Sunday, February 25, 2007


By Salena Zito

Electing the president of the United States was a lot simpler in the days of our forefathers.

Back in the day, members of Congress nominated a single candidate from their party to put before the Electoral College. The process evolved in the mid-19th century as political party machinery matured and nominations were decided at national conventions.

It was not until reformers in the early 20th century, during the "Progressive Era," pushed through a mechanism to measure the popular opinions of candidates that we saw the first presidential primary.

The 21st century has brought us the era of primaries on steroids. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary once owned the early-decision retail space. But now, not so much. Look for more than 30 states to try to fill that space and jam their presidential primaries into January or February in 2008.

"This early primary process is just courting disaster by creating oversized, sped-up contests," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

Thus, the calendar may say 2007 but those who want to be president are running like it's November 2008.

"We are so early right now that only an idiot or a fool could predict who will come out on top," says Sabato.

For the Republican contenders, this race is any man's game. Right now you have former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani running out front. Sen. John McCain is not far behind. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich follows. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, brings up the rear.

Those who distribute conventional wisdom for a living argue that as soon as the social conservatives "find out" about Giuliani's social positions, they will run for the hills. Yet, for now, that wisdom hasn't put a dent in the Rudy Express. Like Bill Clinton, Giuliani sucks up the oxygen when he walks into a room. And while he may disagree with people on issues, he does not stick his finger in their eyes when they disagree.

McCain has growing pains: He is suffering the effects of moving from rebel to Establishment candidate. Being "Straight-talk McCain" was much easier for his personality and style; now he must deal with the infrastructure of his party and other political organizations, elected officials (current and past) and all of their loyalties and fundraisers.

It was much easier for McCain in 2000 when he could just climb on his bus and say, "Whoever is with me is fine and whoever isn't, that is fine too -- I am going to go to the voters."

Why Gingrich? Well, he is the smartest kid in the classroom. His intellect and understanding of issues and how to deal with them are what drive his support at this point. That's particularly among conservative voters who aren't happy with McCain, have trouble with Giuliani or distrust Romney. Plus, Americans have always been fascinated by a reluctant candidate, which is why Gingrich and Gore stay high in the public opinion polls.

Traction for Romney has been slow, but that may change. An open election without the incumbency factor has forced all of the candidates to begin organizing their campaigns and raising money much earlier. Romney was early to do that; his immediate challenge is not raising cash but defining himself.

For Republicans, this early politicking and a front-loaded primary process could be their worst enemy. Party leaders like situations they can control; highly contested, high-profile primaries always run the risk of divisions.

And thanks to this early-out intensity, getting them all lined up behind a nominee by Election Day could be like herding cats.

Salena Zito can be reached at


by Michael Barone

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that in a recent presidential pairing, Hillary Rodham Clinton would beat Newt Gingrich by a 50-to-43 percent margin. That sounds fairly plausible, although it's a little better showing for Gingrich than I would have expected. But take a look at the favorable/unfavorable ratings. Rasmussen's numbers have Clinton's fav/unfav at 50 and 48 percent and Gingrich's fav/unfav at 43 and 48 percent. You're tempted to think that Clinton and Gingrich both got the votes of every respondent who had favorable feelings toward her or him–and not a single vote more.

Of course, that's not quite the case, but it's pretty close. Note that these two politicians–both figures of huge national prominence in the Bill Clinton years–inspire unfavorable feelings in almost half the electorate. I wonder how many are unfavorable to them both. Clinton and Gingrich in different ways have considerable political strengths. But the nomination of either one may be seen as taking us back to the partisanship of the 1990s. Not where all that many of us want to go, I think.

Yes, I know that Clinton's fav/unfavs are better in some other polls and Gingrich's worse. But I think the point still stands.

Hillary Vs. Rudy

They're leading in polls for their parties' nominations, and so I think we have to regard this as the likeliest pairing in the 2008 presidential race, at least for now. Last July, pollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA did surveys in 50 states and the District of Columbia of several pairings of candidates. You can see the electoral vote results with a few clicks. They show Giuliani ahead of Clinton 354 to 184. I would guess it would be somewhat closer now, and both candidates carried several states by statistically insignificant margins. Premium subscribers can get access to the percentage results in each state and to the demographic breakdown in each state; there are enough respondents to make the latter statistically significant, with the usual caution that the margin of error is significantly greater for subgroups than for the whole state.

I have examined these numbers before in this blog but decided to give them another look. A couple of things struck me. (I'm going to refer to the candidates by their first names, not out of disrespect, but to give this a colloquial tone.)

First, there's a huge difference between men and women in almost every state. Hillary carried men only in California (48 to 45 percent), which has 55 electoral votes. Rudy carries women in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming: 194 electoral votes. That's a huge advantage for Giuliani, though if we assume his lead over Clinton is not as great today as it was last July, not as huge as the contrast between 194 and 55 suggests.

Second, I took a look at Hispanics in states where SurveyUSA's sample was more than 5 percent Hispanic. I suspect that it ended up oversampling Hispanics in some states (Idaho, for example), which is common, especially when you're dealing with small groups. Remember that the 1996 and 2000 VNS exit polls showed that the share of Florida voters who were black increased from 10 to 16 percent. But people who examined the appropriate precinct returns are confident that that didn't happen. There's an error margin on these percentages. With that in mind, look at the percentages for Rudy and Hillary in the following states. The Hispanic percentage of the sample is shown, along with additional comments where I have any.

Arizona 38-58 18
California 28-62 26 Rudy about the same as Bush.
Connecticut 68-28 8 Amazingly good for Rudy, but small sample.
District of Columbia 29-67 6 Rudy runs better among Hispanics than among whites!
Florida 47-43 16 About the same as Bush.
Idaho 68-32 6
Illinois 43-56 9
Nevada 42-50 15
New Jersey 50-50 11 Very good for Rudy.
New Mexico 36-62 38
New York 39-56 14
Oregon 35-49 6
Texas 47-51 28 Rudy about the same as Bush's good showing in his home state.
Utah 44-56 7

Finally, to translate poll numbers, which always have a certain number of undecideds, to election numbers, which usually have much smaller percentages voting for minor party or independent candidates, I did the following calculations. I compared Hillary's percentage versus Kerry '04 and Rudy's percentage versus Bush '04. Then I took the average Republicanward or Democraticward movement. What you'll find is that all 11 eastern states and D.C. move toward Rudy; eight of the 12 midwestern states move toward Hillary; 10 of the 13 western states move toward Rudy; and 12 of the 14 southern states move toward Hillary. More states move toward Hillary than toward Rudy. But the movement overall benefits Rudy. Most southern and many western states remain heavily Republican, while other states that were safe for Kerry are thrust into play. Here's a rundown of the states by region, with Republican movement marked as plus and Democratic movement as minus, plus comments.


Rhode Island +12.5 The biggest move toward Rudy in the most heavily Italian-American states. Puts it in play.
Connecticut +10 Big movement toward Rudy in NYC suburbs. Puts it in play.
New Jersey +10 Big movement toward Rudy in NYC suburbs. Puts it in play.
Vermont +9 Puts the No. 2 Kerry state in play.
New York +7.5 Big movement toward Rudy in suburbs, Hillary still carries NYC 2 to 1. Puts it in play.
Massachusetts +7 John Kerry's home state, which probably gave him a bit of a premium in '04.
New Hampshire +6.5 The one state Bush won in '00 and lost in '04. Puts it in play.
Pennsylvania +5.5 Repubs still far down in metro Philly, but state very much in play.
Maine +5.5 Puts this state, which dropped off the Bush target list in '04, back into play.
District of Columbia +5 Still far, far out of reach of Republicans. Rudy runs better with Hispanics than with whites.
Maryland +4.5 Rudy now competitive in one of six states Jimmy Carter carried in '80.
Delaware +3.5 Smaller movement but puts it in play.

Upshot: Exactly four electoral votes were in play in the East in '04. In this race, 102 of 115 electoral votes are in play. Of course, keep in mind that if Hillary runs better against Rudy today than she would have in July, that number is somewhat lower.


Iowa +3.5 Biggest Republican movement in region in state that Bush lost in '00 and won narrowly in '04.
Michigan +2 Target state in '00 and '04 a little more favorable for Rudy than W.
Minnesota +1 Target state in '00 and '04 a little more favorable for Rudy than W.
Ohio +1 No. 1 target state in '04, scene of Republican disaster in '06, a little more favorable to Rudy.
Illinois +0.5 Hillary's native state (and Obama's current state), the most Democratic state in region by far.
Indiana -0.5 Negligible movement in heavily Republican state.
Wisconsin -1 A little more favorable to Hillary than Kerry in state narrowly Democratic '00 and '04.
Missouri -1.5 Rudy a little harder to sell in southern-accented territory than Bush.
South Dakota -3.5 Still heavily Republican.
Kansas -4 Rudy is a hard sell in the Great Plains, but the area is still heavily Republican.
Nebraska -4.5 Still very heavily Republican.
North Dakota -6 Still very heavily Republican.

Upshot: The same target states as in '00 and '04. Rudy a little stronger than Bush in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio (54 electoral votes) and a little weaker in Wisconsin and Missouri (21 electoral votes).


Oregon +7 A state that fell off the Republican target list in '04 is back on again.
Colorado +6 A state that fell into the Democratic target list in '04 is turning away from the party.
Arizona +4.5 A state briefly on the Democratic target list in '04 is turning away from the party.
Nevada +3 A state very much on the target list in '00 and '04 moving somewhat toward Rudy.
Washington +2 Small movement in state that fell off the Republican target list in '04.
California +1.5 Small movement doesn't put it in play yet. Rudy weak in Central Valley.
Hawaii +0.5 No significant change in state where Bush's status as commander in chief boosted his vote.
Montana +0.5 No significant change in heavily Republican state.
Alaska 0 No change in heavily Republican state.
Utah 0 No change in the most heavily Republican state.
New Mexico -2 Rudy doesn't score well with Hispanics here and is a hard sell to southern-accented Little Texas.
Wyoming -6 Wyoming native Cheney probably boosted the Bush-Cheney percentage here.

Upshot: Democratic strategists have seen the West as a region of opportunity, and reasonably so. They had the Coast states locked up, and their chances were improving in several inland states. But the biggest Republicanward movement comes in Oregon, which is put into play, and Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada (24 electoral votes), the three Mountain states where Democrats have had not unreasonable hopes of making gains. The only good news for Democrats is that New Mexico, one of two states to switch from Gore '00 to Bush '04, is moving their way a little in this matchup.


North Carolina +4 This suggests that John Edwards had some home-state strength in '04 that Hillary can't match.
Florida +1 The one southern state in play in '04 moves slightly toward Rudy.
Kentucky -0.5 Negligible movement in state Bill Clinton carried in '92 but that has been easily Republican since.
Virginia -0.5 Negligible movement in state that has become more competitive; could be in play.
Tennessee -1.5 Small movement in still heavily Republican state.
Georgia -2.5 Movement, but still heavily Republican. Hillary competitive in metro Atlanta but not elsewhere.
South Carolina -4.5 Still heavily Republican.
Texas -4.5 Still heavily Republican. Rudy matches Bush '04 strong showing among Hispanics.
Louisiana -6 Moves toward being in play. But will black Democrats return to New Orleans?
West Virginia -6 State Bush easily carried in '04 is very much in play in this matchup.
Arkansas -6.5 The state where Hillary was first lady for 12 years still likes her; in play now.
Alabama -7 Still heavily Republican.
Mississippi -7 Still heavily Republican.
Oklahoma -9.5 The biggest Democraticward movement in all 50 states but still heavily Republican.

Upshot: Democrats have some small cause for satisfaction here. Rudy is clearly not as heavily backed as Bush, and voters show more sign of appreciating Hillary's long southern sojourn than many of us thought. But at best for the Democrats, this puts Arkansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia into play (20 electoral votes) and possibly Virginia (13 electoral votes), while leaving North Carolina and Georgia (30 electoral votes) still out of reach. And Rudy is at least as strong in Florida (27 electoral votes) as Bush was in '04.

National upshot: Rudy's electoral vote position against Hillary is much stronger than Bush's against Kerry. Rudy puts almost the whole East into play and is significantly stronger in several target states in the Midwest and West. Hillary puts some states into play in the South but with many fewer electoral votes than Rudy does elsewhere. Even if you assume that Hillary is stronger against Rudy today than she was in July, the pairing does place the Republicans in a stronger position than Bush was in '04.


A 'slow bleed' strategy to stop the surge probably would backfire on the Democrats

By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Many Democrats in Congress believe the war in Iraq is irretrievably lost, or that it would redound to their political advantage if it were lost. But they don't want to be blamed for the consequences of defeat.

This has placed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in something of a quandary. The Constitution provides Congress with a means to end the war: Congress can cut off funding. But if Congress were to cut off money for the war in Iraq, and if all the bad things the intelligence community predicts would happen if we withdraw precipitously did happen, it would be pretty clear who was responsible for those bad things. And because it would be pretty clear who was responsible, many queasy Democrats in the House and Senate might not vote to cut off funds, giving the leadership an embarrassing defeat if it moved to do so.

So the Democrats may adopt what's been called the "slow bleed" strategy. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Johnstown, outlined it last week in an interview with the left wing Web site The strategy would be to impose, through amendments to the defense appropriations bill, so many restrictions on U.S. troops that the president's plan for a surge would be hamstrung.

There are, from the Democrats' perspective, two clever things about the "slow bleed" strategy. The first is that sabotaging the war effort in this way would not be nearly as clear cut as it would be by a vote to cut off funds, thus making it easier to evade blame for the consequences of defeat. The second is that if Congress passes a defense appropriations bill with these restrictions, President Bush would be left with three unpalatable choices: He could sign the bill and accept the restrictions, thus accepting slow defeat in Iraq. He could sign the bill and ignore the restrictions on the grounds that they are an unconstitutional trespass on his powers as commander in chief (which they would be), thus provoking a constitutional crisis. Or he could veto the bill, and thus risk defunding the war himself, should Congress not promptly pass a defense appropriations bill shorn of the restrictions.

Let us set aside for the moment what the "slow bleed" strategy would say about the honesty and character of the Democratic leadership in Congress if it chooses to pursue it and focus on the wisdom, or lack of it, of making the sabotaging of the war effort foremost on the Democratic agenda.

A large majority of Americans are unhappy with the conduct of the war in Iraq, and a majority thinks it was a mistake to go to war with Saddam Hussein in the first place. But recent opinion polls make clear that most Americans still want us to win, and think we can.

Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va. surveyed 800 registered voters Feb. 5-7. By identical margins of 57-41 percent, those polled said Iraq was a key part of the war on terror and that U.S. troops should remain until "the job is done." By 56-43 percent, respondents said Americans should stand behind the president in Iraq because we are at war, and by 53-46 percent they said Democrats were going too far, too fast in pressing the president to withdraw troops.

The newspaper Investors' Business Daily took a poll of 925 adults Feb. 5-11. In that poll, 42 percent of respondents said victory in Iraq was "very important," and 24 percent more said it was "somewhat important." Thirty five percent said they were "very hopeful" the United States would succeed, and 23 percent were "somewhat hopeful."

Although barely begun, the troop surge already is producing positive results. Al-Qaida operatives are reported to be evacuating Baghdad, and Moqtada al Sadr and senior commanders of his Iranian-backed militia, the Mahdi army, are lying low and may have taken refuge in Iran. As a consequence, the number of attacks in Baghdad has declined by 80 percent, the Iraqi defense ministry said last week.

"Although attacks happen here and there, the general feeling is still closer to hope and appreciation of the plan than pessimism," said the Web logger Mohammed Fadhil, writing from Baghdad. "More families are returning to homes they were once forced to leave, and we're talking about some of the most dangerous districts, such as Ghazaliya and Haifa street."

Lying low is by no means the same as being defeated, and it is far too early to tell if the surge will work. But on the evidence to date, there is certainly no reason to strangle the infant in his crib.

When after 40 years the Republicans captured the House of Representatives in 1994, hubris overcame them and they launched a showdown with President Clinton over the budget which marked the start of Mr. Clinton's political comeback. Democratic efforts to cripple the war effort in Iraq could produce a similar backlash in 2008.


An update on the Ehren Watada case from the Seattle Times:

Undaunted by an initial mistrial, the Army on Friday refiled charges against 1st. Lt. Ehren Watada, a Fort Lewis officer who faces up to six years in prison for failing to deploy to Iraq and alleged misconduct.

"These are serious charges, and the next step will be to set a trial date," said Joe Piek, a spokesman at Fort Lewis, where Watada continues to serve as an active-duty officer.

Watada is the first Army officer to face court-martial for refusing to serve in Iraq, and his case has drawn international attention as the Hawaiian-born officer has allied himself with peace groups and repeatedly attacked the Bush administration's conduct of the war.

Watada's defense counsels are hoping to derail or at least delay a new trial, which they claim constitutes double jeopardy that violates Watada's constitutional rights to only be tried once for a set of crimes.

The defense counsels appeared caught by surprise by Friday's re-filing of charges.

Good for the Army for not lettting this slide.

Previous Watada blogging.