Archive (2006)

The National Money Situation

Aside from MoveOn ads, the 29th hasn't seen a lot of outside involvement in the race. To gauge the future influence of outside organizations and party committees, it's worth knowing how much they have to spend.

A Time article has some good news for Randy Kuhl. Though Republican and Democratic candidates are very close in overall fundraising, the Republican National Committee has outraised the Democrats by $34 million to $11 million. Republican-friendly advocacy groups have also been outspending those friendly to Democrats. For example, the Chamber of Commerce has spent $10 million compared to MoveOn's $2 million.

Massa Makes the Wires

Eric Massa was one of the participants in a Democratic National Committee sponsored conference call this morning.  His comments, which essentially call Rumsfeld a liar, have been picked up by the national AP wire

Kuhl Speaks on MoveOn

In a press conference yesterday, Randy Kuhl came to his own defense against the MoveOn ad campaign.  In addition to repeating that the ads have been pulled (a claim denied by MoveOn and one area station), Kuhl added a new defense.  He said that MoveOn's claim that he voted four times to let defense contractors "off the hook" is "based on procedural issues that had nothing to do with the substance of the legislation."

That quote is a summary of Kuhl's position by the Star-Gazette's reporter at the press conference.  Assuming that's a fair summary, it deserves a closer look, because it will probably be part of Kuhl's defense against similar attacks later in the campaign.

According to MoveOn's backup document [pdf], Kuhl voted four times to spare defense contractors, twice on motions to recommit, and twice on amendments.

A couple of MoveOn's examples support Kuhl's position. HR 1751 is a bill to "protect judges, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and their family members".  It passed on a bipartisan vote.  During the debate over the bill Rep Higgins (D-NY) moved that the bill be sent back to committee (a "motion to recommit") to add an amendment prohibiting profiteering and fraud in military actions and disaster relief. This motion failed on a strict party-line vote. (The Congressional Record pages are here [pdf] and here [pdf].)

Kuhl can reasonably argue that this vote was right.  The amendment proposed wasn't relevant to the bill, and sending the bill back to committee would have slowed down its passage.  Kuhl can make a similar case for another of the votes MoveOn cited.  In this case, Kuhl voted against a similar motion to recommit on HR 1279, a bill "to reduce violent gang crime and protect law-abiding citizens and communities from violent criminals".   Again, this motion had nothing to do with the bill in question.

But Kuhl can't make this same claim for two other votes MoveOn cited.  The first was an amendment to HR 4939, an emergency supplemental appropriation bill. It sought to prohibit appropriations to contractors that have had audit exceptions totaling more than $100 million.  The second sought to amend another emergency supplemental to establish a committee to investigate the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both amendments were germane, and both votes were on the amendments, not on procedure.

Some would argue that the use of these latter votes to attack Kuhl is also unfair.  After all, they're merely part of the partisan Kabuki of the 109th Congress.  The Democrats want to make oversight of the spending in Iraq a major campaign issue.  To show that Republicans have resisted adding additional oversight, they've used these amendments and motions, which have no hope of passage, solely to get votes on the record.

But if you accept that argument, it's hard to see how he Kuhl has any responsibility for any of his votes.  Moreover, there's the broader issue of accountability for his party's positions, regardless of the specifics of individual votes.  Kuhl has voted with his party on almost every issue, including continued (and sometimes wasteful) funding of the war in Iraq.  He sits on no committees relevant to the war.  Other than his public pronoucements on the war, these votes are all his constituents have to judge him by.   And, in real votes on germane amendments, he's voted against increased oversight of defense contractors twice.

Polling News

What does "lean Republican" really mean?

Today's Rothenberg Report rates both the 29th and near-neighbor NY-20 in this category. And a new Siena poll in the 20th shows Republican John Sweeney leading his opponent by 19 points.

That's a pretty big lean.

Massa's Stump Sayings

Every politician has them: stock phrases and anecdotes they weave into their answers at every appearance.  They're interesting because they reflect the points that the candidate hopes will stick in voters' minds.  Here are a few of Eric Massa's.

Congress isn't simply "Congress", it's the "rubber-stamp Congress".

Randy Kuhl is "super-glued to George Bush".

Kuhl's trip to Iraq and the "not so bad" comment that came from that trip are frequently mentioned.

Massa also seemed pleased to report that Kuhl was named "most improved golfer" by Golf Digest Magazine

Though I couldn't confim this last claim, Randy's observation that "Republicans hit it farther and straighter" was quoted in a recent article. He's also listed in that magazine's Washington Top 100.  He's tied for 66th with Tom Delay and Rick Santorum.

If that's not ominous enough, consider the top-ranked Republican, Rep Chris Chocola.  Though he's out front on the golf course, political analyst Charlie Cook says "Chocola looks more like an underdog than the frontrunner" in his latest report on Chocola's toss-up race.

Massa in His Own Words

Eric Massa had an hour-long appearance on today's WXXI's 1370 Connection, a call-in show on Rochester's largest public radio station.

Here are some clips of him speaking on three major issues:  Iraq, the economy and health care.  They're each from 2-3 minutes long and give a pretty good impression of his "standard stump speech" on each issue. 

Randy Kuhl will appear on the same program sometime next month, and I hope to be able to post some clips of his responses on the same issues after his appearance.


Download mp3 (645K)


Download mp3 (608K)

Health Care:

Download mp3 (525K)

Roll Out the Barrel

Randy Kuhl's office has announced millions of dollars of grants in the last month (here, here, here and here).  These are routine grants, which probably would have happened no matter who was serving in the 29th.

The big splash or "October surprise" in this district would be an announcement concerning the fate of the Canandaigua VA Hospital.  This facility has been recommended for downsizing [pdf], and has been the subject of much media attention in the past couple of years.

When President Bush visited the 29th this Spring, he spent most of his time in Canandaigua, though he didn't tour the hospital.  A Kuhl announcement that the hospital would be spared would be a political trifecta:  It would show that Randy's got some mojo in DC, that there's some upside to his closeness with Bush, and that Eric Massa isn't the only candidate deeply concerned about veterans.

Update:  A full list of the recent grants is now available on Kuhl's official page.

Kuhl's Hip Replacment

Randy Kuhl had a hip replaced last Tuesday. According to WebMD, he'll probably be on crutches for several weeks, and he'll have to exercise special care in joint movement for a few more weeks. A complete recovery from this operation takes approximately 6 months, and Kuhl can expect that the replacement will last the rest of his life.

Kuhl's MoveOn Dilemma

A story posted yesterday by Rochester NBC affiliate WHEC is a good illustration of the dilemma that the Kuhl campaign faces in responding to the MoveOn ad campaign. On one hand, the Kuhl campaign would like those ads portrayed as a liberal smear by outsiders. On the other, they take the risk of drawing attention to the ads and increasing their impact.

In this case, I think the Kuhl campaign got hung on the second horn of the dilemma -- their complaining hurt their case more than it helped.

The WHEC story is about the second MoveOn ad, which is more accurate and more damaging than the first. During the story, all of the main MoveOn claims are restated: we hear that Kuhl accepted money from defense contractors and opposed penalties for them, and we also see the attempt to tie Kuhl to Cheney and Delay.

These claims are stronger than the first ad. Though the leap to Cheney is questionable, it is clear that Kuhl took some money from defense PACs, took money from Delay's PAC, and voted against a number of amendments that would have mandated closer scrutiny of defense contractors. (MoveOn's factual summary[pdf] is pretty accurate on all but the Cheney link.)

James Kuhl, Randy's son and campaign manager (who, as rochesterturning points out, turns in yet another ham-fisted performance) fires back with a single defense, which is Webster's definition of red-handed. He also makes the weak claim that voters in the district "are smart enough to know what's going on".

As I posted earlier, I agree that "red handed" was overly harsh in the first MoveOn ad, which mainly concerned Randy's votes for spending in Iraq. But James' response doesn't address the contributions. Reasonable people might at least wonder if there's something wrong with a congressman taking money from defense contractors and then not trying harder to reign in waste.

But here's where James is stuck. To defend against specific charges gives them more credence. So he sticks with the "red handed" defense and leaves the rest of the ad to stand unanswered.

In this case, MoveOn got what they wanted. Not only did they air their attack ads, but they also got some priceless prime-time news coverage which repeated the content of those ads.

WHAM Denies Pulling Ad

Rochester's ABC affiliate denies they pulled a MoveOn ad, as the Kuhl campaign claimed in an earlier press release.  The GM of the station says the ads finished their scheduled run.  He also denies the Kuhl campaign's claim that WHAM concluded that the ad "contained multiple misrepresentations and was purposefully deceptive".

Either the Kuhl campaign over-interpreted the WHAM fact-checking article and the absence of MoveOn ads, or they just lied.  I have a hard time believing that they'd want to purposefully irritate a TV station in the district, so I'll go with simple incompetence as the explanation in this case.

Looking for an Eye-Opener

The weak primary performance of Barbara Cubin, a Republican incumbent in the very red state of Wyoming, has big-time political analysts like Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato standing up to take notice.  Cubin's district is redder than the 29th -- Cook rates it at R+19 (a 19 point Republican bias) versus the 29th's R+5 -- and Cubin has more seniority than Kuhl.  If the race for Dick Cheney's old seat in Congress is competitive, then what about the 29th?

Though the 29th garners some mention when weak incumbents are discussed, it is still generally ranked in the second tier of competitive races.  Sabato's just-released ferocious forty most competitive Congressional races doesn't include it.  The Congressional Quarterly ranks it "Republican Favored", and Cook calls it [pdf] "Lean Republican".

Kuhl's recent activity reflects this conventional wisdom.  Kuhl attacks his opponent exclusively through his spokesman.  He hasn't agreed to substantial debates, nor has he changed his campaigning schedule.  Unlike his colleague Rep John Sweeney (NY-20), he didn't lawyer up to fight the airing of the MoveOn ads.  Overall, Kuhl is behaving like an incumbent with a solid lead.

I think this race is closer than the pundits realize, but that's just a hunch.  Unlike Senate races, which are polled into the ground, House races like the 29th aren't frequently measured.  Kuhl doesn't have a primary challenger this year.  So, barring some poll that I don't know about, the next possibility for an eye-opener is the new money numbers, due out at the end of the month.

Massa on the War

Eric Massa's recent press conference was lost in the hubbub over the MoveOn ads, but it's worth a look, as is his National Security page.  Massa's plan has two major components:  withdrawal in 24 months or sooner, and a tripartite partition.

On withdrawal, Massa believes that even a withdrawal started immediately would take 6-18 months, and he would defer to commanders on the ground as to the best way to redeploy forces in a way that's "well thought out and designed to maximize the potential for stability as quickly as possible." 

The tripartite division is a strategy borrowed from Massa's experience in Bosnia.  He thinks that the first step to peace in Iraq is separating the warring parties.  After that, a "loose federation of semi-autonomous states" should be created, one for each of the three distinct ethnic/religious groups living in the country.

Massa's tripartite strategy seems reasonable.  The Kurds have already effectively established their own semi-autonomous region in the North of Iraq.  The predominately Shi'ite population of the South seems like another logical candidate for regional government.  The question is how we get there from where we are now.  Do US troops enforce the partition as they withdraw?   And how does setting a 24-month deadline fit in with partitioning?

Massa has provided a thoughtful strategy born from his experience in another war-torn country.  We'll see if that strategy becomes part of an intelligent debate over Iraq, or if the 29th is treated to 10 weeks of name calling.  I hope for the former, but fear that the latter is far more likely.