Whoa, What Happened?

In what should have been a gimme election, Louise Slaughter is barely ahead. At this moment, the D&C is reporting that she’s got a 605 vote lead with 2,800 absentee ballots left to count. That means Assini needs about 1,700 of those 2,800 votes to win (over 60%), which is very unlikely, since we’ve seen in other recent tight races (most notably the 2008 Massa-Kuhl race) that absentee ballots generally break in the same percentages as the general election.

Still, that result is way too tight, and an election night mis-count coupled with a few extra Assini absentee ballots could put him over the top.

How did this happen? Simple: Democrats just don’t turn out in off-year elections, especially if there’s nothing going on. In 2012, there were 323K votes cast in NY-25. Last night, 191K people voted. That’s a 37% decline in turnout. If you think this is about Rich Funke, let me point out that 89K voted in last night’s State Senate race. In the race O’Brien won in 2012, 137K voted. That’s a 34% decline in turnout.

This isn’t about Slaughter’s campaign (minimal), Assini’s campaign (also minimal), a “wave” or anything else. It’s about Democrats not going to the voting booth unless there’s a Presidential candidate on the ticket.

Don’t Hate the Player

Mark Assini appeared on Connections on WXXI, hosted by Evan Dawson this afternoon. Dawson is smart and one of the best reporters in Rochester. At an hour, Connections is the right length for an in-depth interview. WXXI callers are generally well-informed and they ask good questions. Yet, despite the best efforts of all involved, I think that this hour didn’t do much to inform the voters of the 25th District, because Mark Assini isn’t running to be the disinterested arbiter of abstract policy. Assini is running to join the majority of the most radical Congress in modern history, one which has done very little other than attempting to shut down the government and repeal Obamacare. So having a discussion that resembles a policy seminar at the Aspen Institute, rather than a real-world examination of how Assini would end up voting, is simply a waste of time.

Over the past 8 years that I’ve been writing on Congressional elections, I see the same pattern in local media. During the Spring and Summer, the candidates suck up all the free media they can by appearing before editorial boards and on radio shows where they are asked about their theoretical views on “policy”, a discussion that is completely removed from the realities of how they would act in today’s dysfunctional Congress. Then, the candidates retreat to a fortress of solitude to prepare for the couple of debates that will occur during the late Summer and Fall, where the only pointed questions that are asked come from one candidate to the other. Finally, we have a month of toxic TV and radio spots that are full of misinformation and bile.

The TV spots are always with us. Debates in a district like this one are going to be limited because the incumbent will always want to avoid the possibility of screwing up. So what’s left is Spring and Summer, and during that time I’d like to see at least one media opportunity where the candidates are asked tough questions relevant to how they’d vote next year, not about what they want in some perfect world. A good way to do this would be to take a dozen tough votes in Congress and ask the candidate how they would have voted. The obvious question for Assini, using that technique, is whether he would have voted to repeal Obamacare. All you need to know about this particular forum’s ability to suss out Assini’s real intent in running for Congress is that Dawson did not ask that question. Read on if you want to learn about the rest. Continue reading

Things That Should Go Without Saying

Let’s begin with the fact that’s obvious to all paying attention: Lovely Warren is a disaster as a politician. Beholden to the corrupt Gantt machine, she not only followed in her mentor’s dirty footsteps by hiring her uncle as the head of her security detail, she also made matters worse by getting in a stupid fight with the queen of Twitter in Rochester, Rachel Barnhart, when it was revealed that her uncle tends to drive too fast on the Thruway.

After a disastrous start in 2014, even someone with the deadened political instincts of Ms. Warren wouldn’t take a shot at Louise Slaughter this cycle, no matter what some gullible reporter at Channel 10 thinks. And if she did run for the seat in any other cycle, she might win the primary, but she’d lose to any Republican with a pulse and regular respiration.

That said, let me pick an important nit: the fact that Lovely raised $400K, as was reported breathlessly by Channel 10, is irrelevant to any present or future run for the House. As every reporter in Rochester should have learned from studying the Brooks campaign, you can’t transfer funds from your local campaign treasury to your House race. So Lovely can raise a million dollars for her next mayoral run (and Lord knows she’ll need it), but that won’t do her any good if she ever decides to run for Congress.

Even a Stopped Lonsberry Is Right Twice a Day

Bob Lonsberry’s latest love poem to Mark Assini is strong, noble and true:

Louise Slaughter has her seat in Congress until she or God decide it is time to move on. That was proven last go-round in a full-on assault by County Executive Maggie Brooks. It was one popular local leader against another and when they counted the votes it was a blowout.

And if Maggie Brooks can’t beat Louise Slaughter, neither can Mark Assini.

According to Bob, Assini says he has a “mathematical path” to victory that he hopes to follow. Assini thinks that path starts with the repeal of Obamacare and opposition to the SAFE Act (which, memo to Assini, is a piece of state, not federal legislation). If so, the “mathematical path” Assini is following begins with 1+1=3.

What Flavor of Tea Would You Like?

It looks like Republicans and Conservatives will be able to choose from two flavors of Tea when picking a challenger for Louise Slaughter.

Judging from his website, I’m going to assume that Tim Dean is going to provide the more robust, highly caffeinated brew in the 25th primary. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the second most important issue on his list is gun control. Spoiler alert: he’s against it. And there’s this:

Tim is an avid student of the United States Constitution and vows not only to govern constitutionally, but never to circumvent the law in the performance of his duties as a United States Congressman. According to Tim: “The constitution has been working just fine since its inception and there is absolutely no reason to think it’s an outdated or old document, for without the Constitution, our great country would not have been able to exist as the most free country on earth”.

Then we have Mark Assini, who announced this evening. In kinder, gentler times for the Republican Party, Mark would be considered a fairly strong potion. In 2004, he ran against Randy Kuhl in the 29th Congressional District, which at that time reached into the suburbs of Rochester. Mark lost the Republican primary, but remained on the Conservative line and receive a few percent of the vote. Looking in the wayback machine, we see that Mark’s issues at that time were lowering taxes, reforming Medicaid, and dealing with foreign trade by expanding a trade zone in Western New York, and by enforcing WTO treaties. That was a mere 10 years ago, long before the Tea Party had even begun to make the long, circuitous trip from Glenn Beck’s id to the ears of a tiny minority of Rochester area residents.

Unfortunately for Mr. Assini, who is now the Gates Town Supervisor, talking about taxes is weak Tea. If he’s going to win the hearts and minds, not to mention the guts, of the average Republican primary voter, he’s going to have to fall in line on the repeal of Obamacare, pound the table on Roe v Wade, demand that birth control be stripped from insurance plans, and take on all the other political baggage that weighs down every Republican hoping to hold office in a district that voted for Barack Obama. If Assini isn’t out picketing at Planned Parenthood by the week end, I fear for his chances in the primary.

Mark Assini is clearly the better candidate, especially if his years actually governing in Gates have moderated his views. The best thing that can happen to the Republicans at this point is for Tim Dean to fail to get the requisite number of signatures to place his name on the ballot. Absent that, and assuming that Dean mounts a real campaign, I’m afraid that Mr. Assini is going to emerge from his primary challenge as a completely unelectable right-wing Republican of the Paladino variety.

Perhaps Assini will surprise us all, but at this point, the only thing standing between Louise Slaughter and her inevitable re-election is a possible deterioration of her health.

Why Brooks Lost

Despite all the efforts of Republican talking heads to make this race into something it wasn’t, Louise Slaughter crushed Maggie Brooks last night, winning 57% of the vote. Aside from the fact that the math was always against Brooks, her weak, cookie-cutter, DC Republican/Fox News campaign sealed her fate.

After watching a few weeks of the Brooks campaign, and seeing that Louise Slaughter has more energy and wit that many politicians decades younger, I pretty much lost interest in this race. The reason was simple: Slaughter’s attacks on Brooks, though perhaps exaggerated, were essentially true, local and relevant. Maggie clearly has an issue with some bad hires in the county, and her response in the first debate, which was that she had been “disappointed” by those who work for her, did nothing to assure voters that she’d learned from her mistakes.

Brooks’ main charge against Slaughter, the $716 million Medicare lie, was useless in practice because it was easily refuted and voters have become inured to booga-booga Mediscare tactics. The rest of her campaign was the standard anti-incumbent campaign. The press releases were, frankly, laughable. Apparently Brooks’ staff thought repeating “entrenched Washington insider” would carry the day. I don’t know who they polled on that one, but from what I can tell, Rochesterians are intelligent enough to know that having the chair or ranking member of one of the most powerful committees in Congress might have some benefit, even though Congress does meet in that awful place, the District of Columbia.

I always wondered why Brooks chose to run this year. Slaughter will inevitably retire at some point, perhaps even in 2014. It’s far easier for a Republican to win here in a non-Presidential year, since the turnout in the solidly Democratic parts of the city is far lower. I assume the reason was her perception of the risks of running now versus later.

Risk is a funny thing. Brooks’ run was apparently a reaction to the possibility that some other Republican might sneak in and ride the supposed anti-Obama tidal wave and snatch up this seat. But it’s clear today that Brooks’ attempt to throw down a marker for this seat involved another, bigger risk. Before last night, a lot of Republicans thought that Maggie’s wins in the off-year, low turnout County Exec elections was an indicator that she’d be able to win any county-wide election. That fantasy has finally been put to bed, decisively. Before last night, Republicans thought that ROBUTRAD, Maggie’s husband’s job and the rest had all been processed and forgiven by voters. That was half right: the voters processed it, but they sure didn’t forgive.

When 2014 rolls around, Brooks will probably have another shot at this district. If she takes it, everyone will know that she’s not invincible in a county-wide election, and that she comes to the race with a lot of baggage. That’s a worse position than she was in the day she announced earlier this year, so it’s clear that she didn’t do herself any favors by running in 2012.

Second Siena Poll Shows Brooks Gaining

The latest Siena Poll [pdf] shows Louise Slaughter with a 4 point lead over Maggie Brooks. That’s consistent with Charlie Cook’s new NY-25 PVI released a few days ago, D+5. That means, all other things being equal, a Democrat has a five point advantage in this district.

The question for next month is whether Brooks’ campaign has given Democrats a reason to vote for her instead of Slaughter. The crossstabs show that Brooks cut into Slaughter’s huge Democratic preference (Slaughter’s down to 81% vs 86% among Democrats in the last poll), solidified her Republican base a bit (2% gain), but is losing some ground among Independents.

A Lonsberry Decoder Ring

Louise Slaughter has released two ads. The first one was a positive take on jobs and sunk without a trace. The second one was a “negative” ad and got her a bunch of press, including this typically well-done 13WHAM piece by Sean Carroll, which, again, shows that the ad is accurate.

But, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than Bob Lonsberry’s sputtering, meandering column yesterday. Reading it, I wondered if I was reading his take on the race or his effort to show that he’s a big enough drama queen to replace Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. Here’s a prime example:

Because Louise Slaughter has shown her true colors.

After years of playing the role of the sugary-sweet southern grandmother, she has thrown this race into the gutter with the unleashing of a torrent of attack ads.

In order to understand this, you need your Lonsberry decoder:

Bob Says Normal People Say
Torrent A few sprinkles, if it’s weather, or one advertisement, if it’s politics
Gale A little breeze is ruffling the trees
Flood There are puddles in the street and your feet might get wet.
Armageddon Snowstorm of more than 6 inches.

The rest of Lonsberry’s column is similarly ridiculous. He claims that Slaughter has done nothing for Rochester. What a Member of Congress can “do” for a city is always open to a great deal of interpretation. As far as I can tell, Louise “does” what someone with her level of power and seniority can do for Rochester. A couple of recent examples are working with Schumer to get financing for Hickey-Freeman, and putting an amendment in the Defense Authorization Bill that allowed Harris RF to get a $400 million contract. Anyone can do what Bob does in that column, which is to pick two random projects where “there oughta be a law”, but it takes a special brand of Lonsberry brass to generalize from two projects to “Slaughter does nothing”.

One final point: Bob’s burns about 900 words bemoning the awful state of this race, telling us how desperate the Slaughter campaign is, etc. He claims it’s unfair to blame Brooks for what happened while she was County Exec, but like every other press outlet in Rochester, he wasn’t able to call those ads innacurate, because they aren’t.

Boom Goes Louise’s First “Negative” Ad

Louise Slaughter sets the tone I think we were all expecting with this ad. It’s a laundry list of Maggie Brooks’ scandals. As far as I can tell, it’s accurate, and the Brooks campaign hasn’t disputed the content. Let’s see what Curt Smith says:

Political commentator Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, said Slaughter is using the same approach and citing the same issues that Sandra Frankel did when she lost to Brooks last year. He said it’s early for such an ad to appear. “I’m somewhat surprised it is being tried by Louise knowing the approach has failed,” Smith said.

An early negative campaign works when two factors converge — a vulnerable incumbent and an unknown challenger, said Smith and Lovett. Incumbents will jump the gun to depict challengers in a negative light before they can define themselves. But that’s not the case in this race, Smith said.

“The voters do know her opponent,” Smith said. “By and large, every poll and election result shows that voters don’t think of Maggie Brooks as a dishonest person.”

While there has been no recent public polling data on the race, “I think she senses trouble,” Smith said of Slaughter.

This sorry horseshit passes for “analysis” in the Democrat and Chronicle. Curt seems to forget, as usual, that the demographics in this race are completely different from the Brooks/Frankel contest. Of course, data is not Curt’s strong point, so, also as usual, he just makes up “trouble” out of whole cloth, even though no independent polling of this race has been released.

As for the bit of conventional wisdom that negative campaigns only work in the most rarefied of instances, donnez moi un break. The term “negative campaign” is so broad as to be meaningless, and it ignores the substance of the ad.

So let’s put away our smelling salts and look at the content of the ad in the context of this race. Brooks has been running almost entirely on her record as County Executive. Slaughter can either ignore that, and therefore tacitly agree that Brooks’ tenure as County Exec recommends her for Slaughter’s job, or Louise can disagree with it. Obviously, Louise disagrees, and this ad is the form her disagreement took. That’s why they call it a “campaign”, instead of a “cotillion” or a “Sunday drive in the park”. I expect we’ll see something similar from Brooks in the future. If it is as accurate as this ad, I think the voters in Monroe County will survive.

Patronage Accusation Details

The Slaughter campaign sent out the details on Maggie Brooks’ husband’s patronage job at the Monroe County Water Authority. It includes the most controversial accusation, which is that Brooks accompanied her husband to Disneyland and San Diego on the county’s dime, so I’m including it after the break.

As for the politics of this, like everything else in this race, I don’t see much new in the release. People know that Maggie got her husband a cushy job at the Water Authority, and spouses accompany husbands on business trips. The Brooks response, which called this “gutter politics”, was a laugh, since the accusation is a summary of a bunch of public records. The whole “gutter politics” or “politics of division” line that the Brooks campaign is pushing is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned. Everyone knew this thing was going to be a battle royale, and my guess is they’d be disappointed if there weren’t a few fireworks.

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