free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Monday, November 04, 2002

--- Election Outlook 2002, Overview ---

The Big Story: unfinished business. A campaign season compressed into one week by snipermania and GWB's Iraq gambit. The trailer has momentum in several races. Issues are off the table ... cut to the attack ads. Congress gridlocked on most items. Wars, investigations, environmental and fiscal disasters loom just over the horizon, the economy is teetering between recovery and W-ness, but this was the Year Of No News.

One Sure Bet: the Senate gets smarter. Mondale (MI) is a Titan, Lautenberger (NJ) is a figure of stature. even by pure random replacement, Pryor (AR) projects an improvement over the terminally lackluster Hutchinson. Strickland (CO) likewise over Allard. Anybody (NH) betters Bob Smith. Either Bowles or Dole improves on Jesse Helms (NC). Either Kirk or Cornyn improves on Phil Gramm (TX). Gordon Smith (OR) is not just campaigning to the center, he's moving to the center. [Can't say Lindsey Graham (SC) betters centurion Thurmond -- the guy sends my weasel-detector off the scale.] Only one projected legislative dumb-down -- Lamar "cut their pay and send them home" Alexander (TN) never developed any mature perspective on governance. Over all, the Senate emerges with improved maturity, moderation and sense of mission.

Another Sure Bet: Senate Dems get a new attitude. More proactive, less intimidated, with more "wiggle room" to raise issues and craft legislation. Pick up two or more seats, demonstrate competitiveness in "safe" GOP territory, and the caucus need not dance gingerly around DINO Zell MiIler (GA) and vulnerable incumbents like Baucus (MT). More votes -- and more ideas -- are "in play". GOP mavericks -- McCain, Hagel, others -- gain important liberties, and Daschle can shop for 60 cloture votes without visiting the GOP leadership superstore. Dems can rebalance committee ratios and staffing in their favor, increasing their ability to drive the agenda, while GOP looks to maintain the same low-wattage leadership.

Most importantly, WIN OR LOSE, 2002 clears the slate of vulnerable incumbent Dems (either by confirmation or by elimination). The pendulum is now swinging Blue in Lincoln's Red State bailiwick (AR 2004). Dorgan (ND 2004) is a 10-time winner in statewide races. Oily, malleable, unpredictable, Breaux (LA) is a natural fixture in his home state. Miller (GA) retires. Blue State Republicans are the new boys on the bubble, and will carefully calculate the cost/benefit of "distancing" from a diminished and vulnerable President. It's a whole new ball game for Daschle & Co.

Good Bet: the House gets meaner. Moderate/maverick ranks are depleted. Redistricting sculpted most districts as safe seats ... cut out for the red-meat wing of either party. Key moderates retired, lost in uphill districts (Morella?) or got beat in bids for other office (Ganske). If Dems take the majority (unlikely), it's probably thinner than the GOP has now. If GOP keeps it, it's probably thinner. Plausible alternative scenario: GOP loses 2-3-4 seats, and surviving moderates rebel against DeLay's Hammer. GOP leadership could be bent to the center, but that's far from their center of mass, and I'm not sure they have enough moderates left to fill out a leadership slate. Dems might then snub outspoken liberal Nancy Pelosi, setting up leadership camp closer to the Great Divide to round up defectors and swing votes. (Note: many observers expect 2-3-4 GOP gains.)

Almost Sure Bet: Bush loses clout. By injecting his personality and agenda into the races (as Dick Morris points out) GWB depletes political capital and tarnishes the Presidential Aura. Most of his hand-picked candidates are going down. Bush spent lavishly from the WH discretionary goodie bag ... he's not tapped out, but he'll be wheeling and dealing from a shorter barrel of pork. He hit the campaign trail against almost every Dem who helped secure the necessary 60-40 margin for his one major policy win (tax cuts). This just isn't done -- least of all by a "uniter" -- and it carries a high "fool me once" price in future bargaining leverage.

The $5.6T surplus is gone, the "trifecta" political bonanza is shot, the economy is running "like Herbert Hoover wrote the Beige Book" (Art Cashin), the states are in fiscal crisis. Mistakes and short-term gimmicks (steel tariffs) are catching up with Bush, who avoided a GOP massacre only by adroit timing, using Iraq to eclipse the campaign cycle and weaseling around "privatization". What will he use to eclipse Iraq, or the deficit, or "private accounts", or Rx drug insurance? He's sold out, he's stuck in damage control mode for two more years. Once more for emphasis -- Bush43 might not even be the candidate in 2004.

Mischief and Mayhem. Jesse Ventura has thrown his last folding chair into the political ring -- appointing a replacement Senator who's been rejected 20-to-1 or more in past races. If Carnahan loses MO, GOP will be tempted to go hog-wild with their half-seat advantage in a lame-duck session. This might spur Chaffee (RINO-RI) to switch ... which might (less likely) spur Zell Miller (D-GA) to switch. If Murkowski (AK) wins the Governor's race, he chooses his own successor in the Senate ... but must absent himself from part of the session to do so. If the remaining races break status quo, and Landrieu (LA) polls under 50%, her seat (which then determines EVERYTHING) goes to a run-off, where the full weight of national political machinery grinds away on one race in one state. [Predicted outcome: Louisiana secedes, then auctions itself on eBay.] Dems may win the VT Gov's race, but lose when the under-50% run-off goes to a GOP legislature. GWB's recess appointments automatically expire at end of session, raising new confirmation battles. Aggressive voter registration, voter intimidation, dirty tricks ("remember to cast your ballot on November 10"), new voting systems, fraud accusations all hold potential for post-game instant-replay controversy.

Even VNS exit polls are shaky ... they're launching a new! improved! system on the heels of 2000 debacles, and teh system's not quite ready for prime time. A great shame, because there will be much left to analyze when the last chad drops.

Dark Horse, Dark Rider. Election Day is always dominated by riptides that emerge late, undetected, undetectable. The D-vs-R "Generic Ballot" has jumped all over the map this year ... not sure it means anything, but GOP is showing late upticks. My between-the-lines read of the same polls, plus anecdotals, hints at the contrary ... the unverifiable possibility that Dems are drastically underpolled and/or underweighted in "likely voter" adjustments. If so, we may see a Dem tsunami, with stunned Republicans swept out and drowned in the undertow ... despite Dem failure to actively capitalize on "wrong track" sentiment or nail the GOP on weasel-wordage.

One More Sure Bet. It'll be an interesting night, and week, and month.