Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Mississippi Win

Democrat Travis Childers won last night's special election in Mississippi by a comfortable margin in a redder district than the 29th. Both the DCCC and the NRCC spent heavily in the race, with the NRCC spending $1.3 million, 20% of their cash on hand.

This is the third special Congressional election lost by Republicans this year. All of the losses have been in traditionally Republican districts, and each of the elections have seen healthy spending by both parties. This Fall, it's likely that Massa will see some of the same heavy spending from the DCCC. Unless the NRCC does a dramatically better job, Kuhl probably won't get the same level of support from the national party. Tom Cole, head of the NRCC, hinted that Republican members are on their own in his statement on last night's loss:

I encourage all Republican candidates, whether incumbents or challengers, to take stock of their campaigns and position themselves for challenging campaigns this fall by building the financial resources and grassroots networks that offer them the opportunity and ability to communicate, energize and turn out voters this election.

The Reason for the Poll Release

The Massa Campaign has a new fundraising letter out, and it contains some information that puts yesterday's NRCC release of an old poll into context.

Roll Call, which is a subscription-only DC paper, has put Randy Kuhl on its its list of 10 most vulnerable Members of Congress. They've also changed the race rating to "toss up" from "Leans Republican". Most pundits still have the 29th race leaning towards Kuhl because of the fundamentals of the district. The new Roll Call rankings say the following about the race:

Although the sprawling district trends Republican in presidential election years, it will be a very competitive race. Despite representing the area in the state Legislature for two dozen years before he was elected in 2004, Kuhl has never built up much goodwill in the district, and his fundraising has been lackluster. Massa is still a little raw, but he’s genuine. Kuhl is in trouble.

According to what little Roll Call lets the unwashed masses read, the release of an old poll by the NRCC is standard operating procedure when a MOC hits the top ten.

The Massa campaign also released a story from Sunday's Corning Leader [pdf] that highlights the change in the race's ranking.

Leader Op-Eds and Letters

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader Opinion Page [pdf], which contains an op-ed from Randy Kuhl and a letter from Eric Massa.

Kuhl's op-ed is a protest of the Democrats' plan to bring the Iraq Supplemental up for a vote without committee action or much meaningful debate. At one point in the op-ed, Kuhl compares Nancy Pelosi's conduct with that of "oppressive regimes".

While I don't doubt that a little more bi-partisan agreement might make the House a better place, I wonder about Kuhl's choice to use an entire op-ed to bring up procedural issues. The House is like a sausage factory: the process can be pretty ugly and might even turn some people into vegetarians, but in the end, most people only care whether the sausage is any good. As Eric Massa points out in his letter, gas prices are up and employment is down. That's the sausage, and no matter how it's made, it isn't very tasty.


A lot of blogs (including Rochesterturning) are posting about Wednesday's Mothers' Day vote. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank explains, the Republicans had been using procedural delays all week to protest the "go it alone" Democrats, and one of those procedural votes put Republicans on the record obstructing a Mothers' Day tribute. (Of course, the real bill passed unanimously.)

But while everyone was laughing and pointing, the House and Senate reached a final compromise on the Farm Bill. In a time of skyrocketing commodity prices, the bill still allows farmers with incomes up to $1.5 million to receive subsidies. Though the bill is under veto threat from the White House, this stinking turd is the product of bipartisan negotiation and will probably be law in short order.

So if you're going to mourn the brokenness of the House, don't latch on to surface indicators like the Mothers' Day kerfuffle. Instead, take a solid look at the pork-laden, deficit-building, corporate-farm-rewarding Farm Bill. That's what's really broken, and it's been broken for a long time.

Leader Energy Story

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader front-page [pdf] story (jump [pdf]), which contains Kuhl's reaction to a DCCC press release about energy.

The DCCC claims that Kuhl is a friend of big oil, and uses two facts to back that up. First, it claims that Kuhl has received $29,600 from oil companies. Second, it claims that Kuhl voted against a bill that would end taxpayer subsidies for big oil.

Kuhl questioned the accuracy of the first charge, but according to OpenSecrets, he received $29K from energy and natural resource companies in the 2006 cycle. In the current cycle, he's received a tenth of that, but the real arm-twisting hasn't started yet.

The vote that the DCCC is talking about happened this Spring, on the Energy Bill. The summary from non-partisan Project Vote Smart, includes this:

-Prevents tax deductions to major integrated oil companies for income resulting from the domestic production of oil and gas (Sec. 301).

Kuhl also supports a cut in the gas tax and drilling in ANWR, both of which aren't solutions, as I've discussed earlier.

Kuhl's Safe Housing Vote (In Pictures)

Randy Kuhl's vote against the Housing Bill yesterday will not become a campaign issue in the 29th. The main provision of the bill would let the FHA re-insure underwater mortgages if the mortgage holder (bank) agrees to reduce the principal to 85% of the current home value.

In other words, in return for taking a loss, the bank gets the mortgage off their books. Since the homeowner must re-qualify for the loan, this program also weeds out borrowers who can't pay the new mortgage.

The reason this bill won't be an issue in the 29th is that we don't have many underwater borrowers. Take a look at this graph:


As you can see, the 29th had a small increase in house pricing. The sunbelt states and urban growth areas, where speculation was widespread, are where the prices are falling. The 29th is also doing fairly well in mortgage delinquency:


We seem to be able to pay our mortgages in the 29th, at least when compared to boom areas.

Whether Kuhl's vote was the right thing to do is worth debating, but, politically, I don't see a downside in his decision to stick with the rest of his party and vote against the bill.

(Graphs from the Federal Reserve via the excellent Calculated Risk blog.)

Public Service Announcement

If you're reading this article about Bush's threatened veto of the Housing Bill, and then you see this press release from Randy Kuhl, don't be confused. Kuhl is co-sponsoring a housing bill, but it isn't the housing bill that Bush wants to veto.

That latter bill's author, Barney Frank, believes that he'll get significant Republican support. My guess is that support won't include Rep. Kuhl, because co-sponsoring an alternative bill that has no chance of passage is usually an attempt at inoculation. Kuhl can say that he supported a better alternative, even if that alternative was introduced a short time ago and has no chance of passage.

Update: Kuhl voted against the bill in three key votes today (here, here and here).


Democrat Don Cazayoux won a close special election last night in heavily Republican LA-06. In contrast to the MS-01 race which I bemoaned earlier, the DCCC spend heavily and well in LA-06, including significant late expenditures on get-out-the-vote organizing, which is critical in special elections.

Spending's important, but what's more interesting to me about this race, which occurred in a district redder than the 29th, is that Cazayoux won on the issues, and the Republican campaign of Woody Jenkins lost on the same old NRCC playbook that seems to be wearing thin with voters.

The NRCC, which also spent heavily, ran a couple of ads tying Cazayoux to the "Obama-Pelosi team". These ads also claimed that Cazayoux would raise taxes. An independent organization called "Freedom's Watch" also ran attack ads, including this gem, which highlighted Cazayoux's vote against a bill that would put "In God We Trust" on the wall in schools. That ad was pulled by a local station because it also claimed, falsely, that Cazayoux wanted to extend health benefits to illegal aliens.

Cazayoux's ads, which can be viewed here, were about healthcare and middle-class tax cuts. His issue page leads with education, and he also supports withdrawal from Iraq.

Cazayoux is the second Democrat to win a special election this year in a heavily Republican district. In March, ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert's old seat (IL-14) fell to Democrat Bill Foster, who ran mainly on Iraq (his ads are here). The number-one issue on his opponent Jim Oberweis' issue page is illegal immigration, and Oberweis' harsh immigration ads in an earlier campaign were apparently based on false data. The DCCC also spent heavily on this race.

It's easy to make too much from a sample size of two, but if I were the Kuhl campaign, I'd be wondering about running the NRCC playbook this fall. Saying a Democrat will raise taxes, that he'll allow a horde of immigrants to cross the border, and trying to link him to supposedly toxic figures like Pelosi and Obama didn't work in two recent elections. And Republican voters are electing Democrats who say they'll end the war in Iraq and do something about healthcare. When you're on the wrong side of too many issues, the usual distractions won't work. Perhaps its time for Republicans to start talking about their positive agenda, if they have one.

You Know You're In Trouble When...

Farm Bill and Ethanol

Today's Corning Leader has a story on the Farm Bill, which is still crawling through Congress. The bill includes $1.6 billion in specialty crop funding, which will help the area's apple and grape growers.

The bill still includs $5.2 billion of "direct payments" to farmers, who are making record profits due to high food prices that are causing widespread malnutrition in developing countries.

The Times' article on the bill notes that the ethanol tax credit has been reduced 6 cents, to 45 cents/gallon. Though the bill adds incentives for cellulosic ethanol, the corn ethanol subsidy continues to line the pockets of agribusiness without contributing to energy independence.

The ethanol subsidy is an area of government dysfunction where both the left and right can agree. Eric Massa has spoken out against corn ethanol in the past. And even the conservative National Review thinks we're getting shafted:

But today, liberal environmentalists are not the ones pushing ethanol. It's Agribusiness, all the way. Most reputable liberals believe ethanol to be a big joke — an enormous corporate welfare subsidy with no real benefits and many downsides.

On many issues, Conservatives have more in common with ideological liberals than we do with the business interests that come to Washington looking for a handout. Our goal should be to persuade the Left — to use clear failures we agree on, like ethanol — to demonstrate that Big Business will always come to Washington for handouts until Washington stops giving them altogether. Each new handout is the next ethanol, the next sugar — and once you've started giving a handout, it never ends.
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