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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Baehr

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Baehr





Last Build Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2008 08:30:45 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009
 



A Few Post-Election Thoughts

Mon, 10 Nov 2008 08:30:45 -0600

The House seats are now distributed between the Parties about where they were after the 1992 elections. The two Republican victories in the Presidential races in 2000 and 2004 were eked out with narrow wins in a few key states producing small Electoral College victories. The Democrats' three victories were far more decisive. While it is true that the 2008 race would have been much closer in the Electoral College with a small percentage shift in the popular vote in Indiana, Florida and North Carolina, looking forward to 2012, the prospects for the GOP are daunting. Changes due to redistributing the 435 House seats after the 2010 census will likely add a few net Electoral College votes to GOP-friendly states (e.g. Texas, Florida, Arizona), but even if the GOP then won all the states they won in 2008, plus all those they lost by 6% or less in 2008 (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina), they would still fall short of the 270 Electoral College level needed for victory. Does anyone think that Barack Obama will be easy to knock off in 2012? Even if a GOP candidate in that year decided to opt out of public financing for the general election in 2012, does anyone think he or she could match the fundraising level of Barack Obama? Does anyone think the demographic shifts in the country will soon become more favorable to the Republican Party? Does anyone think Obama's campaign team will do a lousy job in 2012 after what they accomplished this year? And finally, it is possible, if not likely, that by 2011-2012, the economy will be headed up again, just in time for Obama's re-election campaign. Obama has been both lucky and good in his campaigns, and counting on luck deserting him in 2012, is a poor plan for victory. Some Republicans are counting on Obama becoming a failure as President, and then losing in 2012. But even if Obama struggles, the perception of how he is doing is certain to be better than occurred during the Bush Presidency. In fact, failure in the first two years, and perhaps the entire first term, will be blamed on the deep hole that Bush dug for the country. To be sure, the 2008 election would have been a lot closer and McCain would have had a shot at victory, had the financial crisis come two months later. Had Obama not outspent McCain 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 in battleground states down the stretch, the race might have tipped to the GOP in a few states. But looking at the eventual outcome in the battleground states, it is hard to see how McCain would have won, even if the national numbers moved 7-8% in his direction. McCain might have needed a 3% popular vote margin to win the Electoral College, and then have had a good shot at Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. The Republican Party started to bleed in the 1990s when Bill Clinton successfully picked off many suburban white voters who had been traditional Republican voters, largely due to economic issues. He was able to do this because of the perception that the GOP was increasingly the Party of social conservatives, dominated by Southern legislators and voters. In essence, resistance to social conservatism trumped these voters' commitment to economic conservatism. While the GOP had some success in 2000, 2002 and 2004 in getting some of these voters back, they deserted the party the last two elections. The Reagan big tent was always fragile, and the fissures have been out there now for quite a few elections. Can the GOP find a charismatic leader like an Obama to reunite the separate constituencies: national security conservatives, economic conservatives, and social conservatives, all of whom are needed for victory? No one immediately springs to mind. Can the Party develop a consistent and appealing thematic message? Maybe, but the message will be lost without the national spokesperson/ leader. The Palin Factor Did Sarah Palin cause McCain's defeat? That is an easy one to answer. No she did not. Blame Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Fanny and Freddie, and a 30% market decline in two months for that. Might Palin have cost McCain some vo[...]



McCain's End Game

Tue, 28 Oct 2008 05:30:42 -0600

Barack Obama is in good shape in all the blue states won by John Kerry in 2004. In only four of them, is his lead less than 10%. Obama's lead in New Hampshire (4) hovers around 5%. In Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10) and Pennsylvania (21), Obama's lead is between 5% and 10%. The national tracking polls, which have tightened the last two days to about a 5% lead for Obama on average, would need to move five points more to put New Hampshire in play, and probably more than that to put any of the others in play. Campaigning in a state and ads can move the state number 1-2% beyond the national tracking trend, but likely not more than that in the last week, especially with both sides contesting every important state. Obama has much more money to advertise the last week, a good position to be in if you are running out the clock with a lead. Obama overpolled and underperformed in New Hampshire in the Democratic primary in January, and McCain has a strong residue of support in the state, so that state has the potential to be a surprise on election night. The almost astonishing stupidity of John Murtha, should cost him his House seat, and has also made Pennsylvania a bit more competitive than it seemed a week ago. Murtha is certainly argument number one for term limits in the House of Representatives. Jonathan Alter is allowed to call voters racist (he is a liberal pundit after all), but for Murtha to call his own district's voters racist defies comprehension. McCain may have to win without a blue state, or at best, just New Hampshire. Is this possible? Two red states seem out of his reach -- Iowa (7), and New Mexico (5) are in the 5-10% Obama margin category, if not more. I am not sure why the McCain team has spent so much time in these states, unless they have internal polls that show the race is far closer than other surveys. If these two states go for Obama, he would have a base of 264 Electoral College votes. He would then need to turn but one more red state from among Colorado (9), Virginia (13), Nevada (5), Ohio (20), Florida (27), North Carolina (15), Missouri (11), and Indiana (11). While Nevada would bring him only to a 269-269 tie, the Democrats' edge in the House would give Obama the Presidency. The same result would occur were a tie achieved by Obama winning Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado and losing New Hampshire. Neither of these two scenarios is that far fetched, if McCain can gain 4-5% in the national polls in the remaining week. The Obama team regards four red states as part of their firewall: Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia . If Obama wins these four, he wins 286-252, the identical Electoral College margin by which Bush beat John Kerry in 2004. Rasmussen surveys on Virginia and Colorado released Monday night, have Obama up 4% in each of them. That is good news for Mccain -- 4% is not a firewall lead. If national polls move 5 points to a 50-50 race, then both states could shift. Many surveys show bigger Obama leads in both states (in the 5-10% range), but analysts with long term familiarity with Virginia politics, such as Larry Sabato, are skeptical that Obama has such a big lead in that state. I think Colorado is in better shape for Obama than Virginia at the moment. The next category of red states that Obama could pick off are Nevada, Florida and Ohio. Obama currently has small leads (probably 2-5%) in all of them, with Florida probably closest of the three. If the national polls stay where they are and prove accurate (and Obama wins by 5%), he will probably win all three. The next category of Obama targets include Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana. McCain seems to be ahead in Indiana, and about even in the other two states. If I had to rate them, I think Obama is doing best in Missouri and worst in Indiana of the three. If the national vote winds up as it shows today, a 5% Obama margin, I think he wins Missouri, and loses the other two states. Summing this all up, with his current 5% national lead, Obama wins the Electoral College 349-189. But if the[...]



The Buying of the Presidency 2008

Mon, 20 Oct 2008 07:30:18 -0600

In every battleground state the story is the same. Obama has run ads 3 to 4 times as often as McCain and the gap is widening each week. Most of the Obama ads, of course, are negative ads about McCain, and in most cases false or misleading according to factcheck.org. It is as if one basketball team is playing with a rule that its players foul out after committing 2 personal fouls, while and its opponent is allowed six personal fouls per player. Or maybe one basket is two feet lower, or one team can not include any player over six feet tall. In essence, we do not have a fair fight. Obama has always liked it that way when it comes to his campaigns. Obama said at one point that if the McCain campaign brought "a knife to the fight, we would bring a gun" -- revealing that he did not care about a level playing field . Anyone familiar with his campaign against Alice Palmer in 1996, where he used challenges to nominating petitions to completely eliminate all his challengers in the Democratic primary for the Illinois State Senate, should have realized this aspect of Obama's campaign style. Michael Barone's "The Coming Obama Thugocracy" describes Obama's effort to silence critics. And of course, there were the revelations by the Chicago Tribune of two sex scandals relating to Obama's opponents in the U.S. Senate race in 2004: the first served to eliminate Blair Hull, who held a solid lead over Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination before the story broke, and the other forced Jim Ryan, the GOP nominee, from the race. Did Obama or his campaign have a role in supplying damaging information to the media about these stories (Obama's campaign manger once worked for the Tribune), or is he just the luckiest politician alive? Both the Obama campaign and its volunteer army in the national media are quite comfortable with all of this, since it is producing the result they desire. Senator Obama had the audacity a few weeks back to argue that he has shown that he is an experienced manager (and so presumably, he will be a good President) because he has run such a large successful campaign with over 2,500 paid employees and spending of several hundred million dollars (likely to be over $700 million by the time the election occurs). Obama is right about part of his statement; he has shown that he can spend more money and spend it faster than any candidate in the history of the world. He must see it as appropriate for someone whose coming election victory an event that will change the world. Viewed through the other end of the telescope, Obama spends so much because he has raised so much. Over half of that money has come from fat cats, such as the few hundred people who gave his campaign, the DNC, and state parties $11 million in one night in Hollywood last month. Among small individual donors, about whom far less is known, there have been questions raised about some of the donors, and sources. Mr. Good Will, for instance, has given multiple donations totaling over $17,000 (the limit for an individual donor in a cycle is $2300 for the primary campaign, and $2300 for the general election). Any donation of $200 or more requires a form to be completed. Mr. Good Will gave many times but always less than the level requiring more personal information. In the concluding two weeks of the campaign money could become a bigger issue, as people get frustrated by what they may rightly perceive as both the potential theft of the election in some states and the purchase of the Presidency. The poll movement has been away from Obama the last few days, with his national lead of about 8% dropping a few points in most surveys. My best guess is Obama's national lead is about 5% today. That is not yet a done deal, though Obama clearly remains a heavy favorite to win. Perhaps. those reports about the big victory party planned for Chicago may be a bit premature. During the primaries, despite outspending Hillary Clinton by 2 to 1 or 4 to 1 in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton sti[...]



Can McCain Come Back?

Thu, 09 Oct 2008 08:30:05 -0600

Given his financial advantage, ground game advantage and current lead in the key states, Obama is clearly in a very good position today. So can McCain recover? If so, what is his path to victory? I will explore this in two ways: the state targets to get to 270 Electoral College votes, and the issues and themes that could serve to tighten the race. National Polling Trends The movement in the large sample size national tracking polls in the last month has been extraordinarily large given the late stage of the race. Gallup has swung from a 5 point McCain lead to an 11 point Obama lead in a month, a 16 point swing. Rasmussen moved from a 3 point McCain lead to an 8 point Obama lead Tuesday (Wednesday the lead shrank to 6), an 11 point swing. Rasmussen's results have been more stable for most of the year than Gallup's, which have shown more volatility , but in either case, it is highly unusual to have such a sharp move toward one candidate after the two party conventions have been concluded. Gerald Ford picked up a lot of ground on Jimmy Carter late in the race in 1976, and Ronald Reagan pulled away from Jimmy Carter in the last two weeks in 1980. To have a move back toward McCain after the Obama surge would not be surprising; races often tighten a bit near the end. But moving the national numbers 5 points or more will not be easy. And for McCain to have a chance in the Electoral College, he will likely have to be even or ahead in the national numbers. That is because of certain built in advantages Obama has in the Electoral College map with many more red states in play than blue states, a situation that has existed all year except for the first part of September. Blue states George Bush defeated John Kerry by 286-251 in 2004 (one Kerry elector chose not to vote for him), but the Democratic base of Kerry states is 252 Electoral College votes. At the moment, Obama is in the lead in all the Kerry states. One survey gave McCain a 1 point lead in Minnesota (10) last week, but other surveys have Obama ahead by significant margins in the state (Rasmussen has Obama up 7). McCain has reduced his effort in Michigan (17), and is now behind by double digits in Pennsylvania (21). Obama had a lead of between 5 and 10 in recent surveys in Wisconsin (10). Obama also has opened up a good sized lead in New Hampshire (4) of 8-12% in the most recent polls. Maine The outlier blue state where McCain is doing better than his national numbers and recent history would suggest is Maine (4), a state the Obama campaign seems to have taken for granted. I spent a few weeks in Maine in September and there are McCain signs everywhere on the roads. The state has lots of hunters, and lower income small town voters. Sarah Palin may have real appeal there. The state awards one of its Electoral College votes for the each of its House districts to the winner of the district's vote. If McCain is only behind by 4-5% statewide, as recent surveys suggest, he would be in range of securing the one vote for Maine's 2nd district (the more conservative northern district in the state). There are somewhat plausible scenarios in which Maine's 2nd district gives McCain a 270-268 Electoral College win (Obama wins Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada, and no other red state, or he wins Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado and loses New Hampshire). McCain is in contention to win the state too and pick up two more Electoral College votes, if the national numbers move in his direction a few points. But even if that occurs, he is unlikely to win the more liberal 1st district. Kerry won Maine by 8% in 2004. If the national numbers move 5% or more, Wisconsin will be more competitive, and so might New Hampshire and Minnesota. But Obama would still be favored in these states. Red states One red state, Iowa (7), is at this point, a near lock for Obama, who has had double digit leads in all but one survey in the state for the last few months. It is not at all clear why McCain is still contesting[...]



What States Are Really in Play?

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 09:30:12 -0600

In terms of political momentum, when the topic being debated is national security or social issues and values, McCain benefits. When the topic is a souring economy or financial crisis, Obama wins. So this week, it is Obama's week to ride with the tide. One of the reasons the Obama campaign has been so flummoxed by Sarah Palin is that every day Palin is the story, which she has been for close to two weeks, is a day when the Obama campaign is off message. The New York Times, boiling with rage at the new interloper who offers a different version of feminism than the only one allowed to be respected in its pages, has provided a huge boost to the McCain-Palin campaign with its army of "investigative reporters" digging for trash in Alaska. The Times' pursuit of Palin resembles their feeble and failed four month attempt to tar John McCain earlier this year as having been an adulterer with a lobbyist. The John Edwards adultery story, which was real, was never of interest to the New York Times. Sinners can only be registered Republicans, and after all, Edwards only began his affair when his wife's cancer was in remission, demonstrating what a prince of a man he really is. The state polls, which tend to lag the national tracking polls by a few days, have been more favorable for John McCain the last few days, reflecting his slightly stronger position since the convention and the Palin pick. But even if the latest state polls overstate McCain's numbers a bit due to the lag, they do reflect the new shape of the race. The best news for McCain is that he has opened a solid lead in Florida (27 Electoral College votes) of 5 points or more in every recent survey, and has built a modest lead in Ohio (20 Electoral College votes) of 3-4 points in every recent survey but one (Quinnipiac). Obama ran poorly in Ohio in its March primary, carrying only 5 of 88 counties and losing the state to Hillary Clinton by 10%, despite coming in with all the momentum and a huge financial advantage. Many registered Democrats in Ohio are not political liberals and share more cultural values with Sarah Palin than Barack Obama. The condescension the Obama campaign has demonstrated toward blue collar voters will not help it in Ohio come Election Day. It is telling that in one recent survey, 31% of Ohio voters said they best relate to Palin, about 20% each to McCain and Obama, and barely over 10% with Biden. If Ohio and Florida are McCain states (and Ohio is certainly not yet "done" for McCain, as Florida may be), there are few ways for Obama to reach 270 Electoral College votes. Assuming Obama holds all the Kerry states, not nearly so certain anymore, Obama begins with a likely pickup of Iowa and its 7 Electoral College votes. He would then need 11 more. In the latest Rasmusssen surveys, Obama trails in Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), Colorado (9), and is even in Virginia (13). These are the four tossup states where his chances to turn a red state blue are the best. Admittedly, McCain's lead in the Western states is small -- 2 to 3 points in each case. For Obama to win, he will need to pick up Virginia, which has not gone Democratic since 1964, or Colorado and one of the smaller Western states to win. Colorado has been a reliable GOP state in recent years and Nevada has been in the McCain column pretty much all year. The Obama campaign has bragged of its superior ground game and how that will deliver victory, and in a very close state race, it could help. However discussions with campaign professionals in Virginia and Ohio suggest that the Obama ground team, mostly passionate young out of state workers, are not connecting very well with local voters, even registered Democrats, many of whom are for more culturally conservative than the propagandists for Obama. There is the possibility of a backlash against the harassment, as occurred with Howard Dean's yellow jacketed throng in Iowa in 2004. The McCain team, thanks to the Sarah Palin selection, now[...]



The Shape of the Race Changes

Mon, 18 Aug 2008 06:40:20 -0600

So too, Americans seem to always rally around our athletes during the Olympics. By a 3 to 1 margin, Americans now approve of President Bush attending the games, a much higher percentage for this than before the games began. It is hard to remember the last time there was such an endorsement of any action by President Bush. So too, as the candidate perceived as the soldier/warrior, McCain stands to benefit more from any burst of patriotic fervor associated with the Olympic Games than Obama. Senator McCain and the GOP also got out in front on high oil prices with their call for opening more areas in the country and some offshore areas to drilling for oil. Americans seem to have caught on that we will grow ever more dependent on some of the most thuggish regimes in the world, if we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas each year for imported oil (as much as $700 billion in 2008 at current prices). Despite years of incessant preaching by the media and educational system at all levels on the catastrophe awaiting us all from global warming fifty or a hundred years from now, the price of oil and the need to increase domestic supply (and alternatives) has for now clearly trumped this more distant and unproven threat. Finally, there was Rick Warren's very well-run debate at his Saddleback Church Saturday night, at which Senator Obama was, as usual, calm, dispassionate, and verbally agile, but McCain was more direct and passionate on issues that mattered to the crowd. The performance at this debate cannot but help solidify McCain's standing among evangelicals, and attract some of the volunteers needed to counter Obama's unprecedented ground game in many states. Both candidates stumbled on some questions: Obama refused to say when life began, suggesting the answer to that one was above his pay grade. If he does not have an answer to this question, why is he so willing to deal with the uncertainty by approving of abortion, and alone among US Senators, appearing to also favor infanticide when an abortion "fails" and a baby is delivered alive? Pro-choice advocates are usually more consistent; if you believe life begins at fetal viability or delivery, then you can argue for abortion rights before that. McCain gave a poor answer on what defines a rich person. When McCain talks too long, he gets in trouble at times. But the most significant contrast in the debate was between McCain's anecdotal references to his life experiences, particularly those in North Vietnamese captivity, which offered a far clearer view of what shaped McCain and created his passion for country and national service than anything that can be gleaned from Obama's background. The race this year is very difficult to forecast. Will young people, for the first time, turn out in great numbers? Will Obama's registration effort produce a few million more African American voters? Will Obama's huge investment in field organizing prove the difference (turning registered voters into actual voters)? Most pollsters do not reach cell phone only users, who are a high percentage of both young Americans and African Americans. Will the polls overstate Obama's likely performance? (the Bradley effect) Nate Silver has studied this issue and argued that Obama underperformed compared to exit polls, which are not a random sample, and are often unreliable predictors, but actually exceeded his pre-poll averages in many states. However, a close look at the results by state suggests Obama exceeded poll results in caucus states, where estimating turnout is very difficult, and where there may be psychological factors in play related to the public nature of one's vote (a reverse Bradley effect, in essence), and in primary states in the South, with very high African American populations, where pollsters seem to have systematically underestimated black turnout. In many of the large state primaries, on the other hand, Obama underp[...]



How McCain Could Win

Thu, 10 Jul 2008 14:30:59 -0600

The Obama campaign has a simple message: you hate (or really, really don't like) the job George Bush is doing. John McCain will run things just like George Bush, and I (Obama) offer a very different and exciting change in approach. The corollaries to the Obama message are a not very subtle pitch that the voter can demonstrate his or her decency and lack of bias by voting for the first African American presidential candidate, and by the way, John McCain is too old. McCain needs to make the case that he is a far "safer" choice to be the next occupant in the White House. This case should be not that difficult to make. In essence, who is the "untested" candidate, and who is the "riskier" choice? These are specific words, as Frank Luntz might say, that matter. Secondarily, there are particular choices for the Vice Presidential pick who could add some energy and excitement to the McCain campaign. The Obama-McCain contest has not been a fair fight in the charisma derby. Barack Obama is very good at reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter (John McCain is really bad at this), and Obama has been wowing the media and live audiences reading prepared texts. He has frequently stumbled with off the cuff remarks, which is why his campaign pays such attention to details regarding the setting for events, and on prepared remarks. While it is likely that McCain will be outspent, and out organized, he should have enough money to get a message across, if it is focused and he stays on script. By accepting federal campaign funding, McCain will also not have to fundraise during the fall campaign, while Obama will likely waste days if not weeks doing this. It is also the case that fund raising events tend to be very partisan, requiring a candidate to pander to activists. In a general election campaign, when a candidate is trying to move to the center to appear moderate and acceptable to more than the party's base voters (an approach Obama has clearly undertaken of late), a shriller pitch to the base can lead to problems, as it did for Obama in San Francisco a few months back. The Case against Obama So what is the case for McCain? To begin with in a two party system, a case against Obama. No candidate for President since Wendell Wilkie in 1940 has had as little relevant experience before running for President as Barack Obama. The Illinois Senator served for 8 years, in a generally undistinguished fashion, in the Illinois legislature. He was best known for voting present more often than any other State Senator. When the Democrats took over the Legislature the last two years he served, Obama worked out a deal with the Democratic leader, Emil Jones, to get his name on some bills so he could buff up his resume before running for the open US Senate seat. After a string of revelations about two opponents' marital problems, Obama wound up effectively running unopposed for the US Senate seat (Alan Keyes was the GOP standard-bearer). In the US Senate, Obama missed many votes in his first term even before he launched his Presidential bid, as he traveled the country speaking to Democratic Party events (and positioning himself with activists for a future Presidential run). Since the campaign began, he has missed virtually all Senate votes and failed to hold meetings of his own subcommittee. So the Obama record is very thin. His major campaign themes have been lofty messages of change and hope and bipartisan unity. This is a smart course to take, when you have little to show for your years in public office. McCain needs to focus on Obama's record of scant legislative accomplishment and inexperience. What has Barack Obama done, as opposed to claiming to have done? Obama has argued in the Democratic nominating contest that he showed good judgment by opposing the Iraq War in 2002 while John Edwards and Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the President's use of force, if necessa[...]