Walker Unlikely to Win Wisconsin if GOP Nominee in General Election

800px-Scott_Walker_by_Gage_SkidmoreWisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a lot going for him as he seeks his party’s nomination for the Presidency. He is a successful two term Governor of a blue state at the Presidential level, has presided over three statewide electoral victories and enacted sweeping legislative reform.

But it is Wisconsin’s blue hue at the Presidential level that stands out as Walker’s greatest weakness.  For all his successes in state politics the Governor is unlikely to carry Wisconsin at the Presidential level.  This, as one of his campaign’s strongest talking points is that he can carry a blue state like Wisconsin and perhaps take another with it (Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, etc.)

Like many “Blue Wall” states Wisconsin is a competitive state at the state level.  But that competitiveness has not translated to Presidential races.  While Bush lost the state in 2000 and 2004 by less than 1% John McCain lost it by 14% in 08 and Romney 7% in 2012 just a mere five months after Walker won his recall by 7%.

Like Bush, Walker contends he can put Wisconsin on the map.  One of the things most people overlook about Bush was his 2004 strength among rural moderates.  These voters are a significant share of the Wisconsin electorate, are pro-gun, split on abortion and fiscally conservative.  Bush had a cultural appeal to these voters.  In much the same mold Walker does as well.

Look at Walker’s three statewide victories.  In 2010 Walker not only racked up huge margins among the suburbs of SE Wisconsin but he also carried Northeastern Wisconsin (home to Green Bay and its populous suburbs) and the heavily rural Northwest.  Walker won suburban voters 43%-56% but rural voters 44%-55%. The last Republican to do so well among these voters at any level was Bush.

Fast forward to the 2012 recall and Walker further solidified his support among the group.  While Walker’s support among suburban voters stayed largely flat he increased his support among rural voters to 60%. Walker’s support in his 2014 reelection bid among suburbanites increased to 57% but his rural support dipped slightly to 58%.

Walker’s runs also hint at other strengths he possesses.  He never won less than 45% of the 18-29 vote and hit a high water mark of 47% among the group in 2014.  The support traditionally conservative SE Wisconsin gave him was also remarkable.

But, this was all done at the state level in statewide races.  The issues boiled down more to pragmatism and cost cutting than debates over abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts for the rich, etc.  Once the debate turns to that how would Walker fare?

Already, Walker’s standing in the state has taken a steep dive.  Since 2011 Walker’s approval ratings remained remarkably steady according to Marquette University, hovering around 45%-51%.  When he was reelected in 2014 52% of voters approved of him and he received 52% of the vote.  But new polls find he is now underwater as he makes his national aspirations known and focuses on courting a larger, national audience.

A PPP survey finds the Governor with a 43/52 approval rating and he trails Hillary Clinton 52%-43%.  More worrisome the more accurate Marquette University survey finds Walker trialing Clinton 52%-40%.  Highlighting one of the Governor’s issues a whopping 64% said the Governor could not handle both the duties of running for President and being state executive.

Admittedly, it is early.  Much can change.  But early polls out of Wisconsin show Walker would struggle to win his state.  However, both PPP’s and Marquette’s samples reflect a more traditional 2008 and 2012 electorate; less Republican and more Democratic, a far cry from the 2000 and 2004 electorates.

Regardless, Walker has his strengths.  He appeals to rural, downscale voters as well as suburbanites not just in Wisconsin but nationwide.  However, if he is to win Wisconsin if he is the GOP nominee he will have to find someway to maintain his appeal to rural voters in the Northwest and suburban voters in the Northeastern suburbs.  Not an easy task when the issues you courted these voters on have changed and become much more polarizing.



Democrats Hope to Catch Their White Whale (They Won’t)

20101023_usd000Democrats have a problem.  No, it’s not an electoral vote problem?  No, it’s not a diversity problem.  It’s that the white working class, particularly white working class men, have turned away from the party in droves.  And while these voters stuck with the President in 2012 in key races across the rest of the country they ran to a wealthy executive.  In 2014, those same voters in those same voters finally turned to the GOP.

Democrats believe they have an answer in economic populism.  They also believe they have a strong candidate in 2016 to help them carry their message forward, Hillary Clinton.  Just one problem, Clinton is championing using the government to champion the working class’s rights.  The same government these individuals have turned away from in dramatic fashion.  How likely are voters to go for a candidate championing using a government that has harmed them to help them?  Not much.

Case in point.  Polls show that white working class voters are increasingly pessimistic about the future.  When the Pew Research Center asked in 2012 whether they expected their children to enjoy a better standard of living  only 41% of whites were optimistic.  More illuminating Romney captured 59% of the white vote (the number who were not optimistic about their kids futures).

Democrats are not blind to this problem especially because they know if they do not make inroads with these voters they will suffer in midterms.  Being locked out of control of the House ensures divided government in perpetuity.  Second, it locks them out of control of state legislatures and ever gaining access to Governorships in red or red leaning states. Considering many policies are first tested at the state level this could mean Democratic ideas stagnate over time.

Identity politics has to be considered a major culprit. Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a prospective Democratic candidate for President says “I think this is where Democrats screw up, you know?” told Yahoo News recently. “I think that they have kind of unwittingly used this group, white working males, as a whipping post for a lot of their policies. And then when they react, they say they’re being racist.”

Such a reaction from whites is not just relegated to the working class.  In 2014, white males with a college degree overwhelmingly backed Republicans in statewide federal and Congressional races.  In such blue states as Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts the Republican candidates for Governor largely won due to this new strength.

Democrats answer to this problem is fairly simple.  They will try to convince these voters they have common cause with the party on campaign finance reform and fiscal policy by railing against big banks and secret donors.  But this overlooks the fact these same voters are more socially conservative than the general public and thus will unlikely find cultural cause to vote for the Democratic candidate.

If this plan fails other Democrats have varying ideas on how to accomplish such a task.  Some like Webb want the party to downplay identity politics, others like Senator Chuck Schumer of NY want the party to more aggressively promote the benefits government can provide them.  Yet another idea has been promoted by Stanley Greenburg, a veteran of the Clinton White House and a Democratic pollster.  Greenburg wants the party to pursue campaign finance reform (they are genius) and to promote a more streamlined, efficient government.

There are only a couple of problems with such a plan.  First, Republicans have already captured the rhetorical high ground on streamlining government by calling for “reform.”  Second, the Democratic base composed of numerous beneficiaries of government policy is unlikely to want to turn out for a party that doesn’t champion promoting more government.  In 2012, only a minority of the voting public identified as working class meaning such a strategy works against the party’s electoral interests.

Either way, Democrats won’t get a majority of this voting bloc’s support next year.  They may not even break 40%.  For as the working class has been left behind by Democrats they have turned to a GOP desperate for new votes.  Democrats will likely give this group plenty of attention next year ie. Hillary Clinton saying “The deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top,” she said. “There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker…. And there’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses.”  It just probably won’t change much.

How the Establishment Dominates GOP Presidential Nominating Contests

watch-mitt-romney-deliver-his-concession-speech-video-971a069f1cTypical analysis of Presidential nominating contests focus on the early Caucus states of Iowa and Nevada and primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.  But rarely have few candidates succeeded in all of the the states or even three out of four and gone onto being a party’s nominee.

This is particularly true on the GOP side in recent years.  In 2008 Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Caucuses and Mitt Romney the Nevada Caucuses but John McCain, winning New Hampshire and South Carolina, was the nominee.  In 2012, Rick Santorum won Iowa, Romney won New Hampshire and Gingrich won South Carolina yet Romney was the eventual nominee.  So how did Romney and McCain, who struggled to consolidate support in 2008 and 2012, win the GOP nomination with the blessing of the establishment.

The answer is simple.  Blue state Republicans.  These voters, in both the Northeast and Pacific Coast hold considerable sway in the Presidential nominating contest.  This might make conservatives howl in outrage but it suggests why a Ted Cruz type candidate would fail to coalesce the party in a primary.

Consider these interesting stats from Nate Cohn, ” In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.”

So, if the establishment/moderate GOP candidate (or in 2016’s case, candidates) can get past the first few early voting states than they has a real shot once blue state Republicans start voting.  Cohn further adds “Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.”

That does not mean a conservative Republican cannot win their votes.  George Bush managed to do so in 2000 for example.  But more likely than not the conservative candidate has to appeal to these voters on issues less important to the party grassroots.  This is why Scott Walker is considered such a strong contender as is Marco Rubio.  Both have solid pro-life credentials but neither pushes them to the forefront of their campaign like a Ted Cruz.  Instead, they tout their fiscal and economic ideas which appeal to these suburban/rural GOP voters.

Now, both Walker and Rubio could be considered establishment contenders just like McCain and Romney.  The candidacies of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul less so.  So the moderate/establishment vs. conservative dynamic has yet to appear in this race.  Well, okay, most would clearly say Jeb Bush is the moderate in this contest.

But few should doubt why the establishment usually wins in Presidential nominating contests.  The majority of GOP nominating voters, and thus delegates, reside in big blue states.  And these voters, while solidly Republican, are not archly conservative voters and tend to be swayed by arguments of pragmatism and electability.  The party base may not like it but this is the reality of the modern day GOP nominating contest.



Rubio’s Gamble

thMarco Rubio’s announcement to run for President surprised few Monday.  Rubio, a rising star in the party, had been considered a top-tier contender for the White House.  Still, despite being a top-tier challenger, Rubio will need some things to go his way.

Rubio is widely considered everybody’s second choice.  He fills all the requirements for a GOP Presidential contender, young, a Hispanic, charismatic, conservative and a contrast to the Democratic pols of yesterday.

But Rubio is also considered everybody’s second choice for a number of reasons.  First, Rubio’s appeal is to the establishment with the ability to win some conservatives.  But, Bush’s run is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Second, Rubio has struggled to recover from his Immigration Reform effort and as a result he has been branded as a supporter of “amnesty.”  Lastly, Rubio’s lack of legislative achievements unlike a Scott Walker make his appeal to a white, conservative electorate harder to achieve.

But obviously Rubio’s campaign sees an opening for the candidate.  So what is it?  Running a campaign on the idea somebody must falter for you to win seems far-fetched.  Odds are good Rubio’s campaign will be based on his appeal on the stump and his message.

Listening to Rubio’s announcement speech it is very clear just how strong his appeal is.  His message is one that speaks to the greatness of America and out of all the Presidential announcements his was the most hopeful.  And that is Rubio’s appeal.  He speaks to the opportunity America provides and its greatness.

Contrast this with the other GOP candidates.  Paul’s message is more about reform, Cruz’s is based on Christian values, and the likely campaigns of Walker and Bush will be turning the page on the Obama years.  Rubio really does want to look past these points and look forward.

Whether such a message can succeed or not is debatable.  The Presidential nominating contest is partly based on the personal stories of the candidates but also money, ideas and ideology.  Rubio won’t lack on the first but he may struggle on the second and third.

Bush is likely to garner the majority of establishment cash and Cruz and Walker, heck even Paul, will likely get the lion share of the grassroots donations.  This leaves Rubio to fight for his sliver of dough from both categories.

Ideologically, Rubio fits well into the GOP mainstream.  He has opposed deficit spending bills, like Paul and Cruz, and he fits well into the ideological spectrum of the GOP according to 538.  But his failure on Immigration Reform has badly hurt him among the grassroots.  Perhaps permanently.

Regardless, Rubio has to be the first major contender to announce.  Cruz may make arch conservatives happy but his appeal to moderates in the primary and general election is abysmal.  Paul, while a strong candidate has yet to prove he can broaden his support beyond his father’s constituency.  Rubio, on the other hand, despite his weaknesses, is a stronger candidate.





Will Identity Politics Last?

intersectionalityRepublicans have long bemoaned the Democrats success at playing identify politics.  After all, Democrats have successful turned blacks into the discriminated class, Hispanics the ignored class, Asians the educated class, etc.  Obama’s campaigns and themes were deeply intertwined with connecting to voters on racial identity, ie. a us vs. them mentality.  Republicans have tried not to follow suit but they have.  In 2014, Republicans across the country played up the urban/rural dichotomy.  Instead of race being the defining identity it simply switched to place.

But Republicans are ill-suited to win these identity battles.  The party is largely white and thus seen as representing the interests of the powerful majority.  Further, as demographics show whites are shrinking as a percentage of the population meaning the party cannot keep ignoring minorities.  On social issues the party used to see as winners they are increasingly trying to turn the page.

But perhaps the GOP may eventually be saved by the melting pot of America, well, fully becoming a melting pot.  Consider this article (which infers whites are racist for not being more racist).  Fewer Millennials than ever focus on the identifying feature of race and this includes blacks and Hispanics.  Further, intermarriages are on the rise.  According to a 2012 Pew survey about 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%.  Combined with data suggesting Millennials are most likely to have one immigrant parent and you have the potential for identity along traditional political lines to fall.

Of course, if old identity political lines fall new ones will replace them.  But how this will impact the parties political coalitions is unclear.  Consider the Democratic Party today is largely composed of minorities (race) and upscale whites (class). These voters are socially liberal and embrace things such as the LGBT community and gay marriage. The GOP generally wins college educated and blue-collar whites and Asians (2014).  But what happens if race fails to be as polarizing as it once was and class takes over? Likely, we will see a weakening of racial support for each party.  Instead, it is more likely the parties will become hodgepodges of support as is more the case in Canada and the UK.  Regional support could still be prevalent depending on the overall demographics of the region/state/locality.

Still, by far it is Democrats who would most suffer from the fall of identity politics.  The party has largely been galvanized in the era of Obama by identity politics and it is already playing out in key 2016 races.  Harry Reid has endorsed a Hispanic, Coretz Masto to run for his seat even as he knows Las Vegas (white) Congresswoman Dina Titus considers running.  In Maryland, a fight is brewing between Congresswomen Donna Edwards, an African-American woman, and Chris Van Hollen, a white male and member of Democratic House leadership.  In a state where over 40% of the Democratic electorate is black and over 50% in the primary Van Hollen faces a tough challenge.

Democrats realize they have an issue.  That’s why they have tried in recent years to expand the diversity of their ranks but it has been hard under Obama.  During his Presidency numerous minority state and local officials have been defeated.  Now, the party is settling on former, white males to carry their banners in minority turnout driven Democratic victory states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Gee, wonder why nobody is challenging Clinton other than O’Malley?  Here is exhibit A.

Fortunately for Democrats, identity politics seems here to stay.  This assumes it remains based on race or gender.  The GOP does not do badly when it is based on geography.  Whether it is over social issues tied to gay rights, race or something else or class voters will always identify with one political party over the other due to the issues.  The good thing for the GOP is that once race and gay rights largely fade from the scene and the electorate gets younger the party can more easily connect with voters.




Rand Paul Can Win the GOP Nomination

-15Rand Paul’s Presidential announcement yesterday that he will seek the GOP nomination is notable not just for the announcement but also for the fact the libertarian leaning Senator, in a party full of hawks, thinks he can win the GOP nomination.

Paul paints an interesting picture. The quixotic Senator, first elected in the 2010 Tea Party emergence, defeated an establishment favorite in Trey Grayson.  Utilizing his father’s libertarian machine, Rand crushed his opponent in the low turnout primary.  His Democratic opponent had no shot in the general election.

In the Senate Paul has emerged as a leading proponent of some libertarians most cherished causes.  He wants to audit the Fed which ironically puts him on the side of ultra-liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren.  He also wants to significantly curtail the power of the NSA on the domestic surveillance front and limit our foreign entanglements.  If anything he made this clear in his announcement speech.  He also has opposed raising the debt ceiling and has not voted for a budget in his time in the Senate.

Paul has also been one of the few Republicans willing to actually physically show up in strongly Democratic locations, specifically historic black colleges.  He has also taken up drug and sentencing reform, an issue he has worked with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on and one that predominately impacts the minority community.

Despite these instances of conviction Paul has also abandoned some of the more far-fetched views of his father.  He has openly disavowed the isolationist views of his father and he endorsed Senator Mitch McConnell in his 2014 reelection effort.  Banning foreign aid is gone from his rhetoric and he now acknowledges the limitations of the current political system; something his father never did.

However, highlighting the peril involved in the balancing act Paul is walking, several former Ron Paul staffers in Iowa defected to Ted Cruz. And while Paul’s limited government message will resonate with most of his father’s supporters he will also need to connect to business friendly and defense hawk Republicans who are weary of him.  Moreover, he will need to connect to somewhat libertarian primary voters who make up anywhere between 13%-25% of the GOP. Further complicating Paul’s campaign is the fact that Paul’s “liberty campaign” is likely to appeal to a split electorates; primarily evangelicals as well as libertarians.

That said, Paul has a strong shot to win the GOP nomination.  His pro-traditional marriage credentials are well established and copy Walker’s (support traditional marriage personally but will abide by court rulings) and he is solidly pro-life.  In Iowa both these positions will play well and if he makes it to the general election he can play down the social rhetoric.

From some perspectives Paul’s best chance might be an early win in Iowa.  But while a social conservative Paul downplays such issues.  The GOP electorate in New Hampshire is far more socially moderate than Iowa and tends to focus more on foreign policy and fiscal issues as opposed to family values.  As for South Carolina Paul has not attempted to make inroads into the state.

If Paul will struggle because of his father’s legacy he will also benefit from it.  While the views of Rand’s father will be a shadow he must get out from under of the campaign apparatus his father has established in Iowa and New Hampshire will also benefit the Senator.  Even the desertion of former Ron Paul staffers cannot change this fact.

Paul’s biggest hurdle will likely be the hurdle of other “liberty candidates,” Cruz in particular, and that is raising enough money to stay competitive with the Bush and Walker.  Paul can tap his dad’s grassroots donor base for cash but will it be enough to compete with the Bush and Walker financial juggernauts?

Only time will tell.  But nobody should assume Paul does not have a good shot at winning the GOP nomination.  His message resonates with both libertarians and conservatives (maybe even a few left of center folks) and if he can get past the big three (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) the sky is the limit.




Idaho Republicans Set to Hike State Fees in Name of Transportation/Nix Tax Reform

9153_12658_McCall_Idaho_Roads_mdThe saga of transportation funding and tax reform in the 2015 legislative session goes back to the beginning of the session.  Powerful entities, such as IACI, indicated just how much they wanted tax reform.  By reform I mean cuts.  But other issues, transportation and education specifically, have garnered much more of the legislature’s attention.  Combined with numerous other issues; gambling, tanning beds, and education funding, tax reform and transportation funding were pushed to the end of the session.

What has resulted have been two weeks of transportation and tax reform bills dying and rumors swirling of a potential bill being amended by the Senate to include over $150 million in fee and gas tax hikes.  But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Before the session began the Governor made clear he wanted the $262 million road maintenance shortfall projected by ITD to be dealt with or at least minimized.  The primary limitation the Governor set on the legislature in this endeavor was that it would include no money being shifted from the general fund.  The Governor did this in an effort to make sure money allotted for education would not be spent for other purposes.  He also indicated he would like the revenue to be created primarily through user fees and a gas tax hike.

Raising revenue in a red state is always a difficult proposition.  In a legislature full of conservative Republicans the idea gets even dicier.  With education dominating the legislature for so long dealing with transportation and tax reform was always going to be on the back-burner.  But, in early March it began to become clear the House was going to try to work on both as education (Teacher Pay Ladder) was all but finalized.

What came of these efforts were HB 310, 311 and 312.  All attempted in some way to tackle transportation and tax reform.  HB 311 called for an elimination of the sales tax on groceries, a flat income tax of 6.7% for the top three income brackets and a gas tax hike of seven cents.  HB 310 called for shifting funding from the General Fund to transportation and HB 312 called for higher vehicle and registration fees.

All three narrowly passed the House to varying degrees but were dead on arrival in the Senate.  By unanimous consent the Senate killed HB 311 by sending it back to the Transportation Committee and will not bring up.  HB 310 will not be heard as it violates Otter’s funding preference.  Due to the fact that revenue generating bills can only come from the House it is likely the Senate will attempt to modify HB 312 and likely make it far more expense.

While certain to make Senate GOP leaders and the Governor happy it is unclear if such an effort could pass the House.  Members want to show their constituents they did not just vote for a tax increase (called fee hikes by politicians). Rather, the idea of a tax shift through tax reform is more appealing because it is revenue neutral.  But when the state needs revenue and it can only be generated through user fees and gas tax increases the options are extremely limited.

We should not be surprised to see in the next day or two a major rewrite of HB 312.  In it, don’t expect much on tax reform.  The Senate seems unlikely to go for anything impacting revenue even if it is something as popular as eliminating the sales tax on groceries.  Also expect to see a major revenue expansion from the House’s initial $61 million.

Good to know Republicans cannot do tax reform but they can raise revenue just as easily as any Democrat.

How an O’Malley Candidacy Aids Republicans

130410_martin_omalley_ap_605According to multiple reports Martin O’Malley, the former Governor of Maryland, has been laying the groundwork to run for President.  This flies in the face of the inevitability of Hillary Clinton. It is well-known by political followers that Clinton is viewed warily by the party’s progressive base.  Her coziness to big business and entrenched political interests at a time when the party is turning increasingly populist has the progressive wing of the party pining for somebody else.

Enter O’Malley.  During his two terms as Governor O’Malley took many liberal actions, he raised taxes on the wealthy (and everybody else), pushed through same-sex marriage, decriminalized marijuana and repealed the death penalty.  Further, he spent lavishly on education.

O’Malley’s opening is without Elizabbeth Warren in the race he can try to gobble up progressives eager to vote for somebody else but Hillary in the primary.  But, he is a technocrat like Clinton and seems to lack the ability to light a fire in progressives bellies.

Still, O’Malley represents a clear danger to Clinton.  While the GOP field will be muddled with moderates and conservatives outlining various policy ideas and views the Democratic field will feature two visions; the Clinton vision of restrained progressivism (moderation) and O’Malley’s (progressivism).  The more O’Malley reminds the party faithful just how moderate Hillary is on issues the base loves the harder it will be for her to connect with them before the general election.

O’Malley has made clear he will not attack Clinton personally.  After all, he avoided attacking her over the email scandals and more importantly telegraphed his line of attack when he said he was “tired of political dynasties.”  Much as Bush is vulnerable to such an attack on the right the same is true for Clinton on the left.  This gets even worse if a young Republicans faces her in the general highlighting not just an ideological divide but a generational divide between Clinton and the party base (young, single women, minorities).

O’Malley has little chance of winning the nomination.  But, he can ultimately aid Republicans by highlighting Clinton’s key differences with her party and by extension further fuel the Democratic “soul-searching” after the Obama era.

Addendum: A new set of polls highlights just how vulnerable Clinton is, especially when pitted against younger Republican challengers.

Can Republicans Win Harry Reid’s Seat?

Nevada's Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is the party's top pick to run for Harry Reid's open Senate seat.

Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is the party’s top pick to run for Harry Reid’s open Senate seat.

Harry Reid shook the political world last week by announcing he would not run for reelection.  Reid, who many considered vulnerable regardless of whether he ran or not, has dominated Nevada politics since he was first elected in the 80’s.  His strong base of union members and minorities has allowed him to survive close scares in 1998 when he won by a mere 328 votes and 2010 when he surprised many and dispatched Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle fairly easily.

Recent political events have not been kind to Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats in general.  In 2012, despite Obama carrying the state Republican Dean Heller successfully held scandal plagued John Ensign’s Senate seat.  In November of last year Democrats lost a Congressional seat and both chambers of the legislature to the GOP.  The GOP took control of every statewide executive office as well.  More worrisome to the party’s future prospects against the GOP’s best star in the state, Governor Brian Sandoval, Sandoval carried Hispanics in his reelection bid.

Worse, the Democratic Party experienced a mini-revolt against Reid when six of them voted against him for Minority Leader.  Personally, Reid also has faced recovery issues after an accident on an elliptical machine at his home last winter.  Still, in recent years high-profile statewide races have favored Democrats.  Short of Sandoval and Heller, Republicans have struggled in the state, particularly in Presidential years.

Demographics appear likely to aid Democrats in 2016.  In 2008 and 2012, Obama’s victories were fueled by the young, women and minorities.  These groups are only growing as a share of the population.  Meanwhile, upper income earners and whites that lean heavily towards GOP are shrinking as the state becomes more diverse.  The GOP does not just have to contend with demographics but also the quality of their candidates.

Democrats know who their preferred Reid replacement is especially since Reid supports her, Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.  Democrats best former up and comer, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, was crushed in her Lt. Governor bid in 2014.  Locked out of statewide offices the party and Reid had to look to former officials with appeal to run.  Masto fits all counts.

The GOP does not have any candidate as strong as Masto on the surface short of Sandoval.  If the Governor did run the seat would definitely lean Republican if Masto ran.  But in his absence the GOP is looking at new Lt. Governor Mark Hutchinson or Nevada Senate Leader Michael Roberson to run.  Neither would have the appeal Masto does to the state’s Latino constituency.

Even with Reid retiring his specter will hang over the 2016 contest.  Reid’s political coalition and ground game will heavily aid the eventual Democratic nominee.  Further, the Presidential campaign is likely to boost Democratic turnout.  This means Republicans must max out their turnout in rural areas of the state and make inroads with moderate and low-income voters in Washoe and Clark County. Still, the suburbs are where the battle for Senate will be won and lost.  One of the reasons why Heller won in 2012 was he significantly outran Romney in Clark and Washoe Counties and he did so by coming close to parity in the suburbs.  A repeat performance by Republicans is needed to win the seat in 2016.

Of course, turnout in 2016 could suffer without Obama at the top of the ticket.  Turnout among Democrats dropped several percentage points between 2008 and 2010.  Overall turnout dropped by almost 50% between 2012 and 2014.  If the Democratic coalition is so dependent on having Obama at the top of the ticket Democrats could struggle to cobble together their coalition of the last two Presidential cycles.

Still, Democrats have to be considered a slight favorite in the race.  Demographics and candidate ability at this early stage point to an ever so slight advantage for the incumbent party.  However, that could change if the GOP gets their titan into the race.  We’ll see.


Democrats Don’t Lack for Senate Opportunities This Cycle

downloadRepublicans always knew that holding their Senate majority would be tough.  But now they are learning just how tough with the unexpected retirement of Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.  The state, a second-tier pick up opportunity for Democrats is yet another state the GOP will have to defend and drain resources on.

Democrats have a target rich environment this cycle.  Among those most mentioned are Illinois Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania as well as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina.  The first three represent the party’s best shots while the latter require the party’s preferred candidate to run or the incumbent to retire for Democrats to have a shot.

Democratic leadership has blasted from the airwaves they want to clear their primaries in competitive states but so far it is debatable whether they can.  In Ohio, former Governor Ted Strickland will face an up and coming Democrat in PG Sittenfield.  In Pennsylvania, 2010 Senate nominee Joe Sestak has announced he will run again but the party is actively looking for an alternative.  In Florida, Democrats have rallied around centrist Congressman Patrick Murphy but the more liberal elements of the party want somebody else (ie. Congressman Alan Grayson).

Republicans know how tough a challenge they face this cycle.  Defending numerous seats in states that have voted for Obama twice (or at least once in NC’s and IN’s case) the party has been working with members to bolster fundraising and improve their ground games.  Still, it might all be naught if the stars align for Democrats or the political environment tilts against the GOP.

If Hillary Clinton or another Democrats starts to run away with the Presidential race Republicans like Johnson (WI), Toomey (PA) and Kirk (IL) can all but kiss their seats goodbye.  Split ticket voting has all but disappeared at the federal level and only the most entrenched incumbent seems able to weather such a storm.  Democrats strong recruiting record also bodes ill for the GOP in many competitive states in this scenario.

Further compounding GOP woes may be the issue of it being a Presidential election year.  No, I am not talking about the increased Democratic turnout it will likely bring but rather the oxygen it will suck out of the room for down-ballot federal races.  The Presidential race is likely to dominate radio, TV and online ads in close states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, now Nevada with Harry Reid’s retirement, making it hard for down-ballot candidates to break through.  Want a case study?  Sure you do.

In 2014 the Alaskan Senate race sucked all the life out of the Governor’s race and the hopes of Republican Sean Parnell.  Unable to buy any air time for ads promoting his candidacy he was effectively defined by the time the campaign hit top gear and he was in idle due to being unable to advertise.  Parnell ultimately lost by 2% and many blame his loss on the Senate race.

Now, admittedly this is a smaller scale but the concept remains the same.  All the top Senate races in the country, minus Illinois, will be hotly contested by both parties Presidential candidates and that means a deluge of advertising spending.  Worse, it will not just come from the parties and their candidates but also third party groups like Moveon.Org on the left and Club for Growth on the right.

Perhaps this explains why Harry Reid is acting like an ass in the Senate and holding things up as if he was still Majority Leader.  Perhaps it explains why Obama is getting his mojo back at a time when few feel confident in the economy.  Lastly, it likely explains why McConnell is trying to make the GOP Senate appear more centrist than its members are.  Voters views of the the parties may matter more this cycle than the individual talents and abilities of the candidates.

Regardless, Democrats know they have a strong leg up this cycle.  The only question is whether they can exploit their advantages or not.