Governors in Both Parties Facing Backlashes Over Policies

Governor Rick Snyder is in a competitive race for a second term in Michigan.

Governor Rick Snyder is in a competitive race for a second term in Michigan.

The gubernatorial landscape is best described as a mix bag.  While it is clear Republicans hold an edge in Senate and House races (unclear how big) nobody can say the same for many Governors races.

Today, Republicans hold 29 of 50 gubernatorial mansions.  They are moving heaven and earth to keep it that way.  But considering the breadth of competitive seats they have to defend, MI, WI, FL, ME, AK, AZ and KS of all places, this is no easy task.  Polls are neck and neck in many of these races.

But just because Democrats control a mere 21 Governor’s mansions does not mean they are in the clear.  Just as Republicans are defending reliably red states like AZ and KS, Democrats are fighting to hold a number of reliably blue states; IL, MA, MD, RI and CT top this list with Hawaii looking like more of a long-shot for the GOP.  Democrats are also struggling to hold swing CO.

Considering the national climate and mood one has to ask what is causing such a phenomenon?  The answer is as simple as it is complicated.  Voters are responding to unpopular/popular policies unique to each state and their evaluation criteria in gubernatorial races are different from federal elections.

Consider Michigan.  It is all but certain the state will send Democratic Congressman Gary Peters to the Senate but they might retain GOP Governor Rick Snyder. In other states the dynamic might reverse.  Alaska might replace Senator Begich (D) with Republican Dan Sullivan but replace Governor Parnell (R) with a Unity ticket of a Democrat and Independent (formerly a Republican).

Primarily. many of these races are competitive not solely because of their split electorate but because of the controversial policies that have been pursued by outgoing or incumbent Governors.  In WI and MI, controversial CBA reforms have made GOP Governors the target of unions.  In FL, Rick Scott’s refusal to expand Medicaid and his funding or lack there of education has made the public split on his reelection.  In ME, Governor Paul LePage’s controversial style has him statistically tied in a three-way race.  Alaska is competitive because of an ongoing National Guard scandal and Parnell’s unpopular reform of the state’s oil and gas taxes.

Then we come to Kansas.  Kansas is unique because Governor Sam Brownback implemented one of the most expansive conservative agendas in the US.  He eliminated numerous taxes, knocked out many Republican moderates in the legislature and aided in the passage of strong voter ID laws.  The result has been the Governor being in a dead heat against his Democratic opponent and if he holds on it will not be considered a ratification of his policies.  Rather, it will be because the state is so overwhelmingly Republican.

Democratic policies have led to problems for the party, albeit for different reasons.  While many GOP Governors pursued policies to cut government and save money, Democratic Governors went the opposite direction.  In the open Maryland seat, Governor Martin O’Malley’s legacy of over 40 tax increases weighs heavily on his potential Democratic successor.  In Massachusetts former Governor Deval Patrick’s tenure is not aiding Martha Coakley.  In Connecticut, Governor Malloy is struggling in a rematch against 2010 opponent Tom Foley.  Malloy has passed over $1.8 billion in tax increases since 2011.  Illinois, despite its blueness is competitive because Governor Pat Quinn hiked the state’s income taxes and now wants to make the hike permanent.  His saving grace may be Cook County’s turnout.  In the perennial swing state of CO, Governor Hickenlooper’s decision to pass restrictive gun control measures, new energy efficiency requirements and increase taxes has made his race a dogfight.

Other states such as RI, HI and AZ are marginally competitive.  However, despite the outgoing Governor’s policies lingering the incumbent parties look likely to hold each seat.

Even in my home state, Idaho, the public is unhappy with the majority party’s policies.  Governor Butch Otter has had to fend off attacks on his record of not expanding Medicaid and inadequate funding of education.  Ironically, he is being hit from the right for being to moderate in establishing a state health exchange.

The restive mood of the public in gubernatorial races reflects an overall unsettled and unhappy voting bloc.  Indeed, a new CNN poll found 7 out of 10 voters were angry and an astonishingly high number of people felt the nation was on the wrong track.  It is not a stretch to say these feelings are bleeding into statewide constitutional elections.

So when the dust settles after November 4th individuals should not be surprised to see Republicans having dominated Senate and House races in states Romney won.  But, individuals should also not be surprised to see both Republicans and Democrats occupying Governor’s mansions in typically red and blue states.

The lesson such an occurrence teaches is clear.  Partisan polarization at the federal level is clear and undiminished.  But, at the state level, policies and their impacts can have surprising consequences.

Addendum: I exclude Arkansas and Pennsylvania from this list because Pennsylvania is gone for the GOP and Arkansas is likely Republican for partisan reasons not necessarily related to state policies.  As for New Hampshire, only a single New England poll has shown the race competitive.

The Democrats Coalition of the Ascendant is Missing Some Key Constituencies

voteDemocrats are set to get a shellacking next week.  But they argue they see a much brighter future in 2016 when their primary constituency, the “Coalition of the Ascendant” shows up at the polls.  But why are Democrats set to see another midterm where their core constituencies turnout drops so significantly?  The answer is simple.  The Democrats “Coalition of the Ascendant” is missing some key constituencies that will be crucial well into the future.

Particularly, the Democrats coalition is missing young whites, both men and women.  Democrats tout their strength among younger votes but their strength is actually based largely on geography and race.  According to exit polls of both 2010 and 2012 the GOP won young, white men and women.  GOP leads among these two groups was fairly commanding in swing states in 2010. This runs counter to the simplistic narrative younger voters are Democrats.  Among college educated men in particular, their shift to the GOP since 2008 has become especially pronounced.

Democrats strength among these groups is based on racial and cultural lines.  Democrats are running up strong margins among young Latinos and blacks as well as Asians.  They also win young whites in the Northeast and almost to a draw in the Mountain West.  GOP strength among the young is strongest in the Sunbelt and the South.  In particular, Democrats run extremely strong among young, single, college educated women nationwide.  Yet, these same women tend not to vote in midterms.

Young whites will play a huge role in future elections.  This is why it is particularly confusing for Democrats to argue their “Coalition of the Ascendent” is set to give them an enduring majority.  This cycle has made clear Democrats are struggling to motivate their base and even just Democratic leaning voters.

A new Harvard analysis of young voters habits finds some interesting information.  A total of 36% of young whites planned to vote in November 2013, 37% of young blacks said the same while a mere 28% of young Hispanics said the same.  What is especially n0table beyond the fact young voters just don’t want to turn out is the differences among the group.  If Democrats assume they can maintain a double-digit lead among the group into perpetuity they might want to think again.  Among 25-29 year old Millenials 38% identified as Democrats and 22% as Republicans.  But among the newest batch of Millenials, 25% identified as Republican and 31% as Democratic.  Further, a majority of all Millennials are more cynical of government and disapprove of the ACA.  The icing on the cake for Republicans might be that 52% of Millennials want Obama recalled and their disapproval of Obama now largely matches the general population.

Critics could contend the demographic profile of the survey does not match future America.  Afterall, demographically the survey was 59% white, 13% African-American and only 7% Hispanic with 9% qualifying as other.  But while the future of America may be brown the country’s politics continue to be dominated by whites and among the young this has certainly been the case (even in 08 and 12).

This election could determine just how much pull Democrats have with the young.  Certainly, the party has pulled out all the stops to get them to vote.  But as older Millennials have become more Democratic, younger Millennials have become less so (coming of age under a weak Obama economy).  Thus, Democrats might be assuming a bit much in that they can continue to hold the high ground among the young.   Republicans have not been blind to these trends either and are finally starting to reengage with the young, particularly young minorities, who along with young whites hold the key to future elections.

This reengagement holds real promise for the GOP.  Among the Harvard sample 37% identified as conservative or conservative leaning, 24% Republican and a huge 41% as Independents.  Further, the belief Democrats hold a lock on the unmarried is hard to see in this survey with only 20% being married.

None of this is to say Democrats cannot reestablish a lock on young voters.  But if trends hold the Millennial generation may not be as liberal as it began.  More likely, Millennials will mirror the Depression generation and Baby Boomers who started out more liberal and towards the tail end began to curve back towards moderation and conservatism.

If true, this is not good news for Democrats.  They have cultivated an image of being the party of the future by protecting women’s rights, supporting marriage equality and so on.  Yet, if younger Millennials grow more conservative and cynical of government this Democratic image cultivation may not matter.  Afterall, if you cannot find a job it is kind of irrelevant what a party’s stance is on equality vs. the economy.  Further, on issues like gay marriage, the courts have largely taken that issue off the table politically.

The Democrats “Coalition of the Ascendant” could still come to be.  Democrats could forge a post-Obama majority without young whites and perhaps even without tail-end Millennials.  But the could is key.  The Democrats coalition is looking increasing frayed this midterm along racial and gender lines.  Even the young are more split in polls than usual.  If this holds than the Democrats won’t need to rely on a “Coalition of the Ascendant” in 2016.  They will need an entirely new coalition to hold power.  And if electoral history has taught one thing, coalitions are not easy to build from scratch nor maintain.

 

Addendum: A new Harvard IOP survey finds young voters are abandoning the Democratic Party a weak before the midterms.  Notably, young whites give strong support to the GOP while young blacks go Democratic.  Hispanics split 59-34 for Democrats.

 

 

 

 

Shifting Politics of Idaho Mirror National Trends

Voters Head To Polls On Super TuesdayMuch of Idaho has been reliably Republican territory since the turn of the 21st century.  However, exceptions have always existed to this rule.  Lewiston and Boise stand as stark examples.  Lewiston has largely had a mixed legislative constituency of Republicans and Democrats.  Likewise, Boise’s districts have often been the scene of close, hard-fought legislative elections.

But recently, demographic and political change has hit Boise and the nation.  Whereas Boise’s legislative districts used to be close battlegrounds they are now almost all uniformly solid Democratic districts.  The exception is District 18 and it is still hard to not call the district a Democratic leaning area (thanks North Enders).  Meanwhile, as Boise’s formerly competitive metro districts have gotten bluer, Idaho’s suburbs and rural areas have only gotten redder.  Consider, in 2002 Idaho Republicans held one legislative seat in D-16, two in D-17 and total control of D-18.  Today, Republicans hold no seats in those three districts.  Likewise, where Democrats held two seats in North Idaho and several seats in SE Idaho they control none today (minus Sun Valley).

Idaho’s rural and suburban turn to the red column is not an isolated incident.  Nationally,  Rural and suburban areas, particularly in the South and Midwest, have become increasingly Republican.  Today, this explains why Republicans running statewide can perform so weakly in the blue leaning states of Colorado and Iowa’s metro areas and still be competitive.  In larger states, such as TX and GA, Republicans have become increasingly reliant on the rural vote.  One day Republicans will have to reckon with their weakness in metro areas in the latter states.  Probably not so much Idaho.

Like the nation, Idaho’s minority and Democratic vote has increased.  But, so has the Republican vote.  Worse, at least from the Democratic perspective, split ticket voting has all but disappeared in Idaho.  Hence, a circumstance where a Democrat could be elected Governor and the Republicans control the legislature (aka, 1970-1994), is extremely unlikely today.  Further, it means Democratic legislative candidates cannot win former split districts.  Again, this follows a national trend.

Consider the 2012 Presidential election.  Only a single GOP Senator (Dean Heller) was elected in a state Barack Obama won (Nevada).  Mitt Romney’s and GOP candidates losses geographically can be chalked up to massive losses in virtually every urban area of the country.  Idaho was no exception.  Mitt Romney carried every legislative district in the state except for 16, 17, 18 and 19.  All are urban Boise districts and all with full Democratic delegations.

Republicans hope national trends aid their efforts in close fought battlegrounds while Idaho Republicans hope disappointment in Obama leads to lower turnout in metro Boise.  How realistic such a hope is for Idaho Republicans remains unclear.  In 2010, Idaho Republicans could only net two seats in D-18 and no seats elsewhere in Boise,  In 12, Democrats took both those seats back by commanding margins.

Perhaps this year will be the year where Republicans make inroads among urban voters.  Perhaps not.  But even if Republicans do make inroads among urban voters they must prove they can hold their support in Presidential years. To expand their legislative majorities, Idaho Republicans must prove the same.

 

GOP Ground Game May Benefit Party in Close Races

North Carolina is ground zero for the GOP's new and untested data driven voter turnout efforts.

North Carolina is ground zero for the GOP’s new and untested data driven voter turnout efforts.

Since 2004 Democrats have schooled the GOP in the parties ground games for a decade.  Now, the GOP is hoping they can finally turn this around.  A number of races at the beginning of the cycle have become inviting targets for the GOP but other races have turned unexpectedly competitive.

In Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn has run a strong campaign against Republican David Perdue.  Polls on the race have see-sawed with Nunn maintaining a slim edge in the last few polls (all within the margin of error).  As a result, the race could come down to the GOP’s ground game and for once the party appears to have an edge.  A conglomeration of interest groups and the state GOP have invested heavily in digitally targeted mailings and canvassing.  Democrats have largely focused on registering new voters.  The result has been Perdue leading among early voting while trailing in public polls.  It further aids the GOP that the state Democratic party has atrophied since the turn of the century.

Kansas is a race neither party never expected to be competitive.  Senator Pat Roberts has run a lackadaisical campaign and until recently he had no campaign whatsoever.  His opponent, Greg Orman, is an Independent who is getting strong support from Independents and Democrats.  However, Orman’s candidacy seems to be a a curse as well as a gift.  Orman’s campaign does not have access to party technology or staffers and as a result the GOP’s professional ground game is outworking Orman’s campaign.

In an ultra competitive Senate race in North Carolina, the party is increasingly relying on untested digital technology to get them over the finish line.  They have put particular faith in a spunky intern’s phone app that has allowed the party to target thousands of voters a week.

The GOP ground game’s improvement has become especially pronounced in two quintessential swing states, Iowa and Colorado.  In both 2008 and 2012 the GOP was outworked in Iowa and since 2004 the GOP has not won a statewide election in Colorado.  The GOP is working to change these dynamics.

Early returns give the GOP reason for optimism in Iowa.  According to an internal memo the GOP now leads Democrats among partisan early voters.  However. in polls those that have already voted admit they support Bruce Braley by double digits.  Still, if the memo is accurate, the GOP lead among early voters would eat into the Democrats absentee ballot advantage and allow the traditional GOP advantage on election day to be the difference.

Colorado’s new all-mail voting system makes assessing early returns more difficult.  But, among self identified Democrats and Republicans in every survey since September, Republicans have said they are more likely to vote.  It also helps that Corey Gardner leads among Independents who are most likely to vote as well.  According to the Colorado Secretary of State, more Republicans have already returned their ballots than Democrats.

GOP parity or advantages in the ground game are a significant change since 2006.  The national Democratic turnout effort in 2006 helped provide the framework for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.  Even in the banner year of 2010 for the GOP the party was outworked in Nevada and Colorado (two of the closest races in the country).

Republicans believe they can change the script this cycle with the help of outside organizations.  While the GOP ground game is working so is the massive ground game of Americans for Prosperity.  While barred from specifically endorsing a candidate by federal campaign laws they can encourage targeted undecided and GOP voters to register and urge them to vote on certain issues.

Some political observers say this could be the difference.  Though Democrats are benefiting from outside organization canvassing it is not nearly as massive or comprehensive as AFP’s.  Combined with the level of spending blanketing races, the GOP advantage with third party groups is only amplified.

None of this is to say the GOP will win every close race this cycle.  But, even in failure in 2014 the party can find what does and doesn’t work in preparation for 2016 and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

No, Independents Will Not Rule the Senate

Independent candidate Larry Pressler.

Independent candidate Larry Pressler.

Over the last few weeks analysts and pundits have had a field day with the idea of a number of Independents coming to the Senate.  The latest comes from Norm Ornstein.  Ornstein envisions a Centrist Caucus that could break the gridlock and get things done in DC.  However, these analyses are far more idealistic than reality.

Both of the Independent Senators in the Senate currently caucus with the Democrats.  Independent Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is a closet Socialist.  Angus King (I-ME) is a moderate Democrat parading in an Independent’s coat.  Both have also behaved like partisans since joining the Senate.  King has been far from an independent voice in the Democratic Caucus.  Sander’s has tried to push his party further to the left.

For there even to be an Independent Caucus or for Independents to carry significant power in the Senate they need a bloc of votes or bodies in the chamber.  That is where the Independent candidacies of 2014 come in.  Independent candidacies have gained traction in two states; Kansas and South Dakota.

In South Dakota, former Republican Senator Larry Pressler has turned the initially uncompetitive race into a headache for Republicans.  However, the race appears to have returned to form with former Governor Mike Rounds appearing to have righted his ship.  The most likely Independent candidate to make it to the Senate this cycle can be found in Kansas of all places.

Independent Greg Orman’s candidacy has gained traction due to a confluence of factors.  Senator Pat Roberts initially ran an abysmal campaign and was deeply damaged by a divisive primary.  Democrats, sensing Roberts was in danger, had their nominee drop off the ballot to make way for Orman who holds several liberal positions on the issues.  Only recently with national help has the Roberts campaign come roaring back portraying Orman as a liberal.

There are notable right-wing Independent candidacies.  In South Dakota, Greg Howie is taking votes from Rounds.  A number of Libertarian candidacies (not exactly Independent but close) are taking votes from both Democratic incumbents and their challengers, leaving several races in doubt.  In Louisiana, Rob Manness is winning about 10% of the vote and keeping both Senator Landrieu and Congressman Cassidy well below 50% mark to avoid a December run-off.

Historically, Independent candidacies have often looked strong but fizzled out by election day.  Consider recent evidence. Nationally, in 1992, Ross Perot actually led in some polls over Clinton and Bush.  In 2000, Nader once polled at 10% before dropping significantly.  In recent state elections, in 2009 Independent Chris Daggett almost took the New Jersey gubernatorial race from Chris Christie, polling once as high as 18% in a Survey USA poll.  Third parties candidacies often suffer the same phenomenon.

Independent candidacies often lack support from party apparatuses and major donors tend to like partisans that will defend their interests when in office.  Independent candidacies often have to play the outsider card and thus cannot court these major donors.  Still, in a case like Orman, Independent candidacies can take root under the right conditions.

Odds are that no new Independents will come to Congress in 2015.  Orman’s campaign is starting to acknowledge they are falling behind and Pressler, already behind in the three way race, has seen his numbers among conservative Republicans and Independents plummet.  No other Independent candidacies have taken root though they can sway key elections.  Perhaps in the future we may see more Independents in Congress.  Just don’t expect it in the next.  Sorry Norm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midterms Will Ultimately Hinge on the Fundamentals

Republicans hope the fundamentals carry candidates like Tom Cotton to victory.

Republicans hope the fundamentals carry candidates like Tom Cotton to victory.

If the recent slate of polls have made anything become clear it is that the closer we get to election day the worse the environment appears for Democrats.  Just look at the evidence from the Senate.  Short of Michigan, every race that could looked competitive at the beginning of the cycle has become so.  This can be seen by the table below.

As of today, 10 Senate races are competitive on the Democratic side and arguably just three on the Republican side.  I have taken polling averages of races from June until today from RCP and the Huffington Post.  Note: HuffPo and RCP do not always include the same polls in their averages so some variation is involved in this table.

State June R % June D % June R/D Advantage Oct R% Oct D% Oct R/D Advantage June/Oct Difference
 New Hampshire  38.3% 45% D + 6.7% 45.2% 47.8% D + 2.6% R + 4.1%
North Carolina 43% 42.2% R + .8% 44.2% 45.4% D + 1.2% D + 2%
Arkansas 43% 45.7% D + 2.7% 46.8% 41.3% R + 5.5% R + 8.2%
South Dakota 44% 30% R + 14% 38.3% 28.5% R + 9.8% D + 4.2%
West Virginia 48.5% 38.5% R + 10% 53.3% 36.3% R + 17% R + 7%
Montana * * * 52.3% 33.3% R + 19% R + 19%
Louisiana 42.4% 45.8% D + 3.4% 49.8% 43.9% R + 5.9% R + 9.3%
Colorado 44.3% 43.9% R + .4% 45.5% 44.1% R + 1.4% R + 1%
Iowa 46.3% 44.4% R + 1.9% 47.2% 45% R + 2.2% R + .2%
Alaska 43.1% 45.4% D + 2.3% 48.1% 43.5% R + 3.6% R + 5.9%
Kansas * * * 44.2% 43.6% (I) R + .6% R + .6%
Kentucky 46.1% 42.8% R + 3.3% 48.9% 44.9% R + 4% R + .7%
Georgia 45.2% 41.5% R + 3.7% 46% 42.1% R + 3.9% R + .2%

First, a number of other races could be included on this list.  Virginian Senator Mark Warner has seen his lead shrink significantly but he still holds a strong, high single-digit lead.  Ditto in New Mexico.  These races are not included on the list because the GOP’s chances for winning, like in Michigan, are long-shots at best and would require something special to pull off.

Second, as one can see from the table above Republicans have almost uniformly increased their standing in every race from June until today.  The exceptions are North Carolina, where Senator Hagan has hammered Thom Tillis on education and South Dakota, where Independent Larry Pressler has eaten into Mike Rounds support.  Some caveats should also be mentioned.  Louisiana’s numbers are only from a head to head match-up between Cassidy and Landrieu and Montana has seen a new Democratic candidate emerge since John Walsh announced he would not seek a full term after his plagiarism scandal.  Further, Independent Greg Orman has emerged only since late June to challenge Senator Roberts in Kansas when Democrat Chad Taylor dropped off the ballot.

Republicans have not just improved their standing in individual Senate races but they have also done so on the generic ballot.  In June, the RCP average had Democrats and Republicans roughly tied.  Now, the average shows the GOP with a 4.2% edge, likely fueled by pollsters switching from registered voter to likely voter models.

All this suggests the election is returning to the fundamentals.  A number of analyses back up this assertion.  Dan McLauglin at Red State found seven races flipped leads in 2012, all toward Democrats; two flipped in 2010, one for each party; three flipped in 2008, all toward Democrats; three flipped in 2006, all toward Democrats; four flipped in 2004, all toward Republicans; and three flipped in 2002, all toward Republicans.  Plus, the fundamentals in each election favored the winner.  Another analysis found that many races in wave elections do not break until late.  Pubic Opinion Strategies, a GOP pollster, found that late deciders (those that decided in the final week) broke decisively against GOP incumbents in 2006.  Independents overwhelmingly went for Democratic challengers as well.  As a result, Democrats gained a net of six Senate seats.

Republicans could be on course to do even better thanks to a favorable map and a strong crop of candidates.  Democratic turnout is depressed, the President is deeply unpopular, and the economy is still struggling to grow.  Meanwhile, scandals continue to dog the White House and Democratic candidates are failing to distance themselves from the President.  For a few incumbents, Shaheen and Hagan, they may have light at the end of the tunnel due to their personal brands and unpopular opponents.  But for many other Democrats no such light exists.

Of course, it is instructive to remember that 2006 and 2010 were different from today.  In 2006 and 2010 both parties succeeded in marginalizing third-party opponents,  Yet, today we have a Pressler in South Dakota wreaking havoc on Mike Round’s campaign and in Kansas, Independent Greg Orman is running neck and neck with Pat Roberts.  Further, in states like Georgia and North Carolina, libertarian candidates are set to play spoiler to both Democratic and GOP chances.

But, it could be argued Pressler and especially Orman cannot get ahead because of these fundamentals.  Voters in these red states want a GOP Senate to check the President.  As a result, it has been easy for Rounds to right his ship by arguing Pressler would not check the President (climate change, Obamacare) and for Roberts to claw his way back into contention against Orman.  Without such fundamentals an unpopular incumbent against a strong Independent might very well fall.

Another difference is the popularity of the parties.  In 2006 the Democratic brand was strong and the GOP’s extremely weak.  In 2010 the GOP brand was still weak but so was the Democratic brand.  Today, the Democratic Party has recorded its worst ever favorable rating in the polls while the GOP has inched up, if only slightly.

Against this backdrop voters must decide who to support and for the GOP their last fundamental in a majority of races are strong candidates.  From Cory Garnder in Colorado to Joni Ernst in Iowa to Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, the party has successfully recruited a strong crop of candidates.  Democrats did the same in 2006 to exploit the favorable national environment.

One last point before I leave.  It is quite possible the polls are biased towards the GOP in some of these races.  Or they may not be.  Further complicating the situation are the improved ground games of both Democrats and Republicans which could lead to unexpected increases in turnout not reflected by the polls.  Changes in state voter ID laws and Colorado’s new change to an all mail voting system also could lead to unexpected polling errors.

Still, even so, the odds seem to tilt towards this election being about the fundamentals and Democrats can do little to combat this trend.  If it continues up to election day, Democrats will have a longer night than the GOP did in 2006.

Addendum: Due to the number of tight races and their locations (Alaska) and election laws (run-offs likely in Georgia and Louisiana) we may not know who controls the Senate until the next morning with LA and GA run-offs carrying the election into the New Year.

 

 

 

Democrats Fielded a Competent Crop of Idaho State Officials: They Just Have No Clue How to Govern

A.J. Balukoff.

A.J. Balukoff.

Idaho Democrats have it tough.  They control less than 20% of the state’s legislative seats, make up 8% of the state’s registered voters and do not hold a single statewide constitutional office.  Perhaps that is why the Democratic Party dug deep to find qualified candidates for state level offices.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their federal candidates.

A.J. Balukoff, the party’s candidate for Governor, has a resume many would kill for.  Businessman, loyal father, wise investor and head of the BSD Board of Trustees.  Lt. Governor candidate Bert Marley is a likeable and former state senator.  Holli Woodings, a freshman rep from district 19, has a legal background for Secretary of State.  Jana Jones is touting over 20 years of educational experience as she runs for Superintendent of Education.  Deborah Silver is a Twin Falls accountant running for state treasurer.  However, once you get to their federal candidates the starpower fades.  Shirley Ringo, a house rep from Lewiston, has come out as a full-throated Occupy Wal Street candidate.  Former Congressman Richard Stallings is an angry and bitter old guy who thinks the GOP wants to “hurt” Hispanics.  Nels Mitchell, challenging Senator Risch, just seems out of his league.

Sadly, for Idaho Democrats, a stellar resume does not equal knowing how to govern.  The case of A.J Balukoff makes this perfectly clear.  Balukoff has debated Otter several times. In each debate, Balukoff has been asked how he would fund education.  You would have to be living under a rock not to know it is the centerpiece of his campaign.  In each case Balukoff has given a non-response.  But in the last debate between Otter and Balukoff (at NNU) he finally gave an answer.  Sorta.  Balukoff said he would fund education by emptying the BSF (Budget Stabilization Fund), cracking down on waste and ending frivolous lawsuits against things such as gay marriage.  Now, I am no accountant, but I can do math.  The BSF had over $85 million in FY 13-14, cutting waste won’t merit much cash and not defending controversial laws could save the state several hundred thousand in legal fees.  But that is barely a drop in the bucket compared to Idaho’s overall education budget.

The legislature appropriated $1,779,500,000 for education in FY-15.  Let’s do some math here.  Ninety million divided by $1,779,500,000 equals 5%.  That would help Idaho’s education dilemma but those are all one time funds.  When Balukoff was pressed on such a fact he did not elaborate further.  He also  backed himself into a corner by not advocating raising taxes.  However, he did come up with the incredibly popular idea (not really) of repealing the 1 cent sales tax increase of 2006 (to fund education) and repeal the property tax caps set in localities by that deal.  Bet that goes over well.

Democratic candidates struggling with ideas on governing certainly are not limited to Balukoff.  Let’s take the case of Jana Jones and Bert Marley.  Marley, in his few debates with Lt. Governor Brad Little, has said he would be a rubber stamp for Balukoff.  That is not governing.  Because the Lt. Governor is elected separately from the Governor, a Lt. Governor could exercise significant discretion if the candidate chose.  But Marley seems to simply want to be Balukoff’s sidekick.  Jones is arguably just as bad.  Jones, like Balukoff, has advocated for more funding for education.  But when asked on multiple occasions whether she supports tax increases to pay for them she has deferred.

Not to leave Woodings out of the conversation, she and Denney have sparred over the role of Secretary of State’s office.  She promises she can run the office in a non-partisan manner.  But she hails from the most partisan district in Idaho.  Futher, the ideas she trumpets, such as ending the GOP’s closed primary system and opposing the state’s Voter ID requirement are purely partisan stances.  This, despite the fact she says she can be a nonpartisan presence in the office.

I could lie and say I am surprised by Democrats struggles with governing in a red state like Idaho but I am not.  Even the most conservative Democrat, state or federal, is to the left of the state’s electorate.  This means they struggle with how to govern.  Sure, Democrats win votes by running against the GOP establishment and pointing out GOP struggles and failures in the state.  But when it comes to solving those problems in a way that is acceptable to the state’s conservative electorate they fall flat.  Guess it’s tough to be an Idaho Democrat.

 

 

The GOP Is All In On North Carolina

Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis

For the GOP this cycle, North Carolina is being tentatively called the “state that got away.”  Despite the pro-GOP environment and the fact Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 (albeit narrowly), North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) has held consistently small leads against her GOP opponent, state house speaker Thom Tillis.

Tillis has been consistently attacked on the issue of education.  Specifically, as it relates to funding for the special session that ran through the summer.  The length of the session kept him in Raleigh instead of campaigning and the legislature’s decision has turned into political attacks by Hagan.  This might not be such a bad thing if Tillis had the cash to fight back.  Unfortunately, he has not.

Tillis has been vastly outspent by Hagan.  In August, the DSCC and Hagan camp announced they were going to spend $9.1 million attack ads.  Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC has spent $10 million attacking Tillis.  Meanwhile, Tillis’s camp did not get on the air until September and was only represented through small media buys by Crossroads GPS, the NRA and Carolina Rising.

But closing poll numbers and a sense Tillis’s campaign has momentum are making Republicans reevaluate the race.  This reevaluation has apparently become so bullish that the NRSC, which has spent $4 million on the race, is plopping another $6 million down for the closing weeks of the campaign.  Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is mobilizing conservatives on the ground.

Democrats scoff at the notion that Tillis has gained any traction of late.  But they do so at their own peril.  Several analysts wondered whether the national environment would trump state issues.  It appears they may be right.  The Tillis camp definitely believes so. At a recent debate Tillis attacked Hagan for attending a fundraiser instead of being at a hearing about ISIS.  As expected, Hagan attacked Tillis on education.  Many analysts considered Tillis to have come out of the debate as the victor.

Polling numbers have shown Hagan stuck at around 45% even as she led Tillis throughout September.  But a new High Point survey found the race tied and a Survey USA poll found Tillis with a 1% edge.  But two polls do not illustrate the whole picture.

Consider that on September 19 that Tillis was being blasted on the airwaves for the legislature’s decisions on education.  The RCP compilation of polls found Hagan leading Tillis 45.7%-40.7%.  Today, the average shows Hagan at 45.1% and Tillis 43.6%.  Tillis has climbed over 3% but Hagan has not moved. Hagan’s 45% average showing is not a fluke.  Rather, it has seemed to be her ceiling since the campaign began.  Since March of this year Hagan has not exceeded her highwater 45.7% mark suggesting she has been unable to close the deal with voters.

But complicating Tillis’s efforts to take advantage of Hagan’s weakness is the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh.  Haugh is widely assumed to be drawing disaffected Republicans and conservative Democrats and is averaging around 6% of the vote.  Still, Haugh’s numbers should shrink as election day approaches as is typical of many third-party candidacies.

In such a close race as North Carolina turnout could be the name of the game.  The Tillis campaign believes they have an edge.  They point to an internal survey that found them up 47%-43% among the most interested voters.  Hagan’s camp contends they will exceed voter turnout projections.  Tillis’s survey had a sample of 72% white and 21% black (better than 2012 turnout but worse than 2010 for his campaign).

Republicans are clearly feeling giddy about their chances of taking the Senate despite Kansas and South Dakota’s unexpected competitiveness.  The willingness to spend $6 million on a race many considered until October a lost cause is yet another sign.  Tillis still is the underdog here, but if he pulls it off it is likely the GOP wave will have finally formed and washed ashore.

 

Thoughts on the Idaho Debates

Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.

Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.

I’ll be honest. I was only interested in the gubernatorial and Superintendent of Education debates because my vote was not decided.  Now it is.  What follows is my interpretation and analysis of the debates and who I will voted for.  I don’t feel the need to pull an Alison Grimes.

Gubernatorial: The Idaho gubernatorial debate on Tuesday featured Governor Butch Otter, Democrat A.J. Balukoff and Constitution candidate Steve Pankey.  Minus Pankey, both Otter and Balukoff performed well.

Gay Marriage: Otter and Pankey oppose but Otter allowed the ban to expire.  Otter did seem to disagree with the idea of the Supremacy Clause but partisans of all stripes do when the  federal government or courts mandate they undertake an act they oppose.  Balukoff is on board with gay marriage.

Education: This is what Balukoff’s entire campaign is premised on and he did not pull punches when discussing the issue.  He recited Idaho’s lack of funding, 50th in the nation, teacher morale at all time lows and more.  Otter defended his record, as expected, and pointed to the fact his taskforce is coming up with a plan to pay teachers more in the future.  Both Balukoff and Pankey think teachers are underpaid.  Otter hedged.  But while Otter was hammered on education Balukoff probably suffered a fatal campaign blow when asked whether he would raise taxes to fund education.  Balukoff responded that he would not.  When pressed on the issue Balukoff said the rainy day fund, cutting pork and not wasting money on frivolous lawsuits (I assume he meant gay marriage) would pay for increased funding.  I can do math.  Nope, they cannot.  Further, Balukoff compounded his funding problem by saying he would support repealing the 1 cent sales tax increase of 2006 and instead allow local school districts to bump up property taxes.  In other words, property tax protections would be eliminated for homeowners and the onus of funding for districts would be put on local entities (not the state).  Translation: Balukoff simply wants to do a tax shift.  By not saying taxes or fees might need to be increased and that he would contemplate eliminating prop tax protections he just lost the suburbs and the election.  He also lost my vote!

Working with the Legislature: Pankey said God would help him overcome issues with the legislature.  Otter defended the legislature he has often fought with and argued he essentially has strong connections with members and leadership.  Balukoff pointed to his time as head of the BSD Board of Trustees.  When pressed that many legislators are more ideological than members of the local board Balukoff repeated his previous statement that he believes compromise can be found.

Medicaid Expansion: Both Pankey and Otter oppose Medicaid Expansion while Balukoff is all in.  As expected, Balukoff argued that the expansion would allow Idaho to receive federal dollars to treat the uninsured sick and poor.  It would also cover those in the “coverage gap.”  Notably, Balukoff hit Otter for ignoring his own Medicaid task force’s recommendations.  Otter responded he had not expanded Medicaid because he was concerned about the overall cost.  Not to mention it would be impossible to get through the legislature. But hey, let’s whine about the national debt but rollover and let the Fed rack up more debt to pay for a new state program.  Yah!

Best Attacks: Balukoff scored points against Otter on education and Medicaid expansion.  However, his failure to outline how he would fund increased education spending will haunt him outside Boise.  Otter’s best moments were his attacks against the federal government and highlighting technology in the classroom.  Pankey, well, he didn’t score any points.

Vote: I am going with Otter.  He is not my first choice by far, but he knows how to work with the legislature and has experience.  He may be shortchanging education and fought gay marriage but Balukoff’s inability to explain where he will get hundreds of millions to fund K-12 and increase education is a politician’s answer.  Balukoff’s campaign theme is that he is something different.  But after tonight, he showed me he is just another politician who in four years will fix little.  But hey, he could pull an Obama and blame Republicans.

Superintendent: The Superintendent race features two experienced candidates. Republican Sherri Ybarra, a federal programs Director for rural school districts, and Democrat Jana Jones, who has worked in state government under multiple administrations on a host of important issues.  Both seem extremely talented and they largely agree on the issues.  Hence, the debate focused on several nuances.

Taxes: This might be more of a reflection on the moderator’s lack of understanding of the Superintendent’s role but both candidates were asked for their stances on taxes, funding and the budget.  Both were squeamish. Jones said she would not use Luna’s outgoing budget, oppose raising taxes and look for other ways to equalize school funding.  Like Balukoff, however, she failed to espouse much on those ideas.  Ybarra, after dodging the question, said she would use Luna’s budget, oppose new taxes and allow districts to have more flexibility in how they spend their funds.

Experience/Job Role: Both candidates are extremely experienced but they had a sparring match over what exactly a federal programs manager does, specifically in regards to being a Chief Financial Officer.  Regardless, it seems to make little difference.  You don’t need to be an accountant to be Superintendent.

Voting History: News has come out that Sherri Ybarra has had an erratic history of voting in elections.  To me the question was irrelevant, however, to others it could show that she is unqualified to be in government.  Ybarra said she was running to make amends, Jones says it reflects on Ybarra’s qualifications to be Superintendent.

Common Core: The big question in the room was Common Core.  Both candidates support it.  However, both feel that it does not allow local districts flexibility on how best to educate kids.  Ybarra, as is expected of a Republican, particularly hammered this point home.

Link to Luna: Outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna is unpopular.  But he has offered his office and aid to whoever is the winner in November.  Rather surprisingly. Ybarra said she would accept Luna’s offers of aid.  Jones said she would not.  Ybarra runs the risk of linking herself to Luna whose Republican affiliation does not dissuade voters from disliking him.  Both candidates hedged when asked about the repealed Luna Laws.

Working with the Legislature: Weatherby seems fond of asking questions about how candidates would work with the legislature.  Ybarra, said she has connections with leadership and their endorsements.  She would push them to support educational initiatives and increased funding.  Jones, as is the usual for a Democrat, said she would build connections with the legislature and find common ground (like on K-12, good luck).

Vote: The candidates agree on many issues.  Further, their experience is honestly unmatched.  However, much as I worried about Balukoff, Jones did not convince me she could work with a GOP legislature nor not spar with a conservative State Board of Education.  She may have worked in prior GOP administrations but she never had to present or defend budgets to an ideologically opposite legislative body.  Ybarra, as a Republican, has more ins, and she seems sufficiently experienced to learn from Luna’s experiences/failures.  Her drive to allow districts more spending flexibility, something Luna has not done, would in my opinion be a major boon to many struggling rural districts.  As such, I voted for Ybarra.  However, I would not be disappointed if Jones won either based on her experience.

 

There you go folks!!!

Gee Democrats, Your Voters Just Are Not That In To This Election

voters-guide.600Democrats greatest fear this election cycle has long been their base staying home this midterm.  Disappointment with the President, record low approvals of Congress and a dysfunctional political system have fed into the perception that Democratic turnout will be much smaller than 2012.  Gallup recently published a survey finding only 42% of Americans identified as Democrats or Democratic leaning Independents compared to 40% who identified as Republican or Republican leaning Independents.  The number mirrors self-identification numbers in the GOP dominated years of 1994 and 2010.

But the Gallup survey was taken August 1st.  Now new evidence, less than four weeks before election day, suggests the problem has not gone away.  A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey finds Democratic  supporters are less interested in the election than are Republican voters,  Democrats can take comfort in the fact among registered voters 48% prefer they control Congress compared to only 43% preferring GOP control.  But among the most interested voters (Likely voters) the GOP leads 51%-44% while Democrats lead among less interested voters 52%-37%.  Republican supporting  voters were most interested in national security and foreign policy while a majority of registered voters ranked the economy and jobs as most important.

Democratic turnout has already handed Republicans several victories in local and federal special elections.  In November 2013 in a swing state senate district in Washington, Republican Jan Angel defeated Democrat Nathan Schlicher, largely due to decreased Democratic turnout in a district Obama easily carried a year earlier.  In early 2014 a Northern Virginia legislative district was decided by less than 100 votes, again due to decreased turnout.  But perhaps the most worrying sign for Democrats came when Congressman Bill Young died in 2013, opening up a competitive Congressional district.

The district, nestled in populous Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in Florida was carried by Obama in both 2008 and 2012 (even after redistricting).  But Young, who had represented the district since the 70’s had kept it in the GOP column.  When Young passed away, Democrats jumped at the chance to take the district.  Democrats nominated 2010 gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink to run while Republicans battled out their nomination in a spirited three-way primary.  The eventual winner was former Young aide and lobbyist David Jolly.  Democrats boasted their turnout machine would dominate while Republicans tried out an untested voter database.  Polls showed Sink ahead throughout the race but on election night Jolly won with just over 48% of the vote.  His victory was largely attributed to Democratic voters failing to turn out for the special.

The same thing could hit Democrats next month.  That is why Democrats have invested over $60 million in voter registration and turnout operations.  The evidence on its success is mixed.  In Iowa, a new Des Moines Register poll shows the effort succeeding in getting Democratic voters to turn in early ballots.  Among those in the survey who said they had already voted (15%), Democrats led 56%-35% (though not all early voters volunteered who they supported).  Still, Republicans have made strides in this effort as well.  Despite the disparity in reported early voting preferences the GOP is in a far better position among early voters than in 2010 and 2012.

Republicans are also strongly touting their efforts in Colorado.  Due to the state’s all mail voting system the party has been aided by a system designed to make it easier to vote (if not allow voter fraud).  But Udall’s unending emphasis on social issues and a Proposition to have teacher salary negotiations be open to the public has interested Republican voters. Still, numbers on the Colorado race have yet to be released since ballots have just begun to be mailed out.

Further worrying Democrats a Columbus Dispatch analysis of early voting in Franklin County finds voters trending more Republican in the Democratic county than in 2010.  That year, John Kasich won 44% of the county’s vote.  Republicans have actually succeeded in mailing out more absentee ballots to their partisans than Democrats.  In 2010, Democrats were 12,000 ballots ahead.  Admittedly, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the state, Ed Fitzgerald, has imploded.  But it is a sign that with Democratic efforts largely focused on the Senate and gubernatorial contests in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, they could suffer electoral disaster in down ballot races nationwide.

Democrats have reason to worry about turnout next month.  They have tried to get their supporters to vote.  But in the end, they may have to accept their voters may not be that in to them.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/2014/10/11/iowa-poll-ernst-braley-race-tightens/17114281/