Oct. 09

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New Senate: DEM 48     Ties 1     GOP 51

New polls: KS MA NC SD
Dem pickups: (None)

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Supreme Court Reinstates North Carolina Voting Restrictions

Yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed an appeals court decision that threw out a North Carolina law that made it harder to vote. The law, one of the most restrictive passed in recent years, eliminated same-day registration and said that votes cast in the wrong precinct will not be counted. Consequently, the law will go into effect for this year's election although the Court will make a final decision next year. Last week, the Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law that also limited voting, saying it was duly passed by the state legislature, which has the authority to determine how voting is done in the state. A decision on a Wisconsin law that also restricts voting is expected soon.

Could There Be a Real Horse Race in South Dakota?

Up until now, all pundits have assumed that South Dakota was a done deal and former governor Mike Rounds (R-SD) would be the new senator. Now a new SurveyUSA poll puts Rounds at 35%, his Democratic challenger, Rick Weiland at 28%, but former Republican senator Larry Pressler, who is running as an independent is at 32%. Could this be a real horse race (or buffalo race)? Pressler, like Greg Orman in Kansas, has refused to say which party he would caucus with. Although he served three terms in the Senate as a Republican, he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. If Pressler and Orman were both to win, they could work together to put pressure on both parties to change how the Senate operates.

Democrats are suddenly spending large amounts of money in South Dakota to hurt Rounds. They believe Pressler would caucus with them.

Pollsters Predict Republican Senate--Maybe

A poll of pollsters reveals two things: (1) most pollsters expect the Republicans to capture the Senate (with 51 seats) and (2) most pollsters expect greater than usual polling errors this year. The first prediction is based on current polls, Obama's poor approval rating, and the map, which favors the Republicans.

The second prediction is trickier. Response rates are way down, no matter how you measure them--and there are multiple ways to do so. The strictest way is to divide the number of completed surveys by the number of phone numbers dialed. The loosest definition includes partially completed responses in the numerator; for the denominator, it estimates how many of the dialed numbers were to actual registered voters. With the strictest definition, the response rate is 5-7%; with the loosest one, it is 19%. Either way, a huge amount of statistical correction is needed to ensure that every demographic group is properly weighted.

In principle, standard statistical techniques can be used to do the corrections, but only if the composition of the electorate is known. Usually it doesn't matter how many Eskimos vote, but in this year's close Senate race in Alaska, it matters a lot. Normally, turnout drops dramatically in midterm elections, but the Democrats are spending $60 million this year to get out the vote. It is hard for pollsters to estimate how successful it will be, for example, how many 18-29 year olds will vote.

Rather than live with tiny response rates and massive statistical corrections, some adventurous pollsters are turning to Internet polling (like YouGov). There is very little experience about how good this technique is, and it has its own problems such as a strong overrepresentation of highly educated, well-off, young white men and a strong underrepresentation poorly educated, impoverished, old black women.

An anomaly this year is that crucial races are in strange places, like Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Pollsters have lots of experience with Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but very little with this year's key states, except for Colorado and Iowa, which are always swing states.

Yet another problem is mobile phone numbers. Calling (212) xxx-yyyy doesn't mean you have a New York voter. The voter could be in Florida or anywhere, actually. How do you poll New York if you can't tell which phone numbers correspond to New York voters? All in all, it looks like a tough year for pollsters, so expect surprises on Nov. 5 when the results are known (except for Alaska, Georgia, and Louisiana).

Brownback Tries to Blame the Media for His Troubles

Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) is that rarity, an honest politician. He campaigned as a tea party candidate and governed as a tea party governor. Now he is trying to deal with the fallout. He slashed taxes, leading to a budget shortfall that led the rating companies to downgrade Kansas debt. He cut spending on education, which angered parents. And much more. This led over 100 current and former Republican officials to endorse his opponent, state representative Paul Davis (D). So how does Brownback explain this? He blamed the media.

If Brownback loses in one of the most conservative states in the country, it is going to have a big effect on other governors who are considering actually carrying out their promises to the tea party. If tea party policies lead to defeat in Kansas, they are probably going to cause even more trouble in less conservative states.

Could Colorado in 2014 Be the Prototype for America in 2016?

The Colorado Senate race this year features two strong career politicians, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), fighting over national issues while billionaires on the left (Tom Steyer) and right (Koch brothers) flood the airwaves with vicious attack ads. This could be a preview of the 2016 presidential race. Like America, Colorado has a complex economy and a large and growing Latino population. It has also become something of a bellwether. In 2008, Obama won nationally by 8 points and in Colorado by 7. In 2012, Obama won nationally by 3 points and in Colorado by 4. So everyone is watching Colorado very carefully.

Abortion and birth control have played a large role in the campaign, to the point that Udall ran an ad saying he thought these issues were settled a generation ago. Nevertheless, there are some things in the campaign that are specific to this race. Gardner comes across as a nice young man, even though the National Journal rated him as more conservative than Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN). Gardner does not support the Colorado ballot initiative that would declare a fertilized egg to be a person--even though he sponsored federal legislation that says precisely the same thing--leaving him open to charges of hypocrisy. Polls show this to be one of the closest races in the country.

Politics Affects the Response to Ebola

With many people worried about Ebola, one might think that the Senate would hurry up and confirm President Obama's nomination for the vacant surgeon general position, the nation's top doc. One would be wrong. The NRA has condemned the nominee, Vivek Murthy, because he said gun violence is a public health issue, and many senators are scared of voting to confirm him, Ebola or no Ebola.

The surgeon general doesn't actually have much day-to-day authority in responding to epidemics, but he or she is the one who gives press conferences on health matters and tries to explain the issues to the public. There is so much misinformation about Ebola floating around (in reality it is far less of a problem than the flu), that having someone in a position of authority get out there and talk about it would be a valuable thing to have, but it is not to be for the moment.

In principle, majority leader Harry Reid can ram Murthy's nomination through since the filibuster has been abolished for cabinet and subcabinet appointments as well as for appellate judges. Reid won't do this because Democrats are as scared of the NRA as Republicans are. If the Republicans take control of the Senate, then the new majority leader will be able to stymie all appointments by simply not bringing them up for a vote. He might well follow this strategy to cripple the government and in 2016 campaign on the slogan "government doesn't work."

Conservatives Attack Karl Rove

While Democrats view Karl Rove as an arch-conservative, conservatives don't see him that way at all. In fact, they see him as part of the problem not part of the solution. Rove's strategy is to back the most conservative candidate who can actually win. He has no interest in ideologically pure conservatives who will probably lose. As a consequence, many conservatives see him as the enemy because in primary fights he rarely backs the most ideologically pure candidate. Ironically, the Democrats don't have any strategist as good at raising vast amounts of money as Rove, so they are spared this sort of fratricide.

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Kansas     Pat Roberts* 42% Greg Orman 47% Oct 02 Oct 05 SurveyUSA
Kansas     Pat Roberts* 49% Greg Orman 48% Oct 02 Oct 06 ORC International
Massachusetts Ed Markey* 56% Brian Herr 30%     Oct 01 Oct 04 MassINC
North Carolina Kay Hagan* 47% Thom Tillis 45%     Oct 04 Oct 07 Suffolk U.
North Carolina Kay Hagan* 48% Thom Tillis 46%     Oct 06 Oct 07 Rasmussen
South Dakota Rick Weiland 28% Mike Rounds 35% Larry Pressler 32% Oct 01 Oct 05 SurveyUSA

* Denotes incumbent

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