Alex's Outlook

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Specter's lead vanishes on election eve

Survey USA:


Undecided 4%
Data Collected
4/23/04 - 4/25/04

State of Pennsylvania

Sample Population
478 Certain Voters

Margin of Error

Toomey's got the momentum, to be sure. Apparently Bush's visit has indicated Specter's weakness, and has failed to mobilize conservative support for Specter.

The race tomorrow really could be a landslide either way, or it could be very close. Toomey's got the Big Mo at this point. Toomey's supporters are much more zealous, so they will get themselves to the polls. Specter, however, has the Republican establishment machine behind him.

Had the race remained in a 48-42 Specter lead, I would have given Toomey slightly weaker odds than Specter. Now, however, I'd have to say Toomey's the favorite. Specter's record simply does not have the purity needed to mobilize primary supporters the same way Toomey will. Specter's supporters are not pissed off the way Toomey's are (i.e. insane GOP spending, plus Specter's carrying water for the tort bar and labor unions). Specter did hit Toomey pretty hard with some ads claiming that Toomey flip-flopped on abortion, but I don't think that'll save Specter's liberal hide.

Toomey's actual campaign has been a disaster. However, this one of those rare campaigns in which personalities and organization are being trumped by ideals and genuine anger at the fiscal chaos perpetrated by the national GOP. I think that this anger will defeat Specter's superior organization.

I'm predicting that Toomey will win, about 53-47.

The liberal blogger kos, who has been watching the race closely (and who believes Specter is less electable than Toomey), also has his money on Toomey. Tradesports, however, has Specter as the 2-1 favorite, which were exactly the odds I bet on with my dad. The new SUSA poll changes the landscape a bit, though.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Liberals' fear of Toomey grows 

Markos Zuniga, aka kos, is not exactly a conservative. In fact, he's a very successful, very liberal blogger. I find his ideology repugnant, but his site is still a good pulse of the liberal base. It should be required reading for anybody, liberal or otherwise, who has a more than passing interest in politics.

Today he made an interesting post on the Specter-Toomey duel:

PA-Sen: Toomey closing in on Specter
by kos
Tue Apr 20th, 2004 at 11:47:44 EDT

Quinnipiac Univ. 4/12-18. MoE 4.7%. (April 7 results)
Specter (R) 49 (52)
Toomey (R) 44 (37)
Toomey is well funded for the stretch run, has the support of every big-name conservative and the election is only a week away. Odds are he'll win this one. He's got the strong support of the who's who of the conservative movement -- Forbes, Bork, Norquist, Dobbs, and so on. Toomey's people are motivated to oust a senator they consider a RINO -- Republican in name only.
CW was that Toomey would be an easier candidate to beat in the general, but I'm not so sure. He's run a great, fearless campaign. He's firing on all cylinders. And any candidate ousting a sitting Senator will be a force to be reckoned with.

At this point, I'm actually hoping for a Specter victory. Specter will be broke and bloodied. He's been so demonized by Toomey (who morphed Specter into Kerry in an ad) that it may hurt Specter's ability to get Republican votes and money in the general. (The Q poll has the numbers -- only 57 percent of Toomey voters would vote for Specter in the general if their guy loses.)

Toomey is much further right than the PA electorate, but ideology oftentimes takes a back seat to well run campaigns and a good story. Toomey has both. And our candidate, Hoeffel, still hasn't made much of a mark in the state. A March 15 Q-poll noted that 70 percent of PA voters hadn't "heard enough" about Hoeffel.

At least the liberals now realize what Santorum, Bush and others don't: that Toomey is a much more formidable general election candidate than any of them previously thought.

Toomey, despite Specter's slander accusing him of allowing dealers to sell drugs and alcohol (to underage people) on a bar that Toomey once operated, is surging. He has the momentum and the passionate supporters. Whether one is a liberal Democrat seeking the most liberal Republican or a conservative who wants to keep Specter's seat in GOP hands, Specter isn't drawing anybody to the polls based on personal or ideological charisma. Toomey is the complete opposite--charismatic, telegenic, young(42; Specter is 74), and very conservative. The future of the conservative movement.

Conservatives have already won a partial victory. This race is going to be either a close Specter win or a Toomey landslide. Either way, a band of fiscal conservatives called the Club for Growth have proven that not even the insular, cozy, RINO-infested Senate is immune to grassroots outrage over GOP spending. Arlen Specter's race is the last stand of fiscally liberal Republicanism, and conservatism's great opportunity to whip the Senate into line and reshape the party according to the limited-government ideals the GOP championed until after the 1996 elections.

The main battle isn't over yet. Toomey still badly needs money. Next Tuesday is Pennsylvania's referendum on conservatism, and Specter has a healthy cash advantage as well as the support of the Republican political establishment. You can donate now to the Toomey campaign online at, or mail a check to:

Toomey For Senate
PO Box 8658
Allentown, PA 18105

Toomey surges as primary date draws closer 

A new Quinnipiac poll has some good news for conservatives regarding the most important election outside of the presidential election itself.

Conservative voters have shifted to U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey who has narrowed the gap in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, trailing incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter 49 ? 44 percent among likely voters, according to a Quinnipiac poll released today.

Sen. Specter held a 52 ? 37 percent lead in and April 7 poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN uh-pe-ack) University.

In this latest survey, which includes voters who are leaning toward a candidate, conservative Republicans support Rep. Toomey 56 ? 39 percent, while liberal and moderate Republicans back Specter 63 ? 28 percent. One week before the primary, their mind is made up, 77 percent of Specter supporters and 82 percent of Toomey supporters say.

In the April 7 poll, conservative Republican voters split with 46 percent for Specter and 43 percent for Toomey.

Specter is "too liberal," 51 percent of likely Republican primary voters say, up from 43 percent April 7; 14 percent of Republicans say Toomey is "too conservative."

"Conservative Republicans are rallying behind Congressman Toomey's charge that Sen. Specter is too liberal for Pennsylvania. The 10-point swing in the last two weeks comes from conservatives who deserted Specter in favor of his challenger from the right," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

As I've said before, knocking off Specter would do wonders to move the Senate rightward. In my opinion, Toomey would be favored to win over Joe Hoeffel, the Democrats' nominee, but even if he doesn't, Specter's defeat would scare the hell out of moderate Republicans to quit spending so much taxpayer money.

It's hard to win a conservative primary when you don't have any conservatism to run on, even if, like Specter, you have $10 million in the bank.

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's official: L. Paul Bremer has botched the reconstruction 

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi, coalition and local Fallujah officials agreed that a U.S. siege on the violence-ridden city would end if insurgents hand over their heavy weaponry, a coalition spokesman said Monday.

Well, what I dreaded has come to pass. The Coalition had a chance to liquidate the Fallujan rebels, not to mention make an example out of the Sunni al-Qaeda and Baathist holdovers who had concentrated their forces in Falluja, inviting annihilation at the hands of 2500 Marines.

What could Bremer have possibly lost by subjugating Falluja? Iraqi Sunnis hate us. It would have struck a chord of fear into Sunni and Shia rebels alike. It would have shown that America will not countenance rebellion; that rebels will be crushed, harshly and efficiently.

The international press hates us, too. They won't get a bloodbath in Falluja, but they will find others to suit their anti-American, pro-terrorist slant.

The Shia radicals under al-Sadr now know how weak we are, considering what a good hand we just threw away. (We just passed up an opportunity to smash their organized resistance once and for all, because we are so frightened of more revolts.) Sadr now knows that, not only will he survive, but he can bargain for more American concessions because we are so allergic to fighting. Then he, and any other opportunizing demagogue, can turn his militia into a grassroots, "legitimate" political movement, raise more hell, and get more concessions from the Americans.

So what's next? Well, the Sunnis will keep on fighting. Not only are the Iraqi Sunnis ideologically radical, but they're screwed under the new order (no more subsidies from Uncle Saddam), and considering their powerlessness as a minority in a democracy they have every reason to fight that democracy. Had the US moved decisively against Falluja, the Sunnis would at the very least be severely mauled and much less capable of rebelling.

The Shia under Sistani and al-Sadr will get more concessions. Sadr could wait and then revolt again, or they might just take over democratically. We lose either way.

Regarding the Sistani/Sadr connection, I'm sure Bremer was spooked when Sistani told Americans to stay out of Najaf, where Sadr's joke of an army is holed up, waiting to be liquidated. But Bremer needs to understand that Sistani and Sadr, although they are rivals who hate each other, have the same goal: increasing leverage against the Americans to "Shia-ize" the Iraqi government.

Sistani really didn't have much to lose under the current arrangement. As Iraq's leading Grand Ayatollah, he is the spiritual leader of most Shiites. Since Shiites are about two-thirds of the country's population, Sistani would have more power than just about anybody else under a democratic arrangement. The democratic nature of the country wouldn't be much of an obstacle to him or his ideals; additional leverage over the Americans is not important enough for Sistani to start a revolt (he has a lot of leverage now), but more wouldn't hurt.

Sadr, on the other hand, is much younger than Sistani and the respect he commands is much less widespread. He would have been powerless compared to Sistani. He needed to somehow alter the situation before June 30, when Iraq would officially become a democracy. Hence the revolt.

However--this is important to understand--Sadr's revolt in Najaf has the effect of increasing Shia leverage over the Americans, benefiting not just Sadr, but Sistani as well. Hence Sistani's call for the US army to stay out of Najaf, and the unlikely bedfellows Sadr/Sistani. Sistani is effectively using Sadr to gain leverage over the US at no risk to himself.

The obvious course of action, especially in light of Sistani's conflict of interest, is for Bremer to reject Sistani's demand and liquidate Sadr's forces. If Sadr escapes this unscathed, his support will skyrocket. He will have a virtual army that he could use to gain power through elections, or he could arm them and attempt a larger rebellion later. Considering that Sadr is an Iranian pawn and has been funded by the Iranian government, letting Sadr remain alive is asking for an explosion down the road. All that's certain is that Sadr and his supporters will become emboldened at the Americans' weakness and Sadr's successful stand against Uncle Sam; and considering that Sadr's hostility against America will not abate, he will only become more of a nuisance later. Which is why Bremer needs to make an example of him!!

Sadly, Bremer won't. If he won't kill the Sunni rebels (he wouldn't lose anything except two or three hundred troops at the very worst), he certainly won't go against Sistani's demand to respect the integrity of Najaf. Sadr and the Sunnis will both get away and raise more hell later.

I thought the coalition was doing an excellent job of the reconstruction up until now; the liberal charges that Iraq was falling apart were, at the time, baseless. The Sunni/Shia rebellion was simply the confluence of hostile elements. Had the Americans played their cards right and smashed them both, even at the cost of hostile press, the major enemies of Iraqi democracy would have been decapitated in one stroke. Instead, of course, Bremer was offered the insurgents' heads on a platter, and he wavered. American strength, and Bush's poll numbers, will bleed because of this.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) betrays conservatives for Arlen Specter 

Like many other conservatives, Stephen Moore feels puzzled and betrayed by Rick Santorum's support for the worst Republican Senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

No one can question Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's free-market and pro-growth credentials. Santorum has been ranked as one of the most fiscally conservative Republicans in the Senate by groups like the National Taxpayers Union. He has led the fight for tax cuts and smaller government. And pro-growth contributors, for their part, did a lot of heavy lifting to help get Santorum into the Senate in the first place and into the leadership position he now holds. It was an investment that has paid off in spades.

That is why Santorum's recent interventions on behalf of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Republican primary are so bewildering. Specter is now locked in a razor-tight race against conservative three-term congressman Pat Toomey. Toomey's voting record, especially on economic-growth issues, is very similar to Santorum's and is as impressive as Specter's is dreadful. Specter was one of only three Republicans who tried to eviscerate the Bush tax cut; he was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the Washington, D.C. school-voucher bill; and he was ranked by the Citizens Against Government Waste as the "Pork Spender of the Year."

We understand how Santorum is obliged to give at least lukewarm public support for Specter, out of senatorial courtesy. But why does he have to actively sabotage Toomey's insurgency?

[Santorum] has discouraged donors from contributing to Toomey. He has cut TV ads for Specter that portray the senior liberal senator as a friend of the taxpayer. He has staff people in Pennsylvania actively campaigning against Toomey.

Worst of all, Rick Santorum is running around Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., perpetuating the myth that Pat Toomey is "too conservative to win in Pennsylvania." This is precisely what liberals said about Rick Santorum when he ran for the Senate back in 1994. Santorum proved that wrong. So did Ronald Reagan, when he won Pennsylvania with a fairly right-wing message in 1980 and 1984. Pennsylvania is the signature state of the Reagan Democrat voter. These are middle-class, often unionized, blue-collar voters who are pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax.

Pat Toomey has a demonstrated record of winning Reagan Democrat voters. Toomey represents Allentown, Pa. Allentown is the steel city that Billy Joel immortalized in song about an economically depressed area where out-of-work unionized steel workers are "filling in forms, standing in lines." Toomey wins the district where few other Republicans prevail. And he wins with a voting record that is for free trade, private accounts for Social Security, and lean budgets ? with no pork. (In fact, Specter is running as the man who brings home the bacon, and attacks Toomey for his unwillingness to vote for budget busters that have caused the federal deficit to soar into the stratosphere.)

Despite this principled free-market position on issues and his unwillingness to chase pork spending, Toomey won the district even George Bush lost it in 2000.

This contention that Republican candidates lose when they position themselves to the right and when they run on pro-economic growth issues, rather than away from them, is plain wrong. When Republicans run on principles, they win. Santorum sounds like the Reagan skeptics of the 1970s: He's way too right wing to ever win the presidency. How many times does the conservative movement have to disprove this fallacy?

Pennsylvania is a key battleground state for President Bush. The Bush team and Santorum want Specter on the ticket. But our polls indicate that Specter on the ticket may very well hurt Bush in Pennsylvania, not help him. Toomey will turn out hundreds of thousands of conservative voters, whereas Specter will turn them away.

I think that, other than the presidential race, there is not a single race more important in 2004 than the Specter vs. Toomey primary. We are all familiar with the Republican Congress' disgraceful record on spending, and with people like Arlen Specter in power, the corruption and profligacy (+30% spending so far under Bush, less than half of which has anything to do with the war on terror--and much less if you count the Department of Homeland Security for the pork-barrel joke that it is) will only get worse.

Toomey's insurgency is a chance to teach the GOP spendaholics a lesson, and get a second excellent conservative senator from Pennsylvania. There are eleven days left before the primary--you can donate to him now and empower the Republican wing of the Republican Party by ousting Specter on April 26!

Out with Jamie Gorelick--along with the callow, washed-up, has-been RINOs who are defending her! 

It's understandable, if contemptible, that Ben-Veniste & Co. are defending the disgraceful record of former Clinton deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick. But what the hell are the Republicans doing defending this pathetic partisan hack themselves?

Another gem from NRO today:

Compared to unraveling the intricate web of factual, legal, and bureaucratic circumstances attendant to the 9/11 attacks, judging conflicts of interest is Sesame Street stuff. The 9/11 Commission is assessing the intelligence lapses that may have factored into the suicide hijackings; it has been revealed that, as Deputy Attorney General in 1995, Commissioner Jamie Gorelick was a key architect of an information "wall" that virtually guaranteed just the types of intelligence lapses that occurred. That's a conflict, Q.E.D.

If Chairman Tom Kean and the other 9/11 Commission members now rallying around Gorelick cannot grasp that straightforward equation, they've got no business taking on the complexities of international terrorism and intelligence overhaul.

Kean's effrontery in decreeing, when pressed about Gorelick in an interview Wednesday, that "people ought to stay out of our business[,]" is so mind-blowing it's difficult to decide where to begin. Let's start with the most obvious: The work of the 9/11 Commission is America's business; it is not the private aerie of its ten plugged-in appointees. America expects its tribunals to exude integrity, to be above crass suspicions that the fix is in or that decisions are being made based on something other than a dispassionate review of the relevant circumstances. A tribunal, like the 9/11 Commission, cannot achieve that standard of probity if it has, sitting as a judge, a person whose conduct is at the core of what must be judged.

This ain't quantum physics. It's elementary. Consequently, Kean's obtuseness — like that of his fellow commissioner Slade Gorton, who so thoughtfully pronounced that criticisms of Gorelick's status were "garbage" — makes the commission's entire body of work suspect. Even Kean's defense of Gorelick bespeaks a thorough-going ignorance about what is at issue. He says that she is among the hardest working and most bipartisan of all the commissioners; the first assertion is no doubt true, the second is dubious, but more importantly both are wholly beside the point.

Here, sports fans, is Conflicts 101: You rob a bank; as you are fleeing, there's a woman at the door who sees you, but you point your gun at her, she ducks to the floor, and you skip around her and make your escape. You are arrested and brought to trial. When you get to the courtroom and glimpse up at the bench, who do you see wearing a black robe? Why, it's the woman who witnessed the bank robbery. No way, you say — and you'd be right — the court will find you another judge because this one is an actor in the facts that are the subject matter of the case.

It doesn't matter that the judge happens to be the hardest working, best, most accomplished jurist in the land. It doesn't matter that she is so apolitical no one knows whether she even votes, let alone for whom. Most of all, it doesn't matter that she may not have done anything wrong or anything to be ashamed of. Her conflict does not lie in her work ethic, her political views, or what we might think of her conduct. It is strictly a matter of perception. We have reason to think that she will render judgment based on what she saw in the bank that day rather than what gets presented in the courtroom; we have reason to think she may rule against you not on the merits of your legal arguments but because you pointed a gun at her. Of course, she may not actually do any of those inappropriate things; she may be the very epitome of rectitude. But even if she is, we will always wonder. And if we are left to wonder, the court's rulings lack integrity and legitimacy. If you get convicted, we'll think you might have been railroaded; if acquitted, we'll think you may have intimidated the judge. But one way or the other, we will never be confident that we know what happened in the bank that day.

Now our judge's conflict is even more profound. She is not merely an actor in the facts; she has actually done something, however innocently, that may have contributed to the damage. She now has a powerful motive to skew the fact-finding. We have to worry that she would use her position as judge to steer the trial away from any inquiry into how her actions may have led to the pedestrian's death. The trial is now likely to veer into overblown recriminations about less salient matters, like whether the police were aggressive enough or whether the pedestrian was crossing the street against the traffic light when he was struck. Worse, the perversion of the fact-finding is so patent, and it draws so much outraged attention to the flawed process, that we begin to lose sight of the fact that the real culprit here is you, the bank robber/murderer, not the police, the pedestrian, or our unfortunate panicky judge.

This isn't about whether Jamie Gorelick is partisan. The partisanship on the commission is depressing but inevitable. This body was consciously set up with five Republicans balancing five Democrats — it is "bipartisan" only in the sense that it was hoped the even split would balance out the predictable hijinks. No one was naïve enough to think we were getting ten Solomons.

Neither is this about whether Gorelick is a good, hard-working public servant and a superb lawyer. She is all those things. The wall that prevented intelligence agents from communicating effectively with criminal agents and prosecutors (who by 1995 had developed a considerable body of knowledge about militant Islamic terrorism) was a serious mistake. But it was made with good intentions, and Gorelick did not make it alone — far from it. There were plenty of people then, just as there continue — despite 9/11 — to be plenty of people today, who are willing to risk national security because of the transcendent value they place on civil liberties, the rights of criminal suspects, and maximizing litigation posture in connection with a problem they regard as strictly a law enforcement issue. For my money, they don't see that without national security all those things are empty aspirations. But that doesn't mean they are bad people or that the values they venerate are unimportant. For Kean and Gorton to suggest that questioning the probity of the commission's process is the equivalent of attacking a patently conflicted commissioner's character is low-ball demagoguery.

Finally, Gorelick's facile time defense, which Kean and the others have bought onto, is just lame — and is again grounds for concern about the commission's comprehension of simple issues. Gorelick, who was Deputy AG from 1994 until 1997, figures the problem is solved if she recuses herself from questioning witnesses — such as former AG Janet Reno and former FBI Director Louis Freeh — with whom she served closely during those years. Conflicts, however, are not time-specific so much as they are issue-specific. If you and I are investigated for stock fraud in 1997 and you get indicted for fraud in connection with the same stock in 2000, I don't get to be the judge in your case. I don't get to say, "What does 1997 have to do with 2000?" The issue is: Do I have involvement in the business practices and knowledge about your intentions that are core issues of the trial. If I do, someone else ought to be the judge.

The temporal defense is especially troubling for an additional reason. What happened on September 11, 2001, is borne on directly by practices, like the wall, which produced the patchwork body of intelligence, and screwy methods for handling it, that were in effect when al Qaeda succeeded in killing 3,000 of us. It was irresponsible of Gorelick, knowing that, to accept the appointment under those circumstances. But more importantly, what does inviting her to serve her say about the commission and those who designed it? It says we are making a judgment that nothing terribly relevant to 9/11 happened much before the Bush administration came to power. Given that we are in a war, and the body count started in 1993, that is simply stunning. It smacks of politics over a search for truth.

Remember, moreover, those glory days of the Richard Clarke era — only two weeks ago? Recall the outcry after he testified? From the grandstanding commissioners themselves? "He has raised very serious issues of fact." "Constitutional separation of powers be damned: The president must waive privilege and have National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice testify publicly." "We must have her testify out in the open to respond to Clarke's immensely important charges." Well, it sure looked to me like Attorney General Ashcroft raised some serious issues of fact this week when he slapped Gorelick's 1995 memo on the table and said: This wall stopped agents from connecting the dots. I must have been out of the room when Chairman Kean and his brethren demanded that Gorelick step down as a member of the commission and testify under oath — not on Hardball — about these rather serious assertions. I don't mean to bring up "garbage" or interfere with "our business," but their silence has sure been deafening.

Most sadly ironic, do you know what the rationale for the wall was? Read Gorelick's memo: It was to avoid the appearance of impropriety. It sacrificed national security in an effort to inoculate the government from a hypothetical, ill-conceived claim that national-security wiretapping power had been used as a pretext to build ordinary criminal cases. If the mere appearance of impropriety was a good enough reason as far as Gorelick was concerned in 1995 to gamble with American lives, why is it not a good enough reason in 2004 to promote the integrity of the 9/11 Commission by making sure its work is not tainted by a patent conflict of interest?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Bush can only go up 

I didn't bother to watch Bush's press conference last night, partially because I have a nagging head cold and partially because Bush's speeches seem stultifyingly boring. The conventional wisdom seems to be that the speech was a mediocre performance. Bush did not say anything that would sway any doubters, and he blew the Q and A with reporters. His insistence that WMD may yet be found puts him on a different planet from the rest of us. While I don't think Bush owes any apology whatsoever to the 9-11 Commission (a totally partisan hack job against Bush), some concession about WMD is long overdue. At the very least, he could stop mentioning it in every Iraq speech!

Given that Iraq has gone to hell over the last week, it's amazing to me that Bush's poll numbers haven't budged. Kerry is up about a point with Nader in the race. Bush's job approval rating has also remained stable at 50 percent.

Considering Bush's uninspiring domestic record as well as the mess in Iraq, I can only conclude that Bush's numbers have floored. Bush's domestic agenda has been singularly uninspiring. With the exception of the tax cuts and (arguably) the farm bill, I don't think a single one of Bush's domestic initiatives has won him any votes. There is definitely not a single lawmaker today who is happy s/he voted for the No Child Left Behind education bill, or the Medicare bill. However, the economy is picking up, and Bush is going to take the credit for that, right or wrong. (I don't think the tax cuts affected the economy much at all, anymore.) Also, the Iraq rebels have decided to risk everything and raise total hell, at the price of probably getting annihilated. The remaining Sunnis and Baathists have concentrated themselves in Falluja, instead of fighting a guerilla war. That was a major mistake. Moqtada al-Sadr made a similar blunder by making a stand. In both cases, the rebels have concentrated their forces, and will be easily destroyed by superior American firepower. If the Americans make examples out of the Baathists and al-Sadr, and destroy their militias, Iraq will be a much calmer place in a couple of weeks.

Because the GOP has poured a ton of money into ground organization for the past two years, and will continue to do so up until election day, the GOP will also achieve superior turnout on election day; and given that Bush will sweep the South (Florida can be considered fairly safe Bush territory now, I think), Bush's pickup opportunities are much richer than Kerry's, and Kerry needs to win eight more electoral votes than Gore to win. I think Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Oregon are Bush's primary pickup opportunities. Kerry has Ohio, and maybe New Hampshire.

Combine a surging economy with a stabilizing Iraq and a GOP advantage in the political ground war, and you have the formula for a solid, but not overwhelming Bush re-election. But considering that nobody has won a majority of the popular vote since 1988, I think even 52 percent would be a landslide by the standards of our generation.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

High noon in Iraq 

Moqtada al-Sadr had been a thorn in Paul Bremer's side for months. I think that, with a remarkably secularized Iraqi constitution complete, al-Sadr recognized that his days as a key player in Iraqi politics were numbered, and I think that he was bent on civil war since then. Considering his very likely link to the assassination of Abdel-Majid al-Khoei, the leading moderate Shiite cleric, several months ago (the Coalition Provisional Authority even put out an arrest warrant for him), it is inexplicable that the CPA has not detained him. Al-Sadr is also backed by Iranian hardliners, making the CPA's dereliction of duty even more outrageous. Al-Sadr was obviously a danger. Why was he not dealt with beforehand? Paul Bremer's caution was simply stupid. There's no other word for it.

While Bremer sat on his hands, al-Sadr started a civil war, with the hope of delaying or defeating the constitution two months before its scheduled June referendum. His "Mahdi Army" has taken over Najaf, and the Shiite suburbs of Baghdad are ablaze as well. Nobody should mistake his plundering militia for a real army, and now that they have come out into the open it should be easy for American forces to decimate them.

The Shiites are divided between the young radical, al-Sadr, and disparate moderates, including Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Sistani swung behind the Coalition months ago, and has called on al-Sadr to stop the violence. Some Shiite cities (e.g. Basra) appear to be heeding him.

This is the Shiite radicals' last stand, and it must be completely destroyed. Al-Sadr needs to be killed or publicly humiliated, along with the Shiite government officials who joined the revolt. Once the leadership of the rebellion is gone, moderate Shiites will have less reason to fear cooperation with the CPA, as well as a strong disincentive to "not cooperate" (a la al-Sadr) in the future.

State of the Senate 

A few months ago I was pretty bullish about Republican prospects for enhancing their majorities in the House and Senate. The House won't change much, because Texas redistricting will net the GOP at least 4 new seats, which means the Dems will need to snag 16 seats to retake the House in 04. In the Senate, however, our prospects have dimmed somewhat.

I think the Dems will win Ben Nighthorse Campbell's seat in Colorado. Their nominee, Ken Salazar, is the most popular liberal politician in the state. The only Republican with the stature to crush him, CO Gov. Bill Owens, is biding his time for a VP or presidential slot in 2008; he is the great hope of conservative Republicans. Colorado is nominally conservative and trending further right, so it'll be close. But my money's on Salazar. D +1.

Peter Fitzgerald's seat (Illinois) was pretty much lost once he announced his retirement. The Dems' nominee, Barack Obama, is smart, extremely accomplished, photogenic, black, and liberal down to his bone marrow. The Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, is a formidable candidate too, but the fact is that Illinois is a very blue state and getting bluer. D +2.

Five Southern Democrats (Breaux, Graham, Miller, Hollings, Edwards) are retiring this year. Breaux's seat is a tossup, since Louisiana hasn't elected a Republican senator in over a century. I think the Republicans will pick up the other seats. R +2.

Tom Daschle's seat is a tossup. Because a leftist independent is also running, Daschle could have a Ralph Nader on his hands.

The Republicans failed to mount credible challengers to Harry Reid (Nev.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (ND), so they're getting a free pass. Still R +2.

I think that Republicans will hold Arlen Specter's seat (PA) whether Specter or Toomey wins the April 27 primary, but I'd be happy even if Specter loses the primary and the Democrats take his seat. Specter, not the Democrats, is the main enemy here.

Republican seats in Alaska and Oklahoma are endangered. The Democrats have a very strong challenger in Oklahoma, and Lisa Murkowski's (Alaska) poll numbers still have a hangover from her father's nepotistic appointment of her to the seat. Both states are uber-Republican, and Bush will have heavy coattails in 2004, so I think both seats will be held by fairly comfortable margins. Even if you consider them to be tossups, though, Democrat seats in South Dakota (Daschle) and Louisiana (Breaux) are tossups too, so the GOP still has a net gain of 2 seats. Furthermore, the Republicans have long-shot upset chances in Washington state and California races.

From a conservative (as opposed to Republican) standpoint, Senate prospects are distinctly better. Conservatives have good shots at winning the nomination in Oklahoma, Georgia, and South Carolina; a true-blue conservative is already the guaranteed nominee in North Carolina. The Senate will probably move right even if the Republicans gain no seats in November. If Arlen Specter gets shot down by Pat Toomey's primary challenge, the Republican caucus would move much further to the right.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Southerners revolt against pork-infested GOP bill 

The Republican representatives from Florida and Georgia (27 members) as well as assorted other Southern representatives balked at the $275 billion highway bill. Since the House wants a veto-proof margin (Bush is going to veto anything over $256b), it called off the vote. Unfortunately, since the revolt is about how much of the pie they want to get, not whether there should be such a porked up bill in the first place, Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young will probably just throw them a little more money to gain their support. After all, if two robbers start fighting over the share of the loot, that doesn't mean they're going to stop stealing.

Pork issues aside, the bill benefits Democrats more than Republicans, thanks to Young's incompetence, corruption, or both.

John McCain shows his hand 

The big news in both the political and economic worlds is the payrolls surge in March (308,000 jobs added last month). Some of that is due to 75,000 strikers returning to work in California, but even without that it's a hefty gain. Great news for Bush, even though he probably had nothing to do with it, and the worst possible news for The Notorious JFK. (The consensus estimate was 123,000 jobs; 200,000 was on the wildly optimistic side.) Look for the media to start downplaying the quality of the jobs, now that it's no longer a "jobless recovery."

That said, there was another piece of news that I saw which slipped under the radar. It's much more ominous:

Sen. John McCain yesterday unleashed an attack on his own party, saying the GOP is ``astray'' on key issues and criticizing President Bush [related, bio] on the war in Iraq.

``I believe my party has gone astray,'' McCain said, criticizing GOP stands on environmental and minority issues.

``I think the Democratic Party is a fine party, and I have no problems with it, in their views and their philosophy,'' he said. ``But I also feel the Republican Party can be brought back to the principles I articulated before.''

The maverick senator made the remarks at a legislative seminar hosted by U.S. Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Lowell) as he again ruled out running on a ticket with Democrat John F. Kerry [related, bio].

Sure, he again ruled out running alongside Kerry in 2004. But how could it not be tempting? McCain hates spending, but he hates tax cuts too. He is an ardent acolyte of the church of global warming. He could shift the balance of power, now leaning Bush, decisively in John Kerry's favor.

Call me crazy, but I think that was an announcement to the Kerry campaign that McCain's willing to entertain all offers. Kerry would be crazy not to consider it.