"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”

Pericles



Saturday, June 9, 2007

Building a Filibuster Proof SuperMajority Part 2

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

The Democratic Party goes into next year's Senate elections with a built-in structural advantage over the Republicans, needing only to defend 12 incumbents to the Republicans' daunting challenge of defending 21 (now 22 with the Wyoming vacancy) during a period when the GOP brand has plummeted.

Most analysts forecast the Dems at having a chance to realize a net gain of 3-4 seats, if the current political climate continues through the election. If these predictions come true, the Democrats could hold a 55-45 seat majority in the upper chamber.

A ten seat majority sounds pretty impressive until you remember the "F-word" - the 10-letter one, that is.

After the defeat on the Iraq supplemental, it's clear a mere majority isn't enough. The only number that matters, and will thwart "Mitch and his MerryMen" from throwing their filibuster-laced temper tantrums is SIXTY.

Can we possibly get there in 2008?

This is the second in a three-part series addressing that question. The first, creatively titled "Part 1", reviewed the current thinking of the "Inside the Beltway" punditry class regarding the 2008 Senate races. Among the talking heads, there is a general consensus as to the top 4-5 Democratic pick-up opportunities. The third installment (coming later this week) will look at the tier 2 seats that hold the Dems' best chance of winning if we start the legwork now (and things continue to break our way).

For those too lazy/disinterested to click back and pore through the previous post, here's the Readers Digest Condensed Version:

General Consensus -
* Structural advantage Dems
* Forecast - 4-5 GOP-held seats are Dem pick-up opportunities
* Top Tier Seats - CO (open), NH (Sununu), MN (Coleman), ME (Collins), OR (Smith) with some analysts including NC (Dole)

Biggest Challenge
* Majority of twenty-one 2008 GOP seats are in Red States

Democrats Opportunity
* NRSC recruiting abysmal
* GOP fundraising lagging behind Dems
* Party ID, voter enthusiasm and issues all favor Democrats

Potential Number of GOP seats in play*
* WaPo = twelve
* CQ Politics = fourteen
* Cook Political Report = eleven
* numbers above include possible retirements


As previously stated, the road to the Senate Sixty is built on the assumption that Dems hold onto all 12 of our seats, including the two most vulnerable Senators in Louisiana and South Dakota.

Once again, I'll acknowledge that reaching the Senate 60 is a lofty goal, and may require what others may describe as "wishful thinking." But, as I put the finishing touches on this post, the poll results from Part one show 24% of respondents predicting a pickup of 9+ seats next year. Apparently I'm not the only dreamer - there are at least TWENTY others out there!

Now that everyone is up to speed, how do we identify that second tier, the group of Senators we can target with the higher likelihood of flipping the seat to the Democratic column? Remember that Virginia was way down on the 'experts' list in 2005. And, if Jim Webb hadn't ignored the prognosticator's predictions, he wouldn't have been in position to seize the moment when the true "Future President George Allen" revealed himself.

Which senator is a "Macaca" moment away from losing his seat? Which state has shown a more 'purple' tinge below the presidential level? To answer these questions, I developed my Vulnerability Factor Scoring System.

This VF Score is simple and quite subjective. I've included the various factors I - an amateur political junkie - believe determines where a Democratic candidate may be most successful. I'm a strong supporter of Dean's fifty state strategy and don't mean to imply that any seat is out of reach. But, when there is a list of 22 targets, it makes sense to figure out where our energies should be focused.

The Vulnerability Factor Score

In creating this scoring system, I asked, “What wins elections?”

Answer: Money, popularity and party strength. Therefore, these are the factors I used in building my VF Score.

Money - Using the most recent FEC information (from Q1 2007), I gave any incumbent with less than $750,000 Cash On Hand at the start of April a score of 1 – indicating the fundraising was weak. There were only six Senators that met this criterion: Craig (ID), Domenici (NM), Enzi (WY), Hagel (NE), Stevens (AK) and Warner (VA).

Granted, all of these states are small (except Virginia) and require smaller war chests to finance campaigns. However, these Senators rose considerably less money than their counterparts during the quarter, indicating a potential lack of interest in the 2008 campaign. All of these senators, with the exception of Enzi, have been the subject of retirement rumors. It’s also important to note that the LOWEST CoH figure for an incumbent Democrat was Tim Johnson’s $1,218,625. Every Democrat, except Biden whose attention is focused elsewhere for the time being, raised over $650,000 in the first three months of 2007.

Popularity - Politicians get elected because they’re well-liked. But, in an era when the national mood is one of discontent and anger, it’s important to factor in both personal approval as well as presidential/partisan approval ratings. Therefore the VF Score incorporates senate and presidential approval numbers. Freshmen and any incumbent who received less than 55% of the vote in the previous election are traditionally targeted for the upcoming cycle. My vulnerability score includes these factors - as well as age - in this manner:

* Freshmen get “1” added to their VF score.
* If incumbent received less than 55% in 2002, add “1”
* If incumbent approval rating less than 55%, add “1”, if less than 50% add “2”
* If incumbent is over age 70, add “1”
* If a primary challenge is underway, add “1”
* If incumbent is under investigation, add "1"
All of the factors above (including the CoH numbers), contribute to a candidate’s “PERSONAL WEAKNESS” score.

The “PERSONAL WEAKNESS” score range = 0 – 8.


Dole (5), Sununu (4), and Cornyn (4) have the highest scores, with Sessions and Collins both receiving “0”

To measure the Bush/GOP drag on a candidate’s re-election effort, I used the following:
If President Bush’s approval rating in state* is
* between 40-45%, add “1”,
* between 37-40%, add “2”,
* lower than 37%, add “3”
Additionally, if during the 2004 election, Bush received
* between 50-55% of vote, add “1”,
* if Bush vote total less than 50%, add “2”

*Bush approval ratings are from August 2006 - the most recent full fifty state listing I could locate. While Bush’s numbers have continued to fall,using the same polling date allows an "apples to apples" comparison between states and achieves the goal of identifying where Bush and the Republican Party are likely to have the bigger “drag” on a re-election campaign.

The “BUSH DRAG” score range = 0-5.



There are four states that get the maximum “BUSH DRAG” score – ME, MN, NH and OR. Not surprisingly, these are all Gore/Kerry states. If the top of the Democratic ticket is rolling toward victory, the incumbents in these states are going to have a difficult time holding onto their seats.

Party Strength The third element of the Vulnerability Score is the strength of the local Democratic Party. Where have Democrats shown an ability to win statewide office? Are the Democrats a force in the state legislature? It's a measurement of "bench strength" and the Democratic Party brand in the state. Have the state's voters shown a willingness to cast a vote for a candidate with a (D) next to their name?

The "Party Strength" component is built as follows. If the Democrats hold the following state offices:
* Governor, add "1"
* Attorney General, add "1"
* US Senator, add "1"
* Control State House/Assembly, add "1"
* Control State Senate, add "1"*

If Congressional delegation is composed:
* Dems hold less than 50% of state's seats, add "0.5"
* Dems hold between 50-75% of state's seats, add "1"
* Dems hold over 75% of state's seats, add "2"
* Dems hold ZERO seats, add "0"

*Four states (AK, ME, MS, & OK) have either evenly split or 'powersharing' agreements in their Senates, and have been given "0.5" as a result. Nebraska's non-partisan unicameral legislature removes this component from the VF score.

The "PARTY STRENGTH" scoring range is 0-7.


Of the twenty-one states, Oregon (6) and New Mexico (5.5) have the strongest Democratic party, followed by Minnesota, Maine and North Carolina (5). The weakest scores were Idaho (zero), South Carolina (0.5), Texas (0.5), Alaska (1.5) and Georgia (1.5).

As I said previously, this scoring system is relatively simple and is subjective - a professional political scientist could (and likely has) built a far more complex and accurate model to determine where the DSCC should invest it's resources. Let's hope so.

To arrive at the Overall Vulnerability Factor Score I simply add the three components together. Therefore, the Vulnerability Factor Score range is 0-20. New Hampshire, with a VF score of 13.5 is the highest and Idaho, with a VF score 2 is the lowest. The complete results look like this:









StateVFPWBDPS
NH 13.5 4 5 4.5
MN 13 3 5 5
OR 13 2 5 6
NM 11.5 4 2 5.5
NC 11 5 1 5
ME 10 0 5 5
TN 9 3 2 4
VA 7.5 3 2 2.5
KS 7 2 2 3
AKM5.5 3 1 1.5
KY 5.5 2 1 2.5
GA 4.5 3 0 1.5
SC 4.5 2 2 0.5
TX 4.5 4 0 0.5
MS 41 0 3
OK 41 0 3
NE 32 0 1
WY 3 1 0 2
AL 2.5 0 0 2.5
ID 2 2 0 0



So, my little VF scoring system reveals a top tier similar to those of the experts. In the next installment, I'll take a look at the following states to determine the Democrats road to sixty: New Mexico, Oregon, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Alaska, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Of these seats, we need to win five (assuming wins in CO, NH, ME and MN).

UP NEXT: PART III: THE SECOND TIER OPPORTUNITIES

Friday, June 8, 2007

Building a Filibuster Proof SuperMajority Part 1

Cross posted at Daily Kos.

I started working on this post in mid May and put it aside the day the Iraq supplemental bill passed. In the aftermath of the Democratic capitulation to the lame duck White House warlords, I found it somewhat difficult to focus on the upcoming election, frustrated and disappointed by the results.

Eventally, the anger subsided and I accepted what I knew all along: the lesson from the Iraq vote MUST be this: a Congressional Democratic majority is simply not enough.

A razor thin majority in the US Senate is impotent, particularly when we don't control the White House. And, as long as we don't have a filibuster-proof SIXTY SEATS, we will be handcuffed, hoodwinked and outmaneuvered by a smart and crafty minority.

We need to harness the anger and find a way to attain 60 seats SOONER rather than LATER.

At first glance the task ahead is daunting. The majority of Republican incumbents running in 2008 reside in Red States. In an effort to determine which of these is more purple than the others, I created a Vulnerability Score for each of the 21 races.

First, some acknowledgements - back in February, brownsox posted about getting to 60 by the 2010 midterms, which certainly seems doable, although we can’t assume the current state of chaos in the Republican Party will continue past the end of the Bush/Cheney regime. We need to seize the current opportunity and expand the majority now.

In recent days, two kossacks have started the conversation, mehitabel9 and plf515, and at plf515’s suggestion, I’m going to expand upon their initial observations. Of course, another excellent source for Senate 2008 news is, Senateguru2008, whose blog does an excellent job following the latest in senate campaign news.

Their analysis makes predictions built on a mixture of raw data and current events. I aim to expand on their work by building a "Vulnerabilty Score," incorporating campaign finances, approval ratings, and local partisan sentiment, as measured by Bush's approval ratings and Democratic party strength.

This is the first of three posts. This post will briefly look at how the "Inside the Beltway experts" view the upcoming cycle. The second will explain the Vulnerabilty Scoring system. The third will take a closer look at the most vulnerable incumbents.

I'll acknowledge that attaining the goal of 60 seats is lofty and, as such, the analysis may occassionally venture into the realm of “wishful thinking.”

But, if we look back at the 2006 midterms, even the biggest dreamers of 2005 wouldn’t have anticipated a six seat pickup and a Democratic majority in the 2006 midterms. So, I say, let’s set our goals high – and dare to dream!

I haven't always been of this opinion. When Chris Cillizza from the WaPo's blog "The Fix" initially wrote two possible scenarios for the Dems reaching the bullet-proof 60 Senate Seats in April, I shook my head in disbelief, particularly when he argued there may be an outside chance of getting there in ONE ELECTION CYCLE

I was concerned that this might be the start of setting unreasonable expectations and, if the MSM and the Democratic base both bought into the idea we could win NINE seats in 2008, anything short of that would be viewed as a failure.

But, after the surrender on Iraq, my opinion changed. The stakes are simply too high to be content with incremental change.

Additionally, the ongoing national shift away from the Republicans has shifted the playing field. By virtually every measuremnt, Republicans are in freefall:
1) Recruiting – during this critical recruiting stage, the NRSC has failed to convince one single top-tier challenger to take on a Democratic incumbent
2) Fundraising – breaking a long-standing money advantage, GOP committees and candidates are raising money far slower than Democrats
3) Party ID – a majority of Americans (including leaners) now identify as Democrats, according to Gallup.
4) Voter Enthusiasm - Public interest in the Democratic presidential race is way ahead of the Republicans battle, as TV ratings indicate.
5) Public Support Rasmussen Polling reports that Democrats have the advantage on ALL TEN KEY ISSUES, the first time this has happened in the decade Rasmussen has been asking.


And, while the Republicans continue their retreat, the Democrats are on offense and expanding the playing field, according to The Hill:

While the DSCC has shifted its recruiting focus to less vulnerable seats in states such as Kentucky and Texas, the NRSC is still looking for candidates to tackle top targets in Louisiana, Montana and South Dakota. In Colorado, former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) unexpectedly dropped out of the open-seat race, leaving another hole to fill.


So, how can we get to 60? And, can it be done in 2008?

To begin with, let’s acknowledge that any path toward the Filibuster Proof 60 requires the Dems to hold onto all 12 seats they’re defending in 2008 - including a solid defense of the two potentially vulnerable seats (LA & SD). So, I'm going to begin with these assumptions: Landrieu finds a way to squeak through despite the Katrina-related loss of African American and a healthy Johnson returns to the Senate in the next few months, able and willing to undergo a re-election campaign.

A brief review of how the MSM "experts" view the 2008 cycle:

Washington Post "The Fix"

Cillizza's "fast track" scenario identified nine seats that could be competitive (keep in mind he’s writing in mid-April):
There are five obvious pickup opportunities for Democrats even at this early stage of the cycle: the open seat in Colorado as well as seats currently held by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), and John Sununu (N.H.).
>snip<
Right now four Republican Senators up for re-election are regularly mentioned as serious retirement possibilities: Sens. Pete Domenici (N.M.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and John Warner (Va.).


He identifies three other potential pickups that might be available if things broke our way, a candidate stumbled, or the national wave in 2006 was just a precursor to a tsunami in 2008. He argues that Oklahoma (Inhofe), North Carolina (Dole), and Kentucky (McConnell) as outside possibilities.

CQ Politics Ratings

This week, CQ Politics came out with its new ratings for the 2008 races, and the surprise entrant among the five most vulnerable Republican seats was Liddy Dole(NC). The other four were CO, ME, NH, and MN, which appear on most every prognosticator’s list.

In addition to the top five, CQ lists nine additional seats that could potentially be in play, if the national anti-GOP sentiment continues to grow, incumbents retire or the Democrats field a strong candidate. They are: Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

CQ rates seven states as SAFE GOP: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Wyoming (Enzi)

Cook Political Report

Lastly, the experts over at the Cook Political Report also come out this week with their own updated ratings, which are here. In addition to the Colorado seat rated as a “Toss-Up”, the experts there identify MN, ME (lean Rep) and then NH, NC, NM, and OK (likely Rep) as the seats most vulnerable to a Democratic pickup. At this point, they rate the remaining 15 seats as "Solidly Republican" - although retirements could shakeup that list.

Expert Forecasts on GOP "possible seats in play"
WaPo: twelve
CQ Politics: fourteen
Cook Political: eleven
(the figures above include possible retirements)


These experts are traditionally cautious in their forecasts, especially 18 months before an election. Since there is general agreement on the top tier (CO, NH, ME, MN, OR and perhaps NC), my goal is to move beyond the "low-hanging fruit" and determine where our energies might pay off with the additional four-five Senate seats needed to lift the Democrats over the filibuster hurdle.

COMING SUNDAY: The Vulnerability Score

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hillary may have lost me on Sunday night...

Cross posted at Daily Kos

There's something that's been haunting me all week. There was a defining moment during the Democratic debate Sunday night I cannot shake. And it may have doomed Senator Clinton's chances of gaining my support.

Near the outset of the debate, during the discussion of Sen. Edwards' apt description of the "Global War on Terror" as a Bush/Rove political slogan, Hillary's response left me speechless.

Well, it's taken me this long to find my voice.

In my formative years, during the 1988 presidential campaign, Poppy Bush accused Dukakis of being a card-carrying member of the ACLU. It was meant as a negative. I was incredulous. How could this be a bad thing?

I was in college at the time - and my roommate shared my dismay. It soon became obvious the "card-carrying ACLU member" label was indeed an effective attack and that it was sticking. Apparently, "liberal" was a dirty word. My group of friends sadly realized we were outside the American political mainstream.

I vividly remember my roommate asking, "If we're not in the mainstream, what stream are we swimming in?"

The other night, Senator Clinton let me know she and I are swimming in different rivers when she said:

"I am a Senator from New York. I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11. And I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda. And, I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough."


Apparently, Hillary and Rudy are working from the same set of talking points. As a result, I'm not sure she will ever get me support.

Now, I understand Hillary is posturing for the general election. And her team of DC advisors is whispering in her ear that, as a female, she cannot risk looking soft in this "Global War on Terror." I get all that.

But does she honestly believe Americans are safer today than we were before 9/11?

In response to her statement I must ask, "What Bush 'Global War on Terror' policies have made us safer, Senator Clinton?"

Is it the invasion of Iraq and the creation of a terrorist breeding ground?
Is it the Patriot Act and warrantless surveillance of citizens?
Or is it the absolute rejection of diplomacy and negotiation that has left the United States isolated and diminished on the world stage?
Or is it that fence along the Mexican border?

Which is it?

Oh, and one more question.

If the disastrous policies of the last 6 years have made us safer than we were, just who do you think the Republicans are going to blame for the dangerous and unprotected situation we found ourselves in on that September morning?

From the Bushco/Faux News perspective, it's never been Georgie, Condi, Dick and the gang who were asleep at the wheel. Mrs. Clinton, they blame your husband - and don't for one second think that the Republicans will hesitate to use Sunday night's statement (or others like it) to reinforce that argument in November 2008.

Is that what Democrats want to be selling to America in the general election? Mrs. Clinton, the mainstream of the Democratic Party does not want our nominee spouting Republican talking points, despite what your advisors are telling you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CA Voters Are "Civic Illiterates"

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Calitics

The May 2007 Public Policy Institute of California survey titled "Californians and Their Government" contains depressing data about the average voter's civic knowledge.

The press release accompanying the report states:

California voters admit to knowing little or nothing about some of the most critical policy issues they may be facing in next year's elections... This lack of knowledge concerning pivotal proposals, such as billions of dollars for new infrastructure bonds and changing term limits, could provide the margin of success for these proposals. Moreover, what voters don't know may be lulling them into a false sense of fiscal security at a time when the state's finances are still on shaky ground.


According to the survey, Californians have a limited understanding of how the state raises revenue and disperses funds. And, a large segment of the population view bonds as "free money" unaware of the costs being passed on to future generations.

I see those numbers and wonder, "Is this good government?"

Despite this limited knowledge, California voters are routinely making budget decisions and issuing policy mandates through ballot initiatives.

Next year, Californians will likely be asked to approve over $43 billion in bonds for education facilities, prisons, water storage and other infrastructure (in 2006, voters approved $37 billion) and revisit our term limits laws. Currently, there are 25 state-wide initiatives in the pipeline for 2008.

According to the PPIC survey, many are relatively uninformed on the questions they'll be asked to weigh in on. Some findings from PPIC's polling:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters support Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to issue $43.3 billion in bonds to increase funding for education facilities, prisons, water storage, and other infrastructure projects.
Fifty-two percent of voters admit that they know very little (43%) or nothing (9%) about how bonds are paid for in California. Six percent say they know a lot.
The share of residents who describe the state budget as a big problem has fallen 29 points, from 73 percent to 44 percent, since May 2004.


With a majority of state voters admitting they do not understand how bonds are financed, it's easy to understand why our elected officials prefer putting bond measures before the voters over the much less popular alternatives - raising taxes or cutting programs.

Historical Background - The ballot initiative was instituted in California in 1911 as a Progressive Era reform designed to reduce the influence of corporate interests on the state legislature. According to a 2005 PPIC analysis of the history of direct democracy in the state:

Since the 1970s, California has come to rely heavily on direct democacy to make major policy decisions. During that time, the number of initiatives per ballot has almost tripled, and voters have used direct democacy to decide the fate of such issues as drug enforcement, property taxes, environmental regulation, bilingual education and affirmative action. Some observers have concluded that the initiative process is replacig the legislature as the most important law-making institution in the state.


Unquestionably, direct citizen involvement has allowed Californians to express their opinions and enact important progressive legislation. Many positive changes (from my point of view) have come from the initiative process - including groundbreaking environmental protections and stem cell research. Despite a growing sense of "election fatigue" among state voters, the process remains popular with a sizable majority of Californians today, according to the Public Policy Institute.

Out of Iraq Initiative - In fact, one of the more intriguing initiatives being proposed by State Sen President Don Perata, the ""Vote Us Out of Iraq"" ballot initiative is being debated in Sacramento today and will allow Californians to send an unprecedented message to our officials in Washington about the Iraq War. But, as elishastephens observed last week, the advisory measure is simply designed to allow voters to express their anger at the situation in Iraq.

Despite direct democracy's past success and ongoing popularity in the state, I believe the numbers in the May PPIC report are cause for concern.

The combination of an uninformed public and the willingness of elected officials to turn to the initiative process creates an opportunity for skilled and well-financed special interests to covertly advance their agendas. When the politicians "punt" the tough questions to an uninformed and disengaged electorate the likelihood of creating good policy is diminished.

Additionally, the almost exclusive reliance on television advertising as the communications tool used in statewide ballot campaigns reduces policy discussion to thirty second soundbites. Informed, intelligent debate becomes increasingly difficult as a result.

Initiatives work if the citizenry is knowledgeable about the issues and the process.

Right now, California's voters and elected officials are both coming up short.

Why Dems Are Talking Healthcare & Jobs While Rethugs Are Cheering Torture & War

originally posted on Daily Kos June 1, 2007

To all those out there who have been yelling loud and clear over the past week about the lack of any real difference between the Dems and their Republican opponents, I have to ask, "Have you been watching the early presidential debates?"

A cursory glimpse at the debate topics and candidate positions reveals stark differences between the two major parties. The Democrats are addressing the issues confronting the 21st century American family - healthcare, jobs, education. Meanwhile, the Republicans rally their base by throwing away the Geneva Conventions, creating a false link between Saddam and al Qaeda and promising a 'stay the course' policy in Iraq.

Has the chasm between Democrats and Republicans grown so wide that building a bridge across the Red/Blue divide has become a Herculean task? Why are there two national conversations going on as we choose our next president?

But, perhaps most importantly, by dismissing the bloodlust in the GOP audiences are we overlooking the biggest obstacle to capturing the White House in 2008?

EJ Dionne has an interesting opinion piece today discussing the "parallel universes" our nominating battles appear to be operating in during the campaign's early stages.

Dionne discusses the findings from an April 2007 Pew Research Center poll illustrating the diverging priorities of the Democratic and Republican bases.

While Iraq is the top priority for partisans on both sides (38% of Dems, 31% of GOPers), the Republicans remain far more supportive of a 'stay the course' approach, than the Dems (I don't think this will come as news to anyone here!) Even more profound is the partisan divide revealed in the 60% of those surveyed who did not think that Iraq was the issue of our time.

Education was most important for 12 percent of Democrats and only 5 percent of Republicans; abortion for 8 percent of Republicans and just 1 percent of Democrats; immigration for 12 percent of Republicans and 1 percent of Democrats.
Consolidating these results dramatizes how different Democraticland is from Republicanland: 42 percent of Democrats listed one of three big domestic issues (the economy, health care and education) compared with only 20 percent of Republicans. The hot-button issues of immigration and abortion were overwhelmingly Republican concerns (20 percent to 2 percent).


With Terrorism/Security named by 17% of Republicans (making it #2 on the GOP list) and only 5% of Democrats, it is little wonder Giuliani is cheered when he advocates torture as American policy. With the GOP base angry over immigration, the formerly straight talking McCain frequently appears tongue-tied over the hot button issue. And much has been made about Romney's dramatic lurch to the right - on practically every issue -to placate the demands of the Republican primary voter.

Eighteen months before the nation picks its next president, most experts believe the Democrats have a clear advantage. Conventional wisdom forecasts the presidential race as the "Democrats to lose" - and predicts further expansion of the slim Democratic majorities in both houses. With an electorate angry about Iraq, Bush administration incompetence, and rapidly rising healthcare and energy costs, how can we lose?

If the Bush Administration and their spinmeisters (enabled by a lazy and complicit MSM) can once again manipulate the security/terrorist issue the GOP has a chance to retain their hold on the White House.

It is the security issue - and its power to alter elections - that continues to be the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all the Democratic candidates. The divergent atmospheres at the debates illustrate the challenging path ahead. In fact, the road has already been quite bumpy.

Democrats - burned twice at the polls before voters tired of the Rovian fear tactics and rejected Republican leadership in 2006 - remain leery of looking 'soft on defense.' As a result, our candidates dance around the Iraq war votes. It explains why John Edwards is attacked as naive and dangerous when he calls the "War on Terror" a politically inspired doctrine designed to advance GOP candidates.

Terrorism has scrambled the political strategy and calculus on the Republican side as well. The issues dominance within the GOP rank and file explains Rudys perch at the top of the heap of uninspiring candidates. His perceived strength on terrorism trumps his unorthodoxy on the conservative social issues. And, it is what allows Giuliani to get away with making claims that a Democratic victory will place America at greater risk to future terrorist attacks.

How many Americans are receptive to this argument? Well, there is some good news. According to most recent polls I could find, Congressional Democrats and the Bush Administration have traded places in the public's mind, with more Americans now trusting the Democrats to be more effective in combating terrorism. From the ABC News/Washington Post polling (more can be found at pollingreport.com):

"Who do you trust to do a better job handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism: Bush or the Democrats in Congress?" Options rotated. Half sample.






Date BushDems Both Neither Unsure
2/22-25/07 39% 52% 1% 5% 2%
1/16-19/07 40% 52% 1% 5% 2%
12/7-11/06 41% 50% 1% 6% 2%
1/15-18/04 60% 31% 2% 4% 3%
4/27-30/03 72% 21% 3% 2% 3%


It's important to recognize this switch as a recent phenomenon (occuring in late 2006 after years of GOP dominance on this question). And, perhaps most importantly for the current presidential election, these numbers may reveal much more about the American public's rejection of the Bush administration than a tectonic shift toward the Democrats on this issue. Once Bush is removed from the equation, the GOP is likely to regain some of its lost stature. (Whether it deserves it or not is an entirely separate question).

Will voters step into the voting booth in November 2008 receptive to Giuliani's argument and opt to vote for a Republican despite the years of overhwelming incompetence, pervasive corruption, and unjustifiable war?

The answer is simply unknowable. But, history - and human nature - is on their side.
The GOP strategists understand FEAR as a powerful motivator. They've used it effectively in the past - and show every indication they're planning on relying on tactics once again.

And, while bloodthirsty revenge may not appeal to the liberal blogosphere, it is a tried and true strategy in American politics. By failing to understand this simple reality, we risk opening the door to a successful GOP campaign based on fear and ignorance.

We must continue educating the American public about how the Bush Administration's policies have made Americans LESS SAFE than before. We must continue hammering away at the folly of the Iraq War, the lack of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection, and the diminished global stature of the US, to name a few. It is the only way to innoculate our nominee (and other candidates) from the soft on terror label.

I'll be watching next week's debates concerned that our parallel universes are dangerous for the eventual Democratic nominee.