The Democratic Party Continues to Tilt to the Left

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney smiles at a comment as he is introduced to supporters in Philadelphia's City Hall's Mayor's Reception Room February 4, 2015 where he announced his candidacy for mayor.  ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney smiles at a comment as he is introduced to supporters in Philadelphia’s City Hall’s Mayor’s Reception Room February 4, 2015 where he announced his candidacy for mayor. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

Hillary Clinton’s shift to the Left continues unabated and two recent events showcase why.  Late last week Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a progressive dream of making public colleges free for all.  The Clinton camp knew this was coming and had already hinted they might support some kind of free college.  But Sander’s full-fledged avocation of the issue shows he is trying to out-left Hillary.

Another event occurred that likely slipped under the radar for many.  On Tuesday, Democratic Jim Kenney won his party’s mayoral primary in Philadelphia.  He faced off against Anthony Hardy Williams, a supporter of charter schools and fiscally “smarter” policies.  Hardy, not exactly a centrist by any stretch, dominated the monetary aspect of the race, spending over $7 million to defeat Kenney.  But Kenney, endorsed by progressive superheros Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio won with 56% of the vote.

While the media tends to downplay there is a rift in the Democratic Party it is clear a rift exists.  And it could be characterized as starting after Obama’s 2012 win.  It is said as soon as a President wins a second term he becomes a lame duck.  True or not Obama’s lack of signature accomplishments in the first two years of his second term angered progressives because they believed he was appeasing red-state Democrats and being squishy on progressive priorities.

Democratic losses in 2014 only added fuel to the fire.  Many moderate, red state Democrats were defeated in the Senate and only five House Democrats now sit in districts that voted for Mitt Romney.  This perhaps irreparably shifted the balance of power in the party to the Progressive Left.  Since 2014 the Progressive Left has staked out policy and electoral turf.  The battle in Chicago that made former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have to go into a run-off to hold the Mayor’s office stands as one example.  The more recent policy example was a solid majority of the Democratic Senate Caucus voting against the Obama endorsed Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.

Consider this, Democratic efforts to find more centrist,traditionally liberal candidates to run for political office has resulted in some backfires.  The GOP learned such lessons the hard way in 2010 (Nevada, Colorado) and 2012 (Indiana).  Democratic attempts to clear the Senate field in Ohio have failed with Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld refusing to bow out against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.  In Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto,  and Florida, Congressman Chris Murphy, the party’s anointed nominees have not scared off more progressives like Dina Titus (NV) and Alan Grayson (FL).

It’s little surprise the Democratic Party is moving to the left.  Jim Kenney’s pollster, Anna Greenburg, states fact when she says “The energy in the Democratic Party is on the left.  It’s coming from the urban centers, and that’s where Democratic votes come from.”  Thus, it is little surprise progressives and their candidates feel they can move the party leftward as more rural and suburban voters leave the party.

This poses significant problems for the party.  The establishment realizes it while the Progressive wing does not.   Ideas like expanding school choice are popular among some elements of the Democratic Party.  Progressives have largely battled mayors like Emanuel and now Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey (former mayor of Newark) for trying to expand school choice.  Also, Progressives are far more likely to go all in on taxes for a greater welfare state and free college.  But this idea might upset Democrats topsy-turvy alliance with affluent suburban voters turned off by the GOP’s stances on immigration and social issues.

Regardless, it is clear the energy is towards the Progressives as the end of the Obama era nears.  The Clinton camp knows it and has backpedaled on former, more moderate policy positions in favor of more progressive ones to court this ascendant wing of the party.  Course, Democrats may never be able to hold onto the Senate or retake the House for a decade but as Democratic leaders are learning (as the GOP did) ideological purity trumps electoral victory to true believers.


A Wide Open Presidential Field Benefits Republicans

From left to right: Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker

From left to right: Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker

A recent poll came out finding the GOP is satisfied with their Presidential field.  More-so, GOP voters seem to want a primary where policies and ideas can be hashed out.  But, you would be forgiven if you are scratching your head when you hear analysts and talking heads going on about how it is bad for the party to have a wide-open field.  “It causes debate headaches,” “You get fringe candidates” and “Anybody can win” are common refrains. Or as the Washington Post’s residential liberal Dana Milbank called it, “The GOP Clown-car.”  But, after 2012 the GOP should welcome a more wide open primary.

In 2012 the primary results were never in doubt.  But because the base never fully embraced the party’s inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney, he was forced to embrace policies pleasing to the base but displeasing to the general electorate.  Further, owing to his background, Romney was never embraced by the party faithful and turnout in rural areas in key states was stagnant.

This go around there is somebody in the primary every Republican can be pleased with.  You have Romneylike moderates in Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.  You have establishment conservatives in Rubio and Walker.  Evangelicals and very conservative voters can get behind a host of candidates including Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  Libertarians can like Rand Paul.

At first glance such a wide and divided field might seem to be a hindrance for the party.  It is certainly proving troublesome for the RNC in managing debates.  But it also gives the party a chance to show the breath and diversity of its support through its candidates and give the base somebody to support in the nomination process.  Consider that Carly Fiorina is the CEO of HP.  Ben Carson is best known for being from urban Detroit and becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon.  These two by themselves put to bed the myth the GOP is only the party of white men.

It goes deeper than this however.  Rick Santorum can speak to the concerns of struggling blue-collar workers feeling like they are being left behind.  Marco Rubio can speak to the greatness of the US and recall a bygone era where immigrants came to this country to assimilate and be successful.  Scott Walker can tout his efforts in Wisconsin where his policy solutions convinced a moderate electorate that conservative policies work.  In essence, a wide GOP field gives everybody something.

I remember an email conversation I was having with my family about a month back.  I chimed in that a Ted Cruz candidacy was damaging to the GOP.  But my brother had an excellent point.  Even though Cruz might not win and he might alienate some left of center moderates in the general he would engage conservative voters by speaking to their concerns.  Thus, voters engaged in the process would be more likely to go out and vote in the general.  Extend this to a Mike Huckabee with social conservatives or Santorum with blue-collar workers and his point is well made.

Contrast this with the Democrats go big or go home strategy with Hillary.  The party literally has nobody waiting in the wings.  Left wing populist challenges from Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (a self-described socialist), former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are unlikely to dent Clinton.

But it is perhaps because of the lack of competition that Hillary has suffered.  Beyond the unethical accusations that mount daily against her she has released few policy positions and avoided the media.  Heck, Bernie Sanders has done more interviews than she has.  The only policies Hillary as laid out are vague and base pleasers. amnesty and college loan debt forgiveness.  She’s staked out leftist positions on issues she was more conservative on (sentencing reform 1994 to now and Immigration Reform 2006 to now).

GOP candidates by contrast have started laying out far more detailed policy positions.  Rand Paul has put out a detailed policy on reforming police departments and drug penalties.  Marco Rubio recently laid out his foreign policy vision.  Jeb Bush put out a detailed plan to end social mobility and lift people out of poverty.

None of this guarantees the GOP will win the Presidency and an unelectable candidate could come out of the GOP primary.  But whereas Democrats are stuck with one option the GOP has a plentiful bounty and combined they all speak to disparate segments of the party.  That has to be considered a major boon for any party in any Presidential race.






Russ Feingold Is In And Wisconsin Turns Into A Senate Battleground

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. speaks in Middleton, Wis. Does Feingold want his old job in the Senate back? The State Department said Friday that the former three-term Democratic senator from Wisconsin is leaving his post as a special envoy in Africa next month. And it just so happens that the man who ousted Feingold from the Senate in 2010, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, is up for re-election next year.  (AP Photo/Joe Koshollek, File) ORG XMIT: WX114

FILE – In this Nov. 2, 2010 file photo, then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. speaks in Middleton, Wis. Does Feingold want his old job in the Senate back? The State Department said Friday that the former three-term Democratic senator from Wisconsin is leaving his post as a special envoy in Africa next month. And it just so happens that the man who ousted Feingold from the Senate in 2010, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, is up for re-election next year. (AP Photo/Joe Koshollek, File) ORG XMIT: WX114

To assess the state of the race at this early stage and Feingold’s viability we must look at his past performances.  First elected in 1992 Feingold was the beneficiary of the GOP putting up a weak candidate.  He was also helped by Bill Clinton’s 5% victory in the state.  Feingold carried it by 6%.  In 1998, Feingold faced a serious challenge from then Congressman Mark Nuemann.  He won by less than 2%.  Feingold’s best showing by far came in 2004 when he faced a weak GOP opponent.  Feingold won with 55% even as John Kerry barely carried the state by 11,000 votes.

Fast forward to 2010 however and a bad political climate for Democrats and Feingold turned into toast.  His weaknesses with voters in prior campaigns were made clear and he lost by almost 5%.  Just what are these weaknesses?  Let’s explore shall we.

First off, Democratic strength in the state is largely based on two counties, Dane and Milwaukee.  Feingold’s strength in all his campaigns has been no different.  But while these two counties are strong for Democrats the rest of SE Wisconsin (Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee) are strong GOP areas.  Balancing out Dane County is GOP strength in the NE part of the state which is covered by the Green Bay media market (Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties.

The swing area of the state is the Northwest.  These counties are made up of largely rural and moderate voters.  In both 1998 and 2010 Feingold struggled among rural voters in the Northwest and suburban voters in the Northeast.  Indeed, Feingold won only four counties in the NE in 2010 compared to Obama’s carrying of all but three counties in the region.  Feingold will have to perform much more strongly with these voters in 2016 to win.

Feingold’s 2010 campaign underscored another weakness.  He is a poor campaigner.  In 1992 and 2004 this factor was kept to a minimum against weak challengers.  But in 1998 and 201o it was laid bare.  In the 2010 campaign Feingold refused to take money from SuperPAC’s and allowed himself to be overwhelmed with Johnson’s and outside groups spending.  He also struggled to find an effective message on the stump and constantly found himself defending his record instead of using it to his advantage.  Come 2016 Feingold needs to find a reason why he should be brought back for another term.

The last point is one Feingold can do little about.  There is not much about Feingold to get excited about for the party base.  He’s a white male and a career politician and even his crusade on campaign finance is unlikely to change such an image.  In 2010 he was raked over the coals with this attack line and he didn’t respond.

Fortunately for Feingold he does have some things going for him.  He starts the race with excellent name identification numbers as well as strong favorability ratings.  Second, he leads Johnson in early polls.  Third, presidential turnout in the state since 2004 has aided the party more than in midterm cycles recently.  Lastly, he seems to have learned from his mistakes and is willing to take outside money.

But learning from past mistakes and early polling leads does not guarantee victory.  Johnson has recently ramped up his fundraising and is raising his profile on national security in a bid to appeal to moderates.  Feingold will need to find a way to counter this and make the narrative of the race about the incumbent and not him.


Kentucky Gubernatorial Race is Wide Open

Matt Bevin on the stump.

Matt Bevin on the stump.

Few competitive gubernatorial elections occur the year before the Presidential season kicks off.  But the most competitive of the batch (Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana) has consistently been Kentucky.  Since 2003 in Louisiana and 2007 in Mississippi the states have taken hard right turns at all levels of governance.  In 2014 the GOP took control of West Virginia’s state legislature and the open governor’s race this year could finally fall into the party’s hands.

Kentucky has not followed such a trend.  Despite having a strong Republican lean at the federal level the state has had a Democratic Governor for 36 of the last 40 years.  The Democratic Party also maintains a slim 6 seat majority in the state house (53-47).  Further, Democrats control all statewide executive offices except Agricultural Commissioner.  Kentucky Democrats have done this by emphasizing their rural roots and distancing themselves successfully from their party’s progressive heavy national brand.  Something Democrats running for federal office in the state have been unable to do (sorry, Allison Lundgrin Grimes).

Still, Republicans remain optimistic 2015 could be their year to reclaim the Governor’s mansion.  Popular Democratic Governor Steven Beshear is retiring and the Democrat likely to replace him is current AG Jack Conway.  Conway is best known for his 12% loss to Rand Paul for the then Senator Jim Bunning’s seat in 2010.  Conway seems to have learned his lesson from the loss and has changed his tone and tactics for a gubernatorial contest.  He is emphasizing his state roots and is courting the state’s socially conservative electorate by deemphasizing his support for abortion and emphasizing his opposition to gay marriage (a flip from 2010 when he supported it).

The GOP field is muddled.  Officially four candidates are in the GOP primary; James Comer, Hal Heiner, Matt Bevin and Will Scott.  However, Comer, Bevin and Heiner are the only three viable candidates and they are neck and neck in the GOP primary.  Comer, the state’s Agricultural Commissioner, was originally the front-runner but allegations from his ex-girlfriend that he abused her when they were in college decades earlier (stop me if you’ve heard this before) have hurt him.  Now, Louisville businessman Hal Heiner and 2014 GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin have gained.  Heiner appeals more to the business community and has aided in splitting Comer’s support while Bevin retains the support of the grassroots and Tea Party.

Who wins the GOP primary next Tuesday could depend on their bases of support and turnout. A recent WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found Bevin (27%), Comer (26%), and Heiner (25%) in a statistical dead heat.  But their regional support strongly varied.  Comer led by 15% in the rural Southwest while tying Heiner in the Southeast.  Bevin lead by 17% in the Northcentral region of the state while Heiner led by 6% in the Louisville area.

By far the two largest voting areas in recent GOP primaries (2010, 2011, 2014) have been the Louisville and Northcentral region.  Turnout in the Southeast is sporadic and weak while the Southwest is little better.  In other words, Bevin’s lead regionally could carry him through to the general.  However, if Heiner’s lead is actually larger in Louisville than the Bluegrass poll suggests he could easily win with 30% of the total vote.  Bevin also suffers a question mark in the poll because his support is primarily young yet primary voters have historically been older.

Whichever GOP nominee makes it out of the primary will face a tough climb in the general despite the state’s conservative lean.  Conway leads all possible GOP challengers by varying margins.  He leads Comer 45%-39%, Heiner 48%-36% and Bevin 48%-37%.  This seems to be more of a reflection of the nastiness of the GOP primary and Conway largely cruising through an uncontested primary of his own.

Conway can virtually be assured of victory if he maintains support in the areas that Beshear and former Democrats have held, the Northcentral region and urban Louisville.  Northcentral Kentucky has ever so steadily been becoming more Republican at the federal level.  In 2008 and 2012 Obama carried a total of five counties in the region (including Fayette).  In 2010, Conway actually carried the region against Paul.  But fast forward to the 2014 Senate contest and Grimes performed significantly worse than Conway.  The parallels between the two candidates are striking.  Both were sitting statewide officials in largely nonpartisan offices.  Yet, voters in the region shifted their partisan preferences significantly.

However, these were federal elections.  Statewide elections are a different matter and Beshear’s legacy of social conservatism and fiscal moderation will likely benefit Conway.  GOP strength at the state level has varied since 2003 (last time they won the governorship).  That year the GOP found a winning formula by overcoming Democratic margins in Louisville and the Northcentral/Northeast by running strongly in the Southwest.  Whoever makes it out of the GOP primary Tuesday will need to do the same or find a way to make inroads among local Democrats in the Northcentral region.


Addendum: A follow-up post will be written before the November election.

Count Me As Skeptical Joe Heck Can Win Harry Reid’s Senate Seat

Joe-Heck-NevadaThe announcement Harry Reid would not run for reelection shook up the Nevada political landscape.  Now, another possible announcement threatens to upend it even further.  Since Harry Reid’s announcement, Congressman Joe Heck (R) has announced he is reconsidering his prior statement he would run for reelection in the competitive Las Vegas suburbs based 3rd Congressional District.

Heck has run strongly in the district.  When he was first elected in 2010 he won the district by a narrow 1800 votes over Congresswoman Dina Titus.  Titus, who now represents the urban Las Vegas based 1st Congressional District is contemplating running for Senate.  When Obama was carrying the district in 2012 and after redistricting meant Heck had to introduce himself to new voters he carried it by 7%.  In 2014 he won it by a large 24% margin.

But for all of Heck’s strengths the Congressman probably does not stand much of a chance in a statewide Senate race.  First off, Heck is likely to face a primary from the right if he runs.  One Republican is already in the race, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers while others including state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, former state Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, who served as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, and Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison have indicated varying degrees of interest.  However, Roberson might run for Heck’s vacant seat while Hutchinson and Gansert might defer to Heck to unite the party.

Second, Heck will be running statewide for the first time and have to introduce himself to a statewide electorate.  Though he benefits from living in the suburban 3rd CD he will still need to introduce himself to a wide swath of voters.  Thirdly and this is the biggie is Heck will be running against the Reid machine.  The potential impact of the Reid machine cannot be overstated as it allowed the former Majority Leader to survive strong challenges in 1998 (John Ensign) and 2010 (Sharron Angle).

Heck could be aided by a Democratic primary if it develops.   Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto jumped into the race as soon as Reid said he was not running but that has not stopped Titus from contemplating a bid.  In a clash of those two heavyweights Heck could wait it out exploit whatever damage is done to the eventual Democratic nominee.

Whatever happens Heck will likely need some luck to be on his side.  His appeal to Latinos is likely to be limited and by extension his ability to win cross-over voters.  Secondly, Heck will need the ultimate GOP Presidential nominee to run well in Nevada to give the Congressman a chance.  Fewer and fewer voters today are splitting their ballots in federal races.

Add it all together and I am skeptical Heck can win if he runs.  This assumes he runs as the 800 pound elephant in the room has yet to announce his intentions, Governor Brian Sandoval.  No Republican would command such a strong presence than the Governor.


Democrats Quest to Retake the House Begins in the Courtroom

VirginiaGerrymander_RedMarkerHouse Democrats reeling from big losses in 2010 and 2014 are turning to an unexpected source to return to relevance; the courts.  Democrats believe they have already scored a victory in Virginia where a district court gave the legislature until September 1st to redraw the state’s Congressional maps (apparently state legislative seats are cool though).  The case is pending on appeal however.

Elsewhere, more cases are pending.  In Alabama, the state Democratic Party and NAACP have alleged state and Congressional lines were drawn to minimize the impact of black voters.  In Florida, Democrats argue the GOP’s 2011 redistricting map violates the state’s 2010 Constitutional Amendment banning lines be drawn based on partisanship.  Ironically, the Congressional Black Caucus and NAACP have sided with state Republicans for fear any new lines could eliminate  majority-black Congressional districts.

Adding another wrinkle to the debate is a lawsuit before the Supreme Court brought by the Arizona GOP.  The lawsuit argues that only state legislatures can draw district lines.  The 2011 citizen redistricting commission drawn map angered AZ Republicans because it eliminated two safe Republican districts and created a new safe Democratic district.  If the Supreme Court rules in favor of AZ GOP it would make every nonpartisan redistricting commission nationwide illegal and have repercussions for the balance of power in the House significantly.

Yet, some argue differently. “We’re only talking about fiddling around the margins here,” said Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert at the University of Florida who served as an expert witness in the Virginia lawsuit.  But this ignores the legal precedent set by such a ruling.  And it would make GOP dominance of state legislatures, a result of 2010 and 2014, even more significant.  The Supreme Court has already established through cases in TX and Georgia that mid-decade redistricting is legal if it takes into account prior legal requirements( population, compactness, compliance with the VRA).

Both parties stand to benefit from overturning of the Citizen Commissions in AZ.  Democrats in California could draw more heavily Hispanic precincts into districts represented by few Republicans.  Even though Democrats have a 39-14 advantage in the state House delegation those numbers could move further blue if the strongly California state legislature had a chance to redraw the lines.

Until recently both parties were fine with racially based district lines because both believed it benefited them.  Democrats supported these districts because it gave them safe, minority-majority districts.  Republicans favored past lines because it drew majority districts that either elected white conservative Democrats or conservative Republicans (the latter occurring more of late).

The primary lesson Democrats have taken away from the 2010 GOP wave that dominated legislative and state executive offices is they need to invest more in these races.  But even though the party did in 2014 it made little difference.  The GOP took control of blue governorships in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts and swung legislative chambers their way across the nation.  Democrats may now figure it is safer to fight in the courts than electorally.

Still, Democrats will take whatever help they can get.  Even if they only gain a few seats out of cases in Florida and Virginia they will take the help.  Democrats openly acknowledge even if everything goes their way in the courts they will still need to wait until the 2018 midterms when the majority of governorships and legislatures are up and 2020 (more governorships and legislatures) to gain enough power to draw a significant number of district lines in the coming decade.

Republicans scoff at the notion that their majority will be adversely impacted due to court decisions.  The Supreme Court has largely stayed out of district line arguments.  The court most recently told state courts in Alabama and North Carolina they erred in their decisions overturning prior maps but only because those courts wrongly interpreted prior Supreme Court precedents.  This means those states district lines could still be overturned.  If they are one can easily expect Republicans to appeal and we may finally get a significant Supreme Court weigh in on the topic.

Addendum: The above of course assumes the Supreme Court does not side with the AZ state GOP in their lawsuit.

Addendum 2: It is unclear what impact the SCOTUS overturning Section V of the VRA has had on this debate.  This may have made states more likely to draw lines based on race but also lower courts more likely to try to mitigate the ability of states to do so.

The Election is Over: What’s Next for the UK?

Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP, represents  perhaps the UK's greatest struggle yet to survive.

Nicola Sturgeon, head of the SNP, represents perhaps the UK’s greatest struggle yet to survive.

The Conservatives commanding victory in England speaks to the cultural appeal they have with with ethnic English voters.  The SNP’s dominating performance in Scotland is a reaffirmation that Scotland wants to retain its nationalist heritage.  Labour and the LDP’s poor showings show just how damaged their brands are. But 2015’s election results also signify something else; the UK as we know it is dying.  It didn’t happen overnight and neither will it fall apart overnight.  For the UK to survive it must undergo some deep soul-searching about where it wants to go amid changing demographics and the cultural/political shocks it is causing.

To understand what has happened to the UK we must look back at what has transpired in recent years.   The modern governmental apparatus of the UK was formed in 1707 with the first Acts of the Union which eliminated the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland and created one Parliament to be based in London.  Scotland assented largely because of the large number of MPs they could have in Parliament (45) and the benefits of free trade with England.  The first Acts of the Union was followed by a second in 1800 that united the UK with the Kingdom of Ireland.

However, many Catholic Irish resented the union and from 1916-1921 violence broke out between UK troops and the Irish.  Seeking to avoid a war the UK Parliament opted to allow a vote of Independence for Ireland.  Majority Catholic Ireland opted out while Protestant heavy Northern Ireland decided to stay with the UK for religious and cultural reasons.

This past is present today.  The total control governments have enjoyed in Parliament have led them to make decisions that have alienated members of the United Kingdom.  Discovery of oil in the Bering Sea near Scotland allowed for the UK to reap significant benefits.  But many Scots felt they should have reaped more.  More importantly, lack of representation and political power have meant that UK members like Scotland have had to forge nationalistic identities to stay relevant.

In Northern Ireland this took the form of various versions of the IRA-but also an extension of the dislike Irish Catholics had for Irish Protestants and vice-versa.  In Scotland, while not exactly as violent or vocal as Ireland, Scots have harbored a simmering resentment for governments in Parliament.

This is especially pertinent when one considers the Deevolution of Powers under Labor Party leader Tony Blair gave more to Ireland than Scotland.  Sure, Scotland gained the ability to form a regional council but that council lacks even the most basic function of American states; the ability to raise revenue and thus set a budget of their choosing. Instead, both Scottish and Irish parliaments get to set budgets on revenue sent to them by the UK Parliament.

Clamoring for more local control is not a new phenomenon in the UK.  In the 1950’s, today virulently anti-Tory had a majority of Conservative representing its constituencies because Conservatives called for more local control.  That situation switched around with the 1980’s and Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher is often heralded as the Tory’s greatest leader in not just England but also the US.  Sharing the stage with Ronald Reagan and confronting the evil that was the USSR probably helped solidify this image here in the US.  But not all pockets of the UK loved the Iron lady.  Thatcher might have loved deregulation but her government sure was centralized.  During her tenure her party’s tone on local autonomy and control shifted and as a result Irish and Scottish Nationalists rejected the Conservative Party in droves.  Conservatives have largely been banished from Ireland and Scotland since.

Tony Blair’s promise of devolution was the largest plug of his campaign and it allowed a disheveled Labour Party to reintroduce itself to voters in the UK.  The Good Friday Agreement in Belfast in 1998 under Blair formed the framework for giving Northern Ireland its own Parliament on the caveat the violence between Irish Catholics and Protestants end.  In Scotland, a 1997 Referendum asking voters if they wanted to create a Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly passed.  In 1998, Parliament passed the Scotland Act of 1998 allowing such an act.  But there were limits to the power regional parliaments had.  The biggest being able to exercise the ability to raise revenue and spend it accordingly.

Meanwhile, devolution for England has not occurred.  By far the largest and most powerful political body in the UK it enjoys the least control of its own power.  This can be summed up by the West Lothian question which posits that devolution for Scotland and Wales without devolution for England, has created a situation where MPs in the British parliament, including Welsh and Scottish MPs, can vote on matters affecting England alone but on those same matters Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can make their own decisions.

Such a criticism is not without merits.  However, considering a solid majority of MPs in any Parliament hail from England the issue of devolution has had less impact.  However, a Commission to study the West Lothian question was created in 2012.  Their findings pleased nobody when they were released in 2013.  The McKay Report as it was called suggested English only laws needed a majority of English Constituency members support and this should be enshrined in a resolution. But such an idea, a resolution, does not have the force of law and a ruling government could ignore it at any time.

Devolution in Scotland has satisfied few critics.  Resentment in Scotland grew to historic proportions in 2014 when a Referendum of Independence was placed on the ballot.  With over 80% turnout, 55% of Scottish voters opted to stay in the UK.  But any hope this would minimize Scottish nationalistic sentiment has been dashed by 2015. The massive margins in total votes and seats the SNP just garnered in Scotland tells a tale of a people unsure of the future but wanting representation that knows them.  Indeed, the SNP basically pitched its entire campaign platform on being the party that understands Scotland.

But 2015’s impacts don’t end there.  The Conservative majority now rests on almost total domination of England.  This almost makes them an England First party in the eyes of voters elsewhere in the UK.  Yet, it is almost assured Cameron will have to do something to address the Scottish situation.

Whatever Cameron does he will have to do it soon.  The SNP has all but made clear it has no problem with Scotland becoming an Independent State.  Worse for Cameron is trouble is brewing among his own party faithful.  UKIP’s 12% of the vote came predominately from England and it represents an anti-EU nationalistic sentiment.  Cameron is no friend of the EU but he recognizes the benefits the UK has if they stay in the EU.

There are no good options for Cameron.  Either he can recognize more power for Scotland and England or one and the other or he can watch the UK come crumbling down around him.  This all but assures Cameron’s government will be consumed with trying to hold the UK together.  Even though by now it may all but be impossible.



How About Those British Elections?

cameron-tories-slash-benefitsWhat follows below is a brief description of the UK election results.  Most of this is taken from assorted websites and the like.  The second piece, soon to follow, will focus much more on the issues impacting the UK and what the election results and Conservative victory portend for the UK.

The UK’s election results were supposed to represent a public unhappy with every party.  Polls on the eve of the election had Labor and the Conservatives neck and neck with the LDP a distant third.  UKIP, a nationalist party offshoot of the Conservative Party was in fourth.  The irrelevant Scottish Nationalist Party in fifth.

Well, the results are in and the biggest result is the polls were wrong.  Below is a brief snapshot of what happened to the five major players in the election and a sixth category for the Green Party and regional players.  Enjoy.

SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party): On the eve of the election nobody could have predicted the results in Scotland.  Scotland, a Labour and LDP stronghold was expected to be tough for both parties.  The region’s 59 constituneices were split between 41 for Labour, 11 for the LDP, a mere six for the SNP and 1 Conservative constituency.  The SNP, representing Scottish national sentiment was garnering support with a Scotland First message.  But nobody could have imagined the carnage.

The first sign of the carnage was the BBC’s exit poll that found SNP gaining an unimaginable 58 seats.  All in Scotland.  Labour and LDP leaders dismissed the exit poll.  But it proved to be eerily accurate.  SNP gained a whopping 50 seats, capitalizing on nationalistic sentiment left over from the 2014 Independence Referendum.  When the dust settled the SNP had 56 seats in the region while Labour had 1 (-40 seats), LDP 1 (-10) and the Conservatives held their lone constituency.  This now means the SNP is a major player in UK politics but other results ensure they are locked out of the halls of power in Parliament.

Labour: Labour was buoyant heading into the election.  Despite the weakness of their leader, Ed, Millibrand, the party believed it had wounded the LDP-Conservative government enough to win a hung parliament. Instead, two events occurred to conspire against them.

The first was the destruction of their contingent in the Scotland.  The second was their inability to make major gains around London and Southeast England.  Labor gained seven seats in the London area bringing their total to 45 but it came from a weakened LDP Party and Conservatives lost only a single seat.  These seven seats did little to help Labor buttress their losses in Scotland or the Southeast (-4).

Liberal Democrats Party: If there was one party that had the worst election outcomes of the night it was the LDP party.  A center-left party with an American ideological equivalent of a Blue Dog Democrat the party is now as relevant as Blue Dog Democrats.  Crushing losses UK wide sent their membership tumbling from 57 to 8.

It was not supposed to be this way.  The LDP, founded in 1992, believed it had finally found a way to power with the formation of a Coalition Government with the Conservative plurality 2010.  Instead, they sullied their brand.  Tied to a Conservative Government the LDP was forced to sign off on a number of unpopular austerity measures including tax cuts for the wealthy and domestic spending cuts.  The LDP, a party founded on being fiscally moderate but socially diverse could not keep up pretenses.  As a result, they were decimated in Scotland (-10), wiped out around London (-6) and eliminated in Southeast England (-4).  Indeed, 8 total constituencies is the fewest the party has held since its creation in 1992.  That year the LDP captured 20 constituencies.

Conservatives: The biggest winners of the night by far were the Conservatives.  Despite capturing only 37% of the vote they managed to win 51% of all Constituencies and gain enough seats to form a Majority Government, marginalizing the SNP and Labour.

How Conservatives accomplished such a feat when you consider what has arrayed against them.  First, polls showed the public split on the election.  Second, UKIP was promising to pilfer their most conservative voters.  Third, the austerity programs the Conservative Government had instituted were unpopular nationwide.  However, the destruction of the LDP in England sent some of their voters the Tories way.

The Conservatives gained a total of 29 seats, almost all coming from England (+21).  The party also managed to hold a surprising number of its marginal seats and gain several seats from the severely weakened LDP.  But with victory now comes power and the Conservative government will need to decide soon what to do with Scotland (more on this later).

UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party): From a vote standpoint the anti-EU party had a great night. They won over 12% of the popular vote.  But due to the Single Member District system the UK bases its elections on the party becomes only a single constituency party.  Further, the party’s leader, Nigel Farage, lost his constituency to the Conservative candidate.

With a single seat UKIP remains irrelevant in the halls of Parliament.  But it’s 12% showing in the popular vote shows the party has a base of support to build on.  Considering most of its support came from 2010 LDP voters swinging their way UKIP  must now find a way to court Conservative voters who do not share their anti-EU views.

Other: Other parties scored some successes.  The Green Party held its single constituency and scored several second place finishes.  Other regional parties held serve or pretty close in Ireland and Wales.

Summary: The UK’s election results must simultaneously thrill the new Conservative government and fill them with dread.  The new Conservative Government will now have to tackle solo a nagging recession, ethnic tensions and brewing nationalistic sentiment not just in Scotland but Wales and Ireland as well.  In short, David Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister is about to get a lot rockier than it was under his Coalition Government.


The 2016 Electoral College Map Looks a Lot Like 2012, Maybe

ElectoralCollege2012.svgAmerica’s modern day Presidential elections look nothing like what they once did in the past.  In 1960, 20 of 50 states were decided by less than 5% points.  The same phenomenon occurred in 1976.  We really don’t have many elections like 1960 and 1976 anymore.  In fact, starting with 1988 the electoral map started to contract.  This would be the last time the GOP would ever carry electoral rich California and the first time they would lose New York state since 1976.

Since 2000, 40 of states have voted for the same party’s candidate in every election.  Further examination of these results suggest some state contests were fluky at best.  New Mexico went for Gore in 2000 but narrowly swung to Bush in 2004.  Indiana and North Carolina, states that swung to Obama in 2008, have since returned to their solidly Republican roots.  Other close calls abound.  In 2004 Bush won Iowa by less than 1% but since then the state has been Democratic by over 5%.  Wisconsin, once a solid battleground in 2000 and 2004, went for Obama by 14% and 6% in 08 and 012.

This leaves just seven true swing states when fundamentals are discounted; Nevada, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire.  Not all of these seven swing states are fully equal shots for either party however.  Nevada and Colorado’s burgeoning Hispanic population gives Democrats an edge but their turnout rates give the GOP a chance if they perform strongly with whites.  Ohio and Florida have traditionally been more Republican than the nation as a whole exemplified by Obama winning 4% nationwide in 2012 but winning Ohio by a mere 2% and Florida by less than 1%.

Iowa and New Hampshire have supported Democrats three times since 2000.  But this was before many of both states blue collar voters really soured on Democrats.  Lastly, we come to Virginia.  Solidly Republican in 2000 (52%) and 2004 (53.5%) the state swung to Democrats in both 2008 and 2012.  However, in both elections the state almost perfectly mirrored the national vote.  Obama won by 7% nationwide and Virginia by 6% in 08.  Obama won by 4% nationally in 012 and Virginia by 3.88%.

If one were to only count these seven states as the true contests in 2016 Democrats would start out with 247 electoral votes to the GOP’s 206.  In essence, due to past elections Democrats would have an edge to retain the White House in 2016.  But the past is usually not a good predictor of future elections.  For example, Democratic romps in 2006 and 2008 did nothing to predict the GOP wave of 2010.  Obama’s victory in 2012 should have signified anything but a GOP resurgence in 2014.  At a state level, Bush’s solid victories in Virginia in 2000 and 2004 should have meant the party could easily hold the state.  Wisconsin’s razor-thin margins in the same years should have meant it was on the map in 2008.

Still, if everything held steady and the above seven states were the only contested states in America all Democrats would need to do is stitch together 22 more electoral votes.  Winning Iowa, Nevada and Colorado would get them to 269 and winning Ohio or Florida would certainly signify doom for the GOP candidate.  Republicans on the other hand would need to find a way to get 64 electoral votes together.  Ohio and Florida would only give them 45 meaning they would still need to sweep some of the smaller states.

But, again, this assumes no states switch hands in 2016 and that is far from certain.  It is quite possible the electoral map could actually enlarge in 2016.  Demographic and cultural shifts hinted at by the 2010 and 2012 elections hit full force in 2014.  Despite the blue wall holding in 2012 it crumpled in 2014.  And recent Democratic successes in CO and NV in recent years were set back by 2014.  This is not to say these states will suddenly go red in 2016.  A lot depends on the candidates, external events and the themes both parties wage their electoral battle over.  Rather, the recent electoral maps we have seen might indicate the end of an era’s electoral map and the beginning of a new one.

If one looks and analyzes enough they can see subtle hints.  The continual shifting among rural and suburban whites in the Midwest to the GOP.  The unsteady Hispanic turnout in Western states.  The continued migratory patterns of blue state residents into Virginia and North Carolina.  Come 2016 we could very easily see a map where Republicans break through in the Midwest but suffer a loss in North Carolina and do not retake Virginia.

Either way, at this point a couple of predictions can be made with absolute certainty.  No Republican Presidential candidate can win in 2016 without Ohio and Florida.  A loss in one or both states would signify the national ticket has not done nearly well enough in red states to pull swing voters along in blue/purple tinted contests.  Second, weak Democratic results in demographically friendly states like Nevada and Virginia would indicate the party is sure to lose its Midwestern firewall.  Whites have increasingly flocked to the GOP and if turnout is weak in Democratically friendly states their margins in battleground states could easily shrink or disappear.


LIBRE Might be a Koch Backed Enterprise but it Does Not Make Their Points Any Less Valid

Multi Generation Hispanic Family Standing In ParkThe Koch brothers strongly back immigration reform.  So it should be with little surprise one of their brainchilds to support immigration reform, LIBRE, argues it can occur under a GOP administration.  Traditionally smaller government, socially conservative and pro-liberty LIBRE often finds itself on the side of Democrats when it comes to immigration.  But, with time they argue, the GOP can win Hispanics and become more supportive of immigration reform.

Democrats are admittedly skeptical.  They point to their party’s traditional strength with this voting bloc.  Obama won 71% of Hispanics in 2012 and 80% of all nonwhite voters.  They further assert the GOP’s anti-immigration stances will continue to turn off Hispanic voters.  But these arguments suffer from several weaknesses their proponents may not want to admit.

First, it is debatable whether Obama’s performance among non-white voters in 08 and 012 is transferable to another candidate.  Especially old, white candidates like Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  This coalition certainly did not transfer to many Democrats in 2010 and 2014.  For example, Jon Cornyn in TX won 47% of Hispanics while David Perdue in Georgia won 42%.  According to LIBRE Corey Gardner won 45% of the Hispanic vote in his race though this probably inflates his numbers.

Sean Trende notes that Republicans can easily win the Presidency in 2016 and possibly hold the Senate if they merely return to George Bush’s 2004 showing among non-whites.  That year exit polls showed Bush won 40% of Asians, 45% of Hispanics (probably a bit high) and 11% of blacks.  Bush also won 57% of whites.  Whites increasingly flocking to the GOP means the party can increasingly work on courting non-white voters.  Democrats seem to be banking on the fact the Democratic coalition is built on ideology and not an individual candidate (Obama).

Another weakness with the assertion that GOP stances on immigration weaken their standing among minorities is that 2014 proved this argument is not always true.  GOP strength among Hispanics in 2014 (detailed above) shows the party can make inroads with these voters on other issues.  Indeed, a Washington Post analysis found Hispanics are actually trending more Republican than other non-white groups.  Further, Pew found in a post-2012 vote analysis that the more Hispanics become educated and integrated into US culture the more they vote Republican.

Thirdly, recent GOP efforts to contact and court minority voters has seriously lacked in 2008, 2010 and 2012.  Only after these elections did the GOP seem to realize their weakness and make concerted efforts to contact and turn out GOP leaning minorities.  LIBRE is not actively promoting the GOP as a party.  They are merely introducing conservatism to the community.  However, case studies of success GOP outreach efforts abound.  Mike Coffman in 2014 sung a different tune on the issues in a recently redrawn and far more competitive/diverse district.  He won by 9 points against a strong opponent.  Barbara Comstock in VA-10 fought off a spirited challenge for Rep. Frank Wolf’s seat by going into minrity majority communities.

Lastly, groups like LIBRE and GOP leaders with a national presence are starting to talk about issues that appeal to minority communities.  For Hispanics this might be Bush’s embrace of reform.  For blacks it might be Rand Paul’s call for the decriminalization of society.  As for Asians it seems the GOP stressing school reform would be a good place to start.

None of this is to say the GOP will win non-white voters in 2016 or come anywhere close.  But the party does not need to win a majority of these voters; at least not yet.  The party merely needs to get close or return to Bush’s 2004 levels while retaining Romney or Bush level support with whites.  As for Democrats their weakness with whites is unlikely to get better.  That means they must keep their voting levels with minorities like Hispanics intact.  It is debatable whether a non-Obama candidate can accomplish such a feat.