Can Republicans Win Harry Reid’s Seat?

Nevada's Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is the party's top pick to run for Harry Reid's open Senate seat.
Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is the party’s top pick to run for Harry Reid’s open Senate seat.

Harry Reid shook the political world last week by announcing he would not run for reelection.  Reid, who many considered vulnerable regardless of whether he ran or not, has dominated Nevada politics since he was first elected in the 80’s.  His strong base of union members and minorities has allowed him to survive close scares in 1998 when he won by a mere 328 votes and 2010 when he surprised many and dispatched Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle fairly easily.

Recent political events have not been kind to Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats in general.  In 2012, despite Obama carrying the state Republican Dean Heller successfully held scandal plagued John Ensign’s Senate seat.  In November of last year Democrats lost a Congressional seat and both chambers of the legislature to the GOP.  The GOP took control of every statewide executive office as well.  More worrisome to the party’s future prospects against the GOP’s best star in the state, Governor Brian Sandoval, Sandoval carried Hispanics in his reelection bid.

Worse, the Democratic Party experienced a mini-revolt against Reid when six of them voted against him for Minority Leader.  Personally, Reid also has faced recovery issues after an accident on an elliptical machine at his home last winter.  Still, in recent years high-profile statewide races have favored Democrats.  Short of Sandoval and Heller, Republicans have struggled in the state, particularly in Presidential years.

Demographics appear likely to aid Democrats in 2016.  In 2008 and 2012, Obama’s victories were fueled by the young, women and minorities.  These groups are only growing as a share of the population.  Meanwhile, upper income earners and whites that lean heavily towards GOP are shrinking as the state becomes more diverse.  The GOP does not just have to contend with demographics but also the quality of their candidates.

Democrats know who their preferred Reid replacement is especially since Reid supports her, Former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.  Democrats best former up and comer, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, was crushed in her Lt. Governor bid in 2014.  Locked out of statewide offices the party and Reid had to look to former officials with appeal to run.  Masto fits all counts.

The GOP does not have any candidate as strong as Masto on the surface short of Sandoval.  If the Governor did run the seat would definitely lean Republican if Masto ran.  But in his absence the GOP is looking at new Lt. Governor Mark Hutchinson or Nevada Senate Leader Michael Roberson to run.  Neither would have the appeal Masto does to the state’s Latino constituency.

Even with Reid retiring his specter will hang over the 2016 contest.  Reid’s political coalition and ground game will heavily aid the eventual Democratic nominee.  Further, the Presidential campaign is likely to boost Democratic turnout.  This means Republicans must max out their turnout in rural areas of the state and make inroads with moderate and low-income voters in Washoe and Clark County. Still, the suburbs are where the battle for Senate will be won and lost.  One of the reasons why Heller won in 2012 was he significantly outran Romney in Clark and Washoe Counties and he did so by coming close to parity in the suburbs.  A repeat performance by Republicans is needed to win the seat in 2016.

Of course, turnout in 2016 could suffer without Obama at the top of the ticket.  Turnout among Democrats dropped several percentage points between 2008 and 2010.  Overall turnout dropped by almost 50% between 2012 and 2014.  If the Democratic coalition is so dependent on having Obama at the top of the ticket Democrats could struggle to cobble together their coalition of the last two Presidential cycles.

Still, Democrats have to be considered a slight favorite in the race.  Demographics and candidate ability at this early stage point to an ever so slight advantage for the incumbent party.  However, that could change if the GOP gets their titan into the race.  We’ll see.



Democrats Don’t Lack for Senate Opportunities This Cycle

downloadRepublicans always knew that holding their Senate majority would be tough.  But now they are learning just how tough with the unexpected retirement of Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.  The state, a second-tier pick up opportunity for Democrats is yet another state the GOP will have to defend and drain resources on.

Democrats have a target rich environment this cycle.  Among those most mentioned are Illinois Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania as well as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina.  The first three represent the party’s best shots while the latter require the party’s preferred candidate to run or the incumbent to retire for Democrats to have a shot.

Democratic leadership has blasted from the airwaves they want to clear their primaries in competitive states but so far it is debatable whether they can.  In Ohio, former Governor Ted Strickland will face an up and coming Democrat in PG Sittenfield.  In Pennsylvania, 2010 Senate nominee Joe Sestak has announced he will run again but the party is actively looking for an alternative.  In Florida, Democrats have rallied around centrist Congressman Patrick Murphy but the more liberal elements of the party want somebody else (ie. Congressman Alan Grayson).

Republicans know how tough a challenge they face this cycle.  Defending numerous seats in states that have voted for Obama twice (or at least once in NC’s and IN’s case) the party has been working with members to bolster fundraising and improve their ground games.  Still, it might all be naught if the stars align for Democrats or the political environment tilts against the GOP.

If Hillary Clinton or another Democrats starts to run away with the Presidential race Republicans like Johnson (WI), Toomey (PA) and Kirk (IL) can all but kiss their seats goodbye.  Split ticket voting has all but disappeared at the federal level and only the most entrenched incumbent seems able to weather such a storm.  Democrats strong recruiting record also bodes ill for the GOP in many competitive states in this scenario.

Further compounding GOP woes may be the issue of it being a Presidential election year.  No, I am not talking about the increased Democratic turnout it will likely bring but rather the oxygen it will suck out of the room for down-ballot federal races.  The Presidential race is likely to dominate radio, TV and online ads in close states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, now Nevada with Harry Reid’s retirement, making it hard for down-ballot candidates to break through.  Want a case study?  Sure you do.

In 2014 the Alaskan Senate race sucked all the life out of the Governor’s race and the hopes of Republican Sean Parnell.  Unable to buy any air time for ads promoting his candidacy he was effectively defined by the time the campaign hit top gear and he was in idle due to being unable to advertise.  Parnell ultimately lost by 2% and many blame his loss on the Senate race.

Now, admittedly this is a smaller scale but the concept remains the same.  All the top Senate races in the country, minus Illinois, will be hotly contested by both parties Presidential candidates and that means a deluge of advertising spending.  Worse, it will not just come from the parties and their candidates but also third party groups like Moveon.Org on the left and Club for Growth on the right.

Perhaps this explains why Harry Reid is acting like an ass in the Senate and holding things up as if he was still Majority Leader.  Perhaps it explains why Obama is getting his mojo back at a time when few feel confident in the economy.  Lastly, it likely explains why McConnell is trying to make the GOP Senate appear more centrist than its members are.  Voters views of the the parties may matter more this cycle than the individual talents and abilities of the candidates.

Regardless, Democrats know they have a strong leg up this cycle.  The only question is whether they can exploit their advantages or not.


Can Ted Cruz Win the GOP Nomination?

GTY_Ted_Cruz_ml_130819_16x9_608Ted Cruz hit the 2016 cycle with a running start by announcing Monday at Liberty University he is running for President.  The news is certainly far from shocking.  Cruz has made it very clear since early 2014 he had been thinking about running.

Cruz appeals to the most conservative base of the GOP.  His support in heavily evangelical Texas is strong and he has made clear he will run as a stalwart social conservative and perhaps taking the wind out of the sails of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  But can Cruz, a bomb thrower who few in leadership or business cycles like, actually win the nomination?

Few can deny the appeal Cruz has to the base of the GOP.  He is Hispanic, a lawyer and legal scholar, and speaks to the most primal of GOP fears regarding Obamacare, the deficit and social issues.  But while that might be enough to get Cruz through Iowa it would likely cost him New Hampshire and perhaps South Carolina.

Further complicating Cruz’s bid is the issue of money.  Many analysts expect Cruz to raise large sums from individual donors and he likely will.  But when you compare that with the money the Walker’s and Bush’s of the world can raise that is small change.  Cruz does have one decided advantage however, Heidi Cruz, his wife, works for Goldman Sachs and has helped him raise large sums from the company throughout his political career.  Other than that Cruz has raised cash from large GOP leaning think tanks and Super PACS. Even if we assume Cruz can get past his money issues there are the issues of the GOP primary calendar and his opponents.

The RNC has largely taken a hands off approach to primaries and caucuses except to assure only the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary is held in January.  In February, South Carolina has been assured the second in the nation primary.  After that, states have jockeyed to hold their primaries and Caucuses whenever.

Beyond the first three comes North Carolina and Michigan in February.  One could make a plausible case for Cruz in North Carolina but just as in South Carolina there is a sizeable business wing of the GOP that views him with hostility.

March appears absolutely brutal for Cruz.  On March 1st, several states hold their primaries (Colorado caucuses;[Florida; Massachusetts; Oklahoma; Tennessee; Texas; Vermont; Virginia).  Cruz might be able to nab one or two but more worrisome is many of these states are winner take all states meaning Cruz could finish second and get no delegates in a state as populous and delegate rich as Florida. The rest of March is a wash with some Southern, Southwestern and Northern primaries.  Assuming geography trumps all Cruz would win the Southern primaries but lose elsewhere.  By this time Cruz would clearly be dragging and drop out as funding disappears and conversation turns to the general election.  But even if he somehow made it to April the slate of states up looks like Dante’s inferno; Maryland; Washington, DC; Wisconsin, Connecticut; Delaware; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island.

Cruz’s other issue is his competition.  Cruz will certainly play up his socially conservative bonafides and it surely will aid him in Iowa.  But while Cruz has a visceral appeal to the most conservative voters his main competition, Walker and Paul, have more experience and success to tout.  In the Senate Paul has worked to shrink government and reduce prison sentences.  Walker has taken on unions and taken pains to tick off nobody in his nascent Presidential bid.

Both of these candidates present obstacles for Cruz to overcome.  Somehow, Cruz has to convince voters he can accomplish things and is not so polarizing he cannot win the general election.  Further, he has to tout his accomplishments, or lack thereof, compared to his competition.

None of this is to say Cruz cannot win the nomination.  But when the primary calendar and establishment are lined up against you it is hard to overcome.  Then there is this little tidbit that suggests Northeastern and “somewhat conservative” voters represent the biggest share of the GOP primary electorate. These voters look for pragmatic, business friendly candidates. Cruz is unlikely to win many of these votes.

In sum, Cruz has a shot with a wide open field splitting support.  But his antics have left him few friends in DC and business circles.  His lack of experience also contrasts meekly against Scott Walker and Rand Paul.

Lastly, Cruz may not even be able to claim his largest constituency if Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum get in the race.  If they do the evangelical wing of the party would split four ways in Iowa (Cruz, Huckabee, Walker, Santorum) and likely still be split in South Carolina.  Without that vote there just does not seem to be a plausible route for Cruz to win the nomination.



The Florida Senate Race Just Became Interesting

20121106_met_pmurhpy_065Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy’s decision to run in Florida’s 2016 Senate election makes yet another swing state race competitive.  Democrats, fresh off losing their Senate majority a mere five months earlier, now have strong challengers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and likely Wisconsin with more possible in Illinois, New Hampshire and Iowa.

Republicans know that Murphy poses a serious challenge.  The one time Republican turned centrist Democrat is a perfect fit for the state’s moderate profile and could be boosted by Presidential year turnout.  Further, with Rubio exploring a potential Presidential run the GOP needs to be ready to defend the possibly soon to be open seat.

Fortunately, the GOP has two ready candidates waiting in the wings, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.  In a recent Mason Dixon poll Atwater posted a 14 point lead over Murphy.  If Rubio opted to run for reelection he would also be considered a heavy favorite.

Murphy has an interesting biography.  Originally a Republican, he became a Democrat over cultural issues and challenged Allen West when the Congressman was redistricted into a new seat in 2012.  Boosted by minority turnout, Murphy pulled off the narrow upset.  He followed it up with a 60% showing in 2014 against a little known GOP challenger.

But Murphy may not have the Democratic field all to himself.  Despite efforts by the Democratic establishment to clear Senate primaries (success in WI, OH and PA, not so much MD and IL), a number of more liberal alternatives have floated their names including mayors Bob Buckhorn in Tampa, Buddy Dyer in Orlando, and Alvin Brown in Jacksonville.

Worse, from the establishment’s perspective, is the prospect of two wings of the Democratic Party facing off against each other in the form of Murphy (centrist) vs. Alan Grayson (progressive).  Grayson you might recall is the colorful Democrat who in his first reelection bid in 2010 called his GOP opponent “Taliban Dan.”  Grayson is a friend of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz who briefly contemplated running for Senate and made clear she is not a fan of Murphy.

Fortunately for the GOP, they do not suffer from the same ideological split.  Further, both Lopez and Atwater have run two successful statewide campaigns although both were in midterms and for executive state offices as opposed to federal.  Still, they have statewide campaign experience giving them a leg up on Murphy.

The GOP might find an added benefit in having Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio top the ticket in the open seat race.  Both Bush and Rubio have an appeal to the Latino community in the state no other GOP candidate, even Lopez, can likely match.  Any help atop the ticket likely would carry down-ballot GOP candidates across the finish line.

Combined with PA, OH, WI, and likely IL Democrats should cheer the number of strong candidates they have recruited for Senate challenges.  Florida is one more feather in their cap but winning these races will be much, much more difficult than recruitment.


Israel’s Election Results Are In

downloadIt’s no secret there is little love lost between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration.  If you need proof just look at Netanyahu’s past tense history with the White House.  Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress enraged the White House and critics of the hawkish Israeli government.  A government that could have come toppling down and been replaced by a centrist, left leaning government domestically but no less hawkish on foreign policy.

Like much of the industrialized world, Israeli has been struggled under the weight of a continually sluggish economy. Netanyahu’s Likud Party attempted to paint the election as a referendum on his foreign policy and the results suggest they succeeded.  Despite preelection polls shows Likud falling three to five seats behind the Zionist Union Party Likud earned 30 seats in the Knesset to ZU’s 24.

But despite the victory it is important to understand that Israel’s system is vastly different from the US’s.  Israel operates under a parliamentary system and they have a multitude of political parties that can gain seats in the Knesset (their version of our Congress).  Even if Likud had fallen behind Zionist Union once the votes were tallied they could have form a coalition government assuming they can get a coalition of 61 seats (Knesset has 120).  Also important to understand is unlike in some other parliamentary democracies, Israelis don’t vote for a specific geographic constituency: Rather, they vote for a slate of candidates represented by a party or coalition of parties.

In the run-up to the election the mood of the Israeli public could easily be described as disgruntled.  Scandals plagued the Likud coalition government, the cost of living has soared and ethnic tensions between Orthodox Jews, secularists, and Palestinian Jews have increased.  The continuing issue of settlement has yet to be resolved as well.  The surge in the polls by the Zionist Union Party right before the election reflected such a trend.  But those that showed up to vote were quite different from what the polls had indicated.

So how did Netanyahu pull it off?  And how did ZU blow it?  Simply put, Netanyahu successfully made the campaign a referendum on his foreign policy and took a scorched earth approach to win as many hawkish Israeli votes as he could.

His speech in the US Congress was just the start.  Soon after he came home he promised no Palestinian state would be created and supported the idea of more settlements.  The results speak for themselves.  Likud dominated in predominately traditional areas of the country.  Netanyahu’s move also might have benefited right leaning parties likely to join a new coalition government.

The Zionist Union party did not so much blow it as they simply were outflanked.  They did not take on Netanyahu’s scorched earth tactics and allowed the Arab Alliance, a coalition of Arab Israeli parties, to eat into their minority support.  The result was a drop in support on election day.

Unsurprisingly, this promises to continue an antagonistic relationship between the Obama administration and Israeli government. Of course, this assumes Netanyahu can forge a coalition government though odds are good he can with nationalist and right-wing parties.

Yet, President Reuven Rivlin said after the election results were mostly in, “I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future.”  Needless to say, the idea that ZU and Likud join together to create a unity government is far from likely.

Because of the multitude of parties involved one party may get to play kingmaker.  That party, Kulanu — Hebrew for “All of Us, is headed by Moshe Kahlon, a popular former Likud minister who broke away from Netanyahu.  Kahlon is generally right leaning but could be swung to support a ZU coalition government.  However, it is likely Kahlon will join a Likud government.

The White House issued a murky and lukewarm reaction which is not surprising considering their issues with Netanyahu.  Congress Republicans could barely hide their glee.  Regardless of these results however the relationship between DC and Israel is unlikely to be friendly over the next two years.





Republicans Just Blew Immigration Reform

immigration-reform_rallyRemember back in 2013 when the RNC released its post-election autopsy.  Among one of the many reasons identified for GOP losses was the party’s lack of interest in immigration reform.  So 2013 was supposed to be the year of such reform.  The President was on board, many Senate Republicans were on board.  It’s just nobody bothered to check with the GOP controlled House.

Republicans in the House, rightfully distrustful of the President, never fully came on board with Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  SB 744, passed in the Senate in 2013, had things Republicans could support; an increase in highly skilled worker visas, E-Verify systems and extra money for border security.  But border security was a secondary concern to many Republicans.  As a result, the House refused to take up the bill and instead focused on (not) passing piecemeal bills.

The President’s Executive Action in late 2014 to grant legal status to an estimated 5 million illegals and giving them access to tax benefits effectively crushed hopes for any sort of grand deal before 2016.  Instead, House and Senate Republicans found themselves joined in opposing the President.  But, whereas many House Republicans were elected to oppose the President, many victorious freshman GOP Senators had won on pledging cooperation and a crop of 2016 vulnerables need to present a bipartisan appeal to voters.

The disorganized opposition by the GOP threw the ball into Congressional Democrats hands and they played their cards well.  Sticking with the President they did not allow the GOP to get a bill defunding Obama’s actions to his desk.  Ultimately, the GOP backed down and only inflicted more harm on themselves.

Sensing the death knell of meaningful reform before 2016 GOP leadership has moved onto tacking bigger and more immediate issues.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he is ready to move on from Immigration Reform and instead tackle languishing trade deals with Asians nations, major tax reform and transportation funding shortfalls.  House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he intends to focus on taxes and spending.

So how did we come to this?  What drove the GOP to ditch immigration reform in the span of less than two years.  Honestly, it is not that complicated.  A combination of overzealous conservatism, incompetent GOP leadership and an arrogant, liberal President all played a part in reform’s death.

Perhaps I am being to harsh.  GOP leadership, particularly in the House, has been consistently backed into corners where it has to fight no win battles.  The battle over the President’s Executive Order on immigration is just the most recent example.  This is due to the overzealous conservatism exhibited by many Republicans who fail to understand strategy.  With their reduced numbers in the House and Senate Democrats are only relevant if the GOP Caucus is divided.  On immigration the GOP is and as a result Democrats have emerged as a potent voting bloc in Congress.

As for the President, what else can you call his action but arrogant.  Merely a year before he issued his EO the President went on Hispanic TV and other major outlets to explain he did not have the authority to issue such an order.  What changed?  Apparently his interpretation of his Constitutional powers.  Hey, he would know, right?  He is a constitutional lawyer.

Still, not all Republicans believe immigration reform is dead.  At an event Monday in Chicago, a trio of GOP congressmen from Illinois — Adam Kinzinger, Aaron Schock and Bob Dold — will push for a legislative overhaul that includes border security, changes to the legal immigration system, and legal status for those here illegally.  They are not the only Republicans who want to see something before 2017. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk have been vocal in their urging to move the GOP away from partisan conflict on the issue and towards solutions.

It may be even more important for the Republican Presidential nominee to explain his/her vision for immigration reform especially with the Congressional GOP divided on the issue.  This is easier said than done with minorities feeling a cultural attachment to the party they believe best represents their interests-Democrats.

Still, not all is lost.  Immigration reform will likely play a crucial role in the 2016 Presidential election.  However, a host of other issues will also be involved and the GOP proved in 2014 they can court Hispanics and Asians on economic issues

Republicans blew immigration reform.  Time will tell if they get another shot to rectify that mistake.




Idaho Democrats Search for Answers

AJ Balukoff
AJ Balukoff

It’s easy to assume Idaho’s Democrats are unified.  After all, they are such a minority in the legislature (20%) and often ignored they tend to vote as a bloc against any high-profile GOP effort (such as abortion and Add the Words).  Further, every Democrat is on record saying they would expand Medicaid and in 2013 every Democrat voted to establish a state health exchange. But repeated defeats by significant margins in every statewide race (constitutional and federal) since 2006 has left the party searching for answers and appeal to young families populating the state’s suburbs.  This search has largely led to two conclusions.

The first conclusion argues until Idaho’s demographics change Democrats will lose.  And if Democrats are to lose they should do so standing on principle.  The second conclusion centers on a more hopeful answer; find and recruit candidates that can appeal to Idaho’s rural and suburban populations.  In other words, stop nominating people from Boise and Sun Valley.

However, this is easier said than done.  Since 2006, almost every statewide Democratic candidate has come from Boise.  In 2010, the party’s gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred was from Boise.  In 2014, only one statewide candidate did not hail from Boise, Jana Jones, and it is no coincidence she easily outran every other Democratic candidate.  So perhaps Democrats would be best served by trying to move outside their geographic bases for candidates.

Honestly, the Democratic base would likely vote for a former Republican if he had a real chance at winning.  Despite every legislative Democrat being pro-choice, Allred and Balukoff called themselves pro-life.  They won every progressive bastion in the state.  Both Allred and Balukoff opposed gay marriage.  They still dominated progressive areas.

But candidate appeal is only one part of the solution.  Until Idaho Democrats can divorce themselves from the national brand they can run every candidate from North Idaho and they will still lose. You don’t accomplish that by running candidates who mirror the national party’s major themes.  For example, Balukoff championed hiking the minimum wage.  Jana Jones spoke glowingly of the IEA and Hollingsworth attacked Republicans for closing their primary.  These don’t divorce yourself from a national party that views conservative voters with disdain, allies with unions and wants to federally hike the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, the truth may be that Democrats can only do so much to overcome their disadvantages.  The party is done in by its electoral base.  Democrats must largely cater to urban interests whereas Republicans appeal to rural and suburban.  It is hard for any Democrat to overcome the stereotype they are beholden to Boise/Sun Valley progressive interests.  Still, Balukoff managed to do a credible job last year aided by the opening Otter left him on education and corruption issues.

Still, Democrats would not do themselves any harm by nominating candidates from outside Boise.  After all, at this point, it can’t get any worse for Idaho Democrats.