Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Would Jack Kingston, An Otherwise Intelligent Man Who Once Had Aspirations To Be A U.S. Senator, Agree To Do This? And Has He Fired The Communications Staffer Responsible For Putting This On The Schedule?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Will Florida Produce the Next RNC Chair?

Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer (see photo), as you may know, is in the mix to be the next chair of the Republican National Committee. He faces a lot of competition from the chairs of the Michigan and South Carolina state parties, from Mike Huckabee’s former campaign manager, former Iowa congressman and Bush Administration official Jim Nussle, and from former Maryland Lt. Governor Mike Steele.

So where does Florida stand in all this?

Not bad, actually.

I can’t pretend to be in the know among the 168 voting members of the Republican National Committee, but Greer seems like a strong candidate.

Why? Didn’t McCain lose Florida? Didn’t the Republican loses two congressional seats?

Well… yes, but…

But Michigan went double digits for Obama and McCain was publicly humiliated when the media caught wind of the fact that his campaign was pulling well in advance of the election. And South Carolina? Well, South Carolina was never in danger, but it also means that it is not a showcase for one’s ability to win in difficult or even challenging circumstances.

Obama’s victory in Florida moves us once again to the top of the strategic target pile, much as we were after 2000. With Gov. Charlie Crist remaining a rising star, particularly by managing to mostly stay away from McCain, except as necessary not to appear to be publicly repudiating him, so as not to be tainted – well that is just icing on the cake.

Chip Saltsman, Huckabee’s campaign manager would be a poor choice unless the party decides that the former Arkansas governor is the man they need to lead them to the promised land in 2012.

Jim Nussle reputation as a pragmatic moderate - the sort of person who might be able to pull the Republican brand out of the doldrums. Naturally, he doesn't have a chance. It doesn't help that he joined the Bush administration's budget team after leaving Congress to run for Iowa governor and lose. Nor does it help that his former seat is now safely and solidly Democratic. Really, I don't think he has a chance.

That leaves Mike Steele. When our own hapless Senator Mel Martinez was named RNC chairman, I noted that this was a terrible idea. Martinez is not even close to being a strong political mind and that if the RNC really wanted a minority chairman, Michael Steele was the perfect choice. And he still might be.

Mike Duncan, the caretaker chair of the RNC might still throw his hat in the ring, but I think the GOP is looking for someone who promises change – whether that change is a return to traditional Republican values (the lack thereof being often blamed by conservative pundits for the losses in 2006 and 2008 and the lack of good ideas, message, and direction and the existence of one G.W. Bush being blamed for it by everyone else) or the “big tent” GOP espoused by former chair Ken Mehlman.

Greer has a good fundraising base in Florida (and without a sitting president to rake in the cash, the RNC will need a strong fundraiser). Certainly, if elected, Florida can expect to see a lot money spent to protect GOP majorities in the legislature and to fend off the obituaries already being written for Martinez’ political career.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Independence Day

I just wanted to share a nice little graph put together by the great minds over at

As you can see, GOP identification is barely staying ahead of Independents.

I am actually reminded of what I encountered while working Iowa many years ago (good heavens – have I been doing this for so long?), when Republicans controlled the legislature and 4 of 5 Congressional seats. At the time, party identification was roughly 25% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 45% Independent.

I expect those Independent numbers to keep moving upwards. In California, that bastion of progressivism and a Democratic stronghold, new voters are overwhelmingly registering as DTS – Decline To State.

This will create many new challenges for campaigns as the base of individuals that self-identify as either Democrat or Republican whither. Campaigns will have to focus on the kind of data-mining techniques done by firms like Catalist to identify Independents who identify with a candidate’s issues, because party identification simply won’t get you from A to B.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Happened?

There was an awful lot of ticket splitting in Florida, including a lot here in Pinellas County.

Obama hit 54% in Pinellas – and I had told candidates I was working with that I thought that 55% was needed for him to have coattails enough to carry some local candidates to victory over either Republican incumbents or Republican candidates who, in a normal year, would be considered to be in a stronger position.

I could say that, well, I wasn’t wrong – if Obama had hit 55%, I would have been proved right in some of these races.

But that wouldn’t be true. The truth is, I was wrong. I misjudged the situation. I didn’t have a solid baseline poll to work with, but that doesn’t erase the face that my judgment was wrong.

So what happened?

In some cases, gerrymandering won out – as in Nehr’s victory over Zimmerman in HD 48.

In most cases though, I think we can make an argument for some candidates that were not well prepared to take advantage of the situation.

One of the few bright spots was in Hillsborough, where Kevin Beckner defeated Brian Blair for County Commission. Beckner was a strong candidate who had on of the area’s best operatives, Mitch Kates (who is batting pretty darn well in Tampa Bay), to manage his race.

Phyllis Busansky was also a win, but not a bright spot, because she only narrowly defeated that blisteringly incompetent embarrassment known as Buddy Johnson.

Races like Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, where Deborah Clark earned a lot of late negative publicity for not opening up the facilities to deal with the huge demand for early voting, and Pinellas County Property Appraiser, where Jim Smith’s deputy, Pam Dubov managed to comfortably win election to her disgraced former boss’ seat.

The Democratic candidate, I fear, were simply not up to the task. Clark was not expected to be vulnerable, but when an opening was created, her opponent was unable exploit it. And it sometimes seemed that the race for Property Appraiser (much like the Supervisor of Elections race in neighboring Hillsborough) was not being taken seriously enough.

There were only three Democrats, that I can think of, challenging for GOP held seats that had previously held elected office – Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, St. Pete City Councilwoman Rene Flowers, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky.

Not that they all did well – in fact, only Busansky won and then barely – but the lack of more locally elected Democrats running for county, state, and federal office is a worrying sign. Recruitment must focus on finding candidates who come out of elected office – city councilmembers, school board – even water and soil conservation districts.

The Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee had the right idea with their Vote Local campaign, but it also, clearly, did not work. It would take some money and research to find what went wrong, but I think that the party could benefit from more narrowly focusing their efforts. Carl Zimmerman and Rene Flowers were both strong local candidates and if the efforts had focused on turning the voters they needed, perhaps the results, locally, would have seemed less one-sided.

I hope that the Pinellas DEC does not give up on efforts like Vote Local, but that they use the information collected to improve their future outreach and that they don’t wait until 2010 to start up again. The local candidates elected from either party in some of the city elections in 2009 will be the state, federal, and county candidates in 2012. And they should start by recruiting to run for local office some of the candidates who lost in November.