Wednesday, June 18, 2008


ENPR -- McCain's Libertarian Problem and Evangelical Problem


  1. The widely expected pivot to the center by Sen. Barack Obama began Tuesday with his Wall Street Journal interview in which he suggested he might cut the corporate tax rate. That contradicted everything the Democratic candidate had previously said and suggested a new economic strategy. It goes along with his move toward free trade positions and his statement that he would not negotiate with Iran without preconditions—also contradicting his primary election positions.

  2. Sen. John McCain, in contrast, made a move back toward the GOP conservative base by advocating offshore drilling (though not backtracking on his opposition to ANWR drilling), and assailing the notion of a windfall profits tax, which he had entertained just weeks ago. The energy issue—propelled to the top rank of voter concern by runaway gasoline prices—poses a clear difference between the two candidates.

  3. The bottom line on the confused negotiation on debates between the two presidential candidates is that the Obama campaign rebuffed McCain's bid for weekly town-meeting debates. Obama wants a Lincoln-Douglas style debate—which means the candidates would deliver long speeches, a format McCain rejects. Both camps agree that the networks should not run the debates as they did in both parties during the primary season.

  4. The deft handling of the Obama campaign went astray when it named Patty Solis Doyle chief-of-staff for the yet to be named vice presidential candidate. She was fired as Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign manager and is estranged from her. Thus, Doyle's selection by Obama is a crude signal that Clinton won't be on the ticket and constitutes a mistake from the standpoint of building party unity.

  5. Conversation has increased about the possibility of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) for Vice President, heightened because of word spread that Biden really wants the job. He is an old-fashioned ticket balancer juxtaposed against Obama—older, more experienced, well versed in foreign policy, and Catholic. He definitely is not the new politics.

  6. When McCain says he cannot police all manner of campaign ads by independent groups, he is signaling that he will not stop "527s" from hitting Obama during the campaign.


Conservative Dissent: McCain's biggest problem continues to be his trouble with the conservative base.

  1. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), who garnered significant chunks of the Republican primary electorate in the late primaries, has made it clear he will not endorse McCain. Paul's loud and enthusiastic following is small, but if they stay at home or vote third-party in tight states, they could help Obama. McCain will have trouble appealing to limited-government conservatives, but when contrasted with Obama, he could win back many of the Paul followers.

  2. The key question on the libertarian side of the ledger will be the strength of former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, the Libertarian nominee. Barr lacks the rock-star quality of Paul, and his mixed record on foreign policy, domestic security, and gay marriage will turn off some of the libertarian purists. Will he appeal to disaffected small-government conservatives?

  3. Barr sees his strongest region being the Mountain West, where Nevada and Colorado sit on the edge of the McCain-Obama battle. Barr could tip those states in Obama's direction if he gets just 2 percent.

  4. The fear of Barr swinging his home state Georgia to the Obama column is overblown. Bush won 58% in Georgia in 2004, and a higher black turnout in 2008 would be partially offset by the white Democrats who vote Republican. Also, remember that Barr lost a GOP primary to end his congressional career, so he is hardly Georgia's favorite son.

  5. On the religious conservative side, McCain is also facing difficulties. Ineptitude and insensitivity resulted in insults to two evangelical leaders, the Rev. John Hagee and Focus on the Family's James Dobson.

  6. Hagee has told friends that McCain "threw [him] under the bus," by soliciting his endorsement, and then disowning him after news came out about a previous offensive-sounding comment about Hitler (Hagee actually has very strong ties to the Jewish community, but many groups objected angrily to the comments). McCain's rush to disavow Hagee while Hagee was searching for a more gracious exit route shows the nominee's clumsiness.

  7. McCain also bungled an opportunity to patch things up with Dobson, who is very influential. Dobson had said last year that he could never vote for McCain, but this spring, he reached out to the nominee. Dobson wanted a meeting in Colorado Springs, but McCain demanded a meeting in Denver. No meeting ever happened.

  8. There is little in McCain's record as a senator to upset evangelicals, but little to excite them either: He opposes gay marriage, but voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment; he votes pro-life on most issues, but he is hardly vocal about it. To evangelicals, however, he doesn't come across as "one of us." These missteps can emphasize that problem, depressing turnout in a constituency that has been a core of GOP presidential victories starting with Ronald Reagan.

  9. Add to this McCain's un-conservative tastes, as exemplified by the two men he would most like to name as his running mate: former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). Either of these VP nominees would destroy his conservative support, and McCain surely knows that.

Obama: Obama's honeymoon is already ending, and the general election is beginning.

  1. The 8-point bump he enjoyed last week has already half-disappeared in the Rasmussen tracking poll. That bump was never more than an ephemeral bounce in the afterglow of his clinching the nomination, and the correction this week doesn't reflect any problems on his part.

  2. Last week, when longtime Democratic operative Jim Johnson was crowded out of the Obama campaign following controversy over his days at Fannie Mae and special loans he received, Obama showed a recurring weakness. Still fairly new to elected politics (12 years since his first election and 4 years since he entered the national scene), Obama keeps finding himself surrounded by unsavory figures. Johnson joins the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and landlord Tony Rezko among the key Obama associates who attract negative attention.

Federal Reserve

  1. The word is out that the Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Ben Bernanke, will not raise interest rates in the foreseeable future. Bernanke is said to view the spikes in oil and gasoline prices as contractionary rather than inflationary, so that tighter money would be counterproductive.

  2. That puts the Fed and the European Central Bank in opposite directions. The ECB plans a rate increase, however modest, to fight what it considers inflationary dangers propelled by labor-negotiated wage increases.

  3. The two major central banks at odds constitute a worrisome development in the global economy. It makes Bernanke's course all the more difficult in trying to do the right thing at a time when the ability of central banking to influence the economy is questionable. But Bernanke has control of Fed policy and he is not going to tighten now.

Senate 2008

New Mexico: The retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici (R) because of degenerative brain disease looks likely to give another Senate seat to Democrats. Rep. Tom Udall (D), who represents Santa Fe and the Northern half of the state, is the strong favorite over Rep. Steve Pearce (R) from the Southern half of the state. Pearce edged out Rep. Heather Wilson (R) in the primary June 4.

Udall has a huge cash advantage, stemming from his uncontested primary and an energized nationwide fundraising Democratic base. As of May 14, Udall had raised $3.2 million and had $2.9 million on hand. Pearce had raised $1.9 million, but he spent almost all of it on his competitive primary.

Udall is a well-known and well-liked politician who taps perfectly into the environmentalist zeitgeist of the state. His liberal base is large and energetic while Pearce's conservative base is much smaller. Bush hangs like a rain cloud over the GOP here, and McCain might not bring any coattails.

It's believable then when one New Mexico Republican tells us of a poll showing Udall up by 31 points.

Pearce will distance himself from the White House and work hard for Wilson's moderate backers, and Republicans will beat up Udall to knock him down a peg. Still, it's hard to see how Pearce wins without a major scandal that brings down Udall. Likely Democratic Takeover.

House 2008

New Mexico-1: This could be a very bad year for Republicans in New Mexico. Together with the likely loss of the U.S. Senate seat, both GOP-held house seats are in danger.

In the Albuquerque seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Heather Wilson (R), Republicans have the benefit of a strong candidate in Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R), but they have the disadvantage of demography and a bad political environment. Democrats have nominated Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich (D).

White has strong name recognition, as the district is nearly co-extensive with Bernalillo County. He has the right pedigree, too: He's an elected sheriff (which means his record is helpfully thin on policy issues), he served in the state law enforcement agency, he worked as a TV news reporter, and he has been involved in campaigns before. His weakness is his connection to the President: Bush held a fundraiser for him recently, and White was Bush's campaign chairman for the county in 2004.

Heinrich is a liberal city councilman, which means he (1) is not well known, but (2) has a voting record. Both facts are damaging. He has strong support among the local party, the unions, and the liberal environmentalists.

Considering only the candidates, White has the edge, but the political landscape seriously favors Heinrich. Bush's name and the GOP brand are dirt in New Mexico. Tom Udall is likely to dominate the Senate race. In Albuquerque at least, Obama enthusiasm could drive up Democratic turnout, while luke- warmness about McCain could suppress GOP turnout. Domenici won't be able to help White, while Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) could be on hand to boost all of the Democratic candidates.

Because we expect a strong Democratic tide, White's strengths look likely to be wiped out by a Democratic surge. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

New Mexico-2: This is the "Republican district" in New Mexico, but it could be represented by a Democrat next year. In 2004, Bush took 58 percent of this district, which covers the Southern half of the state, but the GOP might have nominated the wrong candidate.

Chain-restaurateur Ed Tinsley (R) doesn't live in the district. Instead, he hails from the wealthy, artsy Las Campanas community in Santa Fe, which is in the 3rd District. The Democratic nominee, Harry Teague (D) is an oilman and former county commissioner from Lea County, in the Texas part of the state.

Teague is as conservative as Tinsley, and he will ruthlessly use the carpetbagger attack against him. The GOP strength of this district should push Tinsley over the top, but the party is still slightly fractured after the tough primary. Leaning Republican Retention.

New Mexico-3: Like Districts 1 and 2, the Santa Fe-based 3rd District has an open-seat contest this year. Unlike those two GOP-held seats, this one is not competitive. Ben Lujan (D), son of the State House Speaker, is the Democratic nominee. He's not a particularly impressive candidate, but this is a Democratic district, and Lujan will have the state party leadership firmly behind him. Republicans nominated contractor Dan East (R), who doesn't have much of a chance. Likely Democratic Retention.

Tuesday Results

Maryland-4: Liberal activist Donna Edwards (D) thrashed Ron Paul activist Peter James (R) by 60 points in the special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Albert Wynn (D). Wynn decided to resign after Edwards defeated him the February primary in this majority-black, overwhelmingly Democratic district in the D.C. suburbs. Edwards is nearly a shoo-in to win a full term in the November general election.

For the first time since Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-Ga.) death on February 13, 2007, there are no House vacancies or pending vacancies. The Democratic majority now stands at 236-199 after having picked up three seats in special elections this past spring.

Membership Changes, 110th Congress
Former MemberPartyStateDistrict
Left Office
Replaced byParty
Charlie Norwood
Died Feb. 13, 2007Paul Broun
Juanita Millender-McDonald
Died April 22, 2007Laura Richardson
Marty Meehan
Resigned July 1, 2007 to become college chancellor.Niki Tsongas
Jo Ann Davis
Died Oct. 6, 2007Rob Wittman
Dennis Hastert
Resigned Nov. 26, 2007Bill Foster
Julia Carson
Died Dec. 15, 2007Andre Carson
Roger Wicker
Resigned Dec. 31, 2007 to become senator.Travis Childers
Bobby Jindal
Resigned Jan. 14, 2008 to become governor.Steve Scalise
Richard Baker
Resigned Feb. 2, 2008 to become lobbyist.Don Cazayoux
Tom Lantos
Died Feb. 11, 2008Jackie Speier
Albert Wynn
Resigned June 1, 2008, to become lobbyistDonna Edwards

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