Friday, November 6, 2009

Tea Party Protesters Getting Out of Hand

Summary: The Tea Party activists and their latest protest - how it crossed the line.

While the nation mourns the tragic loss of our men and women at Ft. Hood this week, an interesting secondary story has been circling the blogosphere - hateful messages coming from Tea Party protesters, and what appears to be encouragement from GOP leaders.

From an editorial in Politics Daily:

When John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, appeared at the Tea Party rally at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon, it was a dramatic signal: The wing-nuts have taken over the GOP.

Think I'm being harsh? The angry folks at the protest -- which attracted several thousand conservatives -- held up signs with messages of hate: "Get the Red Out of the White House," "Waterboard Congress," "Ken-ya Trust Obama?" One called the president a "Traitor to the U.S. Constitution." Another sign showed pictures of dead bodies at the Dachau concentration camp and compared health care reform to the Holocaust. A different placard depicted Obama as Sambo. Yes, Sambo. Another read, "Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds" -- a reference to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory holding that one evil Jewish family has manipulated events around the globe for decades.

All of this extremism was on display -- proudly -- at an event that was officially sponsored by the House Republicans. After Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited tea partiers to the Capitol to rail against the emerging health care bill, the GOP leadership -- somewhat blindsided by Bachmann -- jumped on board, providing speakers and logistical support for the event. Certainly, the crowd was not made up entirely of bigots; I'm not smearing all the protesters who oppose Obama's health care reform effort. But it cannot be denied: Racism and anti-Semitism were part of an official Republican action.

Extremism was also flowing from the podium, where Republican House members were eager for microphone time. Boehner, for one, declared that the health care bill is the "greatest threat to freedom that I have seen." That's some statement. A greater threat than Hitler's Nazism or Soviet communism? About the same time he was speaking, Obama was making a surprise appearance at the White House daily press briefing to tout the fact that the American Medical Association and AARP, the powerful seniors lobby, have each endorsed the health care reform bill. Here's a question for Boehner: Are these two groups opposed to freedom? And at one point during the rally -- call it a Bachmannalia -- when John Ratzenberger, a.k.a Cliff Clavin from "Cheers," claimed that the Democrats were turning the United States into a land of European socialism, the audience shouted, "Nazis, Nazis." No Republican legislator left the stage in protest. Boehner and his fellow GOP leaders should be asked how they feel about mounting a rally that attracted intense hate-mongering.

I find this interesting because lately I’ve been noticing more and more signs of what one might call “patriotic” protests: with Tea Party protesters carrying Gadsden flags and screaming about taxation, it seemed like the American Revolution all over again. In fact, that’s sort of what they’ve been going for.

But some of these new developments cross the line. Sure, they’ve been crossing the line here and there for a while, but depicting the president as Sambo, bringing up the Rothschild conspiracy, and shouting “Nazis, Nazis” is not the innocent War for Independence comparisons they were beginning to draw for themselves.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid never attended rallies in which liberal activists were comparing George W. Bush to Hilter - if they did, do you really think the Democrats could have taken back Congress?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Was Bloomberg’s Campaign Spending “Worth It?”

Summary: After spending nearly $100 million we can now ask how much is too much to spend on a campaign.

It was well noted in last year’s presidential election that the Obama campaign spent about $730 million to put the junior Illinois senator in the White House while earning about 69.5 million votes - in other words, they spent about $10.50 per vote.

It may not have come from Obama himself, but it was certainly seen as a lot of money per vote.

This year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg put nearly $100 million of his own money into his re-election efforts - it came out to about $35,000 an hour for his campaign. On Tuesday he garnered 557,059 votes - enough to win with about 50.6% of the electorate.

In other words, Bloomberg personally spent about $175 per vote.

There’s a term economists use to explain the financial choices individuals make: “utility.” The idea is that every individual tries to maximize their utility given the limits of their income.

Obviously, the billionaire Mayor has virtually unlimited income compared to the rest of us - but many are still asking whether all that spending was worth it.

The great thing about “utility” is that it can mean anything. If an individual gets happiness out of buying a big-screen TV, they’ll buy one to increase their utility. If they feel better about themselves by giving some of their money to charity, they’ll do so to increase their utility. Or - in Bloomberg’s case - if they like running a city enough, they’ll put enough money into a campaign to keep doing so and increase their utility.

And because economists will look at what individuals do rather than what some figure they ought to do, the other great thing about “utility” is there’s no way of disproving that a person is not getting their money’s worth!

Bloomberg outspent his main opponent - Bill Thompson - at least 14 to 1, simply because he had the resources to do so.

No matter how you feel about Bloomberg’s ability to govern, it is concerning that one of the nation’s richest men - and perhaps the richest man in New York City - can hold on to the top office by putting so much money into a race. It’s especially troubling when you consider the fact that you’d probably vote for someone regardless of their policies if they actually just gave you the $175 they were already spending for your vote.

This race shattered records in American campaign finance history. And can you not imagine some more calls for campaign finance reform in New York City when there’s such a hint of plutocracy in their local government?

I can.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Final Thoughts on Yesterday’s Elections

Summary: Dave at WAYLA reviews the November 2009 elections and their implications.

First I want to start by looking back on my predictions from Monday. In Virginia I said McDonnell would win handedly against Deeds, and he did. In fact, he won with 59% of the vote - 2% more than I expected.

In New Jersey, I wrongly suggested Corzine could squeak in a victory, and no matter who won it would be close (as in, by a point or so) - as it turned out, Christie defeated the incumbent governor by more than 4%.

In Maine, I suggested it would come down to whether the youth and progressive votes would turn out in proportionally higher numbers than the older voters and conservatives. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exit poll information to check that, but I’ll get back to this race later in the post.

In New York City I turned out to be dead-on in my prediction: incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg won, but with a much smaller margin than pundits were predicting. I was hearing he might win by as much as 10%-15% yesterday - he won by just 5% over City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

In New York’s 23rd Congressional District I was wrong yet again, assuming that Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman would defeat Democrat Bill Owens by a substantial margin. Owens won with a 3-point lead over Hoffman. In fairness, I was second-guessing that prediction yesterday hours before polls closed in New York, and I’ll explain why shortly.

Second of all, let me stress that I don’t believe this was a referendum on President Obama or the Democratic Party. In fact, Tom Schaller had a very interesting post the other day, suggesting it could be more of a referendum on the GOP.

However, most of this comes down to the local circumstances of each race. As we mentioned last week, the Deeds defeat - and the extent to which he lost - had more to do with poor campaigning on the part of him and his party than on anything to do with the “spending in Washington” we’ve heard so much about. Chuck Todd said it best when he pointed out “[the Virginia race is] a good reminder that campaigns matter.”

In New Jersey, Corzine was plagued by the difficulties of governing in a recession - something we’ve discussed time and time again. In order to balance the state budget he had to increase property taxes and reduce services - actions that would be unpopular no matter what. The property tax increase was particularly damaging to him - according to the exit polls, a whopping 26% of voters said it was their main issue in the race, and that meant a significant drop in support (by perhaps as many as 100,000 voters) in the suburbs of Philadelphia and New York City.

Now let me get back to the elections in Maine and NY-23.

Yesterday something crossed my mind while looking at the polls on Question 1 in Maine - what if we were looking at a Bradley Effect?

To explain, let’s look at the three most recent polls on the issue. Two found that the referendum would fail - a Daily Kos / Research 2000 poll said it would by 1% and a Pan Atlantic poll said it would by 11%. A third poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found the referendum would pass by 4% - which is roughly what happened.

It’s important to note that unlike the other two polls, the PPP survey was an automated response poll - allowing respondents to explain their position by punching in numbers on their keypads and not talking to a live person. This allowed them to be honest about their opposition to gay marriage without being embarrassed for what could be perceived as homophobia.

I was led on to that theory by a recent article in Politico on the gay marriage referendum. Just read some of the responses from those interviewed:

"[‘No on 1’] did a very good job of humanizing the issue," said state Sen. Peter Mills, a Republican who voted for the marriage equality law and opposes Question One. "They had gay couples inviting themselves into the Rotary Club and talking about what it's like to live in a world where it's possible to discriminate against somebody just because they're a same-sex couple."…

…"Even in the conservative areas, they don't like the government telling them what to do and making choices for them," said former Defense Secretary William Cohen, who served as a Republican senator from Maine and has not taken a position on Question 1. "Maine people in particular are very open to change, even though it's a moderate-to-conservative state overall."

Republican politicians not only kept mum about the issue, but some even went so far as to oppose Question 1, seemingly to save themselves from what they figured was a socially libertarian electorate. In fact, it seems quite possible that many anti-gay marriage Mainers were hiding their true opinions from their neighbors.

Moving a few hours south of the Pine Tree State we come to New York’s 23rd. Many - including myself - initially figured that Hoffman would solidify support from Scozzafava’s base despite her endorsement of Owens. After all, the polls said he would.

But yesterday two things occurred to me. First, Scozzafava would remain on the ballot, and a sizeable portion of her supporters would vote for her regardless of her decision to drop out - it turned out to be 6% of the electorate.

Second, many of Scozzafava’s supporters probably quickly decided that they would support Hoffman - Owens was a Democrat, after all - and then later changed their minds. The second part of that trend, however, wouldn’t have been reflected in the polls following Scozzafava’s decision - it took place just four days before the election. My guess is a number of these voters took a step back and said “well, I am a center-right conservative, but this Hoffman guy is really out there - he just called Glenn Beck his mentor.”

With a shake-up as dramatic as Scozzafava’s decision, it’s quite possible that her supporters were scrambling like that to make a decision before Tuesday.

Finally, everyone is going to want to point out broader implications about what these elections mean for 2010. Republicans are saying that voters - even blue state voters like those in New Jersey - are rejecting Obama/Democratic policies and that we’ll see this trend continue in 2010. Democrats are arguing that the shake-up in NY-23 indicates that conservative activists are moving the GOP so far to the right that they won’t be electable next year.

The implication I see, however, is along the lines of an idea we’ve discussed before. Next year might be a tough year for Democrats on the state level, but probably not too bad of a year on the federal level.

We saw such trends yesterday. Democrats won in special Congressional elections in New York and California, while losing statewide races in New Jersey and Virginia, not to mention State Legislative seats in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Whether those trends will carry on in 2010 will now depend on just how the parties and campaigns position themselves going into next year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Election Day 2009

Summary: Happy Election Day - will political predictions come true?

It’s the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November - and although it’s not an even-numbered year this year, today is still Election Day.

With polls closing in Maine, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia in less than 12 hours we thought we’d bring you some Election Day analysis from pundits across the news media and blogosphere.

From NBC Political Director Chuck Todd:

“We know that whether Jon Corzine wins or loses, he won't get 50 percent, meaning more than half of the state voted to oust him in a very blue state.

We know that the Republican Party has to deal with two rifts, one that is ideological, the other a battle between the establishment and grassroots. The two rifts are not interchangeable.

We know that not being associated with either political party is a net plus with many voters — from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s expected victory, to Chris Daggett's influence in New Jersey, to Doug Hoffman's rise in New York's 23rd Congressional District.

And we know that the president's coattails have gotten shorter…

…Let's start with what should be the biggest lesson: The return of the angry independent.

The one thing Daggett and Hoffman have in common is that they both have anti-establishment, anti-political party credentials. And both used those attributes to gain credibility.

While lots of folks want to paint 2010 as either a midterm election like 1994 (Democratic over-reach backlash), or 1982 (economic angst), let me suggest that things are looking more like 1992, when a billionaire gadfly galvanized the radical middle…

…there are a few other things about [the Virginia] race that shouldn't be overlooked.

First, McDonnell avoided a divisive primary and didn't have to "run right" before running to the middle in the general. In fact, McDonnell got to run to the middle the entire year — his ads project a pragmatic problem solver who can work with both parties. It should be a model for Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2010, and perhaps for any Republican pondering a presidential run in 2012…

…Second, McDonnell was of course helped by the inept campaign run by Democrat Creigh Deeds. But the irony is this: Deeds is the most centrist/moderate Democrat the party has nominated this century. He is to the right of Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb, but he was painted as someone more liberal than any of those three. These mistakes are on Deeds and his campaign. It's a good reminder that campaigns matter.”

From Newsweek’s Howard Fineman:

“President Barack Obama believes in the saving grace of the federal government.

But do the American people?

In a time of economic uncertainty and fear, that is the core question implicit — and sometimes explicit — on Election Day 2009…

…It's always dangerous to extrapolate national trends from scattered local elections such as these.

And of course, as I write, we don't know the results — only which way the polls were heading in the final days. But I think in this case the message is already clear: Voters, who launched the Obama Era with so much hope a year ago, are still hopeful but they're also skeptical.

And they are once again impatient with Washington, and with big shots of any stripe — on Wall Street or the nation's capital — who seem more interested in increasing their own power than truly solving problems.”

From MSNBC host and former Rep. Joe Scarborough:

“A big Republican win in Virginia will not be an earth mover, but instead confirm that the home of Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee is a toss up state that still swings Republican. A Bob McDonnell victory will be seen by most in the media as reflecting a rising discomfort with the explosive growth of Washington, but also, perhaps more importantly, the weakness of the Democratic candidate…

…Every Democratic consultant I've talked to over the past few days has let loose involuntary groans every time they talked about [the New Jersey] race. Many Democrats began quietly predicting the collapse of the independent candidate at the end of last week and assumed that factor would help Christie.

Last minute polls suggest they may be right.

Still, I believe the Democrats' turnout operation should keep this race tight all night. If the race is instead a blowout, that can only be bad news for the Democrats.

And for those second guessing the president's active involvement in Corzine's race, the fact is that Barack Obama had no choice but to jump head first into the Jersey fight. All the president's men know that a Republican sweep in New Jersey and Virginia will strike fear in the hearts of those swing state Democrats who now hold the future of health care in their sweaty moderate hands…

…Hoffman's ascendancy in NY-23 is less about Barack Obama than it is about a decade of bloated and corrupt Republican leadership in Washington, D.C. This race gave the same conservatives who helped drive Ronald Reagan's victory and the 1994 Republican Revolution something to cheer about for the first time in a long time. It also gave them an opportunity to stick it to an incompetent GOP Establishment…

Here are my predictions a little more than 24 hours before the polls close:

Virginia-- Bob McDonnell by 10+
New Jersey-- Chris Christie by 1
New York 23-- Doug Hoffman by 7

…(Despite my prediction, I still have a hard time seeing Jon Corzine losing this race.)”

Also, be sure to check out Politico’s “5 Things to Watch for” in Virginia, New Jersey, and NY-23, as well as a good article on the gay-marriage referendum in Maine.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Predictions for Tomorrow’s Elections

Tomorrow is Election Day for residents in New Jersey, Virginia, Maine, New York City, and New York’s 23rd Congressional District. Last week we analyzed the gubernatorial race in Virginia and found Republican Bob McDonnell to be the likely winner.

Today we take a look at the big races in the other four elections.

New Jersey

Big Race: Governor

Candidates: Jon Corzine (D), Chris Christie (R), Chris Daggett (I)

Analysis: While Corzine has not been a popular incumbent throughout the race, he has been gaining in the polls over the past month or two. Nate Silver suggests the race is largely up in the air at this point, with Christie being a 4:3 favorite. The race has been very negative, and no matter who the undecided voters choose, they’re going to have to select a politician that they’ve heard a lot of bad things about. Largely, this race could come down to which campaign has the best organization for tomorrow - and in New Jersey, it’s typically the Democrat.

Predictions: I would put my money on Corzine, but it is certainly possible that Christie will pull an upset victory. Either way, expect Daggett to do fairly well - perhaps even better than the polls up to this point suggest he will do.


Big Race: Question 1

Options: A “Yes” vote is to overturn the legalization of gay marriage in Maine, a “No” vote supports gay marriage.

Analysis: This question was thrown on the voters at the last minute, and for a referendum concerning an issue as progressive as gay marriage, it should theoretically be a bad sign for “No on 1” supporters. That being said, “No on 1” has raised significantly more money - including from in-state contributors - and past analysis suggests the electorate will vote this question down. Silver predicts there is an 80% chance that the “No” vote will win. However, a recent Public Policy Polling survey found that Maine voters supported Question 1 at a 51% - 47% margin.

Predictions: If any state can vote this down, it’s a New England state - however, the polls don’t look good. I think it will come down to the youth vote. Young voters were far more opposed to the referendum than older voters, and older voters typically make it to the polls more often. Yet gay marriage is one issue that young voters are extremely passionate about, and they might rally a “No” vote better than conservatives can rally a “Yes” vote tomorrow. We’ll have to wait and see.

New York City

Big Race: Mayor

Candidates: Michael Bloomberg (R,I), Bill Thompson (D)

Analysis: Unfortunately, this race has been a lot less exciting than we hoped. While NYC is an incredibly Democratic city, voters tend to approve of Bloomberg’s pragmatic style of governance. Silver sees Thompson as a 35:1 underdog, with only the Bronx as a winnable borough for him. However, voters in NYC are still upset over Bloomberg’s moves last year to extend term limits and still others are frustrated with his lack of attention towards low income residents. Additionally, Bloomberg’s campaign has been using robo-calls so frequently it’s getting on everyone’s nerves. Nonetheless, voters will probably look past these issues, and Bloomberg’s wealth has made him a very difficult candidate to beat in logistical terms.

Predictions: While I suspect Bloomberg will win, I have some feeling it will be closer than most pundits are saying it will.


Big Race: Representative to Congress

Candidates: Bill Owens (D), Doug Hoffman (C)

Analysis: Until this weekend, I would have expected the conservative vote to split about evenly between Republican Dierdre Scozzafava and Hoffman - running on the Conservative Party ticket - allowing Owens to squeak by with a slim victory. On Saturday, however, Scozzafava dropped out - leaving a mass of conservatives to support Hoffman. Of course, she did endorse Owens upon exiting the race, and the district as a whole is far more moderate than Hoffman. Nonetheless, the conservative base is fired up and likely to bring in way more support for Hoffman on Election Day than Scozzafava can do for Owens. In fact, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen appears to be conceding on that point already.

Predictions: Hoffman will win, and probably by a substantial margin.