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My Midterm Musings November 2, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized.
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No election day would be complete without my underqualified analysis and predictions on the day’s outcome.  I have been a poll-junkie over the past several months, and have read up on as many House and Senate races as I could.  It will be no surprise that Republicans will have a very good night, the question has just become how much of one it will be.  The GOP will almost certainly retake the House, and pick up a minimum of 7 Senate seats, possibly as many as 9.  So without further ado, here are some of my predictions and races to watch:

Final Senate Tally: Net gain of 8 seats

Final House Tally: Net gain of 57 seats

Critical GOP Gains: Illinois, Colorado, Nevada – If Republicans can pick off President Obama’s old Senate seat, it will be a huge morale victory and portend big gains in the Great Lakes region.  GOP candidates are already doing very well in every state bordering Illinois (WI, IA, IN, KY, and MO), so Mark Kirk has a better than even shot of pulling this off.  Colorado’s GOP candidate, Ken Buck, has seen his margin in the polls tighten over the past month, but his lead has been consistent.  Assuming the Colorado gubernatorial debacle does not peel away votes from him, he should pull off a narrow victory.  Few Senate races have gotten as much media attention, or outside money, as Sharron Angle’s bid to upset Senator Harry Reid in Nevada.  Although this race has been within the margin of error for months, expect Reid to be narrowly defeated by night’s end.

Longest Wait: Alaska – In all likelihood, the final results of the Alaska Senate race will not be known for days, or even weeks, after voting ends tonight.  The 3-way contest between Republican Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams, and Republican-running-as-an-independent-write-in Lisa Murkowski (the current senator who lost her primary), has been a roller coaster.  Miller, who enjoyed a lead for months, has seen his support slip as moderates and Republicans flock to Murkowski.  My prediction is that Murkowski will come in first, Miller in second, and McAdams in third.  However, many of her write-in votes may be invalidated by the courts, so this could be a replay of the Minnesota senate contest two years ago.

Biggest Open-Seat Blowout for Democrat: Delaware – Delaware Republicans nominated an unelectable conservative in their deep blue state.  Democrat Chris Coons will walk away with this one by at least 15 points.

Biggest Open-Seat Blowout for Republican: North Dakota – Next to only the Kansas and Utah races, this one has the best chance of the Republican, the popular governor John Hoeven, crossing the 70% threshold.

Biggest Surprise of the Night: Republican John Rease wins in West Virginia – The Mountaineers are traditionally Democratic but have backed Republicans in the past several presidential elections.  The Democrat running to fill Robert Byrd’s old seat, Governor Joe Manchin, boasts a popularity rate above 60%.  His GOP rival is a successful businessman, but he has a favorable rating far below the governor.   If West Virginians elect Raese, it will clearly be a signal that they are deeply dissatisfied with President Obama’s agenda.  If they elect Manchin, it will also be a signal that they are deeply dissatisfied with the ruling party (witness his ad where he shoots a copy of the Cap and Trade bill).  Expect Manchin to be the most conservative Democrat in the chamber.

Don’t Count Them Out: Fiorina in CA and Rossi in WA – Although both of these candidates are down in the polls, their challenges have become the toughest incumbents Barbara Boxer (CA) and Patty Murray (WA) have yet faced.  California’s contest will hinge on turnout (Democratic likely to be higher here than in the rest of the country due to the marijuana initiative) and the fallout from the tumultuous governor’s race.  While Rossi has come within striking distance of Murray, it may be too little too late.  Almost all of Washington votes by absentee ballot or early voting, so the contest was likely decided over the past couple weeks.


Bellweather for Anti-Incumbency: Barletta Beats Kanjorski in PA – In 2008, Democrat Paul Kanjorski (PA-11) was reelected to his 13th term with just 52% of the vote.  President Obama carried the district by a much wider margin.  If Republican Lou Barletta pulls off the upset, it could well be a signal that voters across the country are willing to vote out their own long-serving representatives, even though their seniority often brings influence and federal dollars to the district.

Bellweather for Northeast Comeback: Hanna Knocks Off Arcuri in NY – Democrat Michael Arcuri (NY-24) won his second term in 2008 with just 52%.  The district he represents has a slight Republican registration advantage.  Currently only 2 members of New York’s 29 House districts are Republicans.  If the GOP is to have any hope of establishing a firm foothold in the majority, it will have to wrest away seats like this in the northeast that flipped in 2006 and 2008 to Democrats.  Republicans cannot hope to have a lasting majority if they are locked out of the 3rd biggest state in the country (Texas by contrast has 12 Democrats to 20 Republicans).

Campaign Strategy: Perriello vs. Hurt in VA – In 2008, Democrat Tom Perriello (VA-5) was elected to an open seat by a margin in the hundreds of votes.  Since then he has become a vocal and consistent supporter of President Obama’s agenda.  This has hurt him in a district where Republicans have a 5-point registration advantage.  In 2008 he was able to draw on the support of UVA students and Charlottesville liberals.  If they do not turn out this year, he is sunk.  He has become the only representative to bring President Obama to campaign specifically for his district.  While most Democrats are running away from their leader, Perriello is embracing him.  If he wins, Democrats will be emboldened to run strongly on their record in 2012.  If he loses, they may become more timid in their support of the President’s agenda. 

Biggest Surprise of the Night: Charles Djou Holds on in HI – While Republicans have occasionally held the governorship in Hawaii, they have been virtually locked out of the congressional delegations.  When Neil Abercrombie retired to run for governor, Republican Charles Djou won his seat in a special election, helped by the fact that two Democrats remained in the race.  Although at the time many assumed he would serve a short stint in Congress, polls have him within the margin of error to his one opponent this time.  Either for lack of Democratic enthusiasm, or just Hawaiians wanting to give him a shot at a full term, there is a slight chance Djou may pull this race off.


Are Open Primaries the Solution? September 16, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Republican Party.
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Unpredictability has been the norm in the 2010 election cycle so far.  While many incumbents are feeling the heat from angry and dissatisfied voters, the wrath of the Tea Parties has so far fallen disproportionately on Republicans.  Just this week Delaware GOP primary voters chose Christine O’Donnell, a firebrand conservative who has lost statewide races twice, over Representative (and former governor) Mike Castle, who has won statewide races twelve times.  The result: Biden’s old Senate seat will almost certainly be a safe Democratic hold.  Why have the Tea Parties proven so destructive to the Republican Party?  Because they tend to lean Republican and thus vote in GOP primaries, allowing many Democrats to escape their electoral clout, at least until the general election in November.

Michael Castle (R-DE): Moderate Republican, An Endangered Species?

What has been the result of this intra-party rivalry?  In state after state, “establishment” and/or moderate Republican candidates have lost to Tea Party-backed insurgents and “outsiders” in the primaries, often with the backing of conservative kingmakers Sarah Palin and Senator Jim DeMint.  The impact of these races will be mixed in November.  While Tea Party candidates for the Senate may still win in Kentucky and Alaska, they are more likely lose in Nevada and Delaware (seats that more moderate GOP candidates may have easily won).  However, this does not tell the full story.  In six years (or less for House members) the electoral climate will almost certainly be different, and new senators such as Joe Miller (AK) or Rand Paul (KY) may find themselves losing reelection races in their red states (just as the 2006 and 2008 elections swept away Republicans in supposedly safe seats).  As a disclaimer, this may not hold true for candidates that have Tea Party support but are not controlled by them, such as Marco Rubio in Florida or Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint: The Democrats' Best Friends?

It is therefore highly likely that the GOP primaries this year will threaten Republicans’ prospect of winning the Senate (and narrow its advantage in the House) in 2010 as well as endanger any majorities in future election cycles.  What, then, is the solution to this growing problem?  How can moderates of both parties hope to fend off challenges from the far left or right without making extreme statements or casting votes that make them unelectable come November?  On the state scene, California and Washington have adopted an innovative solution: open, nonpartisan primaries.  The constitutional amendment approved by 53% of Californians in June, Proposition 14, will take effect in the 2012 elections (see here for a description of the measure by ballotpedia).

“Top two” primaries would be a significant break from traditional American politics.  Instead of candidates running in their own party primaries (and often having to run to the left or right to secure their bases), they would run against all other candidates for that office, regardless of party.  Every voter would get the same ballot, which could have multiple Republican, Democratic, and third-party candidates on it.  Whichever top two candidates received the most votes would face off in the general election.

This could, of course, cause two candidates of the same party (or ideological persuasion) to wind up being the two choices in November, especially in deep-blue states like Vermont or deep-red states like Idaho.  However, this is not a bad thing.  Since one of the candidates would likely be more moderate (or more likable, inspiring, trustworthy, etc.), it would give an incentive to independents and voters from the other party to support the candidate closer to their values.  This may seem like picking the lesser of two evils, but it is certainly better than the current system.  In states or districts dominated by one party, heavily outnumbered minority party voters either vote for their candidate who is destined to lose by a wide margin or do not vote at all.  A report by the Center for Governmental Studies found that members of the minority party could have substantial clout in electing the more moderate candidate.  As a side effect, top two primaries could significantly increase the number of Americans participating in the electoral process.

This system would obviously stir up a great deal of controversy.  Party bosses in California complained it would spell the death of political parties.  However, a party leadership could always support or oppose a candidate wishing to run under its banner.  Those who argue that such a system would produce ineffective or unprincipled candidates always trying to appeal to the middle have clearly not looked around lately.  Is it not better for candidates to appeal to the electoral center and majority instead of the far ends of the spectrum?  At the very least it would help tone down the divisive rhetoric and restore a semblance of civility to our electoral process.

Governor Schwarzenegger, Moderate Republican, Welcoming the Approval of Proposition 14

Examining the cases of Delaware and Arkansas this election cycle can shed some light on how this system would affect primary contests.  In Delaware a “top two” primary, in which independents and everyone else could vote for any candidate, would almost certainly have produced Republican Mike Castle and Democrat Chris Coons as the candidates.  Christine O’Donnell, who snatched victory from the moderate Castle and has no chance in November, would not have made it to the general election because she lacks broad appeal in Delaware.  In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln may not have had to run to her left and may have avoided a costly run-off if an open primary were in place.  Though she still would probably lose to Republican John Boozman, the contest may have been slightly more competitive.

Adopting the top two primary in more states would shake up American politics.  After a couple of election cycles, this system would have the potential to produce a more respectful political climate, more bipartisanship, and broadly agreeable and durable solutions to the economic, social, and political problems that have plagued the country for decades.  In that way this solution to often self-destructive party primaries may engender solutions to far greater, nationwide problems.

Primaries and a New Rise of Antiestablishmentarianism May 21, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, President Obama, Republican Party, Uncategorized.
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Tuesday’s primaries were surely a preview of things to come in November – unpredictability, anti-incumbency, and polarization.  The hammer of populist rancor and antiestablishmentarianism fell equally on Republicans and Democrats, and Republicans-turned-Democrats.  Both as a result of the primaries and the special election that took place in Pennsylvania, it appears that the tsunami of 2010 may be a more modest tidal wave than was previously anticipated.

First, a brief look at the races starting with the Keystone state.  In the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Joe Sestak, a relatively unknown 2-term U.S. congressman, unseated incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.  Specter was known for his moderate views and independence from party over his 30-year career, which often mirrored the positions of PA voters.  According to CQ, Specter and Sestak both voted with President Obama and the Democratic leadership over 95% of the time in 2009.  So what accounts for the primary voters’ abandonment of Specter, who was endorsed by the governor and the President?  Part of it was this anti-incumbent phenomenon, but part of it must also be attributed to the fact that there wasn’t much difference between the two candidates, and the energetic and younger Sestak tirelessly pointed back to Specter’s three decades as a Republican.  It will be interesting to see whether Sestak can continue his anti-establishment campaign while he holds a congressional seat in the face of Pat Toomey’s challenge.

The special election in PA’s 12th congressional district, to replace the late John Murtha, was equally significant.  In a district where largely conservative voters hold a Democratic registration advantage of 2 to 1 over Republicans, Democrat Mark Critz won by a small margin.  He did this by running to the right, saying he would have voted against the health care bill, cap and trade, and other unpopular bills.  It did, however, provide a blueprint for those Blue Dog Democrats fighting to hold onto their seats – come out strongly against the administration’s agenda and focus on local issues so as not to nationalize the race.  Whether this will be successful remains to be seen, but it may thwart Republican prospects of capturing the 40 seats needed to retake control of the House of Representatives.

The Kentucky race was probably the most fascinating of the evening.  Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, backed by moderate Republicans and the GOP establishment, was crushed by over twenty points by his Tea Party rival, Rand Paul (son of long-shot presidential contender Ron Paul).  A self-described libertarian, Paul ran a relentless anti-establishment campaign (he has never held public office) against the pragmatic conservative Grayson.  In this action Kentucky primary voters effectively devoured one of their own to nominate someone with pure ideological credentials – someone who probably belongs in the Libertarian Party more than the Republican Party.  The fact that Paul had to spend the first day of the general election campaign defending his position on the Civil Rights Act with theoretical arguments spells trouble for his prospects in November, as Michael Gerson of the Washington Post makes clear here.  I will go out on a limb and opine that the KY primary has effectively killed the GOP’s slim chances of winning 10 seats and retaking the Senate in November.

Both parties are eating their own in the search for ideologically pure candidates

In Arkansas, the primary was much less conclusive.  Three-term incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln narrowly edged her liberal opponent, but she was still below 50%, which forces the contest into a runoff in early June.  Her opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, criticized her not only for her moderate views but also on an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent platform.  Lincoln, who was already considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats in November, may pull it out in June but is unlikely to repeat the miracle in November.

So what is the lesson from the elections on Tuesday (and the Utah GOP convention last month)?  It seems to be that moderates and incumbents, regardless of party, will be persecuted in November.  If a candidate did not always support or always oppose the President, voters will be more inclined to send them packing, branding them as too establishment to represent their constituents.  This spells trouble not so much for the parties as for the nation as a whole.

Pure ideologues have their role to play in our political system, but it has never been the dominant role.  Partisan voting has its advantages on certain issues, but not the critically important ones such as national security (conflicts, treaties) or domestic policy (health care, energy policy).  While some of this is the fault of liberal over-reach in Congress and the White House, the remedy is not to elect hyper-partisan (or libertarian) politicians.  If the Democrats wish to lend permanency to their legislative accomplishments, they will have to retain the moderate forces within their party to hold valuable seats in the South and West.  If the Republicans wish to roll-back some of the more egregious excesses of the Obama Administration, they will have to retain their own moderates to hold or win valuable seats in the Northeast, Southwest, and Midwest.  Antiestablishmentarianism is attractive when voters are seeking to “throw the bums out,” but the parties and candidates are playing with fire – to be effective, they not only have to be capable of running against Washington but also of mastering it in order to govern.  Otherwise they will quickly become the “bums” they so recently evicted.

Obamania the Day After November 6, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, Republican Party, U.S. Government.
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Congratulations, Democrats.  After eight years, you and your party have seized control of the White House with Senator Barack Obama’s victory over Republican Senator John McCain on Tuesday.  Throw this in with your increased majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and you must feel like you are flying on top of the world.  In fact, with all the outpouring of love for America expressed since the election, you may very well be doing just that.  Just think of the circumstances.  The first black American President?  Check.  A sweeping endorsement of liberal control of the country?  Check.  Your biggest opponent, the hated GOP, reeling and searching for answers?  Check. 

                So break out the glasses and pop open the bubbly – after all, nothing can stand in your way now, right?  Now is the time to push for social equality, increase taxes on the rich and give generously to the poor.  Pack the Supreme Court with liberal-minded judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade and stop pesky Justices like Scalia and Roberts in their tracks.  Now that Bush is gone, we can bring home the soldiers to well-earned confetti and parades, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in one fell swoop.  After all, if we’re not over there, the problem should take care of itself, right?  Now is the time for Obama to start implementing all those wonderful promises he made while crisscrossing the nation over the last few months, correct?

                Not quite. 


There are a number of reasons why Democrats and other liberals will be disappointed during Obama’s initial work in the Oval Office. (more…)

Rebirth of the Phoenix: A Republican Strategy to Retaking Congress and the White House November 5, 2008

Posted by SV in Election 2008, Immigration, Politics, President Obama, Republican Party.
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Yesterday’s election saw a shake-up of the electoral map beyond what most pundits had predicted would happen. Obama broke the GOP clutch on the “Solid South,” expanded the Democrat’s territory into the Mid-Atlantic states, solidified the upper Midwest, and split open the Republican strongholds of the West. He also brought in a significant number of representatives from reliably red districts on his coattails. In response to Adam’s discussion of how the GOP can make a “comeback” (to quote David Frum’s book title) and reorient itself to readopt a more traditional and compassionate conservatism, I would like to highlight a geographic strategy that can reverse Republican fortunes and avoid repeating 2006 and 2008 in 2010 or 2012.

The GOP needs to figure out why it lost (and lost big) where it did. Obviously, no party can win everywhere, but the Democrats have exhibited a surprising ability to make significant inroads in traditionally Republican states and districts (Indiana, New Hampshire, Montana). These regions offer the best possibilities of turning the tables on the Democrats.

-New England: this region, until about the middle of the century, was a reliable Republican bastion. Even Nixon (with the exception of MA) and Reagan were able to sweep it in 1972 and 1984. The best strategy towards breaking into “liberal New England” is to stop purging the GOP of officials who don’t toe the party line on every issue, particularly social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.). It also needs to stop lambasting “intellectualism” and instead make its case logically and honestly to the citizens of New England, who place a high premium on education and philosophical pragmatism. Start in the former Republican states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

-The Rust Belt: roughly, the string of states from Michigan to Pennsylvania, also at one time reliably red. Jobs and the economy reign supreme in these states (people don’t care about social issues when they are drawing unemployment). McCain had an innovate approach to solving the jobs issue: saying bluntly that manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and offering a job training program to help people transition to 21st-century jobs that won’t be shipped overseas. If Republican candidates turn this into a centerpiece of their campaigns, it could play very well here. Target the middle class and blue-collar workers in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan to help swing House and Senate seats back to the GOP.

-The West: in particular, states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana. The strategy in these states requires an innovative and diverse approach. First of all, the GOP has to make a better case to Hispanic voters why it stands for their interests – support for small businesses, family values, cracking down on crime. It also has to stop playing to the Tom Tancredo-wing of the Republican Party that directs public anger at immigrants attempting to make a living. Radical responses to the illegal immigration issue have become a noose that the Republicans are tightening around themselves. To reverse this trend, the GOP needs to push for a “path to citizenship” approach and encourage teaching children English and Spanish in order to bridge the cultural divide. Also, try to divide the Democrats on this issue, who are pushed by labor unions to resist expanded immigration and guest worker programs. The other big issue that needs emphasized in the West is the environment. This should include adopting a platform of “Green Conservatism” that promotes water conservation, alternative energy (wind corridors in MT, plenty of sun in the Southwest), and stewardship of the environment. Focus on Montana, Colorado, and even California (for House seats) to reestablish GOP presence in this Democratic-trending region.

The strategy outlined here is not a panacea to solve all of the GOP’s problems or even provide electoral victory in 2012. Through emphasizing the issues of pro-intellectualism and pragmatism, job creation, and pro-immigration and green conservatism, the Republican Party could significantly improve the percentage of voters who identify with it. This strategy, while providing a strong plan for offense, would need to be complemented by an equally vigorous effort to shore up Republican support in the South and Midwest. Fortunately, at least one of the major issues highlighted here will play strong in every region of the country. To quote Jesse Ventura in “Predator,” the GOP “ain’t got time to bleed;” it needs to reinvigorate itself immediately. While the path to Republican resurgence lies through a philosophical renaissance, the road to electoral victory lies in bringing these new ideas and positions to Concord, Cleveland, and Carson City.