The perils of having no record to run on

Via the Stinging Nettle blog, I found this piece in Politics magazine by Marty Ryall, who managed Senator Elizabeth Dole’s unsuccessful campaign last year. Ryall’s main subject is the grotesque “Godless” ad that Dole ran against Kay Hagan in late October. He contends that contrary to widespread opinion, backlash against the ad did not cost Dole the election. Rather, the ad was “our Hail Mary pass” that ran only because they felt they had no other chance to win.

As you’d expect from an operative who worked on a failed campaign, Ryall goes out of his way to explain why Dole’s campaign was already in trouble before he came on in May 2008, and why she lost the election mostly for reasons out of his control. (For instance, Barack Obama targeted North Carolina and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters.) Ryall also claims that he and others intervened to make the final version of the “Godless” ad more fair to Hagan than the first cut. Whatever.

I was more interested in why Dole would have to resort to that kind of desperate attack. Ryall doesn’t explicitly address that point, but this passage in his piece suggests Dole simply had nothing else to say:

We knew we had three weaknesses. A report by had ranked Dole 93rd out of 100 senators in effectiveness. She voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. And during the two-year period when she was chairman of the NRSC, she only traveled to North Carolina a handful of times.

No doubt external conditions helped sink Dole. But if she had built up a solid record during her six years in the Senate, Dole would have had a better chance of withstanding the Democratic wave. At the very least she would have had a better final-week message for voters than, “Atheists held a fundraiser for my opponent.”

Democrats control the executive and legislative branches in Iowa and in Washington. Current economic trends suggest that they may face a challenging political environment in 2010. I hope they will draw the right lessons from Dole’s disgrace. Don’t blindly follow failed policies and do something substantial for your constituents.

Having a record to run on is no guarantee of victory if the prevailing winds are against you. My very effective 18-term Congressman Neal Smith (IA-04) lost in the 1994 landslide. But it helps to be able to remind voters of some big achievements. In the worst-case scenario you’ll lose with more dignity than Dole.

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20 Days Out

(Yes, I know it's really 18 and I'm two days late.)

What Changed?

Really, not much has changed. If you look at where things were last week (Obama gaining ground, McCain losing it) this week is just an extension of those trends. With two Presidential debates and the VP debates under the voters' belts (the polls haven't quite caught up to Wednesday's debate yet), the map continues to look very blue, even if some individual states are fluctuating.

Obama holds all last week's “likely” and “lean” states, with Michigan and Pennsylvania (38 EV) moving from “lean Obama” to “likely Obama”. FL, CO, NH and VA (52 EV) move from “toss up” to “lean Obama”.

West Virginia and North Dakota (8 EV) join the toss-up states this week, with McCain leading in WV by 2.8% and in ND by just .5% Of all the current “toss up” states, Obama leads in NV, MO, OH and NC. McCain leads in ND, WV and IN.

In a troubling sign for McCain, Montana moves back into “lean McCain” and for the first time, so does Georgia (18 EV combined).

Where they stand:

Obama:  Start picking out furniture and interviewing for your cabinet members. Only a major scandal or historic national event could derail the O train at this point.

The only question now is this: Does Obama focus on running up the score by campaigning for himself in tossup states and “lean McCain” states, or does he slow down and shift tactics.  He could, for example start holding rallies with (but really for) close congressional candidates, even in strong red or blue states. Or, he could slowly reduce his campaign schedule and start focusing on the transition team as some have suggested.

McCain: It's probably over. If McCain can win four or five of the tossup states  he can potentially avoid the election being called a “landslide”.

However, given what it might take to do that (serious $ and mud slinging), it might benefit McCain to focus on salvaging his reputation by ratcheting down the attack ads and vicious sentiment and running a more honorable and humane campaign. Like Obama, McCain may be able and better served to shift some resources and time to congressional races. 

According to, their simulation engine shows Obama winning 99.5%  of the last 1000 simulations, with an average electoral vote of 340 to McCain's 198.

If the election were held today, and  every state voted according to the latest poll average, Obama would win in a landslide–364-174 electoral votes.

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30 Days Out

What Changed?

After the outbreak of the financial crisis, one presidential debate (polling hasn't quite caught up to the VP debate) and a week of Sarah Palin public humiliation, the national map is looking much, much better for Obama.

EV rich states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota (47 EV) move from “toss-up” to lean Obama. Montana and Louisiana (12 EV), move from “lean McCain” to “likely McCain”. West Virginia, which had been flirting with the “toss-up” category, moves back into “lean McCain”.The toss-up states remain roughly the same otherwise, although it seems one could safely move some around. Obama hasn't led in Missouri since polling began, likewise for McCain in Colorado. 

Nationally, the trend moves from “lean Obama” to “likely Obama”. Obama now stands at his best position since the campaign began, 8 points over McCain in the poll average–50-42.

Where they stand:

Obama: Not much to say this week. It's all good news. If I were him, I'd start picking out furniture for the Oval Office and what tie to wear on inaguration day.

His only bad news isn't that unexpected. Montana and Louisiana, which were little more than icing on the cake, slip comfortably back into McCain territory.

McCain: Titanic, meet iceberg. This has to be McCain's worst week in this campaign to date. The only ray of hope is that McCain as a candidate thrives when his back is against the wall. However, he needs a major “Hail Mary” to get him out of this slump, and honestly, I'm not sure what that could be at this point.

His only bright spot is the potential that the financial crisis will be bumped from the headlines by foreign conflict or terrorism. Either that, or he could pull Osama Bin Laden out of a hat on prime-time. 

According to, their simulation engine shows Obama winning 96.2%  of the last 1000 simulations.

If the election were held today, and  every state voted according to the latest poll average, Obama would win in a landslide–333-205 EV.

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40 Days Out

Well, we're 10 days closer to E-day, so here's an analysis of where the race stands.

What Changed?
The number of “leaner” states has dropped dramatically. Oregon and New Jersey (22 EV together) have moved from “lean Obama” to “likely Obama”; Arizona, North and South Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, and South Carolina (74 EV) move from “lean McCain” to “likely McCain”.

A few states have, however, moved back into toss-up territory.  Minnesota and Pennsylvania moved from “lean Obama” to “toss-up”; Florida, Indiana and North Carolina move out of “lean McCain”. Maine moves from “likely Obama” to “lean Obama”. In a big blow to McCain, West Virginia moves from “likely McCain” to “toss-up” and Louisiana moves from “likely McCain” to “lean McCain”. (More on all this later.)

Nationally, the trend is strongly in favor of Obama. The country as a whole moves from “toss-up” to “lean Obama”, in the wake of polls showing Obama up by as much as 5-8 points over McCain.

However, while this is good news, a disturbing fact remains. If the election were held today, and every state voted exactly as the latest poll suggests, and there were no recounts or lawsuits, the result would be:  a 269-269 tie.

Where they stand:

Obama: Obama has a lot going for him. On a macro level, the continued focus on the national economy only helps him as voters strongly prefer him to McCain on that issue.

On a micro level, I think the best news is in the latest polls out of West Virginia. A poll released by CNN/Time shows McCain over Obama 50-46%, with 4% undecided with a margin of error of 3.5%. This represents a HUGE improvement from polls taken in February which showed Obama in the 30% range. Considering that Bush beat Kerry by 13% there in 2004…this is a big shift. It also bodes well for Obama's chances in southern Pennsylvania and Ohio.

If Obama has a problem area, it seems to be in northern states. McCain is in the lead and gaining in New Hampshire and Montana, and is up 10 points from his low in Maine to pull within 10 points there. McCain is also gaining ground in Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

McCain: McCain lost his mojo (pre-suspension). The bloom seems to be off the Palin pick, and the economy hurts his chances more each day.
If there is a silver lining for McCain, it is that he seems to have locked in the base in several states that were looking a little pink. He reversed downward trends in many states, including Texas, Arizona, South Carolina and the Dakotas. He's also starting to pull away in a few places like Montana, Missouri and New Hampshire.

McCain is losing major ground in the Mid-Atlantic States. He has lost ground this week from Pennsylvania to North Carolina–key states if he hopes to win in November.

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50 Days Out

As of today, it's 50 days until Election Day. Here are some analysis' of where the race stands right now.

MSNBC's First Read Blog:

Obama: 233; McCain: 227; Toss Up: 78

Likely Obama: 172 EV (the usual suspects)

Lean Obama: 61 EV (IA, MN, NM, OR, PA, WA)

Toss Up: 78 EV (CO, MI. NV, NH, OH, VA, WI)

Lean McCain: 67 EV (FL, IN, MO, MT, NC)

Likely McCain: 160 EV (the usual suspects)

Slate Election Scorecard:

Obama: 240; McCain: 227; Toss Up: 68

Likely Obama: 161 EV (the usual suspects, plus IA)

Lean Obama: 79 EV (WA, OR, NM, MN, WI, PA, NJ)

Toss Up: 68 EV (NV, CO, MI, OH, VA, NH, US at large)

Lean McCain: 131 EV (AZ, MT, ND, SD, TX, MO, AR, IN, NC, SC, FL)

Likely McCain: 96 EV (the usual suspects)

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Palin in Wasilla

(Great compilation of a few reasons why Sarah Palin was a gift to Democrats. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

With all this Palin family drama, on top of the charges of sexism being thrown about all over the place…I thought I would offer an analysis of Palin that is completely free of those issues. Just a straight look at her career, facts and the numbers–starting with a look at her time in Wasilla.

Palin in Wasilla: City council 1992-1996; Mayor 1996-2002

About Wasilla:

pop 1990: 4,028

pop. 2000: 5,469

pop. 2007 (est): 9,780 (+66% since 2000)

83.9% White

FY 2007 budget: $9.9m 

Mayor's salary: $68,000

Wasilla average household income (2007 est): $47,900

(Sources: City Data, US Census Bureau, City of Wasilla)

Notable Events during Palin administration:

1996: Palin defeats incumbent mayor John Stein. Palin focuses the campaign on her ideology, her church service, and membership in the NRA. Anti-abortion flyers are circulated. The state Republican Party runs advertisements in the race, which has traditionally been non-partisan. Palin heavily emphasizes that she is a born-again Christian and that, with her, Wasilla will have “its first Christian mayor”.

Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff, and I was like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Mr. Stein, who lost the election. “But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits and the religious born-again thing. I’m not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: ‘We will have our first Christian mayor.’ ” “I thought: ‘Holy cow, what’s happening here? Does that mean she thinks I’m Jewish or Islamic?’ ” recalled Mr. Stein, who was raised Lutheran, and later went to work as the administrator for the city of Sitka in southeast Alaska. “The point was that she was a born-again Christian.”(New York Times article, linked below)

1996: Shortly after becoming Mayor, Palin approaches Wasilla city librarian Mary Ellen Emmons about banning some books at the local library. Palin never specifically mentions which book are to be banned. Emmons flatly refuses, and is fired. 

1997: Palin fires police chief Earl Stambaugh. No reason is given. Stambaugh and Emmons are both prominent local Democrats. Stambaugh had headed the police department since its creation in 1993. He is also a 22 year veteran of the Anchorage Police Department.

1997: Over 100 citizens attend a meeting to propose forcing a recall of Mayor Palin. In response, Palin re-instates Emmons (after Emmons agrees to Palin's plan to merge the local museum and library, with budget cuts for both). Stambaugh is not reinstated. The issue of library censorship is not pursued. Palin tells a local paper that the conversations about banning books she has had with local leaders were “rhetorical”.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. (New York Times article linked below)

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