Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why Democrats don't really control the Senate

The Democratic Party thought it had avoided a huge beating when they held the Senate on November 2nd. The firewall the DSCC built against a Republican Senate was mostly due to the meddling of Tea Party groups and a favourable mix of Democratic and Republican incumbents up for election. Neither of these factors is going to help them over the next two years. It is likely the Senate is going to be hardly recognisable as the body in which the Democrats hold a majority.

Even though 2012 is going to be the year President Obama (presumably) is on the ballot, there is little chance Democrats are taking their seats for granted. There are a total of 23 Democratic seats up for re-election (including independents) versus only ten Republicans. Not only are there more Democratic seats up for grabs, but they are also seats deep in red territory. Democrats such as Ben Nelson (D-NE), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are all conservative Democrats who will do everything they can to run against a president unpopular in their respective states. They will likely buck their party at every opportunity.

Many would counter by saying many Democrats from states such as Virginia and Missouri would tend to vote with the President more often because many young voters will be present during the Presidential contest. This is all but certain, however, as the electoral map is looking very different than in 2008 and core parts of Mr. Obama's base have been demoralised.

2012 is also an interesting year in which many of the prominent moderate Republican senators are up for re-election. Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Richard Luger (R-IN) will all face the prospect of running as a Republican in states Obama will likely carry. You may argue about Indiana, but this is definitely the case with New England. This will likely cause them to vote against their party. However, this automatically disqualifies them for winning their primary. This often trumps considerations for the general election (see Arlen Specter) and they will probably try to win their primary despite their past voting records.

All of these factors mean the Senate will be far more conservative than its partisan composition suggests. It is likely a good idea President Obama postponed debate over the Bush tax cuts until 2012, when Senators will have an incentive to make smart decisions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Leadership battles today matter for tomorrow's Democratic Party

It was only a week ago Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was predicting the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives would be preserved following Tuesday's midterms. Needless to say, not many people listened to her. Now that the Democratic Caucus is over 60 members smaller than it was during the 111th Congress, a leadership shakeup is inevitable. Several prominent committee chairmen, notably James Oberstar (D-MN) were voted out of office. Now, with several prominent Democratic moderates calling for Ms. Pelosi to step down, she is seriously considering their advice. 

If the Democratic Party knows what's good for it, it will push back against the Blue Dogs in the House and vote Ms. Pelosi the minority leader. Nancy Pelosi is one of the best Democratic speakers of the House we have seen for a generation. Not only has she managed to cajole a fractured caucus to support controversial measures such as health care and climate change, but she managed to do it by fairly large margins. Closely related is her ability to raise huge sums of money for those who support her agenda. 

If Pelosi does decide to run for minority leader, it is very likely she will be successful. The House Blue Dog Caucus, her most formidable political barrier, was nearly halved on Tuesday when they were subjected to the brunt of losses in the House. Moderates such as Jim Matheson (D-UT) have a lot less to work with than they did before the losses. The disdain the Republican Party has shown for her is proof she is effective at passing President Obama's policies. 

Another leadership position waiting to be filled is the chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has chaired the committee during this election cycle, though not with any particular flare. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was widely credited with helping to sweep the Senate for two years in a row in 2006 and 2008 while he was chair. He is now being encouraged to take the helm again for 2012, when the Democrats have a huge majority of seats up for reelection. 

It is likely Mr. Schumer may be the only chance the Democrats have to hold the Senate in 2012. Since Obama's reelection prospects are looking dimmer by the day, there is no way they can count on a huge wave of Democratic turnout. What the Democratic Party truly needs is a prodigious fundraiser who can help push candidates across the finish line. Once though of as a contender for position of Senate majority leader, he is now freed up to pursue this powerful role.

One way or another, the Democratic Party has to employ all the resources it has to pull itself out from under the boulder it now finds itself. Pelosi and Schumer are two of the best shots we have to regain the legislature. 

Update 10/5/2010: It appears Nancy Pelosi will run for House minority leader when the new session convenes. This is good news for the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Senate elections matter... for House Democrats

There has been growing consensus among both liberals and conservatives that the Senate is more important than it used to be. In the last two decades, the filibuster and secret holds have been abused to the dismay of many a ruling party. This did not used to be a problem, though in the 111th Congress, it was a major consideration in most major pieces of legislation. This is the main reason why most of the attention this election cycle has gone to the Senate.

There is a more important reason, however, why Senate elections truly matter this year. With no presidential candidate up for election during the midterms, Senate candidates often appear at the top of the ballot. Senate candidates have the rare opportunity to bring out voters from all over the state, something that is not possible for individual House races. Therefore, good turnout for a Senate candidate means good turnout for all the House races in the state for that candidate's party. 

Lets take a look. In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak (D-PA) is running against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) for the seat of Arlen Specter (D-PA). Joe Sestak, though a strong candidate, has been having difficulty making headway in a strong anti-Democratic year. The RCP poll average for the race has Pat Toomey winning by 6.5%. Similarly, Nate Silver has a 92% chance of a Republican takeover. Pennsylvania has many swing districts held by vulnerable Democrats who will not be benefiting from a strong Democratic wave this year. I will list the key races below:

                     PA-03: R+6
                     PA-10: R+14
                     PA-11: R+11
                     PA-12: R+4

Notice there are no Republican seats in play. Some would argue Jim Gerlach (R-PA) is endangered, but I do not believe he will loose. Among the incumbents above, several have been in the House for more than two terms. Now lets take a look at a state which the Democrat is running an effective campaign. In Washington State, Incumbent Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is fending off a challenge from perennial Republican candidate Dino Rossi. The RCP poll average for the race has Murray winning by 5.3%. Lets now look at the key House races.

                     WA-02: R+4
                     WA-03: R+9
                     WA-08: R+13
                     WA-09: D+3

Washington and Pennsylvania are relatively comparable states, when it comes to partisan identification. Both are strongly Democratic, but have many swing districts in the more rural areas. The four most likely to flip districts in Pennsylvania all lean or are Republican blowouts, and all controlled by Democrats. The Washington situation is somewhat different. Dave Reichert (R-WA) is vulnerable to the Democrats even in a bad year and the close Democratic races are all close to the margin of error. 

There is also a similar effect of Governor's races on those down ballot, though it is not as clear as their Senate counterparts. Many governors have cross-party appeal and make turnout for House candidates much less reliable. If the Democrats want to hold on to their majority in the House of Representatives, they should start by looking to shore up of their winnable Senate races.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Political Cartographer is back!

To all faithful readers, sorry for the interruption in posts. I have been in the Washington area working for the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter and later for the Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York. Now that the congressional recess is over, so is mine. I will be posting as usual from tomorrow onwards, so stay posted!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Administration

First the good news. The latest attempt to cap the leaking oil well is reported to have worked, meaning no more oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. It is only a test, though, and will be removed if the pressure is found to be too high in the well. In addition to this, the Wall Street Reform bill has now passed the senate. It will likely be signed by President Obama by early next week. These are both incredibly good news for the Administration, who have been desperate for some good news.

Now the bad news. The public confiderence in the Administration is heading south, says a new poll. This could have to do with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the economy, and the budget deficit. Whatever the problem, this is not good news.

Finally, the ugly. For the first time ever, President Obama is trailing or tied with ALL of his potential 2012 challengers. That's right, Barack Obama is tied with Sarah Palin. No, this is not Rasmussen. Worse, it is the Democratic Public Policy Polling firm. The Administration should be worried about this news. President Obama has somehow maintained favorability ratings much higher than most other mainstream politicians. That he is trailing people with even lower poll numbers than himself means the country is no longer behind him. Watch to see how the Wall Street Reform bill and the Oil Spill cap affect his numbers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The myth of health care "reform"

Since the health care bill has become law, many people have talked about the "new health system" in America. Even President Obama has referred to the law as if it is somehow reshaping the current health system. This is just not true. The types of health reform candidate Obama campaigned on and eventually enacted promised to leave those with insurance alone. The bill only streamlines the current system by creating exchanges, preventing abuses by insurance companies and extending coverage. The largest component of it is the mandate for having insurance. None of these provisions significantly alter the fundamental way in which health care is obtained in America.

Politician of the Month: Scott Brown (R-MA)

After adamantly pledging to be the 41st vote against Harry Reid's agenda, it seems this centrist Republican Senator from Massachusetts has gone against his word. Ever since being elected to the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Brown has arguably helped the Democrats' agenda more than challenger Martha Coakley ever could have. He provided the critical 60th vote on the Democrats' job bill which came up for consideration earlier this year. He has now committed to supporting the financial reform package which he played an integral part in crafting. These have all angered his conservative base in Massachusetts, however, he has emerged as the state's most popular politician.

Scott Brown's true contribution to President Obama's agenda goes further than this. The willingness for this moderate Senator to support some of his signature policies has given Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe political cover to negotiate. It has also freed up Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) to vote with his party again, shaking the fear of appearing to support a liberal agenda. His reluctance to support the health care law cut back the negotiations and gave Harry Reid the incentive to use the reconciliation process. He is now refusing to support the campaign finance disclosure bill, though it is not likely it would have been brought up for consideration by the August recess anyway. Regardless of whether you approve of the job he is doing, this guy is powerful. Link