Kuhl: Good D

Randy Kuhl won this election because he played good defense. On a night when Republicans in safer districts and with lesser opponents went down to defeat, Kuhl was left standing. He deserves all proper respect for running a campaign that will keep him in Congress for at least two more years, and possibly much longer.

In a "throw the bums out" election, Kuhl's win can be chalked up to two simple tactics: showing that he's one of us (not one of the bums), and launching a targeted attack against his opponent. Though he made a couple of slips earlier in the race, Kuhl stuck to these two winning maneuvers in the end, and they were enough to defend his natural majority in the district.

Kuhl is an easy man to underestimate. His demeanor is low-key, and he's not prone to long speeches. He's clearly not a policy wonk of any stripe, but he is an experienced politician with deep roots in the district.

As a state legislator, Kuhl's role was to bring some downstate bucks to the relatively poor upstate region. Kuhl continued this model in Congress. He decided to make his congressional office a "service office", one that concentrated on the needs of his constituents. Kuhl picked committees that were relevant to the 29th -- for example, Agriculture -- and he kept his campaign promise to visit every town in the district once per year.

Coincidentally or not, this model of service and pork fit well with the 2006 election, since it allowed Kuhl to localize the race. His official web page was churning out announcements of local grants in the weeks and months leading to the election. He appeared in news conferences all over the 29th to tout the arrival of federal money. He made maximum use of his incumbency to paint himself as in-touch and bringing home the bacon, no matter what the bums in DC were doing.

The only major mis-step of Kuhl's campaign was the initial comments he made about Iraq. Though he said some boneheaded things, he quickly modified his rhetoric to remove the silliest statements. Even bringing President Bush to the 29th in the Spring was a mixed blessing -- it showed that Kuhl had the ear of the President (and therefore could bring home favors for the district), but it was done at a time when Bush's presence wasn't totally radioactive.

Kuhl turned in a workmanlike performance at the debates, and his two "gaffes" (a Katrina statement and a heated statement about terrorists wanting to "kill all of you"), made YouTube, not WHAM. His initial TV ads were positive and reasonable -- he didn't begin with attacks, and therefore didn't signal that he was vulnerable early.

The second prong of Kuhl's strategy, targeted attack, began with a gift from MoveOn.org. The inaccuracies in the MoveOn attack ad gave Kuhl a justification for hitting Massa early and hard. I'd judge the MoveOn episode as a net loss for Massa, and a lesson on ham-fisted third-party advocacy.

Because the MoveOn attack reminded the voters of Iraq, Kuhl wisely dropped those ads and replaced them with a more localized attack. Beginning in the debates, and ending with his own ads and ads from the RNCC, Kuhl stuck to two issues that resonated with the overtaxed and relatively old population of the 29th. He consistently charged that Massa would raise taxes and gut Social Security.

Kuhl used his superior campaign warchest, and additional RNCC money, to drive these attacks home through simple, effective and mind-numbing repetition. The goal was to implant a doubt in the minds of voters who might want to choose Massa, and to change the subject from Iraq to national issues where Kuhl believed Massa was weak. Those attacks succeeded.

Kuhl wisely avoided any personal attacks on Massa. Unlike some of his colleagues who lost their seats (*cough* Sue Kelly *cough*), he also attended debates and quickly dropped the losing "cut and run" rhetoric on Iraq. As a freshman, he wasn't entangled in the Abramoff or Foley scandals.

In short, Kuhl's didn't do anything that would give voters a reason to vote against him personally. In the Sweeney (NY-20) and Kelly (NY-19) losses, both incumbents had personal as well as political shortcomings that surfaced in the last months of the race, and both lost. Kuhl and Walsh (NY-25) didn't, and they won. (The Reynolds case is more complicated.)

A 52/48 win in a Republican district is not a sign of strength. Kuhl is still vulnerable, especially as a member of the now-minority party in Congress. But he was able to defend his seat in face of the most aggressive challenge of his political career, in the worst climate for Republicans in the short history of the 29th. That's no small feat.


A possible topic for discussion on this blog as we wait for certainty that Massa has lost is a top 10 list of the best possible Democrats to run against Kuhl in 2008.

One of them things that seemed to hurt Massa was that he had no history in the district and Kuhl has so much. Perhaps in 2008 we can find someone who has lived in the district for at least 5-10 years.

Just a thought.

Anyways, as we wait for the election counts I wanted to share a little song I wrote:

My Congressional District Has a Problem
by Milo (and Borat)

In my Congressional district there is problem,
And that problem is ballot absentee.
It take long time to count them,
Because election offcials are slow.

Chorus 1
Throw election officials down the well (repeat line)
So my Congressional district can be free (repeat line)
We must be done with Eric Massa (repeat line)
Then we’ll have a big party (repeat line)

Verse 2
In my Congressional district there is problem
And that problem is Massa
He loses the election
But refuses to concede

Chorus 2
Throw Massa down the well (repeat line)
So my Congressional district can be free (repeat line)
You must get him to be quiet (repeat line)
Before he in jail for perjury (repeat line)

Verse 3
If you see Massa coming
You must be careful of his temper
You must grab him by his Tailhook
And I tell you what to do

Chorus 3
Throw Massa down the well (repeat line)
So my Congressional district can be free (repeat line)
You must get him to be quiet (repeat line)
Before he in jail for perjury (repeat line)

You need a bunch of rednecks singing it in a bar to get the full effect.

Also, finding a good "native" Democratic candidate in the 29th is like finding a Unicorn or a Yeti. Massa was as good as it gets.

Nice comments section here.

Milo -- you're an asshole.

Just the thought of a bunch of people in Stueben County sitting in bar singing this makes me smile.

I believe that Massa's campaign manager was a public defender or a DA or something like that. Maybe we can get him to run in 2008. He has all the lists and knows all the people. We can just use the Massa infrastructure to elect him.

Mike Nolan for Congress in 2008.

I think you're pretty much right, Rotten, about Kuhl's performance. He was pretty smooth in the debates. I don't know if you watched the NY-25 debates at all, but the comparison was striking: Walsh was rattled by Maffei and came across as badly out of touch, whereas Kuhl came across as genial, fairly reasonable, and more or less in touch with the district. I don't think he "won" the debates, but he did a lot better than I would have expected. He's actually a good politician.

I think there's one key dynamic you're missing though: the momentum of the race changed drastically down the stretch. The Kuhl ads about Social Security changed the race completely. The Massa response simply wasn't strong enough. And Massa erred in not hitting Kuhl -- who was an early proponent of privatization -- much earlier on Social Security: do unto others before they do unto you. Other key factors down the stretch included the Dickert stuff -- and Lonsberry's shameful pimping of it -- as well as the endorsements for Kuhl in Elmira and Corning (both of which were written in a very fair way, but Massa was certainly hoping one of the two would endorse him).

I agree that the Massa people didn't know where all the bodies were buried and that hurt them. They ran a good campaign.

I really enjoyed this campaign except for the nasty (but effective) Kuhl Social Security ads and the robocalling in the Southern Tier. It's too bad the Republicans had to resort to that, because I felt that up until then, Kuhl ran a clean campaign.

throw TomT down the well ...

Tom: I'm going to talk about the SS ads and Massa's response in the Massa post, which is still percolating in my head.

As for changing the race completely, I'm not sure about that, but they did have an intended effect and did catch Massa somewhat off-guard. As for pre-emptive strikes: wasn't Massa's "hiding" ad a pre-emptive strike of a sort?

I'm not a big believer in endorsements, btw, but I agree that every little bit helps or hurts.

Milo: Mike Nolan lives in Pittsford. I think a winning Dem has to be from the Southern 29th, not Monroe suburbs. Monroe is already going to go for the Dem - the Southerners need "one of them" to vote for.

Just kidding .. I actually agree with you TomT. In the end Massa lost because of the robocalls and Lonsberry's highlighting of the conflict between what Massa said in court documents and in his internal emails AND the affadavits filed by witnesses who claim that Massa perjured himself.

I was a Massa vote and this gave me serious concern. I expect to be lied to once these guys get to Washington, but not during the campaign to get there.

I think you're overestimating your importance, as usual, Sanford Milo.

Perhaps future Congressman Nolan needs to buy a weekend place in Bath.

Mike Nolan understands the needs of the 29th district.

He has protected our interests at home.

Now he'll represent us in Washington and make us proud.

Nolan '08.

LOL -- post your phone # ... I'll call you and then you can call Sanford Dickert. I'm not Sanford Dickert.

Use a real email address on your next post and then maybe I'll think you're not part of Sanford's astroturf strategy.

Now that Bush admitted that you can lie during a campaign and it is accepted, and Limbaugh admitted that he lied to his faithful readers, shouldn't Lonsberry do the same? He said that Massa "he's a carpetbagger who came into a district a democratic analysis said was winnable." We all know that is not true, and he will be here in 2008.

Kuhl used half truths (misinformation--or lies) to scare the voters, and he did it well. He had the money to bombard the air waves with ads--especially in the last 3 days. Sure, Massa could have, should have tired to explain the truth--but the money wasn't there.

Kihl said he brought in 'nearly $250 million' to the district. What will it be in 2 years with a democratic congress?. We won't let voters forget what he said.

Let’s boot the troll “Milo Lincoln”. I hear Randy’s throwing a kegger this weekend. You’re probably invited, "Milo".

Anne, I have no love for Kuhl. I am thrilled the Democratic Party has ended the long nightmare. My bile is meant to Sue Kelly as well. I think the issue I bring up about the lack of a timely concession speech are bigger than just D-R.

But I'm curious ... why are you on Randy Kuhl's invite list to the kegger?

Why should Kelly or Massa concede? Don't they both owe it to their supporters to wait until they are sure they have lost.

This is about the sanctity of every vote, not about winning or losing or being gracious. I'd rather be thought a prick who cared about every vote than a gracious person who cared nothing for the electoral process.

Do you know it takes $.69 to mail the absentee ballot? I have to tip my hat to anyone who contacted the local boards of election, took the ballot home, or to college, or where ever they voted, vote, then placed 2 stamps on the ballot, and, making sure they were not too late, mail it.

Thhey all need to be counted.

25 Americans dies THIS MONTH to force this right onto the people of Iraq. Why are we afraid to use our rights.

Use them or lose them.

(Updated from "Something To Talk About", earlier today)

Rotten - I have been incredibly quiet after your analysis on the subject, as I promised - and have not done anything in terms of astroturfing.

Milo - while I think you are creative - I am not sure Nolan is the candidate. Mike ran a strong race from the people I have spoken to in the District. But I agree with Rotten, you have to have someone from the Southern Tier run - who has roots in the District (and with roots, I mean generations).

When I went through the numbers that were reported for the District and looked at the voting numbers from 2004, it seems as though, while the midterm election did have a typical drop off:

Yates had an INCREASE in voters for the challenger (by 3%)
The next two best performers were Schulyer (-7%) and Steuben (-9%). In these three, is seems as though the campaign did increase the vote for the challenger.
The worst performers were Cattaragus (-27%), Chemung (-27%), Allegany (-16%) and Ontario (-15%). I assume this happened because, without a strong challenger in the Independent and/or Conservative spot, Kuhl got those votes.
In Monroe, the vote decrease for the challenger was -11% and the percentage of eligible voters was 16% off the Monroe electorate. What I do not understand is why? Wasn't there a huge get-out-the-vote to offset the Southern Tier disadvantage?

(My measurement is using votes for Barend as the original number, votes for Massa this number and then dividing over the Barend number. I chose to ignore the other two candidates from 2004 based on the assumption that bleed-over would be positive for Massa.)

But I ask a different question - do you consider Eric a liberal centrist or a progressive moderate or what? From my read of the voting patterns that happened this time around - the staunch conservative seems to have been the best bet for Democrats. Was Eric perceived in the District as a centrist, conservative or what? You have a much better vantage point than I.

Looking at raw votes only is like comparing apples to oranges because of the obvious differences between the midterm and the presidential election turnout. I think looking at the variance in terms of the percentage of overall votes cast provides you with a number that means more. In 2004, Sam Barend lost to Randy Kuhl in Yates County 61% - 31%. In 2006, Massa lost to Randy 54% to 46% in Yates.

So I was watching the Rutgers-Louisville football game last night where Rutgers came back from a huge deficit to beat #3 Louisville.

I suppose if Rutgers can come back to beat Louisville, then perhaps I should have more sympathy for Eric Massa.

Even though Rutgers winning the national championship may be far more statistically likely than Massa overcoming the current deficit, there is no reason not to let him try.

Do I still think this is Massa being a sore loser and showing a lack of class. Absolutely.

Does he have the legal right as an American to be a sore loser and show a lack of class. Absolutely.

And I will join you all in defending Eric Massa's rights.

He can say or do whatever he wants, and thankfully we can all comment on it to our heart's content.

However, just because it is legal doesn't make it classy.

As much as he is a bumbling clod the President actually showed his ability to be graceful and classy in defeat over the past few days (as much as anyone can be classy while saying "thumpin'"). As did Allen and even Burns (whose margin was tiny compared to the margin inthe Kuhl-Massa race).

Having said all this, I agree there is certainly no harm in waiting a few more days to see exactly how big of a thumpin' Massa took.

As my endorsement of Mike Nolan for 2008 seems to be getting no positive reception, I withdraw it. Chester, do you live in the Southern Tier ... maybe you should run?

As I posted on another thread - Where or when was this alleged Massa temper tantrum or hot-headedness? I haven't seen anything that will make or break his future. Again, I think that the rights we're pushing for are those of the absentee voters TO BE COUNTED.

As for pre-emptive strikes: wasn't Massa's "hiding" ad a pre-emptive strike of a sort?

That was a good all purpose pre-emptive strike but he should have hit Kuhl for wanting to privatize Social Security.

There is not a loser or winner until all the votes are counted. Just why does that not make any sense?

We can all guess what who those votes are going to go to, but until they are counted it is only a guess. Elections in the United States are not guessing games. Well, at least most of them are not.

sanford dickert, using the same logic as the analysis in your comments, randy's numbers were also WAY down in all districts in 2006. That's because your basis of comparison is the difference in votes from
the presidential election to the midterm election. You didn't trend in the fact that turnout was
43% higher in 2004 due to it being a presidental year. Really, your numbers are meaningless! No wonder you aren't making it as a campaign consultant, dude!!!

Hopi - absolutely right. What I take home from the numbers is that Kuhl is more vulnerable than ever. In '04, he had two third party candidates running who took a lot of votes from him, and he still polled 51%. In reality, the Kuhl-friendly vote in that election was closer to 55-58%. When you factor in the conventional wisdom that more Dems turn out in presidential years, and therefore that Kuhl should have done better in a midterm year, not worse, this seat is not safe for Kuhl.

Also, don't be so hard on Sanford. Since he warned Massa that he was inexperienced, all incompetence on Sanford's part is completely Massa's fault. So it's as if Massa himself prepared those numbers. Put the blame on Massa where it belongs. (I'm being sarcastic here, if it's not obvious.)