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Lame Ducks, Unresolved Races, and the 2012 Horserace Begins

With the congressional lame duck session underway, ruminations on the midterm elections will yield to real-life events, but the furious partisan spin will if anything intensify.  Republicans will seek to stall action on major legislative items until they swear in their new members in January, but must take some sort of position on the public debt limit, overdue appropriations, expiring tax cuts, unemployment benefits, the START treaty, and other items Democrat will bring to the House and Senate floors.  Recently most of the intra-Republican maneuvering has involved conservative efforts to force the GOP Senate leadership to embrace a ban on so-called “earmarks,” which appears to have succeeded.

It’s the tax cut issue that could be the most complicated and contentious.  The White House’s position (shared by progressive Democrats) has long been that expiring Bush income tax cuts should only be made permanent for middle-class taxpayers (defined, actually, as 98 percent of taxpayers), while Republicans are holding out for a straight and permanent extension.  Polling backs the Democratic position, but the business community is poised to shriek about the negative economic impact of hiking taxes on anyone in a recession, and the small business lobby will claim any personal income tax hike for the top bracket will hurt its constituency badly.  Blue Dog opposition to a partial extension helped delay resolution of the matter until after the midterms, and now Republicans are pressing for a temporary if not permanent extension of all the tax cuts.  The impact on the deficit of any extension is another factor in the debate, though most Republican self-described deficit hawks have long internalized the conservative argument that failure to extend a tax cut is a tax increase and thus should be off the table.

An unwelcome distraction for Democrats is the ethics committee proceedings involving Rep. Charles Rangel of NY, who was found guilty by the panel today of 11 rules violations.

Outside Washington, there is continuing drama in a few unresolved 2010 races.  The main event is in Minnesota, where Republicans appear to be digging in for a long legal battle to prevent the inauguration of apparent gubernatorial winner Mark Dayton.  What they hope to produce is a situation where the newly elected legislature (both chambers were won by the GOP) takes office and works with holdover Gov. Tim Pawlenty (who under state law remains in office until a successor is sworn in) to rapidly enact conservative legislation.  This patent offense to fair play and voter intent is rationalized by Republicans through the inevitable claim that Dayton benefitted from vote fraud, and Pawlenty, who is almost certainly running for president, will undoubtedly welcome the national attention he’d get for thumbing his nose at Democrats.  GOPers also think of this scenario as payback for the 2009 legal battle by Democrats on behalf of Sen. Al Franken.

Aside from Pawlenty’s maneuvers, 2012 speculation has been fed by a batch of twelve Public Policy Polling surveys of 2010 Republican voters (in AK, FL, KY, ME, MN, NV, NC, OH, TX, WA, WV, WI) measuring their early presidential preferences among Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence Mitt Romney.   In all twelve, Romney, Huckabee, Palin and Gingrich are in double digits; Pawlenty breaks double digits in his home state of MN (with 19 percent).  Palin leads in ME, OH, TX, WA, WV, and WI; Huckabee leads in AK and KY; Romney in FL and NV; Gingrich in NC; and TimPaw in MN.

Nate Silver of 538 posted an argument that dark horse candidates are very unlikely to break through against the Big Four of Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin and Romney, while Jonathan Bernstein responded: “Early good polling based on name recognition for weak candidates really is meaningless — see Rudy Giuliani ’08, among many others.”

Photo credit : Thomas Hawk