St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Final forecast for the 2010 midterms

When I wrote in September, the Democrats appeared to be in position to ride out the storm and maintain its control of Congress. Wow, have things changed!


In September, Congressional Quarterly projected Republicans leading in 178 districts, no change from what they hold right now and just two more than they led in at the start of the year. With another 28 seats rated as tossups, Democrats were then in a position to maintain control of the House just by winning the seats where they are still ahead, even if Republicans swept every tossup contest.

But now, on the Friday before the election, Republicans lead in 199 districts, a gain of 21 seats. But Democrats only lead in 195. The remaining 41 seats (all but one of which are currently held by Democrats) are rated as tossups, and Democrats now need to win over half of them to keep control of the House. Moreover, 24 of the districts in which Democrats lead are only rated as "leaning" their way. At the start of the year, a Republican sweep of all seats in which they led, all tossup seats and all seats leaning Democrat would have produced a 33-seat gain, but left them five seats short of control. By September such a Republican "run of the table" would have given them a 57-seat pickup (bigger than the 1994 revolution) and control of the House. Such a feat now would pick up a staggering 86 seats.

While such a "run of the table" is unlikely, the final result is still bad news for Democrats. A more realistic forecast of a Republican “wave” would give that party all of the seats in which CQ now finds them ahead, a 2-1 advantage in tossup contests and 40% of the contests currently "leaning" Democrat. That would give them 52 new seats and control of the House, comparable to 1994. And that assumes Democrats keep every seat that CQ rates as either "safe" or "likely Democrat" (such as Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO)). Surprises could pad that total.

In Missouri, the seat of 34-year veteran Democrat Rep. Ike Skelton, which had been rated "safe" at the start of the year and which was "leaning Democrat" in September, is now rated as a tossup. And within the past week, CQ moved Carnahan from "safe" to "likely Democrat."

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball now predicts that Republicans will pick up 55 net seats (up from 32 in September. The Rothenberg Political Report has 48 current Democrat seats either favoring, leaning or "tilting" Republican (offset by 3 GOP seats turning Democrat) and 17 more Democrat seats (and one Republican open seat) rated as "Pure Tossup."

The Oracle is pessimistic. Throughout the year, these nationally known forecasters have been behind the curve and slow to react, so the actual results will probably be worse. I'm expecting Republicans to pick up 75 seats. In Missouri, Skelton's 34-year career will come to an end, but Russ Carnahan will hold on with a mere plurality. Like I said, I'm a pessimist.

The real surprise from this area may not be Carnahan challenger Ed Martin, but Terri Newman. Who? The underfunded and largely unknown Republican opponent of entrenched Rep. Jerry Costello is running in a district that is 4 points less Democratic than Carnahan's. No national pundit thinks this seat is even in play. But the uninspiring top-of-the-ticket candidacies of Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias in the shadow of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will depress Democratic turnout while rural Republican turnout surges. A Green Party candidate is poised to take the votes of those who are unhappy with Costello's votes against health care reform and cap and trade. Other voters who like Costello but are angry about how things are going will think it's safe to cast a protest vote for Newman. If Newman had campaigned more visibly, those voters wouldn't take that chance. This is exactly the kind of contest in which a surprise can occur. It will be close.


Prospects for Democrats are a little brighter in the Senate. CQ projects Republicans leading in 22 contests, up 5 since September and 7 since January. Six other seats (all currently held by Democrats) are rated as tossups, and two Democrat seats are merely “leaning” that way. Formerly vulnerable Republican-held seats (including Missouri) have firmed up, even with weak Republican candidates. (The Republican nominee may lose in Alaska, but the winner would be the GOP incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, running as write-in candidate, who has said she would continue to caucus with Republicans.) A Republican sweep of every tossup contest and all in which they lead would give them control. But California is the Democrats' firewall, where the ballot measure to legalize marijuana will draw ordinarily poor-turnout pot smokers to the polls, and they will save arrogant Sen. Barbara ("Please call me 'Senator'") Boxer from defeating herself. Assuming Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal can close the deal against former pro-wrestling CEO Linda McMahon and GOP's controversial senate nominee in Delaware is unable to cast a spell over that state's reliably Democratic voters, Democrats can retain control by winning any one tossup contest. West Virginia, Illinois and Washington are the best candidates to hold off the GOP. But Democrats' hopes of regaining their former filibuster-proof margin are dead and gone.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball currently predicts a net Democrat loss of eight senate seats, while the Rothenberg Political Report pegs the expected senate loss at 6-8 seats. In both cases, that's up just one since September and short of the 10-seat swing necessary to change control. The Oracle sees Democrats keeping nominal control, but having to change its leadership, with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) replacing the defeated Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Save the Libertarians in Missouri

While the Libertarian Party has been a fixture on the Missouri ballot for a couple of decades, its ballot status is in jeopardy this year. In order to remain on the ballot without a new statewide petition drive, at least one of a party's candidates must get 2% of the vote at least every four years (two election cycles). The party regularly met the 2% test every election for several years, until 2008. That year, none of their candidates got 2% in any of the seven statewide contests, perhaps because they had to share the votes of disgruntled conservatives with the Constitution Party. That means that Libertarians must meet that test this year or be off the ballot, and this is a year in which there are only two statewide contests in which they can qualify. Other contests (such as the 9th District congressional race in which no Democrat filed) don't count for statewide ballot qualification.

We need to help save the Libertarians by voting for their statewide candidates. They are Jonathan Dine for U.S. Senate and Charles Baum, CFP for State Auditor.

I don't belong to the Libertarian Party. They and I have a fundamental disagreement over the proper role of government, but I do like their civil libertarian and anti-war stands, as well as their consistent support for reform of drug laws. They also make positive contributions to political discourse. More manipulative types also believe that Libertarians siphon votes away from Republicans, but I don't believe any party is entitled to anyone's vote.

I know it's hard to cast a vote like this when it means not voting for your own party's candidate. That's easier when the contest is not close and your vote won't affect the outcome. Unlike usual contests for U.S. Senate in Missouri, this year's match between Robin Carnahan and Roy Blunt looks like a blowout. Moreover, neither one of them really deserves our votes! Dine favors the civil libertarian and drug reform policies that I like about Libertarians. His non-interventionist foreign policy positions are better than those of any of his opponents (including Carnahan) and, for that matter, better than the war policies actually put in place by President Obama. With the seat realistically out of reach for Democrats, Libertarian Jonathan Dine deserves our votes for U.S. Senate.

We might also consider Charles Baum for State Auditor. The state is best served if the auditor is from a different party than the governor. Incumbent Democrat Susan Montee was a good choice when elected during the Republican administration of former Gov. Matt Blunt, but she has turned into a lapdog for fellow Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon. That could conceivably make a case for Republican Tom Schweich (who, at least, is from the moderate Danforth wing of the Republican Party), but what happens if Republicans unseat Nixon in 2012? Since a Libertarian governor is highly unlikely any time soon, a Libertarian auditor would be an ideal check against any governor, be she Democrat or Republican. Our votes probably won't elect him, but we can sure help him top 2%.

It's hard to tell which Libertarian is more likely to get 2%, so I suggest voting for both of them. Then go ahead and vote for your usual party down ballot.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A 'Jeff Smith guy' voting for Ed Martin

Back in the Republican sweep year of 1972 (the year George McGovern picked Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton for vice-president and then dumped him), a young Democrat named Tom Villa, son of legendary 11th Ward Alderman Red Villa, waited in the wings to launch his political career. His home turf had just been redistricted into a state rep district represented by 24-year incumbent Joe Beckerle. But an incredible thing happened. Joe Fendler, cousin to Democrat Bud Fendler in a neighboring district, filed against Beckerle as a Republican and beat him. Then, two years later, Fendler mysteriously retired after just one term, and the open seat became easy pickins for the young Villa. The district (situated entirely east of Morganford, including most of Villa’s 11th Ward) was hostile turf for a Republican even in 1972. I can’t verify it, but rumors persist that Fendler had the secret support of the Villa organization to eliminate Beckerle, so that young Villa could avoid having to face him in a primary.

Fast forward to 2010. Missouri’s 3rd congressional district is a Democratic bastion represented by Russ Carnahan, an embarrassing scion of a Rolla-based political dynasty. He is the Democrat version of George W. Bush: impressively educated thanks to family connections, yet dumb as a box of rocks. His progressive voting record is the result of his doing what he’s told. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls him “low maintenance.”) Democrats desperately need an articulate defender of the merits of the legislation this Congress has passed, and the 3rd District is a safely Democratic platform from which to do so, but Russ isn’t capable enough to do that. In at least two personal appearances, his gaffes have drawn spontaneous audience guffaws that were embarrassing enough to be aired nationally on Fox News. Repeatedly. One of the reasons that the U.S. Senate campaign of his sister, Robin Carnahan, is doing so poorly against a seemingly vulnerable Republican is that Russ has damaged the brand of both the Carnahan name and the Democratic Party.

It’s time to “pull a Villa.” Democrats will never unseat an incumbent Carnahan in a primary. But what if Republican Ed Martin were to ride the building Republican wave to upset Russ this year? Martin would be a one-termer, because he won’t stand a chance with the very different mix of voters that will likely reelect President Obama in 2012. The overwhelmingly Democratic complexion of the district (which Obama won by 21 points over John McCain) means that a Martin win here would not represent the magic 39th seat that Republicans need to seize control of the House. Even with progressive “help,” a Martin win would still only be possible if it were part of a Republican wave that capsizes at least 75 Democrat seats. That now seems possible.

I admit, I supported progressive firebrand Jeff Smith over Carnahan when the seat was open in 2004. Carnahan later reported Smith to the Federal Election Commission to start a series of events than regrettably led to Smith’s conviction and incarceration, but that old sore isn’t my reason for picking a Republican over him now. (Although many progressives hold “snitches” in low regard, I don’t subscribe to that tenet.) It’s just a matter of voting strategically. Carnahan is a terrible representative and getting worse, and this year is realistically our last chance to use Republicans to knock him off. Demographic changes will keep the GOP in the minority for years to come starting in 2012, so we have to clean house now.

That’s why the Oracle will cast a strategic vote for Ed Martin for Congress on November 2. In the privacy of your voting booth, please join me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

California candidate arrested to prevent debate attendance

California has intensified its war against independents and third parties with this latest atrocity. This report is from the California Green Party:

SAN RAFAEL – Green Party gubernatorial candidate Laura Wells was arrested here Tuesday as she was attempting to legally enter – with a ticket – the Governor's Debate at Dominican University. Private security arrested Ms. Wells, handcuffed her and held her against her will until San Rafael Police intervened.

Ms. Wells, based on the citizen arrest by Barbier Security agents for allegedly trespassing, now must appear in court.....ironically, on Election Day, Nov. 2.

"Republicans and Democrats will go to any lengths, even arresting candidates, to keep the truth from California voters. There are solutions, but voters aren't being allowed to hear from independent candidates. Meg and Jerry will spend tens of millions of dollars in advertising but still won't address the problems plaguing us," said Ms. Wells, after being released on her own recognizance.

Ms. Wells, 62, a financial and business analyst, and political activist who resides in Oakland, polled more than 400,000 votes as a candidate for controller in 2002, the most ever polled by a Green Party partisan candidate in California.

With green gags covering their mouths, protestors from the Green Party of California picketed the Governor debate here Tuesday – upset that although billed as a "eco debate," the affair unfairly excludes ballot-qualified Green Party candidate Wells.

"The debate is a fraud. Limiting it to Whitman and Brown is not just anti-green, it is anti-democratic and anti-republican," said Ms. Wells, noting polls that would qualify a candidate to participate in the debate were invalid because they didn't even ask voters if they favored Laura Wells. The only choices given to those polled were Whitman or Brown.