Archive for July, 2007

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Some early predictions about November 2008

July 29, 2007

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Some preliminary predictions about likely Presidential match-ups.

Given the fact that the Democratic race is, unless Gore or Warner enters the race, essentially divided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the Republican contest is a three way Thompson/Giuliani/McCain affair, it is possible to start handicapping potential head to heads. Of course, this must still be done at a relatively simple level, without consideration of vice-presidential picks or a Bloomberg (or even McCain) third party candidacy. However, it is still possible to make some useful predictions about the following line-ups (in order of likelihood).

Clinton/Thompson – A evenly balanced race. Clinton has a formidable machine while the general unpopularity of the Republican party will be a tremendous asset. At the same time Thompson is extremely charismatic and will have unquestioned support of the Republican base. However, the decisive factor will be that although Thompson, with the exception of Florida, will be able to easily hold the South, he will find the Midwest and the West a different story while it is difficult to see him carrying anywhere in the North. Yet another ‘fourth and inches’ contest can be expected, only with the Democrats holding the advantage. Prediction: Hillary Clinton has a 55% probability of winning.

Clinton/Giuliani – The conventional wisdom is that Giuliani is the most electable of the Republicans, which is presumably the reason why he is currently ahead in the opinion polls. Although he does enjoy stronger support in the North than a generic Republican and stronger support in New York than McCain, he is weak in the Midwest and the West and is still far behind in his home state. My guess is that he might (just) win New Hampshire but he will struggle to retain states like Ohio, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri and even Virginia. Let’s also remember that he had to withdraw from his Senate race in 2000 after consistently trailing in Hillary in the polls. Prediction: Hillary Clinton has a 60% probability of winning.

Clinton/McCain – This is the most interesting of the six contests. As stated before, Hillary will have the advantages of a large political machine, an initial lead in the opinion polls and a full campaign war-chest. Clinton will also have enough command of her base to ensure that she gets at least 45% of the vote whatever happens. However, the fact there is no more polarising figure in contemporary politics and her limited appeal in the South and the West will matter much more against the one Republican who appeals the most to the centre appeal. Indeed, provided McCain keeps the faith on Iraq and Immigration and Bush hasn’t started to withdraw troops by the start of the election, he should win comfortably. Indeed, McCain should pick up New Hampshire and Pennsylvania while only Hillary’s strong support among Latino voters makes California in any way marginal. Prediction: McCain has a 65% probability of winning.

Obama/Thompson – If the Democrats choose Barack Obama as their nominee the contest will dramatically different than if Hillary heads the ticket. More specifically, the contest will be more wide-ranging with a greater number of states in play. However, Thompson will neutralise any strength Obama has in the south so the fact that Obama has a (slightly) greater appeal to that region than Clinton will be irrelevant. At the same time Obama’s inexperience and the tendency for candidates in Democrat primaries to pull their punches in the name of ‘unity’ (a practice that makes it harder for dark horse candidates to score an upset) will mean that he will be unprepared for the onslaught that Thompson will unleash against him. My gut feeling is that it will still be close but the advantage will now reside with the GOP. Prediction: Thompson has a 55% probability of winning.

Obama/Giuliani – A contest between the two weakest candidates will be the most interesting and the hardest to predict. Obama’s lack of experience and solidly left wing record will counteract Giuliani’s lack of a base and his mediocre record (9/11 excepted) as mayor of New York. At the same time Obama’s charisma and youth will be matched by Giuliani’s actions during 9//11. This is probably the only match-up which is completely balanced. Prediction: Both candidates have a 50% probability of winning.

Obama/McCain – The easiest of all the match-ups to predict. Although the 49 state landslide that a Survey USA poll predicted in 2006 is unlikely to happen (indeed Obama is currently ahead of McCain in the last published poll) it is still difficult to see how Obama could win, or even come close. McCain should be looking to win New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Delaware, Wisconsin and New Jersey. Provided McCain doesn’t get complacent or make the mistake of pandering to the base his experience, courage and centrism should be unbeatable. Prediction: McCain has a 80% chance of winning.

Although, as I stated at the start of this article, any predictions will always be extremely premature it seems that John McCain and Hillary Clinton are the strongest candidates while Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani are the two weakest.

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The Tories after David Cameron

July 22, 2007

If David Cameron goes, who could replace him?

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After an extended honeymoon of over eighteen months questions are beginning to be asked about David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative party now that Labour is ahead in the opinion polls. A large part of his appeal rested on the assumption that he would deliver them victory at the next election and now that seems less of a certainty the vultures cannot be far behind. Indeed, there is talk about a challenge to him while if he loses the next election he will be dead meat. My guess is that his leadership was always a parody of what the Conservatives believed to be the secret behind Tony Blair’s success, namely appearing to be a ‘moderniser’ within his party and grabbing onto popular issues. However, this was always a pretty big misunderstanding. In fact Tony Blair was a substantive, rather than a cosmetic, centrist and was driven by conviction rather than by opinion polls (as he showed in his foreign policy). At the same time Blair did not go from ‘it’s not racist to talk about immigration’ to ‘hug a hoodie’ overnight.

Even worse than the lack of substance is the fact that the issues David Cameron picked to showcase his conversion to social liberalism are the ones on which the majority of the public is either conservative or apathetic. Paternity leave and solar panels on rooftops have little traction outside The Guardian and Woman’s magazines. Issues such as the health service, education and law and order are the real bread and butter of British politics and on those positions the Conservatives still trail Labour. Indeed, Cameron’s comments about anti-social behaviour and his belief that the use of the phrase ‘Islamist’ should be banned sound downright dangerous when set against the very real impact of crime on the poorest sections of society and the recent bombings. At the same time, Cameron’s indecisiveness on foreign policy show that he is little different from the isolationist and anti-war leanings of Michael Howard while his decision to exploit racist hysteria over foreign criminals showed the hollowness of his conversion to social liberalism.

Since there is no current betting market on a successor to Cameron and it is always difficult for a non-conservative like myself to handicap such a contest I will tread lightly. However, the following are a few pointers to some possible successors (in order of likelihood).

David Davis – The candidate who Cameron defeated for the leadership in 2005. There will probably be an organised attempt to find a ‘stop-Davis’ candidate (as Cameron was in 2005) and there will be a lot of opposition from some of the media. However, Davis is popular with the base, reasonably charismatic and will probably be a lot more moderate than his reputation would suggest (although without the David Cameron style gimmicks) once he gets into office.

William Hague – The one thing that I cannot understand about Conservatives is their adoration of William Hague. Few Labour party supporters regarded Michael Foot as anything other than an embarrassment after he brought the Labour party close to extinction. However, despite the fact that the Tories got fewer seats in 2001 than Labour got in 1983, Hague is viewed with reverence by virtually all Conservatives. In many ways he is the ideal ‘stop Davis’ candidate with only his record and the fact that he might have enough common sense not to run stopping his candidacy.

George Osborne – In many ways he played Jeb to Cameron’s George Bush in that many people were surprised that it was Cameron rather him who ran. The fact that he could call on Cameron’s web on supporters without being committed to Cameron’s pseudo-liberalism is a big plus in his favour. However, like Jeb Bush, the base of the Conservative party might be so alienated by Cameron that he will get a very cold reception.

Ken Clarke – The fact that Ken Clarke could credibly make a fifth run for the Conservative party leadership indicates the paucity of credible leaders in the Conservative party. On paper he sound the ideal candidate; economically centrist, socially liberal (but without Cameron’s gimmicks) and experienced in government. However, his pro-European stance makes him unelectable while he lacks both the discipline and desire to win the contest. He actually surged into a brief opinion poll lead in September 2005 and won endorsements from the Daily Mail but a middling speech and a lack of passion in the closing stages made him lose his momentum and he came last in the parliamentary ballot. If elected he would give Gordon Brown many sleepless nights but (fortunately) he is unlikely to run.

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Tale of Two Campaigns

July 21, 2007

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Why you can write off John Edwards but not John McCain

It is impossible for anyone who is interested in politics to miss, on either side of the Atlantic, all the hysteria in the press (and the consequent gloating from both extremes of the blogosphere) about the recent blip in the fortunes of the McCain camp. Despite the fact that this ‘blip’ might be already helping McCain to clear the deadwood and glory hunters from his campaign staff, pundits are already making jokes such as ‘John Edwards’ poverty tour visits the McCain campaign’. Ironically, as few observers have already pointed out, McCain and Edwards are in similar positions in terms of amounts of money raised and positions in their respective contest (though Edwards is tied with an undeclared Gore in some polls). Given that Edwards’ place on the 2004 ticket would have made him the Democratic frontrunner in previous years the lack of media comment about Edwards’ implosion is rather perplexing.

Another irony is that Edwards and McCain used to hold similar positions. At the time of the 2004 primaries they both supported war in Iraq and were known for being concerned about the level of inequality in American society. However, while McCain’s move to the right on economic issues has been mainly rhetorical (indeed McCain voted for the minimum wage this year for the first time in his life) Edwards’ decision to become an extremely vocal anti-war candidate has demonstrate that his original decision to support the war was purely opportunistic (as Shrum’s memoirs confirm). At the same time Edwards’ message on inequality has been undermined by the revelations of his expensive (and rather effeminate) taste in hair care. Finally, although Elizabeth’s Edwards’ decision to stand up to Ann Coulter may have taught Coulter a long overdue lesson in civility, the fact is that people expect the candidate to stand up for his/her spouse, rather than the other way round.

However, the most decisive factor that will ensure that Edwards is unable to escape from his single digit ghetto in the polls is the fact that there is plenty of competition for the anti-war vote in the Democrat primaries. Instead of gaining by his reversal it seems that Edwards (like Richardson) has turned himself from a centrist alternative to Clinton and Obama to just another candidate. Indeed, given how vociferously Edwards now opposes the war and demands an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he has generated amazingly little traction in either the more left leaning of the print media or even in with the (self-styled) ‘activist base’, who have both been seduced by Barack Obama or made their peace with Hillary Clinton. Indeed, if you type ‘John Edwards’ into the search function of Daily Kos (a very good source for gauging the mood of what antiwar Democrats are thinking) you get 23 stories in the last four weeks compared with 33 stories for Obama and 54 stories about Clinton. Ironically, McCain merits the most posts out of the field of Republican candidates (closely followed by Romney and Giuliani) suggesting that the left wing of the Democratic party still implicitly views him as the biggest threat in 2008.

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The Democratic Veepstakes

July 14, 2007

Who will be the pick of the Democrat nominee?

Having handicapped the Republican vice-presidential nomination it is only logical to do the same for the Democrats. This is a relatively straightforward task possibilities for the vice-presidential nomination. This is of course extremely speculative at this stage. If it wasn’t for the fact that the contest seems to be essentially a race between Hillary and Obama, with Hillary the overwhelming favourite, it would be pointless. However, given that the contest for the top spot is not completely unpredictable a few basic predictions can be made about the candidate most likely to feature on the bottom half of the ticket.

1. Barack Obama – Usually people who come second in a presidential primary don’t get the nod as vice-president, not least because the campaign has either exposed their weaknesses or they have irreparably damaged their relations with the winner. However, people have extremely short memories and Kerry’s decision to choose Edwards as his running mate in 2004 has planted in many people’s minds the belief that Obama, if he puts in a good showing, will be entitled to the vice presidential spot. A more convincing argument would be that his youth and charisma would contrast well with Lieberman, or any other possible Republican nominee (excluding Palin). However, Obama adds little in electoral terms to the ticket and his youth is as likely to be a weakness as it is to be an asset. Essentially, his chances depend on Hillary (or Gore) being pressured into choosing him.

2. Mark Warner – If appealing to the political centre and moderate voters, rather than pacifying the base, were the sole criteria Warner would be the obvious choice. He’s moderate, experienced and his home state of Virginia is marginal enough to make putting him on the ticket good from an Electoral College point of view. However, some negatives from the perspectives of getting onto the ticket are his centrist economic and foreign policy views, his decision to withdraw from the presidential primary when he was seen as a serious contender and the fact that he was unable to unseat his namesake John Warner from the Senate in 1998.

3. Jim Webb – Jim Webb is similar to Mark Warner in that he is from Virginia and as a former Regan Republican) has some potential cross party appeal. He also has the requisite views on foreign policy that the left require and has a pugnacious populist streak. However, he only beat George Allen by a tiny margin and he could very well be attacked for abandoning the people of Virginia only two years after he was elected. Despite the fact that Virginia’s was the eighth weakest ‘red’ state in 2004 there are severe doubts, as there are with Warner, about whether Hillary Clinton should even be trying to win any southern states, especially if the Republican nominee is Frank Thompson.

4. Bill Richardson – If targeting southern states is out of the question for Hillary Clinton then moving westwards might be a logical response. Putting the current governor of New Mexico on the ticket would swing three western states (New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada) into the Democrat column and ensure that a McCain candidacy could not threaten California. Indeed, one of the decisive factors in Bush’s 2004 victory was the fact that he reduced the Democrat lead among Latinos to 10%. If putting Richardson on the ticket in 2008 meant that Obama or Clinton got 60% of Latino votes this could well swing a few other states, such as Florida. In fact, since Latinos turn out in lesser numbers than other ethnic groups (with the exception of Asian-Americans) the Democrats could get a double boost from having Richardson on the ticket. The only negative is that there are various rumours swirling around Richardson, rumours which made him withdraw his name from consideration in 2004, which are the last thing that Hillary Clinton needs.

5. Ken Salazar – He has all the electoral positives that Richardson brings to a ticket without the potential for sexual scandal and an appeal to moderate. However, it is his moderate views might bring the ire of Democrat activists while he has lesser name recognition than Bill Richardson. There is also the question of his relative inexperience.

6. Al Gore – Barack Obama might choose him for his experience and his appeal to the South. However, we are unlikely to see another Clinton/Gore ticket while he could fade from view if he enters the race and does badly.

7. Sherrod Brown – Brown would be a strong contender if the eventual nominee wants to win by energising the base and focusing all his/her efforts on Ohio. However, this is a very risky strategy and could backfire if McCain or Giuliani wins the nomination and decides to target a ‘blue’ state in the North-Eas as Brown is too liberal to appeal outside his home state.

8. Blanche Lincoln – If either Obama or Gore win the nomination they will face pressure to put a woman on the ticket. As a centrist and co-founder of the Blue Dogs she would be the logical choice. However, Arkansas is even more of a long-shot than Virginia and she would only be a reasonable choice if Hillary wasn’t the nominee.

9. Claire McCaskill – The Senator from Missouri might be useful in swinging a key Midwestern state into the Democrat column. However, she was only elected two years ago.

10. Bill Nelson – Nelson might be useful in helping the nominee win Florida but he has little national name recognition

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The Republican Veepstakes

July 8, 2007

Who will get a shot at ‘the bucket of warm spit’?

Having handicapped the contest for the Republican nomination it is only logical to investigate potential possibilities for the vice-presidential nomination. This is of course extremely speculative at this stage. If it wasn’t for the fact that the contest seems to be essentially a race between Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, with all other candidates trailing by a large margin, the exercise would be pointless. However, given that the contest for the top spot is not completely unpredictable a few basic predictions can be made about the candidate most likely to feature on the bottom half of the ticket.

1. Sen. Joseph Lieberman – The most obvious choice. He has already hinted that he will endorse Giuliani or McCain if either of them wins the nomination, while his decision to keep caucusing with the Democrats means that any change in affiliation will garner maximum publicity. Choosing him means that at one bound the nominee will regain many of the independent voters that Bush has alienated in the past four years. At the same time it would demonstrate a commitment to an interventionist foreign policy and a more centrist stance on economic issues. Unfortunately, Frank Thompson may want to adopt a more realist foreign policy, Giuliani is pretty much forced to pick a pro-life candidate and McCain may pick either Tim Pawlentry or someone else from the right. The eventual winner of the nomination may also feel uneasy with putting a former Democrat within a heartbeat of the Presidency.

2. Gov. Sarah Palin – If Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama get on the Democrat ticket there will be a large amount of pressure to put a female candidate in the vice-presidential spot. Governor Palin is (for the moment) popular, pro-life and appeals to rural voters and ‘hockey mums’. However, she has only been governor for two years and her popularity could evaporate between now and the convention. It is unlikely that she could hurt the ticket but the Republicans really need someone who could radically shift public opinion and she might be too lightweight to do so.

3. Colin Powell – Like Palin, Colin Powell would be a visible symbol of Republican diversity. He also has extensive foreign policy and national security experience while his presence on the ticket would signal a move back to a more ‘realist’ foreign policy (important if the nominee wants to distance himself from Bush). The fact that he was the original choice of Bill Clinton in 1992 shows that he appeals to the centre while the success of Barack Obama means that the fear of racism, which stopped him running in 1996, is no longer an issue. However, his dovish views on both Iraq wars may make him unsuitable if the nominee wants to take a hawkish stance. There is also the question on whether his pro-choice views make him a suitable candidate for someone like Giuliani.

4. Tom Ridge – One of Bush’s potential choices in 2000 and a popular former governor of Philadelphia with plenty of ‘Blue-Collar’ appeal. A decision to pick him would be seen by many as a solid but timid choice

5. Sen. Susan Collins – As an experienced moderate Senator from a Northern state she would appeal to centrists. However, the only realistic hope of her getting the nomination is if Thompson wins the nomination and decides to balance the ticket by emphasising diversity, or if McCain is pressured into picking a female running mate.

6. Gov. Tim Pawlentry – Only on the list of potential nominees because of his friendship with McCain. His anti-immigration stance may play well with the Republican base but McCain would have to write off California. He might even throw Colorado and New Mexico into the Democratic column.

7. Fred Thompson – Charismatic and has a strong appeal to the Republican right. However, with the exception of Jack Kemp in 1996 and George Bush in 1980, you would have to go back to John Bricker in 1944 to find a defeated primary candidate who got the second spot on the ticket. Thompson might be seen as too old and too politically damaged by the time of the convention.

8. Elizabeth Dole – Although pro-life and female she’s really too old and too associated with her husband’s failed campaign of 1996 and her withdrawal from the Republican contest in 2000. Only the fact that she was seriously considered as Bush’s running mate in 2000 and her husband’s friendship with McCain keeps her in the top 10.

9. Mario Rafael Diaz-Balart – As a youthful Latino Congressman from a swing state Diaz-Balart must be considered a potential nominee, but only just. He hasn’t made much of an impact and the Cuban-American vote is overwhelmingly Republican anyway. Also, memories of Dan Quayle in 1988 demonstrate the danger of choosing a running mate solely on youth alone.

10. Rudy Giuliani – If he does well in the primaries he could be an asset in winning votes in the Northeast. However, the same qualifications about defeated primary candidates apply to him as they apply to Thompson. He is unlikely to increase in popularity and polls suggest that would have trouble in making any inroads in the Northeast even if he was on the top of the ticket.

So the frontrunner for the second spot seem to be Joseph Lieberman and Sarah Palin (with the latter being a possible future Presidential candidate). In terms of what he brings to the ticket, the message that he sends to the voters and the role in which he would play in keeping the nominee to a centrist economic message and a strong foreign policy Lieberman would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately a McCain-Lieberman or Thompson-Lieberman ticket makes so much sense that it seems destined to never happen.

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Bush vs Pelosi – Who’ll be the bigger millstone?

July 7, 2007

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Will the unpopularity of Bush or that of Congress be a bigger hindrance to their respective parties?

In additional to the polarisation of American politics, another puzzle is the extreme unpopularity of both the Democratic controlled Congress and President Bush with approval ratings of 24 and 32 percent approval respectively. This unpopularity is notable given their complete disagreement over nearly every issue, especially foreign policy. The fact that Congress as well as Bush is deeply unpopular also upsets some the assumption that the administration’s foreign policy, as opposed to the way it has been communicated, is inherently unpopular. Similarly, my gut feeling is that the failure of the immigration bill was due to the fact that neither President Bush nor Harry Reid were prepared to make the case for the bill (or even speak about it at all), forcing John McCain to shoulder the task of winning support for it alone. However, the most important question for 2008 is whether the unpopularity of Bush will hurt Republicans more than the unpopularity of Congress will hurt Democrats.

Ultimately, there is little doubt that Bush’s unpopularity will matter more since it is the responsibility of the occupant of the White House to use the ‘bully pulpit’ which of Presidency to seize the agenda, even if the other side controls the legislative branch of government. After all, Regan, Truman and Johnson were able to force through their agenda through an otherwise hostile Congress, while Clinton was able to effectively compromise in the wake of the 1994 Congressional elections. However, by deciding to spend their time in a futile attempt to force a withdrawal from Iraq, at the expense of the economic agenda which they made their centrepiece of the 2006 campaign, the Democrats have revealed the direction a Clinton or Obama presidency will take. They have also left the door open for a Republican who is able to both address the moderate parts of the domestic agenda that Congress promised and also effectively make the case for an interventionist foreign policy.

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Why Gordon may go just after he’s arrived (“to the country” that is)

July 3, 2007

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 Why Ladbrokes’s offer on an early election is surprisingly good value

Currently, the bookmakers Ladbrokes is offering digital odds of 9.00 (8-1 in traditional terms) for a British general election in 2007. Intuitively this may seem poor value. After all Gordon Brown has just replaced Tony Blair less than a week ago and conventional wisdom has it that, after ten years as chancellor, Brown is unlikely to immediately take a massive risk by ‘going to the country’. All of the previous five Prime Ministers who have acceded to office in-between elections (Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, James Callaghan and John Major) either waited several years before calling an election or, in the case of Douglas-Home, prolonged parliament to the maximum five years that the law allows. Additionally, there are serious questions as to whether the Labour party finances are in a fit state to withstand an election campaign.

However, the reasons in favour of an early election are even more compelling. The transition has bought Labour a boost and (more importantly) stopped the extended honeymoon that David Cameron had been enjoying in the opinion polls. At the same time recent events have thrown into highlight the need for an experienced national leader who can deal with the War on Terror, as opposed to a youthful lightweight who has called for the phrase ‘Islamist’ to be banned from national discourse. Although Brown is no Tony Blair he has admirably handled the crisis and proved that he can bring his ‘big great clunking fist’ to bear on terrorism. At the same time the government will face many legislative challenges, from the latest European Treaty to a final settlement of the House of Lords. Gaining a mandate through a snap election would outflank critics of these policies (on which the Labour party is by no means united).

However, the most compelling reason for calling an election would be to deal with the problem of the Liberal Democrats. Currently, the Lib Dems have enough MPs to make a hung parliament a probable outcome if neither Labour or the Conservatives win convincingly. Therefore Labour not only have to prevent the Conservatives gaining enough seats to win but they also have to stop the Lib Dems using enough tactical votes from the Conservatives to win seats in traditionally Labour areas. It goes without saying that the price of a coalition government (PR, Withdrawal from Iraq) would be unacceptable to large sections (if not the majority) of the Labour party. A snap election would catch the Lib Dems, as well as the Tories, on the hop.

Indeed, Gordon Brown, by taking the risky decision to invite Liberals into the cabinet and emphasing (modest) constitutional reforms could be laying the groundwork for a September election. Indeed, instead of making the classic strategic mistake of trading short term advantage for medium term discontent within his own party, Brown is hoping that the turmoil within the Lib Dems caused by his offer will enable him to win an election outright and therefore avoid making worse compromises further down the line.

Obviously, an election would still be greatly out of character for Brown but the odds are a lot shorter than 9-1.