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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are Texas Republicans As Smart As Florida Voters?

Left: An image of Marco Rubio from his days as Speaker of the Florida
House of Representatives graced the cover of National Review in
September of 2009. Right: Former Texas Solicitor Gen. Ted Cruz, a
Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, made the cover of National
last October. (Composite Photo)

Here's a story: A handsome, young, Cuban-American lawyer makes a long-shot bid for a U.S. Senate seat. He has impeccable conservative credentials and a captivating personal story, being the son of Cuban immigrants, but he doesn't have the name recognition or fundraising machinery of his main competition in the Republican primary, an affable, if slightly dull, power broker who has held elected office continuously for over a decade. Slowly but surely, he cultivates an enthusiastic grassroots base and attracts a lot of out-of-state attention (and money). The media brands him "the TEA Party candidate" in the race, a label he doesn't shy away from. In time, he's the toast of talk radio, the hottest subject in conservative circles and a real threat to the GOP "establishment". He's still an underdog, but not like he once was. Voters across the state latch on to his message of a smaller, more efficient, more responsible government. What was once dismissed as the quixotic quest of a far-right gadfly is soon recognized as the latest dark-horse candidacy in a pivotal election year.
In case it's not obvious, I'm talking about Ted Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general who is vying for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat, but the preceding paragraph could have just as easily been written about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), back when he was Senate candidate Marco Rubio, the underdog in the 2010 Florida Republican primary for U.S. Senator. Given Cruz's heritage, the tenor of his campaign and the dynamics of his primary battle with Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), it's not surprising that he's drawn comparisons to the freshman U.S. Senator who's now being touted as arguably the best choice for vice president on the Republican ticket, and the editors of National Review had to know that the comparisons would only continue after Cruz's visage graced the cover of their magazine last fall.

Last October, National Review gave Ted Cruz the Marco Rubio treatment, making him the subject of the cover story in their October 17 issue. Just over two years earlier, the magazine had done the same with Rubio, who at the time was trailing then-Gov. Charlie Crist in Republican primary polls by double digits.

“I’m not Don Quixote here,” Rubio was quoted as saying in the article. “This campaign embodies everything you’re hearing at the town halls.”

Like Rubio, Cruz thrives at town hall events, revving up the crowd with his enthusiastic prose--heavy on policy and light on pie-in-the-sky campaign pablum--before taking questions from individual attendees. Unlike Rubio, however, he had more than one primary foe to dispatch, and neither Dewhurst nor former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert had the kind of weaknesses that brought down Crist's campaign. Nonetheless, in the primary on Tuesday, Cruz was able to finish a strong second to Dewhurst, who failed to break the 50% threshold necessary to avoid a runoff.

Cruz is still the underdog; the results of at least one poll conducted before the primary indicated that Dewhurst would prevail over Cruz in a runoff by a wide margin (25 points). Don't expect that to discourage him, however; the 34.2% of the vote he managed to get in the first round of voting exceeded his showing in every poll of the race. There's other things that will work in his favor, too: runoffs tend to favor those candidates with the more excited--i.e., motivated--base. (Cruz's advantage here may be overtold, though. In the primary, Dewhurst fared slightly better and Cruz did slightly worse among early voters, a key indicator of voter enthusiasm.) Cruz also has two whole months from today to campaign, though my sources tell me both candidates' campaign coffers have been depleted, and only one of them has a nine-figure net worth.

The margin between Dewhurst's and Cruz's vote totals--just over ten percentage points--supports multiple inferences. On the one hand, it was a lot smaller than polls had been suggesting. On the other, it means that Dewhurst has a much smaller gap to close than does Cruz. Still, history tells us that the first-place finisher in the primary is by no means a shoo-in in the runoff; in the 2002 U.S. Senate race, Victor Morales edged out Ron Kirk in the Democratic primary, but Kirk won the runoff by twenty percentage points. To use a more recent example from our next-door neighbor, Bobby Jindal finished fifteen points ahead of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in the first round of the 2003 Louisiana governor's race, only to lose the runoff to her, 52%-48%, in a shocking upset. (Funny story: Blanco turned out to be such an awful governor that she didn't even run for re-election in 2007, and Jindal handily won the governorship that year without a runoff.)

Of course, the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Florida wasn't decided by the Republican primary, as this race will be; after seeing his double-digit lead lead in the polls turn into a double-digit deficit, Crist made what in retrospect may have been a career-ending blunder: he dropped out of the GOP primary and continued his candidacy as an independent. Florida voters saw this opportunistic stunt for what it was, and Rubio trounced Crist by nineteen points (winning 49% of the vote to Crist's 30%) in the general election. 
In Dewhurst, Cruz does not have a challenger as flawed as Charlie Crist, but he does have a strong message that has resonated with a growing mass of Texas voters. He's also got a nationwide fundraising apparatus and endorsements from just about every influential conservative who's not currently holding public office. This July, Texas voters have a choice: we can settle for the "sufficiently conservative" or "conservative enough" (or whatever Dewhurst's backers consider him) candidate, or we can send a younger, more erudite (and, I would argue, more conservative), passionate advocate to Washington and add to a burgeoning bloc of young, bold congressional Republicans resolved to effect major structural reforms in the near future, if only they could get the reinforcements they need. In 2010, Floridians chose the latter. Will Texans show they have at least as much sense as voters on the other side of the Gulf?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Confusing Poll Numbers Released

Yesterday, political junkies were beset by a flood of polls in presidential and down-ballot elections, primary and general, and to say the results weren't consistent with one another would be a supreme understatement. I'll start with the big kahuna: the presidential race. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been locked in a dead heat in national polls for some time now, but we all know the popular vote doesn't matter. An NBC News/Marist poll found the president holding a narrow lead over Romney in the key swing states of Virginia, Ohio and Florida. In each state, 48% of respondents said they plan to vote for Obama; Romney stood at 44% in Virginia and Florida and 42% in Ohio. The Ohio results were confusing for a number of reasons; for one, 44% of respondents identified themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative", but only 21% said they considered themselves "liberal" or "very liberal". This is inconsistent not only with the presidential survey results but also Marist's poll of the Senate race in Ohio, which found leftist Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) leading State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) by fourteen points, 51%-37%. That also clashes with other polls of the same Senate race, which show Mandel within single points of the incumbent.

The results out of Florida were also inconsistent with other recent polls; a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows Romney with a six-point lead (47%-41%) over Obama in the Sunshine State. Given this disparity, it should not come as a surprise that Quinnipiac found Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) locked in a statistical dead heat with incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who garnered 41% support among the respondents to Mack's 42%, while Nelson led Mack, the prospective Republican nominee, by four points (46%-42%) in the Marist poll.

Perhaps the biggest single outlier in the NBC News/Marist survey concerned the Virginia Senate race, where NBC News finds former Gov. and DNC Chair Tim Kaine (D) holding a six-point lead over former Sen. George Allen (R), who held the seat from 2001 to 2007. Kaine polled at 49% in the Marist survey, higher than he's polled in any poll of this race I've seen. Earlier this month, a Washington Post poll showed Kaine and Allen tied at 46%, and a survey conducted last month by the Democrat-run Public Policy Polling (PPP) had the Democrat leading by just one point, 46%-45%. (It's worth pointing out that Marist's last survey of the race, which gave Kaine a nine-point lead over Allen, was an outlier too.) 

Staying on Senate races, Democrats may have reason to worry in yet another state that was supposed to be safe: Rasmussen Reports provided the latest news out of arguably the most undercovered Senate race this cycle. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), who defeated Rick Santorum in 2006 in what must fairly be called a rout, was not supposed to face a tough fight for reelection. No Republican heavyweight stepped into the race to challenge him, but that didn't deprive the GOP of a spirited primary. Steve Welch, a dashingly handsome businessman who had switched his party registration to Democrat in 2008 and then switched back, was what you might call the establishment candidate; he had the endorsements of the state Republican Party, Gov. Tom Corbett and the state's major newspapers. The "TEA Party candidate", former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, had lost his last race (against Corbett in the 2010 gubernatorial primary), but this time he appeared to be the frontrunner, supported by multiple grassroots organizations and former presidential contenders Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. But on election day, Pennsylvania Republicans picked neither Welch nor Rohrer, opting instead for Tom Smith, a wealthy businessman with a high school education who worked as a coal miner and farmer in western PA and spent much of his life as a Democrat. (His record in local government, supporting multiple tax increases, provided much fodder for his opponents.) Perhaps even more surprising than Smith's victory was the margin; he took nearly 40% of the vote in a five-way primary, nearly twice what the second-place finisher got. Then yesterday, Rasmussen published the results of a poll showing Smith within striking distance of Casey; he trails the incumbent by just seven points, 48%-41%. By way of comparison, a PPP survey released earlier this week had Casey leading Smith by sixteen points, 49%-33%. (Interestingly, every poll of a head-to-head matchup between Casey and Smith, including those conducted before the primary, has the Democrat polling at just under 50%; this kind of consistency is rare, even for a well-known incumbent. Smith's numbers have, understandably, been all over the place.)

Finally, there's the marquee matchup in my neck of the woods: the race to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Winning the Republican primary is tantamount to victory in the general election, and in my opinion, this race has been severely underpolled. The only outfit I know to be tracking this primary is PPP, and their latest poll raised some eyebrows. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) was widely regarded as the inevitable candidate, and big-name challengers who had initially thrown their hats into the ring later backed off. Still, many Republicans weren't content to just accept Dewhurst's coronation; former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and some jock named Craig James are also vying for the GOP nod next Tuesday. Dewhurst's main competition, though, has come from north of the border. Ted Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-American (not a typo) who served as state solicitor general from 2003 to 2008, has slowly but surely cultivated an enthusiastic base of support and amassed a vast campaign war chest. PPP has shown him gaining support with each successive poll, moving from 18% in January to 26% in April to 29% this week. Dewhurst's support, however, has increased as well: he's now at 46%, his best showing to date. If the lieutenant governor receives more than 50% of the primary vote, then he'll avoid a runoff. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9.

That Bible verse has been stuck in my head all weekend. I keep thinking about how many things in the news this week harken back to things that we've already been through. Take, for example, the reprisal of two lines of attack--one from the Right on President Obama, the other from the Left on presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney--that have been tried before and provided fodder for the supporters of their targets.

Bashing Bain

The Obama campaign released a predictably dishonest, two-minute ad spot on Monday, highlighting some steel mill know what? I'm so sick of this story. We've seen this before. We get it, Democrats. You don't like capitalism, except when you're raking in campaign contributions from Wall Street, trust-fund babies, Silicon Valley and/or the entertainment industry. You can say this wasn't an attack on private equity in general, but that claim doesn't hold water, especially since the truth is that Bain & Co. under Romney's leadership was actually one of the tamer, less ruthless, more compassionate private equity firms out there.

The Return of Reverend Wright

As much as they seem to enjoy attacking a man who actually did create and save jobs  (and who put his own money at risk, instead of wasting taxpayer money on loser bets), nothing seems to make the Left quite as horny as the opportunity to argue against their favorite straw man: racially-charged attacks on President Obama. The New York Times gave them that opportunity again this week when it ran a story saying that Republicans were considering a $10 million ad blitz linking President Obama to the incendiary, race-infused diatribes of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. This coincided with Sean Hannity's televised interview with Ed Klein, author of The Amateur, which from what I've heard is one of the most accurate, in-depth accounts of Obama's time as president. On Thursday night's show, Hannity told his audience, "I believe that the president's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a man that influenced him for over twenty years, inspired him, is a very important campaign issue." (You can imagine the left-wing reaction.)

As for the Super-PAC's proposed ad campaign, by Thursday it became clear that this plan was as dead as a doornail, but that didn't stop the Left from chattering incessantly about it. It was the lead story on The Rachel Maddow Show Friday evening, and every Sunday morning round table I watched took up the topic today.

Debt Debate Redux

House Speaker John Boehner's speech at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2012 Fiscal Summit similarly gave the Left an opportunity to reignite the fiery debate over raising the debt ceiling, while at the same time disingenuously claiming that it was Boehner who first expressed a desire to re-hash the fight that transfixed so many around the country (particularly on Wall Street, inside the Beltway and on Sunday morning talk shows) last Summer.  

True, Boehner did harken back to the debate last summer in his speech, but he never, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein put it, "threaten[ed] the Obama administration with default in order to extract concessions on spending." All he said was that, when it comes time to once again raise the U.S. debt limit, "I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase." (He added, "This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance," but that part hasn't been played over and over again by the TV news media as the preceding sentence has.)

For whatever reasons, Democrats and the media seem all too willing to rehash this fight over the Debt, the deficit and spending. Klein's fellow Postman Dana Milbank wrote on Friday that the Speaker's speech "goes beyond talking down [the economy] and approaches the realm of precipitating a crisis," musing, "Does Boehner want the economy to tank?" Over at, a web site that apparently exists, some guy named Brian Beutler scribbled something about Republicans having "an appetite for debt limit brinksmanship — even after the last round nearly crippled the economy, and left the GOP’s congressional approval ratings in the sewer." (I just have to add what Beutler wrote in the very next sentence so you can all have a good laugh at his pathetic attempt to rewwite history: "When Republicans went home for recess last August, after placing the country’s AAA credit rating at risk, and narrowly avoiding a self-imposed default on the national debt, they caught such an earful from constituents that they spent several weeks toning down their rhetoric and avoiding big public spats with Democrats.") Why left-wingers wants to start this debate up again right now escapes me (unless most of them really are delusional enough to believe that last summer's fiasco irreparably damaged the Republican brand, while Democrats escaped unscathed); the conflict-obsessed mainstream media's motivation for doing the same is less of a mystery. 

Austerity: Never Again

Speaking of deficits, debt and government spending, word out of the G-8 is that multiple European countries are reconsidering the so-called austerity measures that we keep hearing about. (For the record, only three members of the G-8 are in the Eurozone.) This was to be expected from France, whose new president got elected on an anti-austerity platform, but as senior Mercatus fellow and University of Paris alum Veronique de Rugy has explained, the "austerity" policies enacted by the French, British and other European governments lo these past couple years are actually not true austerity. Writes de Rugy:

First, France has yet to cut spending. In fact, to the extent that the French are frustrated with "budget cuts," it's only because the increase in future spending won't be as large as they had planned. The same can be said about the United Kingdom. Spain, Italy and Greece have had no choice to cut some spending. However, in the case of these particular countries, the cuts were implemented alongside large tax increases. In fact, The Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll calculated that "Europe raised taxes by almost €9 for every €1 in actual spending cuts."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Good News for Wisconsin

This past Tuesday, Democratic primary voters in Wisconsin picked their candidates to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators who are facing recalls next month. As expected,  Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost the 2010 gubernatorial election to Walker, won the right to challenge him in a rematch. The Democrats also nominated firefighter-turned-union boss Mahlon Mitchell to take on Kleefisch and several other union puppets to run for the state senate.

The good news for the Democrats is that they've now got the primary behind them and can move forward with a unified front. The bad news is that Walker has a huge fundraising advantage over Barrett, and the polls don't indicate that the Dems will be celebrating any time soon. (By "polls", I mean both the primary election results and the results of the latest survey of Wisconsin voters.) Despite the lack of any serious primary challengers to Walker or the other GOP incumbents, voter turnout in the Republican primary on Tuesday outnumbered turnout in the Democratic primary. The huge turnout even surprised Governor Walker, who received more votes than Barrett and Falk combined. Walker may have also been pleasantly surprised by the results of a Rasmussen Reports survey of 500 Likely Voters released Thursday that showed him leading Barrett by five points, 50 to 45 percent. That's quite a turnaround from last month, when another Rasmussen survey found that 52% in Wisconsin supported the effort to recall the Governor.

Wisconsin is also one of many states with a very contentious Senate race this year, and there's good news for the GOP there as well. Rasmussen Reports has former Gov. and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson leading Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who's running unopposed in the Democratic primary, by a stunning twelve points, 50% to 38%. That dwarfs the statistically insignificant two-point lead former Rep. Mark Neumann holds over Baldwin, who leads Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald by four in the same poll. The bad news is that the Senate primary isn't until August 14th.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Biden: Democrats were "taken over by the far Left" in early 1970s

Based on what I've seen on the Internet, the big take-away from Vice President Biden's appearance yesterday on Meet the Press was his revelation that he was "absolutely comfortable" with marriage equality. This was taken as a change in the vice president's stance on same-sex marriage. However, there was something else the Vice President said in that interview that I felt was more important, viz., his acknowledgement that the Democratic Party had long ago been "taken over by the far Left". Specifically, he stated that the Republican Party has been taken over by the Tea Party, adding, "My party was taken over by the far Left when I was elected in 1972."

I'm not inclined to disagree with the vice president. In 1972, the Democrats passed over more moderate candidates for the ultra-left-wing Sen. George S. McGovern. The reward for their bold risk was being on the losing end of the biggest presidential landslide in U.S. history (uncontested elections notwithstanding). In a phone conversation the morning after with then-Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, President Nixon remarked that the difference between the 1972 election and the '68 campaign, which ended in Nixon's narrow defeat of HHH, was that he and Humphrey "both put the country first," whereas McGovern was prone to say "any Goddamn thing that came in his head." The four decades since have seen the Democratic Party's sharp left turn manifest itself in different ways: multiple Democratic members of Congress losing primaries to more left-wing opponents; conservative Democrats switching to the Republican Party; increased polarization, both in government and among the general electorate. And, McGovern wasn't the last hard-line progressive to defeat more moderate (and arguably more electable) candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Barack Obama's election in 2008 was made all the more impressive by the fact that he did not suffer the same fate as Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry.) 

For years, we've had to put up with left-wing pundits (and some disgruntled milquetoasts who purported be Republicans) telling us how the Republican Party had been taken over by the far right. This rhetoric has been ramped up ever since the rise of the TEA Party. Finally, we have an unqualified admission from a high-profile Democrat (the second-ranking official in the Executive Branch) that his party was taken over by the far Left 40 years ago. This acknowledgement likely will not receive the attention nor the scrutiny it deserves in the coming week(s), but it sure jumped out at me. Thanks, Joe; your refreshing bit of honesty validates what a lot of us on the Right have been saying--and the Left has been dismissing--for years now.