Saturday, October 20, 2012

Will the Senate Remain Blue or Turn Red?

The political landscape has dramatically changed in just thirty days.  Barack Obama had the momentum.  His attacks on Mitt Romney were clearly taking a toll and the President was also outspending Romney to drive the negative messages home.  The assaults suggested that Romney was both unqualified and unfit to be the president.  That he was a disconnected, “rich” elitist who could not relate to the average American nor cared about them.  The Obama smear campaign was working; Romney’s support was waning.  The advantages enjoyed by Republican Senate candidates in a number of critical contests began to suffer.  The movement against Romney transferred into many Senate contests.  Senate races that appeared headed for victory lost steam; Wisconsin, Connecticut, Montana and Nevada all suffered dwindling ratings in the polls.

Then everything changed.  On October 3rd during the first presidential debate Romney routed Obama in a startling and decisive manner.  Against this backdrop, the climate within key Senate races also changed, i.e. the declines in the fortunes of Republican candidates were halted and the battle for Senate control again tightened.  Initially, pundits and analysts of every stripe believed that Republicans held a significant advantage over Democrats.  Democrats had to defend 21 seats while Republicans were exposed in just 10, and independents 2.  Experts believed control would be decided in fourteen states and at most in seventeen.  Nevertheless, the predictions preceded both the Romney decline and the subsequent resurgence triggered by his debate performance.  Thus a reassessment seems warranted.

Republicans need three seats to gain a tie with Democrats and achieve Senate control only if Romney becomes our next president…since Paul Ryan, the Vice President, would break tie votes.  The importance of a four seat gain is imperative to the Republican’s ability to counter Barack Obama should he be re-elected.  Numerous stories in the MSM pushed the meme that Democrats will maintain control and do it easily without defining a criteria for the conclusions posited; inevitably the articles/reviews were quite subjective.   

This analysis will be based on six quantifiable factors, they include: (1) The state of the national economy and specific state economies, (2) the “state of the state”, i.e. Red (Republican), TU (Toss-up), or Blue (Democrat), (3) The incumbent’s (if one is running) approval rating, above 50% good--below 50% not good, (4) Obama’s foreign policy and defense stance, (5) The President’s approval rating in the state…above 50% a plus below 50% a negative, and (6) the RCP’s (Real Clear Politics) average Senate poll ratings.  Serious Senate race analysis, at times, raises the issue of outcomes in Indiana, Hawaii, and Arizona.  The rational is that an upset in these states will impact Senate control…this evaluation assumes these races will not provide a surprise.   

The RCP polls have three important deficiencies: (a) the averages contain polls, both old and new, that are averaged, (b) the RCP averages contain polls that are very different, e.g. All polls (more than 50% of respondents can’t or will not vote-biased heavily +7% to +9% to Democrat)…RV polls (registered voter indexes-biased Democrat 2% to 4%) and LV polls (likely voter polls-most accurate assuming a reasonable ‘partisan’ distribution), and (3) polls with extreme partisan/turnout models (many RCP polls that are averaged exhibit D+7 to D+9 partisan skews).  These issues serve to introduce error into the RCP average polls.  It should also be noted that in 7 of the 14 reviewed races, the contested seat is open and that 9 of the seats reside in Red states…both factors give Republicans a minor advantage.  

Republican wins…high confidence:

Wisconsin-The former popular governor, Tommy Thompson (R), is locked in a surprisingly close contest with Tammy Baldwin (D), a neophyte to statewide elections.  Thompson has recently lost significant traction based on current polls.  Thirty days ago Thompson enjoyed an 8% RCP lead, but now is behind by 3%.  Thompson took a campaign “time-out” to raise funds to continue his campaign.  Now the campaign is back on track with the wind at his back.  Wisconsin’s economy is improving, has a decreasing unemployment rate, Obama’s rating is below 50% while Thompson’s exceeds 50% and is growing.  The Republican ground organization in the state is superlative.  A sure thing a month ago, Thompson still wins but by a smaller margin.  The Senate adds a Red seat.

Nebraska-Deb Fischer (R) has extended her lead in the RCP average poll over Bob Kerry (D) from 13% to 16% in the past month.  She benefits from a Red state, a Republican governor, Obama’s abysmal approval rating at 39%, and a strong state economy.  Fischer has shown a penchant for campaigning and is a sure bet in November.  The seat goes Red.

North Dakota-Rick Berg (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D) have seemingly marked time for 2 months until the past 2 weeks when Berg surged from a differential of 5.0% in the RCP average poll to a 9.0% separation.  North Dakota enjoys the best state economy in the country, is a bright Red state, has a Republican governor and disapproves of Obama.  Berg, in contrast, has a personal appeal measured at 53% and will be the victor in November.  Another seat gets painted Red.   

Republican wins…probable: 

Montana-Denny Rehberg (R) has marginally widened his edge over incumbent Jon Testor (D) from 3.0% to 4.5% in the RCP average; Rehberg 47.5% vs. Testor 43.0%.  Testor has maintained contact with Rehberg by effectively selling his moderate approach.  Rehberg is helped by a strong state economy, low unemployment, constituent fears of regulation and foreign policy concerns.  Obama’s approval is hovering around 40% while Romney’s is at 53%.  Rehberg has maintained a slim but consistent lead for months and will win narrowly.  Add a Red seat to the Senate. 

Nevada-Dean Heller (R) has held a small advantage over Shelly Berkley (D).  Nevada democrats have an important registration lead in the state.  But Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, a crippling foreclosure rate, immigration problems and serious budgetary issues.  Berkley is also involved in a scandal and together these factors will give Heller a very tight win.  Republicans barely add another Red seat.

Republican wins…maybe:

Florida-The state, a TU, is moving towards Romney and is simultaneously trending toward Connie Mack (R) over incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D).  The latest RCP average polls (adjusted for an outlier & an old poll) have Nelson leading Mack 46.5% to 43.5%.  Mack is buoyed by a slow economy, high foreclosures, high unemployment and increasing negatives for Obama (approval 46.6%).  Nelson’s lead is shrinking…but is it shrinking fast enough?  Still a maybe. 

Virginia-The race is an old fashion donnybrook.  George Allen (R), a former Senator is pitted against Tim Kaine (D), the former governor.  The current RCP status is Kaine 48.4% to Allen’s 45.0%.  Kaine’s numbers are sliding while Allen’s are growing in this TU state.  Based on the past 60 days more zigging and zagging may occur in the next 30.  Edge to Kaine but a possible maybe. 

Republican longshots…miracles do happen:

Massachusetts-The race between Scott Brown (R) and Elizabeth Warren (D) gets curiouser and curiouser.  Warren has the advantages…all six are in her quiver.  Yet she has consistently failed to “seal the deal”.  Warren has claimed a specious native Indian heritage to gain an employment preference, practiced law without a license, allowed union ‘volunteers’ to be fined for not supporting her campaign properly and presents a wooden image while soliciting votes.  Brown, a strong and compelling candidate, is still close with the RCP at 46.0% to Warren’s 48.5% (eliminating 2 outliers, the poll is a dead heat).  Miracles do happen, but again?

Connecticut-Linda McMahon (R) has declined slightly in the RCP against her opponent Chris Murphy (D); Murphy is at 49.0% to McMahon’s 47.0% (adjusted for an old outlier poll).  Murphy has the advantages of a very Blue state, high Obama popularity, a democrat governor and a strong democrat ground game.  McMahon can point out a struggling economy, high unemployment and Obama’s slippage in approval ratings. Could two miracles happen?

Missouri-Todd Akin (R) may be back in contention verses Claire McCaskill (D).  A Wenzel Strategies poll (leans republican) gives Akin a 4% lead over McCaskill, the very unpopular incumbent, who has negative approval ratings of 46% to 48%.  The state leans Red, has average unemployment and an average economy.  Obama is very unpopular.  The question…does Akin have another life?  We will soon find out, but a very long shot.

Republican losses:

Ohio-Sherrod Brown (D) squeaks out a win over Josh Mandel (R); 
Michigan-Debbie Stabenow (D) easily defeats Pete Hoekstra (R); 
New Mexico-Martin Heinrich (D) thumps Heather Wilson (R); 
Maine-Angus King (I) bests Charlie Summers (R) and replaces a republican incumbent.  

With Michigan being the exception, all these states have unemployment below the national average, improving economies and Obama’s approval ratings above Romney’s.  All are Blue states except Ohio which is a TU and the democrat candidates have maintained 7% to 10% poll margins over the prior three months (not in Ohio).

To recap the math; Republicans should gain 5 seats given the current status and direction of high confidence and probable races.  Between maybes and long shot races logic suggests another two will be added to their win total.  But loses in Maine and Massachusetts would reduce the increase to a 5 seat advantage.  Therefore, Republicans will regain Senate control with a 4 or 5 seat increase.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Were You Uncomfortable Or Just Stunned?

When the Vice Presidential debate finally ended the only emotion for many was relief.  The ninety minute debate created substantial discomfort for many if not a majority of the viewing audience.  The uncomfortable feeling was triggered by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.  Biden was a caricature of a sleazy politician.  His behavior was described by Republicans, Democrats, liberals’, moderates and conservatives as rude, unhinged, crazy, demeaning, disrespectful, weird, dismissive and unbecoming of a man just a “heartbeat” away from the Presidency of the United States.  

Of course some of Obama’s supporters declared that politics isn’t bean bag…essentially if Paul Ryan, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, couldn’t take the heat he should evacuate the effect he should not be a candidate for the Vice Presidency.   Anyway it was just Joe being Joe…just being himself…you know Joe says what he thinks and feels…at least he’s genuine.  The unfortunate result of Biden’s bombast and bluster was that his smirks, laughing, interruptions and rudeness distracted from not only the substance of the debate’s dialogue but dominated the post-debate analysis.  

Before the debate began, Biden’s goal was to staunch his ticket’s bleeding, arrest its appreciable drop in the polls and re-energize his party’s base.  Each problem was brought on by the President’s collapse during the initial Presidential debate.  Paul Ryan’s objective was to improve his tickets standing with independents and women voters.  He was also tasked with maintaining the tandem’s momentum into the second presidential debate.  Both Biden and Ryan achieved their goals, but in Biden’s case at what cost?   

Vice President Biden used the debate to question and attack the credibility of every Romney/Ryan proposal; spanning taxes, entitlements, national defense and foreign policy.  Every program, every statement Ryan articulated was challenged derisively.  Biden interrupted Ryan 82 times and was assisted by Martha Raddatz, the debate moderator, who injected 31 comments while Ryan was speaking.  In contrast, Raddatz interrupted Biden less often with 19 stoppages (Raddatz’s neutrality came into question since Obama had attended her wedding; she had been a guest at the White House, had visited Biden at his residence & was considered a “liberal” albeit highly regarded journalist).   

Mr. Biden did make some strong points by raising Romney’s famous 47% remark and stating, “I’ve had it up to here with this notion”…that Romney/Ryan needed to “take responsibility” for the harm their proposals would bring to the middle class and to “investments in America’s future”.  Biden’s words sounded terrific yet overlooked the reality of the dual Romney/Ryan goals of deficit/debt reduction and a much needed reduction in spending.  

Biden also emphasized the word ‘fact’ 16 times.  In the context of the debate his use of ‘fact’ became a code word for a mistruth (ten quite significant examples occurred).  According to the Vice President, it was a fact that, “Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security again”…sworn testimony before congress, the previous day, surfaced that added security had been requested numerous times.  It was a fact that, “What we did is we saved $716 billion and put it back—applied it to Medicare”…the double counting of the $716 billion; cut from Medicare yet paying for Obamacare is simply not a savings.  “It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card…I was there, I voted against him”…Biden voted for both wars—Afghanistan and Iraq. No religious institution has to pay for contraception…the congressman cut the embassy security budget…The President has met with Bibi [Netanyahu] a dozen times etc.  In each case the Vice President looked directly into the camera and told each lie (oops fact) with sincerity.  Biden did have his share of champions in the media who concluded he won the contest with ease while other Democrats were much more cautious

Democrats/liberals who were hoping for a big Biden win to slow Romney’s momentum were quite disappointed.  Ashley Parker of the New York Times mentioned, “Biden’s grin is Cheshire Cat caliber”; Brett Decker of The Washington Times said Biden’s “obnoxious, smirking, rude behavior on the debate stage was the most disrespectful performance of any presidential or vice-presidential candidate in the history of televised election debates”.  Biden’s debate lexicon also earned appreciable comment since it included words and phrases such as ‘malarkey”, “this is amazing”, ‘not true”, “I’ve got a bridge”, “bunch of stuff”, “not mathematically possible” and “loose talk” to name a few.  Biden’s histrionic debate performance surprisingly concluded without a summary statement of an Obama/Biden vision describing a second term.   

Paul Ryan, in contrast, calmly and earnestly acquitted himself surprisingly well across a range of issues which included Benghazi, Iran, Iraq, Medicare, taxes, entitlements, life and his faith.  His presentation at times was timid and he didn’t finish his arguments after multiple interruptions or moderator changes in subjects.  Ryan also missed the opportunity to devastate Biden by directly asking why he thought a potential nuclear exchange or the carnage befalling innocent Syrians was funny as those topics were discussed.   

Nevertheless, Ryan did very well on economic issues using his ability to communicate complex ideas in understandable terms.  He demonstrated his principles by presenting his belief that life begins at conception and certainly made a strong statement on how his faith informs his life.  Finally, Ryan ended the debate with a compelling vision of the future under he and Romney…a return to prosperity, 12 million jobs, entitlement reform aimed at securing the future of troubled programs, the repeal of Obamacare, a safer world due to a realistic foreign policy and leadership that solves problems and doesn’t cast blame.   

Post-debate snap polls named Ryan the winner of two out of three polls.  CNN found that Ryan bested Biden 48% to 44%.  The poll also found that 28% felt Ryan help Romney more than Biden at 21% helped Obama.  The poll gave kudos to Ryan as more likeable 53% to 43% and a better communicator by a 50% to 41% spread.  CNBC’s post-debate poll had Ryan winning decisively 56% to 36%.  However, a CBS snap poll showed Biden outdistancing Ryan 51% to 31%.   

The Nielsen Co. estimated the debate audience at 51.4 million viewers.  The age breakdown of viewers was notable in that it skewed to an older viewer; specifically the distribution was: 18-34 years-7,151,000, 35-54 years-14,941,000, and 55+ years-26,731,000.  This age spread favored the Romney/Ryan ticket and Ryan in the debate for two reasons, (1) Older audiences lean Republican and a large number of older undecided voters would negatively react to Biden’s weird antics, and (2) women made up a majority of the total viewership.  Women compose the lion’s share of both the undecided/persuadable voters and would also be unfavorable to Biden’s boorish behavior. So who won the debate?   

More importantly, what was the careful observer’s debate take-away should Obama and Biden be re-elected?  First, the highest office in the land is occupied by a failed, corrupt and media created leader who is seriously flawed.  That office is backed up by a cranky, ill equipped windbag, willing to say anything and who has very little grasp of the serious issues confronting our nation.  Second, a continuation of the economic malaise we are experiencing can be expected, i.e. high unemployment, very slow grow, crushing deficits and huge debt.  Third, growing dependency on government, escalating poverty, much higher taxes and increases in power will proceed apace into the presidency.   Fourth, a serious decline in America’s worldwide influence will become reality and result in a much more dangerous world.  And fifth, a loss in National self-esteem will occur…America will no longer be that “shining city on a hill”.