What the Heck Happened in New Hampshire?

One of the most suprising events in all of last year’s election season was Hillary Clinton’s upset win in the the New Hampshire primary. I remember running into Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire poll, in a sandwich shop on Elm Street in Manchester on the day of the primary. He confidently anticipated an Obama win of at least 8 points, and perhaps one in the double digits. Like many reporters, I went to the Clinton rally that night expecting to be writing her political obituary, and instead stared at the television screens in disbelief as her lead held with more and more precinct data flowing in. Today, the American Association for Public Opinion Research has released a detailed 123-page report attemting to determine what happened.

Among the highlights:

  • Given the compressed caucus and primary calendar, polls conducted before the New Hampshire primary may have ended too early to capture late shifts in the electorate’s preferences there.
  • Most commercial polling firms conducted interviews on the first or second call, but respondents who required more effort to contact were more likely to support Senator Clinton. Instead of continuing to call their initial samples to reach these hardâ€êtoâ€êcontact people, pollsters typically added new households to the sample, skewing the results toward the opinions of those who were easy to reach on the phone, and who more typically supported Senator Obama.
  • Nonâ€êresponse patterns, identified by comparing characteristics of the preâ€êelection samples with the exit poll samples, suggest that some groups who supported Senator Clinton–such as union members and those with less education–were underâ€ê represented in preâ€êelection polls, possibly because they were more difficult to reach.
  • Variations in likely voter models could explain some of the estimation problems in individual polls. Application of the Gallup likely larger error than was present in the unadjusted data. The influx of first-time voters may have had adverse effects on likely voter models.

Mark Blumenthal has more.

Obama Motors

Unfortunately, I’m becoming numb to things like this lately, but today’s Washington Post front page headline is still rather alarming:

GM Chief to Resign at White House’s Behest

This is, of course, the same issue we’re confronted with whether it comes to the banks, AIG, or any other entities that are coming to Washington, hat in hand. Once taxpayer money is put on the line to save these companies, it gives the government the ability to make unprecedented interventions into the way private businesses are run. It’s rather disturbing that the President of the United States is the one pressuring an executive to step down. In this case, it’s hard to argue that General Motors chairman and CEO Richard Wagoner Jr. has performed well, but at the same time, Obama’s reasons for dismissal seem more cosmetic than anything else. An anonymous administration official told the Post that, “We felt that having a change of leadership would be consistent with the clean-sheet approach.” Whatever Wagoner’s faults, it doesn’t make sense to change management just for the sake of it, unless you have a replacement in mind who you think will be able to do better.

AIG and Dodd

The Washington Times reports that in 2006, the chief of AIG’s infamous Financial Products unit, urged employees to contribute to Chris Dodd, who was poised to become the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Dodd collected more than $160,000 from employees of the division and their wives.

The whole thing is worth a read.

The Afghan Surge

President Obama’s decision to increase our presence in Afghanistan and provide sufficient resources for a counterinsurgency operation seems like a good one. But there are analysts more qualified than I am to comment on the specific military aspects of the decision. I think it’s also interesting to consider the politics of the move. It seems to me to acomplish several things. One is that it is an example of him following through on a campaign promise, to withdraw from Iraq and step up efforts in Afghanistan. Many aspects of his speech today were reflected during the campaign. Back in August 2007, he said, infamously, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Today, he said:

Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

So, he deserves credit for being consistent about something that at the time was seen as a throwaway line designed to sound tough after he made his comment about meeting with unconditionally with the leaders of hostile regimes within the first year of his administration.

I do think that Obama is being genuine in persuing his policy in Afghanistan, but I also think today’s rollout was meant to serve an additional purpose — to defang any opponents who will accuse him of taking his eye off the War on Terror (aka “Overseas Contingency Operations“) while focusing on the economy.

Boehner Backs Obama on Afghanistan

The House Minority Leader just released the following statement:

“The challenge of bringing stability to Afghanistan is enormously complex, but our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban are vital to the security of the American people. I support the strategy the President unveiled today because it reflects the advice of our commanders on the ground. I hope he will continue to honor their counsel because we should not allow political considerations here at home to trump the importance of achieving success in the region. Moving forward, we must ensure this strategy is implemented in a manner that is both flexible and reflective of the situation on the ground, and we must aggressively monitor its progress.

“The commitment and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform is nothing short of amazing. Republicans are committed to doing everything possible to support our troops and give them all the resources they need to succeed in their mission in Afghanistan.”

Thanks, Mitt

“Praise Mitt Romney,” writes the Wall Street Journal, for creating a government-controlled health care system in Massachusetts that’s so bad, it instructs us what not to do nationally.

Here It Is, Mr. President

President Obama shouldn’t have a leg to stand on in the budget fight. As I detailed yesterday, every shred of actual data points to unprecedented debt as a result of his policies, while his promised “savings” materialize only in some mystery world in the future. But he does have two important things going for him — the fact that Democrats have a significant majority in Congress, and the fact that Republicans have not yet gotten their act together.

Facing some uncharacteristically tough questions about his budget during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama turned the tables, taunting, “the critics tend to criticize, but they don’t offer an alternative budget.” Rather than wait until they were ready to unveil an alternative plan, Republicans took the bait. In a hastily arranged press conference yesterday, Minority Leader John Boehner waved a booklet, and boasted, “Two nights ago the president said, ‘We haven’t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.’ Well, it’s just not true because — Here it is, Mr. President.” (Video below.)

Unfortunately, despite the macho talk, the 19-page document Boehner waved included general proposals, but no actual projections of how it would impact the deficit relative to the White House budget. Pretty soon, Republicans were downplaying the booklet as a mere blueprint of their actual budget, to be released next week. And the Politico reported infighting among Republicans, because some members felt (rightly, in my view) that it would be better to wait an extra week to release a serious alternative, rather than rush out a half-baked proposal with few specifics that would be easy to mock.

The Economist makes an apt analogy:

SCHOOLYARD bullies have a simple trick that usually gets results. Challenge another kid to a fight. If he declines, call him a “chicken”. Presto–his dignity under assault, he’ll come back and accept your challenge, and lose.

Today, Republicans in the House of Representatives got called “chicken”, rolled up their sleeves, and got kicked in the mud.

Many conservatives continue to underestimate Obama, pinning him as some naive rube who is in over his head and unable speak without a telepromter. But, while his policies may be dangerous, he remains a skilled politician, and he played this one beautifully.

The GOP Budget Looks Like a Blown Oppourtunity

The GOP released a booklet outlining its alternative budget today, and I’m not impressed. To start, it’s difficult to judge because it’s a rather sparse 19 page pamphlet that contains no deficit projections, and it hasn’t yet been scored by the CBO. And much of it is just filled with criticism of Obama’s budget and various bubble charts. So there’s no way to measure what it would do to the debt relative to Obama’s plan. Republicans caution that this is merely a blueprint rather than a final bill, but there are still a few items worth commenting on.

The proposal has some good elements, such as allowing people to purchase health care across state lines, saying no to future bailouts, allowing for more energy exploration, removing barriers to building nuclear power plants, and creating an optional flatter tax with a 10% bracket for those earning less than $100,000 and 25% for those earning more.

Overall, the biggest problem with the Republican budget is for all of its justified outrage about the exploding debt created by Obama’s budget, it makes no serious effort to cut entitlement spending. Sure, there are some fixes around the edges. It would ask wealthier seniors on Medicare to pay more for prescription drugs, allows states more flexibility on Medicaid, and promises to reduce “waste, fraud, and abuse” of Medicare. That’s simply not going to cut it when we’re facing a $56 trillion long-term entitlement deficit. It doesn’t mention any plans for Social Security.

What’s alarming is that Republicans are surrendering too much ground to liberals. At one point, the report mentions wanting to “save” Medicare. At another point, it reads:

Instead of accelerating the demise of our nation’s large entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, and creating new unsustainable entitlements, Republicans seek to provide universal access to affordable health care and to address our entitlements’ trillion dollar unfunded liabilities with common-sense reforms that ensure our children and grandchildren can secure future benefits.

All this talk about wanting to save entitlements and secure benefits is not much different from what you’d expect from Democrats. If Republicans want to return to being the party of fiscal discipline, then they will have to be honest with the American people that the only way out of this hole is to rein in entitlements and reduce benefits. The problem is much bigger than a few “common sense reforms.” The reason why our debt is out of control is that Democrats are afraid to admit that their social agenda will require major tax increases, and Republicans want to cut taxes but are afraid to propose genuine spending cuts. Obviously, given their minority status, Republicans don’t have any hope of passing their budget proposals. However, they could have used an alternative budget as an oppourtunity to act as grownups amid all of the fairytale thinking coming out of the White House. I’ll look forward to more detailed proposals, but for now it looks like a blown opportunity.