The State Houses – What’s At Stake in 2010

Thirty-nine states will be electing a governor during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Of these, eighteen races will not include an incumbent and four incumbents who will be running were not elected to their current position. The recession and huge budget deficits threaten to undercut the power of incumbency for governors running for reelection.

The Current Line-Up


Archive for Grassroots vs. Establishment


Must-Reads, Monday 5/17/10

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Who Carries More Risk from this Spring’s Primary Battles? – Nate Silver has a fascinating and thorough (as usual) rebuttal to a WSJ article claiming the leftist insurgent challenges in high-profile Democratic primary contests (Halter in Arkansas, Specter in Pennsylvania and Colleen Hanabusa in this week’s Hawai’i special) spell trouble for the Democrats in November. He argues competitive Democratic primaries are actually beneficial to the nominee who emerges while a Republican primary contest runs the risk of making the GOP nominee less attractive outside the party’s traditional base:

A great deal of American politics derives from the fact that the Democratic base is pluralistic (but therefore sometimes incohesive), whereas the Republican one is more homogenous (but therefore sometimes overly narrow). The Republicans’ cohesiveness has helped to reinforce their enthusiasm, and they are likely to have an excellent November. However, they could conceivably cost themselves 1-3 Senate seats, and 5-10 House seats, by nominating suboptimal (electorally speaking) candidates. By contrast, the effects of Democratic primary challenges are more ambiguous, and may be as much of a help to the party as a hindrance.

Man the Barricades! – File this under “The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same,” has a brief timeline of our nation’s immigration debate over the years. It’s a reminder that America’s desire to close the doors to new arrivals is quite often fueled by those who looked different from those already here. What was that about a post-racial politics?

A Demographic Earthquake is Transforming America – The Brookings Institution has released a comprehensive study analyzing the demographic transformation America is experiencing.  They describe the nation as undergoing “the most significant socio-demographic change since the huge wave of immigration in the early 20th Century.” They see the potential for great opportunity in these change but warn:

Failure to manage this change could have grave consequences for America’s future quality of life. But success would allow us to use this demographic transformation as a competitive advantage for the 21st century.

The study envisions both metropolitan areas and Washington working simultaneously as necessary to address these changes that will (or already are) affecting the lives of every American family. Their recommendations about the role of the federal government are unlikely to find support among the Tea Party crowd:

Washington should develop macro-level responses. These include comprehensive immigration reform that better incorporates new Americans into our society and economy; a revamping of transportation and housing policy that reduces energy inefficient sprawl and accommodates seniors; programs to increase post-secondary education for our emerging workforce; and redoubling efforts, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, that help make work pay for working-class families.

Presidential Meddling: With incumbents endangered seemingly everywhere one looks, it seems odd for the president to be investing his political capital in the high-profile Pennsylvania Sestak-Specter primary. In fact, the White House has created many of it’s own Senate political headaches. Politico has a look at how such risky moves quite often leave the president with a political embarrassment.

In the wild, when a species dwindles in population and begins to lose its genetic diversity it increases it’s risk of extinction. A similar phenomenon happens in politics when a political party isolates itself by imposing rigid ideological conformity.

Political parties by their very nature are vibrant, dynamic communities that must develop and change as their membership evolves. A failure to adapt to the challenges of a changing world can lead to obscurity and eventual extinction. Just ask the Whigs.

Could this be happening with the Republican Party? Despite what looks like a renaissance after two straight wave elections swept them from power, much of the party’s energy comes from this newly-branded Tea Party movement. But the anger within this movement is aimed at profligate politicians from BOTH parties. The GOP may successfully ride this movement to remarkable wins this November. It also could be misreading this momentum as a validation of the righteousness of the Right.

Down in Georgia, where Republican ascendancy reached its historic peak in the past decade by winning the governorship and control of the state legislature, the good ol’ boys down their have imposed their iron will on who can and cannot be part of their club. Long ago, the Democrats and Republicans established some of the country’s strictest requirements for third party candidates to get onto the Georgia ballot. It’s a bipartisan effort to keep others off the ballot, but the Republicans go one step further than their Democratic counterparts by demanding their candidates sign a loyalty oath.

When wealthy businessman Ray Boyd jumped into the GOP gubernatorial contest, he threatened to be a real player in the primary by backing up his bid with $2 million of his own money. But when he refused to sign the loyalty oath, the GOP establishment tossed him from the party (even though he offered to sign a modified pledge).

Could this type of “purity test” lead to GOP’s demise? Some think it’s possible.

symbolically, it represents another example of the party unnecessarily shrinking its base. By excluding those who don’t measure up, it purifies itself. That produces nominees likely to appeal only to voters for whom the party’s brand of purity is a virtue. And in most places – look north and west – those folks are a minority.

Sure, keeping Boyd out of the party because he won’t sign a loyalty oath might not mean much in the scheme of things.

But – given the state of play – it’s probably not a step in the right direction.


“Out” is the New “In”

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I suppose it’s not surprising that in an election year when incumbents everywhere are facing strong challenges fueled by the anti-establishment rage simmering in the electorate, a major candidate announces he doesn’t want his party’s backing.

It’s not all that uncommon for candidates (see Minnesota’s DFL) to bypass long, expensive nominating processes, but in any other year it would be risky – and a sign of political weakness – to announce the decision ten days before your party’s state convention. But former Rep. Mark Neumann’s decision to bypass the Wisconsin GOP endorsement may actually pay dividends, especially if the “throw-the-bums-out” climate carries through to November.

Milwaukee County Chief Executive Scott Walker, Neumann’s primary opponent, doesn’t have Neumann’s federal resume.  While his congressional years are a decade in the past during a time the federal government was actually running surpluses, he has tried to position himself as the outsider and true conservative choice in the GOP primary. With some Tea Party activists viewing any government experience as a stain on candidates, shunning the GOP endorsement is a smart strategy.

Walker, who may be totally misreading the political Tea leaves, has also been working the party establishment and was probably going to get the party’s backing at the May 22 convention.

Will other candidates follow Neumann’s lead and make similar choices in the coming months? If so, what does that mean for the Republican Party?


NY GOP Chairmen Want a Guber Primary

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Generally, the thinking goes, a political party wants to avoid a contentious primary fight especially if there’s a well-financed and well-known heavyweight waiting in the wings for the general. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the New York Republicans.

Long Island Democrat Steve Levy was enticed by the state GOP chairman to run in the Republican primary against uninspiring former Congresscritter Rick Lazio, best known for being Rudy Giuliani’s stand-in against Hillary Clinton in her 2000 senate election. Because he’s not a registered GOPer, the threshold for Levy to get on the GOP ballot is higher than that for real Republicans. It looks like Levy is unlikely to get the weighted 50% support from the state’s county committees.

Proving just how charisma-challenged Steve Lazio is, there’s  a movement afoot to change the rules The Albany Times-Union reports (wait until the Tea Party gets a whiff of this – the NY Republican Party chairmen want to make it EASIER for a RINO to get elected!)

As Levy battles Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino for the party’s nomination — our rough Lavzino Tally shows Paladino has 6.93 percent, Lazio has 51.5 percent and Levy has 31.56 percent — there have been calls from party leaders that Levy should appear on a primary ballot if he breaks 25 percent, and even discussions of tweaking the party’s rules.

“A lot of chairman upstate are telling me they want to support Steve simply because they feel a primary would be a good thing,” said Jay Savino, the Bronx County Republican leader and a Levy backer.  “I think that the county chairmen are doing everything in their power to ensure that he’s on the ballot in September and hopefully in November. I think it would be in everybody’s interest, certainly the general public’s interest, to have a primary between two qualified candidates.that county GOP chairmen are pushing to change the rules for getting on the primary ballot.

Wait until the Tea Party gets a whiff of this – the NY Republican Party chairmen want to make it EASIER for a RINO to get elected!

You know Andrew Cuomo is waiting somewhere backstage, sitting back and thinking, “My time has come.”


Sunday Must-Reads, 5/9/10

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California: With some observers wondering whether MegaBuck’s campaign is hit an iceberg that may sink it come primary day, CalBuzz has an interesting read on how the AP has done some of eMeg’s spinning for her. The headline was that she “regretted” things that had happened while she was on the Goldman board. But, on closer inspection did she ever really say that?

Utah: With the Tea Party purge of Sen. Bob Bennett complete, the question for the Utah Republican Party is whether or not it has swung so far to the right that moderate Republicans consider following the example of life-long Republican Sheryl Allen.  Allen explains to a local media outlet her thinking behind the decision to join Democrat Peter Corroon’s gubernatorial ticket. Guess who she blames for the polarization of our politics?

The Republican Party is certainly being polarized by some of the strong voices. As an example, several months ago, Sarah Palin talked about pulling the plug on grandmother. That’s just after I had been through the heart wrenching death of my mother who we all loved dearly. And that end of death counseling was so tender, so important, that the way that that was phrased was wrong. It was wrong. It was dead, dead wrong. It didn’t show sensitivity. So it’s voices like that that have made me somewhat disenchanted, and I want to add another part to that discussion.

The GOP’s Tiny Tent Policy: This piece is a week old, but it’s worth a read. It poses discusses the topic du jour among the chattering classes. Just how powerful is the Tea Party movement? Will the energy fueled boy (mostly) conservative outrage be a boon to the Republican Party come November? Or will the purity purges that forced Charlie Crist to defect and allowed Democrat Bill Owen steal an Upstate New York GOP district result in more “conservative cannibalism?” In the ensuing week, the Tea Partiers fell short in their effort to defeat establishment pick Dan Coats in the Indiana Senate race but Bennett’s loss in Utah was a victory for the grassroots movement. Guess the jury’s still out.


Trouble Brewing for McCollum?

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It looks like the Republican Party of Florida may have a high-profile contentious statewide primary after all. A month ago, Attorney General Bill McCollum, a known quantity in Sunshine State politics, was cruising to the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Everyone anticipated a showdown against Florida CFO Alex Sink in battle between Cabinet colleagues.

That was before Rick Scott jumped into the contest and poured $4.7 million into television and radio advertising.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Scott’s investment appears to be paying impressive dividends.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll released Saturday found McCollum held a 38percent-to-24percent edge over Scott, a shocking erosion considering McCollum’s two decades in Congress and three statewide campaigns. The other GOP candidate included in the survey, state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, got 7percent.

“It is clear Republican voters are fed up with the failed policies of career politicians and are responding to Rick Scott’s message,” campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.

Scott also can thank the power of the tube. The sizable ad presence — estimated to be a buy as large as $5million — in a normally dead time of the political season has destabilized what once was considered a settled general-election field.

What does this say about the Republican brand in Florida? This news has to be rocking the Sunshine State’s GOP establishment and causing many to wonder whether Scott – whose well-known opposition to healthcare reform should appeal to the energized Tea Party wing of the base –  might cause McCollum to collapse like Charlie Crist’s once formidable candidacy for the US Senate.


Wednesday’s Must-Reads

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Arizona: The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus blames the new Arizona “If You’re Brown, Hit the Ground” law on a surprising culprit: Clean Elections.

Florida’s Billionaire Politicians: Following in the steps of Michael Bloomberg and Jon Corzine, billionaires seem to be popping up all around. The Mega-Rich, no longer content in buying our political leaders, want to become political leaders in our Mega-States. In California, Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner and Carly Fiorina are all hoping their deep pockets can offset the Democratic advantages in the state. Now, Florida bazillionaires Rick Scott and Jeff Greene are late entries into statewide races (Scott in the GOP guber primary and Greene in the Dem Senate primary). The Miami Herald asks, “They’re rich, they’re running — can they win?”

Primary Lessons: Yesterday, Politico reported on how the establishment-backed candidates in the Tuesday’s three contested Senate primaries were slouching toward the finish line. All survived, although DSCC-favored Cal Cunningham finished second to Elaine Marshall and will face a late June run-off.  In today’s post-election analysis, Politico observes, “Turnout was low and there were no major upsets or shocking results — every House and Senate incumbent on the ballot in the three states won renomination — but there was no shortage of evidence of voter unrest. In the marquee Senate primaries, establishment-backed candidates delivered wobbly performances that are sure to worry their national parties.”

The GOP’s Tea Party: Richard Viguerie, widely regarded as one of the founders of conservative direct mail (a forebear of Karl Rove) writes in the WaPo about how he sees the Tea Party movement as the “fourth leg” holding up the Republican Party (along with national security hawks, “family values” voters, and free market capitalists). He senses an historic opportunity, “The emergence of the “tea party” movement, for the first time in my life I sense that it may be possible for conservatives to actually shrink the federal government.

Progressive Counterpoint: Katrina vanden Heuvel takes Viguerie’s piece and argues his advice is more aptly applied to progressives who are struggling to find their footing a year into the Obama Administration.

Progressives should remain independent, challenging the limits of the current debate, taking the policy offensive. Progressives — far more than the corporate-backed, upper-middle-class Tea Partyers — can take on the entrenched interests, the crony capitalist arrangements, the failed conservative policies and the compromised leadership of major institutions from Wall Street to the mainstream media.


There is No “Purge”

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A divided Florida GOP prepares for the critical 2010 elections (one US senate seat, the Governor’s Mansion and all three cabinet posts are open next year) facing a resurgent Democratic Party.  ”Impotent” is not the word you want a former state party chair to use in describing the party’s current state of affairs. But that’s what Tom Slade, who led the state GOP for six years in the 90s, has resulted from the party’s constant infighting.

Despite holding nearly two-thirds majorities in both houses and a decade-long hold on the Governor’s Mansion, the schism between the establishment and the party’s grassroots activists threatens to weaken the party, rendering it irrelevant. Read More→

Vanquished GOP primary candidate Steve Lonegan returns to the political fray in an email attacking the state Republican Party. Calling the GOP leadership “Hollow Men” who have abandoned their conservative principles. While Lonegan has a litany of complaints the primary among them is truly inside baseball territory. He is angered by the party leadership’s behavior at a recent Republican State Committee meeting, hardly the kind of thing that makes headlines. Enraged by the leadership’s successful move to block adoption of the national GOP party platform and denounce Gov Corzine’s tax hikes, it’s clear Lonegan wants to stir the pot.

From the email:

Failing to adopt this resolution is tantamount to saying that the New Jersey GOP really isn’t Republican at all.  That it is just borrowing the name for convenience – while passively rejecting the values and policies of the Republican Party.  If that is the case, maybe someone should just have the honesty to tell us so.  If not, then the State Committee should waste no time in adopting this resolution.”

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VA Dems Have Done the Deeds

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Republican strategists in Virginia find themselves in a similar situation as New Jersey Democrats a week ago. As with Chris Christie’s GOP Garden State primary victory last Tuesday, Creigh Deeds’ win yesterday the voters nominated the more centrist (and the thinking goes, more competitive and electable) candidate. Whether or not this assumption proves valid is yet to be seen. Regardless, the view from here is that both races right now are pure toss-ups in the general election.

Deeds’ decisive victory over McAuliffe and Moran in yesterday’s gubernatorial primary requires a few observations about the power of the press, money and former presidents.

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