Friday, October 31, 2008

Next Time

My late father was one of the most fanatical football watchers in America. A sometime sports journalist himself, he was critical of college football commentators who, all season long, would speculate about who would win the Heisman Trophy, the annual award to the best college football player.

I've come to share that opinion, and a year or two ago, I remember hearing a radio report speculating on the following year's winner, the day before that year's winner was to be announced. Well, now I'm going to do the political equivalent of that: commenting on the outlook for 2012 and beyond, in advance of election day 2008.

First, the scenario that the polls say is highly likely, an Obama victory.

In the post World War II-era, there has been an iron rule about an incumbent president's hope for reelection. If he is unopposed, or faces only token opposition, for his party's nomination, he wins the general election. Otherwise, he is thrown out. Phrasing it that way muddles cause and effect, but the correlation has held.

There's no way of knowing which way that will go. Of course, his strong supporters will tell you that an Obama victory would mark the second coming, with the lion lying down with the lamb, etc. And his staunch opponents are certain that he will fail utterly, and that the country will tire of having Bill Ayers in a position of influence in the White House, etc.

While it's impossible to say which issues will be important at any point in the future, it's safe to say that, for a while at least, he'll need to deal with economic issues. And I suspect that, as usual, the next president will get too much credit for economic good news, and too much blame for what might go wrong.

Who is waiting in the wings, if Obama stumbles? The first name that comes to mind, of course, is Hillary Clinton. She will be 65 in 2012, and that could be her last chance.

Some of the Democratic senators who were elected in 2006, and those who might win in 2008, are possibilities. Mark Warner of Virginia, who is expected to win a Senate seat this year, was considered presidential timber in the runup to 2008, but opted for the Senate race instead. Also, I wonder whether one of the Udall cousins in Colorado and New Mexico might try to accomplish what Morris Udall fell short of achieving in his 1976 run for the presidency.

Might Kay Hagan of North Carolina be seen as the next big thing, if she succeeds in unseating Elizabeth Dole in their Senate race this year?

Over the past 32 years, ex-governors have been in the White House for 28 years. But the current crop of large-state governors does not seem very promising. Rendell of Pennsylvania, Strickland of Ohio, and Blagojevich of Illinois, seem to lack both the ambition and the support within their party. And Granholm of Michigan is an immigrant, and therefore ineligible.

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, until his resignation in the wake of a prostitution scandal. His successor, David Paterson, is seen as merely a transitional figure.

On the other hand, if Obama is reelected, the question turns to 2016.

Joe Biden will be 74 in 2016. While the Republicans were willing to nominate a 72-year-old this year, Biden's age might disqualify him from being heir-apparent to Obama. And, after his two failed attempts at the Democratic presidential nomination, his party might not be all that interested anyway.

I think it's likely that the Democrats would then turn to a new generation of leaders, and we'll need to keep watch over the next 4-8 years, to see who emerges.

On the Republican side, all of the talk has been of Sarah Palin emerging as her party's front-runner for 2012.

Some of the also-rans this year might give it another try, such as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

On the more moderate side, I'll be interested to follow the future of two Minnesota Republicans. Gov. Tim Pawlenty was on McCain's short list for running mate in 2008. He is not term-limited and has indicated a possible interest in becoming the first governor of his state to win a third term, when he's up for reelection in 2010. The other is Sen. Norm Coleman, if he can cut short the Al Franken decade.

What about the unlikely possibility that McCain wins?

The first question would be whether, at 76, he would run for reelection in 2012. His refusal to say now that he will limit himself to one term might be based on the experience of his hero Theodore Roosevelt. As I wrote here, Roosevelt (though in his case certainly not for age reasons) made such a pledge, and came to regret it.

But, if McCain wins this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he eventually bowed out of the 2012 campaign.

Either way, Sarah Palin would be well-placed to launch a candidacy to succeed McCain.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cold Response to Stevens

Real Clear Politics has for the first time reported on a poll in the Alaska Senate race that was conducted subsequent to Ted Stevens's conviction in federal court. It shows a sharp gain by his Democratic opponent Mark Begich. Stevens is hoping to benefit from a backlash against the federal prosecutors. So far, it looks as though that ain't happening.

Red October: The Hunt Is Over


Another break from the trivial things I usually write about, to address something truly important: Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies (with apologies to the Chunichi Dragons) baseball's WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Photo: Getty Images

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Roger Wicker Leads in Mississippi

After I published this post about the special election in Mississippi for the Senate seat that had been held by Trent Lott, Real Clear Politics has reported one more poll. It shows Republican Roger Wicker, currently holding the seat under an interim appointment, ahead of Democrat Ronnie Musgrove by 11 points. I had dismissed another recent poll, with a 13-point Wicker lead, as an outlier. But this latest poll seems to confirm that Wicker is in good shape during the final week of the campaign.

Al Franken Decade? Or At Least 6 Years?

The Minnesota Senate race is about as close as can be. Real Clear Politics reports that the polls, on average, show a virtual dead heat between Republican incumbent Senator Norm Coleman, and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate, former television comedian Al Franken.

But recent polls have indicated anything between a nine-point Coleman lead, and a six-point advantage for Franken. Here is a blog post on Minnesota Public Radio's website, discussing different polling methodologies, and their affect on the results.

North Star State residents are having a difficult time deciding whether, doggone it, they like Franken.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Falling Into The Grand Canyon?

One strange phenomenon in this year's presidential election is the relatively slim margin by which John McCain leads in the polls in his home state of Arizona. Real Clear Politics lists polls showing McCain ahead by a bit more than the margin of error, but still only in single digits. And this report in Politico mentions a poll with only a four-point McCain lead.

Not that it would be unprecedented for a presidential candidate to fail to carry his home state.

The last such case was in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Tennessee.

In 1972, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee, lost his home state (as well as 48 others) to President Richard Nixon. But McGovern, who lost in a crushing landslide, had a higher percentage of the vote in South Dakota (45.5%), which has generally voted Republican in presidential elections, than his dismal 37.5% of the nationwide popular vote.

In 1968, Nixon was, I believe, the only winning candidate ever to fail to carry his home state. But, in that decade in which the asterisk was so controversial in baseball, an asterisk needs to be added to that observation about Nixon. Although he was a New York resident in 1968, and he lost that state to Hubert Humphrey, he was really more a Californian than a New Yorker. Nixon moved to New York after his 1962 defeat for governor of California, and was a partner in a law firm there, until he became president in 1969. But all of his congressional and gubernatorial campaigns were in California, and he re-established his official residence in California shortly after the 1968 election. He did, however, subsequently return to the New York area, spending his last years in North Jersey.

The only previous major-party presidential nominee from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, carried very few states in his campaign against Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. However, he did win the electoral votes of Arizona, but just barely. But that was only worth five electoral votes to Goldwater. Due to subsequent growth, Arizona now has 10 electoral votes.

Adlai Stevenson, who was badly beaten by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, did not let that discourage him. He came back for more in 1956. He lost Illinois, the state of which he had been governor, to Eisenhower, by large margins in both 1952 and 1956. It appears that that will not happen to another Illinoisan, the current Democratic nominee.

One last trip down memory lane (no, I'm not actually old enough to remember this): in 1944, one of the candidates had to lose his home state, because they were both New Yorkers, a former governor, President Franklin Roosevelt, and the incumbent Governor Thomas Dewey. Roosevelt defeated Dewey, both in New York, and nationwide.

Stevens Defiant

So far at least, Ted Stevens, the Republican senator from Alaska who was convicted in federal court yesterday, has not withdrawn his reelection bid.

Apparently, despite his being a convicted felon, the only legal channel by which he can be forced out is the Senate expulsion process. That would take some time, and presumably could not begin right now, with the Senate out of session at least until after the election.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, got no more specific than saying Stevens should "do the right thing".

I'm sure that McCain, Palin, and Stevens's fellow Senate Republicans would all be very happy to see him withdraw.

Some Senate campaign funds come from committees controlled by each party's senators, and those could be withdrawn. But I'm guessing that's not a significant factor for the Stevens campaign. A lack of money coming his way is the exact opposite of his problem.

There have been a handful of cases in recent years when, during the general election campaign, U.S. Senate candidates have either died or withdrawn from the campaign due to scandal. I already mentioned the strange precedent of the 1990 Minnesota gubernatorial election here. The Senate examples include:

Missouri, 2000. Gov. Mel Carnahan, the Democratic nominee to oppose John Ashcroft's Senate reelection bid, died in a plane crash on October 17, 2000, three weeks before the general election. Missouri law would not allow the Democratic Party to substitute another candidate on the ballot. Mel Carnahan won the general election, despite being dead. The Senate seat was deemed to be vacant, and Roger Wilson who, as lieutenant governor, succeeded Mel Carnahan as governor, appointed the late governor's widow, Jean Carnahan, to the vacant Senate seat. Ashcroft's consolation prize, of course, was being appointed federal attorney general by George W. Bush.

2002, New Jersey. Democratic Senator Robert Toricelli withdrew from his reelection campaign on September 30, 2002, due to a scandal involving illegal campaign contributions. Frank Lautenberg, who had retired from the U.S. Senate in 2001, agreed to come out of retirement and replace Toricelli on the ballot. It was not clear that the law allowed for such a switch at that point in a campaign, but federal courts declined to intervene. Lautenberg won, and decided he liked being back in the Senate so much that, this year, he decided to seek yet another term, at the age of 84.

2002, Minnesota. Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, while in the middle of a reelection campaign against Republican Norm Coleman, died in a plane crash on October 25, 2002, 11 days before the general election. Subsequent to the 1990 gubernatorial election that I referred to above, Minnesota law regarding such situations had been clarified. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party was able to put a replacement candidate on the ballot, who was former Vice President Walter Mondale. Coleman acquired a reputation as a giant-killer by defeating Mondale. Raucous behavior by Wellstone supporters at a large public memorial service for the late senator at a Minneapolis basketball arena, was blamed in part for the DFL defeat.

Stevens's conviction has occurred closer to election day than any of the comparable events described above. And Alaska election law apparently prevents a party from placing a substitute candidate on the ballot less than 48 days before the election.

Even if Stevens were to change his mind and withdraw, the best that Alaska Republicans could do would be an organized write-in campaign for another Republican candidate.

Stevens seems to be hoping to strike a chord with Alaska voters to support one of their own against the bad guys in far-off Washington. Seems unlikely.

UPDATE: In a later statement, Palin directly called on Stevens to resign. McCain did likewise.

If or When?

Readers of this blog will have picked up on my interest in 1) presidential campaigns, and 2) language. So it logically follows that I'm interested in the subject of this New York Times report.

It's an age-old issue: how does a presidential candidate refer to the coming four years, when making campaign promises? Should it be "when I'm president" or "if I'm president"?

Different candidates have approached that question differently, but I believe it's true that more have gone the "if" route than have opted for "when".

The upside of using "when" is that it shows confidence. If I recall correctly, Jimmy Carter did that in 1976. That show of confidence was intended to create a sense of inevitability as he emerged as a dark horse from a crowded field.

But "when" can make a candidate sound too cocky. Also, as the Times piece points out, for a front-runner such as Obama, it could potentially contribute to one of the biggest issues for a front-runner: overconfidence.

According to the Times report, both campaigns are trying to stick with "if".

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ted Stevens Convicted

Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, has been found guilty of filing false financial statements with the Senate.

I wrote here about the effect of the scandal on Stevens's current reelection campaign. Conventional wisdom has been that a conviction would hand the election to his Democratic opponent Mark Begich.

That may well be true, but there is at least one precedent to the contrary and, as with so many of my stories, it comes from my native state of Minnesota.

In 1990, the Republicans nominated Jon Grunseth for governor of that state. About two weeks before the general election, allegations surfaced that Grunseth had acted improperly toward some of his daughter's underage female friends. He withdrew from the race. Then-State Auditor Arne Carlson replaced him as the Republican candidate on the ballot. Despite having only a few days to campaign, Carlson defeated Democratic (DFL) incumbent Governor Rudy Perpich.

I'm not saying that lightning will strike twice, and there will be a similar outcome in Alaska, but who knows? Maybe Todd Palin can put his name on the ballot.

Electoral College 4: Bias?

Is there a pro-Republican bias in the electoral college?

I wrote here about the manner in which the allocation of electoral votes to the states, as prescribed by the Constitution, favors the smaller states.

In 2004, George Bush's electoral votes came disproportionately from the smaller states. The average Bush state had 9.23 electoral votes, while the average Kerry state had 13.1. Even if California (which gave 55 electoral votes to Kerry) is removed from the calculation, the Kerry states' average is still higher than Bush's, at 10.8.

To measure how much effect that had on the outcome, I notionally allocated electoral votes to the states in proportion to their population. In other words, according to their representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, rather than their total of representatives and senators. There are still some rounding errors, but that removes the bias toward the smaller states. I allocated one elector to the District of Columbia.

If electors had been allocated on that basis in 2004, Bush would still have won a majority in the electoral college, by 224 to 212. But it reduces Bush's percentage of the electoral votes from the actual 53.16% to 51.38%.

Applying that same calculation to the 2000 presidential election results changes the outcome. Gore would have won a majority in the electoral college, 225 to 211.

This year, Obama might pick up some of the small western states that have often voted Republican in the past, such as North Dakota, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. So maybe the math will work out differently this year. And, if the 2008 election results in a long-term partisan realignment, as some speculate, perhaps any Republican bias in the electoral college will not be a permanent factor.

Close Race in Mississippi

As I wrote here, Mississippi is holding a special election for the U.S. Senate seat from which Trent Lott resigned.

Mississippi has been solidly Republican for many years. But it can always be dangerous for a party trying to defend a seat in a special election, when the other party is in the ascendant.

I'm reminded of what happened here in Pennsylvania after Republican Senator John Heinz died in a plane crash in 1991. A relatively unknown Democrat, Harris Wofford, defeated a popular former two-term Republican governor, Dick Thornburgh, in the ensuing special election. Among other things, that campaign brought to prominence a then-unknown political consultant, James Carville, who worked for Wofford.

The Mississippi race is tightening, although Wicker still leads in the polls. Real Clear Politics reports one poll with a 13-point Wicker lead, but that looks suspect, when compared to other polls.

Here is a report in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, a Tupelo, Mississippi, newspaper, giving some colorful background on the campaign, from the local perspective (and, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "all politics is local").

This is one of the most closely-watched campaigns, in terms of how many Senate seats the Democrats will gain this year, and whether they will reach their goal of 60.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Electoral College 3: Why does it still exist?

I'm picking up on a series from a while back, regarding the electoral college. In previous posts in this series, I've written about the manner in which the electoral college lost its original purpose more than 200 years ago. That purpose was to limit participation in presidential elections to a small elite group who would exercise their independent judgment.

In light of that history, why do we continue to elect presidents that way? Why don't we run those elections the same as virtually all other American elections? Why don't we just all vote for president, and award victory to the candidate with the most votes (perhaps subject to a runoff, if no one candidate gets more than 50%)?

I think the reasons lie with the system of allocating electoral votes to the states.

For one thing, smaller states get a mathematical advantage from the allocation formula. Each state's electoral vote total is equal to its total representation in both houses of Congress. California has 53 House seats. Wyoming, with the smallest population, has one. Adding California's two Senate seats raises their total to 55; in other words, it increases the number by a factor of 3.8%. But adding Wyoming's two Senate seats triples its electoral vote total.

Another way of looking at that is that, when we consider the ratio of electoral votes to population, a Wyoming resident's vote has about 3.8 times as much weight as a Californian's.

Abolition of the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment, which could be blocked by as few as 13 states. So, even if such an amendment passed both houses of Congress (it would be likely to be voted down by the Senate for similar reasons), opposition from small states would probably keep it well short of the required 38 states' ratification.

Another point, beyond the simple mathematics, is that the electoral college maintains a role for the states, per se, in the presidential election process. Most states have a "winner take all" system; in other words, the candidate with a plurality of the popular vote in each such state gets all of that state's electoral votes. So, a winning candidate needs to amass a sufficient coalition of states, rather than a coalition of individual voters.

One effect of that is that a purely regional candidacy cannot succeed. I wrote here and here about how third-party candidacies of southern segregationists fared in the electoral college, in 1948 and 1968. Strom Thurmond and George Wallace won the electoral votes of some southern states, but in neither case was the total anywhere near a majority.

However, Wallace hoped (in vain, as it turned out) to play "spoiler", by denying both Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey an electoral college majority in 1968. Wallace wanted to strike a bargain to slow down federal civil rights actions, while his hoped-for electoral deadlock was being resolved by the House of Representatives. But Nixon received a majority of the electoral votes.

But it's possible that a strong third-party candidacy could bring about that scenario, which bring about more public debate about the electoral college system.

I have no profound conclusion to offer as to whether the electoral college system should be, and/or ever will be, abolished. My main point is that the question is more complicated that some make it out to be. I don't consider it self-evident that direct election is necessarily the best method for every office. And I don't think we should rush to change a system that has been in place for more than two centuries, because of many people's disillusionment with the result of the presidential election of eight years ago.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Not Number 2? OK, How About Number 1?

There is a phenomenon in American presidential politics that I find strange. That is the tendency for losing vice-presidential nominees to run for president at the subsequent election.

I suppose it's understandable, for multiple reasons:

  1. Having run a national campaign, they have a name-recognition advantage over your average governor or senator.
  2. The blame for the loss by their ticket falls mainly on the presidential candidate, so in many cases they don't come out of defeat with a negative image.
  3. The candidate's appetite for high office is whetted, by having gone through all the rigors of a national campaign.
  4. If their ticket lost at the last election then, by definition, there is an open race for their party's nomination the next time.

The best way I can think of to describe the sense in which I find this strange is to quote from Rocket J. Squirrel. When Bullwinkle J. Moose declared his intention to pull a rabbit out of his hat, Rocky replied, "But that trick never works!"

Well, almost never. During the 20th century, only one losing vice-presidential nominee went on to win the presidency. And win the presidency, and win the presidency, and win the presidency. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Compare that to all the others who tried: Henry Cabot Lodge, Ed Muskie, Sarge Shriver, Bob Dole, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. Plus two who won the vice-presidency, and whose ticket lost its reelection bid, and who went on to run for president: Walter Mondale and Dan Quayle.

Here is a blog post speculating that if, as expected, Sarah Palin loses the vice-presidency, she will be the Republican front-runner for 2012. Now the aforementioned Bullwinkle would need to watch out for Palin, who has been known to hunt moose. But can she make it work, and pull the presidency out of her hat?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Southern Senators

I've written here and elsewhere about the implications of many U.S. Senate seats representing southeastern states having switched from Democrat to Republican since the 1960s. I decided to put some numbers to it.

The first question is how to define "The South". I'm defining it as the 11 states that were part of the Confederacy. That is a rather narrow definition. One could add the "border states" of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware. And some might also add Oklahoma, which had not yet achieved statehood at the time of the Civil War.

No Republican represented any of those 11 states in the U.S. Senate between January 24, 1913 and June 15, 1961.

During the Reconstruction period following the end of the Civil War, 21 of the 22 seats from those states were briefly held by Republicans. But, from the end of the 1870s through 1913, there were very few Republican senators from the region.

The only southern seat not to go Republican during Reconstruction was the Georgia seat now held by Saxby Chambliss. The last previous non-Democrat in that seat was John Macpherson Berrien, who sat as a Whig until 1852.

In 1961, John Tower was elected as a Republican to the Senate from Texas, in a special election necessitated by Lyndon Johnson's leaving the Senate to become vice president.

Then, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina switched from Democrat to Republican on September 16, 1964.

The ranks of southern Republican senators vaulted to three, when Howard Baker was elected in Tennessee, in 1966.

That number ranged between five and seven, between 1971 and 1981.

The Reagan coattails brought it up to 10, with the 1980 election. Then, when the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1986, it fell to six.

The Republican landslide of 1994 took southern Republican representation to 13, for the first time in the 20th century a majority of the southern seats.

The post-Reconstruction high of 18 was attained in the 2005-6 Congress. Then, when Jim Webb beat George Allen, in Virginia in 2006, the Republicans were back down to 17.

It's an important point that none of this means that those states completely changed their political hue. They did change in the sense that they accepted the end of Jim Crow segregation laws. But the switch to the Republican Party was made because those individual politicians changed from Democrat to Republican, in part out of pure ambition, and in part to align themselves with what was increasingly being seen as the conservative party.

This year, a Democrat looks likely to win the other Virginia seat. Democratic gains are also possible in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. If Democrats win all of those states, their numbers among southern senators will be higher than they've been since the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency.

All this is meant to reinforce the point I've been making, that I'm skeptical of the notion that a 60-member Democratic caucus in the Senate will make the Senate filibuster-proof. If as many as 10 of those Democratic senators represent southeastern states, I don't know that they can all be counted on to vote for cloture to ensure passage of all aspects of an Obama-Reid-Pelosi legislative program.

12 Days To Go

Looking at state-by state polls, things have not changed much since I posted this, a week ago. That's good news for Obama and bad news for McCain. Obama is still projected to win by a comfortable margin in the electoral college, getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 360 electoral votes.

According to the poll averages published in Real Clear Politics, there has been some shifting in key states. Obama's lead in Florida has fallen from 4.8 points to 1 point. But Obama has increased his lead in Ohio from 3.4 points to 6 points. McCain probably needs to win both of those states to have any chance for victory.

Obama has solidified his lead in several northern states where McCain had, earlier in the year, been thought to have a chance. Those include Minnesota (52.8%-40.5%), Wisconsin (51.6%-40.2%), Michigan (56%-38%) and Washington (54.7%-39.7%). Those four states have a total of 48 electoral votes.

In Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes), Obama's lead has decreased slightly, but he still leads by 51.3% to 40.8%. I can confirm that McCain and Palin have been playing a full court press here in Pennsylvania, and it seems to be having some effect. But it seems doubtful that they can turn it around.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Silly Season

A little while back, Barack Obama, appearing on TV with David Letterman, said that it's the silly season in politics. He then clarified his remark by saying that there's no time when it's not the silly season in politics.

But is the presidential campaign in fact too serious? In this age of political consultants, have the candidates become preprogrammed robots, rather than human beings?

Here's a blog post in The New York Times by Dick Cavett. He makes the point that some other commentators have mentioned as well, that John McCain has a good sense of humor, when he allows it to come through. But he too often projects the image of an angry old man.

If you haven't seen video of the candidates' speeches at the Al Smith dinner, you should. I found them on YouTube by searching "Smith Dinner". That event is a fundraiser by the Archdiocese of New York, for the foundation named for Smith, who was governor of New York and the 1928 Democratic presidential nominee.

In most presidential election years in the post-World War II era, the candidates have made humorous speeches at the dinner. Well, I think they were supposed to be humorous. Maybe John and Cindy McCain really did hire Joe the Plumber to work on all seven of their houses, thereby giving him so much income that Barack Obama would raise his taxes. And maybe Barack Obama was really sent as a baby from Krypton, in order to save Earth. However, I still don't believe that "Barack" is Swahili for "that one".

McCain seems to be getting advice from all sides, as to how he might change tack and attempt to break Obama's momentum.

There was similar criticism of Bob Dole during the 1996 campaign. He didn't take the advice, and therefore spent the next eight years making humorous TV appearances with Jon Stewart, et al.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bradley Effect in the North?

Further to what I wrote here about some voters' attitudes about African American candidates, and possible implications regarding opinion polls, here is a Minnesota Public Radio report about Barack Obama's situation on Minnesota's Iron Range.

That mining region, known to insiders either as The Range, Da Range, or Da Rainch, is one of the strongest rural strongholds for the Democratic Party. The report is centered on Hibbing, the city that Robert Zimmerman left to attend college and to become Bob Dylan.

The evidence is all anecdotal and second-hand, of the "I've heard people say that" variety.

I wrote here about a historical fault line in the Democratic Party, between southern conservatives and northern liberals. But there's another fault line among northern Democrats. That one is between a more urban, white-collar faction, and more rural, blue-collar Democrats. To oversimplify horribly, (isn't that what blogs are for?) one could call them the teachers' party and the factory party.

Obama seems more at home with the former than with the latter. His degree of support among groups such as the Iron Rangers might determine whether his lead, as currently indicated by the polls, holds up, and, if so, how large his victory margin turns out to be.

Monday, October 20, 2008

59 and Counting?

According to Real Clear Politics, that's the Democrats' projected total in the new Senate, as the polls currently stand.

Here is a summary of those Senate races with Republican incumbents, where the Democrats are most likely to make gains.

Situation is unchanged since I posted this, last Tuesday. Democrats are leading in enough states to raise their total to 59 senators from the current 51 (which includes Independents Lieberman and Sanders). Also, they have a chance to gain at least one or two on top of that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Conservative Coalition

For most of the period from about 1930 to about 1980, the situation in the U.S. Congress was as follows. There were Democratic majorities in both houses, but left-wing policy proposals often failed to come to fruition.

Those Democratic majorities included several conservative Democrats from the southeast. That group, in combination with conservative Republicans from other regions, constituted the "Conservative Coalition".

Even though those southerners failed to back much of the Democratic platform, they were counted as Democrats when it came to organizing each house of Congress at the beginning of each Congress, i.e., each two-year period consisting of two annual sessions of Congress.

Therefore, Democrats constituted the majority party in both houses during almost all of that period. That meant that the committee chairmen, and the majority leaders of each house were Democrats. But that didn't automatically translate into getting that party's programs enacted into law.

Then, starting in the 1960s, many conservative southerners switched to the Republican Party. By 1981, the Republicans had a majority in the Senate, including 10 Republicans from southern states (defined as states that were part of the Confederacy). So the Democrats lacked formal power, in addition to actual power, in the Senate at that time.

In 2006, the Democrats regained a majority in the Senate, in part because of victories in some of the more conservative states, including Virginia, Montana and Missouri. This year, when the Democrats are expected to significantly extend their Senate majority, they might gain seats in Alaska, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.

The reason I dredge up all this history is to consider whether there might be a rebirth of the old Conservative Coalition.

If there are 60 or more Democratic senators (including Independent allies), they would theoretically have enough votes to invoke cloture, and deprive Republicans of their last remaining weapon in the political branches of the federal government: the Senate filibuster. But I question whether senators with more conservative constituencies would do that, in order to pass liberal legislation.

That will be something to look for in the next Congress, if the Democrats do as well in this year's elections as the polls currently predict.

One more note on the historical Conservative Coalition: it did not hold up, when civil rights legislation was under consideration. The coalition in favor of those bills (sometimes successful, sometimes not) consisted of northern Democrats allied with northern Republicans.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Show Me The Money!

Who will be the next Secretary of Treasury?

Again, this discussion is based on the assumption that Obama will win the presidency.

The chattering classes are batting many names around, but two seem to stand out amid all that noise: Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner.

Summers, 53, was appointed secretary of the treasury by Bill Clinton in 1999, and continued on in that job for the remainder of the Clinton presidency. He went on to become president of Harvard, a position from which he resigned in 2006, in part because of the furor over remarks on his part regarding women in the sciences.

Presidents rarely appoint someone to the same Cabinet post he or she held in the past. Apparently, there is a been-there-done-that feeling for all parties involved.

But it would not be unprecedented. George W. Bush, in 2001, appointed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, a job he had held a quarter-century earlier, in the Ford Administration. That gave Rumsfeld the distinction of being both the youngest and the oldest secretary of defense in history.

Geithner, 47, is president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. He was an under secretary of the treasury for both Summers, and his predecessor Bob Rubin. Geithner has received much publicity, mostly favorable, for his role in the recent bailouts of several financial institutions.

Here is a New York Times article about Geithner, from 20 months ago, before the credit crisis erupted. There is some interesting foreshadowing of subsequent events.

Those seem to be the best bets, although several other plausible names have been discussed.

Two candidates who are active in the financial world are Warren Buffett, and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

One former Wall Streeter is New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Laura Tyson, a professor at Cal Berkeley, was chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and, later, director of the National Economic Council, in the Clinton Administration.

Buffett's name is, of course, the most intriguing on that list. That seems unlikely, but I don't know that it can be ruled out. He is a Democrat, and has been a strong Obama supporter.

The Bradley Effect

As the polls continue to show a significant lead for Barack Obama, some question whether those polls are distorted by something called the "Bradley Effect".

In 1982, the Democratic Party nominated an African American man named Tom Bradley for governor of California. Both pre-election polls, and election-day exit polls, showed Bradley ahead of his Republican opponent, George Deukmejian. But, when the vote count was completed, Deukmejian emerged as the winner.

Some speculate that a certain number of voters who did not want to vote for Bradley, because of his race, were reluctant to reveal their true intention to the pollsters. Therefore, those polls overestimated the degree of support for Bradley.

Are Obama's poll numbers similarly inflated?

It seems to me there's no way to get at that answer for sure. What are pollsters supposed to do? When someone says they're going to vote for Obama, should the follow-up question be: "did you lie?"

Here is an article by someone who says he was involved with that 1982 California campaign, arguing that the Bradley Effect does
not exist.

And here, Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile, backs up that Republican argument.

Many bloggers apply that old phrase "media hype" to this whole idea. They're referring to writings such as this blog post by an ABC-TV reporter, carrying on the speculation. Are the TV news people looking for ways to maintain interest in a race whose outcome seems more certain with every passing day? It's quite possible.

Some say the size of the distortion is around six percentage points. If I apply that rule of thumb to the analysis I published yesterday of Obama's lead in individual states, i.e., reduce Obama's lead by six points in each state, he still wins with 277 electoral votes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Foggy Bottom


In case you're wondering what that means (and, if so, God knows what your imagination is conjuring up), it's the Washington, DC, neighborhood in which the State Department's headquarters are located.

Who will be the next secretary of state?

Several names have been mentioned as potential Barack Obama appointees if, as current polls strongly indicate, he wins the presidential election.

Three of those names seem plausible to me, and one of them seems more plausible than the others. The three names are Richard Holbrooke, Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton.

In recent years, presidents have rarely appointed elected officials to that position. In 1980, Jimmy Carter appointed Senator Edmund Muskie, after Cyrus Vance resigned to protest the attempted military action against Iran during the hostage crisis. At a time of political weakness, Carter correctly guessed that the Senate would not put up a fight about confirming one of their own. (That doesn't always work; the Senate rejected George H.W. Bush's nomination of Senator John Tower to be secretary of defense, in 1989.)

If Obama, as a newly-elected president has, as we currently expect, a large Democratic majority in the Senate, he probably won't need to worry about a confirmation battle.

Recent presidents have often chosen either academics, or people with Cabinet or sub-Cabinet experience in previous administrations.

Hillary Clinton might qualify in that latter category, in that her husband more-or-less gave the office of First Lady Cabinet rank in his administration. But her primary identity these days is as an elected politician.

Richardson has some diplomatic experience, including the position of permanent representative to the United Nations. I wouldn't be too surprised to see him get the nod.

One name that seems to make a lot of sense is Holbrooke.

Holbrooke, 67, was a career foreign service officer. He was a major foreign policy figure in the Clinton Administration, holding such positions as ambassador to Germany, assistant secretary of state, and permanent representative to the U.N. He is best known for his role in negotiating a peace agreement for Bosnia, at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

Holbrooke was left off a "working group" on national security that was assembled by the Obama campaign earlier this year. Commentators have been trying to read the tea leaves, to see what that means.

Retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, has also been mentioned. I sometimes suspect Hagel is a darling of the media, whose name many like to throw around for president, vice president, secretary of state, or whatever. But stranger things have happened. As I wrote here, there is precedent for a president to name a member of the opposition party to a major Cabinet post.

Obama's Lead

I have recalculated the analysis of state polling data that I published on October 1. You will probably not be surprised to hear that it's not looking any better for John McCain.

According to polls reported in Real Clear Politics as of this morning, Obama leads in 28 states and the District of Columbia, for a total of 364 electoral votes:

California
Colorado
Connecticut
D.C.
Delaware
Florida
Hawaii
Illinois
Iowa
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

That, of course, is well above the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

For McCain to reach 270, he will need to overcome Obama's poll lead in at least eight states. In those states, Obama leads by as much as 8.4 percentage points (in New Mexico).

The Republican's uphill climb is steeper than it was on October 1. The polls at that time indicated that he would need to erase Obama's lead in six states, those leads being no greater than three percentage points.

If Obama's momentum continues, and he passes McCain in more states, it seems as though Obama's best-case scenario is 401 electoral votes. That would mean adding the following to the above list of Obama states:

Georgia
Indiana
Montana
North Dakota
West Virginia

Red October

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the subject matter of this blog?

Quite a bit, actually. After all, it involves an organization that formerly employed Kentucky's junior Senator Jim Bunning, the only current member of that body about whom one can read both here and here.

The phrase "nobody's perfect" applies on Capitol Hill at least as much as it does at other places in this country. But, that's exactly what Senator Bunning was, at the late Shea Stadium, on June 21, 1964.

The message, which you may already have guessed, is: Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, champions of the National League!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Indecision '08


Canada held a federal general election yesterday, and for the third consecutive time, no party won a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Conservative leader Stephen Harper will remain as prime minister, as head of another minority government.


There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, so a party would need to win 155 of them to have a majority. The 2008 results by party are:


Conservative 143

Liberal 76

Bloc Quebecois 50

New Democrat 37

Independent 2


Comparing these results to those of the previous general election, in 2006, the Liberals lost 27 seats, and the Bloc Quebecois lost one. On the other hand, the Conservatives gained 19, the New Democrats 8, and there was one more independent. (I'm using the general election results from 2006 as my point of comparison, although those totals had shifted somewhat in the meantime.)


The biggest loss in one province was for the Liberals in Ontario, a loss of 16 seats. They lost four in British Columbia, three in New Brunswick, and six in other provinces and territories. The Liberals gained 2 seats in Newfoundland and Labrador.


The Conservatives gained 11 in Ontario, five in British Columbia, three in New Brunswick, and four elsewhere. They lost three in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in the prime minister's home province of Alberta, where the New Democrats broke the Conservatives' monopoly on seats.


The Conservatives and the Liberals broke even in Quebec. The New Democrats gained one seat there, at the expense of the Bloc.


Conventional wisdom was that the Conservatives would have needed significant gains in Quebec, in addition to the seats they did pick up in Ontario, in order to amass a majority. Commentators point to Harper's opposition to federal arts funding, which among other things subsidizes projects involving French-language culture in Quebec, as his major mistake in his campaign to woo Quebec voters.


It is widely believed that Stephane Dion will be replaced as Liberal leader. As an introverted academic, he doesn't seem to have what it takes to be an effective party leader. So far, at least, he has given no indication that he will resign, but observers expect the party to make a move, once things cool down a bit.
Photo: Library of Parliament

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Campaign for the Senate

Now that I've described each of the 35 U.S. Senate elections this year, it's time to look at the big picture.

The 65 U.S. Senate seats that are not being contested this year, break down as follows:

Democrats: 39 (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats)
Republicans: 26

According to polls reported in Real Clear Politics, as of this afternoon, the leaders in this year's 35 Senate races, are:

Democrats: 20
Republicans: 15

If those leads hold, the Democrats would have a 59-41 Senate majority in the 2009-10 Congress. That would be the Democratic Party's highest Senate total since the 1977-8 Congress, when there were 61 Democrats plus one independent (Harry Byrd, Jr. of Virginia) who caucused with the Democrats.

That would leave the Democrats one seat short of their goal of 60, which is the number of votes required to invoke cloture, and end a filibuster.

That 59-41 scenario assumes Democratic gains in: Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia.

Of those eight states, the closest races are in Oregon (Democrat Jeff Merkley 43.8%, Republican Gordon Smith 42.3%) and Minnesota (Democrat Al Franken 39.6%, Republican Norm Coleman 37.4%).

The Democrats' best chances to extend that lead, and reach 60, are in Georgia where Republican Saxby Chambliss leads Democrat Jim Martin by 46.6% to 44.0%, and Mississippi where, in the special election caused by Trent Lott's resignation, Republican Roger Wicker leads Democrat Ronnie Musgrove by 48.3% to 44.3%.

It currently looks as though the very best-case scenario for the Democrats, if all of the stars are aligned exactly right for them, will be 64-36. That would require them to overcome Republican leads in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi (special election), South Carolina, and Texas.

On the other hand, if the Republicans make a comeback in every state where that's conceivably possible, their best case is a 53-47 Democratic majority. They would need to make such comebacks in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, to produce that result.

The Comeback Kid at 10 Downing Street?

I've written several posts about the political difficulties of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. However, he has lately been experiencing something of a renaissance.

Two events over the past month or so have helped Brown.

First, he came through the parties' conference season quite well.

Each of the British parties holds an annual conference in early autumn. These are similar in many ways to American party conventions. They are a chance for the party faithful to gather, and for party leaders to get television exposure.

However, they are held more frequently. The American parties' national conventions have, with a handful of exceptions, been once-every-four-years affairs. The Democratic Party held midterm conventions in 1974, 1978 and 1982, but the idea failed to catch on.

British party conferences are held annually, regardless of the election cycle.

Another difference is that the British parties don't tend to choose their leaders at these conferences, not even to the extent that American conventions ratify choices already decided in primaries and caucuses.

The centerpiece of each British conference is the leader's speech, a televised event that sets the tone for his or her party's year, and can make or break a prime minister.

It was the leader's speech at the 2007 Conservative conference that derailed plans for Brown to schedule an immediate general election to ratify his promotion to prime minister. An impressive performance by Tory leader David Cameron lifted his party's standing in the polls. That caused Brown to determine that a snap election was not in the national interest, after all.

That caused a downward spiral for the prime minister. As his Labor Party's 2008 conference was about to begin, he was like a prizefighter on the ropes. But this year, it was Brown who wowed his audience with a better-than-expected speech.

Brown's television performance was aided by a tactic he borrowed from Al Gore. The introduction speech was given by the prime minister's wife Sarah. That speech, and an onstage kiss between the first couple, served to humanize Brown, whose image as a dour policy wonk had exacerbated his troubles with the electorate. Gore, who has a similar image problem, seemed to benefit politically from a passionate kiss he shared with his wife, Tipper, at the 2000 Democratic convention that nominated him for president.

The second positive effect for Brown has resulted from the global financial crisis. It has allowed the prime minister, who built a reputation for competent economic management during his decade as chancellor of the Exchequer, to showcase his experience in financial matters. This BBC report quotes the word "superhero" being applied to the man who, just a month ago, was seen as an incompetent politician slated for early retirement.

Here is a summary of the parties' standing in various British opinion polls. Before the party conferences, the Conservatives led by around 20 percentage points. They're still in the lead, but their lead is now closer to the neighborhood of 10 percentage points.

The deadline for the next general election is about a year and a half away. David Cameron's move into 10 Downing Street is looking a little less inevitable.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wyoming (Special) Senate Election

Republican incumbent: John Barrasso

Democratic candidate: Nick Carter

Barrasso, 56, was appointed to the Senate by Governor David Freudenthal, effective June 25, 2007, to replace the late Craig Thomas. Under an unusual state law, the Democratic governor was required to appoint a Republican to the seat, because Republican Thomas had won the most recent general election for it. Barrasso has served as a state senator. In 1996, he lost the Republican primary for Wyoming's other Senate seat.

Carter, 44, is an attorney making his first run for elective office.

The winner will serve the remaining four years of the term to which Thomas was elected in 2006.

Real Clear Politics reports a poll showing Barrasso ahead by 24 points.

Wyoming (Class II) Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Michael Enzi

Democratic candidate: Chris Rothfuss

Wyoming is in the unusual position of holding two Senate elections on the same day. This is the regular election for the Class II seat. The other one, which I will describe in a separate post, is a special election to fill the remainder of the term of the late Craig Thomas.

Enzi, 64, has represented Wyoming in the Senate since 1997. He had previously been a mayor and state legislator.

Rothfuss, 35, is a university instructor. His field is chemical engineering. This is his first run for elective office.

A poll cited by Real Clear Politics indicates a 24-point lead for Enzi.

The tenure of the most-recent Democratic senator from Wyoming, Gale McGee, ended in 1977.

West Virginia Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Jay Rockefeller

Republican candidate: Jay Wolfe

Rockefeller, 71, has been a senator since 1985. He was governor from 1977 to 1985. Before that, he was a state legislator and West Virginia's secretary of state. His great-grandfather Nelson Aldrich was a representative and senator from Rhode Island. His uncle Nelson Rockefeller, was governor of New York and vice president of the United States. Another uncle, Winthrop Rockefeller, was governor of Arkansas. His father-in-law, Charles Percy, was a senator from Illinois. As to other family connections, do you really need to ask?

Wolfe, 53, was a state senator from 1987 to 1990. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1988 and 2002.

Real Clear Politics reports a poll showing a 28-point Rockefeller lead.

As I noted here, West Virginia has begun to vote Republican in presidential elections. Perhaps that party's only hope for a U.S. Senate victory in that state is to wait for the passage of time. The 71-year-old Rockefeller is the spring chicken of the Senate delegation, next to his 90-year-old senior colleague, fellow Democrat Robert Byrd.

At the end of the current Congress, it will have been 50 years since a Republican represented West Virginia in the Senate.

Tennessee Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Lamar Alexander

Democratic candidate: Bob Tuke

Alexander, 68, has represented Tennessee in the Senate since 2003. He is number three in his party's leadership, as chair of the Senate Republican Conference. He was governor from 1979 to 1987. At the federal level, Alexander was Secretary of Education in the Cabinet of George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000.

Tuke, 60, is a lawyer who has not served in elective office.

The polls that appear in Real Clear Politics show Alexander ahead by 24 points.

Howard Baker's 1966 victory for this seat signalled the end of Democratic hegemony in Tennessee. Then, some years after Baker's retirement, at the 1994 election, both Senate seats turned over from Democratic to Republican, and have stayed that way in the meantime.

By the way, that answers a question I raised here. When the Minnesota DFL Party lost the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats on the same day, in 1978, that scenario was not unique. All three of those offices in Tennessee were taken by Republicans on election day 1994.

Pull the Goalie?

Bill Kristol, in his New York Times column from yesterday, has some interesting advice for John McCain. Get rid of the entourage and the negative ads, and go back to the Straight Talk Express.

Kristol has written throughout this campaign about his close ties to the McCain organization, so this might represent a trial balloon from the campaign itself.

A total change in strategy three weeks before the general election would signal desperation. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't do it.

As with so much of life, a sports analogy is apt. When an ice hockey team is behind in the final minute or two of a game, they pull their goaltender off the ice, to substitute an additional forward. If the strategy goes awry, they might lose by a larger margin. But that doesn't matter if, without such an attempt, they were destined to lose anyway.

This would be another of the "pull a rabbit out of his hat" moves by McCain, that I wrote about here. McCain seems now to be in the same situation as that trailing hockey team. From his point of view, it seems as though he has nothing to lose by shaking things up.

Aside from any tactical political gains, it just might be the right thing for the good of the nation.

South Carolina Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Lindsey Graham

Democratic candidate: Bob Conley

Graham, 53, has been a senator since 2003. He was in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2003. Graham first drew national attention when he was one of the House managers of the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton in 1999. He had been a prosecutor and legislator at the state level, before he went to Washington.

Conley, 43, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, is running for public office for the first time.

Polls listed in Real Clear Politics indicate that Graham is ahead by anywhere from nine to 14 points.

Here is a report in The State, a Columbia, SC, newspaper, regarding a debate between these two candidates over the weekend. It seems as though Conley is trying to position himself to the right of Graham who, by South Carolina standards, is moderate.

Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Fritz Hollings were Senate colleagues from South Carolina for 38 years. Since Republican James DeMint succeeded Hollings, in 2005, both seats have been in the Republican column.

Before Thurmond switched from the Democratic Party in 1964, South Carolina had been about as rabidly Democratic as any southern state.

Rhode Island Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Jack Reed

Republican candidate: Robert Tingle

Reed, 58, has been in the Senate since 1997. He represented Rhode Island in the U.S. House from 1991 to 1997. Reed had earlier been a state senator.

Tingle constitutes token opposition in this race. I found almost no information about him on the Web.

Democrats have strongly dominated this state's U.S. Senate elections in the past few decades. The Republican Chafees, father and son, held the other Senate seat for 30 years, ending in 2007. Otherwise, no Republican has won a U.S. Senate election in Rhode Island in the post-World War II era.

Nebraska Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Chuck Hagel (not seeking reelection)

Republican candidate: Mike Johanns

Democratic candidate: Scott Kleeb

Johanns, 58, was governor of Nebraska from 1999 to 2005, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 2005 to 2007. He held city and county offices, before becoming governor.

Kleeb, 33, a rancher, has not served in elective office. He was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Nebraska's 3rd district U.S. House seat in 2006.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics show Johanns to be leading this race. While the most recent of those polls gives him a 14-point lead, that is down from 20+ point leads during the summer.

Each party has won a fair number of Senate elections in Nebraska in recent years. Democrat James Exon held this seat for three terms, ending in 1997. Before that, no Democrat had done so during the entire period since statehood in 1867.

Democrat Ben Nelson is in his second term in the other Senate seat. That one was held by each party for about half of the 20th century.

Allan Spear

An event of historical importance to Minnesota politics occurred on Saturday. Former state Senate President Allan H. Spear died at the age of 71.

During Spear's first term in that body, in 1974, he came out as one of the first openly gay legislators in the U.S. I had thought he was the first but, according to the Associated Press's obituary, he was one of two at that time.

So much progress has been made in the meantime, that it's a bit difficult at this remove to appreciate just how momentous that was, at the time. I find it noteworthy that he decided to come out for positive reasons, in contrast to many gay elected officials who have been "outed" as the result of a scandal.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Montana Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Max Baucus

Republican candidate: Robert Kelleher

Baucus, 66, has been in the Senate since 1978. But easily his greatest claim to fame was achieved during 1959 and 1960, when he attended my alma mater, Carleton College. He did not graduate from that institution, but he redeemed himself to some extent, by earning bachelors and law degrees from a reasonably competent West Coast school. Baucus served in the state House of Representatives from 1973 to 1974, and in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1978. He currently chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

Kelleher, 85, has run unsuccessfully for several offices.

Real Clear Politics shows one poll, with a 33-point lead for Baucus.

No Republican has been elected to this seat since the constitutional amendment providing for direct election of senators took effect in 1914. Montana's other seat was held for three terms by Republican Conrad Burns, until he was defeated by Democrat Jon Tester in 2006.

Massachusetts Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: John Kerry

Republican candidate: Jeff Beatty

Kerry, 64, has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 1985. He is 18th in seniority, and 10th among Democrats. He chairs the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Kerry was lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1985. He was the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

Beatty, 55, has not served in elective office. He lost a congressional election in 2006.

Polls cited in Real Clear Politics show Kerry ahead by margins ranging from 22 to 38 percentage points.

This is yet another northern state where Republicans used to be strong, before becoming an endangered species in New England. The most recent Republican in this seat was Ed Brooke (1967-79). The other seat came seemingly permanently into Democratic hands, when John F. Kennedy defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.'s reelection bid in 1952.

Louisiana Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Mary Landrieu

Republican candidate: John Kennedy

Landrieu, 52, has been a senator since 1997. She had previously been a state legislator and the state treasurer. Her father Moon Landrieu was mayor of New Orleans, and was later appointed by President Carter to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Her brother Mitch Landrieu is lieutenant governor of Louisiana.

Kennedy, 56, is the state treasurer, a post to which he was originally elected as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party in 2007.

Real Clear Politics reports recent polls that indicate a lead as large as 17 points for Landrieu. Her lead has fluctuated, and was smaller during the summer. Right now, she looks to be in a good position.

Here is a report in The Daily Advertiser, of Lafayette, Louisiana, which, for one thing, describes the race as being tighter than some polls indicate. Also, it purports to show that Landrieu, a typically moderate southern Democrat, and Kennedy, until recently a Democrat himself, are not all that far apart on issues.

The state's junior senator, David Vitter, is the only Republican to represent Louisiana in the upper house since Reconstruction.

Kansas Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Pat Roberts

Democratic candidate: Jim Slattery

Roberts, 72, has been a senator since 1997. He represented Kansas in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1997.

Slattery, 60, was a congressman from 1983 to 1995. He earlier served in the state legislature. Slattery was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor of Kansas in 1994.

Roberts has a 20 percentage-point lead in the polls, according to Real Clear Politics.

Slattery is running an aggressively negative campaign, in an attempt to overcome that large Republican lead. Here is a Washington Post blog post about his TV ad campaign. (Warning: the video is a bit nasty.)

This Senate seat was returned to Republican hands in an off-year congressional election that was a great success for the GOP. Was it 1994, 1978, 1966, 1946? No. Republicans have continuously held this seat since the election in which Woodrow Wilson lost his Democratic Senate majority in the waning days of World War I. 90 years and, apparently, counting.

By contrast, the state's other Senate seat, currently held by Republican Sam Brownback, has been Republican for a mere 70 years.

Canadian Election -- The Polls

Here is a summary of various opinion polls on the Canadian general election, scheduled for the day after tomorrow.

The Conservatives are in the lead. But, as in U.S. elections, the nationwide popular vote totals don't decide the outcome directly. In the U.S., it is the outcome by state that decides the electoral college totals, while in Canada, the outcome in each parliamentary constituency (each "riding"), when aggregated together, determines the result.

The way the vote is split among five parties could result in the third consecutive election in which no one party wins an overall majority in the House of Commons.

The polls indicate that the parties that are alternatives to the Liberals on the left wing, being the New Democratic and Green parties, might gain votes at the Liberals' expense.

One factor is that three of the main party leaders are charisma-challenged. That includes Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Conservative, along with Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe. The more-colorful Jack Layton of the NDP might be taking advantage of that disparity.

In theory, under a parliamentary system, the electorate votes for a party and its program, rather than an individual leader. But, as in Britain, in the television age, there is more emphasis than before on the personalities of the leaders.

Canadian Parties -- The Nicknames

In Canadian politics, the Liberals are often called "Grits", while the Conservatives bear the label of "Tories".

Here is a web page that explains the history behind those labels.

Other sources confirm that "Grits" comes from "Clear Grits", a political movement that preceded the 1867 Canadian Confederation. That's grit as in sand. It has a meaning in masonry, being pure sand not polluted by dirt. Hence, the real thing, clear and not muddled.

"Tory" is also a name attached to the British Conservative Party. It was the party's official name in the 18th century. They continue to be called Tories, even though "Conservative Party" became their correct title in the 19th century.

"Tory" originally referred to a type of Irish outlaw. During the 17th century, it was applied to a faction that backed the Roman Catholic House of Stuart. That party had become staunch supporters of the Protestant Hannoverians who took the throne in the 18th century (the Georges I, II and III), but the name stuck.

The name came to be applied to the Conservatives in Canada who, especially in their early days, as I wrote here, promoted close ties with Britain. The Canadian Conservatives, in all of the identities they've taken over the years, whether Liberal-Conservative, Progressive Conservative, or just plain Conservative, have been called Tories.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Canadian Parties -- The Leaders

With the Canadian general election now three days away, I'll continue my description of their federal political parties, with more detail about the party leaders.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the leader of the Conservative Party. He is 49 years old, and has represented the Alberta riding of Calgary Southwest in the House of Commons since 2002. He had previously been MP for Calgary West from 1993 to 1997.

He grew up in and near Toronto, but moved to Alberta during his college years. He received bachelors and masters degrees in economics from the University of Alberta. Harper was associated with the Reform Party from its founding in 1987. He was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002.

With the Canadian Alliance being the dominant player in the merger that created the Conservative Party, in 2003, Harper was able to win the initial leadership election of the merged party. Consequently, he became prime minister when the Conservatives emerged as the largest party in Parliament, in 2006.

Stephane Dion, 53, became the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2006. He has represented the Quebec riding of Saint-Laurent--Cartierville in the House of Commons since 1996.

Dion was born and raised in Quebec. He received bachelors and masters degrees from Universite Laval, in that province. Dion later studied in France, where Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris awarded him a doctorate. His career was as a university professor and think-tank scholar, before entering public office.

Dion served as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of the Environment in the governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. Dion's election as Liberal leader followed Martin's defeat in the 2006 general election.

Jack Layton, 58, was elected leader of the New Democratic Party in 2003. His riding is in Ontario, where he was elected in 2004 to represent Toronto-Danforth.

He is a Quebec native, who moved to Ontario in 1970, where he received a PhD in Political Science from York University. His undergraduate education had been at McGill University.

Layton taught political science, and served in local government positions, in Toronto, before moving onto the federal political stage.

Gilles Duceppe, 61, has led the Bloc Quebecois since 1997. He was elected to represent Laurier--Sainte-Marie in 1990. Duceppe originally ran for the House of Commons as an independent, and has since been reelected as a Bloc candidate.

Duceppe worked as a trade union organizer, before entering Parliament.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blue Countries and Red Countries

The Economist has extended the concepts of the electoral college, and the blue-state/red-state map, worldwide. The magazine's website has created the Global Electoral College, by allocating electoral votes to the countries of the world according to the American rules for allocation to states, and asking people of all countries to cast a vote for Obama or McCain.

I'm not sure whether the link will work for non-subscribers. But if you don't have a subscription to The Economist, you should. If you're caught up in the global economic crisis, and only have $116.79 left in your bank account, you should spend it on an Economist subscription. (I'm not paid to write that.)

If you've been following foreign opinion about the election, it should not surprise you that Obama is ahead. But perhaps it might surprise you that he currently leads by 8,489 electoral votes to 16.

It's interesting that two of the three red countries are ones that were formerly "red" in another sense: Macedonia and Georgia. Take that, old Europe!

But while I don't doubt that Obama is the choice of most people outside the U.S., I suspect the numbers might be a bit skewed. The reality check is to compare the survey's U.S. totals with other U.S. polls.

According to Real Clear Politics, the poll showing the biggest Obama lead is the latest Gallup Daily Tracking Poll, with Obama ahead by 52% to 41%. Compare that best-case Obama scenario to the Global Electoral College result in the U.S., which is 80% to 20% in favor of Obama. For whatever reason, Obama supporters appear to be overrepresented among the respondents to The Economist's survey.

Painting the Upper House Blue

The New York Times today ran this analysis of the campaign for Congress. The trend, as in the presidential election, is in favor of the Democrats.

As I wrote here, the Democrats' goal is to reach 60 Senate seats. That is the number of votes needed to end a filibuster, which would be the only major remaining weapon for Republicans to block legislation if, as the polls currently indicate, both houses of Congress and the White House end up under Democratic control.

One analysis cited in the Times article describes the high end of the Democratic range as being a gain of nine seats. That would get them to 60, if the two New England independents, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, are included. I discussed Lieberman's situation here.

The question of needing Lieberman for the Democrats' 51-49 majority is somewhat different than that of needing his vote to end a filibuster. The filibuster question will apply separately to each individual issue. Since Lieberman is generally in agreement with the Democrats on domestic policy, chances are they can usually count on his vote on a cloture motion.

Book Review: The Case Against Barack Obama

The book entitled The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2008, 234 pp.) was authored by David Freddoso, a journalist who currently writes for National Review Online, the Web presence of the political journal that was founded by the late William F. Buckley, Jr.

Freddoso's main points include:

  • While he is very intelligent and a gifted orator, Obama is otherwise a rather typical Democratic Party politician, with no special claim on being a post-partisan reformer.
  • Obama's supporters show an extreme degree of faith and admiration, in some cases going so far as to deify him.
  • Obama has associated with several unsavory characters in his political life, both within and outside of the Daley political machine in Chicago.
  • Obama's voting record as a state and national legislator has been consistently left-wing, in contrast to the moderate political rhetoric he has used in his pursuit of the presidency.

As I see it, the first of these points is the one on which the author makes his best case. Obama exhibits the giftedness and ambition that presidential candidates tend to show, especially those chasing after the big prize at such a young age. But that is no reason for voters to paint him in messianic terms, and expect him to be an entirely new type of political leader.

Freddoso documents the extent to which Obama has used traditional political tactics to raise money, and add political accomplishments to his record. That includes the careful building of alliances with leading Democratic figures in city, county and state government.

Freddoso goes on to present anecdotal evidence of a tendency to view Obama as a political messiah. While Obama may generate more of that type of response than other politicians do, the reader must keep in mind the anecdotal nature of the evidence, and apply the axiom that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

Many, if not most, politicians have that type of affect on their committed supporters during a campaign. In my own young, idealistic days, I often viewed candidates on whose campaigns I was working, in that way. Now that I'm older and more cynical, and don't actively campaign anymore, I see that that was overdone, but I don't consider it to be particularly unusual.

The author describes a number of Obama associates, with special attention on the 1960s radical Bill Ayres, who is apparently unrepentant about his role in violent anti-war protests; Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the UCC pastor with the inflammatory rhetorical style; and Tony Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer and convicted felon, who made large financial contributions to Obama's campaigns.

Freddoso takes pains to point out that Obama is not guilty by association. But perhaps his implication (rightly or wrongly) is that where there's smoke, there's fire. At the very least, Freddoso intends this material to bolster his case that Obama is not a special type of politician, plying his trade at a higher level than other politicians.

Freddoso's examination of Obama's voting record in Springfield and Washington seems designed to portray the senator as a liberal wolf in moderate sheep's clothing. But to my mind, it shows more of an opportunistic, ambitious politician, who to some degree bends his political positions to fit whichever constituency he is representing at the time.

In a state Senate district on Chicago's south side, the best one could do by propounding moderate-to-conservative positions would be to valiantly go down in flames. On the other hand, in attempting to appeal to the country as a whole, Obama is, understandably, tacking more toward the center.

Would it be a good thing if politicians didn't act that way? Maybe. But they do.

Freddoso does not attempt to conceal the polemical nature of this book. He is not playing the role of an impartial journalist. As he makes clear right from the get-go in his title, he is making the case for one point of view.

There is nothing wrong with an author writing in that style, but one must read the book with a critical eye, keeping in mind that there is another side to the story.

For one thing, he sometimes slants his descriptions of events in a manner calculated to best fit his argument. For example, he describes how Obama's wife, Michele, received a substantial increase in compensation in her job with University of Chicago Medical Center, shortly after Barack Obama became a U.S. senator. The author does not mention that the pay raise accompanied the promotion described here.

I have no specific information on which to judge whether she deserved that promotion. But that concentration on the financial aspect of the promotion helps Freddoso create the impression that the pay raise might have constituted a disguised bribe to the senator, whose official actions brought government grant money to the medical center. By strategically omitting some of the information, he spun the story his way.

As a Republican who is undecided regarding the Obama-McCain election, my bottom-line reaction is that what I read in this book does not, in my opinion, disqualify Obama.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Iowa Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Tom Harkin

Republican candidate: Christopher Reed

Harkin, 68, has represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate since 1985. Before that, he had been in the U.S. House for 10 years. His main claim to fame during that period was that, in 1977, when I was an intern for Representative Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, Harkin's office was across the hall in the Cannon Building. He chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. Harkin is 19th in Senate seniority, 11th among Democrats.

Reed is a navy veteran and businessman.

Real Clear Politics shows polls with Harkin in the lead by 14 to 23 percentage points.

Iowa is typical of upper midwestern states, having been dominated by the Republican Party from that party's earliest days, but having voted Democratic somewhat more often in recent decades.

Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley have been consistently reelected to Iowa's Senate seats since the 1980s.

Delaware Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Joe Biden

Republican candidate: Christine O'Donnell

I described Biden's background here, when he was about to be named as Barack Obama's running mate.

O'Donnell, 39, has worked as a political commentator on television and as a media consultant. This is apparently her first bid for elective office.

Polls listed in Real Clear Politics show a commanding lead for Biden. Oddly, that page describes Biden as being unopposed, even though it shows O'Donnell's poll numbers. However, given the size of those numbers, it seems as though the Democratic incumbent is, in effect, unopposed.

I wrote here about the implications of Biden's running for senator and vice president on the same day.

Biden was junior senator to Republican William Roth for 28 years. Democrat Tom Carper, who was then governor, defeated Roth in 2000, and was reelected in 2006.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Canadian Parties -- Bloc Quebecois

The Bloc Quebecois is a party that only contests federal House of Commons seats in the province of Quebec. It is an outgrowth of the Parti Quebecois at the provincial level, that has advocated independence for that province since 1968.

After the failure of the Meech Lake Accord to assuage Quebec's concerns about the new federal constitution in the 1980s, there was greater impetus to push the Quebec nationalist position at the federal level.

The Bloc began as an informal organization of Quebec MPs from the other parties. Then, in 1993, the Bloc began contesting federal general elections as a separate party.

In the chaos of 1993, with the conservative vote being split between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party, the Bloc was able to amass the second highest number of seats, after the governing Liberal Party. Their 54 seats made them the official opposition party.

There have been some ups and downs in the meantime; they currently hold 48 seats.

Gilles Duceppe has been party leader since 1997.

Canadian Parties -- New Democrat

The New Democratic Party was created in 1961 by Canadian labor unions.

The highest number of House of Commons seats that the party has won at any general election was 43, in 1988. They then sank to an all-time low of nine seats at the next general election, in 1993.

As a result they have, of course, not come near becoming the governing party. However, they have been a key faction during periods of Liberal minority government under Pierre Trudeau and Paul Martin.

The party has a left-wing populist platform, as described here.

Jack Layton has led the NDP since 2003.

Colorado Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Wayne Allard (not seeking reelection)

Republican candidate: Bob Schaffer

Democratic candidate: Mark Udall

Schaffer, 46, was a congressman from 1997 to 2003. He served in the state Senate from 1987 to 1996.

Udall, 58, has represented Colorado in the U.S. House since 1999, after one term in the state House of Representatives. I gave more details about the Udall dynasty in this post about his cousin Tom, a Senate candidate in New Mexico.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics show a single-digit lead for Udall.

This seat has been held by Republicans for 30 years. However, the other Colorado seat has had more of a mixed recent history. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was elected as a Democrat in 1992, but switched parties in 1995. The current junior senator is Democrat Ken Salazar, who was elected in 2004.

There has been a Democratic trend in Colorado this decade, and much attention will be paid to whether Udall can maintain his slim lead, and gain another victory for his party there.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Arkansas Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Mark Pryor

There is no Republican candidate.

Pryor, 45, has been in the Senate since 2003. He previously served in the state legislature, and as state attorney general. His father, David Pryor, served in both houses of Congress, and as governor of Arkansas.

The Republican Party has not made the same inroads into Arkansas politics, as it has in other southern states. Pryor's predecessor in this Senate seat, Tim Hutchinson, whom Pryor defeated in the 2002 election, is the only Republican to have represented Arkansas in the Senate since Reconstruction.

Alabama Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Jeff Sessions

Democratic candidate: Vivian Davis Figures

Sessions, 61, has represented Alabama in the Senate since 1997. He had previously been that state's attorney general and, prior to that, a United States Attorney.

Figures, 51, has been in the state Senate since 1997. She had previously served on the City Council of Mobile.

Sessions has a huge lead, according to polls reported by Real Clear Politics.

This report in The Birmingham News confirms the dire state of Figures's campaign.

Before Sessions won his first Senate election, in 1996, this seat had been in Democratic hands since Reconstruction. His senior colleague, Richard Shelby, switched to the Republican Party in 1994.

All signs are that this seat will remain in the Republican column.