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Happy New Year 2010
12-30-2009
It has been a tough year for President Obama, but he still has another three years to write his political future. As we bid farewell to 2009, technically an off year for elections, get ready for the pace to quicken dramatically in the coming months. We’ll have competitive primaries in several statewide races next year, with multiple candidates lining up for a chance to compete in critical races for the U.S. House and Senate next November. These contests will garner tremendous amounts of national attention, among the most intense of any races in the country, and I will be here to provide my best analysis and commentary for you, as we follow them together.
 
Before you know it, we will be through the November midterm elections and right back into the next presidential election cycle. I remember the day after the 2006 midterm elections I spent the morning doing wrap-up analysis for various media outlets, but by the afternoon the media conversation had already shifted almost completely to speculation on what was in store for the next New Hampshire Primary.
 
I imagine that it will be no different this time, so I hope you will stick around and come along for the ride. Thanks to all of you for making 2009 the biggest year yet for NHPoliticalCapital.com. After a few days away to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, I’ll be back here on Tuesday, January 5th to hit the ground running. Be safe, and Happy New Year. See you soon. -Dean
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Communication Breakdown, It's Always the Same
12-29-2009
Back when we were talking about who would get the Supreme Court vacancy now filled by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one name that kept popping up on various insider lists of potential nominees was Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.  Media types and political observers cited President Obama’s desire to appoint someone from outside of academia and the bench to the Supreme Court, and they noted his close relationship with Napolitano, one based on a great deal of mutual admiration and trust.
 
At the time, I wrote that I thought her nomination was a real long shot. I based this conclusion not on an assessment of her legal qualifications, but on the shaky start to her tenure as Homeland Security chief, especially in the eyes of Senate Republicans who would be voting on her confirmation to the court. Since that time back in May, I have continued to hear political observers talk about Napolitano as having the inside track on the next Supreme Court vacancy to come the Obama Administration’s way.
 
If there is any truth to those rumors, my guess is that Napolitano’s performance over the weekend, in the wake of the failed airline terrorist attack, will likely put the whole issue to rest. Napolitano’s the system worked comment on the Sunday morning talk shows has already been memorialized as a classic in misguided bureaucracy-speak. Even if she was actually fed the talking point by the White House, cabinet secretaries traditionally shoulder the blame for these kinds of systemic failures. So, I would be surprised to hear Napolitano mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee again in the future, even if she manages to keep her cabinet position.
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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 2009
12-22-2009
I will be away from the website for the rest of this week to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. I will be back on Tuesday, December 29th with new content for you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. See you soon. -Dean
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I Am...I Said
12-21-2009
This Howard Fineman interview provides a nice bookend to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s visit to New Hampshire last week. You may have also caught Pawlenty’s appearance on WMUR-TV’s Close Up. It has quickly become part of the governor’s media repertoire to joke about his low name recognition, but the Fineman interview has generated some additional attention for Pawlenty’s suggestion that the media’s obsession with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is crowding out coverage of other potential Republican presidential hopefuls (like him) who do not have her national profile.
 
There may be some truth to this, but it is hard to gauge from a print interview the extent to which the comment may have been a throwaway line delivered somewhat in jest. Still, as I have written previously, Pawlenty need not be in a rush to change this circumstance. As we get closer to starting up the next presidential election cycle in late 2010 and early 2011, media outlets will be eager for a fresh candidate storyline that doesn’t involve Sarah Palin or the return of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. For now, Pawlenty seems to be working the invisible primary at about the appropriate level of intensity. I’m not sure there is much to be gained at this early date from sharing national headlines with Palin.
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Invisible Primary, Invisible Candidates?
12-17-2009
A piece at RealClearPolitics uses the occasion of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s visit to New Hampshire on Wednesday to pose the question of why Republican presidential hopefuls seem more interested in visiting Iowa than the Granite State at this early point in the invisible primary. It is true that we are still way early in the process, but the fact that Pawlenty’s visit here to keynote a Republican fundraiser yesterday has garnered so much attention underscores the reality that we haven’t seen a lot of action yet.
 
I actually touched on the answer to this question in a post almost two weeks ago when I noted that movement conservatives appear highly mobilized by anger over the Republican Party’s performance in the 2008 elections and the perceived weakness of the party’s institutional elites in Washington. As a result, I suggested that potential Republican presidential candidates who believe they will play well with these conservatives could turn up early in places like Iowa and South Carolina in significant numbers, due to the dominance of social and religious conservatives in the selection process of those states.
 
New Hampshire will still get its fair share of visits from Republican presidential hopefuls over the next two years, but they may develop more in response to how Iowa is shaping up than is typically the case. New Hampshire would be the ideal place for a fiscally-conservative candidate to be positioned as the alternative to any candidate who emerges from Iowa with strong movement conservative backing. But given the party’s current internal dynamic, it may take a little bit longer than usual for that individual to find his or her way here.
 
Note: With much holiday merriment still to be had on this weekend before Christmas, I'm going to be away from posting until Monday.  See you then, if not at a local holiday gathering first. -Dean
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Agent Ovide
12-16-2009
I was engaged in my usual (schizophrenic) morning routine of toggling between NPR and conservative talk radio, when I stumbled upon Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne as guest on The Laura Ingraham Show. Ingraham introduced Lamontagne as a conservative rising star and agent of change in the Granite State. In fairness to Ingraham, she hasn’t actually lived in New Hampshire since she was a student at Dartmouth College in the early 1980s. Much to his credit, Lamontagne kept the maverick/outsider shtick to a minimum, instead focusing on his experience and credentials in state politics.
 
Lamontagne was understandably thrown off his game a bit, when Ingraham quite forcefully dismissed the experience/credentials argument, in favor of a singular focus on conservative values. When given a subsequent chance by Ingraham to whack his opponent, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, on these grounds, Lamontagne was less forceful than he probably would have liked, had he known in advance that this was where Ingraham was headed.
 
While Ingraham promised to also invite Ayotte onto the show (and to have Lamontagne back again), I took away two points from this initial encounter. First, the line on Ayotte among movement conservatives will likely be that she is a faux-conservative who is in cahoots with status quo-loving institutional elites in the Republican Party. Second, it remains to be seen whether Lamontagne’s primary challenge will benefit from any of the national energy generated by these movement conservatives, tea baggers, etc. Ingraham’s warm reception for Lamontagne at least holds out the potential for some spillover next year.
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Pawlenty's in the Armey Now
12-15-2009
You may already know that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is coming to New Hampshire tomorrow to keynote a Republican fundraiser in Concord. I have previously written that Pawlenty may be the one (currently visible) contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 who is well-positioned to bridge the gap between institutional elites and movement conservatives in the Republican Party. His ability to deliver conservative themes couched in a moderate demeanor could potentially resonate with right-leaning independents, as well.
 
I was a little surprised to read yesterday that former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey essentially concurs with my assessment of Pawlenty. In recent months, Armey has gained new, post-Congressional career notoriety for using his organization FreedomWorks to champion the tea bag movement. So, in a way, Armey may actually be thinking about Pawlenty from the perspective of both institutional elite and movement conservative. It is that kind of thinking that could help Pawlenty play broadly across the party.
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Pressing the Mute Button
12-14-2009
I wrote a couple of posts last week (here and here) about the potential for the 2012 presidential primary schedule to serve as the next big battle ground in the fight between institutional elites and movement conservatives for the soul of the Republican Party. As evidence of the potential for competitive candidate entrenchment in divergent states and regions, I recently came across this nugget from The National Journal’s annual Insiders Poll. When asked which voice in their party they would most like to mute, the first choice of 85 GOP strategists and insiders was former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
 
While we don’t know whether Sarah Palin will actually run for president, this response is nonetheless indicative of the larger schism existing in the Republican Party between its Washington political elites and the movement conservatives who are finding their voice elsewhere, with the tea bagger phenomenon and other grassroots organizations. I have noted previously that movement conservatives appear to have the upper hand at the moment, but many of the GOP strategists surveyed are used to operating the heavy machinery of Republican presidential campaigns, so they will likely move to reassert themselves at some point. There is always the chance that both sides could converge on the same candidate after a few contests, but we could also be in for a tremendous intra-party brawl.
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The Twenty-Second Amendment Notwithstanding
12-10-2009
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see some new polling place President Obama in a close head-to-head match-up with former President George W. Bush. It is an inevitable manifestation of the slide in public approval that presidents typically experience during their first year in office, when the rhetoric of campaigning hits the reality of governing. This particular poll, conducted by the firm Public Policy Polling, shows President Obama holding only a six point preference advantage over President Bush (50-44 percent). Public Policy Polling uses interactive voice response, the survey research equivalent of robo-calling, but the firm is affiliated with the Democratic Party and has been reasonably accurate in the past.
 
I find these kinds of hypothetical match-ups between presidents to be both fascinating and annoying at the same time. At a minimum, the current poll results speak to the ongoing polarization in our political culture, in which the country is split almost down the middle. But this particular type of hypothetical match-up also often evokes a grass is always greener reaction from survey respondents, one which underscores our collective tendency to idealize our own political history into a broadly acceptable narrative. Political observers (including me) have long expected President Bush to benefit from this process of revision, even with historically low approval ratings at the end of his second term. Imagine if they had included President Clinton in the match-ups.
 
Note: I will be back posting on Monday, December 14th. See you soon. -Dean
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Party Out of Bounds
12-09-2009
New polling data suggest that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is not particularly popular among New Hampshire Republicans. A plurality of Granite State Republicans polled believes that she is not qualified to serve as president (47 percent) and should not run for the Republican nomination (42 percent). This should not come as a great surprise to local political observers, as social and religious conservatives typically do not poll well in the Northeast, and especially in New England, where someone as polarizing as Palin would only exacerbate this trend.
 
But, given what I wrote yesterday about the coming conflict between institutional elites and movement conservatives in the Republican Party, these data underscore the potential for New Hampshire to take on even greater significance in the next presidential election cycle as the launching pad for the candidate who emerges as the party’s countervailing force against movement conservatism. Romney did well here in 2008, and he has quietly retooled in ways that dovetail nicely with this narrative, but it is of course way too early to know whether it would be Mitt v2.0 or someone who is not yet visible on New Hampshire’s political radar screen.
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Rick Redux
12-08-2009
Try as I might, I can’t pass up an article in which former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum talks about his presidential ambitions (and, as a bonus, Sarah Palin). I have written previously about Santorum in this context, as he is high on my list of media-mentioned Republican presidential hopefuls who will never be their party’s nominee. Having already visited Iowa in October, Santorum begins a two-day swing through another early state, South Carolina, today.
 
Still, I find Santorum’s newfound presidential ambition to be of particular interest as a symptom of increasing tensions in the Republican Party, between business and institutional elites on one hand, and movement conservatives (social and religious) on the other. Santorum, despite his years in Congress, clearly sees himself as fitting squarely in the latter camp, which is currently dominated by the Sarah Palin/Glen Beck/Tea Bagger ethos of traditional values and political alienation. Palin is his competition, hence the little some explaining to do jab he throws at her in the article.
 
With Republican institutional elites knocked back on their heels in recent months by a groundswell of anger among movement politicians, we may see the Republican presidential caucuses and primaries in places like Iowa and South Carolina populated with more social and religious conservatives like Santorum than we have seen in a long-time. At some point in the cycle, however, the party’s traditional elites will inevitably strike back, giving political observers a front-row seat at the pitched battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Santorum’s interest is an early harbinger of the conflict to come.
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Calendar Calisthenics
12-07-2009
An item over the weekend reminds us that for some national politicos, it is already time to start tinkering with the schedule for the 2012 presidential primary cycle. In this case, it is the Democratic National Committee hoping to avoid a reprise of the chaos and rancor that characterized the scheduling process in 2008.
 
Three key questions come to mind immediately. First, if (as the reporting suggests) Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina maintain their early positions outside of the contest window, will there be any attempt to reshuffle the order, particularly between New Hampshire and Nevada? Second, will the DNC be able to move the entire cycle back (February 1st is mentioned), so that the early contests don’t all occur shortly after New Year's Day? Third, can the DNC come up with an attractive incentive scheme to reverse the frontloading trend and spread the primaries and caucuses back out of bit?
 
The idea of regional groupings (usually mentioned in conjunction with rotation) has been kicking around for some time now. It is typically pitched as a means of instilling greater fairness between the states, and as a way to get Iowa and New Hampshire out of the lead-off slots. This current DNC proposal, however, seems to suggest that the groupings would not affect the pre-window states.
 
I must say that I am generally skeptical of the national parties’ ability to incentivize state-level scheduling behavior in a coherent and sustained fashion. But perhaps all of the key players were sufficiently chastened by the last cycle’s conflict to act with greater cohesion the next time around. Having an incumbent president running for reelection may also stabilize the process, at least for Democrats.
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Hard Times for Huckabee
12-03-2009
You can catch me this Sunday morning as a guest on WMUR-TV’s Close Up (Ch. 9, 10 a.m.). We will be discussing former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s uncertain political future, and its implications for the 2012 Republican presidential race. You can read my recent posts on Huckabee here and here.
 
Note: I will be away from the website on Friday, so I’ll see you back here on Monday, December 7th. -Dean
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Polling Pawlenty
12-02-2009
I came across this amusing item earlier today, in which Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty explains why he has faired so poorly in early horse race polling for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. A new Washington Post poll shows the usual suspects like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney topping the list of oft-mentioned conservatives, with Pawlenty down around one percent. Of course, any polling at this point is primarily picking up name recognition, rather than relative viability for the Republican nomination. Many political observers believe that when the time comes, Pawlenty will at least be in the candidate mix.
 
Pawlenty’s explanation that he is not well-known among the general voting public is accurate. But his earnestness in answering the question confirms his aspirations, and violates a cardinal rule of the invisible primary: never act like you are running for president, even as you lay the groundwork for doing so. Candidates typically deflect these kinds of questions by saying that it is not a priority at the moment, as they are too busy focusing all of their attention on issue x, whatever that might be. Pawlenty has mainly been raising his profile among Republican political elites thus far, which is a reasonable way to start, and flying under the political radar at this early point is not necessarily a bad thing either.
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The Plan for Afghanistan
12-01-2009
Tonight I will be watching President Obama’s speech on his decision to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. During the presidential campaign, Obama did such an effective job of portraying the Iraq War as a costly diversion from America’s need to confront the true nexus of the War on Terror in Afghanistan, that I don’t really see how he could have decided otherwise on the troop increase only a year into his presidency and still maintain his credibility.
 
I have been fascinated (and a little surprised) by how quickly progressives have abandoned Obama on this issue. Perhaps they thought his campaign discourse on Afghanistan was strategic electoral posturing, and that he would instead quickly draw down the conflict once in office. It is true that it has been a tough year over there, in terms of lives lost, money spent, and visible progress on the ground. But this decision strikes me as in keeping with everything Obama said out on the campaign trail.
 
So, Obama will once again try to thread the needle tonight, by presenting a justification for the troop increase, while also detailing clear benchmarks for continued U.S. support and an exit strategy with a short time horizon. Republicans have been generally supportive of the decision, so I will be especially interested to gauge Democratic (and progressive) reaction to the plan.
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