Friday, September 26, 2008

What's Up with the Bailout Deal?

Finding myself in Washington right now, I thought I’d fill in all y’all who might be wondering a bit about what’s going on in Washington right now with the bailout.

Yesterday and today, Congress has been sitting between “tick” and “tock” – stuck in time between the second on the clock, waiting for the gears to turn and for the next moment to start. But it hasn’t happened. We are stuck between two moments.

The negotiations are taking place between the leadership of the both chambers and Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, who chair their chambers respective financial services committees.

Neither Obama nor McCain are part of the official leadership of the Senate nor do they sit on the Senate Financial Services Committee. So, to answer your question – Yes, Virginia, that was a shameless and counterproductive political stunt by McCain.

Fortunately, the negotiators have managed to kick McCain back onto the curb and, more importantly, to keep Presidential politics out of these negotiations.

I don’t have a relationship with the leadership of the either chamber, but do have some connections to a number of so-called rank and file members.

While staying late at a fundraiser earlier this week, a number of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) meandered in to talk shop. Listening in, it became clear that no one really knows what is going to happen or exactly when.

It does seem pretty certain that Congress will be in session on Saturday. It seems almost indisputable fact that Congress will, after breaking for Rosh Hashanah, come back Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week (this week was originally scheduled to be the last week in session until after the election).

So what’s the news? In one sense, the news is that there is no news.

Everyone is waiting and watching and uncertain. Rank and file House Republicans are ready to revolt. Many Democrats wanted to include a measure allowing bankruptcy judges to set monthly mortgage payments at a level so that homeowners in danger of foreclosure due to ballooning payments can make their mortgage payments – but supposedly that provision is out and many rank and file Democrats will withdraw support for a deal that doesn’t include this or a similar measure to protect homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes due to the mortgage crisis.

On a final note, a no name storm off the Carolinas has turned the air cold and the weather wet here in Washington, DC and I’m looking forward to a speedy return to the Sunshine State.

Update: The scuttlebutt is that a bailout bill will be introduced tomorrow and a vote on it will be held on Sunday.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Happened to Palin?

Palin has morphed in a Bush-like character in this respect - she inspires great devotion among the GOP base, but turns off Dems and many independents.

She is officially the least popular of the four (Obama, McCain, Palin, and Biden) - see graph for details of net favorable/unfavorable ratings.

A lot can happen before November 4th and the debates will have a huge impact, but right now, it appears Palin was a bad bet.

Picking Palin was like drinking a can of Red Bull. For short time, you're moving along like the energizer bunny, but later, you're back where you started, but with an uncomfortable taste in your mouth.

This was by no means Palin's fault - the McCain campaign tried to fit a square peg into a round hole. By choosing the package her as an anti-earmark reformer, they ran straight into the weed whacker of reality. In this case, reality is accusations of misuse of her office in the service of some cronyism and to carry out some family grudges as well as a well documented thirst for earmarks.

Had they packaged her differently, she might not be seeing her unfavorable rating creep closer and closer to her favorable ratings (if Troopergate gets any worse, we may very well see this campaign end with Palin suffering from net unfavorables in a majority of national polls).

Corollary to Campaign Field Work

I saw this blog post as an interesting and useful corollary to my earlier post What Does "Field" Actually Do on a Campaign.

Recommended reading, definitely. Anyone who has ever done extensive canvassing will suffer a sad flicker of recognition.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On the Uses of Polling

Polling often gets a bad rap. Politicians are accused of using polls as a substitute for principles. I’ve worked with candidates who didn’t want to put a poll in the field because they didn’t want to know ahead of time how the election would turn out.

Both represent misunderstandings of the legitimate use of polling.

To answer the easy one first – the politicians who didn’t want to see a poll done because they didn’t want to know the future – polls are not, contrary to popular opinion, predictors.

What! You exclaim. What do you mean? Of course they are used to predict future.

Not really. Just about the only time a poll is used as predictive device is when a presidential candidate is determining what states to compete in and when a party committee determines what districts to play in. For example, the National Republican Congressional Committee might look at a poll and determine that Kathy Castor is not vulnerable in a general election therefore decide not to put any resources into that seat. That is an example of the predictive use of polling, but it is not the primary function of a poll.

There are two main types of polls – baseline and tracking polls.

If you have never worked in a paid capacity on a campaign, you have probably never seen a baseline poll. These are the polls done early in the process that are used for message development. Contrary to popular opinion, when properly used, polls are not tools for picking positions. It is used for picking what you emphasize – for example, a clear majority thinks that Sen. McCain is dead wrong in his belief that invading Iraq was the correct action. He did not say, a la Edwards, call his support for the invasion a mistake. Instead, he talks about Iraq issues where he is less at odds with the American people – his criticism of Rumsfeld (which he exaggerates to the point of untruth, but that’s another matter) and his early calls for a “surge” in Iraq. Some issues, he avoids talking about all together. McCain is fairly far out of the mainstream on abortion and while he hasn’t changed his position on the issue, he does refrain from speaking about it to swing voters.

Because a baseline poll is done early, before most, if not all, of the advertising, it is not predictor, because it is done before all the tools of the campaign have been put into motion. It doesn’t say if a candidate will win, it merely helps illuminate possible paths to victory.

The other kind of poll is a tracking poll. These are those regular polls we see coming from Gallup, Zogby and Rasmussen. They are not predictors, they aresnapshots in time. When used properly, it is not used as a magic 8 ball to guess what will happen in November. Instead, they measure movement from the baseline.

A candidate will do a baseline poll to find issues and messages that will be relevant to voters. The candidate campaigns using that information and the tracking polls (which usually will have a smaller sample size – mainly as a cost-saving measure because it does no good to spend your entire budget on polls and have nothing left for media and field) measure whether they are getting any traction. They may also be used to measure how voters react to issues that come up in the middle of a campaign.

For more information about polling, I can recommend no better site the Another go site with an unique take on polling is

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Palin Pick

While this is technically beyond the scope of a locally focused blog, I feel like I have to say something.

When Sen. John McCain first picked Gov. Sarah Palin, my first thought was, “wow, this could really work – women voters might be convinced to move to this ticket.”

Twenty-four hours later, I wanted to call McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and senior strategist Steve Schmidt and tell them that I understand because members of my family have struggled with alcohol abuse in the past and that I am there for them when they are ready to experience what St John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”

I am joking of course, but only barely. I don’t know if members of McCain’s senior campaign staff have a substance abuse problem, all I know is that someone over there has been drinking the kool-aid.


This makes them look really bad. Really bad.

Why? Because this isn’t about Palin or her daughter or any internet rumors.

This is about the truly stunningly bad judgment that they made. This is about how Palin feeds into the meme that McCain campaign can’t quite get things together. This is about how no one seriously believes that they knew about Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy.

Yes, yes. I have heard the arguments and read the headlines – the Palin’s family travails actually helps the McCain-Palin ticket.

*cough*cough* *cough*cough*

It’s got nothing to do with family values or any other smokescreen people will throw up over this issue.

There is one overarching reason why this is a serious problem for McCain – staying on message.

Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be able to travel the country and talk about middle class tax relief, ending tax breaks for oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas, and reforming healthcare so that all Americans can get the coverage they need.

McCain and Palin will try and talk about their issues (which will no longer include experience), but all they’re going to be asked about is Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and whether they really think being mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and commanding the Alaska National Guard during the great Moose and Caribou Wars makes you qualified to be president. They might also be asked whether Palin really believes in dividing the United States (she belonged to the Alaska Independence Party). Oh… and about the ongoing investigation into whether she used the power of her office to punish her sister’s ex-husband.

They may talk about other issues, but no one is going to be listening. It doesn’t matter whether or not she supports Alaska seceding from the Union, whether there is a crime at the bottom of Troopergate or whether she ever talked to Bristol Palin about the proper use of a condom. All that matter is that McCain’s message has officially gotten lost in the mail and he has no one to blame but himself and his own staff.