Posts containing my opinion of the race.

WENY/Star-Gazette Debate

I was able to watch most of the WENY/Star-Gazette debate. Most of the questions and answers were similar to the 13-WHAM debate, which is understandable. Random observations:
  • Near the beginning of the debate, Kuhl thanked WENY for having a "free and open debate" in contrast to what WETM and the Leader were willing to do. I guess Kuhl is at war with one of the most influential, and most conservative, newspapers in the Southern Tier. I don't understand it, but there you have it.
  • There were more questions about gas prices than the 13-WHAM debate. I don't know if that indicates more concern about that in the Southern Tier, or it's just moderator choice.
  • At the beginning of the debate, Massa told watchers to get a piece of paper and mark an "X" every time Kuhl said Massa would raise taxes. Kuhl said that people ought to mark an "X" every time Massa linked him to President Bush. I think that cut down on both of those little sayings.
  • Randy Kuhl doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, privatizing social security. He supports partial privatization, but denies that's what it is. Also, any return on investment that's better than what the government gets implies risk. Politicians always gloss over the details when private accounts are mentioned. Either we accept that people can invest their social security money, and possibly lose some of it, or we reimburse those who are bad investors.
  • Unlike the 13-WHAM debate, the moderators in this debate were clockwatchers. They cut off a lot of good discussion. The more clockwatching, the lower quality of debate.
  • Randy talked about cellulosic ethanol in the limousine with Bush? No, he didn't. Kuhl's conversion to cellulosic ethanol happened this year.
  • Kuhl is for term limits. I hadn't heard that before.
  • In general, the earmarks conversation really went off the rails. I have no idea why Massa thinks that the bowling alley in Canandaigua is such a powerful example, but I really don't see it. Randy wants to abolish the appropriations committee? It's not the committee that's the problem, its the rules under which it functions.
  • Even worse than clock watching is "sprint rounds". "How and when do you withdraw troops from Iraq, in 30 seconds?" That was just awful.

News: Massa Endorsement, Golden Pen

Reader Elmer sends today's story [pdf] about some recent union endorsements of Eric Massa.

Today's Democrat and Chronicle gives its Golden Pen to a letter decrying negative ads. Though purportedly against negative ads in general, the only examples used in the letter were from Democrats. Eric Massa was one example.

Click on the "Ads" category to the right and you can make your own judgment on negative ads in this race. Kuhl and Massa began with one positive ad each, and after that, everything's been "negative". Moreover, the ads haven't been that negative -- they've stuck to issues rather than personalities and associations.

If the D&C is going to hold up letters as shining examples, it could at least pick ones that have a bit of balance.

Tonight's Debate

Thanks to Exile from The Albany Project for live blogging, and to all the readers who commented. It was fun, and I hope we can do it again.

Tonight's 13-WHAM debate was far better than last night's WXXI debate in NY-26. Moderators allowed the candidates to answer at length, there was some direct exchange between the two candidates, and the questions were pretty good. Sean Carroll and Don Alhart did a standout job.

Readers who missed the debate can watch a stream at 13-WHAM. I'll publish a link when it's posted. The debate video has been posted at the 13-WHAM video page.

Debate Format Matters

Howard Owens has a post at the Batavian about last night's debate in NY-26. I only sat through half of that debate, but I agree with his conclusion that voters didn't learn much from it.

In anticipation of tonight's debate in the 29th, let's drill in on one of Howard's points: "to be fair, the format sucked".

After watching the first Presidential debate, and comparing it to the other two, I've come to realize how much format matters. The first Presidential debate was much better than the second (or the Vice-Presidential debate) because it allowed the moderator to ask followups and, most importantly, it let the candidates go at each other during those followups. To accomodate that format, each issue took 5-10 minutes of debate time instead of the usual 4 or 5.

Traditional debates like last night's, which had a one-minute response and a 45-second followup, are much easier to game than the long-answer debate. If a politician can spit out 60 seconds of talking points, followed by 45 more seconds of evasive rebuttal, they can easily turn any "debate" into a series of short speeches. It's much harder to spit out canned bullshit when you have to talk about a topic for 5-10 minutes and answer your opponent repeatedly.

The long-form debate also keeps politicians on topic, since they can answer their opponent's charges directly. This is what really kills the traditional debate. Politicians almost always add a rebuttal of the last question to the next question, which just increases confusion.

National media amplifies the bullshit quotient at traditional debates by looking for a "winner" and fixating on "gaffes". Most media pundits watch debates like hockey fans waiting for a fight, or NASCAR fans waiting for a crash. The longer debate doesn't eliminate this tendency, but the short debate feeds it, because each politician is pressured for time and is more prone to try for cute comebacks rather than real analysis.

I know a lot of people who aren't very interested in politics, yet they take time from their schedules to watch debates. Campaigns put huge effort into them. Yet, the end product of so much effort and expense is almost always a low-information, tedious affair.

I believe local media sincerely wants to do better, but they're already operating at a handicap when then copy the terrible, time-limited, non-debate "debate" format that was pioneered back in the 70's.

Just as folks threw away their Earth Shoes and disco albums, we need to trash the Ford/Carter-style debate and use a lengthier, more meaningful format.

Evening News: Massa on the Radio, Polls and the Chamber

Reader Elmer sends a Star-Gazette item which announces that Eric Massa will be on 820-AM in Elmira at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Randy Kuhl will also appear sometime before the election.

Elmer also reports that he heard a Chamber of Commerce radio ad in support of Randy Kuhl and his positions on health care.. The Chamber supports a minimalist approach to health care reform, as explained here.

The Messenger-Post has a story about polling in the 29th.

In that story, Justin Stokes, Kuhl's campaign manager, argues that IVR (touch-tone) polls, such as the SurveyUSA poll, may have issues with their methodology. That may be true, though SurveyUSA had a good track record in the Presidential primaries. Today's Research 2000 poll was a live interview poll, and it was pretty close to the SurveyUSA poll.

That all said, polling House races is harder than Presidential race polling. In 2006, Mark Blumenthal posted an excellent analysis at, explaining the difficulties involved.

Ad Has Desired Effect

Yesterday's ad on health care issues from a 527 prompted a sharp response from the Kuhl campaign. WXXI has a story on the ad and Kuhl's outrage.

As I've mentioned before, half of the game with ads from outside groups is to generate free media coverage, since they rarely make a big media buy. Targets of these ads are in a tough position. If they put out a press release contesting the ad, local media coverage will probably attract more attention than the ad itself. If they don't push back, the ad airs uncontested.

Pelosi Derangement Syndrome

The Massa campaign has issued a press release about Randy Kuhl's latest ad. The release points out that the "Pelosi tax plan" that Kuhl accuses Massa of supporting is actually a non-binding resolution, that Massa isn't in Congress, and, besides, Massa has his own tax plan [pdf].

All true, but here's my question: When did Nancy Pelosi become universally despised? Or, put another way: If Massa had produced a similar ad in 2006, would he have put a picture of Denny Hastert and Randy Kuhl in it?

Perhaps it's a failure of my imagination, or a reflection of my biases, but I don't think that the undecided, low-information voters who are the target of last-minute campaign ads are going to see Nancy with Eric and reach for the smelling salts.

In addition to power of the she-devil Pelosi, Kuhl's counting on that old warhorse -- "He'll raise your taxes" -- to carry him through one more battle. I'm skeptical. We're funding an endless war, rescuing banks, and we've just nationalized an insurance company. Isn't it obvious that taxes will go up?

Democrats are saying that the top 5% will bear the burden of the increase. I think that's salable in this environment. Kuhl's implied claim that he won't raise taxes just flies in the face of economic reality.

Bailout Analysis: Mayo on a Shit Sandwich

Overpaying for $700 billion of possibly bad assets in order to re-capitalize banks is a desperation move. There are other desperation moves that probably make more sense. But, given the choice between a bailout and frozen credit markets, I'll take the bailout, reluctantly.

That said, there are good reasons to be against this bill. It could use better oversight, the final bill was larded with pork, and the equity provisions were pretty vague. So I understand Eric Massa's opposition to the bill, even if I don't agree with him.

What I don't understand is how Randy Kuhl thinks that this bill is "drastic improvement" over Monday's plan. In terms of the bailout provisions themselves, as far as I can tell, they're more-or-less identical to Monday's plan. The FDIC increase and AMT reduction are nice to have, but there's nothing new that prevents taxpayers from "picking up the tab" of $700 billion, as Kuhl claims.

Because this shit sandwich of a bill just had a little pork and taxcut mayo added, Kuhl's explanation doesn't cut it. It looks, instead, like he wanted to have it both ways. His phone lines were jammed with angry constituents last week, so he voted against Monday's bill. By Friday, it was pretty clear that small and mid-size businessmen in the 29th supported the bill, and that the credit markets were actually in crisis. So Kuhl changed his vote, apparently to appease the latter group and to avoid responsibility for a financial meltdown.

Kuhl's vote will probably end up being seen as a necessary evil. He didn't need to insult our intelligence with this "drastic improvement" spin.

Morning News: Non-Debate and Kuhl's Still Thinking

WENY has a story about the non-debate in Bath. This is the event that was supposed to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters, but after Randy Kuhl and State Senator George Winner declined to attend, it became a candidate forum.

WENY also quotes Kuhl as follows on the new bailout bill:

What I’m going to be looking for is to see whether or not the taxpayer has been really hung out to dry. Is it going to pick up the cost of the bailout at the expense of those unscrupulous lenders on Wall Street or whether or not there's significant protection for that person.

As far as I can tell, the taxpayer protections in the new bill, which amount to getting equity in the company that we're bailing out, are the same as the old bill.

The latest news from the House is that it looks like the opposition to the bill is dying down. Democrats are going to ask for a formal whip count and list from Republicans before the vote, to avoid a repeat of Monday's embarrassment.

The Senate Bill

Randy Kuhl's spokeswoman Meghan Tisinger tells Gannett that Kuhl's staff is "still studying reviewing" the bailout bill that passed the Senate last night.

This bill's bailout provisions are essentially the same as Monday's bill. But it's full of sweeteners, including a tax credits for alternative energy, and raising the limit for the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption. It also includes some strange special interest provisions, like these two:

  • Extend cost recovery period for motor racing tracks.
  • Exempt from excise tax certain wooden arrow shafts for use by children.

There's at least one change actually related to the current economic crisis: raising the limit of FDIC-insured deposits from $100K to $250K.

McClatchy has a great rundown on the bill.

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