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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2011
12-23-2010
I will be away from the website next week to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. I will return on Tuesday, January 4th, well rested and ready for some serious presidential primary action in 2011. Have a happy holiday season, stay safe, and thanks for another fascinating year of politics. See you soon. -Dean
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It's On
12-22-2010
I have to agree with Gov. Sununu on this one. I’m referring here to his comments today to Ben Smith of Politico.com that the 2012 presidential primary season is already well underway. I assume Sununu is reacting to an earlier article on the website suggesting that things are uncharacteristically quiet on the invisible primary front in places like New Hampshire, and that the GOP nomination contest won’t likely begin in earnest until later this spring. I had basically the same reaction when I first read the original piece last week.
 
Perhaps presidential exploratory committees will be officially formed a few months later than the typical January to February window in 2011, but as Sununu notes this may be due more to a changed fundraising environment than to any desire by potential candidates to delay consideration of a presidential bid.
 
If you follow politics closely in the Granite State, you already know that Republican hopefuls are visiting, doing book tours, set up PACs, sending in operatives to test the organizational waters, doing television sit-downs, calling radio shows, and sending their holiday best wishes to a variety of local elected officials and political elites. From what I’ve seen on the ground in recent months, the 2012 electoral cycle is indeed underway, even if Newt and Callista have yet to engage in their quadrennial conversation.
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Forensic Free-for-all
12-20-2010
Lately it seems like each new day brings the announcement of yet another primary or caucus debate for the 2012 presidential election cycle. The whole scheduling process has taken on a cascading dominoes quality. Once the first debate was announced, the major media players – Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and locally WMUR-TV and the Union Leader – all scrambled to mark their respective forensic turf. We are currently up to seven scheduled debates and counting, in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.
 
I enjoy these debates as much as the next political junkie, but I think there is also a danger that too many of them in succession will diminish the impact of any one event as a genuine decision point for voters. I’m increasingly seeing a sort of debate saturation in each election cycle (midterm and presidential), with these numerous events simply becoming an over-analyzed part of the weekly horse race discussion about which candidate is up or down based on their most recent debate performance.
 
There is clearly an economic incentive, as well as a prestige factor, at work here. Media outlets want these debates because they drive viewership, allowing them to schedule days of pre- and post-debate coverage for a one-hour event that typically breaks little new substantive ground for voters, even when a dozen candidates aren’t crowding the stage. Individual states love them because they bring lots of attention home and feed into the kingmaker aspect of the presidential selection process.
 
I know some people will argue that the more exposure voters have to the candidates and issues the better informed their vote choice will be, and that debates are a key means of ensuring this access. But I’m not sure the current proliferation of debates is occurring for the right reasons. Don’t get me wrong – I love the drama of political debates. I just wish there were fewer, so that the stakes for both candidates and voters would be a lot higher.
 
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean
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Holiday Political Potpourri
12-16-2010
If you would like a little political analysis to go along with your holiday preparations, you can catch me as a guest on WKXL Radio’s New Hampshire Now tomorrow morning. I will be on around 10:15 a.m. to talk about 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who was a guest on the show earlier today. We’ll also consider the political legacy of retiring Senator Judd Gregg, and take a look at the latest in lame duck session Congressional politics. You can listen to WKXL at 103.9 FM and 1450 AM, and on the web here.
 
Note: Back posting on Monday. -Dean
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What's in a Label?
12-15-2010
I am not quite sure what to make of the new No Labels organization that debuted with a big confab of political elites in New York on Monday. The membership is a centrist mix of moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents. Its mission is to promote pragmatic policy solutions in a political environment that transcends polarized partisanship, a tall order given the bitter nature of our current national politics.
 
My concern is that politics is really about the art of compromise between competing ideological viewpoints. I’m not sure how well that works as a governing principle when it’s baked into the political soufflé at the outset. We know that third parties typically coalesce around big political personalities like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader, but the No Labels folks say they are more like an independent advocacy group trying to influence how the two existing parties behave in the legislative arena. They have no doubt been influenced by the successes of the tea party movement in the recently concluded midterm election cycle.
 
I don’t hold out much hope that the group will be able to directly influence the legislative behavior of the remarkably polarized Congress that will be seated in January 2011. Perhaps it will be able to do so indirectly through mobilizing the significant mass of American voters clustered around the center of the ideological spectrum, virtually all of whom hold both parties in very low esteem these days. Without this kind of grassroots energy, the group will seem like a bunch of failed Republican and Democratic institutional elites grasping for political power now that they are on the outs with the conservative and liberal power bases of their respective parties.
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Taxing Logic
12-13-2010
I watched the White House fan out across the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday, in order to defend its controversial (at least for Democrats) tax cut compromise with Republicans. I was especially entertained by Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, who argued on Meet the Press that President Obama would run successfully for reelection in 2012 on a platform of repealing the temporarily-extended tax cuts for those in the top income bracket(s). If Obama is reelected, it will be in spite of this approach.
 
I encourage you to watch the video here, and you’ll quickly get the sense that even Goolsbee doesn’t really believe his own spin. This populist, millionaires against the middle class rhetoric failed miserably in the midterm elections. Even if the economy is humming along again by 2012, which Goolsbee seems to be counting on, it’ll still be a losing strategy. Democrats can have a semantic debate about whether the rate rollback can fairly be called a tax increase, but in the heat of the presidential election that is precisely how it will be perceived by voters. Republican campaign strategists will pretty much guarantee it. For all of Goolsbee’s wishful thinking yesterday morning, I would bet the current Bush-era tax rates will be around for a long time to come.
 
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean
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Bill of Sale
12-10-2010
I'm watching the highly public falling out between House Democrats and President Obama on tax policy, and guessing that some folks in the White House realize that having Obama mix it up with the unpopular left wing of his own party is actually smart political strategy. I’ve written previously about why progressives don’t seem to be effectively internalizing the lessons of the 2010 midterm election, and this latest episode is further confirmation of that circumstance.
 
In contrast, Obama has finally cracked open his autographed copy of the Bill Clinton handbook of political triangulation and electoral rejuvenation. For anyone who closely followed the legislative wrangling surrounding both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Welfare Reform during the Clinton Administration, the current debate over extending the Bush tax cuts offers much the same opportunity for Obama to build a coalition (or series of coalitions on different issues) to take back the political center before 2012. The significance of President Clinton appearing in the White House pressroom with President Obama after their meeting today should not be lost any Democrats.
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Mike Says "Me Too"
12-07-2010
You may have seen this recent item about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s evident displeasure with the evolving 2012 Republican presidential primary narrative. Even though Huckabee is typically located at or near the top of most of the early 2012 horse race polls, his comments suggest that he feels slighted at frequently being left out of the relevant conversation among political observers and the media.
 
This is not the first time that Huckabee has acted like he is not getting the respect he’s due as reigning champion of the Iowa Caucus. I noted in a post almost 18 months ago that Huckabee seems to have a real sore spot on this score. At the time, I was reacting to his oddly passive-aggressive behavior toward former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s newfound political celebrity, and her obvious encroachment on his turf as a leader of social and religious conservatives within the Republican Party.
 
Huckabee may have a legitimate gripe here, but the bigger electoral problem he faces is twofold. First, I don’t sense that he is being taken very seriously as a potential nominee by institutional elites in the Republican Party, who typically view him as a bit of a slick showman in the tradition of an old Southern religious revival. Second, to the extent that the tea party movement intersects with social and religious conservatives, those folks are now looking to Palin for leadership, not Huckabee.
 
To make matters worse for Huckabee, independent groups backing the tea party movement on fiscal issues (like the Club for Growth) have hammered him mercilessly in the past as a tax and spender. This makes it much less likely that his candidacy could ever be a rallying point for tea party activism. So, Huckabee increasingly seems caught between the two power nodes of the Republican Party – institutional elites and the tea party movement. He no doubt senses this and is concerned that he could quickly become irrelevant, if he doesn’t aggressively reinsert himself into the political conversation.
 
Note: Back posting on Friday. -Dean
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PAC-Man Politics
12-03-2010
Continuing with the what will Ovide do next? theme of a few days ago, here is an interesting item from John DiStaso concerning Lamontagne’s new Granite Oath PAC, and the role it might play in the 2012 presidential primary. Despite his support of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2008 cycle, Ovide says his new political action committee won’t necessarily serve as a support vehicle for another Romney presidential bid, at least not until all of the other contenders have had a chance to make their case to the organization.
 
Given my earlier discussion of the possibility that Lamontagne will run for governor in 2012, it makes sense that he would want to cast as wide a presidential primary net as possible, if for no other reason than to avoid creating any hard feelings among state Republican Party elites by choosing sides early in the primary process. It is true that a close affiliation with a winning presidential campaign can pay big political dividends down the road. But if Lamontagne wants to further cultivate his newly-enhanced status as a state party eminence, he should be careful about expending the political capital generated by his U.S. Senate primary performance on any particular presidential candidate.
 
Note: Back posting on Tuesday. -Dean
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Taking Stock of Thune
12-01-2010
Some New Hampshire political observers were busy watching former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum recently, but I’m much more interested in keeping an eye on South Dakota Senator John Thune, who also appears to be quietly ramping up for a run at the Republican presidential nomination. While Santorum has no chance of being the Republican standard bearer in 2012, Thune could quite plausibly end up as his party’s eventual nominee. If you follow the political futures markets online, you already know that Thune is currently trading near the top of several indices, just behind the likes of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, who, unlike Thune, are two highly visible politicians with serious national name recognition.
 
I first suggested almost a year ago that Thune was someone important to watch in the 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes. While his candidacy would check a lot of conservative boxes on paper, we of course still need to see him in action on the ground in New Hampshire. The retail politics/media fishbowl of the presidential selection process can do strange things to promising politicians, but Thune’s impressive early performance in the futures markets demonstrates that I am by no means the only political observer who thinks he has real potential for the Republicans.
 
Note: Back posting on Friday. -Dean
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