Hillary Clinton Has a Mitt Romney Problem

2014-06-11t155415z1813105711gm1ea6b1uc101rtrmadp3usa-politics-clintonWatching Hillary Clinton’s campaign flounder about for a response to “Pay for Play” allegations during her time as Secretary of State makes me smile.  Democrats threw their entire 2016 efforts onto the Hillary bandwagon and that wagon sure looks unsteady now.  But even if the allegations prove to be unfounded the damage will have already been done.  For Clinton may end up looking like the Mitt Romney of 2016.

The comparison seems appropriate.  Romney was the overwhelming choice among the establishment of the GOP as Hillary is for Democrats.  Both failed to excite the party’s grassroots.  Both struggled despite underwhelming competition.  But it is another reason why Clinton is in danger of being the Romney of 16.  For just as Romney’s opponents exploited his weaknesses so will Hillary’s opponents; the perception of being elitist.

Republicans have learned much since Obama’s 2012 attack on Romney’s wealth and economic status.  This had a particular impact in the Midwest where Romney was heavily competing.  States like Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, chalk full of blue-collar voters did not move fully towards Romney and as a result he lost all of them.  Republicans are likely rearing to do the same to Hillary Clinton.  Already, GOP operatives have made clear they will use these allegations not to attack her leadership abilities but the perception she is trustworthy and able to represent everyday people.

This has always been a vulnerability of the Clinton camp.  Indeed, in 2008 Obama exploited it masterfully and painted her as out of touch with the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  That’s why Clinton traversed Iowa in a low-key, Mystery machinesque tour, trying to paint herself as being normal and average.  But one tour is not going to change perceptions that have lasted since 2008.

The Clinton campaign has yet to fully react to the allegations and is stumbling.  Their plans to paint Hillary as “everyday” have just started, er, I mean just been derailed.  Unfortunately for the Clinton camp this is not the only major issue they face.  She is an old woman and let’s be honest, in a face to face debate with a youthful Republican her age and past will be fully revealed.  Further, the long believed idea the Clinton’s play by their own rules will not be able to be ignored any longer.

But these are paltry compared to the damage the “Pay for Play” allegations could do to Clinton.  Already, third-party groups are getting ready to exploit the allegations by painting her as somebody who cannot be trusted.

Astute political observers will note that Romney could not spend money to refute Obama’s claims because of campaign finance laws.  It is illegal for a candidate to spend primary money on the general election until after the Party Convention.

But the Clinton camp is also bound by the same rules as Romney.  And adding to campaign’s woes is the simple fact that the allegations are eating up valuable media coverage of Clinton.  Even young, Democratic voters will see their perceptions of her shaped by outlets such as the Daily Show, Youtube clippings and elsewhere as being a rich, white, plutocratic lady.  The Clinton camp does not have an answer other than to push on and hope for the best.  Just like Romney.

Democrats will rightly contend Clinton has time to right the ship and she does.  But she cannot change the perceptions voters have of her come November 2016 if they are already firmly entrenched.  These perceptions are unlikely to make a partisan Democrat vote Republican but they might be enough to make them stay home.  Those same perceptions might make Republicans and Independents turn out against her in force.  Clinton cannot win the race if she is turned into Romney.  Right now, she definitely is looking like Romney’s female doppelganger.



Walker Unlikely to Win Wisconsin if GOP Nominee in General Election

800px-Scott_Walker_by_Gage_SkidmoreWisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a lot going for him as he seeks his party’s nomination for the Presidency. He is a successful two term Governor of a blue state at the Presidential level, has presided over three statewide electoral victories and enacted sweeping legislative reform.

But it is Wisconsin’s blue hue at the Presidential level that stands out as Walker’s greatest weakness.  For all his successes in state politics the Governor is unlikely to carry Wisconsin at the Presidential level.  This, as one of his campaign’s strongest talking points is that he can carry a blue state like Wisconsin and perhaps take another with it (Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, etc.)

Like many “Blue Wall” states Wisconsin is a competitive state at the state level.  But that competitiveness has not translated to Presidential races.  While Bush lost the state in 2000 and 2004 by less than 1% John McCain lost it by 14% in 08 and Romney 7% in 2012 just a mere five months after Walker won his recall by 7%.

Like Bush, Walker contends he can put Wisconsin on the map.  One of the things most people overlook about Bush was his 2004 strength among rural moderates.  These voters are a significant share of the Wisconsin electorate, are pro-gun, split on abortion and fiscally conservative.  Bush had a cultural appeal to these voters.  In much the same mold Walker does as well.

Look at Walker’s three statewide victories.  In 2010 Walker not only racked up huge margins among the suburbs of SE Wisconsin but he also carried Northeastern Wisconsin (home to Green Bay and its populous suburbs) and the heavily rural Northwest.  Walker won suburban voters 43%-56% but rural voters 44%-55%. The last Republican to do so well among these voters at any level was Bush.

Fast forward to the 2012 recall and Walker further solidified his support among the group.  While Walker’s support among suburban voters stayed largely flat he increased his support among rural voters to 60%. Walker’s support in his 2014 reelection bid among suburbanites increased to 57% but his rural support dipped slightly to 58%.

Walker’s runs also hint at other strengths he possesses.  He never won less than 45% of the 18-29 vote and hit a high water mark of 47% among the group in 2014.  The support traditionally conservative SE Wisconsin gave him was also remarkable.

But, this was all done at the state level in statewide races.  The issues boiled down more to pragmatism and cost cutting than debates over abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts for the rich, etc.  Once the debate turns to that how would Walker fare?

Already, Walker’s standing in the state has taken a steep dive.  Since 2011 Walker’s approval ratings remained remarkably steady according to Marquette University, hovering around 45%-51%.  When he was reelected in 2014 52% of voters approved of him and he received 52% of the vote.  But new polls find he is now underwater as he makes his national aspirations known and focuses on courting a larger, national audience.

A PPP survey finds the Governor with a 43/52 approval rating and he trails Hillary Clinton 52%-43%.  More worrisome the more accurate Marquette University survey finds Walker trialing Clinton 52%-40%.  Highlighting one of the Governor’s issues a whopping 64% said the Governor could not handle both the duties of running for President and being state executive.

Admittedly, it is early.  Much can change.  But early polls out of Wisconsin show Walker would struggle to win his state.  However, both PPP’s and Marquette’s samples reflect a more traditional 2008 and 2012 electorate; less Republican and more Democratic, a far cry from the 2000 and 2004 electorates.

Regardless, Walker has his strengths.  He appeals to rural, downscale voters as well as suburbanites not just in Wisconsin but nationwide.  However, if he is to win Wisconsin if he is the GOP nominee he will have to find someway to maintain his appeal to rural voters in the Northwest and suburban voters in the Northeastern suburbs.  Not an easy task when the issues you courted these voters on have changed and become much more polarizing.



Democrats Hope to Catch Their White Whale (They Won’t)

20101023_usd000Democrats have a problem.  No, it’s not an electoral vote problem?  No, it’s not a diversity problem.  It’s that the white working class, particularly white working class men, have turned away from the party in droves. These voters stuck with the President in 2012 in key races across the rest of the country over a wealthy executive.  In 2014, those same voters in those same states finally turned to the GOP.

Democrats believe they have an answer in economic populism.  They also believe they have a strong candidate in 2016 to help them carry their message forward, Hillary Clinton.  Just one problem, Clinton is championing using the government to champion the working class’s rights.  The same government these individuals have turned away from in dramatic fashion.  How likely are voters to go for a candidate championing using a government that has harmed them to help them?  Not much.

Case in point.  Polls show that white working class voters are increasingly pessimistic about the future.  When the Pew Research Center asked in 2012 whether they expected their children to enjoy a better standard of living  only 41% of whites were optimistic.  More illuminating Romney captured 59% of the white vote (the number who were not optimistic about their kids futures).

Democrats are not blind to this problem especially because they know if they do not make inroads with these voters they will suffer in midterms.  Being locked out of control of the House ensures divided government in perpetuity.  Second, it locks them out of control of state legislatures and ever gaining access to Governorships in red or red leaning states. Considering many policies are first tested at the state level this could mean Democratic ideas stagnate over time.

Identity politics has to be considered a major culprit. Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a prospective Democratic candidate for President says “I think this is where Democrats screw up, you know?” told Yahoo News recently. “I think that they have kind of unwittingly used this group, white working males, as a whipping post for a lot of their policies. And then when they react, they say they’re being racist.”

Such a reaction from whites is not just relegated to the working class.  In 2014, white males with a college degree overwhelmingly backed Republicans in statewide federal and Congressional races.  In such blue states as Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts the Republican candidates for Governor largely won due to this new strength.

Democrats answer to this problem is fairly simple.  They will try to convince these voters they have common cause with the party on campaign finance reform and fiscal policy by railing against big banks and secret donors.  But this overlooks the fact these same voters are more socially conservative than the general public and thus will unlikely find cultural cause to vote for the Democratic candidate.

If this plan fails other Democrats have varying ideas on how to accomplish such a task.  Some like Webb want the party to downplay identity politics, others like Senator Chuck Schumer of NY want the party to more aggressively promote the benefits government can provide them.  Yet another idea has been promoted by Stanley Greenburg, a veteran of the Clinton White House and a Democratic pollster.  Greenburg wants the party to pursue campaign finance reform (they are genius) and to promote a more streamlined, efficient government.

There are only a couple of problems with such a plan.  First, Republicans have already captured the rhetorical high ground on streamlining government by calling for “reform.”  Second, the Democratic base composed of numerous beneficiaries of government policy is unlikely to want to turn out for a party that doesn’t champion promoting more government.  In 2012, only a minority of the voting public identified as working class meaning such a strategy works against the party’s electoral interests.

Either way, Democrats won’t get a majority of this voting bloc’s support next year.  They may not even break 40%.  For as the working class has been left behind by Democrats they have turned to a GOP desperate for new votes.  Democrats will likely give this group plenty of attention next year ie. Hillary Clinton saying “The deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top,” she said. “There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker…. And there’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses.”  It just probably won’t change much.

How the Establishment Dominates GOP Presidential Nominating Contests

watch-mitt-romney-deliver-his-concession-speech-video-971a069f1cTypical analysis of Presidential nominating contests focus on the early Caucus states of Iowa and Nevada and primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.  But rarely have few candidates succeeded in all of the the states or even three out of four and gone onto being a party’s nominee.

This is particularly true on the GOP side in recent years.  In 2008 Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Caucuses and Mitt Romney the Nevada Caucuses but John McCain, winning New Hampshire and South Carolina, was the nominee.  In 2012, Rick Santorum won Iowa, Romney won New Hampshire and Gingrich won South Carolina yet Romney was the eventual nominee.  So how did Romney and McCain, who struggled to consolidate support in 2008 and 2012, win the GOP nomination with the blessing of the establishment.

The answer is simple.  Blue state Republicans.  These voters, in both the Northeast and Pacific Coast hold considerable sway in the Presidential nominating contest.  This might make conservatives howl in outrage but it suggests why a Ted Cruz type candidate would fail to coalesce the party in a primary.

Consider these interesting stats from Nate Cohn, ” In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.”

So, if the establishment/moderate GOP candidate (or in 2016’s case, candidates) can get past the first few early voting states than they has a real shot once blue state Republicans start voting.  Cohn further adds “Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.”

That does not mean a conservative Republican cannot win their votes.  George Bush managed to do so in 2000 for example.  But more likely than not the conservative candidate has to appeal to these voters on issues less important to the party grassroots.  This is why Scott Walker is considered such a strong contender as is Marco Rubio.  Both have solid pro-life credentials but neither pushes them to the forefront of their campaign like a Ted Cruz.  Instead, they tout their fiscal and economic ideas which appeal to these suburban/rural GOP voters.

Now, both Walker and Rubio could be considered establishment contenders just like McCain and Romney.  The candidacies of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul less so.  So the moderate/establishment vs. conservative dynamic has yet to appear in this race.  Well, okay, most would clearly say Jeb Bush is the moderate in this contest.

But few should doubt why the establishment usually wins in Presidential nominating contests.  The majority of GOP nominating voters, and thus delegates, reside in big blue states.  And these voters, while solidly Republican, are not archly conservative voters and tend to be swayed by arguments of pragmatism and electability.  The party base may not like it but this is the reality of the modern day GOP nominating contest.



Rubio’s Gamble

thMarco Rubio’s announcement to run for President surprised few Monday.  Rubio, a rising star in the party, had been considered a top-tier contender for the White House.  Still, despite being a top-tier challenger, Rubio will need some things to go his way.

Rubio is widely considered everybody’s second choice.  He fills all the requirements for a GOP Presidential contender, young, a Hispanic, charismatic, conservative and a contrast to the Democratic pols of yesterday.

But Rubio is also considered everybody’s second choice for a number of reasons.  First, Rubio’s appeal is to the establishment with the ability to win some conservatives.  But, Bush’s run is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Second, Rubio has struggled to recover from his Immigration Reform effort and as a result he has been branded as a supporter of “amnesty.”  Lastly, Rubio’s lack of legislative achievements unlike a Scott Walker make his appeal to a white, conservative electorate harder to achieve.

But obviously Rubio’s campaign sees an opening for the candidate.  So what is it?  Running a campaign on the idea somebody must falter for you to win seems far-fetched.  Odds are good Rubio’s campaign will be based on his appeal on the stump and his message.

Listening to Rubio’s announcement speech it is very clear just how strong his appeal is.  His message is one that speaks to the greatness of America and out of all the Presidential announcements his was the most hopeful.  And that is Rubio’s appeal.  He speaks to the opportunity America provides and its greatness.

Contrast this with the other GOP candidates.  Paul’s message is more about reform, Cruz’s is based on Christian values, and the likely campaigns of Walker and Bush will be turning the page on the Obama years.  Rubio really does want to look past these points and look forward.

Whether such a message can succeed or not is debatable.  The Presidential nominating contest is partly based on the personal stories of the candidates but also money, ideas and ideology.  Rubio won’t lack on the first but he may struggle on the second and third.

Bush is likely to garner the majority of establishment cash and Cruz and Walker, heck even Paul, will likely get the lion share of the grassroots donations.  This leaves Rubio to fight for his sliver of dough from both categories.

Ideologically, Rubio fits well into the GOP mainstream.  He has opposed deficit spending bills, like Paul and Cruz, and he fits well into the ideological spectrum of the GOP according to 538.  But his failure on Immigration Reform has badly hurt him among the grassroots.  Perhaps permanently.

Regardless, Rubio has to be the first major contender to announce.  Cruz may make arch conservatives happy but his appeal to moderates in the primary and general election is abysmal.  Paul, while a strong candidate has yet to prove he can broaden his support beyond his father’s constituency.  Rubio, on the other hand, despite his weaknesses, is a stronger candidate.





Will Identity Politics Last?

intersectionalityRepublicans have long bemoaned the Democrats success at playing identify politics.  After all, Democrats have successful turned blacks into the discriminated class, Hispanics the ignored class, Asians the educated class, etc.  Obama’s campaigns and themes were deeply intertwined with connecting to voters on racial identity, ie. a us vs. them mentality.  Republicans have tried not to follow suit but they have.  In 2014, Republicans across the country played up the urban/rural dichotomy.  Instead of race being the defining identity it simply switched to place.

But Republicans are ill-suited to win these identity battles.  The party is largely white and thus seen as representing the interests of the powerful majority.  Further, as demographics show whites are shrinking as a percentage of the population meaning the party cannot keep ignoring minorities.  On social issues the party used to see as winners they are increasingly trying to turn the page.

But perhaps the GOP may eventually be saved by the melting pot of America, well, fully becoming a melting pot.  Consider this article (which infers whites are racist for not being more racist).  Fewer Millennials than ever focus on the identifying feature of race and this includes blacks and Hispanics.  Further, intermarriages are on the rise.  According to a 2012 Pew survey about 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%.  Combined with data suggesting Millennials are most likely to have one immigrant parent and you have the potential for identity along traditional political lines to fall.

Of course, if old identity political lines fall new ones will replace them.  But how this will impact the parties political coalitions is unclear.  Consider the Democratic Party today is largely composed of minorities (race) and upscale whites (class). These voters are socially liberal and embrace things such as the LGBT community and gay marriage. The GOP generally wins college educated and blue-collar whites and Asians (2014).  But what happens if race fails to be as polarizing as it once was and class takes over? Likely, we will see a weakening of racial support for each party.  Instead, it is more likely the parties will become hodgepodges of support as is more the case in Canada and the UK.  Regional support could still be prevalent depending on the overall demographics of the region/state/locality.

Still, by far it is Democrats who would most suffer from the fall of identity politics.  The party has largely been galvanized in the era of Obama by identity politics and it is already playing out in key 2016 races.  Harry Reid has endorsed a Hispanic, Coretz Masto to run for his seat even as he knows Las Vegas (white) Congresswoman Dina Titus considers running.  In Maryland, a fight is brewing between Congresswomen Donna Edwards, an African-American woman, and Chris Van Hollen, a white male and member of Democratic House leadership.  In a state where over 40% of the Democratic electorate is black and over 50% in the primary Van Hollen faces a tough challenge.

Democrats realize they have an issue.  That’s why they have tried in recent years to expand the diversity of their ranks but it has been hard under Obama.  During his Presidency numerous minority state and local officials have been defeated.  Now, the party is settling on former, white males to carry their banners in minority turnout driven Democratic victory states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Gee, wonder why nobody is challenging Clinton other than O’Malley?  Here is exhibit A.

Fortunately for Democrats, identity politics seems here to stay.  This assumes it remains based on race or gender.  The GOP does not do badly when it is based on geography.  Whether it is over social issues tied to gay rights, race or something else or class voters will always identify with one political party over the other due to the issues.  The good thing for the GOP is that once race and gay rights largely fade from the scene and the electorate gets younger the party can more easily connect with voters.




Rand Paul Can Win the GOP Nomination

-15Rand Paul’s Presidential announcement yesterday that he will seek the GOP nomination is notable not just for the announcement but also for the fact the libertarian leaning Senator, in a party full of hawks, thinks he can win the GOP nomination.

Paul paints an interesting picture. The quixotic Senator, first elected in the 2010 Tea Party emergence, defeated an establishment favorite in Trey Grayson.  Utilizing his father’s libertarian machine, Rand crushed his opponent in the low turnout primary.  His Democratic opponent had no shot in the general election.

In the Senate Paul has emerged as a leading proponent of some libertarians most cherished causes.  He wants to audit the Fed which ironically puts him on the side of ultra-liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren.  He also wants to significantly curtail the power of the NSA on the domestic surveillance front and limit our foreign entanglements.  If anything he made this clear in his announcement speech.  He also has opposed raising the debt ceiling and has not voted for a budget in his time in the Senate.

Paul has also been one of the few Republicans willing to actually physically show up in strongly Democratic locations, specifically historic black colleges.  He has also taken up drug and sentencing reform, an issue he has worked with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on and one that predominately impacts the minority community.

Despite these instances of conviction Paul has also abandoned some of the more far-fetched views of his father.  He has openly disavowed the isolationist views of his father and he endorsed Senator Mitch McConnell in his 2014 reelection effort.  Banning foreign aid is gone from his rhetoric and he now acknowledges the limitations of the current political system; something his father never did.

However, highlighting the peril involved in the balancing act Paul is walking, several former Ron Paul staffers in Iowa defected to Ted Cruz. And while Paul’s limited government message will resonate with most of his father’s supporters he will also need to connect to business friendly and defense hawk Republicans who are weary of him.  Moreover, he will need to connect to somewhat libertarian primary voters who make up anywhere between 13%-25% of the GOP. Further complicating Paul’s campaign is the fact that Paul’s “liberty campaign” is likely to appeal to a split electorates; primarily evangelicals as well as libertarians.

That said, Paul has a strong shot to win the GOP nomination.  His pro-traditional marriage credentials are well established and copy Walker’s (support traditional marriage personally but will abide by court rulings) and he is solidly pro-life.  In Iowa both these positions will play well and if he makes it to the general election he can play down the social rhetoric.

From some perspectives Paul’s best chance might be an early win in Iowa.  But while a social conservative Paul downplays such issues.  The GOP electorate in New Hampshire is far more socially moderate than Iowa and tends to focus more on foreign policy and fiscal issues as opposed to family values.  As for South Carolina Paul has not attempted to make inroads into the state.

If Paul will struggle because of his father’s legacy he will also benefit from it.  While the views of Rand’s father will be a shadow he must get out from under of the campaign apparatus his father has established in Iowa and New Hampshire will also benefit the Senator.  Even the desertion of former Ron Paul staffers cannot change this fact.

Paul’s biggest hurdle will likely be the hurdle of other “liberty candidates,” Cruz in particular, and that is raising enough money to stay competitive with the Bush and Walker.  Paul can tap his dad’s grassroots donor base for cash but will it be enough to compete with the Bush and Walker financial juggernauts?

Only time will tell.  But nobody should assume Paul does not have a good shot at winning the GOP nomination.  His message resonates with both libertarians and conservatives (maybe even a few left of center folks) and if he can get past the big three (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) the sky is the limit.