- The truce between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) turned Tuesday night’s two-hour MSNBC Democratic debate into a deadly dull affair. While it lasted, the “race debate” strained at the chords of the Democratic Party’s racial alliance. Clinton cut it off, because the tiff was hurting her. It could make her election more difficult if nominated. The contest between Clinton and Obama now appears to be 50-50.
- The fact that Obama endorsements, led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), came after he lost New Hampshire reveals the extent of anti-Hillary sentiment. The most surprising endorsement of Obama came from Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), still partially disabled after his stroke and up for re-election this year.
- Sen. John McCain‘s (Ariz.) loss in the Michigan Republican primary ends his chances to sweep the table and clinch the nomination early (just as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney‘s loss in Iowa ended his chances at an early sweep). It looks like a two-man race for the nomination that is hard to call, though former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani‘s big-state strategy is still theoretically possible if he can win Florida January 29. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won’t be nominated if he cannot extend his support anywhere beyond the evangelicals.
- Democratic congressional leaders want to improve their anemic rating by passing a “stimulus” bill to fight the coming recession. There goes all the concern about budget deficits. But will Democrats compromise with the Republican minority to facilitate passage? Can they agree on the proportion between spending and tax cuts? It won’t be easy.
- President Bush’s performance in the Middle East was viewed as much too heavily pro-Israel to enhance his credibility for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Peace advocates say Bush’s one-year timetable to reach agreement is far too long. What is needed, they say, is a two or three-month negotiation with a land-swapping deal.
Michigan: Mitt Romney further complicated the GOP nomination battle with his big win in Michigan yesterday.
- Romney absolutely needed to win Michigan to stay alive, and he won big. He now joins John McCain and Mike Huckabee as a demonstrably viable candidate. Romney’s recent drop in national polls was the fallout from his losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now that he has won the largest early state, Republican voters will have to consider Romney.
- Having stumbled in New Hampshire when he went negative, Romney stayed positive here.
- McCain continued to show that he is not favored by Republican voters. He won New Hampshire on the strength of independent voters, and those voters simply didn’t turn out for him in Michigan last night. Overall low turnout, bad weather, and broad Democratic distaste for the Republican Party kept the Democratic impact minimal on the GOP primary. This sank McCain.
- Huckabee’s distant third-place finish is not a good sign for him. It confirms the pattern shown in Iowa and New Hampshire: His appeal is limited to evangelical Christians — a demographic insufficient to carry the nomination.
- Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and Rudy Giuliani both were dismal in Michigan. Their continued failure to show up in the top three erodes the support they might have in later states.
- Michigan, after being penalized for its early primary, sends only 30 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Most likely, that will be one delegate for every congressional district and the rest divided proportionally among the candidates garnering more than 15% (Romney, McCain, and Huckabee). Whatever his final tally, Romney leaves Michigan the leader in national delegates — a category that might actually matter this year.
Outlook: The Republican field is very messy now, with the possibility looming of a brokered nomination. Republicans have three more contests in January.
- This Saturday’s South Carolina primary looks like a battle between McCain and Huckabee, but Romney’s win could give him momentum.
- South Carolina is Thompson’s chance to make a splash. A third-place finish or worse is very possible here, and it could be deadly. Romney’s resurrection deflates some of the potential gravitation towards Thompson as the conservative candidate.
- In Florida, McCain, Giuliani, Huckabee, and Romney are nearly in a four-way tie, with McCain and Giuliani slightly ahead of the other two. A Romney bounce could relegate Giuliani to third, which would effectively end his campaign. Huckabee also has quite a bit at stake in Florida if he doesn’t win South Carolina.
- The outlook for February 5 Super Tuesday will depend on these questions: (a) Will Giuliani fall in Florida? (b) Will Huckabee be diminished by losing South Carolina? (c) Will Thompson be a contender? (d) Will Romney still have momentum?
- In the long term, these are three most likely scenarios: (a) McCain rides South Carolina and Florida wins to a February 5 sweep; (b) Romney wins Florida, and his huge cash advantages carries him on crowded February 5; (c) neither McCain nor Romney dominates, one of them leads in the delegate count, but neither wins a majority of delegates, leaving Huckabee, Thompson, Giuliani, and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) with the balance of delegates.
Overview: The recent high-profile, low-substance spats between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) have touched on race, creating a painful situation in the Democratic primary.
- Since late December, when Obama’s lead in Iowa became clear, the Clinton campaign has publicly and regularly spoken about Obama’s past and about possible skeletons in his closet — regularly speaking about how Clinton, unlike Obama, has been “vetted.” The sometimes backhanded way of referring to Obama’s drug past hurt Hillary in Iowa, but the campaign has hoped it will deter prominent Democrats from jumping on board with Obama.
- The tactics are typical Clinton, but now that they are hitting on questions of race — and hitting a candidate adored by the media — Hillary is getting grief for them, both in the press and from some in her party. Could it motivate the black vote behind Obama in South Carolina? Clinton decided to back off this week.
- Nevada (January 19) will be a tight contest. Obama’s endorsement by the prominent Culinary Workers’ union gives him a slight edge.
- South Carolina (January 26) should be a solid win for Obama, with blacks possibly constituting a majority of primary voters. Hillary’s backing from black preachers and the head of Black Entertainment Television may limit Obama’s dominance among African-Americans, but it would take quite an upset for Hillary to win.
- The 39% uncommitted in Michigan last night, where Obama and Edwards were not on the ballot, shows a high level of anti-Hillary sentiment.
- While the January 29 Florida primary carries no delegates, candidates have done some non-campaigning campaigning there in the form of fundraisers. It could be considered a straw poll in the most pivotal electoral state in the country.
Arkansas Senate: In a year in which the GOP is all but guaranteed a loss of seats in the Senate, Republicans held out a dim hope that they might challenge freshman Sen. Mark Pryor (D). By all appearances, however, Pryor will get a pass this year.
In the abstract, Pryor should be vulnerable. He is a Southern freshman Democrat running in a presidential year in a state carried comfortably by Bush in 2000 and 2004. Pryor’s 2002 defeat of Sen. Tim Hutchinson (Ark.) was largely the result of Hutchinson’s personal problems. These factors all suggest Republicans should have a good chance. But this is Arkansas.
While a conservative state, Arkansas is overwhelmingly Democratic. Every statewide office, in Little Rock and in Washington, is held by a Democrat. Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and hold three of the four congressional seats. No Republican has filed for the Senate race yet, and the state GOP chairman told the Associated Press this week that a serious challenger was “unlikely.” Arkansas in 2008 looks like Mississippi or South Carolina 40 years ago.
The GOP’s failure to mount a serious challenge to Pryor is not a surprise. There never really was a serious challenger who considered running. Pryor has conducted himself well in Washington, racking up a moderate voting record and avoiding personal scandal. He has also raised nearly $4.5 million.
A Republican candidate would have to get by without much of a support network when it comes to campaigning or fundraising. The state GOP is rudderless and nearly leaderless (which doesn’t speak well of Huckabee’s leadership skills). In 2010, expect Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) to coast to reelection as well. Likely Democratic Retention.
Mississippi Senate: A state court has ordered a special election this winter to fill out the term of resigned Sen. Trent Lott (R), injecting uncertainty into this state’s political landscape.
A circuit court judge ruled Monday that state law requires a special election by March 19, 90 days after Lott’s resignation, thus voiding the order by Gov. Haley Barbour (R) that the election would be on Election Day, November 4. Sen. Roger Wicker (R), appointed to Lott’s seat by Barbour, will be the favorite in the special election, but an earlier date helps Democrats make it competitive. March 11 is the state primary election date for congressional contests, and that could be the special election date if the decision stands.
The top Democratic candidates are former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who lost his 2003 re-election bid to Barbour, and former Rep. Ronnie Shows, who lost to Rep. Chip Pickering (R) in a 2002 incumbent vs. incumbent matchup forced by redistricting.
Barbour is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court, and observers on both sides think the high court is more likely to side with the governor, as it has tended to do in recent years. Whenever the election, it will be an open primary with all candidates on one ballot followed by a runoff between the top two candidates if nobody has a majority. In a March election, Wicker is slightly favored. A November election would give Wicker a big boost. Leaning Republican Retention.
California-4: To the relief of the GOP, embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R) reversed his decision to seek a 10th term, thus swinging this district back into the Republican column — though not securely.
Doolittle was caught up in the Jack Abramoff affair, and his home was raided by federal law enforcement. Regardless, he was determined to run again, but last week he announced he would step down after this term. Doolittle, who won with less than 50 percent last year, would have been vulnerable, so this district was leaning Democratic takeover. With a clear field, the Republican candidate in the district should save this one for the GOP.
The district, with its population bases in suburban Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, stretches up to the very top of the state, bordering Northern Nevada for more than 200 miles. It is a growing area, and it has typically been strongly Republican, giving Bush about 60 percent in the last two elections. Doolittle’s close call in 2006 against retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown (D) was largely due to his corruption connections.
Upon his loss to Doolittle, Brown immediately jumped back into the ring and quickly raised out-of-state activist cash. He is an experienced candidate with name identification and good fundraising potential in a presidential year in California — meaning he has a real chance. Add in the nationwide phenomenon of suburbia’s steady creep towards the Democrats, and this once-uncompetitive district is in play.
Doolittle, as in 2006, would have faced Republican primary challengers. With the seat open, the GOP field is now packed with legitimate candidates. Doolittle’s 2006 challenger, Iraq war veteran Eric Egland (R), is running again. State Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R) is in the race, and State Sen. Sam Aanestad (R) is considering a run. Former State Sen. Rico Oller (R), who lost a 2004 primary for the neighboring 3rd District, has also entered. Former Rep. Doug Ose (R) could run as well. Leaning Republican Retention.
Louisiana-6: Rep. Richard Baker (R), a top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, is resigning early to head the Managed Funds Association, the lobbying group for hedge funds and private equity firms. This sets off a special election and further opens up the state’s politics.
A special election is already needed to fill the House seat vacated by now-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), Rep. Jim McCrery (R) is retiring at the end of his term, and scandal-hit Rep. William Jefferson (D) faces serious primary challengers, while Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) may be the only vulnerable Democratic senator nationwide.
Baker’s Baton Rouge-area district is fairly Republican, but Democrats will make a play for it. All other things being equal, this is a GOP seat. Leaning Republican Retention.