Not fat, not a lady, but Nate Silver is singing

This may be the last polling analysis of the Massachusetts Senate race worth paying attention to before the voting starts tomorrow. According to Nate Silver, Republican candidate Scott Brown now has a 74 percent chance of winning. As recently as last night, Silver very tentatively gave Democrat Martha Coakley a 58 percent chance.

What happened? A series of polls throughout today that just got worse and worse for Coakley. Silver explains:

Coakley’s odds are substantially worse than they appeared to be 24 hours ago, when there were fewer credible polls to evaluate and there appeared to be some chance that her numbers were bottoming out and perhaps reversing. However, the ARG and Research 2000 polls both show clear and recent trends against her. Indeed the model, which was optimized for regular rather than special elections, may be too slow to incorporate new information and may understate the magnitude of the trend toward Brown.

What I like about Silver is that he’s not a pollster — rather, he’s someone who looks at a wide range of polls and makes sense of them. His record in the presidential campaign was outstanding.

This is very bad news for the Coakley campaign.

Why NECN didn’t carry Obama’s speech

I watched President Obama’s speech at Northeastern University online Sunday, so I didn’t realize until later that New England Cable News hadn’t carried it. I e-mailed NECN spokesman Skip Perham, and here is his response:

Over the life of the Obama administration we have consistently carried his policy speeches live.

We made the decision not to cover Martha Coakley’s rally featuring President Obama because it was a pure political event. We made the same decision about candidate Scott Brown’s event in Worcester.

If you take a look at NECN’s Sunday-afternoon schedule, you’ll see that it says “Paid Programming.”

Now, there’s an old cliché that elections have consequences. One of those consequences is that a speech by the president of the United States in your own back yard is by definition more newsworthy than a speech by Curt Schilling.

Was Obama’s speech purely political? Yes. But if NECN wants to amend its guidelines so that it will be able to carry all live speeches by the president within 10 miles of its headquarters, I don’t think station executives will have to inconvenience themselves more than once or twice a decade.

Democracy and the Senate

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times today run stories on the fate of health-care reform in the event that Republican candidate Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s special election for the U.S. Senate.

In light of that, I want to address the notion that it would be somehow undemocratic if the House could be persuaded to pass the Senate bill, thus avoiding a return trip to the Senate, or if a compromise measure were rushed through before Brown can be sworn in.

First, let’s look at the composition of the Senate itself. Even if Brown wins, the Senate will comprise 59 Democrats or their allies and 41 Republicans. Only in the upside-down world of the modern Senate would that be considered anything less than an enormous advantage.

What gives the Republicans clout, of course, is their unprecedented strategy of filibustering vote after vote. As Paul Krugman recently noted, a study by the political scientist Barbara Sinclair found that the routine filibuster is a very recent phenomenon, and entirely Republican in origin.

If the Republicans are going to insist that 60 votes are needed to get anything done, then rules reform ought to be the first order of the day. My preference would be an insistence that filibusters be carried out the old-fashioned way, Jimmy Stewart-style, on the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid could play Lyndon Johnson, forcing everyone to stay in the chamber until human biology brought an end to the charade.

My second point is that we tend to forget what a distorting effect the Constitution’s two-senators-per-state rule has with regard to whose voice gets heard. I ran some numbers a little while ago; in states with one Democrat and one Republican, I awarded half the population to each. Using that formula, I found that Democratic senators represent 196 million Americans, and Republican senators represent just 110 million.

Thus the Senate’s 60-40 margin in favor of Democrats would widen to 64-36 if the one-person/one-vote rule were followed. And a Brown victory would barely affect that margin, as it would be 63 percent to 37 percent.

There’s no question that a Brown victory would have an enormous psychological effect. It’s hard to know whether congressional Democrats would push something through in order to put health care behind them once and for all, or if they would decide instead to give up on the whole effort.

But that’s a matter for another day — perhaps Wednesday.

Coakley supporters cross the line

Over the past few days we’ve received numerous fliers on behalf of the two major-party Senate candidates, Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown. Somehow, though, this one eluded us: a nasty piece of work put out by the Democratic State Committee accusing Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals.

The truth about Brown and rape victims is bad enough. Under an amendment Brown unsuccessfully sponsored in the Massachusetts Senate in 2005, hospitals and individual health-care workers would have been allowed to refuse rape victims emergency contraception on the grounds that such contraception amounts to abortion. Brown has waffled on the subject during the past week, and his supporters have ludicrously claimed that insisting health-care workers do their jobs is a form of anti-Catholic discrimination.

But that hardly adds up to this:

1,736 WOMEN WERE RAPED IN MASSACHUSETTS IN 2008. SCOTT BROWN WANTS HOSPITALS TO TURN THEM ALL AWAY.

As I said, the flier was produced not by the Coakley campaign but by the Democratic State Committee. I don’t know whether or not the campaign and the party are legally able to coordinate their efforts. But I think there’s a good chance Coakley didn’t know this was coming.

Should she denounce it? Yes. Will she? Probably not.

On the other hand, it looks like the Brown campaign is going to overplay the hand it’s been dealt. According to an e-mail posted at Red Mass Group, the campaign plans to file a “criminal complaint” about the ad. Sen. Brown, meet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Then again, I’m not surprised that Brown would take this gift the Democrats have handed him and turn it into another example of his reverence for the Constitution — and his contempt for its actual provisions.

Push comes to shove

Since yesterday, we have received a thorough airing of the shoving (tripping?) incident involving John McCormack, a reporter with the conservative Weekly Standard, and Democratic operative Michael Meehan, who’s working for Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley. As we should. Even allowing for exaggeration, Coakley’s reaction was oddly passive. (Boston Globe coverage here; Boston Herald coverage here.)

But there are also a few stories floating around that we haven’t heard much about, and that political reporters might want to look into today:

  • Supporters of Republican candidate Scott Brown are mocking Coakley’s claim that Brown groupies have been “stalking” her. But independent candidate Joe Kennedy has posted a message on his Facebook page alleging the same thing, saying that he’s gone so far as to report threats of violence to local police. Obviously the Brown campaign is not involved. But what exactly is going on?
  • Brown has been caught telling a blatant untruth with regard to his claim that he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-party movement. Talking Points Memo has posted pictures and videos. (Correction: Talking Points now says the Brown campaign has provided evidence that Brown did not say he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-partiers.)
  • Despite claims by Brown supporters that the Coakley campaign has engaged in anti-Brown push-polling, I have yet to see a single account by a person with a name. On the other hand, there are numerous credible accounts of people receiving vicious anti-Coakley calls; here are a few. Again, I doubt very much the Brown campaign is actually involved. But why has there been no coverage of this sleazy tactic? And why has Brown said so little?

One of Brown’s attempts to hide from his record is getting a thorough airing: his claim that he had nothing to do with his own bill that would have allowed hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Yvonne Abraham and Joan Vennochi let him have it with both barrels in today’s Globe.

Update: In the comments, Scutch points to this story from the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York. Apparently the aforementioned John McCormack creeped out congressional candidate Dierdre Scozzafava sufficiently that her husband notified police.

The Senate race and the media

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the national attention being paid to the Massachusetts Senate race has more to do with a simplistic media narrative — and one outlying poll — than it does with Republican candidate Scott Brown’s actual chances of winning.

Quick thoughts on the Senate debate

Three quick thoughts on last night’s Senate debate:

• It was by far the best and most energetic performance I’ve seen from the major-party candidates, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. They really had a chance to mix it up, and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless. Apparently Brown has decided he’ll live or die with his sneering references to “constitutional rights.”

• Joe Kennedy struck me as fringier than he has in previous appearances — especially the WBZ debate, where he was quite good. This time, he came off as Ron Paul with an even worse haircut.

• Two cheers for moderator David Gergen, who did an excellent job except for a longish segment in which he kept insisting that the candidates support cuts in middle-class benefits. What does the Gergen agenda have to do with the Senate race? Coakley finally put him in his place by reminding everyone of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Wall Street bailouts.

John Carroll’s got a nice take on the debate. And MassLive.com notes that “Massachusetts” is misspelled in a new Coakley ad attacking Brown (via David Bernstein).

Is there any evidence of anti-Brown push-polling?

I find myself wondering whether I should have passed on claims that someone is involved in push-polling targeted at Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. In the case of those anti-Martha Coakley calls, I have specific examples from people I know. The anti-Brown calls amount to no more than a rumor.

If you have received a push-poll call aimed at damaging Brown, please post some details. If you want to be taken seriously, use your real name.

Anti-Coakley (and anti-Brown) push-polling reported

Friend of Media Nation John Doherty posts this in the comments:

here in Boston suburbs, I just got “push polled” on the election.

Oddly, they identified the candidates by party first “Republican Scott Brown” *, etc. and then asked if I supported either one (no mention of the faux Kennedy libertarian).

When I said Coakley (in fact, I already voted absentee in case of bad weather), they asked if it would change my vote if I knew Coakley supported “tax payer funding of abortions”.

Call came in around 8:40 Sunday night from DC number: 202 461-3440.

Reverse lookup tells me it’s a landline in Westchester, DC and is unpublished.

* odd because GOP label is pretty toxic here.

This is so mind-blowingly stupid that I have agree with John that it’s “odd.” My guess is it’s some right-wing organization working not just independently of Brown, but against his interests. Apparently they haven’t heard that Massachusetts isn’t Alabama.

I tried calling the number and got a busy signal.

Instant update: A poster at Universal Hub says the calls are connected to Americans in Contact PAC, a right-wing group.

Still more: Just saw a link on Twitter about push-polling linking Brown to “hate groups.” This is really getting ugly.

Polling the Senate race

Good luck making sense out of polls about the Massachusetts Senate race.

Following Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s even-bigger-than-expected victory in the Dec. 8 primary, most political observers had assumed she would cruise in the final. That assumption has been looking questionable since last week, when a Rasmussen poll showed Coakley with just a nine-point margin over her Republican challenger, Scott Brown.

Then, last night, Public Policy Polling released the results of a survey showing Brown actually leading Coakley by a margin of 48 percent to 47 percent. Let the tea party begin!

A few hours later, the Boston Globe published a story about its own poll, in which Coakley is maintaining a comfortable 15-point lead.

So what’s going on here? Who knows?

Frankly, I would start by throwing out the Public Policy Polling survey — it’s a robocall. (“If Scott Brown, press 1. If Martha Coakley, press 2.”) Would you hang on the line? I wouldn’t.

I’ll also point out that the Globe’s poll was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a highly respected operation. I’m no polling expert, but I do know that Rasmussen gets mixed reviews.

Also, as best as I can tell from diving into the fine print, it looks like the Globe/UNH poll was the only one of the three in which respondents were specifically asked about the third candidate in the race, libertarian independent Joe Kennedy, who receives a not-insignificant 5 percent. Indeed, given the vagaries of polling, that alone could explain the difference between Rasmussen’s nine-point margin and the Globe’s 15-point spread.

What’s making everyone hypercautious is that we have absolutely no idea who’s going to turn out in the Jan. 19 special election. And what if there’s a blizzard?

My guess, though, is that Coakley’s right where you’d expect her to be with a little more than a week to go.