The new Rustbelt battlegrounds: Michigan and Wisconsin

I want to conclude my roaming series of articles on presidential battleground states by focusing on Wisconsin and Michigan.  Both have not backed a Republican for president since 1988.  Both have similar demographic and geographic profiles.  In 2008 Barack Obama won both states by double-digits.  But in 2010 these two states turned as the rest of the nation did and handed a new crop of GOP officials the reigns of power.  The Romney campaign has vowed to contest both heavily.

Wisconsin has a heavily suburban GOP electorate, liberal urban vote and a large swath of populist, white, swing voters in the rural areas of the state. Michigan also has a heavily GOP suburban electorate and multiple pockets of populist, blue-collar swing voters.  But Michigan also has far more African-Americans than Wisconsin and a more conservative rural vote.

In 2004 this dynamic was on full display in Michigan.  Bush carried every rural county in the state by significant margins.  However those margins were unable to overcome the Democratic strength that came from Wayne County, where Detroit is located.  Kerry only was able to win one suburb outside of Detroit, Oakland County.

In 2004 Wisconsin was one of the most hotly contested states in the country.  John Kerry ended up winning the extremely polarized race by a mere .38%, a difference of slightly over 11,o00 votes.  But if one looks at the maps between Michigan and Wisconsin it becomes very clear Kerry won far more counties in Wisconsin than Missouri.  Yet he easily won Michigan and barely won Wisconsin.  This occurred because the Wisconsin suburban electorate is more conservative than even Michigan’s (urban vote outweighs Michigan’s suburban and rural conservative vote) but Wisconsin’s rural vote is more moderate than Michigan’s.  In truth, Kerry won Wisconsin in 2004 on the strength of carrying small rural counties such as Price, Portage and Adams Counties.

Fast forward to 2008 however and the maps of each state look dramatically different.  In Wisconsin in 2008 Barack Obama won by 14 points.  But what is stunning about the victory is he did so by carry virtually EVERY rural county in the state.  Outside of the heavily suburban GOP counties of SE Wisconsin McCain won a mere five counties.  In Michigan Obama won by a staggering 17 points.  He did not win as many counties in Michigan as Wisconsin but ran up big margins in Detroit and won its surrounding conservative suburbs.  Meanwhile the rural vote in 2008 in MI was depressed below 2004 levels, just as Ohio’s was.

But in 2010 the results of 2008 were seemingly washed away.  In Michigan the GOP took the Governor’s mansion, all other statewide executive offices, both chambers of the Legislature and two new Congressional seats.  In Wisconsin the GOP won a Senate seat, the Governor’s mansion, all other statewide executive offices, both chambers of the legislature and two Congressional seats.

Looking at the county maps for Michigan and Wisconsin, whether it be for Governor or Senate in each state it becomes clear that Democratic inroads into rural counties disappeared.  In Michigan outside of Wayne County, GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder lost a mere two counties.  In Wisconsin GOP nominee Scott Walker, outside of Madison and Milwaukee, won all but eleven counties.  In the Senate race that Ron Johnson won by five points in W his victory closely resembles Walker’s, though he lost a few more counties.

Exit polls are also illuminating.  In 2008 Barack Obama won the urban and suburban vote in Michigan easily.  Ditto for Wisconsin.  But whereas McCain narrowly won the rural vote in Michigan, Obama won the rural vote in Wisconsin by a commanding nine points.  No wonder he crushed McCain in virtually every county in the state.

Fast forward to 2010 again though and those results switch.  In the Senate race in Wisconsin exit polls show Johnson won men and Feingold narrowly women.  But the suburban and rural vote is switched around from 2008.  Rural voters backed Johnson 57%-42% and suburban voters 56%-43%.  Rural voters and suburban voters also made up a larger slice of the electorate than in 2008.  In the Governor’s race Walker ran away with the male vote but narrowly lost women.  Just like Johnson did well among suburban voters and even better than Johnson among rural voters.

In the Michigan Gubernatorial race there were no exit polls.  But Snyder’s 17 point win speaks for itself about how well he did among rural and suburban voters.

So what do these results say about 2012?  Likely that the election in each state will be close and that Democrats do not have a lock on either state, despite their recent presidential voting history.

It is important to note that Wisconsin is in an extremely unique position.  The state has been wracked by three sequences of elections since 2010.  This was brought on by unions and the left revolting against the CBA reform bill the GOP controlled legislature and Governor passed.  In each election the GOP came out on top.  In the state Supreme Court election in the Spring of 2011 the conservative incumbent won.  In the late summer of 2011 the GOP successfully defended their narrow three seat majority in the Senate.  They lost two of the six seats unions had targeted in recall elections.  Lastly, in the recently completed Gubernatorial election held on June 5th Walker easily won reelection.  Democrats also targeted four GOP senators and won one seat giving them control of the chamber.

Walker has proven he has a unique appeal to Wisconsin voters that cannot be underestimated.  This bodes well for Romney as he can walk into the state with Walker’s blessing and convert Walker’s statewide infrastructure for his own use. Still, recent polls have shown Obama ahead in the state, though exit polls of the recall election were way off and the main pollsters are still using Registered Voter samples.  In Michigan the president has varied lead in surveys.  But again all the samples the president leads in are among Registered voters.

For Romney in both Michigan and Wisconsin he needs his suburban GOP base to turn out.  But unlike in other states he also needs to court moderate, rural independent white voters.  Obama has to keep his fragile coalition of urban/suburban/moderate rural supporters together to give him both states.  If 2010 is any indication that is a tough sell.

But the shifting electorates from 2008 to 2010 indicate that whoever turns out may be more important than the issues both candidates hit on.  This makes Walker’s appeal to suburban conservatives in Wisconsin so crucial.  Snyder has the ear of fiscal conservatives in Michigan.  Still, Obama has strong support in each state.  Especially from the UAW and other unions, though humbled in WI, will spend heavily and move heaven and earth to see Obama reelected.

Obama has a slight edge in each state.  But that edge is not much.  And it could become a deficit in the blink of an eye.


Democrats most endangered Senator of 2012: Claire McCaskill

Democrats have a number of Senate seats to defend this cycle.  Actually twenty-three to be exact.  Depending on the presidential election results they can only afford to lose a net three or four seats to retain control of the Senate.  Democrats gained control of Congress on the backs of a new breed of young, attractive moderate and conservative politicians winning in typically inhospitable territory for the left.  But now these same Democrats have watched many of their fellow freshman in the Senate and House be washed away in a conservative tide in 2010.  And there is no wind at their backs to help them like there was in 2006.

Two freshman Senators in conservative states in danger this cycle immediately come to mind; Senator Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.  But McCaskill is in far more trouble then Tester for a variety of reasons.  Tester is charming, charismatic, down to earth and comfortable with the average joe and jane.  It helps explain why he is in a dead heat with GOP challenger Congressman Denny Rehburg.  McCaskill is none of these things.

McCaskill had a rich and successful political history before her upset victory in 2006 against GOP Senator Jim Talent.  In 1982 she was elected to the state House of Representatives.  In 1990 she was elected to the Jackson City Council (equal to a County Commissioner elsewhere) and soon after won two terms as Jackson County Prosecutor in 1992 and 1996.  Soon after in 98 she ran for the position of State Auditor and won.  In late 2002 she began making noise about challenging incumbent Democratic Governor Bob Holden in the primary.  Her challenge proved to be well-founded as she defeated the Governor in the 2004 Democratic primary becoming the first women to defeat an incumbent in a primary since 1994.  She went on to lose to then Secretary of State Matt Blunt (now the freshman Senator of MO and elected in 2010).

McCaskill’s victory in 2006 was not as much an upset victory as voters rejecting President Bush in office.  Well respected and liked not even Senator Jim Talent (R) could out-run how much voters disapproved of Bush nation-wide.  McCaskill, a known name in Democratic and conservative circles in the state capitalized on it.  She eked out a narrow 3%, 46,000 vote victory over the incumbent. But six years later, voters appear to be rejecting her as a President of the same party and a Democratic controlled Senate refuse to address the issues she campaigned on, Congressional reform, cutting the debt and being firm on defense.

McCaskill has not been as conservative as she likes to tell voters.  She voted for bigger and bigger budgets in 2007 and 2008 when Bush was President.  She backed the Stimulus in early 2009, helped shepard Obamacare through the Senate, backed the Cash for Clunkers Program and once voiced support for Cap and Trade in 2010.  Along with most of her party since 2011 she has voted to table House bills repealing Obamacare.

It appears Missouri voters have not approved of her positions.  In the RCP average of polls, dating from late May to today, she loses to all three of her GOP challengers.  Congressman Todd Akin, businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman are vying to face her in November.  The latest poll out by Mason Dixon has her losing to Brunner by 12, Steelman by 8 and Akin by 5 points.  It is a toss-up who will come out of the GOP primary in August.

McCaskill has not been helped by recent events.  Last year it was discovered that she had not paid taxes on her private jet for years.  She did not respond promptly to the revelation.  The Supreme Court decision on Obamacare has not helped her either.  Since the decision upholding the majority of the law the GOP has decided to put front and center to voters of Missouri her three votes (closure, vote to end debate and vote for final passage) for Obamacare.  And in truth her campaign has no defense.  She backed the measure and has helped keep it law repeatedly since.

McCaskill’s camp has reportedly been playing in the GOP primary.  A new ad from her campaign attacked Steelman and Brunner last week but did not mention Akin.  Polling, internal and independent, has shown she runs better against the Congressman than her other two possible challengers.  It is not likely to have much effect.

The DSCC has promised to aid the Senator.  But so far they have not come through.  And McCaskill’s campaign has been hemorrhaging money lately.  In the campaign’s latest filing with the FEC (June 1-April 30), the campaign raised $2.6 million but spent $5 million.  Her campaign had $3.6 million at the end of June.  By contrast none of her opponents short of Akin had over one-million in the bank.  But Steelman’s fundraising has reportedly picked up in recent weeks and Brunner has the ability to self-fund to the tune of millions of dollars.  The GOP courted him to run specifically for that reason.

McCaskill’s woes only add to Democratic fears about losing the Senate this year.  Combined with Nebraska it guarantees Democrats are sure to lose two seats.  In recent months Democrats have gotten breaks with Olympia Snowe’s (R-ME) retirement and Heidi Heitikamp running dead even with Congressman Rick Berg in ND.  But polling in Montana shows Tester behind and in Florida and OH the GOP challengers are either gaining (OH) or even with their opponent (FL).  Democrats also face tough races to hold open seats in Virginia and NM.  Even an open seat in Hawaii looks like it only leans Democratic (a recent poll from the Honolulu Advertiser begs to differ).

McCaskill’s problems are of her own making.  She has backed liberal legislation since she entered office, is out of touch with her constituents and is paying the price for it.  Even in a presidential year which is sure to see higher turnout in metro Kansas City and metro St. Louis she cannot count on a close race.  Rural voters have turned away from her and the same suburban men and women she won in 2006 are leaning more to the GOP.  If McCaskill is to win she needs to outperform among women like she did in 2006 and hope turnout in metro St.Louis and Kansas City puts her over the top.  The election is still 100 days away and a lot can change but right now, even if McCaskill gets Akin as her opponent, she is unlikely to see a second term in the Senate.

Why Idaho’s Simpson is safe come 2012

Recently a friend posted to my Facebook wall a post from Democratic Congressional candidate Nicole Lefavour arguing that she could win her race against GOP incumbent Mike Simpson.  Simpson is a former Speaker of the Idaho state House and has represented Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District since 2000.  Lefavour is a former 4 term state legislator for the 19th Legislative District.

The article cites several reasons why Lefavour can win, 1) new Congressional boundaries, 2) quality of the challenger, 3) Lefavour’s name ID, 4) enthusiasm for her candidacy, 5) fundraising and 6) her lesbian orientation is conducive to helping her win Mormon votes.  I will address each of these points below.

1. Decennial redistricting made the 2nd CD slightly more Democratic: The 1st CD had to shed population and as a result the 2nd picked up more of metro Boise, including parts of the 16, 17th and 18th districts as well as keeping the 19th.  The 16th and 17th legislative districts only have Democratic legislators and the swing 18th as a split delegation. So somehow this makes the district competitive combined with the 19th legislative district ,Teton, Blaine and Twin Falls Counties.  Oh if only it were true.  Keep in mind this is a presidential election year.  Thus it is important to look at 2008 to see how Democratic Boise is.  Even in the best year for Democrats in recent presidential history Obama managed to lose Ada County by six points, though all Democratic legislators in the county won reelection.  This is important to keep in mind because Ada County includes the 16th, 17th and 18th districts and McCain’s legislative profile is similar to Simpson’s.  Blaine, Teton and Twin Falls Counties also have always been in the 2nd District.  Yet Simpson has been able to win his district with 70% of the vote since his initial run in 2000.  This means that Simpson has run well in those counties since 2000.  Exit polls from 2008 and 2010 show Simpson easily won Democratic Blaine County and swing Teton and Twin Falls counties by double digits.  In short, it does not look like redistricting has changed the partisan composition of the district that much, if at all.

2: Name Recognition in Eastern Idaho: This is a hard theory to put to the test let alone prove.  Lefavour is a known figure in metro Boise but outside of it, it is hard to say with certainty she really has name ID in Eastern Idaho.  Her work on mental health and opposition to Luna’s education reform laws notwithstanding, her exposure to Easter Idaho voters short of this year appears limited. Simpson on the other hand has business and agricultural ties to the district dating back before he first ran in 2000.  That is a lot longer time for Simpson to build deep ties with the district’s voters than Lefavour who has only represented a deeply liberal legislative district in the foothills of Boise.

Enthusiasm: Lefavour claims her campaign has established rolls of volunteers and field offices.  In turn this is supposed to help her campaign convince both moderate Republicans and Independents she is better than Simpson.  Here is what Lefavour runs up against however.  Voters know Simpson’s record.  They like his record.  How is Lefavour’s campaign going to change that.  How is Lefavour’s camp, for example, going to somehow convince 2nd District voters that they should not like Simpson’s stance on the EPA, or energy, or fiscal policy?  Keep in mind Simpson has kept a moderately conservative profile in the House.

Fundraising: Lefavour claims her fundraising is amazing.  In truth for a challenger to Simpson she is right that it is impressive.  However, Simpson is sitting on an almost $2 million war-chest.  Lefavour’s campaign claims it can raise as much as $400,000 and outside groups will help her.  That is questionable.  Outside groups have better races to spend their money on than a long-shot race in Idaho.  And $400,000 is not nearly equal to what Simpson can and likely will spend if the race gets competitive.  Currently Lefavour has only $160,000 in the bank.

Sexual Orientation: Lefavour claims that her sexual orientation will make her appealing to both Mormon and Boise voters.  I would assume she would be more popular to the latter than the former.  It almost seems disingenuous to claim that voters will focus on her sexual orientation and not other more pressing issues in November.  And if that game is played Simpson can easily counter his Mormon beliefs endear him to Mormon voters.  Romney’s recent performances among Mormons in NV, CO and AZ certainly show Mormon voters will back a Mormon candidate, regardless of who the challengers are or is.  Voters are likely to focus on liberal agenda and be turned away in droves.

There are other reasons why Lefavour is a long-shot to win the race. Ideologically she is out of step with the district’s voters, whether they be swing Teton County voters, pro business Blaine County Democrats or moderate Republicans.  Obama being at the top of the ticket is sure to drag down her numbers.  If Obama could only win Blaine County in SE Idaho in 2008 what does it say about him being able to help Lefavour in 2012?  In the end he could not even help Simpson’s challenger in 2008 carry the county. Lefavour in some ways resembles Congressman Mike Sali (R-ID) of 2008.  She can be aloof and off-putting and has made enemies with some of her stances on legislative issues.  And contrary to her campaign’s declaration her sexual orientation could help her it is just as likely to hurt her among socially conservative Mormon voters, not help her.

Democrats have plenty of chances to pick up seats this year.  But the 2nd Congressional District of Idaho is not one of them.

Iowa: Des Moine and Cedar Rapids suburbs determine all

Unlike most Midwestern states Iowa’s political history is particularly unique.  The electorate of the state is literally split down the middle between Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  The state overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in 2008 and two years later gave the GOP control of the state house, three new state supreme court seats and all statewide executive offices.  However, the state did not see one of three Democratic Congressmen lose their reelection bids in 2010.

Iowa has gone back and forth between the political party it has supported for president since 1980.  In 1980 and 1984 Iowa backed Reagan for president. In 1988 the state backed Dukakis for president.  In 1992 and 1996 it backed Bill Clinton (D).  In 2000 the state narrowly went for Democratic candidate Al Gore.  In 2004 the state narrowly backed President George Bush.  And in 2008 the state overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama.  Currently the state has one Democratic Senator, one GOP Senator, two GOP Congressmen and three Democratic Congressmen.  It lost a seat to reapportionment in 2011 so at least one Congressmen will be history after 2012.

On the one hand Iowa’s six electoral votes may not appear that important.  But as New Hampshire in 2000  (4 electoral votes) showed in a close election every electoral vote counts.  Plus most of Iowa’s media market, minus Des Moine is relatively inexpensive to compete in.  However to get into the Des Moine media market is incredibly expensive and inefficient because the Des Moine market does not extend outside Iowa.

Iowa’s electorate is a unique mixture of rural evangelicals, suburban moderates and an agricultural union presence throughout the state.  All this creates an electorate that could go either way on any given election.  In 2008 Democratic registration outnumbered GOP membership by over 100,000.  But since then independents have risen by over 50,000 and the GOP has taken a 33,000 voter registration advantage over their partisan rival.

Both Romney and Obama know where their bases are located in the state.  Romney needs rural evangelicals in the West of the state and Catholics in the Northeast to turn out.  Obama needs the scattered union presence to show up to hold down Romney’s margins in many small counties.  Then we get to the Des Moine an Cedar Rapids suburbs.  According to 2008 exit polls the election day electorate was was 34% Democratic, 33% Republican and 33% Independent.  Both McCain and Obama carried their bases but independents backed Obama 56%-41%.  Many of these independents reside in the Des Moine and Cedar Rapid suburbs.  While the suburban vote was split 50%-49% it is notable that Obama won the East of the state by 58%-40%.  By far the East carries the most votes and Obama ran away with it, in part because of his strength among the urban/suburban vote of Des Moine and Cedar Rapids.

Now flash forward to 2010.  In 2010 the GOP romped to victory at the state level but did not win a single new federal office.  Democrats ran several strong candidates last cycle, including Roxanne Conlin for Senate and incumbent Governor Chet Culver.  Both lost badly.  In the Senate race US Senator Chuck Grassley easily won every county except one.  In the gubernatorial race Terry Branstad repeated almost the same feat, minus several counties.  Exit polls from the Senate race show Grassley won every major group, including young and low income voters.  In the more hotly contested gubernatorial race Branstad almost repeated the feat, except he lost low income voters and tied among those age 25-29.  Most alarming for Democrats from this election was how suburban voters swung.  Branstad won suburban voters 56%-41% and Grassley won over 70% of them.  Both Branstad and Grassley won every region in the state except Eastern Iowa (metro Des Moine).  Lastly, independents heavily favored both the GOP candidates.

Despite all that however Iowa did not swing wholeheartedly into the arms of the GOP.  Democrats maintained a two seat edge in the state senate and all three Democratic congressman, with their districts touching either Des Moine or Cedar Rapids survived.

For the Romney and Obama campaign Iowa presents as much a waste of effort as opportunity.  The state’s unemployment is below the national average yet polls show a close race.  The electorate is partisanly split.  In fact in 2010 the electorate was 35% Republican, 34% Independent and 31% Democratic.  Not a huge change from 2008.  Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are targeting Iowa.  Romney’s camp is playing catch-up organizationally but he is helped because he is well known in the state due to the Iowa Caucuses.  Some worry his Mormon beliefs may hurt evangelical turnout but that remains unlikely.

With both bases likely to turn out it will all come down to the Des Moine and Cedar Rapids.  Full of independents these areas gave Obama his win in 2008 and the GOP their Senate and gubernatorial victories in 2010.  Where these voters will go is hard to say.  Will they feel like the statewide economy is recovering and give the president the benefit of the doubt?  Or will they give more weight to the struggling national economy and be lured to Romney by his claims of business experience.  Over 100 days from the election only one thing is certain.  Iowa is up for grabs and looks to be a photo finish once again.

Democrats must tread carefully on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting

California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) is not the only Democrats who wants gun control laws strengthened in the country.  But  she is one of the few who want tougher laws who will speak out publicly.  Feinstein was part of San Francisco city government when Mayor = George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in 1978.  Across the political spectrum in the wake of the tragic events that took place at a theater in Aurora, Colorado Friday morning there has been a mix of responses.  Democrats like Feinstein argue it might not have happened if we at least had the Assault Weapons ban in place (it expired in 2004).  Independents like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg ignored the grief of the affected families to call for greater gun control the day it happened.  As expected, conservatives and Republicans pushed back, largely arguing evil exists and that this would have happened regardless of whatever laws were on the books.  The media mistakenly accused the shooter of being linked to the Tea Party.

However, Democrats should remember that a solid majority, 80% or more in some polls, want to see gun restriction laws loosened, not increased.  They would also be wise to remember the lessons of Bill Clinton’s first term and the blow-back they received from voters over the Brady Bill and Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

The Brady Bill was passed in 1993, went into effect in 1994, and largely put more restrictions and requirements on buying any weapon.  The Brady Bill is still in existence today, however it has been weakened by the Supreme Court over the years.  The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994 as part of the much larger Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act.  The law made owning any automatic or semi-automatic weapon illegal.  To make the law more appealing it also allocated $1.6 billion to help investigate crimes against women, build new prisons and hire 100,000 new police officers across the country.

Not surprisingly in November 1994 voters did not react kindly to the new laws.  The NRA turned against many gun-supporting Southern Democrats who had backed the measures in favor of new conservative Republicans.  Rural, blue-collar conservative Democrats turned against their party in what came to be termed “The Republican Revolution.”

Now certainly other factors played into the “Republican Revolution.”  Clinton’s push for a single payer Healthcare system, a plethora of scandals and the disastrous withdrawal of US peacekeepers from Somalia all played into Republicans victory. But it does bear mentioning that Democrats did not even notice the blow back that was arising from the public until late 1994.  Could Democrats repeat that same mistake in 2012?

It is possible of course that Democrats could ignite another backlash this cycle if the push to far on gun control.  But Democrats are helped by the fact that no longer are only Southern Democrats pro-gun rights.  Many prominent moderate/conservative Democrats, such as Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (D) are pro gun-rights.  Furthermore, many Democrats who hail from states where they could support new gun control legislation and survive politically will not do so because it would be disastrous for the party nationally.

The reasons are fairly obvious.  Though many Democrats are loath to discuss it as I have, 1994 was partly a result of the backlash to the Brady Bill and Federal Automatic Rifles Ban.  Since Republicans have become ascendant in the House (excluding 2006 and 2008), the NRA has become much more vocal in its opposition to new gun restrictions.  They have found a willing partner in almost every wing of the GOP.  They used to not have that luxury with the Democratic Party.  Third, in an election year where Democrats are trying to retain the White House, retake the House and hold the Senate in conservative turf the party is wary of alienating gun owning, populist, white swing voters in those areas of the country.  Lastly, the party is not in complete agreement that greater gun restrictions is the answer to preventing violent gun crimes in the US.

Chicago provides a case in point.  The city recently surpassed DC as having the greatest number of deaths attributable to gun crimes.  Yet Chicago has not just an assault weapons ban, but a gun ban.  The result has not stopped the steadily increasing wave of violence in the city.  Norway’s tight gun control laws  could not prevent Anders Behring Breivik from acquiring an impressive array of firepower and unleashing it on his unsuspecting victims on the island of Utoya.  In fact, there is mounting evidence that despite Norway’s strict gun control laws they are easy to circumvent. It is not a stretch to think new gun control laws in this country passed in the wake of the Aurora tragedy would be any different.

It is natural for a nation, for a people, to try to find answers to why a senseless action could result in so many lives cut short.  I don’t have an answer.  Honestly neither do those who advocate for greater gun restrictions or those who support gun rights. Evil exists in all forms and no matter what restrictions are put in place evil will commit its atrocious act.  History has shown this time and time again.

In answering whether greater gun restrictions would make the nation safer, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, in an interview with Roll Call, summed it up best, “”This is a case of evil, of somebody who was an aberration of nature,” he said. “If it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another.”  He said he would try to prevent incidents like this from happening again but said “I’m not sure there’s any way in a free society to be able to do that.”

True words indeed!


The home of Reagan Democrats: Pennsylvania

Long considered a solidly Democratic state Pennsylvania is now viewed in many circles as being up for grabs this cycle.  The combination of a sluggish economy, solid enclaves of Reagan Democrats and moderate suburban voters around Philly make it an appealing target to the Romney camp and Republicans nationally.

Pennsylvania has voted Democratic since 1992.  Clinton’s unique appeal to many Reagan Democrats ensured him the state.  Between 1992 and 2000 however these voters started to shift back to the GOP.  But Democrats had a back-up plan.  Over the same time period the moderate suburbs around Philly turned left, partly as a response to the culture wars.  Both Al Gore and John Kerry, who were  socially liberal, carried PA on the strength of their wins in the suburbs.  But as they did so they lost rural PA (essentially west of Philly and excluding PA) by large margins.

In 2008 as Obama was winning the state by ten points blue-collar workers shifted to the GOP in massive numbers.  While the evangelicals Bush courted in 2000 and 2004 stayed home that year McCain, an especially weak candidate, won several blue-collar counties on the western borders of the state.  These counties had not gone Republican since 1980.  It did help McCain that Obama was about as unappealing a candidate to these voters as the Democratic Party could field.

Obama’s massive victory margin in PA came down to three factors.  Exit polls showed massive turnout among youth (18%) and minorities (19%).  Both groups went for Obama by large margins.  Second Obama ran extremely strong in the suburbs.  Though he only won the suburban vote 50%-49% where he won the suburban vote mattered more. Obama easily carried the Philly suburbs 58%-41% and the state’s sporadic NE suburbs.  McCain’s strength in the suburbs came in Central/Northern Pennsylvania (often dubbed little Alabama for its deep Republican bent between liberal Philly and Pittsburgh). Lastly, Obama ran strongly with college graduates.  Obama won 55% of those with college graduates and 55% without.  But his strength among those without college degrees can largely be attributed to his commanding leads with minority voters.  Among whites without college degrees John McCain carried 57% of their votes.

Republicans are bullish about Pennsylvania this cycle.  The state has acted largely like the nation in its voting since 1992, with a slight Democratic lean.  In 1992 Clinton won the national vote by 5.5%, he won PA by 9%.  In 1996 Clinton won nationally by 9%, he won PA by 9%.  In 2000 when Al Gore carried the popular vote by a narrow .5% he won PA by 4%.  And in 2004 when Kerry lost the popular vote by 2.5% he won PA by 2.5%.  In 2008 the state only went 3% more Democratic than the nation.  The Democratic lean of the state has lessened since 2008.

Democrats hold a million voter registration advantage in the state.  But that did not help them in 2010.  In 2010 the GOP won an open Senate seat, 5 House seats, the Governorship and both chambers of the state legislature.  GOP Senate candidate Pat Toomey and Gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett were fueled by massive victories in the 2008 Obama Philly suburbs and the western counties of the state full of blue-collar Democrats.  The  58%-39% advantage Obama had among independents in 2008 flipped to a 55%-45% advantage for Toomey and 59%-41% edge for Corbett.  In both the Senate and Gubernatorial races whites with and without college degrees backed the GOP candidate.

Results from 2008 and 2010 give the Romney camp hope.  Despite the president holding a solid lead in recent polls in the state he still underperforms among whites without college degrees.  In 2008 these voters made up 37% of the electorate and they might make up more if urban Philly does not spit out the vote it did in 2008.  Currently Obama is running worse  in polling with blue-collar voters, getting less than 40% of their vote.  His current lead is built on turnout expectations in polling (minority turnout equal to 2008), leads among college graduates, independents and suburban voters, particularly suburban women.

Republicans are not deterred however.  They expect the sluggish economy to turn suburban voters onto Romney by November, as well as traditionally fiscally liberal and socially conservative Reagan Democrats.  In polling interviews while suburban voters and independents choose Obama they largely only lean his way.  Pushed they admit they are open to voting for Romney.

Republicans may also have a few of advantages that should be mentioned.  First, the registration advantage Democrats currently enjoy has shrunk significantly.  While they have over one million more registered voters that margin has shrunk from almost two million in 2008.  Second, GOP voters and independents are more excited to vote than Democrats.  A recent national Gallup survey found among youths and Hispanics that their interest in the election is far lower than older GOP voters.  It is not a stretch to say this is likely to have an effect in Pennsylvania.  Third, Pennsylvania implemented new voter ID law in 2011.  Democrats and several civil rights groups have brought up the  new law before several state courts.  If the law is upheld until November Democratic turnout could lag as younger voters and minorities are more likely to move or lack IDs.  This despite the fact the state provides voter ID cards at no charge.

All this could help make the state competitive come November.  Republicans certainly hope so.  But even if Romney cannot win the state he could force the Obama campaign to expend valuable resources on holding the state.  This would free up Romney to spend more resources in more fertile GOP territory like Wisconsin and Michigan (piece on them coming later).  In both states rural and suburban whites have been shifting to the GOP over the last decade.

In political campaigns the goal is always to be on the offensive electorally.  Democratic strategists will argue because of the breadth Obama’s 2008 victory he was always going to be on the defensive.  But the President must now not just fight in traditional swing states like IA, NH, FL, OH, NV, CO, but new ones such as VA, NC WI and MI.  Some are former GOP bastions while others Democratic.  Add Pennsylvania to the list of Democratic states the president has to defend.

Three likely scenarios for Obamacare’s fate

When it comes to Obamacare there is no guarantee it will survive beyond 2012.  And even if it does in what way the law is implemented remains in doubt.  The SCOTUS’s decision announcing the law constitutional did not make the public love it anymore than they did before (as in not much).  Nor did it make many GOP governors, state legislatures and Congressional leaders any less willing to fight its implementation.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the GOP controlled House.  By the AP’s count the House has voted 33 times, successfully all 33 times, to repeal Obamacare.  Every single time it has died in the Democratic controlled Senate.  But every two years we have these things called elections.  It looks very likely 2012 could determine the immediate fate of Obamacare.   Below I list three scenarios for Obamacare’s future with one caveat.  I do not consider a scenario where the law survives in its entirety.  In all three the law is changed to some degree or repealed in its entirety.

Scenario #1: Republicans win in 2012: Republicans have just come off a clean sweep in 2012.  Despite a hard-fought contest Mitt Romney narrowly won a 271 electoral vote victory over Barack Obama (thank you New Hampshire).  Republicans have maintained a healthy 20 seat edge in the House.  In the Senate they hold a narrow 51-49 majority after Linda Lingle, playing on her popularity as governor and distancing herself from DC Republicans, pulled off the upset of the century in Hawaii.  Meanwhile bye, bye Scott Brown and hello Dean Heller to your first full term.  Independent Angus King decides to caucus with the Democrats after his win in Maine.

On day 1 of the Romney presidency he and congressional leaders initiate a triangulation strategy to get rid of Obamacare.  Making good on their campaign promise the GOP House initiates yet another repeal vote to get rid of Obamacare.  Every single Republican votes yes.  Every single Democrat votes no.  The bill moves to the Senate where the GOP with its narrow majority uses reconciliation to de-fund the bill and eliminate its tax and subsidy provisions.  Linda Lingle sides with the Democrats while Independent Angus King breaks ranks and gives the GOP the 51st vote.  President Romney signs the bill as soon as it hits his desk.

President Romney swiftly fills out his cabinet.  His new HHS Secretary as soon as she is in office implements a blanket waiver to all states in regards to Obamacare.  Executive fiat has been used to the GOP’s advantage.  Obamacare is effectively dead.

In answer to Democratic attacks Republicans pass a flurry of bills on Healthcare.  The bills allow kids to stay on their parents insurance until they turn 27, provide vouchers to those looking for private insurance, make insurance companies cover those with pre-existing conditions, extend insurance companies abilities to compete in other states, make insurance portable and implement a limited tort reform effort at the national level.  The debate about Healthcare Reform rages on but former President Obama’s signature achievement, with the largest Democratic majority in Congress in decades, amounts to nothing.

Scenario #2: A Mixed Decision in 2012: Republicans have held control of the House and flipped the Senate narrowly.  But in the end President Obama’s advantages were too much for flawed Mitt Romney.  Republicans symbolically send a repeal vote of Obamacare to the President’s desk.  He vetoes it immediately.

Republicans and Democrats are now at a loss.  The election was partisan and bitter.  Republicans held solid control of the House but now have several incumbents in moderate/liberal states.  Democrats have to protect a new Senator in North Dakota and Tester in Montana.  Republicans in Congress decide to take the fight to the president on Obamacare.

In exchange for not de-funding the law Republicans succeed in ending the sequestering cuts to the defense budget (not deficit friendly), succeed in seeing the Bush tax cuts extended beyond the year they were in the lame duck session of 2012 and get the Keystone Pipeline approved and fully funded.

At the state level many GOP state legislatures and Governors fight back against the law with Congress’s blessing.  They dare the Federal Government to impede on their sovereignty and run state exchanges.  The HHS passes on the challenge.  Over two dozen major states including TX, FL, VA, MI, WI, NY and CA (the last two have Democratic Governors and legislatures) decide not to expand their Medicaid rolls.  Over twenty million Americans go without Health Insurance and America continues to debate how best to cover those who are uninsured.

Scenario #3: Judicial Action: Nothing changed after 2012.  The GOP still controls the House and Democrats the WH and Senate.  GOP Congressional leaders, GOP governors and their legislatures turn to the courts to help weaken Obamacare.  First up on the docket.  Whether the Fed can create and run state exchanges?  In a 5-4 decision with Roberts authoring the opinion he emphatically states the Federal Government has no power under the Commerce (or Necessary and Proper Clause) to do so.

Fueled by this quick victory in 2013 several states bring to the SCOTUS a question on how the mandate is collected.  While the SCOTUS finds again the Mandate Constitutional it says the states must collect the mandate.  Another victory for the right.

The states between 2012 and 2016 bring several more lawsuits before the Court.  On almost every single one the Fed loses and Obamacare is severely weakened.  It’s funding mechanism weakened, its Medicaid provision eliminated, and its ability to coerce people to buy insurance limited Obamacare does not carry as much punch, beyond regulations, as was promised.  Meanwhile the SCOTUS declares Section V of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, reaffirms Arizona’s new immigration policy (when they passed new legislation in response to its 2012 decision) and eliminates all campaign finance restrictions on elections.  The Court quickly becomes the most conservative court in modern history.  Thank you John Roberts.

Now I realize none of these scenarios is guaranteed to happen.  Nor are any likely to happen beyond 50%.  But it is easy to see one of these three scenarios, or a dozen more, happen in regards to Obamacare.  One thing remains clear however.  Because the law does not go into full effect until 2017, with special exceptions carved out for major unions and corporations, it is unlikely to survive in its entirety when it is fully implemented.