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News from the Votemaster

Coleman Faces New Problems

Former senator Norm Coleman suddenly has something new to worry about, in addition to possibly losing his election contest with Democrat Al Franken: how to fund his likely appeals. In January, his Website, where people can contribute to his legal defense fund, had a security incident during which it was possible for visitors to the site to download the credit card numbers of his contributors. Coleman didn't tell his contributors that their credit card numbers had been exposed, which is probably a violation of state law. At the very least, this event will make it harder for him to fund appeals if he loses the election contest.

Specter Given Incentive to Bolt GOP

The AFL-CIO has told Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) that if he supports EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act) they will back him in 2010, both in a primary and in the general election. EFCA is labor's top priority for this session of Congress. It allows workers at a company to organize a union if 50% + 1 sign a card saying they want a union. Currently, an election is needed to organize, but experience shows that in the run-up to such elections, companies put pressure on employees to vote "No," often firing people who support unionization.

This offer puts Specter in a real pickle. The AFL-CIO is powerful in Pennsylvania and its full support would be very welcome. But a vote for EFCA will enrage the Republican base and The Club for Growth's president, Pat Toomey, who is probably going to challenge Specter in a primary, would absolutely hammer him for this vote.

If Specter votes for EFCA and stays a Republican, he is likely to lose the primary. Thus his most viable options are to vote against EFCA, stay a Republican, and have the AFL-CIO oppose him or jump ship to the Democrats or become an independent aligned with the Democrats (like Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders) and then run as a Democrat. But even this is likely to lead to a primary, only against Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) and possibly other Democrats. If enough Democrats go up against him, he might be able to eke out a narrow plurality in the Democratic primary in a three-way or four-way contest. No matter what he chooses to do, he has to be rated as one of the two most vulnerable incumbent senators going for reelection in 2010. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is the other.

Of course, he could surprise everyone and retire. He has served five terms in the Senate and would be a month shy of 87 at the end of another term. He also has incurable cancer. Sometimes one wonders what drives people to hang on until the grim reaper comes calling. If he bores easily, he could probably get a job as a part-time lecturer in the political science department at some university in Pennsylvania and have a bit more relaxed life while still making a contribution to society. Stay tuned.

Crist's Dilemma

Another politician who has to make a tough call is Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL). NRSC chairman John Cornyn (R-TX) will move heaven and earth to get Crist to run for Mel Martinez' open Senate seat in 2010. But will Crist do it? If he runs for reelection as governor in 2010, he will win easily. He seems to like the job, is popular, and there is no top-tier Democrat who will venture a run against him. If, however, he runs for the Senate, he would be the favorite (but less so than running for governor) but if he wins, he becomes a powerless freshman in a small minority very possibly with 40 seats or fewer, meaning that the Democrats will completely ignore the Republicans. In general, being a governor of a large state, such as Florida (#4 in population) is a much more powerful position than being a senator, whereas being senator is a better deal if you are from a small agricultural state where the governor doesn't have much to do or a big budget. So he has to decide if he wants to do what is best for Charlie Crist (run for reelection) or do what is best for the Republican Party (run for the Senate).

But, wait, it is more complicated. Suppose he runs for the Senate. This opens up the governorship and the Democrats will suddenly have a decent shot at it. The governor elected in 2010 will get to approve or veto the reapportionment bill passed in that year by the Republican-controlled state legislature. If a Democrat is elected governor, the legislature won't be able to gerrymander the districts in this rapidly growing state because the governor will veto the bill. It will force the legislature to draw the districts in a way that the governor will accept. In practice, having a Democratic governor will cost the Republicans several House seats.

So while Cornyn and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be pushing Crist to run for the Senate, House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) will probably tell him to run for reelection to allow the Republicans to gerrymander the Florida House map.

Finally, for what it is worth, Crist actually got married in Dec. 2008, to socialite Carole Rome, after 28 years of being a bachelor (he was married for a year in 1980). Until his marriage, there was widespread speculation about his sexual orientation, but that will probably go away now.

NY-20 Special Election Tightening Up

The special election in NY-20 on March 31 to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) when she was appointed to the Senate to succeed Hillary Clinton is getting closer. A new poll from Siena College shows Republican Jim Tedisco leading Democrat Scott Murphy 45% to 41%, down from a 12-point lead a month ago. It is an odd race in a sense. The Republicans are touting Tedisco, the minority leader in the New York Assembly, as a hard-working public servant and comparing him favorably to Murphy, a venture capitalist, who has never held public office. If the labels were reversed, the Republicans would be touting Murphy as someone who was very successful in the private sector and denigrating Tedisco as a government bureaucrat. But this time it is the Democrat who is from the private sector. The district has a PVI of R+3 (based on 2000 and 2004), but Obama carried it in 2008. Both the NRCC and DCCC are going to be pouring money into this race in the next few weeks. While it doesn't affect the Democrats' large majority in the House, a Democratic victory would be very demoralizing for the Republicans, whereas a Republican victory would be a real shot in the arm for the GOP.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele May Be Pro-Choice

In an interview in February, newly elected RNC chairman Michael Steele said that it ought to be up to the woman if she wants to get an abortion or not. Half the Republican party is up in arms over this remark. Social conservatives are absolutely united that pregnant women should not be given the option of what they see as committing murder. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and many others are denouncing Steele and some are already calling for his head. Coming a few days after he called Rush Limbaugh "ugly" and "incendiary" his days as RNC chairman might be numbered. But if the RNC were to fire him and replace him with the runner-up in last month's balloting, Katon Dawson, who for 12 years was a member of a whites-only country club, the GOP will take a terrible hit among minorities. On the other hand, if Steele were replaced by Blackwell, who is also black but a fire-breathing conservative, then the swap would probably be neutral since it would be clear that Steele wasn't being dumped due to his race but due to his views.

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-- The Votemaster