As my colleague The Moose reported earlier today, Ralph Reed gave Georgia Democrats something to get excited about by officially announcing his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. This race, folks, will be more fun than a barrel of monkeys at a creationism conference.Why, you might ask, is the Lordly Ralph, the legendary architect of Christian Right politics and more recently the extremely successful Georgia GOP chairman and Bush-Cheney strategist, so interested in presiding over the Georgia State Senate? In an earlier post, I suggested that he may be the victim of the Raquel Welch Syndrome, the natural if often hopeless desire to become respected as a serious practitioner of one’s chosen art, whether it’s acting or governing. But I’ve since learned that Reed has harbored a burning ambition since childhood to serve as Chief Executive of the Empire State of the South, and views the LG job as a stepping stone to that Seat of Power, a necessity since one of his political makeover projects, Governor Sonny Perdue, is running for re-election in ’06.But first Ralph must overcome a primary challenge from another guy who’s been seeing a future Governor in the bathroom mirror since he became old enough to reach the sink, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the scion of a well-known political family who’s been elected statewide three times. The first published polls show Oxendine with a healthy lead over Reed. And he will not readily concede Christian Right support to Ralph: in his first race for Insurance Commissioner back in 1994, Oxendine’s big proposal was to exempt churches from paying some state tax on insurance policies, arguing that he didn’t want to “tax God” (you just can’t make this stuff up).But I suspect that Oxendine’s campaign against Reed will be, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, “like sending out a three-toed sloth to take turf from a wolverine.” With all due respect to the Insurance Commissioner, he’s not exactly a Big Strategic Thinker. In fact, he’d probably draw even odds in a game of State Capitals with Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the guy who’s besmirching my surname in his campaign for governor this year.Should Reed dispatch Oxendine, the real fun will begin. Former state legislator Greg Hecht, who ran a respectable but losing campaign for Congress in 2002, has already announced for the Democratic nomination. But the buzz is that Hecht will likely face one of my favorite politicians, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond is a smart, charming, funny, and accomplished African-American with a proven track record of biracial appeal (he used to joke that he did particularly well in heavily-white counties bordering South Carolina where they thought he was Strom Thurmond’s grandson).If Reed is the GOPer in the race, the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, will have no trouble raising money in-state and nationally, and will need no more than fifteen minutes to compile an oppo-research file so toxic that they’ll have to handle it with tongs. Indeed, Oxendine aside, the biggest obstacle to a Reed candidacy may be the possibility that Ralph will have to take crucial time off the campaign trail to cool his heels in various courtrooms and congressional hearing-rooms preparing to explain his alleged role in the ever-widening Abramoff Indian Tribe Casino Shakedown scandal, a truly bizarre tale of corruption and hypocrisy that is likely to tranfix the whole hep political world at some point this year. I’m not the only one who’s looking forward to the moment when Reed has to testify before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, the object of the famous 2000 South Carolina primary smear-and-whispering campaign by Bush operatives, reportedly under the direction of one Ralph Reed.If that’s not enough intrigue to keep you bookmarking that Atlanta Journal-Constitution web page (or checking out Reed’s exceptionally cheesy campaign site), there’s additional irony in Ralph’s aspiration to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. In between his better-known gigs with the Christian Coalition, the 2002 Georgia coordinated campaign, and the two Bush campaigns, Ralph tried his hand at being a down-home paid political consultant. In 1998, he was the key strategist for a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor named Mitch Scandalakis, who ran a series of ads that (a) made an overt racial appeal, and (b) accused his opponent, Mark Taylor, of a completely fabricated cocaine addiction. Not only did Ralph’s candidate get righteously stomped like a Klansman at a Hip-Hop club; the backlash against his tactics took down most of the whole state Republican ticket.If that’s not enough irony for you, there’s this: when Ralph’s Republican buddies took over the state Senate in 2003, they stripped the Lieutenant Governor’s Office–occupied by the self-same smear target Mark Taylor–of most of its considerable powers. If Ralph somehow wins, he will have to go back to those same senators (assuming his party hangs onto control) and explain why he needs to lord it over them with powers denied to his predecessor.All in all, it’s going to be a wild ride.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After a sudden period of long-stalled legislative activity, I took a look for New York at the possible midterm election payoff:
Not that very long ago, Joe Biden’s job-approval rating seemed chronically and endlessly depressed; the Democratic-controlled Congress couldn’t get anything done; and all the indicators for the 2022 midterm elections looked terrible for the party, in part because its own voters were deeply disappointed with the lack of legislative productivity and a perceived absence of presidential leadership.
Now, in a series of legislative victories highlighted by the Schumer-Manchin budget-reconciliation agreement (now known as the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA), Senate Democrats are suddenly walking tall, as Punchbowl News noted:
“Senate Democrats have put together an impressive resume this summer, most especially during the last two months. The CHIPS Plus Act, PACT Act, Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, gun control and reconciliation were all passed in this period, a number of them with big bipartisan majorities. All in a 50-50 Senate.”
Assuming the House finishes action on the IRA later this week, it’s quite the late-innings home run, complete with a rebranded title that shows Democrats at least trying to address what has been the dominant issue of the midterms: inflation. Along with the Kansas abortion-rights referendum on August 2 that shows that Democrats may have an issue of competing significance to both swing and base voters, the landscape is most definitely getting brighter for Democrats. And though Biden and his party probably had little to do with it, they will get credit for falling gasoline prices if they continue to drop.
In an interview with Politico, Biden’s pollster John Anzalone used a gambling analogy for the turnaround. “We put our last silver dollar in our slot machine and came up big,” he said. “And they were sitting there with a stack of chips and are down to just one. The turnaround is unbelievable.”
Spin aside, things are clearly looking better for Democrats, but the question (other than uncertainty over the future direction of crucial economic indicators) is whether midterm losses are already baked into the cake. After all, with the exception of George W. Bush in the immediate wake of 9/11, every president going back to the 1930s has lost ground in his first-term midterm election. Even very small House and Senate net losses would flip control to Republicans. And while a yearlong downward drift in Biden’s job-approval rating has now been replaced with small gains, it’s still dreadful at the moment: 39.6 percent in the averages at both FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics. At this point in 2018, Donald Trump’s RCP job-approval average was 43.4 percent, and his party was on the way to losing 41 House seats. Then, too, the “direction of the country” right-track, wrong-track ratio was 41-51. Now it’s 20-73.
Sure, Democratic base voters unhappy with earlier legislative misfires may now have a sunnier outlook on the party’s congressional candidates. That, along with the growing anger at conservative Supreme Court justices and anti-abortion Republican state officials, could certainly improve Democratic turnout. But Republicans will likely retain an advantage of core swing-voter concerns that are unlikely to go away by November 8, as Senator Marco Rubio suggested in a taunting floor speech on the IRA over the weekend:
“There isn’t a single thing in this bill that helps working people lower the prices of groceries, or the price of gasoline, or the price of housing, or the price of clothing. There isn’t a single thing in this bill that’s gonna keep criminals in jail. There isn’t a single thing in this bill that’s going to secure our border. Those happen to be things that working people in this country care about.”
That too is spin, of course, but the point is that GOP talking points really don’t have to change in light of the IRA’s passage.
The best empirical news for Democrats is the trajectory of the congressional generic ballot, the midterm indicator that has had the most predictive value in the past. As recently as June 13, Republicans had a 3.5 percent advantage in the RCP averages for this measurement of congressional voting preferences, with the expectation that the margin would widen as voting grew near. Now the generic ballot is basically tied (Republicans: 44.7 percent, Democrats: 44.6 percent). Historically, the party controlling the White House loses steam late in the midterm cycle, but at the moment, Biden’s party does seem to have some momentum. And in the national contest where Democrats have most reason to be optimistic, the battle for control of the Senate, Republicans continue to suffer from candidate-quality problems that could lose them seats they probably should win in a midterm. John Fetterman keeps maintaining a solid lead over Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania; this race is for a seat currently held by the GOP. And in Georgia, Raphael Warnock continues to run comfortably ahead of Herschel Walker even before the frequently tongue-tied former football great reluctantly faces the highly eloquent incumbent Democrat in debates.
There is no way to know, much less factor in, late-breaking real-world developments that might affect the trajectory of these and other midterm contests, whether it’s unexpected economic news, a change of direction in the Russia-Ukraine war, or an official 2024 candidacy announcement by Trump that reminds Democrats that the wolf is still at the door. Typically, voting preferences form well before Election Day, and early voting will begin in September in some states. At present, FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans an 80 percent probability of controlling the House next year and Democrats a 59 percent chance of holding the Senate. These numbers are better for Democrats than those we saw in June and July, and that’s grounds for gratitude.