Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where Will the GOP Make Gains in 2010?

Summary: Should Republicans target conservative rural districts or moderate suburban districts?

Assuming the Republicans pick up a few seats in Congress next year, what kind of districts can we expect them to pick up?

Based on recent ad buys from the NRCC, it seems that Republicans believe the seats they pick up will be from more rural areas in traditionally red states. Recently they released this basic ad attacking veteran Congressmen Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Vic Snyder (D-AR), and John Spratt Jr. (D-SC) for their support of the House healthcare bill:

Now, has each of these districts as either likely Democratic or safe Democratic going into next year - but all three went for McCain in 2008, which was a good year for Democrats. Republicans now hope that enough discontent with the Democrats has built up in these districts so that the incumbency effect won’t play out in 2010.

At the same time, other Democrats are beginning to feel threatened about losing their blue-leaning suburban districts next year, which they see as the obvious point for Republican attack.

From a recent article in Politico:

Suburban Democrats are bracing to defend their recent gains amid unmistakable signs of volatility among an electorate that is impatient with the pace of economic recovery.

Their concerns are coming into sharp focus amid ongoing developments in Nassau County, N.Y., where County Executive Tom Suozzi, a rising star in New York politics and a prominent suburban Democratic politician, might lose his seat in a recount.

Suozzi’s predicament comes on the heels of other troubling developments in some of the nation’s largest suburban counties, including nearby Democratic Westchester County, where voters tossed out County Executive Andrew Spano in a startling upset Nov. 3…

…That sentiment applied up and down the East Coast in the 2009 off-year elections, as suburbanites registered their discontent by rejecting Democratic incumbents, even in typically blue-tinted counties.

Across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lost his reelection bid, and his Republican opponent came within striking distance of victory in suburban Bergen County, a Democratic area and the largest county in the state. Gov.-elect Chris Christie also bested Corzine in Middlesex County, a suburban bellwether that President Barack Obama won by 22 points in 2008.

In the Virginia governor’s race, the news for Democrats was hardly better: Republican Bob McDonnell trounced Democrat Creigh Deeds in nearly every suburban Northern Virginia county that supported Obama last year. The only holdouts, Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, were the closest municipalities to Washington.

…“Suburban voters tend to be independent, intelligent, and they listen and they make up their minds,” [says Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA)] “They would take a chance on Chris Christie rather than electing Jon Corzine. McDonnell ran a much better campaign than Deeds did.”

Of course, there still haven’t been any races that suggest Democrats will do poorly in the suburbs in federal races, in which local issues do not play as large of a roll. In fact, Democrats actually picked up a rural red-leaning district in 2009 on the federal side.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Political Consultants in Foreign Races

Summary: Profits and limited liability drive some of America's top political consultants to go international.

Ever wonder why the really well-known political consultants - the James Carvilles, Mark Penns, etc. - go overseas for work? Ever wonder why foreign campaigns hire them?

There’s an interesting article in Politico today which covers these very questions.

From the article:

In Kiev and Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine, American political consultants who worked against one another in Iowa and New Hampshire and then in the general election are facing off again in a somewhat surreal Eastern European replay of the 2008 campaign…

…The Ukraine race is hardly the only international opportunity available for consultants who had a hand in the Obama campaign. Since Obama's historic election in November, AKPD and Benenson Strategy Group alone have advised candidates or parties in Argentina, Bulgaria, Romania, Israel and Britain and have turned down offers to work in many more countries around the globe.

The attraction is easy to understand. Foreign campaigns typically pay more than domestic ones do, and they are lower risks for consultants coming off the image-enhancing boost of a presidential campaign, according to James Carville, the former Clinton strategist and talking head, who has worked for candidates in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan (where he worked this year on Ashraf Ghani’s second-tier presidential campaign along with [GOP consultant Tad] Devine.

“If you help elect a president and then you get involved in a governor’s race and you lose, it’s going to be a little bit damaging to your reputation,” he said. “But if you go to Peru and you run a presidential race and you lose, no one knows or cares. So why go to New Jersey and lose for 100 grand when you [can] go to Peru and lose for a million?”…

…AKPD client [Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko was once seen as such a reliable American ally in a regional battle for pipelines and strategic influence that Russian prosecutors put out a warrant for her arrest on smuggling charges. But she’s since made her peace with the Kremlin and is seen as playing a more complex game with both sides — which may help explain her choice in American consultants.

"In the Ukraine and in other post-communist countries, they have this misconception about Washington politics: They think that somehow if you sign up AKPD or other former Obama people, you sign up the support of Obama," said Taras Kuzio, a senior fellow in Ukraine studies at the University of Toronto who has done political consulting in Ukraine.

"They don't understand the separation of business and politics, which doesn't exist in the Ukraine or in these other post-communist countries," said Kuzio.

Neither AKPD nor Benenson Strategy Group is registered to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of foreign governments, and representatives from both firms said they make clear to prospective foreign clients that their firms will not and cannot provide a foot in the door to the Obama White House.

Benenson this year has scored contracts to do survey research for Romanian presidential candidate Micrea Geoana and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labor Party previously paid Penn's firm for polling.

When the party trumpeted its deal with Benenson, London's Daily Telegraph called it "a major coup for the prime minister, who is keen to align himself with Mr. Obama." But Benenson said he discourages any impression among potential clients that hiring his firm is a way to court favor with the White House.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interesting Finding on Third Party Support

It’s been something of a slow news day today for electoral politics, but we did happen to catch an interesting figure in the latest report from the Pew Research Center.

Apparently, despite all the new stories about independents and third party candidates running for office, support for them is - on the whole - decreasing.

From the report:

Despite record dissatisfaction with Congress and extremely low ratings for both the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is no shift in public demand for alternatives to the two parties. Just over half (52%) of Americans say the U.S. should have a third major political party in addition to the Democrats and Republicans, while four-in-ten (40%) disagree. This is little changed from last year, when 56% favored a third party and 38% opposed the idea.

Support for a third party continues to be widespread among independents. As was the case last year, 70% of independents say we should have a third major political party. Just 44% of both Republicans and Democrats agree. There is also a consistent difference between younger and older Americans. In the current poll, 63% of Americans under age 30 support the idea of a third political party, compared with just 37% of those ages 65 and older.

In fact, it appears that the third party has been losing support since the days of Ross Perot.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Could Sarah Palin Make a Comeback in 2012?

Summary: How political processes could lead to President Palin in 2012.

Now that her new book is coming out, a lot of pundits are talking about a possible Sarah Palin comeback and an eventual 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

David Brooks - the conservative columnist who has spoken less than highly of Palin in the past - had this to say on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday:

“She’s a joke. I mean, I just can't take her seriously. We have got serious problems in the country. Barack Obama is trying to handle war. We just had a guy elected Virginia governor who is probably the model for future of the Republican Party, Bob McDonnell: Pretty serious guy, pragmatic, calm, kind of boring. The idea that this potential talk show host is considered seriously for the Republican nomination, believe me, it will never happen. Republican primary voters are just not going to elect a talk show host.”

Meanwhile, Walter Shaprio wrote this in an interesting column today for Politics Daily, explaining how she could win a 2012 nomination:

More than two years before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, presidential speculation should come with a soothsayer's money-back guarantee. But what all the discussions of Palin's future miss is the way that Republican Party rules are made-to-order for a well-funded insurgent named Sarah to sweep the primaries before anyone figures out how to stop her. If Palin can maintain, say, 35-percent support in a multi-candidate presidential field, then she is the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination.

The secret of Palin's presidential potential is the Republican Party's affection for winner-take-all primaries. According to my friend Elaine Kamarck's invaluable new book, Primary Politics, 43 percent of the 2008 Republican delegates were selected in primaries where the winner corralled all the delegates by winning a state or congressional district. As a result of the Republicans' to-the-victor-go-the-spoils method of picking convention delegates, Mike Huckabee finished second in 16 states and won a paltry 74 delegates for his trouble.

In the name of fairness, the Democrats have banned such winner-take-all primaries, which is why the nomination fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dragged into June. The Democratic Party's method of proportional representation meant that neither candidate could score a game-ending victory until all the primaries ended.

In contrast, the Republican have long been more concerned with avoiding a lengthy and divisive nomination fight than in designing a philosophically pure system of allocating delegates.

Here is why this kind of arcane detail may well smooth Palin's path to the 2012 nomination. While nothing is certain this far out, Palin seems perfectly positioned to appeal to the conservative party activists who turn out for the opening-gun Iowa caucuses. Moderate New Hampshire, of course, is apt to be a daunting challenge for Palin.

Next stop on the traditional GOP calendar is the firewall South Carolina primary where, as Kamarck writes, "candidates such as Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson (who were seen as too radical to win a general election)...could be stopped early on."

But Palin would not be a lucky fringe candidate who won a caucus or two; she would be a universally known charismatic figure who could beat the party establishment in this conservative state.

In 2008, after South Carolina came a series of winner-take-all primaries in which John McCain rolled up a lopsided delegate lead. McCain won all of Florida's delegates even though he received just 36 percent of the primary vote. In California, where delegates were allocated by congressional districts, McCain won 158 delegates with 42 percent of the popular vote. Mitt Romney received 34 percent of the California vote but was awarded just 12 delegates. In Illinois, Romney won exactly 3 delegates despite his 29-percent share of the primary vote. Because of similar primary rules, McCain won every single delegate in the early February contests in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri and Virginia.

If Palin launches a 2012 race – and survives the South Carolina primary with her aura intact – she could theoretically sweep the winner-take-all states without ever winning a majority anywhere. The Republican establishment (the congressional leadership, the governors, the major donors and national consultants) could all agree that Palin would be an electoral disaster against Obama in November and still be powerless to halt her juggernaut.

The best way to stop Sarah would be for GOP insiders to rally quickly around a single anti-Palin candidate. But such cabals rarely work in politics because there are too many egos involved. Would, say, Romney be so panicked about Palin that he would prematurely abandon his presidential ambitions to support a potentially more winnable candidate like maybe Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty? Not bloody likely. For that matter, would populist Huckabee drop out in favor of a big-business Republican like Romney to prevent Palin mania? Yeah, sure.

Although the party rules are entirely different than in 1964 when Goldwater permanently decimated the Eastern liberal Republican Party, the guiding principle is the same. A well-known candidate with a passionate following who organizes early can win the nomination even if a large swath of the party believes that he or she is ill-equipped to be entrusted with the nation's nuclear codes.

Since the Republicans allow winner-take-all primaries but do not mandate them, it will be intriguing if major states decide to change their rules about how they will award convention delegates in 2012. Jiggering with the primaries might be the first manifestation of a top-down Stop Palin movement. Otherwise, winner-take-all Republican primaries may speed the nomination of the most polarizing presidential nominee since the Democrats picked George McGovern in 1972.

So will Palin be the next Goldwater, or will she just become an obscure almost-was in Republican politics? Politico is asking readers their thoughts in a new video.

Let them know your thoughts!