Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

CD 17: Khanna Says Race Tied; ‘No Way’ Says Honda

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


Calbuzz seldom puts much stock in polls pushed by campaigns, for one simple reason: they don’t tell you the results when they’re not good for their candidate. On the other hand, when a campaign is willing to give us the whole survey and we can see if it makes sense, we’re more likely to bite.

So when the Ro Khanna campaign touted a new poll showing their guy even at 38% with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda in Silicon Valley’s 17th CD, we were willing to take a look, if they gave us the entire thing, from San Francisco pollster David Binder. Which they did.

According to Binder’s poll, the Khanna-Honda race is – against the odds — up for grabs, with Khanna pulling 33% plus 5% of leaners and Honda drawing 34% and 4% of leaners. That leaves about one-fourth of the voters – 24% — undecided and up for grabs with less than three weeks to go.

Some Very Strange Results: But no sooner had the Khanna poll hit the internets when the Honda campaign suddenly discovered, by golly, they also had a poll in hand, claiming to show that Honda is leading Khanna 42-27%, with 31% undecided. But Honda’s campaign didn’t release the whole survey, wouldn’t tell us how voters were selected and contains some inexplicable weird results.

Mike_hondaFor example, 21% of the respondents in the Honda survey, done by David Mermin of Lake Research Partners, volunteered to pollsters that they had already voted. But that’s not possible: ballots had just been mailed out to voters in the district and even Mermin acknowledged “people are lying – there’s a lot of over-reporting.” The Honda poll also includes 38% Asian-Americans (compared to 28% in the Khanna survey). That’s not impossible, but it sure seems unlikely.

Even stranger is this: If the Honda survey is correct, not only would Khanna have made no progress since the primary, when he got 28% of the vote, but Honda would have lost 6 percentage points, or 12.5% of the 48% he got in the primary. And this is supposed to show strength by the incumbent? Hmmm.

According to Binder’s poll for Khanna, his candidate’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating is now 57-14% while Honda’s is 57-28%. So Honda is better known, but his negatives are considerably higher.

The questions on voter preference and favorability were, according to the Khanna survey we’ve been given, asked before any “push” questions that campaigns use to test various themes. That makes them “clean” questions, not affected by information imparted to respondents by later questions.

Testing An Attack Line: The one “push” question in the brief survey of 400 likely voters, was as follows:

Press reports have suggested that that Honda’s Congressional office illegally coordinated with campaign staff by inviting people to an official State Department event for the purposes of securing campaign donations, and that his staff violated ethics rules by running his personal errands on official time. If these allegations were proven true, would you be very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all?

The results: very concerned 32%; somewhat concerned 35%; just a little 8%, not at all 20%.  (1% said it’s not true and 4% preferred not to answer.)

The survey then asked: If these ethical issues about Congressman Honda are proven true, would this make you more likely to vote for Khanna, more likely to vote for Honda, or does this make no difference to you?

PollingAbout a third of voters – 32% — said they’de be more likely to vote for Khanna; 8% said they’d be more likely to vote for Honda, and 53% said it would make no difference.

As far as we can tell, the campaign tested no other attack lines against Honda and did not attempt to measure support after this one, except to see if it has some effect – which is obviously does.

The Honda campaign may have tested other communication points, but the campaign did not reveal them.

As far as their voter models, there’s not much difference: both assume 46% Democrats; Khanna has 23% Republicans, 27% Decline-to-states and 4% minor party voters; Honda has 21% Republicans, 30% no party preference and 3% other.

The Khanna survey was conducted Oct. 8-9 among 400 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. The Honda poll was conducted Oct. 7-12 (just as absentee ballots were going out in the mail) among 500 likely voters with a margin of error of 4.4%.

Brown’s Slip Up Gives Neel a Small Opening

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Dad changing diaperJust when you thought the 2014 governor’s race was a done deal and that Jerry Brown had a lock on a fourth term, he has exposed an unexpected weakness that gives Republican Neel Kashkari a shot at a huge chunk of the vote: diaper-changing dads whom Brown has scorned.

It’s not an insignificant bloc of voters. Based on wild-ass guesstimates from our friends at the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California — who have absolutely no responsibility for this number –the Calbuzz Bureau of Weights, Measures and Pampers estimates there could be 500,000 to 700,000 potential diaper dad voters out there, just waiting for that Kashkari mailer explaining how Gov. Brown has dissed them.

Brown in recent weeks repeatedly made national news by acting on landmark laws affecting high-profile matters from smart phones and sexual assault to gun control and plastic bags.

With much less ado, however, he brushed aside a more practical and down-to-earth concern of many average persons of the male persuasion: frazzled dads of the 1 million or so babies and toddlers who struggle with the day-to-day heartbreak of potty training.

With a swipe of his pen, Brown vetoed two bills, which passed the Legislature with near-unanimous support, to require businesses like restaurants and theaters to provide at least one diaper-changing table accessible to men.

jerrybrownlookupBrown’s grocery store scanner? The biggest knock on Brown, both political and personal, is that he’s spent his whole life in elected office, a highborn prince catered to by legions of acolytes and staffers, who’s never had to deal with the real world’s stresses. He erased any doubt about this with his rarefied veto message of the two bills, by Democratic senators Lois Wolk of Davis and Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens:

“At a time when so many have raised concerns about the number of regulations in California, I believe it would be more prudent to leave the matter of diaper changing stations to the private sector. Already, many businesses have taken steps to accommodate their customers in this regard.”

Yeah, right, governor, you tell a toddler carrying a full load to wait until the private sector gets around to providing a space for fathers to clean them up.

“Changing your baby on a bathroom floor is never fun and grosses me out,” posted one dad on a Reddit forum that drew 500 responses to Brown’s action. “I’ve actually gotten pretty decent at changing him while he stands because of the lack of changing stations in men’s restrooms though. I used to just go out to the car but that shouldn’t be the best option because then I have to go the restroom anyway to wash my hands.”

Memo to Jesuit Brown: Semper in excretia sumussolim profundum variat.

dunce-capIf it’s news, it’s news to us: We were entertaining at the summer place in Cote d’Azur when this news first hit our desk, but would betray our raison d’être if we failed belatedly to report that Sacramento is the least covered state capital in the nation.

That is one conclusion that may be drawn from a recent Pew Research Center study of the number of professional journalists covering state government. According to the study, while the number of statehouse reporters has declined steadily since at least 1998, it plummeted 35 percent in the past 10 years; today there are a total of 1,592 reporters covering the 50 state capitals.

With 43, California ranks second in the overall number of state reporters (to Texas, with 53) which works out to just 0.6 journalists per 500,000 residents, easily the worst in the U.S. Nationwide, the median percentage is 1.6 reporters per half-million residents, with small population states like Vermont (10.4), Alaska (5.6) and Wyoming not surprisingly leading the list.

As newspapers have withdrawn reporters from statehouses, others have attempted to fill the gap. For-profit and nonprofit digital news organizations, ideological outlets and high-priced publications aimed at insiders have popped up all over the country, often staffed by veteran reporters with experience covering state government. These nontraditional outlets employ 126 full-time statehouse reporters (17% of all full-time reporters). But that does not make up for the 164 newspaper statehouse jobs lost since 2003.

We name no names.

GimmeRewriteWe’ll always have car dealers: Speaking of moldy reports, we’ve just caught up with the Gallup poll’s ratings about the most and least ethical professions in America; as newspapers grow closer to extinction, and readers’ memories grow shorter, we’re delighted to note that print reporters have risen to only the 8th least trusted workers in the nation.

Goody-goody nurses and grade school teachers top the list, of course (but pharmacists? Seriously? Then what about bartenders?); proclaiming from the rooftops with the booming voice of nearly 100 years of ink-stained wretch service, however, we note that newspaper reporters totally skunk lawyers, TV reporters (with apologies to the Palm Spring Bureau), Mad Men, lawyers, state officeholders, lawyers, car salespeople, Members of Congress, lawyers, lobbyists, and lawyers.

Press Clips: No Punditry For Old Men

Friday, October 10th, 2014

RedistrictingReturn of the Little Pulitzers: Scooplet of the Week honors to David G. Savage, who drilled down on the details of a case just accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court to report that California’s much-praised independent redistricting commission may be at risk.

SCOTUS, which seized power in a 2000 coup d’état agreed to hear a case involving a similar commission in Arizona, will decide whether state legislatures have exclusive power over drawing lines for congressional districts – regardless of a vote of the people, such as the 2008 approval by California voters of Proposition 11, which established the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Washington attorney Paul Clement, representing Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature, said voters’ decision in 2000 to put the redistricting power in the hands of a citizens commission was a “radical measure. ” The Legislature, he said, “is quite literally cut out of the process completely.”


weinbergThe People United, or something: Proving anew that there are no bad stories, only bad reporters, old pal Carol Pogash showed how much can be done with a humble anniversary assignment by churning out a splendid feature marking the half-century commemoration of the Free Speech Movement in Bezerkely.

Featuring an interview with Jack Weinberg, who spent 32 hours in the back of an obstructed police car as demonstrators protested his arrest for handing out leaflets about the civil rights movement, the Pogash piece was a stylish yarn displaying her characteristic fine eye for telling detail: the 1964 protesters “politely removed their shoes — to avoid scratching the vehicle — before climbing to the roof of the patrol car”; the 300 or 400 who showed up to mark this week’s anniversary (“about half of them seemed to have been among the hundreds of students in the 1960s who were perceived as revolutionaries and troublemakers”) numbered far less than the 700 arrested in the original demo; the editor of the Daily Cal informed Pogash that while there may be less activism on campus today, “students are very passionate about animal rights, green energy, niche issues.’”

One nagging, unanswered question:  how, exactly, did Weinberg and the arresting officers handle waste management issues during his cop car imprisonment? (Update: A loyal reader notes that Jon Carroll provided at least a partial answer in a previous column on the subject).

megsmugeMeg, we hardly knew ‘ya: Not long after her Hindenburg-like performance in the 2010 governor’s race, Meg Whitman told us how odd and perplexing she had found the odd and perplexing customs of campaigning for office in California; we explained to her that the process was “very tribal.”

“It’s not my tribe,” she sniffed. Indeed.

So we were cheered to read how safely and securely cocooned ole’ eMeg now is among her own people (who apparently include the business press) via a kissy-poo feature by Timesman Quentin Hardy about her latest moves at H-P (“it appears that Ms. Whitman has found that vision”). There was one redeeming graf in the piece:

Ms. Whitman was equally focused on measurement during her gubernatorial campaign. An aide who worked with her there said Ms. Whitman obsessed about her poll numbers and wanted to personally lead fund-raising efforts, a level of micromanagement that campaign officials tried to discourage.

Bottom line: instead of all that obsessing and micromanaging, Your Megness, you’d have been better off just having dinner with Calbuzz.

hayden2Is that a Tomahawk in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? When last spotted in Calbuzz, former high-powered military officer, spook and major tool Michael Hayden was spouting sexist slurs at our favorite Senior Senator from California.

Now comes Hayden to put those selfsame macho insecurity chops to better use, this time splendidly labeling Barack Obama’s we piss-on-you-from-a-great-height airborne military strategy against ISIS exactly for what it is:

“The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment,” said retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. “We need to be wary of a strategy that puts emphasis on air power and air power alone.”

Pretty good line, even for a prig like Hayden.

Syrian pay-to-play: Amid growing signs that General Asshat is probably right, and that Obama’s Mideast adventurism will haunt us for a long time, we’re on the lookout for fine journalism to help demystify a millennia-old mess that has all the clarity of a graffiti-splattered M.C. Escher print. Best bet for visual learners: the Washpost’s nice take on the nine best graphic representations of Mideast alliances.

And for the cynically inclined, there’s this from Foreign Policy:

On Sept. 17, the House of Representatives granted President Barack Obama’s request to arm rebel groups in Syria by a vote of 273 to 156…

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I do wonder whether the arms industry put its thumb on the scale. Even a short involvement in Syria will be exceedingly profitable; the first round of air strikes this week reportedly cost $79 million, more than India’s mission to Mars. To “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition,” as the amendment voted on by the House states, could cost much more, perhaps as much as $500 million.

So the arms industry had a lot on the line in Roll Call Vote 507. In the end, it passed easily. But those who voted for the amendment may have been much more beholden to the industry than those who did not. On average, the “Yea” voters had received more than $36,000 in contributions from the defense sector during the last campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The “Nay” voters had taken only about $22,000.

We’re not ones for conspiracy theories, either.

The purest form of flattery: Mega-kudos to Josh Richman and the Bay Area News Group for posting a piece Thursday about  Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Honda’s habit of claiming credit for legislation and funding for which he was, at best, marginally responsible. But wait – didn’t we read all that somewhere before? Hmm.

mikeharrisMike Harris, R.I.P. We were saddened to learn this week of the passing of Mike Harris, a great, old school gentleman reporter and veteran S.F. Chronicler. He was 92.

Whether they know it or not, and we sadly suspect many of them do not, every news hound and hen in California owes a huge debt to Mike, whose 1950s reporting led directly to the state’s open meeting Brown Act, a tale well told in Harris obits by Dave Perlman, Mike’s longtime pre-Hearst Chronicle friend and colleague, and Nels Johnson of the Marin I-J.

A few personal memories: the disappointed dad grimace he’d flash at a rookie reporter when  an infelicitous phrase made it into one of our stories in the morning paper (to this day, references to a campaign “kickoff” are banned in Calbuzz thanks to Harris), or his look of total, doe-eyed panic the morning a mischievous publisher came in early to hide Mike’s chair and the contents of his desk, tormenting him into believing he’d suddenly been sacked. Most of all, however, Harris’s encyclopedic erudition about…everything… which he was never shy about demonstrating.

When a future Calbuzzer served with Harris on the Chron editorial page, he was our go-to guy for foreign visitors; new diplomats posted to San Francisco routinely made a formal call on the paper, for reasons that never were clear. The practice consistently left us at a loss for semi-intelligent conversation starters, and our welcoming remarks typically lurched between, “So, how long you in town for?” and “What’s the weather like in Azerbaijan?”

Not so Harris, who seemed to spend his evenings poring over the Rand McNally World Atlas, J.M. Roberts’ The History of the World and Herodotus in the Greek. 

Memorably, he once bailed us out as we dithered for an ice-breaker with a newly assigned representative of the newly independent nation of Slovenia;  “Hey, how ‘bout those Niners?” was our first thought, when Mike saved the day by piping up to recall his World War II days navigating with the Army Air Corps over the Balkans, rhapsodizing over several interesting geophysical features he noticed from the air. Take that, Janko!

That’s -30-


Khanna Fights Uphill as Honda Flogs Phony ‘Bi’ Cred

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

khannahondaIn his one and only debate with Democratic challenger Ro Khanna the other night,  U.S. Rep Mike Honda, D-San Jose, reeled off a variety of high-dollar items he claims to have delivered and, despite evidence to the contrary, argued that he’s really the kind of bi-partisan representative Silicon Valley really likes.

Linking himself to the hyper-partisan Republican thug from San Diego, Honda said, “Darrell Issa and myself, we passed the Data Bill, the Data Act, that requires the government agencies to tell people where their dollars are spent, how much it is and to be transparent about it.”

bullsassThis, Calbuzz must report more in sadness than in anger, is, um, bullshit. Like a lot of the claims of a guy who’s passed just one bill in seven terms in Congress.

Because Honda’s claim sounded so bizarre when we heard it, Calbuzz launched an exhaustive and wide-ranging ten-minute internet investigation at Congress.gov and found that the original co-sponsor of Issa’s Digital Accountability and Transparency Act was U.S. Rep. Elija Cummings, D-MD, when the bill was introduced on May 21, 2013.

Apparently feeling refreshed after six months of deep sleep, Honda signed on as the 10th co-sponsor on November 11, 2013 – the same day the bill was passed in the House on a voice vote of 338-1. The same day!

Yet there was Honda, in a televised debate, claiming that he and buxom bosom buddy Issa had passed that data bill, whatever its name was. Just like he – single-handedly? – got $900 million for BART and a U.S. Patent Office and a lot of other stuff that surely Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren had nothing to do with.

Slow-moving dysfunction: But we digress. A bit more on the not-exactly-Lincoln-Douglas debate between Honda and Khanna: the first challenge for Khanna, a 38-year-old lawyer and former Obama Commerce Department official, is to make the case that Honda, 73, should be ousted.

Right out of the gate, Khanna made his argument, but without insulting Honda, a popular, avuncular fixture in local politics.

Briefly replying to the actual question he was thrown – “That is the question of our time – income inequality” — Khanna quickly pivoted to his real mission in the debate, using Congress as a metaphor for Honda himself:

hondasleepingWe need real solutions on education and jobs, he said, but “Congress seems to have no real leadership or ideas and it’s stuck in the past, dysfunctional, slow-moving. So tonight I ask, imagine if we had a new standard. Imagine if our elected officials were as hard-working and entrepreneurial as the people in this district. That’s the change we need. That’s the new Congress we need. And that’s why I aspire to represent this area in the United States Congress.”

That’s his argument in a nutshell: Honda is stuck in the past, dysfunctional and slow-moving; I’m hard-working and entrepreneurial, just like people in Silicon Valley.

But without being nasty about it.

A total lack of ZZZs: At first glance, Honda held his own. Most importantly, he didn’t fall asleep nor did he make any bone-head statements. While he did a lovely job of recounting his personal history as a kid who got rounded up with other Japanese during World War II in an effort to portray the Man of Experience, however, he offered no vision of what he would like to accomplish — other than return to Congress for another term.

“I’m not burnt out; I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank — and I’m not even a hybrid,” Honda said, summing up his appeal, in an apparently planned one-liner that got wide circulation in day-after coverage of the debate.

Honda looked his worst when trying to brush away the ethics scandal that hit his office after it was revealed, by Metro Silicon Valley, that his chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, consulted with Honda’s political staff in inviting potential campaign donors to a State Department round-table that Honda was co-hosting at Santa Clara University.

Leading into the topic, Honda was stupidly asked if he’s ethical. (What’s he gonna’ say, “No, you got me there, I’m actually a scum sucking weasel?”

“I am a very ethical person,” Honda said bravely. And then (looking intermittently at what appeared to be notes he was not allowed to have) he went on to make word salad:

Honda-VenderHeide-Campaign-772x350These are real people we’re talking about and I want to be sure they’re going to be taken care of but they have to also answer to the issues. And so those who’ve worked for me and work with me currently and in the past, they understand where that line is and anything beyond that is a personnel matter so I’d like not to discuss the personnel part. But I will say this, the high ethical standards for my staff has been reiterated and has been made clear, the expectation of my policy goes beyond the legal boundaries and the legal expectations but my chief of staff did not meet those expectations and she misstepped and I was disappointed in it but she’s apologized publicly and to me that this won’t happen again. And so I think that this kind of a situation needs to be acknowledged, dealt with and all of the legal complaints that surrounding this I think this should be moved forward and let that process take its place and I’ll be perfectly willing to cooperate in any way I can to see the end of this.

So there’s that.

It’s all about Mike: The thing is, however, that Van der Heide didn’t apologize to people in the district, she apologized to Honda.

“The congressman expects that official staff who want to volunteer on his campaign do so on their own time, and without utilizing the resources of the office,” she said. “In this instance, while I was on my own time and not using official resources, I fell short of the congressman’s expectations and the example I try to set for the office. I have apologized to the congressman for my oversight.”

Moreover, an apology (and, btw, Honda has never apologized to the district, either) isn’t really the issue. The issue is what kind of leader keeps a chief of staff who has, at the very least, created the appearance of a pay-to-play atmosphere in his district office? It’s a personnel matter? Sounds like an old, cheesy county supervisor side-shuffle.

underdogHolding office vs. using the office: On a variety of issues, Honda and Khanna are both liberal Democrats, so Silicon Valley is not going to have a congressman who will vote in sharp opposition to widespread sentiment, no matter who wins this election. And odds remain in Honda’s favor. Incumbent congress members rarely lose. Absent serious money to push his argument, Khanna is a decided underdog.

But he has made a strong enough case to convince the editorial pages of the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, neither of which are flame-throwers. And his endorsement list of high-tech leaders in Silicon Valley is not chopped liver. Khanna promises not to be a place-holder member of Congress — like several in the California delegation.

It’s an argument, as he made it in Monday’s debate, that’s tough to refute:

“It’s not enough in this district, which is the heart of innovation, to just be a vote or to just go to Congress. What we need is someone who’s going to lead the national debate.”

This just in: At post time, we were told about a new mailer Honda has just sent out, claiming — as he did in the debate — that “he also secured $8.6 billion this year for early childhood education programs across the country.” Trouble is, that’s all the funding for Headstart for the entire country that was approved by the Appropriations Committee of which he’s just a minority member. And he wasn’t even a co-sponsor of the bill.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version, Calbuzz misstated Mike Honda’s age. He is 73, not 78. Calbuzz apologizes for the error.

A Spectator’s Guide on GOP Bid for Senate Control

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

sulky-McConnellCalifornia plays no role in the biggest political story of the year, the Democrats’ desperate struggle to hold off a Republican takeover of the Senate. No matter: a handful of faraway national political battles carry enormous importance for the state, and the high stakes may be summed up with a few names and numbers:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 82

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, age 78

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, age 78

Why it matters: At first glance, the high probability that Republicans will seize control of the Senate may seem to Californians with…you know, actual lives…little more than yet another partisan, inside-the-Beltway, tit-for-tat drama, of genuine interest only to elected officials, lobbyists, political hacks, professional media blowhards, plus assorted plutocrats and greed heads.

Conservative corporate interests, Tea Party populists and denizens of the right-wing “news” bubble have treated President Obama’s presidency as illegitimate from his first day in office, an obstructionist stance that greatly deepened when the GOP won control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms. With Republicans already effectively stonewalling and shutting down his every action, idea and utterance, reflexively and in lockstep, what practical difference would it make if they do so more loudly?

As David Leonhardt argues persuasively in “The Upshot,” however, a GOP takeover of the Senate portends escalating trouble for progressives everywhere, in at least three key ways:

climate_change–Climate change: Thwarted by science deniers in Congress in his bid for a comprehensive national strategy, Obama more recently has used executive actions to impose lower carbon standards on power plants and automakers. Republican Senate leaders are already crowing about undoing these moves through federal budget ploys and schemes.

–Rear guard actions – House Republicans became a staple of late night TV jokes by futilely voting to roll back the Affordable Care Act 54 times in four years – (Bill Maher: “The Republicans in Congress voted to repeal Obamacare for a 40th time today. It’s really now less a governing philosophy – it’s more like Charlie Manson applying for parole”). If the Senate joins their reactionary effort, not only against health care, but also by attacking the Dodd-Frank Wall Street and banking regulations, however, Obama would face a non-stop barrage of such efforts, with bitter political and legal trench warfare the most pleasant possible outcome.

–The judiciary. Actuarial tables suggest at least one sitting Supreme Court justice will die or retire in the president’s final two years in office, so it’s worth comparing the type of replacement Obama – or his successor — might get through the Democratic Senate with one able to win approval from a Republican-dominated, um, World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, at a time when the conservative court has moved the country ever further rightward on a host of ideological issues since it hijacked the 2000 presidential election. At least as important, Obama’s ability to populate lower, but crucial federal circuit and appellate courts with moderates would be thoroughly hamstrung.

tin-foil-hatFun with numbers: At least four major political websites have developed elaborate computerized statistical models to track the day-to-day odds of a Republican takeover, based on the latest polls and events. Frankly, however, trying to keep up with it all requires a full-time commitment to sitting in mom’s basement in your jammies, staring into your Mac. We name no names.

The cheat sheet arithmetic is this: Democrats currently hold an effective 55-45 majority in the Senate, counting their members and two reliable Independents. This means that Republicans must win a net six seats in the 36 states with Senate elections  next month.

Just trust us on the preliminary calculus; then the deal comes down to who wins in five states – Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Kansas. If GOP candidates win two of those five, they are all but guaranteed to capture the Senate.

Writing in Beltway-speak, frenetic Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza, explains:

Of the quartet of Democratic seats, North Carolina — somewhat amazingly — looks to be the toughest pickup for Republicans. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), thanks at least in part to a spending edge on television over the last month or so, has managed to build a steady four-ish-point edge that state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) has been unable to narrow. Republicans feel increasingly positive about Alaska — where the Chamber of Commerce released a poll this week showing Dan Sullivan (R), whom the group has endorsed, ahead of Sen. Mark Begich (D) by six points — and Colorado, where three straight polls show Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) ahead. Iowa is, today, the purest toss up race in the country.

But for Republicans, Kansas has become a major headache. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), having survived a contested primary in August, seemed to think reelection to a fourth term was ensured and stopped doing, well, much of anything. Meanwhile, independent businessman Greg Orman was spending seven figures on an August media buy that boosted him significantly. Democrat Chad Taylor’s decision to drop out of the race — and the subsequent legal ruling that his name could be removed from the ballot — further endangers Roberts by coalescing the anti-Roberts vote.

No animals were harmed in the production of those two grafs.

obama_depressed_xlargeThe Obama factor – As a practical matter, the GOP’s strongest weapon is Obama himself. Nearly every mid-term election boils down to a referendum on the president; this one’s job performance and personal favorability ratings have plummeted since his 2012 re-election, due to a long, sad and familiar list of setbacks and failures, from the flawed roll-out of the Affordable Care Act website, to a series of ginned up Fox News “scandals” – Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! – and a growing perception of presidential weakness, confusion and uncertainty on roiling national security matters around the world.

The GOP Senate strategy is simple: “President Obama is not popular,” Cillizza writes, wading deep into the weeds to explore the historic relationship between a president’s stature and mid-term results. “The closer you can link a Democrat to Obama, the better.”

feinsteinboxerCloser to home: Although California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not on the ballot, their political futures are very much on the line on November 4.

Through seniority, both have ascended to powerful positions in Washington, and at their ages – Feinstein, 81, and Boxer, 74 next month – would find returning to minority status a repulsive development. Rumors already are rife that Boxer will not seek re-election in 2016; Feinstein’s term ends in 2018.

In an  assessment of the situation, Carolyn Lochhead, longtime Capitol Hill reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes:

Boxer, a key backer of the administration’s controversial plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, would cede the helm of the Environment and Public Works Committee to climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Feinstein would lose the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, where she has spearheaded a multiyear fight against the CIA to expose torture practices during the George W. Bush administration — a campaign that Republicans have boycotted.

Feinstein, who long has played a central role in California’s water fights, would also cede the chairmanship of the energy and water panel of the Appropriations Committee, which has given her outsize clout on water issues. The panel controls spending on every water project in the country.

So there’s that.

herd of african elephants on the moveCan’t tell the players without a scorecard: For those eager to surrender the next four weeks of their lives to scurrying down deep, online rabbit holes in pursuit of endless factoids and trivia about the great 2014 fight for the Senate, here are the go-to sites:

Election Lab. The Washington Post’s computer model tends to be the most bullish on Republican chances.

The Upshot. The New York Times model strongly leans Republican.

538.  The ESPN-owned site of idiot savant Nate Silver is recommended for serious gamblers.

Princeton Election Consortium. Princeton professor Sam Wang is an outlier, having consistently touted Democratic chances of hanging on to a majority; for junkies, his ongoing online feud with Silver on the subject is worth the price of admission.

Caveat emptor.

(A version of this column was published by the Santa Barbara Independent on Oct. 2)