Posts containing my opinion of the race.

No National Money - Yet

The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC) has spent $47 million on advertising in Congressional races in the last 6 weeks. Congressional Quarterly has a rundown [pdf] of spending from early September to October 19, and here is today's additional $8 million spent. None of it was spent for Kuhl or against Massa.

The Democrats aren't spending in the 29th, either. At the moment, they've limited their ad buys to an effort to lock in a 15-seat shift in Congress.

Judging from the money trail, Republicans are spending to shore up weak seats, and Kuhl isn't vulnerable enough to trigger an investment. The Democrats are throwing down on turnovers, and the 29th is too big a gamble for them to place a bet. Kuhl and Massa are on their own, and 29th voters have so far been spared from a spate of party-funded negative ads.

More VA Political Football

The Massa campaign and local bloggers are both upset about the closing of the 8 bed acute psychiatric unit at the Canandaigua VA hospital. Since this same hospital was "saved" a couple of weeks ago, there's good reason to question why services are being cut immediately after salvation was at hand.

That said, every time I hear Vets complain about the closing of a VA hospital, I wonder why they must receive their health care through a parallel, often inferior, and usually inconvenient delivery system. What if we closed every VA hospital and simply gave Veterans an insurance card that allowed them to recieve quality care at any hospital? Why should a Vet who has a psychiatric crisis be forced to travel to Canandaigua (and now Buffalo or Syracuse) for treatment?

I believe Vets should get the best care possible, but the VA system seems like a hold-over that has outlived its usefulness.

Another Left-Wing Conspiracy

Kuhl's spokesman, Bob VanWicklin, spins wildly on the Majority Watch poll:

It's a left-leaning group. I wouldn't call them independent. They're a group that wants to see a Democratic majority in Congress, from what I understand.

Majority Watch is a project of Constituent Dynamics and RT Strategies.  Constituent Dynamics is a recently established polling company trying to perfect IVR polls, or robo-polling.  RT is a joint project of one Democrat and one Republican.  They're the same firm that does polling for independent, well-respected political analyst Charlie Cook.  Many have called their polls wrong, nobody's called them biased.

And we don't know anything about the methodology of the poll, other than the little information they gave, so we're sort of skeptical about the questions they may have asked, or how they asked them.

A full discussion of methodology, as well as every question asked in the poll [pdf], is easily accessible on the Majority Watch site.  As for how the questions are asked, it's a robo-poll, so every question is asked the same way by a pre-recorded voice.

It doesn't at all compute with any of our internal polling [...] So we'll just sort of discount it.

Finally, after two heaping helpings of bullshit, a little bit of truthful spin.  I expect spin from a flack, but Mr. VanWicklin's bull-to-spin ratio is chronically high. 

Lonsberry on Batiste

Bob Lonsberry has been attacking Massa's Batiste ad on air and in print.  Between the overblown rhetoric (he calls Batiste a "foot soldier for the Nancy Pelosi army"), Lonsberry makes some points that are worth considering.   Is Batiste, as Lonsberry claims, a "Democrat shill"?  And is his appearance in a Massa ad "baseless mudslinging"?

Lonsberry's whole argument starts with the assumption that Batiste "made" the ad.  That's not true. The Massa campaign clearly states that the ad was taken from a radio interview given by Batiste.  Batiste hasn't endorsed Massa, and he's not serving as a spokesman for the Massa campaign.  Massa is using Batiste's words in his ads because he criticized Massa's opponent.

Whether or not Batiste officially endorses a Democrat, much of what Batiste says is consistent with the Democratic critique of the war in Iraq. Batiste certainly agrees with Democrats when he criticizes the conduct of the war.  He thinks that Rumsfeld's war plan allowed the insurgency to grow, and that Rumsfeld should be fired.  However, the positive part of his agenda is quite different from Nancy Pelosi's (or Eric Massa's).

First, he's on the record [pdf] on the dire consequences of pulling out of Iraq:

Should we pull out of Iraq on some timeline in the future, whatever that turns out to be, without finishing the work that we started, I think the result will be a civil war of some magnitude, which will turn into a regional mess.

Second, he's not shy about asking for a long-term, big commitment in Iraq:

Do we need to revisit a draft or some type of national service?

I think we need to seriously mobilize this country for war. That may include rationing systems to help pay for the war. It may include some kind of national service.

This is going to go on for a long time: 10 years, maybe longer. I don't know. But everything is being treated as if it is business as usual, yet we're spending $1.5 billion a week. We're funding the Army with budget supplements. That means there are no offsets. In reality, we're mortgaging our future.

Neither of these positions are Massa's or Pelosi's.  If Batiste is supposed to be a shill, he needs to go back to PR school.

Let's turn to the "baseless mudslinging" charge.  Here's how Lonsberry phrases it:

Kuhl's offense is that he went to Iraq and said he was proud of our troops. He went to Iraq and came back and said the GIs said they were completing their missions. For this the John Batiste mud-throwing ad has called him a liar.

Sounds pretty bad, if that's indeed what Kuhl said.  It isn't.  Kuhl's widely-quoted words were about the overall situation in Iraq, not just the performance of the troops.  For example, he said, "I think we'll start to see significant numbers of U.S. troops coming home by the end of this year" and "it really isn't that bad".  He no longer repeats those lines, but he still referred to his discussion with General Casey in Iraq during every debate I witnessed.

Lonsberry also says that freshman Congressmen like Kuhl have little influence over the war. That's right, but it's Kuhl himself who tried to create the opposite impression by characterizing his trip as a "fact finding" mission.  Why would Kuhl have to gather facts if he's not in a position to act on those facts?

The truth is that Kuhl's went Iraq go gather anecdotes, not find facts.  Batiste called him out immediately after the trip because his posturing was so transparent, and so transparently wrong.  He did so without any prodding from the Massa campaign.  To my knowledge, Batiste has not uttered the word "Massa" in any of his interviews or writings to date.

Lonsberry raises some other important questions in his article, such as what we're to think of generals who quit and then criticize the country's leadership during time of war.  He refers to Batiste as "Little Mac", a comparison to George McClellan, the ineffective Civil War general who ran for president. 

The McClellan comparison is clever but wrong. McClellan was relieved of command.  Batiste would have been promoted if he hadn't retired.  After being relieved of command, McClellan remained in the Army and wrote a self-justifying report lauding his actions and criticizing the Lincoln administration.  Batiste's words and actions before his retirement were scrupulously loyal -- he held his tongue until he retired.  McClellan ran for President in 1864 while still a General, resigning his commission on election day.  Batiste isn't running for office, doesn't endorse candidates, and works full-time at Klein Steel.

Batiste was in a position with no good choices.  To remain in the Army and criticize the war from the inside would be disloyal and disruptive.  Quitting and criticizing the war leaves him open to charges of disloyalty and questions about why he didn't change things from the inside.  He chose the latter course, and Lonsberry gives him harsh treatment for doing so.

While I agree with Lonsberry that merely having held a high rank doesn't give Batiste special privileges in a political debate, I don't think that Lonsberry has made the case that Batiste is a political shill.  Batiste's words might have political consequences, but there's no evidence that his motivations are partisan.

Majority Watch vs Other Pollsters

Is Majority Watch full of crazy talk?  That seems to be the theme of some postings here and on other blogs.  While keeping in mind that old chestnut "the only poll that matters is on election day", let's look how Majority Watch polls stack up in 8 9 other contested districts with multiple recent polls.

It looks like there are three four districts where Majority Watch is in the ballpark:

  • IL-06:  MW calls it Duckworth (D) by 5.  Other recent polls are tied or Duckworth by 5.
  • MN-06:  This is the Wetterling race, the mother of an abducted child who gave the Democrats' radio address on the first weekend of the Foley scandal.  Polls taken early in the month show Bachmann (R) by 3.  The MW poll taken on 10/12 shows Wetterling by 5.  A newspaper poll taken 10/16 shows Wetterling by 8.
  • NM-01:  In this heavily polled race, both MW polls are squarely in the middle of the other polls.
  • WA-08: MW is within a couple of points of a recent SurveyUSA poll, and both show Reichert (R) with a slim lead.

Here are races that have only partisan comparison polling, but MW seems reasonable:

  • CT-05:  MW has Johnson (R) by 6.  The other polls are all partisan, with the Republican poll showing the Republican by 10, and the Democratic poll showing the Democrat by 1 or by 5.
  • FL-13:  The Democratic poll has Jennings (D) up by 8 last month and 12 this month.  MW has him up by 3 last week.

Here are some districts where MW may be an outlier:

  • CO-07:  MW has it as a tie.  Other recent surveys have Perlmutter (D) up by 6 or 11.
  • NY-20:  Gillibrand's (D) own poll has her up by 1.  MW's, taken two days later, has her up by 13.
  • NY-26:  MW's Davis (D) by 16 is the widest margin so far, even though Zogby's poll taken at about the same time has Davis by 15.

Other than NY-20, I don't see a poll where Majority Watch looks way out of sync with the rest of the professional pollsters.  But, as with the first poll in this post, I recommend that all readers who are interested in polls read the excellent analysis at, which makes it clear that polling in House races is far less accurate than Presidential race polling.

(Update:  Forgot WA-08)

Battle of the Neophytes

Randy Kuhl makes much of his local background and his 24 years in the New York State legislature. At the debate in Bath, where his successors in both the state Assembly and Senate were present, he went through a long discussion how he decided to run for Congress. Part of his reasoning was that it was time to let those two get a chance to move up in the organization. Both are running unopposed, as Kuhl did 9 of the 12 times he ran for state office.

Kuhl's campaign manager is his son James. His main spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin, also worked for Amo Houghton, who had 79% of the vote the last time he ran for Congress.

Though Kuhl can rightly claim that he has far more legislative experience than Eric Massa, he can't make the same claim about campaign experience. This is probably the first tight race of his political career, and it's also probably the first for his staff. As we come down the home stretch, we can expect both campaigns to make a few "first timer" mistakes. That's what makes this race so interesting.

What's a "Negative Ad"?

Both candidates in the 29th are on record in opposition to negative advertising.  At Tuesday's debate, Randy Kuhl said "I've never run a negative campaign and never will."  Massa's made the same pledge, and has characterized Kuhl's response to the ads which ran in August as a "negative ad".

Massa's new ad campaign paints an unpleasant picture of Rep Kuhl.  The television ad is pretty mild, and the radio ad is quite harsh, though the harsh words are all coming from a respected third party, not Massa.  So are these "negative" ads?  Massa thinks not: during his appearance on WITR last night, he said that listeners need to distinguish between negative attack ads and comparative (or compare and contrast) advertising.

I see some truth in Massa's distinction.  Both candidates have a right to criticize the other, and calling all criticism "negative" simply because it's a statement against something is an assault on reason.  There's nothing wrong with an honest critique of the other guy's position.

That said, when people complain about negative ads, they're not referring to the few honest critiques that air each election cycle.  Their gripe is against the stereotypical and stupid ads that clog the airwaves.   If you've ever watched a Daily Show spoof of one of these ads, you've seen all the components:  the grainy black-and-white pictures, the deep-voiced narrator, and the overheated rhetoric. 

What voters hate about negative ads that they treat us like morons.  When they use some clever ploy (e.g., Massa's hide-and-seek kids) or feature obnoxious graphics and a sneering narrator (e.g., Kuhl's latest ad), they tell us that we're too fucking dumb or distracted to pay attention without some kind of visual aid.  Never mind that it's probably true -- even numbskulls hate being treated like morons.

I don't think Eric Massa or Randy Kuhl really understand the antipathy of the general population towards ads that contain even a whiff of the "negative ad" formula.  These guys, and the media geniuses who advise them, also don't get how a few simple ads would be a breath of fresh air.

I think Massa would have been better off by just standing in front of a camera talking about some issue -- health care, the war, free trade -- for 30 seconds.   Massa's got a lot of passion, and his campaign is a true grassroots event.  A down-to-earth ad with low production values would get that message across:  "I'm not a politician, but here's what I believe."  He could also say something like "Most of my contributors are individuals, so I'm trying to save a few bucks with this ad." 

Kuhl could also make a great positive ad by talking about how he's visited every town in the district once a year:  it's an impressive feat, no matter what you think of his politics.   He could follow it up with a discussion on how those visits changed his mind about Social Security privatization: "I listened to you."

Of course, this advice is probably considered stupid by professional media advisors.  No matter -  the first candidate who starts making simple, straightforward ads with their personal video camera will have an impact that those paid advisors can't imagine.   

Aviation Safety

Randy Kuhl brought the chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, Rep. John Mica, to the 29th yesterday to tour the Rochester and Corning/Elmira airports. Kuhl is the vice-chairman of that committee.

One of the issues discussed was consolidation of controller jobs at airports, through the use of improved software. This will reduce costs at smaller airports. What wasn't discussed was the flip side of that issue, which might have contributed to the deaths of 48 people in August in Lexington, KY. In that case, the single controller on duty cleared a Delta Express commuter jet for the correct runway and then did some paperwork. He didn't see the plane line up on the wrong runway, which was too short. Another set of eyes in the control tower might have made a life-saving difference that day.

I'd rather pay for a few extra controllers who might avert disasters like this, and lay off a bunch of security screeners. The current airport security screening process is mostly theater, and it needs to be re-designed.

Debate Coverage

I missed last night's debate.  If WETM posts it on their site, I'll watch and report.  In the meantime, here's the area media coverage:

The Star-Gazette had the longest coverage, including a short issues round-up.  The Corning Leader's piece was shorter, but mentioned an exchange on negative ads, where both claimed the other had been doing it.  (Of course, the difference is that the Kuhl campaign originated their negative ad, and the anti-Kuhl ad was made by a third party.)

WENY's online story mentioned that Kuhl called Massa a "carpetbagger".  Massa is a career military vet and the son of another career military vet.  He grew up in military bases all over the world, and moved all over as part of his career.  Though I've always found the home-town boy claim a poor reason to vote for anyone, Massa had no home prior to retirement, when he chose to move to the 29th.  That's different from the classic carpetbagger, who leaves a long-time home somewhere else to live in a district where it's easier for him to win.

WETM's story is brief and covers the reductive "Yes/No" portion of the debate. One question where both answered "Yes" was supporting stem cell research.  The devil is in the details on this one, because Kuhl voted against it last year.  Either he changed his position, or he supports research on existing lines or on non-embryonic stem cells.  Those last two are just a dodge.

Tonight's Debate

The Elmira and Corning papers are running debate preview stories this morning.  Both are examples of the kind of lazy formulaic claptrap that passes for local political journalism.

The Star-Gazette story is a "man on the street", an amalgam of ill-informed quotes used to argue that voters really care about the economy and taxes, not war and terrorism.  Never mind that the other Gannett paper in the 29th just published a poll where 82% said the war will play a major or minor role in their vote.   I think I'll trust that poll over the feelings of the first five strangers some reporter bumped into an hour before deadline.  Even though Elmira and Rochester are different, they're not 82% different.

The Corning Gazette piece is actually a little better, though it begins with a pure TFP line:

U.S. Rep. John R. Kuhl Jr., and his Democratic challenger Eric Massa will likely trade barbs...

Those fucking politicians - why must they always be trading nasty barbs?  Can't they trade something less sharp and pointy, like baseball cards or beanie babies?

Syndicate content