Democrats in Panic Mode in Iowa and Colorado

1k2hfj.AuSt.91At the start of this year Democrats knew they had a tough fight ahead to hold the Senate.  The GOP establishment was supporting several credible nominees in red states (NC, AR, AK, WV, SD, MT and LA) and the party was making a serious play for Michigan.  Never did it enter Democrats minds that they would have to play defense in two Obama strongholds, Iowa and Colorado.  This being the same Iowa that anchored the President’s Midwest Firewall and the same Colorado that has not seen a Republican win a statewide federal election since 2004 (Bush).

Now, Democrats find themselves fighting to hold these two states.  In Iowa, the party initially thought a scattered and (presumably) weak GOP field would buoy their star recruit, Congressman Bruce Braley.  In Colorado, Senator Mark Udall was supposed to sail to victory over a Tea Party challenger.  However, these expectations collided with reality and reality won.

The GOP has star recruits in both Iowa and Colorado.  Initially rejecting overtures by the NRSC to enter the race, Congressman Cory Gardner is fighting hard to show Colorado’s blue lean is not a permanent phenomena.  Iowa State Senator Joni Ernst busted out of a crowded GOP field by appealing to primary voters in a gusty and folksy way (castrating hogs and setting sights on Obamacare).  Both are running neck and neck against Democratic incumbents.

Udall has run a decent campaign in Colorado but has struggled to effectively label Gardner.  The “War on Women” meme Democrats used so effectively in 2010 and 2012 has run smack dab into a savvy candidate who has so far dodged the attacks by backing off support for a state Constitutional amendment based on personhood and supporting contraception availability over the counter.

Congressman Bruce Braley’s campaign has been a disaster.  Instead of being coronated as the heir to retiring liberal Senator Tom Harkin, Braley has made a number of unforced errors. Braley made a massive error when he commented to a group of trial lawyers disparaging fellow Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley as “A farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”  Braley soon apologized but the damage was done and Ernst’s campaign hammered him for his elitist views.  Braley has also been targeted for forcing a neighbor to put her hens in a fenced area after they wandered over onto the Congressman’s vacation home lot or be served.  This just gives the GOP and outside groups more ammo to hit Braley with.

The state of these races stands in stark contrast to the last campaigns Udall and Braley ran.  In 2008, Udall easily won Colorado’s open Senate seat with 53% of the vote.  Braley faced a tough Congressional race in 2010 but after his district was redistricting he won with 60% in 2012.  Both candidates do not have such easy races on their hands this time.

It is clear Democrats are in full on panic mode about the state of both races.  Braley has been unable to gain traction against Ernst, even as his campaign and outside groups have attempted to paint her as a Tea Party accolyte.  They point to comments she made in the past about climate change, Agenda 21, her support for a Personhood Amendment (banning Plan B contraception) and being an ideological extremist.  The endorsement of Sarah Palin has also been a target.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the DNC, recently called Ernst, “An onion of crazy,” at the Iowa State Fair.  So far none of these attacks have worked.

Ernst has a moderate image in terms of her policy successes.  She took on her own party to help pass bills which required public schools to test for dangerous toxins in their buildings, protected funding for mental health services for Iowans and allowed parents of children with severe epilepsy to buy non addictive cannabis oil.

Udall’s campaign is continuing to try to hammer Gardner on women’s issues and immigration reform.  However, Gardner voted for the DREAM ACT in the House and voted against repealing DACA.  Even in his strongly Republican district, Gardner was a vocal proponent of a piece-meal approach to reform and urged leadership to act before the midterms.

The wildcards in each race are ultimately things none of the candidates have control over, the President’s approval rating and what happens to Healthcare premiums.  The President has horrid approval ratings in both states which might depress Democratic turnout.  Further, according to the Health Research Institute of PricewaterhouseCoopers insurance premiums are expected to spike in Colorado and even more so in Iowa.  Voters can expect this whammy to hit right before the midterms.

The individual dynamics of each race matter as well of course.  Gardner and Udall are both sociable fellows who connect with voters well.  In Iowa, only Ernst can lay claim to that title while Braley comes off as insecure and less willing to talk to voters (according to media outlets).

Gardner has separated himself from the party on immigration and contraception while Ernst has broken with her party over the military handling sexual assault cases.  Udall supports fracking in the state and the Keystone Pipeline.  However, Braley is running as a conventional Democrat who supports Obamacare and the President in every way.  This won’t help him come November.

Democrats claim their ground game will save them both seats and surprise in several red states as well.  Maybe so.  But right now Democrats look befuddled as to how these two sure-thing races got away from them so quickly even as Michigan appears to be leaning Democratic for the first time this cycle.




Ad Highlights A.J. Balukoff’s Problem in Idaho

A.J. Balukoff's liberal views doom his candidacy in Idaho.
A.J. Balukoff’s liberal views doom his candidacy in Idaho.

Since 2006 Democrats have run against the same GOP face for Governor, Butch Otter.  Both times (2006 and 10) the party has come up short against what they view/viewed as a flawed Republican. Otter is considered a heretic by some in the party for supporting a state exchange and the state party has deep divisions.  This go-round, Democrats have a solid candidate in AJ Balukoff.

Balukoff brings to the table everything Idaho Democrats could want in a candidate.  He is an accomplished businessman, serves on several charitable boards and is Chair of the Boise School District Board of Trusetees.  His campaign is full of young talent (just look at his staff) and his message is one that speaks to fiscal conservatism and anti-cronyism, all things conservatives and liberals alike love to hear.

But for all his strengths A.J. is inevitably tied down by the two labels he cannot shake, he is a liberal and a Democrat.  Since 1994, no Democrat running for the governor’s post has been able to shake these labels.

One ad in particular highlights Balukoff’s problem.  The ad, now on TV and also online at, portrays Balukoff as an out of touch liberal elitist whose values align with Obama (judge for yourself here). Fair or unfair these attacks work.

The lines of attack in the ad are particularly effective when you consider the issues they touch on; taxes, spending, supporting Obamacare, giving Idaho land to the federal government (Boulder-Whiteclouds Monument), taxpayer-funded campaigns (public financing), wolves and guns.  In all cases, Balukoff is to the left of the general Idaho electorate.  Today, many of the stances the IACI website highlights are considered “liberal” in the state.

But Democrats have won elections In Idaho even while being to the left of the electorate on some issues.. Cecil Andrus won four terms amidst an electorate that was more pro-gun and anti-union than he was.  However, Andrus was a special candidate that came to power due to unique circumstances. He had a touch with voters no other Democrat since has been able to match.

The rise of polarization nationwide also means the other title Balukoff claims, “Democrat,” sinks his campaign.  Especially when you consider a prior statement the IACI ad highlights, “I am a Democrat because the values of the Democratic Party most closely align with my own.”  Balukoff might have been able to run as being an Independent Democrat, one who puts Idaho first but that statement damns him.  Conservative Independents and Republicans link him to Obama and inevitably moderates do as well.

There are not many ways for a Democrat to combat this image once it is ingrained in the Idaho electorate.  Business groups such as IACI and the Otter campaign are working hard to ensure it is by November.  Meanwhile, the Balukoff campaign is simply trying to introduce their candidate to the broader electorate.

Balukoff faces other issues as well.  He is from Boise (politically different from the rest of the state), has the support of LBGT groups and heads a school district most Idahoans view as a boondoggle.  The Otter campaign has hammered him for supporting multiple levies since 1997 when he first started serving on the School Board.

Balukoff has tried to head some of these issues off.  He has themed his support of LBGT rights around libertarianism.  He has hammered Otter on the Luna Laws and education funding (though the FY 2014-2015 budget increases spending 5%) and cites his tenure on the Boise School Board as a strength.

N0ne of these efforts are strong enough to overcome Idaho’s partisan lean in a good year for Democrats however.  This election is not looking kind to Democrats anywhere.

Democrats remain bullish on Balukoff but history offers a grim assessment of his chances.  Since 1990, when Andrus hit 61% in his successful bid for a fourth term as Governor no Democrat has even reached 45%. Only two have hit or exceeded 40%.  Outside of Sun Valley and Boise the party has little base.  Further, Idaho has only become more Republican in the age of Obama.

Balukoff is probably the best candidate Democrats could run this cycle.  Unfortunately, he is not nearly a good enough candidate to attract the broad support he needs to win against a subpar incumbent.  Considering this, the party should consider it a win if he hits 40% this November (I go with 35%-38%).




Conservatives Need to get Serious About Poverty Even if it Includes Liberal Ideas

Paul Ryan has been one of the most active Republicans in promoting a new conservative vision to solve poverty.
Paul Ryan has been one of the most active Republicans in promoting a new conservative vision to solve poverty.

No moment in recent memory better encapsulates conservative struggles with the those living in poverty (predominantly non-whites) than Mitt Romney’s 47% comment.  Speaking at a closed-door event full of conservative business donors, the former Massachusetts Governor famously uttered, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”  The damage was not the commentary on the political divide in this country but rather the seemingly flippant disregard for the votes and policy preferences of the working poor.

It is no secret that the poor vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  In the 2010 election, when Republicans were riding a Tea Party wave, exit polls for numerous Senate and Congressional races showed they lost those making $30,000 and below.  In the 2012 Presidential election, Obama won the votes of those making less than $50K by over 20% and they made up 41% of the electorate (reflecting America’s stagnant economic growth).  Reflecting the policy preferences of their party’s base many Democrats have called for an ever-widening social safety net.  Republicans, whose base is up scale and suburban/rural, have yet to jump onto the bandwagon.

Of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, Republicans only control San Diego and Indianapolis.  Unlike many other large urban areas these cities have maintained a significant two-party presence.  Cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago have not had Republican mayors since the 60s.  Not only has this led to progressive visions of governance being fulfilled and making the “cycle of poverty” even worse in these cities it has locked conservatives out of the White House in four of the last six elections.  Consider, two/thirds of of Obama’s popular vote lead came from three cities (Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago).

Conservatives and Republicans have rightly noted that Democratic progressive governance has broken most of America’s major cities.  Writing for the National Journal, Kevin Williamson notes that Democratic governance has led to higher taxes fueling “middle class” (not white) flight, the weakening of public education to court union votes and the fueling of racial/economic tensions.  What Williamson fails to note however is that since the 80’s the GOP has largely ceded these voters and the cities to the left.  Traditional issues on which the GOP dominates; taxes, spending, defense, appeal to suburban and rural voters but they do not play among America’s growing and diverse urban poor.  By not fielding a limited vision of local governance the GOP has allowed the idea of progressivism to filter into everyday urban life.

Some on the right have taken notice.  These individuals have argued the GOP needs to come up with an agenda that offers to lift people out of poverty beyond the typical old fair.  These ideas are diverse.  They run the gambit from wealth transfers (which is what any tax is) to Paul Ryan’s popular idea to double the Earned Income Tax Credit.  The Earned Income Tax Credit was conceived as a bipartisan way to deal with poverty and incentivize work. It remains one of America’s most successful tools to combat poverty.  Doubling the EITC even has the President’s support.

The increased libertarian strain within the GOP and power of third-party groups has made bringing anti-poverty ideas out of the dark and into the light more difficult.  Some of the new breed of GOP leaders such as Senator Ted Cruz (TX) have focused more on their ambitions than the good of the party and nation.  Still, other conservatives and Republicans have not been cowed.  The fact Ryan, the party’s 2012 VP candidate and chair of the House’s powerful Budget Committee would stand behind an idea backed by the President is proof.

There is no reason conservatives cannot mix small government ideas with pilot anti-poverty programs.  Numerous GOP Governors have done so.  In Indiana and Ohio, Governors Mike Pence and John Kasich, have implemented Medicaid expansions tailored to their states.  Ditto in Michigan.  Future 2016 Presidential candidates Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have called for streamlining the nation’s massive and cumbersome anti-poverty  administrations.

At the local level former Republican/Independent NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg implemented a plan adopted from Mexico called Conditional Cash Transfers.  These programs all have variations but essentially they advocate incentiving the poor to undertake positive behaviors.  In NYC’s case the program largely failed because it was to comprehensive and only paid out for long-term goals.  But in Memphis, Tennessee, according to Politico the program is alive and well.  The idea has the backing of Republican Governor Bill Haslam (though it does not use taxpayer funding).

Democrats have undergone somewhat of a reform movement themselves.  Within the party is a divide over whether to confront unions on the failure of major cities public schools and funding for charter schools.  In Newark, New Jersey, former Mayor and current US Senator Corey Booker worked to expand the city’s charter system.  In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel successfully urged the city’s Board of Education to increase funding for charter schools.  Reformation of the public school system is widely seen as crucial to aid lifting people out of poverty.

The way conservatives talk about poverty may be just as important as their plans on how to solve it.  Notably, the way Rubio and Paul talk about poverty and crime differs greatly from those of Cruz and Congressional Republicans.  Whereas Rubio and Paul (and Ryan) often mention how the poor work and strive to succeed, Congressional and Senate Republicans stick to the message of low taxes and spending without mention of how this will benefit the poor.  Democrats have found great electoral success by calling these ideas “trickle down economics.”

Simple ideas from drug sentencing reform can offer significant benefits for the conservative movement and the GOP if they get behind them. Draconian drug laws in the country have fueled poverty for decades. Rand Paul has taken to talking to minority communities across the country about drug sentencing reform and libertarian, economic principles.  Chris Christie in New Jersey was notable for going into urban, poor Newark suburbs to talk to poor African-Americans and Hispanics.  Conservatives would be wise to follow these examples.

Ultimately, conservatives and the GOP need to rehabilitate their image with low income voters.  They can do so by promoting ideas to solve or alleviate poverty even if those ideas have the support of the President.  Local and state initiatives that incentize good behavior should be promoted.  Lastly, the party should stop ceding the urban core of America to the Left’s failed anti-povery agenda.  The poor deserve to have two dissenting opinions on how to better their lives and they should hear both.  Conservatives and Republicans should give them one.



Why Democrats Needed Clinton 2008 and Even More in 2016

Hillary Clinton, part of the party's past, could be the Democrats future.
Hillary Clinton, part of the party’s past, could be the Democrats future.

The 2008 Democratic Presidential primary was one for the ages.  On the left side of the stage you had a young, charming and liberal African-American candidate in Barack Obama.  On the other side you had the more pragmatic Hillary Clinton.  Ultimately, it was the newcomer that prevailed due to better organizing and messaging.

Even though Democrats did not realize it at the time they needed Clinton in 2008 and they need her even more in 2016.  Just as the GOP has been drifting rightward the Democratic Party has been drifting leftward.  The netroots might love the drift but the political middle certainly does not.  Clinton realizes this today.

Clinton would have been no conservative or centrist (or is now) but she would have been pragmatic.  After living through 1994 she would have realized that most Americans do not support change all at once (despite what they say).  Instead of enacting Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and pushing Cap and Trade she would have pushed for incremental change that might have garnered GOP support.

On Healthcare, Clinton likely would have pushed for Medicaid Expansion, ending denials to preexisting conditions and capping out-of-pocket costs.  On Wal-Street regulation Clinton could have pushed for more modest restrictions on banks, easing restrictions on loans and ending To Big To Fail.  Considering where Clinton’s blue-collar support emanates it is unlikely she would have pushed for Cap and Trade but rather modest changes to power plant emissions.

This surely would have disappointed the left-wing of the Democratic Party but could have led to the possibility of further marginalizing the GOP if it said no.  Instead, by pushing so much so quickly President Obama alienated the middle and enraged the right.  The 2010 election results and continuous partisan gridlock are the result.

Obama’s failures on foreign policy would also not have occurred.  Clinton is no George Bush in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan but she is no Obama either.  She does not waver in the use of US power abroad and is not afraid to share that sentiment.  In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Clinton noted the failure of Obama’s foreign policy agenda.  On Syria, she would have armed the rebels.  On Iraq, she would have left a residual force in place.  Overall, Clinton forcefully noted, “Great nations need great organizing principles and don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.”

For whatever reason Democrats are loath to admit they need such a pragmatist in the White House in 2017.  Despite his reelection in 2012 (largely by painting Romney as unacceptable) the President has become as toxic to his party as rat poison (even in states he won twice).  The President’s popularity has fallen largely because the public does not trust his leadership skills and abilities.  Gridlock has allowed numerous problems to fester and lead to all sides blaming the other for the nation’s ills.

The grassroots of the Democratic Party has never truly embraced Hillary.  In 2000, when she was first elected to the Senate in New York State, she faced a flawed GOP opponent.  In 2007-08, Clinton won over the establishment but lost the young and progressives.

Despite this she has been anointed by all wings of the party as their likely nominee for 2016 should she accept it.  Maybe this is the progressive wing throwing the party establishment a bone and admitting that Obama has been an electoral nightmare for the party.  More likely however, it is the grassroots acknowledging they lack a progressive heir to Obama.

The grassroots favorite politicians, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are not running for President and they are far from ready to face a national electorate.  What’s left for the progressives national bench is a shallow pool of barely knowns; Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and a host of big city Mayors.  None has the potential to challenge or even parallel a Clinton candidacy.

Ultimately, a Hillary candidacy would paper over the Democratic Party’s problems.  Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were predicating on maximizing turnout in big cities.  But the suburbs outside of many big cities swung uniformly to the right.  Going forward there is no guarantee these same voters that turned out for Obama would turn out for another progressive.  Obama’s gift for campaigning may be as much related to his persona as his ideology (2016 will test this theory).

The party also would be able to rally around a universally accepted (if not loved) candidate.  This would allow Democrats to avoid the bloodbath the GOP endured in 2012 and could yet again endure in 2016.  Assuming Hillary is nominated in 2017, wins and runs for reelection the party would not need to contemplate having a soul-searching moment until 2023.  Of course, if the GOP is any example, the activist far wings of the parties do not wait decades to aggravate for change.

Clinton would be a boon for the party.  She could bring a sense of normalcy back to the nation.  She would return to incremental change, perhaps incentivizing some in the GOP to jump on board for electoral survival.  She would allow the party to unify and avoid having a nasty internal fight over its future.  Maybe she could even fix some of Obama’s mistakes (good luck).

Ironically, Hillary Clinton, part of the party’s past, could become its best hope for the future.


Liberals Struggle With Ending Poverty

Democrats have a loyal constituency among those in poverty but they have failed to help many of the poor find success.
Democrats have a loyal constituency among those in poverty but their plans to combat poverty have largely failed.

This is the first of a two-part series on poverty.  The article will examine why despite trillions pumped into anti-poverty programs and outspoken support from the Left has failed to end poverty in any meaningful way.  The second article will examine conservative’s weaknesses with the urban poor and how they can fix their issues while helping the poor succeed.

Liberal attempts to end poverty date back to the days of FDR.  FDR, the founder of the modern left, initiated the New Deal.  At the time it was meant to simply employ unemployed men.  But he also helped create Social Security citing the success of Germany’s program.  He also shepherded through a law mandating employers must equal their employees payroll tax deductions (upheld by the SCOTUS in 1943).  At the time FDR made clear Social Security was not to be used as part of the permanent social safety net.  But today, more and more Americans rely on their Social Security for just that.

Following up FDR was another liberal icon, JFK.  But unlike FDR, JFK had dueling priorities. JFK wanted to cut taxes.  During FDR and WWII tax rates had skyrocketed to a high of 94% in 1945 to those making $200,000.  A family making $50,00 paid a whopping 78% income tax rate.  By the time JFK entered office the rate was 91% on those making $400,000.  But JFK also wanted to fight poverty.  It was a major pitch during his 1960 campaign against Nixon.  Due to the economic boom of the time he was able to indulge both.  Kennedy cut taxes but he also indulged in a liberal wish list of programs including increasing the minimum wage, expanding unemployment benefits, boosting Social Security benefits to encourage workers to retire earlier and spending more for highway construction.  This gave rise to the “War on Poverty.” LBJ renamed it the “Great Society.”

Historians can debate whether Kennedy and LBJ would have started the “Great Society” if the economy was not dramatically improving but the result is the same.  The “War on Poverty” in America has resulted in a bloated administrative system, trillions in spending and deficits (under both parties) and minimal results.

This might be a cynical, conservative analysis but the results speak for themselves.  According to the poverty rate in 1965 was 17.3%.  A report from the Stanford Center on Poverty found poverty at 15% in 2012.  Choosing these two years for comparison is not random.  In 1965 the economy was starting to slow while in 2012 the economy was just starting to grow (from 08 recession).  The Stanford report credits the poverty rate holding steady since the 2009 recession due to the social safety net.  However, the goal of a safety net is to aid people until they no longer need help.  Instead, the safety net is endlessly propping up those in poverty but not lifting them out of it.  This gave rise to a new kind of Democrat in the early 90’s.

Liberals held significant  sway in the Democratic Party between 1968 and 1992.  Unfortunately, this did not help the party win elections.  68-92 were the golden years of the GOP where they dominated national elections (Nixon, Reagan, HW).  Only in 92, when liberals in the party had been weakened by so many defeats did a little known Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton, run on a centrist platform in 92 and again in 96.  Under Clinton and his centrism the Left has seen its greatest success at combating poverty (working with a GOP Congress).

In 1996, Clinton, facing a tough reelection and looking to woo moderate Republicans and Independents, aided by a GOP controlled Congress, implemented welfare program coupled with new work training programs.  The results were stunning.  According to a 2003 Heritage Foundation report, overall poverty dropped dramatically, hunger among children was cut in half, welfare caseloads dropped almost 50% and the percentage of out-of-wedlock births stalled.

Clinton did not ignore liberal concerns on welfare reform.  He preserved Medicaid coverage, protect food stamp standards and strengthened day care support for welfare recipients.  Despite this most Congressional Democrats, including moderates balked.  A solid majority in the House opposed the bill (30 voted yes).  Of the 24 no votes in the Senate, 23 came from Democrats.  Their greatest criticism, the requirement that the head of welfare recipient households must find work in two years or see benefits terminated.

Enter George Bush.  Presiding over a Clinton recession Bush’s goals of combating poverty through lower tax rates were stymied until 2003.  That year, with a Republican controlled Senate the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 passed.  The Left remains fixated on the fact the Bush tax cuts benefited the rich but they also lowered rates for the poor.  Bush also implemented No Child Left Behind, aimed at combating public school weakness and Medicaid Part D (benefits the elderly).

It did not go unnoticed by the Left income inequality grew dramatically under Clinton and Bush.  True to partisan form Democrats put all the onus on Bush and leave Clinton’s culpability out of the discussion.  Obama’s win in 2008 signaled the ascendancy of liberals within the modern Democratic Party and an increased emphasis on combating this trend.

Obama’s success in this regard is lacking.  Ardent supporters of the President will argue it is due to a recalcitrant Congress and a worried public but PPACA and Dodd-Frank only threw more money into the coffers of wealthy bank and health insurance CEOs.  The Stimulus, a smaller and modern New Deal type work program, has largely been a failure (saved or created).  Obama’s education initiative, Race to the Top, has done little but re-anger states over No Child Left Behind standards (punish instead of incentivize).

This little history lesson should highlight one thing; liberal attempts to end poverty have largely failed.  At best they have merely maintained the status quo from the 60’s.

If we follow the liberal argument to its conclusion only massive spending, higher taxes and increasingly stringent regulation can end poverty.  While most, if not all, Democrats agree with this view to varied degrees, it would require the party to do things they could never electorally embrace nor survive.

First-off, considering trillions have and continue to be spent simply to hold poverty steady, a massive new infusion of cash is needed to start bringing poverty down.  This would require Democrats to back off their 2012 legislation making the Bush tax cuts permanent and substantially increase all marginal tax rates.  Not only would this require those making $400K or above to pay more but it would easily require the middle class to pay more in taxes.  The middle class is already shrinking and requiring them to pay more would accelerate this trend and drive them into the mostly anti-tax GOP arms.  Also, the modern Democratic base is made up of wealthy suburbanites and low-income individuals.  The wealthy (a subjective term) would need to bankroll a substantial chunk of this new funding and many left leaning suburbanites might finally find it in their best interests to side with the GOP (if only in the short term).

Second, the party would have to confront their old allies, unions.  Public sector unions are notorious for fighting school reform and paying more to make state pension and healthcare systems solvent.  Poverty is inescapably linked to education and thus reforming education is essential.  A few Democrats have taken up the challenge but the darlings of the party (Elizabeth Warren most notably) have said little about this facet of poverty.

Lastly, the Democratic party would have to ultimately ditch their dual mindset and go all in one idea.  The centrist idea of tolerable tax rates would have to be ditched.  Since JFK, no Democrat, not even Obama, has fully embraced the progressive movement’s idea that higher and higher taxes can end poverty.  The President embraces higher taxes on the wealthy but Joe Biden’s last-minute Bush tax cut deal was made for an electoral reason; preserve the Democrats strength among those making around $250K (pay no new taxes) and the middle class.

Since JFK the party has been reasonably able to balance these two ideas.  Even under Obama, arguably the most liberal President since Johnson, Democrats have balanced this trend.  But the newest crop of leaders in the Democratic Party may finally ditch this idea and go all in on ideology.

The idea of higher taxes to pay for new programs has already caused clashes within the party at the state level.  NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, another darling of progressives, proposed a new tax on those making $500K or above in the city.  The city already has a millionaires tax so this would have been millionaires tax 2.0.  New York State Mayor Andrew Cuomo, personifying the dual personality of most Democrats, killed the idea but promised to fund pre-K some other way.

Democrats have been able to reconcile these two ideas; tolerable tax rates and more funding for poverty programs until now.  But the new ideological movement engulfing the party is driving them down the route the GOP is going; ideological rigidity. So far Republicans have been unable to capitalize on this growing weakness within the Democratic Party.  But a new crop of conservative leaders in the party are promoting new ideas for reform and finding bipartisan solutions to end poverty.  If they communicate these ideas effectively to all voters and point out the failure of the progressive vision the newest crop of Democratic leaders advocate they could revitalize their party.

Addendum: Considering GOP struggles and Democrats strength among those in poverty (cuts across racial, geographic and educational strata) my second post will focus a little less on policy and more on the electoral implications of GOP ideas.




Governor’s Races Show Voters Evaluate State/Federal Races Differently

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn should be a lock for reelection.  But his failure on state issues has voters contemplating throwing him out.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn should be a lock for reelection. But his failure on state issues has voters contemplating throwing him out.

Just a few months ago I would have never contemplated writing this post.  Polls of Governor’s races across the country showed what one would typically expect according to states partisan leans.  In red and blue states, Republican and Democratic candidates/incumbents were almost uniformly polling well.  In swing state races the polls were fairly even.   But in the last few months the polls have shifted, sometimes significantly, against the party in power, regardless of the state’s lean.

Just look at National Journal’s latest list of Governor’s mansions most likely to flip.  The top four races are what you would mostly expect.  Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s 1st term has been embroiled in scandal.  Tom LePage is a fire-breathing conservative sitting in light blue Maine.  Arkansas has turned ruby-red under Obama and popular Democratic Governor Mike Beebe is retiring.  The Democrats replacement, former Congressman Mike Ross, is predictably being dragged down by the President.

Get beyond these three races and the list does not fit into the red/blue mold.  In blue Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner is thought to have an advantage.  Deeply blue Connecticut is seeing its Democratic Governor see a serious threat from 2010 Republican nominee Tom Foley.  In Kansas, former Senator and current Governor Sam Brownback is struggling. Perhaps most surprising, Hawaii, one of the most Democratic states in the country by PVI and voter registration, is contemplating backing former GOP Lt. Governor Duke Aiona.  In red Georgia and South Carolina, voters seem to be having second thoughts about their 2010 choices.

Most likely many of these states will revert to form in the end and back the incumbent Governor or act according to the state’s lean.  Swing states such as Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin could go either way (though the GOP Governors are slightly favored in each).  But the current closeness of these races captures an interesting phenomenon resulting from the country’s unique electoral system.

Because the US only has a single countrywide federal election (Presidential) every four years political parties hold less sway in our political system.  Unlike in Europe, where candidates must swear fealty to the party platform, partisan candidates here can break from their party’s positions.  Candidates are more powerful and valuable than the political parties they affiliate with.

Yet, candidates running for President or Congress are more ideologically defined to voters because of how voters perceive the national party.  For example, a Democrat running for Congress in Idaho could be conservative but still lose because voters assume he shares the values of Nancy Pelosi.  Federal candidates are more closely tied to the national party even if they try to differentiate themselves from it.

State level politics and office are quite different. Take the case of West Virginia Senator and former Governor Joe Manchin.  Manchin overcame this obstacle to win an open Senate seat in 2010.  Manchin won the Senate seat largely because voters knew he was a different kind of Democrat than Obama.  As Governor, Manchin governed as a conservative Democrat in an ever reddening state.  This was characterized by an ad he ran in his 2010 campaign shooting a gun through the then pending Cap and Trade legislation.

The above encapsulates a fascinating aspect of our federalist system.  Voters evaluate state/statewide candidates differently than federal officials.  Where federal candidates are linked to the national party, state/statewide candidates are not.  That is why a Democrat could be elected Governor in Arkansas in 2010 even when two Democratic Congressmen and a Senator lost, why many Southern legislatures stayed Democratic even as their states were voting red at the federal level and why Republican and Democratic candidates are defying expectations in several states.

Of course, in state/statewide races candidate qualities and money matter.  But so do state issues.  Abortion and gay marriage, issues that tend to dominate in federal elections, have less salience in state races.  Notably, while endangered Democrats Congressmen/women and Senators are running ads attacking their opponents as extreme on social issues, endangered state officials are touting their successes and experiences.  State issues such as roads, transportation, spending, taxes and education matter more.  Of course these issues matter as well at the federal level.  They just matter less.

Consider the cases studies close races provide to highlight this phenomena.  In Pennsylvania, Corbett has not only been embroiled in scandal but he also cut education.  In Illinois, Pat Quinn doubled the state income tax, failed to rein in the state pension shortfall and is seen as incompetent.  In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy is struggling after hiking taxes and failing to balance the state budget.  In Hawaii, Governor Neil Ambercrombie was defeated in his primary by David Ige.  Ambercrombie’s legacy of cutting education, raising taxes and siding with business interests over the environment is haunting Ige.  In Kansas, Brownback’s massive reduction in the income tax has led to a state budget shortfall and cuts to education.  In all these cases voters are weighing their vote on a different criteria than they do at the federal level.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention some races feature special circumstances.  Maine and Hawaii feature three-way races helping the GOP.  Pennsylvania is gone for the GOP because of Corbett’s numerous corruption scandals.  The President’s weak approval ratings will also play in many races.  But just how much is unclear.  Voters can send a clearer message of disapproval to the President by sending a GOP Senator or Congressperson to DC to oppose the President than electing a GOP Governor.

Almost every single race mentioned in National Journal seems to be acting immune to the federal environment which is firmly against Democrats.  Races with endangered Democratic Governors exist because of the failings of the Governors.  Their saving grace may be the number of competitive Gubernatorial contests across the country shows voters are willing to split their ballots for state and federal offices under the right circumstances.  Just not for federal office.


Hillary Has Just Started Hammering Obama

hillary-and-obamaHillary Clinton has an Obama problem.  It does not take a rocket sciencist to figure out why.  Hillary is a Democrat.  Obama is a Democrat.  Hillary served under Obama and is responsible for key parts of the foreign policy issues Obama is failing to implement.  The President has poll ratings in the 40’s and they could get even lower.

In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Hillary went off on the President.  Among her most colorful comments was this gem, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” and this bomb ““Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Since that interview Clinton has understandably walked back her criticism of the President.  She does not want to pile onto the President too much before his party faces a midterm electorate already unfriendly to their kind.  Hillary will need the support of Democrats of all stripes to win in 2016 and coalesce the party around her candidacy. But the early onslaught is not by accident either.  Clinton is ever so slightly showing she has policy differences from the President and she is not the liberal on foreign policy Obama is.

Clinton needs to show these policy differences matter and bridge partisan and ideological divisions.  This is why during the Goldberg interview Clinton claimed that her views were minimized in the administration and ideas such as a no fly zone in Ukraine or arming Syrian rebels were ignored.  In an obvious effort to appeal to the muscular Jewish lobby in the state she also spoke kind words about Israel and its assault on Hamas. ““I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets and there is the surprising number and complexity of the tunnels, and Hamas has consistently, not just in this conflict, but in the past, been less than protective of their civilians.”  Hillary further elaborated, “I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are — and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position — that hasn’t made errors.”  Both John Kerry and the President have yet to utter similar sentiments.

Hillary would be no less human than the rest of us if she had personal motives for undermining the President.  Obama’s defeat of the former First Lady in 2008 (where racial accusations were thrown around) was bad enough but Obama’s refusal to name her as his VP added salt to the wound.  Giving Clinton the Secretary of State slot might have turned out to be better politically for Clinton but it also made her subservient to Joe “This is a big f***ing deal” Biden.  Clinton’s are not used to being under anybody.

But, to be fair, the personal motives of Hillary’s attacks against Obama are purely guesswork.  Maybe they are best buds by now.  Hillary, in an effort to reach out to Obama, met with the President at Martha’s Vineyard recently.  Maybe they became best buds.  Okay, hell will probably freeze over before that happens.

Hillary will not get very far by embracing a President with a 40% approval rating.  But she has to do it to a degree to keep progressives and the party’s black base happy.  This highlights Hillary’s conundrum.  The 2008 primary made clear that Hillary is an unexciting candidate to the party’s base of young women, minorities and urban core.  Thus, Hillary needs to make up for this by appealing to some segment of her husband’s 92 and 96 political coalition based partly in deeply red Appalachia. Criticizing the President on foreign policy is one way she believes this can be done.  She might have missed the memo on Republicans becoming more libertarian though.

Sharing the same partisan label as Obama makes it impossible for Clinton to separate herself completely from him.  She certainly certainly cannot run as a new kind of Democrat.  So she is setting herself up to run not as Obama’s successor but his sadder but wiser replacement.  Hammering Obama is a key part of this strategy.