As Economy Contracts, Democrats Lose

newsprintLast week Democrats tried to brush aside disastrous economic news about the economy.  Specifically, the Commerce Department reported they expected 1st quarter GDP to be revised downward, a lot, to the tune of a 2.9% contraction.  For Democrats who came to power in 2009 blaming the other guy for driving the economy in the ditch and then getting the country out of the ditch this is disastrous news.

The economic contraction was broadly based.  The contraction primarily reflected negative contributions from private inventory investment, exports, state and local government spending, nonresidential and residential fixed investment.  Healthcare spending also dropped significantly.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis is unsure why healthcare spending has dropped significantly.  One school of thought argues that it is a transitional phenomena-people waited until the last minute to pay bills and sign up for healthcare insurance.  A less likely theory is the bad weather in the 1st quarter kept people from shopping.  However, bad weather does not make people stop spending altogether.

It is little surprise that Democrats face a tough election cycle.  The President is unpopular, likely a drag on many incumbents, and the party is defending a number of vulnerable House and Senate seats.  Obama is a particular drag to candidates in Senate races in AR, LA, WV, AK, NC, SD, IA and CO.  Obama won only two of the eight states (IA and CO) in 2012.  Further, voters worried about the economy, continuous administration scandals and Obamacare are not big on Democrats.  A weak economy is likely to make the party’s predicament worse.

Democrats have attempted to fortify their position by localizing their races.  However, this is hard to do in the era of digital technology bringing instant news to virtually every American and SuperPACs and 3rd party groups spending heavily to tie incumbents to the President.  Republicans have already enjoyed success with such a narrative, most recently in the FL-13 special election to replace former Congressman Bill Young.  A weak Republican candidate overcame a strong Democratic challenger in a purple district Democrats were heavily gunning for.

In economic lexicon it takes only two quarters to put the economy in a recession and we are already halfway there.  It might not be overly forward to argue if the economy does go into recession the Democrats can kiss their long shot hopes of taking the House and holding the Senate goodbye.



Cochran Survives with Democratic Votes

Thad CochranThe long slog of the Mississippi GOP Senate Primary came to a close Tuesday and Senator Thad Cochran beat the conventional wisdom with a win.  With almost all of the unofficial vote tallies in Cochran had almost 51% to McDaniel’s 49%. McDaniel won the original primary but failed to get over 50% leading to the run-off.  So the question has to be asked how did Cochran pull off the win?  The answers are simple.  He succeeded in getting moderate Republicans that did not vote in the June 3 primary to show up, maximized his base turnout in the Delta and most surprisingly succeeded in getting African American voters to cross over and vote in the primary.

The Fix has an excellent rundown of how Cochran accomplished this feat here but it can be summed up thusly; in the 24 counties with African American population with 50% or more turnout increased by over 40% and it was Cochran who saw his margins increase in these counties.   Mississippi is the most polarized state in the country with 98% of blacks voting for Obama in 2008 compared to a mere 11% of whites.   For Cochran to get a strong black vote to back him is impressive considering that ideological and racial polarization is deeply entrenched in the state.

Cochran succeeded in increasing moderate GOP and base turnout. In Cochran’s home base county of Hind’s he increased his vote total by over 7,000 votes.  McDaniel’s only increased his turnout in the county by slightly over 1,000.  Overall, in the June 3 primary McDaniel garnered 155,040 votes and Cochran received 153,654 votes.  This go around Cochran bumped up his vote total to 191,508 votes and McDaniel to 184,815.  For you non math majors that means Cochran bumped his vote total up by almost 39,000 votes compared to McDaniel’s 29,000 vote increase in the run-off.

Further, Cochran successfully ignored the its over narrative and allowed outside donors to deliver the money.  The campaign successfully used surrogates to court moderate Republican and Democratic votes as evidenced by a Chamber of Commerce ad featuring Brett Favre.  Cochran received over $1 million in donation from outside groups which allowed him to invest in his aggressive and successful ground game.  McDaniel’s benefited primarily from TV and radio ad spending that was not coordinated with his campaign.

Perhaps the most telling theme of the campaign and certainly most obvious counter-narrative to the media is the GOP is in the throes of a civil war. Cochran bet on incumbency and won.  In the wake of Eric Cantor’s loss this is even more telling.  Cochran’s theme of bringing home the bacon still resonated in Mississippi, especially with African-Americans.  While the state GOP might be evolving into a party more in line with McDaniel’s views the evolution is far from complete.  Cochran capitalized on this arguing that seniority in the Senate is more important than “change.” The argumnt resonated with a majority of voters.

Ultimately, Cochran ran a masterful race.  His reelection victory is proof that in today’s GOP, at least in certain states, an incumbent can run on incumbency and still win reelection.  The conventional wisdom that the GOP is in the throes of a civil war will not change (because the media is in love with this narrative).  Mississippi’s primary results go against this conventional wisdom and show that there is far more involved in establishment primary upsets than just general incumbent antipathy.


Democrats Attempts to Destroy Walker Likely to Fail

Scott-walkerRepublican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin sure has attracted the ire of the Left during his tenure.  It started with his victory over Democrat Tom Barrett in 2010 and has followed ever since.  The Left certainly has their reasons to hate and more importantly fear Walker.  In 2011, Walker reformed teacher’s bargaining agreements.  By almost all accounts, this has saved countless school districts from bankruptcy and taxpayers millions.  A solid majority of Republicans and Independents support the move.  Unions and Democrats worried about the damage this could do waged serious of costly efforts to first win a Supreme Court seat, recall enough state senators to take control of the upper chamber and finally recall Walker in the summer of 2012.  Ultimately, they failed.

Fears of a Walker candidacy for 2016 are apparently so strong virtually every leftist outlet is out to get him.  The New Republic released an atrocious hit piece on him last week attempting to label him a racist.  Without easily refuting every point the article makes the best take down of the piece comes from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Christian Schneider.  The New York Times tried to get in on the act and in a biased article tried to tie Walker’s recall campaign to illegal contributions.  At the Nation, John Nichols wrote a scathing piece titled “Why Scott Walker Will Never be President.”  Apparently, a false scandal keeps politicians from becoming President.  Guess somebody should tell Hillary (maybe it only pertains to Republicans).

The Left will never note however that this scandal has largely run its course.  Two judges, one federal and one state, have stated no wrongdoing was proven and tordered the  investigations should halt.  The Left has ignored these orders and simply come up with new, unproven charges  to present in front of new judges.  Sadly, in our democratic and judicial system, judge shopping is fully legal and accepted.  In state polling most voters are aware of the investigation but say it is unlikely to impact their vote in November, a warning sign perhaps to the Left their efforts to beat Walker on this front are failing.

Democrats have good reason to fear Walker.  Beyond the fact his CBA reform has proven successful he has an ability to unite the various factions of the GOP in a very polarized state.  He also is seen as pragmatic by many of the crucial swing voters in the state.  Walker also hides his social conservatism well and has passed abortion restrictions while not championing them in the public spotlight.  In this mold he cuts a more Paul Ryan kind of figure able to get things done rather than just talk them to death.

Walker is locked in a tough reelection fight and the polarized nature of the state ensures his victory will be no cakewalk.  Democratic attempts to destroy him may not even matter in the end.  If Walker does run for President in 2016 he would have to navigate a crowded primary field and appeal to a geographically and ideologically diverse group of voters who have not seen leftist attempts to destroy him firsthand.  Walker may have the cash to mount a bid but his personality ensures he would be eclipsed by bigger personalities such as those of fellow New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and KY Senator Rand Paul.  Walker would need something else to win.

Regardless of his ambitions, Walker remains public enemy #1 to many on the Left.  He has touched the sacred right of unions to bargain with ultimate power and been able to survive multiple onslaughts against his leadership electorally and judicially.  Walker has shown tremendous political courage and skill to survive endless attacks since 2011.  Democrats continued attempts to destroy him are thus likely to continue to fall short.



Can Democrats Win Back the White Working Class

CAMPAIGN2-articleLargePerhaps no book better encapsulates how liberals remain perplexed about how white working class voters act in the ballot box than What’s the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank.  In the book Frank argues that white working class voters are tricked into voting against their economic interests by Republican efforts to woo them on social issues.  Democratic efforts to woo single women on abortion is not nearly as bad.

The modern Obama coalition is evidence that Democrats have given up on these voters.  Obama won a mere 43% of the white vote in 2008 and an abysmal 39% in 2012.  In 2008 Obama won a mere 30.2% of the white vote in the South and his numbers in the region were even worse than 2012.  Obama made up for his lack of support among whites by running very, very strongly among minorities and boosting Hispanic and African-American turnout.

Many Democratic strategists seem to have concluded Obama’s coalition will prove durable for the next Democratic nominee.  But not every prospective 2016 Democratic Presidential contender agrees.  Two long-shot candidates, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (an Independent by political affiliation) and former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer have discussed how the party needs to win back white working class voters.

Their arguments, valid in my opinion, have both policy and electoral implications for Democrats.  During the age of Obama the party has enjoyed unparalleled dominance among minorities. Gallup has found the President the President has been underwater in overall job approval rating among whites since 2010 but has maintained a base of 40% support with over 70% support among all minorities. Obama’s dominance has allowed the party to dominate in swing and pink states during Presidential years.  But the lone midterm, 2010, saw white working class voters abandon the party 64%-33% and minority turnout drop significantly, 2014 is shaping up to feature the same dynamic.  For Democrats this means they can win almost half the Senate and the White House but they will consistently fail to control the House and never have a lock on the Senate.  For the Democrats policy agenda, an inability to control Congress will hinder their long-term goals but also whites, a majority of the public still, will continue to be sour on the party.  One cannot pursue a policy agenda that a majority of the public consistently opposes.

So how can Democrats win back these voters?  If you subscribe to the school of thought of Bernie Sanders and Schweitzer, Democrats need to de-emphasize social issues and discuss how the redistribution of resources will help them.  Of course this runs smack into the Democratic argument that the GOP is waging a war on women.  Another argument, one that has been made by the progressive champion and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on how to woo blue collar voters  is to create a narrative that the party is fighting for them over the interests of big business.  There is even room for a third argument whereby you appeal to these voters on some social issues such as guns and religion but promote a liberal economic agenda that aids their interests.

If Democrats decided to pursue any of these strategies it would undoubtedly remake the party’s policy agenda and electoral agenda.  The modern-day Democratic coalition of the young, single women, minorities and upscale suburban moderates is socially liberal and fiscally moderate to liberal.  Many blue-collar whites are socially conservative as well as fiscally conservative in terms of the debt and taxes.  It remains notable that whites rank the debt and spending much higher than other electoral groups in terms of important policy issues and are much less likely to support other Democratic policy efforts such as affirmative action and civil rights.

Republicans are only to happy to see Democrats cede the white working class vote.  This has allowed the GOP to come to total almost total dominance in the South and maintain a lock in the House of Representatives.  In swing state Senate races in 2014 (Iowa and Colorado) it gives the party hope they can win in these purple states by earning the support of white working class voters.  Republicans should be cautious however.  Romney won an astounding 59% of the white vote in 2012 and yet still lost the popular vote by almost 4% and only won a single swing state, North Carolina, by a mere 2%.

The primary proponents on the Left promoting bringing back the white working class into the party fold are outsiders looking in.  The party’s likely 2016 standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, is far more likely to try to hold together the Obama coalition.  If Clinton does not run, VP Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren are likely to dip their toes in the water and their electoral fortunes do not coincide with winning the white working class.  Warren talks a good game about appealing to these voters but it would be much easier win other sets of voters more favorable to her ideas.

One could easily argue that any Democratic effort to win the white working class vote in 2016 will be complicated by the Obama legacy.  A majority of whites oppose Obamacare, support the Keystone Pipeline, oppose new EPA environmental regulations and disapprove of the President’s handling of foreign policy, the economy, spending, taxes, etc.  Any Democrat attempting to woo these voters will need to distance themselves from the administration but not so much as to lose the party’s primary base of minorities and suburban moderates.

In his novel Frank makes a valid point that the GOP has captured the white vote on social issues.  But what is overlooked is that political parties have to appeal to voters moral views.  Democrats have done this with single women who support abortion and the young who support gay marriage.  Republicans have done no differently.  The Democrats best chance of winning the white working class vote is to mix leftist, economic populism with enough socially conservative policies to entice these voters.  Admittedly, the list of Democrats who have tried this and failed is long (Mondale, Gore, Kerry, Edwards) but if the right Democratic can successfully navigate the political currents and appeal to both the party base and white working class voters Democrats might see whites return to their party, if only for a while (in a remix of Bill Clinton).



Obama’s Foreign Policy Will Haunt Democrats in 2016

ezra-obama-foreign-policy-failurePresident Obama came into office pledging to not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor’s foreign policy.  Maybe he has but Obama certainly has new one.  For the Democrat that will succeed him in 2016 Obama’s mistakes will prove haunting.

Recent polls from Gallup and Pew have shown that fewer people worldwide view the US and Obama favorably, almost on par with Bush when he left office.  The situations in Iraq and Syria have deteriorated significantly in recent months.  ISIS, an offshoot of Sunni militants based in Syria, has carved out an empire in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq and is reportedly driving on Baghdad.  The Iraqi army has fled.  Now, the US is being forced to talk to Iran to help the Iraqi army as the President and Congress are unwilling to buck public opinion and send in ground troops.  Even airstrikes seem a far off possibility.

The President alienated his Congressional allies with the Bergdahl/Taliban Five trade.  Congressional Democrats already at odds with the President over his domestic initiatives on energy now have qualms with his foreign policy.   Specifically, Senator Diane Feinstein (CA), chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, has sided with multiple Republicans in arguing the President violated the National Defense Reauthorization Act bt not notifying Congress about the trade.  More worrisome for other members of Congress are fears that this is merely a first step from the President in his quest to close Guantanamo.

The likely successor to Obama, Hillary Clinton, will not just have to deal with these issues but others.  Bengahzi is likely to remain a major issue well into 2016.  Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State yielded no major results.  Her successor, John Kerry, in a mere few months negotiated an agreement with Iran for them to stall their nuclear development program for a year.  That agreement expires in July. However, Hillary can overcome these issues.  Overcoming her connection to a President who has implemented a schizophrenic and dangerous foreign policy will not be so easy.

Obama’s domestic policy approval ratings have been consistently underwater since 2013 but until recently the President had strong approval ratings on foreign policy.  But since the Bergdahl/Taliban Five trade and the chaos in Iraq his numbers have dropped dramatically.  Now the President’s foreign policy numbers mirror his domestic policy numbers.  Clinton or another Democrat that wins the nomination will only be able to run away from the President’s record on these issues so far.  In order to appeal to the modern Democratic base which is extremely anti-war they will have to echo some of the President’s policies to the detriment of winning the middle.

Republicans have long criticized the President for his foreign policy.  These criticisms have run the gambit from not negotiating a status of forces agreement in Iraq to setting up timelines t o leave Afghanistan to drawing the red line in Syria on the use of chemical weapons.  Until now the President has been able to shrug these criticisms off as partisan attacks but that argument falls apart with Democrats now turning on the President.

A lack of lines of communication with Congress has characterized Obama’s administration from the start.  His successor will have to repair the damaged relationships this has caused.  From energy regulations to national security policy many Democrats have been caught unawares.  For older Congressional Democrats who dealt with the open Clinton administration this has caused frustration.  Perhaps they now know how Republicans have felt for the last six years.

Obama has been unable to turn back to his domestic policy for successes.  Multiple endangered Democrats and Republicans have stymied the President’s agenda.  His signature achievement, Obamacare. is far from a public approval or electoral winner.  The President has been forced to resort to Executive Orders to implement policy allowing Republicans to paint him as an autocrat.  This means Obama’s successor will not just be hurt by the President’s foreign policy but also his domestic policy.

This might not matter except for the fact the GOP bench in 2016 is much stronger than most assume.  Governors Walker, Kasich and Jindal all have strong and conservative policy agendas they have implemented.  Senators Rubio, Paul and Cruz have carved out niches of support within the GOP and represent a newer, younger and more diverse Republican party.  Dark horses such as Doctor Ben Carson could even prove stronger than anticipated.

Combine the President’s weak foreign and domestic policy with the GOP’s strong Presidential bench and you see that 2016 will be far from a coronation for Democrats, Clinton or no Clinton.  Obama’s record willybe a part of the campaign and his feckless foreign policy will haunt Democrats.

Union Trouble

chi-teachers-march-adams-20120523Both the NEA and AFT will hold their conventions this summer.  One should expect them to be solemn affairs.  The nation’s two largest teacher’s unions and unions in general across the country have come under increasing fire.  In Wisconsin, teachers lost the right to bargain for their wages and health benefits.  Indiana and Michigan became right to work states.  Unions are also dealing with declining revenue, falling membership, damaging court cases and the defection of many formerly loyal Democratic allies.  They also have come under fire from wealthy education reformers who see them as an impediment to improving education.

The NEA and AFT took a huge hit last Tuesday when a California judge struck down five laws in California they supported to protect teachers jobs.  The Supreme Court is also set to announce its ruling on  Harris vs. Quinn from Illinois that could devastate unions revenue streams.  Recently, several well-funded advocacy groups launched a massive campaign to paint unions as the problem in education and mobilize the support of parents.

The education unions are also divided.  The NEA and AFT are split between members and leaders who urge compromise and others who urge an all out brawl.  This debate has led to the formation of the Badass Teacher’s Union.  Smaller than its older siblings, the union promises to fight for member rights and does not support compromise to achieve its goals.  This divide has not aided unions in their attempts to portray themselves as pragmatic and essential to protecting the middle class.

Few people would argue teachers are not valuable.  But get into a discussion with somebody on the value of teacher’s unions and that conversation could change quickly.  Teacher’s unions have done themselves no favors in the actions they have taken and laws they have championed.  This is what led to the lawsuit in California, with the plaintiffs arguing laws such as tenure and seniority denied many children a quality education.  The judge agreed and in a blistering opinion blasted unions for denying minority children access to a quality education.

Unions may only be protecting the interests of their members but they do themselves no favors by doing so.  In 2009, 43% of Americans viewed unions as a negative force in education while only 32% said otherwise.  This has also led to fading clout in elections.  The NEA and AFT spent heavily to defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) in the summer recall election of 2012 and were badly defeated.  More recently, unions spent almost $5 million to boost CA Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson.  Torlakson’s margin of victory was far from impressive and he will square off with Democrat Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive, who might benefit from the recent state ruling.

Unions have also lost the support of traditional media allies.  The NYT’s editorial board and LA Times took the unions to task for even defending California’s laws, calling them “indefensible.”  Numerous Democratic politicians have also distanced themselves from the teacher’s unions.  The President is on record supporting charter schools and rewarding good teachers to the detriment of an established, seniority system.  Even hardcore liberals such as the now deceased Teddy Kennedy passed laws that required teachers to be held accountable for their students successes and failures.  If the Supreme Court rules that unions cannot demand dues from non-members who benefit from a union’s collective bargaining work, unions ability to collective revenue would be severely curtailed.  Union membership has already declined significantly since the dawn of the new century.

Unions also cannot count on the continued support of the Democratic Party.  In 2007, a group of wealthy donors teamed up together and formed Democrats for Education Reform.  There goal; to elected a new breed of pro education Democrats willing to pursue policies such as expanding charter schools, weakening or eliminating tenure and holding teachers accountable for their students results. It worked.  Big name mayors such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Senator Corey Booker have side with DFER.

All these men have something in common, they have taken on the unions.   In Chicago, Emanuel allowed teachers to strike and was ultimately able to lower their salary increase and improve teacher accountability standards. In Philadelphia,  Nutter approved the expansion of charter schools and lowered tenure rules for the lowest performing schools.  Before Booker was elected to the Senate, as mayor of Newark, NJ, he worked with NJ Governor Chris Christie (R) to implement significant reform in the city’s education system.  Booker left and unions claimed victory in electing a pro-union, anti-reform mayor. Unions also have an ally in NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio.  However, De Blasio has run smack into the education reform movement and Governor Mario Cuomo in trying to close down charter schools and fund pre K education through a local tax on millionaires.

The unions internal divide has also hurt their cause.  This divide has led to an increasingly militant attitude toward teacher pensions and benefits and soured the public on unions.  Internally, the rift has revealed deep divisions over tenure, preserving a traditional pension system, charter schools and the Common Core Standards.

To make up for the loss of traditional membership the NEA and AFT have welcomed into their ranks a large number of new members from non-teaching professions: nurses, along with public defenders, dental hygienists, police officers and even lifeguards.  The unions now have to represent these members interests and another divide has occurred over what interests the unions should represent.  Traditional members see their interests being crowded out in the name of survival of the union.  This ultimately weakens the voice of teachers unions.






Assessing Labrador’s Chances for Majority Leader

Raul-LabradorRaul Labrador, the two term lawmaker from Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, announced on Friday that he would run for Majority Leader.  Conservatives had been searching around for a candidate since Jim Hensarling (TX) announced he would not run.  Eric Cantor and leadership stand behind Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (CA) bid for the position.  So does Labrador stand a chance?  To fully answer this question one must first understand what the Majority Leader does.

In many ways the roles of the Majority Leader complements the Speaker.  The Majority Leader raises money for candidates and incumbents and also works to prevent members from having to take tough votes on issues.  The Majority Leader also aids in scheduling votes and setting the policy agenda of the Caucus.

Eric Cantor was a strong Majority Leader on the fundraising front largely because his district was in Virginia.  He also established a reputation as friendly to business interests.  It did not hurt Cantor’s district was based in a wealthy state either.  In the same mold McCarthy has the same advantage.  There are many large Republican donors, even in a state as blue as California and McCarthy knows many of them. McCarthy reportedly makes weekly visits to Silicon Valley to court donors and the tech industry.  Further, as Whip, McCarthy already has experience rounding up support for votes.

Labrador boasts none of these advantages.  Idaho is strongly Republican but it lacks the donor power of a California.  Labrador also has not built up the reputation with business and donors that Cantor did and McCarthy has.  What Labrador boasts that McCarthy does not is the trust of conservatives.  Still, Labrador is on friendly terms with Boehner and Cantor and has backed leadership supported legislation in the past (Farm Bill).

But of course Labrador’s real chances depend on his ability to convince members he can do the duties of Majority Leader.  Labrador will get the votes of many 2010 members but he needs more than that to hit majority support.  One should expect his fellow Idaho Congressman, Mike Simpson, to back McCarthy as Simpson is a strong ally of leadership.  McCarthy, on the other hand, can count on strong support from many establishment Republicans and some conservative members as well. Already this cycle McCarthy has been to over 90 districts, raising money for candidates and incumbents alike.

Of course much can change between now and Thursday.  But Labrador does not have the experience McCarthy does rounding up votes.  Further, leadership will not be pushing for him and leadership has the ability to squeeze votes out of members in these kinds of elections.  Certainly, the shortness of the election works to McCarthy’s advantage and Labrador’s disadvantage. Labrador only has a short time to round up support and no time to raise money for individuals and in return getting their votes. It seems Labrador’s run might give the largely libertarian/conservative class of 2010 a man to vote for but it is hard to see a two term Congressman from Idaho becoming the Majority Leader.