Oct. 11 absentee ballot for overseas voters

Obama 343   McCain 184   Ties 11
Senate Dem 59   GOP 41  
House Dem 247   GOP 186   Ties 2

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PW logo InsiderAdvantage: Obama Leads in Ohio InsiderAdvantage: Georgia Senate Race Deadlocked
Newsweek Poll: Obama Way Out In Front Palin Abused Her Power
Palin Schedules Tour of West Virginia Fox News: Obama Leads By Seven Nationally

News from the Votemaster

Investigator's Report: Palin Violated State Ethics Law

The long-awaited report of retired prosecutor Steve Branchflower, who was hired by the Alaska legislature to investigate alleged misconduct on the part of Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin was issued yesterday. The full report is available here. The main conclusion is that Palin abused her power as governor to settle a personal vendetta and that in doing so broke the Alaska ethics law. The report contains the statement: "I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110 (a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act." In theory, she could be impeached and fined for this behavior, but it is doubtful that the Republican-controlled state legislature will sanction her at all.

As we have pointed out many times, be careful what you wish for; you might get it. McCain has long wished for some other news story to drown out the endless stories about the economic turmoil. Finally he got it: the Palin abuse-of-power story is being covered in detail by the Washington Post, New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, and just about every other national paper in the country as well as most of the foreign press.

If you haven't been following the story, known as Troopergate, here is an executive summary. Palin's sister, Molly, was involved in a bitter divorce and child custody fight with her former husband, state trooper Mike Wooten. Palin, who supports family values, wanted to help her sister in the custody battle by causing her ex brother-in-law to be unemployed. So she asked the state commissioner of public safety, Walt Monegan, to fire Wooten. Monegan refused. Wooten had been involved in some misconduct earlier, but Monegan told Palin that Wooten had been disciplined for it already and the case was closed. Monegan further told Palin to get off Wooten's case because that might be seen as an ethics violation. Palin took his advice and assigned her husband, Todd Palin, the job of getting state employees to work on getting Wooten fired. One of the attempts was a telephone call that was (lawfully) recorded and later released. Branchflower found over a dozen specific incidents where state employees took action to try to get Wooten fired. Ultimately, Palin got frustrated with the process and fired Monegan. This firing was what started the investigation.

Palin denies all wrongdoing and says the report is politically motivated. However, the investigation was started before Palin was chosen to be the vice-presidential nominee, the Republicans control the state legislature, and the report was released yesterday by a unanimous vote of the bipartisan Joint Legislative Council, which had oversight on the investigation. The investigator, Steve Branchflower, is a retired prosecutor with a reputation for integrity. None of these facts suggest a political hatchet job. In fact, the president of the Alaska state senate, Lyda Green, a Republican from Palin's home town of Wasilla, said: "The problem with power is that people pay attention to it. And it's very easy to get beside yourself and use it in the wrong way. And we do have to leave personal business at home."

What Happens Next with Palin?

Standard operating procedure when your vice-presidential nominee gets into hot water is prayer--pray this all goes away quickly. But it probably won't and McCain will have to answer questions about his judgment in choosing personnel. If you can't even vet your running mate--arguably the most important decision of the entire campaign--how are you going to vet cabinet appointees, federal judges, and thousands of other people the President appoints? Undoubtedly McCain raged at his de-facto campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, yesterday for pressuring him to choose Palin. McCain is widely believed to have preferred his good friend Sen. Joe Lieberman, but Lieberman is pro-choice and his selection would have widened the gap between McCain and the Republican base into something approximating a large canyon located in McCain's home state.

What next? McCain could dump Palin and pick a new running mate, but then Obama's steady attack that McCain is erratic would resonate strongly with independents and Democrats. Furthermore, who would he pick? The base wouldn't tolerate Lieberman on abortion. They would love Mike Huckabee, but McCain thinks he is loony. Mitt Romney might be a plausible pick given the emphasis on economics, but having a ticket consisting of a guy worth $100 million and a guy worth $200 million when people are losing their houses wouldn't look good. Giuliani can say "9/11" more times per minute than anyone in recorded history but that's not what McCain needs right now. Picking another unknown who hasn't been vetted is not appealing. So he's probably stuck with Palin and has to hope this subsides quickly.

GOP and Conservatives Oppose McCain Mortgage Plan

As if the Branchflower report weren't bad enough, McCain is taking a lot of friendly fire over his mortgage plan. Basically, it would have the government buy distressed mortgages from the banks and then renegotiate terms with the homeowners. The plan has been harshly criticized by economists who endorsed McCain, Republican congressmen, and conservative bloggers. What's a candidate to do when the home team is razzing you?

Gay Marriage Ruled Legal in Connecticut

The one piece of good news for McCain yesterday is that the Connecticut supreme court ruled that gay people can get married in Connecticut, making it the third state (after Massachusetts and California) to allow it. This decision may allow McCain to try to reignite the culture wars of the 1960s and fight the rest of his campaign based on it. The trouble with that approach is that independents care more about the economy than these hot-button cultural issues that so excite the Republican base. Emphasizing traditional marriage may shore up McCain's support with the base, but that is not enough right now. He has to get the independents moving in his direction and gay marriage isn't the issue to do it.

McCain Still Trails in the National Polls

We have eight national polls today. Here they are.

      - Battleground (Obama +8)
      - Diageo (Obama +7)
      - Gallup (Obama +10)
      - Newsweek (Obama +11)
      - Opinion Dynamics (Obama +7)
      - Rasmussen (Obama +5)
      - Research 2000 (Obama +12)
      - Zogby (Obama +5)

On the average, Obama's lead is 8.1%. McCain clearly has to shake things up fast and the Branchflower report is probably not what the doctor ordered and neither is the gay marriage ruling.

As the stock market has collapsed (the Dow had its worst week in history last week, dropping 18%), John McCain's stock has plummeted, too. This graph shows the close correlation between the S&P 500 stock index and McCain's standing the national Gallup polls. Thanks to Scott Brandt for the pointer.

A Filbuster-Proof Senate?

Even scarier for conservatives than an Obama presidency is an Obama presidency coupled with 60 Demcratic senators and an 80-seat Democratic majority in the House. We aren't that far from such a scenario. If you look at the Senate page you'll see the Democrats are currently poised to get 59 seats in the Senate, with three cliffhangers (Kentucky, Georgia, and Mississippi-B) currently just barely Republican. If the Democrats can hold the 59 seats they are currently predicted to hold and pick up one of the three close races, they will be able to actually pass legislation.

Today's Polls

We have eight presidential polls today. John McCain has a solid lead in Alabama, but the rest of the polls look bleak. Barack Obama is ahead by 5 points in Florida, by 13 points in Iowa, by 5 points in Ohio, by 11 points in Oregon, by 11 points in Pennsylvania, and by 24 points in Vermont. McCain is ahead in Georgia, but only by 3 points in a state Bush won by 17 points in 2004.

State Obama McCain Start End Pollster
Alabama 35% 62% Oct 08 Oct 09 SurveyUSA
Florida 49% 44% Oct 06 Oct 08 Research 2000
Georgia 46% 49% Oct 09 Oct 09 Insider Advantage
Iowa 54% 41% Oct 08 Oct 09 SurveyUSA
Ohio 49% 44% Oct 09 Oct 09 Insider Advantage
Oregon 54% 43% Oct 09 Oct 09 Rasmussen
Pennsylvania 50% 39% Oct 05 Oct 09 Muhlenberg Coll.
Vermont 60% 36% Oct 09 Oct 09 Rasmussen

We also have four Senate polls and here too it is all bad news for the Republicans. Georgia is an exact tie, with challenger Jim Martin (D) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) both at 45%. This was expected to be a blowout for Chambliss. In North Carolina it is even worse, with state senator Kay Hagan (D) leading Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) 49% to 44%. Iowa and Michigan will be Democratic landslides, as expected.

State Democrat D-pct Republican R-pct Start End Pollster
Georgia Jim Martin 45% Saxby Chambliss* 45% Oct 09 Oct 09 Insider Advantage
Iowa Tom Harkin* 58% Christopher Reed 37% Oct 08 Oct 09 SurveyUSA
Michigan Carl Levin* 61% Jack Hoogendyk 36% Oct 08 Oct 08 Rasmussen
North Carolina Kay Hagan 49% Elizabeth Dole* 44% Oct 08 Oct 08 Rasmussen

We also have three House polls. One of them will be encouraging to conservatives. In WA-08, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) is 8 points ahead of former Microsoft manager and Internet darling Darcy Burner (D).

Cong. Distr. Democrat D-pct Republican R-pct Start End Pollster
MI-09 Gary Peters 43% Joe Knollenberg* 43% Sep 30 Oct 02 Mitchell Research
NE-02 Jim Esch 39% Lee Terry* 49% Oct 06 Oct 08 Research 2000
WA-08 Darcy Burner 41% Dave Reichert* 49% Oct 05 Oct 07 Research 2000

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