Thursday, January 8, 2009

2010 Senate Forecast: The Toss Ups

While the 111th Congress was sworn in just days ago, the campaign for those seeking entry and retention in the 112th has begun. While much can change within a matter of days, much less the nearly two years until Election Day 2010, the foundations are being built for the campaign to come. This is the first in a set of periodic forecasts on what the US Senate will look like in 2010.

Another Large Playing Field for Democrats
I currently count 14 seats as either competitive or potentially competitive. That number is bound to go up and down as life events happen (retirements, deaths, incarcerations, etc.). Of the currently 34 seats up for election (there will be additional special elections once Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar are confirmed to their cabinet posts), 19 are held by Republicans while 16 are Democratic seats. Of the seats I consider competitive or potentially competitive, 11 are Republican seats and 3 are held by Democrats.

Below I characterize the races as I see them at this time, and try to explain and give evidence about my beliefs. Without further ado, let's go to the queue!

Pure Toss-Ups

Colorado: With the election of Senator Ken Salazar, Democratic governor Bill Ritter, Senator "Boulder Liberal" Mark Udall, President Barack Obama, and the taking of three Republican House seats all within the past four years, Colorado sounds like a solidly Democratic state. But the truth is that Colorado is a traditionally red state that has only recently been trending blue.

With Salazar being selected as Barack Obama's choice to head the Department of Interior, he almost certainly secured Colorado's place as the most endangered Democratic seat in 2010. Governor Ritter compounded that by selecting 44-year-old Denver schools chief Michael Bennett to fill the vacancy. Bennett has never run for office before.

He can be encouraged however by the fact that the Colorado Republicans have an anemic bench right now, with several members of Congress being defeated in recent elections. Former Congressman Scott McInnis, former Congressman and 2008 Senate nominee Bob Schaffer, and former Congressman Tom Tancredo have all been mentioned as possible candidates for the race. Tancredo winning the primary would be a gift to Democrats, and the state would be moved to the "Likely Dem" uncompetitive category.

Florida: With or without the retirement of Mel Martinez, this race would have been competitive. But an open seat race in one of the most competitive states in the nation will draw in top-tier candidates from both parties. Democrats were handed a gift when popular former Governor Jeb Bush declined to run for the seat.

Several Democrats are considering a run, including Alex Sink and Robert Wexler. Sink has run a statewide campaign before while Wexler is a more passionate campaigner. On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Speaker Marc Rubio, and Congressman Connie Mack IV are said to be interested.

Missouri: The Show Me State is a consistent battleground. With the unexpected retirement announcement of Senator Kit Bond, 2010 will be no different. The list of interested Republicans is wide, with Congressman Sam Graves, former Congressman Kenny Husolf, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, Congressman Roy Blunt, and former Senator Jim Talent all mentioned as possible candidates.

On the Democratic side, only two names are frequently mentioned and they both share the last name Carnahan. Robin Carnahan is the strongest possible candidate. The daughter of former Governor Mel Carnahan and former Senator Jean Carnahan is now the Missouri Secretary of State. If she runs, the Democratic field will clear. If she doesn't, expect her brother, Congressman Russ Carnahan to take a shot.

Kentucky: Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning has been considered the most endangered Republican in this cycle since his unexpectedly narrow race in 2004, when he was nearly beaten by a little-known physician and state senator in Dan Mongiardo. While I think it is likely that Bunning will opt for retirement rather than another tough race, Congressman Ben Chandler is sitting on more than $1 Million for the race. If Chandler opts out, Lt. Governor Mongiardo may want a rematch. Either way, this race is close to being "Lean Dem."

North Carolina: It would be irresponsible to leave this race off the list. This is referred to as North Carolina's "cursed" Senate seat. Since 1975, no senator has gone on to a second term in this seat. Richard Burr hopes to buck that trend. Unfortunately for him, in the only public polling available Burr is trailing Democratic Attorney General Roy Moore by 5 points. Congressman Heath Shuler is also interested in a run and has nearly as much cash on hand as Burr for the race (around $1 Million). Both men would be very tough candidates for Senator Burr to defeat.

Next Time: Potentially Competitive Republican Seats

That took up more time and space than I thought. Next time, I'll list the seats that I think could be competitive and what circumstances would make them so.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Simpson Family!

The longest running American sitcom and cartoon turns 19 today. The Simpsons entered syndication on December 17, 1989 after appearing on the Tracy Ullman Show. There have been over 400 episodes and the animated sitcom has served as inspiration for numerous other shows. As a kid who wasn't allowed to watch early episodes of The Simpsons, I appreciated it more than others as a teenager. As an adult, I still laugh at the wit displayed in this cartoon. So take 30 minutes, kick back and watch an episode of the Simpsons today.

Sorry Jill, Sorry Phil, These Seats are Taken.

Last week I wrote a post about the three Hoosiers who were being considered for cabinet-level posts in the Obama Administration. Since then, two of those people were moved off the list.

Former Congressman Phil Sharp was passed over for Energy Secretary when President-elect Barack Obama chose Dr. Steven Chu to be his Secretary of Energy. From Reuters:

(Dr.) Chu is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. He was an early advocate for scientific solutions to climate change.

Likewise, former Congresswoman Jill Long Thompson missed out on becoming the next leader of the USDA, with Obama picking former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for that role. Vilsack is something of a surprise considering he told the media he wasn't being considered for "any position" in an Obama government. Sustainable and Organic Agriculture groups oppose the Vilsack nomination because they believe he is too close to the biotech industry and Big Agra. From Reuters:

If confirmed by the Senate, Vilsack, 58, would be the first Iowan to lead the Agriculture Department since Henry Wallace during the Depression era. Wallace, an editor, economist and developer of hybrid corn, had a seminal role in the creation of the U.S. farm support system still in use.

Just to share some interesting trivia, Henry Wallace was not only Roosevelt's USDA chief, but also his Vice President from 1941-1945. Wallace didn't play well with other members of the Roosevelt cabinet, and in the 1944 campaign he was removed from the ticket and replaced by Harry Truman, whom Wallace would run against as the Progressive Party's candidate for president in 1948. I doubt Tom Vilsack will repeat that history.

Long Thompson and Sharp may still find positions within USDA and Energy, but former Congressman Tim Roemer is now the only Hoosier likely to get a cabinet-level post. My money is still on the Director of National Intelligence spot. What say you?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Indianapolis Buys Japanese Car Fleet

Most of us have heard by now of Mayor Ballard's decision to buy a fleet of vehicles from a Japanese company instead of an American one.

Mayor Greg Ballard's administration bought 85 hybrid Camry sedans for $25,770 each to use as unmarked nonpursuit police cars for detectives and administrators, The Star reported Thursday, noting Penske Chevrolet protested when the city refused lower-priced Chevrolet Malibu hybrids.

Penske Chevrolet is clearly upset with the decision because they lost the sale. Andy Mohr's Toyota dealership is very happy with the decision. Labor leaders like Bill Matthews are siding with Penske.

"We're going to have layoffs before Christmas because sales of the Malibu have gone down," said Bill Matthews, bargaining chairman of United Auto Workers Local 23. "The mayor overpaid for the Camrys and should have bought Malibus to support workers in Indianapolis, but he chose not to do it.''

The purchase couldn't have come at a worse time for the American car industry. The Big 3 are in Washington begging for a bailout and there are millions of jobs on the line. GM and Chrysler have warned that they don't have enough cash to operate through the end of the year. Ford isn't in much better shape.

Indiana is particularly vulnerable to a collapse of the domestic auto industry. Too many people think of the industry in terms of where the car is assembled, which is mostly in Michigan. But Indiana has the 5th highest number of workers of workers dedicated to car/parts manufacturing. People like John Lancaster and his employees:

"People don't realize the importance of our industry," said Lancaster, a metallurgical engineer who heads the General Motors aluminum foundry in Bedford, about 25 miles south of Bloomington.

Lancaster said GM Bedford employed about 1,500 workers two decades ago. Today, the 517 workers in the Southern Indiana plant pour 700,000 pounds of aluminum a day, creating 11,000 transmission casings for almost every GM vehicle made in North America.

Reforms over the years have streamlined operations in the 1 million-square-foot plant.

What GM Bedford now needs is what GM needs, Lancaster said -- cash.

His plant is completing the first year of a $114 million, multi-year modernization that is part of GM's move to fuel-efficient six-speed transmissions.

"We've had to slow down all that spending," Lancaster said.

If taxpayers provide an infusion, he counts on getting the cash for the next round of equipment.

And if taxpayers don't provide that infusion, it is likely that GM will go under, and all the jobs associated with it will disappear. Tens of thousands more Hoosiers will join the unemployment lines, and Mitch Daniels will regret getting reelected.

Which brings us back to Ballard's folly. Parts for the Chevy Malibu are built in Indianapolis and in surrounding cities. Ballard had an obligation not just to save a few theoretical pennies on fuel economy, but to support local jobs.

I know there can be a realistic discussion of what constitutes "American" these days. Under NAFTA, we have GM cars whose parts are made in Mexico and assembled in Canada, and they classify as an American car. Toyotas parts are made in the US and assembled in the US for the most part (Ballard's Camrys are built in Kentucky), and they are still called foreign.

But I think that debate is one for another day, when a large and important employer in our state is not on the brink of disaster.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Three Hoosiers on Obama's Cabinet Short-List

According to multiple sources, there are three former members of Congress from Indiana still under consideration for cabinet-level jobs in the Obama Administration. One of them is very likely to get a post, while the other two are longer shots.

Jill Long Thompson, the former Congresswoman from Northeastern Indiana and 2008 Indiana gubernatorial candidate. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Agriculture Secretary.

Phil Sharp, the former 10-term Congressman from the Muncie area. Sharp made energy a focus during his years and has since worked on energy issues at Resources for the Future.

Former Congressman Tim Roemer from northern Indiana has been mentioned as potential CIA chief or Director of National Intelligence. He was one of Obama's national security advisers throughout the campaign.

Of the three, I think Roemer is the most likely appointment. He was a strong surrogate for Obama in the primaries and was even mentioned as a possible running mate. He served on the 9/11 Commission and essentially helped create today's intelligence infrastructure. I think it's much more likely that he would get the DNI job over CIA, as the latter will likely be filled by a career spy.

Phil Sharp is a brilliant guy, pro-science and an expert on energy matters. I don't think it will be him, but at the same time I wouldn't be to surprised.

I think Jill Long Thompson would do a fine job, but I think she is least likely among the three to get an appointment. It is very possible that she will be the number 2 or 3 in the department.

What say you?

Message to Pat and Mitch: (Finally) End Prohibition!

The good folks at WISH TV remind us that today marks the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. They also remind us that the remnants of Prohibition are still alive and well in Indiana:

From 1920 until 1933, prohibition kept Hoosiers and others throughout the nation from making or buying most alcohol. When prohibition ended states were allowed to enact their own alcohol laws.

"We're talking about, frankly, ancient history," said Grant Monahan, Indiana Retail Council.

Monahan and the Indiana Retail Council don't like the fact that Indiana law now prohibits drug, grocery and convenience stores from selling alcohol on Sundays.

If you asked any Hoosier who supported the ban on Sunday sales in the 1960's why they supported it, the reason would likely be because of religious reasons. Today, though, it has a lot more to do with profit and politics. Case in point, the response from the package liquor store lobby.

"This is just the latest proposal from the grocery, drug and gas station lobby to deregulate the sale of alcohol in our state to increase their profits. That's what it's all about," said John Livengood, Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.

My hunch is that the IABR probably opposes allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol in any form on any day, preferring a monopoly on liquor sales. A few weeks ago one of the package liquor store owners from Indianapolis said repealing the ban on Sunday sales would give grocery and convenience chains an "unfair advantage" because it wouldn't be financially worth it for package stores to be open on Sundays.

I would like to point out that an unfair advantage would be lawmakers saying grocery and convenience chains can sell alcohol on Sundays but package stores can't. Allowing everyone to sell the same products on the same days simply levels the playing field. If the package stores don't want to open their doors on Sunday, they are free to stay closed. It is highly unlikely they will lose money by staying closed on a day they never did business on anyway.

A big reason for lifting the ban on Sunday sales is consistency. I know, politicians are terrible with consistency. I simply can't comprehend how it's okay for me to go to a bar, restaurant or sporting event and get trashed in public but not okay to buy a bottle of wine to have with Sunday dinner. Not only is it more consistent to not restrict store sales on Sunday, it may help with public safety. There would potentially be fewer drunk drivers who went to the bars instead of drinking at home, fewer public intoxication arrests, etc.

There is a group out there fighting for a repeal on the ban. Hoosiers for Beverage Choices also provides some interesting facts on their website. Among those:

  • Indiana is one of only three states that prohibits retailers from selling alcohol on Sunday yet allows restaurants, taverns and numerous sports and community events to sell alcohol by the drink on Sunday.
  • Indiana is one of only fifteen states that completely prohibits the carry-out sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
  • Indiana loses tax revenue when Hoosiers that live in bordering communities travel to our neighboring states to purchase alcohol on Sunday.

The last point I think is a strong one, especially in tough economic times as tax revenues fall below projections. Almost everyone I know who has lived near one of our neighboring states has participated in a 'Sunday Beer Run.' That's money leaving our state.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in consumer choice to contact your state legislative leaders and express your position. Also, send an email to Governor Daniels. While you're at it, join the Hoosiers for Beverage Choices email list for updates and sign their online petition.

Friday, November 7, 2008

2008 Election Postmortem

Most people have already done their write-ups of the 2008 election. Everyone can agree it was historic, with the United States electing its first black president. Most people will agree that it was a repudiation of the Republican philosophy. Some will even argue it was the start of the relegation of the Republican Party to permanent minority status.

As with every election, there were big winners and big losers. Here are my opinions. Just as a warning, some people/groups will be in both categories.

Team Winner
The American People: Millions more people turned out at the polls this year than in 2004. Interest in the election was incredibly high, the number of donors to campaigns was record-breaking, and the number of campaign volunteers was enormous.
Barack Obama:There need be little explanation here. Four years ago Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois. Today, he is the next President of the United States. His campaign was the most disciplined in recent memory, even rivaling that of President Bush. During a time when America is facing two wars and an economic crisis, the inexperienced candidate preaching a message of change defeated two extremely strong candidates preaching about their experience. In the end, voters said that while experience matters, change is what we needed. He will be armed with large majorities in both the House and the Senate, and he will have no excuse for failing to get his priorities through.
Howard Dean:After taking control of the DNC, the good Dr. Dean was roundly criticized by establishment Democrats for 'wasting' party resources in reliably Republican states. This year Dean was vindicated, as Democrats picked up House seats in Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, and yes, even Idaho. Barack Obama essentially ran Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy during the primaries and made an amazing come-from-behind win over establishment Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton. In the General Election, Obama won solidly Republican Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and even an electoral vote in Nebraska. When other Democrats would likely have pursued the traditional Battleground strategy of 5 or 6 states, Obama expanded the playing field using Dean's playbook.
Hillary Clinton:Senator Clinton never fails to amaze. After a hard-fought primary, the media speculated that Clinton would sit out the election and hope for an Obama loss. That would leave 2012 open for her. Instead, there were few who fought harder to get Senator Obama elected. She was an effective surrogate, especially in Pennsylvania and Florida, and she has only ensured her popularity in the Democratic Party. I imagine President Obama will be working very closely with the Senator from New York, especially on health care.
Roe v. Wade: With President Obama likely to appoint 3-4 Supreme Court Justices in his first term, Roe will be safe for another generation.
John McCain: After nearly bankrupting his campaign in 2007, McCain was counted out by most political observers who expected that Mitt Romney, who was leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, would get the nomination. An upset win in Iowa by Mike Huckabee followed by a McCain comeback in New Hampshire ensured that Romney wasn't the guy. McCain's narrow win in Florida sealed the deal for him. It was fights like that that gave McCain the nickname "Lazarus."
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels: Mitch Daniels survived the Democratic wave. He ran a campaign without a single negative advertisement that was aimed at the center of the electorate. And he scored an amazing 58% of the vote. He made it clear this was the last office he would run for and he treated the campaign like a job interview.
Marion County, IN Democratic Party: While I'm sure much of it had to do with the Campaign for Change presence in Marion County, Congressman Andre Carson and party chairman Ed Treacy should be credited for the enormous successes on Election Day, too. Andre got his voters out, and he won over 60% of the vote. That's something his grandmother never accomplished. Marion County, which was essentially 50/50 in 2004, went to a 65-39 margin in favor of Obama. Democrats held the county-wide offices and picked up two seats in the Indiana House. Let's hope the party can keep it together and reclaim the Mayor's office and City Council in 3 years.
Early Voting: So many people took advantage of early voting that it is likely to be expanded both in Indiana and in other states for future elections. Early voting led to shorter lines for most on Election Day.

Team Loser
John McCain: John McCain has the unfortunate honor of getting hammered by Bush twice. The first time was during the 2000 Republican primaries, after McCain won the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin and turned that race on its head. Bush and Rove aggressively attacked McCain, and the thing that killed him was the fliers circulated in South Carolina accusing McCain of fathering a black baby and including a picture of his adopted Bangladeshi daughter. That experience left McCain bitter and angry with Bush.
McCain became a fierce opponent of the Bush administration and was widely expected to leave the Republican Party in 2001 to caucus with the Democrats, but 9/11 changed the conversation. That leads us to the second time Bush beat McCain. McCain's decision to attach himself so closely to Bush on the Iraq War and to brag about voting with Bush "over 90% of the time" doomed him almost from the outset. George Bush is the least popular president in recent history, and for McCain to stand next to him and say 'this is my guy' was political suicide. Sarah Palin certainly didn't help him, either.
Sarah Palin: Despite being woefully unprepared for the presidency, the governor of a state smaller in population than Obama's Illinois State Senate district initially provided a boost to McCain's campaign. Until we realized just how unprepared she was. The hockey mom from Alaska who didn't know Africa was a continent and reads every newspaper in the world was the only one on either ticket to have a negative approval rating. Despite her claims that she's just a middle class gal, she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the RNC to cloth her and her family, and the highest paid staff members on the McCain campaign were her stylist and makeup artist. It will be interesting to watch what she does over the next few years to reinvent herself, and see whether she will be a major player in Republican politics or whether she will become the Republican version of Geraldine Ferraro.
Hillary Clinton: She had the institutional support. She had the money. She had the stature. She had a 40 point lead in mid-2007. She was the candidate of experience, the liberal hawk America needed to lift us out of the Bush era. She was the Democratic nominee-apparent. And she lost to a man who was state senator just 3 years before. Hillary Clinton's campaign was one of the worst-run in history, aside from perhaps John McCain's. In an election about change, her advisers steered her to be the status quo candidate and the "quasi incumbent." Her refusal to apologize for her Iraq vote left her vulnerable on that issue. Her campaign's 'February 5' strategy turned out to be the nail in its coffin, as they didn't compete in the caucus states or Potomac Primaries which allowed Obama to win 11 contests in a row and rack up an insurmountable delegate lead. I still believe it didn't have to end up this way, and had Hillary run from the start as the change candidate Obama would have gone nowhere. Still, competing to the last primary was ultimately good for Obama and had she not done that, Indiana and North Carolina would have stayed Republican this year.
The Bradley Effect: Also known as the 'Wilder Effect.' The theory was that white voters would lie to pollsters and say they would support a black candidate, and then vote against that candidate in private. This year, Obama received a higher percentage of the white vote than John Kerry and the Bradley Effect can now be debunked.
Congressional Republicans: In a 2-year period, Republicans have lost over 50 seats in the House and at least 12 in the Senate. They are a party in panic and have to figure out a way to stay relevant. The Republican Party is at risk of becoming a regional party based in the South, and instead of adopting a big-tent strategy (welcoming moderates and independents), they appear to be moving to a smaller right-wing stance with Indiana's Mike Pence and Virginia's Eric Cantor taking leadership roles in the next Congress.
Gay Marriage Prop 8 passes banning gay marriage in California. The only silver lining is that young people were the only group to vote against it, and they did so by a very large margin. The future will be a different place.
Jill Long Thompson: She's just not cut out for a leadership role. Her two statewide campaigns have resulted in total thrashings. The fact that many Democrats didn't even know they had a candidate in the race speaks to her lack of presence. She tried hard but she didn't have the resources and didn't have the electricity to cut through.
The Indiana Democratic Party: In a year when a Democrat takes Indiana's electoral votes, the party fails to win any statewide offices and only added one net seat to the Indiana House majority. The Party and Jill Long Thompson's public squabbles following the primary couldn't have helped, but it might be time for new blood at IDP headquarters.