The Live Fix: Coakley vs. Brown Mass. Senate race

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Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; 11:00 AM

Every Friday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

A transcript follows.

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Chris Cillizza: Good morning everyone.

At Monday night's "Politics and Pints" -- the political trivia nights I host once a month at the Capitol Lounge in DC -- one team was named: "Chris Cillizza is the homeless man's Bill Simmons".

So we know someone is paying attention....

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Washington DC: If the republicans win the MA senate seat, what is the timing on the democrats losing their 60 seats in the senate (when will the new senator be seated)? Will the senate have time to revote on the conference healthcare bill before then?

Chris Cillizza: The timing is VERY much up in the air. Interim Sen. Paul Kirk (D), who is serving until voters pick a replacement on Tuesday, has said he will vote for health care (if the votes comes up while he is still in the Senate) regardless of what happens on Tuesday.

Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, has said that declaring a winner could take well into February because of absentee ballots etc.

All of which has led Republicans to allege dirty tricks.

From a practical perspective, I think Democrats would have a very hard time of trying to push a health care vote through if Brown wins on Tuesday. People who I trust on the Hill say a Brown win would essentially push the "reset" button on the conference committee talks -- forcing Democrats to find a Republican (Olympia Snowe being the obvious choice) to vote with them.

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New Hampshire: It seems kind of amazing that the Brown campaign has more money to spend than Coakley? Did her campaign just kind of shut down after the primary because they assumed it would be a cake walk?

Chris Cillizza: Well, these things have a tendency to snowball...once it became clear that Brown had a chance -- late last week/early this week -- he became a national Republican cause celebre.

One of the most amazing stats from the past week is that Brown has raised $1 million a day, a stunning total that likely means he will outspend Coakley by a somewhat significant amount on television in the final days -- an idea that would have seemed laughable 10 days ago.

I think Coakley assumed -- as most people including me did -- that once she won the primary, the seat was hers because of the heavily Democratic electorate in Massachusetts.

All of which proves assumptions in politics are dangerous things.

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No. He. Didn't.: You wrote: "Rove wrote ... Democrats will have accumulated "more debt by October than Bush did in eight years." Not so, according to Axelrod who slams Rove for his "sheer audacity and shamelessness." (No. He. Didn't.)"

I read this and wondered "am I at The Fix or The View?" Are you a political analyst or auditioning to be a color commentator at a catfight? I suppose its really an indicator of level of political discourse and analysis in this country. Forget policy, focus on the he said, she said.

washingtonpost.com: New poll shows Brown ahead in Mass. Senate special election (Morning Fix, Jan. 15)

Chris Cillizza: Oh, come on. Can't we all have a LITTLE bit of fun? Anyone?

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Boston: Here's the State of Play: First thing this morning I get a call from local Dem pol/friend. I grimace but friendship wins out and I pick up.

She asks if I want to go see the Big Dog. Can't I'm busy. She tells me "of course you are supporting Coakley." I lie. She asks if I have done anything in support of the campaign. I tell her I really don't like Coakley, and never have. She lets down her guard and tells me she really dislikes Coakley too and hasn't made a call for her.

I think we have a lot of Dems in Mass that would prefer Brown for two years than Coakley for the rest of our lives.

Chris Cillizza: This comment is insightful but also priceless because it refers to former President Bill Clinton as the "Big Dog".

Woof.

(Clinton is campaigning for Coakley in the state today.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Playing off the discussion about the best political books, what about your favorite political movies? Hard to beat "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Thoughts?

As for non-fiction books, I'd suggest "Home Style: House Members in Their Districts" by Richard Fenno.

washingtonpost.com: You can see Chris's must-read political books towards the end of this chat from last week.

Chris Cillizza: Good suggestion. And, yes I am continuing to build my best political fiction/non-fiction list. My plan is to get a great list going and then post on Fix so keep the suggestions coming.

One other non fiction add from me: The Ambition and the Power by John M. Barry. Amazing look at then Speaker Jim Wright and how the House really works.

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Anonymous: What is the reputation in your business of Suffolk University/News 7 polls?

Related Q: There is a poll taken yesterday by people in Alexandria called Cross Target showing Brown at 53.9%,Coakley at 38.5%, undecided 7.5%. Never heard of Cross Target. Know anything about them?

Chris Cillizza: I don't know anything specific about the Suffolk poll other than that it is a live caller survey as opposed to a robo poll like the Cross Target survey.

The polling community generally believes live caller polling to be the more reliable and even the most gung ho Republicans I know don't think Brown is winning by 15 points.

Remember this when trying to analyze polling in a race: No one poll should be taken as the "right" one. Polling is part science and part art, so the best way to figure out the direction of the race is to take all the available data and average it out. That will probably get you close to the right answer.

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Alexandria, Va.: fun by all means!

lighten up No.He.Didn't.

Chris Cillizza: I mean, seriously.

We all have to be willing to laugh. Especially when you, like me, cover politics for a living.

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Arlington, Mass.: Hi Chris, love your column. This is more a comment, than a question. Coming from Massachusetts and a Democrat, I think any other Democrat candidate would have had the Senate seat wrapped up by the holidays. Coakley isn't an effective candidate; she comes across stiff and hasn't really spoken to citizens. Whereas Brown is showing at desire for the seat. So to read about these polls, I don't think it's an accurate statement saying that Massachusetts isn't happy with the Democrats. I think the race has more to do with the candidates, than the country as a whole.

Chris Cillizza: No question that Coakley is a less-than-inspiring candidate who has run a less-than-inspiring campaign.

That said, I don't think the fact that she is not a particularly good candidate is the sole reason for her vulnerability heading into Tuesday.

The fact is that across the country -- even in a Democratic stronghold like Massachusetts -- there is a real anger towards the status quo and politicians (of either party) who aim to preserve it.

That environment has helped frame this race. Coakley has down herself no favors, however, by allowing Brown to seize the "change" mantle and label her as part of the problem.

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Good political reads: Non-fiction: Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Fascinating look at our early political life.

Fiction (submitted last week but didn't show up; guess you somehow overlooked me...I forgive you): The Lion in Winter. A brilliant portrait of the machinations of a political family. (The movie with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole is awesome.)

Happy Friday.

Chris Cillizza: Me likey.

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Boston: For those of you that don't know Massachusetts politics, the "machine" will be geared up next Tuesday and Coakley wins in the 5-8% range. Bet the mortgage on it.

Chris Cillizza: There are those within the Democratic party who have made this case to me.

And, I think there is a real possibility that the Democratic machine -- such as it still exists -- will deliver enough votes for Coakley to drag her across the line.

But, polling suggests there is a significant intensity gap between the two party bases -- with Republicans rabid to go vote for Brown and Democrats far less enthused to do the same for Coakley.

No machine or get out the vote effort can overcome voter apathy.

Just something to think about.

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Lexington, KY: So this is a long leap, but IF Brown wins in Massachusetts, he's a young handsome and for the moment very celebrated Republican politician from an all but extinct group of Northeast Republicans, how well does that bode for him to make a national leap? He'll face a major reelection challenge just from being a (R) in Massachusetts when his term comes up, but doesn't this set him down the John Thune political road to national prominence?

Chris Cillizza: I applaud anyone who can one-up me in the "getting way ahead of oneself" sweepstakes.

Well done!

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Fairfax, Va.: And to be fair the just released Research 2000 Poll shows Coakley leading Brown by 8 points. The reason for the differing poll results is there doesn't see to be any historical data of a special election for U. S. Senate in Massachusetts upon which a reasonable model of the electorate can be made. If the Boston Globe issues another poll this weekend it would be interesting to see the impact of President Clinton's visit to the Bay State today.

Any chance that President Obama stumping for Coakley this weekend could break Brown's apparent momentum?

washingtonpost.com: Exclusive BMG/Research 2000 poll: Coakley leads 49-41

Chris Cillizza: A good point by Fairfax as an addendum to my earlier note about the wide disparity in polling in the Massachusetts race.

There is simply no good historical model to figure out what turnout will be -- and who will turn out -- in a January special election. None.

And so, modeling the electorate -- always the toughest and most critical part of a pollster's job -- is made even that much more difficult.

Even more reason to take all polling in the race cum grano salis.

Sidenote: Is there a more trite/lame quote from a candidate on polling than this one: "The only poll that matters is on election day?"

Gag.

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Roseland, NJ: Stupid question: if so many Democrats hate Coakley, how did she win the primary?

Chris Cillizza: I think it's an overstatement to say Democrats "hate" Coakley. I think, rather, that Democrats are just not particularly enthused about her.

How, then, did she win the primary? A few reasons: 1) she was the only woman in the field. 2) She had the most money by a long shot 3) she started with the highest name identification 4) she was the only candidate with a statewide organization.

Those are HUGE structural advantages in a primary race. Less so in a general election, particularly one that has gotten as much national attention -- and money -- as this one.

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I figured out Massachusetts: Okay, here's the deal: Coakley is the Prince Charles to Kennedy's QE2 (the woman, not the boat).

She's not gonna give up the scepter until they pry it from her cold, dead hands. So instead of the dynamic heir (William, Henry, whoever), you get the "assumed heir" in the position until he or she flames out.

This is what happens when Democrats grant seats to a family. You listenin', Beau?

Chris Cillizza: In this scenario, am I Prince Humperdinck from "Princess Bride"?

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Anger at the Status Quo?: Do people honestly think that electing any major party candidate is going to do anything to "change the status quo," as it were? Say Brown wins, what changes? He votes in lockstep with the GOP, stonewalls literally every Democratic proposal at every opportunity, and nothing gets done. What has changed, then exactly? Sounds like business as usual to me.

If Mass. votes Brown, they are effectively ending every major Dem initiative for at least the next two years: no health reform, no cap and trade, nothing. That's it, they are changing exactly nothing about the "status quo."

Chris Cillizza: The answer? Ron Paul 2012/2016/2020

;)

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Boston: I will vote for Coakley on Tuesday but only because I cannot vote for Scott Brown. So once again, voters are left with voting for the lesser of two evils. I deplore how Coakley ran her campaign. It's not like MA hasn't elected Republicans before - Mitt Romney, anyone? Paul Weld? (ok, Weld would probably be drummed out of the GOP at this point). It's not the end of the world. It will certainly shake up the Hill and should shake up the "entitled" Dem Machine here in MA, though, and it should. Much like in 2002 when the Dems got their butts handed to them in the mid-terms.

Chris Cillizza: To be honest, Coakley needs some of these "hold their noses" voters to win at this point.

And, Boston, you touch on another important undercurrent in the race -- the sense that Democrats have controlled too much for too long in the state and are solely looking out for their self interest rather than the interests of the state.

The decision by the Massachusetts legislature to change state law (again) to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement for Ted Kennedy might wind up being seen as a colossal miscalculation if Coakley loses.

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My Name is Martha Coakley: You killed my career.

Prepare to die. (draws sword)

Chris Cillizza: Hard to resist that movie.

"You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is 'never get involved in a land war in Asia' - but only slightly less well-known is this:

'Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!'"

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New Brunswick, NJ: Being a proud Garden Stater, I would submit "The Soprano State" as a great how to book for aspiring pols. It hits all the notes... nepotism, contract steering, bossism and that old standby, bribery. We even had our state medical school under the supervision of a federal monitor. No other state (or 3rd world country) can touch us !

Chris Cillizza: Do you mean the "Soprano State" or are you making some sort of oblique reference to the coach of the Miami Dolphins?

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New York, NY: I still think Robert Kaiser's book on the rise of lobbying is essential reading.

Chris Cillizza: It is a terrific book. Also, Bob Kaiser is a good man who is a major league fan of the Fix! (And, yes being a good person and liking the Fix are intimately connected.)

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Leesburg, VA: Is it safe to say that a Brown win would put the first centerfold in the U.S. Senate?

Chris Cillizza: Um, yes?

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Cambridge, MA: I still think Coakley wins this race by 8+ points and the story is marginalized post-election. The voter ID for Dems is just too large and this national attention has woken up MA residents.

HOWEVER, I think this really spells trouble for Governor Deval Patrick's future. Republicans have figured out how to campaign here in MA and they have a couple quality candidates to choose from in the upcoming primary. Patrick should be worried, right?

Chris Cillizza: Great minds!

I am not sure I agree on Coakley -- solely because the race has been so unpredictable to this point -- but I think that no matter what happens on Tuesday you have a clear winner and a clear loser already.

Winner: Scott Brown. His candidacy has shocked the political world so even if he comes up short he will be touted for any and all open office in the state. One potential option: Coakley's attorney general post.

Loser: Deval Patrick. The ONE thing that Democrats thought could save Patrick in 2010 was the strong Democratic lean of the state. This special election has proven that, at least right now, partisanship matters less than the climate of anger/unsettledness in the state. Really bad news for Patrick.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: A much underrated political fiction book: "The Senator" by Drew Pearson, which showed some 1960s insights into how the US Senate really worked.

It is from this book I learned an important lesson that often still holds today in politics: "The right things get done for the wrong reasons."

Chris Cillizza: Absolutely. And who knew the former Cowboys wide receiver wrote a book on the Senate?

And, yes, I am kidding.

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The Fix vs. The View:: Your intelligence would disqualify you from ever hosting the View.

Chris Cillizza: My intelligence being too low, you mean?

;)

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Mass Dem: Was subject to a robo push poll last night..."will you vote for Scott Brown?" "No" "Do you know Martha Coakley supports a health care bill that costs $50 squagillion dollars?", continuing in that vein until they asked my age and I hung up.

Chris Cillizza: "Squagillion"!

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Arlington, VA: Former Bay State Democrat here. Lived there from 1989 to 2001 before moving to Virginia.

Coakley-Romney reminds me of the 2002 gubernatorial.

2002 -- MA state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien wins the Democratic primary, defeating former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, former DNC and AIPAC chair Steve Grossman, state Senate President Thomas Birmingham and Warren Tolman.

Reich would have been the best to counter Romney on economic issues.

Chris Cillizza: I think people like Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy II who passed on the primary HAVE to be kicking themselves.

And, it's now clear that Mike Capuano, a populist if ever there was one, would have been a far better matchup against Brown than Coakley has turned out to be.

Ah, hindsight.

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Boston, MA: Look at the history of women candidates for representing Massachusetts (yes, Hillary won the primaries). Uphill battle. Always. Hated Jane Swift. Hated Kerry Healey. Hate (or are ambivalent about) Martha. Electing women is where the liberals of Massachusetts ain't so liberal.

Chris Cillizza: Interesting point. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, who was elected earlier this decade in a special election, is the first woman in the Massachusetts delegation.

This question also provides me a perfect segue to plug my colleague Anne Kornblut's book "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling" -- a detailed look at female candidates in the 2008 presidential election and beyond.

Essential reading if you care about this stuff.

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Ron Paul 2012/2016/2020: Yes! This country needs a viable third party more than anything. Unfortunately, there's no money for those parties and sadly, that's what supports politics these days. What needs to happen is a credible (sorry Ralph Nader, you don't fall into that category) and independently wealthy third party candidate needs to step in (like Ross Perot, but more in touch with this generation) and establish a well-funded and viable committee for a third party. At least a girl can hope...

Chris Cillizza: Paging Michael Bloomberg....

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Anonymous: the Q&A so far today further demonstrates what needs no further demonstration:

Massachusettes is the ONLY POLITICAL STORY until Tuesday night.

Chris Cillizza: It really is. The implications of a Brown win are so sweeping it's tough to overestimate.

Not only will health care have to be rethought but any other legislative business this year will have to be sold so as to get at least on Republican on board.

On the political front, a Coakley loss would take nervous Democratic elected officials and send them into a full panic. I think you would start to see retirements pile up on the Democratic side as politicians make the calculation that winning in this environment is too tough a proposition.

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New York, New York: Stepping back from Mass. for a minute...WSJ reported that the next-most-likely Democratic retirement is Specter. All things considered (his health, his tenacity, etc.), how likely do you think this is?

And, who wins in a Sestak v. Toomey matchup?

Chris Cillizza: Ok...45 minutes on Massachusetts seems like enough...so we move on.

The rumors that Arlen Specter is going to retire due pop up regularly but his campaign insists there is absolutely nothing to them.

Specter has had a number of health problems over the years but has, amazingly, always persevered through them to run and win elections.

As it relates to the general election, I think that Democrats may be whistling past the graveyard a bit with their assumption that either Specter or Sestak will roll over Toomey.

Pennsylvania's economy is struggling badly and, as a result, the political environment has eroded on Democrats considerably since the 2008 election.

Toomey has effectively positioned himself as a fiscal conservative who opposes higher taxes and the growth of government -- not a bad place to be in this sort of environment.

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Farmington Hills, MI: "This question also provides me a perfect segue to plug my colleague Anne Kornblut's book "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling" -- a detailed look at female candidates in the 2008 presidential election and beyond.

Essential reading if you care about this stuff."

Hmmm... "if you care about this stuff"? Why not essential reading, period? Chris, you're better than that!

Chris Cillizza: By "this stuff" I meant politics. That wasn't clear?

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Game Change: Just to change the subject a little, what are your thoughts on Bill Clinton's statement (per Game Change) to Ted Kennedy that a few years ago "Obama would have been getting us coffee"? How come this hasn't gotten as much attention as Harry Reid's comment?

Chris Cillizza: I think because Bill Clinton is no longer in office and Ted Kennedy is no longer with us.

Reid is the sitting Senate Majority Leader who also happens to be trailing badly in his re-election race this fall. His prominence in the current political world made his comments so newsworthy.

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Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.: Hey Chris,

You've stressed several times that you are apolitical, and view the sport of politics as, well, sport. I think a lot of readers of The Fix also view politics as sport, but usually find themselves supporting a team, or at least certain players.

Given that politics (at least theoretically) have an impact on the lives of the citizenry, do you ever find yourself, in any specific race(s), supporting if not a political party then a candidate, or if not a candidate then a position on an issue?

And as a follow-up, if you really are able to disconnect so effectively, do you find yourself liking specific candidates because of more Fix-related matters (political strategy, campaigning intensity, or opposition odds)?

Thank you! The Fix brightens my morning!

Chris Cillizza: I like candidates who run smart campaigns. I dislike candidates who don't.

It's about that simple. Seriously.

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Cum grano salis: Oooh! The Fix has impressed me! I've never seen that particular expression in Latin before. Now, is that a translation from the English, or did we "English" translate it from the Latin, i.e, how old is the idea? Come to think of it, where DOES it come from? What's a grain of salt to do with anything?

Chris Cillizza: Cum grano salis is an homage to Fix mentor and Politico commander-in-chief John Harris who, when we both used to work together, would use that phrase regularly.

Also, true fact: I won a Latin award at my high school in 12th grade. Boo yah!

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Framingham, MA: Hi Chris,

Love your chats -- there was a great James Fallows book about politics in the late 70s called The Power Game (I think). Explained the Reagan (political) revolution.

Chris Cillizza: Anything James Fallows writes -- about politics or whatever -- is worth reading.

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re: Mass winners & losers: Remember, Patrick is running in a 3 way election. He could get just 35% of the vote and still win.

Chris Cillizza: Good point.

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Suggested reading: "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools" by Jonathan Kozol, ought, in my opinion, be required reading for every US citizen. It covers education obviously, but includes, as it must, politics, economics, sociology and just plain good reporting. I have not read the sequel that was published 4 years ago, so I can't suggest it yet.

Chris Cillizza: Have heard great things but have not read...

Another addition to our list: The Shad Planking by Garrett Epps. AWESOMENESS in the political fiction category.

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Princeton, NJ: Have you ever read what Toomey, Brown, or Rubio actually propose? These guys are to the right of Atilla the Hun and have an IQ of about 150 (total).

BTW, I sent my daughter a copy of "Cracked Ceiling."

Chris Cillizza: Follow Princeton's lead. Go buy yourself a copy of "Cracked Ceiling"

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Fairfax, VA: I know you have a serious need for a diversion after 45 minutes of discussing MA, so...how bout that new Vampire Weekend album, eh?

Chris Cillizza: Vampire Weekend is a guilty pleasure. I don't want to like them but I do. Like American Idol. Or Desperate Housewives. Or Chris "Birdman" Anderson's haircut.

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Hoyasa, Xa: How 'bout them Hoyas!

Chris Cillizza: OH YEAH!

4-1 in the Big East and we almost shot 70 percent from the field against Seton Hall last night. (And, yes, I am one of those fans who describes my team as "we" despite having the athletic ability of a three-toed sloth.)

I feel really good about this year's team as Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn have all made HUGE leaps upwards.

My worries: Monroe isn't particularly aggressive and doesn't have great hands and we get almost nothing from our bench.

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Retirements equal desperation??: As a Democrat, I fully expect that seats will be lost in the House and Senate. That's typical and normal. I see Obama's falling poll numbers, and again that seems typical to me for a first year president (same thing happened to Clinton, Reagan, etc.) So I get that the climate is not as favorable to Democrats.

What I don't get, however, is this story that has taken shape that Democrat retirements are a sign of Democratic desperation, panic, and fear. There are more Republican retirements in both the Senate (6 to 2, if I remember right) and in the House (16 to 10, right?). So where is this story coming from that Democratic retirements are a symbol of a horrible landscape but Republican retirements are meaningless and ignored?

Chris Cillizza: Retirement -- as I have written many times before -- are not created equal.

Compare the last three GOP retirements in the House with the last three Democratic ones.

In the GOP seats, McCain won all three with at least 52 percent in 2008.

In the Democratic seats, Obama lose two of the three.

That means that the trio of Democratic retirements is more problematic than the Republican ones.

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cum grano: Wikipedia attributes grain of salt to Pliny the Elder.

Chris Cillizza: Right...either Pliny the Elder or John Harris. Same difference.

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Chris Cillizza: And that's a wrap!

Thanks as always for joining me. Don't forget to check the Fix for the latest and greatest political news of the day.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you back here next Friday. In the meantime, spread the word on "Live Fix". It's what's good.

Best,

The Homeless Man's Bill Simmons

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