Saturday, February 11, 2006

Simmons in Trouble?

Rob Simmons has been downgraded. The influential Cook Political Report is now calling the 2nd District a "toss-up," according to the Journal Inquirer.

The Cook Political Report, an independent nonpartisan newsletter whose subscribers include lawmakers, lobbyists, trade groups, labor unions, and political action
committees, last week ranked the rematch between the three-term Republican from Stonington, Rep. Robert R. Simmons, and Vernon Democrat Joseph D. Courtney, as one that could go either way.
...
"Much of Simmons' future depends on the national mood," the newspaper said. "If it is anti-Republican, he will struggle to win." (Michak)

So, it is true? Is Simmons in trouble? Could his race actually go either way?

Sadly for Democrats, no. The race will be close, again, but, based on the current situation, Simmons is going to win. Here's why:

The Incumbent Rule

All things being equal, voters tend to favor the incumbent. Remember that. Things are pretty equal, right now. It's still Simmons's race to lose. It was Sam Gejedenson's race to lose in 2000--and he got careless and let Simmons steal it away. Simmons is much smarter than Sam was: Courtney will not sneak up on him.

National swing

The conventional wisdom is that this is going to be a Democratic year. For that to happen, however, Democrats need to give voters a compelling and easy-to-understand vision for what they would do if elected. This is how Republicans won in 1994: they capitalized on the fact that people were sick of the Democrats, and offered a simple, gripping alternative: less taxes, smaller government, end the welfare state. Pow!

People may vote against Republicans, but they show no signs of voting for Democrats, yet. Democrats are missing the second piece, and show no signs of developing it. Unless Democrats pick up the slack, the national swing won't be as large as they hope.

What are you for, again?

Courtney's platform is especially nebulous. His issues page has only a few hints about what he might do in Congress. Here are a few examples:

Joe Courtney will make protecting Social Security his top priority. He'll oppose any plan that jeopardizes the Social Security Trust Fund, or privatizes the system to put seniors' retirement savings into the unpredictable stock market. (Courtney)

Great, but it isn't enough to be against what the opposition is doing. Not in this close of a race. Here's another:

Joe Courtney has a consistent pro-worker record. During his tenure in the state legislature, he supported Connecticut's family and medical leave law, an increase in the minimum wage, and an increase in compensation benefits for workers who had been injured on the job. In his bid for Congress, he has already received the strong support of several labor organizations, including the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which endorsed him by a vote of 311-0.(Courtney)

That's a great statement, and labor support will help (somewhat). But so what? It's all good, down-to-earth stuff, but there's nothing that's innovative, bold or eye-catching. Granted, Simmons is exactly the same way. But, in order to win, Courtney has to clearly be the superior candidate with the superior ideas.

Two Words:

Sub base.

Simmons won because he pledged to save the sub base. The base, thanks in part to the efforts of the congressional delegation, is saved. While a lot of people may ask "What have you done for me lately?", many more will remember that up to 30,000 jobs were saved, just like Rob Simmons promised. If a Democratic year starts to tip the balance towards Courtney, the sub base swings it right back to Simmons.

It doesn't help that Courtney is from Vernon, far away from those who would be affected by the base closure.

War in the Trenches

Since the campaign isn't going to be about big ideas, it will instead devolve into a slugfest. Any campaign involving Rob Simmons is going to be amazingly dirty--indeed, 2000, 2002 and 2004 were not fun times to have an answering machine in the 2nd District. Every day in October, someone would leave a message telling me why one of the candidates was a terrible, horrible person, and why I ought to vote against them.

Simmons was much better at it. He thrives in the trenches, and never hesitates to sling mud. Courtney will try to sling mud right back, of course, but Simmons, again, has the edge.

Is Hope Lost for Courtney?

No. Not at all! It's still very close, and Courtney can make up a lot of ground later on in the year. But he can't run the race he ran in 2002. He needs to clearly define himself, if he can. He could, for example, sign on to some sort of national campaign finance reform. He could pledge to bring the reforms done in Connecticut to Washington. That would define him in a way that has yet to be done, and might compel people to vote for him instead of against Simmons.

If Democrats can better define themselves in a positive way all across the country, then Courtney's chances take a big leap forward, as well.

But, for now, Simmons still has the upper hand, if only ever so slightly.

Sources

Michak, Don. " 2nd District race seen as a toss-up." Journal-Inquirer 11 February, 2006.

Courtney for Congress: Issues. http://www.joecourtney.com/issues.php. 11 February, 2006.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Genghis, that was a very well reasoned analysis of the situation.

If Simmons had Shays's district, he would be utterly safe. If Shays had Simmons's willingness to get nasty, he'd be off the target list.

The Dems here ought to realise the GOP blogs all think we have great shots all over the place. You never (with the exception of 1974 or 1994) do

Gabe said...

For an interesting different view try MyDD's Congressional Forecast. Bowers has both Simmons' and Shays' going D, and Johnson's seat going D with more money.

OF course, take this with a grain of salt, it is a partisan blog that is predicting a 12 seat D pick-up, but its interesting nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Bowers also thought you'd run the table in 04. One of these days that's bound to happen, but I could predict snow everyday in the winter and claim I saw tonight's nor'easter coming

Gabe said...

You say the part where I sadi to take it with a grain of salt, right?

Anonymous said...

Yep. Agreed

I think there will be a couple of overconfident R members in red States who go down this cycle ala Sam's 2000 loss, though

Anonymous said...

GC: Solid analysis. But the thing that will clinch it for Simmons is turnout. Dems won't realize it for a bit, but for CT Democrats 2004 was their best chance to do something big. You have a built-in upswing in turnout b/c of the presidential race and the registration numbers being what they are here, that will always help Dems. Next, you had Kerry and Dodd leading the ticket - and for Dems that is the best 1-2 punch that we're going to see for a while (including 2008), especially in the 2nd CD where Dodd is from and where he was Congressman prior to Sam. So you've got more Dems and dem-friendly voters at the polls, and you're basically guaranteed to keep 70% of them on the second line until Congress. This year Rell will clean house in the 2nd CD, who knows what'll happen with the senate race, and then there'll be the savior of the subbase. Signed, sealed, delivered. Not to mention that Rob is a terrific man, terrific Congressman, and fits his district like a glove.

ctkeith said...

Wonderful Conventional Wisdom Anaysis.

What Happens when Ned Lamont wins the Primary?

In my opinion it turns your anaysis upside down ,gives the Dems a sweep in the congressional delegation and even puts the Governors race in play.

Anonymous said...

CTK: about 50-60K moderate dems statewide stay home causing DeStefano to lose as badly as Babs Kennelly and sinking the whole ticket

Anonymous said...

keith, there's a reason you're not a political consultant (or at least not a good one). It's not conventional wisdom, it's fact. and ned lamont winning the primary is the best thing that could happen--Ned runs on the Dem line, keeps the libs there, sends the moderate dems and u's to the third line for lieberman, and a republican sneaks in on the top line right after rell. So keep smoking your cheeba, keith. But who knows, sun shines on a dogs ass every now and then.

DeanFan84 said...

6:52 and 6:53 Anons:
You guys don't get it. The problem with Joe is not a left-right dynamic, no matter how much you try to make it so.

And neither Ned Lamont, nor Howard Dean are raging liberals.

Ned is an industrious CEO. Pro-business and pro-health care. He'll play very well with moderate Dems, thank you.

And if the Party dumps Joe b/c of his Neo-con tendencies, Bush-kissing, and FoxNews whoring, Dem turn-out will be higher than ever, including those "moderate Dems" you refer to.

This isn't a purge. It's a loyalty campaign. Joe's war stance didn't launch this Primary. But his undercutting of other Democrats sure has.

ctkeith said...

I guess we'll see,

According to that same conventioal wisdom about 2 yrs ago Aniskovich would be running in a primary against Rell or some other Crooked R for the Republican endorsement and just 6 months ago noone would dare primary Lieberman because he was SO POPULAR,LMAO.

Anonymous said...

Except Aniskovich forgot the oldest piece of conventional wisdome..."Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

DeanFan84 said...

Interesting piece from the New Haven Advocate, about Jacqueline Kozin, New Haven Young Democrats Chair, New Haven resident, and Malloy co-ordinator. Excerpts:

""People are going to be very surprised," Kozin says. "Things are being presented like it's all locked up [for DeStefano], but it's notand it's my job to keep it that way.""

"As for the DeStefano camp, they're being tactful about this bit of Elm City treachery. "We are glad Jackie found her place," campaign spokeswoman Shonu Gandhi says, "and we wish her well.""

Genghis Conn said...

I did read Bowers's forecast (and the forecasts of others), and their analysis always boils down to raw numbers. This is the "most Democratic district to elect a Republican," we keep hearing. It's true. It is. The numbers, then, suggest that Courtney ought to be a shoo-in, especially if it's a Democratic year.

But this district can defy logic and numbers. 2002 and 2004 are good examples. 2004, especially, stands out: Kerry won the district by a mile, Democrats won most other races there, but Simmons held on. It will take a monumental effort to beat him. Bowers and others don't factor this in.

DeanFan84 said...

Because of its geography, (however many small towns), CT-2 is a weird district. Republicans have run well there b/c of their success in direct-mail operations. The RNCC has been very nasty, below the radar.

Someone had catalogued the negative pieces put out by the RNCC. I tried a bit of quick googling, but couldn't find them online. (They were up at some point.)

How many CTLocal people know that Simmons was a lieutenant in Project Phoenix?

The Phoenix Project was a counter-insurgency campaign which involved among other things, political assassinations.

DeanFan84 said...

Man, googling Rob Simmons and Project Phoenix is pretty scary.

From Commondreams:
When Simmons was battling to become a congressman (after a long career in state government in Connecticut), no national paper cared a whit about the fact that a possible torturer and war criminal was on the hustings.

And from CounterPunch:
However, there is documentary evidence that, as the CIA's paramilitary advisor in Phu Yen Province, Rob Simmons mounted operations that were designed to kill specific "targeted" members of the VCI.

Echoes of Iraq, Gitmo, and Abu Ghraib?

Luckily for US, the people in charge back then knew what they were doing. "We Had to Destroy the Village to Save It"

Eddie said...

Gejdensen tried the Project Phoenix stuff on Simmons in the closing days of the 2000 campaign, and screwed it up so badly that he might have inoculated Simmons for life.

I'll agree with DeanFan that it's a pretty strange district; I've lived here long enough to know that I'll probably never figure it out!

Jim Sullivan had a lot of strengths as a candidate -- bright, emotionally resonant, enough business experience to give him some cred on nuts and bolts issues -- but he was starting from a small public-service resume, and I'm not sure that his campaign staff was that well-organized or effective.

Genghis made a lot of good points, and I'm not going to believe every single thing I read on MyDD, but this one ain't over.

Independent1 said...

Maybe it's just been my experience, but CT voters seem to be somewhat immune to the big picture swings (i.e.,it's an R year, a D year, etc.) We are such a small state, that folks tend to really know a candidate, or know someone who knows a candidate. You spend a year or so criss-crossing CD2, and no matter who mails out a negative piece, or how many phone calls you get, it's pretty easy to make up your own mind. Whether it's the Land of Steady Habits, or simply, we know each other, it's pretty hard for outsiders to stick a label on someone. Koskoff made a good run b/c she was known, and people in the district came to the conclusion, on their own, that Nancy was out of touch with the district. Same thing with Sam, only a few more votes went Simmons' way. Pheonix Program won't stick. People know Simmons, and to get them away from him, Courtney needs a reason that resonates NOW, not 40 years ago when we were at war with the VCI.

Same problem for JDS and DM to Rell. She's been in every town hall over the last 10 years. People know her, or at least, think they do. Trying to plaster her with Rowland ain't gonna fly. Calling her stupid b/c she didn't graduate from college ain't gonna fly. Right now, all I'm hearing from the two of them is, I can do what she's doing, only better. That ain't gonna fly.

Independent1 said...

Maybe it's just been my experience, but CT voters seem to be somewhat immune to the big picture swings (i.e.,it's an R year, a D year, etc.) We are such a small state, that folks tend to really know a candidate, or know someone who knows a candidate. You spend a year or so criss-crossing CD2, and no matter who mails out a negative piece, or how many phone calls you get, it's pretty easy to make up your own mind. Whether it's the Land of Steady Habits, or simply, we know each other, it's pretty hard for outsiders to stick a label on someone. Koskoff made a good run b/c she was known, and people in the district came to the conclusion, on their own, that Nancy was out of touch with the district. Same thing with Sam, only a few more votes went Simmons' way. Pheonix Program won't stick. People know Simmons, and to get them away from him, Courtney needs a reason that resonates NOW, not 40 years ago when we were at war with the VCI.

Same problem for JDS and DM to Rell. She's been in every town hall over the last 10 years. People know her, or at least, think they do. Trying to plaster her with Rowland ain't gonna fly. Calling her stupid b/c she didn't graduate from college ain't gonna fly. Right now, all I'm hearing from the two of them is, I can do what she's doing, only better. That ain't gonna fly.

DeanFan84 said...

One thing the R's can count on, is that the Democrats always play nicey-nice.

What I've notice is that in the instances they haven't, Democrats have run surprisingly well.

Unfortunately, Democrats have only come out swinging in long-shot races. Personally, I think the "Fightin' Dems" brigade of 2006 will prove highly successful.

If the message is, "We aren't wimps!", things will swing our way.

P.S. Will some reporter tell me whether Jodi visited John in jail? Did she, or didn't she? The answer says a lot about her fundamental character.

Anonymous said...

If you think Lamont and Dean are perceived as "moderates" out there I suggest your political center of gravity tilts far to port.

Places like Naugatuck, Torrington and Bristol will bail on Lamont. Blueblood don't play there at all.

Hello SS Brobroski

DeanFan84 said...

Your media distortions will only take you so far.

Of note is the fact that you didn't argue about Dean and Lamont being moderate.

Instead, you resort to stereotypes, and out-worn labels.

What will happens to your agenda when America wakes up to the fact that the Radical Right has seized hold of the Republican Party.?

Who is conceivably more extreme than Pat Robertson???

Dave in NH said...

The AFL-CIO endorses candidates at its political convention later in the year. To my knowledge, they have not endorsed Courtney, although they most likely will. But it will not be by a 311-0 vote. At least two unions have endorsed Simmons, and there likely will be more

Anonymous said...

DF, IIRC that attitude screamed its way to a third place finish in a Dem primary in Iowa, a state so right wing it voted for Dukakis

Lamont's one run was as the liberal in a three way state senate race in Greenwich. Unless you bought a show ticket, he finished out of the money

Keep screaming, perhaps the strategy is the voters will go your way to save their eardrums

Republican said...

Dean Fan: What is the difference if Jodi visted Rowland in jail or not? Do you think any Democrats will visit Ernie Newton?

Anonymous said...

Prediction: Dems pick up the 2nd, the other two districts not as close as predicted.

Shays has been enough of a 'maverick' to fool people and Johnson's money machine will not let her lose to a 'kid liberal' in a moderate district.

Anonymous said...

Haven't we been down this road a million times? When was the last time a candidate won an election by simply hammering their opponent? You have to stand for something. Does anyone even know who Joe Courntey is? He faired very poorly last time around.

What's really sad is that it seems like many people on this board would have been happy if the sub base closed in order to give Coutney an issue. Take a step back for a moment, remove your liberal colored glasses and realize that this is going to be an extrememly uphill fight for COurtney.

BTW Don Michak? Yeah he's a non-partisan alright.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is Courtney will need to run very strong in the northern half of the district to overcome the margin Simmons gets around New London.

Possible. Yes. But hasn;t been done yet

Anonymous said...

why doesnt courtney have anything about the war on his webpage and why is his campaign manager from the DLC? Also courtney isnt supporting the pelosi-murtha position...if he keeps this up say goodbye to his liberal-union base..

Gabe said...

Anon 11:09 said... What's really sad is that it seems like many people on this board would have been happy if the sub base closed in order to give Coutney an issue.

Where, specifically does it seem like that?

To me it seems that you just decided that people who are for Courtney and against Simmons are also against jobs in that disctrict. Without evidence.

Anonymous said...

What I am saying in regard to that is the fact that Democrats in the 2nd have offered barely anything in terms of policy. The only thing they can bring up is the faults of Rob Simmons. So they need jobs to tank, they need the sub base to close because that's what Democrats in the second seem to be running on. Bad news = Simmons fault. You mean to tell me you Democrats in the 2nd wouldn't be using the sub base against Rob had it closed? I don't think so.

Gabe said...

First of all, people on this board and Democrats in the 2nd are not necessarily the same.

That said, of course if the incumbent rep and the president are of the same party and the administration closes a base in that rep's district, the opposition party would (and should) use it against him. That doesn't mean that the people on this blog that are rooting for Courtney to beat Simmons are rooting for their neighbors to suffer.

If Simmons beat a puppy on TV, we would use it against him. It doesn't mean we are praying for a puppy to get beat on TV.

Are you hoping that people in my district (DeLauro's) get laid off in such numbers that she gets upset? Thats sick.

Anonymous said...

"Congressman Simmons saves young child from dog mauling

Film at 11"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps most of you have forgotten that Sam Gejdenson "saved the sub base" in 1993 and then only won the district in '94 by 21 votes. The sub base will not be an issue, and if you actually live in the 2nd or follow the news in the district you'll see that, in spite of the fact that the sub base was "saved" EB is still planning to lay off thousands of workers over the next year, and began doing so last month. In fact, EB has lost more than $1 billion in defense contracts over the last year. So, that isssue is dead in the water.

As for Joe Courtney and his record, it is clear that many of those who are commenting on this have not done their homework, or followed statewide politics until very recently. Courtney was a leader in health care reform in this state in the '90's and was a very well liked and well respected state representative. He has broad base appeal, and yet is highly regarded within the progressive community. When Miles Rapoport was Secretary of the State, he tapped Joe to lead his office's efforts on campaign finance reform (unfortunately there was no Rowland scandal to pussh the issue like there was last year). Courtney also co-chaired the legislative Public Health Committee, and before that the Committee on Human Services. He successfully fought to stregnthen CONNPACE and was highly regarded by seniors statewide. This list goes on and on...

This is a winnable district if the candidate has the money. In 2002 Courtney got off to a late start and didn't raise the money he needed to for a victory - he was outspent almost five-to-one and the national political climate was truly lousy for Dems in '02. In 2004 there was a tremendous opportunity, the political environment was clearly in the favor of Dems, but Sullivan raised even less than Courtney did the cycle before, and was outspent by even more.

Courtney has a shot if he raises the money and the national Dems are in the race. Given Cook's upgraded status to toss-up, which, by the way is a first for the district, it was lean Republican in '02 and '04, the national Dems will more than likely be in this thing for the long run, and Courtney is raising a lot more money this cycle.

This race will come down to whether or not Courtney has the money. And my bet is he will.

We should spend less blogging and more time helping good candidates win.