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The Daily Strategist

September 1, 2014

Political Strategy Notes - Labor Day Edition



So, "Where Would Workers Be Without labor Unions?" At Arizona Centeral Angel Rodriguez has an answer for Arizona -- and a challenge for workers.

This new Gallup poll indicates a majority of Americans (53%) support labor unions, but unions have a lot of work to do in educating the public, which also supports the so-called "Right to Work" laws by an even larger margin.

From the Omaha World-Herald's Cindy Gonzales: "24.4: The biggest percentage of union members from a state is New York. North Carolina is the smallest, with 3 percent. 26: States (including Iowa) that saw their union membership rate decline from 2012 to 2013; 22 states (including Nebraska) saw union membership rates rise. Two states remained unchanged."

At The Atlantic Chad Broughton's "When Labor Day Meant Something: Remembering the radical past of a day now devoted to picnics and back-to-school sales" and observes that consumers have a good alternative to Walmart: "...better, people could go to Costco, where workers make about twice the Walmart wage, and don't have to rely on federal benefits like food stamps and Medicaid (which, according to Americans for Tax Fairness, cost taxpayers $6.2 billion a year). In addition, Costco lets its workers unionize while Walmart instructs managers to report union activity or grumblings about wages to the company's "Labor Relations Hotline."...Holiday shoppers will have to wait until Tuesday, though, because Costco is closed on Labor Day. Its workers are where they should be--at the family barbecue or the parade, celebrating our national holiday."

Steven Greenhouse's "More Workers Are Claiming 'Wage Theft'" at the New York Times spotlights a mixed trend -- rising corporate greed meets more assertive workers.

NYT's Labor Day editorial notes, "There has been progress since last Labor Day. Mr. Obama has signed executive orders to improve the pay and working conditions of employees of federal contractors. The Labor Department is revising rules on overtime pay; simply updating them for inflation would make millions of additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime...What is still lacking, however, is a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy -- a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years."

It appears that the Wall St. Journal couldn't even manage a 'thank you' to, or spare a thought for, American workers who have enriched their clients and WSJ's bottom line immeasurably.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. pays tribute to the workers and customers of Market Basket, who stood up for a stand-up manager.

AFL-CIO Now's Mike Hall makes it plain: "Happy Labor Day! Now Let's Raise Wages"


August 29, 2014

"Keeping ____ Honest" Not a Great Rationale For Presidential Primary Candidacy



Since talk of a primary challenger to the presumed presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton is a topic that won't go away for a while, it's probably as worthwhile to think about what a challenger might say as to speculate about his/her identity. It's a question I discussed today at Washington Monthly. I began by quoting Jonathan Chait:

The 2016 Democratic presidential campaign is beginning to take shape. It's a highly unusual campaign. Hillary Clinton commands the massive party loyalty of an incumbent, except she's not an incumbent, so it is possible for another Democrat to challenge her without the campaign necessarily signalling the all-out, you-have-failed opposition of a Gene McCarthy in 1968, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Pat Buchanan in 1992, and so on. The campaign, instead, is likely to center on organized liberals using a candidacy to pressure Clinton not to move too far toward the center.

Now think about how that affects a candidate and his or her campaign. Your goal isn't power, but influence. You expect activists to give up their time and money not to elect the next president of the United States, but to exceed low expectations. Your success is ultimately measured by how someone else runs her campaign. It's just not a prescription for excitement.

The precedent I keep thinking about, though it's not precisely analogous (obviously), is congressman John Ashbrook's 1972 primary challenge to Richard Nixon. Ashbrook was supported by some very high-profile conservatives (most notably William F. Buckley) who basically didn't trust Richard Nixon as far as they could throw him, and were particularly worried about his detente policies towards the Soviet Union and China. The Ohioan's campaign slogan was "No Left Turns," and his candidacy was transparently not about beating Nixon but about, well, "keeping him honest" (laughable as that phrase may seem in reference to The Tricky One) ideologically.

In the primaries Ashbrook peaked at a booming ten percent of the vote in California, and dropped out, endorsing Nixon. If he had any effect on Nixon's general election strategy, it was certainly hard to detect.

Now it's true Ashbrook was no Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. But he was a respected figure in Congress and in the conservative movement. An awful lot of conservatives who voted for Nixon against him may well have sympathized with his cause. But it's just hard to convince people to vote for one person in order to influence another. That reality needs to be factored into the talk about a challenge to HRC.

I got some blowback from WaMo commenters who assumed I was trying to discourage the idea of a challenge to Clinton. But that really misses my point: if someone's going to challenge a candidate like her, with incumbent-level support and name ID, they'd better try to beat her, not just influence her or "keep her honest." Uphill battles are hard enough with a clear vision of victory. Without one, it will be difficult to raise the flag.


Political Strategy Notes



Politico has obtained an internal Republican report commissioned by two conservative groups: Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, which says "although Republicans have tried to improve outreach to female voters, women still believe the party is "stuck in the past" and "intolerant." Forty-nine percent of women polled for the report looked on the GOP unfavorably. Only 39 percent felt that way about the Democratic Party," reports Marina Fang at HuffPo. "The report drew its conclusions from focus group discussions and a poll of 800 registered women voters. In top issue areas, such as health care, the economy and education, the poll found that Democrats held a huge advantage. For example, when considering which side "wants to make health care more affordable," the women surveyed chose the Democratic Party by a 39 percent margin. They also said that a policy of equal pay for equal work would "help women the most."

It's not just the federal level. The GOP does major damage to women's health and rights at the state level, according to this report by People for the American Way.

In his article "Politicians and Billionaires: Pledging Allegiance to Each Other in Secret" at HuffPo, Mike Lux chronicles the squalid doings at the Koch Bros/GOP ring-kissing grovelfest, at which Mitch and other Republican candidates gush shamelessly about their benefactors and brag about screwing over working people.

At The New Republic Brian Beutler explains why Democrats shouldn't be suckered by Republican denials that they will shut down the government in retaliation for President Obama expanding a program which would defer deportation of low-priority immigrants: "the people who orchestrate government shutdowns never admit to the explicit nature of their threats. Last year, conservatives adamantly denied that they were preparing to shut down the government unless President Barack Obama agreed to spoil his own signature initiative, and they deny that's what they did to this day. Instead, they insist that President Obama and Harry Reid shut down the government out of their own misplaced devotion to Obamacare, as if it were not already a law on the books." Beutler adds that Mitch McConnell, among others, is "threatening to use the appropriations process as leverage to extract concessions. That's a government shutdown fight. And no matter how he plays it, he will unleash forces he and other GOP leaders have proven incapable of restraining. They can't control the plot...Nobody's saying a government shutdown will definitely happen. But a confrontation is very likely, and Republicans in Congress are the reason. Even if they never say the words "government shutdown."

In another TNR post, Beutler floats an interesting idea for Dems in the event of a big 2016 win: "...if the wave materializes, they should be prepared to use the threat of aggressive, opportunistic redistricting as a source of leverage, to entice Republicans into supporting some kind of non-partisan redistricting system, ideally in every state."

From The Princeton Election Consortium's "Senate Democrats are outperforming expectations" by Sam Wang, who picked every single 2012 Senate victor (33 races) correctly: "The PEC polling snapshot has mostly favored Democrats. Starting from June 1st, Democrats have led for 61 days and Republicans for 26 days, a 70-30 split. During that period, the Senate Meta-Margin has been D+0.24±0.57%. Assuming that the June-August pattern applies to the future, I can use this Meta-Margin, and the t-distribution with 3 d.f., to predict the future, including the possibility of black-swan events. The result is that the November Senate win probability for the Democrats (i.e. probability that they will control 50 or more seats) is 65%.

I would argue that President Obama has nothing to worry about in much-hyped polls showing, for example, that only 36 percent say his "approach to foreign policy and national security" is "about right.," compared to more than half earlier in his presidency. The questions and response menu of such polls are so vague as to be nearly worthless. Obama is a centrist on the interventionist/isolationist continuum, and his party is not likely to suffer because of it in the midterms.

How can any political leader seriously argue that "Illinois' new same-day voter registration statute is a Democratic "trick," especially Chris "The Bridge" Christie? 2014 may go down in U.S. political history as the emblematic year when Republicans outed themselves in a huge way as shameless advocates of voter suppression. In fact, reports David Sirota at International Business Times, "most of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors."

It's just a snapshot, but this poll should make Karl Rove and Reince Priebus choke on their Cheerios.


August 27, 2014

Gubernatorial Panorama



With all the vast attention understandably being paid to the Senate landscape this year, it's worth remembering there are just as many gubernatorial as senatorial contests in November--36 of each, to be exact. So I offered a quick panoramic view of the gubernatorial scene this year at TPMCafe:

One factor in the relatively small national attention attracted by governor's races this year has been a surprisingly low number of retirements despite a sour mood of anti-incumbency. Twenty-nine incumbents ran for re-election; four more were term-limited; only three (Linc Chafee of RI, Deval Patrick of MA, Rick Perry of TX) voluntarily retired. One (Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie) has lost a primary. So there haven't been as many competitive primaries or close general election races as might normally be the case.

According to the Cook Political Report, only 13 of the 36 races are competitive at present (as defined as tossups or contests "leaning" one way or another): six governorships currently held by Democrats and seven by Republicans. Eleven of these gubernatorial battlegrounds are in states carried by Obama in 2012 (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin), and just two in states carried by Romney (Arkansas and Kansas). Some Democrats would add red Georgia and South Carolina to the competitive contest list; some Republicans think they have an outside chance in blue Massachusetts or Oregon. All in all, six Republican governorships are "mispositioned" in Obama '12 states, and one Democrat in a Romney '12 state.

Complicating everything, of course, are uncertain midterm turnout patterns, which tilted significantly Republican in 2010. In terms of national efforts to change these turnout patterns, it's worth noting there's not a great deal of overlap between the senatorial and gubernatorial battlegrounds. Only four of the ten states the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's Bannock Street Project is targeting with extraordinary resources for voter registration and contact programs have competitive gubernatorial races at the moment (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia and Michigan). Only five states have both competitive governor's races and nationally targeted battles for control of state legislative chambers (Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

The state of gubernatorial races helps provide an antidote to the "Republican wave" assumptions flowing from this year's wildly slanted Senate landscape. At the moment the odds are low Republicans will make any net gubernatorial gains; they would have reason to be happy if wins in Arkansas and Illinois offset losses in Maine and Pennsylvania. They have a shot in Colorado and Connecticut and maybe even Hawaii, but then Florida, Wisconsin, and yes, Kansas are looking mighty shaky, with several other Republican incumbents not even close to being out of the woods. So don't let Election Day dawn on you without a close look down the ballot from the obsessively followed Senate races. It matters.

And it'll matter more in December when the excitement over whatever happens in the Senate has begun to fade.


Despite Concerns, Senate Dems in Better Late-August Position Than 2010



Caitlin Huey-Burns's post "How Democrats Can Hold Their Senate Majority" at Real Clear Politics is not well-titled, since it is more a horse race update than a genuine how-to. Read as a recap, however, it does offer a "road ahead" snapshot of the challenges Dems face in holding their upper-chamber majority. As Huey-Burns elaborates:

...It's not all doom and gloom for Democrats. A silver lining, party operatives say, has been there all along. What the party has going for it are strong, battle-tested incumbents. And that advantage is holding up -- so far.

"Republicans have a terrible record of beating incumbent Democratic senators, going back to their last good year in this category, 1980," wrote Larry Sabato and his "Crystal Ball" colleagues this week. "There is no obvious way for the GOP to gain the six seats necessary for control without taking down some incumbent Democrats, a task at which Republicans have struggled -- they haven't beaten more than two Democratic Senate incumbents since that huge 1980 landslide."

...Several Democratic incumbents are either leading or within the margin of error, according to polls. With the exception of Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, no Republican challenger has pulled into a significant lead in Democratic-held states.

After Labor Day weekend, voters will begin to tune in in earnest to the congressional races in their states and districts and the ad wars will heat up. Contests will surely tighten, and both Democrats and Republicans expect close races up until Election Day...

Democrats note that at this point in 2010, a GOP wave was already coming and much hope was lost. "Now, the Republican brand is worse than it's ever been, so even in red states where we should be losing, we're not," said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It speaks to the strength of our incumbents and their brands."

Huey-Burns gets down to specific cases and notes that Dem Senate incumbents are holding up surprisingly well and our challengers are playing serious offense in red states GA and KY. Republicans are more worried than they thought they would be on the eve of Labor Day. She acknowledges that "there is still little room for error on the Democratic side" considering the large number of Senate seats Dems are defending. But the fact that so many seats are still very much in play is encouraging.

As we approach the Labor Day break, it seems like a good time for Democrats who want to help boost turnout in November to start thinking about voter registration deadlines and planning GOTV projects. Toward that end, Rock the Vote has the voter registration skinny -- and registration forms -- for the 50 states right here.


Will Medical Pot Initiative Help FL Dems?



In her Salon.com post "The left's secret midterm weapon: How marijuana ballot initiatives can change turnout," Heather Digby Parton concludes that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's opposition to a medical pot is 'political malpractice.' Parton cites some compelling data to make the point:

... Studies have shown that a controversial ballot initiative can boost turnout by as much as 4 percent in off year elections. For years the Republicans used "gay marriage" as the boogeyman to rouse their social conservative voters but that seems to have backfired on them in recent years as marriage equality is now being routinely acknowledged by legislatures and the courts.

Today it's the Democrats who are taking advantage of the ballot initiative process to push for a loosening of marijuana laws in states across the country and having some big successes. In fact, there's good evidence that while the youth vote overall stayed nearly exactly the same percentage of the electorate in 2012 as 2008, in the states where marijuana legalization was on the ballot, the 18-29 year old vote went way up:

In 2008 young people made up just 14 percent of the vote in Colorado but this year it was 20 percent. Even more incredibly, in Washington State the youth vote went from just 10 percent of the electorate last election to 22 percent this time.

In Oregon there was also a 5 percent point increase. Polling last spring showed a very big advantage for Democrats if marijuana is on the ballot this fall:

George Washington University Battleground poll, a national survey of likely voters, reveals that nearly four in 10 respondents say they would be "much more likely" to vote if marijuana legalization issues were on the ballot. An additional 30% say such ballot initiatives would make them "somewhat" more likely to vote.

Parton adds that opponents of medical marijuana have found no convincing evidence that there is much "downside to the drug itself," other than legal problems. She puzzles over Wasserman-Schultz's opposition to the modest medical reefer reform measure on the ballot in Florida. I guess some, not many, Democrats are conservative on the issue, maybe fewer than those who are conservative about reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

Further, adds Parton, a May Quinnipiac Poll found that "Florida voters support 88 - 10 percent allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. Support is over 80 percent among all listed groups, including 84 - 13 percent among voters over 65 years old."

Wasserman-Schultz is usually one of the more astute message-crafters in the Democratic party. But I think Parton is right that it is probably unwise for the DNC head to go too high-profile against medical marijuana. Or, if she must, then always make it clear that she is not speaking for the DNC or her party and emphasize that it is just her personal point of view.

In any case, other Florida Democrats should feel unencumbered in taking a position strongly supporting medical marijuana in their state. That train has pretty much left the station, as far as young voters are concerned, and Dems have nothing to gain by blocking the tracks.


August 26, 2014

Disapproval of Congress May Boost Turnout, Help Dems



Jeffrey M. Jones writes that "Disapproval of Congress Linked to Higher Voter Turnout," and explains at Gallup Politics:

Congressional job approval, currently 13%, is on pace to be the lowest it has been in a midterm election year. Moreover, a near-record-low 19% of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election. This latter measure shows a similarly strong relationship to voter turnout as does job approval.

Voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged narrowly between 38.1% and 41.1% since 1994, considerably lower than the 51.7% to 61.6% range for the last five presidential elections. But there has been a clear pattern of turnout being on the higher end of the midterm year range when Americans were less approving of Congress. The correlation between turnout and congressional approval since 1994 is -.83, indicating a strong relationship.

The disapproval-turnout link is a fairly recent phenomenon. From 1974 -- the first year Gallup measured congressional job approval -- until 1990, there was only a weak relationship between turnout and approval, with turnout higher when approval was higher, the opposite of the current pattern. But that weak relationship was driven mostly by the 1974 midterm elections, when turnout was among the higher ones for midterms and Congress was relatively popular after the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation that summer.

Jones reviews the history of the relationship between turnout and congressional approval, post-Watergate and adds, "As a result, it is unclear how the current frustration with Congress will manifest itself in terms of party control of the two houses of Congress."

If recent patterns prevail, the expectation is that Republicans will reap the benefit, with their traditional midterm turnout edge, although most recent polls show that voters are more displeased with congressional Republicans than with Democrats. If the Dems' Bannock Street Project lives up to some of the more optimistic reporting, they will likely do better than expected in the Senate and hold their majority. The DCCC's recent 13-seat expansion of its "Red to Blue" campaign may also get better results than expected with a turnout surge.

As always the "safe" bet is with recent patterns. But if Bannock Street and Red to Blue do a good job, all bets are off.


August 25, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Molly Parker's "Democrats roll out new strategy to motivate folks to the polls" at the Southern Illinoisian" describes the challenge Dems face in Illinois -- and a template Dems can use in other states: "...5.1 million Illinoisans voted in the last presidential election, compared to 3.6 million that voted in the last midterm election. That means some 1.5 million people sit out midterm elections. Of those 1.5 million, roughly 1.2 million of those non-voters are Democrats...so-called "drop-off voters" have been identified in every county and every precinct in the state. Party leaders are going door-to-door and asking these folks to sign a card pledging to vote in November. The cards will be mailed back to them before the election as a reminder of their pledge, in addition to three separate mailers they will receive..." She quotes Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin: ""If we bring theses people out, a large portion of these people out, we're going to win elections."

At Daily Kos Jeff Singer's "Want to make sure every vote counts? Get involved in these key races for secretary of state" spotlights often-overlooked, but critically-important election contests, which deserve more attention from Democratic political operatives.

At the Atlantic Molly Ball's "Inside the Democrats' Plan to Save Arkansas--and the Senate" notes "To beat the odds, across the country Democrats have mounted an ambitious political organizing effort--the first attempt to replicate the Obama campaign's signature marriage of sophisticated technology and intensive on-the-ground engagement on a national scale without Obama on the ballot. The effort is particularly noticeable in states like Arkansas and Alaska, which have small electorates and which haven't been presidential battleground states for a decade or more. (In 2004, John Kerry initially tried to compete in Arkansas, but pulled out of the state three weeks before the election and lost it by 10 points.) In Arkansas, campaigns traditionally begin after Labor Day; this year, the airwaves have already been blanketed with campaign ads, from both the candidates and deep-pocketed outside groups, for months...This year marks Democrats' attempt to roll out the program on a national scale. Dubbed the Bannock Street Project, after the Bennet campaign's Denver headquarters, it will, by the time the election is over, comprise a 4,000-employee, $60 million effort in 10 states. The voter-contact metrics recorded in each state are uploaded in real time to the Washington headquarters of the senatorial committee. While such efforts are commonly described as turnout operations, Matt Canter, the committee's deputy executive director, says there's more to it than that. "This is about much more than [get-out-the-vote]," he tells me. "This is not just identifying supporters and turning them out. This is actually building sustained voter contact programs through multiple face-to-face conversations that can persuade voters to change their minds and vote Democrat."..Democrats believe they have a technological edge in their ability to use data to model and target voter preferences. Republicans, who have invested heavily in technology since 2012, are working to catch up. But on a basic level, turning out voters relies on the simple arithmetic of the application of resources--bodies on the ground, close to their communities, tirelessly recruiting volunteers who will work to activate their neighbors and family and friends..."

Re the recent UNH/WMUR poll showing Scott Brown down just two points from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Blumenthal, Ariel Edwards-Levy and Rachel Lienesch say "Stop Freaking Out Over The Results Of One Poll."

At Forbes, pollster John Zogby concludes from a new Zogby Analytics poll that "In 2010, it was older, whiter, and more conservative voters who turned out, while many of the Democrats' base voters stayed home. Thus far in 2014, it looks like Democrats may show up at the polls and independents may just stay home because they don't like either party."

Susan Davis illuminates why "Alaska becomes crucial frontier for Senate Democrats" at USA Today.

It appears that President Obama's "economic patriotism" meme may have sturdy legs. Americans are at long last ready to take a stand against corporate ex-pats exploiting U.S. taxpayers, then skipping out on the bill. Anne Tucker's "Curbing Corporate Inversions Through Public Pressure for Economic Patriotism" includes this observation: "Feared negative public reaction tipped the scales in favor of remaining a U.S. company for Walgreens, with market pressure nearly causing the opposite result. Public pressure for economic patriotism and corporate stewardship must be a part of any permanent solution. It will mitigate market-based profit maximization pressures. Brand identity and consumer loyalty are not subject to the kind of loopholes that riddle the tax code or the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C." It's a great slogan for Democratic candidates looking for creative ways to call out their Republican opponents' refusal to protect American jobs. UPDATE: This report suggests Burger King may also need to be challenged on its "economic patriotism."

The National Journal's Scott Bland and Adam Woolner report on the larger contributions to pro-Democratic Super-PACs to help Dems hold their senate majority.

The "voting with your wallet" app gets a lot of diss, but I'm thinking Buypartisan is a good tool for identifying companies which fund Republicans. Sure it's maybe too much of a hassle to use for groceries and everyday purchases. But for bigger ticket items like stocks, phones, cell services services and cameras etc., why not? If Google and Facebook are supporting ALEC, or Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile support Ted Cruz, why should Dems give them any play?


August 22, 2014

Obama's Anti-Poverty Record Should Lift His Approval Rating



Tali Mendelberg's and Bennett L. Butler's NYT op-ed "Obama Cares. Look at the Numbers" gives the president and Dems a new meme to promote. The gist, from the authors:

...Mr. Obama has been more committed to communities like Ferguson than any Democratic president in the past half century.

...The Congressional Budget Office's inflation-adjusted numbers show that Mr. Obama sought to spend far more on means-tested anti-poverty programs than other first-term Democratic presidents. The targeted needs include food, housing, education, health care and cash.

Mr. Obama earmarked 17 percent of his budget for these needs, versus Mr. Clinton's 12 percent and Jimmy Carter's 8 percent. These presidents all faced economic challenges, although of different degrees and strength. Each was committed to the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. But Mr. Obama made good on that commitment far more concretely.

...Christopher Wimer of Columbia University found, for example, that tax and transfer policies lowered the poverty rate by only 1 percentage point in 1967, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, but by almost 13 points in 2012.

Did Mr. Obama plan to spend more simply because he had more mouths to feed? No. Even after accounting for the higher numbers of poor people caught in the Great Recession, Mr. Obama's record outshines his predecessors'. His proposed first-term spending per poor individual was $13,731 to Mr. Clinton's $8,310 and Mr. Carter's $4,431, in 2014 dollars.

Mendelberg and Butler continue with more compelling statistical evidence of President Obama's commitment to reducing poverty and conclude that the president's critics "are wrong to say that he does not care about poor communities of color." Add to their analysis that the Affordable Care Act has provided previously unavailable health care coverage to millions of impoverished people, and it becomes clear that few American presidents have done more to help low-income working people of all races.

And that is a message worth broadcasting far and wide as voter registration deadlines approach across the country.


August 21, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



"MIcrosoft Ditches ALEC In Latest Blow To Conservative Group," reports Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo Live Wire. Scott adds: "Microsoft joins Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble as some of the major corporations that have severed their relationship with ALEC, according to CNET. Others -- like Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, and Yelp -- remain involved with the group."

Via Plum Liner Greg Sargent's "From a vulnerable red state Democrat, a strong pro-Obamacare ad":

Nate Cohn explores several reasons why "Alaska Might Be More Friendly to Democrats Than It Appears" at The Upshot.

Also at The Upshot, however, Josh Katz argues that "Georgia Is the Reason the G.O.P. Is Edging Up in the Overall Senate Race."

New Suffolk University/USA Today poll has Democratic U.S. Sen. Hagan up 2 percent with LVs in NC, a stat tie.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin is not so dismissive as others of the likelihood that Texas Governor Rick Perry may lose a ruling on the two-count indictment ("abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public servant") that has been filed against him, as Toobin explains in his article "Why Rick Perry May Be Out of Luck."

At Fox News Latino Elizabeth Llorente explains why "Despite Expected Low Turnout, Latino Voters Could Prove Crucial In Some Midterm Races." She quotes Fernand Amandi, a managing partner at polling company Bendixen & Amandi International: "The question for the midterm elections is, given the extra emphasis on immigration, and the economy and the impact of the healthcare program,...will that cause a Hispanic spike in voting, like we saw in 2006, or will Hispanics revert to the historical pattern of less than a regular turnout?"

A paragraph from Al Hunt's latest Bloomberg View column suggests an important messaging point that might bear some repetition: "The U.S. economy has turned around with the unemployment rate dropping from as high as 10 percent in the first year of the Barack Obama presidency to a little over 6 percent now. That hasn't registered with many voters. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, the public was dissatisfied with the economy by an almost two to one ratio. Almost half of Americans thought the U.S. still was in a recession; the deep downturn caused by the financial crisis actually ended five years ago."

Maybe not. But the gender gap suggests she will more likely vote Democratic.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



August 29: "Keeping ______ Honest" Not a Great Rationale For Presidential Primary Candidacy


Since talk of a primary challenger to the presumed presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton is a topic that won't go away for a while, it's probably as worthwhile to think about what a challenger might say as to speculate about his/her identity. It's a question I discussed today at Washington Monthly. I began by quoting Jonathan Chait:

The 2016 Democratic presidential campaign is beginning to take shape. It's a highly unusual campaign. Hillary Clinton commands the massive party loyalty of an incumbent, except she's not an incumbent, so it is possible for another Democrat to challenge her without the campaign necessarily signalling the all-out, you-have-failed opposition of a Gene McCarthy in 1968, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Pat Buchanan in 1992, and so on. The campaign, instead, is likely to center on organized liberals using a candidacy to pressure Clinton not to move too far toward the center.

Now think about how that affects a candidate and his or her campaign. Your goal isn't power, but influence. You expect activists to give up their time and money not to elect the next president of the United States, but to exceed low expectations. Your success is ultimately measured by how someone else runs her campaign. It's just not a prescription for excitement.

The precedent I keep thinking about, though it's not precisely analogous (obviously), is congressman John Ashbrook's 1972 primary challenge to Richard Nixon. Ashbrook was supported by some very high-profile conservatives (most notably William F. Buckley) who basically didn't trust Richard Nixon as far as they could throw him, and were particularly worried about his detente policies towards the Soviet Union and China. The Ohioan's campaign slogan was "No Left Turns," and his candidacy was transparently not about beating Nixon but about, well, "keeping him honest" (laughable as that phrase may seem in reference to The Tricky One) ideologically.

In the primaries Ashbrook peaked at a booming ten percent of the vote in California, and dropped out, endorsing Nixon. If he had any effect on Nixon's general election strategy, it was certainly hard to detect.

Now it's true Ashbrook was no Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. But he was a respected figure in Congress and in the conservative movement. An awful lot of conservatives who voted for Nixon against him may well have sympathized with his cause. But it's just hard to convince people to vote for one person in order to influence another. That reality needs to be factored into the talk about a challenge to HRC.

I got some blowback from WaMo commenters who assumed I was trying to discourage the idea of a challenge to Clinton. But that really misses my point: if someone's going to challenge a candidate like her, with incumbent-level support and name ID, they'd better try to beat her, not just influence her or "keep her honest." Uphill battles are hard enough with a clear vision of victory. Without one, it will be difficult to raise the flag.


August 27: Gubernatorial Panorama

With all the vast attention understandably being paid to the Senate landscape this year, it's worth remembering there are just as many gubernatorial as senatorial contests in November--36 of each, to be exact. So I offered a quick panoramic view of the gubernatorial scene this year at TPMCafe:

One factor in the relatively small national attention attracted by governor's races this year has been a surprisingly low number of retirements despite a sour mood of anti-incumbency. Twenty-nine incumbents ran for re-election; four more were term-limited; only three (Linc Chafee of RI, Deval Patrick of MA, Rick Perry of TX) voluntarily retired. One (Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie) has lost a primary. So there haven't been as many competitive primaries or close general election races as might normally be the case.

According to the Cook Political Report, only 13 of the 36 races are competitive at present (as defined as tossups or contests "leaning" one way or another): six governorships currently held by Democrats and seven by Republicans. Eleven of these gubernatorial battlegrounds are in states carried by Obama in 2012 (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin), and just two in states carried by Romney (Arkansas and Kansas). Some Democrats would add red Georgia and South Carolina to the competitive contest list; some Republicans think they have an outside chance in blue Massachusetts or Oregon. All in all, six Republican governorships are "mispositioned" in Obama '12 states, and one Democrat in a Romney '12 state.

Complicating everything, of course, are uncertain midterm turnout patterns, which tilted significantly Republican in 2010. In terms of national efforts to change these turnout patterns, it's worth noting there's not a great deal of overlap between the senatorial and gubernatorial battlegrounds. Only four of the ten states the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's Bannock Street Project is targeting with extraordinary resources for voter registration and contact programs have competitive gubernatorial races at the moment (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia and Michigan). Only five states have both competitive governor's races and nationally targeted battles for control of state legislative chambers (Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

The state of gubernatorial races helps provide an antidote to the "Republican wave" assumptions flowing from this year's wildly slanted Senate landscape. At the moment the odds are low Republicans will make any net gubernatorial gains; they would have reason to be happy if wins in Arkansas and Illinois offset losses in Maine and Pennsylvania. They have a shot in Colorado and Connecticut and maybe even Hawaii, but then Florida, Wisconsin, and yes, Kansas are looking mighty shaky, with several other Republican incumbents not even close to being out of the woods. So don't let Election Day dawn on you without a close look down the ballot from the obsessively followed Senate races. It matters.

And it'll matter more in December when the excitement over whatever happens in the Senate has begun to fade.


August 20: Senate Reset

So the much-discussed Senate Republican primary cycle is coming to a close, and many GOP partisans are congratulating themselves on avoiding disaster via the nomination of another Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin (though they came close in Mississippi). As we reset our expectations for the general election, however, it still looks to be a very close election when it comes to control of the Senate, as I discussed today at TPMCafe:

[T]here are no signs of a Republican "wave" election; most of the positive trajectory remain attributable to a lucky Senate landscape this particular cycle and to the turnout advantages the older and whiter GOP automatically enjoys in midterms these days. So the assumption many Republicans seem to have that they'll get all the "late breaks" in close races isn't really warranted at this point. Nor is the much-discussed "enthusiasm gap" a reliable indicator. As Republican pollster Neil Newhouse warned recently (per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza), the same "gap" existed in 2012:
"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team's [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

We don't know yet whether the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's "Bannock Street Project" -- a heavy investment in turning the Obama '12 campaign's voter targeting and mobilization techniques into a disruption of past midterm turnout patterns -- is going to pay off. The impression I get, however, is that it's a deadly serious enterprise, and potentially crucial in, for example, Arkansas, where African-American turnout has been abnormally low in recent elections. We also don't know if Republican "independent" groups are going to be as feckless as they generally were in 2012 in spending their considerable resources.

Beyond that, there are obviously idiosyncrasies in individual contests that are difficult to predict but could change everything. North Carolina's Thom Tillis is uniquely tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that's generated as many negative headlines in the state as Congress. Both he and Joni Ernst took dangerously extremist positions in the course of winning their primaries. Tom Cotton didn't even need a primary to create ideological peril for himself. Ernst and Georgia's David Perdue have been gaffe-prone. Mitch McConnell, never a beloved figure at home, is a highly visible officer in a despised congressional status quo. Cory Gardner is the rare Republican Senate candidate for whom a strong Latino backlash against the recent upsurge in GOP nativist sentiment could prove a catastrophe.

On the Democratic side, Mary Landrieu has already in her career accomplished something thought near-impossible for a Democrat by winning a post-general-election runoff. And Mark Pryor's reservoirs of support are such that he didn't even draw a Republican opponent last time he ran.

So while Republicans can rightly be pleased that they avoided disaster during the Senate primary cycle, it's far too early for gloating. And if the imponderables between now and November 4 aren't sobering enough, they can look ahead to the 2016 Senate elections, when the landscape shifts sharply in the opposite direction and a far less favorable presidential electorate shows up at the polls.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans can manage to avoid the irrational exuberance that convinced so many of them in 2012 that Mitt Romney would be the 45th president.


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