The Second Tier: Michigan Senate

Congressman Gary Peters is running to succeed Carl Levin in this unexpectedly competitive race.
Congressman Gary Peters is running to succeed Carl Levin in this unexpectedly competitive race.

Michigan’s congressional delegation had largely been static until 2008.  Turnover and Congressional defeats led to some fresh faces being introduced to the state’s political scene.  The election of 2010 saw the same but in this case many of the fresh faces were Republicans.  Long the dean of the state’s federal delegation, Michigan senior Senator Carl Levin announced early this year he was retiring.  The announcement sparked excitement in GOP circles and mild apprehension in Democratic ranks.  In retrospect, perhaps Democrats should be a little more concerned than they initially were.

Republicans combed through several candidates including longtime Congressmen Mike Rogers and Dave Camp but both declined as they chair major House Committees.  Republicans even flirted with the idea of having Scott Romney run for the seat but he declined.  Republicans finally settled on a candidate, Terri Lynn, who at first was considered lackluster.  Her campaign skills, fundraising ability and recent poll results have shown she is anything but.  Democrats meanwhile found their nominee early in suburban Detroit Congressman Gary Peters.

The GOP has struggled among Michigan voters in federal races since the 80s.  Bill Clinton’s victory in the state in 1992 was the precursor to a Democratic lock on the state for the Electoral College.  Republicans initially floated with the idea of fighting for the state in 2012 partly because the McCain camp all but abandoned the state in late 2008, but ultimately declined.  Combined with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota the state has given Democrats solid votes in Congress and for President.

Republicans hope for something different in 2014 and towards that aim they point to 2010.  That year, Republicans gained two Congressional districts, won all statewide constitutional offices by wide margins and took the state legislature.  Republicans were buoyed by a strong wave election fueled by concern over Obamacare and the economy.  Now Obamacare is again front and center and few Democrats are happy about it.

Lynn’s candidacy offers the GOP a shot at the open seat.  A former Secretary of State, Lynne has a soft spoken, calm style of campaigning that does not rub people in the wrong way.  So far her campaign has stayed fully on message and avoided discussing divisive social issues.  Instead, the economy and Obamacare are constantly being hammered on by her campaign.

Democrats have yet to show concern about Lynn’s candidacy.  Their candidate, Peters, has stockpiled cash, has the firm backing of the state party and is running in a light blue state.  Unfortunately, Peters did not have a competitive race in 2008, barely squeaked out a win in 2010 and redistricting led to him having a solidly blue district to run for in 2012.  In other words, Peters, like Lynn, is a largely untested candidate.  Indeed, his campaign seems to be floundering in the wake of the Obamacare fiasco.

Peters is sure to be helped by Michigan’s predilection for supporting Democratic candidates at the federal level.  Most recently, in 2012 even as Mitt Romney was losing nationwide by about 4% he lost by double that in Michigan.  The 2012 Senate race was even less competitive between Senator Debbie Stabenow and former Congressman Peter Hoekstra.  Stabenow won by over 16%.  Republicans best showing in the state relatively recently goes back to 2004 when George Bush lost the state by less than 3%.  Considering Bush won the popular vote by about 3% that year since at least 2004 the state has had a 5-6% Democratic tilt compared to the nation.

Of course this did not help Democrats in 2010.  But there are distinct differences between statewide races in an economic downturn and a federal statewide race in a Presidential or midterm election.  For one constitutional statewide offices are not solely fought on the ideological grounds, federal races are.  Second, statewide elections tend to have lower turnout than their federal counterparts potentially benefiting Republicans as historically the drop in turnout is focused largely in Wayne County (metro Detroit). Lastly, non-ideological issues such as background and competency play far more in statewide constitutional races.

Republican optimism for this race is not unfounded as hinted above.  Lynnehas performed well in the latest polls, reported a $2 million haul for third quarter fundraising and has built up a stellar campaign.  More importantly the campaign is hammering away on the right issues for a fiscal conservative to win on under the right conditions.

Lynn’s path to victory follows a geographical and regional split in the state.  Much as neighboring Wisconsin and Pennsylvania can attest, there are three primary geographical areas to the state.  In Southeast Michigan you have Detroit (Wayne County), Flint (Genesee County) and Anne Arbor  (Washtenaw), all Democratic strongholds.  Central and Eastern Michigan include both suburban and rural counties with a mild GOP lean.  Lastly, there is Northern Michigan where rural conservative interests often contrast with a strong union presence.

For Lynn to win she needs turnout in Detroit, Flint and Anne Arbor to drop (Obama’s absence on the ballot could help) or like Snyder she needs to run strongly (for a Republican) in each.  In Central and Western Michigan she needs to build up margins large enough to limit her losses in Southeast Michigan.  Lastly, Northern Michigan boasts one of the country’s most competitive Congressional districts in the country because of its polarized nature. Lynn needs to find some way to break through this polarization and win the region by at least several points.

Peter’s path to victory will largely follow the past Democratic script.  Run strong in SE Michigan and build up margins in the region that Lynn cannot overcome.  The verdict is out on whether he can.  A recently released survey from PPP (D) finds Lynn is running strongly in SE Michigan and winning elsewhere across the state.  Of course it is still early in the race as the survey notes but older surveys from state pollsters have found the same thing (though there were more undecided in the state pollster surveys).

Republicans should not be overly optimistic in interpreting these results.  While their legislative majorities and Governor Rick Snyder may be relatively safe it is far from certain their victories mean Republicans will break their strong of losses at the statewide, federal level.  Fewer states than ever now exist that boast a sitting Governor or Senator of the opposing party of the party’s candidate they backed for President in 2012.  Lynn needs to find a way to break through to these voters and explain why she should represent them in Congress.  Peters, well, he needs to remind them why they vote Democratic at the federal level.

Closing:

The Second Tier: Virginia Senate

Former Romney adviser and VA state chair Ed Gillespie may offer the GOP a chance against Warner.
Former Romney adviser and VA state chair Ed Gillespie may offer the GOP a chance against Warner.

This post is the inaugural post on several pieces that will examine the dynamics, demographics and individual variables of several Senate races that many political handicappers consider second tier opportunities for the GOP.  While this post will focus specifically on Virginia, follow-up posts will focus on open seat Senate races in Iowa and Michigan and a possible marquee match-up in New Hampshire.  Examinations of individual gubernatorial races will follow after the New Year.

Virginia has a rich electoral history of being ruby red.  That is until 2006 at least.  Republicans dominated the state at the Presidential level between 1968 and 2004.  Even when Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were carrying parts of the South, Virginia was maintaining its Republican allegiance.  But the new millennium has seen many changes to the state; political, demographic and cultural.  While George Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004 he struggled in NoVA (the Democratic base in the state).  In 2008 with a subpar Presidential nominee, John McCain, Republicans were crushed in the state.  Mitt Romney did slightly better in the state in 2012 but still lost fairly easily.  Democratic victories statewide and their dominance in the North can be attributed to a cultural shift to supporting abortion and gay marriage and demographically as the region as become more diverse and younger.

Recent Republican losses however do not mean the state is solidly blue.  Rather it could be considered a solid shade of purple.  Democrats have won the last several federal statewide races (2006 Senate, 2008 Senate and President, and 2012 President and Senate) but they were utterly obliterated in the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative races.  Indeed, despite Democrats capturing all three of the state’s executive offices in 2013 for the first time in fifty years they gained a mere one seat in the state assembly (state senate terms are four years and will be next held in 2015).  Also, despite Democratic wins in 2012 the GOP did not lose a single Congressional district in the state in the same year.

This is the political environment former Governor and freshman Senator Mark Warner enters as he runs for a second term.  Warner boasts some of the best approval ratings of a sitting Senator in the country.  This explains why few big name Republicans have opted to challenge him.  Warner won the Governorship in 2001 against a subpar GOP challenger as backlash against George Bush’s election drove Democrats to the polls in Fairfax County.  In fact, Fairfax alone gave Warner his margin of victory.  Warner ran for Senate in 2008 against former GOP Governor Jim Gilmore.  Gilmore ran a lackluster campaign and was crushed 65%-33%.

The Democratic path to victory in Virginia, at least in statewide federal races, has been constant since 2006.  Hold down increasingly large GOP margins in Southern Virginia and the Tidewater area while racking up huge margins in Democratic Arlington and Fairfax Counties.  Additionally, winning Loudoun and Prince William Counties are a must as a loss in either suggests Democratic struggles elsewhere in NoVa and anemic turnout across the state.

In the political environment that prevailed two months ago Republicans figured they had no shot at this seat.  The government shutdown wounded the GOP nationwide butparticularly in Virginia.  Some Republican strategists blame their gubernatorial loss on the shutdown.  Yet two months later the government shutdown is a dim memory and Obamacare is the flavor de jour of politics.  It is a flavor distinctly to the liking of Republicans and disgust of Democrats.

Republicans are increasingly optimistic that they can pin the law around Warner’s neck, he did vote for the law after-all, and finally find a way to connect with suburban NoVA voters.  Democrats counter though that Republicans are overly optimistic considering Warner’s popularity and deep connections within the business community.  Yet, Republicans have never had such a weapon to wield against an incumbent Democrat.

Few Republicans have announced to challenge Warner but the state party is waiting on former Virginia GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie.  Gillespie is sure to raise enough cash to be competitive but he is an untested candidate.  State Convention Republicans may also not be endeared to him and go with a more Tea Party type candidate.  Furthermore, Republicans already have many enticing first tier races to fight for suggesting third party spending may not benefit Gillespie substantially.  Likely, if this seat becomes in play it suggests Democrats are already set to lose the Senate and may target these races to make sure they are a substantial minority in 2015.  Still, Gillespie could follow the route of former Democratic Governor, DNC Chair and now freshman Senator Tim Kaine in his bid.

Kaine used Obama’s coattails to win his Senate seat in 2012 against former GOP Governor and Senator Tim Allen.  Following the script of the President Kaine won every county Obama won and lost every county the President lost.  The War on Women campaign theme Democrats used in 2012 and 2013 to target single women, suburban voters resonated against stalwart social conservatives like Allen and Cuccinelli.  It might not against Gillespie.

Gillespie does not have a record on abortion or gay marriage.  If he is careful and sticks to script on the economy and healthcare he could make Warner fight on unpopular political ground; spending, Obamacare and the sluggish economy.  Warner’s popularity surely only extends so far.

Virginia is surely a second tier race for the GOP.  Unless Gillespie gets in it could soon become even less and the GOP might cede the seat to Democrats yet again.  Both Michigan and Iowa, open seat races, offer the GOP better opportunities in second tier opportunities as does New Hampshire.  But Republicans should keep in mind two important facets of the 2013 gubernatorial race.  Despite Republicans losses the party won the 18-24 demographic for the first time in well over a decade (with a subpar candidate running).  Secondly, married suburban women supported Cuccinelli by a bigger margin than they did either Allen or Romney in 2012 (McAuliffe’s margins can be attributed to his huge margins among 30-39 year olds and single women).  So while Virginia might look like a state turning from purple to blue due to NoVA there may be a counterbalancing act taking place among older, better established and the youngest voters.  Time will tell but if Gillespie is to win he will certainly need this phenomenon to continue.

The Democratic Civil War is now in the open

elizabeth-warren-2011-10-4-21-30-11Centrist Democratic analysts Jim Kessler and Jonathon Cowlan raised the ire of progressive groups in early December when they posted an op-ed stating economic populism was a dead-end for the party.  Both analysis represent Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank that has replaced the Democratic Leadership Council as the preeminent center-left think tank.  In the op-ed Kessler and Cowlan do not pull their punches.  They argue that the economic populism many modern-day progressive advocate is unsustainable even if the rich are taxed at higher rates.  They shoot shots across the bow of Senator Elizabeth Warren and NYC mayor de Blasio who they argue are the biggest proponents of this new liberal populism.

Unsurprisingly, many centrist Democrats and progressives did not react kindly to this op-ed.  Several Democrats who serve as honorary co-chariman of the think tank entered the fray though their comments were mainly aimed at defusing the ideological feud.  Progressives argue that Third Way is in the pocket of the wealthy and corporations.  This debate is not new to the party.  It has been playing out behind closed doors since 2012 when Obama played on populist policies to win reelection but has yet to implement them.  But now it is out in the open and this does not bode well for the party politically in the run up to 2014.

Democrats have professed unity ever since Obama has been in office.  Progressives, centrists, business friendly, establishment have all claimed support for the party’s policies and preferences and the direction it is headed.  But now, just as the GOP is struggling with, the Democratic Party is starting to debate which way to go.

Perhaps it might help to explain the two visions for the party characterized by Third Way and progressives.  Third Way’s vision can best be summed up in the first term of Obama and Hilary Clinton.  Business friendly Democrats that are liberal on the standard issues but centrist on business issues (think insurance companies continuing in Obamacare and no single-payer).  Many progressives favor the populism of Elizabeth Warren and de Blasio which stresses higher taxes on the wealthy, strengthening entitlement programs (in other words making them even more unaffordable) and a bevy of other social welfare programs being strengthened or created in the name of fighting income inequality.

It is notable that as Obama’s poll numbers have begun to tank he has increasingly turned to populism despite the fact his tenure has been anything but populist.  Obama’s bailing out of the banks strengthened to big to fail.  Obamacare only fed more wealth into the hands of the insurance companies (to the detriment of individuals and small business).  Lastly, Financial Reform only made entities like Fannie and Freddie continue to be largely unregulated.  Now Obama is turning to populist policies aimed at fighting inequality to boost his numbers with his leftist base which has tired of him.

Obama’s turn may or may not work.  Hilary has already made her possible campaign strategy clear.  Run as another transformative candidate that is center-left on fiscal issues but solidly liberal on the rest.  It has helped that the field remains clear for her.

The GOP’s debate over its direction is largely a mirror of the Democrats debate.  Should the GOP turn to the populist ideas of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, find a middle ground between the two or turn more towards the center on social issues like Chris Christie has mentioned?  Of course GOP and Democratic versions of populism differ dramatically.  A GOP populism would mix in libertarian economic policies with socially conservative policies to spur growth and lower inequality.  Democratic populism would be sure to introduce a healthy new dose of the state into the mix (new regulations, rules, laws, agencies) to fight inequality.

While politically for Democrats this internal debate may not be good politically it is a healthy process for the party to partake in.  Much as the GOP is debating where it should go after Obama Democrats need to do the same.  Turn to the populist policies of Warren and de Blasio or the centrist, business friendly policies of Third Way and Clinton.  Whatever path they take will likely determine where their opposition goes as well.

Putting to Rest some Electoral Realignment Theories

GW Bush solidly captured the Southern vote in 2000.
GW Bush solidly captured the Southern vote in 2000.

If one is of the mind or makes a career out of analyzing/studying electoral politics one cannot miss the theory of realignment.  In fact there have been so many realignment theories espoused on demographics, geography and electoral math that it makes one’s head spin.  Admittedly, I come at this from the amateur’s perspective on the topic.  I have not read tomes on the topic, done much multiple regression to find correlations nor have I been involved in any of the political campaigns involved in realignment theories.  But what I do have is some common sense and the ability to look at exit polls and time.  This alone puts many realignment theories out to the pasture.

For this post I want to look at putting five big realignment theories to rest.  Four of the five are in the modern era while the fifth involves FDR and the New Deal.  Each theory has had its heyday and is now being reexamined or condemned to the trash-bin of history.   Lastly, I will look at the one realignment theory that still seems to hold up today.

1. FDR’s New Deal Coalition would last a generation: This theory might or might not be true depending on who you ask.  The Silent Generation sure helped FDR get elected four times and Truman the same in 1948 but it also ensured a rocky tenure for FDR.  FDR and Democrats did not enjoy consistent dominance during this period.  In 1934 and 1936 FDR and his party did enjoy success but it came to a screeching halt in 1938.  FDR attempted a “third New Deal” and embarked on a court packing scheme, the economy took a downturn and union violence broke out in several major cities.  As a result the GOP gained 71 House seats and six Senate seats bringing them back to relevance in Congress.  While FDR and his party would rebound in 1940 they never would enjoy the dominance they did from 32-26.  In fact, the first election after FDR’s death in 44 would hand the GOP the reins of power in the House for the first time since the late 20’s.  They would lose this control in 48 when Truman won election but they retook control in 52 and lost it in 54 until 1994.  However, in 1952 Republicans would regain the White House helping ensure divided government.  The idea that Democrats enjoyed unprecedented electoral power during the New Deal is truly only applicable from 1932-1936 and the voting habits of this period’s voters were far more fluid than one might think.

2. The rise of the suburbs would ensure a consistent Executive occupant: The rise of the suburbs was one of the most studied and anticipated demographic and geographic political shifts in US history.  It would result in SCOTUS rulings on redistricting, see the balance of power shift from urban and rural to the suburbs and give both major parties new voters to target.  Considering the suburbs boomed under Eisenhower it is little surprise many analysts would expect the growth of suburbs to yield strong GOP dominance.  What is downplayed in this idea however is that the South remained solidly Democratic (giving them a base in Congress) and that both the GOP and Democratic parties fought campaigns on economic performance.  Issues such as abortion and gay marriage, even Medicare, had yet to enter into the political arena.  The growth of the suburbs never gave the GOP control of Congress and it did not ensure them consistent control of the White House.  Rather, they were denied the White House in three of the five elections after Eisenhower became term limited.  During this time Democrats also enacted LBJ’s Great Society with some GOP support.  Hardly Republican dominance.

3. Watergate would usher in a new Democratic era: If there was one instance that shook the American political psyche to the core it was Watergate.  Never had a President gone so far to consolidate his power as Nixon (R).  Unsurprisingly Nixon would resign soon after the details came out.  Vice President Gerald Ford was a swell guy who probably could have won an election in a normal environment but as it was he was dragged down by a stagnant economy and Watergate (he pardoned Nixon).  Democrats were smart to nominate Jimmy Carter who appealed to Southern voters who had grown disillusioned with the Democratic Party over civil rights, states rights and fiscal issues.  Yet, 1980 would yield a massive shift as Republicans would retake the Senate, Reagan would win the White House and do so by copying Nixon’s Southern Strategy.  The elections of 84 and 88 would also give the nation GOP Presidents and not until 1992 would Democrats be able to again measure the White House drapes.

4. The Compassionate conservatism coalition: In many ways the Compassionate Conservative coalition that elected Bush in 2000 and reelected him in 2004 was a mirror image of Reagan’s support.  Downscale Southern whites, evangelical and Catholic minorities and business friendly suburban voters united to give Bush his 2000 and 2004 wins.  However, Democrats began to lock in Asian and Hispanic support at consistent high levels.  Also, rich voters were becoming less partisan in their voting habits (new post on this soon).  The Compassionate Conservative Coalition lasted all of three elections.  It gave Bush victory in 2000, Republicans control of the Senate in 2002 and united control in 2004.  By 2006 the War in Iraq, a series of scandals and failed Immigration and Social Security Reform had turned the public against the President and the GOP.  The coalition disappeared.  Of course elements of this coalition still remain in the GOP’s ranks today, predominately evangelical Southern whites.  Heralded in 2004 as a strong nexus that would give the GOP electoral success a mere two years later the nexus apparently never materialized.

5. The emerging Democratic majority: Much as Kevin Philips wrote on the emerging Republican majority in the 50’s, Democrats John Judis and Ray Teixeira penned a book in 2002 analyzing election returns from that election and several prior.  Combined with birth rates and other demographic data they concluded Democrats strong performances with minorities would ensure them a solid majority in Congress and power in the White House to boot.  Whether this theory holds water or not is questionable at best.  However, if one looks from 2002-today it is hard to say Democrats have established a strong majority in governance.  Democrats enjoyed success in 2006-2010 but not always for the reasons Texiera and Judis espouse.  Election 2006 was about a public unhappy with war and the government.  Election 2008 however saw a transformative minority candidate get millions of first time minority voters to the polls and harness the power of the youth vote in a way not seen since Reagan.  Yet, this majority disappeared in 2010 and reverted back to a largely suburban/rural and older white voter base.  It reappeared in 2012 to a lesser extent than 2008 and the verdict is out on 2014.  Whether Teixeira and Judis are right or not their theory seems flawed on several fronts.  First, it assumed white voters would not move over to the GOP as minority voters make up more of the Democratic base (whites have).  It also assumed these voters would come out regularly and third ignored the natural gerrymander the GOP enjoys in the Senate and lesser extent in the House.  Largely rural and small states give the GOP two Senators and a handful of Representatives.  While larger states give Democrats more House members and two Senators these are matched by GOP support in smaller and mid-sized states.  There is also the 2013 election to suggest their realignment theory is hanging.  In 2013 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) won reelection largely on his strength with minority voters (won a quarter of black votes and a majority of Hispanic votes).  Also, in Virginia, while Republican Ken Cuccinelli did not win he carried a third of Hispanics, a third of Asians and the 18-24 year old vote, a crucial group in the Democratic majority theory.

Of course reasonable people can disagree with me on this analysis.  The one realignment theory I would hope they would not disagree on is the North/South realignment.  As hinted at above the South used to be a Democratic bastion with a coalition of rural and upscale whites and African-Americans.  By the same token the GOP found strong support in the Northeast due to entrenched business interests.  However, discontentment with the New Deal in the South and civil rights in the 60’s gave the GOP a fertile base of issues to nurture and exploit.  As a result Nixon would dominate the South in 72.  It would take longer for the GOP to exploit statewide and legislative races, all the way to 2010, likewise many of the federal statewide and Congressional races.  However, by 2010 it seems to safe to say the South is solid GOP territory.  Indeed, the region only boasts 4 Democratic Senators (three endangered in 2014) and has only three Democratic Reps controlling majority-white districts.  Even as the GOP was making inroads in the South the North was becoming more moderate and cosmopolitan.  In 1984 while Reagan was routing across the country his margins in many Northeastern states were small by comparison.  In 1992 Clinton would put the region solidly in Democratic hands (minus New Hampshire though it does lean left).  Today, excluding New York the GOP controls only a single Senate seat in the region and seven House seats.  Add in New York and the number of Reps jumps to 13.  Also, just like the South in recent years this realignment has begun to filter down to statewide races.  Republican Governors now only represent two states (ME and NJ) and both state legislatures are Democratic.  Whereas Democrats until 2010 usually controlled Southern state legislatures the Northeast had already given Democrats the keys to those chambers.

Understand, this list is by no means exhaustive.  America’s electoral history is littered with realignment theories that have fallen flat or are stalling like Texiera’s and Judis’s.  To me however, the five realignment theories espoused above seem the biggest.  As for the one theory that proved to be true, well it might be for a time longer.  However, demographics and new generations may make it obsolete sooner than we think.

Assessing AJ Balukoff’s chances in Idaho

AJ Balukoff announcing his candidacy for Governor.
AJ Balukoff announcing his candidacy for Governor.

Idaho has not had a Democratic Governor since Cecil Andrus’s last gubernatorial bid in 1992.  Since that time the state has experienced a steady influx of GOP Governors: Phil Batt (95-99), Dirk Kempthorne (99-06), Jim Risch (06-7) and Butch Otter (07-current).  Each election has been won by Republicans by varying margins but the best shot for any Democratic candidate since Andrus was in 2006.  Kempthorne was stepping down and the seat was open.  That year Otter won 53% of the vote against Jerry Brady, still a clear majority, even as his party was being crushed nationwide.  So what chance does Balukoff stand in a neutral to slightly hostile national environment for Democrats in a state as red as Idaho?

As tempting as it is to say not much that is far to simplistic an answer.  Balukoff has a largely non-partisan political record and is well known in Boise for serving as a Trustee on the Boise School District’s board.  Much as Keith Allred ran on in 2010 Balukoff’s campaign will focus on his moderate image, business and education experience and take potshots at the cronyist nature of Butch Otter’s tenure.  Balukoff, a wealthy individual, is certainly not going to lack for campaign cash in an inexpensive state like Idaho.

Perhaps Balukoff’s chances would be even worse if not for the brewing GOP primary between Governor Otter and state senator Russ Fulcher.  Otter is almost certain to run for a third term (unprecedented electorally) while Fulcher is certain to attack him from the right.  In the legislature Fulcher has cultivated an image of a libertarian conservative opposing Medicaid Expansion, higher taxes and voting against the state Health Exchange.  Otter was a vocal supporter of the state Health Exchange and Medicaid expansion is a wildcard heading into 2014.

The primary between Otter and Fulcher is sure to divide the state GOP along business/establishment and conservative/grassroots interests.  This creates an opportunity for Balukoff to appear to be the principled, moderate statesman offering voters a different course for the state.  Easier said than done of course.  Keep in mind in 2010 that Keith Allred tried the same tactic and took a dismal 33% of the vote compared to Otter’s 59%.

Balukoff does have a path to victory even if it is narrow.  His path has been blazed by former victorious Democrats including Cecil Andrus and most recently Congressman Walt Minnick.  Looking at Andrus’s last victory in 1990 (I could not find a map to link so I had to use a data table here) he ran up massive margins in Ada and dominated Northern and Eastern Idaho.  Balukoff hitting Andrus’s margins are unlikely but if he can be even with Fulcher/Otter in North Idaho, run up margins in Ada County and keep down his losing margin in East Idaho he has a shot.

Congressman Walt Minnick’s 2008 victory in the 1st Congressional District should offer him some hope.  That year, Minnick won the part of Ada County in the 1st Congressional district and won over many conservative suburbanite voters. and narrowly lost North Idaho giving him his narrow victory over then Congressman Bill Sali.  Minnick ran as a centrist businessman.  Of course he was swept out of office easily in 2010 when the national environment was toxic to his party.

There are even lessons Balukoff can take from the 2006 gubernatorial campaign between Bill Brady and Butch Otter.  Brady garnered 44% of the vote that year and carried Ada County by several thousand votes.  He also lost Twin Falls and Kootenai County by small margins.  However, in heavily rural small and large counties (think Canyon and Boise for examples) he was crushed.  This means Balukoff cannot just focus on Southeast and Northern Idaho if he hopes to win next year.

Cautions are in order here for the examples I list above.  Andrus’s last run was in 1990 and the state had a great love affair with the former Governor.  Also the GOP put up token opposition to him that year.  In 2006 the GOP brand was toxic suggesting that if Brady can only get 44% in a favorable environment to his party, well, Balukoff will struggle to build on that margin.  Furthermore, in 2008 the GOP brand remained toxic and Minnick was running against a flawed incumbent and the 1st District did/does not include the heavily Republican Eastern Idaho.  Also, voters evaluate state races differently from federal races.

All this considered does Balukoff stand a chance against Otter or Fulcher?  Not really.  Idaho may be changing politically and demographically but it still is a strong Republican state.  Short of metro Boise and Sun Valley the state lacks a strong Democratic constituency for statewide races.  Furthermore, even if Fulcher defeats Otter in the primary it is unlikely moderate voters will run away from Fulcher.  Many of these moderate voters hold fiscally conservative views on issues and oppose Obamacare.  Balukoff cannot deny his linkage to these issues because of his party affiliation.  So in truth Balukoff will just be another has run Democrat in Idaho who started out with a chance but ultimately fell to the political realities of Idaho.

In a future post I will evaluate the Otter/Fulcher primary.

2014 Could be another year of the Tea Party but this time not such a good one

800px-Steve_Stockman_(9924706946)2010 was known as the year of the Tea Party.  That year Republicans won massive numbers of seats in the House, gained six seats in the Senate and took numerous governorships and state legislative chambers.  But amid that success the movement also recorded failures with losses for Senate seats in Colorado, Delaware and Nevada.

With the recent passage of the Ryan/Murray budget deal and John Boehner finally voicing his displeasure with his right, right flank the Tea Party finally has something to get motivated about.  Yet unlike 2010, when numerous Senate and Gubernatorial candidates surged ahead of establishment favorites (Rand Paul anybody), the Tea Party seems to have a recruitment issue this time around.  Despite having numerous challengers to sitting GOP Senators none seem to be serious challengers.

Consider that Senate Republican incumbents are being challenged in Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Wyoming.  Yet only one challenger, state senator Chris McDaniel in Mississippi even appears close to being considered a top tier challenger to a sitting incumbent.  Elsewhere not so much.  In Kentucky while Mitch McConnell might be unpopular and endangered it is not due to Matt Bevin.  In Texas, John Stockman might only be popular with himself.  Certainly Lindsey Graham might be endangered considering he has supported cap and trade and most recently comprehensive immigration reform but none of his three challengers are near to matching him in money or campaign infrastructure.  Tennessee’s Senator Lamar Alexander is actually popular so good luck deposing him.  Lastly, in Wyoming Liz Cheney is positioning herself with the Tea Party but in truth she appeals to them as much as her opponent does.  McDaniel is challenging longtime Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran who many had doubts about on running again.

The free spending of third party groups that boosted the Christine O’Donnell’s and Sharron Angle’s of the world to the top in 2010 appear to have ended.  Club for Growth which endorsed both of the aforementioned candidates in 2010 has only endorsed McDaniel.  In competitive GOP primaries to take on endangered Democratic incumbents the number is zero.  Only the Senate Conservatives Fund has been more active, endorsing and donating to several upstart challengers.

It should come as little surprise then that Mitch McConnell would blacklist firms working with the Senate Conservatives Fund and John Boehner would feel safe to voice his displeasure with these groups.  Indeed, Paul Ryan, once their star has now fallen into the dreaded “establishment hole.”  The Senate Conservatives Fund and the grassroots might not like it but the wager is that they will still come out and vote if for no other reason than to give a middle finger to the President and Obamacare.

In 2010 the grassroots was active and engaged. They were angry at the establishment picking candidates and went the other way many times as a result.  But this year the grassroots has been active but not in the same way.  Instead, the insurrections that have plagued the GOP have come from the likes of Ted Cruz and massive third party groups.  These groups pushed the GOP into the shutdown fight they did not want.  They pushed the GOP into the fiscal cliff at the beginning of the year as well.  Well, let’s just say they are not popular with party insiders and leave it at that.

The Tea Party and its supporters have had trouble recruiting strong challengers this cycle partly because the establishment has been smarter in their approach to primaries.  In 2009 and 2010 they outright endorsed preferred nominees.  In 2011 and 2012 they stayed out of primary fights.  Now in 2013 they have waded back into them with a vengeance but have been smart to let their preferred nominees craft their own messages to voters.  They also have stayed out of others.

Some of the movement’s most successful candidates from 2009 and 2010; Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey, Rand Paul in Florida, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio in Florida, have all undoubtedly disappointed the movement.  Rand Paul has cozied up with McConnell, Chris Christie has publicly blasted the movement, Ron Johnson voted for the the government shutdown ending bill in October, Toomey helped craft gun control legislation based on background checks (it ultimately failed) and Marco Rubio endorsed immigration reform before he opposed it.  All this suggests that in their own way the movement’s heroes are conservative they tend to disappoint.

It has helped that Obamacare has been front and center for the party for a month and a half.  The wounds in party unity over the budget shutdown were able to be bandaged, at least for a time.  Republican voters may be enraged at their party leadership but they are more so at Obamacare and the President.  Yet for the Tea Party in 2014 that does not bode well.  It means a bad electoral year for their nominees even if it is ultimately a good one for the GOP.

 

Why Republicans should accept the Ryan/Murray budget deal

paul_ryan_patty_murray_ap_328Tuesday night Capitol Hill was abuzz with the news that the Senate and House Budget Committees had agreed on a new two year budget.  Led by Paul Ryan (R) and Patty Murray (D) the two Committees unveiled their 2014 and 2015 budgets.  The budgets eliminate some of the cuts from the sequester and increase spending from the baseline $967 billion to $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015.  The new spending $63 billion in spending would be offset by $85 billion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

Despite the fact that the budget does increase spending and gives Democrats a partial win on the sequester (a monster of their own making) Republicans would be smart to take the deal.  The deal gives Republicans a chance to focus on larger spending issues in 2014 including entitlement reform and Healthcare, aka Obamacare.  If Republicans gain the Senate in 2015 and hold the House they can always craft a new budget that puts Obama’s feet to the fire on spending.

There has been some grumbling among House Republicans but leadership and many conservative House members expect or admit they will support the package.  Democrats are unlikely to torpedo the bill seeing as it was crafted by one of their own and the GOP could finally point out how they are being the obstructionist party.  Still, the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth have both come out and said they oppose the package.

While it might appear the GOP is fully behind the sequester that is just not the case.  Many House Republicans representing strongly military districts, such as Scott Rigell in VA have been vocal opponents of its defense cuts.  In the Senate hawks such as John McCain have pointed out how its cuts have hurt military families and veterans.  Even some Democrats have jumped in and joined with Republicans on this point though they have emphasized domestic program cuts far more.  This would allow the GOP caucuses in both the Senate and House to find stronger unity on the issues heading into an election year.

Republicans were brutalized during the government shutdown in October.  That brutalization largely explains why Ryan and leadership in the House would be so happy to have a budget deal that keeps half of the initial sequester cuts in place.  Politically it gives them a safer hand and the ability to focus on bigger, perhaps more popular issues heading into next year.  As mentioned above, entitlement reform is a biggie but so are chunks of immigration reform like the DREAM Act.

For Senate Republicans the budget deal is a win-win as well.  Few Democrats in the Caucus are expected to break against the deal seeing as Murray is from the liberal wing of the party.  As a result most Republicans in the Senate can vote against a deal arguing they do not support the increased spending.  Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said stepping back on sequester would be a mistake and it gives his reelection campaign a theme to hit on to galvanize his base.

The last reason Republicans should accept this deal is one many voters would agree with in principle but not on the exact details.  It is good for the country.  No, not in the sense of increased spending or higher fees on airplane tickets.  It is good for the nation in that it gives business a sense of direction where the government’s spending priorities are for at least a year (2014).  This is crucial considering business is scared shitless of the uncertainty and costs Obamacare is causing them.  And, not to repeat myself, but it gets Congress back to focusing on other key spending and domestic issues.

There will be some Republicans (probably most in the Senate and a minority in the House) that reject the deal along with some Democrats but in the end the budget should pass.  Republicans would be smart to make sure they are essential in its passage.