Stories by Fred Bauer

Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.  He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Why O’Donnell Isn’t the New Scott Brown

September 24th, 2010 at 2:19 pm 26 Comments

I have a few doubts about the electoral applicability of comparisons between Scott Brown and Christine O’Donnell. Yes, they’re both outsiders with gumption (or so we’re told), but the challenge Scott Brown faced in Massachusetts in January is quite different from the one that O’Donnell faces in Delaware in November.

It’s true that Brown was considered a long-shot candidate, but take a look at his favorability rating in this early January 2010 Boston Globe poll (which showed him trailing Democrat Martha Coakley by 15 points): 44% favorable/25% unfavorable, with 23% who were uncertain. That’s a +19 net favorability rating. Brown’s public image was mostly positive; he needed to prove his competitiveness and to become a more familiar presence to voters.

Take a look at O’Donnell’s numbers from some recent polls. Fox News: 33% of Delaware voters view her to be qualified to serve as senator while 60% think she’s unqualified. That’s a -27 net rating. PPP: 29% favorable / 50% unfavorable. -21 net rating.

To point out these statistics is not to talk down O’Donnell’s chances in the general election but to note that she has a very different strategic imperative. While voters in Massachusetts were generally favorable and open to Brown, a majority of Delaware voters are actively hostile to O’Donnell. Opinion is not unformed about her (as in Brown’s case) but instead has soured against her candidacy.

O’Donnell will need to fight to reverse the media narrative that’s grown up around her. Outreach—to Castle’s people, to independents, to the media–is going to be crucial.

With that in mind, one might have a few misgivings about her decision to avoid any national television interviews for the rest of the campaign. The 2008 election is instructive in this regard. By mostly keeping Palin in a media bubble after her debut as vice-presidential candidate, the McCain camp indirectly helped solidify Palin’s image as a Tina Fey “I can see Russia from my house” caricature. It’s understandable for the O’Donnell team to want to avoid a media feeding frenzy, but her campaign should be wary of a similar fate befalling her.

Her campaign has suggested that O’Donnell’s going to be pursuing local news organizations. She should be. She should also be getting out there with the voters (which she seems to be doing)—even in less-than-friendly territory. O’Donnell’s accumulated something like a $2 million war chest. That spending should help, too, but blanketing the airwaves with advertisements will only do so much good. For O’Donnell to win in Delaware, she will need voters to view her as more than a “conservative” firebrand.

As William Jacobson says, it might be too early to count O’Donnell out of the race. But she does have a lot of work to do, and there are plenty of other Senate races for those on the right to keep an eye on.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

GOP Shows Signs of Life in Washington State

September 21st, 2010 at 1:30 am 7 Comments

SurveyUSA has two polls that suggest some possible pick-up opportunities for the GOP in Washington.

In WA-03, Republican Jaime Herrera leads Democrat Danny Heck by nine points (52-43) in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Baird. Herrera’s numbers have been slipping a little bit, though, so she’ll have to keep fighting for that seat to ensure a win on Election day. A multicultural coalition backs Herrera; it remains to be seen if this coalition can hold together for a win.

WA-09 has some surprisingly good news for the GOP: Republican Dick Muri lags only three points behind 14-year incumbent Democrat Adam Smith (46-49). Prior to this poll, many analysts had ranked this as a “safe” Democratic seat. Muri’s lagging big-time in fund-raising; a little cash might tip the race in his favor.

If WA-09 is starting to swing the GOP’s way, it could have implications for the closely-contested Washington Senate race. These numbers might also be a sign of further deterioration—even in previously safe districts—of the Democratic brand. If these challengers can pull off these victories and Washington’s three Republican incumbent representatives can hold on to their seats, the GOP stands to capture the majority of Washington’s House districts.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

The Case for Castle

September 12th, 2010 at 12:29 am 20 Comments

As the Delaware Republican primary campaign heats up, I thought I would put forward five claims in defense of Mike Castle:

Two out of three ain’t bad. He supported the Bush tax cuts, he rejected time tables for withdrawals from Iraq, he opposed Obamacare, he opposed the stimulus, etc. etc. etc. Has he always stood with Republicans in the House? Certainly not. But has he stood with them on many important issues? You bet. Yes, he backed cap-and-trade, but how likely is that measure to pass, if it can’t get out of the Senate now, at the high-water mark of Democratic strength? His Second Amendment record has been mixed, but the courts have weakened the ability of Congress to undercut the right to bear arms, and it doesn’t seem like the gun issue is one Democrats want to take on right now. He has a lifetime American Conservative Union Score of 52; for this year, it’s 56. Is that a hard-right score? No. But it’s hardly a dyed-in-the-wool far-leftist score.

Experience has its benefits. Mike Castle has served in government for over forty years. He has great experience in legislative maneuvering, a virtue not to be discounted. If Republicans do regain control of Congress in 2010, they will need more than people who can spout talking points: they will need people who can skillfully craft and interpret legislation. Competence in management will be crucial for a renewal of Republican and conservative fortunes. The electoral failures of 2006 and 2008 were in part driven by the earlier political and policy failures of Republican legislators and administration officials. Legislative policy is a complex issue, and having elected officials who can navigate that complexity will be key for advancing conservative aims.

Diversity is a good thing. There are some people who wish for a Senate with 100 Jim DeMints. This writer is not one of them. No disrespect is intended here for the senator from South Carolina, who has been a strong force in the Republican caucus; I might merely suggest that any political coalition is enriched by a variety of perspectives. A radical search for purity in politics often leads to intellectual staleness. I might not agree with Castle on many issues, but his is still a voice worth having in the Republican chorus.

Moderation can be a virtue. Especially in the legislative realm, achieving success often depends upon reaching across the aisle. One of the things that made Obamacare so unusual was that, as a major reform, it was basically a monopartisan measure. Throughout U.S. history, big reforms often require backing from both parties. Especially since the Republicans are a long way from 60 votes in the Senate, they will need Democratic support if they want to pass major legislation. Castle’s position in the middle — with allies in both parties — could make him a helpful powerbroker in the Senate.

Electability matters. Castle’s electability is often a subtext in defenses of him from the right side of the blogosphere. (I would guess that online defenders of him would become a much rarer breed if he rather than O’Donnell were lagging 10+ points behind the Democrat.) And there really is no doubt about his electability. He was a very popular governor and has been a very popular member of the House. The only reason why analysts are tipping the race the way of Republicans is because of Mike Castle. Even many of O’Donnell’s partisans have admitted that an O’Donnell victory in the primary might easily lead to a Republican loss in the general election.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm

Can Christie Stop the Tea Party’s Next Upset?

September 5th, 2010 at 7:44 am 10 Comments

The blogosphere’s been buzzing for the past few days about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s endorsement of Mike Castle. This is a huge get for Castle, as Christie is a grass-roots folk hero for many on the right. Christie’s endorsement reveals a few interesting things about the New Jersey governor and the dynamic of the (now escalating) Delaware Republican Senate primary race.

  • Christie knows what it takes to win as a Republican in Democratic-leaning states. Christie’s been able to fight hard for conservative causes in New Jersey, but he knows when not to go too far. In his epic budget battle, Christie pressed Democrats in the state legislature to the breaking point and won. Part of Christie’s success depended upon picking battles. Though Christie has a huge fan base among the deeply Republican parts of the blogosphere, he realizes that, to use the somewhat hackneyed phrase, politics is the art of the possible.
  • This endorsement advances Christie as a national figure. Many big-name Republicans (such as Sarah Palin) have stayed out of this primary campaign, giving Christie an opportunity. Christie’s popularity amongst conservatives gives him a valuable opportunity to reach out and advocate on behalf of moderate Republicans; with a reputation of being a rock-ribbed conservative, Christie can deflect claims that he’s a treacherous RINO sellout. Moderate Republicans could be a key voting bloc were Christie to make a bid for higher office. Especially if Castle wins the general election (a very good bet) after winning the primary, this endorsement will burnish Christie’s record of picking winners.
  • Christie knows Castle is a strong candidate in the general election. He’s led in polls since the beginning of this race. He’s won race after race after race in Delaware. This looks like the first real chance for Republicans to gain a Senate seat in Delaware since Republican incumbent Bill Roth lost in 2000 to Tom Carper. Roth wasn’t exactly a fire-breathing right-winger, but he was an ally of fiscal conservatives and was key in putting forward a number of important reforms, including the tax cuts of 1981.
  • Republicanism in the mid-Atlantic states has taken a beating over the decade or so and may have reached its nadir in 2006. Castle’s election as senator would help rebuild the fortunes of Eastern Seaboard Republicans, a group that could use all of the support it can get. For Republicans to create an enduring majority that can accomplish long-lasting reforms, it will be crucial for them to have significant presences in all regions of the country. Look at the current Democratic majority in the House and Senate: it draws from every part of the country, from the West Coast to the South to the interior West to the Northeast. To get big numbers in the Senate, which will be key for passage of many important reforms, Republicans will need not only a deep but a broad well of potential support.

Increasing acrimony in this race could be damaging to Republican fortunes in the general. Castle’s circulation of Christie’s endorsement may be an attempt to shut down the rising anti-Castle sentiment before it gets too virulent.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Tea Party Aims for a Delaware Upset

August 31st, 2010 at 10:31 am 4 Comments

The Hill, Politico, and others are reporting that the Tea Party Express is taking aim at Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), as he campaigns for the Republican nomination for Senate in Delaware. As the Hill puts it

The Tea Party Express, which spent some $600,000 on Alaska Republican Joe Miller’s primary challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), says it’s preparing to do the same on behalf of Christine O’Donnell (R) in Delaware.

O’Donnell is challenging Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) from the right in the state’s Sept. 14 Senate primary, but she has yet to capture the same kind of attention from conservative activists as other Tea Party-backed candidates have this cycle.

Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said Monday that his organization is already cutting TV and radio ads in Delaware and expects to be on the air by the end of the week. Russell said he hopes to match the support the group offered in GOP primaries in Utah, Nevada and Alaska this year.

This may not be the most strategic spending on behalf of the Tea Party Express. Delaware ain’t Alaska or Utah or Nevada. Alaska and Utah are about as Republican as you get, and Nevada isn’t too far behind. The last time Delaware voted for a Republican presidential contender was 1988. Delaware is a territory where centrism is a key political qualifier for Republican aspirants to statewide office.

And Mike Castle has a record of proven success in Delaware. He’s been winning statewide elections since the 1980s, and has served since 1993 as the state’s only member in the House. Though his record might not be what some of the most conservative Republicans in the country dream about, Castle has proven a fairly loyal Republican and has stood with the party on many (not all) big issues.

Do you know whom Mike Castle would be a lot more conservative than? Democratic nominee Chris Coons. Castle has led Coons in polls taken throughout the year with huge margins.

O’Donnell? Most polls have shown her double digits behind Coons.

There’s definitely a place for O’Donnell in Delaware Republican politics, but gambling on her candidacy may be too big a risk for Republicans in 2010. With Castle, this seat could be close to a guaranteed pickup. With O’Donnell, this race would definitely lean heavily in the favor of Democrats. If Republicans were going into this election with close to fifty seats, it would be one thing to think about gambling in Delaware. But right now Republicans have a long, long way to go to 51 seats. They are in no position to turn their backs on a relatively safe candidate.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Is the Senate Broken?

August 5th, 2010 at 8:15 am 7 Comments

George Packer has an interesting article up at the New Yorker about the (supposedly) broken Senate. Packer’s article assumes that the Senate is horribly, horribly broken, and that assumption colors the whole piece, but he does provide a number of details about the legislative process in the contemporary Senate.

Though some on the left might take this piece as another demonstration of the need to get rid of the filibuster, the filibuster doesn’t actually take center stage in this article. Indeed, many of the procedural problems the Senate now faces (and it does face some problems of that nature) stem from increased partisan animosities, which cause members of both sides to derail debates and appointments using heretofore obscure procedural moves. Indeed, the attempt on the “progressive” front to destroy the filibuster is itself a symptom of these increased animosities, as a temporarily reigning left-wing majority tries to break any hope of minority resistance.

I think the despairing final paragraph of Packer’s article results from a kind of confusion:

The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and healthcare, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.

There seems to be a presumption here that the Senate should be doing something on these issues. The desire for a government capable of responding to national issues is a laudable one. However, sometimes putting forth no plan for certain types of reforms is better than putting together a very bad one. Many of the policy positions of the current Democratic leadership and the president are both unpopular (see the latest polling for Obama on immigration, for example) and have undesirable results.

The Senate can certainly “address” these issues if “addressing” means passing legislation about it. On plenty of these measures, a centrist majority could easily be found; left-wing insistence and right-wing resistance has thus far prevented action on a number of these issues. This lack of action may, especially from a conservative perspective, be desirable, and there is no reason for members of the center-right to cede their convictions to left-wing radicalism. Compromise is only worth so much.

If “addressing” means solving these issues, that’s a much taller order. Certainly, the Senate did “address” job creation issues when it passed the stimulus. Its success in doing so has fallen far below the initial estimates of the president and his allies. The successful addressing of issues depends upon having effective ideas that are capable of gaining popular support. Perhaps unfortunately for the republic, no easy procedural mechanisms will ensure that these ideas rise to the top.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Why the Filibuster is Here to Stay

July 30th, 2010 at 6:30 am 8 Comments

This Hill story on fractured Democratic opposition to the filibuster reveals that many Democrats (of all ideological stripes) are defenders of this senatorial prerogative; at least ten members of the 59-member caucus are willing to express public reservations about allowing 51 votes to rule the Senate absolutely. Considering how hostile many “progressive” activists and commentators are to the filibuster, it would not be surprising to find that other members of the Democratic caucus are secret sympathizers to the filibuster, which protects minority rights in the Senate and helps ensure that a temporary narrow majority cannot steamroll all opposition. Many Democrats praised the filibuster during the Bush years and were able to use it to ward off Bush administration proposals.

But there’s more to this story about the filibuster. Even if opponents of the filibuster do not have the votes to kill it, they believe that they have much to gain by threatening to kill it. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) are among the leaders of a movement to destroy the filibuster with a so-called “constitutional option,” a movement talked up by Ezra Klein. Here’s the potential game plan for the exercise of this “option”:

If Vice President Joe Biden — who has spoken out against abuse of the filibuster and has been studying ways to reform it — were to rule on the first day of the next session that the Senate has the authority to write its own rules, Republicans would immediately move to object. Democrats would then move to table the objection, setting up the key vote. If 50 Democrats voted to table the objection, the Senate would then move to a vote on a new set of rules, which would be approved by a simple majority.

The simple act of holding the vote would have a therapeutic effect on the Senate even if it fails, said Udall, as it would inspire fear that abuse of the rules could lead to their destruction.

The point here is not that opponents of the filibuster believe that they can succeed; they only need to appear to believe that they can succeed. This appearance of success could intimidate believers in the filibuster to try to cut a deal to save the procedure.

Of course, the use of this option could easily open Democrats up to this narrative: having taken a beating in the 2010 Senate races, Democrats now change the rules to make it easier for them to pass legislation. Assuming that the midterms do result in significant gains for the Republicans (not exactly a ludicrous assumption), the public momentum would seem to be against the Democrats. This kind of rule-changing could easily seem a desperate move to grab as much power as possible in the waning days of “progressive” ascendancy.

While many “progressives” would be glad to push through the most radical measures possible on a 51-vote margin (or maybe even a margin of 50-50 plus tie-breaking vote by the VP), many Americans hold a contrary view that, if a measure can’t achieve broad bipartisan support, maybe it really isn’t that moderate and that maybe moderation is, after all, a good thing. And many of the bills the Democrats most blame the filibuster for blocking are quite unpopular. Many voters might not see the filibuster as frustrating but as defending popular sentiment.

Because the filibuster protects the minority — no matter who this minority is — it provides many advantages to a senator over the long term. Yeah, it might frustrate a few measures, but sometimes that partial frustration is a building block for good governance (see checks and balances). Defenders of the filibuster should not lose heart—and certainly should not roll over for some blustering political intimidation.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Making Government Smarter

July 23rd, 2010 at 12:43 pm 16 Comments

While Americans maintain a healthy skepticism about the size of a centralized federal government, order they also have aspirations for this government. The eternal grousing about governmental waste and incompetence is an indirect proof of these aspirations; they complain because they expect, diagnosis or at least wish, their government to be effective. Because the United States is a democratic republic, many Americans look upon the federal government as one vehicle for achieving their ends of happiness.

It is a fact of politics that public opinion about the individual leaders of a given political movement shapes public opinion about the principles of that movement. Since the public is deeply alienated by administrative incompetence, it is important, as a matter of practice and of holding power, for the leadership of this movement to be competent—and not merely competent in winning elections, but competent in governing. The seeds of many an electoral defeat are sown by an incumbent’s very own policies.

There are two important components of competence in government: knowing the effects of various policies and being able to respond appropriately in moments of crisis. While the world is complex enough that we cannot know all the implications of a given policy (this complexity is a strong argument for a skepticism about top-down masterplans), being able to evaluate the broad or immediate effects of a policy is key for successful government. So many policy debates are questions of agency—which policy details will most effectively achieve our ends? For example, if we’re looking to stimulate the economy, what is the best way to do that—through government spending programs, payroll tax holidays, targeted subsidies, etc.?

Despite what some technocrats may wish, politics is not solely about debating the best way to achieve certain aims. It is also about discussing what ends are worth achieving and what limits we should place on ourselves in order to achieve these ends. But knowing how our actions will affect our search for our chosen ends is a key component of achieving these ends. It can be said that many of the negative results of the policies of the Bush administration (excesses and shortcomings in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, the financial crisis, the buffeting of the middle class) were not sought for, but these policy failures did not bode well for the Republican party or for small-government thinking.

The ability to respond well in moments of crisis may seem merely a specialized application of a general sense of competence, yet, in politics and as much else, making the transition from general theory to practical application can be a considerable jump. Responding effectively to a crisis places especial weight upon the ability to make use of civic powers with speed and insight. This response involves projecting a complex and partially unstable mix of calmness, energy, passion, and technical skill. Leadership at moments of crisis can make a president or break him. The contrast between the performances of President Bush on 9/11 and during the aftermath of Katrina in 2005 is instructive in this regard. The first elevated his presidency; the second hardened narratives about administrative incompetence and helped cripple his second term. President Obama’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf has undercut his narrative of effectiveness and has no doubt not helped his poll numbers.

Crisis places particular burdens upon the structure of an administration’s decision-making process. Can an administration succeed in getting a diversity of expert opinions? Can it then succeed in synthesizing these opinions in a workable action plan? Does it have appropriate figures in the chain of decision making, linking the Oval Office to boots on the ground? Can it shape a media narrative of adversity and effective response rather than one of incompetence and back-pedaling?

It is easy to dismiss questions of administrative competence in the face of ideological demands. But, on balance, it is probably better to have serving in office those who broadly agree with certain political principles and are competent legislators/administrators/etc. than to have those who can tick off all the key points of dogma without any sense of how to get things done—in Washington, in state capitals, or in local offices. The fact of the matter is that the United States has a huge and complex federal government; state governments are also huge and complex. Skill and probity in running this government serve as key political qualifiers.

Good government and small government can be complementary. Ronald Reagan did not only come into Washington pledging to cut the size of government; he also came to restore the faith of Americans in the capacity of the federal government to work, to be managed, and to manage. While some may pose a theoretical opposition between the aim of small government and that of effective government, in practice the two aims often reinforce each other. A government that seems efficient does not need to arrogate more powers to itself. Confidence in American institutions so often leads to increased confidence in the action of one’s fellow Americans (and vice versa), a confidence that is key to maintaining an authentically liberal society.

Governmental efficiency and decentralization complement each other in another way. Often, decentralization is itself the most efficient way to run a government. The flexibility that decentralization brings can, in many circumstances, allow an institution or a set of institutions to respond more effectively to on-the-ground facts.

The details of government matter; politics is about means as well as ends. As the GOP seeks to regain power in 2010 and beyond, competence in administration and in legislative design will be key for both electoral and governmental success.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm

Burr Faces Tough Fight

July 14th, 2010 at 4:44 pm 2 Comments

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr is often listed as one of the most vulnerable Republican Senate incumbents. Unfortunately for Burr, recent polling underlines the danger he could be in.

While he does lead his Democratic opponent, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, by ten points, a 46-36 race isn’t exactly comfortable territory for an incumbent. Burr’s 28/27 favorable/unfavorable rating isn’t great news, either. Marshall has a 25/12 rating. She is a lower profile figure right now, so public opinion could change once the race heats up.

The example of 2008 might only stoke the anxieties of Burr supporters even more. Incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole led her Democratic challenger Kay Hagan in the beginning of 2008, but she never got much above 50%. By the end of the summer, Hagan had gained a lead, and she ended up ousting Dole 52-44.

Burr has a number of advantages going into this race: money, the Democratic Congress, and Barack Obama. He maintains a healthy fund-raising lead over Marshall, and the voters of North Carolina are exasperated with the performance of Congress and the president. Only 36% approve of Obama’s performance; 45% disapprove. If Burr can make the case that a vote for Marshall is a vote for the current powers-that-be on Capitol Hill and in the White House, he could end up with a strong win.

A warning to Burr, though: don’t get too negative. The viciousness of Dole’s attack ads on Hagan may have helped boost Hagan’s support in the closing days of 2008. The types of voters that Burr needs the most to improve his image with (women, self-described moderates, independents) are perhaps the ones most likely to be turned off by over-the-top attack ads. Burr will need to walk a fine line between rousing his own supporters while winning over voters in the middle.

This is a race Republicans can win. A loss by Burr would be crushing to Republican hopes of regaining the Senate. The political environment of 2010 is not that of 2008. If Burr can make the most of this change, he can look forward to another six years in the Senate.

Originally posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Byrd’s Seat Up For Grabs

July 12th, 2010 at 4:06 pm 4 Comments

There seems to be a slightly growing underground sentiment that it is not worth running a serious Republican candidate against likely Democratic candidate Gov. Joe Manchin in the likely special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. A Rasmussen poll showing Manchin leading Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) 53-39 would seem, according to this sentiment, to be proof of the folly of running against Manchin.

It seems to me that it would be a considerable strategic blunder for Republicans not to contest this seat. West Virginia is hugely favorable territory for a Republican pick-up. Republican presidential candidates have won the state for the last three presidential elections; Bush and McCain each won it by about 13 points in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Though West Virginia has a long tradition of supporting Democrats, and Democrats still dominate in many state and local offices, the state is deeply dissatisfied with the current status quo in Washington, DC. Obama’s approval rating? 35%, according to multiple polling outfits.

It’s true that Manchin is hugely popular in West Virginia, but he can still be tied to the national Democratic party. While his approval rating sits at the sky-high value of 80%, he at the moment seems only able to muster 53% against Capito. This number suggests that voters are capable of approving of him as governor without backing him for Senate. A Republican candidate for Senate could build on that sentiment.

And healthcare is definitely an electoral albatross that Republicans can hang around his neck. 67% of West Virginia voters want healthcare “reform” repealed. In March of 2010, Manchin indicated that he supported passing Obamacare. He will no doubt try to run away from that position now by emphasizing his various objections to the healthcare bill, but the fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, he supported passing a bill that 67% of WV voters now want repealed. He is also on record as being very open to a “public option.”

Let’s look again at the 53-39 match-up of Manchin and Capito. First of all, that’s only a 14-point deficit for the Republican. Manchin’s lead is hardly insurmountable; consider how much races in California, Florida, Massachusetts, etc. have swung around in the polling. Secondly, he’s pulling this lead against a member of Congress whose district only encompasses about a third of the state’s voters. Manchin starts off with a much higher public profile, but he’s not exactly running away with this race. Capito has plenty of space for her candidacy to grow. She has a 59% approval rating, with 8% of voters being unsure about her. Opinion about Capito does not seem fixed on a statewide level. Only 11% of voters view her very unfavorably; 23% view her somewhat unfavorably, so she could probably push some of those voters over into the favorable column.

In the probable election to come, Manchin will try to dance away from the Obama agenda (citing his objections to cap-and-trade, etc.). But Republicans can tie him to this agenda. The passage of the health-care bill was just one instance of supposedly “independent” Democrats marching to the White House’s tune; every single Democrat in the Senate voted for Obamacare.

If the GOP is serious about retaking the Senate, it needs to put serious effort into every single seat that has even the remotest potential of flipping. West Virginia is no place to surrender before the fight begins.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm