Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Counterfactual to the Conventional Wisdom

Now that the health care vote has taken place, we move into the post-mortem phase. For the past several months, as Democrats struggled to get this bill passed, the conventional wisdom has been that the 2010 midterms were going to be a bloodbath. Democrats will lose massive numbers of seats, the reasoning goes, possibly jeopardizing their majorities in both chambers. In the end, this may indeed be what happens, and I would bet that seats will be lost (although not necessarily because of health care).

However, what happens if the conventional wisdom (as is so often the case) turns out to be wrong? In the last day or so we've started to see evidence, both anecdotally and through polling, that health care reform may indeed prove to be quite popular and a net-plus for Democrats. President Obama is beginning a massive barnstorming push to sell the bill and we even have some Republicans taking credit for some of the bill's provisions.

In the run up to the vote, a lot of ink was spent talking about which Democrats might be the most vulnerable as a result of health care. The focus was on those Democrats who hail from districts also won by John McCain in 2008. In the end, of those 49 House Democrats, 31 voted against the bill. In a similar vein, Nate Silver at created this simple graphic that shows a pretty strong correlation between Obama's success in a district and how that member ultimately voted.

In this spirit, I decided to focus on the other side of the aisle. Rather than look at vulnerable Democrats, I wonder if there might be some Republicans who--should health care reform prove to be popular and a winner politically--might suffer as a result of their vote? The table at the top of this post shows those Republicans who represent House districts won by President Obama. I've included not only Obama's vote percentage but also the member's to provide a sense of relative popularity as well as the member's seniority. If we were to target which of these member's might have the most to fear, it would be those 1) whose own level of support is closest to Obama's--there are 10 members who received the same % of the vote or less than Obama; or 2) have less seniority in Congress. Usually members are most vulnerable earlier in their career, before they have the chance to build up a strong constituent base of support and familiarity. The final column of the table also might provide some indication of danger in that it highlights how salient the lack of health insurance might be to a district. Thanks to this Washington Post graphic, we can determine how much of a district lacks health insurance. If the number is sizable, and the member seems not to appreciate this, a "no" vote could prove problematic down the road.

Again, I'm not arguing definitively that this is how things will play out, but its always worth asking whether the dominant narrative is wrong.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lone Star Rundown

As expected, Republican Governor Rick Perry cruised to renomination last night and avoided a run-off with either Kay Bailey Hutchison or Debra Medina. Bill White easily won the Democratic nod. Here's a quick rundown of the coverage:

Election results at the Office of the Texas Secretary of State

Houston Chronicle

Dallas Morning News

Austin Statesman

Burnt Orange Report

I'm trying to find a good county by county map so when I find one I'll put it up.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Few Things For The Day

First up, its primary day in Texas (coverage here, here, and here). For the best coverage of the race (from the more liberal perspective), check out the Burnt Orange Report. While the Rick Perry / Kay Bailey Hutchison tilt started out as a real clash of the titans, the campaign since hasn't really lived up to the hype. It seems clear that Perry is going to win handily with the only real question whether he will top 50% and thus avoid a run-off with the runner up. The wild card in the race is Debra Medina. Medina, who is by far the candidate furthest to the right, has seen her numbers take a hit since voicing some support for "truther" claims about 9-11. Nonetheless, her polling suggests that she may be able to force a Perry/Hutchison run-off or even sneak into second place herself. Hutchison's campaign has been, from all accounts, a complete disappointment. Despite having high approval ratings throughout her career she has clearly been out-Texased by the incumbent Perry. He has artfully tied Hutchison to Washington despite her votes against the economic stimulus plan and other parts of the Obama agenda. Former Houston mayor Bill White is expected to easily clinch the Democratic nomination.

Once numbers start coming in we'll try to provide some quick analysis.

Second up today is a report from my home state, Wisconsin, that former four term governor, and Bush II era Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson is considering enterning this year's Senate race against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold. Since leaving the governor's office in 2001, talk about Thompson's return has bubbled up regularly--often stoked by Thomspon himself. Despite his abysmal presidential run in 2008 (he dropped out even before the caucusing in Iowa) Thompson is often portrayed as a political juggernaut in Wisconsin. While he is clearly the most successful Republican in recent Wisconsin history, count me as skeptical about his chances against Feingold.

The first thing to keep in mind about a Thompson potential run is that while he has been extremely successful in the past, he hasn't been elected to anything in 10 years. Not only has he not campaigned in Wisconsin since 2000 he hasn't been on the scene in the state either. Almost all of his time has been spent in Washington and, since leaving HHS, on a number of corporate boards and government relations firm rosters (which will no doubt be used in any campaign against him). While long departed politicians oftentimes assume they can return home to past glories, things rarely work out that easily.

Second, while Feingold has never racked up huge numbers state wide in his three elections, he does have a constant base of support that never seems to wane. Despite receiving 51%, 53%, and 55% in '92, '98, and '04 respectively, Feingold is not an easy target to knock off. He is not easily pigeonholed and has enough votes and positions that make it hard for Republican opponents to portray him as out of touch with Wisconsin and its oftentimes quirky political culture. Also, despite having a reputation as a campaign finance zealot, Feingold has built up a considerable war chest, currently totaling about $3.5 million.

A third point to keep in mind--and this is something that probably won't receive a lot of coverage--is that Wisconsin voters tend not to vote out incumbents. Of the current House delegation (8 members), none of them were elected by beating an incumbent. Over the last twenty years only two Wisconsin House members have been defeated. The most recent was Peter Barca (1st District) in 1994 who was completing the term of Les Aspin who became President Clinton's Secretary of Defense. Before him, Scott Klug (2nd District) defeated long time incumbent Robert Kastenmeier in 1990. Otherwise, the House delegation, save for retirements, has been very stable. Likewise, Wisconsin Senate races have been largely uneventful in recent years. In fact its Feingold who was the last to win via an incumbent knock-off, downing two term incumbent Robert Kasten in 1992. Feingold and his couterpart Herb Kohl (first elected in 1988 via an open seat upon the retirement of five term incumbent William Proxmire) have kept the Senate delegation in Democratic hands ever since. Despite a political environment that seems rabidly anti-Washington and anti-incumbent, Feingold seems like the type of politician--aided by an electorate that tends to value stability--who could weather the storm.

Finally, and related to last week's post about Evan Bayh of Indiana, a piece about the top Democrat running to replace him, incumbent House member Brad Ellsworth (8th District). The takeaway is that despite progressives' grumblings about Bayh's record on liberal issues, Ellsworth is in fact considerably more conservative especially on social issues.