Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colorado Remains a Battleground

Expect to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly over the next year and half. Obama has been here twice – first for his high-profile signing of the stimulus bill in mid-August to defend his embattled health care proposal. Colorado has retained its battleground status, and likely will be gridlocked with top Democrats and Republicans trying to win the surprisingly competitive gubernatorial and senate races. Toss in a tough race for the new Democratic incumbent in the Republican-leaning 4th Congressional seat, and Colorado has one of each of the top political offices in play.

The level of competition is a bit of a surprise. The state has been trending blue for half a decade, with nearly every top job held by a Democrat. Obama broke a 44-year political record by not only winning the state, but by winning it by more than his national margin (Johnson beat Goldwater in 1964 by more than his national margin).

Governor Bill Ritter is probably the most vulnerable of the three officeholders. A year ago, he was described as vulnerable, now he is taking fire from an aggressive opposition. Many of his initiatives, such as an increase in the severance tax, were derailed by an obstinate electorate, others were drained of momentum by long task force processes reflecting a lack of consensus, and some recent legislative victories have been defunded by the collapse of tax revenue they need.

After a 17-percentage point win in 2006 and a long honeymoon with approval ratings above 60 percent, the date that marks Ritter’s decline is Friday, November 2, 2007, when he encouraged the unionization of state employees with late Friday afternoon executive order – it wasn’t missed by the state’s business and political community.

The irony is that Ritter’s most recent vetoes of pro-labor legislation has gained him little business support – his re-election fundraising is weak – and the active enmity of major elements of organized labor. It remains to be seen if the Republicans can nominate a strong candidate and mount a sophisticated campaign. But, if they do, Ritter is in trouble.

In a July 23, 2008 “Speakout” in the former Rocky Mountain News, Ritter was described as in trouble due to not meeting high expectations. His inaugural theme was about the “Colorado Promise.” Although he is a hard-working governor and mostly stays on message, he seems a bit like an accidental governor with no large base or natural feel for the politics of the job.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ambassadors Miss Half the Story

Denver recently welcomed the ambassador of Argentina, Chile and Mexico as part of the warm up to the new Denver Biannual Celebration of Latin and North American art and culture. All three of them backed the Obama administration’s position of condemning the Honduras military expelling President Manuel Zelaya.

Although there is widespread support for this position, partially because it has the benefit of limiting the propaganda advantage that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez wanted to gain, it distracts from the salient fact Zelaya was following the Chavez playbook that is endangering democracy throughout northern Latin and Central America.

Any American policy must address Chavez’s sophisticated strategy of destabilizing the constitutionally governed regimes in the region. Using advice and tactical help from Cuba and oil revenue, he has constructed an alliance that includes Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Allies extend to Argentina, Paraguay, El Salvador and the OAS. He has also pulled in a host of Caribbean Islands: Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Vincent, Grenadines and Dominica.

Center-left and center-right politicians, like the Ambassadors, are either aligning and accommodating the strategy for domestics left and anti-American purposes, or trying to stay out of the way. But, their regimes are also endangered by Chavez’s 21st century socialism and “relentless ideological delegitimization of republican values and private property, and the establishment of a method for bringing about dictatorship through apparently democratic means.”

Unless the U.S. and its allies develop an equally sophisticated strategy, this new challenge will allow budding dictators to take the normal problems that exist in second world countries and turn them into crises that can destroy the constitutional order.

(See RealClearPolitics and WSJ articles)

Rahm Emanuel is the Dick Cheney of the Obama Administration

Rahm Emanuel has control of the fulsome domestic policy agenda of the Obama administration as Dick Cheney had of the aggressive foreign policy agenda of the early G. W. Bush administration. In both cases, the presidents had gaps in experience and relationships that were filled by the hard-charging White House operatives.

Emanuel articulated the main Obama domestic slogan when he said “let no crisis go unused.” Cheney’s foreign policy slogan could be paraphrased as “even if there is only a one percent chance.” From these philosophical starting points, the powerful chief of staff and vice president dominated their respective fields of action.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Week the Health Care Plan Turned South on the Democratic Leadership

In a host of polls published near and at the end of July, just as the Democrats were rushing to pass various health care bills through congressional committees, support for health care reform was dramatically declining as was President Obama’s approval rating.

Contrary to Democratic partisan strategists, health care support among Americans did not decline due to misinformation. The collapse happened just as the debate about health care increased and Democrats began a major push to rush bills through committee and to floor votes. At that point, Democrats controlled the discussion, not radio talk show hosts. The biggest blow in mid-June was the CBO report that the Democratic House proposal would add billions to the deficit and do little to hold down health care costs – hardly misinformation. After that report, the likelihood of a bill before the August recess became zero.

Democrats looked fearful of the August recess. And, wisely so, the August town hall meetings have tossed Democrats on the defensive and required Obama to jump in and use his considerable talent to tamp down the revolt.

The reasons for the collapse are much more related to the cumulative impact of the Obama agenda, especially the spending, and the continuing languishing of the economy.

Wall St. Journal article
New York Times article
Gallup July 29 article
Washington Post article
Gallup July 21 article

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Democrats Linked to Obama and His Agenda

As public support for the major elements of President Obama’s agenda have declined, the likelihood the 2010 mid-term election will be competitive, has gone up. July 2009 will be recorded as the end of the Obama honeymoon and the beginning of the battle for 2010.

The Gallup poll’s latest generic ballot test to measure the support levels of the two parties in the congressional election shows a 6-point Democratic lead.

Democrats had an 11-point lead in the 2006 mid-term the year they won their majority by 8 points. Democrats need a larger lead in the polls due to a typically lower turnout than Republicans on Election Day. A 6-point lead means the 2010 election could be very close.

With both party’s supporters remaining mostly loyal to their respective candidates, the key will be turnout of base and swing voters, who, at the moment, are breaking evenly between the parties, a shift from a pro-Democratic bias over the last two years.

Health Care Reform Can be Won or Lost During August Recess

Gallup’s latest poll shows Americans divided into three near equal camps on health care reform. A third (35%) would encourage their congressional representative to vote for it, another third (36%) would encourage them to vote against it and nearly a third (29%) had no opinion.

Partisanship and public’s low opinion of Congress are important factors in the lack of support for the reform bill at the beginning of the August recess and public hearing process. Partisanship is a major factor with 66 percent of Republicans in opposition and 59 percent of Democrats in favor.

The 29 percent of Americans that have no opinion will help decide the issue. Both sides of the debate are trying mightily to influence public opinion. Changes of fascist tactics and viewpoints now emanate from both camps as Democrats try to position opponents as raging extremists and Republicans are shouting suppression of rights and forced euthanasia for the sick and elderly.

Intermountain West Still a Challenge for Obama

The Gallup poll just published President Obama’s cumulative approval rating for each of the 50 states. The tracking poll average includes more than 80,000 interviews and ran from the inauguration (Jan. 21) through June 30. His average approval rating was 63 percent over the six months.

The Democratic Party’s goal of turning the interior West into a solid blue region is still a work in progress. Only New Mexico (63%) has support equal to the safe Democratic “left coasts.” Among western states Democrats want to bring into the fold, only Nevada (59%) and Arizona (58%) had averages that were close to Obama’s national average.

Colorado (55%) and Montana (52%) were above 50 percent, but well below Obama’s national average. Colorado had the lowest approval among states in the nation that Obama had carried. And, Colorado is a key battleground, with Democrats defending a governor, U.S. Senator and newly elected Congresswoman.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Hard to Reform When Many Voters Fear Change

Many of the protesters at Congressional town hall meetings are angry about a host of non-health issues, including the stimulus spending, budget deficit, auto bail-outs, and cap and trade. But, Democrats are missing the danger sign if they dismiss them as mere shills for lobbyists or extremists. The Democratic strategy of using the economic crisis to jamb the last 20 years of Democratic agenda into law has run into a serious “too much, too fast, too expensive” backlash.

Health care delivery is hard to change. Most people have insurance, and while they would like it to be cheaper, they are mostly not dissatisfied with either their quality or choice of health care. Although most people would like to extend coverage to the uninsured, they are concerned the cost of care will go up, producing either a tax increase, rationing to control cost or both. And, voters are very skeptical of Congress and Washington in general and not anxious to turn health care over to politicians. Meanwhile, the recovery appears delayed and federal spending is at record levels.

President Obama, realizing the above, wanted to avoid the August recess and the possible on-camera voter reaction, but the loss of some moderate Democratic support in the House and a desire to have Republican support in the Senate, delayed action.

While it is still likely something will pass this year – health care reform is simply too important to the Democrats and their super majority – it may be considerably less comprehensive than the various House versions. (See 9News article)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Limits on Term Limits

Term limits, which swept the country as a popular political movement in the early 1990s (Colorado was the second state approving it in 1990), has been under assault ever since with efforts to abolish, or more commonly extend the limits (typically two terms) or exempt certain political jobs.

The concept has had considerable political resilience, given the hostility from the political class and much of the more liberal media.

The latest Colorado effort by district attorneys to expand their terms from two to three years is likely to be successful. District attorneys are generally seen as more professional and less partisan. Also, the DAs making the requests in Mesa, Jefferson and Boulder counties are popular and without major controversies. Another factor is local political ideology and the circumstances surrounding other county political officeholders (such as controversial county commissioners) that could have an influence. Boulder is most liberal and Mesa most conservative. But, all three extensions could pass. (See State Bill Colorado)

Is Democratic Tide Running Out?

Just as the Democrats are celebrating their victories, extolling their model of success and declaring the western political landscape blue, the party may be over.

After five years of incredible political success, Colorado Democrats appear in trouble. Governor Bill Ritter has attracted strong Republican opponents for 2010. He is mired in approval ratings below 50 percent and unhappy core constituencies. His fundraising languishes.

Newly appointed Michael Bennet is in top fundraising form, but he has established little identity, except to avoid more issues than he confronts. Although vulnerable, he still has no powerful opponents.

Newly elected Congresswoman Betsy Markey holds a Republican-leaning district and has attracted a multitude of opponents, including a popular local state representative.

With President Obama’s popularity declining, health care mired in noisy dissent and the economy stalled, Colorado Democrats are nervous. (See Denver Post article)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

McInnis is Frontrunner for Governor

Former Congressman Scott McInnis is the frontrunner among registered Republicans in the race to take on embattled Governor Bill Ritter.

In the latest poll of 1,649 Colorado Republican likely primary voters (conducted by autodial in July) by Republican polling firm Magellan Strategies, McInnis has a 23-point lead on State Senator Josh Penry.

McInnis is ahead by 18 points on the Western Slope where both candidates hail from. His largest lead (26 points) is in Colorado Springs, Pueblo area.

However, it is very early in the race. McInnis has 80-point name identification, but only 34 percent of Republican voters select him now. Nearly half (49%) claim to be undecided.