Prof. Sabato's Crystal Ball

Prof. Larry Sabato joined us on the show today to give some analysis of his Crystal Ball (out today).

For more - here is the full Crystal Ball - for your enjoyment...


By Kyle Kondik

Political Analyst, U.Va. Center for Politics

In the last election cycle, several "non-politician politicians" -- candidates who have never held public office who ran for a major office -- went from obscurity to high office.

These non-politician politicians include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) and Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), all 2010 winners. Bob Turner, the upset Republican winner of the New York Ninth Congressional District special election last month, is another good example.

And now, a non-politician politician -- Herman Cain -- is making what appears to be, at first blush, a credible campaign for the highest office in the land.

As Rick Perry's campaign has stumbled, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO has gained. The last four major national polls -- conducted by Quinnipiac, ABC News/The Washington Post, Fox News and CBS News -- have each shown Cain with 17 percentage points of support in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, good enough to tie or beat Perry in three of them (Mitt Romney led three of the polls and was tied with Cain in the other).

Will the Republican Party -- especially in light of Chris Christie's decision not to run -- opt for Cain, who has never held public office, and who lost his only prior election (a 2004 GOP U.S. Senate primary in Georgia)?

Almost certainly not. A Cain nomination would be an aberration of historic proportions: American political parties typically don't nominate people without previous officeholding experience for president.

There have been only a handful of major party presidential nominees who had not previously held elected office. Most of those were ex-military men.

Generals were popular presidential nominees in the middle of the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, the Whig Party (effectively the precursor to the modern Republican Party) nominated Mexican War generals with no political experience in back-to-back elections: victor Zachary Taylor in 1848 and loser Winfield Scott in 1852. During the war, President Abraham Lincoln sacked Union commander George McClellan for his timidity in taking the war to the confederacy; so in 1864, McClellan made political war on Lincoln as the nominee of the Democratic Party, and fared about as well against Lincoln as he did against Robert E. Lee.

After the war, Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Civil War, was elected as a Republican to the presidency twice, in 1868 and 1872. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock (no relation to Winfield Scott) was the Democratic nominee in 1880, and he lost to Republican James Garfield in the closest presidential election (by popular vote) in American history.

Three-quarters of a century passed before Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allies in Europe during World War II, was elected president in 1952.

Needless to say, Herman Cain is not Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ike was the last major party presidential nominee to not have notched a previous political victory before becoming president. Since his last campaign in 1956, neither major party has nominated a political newcomer for the top job in the land -- starting with the 1960 campaign, every Democratic or Republican nominee since then had served as a U.S. senator, governor or vice president.

Perhaps the candidate most similar to Cain who actually won the nomination was Wendell Willkie, the corporate lawyer and New Deal critic who shocked the world at the 1940 Republican convention to win the right to (unsuccessfully) challenge Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Willkie's nomination came in a much different era from now, when the votes of primary voters hardly mattered at all: There were 3.2 million of them in 1940's Republican primaries, and only 21,000 cast their votes for Willkie. Willkie won the nomination in 1940 thanks in large part to the desires of internationalist eastern Republicans, such as publishing titans Ogden Reid of the New York Herald Tribune and Henry Luce of Time magazine.

Cain's rise has been reflected in his improved poll numbers -- in addition to his national polling bump, the Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling reported that Cain was leading in three states they polled over the weekend, Nebraska, North Carolina and West Virginia -- and also, specifically, in his performance in a straw poll in Florida a week and a half ago.

At the Presidency 5 straw poll, Cain won 986 votes, or about 37% of the 2,657 votes cast. Meanwhile, in the Florida Republican primary held in Jan. 2008, 1.95 million Floridians voted. In other words, the straw poll is reflective of the desires of only a tiny sliver of Florida Republicans, let alone Republicans nationally. In fact, the tiny number of votes Cain took in the straw poll compared with the large Florida Republican electorate is fairly similar to Willkie's tiny percentage of the total vote in the 1940 primaries. The big difference is that, because of the importance of primaries and caucuses, the people, not the party bosses or eastern publishers, pick presidential nominees now. And even if the wealthy and powerful did pick nominees now, they certainly wouldn't pick Cain, even if some activists might.

Yes, Cain's polling numbers are skyrocketing, but then again, this Republican primary battle has been so crazy that another non-politician politician (Donald Trump -- remember him?) once led national polls. In fact, as New York Times commentator Nate Silver pointed out recently, 10 different individuals have led at least one national Republican primary poll this year. Cain may very well be a placeholder candidate -- a person gaining support in polls and straw polls not because he actually has a chance of winning, but because Republicans are just unsettled and don't see anyone in the field they are ready to rally around just yet. With the primaries and caucuses still (hopefully!) a few months away, Republicans remain unsettled, so some are going with Cain, a person they like but may not ultimately back for the most powerful job in the world.

Cain has a lot going for him; he has a sunny, Reagan-esque disposition and has an easy-to-remember, slogan-like economic plan: his 9-9-9 proposal (which represent his proposed national income, business and sales tax rates). Whether his proposal would stand up to actual scrutiny is, of course, a different matter.

The same can be said for Cain's background and lack of elective experience.

But who knows? Perhaps the good showings by the non-politician politicians in senatorial and gubernatorial races were precursors to the biggest upset winner in American presidential history. Or perhaps Cain, like Trump before him, will come crashing back to Earth by the time the real voting starts.



By Brendan Nyhan

Guest Columnist

Can President Obama overcome a weak economy and win in 2012 by campaigning against the Republican Congress? The historical evidence for this claim is weaker than his allies would like to admit.

Obama's strategy seems to be Harry Truman's 1948 campaign against a "Do-Nothing" Republican Congress. Last week, for instance, David Goldstein of McClatchy Newspapers asked, "Has President Barack Obama been channeling Harry Truman?"

Like most journalists who have written on the subject, Goldstein repeated the conventional wisdom that Truman's campaign against the "do-nothing Congress" was responsible for his victory:

Facing long odds in the 1948 election, Truman put Republicans in his campaign bull's-eye and unloaded on the "do-nothing Congress." He won, and conventional wisdom took a beating.

This idea, which has been echoed by opinion makers ranging from former New York Times columnist Frank Rich to Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, has given hope to Obama supporters demoralized by the current state of the economy.

Obama himself has paid homage to Truman's strategy. During a Sept. 15 speech, for instance, he said: "[T]his Congress, they are accustomed to doing nothing, and they're comfortable with doing nothing, and they keep on doing nothing."

Unfortunately, the dramatic narrative of Truman's victory doesn't hold up to scrutiny. As University at Buffalo-SUNY political scientist James Campbell pointed out in 2004 (gated), Truman's comeback was fueled by "sizzling" growth in the year before the election (the time when voters tend to most strongly reward economic improvement):

Until recently, for instance, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) figured that GDP in the first half of 1948 (leading into the Truman-Dewey contest) was growing at a healthy 4.1% rate. The BEA's latest series indicates that this greatly understated growth at the outset of the 1948 campaign. The BEA now figures that the economy was growing at a sizzling 6.8%, a revision that helps explain Truman's miraculous comeback...

This well-timed surge in economic growth is likely to have played an important role in the success of Truman's campaign. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund just downgraded its forecast for US economic growth in 2011 and 2012 to 1.5% and 1.8%, respectively.

To understand why the Truman example may not translate for Obama, compare the annual GDP growth rate of the economy in the six quarters before the 1948 election under Truman with the median predictions from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's Survey of Professional Forecasters (the first data point for Obama is the actual Q2 2011 GDP growth rate; the rest are forecasts):

Chart 1: 1948 vs. 2012: GDP growth

The discrepancy between Truman and Obama's likely trajectory is even more obvious when you look at the cumulative change in the overall size of the economy (as measured by real GDP) starting six quarters before the election:

Chart 2: 1948 vs. 2012: Cumulative change in overall size of economy

Of course, economic projections are frequently wrong. Obama could enjoy an unexpected surge in growth that would propel him to reelection. But in its absence, he will face a much more difficult path to reelection than Truman did.

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. He received his doctorate from the Department of Political Science at Duke University in May 2009 and served as a RWJ Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of Michigan from 2009-2011.



By U.Va. Center for Politics

Some short takes on what's going on in the world of politics:

Tomblin survives in West Virginia

Give West Virginia's acting governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, some credit: He fought off a spirited effort from a stronger-than expected challenger and the powerful Republican Governors Association to win the right to remove "acting" from his title.

Tomblin, a career Mountain State Democratic legislator, defeated Republican businessman Bill Maloney by about 2.5 percentage points in Tuesday's West Virginia gubernatorial special election. Maloney beat Tomblin in two of the state's three congressional districts, but Tomblin carried the Third District (in the southern part of the state) by more than 20 points, according to Bloomberg congressional race guru Greg Giroux. That's good news for that district's long-time Democratic incumbent, Rep. Nick Rahall, although Maloney's win in the First District -- held by the narrowly-elected freshman Rep. David McKinley (R) -- might be another indicator that that district is trending away from Democrats.

This race could be repeated next year, when Tomblin will try to win a full term and Maloney, emboldened by his strong showing, might try for a rematch. We also don't know if Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV and daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, will toss her hat in the ring. Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) will also be on the ballot next year; Tomblin's victory bodes well for ex-Gov. Manchin, who is more popular than his successor.

For right now, we rate the West Virginia governor's race for next year the same way we rate Manchin's reelection bid: LEANS DEMOCRATIC

-- Kyle Kondik

Falling by the wayside

As the fortunes of Herman Cain continue to improve, those of some of the other GOP candidates appear to be waning. In recent days, this appears particularly true for Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has flagged despite her initial frontrunner status and a victory in the Iowa Straw Poll. Her declining performance has been reflected in her financial trouble and staff losses.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that two Bachmann staffers - her pollster and senior adviser - left the campaign. This came in the wake of a number of other staff departures in recent weeks and reports that Bachmann has almost depleted her campaign coffers. Despite her ability to raise what former campaign manager Ed Rollins called "small-donor money," Bachmann has failed to attract top Republican donors.

Bachmann hasn't done herself any favors, either. Her recent debate misstep - she seemed to advance the medically indefensible notion that HPV vaccinations can cause developmental disabilities - did little to help change the perception of her as a fringe candidate.

National polling shows the Minnesota representative has fallen far behind Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry. Her Real Clear Politics polling average in recent national Republican primary polls puts her in sixth place, behind not just the frontrunners but also Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

In polls of the Iowa caucus, she had been holding her own with the heavyweights -- but there hasn't been a new poll of Iowa since the end of August, and there's a real possibility that her Straw Poll victory in the Hawkeye State will represent the clear high water mark of her campaign.

-- Tim Robinson