Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Another Retirement

According to media reports, Tom Reynolds (NY-26) will announce his retirement today.  This leaves Randy Kuhl as the only incumbent Republican running in Western New York.  Reynolds' retirement is late and unexpected, and it probably means another drain on the budget of the NRCC, since Reynolds was a reliable fundraiser.

In 2006, the Rochester media market was crowded with ads from Tom Reynolds and his self-financed opponent, Tom Davis.  Reynolds was also able to garner a significant amount of free press coverage due to his party standing, including a visit from Laura Bush.  Without the presence of Reynolds and Jim Walsh (NY-25), the 29th race might be the best-funded and most-covered campaign in the Rochester area. 

The End of the Dickert Affair

The whole Sanford Dickert/Eric Massa mess has ended with a whimper, 16 months after it emerged with a bang.

Long-time readers probably recall that Eric Massa fired his first campaign manager, Sanford Dickert, shortly after Dickert came to Corning to work on the campaign.  The firing resulted in the filing of two legal actions by Dickert, one with an arbitrator, and the other in NY court.  At the time, I wrote a long analysis of the case based on legal documents that Dickert had posted on a website he created devoted to the action.  That website is long gone, but Dickert continues to post updates on the case to his personal blog.

In January of 2007, Dickert posted the news that he and the Massa campaign had settled the first dispute over what he was owed by the campaign.  Dickert got a $40,000 settlement, even though he says that spent over $50,000 in lawyers' fees to litigate the matter.

In the latest post on the matter, Dickert released a settlement document where both parties affirm that the other is just absolutely swell.  This document apparently settles the libel suit filed by Dickert, and it signals the end of all the legal disputes between the two parties.

I've exchanged a number of emails with Dickert, who was trying to convince me to pull down the original story about the Dickert/Massa controversy.  I stand by that story, which is the result of carefully reading every word of the legal documents he provided.  I also stand by the conclusion I made there, which is that Massa made a rookie mistake by using a pretty thin employment agreement to back up a handshake with Dickert, but he did nothing illegal or immoral.  I think Dickert got the best possible outcome he could, and it's a pyrrhic victory at best.

Waiting for the Spin on PAA

The House just passed an amendment to the Senate Amendment to the Protect America Act that strips out immunity for telecommunications providers.  Instead, the new provision allows a secure court to review evidence explaining why telecoms provided wiretaps for the government without proper authorization.

The Republicans pulled out the stops, procedural and rhetorical, to pass this bill with immunity intact.  Today, the House had a secret session for the first time in 25 years, where Republicans tried to explain why retroactive immunity is necessary.  Last month, they walked out of the chamber in protest.  Back then, Randy Kuhl posted a blog entry which warned that the expiration of the PAA would have dire consequences for the nation, yet he voted against an extension. Today, President Bush said that the PAA is needed for "our children to be safe from terror."  Bush maintains this line even after repeated audits have shown that the current surveillance powers have been consistently abused by the FBI.

The Senate could still try to strip out immunity, but it sounds like the House has come to a compromise that might work.  Of course, Kuhl voted against it, along with every other Republican in Congress, even though his position a month ago was that we are in dire peril if the PAA isn't passed.  He hasn't posted anything on his blog yet, but I'm eager to hear how this vote kept us safer.

Memo to the NRCC

I realize that this might not be the best of times.  You've got forensic accountants crawling all over the place trying to figure out how your treasurer managed to embezzle a million bucks.  House members have been sitting on "their dead asses" instead of  fundraising.  And your former leader, Tom Davis, told the Washington Post, "The House Republican brand is so bad right now that if it were a dog food, they'd take it off the shelf."

With all the bad news floating around, you guys must be feeling like that old Doors song, "Been down so Goddam long it feels like up to me."  But don't let your understandable situational depression cloud your judgment.   This is not good news for you or Randy Kuhl, and there's no reason for you to reprint it on your web site.

As I explained it yesterday in this post, which you might want to review, when you start throwing mud around, some of it gets splattered on you. 

Everybody Gets Dirty in a Mudfight

Today's Washington Post delivers the headline lesson to the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) and Randy Kuhl.  Immediately after Spitzer's announcement on Monday, the NRCC began flooding reporters' mailboxes with spin emails calling for New York Democrats to return Spitzer contributions.   As the story notes, most of Democrats did, and quickly.  But reporters, being reporters, look for balance in their stories, so the Post runs this:

Earlier this week, the NRCC attacked three freshman New York House Democrats -- Reps. Michael Arcuri, Kirsten Gillibrand and John Hall-- and two New York Democratic House candidates, Dan Maffei and Eric Massa, for taking money from Spitzer.

Massa returned the cash but only after the NRCC circulated three freeze-frame photos of Massa and Spitzer together, taken from one of Massa's own campaign ads, which featured the words "trust," "integrity" and "respect."

Massa is running for a second consecutive time against Rep John R. "Randy" Kuhl, Jr. (R-N.Y.), who is no stranger to controversy himself. Kuhl's sealed divorce records were leaked weeks before the 2004 election, when Kuhl was elected for the first time. Kuhl's now-ex-wife alleged that Kuhl pulled not one but two shotguns on his wife at a dinner party and threatened to shoot her, according to media reports at the time.

Kuhl, who rushed out a press release on Spitzer the afternoon the scandal broke, could also learn a bit from Tom Reynolds.  Reynolds has said nothing that I can find on the matter.  Luckily for Reynolds, his presumptive opponent, Jon Powers, didn't get any money from Spitzer, so the NRCC didn't send out a press release about him.

Follow the Money, Not the Spin

Eliot Spitzer's on the hook for "structuring" -- moving money around to duck the $10,000 reportable cash transaction limit.  That's a serious federal crime.  Spin that ignores that fact and treats this as just a private sex scandal is missing the big picture.

There's also no evidence that Spitzer used campaign money or state money to support his habit, and since he's independently wealthy, it's unlikely that he did.  Spin that tries to make Spitzer campaign contributions look dirty is missing the big picture.

So, Spitzer should resign, because he's essentially admitted that he's guilty of a minor crime (prostitution), and it also appears that he's guilty of a more serious crime (structuring).


It's clear that he has to go, and go quickly.  New York isn't Louisiana, so being caught on tape arranging an appointment with a prostitute doesn't fall under the dead girl/live boy rule.

That said, prostitution should be legal and taxed.  At $1,000-$5,500 a throw, these prostitution rings could be a revenue goldmine.

He Said Journalism and NRCC Spin

In today's Syracuse Post-Standard, the Washington notebook column  solves the he said/she said dilemma by simply ignoring the other side of the story.  Columnist Mark Weiner re-prints National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spin without analysis or balance.

The main subject of Weiner's piece NY-25, where it looks like there won't be a primary.  This means that Democrat Dan Maffei, who came within a few thousand votes of beating incumbent Jim Walsh in 2006, will be the candidate in the general election.  The NRCC spin is that this is a good thing, because Maffei's possible primary challenger, Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, would have been a better candidate.

Perhaps there's a tiny bit of truth in that, but fact-based conventional wisdom is that primaries eat up campaign chests and bloody up primary opponents, so the lack of a primary in NY-25 is probably good news for Dan Maffei.  Since Weiner is writing a column, which is an opinion piece, he could have just said that.  Or he could have called up Maffei and gotten a reaction quote.  Either way, getting some factual balance into his column would have been easy, so he's either a biased or incompetent "analyst".

The NRCC and its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC, are full of spokespeople whose entire job is to spin any seemingly negative fact for their party into a positive.  For example, the Democrat just won a special election for Denny Hastert's old seat in the Illinois 14th.  The NRCC spent nearly 20% of their cash on hand defending the seat.  The last time a party lost the Speaker's seat, in 1994, it signaled the beginning of a dozen years of Republican dominance in the House.  Clearly, this is bad news.  The NRCC's response is typical:  "one state does not prove a trend [...] not a bellewether of what happens this Fall." 

I don't fault the NRCC for spinning NY-25 or IL-14.  But journalists should not be basing entire columns on what these people say.

By the way, I stumbled on this piece because Weiner mentions NY-29, saying that Kuhl is running despite widespread retirement rumors.   He got that right, at least.

The Obama Model for Congressional Campaigns

The Obama campaign is raising huge amounts of cash from small donors.  Could this style of fundraising catch on in congressional districts? 

I did a little back-of-the envelope calculation, and for now, I think the answer is no.  The Obama campaign recently announced that they have over one million donors.  And Obama says that the average donation received by his campaign is $109.  If you scale that to the 29th district (here are the details),  Eric Massa could raise roughly $300K if could somehow replicate Obama's success on a smaller scale. 

That number is one-tenth of what Massa says he needs to be competitive in the 29th.  So even if my calculations are off, I doubt if they're off by an order of magnitude.  We've got a way to go before all campaign financing comes from a large number of small donors.

It's Hard Out There for a Republican

Commenters and emailers who are wondering if Randy Kuhl is going to resign consistently point to his poor fundraising as evidence that he's not trying hard to get re-elected.  I disagree.  I think Kuhl's fundraising problems are structural, not personal.

Last cycle, the majority of Kuhl's financial support came from PACs whose interests dovetailed with Kuhl's committee assignments.  At the time he gathered those donations, Kuhl was a member of the Republican majority that had run Congress with an iron fist for over a decade.  Kuhl's clout, such as it was, came from his ability to get the attention of the Republican leadership of those committees, and to be a vote in the committee majority.  In 2006, sending money to Kuhl seemed like a good investment for PACs interested in advancing their legislative agenda.

Today, it's almost inconceivable that Republicans will be in control of the House after the election.  It's far more likely that President Obama will use Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to ram through his agenda, no matter what a backbench Republican like Kuhl has to say.  If you're an organization with a legislative agenda, a donation to Randy Kuhl or any other Republican is simply a bad investment, no matter what you think of Kuhl or how many times he calls you to ask for money.

Republican fundraising is lackluster across the board.  Last month, John McCain was out-raised 7-to-1 by Clinton and Obama.  At the end of January, the Republican Congressional and Senatorial committees had $50 million less cash on hand than their Democratic counterparts.  Blaming Kuhl for this state of affairs is blaming the victim.
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