Perception vs. Reality

Here’s a headline you probably weren’t expecting: “Most Expect GOP Victory In November”.

It goes with this week’s poll by Associated Press-GfK which included the following stats:

– 55% of likely voters now assuming Republicans will take over the Senate, an 8-point gain from September.

– 25% of Democrats thinking it’s going to happen, a 7-point gain in the past month.

– 47% of likely voters favoring a Republican-controlled Congress versus 39% wanting Democrats in charge. A month ago, it was an even divide.

– 44% of women preferring Republicans, versus 42% for Democrats. A month ago, women favored Democrats by a 47%-40% edge.

It’s a reverse from the 2012 campaign, when most voters expected President Obama to win a second term and Mitt Romney’s supporters were more pessimistic than those on the Democratic side.

Other examples of perception being in line with election reality:

1) In 2008, 52% of voters expected Obama to win a first term, compared to only 41% for John McCain (Obama would win, 52.9%-457%)..

2) In 2004, despite John Kerry’s getting off to a good start in the first of the three presidential debates, 60% of independents still believed George W. Bush would be re-elected (exit polls showed the candidates splitting the independent vote).

There may be a simple explanation to much of this: media narrative.

Two years ago, in the final weeks of the campaign the predominant story lines were Romney’s struggles on the campaign trail (i.e., the 47% remark) and the GOP’s uphill climb in capturing 270 electoral votes.

The predominant story lines in 2014: (a) Obama’s unpopularity; (b) Democrats on the defensive, trying to prevent a GOP Senate takeover by reatoring to such tactical maneuvers as shunning the President; (c) whether Republicans once again can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

On top of that, name the last time this year — or 2013, for that matter — that Obama “won” the weekly news cycle. Instead, each week seems to bring with it a set of troubles foreign, domestic or both.

Meanwhile, here’s some more fuel to feed the manifest destiny fire:

1) Wall Street is expecting a good night for Republicans — keep an eye on the trading of defense stocks and medical-device makers, two potential winners in a GOP Senate.

2) Polls point to a GOP turnout advantage — per a survey released this week by Fox News, 45% of Republicans described themselves as “extremely” interested in the election, versus only 30% of Democrats.

3) Some media outlets already are trying to spin a good GOP election as damaged goods — for example, this New Yorker piece on why “an empty victory beckons” for Republicans.

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Puppy Love In Arizona

Call it: #WCW . . . Women Candidates Wednesday.

Another video: this one an example of how to handle over-the-top attacks with humor and satire.

The ad’s for Martha McSally, the GOP challenger to Rep. Ron Barber in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

The campaign’s followed some predictable paths: McSally’s accused Barber, a survivor of the Gabbie Giffords shooting assault, of being too close to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for Arizonans’ tastes; Barber’s accused McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot, of having impractical solutions to immigration reform.

It’s also a rematch one of the more contentious House races in the last cycle: Barber defeated McSally by 2,544 votes out of more than 292,000 cast in 2012. At present, the district breaks down as 126,619 Republicans, 122,875 Democrats and 121,963 independents.

Barber’s road to re-election: attack McSally as a Tea Party extremist.

Thus this rebuttal spoof, in which a menacing voice-over says the candidate hates apple pie, will destroy Social Security, wants to end student loans and has launched a war on women.

And the final line: “McSally dislikes puppies”.

Here’s the ad — you decide if it’s effective:

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Aging Like Fine Swine

During the closing days of the election, we’ll share some of the closing arguments being made in the battleground races.

Here’s a new ad from Joni Ernst, the Republican Senate challenger in Iowa.

Entitled “Lot”, it’s actually familiar turf for Ernst. Once again, she’s in a pig pen — alluding to the idea that working in Washington is not unlike rooting around with a bunch of Iowa linkers. “It’s a mess. Dirty, noisy, and it stinks,” Ernst says. “Not this lot — I’m talking about the one in Washington. Too many typical politicians hogging, wasting and full of . . . well, let’s just say: bad ideas.”

It’s the second pig-related ad of the year for Ernst (you could say her campaign is aging like a fine swine.

Below, her first porcine spot from back in the spring, entitled “Squeal”.

It catapulted Ernst to victory in her states GOP primary — and served a lesson about the power of social media (Ernst spent little in the way of paid advertising (a modest buy on Des Moines cable television), counting instead on the ad going viral on social media to generate buzz).

Nothing like a little hog castration to get your attention.

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2014 Triskaidekaphobia

Ok, so that’s a mighty big word stating at you in the headline.

Translated, it means “the fear of the number 13″ — an appropriate topic given that we’re 13 days away from the election, Republicans are feeling bullish about their chances, and the one looming question (well, aside from who bothers to vote on Nov. 4) would be what unlucky breaks could befall the GOP.

Here are three possibilities:

1) Act of God. Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy made it way up the East Coast shortly before the election — leaving a path destruction in a couple of swing states (Virginia and North Carolina) and giving President Obama a much-needed photo-op as the head of a federal government ready to assist in clean-up and recovery along the Jersey shore (you may get sick of these images should Chris Christie seek the presidency). I’m not s meteorologist, so I can’t tell you if there’s enough time for a similar “super-storm” to form in the Gulf of Mexico then make its way to shore in time to screw up the political equation. Still, image such destruction hitting, say, Louisiana. Would it give the President another chance to show that Washington can be a source of good? Then again, how would the much-endangered Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu handle the presidential photo-op (the only Democratic president whose company she’s welcoming these days being that of Bill Clinton)?

2) Act of Terror. I’m not implying that this phrase deserves to be in the same sentence as political “luck”. Still, a terrorist event on U.S. would throw a monkey wrench into the election — beginning with the question of whether the vote could be/should be postponed should something that traumatic occur shortly before Election Day. In theory, such an event would force otherwise bickering politicians to rally behind the flag. But like the current back-and forth over ISIS and Ebola, how long would it be before Republicans blamed the tragedy on Obama’s weak leadership, while Democrats went after federal budget cuts and the Bush approach to foreign policy as the roots of all evil?

3) Hoof-in-Mouth Disease. 13 days=300 hours and spare change=a lot of chances to say something really stupid that causes a few thousand votes to swing and thus costs a candidate an election. It can be piddling stuff such as Charlie Baker, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts, calling a television reporter “sweetheart”. Or something as amusing as First Lady Michelle Obama repeatedly mispronouncing the name of the Democrats’ Senate candidate in Iowa (that’s “Braley”, not “Bailey”). “Let me hit the reset-switch on my brain” moments also apply: Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, for example, being unable to name three books that influenced his life or a song he recently heard. I’d also add to this category: really dumb judgment — as happened a few years ago in Indiana during a spring primary, when a mayoral challenger sent out a campaign mailer featuring the incumbent’s likeness next to those of Saddam Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Gaddafi and — if you want to call him a dictator — impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

I never realized that bad hair is the same as bad man.

btw, as an unrepentant baseball junkie, I completely buy into the idea of “13” and bad luck. Just ask any New York Yankees’ fan what’s to become of the expensive headache that is their #13 in pinstripes .

And it was the number on the back of the jersey of the guy who threw this unfortunate pitch:

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Time To Start Thinking Democratic Shake-up?

With two week to go until Election Day, it may be premature to start tap-dancing on a grave. That said, there’s the question of what the Democrats’ next move (or moves) should be if the November vote doesn’t go their way.

Translation: losing control of the Senate, losing further ground in the House, no decisive gains at the state and local levels to distract from the story on Capitol Hill.

Under such a scenario, here are four candidates for a job change:

1) Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic National Committee chair has taken hits from within Democratic circles that she’s using her national position to advance her fortunes more so than the party’s (asking DNC staffers to work on your projects and trying to get the committee to pay for your clothes will create that kind of bad blood). In the 2014 election, here’s what we know of Wasserman Schultz’s performance: she’s a first-rate lightning rod (remember what she said — then had to take back — about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?) and a third-rate spin doctor (voters are going to flock to Democrats because they’ll ask “who has my back”, was her line this past weekend). Wasserman Schultz has vowed to serve out all of her four-year term, which would take her to the 2017 presidential inaugural. Maybe the White House wants to revisit the Big Book of Ambassadorial Vacancies.

2) Harry Reid. If Republicans pick up at least six seats and Reid’s relegated to minority status, will the current Senate Majority Leader willingly hand over the reins to Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (that’s assuming Durbin’s re-elected). Why push Reid aside? Simple: just check the Senate races across the South where, to the disdain of incumbent Democrats, Reid’s become the biggest relationship third-wheel since Princess Diana dragged Camilla Parker Bowles into her marriage. The bottom line: Reid is combative, grim-faced, a practitioner of scorched-earth politics and hardly an ambassador of cheer — not whom you want in charge if you’re trying to make the Republicans the black-hat gang. Let’s see if party donors — the same ones who have problems with Wasserman Schultz — will put pressure on the Leader to step down.

3) Nancy Pelosi. You’re probably wondering why it took this long to get to the artist formerly known as Madame Speaker. We already know that she’s a political albatross: Republican strategists working on the March special election in Florida’s 13th CD told reporters that the thought of Pelosi moving one step closer to the Speakership was a powerful motivator for independent voters in that swing district — more so than Obamacare. Here’s the question for House Democrats moving forward, assuming they’re down to 195 or fewer seats post-election: Pelosi will turn 75 next March; she’s skippered her side of the aisle for over a decade now; it will take at least two cycles to get back the House and she’s a proven outside-the-beltway lightning rod. Would it be the right time to replace the current leadership with some younger blood?

3) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As one prominent Democratic strategist recently told The Hill, President Obama “should take a flamethrower to his office.” The question, assuming a less violent form of dismissal: who gets the boot? Is it Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri? Or is the solution something other than surrounding the President with new faces (only Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack remain from the original Obama cabinet) — i.e., a change (of mindset) higher than the staff level? As Brookings’ Stephen Hess recently surmised: “The problems are Obama’s, not his chief of staff’s. When you bring in somebody of a lesser stature, you’re just moving chairs around on the deck of the Titanic.”

Aye-aye.

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Hillary And The Big Blue Bubble

Hillary Clinton, in San Francisco raising money and getting a hug from Nancy Pelosi.

As I write this, Hillary Clinton is gathered in a roomful of admirers in Brentwood, a fashionable enclave of Los Angeles, gathering money on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Committee.

The good news: her visit there caused far less traffic hell than those of the Commander-in-Chief.

It’s been a good day for the former you-name-it (Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, First Lady, almost the first woman to earn a major party’s presidential nomination).

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Clinton was in San Francisco, speaking to a luncheon crowd of high-powered, well-adorned, deep-pocketed women.“Why, after American women have contributed so much to our economy,” she asked attendees who paid anywhere from $500 to $32,400 to hear her wisdom (plus the song styles of Carole King), “do we act like it’s still 1955?”

A curious statement to make in the city that broke ground on free love, needle exchanges and same-sex marriage — to a roomful of women doing things socially, economically and spiritually that their foremothers never would imagined.

What do the two events have in common? There’s big money haul, of course (the S.F. appearance was meant to buoy Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic National Campaign Committee).

But also safety: for Mrs. Clinton, like President Obama, California fundraisers constitute life inside the blog blue bubble — no one daring to get in her face about a failed foreign policy, or the fact that Monica Lewinsky chose the same day to join Twitter.

Other than this (it takes a) village idiot camped outside the Clinton event:

With two weeks to go in the campaign, how often will Hillary Clinton dare to venture outside that blue comfort zone?

In the past few days, she’s been to Philadelphia to stump for Tom Wolf, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful in Pennsylvania. She’s also been to Michigan, the site of both gubernatorial and senatorial contests. And she managed to find the time to swing by Kentucky, to lend a hand to Alison Lundergan Grimes’ challenge to Mitch McConnell.

Where else is HRC bound?

Later this week, it’s a New England triple-header: in Rhode Island for Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts for Martha Coakley, both gubernatorial hopefuls. Plus Maine, to stump for Rep. Mike Michaud.

After that. on to North Carolina, for a Saturday appearance at the Charlotte Convention Center with Sen. Kay Hagan.

So what to make of the aforementioned travel?

With the exception of Kentucky, it’s pretty safe stuff. Take Kentucky, for example: the problem there, in a state that voted twice for Bill Clinton, is President Obama  — not the woman who’s like to replace

The question moving forward: will Mrs. Clinton try to exert her influence on races in states that aren’t pre-disposed to her cause and Democrats aren’t favored?

On my watch list, that includes:

– Louisiana (during the general election, not the runoff), for Sen. Mary Landrieu.

– Georgia (again, before the runoff), for Michelle Nunn.

– Texas, for gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis.

– Montana, for Senate hopeful Amanda Curtis.

– Arkansas, for Sen. Mark Pryor

– Ohio, for gubernatorial hopeful Edward Fitzgerald.

Call it: the bubble watch.

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For Republicans: Michigan Senate Blues

Michigan GOP Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land: in the year of a potential wave, is her campaign headed out to sea?

Two story lines emerging from the Wolverine State this fall:

1) What happened to the University of Michigan’s storied football program (the 3-4 Wolverines face the unpleasant task of visiting #8 Michigan State next weekend)?

2) What happened to the Republicans’ chances of picking up the seat left vacant by the retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who opted against running for a seventh (yes, seventh) term?

A month ago, Michigan seemed in play for Republicans — albeit higher-hanging fruit than the smaller red states that might hand the GOP control of the Senate.

A late September Rasmussen poll showed Gary Peters, a Democratic congressman from the state’s 14th CD (it runs west of Detroit) with a mere 2-point lead over Republican Terri Lynn Land, a former two-time Michigan secretary of state.

A month later, there’s this headline from ABC News: “Meet the Senate GOP Candidate Even Republicans Love to Hate.”

And this headline from TheAtlantic.com: “Did Republicans Blow the Michigan Senate Race?”

So what to make of the turn of events (or the changed perception that Land’s gone from the toast of Michigan to . . . well, just plain toast)?

1) Conservatives point to the candidate’s inconsistency. Land flipped on the question of the federal auto-industry bailout: two years ago, taking a Romneyesque view of opposing federal tax money for GM and Chrysler. More recently, Land told reporters that she “always supported the auto industry” and would have voted for the bailout had she been in Congress at the time. Local scribes consider the May change-of-heart the kind of jump-the-shark moment that doomed her candidacy sooner than pundits realized.

2) “Really” . . . a bad first impression? In her first television ad, Lynn told viewers that her opponent and his supporters “want you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment.” Then came 12 seconds of silence during which Land drinks from a coffee mug, shakes her head and checks her watch. CNN labeled it “good stuff” and “fantastic”.  GOP pollster Frank Luntz, on the hand, deemed it the worst ad of 2014. Personally, I’d go with Luntz — a guy who does messaging for a living — on this one.

Here’s the ad:

Meanwhile, here’s something not so speculative: earlier in October, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled the plug on air time in Michigan. The spin: Land has a strong ground game; she doesn’t need the help (feel free to name the last congressional candidate to willingly parted with $850,000 in advertising paid for by someone else).

With the Real Clear Politics average showing a 9-point lead for Peters and FiveThirtyEight.com giving the Democratic congressman an 89% chance of victory (up from 70% in September — the forecast being for a 6-point win), the guess is the GOP’s Michigan Senate dry spell continues for another cycle.

And therein lies an oddity.

Republicans control the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature, but haven’t won a Senate contest in Gerald Ford’s resting place and Mitt Romney’s birthplace (not to mention the birthplace of the Republican Party) since 1994. The winner that year: Spence Abraham, who six years later would lose to the state’s soon-to-be senior senator. Debbie Stabenow.

At least the University of Michigan football program has had a lot more success to report over the same timeframe.

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