Friday, November 30, 2007

Prez. Contest--More Polls With Huckabee, Obama On The Move

As we write this, some crazed jackass has taken a couple hostages in Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign office. We hope this ends with one guy--who turns out to be just a crazy--in jail and no one else hurt.


In today's political news, more polls, of course. What to make of them?


Interpreting small changes from poll to poll is dangerous, since there is a lot of data "noise" in these polls. More important are trends. A consistent gain or loss by one candidate over a series of polls is probably real. Likewise, a big move between two polls taken by the same organization may mean something--at least we know the methodology is the same between those polls.

[Methodology is more important in some places than others. In Iowa, for example, methodology matters a lot, because a pollster is trying to measure preferences amongst those who will actually turn out on caucus day, which is a very small minority of voters. Just asking every recipient of a telephone call in Iowa who they prefer won't be very accurate in projecting caucus results. The various polling organizations all use somewhat different approaches to identifying those most likely to attend their caucuses.]




With those caveats, here's what we see in a round of new polls from Iowa, NH and SC (by the way, if you want the best place to get up to date polling info, go to Realclearpolitics.com):




First, Obama may now be in the lead in Iowa. Probably better to call it a tie, but his recent strength in Iowa polls has been consistent. And Edwards isn't far behind. However, Obama's strength in Iowa hasn't translated into surge elsewhere, at least not yet: in both NH and SC Hillary still has a comfortable lead that hasn't changed much.


In SC, a Clemson University poll had Obama only two points back, trailing Hillary's 19% with 17%. But three other polls by professional pollsters--two before Clemson and one after--all consistently have Hillary in the 43-47% range with Obama in the 21-33% range. We have to view the Clemson poll as an outlier, although it may show that among the hardest core voters who have really made up their minds, Obama is closer to Hillary. (There were a lot of undecided voters in the Clemson poll.)

In New Hampshire, the last seven polls are remarkably consistent. Hillary ranges from 34-38% while Obama ranges from 21-26%, a comfortable lead for Hillary that hasn't budged over the past month.

Still, what we've seen before is a delay between moves in Iowa and those elsewhere. If Obama starts to move in New Hampshire, then watch out!

On the Republican side, the story continues to be Huckabee. He's a good example of the Iowa delay factor. After a steady rise in Iowa that didn't appear to be translating to other states, Huckabee is now getting a momentum effect, helped by not only Iowa, but tons of media attention, his debate performances and his good humored deflection of attacks on him.




Bear in mind, no one had ever heard of Jimmy Carter before Iowa in 1976, and he went on to win the whole thing. We might have to start thinking about how Huckabee would play in a general election. But not yet.




Here's what the most recent polling data shows: in Iowa, an ARG poll--the most recent--has Huckabee one point behind Romney. Consistent with other recent polls, this means the two men are tied. But Huckabee has an edge--in the ARG poll, 89% of Huck's voters say their support is "definite" compared to 56% for Romney. And, in other polls, the Huckmeister's support is greater amongst previous caucus goers--considered the most reliably likely to attend again. In short, we think Huckabee will be able to get his supporters to the caucus rooms, and if so, he will best Romney by a small margin.


In New Hampshire, Huckabee is moving up fast. In the Rasmussen and ARG polls, Huckabee is at 13% and 14%, up from 10% and 7% at the beginning of the month. His support is not coming at Romney's expense, however--the Mittster has remained consistently in the mid-30's all month.
How's this for a scenario: Huckabee wins Iowa and comes in second in NH? Then he'd be for real, for sure.
Finally, in SC, a new ARG poll has Huckabee at 18%, up from just 1% in an ARG poll a month earlier. Now that's movement! His support came from Romney, Thompson and and McCain.


If the overall ARG results for SC are accurate, then Thompson clearly has to worry. SC is make or break for the Thompson campaign, yet he's running in FOURTH place, barely ahead of McCain. That said, other recent polls had the Fredster as high as second place, but Thompson really needs to move to SC for the duration if he's going to have any shot.

Huckabee also leapt into second place in a recent Florida poll, behind Giuliani, which is consistent with his trend around the country.
What we don't have is any particularly recent--or robust--data from the two states that will vote between NH and SC: Nevada (caucus) and Michigan (primary). No one's really campaigning much in those states, so why worry.
So, with five weeks to go before the real voting starts, Huckabee's the story of the moment, along with Obama. Iowa is going to be tight all the way around. And the media's going to have something better to write about than holiday traffic, gloomy Christmas retail sales and whether we'll have a white X-mas.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fear And Loathing In The Virginia GOP: Loyalty Oath Required

We just love it. Having just gotten spanked in the recent Virginia general election, the state's Republicans have announced that they will require a "loyalty pledge" of all voters in their presidential primary election on February 12. See "Virginia GOP Gets Strict On Voting" in the Washington Post. [At right--Hitler's SS men take their loyalty oath.]

The people who run the Virginia GOP should hire a good, independent marketing consultant to help them understand how they are perceived by folks who aren't hardcore Republicans.


What they'd find is that part of the perception is that the party consists of overwhelmingly white, narrow-minded people who tend to be paranoid and exclusionist.


Nothing like a loyalty oath to boost that perception!


You won't see Democrats insisting on a loyalty pledge--i.e., a signed card stating that the voter will support the party's nominee in the general election, no matter who it is. Dems don't worry about these things.


Republicans, however, worry that independents, or mischievous Democrats, will bother to crash their party and create mayhem at the primary box--as if the GOP race isn't wild enough already. Why do they think this? Probably because it's the kind of thing they'd do to the Democrats (not your average Republican--just those consultants who sit around thinking up loyalty oaths--and dirty tricks).


If the Virginia GOP really worries about this it should either (a) support party registration, like many states have--although that would be pretty unpopular with most voters, or (b) hold caucuses, where they can control who attends (after all, that was their solution to assure that Gilmore would get the Senate nomination over Tom Davis).


From our vantage, however, we're happy to see the paranoia on display. Come to think of it, maybe we'll vote in the GOP primary after all--just to show how worthless those pledges are.

GOP Debate Helps Huckabee

The clear winner of last night's GOP debate was Mike Huckabee. (That's him, at right, working on his winning--and slimming--form.)We're not basing that on the debate itself--are you kiddding, do you really think the Curmudgeon would waste two hours sitting through one of the Republican debates?

[We can barely stand the Democratic ones--we were delighted to see the one with CBS's Katie Couric get cancelled. There's just too many.]




Instead, we're basing it on the post-debate commentary on the right. Here's what we found:


"Yepsen: Huckabee Shows He Belongs In Top Tier" from the Des Moines Register. Iowa's leading newspaper political analyst compliments Huckabee and says "[a]fter Wednesday night, don't be surprised if Huckabee starts opening more of a lead in Iowa."





Then there's "Big Night For Huckabee" from MSNBC's Chuck Todd. We also liked the first comment on this article, from someone else who must've not watched, because he said "most conservatives are saying Romney won" [we couldn't find ANYBODY outside the Romney campaign saying that] and repeating the silly claim that Huckabee is a "liberal." These folks are giving us liberals a bad name!





And how 'bout "Huckabee Is For Real," from Real Clear Politics' John McIntyre, who says "It is not about Iowa only any more. Mike Huckabee has a real shot to be the Republican nominee."





Time Magazine's Mark Halperin, graded Huckabee highest, with a B+--tied with McCain--in his evaluation of the debate.





Even the Weakly Standard's Fred Barnes, who mostly railed that the debate format was "humiliating," backhandedly labelled Huckabee the winner: "The other candidates, with the exception of Mike Huckabee, were losers. They came off as a bunch of squabbling cousins.
Huckabee, though, knows how to conduct himself in TV debates. He's genial, funny, extremely likable, and not very substantive. He seems to understand that a CNN-You Tube debate is not a serious forum at which serious people discuss serious issues. So he doesn't get worked up, and this posture works."





Clearly, Huckabee will continue to be a major character in the Republican storyboard as the race gets focused in the next five weeks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

For Your Political Reading Pleasure

As the political season heats up, the number of good commentaries on the presidential race is growing. We here at the Curmudgeon aim to make life easier for our readers by passing along only those that are worth your time. So herewith our first of an occasional series of interesting columns, op-eds and other analyses of the '08 election.

We start with "Clinton Could Lose Iowa, New Hampshire and Nomination," by Morton Kondracke in Roll Call. Despite the title, this commentary also analyzes the GOP race. Kondracke makes the same point we did today, which is that for the Democrats it appears to be a two candidate race, between Hillary and Obama, and that the outcome is far from foregone.

He does have an interesting twist under which Edwards could dramatically win Iowa: under Iowa caucus rules, voters whose candidate gets less than 15% at an individual caucus--that would be those supporting Dodd, Biden, probably Richardson in many places, Kucinich, Gravel, etc.--have the opportunity to switch their votes. A lot of these Democrats list Edwards as their second choice.

We still see no scenario for Edwards to win the whole thing, however. He's not likely to do well in New Hampshire and he just doesn't inspire many Dems.

On the Republican side, Kondracke sees the race as between Giuliani and Romney. We certainly agree with his observation that Thompson "seems to be catching fire nowhere."

We disagree a bit with Kondracke's contention that "it's hard to see how Huckabee could capitalize on an Iowa victory." True, the Huckster won't do well in New Hampshire. But with an Iowa victory, he could wipe out Thompson in SC and Florida and turn it into a three man race between himself, Giuliani and either Romney or Giuliani.

Second up is a piece from Howard Fineman on MSNBC's website, "The Republican Party's three difficult pieces: GOP will lose next fall unless it can reunite the Reagan-Bush coalition."

Fineman must've read our blog post yesterday about the fractured Republican Party in response to Bob Novak's hatchet job on Huckabee, calling him a "liberal." Fineman says the Republicans need to unite their three wings--the evangelical Christians, the libertarians and what he calls the "hawks." This is, he claims, the Reagan-Bush coalition.

We're with Fineman on the first two groups, the libertarians being pretty small however. The hawks, however, include a lot of evangelicals. The group he is leaving out is the traditional "Rockefeller Republican"--low tax, small government fiscal conservatives.

Still, it's an interesting analysis and largely accurate. What he doesn't mention is the significant danger posed if a major candidate appealing to one or more these factions, i.e., evangelicals (Huckabee?), libertarians (Paul) or super-hawks (Tancredo) should go third-party this fall and attract enough votes to lose a few key swing states.

Finally, we'll pass along "Huckabee Is A Fiscal Conservative" from political operative Dick Morris, a rebuttal of Novak's charge (and that of the Club for Growth) that Huckabee is some kind of tax and spend liberal.

Presidential Campaign: Time To Get Serious!

A spate of new polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida shows that voters are getting more serious and the races are tightening.

On the Democratic side, one Iowa poll has Hillary and Obama tied, while a New Hamsphire poll has Obama significantly closing the gap on Hillary. In SC it's close too. Indeed, if you look at the RCP average (this is an average of recent polls in each state, compiled by the website Realclearpolitics.com) for the first six Democratic contests (Iowa, NH, Mich., Nevada, SC, Florida), it is Hillary in first and Obama in second in each state. (Contrast that with the GOP, below.)


This is no big surprise. For some Democrats the choice is Hillary or anyone else. For those Democrats (and we don't think it's a huge percentage) it's becoming increasingly clear that the anti-Hillary choice is Obama, so the Barack-meister is starting to consolidate his position. Edwards has shown little movement, Richardson doesn't appear viable and the other candidates are a waste of a vote.


We fully expect the Democratic race to come down to a contest between Hillary and Obama. And, absent a couple big victories by Obama in the early rounds, we think Hillary's money and organization will do the trick once we get down to the mega-primaries of early February.


Don't count Obama out yet, however. Support could coalesce around him and lead him to victory.


On the Republican side, the polls show a tightening, but in a race that could go any which way. Take a look at the RCP averages in the first six nominating contests and you see that, compared to the consistency of the Democratic polls, the GOP is all over the place. All five leading GOP contenders are in at least the top three in at least one state:


Iowa: Romney Huckabee Giuliani Thompson McCain
NH: Romney Giuliani McCain Paul Huckabee
Michigan: Giuliani Romney Thompson McCain Huckabee
Nevada: Giuliani Romney Thompson McCain Paul
SC: Romney Giuliani Thompson McCain Huckabee
Florida: Giuliani Romney Thompson McCain Huckabee


A few caveats on these averages. The polls have been most frequent in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and so the data from those states is more robust. The data from Michigan and Nevada is a couple weeks old and probably doesn't reflect some increased support for Huckabee.


You could also be fooled into thinking, based on this chart, that Romney is in first, Giuliani in a close second, Thompson in third, McCain fourth and Huckabee fifth. But the first two contests--Iowa and New Hampshire--get so much press that they then alter whats going on in the latter states.


The odd man out in Iowa and New Hampshire is Thompson, running fourth in Iowa and not even on the chart for New Hampshire. That puts him way, way behind by the time you get to the next few contests, especially given that polling data shows support for all these candidates to be very soft.


The other caveat is that the one man on the move is Huckabee, whose numbers are beginning to rise across the board in reaction to his rise in Iowa. The most recent Iowa poll, from Rasmussen, for the first time has Huckabee in the lead there, by three percentage points. Not statistically significant, but consistent with his upward trend in the Hawkeye State.


A Huckabee win in Iowa will be a huge story, and we're starting to believe it may well happen, especially since his support is particularly strong among past caucus goers, who are the most likely to attend again.


On the other hand, all the campaigns are now launching ads and spending money like crazy--those poor Iowans won't get a moment's peace over the holidays! And Huckabee's not got as much money as the others, although Giuliani and McCain are probably going to focus more on New Hampshire, while Thompson camps out in South Carolina.


We expect the GOP race will only get tighter as the undecideds make up their minds. This is anybody's ballgame.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Miami Herald Calls Out The Hurricane Forecasters For Bad Predictions

Here's a perfect story from the Miami Herald, "Hurricane Predictions Miss The Mark," noting that all the hurricane experts have utterly blown it in their annual storm predictions at the beginning of each hurricane season.

The Washington Post regularly carries those forecasts--and we regularly scoff at them, helpfully alerting readers that these same storm seers have a worse record than than your typical Redskins, Wizards, Caps or Nats (i.e., pretty bad).


Perhaps WaPo would like to print the follow-up--kind of like a correction. A good headline would be "Oops. They Missed It. Again."

Sleazemeisters Get Their Big Chance In SC

Politics may be dirty everywhere, but political operatives in South Carolina have long elevated sleaziness to an art form when it comes to Palmetto State campaigns.

As this article in the New York Post notes, with five Republican candidates duking it out in a very close contest in the state, the masters of slime are in full heat. Expect the worst.

Republican Knives Come Out

Just today you could feel the palpable chill in the Iowa and New Hampshire air as the Republican presidential nomination candidates--and their surrogates--began brandishing their knives in earnest.

Where to start? There was Fred Thompson, unveiling HIS flat rate tax plan, yet getting derailed as he griped about Fox News trying to "take down" his campaign. As if Fred's own staff hadn't done enough damage already in terms of taking down the Thompson ship.


We'll get back to Fred's tax plan in a minute.


Then, there was Bob Novak in a column headlined (at least in WaPo) "The False Conservative," eviscerating former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as a liberal in conservative's clothing. Novak minced no words: "Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans [of course, Novak is one of those!] know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans."


More on the Novak column and just what it means to be a "conservative" or a "Republican" (or a "serious Republican") in yet another minute.


Finally, we have, "Romney and Giuliani Turn Negative in N.H." as reported in WaPo, making note that Giuliani has finally woken up and realized he can't let Romney win all the initial contests. Giuliani apparently intends to throw the gauntlet down in NH, and by golly that will mean going negative. [This, by the way, should be delightful news to McCain, who stands to benefit handsomely if Romney and Giuliani go at it barefisted in the Granite State.]


Well, it's about time. Expect the negativity to become the norm as the five man GOP field dukes it out in the coming weeks. (As it gets negative--on both sides, as Dems are headed that way too--we'll see all the more reason why it is an abomination to hold Presidential nomination contests at the beginning of January, forcing all that negativity into a season that should be about nativity.)


Now, what about that Thompson tax plan. Pretty silly really: he would have a "voluntary" flat tax. Call it the alternative maximum tax. Obviously, you'd pay your accountant to figure out which tax plan was cheaper--the "flat" tax, with no deductions, or the traditional tax, with deductions--and then pick the best one.


In a bit of understatement, the WSJ news story on Thompson's plan wryly states "Mr. Thompson's plan is missing a few key numbers, most notably a projection about how much it might cost the treasury in lost revenue." Ah, but say Thompson's advisors--don't worry, we've got it under control. They'll wring savings out of unspecified changes to social security and Medicare, not to mention all the "growth" his "plan" will cause. Oops. Bye, bye Florida--did you say social security and Medicare?


Thompson's plan is like those from most of the Republican candidates, including the one George W. Bush got through Congress: it promises something--big ol' tax cuts--for nothing: vague promises about reducing spending and all that extra growth. It will certainly sell to the Curmudgeon's former law partners, a bunch of multi-millionaires who, collectively, were about the biggest whiners you could imagine about their taxes, always crying--while driving their luxury cars, or lounging in their 10,000 square foot cribs, or vacationing in their exclusive resorts--about oh how much they have to pay in taxes. (Right next to complaining about oh how hard they work.) Anyway, good plan Fred--you can pander with the best of them. But don't suggest you're going to pay for it with cuts to the nation's senior citizens. Better to stick it to the immigrants.


And finally, we have Novak's hit piece on Huckabee. Who's Novak fronting for? McCain, maybe? But Novak's column--which parrots attacks on Huckabee from the "Club for Growth" crowd--raises some real questions about a growing schism in the Republican party.


Just what is a "conservative" these days, and is it the same as a "serious Republican?" It turns out that there are different types of conservatives. There are "fiscal conservatives"--those who believe in low taxes and small government. When the Republicans took over Congress, we learned that pretty much no one is a fiscal conservative anymore. You're either tax and spend (Democrats) or borrow and spend (Republicans). Everyone loves spending. But McCain and Giuliani at least appear to be fiscally conservative.


Then there are the social conservatives. Their litmus tests are abortion, gays, illegal immigrants, stem cells and "family values"--a buzz word for "Christian values." They don't worry so much about fiscal conservatism--indeed, that's one reason the Republican Congress turned out not to be very fiscally responsible. Huckabee's definitely after this crowd, along with the reincarnation of Romney and what's left of Thompson.


And don't forget libertarians. There's very few true libertarians around. Most people want the liberty to do what they like and ban you from doing what they don't like. But there are some libertarians left, and they're rallying around Ron Paul. It's hard to see how the social conservatives can even be in the same party as the libertarians: social conservatism is all about government telling people what they can't do--can't be gay, can't choose on abortions, can't do drugs, can't have sex before marriage, etc.


These distinctions have been around for a long time. It's interesting to see Novak try to label Huckabee--a true social conservative--as a "false" conservative, and, gasp, even a (dare we say it here) a "liberal." (Sorry Mr. Novak, but we liberals don't want him.)


Well now, all you Values Voters, the great Mr. Novak has spoken: you aren't even in the realm of "serious Republicans" nor are you "true conservatives."


If this keeps up, we can fully expect to see some serious third-party candidates by Spring.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Presidential Election: Where Are We Now?

The passing of Thanksgiving this year kind of puts us where we'd normally be after Labor Day in a general election: at the beginning of the final sprint, when everyone should finally be getting seriously focused.


So, the Curmudgeon thought it would be useful to take a snapshot of where we are at this critical juncture.


First, how are we doing on the prediction front? In May, we made some fearless prognostications. So far, we're doing ok. We predicted that Gore would not run on the Democratic side and that Thompson would run on the GOP side. But we also said Gingrich would run (and we bet he's wishing he had at this point).


The rest of our crystal ball gazing will have to await future events before we can declare ourselves a political seer. However, we can say this: we're not ready to change any of our remaining predictions, including that Rudy Giuliani won't be the Republican nominee.


Now, where do we stand at this point in time?


Democrats


The Democratic race really hasn't changed much over the past six months. Hillary continues to be the odds-on favorite to get the nomination. She leads in just about every poll in every state, although her lead in Iowa is precariously slim. But then, Hillary has NEVER has a large lead in Iowa--indeed, throughout most of the year she has trailed.




The only candidate who can stop Hillary at this point is Obama. And he is a credible threat. Barack continues to be impressive and to have the aura of something new.


Forget Edwards. He hasn't moved anywhere but sideways or down over the past six months, and now he's sounding shrill. As we've noted many times--and we admired Edwards in '04--there's just no authenticity in the man when he talks about "two Americas" and poverty and all that. The real question is where Edwards' supporters will go--will they gravitate to Obama, simply drop out, or embrace Hillary. All of the above, we think, with somewhat more going to Obama, but too late to help him.


Richardson, who we endorsed early on, has been a disappointment. He climbed into double digits in Iowa and New Hampshire on the strength of his experience, but his debate performances have been inconsistent and his tendency to pander has hurt him. Still, Richardson could be a spoiler, siphoning off just enough Obama/Edwards votes to let Hillary run in the clear. The other, very longshot, scenario for Big Bill is that Barack does well enough in Iowa to blunt Hillary's inevitability, leading to a long campaign of trench warfare in which voters in the later states latch on to Richardson as an alternative. Don't count on it, though.


Bottom line: Hillary gets the nomination, with Obama having a shot. Clinton/Obama as the ticket? For many Dems that would be terrific.


Republicans


The Republican race continues to be more interesting--fascinating really. The very real possibility exists of Republicans getting to their national convention in early September without a nominee--a blogger's dream!




Right now we'd give a slight edge to Mitt Romney, if only because he controls his own destiny--kind of like a college football team at the top of the polls. But then, we've seen how well the #1 football team in the polls has done this year, so expect an "upset."


Here's why we say Romney controls his destiny: at present, he leads in Iowa, although that lead is shrinking. And he leads in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina. Sweep those three, do ok in Florida and probably win Michigan and Romney will be unstoppable.


The chances of Romney pulling off that run, however, are slim, if only because four other guys are doing everything they can to prevent it.


In second place, we'd put Huckabee right now. But he's kind of like an undefeated team with a weak schedule. Now he's in the big leagues--can he still win? If Huckabee can successfully consolidate the Christian right, evangelical Republican base in his corner--as he has done now in Iowa--he will do very well, and at a minimum knock Romney off his game. If Huckabee wins in Iowa, it's a whole new ball game.


In third place, we put Giuliani and McCain in a tie. A TIE you say? "C'mon," you say, "how can you say McCain is anywhere near the Rudester?" As we've been saying, Giuliani's strategy is deeply flawed and his lead in the national poles will evaporate like an arctic iceberg in global warming once he comes in third or worse on both Iowa and New Hampshire. McCain, on the other hand, is on the rebound, and we think a lot of those middle of the road, more traditional, Republicans are going to look at him with a new eye after Giuliani implodes.


So that leaves Fred Thompson in fifth place, unles, of course, he gets passed by Ron Paul, which could happen. Thompson must win SC, but we don't think he realizes that. He has no strategy. Gone in 60 seconds could be the Thompson campaign motto--he'll be gone before February 1.

That's our snapshot, but beware: everyone in this picture is moving around. Any of these GOP candidates, except for Thompson, could come out on top. Or none of them. Perhaps the Republicans will pick Gingrich to break a deadlock at their convention--then he'll look very smart, indeed.


Independents/Third Parties


We won't say much for now. Clearly, Bloomberg is interested. He's just waiting to see how the dust settles. And we still look for a credible right winger (or two) to run under third party labels as the fractured Republican party tries to pull itself together.

The First Christmas Presidential Election: How Did This Happen?


As we finish off the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers and brace for the short sprint to the Christmas/New Year's holiday season, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on what is about to happen in the political sphere.


For the first time ever, we are going to be in the midst of intense campaigning by a slew of candidates in both parties for the Presidential nomination, right in the middle of the chaotic Holiday season.


With Iowans going to their caucuses on January 3--when many Americans are still straggling back from their holiday vacations (or at least recovering their luggage from the airlines)-- followed days later by the New Hampshire primary and then a string of other early nominating contests, Americans will have to put up with wall-to-wall political coverage during the Holidays (including four more of those insufferable and far too numerous "debates"), while those living in those early contest states will be saturated with ads that, pretty soon, will surely go negative.


Americans should rebel against this. It will take Congress to solve the problem--and with today's Congress, we're not too hopeful. But something needs to be done to push the presidential contest back where it belongs, with no voting (via caucus or primary) taking place before February of an election year.


We need some kind of balance. Yes, Iowa and New Hampshire have occupied traditional spots on the calendar and their citizens take the duty seriously. But the other side has a point, too--these are small, and not necessarily representative states. But then, what state is truly representative?


Florida? Give us a break. The thought of entrusting Florida, with all its electoral problems, to do the early nominating makes us sick. In any event, Florida is hardly a microcosm of the the U.S. Michigan? Not representative either.


Some have floated the idea of regional primaries, rotating them on the calendar so that no one region is always first. Interesting idea, but don't hold your breath.


We suggest this: keep it simple. Have Congress decree that no contest for selecting delegates can occur before February 15 of the year in which the general Presidential election is held. Then, let the states all duke it out and tumble all over each other. The result might be a national primary on February 15, which would be a shame--but would still beat what we're having now.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Good News For Romney In SC, And Some For Thompson Too

Just out, a new Rasmussen poll from South Carolina, which confirms Mitt Romney's surprising strength in the Palmetto state.

In this poll, Romney is tied for the lead with Fred Thompson, both at 21%, with Giuliani trailing at 13%--within striking distance of Huckabee, who has jumped to 12%.

The poll is good news for Romney, because any kind of decent showing in the first Deep South primary will boost his electability pitch. Romney surely doesn't need to win in SC, but if he did, especially following on the heels of victories in Iowa, NH, and Michigan(?), then he'd be on his way to the nomination.

The poll should also hearten the Thompson camp, which hasn't had much to cheer about of late. In an ARG poll a couple weeks ago, Thompson trailed Romney by 19 points in SC--which we now treat as an anomaly of that poll and not an accurate result.

Unlike Romney, however, Thompson MUST win SC or he is done (unless he pulls off a very unlikely surprise in Iowa or NH). We would hope his strategists realize this and pour their resources into the state. It won't be easy, especially with Huckabee coming on strong, but it really is big Fred's only realistic chance to prove he can be a winner. And if he loses to Romney, of all candidates, then Fred's claim to the southern electorate is toast.

So, while Romney and Huckabee beat on each other in Iowa, we'd expect to see a lot the Fred'ster in SC over the coming weeks.

Chief Justice Roberts At The Interstate Rest Stop

Ah, the ol' interstate rest area--the great American equalizer, where everyone of every class and status gets the same bad fast food and the same slimy restrooms.



As the Curmudgeon and family trekked northward yesterday, over hill, through the woods and into the $#%@! traffic jam on the Jersey turnpike on the way to grandfather's house in Peekskill, NY, we of course availed ourselves of Maryland's finest: the Chesapeake House on I-95 just after crossing the Susquehanna River.




As the Curmudgeon sat down with his Quizno's sandwich, who should he spot four tables away, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and his family, enjoying a similar repast along America's highway. (The CJ was also consuming a Quizno's repast.)




Roberts must enjoy the relative anonymity accorded the nation's highest ranking judicial officer, as he sat, looking much like everyman at the rest stop (it helps not to wear those robes when you're traveling), eating without--as far as we could tell--being recognized by anyone else. It being a nice, unseasonably warm pre-Thanksgiving day, the CJ was able to blend in with a sporty polo shirt and wide wale corduroys.




It was surprisingly smooth sailing driving northward yesterday--not even the perennially backed-up Delaware toll plaza was too bad. We wonder: did Roberts manage to enjoin the traffic havoc that so many predict on the day before Thanksgiving? (If so, the injunction ran out where the Pennsylvania Turnpike meets the NJ Turnpike, for there our luck changed for the worse.)




We wonder what was on Roberts' mind, apart from that delicious Quizno's sandwich. Was he thinking, even fleetingly, about the D.C. gun control case the Supreme Court has just taken up? As he sat in a Maryland rest area, did his mind make a leap about how the D.C. snipers--John Allen Muhamad and John Lee Malvo--were finally apprehended at a Maryland rest area on I-70 to the west, and what the import would be of eviscerating various gun control laws under the Second Amendment?




Probably not. More likely, his concern was to wrap up the meal and get the family moving again. Surely, the nation's judicial business can take a break until next week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Huckabee's Significant Edge Over Romney In Iowa

In the Washington Post/ABC News Iowa poll of Republicans reported on today, Romney leads Huckabee by 28% to 24%. But if you go inside the numbers, Huckabee has the edge. (That's the former fat Huckman to the right.)

In Iowa, the most reliable indicator of whether someone reached in a poll will actually attend the caucuses is whether they've attended in the past. Significantly, Romney has a huge lead over everyone else among "first-time caucus goers," with 37% to 14% for his nearest rival. In contrast, Huckabee has the lead among those who "have attended before," although his lead over Romney there is only about five points.


What that means, at least if past is prologue, is that Huckabee is better positioned to capitalize on his support than Romney, and thus could pull off a surprise on Caucus Day.


Huckabee's sudden strong support among Iowa evangelicals contrasts with his weakness in South Carolina, where Romney has recently shown strength. However, if Huckabee manages to pull off the upset in Iowa, all that will change and Romney will be in big trouble.


Who would benefit most from the Huckster winning Iowa? We think McCain, as sober Republicans in New Hampshire would be likely to coalesce around the most experienced of the traditional GOP members in the field. Just a hunch. But wouldn't it be weirdly fun if, after all this, the Elephant race came down to McCain versus Huckabee?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Democratic Race Tightening?

Right on the heels of an Iowa poll showing Obama with a small lead over Hillary, we have a new poll from New Hampshire showing a shrinking Hillary margin and a small surge by Richardson.

Could the Democratic race be tightening up? Probably. The guy who seems to be doing well is Obama, who is probably benefitting from Edwards' increased (and increasingly desperate) attacks on Hillary. (Despite Richardson's seeming surge in NH, we don't see him making much real progress.)


This is to be expected. The question is whether it will get down to a real race between Hillary and Obama, or whether as other candidates drop by the wayside, Hillary picks up enough of their support to clinch the nomination without too much trouble.


We can also see now that with the Iowa caucuses on January 3, there'll be no blogging let-up for us political junkies over the traditional holiday lull at the end of December. That, we think, is good. However, we may be taking the next few days off for a turkey break.


Have a terrific Thanksgiving.

GPS Navigation and Doppler Weather Radar In One Device? Cool!

We've been waiting years for this advance: a GPS navigation device that can integrate local doppler weather radar so that you can see a storm approaching wherever you are.

Now it's here!


One example of this still quite expensive technology is the Bushnell Onix 400, which cleverly uses XM Radio to get the local doppler radar.


We would hope this technology spreads--it would be terrific to have in a car, but also has very clear utility for just about anyone spending a day outdoors, especially on a summer afternoon when thunderstorms are a threat. Boaters, fishermen (and women), golfers, campers--all could use this. We can't wait for the wristwatch version.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sidr Death Toll In Bangladesh Likely To Top 10,000

The "official" death toll in Bangladesh from Cyclone Sidr is currently at around 3100, but relief workers are still trying to reach some of the hardest hit areas, where all roads and communications facilities were virtually wiped out.

It appears the final toll will get up to around 10,000 dead, which is a lot less than in past cyclones of a similar magnitude in Bangladesh, but still more than ALL the dead in U.S. hurricanes over the past 50 years!

Apart from the tragic deaths, millions are homeless, crops are wiped out and livelihoods destroyed on a vast scale. We--Americans--can, should, and will help out. But in the long run, if global warming results in higher sea levels and more frequent major tropical cyclones, Bangladesh will be on the front lines of a losing battle.

Palm Beach Water Hogs

We keep seeing all these juicy stories on water hogs--folks using massive quantities of water in the midst of droughts and water restrictions.

We couldn't resist this one from the Wall Street Journal on what the wealthy denizens of West Palm Beach, Florida, are doing in the midst of a Florida drought that has resulted in limitations on water use.


While we were aghast at an Atlanta water hog who was siphoning off 400,000 gallons a month for his suburban mansion, consider food magnate Nelson Peltz's 14 acre estate in West Palm Beach, which uses 21 MILLION gallons of water per year.


Or Dwight Schar, Executive Chairman of home builder NVR, who used 14 MILLION gallons on his six acre estate. (Well, at least you figure a home builder's got to have a nice looking property, right?) [FYI: the Curmudgeon has averaged about 85,000 gallons per year for his eighth of an acre estate the past three years.]


Unlike singer Jimmy Buffet, who had to pay a $100 fine for violating watering restrictions in West Palm Beach, these guys aren't violating any laws, restrictions or guidelines. Which goes to show just how ineffective such restrictions can be when it comes to the big guys.


Here's a solution we favor: charge $1/gallon of water--hey, that would be a bargain at the grocery store--once a residential user exceeds a number that virtually any normal consumer would never approach (say 25,000 gallons per month--more than double what an average household uses). We doubt that even Peltz would be willing to pay $20 million a year for his water.


Iowa Getting Interesting For Democrats Too

We've posted a lot about the Republican presidential nominating contest of late, but lest we forget the Democrats, Iowa is getting pretty interesting for them too.

The latest poll out of Iowa has Obama leading Hillary by 30% to 26%, with Edwards trailing not too far behind. Are the "anybody but Hillary" voters switching from Edwards to Obama? Perhaps.

Or perhaps nothing much is happening.

The Iowa polls are notoriously fickle because the percentage of voters who actually turn out for caucuses is so small. Still, it's been pretty close in Iowa the past few months, with the only real trend being Edwards' gradual slide. We think Hillary will get her people out and win by a small margin, but even a loss to Obama--as long as it's close--won't be fatal if she wins New Hampshire.

Now, here's a study that shows why all those Democratic men have so much trouble beating Hillary in the debates: it turns out that the mental performance of men drops in the presence of blonde women (even fake blondes). It's not that they're distracted by all that pretty hair. The researchers (men, of course) concluded that the men dumbed down around blondes to "mimic the unconscious stereotype" of the the dumb blonde.

Talk about dumb research!

McCain Goes "All In" For New Hampshire

As the Washington Post reported this weekend, Sen. John McCain is pulling out all the stops in New Hampshire in the hope of jump-starting his campaign back into contention. It could work.

Recently, we've been reviewing the various Republicans' strategies for getting the nomination, and we'll keep coming back to that theme. McCain's New Hampshire strategy is sound. True, it might not work, but it's still the best possible strategy for the Straight Talker.


In 2000, McCain surprised W in New Hampshire and almost wrested the nomination away. New Hampshire is a good state for Big John because independents can vote in the primary, and they tend to be much more pragmatic and much less dogmatic than the pure Republicans who would dominate in a caucus format.


So far, the polls also show McCain's gamble--like a player in a Texas hold-'em poker tournament down to his last hand, McCain is going "all in" in New Hampshire--to be paying off. In the most recent two surveys, McCain either tied, or beat, Giuliani for second place. If, on primary day, McCain could close the gap with Romney and put a bit of space between himself and Rudy, it would be enough to propel him through to the next round.


Meanwhile, the polls continue to be dismal for Thompson and dangerous for Giuliani. Big Fred polls LAST--behind even Ron Paul--in New Hampshire, and a distant fourth in Iowa, and he's not showing any strength ins SC, or anywhere else for that matter. As for the Rudester, he's polling third in both Iowa and NH. If Huckabee finishes second in Iowa, and McCain finishes second in NH--giving both those campaigns big boosts--while Thompson folds, Giuliani could see voters in the next tier of states begin to peel away from him on droves.


We think Rudy G. MUST get at least a second in one of those first two states, otherwise his big state strategy will collapse faster than a house of cards.

Personal Presidential Calculator

Here's a nifty little website from Minnesota Public Radio: you answer a series of questions concerning your positions on the issues, including how important each issue is to you, and it comes out with a ranking candidates according to how closely they line up with your responses.

Check it out HERE. You might be surprised at the candidate you match with best. (For the Curmudgeon, Hillary and Edwards tied--see, there's not much difference in them after all--while Obama and Richardson were right behind. The closest Republicans were Giuliani--see, he really is a liberal--and Huckabee--ditto.)

Hat tip to Larry S. for pointing us to this fun little site.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Atlanta Water Hog A Big Bush Supporter

In our previous post about a suburban Atlanta home using 400,000 gallons of water per month in the midst of a severe drought, we speculated that the guy living there was probably one of those folks with a massive SUV and a Bush/Cheney sticker plastered on the bumper.

Well, it appears to be true. According to the original CNN story, the water hogging owner of the mansion is a fellow named Chris George Carlos. A search on opensecrets.org, which tracks public records of political contributions, reveals a Chris G. Carlos in the same zip code as the mansion's address (30067) who made the maximum contribution of $2000 to George W. Bush's campaign in 2003. He also contributed $500 to conservative Florida congressman Gus Bilirakis (who might consider this a bit of an embarassment since Florida and Georgia are now fighting over who gets what from the dwindling Lake Lanier reservoir north of Atlanta).

A Chris G. Carlos with Riverside Investments in the next zip code--likely an office address--has also made a number of contributions to Mike Bilirakis--the father of Gus, who held the same Florida seat for many years--and to W. Bush's 2000 campaign. And, an Irene Carlos from the same zip code also gave the maximum to Bush's 2004 campaign.

Raleigh Struggles With Drought

Hat tip to the Curmudgeon's sister for this one.

Earlier this week we reported on a water hog in drought-stricken Atlanta who was blithely using 400,000 gallons of water a month to fill the pool in his mansion and keep the grounds just as green and lush as if water was no object. (See Atlanta Water Hog Gets His Fifteen Minutes of Fame.)

Another city struggling with water woes is Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh is on the eastern end of a large part of the South that is experiencing a record, prolonged drought. Like many fast-growing cities in the region, Raleigh and its surrounding communities have not kept up with water demand over the years by building new reservoirs, and it is those municipalities that are struggling the most with this drought.


The Curmudgeon's sister, who lives in Raleigh, has been asked to cut back on water use by 50%--that ON TOP of previous reductions. It's thus no surprise that she--and many others in the region--are outraged that the town of Cary, NC--which adjoins Raleigh and shares the same water supply--decided a couple weeks ago to divert 1.2 million gallons of the precious fluid into filling three pools for a new aquatic center.

In one story out of Raleigh, the aquatic center's manager defended the move by saying it only took up one half of one percent of Cary's water needs for a week. That may be true, but think how that sits with a household trying to do its part to save water. The average home uses about 350 gallons of water a day. Reducing that by 50%--which isn't easy--would save 175 gallons per household. So the 1.2 million gallons poured into the Cary pools offset the daily reductions of nearly 7000 households. A lot of folks are likely to say "why bother"?

Dealing with a drought is tough. Most municipalities impose voluntary restrictions at first, and few have the resources to adequately enforce mandatory restrictions. Most people, of course, will pitch in and do their part. In the Raleigh area, that's pretty critical because they are down to roughly three months of water supply, which is a tiny margin.

One good way to deal with those who won't do their part is public opprobrium, which is why the Atlanta water hog is getting his time in the limelight.

Cyclone Sidr Death Toll Rising, Likely To Rise A Lot Higher


As we've been reporting here, Cyclone Sidr slammed Bangladesh as a very powerful Category 4 hurricane yesterday. Western news outlets are reporting an ever rising death toll that now exceeds 1000.


For a Reuters report with some video from Bangladesh, go here.


The humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh is likely to be a lot worse than these initial reports. Remember the Indonesian tsunami of Christmas 2004? There, the initial reports were of a few hundred, then a few thousand deaths. The final toll was well over 200,000, and the devastation far more widespread than initially reported.


That's simply because it is very difficult for western news outlets--or anyone, for that matter--to get into the remote areas devastated by these types of natural disasters, and information flows out very slowly. (That even happens here: recall, for example, the early reports during Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans had been "spared" the worst.)


We hope the toll from Sidr will be far lower than in past storms of that magnitude to strike Bangladesh, but we fear that the as the full scope of the disaster unfolds, Bangladesh will once again be looking at tens of thousands of casualties, not to mention the millions who will be displaced from homes, farms and livelihoods in an already marginal existence.


Wide Open Republican Presidential Contest

We like this analysis from seasoned political commentator Stuart Rothenberg concerning the Republican presidential nominating contest: Republican Campaign Still Includes Many Possible Storylines.

Rothenberg, like the Curmudgeon, is impressed with Huckabee's rise and concerned about Giuliani's strategy.


In particular, he had this to say about Giuliani, which jibes with the analysis we posted recently:


"Under normal circumstances, Giuliani's strategy of jump-starting his campaign in Florida, in late January, would be political lunacy, and many seasoned observers rightly remain skeptical of it. It's a strategy based on weakness, not strength, and it makes the former mayor prisoner to the outcomes of races in which he is participating half-heartedly. Giuliani advisers are only fooling themselves if they believe that unbroken early momentum doesn't matter."


Rothenberg goes on to say that it just might work due to the "peculiarities" of the process this time around. We'd say it's not likely to work, UNLESS Giuliani can come in second in Iowa and a respectable third or better in New Hampshire, and we doubt it will work at all if Guiliani does not win a single contest before Florida.


As for Huckabee, Rothenberg notes that if the former Arkansas governor can actually pull off a win in Iowa--still a longshot--it would be a major blow for Romney. Rothenberg says it would be "lights out" for the Mittster, but we think that's a little overstated.


And Rothenberg implicitly agrees with the Curmudgeon that Thompson is drifting aimlessly, stating that the Tennessean has "been something of a bust" of late.


We also agree with Rothenberg that the situation is fluid--and exciting. A lot could happen, and it will start happening soon.


The national media, on the other hand, seems more fixated on the Democratic race, hoping that someone--presumably Obama--can knock Hillary off her perch. It could happen, and it would, of course be a big story, which is exactly why the media are rooting for it. But the Republican race, with five viable candidates all slugging it out, remains the more interesting, with the possibility that it will go into overtime.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cyclone Sidr Slams Bangladesh

Cyclone Sidr, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, slammed into Bangladesh today with winds of nearly 150 mph and a storm surge of at least 20 feet. The only good news is that the storm hit further east than Cyclone Bola, which killed as many as 500,000 in 1970.

Still, a storm similar to Sidr in 1991 killed 200,000.

Sidr advanced toward Bangladesh relatively slowly, giving government authorities a few days to evacuate as many residents as possible from low-lying areas, so there is hope that the death toll will be far smaller than in previous tropical disasters.

Expect the worst, however. Even in the best of times, communications are slow in that part of the world. By tomorrow we are likely to be learning of yet another collossal catastrophe on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

Iowa: Huckabee In Reach


The latest Iowa poll, from American Research Group, shows Mike Huckabee within reach of Mitt Romney on the GOP side, with Romney leading 26% to 24%.


If the Huckster can best Romney in Iowa, all bets are off. Romney has been favored for several months now, and while he'd probably still win in New Hampshire, it would be Huckabee emerging with the big mo'. Indeed, a close second by Huckabee will still be the lead story, unless Obama or Edwards can upset Hillary on the Dem side.


We'd still put our money on Romney--he has built a terrific on the ground organization in Iowa, while Huckabee is playing catch up. Those details matter in a caucus state.


The poll also shows danger for Giuliani and Thompson--both of whom we've been warning are in a strategic quandary because they've ignored Iowa to their great peril. McCain, at 10%, trails Rudy and Fred by just one point. If McCain beats either or both, it's going to be very bad for them going into New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Neither can afford to be in fourth, much less fifth(!) place in the first contest.

Oleszek To Seek Recount Against Cuccinelli

Democratic challenger Janet Oleszek, who lost to Republican incumbent state senator Ken Cuccinelli by 92 votes in the election last week, has announced her intention to seek a recount.

Good luck. Recent history suggests that Oleszek has little chance of making up the vote deficit. No more than a handful of votes changed in the statewide contest for attorney general in 2005 after a rigorous recount, and a recount in a Fairfax County senate contest in 1999 changed the margin of victory by only two votes.

One reason changes are small in Virginia recounts is that county election boards automatically re-canvass their votes immediately following the election, which catches any big mistakes (and there are often some major changes made at that point). Once that re-canvass is completed, another recount rarely catches anything of note.

We can understand the temptation to ask for recount in such a close race, but we think former U.S. Senator George Allen set the right precedent last year when he opted to forego a recount in an election that swung the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

It's Oleszek's option, but given the way Virginia reliably reports its votes we think she'd be better off going the gracious route. She fought a good battle, but time to move on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Major Humanitarian Disaster Likely To Unfold Tomorrow

Cyclone Sidr--the Indian Ocean equivalent of a hurricane--is bearing down on the low-lying coast of Bangladesh with 150 mph winds and a potentially enormous storm surge.

The last time a storm of this size--Cyclone Bola in 1970--struck Bangladesh, several hundred thousand people died. Unfortunately, Bangladesh is not much better prepared today than it was then.


The best info we could find on Sidr was on The Weather Underground website. Their tracking model has the storm roaring ashore sometime in the middle of the night between Thursday and Friday in Bangladesh, which means probably during our afternoon tomorrow (Thursday) (we are about 11 hours behind Bangladesh).


Parts of India and Myanmar (Burma) are also likely to be affected severely.


This could be worse than the Indonesian tsunami. We hope the storm will weaken and perhaps take a turn toward a region not as low-lying as Bangladesh, but we fear for the worst. Our prayers go out to the people facing this threat with their limited resources.

Continued Romney Strength In SC Means Big Showdown For GOP In The Palmetto State

There's another new poll out from South Carolina, and it shows the potential for the Palmetto State to be THE MOST critical contest on the GOP side.

In this latest poll, from Survey USA, Giuliani leads, with 26%, followed by Romney with 20%, then Thompson, McCain and Huckabee at 18%, 14% and 12%. That's darn close. It also confirms what we've been saying here about Romney surging in SC--if you look at the Real Clear Politics tracking chart for SC, Romney was consistently in fourth place all year, up through the beginning of October. That's about what the pundits expected--everyone (including the Curmudgeon) assumed that Romney's Mormonism would be a bigger problem in evangelical SC than in Iowa or New Hampshire, and that he would hence do poorly there.


But a funny thing happened in October: helped, perhaps, by Bob Jones IV and former Governor Jim Edwards, Romney began moving. In the last three SC polls, he has been first or second, and his numbers have jumped about 10 points.


That could be a very big deal, especially for Giuliani and Thompson. Neither Giuliani nor Thompson can afford to lose three in a row of the first three contests. Yet, as it stands, Thompson has no shot in New Hampshire (he polls sixth (!), behind even Ron Paul), and little chance in Iowa.


Giuliani, too, is well behind in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, it's easy for everyone to say, "of course Romney won NH, it's his neighbor state." And they can even write off Iowa as a quirky caucus state where all that Mormon organizing can pay off (after all, those Mormons do know how to knock on doors).


But Giuliani and ESPECIALLY Thompson can't use those excuses in South Carolina. IF Romney were to win in SC, it would be BIG (assuming he also wins in Iowa and New Hampshire)--it would really solidify him as the GOP frontrunner before the mega-primaries and demonstrate that he has potential in the South.


All of which means the Palmetto State is shaping up to be a very intense contest. And we don't count out McCain and Huckabee, both of whom could keep going with a decent showing in SC. (Indeed, if Romney won SC and say Huckabee came in second after a strong showing in Iowa, then the Huckster would probably outlast both Rudy and Fred.) We think both Giuliani and Thompson are going to soon realize they can't afford to lose SC, and thus will pour more resources into the state; by the same token, we think Romney will realize it could be a knock-out blow for him to win--just think, he could K'O Giuliani before any of the mega-primaries even begin.


Gentlemen, start your engines.



Here's the scenario:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Here's an interesting piece from David Weigel in the American Conservative, on why Republicans may be overplaying the Hillary card in terms of the general election: It Takes An Agenda--Conservatives Cannot Live By Hillary-Hate Alone.

Weigel's thesis is that it won't be enough to hope that anti-Clinton feelings will unite the Republican party and propel it's nominee to victory in November--indeed, he cites "fatigue" in the hate-Hillary movement already. Weigel wisely urges Republicans to develop an agenda--"a contest of ideas" as one commentator put it.

Does Guiliani Have A Sound Strategy For Winning?

Yesterday we wondered if Fred Thompson has any strategy at all for his campaign, concluding that he does not.

Today--we guess it's "strategery week" at the Curmudgeon--we ask whether Rudy Giuliani has a sound strategy.


In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib, who edits the Journal's report from Washington, analyzed the Giuliani strategy under the headline "What Giuliani's Lead Really Means."


We couldn't agree more with Seib's analysis. He notes that Rudy's lead in national polls is not analogous to Hillary's lead in national polls because Hillary also leads in all the early caucus/primary states, whereas Rudy does not.


Hillary has clearly made it part of her campaign strategy to contest Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina, etc.


Giuliani's campaign, however, has decided to focus on the national picture, with a "big state" strategy, which posits that Rudy can lose Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but still win by carrying the larger states in the mega-primaries that follow close behind the early contests.


We don't think that's a sound strategy. Nor do some neutral observers in the Republican party. Says one strategist quoted by Seib: "They can't just have a Florida strategy and lose four straight races before then."


That's absolutely right. After Iowa and New Hampshire, in particular, the national deck has always gotten shuffled. We don't see it being any different this time around. A so-called front runner can fall very far, very fast, in the turbocharged media environment surrounding those contests. The huge danger for Rudy is that after the early contests, voters in Florida begin to reassess the field, and suddenly he doesn't lead there either.


Let's say Romney comes out blazing, winning Iowa and New Hampshire and coming in second in South Carolina, while Rudy comes in a distant third in Iowa, no better than second in New Hampshire and third--or worse--in SC. Voters in Florida may view Giuliani as damaged goods, especially after a few weeks of intense media scrutiny. Those worried about Romney may coalesce around another candidate.


At that point, even a second place finish in Florida would likely be the end of the road for Giuliani's campaign.


Rudy's campaign acknowledges that they're doing it differently: "This is not necessarily the traditional way," said Giuliani campaign manager Michael DuHaime yesterday. "Conventional wisdom has never guided this campaign."


It's a huge risk for a front-runner. Hillary's campaign toyed with the idea of letting Iowa go, on a similar theory. They wisely re-thought that strategy and now it's Edwards who's struggling to get some kind of momentum.


At this point, we don't think Rudy G's strategery is going to work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fred Thompson--Sign of Life?

Earlier today, we posted about Fred Thompson's seeming lack of strategy (kind of like the Redskins in the fourth quarter).

Two follow-ups: (1) we noted that Uncle Freddie was polling in second in Nevada, but that the most recent poll there was a month old. Now Zogby is out with a new poll in Nevada, in which Thompson has slipped to a distant third. (Meanwhile, Ron Paul has jumped to 7%.) More evidence that Thompson is going nowhere.

(2) Thompson is reputably rumored to be picking up the endorsement of the National Right To Life Committee tomorrow. The NRLC is probably the most prominent anti-abortion group in the country, so maybe that will breathe some life into the Thompson campaign.

Successful Soccer Experiment


Today we tried an experiment in youth soccer in Arlington.


School holidays, especially one-day ones, are always a challenge for parents, looking for something to occupy their kids.


So today the Arlington Soccer Assoc. (the Curmudgeon is on the Board of Directors) held a free pick-up tournament for youth soccer players. The format was 4 v 4 games of 10 minutes, with no referees and no coaching. We had six "fields" marked out on a large artificial turf field. We assigned kids to teams as they walked in--if they showed up as a team, they played together, otherwise we just put them on the next team. And then we let them play.


It was a smashing success. In the first group, which was third through sixth graders, we had 140 kids show up, enough to form 24 teams. Had we known the demand was that high--and now we do know it for the future--we would have given this age group more time, or tried an even larger field space.


Still, it was pretty amazing. The ASA Technical Director, Bob Bigney, single-handedly organized the 24 teams into a mini-tournament, with 12 teams playing on six small fields at one time while the others rested. Once the games began, the kids were the masters of their fields. This is the true model of youth soccer--letting kids play in a safe environment with minimal adult intervention.


We also had a similar format for older kids, with a decent turnout--about 12 teams for the middle schoolers, and a few teams for the high schoolers.


We'll probably do it again on school holidays in the future, but with a few modifications based on what we learned from our experiment. We might need to group just third and fourth graders into one time slot, with fifth and sixth graders in another, to keep the numbers more reasonable (and get in more games for each team), and we might need more sign-up time at the front end.


Oh, and a coffee vendor for the adults!

Does Fred Thompson Have A Strategy?

Fred Thompson is in danger of becoming little more than a favorite son candidate from Tennessee.

Seriously, does he have a strategy?


Where is Thompson going to make his stand? In Iowa polls he's in fourth place. We don't see him improving on that, although he could slip to fifth before it's all over.


In New Hampshire, Thompson is in fourth or fifth place, depending on the poll you read. Ron Paul may beat Fred in the Granite State.


In South Carolina, Fred has slipped to third, after a couple polls showing him with narrow leads. And he's not doing any better in any other early states, such as Florida and Michigan. (A Nevada poll that is now a month old had Thompson in second there, but we suspect he's slipped out west as well since then.)


The Law and Order star better get moving--if he finishes third or worse in the first five contests, he's toast. If we were Thompson, and facing the numbers he's facing, we'd put all our eggs in South Carolina and declare that we're going to win the Palmetto State. Iowa and New Hampshire look hopeless at this point, especially with the other candidates pouring their resources into those states, so why spend any more time on them. SC at least still offers the chance for Fred to demonstrate that he is the South's candidate.


Frankly, we think Big Fred's in big trouble, even if he can sneak in a win in SC. Heck, McCain, Huckabee and even Ron Paul are better positioned strategically than Thompson. He needs to circle his wagons pronto.

Atlanta Water Hog Gets His 15 Minutes of Fame

We just love this story from CNN, which reports on a man in Atlanta, Georgia--where they're facing a record drought--whose mansion is using nearly 400,000 gallons of water per month (that's enough to supply a 60-home subdivision).

Wanna bet that he's also got a huge honkin' SUV with a Bush/Cheney '04 sticker on it?

Wear Your Seat Belts


This story from today's Washington Post is pretty self-explanatory when it comes to wearing a safety belt:


"In the second crash, Hannah Leigh Boyd, 19, of Burford, Ga., died after being ejected from a car that went out of control on Breaemar Parkway near Garlock Way about 3 a.m. yesterday.


The car hit some tree and ejected Boyd and two others. One, a 20-year-old Bristow man, was hospitalized with injuries regarded as life-threatening. The driver, an 18-year-old woman, was also ejected and was treated at a hospital for minor injuries, police said.


Police said the three were not wearing seat belts. A fourth occupant, who wore a seat belt, remained in the vehicle and was not injured, police said."


Wear you seat belts, and teach your teens to wear theirs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Will Florida v. Georgia Water Fight Become Political?


The Southeast drought isn't getting any better--northern Georgia remains dry as a bone and Lake Lanier, which supplies water to several million Atlantans continues to dwindle. (This is where a good ol' hurricane or tropical storm could be a big help.)


Meanwhile, Georgia and Florida continue to fight over the allocation of water from Lake Lanier. The Bush Administration has tried to broker a deal between the two states (and also Alabama, which relies on Lanier water to cool a major nuclear power plant), but Florida officials have backed away from a temporary truce that would have cut water flow into the Apalachicola River, threatening the economy of Florida's Apalachicola Bay.


Florida's Secretary of Environmental Protection argues that the deal proposed by the Bush administration would cause a "catastrophic collapse of the oyster industry" in Apalachicola.


We wonder whether this dispute won't spill over into the presidential nominating contests, particularly with Florida being an early primary state. And while we're not sure the drought will last long enough to carry into the general election next November, it could become an interesting issue.


Florida, of course, is a battleground state, whereas Georgia is not. The Democratic nominee could easily afford to back Florida in the dispute, figuring Georgia is written off anyway. The Republican nominee couldn't afford to let Florida go, so he, too, would probably side with Florida.


Whether any of that will ultimately happen depends on whether the water situation in north Georgia remains desperate for another full year. In the meantime, the Bush administration has its hands full trying to placate three Southern Republican governors who are at each other's throats.


Do The Redskins Suck, Or What?

They suck.

Friday, November 09, 2007

South Carolina: Not Just For Rednecks Anymore

Over the past week or so we've had several posts on the recent Mitt Romney surge in South Carolina. (See Romney's Secret Weapon In SC, Another Poll Shows Romney Movement In SC, and Romney Surprise In SC?)

Here's an article from The Politico that gives a bit of insight into the changing political face of the state, which, in part, explains why the Mittster might surprise a few people: Easy Stereotypes Mask A Complicated South.

Still, while we here at the Curmudgeon have long been aware that the Palmetto state is more than just a bunch of gun totin', Bible thumpin', pick-up drivin', NASCAR watchin' good ol' boys, we've been surprised by Romney's strength. If sustained, it could make a real difference in perceptions of his electability.

Virginia--Color Me Purple


No Democrat has carried Virginia in a Presidential election since 1964. Not even Jimmy Carter, who carried much of the South in 1976, could manage to snag Virginia.


Could 2008 be the year that streak ends? Who knows, maybe Navy beating Notre Dame was an omen.


By the time the general election campaign rolls around in oh, say, March, Virginia may well become a "battleground" state. That would be nice--we'd get some attention for a change.


Indeed, if you go to the Wikipedia entry for "United States Presidential Election--2008" you'll already see Virginia listed as one of about 15 battleground states.


With 13 electoral votes up for grabs, Virginia is worth the fight. It's still a bit early--after all, we can't yet be sure who the major party nominees will be, nor whether there will be one or more credible third-party challengers. Still, let's take a look at the contest.


If you were betting real money, you'd probably want to bet on Virginia still going Republican in 2008, at least if the odds you were getting were even money. While Democrats have made tremendous strides in the past few years--electing Mark Warner and Tim Kaine governor; electing Jim Webb as U.S. Senator, and capturing additional legislative seats in each successive election--the Republican Party is hardly dead. Indeed, all the statewide races except Governor went to Republicans last time around; they still control the House of Delegates; and a majority of the state's congressional delegation is Republican.


Furthermore, moderate, home-grown Democrats like Warner, Kaine and former Republican (and former, former Democrat) Webb tend to do better with the state's broad swath of independent voters than do national Democrats.


On the other hand, the demographic trendlines in the state favor Democrats, the Republican party in the state is deeply split, and there's not a lot of enthusiasm among state Republicans for any of the potential GOP candidates.


Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it's Hillary versus Rudy, with no credible independent candidate. And also that Mark Warner is running against Jim Gilmore for Sen. John Warner's open Senate seat. In that race, Northern Virginia is pretty energized (and might be further energized by tight congressional races for the seats held by Republicans Tom Davis and Frank Wolf). Meanwhile, the right wing of the Republican party is pretty dispirited--not enthused by Rudy and doubtful of Gilmore's prospects. We could see Hillary winning by a couple of points in that scenario.


Indeed, a very recent SurveyUSA poll of approximately 500 Virginia voters confirms our view: it had Hillary beating each of the leading Republican contenders EXCEPT John McCain. In the poll, she beat Giuliani by a statistically insignificant 47-46. And yet she lost to McCain by a margin of 52-42(!)


We're not predicting that Hillary--or any other Democrat--will carry Virginia next November. It's simply too early and far too fluid a situation. But the state's in play. Color us purple!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lessons From Tuesday's Vote?

Somedays the Wall Street Journal just makes our job too easy, and today's one of those.

VIRGINIA'S ELECTION LESSONS


First off, we couldn't agree more with the WSJ editors that "[p]erhaps [Virginia Republicans] should try to stand for something other than bashing immigrants."


But then, we disagree with the Journal's editors that Va.'s Repubs "have lost their way by embracing the tax and spending agendas of successive Democratic Governors." The GOP in Virginia has a couple of problems. The first is demographic--Northern Virginia's sprawling suburbs are simply becoming more ethnically diverse, with Democratic-leaning voters moving in.


Of course, many of those suburban voters are independent-minded moderates, not committed Democrats, but they're turned off by the Republican party's negativism--no to everything--and intolerance. In that sense, WSJ's editors are correct in that the party needs to "stand for" something positive.


The fact is that moderate Republicans in Northern Virginia are losing because they are handcuffed by their more extreme rural cousins. A message of fiscal restraint could easily sell in Virginia if it wasn't also coupled with a refusal to come up with real solutions to real problems, especially transportation, and what appears to be overt hostility to anyone who isn't a white, conservative Christian.


LESSONS FROM THE REST OF THE COUNTRY


The Journal also gave us this: two articles, literally side-by-side, on the editorial page well illustrating the old canard that "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."


In the first, the Journal's editors proclaim that Oregon voters'--rejection of referendum to fund a state health care program with an increased tobacco tax is direct evidence that Democrats in Congress are out of step with voters in their proposal to expand a children's health care bill with an increase in the federal tobacco tax. After all, Oregon is a "blue" state, so even Democratic voters, the WSJ reasons, don't support this type of thing.


But then, right next door, the Journal has an op-ed proclaiming that the defeat in Utah of a conservative-sponsored referendum to devote state tax dollars to fund private school vouchers was just some kind of fluke--simply proving the difficulty of "winning an off-year referendum."

But wait a minute, isn't Utah about as true "red" a state as Oregon is true "blue." If consistent, the Journal would say that Utah's Republican legislators are obviously out of step with what their Republican constituents want.


Or maybe the Journal just takes the conservative side of all issues, damn consistency? Nah, that couldn't be it.


A better way to look at the Utah referendum's defeat is to look at the WSJ's lead editorial headline: Tax and Offend. We have a hard time seeing how Utah's GOP legislators can justify devoting public tax dollars to funding private school educations and still call themselves fiscal watchdogs. We think most people--ESPECIALLY CONSERVATIVES--believe that folks who want to go to private school should pay for it themselves. That why they call it private school, and that's probably why Utahans overwhelmingly rejected the program (62% against it). (And yes, we've heard all the blah, blah, blah rationalizations for vouchers, but there's simply no way at all to square those arguments with a philosophy of limited government and fiscal conservatism.)


So, while the WSJ may not be consistent, it appears voters are. Vive la democracy.

Romney Says GOP Wouldn't Pick The Former Romney To Lead The Party In November

We were amused by this: after Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani--on national security grounds--Mitt Romney groused that: "I don't think the Republican Party will choose a pro-choice, pro-gay civil union candidate to lead our party."

In other words, the GOP wouldn't pick what Romney was before he decided to run for the nomination. We suppose that if Giuliani does win, Romney will have to chew himself out for the failure to realize that Republicans just might be a bit more flexible than he supposed when he re-made himself into a social conservative.

What we are seeing is the inevitable fractionation of the "Christian right" in the Republican party, what with Robertson endorsing Giuliani, Brownback endorsing McCain, Bob Jones XXV endorsing Romney and the current Christian right leadership of Dobson et al. not being able to endorse or get behind anyone. It turns out there are other issues, after all.

We think there may be a third-party candidate for the hard right, but we're not sure the threat is all that serious. Depends on who they find to run.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Virginia Elections: Solid Democratic Gains

It was a good night for Democrats in Virginia. Not an awesome night, but definitely a good one. And it was oh so close to being even better.

Here's the re-cap (or should we say re-Chap):


In the state Senate, Democrats picked up four seats, giving them a two seat majority when the legislature reconvenes. For data on the key races, see our updated post with election results.


The pick-ups were as follows:


John Miller won in the 1st District down in Hampton Roads, and Ralph Northam knocked off the incumbent Republican in the 6th District in the same region. All in all, it was a very good night for Dems in that part of the state.


The two other pick-ups were in Fairfax County, where Chap Peterson (pictured here) knocked off Jeannemaire Devolites Davis (a name we won't have to type anymore), and George Barker kicked out incumbent Jay O'Brien.


Four other Senate races narrowly eluded Democrats, and show the potential for additional gains in regions that are growing bluer every year. In a surprise to us--we weren't following this race--Michael Breiner almost won an open seat in the Roanoke area, losing by a margin of 50.8 to 49.0. In the 27th district out in Loudoun/Fauquier Counties, Karen Schultz missed by a margin of 48.5 to 46.9; in the 28th district, out of Fauquier/Stafford Counties, Al Pollard came even closer, losing by a margin of 50.6 to 49.2.


And then in Fairfax, Jill Oleszak appears to have lost to incumbent Ken Cuccinelli by fewer than 100 votes, subject to a probable recount.


Each of those four races was close enough to go to the Democrat. Rather than moan over those losses, we'll proclaim excitement at how close they were, and look to pick them up in four years.


Winning the state Senate was critical for Democrats this year. Since those elections take place only every four years, the next shot would not have come until 2011, after the 2010 census and the redistricting that will be based upon it. A few changes in some Northern Virginia congressional districts--especially those of Republicans Tom Davis and Frank Wolf--could turn them into reliably Democratic seats.


On the House of Delegates side, Dems continued their pattern of small gains. These are tough seats to pick up because many are completely safe for one party or the other. Still, it appears that Republicans lost 3 seats, while Democrats gained four (one pick up was a seat that had been held by an independent), leaving the GOP with an 8 seat advantage. In Northern Virginia, Margi Vanderhye ran a great campaign and turned part of McLean blue to pick up a seat.


That means Democrats will need to pick up an additional five House seats in the 2009 election to obtain a majority.


All in all, a good night. And good news for Tim Kaine, who can get more done in Richmond--although gridlock will still be the operative word on most major issues--and for Mark Warner in his Senate seat bid.


Now--and we'll expand on this in a later post--what about Virginia in the 2008 Presidential election? Could Virginia go blue this time around? Perhaps--we think the state will be in play.