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Week of October 25, 2006

October 25, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 22a

To: Our Readers

  • If election were held to day, Democrats would take over the majority in the House with a 21-seat pickup
  • Election analysis in Barron’s all wrong
  • Prospects improving for Davis in Kentucky
  • Republicans likely to hold on to a slim majority in the Senate
  • GOP Senate hopes in Maryland and Tennessee looking up

Outlook

  1. While our seat-by-seat analysis shows Democrats winning the House by a four-seat margin, the overriding question is whether a "wave" will deliver a really big Democratic majority. That presumes an overwhelming sentiment that negates seat-by-seat analyses.
  2. Actually, waves-overriding all previous expectations-are very rare in recent American political history. The only wave we have seen during the 39-years of this publication was the Watergate election of 1974, when the 49-seat Democratic gain surpassed all forecasts. The gain of 49 was extraordinary because of the very high Democratic level going into the election, raising the party’s House margin to an astounding 145 seats. The famous Gingrich election of 1994 was not a wave. We predicted a 45-seat gain, based on seat-by-seat analysis, and the actual pickup was 51.
  3. The reasons for the 2006 wave talk: a) the huge generic edge by Democrats over Republicans in current party preference, which never has been a good predictor of House elections; b) the mood inside the Washington Beltway, also a poor predictor historically; c) the run of bad news for Republicans and the Bush Administration; and d) unpopularity of President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
  4. The Bush-Iraq popularity is a constant and a major factor in many (but not all) races. But the corrosive political fact of higher gasoline prices has been mitigated, and the impact of the Mark Foley scandal has diminished. Still to be determined is how the conservative base’s unhappiness over government spending and immigration will factor in the election.
  5. While Republican politicians are wringing their hands as they await Nov. 7, their Democratic counterparts are euphoric in anticipation of winning back control of the House and perhaps the Senate. However, these are the same Democrats who confidently predicted John Kerry‘s victory in ’04 and their takeover of Congress in ’02. A more sober Democratic analyst, who did not predict victories in those two years, currently forecasts a gain of 21 seats in the House and four in the Senate-exactly what we expect.
  6. Outside the mid-term elections, the big news of the last two weeks was the virtual announcement of his ’08 presidential candidacy by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on NBC’s "Meet the Press." It was no slip of the tongue. Obama clearly intended to show his cards. Although Obama had been on TV interviews all week promoting his book, only Tim Russert asked the right questions. Obama has clearly made the supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) very uncomfortable, but it remains to be seen whether he has moved too soon.
  7. Our current count is that, if the elections were held today, Democrats would gain control of the House, with a pickup of 21 seats, but Republicans would kept the Senate while losing four seats.

House 2006

Barring a sudden reversal of fortunes, Republicans face a major Election Day defeat in two weeks. The results will range from bad to very bad. On Capitol Hill, their outlook is one of resignation and cautious pessimism.

A quick look at the chart off Republican-held seats below shows the potential for heavy losses. With Republicans playing defense across the board, how many of the 20 seats in the "leans GOP" category can they keep from crashing over to the other side? As of today, Democrats +21, Republicans -21.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

CT-2 (Simmons)

AZ-8 (Open [Kolbe])

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CO-5 (Open [Hefley])

CT-4 (Shays)

CO-7 (Open [Beauprez])

CA-11 (Pombo)

CT-5 (Johnson)

FL-16 (Open [Foley])

IA-1 (Open [Nussle])

CA-50 (Bilbray)

FL-13 (Open [Harris])

IN-9 (Sodrel)

IN-2 (Chocola)

FL-8 (Keller)

FL-22 (Shaw)

NH-2 (Bass)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

KY-2 (Lewis)

IL-6 (Open [Hyde])

NV-3 (Porter)

NC-11 (Taylor)

TX-23 (Bonilla)

KY-3 (Northup)

NY-24 (Open [Boehlert])

NM-1 (Wilson)

KY-4 (Davis)

NY-26 (Reynolds)

PA-7 (Weldon)

MN-6 (Open [Kennedy])

NY-29 (Kuhl)

PA-10 (Sherwood)

NV-2 (Open [Gibbons])

OH-15 (Pryce)

TX-22 (Open [DeLay])

NY-20 (Sweeney)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

NY-25 (Walsh)

OH-1 (Chabot)

OH-2 (Schmidt)

OH-18 (Open [Ney])

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

VA-2 (Drake)

WA-8 (Reichert)

WI-8 (Open [Green])

WY-AL (Cubin)

Democratic-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

IA-3 (Boswell)

GA-8 (Marshall)

IL-17 (Open [Evans])

GA-12 (Barrow)

IN-7 (Carson)

IL-8 (Bean)

LA-3 (Melancon)

OH-6 (Open [Strickland])

OH-13 (Open [Brown])

OR-5 (Hooley)

PA-12 (Murtha)

SC-5 (Spratt)

TX-17 (Edwards)

VT-AL (Open [Sanders])

WV-1 (Mollohan)

The Barron’s Analysis: Everyone is discussing a new election forecast that suggests Republicans will suffer only light losses next month. Jim McTague, writing in Barron’s, predicts Republican retention of both houses of Congress, with a loss of eight seats in the House and three in the Senate. He arrives at this number by simply giving every race to the candidate who has raised and spent more money. While a Republican save is not totally out of the question, we reject his method of analysis.

  1. It Confuses Cause with Effect: McTague notes that in 93 percent of House races since 1972, the bigger fundraiser (by $200,000 or more) has won, and on this he bases his prediction that Republicans will lose just eight House seats. While technically accurate, this statistic distorts with what happens in the vast majority of non-competitive congressional races. Bigger spenders historically may win 93 percent of House races, but in most cases the spending advantage can be accounted for by the fact that no one gives money to long-shot, no-chance challengers.

    When Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) actually draws some hapless Republican challenger in his Harlem district, he raises more money than the challenger does. But the money is not what makes Rangel win — rather, he raises more money because everyone knows he will win. Smart political donors understand that there is no point giving to a Republican challenger running in a hopelessly Democratic district like Rangel’s. This is true in many districts, and it accounts for perhaps as many as 85 of the 93 percentage points in McTague’s statistic. If lopsided, no-chance races — probably 90 percent of all House elections every year — are eliminated from the equation, the number of races actually won by the bigger spender would be much lower, closer to 60 percent than 90 percent.

  2. Historic Illusion: The underlying idea behind McTague’s analysis is that historic trends — such as the 93 percent money-rule — are reliable indicators for what will happen in particular elections. But elections are not won based on historical probabilities. If they were, then McTague’s money-rule would appear to be a less accurate measure than the rule of incumbency. After all, 98.2 percent of House races in 2004 were won by the incumbent, and the long-term rate is about 95 percent — both of which are more than 93 percent. So why doesn’t McTague simply postulate that all incumbents will win this year, and then adopt some other method for open-seat races? Based on the faulty logic that he is already using, this obviously flawed approach to the election makes more sense than the one he adopts.

California-50: Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) has been taking it easy, perhaps too easy, since his special election victory this summer over schoolboard member Francine Busby (D). Busby has tightened the race enough that Republicans have spent $25,000 on polls and mailers in the district. This is a late surprise that Republicans could do without. Likely Republican Retention.

Colorado-5: It could be said that Rep. Joel Hefley (R), retiring from this heavily Republican district, is a sore loser who cannot get over the defeat of his favored primary candidate, Jeff Crank (R), by conservative state Sen. Doug Lamborn (R). But that would be a gross oversimplification of the matter, since Colorado Springs Republicans say that the enmity goes both ways, with Lamborn’s campaign doing its share of antagonizing the establishment unnecessarily.

Either way, it should be almost impossible for him to lose this 66 percent Bush district to Jay Fawcett (D) or anyone else, but he is underperforming right now, leading comfortably only in partisan Republican polls that should be regarded with suspicion. Leaning Republican Retention.

Florida-22: Despite all the money he’s spent, state Sen. Ron Klein (D) is behind in the polls and nearly broke against Rep. Clay Shaw (R). He will have to make another substantial investment in his own campaign if he wants to stay competitive. Leaning Republican Retention.

Kentucky-2: Rep. Ron Lewis (R) is sending up warning flags here after he had appeared safe. But many Republicans believe he is doing what many incumbents do — making matters look worse than they are in a bid to raise money. Likely Republican Retention.

Kentucky-4: Freshman Rep. Geoff Davis (R) appears to have pulled into a lead over former Rep. Ken Lucas (D), who is attempting a political comeback in this Northern Kentucky district. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), seemed to have pulled off a coup when he enticed Lucas out of retirement. Lucas, who defeated Davis in 2002 in a district that has a slight nominal Democratic majority, led in the early polls this year.

However, Lucas, at age 73, is not the candidate he once was. He seems tired, almost uninterested. As a social conservative, he is unable to use the full DCCC playbook of liberal attacks and pulls his punches against President Bush. Davis is better organized and better financed. He is considered a conservative comer in the House who will be around for a long time if he can get by Lucas. We change this race from Leaning Democratic Takeover to Leaning Republican Retention.

Nevada-3: Rep. Jon Porter (R) is now under water in his suburban Las Vegas district, caught in a tough race against Sen. Harry Reid‘s (D) press secretary Tessa Hafen (D). There is much fear that Mormon Republicans will pull the lever for Hafen, their co-religionist.

Republicans have ramped up the number of 72-hour campaigners in the district, and they do so at the expense of contested District 2 to the North. The logic here is that if Secretary of State Dean Heller (R) loses the state’s most heavily Republican district, that one can be won back in 2008, but a loss of Porter’s district would be permanent. The 2nd District race is also much closer than it should be. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Hampshire-2: Here’s a surprise. No one expected Rep. Charlie Bass (R) to fall behind late in the game, but that’s where he is. Bass appears to have been caught off his guard. He has been outraised by his repeat opponent, Paul Hodes, whom he defeated by 20 points in 2004. Republicans complain about Bass’s lacksidaisical staffers and discuss the possible loss of his Northern New Hampshire seat. Bass’s get-out-the-vote effort is extremely disorganized. He is also upsetting his base with ads that brought his pro-abortion stance into the race and that distance himself from the Republican Party.

It is unclear whether Bass can be saved in time. He just started a huge phone drive Tuesday to save his seat, and some Republicans remain hopeful that he can bounce back by November 7. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Mexico-1: Rep. Heather Wilson (R) is down in the polls and showing alarmingly soft support among the suburban Hispanic constituency that was key to her victories in the past. Her recent ad touting her vote to override President Bush’s stem-cell veto is a huge miscalculation — the stem-cell issue is good only for Democrats, it can only hurt Republicans, whichever side they fall on. Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid (D) has superceded the scandal surrounding her prosecution of federal witnesses in a major corruption trial in New Mexico, and Republicans fear that Wilson, a tough campaigner, may be at the end of her rope. Likely Democratic Takeover.

New York Districts: Republicans were heartened earlier in the year by polls showing their New York incumbents in good shape, but suddenly there is panic in the Empire State over several incumbents and one open-seat race. New York Republicans usually don’t need competitive statewide races to drive turnout, so the uncompetitive Senate and governor races — both with Democrats strongly favored — would not be a factor in a normal year. But this is not a normal year.

Rep. John Sweeney (R) in District 20 is sending up warning flags as his race against Kirsten Gillibrand (D) tightens. The public polls vary wildly, but Republicans are now fearful that they have another seriously wounded patient on their hands. Leaning Republican Retention.

The complaint in Washington is that state Sen. Ray Meier (R) in open District 24 won’t go negative enough against Oneida County District Attorney Mike Arcuri (D). But Meier’s campaign offices have become tense as publicization of Arcuri’s personal scandals actually appear to be backfiring against Meier, even though he has avoided bringing them up himself. Meier feels enough pressure that he has convinced the retiring incumbent, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R), to come out of hiding and help him. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

The alarming public poll showing Rep. James Walsh (R) losing to challenger and former Rangel staffer Dan Maffei (D) District 25 is not credible, but Walsh leads by only about five points, far less than he is accustomed to at this point in the cycle. This race will be close. Leaning Republican Retention.

NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (R) has partially recovered from the initial shock of the Foley scandal. His wealthy District 26 opponent, Jack Davis (D), is an eccentric amateur. But the burden remains on Reynolds to make the comeback and cleanse himself of the Foley situation. The RNC is spending money on his behalf. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) in District 29 has seen his support among women evaporate. Kuhl’s dirty laundry — including the old alleged threat against his wife with a shotgun — had been aired before, but now perhaps it is finding a more receptive audience in this tough Republican election year. Eric Massa (D), a former naval aide to Wesley Clark, hopes to take advantage by Election Day. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Ohio-18: Things suddenly have brightened for state Sen. Joy Padgett (R) in her race against lawyer Zack Space (D). Her internal polls are bringing sighs of relief, one of the few bits of good news this week for Republicans. Voters, apparently willing to overlook her bankruptcy, are finally learning who she is, and she may be able to hang on to the district of Rep. Bob Ney (R). Ney has not resigned yet, but only because he is in such bad financial shape that he needs his congressional paychecks. Leaning Republican Retention.

Wyoming-AL: Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) is now in danger of losing after she unwisely accosted and threatened to slap the no-chance libertarian third-party candidate in her race. Thomas Rankin (Lib) happens to be crippled, which makes it even worse. How badly this hurts her in the polls against businessman Gary Trauner (D) is yet to be determined. Leaning Republican Retention.

Senate 2006

Democrats +4, Republicans -4

Republican-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

Arizona (Kyl)

Missouri (Talent)

Montana (Burns)

Pennsylvania (Santorum)

Tennessee (Open [Frist])

Ohio (DeWine)

Virginia (Allen)

Rhode Island (Chafee)

Democrat-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

Michigan (Stabenow)

Maryland (Open [Sarbanes])

Minnesota (Open [Dayton])

New Jersey (Menendez)

Nebraska (Nelson)

Washington (Cantwell)

Vermont (Open [Jeffords])

West Virginia (Byrd)

Maryland: Republicans depressed with the state of House races should console themselves with warm, happy thoughts about Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R). He is running a ship-shape campaign that is hitting on all cylinders at just the right time.

In key municipalities in heavily black Prince George’s County, he is registering unexpectedly high levels of support. His volunteers are finding that all of his databases are up to date, signifying that there will be no last-minute collapse on that level, as there was in 2004 for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Steele’s ads are good, his polls have him within striking distance and he is making no major mistakes, even as his opponent keeps finding new ways to put his own foot in his mouth.

The biggest surprise is that Steele is entering the final two weeks with twice as much cash as the favorite, Rep. Ben Cardin (D). If this weren’t liberal Maryland, Steele would be running away with it. As matters stand, he at least has the momentum on his side. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Montana: Sen. Conrad Burns (R) has gained traction on the tax issue against state Sen. Jon Tester (D), and he has kept the race close enough that he could still pull it off, even though others had written him off. But he’s an incumbent coming from behind in a bad year. He has a financial advantage, and he will need every dime of it. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Tennessee: The consensus is that the staff shakeup by Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker (R) has paid off already and that his campaign has turned a corner. The RNC is running a devastating ad highlighting Rep. Harold Ford‘s (D) participation in a Playboy Super Bowl party, which Ford lied about in a television interview. Ford also made a miscalculation by confronting Corker during one of the latter’s press conferences to object to ads attacking the erratic behavior within the Ford political dynasty.

Ford’s late behavior signifies that he believes himself to be behind at this point, as the polls narrowly show him to be. The Republican get-out-the-vote operation in Tennessee put even the most optimistic GOP polls to shame in 2004. It won’t be a blowout, but this race is Corker’s to lose. Leaning Republican Retention.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak
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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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