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


Thursday, July 26, 2007

AK-Sen & At-Large: Rep. "Mink" Young Also FBI Target

It has been no secret over the past couple of months that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has been the target of the FBI's bribery investigation. Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal added Rep. Don Young's name to the list of GOP officials tied to the influence peddling investigation:

Federal investigators are examining whether Rep. Young or Sen. Stevens accepted bribes, illegal gratuities or unreported gifts from VECO Corp., Alaska's largest oil-field engineering firm, people close to the case said.
It isn't known what VECO allegedly may have received in return. The company has been awarded a series of federal contracts since 2000, including contracts to provide logistics support for arctic research, among other projects.
The two lawmakers are among the highest-ranking members of either party to come under scrutiny in the wave of public-corruption probes that has swept Washington in the past three years. In the past year, two congressmen have been sent to prison, a third has been indicted for bribery, and at least a half-dozen others are under investigation in separate cases.
For a decade, former VECO Chief Executive Bill Allen has held fund-raisers for Mr. Young in Anchorage every August, known as "The Pig Roast," participants said. Public records show contributions to Mr. Young of at least $157,000 from VECO employees and its political-action committee between 1996 and 2006, the last year the event was held.

Perhaps it was the FBI Young was threatening when he warned, "those who bite me will be bitten back" during a debate over earmarks with fellow GOPer Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ). If it weren't for his long history of throwing public tantrums and issuing irrational threats, one might think Young's tirade was the result of increasing pressure from the G-Men.

The legal bills are mounting for both Stevens and Young as the investigations appear to multiplying and expanding with each passing week. The embattled lawmakers are being attacked from all sides. Democrats appear to be readying serious runs at both politicians. The conservative Club for Growth has recently released polls showing Alaskans are fed up with the pork delivered by Stevens & Young. A recent poll of Anchorage voters (it's important to note this was not a statewide sample) revealed 44% had an unfavorable opinion of Stevens. All of this dissatisfaction cannot be seen as good news for the GOP.

Once considered SAFE seats, the Republican corruption means the national party will be investing resources defending their home turf. No one is saying when (or if) indictments against the Republican lawmakers are expected. One thing observers can be relatively confident about is the tenacity of both Stevens & Young means neither are planning on leaving office before their terms end.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Senate 2008: Shattering Sabato's Crystal Ball

Some political observers have updated the 2008 Senate ratings following the Q2 Senate campaign filings, as incumbent fundraising numbers provide an opportunity to gauge the political landscape. What does the 2008 cycle look like with under 500 days to go before the November 2008 election? The general consensus (Cook Political Report, CQPolitics, Rothenberg, WaPo's the Fix) is reflected in the overall forecast by the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

The Crystal Ball's brutal bottom line is that Republicans will be playing much more defense than Democrats, and so the early betting line favors continued, perhaps enhanced, Democratic control of the Senate.
Great news, right? Only if you're excited by the prospect of another Senate session dominated by GOP obstruction. To prevent this scenario, Democrats will need to overturn the current conventional wisdom (just like in 2006) and shatter Sabato's Crystal Ball.

Despite the GOP's "brutal bottom line," Sabato identifies ONLY SEVEN "probable competitive seats" - five Republican (CO, NH, ME, OR, MN) and two Dem (LA & SD). Even if the Dems win all seven of these contests the 111th Congress' partisan breakdown would be 54D, 44 R, 2 Indies.

If the Democrats win the White House and hold onto our Congressional majorities - the filibuster will be their last tool to defeat progressive legislation, protect their corporate backers, and reverse the disastrous policies of the Bush/Cheney administration. If you don't think this is a serious threat, you haven't been paying attention to how a stubborn and unified minority has stymied Senate action throughout 2007.

Never before have we seen this type of obstruction by a minority party. According to McClatchy, the previous record for number of cloture votes (requiring the 60 vote total to end debate) is 58, which occurred during both the 106th and 107th Congresses. Mitch and his Minority Misfits have already called 42 cloture votes - a pace that would result in 153!

This year Senate Republicans are threatening filibusters to block more legislation than ever before, a pattern that's rooted in — and could increase — the pettiness and dysfunction in Congress.
- snip -
Seven months into the current two-year term, the Senate has held 42 "cloture" votes aimed at shutting off extended debate — filibusters, or sometimes only the threat of one — and moving to up-or-down votes on contested legislation. Under Senate rules that protect a minority's right to debate, these votes require a 60-vote supermajority in the 100-member Senate.

Democrats have trouble mustering 60 votes; they've fallen short 22 times so far this year. That's largely why they haven't been able to deliver on their campaign promises.

Are there additional races where the Dems can win, pushing us over the 60 vote filibuster-proof majority?

Back in early June, I posed this same question and wrote a 3-part series "Building a Filibuster Proof SuperMajority" and created a "Vulnerability Factor Scoring" system to rank the 22 GOP held seats. The VF Score includes Personal Weakness (Cash on Hand, Age, Approval Ratings), Bush Drag (Bush approval ratings,) and Dem Party Strength.

In Part 1 I discussed the macro factors creating a "perfect storm" in which the 2008 elections could make the 2006 midterms look like the "good old days" for the Congressional Republicans. Incredibly, things have only worsened for the GOP in the past six weeks.
  1. Recruiting – The NRSC's recruiting struggles continue. In Louisiana - the GOP's best pick-up opportunity, Karl Rove has been reduced to trying to entice a current Dem to switch parties and run against Mary Landrieu. Conversely, while the DSCC may have encountered recruiting challenges in some states, Democrats are poised to run strong campaigns in red states across the nation.
  2. Fundraising – the financial gap between the party committees is widening. The June DSCC tally was more than double the money the NRSC raised. The Dems now have more than three times what the GOPers have in their campaign warchest. Dem incumbents are stockpiling money, while some GOPers' lackluster numbers are reinforcing retirement rumors.
  3. Party ID -- Dems currently enjoy an unprecedented advantage over the Republicans, Despite low congressional approval numbers being reported by the MSM, Dems are still viewed more favorably by the public, enjoying a 9 point lead over the GOP in recent generic congressional ballot polls.
  4. Voter Enthusiasm - Public interest in the Democratic presidential race is way ahead of the Republicans battle, as TV ratings indicate and the number of Americans donating to Dem candidates.
  5. Public Support Rasmussen Polling reports the public views the Democrats as more capable of dealing with 9 of 10 key issues confronting the nation. Even on the one issue - national security - the Dems don't lead on, it's essentially a statistical tie of 44-45.
  6. Iraq Inaction: The biggest macro factor is Iraq. The longer the GOP Congressmen and Senators keep their heads in the sand as the 2008 election approaches, the number of officeholders who become endangered is only going to increase. I cannot provide a link to empirically validate this statement but I will say this. The other day, pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen were on Shammity & Colmes. While Sean kept trying to make the claim the voters are going to punish the Democrats in 2008 for being anti-American, anti-war defeatists who promote higher taxes and socialist healthcare both pollsters put the smack down on Sean - basically telling him Iraq TRUMPS everything. The American people have decided the war has been lost and want out ASAP. The crushed look on his face was simply priceless. He persisted with the talking points and was smacked down again. If the GOPers allow the goalposts to be moved from September to November, the political price for the GOP could be enormous.

    The Vulnerability Factor Scoring System (defined in Part II) was designed to determine where Democrats could best invest limited resources - although with the aforementioned money advantage, Dems should be running strong, well-financed campaigns in all 34 races next year. Its also a score that incorporates dynamic variables requiring periodic updating. With the Q2 numbers all reported, it's time to see whether the new information has changed the Senate 2008 roster.

Rank (Prev)StateVF JulyVF June
1 (2)MN1513
2 (1)NH14.513.5
3 (2)OR1313
4 (4)CO1212
5 (7)ME1110
6 (5)NM10.511.5
7 (6)NC1011
8 (8)TN99
9 (9)VA7.57.5
10 (10)KS77
11 (11)AK6.55.5
12 (13)TX5.54.5
13 (11)KY4.55.5
13 (13)SC4.54.5
13 (13)GA4.54.5
16 (16)MS44
16 (18)NE43
16 (16)OK44
19 (19)WY33
19 (NR)WY-23N/A
21 (20)AL2.52.5
22 (21)ID22

A new factor has been introduced into the July VF Score following the Q2 filings - any race in which a challenger has over $200K CoH as of July 1 received an additional "1" in the score. VF Score movement this month is mainly caused by these factors: 1) impressive challenger fundraising caused upward movement (MN, ME, NH and TX -although Mikal Watts' self-financed campaign must be viewed with a grain of salt until he shows he's more than a willingness to open his bank account), 2) strong incumbent fundraising lowered the VF score in some races where the incumbent hit the money trail (NC, KY, NM). 3) Some incumbents (MN, OR) saw their personal approval numbers continue to fall and this increased their VF Score.

Consensus Top Five: MN, NH, CO, ME, OR have serious candidates or crowded primaries. Even though the DSCC has encountered difficulty recruiting their top choices in OR and NH, the Democratic primary fields include strong progressive challengers, even if Shaheen and Merkey don't opt into the races. The money is flowing in these states already. In four of the five (the exception being Oregon) a Democrat has over $500K CoH. Those states - all blue or purple - will have competitive contests and will garner the lion's share of the media and analysts attention.

Races 6-12: It's the second tier where the party's 50 state strategy can prove the most fruitful. If we fail to recruit and back viable challengers in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Alaska, Texas, Virginia and New Mexico we will miss an unprecedented opportunity to advance a Democratic agenda into the next decade. These races may be long-shots but a variety of factors make them potential pick up opportunities, particularly if the anti-Republican political climate continues.

Retirement Watch - Virginia (Warner) The Virginia race appears to be in a state of suspended animation - with all awaiting John Warner's expected retirement. When - or if - that happens, Virginia will rocket to the top of everyone's Watch List.

Primary on the Horizon - Texas (Cornyn) The Lone Star State may be shaping up to be an unanticipated and fascinating contest. Cornyn's abysmal approval numbers (in the low forties) make him vulnerable. He's going to have to hope Texas' GOP-leaning presidential preference translates into coattails to overcome those numbers. Sensing an opportunity, two Democrats have recently announced plans to challenge Cornyn. Rick Noriega's recent announcement he would run for the seat has enlivened the local and national netroots. Attorney Mikal Watts (TX) has deep pockets and is willing to self-finance - to the tune of over $4 million thus far.

Disenchantment in the Southwest - New Mexico (Domenici) Despite scandal and falling poll numbers, it doesn't look like Pajama Pete will retire, as he's got an August fundraiser scheduled back in NM with Bush headlining. There is a declared Dem - real estate developer Don Wiviott - another self-financer ($400K form his personal accounts) The presence of Gov. Bill Richardson - who could opt to run for the seat if his presidential campaign flounders is viewed by some local political observers as a possible explanation high-profile Dems have not jumped into take on scandal-tinged Domenici.

The Berkowitz/Begich Tag Team - Alaska (Stevens) The stench of corruption in the Alaska DC delegation is an embarassment to the state and to the Republican Party. After decades in office, Stevens' Senate seat and Rep. Don Young's At-Large House seat are suddenly in play. DC Democrats have taken notice and have been pushing hard for former state legislator Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich to take on the ethically challenged duo. Berkowitz recently returned from meetings with DC Dems and an announcement regarding his plans is expected soon. If there is a Macaca Moment in 2008, the odds of it being provided by Young or Stevens are pretty high.

Desperately Seeking Democrats - North Carolina (Dole), Kansas (Roberts), Tennessee (Alexander) All of these states are difficult for Dems down-ticket in a presidential election year but none of these three incumbents should be viewed as unbeatable. Thus far, the netroots and the DSCC has been frustrated by the unwillingness of a Tar Heel Democrat to step forward and take on Liddy Dole - the most vulnerable of the trio. Kansas appears to be overlooked by analysts and activists. Despite his low approval ratings, Pat Roberts may not get a Democratic challenger for a second cycle in a row! With the state GOP conducting internecine warfare in recent years, the Dems should be able to at least run a credible Senate candidate. If Sebelius and Boyda can win, why can't it happen in the Senate? Alexander also suffers from anemic approval ratings but has also failed to attract a challenger. Tennessee is a state where the presidential race could have huge impact, particularly if either of two former Senators (Gore and/or Thompson) runs and wins their party's nomination.

Can Democrats win the nine (or ten if you discount Lieberman) seats needed to remove the filibuster weapon from the GOP arsenal? Can we shatter Sabato's Crystal Ball predictions, overturn conventional wisdomw (again!) and reshape the political landscape? Only if we identify, recruit and finance candidates now.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and An Enduring Democratic Majority.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Top Chef - Timing is Everything

Last week, it was Camille who heard Padma utter the dreaded words, "Please pack your knives and go." Who will it be this week? We're down to eleven contestants yet no one has emerged as a clear-cut favorite - despite Tre and Hung's early proclamations about their culinary skills.

Quickfire Challenge:

This week's Guest Judge is chef & owner of the French Bakery Cafe, Maria Franken.
The theme of the quickfire is "timing" - use the frozen pie crust any way you can in 90 minutes.

Hung is doing a chocolate banana pie - but it's not setting. Oh, this is delicious when things don't go well for Hung. His pie is runny. He thinks it "tasted delicious."

Worst - Lia, Dale and Hung. (turns out Hung is the only one who thinks his dish is tasty)
Favorit - Tre, Sara M and Joey - the winner of immunity is Joey! (and he thought he was on the cutting block at the beginning of the day)

Elimination Challenge:

The group will be cooking for the cast and crew of a Telemundo show and cater a latin-flavored lunch menu.

There is plenty of time (3 hours) to prepare today's meal. Everyone seems relaxed. Chef Tom comes in and says - "Change of plans, everyone. You only have 1.5 hours to get this done." Well, that's a nice twist and a sense of panic settles into the kitchen. People are running - Casey says it's dangerous with hot pans and sharp knives. Stress and Howie don't mix. Lia and Casey seem to have made appropriate adjustments. Lia says "this is what happens." Hung is frantic. Chef Tom is concerned about how Hung runs around the kitchen. Howie didn't make the appropriate adjustments.

The set is actually on "Star Island" - where all the fancy people live. And the crowd comes for lunch. The dishes look good. Hung speaks in Spanish, and "they're loving it!" Casey: "It's Hung being Hung."

Howie describes Joey's dish as "delicious." Has Joey hit his stride this week?

The case loves Sara M's chile relleno. Howie's braised pork works as well! They didn't like the polenta or Casey's coffee chicken dish.

Judge's Table:

The favorites are Joey and Howie. Joey talks about how he learned from some of his staff back home as to how he developed this meal. Howie says the timing caused him to worry. The winner of the challenge is Howie. This makes him the first repeat winner of the season. Is he now the favorite?

The worst chefs are sent into the room - Lia, Casey, Hung and Sara N.

Hung has no idea why he's here. Is it because it was it was too classic? Hung is pissed. Chef Tom asks Hung to be careful in kitchen. Casey didn't like her rice, but did like the coffee molasses. Lia thought she was trying to move a little beyond the latin flavor - which is why she served polenta. Sara - what were you thinking calling guacamole as ceviche?

The Judges call Hung arrogant - and want to tell him how "UNPERFECT it was." Sara's dish was more of an appetizer. Lia's was mushy and not balanced. It wasn't good or presentable. Casey's was dry, overcooked and the sauce was like "cough syrup."

The Final Decision: Sara mischaracterized the dish. Hung missed the mark. Casey's dish was cooked improperly. Lia's tastes were bland.

Padma - "Lia, please pack your knives and go."