Limiting Gerrymandering on “Vote Efficiency” Requirement is Absurd

maxresdefaultGerrymandering opponents in Wisconsin believe they have come up with a fix to America’s highly polarized political system, end or limit gerrymandering.  Towards that end a group of plaintiffs in a Wisconsin based gerrymandering case, Whitford vs. Nichol, are seeking to establish a new national standard in limiting gerrymandering.

The idea is simple, if ridiculous.   The plaintiffs propose judging ger­ry­man­der­ing via a concept called the “ef­fi­ciency gap,” based on an aca­dem­ic pa­per writ­ten in 2014 by polit­ic­al sci­ent­ists Nich­olas Stephan­o­poulos and Eric McGhee.

The proposal is fairly simple to understand.  Start by adding each party’s “wasted votes” that did not help them win a district.  For example, if Party A wins a district with 90 out of a 100 votes than 39 of its votes were wasted as only 51 were needed to win.  All 10 of the Party B’s votes were also wasted.  Taken together you subtract the number of wasted votes by party and divide them by the number of total votes cast, and viola, you have the “efficiency gap.”

Stephan­o­poulos and Eric McGhee’ survey focused primarily on Wisconsin and found double digit efficiency gaps in the legislature in 2012 and 2014 benefiting Republicans. So, if the formula was used to equal party representation, Republicans did 10 percent better and 13 percent better in 2014 than they should have.

Except this measure is absolutely ridiculous on its face.  If the measure in its most equal form became a rule (whether by law or judicial ruling) it would mean a district where the vote is 51-49 would be unequal.  Admittedly, such a ruling in this scenario is unlikely but the possibility exists.

The dream scenario for the plaintiffs would be to see the case move all the way up to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court has hinted in the past  that some gerrymandering does go to far. The prob­lem, the Court wrote in its 2006 League of United Lat­in Amer­ic­an Cit­izens v. Perry de­cision, is that it can’t strike down ger­ry­mandered maps without some sort of tool to determine ex­actly when dis­trict boundaries are skewed so drastic­ally that they dis­crim­in­ate based on voters’ party af­fil­i­ations.  It is fairly obvious when a district is gerrymandering racially (see Florida, Virginia, North Carolina) but less so when those districts are that way to comply with federal Voting Rights laws and partisan affiliation.

The Wisconsin lawsuit aims to give courts a tool to do so.  Except that such a precedent would be brand spanking new.  For decades gerrymandering has been the norm and nobody batted an eyelash.  It is only now, when Congress is polarized, that such a panacea is brought to court.

While noble the idea has demonstrable flaws.  First-off, what constitutes to much of an efficiency gap is not being proposed by the plaintiffs.  In essence, the plaintiffs are daring the court to accept McGhee’s and Stephan­o­poulos’s recommendation of 8 percent.

This measure would invalidate Flor­ida’s, Ohio’s, Pennsylvani’sa, and Vir­gin­ia’s Congressional maps that violate voters’ constitutional rights. At the state level, this measure would invalidate political boundaries in Idaho, In­di­ana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Notice anything interesting about the state legislatures however.  Only four of states are marginally competitive for one party at the federal level.  That means that through the natural ebb and flow of politics these states are one-sided.  Mandating that districts be more competitive won’t change this.  Rather, all it would do is give Republicans more seats in the legislature in Massachusetts and Democrats more in Idaho and Wyoming.

Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General  Bri­an Keen­an, who is defending his state’s map, sees many of the “efficiency gaps” in legislative districts as the product of having a district based system.  Through no political interference, Democratic voters have moved to urban, governmentcentric suburbs and cities while Republicans have largely remained in the suburbs and rural areas of states.

“Dis­trict­ing itself isn’t un­con­sti­tu­tion­al,” Keen­an said. “By dis­trict­ing, you just group people, and what you’re supposed to do is look at communities of interest and grouping like people together. And if you do that properly and it ends up with certain groups not being able to convert seats as well, that’s just kind of the breaks, it seems like. It’s not a constitutional problem.”

Keenan is of course right.  Trying to make a seat where a majority of Republicans live meet some sort of competitive standard (not just population or shape) is foolish.  It punishes these voters for living together and in many scenarios would likely just create new schisms in politics.

Imagine the divide in legislative districts stretching from Milwaukee to the extremely conservative suburbs.  You would basically encapsulate two ideologies in a single district.  And while it might lead to a competitive district it would not change the highly polarized nature of the electorate nor would it lead to more moderate policies.  At some point these legislators would be forced between which voters to appeal to and base their votes on that appeal in an effort to get votes.

The plaintiffs are not the only ones offering ideas on how to limit gerrymandering.  Common Cause, a nonprofit group trying to limit polarization launched a competition on ideas to limit gerrymandering.  SUNY Binghamton professor Michael D. McDonald along with Assistant Professor Robin Best presented the winning proposal.  Mc­Don­ald and Best proposed comparing a party’s statewide vote with its percentage in the median district. Illegal gerrymandering will have occurred, by their standard, when a party consistently wins a majority of the statewide vote but loses the median district.

There are flaws with this idea as well.  If turnout varies significantly by district that could impact results (and that has nothing to do with gerrymandering).  Secondly, it discounts the roles candidates play in elections.  For example, using a statewide race to compare to the median vote in a legislative district discounts the quality of the candidate and the connections a challenger or incumbent has built in that district.  The legislative results last week in Virginia’s senate elections where every Republican occupying an Obama district exemplifies such a trend (polarization still does not always overcome candidate qualities).

Still, if any of these ideas gain steam, or heaven forbid the Supreme Court dictate it must be done, every state would have to comply.  However, with four justices finding Arizona’s Redistricting Commission unconstitutional that is unlikely to come to pass.

Rather, the results of the Wisconsin lawsuit and work of many professors and analysts across the country will be utilized individually by various states.  But even so, that will not change the polarizing nature of electoral system (district and geographically based electoral systems are designed to pit groups together in a healthy give and take) which is probably where the real issue lies.



Kentucky Governor’s Race Coming Down to the Wire

isWhile much attention has focused on how much polling has shown Louisiana Senator David Vitter losing his bid for Governor less attention has been focused on the only truly competitive Governor’s race up for grabs on Tuesday, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Governor’s race can aptly be described as the lesser of two evils.  Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democrat in the race, has worked hard to distance himself from the national party.  He would be a shoe-in to lose except he is facing an equally flawed opponent in Republican Matt Bevin.

In case you have forgotten, Bevin made waves when he challenged Mitch McConnell in a primary last year.  Bevin and McConnell never made up and as a result Bevin is struggling to get enough Republican voters to support his candidacy to win.

Polling has been pretty consistent in the race.  Conway has held a narrow lead between 2 and 5 percent in recent polling.  A Vox Populi (R) poll found the race tied but their sample was much different from prior polls.

The wildcard in the race (okay, the candidate wildcard) is Independent Drew Curtis.  Curtis is admittedly the most liberal candidate in the race and even the polls showing Conway leading indicate Curtis is drawing more support from Conway than Bevin.

Conway is drawing about 20 percent of the Republican vote on average while Bevin is only getting about 15 percent of Democrats.  Self-identifying Democrats still outnumber Republicans so it is crucial that Bevin unifies his party and steals some conservative Democrats from Conway.

Many analysts have the race picked as leaning towards Conway.  I would tend to agree except that surveys show Conway getting about 15 percent of “strong Republicans.”  I might be inclined to say these voters stay home due to their dislike of Bevin but going out and voting for Conway, I just don’t see it.

Geographically, the only swing regions of the state is Eastern Kentucky.  Historically Democratic at both the state and federal level the region has moved rightward at the federal level.  The Obama administration’s War on Coal has probably facilitated the shift.  If Bevin can eat into Conway’s margins in the region it would leave Conway with only urban Kentucky to build a winning margin on.

Bevin should dominate Western Kentucky and Southern Kentucky.  These counties are far more similar in culture and demographics to heavily Republican Tennessee than Kentucky.  Their vote will not come close to outweighing urban Jefferson County though.

Bevin’s key to victory lies in running up margins in Western and Southern Kentucky but also strongly Republican Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in the Northern tip of the state.  Outgoing Democrat Steve Beshear won a majority of these three counties voters in 2007 and 2011.  Perhaps forecasting what Bevin needs to do, the lone GOP Governor for the state in the last 40 years, Ernie Fletcher, won all three counties by over 60 percent in 2003.

Conway certainly does appear to be in the driver’s seat.  Polling has shown him consistently ahead and he has higher favorable ratings than Bevin.  But Governor’s races are not popularity contests and it has become harder for state candidates to outrun political polarization.

His saving grace may be that he has portrayed himself as a conservative Democrat and is closer to the average voter on Medicaid and Medicare than Bevin.

Bevin’s chore is to unite his party and hope Curtis voters do not return to Conway.  If they do, it should show in early returns and indicate a long night for the businessman.

Addendum: Also at stake are a number of high-profile constitutional offices including Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Agricultural Commissioner and State Auditor.  The Lt. Governor position will probably go the route of the Governor’s race, Allison Grimes has locked up a second term as SofS, and the GOP has a lock on the Agricultural Commissioner position.  The State Auditor position is neck and neck and probably will go the route of other higher profile constitutional office races.


Democrats Are in Trouble

texas-republicans-star-ledgerjpg-0be7b7a438ac815fDespite President Obama winding down his seventh year in office and Republican dysfunction in the House the Democratic Party is in deep trouble.  Yes, the GOP field is led by two political neophytes but this has led to Democrats growing complacent instead of seizing the opportunity to create power outside of DC.

It’s true the Presidency is important but so are thousands of down-ballot legislative Governor, Congressional and state constitutional elections.  As of 2014 the GOP controls a staggering 70 percent of state legislatures, 31 Governors offices and more than 55 percent of state Attorneys Generals.  Republicans are so confident of their control in the House they are comfortable having an ideological battle about where the Caucus should go moving forward.

Republicans have a plan, at least they think they do, to address their Presidential election weaknesses.  But when one looks at the Democratic plan it is nonexistent.  It seems Presidential turnout lifts Democratic boats is the name of the game.

Democrats are as consumed as the GOP with the direction their party should take.  Bernie Sanders represents the party moving a lot to the left while Clinton just a tad more.Either way, neither candidate’s ideology is likely to help down-ballot candidates running in swing states or seats.

Democrats are loathe to admit it but the weakness of their party is visible to every American in state government.  Sure, state legislative elections are not sexy but they are the building blocks of American politics.  Not only do they control redistricting but they also breed a new generation of federal politicians as well as policy ideas to be molded and shaped into federal policies.

Democrats had commanding control of state legislatures and Governorships in 2006 and 2008.  But neither was due to Democrats building an enduring majority.  Democratic gains were obliterated in 2010 and replaced by Republican majorities who enacted legislative and Congressional maps favorable to their electoral success.  Obama’s reelection was a limited victory for Democrats as 2014 gave Republicans their most Congressmembers since 1928 and control of 70 percent of state legislatures.

Lest one assume these gains came only in red and purple states they would be wrong.  Republicans gained control of the Minnesota state assembly, the NY state senate and Washington State senate.  Republican dominance was so profound they won Governorships in blue Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.  All three states have Democratic legislatures but a GOP Governor can serve as a check on their priorities.

That leaves Democrats with unified control of a meager 7 states compared to the GOP’s whopping 25.  Sure, Democrats control California, but the GOP’s dominance in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina alone mean their policies will impact more of the American public.

Perhaps Democrats were feeling overconfident after 2012.  They had gained back seats in Congress, enlarged their majority in the Senate and won both red and blue Governorships.  Anticipating 2014 to be more about overreach than the quality of their candidates or the President the party expected success.

The result was anything but.  Calling last year a bloodbath would be unkind to bloodbaths.  Democrats did not gain back a single purple state Governorship except for Pennsylvania because scandal plagued GOP Governor Tom Corbett refused to resign.  In Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Maine, strongly conservative Governors beat back moderate opponents on the strength of their operation and message.  In the absence of expected success, Democrats have not developed a new strategy.

In a way this represents the broader view the Democratic Party has of Republicans.  They see the GOP as a group of hard-right extremists to ideological to get elected.  But this ignores a crucial part of the GOP’s success.  They are flexible ideologically in down-ballot elections and assemble temporary coalitions every state has.

Consider the scenario of Illinois.  Then candidate Bruce Rauner ran hard to the right of incumbent Pat Quinn.  But Rauner supported gay marriage, downplayed abortion and also focused on campaigning in heavily black communities.  It might not have won him many black votes but it showed suburban, fiscally conservative voters he cared about all voters, not just Republicans.

In Maryland and Massachusetts, Republican candidates assembled a business friendly coalition of fiscal conservatives and social liberals.  This is easy to do when you can campaign against the policies of a hard left legislature intent on implementing dozens of new taxes and fees.  It is much harder for Democrats to do it with Republicans intent on cutting voters taxes.

Democrats, for all their success at the federal level, have not had similar success down-ballot.  Take the case of Wendy Davis in Texas.  Her entire campaign theme centered on abortion and reproductive rights but that is an unusual issue to assemble a winning coalition on (even if Texas was a blue state).

Core Democratic constituencies are also particularly narrow in their interests.  Labor unions and environmental groups are powerful in key states but the interests they advocate only advance the interests of their members and few others.

The the case of the teachers unions.  While the NEA and AFT claim to represent the interests of all their collective bargaining and political power is only used to advance the interests of their members.  The suburban voter sees nothing of benefit from their avocation but does see his/her property taxes go up to pay for more benefits and higher salaries.

Hopes for Democratic policy-making at the states tends to start with the premise Democrats won’t be able to strongly shape policy until 2022.  By then new maps will be in place and GOP retrenchment might have been turned back or limited.  But this also ignores the fact that the GOP controls many marginal legislative chambers.

Take the cases of the Minnesota assembly and Washington State senate.  In Minnesota, due to the Democratic base presiding in metro Minnesota the party’s legislative control wrests on controlling suburban and rural districts but these districts have a conservative lean.  So while Republicans might win a majority of their districts 54-46 and Democrats 80-20 the fact there are more 54-46 districts gives the GOP an inherent advantage even if there are more Democrats in the state.

The same goes for the Washington state senate. The majority of Democrats reside in urban Seattle and the inner suburbs.  But move out beyond and you find a suburban landscape littered with socially moderate Republicans who assemble business friendly electorates to survive even Presidential years.

Democratic leaders know they face these problems and thus push back little when analysts and the media say Democrats have zero chance of retaking in the House (heck, maybe even the Senate).  Backbenchers might be annoyed but they are ignoring the ominous reality facing their party.

Unfortunately for the party this means short of the White House the party’s policy goals are dead on arrival.  It forces Democrats to rely on Executive Orders which can be overturned easily by the courts or a future GOP President easily.

For better or worse the GOP has two paths to advance their agenda.  First, hope the economy turns south at some point before 2016 or 2020 and use the result to ride voter dissatisfaction to the White House.  The other option is to sound more welcoming to women and Latinos and expand their coalition.

Neither of these plans is particularly brilliant, or foolproof, but they both make sense.  For all the talk of Democrats having a lock on the electoral college their electoral majority is relatively thin.

Florida went for Obama by less than half a percent, Ohio by 2.5 percent, Virginia by 3 percent, etc.  Obama’s 51 percent of the vote was a significant drop from his 7 percent win in 2008 and he lost all income groups above $50K.  A drop-off in turnout or Republican inroads among lower income voters could easily end the party’s strong run in Presidential races.

This shows up in 2016 polling.  Despite having cash and name ID, Hillary Clinton is barely beating barely known Republicans nationally and more importantly in many traditional swing states (CO, PA, VA) she is losing to the likeliest GOP nominees.

If the GOP were to retake the White House, hold the Senate (even if it is 50-50) and keep a sizable majority in the House they could enact numerous conservative policies Democrats hate (a national right to work law, repealing Obamacare, replacing Medicaid with a no strings attached approach granting system to the states, etc.).  That should fill all Democrats with dread and make them redouble their efforts to find a path back to power in the states.  For even if Democrats win the White House next year the GOP will still have a strong class of future recruits sitting safe and pretty in their legislative and Congressional districts until 2022.






Poor Jim Webb

jim_webb_dhI have to say, I feel sorry for Jim Webb. The former Vietnam veteran, Secretary of the Navy under Reagan and former Virginia Senator represents a bygone era for the Democratic Party. In truth, if there ever was a populist in the Democratic field in the truest sense it is Webb.

Why do I say this? Because Webb, despite his votes for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, truly did believe these votes would protect the little guy from the power-hungry. He’s put his money where his mouth is by serving only one term and been an exemplary role model for moderates on both sides of the aisle.

Alas, Webb is now a man without a party. He considers today’s GOP to be much too far to the right to get his support. As for the party he calls home today, they consider him an oddity, an eccentricity, which is saying something when they think Sanders is more mainstream.

Webb’s ideology hearkens back to a time when populists were the likes of Andrew Jackson. Jackson railed against central banks and the power of the wealthy, property owning elite. Tellingly, in his 1824 and 1828 Presidential victories, Jackson dominated the rural vote.

When Webb served as Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy he identified as a Republican because the party was composed of a mix of conservative, populist elements and suburban management. The Democratic Party since LBJ had been ruled by unions and technocrats. Today, that dynamic has changed. Both parties are beholden to K Street and neither truly has populist principles at their cores.

Webb’s Senate victory in 2006 was able to transcend the kind of partisanship we have become accustomed to seeing. Railing against the Iraq War, Webb also discussed the power of K-Street and political elites. Opposition to Iraq won him Northern Virginia and his biography and downscale appeal allowed him to carry a swath of Southern Virginians (the voters the party will never win back).

Webb’s background and populist nature might have won him a Senate seat but it all but dooms him on a national stage. The Democratic base is almost solely focused on identity politics, wedge issues and the evils of “white privilege.”

To his credit, Webb does not buy this garbage. Webb wrote about his belief in all Americans and pushed back against the idea of “white privilege,” largely because it is designed to pit Americans against each other. Shocker, he’s right.

Unfortunately, ideas like “white privilege” and identity politics are ingrained in the Democratic base. It’s why Clinton is doing so well discussing immigration reform and abortion. Both play well to Democratic constituencies but few others. Except men, of course.

It’s sad to see Jim Webb struggle in the primary. He is the lone Democrat trying to bridge the partisan divide in America and bring a broad coalition together. Instead, he is being overshadowed by a 75 year old socialist and a Clinton who has been tarred with scandals for 30 years. In essence, Webb shows just how broken today’s Democratic Party is.

Can Bernie Sanders Win Blue-collar Workers?

isEvery now and again I come across an article that makes me think. An article by the Washington Post on Bernie Sander’s and the blue-collar vote did get me thinking about whether Sander’s could help the party reconnect with their blue-collar roots.

On one level it makes sense. For all the voters Barack Obama has brought into the Democratic fold he has made the party shed an equal number of voters, particularly blue-collar whites.

This started even before he was elected President. In the 2008 Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton crushed Obama in particularly blue-collar Appalachia as well as among Hispanics. It is this blue-collar vote combined with urban and upscale white population centers that Sander’s believes could give him a leg up in the primary.

But would blue-collar voters really back Sander’s in the primary. The WP article focuses on formerly blue West Virginia and interviews with several current and former UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) workers. These voters express disenchantment with Obama and a few go as far as to say they voted for Romney.

I had a few initial thoughts to this related to the state in particular and blue-collar workers in general. In relation to West Virginia, the state has not been a Democratic stalwart Presidentially since 2000. Sure, the state has been Democratic at the local level but many of those Democrats were as culturally conservative as GOP Presidential nominees. Sander’s is culturally conservative on guns but he sure is no conservative on gay marriage, religious freedom and abortion.

Nationally, blue-collar workers are not a homogeneous group politically or ideologically. For example, blue-collar workers in the South are far more conservative across the board than those in the West or Midwest. However, many are culturally conservative and fiscally moderate. Bernie is neither.

Indeed, the Sander’s camp realizes this and is downplaying their weakness on cultural issues by relentlessly focusing on class and economics. On issues of inequality, being left behind and railing against the political class the Sander’s camp has probably struck a chord with these voters.

That is great and all but it ignores just how intertwined ideology and culture are. For decades, since the 80s, Democrats have lamented how the GOP has turned former blue-collar Democrats into Republican stalwarts. This would not have happened if not for divisive battles over abortion, gay marriage and religion had not played out nationally.

Likewise, Democrats would be unlikely to have captured so much of the youth vote if not for their focus on abortion, gay marriage and racism.

I would be remiss if I did not note that another obstacle facing Sander’s is his trust in government. Sander’s talks of expanding government in a massive new way in every speech-single payer healthcare, increasing pell grants and subsidies, new regulations on banks, etc. Some of his ideas have broad support such as taxing Wall-Street fat cats and reining in our foreign interventionist policies but those are about as likely to become reality as I becoming a millionaire tomorrow.

Can these policies outweigh his overwhelming love for government to blue-collar workers? Probably not. Blue-collar workers have become increasingly hostile to government and talk of higher taxes against people only sounds good when it is geared towards smart government, not bigger government, policies.

Of course, this is discussing more a general electorate. In the Democratic primary it is probably safe to say that many blue-collar workers that still associate with the party do so out of ancestral loyalty.

Just look at the South. Many Southern states still have more registered Democrats than Republicans, yet the GOP is in solid control of the region at virtually every level. Getting these ancestral Democrats to vote for a candidate in love with government is a hard sell.

The numbers in Appalachia bear this out. In 2008, blacks made up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in a majority of Southern states. Only in Arkansas, West Virginia and North Carolina (by a slim margin) did whites make up a majority of the electorate. This is not a recipe for electoral success, especially when you consider Hillary seems to have a solid lock on the minority vote.

Of course things could change. Biden entering the race would split the traditional liberal vote two ways and give Sander’s yet another chance to rail against the establishment. But for all that, Sander’s would still be stuck with the big-government and culturally liberal persona he personifies. Neither is fit with blue-collar voter

How the Clinton Brand Hurts Down-ballot Democrats

2014-06-11t155415z1813105711gm1ea6b1uc101rtrmadp3usa-politics-clintonIn states Obama carried twice, Democratic candidates for Senate may have the benefit of running in favorable territory, there is another group of Democrats who don’t. Specifically, Democratic candidates running in states and Congressional/legislative districts where Mitt Romney crushed the President in 2012.

To put in perspective of just how tricky it is for these Democrats, consider the recently concluded Kentucky gubernatorial debate that occurred Wednesday morning. Kentucky is a state that voted for Mitt Romney with over 60% of the vote, has five of six Republican congressmen and two GOP Senators.

In the debate, speaking specifically of Clinton, Attorney General Jack Conway (D) said he was not sure who he would vote for in the Democratic primary. That is quite an admission from a candidate who hails from a state and region of the country where Clinton performed so strongly in 2008.

Furthermore, Conway introduced Clinton at a rally for Ken­tucky Demo­crats Sen­ate nominee Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes last year.

“I have a distinct honor tonight,” Conway said. “I stand here on this stage where soon you will hear from the next president of the United States.” This points to the perils these candidates face not just running but running under a Clinton candidacy.

This was not the initial thinking of the Democratic Party in mid to late 2014. Facing a daunting electoral map, the party mused they might be able to win back a few seats in a Presidential cycle with a Clinton topping the ticket. But her stock has fallen, and along with that the party’s hopes of a recovery in the region.

Democratic avoidance of Clinton has not just occurred in Kentucky. In Louisiana, which is also holding its gubernatorial election this year, top Democratic recruit John Bel Edwards avoided Clinton citing a scheduling conflict. This is not really surprising when you look at how red Louisiana is, but keep in mind Bill Clinton carried the state twice and Al Gore only lost the state by eight percent in 2000. Recent polling shows Edwards over-performing and possibly pulling off the upset, so why link himself to the national party’s standard-bearer?

It’s not just the South where Democratic candidates are in awkward positions talking about Clinton. Next year, gubernatorial and legislative elections will also occur in red-leaning Montana, West Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina, and Missouri. The GOP controls North Carolina and Indiana but is looking to increase its strength by taking Montana and Missouri.

The tenuous hold of the Democratic party in these states is not hard to note. In 2012 Montana Governor Steve Bullock barely won against a weak Republican by one percent. He outran the President by double-digits.

In Missouri, Jay Nixon is term-limited. He has often fought with a legislature dominated by veto-proof GOP majorities. Finally, in West Virginia, the open gubernatorial contest gives the GOP a good chance to leverage their new-found legislative majorities by taking the Governor’s mansion.

Given these dynamics in a neutral environment, it would be hard for any Democrat to win these states. But under a Clinton Presidential umbrella it would prove politically impossible. Not only is Clinton almost as far left as Bernie Sanders (open relations with Cuba, a Wall-Street tax, comprehensive immigration reform, federal $15 minimum wage, pro-choice in all circumstances, pro gun-control), but she is also scandal-plagued.

If a Clinton candidacy were to unfold and the Republicans fielded a decent Presidential nominee (not Trump), the party could sweep all three Democratic controlled conservative states. Keep in mind this is speaking only of gubernatorial contests, not legislative or other Constitutional executive offices.

Conventional wisdom says higher turnout usually benefits Democrats in Presidential elections. But that wisdom was not prevailing in 2000 and 2004 when it benefited Republicans. If a strong or even mild GOP headwind develops in 2016, higher turnout could spell disaster for Democratic candidates nationally (not just in red states).

Consider the case of the Minnesota legislature. The state has two Democratic Senators, a 5-3 Democratic Congressional delegation, and a Democratic Governor and state senate. It has also voted for the Democratic nominee for President since 1976.

Yet, as strong a Democratic lean as the state may have nationally at the legislative level it is far swingier. In 2010, the GOP took control of both the state senate and house. In 2014 the party retook control of the state house even while losing the Governorship and US Senate contest. The reason why is simple and points to the predicament many Democrats face in legislative races: legislative districts lean red.

Such a phenomenon is not limited to Minnesota. In neighboring Wisconsin the GOP Presidential nominee has not won the state since 1984, but the GOP controls the state house by a whopping 62-37 margin because the average house district is several points to the right of the state as a whole. A similar scenario is at work in the state senate.

Running a tarnished Democratic candidate at the Presidential level won’t change the dynamics of this situation. Indeed, it will make it worse. Democrats need either higher turnout or the support of swing voters to win these contests. In 2008, they received both. In 2010 turnout dropped and swing support disappeared.

But in 2012 the party saw higher turnout without swing support and suffered. Last year’s midterms featured a repeat of 2010 but even worse results because of the transition of several Southern states into the GOP camp.

All this makes it an incredible challenge for Democratic candidates running across the country. But a Clinton candidacy, plagued by scandal, could make many efforts impossible.

Carly Fiorina Could Not Have Won California in 2010

isIt’s somewhat amusing that as Carly Fiorina has risen in the polls and proven to be the most viable outsider candidate that Trump supporters have turned on her with a rabidity not even matched by Trump himself. Not only do these voters think she’s a fake or unprepared but they also think that she could have won California in 2010. Well, it seems a little education is in order here on two fronts: she created more jobs than were lost during her time at HP and second, she could never have won California running on the platform she did.

First-off, Trump supporters and Trump himself can complain little about Fiorina’s record. An entire segment of the second GOP debate was about Trump costing hundreds their jobs when a group of casinos he owned went belly-up in New Jersey. More pertinent to Fiorina, HP had more employees when she left than when she started. How did she accomplish such a feat? She downsized and revamped the company. Unforunately, such a process is painful but ultimately beneficial to the company and future employees.

It’s not surprising to hear Trumpers (as I call them) attack Carly on this point. Obama’s attacks were particularly effective against Romney on that front in 2012. It’s more surprising to hear them say the issue lost Fiorina the 2010 California Senate race. Did I miss something? Are we speaking about the conservative California that exists in an alternate reality?

To be clear; Fiorina could never have won California in 2010. It’s a wonder she kept her loss down to the low double-digits. Consider several factors.

  • In September almost 45 percent (44.9) considered themselves Democrats. Barely 30 percent considered themselves Republicans and the rest were unaffiliated. Those registration numbers are atrocious for Republicans. According to Gallup that year California was the 10th most Democratic state in the country.
  • Gallup also polled the ideology of voters in CA and found that in 2010 24.1 percent identified as liberal. In 2014 27.5 percent identified as liberal, the 7th highest total in the nation. Good luck winning in a state with that kind of trend and Democratic voting base (before even moderates enter into the equation).
  • Fiorina ran as an unabashed conservative in 2010. She only shied away from the gay marriage debate but was more than happy to make it clear she was pro-life. She affiliated with the Tea Party and made little effort to reach out to minorities and it showed. While she won whites by 9 percent she lost every other racial group by double-digits. Keeping in mind California is a majority-minority state that is not a winning campaign formula.
  • Fiorina never led in the race. Sure, she polled strong early but that was when GOP candidates were surging nationally. As the election neared and voters became more engaged Boxer began to pull away in mid to late October.

This to some degree explains why Trump supporters argue she could have won in 2010. Hey, if she can be close with Boxer why can’t she close the deal? Must be the TV ads attacking her business tenure.

But that argument ignores the more relevant points above. It also ignores that polling in 2010 was biased nationally in the Republicans direction by a few points meaning the race was never as close as any poll ever showed.

Fiorina was a strong candidate in 2010 despite her flaws and she is an even stronger candidate nationally. Amid a more conservative electorate her views are resonating not just on style but also substance. It is not a sign of weakness she lost in 2010. It is a sign of just how liberal California is and points out the fact NO Republican could have won the state in 2010.



Idaho Republicans Need to Change to Win Urban Boise…..And They Won’t

thNo series of days better personified the political change that has occurred in Boise than the “Add the words” testimony at the Idaho Capitol in January.  GOP lawmakers, after much deliberation, decided to allow hearings on HB-1.  HB-1 would allow the words “sexual orientation and identity” to be protected under the Idaho Constitution’s Civil Rights section.  For three days, person after person spoke in favor of the legislation.  When the public testimony was over well over 300 had testified in favor and less than 50 against.  After said testimony the committee voted 13-4 to kill the bill.  All 13 Republicans voted no and all four Democrats voted in the affirmative.

In a decade (shorter even), Boise has gone from a battleground to a liberal haven rivaling Sun Valley.  Not a single GOP legislator hails from urban Boise and only the Western suburb based 14th LD remains in GOP possession.  This is a far cry from 2005 when the GOP controlled a majority of legislative seats in Boise.  But GOP control in the area rested on two factors.  First, moderate GOP lawmakers could carve out their own brand.  Second, the state party was not moving to far to the right.  In 2006 the state party started moving rightward by nominating libertarian Congresssman Butch Otter as its gubernatorial nominee.  Meanwhile, the legislature supported a series of unpopular measures including banning gay marriage.  The result was a complete and systemic defeat of every Republican in urban Boise. The 2008 election largely reaffirmed the new partisan nature of Boise.  Republicans gained a temporary reprieve when they won back two legislative seats in 2010 but those seats were subsequently lost in 2012.  The election returns from 2014 show not a Republican candidate in urban Boise eclipsed 40% of the vote.

Boise has changed much since 2000.  It has become wealthier, more diverse and of course more Democratic.  But the Democratic Party has also become much better at exploiting this factor.  In 2003, a turning point in city history, David Bieter, a legislator from the heavily liberal 19th LD, was elected Mayor.  He still resides in the office and is a heavy favorite to win a fourth term.

Boise was never going to be able to be dominated by Republicans.  Many conservative leaning voters have fled to the lower tax and a transient, college population has descended on the city.  These voters lean more left of center.  Worse for the GOP is the population of the North End has shrunk but it is merely because these voters have spread further out in Boise, maximizing their vote.  Republicans, in an effort to appeal to their suburban and rural base also largely abandoned the issues that urban voters care about.

In many ways Boise reflects the urban/suburban/rural divide reflective in American politics.  The issue set these voters value are entirely different.  Further, the dominant party often courts the larger voting bloc.  Boise and Ada County are large but their vote does not outweigh the rest of conservative Idaho unlike neighboring Washington State and Oregon.

The Idaho GOP still does have a chance to eventually recapture Boise though it will take time and a concerted effort.  More painfully for the party though is it will force the party to back off its socially conservative platform and embrace LBGT rights.  This might be to high a price to pay as it would ensure the party would lose many rural voters as well as some suburban backers.  But until the GOP does they will continue to have little power in Boise.


The Summer Of Crime

gty_baltimore_protest_tl_150428_16x9_992Between 1932 and 1968 Democrats had held the White House in seven of the last nine Presidential elections. They had capitalized on the public’s perception the GOP was not a competent manager of the economy. But in 1968 the party could not overcome an issue that devastated their nominee’s campaign: crime!

From New York to Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston, the scourge of crime has returned in spades. In the last week the public has witnessed Illinois police officer Lieutenant Joe Gliniewicz be killed by three men and the execution style killing of Harris County, TX officer Darren Goforth.

Democrats appear helpless to stop heading towards their destiny. The party’s bread and butter issues have been a volatile mix of income and race, and with it has come the rise of crime. Democrats have few answers to alleviate the public’s growing concerns.

The response from the White House has been underwhelming. The best the President could muster was, “Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable.” Well, I’m glad the President could stand with the cops.

At the local level Democratic leadership has been unable to solve these problems. The response in Baltimore and Philadelphia has been to blame the police to the horror of suburban taxpayers. Only in Chicago does it seem the Democratic mayor (Rahm Emanuel) is standing by the police.

In an effort to stop a divisive movement within party ranks, the DNC has tried to court the Black Lives Matter movement much as they did with the Occupy Movement. To party elites distress the movement showed them the middle finger.

Unable to mollify the movement the summer of 2015 may be more remembered as the season of crime than the summer of Trump or Sanders. The Democratic Convention of 1968–when the party split on the Vietnam War–is raising its ugly head.

Republicans have taken notice. Ted Cruz excoriated the White House and the Democratic Party for their response and policies. Cruz stated, “From the president, from the top on down as we see . . . whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement.”

Cruz is not the only Republican hammering the issue home though. Donald Trump has called the administration soft on crime and he attacked Bush for calling illegal immigration an “act of love.” Bush fired back a day later by reminding voters of Trump’s past support for Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats might be able to take joy in Republicans taking potshots at each other in another situation. But the real shots being fired are coming from their cities. Republicans have no power in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, or other major cities in the US. Totally run by Democrats for decades on end, the party’s politics have turned these cities into shooting galleries. Democrats response? Stick body cameras on cops.

Such a response is lacking and honestly forgets what initially won the party suburban converts. In 1992 Bill Clinton broke with party elites and promoted anti-crime laws and incarceration. In 1993 he worked with Republicans to sign anti-assault weapon legislation and put 100,000 new cops on the streets. Lastly, he even took Sister Souljah to task for advocating blacks kill whites.

A similar candidate has no chance of getting out of the Democratic primary. Hillary has largely repudiated her husband’s crime legacy and focused on recruiting the Black Lives Matter movement. While it’s clear that Sanders would like to focus more on income inequality, he has been driven to promote civil rights legislation catering to racial grievances. Webb, Chaffee, and O’Malley, well, they don’t even poll as a footnote.

Despite demographic and political shifts that favor Democrats, the issue of crime can serve as a strong political rallying cry. It’s not the political and economic elite that feel the effects of crime but rather the average Joe and Jane.

These are the quintessential swing voters of modern America and they have witnessed murder rates rise up to 76 percent in Milwaukee, 60 percent in St. Louis, 56 percent in Baltimore, and 44 percent in D.C.

This is having an impact on the campaign. Polls show Clinton is barely garnering one-third of the white vote, and she is continuing to lose ground in the pivotal suburbs. In strongly white swing states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, her standing has slipped in virtually every category.

A new NBC/Marist poll finds Clinton trailing Trump by five percent and Bush by a whopping 11 percent in Iowa. In New Hampshire, she holds a one-point lead over Trump but trails Bush by 5%. It’s not a stretch to say these voters have noted the Democratic nominee’s change in tone on crime of late.

Just as the party’s split in 1968 cost them the Presidency, the same could occur in 2016. Unless Democrats find a way to rectify the views of their upscale-downscale base with the rest of mainstream America they will lose next year. That is what the summer of 2015 has truly been about.

Democratic Brand of Identity Politics Sets Up Many Candidates to Fail

isPerhaps it is just not uttered because it is so obvious, or perhaps not, but Democrats have an identity politics problem. It partly explains why every non-female candidate in the Presidential field (short of Sanders) has struggled. It also explains why the party is so annoyed at their preferred choices being challenged in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

No better example of the Democrat addiction to identity politics stands out than the Nevada Senate seat being vacated by Harry Reid. Democrats did everything in their power to recruit former Attorney General Catherine Masto into the race. Reid and the Democratic elite basically pushed everybody else out of the contest.

But this is only the most recent example. Since 2008 and Barack Obama’s election, Democrats have pushed candidates that appeal to their voting bloc and potentially others. In 2010 the party did not struggle with the issue. Due to their victories in 2006 and 2008 Democrats were defending numerous incumbents. They also had a sizable Congressional conservative contingent hailing from the South.

Yet the party pursued identity politics through its agenda. Obamacare, sold as a benefit to the middle class by bringing down costs, was a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to lower income individuals. Dodd-Frank handed out billions to the big banks and destroyed numerous smaller banks in the process. The stimulus bill and Cash for Clunkers handed out power and money to Democratic constituencies (unions, Planned Parenthood, etc) while leaving the American public further in debt.

The result was 2010. Conservative Democrats, forced to pick between their values and party loyalty, were wiped out. The result was a newly configured Democratic Party more in line with identity politics than ever. And since that time Democrats have embraced it.

President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign was all about identity. The platform he offered and the promises he made were specific to different constituencies in a way Bill Clinton never attempted. Consider that virtually every decision made by the administration was based on how it would play with different constituencies. The perfect example of this was gay marriage. Reticent to embrace the issue in 2012, the President wholeheartedly supported it in 2012 because it would win him the LBGT and youth vote.

Democrats also ran several notable candidates that cycle including Tammy Baldwin, a gay Wisconsin Congresswoman, Shelley Berkley in Nevada, and Martin Heinrich in New Mexico. All three candidates played on key Democratic constituencies (women, minorities, LBGT community).

Just like 2008 benefited Democrats, so did 2012. Identity politics worked well. But it also had its downsides last year (just like 2010). Democrats, lacking strong identity-based candidates, were destroyed in 2014. Turnout dropped by significant margins in Hispanic-heavy states like Nevada, allowing a weakened GOP to sweep the ticket.

The 2016 election is not looking any kinder to the party. The GOP is defending numerous vulnerable Senate seats and demographics and turnout favor Democrats, but the party’s emphasis on identity-based politics and issues means they are stuck with a flawed Clinton as their Presidential nominee. Despite the former First Lady’s email scandal, lackadaisical campaign, and horrid attempts to appear genuine on the stump, the party faithful still overwhelmingly back her candidacy.

As one would expect from a party based on identity politics, her support comes solidly from women, minorities, and the young. Men, particularly college-educated white men, have thrown in their lot with Bernie Sanders as have the party’s urban base. But Sander’s candidacy is more like Trump’s, based on a movement’s beliefs and values and less on what the candidate represents.

It’s clear what Clinton represents. The empowerment of feminism, the wish list of goodies minorities crave like immigration reform, and yet another proponent of redistributing wealth. It’s little wonder why the other three white, heterosexual males in the race (Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee, and Martin O’Malley) cannot gain traction in the race. Their brand of politics and issues do not appeal to particular groups and unlike Sanders they have not been able to campaign on an issue that captivates a political movement’s attention.

Republicans are not immune to this trend, as Trump shows. The party has increasingly dominated statewide and down-ballot races in midterms because of the power of white, middle class men and non-college educated whites. These voters have their own brand of identity politics. Unlike other contingents of the GOP (fiscal conservatives, libertarians) who are true to the cause of limited government, these voters don’t mind a larger state as long as that state redistributes wealth to their benefit. Trump has tapped into these voters’ resentments against the establishment and media in a way few candidates have since Ross Perot in 1992.

Looking forward, identity politics is likely to be the flavor of the day in America. Democrats have invested too much in it to let it fail. Republicans, willingly or not, have allowed the party to be filled with identity politic supporting whites. Assuming it benefits them of course.