Can Ted Cruz Win the GOP Nomination?

GTY_Ted_Cruz_ml_130819_16x9_608Ted Cruz hit the 2016 cycle with a running start by announcing Monday at Liberty University he is running for President.  The news is certainly far from shocking.  Cruz has made it very clear since early 2014 he had been thinking about running.

Cruz appeals to the most conservative base of the GOP.  His support in heavily evangelical Texas is strong and he has made clear he will run as a stalwart social conservative and perhaps taking the wind out of the sails of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  But can Cruz, a bomb thrower who few in leadership or business cycles like, actually win the nomination?

Few can deny the appeal Cruz has to the base of the GOP.  He is Hispanic, a lawyer and legal scholar, and speaks to the most primal of GOP fears regarding Obamacare, the deficit and social issues.  But while that might be enough to get Cruz through Iowa it would likely cost him New Hampshire and perhaps South Carolina.

Further complicating Cruz’s bid is the issue of money.  Many analysts expect Cruz to raise large sums from individual donors and he likely will.  But when you compare that with the money the Walker’s and Bush’s of the world can raise that is small change.  Cruz does have one decided advantage however, Heidi Cruz, his wife, works for Goldman Sachs and has helped him raise large sums from the company throughout his political career.  Other than that Cruz has raised cash from large GOP leaning think tanks and Super PACS. Even if we assume Cruz can get past his money issues there are the issues of the GOP primary calendar and his opponents.

The RNC has largely taken a hands off approach to primaries and caucuses except to assure only the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary is held in January.  In February, South Carolina has been assured the second in the nation primary.  After that, states have jockeyed to hold their primaries and Caucuses whenever.

Beyond the first three comes North Carolina and Michigan in February.  One could make a plausible case for Cruz in North Carolina but just as in South Carolina there is a sizeable business wing of the GOP that views him with hostility.

March appears absolutely brutal for Cruz.  On March 1st, several states hold their primaries (Colorado caucuses;[Florida; Massachusetts; Oklahoma; Tennessee; Texas; Vermont; Virginia).  Cruz might be able to nab one or two but more worrisome is many of these states are winner take all states meaning Cruz could finish second and get no delegates in a state as populous and delegate rich as Florida. The rest of March is a wash with some Southern, Southwestern and Northern primaries.  Assuming geography trumps all Cruz would win the Southern primaries but lose elsewhere.  By this time Cruz would clearly be dragging and drop out as funding disappears and conversation turns to the general election.  But even if he somehow made it to April the slate of states up looks like Dante’s inferno; Maryland; Washington, DC; Wisconsin, Connecticut; Delaware; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island.

Cruz’s other issue is his competition.  Cruz will certainly play up his socially conservative bonafides and it surely will aid him in Iowa.  But while Cruz has a visceral appeal to the most conservative voters his main competition, Walker and Paul, have more experience and success to tout.  In the Senate Paul has worked to shrink government and reduce prison sentences.  Walker has taken on unions and taken pains to tick off nobody in his nascent Presidential bid.

Both of these candidates present obstacles for Cruz to overcome.  Somehow, Cruz has to convince voters he can accomplish things and is not so polarizing he cannot win the general election.  Further, he has to tout his accomplishments, or lack thereof, compared to his competition.

None of this is to say Cruz cannot win the nomination.  But when the primary calendar and establishment are lined up against you it is hard to overcome.  Then there is this little tidbit that suggests Northeastern and “somewhat conservative” voters represent the biggest share of the GOP primary electorate. These voters look for pragmatic, business friendly candidates. Cruz is unlikely to win many of these votes.

In sum, Cruz has a shot with a wide open field splitting support.  But his antics have left him few friends in DC and business circles.  His lack of experience also contrasts meekly against Scott Walker and Rand Paul.

Lastly, Cruz may not even be able to claim his largest constituency if Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum get in the race.  If they do the evangelical wing of the party would split four ways in Iowa (Cruz, Huckabee, Walker, Santorum) and likely still be split in South Carolina.  Without that vote there just does not seem to be a plausible route for Cruz to win the nomination.



The Florida Senate Race Just Became Interesting

20121106_met_pmurhpy_065Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy’s decision to run in Florida’s 2016 Senate election makes yet another swing state race competitive.  Democrats, fresh off losing their Senate majority a mere five months earlier, now have strong challengers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and likely Wisconsin with more possible in Illinois, New Hampshire and Iowa.

Republicans know that Murphy poses a serious challenge.  The one time Republican turned centrist Democrat is a perfect fit for the state’s moderate profile and could be boosted by Presidential year turnout.  Further, with Rubio exploring a potential Presidential run the GOP needs to be ready to defend the possibly soon to be open seat.

Fortunately, the GOP has two ready candidates waiting in the wings, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.  In a recent Mason Dixon poll Atwater posted a 14 point lead over Murphy.  If Rubio opted to run for reelection he would also be considered a heavy favorite.

Murphy has an interesting biography.  Originally a Republican, he became a Democrat over cultural issues and challenged Allen West when the Congressman was redistricted into a new seat in 2012.  Boosted by minority turnout, Murphy pulled off the narrow upset.  He followed it up with a 60% showing in 2014 against a little known GOP challenger.

But Murphy may not have the Democratic field all to himself.  Despite efforts by the Democratic establishment to clear Senate primaries (success in WI, OH and PA, not so much MD and IL), a number of more liberal alternatives have floated their names including mayors Bob Buckhorn in Tampa, Buddy Dyer in Orlando, and Alvin Brown in Jacksonville.

Worse, from the establishment’s perspective, is the prospect of two wings of the Democratic Party facing off against each other in the form of Murphy (centrist) vs. Alan Grayson (progressive).  Grayson you might recall is the colorful Democrat who in his first reelection bid in 2010 called his GOP opponent “Taliban Dan.”  Grayson is a friend of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz who briefly contemplated running for Senate and made clear she is not a fan of Murphy.

Fortunately for the GOP, they do not suffer from the same ideological split.  Further, both Lopez and Atwater have run two successful statewide campaigns although both were in midterms and for executive state offices as opposed to federal.  Still, they have statewide campaign experience giving them a leg up on Murphy.

The GOP might find an added benefit in having Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio top the ticket in the open seat race.  Both Bush and Rubio have an appeal to the Latino community in the state no other GOP candidate, even Lopez, can likely match.  Any help atop the ticket likely would carry down-ballot GOP candidates across the finish line.

Combined with PA, OH, WI, and likely IL Democrats should cheer the number of strong candidates they have recruited for Senate challenges.  Florida is one more feather in their cap but winning these races will be much, much more difficult than recruitment.


Israel’s Election Results Are In

downloadIt’s no secret there is little love lost between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration.  If you need proof just look at Netanyahu’s past tense history with the White House.  Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress enraged the White House and critics of the hawkish Israeli government.  A government that could have come toppling down and been replaced by a centrist, left leaning government domestically but no less hawkish on foreign policy.

Like much of the industrialized world, Israeli has been struggled under the weight of a continually sluggish economy. Netanyahu’s Likud Party attempted to paint the election as a referendum on his foreign policy and the results suggest they succeeded.  Despite preelection polls shows Likud falling three to five seats behind the Zionist Union Party Likud earned 30 seats in the Knesset to ZU’s 24.

But despite the victory it is important to understand that Israel’s system is vastly different from the US’s.  Israel operates under a parliamentary system and they have a multitude of political parties that can gain seats in the Knesset (their version of our Congress).  Even if Likud had fallen behind Zionist Union once the votes were tallied they could have form a coalition government assuming they can get a coalition of 61 seats (Knesset has 120).  Also important to understand is unlike in some other parliamentary democracies, Israelis don’t vote for a specific geographic constituency: Rather, they vote for a slate of candidates represented by a party or coalition of parties.

In the run-up to the election the mood of the Israeli public could easily be described as disgruntled.  Scandals plagued the Likud coalition government, the cost of living has soared and ethnic tensions between Orthodox Jews, secularists, and Palestinian Jews have increased.  The continuing issue of settlement has yet to be resolved as well.  The surge in the polls by the Zionist Union Party right before the election reflected such a trend.  But those that showed up to vote were quite different from what the polls had indicated.

So how did Netanyahu pull it off?  And how did ZU blow it?  Simply put, Netanyahu successfully made the campaign a referendum on his foreign policy and took a scorched earth approach to win as many hawkish Israeli votes as he could.

His speech in the US Congress was just the start.  Soon after he came home he promised no Palestinian state would be created and supported the idea of more settlements.  The results speak for themselves.  Likud dominated in predominately traditional areas of the country.  Netanyahu’s move also might have benefited right leaning parties likely to join a new coalition government.

The Zionist Union party did not so much blow it as they simply were outflanked.  They did not take on Netanyahu’s scorched earth tactics and allowed the Arab Alliance, a coalition of Arab Israeli parties, to eat into their minority support.  The result was a drop in support on election day.

Unsurprisingly, this promises to continue an antagonistic relationship between the Obama administration and Israeli government. Of course, this assumes Netanyahu can forge a coalition government though odds are good he can with nationalist and right-wing parties.

Yet, President Reuven Rivlin said after the election results were mostly in, “I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future.”  Needless to say, the idea that ZU and Likud join together to create a unity government is far from likely.

Because of the multitude of parties involved one party may get to play kingmaker.  That party, Kulanu — Hebrew for “All of Us, is headed by Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister who broke away from Netanyahu.  Kahlon is generally right leaning but could be swung to support a ZU coalition government.  However, it is likely Kahlon will join a Likud government.

The White House issued a murky and lukewarm reaction which is not surprising considering their issues with Netanyahu.  Congress Republicans could barely hide their glee.  Regardless of these results however the relationship between DC and Israel is unlikely to be friendly over the next two years.





Republicans Just Blew Immigration Reform

immigration-reform_rallyRemember back in 2013 when the RNC released its post-election autopsy.  Among one of the many reasons identified for GOP losses was the party’s lack of interest in immigration reform.  So 2013 was supposed to be the year of such reform.  The President was on board, many Senate Republicans were on board.  It’s just nobody bothered to check with the GOP controlled House.

Republicans in the House, rightfully distrustful of the President, never fully came on board with Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  SB 744, passed in the Senate in 2013, had things Republicans could support; an increase in highly skilled worker visas, E-Verify systems and extra money for border security.  But border security was a secondary concern to many Republicans.  As a result, the House refused to take up the bill and instead focused on (not) passing piecemeal bills.

The President’s Executive Action in late 2014 to grant legal status to an estimated 5 million illegals and giving them access to tax benefits effectively crushed hopes for any sort of grand deal before 2016.  Instead, House and Senate Republicans found themselves joined in opposing the President.  But, whereas many House Republicans were elected to oppose the President, many victorious freshman GOP Senators had won on pledging cooperation and a crop of 2016 vulnerables need to present a bipartisan appeal to voters.

The disorganized opposition by the GOP threw the ball into Congressional Democrats hands and they played their cards well.  Sticking with the President they did not allow the GOP to get a bill defunding Obama’s actions to his desk.  Ultimately, the GOP backed down and only inflicted more harm on themselves.

Sensing the death knell of meaningful reform before 2016 GOP leadership has moved onto tacking bigger and more immediate issues.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he is ready to move on from Immigration Reform and instead tackle languishing trade deals with Asians nations, major tax reform and transportation funding shortfalls.  House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he intends to focus on taxes and spending.

So how did we come to this?  What drove the GOP to ditch immigration reform in the span of less than two years.  Honestly, it is not that complicated.  A combination of overzealous conservatism, incompetent GOP leadership and an arrogant, liberal President all played a part in reform’s death.

Perhaps I am being to harsh.  GOP leadership, particularly in the House, has been consistently backed into corners where it has to fight no win battles.  The battle over the President’s Executive Order on immigration is just the most recent example.  This is due to the overzealous conservatism exhibited by many Republicans who fail to understand strategy.  With their reduced numbers in the House and Senate Democrats are only relevant if the GOP Caucus is divided.  On immigration the GOP is and as a result Democrats have emerged as a potent voting bloc in Congress.

As for the President, what else can you call his action but arrogant.  Merely a year before he issued his EO the President went on Hispanic TV and other major outlets to explain he did not have the authority to issue such an order.  What changed?  Apparently his interpretation of his Constitutional powers.  Hey, he would know, right?  He is a constitutional lawyer.

Still, not all Republicans believe immigration reform is dead.  At an event Monday in Chicago, a trio of GOP congressmen from Illinois — Adam Kinzinger, Aaron Schock and Bob Dold — will push for a legislative overhaul that includes border security, changes to the legal immigration system, and legal status for those here illegally.  They are not the only Republicans who want to see something before 2017. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk have been vocal in their urging to move the GOP away from partisan conflict on the issue and towards solutions.

It may be even more important for the Republican Presidential nominee to explain his/her vision for immigration reform especially with the Congressional GOP divided on the issue.  This is easier said than done with minorities feeling a cultural attachment to the party they believe best represents their interests-Democrats.

Still, not all is lost.  Immigration reform will likely play a crucial role in the 2016 Presidential election.  However, a host of other issues will also be involved and the GOP proved in 2014 they can court Hispanics and Asians on economic issues

Republicans blew immigration reform.  Time will tell if they get another shot to rectify that mistake.




Idaho Democrats Search for Answers

AJ Balukoff

AJ Balukoff

It’s easy to assume Idaho’s Democrats are unified.  After all, they are such a minority in the legislature (20%) and often ignored they tend to vote as a bloc against any high-profile GOP effort (such as abortion and Add the Words).  Further, every Democrat is on record saying they would expand Medicaid and in 2013 every Democrat voted to establish a state health exchange. But repeated defeats by significant margins in every statewide race (constitutional and federal) since 2006 has left the party searching for answers and appeal to young families populating the state’s suburbs.  This search has largely led to two conclusions.

The first conclusion argues until Idaho’s demographics change Democrats will lose.  And if Democrats are to lose they should do so standing on principle.  The second conclusion centers on a more hopeful answer; find and recruit candidates that can appeal to Idaho’s rural and suburban populations.  In other words, stop nominating people from Boise and Sun Valley.

However, this is easier said than done.  Since 2006, almost every statewide Democratic candidate has come from Boise.  In 2010, the party’s gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred was from Boise.  In 2014, only one statewide candidate did not hail from Boise, Jana Jones, and it is no coincidence she easily outran every other Democratic candidate.  So perhaps Democrats would be best served by trying to move outside their geographic bases for candidates.

Honestly, the Democratic base would likely vote for a former Republican if he had a real chance at winning.  Despite every legislative Democrat being pro-choice, Allred and Balukoff called themselves pro-life.  They won every progressive bastion in the state.  Both Allred and Balukoff opposed gay marriage.  They still dominated progressive areas.

But candidate appeal is only one part of the solution.  Until Idaho Democrats can divorce themselves from the national brand they can run every candidate from North Idaho and they will still lose. You don’t accomplish that by running candidates who mirror the national party’s major themes.  For example, Balukoff championed hiking the minimum wage.  Jana Jones spoke glowingly of the IEA and Hollingsworth attacked Republicans for closing their primary.  These don’t divorce yourself from a national party that views conservative voters with disdain, allies with unions and wants to federally hike the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, the truth may be that Democrats can only do so much to overcome their disadvantages.  The party is done in by its electoral base.  Democrats must largely cater to urban interests whereas Republicans appeal to rural and suburban.  It is hard for any Democrat to overcome the stereotype they are beholden to Boise/Sun Valley progressive interests.  Still, Balukoff managed to do a credible job last year aided by the opening Otter left him on education and corruption issues.

Still, Democrats would not do themselves any harm by nominating candidates from outside Boise.  After all, at this point, it can’t get any worse for Idaho Democrats.

Idaho’s Legislature Showcasing What Divides America

House State Affairs Chairman Thomas Loertscher sponsored HB 154 on the House floor.

House State Affairs Chairman Thomas Loertscher sponsored HB 154 on the House floor.

Since the Idaho legislature gavelled into session leadership in both chambers promised to focus like lasers on jobs, transportation funding and education.  And while all these issues have dominated the docket they have not been what has stolen the show this session.  Cultural issues have.

If there ever was any doubt what divided America more than economic or racial issues it has been settled.  Okay, it’s been settled in Idaho; culture.  Such a divide has been showcased on two occasions and perhaps a few more to follow before the session ends.

LBGT rights have long been a galvanizing issue for Idaho Democrats and the majority party’s ignorance of their plight played a big part in Boise turning blue.  But it took over nine years for Idaho Republicans to even allow a hearing on a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and preference.

The bill, H2, was presented before a joint session of the House and Senate State Affairs Committees.  After three days of testimony not a single Republican (out of 13) voted for the bill while all four Democrats voted for the bill.

Merely a month later HB 154 was introduced.  The bill, relating to chemical abortions would require women to see a doctor to get a prescription to provide an abortion inducing drug.  Introduced in the House State Affairs Committee the bill was passed along party lines.

When HB 154 hit the floor a mere day ago it was expected to pass.  But how it did so has to be considered unexpected.  In a 55-14 vote not a single Democrat voted for the bill (expected) but not a single Republican voted against the bill.  This included vulnerable Republicans in legislative districts encompassing Lewiston in the North and Sun Valley.

Much as cultural issues have come to dominate federal politics so do they also appear to be taking over Idaho’s politics.  Only here, one party has commanding domination of the state.  As I hinted above, this is not a new phenomenon in Idaho.  All of Boise’s legislative districts went for Obama in 08 and 012 while every other region of the state went for Romney and McCain.

At the legislative level it has taken more time for cultural politics to start heavily influence voting.  Consider the ultra-sound bill of 2012.  That session, the bill passed the Senate 23-12 and five Republicans voted against it.  House leadership did not even take up the bill suggesting their Caucus was split on the issue.

Not so with this bill.  Instead, this bill garnered strong support for and against along straight party lines.  Perhaps after 2012 and 2014 where few members lost reelection legislators feel empowered to vote more on culturally ideological lines.  But the subtext of the votes on HB2 and HB 154 is clear.  Idaho’s politics is as much cultural as partisan.

Ted Strickland’s Uphill Climb in Ohio

Senator Rob Portman faces a tough reelection in 2016.

Senator Rob Portman faces a tough reelection in 2016.

Former Ohio Democratic Governor Ted Strickland’s announcement that he has decided to challenge Senator Rob Portman in 2016 has to be considered a boon for the party.  He has considerable name ID, a “supposed” moderate record that appeals to swing voters and the ability to raise large sums of cash which he will need.

The most obvious result of his decision is it is yet another sign Democrats have no bench and need to keep turning to legacy candidates to win key races.  Notably, Democrats are already encouraging 30-year-old announced candidate P.G. Sittenfeld to exit the primary.

But once you get past the joy and look at the actual dynamics of the race it becomes very clear just how much of an uphill climb this race is for Strickland.  Long gone are the days when Strickland could lay claim to having blue-collar roots and stake a claim as a moderate.

Still, GOP groups obviously long considered him the toughest contender out there.  Case in point: GOP groups have attacked his short tenure at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank.  Beyond this, voters may not have a rosy view of his recent stint as Governor.

Strickland first was elected to the 6th CD, a massive district that stretched from the NE to SE side of the state.  Defeating an incumbent Congressman in 1992, he suffered the fate of many Democrats in 1994 and lost reelection.  But he reclaimed his seat in 1996 and held it until 2006 when he opted to run for Governor.  Strickland’s statewide win was fueled by the claim he represented the blue-collar worker and combined with the terrible national environment for Republicans he utterly crushed his opponent, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

In 2010, facing a strong anti-incumbent wave and voter backlash over job losses Strickland mounted a spirited defense of his office against former Congressman John Kasich.  Ultimately, Kasich prevailed, but by a much narrower margin than expected.

When one looks at the areas where Strickland prevailed and didn’t in 2010, warnings bells start going off about the viability of his 2016 bid.  Strickland won few competitive counties, including Hamilton and Butler (Cincinnati and suburbs).  He won the traditionally liberal Franklin County and Northeast part of the state and most of his old Congressional district.  Even in 2006, when Strickland was winning by 20%+ statewide he under-performed in strongly Democratic counties across the state.

Recent events also raise doubts about his viability.  Whites and particularly Strickland’s old constituency, blue-collar whites, have increasingly fled the Democratic Party in massive numbers.  Can Strickland really appeal to these voters in a federal race where polarization plays far more of a role than a gubernatorial election?

The advantages of his opponent, Senator Rob Portman should also not be discounted.  Portman is a good fit for the state in the mold of former Senator George Voinovich.  He is pro-life but not antagonistic about the subject, announced his support for gay marriage and a staunch fiscal conservative.  More importantly for his reelection, he has a $5.8 million war chest he can unleash on Strickland to define his tenure as Governor.

Not that this makes Democrats any less excited about his candidacy.  They reason if nothing else Strickland can force the GOP to divert resources from other tough races to this one in a bid to hold the competitive seat.  They further reason that Hillary will prove to be a boon to Strickland’s candidacy as she focuses on wooing blue-collar workers and working women back into the party’s fold (maybe she can say she was broke when she left the White House again).

Republican’s should not take this race for granted.  But even with Strickland’s candidacy this race should still be considered favorable to the GOP.


Democrats Downballot Losses Are of the Party’s Own Making

vote-elections-voting-boothOnce a hallmark of the Democratic party’s strength, control of state legislatures and Governorships, the party now controls a mere 30 state legislatures and only 19 of the nation’s 50 Governors mansions.  Now, a new DNC report showcases why this has happened,.

According to the report, the Democratic party since 2008 has lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 legislative seats, 30 legislative chambers and a whopping 11 Governorships.  Notably, the party only controls four of the eleven Governorships in states considered competitive for the 2016 Presidential race (Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia).

The report hints at several reasons why the Democratic Party has suffered such heavy losses since 2008.  The first, the party has failed to focus enough on state legislative races.  Another reasons is the failure to groom future candidates.  Third, the party has failed to communicate a clear and concise message. The report cites other reasons but these are the three that stand out.

But, the report misses other very important factors.  The first is the party that holds the White House almost always gets smashed in midterms (minus Clinton 98 and GW 2002).  The elections of 2008 and 2010 were carbon copies of 1980 and 1982.  Republicans romped in 80 and were soundly rebuked in 82.  Democrats triumphed in 2008 only to be crushed in 2010.

Another factor is something the Democratic Party had little control of; generational change.  Many of the legislative chambers that switched allegiances in 2010 came from the South where older, traditionally Democratic white voters are dying off and being replaced by younger Boomer and Millennial Republicans.  Redistricting after 2010 only compounded the problem with traditionally Republican constituencies being drawn into safe districts.

However, by 2014, many legislative chambers and Governorships in the South were GOP.  So this explanation does not explain why Republicans could win swing chambers in Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and Maine and also take Governors mansions in blue states like Maryland and Illinois.  Further, many of the party’s gains in the House came in light blue Congressional districts.

The DNC report misses the mark on Democratic struggles at the state and local level largely because like the RNC 2012 election autopsy it attempts to present a rosy picture for the future of the party.  There is no rosy future for the Democratic Party at the state level.  The party’s heavy bleeding of white, working class voters has damaged them in even deep blue states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts (all states the party lost btw).

The primary reason for Democratic struggles is clear.  The Democratic coalition is top-down heavy and many of the party’s core constituencies do not show up in midterms (drop-off voters).  But, less clear and not mentioned in the report is why Democrats struggle to relate to voters in state elections (ie. white, working class). Unfortunately, it is a problem the party made for itself.

Due to the unwieldy nature of the Democratic coalition the party has forged a modern coalition based on culture and cultural issues play a far more prominent role in federal elections.  Debates over cultural issues such as abortion, gay marriage and welfare often take center stage in federal races.  Meanwhile, cultural issues are often downplayed in state races and Republicans in state races tend to focus on fiscal issues.

Two examples stand out. In Maryland, then GOP gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan announced he was pro-life but said he would not seek to change the state’s abortion laws.  His opponent relentlessly focused on the issue and lost while Hogan largely won because of his focus on spending and its results.  In Illinois, then GOP candidate Bruce Rauner announced he supported abortion rights and gay marriage.  There was little his Democratic opponent could do but to paint him as a Mitt Romney look a like.

Worse for the Democratic Party is that short of GOP implosions seen in 2010 (Colorado) and 2012 (Indiana, Missouri) the party’s appeal on cultural issues only goes so far.  In Colorado Senator Mark Udall used more than half of all his ads to attack now Senator Corey Gardner on abortion.  While Udall did win women he was crushed among Republican and Independent men.

As if it could not get worse for Democrats voters value issues differently in state races.  Fiscal issues tend to dominate.  This suggests that Democrats do not just suffer from a drop-off problem among voters but they struggle to translate support at the federal level to the state level.  Consider that in Illinois among voters who somewhat approved of Obama (using as a proxy for voting in 2012) Rauner won 23% and 11% of those that strongly approved of the President.  Quinn managed to win only 7% who strongly disapproved of the President.

Structural weakness also plays a part in this drama.  The first is fairly obvious in the form of redistricting.  Democrats suffer even more than the GOP in redistricting largely because their voters are often packed into a few, large metropolitan areas.

Second, the party is unable to sustain a strong bench.  Unlike the GOP that has a strong bench of young Senators and Governors the Democratic Party has few.  Further, the GOP can count on strong future statewide candidates due to their control of state legislative chambers (paging Marco Rubio and Joni Ernst).

Third, and likely most important for the party’s success is it creates a lack of institutional knowledge and pressure.  Without institutional pressure there is little demand for the party to change.  Without institutional knowledge the party lacks leaders to implement such change.  As the DNC report indicates, there is little institutional pressure for the party to reform.  Hence, “Voters like our policies but…”.

The DNC report is a good start for the party but it should go much further.  A full report is expected in May but don’t expect it to cover the party’s structural deficiencies.  Instead, it will be full of flowery and hopeful rhetoric about the future and the need to expand the party’s constituencies.  Unfortunately, the way the Democratic party is set up now that is a herculean if not impossible task.


Teachers Unions Besieged On All Sides

chicago-teachers-union1It is tough to be a union these days.  Besieged on all sides from Republicans AND Democrats, the public, and businesses unions have been under assault since Obama took office.  Once able to count on the solid support of Democrats, unions have found that Democrats don’t feel they need to walk in lockstep with them to win elections anymore.

It’s not surprising to note unions fighting with the GOP.  In Wisconsin, unions spent millions to defeat Scott Walker only to fail three times.  Both Michigan and Indiana became a right to work states in 2012.  Wisconsin appears set to join them in the next few weeks.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie partnered with than Newark mayor Corey Booker (now Senator) to expand charter schools in the city.  In all cases unions, particularly teachers unions, opposed such efforts.  But Democrats are also increasingly in conflict with teachers unions.

Take the case of Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel.  A seasoned politico, the former Obama administration official won his inaugural mayoral race with strong backing from the NAACP and Chicago’s Teacher union.  Since that time it has gone nowhere but downhill.  Elected in 2011, a mere year later Emanuel engaged in a tussle with unions that ultimately saw them go on strike before some of their demands were met.  Emanuel got significant concessions as well.

Now, as he gears up for his reelection, his shaky prospects appeared tied to his education agenda which has cut salaries and pensions for teachers and closed dozens of low performing schools.  Unions have spent heavily to defeat him but his challengers are subpar at best.  The only question is whether Rahm can hit 50% and avoid an embarrassing run-off.

Chicago is not an isolated incident.  Reflecting perhaps the only ideologically conservative aspect of Obama’s administration former Obama officials have embarked on attacking teachers unions over things they see as detrimental to education including tenure, outrageous salaries and overly generous pensions.

Obama has also jumped on the education reform bandwagon, His education effort Head Start which emphasized student achievement and teacher evaluations to be based in part on student performance has never been embraced by the AFT and NEA.  Common Core, strongly supported by the President, has enraged both unions and conservatives, though for different reasons.

Other Democrats have taken on teachers unions but in less direct ways.  Mario Cuomo’s reelection bid in 2014 was complicated by a contentious primary where his lack of support for teachers and support of charter and private schools was attacked.  Now, Cuomo has proposed a 2015 budget that would make a conservative proud including expanding the number of charter schools to 560 from 460 and using teacher evaluations to fire bad teachers and limit tenure.  Unsurprisingly, unions have balked and attacked the Governor.

But teachers unions

are increasingly finding their support isolated.  Instead of working with administrators and politicians many unions are increasingly in conflict with such individuals.  They also are losing the public.  California illustrates such a trend.

In 2012, Students Matter, a nonprofit group founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, filed a lawsuit against California’s tenure system on behalf of nine inner city High School students.  The suit alleged that California’s tenure system kept poor teachers from being fired, better teachers from being hired and disadvantaged poor and minority students stuck in failing inner city schools.

In June 2014, California judge Rolf M Treu agreed stating, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

Unions have found an ally in Democratic Governor Jerry Brown who appealed the ruling in an effort to get support for his reelection bid.  Treu did stay his decision until the appeal by Governor Brown made its way through the process.

Such a case from California illustrates how little support unions are receiving from the once friendly public.  Polls consistently show voters value and respect teachers but they see a clear distinction between a “teacher” and a “teacher’s union.”

In 2012 Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance asked both teachers and the public how they felt about teachers unions.  They did it in two ways.  They asked the following, “Some people say that teacher unions are a stumbling block to school reform. Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers. What do you think? Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?” Participants were asked to choose one of five responses: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative.

Between 2009 and 2011 participants generally were more favorable to unions but in 2012 the numbers flipped.  Whereas in 2011 29% of the public held a very positive view of teachers unions only 22% did in 2012.  Most striking, in 2011 58% of teachers had a positive view of teachers unions but in 2012 that number dropped to 43%.  However, when given only two options 71% of teachers gave their unions a positive image while the public split down the middle: 51% said unions had a negative impact, while 49% said their effect was positive.

The nuanced views of the public can be displayed by a simple example here in Idaho.  In 2011, the Idaho legislature passed what was termed the Luna Laws.  These laws mandated tenure be eliminated, collective bargaining further limited and all students to take at least one online class.  The IEA with help from the NEA and AFT fought back and launched a petition to have a referendum on the laws.

While the laws all fell in 2012 it is notable how the laws were attacked.  No mention of unions were made in advertisements for repealing the laws but rather the laws would harm teachers and students.  And while the laws fell virtually every Republican in the legislature who voted for the laws was reelected.  Many of the Luna Law ideas were re-passed in 2013 and have yet to breed much controversy.

It is unclear how one views teachers unions significantly impacts their votes.  But both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are clearly becoming united around the idea our education system needs serious reform.  Unions, defending the status quo, are increasingly losing allies among both the public and political parties.






Do Democrats Have a Shot in Mississippi 1?

Travis Childers was the last Democrat to represent Mississippi's 1st CD due to a unique confluence of factors.  His tenure last a mere two years.

Travis Childers was the last Democrat to represent Mississippi’s 1st CD due to a unique confluence of factors. His tenure lasted a mere two years.

The unexpected death of Congressman Alan Nunnelee has thrown the Mississippi GOP into scramble mode as they struggle to find a replacement.  Under Mississippi law special elections are non-partisan affairs which means in a crowded field a Democratic could hypothetically act and behave like a Republican.  The GOP’s saving grace is that a run-off would occur if no candidate hits the 50% mark.

The district is solidly Republican, taking in Desoto County and formerly Democratic Northern Mississippi but it represents to very different wings of the party.  Many voters in Desoto County live in the Memphis suburbs and while they affiliate with Mississippi they have a different political culture. Desoto County Republicans tend to be the hardline Tea Party and libertarian type.  Voters in much of the rest of the district are traditionally Democratic but have been increasingly drawn to the GOP on fiscal and cultural issues.

Such a divide can be illustrated by two cases.  The first, illustrated by Stu Rothenburg can be viewed here.  The second case is more recent and involves the 2014 Mississippi Senate primary and run-off between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniels.

Thad Cochran has long represented the traditional Mississippi GOP, fiscally and culturally conservative but also “getting mine.”  McDaniel’s style was more confrontational and direct.  In the initial primary where McDaniels won statewide he only managed to win the 1st district’s vote total but he did so because he carried 62% of Desoto County’s 9,300 votes.  He lost the majority of counties in the district.  In the run-off McDaniel increased his margin in Desoto County to 69% out of over 18,000 votes.  But reflective of the district GOP’s divide and Cochran’s strength he ran strong in Tupelo and culturally conservative and rural areas in the district and statewide.

This gives Democrats their opening.  Find a conservative candidate with appeal to the district can exploit the GOP’s divide, especially if Republicans split along Tea Party vs. traditional Republican lines.  But this is easier said than done.

Since the last time Democrats were able to exploit GOP divisions in the state in 08 partisan polarization has dramatically increased.  Consider that between 2009 and 2010 almost half of the South’s majority-white seats had Democratic representation.  Following 2010 and 2012 that number had shrunk to one and John Barrow’s defeat in 2014 means there are more black Republicans than white Democrats in the Deep South.

The line a Democrat would have to walk to not just win a non-partisan special election but a partisan general election is incredibly thin.  Travis Childers won an open seat race in 08 on the back of increased black turnout and a weak GOP opponent.  Notably, Childers won every county in the district short of Desoto.  But in 2010, when black turnout dropped and whites turned against Democrats Childers lost by 15% to Alan Nunnelee who united the wings of the GOP around a platform of “anybody but a Democrat.”

Keep in mind 2010 was before we have had the last three years of gridlock, culture wars and the like as well.  Plus, as mentioned above, at least there were still some white Southern Democrats left. For a Democrat to win this district everything, and I mean everything would have to go right to replicate Childer’s success.

First, they would have to be lucky enough to face a weak general election Republican (in an expected run-off).  Second, they would need this Republican to alienate one of the two wings of the party.  Thirdly, they would need to be able to distance themselves from the national Democratic brand and President, something increasingly difficult today in federally polarized races.

It might still be all for naught if the state has permanently turned away from any Democrat.  Case in point, 2014.  Despite Cochran winning a divided primary run-off he still managed to beat Childers handily statewide.  Childers only won three counties in his old district and lost the state by over 20%.

Democrats should obviously try to win the district if for no other reason than they could get lucky.  But all the factors would be stacked against them.  Much as Democrats have done with NY 10 (a more winnable special election) the party is unlikely to invest much in the race and that would spell certain doom for a Democrat even in a Republican divided district.