Friday, October 10, 2008



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The decision by John McCain's campaign to launch television ads linking Barack Obama to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers signals a belief within the Arizona senator's inner circle that drastic measures must be taken to turn the presidential race around over the next 25 days.

The ad, which went up this morning seeks to raise questions about Obama's judgment -- linking his association with Ayers to the current financial crisis in the country.

Posted by Chris Cillizza
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What was once only a pipe dream is starting to look like a real possibility.

We speak not of Britney Spears' musical comeback but rather the prospect of Democrats controlling 60 seats -- a filibuster-proof majority -- following the November election.

In a huddle with reporters earlier this week in Washington, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) acknowledged that his party's chances of reaching the 60-seat plateau were "better than they were two weeks ago" -- the result of an across-the-board collapse in Republican numbers due to the economic crisis and handling of the bailout bill by Congress. (Yes, we know Democrats control the House and Senate. But, the American public overwhelmingly blamed President Bush and House Republicans for the initial failure of the "rescue" legislation.)

And, respected non-partisan observers are also beginning to openly speculate about the possibility. In a must-read column earlier this week, Stu Rothenberg wrote: "Where I once wrote in this space that Democrats had a chance of reaching 60 seats in 2010, I now can't rule out 60 seats for this November."

Our take? Sixty seats for Democrats remains something less than a 50-50 proposition but a relatively plausible path to a filibuster-proof majority does exist.

Four Republican-held seats -- Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire -- are either done deals for Democrats or getting there. In at least four others -- North Carolina, Oregon, Minnesota and Alaska -- the Republican incumbent is either tied or trailing their Democratic challenger.

That's eight seats where Democrats have any even money or better shot at takeovers on Nov. 4. And, assuming they can reelect Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) they must pick off one of three seats to get to 60: Kentucky, Georgia or Mississippi. (Scroll down to see which of that trio we believe presents Democrats with their best chance.)

Could Democrats run the table? Yes. The decided tilt of the national environment toward their party has grown even more pronounced in recent weeks. But, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi are less than friendly territory for Democrats at the federal level and the GOP incumbents in each state are doing everything they can to avoid being washed away in the wave.

Stay tuned.

As always, the number one ranked race on the Line is the most likely to switch parties in the fall. Agree or disagree with our picks? The comments section (eagerly) awaits.

To the Line!

10. Louisiana (D): Democrats are increasingly publicly confident about Landrieu's chances at reelection but the DSCC's decision to begin spending money on television against state Treasurer John Kennedy (R) belies that they still retain some nervousness about her chances. Republicans are taking an interesting strategic tact in this race -- painting the Landrieu race as voters' chance to continue the cleanup of Louisiana politics that began with the election of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last year. In a neutral political year, Landrieu would be in deep trouble. But this is not a normal political year. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Kentucky (R): This election cycle has taught us to never say never in politics. We never thought Sen. Mitch McConnell, one of the savviest political minds in American politics, would be in a real race against Bruce Lunsford (D), whose sole distinction in politics before this race was two unsuccessful gubernatorial bids over the past five years. And yet, public polling of late has shown McConnell and Lunsford in a dead heat and the DSCC is now on TV bashing McConnell on the bailout. Will the underfunded National Republican Senatorial Committee respond in kind? And, if not, can McConnell withstand the ad onslaught? (Previous ranking: N/A)

8. Alaska (R): It's virtually impossible to handicap this race. Almost everything hangs on the outcome of the federal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R) currently in progress in Washington. The prosecution rested on Thursday, and Stevens's defense is now underway. If Stevens is convicted on any of the corruption charges against him, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is the next Senator from the Last Frontier. If Stevens is acquitted, he could well win reelection. Fascinating stuff. (Previous ranking: 5)

7. Minnesota (R): The last 14 days have not been kind to Sen. Norm Coleman. Just when it looked like he was building a small but significant edge over comedian Al Franken (D), the economic crisis hit -- bringing the race back to dead even. And now Coleman is caught up in allegations over whether or not he accepted suits from a contributor -- a controversy that caused, perhaps, the most awkward press conference in the history of politics earlier this week. Independent candidate Dean Barkley remains the x-factor in the contest; he is gaining support by the day but who does his rise hurt more? (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Oregon (R): Democratic strategists told us almost 18 months ago that Sen. Gordon Smith was going to lose. And, even after a series of high-profile recruiting failures left them with the less-than-impressive state Rep. Jeff Merkley (D) as their candidate, these same strategists stuck by their prediction on Smith. And, if recent polling is to be believed, they were right. Smith seems stuck in the low to mid 40s, not a great place for an incumbent to be a month before the election -- especially one who sits in a decidedly Democratic-leaning state. (Previous ranking: 6)
The Republican National Committee is launching television ads tomorrow in Indiana and Wisconsin that invoke the name of former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers and detail his ties to Barack Obama, the first such ads from either the national party committee or the campaign of John McCain so far in this election cycle.

"Senator Obama is crying foul and declaring his association with such individuals to be off limits," said Brad Todd who is overseeing the RNC's independent expenditure arm. "Fortunately, with the First Amendment still intact, he does not get to decide that."

The RNC ad is the latest -- and most serious -- attempt by Republicans to make Obama's association with Ayers an issue in the campaign. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin began referencing Ayers in her stump speech earlier this week and the McCain campaign put out a web video detailing the connections between Obama and Ayers this morning.

Will putting the Ayers ad on television in battleground states work in raising questions about Obama? Or will it be seen as a last-ditch effort by a candidate trailing in the polls?

Posted by Chris Cillizza |

Posted 10/ 9/2008

Rothenberg Warns of GOP "Bloodbath"

UPDATE, 4 pm: The Cook Political Report is also amping up their predictions of Democratic gains in the House and Senate next month. In the latest updates, Charlie Cook now says Democrats are positioned to win between six and eight Senate seats and 15 to 25 House seats. "At this stage, the most relevant question would seem to be: 'How big will the train wreck be for the Republican Party up and down the ballot in November,'" writes Charlie.

As grim as things look at the moment for John McCain's chances at the White House, the horizon is even darker for House and Senate Republicans trying desperately to avoid huge losses across the country this fall.

As we noted in a story for the Post over the weekend, Republican strategists closely following the battle for Congress are bracing for major losses -- the result of a severely damaged Republican brand combined with the late-breaking economic crisis that has redounded to their party's considerable detriment. (Make sure to read Peter Baker's excellent piece in the New York Times magazine about retiring Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis's frank assessment of the miserable state of the GOP.)

And now comes a column from Stu Rothenberg who, along with former Fix boss Charlie Cook stands atop the congressional handicapping game in Washington, in which Stu declares that the GOP stands on the precipice of an electoral "bloodbath."

Writes Rothenberg:

"While Democratic gains both in the House and Senate could still grow or shrink, for Republicans, the end of this movie won't be pretty, no matter the ultimate number.

We could see a new modern floor for House Republicans made in November, and it's likely to be in the 170s, if not the upper 160s. Given the realignment of the Reagan years and the GOP's advantages coming from the last redistricting, this is an incredibly low level."

Rothenberg goes on to revise upwards his previous seat gain predictions for Democrats in the House and Senate; in the upper chamber he says that 60 seats are now within reach while projecting gains of between 20 and 30 seats in the House. (Need more on the most vulnerable races in the Senate and House? Check our latest Senate and House Friday Lines.)

The impact of such a high-profile handicapper declaring that a second Democratic wave in as many election cycles is forming is hard to overstate. Watch for a series of pieces from major newspapers and cable outlets on the increasing peril for Congressional Republicans this fall -- like this one penned by the New York Times' Carl Hulse today.

What will all that coverage do? Embolden Democrats, depress Republicans and generally make an already bad situation for GOPers even worse.

And, remember: While McCain still has the power to change his situation -- as a presidential nominee he can directly affect the news on any one day between now and Nov. 4 -- House and Senate candidates have little ability to fundamentally alter the national narrative. That's bad news for anyone running downballot with an "R" after his or her name.

The McCain campaign has tapped vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to lead the Obama-Ayers attack. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

John McCain's campaign released a nearly-two minute Web video this morning detailing the connections between Barack Obama and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, the latest sign that the campaign is creeping toward using the attack as part of a broader television campaign.

But, even if McCain does eventually incorporate Ayers into a paid media campaign -- as Politico's Mike Allen says he will -- there are several reasons to believe that it is not the silver bullet that some within the Republican Party believe it to be.

First and foremost, the economic crisis that has brought Wall Street and, very nearly, Congress, to its knees has focused voters' attention on their own finances in a way that has drowned out nearly other issue.

Given the enormity of the economic issue, it's impossible for McCain to "turn the page" (in the words of adviser Greg Strimple) on the economy. The economy is, without doubt, the central battleground of the race today and is almost certain to dominate the political dialogue over the next 26 days.

McCain must find a way to turn the issue of the economy from a net negative for his candidacy into -- at least -- a neutral force before moving on to attacks on Ayers or anything else. Until voters believe McCain understands their struggles and worries on the economy, it's likely they will dismiss as frivolous attacks on Obama's past relationships.

To their credit, the McCain campaign appears to be trying to turn the economic issue in their favor -- launching ads that paint Obama as a liberal who wants to spend $1 trillion more dollars on government programs in the midst of the financial crisis.

Consider the following:

• Polling nationally and in key battleground states shows John McCain falling further behind Barack Obama.

• Obama is outspending McCain at a rate of three to one on television -- an advantage that many political observers expect to grow not shrink between now and Nov. 4.

• The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues its roller-coaster ride amid lingering signs of an economic crisis and polling that shows voters overwhelmingly blaming Republicans for the current state of affairs.

• One more presidential debate -- on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University -- remains on the schedule before election day.

All of those signs point to trouble for McCain who must -- we repeat MUST -- find a way to change the narrative arc of the campaign soon if he wants to win the White House.