Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's Official

The general election has officially begun! Congratulations to Dr. Davis (and Mr. Walz, I suppose) on his primary win and also to Mr. Day for a well-fought campaign and not-too-shabby showing against a much better-funded candidate.

Now it's time for Dr. Davis to answer some important questions. More on this after work today!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I hope Brian Davis was watching Meet The Press this morning. The ever-insightful Thomas Friedman directly addressed the chants of "Drill, baby, drill" at the Republican convention (via Lexis-Nexis):

BROKAW: It's hard to get the kind of focus that we need on this kind of a challenge in the midst of a political season. Last week they were chanting "drill, baby, drill," at the Republican convention. Senator Obama, speaker Nancy Pelosi have said recently, well they'd be willing to take a look at offshore drilling, even though we know that there wouldn't be any real productivity for 10 more years. Both parties, it seems to me, share a responsibility here and blame at the same time.

No, there's no question this has been a bipartisan effort to get us into this alley, dead end, that we're in right now, Tom. But when I hear, drill, drill, drill, or drill, baby, drill, I try to imagine--Tom, you were at the convention, I wasn't, what would happen if the Saudi, Venezuelan, Russian and Nigeria observers were up in a sky box in that Xcel Center listening to the crowd chant, "drill, drill, drill"? What would they be doing? They'd be up there leading the chant. They'd be saying this is great. America isn't sitting there saying, "Invent, invent, invent new, renewable energy," they're saying, "drill, drill, drill." And you know, for me, yes, we do need to exploit our domestic resource. I'm actually not against drilling. What I'm against is making that the center of our focus, because we are on the eve of a new revolution, the energy technology revolution. It would be, Tom, as if on the eve of the IT revolution, the revolution of PCs and the Internet, someone was up there standing and demanding, "IBM Selectric typewriters, IBM Selectric typewriters." That's what drill, drill, drill, is the equivalent of today.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

ScienceDebate 2008

I also promised to get back to more science and technology policy issues this fall. ScienceDebate 2008 is a grassroots effort with the goal of hosting a presidential debate that focuses on science issues, which are traditionally ignored in most elections. Prominent scholars, community leaders, and legislators, including Tim Walz, signed on to support the debate. Unfortunately, neither candidate was willing to schedule an actual joint appearance, but both candidates have committed to sending written responses to 14 questions. Barack Obama's are here.

The Stakes

As fun and exciting as it is to follow the horse race aspect of politics, I think we all, and I am often guilty of this, sometimes forget exactly what is at stake. Check out the conclusions from the latest data released by the Census Bureau about the economy from 2001-2007:

Since 2001, poverty has worsened in Minnesota

Nearly 1 in 12 Minnesotans do not have health insurance.

Minnesota faces an economic downturn with a lower median income than in the last recessions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Culmination

What a night. No matter what your political stripes, it is hard not to feel proud of Barack Obama and what he has achieved. It is a truly a milestone in American history. Not to mention the speech (minus that music at the end).

Until this point, I really felt that the convention had been lacking vigor and focus. Tonight, I think that Barack Obama went a long way in clarifying his general election message and really defining his view of the choice that will be presented to the American voters in the fall. "Change" is still there and so is "hope", but I think that the real new buzzword tonight was "American promise". Those are two words that I think we will be hearing a lot more in the next two months. It is a succinct summary of Obama's message and I think that it really worked tonight. John McCain and the Republicans will have a hard time following this speech next week.

Here's one definition of "the promise" from Obama:
It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.
I'm seeing some reaction on the AP wire right now criticizing the lack of policy details in this speech. I agree there might have been more, especially given the prevailing wisdom that Obama has an "experience problem". There will be time for Obama to demonstrate his policy knowledge in the debates. This speech was about Obama's vision for the country, and I believe people will appreciate that. Nonetheless, I still maintain that he is going to have get a little more detail-oriented as people really begin tuning in to this election. Overall, this was a great night for Obama and gives him momentum in this race until at least next week.

Finally, it has been a pleasure restarting this blog this summer. There will most likely be no new posts until late next week. I am heading back to school this weekend, so things are going to get pretty busy. This is a great time in politics and it has been so fun blogging about it. Please keep sending me emails and leaving comments; it is nice to hear from the people reading, whether you agree with me or not. Also, I plan to write a lot more about science issues when I return. That was one of my main focuses last year, and I have strayed from that this summer. Have a wonderful Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dueling Ads

The first ads of the congressional race in Minnesota’s First District have been released.

First let’s take a look at Congressman Walz’s ad:


TIM WALZ: It’s pretty clear – the Bush energy plan is working. For the big oil companies, not for us. I’m Tim Walz. We need a balanced plan that gets us out of this mess for good. Let’s increase oil production here at home, speed up and advance alternative energy, and invest in energy that makes conservation affordable and practical. I approve this message because American ingenuity we can have a real energy plan that ends our dependence on foreign oil and works for us.

My initial impression is that this is a very strong and effective ad for Walz. It has become clear for some time that Davis plans to make this campaign about drilling. In this ad, Walz offers a cogent, tempered, and statesman-like approach to the energy crisis, and I believe it will contrast well with frantic shrieks of “Drill here! Drill now!” It is also a much better rebuttal than Speaker Pelosi’s.

I have one suggestion: I believe that it might have been more effective to feature, by name, the “Walz Bipartisan Energy Plan” that takes a prominent place on Walz’s website. By highlighting that, Walz would have been able to show his constituents in a tangible way what Tim has been working on in Washington. Also, it would have associated Walz with “bipartisanship” – a positive linkage, especially considering the distaste many have for Congress due greatly to hyperpartisan gridlock. He could have even said, as stated on the website, “In July of 2008, Tim and about 20 of his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, got fed up with the partisan bickering and finger-pointing in Congress about who is to blame for our energy crisis and decided to do something about it. They kicked the special interests from the room, rolled up their sleeves and got to work to figure out a smart, balanced plan that makes America energy independent.” That would have been a great start to the ad. He should then have talked about responsible drilling. It is important to emphasize the drilling aspect in this way for two reasons. First, most Americans favor drilling. Second, it gives him more credibility than Brian Davis’s reckless “plan” to simply drill anywhere, anytime, no matter what. This is the kind of thing that should be highlighted in the future. It gives Tim Walz “pragmatic cred” especially when juxtaposed next to Dr. Davis’s attack in his ad.

Cue the scary music, it is time to take a look at the ad from Dr. Davis:


NARRATOR: Tim Walz says he’s against drilling for oil in Alaska and offshore. Instead of staying at work to solve our problem of high gas prices, he voted to shut down Congress and take a summer vacation.

BRIAN DAVIS: I’m Brian Davis. I’m not a career politician, but I know that most Americans want to drill here and drill now. If I’m elected to Congress I’ll work to remove all barriers to drilling for our own oil. Our children are relying on us to do the right thing. I’m Brian Davis, and I approve this message.

This ad is a classic 2-part attack ad – attack and end positive. As to its effectiveness, I am not sure. It will definitely help Davis in his primary. In addition to boosting his name recognition, Davis will also appeal to the overwhelming sentiment in the Republican party that we should be drilling. The ad also plays to Tim Walz’s greatest weakness – he is a member of the only governmental institution that has a lower approval rating than Dick Cheney. By talking about “going on vacation” Davis may be able to tap into the sentiment that this Congress has been particularly ineffective. I am not sure the larger effect the drilling attack will have. Many Minnesotans including Norm Coleman, and even John McCain, oppose or at one point opposed (who knows considering McCain’s flip-flops on energy), drilling in Alaska and offshore. Minnesotans tend to favor conservation, so I am not sure if Davis is in line with those views or not. I have not seen any recent polling on this issue from Minnesota, so whether this has changed or not given current gasoline prices is unknown in any quantitative way.

This ad is a lot less substantive than that of Rep. Walz, but that has been the case throughout this campaign – Davis has not provided a lot of specifics on many issues. I suppose this is really the best they had to work with, and given that, this is a fair effort. Davis knows that to win, he must make the incumbent the issue, and it is clear that that is the main intention of this ad. In a year that seems to favor Democrats, however, Dr. Davis may have a hard time accomplishing that.

Check out MN Central's thoughtful analysis of Davis's ad here.

I think in this first skirmish of the ad war, Congressman Walz has definitely come out on top. His ad was substantive and showed Walz as the candidate of ideas. Davis, meanwhile, took the opposite approach, deciding to criticize Walz and provide a somewhat simplistic approach to energy. It will become increasingly clear in the next two months the effects of Davis’s attacks. I argue that Walz must continue to present himself as a pragmatist who works for the people in spite of politics if he wants to keep the people on his side.

Needless to say, this is going to be an interesting two months.

Tim Walz on Joe Biden

The Austin Daily Herald reported today on the reactions of local Democrats to Obama's choosing Joe Biden as a running mate. Tim Walz is quoted:

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., who was in town Monday to trumpet a new veteran’s bill, said as much.

“People know that we need a change,” he said, adding, “I think it makes good sense to have someone who knows the system.”

I am not sure I agree. Yes, Joe Biden has experience on foreign affairs and is skilled in the ways of Washington, but do these qualities really help the ticket get elected? Of course these qualities will be useful when it comes to governance. In the election, however, they mainly serve to underscore Obama's shortcomings in FP experience, however unintentionally. Biden also will undercut the "change" argument even if he does not own a house in DC. On the other hand perhaps the choice demonstrates Obama's understanding of his own flaws and the need to overcome them. I have no doubt that Joe Biden would be a capable president and will hold his own in the VP debate, but I am not convinced he adds anything more electorally (actually he probably adds less) than Hillary Clinton, who would also be a capable president. We'll see how this all pans out.

Another interesting angle to this choice is how it will affect McCain's. The conventional wisdom, and I think I agree, is that this lowers Pawlenty's stock. He is viewed as too bland and the thought is he would be eaten alive in the VP debate with Biden. I am not sure the VP debate has ever swayed an election, and I think McCain (according to reports) values loyalty, so Pawlenty may not be out of this. I think Romney should probably be out, unless McCain doesn't mind being made to look foolish. Romney relentlessly attacked McCain during the primary, and the fact that he is a multimillionaire is probably not helping his case given McCain's recent gaffe. And I think we should all be on the lookout for Sen. Hutchinson.