More reaction to Vilsack's nomination and good ideas on food policy

I don't recall nearly as intense a reaction to Bill Clinton's or George Bush's nominees for secretary of agriculture. Either food and farm issues are more salient now than they used to be, or I am noticing it more because Barack Obama is tapping an Iowan to head the USDA.

A few days ago I posted a Vilsack reaction linkfest at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland, but the hits just keep on coming.

Follow me after the jump if you care to read more.

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Where will Obama's coat-tails be longest?

Barack Obama seems very likely to be elected president tomorrow, but he won't have coat-tails in all fifty states or all 435 Congressional districts. Some of our candidates will need a significant number of John McCain's voters to split their tickets in order to have any chance of winning.

In many parts of the country, however, down-ticket candidates will have the wind at their backs tomorrow. Obama not only leads the polls in their states, but also has a better ground game. I'm convinced that in these conditions, Democrats will win some shocking upsets.

Obama has had a double-digit lead in the Iowa polling average for a while now, but his lead seems to be growing as the election approaches. On Thursday Survey USA released an Iowa poll showing Obama ahead 55-40, with an even more commanding lead among respondents who said they'd already voted. On Sunday the Des Moines Register released Selzer and Associates' final Iowa poll of the season, which is even more gruesome for the GOP. Obama leads McCain 54-37 overall. Obama leads 3-1 among the 10 percent of respondents who said they'll be voting for the first time this year, and by 9 points among those who say they haven't voted since before 2000.

Also, the Des Moines Register found Obama supporters more optimistic going into the election:

Over three-quarters of [Obama's] supporters in Iowa say they are inspired and upbeat, with 15 percent describing themselves as angry and pessimistic.

McCain's supporters appear to be more troubled about the future, with 36 percent describing themselves as angry and pessimistic and 46 percent declaring themselves upbeat about the election.

Senator Tom Harkin leads his little-known and under-funded Republican challenger by 26 points in the same poll, giving those McCain supporters more reason to feel pessimistic.

The Des Moines Register's political columnist David Yepsen sees a landslide in the making:

For the first time in modern Iowa history, Democrats are poised to win control of both legislative chambers in two successive General Assemblies while at the same time holding the governorship.

Winning back-to-back Legislatures reflects a realignment of Iowa politics that could have far-reaching implications. For example, the state senators elected on Tuesday will be in office in 2011, when legislative and congressional district lines are redrawn for the next decade.

Yepsen gives Democrats the edge in many of the competitive Iowa House races, including several where the American Future Fund has been running tv ads. He didn't mention Iowa's two Congressional seats held by Republicans in his latest newspaper column, but in a separate blog post he noted that

Obama's lead in the poll is almost three times what his average lead is nationally.

So much for Iowa being a "battleground" or "tossup" state this time. [...]

Such poor numbers threaten to have a demoralizing effect among Republicans and an energizing one among Democrats. If Democrats smell victory and head to the polls while Republicans are in a funk and stay at home (as happened in the 1974 Watergate election), then Obama's landslide could bury other GOP candidates down the ballot.

What happened in 1974? Tom Harkin and Berkley Bedell, who had run unsuccessfully for Congress two years earlier, defeated Republican incumbents in western Iowa's conservative fifth and sixth Congressional districts.

Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny shares my view that Becky Greenwald (Democratic candidate in IA-04) and Rob Hubler (Democratic candidate in IA-05) could pull off upsets tomorrow. Both candidates are being outspent by Republican incumbents Tom Latham and Steve King, but they have been holding lots of campaign events around their districts and are running their own tv commercials. You can view Greenwald's final ad here and read the script here. Hubler's three tv ads are here (scroll down past the text of the Des Moines Register's endorsement editorial).

The GOTV machine in Iowa is engaged on behalf of Democrats at all levels. On Sunday I received a robocall from the Iowa Democratic Party, authorized by the Obama campaign for change, that mentioned voting for the "Democratic ticket" (not just Obama) twice. At the end it asked me to hold before giving me the name and address of my polling place. The same day, a volunteer left a door-hanger at our house, reminding us of the date of the election, the hours polls will be open, the phone number for Obama's toll-free early-voting hotline, our precinct number, the name and address of our polling location, and all the names on "your Democratic ticket" (in our case Obama, Harkin, Congressman Leonard Boswell, Democratic candidate Jerry Sullivan in Iowa House district 59, plus three Democrats seeking county offices).

MyDD readers, what are you seeing on the ground in your state? Where do you expect Obama to bring the most Democrats into office along with him?

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More strange scheduling from the McCain-Palin campaign

The latest Iowa poll (from SUSA) shows Barack Obama leading John McCain 55 percent to 40 percent. Obama leads 48-46 among men and 61-34 among women. Most significantly, Obama is beating McCain by 40 points among the 32 percent of respondents who told Survey USA they've already voted.

Yet Sarah Palin is coming back to Iowa on Monday to headline a rally in Dubuque.

What's really weird is that Dubuque, along the Mississippi River across from Wisconsin and Illinois, is in the uncompetitive first Congressional district (Bruce Braley, D). It's far from the central and north-central population centers in the fourth district, where Becky Greenwald is challenging Tom Latham, and farther from the fifth district, where Rob Hubler is taking on Steve "10 worst" King.

Your guess is as good as mine.

While I have your attention, please kick in a few bucks to Becky Greenwald and Rob Hubler so they can run more tv ads during the final stretch. You can view Greenwald's final ad here and read the script here. Hubler's tv ad is here (scroll down past the text of the Des Moines Register's endorsement editorial). The Ames Progressive blog recently featured these races too.

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Steve King calls Obama "socialist," pushes fake ACORN fraud story

Last weekend my fellow Iowa blogger 2laneIA published a comprehensive diary on Congressman Steve King's "greatest hits." Click the link to read about King's suggestion that we electrify the border fence with Mexico like we do "with livestock," his prediction that terrorists will be "dancing in the streets" if Obama becomes president, and his pride in working to scale back funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (which he calls Socialist Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents). I mentioned a few more low points for King in this post.

Yesterday the man Ann Coulter calls "one of my favorites" helped warm up the crowd at a Sarah Palin rally in Sioux City. According to Iowa Independent, King suggested that electing Obama could be a step toward totalitarian rule:

"When you take a lurch to the left you end up in a totalitarian dictatorship," King said.  "There is no freedom to the left. It's always to our side of the aisle."

Sioux City Journal political correspondent Bret Hayworth wrote on his liveblog,

10:12 a.m.: King gives the first of what will be two speaking opportunities, this one the longer, for nine minutes. He lays out several versions of the words "liberal" and "socialist" in describing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He mentions the ACORN group and earns a big "Booooo." King said a Google search of "Acorn Fraud" gets you 2 million hits of possible stories.

King said it's not a stretch to link Obama to the ACORN group, since he worked for them in voting matters. "Obama is ACORN... When I see Obama, I see ACORN branded on his forehead," King said.

King has embarrassed Iowans with his bigotry and extremism for too long.

If he is re-elected, he won't just be an irritant for Iowans. King severely disrupted the House Judiciary Committee's efforts to question Douglas Feith in July, and I'm sure there will be more where that came from in the new Congress.

Iowa's fifth is an R+8 district, but Rob Hubler has a real shot in this race, for reasons I discussed here.

Send a message to Steve King by donating to Hubler for Congress.

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Time to get serious about expanding the field (AL-03, NJ-05, CA-46, KY-01, IA-05)

Americans appear ready to sweep a lot of Democrats into office on November 4. Not only does Barack Obama maintain a solid lead in the popular vote and electoral vote estimates, several Senate races that appeared safe Republican holds a few months ago are now considered tossups.

Polling is harder to come by in House races, but here too there is scattered evidence of a coming Democratic tsunami. Having already lost three special Congressional elections in red districts this year, House Republicans are now scrambling to defend many entrenched incumbents.

In this diary, I hope to convince you of three things:

1. Some Republicans who never saw it coming are going to be out of a job in two weeks.

On a related note,

2. Even the smartest experts cannot always predict which seats offer the best pickup opportunities.

For that reason,

3. Activists should put resources behind many under-funded challengers now, instead of going all in for a handful of Democratic candidates.

Allow me to elaborate.

1. A lot of seemingly safe incumbents have lost in wave elections, even in districts tilted toward their own party.

The Republican landslide of 1994 claimed my own Congressman Neal Smith, a 36-year incumbent who had a senior position on the House Appropriations Committee. Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley spent "what aides say may total $1.5 million to $2 million, a staggering amount for a House race" in 1994, but he still lost to George Nethercutt in Washington's fifth district.

Many of you probably remember long-serving House and Senate Democrats in your own states who were swept away in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

By the same token, a lot of entrenched Republicans lost their seats during the 1974 post-Watergate wave. That was the year Iowans elected Tom Harkin and Berkley Bedell in the fifth and sixth Congressional districts, where both candidates had lost elections in 1972.

2. Even the political pros and the best analysts cannot always handicap Congressional races accurately, especially House races where public polls are scarce.

In 2006, could anyone have predicted that Lois Murphy (who almost beat Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach two years earlier) would fall short again in PA-06, while the massively under-funded Carol Shea-Porter would defeat Jeb Bradley in NH-01?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured millions into IL-06 in 2006, only to see Tammy Duckworth lose to Peter Roskam. Meanwhile, Larry Kissell didn't get the time of day from the DCCC and came just a few hundred votes short of beating Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in NC-08.

My point is that we can't always know where our best chances lie. Sometimes a stealth candidate can catch an incumbent napping in a race that hasn't been targeted by either party.

Look at the seats Republicans are now worried about, according to Politico:

GOP Reps. John B. Shadegg of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska, Henry Brown Jr. of South Carolina and Dan Lungren of California are all fighting for their political lives, a reversal of fortunes that has caught even the most astute campaign observers by surprise.

Markos commented on the Politico piece,

Shadegg's AZ-03 is R+5.9.
Terry's NE-02 is R+9.0.
Brown's SC-01 is R+9.6
Lungren's CA-03 is R+6.7.

We haven't had any public polls in Iowa's fourth or fifth district races, but last week Republican incumbent Tom Latham (IA-04, D+0) released his first negative television ad, suggesting that his internal polls may show Becky Greenwald gaining on him.

I can't tell you today who will win on November 4, but I guarantee you that some Democrats in "tossup" seats will lose, even as other Democrats take over "likely Republican" or "safe Republican" districts. Which brings me to my third point.

3. We need to expand the field of Republican-held districts we're playing for.

Thankfully, the bad old days when the DCCC would target 22 races, hoping to win 15, are just a memory. The DCCC has put more than 60 Republican-held seats in the "Red to Blue" category. Not all of those seats have seen media buys or other significant financial investment from the DCCC, however.

Plus, as I mentioned above, Dan Lungren is sweating bullets in CA-03, which isn't even on the Red to Blue list.

In 2006 we won at least two seats that were not in the Red to Blue program (IA-02 and NH-01) and came oh, so close in NC-08.

The bottom line is that a lot of Democratic challengers with the potential to win are not getting the support of the DCCC. This post at Swing State Project lists lots of seats once thought safe for Republicans, which are becoming competitive.

Where can netroots fundraising have the most impact? In my view, it's in the winnable districts where there will be no influx of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the DCCC or other outside groups. Many of these are districts where an additional $50,000 or even $25,000 can make the difference.

The mother of all moneybombs dumped three-quarters of a million dollars into Elwyn Tinklenberg's campaign in 24 hours over the weekend. It was a strong statement against the intolerance and bigotry Michelle Bachmann (MN-06) displayed on Hardball.

While I respect the enthusiasm, I can't agree with those who are still asking the netroots to give to Tinklenberg, even after he's collected more than $750,000 and the DCCC has promised to put $1 million into this race. Tinklenberg now has the resources to run an aggressive paid media and GOTV effort for the next two weeks. He probably has more money than he can spend effectively with so little time left.

Raising $50,000 for each of ten good challengers would be a better use of our energy than continuing to push activists to give to Tinklenberg.

Remember, few challengers are able to match incumbents dollar-for-dollar, but that doesn't mean they can't win. They don't need to match incumbent spending, but they do need the resources to improve their name recognition and capitalize on the Democratic wave.

Which House races should we target for a moneybomb? I would suggest looking at the list of candidates on the Blue America '08 page at Act Blue, as well as the candidates endorsed by Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund. We have good reason to believe that those candidates will stand up for progressive values.

I would then pick a few Democrats on those lists who are not benefiting from large independent expenditures by the DCCC or others. Some of the late additions to the Red to Blue list deserve more help from the netroots, such as Josh Segall in AL-03, whose Republican opponent recently bragged about his plans to be "the biggest pain in Nancy Pelosi's ass."

Our money will go further in districts with relatively inexpensive paid media. On a thread at a different blog, someone suggested GA-10, where the Democratic candidate is Bobby Saxon.

I would also favor candidates taking on particularly odious incumbents, such as Dennis Shulman (running against Scott Garrett in NJ-05) and Debbie Cook (facing Dana Rohrbacher in CA-46). RDemocrat has written a book's worth of material on why we should support Heather Ryan against "Exxon Ed" Whitfield in KY-01.

And what kind of Iowan would I be if I didn't mention Rob Hubler, who is taking on Steve King in IA-05? My fellow Iowa blogger 2laneIA published this comprehensive diary showing that if we're talking about the most ignorant and bigoted wingnuts in Congress, King gives Michelle Bachmann a run for her money. Click the link to read all about King's "greatest hits," including his suggestion that we electrify the border fence with Mexico like we do "with livestock," his prediction that terrorists will be "dancing in the streets" if Obama becomes president, and his pride in working to scale back funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (which he calls Socialist Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents). King considers his work to reduce SCHIP funding a "key moment" in his Congressional career.

Amazingly, there's even more to dislike about King than 2laneIA had room to mention in that piece. For instance, while still a state senator, King was a leading advocate for Iowa's "official English" law, which was adopted in 2002. Then he filed a lawsuit in 2007 to stop the Iowa Secretary of State's office from providing voter information in languages besides English. It's not for nothing that Ann Coulter calls King "one of my favorites."

Hubler is a good progressive who spoke out against the FISA bill and supports the Responsible Plan for Iraq. I just found out recently that during the 1980s he was INFACT's national director of the boycott against Nestle. Hubler also happens to be running a great campaign, but he is not getting much outside help except from Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund, which has sent an organizer to work on the campaign.

Two dozen House Democrats already represent districts with a partisan voting index of R+5 or worse. We should be able to increase that number in two weeks and send home Republicans who didn't even realize they were in trouble.

Few people have enough money to donate to every worthy Democratic candidate. But if the netroots could raise more than three-quarters of a million dollars for Elwyn Tinklenberg in just over 48 hours, we ought to be able to raise $50,000 each for ten good challengers, whose races are relatively low-profile.

Who's with me on this, and which districts should we target?

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Diaries

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