ENPR: Despite National Polls, Obama-McCain in a Dead Heat
- The state of morale in the Republican Party is such that the expected bump by Sen. Barack Obama in the polls after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination has collapsed all GOP optimism. Talking to Republicans outside Sen. John McCain‘s organization, the presidential campaign looks like “mission impossible.” The mood is: How can we possibly win the presidency for a third straight election considering the state of the party?
- This is unrealistically pessimistic, considering the true state of the election, which we still consider close. But it contributes to the negative feeling about McCain from elements of the conservative base. This lack of enthusiasm about McCain leads to an extreme level of criticism about how the campaign is being waged—reminiscent of a year ago when his campaign for the nomination appeared dead. What was McCain doing last week in the non—competitive state of California? What was McCain aide Charlie Black thinking when he publicly uttered the truth about the political benefits for McCain of a terrorist attack?
- McCain is still gradually solidifying his conservative position, notably in the energy field with a call for offshore oil drilling and support for coal—burning power plants. The latter position could be a big plus for McCain in vital states of Ohio and West Virginia and is the basis for hope in competing for Pennsylvania.
- Obama still looks mistake—free, but he also looks very much like just another politician—breaking his word in order to opt out of public financing, signaling to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D—N.Y.) that she is not going to get on the ticket by naming her past campaign manager and present arch—critic Patty Solis Doyle as chief of staff for the yet unnamed vice presidential nominee.
- The hottest Democratic vice presidential candidate is Sen. Joseph Biden (D—Del.), and he looked good Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But insiders who consider Biden to be too much the old politics doubt it will happen.
- In the Democratic—controlled House, two important bills—Iraq war spending and FISA surveillance—passed with minority Democratic support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D—Calif.) voted against the former and for the latter. She spoke for the FISA bill but did not urge Democrats to vote for it—conduct by a Speaker without apparent precedent for the past 80 years. Democrats are not following the Republican model of the past dozen years of not letting a bill pass without majority support from the majority party.
- When Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D—Conn.) did not include three long—pending nominees to be Federal Reserve governors among presidential appointees to be considered for confirmation this week, he was signaling a Democratic hold on long—term appointees who would serve into the next presidential term. Dodd argues the four—man Fed board did not have any trouble dealing with the Bear Stearns crisis, but that does not take into consideration the limitations on policymaking of the undermanned Fed.
Overview: The race today looks like a toss—up, just as it did a month ago. Obama’s lead in the national polls cheers him and his supporters, but it doesn’t mean that much.
- Policy debates have begun in earnest in the last 10 days, highlighted by McCain’s push to make an issue of gas prices. His call for more drilling off—shore is out of character for McCain—a leading opponent of new Alaskan drilling—but it is politically savvy. Even in Florida, where politicians of all stripes have historically opposed offshore drilling, a Rasmussen poll found this position helped McCain.
- Republicans and Democrats are both aware of environmentalism’s status as an election issue: Most voters tilt green, but few make it a priority—especially when it conflicts with pocketbook issues. McCain’s tack on the environment has to be sensitive but practical. His past record helps him build that image. No amount of aggression on environmental issues will earn him the praise of the liberal green groups.
- One poll from Georgia, by Atlanta—based pollster Insider Advantage, showed McCain and Obama tied in the Peach State, with former Rep. Bob Barr (Libertarian) drawing 6 percent. This is bad news for McCain, who will lose if he is forced to worry about the Deep South.
- On the other hand, there is reason to discount the Georgia poll. First, Obama is still enjoying his honeymoon. Second, third—party candidates regularly poll higher early on than they perform on Election Day (for example, 2004 Libertarian nominee Michael Badnarik posted 5% in an October poll of Nevada, but finished with less than 0.5%). Along the same lines, Barr is actually more well known than McCain in some parts of the state—an advantage he will lose as November approaches.
Although passage of the Iraq War supplemental and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization was presented as an even compromise between the parties, Democrats made significant concessions, once again frustrating their left—wing base.
FISA: Liberal anger about a FISA compromise flares up, but barely touches Obama.
- House Democrats allowed FISA to expire in February rather than exempt telecommunications companies from lawsuits for cooperating with federal requests. House Republican Leader John Boehner (R—Ohio) staged a walkout by House Republicans, charging Democrats with doing the bidding of trial lawyers.
- The legislation passed by the House last Friday, however, effectively removes the FISA issue from the Republican playbook, as it won’t expire until after the next presidential election in 2012. Although House Democrat leaders reformed the Senate bill, they conceded on telecom immunity, and made exceptions for FISA oversight courts.
- This has ignited a firestorm of criticism on the Left, primarily focused on Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D—Md.), who is credited with drawing up the bargain. Hoyer, it should be noted, was not Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s (D—Calif.) first choice as majority leader, and is a common target of the liberal 527s and blogs. Some liberal groups are running a fullpage ad against Hoyer in the Washington Post, comparing him with rogue agents illegally wiretapping civil rights leaders.
- Obama also drew criticism from the Left for supporting the bill. In a statement he noted that the House version showed “marked improvement.” Obama’s tough situation on FISA shows the difficulty he could encounter on national security—his liberal base is far outside the political mainstream. The timing, however, was ideal, as Obama is still enjoying a honeymoon with the Left.
- As a sign of Democratic unease with a left—wing national—security policy, only 10 of the 30 Democrats that took Republican seats in 2006 voted against FISA.
War Supplemental: Once again, Democrats backed down from their tough talk on Iraq.
- At the risk of leaving for the July 4 recess without passing funding for the troops, Democratic leaders voted to continue funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the War Supplemental without any significant limitations or timetable for withdrawal or drawdown.
- Although the 2006 elections were widely considered at least partially a protest against GOP conduct of the war, little has changed, policy—wise, since then. On Capitol Hill, Iraq is like the weather: Everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Democrats have a made a habit of fiercely debating Iraq, pushing legislation that would impact the war, but then retreating to symbolic measures, at most. The current situation is developing along the same lines.
- The Democratic leadership once again shunned efforts to include timetables or troop withdrawals in the war supplemental this year, but the majority still used the bill as a vehicle to pass additional spending measures that otherwise wouldn’t pass on their own—only $161.7 billion of the $186.5 billion bill funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Domestic spending made up the rest of the bill, including increased educational benefits for veterans and the extension of unemployment benefits.
- The White House and Republican leaders went along with the unemployment extension, which labor unions dub a “stimulus.” Instead of the originally requested 26—week extension, Republicans negotiated extension of 13 weeks.
- Democrats were successful in passing an additional $62 billion for educational benefits for veterans although they abandoned a proposed tax hike to ensure Republican support.
Louisiana—2: Rep. William Jefferson (D) will seek a tenth term representing his New Orleans—based district. At least three Democrats are lining up to challenge him as he tries to pick up his second win while under federal investigation—this time, under a 16—count indictment.
The FBI raided Jefferson’s homes in Washington and New Orleans back in August 2005. Agents confiscated a number of documents, computer hard—drives, and a large sum of cash that was stored in a freezer. Jefferson has been indicted on 16 criminal counts, including solicitation of bribes, wire fraud and money laundering.
Jefferson’s corruption reaches deeper into the family. His brother Mose Jefferson, his sister New Orleans Tax Assessor Betty Jefferson and her daughter Angela Coleman also have been indicted for pocketing more than $600,000 in state and federal grant money that was intended for charitable and non—profit organizations.
In the 2006 election, while under investigation, Jefferson fought off a deluge of opponents—three Republicans and nine Democrats—finishing first with 30% in the single—ballot, multi—party primary before defeating State Rep. Karen Carter (D) (now Karen Carter Peterson) by 14 points in the runoff. (The strongest Republican candidate in 2006, attorney Joe Lavigne garnered only 13.4% in the multi—party primary.)
For 2008, however, Louisiana shifts to a more a conventional process: party primaries (September 6), followed by runoffs (October 4) if no candidate gets a majority to determine the nominees who will face off in the November 4 general election. Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee (D) entered the race last week. He is not from New Orleans proper, but his base of Jefferson Parish constitutes about one—third of the district. State Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), from Orleans Parish, is also running. On Monday, former television reporter Helena Moreno (D) entered the race. Moreno’s fundraising could benefit from her familiarity with the business community, but as a Hispanic, she will struggle to make a dent in the black vote (which is nearly two—thirds of this district.
Carter Peterson is still deciding whether to run, and she has until July 11 to file. She fell short against Jefferson two years ago, while the dirt on him was still fresh, in part because of her inability to garner white voters after she threw around racism charges in Spike Lee’s documentary on Hurricane Katrina.
Jefferson is certainly vulnerable. As of March 31, he had raised only $110,000, a paltry sum for an incumbent seeking reelection (which sparked speculation that he was stepping down in advance of his December 2 trial). Since 2006 he has been indicted, and with Lee, Richmond, and Moreno in the race this year, he could face a stronger challenge than he did last time.
No Republicans have entered the race, and so the likely October 4 runoff will determine who’s going to Congress from New Orleans. Likely Democratic Retention.
New York—13: Republicans continue their decline and fall in New York State, punctuated this week by the death of Wall Street millionaire Frank Powers (R), the anointed GOP candidate to replace Rep. Vito Fossella (R), retiring amid revelations of an extra—marital affair.
The Republican Party on Staten Island, unlike the GOP throughout the rest of the state (and the rest of the Northeast, in fact), is fairly strong, with a pretty deep bench. Still, the party so far cannot find a top—tier candidate to run in Fossella’s place. Part of the problem is the circumstance of Fossella’s retirement at the end of the current term: Staten Island sources say State Sen. Andy Lanza (R) and City Councilman Vinny Ignizio (R) are unwilling to leave their families for Washington, D.C.
Powers’ death spurred neither Lanza nor Ignizio to reconsider their earlier decision not to run. Similarly City Councilman James Oddo (R) is persisting in his run for borough president and has no interest in running for Congress. District Attorney Dan Donovan (R), as well, is keeping his sights set on a run for state attorney general in 2010, and is staying out of the race.
With the entire first tier begging off, local party power brokers settled on Powers last month, mostly because of his ability to self—finance for at least $1 million. When Powers died over the weekend, the party leadership had to scramble again to find a candidate. Democrats look likely right now to nominate City Councilman Michael McMahon (D).
The filing deadline is July 11, and so any new candidate would need to gather 1250 valid signatures by then. The alternative route to the ballot is for the party to find a replacement for Powers, who may have already qualified.
Four names are commonly mentioned as potential replacements. Television reporter Lisa Giovinazzo (R) had been the front—runner for the party anointment last month until it became clear Powers would spend $1 million. She could be the default pick this time around. She lost to McMahon in a city council race in 2003.
Former Assemblyman Matt Mirones (R) has been mentioned, but Staten Island politicos are lukewarm towards him. One Republican told us that Mirones left office on a bad note and hasn’t been helpful to the GOP since then.
It’s possible the party could look off—island—and even outside of the GOP—for a candidate. Paul Atanasio, a Brooklyn activist within the Conservative Party, is eying a run. Health—care executive Carmine Morano is running on the Independence Party line, and he could also angle for the GOP nod.
The currently announced Republicans are all third—tier candidates.
On the Democratic side, McMahon is the pick of the national party, but liberals are lining up behind 2006 nominee Steve Harrison (D). In a low—turnout primary, the left—wing base will be overrepresented, giving Harrison an outside shot in this contest. The district is a swing district, McMahon is a stronger candidate than any of the likely GOP nominees, and Democrats will have more money. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Utah: Former BYU football player Jason Chaffetz (R) knocked off Rep. Chris Cannon (R) by 20 points in Tuesday’s primary. Cannon was vulnerable because of his liberal stance on abortion, and Chaffetz masterfully parlayed a broader dissatisfaction with Washington into a mandate for change. Chaffetz should easily win in November.