Saturday, September 30, 2006

New Frank O'Bannon Biography

The Indianapolis Star reports that a new biography of Frank O'Bannon is due out on Tuesday, October 3. There will be a book signing in Corydon at the State Capitol building on that date, with the late governor's wife and the author.

Legacy of a Governor: The Life of Indiana's Frank O'Bannon


Amazon.com lists both the hardcover and the paperback.

Political Potpourri

The most dreaded of Jeopardy categories is now a post. I want to blog some on this new Sodrel ad hitting Hill over Social Security that has been in the news some, but I haven't seen it yet on television and no one has put it up (that I can find) on YouTube. I don't want to opine until I have seen it.

The Ohio River Ramble is over. The closing column on it is available here. The 9th District race between Sodrel and Hill didn't get mentioned, though brief mention was given to Hostettler, Ellsworth, and the 8th District race.

The News & Tribune has another letter slamming Baron Hill and one decrying war in response to terrorism.

Former 9th District Congressman Lee Hamilton has a piece in the Jackson County Banner about how best to get in contact with your Congressman. This should be required reading in every civics and government class. Maybe Hamilton devoted part of his day to returning constituents' phone calls, but I seriously wonder if either Hill did or Sodrel does. They broke the mold when they made Lee Hamilton; I don't doubt for a moment that if he entered the race as an independent he could beat both of his successors.

The Courier-Journal has published the statements made by various regional members of Congress in response to the recently-passed War on Terrorism detainee interrogation and trial legislation. I'd love to see statements from the challengers to some of those representatives. That would make for an interesting comparison, and one valuable to voters to boot.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More Letters

Time for another quick local opinion round-up.

It doesn't beat the tongue-in-cheek humor of the piece in the Jackson County Banner I linked to last time, but Debbie Harbeson's piece in the News & Tribune about how to make political fliers is delightfully sarcastic and quite amusing. Perhaps a follow-on course in television and radio ads is in order. On a slight tangent, the New York Times has a piece about the almost exclusively negative character of the ads in this election cycle. Sort of reminds me of every other election cycle.

Daniel Robison echoes prior sentiments, and urges the candidates to conduct another debate. Better, he says, that Sodrel miss a (probably unlikely) vote than miss a debate. If I were Mike Sodrel, I wouldn't go to a debate that wasn't structured for multiple topics. Why give your opponent a forum to trumpet his best issues? Hill's insistence on limited debate topics is a better reason to hold out on debates than some Sunday floor vote. I wish Congress worked through weekends, but they don't.

The News & Tribune (a copious source of topical letters and columns for this post, it must be said) has a letter from Baron Hill decrying Mike Sodrel and trumpeting the Democrat's culturally-conservative talking points. This letter bears a striking resemblance to an email sent by Hill to his supporters several weeks ago, the text of which is available here.

Earlier, the News & Tribune ran a letter that was a copied and pasted Sodrel press release, submitted by a citizen. Now it is running a letter that a candidate copied and pasted from his own email. Is Hill too busy to write genuine and unique letters to his former (and he hopes future) constituents?

I guess that it could be worse. Baron Hill didn't even write the letter sent to the Capitol News in his name. Maybe it's hard to come up with something new regarding an issue on which Hill is so fundamentally on the defensive, no matter how many letters, emails, or press conferences he holds. George W. Bush is like an anchor to Mike Sodrel. Virtually every other Democrat in America is like an anchor to Baron Hill.

On the same day as Hill's letter, Cheryl Stewart denounces Hill for not having the very virtues he claims in his letter to possess, known to those that "know [him] personally". Roger Bradley wrote into the paper in response to Hill's letter, also expressing doubts.

It seems to be proving hard for Hill to overcome the obstacle placed in his path by the base of the Democratic Party everywhere else in the nation. If he can do so, he will win.

VFW Endorses Hill, Again

The Courier-Journal and the News & Tribune report that the VFW's political action committee has endorsed Baron Hill in Indiana's 9th District race. This was obviously quite coordinated well in advance, as I have already seen an ad on television during the evening news citing the endorsement and attacking Sodrel for voting against increases in veterans' benefits.

It should not, however, come as a surprise to anyone. I am not sure that it changes anything fundamental about the race, regardless of the to-do that has been made about it. The articles do not mention it, but the VFW's political action committee endorsed Baron Hill in 2004 as well.

It is notable, though, that last time the VFW PAC also endorsed Hostettler and Chocola. I wonder if they will retain those positions or change them. This endorsement doesn't change much in the 9th District race; it is no different than 2004. However, a shift in endorsements has the potential to negatively change things for Hostettler and Chocola.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Bump, Not a Surge

The Rothenberg Political Report (probably not in response to my earlier musings) has a post up about the recent positive run for Republicans, calling it a bump and not a surge.

A recent Rothenberg post about "the growing undecideds" also makes for interesting reading. Talk of undecideds breaking for incumbents normally runs against the conventional wisdom, though I find the notion that the undecideds could be manufactured or exaggerated (potentially deliberately) interesting. Small comfort for Republicans like Chocola, Sodrel, and Hostettler, with undecideds so small in the polling in their races (with the exception of that one ISU poll in the 8th).

Much Ado About Medicare

The News & Tribune has a piece about the 9th District campaigns fussing over a recent report published by House Democrats (hardly an unbiased source, but whatever) citing the shortfalls in Medicare Part D. For those of you who don't know, Medicare Part D is the huge prescription drug benefit that was added to Medicare in 2003.

According to this House Democrat report, which you can view in its entirety here (and see the about-as-unbiased FoxNews poke some holes in it here), some 200,000 seniors in the state of Indiana fall into the so-called "doughnut hole", a gap that exists in the various levels of the program. Medicare pays for everything up to a certain amount, and then a second tier or level of the program kicks in. The problem is that there is a gap between the two tiers, and seniors falling into this level of spending on prescription drugs get no assistance at all.

I do not know what Baron Hill's campaign hopes to gain from citing this report. Sodrel was not in office in 2003 when this was voted on. Hill, who was, voted against the entire program.

What exactly are the Hill people hoping to gain from this politically? Sodrel, not being in office at the time, did not put anyone in the "doughnut hole". Hill voted against the entire program which--reason follows--left every single senior in America in the "doughnut hole". Maybe that's depriving seniors of the whole doughnut, not just the hole. I dunno.

Anyway, did Hill sponsor or co-sponsor (or even just vote for) any legislation when he was in office to close the "doughnut hole", or was he satisfied with his vote to leave seniors doughnut-less? Has Sodrel?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gratuitous Citation

Not necessary, really, but what the hey. More from the Indianapolis Star on the decline in gas prices.

Pot, Kettle, Black: Another Automated Call Suit

The Courier-Journal and the Indianapolis Star report that Attorney General Steve Carter has filed suit, the state's second, in Harrison County over automated phone calls violating the state's telemarketing laws. The prior suit, filed in Brown County and discussed here, was directed at a conservative group called the Economic Freedom Fund that was making calls in favor of Republican incumbent Mike Sodrel (more about the EFF here, and see the recent Factcheck.org piece on the calls here). A countersuit, discussed here, was filed by the Virginia-based FreeEats.com, also a conservative group.

Carter's second lawsuit, however, targets American Family Voices, a progressive-liberal group making calls in favor of Democrat Baron Hill. I had hoped that the suit, being filed in Harrison County on Monday, would be covered in the weekly edition of the Corydon Democrat that came out today. No such luck there, or from the alternative Capitol News (both in the news listing) as of this posting.

I maintain my prior assertion that, as irritating as these ads are, their effectiveness is limited (particularly in lieu of the whole bad PR kerfuffle on them that has now hit both sides). The impact this could potentially have on get-out-the-vote efforts for both parties in the days immediately before the election could be quite significant, and cannot be completely foreseen. Given that many races will be close, it will surely impact at least one outcome.

Just out of idle curiosity, I wonder whether Steve Carter (or anyone around him) thought of this when they recently realized that the law now prohibits automated phone calls. I also whether he (or they) gave any thought to which side might benefit or be worse off from it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More on the DCCC Attack Ad

On Sunday, the Courier-Journal's Lesley Stedman Weidenbener did her weekly column on the recent DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) attack ad accusing Mike Sodrel of wanting to privatize Social Security. Most of the column is devoted to discussing the nuances of differing definitions of privatization.

Given that the foundation of the commercial in question is an article in the Courier-Journal, it is interesting that Ms. Weidenbener did not go back and see how what that article said compares to the assertions in the attack ad. I have obtained a copy of the article cited in the DCCC ad, which was partially quoted in a Sodrel press release and not even mentioned in Weidenbener's CJ column. The DCCC ad itself gives us how they define privatizing Social Security:

Maybe, it's because he's a millionaire businessman. Mike Sodrel backed privatizing Social Security. Experts say privatization could cut benefits, add trillions to the debt, and risk our retirement in the stock market. Mike Sodrel: siding with Wall Street instead of us. Baron Hill's priorities? Us. He'll oppose any plan to privatize Social Security, and make sure it's a guarantee. Baron Hill: on our side.


Under that very definition, the Courier-Journal article cited in the attack ad--which was itself concerned mostly with a visit by Vice President Cheney to Jeffersonville to fundraise for Sodrel--clearly indicates that the Republican congressman opposes such ideas:

In addition to the fall 2006 election, the dominant issue at yesterday's event - for participants inside and protesters outside - appeared to be Social Security.

Sodrel said he favors the concept of creating individual retirement accounts for younger workers, with a portion of the accounts invested in the stock market. But he said he is not prepared to support any of the specific proposals that have been made for overhauling the Social Security system.

He said he is convinced that changes need to be made in the retirement system, but added that he would be concerned about tax increases or benefit reductions as a part of any solution. [emphases added]


The article clearly says Sodrel is concerned about any changes in Social Security that would lead to tax hikes or benefit cuts and notes that he did not support any of the various reform proposals at the time, as the commercial implies. It says nothing about him backing increases in the debt, benefit cuts, or risking existing retirements in the stock market, the three clear implicit accusations leveled in the commercial.

This being said, while the article itself undercuts the DCCC ad that cites it, it does not provide the blanket refutation implied by the Sodrel campaign. While the ad is clearly scurrilous, a distortion, and (as WDRB station manager Bill Lamb put it) a bastardization of Sodrel's position, it achieves this on some of the wiggle room provided in the article itself (probably done by Sodrel at the time to avoid being accused of just this later on, ironically).

All of this begs a simple question. Given that they knew they had a wobbly case, why did the Sodrel campaign complain to the television stations and demand that they pull the ad? Louisville's TV outlets are--to put it charitably--not exactly sympathetic forums for any Republican congressman (just ask Anne Northup or Ron Lewis), let alone one from Indiana. These are not people that the Sodrel campaign should be turning to as a sort of impartial public arbiter of political truth (you decide for yourself if that is because they will resist that role or because they would not be impartial).

The Sodrel campaign would have been better served by demanding that the DCCC refuse to pull the ad, rather than place the burden upon someone in whom the public places greater trust (due or undue) and who is just as likely to refuse to pull the commercial as the DCCC itself. Now, whether it deserves it or not (and factually it does not), the decision by the local news channels has the result of vindicating the accusations of the commercial in the public mind. This is not a situation into which the Sodrel campaign should have ever allowed itself to be maneuvered.

It would have been far better for them if they had demanded in their press release that the DCCC pull the ad and ask for Baron Hill to "denounce such negative and untrue advertisements made in his name." This would have put the blame for the negative ad on Hill without allowing it to be vindicated in the public mind when it was not pulled. Instead, the commercial not being pulled would have appeared itself as negative and mean-spirited.

It would have been better still for them if, at the same time, the Sodrel campaign (or the National Republican Congressional Committee) prepared and ran an ad refuting the DCCC allegations and pointing to the rather damning video of Baron Hill saying that he likes the idea of investing Social Security in the stock market. If someone calls you a name, you say "Don't call me that!" You don't go screaming to some third person, "Hey, he called me a blankety-blank, make him stop!" This is not rocket science.

Instead, however, the NRCC has prepared an ad denouncing Baron Hill for voting against tax relief "dozens of times":



Don't get me wrong, the whole Baron Hill "tax-loving liberal" meme is probably a viable and effective one. It just wouldn't be anywhere near as effective as a commercial with that Social Security video in it, particularly in lieu of the accusations so recently leveled against Sodrel on the same issue.

Opinion Roundup

In keeping tabs on many of the local newspapers in southern Indiana, I have come across a variety of editorials and letters to the editor that provide but a small sampling of sentiment and opinion around southern Indiana (and in particular the 9th Congressional District).

From the Brown County Democrat come (unsurprisingly) a series of letters decrying the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and Mike Sodrel.

The News & Tribune has a letter asking whether Mike Sodrel shares the view of Barbara Bush expressed in a 2003 Good Morning America interview about the possibility of casualties in the War in Iraq.

Another News & Tribune guest columnist expresses the dismay of his son at the rapid plunge by both the Sodrel and Hill campaigns into negative advertising. The letter, it must be said, is a perfect example of how the Sodrel people have let Hill run away with the "He's going negative!" response to citations of Hill's voting record, and his time working for a lobbying firm in Washington after the 2004 election.

In the Corydon Democrat on August 30 (apologies for the late linking), perennial letter writer Charles Allen returns to the tried-and-true attack on President Bush's service (or lack thereof) in the National Guard.

From the Seymour Tribune, the newspaper of the hometown of Baron Hill, comes an editorial calling for the candidates to agree to conduct more debates. Now that Sodrel is balking at debates, I wonder if the Tribune wrote the same sorts of editorials in 2004, when it was Hill that was refusing to debate.

The North Vernon Plain Dealer & Sun expresses a view that you won't find many places, namely that Mitch Daniels is popular. In the southern parts of the state, where people were already on Daylight Savings Time, few will ever drive on the Indiana Toll Road, money for new roads is a good thing, and Honda is soon going to open a new plant, Daniels is liked a lot more than he is in northern parts of the state or in Indianapolis.

And, lastly, my favorite comes from the Jackson County Banner, a humorous turn on campaign advertising. After all, what is more polite and civil than giving your opponent free advertising by publishing pictures of him and repeating his name so many times?

Social Stake Out

The Courier-Journal and the Indianapolis Star have topically-similar articles about the candidates in the 9th District "staking out positions/issues." Unsurprisingly, their primary focus remains on social issues, in order to appeal to the values of a culturally-conservative district.

Nothing much new there. Sodrel has yet to trumpet any record of what he has done for the district while in Congress, as Anne Northup is doing so effectively across the Ohio River. Lacking a better issue, like Iraq or gas prices, Hill has been forced to attempt to redefine himself on terms that are set by his opponent, and on issues that are his opponent's strengths.

Social issues are effective in such a culturally-conservative district, but they are a poor substitute for more effective alternatives that both campaigns either cannot use (like Iraq and gas prices) or have not yet used for whatever reason (like the Ohio River bridge and various Federal funding for items in the district).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wider Picture

In the past week, I've come across four items discussing the broader national picture of the upcoming election, and (unsurprisingly) referencing races here in Indiana as well.

The first comes from Robert Novak, conservative and of Plame leak fame, at Human Events. Novak lists the 9th District as a likely Democratic takeover and the 2nd and 8th Districts as leaning Democratic, and notes the recent Republican resurgence.

Rothenberg, second, warns against buying into talk that Republicans are "surging" in late October. The Democrats, he notes, had a similar false surge in 1994. He doesn't say anything about the apparent surge that Republicans have been having lately; it would be interesting to hear about that.

Third, Congressional Quarterly (in contrast to Novak) lists the 8th and 9th Districts as having no clear favorite, and thinks that Chocola's 2nd District seat leans Republican. Odd that the conservative Novak thinks them worse off than the more centrist CQ. Check out the nifty flash gizmo that CQ has for forecasting races.

Lastly, the Washington Post looks at Eight Issues That Will Shape the 2006 Elections. Only Chocola merits mention, and for being too close to George W. Bush. Neither Hostettler nor Sodrel are included, but it would be interesting to judge them (and their opponents) by such issues.

The Elephant in the Room: How big a problem is President Bush for the GOP?
For Chocola and Sodrel, ties to Bush were a strength in past elections. Now, they are definitely a hindrance. For Hostettler, who often goes his own way, the President is less of a factor. Mike Sodrel, certainly, suffers from repeatedly cries on the opinion pages of local newspapers that he is a rubber stamp for "Bush-Cheney" (reminds me of the Republican "Clinton-Gore years" epithet thrown about in 2000). Such things are only going to continue as time goes on.

The Abramoff Echo: Will the corruption issue go national?
Ellsworth has accused Hostettler of "going Washington" and being too close to corruption like that in the Abramoff scandal. This being said, neither of the incumbents were anywhere near as close to the criminal lobbyist as some of their colleagues. Merely being associated with them could hurt, but not in any significant way.

Money Matters: Will pocketbook concerns move votes?
Hill and Ellsworth have tried this one, hammering on gas prices and accusing Sodrel and Hostettler of giving tax breaks to big oil companies. With the decline in prices at the pump, the effectiveness of that issue has basically evaporated. Insofar as Hill can be depicted as voting to send jobs to China (he voted for Permanent Normal Trade Relations) and to oppose tax cuts, this hurts him. Ads accusing Sodrel of supporting the privatization of Social Security hurt the Republican incumbent, but only if his campaign does not put out an ad using that video and attacking Hill for the same. Pocketbook considerations could hurt Sodrel, but only if he fails to counter them by throwing them back at his opponent.

Border Patrol: Will the immigration issue save Republicans?
Immigration has yet to play a substantive role in either the 8th or the 9th Districts. Hill says he opposes amnesty, and has implied that Sodrel favors it, but Sodrel (and I think Hostettler) voted with House Republicans on various strong anti-immigration measures. None of the advertisements (as yet) in the Sodrel-Hill race have focused on immigration. It is not clear to me that it would be an effective issue for either campaign. Unless the Sodrel camp can dredge up something in favor of immigration or illegal immigration from Hill's voting record, Hill's statements against amnesty will make this issue a wash.

Anxious Suburbs: Will the Iraq War come home in November?
Hostettler voted against the Iraq War, and Sodrel was not in office at the time. Hill, however, voted for the war when he was in office. These unusual historical facts deprive Democrats of one of their most effective campaign issues that they will doubtlessly use to great effect elsewhere. Sodrel could suffer indirectly, in that he is frequently depicted by Democrats as being too close to the President, whose popularity has suffered due to the war.

Tough Terrain: Can Republicans win the Northeast?
Obviously not a consideration in the Hoosier state.

Red-State Revival: Can Democrats compete in the Upper South?
Despite being north of the Ohio River, both the 8th and 9th Districts are fundamentally conservative. Both look, in terms of voters, a lot more like a districts you would expect to see the South than the Midwest. If the Democrats can compete in the Upper South, they can compete in those two districts. Their culturally conservative character places burdens on the Democrats that they do not face elsewhere, as has already been demonstrated in the last match-up between Mike Sodrel and Baron Hill. We're already seeing history repeat itself.

Tune In, Turn On: What Ballot Issues Will Drive Voters to the Polls?
There are no ballot initiatives in Indiana of note, so this will not be a factor in any of the three races.

Omitted from this list of eight is the values factor, which I think will be an important factor in the elections in the 8th and 9th Districts by virtue of their more southern and culturally-conservative character. Both Ellsworth and Hill have struggled mightily to define themselves as conservative Democrats who hold "Hoosier values" and for good reason. This is the most effective attack that Republicans can make upon them.

New 8th District Poll

The Evansville Courier & Press came out yesterday with a new poll in the race between John Hostettler and Brad Ellsworth, showing the Democrat up by some fifteen percent. The Courier-Journal and the Indianapolis Star also have articles (both are tweaks on AP reporting).

Mr. Ellsworth should not be popping the champagne yet. There are serious issues with this poll, as pointed out in some of the articles above. Some of the complaints are spin from the Hostettler camp, but some of it is quite valid. The issues are substantive enough for the Courier & Press to feel compelled to provide a separate piece defending the poll.

First problem is that the poll is among registered voters. Previous polls, showing the race much closer, are taken from likely voters. This is a small but crucial distinction. Given Hostettler's significant turnout operation and the simple fact that this is a midterm election in which turnout will be less, a poll must be among likely voters for its sample to be a more accurate reflection of the opinion of those that will actually vote on Election Day. It is in the turnout operation that Hostettler tends to beat his opponents, and while most polling understates that, polling merely registered voters understates it even further.

That's not to say that Hostettler is actually ahead (he probably isn't), but that the race is much closer than this poll would indicate. The characterization of eighty percent of registered voter respondents saying they are likely voters is not meaningless. It is quite significant. It is only meaningless if turnout is near eighty percent, instead of the thirty or so percent that it tends to be during midterm elections. That twenty percent supposed (and anecdotal) difference is enough to skew the poll. The fifty percent between the anecdotal and the usual turnout is even moreso.

Second, the poll was taken over several weeks. Given that the national character of the election has undeniably changed since Labor Day with the decline in gas prices and the Republicans hitting back from their national security strength, the poll needs to be taken over a smaller period of time to be able to provide a valid sampling of the opinion of the electorate. This is Statistics and Polling 101. That ISU lacked the resources to conduct a poll in a shorter span of time does not eliminate the fact that the poll period needed to be smaller.

Third, 63.5% of respondents to the poll were women and only 36.5% were men. Do women outnumber men in the 8th District (or in voter registrations and actual voters) almost two to one? I somehow doubt it. Unless the poll was weighted to counterbalance the gender disproportion (and I can find nothing to say that it does), that alone biases the sample. Moreover, men tend to break more heavily to Republicans and women more heavily to Democrats. This creates an unnatural skew towards Ellsworth within the poll.

Fourth, and lastly, while some professional polling firms are indeed in the employ of political parties, they lose credibility if their polling results do not correspond with what actually happens. Just ask the folks that polled for Literary Digest in 1936. Such criticism is about as worthwhile as saying that academics and students in sociology and women's studies deliberately conduct biased polling. An attack upon professional pollsters by the professor who did the poll does absolutely nothing to validate its results, given the three substantive issues with it that I have mentioned above, and it does more than a little to make me question it further.

I think that the prior polls, conducted for media outlets by professional pollsters, show a more accurate reflection of the views of those who will vote in the 8th District on Election Day. Hostettler is almost certainly behind and Ellsworth almost certainly leads. I am sure that there will be more professional polling in the 8th District in the coming weeks that will continue to reflect that. I do not think that they will show Hostettler trailing Ellsworth by fifteen points, unless Hostettler commits some catastrophic gaffe (which is not impossible; he has a lot of them).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rambling On

More has been posted today from the Washington Post politics bloggers on the 9th District race. They have a video segment, and a column in the paper itself.

The articles retain the obsession with the basketball theme. As I have already said, I think the issue of Hill's basketball background is largely immaterial. Between a few people in Seymour remembering him fondly for it and a few people outside of Seymour holding it against him, it is probably a wash.

I suppose it could be substantive and of impact, if Hill's ads were mentioning it. Thus far they have not (even the positive ones), and the negative turn of most advertising suggests to me that Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel will spend more time slugging each other on values issues than on basketball records.

The focus on values is not merely because it can be effective, but also because both candidates lack substantive ammunition on the other on anything else viewed as important by voters. Because he voted for the war, Hill essentially cannot criticize Mike Sodrel for the most beneficial issue to Democrats this year. Gas prices are no longer much of an issue due to the seasonal decline in prices. If Sodrel capitalizes on their video clip of Baron Hill talking about Social Security, the privatization issue could likely be a wash as well.

That leaves the old reliables of (to quote DNC Chair Howard Dean) Guns, God, and Gays used so much in the 9th District (and elsewhere) in the past. In a district that is in many key and critical respects more like the South than the Midwest and is fundamentally conservative--Hill would not be trying to strengthen his values cred otherwise--Republicans hold advantages unavailable to them in many other contested districts. The question is whether it will be sufficient on Election Day.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

WaPo Bloggers on "Ohio River Ramble"

The bloggers for The Fix, the Washington Post's politics blog, have been traveling up the Ohio River in recent days, spending time in each of the hotly-contested Congressional districts along the way. They call it the Ohio River Ramble.

Two days ago, they were blogging on Hostettler and Ellsworth in the 8th District (here, here, and here). Yesterday, they were in Louisville, covering Northup and Yarmuth in Kentucky's 3rd District (here and here). Interesting the omission that the DCCC has decided to spend no money on Yarmuth; it can't be because he is doing well enough to not need it.

And, today, they were blogging on Sodrel and Hill, in Indiana's 9th District. I fail to see the relevance of Hill's "basketball record." I don't think, given that he has substantial history in this district, that it will be even a remotely important factor in the campaign. I particularly like the description of Hill as "one fit guy"; the nice tan he seems to have acquired in recent weeks surely helps that appearance. Hill's commercials (also discussed) are shot with this weird red tint to them that makes him look (certainly by accident) like the Great Pumpkin.

Notable the mention of Hill's own polling. The public polling has indeed been similar (as discussed here), and was actually not any different in 2004. Last time, if memory serves, the race hovered in the upper edges of the margin of error. I seem to recall that Hill led the entire time.

The WaPo bloggers have done multiple articles on most of the districts in their Ohio River Ramble, sometimes posting them a day or so later. Hopefully the 9th will be no different.

Friday, September 22, 2006

New DCCC Attack Ad

If calling Baron Hill liberal and saying that he worked for a lobbying firm is negative (which is pretty weak, both in terms of Sodrel's campaign and Hill's protest), then the new ad running from the DCCC is certainly far worse. It's a hit piece.



Gratuitous citations of Sodrel being a millionaire businessman and that Social Security reform would be expensive aside, the primary citation in the ad is to an article that ran in the Courier-Journal on March 29, 2005. The source for this citation probably comes from Campaign for America's Future, a group opposed to the privatization of Social Security.

On page 10 of one of their reports (PDF warning), they list Sodrel as a privatization flip-flopper. This is based upon his survey responses to the National Taxpayers' Union, a group favoring lower taxes, and that Courier-Journal article. You can see candidate responses to the 2006 version of that survey here. It is notable that the responses of both Sodrel and Hill are identical.

The Courier-Journal article is in their pay archive, and thus unavailable for immediate verification of the DCCC commercial's claims (I may try to get a copy at the local library, or failing that break down and pay the three bucks to view it). Sodrel's campaign, immediately after the ad was released, put out a press release claiming that the ad was factually incorrect. They cite the article itself:

Sodrel does not support privatizing Social Security. Nowhere in the article cited by the ad does it note Sodrel's support for privatization. What the Courier-Journal article does say is that Sodrel does not "support any of the specific proposals that have been made for overhauling the Social Security system."


If the Sodrel press release is correct, and that is reflected in the substance of the article (opposing proposals is a different thing than supporting privatization), then the DCCC has made a scurrilous and demonstrably false attack, at least insofar as the claim regarding privatization and its source.

Worse still, for the DCCC and the Democrats, is the video that the Sodrel campaign appears to have uncovered showing Baron Hill voicing support for investing Social Security into the stock market. This can easily be construed in ads as support for privatization whether it is or not. Video of a candidate saying something is far more damning than an attack ad with blurry photos and a fine print citation of a newspaper article.



Baron Hill can certainly try to spin on this, parse words, and split hairs (much as the DCCC has done to Sodrel, and Sodrel is doing in response), but the video is fairly damning. The damaging portions can easily be placed into a TV commercial (which, if Sodrel's people and the NRCC are worth anything, is probably already being made) and thrown back in the Democrat's face with good effect.

I am surprised. I have always been impressed at the level of opposition research and the efficient campaign operations by Anne Northup over in Kentucky's 3rd District. Her recent series of ads tying her opponent in knots over his contradictory positions on the Ohio River bridge is a perfect example. Anyway, neither the Hill nor Sodrel campaigns have shined in comparison in their prior clashes, and I had not thought Sodrel's people capable of having something like this on hand (let alone having video that they promptly rushed onto YouTube, an effective technique first pioneered by Democrats).

In a close campaign, things like video of your opponent appearing to endorse investing Social Security in the stock market (and by implication privatization) can make a big difference, if the Sodrel people capitalize on it quickly. Mike Sodrel could very easily perform a bit of political jujitsu and turn the Social Security privatization argument back on Baron Hill.

More on Those Automated Phone Calls

The Indianapolis Star reports that FreeEats.com, a Virginia-based company, has sued the state over its ban on automated phone calls. The FreeEats.com website redirects to ccadvertising.biz.

There are two notable court decisions regarding out-of-state telemarketing, and they are contradictory. One, in California, permits such telemarketing (though the case involved faxes). The second, in North Dakota, favored the state law. This second case, State ex rel. Stenehjem v. FreeEats.com, Inc., upheld the prohibition on automated telephone calls. Yes, that is the same FreeEats.com mentioned above. I will leave it to people more schooled in law than I to compare those decisions to the Indiana law and the ensuing FreeEats.com suit.

FreeEats.com and ccAdvertising are apparently, according to the lefty blogosphere, linked to Grover Norquist. I would think, given that it lost one (at least as far as I can tell) similar lawsuit in North Dakota, that FreeEats.com would not be spoiling for another fight.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thoughts on Gas Prices

A variety of pundits have linked recent strength in the President's poll numbers, and those of Republicans in general, to the decline in gas prices. This is largely seasonal and quite predictable, as I have already pointed out several times, but has a significant political upside for the GOP.

There is a proven statistical correlation between the polling numbers of the President (and by extension his party, of which he is the leader and most visible member) and gas prices. This can be seen as far back as the Carter and even Nixon administrations.

Baron Hill made much of gas prices recently, with his news-catching but perhaps legally questionable gas-buying stunt. As of this posting, gas prices are averaging $2.16 in New Albany.

This is only 36 cents more than it cost when Mike Sodrel was elected, an increase of about 20%. In September of 1998, just before Hill was first elected, gas cost 93 cents (PDF warning, see page 16). When he left, it had increased by 94% to $1.80.

The air has clearly gone out of the gas price argument. It appears even more absurd when taken into the broader context of examining Hill's own "record" (insofar as a Congressman can do anything about the price of gasoline) on the issue.

Debate Doubts

The Courier-Journal reports that, perhaps taking a page from the handbook used by Baron Hill in 2002 and 2004, the Sodrel campaign has indicated that it might not be able to participate in the planned Indiana 9 debate on October 1.

Hardly surprising. In the game of debate chicken, Sodrel flinched first. Hill is a poor debater and Sodrel probably doesn't want a topic-limited debate in which Hill can hammer him on Democratic strengths in a free one hour TV commercial. Neither campaign, regardless of rhetoric, wants a debate.

Like the negative campaign pledge, they just want to blame their opponent for being first to not want to debate. It is unlikely that Congress will be in session on a Sunday, just as it is unlikely that noting that Baron Hill worked for a lobbying firm constitutes a negative ad.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

For Whom the Poll Tolls...

...It tolls for Chris Chocola. A poll conducted by WSBT and the South Bend Tribune (and also at the Indianapolis Star) shows Republican incumbent Chris Chocola down by eight against challenger Joe Donnelly. So much of the outside consensus by national pundits has it that Chocola was overconfident, something disproved by this South Bend Tribune column.

It is more likely, I think, that the challenger learned (as Mike Sodrel did in 2004 against Baron Hill down south) something from their defeat, and Chocola's greatest asset in the past (his ties to George W. Bush) is now his greatest liability. That the national party organization took note of the challenger's past performance and decided to help the second time around (as the Republicans did with Sodrel) can't hurt either.

A recent column over at Rothenberg notes that this will not be so much an anti-incumbent election (for, in their view, there is no such thing in America), but an anti-Bush election. This is the crux of the problem facing both Mike Sodrel and Chris Chocola. George W. Bush was their greatest asset in the past two campaigns. Now, it is not the Iraq War (neither was yet in office to vote on it in 2002) but the president that is their greatest weakness.

The Republicans are going to spend something like fifty million dollars in the fall campaign, a record. The Democratic National Committee is going to spend all of two million dollars (or so it says). Even with such lavish spending in both absolute and relative terms, the Republicans face the age-old problem of political strategy: they have finite resources. They must spend their money where they think it will have the most impact and not where it either is not needed, or not going to be sufficient help.

This brings me to the recent Howey column by Joshua Claybourn. Hostettler has an independent streak, it is true, but he is also vulnerable. Because he voted against the Iraq War, and because he often defies the Bush administration, John Hostettler could well be the easiest to defend of the vulnerable Hoosier GOP trio in an anti-Bush election. Hostettler never raises much money himself, but a push by the national Republican organization could easily save him.

As Claybourn rightly notes, the national party seems unlikely to ride to the rescue of someone that disagrees with them so much. The Republicans will help Lincoln Chafee (even more contrarian than Hostettler, and liberal to boot). But John Hostettler? I doubt it.

I think that the national (and potentially the state) GOP is going to throw Hostettler under the proverbial bus, on the assumption that they can put even more resources into defending and saving Chocola and Sodrel while sacrificing the 8th District seat (possibly even gambling that Hostettler could well pull it out as he has so often in the past). The wisdom of that is questionable. A contrarian Republican Hostettler is better for the GOP than a Democrat Ellsworth, if only for that one vote on who is Speaker of the House and who is going to chair the committees. But bear with me.

Lugar, Burton, Buyer, Pence, and Souder (the safe Republican incumbents) are holding a fundraiser in early October for two of their more vulnerable Republican colleagues (bear with me, can't find an easy url citation on this). Two? Yes, two. Not three. Chocola and Sodrel are benefiting, not Hostettler. Did Hostettler decline to participate? He hates fundraising, after all. Or did they consciously or unconsciously omit him? One wonders.

If you assume, as I do, that campaign funds are finite and that the state and national Republican organizations could save two of the vulnerable Hoosier GOP trio, but not all three, then reasoning follows easily. Better to focus and save two than to divide yourself and lose all three. And of the trio, would the state and national GOP rather save the more conventional and reliable Chocola and Sodrel, or the contrarian Hostettler? That's probably an easy decision, particularly if you add into it Hostettler's long history as a closer who can come back, defy the odds, and win a close race with little funding.

Attorney General Threatens Suit, EFF to Pull Calls

The Courier-Journal and the Indianapolis Star (EDIT: and now the News & Tribune) have articles on the whole automated telephone call thing. Attorney General Steve Carter, a Republican, has filed suit against the Economic Freedom Fund, which has now said that it is halting calls into Indiana, even though it believes they are legal under superseding Federal law.

Overlooked in the revelation of the automated call prohibition, and in the whole EFF incident, is the impact that this might have on get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties. These sorts of calls, while they have been used as a tool during the broader campaign, are much more useful in terms of voter turnout operations on or near Election Day.

In a close race, like the one anticipated in the 9th District, the absence of automated calls could have an impact. The Republican turnout operation (the "72-Hour Plan"; quite effective in past years) is run by the local parties and not the campaigns, and tends to be person-to-person calls and not automated ones (automated ones being more the province of campaigns).

Republicans have this human GOTV apparatus to fall back on in November. It is not clear to me that the Democrats have a similar infrastructure to rely upon; they certainly have not in recent elections, in which Republican turnout operations have been decisively superior. Given the way that the wind this year blows against the Republicans, the GOP should be hoping that this is a break in their favor.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Swift Boat Funder Targets Hill

The Indianapolis Star notes today that the California-based Economic Freedom Fund, which has gotten flack for making automated phone calls into Indiana targeting Baron Hill, is funded by Bob Perry. Perry, a Texan, was one of the main backers of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that attacked John Kerry in the 2004 election.

I do not think that automated phone calls by this group are going to impact the election much, whether they are causing a legal teapot tempest or not. Baron Hill should be more concerned about Citizens for Truth, which was also around in 2004, and will do more "Swiftboating" of him than the Texan that funded the original.

Interesting in that Citizens for Truth site is the notion that Hill's recent gas-buying stunt may have been illegal. I had not heard that before. More on it at The News & Tribune.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another Poll Column

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener's Sunday column in the Courier-Journal has some thoughts on that WISH TV poll. I am not so certain, though, that the announcement of an auto factory that won't open for years is exactly going to change voter perceptions about the economy in the less than eight weeks that remain before Election Day. The point about the decline in gas prices is nothing new.

Certainly (as Matt Tully already reasoned), the governor's Major Moves barnstorming, traveling the state to hand out big checks and to visit new road construction funded by the toll road lease, cannot but help his (and Republican) prospects. Up north, it marginally softens the blow, though probably not enough to make much of a difference. Elsewhere, however, the impact could be more pronounced. The oft-quoted Tip O'Neill truism applies; all politics is local. People that seldom drive on that toll road are going to be much more pleased with Daniels giving them money to build new highways that they will drive on.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More WISH Poll Stuff

The Indianapolis Star has more on that WISH TV poll that came out in recent days, including a repeat of what everyone already knows about the toll road lease.

Matt Tully seems to think that Daniels' trip up north can't hurt. No one will think worse of you when you are giving them checks with many zeros on them, after all.

Brian Howey bemoans the decline in gas prices, and fears that it might no longer be such an issue with the decline in pain at the pump. Of course, he dislikes it for different reasons than someone like Baron Hill probably dislikes it. Maybe Hill can get mileage out of some sort of pre-election conspiracy between Big Oil and Republicans like Sodrel, but I doubt it.

There is a direct statistical correlation between public opinion of the President, and to a lesser degree Congress, and the price of gasoline. For all of the concern about terrorism, the war in Iraq, or the economy, it is the price of gas that drives poll numbers more than anything. Declining gas prices, more than Bush's speeches or the September 11 anniversary, are behind the slight Republican resurgence after Labor Day.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Obvious Oopses

Not sure if oopses is a word. Plural of oops, because there is more than one today.

The first oops comes from a California lobbying group, the Economic Freedom Fund, that is now going to be sued for making automated telemarketing calls in Indiana. Not sure what the State Attorney General can do about somebody in California, outside of his jurisdiction to be sure, making calls into Indiana. Those automated calls, regardless of which candidate they are championing, sure are annoying; it would be nice to be rid of them.

The second oops concerns the cut-and-paste guest column run in the News & Tribune last week, and so noted here. Mr. Stevens charitably dances around the clear duplication of the press release. Alas, someone at the editing desk reviewing the guest column should have caught the clear similarity in the first place.

The third oops belongs to Baron Hill, for pushing the gas price issue even as the importance of it declines in the eyes of voters, as demonstrated in the recent WISH TV poll.

And the fourth oops, or rather an omission, comes from that recent WISH TV poll, whose published statistics do not indicate how many respondents came from the rather wide geographic district over which the poll was taken. This makes determining the accuracy of responses relative to geographic location difficult. If there is oversampling in one geographic area, the margin of error in a different district would increase without it being accurately shown in the rest of the poll. Is the President's support really that strong in southern Indiana? Do majorities in the 8th and 9th Districts view the country as being on the right track?

If the polling results are true, then things just got easier for Mike Sodrel and John Hostettler. I think, however, that the southern skew of the poll is due to inadequate numbers of respondents, increasing its margin of error considerably. Hopefully the numbers of respondents from a given area will be made available, along with other demographic information (gender, age, political affiliation) on the sample. That would facilitate further analysis and provide greater insights into the opinions of the electorate in each geographic area.

More on that poll here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Polls!

The Courier-Journal reports that a new WISH TV (up in Indy) poll shows Baron Hill with a slight six point lead over Mike Sodrel, 46% to 40% with 14% undecided. The CJ doesn't give the sample size, and no information has as yet been put up about the poll (at least as of this posting) on the WISH TV site.

The citation of the margin of error as being 5% would, if my memory of my college statistics courses serves me right, indicate a relatively small sample size. Probably around 500 or 600 respondents. We'll see when WISH TV puts the poll up on its site. EDIT: Wikipedia indicates a 5% margin of error would require about 664 respondents. EDIT2: Another CJ article indicates that these polls had about 400 respondents, which makes their margin of error curious.

Julia Carson has nothing to worry about, according to a WISH poll, and the Indianapolis Star says that Ellsworth leads Sodrel (that's right, though hopefully they will correct it soon; should be Hostettler) over in the 8th District:

The poll results released Wednesday night by Indianapolis television station WISH found 44 percent of those interviewed supported Ellsworth in his bid for a return to Congress and 40 percent backed Sodrel.


EDIT: They have corrected themselves.

Anyway, if memory also serves me, this is an improvement for Sodrel over polling leaked by the Hill campaign earlier in the year. The fact that Hill's campaign has not leaked further polling since then indicates that they have nothing to gain from it; the race has undoubtedly tightened and they would not want to reveal that their polls show a relative decline for their candidate. Even so, anything below 50% for an incumbent is effectively a defeat, particularly with a Libertarian spoiler like Schansberg in the race.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Barbara Bush, Gas Prices, and Latest WaPo Ratings

The Courier-Journal, The News & Tribune, and The Indianapolis Star all have articles on the visit to Sellersburg by former First Lady Barbara Bush for a fundraiser for Mike Sodrel.

The News & Tribune article also notes that there has been an apparent agreement by Baron Hill on another debate, this time at IUS. It will limited to two issues, education and energy. If this is indeed the format, this sort of restricted debate is a victory for Baron Hill, and a defeat for Mike Sodrel.

Just as a general wouldn't want to fight a battle on unfavorable terrain, you don't want to wage a reelection campaign by debating against the strengths of your opponent. You do not want to allow your opponent to have to memorize and recite talking points on only two issues, let alone his strengths. If it comes down to it, you want to be able to memorize and recite talking points on only two issues, those being your strengths. Sodrel has not yet agreed, it seems. Politically speaking, he probably shouldn't (and perhaps won't).

Energy, and by that everyone means and reads gas prices, remain an issue. This is despite, as predicted earlier, substantial declines in the price of gas with the passing of Labor Day and the end of the summer driving season (see here, here, and here). As price declines decrease the pocketbook pain at the pump, the air is going out of the balloon on the gas price campaign argument. Hill would be wise find something else to campaign on.

And, lastly, The Fix over at the Washington Post, has new ratings up on the top twenty contested Congressional races. Sodrel moves from 12th down to 13th. Chocola moves down from 6th to 7th. Hostettler, however, has moved up from 5th to 4th. The summaries hint at optimism for Sodrel and Chocola (again noting the "voted Hill out once before" argument), and doom-and-gloom for Hostettler.

In a year in which the wind blows in favor of the Democrats, incumbent Republicans do not want to be anywhere on this list less than two months from the election, even with marginal movement in their favor within it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Victory through Air Power?

The Courier-Journal's Lesley Stedman Weidenbener has an article today about the coming campaign commercial air war between Mike Sodrel and Baron Hill. Particularly noteworthy is the expectation of ads being run by outside groups. These were run by both sides in 2004, and were particularly nasty.

Also notable, I think, is the comment at the bottom about Byron Bangert. He was the member of the Monroe County Religious Leaders group that put forward the "clean campaign" pledge signed by both leaders, and his statement in response to the kerfuffle over the recent Sodrel ad has been widely quoted. The cited urls cannot be verified, because they are behind the Herald-Times' subscriber barrier, but the titles of the letters (which are visible) seem to support the allegation that he is not exactly a nonpartisan figure.

A clean campaign pledge, regardless of who you signed it with, is a clean campaign pledge. However, the statements by Mr. Bangert can hardly be construed as coming from a balanced source to judge whether an ad is negative or not in the light of such revelations. As discussed in an earlier post, the ad is factually correct even if the facts it cites are not things flattering to Hill. It is a bit much to expect Mike Sodrel's ads to flatter Baron Hill, and vice versa.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Campaign Ad Fingerpointing

Baron Hill's campaign has accused the Sodrel camp of breaking a pledge to avoid negative campaigning (at the Courier-Journal and at the News and Tribune). The charge revolves around a recent Sodrel ad that concludes by terming Hill "liberal" and noting that Hill went to Washington to work for a big lobbying firm after he was voted out of office last time around. It also says Hill voted to send jobs overseas, probably a reference to the former Democrat Congressman's vote in favor of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China (where a lot of manufacturing jobs have gone).

Having seen the ad, I think this is a case of "thou dost protest too much" when it comes to the Hill complaint. If the ad is negative, it is the mildest negative ad that I have ever seen. It is factually correct. Hill did vote for PNTR, has personally avowed himself as liberal, and did go to work for a large lobbying firm in Washington after his defeat. Hill was not a lobbyist, it is true, but the ad does not say that he was. Hill threatened to sue anyone that slandered or libeled him during the campaign, and I do not see him getting a lawyer. The ad is correct on all counts.

The commercial itself is nothing of great note. It is not up there with Mitch McConnell's infamous "hound dog" ads in terms of effectiveness, nor is it as negative as a lot of the stuff seen in other races in prior years (or even this race last go around). Sodrel might as well accuse Hill of going negative because liberal groups have been smearing him as being a tool of big oil companies for a year. Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Better not be in a glass house when throwing rocks.

Both campaigns want the meager moral high ground of the other guy being the first to "go negative." Hill is now trying to claim that ground, so as to justify running his own negative ads. Why? Because it is a sad and terrible truth that negative ads work.

Maybe the waiting arsenals of negative ads prepared by both campaigns are better and more effective than those commercials I have seen thus far. Sodrel's ad is a disappointment, reflecting positively on Sodrel's time as a businessman and then adding, almost as an afterthought, "Oh, and Baron Hill is LIBERAL and worked for a LOBBYING FIRM." Baron's commercial, with him standing next to a fence, tanned (perhaps fakely) red-orange like the Great Pumpkin, prattling about honesty, traditional marriage, faith, and how special interests have too much power is also rather lacking.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Sodrel Least Vulnerable of the Endangered Hoosier GOP Trio?

The Rothenberg Political Report has become the second source to indicate Mike Sodrel as the least vulnerable of the incumbents in Indiana's three seriously contested Congressional races.

Their reasoning behind this is interesting. For the Sodrel campaign, it is a potent and useful argument to cite that voters threw Baron Hill out of office once before. I've not thought of that as much of an advantage for Sodrel outside of its basic campaign utility until now, however. This is not a year for incumbency having many virtues.

Meanwhile, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball rates Indiana's 8th and 9th Congressional districts as toss-ups. Chocola, up in the 2nd District, is in a race rated as leaning Republican. Sabato is discounting recent polling somewhat. It's probably too soon to say whether Chocola is finished or not anyway.

The Beltway Boys, on Fox News, rate the Sodrel-Hill match as something of an election night bellwether in their Saturday show. The mention was brief. I'll try to edit in the transcript if I can remember later.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Copying-and-Pasting Press Releases?

I happened to see an article on The News and Tribune website (and possibly in one of the newspapers) comparing the records of Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel as it comes to energy. While the facts appear salient and valid, the material by "guest local columnist" Shell Law looks an awful lot like a press release put out via email by the Sodrel campaign a few days earlier.

Rarely do columnists or letters to the editor cite specific Congressional roll call votes in the same way that campaign statements and press releases do. This sort of calls attention to the apparent outright copying of the press release for the guest column.

Submitted for your consideration, the August 30 Sodrel press release and September 4 letter posted on the News and Tribune website. The resemblance is uncanny. Surely guest local columnists can do their own writing.

It is a popular thing (not to mention a good idea) for campaigns to get their supporters to write letters to the editor in support of their candidate. These letters give evidence of grassroots support and provide free newspaper space and favorable media attention in a beneficial way. In instances where the letters are contrived, it can be more astroturf than grassroots.

A guest local columnist for a paper copying a press release outright, however, is a problem for the newspaper and not a campaign.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

More on the Debate

Indiana 9 has two debate polls up on their site. They do not provide the number of respondents (unfortunately). One shows overwhelming support for multiple issue debates (so much for Hill pushing that in the debate itself). The other is currently split on whether Sodrel or Schansberg won the debate. Again, this proves mostly that Libertarian turnout in internet polls is unusually high.

I note that the Indiana 9 site does not allow for direct linking to individual polls or news items. The information I linked to on the debate yesterday, for example, has already disappeared. Hopefully they will alter their site format sometime soon to eliminate this issue.

As mentioned earlier, I watched the debate when it was replayed on Monday. When seen in its totality, I must slightly revise my view of its outcome, which was originally based on only seeing the last fifteen or so minutes; two questions and the closing statements.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates it still was not and none of those present would stand up to Question Time in the Westminster parliamentary system, but I found several things of note. Sodrel's closing statement, nonsensical by itself, makes sense and provides closure when taken together with his opening statement and some of his more frequent points in response to earlier questions. This makes the closing statement more effective and make more sense. It doesn't necessarily make it more powerful, but then Hill ruined his chance to exploit any weakness by launching into a sales pitch not for himself (the focus of a closing statement in a debate) but instead for one-topic debates.

During the summer, I received a number of calls from telephone polling groups. Republican pollsters asked skewed questions about whether terrorism, the war, tax cuts, or social issues were most important to voters in my household. Democratic pollsters asked similarly skewed questions about whether gas prices, health care, the war, or education were the most important.

Baron Hill certainly paid attention to those polls. They must have told him that gas prices were important in the minds of 9th District voters, because he hammered on that issue a lot. Gas prices always decline after the Labor Day holiday and decline over most of the fall until the holiday travel season kicks in around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were at their peak at the height of the summer driving season, when the polling was likely conducted. For these reasons, it seems unwise for Hill to place so much of his campaign emphasis on gas prices. When--for no doing of Sodrel's anyway--gas prices decline in the coming weeks as they historically always do, the salience of that as an issue will decrease in the minds of voters. All of Hill's focus in that area will go to waste.

Hill is not in an enviable position. He voted for the war, and his "I was snookered" line hardly engenders the sort of confidence in voters to make them want to send him to Washington again so that he can make yet more such (by his own admission) mistakes. The best issue, far and away, that Democrats (in Indiana and elsewhere) have is the war in Iraq. Gas prices will decrease as an issue in the coming weeks and months. The Iraq war is not going anywhere.

Anyway, if I was playing a drinking game based upon Hill making reference to "people all across the area" feeling this way or that way about a given issue when he talked to them, I would still be hung over. I wonder if Hill can actually remember the names of any of these people that told him these things. Citing the opinions of people you have met is ineffectual in political debates unless, like Bill Clinton did so well, you can remember specific individuals and facts about their unique situations. Otherwise, it comes across as weak and shallow. Hill did too much of this. Similarly, if I played a drinking game based upon Schansberg agreeing with everyone, or citing economic theory (surprise), I would also be in trouble.

On seeing the whole debate, I must revise my view of the outcome. Sodrel seems to have marginally outperformed Hill as he has in the past (which seems confirmed in the limited polling of the admittedly limited viewership of the debate). Schansberg was certainly more effective than the Libertarian candidate in the 2004 election.

Hill would do well to shift his focus away from things like gas prices given their likely coming seasonal decline, and instead focus on how relatively little Congress has accomplished in the past two years. He could focus on the war, if he had not voted for it and could get past his rather inadequate excuses for it. Fortunately, the wind is at his back this year.

Sodrel would do well to put more emphasis on Hill's career in politics and his time as a special interest lobbyist after he lost the 2004 election. Further emphasis by the Congressman on his trucking business and being a big buyer of gas would do much to deflect and eliminate Hill's attacks on energy policy. The air is likely to go out of the gas price argument balloon soon enough anyway.

Even on further viewing, I must retain my overall analysis of the race. It seems unlikely, if only for reasons of limited viewership and interest, that the debate changed anything. Advantage: Still Hill.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Good News for Sodrel?

The Indianapolis Star reports that former First Lady Barbara Bush (wife of the first president Bush) will be in Sellersburg on Saturday to do a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Mike Sodrel. The Congressman doesn't lack for fundraisers, or various Republicans to come in and help him fundraise. Barbara Bush is certainly a relatively popular figure, though I doubt a fundraiser at someone's house is likely to get much press or help Sodrel much in campaign terms beyond the benefit of additional money (which, I suppose, is not to be underestimated in a race this close).

What Sodrel really needs, and what would help both his coffers and his reelection campaign, is to get some popular high-profile Republicans to come in and do events and fundraisers for him. Rallies would be more useful later in the campaign season; fundraisers would be better earlier. A visit by the President won't help Sodrel much given opinions of him in southern Indiana these days, but high-publicity visits by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Arizona Senator John McCain almost certainly would. Both are probably running for president in 2008 and thus looking to garner support among Republican candidates by helping out this year.

Previously, I noted that The Fix, the Washington Post's political blog, rated the 9th District as the seventh most likely to change in the country. They now rate it as the twelfth most likely to change, down from sixth in recent weeks. Hostettler, in IN-08, has moved to fifth from tenth. Chocola, up in IN-02, is now sixth most likely to change, appearing on the listing for the first time. Previously, I would have rated Sodrel the most vulnerable of these Republican incumbents. Even in a bad year for Republicans, he should be the most vulnerable of the endangered Republican incumbents in the Hoosier state. It is curious that his position is improving as others worsen.

As a side note, a Courier Journal poll shows (as of my posting this) that 24% of 218 respondents thought that Hill won the debate. 28% of the 218 thought Sodrel won. Almost 30% thought Schansberg won. The polling sample is too small to be indicative of much, other than that most Libertarians in the 9th District have already voted in the poll.

I watched the replay of the debate this evening. I'll blog my thoughts on that later.

More 9th District Debates?

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener reports in her weekly column that neither Hill nor Sodrel is budging on their format preference for debates in the 9th District race. As noted, the debate is now available from WTIU as a streaming video feed.

If streaming doesn't work for you, or if you just prefer to limit video of politicians to your television, the debate will also be aired on Monday night at 7, and again at 8, by Indiana 9 in Floyd County. For locals in much of Southern Indiana, this is Insight Cable channel 98.

As noted at the above url for Indiana 9, both Sodrel and Schansberg have apparently agreed to participate in another debate on October 1. Hill has not yet agreed, and we will probably be treated to a repeat of the prior debate format tantrum by the Democratic candidate if the Republican and Libertarian candidates insist upon the same multi-topic debate format.

Heaven forbid that candidates have to prep for more than one topic before a debate.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

9th District Debate, Round 1 of ?

Back from the abyss...

The Lincoln-Douglas debates it was not, but the candidates for Indiana's 9th District race have had their first debate for the 2006 election. You can read all about it at the Courier-Journal, the Indiana Daily Student, and (lefty slant warning) Deny My Freedom.

Thanks to confusion on the starting time (I, of course, must blame Mitch Daniels for this; I know he is somehow responsible, I just don't know how), I missed most of the debate and got to see only the last two questions and the closing statements on the WTIU streaming live video feed. I hope that WTIU will provide a streaming video feed; if they do I will watch the whole thing over the weekend.

The debate was held behind closed doors, most (if not a very large majority) of the 9th District cannot get WTIU, and it was not broadcast by anyone else that I know of. Given that the debate was held on a Thursday night in such relative secrecy, its likely impact will be minimal. Most voters will judge the debate by reading about it or seeing limited clips on the 11 o'clock news; the Friday evening news is less watched still, because it is Friday. These were the same conditions under which the first and only debate was held last year, and the only conditions under which both parties could agree to debate.

The irony of this is that, in 2004, it was Baron Hill that demanded--and got--such a limited debate format. In 2004, it was also Sodrel that wanted to debate and Hill that sought to avoid it and minimize its impact at all costs. Now, it seems that the positions of both have reversed in more than just their titles. Sodrel is no Lincoln, and Hill is no Douglas. Both are mediocre debaters at best. Schansberg, his stereotypical academic appearance aside, frequently managed to score surprisingly well in comparison to the two of them.

In 2004, Sodrel marginally outperformed Hill (at least from my perspective). And while I only saw two of the ten questions, I think that Hill nominally outperformed Sodrel this time. On the gay marriage question, the normally straight-talking small-government Sodrel--after the promising start of the usual Republican line of decrying judicial activism--trumpeted Federal authority over the states. This runs to the counter of the states' rights angle that Republicans have adopted as their foundation for almost half a century, and highlights the reliance Sodrel is placing on religious conservatives in November. Schansberg, while noting he was religious, could at least marginally square that circle. Hill launched onto a tangent by talking about his own marriage and decrying the politicization of the issue.

Sodrel's performance may have been considerably better in the earlier portions of the debate; even the Deny My Freedom account indicates as much. I was underwhelmed with the portions that I did see, given his reputation as a pretty straight shooter. Hill was as expected. Sodrel's closing statement, which appeared to be read from a prepared text (these were apparently allowed under the rules, as Schansberg is clearly visible referring to notes at various times), was slightly fumbling and did little to provide a powerful finish. Fortunately for Sodrel, Hill squandered his chance to have a powerful close by instead launching into a memorized stunt monologue calling for more "one topic only" debates.

It was an ironic evening. Sodrel clearly benefited from the limited forum that Hill demanded in 2004. Hill, in turn, lost this time around by flip-flopping to want more debates and by wasting his closing statement calling for them. It seems unlikely that the debate changed anything in the race. Hill will likely retain his nominal lead. Sodrel did not challenge it, and Hill did not lose it. Advantage: Still Hill.