Sunday, September 30, 2007

It Would Have Been Fun, Anyway

Gingrich is out.

I Guess He Just Needed My Support

Now that Edwards has castrated himself in a potential general election by accepting federal matching funds (and the accompanying spending limits between now and the late August convention) it's no longer a question who I'm voting for. I still think that Obama is falling far short of my expectations for him (though it's still 13 weeks out from Iowa), but he's clearly the best viable choice. It does piss me off that the current reality of the our presidential election system has taken away my ability to make a choice based solely on Obama's and Edwards' respective merits, but that's another post for another day (unless I decide to write about it tonight).

Anyway, I'm perfectly happy to be an Obama guy and I'm excited to vote for a guy who comes closer to that amorphous real deal standard than anybody who's run for president for at least a generation. I'm even happier to report that since I've made up my mind, Obama is suddenly winning in Iowa, or at the very least, appears to have overtaken Edwards there. Coincidence...probably not.

American Research Group, whose polls have consistently inflated (or so it seems) Hillary's numbers, shows Obama catching Edwards in their end of August and end of September polls. That is significant in and of itself because (outside of Strategic Vision's polls) Obama beaten one of the other two candidates only once that I know of.

What I really want to talk about is the new Newsweek poll, which uses a pretty stringent (appropriately so, I think) screen.

The numbers for likely caucus goers:

Obama 28%
Clinton 24%
Edwards 22% (third place finishes have become a pattern for Edwards in Iowa polls in recent weeks)
Richardson 10%
Biden 5% (this is why I say Biden, unlike Dodd, has a glimmer of hope)
Kucinich 1%
Gravel 0%

Romney 24%
Thompson 16%
Giuliani 13%
Huckabee 12% (unsurprisingly, Rudy's and Huck's numbers vary in an inverse relationship in IA polls)
McCain 9% (the one guy who can finish fifth here and not see the press kill him for it)
Paul 5%
Tancredo 3%
Brownback 2% (when was the last time as campaign was this disappointing?)
Hunter 1%
(Keyes/Gingrich not included)

I would be shocked to see Edwards do anything other than continue his slide into third place in Iowa. The voters who will go to the caucuses (and who report that to pollsters) understand the significance of Edwards' public funding decision better than any electorate, anywhere.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Good Stuff Jacked from Marc Ambinder

I'm glad to see Nevada is going to skip past Michigan. It can only help the non-Hillarys of the world.

"Though New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner hasn't set his date yet and flux seems to be the state of the primary calendar, there is, among the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, remarkable unanimity about its most likely shape.

The Iowa Caucuses will move to Saturday, January 5.

Gardner will schedule New Hampshire's primary for Tuesday the 8th.

The Democratic National Committee will permit Nevada to move its caucuses to the 12th; the Republicans will probably follow suit.

Michigan Republicans will vote in a primary on Jan. 15; Democrats will vote in a non-delegate beauty contest. (Michigan will lose half its allotted GOP delegates).

South Carolina's Democrats will, with the DNC's permission, move their primary to Jan. 19 to coincide with the Republican primary that day.

And then Florida Republicans will vote on Jan. 29; the Democrats will participate in another non-delegate beauty contest. (Florida will lose half its allotted GOP delegates, triggering a rules change to winner-takes-all, which will benefit, obviously, the winner).

To sum:

Jan. 5:   Iowa caucuses (both parties)
Jan. 8: New Hampshire primary (both parties)
Jan. 12: Nevada caucuses (both parties)
Jan. 15 Michigan GOP primary; Dem beauty contest
Jan. 19: South Carolina primary (both parties)"
Jan. 29: Florida GOP primary; Dem beauty contest

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

C-SPAN highlights

I recommend the following C-SPAN nerdage.

Senate Rules & Administration Committee Hearing on the Regional Primaries Bill

This has some really interesting discussion on presidential primaries as an institution and other fundamental issues relating to American elections.

Health Care Forums 2008: John Edwards

Sorry, this isn't really a link. Just copy the stuff below into your URL bar thing.


This is the first in a series of one hour forums featuring one Presidential candidate at a time. I learned a shit ton about health care.

Jacked from Marc Ambinder (I'll probably do that a lot)...

Joe Biden's Iowa Strategy

"On a wall in Sen. Joe Biden’s headquarters, a map of Iowa is obscured by dozens of small blue and red dots. Each dot represents a personal visit by Biden’s chief surrogate, sister Valerie Biden Owens, to a top-tier Iowa locale. Caucus math the way it is, smaller Democratic towns often get the most attention.

To win in Iowa, Biden will throw everything into it. His campaign advisers insist that they planned this approach all along. Iowa is, they say, the perfect state for him: the caucus goers are older, they’re receptive to a sophisticated message about the Iraq war, and they reward personal contact.

Biden polls at around five percent right now. But political prognosticators and many Iowa Democrats are buzzing about a coming Biden surge. They believe he is working his way to a stronger finish in Iowa than many of his rivals anticipate. He has nine legislative endorsements, an impressive feat for a field that includes two superstars (Clinton and Obama) and one adopted son (John Edwards). Two of them are very good gets: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Speaker Pro Tempore Polly Butka.

“We’re setting the sail now and we expect the wind to start hitting in November and December,” says Danny O’Brien, Biden’s political director and new Iowa state director.

Trace Biden’s devotion to Iowa to March of 2006, when Iowa state representatives brief him on their plan to retake the state house in November’s election. That August, Biden spent 14 days in the state, attending more than 40 campaign events for legislatures. Not only would Biden help them raise money, he’d also give them advice – message advice – how to talk about the Iraq war and the Bush administration.

After he announced his presidential bid, Biden’s team drew up a five-point plan to win legislative endorsements. First, Biden would ask state legislators to let him host an event. No endorsement needed, just an event. Then he’d ask the legislators to judge for themselves how their constituents responded to Biden. Third, he’s stress his Iraq message – “a broader policy offering than they normally expected,” O’Brien says. Fourth, he’d stress electability, drawing an implicit contrast with other Democrats in the race. Iowa Democrats, Biden and his aides believes, are hair-trigger-sensitive to electability arguments. And fifth, he’d work as many rooms as he could, focusing on delegate-rich areas and exploiting resevoirs of support that exist from 1988 last sojourn as a presidential candidate.

These include blue collar cities like Davenport and Dubuque and a wide strip of towns along the Mississippi river.

Biden deliberately chooses not to pander to the party’s liberal base, which his staff believes is a lot smaller than their loud voices would indicate.

The operation is pretty lean; there’s very little excess fat. But Biden will have manage to visit all 99 counties by early November. He has nine field offices and 23 full-time staffers – more than some Democrats (and Rudy Giuliani) but fewer, by orders of magnitude, than Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.

The final arrow in Biden’s quiver may be his persuasive ability. From the start, his campaign has targeted high-profile newspaper endorsements. Biden first met with editors at the Des Moines Register, the Quad Cities Times, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and the Cedar Rapids Gazette early in 2006.

So far, Biden has run only one television ad in the state and is saving money to target key markets in December and early January. A figure of some celebrity, he will rely on his public image to keep him on television until then."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maybe this is a stupid question, but...

I'm watching Edwards talk about how he would fund his health care plan on C-Span. Here's what I don't get: If we have a truly universal system, where everyone is covered at least by the government health program, doesn't that void out all spending for Medicaid?

I'm just wondering since I'm pretty sure that the current federal spending on Medicaid is greater than the projected expense for Edwards' plan, which is the most expensive of all of them. None of the big 3 even include the word "Medicaid" on their health care issue pages, but they all have detailed estimates of how much their new plans will cost over what we spend right now on health care.

Also, I don't get why candidates don't call for making Medicare an opt-out system so that a few wealthy, virtuous seniors can keep paying for their own health care. Sure, it'll only make a tiny dent in Medicare spending, but it will do a little bit and, more importantly, it's an opportunity for a presidential candidate to talk about civic virtue.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Defining Question(s) of the Democratic Presidential Race

How does Obama hit Hillary from the left and still maintain his message of hope and idealism? Is that even possible? Does he even need to do that, or can he count on Richardson (on Iraq, maybe on experience) and Edwards (on everything) to do that for him? If he can't, doesn't that give Edwards and/or Richardson an opportunity to eclipse him as the real alternative to Hillary? Or does it make him look even more like a front-runner and like a leader to let the second-tier do his bidding?

An unrelated, but equally important question: do Obama and Edwards share our burning desire for one of them to beat Hillary and would they drop out and endorse the other candidate the moment they become non-viable? Or will they miss the window and allow Hillary to pick up unstoppable mo'?

Finally: is New Hampshire really over? The average shows her nearly 20 points up. In fact, the numbers in Iowa and South Carolina are the only numbers that are significantly different from the national polls (with the exception of Richardson's numbers in NH and NV, which are, of course, significantly higher than his national average of about 3%). I just assume that voters in all states other than Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire have not yet begun the process of choosing a candidate to support. That theory explains the rough similarity between the national numbers and almost all state polls. Still, operationalizing that theory, one would expect that each Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire would show numbers that in some way reflect the reality of voters paying more serious attention. One explanation would be that the Iowa and South Carolina polls simply reflect lingering good will towards Edwards and the impact of a whole lot of black voters, respectively, and that no state polls are really meaningful at this point. Smaller, but similar deviations from the mean in Florida, New Jersey and other polls grant some credence to this theory. Another possibility is that the waters have just been muddied too much by the variance in polling screens, the level of likeliness to vote required to be included in a poll sample. At a glance, this seems doubtful, because at least the New Hampshire polls have been remarkably consistent as of late, regardless of the polling outfit.

So, whadd'ya think?

Highlights From the First Hour of the Values Voter Debate

If you want to see the whole video, check in out here.

Some moments that have stuck out for me so far:

The debate opened with a gospel choir singing, "Why Would God Bless America?", a diatribe against secular education and abortion sung to the tune of God Bless America.

Paul said that Jesus would oppose the Iraq War. In response, Brownback said that he thinks Iraq fits with the Catholic Just War Doctrine.

John Cox said that faith is meaningless without works. The only people who would be pissed about that were in the audience.

Huckabee gets massive applause no matter what he says.

Paul said that gun regulations stopped us from preventing 9/11.

Phyllis Schlafly, author of A Choice, Not an Echo asked a Karen Johnson-esque question about a "North American Union". It was (I believe) the fifth question of the debate, after gay marriage, abortion, Islam, and faith in general. Am I missing something here? In response, Paul got gigantic applause for saying the he wants to get out of the UN (most of the applause here), the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, NAFTA and CAFTA. Paul said that going to war to enforce a UN Security Council resolution was "criminal".

Tancredo really sounds like a girl.

Paths to the Nomination

The idea for this post comes from Charlie Cook's September 15th article, "Dominance Versus Confusion", and its conclusion:

"Clearly, Romney's strategy is to win Iowa and New Hampshire, then hope that momentum carries him through later contests. Giuliani's plan seems to be to do respectably well in Iowa, then go for a win in South Carolina and maybe New Hampshire, and hope the victory or victories push him forward. For Thompson, the strategy seems to be to make a respectable showing in Iowa, tough it out in New Hampshire, then win in South Carolina.

On the Democratic side, the real contest is to see whether anyone can stop Clinton in Iowa. If she can't be stopped there, she probably won't be stopped at all."

I agree with those assessments and it got me back to thinking about each candidate's musts and must-nots and generally their separate potential paths to the nomination.

So, here is the path I would lay down for each of the viable candidates, were I their adviser:


Plan a) Win Iowa and become unstoppable.
Plan b) Finish strong in Iowa, win New Hampshire. Pick up a few more wins in the early states and hope that the other states don't all go to the same opponent (say, Iowa-Edwards, SC-Obama, Nevada-Richardson) so that the anti-Hillary forces can't unite before Feb. 5.

What can go wrong: Iowa is a 3-way race and Richardson looks close to making it a 4-way race. Obama is a clear threat in South Carolina and Michigan. Any of the other 3 main candidates could win in Iowa and turn that into a solid second in New Hampshire, a win or solid second in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida. That just might allow the anti-Hillary forces to unite behind that candidate before Feb. 5.

What must happen: She must win in New Hampshire and/or South Carolina in order to immunize herself from a loss in Iowa. She must win in Florida or she loses front-runner status, since it will be essentially a beauty contest and more or less a barometer for the Feb. 5 primaries.


Plan a) Win Iowa, finish 2nd in New Hampshire and Michigan, win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), win South Carolina and Florida and plow into Feb. 5 with all of the mo'.
Plab b) Top 3 in Iowa, 2nd in New Hampshire and Michigan, then win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), win South Carolina and come close in Florida to make it a clear 2-way race for Feb. 5.

What can go wrong: His support in Iowa might be too clumped around urban areas to do well in a caucus. Should Richardson keep surging, Obama might fall to 4th in Iowa, something he likely wouldn't be able to recover from. If Edwards wins in Iowa and wins the SEIU-Las Vegas endorsement, Obama loses in Nevada. If Edwards drops out before South Carolina, his white voters will likely switch over to Hillary, who will also pull a large segment of the Bill-loyal black vote.

What must happen: He has to win South Carolina and at least one previous state, and come close in Florida to have enough mo' to challenge Hillary on Feb. 5.


Plan a) Win Iowa, finish 2nd in New Hampshire, 2nd or 3rd in Michigan, win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), hope Obama drops out before Feb. 5 and get his (at least tacit) endorsement.
Plan b) Don't win in Iowa. Drop out and endorse Obama.

What can go wrong: The "inevitability factor" might help Hillary pull away in Iowa. Even if Edwards wins Iowa, Hillary and Obama can win later states and make it a 3-way race at best by Feb. 5.

What must happen: Win Iowa.


General plan) Finish 2nd in Iowa and New Hampshire, win Nevada. Pray that neither Obama nor Edwards wins any of the other early states and that Richardson can effectively become the anti-Hillary before Feb. 5.

What can go wrong: He has no reason to expect a top 3 finish in any of the above-mentioned states. Should he still not have a good finish (and a fund-raising bump from it) after Nevada, he'll have to drop out.

What must happen: Plainly, he must be the only non-Hillary candidate to win an early state.


General plan) Finish 2nd in Iowa and New Hampshire virtually everywhere. Hope the other non-Hillary candidates drop out and endorse him.


He's done.


From the opening of the Values Voter Debate:

"Why Should God Bless America?"

Where's My Medical Marijuana?

Over the later part of last week, I fell asleep with my contacts in for three nights in a row. On Friday I woke up to find my left eye bright red and painful. It turns out that I have an eye infection and I can't wear my contacts for at least another 4 days. That means that I can barely read anything with normal size font for more than 5 minutes. Since I can't really do my homework under these circumstances, I'm back to posting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Results From "Values Voter" Debate Straw Poll

The voters were 340 delegates hand chosen by 40 social conservative leaders. They voted before and after the debate. Remember that the Big 4 candidates did not attend.


Huckabee 119
Paul 53
Thompson 52
Keyes 30
Brownback 26
Giuliani 16
Romney 14
McCain 13
Hunter 8
Tancredo 8
Cox 1

Post-Debate (change in parentheses)

Huckabee 219 (+100)
Paul 44 (-9)
Keyes 24 (-6)
Brownback 18 (-8)
Thompson 15 (-37)
Hunter 13 (+5)
Tancredo 7 (-1)
Giuliani 4 (-12)
Cox 2 (+1)
McCain 2 (-11)
Romney 0 (-14)

Per these results, the debate website, run by the American Family Association says that "America's largest voting block [is] united" behind Huckabee.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Move Over Fred...

I would have so much more respect for the the "moral conservative" movement if Alan Keyes were their philosophical leader. I'm not kidding.

Here is the best summary of his ideology I've ever seen, taken from a "We Need Alan Keyes for President" press release following the Ames Straw Poll:

"Asked what distinguishes Keyes from the rest of the Republican hopefuls, supporters note that he is the only potential nominee who bases all his political positions on clearly-articulated moral premises — including positions affecting jobs, taxes, the economy, national security, and interpretation of law, as well as life and marriage issues. He derives much of his moral perspective from the Declaration of Independence, which he emphasizes defines the role of government in clear moral terms that center in securing all citizens' God-given rights."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Most Episcopalian Baptist I've Ever Seen

Apparently McCain has been a Baptist for "years". According to him, he was already a Baptist during the 2000 primaries.

Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

In this post, I will attempt my own version of a dichotomy that has been drawn time and again, largely by those who place themselves on the one side of it, between "DLC Democrats" and "progressive Democrats". It must be said that "DLC" does not fully capture the brand of Democratic pols and especially consultants that fall on that side of the dichotomy and that "progressive" does not do a much better job for the other. Rather than attempt in vain to craft precise definitions, I'll rehash the same basic groupings that have been used time and again. Then, I'll tell you why the dichotomy is important to me in this instant, without evaluating its broader potential import.

DLC Democrats are those affiliated with the DLC (obviously), the New Democrat Network, the Blue Dogs, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Paul Begala, James Carville, Bob Shrum, John Kerry "triangulation", the "Third Way", etc. These people and organizations fall into this category because they have a shared conception of America (and especially of the American electorate), of the Democratic Party, and of what the Democratic Party ought to do in order to regain its status as "the Natural Party of Government" (although I would argue that many in this group don't believe that's possible). DLCers believe that America is fundamentally conservative. They'll tell you that ceteris paribus the Republican Party label will always beat the Democratic Party label because the Republican platform is better in sync with America than the Democrats' is. They might allow that the American center is gradually shifting to the left, but they certainly reject the notion that politicians can do anything to alter or shape that trend. Politicians are not independent variables as related to the political atmosphere. Instead, politicians can only tailor their messages and tactics to the existing environment to maximize their chances of winning.

Progressive Democrats are those affiliate with Progressive Democrats of America, the "netroots", Howard Dean, Jon Tester, Jim Webb, etc. These people have a drastically different conception of the American electorate and its relation to the Democratic Party. They acknowledge that the Republican Party label beats the Democratic Party label, barring any extenuating circumstances (like those dominating the environment in the 2008 cycle). They reject the notion that America is fundamentally conservative, however and will give you one of two related explanations for the Republican Party's domination of American politics (ante its 2006 implosion). Some will tell you that's its simply a matter of the Democrats' poor effort in communicating what it is that it stands for. It's not that Americans feel closer to the Republican platform than to the Democratic platform, it's that Americans have a general feel for what the Republican platform calls for ("strong national defense", "low taxes", "pro-life", "sanctity of marriage" & "2nd Amendment rights") and no clue what the Democratic platform says. Its evident that there is a certain truth to this, but perhaps not enough to take it as a full explanation. The other group will tell you that Americans do have an idea of what Democrats stand for, but that Republicans have persuaded the majority of Americans that our platform is unacceptable while we've been sitting on the sidelines watching it happen. From the "death tax" to "tax and spend" to the rendering of the very term "liberal" into a dirty word, there are innumerable examples that validate this theory as well.

As should be clear by now, I strongly identify with the "progressive Democrats". That's not to say that I like to snuggle up close to PDA, or that I would ever have voted for Dean in the 2004 primaries. It's also not a convoluted way of confirming that I inhabit the political space to the left of the center of the Democratic Party. The dichotomy involved here is not purely ideological. Perhaps it isn't ideological at all. Jon Tester and Jim Webb are no bleeding hearts and John Kerry (the guy I would have voted for in the 2004 primaries, had I been able to) is as far as one can get from moderate (as an elected official, that is). Then again, it's probably disingenuous not to acknowledge that DLC Democrats tend to be, well members of the DLC and therefore to the right of the rest of the party and that progressive Democrats tend to be to the left, at least of their local political environments (Tester and Webb both beat DLC-style Democrats in their 2006 Senate primaries).

A DLC consultant advises his clients to avoid identifying with the party base on virtually any issue. All debate on affirmative action, taxes, spending, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, etc. is to be evaded with a quick pivot to a safer issue, unless the candidate is willing to adopt the Republican position on those controversial issues. Democrats, in order to win consistently, have to abandon their philosophical core. They have to adopt the same position as the Republicans (or one just barely left of theirs) on most issues, while brandishing individual candidates' credentials on national security and competent governance. For a DLC consultant, the perfect Democratic candidate would be a moderate Republican minus the negative baggage associated with that party label. The worst part of it is not the run to the center. Clearly, if we are going to be a long-term majority party, we must make room for the Clintons and the Bill Richardsons of the world. It's the manner by which DLCers execute their centrist tacks. By emphasizing that their candidate is strong on national security, they imply that the Democratic Party is a bunch of pansies otherwise. Every time Bill Richardson says that he's not "one of those Democrats" in response to a question on taxes, he implies that the Democratic Party is wrong to insist on progressive taxation. Perhaps the worst surrender to the Republicans is the label "New Democrat" itself. By adapting Republican language in talking about other Democrats, DLCers sabotage their own party.

Progressive Democrats do not urge that candidates make a corresponding shift back to the left (although many, if not most of them want just that). Instead, the common denominator from this group is their emphasis that Democrats stop upholding Republican positions and Republican language as the gold standard and instead focus on winning the war of ideas. They believe that most Americans would agree with Democratic candidates if only those candidates would really engage in debate, rather than allow the Republicans to box them into corners.

To quote from Bruno Gianelli, I am tired of working for candidates who make me think I should be embarrassed to believe what I believe, Sam. I'm tired of getting them elected. We all need some therapy, because somebody came along and said "liberal" means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense, and we're gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to. And instead of saying "Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave it to Beaver trip back to the fifties", we cowered in the corner and said "Please, don't hurt me." No more. I really don't care who's right, who's wrong. We're both right. We're both wrong. Let's have two parties, huh? What do you say?”

There was a point to laying all of this out and here it is. In this presidential primary race, I am evaluating the candidates on two criteria. One is the whether I think that they are more or less likely that most to be able to avoid a genocide in Iraq. Not being a supernatural prognosticator, I can only say that Biden is likely head and shoulders above the others on the first point, but that the other major candidates are completely unpredictable. All I can really do is pray that the nominee makes Biden their Secretary of State, or at least lets him be actively involved in the withdrawal process. The second is the likelihood that candidate, once nominated, will run more of a DLC or a progressive campaign. Of the six major candidates, I know that Hillary and Richardson are squarely within the DLC camp. Biden is too, but is real enough that he breaks out of that mold every now and again. Dodd is certainly not a DLCer ideologically, but I'm just not sure that a guy who's spent his entire life as a member of Congress or the son of a member of Congress can break free of the DLC mindset. Edwards is the only candidate that I feel comfortable putting in the "progressive" category. Now I get around to my point.

I have no idea where Obama will end up. His whole being seems at odds with the DLC schtick and yet his message is "bi-partisanship" and "bringing the country together". That sounds a bit too much like, "well, neither of us are right, so it doesn't matter who you vote for as long as we work together." Hell, he even publicly discounts the importance of electing a Democratic President (and not a Republican). Maybe this is a strategy designed to make him look like a credible general election candidate in order to sway "electability" voters. Who knows? Regardless, I have no idea whether general election Obama would revert back to his old self, or whether his consultants would run the show, as they appear to be doing right now.

Maybe some other time I'll write about why I think Obama's campaign message is his own worst enemy.

As I've said many times, I am still undecided on the race. If I had to vote today, I'd vote for Edwards. I'm still waiting for Obama to convince me that he will return to form upon winning the nomination or for any of the front-runners to endorse Biden's Iraq plan. Unless either of those happen, I'll remain undecided until Feb. 5.