2010 House elections

Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.

In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.

I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.

What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

  • The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
  • The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
  • The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
  • Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
  • Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
  • Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
  • On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
  • Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.

Time to raise (Herman) Cain?

Yesterday, Georgia Republican congressman John Linder announced his retirement 

His district is a Republican stronghold, (Cook R + 16) so I do not think we need to worry about finding a candidate with the strongest local following to succeed him.  

This is a seat where the Republican party would be well advised to run someone capable of being a strong national spokesman for conservative issues. Much as I've often pushed athletes or celebrities, this does not seem to be a district where we need to run John Smoltz. I'm sure the gaggle of Gwinnett County pols eyeing the seat are capable enough; but this is truly a seat where we ought to be electing a national spokesman.

There is an Atlanta area Republican capable of doing this. Herman Cain

Cain is a successful local radio host, so he's going to have high name recognition in this district.  He also gave a scintillating speech at this year's CPAC, so he has the bona fides on the national conservative level. As a successful former businessman, he brings the ability to speak with authority on issues involving free enterprise and economic growth.

He's also an experienced former candidate, having run 6 years ago for the U.S. Senate. Yes, he finished second in the GOP primary to now-Senator Johnny Isakson, a fixture in GA politics for a generation. But he received 170,000 votes and finished ahead of a sitting congressman, Mac Collins.  

Now I've never set foot in Gwinnett County in my life. But if there is a better qualified Georgia Republican than Herman Cain, I'll be dammed to know who he is.

GA 7 doesn't need a pothole politician; it needs a leader for conservative values.  It needs Herman Cain  


Where is Congressman Chris Murphy (D-CT) going, exactly?

This is the home of CT Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy. Notice the Calcagni Realtors "For Sale" sign.

Where is Chris Murphy going? Is he even going to be running in the 5th District this year? 

Photo of 825 Wolf Hill Rd , Cheshire, CT 06410     http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/825-Wolf-Hill-Rd_Cheshire_CT_06410_1113205307 

It's not he doesn't have a history of picking up stakes in good political years and relocating to better terrain. In 1998 he moved from Wethersfield to Southington so he could run for the state legislature.

In 2006 he moved from Southington to Cheshire so he could run in the 5th District for Congress.

Now he appears to be on the move again. Is he again seeking greener political pastures?

Hey, NRCC/RNC...want data?

Erick Erickson, who is admittedly the mastermind behind Doug-mania in the Rightosphere, has a rather disturbing post in RedState.

Two party officials tell POLITICO that the NRCC will continue to air TV ads propping up Scozzafava in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 contest and plans to keep up a near relentless barrage of press releases slamming Hoffman.

Here’s my favorite part, which is also the most insulting:

Asked why so many prominent Republicans had thrown their support to Hoffman, the official responded, “We’re dealing with data, not hopes and dreams

OK. I'm a data driven guy. Let's look at these numbers.

1. Let's assume the Kos poll is correct.   It shows Doug Hoffman in third place. It also shows Dede Scozzafava with the highest negatives in the race. And that if Hoffman wasn;t running, very few of his supporters would show any interest in backing Scozzafava. And, hmm what is the likely impact on such voters of running negatives on Hoffman?

Democrat candidate Bill Owens is sitting pretty;  by my estimates if he turns out the same Democratic House vote the losing candidate got in the 2006 midterm (which had turnout comparable to the 2009 20th CD special) he stands to win. Especially since the NRCC strategy will lead to less Republican turnout. Brilliant. 

2. With the exception of Newt Gingrich, most informed people realize Scozzafava is going to be one of, if not the most liberal members of the GOP caucus. And the one most likely to switch parties (more on the reasoning later).  On the other hand, Owens was a registered independent until recently and has focused much of his campaign on military issues.  So, it seems reasonable to think he's be a bit of a Blue Dog, especially compared to other northeastern Democrats.

True, Owens is a pro "public option" vote. But can we be sure Scozzafava isn't?. She hasn't committed, has she? (The Politico seems to think she's off the reservation already)

Query to the Beltway Brain Trust: How much is a RINO worth to us compared to a Blue Dog?  Maybe we'd be better off losing the bidding war and letting Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer try and keep another wobbler in line.   

3. This seat is a rental. Not a purchaseNew York will certaintly lose a House Seat for '12. The Democrats are highly likely to control reapportionment (they control it now). The 23rd is the least Republican seat we still hold in NY; it has no major population centers, and will be held by a low seniority member.  The Democrats will make an upstate Republican walk the plank and the 23rd could easily be parcelled out between the Democrat held 20th (Saratoga), 24th (Utica) and 25th (Syracuse) districts.  

Which comes to Scozzafava switching parties. Anyone think she wouldn't flip parties to save her district and make a Republican colleague lose his seat in the re-map? Please.

4, Stop doing single-entry accounting, folks.  The DC Republicans are looking at the cost of holding one House seat.  And that's not insignificant. But they certainly don't have the cash-on-hand to fight in 40-60 seats next fall. That's going to take a monumental effort from the party's contrbutor base.

Hmm, guys, where do you plan to get that cash after you tell your most loyal contributors to stuff it? Last time I checked, K Street had sold out to Obama and Pelosi.  Unless you plan to borrow Ben Bernacke's printing press, appeasing the folks who write you checks might seem like a good idea.  

5, For the effect of electing a useless RINO while alienating the financial base of the party, please look up this definition. You genuises in DC are bright enough to figure this concept out, right?

When one considers the potential lost revenue for next year, this might turn out to be the most expensive House campaign in American history.

It seems the NRCC simply can't get out of its own way when it comes to upstate New York elections.  In 2006 they helped lose the 24th District, in 2008 we lost the 25th and 29th districts. And early this year their efforts were so counterproductive in the 20th District Jim Tedisco had to disavow them.

My suggestion to the DC Republicans. Quit while you're behind.  Punt on 4th down. Accept that the voters are going to do what they are going to do in the 23rd District. And hire someone with a clue before the '10 cycle gets going in earnest.

Candidate Recruitment; CA 12, 1946 v. NY 23, 2009

I think we are all well aware of the botched job party leaders did in northern NY for the McHugh vacancy election;  Stevie Wonder could have seen what was likely to occur and did occur.  Perhaps the Republican activist base needs to ascertain whether we have a breakdown in candidate recruitment and selection for key House races; and determine how to fix this before the process for the '10 cycle goes off the rails.

In a "Back to the Future" approach, I thought back to a prior election cycle when local activists decided to screen their own candidates and put forward someone whom they thought would give the Republicans a good chance to win a tough seat.  To wit, California 12, 1946

As Voorhis served his fifth term in the House, Republicans searched for a candidate capable of defeating him.[9] Local Republicans formed what became known as the "Committee of One Hundred" (officially, the "Candidate and Fact-Finding Committee") to select a candidate with broad support in advance of the June 1946 primary election.

The Committee tried to persuade prominent local leaders to jump into the fray, and sounded out former district native Gen. George Patton to ascertain his interest. Having whiffed on such a prominent candidate, they then interviewed a number of other hopefuls, and decided the one that impressed them the most was a young lawyer in the Navy, Richard Nixon.

  On November 1, 1945, he flew to California to meet influential Republicans and give a speech at a Committee meeting. The meeting was advertised throughout the district and was open to any potential candidate. However, the advertisements for the meeting noted that Nixon would be flying in to speak.[15] A number of potential rivals also showed up at the meeting on November 2, 1945, including a local judge and assemblyman. Nixon, who spoke last, was "electrifying", according to one Committee member.[16] When the Committee met to vote on November 28, Nixon received over two-thirds of the vote, which was then made unanimous. Committee chairman Roy Day immediately notified the victor of the Committee's endorsement.

This process was important to Republican success that year as California held a primary with an early cutoff date and a former Republican congressman was seeking tp return to office on an openly bigoted platform. He decided to run as a third party candidate and attracted little support.

So, what does suburban L.A. in the last century have to do with now? Well, what it shows is that in that election prominent Republicans decided they could not rely on party bosses to find candidates and anoint a nominee. Nor could they take their chances on whoever decided on their own hook to enter the primary. and hope the voters would give a credible general election candidate a pluraility of the vote. No, they decided to get the process moving themselves.

Perhaps the Republican rank-and-file needs to establish its own "Committee of 100" groups of prominent non-office holders in districts around the country.  It's pretty obvious the smoke filled room didn't work very well in NY 23, and if the party thinks "certified pre-owned candidate recruitment" is the answer, we are likely to be very disappointed.

We need to find the new type of candidate who is articulate, independent and in touch with his community.  If you don't look, you won't find.


well, the GOP nomination for NY 29 just got a lot more valuable

Not sure if I were holding a "right wing, Republican district" if I'd go outside my district and tell a bunch of left wing activists I'd "vote against my district" on single payer health care; especially if I were a freshman Democrat like Eric Massa.  

Apart from admitting the Town Halls are killing the move towards socialized medicine, this is nasty toxic  Hey, telling the truth on that point might get you support in the Southern Tier.

Hopefully, we will do better than running another Randy Kuhl, a careerist underachiever  with personal issues who couldn't exceed 51.5% in three tries in a district drawn to favor Republicans.


NY 20: A postmortem

I've been putting this off, but before I forget what happened, I thought I'd write the last word on the NY 20 special election.

I note I was not a participant in the race, but as my wife is from Rennselaer County I thought I had something useful to add to the proceedings.  And I was paying attention.

My main point is we'd better not draw the wrong lessons here or we will make the same mistakes.

There are two major misconceptions that we first ought to get out of our heads:

a. "We lost because we ran a weak candidate

Jim Tedisco was an experienced office holder, had lots of media exposure, and worked very hard. He was not an aging party warhorse who had previously lost elections or nominations; or some young rookie who didn;t seem up to the job. While I think Saratoga District Attorney Jim Murphy or State Senator Roy McDonald might have made stronger candidates, neither chose to run. We will do well to get equally qualified candidates in most of our 2010 open and challenger races

A quick note. Our candidate selection process here was the proverbial "smoke filled room". So was theirs. Our problem is the unsuccessful suitors (Fmr. Columbia County Assemblyman John Faso and North County State Senator Betty Little) thought they were equally worthy of being Gillibrand's heir apparent; while the Democrats had an unelected cast of thousands. So we had some dissention from the losing candidate's localities and they didn't. But had we picked Little or Faso, we might have run weakly in Saratoga.

b. "NY 20 is really now a Democrat district" 

Yes, NY 20 has drifted towards the Democrats in recent years; and so has most of the country.  It is still one of the five most Republican districts out of 29 in NY State and virtually every legislator in this region is a Republican. (McDonald won an open state senate seat in the heart of the district going away in 2008 against Gillibrand's top aide). Plus, demographically it is a middle class district populated by rural and suburban whites. Obama won the seat by only 3 points when McCain didn't contest NY State.

We are never getting back to 218 seats in the House unless districts like NY 20 vote reliably for Republicans again. This district is a clone of places like PA 10, MI 7, WI 8 and MN 1 we used to hold easily.

So what happened to make us lose? 

1. Fear and inertia on the GOP's part

I think had there been no early polling in this race Jim Tedisco won have won. An early public poll showed him up 50%-29%.  This indicated it was his race to lose. And he started off running that way.

Evidently private polling showed Obama and the stimulus package as very popular in this chronically economically challenged part of the country.  So the Tedisco brain trust decided that they had to avoid any confrontation to Obama at all. This proved to be a disasterous strategy.   Obviously the other side would press the case a vote for Scott Murphy was a vote for Obama.  Some rationale for not electing a rubber stamp needed to be presented. But it wasn't

2. Upstate NY did not love the smell of napalm in the morning

Instead of engaging Democrat Scott Murphy on substance, the decision was made to attack his record in private business.  Some relatively small tax liens were hammered to draw a parallel to Tim Geithner.  Some old writings at Harvard were pulled out to draw an anti-military picture.  The payment of bonuses at a money-losing firm he ran was also hammered.

While none of these were smears, the NRCC had left a bad taste in the mouth of the upstate NY media after the 2006 NY 24 fiasco, where two misdials were played into making Mike Arcuri a pornmonger. (NY 24 is an adjoining district)  The bill for that stupidity came due. The press therefore depicted Tedisco and the GOP in a bad light.   Murphy also responded that at least he was trying to create jobs in upstate NY. And that was the only issue that mattered.

I think a better line of attack would have been to have painted Murphy as a crony capitalist who profited from political connections in MO, and just interloped for poltical fortune.  But the bigger lesson here I draw---which I saw in 2006 with another Murphy in CT 5---is the traditional GOP tactic of massive negative TV ads early---just isn't working anymore.  At least not against younger candidates who act apolitical---or in white bread districts in the North. The negatives rise for the Republicans as fast as we raise them for the targeted opponent.

Late in the race the Tedisco ran death penalty and terrorism ads which failed, perhaps because we are years past 9/11 and the district isn't in metro NY. Once again, our playbook failed. 

There's something worth chewing over. Once again, our own candidate was forced to disavow what the NRCC was doing ostensibly on his behalf.  This is no longer an isolated occurrence. Maybe you'd best pay attention, ya think?

3. You can never win in the Waffle House

Tedisco and his handlers spent days not answering the question of whether he'd have voted for the Obama stimulus package. The district's leading paper. the Times Union. hammered him mercilessly on it.  In trying to avoid looking too much like a negative partisan Republican the GOP brain trust made Tedisco out as a politically manipulative cipher.

This was disasterous for two reasons. First, Jim Tedisco's "brand" was being the guy who stood up to Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.  They failed to use their candidate's positive qualities by trying to hide in the Waffle House. The campaign's paid ads, which were vague on specifics, probably made matters worse; since again, his attributes weren't used. The failure of Tedisco, Assembly Minority Leader, to tie Murphy to the increasingly unpopular and incompetent Democrat Governor, David Paterson, was another question out of Unsolved Mysteries .

Tedisco's negatives were that he was a career politician in a dysfunctional and disliked state legislature. This tactic only made Scott Murphy's case for him: that Jim Tedisco was just another self-serving, dissembling Albany hack unworthy of promotion.  So the Tedisco camp trapped themselves and found themselves validating the Murphy negative ad wave when it arrived. Indeed, it almost seemed like Murphy implied Tedisco was tied to Paterson. 

Worst still, Tedisco then finally came out against the stimulus bill. Then he got blasted as a partisan refusenik anyway.  The trifecta achieved. Anger liberals anyway, demobilize conservatives who perceive you as a RINO invertebrate; and make swing voters think you are a ambitious politician lacking candor.

Part of the downside here is Tedisco spent valuable time late in the race motivating national conservative bloggers which might have been spent more usefully doing appearances in the local media.  Your base needs to be locked down early.

4.  Late work and a late voice can't overcome early missteps

 About 10 days out the Siena poll showed the 21 point Tedisco lead had turned into a 4 point Murphy lead, with Tedisco's negative ratings surging. Then manna from heaven occurred. The AIG bonus flap erupted and the Obama stimulus bill and corporate bonuses didn;t look so good.

Tedisco finally found his voice--blasting Geithner and making clear he was the candidate who could effectively deal with Wall Street greed and the economic mess.  He pulled out an endorsement ad from the prominent local businessman Neil Golub. And he campaigned 24/7 up to the election. 

Some libertarian minded folks think Tedisco never should have been perceived as "anti-business" and that he would have won as a free market devotee.  I can't disagree more. We may raise lots of money from the Club for Growth, but they have few members in Saratoga and Rennselaer county. The GOP is now a blue collar rural party and Tedisco finally offered a message that resonated for the voters we needed.  Remember, Gillibrand had voted against TARP and her political instincts in this district were excellent.

On election night, the vote was a dead heat.  The Albany suburbs came in big for Tedisco.  He lost Murphy's home turf in the North Country and NYC expat area Columbia County. But what proved devastating for Tedisco was his failure to achieve any margin in the counties furthest from Albany....traditionally Republican Delaware and Otsego counties. But for the want of some ads and appearances on Binghamton and Utica TV....

Tedisco won the Battle of Saratoga. I did not expect him to lose the Battle of Oneonta.      

5. Losing ugly after the whistle

The GOP expected to win the election on AB's; after all it had sent out a lot more than the Democrats. But relatively few military ballots came back; they evidently weren't sent out quickly enough. And not all the Republican AB's voted for Tedisco, while the Democrats seemed to be in lockstep. Perhaps the "Waffle House" strategy backfired since the AB's were cast before Tedisco made his late surge against the stimulus.

The GOP tried to overcome this pre-election deficiency by aggressively challenging returned AB's; including that of Senator Gillibrand. This failed to work and just made the Republicans look like they were trying to rip things off after the polls closed.  Tedisco prudently stood down before matters got worse as he was down 400 with no real hope of making up the difference.

A last word. The NY GOP has tried to win races with ballot challenges, handpicking candidates and throwing third party candidates off the ballot.  (The Libertarian candidate was thrown off the ballot at the 11th hour and endorsed Murphy; this may have net Murphy more votes than having him left on the ballot)  They have not engaged much in the realm of ideas. They used each of these tricks in this race and failed---much as they failed in recent special elections for the State Senate. Will they finally learn from this public debacle? We better.

I do not include the folks who blog here in this critique. Tedisco's fundraising and e-campaigns were very well run and neither Patrick Ruffini nor Tom Lewis ought to be part of the recriminations. The problem is without a message tools are not very useful.  

6. My take

We will only win in 2010 and 2012 if we stand for a positive set of ideas and let our candidates exploit their natural talents.  If we think we can win by incinerating our opponent and mumbling and stumbling through the campaign we will be defeated yet again. 


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