Posts containing my opinion of the race.

Voting Machines

The Corning Leader documents the use of new voting machines in Steuben County. Steuben's machines were used for the first time in Tuesday's election.

Steuben is apparently one of the few counties in the 29th using the new technology. According to the Leader, Chemung County used lever machines. When I voted yesterday in Monroe County, I used the same lever machine technology that's been in use for 50 years.

The Leader reports on the usual screw-ups that accompany any roll-out of new technology. Tallies on the Steuben County website are wrong. A breakdown at one polling station required the use of a plan B that involves paper ballots.

Since turnout on Tuesday was a fraction of what it will be a year from now, I hope Chemung and Monroe aren't going to use that election as the first test of their new machines.

What NY-23 Tells NY-29

There's been a lot of bullshit promulgated about NY-23, but in the end a simple truth prevailed: Parties lose when they split their votes. Dede Scozzafava's piddling 5% of the vote would have been enough to put Doug Hoffman over the top. Instead, NY-23 went to a Democrat for the first time since the Civil War.

If a third-party candidate enters the NY-29 race, we can expect a similar outcome. Parties win when they energize their base and reach out to the middle. They lose when they divide the votes of the reach-out candidate and the base energizer. All the talk of RINOs, the constitution and "true conservatism" won't change that basic fact.

National blogs like RedState are saying "This is a great win for conservatives." Insofar as I can understand the thinking that would lead to such a statement, my guess is that the author is blithely assuming that NY-23 will be a Republican gimme in 2010.

I invite those who think NY-23 will be a turnover in 2010 to take a look at the history of SD-AL. In a June, 2004 special election, Democrat Stephanie Herseth squeaked out a 51-49 victory. Five months later, she beat the same opponent by a couple more percentage points. Ever since, she's had easy wins in a conservative, rural district.

Incumbency is very powerful, and the current attitude of the conservative Republican base is creating incumbents in districts where they shouldn't exist. Bill Owens now has a year to show the North Country what he's made of, courtesy of Dick Armey, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. As a Democrat, I can only hope that Republicans continue to listen to people who define "winning" as something other than "gaining a majority of votes in an election".

Amo Endorses Reed

Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader story [pdf] about Amo Houghton endorsing Tom Reed.

This is expected and unsurprising, though perhaps a little early. I wonder if there's an insurgent candidate in the wings who might be emboldened by the example of Doug Hoffman in NY-23.

Good Question #2: Are Bills Too Hard to Read

Elmer's second question comes from a Politico article about the complexity of the healthcare bill. Elmer challenges me to intepret this paragraph, which is part of the Politico story and was supposedly taken from the bill:

(a) Outpatient Hospitals – (1) In General – Section 1833(t)(3)(C)(iv) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395(t)(3)(C)(iv)) is amended – (A) in the first sentence – (i) by inserting “(which is subject to the productivity adjustment described in subclause (II) of such section)” after “1886(b)(3)(B)(iii); and (ii) by inserting “(but not below 0)” after “reduced”; and (B) in the second sentence, by inserting “and which is subject, beginning with 2010 to the productivity adjustment described in section 1886(b)(3)(B)(iii)(II).

It's incomprehensible unless you have a copy of Section 1833 of 42 USC 1395, obviously. (rimshot)

Actually, what's going on here is that we're looking at we're looking at the "legislative language" of the bill. Here's an article that explains the difference. When the committees debate the bill and amendments, they debate a human-readable text that explains what's going on with the bill. Then lawyers translate that to language that amends current law, and we get word salad like the paragraph above.

So, I don't know what that paragraph means. But I'm pretty sure that it was debated in plain language by the appropriate committee before it got translated into legalese.

One thing I do know is that the legislative process has gone on this way for a hell of a long time, it's disingenuous for John Boehner to bitch about it, and a lawyer like Tom Reed is better-equipped to understand it than the average person.

Good Question #1: Stimulus

Reader Elmer raises a couple of good questions in the comments. One is about the effect (or lack of effect) of the stimulus, the other is about the complexity of the healthcare bill. Let's start with stimulus.

My simple-minded answer to the question about whether the stimulus helped is that it's pretty clear that it worked. What I mean by that is that there's no question that government spending turned around the GDP numbers. This Washington Post story is accompanied a great graph showing that GDP whipsawed from - .5% to +3.5% in one quarter. As the Post reports, there's really no way that would have happened without government assistance. Here's a breakdown of that growth. A lot of it was in sectors that had government stimulus programs, including consumer spending on cars and residences. Those were stimulated by Cash for Clunkers and the $8,000 first-time homebuyer incentive. Also, with state government spending falling, the federal government has stepped into the breach:

All the strength in third-quarter government spending came from a 7.9 percent rise in spending at the federal level, reflecting in part the boost from the stimulus program. That offset a 1.1 percent drop in state and local spending, where budgets have been hard-hit by the recession. The expectation is that the stimulus program, which is helping states weather the recession, will keep government spending growing in coming quarters.

As for jobs, here's a New York Times roundup of the claims of job saving by the stimulus bill. The Times story indicates that main group assisted so far has been workers in education. The White House claims that at least a million jobs have been saved. And there's a lot of dispute about the numbers, which are premature at best.

Elmer's specific question is what did it cost to save each job. There are two answers to that question. The first is that it is too early to tell. The second is that the answer depends on whether you think that we were on the edge of another Great Depression, or if you think that we overreacted. If you think we were facing a hundred-year catastrophe, then the number of jobs that could have been lost is more than triple the current unemployment rate, which means that more than 30 million jobs were saved. If you think this was a garden-variety recession, then that number is a few million.

My Take on NY-23

Regular commenter "Up in Prattsburgh" asked my take on NY-23, noting that Mark Assini (a Conservative candidate from 2004) could jump into the 29th race and play a similar role as Doug Hoffman is playing in NY-23.

The latest Research 2000/Daily Kos poll shows Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the election to replace John McHugh, trailing Democrat Bill Owens by one point (in other words, they're essentially tied). Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava is behind by 10 points.

With the usual caveat that special elections are hard to poll and predict because turnout is a wildcard, my guess is that Hoffman will be more spoiler than victor in this race. Though Hoffman has attracted the attention of a lot of out-of-state conservatives like Dick Armey and Fred Thompson, his meeting with the editorial board of an area newspaper was a mess. Hoffman's unknown to 38% of the district, according to the latest poll, and he needs to make a good impression to move beyond his base. If he can't handle a simple editorial board meeting, he may have a hard time impressing undecided voters.

Though Scozzafava is behind in the poll, she's pulling 21 percent of the vote to Hoffman's 31, with 14% undecided. If the Republicans continue to split the vote, there's a good chance that Owens can win just by getting a decent share of the undecideds. This is highly likely since Hoffman and Scozzafava are at war with each other, spending precious money and time raising each other's negatives. Owens is spending his considerable warchest on positive ads, which drive up his favorables.

Even if Hoffman does pull out a win in NY-23, the circumstances in the 29th are a bit different. First, Tom Reed isn't a worn-out Assembly hack like Dede Scozzafava. The smartest thing the Republicans have done in the 29th so far is to refrain from nominating someone associated with the mess in Albany. Reed also doesn't have a Assembly record to run away from, and his public statements have been pretty conservative. It's going to be harder to run to the right of Reed than Scozzafava.

That all said, the Massa campaign offices would echo with the sounds of early celebration if a Conservative candidate did enter this race. It would almost certainly spell the defeat of Tom Reed next November.

I Don't Get It

Local conservatives are distributing a video (included after the break) that is supposedly bad for Eric Massa. The second part of the video repeats the supposed "gaffe" Massa made at Netroots Nation. But the first part of it is simply Massa saying "Hell no" to the notion that stimulus should be returned.

What's so bad about that? Shouldn't the 29th get all the stimulus money that it's entitled to?

Massa spends literally hours every week talking to the press and to constituents. If these are the supposed "oh shit" moments of his tenure of the last 10 months, I think he's pretty safe.

Will Contributions Become an Issue?

Tom Reed's campaign has a press release out dinging Eric Massa for taking corporate PAC money. Reed's point is that Massa's a hypocrite since he pledged not to take PAC money in his first two races. Also, though Massa often claims that he's not popular with his party's leadership, Reed says that donations from Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and others prove the opposite.

I predict that neither of these issues will have traction in the 2010 campaign.

Unless you can tie a campaign contribution to a specific bad act ("pay for play"), voters don't seem to care much about where a politician's money comes from. More importantly, if Reed plans to run a real campaign, he's also going to take some corporate PAC money, so he'll be open to the same charge of hypocrisy that he's leveling at Massa.

Nancy Pelosi didn't give Eric Massa money because he's her favorite. Pelosi could well be quite irritated with Massa, who has voted against his party at a couple of important floor votes. But Nancy Pelosi would rather be pissed at Massa than lose her position as Speaker, so she and the rest of her leadership group will be throwing money towards all of the Representatives in tight races.

The fact that Massa can get money from Pelosi without bending to her will is another benefit of living in a contested district -- a Member of Congress facing a tight race is more likely to vote with his district than with his leadership. It's the complacent safe-seat Member who tends to kow-tow to leaders in order to curry favor.

Reed's press release is included after the break:

Worry Warts

Eric Massa has been raising funds at a furious pace since election day, and today he sent out an email saying "On Saturday, 10/10 at 10:00 am, I will be making a formal announcement about the 2010 election."

It seems pretty obvious what's going to happen on Saturday, yet the Albany Project and Open Left are worried that he's not running.

I guess the 10, 10 and 10 hints were too subtle, though even the Star Gazette seemed to figure it out.

Reed Continues Digging

Tom Reed probably has blisters on his blisters from all the shoveling he's been doing lately. The hole he's dug is pretty deep:

  • Reed says that it would be "troublesome" for him to accept stimulus money he requested as Mayor, since he's now a Congressional candidate. But it wasn't "troublesome" for him to personally accept $1.18 million in grant money earlier this month.
  • Reed says that the next $500 billion of stimulus -- the source of the funds he requested for Corning -- should not be disbursed, since the administration says that the recession is likely over. But in the next breath he says he doubts that the recession is really over. If Reed really thinks the recession is still going on, then shouldn't he be advocating the release of further stimulus? Does he want the economy to fail just to make a political point?
  • Does Reed really think that voters care whether the federal budget or stimulus funds paid for important projects? When New York gets 82 cents back [pdf] of every Federal dollar we send to DC, I doubt that voters care which spending bill paid for a new water main or intersection.
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