Sunday, January 15, 2006

Handicapping 2008-the Democrats

Now we'll move on to 2008. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about 2006. I'll post interesting stories about 2006 races as the news comes up. But 2008, for obvious reasons, is a far more significant race, the one everyone is looking ahead to. Congressional races are obviously impossible to handicap, as it's three years out and there's no clue who is running, who is retiring, or who is in trouble. So we'll concetrate strictly on the Presidency here. And oh, is this one going to be fun. For the first time in oh, I don't know, a heck of a long time, both parties will enter 2008 with open fields. The Democrats naturally are out of power, so we expected them to have an open field. But Bush doesn't have a clear successor either. Cheney is almost certainly not going to run, and even if he did he wouldn't be the frontrunner because he is generally considered unelectable. Let's face it, his personality is not one that inspires love from the masses.

Of course, this far out we really don't know for sure who is running and who is not. We only know who is interested. At least half of those interested in running won't make it to the first primary. Many more will decide not to run in early 2007 and say so. Some who were speculated to be running, like Mark Sanford and Al Gore, have made it clear they won't run. So the first thing we need to look at is who is running?

For the Democrats, we have these prospects:

Evan Bayh- A DLC favorite, the most conservative Democrat likely to run. Not much charisma, but a responsible, steady guy. As governor of Indiana, he was known as cautious and responsible. He ran a budget surplus and didn't raise taxes in his eight years of governing. I have no doubt he would make a solid President. The problem with Bayh is that he won't generate much excitement among primary voters. He can only win if the rest of the field makes them want to flock to someone steady and responsible. Bayh will likely declare his candidacy, and he will probably make it through at least the first couple of primaries.

Joe Biden- A longtime legislator, former Presidential candidate. A great speaker, but over the years the base seems to have grown less enamored with him. He's a compromiser by nature. Another very responsible,thoughtful guy. A mainstream liberal compared to Bayh's conservativeness. Problem is, I just don't see it working. The party has sent a lot of Northeastern liberals up, only to have them soundly defeated by the GOP. Biden is the both of all worlds: a liberal who isn't loved by the liberal base. He would make a decent President, but there are many better to choose from. I don't think he'll even declare, because he won't raise any money.

Wes Clark- Anyone paying attention in 2004 remembers this guy. Took the party by storm in late 2003 but flamed out early. Personally, I think it's because he didn't run as a general. He let himself be packaged as Mr. Democrat and was as slick as any politician. The problem with that is that being viewed as a politician rather than a general means he gets compared to the other politicians. Other politicians with more experience and who are better at playing the game. At this point, I see no sign that Clark has learned anything from his defeat in the primaries. I don't think he'll bother to declare, and even if he does he won't be a factor unless he runs on a solid national security platform.

John Edwards- In contrast to Wes Clark, Edwards has shown that he's learned from the 2004 campaign. Edwards is a brilliant, telegenic candidate, with an idea for every problem. He's got a great story, being the son of a millworker who went to law school, became a trial lawyer, and is now a great family man. Unlike Clinton, another young southerner, he won't have bimbo eruptions. Edwards run in 2004 basically mirrored his career as a trial lawyer. It was all about fighting for the little guy. A nice idea in theory, the US is a lot more complicated place than that. There aren't "Two Americas" there are dozens of Americas, representing the diversity of this great nation. Edwards, if his recent speeches are any indication, seems to have grown beyond his trial lawyer worldview of Little People vs. Evil Corporations. He will almost certainly run and he will almost certainly go at least until the southern primaries. And I think he has a good shot at the nomination.

Russ Feingold- Feingold is an interesting case. The far left of the party really seems to want to get behind him based on his willingness to speak out against Bush policies when many other Democrats scurry for political cover. However, he's not so much a liberal doctrinaire as a maverick who has some right-wing positions as well. Like Howard Dean in 2004, he believes in the 2nd amendment right for individuals to bear arms. He's also against pork barrel spending. Realistically, he has little chance of winning the nomination. He's a liberal without the benefit of being able to mobilize the Democrat's traditional interest groups. However, it is possible he could make a splash in New Hampshire, a state that LOVES mavericks. But once campaigning shifts to the South and Midwest, he's toast.

John Kerry- John Kerry is under the impression that Democrats chose him in 2004 because they loved him. He's also under the impression that because he came close to unseating Bush in 2004, that he has a shot in 2008. He'd be wrong on both counts. John Kerry has one man to thank for his win in 2004- Howard Dean, who sent supporters scurrying to find a responsible, sane candidate to support. Kerry was the most liberal candidate left standing. Edwards was too green, Lieberman too conservative, Gephardt had just choked in Iowa. Even if he does win the nomination, he won't beat the GOP nominee unless it's someone insane like Santorum. I woudln't count on it though. The GOP doesn't pick candidates who can't win, at least not since 1964. Hard to say whether he'll actually declare or not. If he does, he'll go far simply because he'll raise decent money and has name recognition. But he is unlikely to win unless the field is extraordinarily weak.

Bill Richardson- Richardson is in my opinion the most qualified person to run for President of the likely field. A very successful governor of New Mexico, a Secretary of Energy, and a UN ambassador. All three of those pertain directly to the problems we'll be facing in 2008. The only question is whether primary voters will get excited about him. He has informed the party that he intends to run, so that's probably a sure thing. If he's the only governor in the race, his chances of winning are excellent, as governors tend to wipe the floor with Senators on the campaign trail. But if Mark Warner, a good, but not AS good, governor gets in the race, Warner's charisma could defeat Richardson's superiority on substance. Not that Warner isn't a man of substance. Its' just that Richardson is far more qualified and a far more successful governor.

Mark Warner- Warner is also a successful governor. What is making him attractive to primary voters is the fact he's a southerner who won in a red state. He'd probably make a fine President too. He balanced his budget, but he did it by raising taxes, unlike Richardson and Bayh. His record on crime is excellent. His approval rating in Virginia is 80%. The fact that he can win Virginia alone makes him formidable. However much better Richardson is, Richardson's state is not necessary for the party to win. Virginia on the other hand would be huge.

Barbara Boxer- Yeah, right. As loony as Santorum, albeit on the left rather than the right. Liberal activists want her to run, but even she's not that delusional I would suspect. If she does run, she goes nowhere. She'd be lucky to get past 3% anywhere but the Pacific Coast.

Phil Bredesen- Another governor, another good one. Great campaigner as well, probably better than Warner, although Warner's done a much better job of getting press at this point. He has a strong background in health care, another issue that will be important in 2008.

Hillary Clinton- The obvious frontrunner should she run, which seems likely. She's managed to annoy many party faithful with her centrist positions and extreme hawkishness on national security. Nothing wrong with that strategy however, as she's got the nomination should she want it. The only way she can be defeated is if those same party faithful annoyed with her centrism and hawkishness rally behind er, someone else centrist and hawkish, like Richardson or Warner or Bayh. More likely they'll rally around Feingold. That won't get them far.

Tom Daschle- Who? I don't think so. Feckless, uncharismatic, a loser in 2004, and a loser when it came to getting the Democrats to put up serious opposition to the GOP in the Senate. Not the kind of man anyone really wants leading this country.

Chris Dodd- As a friend of mine said, the answer to the question no one was asking? Will Chris Dodd run? In a field which may already have two northeastern liberals, Dodd is the third wheel. And the least charismatic one to boot.

Al Gore-Sure, he said he wouldn't run, but Gore is the kind of guy to change his mind if he thinks he has a shot. Actually, I take back what I said about Hillary. Gore can beat her because he provides a liberal person for the base to rally around to defeat Hillary. He'll also be able to attract the interest groups better than any other candidate. The question for voters is, who is the real Al Gore? Is the real Al Gore the conservative candidate who ran in 1988? Is he the New Democrat who governed with Bill Clinton for eight years? Is he the liberal who ran for President in 2000? Or is he the extreme progressive champion who has spoken out on many issues since 2000? Does he even know?

Dennis Kucinich- Probably the least qualified man in the field, having held numerous positions in government and been a failure at all of them. Has some of the worst ideas ever articulated in public by a Congressman. Non-profit health care system? Dept. of Peace? If he runs, he'll do as well as he did in 2004.

Gary Locke- Another very successful governor, this time from Washington. Another Democrat who didn't raise taxes. What sets him apart from Richardson and Warner is the fact that not only did he not raise taxes, but he had the courage to make deep budget cuts in order to keep that promise. At a time when even Republican governors were caving in and raising taxes.

Barack Obama- A future superstar in the party. Smart, charismatic, honest, and clear-headed on national security. Very liberal, but with his leadership skills that won't be an obstacle. I'm sure everyone would love to see him run in 2008, but that's probably not in the cards. I'd say his target for running is 2016.

Tom Vilsack- Another governor, but by far the weakest in the field. Typical Democrat despite his centrist reputation. Massively increased spending, and vetoed attempts by the legislature to cut taxes and ease business regulation. This in the face of a recession. The base likes him, but he's just not Presidential timbre.

It's really far out, so I'll probably be spectaculalry wrong here, but this is what I think will happen:

Bayh, Edwards, Feingold, Kerry, Richardson, Warner, and Clinton will make it to Iowa.

My money is on Clinton. Second would be Warner, who will probably stick around the longest. Edwards, Richardson and Bayh will also probably hang around awhile. Feingold and Kerry will be out early.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Handicapping the 2006 Senate elections

There is much talk about the Republicans' recent ethics problems sweeping the Democrats back into the majority in the Senate and the House. So let's see how likely this is. First, let's look at the races that are very competitive:

Pennsylvania-Rick Santorum(R) is a bona fide nutcase conservative running against popular ex-governor Bob Casey. This is a blockbuster race. Really, I think both conservatives and liberals would be better off with Casey in office, but that's my opinion. Casey is a conservative Democrat, except you know, he doesn't think women should be strictly barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Emotional distaste for Santorum aside, Casey leads him in the polls and I just can't see Santorum running a charming enough campaign to win over a moderate-liberal state like Pennsylvania. Casey is mainstream for PA, Santorum is far right for Utah. I'm calling this one for the Democrats, which means they pick up a seat.

New Jersey-Bob Menendez(D) is an appointed incumbent, which equals vulnerable. To make matters worse for the Democrats, he's facing Tom Kean Jr., son of a very popular ex-governor. The Democratic Party in New Jersey has a corrupt reputation, while the NJ GOP has a reputation for clean government. Which is why even though this is a very liberal state, it's usually competitive and has seen Republicans like Kean and Christie Whitman become governor. I'm calling this one for the Republicans, which makes up for losing Santorum's PA seat.

Rhode Island-The most liberal Republican in the Senate, Lincoln Chaffee, is running here against a couple of strong Democratic contenders. Either one that gets the nomination is going to have a good chance to topple Chaffee. Sheldon Whitehouse, former state attorney general is the most likely Democratic candidate. I'm calling this one for the Democrats, which means we're back to a one-seat gain for the Democrats.

Vermont-Jim Jeffords is retiring. Fellow independent Bernie Sanders is running for his open seat. Sanders caught a break when Howard Dean said that the Democrats would not compete against him in order to not dilute the liberal vote while conservatives united behind the GOP nominee. Despite my distaste for socialists like Sanders, it's good to see the Democratic chairman have his party step aside rather than doing what they usually do: arrogantly call for the minor parties or independents to step aside. Sanders will likely face Brian Dubie, the Lt. governor. Sanders has the name recognition to win without major party backing, but I would imagine the GOP is licking it's chops at the prospect of facing a socialist and will pour money into this one. I'm still calling it for Sanders, but it's going to be a competitive race.

Tennessee-Another open seat, with Bill Frist retiring. Harold Ford, a rising star in the Democratic Party will probably be their nominee. The Republicans have a three-way contest between three pretty strong candidates. Yes, this is a red state, but Ford is a star and the Republican party is not associated with competence in this state. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, is one of the most successful and popular Tennessee governors in recent memory. Gotta give it to Ford, which means the Democrats now have a two-seat pickup.

Ohio-Mike Dewine(R) is in serious trouble. He's not very popular and Ohio has two very strong candidates to choose from to oppose him, Paul Hackett and Sherrod Brown. Either one has a good chance to defeat him. Another pickup for the Democrats, putting them at +3.

Nebraska-Ben Nelson(D) is a Democrat in one of the most conservative states in the US. He also beat a nobody in 2000 with only 51% of the vote. Now he faces stiff opposition and could fall. What will probably save him is the fact that he's the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. I'm calling it for Nelson.

Minnesota-Mark Dayton(D) is retiring, so this is an open seat. Mark Kennedy(R) is the most prominent contender and has to be the favorite at this point. All of the likely Democratic candidates are of smaller stature and Dayton was deeply unpopular. That will slightly rub off on the Democratic contenders. I'm giving this one to Kennedy, and thus it's a Republican pickup. They are down to -2 at this point.

North Dakota-Kent Conrad(D) is the incumbent here, a Democrat in a very red state. He dodged a bullet when John Hoeven decided not to run. Hoeven is the most popular governor in the country and would have crushed Conrad. Which tells me that Hoeven might be considering a Presidential run. But that's the next topic. Conrad will however have to face Wayne Stenehjem, the state attorney general. That makes this race a toss-up. The Republicans want this one so bad they can smell it. I've got to give this one to Stenehjem. GOP is down to -1.

Now, let's look at races that are somewhat competitive:

Florida-Bill Nelson(D) is the incumbent here in this swing state. He's a solid Senator and pretty popular. The Republicans hopes of taking the seat depend a great deal on who the nominee is. The frontrunner, Katherine Harris, hasn't a shot in hell of beating Nelson. Mark Foley on the other hand would make put this race into the "toss up" column because of Foley's popularity and good reputation. If Harris is the GOP nominee, I favor Nelson. If Foley is the nominee, I've gotta give it to Foley by a whisker.

West Virginia-Robert Byrd(D) is the incumbent here running for, oh, his 189th Senate term or something. His likely opponent is Hiram Lewis, an Iraq war veteran. Certainly a longshot, but West Virginia is increasingly a red state and this is a classic battle between the old, stuffy, machine politics Byrd and the young energetic newcomer. Byrd also happens to be an old crook and former KKK member, although that's never hurt him with WV voters before. I have to call this one for Byrd, but there's a small chance Lewis could pull this one out.

Maryland-This race is for an open seat and has yet to fully shake out. The GOP nominee is probably Michael Steele, the Lt. Governor. He's a pretty strong candidate. The Democratic nominee will be either Ben Cardin or Kweisi Mfume. Cardin is a Congressman, Mfume is an ex-Congressmen and ex-NAACP head. I have to give the edge to Cardin if he's the nominee, to Steele if Mfume is the nominee. I'm calling this one for the Democrats. Since it's an open seat vacated by Democrat Paul Sarbanes, it's not net gain for anyone.

Montana-Conrad Burns(R) is one of the incumbents connected to Jack Abramoff, which could end in his downfall depending on how that scandal shakes out. Fortunately for Burns, his competition isn't that great. But this is one seat that the Democrats could pick up due to Abramoff fallout. I'm giving it to Burns, but this is another one that the Democrats have a longshot at.

Washington-Maria Cantwell(D) also dodged a bullet when Dino Rossi decided to forego a challenge to concentrate on a rematch with Gregoire in 2008. Good move, since Rossi is a future star who could someday be President. Governor is a much better thing to have on your resume than Senator. Cantwell will instead face Safeco CEO Mike Mcgavick. McGavick has a shot, but not all that much of one.

All the seats I didn't list are safe for the incumbents.

So crunching the raw numbers, it looks like a one seat gain for the Democrats in 2006. Of course, there are also wild cards, like the Florida race, the Maryland race, the Abramoff scandal, and the general fact that by fall 2006 the political situation may look very different than it does now. Iraq could be mostly won, the economy could be good. Or Iraq could be a disaster and the housing bubble could burst and drag down the economy. This one seat gain for the Democrats is only really a good prediction if everything stays pretty much the same, or what changes between now and 2006 doesn't really benefit either party.

Best case scenario for the Democrats would result in them gaining 5 seats. That's assuming they win every competitive race where they have an opportunity to take a seat from the GOP. Which means they stay in the minority. Sorry, guys.

Best case scenario for the GOP(assuming some very rosy things come fall) is a 9 seat gain. That's counting every competitive race where the GOP can pick up seats.

So I really don't see why the Democrats are so optimistic. The GOP has far more to gain from 2006 and not all that much to lose. The GOP is also on a winning streak, having won convincingly in 2002 and 2004. That losing streak will probably come to an end in 2006, but if 2006 ends up being a good year in Iraq and the economy, that 9 seat gain potential starts to loom large.