Smug Contrarian

Aaron Wicks at the Smugtown Beacon points out that Republican Congressional candidates got shellacked in the towns of the new NY-25 in 2008, by a factor of 63-37%, better than the roughly 60-40% Obama-McCain margin, and he thinks that’s good news for Republicans. His argument is that if there were a better Republican challenger, the margin would be tighter.

That’s true, but Wicks looks at these numbers, which are horrible for Republicans no matter how you slice them, and asserts that Brooks will win by an enormous 54-46% margin. No reasonable analyst has this race anywhere near there–all the services that charge money think this election tilts towards Slaughter and Brooks could at best edge her out in a hard-fought battle. Should we pay attention to Wicks?

My take is no, and here’s my reasoning: There are two kinds of contrarians. The first listens to the conventional wisdom, looks at the facts, and points out how they support a different conclusion. This type of contrarian is worth your attention, since they aren’t just reflexively saying “up” when everyone else says “down” to get your attention. The second type of contrarian is someone who looks at the facts, ignores them, and listens to his gut. As Stephen Colbert says about the gut’s role in logic, “I trust it so much, it’s where I put all my food.” In other words, Wicks probably could be trusted with a cheeseburger, but I don’t think I’ll trust his take on this election.

Spoiler Alert

Next door in the new NY-27, former Erie County exec Chris Collins will be face off in a primary against highly decorated and very conservative Iraq War vet David Bellavia. According to Alan Bedenko (Buffalopundit), Bellavia will receive support from Jack Davis, a millionaire serial candidate for Congress. Davis alternated between running as a Democrat and a Republican during the last few cycles, while consistently remaining a bitter old man with zero retail political skills. He’s planning to inject his money and vitriol into the NY-27 race in the form a SuperPAC that will advertise on behalf of Bellavia.

Because the new NY-27 encompasses some Monroe County towns and neighboring counties south and west of Rochester, Davis’ PAC will probably buy a fair amount of  advertising in the Rochester market. Collins, like Brooks, is a middle-of-the-road, pork-friendly Republican who doesn’t want to talk about social issues. Pro-Bellavia ads will expose Rochester voters to attacks on a moderate Republican from the right, and Rochester media will no doubt ask Maggie Brooks whether the substance of those attacks also apply to her.

In addition to making trouble for Collins in the Republican primary, Bellavia (with Davis’ money behind him) is a logical choice for the Conservative party line. If he wins that and Collins wins the Republican Primary, we’ll have the wet dream of every Democrat in the new NY-27, which is a Dede Scozzafava situation where conservatives split between Collins and Bellavia. That’s relevant to NY-25 because Bellavia ads in the Fall will continue to put far-right ideology in front of NY-25 voters. Maggie will either have to disavow that ideology (and alienate her base), or embrace it (and alienate moderates).

Que Sera, Sera, Whatever Curt Sees Won’t Be

I’m going to pick three statements from Curt Smith’s column in the Webster Post to show why nobody should listen to this guy:

Knowing [that Maggie is a good candidate], Louise last year began to slightly curb her liberalism, as private polls show Brooks at least even.

Never trust anyone referring to a “private poll” because the privacy of the poll means that you don’t know what was asked, to whom, and when. Without that information, you know nothing about the poll. Either Curt knows this and chose to mention the poll anyway, or he actually believes that the poll is worth mentioning. Either way, he’s misleading the readers of the Post.

As for Louise’s supposed new-found conservatism, National Journal gave her an 89% liberal score last month. Barney Frank got 91%. In 2010, Louise was scored at 91%.  Barney was 93%. Either Barney is curbing his liberalism in exactly the same ratio as Louise, even though he’s retiring and has nothing to lose, or Curt just pulled that little assertion out of thin air.

Speaking of unfounded assertions, here’s the hand wave Curt uses to dismiss ROBUTRAD:

Brooks has brooked development and crony scandal. Few worry.

I might be willing to accept that the indictment and conviction of some of Maggie’s staff will not be a major issue in this election, but I’m not willing to do that without an argument, and neither should Curt’s readers.

Even though Curt could’t be bothered to do serious political analysis, he did name check  Doris Day (last movie: 1968) and Red Barber (last breath: 1992), and he references Thelma and Louise (released: 1991) to make a point about feminism. Curt seems like a pleasant fellow and I honestly do hate to pick on him, but if he would just become a mental as well as physical inhabitant of the current century, his analysis might have some relevance to this year’s race in NY-25.

Gillibrand Fundraises for Slaughter

Liz Benjamin at YNN has the latest Gillibrand fundraising letter, which asks for money for Kathy Hochul and Louise Slaughter. Gillibrand can afford to be magnanimous because the recent Republican convention in Rochester ratified what was already obvious: she’s going to cruise to an easy re-election win against a second- or third-tier token Republican challenger. This is a double-edged sword for Slaughter. On one hand, it means that Gillibrand will be able to campaign for Slaughter, Hochul and other down-ticket candidates, since her re-election campaign will be a formality. On the other hand, since she won’t have a serious competitor, her campaign won’t put on a full-press get-out-the-vote effort, which means that Slaughter will be relying on her own effort, and that of the Monroe County Democratic Party, which is mediocre at best at getting voters to the polls.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

The Cook Political Report, a fairly well-respected political analysis service, has its first set of rankings out since redistricting. The new NY-25 is in the “leans Democratic” category, which is the second most competitive category. Cook calculates the PVI of NY-25 as D+5, which makes it fairly Democratic, but also indicates that Obama’s 18-point win in 2008 (11 points over the national results) was a Democratic high-water mark in NY-25. NY-28, Slaughter’s current district, was a D+15 “safe” district by Cook’s reckoning.

Cook rates NY-24, the new Syracuse district, as another “leans Democratic” race. There, Ann-Marie Buerkle will face Dan Maffei, who she beat in 2010. Since that district is now D+4 (it was D+3), and since Buerkle hasn’t moderated any of her Tea Party stances, even a weak campaigner like Maffei will probably win, despite the well-demonstrated fact that he’s a guy who could probably fuck up a ham sandwich. Rochester will probably see a lot of NY-24 ads because its bedroom communities in Wayne County are still part of the new district.

The new NY-27, which Kathy Hochul won after Chris Lee resigned, is R+6 instead of R+7 but will still be tough for her to win. It’s currently rated “Leans Republican” by Cook, but with former Erie County Executive Chris Collins announcing this weekend, that may change for the worse. Collins, who lost his re-election bid last year, is in no way as strong a challenger as Brooks, and he’s also widely considered to be at fault for the incompetent campaign run by Jane Corwin, Hochul’s challenger in the special election. NY-27 includes a few towns in Monroe County so we’ll see plenty of advertising for this race, which is the most likely Republican pick-up in New York this year.

NY-23, the new Southern Tier district, is in the “likely Republican” category, though it is a R+3 district now instead of the safer R+5 district it was. Cook has this as a “likely Republican” district mainly because Tom Reed doesn’t have strong opposition for that seat. NY-23 won’t much of a factor in Rochester politics any longer, since no Monroe County towns, or even any bordering counties, are part of the district.

Speaking of Reed, he brought House Minority Leader Eric Cantor to Henrietta on Friday. Cantor also met in private with Brooks to discuss her campaign.

Somebody Loan Me Your Lonsberry Decoder Ring

Bob Lonsberry thinks Maggie should run to as the real American in the race:

The best service she can offer her country, is to step into the bully pulpit and make the case for Americanism.

Here’s some more:

This isn’t about partisanship, this is about patriotism. And if sending Maggie Brooks to Congress didn’t serve a patriotic end, there would be no reason to do it.

But there is a patriotic rationale. There is a legitimate good. There is a national need.

A vote for Maggie Brooks is a vote for America. And even if the politicians don’t realize that, the people must.

I guess voting for Louise Slaughter is a vote for, what, Canada? Guatemala? Sometimes it appears as if Bob talks in some kind of code originated in the hills around Mt. Morris and passed on via ancient clan rituals of the elusive FUBO tribe.

Bob also gives Maggie some bad political advice, which revolves around selling a vote to Maggie as a vote against a second Pelosi speakership. In a district where Democrats voted for Obama by an 18 point margin in a year when the devil herself was the speaker, one has to assume that Pelosi’s satanic nature wasn’t relevant then, and it won’t be now.  Bob needs to pick a different bogeywoman for this district.

Louise Does It Her Way

Over on the Twitter, Sean Carroll was complaining about Louise Slaughter’s refusal to take campaign questions at her press availability this afternoon.  Since the event was in the Federal Building, she said she couldn’t talk about the campaign.  Chapter 4 of the House Ethics manual [pdf] does say you can’t conduct a campaign out of a House office, but answering questions isn’t campaigning, so I think Louise just didn’t want to talk to the press and she came up with a plausible excuse. So, on the part of the 13-WHAM newscast I saw, Sean got to tell us all that Louise looked good and said she was feeling fine.

For more than twenty years, Louise has lived in a world where Louise talks about what Louise wants to talk about.  Today, Louise wanted to talk about the bill she sponsored, the STOCK act, which just passed Congress, so that’s what she did.  Like Maggie, Louise  has been in front of the press for a good part of her adult life, and she’s not going to get caught saying anything unless she’s prepared to say it.

Why This Time?

Steve Zodiac at Mustard Street makes this observation:

Maggie Brooks will run for Congress because there’s no reason for her not to.

Run and she has a decent shot at winning.   Lose and she’s exactly where she’d be, and no worse off, than if she didn’t run:  finishing out her term as Monroe County Executive.

Term limits make this term her last.   So a loss in a congressional race can’t tarnish chances for re-election, since there isn’t going to be a re-election.

This is all true, but my question is why she chose a Presidential year to challenge an 82 year-old incumbent. Maggie’s term is up at the end of 2015. If she ran in 2014, Slaughter’s age would be even more of an issue, or, more likely, she will have retired, and a lot fewer Democrats would be heading to the polls because Democratic turnout is lower in non-Presidential elections.

Give Me Land, Lots of Land and a Sunny Sky Above

Maggie Brooks doesn’t want to be “pinned down” on issues quite yet.

“To me, that’s always been the same: jobs and the economy,” she continued. “You know, the social things don’t get people back to work, the social issues don’t lower taxes, don’t relieve regulation from business. Those are the things I want to focus on initially, and we’ll take our time with the other things.

“We’ll be fully vetted on those, you better believe it.”

Brooks was asked specifically about whether she would vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, known to critics as Obamacare, and her views on the federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives.

The notion that she’ll be fully vetted mainly on non-social issues, and concentrating on those, is a fond wish that won’t come true. Brooks is running to join a House caucus that spends a good deal of its time on social issues. Repealing Obamacare, to name one example, is vitally important to a lot of Republicans, and her supporters will want to know how she stands on that. On the Democratic side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is prepping reporters with 10 questions, three of which are about women’s health care, and those questions are all fair ones. That’s just a taste of what’s to come from the media and her opponent.

Finally–and this will be a theme repeated for the rest of this campaign–Maggie’s not the top of the ticket in 2012. That honor probably belongs to Mitt Romney, who instructs women to “vote for the other guy” if women want “free stuff” like contraception. That quote is one of many reasons that Romney’s likely nomination is a double-edged sword for Brooks. He’s theoretically a Northeastern moderate Republican, which is what Brooks will run as in a Democratic district. But he’s also an example of how moderation in today’s Republican party isn’t durable. As recently as 2002, Mitt supported Medicaid-funded abortions. Romneycare funds contraception, now Mitt’s against it.

If the 2012 standard-bearer can change his positions that radically, it’s fair to ask how Representative Maggie will differ from County Executive Maggie, once she’s under pressure to be a loyal vote for her party in Washington. Whatever phrase you choose–“pinned down”, “fenced in”, or “held accountable”–Maggie’s positions on the social issues that are dominating the Presidential race are going to be fully vetted before this election is over.

I’ll Bet Curt a Nickel

Curt Smith, who’s a retired Bush I speechwriter, has been all over the media with folksy quotes about the NY-25 race.  Here’s what he told Rachel Barnhart:

 “Anyone who bet a nickel at this point should be basically assigned to an asylum.”

A lot of political coverage relies on home truths delivered by supposedly savvy observers, but the fact is that there’s a lot of data about the performance of Maggie and Louise in prior elections, as well as data that can be used to project performance by either candidate in the 2012 race.  One tool used by forecasters is the Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which uses the performance of the Presidential candidates in the last two elections to project whether a given district leans towards Republicans or Democrats.

At some point I’ll calculate the real PVI of this district, but for now I’ve put together a spreadsheet of the performance of President Obama in the new NY-25. Obama won the 25th by 18% (D+18 in PVI notation). Since Obama is running again, and since inner-city Rochester’s African-American population is in the district, it’s likely that we’ll see similar enthusiasm and turnout in 2012.  In other words, even though the real PVI for this district might not be as high as D+18, there are reasons to think that 2008 will be like 2012 in terms of Democratic turnout and enthusiasm

Democrat Eric Massa beat incumbent Randy Kuhl in the current NY-29 in 2008 when that district was R+7, and that was considered a major upset.  Republican Ann-Marie Buerkle beat Democrat Dan Maffei in the current NY-25 which is a D+3 district.  I’m sure upsets in D+18 or R+18 districts have happened, but I’d like Curt to point to one that resembles Rochester.

Analysts have also mentioned that Brooks can win Monroe County.  That’s true, but let’s keep in mind what election Maggie won.  In 2008, about 350,000 people voted in the towns of the new NY-25.  In the 2011 County Executive race, Maggie took the majority of 138,000 votes in Monroe County.  All the aw-shucks, gee-whiz down-home wisdom in the world won’t change the fact that the 2012 race will be completely unlike the races Maggie is used to winning.

So, I’ll take that bet, Curt, and if you want to call me insane, try throwing down some facts, rather than pithy aphorisms, to explain why.