Sabato's Crystal Ball

More From the Sixth Year Itch

Additional Chapter Excerpts from the New Book on the 2006 Midterms

UVA Center for Politics May 3rd, 2007

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

Following up on last week’s preview, the Crystal Ball is happy to share more content from The Sixth Year Itch, a new book containing original chapters by political scholar and commentator Larry J. Sabato, as well as contributed chapters by prominent journalists and scholars who are on the political frontlines. Each essay offers trenchant commentary and unique insights into the campaigns, the issues and the strategies of parties and candidates, preparing readers to be informed participants in the next election. This exciting new book is written to help readers understand the issues and actions that mattered most in the 2006 midterm elections and is essential reading for those who really want to understand the issues and trends emerging as the 2008 presidential race approaches.

In addition to Sabato, the following contributors are featured: Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, Chuck Todd, David Wasserman, Michael Toner, Melissa Laurenza, Claude Marx, Michael Cornfield, Matt Stearns, Gwen Florio, Lawrence Jacobs, Joanne Miller, Peter Woolley, Jonathan Riskind, Bruce Larson, Maureen Moakley, Michael Nelson, Jeff Schapiro, David Postman, David Lightman, Bruce Cain, Susan MacManus, Paul Green, Patrick Healy, Joe Hallet, G. Terry Madonna, Jeff Tuttle, Charles Bullock, Michael Carey, William Lunch and Michael W. Traugott.

Below are excerpts from several more chapters, once again presented to our loyal Crystal Ball readers free of charge! The Sixth Year Itch is available on the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble, as well as from online retailers everywhere.

Chapter 6 – EMERGING CAMPAIGN FINANCE TRENDS AND THEIR IMPACT ON THE 2006 MIDTERM ELECTION

Michael E. Toner and Melissa L. Laurenza, Formerly of the Federal Elections Commission

Under the McCain-Feingold law, the national political parties are prohibited from raising and spending soft money for any purpose. However, McCain-Feingold increased the amount of hard money that individuals can give to the national parties–from $20,000 to $25,000 per year–and indexed the limit for inflation. During the 2006 election cycle, the hard-dollar contribution limit for individuals to the national parties was $26,700–more than 30 percent higher than the limit was prior to McCain-Feingold.

The increased hard-dollar contribution limit to the national parties had an appreciable impact on party fundraising during the 2006 election cycle and helped allow the parties to aggressively support their congressional candidates. The three national Republican party committees raised a total of $438 million during the cycle. The three national Democratic Party committees raised a total of $330 million.

Political action committees significantly increased their hard-dollar fundraising and spending on behalf of federal candidates, which helped make 2006 the best-financed midterm election in history. PAC spending on the 2006 election exceeded $1 billion for the first time ever.

As of reports filed with the FEC in mid-October, PACs raised $958 million during the 2006 election cycle, spent $923 million, and contributed $485.9 million. Given the significant amount of spending that occurred in the final weeks before the election, PACs almost certainly spent more than $1 billion during this election cycle. By contrast, in 2004, which was the first election conducted under the McCain-Feingold regulations, PACs raised $629.3 million, spent $514.9 million and contributed $205.1 million. PAC fundraising increased by a notable 52.2 percent in 2005-06 as compared with the 2003-04 time period. This achievement is even more impressive considering that 2004 was a presidential election year and McCain-Feingold did not increase the contribution limits to PACs.

The race for the presidency in 2008 will likely be the longest and most expensive presidential election in American history. For the first time ever, the Democratic and Republican nominees in 2008 will almost certainly reject public funds for the general election as well as for the primaries. In so doing, the Republican and Democratic nominees may end up raising $500 million or more during the presidential race, which would be five times what George W. Bush raised when he first ran for President six years ago. By every estimation, the 2008 race will be the first billion-dollar presidential election.

Chapter 7 – THE MEDIA AND CAMPAIGN 2006

Claude R. Marx, The Eagle Tribune

Playboy parties, racial slurs, poorly told jokes and accusations that a congressman paid for sex were among the notable contents of television advertisements and media coverage during the 2006 campaign. As in virtually every cycle, the 2006 midterm elections were described by some critics as the meanest and most superficial in history. How accurate is that analysis? To paraphrase a certain former president: it all depends on what your definitions of meanest and most superficial are.

In the waning days of the campaign, Bob Corker, the Republican who won a sharply contested and close battle for an open Senate seat in Tennessee, told a voter that it would soon be safe to watch television again because there would be no more political commercials. Corker should know about the impact of television commercials. His victory over Congressman Harold Ford was helped by a well-publicized and controversial advertisement that made tongue-in-cheek and disparaging comments about Ford’s positions on the issues and on his social life.

Comic relief, however, was often trumped by more sober discussions of the differences between candidates. Comparative–also sometimes called negative–advertisements, frequently were the order of the day. Though polls once again showed that voters said they were disgusted by the ads, candidates continued to use them for a simple reason: they worked.

Democratic media consultant Dane Strother said the ads give voters information needed to make informed choices. Candidates often are unwilling to give a complete picture of their record in office, that’s why their opponents have to, he noted.

“In a democracy, all information is important and germane. If someone voted a certain way, we should point it out. Is that negative?” Strother said in an interview. “Voters want to know if a candidate doesn’t see the world as they do. In a campaign, it is the job of the candidate to define himself and his opponent.”

Chapter 8 – THE NETROOTS BREAK THROUGH: On-Line Campaigning in the 2006 Midterm Elections

Michael Cornfield, Democracy Online Project and George Washington University

The internet lends itself to short-term or “flash” campaigns, political mobilizations which coalesce, perform, and disperse on an ad hoc basis. Protest and dissident movements have provided the best-known examples of political flash mobs; dispersal in those situations has been tantamount to eluding arrest. But conventional politics also accommodates these spurts of activity. Netroots campaigning in 2006 featured two types of campaigns within campaigns: those appearing as the result of individual imagination, and those stemming from careful planning.

Chris Bowers of MyDD ignited two flash campaigns within a single week in October. “Use It or Lose It” sought to shame Democratic Representatives with safe seats into transferring 30 percent of their campaign coffers to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), so that the party organ could disburse the money to candidates who needed last-lap infusions. This inspiration had several things going for it. It held out an olive branch to Rahm Emmanuel, chair of the DCCC, and other party insiders whose targeting approach had been scorned since the DNC fight at the start of the cycle. It flexed a muscle in the direction of House members, assuring them that the netroots would be around to check the results and hold them to it in years to come. And it reminded readers to part with more of their own money. “Use It or Lose It” helped to generate about $3 million in transfers from the coffers of safe Democrats to the DCCC in that October week, according to FEC reports.

The netroots must now adjust to the change in party balance for which they share credit. Criticism and shaming was enough to unseat incumbents in 2006, just as negative messaging was for the GOP in 1994, when very few voters knew about “The Contract With America.” It can continue into 2008, and indeed a list of 50 GOP members to target was posted on MYDD on December 20, 2006. But it is not enough to retain control of Congress, state legislatures and governorships, or win the presidency. The netroots recognizes that it should now support policy ideas along with the efforts of elected officials to enact them.

Furthermore, the freewheeling, “say anything” style of blogging and v-logging (video blogging) must be reconciled with the “you can’t say that” style of campaign lawyers and finance committees. Databases must be regularly pruned and updated, and messages must be regularly tested–requiring a set of information sharing protocols among candidate campaigns, the netroots, and party outposts and headquarters. Technical interoperability difficulties exacerbate this challenge. These sentences have been couched in the passive voice because it is an open question just who is going to do what. Republicans traditionally assign people to jobs within a hierarchical structure, while Democrats compete for turf more haphazardly.

Chapter 14 – IN WITH THE TIDE, OUT WITH THE TIDE: Casey Defeats Santorum in Pennsylvania

Bruce A. Larson, Gettysburg College

Overall, the Santorum campaign had a two-prong strategy: to define Casey as an empty suit ill-prepared to lead the nation in a time of international turbulence, and to defend Santorum’s record as a U.S. Senator. In doing the latter, Santorum attempted to portray himself not only as a national leader on serious issues but also as a moderate-minded senator who worked hard on the meat-and-potatoes issues that concerned Pennsylvania voters–a strategy that had worked well for him in 2000. In mid-summer, for example, the Santorum campaign circulated a brochure titled “50 Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum,” which highlighted the economic benefits Santorum brought to the state and his legislative accomplishments in areas like health care and the world AIDS crisis. But what worked in 2000 flopped in 2006. Santorum’s ultra-conservative record in his second term, combined with a well-funded challenger who could call him on it, made it decidedly more difficult for Santorum to define himself as a moderate workhorse in 2006 than in 2000.

For Casey, whom nobody would characterize as a dazzling campaigner, the main strategy was to run a pragmatic campaign and allow Santorum to self destruct. Running like an incumbent with a solid lead, Casey made fewer campaign appearances than Santorum during the summer and avoided directly engaging his opponent. His low-key emphasis on bread-and-butter issues, all the while reminding voters of Santorum’s ties to the unpopular Bush administration, seemed to provide the perfect antidote for an electorate suffering from Santorum fatigue. Casey also made it clear that he was not afraid to talk about his religious faith–important to Pennsylvania’s traditional voters and a mobilizing force for evangelicals. Ultimately, though, Casey’s task was uncomplicated. With Pennsylvania voters weary of Santorum, Casey needed only to present himself as an acceptable alternative.

For all of the intensity of the campaign–at least on Santorum’s part–statewide polls remained remarkably consistent over the course of the contest. Santorum’s aggressive summer ad campaign, which featured relentless attacks on Casey, inevitably chipped away at some of the challenger’s substantial post-primary support. By contrast, Casey’s low-profile summer campaign, committed to engaging Santorum as little as possible, did little to prevent the slight decline in Casey’s numbers. But while Santorum succeeded in chipping away at Casey’s support, he was unable to boost his own numbers, which remained more or less stuck at 40 percent from August through Election Day. By October, following a stepped-up fall advertising effort, Casey was hitting the magic 50 percent mark in many statewide polls, making a Santorum victory less and less likely.

Chapter 16 – TENNESSEE SENATE: (Almost) All in the Family

Michael Nelson, Rhodes College

“Professor, I want to have dinner with you and Charlie Cook at your house.” The speaker was Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the date was March 11, 2005, and the professor was me. In the course of a chance encounter, I had just told Ford that Cook, the editor of the Cook Political Report and Washington’s leading congressional elections guru, often visited Memphis to see his daughter at Rhodes College, where I teach. We set a date in April, a month before Ford planned to formally announce his candidacy for the open Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican majority leader Bill Frist. The menu was pork barbecue in all its forms, but the agenda was politics. Ford wanted to convince Cook to continue classifying the Tennessee Senate race as a “toss-up” instead of switching it to “leaning Republican.”

Ford had two reasons to care how Charlie Cook and other respected elections handicappers rated his chances. One was to convince national political reporters, cable talk show hosts, and high-powered Democratic political operatives that they would not be wasting their time taking Ford’s candidacy seriously. This was no easy task. Tennessee, like the rest of the South, has been trending Republican in recent decades. No Democrat had won a Senate race in the state since Al Gore was reelected in 1990, and Gore had gone on to lose Tennessee to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Adding to the degree of difficulty Ford faced is that he is African American, and no black candidate for senator had ever been elected in Tennessee.

The other reason Ford needed Cook to rate his race a toss-up was so he could raise massive quantities of campaign money from wealthy liberals in New York, Hollywood, and Washington. Going into 2006, these donors wanted above all to see the Democrats regain control of the Senate. They intended to channel their contributions to whichever Democratic candidates had the best chance to take seats away from Republicans, based in no small part on the assessments of Charlie Cook. Ford would need more money by far than any Democratic senatorial candidate in Tennessee history because his expected Republican opponent was former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, a wealthy businessman who was willing to spend as much of his own fortune as it took to get elected. As such, millions of dollars in out-of-state campaign donations that might go to Ford or might go to Democrats in other states were at stake when Ford made his case to Cook.

To make a long story–that is, three hours of tale telling, discussion, and friendly argument–short, Ford accomplished what he set out to accomplish over dinner at my house. Marshalling polling data, anecdotal evidence from the campaign trail, and the sheer force of his intelligence and personality, Ford persuaded Cook to keep Tennessee in the “toss-up” category.

And there the race remained up to but, unfortunately for Ford, not including the moment when the votes were cast on November 7, 2006.