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Morning Jay: Base Politics, "Indispensable" Murkowski, House Polls, and More!

6:30 AM, Sep 9, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. The limits of base politics. Yesterday, I noted the apparent decision of the Obama White House to focus aggressively on mobilizing its base in advance of the midterm.  I concluded that the pursuit of this strategy so late in the cycle suggests party leaders recognize that the House is slipping away. I want to expand on that here.

The issue comes down to how the Democratic base is distributed across the 435 congressional districts.  The following graph tracks Obama's share of the vote in all the districts that voted for a Democratic House candidate in 2008:

As we can see, 49 Democratic-held congressional districts voted for John McCain last year.  That is 10 more than the GOP needs for a majority.  In all, about 130 Democratic-held districts gave President Obama 60% of the vote or less.

That is where the battle for control of the House will be fought.  And to win in those districts, you need more than Democratic base voters.  You also need independents and Republican-leaners, the kinds of voters who have been bolting the Obama coalition in the last year.  A hefty portion of Democratic red meat will help in the heavily Democratic districts, but they are not enough to hold the House.  Not even close.  

 This base motivation strategy is not designed to retain the majority, but to prevent a once-in-a-generation debacle – a massacre on the order of 1974, 1946, 1932, and 1892. 

I suspect the Democratic base will come home and these R+13 numbers in the likely voter models will shrink.  Yet that won’t be nearly enough to save the House, and I think the Democrats know it.

2. A Murkowski write-in candidacy?  Looks like we'll be adding Lisa Murkowski to the list of Republican moderates who consider themselves too indispensable to heed the verdict of their primary electorates:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is strongly considering a mounting a November write-in campaign to keep her seat and could make an announcement as soon as tomorrow, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Running as a write-in candidate appears to be Murkowski’s last remaining option. The Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman met with Libertarian Party nominee David Haase on Tuesday to discuss taking his spot on the ballot, but according to a party spokesman, even if Haase dropped out, the party’s executive board — which last week voted against allowing Murkowski on the ballot — does not appear amenable to changing its decision.

If she does this, she'll join Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist.  August company, indeed!  Specter has already lost.  Crist has a terribly difficult path to victory.  And so will Murkowski.  My guess is that neither Murkowksi nor Crist will be in the 112th Congress.  The question is whether their vanity will result in Democratic victories.

3. Bubble Watch, 2010.  Speculation is rampant that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will depart after the midterms to run for mayor of Chi-Town.  The UK Telegraph had this to say:

It is well known in Washington that arguments have developed between pragmatic Mr Emanuel, a veteran in Congress where he was known for driving through compromises, and the idealistic inner circle who followed Mr Obama to the White House.

His abrasive style has rubbed some people the wrong way, while there has been frustration among Mr Obama's closest advisers that he failed to deliver a smooth ride for the president's legislative programme that his background promised.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this contrast - Emanuel is a “pragmatic” exception to the “idealistic” Obama inner circle.  

I’ll be interested to see if Obama appoints one of those “idealists” to the chief of staff position.  I’ve long thought that Obama is in a presidential bubble, insulated by too many advisers who really, truly believe he is “the One,” as conservatives like to say.  Emanuel is one of the few in the West Wing who probably does not think this.  And he’s on his way out the door, by many accounts.

So, does Obama stay inside the bubble and promote somebody like Valerie Jarrett to the chief of staff position, or does he go outside the inner circle, to a “non-believer?”  He should do the latter, but my hunch is that he won’t.

4. Bad polls for House Dems. Stuart Rothenberg published a smart column yesterday pointing out that Democrats look very weak in House polls:

In recent GOP polling, many Democrats are far below 50 percent on the ballot, and a startling number have been running behind their Republican challengers. Democrats dispute most of those surveys, but some will privately acknowledge that many of their incumbents are in dead heats with lesser-known challengers.

The campaign polling I’ve seen tends to follow one of two tracks.  Polls from Republican candidates and independent pollsters like SurveyUSA show GOP challengers either ahead or in a dead heat with Democratic incumbents (most recently in AZ-1, AZ-5, CT-5, FL-24, KY-3, ND-AL, SD-AL, VA-5, WA-2, and WV-1).  The Democratic polls usually show the Democrat with a lead, but below or near 50% (most recently in AL-2, IL-10, MS-1, NC-8, NY-24, PA-4, and SD-AL).  Those Democratic numbers are pretty weak, considering the partisan source. Campaign polling needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but these kinds of results suggest exactly what the national numbers do: scores of Democratic-held seats are in danger of falling to the GOP.

5. Final thought on Gallup generic. At the Pollster blog, Margie Omero argues that recent Democratic gains in the Gallup generic ballot are mostly due to “Democrats consolidating the base.” 

That's correct, but the issue should be moot once Gallup starts publishing its likely voter model.  It is important to remember that the unprecedented Republican enthusiasm gap is largely not reflected in the Gallup generic just yet because it is still a registered voter poll. 

This week’s "dramatic" tie is a product of two opposing trends: registered voter models usually favor Democrats; independent voters are overwhelmingly favoring Republicans right now.  The Gallup likely voter model will add in the significant GOP advantage in voter enthusiasm, and thus should show a notable GOP lead.

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