7:30 a.m. Vin Weber, former 6-term Minnesota Republican U.S. Representative (1981-1993), will be speaking at the Humphrey Institute today on the state of the Republican Party and conservatism. Despite generally low approval of the job the Democrats have done since seizing control of the U.S. House and Senate with last fall’s elections, Democrats still dominate the GOP in generic poll matchups. Early November CNN and Rasmussen polls give Democrats an 11-point advantage, while an NBC poll gives Democrats a 9-point spread. When Democrats were elected in a mini-landslide last November, several surveys showed the Democrats with a 15 to 20 point lead the week before the election.
7:55 a.m. Weber starts out by saying things “ain’t that good right now” for the Republican Party, with the decline starting about three years ago. Weber notes that Democrats hold a 12-point advantage in party identification nationally. (Note: in Minnesota, an average of 11 SurveyUSA polls conducted in 2007 finds 37 percent of Minnesotans identify themselves as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans, and 27 percent as independents.).
8:00 a.m. Weber, who has been involved in the Romney campaign, states he doesn’t like the ‘national’ primary that is going to occur on February 5th, when up to 20 states will hold their primary contests. Weber admits Romney has a two-state strategy (Iowa and New Hampshire) and that Giuliani’s national strategy was a mistake: if Giuliani loses Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina, he will have a difficult time holding on to his leads in the big states on February 5th.
8:05 a.m. Weber says Fred Thompson got into the race too late and has been relegated to a ‘regional’ (Southern) candidate, though former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee could displace Thompson as the ‘son of the south,’ especially if he wins Iowa. Weber is advising Romney on policy, and thinks Giuliani still has the best strategy to win the election.
8:10 a.m. Weber finds that Republicans are having a difficult time advancing a viable economic program, the kind that Ronald Reagan used to build the Republican base in the 1980s by advocating tax cuts in a time of rising inflation. The only proposal that has received some attention is Huckabee’s “fair tax” programs, which creates a national sales tax and eliminates the IRS. Weber says this program is unlikely to withstand scrutiny once Huckabee becomes a first-tier candidate (it is estimated the national sales tax would have to be 23 to 30 percent) to replace the money generated by the IRS through income tax).
8:15 a.m. Weber says despite good economic indicators the U.S. electorate is very skeptical and nervous about the economy. Regarding Iraq, Weber finds very little differences between the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The Democrats are more prone to criticize the past – claiming that Bush misled the country etc. – but that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards all believe troops will need to be in Iraq for at least another 16 months.
8:20 a.m. Regarding social issues, Weber notes that the increase in support for Huckabee is largely coming from the evangelicals, and that having a single-constituency base will not get him the nomination. Weber says abortion and gay marriage has been replaced by social conservatives by immigration, and that Romney, Giuliani, and McCain all had moderate views on immigration at the beginning of their campaigns. When they go to Iowa, however, they soon shifted their views toward more restrictive positions, as it became clear this was the number one policy concern of Iowans.
8:30 a.m. In a question and answer session with CSPG Director Larry Jacobs, Weber says that the Republican Party makes a mistake if it assumes evangelicals will vote for the GOP nominee even if he is liberal on social issues (e.g. Giuliani). He notes this evangelical tradition is rooted in democratic populism, and that a portion of this Republican base will bolt if the nominee does not align with their views. All it takes is a few percent to not vote, or to vote for a third party, to transform the 2008 election into a big win for the Democrats, across the midwest as well as some southern states.
8:45 a.m. Weber states he does not believe the invasion of Iraq was fundamentally wrong, but that it was fundamentally implemented in the wrong way and, knowing what we know now, at the wrong time. Weber acknowledges that even though most estimates indicate things are improving in Iraq, Republicans should not take solace in this because most Americans believe the Iraq war was simply not worth it.
8:50 a.m. When asked why he chose to support Romney instead of John McCain, Weber says he did not think McCain was interested in domestic policies – such as environmental issues – plus McCain is now viewed as a Washington insider (and identified with support of the Iraq war). Weber believes a Republican can only win the White House in ’08 if he is not associated with Washington, D.C.
8:55 a.m. Weber does not believe New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will run as an independent for president, but, if he does, he will ultimately hurt the Democratic nominee more than the Republican nominee, as the most likely states he could win are the bigger, industrialized states – most of which were carried by Gore and Kerry, not Bush.