Assessing Democratic chances to take back the House in 2012

Almost one year from Election Day 2012 and Democrats and Republicans are feeling good about their prospects.  At least for the House.  Democrats are enthused by the fact the DCCC outraised the NRCC 2-1 in September and they have what they view as many strong challengers in swing GOP held seats.  Republicans are similarly excited because control of state legislatures has allowed vulnerable districts to be shored up, they have strong challengers to vulnerable Democrats and because Obama is at the top of the ticket.  So both parties feel good about 2012, but in truth what is the reality of Democrats regaining the House in 2012? 

The electoral math for Democrats looks neutral at best.  Democrats would have to pick off low-hanging fruit in Democratic leaning suburbs like PA-6, 7, 8 and 15.  These seats have been held by Republicans since 2000 or were taken in the wave election of 2010.  Then Democrats would need to proceed to win swing seats they lost in the Midwest and Rustbelt, seats which until recently have trended Democratic ( redistricting made many of them even less Democratic).  Lastly, and this is the big if for Democrats, they need to somehow make inroads in an increasingly inhospitable South.  Taking 25 seats in the rest of the country while not gaining any in the South is unlikely at best and impossible at worst.  Even with the GOP having won so many seats to defend in 2012 Democrats have vulnerable incumbents to defend as well.  In states like Arkansas Democrats hold on their sole Congressional seat has become more tenuous, illustrating just how thin a needle Democrats would have to thread electorally.

Money-wise House Congressional Democrats and candidates are sure to benefit from the DCCC and the president’s re-election campaign.  Whether they can raise money on their own is a different story.  Democrats have at least a dozen battle-tested candidates (former incumbents or former candidates) running or leaning running but the rest are relatively new to politics.  Some will get instant support from the progressive left while yet others may appeal to the unique constituencies of their districts. They will still need to raise money on their own though.  In 2010 GOP candidates benefitted from a wave election that made having more money at the end of many races immaterial.  With generic ballot polls tight and Congressional approval ratings low raising money could be more crucial than ever.  The verdict is out on whether individual candidates will be able to do so.

Redistricting looks to be a wash for both parties in terms of seat switches.  Democrats are sure to gain seats in Illinois and California.  Republicans are sure to gain seats in North Carolina, Utah, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and perhaps Indiana, Arkansas and Michigan.  Big wildcards remain though with New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania yet to start their redistricting.  Texas’s map is mired in a court challenge.  Republicans, as mentioned above, were able to shore up vulnerable seats and they will also likely do so in PA (they control the process) and work hard to do so in NY (split control) and Florida (independent panel handles redistricting).

The big wild-cards for 2012 that could swing control of the chamber in 2012 are the economy and the president.  The economy continues to struggle, unemployment is not shrinking and wages are flat.  All this has the potential to either help or hurt Democratic candidates.  But what could hurt Democrats the most is who is at the top of the ballot in 2012 and whether he can excite his supporters as he did in 2008.  Then President-Elect Barack Obama brought millions of new voters to the polls who swung many Congressional Democrats over the top in 2008.  Whether the president can bring them back is may be crucial.  Moreover, so will whether the president can win independents like he did in 2008.  With the president at 42% approval (according to average monthly Gallup surveys), polling even less among independents and this is looking less and less likely.  And that spells trouble for Congressional Democrats.

A year is a long time in politics.  But the fundamental dynamics of 2012 do not appear to favor Democrats. At best, they point to a draw in the House.  Redistricting looks like a draw, money-wise the DCCC is winning (but not necessarily individual candidates), and electorally the map looks to go through a very unhospitable South.  The big wild-cards are the economy and the president.  So for now it remains a stretch to say Democrats will win back the House in 2012.

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Buying the youth vote?

In 2008 President Obama won the youth vote in every conceivable way possible.  Turnout was massive and handed the president the largest popular vote victory for Democrats in over a decade.  Democrats down-balot were swept into office everywhere.  Now fast-forward to today and the masses of youth are not fawning over nor thinking about voting for Obama.  Instead they are dealing with the realities of a struggling economy, school and life in general.  Oh how things have changed since November 2008 and the early exciting days of 2009.

The Obama campaign has noticed.  Over the last several months the campaign has been heavily targeting the youth vote and former volunteers through outreach, social media and phone banks.  These efforts have at best fallen flat and at worst failed.  But it seems the White House and not the campaign has settled on the best idea to win back these voters.  Buy their votes.  This would be done through a plan sponsored by Representative Hansen Clark (D-MI) that calls for all student loan debt to be forgiven.  In fact, Moveon.org put a petition of support on its website and saw over 630,000 signatures of those under 30 sign it.  Talk about getting mine.

Student loans are set to eclipse the $1 trillion mark, coming close to exceeding the nation’s total credit card debt.  And like many other industries the student loan industry has evolved from privately run, to privately run to government subsidized to finally totally government-run.  It would be nice if student loans could really be forgiven with an act of Congress.  But they cannot.  Student loan costs are set by government and the whole host of social factors this creates.  Moreover, government loans do not even try to take into account the ability of a student to repay.  For example, a businesses administration major (a promising career choice with revenue potential) would get the same preference for student loans as a gender studies major.  But even so, the government would never completely write this debt completely off the balance-sheets.  It is close to $1 trillion and a useful political football when the times warrant its use.

But even worse is the student loan industry has been fueled by government subsidies.  So that means when the bubble created by subsidies collapses, and inevitably it will, student loans will be unattainable for many people who need them.  It gets worse, even the best efforts of the government to control the rising costs of student loans would be minimized due to inflation and the higher demands for the service.  Perhaps this is why the student loan default rate is already approaching 10%.

What makes a plan to buy the youth vote like this so great is it requires no additional spending or funding.  Instead, it simply calls for existing debt for a segment of the public to be eliminated (like it really would).  In fact, one can even see capitalist arguments made for this plan on the merit it keeps more money in the pockets of youth to spend (on useless crap that is).  Nevermind this is a bailout by any definition of the word and the moral hazard it would create would reverberate through our political system for decades to come.

Kudos have to be given for the person who came up with this plan.  It was not Hansen for he is simply carrying the bill in Congress.  If legislators oppose it they can be demonized by the opposition for doing so.  And if legislators support it (knowing it is certain to fail) they can make their case to young voters they tried to help them out.  I can see the web ads now targeting the youth vote from the White House, “We tried to forgive your student loans and give you a head-start in life,” dramatic pause, picture of GWB, “The Republicans did not.”

Even if this plan runs straight into a struggling economy and a disengaged youth electorate it is sure to win the president and Democrats a few votes.  In an election where over 16 million new voters could vote a fraction of these votes could easily swing the election.  Perhaps it will even recapture some of the enthusiasm of 2008.  The White House and Democrats can only hope.  Perhaps someday the forces of the market and sane fiscal policy can manipulate voters as much as plans like this.  Those working to pay taxes and support what is left of the economy scant have the time to think up plans like this let alone implement them.  Someday one hopes perhaps they can.

Herman Cain’s gaffes leave opening for Perry

The Cain-train has hit a series of snags in its presidential aspirations and they can be laid at the foot of the candidate himself.  Herman Cain, a self-made African-American businessman, relatively new to politics, is learning the hard way how polished you have to be to appear presidential to the nation.  More specifically, the GOP electorate. 

In recent months Cain has come out of nowhere to shock the GOP establishment and the campaigns of Texas Governor Rick Perry and Mitt Romney in particular.  Winning an upset in the Florida Straw Poll he catapulted into the lead in new polls and appeared not to slow.  In the New Hampshire economic forum sponsored by Bloomberg Cain made a simple and decent defense of his 9-9-9 plan, his claim to fame in the primary.  But in the GOP debate on Tuesday night in Nevada, Cain made two mistakes.  And they were big.

The segment of voters Cain has most heavily courted have been conservatives, more specifically social conservatives.  His debate performance on Tuesday night derailed that train.  Asked whether he opposed abortion in cases of race and incest, Cain hedged.  He said it was not in the president’s authority to advance a position on abortion.  Even worse, he used the words “pro-choice” to describe his position.  Uh-oh, I think somebody just made a boo-boo.  Cain’s campaign has been in damage control mode for the past few days but when your candidate cannot even come out with a coherent statement about what he meant after the fact it is kind of hard to do damage control.  And this has Republicans, conservatives especially, asking whether Cain really is ready to be president?

Cain has appeal to conservatives.  He is outside the system and charismatic and he can tell people what they want to here.  But his inexperience has begun to pile up.  Cain got in trouble twice early in the campaign (before he surged) on comments he made that may have suggested religious intolerance.  But it is his slate of mistakes starting in the last week that may make conservatives have second thoughts about him.  On Sunday, on the NBC show “Meet the Press,” Herman Cain made a horrible defense of his 9-9-9 plan.  And after that defense he rolled out a plan that would make the plan 9-0-9 on certain individuals.  For a candidate that has made his message for economic prosperity based on simplicity his plans are getting more complicated. This brings us to the second mistake Cain made on Tuesday at the debate. 

When asked what Cain thought of the Israeli-Palestian prisoner swap (one long-time held Israeli soldier for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners) Cain said he would consider doing something similar with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  And again, when asked a question about Afghanistan Cain recited yet again the same old line of “I will listen to my generals.”  That is great and all, but Republicans traditionally don’t select a nominee whose foreign policy positions are based on listening to generals and negotiating with terrorists (which is not say Israel wanted to but their position is quite different then the US’s).

Prior and current gaffes and lack of policy positions beyond 9-9-9 (or 9-0-9 for some individuals) appears likely to de-rail the Cain-train.  And it appears likely to help one candidate in particular.  Texas Governor Rick Perry has been out of the media spotlight lately.  That is just fine with his campaign it appears.  Perry came into the campaign riding high in the polls and since has dropped like a rock.  But other than Herman Cain, his rivals have not moved in the polls.  This suggests that conservatives who once liked Perry have moved to Cain but can just as easily move back to Perry or another candidate (perhaps Gingrich).

Perry has three advantages that neither Cain, Romney, or Gingrich (the three remaining viable candidates in my opinion) cannot match.  The first is Perry’s campaign is sitting on over $15 million in cash.  And with a lull in the debate season that means airwaves will be filled with Perry ads.  If one follows or looks up former Texas gubernatorial races Perry’s campaigns have run effective ads.  Second, Perry’s staff is experienced and has seen the ups and downs of campaigns.  While Romney’s staff might come close in experience they do not know their candidate as well, nor are as experienced as Perry’s (let-alone as intact).  Third, Perry easily has room to grow his support.  Cain’s surge in the polls has corresponded with Perry’s sudden drop.  If voters turn away from Cain, they are very likely to come back to Perry if on nothing else but ideology.

Furthermore, Perry’s campaign has steadily been bringing out policy positions and plans in succession.  That is what many criticized the Texan Governor on lacking during his entry into the primary (along with weak debate performances).  Less than two weeks ago the Governor proposed an energy plan calling for the elimination of the EPA and drilling and exploiting the US’s vast natural resources.  And next week his campaign will unveil his new ideas for a flat tax.  Following that are hints of positions on Afghanistan.

Now this does not mean Perry is assured to be the “Comeback kid.”  The Governor still has many weaknesses to be exploited such as his stance on immigration in Texas, his weak debate performances and his lack of policy knowledge (though the break in debates should help).  But Perry has always had unique advantages none of the candidates can match and now it is bolstered by a load of cash right in the middle of a lull in the debate season.  That has got to mean something.

The one thing that is noticeable about Cain’s rise is how little scrutiny he has gotten from the media.  Conservative blogs, and left and right pundits, have generally left his gaffes alone.  But now that he has steadily led in the polls (most polls that is) for almost two weeks he is being brought into the spotlight.  And much as conservatives and Republicans may like him personally they are sure to notice his mistakes and start to make judgements on his fitness to lead this country, let alone be the party’s standbearer.  And that leaves an opening for Perry to exploit.

Will Wal-Street protestors affect the 2012 elections?

It is noticeable just how much the Wal-Street protestors have recently affected the political arena.  Originally viewed, by both left and right, as a bunch of rabble-rousers with little staying power, that view has shifted.  Now even the president is paying attention and actively courting them.  In a recent press conference with the media the president hinted that their goals and his are not dissimilar and compared them to the Tea Party, nevermind the Tea Party already has affected one election, has stuck around and yet the Wal-Street protestors have done nothing close.

At least several left and right-wing groups are paying attention to the protestors.  Mostly on the  right it is advocates for Ron Paulthat are actively courting the diverse group on the grounds of ending the Fed.  And on the Left, Moveon.org and unions are actively organizing the protests all across the country.  But does this movement have staying power?  And if so, is it big enough and does it have the capacity to affect the 2012 elections?

A new poll does shed light on the movement.  Conducted by Democratic strategist Doug Schoen for the Wal-Street Journal some dynamics of the group were revealed and his ultimate analysis conludes the left is making a mistake by trying to embrace the group.  It does bode well for the group’s staying power that over half in the survey said they had participated in political movements before, 98% supported civil disobedience, but a full 31% said violence was okay to achieve their aims more on this in a bit). This group overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008 and now only 48% say they will again.  Only about a third call themselves Democrats and another third say no party represents them.  Finally, a full 85% say they are employed, which means they may have achieved the socio-economic status to wanting to vote (despite supporting violence as well) or at least feeling they have a something to lose in the system.

But the movement is far out of the mainstream in American politics.  Almost 2/3rd, 65% say the government should ensure Healthcare access for everybody, and 77% say the wealthiest should pay more in taxes.  Perhaps showing what socio-economic bracket many in the movement represent 36% call for taxes to be raised on everybody, 58% oppose it however.  Ironically, pointing to the contradictions inherent in any new political movement, 49% say the 2008 Bank Bailouts were necessary.  This is far out of the mainstream in terms of viewpoints.

While in certain surveys a majority of Americans support the wealthier paying taxes, nowhere near does 2/3rd support the government ensuring Healthcare.  Nor does a full third of the average public support the use of violence.  So then where would these voters go if they came to the polls?  If movements like Moveon.org and the unions have their way it would be for far-left progressive Democratic or Independent candidates.  But many in the movement show such dismay with the system it is hard to see them voting in en-mass for a party they feel does not represent them.  In other words, as Doug Schoen said, it would be a mistake for Democrats to actively and visibly court this group.

If appearances were everything the movement would appear likely to help Democrats and affect 2012.  But that would disregard the movement is out of the mainstream, has contradictions within it that need to be resolved, and most importantly, does not share the views of concerned independents and moderates.  If the left, and specifically Democratic candidates, embraced the movement they could be open to attacks they support a movement that supports radical and vast wealth redistribution.  Even Democratic moderates might be turned away from the Democratic candidate on that charge.  A social safety net is one thing, wealth redistribution on a massive scale is another.

It is more likely that the movement will help some Democrats and the president, but not nearly have the effect on 2012 the Tea Party did in 2010 or is likely to have in 2012.  Democrats and the left would be cautious in how they approach and court this movement.  It is far outside the mainstream and has radical and violent segments.  The vast majority of voters, left and right, do not share these ideas.

Personal Note:  When you claim to represent the 99%, try not to have 62 respondants (31% out of 200 surveyed) say they support violence to achieve their aims.  Seems safe to say the vast majority of the public, you know, the more then 1%, does not agree with those views.

The early presidential battleground states of 2012

In the modern US presidential system few states are really competitive, let alone fought over.  Partisan realignment has assured that few states are in current elections.  But in 2008 President Barack Obama expanded the map into the Democrats column.  Now it looks like the economy will expand the map the other way for the GOP.  The GOP can credibly claim to be competitive in 11 states that have been competitive in the past or voted Democrat.  Democrats cannot claim to really have put any new GOP states from 2008 on the map.  So without further ado, here are the early 12 battleground states for president of the US. organized by the region they are in. 

West:

Colorado: In recent years the partisan tilt of the state has shifted dramatically.  Substantial growth in the left-leaning Denver suburbs and Hispanic growth has contributed to this red state swinging purple.  In 2008 the state went for Barack Obama by 54%-45% after going for President Bush by 52%-47%.  It is noticeable how much the center of political power has swung in this state.  Since 04 Democrats have won the governorship twice, and held the state House and Senate, until losing the House in 2010.  All this points to a competitive match-up in this Western state.  The number of Republicans and Democrats in the state is virtually identical, making independents key for a victory or loss here.  Depending who the GOP nominates, their candidate could have appeal in the better educated suburbs (Romney) or the rural regions of the state (Perry).  Obama has seen his approval ratings in the state tank and is now underwater (thought not as bad as other states).

Nevada: In 2008 this state underwent a 15 point shift in favor of the Democrats at the presidential level.  The state that had voted 51%-48% for Bush in 2004 moved to Obama 55%-43%.  But that was then and this is now.  Nevada has one of the worst unemployment ratings in the country of over 13% and the GOP won back a Congressional seat  based in the hurting Las Vegas suburbs in 2010 and held the governorship. The growing Hispanic vote has buoyed Democrats chances of holding the state.  But Democrats face growing problems with the state’s suburban and rural white voters.  In 2008 Democrats won the Las Vegas suburbs against a GOP incumbent 48%-42%.  But in 2010 a GOP challenger won a race which saw a 7 point swing from 08 to the GOP.  In 2008 Obama almost won 50% of the vote in the GOP leaning NV-2 even as he was winning elsewhere in the state.  But fast-forward to a 2011 special election to replace Rep. Dean Heller (became US Senator after John Ensign resigned) and the seat went Republican by over 20 points.  All this points to a state hurting in this economy that has swung it to the right.  How far it has swung is an open question.  Democrats still hold both chambers of the state legislature and all state offices but the Governorship.  There are a couple of factors that could help the GOP here.  If Republicans nominate Mitt Romney his Mormon roots could bring those Republican voters to the polls in massive numbers in Northern Nevada.  Likewise, Rick Perry could play well among the state’s growing Hispanic vote. 

New Mexico: According to the 2010 Census this is the first state to declare whites as less than 50% of the population and that has consequences for 2012. Despite GOP gains in 2010 (won the Governorship and a Congressional seat) this state has become bluer since 2004 when it went for George Bush by less than 1% in 04.  Like all the other state’s in the West that have become competitive or swung to the left it has been buoyed by the Hispanic growth in the state.  Unemployment in the state has hung around the national average so its bearing on the race will likely be linked to national plans for jobs.  Obama easily won the state in 2008 57%-42% which means the GOP will have to work overtime to win this state.  New Mexico early on looks like a swing state despite its left tilt but unless Democratic leaning voters switch their allegiance in 2012 this state could quickly be written off by the GOP.

Midwest

Pennsylvania: No GOP candidate for president has won this state since 1988.  And since the beginning of 09 that trend looks less and less likely to continue.  Obama won this state by 10% in 2008 but since then Democrats has lost 5 Congressional seats, a Senate Seat, and the legislature and Governorship.  Even worse, consistently polls are now showing the president underwater in approval.  The president’s problem, and perhaps the GOP’s gain, is his persistent weakness with white working class voters.  These voters, also known as Jacksonian Democrats, went for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary and only grudgingly came back to Obama in the general.  Now their votes look a lot less assured.  Suburban voters around Philadelphia still approve of the president but they along with Metro Philadelphia are not enough to carry the president to victory.  For the president and Republicans, the battle for this state will be fought among its swing working class voters.  And fortunately for the GOP, these voters have swung right since 2008.

Ohio: Ohio is the quintessential Midwestern swing state.  It has backed the winner of the presidential election over 10 times in a row and has a pretty good sampling of the demographics of the country.  Since 2008 they state has swung right, electing 5 new GOP Congressman, a new GOP Governor, a GOP controlled state legislature as well as all other state offices.  But the state’s electoral power was diminished by the 2010 census.  Ohio lost two Congressional districts knocking down its electoral power.  The state is still critical however, not just for its demographic representation of the country as a whole but also its remaining electoral votes.  Republicans start with a built-in advantage among suburban voters and white working class voters but will have to expand their coalition to win.  For the president, as in Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states he needs to win back independents and white working class voters.  True to its nature, Ohio is likely to go down to the wire in 2010.

Michigan: Like Pennsylvania, Michigan has not gone Republican for president since 1988 and like Pennsylvania the state looks up for grabs in 2012.  The reason is simple.  The economy.  Michigan has been devastated by the recession.  In 2010 Republicans took the state legislature and all state offices, and won back 3 Congressional districts.  And the president’s approval in the state is underwater.  Even the president’s bailouts of Chrysler and GM have appeared to hurt and not help him in this state.  The state is mostly white with a major black population in and around Detroit and once again working class whites who have leaned Democratic in recent elections look up for grabs.  If Republicans nominate Mitt Romney he might have play with older voter due to his father being a former Governor in the state.  But like other swing states nationwide this state looks likely to hang on the economy.  If the economy does not improve the president will lose working and suburban whites.  And even with strong union support (weakened as it is) in the state it is hard to see the president holding on here.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin has swung several ways since 2008.  In 2010 voters put the GOP in control of a new US Senate seat, Congressional district, all state offices and the state legislature.  In return the GOP promised to balance the budget and weaken union authority.  And so they did.  But in doing so they angered the base of the Democratic party, the unions.  In the beginning of 2011 the state legislature passed laws limiting CBA powers.  And in return Democrats and the unions successfully put six GOP state Senators up for recall in a special election over 4 weeks.  Over the course of those elections Democrats successfully recalled two of the six GOP senators, one short to swing control of the state senate.  But unions also promised to recall GOP Governor Scott Walker and continue to work towards this end.  How this as well as a newly opened US Senate seat play into the presidential race is unknown.  Both Republicans and Democrats are mobilized in the state and the partisan divide has grown.  In the recall independents favored GOP incumbents by a narrow margin.  This indicates a close election in 2012.  Once again the economy, but also local and state issues, such as CBA rights, will play a major role.

Iowa: Iowa went narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 and then narrowly swung to George Bush in 2004.  It swung back to Democrats in 2008.  But in the midterms of 2010 the state swung GOP at every level.  Three new GOP state Supreme Court justices were elected, as were all new GOP state officials.  Democrats narrowly held the state Senate and did not lose a Congressional seat.  But Iowa is now losing a Congressional seat to reapportionment lessening its power, if not swing nature, in the presidential race.  The president’s approval in this purple state has hung around or below 50% and the state’s unemployment rate has hung around the national average.  Bt most key to the president’s reelection is he has maintained the allegiance of suburban swing voters in the Des Moines suburbs.  But like many other Midwestern states Iowa is likely to swing on the economy.  And Hispanics according to the Census have shrunk and not grown in the state since 2000, perhaps aiding the GOP.  Despite all this and its loss of an electoral vote, Iowa is likely to be fought over tooth and nail in 2012.

New England:

New Hampshire: As New England has become more Democratic, New Hampshire has succeeded in maintaining its swing status.  To illustrate this look at the last three elections.  In 2000 New Hampshire was the only state in the region to back George Bush.  In 2004 it narrowly backed John Kerry and in 2008 it went to Barack Obama but only by 9% as he was winning every other state in the region by double-digit margins.  And New Hampshire looks as swingy today as it did back in 2000.  In  2010 the GOP  won new majorities in the legislature and elected 2 new GOP Congressmen and a new US Senator.  And things look bleak for Democrats in this state.  The president is underwater in approval and if the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney he could have regional appeal in the state.  The only plus for Democrats here is the state GOP Party is in disarray after a disastrous new GOP chairman was voted out in the last month.  New Hampshire looks once again to be the only competitive state in New England, who wins it is anybody’s guess.

South:

Florida: Florida is the quintessential Southern swing state.  It has wide demographic representation and has backed the winner of the presidential election since 1992 when the state went for HW Bush.  Florida has been hit hard by the recession and has an unemployment rate above the national average.  In 2010 the state saw the GOP make huge inroads. The GOP held an open Senate seat, won three new Congressional districts, and held every state office, strengthening their hold on the legislature in the process.  President Obama ran especially weak here among white voters in 2008, especially in Northern Florida, and struggled with the Cuban population (McCain won them).  Traditionally this state has been decided by the voters who live along the I-4 Corridor but 2012 could be different.  This state could all depend on turnout.  Among the key supporters of the president here in 2008, blacks, non-Cuban Hispanics and the young chronic unemployment is persistent.  It is estimated over 20% of blacks in the state are unemployed.  If these voters do not turn out for the president he could lose the state even if he wins independents.  However, the president may be buoyed by the fact the new GOP Governor, Rick Scott, is unpopular and his reforms have yet to show progress.  Still, Florida currently looks like a tough nut for the president to crack, especially if his base’s turnout suffers (despite massive turnout he only won here 51%-48%).

Virginia: Virginia has emerged as a new swing state in presidential politics. The election of 2008 marked the first time since 1964 Virginia had gone for a Democrat for president (a 52%-47% R to 53%-47% D).  This shift was buoyed by a bad economy, the growth of the left-leaning Norfolk suburbs and working class whites coming back to the Democratic fold.  The elections of 2009 and 2010 saw the state return to its GOP roots however.  The GOP won back all state offices in 2009 and in 2010 captured three new Congressional districts in the state.  Most distressing for Democrats was that conservative Democrats in the state abandoned long-time Democratic incumbents for GOP challengers.  Just as in the Midwest the president faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding his 2008 coalition.  Meanwhile, the GOP has the built-in support of new working class whites and rural voters.  If turnout is even among Democrats and Republicans, as both bases turn out, the race would be decided in Northern Virginia, an advantage to the president.  But if, as some polls show, the president’s base does not turn out he would need to rack up huge margins among independents in Northern Virginia to win.  And right now, he is not popular among these voters in the state. 

North Carolina: Like Virginia, North Carolina is new to the national scene as a swing state.  North Carolina’s swing mirrors Virginia’s.  Voting for Republican George Bush in 04 56%-44% the state shifted to President Obama narrowly 50%-49%.  North Carolina is a harder state for a Democrat to win than Virginia however for demographic reasons.  Conservative Democrats in North Carolina appear more Republican at the federal level then Virginia conservative Democrats.  And despite the growth of Hispanics in the state they have yet to emerge as a large voting bloc in presidential races.  The new Democratic suburbs of Raleigh also have less voting power than Northern Virginia.  The GOP, even in 2008, has been making inroads among the state’s white rural voters and in 2010 that trend accelerated significantly. And since the start of 2011 the president has not been able to turn his approval ratings positive.  Once again, like Virginia, the president needs his base to turn out.  Republicans need independents and rural whites to come out in force.  North Carolina could easily swing either way in 2012.

The Democratic Party of today

Welcome to the new Democratic Party.  The party has shifted rapidly from its roots to accommodate the changing American political system and changing demographics.  The Democratic party is not the only party to shift in recent years.  Along with the Democratic Party’s support shifting among the general populace so has the GOP’s.  But what is most striking is how far the original Democratic coalition has changed from the start of the 19th century, its impact on 2010, and what it portends for future elections.

In the early 20th century the Democratic party was a hodge-podge of regional coalitions from the big city bosses of the Rust-Belt and Northeast to the Southern rural voter.  In 1932 FDR united these various factions under the Democratic banner for the first time, creating a national brand and identity these voters could follow.  Even better for Democrats, and relevant for today, FDR balanced the interests of blacks and southern whites, allowing both to come into the Democratic fold.  The original Democratic coalition largely consisted of southern whites and blacks, unions, and the urban and rural poor and seniors and religious voters.

This coalition largely held steady through Truman, Kennedy and LBJ.  Starting in 1972 the first crack showed with Nixon winning every Southern state (first time a Republican had done so).  In 76 Carter would win back several key Southern states on his way to the nomination.  However, by this time what was becoming increasingly clear was the coalition FDR had built between southern whites and the national Democratic Party was straining.  With Reagan’s victories in 80 and 84 it became clear that southern whites interests had thoroughly diverged with that of the national Democratic party (up until 2010 they voted Democratic in state and local races to some degree).  Even moderate Bill Clinton could not help the national party regain the support of many southern whites.  Following this trend was the movement of rural voters all across the country into the GOP’s column, mirroring the shift of southern whites.  Many of these voters were also religious, helping explain why the religous vote has moved away from Democrats.  Democrats also became increasingly affiliated with urban and metro interests and were not seen as being able to balance the two.  Finally, while the national interests of unions continued to lie with the Democratic party their rank and file members were not so giving.  While unions today continue to be a major Democratic supporter their rank and file members are not always a guaranteed vote.

The Democratic party of today looks nothing like its earlier 19th century counter-part.  Today the Democratic Party’s main supporters include urban voters (many minorities), young voters, national unions, seniors and suburban voters.  Gone are the key rural voters, many religious, who once populated their ranks as did the once solidly Democratic South.  Even in 1994 when a moderate Southern Democrat occupied the White House this was the make-up of the Democratic coalition.  The difference was that due to Clinton’s rural roots he won a larger share of the rural vote (1992). The election of 1994 was a rude wake-up call to Democrats.  Not only had the South and rural voters shifted Republican at the presidential level they had now started to shift Republican at the Congressional level. 

This trend would largely hold true through the new millenium into the elections of 2000 and 2004.  Both Al Gore and John Kerry lost rural and white voters by double-digits margins.  They won the youth vote, minorities, unions and split the suburban vote (in recent years the suburban vote has been more swing then left leaning due to the growth of GOP leaning exurbs, a mix of suburbs and rural areas).  In 2006 and 2008 this trend would be reversed as Democrats won whites in many areas once thought off-limits (South and rural Midwestern areas).  Turnout in 2008 among minorities, unions and the youth vote was massive, propelling many Democrats in swing states and districts to victory.

Come 2010 however and the unruly Democratic coalition that had been created since 2006 collapsed in on itself.  Urban vs. rural interests collided as did suburban (businesses orientated, post-graduate education) interests vs. union.  Elected in a groundswell of support in 2008 by the youth vote and minorities the failure to deliver on key issues, the economy and jobs, turned these voters off to showing up at the polls again.  The hard left turn the Democratic Party took to pass Healthcare Reform, the Dodd-Frank bill, Stimulus Package and failed attempts to pass Cap and Trade would have serious repercussions come the midterms.

In every region of the country, (except California and the deep Northeast) the GOP took back the disparate factions of its coalition that had abandoned it in 2006 and 2008.  Southern whites, upset at deficit spending, unemployment and liberal economic policies abandoned the Democratic party at every level of governance.  Traditionally southern white voters stuck with the Democratic party at the local and state level but not this time.  Conservative Democrats at every level of office in the South were defeated.  In the key battleground suburbs this swing vote went heavily to the GOP.  And among the religious non-evangelical vote, the Catholic vote, traditionally swing in recent elections, the GOP dominated accelerating them to Senate wins in OH, WI, IN and PA and over a dozen new Congressional districts in these states alone.

The unruly Democratic coalition of 2006 and 2008 with all of its competing factions had disintegrated.  What was left is the Democratic party of today.  Largely minority, union, urban and youth based the one new addition to the coalition that stayed with Democrats was post-graduate voters.  Come 2012 this coalition is not enough to win elections and the rural and religious vote is all but decided for the GOP.  That leaves Democrats to fight for the key suburban vote in swing states they largely lost in 2010.

Turnout among growing support groups for the Democratic party will be especially crucial in 2012.  Hispanics, who have seen their population and vote share grow astronomically in recent elections need to be turned out by Democrats.  Even Republicans realize they cannot win on the white vote and a third of the Hispanic vote and have targeted these voters as well.  And for the youth and traditional minority vote, their turnout needs to be high as well, especially if suburban voters and independents lean towards the GOP, which they currently are.  Republican rural voters are as motivated today as 2010 so Democrats need the key factions of their supporters to turn out.

The growth of the current minority vote in the US looks to have the greatest impact on future US elections.  In recent years, especially 2008 and 2010, the two political parties have become more racially homogenous.  The GOP has become whiter and the Democratic Party less so and more minority/millennial generation based.  But the white vote is shrinking, the African-American vote has stayed constant and what is left is the growing Hispanic vote share.  This group since 2006 has given Democrats at least 60% of their support nationwide and turnout has reached about 15% of the voting public in every election.  If Democrats maintain a lock on this growing voter group they could dominate elections in the future.  This is painting a quite rosy picture however, it is likely if the Hispanic vote share grows individual and group interests within the vote share will shift and change, setting up future competing interests impossible to comment on currently.

The new Democratic Party is mostly minority, youth, union, urban and post-graduate based with support among the swing senior and suburban vote. In 2010 they lost the suburban and senior vote.  Rural voters that supported them in 2006 and 2008 left them.  Turnout among young voters and minorities was down.  For 2012 these factors need to be reversed for the Democrats to hold the Senate and White House and retake the House or some variation of this.  In future elections the growing sway of the Hispanic vote promises both parties to adapt to accommodate it or perish.  It will be interesting to see how both the GOP and Democrats try to control the competing interests of their constituencies with the Hispanic vote even as they court them.

Is Romney the GOP’s best chance in 2012?

For months the defining feature of the GOP race has been the fractured nature of the field.  The Republican electorate despite the number of choices continued to hold out hope for a mystery candidate to appear and solve all their woes.  But one by one the hoped for mystery candidates failed to appear and those like Rick Perry who decided to run showed serious deficiencies.  Now that is getting late in the race GOP voters are going to have to answer two questions and which they place more emphasis on.  Which candidates are ideologically conservative? Who can win against the president in 2012?  For over a year it has been accepted by the establishment that Mitt Romney is the GOP’s best chance to win in 2012.  Well let’s examine this and bring in a few of the other candidates to compare and contrast Romney with.

Mitt Romney has been running for the GOP nomination for president for well over the past five years.  He was one of the first GOP candidates to declare in 2007 and was also one of the first to declare in 2011.  Even after he lost to Senator John McCain in 2008 he campaigned hard for the GOP nominee, currying favor with the GOP establishment.  Establishment favor however does not equate to support within the broader GOP electorate as Romney is learning.

Romney faces questions from fiscally conservative voters over Romneycare, which the CATO Institute says is bankrupting his state.  His prior support of gay marriage and abortion, then his recent opposition to it also rankles social conservatives.  Perhaps even worse is that Romney has co-opted the states-rights argument and tried to make the distinction that what he did in MA is different then Obamacare because it was done at the state level.  In more moderate states like New Hampshire this has appeal but in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina this argument is ringing hollow.  But this article is not debating whether Romney can win the GOP nomination but whether he can beat the president though these are issues to how well he can turn out the GOP base.

Romney has led in numerous surveys, national, state and primary surveys, but he has never taken over 30% among the GOP faithful.  And in general election surveys Romney leads or narrowly trails the president.  This is fueled by the fact President Obama continues to suffer horrendous approval ratings and is now stuck in two major scandals with Fast and Furious in AZ and the energy company Solyndra.  Romney is not the only GOP candidate to come close to beating the president in surveys however.  In a recent Quinnipiac survey Romney led the president by two points, but TX Governor Rick Perry only trailed by one point.  And in a recent Rasmussen survey, businessman Herman Cain narrowly trailed the president.  So just going off poll numbers does not indicate Romney is the best candidate to beat Obama.

Due to being in the race for months before any other candidate Romney has assembled an impressive war-chest.  He boasts the most impressive campaign infrastructure, infrastructure that has been active for over five years.  And with the absence of any mystery candidate Wal-Street can get behind many major donors are starting to align with Romney.  But it is notable where Romney continues to struggle to get donors such as in California and Texas and this is among Republicans.  Romney’s fundraising prowess among these donors has also come into question lately.  Texas Governor Rick Perry raised over $17 million in the 3rd quarter despite only being in the race for seven weeks.  Romney on the other hand raised $15 in the entire 3rd quarter.  Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact Romney’s campaign continues to burn through cash fast simply to maintain is current infrastructure, making it hard to expand.  Meanwhile Perry’s campaign barely burned through $2 million of the $17 million it raised.  So on fundraising again Romney does not appear to be a clear favorite, even among Republicans.  This begs the question how would he fare against the Democratic fundraising machine?

Appeal must also be considered.  Romney has a unique appeal in the Midwest/Rusbtbelt and Northeast that few if any of the other GOP candidates can match.  He also has an appeal to moderate independents that the other GOP candidates lack.  That gets the GOP votes they might otherwise struggle with.  But this needs to be contrasted to more conservatives candidates like Rick Perry or Herman Cain.  Perry and Cain both have appeal to fiscal and social conservatives Romney lacks.  The lose of moderates and independents could be mitigated by the fact Perry and Cain could turn out social and fiscal conservatives, just as Bush did in 2004.  Furthermore, unlike Romney, both Perry and Cain could have an appeal to Democratic leaning constituencies that Romney lacks.  Perry has shown with his elections in Texas that he can win a chunk of the Hispanic vote.  And Cain has both personal and businesses appeal to some in the black community.  Regionally, Perry and Cain would both have appeal in the South and Perry in the Southwest, especially if he can win Hispanic votes. 

Romney knows policy.  The verdict is out on how well Perry and Cain do.  Perry has struggled in the debates and while Cain has appeared solid in his debate performances he has not been fielded serious policy questions.  On Afghanistan he has hedged and said he would support his generals and on economic policy he has his 9-9-9 plan.  Perry appears to want troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and wants lower taxes, less regulation and to create new jobs (who doesn’t).  Knowing policy is not the only important thing about becoming president however, especially in debates.  You must be cool, intelligent and calm.  Romney passes in all three and so does Cain.  Perry has struggled on the calm and cool front, getting flustered towards the end of GOP debates.   So Romney appears to have an advantage on the policy front but perhaps not the appeal front.

Lastly comes the intangibles.  Any candidate could have an advantage here.  Romney has a claim here as he has business experience.  Perry has a claim here for the work and reform he has done and implemented in Texas.  Cain, unlike Perry or Romney, has never even held public office, being the ultimate outsider candidate.  All three candidates, whether through the public or private sector, have created jobs so voters could be drawn to them there. How voters interpret these intangibles is critically important for a candidate’s chances in 2012.

Using this analysis it is unclear whether Romney is the GOP’s best chance to beat the President in 2012.  The President is already in a precarious position and several GOP candidates, including Romney, are beating or narrowly trailing the president.  On fundraising Romney has not shown he can dominate the GOP field, so questions remain how he would do against Obama and Democrats.  Appeal also appears to be a net draw.  Romney has appeal in the Northeast and Midwest/Rustbelt and among moderate voters.  But Cain and Perry could reach into Democratic minority constituencies and win, as conservatives no less.  On policy all three candidates know their stuff.  Romney is the best at expressing it, the verdict is out on how Cain will do when he faces tough questions and Perry needs to improve.  Romney leads there.  Lastly, on the intangibles Romney does not have an edge.  In some form Perry, Romney and Cain can try to claim voters with their background.

So currently the verdict is out on whether Romney is the GOP’s best chance to beat Obama.  In a way it could depend on what strategy the GOP decides to pursue to beat Obama.  If the GOP wants independents and moderates to put them over the edge Romney may be best.  But if turnout among the base and stealing Democratic leaning constituencies is the plan than Perry or Cain may be the best candidates.  The election is a long ways off and voters, strategists and analysts would be wise to remember this.  No candidate has a lock on claiming “I am the GOP’s best chance to beat Obama in 2012.”