Crystal Ball Watch 2010

Every year I make a bunch of predictions for the coming year, and each subsequent year I note just how far off I was. And this year is no exception.

Last year’s predictions ranged from politics to technology and everywhere in between. It’s hard to believe that last year at this time the iPad was just a rumor, Democrats were crowing about the popularity of their health care plans, and 3D movies weren’t yet an overused gimmick.

Let’s see how my prognostications actually matched the reality of the past


Prediction: President Obama’s popularity will remain mired below 50% throughout most of the year.

Verdict: Correct. The health care debate and the BP oil spill sapped Obama’s popularity, and he never really recovered from either. Obama’s approval rating went underwater right along with the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and his low popularity contributed to the GOP gains in November.

Prediction:The Democrats will lose more the 40 seats, putting the GOP in control of the House.

Verdict: Correct. The GOP gained over 60 seats in November, which was more than they gained in the 1994 cycle. The GOP’s gains in the House were substantial, and bigger than I would have predicted.

Prediction: In the Senate, Democrats will not fare much better. Majority Leader Reid will lose his seat, following in the footsteps of Tom Daschle. Chris Dodd also loses his seat to a GOP upstart. Same with Blanche Lincoln.

Verdict: Not quite. Harry Reid kept his seat, thanks to Sharron Angle being an even worse alternative in the eyes of Nevada voters. Chris Dodd resigned before his inevitable loss, and once again the Tea Party nominated a candidate that was simply not electable. On the other hand, Blanche Lincoln lost handily, along with several other Democratic incumbents. But the GOP didn’t take the Senate, even in a year that gave them a clear opportunity to do so. You can have a fire breathing conservative candidate who can win—see Rand Paul. But being a fire-breathing Tea Party candidate is not in itself enough, and it certainly doesn’t make up for being a complete and utter basket case—see Christine O’Donnell.

Prediction: The health care bill will be signed into law, and will be a major albatross around the necks of Democrats.

Verdict: Absolutely correct.

Prediction: The Democrats, rather than moving towards the center, will lurch left as the “netroots” convinces many in the party that the reason for the 2010 defeat was because the party was insufficiently “progressive.” The Democrats will end up in the same position the Republicans were in a year ago.

Verdict: Partially correct. The Democrats wisely divorced themselves from their own positions of the past 10 months and tried to run as centrists. But many “progressives” wanted them to run to the far left—convinced that the reason why health care was so unpopular was because it was insufficiently socialist instead of too much so. Now even Barack Obama’s positions are becoming indistinguishable from his predecessor, and the “netroots” are not happy with it.

Prediction: But Republicans should be wary as well. They will have won not on their own laurels, but because of disgust with the current Congress.

Verdict: Again correct. The GOP had better not get cocky in 2011.

Prediction: Cap and trade will be DOA as Congress gets increasingly worried about the political backlash.

Verdict: Again, correct. Cap and trade was even more politically poisonous than health care, and for good reason.


Prediction: The protests in Iran continue in fits and starts, weakening the foundations of the regime. The Iranian government continues to brutalize its own people, while the West does little of consequence to stop them.

Verdict: Iran has been much quieter than I would have expected: the regime has brutalized the opposition to the point where widespread protests aren’t gaining traction. Every year I predict that the regime in Iran will be weakened to near collapse—and every year it is less a prediction than a hope for something better for the Iranian people.

Prediction: President Obama launches further military action in Yemen to try to remove al-Qaeda.

Verdict: Covertly, this may be happening. But the conflict in Afghanistan is continuing to be the major flashpoint in the world.

Prediction: A major economic collapse in the EU shakes the foundation of the Euro.

Verdict: The Greek fiscal crisis fits the bill, and the contagion continues to spread across the Eurozone. The once unthinkable idea of a collapse of the Euro remains a distant possibility, but it gets closer as more and more countries in the Eurozone continue to see their economies decline.

Prediction: Gordon Brown faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, causing the him to call new elections in the UK.

Verdict: Indeed, Gordon Brown was defeated by the charismatic Conservative David Cameron in May. But the Tories fell short of a majority, leading to the first hung Parliament since 1974 and eventually to a coalition government.

Prediction: The situation in Afghanistan remains unsettled, but the addition of U.S. troops helps calm some of the tensions.

Verdict: This year has been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan for US and coalition troops and the country remains unstable. The addition of more troops does not seem to have substantially calmed the country, and it’s uncertain whether the Obama Administration will have the political will to continue to try and stabilize the country over the long term.

Prediction: Iran will come closer to testing a nuclear weapon, and will likely have the capability of doing so by the end of 2010.

Verdict: Had it not been for the Stuxnet worm—which was almost certainly the product of Israeil or Western sabotage—Iran might have been much closer to a working nuclear weapon. But Stuxnet actually appears to have worked in slowing down Tehran’s progress. It sounds like the plot of a bad thriller novel, but Stuxnet was probably one of the most ingenuous covert weapons ever used. Whoever came up with it deserves a medal.


Prediction: Unemployment will remain high throughout the year as discouraged workers reenter the workforce. This will be a huge political problem for the Democrats in the 2010 cycle.

Verdict: Indeed, this was true. Unemployment continues to flirt with double-digit levels, and may not go down that much in 2011. Not only was this a political problem for the Democrats in 2010, but the human cost of this kind of endemic unemployment is far too high.

Prediction: The price of gold and other hard assets will continue to skyrocket on inflation fears, leading to a mini-bubble in asset prices.

Verdict: I keep hearing all those advertisements telling people to buy gold: consider me a skeptic. Perhaps gold and other asset prices will continue to climb at a steady rates, but the risk of a bubble is still very real.

Prediction: The government will continue with bailouts of major companies, despite President Obama’s focus on debt reduction.

Verdict: The bailout culture didn’t reach the fever pitch of 2009, but it was still alive and well in 2010.

Prediction: The national deficit will continue to skyrocket as Congress is unable to restrain spending.

Verdict: Predicting this was as obvious as predicting that the sun would rise in the east…


Prediction: Apple will announce their tablet in early 2010, with a 10-inch touch screen and optional 3G wireless through Verizon rather than AT&T. The tablet (probably not called the iSlate) will have a major effect on the e-reader market, although Amazon will counter by making Kindle content available on the new device. Critics will complain that the price point is too high, but the device will sell like hotcakes anyway.

Verdict: Of course, Apple announced the iPad in early 2010, with a 9.7 inch screen and 3G wireless through AT&T. But Verizon is already selling the iPad, and it’s likely that a version with built-in Verizon 3G will be coming in 2011. And Amazon has been selling Kindles like hotcakes, along with selling books on their Kindle app for the iPad. The iPad is the hit device of the year, and for good reason—Apple priced it very competitively and helped to define the market.

Prediction: E-Books will begin to outsell physical book copies.

Verdict: Not quite true yet, but within a few years this could be a real possibility.

Prediction: The reality TV show craze will finally, mercifully die off as people get sick of the them.

Verdict: If only…

Prediction: Web series will continue to take off from being largely low-budget affairs to being more like regular TV shows. Shows akin to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog will receive much critical acclaim and will begin to supplant conventional TV.

Verdict: Not quite yet, although there are web series like SyFy’s Sanctuary that crossed over from web series to cable TV. But there isn’t an online show that’s been a true widespread hit… at least not in 2010.

Prediction: “Steampunk” will go from a small subculture to the next major popular phenomenon. Things like home canning, writing letters on fine stationery, and Victorian styles will become increasingly popular.

Verdict: No, not even close. The “steampunk” subculture remains just that.

Prediction: The death of the newspaper industry will not stop, even though many papers start
reconciling themselves with the digital world.

Verdict: Newspapers continue to struggle with the digital world, and traditional newsprint is still in deep trouble.

The Final Word

Once again, there were some hits and some misses in my predictions last year, Many of my predictions were fairly obvious even back in December: the Democrats’ political misfortunes were widely predicted even a year ago. The rumors of an Apple tablet were rampant. And my usual predictions on Iran were once again not quite as prescient as I would have hoped.

But all in all, not a bad set of predictions, even if there were some stinkers there. Shortly I’ll be posting some predictions for 2011, and a year from now we’ll see if my crystal ball remains clear or is stuffed with crap…

Election 2010: Liveblogging The Results

Tonight looks to be one of the most exciting elections in recent memory, as the GOP appears to be headed for some impressive electoral gains. But will the Democrats be able to hold off the GOP wave? Will vulnerable Democratic incumbents survive in close races, or will a legion of underdog Republicans prevail? Who will control the Senate? What surprise results await us tonight?

I will be liveblogging tonight’s election results – at least for a while. There’s no need to refresh your browser – new entries will pop up as they are posted. You can also follow my Twitter feed for more election updates. For political geeks like myself, this is going to be one very interesting night…

10:29 pm

Kristi Noem has a narrow lead over Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin in SD. In ND, Earl Pomeroy was pummeled by Rick Berg. The Dakotas appear to be reflecting their Republican orientation in these House races. But watch Noem. In 2002, John Thune narrowly lost to Tim Johnson because of Democratic votes in the reservations of western South Dakota.

10:26 pm

Nate Silver is seeing a 75-seat GOP gain in the House as a possibility. I don’t think it will actually be that high, but even a 60-seat swing is a big move. Remember, the 1994 Republican Revolution was a swing of 54 seats. Tonight’s results are bigger than ’94, at least on the House side.

10:22 pm

Pat Toomey looks like he will win. Same for Mark Kirk in IL. That gives the GOP another 2 Senate seats. It also means that President Obama’s old Senate seat is now occupied by a Republican. Schadenfreude, baby…

10:17 pm

Bobby Schilling has defeated Phil Hare in IL-17. This is one of the more symbolic races of the night. It was a district that went for Obama by a significant margin, and Hare hasn’t run a competitive race in years.

10:11 pm

Ugh, a power outage may delay results in the Nevada Senate race.

10:09 pm

Unsurprisingly, California is looking to be a Democratic blowout. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman spent millions to win, but the simple fact is that anyone with half a brain has already fled California for greener pastures. California’s likely to become a Greek-style economic basket-case in the very near future.

10:04 pm

Looks like Toomey was able to pull it out, running ahead of Sestak by about 32,000 votes. I am surprised that it was that close, especially when the other races were such blowouts for the GOP.

9:21 pm

The PA Senate race is looking dire for the GOP. Pat Toomey has been consistently ahead in the polls, but is not pulling ahead. If Toomey loses, that will be quite a shock.

9:19 pm

It’s looking like Ron Johnson will defeat Russ Feingold in WI. This was not a race that was on the radar screens of political pundits a few months ago. It goes to show what kind of a wave election this is.

9:18 pm

It’s interesting – the House is a bloodbath for Democrats, but the Senate is looking rocky for Republicans. CO and IL are both not looking good for Republicans.

9:06 pm

The Senate race in CO is looking bad for the Republicans. Ken Buck made a lot of stumbles in that race, and that may be hurting him in key districts.

9:04 pm

I love all the announcements that John Thune is projected to win in SD-Sen. Thune was unopposed.

9:01 pm

The Star Tribune has declared Betty McCollum the winner in MN-04. Her opponent, Teresa Collett was a professor at my law school. It’s too bad she lost, as she is smart as a whip and would make an excellent elected official. Sadly, MN-4 and MN-5 would elect a dead rat if it had a D next to its name.

8:53 pm

The early Senate returns in CO, IL, and PA are all leaning Democrat, but that’s probably due to reporting from larger urban areas.

8:49 pm

The next set of interesting elections will be the WI Senate race, where Russ Feingold is likely to lose, and the IL Senate race, where Republican Mark Kirk is doing well in key districts.

The chances of a GOP Senate are basically nil right now, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting Senate races out there tonight.

8:41 pm

I’m embarrassed for VA-08. Jim Moran amply deserved to lose. So military service is not public service? Really? Really?!

8:40 pm

Christine O’Donnell is giving her concession speech. I’m sorry, but the woman is just vapid. Should be talking about Senator Castle tonight.

8:31 pm

Sadly, Sean Bielat wasn’t able to defeat Barney Frank. He was always a longshot, but it would have been nice to see Frank out of office.

8:28 pm

Marco Rubio looks very Presidential tonight.

8:22 pm

In NH-01, Carol Shea-Porter has lost. The GOP is definitely steamrolling the House vote tonight.

8:20 pm

Joe Manchin is speaking in West Virginia. He may be a Democrat, but he will be a VERY conservative Democrat.

8:18 pm

CNN says that the GOP will win at least 50 seats tonight. Could it get up to 60?

8:15 pm

Fox News has also called the House for the GOP. Again, no surprises there.

8:13 pm

I’m watching the SD-AL race closely. Moderate Democrat Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is in a close race with Republican Kristi Noem. So far Herseth-Sandlin is ahead, but by only 3%.

8:10 pm

NBC is predicting that the GOP will retake control of the House.

The question isn’t whether the GOP will take the House, but just how many seats they will pick up.

8:07 pm

Rand Paul is giving his victory speech. Will he give a shout-out to Aqua Buddha?

8:03 pm

A bunch of projections are coming in. No surprises there. The GOP gains one more Senate seat as John Hoeven is elected to the ND Senate seat.

8:01 pm

VA-02 goes to the Republicans. Another sign of a big night for the GOP.

8:00 pm

The polls in Minnesota are about to close, along with 13 other states.

7:54 pm

Alan Grayson has lost to Daniel Webster in FL-08. Grayson was the one who said the the Republican’s plan for health care was to have people die faster. Good riddance to him.

The GOP gains in the House are looking very impressive.

7:47 pm

Todd Young defeating Baron Hill in IN-09 is another sign of a big night for the GOP. My 55-seat prediction might very well be on the low side.

7:46 pm

More good news for the GOP. Rick Boucher has been defeated in VA-09. So far, most of the House races are going towards the GOP.

7:40 pm

I said that if WV goes to the Democrats, it probably means that the GOP can’t take the Senate. And the networks are starting to call the WV Senate race for Manchin. Both CNN and NBC have called it for Manchin.

But in good news for the GOP, the Republicans have won in IN-08, another bellwether race for tonight. The Senate may be out of reach, but this could be a very good night for the GOP in the House.

7:36 pm

Fox News has called the VA-05 race for the Republican. This is one of the bellwether races tonight. The Democrats had spent a lot of time and money supporting Tom Perriello, and it didn’t prevent him losing.

7:34 pm

CNN is also calling it for Blumenthal in CT, and Richard Burr in NC. Neither of these races are a surprise. Linda McMahon ran a competent campaign, but she had a tough job in convincing voters to elect a former wrestling CEO and Republican in a deep blue state. Even Blumenthal’s fabrications about having served in Vietnam wasn’t enough to sink him.

7:31 pm

Also, in SC01, Tim Scott, an African-American Republican has won.

In the least shocking moment of the race. CNN has called the AR Senate race for John Boozman. Blanche Lincoln was a dead woman walking since the health care vote. Good riddance to her.

7:30 pm

Sandy Adams beat out Suzanne Kosmos in FL-24. Good, Kosmos was one of the incumbents I was hoping would get soundly trounced.

7:23 pm

Still looking at the VA races, which will be bellwether races for GOP control of the House.

7:08 pm

Marco Rubio won in FL – which means that the GOP has another major star in its ranks.

7:07 pm

Christine O’Donnell is not a witch; she is toast, however.

6:55 pm

Unsurprisingly, Rand Paul won in KY. There’s no shock there.

Word is that the exit polls are not showing good results for the GOP in the WV Senate race. But after 2004, putting faith in exit polls does not seem wise.

6:52 pm

WV Senate is too close to call. WV is a bellwether race for this evening. If Raese pulls it out, the Republicans will be having a very good night.

6:50 pm

It’s official — Rob Portman is the next US Senator from the state of Ohio.

5:45 pm

Polls have closed in parts of KY and IN. There are some key races in those states, although the Senate races in both are almost surefire GOP wins. Rand Paul is well ahead in the KY race, and Dan Coats will cruise to the Senate against Brad Ellsworth.


Predicting The GOP Sweep Of 2010

LIke most political junkies, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the polls—and the polls are showing that this Tuesday will be a very bad day for the Democratic Party. Here are some quick-and-dirty observations on what to expect tomorrow:

The House

This is looking to be a year much like 1994, when the GOP took 54 House seats. The averages are all showing around a 50 seat gain for the GOP this year. But this is not a typical mid-term election. This is a potential wave election, and there are races that are normally not even remotely competitive that suddenly are down to the wire.

Take a race in my own backyard – the 8th District in Minnesota. Incumbent Jim Oberstar has been in Congress since the Cretaceous Period, and usually gets well over 60% of the vote. But this year, he’s running dead-even with this Republican challenger, Chip Cravaack. This same basic scenario is taking place across the country—the 17th District of Illinois where Phil Hare may well lose, the 1st District of Maine where Chellie Pingree is in trouble, the 3rd District in Nevada where Dina Titus is down by 10 points according to a recent Mason/Dixon poll. It’s one thing for a few vulnerable incumbents to be taken down in a midterm election—but this year features a whole slew of Democrats who are not in good shape.

I’m predicting a gain of about 55 GOP seats—one more than 1994. And that’s just going by the polls. My gut says that the polls may be understating GOP gains. Nate Silver of The New York Times gives 5 reasons why the “super wave” scenario could be right. I’m not willing to go out on a limb and say that this will be that kind of electoral tsunami—but it’s well within the range of possibility.

The Senate

My head says that a GOP takeover of the Senate is unlikely—but my gut says that it’s possible. There are a few races that are sure-fire GOP takeovers. In order for the GOP to take the Senate, they need to pick up a total of 10 seats and secure all their seats. At this moment, there are no GOP seats likely to flip. Republican candidates are virtually assured wins in North Dakota, Indiana, and Arkansas. (3). Based on the polls, Sharron Angle will narrowly defeat Harry Reid in Nevada. (4). Pat Toomey looks to have secured a decent lead in Pennsylvania. (5). Colorado is going to be close, but it looks like Ken Buck will pull out a win. (6). In a normal year, Russ Feingold should be safe. This year, a virtual unknown rode from an op-ed on health care to the U.S. Senate. That gives Wisconsin to the GOP—which seems amazing, but the polls are clear. (7). That leaves the GOP with another three seats to take the Senate.

Illinois is close, but it seems like Mark Kirk has what it takes to win, especially in a GOP year like this. That gives the GOP a total of 8 seats.

Delaware is not a pickup opportunity. Christine O’Donnell won’t even get close, even if she doesn’t get utterly blown out. Castle would have easily won. Same with Connecticut: Linda McMahon has the money, but she just can’t close the sale, even against a highly problematic Democratic candidate. California is proving to be another disappointment. For all of Carly Fiorina’s money, she can’t seem to pull ahead of Boxer. While a Fiorina win is not impossible, it seems highly unlikely. California has become a Democratic stronghold. The sensible people have already left.

So where can the GOP get those next two seats? Watch for West Virginia first. If the GOP takes the West Virginia race, that will be a sign of a huge night for the GOP. Gov. Joe Manchin was expected to walk away with the race—but GOP challenger John Raese has made this a close race. If Raese can pull off a win, that will put the GOP well on track to retake the Senate.

The next race to watch is on the other end of the country. Dino Rossi has run his share of close races in Washington, but has always seemed to fall just short. But this year may well be different. If this year will really see a major GOP sweep, Rossi may be that last vote that gives Republicans control of the Senate.

The Eastern Seaboard will be a good bellwether for the state of the race. If Pat Toomey wins decisively in Pennsylvania, and Raese wins in West Virginia then it will be a very good night for the GOP. If Manchin wins in West Virginia, the Democrats will probably retain the Senate.

My guess is the GOP win a total of 8 seats: ND, AR, IN, PA, IL, CO, WI, and NV. But WV is a wildcard: the polls give a slight edge to the Democrats, but this political season seems more likely to create an upset than others.

The Lowdown

Every poll is showing this to be a major GOP year. There are years that confound the polls, but the evidence that there will be a massive pro-Democrat groundswell that will counter the GOP momentum is lacking. If the polls are to be confounded, it’s more likely in under-predicting the GOP’s gains.

A Wave Or A Tsunami

The inestimable Michael Barone, the dean of American politics, predicts that this election cycle could be a repeat of ’94…1894:

For months, people have been asking me if this year looks like ’94. My response is that the poll numbers suggest it looks like 1994, when Republicans gained 52 seats in a House of 435 seats. Or perhaps somewhat better for Republicans and worse for Democrats. The Gallup high turnout and low turnout numbers suggest it looks like 1894, when Republicans gained more than 100 seats in a House of approximately 350 seats.

Now, a gain of 100 seats is probably out of the question. Not impossible, but close enough. But this election is not like other election cycles where the President’s party loses 20-25 House seats in a midterm election. This is looking at least like 1994, where the Democrats lost 54 House seats. It could even be bigger.

We can see proof of just how panicked the Democratic Party really is. Despite Vice President Biden’s bombastic claims that the Democrats will keep the House, every indication shows that the Democrats are counting on huge losses. Here’s the evidence: The Hotline reports that Democrats are trying to build a firewall in what should be arguably safe Democratic seats.

Take the example of Rep. Phil Hare, of Illinois’ 17th Congressional district. That district was gerrymandered to be Democratic, and Hare was unopposed in 2008. But now Bobby Schilling, his Republican challenger has raised an impressive amount of cash, and not only that Schilling has gotten the endorsement of The Chicago Tribune. Hare isn’t the only Democrat who should, in a normal election cycle, be utterly safe. But this isn’t a normal election cycle, and the number of safe Democratic seats is getting increasingly small.

Even the Democrats have started realizing that they’ve lost independent voters and are trying to consolidate their base:

Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

As he holds rallies aimed at college students and minority groups, sends e-mail to his old list of campaign supporters and prepares to host a town hall-style meeting on MTV, the president essentially is appealing to his liberal base to put aside its disappointment in him. Without offering regrets for policy choices that have angered liberals, Mr. Obama argues that the Republican alternative is far worse.

At best, that will only stem their losses. It was the independent vote shifting decidedly to the Democrats that led Obama to his substantial win in 2008. Without those independent voters, the Democrats have little chance of holding on to the House. President Obama’s retreat into the comfortable world of deep-blue America isn’t going to help his foundering presidency or his party’s chances.

Every analysis points to this being a major GOP year, on the scale of a 40 House seat gain. But there’s a good chance this will be a year like 1994, with a 50 seat gain, And in politics, sometimes the bottom falls out—a candidate that’s behind on Election Day sees their support drop as voters figure that it’s over and either stay home or vote for the winning candidate. That dynamic could push Democratic losses even higher if the GOP retains its significant lead through this month.

At the very least, this election is looking like a substantial wave election, and the Democrats are acting in accordance with that theory. But this could be something bigger—a tsunami election that leads to Republican gains much bigger than what’s been commonly predicted.

Pundit Fight: Cost Versus Silver

Over at The New York Times, political polling wizard Nate Silver argues that the generic ballot may be overstating Republican gains. At The Weekly Standard, political polling wizard Jay Cost says that there’s no real evidence that the generic ballot is really overstating Republican gains.

Cost vs. Silver can’t be any worse than this movie…

The Generic Ballot 101

But first, a little background on what the generic ballot means. The generic ballot question is when a pollster asks whether a voter would prefer a generic Democrat or a generic Republican. This measure tends to track the share of votes between the parties—and that share of votes between the parties can help predict how many seats a party will win in a given election. Now, its true that real campaigns aren’t between Generic Republican and Generic Democrat—but nevertheless the generic ballot still correlates quite nicely to the overall vote share.

But there’s a quirk to the generic ballot—it tends to understate Republican performance. There’s some debate about just how much, although the consensus is somewhere between 2 and 3%. That means that Republicans will traditionally get 2-3% more of the actual vote share than they get in the national vote share. That’s why the last Gallup poll in 1994 showed the generic ballot a dead heat, but the GOP went on to take 54 House seats and 7 Senate seats, retaking Congress.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

But Nate Silver argues that isn’t true this year. He argues that the generic ballot is overrepresenting Republican gains instead of underrepresenting them. He looks at a series of polls conducted by the American Action Forum, a conservative group that did several polls in key House races across the country. What was interesting about the AAF polls is that they asked both the generic ballot question, and then named the candidates. The result was that the Generic Republican led by a larger margin than the actual Republican candidate.

But, says Jay Cost, there’s a reason for that—the AAF poll has a higher percentage of people who responded “Depends” to the generic ballot question than in other national polls. Which means that it’s not directly comparable with other generic ballot polls. Not only that, but in many cases the Democratic candidate was better known than the Republican challenger—or the Republican challenger hadn’t even been formally picked yet. Naturally, someone who is better known will poll better than someone who is less known. (Unless the better known candidate is really hated by the electorate.)

Of course, I’m guessing that Cost is right. Not only because I’m horribly biased and want to see Nancy Pelosi return to San Francisco where she can become a full-time Lon Chaney impersonator. But also because one set of polls has a lot less weight than 50 years of collected polling data.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Silver is wrong. It could be that the generic ballot is overstating Republican gains. There could be some heretofore unexplained phenomenon that’s skewing the generic ballot and causing bloggers to use the word “heretofore.” After all, the generic ballot figures have been all over the map this election cycle. One week the Republicans are up 10, the next it’s tied. The clear trend is that the Republicans are up, but by how much isn’t entirely clear.

So, we won’t really know who is right until after Election Day. And if it’s not clear by then, we can also settle it with a no-holds-barred cage match.

Desperate Democrats Replay the GOP’s Failed 2006 Strategy

The New York Times has an article on how the Democrats are planning to attack the Tea Party this fall. It’s a classic campaign of FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The Democrats want to try to paint the Tea Partiers as a bunch of extremists nutjobs in the hopes that the voters associate Republicans with the Tea Party.

The problem with that strategy is that it doesn’t work. Barrage after barrage of ads against Sharron Angle in Nevada have only managed to put the race within the margin of error. And Angle is an extremely unpolished candidate who’s made several unforced errors early in her campaign. In Kentucky, the Democrats tried to attack Rand Paul along similar lines—and he is safely ahead. It’s not as though the Democrats are trying a new strategy—they’ve been playing the “extremist” card for this whole cycle. And where has it gotten them?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) looking unhappy

Despite painting Sharron Angle as an extremist, Harry Reid still is within the margin of error.

There’s an underlying reason why this strategy has and will fail: this is a referendum election. Some elections are referendums on the ruling party, others are status quo elections. In a referendum election, the electorate displays their disgust with the ruling party and is in a “throw the bums out” mood. In a status quo election, voters are happy and don’t want change from the status quo. Different strategies are effective for each.

The last referendum election we had was 2006, when the American people signaled their disgust with the state of the Republican Party. And what was the GOP strategy in 2006? Going on the attack and painting Democrats as extreme. Read this with the above NYT article and see how similar they are: it’s almost eerie.

Both the 2006-era GOP and the 2010 Democrats are making the same mistake: playing a strategy for a status quo election in a referendum election. Right now, voters are angry at the state of the country and angry at the Democratic Party. That’s showing in nearly every poll. So why are the Democrats going on the attack? Do they think that they can channel that anger towards the Republicans? Because that strategy never works. In a status quo election, you can use fear of change to get the electorate to reject the opposition’s message. But this does not work in a referendum election—voters who are angry at you are not going to be swayed by fear of the other side.

Referendum elections are like firestorms—one you’re in one, the only strategy that will save you is not to have played with matches in the first place. The Democrats are copying the failed strategy of the GOP in 2006—and for the same reasons. They don’t have a popular record to run on, so they’re hoping that they can scare voters away from giving them an electoral drubbing. But Americans may not particularly care for the Tea Party, but they really hate the state of the country. And the electorate’s disgust with the Democrats is trumping their concerns about the Tea Party. Because the Tea Party has thus far avoided wading into social issues and has kept their message targeted on fiscal restraint, the Democrats’ fear campaign just isn’t gaining traction.

That isn’t to say it will never work. There are races where such a strategy can have some effect. Harry Reid’s battle against Sharron Angle is one such race. Certainly Christine O’Donnell’s record of nutty views and numerous gaffes will ensure that she has roughly zero chance of taking Joe Biden’s old Senate seat. There may be a few House races here and there where that comes into play—but not enough to blunt GOP momentum.

The Democrats are showing desperation with this strategy, just as the GOP did in 2006. The fact that the Democrats are going after the Tea Party is not a brilliant electoral calculation, it’s a sign that they’re out of ideas. There’s nothing new about that strategy, and the Democrats have been trying it for nearly a year now. When you start seeing campaigns praying that opposition research and negative ads will work, it’s a sign of a campaign that’s scrambling to stop the bleeding. And that is exactly what the Democratic Party is trying to do right now. Perhaps they should ask the Republicans how well that strategy worked out for them four years ago.

Christine O’Donnell’s Pyrrhic Victory

So, you managed to get Christine O’Donnell the Republican nomination. Which means that the DE Senate seat she’s running for will go to the Democrats.

If you believe that we need to end the disastrous policies of the Obama Administration, reduce spending, and stop government overreach, then the best way of doing that is to see the Democratic majority in Congress go away.

And that means being strategic about selecting candidates.

I’m sorry, but with due respect to Ms. O’Donnell, she doesn’t have a shot in hell of winning. Her negatives are through the roof, she has no relevant experience, and other than saying the right things to conservatives, she’s got little going for her. Her record is, to be blunt, atrocious. Her record on her own finances should be sufficient to disqualify her—the Democratic attack ads practically write themselves. She will lose to Chris Coons, and she will lose by double digits. One can come up with all sorts of scenarios in which that doesn’t happen, but none of them are remotely likely.

The Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and Sen. Jim DeMint have pissed away a very winnable Senate seat. That means that the chances of GOP takeover of the Senate have gone from a relative longshot to roughly nil.

Yes, it’s fine to prefer the more conservative of two candidates. But that must be balanced with the understanding that if the more conservative candidate has no shot at actually winning, the effect of voting for that candidate is the same as voting for the Democrat.

In short, by voting for Christine O’Donnell, the conservative, the Tea Party has voter for Chris Coons, the radical left-wing liberal.

So far, this strategy has turned two sure-fire GOP pickups into two likely GOP losses. We could have picked off Harry Reid this year, but now the Nevada Senate race is a toss-up at best. We could have picked up a seat in Delaware, but that’s not going to happen.

Politics isn’t about being ideologically pure, it’s about being ideologically pragmatic. You don’t win a game of football by trying to throw Hail Mary passes every play, you win by moving the ball. Mike Castle may have been a squish, but he would have helped us move the ball in a more conservative direction. And when we had built up enough strength, found an acceptable conservative candidate, then it would have been a smart time to replace Castle.

The Tea Parties need to learn from the netroots, as painful as it is to write that. In 2006 and 2008, the netroots endorsed a whole slew of right-wing Democrats. Was Jon Tester a committed left-wing liberal? No. But he could, and did, win in a conservative state. Same with Jim Webb in Virginia—and many issues he could be considered a DINO. But the netroots supported him. When the netroots went for ideological purity above all (see Ned Lamont versus Joe Lieberman), they lost.

In fact, see Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Sen. Brown is conservative on many issues, but is not a perfect conservative. But the Tea Party still supported him, because he was the best alternative. Sen. Brown is as conservative a candidate as can win in Massachusetts, and had the Tea Party ousted him with some fire-breathing conservative stalwart, we’d be talking about Sen. Martha Coakley right now.

The goal should be to elect as conservative a candidate as possible that can still win. Christine O’Donnell may be conservative, but she simply cannot win the Delaware Senate race. Instead of moving the Senate in a more conservative direction, the Tea Parties have torpedoed the chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate.

No doubt some principled conservatives are celebrating what they see as a victory tonight. But for principled conservatism, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

Addendum: At the same time, let no one think I’m a fan of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). So far this cycle they have managed to back several losers, including turncoats Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist. The goal is to elect the most conservative candidate likely to win. And sometimes a conservative challenger like Pat Toomey or Marco Rubio can win. The NRSC is the flip-side of the Tea Parties in this regard, and neither side can truly claim superiority over the other. It isn’t just about electability, and it isn’t just about ideology. It’s about selecting the candidate with the right mix of both for the race. Neither side really seems to understand this principle.

Update: Castle won’t endorse O’Donnell. Mike Castle’s political career is likely over—he’s 70 years old. He can choose to go out with grace and dignity, or end a long career on a sour note. It is sad to see him choose the latter. Yes, Ms. O’Donnell is a terrible candidate, but she is the candidate that the voters chose. Rep. Castle should show respect to that choice and do what he can to help O’Donnell win, even if that outcome is unlikely.

Can The Democrats Pull Out Of The Tailspin?

Jim Kessler, of the left-leaning group Third Way, offers the Democrats a few rays of hope. He argues that this needn’t be a repeat of 1994, and the Democrats can avoid an electoral bloodbath this fall.

Were I a Democrat, I wouldn’t be so sanguine. Kessler’s ray of hope are meager indeed.

For example, he essentially asks Democrats to have faith in the Democratic leadership. And yes, Nancy Pelosi is not former Speaker Tom Foley, and Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel are not like the infamous Dan Rostenkowski. But that’s a debatable proposition. Speaker Pelosi represents a left-wing enclave far outside the political mainstream. And will voters fail to see the ethics scandals surrounding Reps. Waters and Rangel as anything other than a sign of rampant Congressional corruption? What evidence does Kessler have that the Rostenkowski scandal was manifestly worse than Rangel and Waters’ misuse of their offices? That’s not exactly enough to inspire confidence.

Kessler also argues that ObamaCare is not as bad as HillaryCare because ObamaCare actually passed. But that’s exactly why the Democrats are in trouble—the American electorate didn’t want ObamaCare any more than they wanted HillaryCare in 1994. Passing bill was a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats. Despite all the predictions that the bill would become popular after passage, that has not come true. Moreover, it’s cemented several harmful narratives about the Democratic Party. It’s shown that the Democrats don’t really care about spending (the electorate does not buy the narrative that the bill saves money). It demonstrated that the Democratic leadership had no intention of listening to the American people. The polls were clear about the electorate’s dislike of the health care bill, but the Democratic leadership pushed it through anyway. And finally, Democratic legislators were on record as saying that they had not read the bill and didn’t even really know what was it. This shattered the idea that the Democrats were a party of competent governance. The average American voter sees something like Nancy Pelosi saying “we have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” and wonders what in the world she’s thinking. These narratives, along with the state of the economy, have turned the tables on the Democratic Party.

The First Step Is To Stop Digging

Unlike the Democratic leadership, Democratic incumbents aren’t willing to sacrifice their careers for the good of their party. This election cycle is unique in that Democrats are running against the national party. The 37 Democratic House members that voted against ObamaCare are running on their votes. Not a single Democrat is running on a pro-ObamaCare vote. The Democratic leadership would like to pretend that ObamaCare isn’t political poison, but candidates running for re-election don’t have the luxury of that delusion. They have to face a political environment that is more toxic to Democrats than even 1994. The American electorate is angry.

The recent special election in PA-12, where Democratic Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns, is emblematic of how Democrats are running this year. Critz did not highlight his party identification. If an unfamiliar voter watched his ads, they would assume that he was a Republican himself. He ran against ObamaCare, against the Democratic leadership, and against many of Obama’s policies. This is the model that many Democrats are following.

What could Democrats do? If I were advising the Democrats (and I only give this advice in full confidence they won’t actually heed it), I would advocate running an insurgent campaign. Run as an independent Democrat. Do what Mark Critz successfully did—run against the national Democratic leadership. Would it change voters minds for an on-the-fence candidate like Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) if she said that she would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker? It certainly couldn’t hurt her.

But what Democrats need is a political “come to Jesus” moment. They have to admit that ObamaCare was a bad call. They have to admit that the leadership of the Democratic Party has not listened to the American people. The Democratic base would howl with fits of rage—but they would, more likely than not, still come out to vote for Democrats. It’s the massive loss of independent voters that has cost the Democrats so dearly in the polls. If Democratic candidates founded their own intra-party insurgency based around a rejection of the Democratic leadership, it could actually help them.

What the Democrats need, in essence, is their own Tea Party. But not a left-wing Tea Party, a movement within the Democratic Party that pushes a fundamental break from the unpopular policies of the past. The Tea Party has forced the Republicans to start talking about what they believe in as party—a conversation that was past due. The Democrats need the same. The leadership cares more about amassing power than about listening to their constituents. They are a radioactive commodity in this cycle. If vulnerable Democrats want to have a chance of saving themselves, they need to run as far and as fast away from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as they can.

But even if they were to do that, it might not be enough. Political

A Few Words On The Senate

Nate Silver is at his new digs over at The New York Times, and he has his forecast for this year’s Senatorial races. The short version: say hello to 6-7 new GOP Senators: and that doesn’t include the possibility of pickups in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, etc.

Silver also finds that the possibility of a Republican Senate takeover is not that far off:

The Democratic majority is in increasing jeopardy in the Senate, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight forecasting model. The Democrats now have an approximately 20 percent chance of losing 10 or more seats in the Senate, according to the model, which would cost them control of the chamber unless Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who is running for the Senate as an independent, both wins his race and decides to caucus with them.

In addition, there is an 11 percent chance that Democrats will lose a total of nine seats, which would leave them with 50 votes, making them vulnerable to a defection to the Republican Party by a centrist like Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut or Ben Nelson of Nebraska. On average, over the model’s 100,000 simulation runs, the Democrats are projected to lose a net of six and a half Senate seats, which would leave them with 52 or 53 senators. (Even though the G.O.P. primary in Alaska remains too close to call, that outcome is unlikely to alter the model.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that the GOP retakes the Senate this cycle: while a 20% chance is better than none, it’s not likely. But some of the polls in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Washington show a possibility of the GOP taking those seats—and if that happens, then it’s sayonara to Democratic control of Congress.

All the signs point to this being a “wave” election—and even a 7-seat loss is more than typical for a midterm election. But if this wave is as big as it could be, then the Democrats are in deep trouble. Their House majority is likely to fall, and if they lose the Senate, Obama becomes a lame duck.

In the end, gridlock is the best thing that could happen to this country. If no major bills can be passed, much of the uncertainty that’s killing the markets will be lifted. If businesses can be safe in knowing that there won’t be a major regulatory overhaul (like cap-and-trade/tax) they will be more likely to start expanding again. Divided government helped the US in the early 1990s, and while Barack Obama isn’t the triangulating centrist that Bill Clinton was, a Republican Congress will at least curb some of Obama’s excesses.

Why The Republicans Will Take The House In November

I am making a (not so bold) prediction: the Republican Party will take back the House in November. The days of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will end next year.

Back in April, FiveThirtyEight, a Democratic-leaning but still valuable polling site, looked at the generic ballot measure to predict a possible 50-seat loss for the Democrats. Here’s how pollster Nate Silver explained it:

So, for example, if the House popular vote were exactly tied, we’d expect the Democrats to lose “only” 30 seats on average, which would be enough for them to retain majority control. It would take about a 2.5 point loss in the popular vote for them to be as likely as not to lose control of the chamber. So Democrats probably do have a bit of a cushion: this is the good news for them.

Their bad news is that the House popular vote (a tabulation of the actual votes all around the country) and the generic ballot (an abstraction in the form of a poll) are not the same thing — and the difference usually tends to work to Democrats’ detriment. Although analysts debate the precise magnitude of the difference, on average the generic ballot has overestimated the Democrats’ performance in the popular vote by 3.4 points since 1992. If the pattern holds, that means that a 2.3-point deficit in generic ballot polls would translate to a 5.7 point deficit in the popular vote — which works out to a loss of 51 seats, according to our regression model.

Back in April, the GOP had only a narrow lead in the popular vote. As of today, the Republicans have an average lead of 4.5 on the generic ballot measure. In October 1994, just before the historic 1994 GOP sweep that netted the GOP 54 seats, the generic ballot measure was tied according to Gallup.

What does this mean? If the GOP actually has a 4.5% advantage on the generic ballot, we can use Nate Silver’s historical model to predict the GOP’s possible gains. Adding 3.4% to that 4.5% lead yields us a 7.9% GOP lead in the national popular vote. By Silver’s methodology, that would equate to GOP gains of around 60 House seats.

The GOP currently need 39 House seats to retake the majority, assuming no GOP losses. There are a handful of vulnerable GOP House seats, but even with those, a swing of 60 seats would be more than enough for the Republicans to take the House.

Some Objections

As always, there are some objections to this model. Critics of the generic ballot point out that individual races aren’t between “Generic Republican” and “Generic Democrat.” That is, of course, true. But ultimately, the generic ballot measure does give an accurate prediction as to overall results. Now, in order to get something more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation, you have to fit the data to accommodate the makeup of the various Congressional districts. But this year, the Democrats are defending a lot more Republican-leaning districts than in past years. Even when the data is fitted (which FiveThirtyEight is doing now), it’s likely that a GOP takeover of the House will still happen.

There’s also the question of whether these numbers are still good. Has the electorate changed dramatically since previous elections, due to demographic shifts? Possibly, but this election will not be like 2008. The young and minority voters that helped lift Obama into office are not nearly as energized as they were two years ago. They’ve gone back to their traditional voting habits. Midterm elections do not tend to look like big Presidential election years—and if the Democrats are counting on the Obama coalition to materialize now, they’re going to be disappointed.

Finally, there’s the argument that the Tea Party will alienate moderates and help the Democrats. That’s certainly what the left want to believe, but so far it hasn’t happened. The one race where that’s a factor is Nevada’s Senate contest between Sharron Angle and Harry Reid. Angle is, to be honest, a lousy candidate, but one that’s learning as she goes. That race went from a sure-fire GOP pickup to a toss-up, but it’s not in the bag for Reid either. The Tea Party isn’t going to save the Democrats because Tea Party activists are more likely to back Republican candidates than to stay home. And so far, the national mood is more on the side of the Tea Partiers than it is on the Democrats. The Tea Parties are simply not a big enough negative to the Republicans to hurt them.

The Voters Are Mad As Hell, And They’re Not Taking It Anymore

The most important factor that will hand the Republicans control of the House is the national mood. Voters are angry. They feel like they were ignored in the health care debate. They are sick and tired of a Congress that lectures them while letting Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters run free on the taxpayer’s dime. In 2008, they were promised hope and changed. Now millions are unemployed and feeling hopeless about the future. Nothing has changed in Washington, it’s as broken as ever. President Obama’s numerous vacations adds to the sentiment that he simply doesn’t care.

Voters are angry, and the Democrats are the party in power. The Democrats failed to listen to voters, preferring to slur them as “teabaggers” and “racists.” Now they face the wrath of an electorate that’s ready to send a message to Washington.

The good news for the GOP: this anger will give them the House. The bad news? If they don’t do better than the Democrats in the next two years, that anger could be turned on them.