Thursday, June 26, 2008

Senate Races in OR and NM

Two interesting Senate races are heating up as we approach mid summer. The first is close to home for me and involves a moderate Republican incumbent fighting to keep his seat in a pretty blue state. My family still lives just across the Columbia River from Portland, OR where Gordon Smith has employed some pretty unusual campaign tactics in his quest to beat out Democratic Speaker of the Oregon House Jeff Merkley. Instead of using Barack Obama's name in an attempt to tie Merkley to the "elitist, out of touch" candidate like was done in other House races, Smith is actually tying himself to Obama. Watch this new ad where he touts "bipartisan partnership" with the Democratic nominee.

How many people think this approach will work? He also cites praise from the Democratic Gov. of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski. It may be a long-shot, but moderates in Oregon just may not care whether he is a Democrat or a Republican. We will have to see how this race is shaping up, but because it is widely expected that Obama will carry the state come November, it seems safe for Smith to hedge his bets with some Democratic voters.

The other race is in New Mexico which is tending blue-ish these days. The amazing thing about this seat is that it was left vacant by the retirement of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). He has been under investigation for his role in the firing of Justice Department Attorney David Iglesias and chose not to run for reelection. While that isn't so shocking, his hand-picked successor, Heather Wilson was highly favored to win the Republican primary until the other Republican congressman from NM joined the race and beat her by some 3,200 votes. Steve Pearce is arguably much more conservative than Wilson and may make the general election fight easier for Tom Udall, the Democratic Nominee, to win. There have been indications that the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Comittee) may cut funding and divert resources into other races like Louisiana, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Maine or Minnesota. We will see whether or not the GOP cuts its losses with Pearce or whether it pushes hard for a much needed win in November.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Who Will Be the Next Mr/s. Vice President?

With the horse-race drama of the Democratic nominating contest finally over the news media has been racking their collective brains to discern the next big piece of political chatter (steering clear of the actual political news such as policy proposals, etc.); namely the next VP. I might as well give my 2 cents.

Certainly there has been speculation about the possibility of Sen. Clinton on Obama's ticket but I think even the Clinton's themselves knew that they had to keep her willingness to take such a spot on the down-low. For one thing most people know that Obama and Clinton aren't bffs and the bitterness (no pun intended) on both sides over the drawn-out nominating contest surely hasn't fully abated just yet. If she makes a fuss about being willing to take the #2 spot and doesn't get it, Obama looks spiteful and petty if he doesn't pick her. Worse yet if he were to pick her it would appear to many as if he were bowing to her wishes because she has so much sway in the party. Well, putting aside for a moment the amount of sway she actually DOES have, the nominee can't be seen as following the VP's footsteps. Thankfully the talk of such a ticket has died down. If he were to surprise everyone and pick her after a period of healing silence on the subject, her followers would almost certainly jump on board (if they haven't already). I very much doubt that this is an option however. For one thing no one wants their predecessor looking over their shoulder and making a face when they don't agree on a decision is being made and that is nearly unavoidable with a Clinton in the White House. Second of all the sheer amount of footage of the two of them berating each other would be a GOP hayday. I can just see the campaign spots with Hillary and Ted Strickland waving pamphlets and shouting "Shame on you, Barack Obama!" followed by a smiling John McCain. It's not pretty.

Along with the things mentioned above, there are plenty of reasons for and against adding Sen. Clinton to the ticket, but as far as I'm concerned, the cons far outweigh the pros. The same spot mentioned above, and the Sherman-esque statement he recently made, also seem to disqualify Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Plus judging from the way he had run his campaign and the people with whom he surrounds himself, it seems pretty clear that Obama won't pick a running mate just to win over a swing state. To be sure, Obama wants to win in Ohio, but he is also aware that he wants to completely redraw the electoral map. From his convention speech in 2004 it was clear that he was not comfortable with red states and blue states and by setting his sights on places like New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa, he appears to be seeking out voters on all fronts. It remains to be seen whether this is a prudent strategy. Those of us who were amazed at the 9-10% loss he suffered in Pennsylvania know that he can't win everywhere he wants to. Many of us would have liked to see him blow off Scranton and the rural areas and focus on getting every single Philadelphian to vote. Unfortunately he wanted to appeal across the board and it backfired...bad.

That would seem to strike Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell from consideration too, but I'm not quite ready to count him out just yet. He's Jewish which is a plus, he's amiable, he supported Clinton and he appeals to the WWC (white working class) that Obama needs to sway. Unfortunately, he supported Clinton, and not just while she was still in the race. In an NPR interview after Hillary conceded, Rendell still made it clear that Hillary would have been the stronger candidate. Excuse me? Who cares? Maybe he was on loan from the Clintons to boost her appeal as VP, but playing sore loser doesn't bode well for a VP nomination.

Everyone says that we should look at those 'also-rans' from this election cycle but I find many of them too unlikely to consider. Chris Dodd (Sen. Connecticut) is a great guy, has been standing up to the Bush Admin about telecom immunity, endorsed Obama early and seems to be on good terms with the nominee. Unfortunately he isn't the picture of youth, is a Senator from a small New England state that Obama will carry regardless and has been in Washington for ages. That isn't the image the Dems want to portray. Joe Biden (Sen. Delaware) has many of the same cons but brings strong foreign policy creds. Most people see him as the next Secretary of State and I happen to agree. I would love to see Dennis Kucinich (Rep. Ohio) as VP but I think I would probably be in the minority with that opinion and anyone who would vote for Dennis will be voting for Barack anyway. John Edwards is a name that confounds me. People see him as a natural because he's been there before and appeals to the WWC. The downside is that he's been there before and was utterly useless. He didn't even deliver his home state or any southern state for Kerry in '04. Regardless of the fact that there were other things in play during that election I think that Barack would have to be crazy to even consider him. Props to John for saying that he wasn't interested. Some rumors have been circulating that he's more interested in Attorney General anyway. That would probably be a good pick, but that's not what we're dealing with in this post.

The only 'also-ran' that I think has any real viability is Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. It's obvious that Barack wants to make inroads in the west and pick up some of those states that barely went GOP in the last elections. As the only Hispanic governor it seems obvious that he has to be in consideration and it would really help having his expertise on energy since the high gas prices aren't going anyway anytime soon and certainly not before Nov. It seems perfect, a funny, candid, amiable governor from an important state who gets along well with the candidate, have lots of foreign policy and energy creds. What could go wrong? Answer: Hillary. Some Hillary supporters are pissed at Richardson and won't be getting over his "betrayal" anytime soon. James Carville's notorious "Judas" comment along with the obvious frustration of Bill and Hillary means that if Barack really wants to mend things with the old guard he probably shouldn't run alongside the Clinton's public enemy #1. If he makes some other concessions like appointing Hillary as Secretary of Health and Human Services (if she's even interested), it may be possible, but until those wounds are healed, it would be wrong to get too chummy with the Gov. from NM.

Some other names that have been floating around are Sam Nunn (fmr. Sen. Georgia), General Wes Clark and Chuck Hagel (Sen. Nebraska). The pros for Nunn include formidable foreign policy cred and a chance to pick up Georgia thanks to the spoiler votes of Bob Barr's Libertarian candidacy. It remains to be seen whether the two of them actually get along at all, plus the added contention that GLBT Dems would face thanks to Nunn's support of DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I don't know if that has ever been a real big worry for Barack, but still it may cause some uproar. God knows that GLBT Dems haven't really been consulted before, but with the resentfulness surrounding Hillary's (we gays love Hillary, don't ask me why...we just do) drop-out it may be tough to mobilize that block to vote for an Obama/Nunn ticket.

Wes Clark may be an option, but there is not enough information about the rapport between the two of them to make any solid predictions. It would obviously give the ticket some foreign policy muscle, but it wouldn't really bring any new regions into play electorally. Sorry Oklahoma, I don't think you're turning blue this time around.

Chuck Hagel might just be the most interesting choice I've ever considered. If it seems strange that Barack would consider the formidable Republican, that's because it is. I wouldn't put it past him, however, and it may be something that Obama just might do. Sure there are obvious drawbacks such as the fact that he's a Republican and has voted like a Republican on any number of issues other than the Iraq War. Would Obama really run with someone who didn't support the SCHIP? There would be a lot of explaining to do just to add an anti-war Republican to his ticket. Plus can Obama really hope to win Nebraska? Still, it's worth a thought.

The other candidates like Jim Webb (Sen. Virginia), Kathleen Sebelius (Gov. Kansas), Janet Napolitano (Gov. Arizona) and Evan Bayh (Sen. Indiana) all seem like potentially viable, but all come up short in big ways. Webb is a newbie in the Senate and isn't always on message but then again Obama does want to win Virginia, and he wants it bad. Sebelius is a woman (yay) but it may irk some Hillary supporters to see him pick a woman other that their girl, plus, did anyone see the response to the State of the Union? Yawn. And Kansas? Yawn again. Napolitano seems like a great fit. Woman, funny, wildly popular, governor from out west. Downside? Well she's single and that stigma may not go away. Plus she's from Arizona and so is McCain. It may makes things interesting and put McCain on the defensive in his own backyard. Bayh is popular in Indiana but it think it would be difficult for Obama to pick another Senator, plus Indiana probably won't swing his way regardless.

As you can see there are several options, and that's just the Democratic side of things. I could speculate on the GOP but to be perfectly honest, I just don't care that much. Look for a new post about the possible Dem pickups in the Senate to come soon.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I'm rather sad to admit that this is the first time that I have been politically motivated enough to participate in a presidential primary election. Of course I have voted before but the primary process has usually been completed before voting began in WA, the state where I grew up. It was not only the historic nature of the candidates that attracted me to the process, but the essential differences in direction placed before our country. People who will tell me that they either "Like them both" or "Don't really like either or them" in reference to the two major party candidates astound me. I certainly couldn't care less whether you like John McCain or not, but you must understand that there are major philosophical differences between him and Barack Obama.

That is one of the major problems with the political process, namely that people have become so apathetic towards politics (and politicians) in general that they cannot see the ramifications of their ballot choice. Take the election of 2004 for example. By then it was fairly clear that the Iraq War was not about to end anytime soon, civil liberties had begun to be rolled back especially for combatants, deception and manipulation was everywhere. Along comes a Democratic candidate with little charisma, some Washington clout and he loses. Sure voter fraud in Ohio is one thing, but what made those millions of Americans think to themselves, "Eh, Kerry is just as bad as Bush." I guess the mentality of 'the Devil you know is better than the Devil you don't' had settled in, but it is entirely something else when that particular 'Devil' has the option of going to war and revoking Habeas Corpus.

Just imagine the differences between the two nominees for this fall and on top of that factor in the political philosophies of each. John McCain is not an evil person, he is not a neocon(servative), he does not hold reactionary views on certain topics (i.e. a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage), or many of the other aspects of the Bush administration that so many find repulsive. The main safety pin holding him to his would-be predecessor is the Iraq War. I will be the first to admit that the current POTUS and VPOTUS are certainly wrong and morally reprehensible when it comes to their dealing (and fraudulent beginning) of the war. Now I cannot say whether or not Sen. McCain would have gone to war in the first place, but my instincts say that he probably would not have, at least not for the same reasons that the Bush Administration had employed. The main difference now is that the country is becoming more and more adamant about bringing the troops home from overseas.

As a radically liberal Democrat, sometimes it pains me to admit that the language used by my party about the withdrawal has been so Americentric. I agree with the position that the troops need to come home immediately, but not necessarily for the reasons given. Any political stump speech invariably hold the phrase "blank check to the Iraqi government" as a motivation for bringing our military forces home. Sometimes I wonder if politicians remember that it was the American force that put that government into place initially. If anyone is to blame for the impotence of the Iraqi governmental structure, it is us. Think about it, if the Americans (and British for that matter) really wanted access to oil revenue from a "free" Iraq, they could not put a powerful Prime Minister into place who might deny them that access. Instead they installed a puppet regime that would allow them access and also allows the Democratic party to beat up on someone who is trying to do the impossible. Why don't Democrats vocalize the fact that the war is killing innocent Iraqis, costing billions of American dollars, virtually annihilating any sense of Iraqi infastructure, and harming American troops? That would be enough to make me realize that at least something different has to be done in place of our continued strategy of "blow it up, rebuild it, blow it up again." The language of blaming the Iraqi government for the failings of the American foregin policy simply baffles me. Sure it is politically expedient to blame Nuri al-Malaki for George Bush's failings, but is it accurate? We destroy thousands of buildings, roads, bridges, and kill hundreds of thousands and suddenly the fault is on the Iraqis for not trying hard enough to calm their people down? Can anyone remember that it took the American colonists from 1776 until 1789 to ratify our Constitution? And that was without the British standing on every streetcorner brandishing their rifles. Sure the analogy doesn't fit, but the point is this, you cannot blame Iraqis for being angry at their invadors, President Bush himself admitted that one. When violence begets violence it doesn't matter whether or not the American were the one who destroyed the market or bombed the Mosque, the citizenry of Iraq will continue to resent American presence in Iraq until our soldiers exchange their rifles for rice bags; their weapons for water. Of course that doesn't make the best political point, but neither does the truth, that you cannot ravage someone's country and then blame the ensuing chaos of them.

The other major policy shared by Sen. McCain and Pres. Bush is the economy. More than anything, this may destroy Sen. McCain's chances in the fall. If things begin to turn around again then he may have a chance, but the unpopular war coupled with the recession spells trouble for the incumbent party. Tax cuts for the wealthy have somehow morphed from completely insane to the law of the land. Anyone who seeks to reverse them is painted as a tax collector, tax and spend liberal, etc. Somehow I don't think that those arguments will be especially persuasive, but they may be in some areas.

Of course there are other differences between Sens. Obama and McCain namely healthcare, education, the environment, and foreign policy in places other than Iraq. Closing Guantanamo Bay, revamping the healthcare system, reworking No Child Left Behind, refusing to drill for oil in environmentally dangerous places, talking to leaders of Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and others are all important aspects of the Democratic platform. So when someone tells me that there is basically no difference between the two of them, I have plenty to argue.

The Presidential race may overshadow some other important races as well. 35 Senate seats and every seat in the House of Representatives is up for reelection this year. As many of us know, the legislature is often more important than the Executive and it is easily overlooked when the White House is in play. There are options for Democrats to pick up at least 1 and perhaps as many as 4 or 5 Senate seats this year. There is a list of the incumbent Senators up for reelection this year at the bottom of the page. Don't overlook the importance of those numbers because the closer we get to 66 Senators, the closer we get to actually getting something accomplished during the Obama administration.

Report back for other posts about the most vulnerable Senators and how the races are shaping up around the country.