The staff primary: Only McCain and Romney competing?

Our sense has been that there are three serious candidates right now — Giuliani, McCain, and Romney — and a couple more who hope to go somewhere — Huckabee, Gingrich, and others. However, right now, only McCain and Romney seem to be actively competing in this. In The Fix’s recent announcement of a big hire in IA for McCain, Cilizza makes this point:

As we’ve written previously on The Fix, New York Gov. George Pataki has impressed operatives in Iowa (and even signed on a few), but his team at the moment is no match for those of McCain and Romney.

Remember that the major fight right now among aspiring presidential candidates is for staff talent — specifically in key early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The more talent McCain and Romney are able to scoop up before the midterm elections, the more difficult it will be for any other Republican candidate to seriously compete with the two frontrunners in Iowa and beyond.

This is probably what Chuck Grassley meant when he said that Giuliani was not yet in campaign mode in IA. Now, GiulianiBlog has responded quite strongly to this whole line of argumentation. He argues, in essence, that all you need is issues, bio, and personality and organization doesn’t matter.

I think that’s a little strong. Operatives matter. Building a turnout operation matters. And having people vouch for you matters. That’s very clear.

Grassley on 08

This is really interesting. Grassley was quoted in today’s Des Moines Register talking about the 08 race. The good bits:

“Only one stands out right now, John McCain because of his efforts to pursue it,” Grassley, R-Ia., said Friday during the taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.” “Another person who would stand out would be (former New York City Mayor Rudolph) Giuliani, if he were taking on a campaign mode.”

Grassley then makes a bit of a pitch for McCain:

“He’s coming into Iowa strong,” Grassley said. “I believe the thing that would appeal the most to Iowa Republicans is his fight for openness in the appropriation and budgeting process in Washington D.C.”

“John McCain’s got to prove that he can get a broad base of Republican support, particularly among conservatives. If he can show that he may be anointed but today he is not anointed,” Grassley said. “And I don’t think he is on the process of being anointed yet.”

About Giuliani he says: “You have to be very strong social conservative to do well in the Iowa caucuses.

But who was not talked about? Mitt Romney. That’s extraordinary, given Romney’s frenetic level of activity in Iowa. Of course, Grassley knows McCain from the Senate.
In some sense 2008 may come down to a fight between the Senate/Congressional party — which McCain sometimes is the de facto leader of — and the state/gubernatorial party — which Romney is currently the leader of.

But in the early primary and caucus states, who will be the governors? In IA, it may yet be Nussle who would be indebted to Romney’s fundraising support. In NH, it’s a Dem. In SC, it will be Sanford, but he’ll probably be a McCain supporter, as he was in 2000. In MI, it is unclear what DeVos would do, given his Western Michigan links to the Yobs and Romney’s roots in Oakland County. It is also unclear that he will win. In AZ, McCain is fine. And I suspect that McCain gets Riley’s support in AL. So while Romney may be the leader of the governors, it is not clear that he would be the leader of the governors in the early states.

On the other hand, I have long thought that if Romney does poorly in the early states, he will not fold. He is building a fifty-state organization like McCain.

Do the Democrats think that they can start in September?

Sorry that I haven’t been posting so much, but I’ve been on the road.

Today’s NY Times reports on the “September Fund” will try to spend $25m in the last 6 or so weeks of the election on ads and voter mobilization. There have been a number of interesting things that have been said about this. I particularly like Hotline’s description as “shaming the donors”.

But I want to make a different point. They think that they can put together a national operation in 6 weeks? That is ridiculous. But that is what Democrats do. A friend of mine — who will go unnamed — will be traveling at the end of next week to a target state — which will go unnamed — on behalf of a 2008 Presidential hopeful — who will also go unamed — to run their field program.

His first task? Write a field plan. At the end of September. For an election in November. 2006. This is why the GOP’s technical advantages, mentioned in the NYT article, but also elaborated in, for example, Hotline’s excellent coverage of the Chafee win, is so powerful. Because the Democrats are so bad at this.

Immigration as an issue in 2006?

Perhaps. I have argued that the best issue for the GOP — as a party — is the War on Terror. But individual candidates can — and often must — distinguish themselves from the party Carl Hulse at the NYT has a story about CO-7, one of the swing seats that the GOP will probably lose this cycle. Republican Rick O’Donnell is trying to use immigration to scrape up some more votes. Hulse quotes a GOP strategist:

“Immigration is an issue that is really popping, “ said Dan Allen, a Republican strategist. “It is an issue that independents are paying attention to as well. It gets us talking about security and law and order.”

He is right. Democratic Strategist reports that this is a fine issue for Dems though. He cites polls that indicate that voters slightly prefer Dems on the issue. That’s nice. But isn’t it beside the point? After all, we are dealing with mid-term elections that are low turnout and rely on voter mobilization, not large scale persuasion. Let’s look at a poll that actually breaks down the numbers a little. We can learn something: Which Issue Should Be Top Priority For Your Member Of Congress?

  LVs All Dem GOP Ind
Immigration 17% 13% 4% 25% 11%
War in Iraq 15 17 15 17 18

Which Issues Should Be Top Priority For Congress?

  LVs All Dem GOP Ind
War in Iraq 23% 21% 23 14% 11%
Immigration 13 11 5 19 12

So… This is, potentially, a great issue for motivating GOP voters and — possibly — independents. If you get the details right. National polls — or quoting the top line — don’t tell us much if they don’t look break out Independents and Republicans. Furthermore in states and races with the resources to do significant microtargeting, the issue could be very good for reaching out to independents and getting them to vote without having to use this as a big issue in TV.

Tough running on the right … when you haven’t been

Prior to yesterday’s Florida primary, Human Events touted the GOP gubernatorial primary as a “Moral Crossroads” and a “Test of the Religious Right”. The race is over. What have we learned?

First, the dynamics of the race. Both candidates had a relatively moderate record. Both tacked to the right in the primary, as GOP candidates are inclined to do. But Charlie Crist, the victor, had a great sin in the eyes of the Religious Right. As Attorney General, he opposed sending the police in to keep Terry Schaivo on life support.

Enter Tom Gallagher, stage left. From the Miami Herald:

Now, at age 62, Gallagher wants to be elected governor, and he wants to shatter one more thing: his moderate record.

What makes me different? I am the most conservative candidate in this race,” he explains when asked how voters can distinguish him from his Republican primary rival, Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Hmmm. Really?

When he ran for governor — three times before — he campaigned as a political moderate. But now, the primary is ”a race for the soul of the Republican Party,” Gallagher said recently, and that soul cares about conservative values.

In 1994, Gallagher told The Miami Herald he was ”pro-choice,” after previously proclaiming he was pro-life. Now Gallagher calls Crist ”pro-choice” and says he is the “only pro-life candidate in the race.”

That all sounds familiar. But then he went through a “transformation”:

The transformation has been steady and gradual, said Laura Gallagher. ”I can’t take credit for the change that came when a person attends church, reads the Bible daily and prays as a family,” she said. “If you do these things, and you’re sincere about it, they’re going to change you.”

The lesson? It is hard to run a Religious Right crusade with a record as a moderate. Even when you have an issue like Terry Schaivo. And a “transformation”. Voters aren’t dumb. They smell rats and political opportunism.

Let this be a lesson to GOP candidates everywhere. Got a record? Stick by it. Got an issue/opportunity to turn on a dime? Don’t bother they’ll figure you out.

Hear that Mitt?

Romney blog attacks Bush, says Romney answers Bush’s problems …

Earlier today, David French of Evangelicals for Mitt said that Romney has “the ability to consistently and persuasively articulate and advance the values and ideas that drive his policies.” And David is right that Romney is a great — great — speaker. However, this point was made in contrast with President Bush:

Conservatives have problems with [Bush’s] approach to health care, his response to Katrina, his approach to immigration, and the way he has fought the Iraq war. Above it all hovers a seeming inability to offer a sustained and convincing public case for his values and methods.

In other words, according to David French, Bush has 5 problems:

  • Health care. Big government is my problem here. I’m not sure that Romney’s got the solution there.
  • Katrina. Well, ok, not pleased with the whole thing.
  • Immigration. I’m with the President here thank you.
  • Iraq War(!). Now this one is pretty shocking to me. Is that what he really meant? That’s certainly not where the base is on this one.
  • But beyond all of that, he is saying that Romney is good on values. Better than Bush…

Hmmm. Consider this, also from today, another Michigan conservative attacks Romney from the right for his pro-choice record. Iowa’s Caucus Cooler has the info:

Governor Mitt Romney is clearly not a suitable nominee for pro-life elected officials to support for President of the United States.

I know that social conservative leaders in Michigan like President of the American Family Association of Michigan Gary Glenn, Judy Zabik, Judy Climer of Black Americans for Life and other pro-life activists share my concerns.

Update: Full letter here.

A couple of weeks ago, it was Glenn Gary.Interesting contrast… “consistently and persuasively articulate and advance the values and ideas that drive his policies…

Dionne’s 2006 realignment, a correction, and thoughts on 2008

EJ Dionne writes in today’s WaPo about the historical implications of big Democrat wave in 2006:

and Republicans have a few opportunities of their own for Northern pickups. But winning the bulk of these Lincoln-state seats would be the linchpin of any Democratic victory.

Then he talks about the rise of the South,

The changing regional contours of American politics have been visible in the Southernization of the GOP leadership — from President Bush of Texas and Gingrich of Georgia to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and, earlier, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, both Texans. The rise of the Dixiepublicans and their brand of conservatism has pushed moderates in the North in the Democrats’ direction.

He fails to point out that in the House — the more conservative of the bodies — the leadership is IL (Hastert), OH (Boehner), MO (Blunt), Pryce (OH),  and NY (Reynolds). Amusingly, those are the 4 states that seriously contested for the Presidential nomination in 1860, the year that Lincoln won the nomination.

Furthermore, Consider the 3 leading candidates for GOP nomination in 2008:

  • John McCain (AZ). He is currently beating Hillary Clinton in polls all over the country, including the North.
  • Mitt Romney (MA). He’s a Michigan transplant from Massachusetts.
  • Rudy Giuliani (NY). He’s an ethnic from NYC.

And, if you consider that 2 of the 3 leading Dem candidates for President, John Edwards and Mark Warner (recall that I believe that Hillary won’t run), are southerners, it seems that, perhaps, you are dealing with a short-term blip.

This will be an important election. Just not in these ways.

Hillary, high name id and familiarity, and running for President with a record

Today the Blogosphere is buzzing with the news that people are advising Hillary Clinton not to run for President. Some discuss her future as the Democrat’s Senate Leader. I have written earlier about some of this here and here. Why is she considering this? There are several theories:

  • She is too divisive. Her candidacy would energize the right like almost no one else. Note that this is a question about her electability. The Times of London article recasts this a little as a positive:

    “I would not be surprised if she were to decide that the best contribution she can make to her country is to forget about being president and become a consensus-maker in the Senate,” said a leading Democratic party insider. “She believes there is no trust between the two political sides and that we can’t function as a democracy without it.”

  • She misunderstood where the Democrats would be on the war. This has opened a gaping wound on her left flank. The Washington Times has an excellent story on the subject:
  • “She has to move to the left on the war,” said John Zogby, president of an international polling firm. She “risks losing a chunk” of the liberal vote if she doesn’t.”

    “The anti-war crowd is going to have no choice than to bang on her record — to go after her,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “They’ve all been emboldened by this Lamont exercise.”

    When asked Friday about the war, Mrs. Clinton said, “I’ve been a constant and consistent critic. I’ve also tried to work within the fact that this president has made decisions and a series of strategic blunders. … I have a situation that I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to deal with.”

    Leaning against a pickup truck on display at the fair, the anti-war Mr. Tasini said, “People are furious about the war. It’s the precise reason she doesn’t want to debate me. She’s obfuscating where she stands on the war.”

  • Finally, Democrats don’t really seem to like her after all. (and the schedule has been given, in essence, to John Edwards)

It is interest to note that there are 3 or 4 other high name ID candidates in this race right now: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and John Edwards (who has to be considered the Democrat’s frontrunner now). A brief comparison of the GOP candidates with Hillary:

  • Newt Gingrich. He has the same electability problem. It is unclear how much the base actually likes him because familiarity with him has faded over time. And enough people have forgotten some of his apostasies and he has been able to flip on those issues (like immigration).
  • Rudy Giuliani. Clearly no electability problem. In the current set of candidates, the base seems to like him. But it is clear that the base has not been fully informed about his positions, especially with regard to red meat issues like abortion, gay rights, and gun control. Will he be able to build enough of a relationship with the base before they find out about these apostasies? Or will he be able to change the subject in a way that they approve of, that this can be overcome? (this is the “security more important than moral issues” theory)
  • John McCain. Clearly no electability problem either. The base seems to be somewhat torn by him. And in many ways they are misinformed by him. In his case, the question will be whether he can overcome perceptions of him. In some ways, the time for McCain to stop embracing the President and start criticizing him from the right may be approaching, but he can’t do it until after the election. He has the advantage that the press will cover anything that he says.

For the GOP, the War is The Only Issue

Stephen Bainbridge has written a piece in TCS Daily advising the GOP to not talk about the war in the 2006 election. He has further argued that a recent WSJ piece supports this position.

His argument, at its simplest can be summarized with this:

Democrats need to talk about the war, while Republicans need to talk about something else.

I suspect a substantial number of Americans might agree with the following sentiment: The Republicans deserve to lose at the ballot box, but the Democrats don’t deserve to win.

He continues:

Under George Bush, the GOP has largely stopped even pretending to talk the talk. Instead, Bush’s two terms have brought us: a massive increase in government entitlements; renewed fiscal deficits; a worsening trade deficit; huge spending increases; bigger government; more intrusive government.

The GOP therefore needs to talk about these issues. They have to persuade the American people either that the war is so important that nothing else matters or that the GOP can both win the war on terror and get back to its sound fiscal roots.

He then sights the results in MI-7 and CO-5 that the GOP base will turn out for something else.

I like the idea of the GOP getting back to its sound fiscal roots, but will it work to talk about it during an election after having failed totally during the Bush administration on these issues? That is, does the current GOP — defined by President Bush — have the credibility to speak on these issues? Furthermore, the GOP base is not motivated by these issues, as indicated by the RNC’s base mobilization memo. From this we know that the base gets mobilized by:

  • The Global War on Terror (high 80s%)
  • Moral issues (high 80s%)
  • The War in Iraq (mid 80s%)
  • Wiretapping or Patriot Act (about 80%)
  • Extending tax cuts (high 60s%)

Etc. The only economic issue that gets any traction is tax cuts. The war is simply the most important issue to GOP voters right now. (for a quick take to my main topic, that is why Giuliani has a viable candidacy at all. He can sell because is the most salient issue to GOP voters)
Note that there are also good issues about scaring the base about Democrats:

This all depends on the theory that this election will be about turning out the base. If this election is about convincing swing voters, we are screwed. The President’s poll numbers are a clear indication that he has no credibility on any issues any more other than terrorism. The problem for the GOP is that in many moderate districts there isn’t enough base and they have to localize the election. Thus Chris Shays wiggles on the war, Rob Simmons talks about the submarine base (his best issue anyways), Mike Fitzpatrick gets the unions and LCV on side (and their GOTV operation), and Weldon struggles…

Newt as the candidate of the right?

Update: WorldWideStandard has commentary on the content of the speech. Disclaimer: the author of the post used to work for John McCain.

Ralph Hallow wrote in today’s Washington Times about Newt Gringrich’s speech on the Freedom Cruise. Newt is clearly an ideas and big picture man. And his distance from the current administration has allowed him to get away with statements like this:

“I think if this regime [in Iran] is so dangerous that we can’t afford to let them have nuclear weapons, we need a strategy to replace the regime,” Mr. Gingrich said. “And the first place you start is where Ronald Reagan did in Eastern Europe with a comprehensive strategy that relied on economic, political, diplomatic, information and intelligence” means.”

I hear in this an implicit comparison with some of the comments from the administration — and John McCain — about keeping all options on the table. Hallow also points out that this is a change from his earlier position:

A nonviolent solution that allows the terrorists to become better trained, better organized, more numerous and better armed is a defeat. A nonviolent solution that leads to North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons threatening us across the planet is a defeat.

I have two comments about this. First, Newt knows that Republican voters are souring on the Iraq war, but not the war on terrorism or some idea of a large-scale, systematic struggle with radical Islamists. In other words, he is doing the Republican version of what Mark Warner did earlier in the week. For the GOP it is reframe to terrorism and Islam and for the Dems, it is retreat and defeat.

Second, he is raising his profile as a possible alternative to the current field. Hallow also said:

Mr. Gingrich said he has not yet decided whether to seek the presidency in 2008. But during several panel discussions open only to the Freedom Cruise audience — about 160 donors to conservative organizations — participants made clear their antipathy toward Mr. McCain, the Arizona senator who currently leads in polls of prospective Republican presidential candidates. …

The conservative group also showed considerable affection toward Mr. Gingrich and a clear disinclination so far to coalesce behind any one of the other top potential 2008 Republican contenders, such as Virginia Sen. George Allen, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

A number of people have suggested that there is still an opening in this race, especially with Allen’s Macaca problems. Newt could make a run for this, if his past doesn’t get the best of him.