Thursday, January 29, 2009

Economy Recalibrates to Lower Level

The recession is now 14 months old. No financial analysts believe it will end before mid-2009 and most believe it will extend to mid-2010. So, it will be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of 1929 to 1933 (43 months long). Americans believe it will last two years or longer (see CNN poll). President Obama has some time to make an impact, but 2010 will likely be an election on the effect of his economic proposals.

The real challenge is the sense among voters that America is in a long-term decline. Obama tried to address it in the inaugural when he said we remain inventive and productive and “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

Steve Ballmer, when announcing Microsoft’s layoffs, described America’s new economic landscape best when he said this is not just a downturn, but a re-calibration of America’s economy at a lower level due to the removal of leverage. It will be long-term.

Ritter in Trouble

Although Bill Ritter works hard and cares about Colorado, he fails to inspire confidence among the most attentive publics. Of course, Colorado governors tend to be re-elected, and the Republicans are still on the defense after a half a decade of election losses, but Ritter faces a difficult re-election.

• As former Republican State Treasurer Mark Hillman pointed out, Ritter was a day late and a dollar short on the state’s financial crises. His budget office predicted only a $70 million shortfall. His Democratic counterparts in the legislature said $600 million. Ritter has been playing catch up ever since.
• Due to the downturn, Ritter must strip out most of the funds he promoted as fulfilling his “Colorado Promise” slogan in the campaign.
• Higher education funding will be cut dramatically due to the downturn. Unfortunately, higher education lost a chance for stable funding in last fall’s poorly positioned severance tax ballot initiative.
• The severance tax increase and the new rules governing gas and oil drilling have outraged one of the state’s largest industry and substantial members of Western Slope voters.
• The action that most alienated the business class, which gave Ritter considerable support in his 2006 election, was unionizing state employees in a late Friday night executive order in November 2007.

Ritter and his party know he is vulnerable. Expect a strong effort to survive.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Colorado: A Senate Battleground

Michael Bennet is now Colorado’s junior senator. He has about nine months to establish his credibility as a serious candidate for election. Bennet’s advantage is that he will receive substantial media attention, which will raise his name identity, and if he handles it correctly, should improve his favorability rating. His votes and media relations can help build support both within his party and among Colorado voters at-large. But, if (and a big if), the Republicans can find a strong challenger, Bennet does not have nearly as positive environment as Mark Udall had last year in his Senate race.

• 2010 will not have G.W. Bush on the ballot. Nor will Obama be on the ballot to draw Blacks or young voters to the polls. Turnout will be lower in 2010 than the 2008 presidential, and much of that drop off will be Democratic voters.

• Bennet must cement the loyalty of his base (many of which are taking a wait-and-see attitude) while not alienating critical moderate voters.

• Bennet’s experience has been in administration. The senate is little management and much self-promotion.

• Bennet’s most significant challenge will be to shift from his 11-year experience in Denver to a statewide familiarity and credibility.

In general, Bennet has significant talent, but a big challenge ahead of him.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gitmo and the End of the War on Terror

The Gitmo closure, combined with a stand down on foreign detention centers and end to coercive interrogation, is dominating the first week of media coverage of the Obama administration. It has clearly pleased domestic civil libertarians, human rights advocates and international elites. But, as this story deepens and lengthens, Obama faces several vulnerabilities:

• While there is no Gitmo defense choir in the country, only 28 percent of Americans believe it a “very important issue.” It is at the bottom of the list dominated by economic issues (see Gallup Poll).
• There is at least one achievement the Bush administration was credited with: no terrorist attack for 7 years. Any attack will rapidly shift public opinion, which is currently supportive, or at least acquiescent to the new direction.
• And possibly the biggest danger for Obama is the congressional wing of his party that wants to use the criminal justice system to begin their version of the Clinton Impeachment trials and tribulations. If Obama let’s Speaker Pelosi or Chairman Conyers go down that road, the partisan war will begin (see Pew poll).

As the President said in his inaugural, he is dedicated to end “the petty grievances” and “recriminations.” That won’t be easy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Breaking News

Friday, January 2, was supposed to be a nice quiet day before the last holiday weekend. But Gov. Ritter’s pending U.S. Senate appointment started the day at 7:05 am with a KOA interview that focused on John Hickenlooper and Ed Perlmutter as candidates. Later that morning, as I walked into Cherry Creek’s Peet’s Coffee House, KOA’s Jerry Bell called back and said the surprise announcement of Michael Bennet, Denver Superintendent of Schools, was now posted on the Rocky Mountain News website. I taped my first interview on Bennet – “surprising, interesting and risky.” Steve Paulson of the Associated Press immediately called and then posted his story. Then, Tim Hoover of the Denver Post, working on a Ritter Sunday mid-term analysis, called since the announcement put a new storyline into play. The political website Politico put it on their national website. I called Channel 9 to update them and did a live shot on the noon news and tapes for 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. While at Channel 9, NPR and Colorado Public Radio taped interviews, along with national AP radio.

At 3:20 pm I discussed the selection on the Caplin and Silverman talk show. Bob Beauprez was sitting in. Later in the afternoon, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times did interviews. Finally, the day closed discussing the selection with M.E. Springelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News, who first broke the story.