The election everybody has forgotten

Next Tuesday a guberntorial election will occur in heavily conservative and Democratic West Virginia that will test the president’s down-ballot drag on his party’s candidates for statewide office. West Virginia is in interesting test for the simple fact voters in the state retain their Democratic tilt at the state level but have not voted for a Democratic president since 1996.  In 2008 West Virginia went heavily for John McCain.  And finally, President Obama’s approval in the state (according to Gallup) is at a horrible 33%.  In 2010 the GOP ran competively for a vacant Senate seat and captured two of three House seats in the state.

This election has an interesting background.  West Virginia holds its guberntorial elections every 4 years (in presidential years).  But in 2010 long-time US Senator Robert Byrd (D) died.  This vacancy caused popular West Virginian Governor Joe Manchin to try and run for the open Senate seat.  After some wrangling in the Democratic controlled state legislature they decided to have an election to fill the seat (not have the Governor appoint himself, which he did have the power to do).  Manchin easily won the primary and won the general election essentially as an anti-Obama Democrat.  This personifies many Democratic voters in the state.

But the saga does not end there.   West Virginia does not have a Lt. Governor so the man that replaced Manchin was State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin.  Democrats did not want to have to have an election to replace Manchin until 2012 but the Wrst Virginia Court of Appeals in early January dashed those hopes.  The ruling made clear the state had to hold an election by November 15th (the legislature made it October 4th), giving the state one year from the time Manchin left office to make accomodations.  Tomblin won with 40% of the vote.  His stiffest challenge came from another Democratic leader in Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates Rick Thompson.

The state GOP exuberant had a shallow bench to start from.  Their best candidates, 2010 WV-1 winner David McKinley and WV-2 Representative Shelley Moore Capito decline to run.  Eventually the GOP field of candidates resembled a whos-who of businessmen and former/current state officials.  In the end it was a little known businessman, Bill Maloney, who won the primary with 45%.  His stiffest challenge came from former Secretary of State Betty Ireland who took 30% of the vote.

Tombin’s intention was simply to cruise to the finish line by playing off Manchin’s popularity but the appeal of Maloney as a candidate and national issues injecting themselves into the race has changed that late in the race.  As early as May when the primary ended Tomblin held a 33 point lead according to a PPP survey.  But in early September the same surveyer found Tomblin leading by a narrow six points.  Though popular, Tomblin is failing to get 15% of undecided Democrats and is losing 23% of Democrats to Maloney.  Maloney is winning Independents and Democrats overwhelmingly.

Maloney and Tomblin have both heavily focused on proving their conservative bona-fides.  Both have pointed to their records of fiscal stewardship and responbility.  But Maloney, an outsider, has played that card well.  A small business owner, he built his business from scratch.  Tomblin on the other hand comes from a politically connected family.

To the extent national issues have infringed on the race both Tomblin and Maloney have made their disapproval of the president abundantly clear.  Tomblin is even reported as saying at a campaign event “I voted for John McCain.”  Even so, if the PPP survey in early September is any indication, Tomblin is being dragged down to an extent by the president. 

Maloney has moved hard in the last few weeks to try and paint Tomblin as nothing more than an Obama-Democrat.  Helped by the Republican Governor’s Association he has gambled on hitting Tomblin late in the race, paint a picture of him in voters minds, and hopefully turning them to the alternative.  But that is easier said than done.  Late in races it is harder to paint a narrative of a candidate, even among unengaged or undecided voters.  And then we have to consider the context of the race.  This is an off-year special election to only serve 1 year.  Then in 2012 another guberntorial election will be held.  It is also likely to drag out the most partisan Republican and Democratic voters.  But in WV partisan Democrats do not always vote Democrat, adding another twist to the race.

 The RGA has dumped over $770,000 into the off-year special election race and the Democratic Governor’s Association has dumped over $630,000.  Tomblin has won the endorsement race with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce and National Rifle Association.  These same groups backed then Governor Joe Manchin in his successful 2010 bid.  But this election could be shaping up to be something different.

How this race turns out is anybodys guess?  It is an off-year special election with two candidates who both appeal to conservative West Virginian voters.  The RGA and DGA have dumped money and organizers into the state.  The latest polls show the race neck and neck.  But one thing is clear.  However this race turns out at the end of Tuesday night (October 4th) the winner will have to campaign again within a year to hold onto his seat.  And it is likely to be against the president regardless of which party holds the governor’s mansion.


Democratic Party Brought to its knees?

Courtesy of Democratic pollster Stanley Greenburg we now know just how precarious a position Democrats are in heading into next year’s presidential election.  Greenburg unveiled a poll of 60 GOP held battleground districts (across the nation) and finds that the GOP incumbents lead generic Democratic challengers 50%-41%.  At the heigth of 2010 the GOP only led in these districts 48%-42% in surveys (they won overall 55%-43% in actuality).  This leads to the question whether Democrats can even have a chance of regaining the House, let alone controlling the Senate after 2012?

Other key findings from the survey show that the president’s approval in these districts is a combined 41%, surely dragging down the Democratic brand.  Even worse for the president and his party only 17% say the country is on the right track and 75% say it is not.  In head to head match-ups in the districts the president loses to GOP nominees Mitt Romney 49%-43% and Rick Perry 49%-45%.  In 2008 52% of voters in these districts backed Obama and 47% John McCain.  The only thing Democrats can feel happy about in the survey is that a 45% pluarlity support the president’s jobs plan and 41% oppose it. 

The poll does have warning signs for Republicans.  Only 39% approve of their GOP representative, 33% disapprove and 28% are undecided.  Interestingly enough, a near majoity, 49% say they would not vote to releect the GOP incumbent because they want people to fix DC.  But in the survey a solid 50% would back their GOP representative for a second term.  Voter frustration remains high even if the GOP maintains its generic ballot advantage in these districts apparently.

So do Democrats realistically have a shot than of retaking the House?  If this poll is any indication the odds are against.  Democrats running will be dragged down by an incredibly partisan environment (great for getting out the base but who else), a stagnant economy, massive budget deficits, and a unpopular president at the top of the ticket.  Moreover, voters are indicating they ideologically feel closer to the GOP (different survey) than Democrats who may more closely represent their actual idelogical views.  And odds for the Democrats controlling the Senate after 2012 stink as well.  The numbers of seats and types of seats they will be defending argue against it. 

But this surve brings up another question.  Is it possible for the GOP to  gain new seats in the House of Representatives?  The odds of the GOP making gains in the House are as yet unclear.  Whereas for the GOP to hold seats surveys have more predictive power they have less so for gaining seats.  In analzying whether the GOP can gain seats other factors such as the fact many states have yet to redistrict, with multiple states having lawsuits pending.  Then of course  there is 2010.  In the 2010 election the GOP literally cleaned out all Democrats in the South from majority-white districts and made deep inroads in the Northeast and Midwest.  So where does the GOP have to expand geographically?  Nowhere to very little.  In the South the few remaining Democratic districts are majority-minority districts.  In CA the GOP is likely to lose seats and the NE looks like like a wash.  Even so, through redistricting the GOP might gain a few House seats.  The GOP will push Democrats in MI, OH, GA and NC into districts where incumbents battle each other.  The GOP will also likely win new seats in Utah, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas (lawsuit pending).  But in terms of growth on the exisiting map the GOP does not have any new territory to truly pursue. 

For the GOP the Senate is a different story.  With so many open Democratic seats in swing states available to target the GOP has a plethora of opportunities.  Starting in Virginia these seats stretch from the East to the Midwest.  Hard hit economic states such as Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Minnesota also have endangered incumbents up.  Meanwhile, currently the most endangered GOP seats look to be in NV and Massachusetts.  The vote preferences of voters at the district level likely will have an impact on Senate races.  If swing voters are willing to pull the lever for their GOP Rep. than the odds are fairly even they will do the same for their GOP Senate candidate.  And that spells trouble for Democrats in a number of states.

The Democratic party has never been in such disrepute since 1946.  Their chances of winning back the House are almost non-existant at this point and their hold on the Senate is tenuous at best.  The party has a sitting president with sub-40/low 40 approval ratings and a solid majority of voters saying the country is on the wrong track.  The economy continues to get worse, the debt grows, partisan bickering continues and presidential policies continue to fail. Neither Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale could bring the Democratic party to its knees like this.  So could Obama be the Democrat to lead his party to its knees?  It is looking more and more like it everyday.

GOP debate in Orlando shows GOP divide on immigration

One needed to be deaf not to notice how strongly to the right all but two candidates were on the immigration Thursday.  Of the two candidates staking out left to center positions only one was meaningful, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s.  Perry came under fire from almost all angels on the issue during the debate.  He sparred with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum over the border and did the same with Romney.  It was perhaps this issue that most hurt Perry during the debate.  Of all Perry’s attributes, few, if any, would characterize the Texan Governor as moderate or centrist.  But in the current crop of GOP candidates on immigration he likely is.  And if he is not the nominee that bodes badly for the party among Hispanics in 2012.

But the larger issue for the GOP in 2012 is how the party’s standardbearers are positioning themselves on illegal immigration.  Republican candidates, from Gingrich to Santorum to Romney to Bachmann are all piling on Perry for his handling of the issue as Governor of Texas.  But in turn they are providing fodder for Democrats to hit them on with Hispanics if they are the GOP candidate for president.   And it is easy to see why.

The Republican position on illegal immigration has always been to secure the border.  But never have I seen such criticism of how a Southwestern state GOP Governor has handled the issue.  If you watched the GOP debate Thursday you would have thought anybody who considered integration of Hispanics or took steps to try was a Democrat or worse, for “open borders.”  And one would think the party that is pro-state’s rights would be defending a Governor’s action to deal with the issue in a unique way.  Guess not.

Rick Perry’s solution to illegal immigration is unique, and why not?  Afterall, unlike New Mexico or Arizona, Texas has a massive barrier as a border to Mexico.  It is called the Rio Grande river.  And it has to color how the Governor thinks about the issue.  Putting up a fence along that kind of border would be  hard, if not impossible.  Maintaining that fence would also be unbelieveably costly.  And more than that, if the Federal Government said no and Texas tried anyways they would likely be sued to stop. 

It is noticable how no other GOP candidate other than former NM Governor Gary Johnson nobody else has had to deal with the issue directly.  Instead, the other candidates have the luxury of throwing out read meat to conservatives across the country.  Johnson in his time as Governor of New Mexico dealt with the issue much as Perry did.  He offered incentives for them to get educate, using the market, and trying to integrate them into the state’s society (considering NM is the first majority-Hispanic US state that was quite a feat to try to take on).

In much the same way Perry tried to do the same. With an overreaching federal government dictating how states could deal with the issue Perry’s plan has taken dual approaches.  He would support states such as Arizona and Georgia in their attempts to crack down on illegal immigration and earlier allowing illegals to apply for in-state tuition (keeping in mind they still pay to go to schools).  This is also not mentioning that in several ways Perry and the GOP legislature have strengthened the hand of law enforcement in TX in dealing with the issue.  And no lawsuits have come out against them either.

In 2008 only 1% of all Texan higher-ed students who were illegals were getting either in-state tuition or financial aid.  But the overall Hispanic growth in the state has climbed, and many legal residents in the state who are Hispanic are getting financial aid from schools.  This has caused a major uproar and it has only expected to get worse as the Texas A&M student senate voted to end in-state tution for illegals. Anger from conservatives on the issue is understandable but what is the alternitive?  Deny legal Hispanics the right to scholarships or higher-ed out of anger against illegals? Conservatives would also be wise to consider the whole idea of in-state/out-state tuition costs are outdates subsidies that only hinder education in the modern United States upper-ed system.

But this goes far deeper than just dissecting Perry’s record or debating subsidies.  As the other candidates have attacked Perry they have shown themselves to be further and further to the right on the issue.  How would you react if you were a Hispanic to this line of attack?  To you Perry’s plan may make sense, considering the context, and yet GOP candidates are butchering him over it.  When no mention of a fence is made, automatically the GOP faithful assume he is weak on the issue.  Nevermind that Perry has advocated for far more boots, both Border Patrol and active military, to be on the border.  The GOP presidential candidate needs Hispanic voters votes to win in Western states in 2012.  Without them Barack Obama looks good for 2012, despite his low poll numbers.

In a nutshell this represents why the GOP is struggling to win Hispanic voters.  Not because the party is to far to the left on the issue but because ideology is blinding the party and its candidates from making smart, pragmatic policy moves to deal with the issue.  As I mentioned earlier none of the GOP candidates other than Perry and Johnson have any experience with the issue.  In fact, the rest all come from solidly white/black states.  Somehow I doubt Minnesota, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania have a booming Hispanic population in comparison to the Southwest.

What Perry did in Texas to try and educate Hispanics in Texas was a calculated gamble.  Whether it pays off or not in the long-term remains to be seen.  For it to surely immigration has to be taken up on the federal level.  There are simply to many pieces in this debate to just label a decison made at the state level left or right.  Context should matter as well.  US immigration policy is decades out of date for both legal and illegal immigrants and until that along with border security is dealt with this issue will remain a problem for the nation.  If you had watched the debate Thursday night you would have thought putting a fence on the border would fix the problem right there.  If only it would.  Hispanics know it won’t. Until a coherent GOP policy on immigration, more than border security, comes out the party is doomed to continue to struggle with this growing voter bloc.

Is the Hispanic vote up for grabs in 2012?

On September 19th Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry flew to NYC to court donors and supporters.  But his courting was not limited to Wal-Street bankers or businessmen.  The presidential hopeful also met with Jewish and Hispanic community leaders.  Leaving aside the chance the GOP could actually win a decent percentage of the Jewish vote in 2012 due to Obama’s stance on Israel a major question has to be asked.  Is the Hispanic vote up for grabs in 2012? 

If one follows recent elections the answer would be emphatically no.  Democrats won over 70% of Hispanics votes in 2006 and 68% of the Hispanic vote in 2008.  Even in 2010 when Democrats were crushed in the midterm elections they won 60% of the Hispanic vote.  But those numbers must be used with caution considering Hispanics overwhelming went with Democratic candidates in the NV Senate race (even as they voted more Republican for a Hispanic Governor) and in CO for Governor and Senate.  In states such as Texas and New Mexico however the GOP gubernatorial winners grabbed 38% and over 40% of the Hispanic vote respectively (NM based on last surveys conducted before election).

Recent events have not been kind to Democrats, and especially the president’s, chances of winning 68% of this growing voting bloc’s vote again.  In Gallup survey released on September 7th the President stood at 48% approval among Hispanics.  This is down from a 75% approval rating among the group when he was first elected. Combined with the president’s unbelieveably meager 33% of approval among whites this is depressing news for Democrats.  Unemployment among Hispanics is higher than whites and only slightly lower than blacks.  Hispanic median income has not grown in over a decade.

And the president, according to liberal activists, has dropped the ball on issues that appeal to Hispanics.  He has failed to even push “Immigration Reform.”  His drive for the Dream Act (giving illegals children amnesty) was half-hearted at best.  And if surveys are to be believed Hispanics are counting.  But if Hispanics are mad at the president for these infractions what chance does a GOP candidate who is anti-amnesty, pro border security stand in winning Hispanic votes?  Considering the president’s standing and the wide range of issues to be debated in 2012 perhaps not as bad as one might expect.

One only need to look at the immigration record of the current GOP presidential frontrunner, Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Perry has been Governor of the largest border state in the country for 10 years and to boot he actually has a moderate record on immigration.  He has supported allowing in-state tuition for illegals, opposes simply building a border fence and has promoted several jobs programs that appeal to Hispanics.  Moreover, the Governor has a record of winning Hispanic votes.  In 2006 the Governor won 31% (out of a four candidate field) and in 2010 won 38% of their vote.  If Perry is the GOP nominee, he at least believes he can court this voter group as evidenced by his NYC trip.

How the rest of the GOP field would compete for Hispanic votes is up for grabs.  Romney could appeal to some on business background but his Morman faith is likely a big turn-off to laregly Catholic Hispanics.  Bachmann, Huntsman, Paul have little to get Hispanics attention. Santorum could appeal on social grounds but likely would struggle to gain traction.  Cain could go for trying to repeat Obama’s 2008 feat as a transformation minority candidate but that has already been done for(with such excellent results). 

For all the GOP’s problems with courting Hispanics the White House is regardless extremely worried.  In fact, on September 19th the DOJ just fired the White House’s opening salvo in its fight for Hispanic votes.  Texas’s controversial redistricting plan was cited by the DOJ for being in violation of Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act.  The background in a nutshell is that Texas gained four new Congressional districts, largely due to Hispanic growth.  The GOP decided to gamble and draw no new Hispanic-majority districts, instead seeking to create four new safe or GOP leaning seats.  Texas had already filed with the DC District Court for pre-clearance before the DOJ’s ruling.  The background aside the contrast the WH and DOJ are trying to make is clear.  We are fighting for your rights to have “regional” representation, the GOP is fighting to limit your voting power (course if you buy that argument than you should support removing Section 5 from the CRA).

The crappy state of the economy and high unemployment ensure that Hispanic votes will be hotly contested.  And even if a majority of Hispanics vote for Democrats and the president how big that majority is and where could determine the president’s and Democrats fates.  Obama is unlikely to win the same 95% of the African American vote and 43% of the white vote in 2008.  And he is also unlikely to attract the same kind of support and turnout among core support groups that he did in 2008. 

In short, the Hispanic vote is up for grabs in 2012.  And it will be hotly contested.

Another speech, another plan, and more of the same

On Monday, the White House outlined yet another plan.  This plan was even more extensive than the president’s so-called “Americans Jobs Plan.”  Legislation for that plan has yet to be forthcoming.  But I doubt legislation for Obama’s grand Deficit Reduction Plan will be coming soon either.  Considering the provisions in the plan it is very unlikely it could even pass the Democratic controlled Senate let alone the GOP dominated House.

The president’s Deficit Reduction Plan hinges on four key pillars. 1) The Deficit Reduction Committee in Congress finding at least 1.2 trillion in savings by Thanksgiving (along with finding savings for the president’s $447 billion jobs plan), 2) a whopping $1.5 trillion tax increase on the wealthy (which contrary to what the president says only generates this much revenue if those who make 200K and 250K are included), 3) a smoke and mirrors budgetary gimmick of saying winding down the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will save the country $1 trillion.  Finally, 4) $300 billion cut from Medicare in waste and fraud.  Social Security or cutting government spending apparently is off the table in this plan (unless Congress forces it).

This plan has no chance of passing.  The president knows this.  Just like he knew his jobs plan would not pass intact through Congress.  Whether the payroll tax cuts in the president’s jobs plan even get through Congress remains to be seen.  This was yet again another attempt by Obama to endear himself to his political base and draw a contrast with the GOP and their “nieve” insistence on smaller government and “no new taxes.”  But it gets better. The president promised in no uncertain terms (just like the Bush tax rate) that he would veto any plan that did not meet his liking. 

To say on policy substance this plan is a disappointment is an understatement.  Do the math in your head and you find Congress is responsible for finding amost half the savings in the president’s plan (and does not have his blessing to touch entitlements).  Another $1 trillion is based on future outlays the White House and OMB up until now did not even consider future outlays.  Finally, the true deficit reduction comes in a meager cut to Medicare over 10 years and a massive $1.5 trillion tax hike.  This is not a plan, this is a liberal’s wet dream.

It is no wonder than the left has eaten up this plan.  David Corn writing for Mother Jones applauded the president for his stance.  So did Rolling Stone Magazine.  Jonathon Chait in New York Magazine was at least honest when he titled his piece, “Obama is not trying to make a deal anymore, he is trying to win.”  Steve Kornacki, writing for Salon echoed as much in his piece “Obama settles on reelection strategy.  Gee I wonder what that strategy is? 

But greater electoral concerns remain for the president.  Even if he excites his base and makes Congressional Republicans look bad he is still in the WH when November 2012 rolls around.  Voters are unlikely to keep the same guy in office who has presided over 32 months of 8%+ employment.  Also, considering the results of NY-9 and NV-2, it is unlikely voters are going to knock the Republicans out of control of the US House.  So the president’s basic electoral problems remain, even with his base happy.  And than concerns about the president being a drag on down-ballot Democrats in tough reelections must be considered.

This plan fails on policy and on assuring the president’s election.  Hell, it has failed its main goal.  This plan never was about policy.  It was a purely partisan move.  And it shows.

Impact of Idaho GOP closed primary and presidential caucus

Idaho voters are in for a rude awakening in 2012 as two major changes have taken place in the state.  First, the GOP presidential nomination in the state will be conducted by a closed caucus.  In addition, this caucus will occur on Super Tuesday.  State legislative primaries will also be closed due to a recently won lawsuit by the Idaho GOP alleging an open primary violated the Idaho state constitution’s freedom to associate amendment.  This move leaves Idaho voters who choose to remain unaffiliated out in the cold in state primaries or caucuses by 2012.

This piece will attempt to explore the impacts of the rule changes and what it could mean for 2012.

1. Closed Legislative Primaries: First championed by GOP State Chairman Norm Semanko in 2008 and largely credited for his victory the argument was that an open primary violated the GOP’s right to freedom to assemble.  The hidden motive that most partisans knew was that the Idaho GOP was moving rightward in an ideological sense.  In 2010 after two years of arguing in front of an Idaho judge the GOP won.  The GOP argument was validated, at least they say so.  As the Idaho GOP has moved rightward the schism  between moderates and conservatives has grown.  It was on full display in the 2011 state legislature over three key issues, 1) education reform, 2) the budget, 3) the closed primary.  In each case moderate Republicans in the state house (few as they are) were pitted against their more conservative brothers and the sisters.  Ditto for the Senate (minus conservatives outnumbering moderates).  In each case conservatives got what they wanted, they just had to fight for it however.

To many conservative Republicans instituting a closed primary and caucus system seems to ensure long-time moderates are knocked out and new members are more conservative.  But an unintended, or perhaps intended consequence, is that voter turnout in primaries is sure to be lower.  Those who turn out in closed primaries tend to be more ideologically rigid then general election voters.  Even so, long-time moderates have survived numerous primary challenges against more conservative foes time and time again, in different districts as well. 

It is unclear however whether instituting a closed primary is sure to knock out long-time moderate legislators.  In their terms these members have gained a rapport with their district voters.  Even accounting for the possibility that many may be moved into new districts or be pitted against one another after redistricting some will surely survive.  And then what for Idaho conservatives who want them gone?  There is always retirement one would guess.

There is a Democratic perspective that having closed legislative primaries will benefit them.  The argument is long-time moderates will retire or lose their primary to more conservative candidates and a moderate Democrat will have a better shot in the race.  Depending on the race, maybe.  But two surveys taken last year showed most Republicans call themselves conservative ideologically, as did independents, making this unlikely to happen, at least on a multiple district scale.  More so, Democrats will have to close their primaries as well, which means Democrats will have to explain how it is the GOP’s fault they had to do so.  Good luck with that.  I am just sure voters want to hear that.

2. GOP Presidential Caucus (Closed): Many Republicans will argue that moving the Idaho presidential primary to a caucus is to ensure Idaho has a voice in the GOP nomination.  That is a fair argument.  Afterall, only six states had a later primary than Idaho in the nomination until the change.  Also, it was not feasible for the party to simply move the primary.  The state party holds all its local, county, legislative, statewide and federal primaries on the later date.  Moving those to Super Tuesday would have been immensely confusing and costly.  Delegate selection has long been an issue for the Idaho GOP.  With the primary system, Idaho could only be a winner take all state.  The new caucus system allows the Idaho GOP move to a similar system used by the Idaho Democrats (who also hold their caucus on Super Tuesday), which uses county apportionment of the vote for delegate selection to the RNC.

The nuts and bolts of the Caucus are as follows. 1) It is open to any GOP voter, 2) voting will take place by secret ballot, 3) in successive rounds with the low vote-getter being eliminated, 4) a winner is declared if a candidate hits 60% or 5) out of the final two candidates one hits more than 50%.  If one candidate hits 50% of all the state county delegates they are awarded all the Idaho delegates to the RNC.  Wonder how delegates from North Idaho who support Ron Paul will feel about that?

For all benefits the  Caucus system ensures to ideologically pure Republicans and more say in the primary there is a downside. Turnout is sure to be reduced as a caucus takes more time and some GOP voters may still be at work when it starts.  The fact the caucus is also closed will turn away unaffiliated voters.

Conclusion: The move to close the legislative primaries by the state GOP is sure to benefit conservative lawmakers and candidates.  Moderates within the party at the state legislative level may soon find themselves on the out.  Yet some may survive.  Many have survived prior challenges from more conservative candidates.  Depending on the new legislative maps moderates that survive being placed in new districts against other moderates may be better for it.  A stiff primary challenge better prepares you for the general election.  Turnout is sure to be lower but to many Republicans that is the cost of having a closed primary.

The new Idaho GOP Presidential Caucus has its benefits and downsides.  Idaho Republicans will have a greater say in the GOP Presidential nominating process, avoid questions or problems on delegate selection (mostly) and only have one election on the day to worry about.  For monetary and logistical issues all other primaries will stay on the later date.  But a major downside is voter disenfranchisement and not just unaffiliated voters but GOP voters as well.  These moves will also have consequences unforseen here, but that is for the future to hold.

Run or stand with an endangered president?

It is the quintessential question for incumbents in bad political years for their party (especially in presidential years).  Do you stand with the man at the top of the ticket of your party, or run?  There really is no easy answer.  Contradictory evidence exists for either decision.  Local, state and national issues can also intrude on an incumbent’s thinking as well.  The goal here will be to provide some examples of bad political years for both parties (1980 and up) , using them to perhaps explain what Democrats should do this year.  This is not to mean people are not mad with both parties, but in US politics one thing is true.  The party that owns the White House is the one that hurts the most election years.

1982: Republicans fresh off the wave election of 1980 set out force dramatic change.  Regulatory and tax reform.  Increase the defense budget.  And most of all instituting supply side economics.  The downside of this was Republicans went along wholeheartedly with this strategy.  In late 1981 when it started to become clear the economy was yet to do a 180 Republicans finally began to back off from Reagan’s policies.  But they also split on whether to defend the president’s policies or not in public.  Voting for them was one thing, campaigning on those votes was another.  In the end this kind of split decision-making cost the GOP 26 House seats and multiple Senate seats in the 1982 midterms.

1994: Republicans had been delivered a stinging rebuke from the public in 1992.  They had just lost the presidency and multiple House and Senate seats.  Democrats were elated to be in the WH for the first time in over a decade.  As a result, Democrats pursued policies that were liberal wet dreams of the time.  Tax reform which included raising taxes on the wealthy (such reform), gun control legislation, Hillarycare and a massive omnibus budget that became known for corruption and pork.  Democrats split in their support for those proposals along regional lines.  Southern Democrats ardently opposed gun control and Hillarycare.  Liberals loved them.  As a result, once again a split in support for the president’s policies emerged.  In 1994, GOP candidates blasted Democrats for supporting liberal initiatives across the nation.  Southern Democrats tried to run away from the president.  They had a case.  Combined with Republicans they had stalled Hillarycare and gun-control legislation.  But it was for not.  The GOP won eight senate seats and 54 House seats in 1994.  Among the ranks of lost Democratic seats were over 20 Southern districts.  Despite running away from the president Southern Democrats had been hit hard.  This trend would only accelerate in later years.  Meanwhile in the North, many Democrats who had pushed liberal initiatives survived, even in swing/moderate districts.  

2006: Republicans won firmer control of the Senate and the House (due to Texas’s mid decade redistricting) in 2004.  They had also retained the White House.  But eventually issues would drag down the GOP.  Corruption scandals plagued the White House.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan steadily got worse.  Spending grew out of control, angering many conservatives and independents who would have otherwise voted Republican.  By early 2006 many prominent Republicans were running away from the president.  Bush’s approval by the time of the midterms was below 40% and no matter what Republicans did to distance themselves they suffered.  Democrats took seats all across the country from California to Massachusetts.  Most affected were the number of GOP moderates sitting in swing districts.  From NY state to California they suffered widespread losses.  When the damage was tallied Democrats had won six Senate seats and 31 House seats.  Congress was now in Democratic hands.

2008: Coming off 2006 Democrats where hopeful on 2008.  Bush was still in office and unpopular and whoever the GOP nominated to replace him would be tied inevitably to his legacy.  Congressional Republicans were not relishing facing a more liberal and Democratic favoring presidential electorate.  Republicans and Democrats locked in partisan battle for over two years.  What the president got done was through executive order.  Democrats could not get through pet projects such as cap-and-trade and Healthcare reform.  In 2008, Democrats nominated Barack Obama for president.  The GOP went for John McCain.  Despite the fight between Obama and Hillary for the nomination the party was united against the GOP.  Congressional and Senate Republicans ran away from Bush but tied themselves to McCain.  Perhaps they hoped a maverick, moderate Senator could save them.  But when the market tanked in 2008 that changed.  The public turned firmly to Democrats and their nominee.  Obama cruised to victory and Democrats added nine new Senate seats to their numbers in the Senate and over 20 House seats.  Neither running nor sticking with a candidate save many Republicans.

2010: Democrats with huge majorities in both chambers and a liberal president in the WH charged ahead with liberal initiatives.  Healthcare Reform was shoved through almost to completion, as was cap-and-trade by late 2009 .  The Stimulus project, and other government spending which did not dent unemployment grew exponentially.  Perhaps Democrats should not have been so happy they won two special elections in NY.  Both had mitigating circumstances where the state GOP lost the seats, the Democrats didn’t exactly win them.   But Democrats did notice the results of NJ’s and VA’s gubernatorial elections (held in off years).  In each case a Republican governor won.  In VA the GOP won every state office by double digits.  In NJ, a little known Republican Attorney beat a well-financed incumbent Democratic Governor.  Then came a special election to replace the passed Senator Ted Kennedy in January.  In deep blue MA the GOP candidate, state senator Scott Brown, won an emphatic 52%-47% over well-known and liked (but horrid campaigner) Attorney General Marth Coakley.  But even than Democrats decided pushed ahead with a plan to make their base happy.  They passed Healthcare Reform in a total display of corruption for votes and increased spending (as if trillion dollar debts was not enough).  It was only by about June 2010 Democrats finally seemed to realize the president was hurting them.  His approval ratings had dropped below 50% and GOP challengers frequently tied Democratic incumbents to him.  Like in 1994, Democrats split in their approach.  Some Democrats ran from the president, others embraced him.  In the end the GOP cost themselves a couple Senate seats with bad candidates, ditto a few House seats, but won six Senate seats and 63 House seats.  It was an impressive haul and completed at the federal level their domination of the South.  Moreover, the GOP extended control in the South for the first time to many state offices. 

Today: Currently the president’s job approval numbers are border sub 40 levels.  Unemployment remains high, spending and the debt are major issues, entitlement spending is unsustainable.  The general mood of the public is pessimistic about the future.  And if recent special elections are any indication, voters blame the president’s party more than Republicans.  In California a special election saw a Republican come within 9% of winning a heavily Democratic district.  In NV-2 and NY-9 special elections just this Tuesday Republicans won both.  The Republicans won by over 20% in GOP leaning NV-2 and the Republican won in a massively Democratic, Brooklyn/Queens NY district by a stunning eight points.  Despite the fact Democrats won a special election in GOP leaning NY-26 a few months ago Democrats are taking notice.  Due to 2010 few remaining Democrats in the House respresent swing districts.  And redistricting has yet to be decided in many states.  But for Democratic Senators in swing states or GOP leaning states such as MT, NE, FL, MO, MI, PA, and OH  they have reason to be worried.  Democratic candidates for open seats in NM  and VA also.  So do they run or stand with their president in 2012.  If history is any example there is no clear answer.  Republicans stood with Reagan and were hurt in 82.  Democrats split on Clinton in 94 and were devastated.  In 2006 and 2008 Republicans ran from Bush and were defeated badly.  In 2010 most Democrats stuck with Obama, at least until the summer of 2010, and it did not matter.  In essence the decision is up the individual candidates.  Some districts and states are a better fit to run as a supporter of the president.  Others like MT, NE, FL, etc are not.  Local factors such as a candidate’s appeal, ability to move beyond a partisan label also play a part as do important state or federal issues that have a larger impact in that one district (or state) than nationwide.  There is no easy answer to this question.  Democrats and Republicans alike know this all to well.  Democratic incumbents in 2012 are likely to be a mix of presidential supporters and those that seek to distance themselves from the administration.  But it is likely, considering the electoral and partisan environment, that regardless a significant chunk of Democratic losses in 2012 will come from those that seeked to distance themselves from the White House.  To many Democratic Senators are up in GOP leaning states for this not to happen.  By contrast, only a a few GOP house districts will are likely to flip back to Democratic control, even if Obama wins reelection.  But that is a prediction for another day.