Archive (2006)


There's been a lot of poll analysis in the last couple of weeks. Today, posted a discussion of where their method of averaging available polls failed. The 29th was one of those races. No particular conclusions were drawn about the 29th, but it is clear that this district was very lightly polled. When there's hardly any data to start with, any average is going to be more suspect.

Turning to the actual polls, Rochesterturning has been posting graphical interpretations of election results. Today's post shows that a significantly smaller percentage of voters voted for Kuhl in 2006 than in 2004 in almost every county. This is especially interesting because the Conservative party fielded a candidate in 2004, as did the Independence party. Both of those candidates should have taken some votes from Kuhl in '04 that he regained in '06. In this analysis, and the other county-by-county post, keep in mind that the graphs are unweighted. So, for example, when you see that Kuhl lost roughly 15% of his vote in Yates county, remember that Yates had just under 7,000 votes cast in 2006. The 29th had about 200,000 voters in '06.

Rochesterturning also looked at correlations between census data and voting patterns. They found a positive relationship between income, education and a tendency to vote for Eric Massa. There are two ways to interpret this data. A partisan spin for Democrats is that smart people voted for Massa. Republicans could argue that the Democrats are turning into the party of the elites, rather than the party of the "average working man". I don't buy that. I agree with RT that those numbers show that more educated people are more likely to inform themselves about the candidates in an election, and therefore are more likely to vote for a less-well-known challenger like Massa. Also, the income split mirrors the North/South split in the 29th, with Monroe being the most wealthy county. By registration, that county is also the most Democratic of the bunch.

Kuhl to Labor: Show Me Some Respect

Randy Kuhl's actions of the last few weeks speak far more loudly than his words. Six days after the election, Kuhl withdrew his support of a bill that would reform the National Labor Relations Act. To date, he's the only one of the 215 original co-sponsors who's pulled out. Even defeated John Sweeney from nearby NY-20 is still listed as a supporter of this legislation.

While there's certainly a component of petty retribution in Kuhl's action, chalking this up as a parting shot would misread the complex relationship between labor and John R Kuhl Jr.

Rochesterturning and The Hill both identify the AFL-CIO as the likely target of Kuhl's ire, and they're probably right. That union endorsed Massa during the current cycle, reversing their trend of endorsements for Kuhl that began during his tenure as a state legislator and continued through his first run in 2004. Kuhl might have also wanted to send a message to the UAW, who complained loudly about one of Kuhl's ads that took credit for bringing a helicopter plant to the district.

But the AFL-CIO is not a monolith. Two weeks before the state AFL-CIO endorsed Kuhl's opponent, the Transportation Trades AFL-CIO PAC gave Kuhl $1,000. Six weeks after that endorsement, the Building and Construction Trades AFL-CIO PAC gave Kuhl another $1K. Both of those donations are probably because Randy sits on the Transportation committee, including the "Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management".

Even though he's a member of the new minority, Kuhl can expect to receive money from unions as long as he sits on committees that hold sway over union jobs. As the chief lobbyist for the United Transportation Union remarked, "Quite frankly, one game doesn’t make a season. We will examine him as the new Congress starts."

That examination will begin after committee assignments are handed out. Kuhl will probably retain his current seats. By pulling his support for one of labor's pet bills, Kuhl was signaling that he won't be bought easily. He wants some sugar in his bowl.

Hibernation is Difficult for Political Junkies

I'm having a hard time keeping my political addiction in check. All the machinery that I've set up to monitor news in the 29th is still humming away, dumping its poison straight into my mailbox.

I'm like an alcoholic sitting in front of a newly made martini. I might be able to keep myself from going on a bender, but I sure don't want to.

So, this weekend I moved the Fighting 29th to a new host, tweaked the layout a little bit, and prepared to get posting. I will probably post one or two entries a week, as circumstances warrant. I'll keep it pretty strictly to the 29th, though I may venture into one other pet topic: voting technology. You've been warned.

Also, if you see anything funky with the layout, your RSS feeds, or comments, please let me know.

Massa Concedes

The Massa Campaign just issued a press release saying that Eric Massa called Randy Kuhl this morning and conceded the election.   His full statement is posted at the Massa for Congress site.  Though all absentee ballots have yet to be counted, the press release cited early counts, which were generally in line with election results, as the reason for Massa's concession.

Taking the Hill

Eric Massa is one of five veterans profiled in Taking the Hill, a documentary that will air December 12 at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Times Channel.  You can read more about the documentary here, or, thanks to reader vdomeras, watch a trailer after the break.  One of the five vets profiled won his race, and three others (including Massa) came within two points of beating their opponents in Republican districts.

November 20

Rochester's Channel 10 (WHEC) news is reporting that the election won't be certified until after November 20, which is the deadline for military absentee ballots.  So it looks like we won't have an official winner in the 29th until next week.

The 29th in 2008: Back from the Wilderness

The last two elections have shown that the 29th is, at a minimum, a competitive district.  In the Southern 29th, where one-party rule and weak candidates have been the norm, the candidacy of Eric Massa was the final eye-opener in a process started by Sam Barend in 2004.  The long years of 70/30 elections in the 29th are now officially over.  The hard question is predicting what's next.

With a changeover in both houses of Congress, a quagmire in Iraq, and a coming Presidential election, I'm not ready to make any hard predictions about the 2008 race.  However, I do know that I'll be watching four people:  Nancy Pelosi, Randy Kuhl, Louise Slaughter, and Eric Massa.   Each of them has a role to play in shaping the next campaign.

Eric Massa is perhaps the biggest wildcard in the 2008 race.  He made a major personal investment in this year's contest, one which I'm sure he won't abandon without much internal debate.  He has good name recognition, the respect of Democrats (and many Republicans) in the district, and an address book full of contacts.  If he stays in the 29th and finds some kind of visible political appointment, chances are that he'll be running again in 2008.   

If Massa makes himself scarce, or even announces that he's out of politics, then the Democrats will begin the difficult hunt for a credible candidate from the Southern 29th.  That part of the district has been under one-party rule for so long that there's a dearth of potential candidates, yet a candidate from Monroe county has no chance of winning in the South.   This is perhaps the biggest factor influencing the race in '08:  if Massa's out, I'd expect Kuhl to retain the seat.

Nancy Pelosi is the next player in our little drama, and her role is to push legislation through the House.  If she delivers on her 100-hour plan, and if that plan is carefully crafted to gather the votes of Democrats and independent Republicans, and if a lot of the plan seems like no-brainers to the centrist voter, then she might catch John R Kuhl Jr in a trap.   Randy will have to decide if he's part of the core of the loyal opposition, or if he wants to move towards the center.

Pelosi's a smart politician with sharp elbows.  One example of the dilemmas that Kuhl will be facing is the planned vote on allowing Medicare to negotiate pricing with drug companies.  This is a practical, cost-saving step that the VA has been doing for years, but it was written out of the Medicare Part D legislation.  When Pelosi forces a vote on something practical and responsible like that, Kuhl will have to decide whether it's in his best interests to try to spin it to the folks back home, risking the accusation that he's in bed with the drug companies, or vote with the Democrats. 

While it's a sure bet that Randy Kuhl will run in '08, I'll be watching his votes and press releases to see if he's going to stop taking dictation from the Republican leadership.   I'm also curious about whether he'll keep his committee assignments.  I'll also be watching his FEC page to see how being part of the new minority affects his fundraising.  Randy might have to lessen his reliance on corporate PAC donations, and try to raise more money in the district.   I'm also curious about the number of grants and other federal programs he'll announce in 2007 -- I'm guessing a few less than '06.

That brings us to the final character in this play:  Louise Slaughter, the titanium magnolia, who will be Chairman of the Committee on Rules, one of the most powerful positions in the House.  Louise didn't do any campaigning for Eric Massa because she was in bed with a bad case of shingles.  But Louise has a big role to play in the Northern 29th.  Now that she's a power in the House, she'll be bringing home the bacon to Monroe County.   Gone are the days of Tom Reynolds allowing Randy Kuhl to piggyback on his funding announcements.  Louise will do nothing obvious to shut Kuhl and Reynolds out, but she'll quietly keep them out of the picture.  Her revenge will be served cold and without fanfare.

I'd be surprised if Slaughter didn't try to recruit Massa for another run, because the close races in the 29th and in NY-25 will have whet the Democrats' appetite for turnovers in upstate New York.  Some of the seats won in the last go-round, like those previously occupied by Tom Delay and Mark Foley, are likely to revert back to Republicans, so the Democrats have an incentive to invest heavily in the dozen or so districts that had tight races in '06.  As a proven candidate, Massa is the logical pick for another go at Randy Kuhl.   I hope he does it - but that's a selfish wish, since he made this year's race a hell of a lot of fun.

Eric Massa: Square Peg

It's fitting that Eric Massa's campaign ends in the same way that it began over two years ago: in an act of stubborn determination.  I doubt that anyone who's watched the Massa campaign closely is surprised that Massa is waiting until after every vote is counted to concede -- the history of this race shows that he's a man quite comfortable with long odds.

Massa began campaigning for this seat the day after the 2004 election.  As an "outsider", he had to travel the district, introducing himself to every Democratic mayor, councilman, and dogcatcher. His campaign began with an out-of-pocket loan, campaign headquarters for the first year was the Massa family garage, and he was on a schedule where he had dinner with his family once a week. 

A longshot that requires sacrifices like these is not undertaken by an ass-kissing milquetoast.  Massa is an interesting mix of no-bullshit Navy Commander and policy wonk.  If politics is a round hole, he's a square peg accompanied by a big hammer.

Being a square peg meant that Massa had to do things the hard way.  In the 29th, this meant that he had to introduce himself to the district used to a completely different style of politician, raise funds without help from the national party, and stumble when he used negative ads. 

In many ways, Randy Kuhl is the archetypal Southern Tier politician.  He's an understated hometown boy.  Physically and temperamentally, there aren't many men more different than Eric Massa and Randy Kuhl.  Massa's built like a fireplug, while Kuhl is tall and slender.  Compared to Kuhl, who isn't much of a public speaker, Massa's public speech is carefully constructed and thoroughly researched.  When Kuhl sketched out ideas, Massa articulated positions.  When Kuhl suggested approaches, Massa presented solutions.  Kuhl often offered too little:  Massa sometimes provided too much.

Some might see Massa's innate confidence as arrogance, and his determination as a lack of humor.  Arrogant, humorless individuals do not run campaigns as good as Massa's (compare his campaign to  Katharine Harris' in Florida if you need to proof of that statement). Nevertheless, I think the 29th is not yet fully adapted to Massa, and though he used his two years in the district to good effect, he was still viewed by many as an outsider.

As a square peg, Massa was not the kind of candidate preferred by the national Democratic party.  His success at running a tight race puts the lie to both Howard Dean's 50-state plan, and Rahm Emmanuel's targeted campaign.  Massa received little concrete help from either of those warring factions of the party.  Instead, Massa had to find his own way to raise funds, beginning with personal appeals in the district combined with help from the netroots and fighting Dems movements.

Money makes a campaign, and Massa's over $1.1 million total is impressive by any measure, especially considering two-thirds came from individual donations.  Though Massa was close to fundraising parity with Kuhl, his money was spent over a two-year period.  Since Kuhl, like any incumbent, was able to use  his Congressional office to keep his name in the newspaper without spending campaign funds, Kuhl's effective money advantage was much larger than Massa's.  Nevertheless, Massa raised enough to mount an effective ad campaign.  Unfortunately, he received little help from his national party, while Kuhl received a boost with party funded robo-calls, ads and mailers.

Massa also struggled with negative ads.  The goal of a negative ad is to establish a simple narrative in the minds of the voters that defines your opponent.  Kuhl's narrative for Massa was "Liberal Eric Massa will raise taxes and gut Social Security."  Massa was unable to define Kuhl as cleanly.  His negative campaign began with the diffuse "hiding" ad, which was replaced by an over-the-top response to Kuhl's Social Security ad.  When Massa finally hit his stride with his positive/negative "FDR" ad, it was too late in the election to effectively re-define his image or respond to Kuhl. 

Massa is similar to a number of inexperienced politicians in this regard:  he didn't plan for a negative campaign and was therefore caught somewhat flat-footed.  Democrats often take their inability to run "good" negative campaigns as a sign they should attack more fiercely earlier in the campaign.  I think this is a mistake, one which is borne out by Massa's final Social Security response.  Instead of hitting hard, this ad strikes a balance between the positive aspects of Massa's program and an attack on Kuhl.  The more heavy-handed attacks, like Massa's initial Social Security response, or the MoveOn ads, aren't nearly as effective.

Since this race was so close, it's tempting to blame other factors, such as robo-calls, nasty mailers and the Dickert matter, for Massa's loss.  Lacking any real polling data, I don't want to speculate about those factors.  I've picked out the "big three" reasons that Massa didn't quite make it:  outsider in an insider's district, no help from the national party, and imperfect negative spots.  In identifying those weaknesses, I don't want to give a wrong impression, because Massa ran a superb campaign.

The quality of Massa's campaign can be seen in comparison two to other close calls:  Dan Maffei in NY-25, and Tammy Duckworth in Il-6.  Both Duckworth and Maffei were good candidates, but both failed by roughly the same margin as Massa in less challenging districts. 

As Rahm Emmanuel's darling, the total spent by and for Duckworth in the campaign probably topped $5 million.  Yet she fell short in an open-seat district that's less Republican than the 29th (R+3 vs R+5 in the Cook ratings). 

Dan Maffei raised roughly half of what Massa raised in the 29th, in a district that's much more Democratic (D+3) and richer (median income $2K more than the 29th).  Since Maffei was essentially broke at the end of the campaign, he even got outside help in the form of ad spending by the national party.  Nevertheless, he lost in a race with a margin only slightly tighter than Massa's. 

Perhaps James Walsh is a stronger candidate than Kuhl, and maybe Duckworth was hit harder by Republicans, but I think the reason that Massa did about as well as these two was simple:  he ran harder and smarter.

Eric Massa had a tough job and he did it well.  He has some rough edges, like most risk-takers, but he's proven that he has the ability to inspire loyalty and generate excitement with a large group of supporters.  If he stays in politics, I think he has the potential for taking the 29th in 2008.  If not, he will be remembered for running one of the best congressional campaigns in recent memory.

Kuhl Understands Monroe

The Steuben Courier's election wrap-up quotes Randy Kuhl on Monroe County voters:

"There's a big split in the enrollment there. There are more unregistered voters, we call the block voters. They aren't Republican. They aren't Democrats and they are not independents. We have to get them the information on what we've done... I'm kind of an unknown quantity up there. There's not much media coverage. They're never on the weekly media calls." Kuhl addresses the local media in a special conference almost every Thursday the House is in session. "We just have to educate the people in Monroe County," he said Tuesday night.

I think he meant (and probably said) "blank" not "block" voters, but he got two big things right.  First, Monroe's vote is more volatile than the South of the 29th, due to blanks.  Second, because the Monroe media has to cover four representatives, none of them end up getting much coverage.

At the end of  WHAM's televised election coverage, long-time Rochester anchor Don Alhart reported that he spoke with a number of voters who discovered who represented them when they entered the voting booth. This reflects the conventional wisdom that the recent confusing re-districting has yet to fully register with a number of Monroe voters.  Unfortunately for Kuhl, the more that Monroe gets to know him, the less they want to vote for him.

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 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.

Something to Talk About

Like the John Hiatt Bonnie Raitt song, the 29th's race is giving the media "a little something to figure out". 

The Rochester City News blog is on the case with coverage of Massa's first public statement since the election.   He says he'll accept the results once the election is certified.  Kuhl's spokesman says "it's time to move on".  In the Elmira Star-Gazette, Kuhl is shocked and dissapointed, while area Democrats say that waiting for the final canvass won't hurt Massa's political career.


The Hornell Evening Tribune reports that the absentee ballots in 29th have been impounded due to court order:

The court order, requested Tuesday morning by the state Republican and Democratic party chairmen, means the earliest the written votes will be counted is Monday or Tuesday, said Steuben's Election Board Democratic Commissioner Allan Johnson.

In Steuben, that means that the ballots are locked in the jail.  They will be opened next week, with representatives from both campaigns present. 

Sorry for the confusion on the last post.  I assume (dangerous) that the recanvass of voting machines will also occur around this time.  In any event, those machines are now locked and sealed.