Monday, June 12, 2006

One Week Later

Almost a week since the primary. Things seem to be shaking out as follows:

1. The Republican machine is pushing the meme that "Pombo won decisive victory, no point in McNerney even bothering to campaign, except to waste Dem money." They seem to be quite anxious to push this, in order to frame the contest and perhaps scare off the national Dem party and others from supporting McNerney. The national parties only have so many millions to toss around and they will want to focus on "winnable" races. So the R's are trying to portray this one as unwinnable. If the Dems don't spend money on it, the R's won't have to either. Pombo can then pay Annette and his brother more of the campaign cash, as well as send money to other reactionary candidates to buy their allegiance, rather than waste it on those slick commercials and flyers he puts out.

2. However, most more neutral pundits put the race as favoring Pombo, but with the real possibility that McNerney could ultimately triumph, if he does a lot of right things, and Pombo does a lot of wrong things, such as get indicted. Also, there is the overall "mood" of the country to consider, they say, where anyone with a brain can see the current government is highly dysfunctional. Voters could conclude that it is time to throw the bums out and give the new guy a chance. In case anyone has not picked up on it yet, Pombo is one of those "bums".

So now we will see where this goes. Very interesting. Does the DCCC takes its bat and ball on go home? Do they say "Filson was the electable one" and leave McNerney alone to fight it out, as they did in 2004? Well, maybe that is not such a bad thing. With the DCCC's win/loss record, I am not sure I would want their backing, if I was running, though their money would be welcome.

That would put McNerney more as a non-partisan, "populist" candidate. He would in name be a "Democrat", but essentially running a populist's campaign. Many of us are disgusted by Pombo -- his corruption, his far right stances, his push to overturn environmental laws, his closeness to Bush and DeLay crowd, his sellout to corporate interests. And many of us are also disgusted by the Dem Party that has basically acquiesced to the Bush power grab and who are as beholden to corporate interests as the R's.

Maybe McNerney should run as an outsider looking to bring "New Energy and Ideas" to Congress. That would give voters who are disgusted not only with Pombo, but with the way things are going in general in Washington, a candidate to support. For example, McNerney has a energy plan that is much more positive and visionary than anything Pombo ever put out. Maybe that will inspire people.

The problem with being outside the party structure is raising money. McNerney said he needs $2.5 million. That's a lot of moola. I am not sure how and if McNerney can raise that kind of money. And there's the rub. It may be noble to run a populist campaign on a shoestring budget, but people need to hear the message. TV, radio, and mailings cost money, something Pombo has boatloads of from all his corporate "friends". These corporate supporters and their lobbyists are running the agenda in Congress, and support Pombo in the hopes of getting favorable legislation passed (and with Pombo, they are often amply rewarded).

In the primary, it was "grassroots" vs the "influence of the Washington, DC-based DCCC". If McNerney runs a populist campaign, perhaps the November election will be "grassroots" vs the "pernicious influence of corporations and their Washington, DC-based lobbyists".

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A closer look at Tuesday's Republican primary results:

(1) Richard Pombo lost almost 40% of Republican primary voters (Pombo 62%, McCloskey 32%, Benigno 6%). Pombo simply cannot win re-election if he loses 30-35% of Republican voters in the general – and no chest thumping bravado from the Pombo campaign can change that fact. Pombo is vulnerable and in real trouble.

(2) The Republican primary turnout in CA-11 was 15,000 votes lower than the turnout in 2002 – another sign of Republican disenchantment with Pombo. On the Democratic side turnout was essentially the same as 2002 (within 1,500 votes). The Republican base is depressed, the Democratic base is engaged.

(3) Pombo’s vote was especially weak in the East Bay sections of the district (48% of the general election vote) were he fell below 55%. In the East Bay it was Pombo 54%, McCloskey 40%, Benigno 6%. The East Bay will be a critical battleground in the fall.

(4) In total votes cast in both primaries yesterday, votes for someone other than Pombo totaled 53,775. Pombo got 28,712. (These may not have been the exact final numbers.) Not an impressive number for a 14-year incumbent and powerful committee chairman who spent over $500,000. If the general election had been held last Tuesday, Pombo would have lost.

(5) Because he has been on the defensive over ethics and his ties to special interests/lobbyists, he was forced to move hard to the right in the primary to bolster his base. In the primary he ran on anti-government/environment and immigration themes. This is not a general election message and it likely hurt him with independents and critical swing voters in the East Bay. Despite his primary victory, Pombo remains very much on the defensive and off-message.

(6) Finally, the math: 44% of 11th District voters are registered as Republicans, 37% as Democrats, and 19% as unaffiliated or minor party. If Pombo loses 30% or more of Republicans in the fall (as he just did in his primary) and independents simply split and Jerry McNerney holds 85% of Democrats – Pombo will LOSE decisively 54% to 46%.

It’s hard to argue that the Republican voters who just cast their votes for McCloskey will somehow "go home" to Pombo because McNerney, as a Democrat, is too liberal. McCloskey ran farther to left than either Democrat in the primary, yet 32% of Republicans voted for him. You also can’t look at the numbers and argue the Republican primary was influenced by independents because the Republican vote was so low. If the primary had been flooded by independents, the GOP primary vote would have been higher.

Bottom line: 38% of Republican primary voters cast their ballots against Pombo Last Tuesday (and many more stayed home) and it is very unlikely that he can get them back in November. If he can’t he will lose.

3:58 PM, June 12, 2006  
Anonymous rick said...

A few points to consider:

- McCloskey had the benefit of 1). being a former 8-term Congressman; 2). raising more money than either Filson and McNerney (in much less time I might add); 3) Getting boat loads of free-media; and 4). Having a compelling message. McCloskey is a special case and his support may not necessarily be transferable to McNerney.

- The low voter turnout skewed all of the primary results. The fact is only 8% of the total CA-11 registration voted for Pombo and only 5% voted for McNerney. To extrapolate the results from a closed primary with extraordinarily low turnout to a general election that will have much higher turnout is a bit problematic.

- In November, California Republicans will have a lot of reasons to vote--Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, etc. In addition, the Republicans are using all of the hoopla about the Democrats potential to win one or both houses of Congress to marshal resources. All indications suggest that they are well aware of the need to take every potentially competitive race seriously.

In summary, the general election will be a completely different beast than the primary. Adjust expectations accordingly.

8:45 PM, June 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite frankly, McCloskey ran a somewhat quixotic campaign for the Republican nomination. You really can't argue -- beyond his attacks on Pombo's ethics -- that he had a compelling REPUBLICAN PRIMARY message. McCloskey ran like a Democrat, in a Republican primary. In his only debate with Pombo he bashed George Bush. Now, I happen to agree with his attacks on George Bush, but you can't argue that was a smart message for a Republican primary. Even polls that show Bush's job approval in the 20s will show job approval among Republicans in the 70s.

McCloskey's ideological and substantive disconnect with his primary audience is why I would argue that his vote was an anti-Pombo vote -- not a pro-McCloskey vote -- and therefore a vote that will transfer to McNerney.

On the low turnout issue -- I would again argue the low turnout proves Pombo's weakness. Those Republicans who did show up last Tuesday were likely the hardest of the hard core Republicans -- the real party faithful. Now, if the very core of Pombo's party are giving 38% of his votes to someone else, he has a problem.

And again, as I argued above, the low turnout proves that the Republican base is depressed. That certainly isn't the way I'd want to be going into the general election.

The notion that California Republicans are going gin up the troops in a national environment dominated by George Bush's historically low job approval, an erratic Fed creating a jittery market, high gas prices and an unpopular quagmire in Iraq just doesn't ring true or right to me. Maybe, but I don't buy it. Democrats have gotten so used to losing that we often can't see political oportunity when it's staring us in the face.

One other thought -- if McCloskey hadn't been hit with stories about returning money to a suspected terrorist the weekend before the vote, he might have done three or four points better, droping Pombo under 60% district-wide. My bet is there would have been a completely differenct spin by the press. But the electoral fundamentals would have been exactly the same. Large anti-Pombo vote and weak Republian turnout.

It is a long way off until November, but Mcnerney's problem isn't Pombo's vulnerability, it's lack of money. And that is truely a problem.

4:51 PM, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous rick said...

Interesting points. However, I still contend that McCloskey is a unique candidate who could walk that fine line of being a credible contender in a Republican primary while championing many Democratic issues.

Make no mistake: McCloskey very adeptly positioned himself in this primary. You may not think he had a compelling message, but I would argue otherwise. He clearly defined himself as an old school Republican in vein of George H. W. Bush and Barry Goldwater. Moreover, he could point to his track record as a former Congressman, which made him rather credible with Republicans who have questions about Pombo. And this is why I am skeptical of McNerney's ability to tap into McCloskey's Republican support. McNerney simply doesn't have the credentials or stature of McCloskey.

In regards to the low turnout, the people who voted were the most motivated voters. This includes Republicans who were both for and against Pombo. The Republicans who are more ambivalent about him didn't show up in the same numbers. This primary is revealing because it pitted a controversial incumbent against a credible and well-funded primary challenger, and yet Pombo bested McCloskey by nearly 30 points. Moreover, I doubt the suspected terrorist campaign contribution coverage made much of an impact, as most Republican voters had probably decided their choice before the story broke.

As for November turnout, I'm not seeing a whole lot to motivate California Democrats to vote. The US Senate race is a non-event. Angilides seems destined to being the perfect foil for Schwarzenegger. Garamendi and Brown come across as retreads and may stumble against their Republican opponents. Add in the fact that the sex offender measure will be on the ballot, and California Republicans will have a lot more reasons to vote than Democrats.

Finally, I do concur with you that McNerney has a money problem. Unfortunately, I don't think he helped matters by announcing that he needs to raise $2.5 million, which creates lofty expectations and gives Pombo a fundraising appeal to raise 2-3 times as much.

9:51 PM, June 14, 2006  

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