Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cunningham To Transition Team

The Curmudgeon's BFF and old college roommate Nelson Cunningham has been announced as part of President-elect Obama's transition team, as one of the leads for the International Trade and Economics Team.

Nelson is well-suited to the task. He started public service in Rudy Giuliani's U.S. Attorneys office in NY, then went on to be general counsel to Joe Biden's Senate Judiciary Committee (during some key Supreme Court appointments). From there, it was General Counsel to Bill Clinton's Office of Administration.

After that, Nelson, who grew up in Latin America, is fluent in Spanish and well-versed in foreign policy, got the job he really wanted, serving as chief of staff to the U.S. Special Envoy to the Americas, who was Mack McLarty--Bill Clinton's childhood friend who served as White House Chief of Staff in Clinton's first term.

When the Bushies took power, Nelson and McLarty started an international consulting firm that has done quite well, recently celebrating its tenth anniversary. Bill Richardson--former U.N. Ambassador, Secretary of Energy and New Mexico Governor--worked with Nelson at the McLarty firm for a couple of years after the end of the Clinton administration.
In 2004, Nelson advised John Kerry's campaign on international relations issues (Nelson worked on a Kerry campaign early in his legal career while practicing law for a firm in Boston).
Nelson also assisted the Obama campaign on foreign policy issues and raised money for the general election (he was neutral in the primaries, in deference to having worked with or for several of the candidates).
He will provide sober, practical guidance to the Obama transition team as it rounds out appointments in the international arena, guided by years of experience working with representatives of primarily Latin American and Asian nations.

Other members of this part of Obama's transition team:

Reed Hundt
Michael Warren
Josh Gotbaum
William “Thomas” Dohrmann
James Johnson
Anjan Mukherjee
Gregory L. Rosston
Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Susan Ness
Phil Weiser
Peter M. Shane
Fred P. Hochberg
Ginger Lew
Gary Gensler
Mozelle W. Thompson
Peter Blair Henry
Lisa D. Cook
George Munoz
Alan H. Fleischmann

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama's Senate Is Virtually Filibuster Proof

It now looks unlikely that Al Franken will catch GOP incumbent Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race, and we think Republican Saxby Chambliss will hold his seat in the Georgia run-off.

That means Democrats will hold 56 seats in the new Senate, along with two independents--Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders--who vote with the Democratic caucus, giving them 58 votes on party-line issues.

Republicans will hold 42 seats, enough to sustain a filibuster IF everyone stays in line.

Make no mistake, however: this is a virtually filibuster-proof majority, especially if Obama governs from the center, maintains party discipline and reaches out to moderates on the other side, thus isolating hard-core conservatives.

Indeed, Obama's working majority in the Senate is stronger than the super-majorities Democrats held in the 1960's and early 1970's. Back then, many southern Democratic senators were far more conservative than the national party; they were more conservative than some of the Republicans senators from the northeast.

For example, in 1964, Democrats held an astounding 68 seats in the Senate, but many of those Senators, such as Mississippi's John Stennis and Virginia's Harry Byrd were staunch conservatives.

Today's southern Senators in the Democratic party are still more moderate than their northern and west coast colleagues, but not nearly as conservative as the old southern Democrats. On most issues, you can expect them to stick with the party.

Meanwhile, there are some Republican senators, especially those up for re-election in 2010, who will chart a moderate course and whom Obama will be able to woo successfully on many issues. These include Arlen Spector in Pennsylvania, George Voinovich in Ohio, Judd Gregg in New Hampshire, and perhaps John McCain in demographically changing Arizona; Mel Martinez in Florida and Kit Bond in Missouri.

On the big issues of the day--energy, environment, universal health care, economic stimulus--Obama should be able to craft a Senate majority sufficient to overcome a filibuster.

At the same time, the more moderate Democrats in the Senate will serve as the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak, alerting Obama when Congress has gone too far left on an issue.

So, not to worry. Yes, it would be nice for Franken and Martin to knock off Coleman and Chambliss, but the failure to do so shouldn't prevent Obama from getting his agenda through Congress.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Four Million For Obama Inaugural? It Won't Happen

We've seen some speculation this week that as many as four million people could turn out in January for Obama's inaugural festivities.

Don't count on it. That's one of those extreme numbers that gets invented by the same folks who thought turnout in the recent election would shatter records--which it didn't.

One reason it won't happen is that it would be physically impossible to get that many visitors into D.C. The Washington metro area has a population of roughly 5 million, only a small fraction of whom commute into D.C. on any given day.

There's certainly fewer than 100,000 hotel rooms in the region, even if you go out 100 miles, and there's only so many planes, trains and buses that come in each day.

Metro can handle about a million people on its subway cars (at least in summer--we're not so sure about in January when everyone's wearing a coat!), and maybe another 500,000 on buses, but that's about it.

So, while there may be 4 million who'd LIKE to come here for the inaugural, we're confident it won't actually happen. That said, there could be 1-2 million, which is still a LOT of folks in town.

The Curmudgeon family is trying to decide what to do--it's a four day school weekend for the little Curmudgeons, so we just might go off skiing and leave the crowds behind.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Arlington's Dave Foster Decided Underdog In Race For GOP Attorney General Nomination

David Foster, former chairman of the Arlington County School Board, has officially thrown his hat into the ring for the GOP nomination to run for Virginia attorney general in 2009.

Foster, an attorney at Fulbright & Jaworski in D.C., was the last Republican to serve in any elected position in Arlington. A moderate, Foster was reelected to the school board in 2003 with 62% of the vote.

Foster was well-liked in Arlington because he was fiscally hard-nosed but kept Republican ideology out of the school board's work. Indeed, many who voted for him probably didn't know he was a Republican--school board elections are non-partisan and generally tend to be low-key affairs here.

Foster will have an uphill battle to get the GOP nomination for attorney general. Republicans will select their nominee at a state convention next May or June. That convention will be dominated by the social and religious conservatives who have taken over the party machinery in Virginia and steered their party to a series of disastrous losses in the last three elections.

Foster will face state Senator Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax and John Brownlee, the former U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia. Cuccinelli narrowly won re-election in his increasingly Democratic district last year, and probably see the writing on the wall for the next race. But Cuccinelli's socially conservative credentials are strong, and he will no doubt attempt to paint Foster as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Foster's strategy appears to be to convince delegates that he can reach out to Northern Virginia moderates. Good luck with that strategy! We don't think the GOP party activists give a darn. They think they're losing because their candidates haven't been conservative enough. More likely than not, they'll continue to purge their ranks of moderates, at least until they lose another election or two.

We like Foster and wish him well. We wouldn't advise him to go into hock on this one, however!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coleman's Lead Over Franken Narrows In Minnesota Recount

In Minnesota, officials are hand counting more than 3 million paper ballots cast in the Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.

The recount began today, with Coleman leading by 215 votes. Franken gained about 41 votes today, with officials finishing 18% of the recount. So now the margin is down to 174 votes.

UPDATE (11/20/08): Coleman's lead is down to 142 votes with 31% of the recount completed.

For a chart from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune with all the data, click HERE.

The recount is not expected to be completed before December 5.

Politicizing The Veep Residence

Here's a fun little piece on how Dick Cheney has managed to politicize even the website describing the Vice Presidential mansion:


The End of Bonuses

The other day, the top executives at Goldman, one of Wall Street's consistently most profitable investment firms, announced that they would be forgoing their year-end bonuses in light of the current financial situation.

What's remarkable is that this amounted to news. Not just any news, but lead story with blaring headline news in the Wall Street Journal.

Twenty--or maybe thirty--years ago, bonuses were really tied to performance. If a company had an exceptional year, executives would receive bonuses on top of their regular pay. Everyone knew that if their company went back to having just an ordinary year--or a bad year--then the bonuses would disappear.

Along the way, the "bonus" concept became corrupted. During the 1980's, there were so many good years that every year, it seemed, was exceptional and merited a bonus. Bonuses became a greater share of compensation than "regular" pay.

Before long, it went like this: if it was a great year, then the executives took credit for it. Pay no mind to the fact that a monkey could've made money easily in many of those years.

But, if it was a bad year, well, that was different. Then it wasn't the executives' fault. It was due to "economic circumstances beyond our control."

So what happened was that if it was a good year, you got a bigger bonus; if it was a bad year, you only got the same bonus as in the previous good year--a real hardship. The bonuses, of course, were all ridiculously large, and lots of people who had demonstrated little skill other than to follow the herd into the market were rewarded with astounding amounts of money.

[It works that way in the law profession, too. Lawyers complain endlessly about how hard they work. They ought to try working in a real job--like being a paramedic--where there are no bonuses.]

The Goldman executives are doing the right thing. No one on Wall Street deserves a bonus this year. In fact, they ought to have to cough up the bonuses they made over the past five years, especially if they "earned" them pushing investments like collateralized debt obligations and other instruments at the heart of our current economic malaise.

Wear Your Seatbelts! The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Driving is dangerous. In the past two days, there have been three fatalities on I-66 in or near Arlington.

All three fatalities were the innocent victims of someone else's moronic driving. (Two women were killed when an intoxicated teenage driver hit their car head-on after driving the wrong way on I-66; another woman died when her car tried to dodge a mattress that had fallen into the roadway from another vehicle.)

We can't emphasize how important it is to wear seatbelts at all times because accidents like these can never be predicted.

In the most recent accident, one of the fatalities might have been avoided with seat belt use. The Washington Post report says it all:

"[The driver of an Isuzu Rodeo] ran off the road into a box truck that had swerved to miss the mattress, hit a guardrail and flipped over. [The driver], who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle, which came to rest in the woods."

"A passenger in the Isuzu . . . was wearing a seat belt and survived. He was treated for minor injuries at the scene."

Need we say more!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Begich Pads Lead Over Stevens In Alaska As Ballot Counting Continues

Democratic challenger Mark Begich has increased his lead over embattled Republican Ted Stevens (pictured here) in Alaska following additional vote counting today. As of now, Begich leads by 2374 votes, up from about 1000 over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.

There can't be too many votes left to count, although overseas ballots received by tomorrow will be counted.

At this point, we think it's safe to say that Begich has won the seat, which probably means Stevens will avoid a vote on whether to expel him from the Senate due to his conviction on federal felony corruption charges.

Truly Affordable Wind Power

Here's some good news for folks who live in a zone with moderate amounts of wind: truly affordable personal windpower is here!

We found this one in our current issue of Popular Science, which features 2008's 100 Innovations of the Year. It's the Mariah Power Windspire, a compact, affordable wind turbine that can be installed just about anywhere.

According to the manufacturer, the Windspire is expected to generate approximately 2000 kwh's of electricity annually in a zone with 12 mph average windspeeds--what you could get on ridgelines in western Virginia, and in coastal zones along Virginia's shore.

The cost is roughly $5000--before the federal 30% tax credit. That's one-quarter what the Curmudgeon paid for solar panels that put out about 2500 kwh's per year.

Let's say it costs $5000 installed. You get back $1500 in federal tax credits, so your cost is $3500. If you live in Virginia, you're paying about $.11 per kwh for electricity from Dominion Power, so you're reducing your electric bill by $220/year. In less than 15 years, your Windspire would pay for itself, even if the price of electricity never went up (which is pretty unlikely).

You can get better paybacks from some conservation measures, but 15 years is not that bad an investment. It's certainly better than solar. And if utilities are required to pay consumers more for generating green electricity from wind, as proposed in some legislative schemes, the payback could be much quicker.

In any event, with the Windspire, you can do your part for the environment without breaking the bank.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stabilize Energy Prices

In the U.S., we like to have our something, for nothing.

We want energy independence, we want reduced carbon emissions, and we want low gas prices.

Sorry, can't have all three.

The surest, quickest way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce our carbon emissions is via higher energy prices, especially for oil and its derivatives (i.e., gasoline). Higher prices cause Americans to conserve energy. Higher prices also encourage investment in alternative energy, more fuel-efficient cars, and new technology.

Yes, high gas and other energy prices are painful, but low prices have huge costs that many would like to ignore. If, whenever you pulled up to a gas station to fill up, you had to fork over the money to an Arab sheikh in a checkered headdress, you'd surely look to buy a more fuel efficient car.

Likewise, if after every mile of driving you had to heave a one-pound brick of carbon dioxide out your car window, you'd also think twice about that gas guzzler.

Unfortunately, Americans can be blissfully ignorant of those costs. How many times have you seen a huge gas-guzzling SUV hurtling down the road, with one occupant, bearing a "support our troops" sticker? But for oil, our troops wouldn't even be over there!

A whole lot of talk, however, won't solve this problem. Higher prices for oil will. Better yet, stable prices for oil will send the right signals to markets, especially to investors in alternative energy options.

One of the things that needs to emerge from the new administration is a bill that will stabilize the price of oil to consumers in the U.S. at roughly $100/barrel. If markets drive the price higher, so be it. The $100/barrel needs to be a floor. As a nation, we can't afford to pay the hidden costs of cheap foreign oil (yes, $60/barrel is cheap) any more.

To Bail GM, Or Not To Bail?

The other day we argued against a government bailout of GM, suggesting that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, albeit painful, would be better for GM in the long run.

Here's some additional points of view:

"Why Bankruptcy Is The Best Option For GM" (Wall Street Journal)

"A Bridge For The Carmakers" (Washington Post)

"How To Bail Out GM" (Washington Post)

After reading these and other commentary on the issue, we're still persuaded that bankruptcy is inevitable, so might as well start now. As they say, "no pain, no gain."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Arlington Environmental Activist Miles Grant Running for House of Delegates

We just learned that one of our fellow Arlington bloggers, Miles Grant, aka "The Green Miles," is planning on running against incumbent Democrat Al Eisenberg for a House of Delegates seat.

Good for you, Miles.

At age 31, Miles is quite a youngster, but he's been at it for some time with his blog and as an active member of various environmental groups, including heading up ACE--Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment.

Like the old days of the one-party (Democratic) South, Arlington today has only one party, so if you want to get in, you have to do it in the Democratic primary.

We'd say Miles has an uphill battle against Eisenberg, who has played it pretty safe as a delegate from Arlington. Miles will need to reach out to other constituencies, such as the Latino community, the fair housing folks, etc., if he wants to win.

Win or lose, however, Miles' candidacy will ensure that environmental issues and policies in Virginia will be front and center in this district, and if nothing else, prod Eisenberg to be more aggressive on the environmental front.

Of course, Eisenberg isn't the real problem--it's all those GOP delegates who still control the lower house in Virginia. We hope Democrats can nibble away enough additional seats on the periphery of Northern Virginia to swing it the other way. Then we'll see some real progress on lagging issues such as renewable energy mandates for Dominion Electric.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Ridiculous Electric Power Industry

Speaking of dinosaurs (see our last post, on the U.S. auto industry), what about the U.S. electric generating utilities?

Here's an article about a ridiculous report they have commissioned contending that the electric grid--the transmission wires that carry electricity to our homes and businesses--is so fragile it will collapse if much more solar and windpower is added to the system.

There are some utilities--Duke Energy in North Carolina, for example--that have progressive, innovative CEO's who see a way to clean alternative energy. But they are the exception. Most of them are governed by old-line executives addicted to coal because they are wed to outdated models of both electricity supply and demand.

In any event, the notion that the transmission grid--built by these same clowns--can't handle wind and solar (but can handle new coal-fired plants) is a bunch of hooey. Pretty soon these guys will have their hands out for a "bailout" of the grid. They should be slapped instead.

Don't Bailout Detroit

One of the problems you get when the government starts handing out billions of dollars to private businesses is that pretty soon everyone wants a similar deal.

Detroit's "[formerly] Big Three" automakers now have their hands out for multiple billions of dollars, and it looks like Democrats in Congress, paying off a political debt to Michigan, are going to hand it to them.

Here's our problem: no amount of federal dollars will be enough to save Detroit's automakers from themselves. They've been mismanaged for years, and nothing in any bailout proposal we've seen suggests that will change. If anything, it will only get worse, as horrible management will have been rewarded.

There's a better, albeit painful, solution: Chapter 11 bankruptcy. What would that mean? First, it would wipe out whatever shareholder equity is left in the auto companies. But it would not mean they would close their doors and cease business. Instead, with creditors held at bay, GM, Ford and Chrysler would be able to radically restructure their businesses, which is what is needed.

We don't need to extend the life of these dinosaurs by putting them on life support; instead, we need to force them to evolve into a new, viable species of auto company.

If restructuring doesn't work, or if management can't stomach it, then the still valuable assets of those companies would be sold off to other bidders, who would have a shot at doing something innovative. For example, another auto company might pay for the assets of GM's Cadillac division to augment its luxury car sales, with a new plan to streamline and update the brand and the manufacturing facilities.

It would be a painful process, but it would all occur under the supervision of a bankruptcy court that would have immense power to rewrite contracts and order other changes that the automakers either can't--or won't--undertake themselves.

Yes, there are serious issues about jobs, health benefits and pension benefits, but having the government address those issues indirectly by pumping billions into companies that would promptly lose those billions--still ultimately triggering some kind of collapse or bankruptcy--is hardly the way to go.

If, however, the Government is going to bailout these dinosaurs, then it needs to do it in a way that guarantees they will serve our national interests, not just continue to churn out gas-guzzling SUV's.

For some ideas on how the government might do so, check out Thomas Friedman's column in today's New York Times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Terry McAuliffe For Governor? We're Skeptical

Former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clintonite Terry McAuliffe has confirmed that he intends to run for governor of Virginia next year. He joins state delegate Brian Moran, from Alexandria, and state Senator Creigh Deeds, from Bath County, in seeking the Democratic nomination to go up against Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the likely GOP nominee.

We'll keep an open mind on McAuliffe, but at the outset we're pretty skeptical. McAuliffe has never served in any elective or other public office in Virginia. He lives in McLean, Virginia, but most residents of the Commonwealth will not view him as a "Virginian."

We certainly want to see Governor Tim Kaine succeeded by another moderate, progressive Democrat, and not by McDonnell, who squeaked out the narrowest of victories over Deeds in 2005 to win the AG post.

Whether McAuliffe is that candidate, we don't know. He certainly has the ability to raise a lot of money; he's politically savvy; and he's energetic. We're reminded that when some obscure businessman named Mark Warner--who also had no experience as an elected official in Virginia--burst on the scene (audaciously running against incumbent Senator John Warner in his first race), many were, to say the least, skeptical of him. Now we know better.

One of the things we wonder about McAuliffe is whether he really wants to be governor of Virginia, and if so, why. In his announcement that he is running, he attacked Richmond for being out of touch, but what does he know about Richmond?

McAuliffe strikes us as someone who sees the Virginia governorship as a stepping stone to larger ambitions.

We'll keep an open mind. We'd like to see McAuliffe demonstrate some real knowledge about Virginia and its politics, and some sensitivity to its real issues. His initial announcement seemed to us shallow in this regard.

In any event, it looks like Democrats will have quite a donnybrook over their next nominee for Governor.

Why Obama Won, And Why The GOP Is Hardly Down And Out

Reading through the punditocracy over the past few days, there are the predictable post-mortems on the election, including a lot of hand-wringing about the GOP defeat and whether Democrats have somehow built a "new majority."

Why Obama Won

Let's start with why Obama won.

Obama had a superior campaign organization, both in the primaries and the general election. As a result of that organization, he had more money and better strategy.

While other candidates flailed around, Obama had consistent, positive themes--hope and change--that guided him through a volatile political landscape. After all, when the campaign started, Iraq was the biggest issue; when it finished, the economy had completely displaced Iraq.

Obama was also a very attractive candidate. Although we've never had a black president, he nonetheless looks and sounds like a President. He's a terrific speaker--quite a contrast to the oral bumbling of the incumbent. He also projects an aura of calm and competence. Not everyone with those qualities, however, can put together--and maintain over nearly two years--such competent campaign.

Many on the right complain that the press treated Obama with kid gloves, but that's sour grapes. Obama and his campaign deftly managed the press. Obama made himself accessible, and he addressed the issues, both substantive and personal. The Bill Ayers attack, for example, failed because there simply was no evidence that Ayers had any significant influence on Obama, or would have any influence going forward.

Obama, of course, was helped by circumstances, particularly the public's immense disdain for the Bush administration. We think Hillary would've won under these circumstances as well. But not any Democrat could've won--we're pretty sure someone like Kerry or Edwards would have blown it.

Obama was also helped immensely by the three presidential debates. Before those debates, roughly 25-30% of voters had still not firmly made up their minds. Many wanted to like and support Obama, but they had reservations. The debates gave those voters much more confidence in him. Next to John McCain, Obama looked and sounded presidential. The debates gave Obama an opportunity to showcase his talents to many Americans who had not been exposed directly to him.

In short, Obama won because he was the better candidate, with the better campaign, in a year that tactically favored the Democrat in any event.

Did Obama's Election Cause A Realignment?

Now, did Obama's election create some kind of political "realignment" or signal the beginning of a new "durable" Democratic majority? Is the GOP dead?

The question practically answers itself after we look at why Obama won. In a year that doesn't tactically favor Democrats, in which the candidate is not as good and runs a poor campaign, the GOP certainly can still win.

Now Democrats are in charge, they will have to take the blame for what happens next. You can bet that the roughly six percent of voters who swung from Republican to Democrat between 2004 and 2008 are hardly liberals. They are very moderate middle-roaders who could swing back again if Democrats go too far, and especially if the economy doesn't turn around.

If history is a guide, Republicans will gain seats in Congress in 2010. If they don't, THEN we'll start to think about whether a tectonic shift has occurred.

That said, the GOP desperately needs new leadership. They need to work hard on their tone, which alienates minority voters--not just African-Americans, but Latinos, and Asian-Americans, and Indo-Americans and Arab-Americans and just about anyone who isn't a Protestant white person. It is one thing to be socially conservative, another to be xenophobic. A guy like new Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal would be a big help to the GOP on this front, but just one fellow with brown skin won't be enough.

The GOP also needs to work on its brand. Being anti-tax is fine. But the GOP needs to articulate a message that promotes COMPETENT government that is properly funded. Voters do want services from their government. In Virginia, we need better roads and transit, but the state GOP is too mired up in reproductive rights issues to care. This is a key reason why suburbanites have turned away from the Republican brand--they want the government to solve problems, not regulate their bedrooms.

In any event, any voter with a modicum of intelligence can see that all Bush did was borrow and spend. If you want smaller government, then you have to find ways for Government, through regulatory and tax policy, to mold the private sector to provide the public with what it needs.

Energy policy is a good example. Americans want clean, inexpensive energy and they really do want to break their oil addiction. Under Bush, however, tax policy heavily favored oil--not renewables--while regulatory policy encouraged Detroit to continue building inefficient SUV's, rather than cars of the future.

The biggest problem the GOP faces now is that it has driven away many of its most moderate voices. In many states, the party apparatus has been taken over by religious conservatives.

Republicans will have their chances going forward, but only if they reform from within.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Half Century

We were tempted to ignore it, but what the heck. Today the Curmudgeon is 50 years old. That's right, we've put a half century on this body and brain, and hope to get another half century out of it before we kick off.

The good news: we've got almost as much hair as we did in college. Shoot, if you count nose and ear hair, we're ahead of the game!

Our eyesight is better than it was in college, thanks to the miracle of lasix.

We're a little heavier, but not in too bad a shape--indeed, we were really too skinny in those good ol' days.

The best news: we can't be that old, because we had our best round of golf ever on Friday, while out in California. It was a magnificent day and we had no worries or pressures, so we shot an 82, which is three strokes better than our previous personal best. Maybe in the future we'll have a chance to shoot our age.

We're also blessed with new technology that allows us to stay socially connected in our retirement--the internet, social networking sites, email, blogging.

When we were born, in 1958, it didn't seem like a primitive era, but we bet if our kids were transported back to that time, they'd be aghast: black & white TV with three channels (and no remote control); no personal computers; no electronic games; most commercial air travel by prop plane; music on vinyl discs; rotary dial phones (do kids ever wonder why we say we're "dialing" a number?).

Yet, where's all that stuff we thought we'd have by now, just like the Jetsons? The flying cars, the robot maids, the instant food, the Star Trek transporter beams, the talking computers? (In one early episode of the original Star Trek series, however, Mr. Spock has to fix the talking computer by replacing a vacuum tube.)

Okay, so now we are sounding old. Happy Birthday Curmudgeon.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Seen in North Carolina, on I-40 near I-95 (thanks Favorite Uncle Dave).

Friday, November 07, 2008

Perriello Solidifies Lead In Va. 05

Democratic challenger Tom Perriello has ousted Republican incumbent Virgil Goode in Virginia's 5th Congressional district.

Returns in the district have see-sawed back and forth over the past couple of days as county boards of elections conducted a canvass of their results in a standard audit/correction process that is now complete, with Perriello leading by 745 votes. Complete details can be found at the Virginia Board of Elections website.

What happens from here? The VBE will meet, on Monday, November 24, to certify the results of all elections that took place in the Commonwealth on Nov. 4.

A losing candidate then has 10 days to request a recount. As a practical matter, however, in Virginia a recount is really just another audit process, as most jurisdictions use voting machines and there are no individual ballots to be "recounted." The recount is supervised by a panel of state court judges. In recent years, recounts of close elections in Virginia have resulted in precious few votes changing hands. For more info on Virginia recounts, go here.

We're quite confident Perriello's margin is more than enough to ensure his victory.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

100K Fairfax Absentee Votes

This morning we speculated that Fairfax County was still sitting on 80,000+ absentee votes that had not yet been tabulated.

We were right--just a short while ago, the Virginia Board of Elections finally posted the Fairfax numbers: 100,456 absentee ballots (!!)--about 20% of the more than 500,000 votes cast in Fairfax.

Now that we have all the Fairfax votes, we can see that Fairfax County gave Obama a nearly 110,000 vote margin, on top of a 50,000 vote margin in Arlington County. That's a lot of votes, and adding in the absentees boosts Obama's margin in Virginia to about 5.5%, with some other significant absentees still to be posted.

By the way, Tom Periello continues to hang on to a razor thin 31 vote lead over Virgil Goode in the 5th congressional district, with all precincts having reported in.

The Polls Were Right

We're sure there'll be much more on this at sites like Pollster.com, illustrated by nice graphics and backed up with data, so we'll be brief: the polls were right this time around.

We followed the pre-election polls religiously as part of our project to capture all polls with data on early voting [HERE]. One of the things we noticed right at the end is that all the outliers seemed to regress to the mean at the end. Pollsters who consistently had the national race very tight, at 3-4 points (e.g., Investors Business Daily), suddenly went up to a 6-7 point margin, while others who had forecast double-digit blowouts (e.g. Pew, NYT) likewise came down to the 6-8 point range.

The poll averages used by Pollster and RealClearPolitics, among others, also worked out pretty well, particularly for the states. The final RCP average nationally was 7.3% and Obama ended up at 6%. (Pollster was even closer.)

Likewise, Georgia was close, but at the end it leaned to McCain and that's the way it went; North Carolina was close, but it leaned to Obama and it looks like that's the way it will end up. Virginia got closer, but then moved back toward Obama at the end, and it should wind up with Obama winning by about 5 points. Missouri and Indiana, still undecided, were basically dead heats in the polls.

There were no surprises--nothing like a South Carolina (sorry dad) tilting over to Obama due to some huge turnout of African-Americans.

Nor was there any so-called "Bradley effect"--a term we hope will die after this election.

Nor, to the dismay of Fox News pundits and GOP hangers on, was there some kind of hidden effect for McCain, such as the oft-made suggestion that pollsters were missing white blue-collar workers who refuse to answer their phones.

Fortunately, jerks like Dick Morris, who kept saying it was a lot closer than people thought, or that all those undecideds would break for McCain, were wrong. Can we banish these people from the airwaves now? After all, a good pundit is one who turns out to be right, at least generally.

Meantime, without all those polls to pore over every day, the Curmudgeon will have find something productive to do!

Post-Script On Early Voting and Pre-Election Polls

Regular Curmudgeon readers know we've focused heavily on the "early voting" phenomenon this election season. Our compilation of polls that included separate results for those who had already voted proved quite popular, generating more than 18,000 hits in two days on our little blog that typically averages 200 readers on a good day.

Here's some thoughts on early voting and the polls.

First, early voting is clearly here to stay, as it is very popular with voters. GMU Prof. Michael McDonald's website, which tracked the phenomenon, indicates that at least 32 million Americans voted before election day, and since he has no data from many states we know the figure is probably closer to 40 million.

In at least nine states (CO, FL, GA, NV, NM, NC, OR, TN and TX) the number of early voters exceeded 50% of the total number of voters in the 2004 election. (We hope McDonald will update his site to show the percentage they turned out to be of this year's total.)

Early voting is a convenience to voters who find it difficult to all make it to a handful of polling sites on one day--a Tuesday workday--especially in urban jurisdictions with bad traffic and other problems of crowding. It's not realistic to expect all Americans to be able to make it on the same day, and opponents of early voting who wax nostaligacally about communal standards of standing long lines on election day are mostly folks who work at home and can come out to vote at 2:00 in the afternoon.

We don't know whether early voting boosts turnout, although it would be pretty easy to figure out. Our sense is that it may boost turnout a little, but not a lot. If people plan to vote, they generally will, and if they're unsure, they generally won't.

Furthermore, most people firmly make up their minds well before election day, so early voting is not likely to change the outcome of an election despite all the last minute campaign static and noise. Those who are undecided will probably wait until the bitter end--that's their right and choice.

Now, what about polls that report the preferences of voters who've already cast their ballots?

We posted nearly 100 such polls on our blog [HERE] during this election. The number will likely grow in future elections as more pollsters elect to provide that data. In the past, we asked whether there is an ethical question involved here: isn't posting the results of early voters' preferences sort of like releasing exit polls before the polls close, with the chance of influencing the results?

The answer, we think, is no. First, as Prof. McDonald rightly pointed out on his website when we called these polls a form of "exit" poll, they really aren't. Exit polls try to get very representative precincts and use them to project election day results. They are adjusted--or re-weighted--when the actual votes come in to make sure they are consistent with each other.

On the other hand, these polls of voters who've already cast ballots are different from polls of prospective voters, if for no other reason than that subsequent events aren't going to change their votes.

In any event, what we saw this year--and it was probably true in 2004 as well--is that early voters are not necessarily representative of all voters. Indeed, the early voters in almost all of our polls more heavily favored Obama than those prospective voters who had not yet voted. So, the early voter polls couldn't really tell us who was going to win.

That said, in jurisdictions with 70-80% early voting--such as Colorado--we could be pretty sure how it was going to come out a few days before the actual election.

We think the polls of early voters provide useful information to the campaigns on how to allocate resources as the election winds down, and they give us signals about the intensity of enthusiasm for a candidate. In 2004, Kerry voters weren't very enthusiastic, whereas Bush's base was, and in early voting Bush had a big lead. This time, Obama supporters were far more motivated and the early voting reflected it.

Even if public pollsters did not report the results of their surveys of early voters, you can bet that the campaigns would privately conduct such polls--precisely, as we said, to guide their allocation of resources. So, if the campaigns are going to have, and use, the data anyway, why not have it available to the media and public.

Our discussion is academic anyway. The first amendment protects the rights of pollsters to seek out and release such information, and in today's competitive environment, they're going to do just that.

We urged our readers to take the early voting polls with a grain of salt, especially at the beginning of the early voting period, when samples were quite small. That was good advice. Those polls provide useful information, but they're just one more datapoint. Obama led in the early voting polls in Georgia, but he didn't carry Georgia in the end.

Polls can help--and we admit they're a lot of fun--but at the end of the day we still have to wait for . . . the end of the day--election day, that is.

Virginia Absentee Balloting and Turnout

We don't have final numbers yet, but it's likely that Virginia shattered its records for both sheer numbers of absentee ballots cast and the percentage of the total vote that absentee ballots made up.

Just as an example, in the Curmudgeon's Arlington County, absentee ballots accounted for 35,000 out of 110,000 votes (and went almost 80% for Obama). That means 32% of Arlingtonians voted absentee (compared to 13% in 2004). Granted, Arlington election officials pushed absentee voting this election, and probably avoided long lines at the polls as a result.

We think the absentee numbers for Fairfax County will be similar, but in other counties the numbers will be more traditional. (In 2004, absentee voters cast 7.4% of the votes in Va.)

This tells us that Virginia voters want--and ought to have--"early voting." We define early voting as voting that begins before election "day" (usually about two weeks before) and requires no excuse, in contrast to absentee voting, which does require an excuse. Typically, in early voting, a county will set up several walk-in polling sites at convenient places around the county, instead of just the one site that existed in Arlington (and other Virginia counties).

In North Carolina, Tennesse and Georgia, which have liberal early voting, well over half the state's voters had cast their ballots before election day. Virginians should be accorded the same right--it's just not convenient for everyone to go to the polls on one day--a workday at that--and it's not realistic either.

We'll also be interested in seeing the final turnout numbers for Virginia (after Fairfax County posts its still outstanding 80,000-100,000 absentee votes). As of now, Virginia turnout is 70.5% of active voters, and we think it will end up around 72-73%.

That sounds like a nice figure, but it's really not that much different than 2004, when turnout was 71.4%. However, higher turnout this time may have been in more Obama friendly jurisdictions.

For example, turnout in Arlington this year was almost 77%, compared to 73% in 2004.

We won't have final data on absentee voting and turnout for a few more days, which is just as well--we need to take a break!

Virginia Election Wrap-Up: Perriello, Nye, Obama's Margin

There are still a few loose ends in Virginia:

First, and foremost, it looks like the 5th Congressional District race between Democratic challenger Tom Perriello (pictured here) and GOP incumbent Virgil Goode won't be decided until the Va. Board of Elections certifies final results in a few days, and then a recount is bound to follow.

As of this writing, Goode leads by 300 votes, with one precinct yet to report. That precinct is the Plymouth Precinct in Lunenberg County, a county that is pretty evenly divided between the two candidates. In addition, throughout the day, the VBE will be updating election results as each county certifies its results, so the numbers will change a bit--indeed, when we ate breakfast, Perriello was ahead, but now Goode is ahead. We've seen this before in close Va. elections, and this one will definitely go down to the wire. To keep up with the changes, check out the VBE website HERE.

[Update: 3:40 pm--it's been back and forth all day as counties certify and update their results. Right now, Perriello has a razor-thn lead of 25 votes with all precincts in. We won't know the final result in this one for a couple weeks.]

We hope Perriello wins, but regardless he ran a terrific campaign.

Second, congratulations go to Democratic challenger Glenn Nye, who defeated Republican incumbent Thelma Drake in the 2d district. Clearly, Obama's coattails were a big help there.
We might add that Judy Feder failed miserably in her rematch against Frank Wolf after running what we thought was a pretty poor campaign.

Finally, there is the question of Obama's final margin in Virginia. Oh, you'd think that with 99% of the precincts reporting, Obama's current margin--4.5%--won't really change. But you'd be wrong. Not all precincts are created equal.

While only 26 precincts haven't reported yet, they include the absentee ballots from Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Newport News City, Norfolk City and Portsmouth City, all large jurisdictions that went for Obama. [VBE data HERE]

We think there are between 80,000-100,000 absentee ballots in Fairfax County alone.

So, we believe Obama's final margin will be above 5% and maybe close to 6%.

We'll have an additional word on Virginia absentee voting and turnout in a separate post shortly.

Historic Blue Tide In Virginia

It looks like Virginia will really be BLUE.

Not only did Obama carry the state--probably by 4-5 percentage points when all is said and done (we don't yet have any Richmond City ballot, or Arlington and Fairfax absentee, which will be huge), but Mark Warner won big AND . . .

it looks like the Va. congressional delegation will be majority blue.

As of this writing, classy Democratic challenger Tom Periello is poised to upset GOP incumbent Virgil Goode by a hair (up 2000 votes with two precincts left to go), and Glenn Nye is leading GOP incumbent Thelma Drake with several thousand votes, but with about 10% of precincts left to go.

Obama's coattails may be quite long.

Big day for Dems in the Commonwealth!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don't Worry About Virginia

Trust us. Virginia will pretty easily go for Obama. Just over half of Arlington and Fairfax Counties, both big Obama strongholds, have reported. At this point two years ago, Jim Webb was way behind. Obama is already ahead, by a small margin. His margin will continue to grow all night.

We're quite confident: Virginia for Obama!!!!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Virginia's Early Voters Heavily Favor Obama

A new Virginia poll from Public Policy Polling has 16% of its sample having already voted. Among those, Obama has a huge lead, 63%-36%.

Overall, Obama leads by 6 points, 52%-46%.

Get out and vote!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The 50-50 Curmudgeon

A week from Monday, the Curmudgeon will turn 50 years old.

And today, XCurmudgeon got it's 50,000th visitor.

We hope it doesn't take us until we're 100 years old to reach the 100,000th visitor!

The Early Voting: What Can We Tell

Readers of XCurmudgeon will, by now, know that we've been heavily focused on the early voting phenomenon over the past couple of weeks, including posting the results of all polls that include a component for those who have "already voted" HERE.

As of yesterday (Saturday, November 1), in-person early voting had closed in almost every state. Mail-in ballots are still coming in, however.

It's worth taking stock now, two days before traditional election "day" to see what have learned about early voting.

First off, a large percentage of likely voters have already voted. The national polls that have recorded this information report that between 16%-28% of their samples of likely voters have already voted.

Likewise, as of today, GMU Prof. McDonald reports on his website that more than 24 million people have voted so far, which is about 20% of the number who voted in 2004. Clearly, McDonald's website is an undercount of early votes because many states have not yet reported any data on early voting.

Second, the early voting has clearly favored Obama. We have 67 polls listed in our compilation, and of them Obama leads among early voters in 62, while McCain leads in just 5 (two from Florida, one from Wyoming, one from Kentucky and one from Minnesota (based on less than 1% of the poll's sample)).

The most recent two days of national polls are pretty telling: Obama leads comfortably among early voters in all of them. The margin of Obama's lead in those polls, however, varies considerably, as does the percentage in each who reported having already voted. For example, in a Diageo/Hotline poll, in which 27% said they'd already voted, Obama's lead was 5 points (inexplicably, the same poll, two days earlier, gave Obama a 19 point lead among the 19% of its sample that had already voted; we doubt McCain made up that much ground in two days--instead, it appears to be an unstable poll). At the other end of the spectrum, the most recent CBS/New York Times poll gives Obama a 19 point lead among the 20% who reported having already voted.

Our guess is that Obama's lead is somewhere in between these extremes, meaning that McCain has to make up a considerable deficit among the remaining 75% of voters who have not yet cast their ballots.

Finally, the demographic data from those states that provide it also favor Obama and suggest that there could be some upsets in the making.

North Carolina provides the most detailed and up to date demographic data of its early voters, with Georgia not too far behind. Based on that data, we think Obama has an excellent chance of picking up both those states.

Here's what we know. In NC, early voting was extremely popular: nearly 2.7 million North Carolinians have already voted. In 2004, 3.6 million voted, so that is a huge total. More than 42% of all the state's registered voters have already gone to the polls in the Tar Heel state.

Based on those numbers, we expect the overall turnout in NC to be huge, probably topping 4 million votes.

The demographics of the NC early vote clearly favor Obama, and the little exit poll data we have from that state show the same. In 2004, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in NC voting by 49%-37%. (You need to know that many registered Democrats in NC vote Republican in national elections.) In NC early voting this year, the spread is much wider: 51%-31%.

In addition, African-American turnout in the early voting in NC has been huge. Blacks make up about 21% of registered voters in the state. In 2004, they made up only about 18% of actual voters. In this year's early voting, they make up 26% of voters. If that percentage holds up through election day (we think it will fall off a bit), it could bring Obama 200,000-400,000 additional votes over what Kerry got in 2004.

The polling from NC shows Obama up 12-20 points among early voters, so with as much as 50% of the vote already cast there, McCain has serious ground to make up. (Let's say 50% have voted and Obama is up by 12 points; then McCain needs to win roughly 62% of the remaining vote on election day to pull even.

The McCain people can't be too happy about that.

Georgia paints a similar picture, but with less vivid data. The key facts are these: not including yesterday's (Saturday, Nov. 1) tally, 2 million Georgians have already voted. That's huge, given that in 2004 there were a total of 3.3 million votes in the Peach State. Even accounting for higher turnout this year, that means that probably more than half the votes have been cast in the state already.

Of those 2 million early votes, 35% were cast by African-Americans. Blacks make up 29% of registered voters, and accounted for about 26% of all votes in 2004, so that is a big increase.

We doubt that any of the pollsters who've covered Georgia have weighted their polls that heavily with African-Americans, so polls showing Georgia as a dead heat, or slightly favoring Obama may be off by several points.

If we were going to call for a big upset by Obama, Georgia's the place it would be. And if Obama takes Georgia, he may also wash away incumbent GOP Senator Saxbe Chambliss in the process.

The big question now is this: has Obama "shot his wad" in the early voting, such that on election day a disproportionate number of his supporters will be sitting at home while McCain's folks go to the polls, or do the early voting numbers foretell a significant Obama landslide. We'll know the answer to that in about two days.

In the meantime, you can find any additional early voting poll data or demographic data that becomes available HERE at our twice daily updated post.