Jim Webb: The Last Conservative Democratic Presidential Candidate

JimWebbpJim Webb’s Presidential announcement comes as a pleasant surprise to low-income whites like me.  Webb, a former Republican who served in the Reagan administration turned Democratic Senator from Virginia announced he was running for President last week.   Webb is a Democratic far more in the mold of a Bill Clinton circa 1992 and Hillary Clinton circa 2008.  His heterodox views herald back to the Jacksonian origins of the party focused more on individuality, a peaceful foreign policy and a live let live domestic policy.  Unfortunately, the Jacksonian wing of the modern Democratic Party holds as much power as their progressive counterparts in the GOP.

Webb’s views are a hodgepodge of conservative, moderate and liberal views on key issues.  Domestically, he favors sentencing reform and battling inequality by limiting CEO pay.  He has been an adamant opponent of the Iraq War from day 1 (galvanized him to run for Senate in 2006).  Webb favors liberal policies such as investing in pre-K education and infrastructure.  He also wants to reform student debt and the immigration system.

But it is Webb’s conservative views on race and the “working class white man” that differentiate him from the Democratic field.  Webb opposes racially based Affirmative Action programs and has accused Democrats of using white men as the party’s “whipping posts.”  He is supportive of gun rights and against coal regulations.  Finally, he opposes higher income taxes.

Unfortunately, his is a message the modern Democratic Party does not want to hear.  Hillary Clinton has made race and gender identity the centerpiece of her campaign, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont Bernie Sanders are trying to outrun each other for the “Warren vote” and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is running as a foreign policy dove.

Webb is no hawk on foreign policy but neither is he a dove.  He opposed the Iraq War but is supportive of operations in Afghanistan.  However, he has been approving of military operations against ISIS and hedged on putting boots on the ground in Iraq.  Few of these positions appeal to the modern Democratic coalition.

Webb is assured of standing no chance in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina where progressive party activists and minorities dominate.  But his strength is likely to be found in the South where low-income whites have abandoned the party.

It’s debatable if Webb would be any stronger in the general election due to his appeal to white males than any other candidate.  He would likely bleed progressive support as the Democratic Party is partly mobilized around its hatred of white men (think white privilege, male privilege).  Indeed, when Webb ran for Senate in 2006 he lost whites by 24% in 2006 and relied on traditionally blue Northern Virginia to win.

Notably, while Webb has no shot of winning he is doing the party a favor by allowing low-income whites to feel like their interests are being represented.  The down-side is once the primary ends and Clinton or another progressive is nominated the GOP will likely better appeal to these downscale voters.

For proponents of the conservative Democratic brand, all but dead, Webb’s candidacy represents a last hurrah for the party of Jackson.  Webb won’t win but he will at least show there are still some in the party who believe in its Jacksonian traditions and not its modern identity based politics.

Iowa Is In Play In 2016

2000px-Flag_of_Iowa.svgUntil 2014 Republicans had struggled in Iowa.  Only once in the last six Presidential elections (2004) did GOP Presidential contenders win the state.  Even then, Bush carried the state by the narrowest of margins (10,000 votes).  Despite GOP struggles in the state presidentially the local GOP has traditionally been strong. Between 1968 and 2000 the state continuously reelected GOP Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad.  The Congressional delegation has always been fairly closely divided and Senator Chuck Grassley (R) and former Senator Tom Harkin (D) have dominated the state’s politics since the 80’s.

From 2006 and 2008 the state swung heavily Democratic.  Obama carried the state by 9% in 2008 and Democrats captured strong legislative majorities.  Then 2010 hit.  Former GOP Governor Terry Branstad carried the state by 11% over incumbent Chet Culver.  Republicans did not make inroads in the state’s Congressional delegation but they did manage to retake the state House.  In 2012, Obama carried the state by half of his 2008 margin.  True to its swing nature though the state swung back to the GOP in 2014 with the election of two new GOP Congressmen and choosing state senator Joni Ernst (R) to take over Harkin’s Senate seat.

Iowa can essentially be divided into four political regions.  The heavily rural West of the state is home to many evangelicals and the GOP base in the state.  The South-Central region is dominated by heavily Democratic Polk County but some conservative suburbs.  The North-Central is probably the swingiest region of the state while the Southeast is home to heavily Democratic Johnson County.  These four regions can swing one way or the other if the stars align but not since 1984 have they done so in a Presidential election towards the GOP.

It’s tempting to argue the GOP is chasing another “white whale.”  They might be better served going after Pennsylvania or Wisconsin which have consistently shown more inching towards the GOP.  But there are reasons for the GOP to believe 2016 is the year they finally take Iowa again.  First, the 2014 elections.

GOP wins in 2010 were across the board but the party’s political coalitions did not shift.  Urban voters went Democratic and suburban and rural voters leaned Republican.  Meanwhile, the coveted blue-collar vote was split.  In 2012, Obama actually came close to winning these voters.  In both the Gubernatorial and Senatorial elections in 2014 the bottom fell out for the Democratic party.  Their traditional advantage among women disappeared, they lost all age groups but 18-29 year olds, and most worrisome for the party is their inroads among blue-collar voters disappeared.

Ernst carried these voters by both income and education level.  She won HS graduates 57%-42% and voters with some college 52%-44%.  Ernst carried every income bracket except those below $30K.  Brandstad’s margins were even larger due to his strong stature in the state and the benefit of running against a no-name Democrat.

Republicans have another reason to be optimistic, voter registration numbers.  The GOP significantly outhustled Democrats in 2014 and as of mid June of this year the GOP enjoyed a 25,000 vote advantage.  However, Independents were the largest group with over 700,000 registrations and while they lean GOP in midterms they have not gone Republican since Bush in 2004.  Outside groups are sure to invest heavily in voter registration efforts, further aiding the GOP’s efforts.

Iowa has leaned Democratic in Presidential elections.  But 2016 could be the year that changes.




The Supreme Court Made The Right Decision For The Wrong Reasons On Gay Marriage

gay_marriage_81102178This comes a bit late but last Friday’s ruling on gay marriage has the potential to be the modern-day equivalent of Roe vs. Wade.  Yes, I know, abortion has never come as close to being accepted as gay marriage but the judicial precedent the ruling set and the backlash and repercussions it caused in society could closely mirror gay marriage.  To understand why we must understand the Supreme Court’s three opinions on gay marriage.

The 5-4 majority, authored by Justice Kennedy and cosigned by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomeyer and Kagan, rested on a premise of “fairness.”  Nevermind fairness has no legal precedent the majority opinion stated “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his sweeping decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”  Again, try to forget they already had equality under the law regarding federal tax benefits (though not necessarily at the state level). The Court’s decision is notable because back in 1972 a gay couple sued to get married in 1972.  The case went all the way to the Minnesota and then US Supreme Court and was rejected by both bodies.  But now, not so much.

So, has the Constitution changed since 1972?  Of course not.  But what as changed is public opinion and the pressure that opinion exerts on the Supreme Court.  How else can it be explained that the five Justice majority had no legal precedent for their decision and thus resorted to flowery language lacking legal substance.  Indeed, the lack of precedence and legal backing was taken apart by the dissents.

Chief Justice John Roberts hit the nail on the head in his dissent, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, citing 1) state’s rights and 2) the slippery slope such an allowance would create.  Oh, and by the way, now couples are trying to have their polygamous relationships recognized in Montana.  Putting aside Robert’s lack of discomfort with public opinion shifting his view on Obamacare, Robert’s concerns over the court’s ruling are valid.  If public opinion can swing the court’s ruling what is the point of having an elected Executive and legislature to make laws?  Further, what is the point of states have designated powers?  In Robert’s own words, “”Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law.”

Justices Thomas and Alito’s opposition argues that the Constitution’s definition of liberty has not changed.  Thus, how can gay marriage proponents argue their liberty is being violated if it has not in the past?  Lastly, Justice Scalia argued the same as Thomas and Alito but also found standing in the procreation argument.  Scalia proved supportive of the idea that marriage and state rules regarding marriage were related to procreation and encouraging/discouraging such an act.

How does this relate to abortion you are now asking?  Well, first off, gay marriage and abortion shared many similarities at the times they went to court.  Numerous states legalized or imposed restrictions on abortion (just like gay marriage).  Second, most of society knew abortion was going on (just like gay marriage).  Lastly, when abortion came to court it was a young and new issue (like gay marriage).  The Warren Court in its infinite wisdom wielded the biggest judicial activist cudgel since FDR in allowing the practice.

The result was all but preordained by the two dissents, Justices White and Rehnquist, who argued that the ruling would have deep societal implications the Court did not consider.  They turned out to be right.  Abortion is far more polarizing to date than gay marriage.  But the gay marriage ruling is only a week old and the question is whether gay marriage will be as polarizing as abortion has proven to be in the future?

These two views of judicial activism (abortion and gay marriage), point to a further erosion of states rights and American values.  While I fully understand American values are subject to changes over time states rights are not.  Yet, this ruling completely disregards states rights as well as the power of the voter and elected branches by imposing such a decision on the entire nation.  Far more troubling is the precedent this ruling could set.

If Justice Kennedy and the four liberal justices (who never saw a government expansion they opposed) are now making decisions on fairness it likely means that future rulings regarding religious freedom as it relates to gay marriage will lose before the Court.  I mean, come now, is it fair that a gay couple cannot get somebody to make them a wedding cake?  Never mind religious objections are protected under the 1st Amendment.

The only good thing out of this ruling is that four justices decided to stand up for states rights and Justice Kennedy has shown a proclivity to favor religious freedom over public opinion and governmental rules (Obamacare contraception rule).  Still, the Court’s ruling and precedent is troubling.  States rights apparently do not matter, tradition does not matter, officials elected by the public means nothing.  Only “fairness.”

Democratic Populism A Recipe For Electoral Disaster

downloadOne of the less noted but no less important aspects of American politics has been the steady leftward swing of the Democratic Party.  The party of Andrew Jackson, representing the poor, forgotten man has now become a party focused on income inequality and composed of an up-scale, down-scale coalition that has a predilection to not show up in midterms.

The progressive movement has a rich history in American politics.  In the 1890’s it was exemplified by the election of Grover Cleveland despite being a subpar candidate. Recognizing the public opinion shift the GOP got in on the act with Teddy Roosevelt (his was a shortlived GOP progressivm).  Following the Laissez-Faire policies of the 1920’s, a new progressive era came to be with FDR, most notably creating Social Security and the foundation for the modern-day alphabet soup of government agencies.

Of course one could call the 60’s an era of progressivism as well.  But that extends so far.  By the 60’s the progressive coalition was united on racial issues but little else.  The Vietnam War split the coalition into different groups (predominately on age) and by the 70’s the Democratic progressive coalition was dead (why else did they pick Jimmy to run in 76?).

Today, Democrats have largely abandoned the centrist pivoting their party undertook in the 90’s under Clinton.  Following defeats in the 80’s the party went with a moderate Governor from Arkansas.  But a mere two election cycles later the party nominated Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama, all progressives. It is only recently though that the progressive wing of the party has taken control of the party’s nodes of power (fueled by losses in 2010 and 2014).  The progressive wing of the party can be exemplified by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and NYC mayor Bill de Blasio.

Founded in 2005 by venture capitalist Rob Stein, the Democracy Alliance is the biggest intellectual and funding contributor to the progressive agenda.  Over 75 organizations joined including unions and environmental groups, all attempting to counter the GOP’s intellectual machine.  The Alliance did not contribute money persay but ideas and recommended to its donors where they should put their cash.  By early 2014 the Alliance had lost its two most moderate Democratic member groups, Third Way and the New Democratic Network.  A month after the 2014 midterm debacle in San Francisco the Alliance showed its true colors and adopted a formal plan to combat inequality.  Such a plan, entitled “2020 Vision Framework,” included combating GOP domination at the state level and laid out three policy proposals, 1) economic inequality, 2) campaign-finance reform, and  3)climate change.

Such an agenda is geared towards promoting the interests of what progressives view as a dying middle class and the “Rising American Electorate.”  According to progressives the middle class has stagnated and is disappearing as almost 100% of wealth goes towards the elite few.  Such a view appeals to many on the left who feel the party has left behind their middle class base of unions and urban centers.

The “Rising American Electorate” is a term coined by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenburg.  The electorate, composed predominately of young voters, single women and voters of color is projected to compose a whopping 54% of the electorate and 2/3rds of them plan to vote for Hillary (in case you are wondering that means Hill Dog has a base of 36% of the vote).  According to Greenburg a campaign to target inequality and tackle climate change is geared to appeal to them and usher in a new era of Democratic domination.  The recorded rise in American’s calling themselves socially liberal only fuels their views.

But American electoral history points to the failure of the progressive ideas if they do not moderate.  For example, many progressives champion the idea of Medicare for all, Immigration Reform and Paid Sick Leave.  On the surface many Americans might agree with these ideas but the devil is in the details.  How will they be paid for?  Who will pay for it?  And will Americans continue to support higher taxes even if they favor government helping more than in the past.

Modern progressives tend to look past these questions because they see an electorate divided along the top 10% vs. the 90% or the top 1% vs. the 99%.  To them the only reason the 99% does not vote Democratic is because they have been duped by the wealthy elite and the GOP that their interests are best served through a more free-market system.

Such a view does not jibe with the America of today.  True, those with only a High School degree will struggle to make a living and many industrial jobs are dying but they are being replaced with white-collar, middle class jobs.  This middle class is the fiscally conservative group most likely to vote and most likely to reject progressive policy prescriptions far out of the mainstream.

Secondly, the electoral map and policy map of today is far changed from that of the 30’s, before Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid gave people a security net and provided something to the poor.  The greatest progressive successes of the 20th century also proved to be its greatest struggle by providing some voters with the chance to view more governmental intervention as equaling higher taxes.  This same situation applies today.  Consider the example of the ACA.  Most voters support providing free contraception and covering those with preexisting conditions but they oppose the individual mandate (forced to buy a product or pay a tax penalty).

Lastly, political parties adapt.  They don’t sit still and wait to die.  Much as Democrats did in the 90’s the GOP is doing today in the states.  The 2010 election was fueled by a true grassroots, middle class movement known as the Tea Party.  Progressives have long been unable to replicate the Tea Party.  The Republican wave only crested in California.

Following 2012 many GOP candidates and the national party made a conscious choice to shift course.  That year, GOP gubernatorial candidates in blue Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland avoided controversial social issues (abortion and gay marriage), toned down their rhetoric on poor people and focused on making arguments based on what individuals were getting out of governmental programs.  In predominately white-collar Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts these arguments were devastatingly effective among white-collar, middle class professionals.  They also proved effective among single men, a demographic often forgotten by both political parties.  In the Iowa and Colorado Senate races the GOP’s approach also netted them a greater share of the both the blue-collar and white-collar middle class vote since Reagan.

This would seem to give the GOP a dramatic edge on fiscal issues and it does.  A recent Gallup poll found 39% of voters identify as fiscally conservative while only 26% identify as fiscally liberal.  But Republicans have their own struggles with Tea Party candidates hinting at taking away popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Still, progressives have yet to find a way to mediate their goals with those of the public.  True, they have scored victories in places such as Seattle, NYC, San Francisco and Berkeley with the minimum wage being raised to $15.  In numerous red states last year the minimum wage was hiked statewide and Republicans were brought along to support such hikes.  For example, in Arkansas the state voted to hike the minimum wage to $6.25 to $7.50 per hour on January 1, 2015; to $8 on January 1, 2016; and to $8.50 per hour on January 1, 2017.  The measure passed with 65% and then GOP Senatorial candidate Tom Cotton publicly supported the effort. But in many progressives minds these victories are much to small and gradual.  Much larger changes must occur on Climate Change, tax policy, spending, welfare programs and education.

However, whether the kind of changes seen in places like NYC and Seattle can be replicated in middle America and suburban cities is unclear.  Take the case of Chicago.  Progressives solidly backed City Councilman Chuy Garcia over incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Emanuel, who cut his teeth in the Clinton White House, knew moderation and centrism worked.  Indeed, his 2011 election largely focused on conservative principles like streamlining government and creating tax incentives for business to come to the city.  While the race did go into a run-off the contest was never in doubt because ultimately Emanuel was right.  He knew the city was largely upper and lower middle class and his agenda focusing on streamlining government, closing poor performing schools and raising revenue appealed.  Garcia, on the other hand, did not win a single ward with an average income above $75,000K.

Such a defeat in Chicago is ominous for another reason, it threatens to split the modern Democratic coalition.  The Democratic coalition is increasingly young and diverse but this tends to mask its upscale, down-scale aspect.  It’s upscale wing, composed of affluent suburbanites which hold the keys to power in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Nevada, etc. are the individuals most likely to vote and break from their partisan leaning preferences.  Especially if they don’t see very many results from the programs they pay for.

The Democratic Party suffered much the same fate in the 1980’s when a rising affluent, suburban population recoiled against an increasing liberal Democratic Party.  If not for their conservative, Southern contingent, the party would have been locked out of any power in the 80’s.

This creates the modern-day quandary for the movement.  How do they rectify their policy positions with the electorate?  Or do they try to keep ideological purity paramount over winning? These are questions creating the needle Clinton is trying to thread.

Clinton is banking on the Obama coalition (Rising American Electorate) being a permanent coalition galvanized purely on ideology.  Her open policy positions including debt free college, Immigration Reform and opposing TPP are geared towards appealing to the party faithful.  But lacking serious primary competition (nope, Bernie is not serious competition) it is notable she is having to move to the Left just to secure her party’s support (see Mitt Romney 2012 for the GOP version). It may be a miscalculation on her part.  It might motivate the party’s base but the middle and upper class suburbanites that have trended Democratic in recent cycles might not find it so endearing.  Plus, the cultural issues Democrats hurt Republicans with in 08 and 012 might be less prominent this election making the campaign focus more on policy ideas and economic performance.

Ultimately, the progressive movement has a right to feel emboldened but also significant reason to be cautious.  True, they have scored successes at the ballot box and legislatively.  They certainly aided in getting Obama elected.  But now they face a crossroads.  The 2014 midterm showed the very middle class voters the movement needs support from are unlikely to support their expansive agenda.  So what do they do?  Moderate?  Or go all in?  The 2016 elections will tell us a lot about their decision.










The Supreme Court Is Still Conservative and Michigan vs. EPA Showcases How

Supreme_Court_US_2010The Supreme Court undeniably tilted left this term.  It was impossible not to note how the court that ruled that money was speech in 2010, significantly weakened the Obamacare contraception mandate in 2011 and eliminated Section IV of the VRA in 2013 and further weakened campaign finance in 2014 suddenly lurched left (upholding state subsidies and supporting gay marriage).  But even though this might be the most liberal year of the Roberts court to date the court is actually far from liberal.

On Monday liberals got a reminder of this when the court upheld Oklahoma’s death penalty drug cocktail and much more importantly ruled in Michigan’s favor in Michigan vs. the EPA.  Most of the attention this session focused on Obamacare and gay marriage but Michigan vs. EPA was far more consequential and shows the court’s strong conservative bent on regulatory issues in which the public has little input to shape.

Michigan vs. EPA’s background centers on the Clean Air Act under Obama.  In early 2012 the EPA decided to start mandating that coal-fired power plants must limit their mercury emissions.  However, the cost of the rule was not evaluated until early 2015 when 21 led Republican states and several coal companies sued over the rule.  The EPA developed a cost formula that said it would cost the industry $9 billion a year but result in over $37 billion a year in health savings.

The court’s 5-4 ruling was damning to the EPA and to agencies who might try such a tactic in the future.  Writing for the majority, Justice Antoin Scalia said, “EPA must consider cost — including cost of compliance — before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary.”  He further added,  “EPA refused to consider whether the costs of its decision outweighed the benefits. The agency gave cost no thought at all, because it considered cost irrelevant to its initial decision to regulate. The EPA argued it had such power over due to the Clean Air Act and that there late cost calculations were enough.  Obviously not.  And here is the lesson for those worried about the court’s lurch to the left.  It only goes so far.

A judicial philosophy and ideological split can be seen in the court today.  You have three rock solid Constitutionalist judges in Scalia, Thomas and Alito.  You have four liberals who give the government more deference than the Warren Court did and then you have Roberts and Kennedy.  Both are interesting case studies in judicial philosophies.  Kennedy has long been the swing vote on the court.  A Reagan era appointee, Kennedy has carved out a niche as a center right justice on regulatory issues and the 1st Amendment, libertarian on social issues (abortion and gay marriage) and center-left on affirmative action issues.

Roberts in some ways mirrors Kennedy.  He is as staunch a defender of the 1st Amendment as Kennedy, arguably more conservative on regulatory issues and certainly on social issues.  But Robert’s distinction is his view of Congressional deference.  For example, Kennedy wanted Obamacare’s Individual Mandate killed in 2012 despite the voters electing the people who passed the law.  But Roberts did not.  While Kennedy ruled with Roberts in Burwell last week, Roberts position never shifted as again he favored a law that was passed by elected officials.  Yet, when it has come to ending DOMA, legalizing gay marriage, overturning Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action through the courts and even the recent Arizona redistricting case he has sided with the conservative point of view.  Robert’s seems to show more deference to voters than anything else (hence Congress).  Kennedy is more of a mixed bag.

Hence the court has three blocs.  A conservative bloc, a larger liberal bloc, and than a moderately conservative bloc strong on some issues and weaker on others.  None of this however should disguise the fact this court remains conservative.  Upholding Obamacare and enacting gay marriage cannot change the facts this court has given conservatives victories in campaign finance, contraception in Obamacare, gutting the VRA, upholding the Death Penalty and making sure regulatory agencies cannot just pick the cost of a rule out of a hat.

The Supreme Court remains conservative and that will come into play next year.  The Court has agreed to hear arguments in UT-Austin’s Affirmative Action admissions policy, put a hold on TX’s stringent abortion rules until it can be heard by the full 5th CC Appeals Court and is also likely to hear a future case on Obamacare and the President’s Executive Action on immigration.  In all cases, minus abortion, conservatives should feel like they are more likely to win than lose due to the make-up of the court and its continuous right leaning bent.

Addendum: Today, the court agreed to hear  a case brought by 10 non-union public school teachers in CA who allege their being forced to pay union dues violates their free speech rights.  Historically, more liberal courts have allowed such a thing as long as these dues are not used on political activities.  

Clinton’s Campaign Focused Like a Laser On Race

140701_POL_HillaryClintonAlabama.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeOn a the Tuesday after the slaying of nine, innocent black men and women in a famous South Carolina church by 21 year old Dylan Roof, Hillary Clinton spoke on race and boy did she speak loud and clear.  Speaking before the congregation of Christ the King Church just a few miles from last summer’s violent unrest in Ferguson, Clinton said, “America’s long struggle with race is far from over,” she said shortly before the prayer. “The truth is, equality, opportunity, civil rights in America are still far from where they need to be.”

Clinton knows she needs black voters in a big way.  Without them Obama would have lost Florida, Ohio and Virginia in 2012 and North Carolina in 2008.  In the President’s initial run in 08 he made direct appeals on racial issues while Clinton deferred.  Now, Clinton, recognizing she needs to win over the same voters who put Obama in office is speaking directly to them on issues that impact their community.  Continuing in her remarks at the church Clinton made a direct appeal for their votes, “If people voted for people who would represent them about these interests—that’s the way we run! It’s still not going to be easy but its going to be a whole lot easier if you elect people who actually are committed to addressing the community’s problems.”  She wasn’t done, continuing “The hardest thing to do in a campaign is to convince people to actually take the time to vote. If you don’t have to even to go to the communities that are making these demands because you know they’re not going to vote and you don’t have to pay attention them, then nothing changes.”

Clinton’s message is clear.  Republicans don’t care about you but I do.  To be fair, Clinton has much to offer blacks in her resume.  She  spent much of her legal work after leaving Yale Law School in the 1970s dealing with impoverished and African-American communities.  But she also has things to reconcile with the community.  She fully supported her husband’s strong incarceration policy as well as his 100,000 new boots (police boots) on the ground.  She also supported Stop and Frisk before opposing it.

Telling minority communities what they want to hear is nothing new for the Democratic frontrunner.  Last month in Las Vegas she fully endorsed “amnesty” and actually spoke convincingly of America as a melting pot made stronger by immigrants.  But the South Carolina shooting gave her campaign a greater degree of freedom to focus specifically on inequality, especially among blacks and on America’s dark racial past.

However, whether black Americans turn out for the former First Lady is an open question.  While she sports similar numbers among the black community in terms of support and favorable ratings as Obama there remains the very open question of whether Obama’s support among blacks was a one time thing.  Because, support for a candidate means nothing if that supporter does not go out and cast a ballot for his/her preferred candidate.

Toward that end the Clinton campaign decided to make race a central pillar of their campaign early on.  She has called on Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and extend early voting to a federal minimum of 20 days and create universal voter registration.  She has also been a staunch supporter of gun control since 2009 when she became Secretary of State.  All these positions come at a cost however.  While they are likely to increase her support among blacks and Latinos it is likely to cost her with whites and perhaps Asians.

Still, for Clinton her support from white voters seems baked into the cake.  It is hard to see her garnering less than 39% (Obama’s share in 2012) but more than him in 2008 (43%).  Turnout among minorities is far less assured.  Hence, Clinton is making race a central pillar of her campaign, regardless of the political and social consequences.


Welcome To 2015’s First Look at It’s Marquee Gubernatorial Contest: Kentucky

Democrat Jack Conway (left) and Republican Matt Bevin (right) will square off in Kentucky's 2015 gubernatorial contest.

Democrat Jack Conway (left) and Republican Matt Bevin (right) will square off in Kentucky’s 2015 gubernatorial contest.

Kentucky is now the only 0utlier in the South in terms of partisan realignment.  Despite having a deep red tint at the federal level the state is very much purple in state races.  Democrats control the state house and every statewide, Constitutional office except one.  Now, forced to defend an open Governor’s office that could change.

Democrats hoped a damaged GOP nominee, Matt Bevin (the same dude who lost to McConnell last year), would come out of a divisive four-way primary bruised and battered.  He won it by a mere 83 votes after a partial recount.  According to multiple accounts Bevin has yet to fully make amends with the party’s establishment wing and has support largely from the state’s less powerful libertarian wing (Rand Paul, Thomas Massie).

Well, according to a new poll that has not exactly happened.  The first survey out since the GOP primary finds Bevin leading Democratic AG jack Conway by a slim 38%-35% with Independent Drew Curtis taking 6%.  With Curtis taken out the race leans 40%-38% in Bevin’s favor.

Such a narrow margin is not unusual for an off-year race.  Conway has a 31-34 unfavorable rating while Bevin beats him with a 31-28 spread.  Fully 35% of voters have no opinion of Conway and 39% of Bevin.  Again, considering how early it is for the race we should not be surprised.

The results stand in stark contrast to the last poll of the general election by the Bluegrass Survey on the eve of the GOP primary.  Conway led all GOP contenders, including Bevin, by double-digits.  With the primary concluded voters apparently are reevaluating their choices.

The other tidbit from the survey is surprising and very, very worrisome for Democrats.  In EVERY, SINGLE, down-ballot Constitutional contest Democratic contenders trail.  In the Attorney General’s contest Republican Whitney Westerfield leads Steve Beshear (son of current Governor) 41%-36%.  Democratic incumbents for State Auditor and Secretary of State also trail.  Mike Harmon leads incumbent Auditor Adam Edelen 39%-33%. Republican Steve Knipper leads Democratic SofS incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes 47%-42%.  The low-level of undecided voters in this race suggests Grimes engendered some hard feelings from voters due to her 2014 Senate run.  In the other open seat contests for Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner the Republican leads each by 9- it’s 41%-32% for Allison Ball over Rick Nelson and 40%-31% for Ryan Quarles over Jean-Marie Lawson Spann.

The high numbers of undecided voters in every race but the SofS contest suggest some fluidity.  The power of the state Democratic machine in the state should also not be underestimated.  It is guaranteed that Andy Beshear will drastically outspend his opponent as will Allison Grimes. But if Kentucky voters have had enough of Democratic control of the state at every executive level no amount of money will make a difference.

As reported by National Journal, Conway and Democrats are attempting to distance themselves from the national party on guns, gay marriage, abortion and most importantly, coal.  It is possible that it is now impossible for Democrats to run away from the administration.  If so, Obama’s administration will have destroyed another state Democratic party.  He’s become quite adept at it.

Addendum: The survey did test hypothetical 2016 Senate match-ups and found if Paul does not win the Presidency but does run for reelection he does fairly well.



Clinton Failing to Distance Herself From Obama

hillary_clinton_efeHillary Clinton is forging her own path to the White House.  And it diverges sharply from her husband’s 1992 strategy.  Then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton ran away from his party’s liberal positions and supported positions more likely to appeal to the nation’s middle and blue-collar electoral bloc-more cops on the street, traditional marriage, etc.  Hillary Clinton has a different strategy.  Move further to the left and embrace President Obama’s progressive agenda.  The only thing she opposes him on is free trade.

This is quite a shift from the Clinton plan of 07-08.  She and her team planned to win the White House by campaigning on pragmatic centrism and experience.  A young, upstart US Senator from Illinois made sure that ship sailed.  Now, Clinton has decided to gamble on the nation’s changing demographics and fully embrace virtually every progressive policy proposal brought forth of late (some championed by the same former Senator who beat her).

Last month Hillary embraced Comprehensive Immigration Reform aka “amnesty” for illegals.  She has hinted she supports debt free college though Bernie Sanders seems to have stolen that campaign point.  She full throatily endorsed abortion rights in her campaign rollout and has moved unequivocally leftward on gay marriage.

Such policy embraces have helped Hillary fully embrace Obama’s legacy.  Yet, short of support for not repealing the ACA the President’s legacy looks increasingly mixed.  Under the President the party has been decimated at the state and local level.  For example, for the first time since the late 1980’s the GOP controls the majority of local offices in dark blue California. While the ACA did pass and remains the President’s signature domestic policy achievement other major efforts have fallen flat.  The 2010 Dodd-Frank Bill has not prevented banks from continuing to acquire toxic assets, the Fed’s o% interest rate for years has hurt millions of Americans trying to save and the centralization of student loans has not prevented student debt from eclipsing $1 trillion.

Worse, the President’s legacy on foreign policy and economic performance is far from stellar.  Highlighting such a struggle was this year’s 1st quarter GDP  report which showed the economy shrunk 0.7%.  And while the unemployment rate has fallen under Obama’s tenure it has done so at an unsteady pace.  More importantly, average wages have barely budged since Obama took office.  This is an economic legacy Hillary will have to deal with.

On foreign policy Obama’s legacy was always tied to Clinton.  Her tenure as Secretary of State under the President ensured as much.  Since OBL was killed in 2010 the President has an abysmal record.  The attack on Benghazi was only the start in 2012.  Since that time the Syrian Civil War has created a humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS has weakened the Iraq government and fueled a secretarian conflict regionwide.  The latest, a nuclear deal with Iran, looks worse the more we learn about it.  At this point the deal seems to rely more on the Iranians words than ink on the contract.

These are all the things that Clinton will have to grapple with come 2016.  Not only that but she will also have to find a way to mobilize the Obama coalition without Obama being on the ticket.  If anything, the 2010 and 2014 midterms proved how much of a challenge that can be.  With Bernie Sanders pilfering progressive support from her in the primary she will likely come out the victor but pushed so far to the left any Republican candidate looks moderate by comparison.  This will further ensure Clinton has to rely on an unreliable majority-minority, upscale-downscale coalition to win the White House while Republicans will rely on winning blue-collar voters in key swing states.

All in all, considering Obama’s pitiful legacy, Hillary’s embrace of it and her far left policy positions I have to like the GOP’s chances.


Is Pennsylvania Winnable for the GOP in 2016?

8226985069_a93f51488f_bThey are known as “reach” states.  Every Presidential cycle Republicans and Democrats talk big about their chances in these states than back off or end up losing the states by campaign’s end.  For the GOP of late, no state personifies this better than Pennsylvania.  John McCain invested heavily in the state in 2008 and in 2012 Romney made a last week push to carry the red team over the finish line.  McCain lost by 10% and Romney by 5%.

Recent 2016 Presidential analysis has focused on how narrow the playing field is for the GOP.  In a May 7th column Larry Sabato of the Crystal ball wrote that “including leaning states Democrats start with an electoral base of 247 votes and the GOP a mere 206.”  Only Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada were true toss-ups.  But their analysis found Pennsylvania only leaning Democrat as opposed to being solidly blue.  The GOP optimist will point to this as a sign they can compete in Pennsylvania.  Democratic strategists largely shrug it off. And why not?  Democrats can afford to.

Since the 2004 election, when Bush was the strongest Republican Presidential nominee to run in the state since his dad carried it in 88, Democrats have locked down the state in terms of voter registration.  Between 2000 and 2014 the Democratic registration grew by over 650,000 voters.  Worse, the GOP was decimated all over the state in 2006 and 2008.  None of this paints a rosy picture for GOP chances in 2016.  But there is reason to believe the GOP has a shot in the state.  To understand why we must look at the state’s recent electoral history.

As mentioned above, H.W. was the last GOP Presidential nominee to carry the state (see map here).  When Bush ran in 2004 he largely mimicked the same map but lost by 3% instead of winning by 4%.  Why?  Because of a couple of factors.  First, when HW won he garnered 31% of the vote in Philly county.  His son, despite doing well among minorities, only managed a meager 17%.  Second, the suburbs have shifted blue.  Starting in the 1992 election the urban Collar Counties started to shift light blue and the trend has only accelerated.  These dense counties used to give the GOP a buffer when it came to covering their losses in Philly.  Now, they merely add to the Democratic vote column.

Such a shift highlights the fact the parties have switched coalitions since 1988.  The GOP historically won the state by winning rural, middle PA and the suburbs.  Democrats dominated Philly and Western PA.  But since 88 the GOP position in the suburbs and Philly has eroded but improved in urban and rural SE PA.  Democrats have gotten the better of the shift though.  Even though SW PA’s urban vote went GOP for the first time since 1972 the state was called early in the night.  Again, because of Democratic strength in SE PA.

The shift in SE PA cannot be understated in its impact on the state’s leaning.  In 1988, HW received 925,220 votes from SE PA while Dukakis received 862,891 (quote that to your friends).  Fast forward to 2012 and Romney received 878,491 to Obama’s 1,450,278 votes.  From the 88 election Democrats have picked up 587,387 votes and the GOP has lost over 46,000 votes.

Still, Republicans have proven they can win the state in midterms and Presidential years even amidst this shift.  For example, in 2000 Rick Santorum won the state by 7% even as Gore won the state by 4%.  In 2004, Arlen Specter won the state by 11% even as Kerry carried it by 2.5%.  Most recently, in the 2010 midterm, the GOP dominated statewide executive offices and captured party switcher Specter’s Senate seat.  They did it by running strongly in SE PA.  Santorum and Specter did not lose a single Collar County and Toomey only lost Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

So the tempting answer for the GOP to be competitive in the state is appeal to the suburbs.  But SE PA’s suburbs are dense and diverse so the GOP would also need to fix their issues with minority voters and women generally.  Such an occurrence is not likely in one election.  So there has to be another answer. Fortunately for the GOP there is.  It will be time intensive and cost-heavy but it could work for 2016.  It relates to George Carville’s famous statement “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle. Specifically, Alabama and Pittsburgh and it relates to voter registration.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, and the Census estimate of current voting-age population, there are more than 1.6 million such untapped voters residing in the state.  Only 14% of them reside in Philly or Pittsburgh, a testament to Democratic success in the state.  A solid majority, 62%-38%, reside in counties Romney won and a clear majority reside in the “Alabama” of the state.

Now, no deep analysis has been done on where these voters lean or their age, etc.  It would not be a stretch to argue though these predominately rural, white and older voters would lean Republican though. So shouldn’t resources be out into the effort?  And somebody is.  The 2015 Pennsylvania registration numbers show something not seen for almost a decade,;among new voter registrations, Republicans outnumber Democrats.

This might explain why GOP leaning groups have promised to invest in the state heavily in 2016.  There is also something else to consider.  Since 2000, no Republican nominee has put serious money into the state.  Bush in 04 spent most of his resources on Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida.  In 08 McCain abandoned the state.  In 2012, Romney invested far more in Wisconsin and Iowa than he did Pennsylvania.  He still managed to finish closer in the state than either of the latter.

All this points to how competitive Pennsylvania could be in 2016.  The GOP would be served by improving in the suburbs but they likely will struggle with that in the immediate future.  Better for the party to beat the Democrats at their own game; voter registration (as they have done in IA, OH and FL since 2012).  Winning Pennsylvania would be a huge financial effort for the GOP nominee but aid by third-party groups could make it happen.  If it does, the GOP map to the White House would get a lot wider.





New Pew Survey Hints At Why Immigration Divides The GOP

DREAM actWhile the Democratic divide over trade rages in Congress the GOP’s long simmering divides over foreign policy and cultural issues fester.  But one issue has divided the GOP like no other along virtually every line, ideology, class and age.  I speak of immigration, the issue the GOP is united on in vague policy details but little else.  A recent survey from Pew highlighted major fault lines in the divide.

Generally, the GOP is united around several ideas.  First, secure the border.  Second, allow highly skilled immigrants to enter the country first.  Third, don’t let illegals jump the line under “amnesty.”  But after these details the leanings of the GOP faithful are varied. You will find some GOP Senators and Representatives supportive of ideas like the DREAM Act or allowing illegals who serve in the military to get citizenship or permanent status.  Yet, other Republicans oppose these ideas.  Such opposition can partly be laid at the feet of  the GOP moving from a middle manager party in the suburbs to a fiscally diverse party with the influx of blue-collar, older voters into the party.  These voters, mostly white, hold views to the right of the nation on immigration related issues.

For the survey’s purposes blue-collar voters were defined as falling within a certain income level and lacking a college degree. A solid 45 percent of non-college Republican partisans (including independents who lean toward the party) said that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should not even be provided legal status. Only 28 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed. There also is a divide over citizenship. Most college-educated Republicans believe the estimated 11-million plus undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for permanent residency (35 percent) or citizenship (31 percent). Among non-college Republicans, a combined 51 percent said the undocumented should be allowed to apply for citizenship (30 percent) or legal status short of citizenship (21 percent).

Similarly, 45 percent of Republicans over 50, compared to only 36 percent of younger GOP partisans, think that the undocumented should not be provided any legal status. Just 25 percent of older Republicans, as opposed to 37 percent of the younger, say that the undocumented should be allowed to apply for citizenship.  In other words, younger GOP voters are more likely to favor a more liberal version of immigration reform.

Nationally, only 27 percent of all adults say the undocumented should be denied any legal status, while 42 percent said they should be able to apply for citizenship and 26 percent backed permanent residency.

The GOP divide on immigration extends far beyond the Southern border but also into legal immigration. Nationally, just 31 percent said that legal immigration should be reduced. Republican partisans who are either college-educated (at 30 percent supporting a reduction) and or younger than 50 (at 35 percent) largely tracked those views. But 42 percent of both Republicans without college degrees and those older than 50 want to reduce the legal immigration level.

The remaining non-college Republicans preferred to either maintain the current level of immigration (35 percent) or increase it (20 percent). By contrast, nearly two-thirds of college-educated Republicans would either maintain (42 percent) or increase (23 percent) current levels. Nationally, 24 percent of adults would increase legal immigration, while 39 percent would maintain the current level.

There is a marked contrast between the views of blue-collar Republicans, old/young Republicans and the general public on immigrants impacts on society. Over 51 percent of all adults agreed with the assessment “immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.” A minority, 41 percent, took the opposite view, agreeing with the statement, “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.”

College educated Republicans split with 38 percent endorsing the favorable statement and 49% the negative view.  But older, non college educated Republicans were even more negative.  Among non college educated Republicans a mere 29 percent supported the favorable statement compared to 62 percent the negative.  Among older Republicans over 50 the view was even more negative with only 23 percent endorsing immigrants strengthening America and 67 percent being a burden.  By contrast, over 3/4ths of Latinos, almost two-thirds of Millennials, 60+ percent of college educated adults and 55 percent of blacks believed immigrants benefit society.

These views have a profound impact on how the GOP approaches the issue.  More immediately, it is shaping the policy positions GOP Presidential contenders are taking on the issue.  For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee have hinted they might be open to reducing legal immigration.  Less hinting and more open about it is Rick Santorum.  Santorum has called for reducing legal immigration from 25 to 50 percent.  Yet other Republicans have taken a less restrictive approach to the issue.  Marco Rubio is against capping legal immigration and Jeb Bush is forcefully against such an idea.  Unsurprisingly, these views will appeal to different kinds of Republican primary voters.

The salience of the immigration issue in the GOP primary is unclear.  With a muddled field none of the GOP contenders have had to discuss the issue to a great degree.  This gives the ultimate GOP nominee a chance to position themselves to the middle of their party on the issue and perhaps win minority voters.  But, the threat is real a Santorum could pull the winner to the right and force the GOP nominee to try to win largely on the force of the white vote (didn’t work out so well in 2012).

Ultimately, the survey reveals deep schisms within the GOP not just on illegal but also legal immigration.  The GOP nominee will need to be able to find a satisfying middle ground to appeal to the party faithful and an increasingly diverse electorate.