Posts containing my opinion of the race.



This is a rant, but it's relevant to the 29th.  Those interested can continue after the jump.

Others might want to check out Kathleen Edwards' album Failer.  It covers the same themes.

Yesterday, in addition to the Pennsylvania mess (more on that anon), there was a special congressional election in a super-Republican Mississippi-1.  The NRCC spent $292K in this race.  That's 4% of their total cash-on-hand.  The DCCC spent $142K on their race.  That's .3% of their cash-on-hand.  (3/10ths of 1%).   The Democrat in the race lost by 2%

Over at Rochesterturning, Stlo7 carries a little DCCC water with this comment:

I’m not sure “could of” or “should of” plays here. [...]

Bottom line - this presents an opportunity to continue to bleed the NRCC dry continuing in Mississippi through November.

Plus they still might win the run-off.

Strategically, the DCCC wants to bleed the NRCC dry so they are electorally ineffective in November. This is part of that strategy and it seems to be working. [...]

I don't mean to pick on Stlo7 -- he's a hard-working, smart guy.  But this attitude is what's wrong with the Democratic party.  Any failure is reasoned away with poisonous "failure is actually part of our devious plan" logic.  This attitude allows incompetents to continue to run the party and focus attention away from quality party-building activities. 

The reality in MS-1 is that special elections generally have low turnout, that the closeness of this election was due in large part to a "bitter" split in the Republican party over who to run for this supposedly safe seat.  This election will be a wake-up call for Republicans who stayed home, and it's much less likely that the next special will be as close.  Any rational observer must see MS-1 as a missed opportunity for the DCCC.  So what if the NRCC spent more?  They avoided a catastrophic loss. 

That's not "bleeding" -- it's having the guts to take a risk by wagering a good part of your precious warchest, and getting a return on your investment.   The bleeders here are the DCCC, who made a classic bad bet:  it's a rounding error on their enormous bank account, but it also was just little enough to lose. 

failotron.gifThe DCCC is supposedly "under new management" under Chris Van Hollen, but I think the FAIL-o-tron 6000 is still ensconced somewhere deep in the bowels of DCCC HQ.  The FAIL-o-tron, for those unfamiliar with the technology, is a device powered completely by failure, and is used to predict the next Democratic move.  Originally, the FAIL-o-tron was fed the tears of homely girls who weren't asked to prom, but over the years its power was greatly increased as it ingested copies of the Starr report mixed in with stock certificates.  Today, it is running hot on Countrywide Finance foreclosure notifications.

Consultants like Bob Shrum and Mark Penn have a direct connection to the FAIL-o-tron embedded in their tiny lizard brains.  The FAIL-o-tron tells them that process is for the little people, that kissing the asses of big donors is the only way to raise money, and that  Democrats can win by hanging on to "blue" states and forgetting everyone else.

So, when Barack Obama starts a grassroots campaign that focuses on winning the primary by (shock, horror) registering huge numbers of new voters and turning them out, when Obama ignores big donors and powers his campaign on millions of little donations, and when Obama runs hard in every state, even Idaho, then the FAIL-o-tron has a failure script ready to go. 

That script is very like the DCCC's.  It begins with the "devious plan" rhetoric.  Hillary's devious plan was to ignore caucuses to focus on a decisive win in February March (oops, I guess it's May now).  The devious plan was accompanied by a constantly changing message, another FAIL-o-tron special, since it is calibrated to vary its output based on slight, meaningless poll changes.  In addition, the FAIL-o-tron has exquisite self-protection mechanisms, so nobody with a F-o-t implant gets fired.  Despite screwing the pooch like no other, Penn is still an employee of the Clinton campaign.

The FAIL-o-tron is hard at work in Monroe County.  After the MCDC's inability to field a candidate for county exec, nothing happened.  The same bumblers are still bumbling along.  When Town of Mendon Republicans lost a couple of city races, the Monroe County chair canned the entire committee.  I think it's immensely telling that the reaction at Rochesterturning was to search for some reason why this wasn't fair.  They didn't ask why their own party was unable to accomplish the same task.

In the 29th, the DCCC's FAIL-o-tron dictated that there's no way that Eric Massa could win in 2006, so Massa got little support.  Today, that story seems to be changing, but the DCCC F-o-t's residual prom-rejection tears remember the pain, and it's scared of losing.  The FAIL-o-tron will probably dictate a token contribution like the MS-1 race.

I'd like to be mad at the FAIL-o-tron, but it's just a machine.  I'm disappointed when smart Democrats start to take its bullshit seriously.  We need to stop drinking this weak Kool Aid.  The DCCC fucked up in MS-1.  It's not the most tragic fuckup in recent memory, but it's a legitimate fuckup, and I'm calling it what it is.

North vs. South in the 29th

Sadface If you want to know the difference between the more affluent and suburban Northern 29th, and the less affluent and more rural Southern Tier, look no further than this story in today's Corning Leader.  The town of Bath, located a few miles from Randy Kuhl's home in Hammondsport, is reeling after Wal-Mart decided not to build a superstore there.

Two years ago, Wal-Mart was interested in building a superstore in Lima, just over the district border.  Residents in nearby Mendon, a Rochester exurb full of sprawling homes and horse paddocks, began a campaign against Wal-Mart that has been successful.

Today, there's no superstore in Lima, and Muffy and Biff are happy that they can still drive their Volvo to the local hardware store in Mendon to buy fencing wire for their stable.  There's no superstore in Bath, and the town's deputy supervisor is "disappointed, very disappointed."

An Uncomfortable Fact About Gas

Eric Massa and Randy Kuhl are both addressing the issue of higher gas prices. 

The Kuhl take is the same as the rest of the Republican caucus: it's Nancy Pelosi's fault.  If you're interested in the tortured logic by which Kuhl arrives at this view, here's his floor speech.   The sum total of Kuhl's "argument", which is cribbed from his caucus, is that Pelosi said that Democrats would lower gas prices and they haven't.  Ergo, it's all Pelosi's fault.  I don't think anyone's buying:  unless the use of botox somehow depletes the world's oil supply, Nancy is in the clear.

Massa's view is as follows:

The source of this problem is clear - Randy Kuhl and far too many Washington insiders have allowed Big Oil to gouge us at the pump. To solve this problem, we must stop the George W. Bush Big Oil handouts and start investing in real energy independence for America, not real obnoxious profits for Exxon Mobil.
I agree with Massa that the subsidies and tax breaks for big oil make no sense, especially when oil is over $100/barrel, and they should be ended at once.

But here's the unpleasant fact:  the only thing that causes us to stop using so much gasoline, and to invest in energy independence, is high gas prices.  For the first time since 1991, and the eighth time since 1951, gas consumption is down in the United States.

"Sustained higher gasoline prices are beginning to show up in lower gasoline consumption,” said Tancred Lidderdale, an analyst for the Energy Information Administration.
While I agree with Massa that, in theory, the government could implement an energy independence program, it's too late for that.  We're like the fat smoker who just had a heart attack.  We've known for decades what we're supposed to do, but we will only do it under influence of tremendous pain and fear.

Gas Prices and DAR

The Hornell Evening Tribune covers Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa's positions on gas prices.  This is a good story and worth reading in its entirety.  It's also notable for this Kuhl quote about the McCain proposal for a gas tax holiday:

“The effect I’m concerned about is loss of revenue,” Kuhl said. “That loss would be covered by the general fund, so there would be a lessening of the impact, but I don’t like the idea of building future debt for our children.”
Kuhl, the Republican in the race, rarely acknowledges the massive national debt.

The Wellsville Daily Reporter has a story with photo of Kuhl presenting a DAR good citizen award.  Some commenters on earlier fundraising stories have noted that it appears that Kuhl doesn't want to fundraise.  But in the Southern Tier, where free publicity like this story is plentiful for an incumbent, perhaps Kuhl's decision to spend more time at photo ops rather than on the phone begging for money makes some sense.  And remember, this publicity is all on Uncle Sam's dime.

"Starting Later" is No Explanation

Yesterday's Corning Leader says this about Kuhl's lackluster fundraising:

One possible explanation for the discrepancy in fund raising numbers is the length of time the two candidates have been officially in the race.  While it was widely speculated Kuhl would run for reelection, he did not officially kick off his re-election campaign until March.
Kuhl kicked off his 2006 campaign at about the same time as this year's campaign.  According to his Q1 2006 report, he raised $764K by the end of March, 2006.  His latest report shows that he's raised $606K over the same period this cycle.  He's raised $160K less in a comparable period, and his cash on hand is down roughly $75K.

In contrast, Massa raised $255K by this time in the 2006 cycle.  He's raised $868K this time.

Kuhl faces a more experienced, more well-known, and better-financed candidate this cycle, and he does so with less cash than he had last cycle.  This is grim news for the Kuhl campaign, and no spin will change that fact.

Debates and Money

The Messenger-Post's latest editorial says that the "ball is in Kuhl's court" on debates between the two candidates.  Kuhl's reasons for waiting to schedule debates are his need to gather petition signatures and the possibility of having a primary opponent.

The real reason, which is true in almost every campaign, is that the incumbent has more to lose than the challenger in debates.  Debates also allow the voters to see the challenger and incumbent at the same level, and take some of the sheen of inevitability from the incumbent.

So, I don't blame Kuhl for waiting to schedule debates, and I understand why Massa is pushing hard to get him to commit to them. 

What I don't understand is how Kuhl's impoverished campaign is going to get its message out.  Part of the reason Kuhl won in 2006 was a last-minute blitz of TV ads in the Rochester market.   It doesn't look like he's going to be able to afford that this year.  Direct mail is also expensive.  And even the Internet costs money -- Randy doesn't even have his campaign website up yet.

Unlike expensive for-pay media, debates only cost the gas money, and they're usually well-covered by the press.  For that reason alone, I'm wondering if we'll see the Kuhl campaign decide to attend a few more this time around.

Paging Elmer Fudd

Guns are a hot-button issue, especially in the rural parts of the 29th.  Will Barack Obama's recent comments about guns lead to coattail issues for Eric Massa?  I'm not an expert on the Southern Tier, but based on my experience in other rural areas, my guess is that Obama's gun comments won't do any lasting damage.

I grew up in a small town on the plains where guns and hunting were just a part of life.  Our family, like most other families, had guns -- in our case, a rifle and a couple of shotguns.  My Dad didn't pass down the hunting tradition to his sons.  He had done some hunting as a boy on the farm where he grew up, and he decided it wasn't for him.  His contribution to our gun education was a few serious talks about gun safety when his sons got old enough to do a little casual hunting.   The biggest thing I ever killed was a prairie dog, and, like my old man, I decided it wasn't for me. 

My experience is that most people take their hunting and gun ownership seriously, because a gun is an interesting and sometimes dangerous tool that must be treated with respect.  But, like every other human pursuit, some make gun ownership and hunting the center of their existence.  When I was growing up, these people had bumper stickers on their pickups making predictions about their cold, dead hands.  In our small town, these people were tolerated.  They certainly weren't celebrated, because, frankly, they were a little scary. 

So, when Obama talks about clinging to guns, I'll wager that every single person back home knows exactly what he means.  In fact, if they're like me, they can put a face on it (I'm thinking of you, 8th-grade civics teacher/NRA member). 

Is that condescending?  I thought to condescend was to imagine something false about the "little people".  The phenomenon that Obama describes is real.  The condescension I see is from media elites whose idea of hunting was shaped by watching Warner Brothers' cartoons on Saturday mornings.

Obama's real position on guns is a little better than average for a Democrat, but, like Hillary Clinton, it isn't appealing to rural populations.  Proposed restrictions on guns and ammo sales at gun shows are a pain in the ass for rural voters, who resent being inconvenienced for what they think is a big city problem.  The NRA and other groups try to spin assault weapon bans as the first step towards government confiscation, but most reasonable hunters I know don't hunt with AK-47s or AR-15s.  That said, anyone who's ever fired a rifle or shotgun knows that the firepower available in "hunting" guns can do sufficient damage in the wrong hands, so the whole assault ban seems kind of silly.

Even though Obama's position on guns isn't what most hunters want to hear, most of them understand that you don't get everything you want from a politician.  They also understand that guns are here to stay, no matter what the fear-mongers say. My 8th-grade civics teacher will not vote for Obama, but that's true about any Democrat on the national stage.  Unlike him, the majority of gun owners will weigh Obama's position on guns along with the rest of his views.

Eric Massa, whose position on gun control is "no additional federal regulation", probably won't be hurt by what Obama said, since their positions are different.  If you want some evidence that Massa's strategy on guns works, consider Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD-AL), Earl Pomeroy (D-ND-AL), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Kent Conrad (D-ND) or Byron Dorgan (D-ND).  There are probably more hunters in the Dakotas than in all of New York State, and 5 of 6 of their national representatives are Democrats.

Mortgage Crisis Anecdotes

As I wrote earlier, the Rochester area did not experience a housing bubble.  Yesterday, I had a conversation with a former mortgage broker turned loan officer, and it's pretty clear that this area didn't escape the sub-prime financing boom, and that our market will be feeling the impact of the sub-prime bust.   Here's some of what this person experienced:

  • The bulk of recent mortgage business handled by this broker was sub-prime, meaning that the house was financed 100% by the bank.  These loans were more lucrative for the banks because of the extra fees and interest the bank could charge for no-collateral mortgages.
  • Many loans were "stated income" loans, which means the borrower stated their current income and did not provide any income verification.  Industry slang for these loans is "liars loans".
  • Some home equity line of credit companies employed appraisers who routinely inflated home values.  In practice, this means that homeowners are unable to refinance their homes to escape the high interest of their second mortgage, because the true appraised value of their home is less than what they owe on their first and second mortgages.
  • There have been a good number of "short sales", where the bank allows the borrower to settle their mortgage for the price of their house, even if that house price is less than the mortgage balance. 
With 20-20 hindsight, banks are clamping down, hard.  Liars loans are a thing of the past, income must be verified, and mortgage companies have completely disconnected appraisers from brokers to reduce fraud.

The end result is that loans are harder to get, and those with any credit or income issues are immediately shunted to the FHA.  In Rochester, this means fewer buyers, and also that marginal property (poorly maintained, bad location) is selling for far less than it did a short time ago.  In addition, the market is further depressed by short sales, because the bank and borrower are motivated to sell the house quickly and for less than previous market values.

Though this conversation is a sample of one, it's certainly consistent with what I've read is happening with financing in bubble areas.  Mortgage companies were offering more credit that their customers could handle.  As I noted earlier, government can't really fix that unless they continue the questionable lending practices that got us into this mess in the first place.  We're going to have to ride this one out.

Afternoon News

A long, good story on Rochester-area Congressional politics and how it's changing, with four reporters contributing. Must be the area's "paper of record", the Democrat and Chronicle, right? 

Naah, it's today's Messenger-Post, now officially the best Rochester-area newspaper.  One of the themes of the story is how the the loss of Jim Walsh (NY-25), who had a senior position on the Appropriations Committee, will affect the district.  Randy Kuhl wants to try for some of that Walsh-style clout, though even he admits the odds are "slim".  The odds would be better if he were in the majority, of course, which points out how Kuhl has a tougher road in 2008.

In other news, we have the yin of Randy Kuhl being honored by the Chamber of Commerce opposed by the yang of Eric Massa being endorsed by the AFL-CIO.   I don't know if a unity of opposites is discernable in these two announcements.  I'm afraid we haven't reached that level of enlightenment in the 29th.

Groundhog Day News

David Petraeus is the Iraq groundhog:  he pops up every six months and talks about the war.  Randy Kuhl articulates his view of the groundhog's March shadow in a press release that's full of the same rhetorical tricks he's been using for years. 

Here's one example -- everyone who's against the war was raised wrong:

I was raised, like many generations of Americans, on the principle that you must finish what you started. Regardless of one’s opinion on how and why the United States became involved in Iraq, we must complete what we began.
I guess Kuhl has been so beaten down that even he no longer uses the word "victory".  His new substitute, "finish", is even more meaningless.  Like Petraeus, Kuhl stubbornly refuses to discuss any kind of end game in Iraq, other than the notion that Iraq should be a "democracy". 

Kuhl also included this straw man:

Too many current and aspiring Members of Congress are quick to ignore and refute the guidance of the two men who know the most about the military and diplomatic situation in Iraq.
I haven't heard much refutation of Petraeus' and Crocker's analysis of the situation on the ground:  progress is "fragile and reversible".  The question is what to do about that situation.  In other words, what's our strategy?  Leaders' opinions often differ from those of Generals and Ambassadors.  Lincoln actually fired a few generals, as did Roosevelt and Truman.  Perhaps Kuhl, who aspires to leadership in his party, might want to exercise some here.

Kuhl's apparently signed on to the John McCain political suicide pact:  100 years or forever, whichever comes first.  It doesn't have to be this way -- there are Republicans who disagree.  I've included the words of one after the break:
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), Ohio: Condoleezza Rice should get together with you guys and she should work day in and day out to let them know, "Folks, we're on our way out." And I just wonder: Do you understand that, that that's where we're at?

We have somebody sitting across the table here, maybe the next president of the United States. And the American people have had it up to here.

And, you know, we appreciate the sacrifice that you've made and your families have made. Lives have changed forever. But the truth of the matter is -- and I'm sure your guys and women understand it.

Do you know something? We haven't sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one, never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people we lost.

And I'd like to know: What do you think about the idea of really coming up with a surge during this next 10 months and let them know, you know, it's going to be over here, folks, and you'd better get at it?

RYAN CROCKER: Well, Senator, I appreciate the -- you know, the sense of frustration that you articulate. I share it. I kind of live it every day. I mean, the reality is it is hard in Iraq, and there are no light switches to throw that are going to go dark to light.
This is from last night's Newshour coverage.
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