Adwatch '06: Lamont's 'Turncoat'

According to the Associated Press, Ned Lamont predicts this ad calling Joe Lieberman a turncoat "will appeal to his base and undecided voters" in Connecticut. Watch and decide for yourself:

Get all the latest news and polls on the CT Senate race here.

How Much Trouble Is Chocola In?

I noted with interest the recent publication of a Research 2000 poll from Indiana's 2nd Congressional District. It showed Democratic challenger Joe Donnelly with an impressive 8% lead over 2-term representative Chris Chocola. Even more worrisome for Chocola is that Donnelly has hit 50%. What is more, several previous polls have given Donnelly a lead outside the margin of error.

The Indiana 02 race serves as an interesting contrast to what has been happening in many districts around the nation. Races that, perhaps in the Spring, seemed to be vulnerable for the Republicans are now appearing to be less vulnerable. I am thinking in particular of CA 10, KY 03, NV 03, NH 01, NH 02, NJ 07, NY 19, NY 20. There were either strong candidates in the mix, strong fundraisers in the mix, or weak incumbents in the mix to give the NRCC worries about these districts as late as Memorial Day. But, Democratic challenges have not really materialized in any of these places. What is surprising is that these districts are, at best, only marginally Republican. So, it is surprising to see these districts dematerialize for the Democrats. Back around Memorial Day, most of these were at the top of my watch list (well -- not CA 11 so much).

On the other hand, there were just as many downright conservative districts that seemed to be toss-ups back around Memorial Day. Of these I am thinking of IN 08, IN 09, KY 04, NC 11 and VA 02. Much like the aforementioned marginal districts, all of these featured one or two things that disadvantaged the Republican incumbent. Either he/she was new, not a very good candidate, saddled with ethical questions, facing a top tier challenger, etc. However, they were all districts in what really must be classified as heavily Republican turf. Off the top of my head, I believe Bush's average share of the two-party vote in these six districts was something like 59%.

Accordingly, one would expect that, if districts were going to fall off the map, it would be these districts. But these conservative districts really have not fallen away. They have stayed competitive. The Democrats, it seems, stand a better shot at taking out a Republican incumbent in a district that went 59% for Bush than they do in a district that went 52% for Bush.

And then there is IN 02. This was really on nobody's radar as of Memorial Day. And it seemed to have been off the radar for good reason. Chocola won his sophomore effort with 54% of the vote. Not terribly impressive for a second run, but not too shabby, either. Unlike somebody like John Hostettler in IN 08 or Charlie Bass in NH 02 -- he was not a quirky candidate. He ran a traditional, and traditionally funded, campaign. He spent $1.4 million, twice as much as his opponent, in 2004. A good show. His district is not the most Republican in Indiana, but Bush did win it in 2004 with 56% of the vote. The best news for Chocola seemed to have been that he drew the same challenger as 2004 -- Joe Donnelly, who has never held elective office. This, to me, was a sign that the Democrats were not successful in their recruitment endeavors for IN 02, if they tried at all (they probably did). A political neophyte who loses by 9% two years prior is not your "go to guy" to pick the seat back up.

But, in the Spring, moved in with ads against Chocola, and his numbers started to soften by the summer. And they have gotten softer. And softer. And then in mid-September, Research 2000 releases a poll that shows Chocola down by an eye-popping amount. And, Chocola only offered tepid protest.

IN 02, just like IN 08 and the rest of the aforementioned tight races, feature two important Republican advantages. First, incumbents are running for reelection in all locations; while these incumbents are relatively weak, none of them have any damning weaknesses (Charles Taylor in NC 11 comes the closest to that, but he wheathered ethical questions several cycles ago). None of them are Tom DeLay or Bob Ney weak. But they are also not Conrad Burns or Rick Santorum weak. Incumbency is still an advantage, not a liability, for them; though its boost will be muted in these districts because none of them have really built for themselves the "personal vote" that insulates so many others. What will be of more significant advantage in these districts is that they are all Republican in their partisan orientation. All of them, historically, vote for Republican presidential candidates at a larger percentage than the nation as a whole. This implies that, at the least, a strong plurality of voters in these districts are Republicans.

If Chocola was down 8 in a district that leans Democratic usually, it would be time to write him off. And the NRCC most certainly would. But, with a district that leans Republican, he can still expect at least some of the voters in the district to "come home" to him. Whether enough of them will is hard to say. Charlie Cook has IN 02 as a toss-up. Stu Rothenberg sees it leaning to Donnelly. Both of them could make strong arguments that ultimately would boil down to how much of Chocola's base is going to come back his way. At this point, the expectation that Republicans will come home in sufficient numbers is still nothing more than an expectation -- and so, minimally, you'd have to go with Mr. Cook.

This race, and this as yet unfulfilled expectation, gets to an interesting phenomenon about this election. It is strange that so many of the races identified as toss-up or even as leaning Democratic are actually in solidly conservative districts. It is also strange that the downgrading of races that seems to have taken place recently is in relatively moderate districts. This indicates to me some instability in the consensus estimate of vulnerable races. By the estimates of most analysts, we should expect the Democrats to get 20% up to even 40% of their seats from conservative districts. In 1994, the GOP picked only about 12% of their seats from districts that were as liberal as these were conservative.

Now -- of course -- this could just be the way things work out this time around. All of these incumbents in conservative districts have weaknesses. Some of them have significant weaknesses. If each of them has a non-zero chance of defeat, there is necessarily a non-zero chance that all of them could lose. However, it seems unlikely that such a large proportion of Democratic gains would come from these districts, given that we know that (a) people tend to vote their partisanship in congressional elections and (b) when they vote against their partisanship they tend to do so to support the incubment. In other words, we should not expect the GOP to lose such a large proportion of its seats in solidly Republican districts, but rather in marginally Republican districts and marginally Democratic districts. What I mean is that such hefty Democratic gains in Republican areas would violate the narrative of congressional elections. You'd eventually see somebody at some academic conference panel on the 06 elections start talking "realignment," which would be extremely peculiar as the House has never once been the first mover in a realignment. It tends to be the last.

What does this mean moving forward? Well -- if 30% of GOP loses do not happen in solidly Republican districts, if the final number is more like 12% -- one of two things would have occurred. (A) the Democrats, come October, start to fizzle out in these races as Republicans "come home" to Republican incumbents; ultimately, the Democrats pick up less than the consensus estimate. (B) The Republicans, come October, start to see a much more sizeable playing field, as Republicans in moderate districts start to abandon Republican incumbents just as is happening in these districts; ultimately, the Democrats pick up more seats than the consensus estimate. Those aforementioned races that are of late off the radar would come back on.

Simply stated, the fact that there are right now so many solidly conservative districts on the toss-up list is a sign either that Democratic strength is overstated or understated.

Mark Warner's Fishing Expedition

Two interesting, interrelated stories out today. The first is Jason Horowitz's account in the New York Observer of a recent Mark Warner fundraiser in New York City. Warner is quietly but aggressively trying to land a few big fish in Hillary's back yard with his "I'm electable, she's not" pitch. One of those attending the event told Horowitz:

"If the donor community of New York were locked into Hillary Clinton's candidacy, these events would not be taking place. They have not made a blood-oath commitment to Hillary and they want to win, and they want to see who can do that."

But Warner's effort to exploit any chinks in Hillary's fundraising armor is probably made more difficult by the second piece of news out today, which is the report in The Hill that former DNC head and longtime Clinton bag man Terry McAuliffe has signed on to chair Hillary's 2008 run.

I attended a private Warner fundraiser in the north suburbs of Chicago a few months back and found exactly the same thing as Horowitz. Most of those I talked to generally liked Hillary but immediately brought up concerns about her electability. In fact, the host of the event described himself as a liberal who was not politically active prior to 2004. After being crushed by the reelection of George W. Bush, however, he set out to find a Democrat with the sort of profile he felt could win back the White House: a moderate/centrist who could connect with Middle America and compete in the South. Alas, it was a pretty short list. He called Warner's office (he was still Governor of Virginia at the time) and left a message saying he wanted to talk. To his surprise, Warner called back.

This story is one Warner has to replicate many times over, and fast, while there's still money to be had and a considerable resevoir of doubt remaining about Hillary's electability. Warner only has so much time to tap into the pragmatic streak running through the Democratic party which, despite some outward appearances, remains wide and fairly deep.

Once Hillary's 2008 locomotive gets fully on the tracks, with $50+ million in the bank and a frontloaded primary schedule (which could grow even more so if New Hampshire moves into January or even December '07 and Iowa follows suit) it will be difficult to stop, especially as she begins to spend her considerable funds (and Bill starts to work his magic on voters) shrinking those doubts about her electability.

Deflationary Pressures Out There?

I'm sure the folks at the Fed are watching the commodity selloff of gold, silver, and various energy areas. And I'm equally certain they are watching the drubbing of metals and mining stocks, where Freeport-McMoRan was off yesterday around 5 percent and Phelps Dodge, U.S. Steel, and Alleghany Technology were down about 3 percent. The CBOE gold index was off 4.5 percent in yesterday's trading and 26 percent since May 10.

Money is tight. That's the message of the inverted yield curve where the 5.25 percent fed funds rate is way above most other maturities that are around 4.70 percent. The monetary base hasn't grown all year; it's been flat-lined by Fed actions to withdraw cash and raise their target rate.

The core PPI has dropped two straight months. Housing and autos are deflating. Yahoo is complaining about a big slowdown in ad revenues.

Working through the TIPS bond market model, the real fed funds rate is 2.85 percent, about 50 basis points above the real TIPS bond rate of 2.35 percent, which represents the economy's so-called natural rate.

The dollar bottomed two years ago and a combination of tight money plus reduced terror risk premiums are hauling in gold and oil prices.

As somebody who thought a couple of months ago that a neutral fed funds rate would be 5.5 percent, I am now coming to believe that a neutral rate would be 25 or 50 basis points lower.

Believe it or not, there are deflationary pressures building up out there.

Is There Movement Toward the GOP?

On the back of yesterday's release by Gallup showing the GOP pulling to even in the Generic Ballot, 48% - 48% among likely voters, today's Quinnipiac poll in Ohio showing Senator Mike DeWine essentially tied with Rep. Sherrod Brown (Brown 45%, DeWine 44%) could be another piece of data suggesting that we may have seen a shift in the landscape for this year's midterms over the past four weeks. The University of Cincinnati has also released a poll today with Brown ahead only four points, 51% - 47%. Falling gas prices, the DOW near all-time highs and a renewed focus on the war on terror is not the backdrop one would associate with a massive Democratic "wave" in November.

We'll see whether this tightening in Ohio is confirmed by other polling in key races. There is a lag effect with much of the state polling, and to date most of the state polling has not been confirming a significant tightening toward Republicans. It will be important to watch whether today's Ohio Senate polls are a harbinger of better polls on the state level for the GOP.

The two races in particular I am keeping my eyes on for new polling are Pennsylvania and Missouri. If Rick Santorum can pull to within 3-7 points in the RCP Average (currently at Casey +8.6%) and Jim Talent can bump his lead up to 2-4 points (currently he has a scant 0.3% edge in the RCP Average) that would be a further indication that a real tightening is taking place across the board. On the other hand, if Bob Casey holds on to closer to a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania and Claire McCaskill stays tied or pulls ahead in Missouri, that would not be consistent with a GOP tightening.

President Bush's job approval is another number to watch. The RCP Average has been hovering around 40% for about a month and currently resides at 40.8%; the direction Bush's job approval average moves away from 40% will be another good tell as to which way this election will break.

The '06 Proxy Battle

This year, it's George W. Bush vs. Nancy Pelosi.

This Just In....

George Allen says he is, in fact, part Jewish. What does this have to do with anything? Your guess is as good as mine.

Backing the Pope

The former Archbishop of Canterbury has chimed in with a strong defense of the Pope, calling his recent speech "extraordinarily effective and lucid." Here is more of what had to say in a lecture at Newbold College, as quoted by The Times:

Lord Carey said that Muslims must address "with great urgency" their religion's association with violence. He made it clear that he believed the "clash of civilisations" endangering the world was not between Islamist extremists and the West, but with Islam as a whole.

"We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times," he said. "There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths." [snip]

Lord Carey, who as Archbishop of Canterbury became a pioneer in Christian-Muslim dialogue, himself quoted a contemporary political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who has said the world is witnessing a "clash of civilisations".

Arguing that Huntington's thesis has some "validity", Lord Carey quoted him as saying: "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power."

This type of language will probably earn a fatwa against Lord Carey of Clifton at some point, of course, but it seems we are indeed finally getting down to the nut. As I wrote back in February, five years after 9/11 and the scores of terrorist attacks around the globe since, the world is still waiting for moderate Muslims to stand up and take back their faith:

The problem, of course, is that while the West is the target of Islamic fundamentalism and terror, the West is not in control of the outcome of the battle. Ultimately, that responsibility rests in the hands of moderate Muslims. No amount of appeasement, or bombs, or isolation, or troop withdrawals by the West is going to change the core dynamic of the struggle between those who want a modern, tolerant version of Islam and those who want to impose a 9th century version of sharia.

Every religion has its fundamentalists - Christianity no less than Islam. The difference between the two (as well as other major religions) is that over time and through much struggle Christians developed an external, peaceful tolerance toward those who would offend or insult their faith and, just as importantly, an internal discipline and intolerance toward members who would commit heinous acts of violence against innocent people in the name of their Lord. Islam, for the most part, still has that equation backwards.

And so we wait and continue to wonder: where are the moderate Muslims today? Where have they been for the last five years? We saw protests against terrorism in the streets of Amman last year - but only after the horrendous suicide bombing of a wedding shocked the consciousness of Jordanians. Aside from that, we've seen nothing demonstrating the magnitude and seriousness one would expect from hundreds of millions of people outraged over the fact their religion's good name has been hijacked and distorted by a small group of fundamentalists.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn: moderate, peace-loving Muslims are either unable to win the battle against fundamentalism, or they are unwilling to win it. We are fast approaching the day when the continued lack of demonstrable effort on the part of moderate Muslims serves to disabuse the West of the notion that Islam "is peace." That would be a terrible thing, and it would make the struggle of moderate Muslims that much more difficult in the end. The time for action is now.

Viva la Diva

Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI says Democrat Maria Cantwell is taking "a diva's approach to debates" with Republican challenger Mike McGavick:

The Cantwell campaign loftily ignored McGavick's proposal that the two debate each other in all of the state's nine congressional districts. It has alternately stiff-armed and snubbed a bevy of civic and good government groups who have offered neutral forums.

One outfit -- the Bellingham City Club -- is refusing to be cowed.

"Unless the Cantwell people say 'yes' by Sept. 23rd, we'll announce to our 240 members that their October program will feature only one Senate candidate because the other candidate won't come," said Andy Anderson, ex-KVOS-TV news director.

"It's been frustrating as hell for us, but that's the way she likes to operate, I guess," added Anderson, who has worked for two Democratic congressmen.

Cantwell has so far agreed to a single debate, Oct. 12, before the Spokane Rotary Club. A Western Washington debate is likely to be finalized today. Cantwell apparently turned down a consortium led by The Olympian newspaper yesterday.

An unholy trinity of shopworn excuses is used to cover the senatorial fanny.

Read the whole thing. Cantwell's reputation for being difficult (to put it politely) is well known, but her behavior is hardly surprising. Unfortunatey, it's now a time honored tradition for politicians - usually incumbents but in some cases challengers who find themselves out in front like Bob Casey in PA - to play hide-the-ball when it comes to debates to keep from "elevating" their opponents by engaging with them and also to avoid putting themselves in situations where there might actually be an outbreak of spontaneity. Along with acute gerrymandering, it's one of the disappointing realities of the current political system.

Election '06 Polls: Fast & Furious

The polls are starting to come fast and furious these days. As I mentioned yesterday, you can view a scrolling list of polls from around the country updated throughout the day on the RCP latest polls page. Here are a couple of recent polls worth noting:

* IN-2: A new Research 2000 poll shows incumbent Republican Chris Chocola trailing Democrat Joe Donnelly by 8 points, 42-50.

* IA-1: In the race to fill Jim Nussle's seat, a new Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co. has Democrat Bruce Braley leading Republican Mike Whalen by 7 points, 44-37, with 17 percent undecided.

* WI Gov: A new Rasmussen poll has incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle up just 3 points on Republican challenger Mark Green (47-44). Doyle hasn't hit 50% in any non-internet based poll all year - an obvious cause of concern for any incumbent.

* MI Gov: A new SurveyUSA poll has the race between incumbent Democrat Jennifer Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos tied at 47, which is exactly where they were in this survey last month. A Detroit News poll last week which had Granholm up 8 points showed a similar trend over the course of the last month: no movement.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Go see for yourself.

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