Friday, April 28, 2006

More 9th District Coverage

The Indianapolis Star has an article about the races in the 8th and 9th Districts. Primaries may set the stage for a rematch. May.

Got to love that Baron Hill quote: "Experience does have merit to it... [but]... I've not been in Washington long enough to be one of them, so to speak." Long enough to become a paid "consultant" for a lobbying firm, though, it seems.

Read their front page and taste the lobbying goodness. Why, they even do lobbying for KBR. That's formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root; a subsidiary of Halliburton. Remember them? The supposed war profiteers and the ballyhoo of Democrats in 2004?

I have heard and continue to hear a lot from Democrats about the evils of Halliburton. I wonder if Mike Sodrel was ever approached on their behalf by Baron Hill, the man that he replaced in Congress and against whom he will run in November.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

NYT Covers 9th District Race

The New York Times has an interesting, though unsurprising, article citing Indiana's 9th District Congressional race as an example of the dilemma facing Republicans in the House and Senate concerning their support (or distance from) the Bush administration. As I have said before, the 9th District race is likely to be a microcosm of the nation as a whole, relative to public opinion about the war and the President, the future of the Congress, and to Republicans and Democrats and their respective election theories.

Sadly, there is very little in the way of actual news about the 9th District race in the article itself. Most of it is spent citing the unpopularity of the Bush administration, theorizing about the negative impacts this is likely to have on Republican Congressional hopes in November, and noting the dilemma faced by Republicans when it comes to their relationship with their party's leader.

Even so, the point is one that is well-said. The brief passing mention of the similar quandary faced by Democrats during the whole Clinton scandal saga reminds me of the Churchill quote that "men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened." The Democrats, by and large, hung together during Clinton's woes. They recognized, probably rightly, that they would hang separately otherwise. You can never go wrong quoting Churchill, or paraphrasing Ben Franklin for that matter.

Sodrel, so far, has chosen to hang by the President. The Congressman and his campaign staff would probably do well to understand that supporting the President must and cannot--given that Sodrel faces one of the most competitive races in the country--be seen as being synonymous with him.

What, separately of supporting the President, do Congressional Republicans stand for? What, aside from being a Bush stalwart, does Mike Sodrel stand for? If Sodrel and Congressional Republicans can answer that question, at least in the minds of their constituents, their linkage with the President is not anywhere near as great a potential negative.

Many Republican representatives, such as Anne Northup right across the Ohio River from Sodrel in Kentucky's 3rd District, have already answered this question successfully. Northup won by a landslide in 2004, for example, despite her heavily Democratic district. It can be done. Can Mike Sodrel manage it? Can other Congressional Republicans?

Merely emphasizing the local, as Sodrel and the National Republican Congressional Committee say they plan on doing, is insufficient to the task. All politics are local, the truism of Tip O'Neill holds (boy, I am quoting and paraphrasing them today), but they are not local to the exclusion of all else.

Errata: That is Sodrel's granddaughter that the Congressman is proudly introducing to the President in the picture topping the NYT article, as opposed to some just-kissed random baby. She is something of a political grandchild; I only know who she is because the Congressman's wife was attending the Lynn Cheney event in Corydon, and introduced her new granddaughter there as well (proudly recounting the story of her meeting the president at the time).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Schultz Lands Endorsement

Sam Schultz, who is challenging Congressman Mike Sodrel in the 9th District's Republican primary, has received an endorsement from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America political action committee (IAVA PAC, website). The local media appears to have not yet picked up on it. I am sure that it will get mentioned, given the prominence given to Schultz in the past by the Courier-Journal.

Thus far, Schultz is the only Republican endorsed by the IAVA political action committee. I would assume that there will be more endorsements from them, and hopefully less partisan ones. I would hate for Sam Schultz to be a fig-leaf token Republican endorsement, but given that Democratic presidential candidate (and former general) Wesley Clark is on their board along with Paul Hackett (a Marine major who ran on as a Democrat in a special election in Ohio's 2nd District Congressional race, and was going to run against Mike DeWine in the Ohio Senate race until Chuck Schumer stabbed him in the back), it is hard to judge.

The endorsement is unlikely to have any significant impact on the outcome of the 9th District Republican primary, which is only seven days away. Like the attention garnered by the Courier-Journal article, it can only help (marginally) Schultz's campaign (such as it is).

Neither Hill nor Sodrel face fundamentally threatening or serious primary challengers. The two most consequential challengers, Clearwater and Schultz, serve mostly as negative attractors for the presumptive party nominees.

The Democrats, likely via the IAVA and Schultz, can indirectly attack Sodrel on the war in ways that Hill himself cannot, and probably hope to undermine Sodrel's position vis-a-vis blue collar workers (Schultz having lost his job at an auto parts manufacturer in the 9th District) and some elements of his Republican base (Schultz being a veteran, and Sodrel being a stalwart backer of President Bush). This is not to say that Schultz is some sort of Democratic Party proxy, only that his campaign serves their ends well regardless.

Clearwater, a much more avowed lefty than Hill, is a product of "Red Bloomington." Liberal donors and volunteers--to say nothing of votes--from the university town (Bloomington, for those outside of Indiana, is home to Indiana University and its 37,500 students and faculty) have in the past been key to Hill's election chances. Anything--like responding to the Clearwater candicacy--that pulls Hill leftward in order to maintain a base of support, volunteers, and funding from Bloomington, hurts him in the general election in November. Clearwater hurts Hill among his base, just as Schultz has (or had, since time is short) the potential to similarly hurt Sodrel.

In these ways, as objects of strategic maneuver rather than as real challengers, the Clearwater and Schultz primary bids are of consequence to the 9th District race.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Confessions of a 38 Percenter

Cam Carter, over at the Howey Political Report, counts himself among the 38% or so of Americans that approve of the job that President Bush is doing. He also counts himself among the roughly similar percentage of Hoosiers that approve of the job that Mitch Daniels is doing as governor.

I have often been puzzled by the reactions of many Hoosiers to Mitch Daniels. The governor campaigned, quite successfully, as a change agent. He said that he would settle the issue of Daylight Savings Time, establish an Inspector General, balance the state budget, cut state spending, trim waste from the bureaucracy, and generally "put Indiana back on track" among other things. In 2004, he appeared in a campaign ad in which he noted, "after sixteen years of one-party rule, every garden needs some weed-eating" or something along those lines, and noted that the process of fixing Indiana's problems would not be easy.

In short, Mitch Daniels has done what he campaigned on. Hoosiers voted for change, and change is what they got. Is this buyers' remorse? Perhaps they expected only a few cosmetic changes, rather than the sorts of often deep and structural changes being attempted by the governor. Mitch Daniels campaigned on a vision of reform, and reform is what Hoosiers have gotten. Unsurprisingly, people can be very frightened of change. That factor, more than anything, explains a lot about the governor's approval ratings.

But how many of those 62% or so that disapprove of the governor seriously think that maintaining the status quo helps the state of Indiana? I would dare to guess that not even 45% of them--the percentage that voted for Joe Kernan in 2004--think that coasting along and leaving things be is going to work.

George W. Bush said that one of the lessons he learned from his father's administration is that "the vision thing matters." It is a lesson that the governor understood well in his campaign; perhaps better than his former boss. Daniels, certainly, has both a vision and a plan of action (regardless of what some change-averse Hoosiers and Democratic partisans think of it) to achieve that vision.

It is unfortunate that the President has not accompanied his often lofty visions with similar plans of action. I've lost track of how many lofty visions the president has had that have not been accompanied by a plan of action. Return to the moon and a mission to Mars? Reform social security? Dramatic tax code reform? America is addicted to oil? We will rebuild New Orleans?

Would George W. Bush be better off, today, if Mitch Daniels was his new chief of staff, instead of Josh Bolten (who replaced Mitch at OMB)? Would Indiana seriously be better off if Daniels was in Washington doing that, with the state seeing more of the same from the past sixteen years?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Looking Ahead at 2006

Some interesting articles have been written lately about the forthcoming 2006 Congressional elections. Most of them predict gloom and doom for Republicans in Congress, based on a mixture of polling, citations of 1994, other instances of history, and so forth. Some of them actually look at the individual races, like Larry Sabato or Stuart Rothenberg.

A couple are based on an examination of actual numbers. Best among these are recent articles by Michael Barone and Jay Cost. Barone works for US News and World Report, is the editor of the Almanac of American Politics, is an analyst for Fox News, and has been known to blog now and then. Jay Cost ran the excellent "just the numbers please" Horserace Blog during the 2004 election. Both of them are cautious about the pervasive conventional wisdom about the November vote.

Barone favors a theory concerning turnout--and providing marginal advantage to Republicans--that he has developed over the past ten or so years. The problem with this is that this year is the first year in Barone's sample that provides for two factors. The first is a split within the Republican base (on immigration) and the second is a president whose approval ratings are hovering at around only 60% among Republicans (let alone everyone else). When you take into consideration that the President's approval ratings among Republicans were in the 90% or upper 80% range in the 2002 and 2004 elections, this is very significant. Both of these things will likely skew and depress Republican turnout.

Immigration in particular will skew the election if it is still an issue in October and November. Democrats and swing voters seriously disaffected with the president and the Republican Congress will likely turn out regardless, particularly if the Democrats succeed in making the 2006 election a referendum on Bush.

If the Republican base stays home, or is divided, Barone's theory about the popular vote in Congressional elections faces variables that it does not account for and has never had to address before.

Jay Cost, meanwhile, has written two excellent articles, here and here, looking (as he always does) at a variety of numbers. Cost predicts that the 2006 election will give a balance of 224 seats to 211, a gain for the Democrats but one leaving the Republicans in the majority. I am inclined to agree with the basic theory. He also disagrees with the idea that unpopularity for Bush will carry over into Congressional elections, which sort of gives new interpretation to Congressional Republicans splitting with the Bush administration on various issues.

Most predictions about the Congressional elections from talking heads and verbose columnists invariably point to 1994. This is erroneous. The impacts of gerrymandering and incumbency effectively prevent a sort of "perfect storm" like that which swept out the Democrats in that election. There are only about 30 or 32 "unsafe" seats (where the incumbent has a serious challenger and a significant chance of losing) and about 20 open seats (where the incumbent is not running again); only 12 or so of the latter have the potential to be seriously contested according to Stuart Rothenberg.

These are both well down from the numbers in 1994. The Republicans gained 54 seats in 1994 (more than the number of races being seriously contested here), including 20 open seats and 34 defeated incumbents. However, many of the open seats and defeated incumbents were in conservative, though not yet Republican, districts. In many instances, that is not the case this year, as Cost notes.

Both Cost, Rothenberg, and Barone have looked at the recent special election in California to replace Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. A more "perfect storm" for the Democrats of corruption, an open seat, an unpopular President, and an unpopular Republican Congress could not be found. And yet, as both Cost and Barone note, the Democrats did not gain any more votes (44%)in that district than voted for John Kerry in 2006 (45%). Cunningham won in 2004 with 58% of the vote (the difference between Bush and Cunningham being largely the virtue of Congressional incumbency), yet the various Republican challengers, the victor among whom will now face the Democrat in a run-off in June, had about 56% of the vote amongst them. If this is the Democrats' perfect storm, then it is hardly encouraging for them for November.

Jay Cost has also recently looked at the Senate, and found Democratic chances there to also be wanting.

None of this, however, is of much encouragement to Mike Sodrel, who is located in what is a fairly conservative district, has not seriously broken with the Bush administration, and still has the potential to be among the eight seats swinging back to the Democrats. On the plus side, as the Courier-Journal notes today, he has a lot more money than Baron Hill.

Monday, April 17, 2006

News Roundup

It wasn't the headline beneath the masthead like the article given to Sodrel's challenger (because it was neatly tucked over to the side), and it wasn't titled in big text like the article given to Sodrel's challenger (it had a smaller, un-bolded title), but the Courier-Journal has finally done an article about former-Congressman-turned-lobbyist Baron Hill's three challengers for the Democratic nominee in the 9th District Congressional race.

As discussed before, I think that every candidate for such an important office should get articles such as this. It is good that the Courier-Journal has provided an article about the Democratic contenders for the 9th District primary, even if they did not give each challenger the same proportionate attention as they gave to the Republican, and even if they did not give the article such prominence on the front page.

In other news, Senator Dick Lugar (IN-R) has been rated as one of the country's top ten senators. This is unsurprising. Lugar is very effective both for the state of Indiana and on issues of international affairs, particularly nuclear proliferation. I know that many Hoosier Republicans chafed in 2004 when the Senator was rather inopportune in his criticism (also here) of President Bush's policy in Iraq, but very little--if nothing--that Lugar has said then has not been said or done since the election by either the President, Donald Rumsfeld, or Condi Rice.

Jim Bunning, probably of no surprise to anyone, was rated by the same Time magazine listing as one of the five worst senators in the country.

And the Indianapolis Star provides more coverage of Mitch Daniels' Iraq visit.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mitch Daniels Visits Iraq

The Indianapolis Star and the Courier-Journal cover the Easter weekend visit by Governor Daniels--alongside Tom Vilsak of Iowa (D), Joe Manchin of West Virginia (D), and Jeb Bush of Florida (R)--to Iraq.

It is good that Daniels has made the trip. Our soldiers need all of the shows of support that they can get. As a country--between political wrangling, collective national impatience, and incomplete media coverage--we show them far too little. A soldier or marine patrolling in a Humvee over in Iraq cannot see the little yellow ribbon magnets or stickers that a lot of Americans like to put on their cars or their gas-guzzling SUVs.

There is nothing wrong with the little yellow ribbon things, but the public is required to do little to show support--or provide support--for the war (I use the term war to encompass both Iraq and the War Against Terrorism, though I know some people prefer consider them to be two separate conflicts). We do not have rationing here, or war bond drives, or a draft, or any of the other hardships on the general civilian population that have accompanied many of our country's prior wars. A little yellow ribbon on your car, or a letter or phone call or email or even a care package to a friend or family member in the service, or a donation to any of a variety of military support organizations is not too much to ask.

On Thanksgiving of 2003, some might remember, President Bush made a similar surprise holiday visit to Baghdad. It provided him with a boost to his polls. While I do not think that Daniels made the trip for political reasons (and various Democrats have agreed with this view in the above-cited articles), the very fact that he was willing to make it can likely only help him. No one will think less of Mitch Daniels for going to Iraq that does not already hate him. Who knows? A lot of people who are disliking some of what he has done may soften their views a little bit.

Regardless of the politics, Indiana has 619 sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anything that helps them out, shows them we support them, or just makes their day deserves to be done and to be commended. Our soldiers deserve no less.

President Bush would do well to visit Iraq again, too, I think.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Vivid Contrasts; Rumsfeld's Many Enemies

No more vivid contrast could be seen between war (by some in the media) against the Iraq War, on one hand, and the realities on the ground, on the other, than within the very pages of the Washington Post yesterday. Page one hosted an article touting the recent denouncing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by a number of retired generals. Page twenty-one, in stark contrast, hosted a column by Wade Zirkle, a Marine who spent two tours of duty in Iraq and was wounded there, denouncing media coverage of the war and the "low troop morale" theme of war opponents.

Unsurprisingly, the opinions of angry retired generals apparently qualify as news. The opinions of an Iraq War veteran are placed where opinions belong--or at least opinions that do not fit with the media's "story" about Iraq--in the opinion section behind the actual news, not on the front page where opinion pathetically masquerades as news. Real news like, say, the Army being 15% ahead of its reenlistment goal for the year, is not given anywhere near as much attention for some reason.

Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards attributes the gripes of retired generals to a difference between an old school of military thought and a new school--the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. This is the Powell Doctrine (use a sledgehammer) against the--for lack of a better term--Rumsfeld Doctrine (use a scalpel). Unfortunately for everyone, of course, neither sledgehammers nor scalpels work terribly well against insurgencies or guerillas.

I think that a lot of the sniping (from these sources) at Rumsfeld primarily stems not from any malicious political intent, or from any difference in schools of military thought. Most attacks on Rumsfeld from these quarters--whether from retired generals or from the likes of Bill Kristol at the neoconservative Weekly Standard--have several other primary origins.

The first is surprisingly well-illuminated (probably unintentionally, or it would likely have been left out) by a CNN article about the recent Rumsfeld-general spat. Major General Charles Swannack is quoted as saying, "If you understand what Secretary Rumsfeld has done in his time in the Pentagon, he personally is the one who selects the three-star generals to go forward to the president for the Senate to confirm." Emphasis mine. I should point out that Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense. This is, it bears repeating, part of his job. Maybe we should just get rid of the Secretary of Defense and have the generals report straight to the president? Would it be better to have generals chosen after a Congressional hearings circus, a la judicial nominees? I shudder to think of it.

While not to disparage General Swannack's service, I see two stars on his shoulders in his picture on the CNN website, not three. Rumsfeld is exceptionally ruthless, and has destroyed many careers. Perhaps the career of Charles Swannack is among them. If so, would he not be rather bitter towards the person that cut off his path of advancement?

Maybe I read too much into the quotation. However, I think it is at least as valid a reason for criticism as the whole old school versus new school or Clintonista theory. How many commanders of divisions in the Army usually go on to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant (3-star) general? Such statistics would provide insight and illumination into the potential motives of this recent group of Rumsfeld critics.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are 276 major generals (or equivalent) in the United States military. It stands to reason that, when figuring in retired generals, there is a sufficient pool to pull from to find a diversity of opinion from Rumsfeld supporters (like Lieutenant General Mike DeLong, General Richard Meyers, and General Tommy Franks) to Rumsfeld opponents (covered in the aforementioned articles). Some of these retired generals will even embed themselves with television news shows to draw circles on maps with light pens.

It also stands to reason that if the Pentagon thought so highly of you as to make you one of the few major generals to command one of the Army's ten (or so) active duty combat divisions, then you are pretty likely to advance from being one of the 276 2-star generals to one of the 125 or so 3-star generals. General Swannack was not among them (recall that it appears to have been under Swannack that the 82nd Airborne made Fallujah a no-go zone in Iraq in 2004, before the military had to go in a second time to clean the town out). Another Rumsfeld critic, Major General John Riggs, was canned (as barely mentioned today in the Washington Post) for infractions involving outside contractors. (Oh the irony that could be had if Haliburton was involved somehow, but I digress.) Major General Paul Eaton, also a Rumsfeld critic, headed up the training of the Iraqi forces in 2004. You know, the Iraqi forces that war critics have harped on constantly as being insufficiently trained and ill-prepared.

Maybe these individuals perceive their careers cut short by Rumsfeld, and are exercising their Constitutionally-protected right to complain upon entering retirement. As Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace noted, "We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds, and if we do not, shame on us... The articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong." I should hope that, if they felt this way when they were in the service, they said something then. Saying it now is a day late and a dollar short.

If the first source of Rumsfeld criticism (at least from quarters other than the anti-war left or political partisans) comes from people inside the Pentagon that he has stepped on (or kicked out), the second comes--I think--from people outside of the Pentagon that he has stepped on. Rumsfeld, I guess that you can tell, is abrasive and stomps on people.

Bill Kristol, leader among the neoconservative movement, turned on Rumsfeld after the 2004 election. This was probably in hopes of getting Rumsfeld replaced with Wolfowitz or someone more neoconservative, and to make the Secretary of Defense a convenient scapegoat for everything that has not gone right in Iraq. The invasion of which was, after all, the centerpiece of neoconservative policy towards the Middle East, so it makes sense for individuals that are fundamentally ideologues to find someone to blame--rather than their ideology itself--for problems along the way.

Donald Rumsfeld has sharp elbows. He is a bureaucratic infighter of the first rank. He outmaneuvered Colin Powell on Iraq. He has outmaneuvered Congress and his own generals on military reform and on the cutting of big-ticket military programs, like the Crusader howitzer and the Comanche stealth attack helicopter, to say nothing of base closings. He outmaneuvered the State Department (probably much to his own--and our--later woe) on postwar planning for Iraq.

Rummy has enemies. A big long line of them have been waiting for a long time for the chance to kick him whenever he is down. They run the range from Democrats who dislike administration policy personified by Rumsfeld, to generals whose cherished notions and careers Rumsfeld has tossed out the window, to ideologues within the American right that blame him for the failure to implement their theories and manifest them into reality.

But, in terms of "downs", the whole griping general kerfuffle is a relatively small one for the Secretary of Defense. It is a media-manufactured tempest in a teapot. If George W. Bush would not fire Donald Rumsfeld after the initial problems in Iraq, if he would not fire him at the height of Abu Ghraib (after which, it is notable, Rumsfeld twice offered to resign 1 and 2) with an election looming, and would not fire him when he easily had the chance at the start of a second term, then it seems unlikely to me that he will fire him now either.

For better or worse, Donald Rumsfeld seems to be here to stay.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Flight 93 Transcript

Yahoo News has the Associated Press transcript of the cockpit voice recorder from Flight 93. Take the time out of your day to read it.

At a time when there is a lot of partisan sniping about Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the War on Terrorism, we all need a little reminder of what happened that sunny day in September four and a half years ago.

We all also need to remember that, while many in Al Qaeda's leadership are dead and others are hunted (hopefully ceaselessly and with no mercy), people like the nineteen (twenty?) September 11 hijackers are still out there.

And as Zacarias Moussaoui's latest courtroom outbursts prove (as if the earlier ones were not convincing enough), they would do it again ten or a hundred or a thousand times over in a heartbeat if they could. They would do it to Republicans. They would do it to Democrats. They would do it to Libertarians, Greens, and independents too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shocking. Positively Shocking.

From the Associated Press comes (not exactly unexpected) word of more corruption in Lake County. Imagine that. Wonders will never cease.

I particularly find amusing the line from the lawyer for the company under scrutiny that the governor has tainted the investigation.

Daniels: "Boy, if the investigation proves that something was illegal with this contract, we might have to stop the deal."

Lawyer: "We are being pre-judged! The investigation has been tainted!"

Regardless of comments of the obvious by the governor, as Advance Indiana notes, this has all of the signs of becoming yet another full-blown scandal for Lake County.

And they managed to be corrupt before they had casinos, let alone after the state licensed the building of a couple of places that are veritable licenses to print greenbacks right in their backyards. I'll paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke: Putting casinos near corrupt politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Monday, April 10, 2006

France Changes Youth Labor Law

In international news...

French young people rebel against national tradition.
French young people rebel against national tradition.

From France comes news (via BBC and Reuters) that President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, ever-renowned for their fortitude in the face of crisis, have agreed to surrender, err, change the controversial labor reform law--the First Employment Contract--designed to reduce unemployment among French youth. There is strange and uniquely French logic in the idea that you can reform a labor reform so that the government will subsidize the hiring of young people by bribing employers, which will then in turn be saddled with lifelong employees.

The law itself stemmed from the protests and unrest in France in late 2005, and managed to cause yet more demonstrations and unrest (though, as Gateway Pundit notes, nowhere near as violent).

Setting aside the whole "France surrenders" theme so prevalent across the blogosphere, one of the best treatments of the origins of the unrest that I have read comes from The Rebel Sell, which notes the hypocrisy of the French law in lieu of the rest of their employment system but omits the interesting and important fact that the law was itself in response to unrest by angry youths (albeit not angry university-attending youths of French stock that are protesting now). The blog is done by the authors of a book by the same name, whose entertaining cover of Che Guevara on a coffee cup just screams "entertaining ironies contained within." It has been highly recommended to me by a friend, though unfortunately I have yet to find the time to read it.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Courier-Journal Gives Free Publicity to Sodrel Challenger

Today, the Indiana edition of the Courier-Journal did a front-page and above-the-fold article by Lesley Stedman Weidenbener, their Indiana government writer, about a primary challenger to Republican Congressman Mike Sodrel in the race in the 9th District.

This is all well and good. Sam Schultz, Sodrel's challenger, is a veteran of the National Guard and (his website says) of deployments in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. All candidates for such high office, I think, deserve such publicity.

In an article on February 18, 2006, Weidenbener did an article about challengers to both Mike Sodrel and Baron Hill in their respective party primaries. In that article, Weidenbener cited three primary challengers to Baron Hill: Gretchen Clearwater of Bloomington, John Hockersmith of Vallonia, and Lendall Terry of Versailles (for those not familiar with the nuances involved in the pronunciation of Indiana geography, this is said as "Versales").

Which brings me to my questions.

Will Weidenbener provide Baron Hill's primary challengers with articles, like the one he did on Sam Schultz?

Will the Courier-Journal honor those articles with positions above-the-fold on the front page of the Indiana edition of the paper?

I look forward to seeing those articles, headlining the entire Indiana edition of the Courier-Journal, blaring their headlines for all to see from newspaper dispenser machines across southern Indiana.

Surely, do not all candidates for such high office deserve such publicity?

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Lynn Cheney Stumps in Corydon

Just to start a positive trend of covering things a bit late...

This week's Corydon Democrat and last Friday's Courier Journal cover the visit by Lynn Cheney to Corydon to attend Harrison County's annual Lincoln Day dinner. Mrs. Cheney's website, meanwhile, has not been updated since October of 2005 and lacks the full text copy of remarks that I had hoped to find there.

Mrs. Cheney spoke for a tad over twenty minutes before departing for another event. A reception, lasting over an hour, was held beforehand for lucky local Republicans willing or able to fork over about two hundred dollars per couple to shake the hand of, and have their picture taken with, the wife of the shooter in the most public hunting accident in the history of the world. I say lucky local Republicans, though I spied a number of license plates in the parking lot that hailed from out of state (mostly Kentucky) and from other counties. I saw Floyd, Clark, Washington, Crawford, and Orange, though there may have been others. I do not know how many people attended the reception, though the receiving line to have your picture taken stretched out of the room. I would guess that about a third of those in attendance also were present at the reception.

There were about three hundred people present for the main event itself, no small feat given the size of the room and the fact that it was set up with long banquet tables. The Harrison County fire marshal was fortunately absent. I was intrigued to see school buses parked bumper-to-bumper outside to form a barrier around the wing of the building where the dinner was being held.

In the past, Harrison County's Lincoln Day banquet has played host to a variety of notable Republican dignitaries, including Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma in 2005 (a brave thing, since many locals--wrongly, it turned out--attributed to him an Indianapolis plot in the state legislature to take the county's casino riverboat money to build a new stadium for the Colts), State Auditor Connie Nass (a southern Indiana native), Congressman Mike Sodrel (frequently present, even before he won an election; he missed Cheney due to a late House vote), Mitch Daniels in 2004 (while he was still Director of the Office of Management and Budget, before resigning to run for and become governor), and Senator Bob Dole (several years after losing to Bill Clinton; I forget the year). Certainly, Lynn Cheney is the most prominent person to ever grace the event.

Mrs. Cheney's remarks were the usual stump stuff to be expected at such events, and from any member of the Bush administration. They are detailed in the above links. Personally, I was interested to learn of her family's history in Indiana. What a surprise to see that lots of people pass through Indiana to end up someplace else.

Yours truly took some pictures from the cheap seats, though most of them did not turn out so well due to my inability to master the intricacies of my digital camera. The lighting was more ideal for pictures taken from the rear of the room, and my camera liked to focus in on the heads of people that kept expectedly leaning back in their seats and into the camera shot.

Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 3
Photo 4

I will now snarkily overcompensate for my poor digital camera skills by noting that the Corydon Democrat's photo (or perhaps just the jpeg rendering of it) was worse; the Courier's photo was quite good.

All in all, it was a pleasant evening. Personally, I think that Connie Nass, who introduced Mrs. Cheney and spoke again afterwards, gave the Vice President's wife a run for her money. Perhaps I just reacted more positively to it being more topical to local and state political concerns. Her speech was followed by remarks by GOP county chairman Larry Shickles, and speeches by two of the four Republican primary candidates for office of sheriff (the other two being notably absent).

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Daniels Booed at Reggie Miller Celebration

Governor Mitch Daniels got what the Indianapolis Star charitably called a "cold shoulder" last Thursday (news percolates southwards slowly, sue me) at a Pacers halftime ceremony honoring Reggie Miller. Video of the whole event can be found here (kudos to Taking Down Words for the video link). Anything honoring Reggie Miller is worth watching in its entirety, but Daniels appears around the 6:50 area, and again around the 8:45 area, for those who just want to see the catcalls directed at the governor.

It is not exactly a friendly "My Man Mitch" crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse. Matt Tully asked why Hoosiers have taken to so deeply disliking the governor, and he got over one hundred comments, many of them pretty harsh. Over at the Indiana Blog Review, Zach Wendling says that the governor suffers from bad PR.

There are two distinct issues here. The first is the propensity for crowds to boo and jeer their elected officials. The second is the bad run that Daniels has had in the past few months with Major Moves, the DST change, a very bad poll a few weeks ago in the Indianapolis Star, and so forth. The former I will talk about a bit today. The latter I intend to blog about a bit later.

In the interests of disclosure, I will note that I supported Daniels in 2004. I volunteered at several campaign events, donated money to his campaign, and put one of those green and white "My Man Mitch" bumper stickers on my car. It's still there. A bit faded and weathered from the passage of a year and a half, but I made my vote and I stand by it.

Now on to the fine American--not even just Hoosier--tradition of booing elected public officials. If you listen on a bit past Daniels' appearance in the above video, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson (a Democrat) got catcalls as well, though certainly not as loud as those Daniels received. Much was made when, in the summer of 2004 with a presidential election campaign underway, John Kerry threw out the opening pitch at a Boston Red Sox game and got booed "as if he were wearing a Yankee jersey" (which is saying something in Boston). And that was in front of a friendly crowd in his hometown, in a state that voted for him by a huge margin (62% to 36%). Not, I suppose, that Daniels would be flattered by the comparison to a defeated presidential candidate.

Americans, I think, sometimes like booing their elected officials. Yankees fans always loved to jeer New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (himself a die-hard Yankees fan) until September 11, after which they could only cheer him. George W. Bush, likewise, got thunderous applause when he threw out a strike (from the top of the mound, no less) after 9/11 at the opening game of the World Series. But such things are the exception, rather than the rule.

It is simply not classy (for lack of a better term) to boo a politician at an event like this, regardless of whether you think that they deserve it or not. I felt badly for Daniels, and for Reggie Miller. And before you say that I am taking this position simply as a blind Mitch booster (let me tell you that a shirt and sweater vest is not the thing to wear when you are a presenter at a classy event like this), let me relate to you a story, and some background.

I have always held Governor Frank O'Bannon, God rest his soul, in high regard. Frank was from Corydon. My parents were both teachers, and taught his kids when they went through high school. My uncle worked at O'Bannon's newspaper, the Corydon Democrat alongside Frank O'Bannon for something like forty years. He died a bit less than a year before O'Bannon did, and the governor unexpectedly came down from Indianapolis to the funeral service. He did not arrive in a showy motorcade. He did not foist himself on anyone or make much of his presence. He arrived at the church few minutes before the service, and slipped into a seat in the back. Practically no one knew he was there until people gathered outside of the church after the service. Frank was full of stories about he and my uncle working together and their good friendship. My uncle was a lifelong Republican (quite something to be a Republican in Harrison County in those days), and he did not hold Frank O'Bannon's politics against him, and O'Bannon more than reciprocated. My uncle was probably the only Republican in the Democrat's newsroom.

About a month after my uncle died, I had the opportunity to attend a large presidential visit event in Indianapolis at the Fairgrounds. This was in April of 2003, I believe, and "major combat operations" were ongoing in Iraq. A number of Democrats were in attendance, including Frank O'Bannon, Evan Bayh, and Julia Carson. Bush was in town to have a nominally nonpartisan campaign-style rally. One of these affairs where ten thousand plus supporters would be turned out to welcome the president, cheer him during a speech, and generally impress upon wavering local politicians that they should support whatever current legislation the president was pushing in Congress. The primary target of this event was Senator Evan Bayh and I believe (though my memory is sketchy) that the legislation was some sort of tax cut package.

The clear intention of the event was to demonstrate to Bayh the popularity of the president among his Indiana constituents, and by extension the support of those constituents for the legislation on which Bayh was going to vote. As an aside, the event was effective; Bayh was wavering on the legislation, and did in the end vote for it.

Anyway, how does this relate to Mitch Daniels being booed?

Before the event, organizers were impressing upon the crowd the importance of "being civil." The president's ground team, after all, wanted Evan Bayh to be impressed by the crowd's support for the president. They did not want him to be embarrassed or humiliated. That meant no booing, no jeering, and no catcalls. This was generally understood, even though there were no full-on loudspeaker announcements of it beforehand.

But what happened when the master of ceremonies introduced each of these Democrats, despite the understanding that none was to be booed? The crowd booed them each in turn. Governor Frank O'Bannon was roundly booed. Congresswoman Julia Carson was booed even more loudly (unsurprisingly, given that she was likely the most liberal person in the entire room). Stony silence, and perhaps a low murmur of scorn, greeted the introduction of Senator Evan Bayh. The President, of course, received a thunderous ovation, as did every other Republican official.

I was not among those that engaged in the jeering of the Democrats in attendance at the event, though many around me took part in it. I felt very badly for all three of them. They had been invited to attend a presidential speaking event, not a partisan rally for the other party. I commented on this to one of the people seated next to me (who had done more than their fair share of catcalls), and was told that all three "had it coming."

Perhaps I am being unduly kind to O'Bannon, who had a month before attended my uncle's funeral and had nothing but positive words to say. I am not inclined to think so. Regardless, Frank O'Bannon did not deserve to be booed. Julia Carson did not deserve to be booed. Evan Bayh did not deserve to be booed. Bart Petersen did not deserve to be booed. And Mitch Daniels did not deserve to be booed. Nothing about that common courtesy has anything to do with the letter behind their names when they appear on television.

We live in a free country, and there is freedom of speech. You can say almost anything. You can shout people down. You can jeer and boo them. But freedom of speech is not a prohibition from engaging in basic decency and politeness. I would like to think that there is a basic decency and politeness among my fellow Hoosiers that transcends politics and party lines. Perhaps I am wrong. I think that a stony silence would have told as much to Mitch Daniels as jeers and catcalls, and it would not have been as embarrassing for our whole state as the spectacle of booing the governor on national television during a ceremony to honor one of Indiana's greatest basketball players.

Because we live in a country with freedom of expression, people can demonstrate their opposition to their elected officials and their policies in many ways. It just seems to me that there is something tasteless about doing it at an nonpartisan event held to honor the achievements of a fellow Hoosier. It also seems to me that there should be better ways. Maybe I am just old fashioned.

Monday, April 3, 2006

9th Congressional District Set for Grudge Match

The race this year for Indiana's 9th Congressional District, between incumbent Mike Sodrel and former incumbent Baron Hill, is probably going to be one of the most hotly contested Congressional races in 2006. Sodrel is the Ninth's first Republican representative in Congress in fifty years, narrowly beating out Hill in 2004, by 142,197 votes to 140,772. Winning by 1,425 votes is not quite Florida 2000 territory, but it ensures that southern Indiana will be a political battleground in the coming year. Academic-turned-talking-head Larry Sabato, a political science professor from the University of Virginia, has his Crystal Ball (where Iowa alphabetically precedes Illinois and Indiana) put the IN-9 in his "Dirty Thirty" of competitive House races.

To hear Sodrel's people tell it, the Ninth is a Republican district that--until now--was never represented by a Republican. Hill's people say that there are many voters that turned out for Republicans in 2004 that are simply not going to turn out in 2006, for a variety of reasons. There is considerable spin there for both sides, and time will tell which side is right.

There is a lot to be said for the Sodrel camp's argument about the Ninth being a Republican district. In presidential voting, Republicans have habitually shellacked Democrats in the Ninth, as they have tended to do over all of Indiana since the 1960s, while many elected positions at lesser levels have been held by Democrats. These are mostly Democrats of the center or center-right southern variety, and Sodrel's people are convinced that they--like Democrats in the rest of the South--are going to go the way of the dodo.

Hill's argument also has a lot to be said for it. A hundred thousand more people voted in the Ninth in 2004 than in 2002 (287,510 to 188,957). Turnout will probably decline to 2002 levels, where the terrain is historically favorable to the Democrat; Hill beat Sodrel by 9,485 votes in 2002 compared to losing by fourteen hundred in 2004. There is a lot of comfort for Hill and his supporters in that simple math.

The Sodrel argument of "we will bury you" and that a sweeping trend of American political history is now on their side, runs counter to the indications that--whatever else it might be--2006 will almost certainly not be a Republican year. Here, the logic of history and broad political trends are countered by similar logic and currents flowing in exactly the opposite direction: the six-year-itch that tends to plague all American presidents with regards to the fortunes of their party in Congress, the unpopularity (deserved or not) of the war in Iraq, a potentially divided Republican Party on issues such as immigration, a foul lingering whiff of scandal (lingering from Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Tom DeLay, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby), malaise (if not revolt) within the Republican base, and a variety of polling not encouraging to Republicans. None of these things are likely to help Mike Sodrel sleep better at night when dwelling on his political chances.

Baron Hill, though, should not be sleeping soundly either; barring unforeseen events, this cannot be anything but a close race after all. But the simple math of the Hill camp is unsettled by a deeper examination of the numbers and the reasoning behind them. Hill, after all, surely cannot count on Monroe County--home of the left-leaning campus of Indiana University--providing him with 225% more votes than it did in 2002. Sodrel, however, can likely count on interior and rural counties--which are reddening considerably--providing him with more votes than they did in 2002. He may, if he can navigate the churning political waters of a bad Republican year and properly leverage his incumbency, count on a few extra percentage points from the populous river counties (Floyd and Clark) located opposite Louisville.

If, as Hill's camp says, Sodrel won simply and only by turning out more Republicans by virtue of it being a presidential election year, then logic would suggest that he has nothing to worry about. But Hill no longer has the benefits of incumbency in his favor, even if he has at least a nominal wind at his back due to national factors. He is also tacking into the trends--cited by the Sodrel camp--of a southern Indiana district following in the way of the rest of the South.

In many ways, the argument of the Hill camp--that Sodrel won simply by turning out Republicans that would not normally vote--is similar to that made by many Democrats nationally, who said in 2004 that they were beaten by the Republican turnout machine. The argument of the Sodrel camp--that victory came and will come because the Ninth is a Republican district becoming more Republican--is similar to the argument made by many Republicans after the 2004 election, namely that the United States of America as a whole was undergoing a political realignment in favor of the GOP.

As unlikely as it would have seemed not long ago, southern Indiana could become a laboratory for seeing which side's theory is closer to reality.