID operations.