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Posts published in September 2008

The other congressman

Somebody write in and advise if we're drawing too much out of this press release. But it seemed here highly unusual.

There's nothing unusual about members of Congress proclaiming how they brought home the bacon, usually expressed by the phrase "secured funding." Nor anything unusual about more than one member of Congress from a state joining together to make a joint announcement.

So today's press release from Idaho Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson was in that sense nothing unusual.

But when they "announced today that several North Idaho projects are included in the National Security Funding Package" a bell rang, because while the senators do represent northern Idaho, Simpson does not - his district covers southern and eastern Idaho, and none of the projects noted in the press release are in his district. They are in the 1st district, whose representative is Bill Sali.

A slip? An oversight? Or?

What’s in a (Republican) name

In the Washington primary filings, candidates got to select a stated party preference, but they had liberty to name their preference themselves. Several Republicans chose something other than "Republican Party"; among those was Dino Rossi, the Republican nominee for governor, who stated his preference as "G.O.P."

Which seemed here to be a minor curiosity: Yeah, the Republican label isn't hot this year, but would a label of "G.O.P." (which traditionally stands for "Grand Old Party") really matter?

Maybe it does. The Tacoma News Tribune reports from a media panel a test by pollster Stuart Elway about just that point: "Republican gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi does better (though still trails) when his party preference is listed as 'GOP' than he does when his party preference is listed as 'Republican.' This is significant because Rossi will appear under the label 'GOP', something that state Democrats object to and have filed litigation to block."

OR: We’re #1 (in closeness)

Could it be that Oregon's is the most closely-fought U.S. Senate race in the country? Yes, it could, which would explain the rash of really intense TV spots, both positive and negative, both from campaigns and not.

The polling has been plentiful, and the conclusion overall is steady and clear: Republican incumbent Gordon Smith and Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley are within a couple of points of each other - and within the margin of error. Such a result has been closer and steadier for longer, as far as we can tell, than any other Senate race in the country.

The Cook Political Report rates it as "tossup," one of just five such (the others being Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Hampshire).

From our sense of what's happening in those other states, we'd feel more comfortable giving slight leans (Democratic in Colorado and New Hampshire, Republican in Minnesota and North Carolina) than either way in Oregon.

Congressional Quarterly (CQ Politics) rates it as leaning Republican, but says this: "Two-term Republican Gordon Smith is in a statistical tie with Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley, the speaker of the state House, leading him 46 percent to 45 percent with 2 percent choosing "other" and 7 percent undecided in a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Sept. 15. The margin of error is 4 points. Smith's favorable to unfavorable ratio is 49 percent to 46 percent while Merkley is viewed unfavorably by 46 percent and favorably by 45 percent." That's essentially a tie.

Expect the ads to accelerate.

UPDATE A Research 2000 poll (for Daily Kos) just out gives Merkley what we think is the largest lead over Smith he's posted so far, 45%-40%. It puts the Obama-McCain topline at 53%-39%, also one of the largest reported for Oregon so far.

41% down

This was totally predictable - we predicted it here - but it is still apt to come as a shock: Home sales in Seattle are off 41% from last year, and house prices are dropping fast too, with western median prices off by a quarter.

Prices were shooting up far higher and faster than all but a sliver of people could afford. How could the end result of that bubble be anything other than what we're seeing now?

Washington’s stem cells

Stem cell research would seem to be an odd topic for the Washington governor's race - more a national issue than a state subject. But it evidently has some resonance. It has become such a hot topic that the state's largest newspaper is asking a gubernatorial candidate not to discuss it.

It launched in a major way a few weeks ago with a campaign by Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire, who is arguing that her opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, opposes stem cell research, which she supports. Rossi says he does not oppose the research; the basis for her flat contention hasn't been entirely clear.

The ads are clear enough, though, as are the press releases on the subject, one released as recently as yesterday.

Rossi has shot back that he does in fact support stem cell research, and noted (unrebutted) that Gregoire's administation hasn't put any money into stem cell research. (She argues that a research fund has been established, and stem-cell related requests are in the pipeline.)

Yesterday the Seattle Times editorialized, "Enough of stem cells. The job of governor has nothing to do with stem cells. Gov. Christine Gregoire should use her re-election money to talk about things the governor actually does, starting with budgets and taxes. She should end the TV ads of people who fret that Dino Rossi is standing between them and medical salvation."

To which Goldy at Horse's Ass responded, "The governor’s stem cell ads are without a doubt the most evocative and effective of the campaign, and the Times damn well knows it. That’s why they chose to use their bully pulpit to try to bully her into pulling the spots. I mean, could they be any more obvious?"

All of this sounds like a form of code combat - "stem cell research" standing in for something else, maybe something too difficult to go after directly. That may be suggested by the final bullet point in Gregoire's press release yesterday: "Gov. Gregoire is a supporter of science-based research. Republican Dino Rossi is willing to let his personal beliefs stand in the way of scientific research."

That's probably a little closer to where the battle here really resides.

Elect your AG

Our view has been, for some years, that state attorneys general probably should be appointed, rather than elected. The reason has been that professional skills are key in the case of AGs, to a lesser degree than - as would be the case with a governor or legislator - pollicy judgment.

However, since reading this enlightening dispatch from Alaska showing just how damaging an appointed AG can be, that position is formally reversed. Elect 'em. Absolutely.

In effigy

This is the sort of thing you'd think would have been left behind years ago . . . but unfortunately not . . .

At George Fox University in Newberg, someone (students presumably) set up an image of presidential candidate Barack Obama, hanging in effigy. Fox is a Quaker school, and its religious influence has led the community toward both conservatism and nonviolence and anti-war strains. Someone evidently didn't quite get the latter parts of the message.

University President Robin Baker apparently did, though, remarking of the incident: "Yesterday was not a good example of what it means to follow Jesus."

Various numbers

One of our campaign season tenets is that polls should be
addressed with caution, the results of any single poll be given only limited weight. As we've seen periodically this year, the best take on what a poll says (and remember, at best it's a snapshot, not a prediction) tends to come when a group of polls are bunched together, and their results looked at en masse. Even then, an outlier sometimes hits the mark closer.

So consider Idaho's 1st district and the two recent polls there. Last week we noted the results of a Daily Kos Research 2000 poll conducted September 17-18, showing Republican Representative Bill Sali at 46% and Democratic challenger Walt Minnick at 35%. We noted it largely because there were other readings from Idaho too, providing context.

Today the Minnick campaign released its own Harstad Strategic poll, conducted September 9-11, giving Sali 38% and Minnick 43%. The results are different enough that you have a hard time seeing how both can be on target - unless, if they are, there's the suggestion from the timing the pollsters were in the field that Sali has gained and Minnick diminished, rapidly. Not that any reason for that comes to mind. (We have, in fact, been hearing some growing chatter - anecdotal, of course - that Minnick's chances have seemed to be improving. It is as noted anecdotal.)

Occam's Razor suggests this: Polls are rough shots, and best taken as raw estimates, especially one by one. Maybe if we get a slew of polls in the Idaho 1st, a sharper focus will emerge.

Skepticism in the Northwest

Color us among the skeptics of the Bush Administration Wall Street bailout proposal - but not just this site: Most of the Northwest, and not just one side of the political fence, either. If they were selling stock in skepticism, we'd buy.

Before going further, we should point out two excellent online posts that helped shape our thinking on this. One (becoming increasingly renowned even in mass media - Steve Duin in the Oregonian touted it today) was posted on the Daily Kos site, and called "Three Times is Enemy Action" - a review of how the financial markets got to this point. The second, lesser known, was written by New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, who has done some of the best writing about federal tax policy in recent years: His piece is aimed at journalists, chiding them for not doing basic homework on the financial situation and strong suggesting that the economic problems, while quite real, are not as imminent a crisis as many news reports have suggested. Both posts are highly, highly recommended.

The Northwest seems to be alert to the reasons for skepticism.

Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio has had some sharp quotes on the subject, and a well-crafted statement on his web site. He points out that for many months, through all kinds of negative events, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the economic was sound, but "Then Thursday night he has a closed door meeting with congressional leadership and he says, if we don't do a bailout plan tomorrow, the economy is going to collapse. Wait a minute. This guy has been consistently wrong and out of touch or he's been lying to Congress and the American people about how sound our fundamentals are. Now he wants us to trust him with the keys of the treasury and no restrictions on how he would spend the money in his next bailout. He is compromised in my opinion because of his relationship with Goldman Sachs and Wall Street not with Main Street America. My small banks are not clamoring for this. They are still making loans."

Increasingly, Northwest Democrats seem to be positioning themselves along these lines. (Note the post below on Washington's Jim McDermott.)

There's a voice from the left. And on the right? In the Northwest (or elsewhere), you don't go much further right in Congress than Idaho Republican Bill Sali. Here's his take, according to a news report today: "says President Bush's plan to rescue the nation's financial industry ignores the deeper troubles facing the nation's economy, lacks public support and gives too much authority to top administration officials in charge of the plan. Sali, a conservative Republican from western Idaho, acknowledges he has yet to formalize his own counterproposal or find another he can support instead. But Sali says his biggest problem with the Bush Administration's $700 billion bailout proposal is its failure to deal with the nation's ailing economy."

Not everyone is on board with the DeFazios and Salis; Idaho's other Republican representative, Mike Simpson, actually blasted Sali for not jumping on board the bailout train: "What's his answer, to let the economy go down?" There is, of course, another course: Pause long enough to consider what actually will work and what won't, what caused the current problems and find ways to fix them, rather than simply jump on cue.

Sali's office said that response from constituents has been overwhelmingly critical of the bailout. It often happens that responses in congressional offices that responses tend to back positions of the incumbent, but in this case we'd suspect the popular view is very much as Sali's office describes it: Highly skeptical of the bailout proposal as it now is structured.

On either side of the Cascades, either side of the partisan divide. Unity may be approaching.