The GOP Does Not Need a Wave this Cycle to Win

Republicans don't need a wave election this cycle to win.
Republicans don’t need a wave election this cycle to win.

Political prognosticators are having a field day predicting whether or not the GOP will see a wave election this cycle.  One such prognosticator the optimistically left side of the aisle is Nate Cohn who argues that Democrats are polling far better at this point in the cycle than 2010.  Espousing the opposite view is Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal and sitting somewhere in the middle is Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.

Disagreement is all part and parcel of the political prediction process.  Comparing polling from prior cycles is a particular favorite of many.  Consider Cohn’s argument in its entirety (you can read it with the link above).  Put simply, Cohn finds that Democrats poll better on the generic ballot this year than they did at this point  in 2010 (by a lot) and far better than Republicans did in 2006 when Bush was dragging them down.  It would seem hard to argue with these numbers yet it is surprisingly easy.

First-off, almost every sample taken so far is of registered voters (favors Democrats).  By this point in the 201 cycle most pollsters RV models were only reporting the results of what their filtering methodologies deemed “Likely Voters.”  Second, as has been noted by Kraushaar, at this point in 2010 many races had yet to fully develop.  Nobody thought in August of 2010 Feingold (WI) was vulnerable and Pennsylvania was a toss-up.  Republican nominees in New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte) and Florida (Marco Rubio) looked beatable and they ended up winning easily.  Thirdly, the average of polls consistently underestimated GOP support in 2010.  The average of polls by July 2010 had the GOP up almost five points and yet the GOP won the Congressional ballot by seven points in November.  It is very possible there is a similar dynamic at work here.

Two more points.  Generic ballot polling is important but it also is subject to respondent bias.  That is why it is getting more important in surveys to look at who is most “excited” and not just likely to vote.  In a recent Pew Research survey (which showed Dems ahead on the generic ballot) more Republicans and GOP leaning Independents were excited to vote than their partisan opposites.  If this holds true it won’t matter what matter who non-voters support.  Political parties don’t win if they can’t get their supporters to vote.

The last point is the most crucial and the simplest.  In fact, it tends to often get overlooked.  The GOP does not need a wave election this cycle.  They dominate the House of Representatives and have few vulnerable open seats and incumbents in the lower chamber.  The Senate landscape is extremely favorable to the party.  In terms of the gubernatorial landscape, as noted by Harry Enten, Democrats have more upside, but they also need a lot of things to break their way to eat into the GOP’s 29 state executives advantage.

In the House, Republicans are expected to gain anywhere from two-ten seats (depending on the model and political handicapper used).  This is partly due to the weakness of the President and his party but also because the GOP has recruited a strong crop of candidates to run in these seats.  Consider the case of Carl DeMaio in CA-52, a swing district based in and around San Diego.  DeMaio is no fire-breathing Republican and he is openly gay.  He does not emphasize social issues but is clearly pro-life and he is fiscally pragmatic.  In the open NJ-3 seat being vacated by Jon Runyan, Republicans coalesced around a strong, conservative nominee and avoided the baggage of perennial candidate Jon Lonegan.  In Iowa’s 3rd CD, Republicans selected the more moderate nominee at their state convention (even more surprising).  Elsewhere, in swing races across the country held by Democrats (beyond CA-52): AZ-2, IL-10, WV-3 and NY-21, the GOP has strongly coalesced around their nominees.

The Senate landscape is arguably even more favorable for the GOP.  Now, I know that since 2004 only three Democratic incumbents have been defeated and the GOP needs to knock out at least two to regain the majority.  But look at the places where the battle for control will take place; SD, WV, MT, AR, LA, AK, NC and increasingly IA and Colorado.  The first seven states were carried by Romney in 2012 and the GOP has strong nominees in the IA and CO.

Republicans are expected to easily pick up three open seats in SD, WV and Montana after appointed Senator John Walsh’s plagiarism thing.  After that it gets dicier with the GOP having to knock out at least two incumbents to gain at least six seats (Pryor-AR, Landrieu-LA, Begich-AK, Hagan-NC and Udall-CO).  While the GOP has strong nominees in each race none are crushing the incumbent but then again GOP nominees were not crushing their Democratic opponents at this point in 2010 either.

If one looks at the dynamics of each of these races it becomes clear why the debate over whether a GOP wave is brewing or not is irrelevant.  In Arkansas, Tom Cotton has the resume and money to battle the Pryor family name.  Polling is sparse in the state but several GOP affiliated firms have him ahead by several points (no Democratic poll has countered this narrative).  In Louisiana, one on one match-ups between Landrieu and Congressman Bill Cassidy show a dead heat or slight lead for the challenger.  Alaska is harder to accurately poll but likely GOP nominees, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell or Dan Sullivan, appear strong challengers to Begich.  North Carolina and Colorado are both neck and neck.  The political environment in North Carolina helps Hagan but the demographics hurt her.  In Colorado, the demographics help Udall but the political environment wounds him.  Republicans have an especially strong nominee in Iowa in Joni Ernst, who is running a stellar campaign compared to her opponent, Congressman Bruce Braley.

Certainly a wave election would help the GOP.  But if polls in many of these races are any indication the GOP will not need one.  Indeed, a wave election would likely net the GOP additional seats beyond these targets or at least make additional seats competitive (NH, MI, MN, OR and VA).  Regardless, wave or no wave, the GOP is in a strong position this cycle with strong nominees, multiple targets and a favorable Senate landscape.  This might explain why so many political handicappers are bullish on the GOP this cycle.




The Race Democrats Should be Paying Attention To: Kansas Governor

Knocking out Governor Brownback (above) is one of the few bright spots Democrats see this cycle.
Knocking out Governor Brownback (above) is one of the few bright spots Democrats see this cycle.

Democrats are glum about their electoral prospects this cycle.  They should be.  The President’s dismal approval ratings, myriad scandals and apparent cluelessness on foreign policy all threaten to drag down his party.  Yet, while Democrats at the Congressional level battle against the drag their President is exerting, at the state level the dynamic is different (if little better).  In several battleground states the GOP won in 2010 and Obama won in 2012 Democratic candidates are trying to beat favored (Scott Walker-WI) or popular Governors (John Kasich-OH).  Out west, Democrats are trying to hold Colorado and even be competitive in Nevada (Brian Sandoval).  New Mexico (Susanna Martinez) is a long shot at best.

Without a doubt Democrats best shot at picking up a Governor’s mansion this cycle resides in Pennsylvania.  Incumbent Governor Tom Corbett is mired in scandals and his approval rating is atrocious.  But there is another state that, unlike Pennsylvania, Romney handily won, that Democrats should be looking at.  In fact, Democrats penned a book about it.  Kansas.

Contrary to conventional wisdom Kansas may be a Republican state but it is not a conservative state.  Indeed, the state has a history of electing moderate Republicans to the Senate and moderate Republicans and Dem0crats to the Governor’s mansion.  Former HHS Secretary was a former Democratic Governor of the state where she governed as a pragmatic centrist on economic issues.  The predecessor to Sebelius, former GOP Governor Bill Graves, was cut from the same cloth.  However, recent events have ensured the Kansas GOP has not been immune to the new wave of conservatism that has gripped their party nationwide recently.

This wave in Kansas was personified with the election of former Senator Sam Brownback to the Governor’s mansion in 2010.  Brownback, first elected to the Senate to serve out retiring Bob Dole’s term, was arguably the most conservative Senator Kansas had ever elected.  He defeated moderate opponent Sheila Frahm (endorsed by Dole) in the primary and served out the remainder of Dole’s term.  In 1998 he cruised to a full term and was easily reelected in 2004.  In 2009 he announced he was retiring from the Senate and running for Governor.  Brownback was easily elected Governor with 63% of the vote.

Having campaigned on enacting a wishlist of conservative reforms Brownback was eager to implement them.  But GOP moderates still controlled the legislature despite the losses they had suffered in 2010.  However, in 2012, the Tea Party helped Brownback backed forces take control of the legislature.  Soon after, Brownback implemented his most series reform. H e pushed through deep tax cuts, nixing business taxes and phasing the top income tax rate from 6.45 percent to 3.9 percent, promising revenue would be made up through increased economic activity.  The promise has not lived up to the result.  Brownback and the legislature have had to make cuts in education, healthcare and other state services to balance the budget for 2014.

Democrats are understandably eager to hammer Brownback on the cuts.  They cite the tax cuts as hurting the economy and forcing the legislature to make painful cuts in education and other services to balance the budget.  It seems the public agrees.

Polls show just how endangered the Governor is for a Republican sitting in such a red state (has not voted D for President since 64).  Brownback has not been helped by the internal divide riling the Kansas GOP as moderates feel their conservative brethren may have overreached.  As a result, moderates have united around primarying Tea Party backed incumbents.  Meanwhile, the Tea Party is focusing on defeating longtime GOP Senator Pat Roberts with fringe candidate Milton Wolf.

Despite the polls and state specific dynamic Democrats have yet to invest in the race.  In the party’s mind it may not be worth it.  Whatever happens in GOP circles the legislature is guaranteed to remain strongly in GOP hands and the Senate race is looking likely to be a blowout (assuming Roberts wins his primary).  Further, Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for Governor, is going to have to govern as a moderate and likely see his progressive impulses stymied by the legislature.

Still, for a Democratic Party looking to score a victory in red territory this race should stand out to the party.  Brownback is deeply unpopular, Davis is behaving in such a way that has seen moderate Democrats be elected in the past and recently a large group of Republicans came out and endorsed Davis (though it has come out some actually did not).

Republicans, for their part are not concerned.  They believe that Brownback has deep roots in the state and that with his cash advantage he can make Davis unacceptable to voters.  Only time will tell but both Democrats and Republicans should be looking to Kansas for a close race this cycle.


Colorado Encapsulates Democrats Struggles Nationally

Gun control is one of many factors Democrats are struggling with in Colorado.
Gun control is one of many factors Democrats are struggling with in Colorado.

The common narrative is that the GOP is the party at war with itself.  But that is only half the truth.  Both parties are at war with themselves.  Numerous examples stand out on the Republican side there are fewer on the other side of the aisle.  But by far the biggest Democratic sign of internal party schisms can be encapsulated by one state; Colorado.

Colorado has a solid Republican history at the Presidential level.  From 1968-2004 the state only voted once for a Democrat (Clinton 92).  But underlying this strong Republican tendency at the Presidential level was a Democratic lean at the state level.  Indeed, the state consistently elected Democrats to statewide Constitutional and federal offices on a consistent basis.  For example, in 2004 when George Bush won the state, Democrat Ken Salazar won an open Senate seat.

Since 2004 the state’s pink hue at the Presidential level has turned a distinct shade of purple and state level politics has turned decidedly blue.  Democrats took the Governor’s mansion and the legislature in 2006.  In 2008 they took control of both of the state’s US Senate seats.  The GOP imploded in 2010 allowing Democrats to maintain the Governor’s mansion and hold a swing Senate seat (the GOP did gain two Congressional seats).  Democrats dominated the 2012 elections.

Democrats trumpeted their victories as signs of the state was turning blue.  A growing Hispanic population in the North and young, college educated demographic in Denver and the suburbs were the linchpins of Colorado’s turn left.  But forgotten in this analysis was the fact that many conservative whites sat out the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.

Fueled by their victories in recent years liberal Democrats ignored the advice of their more moderate counterparts and embarked on a series of liberal quests.  They succeeded in dragging along moderate Governor John Hickenlooper.  In 2013 the legislature passed new energy efficiency standards (basically a series of new taxes and fees), convinced Hickenlooper to pardon a convicted felon and pass new gun control legislation.

The gun control legislation was met with strong resistance by both suburban and rural voters (including many Democrats) and recalls succeeded in knocking out two Democrats sitting in districts that had voted for Obama in 2012.  A third Democrat resigned instead of facing a recall.  Still, Democrats nationally and in Colorado believed the liberal message would take hold.  It hasn’t.

Nationally, Democrats have been dragged down by scandals and Colorado is no different.  Allegations the state lost millions in contracts through their Healthcare Exchange have damaged legislative Democrats.  Hickenlooper, once thought to be safe for reelection, now is statistically tied in recent polls with an average GOP challenger.  His drop in the polls is likely related to negative stories regarding gun control and exaggerations about the law’s impact.

Freshman Senator Mark Udall, easily elected in 2008, is now in the fight of his political life against Republican Congressman Corey Gardner.  Polls have the race neck and neck.  The cross tabs of a Quinnipiac survey are revealing.  In the survey Gardner leads by two points overall but he is only losing by 16% in Denver, 7% in Jefferson and Araphoe counties, up by 4% in the West and 25% everywhere else in the state.  Republicans outweigh Democrats in the survey by 2% and those without a college degree support Gardner by 8%.  Even more disconcerting for Democrats is the fact few Hispanics expect to vote this November, likely fueled by the President’s horrid handling of the border.

Colorado also features another struggle Democrats face nationally; a weak President dragging down party nominees.  Chris Cillizza makes a compelling case here based on historical precedent.  The President’s approval in the state in the Quinnipiac survey is  terrible (58% disapprove to 39% approve).  A PPP (D) survey found the President at 53% disapproval and stuck at 39% approval.

Combine the President’s weak numbers with unpopular liberal polices and PPP (a partisan pollster mind you) finds Republicans lead in all statewide Constitutional races (minus Governor).  Republicans also lead on the generic ballot for the legislature.

Lastly, Democrats are hampered by internal party schisms.  Moderates in the state party have largely been purged (in a reflection of GOP efforts in recent years) and as a result liberal initiatives have filtered through unchecked.  The latest iteration of this trend, an initiative on the ballot this November to allow cities to ban fracking, has caused headaches for Democrats.  The initiative, pushed by Congressman Jared Polis, a liberal who sits in an urban Denve Congressional District, has been officially disavowed by both Udall and Hickenlooper in an attempt not to lose the state’s massive energy industry.  While the initiative might galvanize more liberals to turn out it will also likely increase GOP turnout as well.  Suburban voters worried about the cost of living and energy prices might find it in their best interest to pull the lever for Republicans to help their bottom line.

Democrats struggles in Colorado reflect their party’s weakness nationally.  But Colorado Democrats also must blame themselves for misunderstanding what the electorate was telling them in 2010 (we don’t want a sexist US Senator) and 2012 (Obama or a wealthy autocrat).  While Colorado voters did not vote for center right policies in 2010 or 2012 they certainly did not vote to allow a wish-list of liberal policies that include new taxes, infringement on the 2nd Amendment rights, and taxpayer dollars going into black holes.  Democrats seem to have thought they did and they may pay the price for it in November.



Demographic Dreaming in Dixie

140220_arceneaux_map4Since President Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Democrats have dreamed of turning Dixie blue.  With the exceptions of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton (twice) and Obama, Democrats have failed to carry ANY Southern state.  But optimism springs eternal.  In the case of the South Democrats hope demographics will yield winning results in the near future.

President Obama’s victories in Virginia (twice), Florida (twice) and North Carolina (once) were predicated on strong minority turnout.  The President garnered an abysmal level of support among whites in the South (12% in 2008).  Beyond the fact that Obama’s Get Out The Vote operation was vastly superior to his opponents, it also would not have been possible if the demographics of the South were not changing.  Consider Virginia.  In 2004 the electoral demographics of the state were 72% white and 28% non-white (Bush carried about 20% of the non white vote).  In 2008 these demographics changed dramatically in Democrats favor with the white vote shrinking to a mere 70% and the non white vote bumping up to 30%.  According to the 2012 exit polls the same demographic profile defined the electorate.  A similar phenomena can be seen in Florida and North Carolina (these states electorates are more racially polarized).

However, these electorates have yet to materialize in non-Presidential years.  In the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial race the electorate was whiter than 2004, with a mere 22% of the electorate being nonwhite.  Even the state’s 2013 gubernatorial electorate could not hide the fact minority turnout was weaker than 08 and 012.  Despite Democrat Terry McAuliffe winning a narrow race for Governor he did so because of weak turnout in traditionally affluent, white GOP leaning suburbs. Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for Governor, did far worse than McDonnell among whites.  Still, the electorate was far more diverse than 2009, with only 72% of voters being white (again, partly due to weak turnout in white suburbs).

The midterms of 2010 showcased how dependent the Democratic Party has become on the minority vote (especially the black vote) in the South.  With weak turnout in many Southern states Democrats were washed away in a flood of historic electoral proportions.  Democratic losses in the South were worsened with the retirement of several, conservative lawmakers in 2012 who had survived the massacre of 2010.  Few conservatives are left in the Democratic Caucus and even fewer hail from their former stronghold, the South.

In many ways the electoral landscape of 2014 rivals that of 2010, though some on the left disagree.  The President is unpopular, Obamacare is being re-litigated among the electorate and worries over the sluggish economy persist.  But Democrats are optimistic they can make headway in the South with a strong crop of young, talented and diverse candidates.  It does help these candidates hail from conservative, Democratic families.  In Kentucky, Secretary of State Allison Grimes has a real shot at taking down Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Governor Sam Nunn, is running neck and neck for the seat of retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss.  Endangered incumbent Senators Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Kay Hagan (NC) are also competitive against their GOP competition.  Pryor and Landrieu both have deep political roots in their states.

All these candidates are essentially running against the President.  Or at least running on different issues than the President.  Landrieu is running on her ties to the oil and gas industry, Pryor on his social conservatism and Hagan on her bipartisan appeal.  Both Nunn and Grimes have promised to be independent voices within the Democratic Party (insert sarcasm here).  This strategy is designed to win conservative whites.  This has become an increasingly dim prospect in the South for the party.

This is where demographics comes in.  As the white share of the vote continues to drop in many Southern states it gives Democrats the chance to disregard the white vote and campaign as full-blown progressives.  This would mobilize minority turnout in these rapidly changing Southern states and marginalize the shrinking white vote.  At least this is the argument of Bob Moser, author of “Blue Dixie.”  

Moser and many Democrats who believe this theory are at a loss to explain a drop in minority turnout during midterms.  Now, apparently it is all because many Southern Democrats still campaign as conservatives in a futile attempt to get some of the white vote.  While true that this campaign strategy fails far more than it succeeds it has worked in the past.  How else could the Landrieus and Pryors of the South get elected?  Further, the electorates of these states are highly polarized, meaning that an increase in minority turnout for a progressive candidate is only likely to galvanize the GOP base that much more.  It is unclear whether Moser’s belief that an increase in white turnout would only be marginal and be vastly outweighed by the increase in the non white vote.

Still, Democrats remain optimistic.  But progressive politics has yet failed to yield results in many Southern states, even those Democrats have had success in.  Consider Florida and Virginia.  Despite Virginia’s turn to the left since 2008, neither of the state’s US Senators, former Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, campaigned on fully progressive policies.  In Florida, US Senator Bill Nelson has been reelected largely because of the moderate persona he has created throughout his tenure in the Senate.

Both Virginia and Florida are vastly different from the rest of the South however.  This means the model for running in these states, the model partly championed by Moser and progressives, are unlikely to work, even in changing states like North Carolina and Georgia.  Instead, running as a moderate to conservative white Democrat in the South still can work (if rarely) compared to never working running as a progressive.  Indeed, Democrats have been able to bear witness to a test run of running as a progressive in the South.

In Texas, state senator Wendy Davis, a darling of the grassroots, is challenging unbroken GOP control of the Governor’s mansion since 1994.  Davis’s claim to fame, filibustering a late-term abortion ban (it passed anyways), galvanized her progressive base.  But in a sign of just how hard it is to run as a progressive in a Southern state, it has failed to garner support from anywhere else.  Badly trailing her GOP opponent, Secretary of State Greg Abbott, in the polls she has resorted to jumping around conservative policies (ie. I like gun control until I don’t).  Instead of abortion she talks about women’s health and instead of health insurance she talks about covering preexisting conditions.  Perhaps the only issue she sounds like a progressive on is civil rights (opposing photo ID). To say her campaign has flopped is to put it mildly.

Texas does not even have nearly as polarized an electorate as its Southern neighbors.  Unlike LA, GA, AR and NC, Texas’s white vote usually gives 25%-30% of the white vote to the Democratic candidate.  The nonwhite vote, especially since Bush and Perry, has also split almost to the point of being even in some elections (98, 2010).  This not only points to how hard it is to run as a progressive in the South today but also the future.  There is no guarantee the non white vote will remain so exclusively Democratic, especially if the economy does not grow and progressive policies start creating winners and losers in the minority community.  Just ask how Democratic Asians are feeling in California after the legislature tried to enact Affirmative Action times two.

Regardless, Democrats are unlikely to turn away from the theory demographics equals destiny in the South.  But so far, the non white vote has been unable to swing elections by itself.  Obama’s victories in the region would not have been possible without the support of young whites, single women and the affluent.  Democrats could do a lot better than counting on demographics to change the region.  Re-branding their party in the region and cultivating a crop of young, dynamic and diverse candidates that speak to all racial groups no matter where you live would be a good start.  Unfortunately, for the party at least, they continue to dream about demographics changing Dixie.



Colorado: The New Battleground for Control of the Senate

cory-gardnerRepublicans have been bullish on turning Colorado from a blue to purpl statee since three things happened; 1) liberals pushed an anti-fracking amendment, 2) Governor Hickenlooper and the legislature passed new gun control restrictions and 3) Corey Gardner got the party’s nod to face Senator Udall and Bob Beauprez getting the nod to face Governor Hickenlooper.  Several months ago neither of these nominees were likely to have made it this far.

Gardner, a two term Congressman, had rejected repeated party attempts to get him to run.  But spurred by Udall’s sagging numbers and the possibility of making it to the Senate Gardner changed his mind.  Beauprez, a former Congressman defeated in 2006 in his run for Governor, was widely expected to lose to former Congressman and conservative firebrand Tom Tancredo in the primary.  Tancredo split the Colorado GOP in 2010 when he run for Governor as an Independent.  Initially, Tancredo appeared to be the clear favorite of the Colorado GOP, but as the campaign progressed Bueaprez garnered enough conservative and establishment support to defeat Tancredo.

Since Gardner declared (before the primary) Republicans were optimistic about Colorado.  Despite the state’s purple sheen it has a sizeable suburban population that can easily swing races.  The state’s Hispanic population also does not historically turn out in midterms.  Gardner, a soft-spoken conservative who has neither endorsed nor opposed immigration reform, seemed the best candidate to galvanize conservative support without enraging the state’s Hispanic population.

Polls have consistently shown a close race (though Udall has led in most).  A NBC/Marist poll came out earlier in the week showing Udall with a seven point lead.  But Udall’s s lead in the poll was misleading.  A majority of respondents were opposed to Obamacare and voters have a more favorable view of Gardner.  They also sided with Gardner on energy issues.  In short, as the electorate gets engaged it is quite plausible they could increasingly turn to Gardner.

A larger survey conducted by Quinnipiac, released on Friday, heralded even better news for the GOP.  The poll found Gardner leading Udall 44%-42%.  While Udall led among Independents, Republicans were more excited to vote and a larger share of the electorate.  Perhaps more importantly, Gardner was more trusted to handle the needs of the middle class.  Dragging down Udall is the President’s abysmal 39/58 approval rating in the state.  Even better for state Republicans, Beauprez led Hickenlooper 44%-43%.

Unlike blue leaning states like Michigan, Colorado appears to be going the GOP’s way.  More like Iowa, the state leans rightward in midterm cycles and leftward during Presidential cycles.  With a number of Democratic Senators remaining competitive in conservative states and New Hampshire and Michigan refusing to move towards the GOP, Colorado is an integral part of the GOP’s path to the Senate majority.

Republicans have struggled to win statewide elections in Colorado.  In 2010, the party blew a sure thing against Senator Michael Bennett.  Prior Senate elections have not been much kinder to the party even as the state voted for Republican Presidential candidates until 2008.  This split personality should offer the GOP hope that they can turn the tables on Democrats.  Gardner may just be the right candidate to make it happen.


Would the Anti-War Left Support Rand Over Hillary?

rand paul profileAnti-war voters are widely credited with carrying Obama to victory in 2008.  They could also do the same for Paul’s candidacy.  If so, they might not only carry him through the GOP Primary but also to the White House. Many progressives have all but embraced Hillary’s candidacy, largely because it is seen as inevitable, but these progressives do not speak for the Millennial voters that were galvanized by Obama’s message of closing Guantanamo, ending the War in Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan in 2008. Rand Paul has made numerous waves in GOP circles due to his foreign policy views.  He has been called a “wacko-bird” by Senator John McCain.  His criticism of drone strikes has attracted the ire of Senate GOP leadership.  Most recently, Rick Perry took a shot at Senator Rand Paul’s views, characterizing them as isolationist and out of touch with a realist view of the world.  Paul shot back and in a piece more reminiscent of Obama in 2008 said that interventionists should think twice before they send men and women into harm’s way.

All this seems to be burnishing Paul’s street-cred as a welcome break from the traditional GOP worldview.  However, Rand Paul is not his father.  He is not nearly as anti-war as his father.  Ron Paul, a former Congressman from TX, was the Dennis Kucinich of the GOP.  Kucinich, the darling of the anti-war left, led the charge against the Iraq War in the House.  Rand Paul is leading no charge but he is not nearly as gung-ho as some in his party to fight first. This begs the question whether the anti-war Left might turn to a Paul candidacy over Hillary.  Hillary voted for the Resolution for War in Iraq and every supplemental funding the war until she left the Senate in 2008.  Her 2008 candidacy failed to attract the support of many on the anti-war Left (ie the young and professionals). There are many similarities between a Rand Paul 2016 candidacy and a 2008 Obama candidacy that should concern Hillary. Obama, like Paul, was a fresh face in an aging party.  He was seen as anti-establishment just as Paul is.  He could claim to be a new generation of politician just as Rand could.  Lastly, Obama heavily battered Hillary on foreign policy amid an electorate that was tired of conflict.  In 2008 and even 2012 this did not apply to the GOP.  But come 2016 the GOP electorate is likely to be tired of war (more so than now) making Rand’s appeal broad in the GOP.  Extend this further to the fact the Democratic base is no more hungry for conflict and they rejected Hillary once for embracing it, Paul might have a chance to attract some of their votes. Certainly, many on the anti-war Left base their votes on more than foreign policy.  Many of these voters are pro-choice, socially liberal and proponents of social justice.  Short of gay marriage, Paul is far from socially liberal and his libertarian economic views fly in the face of social justice ideals.  Yet, an opening is available for Paul to court some of these voters on foreign policy, especially when faced against a Hillary Clinton.  Indeed, Clinton has not backed down from her strong national security views. Such an effort would not be new for Paul.  He is already on record stating the GOP needs to expand the party and he has undertaken a number of steps to do so.  He has spoken at several black universities, has sponsored legislation to promote civil liberties and most recently endorsed bipartisan legislation to reform drug sentencing.  Paul has been mum on the legalization of marijuana but it would not be a stretch to say many believe he supports it.  Winning votes from unusual places could be Paul’s MO. It still remains highly unlikely Paul could win over the anti-war Left despite what I have stated above.  But he only needs some of their votes, not all.  Combined with traditional GOP support, Paul could win over Democratic bastions in the Midwest and Northeast.  It might just be enough to give the White House back to the GOP.   Note: A follow-up article will discuss the impact a Paul candidacy could have on the GOP’s foreign policy.

What the Selection of Cleveland for the 2016 GOP Convention Says About the Party’s 2016 Game Plan

John Kasich (lower right) is one of several GOP Governors the party hopes can capture blue collar whites for 2014 and perhaps 2016.
John Kasich (lower right) is one of several GOP Governors the party hopes can capture blue collar whites for 2014 and perhaps 2016.

Last week the Republican Party’s National Convention Search Committee announced they had decided on the city of Cleveland to host the party’s 2016 convention. Technically, the Committee cannot make this official without an actual vote of RNC Executive Committee members but confirmation of their decision is all but assured.  Dallas, Texas was the other option and Texas officials did not mount the full court press that Ohio and Cleveland officials mounted to Search Committee members to secure the lucrative and massive three-day event.

Republicans have only won the popular vote once since 1988 and the electoral college twice (out of six elections).  Democrats have assembled their victories through various coalitions.  The Clinton coalition of 92 and 96 involved minorities, the young, urban gentry liberals and Southern whites.  The Obama coalition of 08 and 012 consisted of the young, minorities, women and urban gentry liberals.  George Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004 were built on the backs of Southern whites and evangelicals.

But Republicans also believe there are a large bloc of voters that both Clinton and Obama carried that are slowly turning away from the Democratic Party; blue-collar whites.  These voters supported Bush’s bids in 2000 and 2004 and turned to the GOP in 2010.  But come 2012 and the Romney candidacy, many of these whites stayed home or voted for Obama instead of the aristocratic Romney.

The Republican Party’s Cleveland selection speaks to the struggles the GOP is having attracting minorities and young voters to its cause.  The 2012 Presidential Election Autopsy released by the RNC revealed thousands of interviews with young voters and women who believed the GOP was in the pocket of the rich, outdated and run by old, white men.  The Cleveland selection indicates the GOP is likely to double down on its 2012 election strategy.

In 2012, Romney and Republicans counted on the fact the weak economy would depress minority and youth turnout.  While more young people voted for Romney than McCain, it was not nearly enough.  Instead of minority turnout decreasing from 2008 it actually increased while white turnout decreased.  Romney’s campaign largely centered on winning white votes and as many as they could.  While Romney did win a record 59% of the white vote (not done since Reagan in 84), white turnout as a share of the overall electorate was smaller than ever before.

Given the current political allegiances of the young and minorities it appears Republicans have concluded they have a better chance of attracting more white voters to their ranks in the short term.  Republicans can point to the election of 2010 as support for this belief.  In 2010, Republicans swept to a massive majority in the House and took over numerous Governorships across the country largely because they won 64% of the blue collar, white vote.  Republicans hope the political climate in 2014 and 2016 will allow them to repeat the success of 2010 among these voters.

Democrats counter that the white share of the electorate is only going to shrink going forward and that demographic trends give them a better chance of flipping a red state (Texas, Arizona or Georgia) than the white vote gives the GOP of flipping a Democratic leaning state in the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, etc.).  But this ignores two ominous facts for the party.  First, Obama ran much more strongly with whites in the Midwest than he did in the South (minus Florida).  Case in point: Obama won whites in Iowa 51%-47%, lost whites by 49%-48% in Minnesota, lost whites 51%-48% in Wisconsin.  He struggled among whites in Michigan and Ohio but was buoyed by the states large black populations.  Second, the electorates in TX, GA, and AZ are highly polarized with whites supporting Republicans by massive majorities and minorities doing the same with Democrats.  Further, as Josh Kraushaar has noted over at the National Journal, minority turnout in these states lags far behind their white counterparts.  One should not expect this to change in 2014 and likely 2016.

Democrats still need blue-collar white votes to hold the Midwest.  White made up 93% of the electorate in Iowa, 86% in Wisconsin, 79% in Ohio and over 80% in Minnesota and Michigan.  If Obama had lost white voters in Iowa he probably would have lost the state.  If he had lost whites by a few points more in Minnesota Romney could have played their, ditto Wisconsin.  As Democrats increasingly become a majority-minority and majority-women party it may be harder to appeal to the whites that Republicans hope to target heading into 2016.

Republican efforts to woo these white voters needs to go beyond just the selection of Cleveland for their National Convention.  A Romney re-run would likely make many of these voters again turn away from the GOP.  Further, turnout in the South could lag and allow the Democratic nominee to flip North Carolina and hold Florida and Virginia.  Republicans have struggled against the Democratic claim that they are the party of the rich.   Another Romney candidacy would only exacerbate these struggles.

Still, Democrats may be hamstrung by their ultimate nominee.  It seems all but inevitable that if Hillary Clinton runs she will be the party’s nominee.  But Hillary has also shown how weak a candidate she is compared to Obama and her husband.  Her comment’s about being “flat broke” after she and Bill left the White House evoke images of Romney’s 47% comment.  Her relative lack of policy success as Secretary of State and high negatives are sure to be played on by Republicans.  So perhaps Republicans have a shot at wooing whites back to the GOP in 2016.

The GOP is running a beta test of sorts for 2014 in close Senate races.  In Colorado, Congressman Cory Gardner is attempting to win enough of these voters to offset his losses in urban and suburban Denver.  In Iowa, state Rep. Joni Ernst is banking on bringing enough whites to her side to even out her loses in urban Des Moines.  In Governor’s races in the Midwest featuring GOP incumbents, John Kasich (OH), Scott Walker (WI), Terry Branstad (IA) and Pete Snyder (MI), Republicans hope to capture these voters in another midterm and perhaps gain their provisional support for 2016.

Even if the GOP strategy for 2014 and 2016 pays off the GOP will need to eventually branch out to women, minorities and the young.  How this can be done is a widely debated topic in the party but a consensus seems to have emerged that the party’s best bet is to focus on privacy issues, making government more efficient and accepting gay marriage.  The GOP’s selection of Cleveland as their 2016 Convention location however suggests the party is unlikely to focus primarily on these voting blocs for 2016.  Instead, capturing more of the white vote in the key Midwest seems to be the GOP’s game plan for retaking the White House.