State of the Senate– a Coleman surge?

A new NBC/Mason Dixon poll has Norm Coleman beating Al Franken by 6 points while Rasmussen shows him up by 4, on the heels of an apparently strong debate performance last Thursday. Another poll by Minnesota Public Radio has Franken up by 4, but polling for that started on October 24, and thus any surge by Coleman this week would be diluted. Of course, you can’t dismiss the potential strength of Obama’s coattails in Minnesota.

In other good news for Republicans, after looking competitive for awhile, it seems like Republicans Mitch McConnell and Saxby Chambliss are pulling away in Kentucky and Georgia, respectively.

But the public polls are still looking grim for John Sununu in New Hampshire, and Kay Hagan seems to be building a lead over Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina.

Obama Outspent McCain on TV By 3-1 In Closing Week

The University of Wisconsin advertising project finds that “From October 21st to October 28th, spending on television advertising in the presidential campaign has totaled nearly $38 million.  Over this time period, the Obama campaign spent nearly $21.5 million while the McCain campaign spent nearly $7.5 million.  Another $6.7 million was spent by the Republican Party and $2.2 million was spent by interest groups.”

So, if you throw in all spending, it’s a 3-2 Obama advantage.

Here’s a table showing a state-by-state breakdown. Once again, for some reason, McCain is outspending Obama in Iowa (Obama has an 11-point lead in the state in the RCP average):

Advertising Spending by State (Candidate & Coordinated)

  McCain Obama
Colorado $237,000 $858,000
Florida $1,441,000 $4,615,000
Indiana $336,000 $1,248,000
Iowa $429,000 $298,000
Minnesota $176,000 $499,000
Missouri $437,000 $1,105,000
Montana <$1,000 $175,000
North Carolina $537,000 $1,094,000
New Hampshire $60,000 $643,000
New Mexico $223,000 $309,000
Nevada $357,000 $850,000
Ohio $753,000 $1,984,000
Pennsylvania $1,388,000 $2,742,000
Virginia $637,000 $2,450,000
Wisconsin $202,000 $1,084,000

(Source:TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG with analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project)

Obama, Khalidi, and the PLO

I have an article up on the main site about Rashid Khalidi’s relationship with the PLO and why his friendship with Barack Obama matters. The key question is: which Obama will guide U.S. policy toward Israel if he is elected president — the Obama who toasted Khalidi at his farewell party, or the Obama who spoke to AIPAC this year? Like on every other issue with Obama, we won’t know until he’s in office whether he’ll reassert his radical roots, or make pragmatic compromises as he has done as a general election candidate.

McCain’s Chances

There seems to be a false debate among those who think McCain can still win and those who think he doesn’t have a shot. Of course, as in any election, we’ll never know until the votes are counted, as I learned in New Hampshire this January. But, without gaming out all of the possibilities, let me put it this way. If you look at the electoral map, it’s pretty clear that Obama has multiple pathways to 270 electoral votes (there are even scenarios under which he can get there without Ohio, Florida, or Pennsylvania), while McCain has to sweep about 10 states that are either close or in which Obama leads. So, while Obama can have a bunch of things not go his way and still win, McCain needs just about everything to break his way. Sure, Hillary’s upset in New Hampshire rocked the political world, but to win next Tuesday, McCain will need several New Hampshires.

The PLO’s Professor

The refusal by the Los Angeles Times to release the videotape featuring Barack Obama’s farewell toast to Rashid Khalidi has thrust the Columbia University professor and activist into the center of the presidential campaign, creating particular interest in his ties to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.

Liberals have defended Khalidi as a “respected academic,” and amid all of the political noise and accusations flying back and forth between the two camps, it’s easy to see how some voters would tune out when conservatives refer to him as a former “PLO spokesman.” But without engaging in the semantic debate over what word should be applied to his complex and long-standing relationship with the terrorist group, a TAS analysis of contemporaneous news accounts dating back to the 1970s as well a look at Khalidi’s own writings leave no doubt that a close relationship existed.

While living in Lebanon from the early 1970s through 1983 (where the PLO was based at the time), Khalidi was frequently cited in the press as being close to the organization, and he even used the word “we” while speaking on the group’s behalf. He was described as a “director” of Wafa, the PLO’s official news agency, and he thanked Arafat for research assistance in the preface of one of his books. In 1991, Khalidi was part of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace talks with Israel — by his own account, he did so at the request of the PLO.

Before delving into the details, it’s worth entertaining the legitimate question of why Khalidi’s background and writings should raise concerns about Obama himself.

The L.A. Times story from April about their relationship answers this question quite clearly. Not only did Obama know Khalidi, but the professor was his “friend and frequent dinner companion” who Obama was close enough to that he attended the 2003 going away party thrown when Khalidi was moving to New York.

In his toast, Obama went out of his way to thank Khalidi (and his wife Mona) for “consistent reminders of my own blind spots and own biases,” and he added that the conversation they engaged in was necessary around “this entire world.” Given that America is on the cusp of electing Obama, a man of little experience about whom very little is known, it is perfectly fair to learn more about Khalidi, whose viewpoints Obama thought the whole world needed to hear.

ON JUNE 11, 1979, the New York Times ran an article explaining that the PLO was worried that the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt would undermine Palestinians. The article quoted Khalidi opposing the deal for that very reason, and identified him as somebody “close to Al Fatah,” an arm of the PLO.

It read:

One view shared by the Palestinian leadership and the rank and file, down to armed youths who guard doorways and intersections, is that the goal of an independent state will be foreclosed if the Camp David accords succeed. “We are in a make-or-break-it period,” asserted Rashid Khalidi, a professor of political science who is close to Al Fatah. “If we don’t turn the tide, if what (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat is doing is not decisively repudiated, if the idea that Sadat had brought peace is allowed to stick without regard to Palestinian rights, then we are done in. Israel doesn’t need to sign with us. They already control the land.”

Also noteworthy about the quote was Khalidi’s use of the term “we” in reference to the Palestinian leadership, which turns out to be more of a habit than an isolated occurrence.

For instance, a January 6, 1981 Christian Science Monitor article that refers to Khalidi as “a Palestinian with good access to the PLO leadership,” reads:

Dr. Khalidi also argued that the PLO’s standing among Arabs in the Israeli-occupied areas has grown significantly. “Quite apart from the politics of it, we have built up tremendous links with the Palestinians ‘on the inside’ in different ways. We can render them services, often through our compatriots in the West, that King Hussein, for example, could never match. We’ve never been stronger there, and the trend is continuing,” he said.

Ironically, the same article quotes him as saying that hardliners within the PLO “perceive the new administration as basically hostile — possibly more hostile than the Carter administration.” Yes, on Planet Khalidi, even Jimmy Carter could be seen as being overtly hostile to the Palestinians.

But the evidence for the connections between Khalidi and the PLO are much more explicit than that. Thomas Friedman, in a June 8, 1982 New York Times piece about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, referred to Khalidi as “a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.” To be clear, Wafa is controlled by the PLO –and you don’t have to take my word for it. Even Khalidi himself, on page 7 of his 1986 book Under Siege: P.L.O. Decisionmaking During the 1982 War, describes it as “the P.L.O.’s news agency.”

That’s not the most telling part of Under Siege. In the book’s preface, Khalidi reserves his first paragraph of thanks for the research assistance provided by the PLO in general, and Arafat specifically. “Permission to utilize the P.L.O. Archives for the first time was generously given by the Chairman of the P.L.O. Executive Committee, Yasser ‘Arafat,” Khalidi wrote. “To him, and to the dedicated individuals working in the Office of the Chairman, the P.L.O. Archives, and the Palestine News Agency (WAFA), who extended every possible assistance to me on three trips to Tunis, I owe deep thanks.”

IN THE WAKE OF THE 1991 GULF WAR, then Secretary of State James Baker launched peace talks featuring Israel and the Palestinians, which were held in Madrid. The Israelis only agreed to the talks under the condition that the PLO not be involved in the negotiations, which turned out to be farcical, because the terrorist group operated from behind the scenes, giving marching orders to the Palestinian delegation of which Khalidi was a part.

As Khalidi recounts in his 1997 book Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, while he was in Jerusalem during the summer of 1991, he “agreed to the request of Faisal al-Husayni that, if the Palestinians became involved in negotiations with Israelâ€_I would serve as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation.”

That fall, he wrote, “on the eve of the sudden convocation of the Madrid conference, I received a call from PLO officials in Tunis asking me to confirm that I was indeed going to Madrid, since the names of the delegation and its advisers had to be presented to Secretary Baker’s assistants that very night.”

Khalidi goes on to explain that while he “did not participate in the entirety of every round of discussions” he and his Palestinian colleagues “worked extremely hard,” and he not only acted as an adviser during the October and November Madrid talks, but also in “each of the ten Palestinian-Israeli bilateral negotiating sessions in Washington which continued until June 1993.”

(A digital scan of the relevant section of the book is available here.)

Taken as a whole, the record shows that Khalidi — whether or not he should officially be called a “spokesman” — clearly was tight with the PLO, having acted as an adviser at the group’s request, and regularly speaking on its behalf.

As a professor, Khalidi has established himself as the heir to Edward Said, the leading anti-Israel intellectual of the 20th century (with whom Obama famously broke bread at a 1998 Arab community event in Chicago). He has said that American Jewish supporters of Israel have been “brainwashed” and that they can’t accept the fact that Israel is “an apartheid system in creation.”  And when it comes to peace talks, Khalidi said, “The United States is actually worse than Israel on some issues.”

So what, exactly, are the “blind spots” and “biases” that Obama is so grateful to Khalidi for exposing in their frequent dinners? And what part of their conversation does Obama hope spreads around “this entire world”?

Somehow, I don’t think Obama was referring to his love for the Chicago White Sox.

It’s Official: The Economy Is Shrinking

U.S. gross domestic product shrank by 0.3 percent in the third quarter, the Commerce Department announced this morning, the first time it contracted since the quarter that included the Sept. 11 attacks seven years ago. It was a lower than expected decline, but I found this particularly troubling, from the Reuters account:

Consumer spending, which fuels two-thirds of U.S. economic growth, fell at a 3.1 percent rate in the third quarter — the first cut in quarterly spending since the closing quarter of 1991 and the biggest since the second quarter of 1980. Spending on nondurable goods — items like food and paper products — dropped at the sharpest rate since late 1950.

The economic boom that we enjoyed for most of the Bush years was fueled in large part by the housing market, both because those who saw their houses rise in value felt richer and were more willing to spend money and because low interest rates allowed many Americans to refinance their mortgages and spend the money they saved paying off their mortgages. Now the reverse is taking place, and I think we’re in the early stages of the economic decline, with the rest of the economy not yet having absorbed all of the tumult on Wall Street. At this point, we’re still a long way to go from a depression, during which you’re looking at double digit contraction of the GDP.

As for the presidential race, I noted at the beginning of the month that we should all beware of the GDP bomb set to go off less than a week before the election. That is why, for all my criticism of McCain in the past few months, I’m willing to acknowledge that the campaign was largely taken over by events that were beyond his control. There’s not much precedent for the incumbent party winning a third straight presidential term in the early stages of an economic contraction.

Godlessness in North Carolina

Elizabeth Dole, fighting for her political life, is out with a new TV ad highlighting that her Democratic challenger for the North Carolina Senate seat, Kay Hagan, attended a fundraiser co-hosted by a board member of the Godless Americans political action committee. Personally, I’m not a fan of the ad, because I don’t like the idea of religious tests for office, and at the end an unidentified woman’s voice can be heard declaring, “there is no God” — almost suggesting that Hagan herself is an atheist, which shouldn’t matter even if she were. 

Of course, it doesn’t matter what I think, but how the voters of North Carolina react. Beyond the God issue, it reinforces the fact that while Hagan is running for office in a conservative Southern state, she’s raising money in Boston with Massachusetts liberals. In this sense, Hagan’s defense that, “the fundraiser in question had more than 40 hosts, including Sen. John Kerry,” doesn’t seem particularly helpful. (Kerry lost NC by 12 points.)  On the other hand, the ad could backfire on Dole by coming across as a desperate negative attack, like when George Allen released salacious excerpts from Jim Webb’s novels as part of a last ditch effort to save his Senate seat.

In any event, the ad certainly gets its point across.

Internal Poll Shows Smith With 4-Point Lead in Oregon Senate Race

I’ve just obtained a fresh internal poll conducted by Moore Information, showing Republican Gordon Smith with a 45-41 lead over Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley, with Constitution Party spoiler David Brownlow at 5 percent. The poll was taken this Monday and Tuesday and has a margin of error of 5 points. I should note that it also shows Obama with a 51-37 lead in the state, so it can’t be dismissed out of hand as being overly generous to Republicans.

The State of the Senate

There are currently 11 seats that the Democrats could conceivably win next Tuesday. Looking at the races, at least four of the Republican seats are definite goners — New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and Alaska — with New Hampshire probably gone as well. That leaves six races on the bubble, with Democrats and Republicans each having the edge in three.

In Oregon and Minnesota, Democrats have to be favorites right now, especially given Obama’s likely victory margins in the two states. I’d give Norm Coleman a better shot than Gordon Smith just because there’s always the possibility that Minnesotans won’t want to put comedian Al Franken in the Senate (though this is the state that gave us Gov. Jesse Ventura). Trends have been going against Elizabeth Dole and she isn’t a great campaigner, so Democrats have the edge in the North Carolina race as well, but given that McCain will be more competitive in the state, let’s say she has a fighting chance.

That leaves us with three Republican seats  — Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia — that are more competitive than they should be, but are likely to stay in GOP hands. McCain is expected to win all three states comfortably, and I think that the argument against unified Obama-Reid-Pelosi control of government will have special resonance there. The most recent polls show Roger Wicker taking a commanding double-digit lead in Mississippi, while Mitch McConnell continues to lead in Kentucky polls, albiet by a narrower margin. In Georgia, though Democratic challenger Jim Martin has made Saxby Chambliss sweat, Martin hasn’t lead in a public poll all year. A strong showing by Libertarian Allen Buckley could keep Chambliss under 50 percent, thus triggering the state’s run-off rule. However, with the outcome of the Senate already known by the time any run-off takes place, Chambliss can explicitly make the “don’t give Obama a blank check” argument in a solid Republican state, and thus would likely prevail. (It’s true that some recent polls have shown the presidential race getting close in the state, but Obama just released his public schedule through Election Day and Georgia isn’t on it, suggesting to me that the campaign doesn’t see a realistic possibility of flipping it, and making it less likely that Martin will gain the 50 percent needed to avert a run-off).

So, to sum up, the most likely outcome right now is that Democrats gain eight seats, leaving Republicans with just 41 senators, which should be enough for an effectively filibuster-proof majority given wobbly Republicans, but fall short of an outright Democratic supermajority. The best hope for Republicans right now — barring a major upset — is that they hang on to at least two of the following three seats — Oregon, Minnesota, and/or North Carolina.