First GOTV Call of '06

Enough of the speculation on get out the vote (GOTV) efforts in the 29th.  This afternoon, I received my first election-related call from the Monroe County Democratic Party:

Hello Mr & Mrs. ____________, This is ____________ calling on behalf of Eric Massa.  He's the Democratic candidate to replace Randy Kuhl.  We hope you have heard of Eric Massa.  If you haven't, he is a 24-year Navy veteran who is working to return integrity, service and accountabilty to Congress. For more information concerning Eric, you can go to his website or call his campaign headquarters, 672-5335.

This was on my answering machine, so I don't know if it was an awareness call or perhaps would have morphed into a fundraising call if I had answered it.  Nevertheless, its timing (~80 days before election) indicates that a serious GOTV effort might well be planned for the 29th.

Followup: Unions and Turnout

The Massa campaign's press release on the AFL-CIO endorsement mentioned here yesterday points out that another union, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) also switched allegiance from Kuhl to Massa this week.  It quotes an AFL-CIO spokesman who said that the 2004 Kuhl endorsement was based on Kuhl's "generally acceptable" record as an a New York State legislator, and the switch to Massa is based on Kuhl's "very weak" record as a Congressman.

I don't buy the AFL-CIO's explanation that the switch was based entirely on Kuhl's voting record and Massa's position on the issues.  If this were a district with a weak Democratic candidate in a year where voters didn't have a "throw the bums out" attitude, I doubt that the AFL-CIO would have switched.

In any case, the Massa campaign can be justifiably proud of getting these unions to switch -- it's an indicator of the strength of their campaign.  Over the years, the unions have changed from supporting candidates who are pro-labor to picking and supporting winners.  Their endorsements show that Massa is a potential winner.

The Swing State Project's coverage of the union switch includes this rah-rah statement:

With labor coming onside, Eric is well-positioned to take advantage of the deadly Democratic wave sweeping from Buffalo to Long Island under the Spitzer-Clinton banner.

This echoes an earlier Gannett News Service piece on turnout that speculated that Spitzer and Clinton's popularity would increase Democratic turnout in the 29th.  As I posted yesterday, I think their popularity is relevant only if their races are close. This year, they aren't.

The reason that candidates for Senator or Governor don't have coattails, especially in off-year elections, is that sometime voters are energized to vote only if they think their votes will make a difference.  If you're not a regular voter and your heroes Elliot or Hillary are ahead by 20 points in the polls, why bother voting?  They're going to win anyway.  The same is true if your hero is losing by 20 points.  In this voter's mind, his or her vote won't affect the outcome.

The sometime voter -- in the 29th, that's one of the ~100K who turned out in '04 but not in '02 -- is going to have be energized to vote by Massa or Kuhl in this race.  Spitzer, Clinton or their weak opponents will not draw marginal voters to the polls.


Barring a last-minute special election for Elmira dogcatcher, the Kuhl/Massa showdown is probably the tightest race in the 29th.  Hillary's opponent will be laughably weak, and it looks like Spitzer will win in a walk, so turnout for this off-year election will be driven solely by interest in the Congressional race.

The conventional wisdom is that high turnout favors Democrats, so this is probably bad news for Massa.  If Hillary or Spitzer were in a tight race, they'd pour some of their massive warchests into a get-out-the-vote effort.  As it stands, they can save their money for future campaigns.

The 29th has existed in its current form for two elections.  In 2002, turnout was 174,631.  In 2004, it was 270,215, a 55% increase.  2002 was probably the most "off" of off-years:  the only major statewide race was a blowout for Pataki.   So '02 is probably a low-water mark for turnout, representing the "solid core" of those who always vote.  Amo Houghton took home a staggering 73.1% of the vote that year.

As the race progresses, I'll talk more about the turnout plans for 29th candidates.  But it's never too soon to speculate about the  national strategies of both parties.

Kuhl will probably use the same "72 Hour" strategy used by the Republicans to deliver Ohio in 2004.  This Republican plan combines polling data, automated calls or emails, and personal visits to turn out the base.  Assuming he's in close touch with the national campaign apparatus (I'm guessing he's joined at the hip), Randy's job will be to provide  enough volunteers or paid workers to call and visit voters on election day. 

Unfortunately for Massa, the Democratic turnout effort is looking like a casualty of disillusioned deep pockets and an internecine squabble between the Deaniacs and the Clintonites.   For a party that can't reliably turnout the faithful, this seems like a bad time for the head of the Congressional Campaign Committee (Rahm Emmanuel) to stop speaking with the Party Chairman (Howard Dean).

Today, E.J. Dionne's column mentions a 40-most-contested district turnout program that Emmanual is financing.  Even if the 29th is on that list, Massa probably won't be able to rely on as much help from the national party as Kuhl.  He better start praying now for a sunny and warm November 7.

Kuhl on the Issues

Randy's issues page needs a little work.  Five of the 12 issues on that page -- including the "War on Terror" -- haven't been linked yet.  Firefox users who mouse over the Issues drop-down, and IE users who click on the missing issues in the drop-down, get a message containing the word "void" in the notification area (lower-left corner).   

I don't think that's the message Kuhl intends to send.

Hedging Their Bets

The New York State AFL-CIO  endorsed Eric Massa during their convention today.   An endorsement is great, but what about the money?  As of the end of the last reporting period (June 30), it looks like Massa's gotten precisely nothing from this union.

When Massa finally gets his donation, I wonder if it will be more than the $4500 that AFL-CIO unions have given Kuhl during this cycle.  And I'll let someone else explain how giving almost $5K to a Bush loyalist freshman helps the union cause -- that's way beyond my abilities.

The AFL-CIO isn't the only union putting money in Randy's pocket.  Since he sits on the the Education and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, which control a lot of legislation that affects government employees, he also got $1000 from AFSCME, the state and county employees union. 

That $1000 is a bit of an anomoly for AFSCME, which also happens to be the top all-time political donor of the last 18 years.  Historically , they've given 98% of their money to Democrats.  That's a pretty light hedge compared to the AFL-CIO, which has so far given 11% of its donations to Republicans in the current cycle.

Why "Fighting 29th"

It's a Colbert Report reference...perhaps that wasn't obvious.  I'm hoping that Stephen will have a chance to interview Randy before the election.

What Issues "Cut" in the 29th?

A recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll for NPR took a look at the 50 most contested congressional districts, the 29th among them.   They found that the top four issues in the minds of likely voters are:

  1. The War in Iraq
  2. Jobs and the Economy
  3. Taxes and Spending
  4. Health Care

The full results [pdf] also show that voters in these districts are enthusiastic and inclined throw out incumbents. 

Mystery Pollster has done some further analysis on the data.  One interesting tidbit that he extracted from Greenberg et al. is that the 29th is in their "bottom tier" of competitive races.  This is consistent with the work of other respected analysts like the Cook Political Report, which rates the 29th as "lean Republican" rather than the more competitive "toss up", and UVA Professor Larry Sabato, who rates it "likely Republican".


Randy's Sure Nickel

Rochesterturning's recent post on 2004's race, which went 51%/41% for Kuhl, raises an interesting question:  who's running on the Conservative line this year?  In 2004, the Conservative party candidate, Mark Assini, got 6% of the vote.

Unfortunately for Massa, this time around it's Randy [pdf].  That's probably a solid 5% for the man from Hammondsport.

Randy's Iraq Fumble

Randy Kuhl's visit to Iraq earlier this month is an interesting glimpse into Republican political strategy for dealing with the hot-potato issue of the war.  It also shows that Randy needs to work on his game if he wants to have any credibility on this issue.

Randy's trip was one of at least 16 by members of congress since July.  Fourteen of those members are Republicans.  The lone Democrat who accompanied Randy on his trip, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, has a competitive district (won by 54% in '04 [pdf]) and supports a "stay the course" position in Iraq. 

The surge of congressional visits appears to be part of a Republican political strategy for dealing with the Iraq issue. Not so,  according to Randy's spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin.  He calls it "asinine" to charge, as Eric Massa did, that Randy was using this trip to boost his candidacy.

Well, I've been called worse, but this jackass thinks the facts show exactly that.

In the same interview, Van Wicklin noted that "oversight is an important part of the job" and that "He (Kuhl) votes on the defense budget."  That's mighty thin.  If you go beyond Van Wicklin's Schoolhouse Rock version of how a bill becomes a law, there's the little matter of committees.  Kuhl isn't on a single committee that has anything to do with Iraq.  If Van Wicklin's right, 747s full of legislators would be winging over to Iraq on a regular basis. Obviously, they're not, because only committee members can exercise meaningful oversight.  The rest, like Randy, are there for the nickel tour.

So, Randy's in Iraq as a member-at-large with four other representatives who support the war and don't have Iraq-related committee assignments.  He's there for a few hours, spends time at an airbase and flies around in a helicopter. What else could he do but gather anecdotes and get his picture taken with local troops?   

Randy's visit was clearly a campaign-related trip.  The question is whether it did him any good.

My take is that Randy blew it.  A smart politician would have filed away that Iraq trip for debates, TV commercials and speeches.  In a debate, anecdotes from the trip could be used to put his opponent on the defensive.  Even though Massa has spent far more time in the Middle East, and is better-experienced in foreign policy after having served as an aide to Wesley Clark, he would be forced to argue with Randy's personal account of his recent trip.  Fresh eyewitness testimony is powerful, and that's why Republicans are sending dozens of members to Iraq 100 days before the election.

Instead of quietly storing up anecdotes for later, Randy took what could have been a silk purse and turned it into a sow's ear by opening his mouth.  Stupid comments like " really isn't bad.  You can almost forget you're in a war zone..." and "When you fly over and you look down, we were 1,000 feet, and you see people in fields, farmers plowing fields, herding water buffalo's [sic].  It's life as usual." make him seem horribly out-of-touch. I'll bet that I'm not the only person who's reminded of Vietnam by that last remark.

By spouting off about his trip to the media, Randy opened himself up for a devastating broadside from a respected third party, General (ret.) John Batiste. Massa now has a rejoinder ready for Kuhl in the debates:  he can quote a man who led troops for two years in Iraq. Randy can still use his trip as fodder for speeches and ads, but he'll need to tread lightly in the debates.

If you want to see how a smart politician handled the same trip, take a look at Rep. Tom Cole's column.  The man who led Randy's delegation to Iraq came back with a carefully-worded positive take on the war.  There are no references to Vietnam-era livestock, and no hollow "not so bad" assertions. Randy needs to study that hard and learn a few lessons, or his campaign will suffer the same fate as the water buffalo in Apocalypse Now in the coming election.

Why Randy Always Loses the Office Pool

A few gems from the local papers:

Randy on the election: Kuhl says war won't be key to vote

Randy on Iraq: Most of the country is very, very safe

It may turn out that both of these statements are true. But he's definitely on the wrong side of the current spread on both of them.

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