Suburban is not urban and neither is it rural

downtownboise_640Late last week after having a discussion with a former boss of mine about planning the idea of this post came to me.  A quick recap of the conversation is as follows. My former boss argued that the Idaho legislature is impairing cities from operating.  I asked how and after the back and forth it became clear to me that he considers urban and suburban to be the same thing.  Truth be told they are vastly different.  Ask a person in Eagle if they consider their policy interests to be the same as Boise and I bet he/she says no.

There are numerous reasons why urban is not suburban and vice-versa.  First off, the interests of urban and suburban residents are different simply by where they live.  For example, consider the issue of transportation.  If you live in Eagle and commute to Boise your main concern with transportation is having a decent freeway system or a transit system.  If you live in and work in Boise your transportation concerns might focus on more bike lanes, a better transit system or the latest idea, a light rail tram system.

Some overlap on the issues urban and suburban residents care about do exist.  Both worry about issues such as the cost of living, development, etc.  But within these broad concepts will be differences, particularly on ideology and the issues.  Idaho is notable for not just being a Republican state but also for having conservative suburbs that oftentimes side with rural areas in their voting habits.  Many states in the West such as Colorado and Nevada have seen the opposite; suburban voters have moved away from rural residents voting preferences and now side with urban residents.  It is true rural residents care more about social issues than the suburbs.  Oftentimes Republican legislators have been at odds over social issues for this very reason. Still, many suburban voters care about the same issues as rural residents: taxes, spending, etc. and often disagree with urban residents preferences on these issues.

From a planner’s mindset (such as my former boss) it is not hard to see why urban and suburban would be considered the same.  After-all, it is easier to conceptualize and plan one thing instead of two.  But it also does reflect a worrying mindset among urban planners that disregards the interests and concerns of suburban residents.  Consider the differing development habits of Boise and outlying suburbs.  Disclaimer: I am doing a Boise downtown development project for my work so this is where most of this information comes from.

Boise’s downtown development since 1985 (fear of the Great Mall leaving) has been marked by relative stability.  The Capital City Development Corp has worked hand in hand with the Boise City Council and Planning Development to focus on development.  Since the 2000’s (when the suburbs expanded significantly and Boise’s population began to stagnate) the focus has shifted to high rises and using vertical as well as horizontal space.  This is why Boise planners expressed disappointment with the new Whole Foods development and are unhappy with Trader Joe’s new store.  Both reflect a more suburban design focusing on using horizontal space.

The suburbs (Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, Caldwell, Star, Kuna, etc.) have simply developed outwards and not worried about vertical space.  Indeed if one drives down I-84 or Eagle Road, short of hotels, there are very few vertical highrises.  Downtown Boise sports far more.  City planners are far more concerned with urban sprawl whereas suburban planners do not show such a concern.

Perhaps an issue where suburban and urban planners agree is on livability but the way they achieve this goal is dramatically different.  The suburbs of Idaho stress a low tax, business friendly, low housing cost environment to lure in young families and entrepreneurs.  This low tax environment is often in conflict with providing a decent education system for said young families children.  In urban Boise livability really is not stressed on a tax and business friendly environment.  Boise does not go out of its way to scare off new businesses but its high property and local business taxes tend to drive businesses out of the downtown core. Its slow approval process for new development makes submission of development plans  a time-consuming endeavor.  In the same mold planners in Boise tend to view these higher taxes as a cost of livability. After-all it costs money to provide a top-tier education system,a downtown culture and numerous parks.

These differing visions are vast in scope and their implications.  Many older residents have fled Boise’s city limits for the lower tax suburbs while a younger, more diverse demographic has increasingly found its home in the city.  Unsurprising, this helps explain why urban Boise is like many other metropolitan cores in the West; younger, more diverse and far more Democratic.  Ideas like downtown development that stress a more mixed and nuanced message on taxes, education and spending are better suited for the younger demographic who are protecting less.  Unfortunately, it also means that Boise’s tax base tends to be small and its new taxes and fees fall heavily on a minority of home and business owners.

Now, this is not to say that urban and suburban residents in Boise do not agree on some things.  They certainly must.  Education is a major example.  But planners (such as my former boss) must understand the interests of suburban and urban residents in Idaho are far different.  These differences don’t just refer to physical location but also to their policy and ideological preferences.  Just look at the legislature this year and the number of suburban legislators who voted for concealed carry while not a single urban Boise legislator did so.

For a planner to be successful these differences must be recognized and analyzed lest we fall into the one size fits all idea that seems prevalent in planning.


I Have No Problem with Concealed Carry on Campus and Neither Should You!

Concealed_Carry_111It seems that every liberal in Idaho will have something to gripe about when this legislative session ends.  Heck, they can argue religious liberty protections will mean the LBGT community will be mobbed (even with the bill now withdrawn) and that refusal to expand Medicaid will leave millions of dollars and thousands of people without medical care on the table.  But one thing they should not gripe about (though I bet they will) will be concealed carry on campus.

Let’s recap shall we.  The Senate State Affairs Committee recently supported a bill that would allow individuals with an “enhanced” conceal carry permit to have a weapon on campus.  The move is opposed is by the state police, the Boise Police Department and all major colleges in the state.  In fact, many police chiefs were ticked the Committee did not hear their full opposition before voting.  President Kustra of Boise State sent off a thinly veiled reminder to staff and students to call Senators on the committee and tell them to kill the bill.  However, The Fraternal Order of Police and the NRA support the measure.

Most recently the bill went to the Senate Floor where among other arguments against it the most prevalent were as follows; election year posturing, more guns equals more violence and college campuses are already safe.  I hate to break it to the seven Democrats and three Republicans who voted no (25-10 roll call vote) but none of those are fully true.

These arguments are fallacious for a variety of reasons.  First, since when has any Republican in the state ever been against guns?  This goes much further back than this year’s primaries.  Second, if more guns equals more crime why is it that in a state like Texas with some of the highest gun ownership per capita gun violence is much smaller than the state of Illinois (due to Chicago which has gun control)?  Lastly, college campuses may or may not be safe but since when does a person sacrifice their right to enjoy the Second Amendment to be protected by the police?

Now, I understand some people are freaked out about this possible law being passed.  They need not be.  Here is why.  Several states allow concealed carry on college campuses: Utah, Oregon (yes, even Oregon) and Colorado.  Several private schools across the country also allow guns on campus.  In all cases there has not been an incident where a law abiding gun owner has caused a violent incident.  In other words nobody has gotten drunk and fired off his gun.  There is also a study out by supporters of concealed carry that argue rape on their campus has dropped as a result.

Among some of the more memorable moments of the debate in the Senate was Marv Hagedorn.  He perhaps provided the best reasons for why concealed carry should be allowed, 1) bad guys do not know who has a gun, 2) you do not have to rely on the cops to protect you, 3) the individuals who are licensed and carry have training and likely have gone through additional training and 4) you do not give up your Second Amendment Rights to be protected by the government/get an education.  Well said Senator (how I love veterans)!

I am sure  critics will point out that a mentally challenged student in North Idaho came onto North Idaho College’s campus with a loaded weapon and additional ammo.  Thankfully nobody was hurt.  Critics will argue that is why concealed carry is a bad idea (certainly Senate Democrats did so).  Two points.  First, he was not a concealed carry holder.  Second, people are focusing on the wrong issue here.  The issue for that student was not the gun but the lack of mental services for him and others like him.

So, while there remain concerns about concealed carry on campus they should not be overblown. Kids will not go on shooting sprees on Idaho campuses, life will go on as normal and police will continue to be able to do their jobs.  The difference is that people will finally be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights on Idaho college campuses.  If for no other reason, you should be able to support a right in the United States Constitution.

What the VW Vote says about the state of the UAW

VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.The United Auto Workers Union was handed a major defeat last week when workers at a Chattanooga VW plant refused to organize under the union’s banner.  Admittedly, the vote was close, 712-626, with 89% of workers voting.  However, the vote result is striking when one considers that the Volkswagen’s German union, IG Metall, wanted the UAW to represent their workers.  They placed a gag order on plant managers, likely more conservative Southerners who do not so love the unions, and allowed UAW representatives to try to change workers minds.  In the end it was for not.

For decades the UAW has been trying to expand into Southern plants.  The number of car manufacturers moving to the lower tax, non-unionized South has expanded exponentially in recent years.  Many of these companies are heavily unionized in their home countries (Japan, South Korea) but they get out from under heavy personnel costs by building cars in non-unionized Southern plants here in the US.  This would be considered smart business sense by many but to the UAW it is as close to apostasy as you can get.

But instead of blaming others perhaps the UAW should look at itself.  The UAW has been in decline since the 1980’s.  For decades the Big Three American automakers bled money but continued to allow the unions to dictate better and better terms for their select few members.  When the recession hit and the Big Three went belly up it was the inevitable result of the union being unmovable and not caring about the viability of the automakers. Inevitably, this has been noticed by many workers at the VW plant.  Apparently workers are willing to take a smaller paycheck and benefits in return for job security.

But there remain other reasons why the UAW’s efforts failed.  Since the 1980’s the UAW and unions in general have come to be seen as part of the Democratic Party.  This used to not be the case.  The UAW supported GOP Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon for President.  They also donated more to union friendly Republican Congressional and Senate candidates.  Not so anymore.  Now the unions use member dues to spend heavily on Democratic social causes, notably, abortion rights and gun control.

These factor into plant workers voting decisions.  After-all, plant workers have their ideological preferences just like the rest of us.  And those preferences tend to be culturally conservative and not liberal.  Unions donating to politicians and their pet causes that many workers oppose is unlikely to garner their support.  Indeed, we have seen this phenomenon play out in two union stronghold states, Wisconsin and Michigan.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker curbed CBA rights for teachers.  Despite the furor from liberal groups, numerous recalls and vitriol leveled at the Governor (and his family) the results have proven to be a huge success for the state fiscally and a disaster for the unions.  The state now has a budget surplus, many school districts are now fiscally solvent and surprise, surprise many teachers have opted not to pay dues to their unions (even if they do agree politically with them).

In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill making the state the 24th Right to Work state.  This bill came right before Detroit declared bankruptcy.  Despite claims to the contrary the sky has not fallen for the state.  Rather, Michigan has a budget surplus and the legislation was written to grandfather in existing unions.  In other words, the UAW’s current membership is unaffected.  However, people who want to work in the auto industry get to now have a choice in whether they want to join a union or not (sorry UAW, we know you dislike the free market).

Unions like the UAW also do other unsavory acts to prospective members.  Union leaders now advocate “reforms” in federal rules governing representation elections to shorten to 25 days the period between a union filing for a contest and the actual ballot.  The result of this in the Chattanooga election would have stifled opposition from being able to mount a meaningful and effective anti-unionizing campaign.  Perhaps liberals should note it is not only the GOP who wants to deny the right to vote.

As if that was not bad enough the unions also have proposed compelling employers to provide rosters of email addresses and other personal information of their employees.  This would make the playing field in elections even more uneven.  So much for unions advocating workplace fairness.

The fact that unions would be going this far to stay relevant shows that they are unwilling to change.  They do not want to drop their support for liberal causes and Democratic candidates.  Unions, however, seem to forget that workers join unions to better their economic situation and not to support ideological causes.  Historically, private sector unions used to be able to better the economic lot of their members.  Now, not so much.  As a result, unions continue to struggle to maintain their membership and expand Southward.

In 2016 the GOP needs to compete in the Rustbelt

Ohio Road SignFor anybody looking to read some stats to start off this post, consider this; in 2008 the Rust Belt (MN, WI, MI, OH, IN, IL and PA) had a combined total of 108 electoral votes.  In 2012 the region had a combined 105 electoral votes.  The GOP won zero electoral votes in 08 and 11 2012.  If the GOP is to compete in 2016 it must do much better in this pivotal region of the country.  This is especially true as the composition of the electorate changes ideologically and demographically.

Look at Virginia and Colorado.  Until 2008 both states were considered Republican strongholds.  But now, two elections later, Democrats hold all statewide offices in Virginia and its two Senate seats.  In Colorado, Democrats control both US Senate seats, the legislature and the Governor’s mansion.  Oh, and there is the little fact that Obama carried both states by decisive margins in 2008 and 2012.  This shows the electoral map is changing and the GOP cannot afford to wait for the ideal conditions to re-win these states.  Of course the GOP must fight for these states but they also must seek to win new states.  Perhaps no set of states offer the GOP a better opportunity than those in the Rustbelt.

Unlike Virginia, Colorado and other Republican or former Republican states that are changing demographically the composition of the region’s population has remained largely static racially.  While the region lost 3 electoral votes due to the 2010 Census this did not change the composition of the region’s overall demographics. Whites, currently a solid majority of the GOP’s coalition make up a majority of the region’s population.  While many of the regions states boast population centers with a liberal, educated bloc of voters these voters by themselves are not enough to swing the state.  Rather, Democrats, despite moving away from socially conservative, blue collar whites still garner enough of their votes to carry many of these states.  Historically, this has been helped by the power of unions but in recent years their power over politics and members has waned (see Wisconsin recalls and Michigan’s Right to Work law).

What should give the GOP hope it can compete in the region is that many of the states (and one I did not include, Iowa) boast Republican Governors and state legislatures.  Republicans have proven they can win at the statewide level.  This gives the party a solid foundation to build on and promote their brand.  While the Congressional Republican brand might be toxic, at the state level many Republicans are popular and expected to easily win reelection.  In fact, some of the party’s most likely 2016 candidates come from the region; Governor Scott Walker (WI) and John Kasich (OH).  Both have taken different approaches to governing but both have succeeded in balancing state budgets and pushing back against leftist efforts to reverse their success.

Since the 1980’s blue-collar whites have been making a uniform swing towards the GOP.  This accelerated with the South’s transition to the GOP and has slowly continued.  This helps explain why Rust Belt Democratic strongholds such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio have actually moved to the right while the country to the whole has moved leftward.  Republicans would do well to field a candidate in 2016 who can connect with these kinds of voters that went 64% for the GOP in 2010 and by not so nearly huge a margin in 2012 (Mitt Romney).

As impossible as the task may currently seem for Republicans the effort must be undertaken.  As it stands now the GOP has no wiggle-room in the electoral map.  This explains why by the time the polls closed in Colorado and Ohio was already called Romney had to win every outstanding swing state to take the Presidency.  Adding a state like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania would give the GOP an automatic 20 or 40 electoral vote cushion (win for GOP and loss for Democrats).  Ohio is likely to continue to be a perennial swing state but that depends on blue-collar voters coming out for the GOP to mitigate black turnout in urban Cincinnati and Cleveland.

This strategy partly depends on the GOP nominee.  Candidates such as Senator Rand Paul, Marco Rubio or Governor Chris Christie would likely try to court a younger and more upscale coalition of voters that does not energize blue-collar whites.  Ideally, this coalition would give the GOP Ohio (by carrying the suburbs) and perhaps another state in the region.  Rather, such a coalition would likely let the GOP keep Georgia and compete in New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado.  However, if the nominee is a Governor from the region the odds are better the GOP can pull off the strategy.

It is still three years until the 2016 Presidential election but the GOP cannot afford to wait for circumstances to come together in their favor.  Rather, they should be working on a strategy to fight hard for the region’s votes courting both young and old, white and minority and college and non college educated.  If not, the national environment might favor the GOP in 2016 but the electoral college will not.

Yes, Republicans can win in 2016 without minorities

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First, let me state that this is by no means is  an advocation for the GOP to ignore minorities in 2014 and 2016.  The changing demographics of the country ensure at some point the GOP has to improve with minorities to win Senate and Presidential elections (they have proven they can win statewide constitutional elections without minorities).  But it is important to note that for all the analysts and media outlets that report the GOP needs to win minorities, ie. pass immigration reform, move to the left on social issues, extend unemployment benefits, etc. there is actually little evidence to support this supposition.

Republicans would certainly benefit from winning a higher share of the minority vote.  A ceiling of a mere 20% ensures the party will struggle to win national elections.  But this is predicated off several assumptions.  First, minority turnout will continually increase in elections, second, Democrats will maintain their stranglehold on these voters, and third that the Democratic firewall in Presidential elections will be maintained in 2016 (not to mention beyond).  I will handle each of these assumptions in turn below.

1. Minority Turnout: Many analysts have made a number of comparisons between the 2008/2012 elections and prior elections where Republicans (Reagan/HW) and Bill Clinton won.  For example, in 1992 when Bill Clinton won his first term the minority share of the vote was 12% but in 2012 that jumped to 28% (according to exit polls).  What this analysis tends to miss is that Bill Clinton won a narrow plurality of the white vote (something no Democrat has done since) and Ross Perot stole white votes away from HW (though perhaps not enough to change the ultimate result).  Since that time white voters have increasingly shifted to the GOP while the minority vote has not increased significantly for Democrats but their voting percentages have.  In other words, Democrats are benefiting from fewer white voters entering the electorate and larger shares of minority voters entering the electorate.  But this of course assumes that this continues in perpetuity.  Indeed, many Democrats fully admit they do not expect this to happen.  Consider that Democrats are planning on a whiter and older electorate showing up in 2014 compared to 2012.  It has also been noted in local legislative races in VA, KY and WA state and most recently in the San Diego mayoral special election that drop-offs in Democratic turnout have occurred at alarming rates, particularly among minorities.

Now let’s assume for a moment that Democratic fears come true and the 2014 electorate is as white or almost as white as 2010 (78%). The discussion would than likely turn to 2016 and how the GOP will struggle because of a more diverse electorate.  But a resurgence in white voting is not unprecedented.  Consider that in 1992 white voters percentage of the electorate grew after four straight elections of increased minority turnout.  Also, black turnout in 2008 and 2012 was 13% and over of the electorate.  The entire black population of the country is pegged right at 13% meaning it is hard to see a non-black candidate inspiring such voting in the black community (especially in harsh economic times).  What is much more conceivable is an increase in Hispanic and Asian turnout.  Hispanics were 8% of the electorate in 2008 and 10% in 2012 while Asians were 3% in 08 and 5% in 2012.  If Asians vote 66% for the Democrat and Hispanics 71% for the Democratic nominee (2012 levels) the GOP candidate would need to over-perform among whites.

2. Democratic lock on minorities: Democrats crow that the minority share of the electorate is increasing and they have a lock on these voters but what appears to be happening is less so this and an emerging interest in voting by younger voters.  Barack Obama would not have won diverse states like Virginia and Florida without younger voters backing (even if his minority shares remained the same). This has coincided with a drop-off in white voting.  As minorities grow as a share of the electorate Democrats argue it will increasingly allow them to pick off strong GOP states such as North Carolina and Georgia (VA and CO already flipped).  But this argument is far to simplistic.  In both states the GOP state party is fractured making it hard to appeal to ANY set of voters.  Furthermore, the GOP controls the state assembly in VA by a large margin and has a large minority in the state senate in CO.  Democrats might want to note that in 2012 with Romney winning 59% of the white vote and larger in many other states that Obama would have had to win 78% of Hispanics nationally to steal North Carolina, 86% for Arizona and an unfathomable 98% to flip Texas.  Good luck hitting those numbers. EVER!

Where the Democratic argument on this front really falls apart however is on two fronts; minorities are a firm base in the party and that their existing base will not react badly to minority public policy demands (and hence shift voting patterns, more on this in a future column).  Indeed, one only has to go back to 20o4 to see Bush won 40% of Asians, 44% of Hispanics and 10% of blacks.  This was in a fairly neutral environment politically.  Republicans managed to win 38% of Hispanics in 2010 in a wave year midterm.  This does not suggest that minorities are a firm lock for Democrats even in Presidential years, especially if the issues Democrats campaign on to attract their votes start to get stale (discrimination, Civil Rights, War on women, etc.).

Second, the voting preferences of the Democratic base might be the same but their policy preferences are quite different.  Consider that the upper class suburban vote Democrats have successfully courted since 1992 is quite different from minority preferences.  For example, on education charter schools enjoy support among blacks (despite electing anti-charter school candidates) but for upper class suburban Democrats the issue does not rate high on their radar.  On taxes, these same suburban voters might not have a problem with raising taxes a few percent on $250K and above or raising the minimum wage but they likely would object to minority tax preferences (as in a much larger tax hike).  This split does not ensure that Democrats have a lock on high income minorities (suburbanites in this analysis) or a lock on the voting habits of low-income minorities.

Consider another example.  Minorities, particularly African Americans, are strong supporters of charter schools while many whites are more supportive of public schools.  Republicans in many states and nationally have championed charter schools and various voucher systems that would help low-income minorities go to private or charter schools.

3. The Democratic Electoral Firewall: It has been noted that “In the last two decades of Democratic dominance, 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic six out of six times. These currently have 242 electoral votes, which is quite close to the 270 needed to win the presidency. There are 13 states that have voted Republican in every election since 1992, but they total just 102 electoral votes.”  This is certainly true.  Republican successes have been consolidated in the Midwest and West while Democratic locks have been in the Rust Belt and Northeast.  But a closer look at the numbers shows that “Since 1992, eight states with 89 electoral votes have moved more than five points toward Democrats (relative to the popular vote) while 12 states with 84 electoral votes have moved more than five points toward Republicans.” In other words, it has been a wash in terms of states becoming more partisan.  Rather, many of the modern massive Democratic states (CA, NY, PA) were already more Democratic than the nation but stayed with the GOP through the 80’s because of strong Republican performances nationally.

Indeed, many of the states in the Democratic firewall have begun to trend towards the GOP, minus 2008.  Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio, chalk full of working class whites have followed a national trend and moved more towards the GOP.  In a fairly favorable year for Democrats in 2012 this trend did not reverse as one might suspect.  Instead, Democrats won these states on the basis of their core support turning out (singles, the young and minorities).

This begs the question of whether a bad/terrible environment for a Democrat in 2016 would allow a GOP nominee to consolidate party gains in these states and perhaps break the Democratic lock on these states?  Certainly it could.  From 1968-1988 when Republican candidates, minus 76, were dominating the electoral landscape they faced favorable political and economic environments.  Consider in 68 Nixon faced a fractured and demoralized Democratic party (RFK’s assassination), in 72 Nixon was able to scare away his toughest Democratic challenger (Senator Edward Muskie).  Only in 76 did Ford lose to a Southerner in Carter who held the South for a party increasingly shedding that region’s voters.  From 80-92 the economic environment was stellar for Republicans and their competition was sub par.

So there might be a lesson here for both parties.  Republicans, nominate an appealing broad-based candidate who speaks to suburbanites, blue-collar workers and conservative intellectuals.  Also, at the same time the nominee does not scare off minority voters as Romney did.  Democrats, moving further to the left is not necessarily a recipe for success.  The same kinds of voters, upper class suburbanites, that Democrats are winning today did not go for the party during 80-92 (Mondale, Dukakis and Carter’s runs) when liberalism was ascendant.  So perhaps moving left is not necessarily the right way forward for the party.

The overall message here is that Republicans can win in 2016 without significantly increasing their share of the minority vote from 2012.  External factors would need to occur such as higher white turnout (at least 2012 level support) or decreased minority turnout or a shift in the voting patterns of the young and singles (which of course would shift other data).  As has been evidenced above this can occur and I would put the odds of it occurring at no worse than 50/50 due to the political/economic environment likely to face Democrats (Obamacare, sluggish economy, long-term unemployment and demographic shifts in working patterns) in 2016.  If Republicans are smart they will capitalize on these factors and, at least in the short-term, put to rest the idea minorities doom the GOP to being locked out of the White House.

Idaho Democrat’s Woeful Condition

Idaho Democrats ResponseIdaho Democrats entered the 2014 legislative session with twenty legislators.  Twenty legislators out of a body of 105 (35 Senate, 70 House).  Not a single member in the Senate represented a district outside Boise, Lewiston or Sun Valley.  Only eight members (3 Senators and 5 Reps) represented districts that gave their votes to Mitt Romney in 12.

At the end of the 2013 legislative session Democrats had to have been feeling gleeful.  Despite their failure to stall education reform they had achieved a much bigger prize; helping pass the state health exchange.  Six Democrats in the Senate joined 17 Republicans to vote yes while in the House all 13 Democrats voted yes with 28 Republicans (out of 57 total) to pass the exchange.  In fact, Democrats were so gleeful at the end of the session they started talking up Medicaid Expansion.

Undoubtedly the scars of the 2013 legislative session weigh heavily on the GOP caucus.  Many of the Republican legislators who backed the exchange are facing primary challenges.  Senator Russ Fulcher (Meridian), a stalwart opponent of the exchange is challenging Butch Otter on a bevy of issues but primarily on the Governor’s decision to create the exchange.

But despite the gleefulness that Democrats left the statehouse feeling in 2013 the feeling seems to have left them for 2014.  Governor Otter’s State of the State Address made clear he is not endorsing expanding Medicaid, is focusing on only minor tweaks to education and is not going to rock the policy boat in an election year.  See Democrat’s angry response here.

The GOP’s internal rift remains but this year the party is focusing on issues that unite the party. Consider two examples.  The first is a bill that would allow concealed carry on campus.  While certainly not all Republicans will endorse or vote for the measure the right to keep and bear arms is universally supported among the GOP Caucus.  Another issue concerns religious freedom.  In response to states like Oregon and Washington suing religious store owners for not serving gays the GOP is proposing a bill that would protect individuals with religious objections from lawsuits (state or federal).

Democrats lack the numbers to force anything through the legislature.  Their entire 2013 legislative agenda relied on a divided GOP legislature to give them a key victory on the state exchange.  Yet, even when the Caucus was divided on education the GOP still got their reforms.  In other words, good luck Democrats repeating this strategy in 2014.

Unfortunately for the Democratic Party they also seem to lack a vision to allow them to expand their numbers outside of their primary areas.  Talking up the middle class, education and quality of living is great and all but how is that going to win you seats in libertarian North Idaho, socially conservative Eastern Idaho and fiscally conservative Treasure Valley suburbs?  Furthermore, how is exaggerating the effects of a religious exemption bill going to win you more than urban, young and liberal voters.

Even if one believes in a scenario where the closed primary knocks out some GOP incumbents and replaces them with more populist conservative candidates, Democrats have long odds of being able to win these seats.  Let me put this in perspective.  In 2012 (a not great year for the GOP) Mitt Romney won every district in the state except Boise’s four urban districts (16-19).  In other words Romney won liberal Sun Valley based districts 26 and 29.  Also Republicans did have some colorful candidates run in 2012 and they ALL won their races.

This problem is compounded by the fact the party lacks a very strong bench to run for virtually any race.  Consider who Democrats have running for statewide races this year.  A.J Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for Governor is no youngster and he has donated to BOTH Republicans and Democrats in his time.  Jana Jones, who is running for Superintendent of Education, ran against Luna back in 2006.  Shirley Ringo, while not running statewide but for the 1st CD against Raul Labrador, is no young whippersnapper.  Nels Mitchell, running against Jim Risch, has spent years working for the SEC.  The only young candidate Democrats have running is Rep. Holli Woodings (19).  The 19th is the most liberal district in the state by any definition which might explain why she is running for a non-partisan office like Secretary of State where voters will evaluate her on her qualifications, not ideology. Bert Marley, the Democrats latest announcing candidate running for Lt. Governor, is a former state senator from 1998-2006.

None of the above candidates have a better than 50/50 shot to win.  Balukoff, who gets to watch a bloody GOP primary, is unlikely to win outside of urban Boise.  Fulcher is unlikely to lose the Valley suburbs, North or Eastern Idaho.  Jones best shot for winning was to run against weakened Luna.  Luna is not running meaning that shot never fired.  Mitchell has no shot whatsoever against Risch.  Risch is one of the most conservative Senators in the chamber.  Yet he has also not created waves.  Ringo might hit 40% if she runs a strong campaign.  Marley’s background as a teacher will likely help him but Little has been largely absent from the education debate. Marley will struggle to pin GOP education reform efforts to Little as a result. Woodings could conceivably sneak through after a brutal GOP primary but even her odds stink.

One would think that lacking a path to electoral victory and being meaningful in the legislature is bad enough.  But Democrats lack even the ability to have their public policy preferences heard outside of their districts.  Some of these policy preferences include legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage and expanding pre-K to be universal.  As a result, Democrats have to try to get enough signatures through the initiative process to get the public to vote on the issues.

Still, I guess Democrats should feel luckier than other state parties.  Afterall, the entire Hawaii Republican Senate Caucus consists of Senator Sam Slom.  As an aside, I find it amusing he relishes so much in holding that role.  More seriously however, few states have a smaller percentage of their legislatures be composed of Democrats than Idaho (19%).  Only Utah (18.2%) and Wyoming (13%) have smaller Democratic legislative minorities.  These parties are in the same boat as Idaho Democrats.  Consolidated in urban areas (Salt Lake City and Cheyenne) their policy goals do not allow them to appeal to other voters outside urban areas.

Still, Idaho Democrats are firmly entrenched in the districts they hold.  And you cannot do worse than holding no statewide offices.  So, I suppose Idaho Democrats have nowhere to go but up.

Addendum: Idaho Democrat’s condition can partly be attributed to national factors.  While Idaho has not voted for a Democratic nominee for President since 1964 (LBJ) they at least ran competitively (or somewhat so) until the 80’s.  By that time the liberalism of the national party began to erode moderate Democratic roots in the state.  Assembled below is a tabulation of Democratic gubernatorial and Presidential performances since 1992.  Absent the Presidential years of 92 and 96 (Ross Perot Independent candidacy) and 2000 the Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s candidacy tracks well with Democratic performance (this excludes individual and unique state factors, +/-5%).  It is doubtful Balukoff can overcome this trend though like Brady he may overperform (2006 was a bad GOP year and Brady had run previously in 2002). 

1992 President: 28.24% (three way Presidential race)

1994: Governor: 43.88%

1996: President: 33.65% (three way Presidential race)

1998 Governor: 29.07%

2000 President: 27.64%

2002 Governor: 41.73%

2004 President: 30.26%

2006 Governor: 44.11%

2008 President: 35.91%

2010 Governor: 32.85%

2012 President: 32.40%

2014 Governor: ?

Mitch McConnell is in Trouble or is He?

ap_ap_mcconnell_lundergan_grimes_kb_130803_16x9_608The first Bluegrass poll on the 2014 Kentucky Senate race has Republican heads turning and not in the good way.  Rather, instead of a Senate heavyweight cruising to reelection, Mitch McConnell is in a dogfight for another six years in Congress.  More specifically, the survey finds that he trails his less well-known challenger Allison Grimes (D) 46%-42%.  The only good news in the survey is that McConnell is easily beating his primary challenger, Matthew Bevin, 55%-29% among GOP primary voters.

The survey is notable because it diverges with private polls that showed the race tight but without Grimes in the lead.  Bevin’s role in the primary may also be hurting McConnell.  Bevin has been hitting McConnell hard for comprising with Democrats and being to establishment which has not allowed Republicans to coalesce around McConnell in a general election match-up against Grimes.  Notably, Bevin does almost as well as McConnell against Grimes, trailing 43%-38%.

But before Republicans panic other factors should be considered.  Democrats may crow that Grimes is outperforming Obama in the state (she certainly is) and has polled above the Democratic ceiling in the state but upon closer inspection not so much.  Indeed, 2008 pre-election polls showed a tight race between McConnell and his opponent (McConnell ended by winning by 6%).

Historically, Kentucky has behaved much as many Southern states have.  It moved to the GOP at the Presidential level in 1972 and minus Clinton has stayed there.  But unlike other Southern states that have seen the Democratic state parties atrophy the Kentucky Democrats party is strong and they control most statewide constitutional offices and the senate (GOP holds the House).  This has allowed Democratic candidates running for federal offices, mostly unsuccessfully, to have a base of support to build their party campaigns on.

Grimes benefits from this factor.  But it also puts to rest the idea that Grimes is over-performing in the poll.  Consider the two most recent Senate races in the state, 2008 and 2010.  In 2008 McConnell’s opponent garnered 47% of the vote.  According to exit polls Lunsford got the bulk of his support from 18-29 year olds (56%), Democrats (76%), moderates (54%), liberals (80%) and African-Americans (86%).  He struggled among white men (40%), white women (44%) and 45 and older (44%).  Contrast this with the crosstabs of the Bluegrass survey.  In 2010 the Democratic candidate hit 44% and won all the above groups (though by smaller margins).

In the Bluegrass survey Grimes gets 68% of conservatives, 54% of moderates and 79% of liberals.  She also wins young voters and a significant 16% of Republicans.  McConnell by contrast wins 20% of Democrats but in the survey they constitute a larger share of voters than Republicans.  A quick comparison of the numbers show that Grimes is performing almost exactly the same as Lunsford.  Heck, regionally she is almost matching Lunsford percentagewise.  Lunsford won the Louisville area (Jefferson County) with 56% (exit polls pegged it at 54%) and Grimes is getting 54%.  She wins Western Kentucky with 44% as Lunsford did in 08 and also leads in the North Central region with 48%.  McConnell is over-performing in the East (likely due to the Democratic War on Coal) with 51% compared to his 2008 46% showing. One can see a swing comparison in voting from 08-010 here.

None of this is to say Grimes is not on target for past Democratic performances.  She is EXACTLY on target and that may be the problem.  Grimes is not running past prior Democratic candidates even against an opponent facing a primary challenge and who has abysmal approval ratings 32/60 and favorable ratings 27/50. Grimes may also be benefiting from being unknown (as in not McConnell). Only 26% have a favorable opinion of her and 27% unfavorable.  Also, 29% are neutral (a nice way to say I know of her but not about her) and 18% have no opinion.  While McConnell is better known to voters (three decades of tenure) Grimes is a mystery.  Thus it is reasonable to hypothesize that some voters in this survey compared to private surveys are expressing support for Grimes simply because she is not as bad as McConnell.

That will likely change as the campaign rolls on.  McConnell looks likely to cruise in his primary and he has hoards of cash his campaign is waiting to use until after the primary in May.  Grimes has cash but again remains undefined in many voters eyes.  While Bevin is certainly doing her a favor currently the fact she has been unable to top the state’s recent Democratic ceiling has to be worrisome.  It suggests that this race is extremely fluid and it is extremely unclear how Grimes will respond on two key issues: Obamacare and coal.

In the survey a solid plurality, 49% supported repeal while only 44% supported fixing it and implementing it as is.  Of the 49% that support repeal 76% were conservative and all age groups above 18-29% support repeal.  Notably 25% of blacks and 17% of liberals supported repeal suggesting tying Grimes to Obamacare and see her grapple to respond could yield dividends to the McConnell camp among non-traditional GOP voters.  While the survey did not test attitudes about coal it is notable McConnell leads in the coal heavy east (as mentioned above he lost there in 08).  Lumping Grimes with the “War on Coal” is sure to also have benefits for the campaign in that region.

This analysis is not to say Grimes is in bad shape.  In fact, for a Democratic running for federal office in the state she is in superb shape.  But to say she is out-performing expectations is a stretch.  Rather, voters current preferences seem to be based on dissatisfaction with McConnell and less to do with the primary drivers of federal elections; presidential approval, ideology and challenger qualities.  After the primary ends in May and we near November expect these things to loom larger and likely benefit McConnell.

Addendum 1: Over at RCP Sean Trende has an earlier analysis of the Kentucky Senate race (see it here). He has also noted that Democrats may face a steep drop-off problem in 2014.  If so, that makes the survey’s Democratic friendly sample (not necessarily on purpose) very unlikely to show up on election day.

Addendum 2: Tied to turnout (above) the McConnell campaign has over-performed on turnout since 1996.  As such it is not a done deal this electorate will show up even if Democrats do not suffer a drop-off problem and McConnell is deeply unpopular.