- Gloom deepens in Republican ranks with the continuing retirement of incumbents in both the House and Senate. Major Democratic gains in the Senate could even approach the magic number of 60 seats needed for a filibuster-free environment. The losses in the House also threaten to be severe, limited only by gerrymandered districts.
- While all signs point to a Democratic win for the White House, Democrats feel winning the presidency is less certain than increasing their gains in the Senate and House. Despite her big lead in trial heats, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) still is a polarizing figure with very high negatives.
- In the last few days, we witnessed firsthand the growing base of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) in two venues. First, the enthusiasm for him at the annual meeting of the National Italian-American Foundation showed an important source of strength within an ethnic group that long has split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. Second, Giuliani has serious support in California, where his strategists feel a major share of the state’s huge number of delegates might be influential in winning the nomination.
- The Democratic insistence on tax increases — though, they say, restricted to upper brackets — is a potential major campaign weakness. The countervailing Republican weakness is inability to foreswear tax increases. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is the only top tier Republican presidential candidates who has signed the Americans for Tax Reform anti-tax-hike pledge.
- Republicans trying to regain the faith of the Republican base on the spending issue are delighted that the Democratic-controlled Congress has concluded action on no appropriations bill. But this is inside baseball that only strengthens public skepticism about politicians, regardless of party, which increases the public’s desire for “change” — and that is a Democratic asset.
Fundraising: Two weeks after candidates announced their approximate figures for second-quarter fundraising, the official reports have now been filed with the FEC.
- The most striking figure is the combined $104 million cash-on-hand for the four top Democrats — Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — compared to the $35 million cash on hand for the top four Republicans—former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
- That difference results from both lagging badly GOP fundraising and ham-handed GOP spending. The leading candidates in both parties have spent about $115 million this year, but for Republicans that accounts for 75 percent of all the money they have raised in 2007 ($155 million), while Democrats have spent only about half of their $218 million. Republicans kept a better fundraising pace in the first quarter, but much of that was due to early bursts by Romney and Giuliani.
- The GOP’s struggles to raise money extend beyond the presidential campaigns. Democrats’ congressional and senatorial committees also have more money than their GOP counterparts. The factors at play here are many.
- The biggest factor in the Democrats’ surge and the Republicans’ collapse is that donors pick a winner. Democrats are likely to gain three to six seats in the Senate, and make small gains in the House. Also, it currently appears more likely that a Democrat will be President than that a Republican will be. Donors want to ingratiate themselves to the people in power, and these days that means betting on Democrats.
- Some credit also goes to the individual Democrats involved. Clinton, representing New York and with the clout of being married to a former President, has the best fundraising network imaginable. Obama, beloved by the media, and being a liberal’s dream candidate, is also a money magnet. Edwards taps his trial lawyer and hedge-fund connections. While Romney (a former hedge-fund mogul) and Giuliani (with his celebrity and his New York connections) have some of these advantages, they suffer from the GOP’s bad brand image.
- Republican scandals also hurt GOP fundraising. With former GOP donor and backer Jack Abramoff behind bars, one Republican congressman in jail for accepting bribes and other Republicans under suspicion, fundraising from business interests and lobbyists has become a more awkward affair for Republicans.
- The entrance of the hedge-fund industry into the world of political campaigns has been a boon for Democrats. With new regulations and new taxes on this industry being discussed, hedge-fund managers and private-equity managers have been drawn into the fundraising world, contributing heavily to Clinton and to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Ohio-7: The Buckeye State is a busy one these days. Two of the incumbent congressmen are possibly vulnerable, there is a vacancy after one congressman died, and now there are three open House seats in 2008, with Rep. Dave Hobson (R) announcing this week he would not run again.
Unlike the other two GOP open seats in Ohio, this one appears fairly safe. Comprising some Columbus suburbs and outlying areas, this is a white middle-class district that has only once elected a Democrat — in the 1934 Democratic tsunami — and he served only one term. Hobson consistently won big here, and Bush took 57 percent of the vote.
State Senate Majority Whip Steve Austria (R) has jumped into the race early. Considering this is a fairly solid GOP seat, the primary could get crowded. Likely Republican Retention.
Ohio-16: Rep. Ralph Regula (R), a powerful appropriator, announced he will not seek a 19th term. The district, South of Cleveland, spans four counties and includes Canton and Medina. Bush won this district with 54 percent in 2004, and Democrats say they are targeting the 16th.
Democrats might benefit from the situation in the primaries where Republicans could see a handful of serious candidates fighting it out while the Democratic nominee might have smooth sailing to the nomination. State Sen. John Boccieri (D), an Air Force reserve officer, is the pick of the party leadership. He has been running since May, and no other Democrats have jumped in the ring.
On the GOP side, Ashland County and Stark County both have candidates in the race: Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller (R), who pulled in 42 percent of the primary vote last year against Regula, and state Sen. Kirk Schuring from Stark County. State Sen. Ron Amstutz (R) could jump in, as well.
Unlike the 7th, this is not a safe GOP district, but unlike the 15th District, left open by the retirement of Rep. Deborah Pryce (D), the Democrats don’t have a hands-down advantage here. Regula says he’ll stay out of the race, reflecting some bitterness towards his party for his being passed over as Appropriations Committee chairman. Regula, a prolific porker, has bipartisan popularity in his district, and his neutrality hurts the GOP nominee.
An ugly Republican primary could tilt this one towards the Democrats, but as of now, with the GOP field looking strong, Republicans have the advantage. Still, this is one more seat where the Republicans are playing defense. Leaning Republican Retention.
Special Louisiana Report
While the rest of the country seems to be in the middle of a Democratic surge, Louisiana appears to be moving in the opposite direction. The state will hold its open primaries on Saturday, October 20, followed by runoffs on November 17. In the first elections for state office since Hurricane Katrina, there are many unknowns.
Senior Reporter Tim Carney traveled to Louisiana this past week to scope out the political scene in the Pelican State.
Governor: Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) appears to be cruising to the governorship, and he could even win without a runoff by securing a majority of the vote in the October 20 primary.
- After polling around 60 percent at times, Jindal these days gets just under 50 percent in almost every poll. His closest competitors, state Sen. Walter Boasso (D) and businessman John Georges (R) score just around 10 percent in some surveys. Around 20 percent declare themselves undecided, leaving Jindal a large pool from which to draw the final few percentage points to push him over 50 percent.
- Jindal is also dominating the fundraising race, raising $11 million as of the end of September. Boasso and Georges can fund their campaigns from their personal wealth, which allows them to stay in the same league as Jindal, but they are still being outspent.
- Jindal’s success is extraordinary in many respects. He is a racial minority and a Republican — hardly the profile of the typical Louisiana governor. It is even more extraordinary because he seems to be winning without much of a race.
- Part of his success is due to the Republican momentum throughout the state (see below). The failure of incumbent Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) in the face of Hurricane Katrina helps the Republicans as a party somewhat, but it mostly helps Jindal, who lost to Blanco four years ago. If they had elected Jindal, some voters think, things might have gone better.
- Also, Jindal has been running for governor since the day he lost in 2003. That year, he fared poorly in Northern Louisiana, a Christian, conservative, white part of the state. Racism is a suspected factor in his poor showing there, and so Jindal has almost lived in that part of the state in order to have as much personal voter contact as possible. He is a likable, gregarious candidate, with a standard Louisiana accent. One recent internal poll showed him pulling 57 percent in the Northern part of the state.
- Jindal has also lucked out by not drawing any top-tier opponents. Blanco bowed out of the race amid dismal approval ratings, and former Sen. John Breaux (D) planned to run but then passed. These circumstances kept Democrats from recruiting a top candidate, and their leading contender now is Boasso, who left the party to become a Republican before switching back to run against Jindal as a Democrat. The other Democrat in the race, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D), is running his campaign mostly on replacing the income tax with an oil processing tax — an obscure issue that has no real base.
- Recognizing his front-runner status, Jindal has mostly charted a safe course. He has avoided some of the debates and kept his campaign focused on easy issues, such as opposing corruption. His opponents have not really gone after his voting record in Washington.
- Jindal could certainly pull a majority on Saturday, and thus avoid a runoff, but it seems more likely he will score in the high forties and face a runoff against a candidate scoring in the mid-teens. While runoffs are sometimes unpredictable, the question here seems to be not if Jindal will be elected governor, but when. Likely Republican Takeover.
Republican Uprising: While Jindal’s success so far is largely due to factors particular to his race, it is also part of a statewide Republican surge.
- For years, there were no Republicans holding statewide positions in Louisiana, but after the elections this year, Republicans will likely control at least five of the seven statewide positions, with Mitch Landrieu (D), the frontrunner for lieutenant governor, as the exception. Also, Republicans now control a U.S. Senate seat and five of the seven congressional seats. Finally, the GOP will make gains in the state legislature, enough that some starry-eyed Republicans were predicting a takeover of the state Senate.
- Northern Louisiana is moving towards Republicans for the same reason South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have done so. People there believe in God, oppose abortion and homosexual marriage and like their guns. The liberalism of the national Democratic Party is driving them away from their ancestral party. This is part of the permanent realignment of Southern, white Christians into the Republican Party.
- Southern Louisiana is very different from the rest of the South, including the Northern parts of the state. It historically has had both a large Catholic population and a large black population. Jindal’s Catholicism helps bring some of his co-religionists into the GOP fold. The question of black voters is more complicated and more uncertain.
- There is some suspicion Jindal, as a dark-skinned minority, might pull in more than the standard 9-to-12 percent of the black vote a Republican candidate typically gets, but Republican dreams of tapping into the black vote usually turn out to be fantasy.
- More important to the future of this state’s political landscape is the disappearing black vote. The hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians displaced by Katrina were overwhelmingly black. How many of them have come back or will come back is a mystery, but it’s certain many of them went to Houston or Atlanta and will stay there. The black vote in New Orleans has been the core of the state Democratic Party’s base in the past, and now it may have been washed away in the flood.
- Legislative term limits will have immediate effects this year and long-term effects that could further help Republicans. Half of the state legislative seats are open because this is the first election in which politicians are forced to give up their seats. Such a circumstance almost always helps the minority party, and it definitely helps the upstart party overcome inertia. Some areas that have been electing Republican congressmen and Republican Presidents have been sending the same Democrat to Baton Rouge for decades. Such areas this year could elect Republican legislators.
- Term limits threaten the historic non-partisan tone of Louisiana’s politics. That non-partisanship has been an aid to Democrats’ numbers and to anti-reform politicians in both parties. The rise of partisanship has gone hand-in-hand with a slight reform movement, with Republican Sen. David Vitter‘s being at the vanguard of that push. Jindal, while trying to avoid partisanship in this race, has been part of this new breed of ideological and partisan politicians opposing the old way cordiality and comity that often went hand-in-hand with corruption. The open primary system has been a sign of the state’s non-partisanship.
- If 2007 proves to be the Republican revolution some hope, the next question involves the fate of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in her re-election bid next year. She will likely face Democrat-turned-Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy (R) and is perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat in the U.S. Senate. In her favor, the Landrieu name is still golden, and the national Democratic Party is in much better shape than the national GOP. Against her could be a state with a depleted black base, an increasingly Republican Christian population and a powerful, popular Republican governor.
Massachusetts-5: Democrats dodged a bullet Tuesday when their nominee Niki Tsongas (D) barely edged out retired Air Force officer Jim Ogonowski (R) in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Rep. Marty Meehan (D). Tsongas needed to bring in EMILY’S List money, Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to run a last-minute blitz and avoid an upset. In the end, Ogonowski won 45 percent to Tsongas’s 51 percent in a low-turnout special election.
The Massachusetts congressional delegation remains homogenously Democratic.