August 1, 2006

Projections Not Exactly Reliable

For political junkies, following races as we move into campaign season is about the best thing there is to do. The Gray Lady has prepared one of what will surely be many projection and scenario-compatible interactive sites.

Knowing what we know about the New York Times' editorial perspective on the world, and seeing what the projections they are making are, I think we can reasonably rely on the projections here. Or I did before tonight, when it appeared that a lot of Democrats made gains unexpectedly. Like here in California where I cannot see for the life of me what Phil Angelides is doing right.

I'm almost daily becoming a bigger fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger the politician, so perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but even from as objective a stance as possible, the contrast between the take-on-the-big-fights course that the Governator has taken on to the corrupt and craven cynicism of former party hack Phil Angelides is stark and obvious. Schwarzenegger has more money, more visibility, name recognition unlike any other American politician since George Washington (think about it, you'll realize I'm right), and frankly, he and his people have made mostly good decisions in the face of very tough challenges.

For his part, Angelides managed to re-elect a statewide slate of Democrats -- in California in 1992, aided by the charismatic national politics of Bill Clinton and the nomination of 800-pound-political-gorilla Dianne Feinstein to the Senate. My dog could have elected a slate of Democrats to the California Legislature in 1992, and she has trouble with commands like "roll over" and "sit pretty." Two years later, in by then quite-solidly-liberal California, he managed to lose election to statewide office against a lackluster Republican whose main claim to fame was that his mother (a Democrat) had been a popular Secretary of State. Since that ignominious defeat, Angiledes has made huge bucks developing suburbs of Sacramento; narrowly won election in an overwhelmingly Democratic state and in a year when Democrats swept every office in play; made poor investment choices for CalPERS, got called a "chowderhead" by Enron executives; and exposed fellow Democrat Steve Westley as not only corrupt but incompetent to boot. (I should know; when Westley was Secretary of State he managed to cause a revolt in his office staff for the business entity section, making me look bad in front of my clients; how do you piss off a bunch of clerks with civil-service jobs that badly?)

So far, he's managed to raise money from pro-choice groups, labor unions, and his business partners -- a very difficult achievement for a Democrat, I assure you -- and criticized Schwarzenegger for being a crypto-pro-lifer, which is demonstrably not true. He's laid low all summer despite trailing in the polls, and doesn't seem to understand that big-win Democrats in California's recent past have succeeded by hitting the airwaves in late June and saturating them with their ideas, faces, and assurances of personal and political reliability. That window of opportunity has passed for Angelides and now he has only the fact that he is a Democrat to run on -- because he sure doesn't want to run on his record.

Schwarzenegger has good positive numbers in all the polls and just managed to keep the lights on statewide despite the worst summer heat wave in recent memory -- and we all remember that when Gray Davis let the lights go out, he got booted out of office in media res. Many of us also remember that Gray Davis' biggest champion (other than the excerable Garry South, Davis' AAA-league version of James Carville) was Phil Angelides. We also remember, for instance, Dianne Feinstein's tepid stance towards the recall, which seemed to only magnify her popularity.

In light of all of this evidence, the New York Times is today switching the California gubernatorial race from "leaning Republican" to a "toss-up." Presumably that is because of one recent poll favorable to Angelides, or the NYT's analysts are living in a foggy leftist dreamland in which everything appears about ten shades bluer than they really are.

So enjoy the interactive chart they provide, but if the New York Times is making such poor observations as to suggest that Angelides has a realistic shot at unseating Schwarzenegger, you might want to look a little bit deeper into its predictions of which races are toss-ups and which are leaning one way or another. When I find a better chart, I'll post it.

Now, consider this. Even playing out the various scenarios as they currently stand, it is hard for me to see how the Democrats can take control of either house of Congress as more than a theoretical possibility. I don't know exactly how reliable that prediction is; but it does seem that the Democrats will remain in the minority until at least 2009, at least without another charismatic leader of Clinton's caliber. And Phil Angelides is about as far away from being that leader as I am from being elected Prime Minister of Krygyzstan.

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