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News from the Votemaster

Hirono Wins Democratic Senate Primary in Hawaii

Rep. Maizie Hirono (D-HI) easily won her Senate primary against former representative Ed Case yesterday in Hawaii. She will face Republican Linda Lingle in the general election in November. Lingle is a former two-term governor, an oddity, since Hawaii is a very blue state. In principle Hirono should be the favorite just because she is a Democrat, but Lingle has raised far more money than Hirono and even has her own 24-hour television channel. In any event, the winner will be Hawaii's first female senator.

Polls Show Ryan Plan To Be Unpopular

When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled his budget last year, which among other things ends Medicare and replaces it with a voucher program, pollsters went to town and began asking people about it. An Opinion Research Corporation poll done for CNN found 58% opposed the plan. Pew Research Center found that 51% of older Americans opposed it. A NYT/CBS poll found that 61% of Americans thought Medicare was worth having. A Gallup poll showed the country split evenly on it, but two thirds were worried it would cut Medicare too much. Expect a new round of polling in about a week.

One thing to keep in mind about upcoming polls is that the exact wording of the questions is critical. Asking: "Do you favor Paul Ryan's budget?" will get a lot of "I don't have a clue what it is" responses. Well designed polls will have the interviewer first explain Ryan's plan briefly and then ask if the respondent supports it. But the devil is in the details. Here are some possible phrasings that are likely to get very different results.

Ryan Pick turns Election from a Referendum on Obama to a Choice between Visions

Up until now, Mitt Romney has treated the election as a referendum on President Obama: has he done well enough to get four more years. Elections with incumbents generally are about the performance of the incumbent, rather than a true choice between alternatives. Given the weak state of the economy, making the election about Obama's performance was a reasonable strategy for Romney.

But the choice of Ryan upends that strategy completely. Obama is going to say the parties have never been further apart and this election is where the American people get to say whether they want to keep the New Deal and Great Society or dismantle them. For Romney, that is far less desirable than a simple referendum on Obama's performance. But he brought it on himself by picking Ryan. Had he picked Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, nothing would have changed and Romney's original strategy would still work. Now it won't.

A Good Rule of Thumb for Republican Nominees

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post summed up Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as Veep candidate thusly: "If you are the Republican nominee and The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard and The National Review are all urging you to do the same thing, run the other way." In other words, Romney doesn't need to pander to his base. They hate Obama and will vote against him. Giving them a reason to vote for Romney to add to the reasons they already have to vote against Obama doesn't get any new votes, but is likely to be a net negative for suburban women in Colorado, seniors in Florida, and independents in Virginia, all of whom Romney needs.

Choice of Ryan Could Affect Balance in Congress

Mitt Romney's decision to pick Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate could affect more than the presidential race. It could also affect control of Congress. Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and his previous support for privatizing Social Security are hugely unpopular. Because they will dominate the news from now until the election, Democratic candidates at all levels are going to attack Republicans for supporting them. The ones currently in Congress have typically already voted for Ryan's budget at least once and even those candidates not currently in Congress are going to find it difficult to reject the core principle of the Romney-Ryan program. The tactic of tying Republicans to unpopular programs is likely to help the Democrats win back some seats they lost in 2010, especially in closely balanced districts.

Stock Market Has Zoomed Under Obama

While much of the discussion about Obama's economic performance has focused on jobs, that is not the only metric. Another one is the stock market, which has performed extremely well since Obama took office. The S&P 500 index is up 74% since Jan. 20, 2009. One has to go back to Dwight Eisenhower's first term (1953-1957) to find a President whose first term showed this much stock market growth. For people with no stocks and no jobs a surging stock market is of little consolation, but most people are employed and many of them have investments or retirement accounts that have soared under Obama. They may not regard his presidency as an economic failure at all.