Political Animal


October 21, 2014 4:58 PM No Fear-Based Stampede to GOP

This afternoon Greg Sargent pays some extra attention to bipartisan focus groups conducted among women with children in Louisiana and North Carolina, the kind of voters you’d figure would be the prime targets of fear-based “security mom” appeals from the GOP exploiting media panic over IS and Eblola:

Two new focus groups of so-called “Walmart moms” — conducted by Republican pollster Neil Newhouse and Democratic pollster Margie Omero — shed a bit of light on this question.
The focus groups of Walmart moms — described as “voters with children age 18 or younger at home” who “shopped at Walmart at last once in the past month” — were conducted in Charlotte, NC, and New Orleans, LA. According to the pollsters, these are selected as proven swing voters.
In a memo about the focus groups, Newhouse and Romero write that “Ebola has replaced ISIS as a worry about instability and government leadership.” But it is not a factor in their vote:
In our early September focus groups, ISIS was a dominant concern. It has almost been completely replaced by worries about Ebola…but they do not necessarily feel it is an imminent threat — that is, this is more of a threat to the country, not to them personally.
The CDC — somewhat more than Obama — takes most of the blame, for being “too relaxed” and unprepared. While Ebola is certainly lessening moms’ confidence in government, not one cites it as a reason to vote against (or for) Democrats in November.
So ISIS is out, and Ebola is in. But Ebola is not driving their vote. Still, it could be feeding a generalized distrust of government competence, in keeping with the overarching GOP strategy here.

Greg goes on to note that this summer’s “border crisis” may have done more damage to Democratic prospects than the current freakouts. But all in all, while these voters are in a heightened state of concern, it’s not like they are stampeding to Bill Cassidy or Thom Tillis for Big Daddy protection, at the expense of votes for two women already serving in the Senate.

October 21, 2014 3:49 PM Screening Not Banning

I can’t say that I’ve reviewed all the options, but at first blush the Obama administration’s decision to route all incoming passengers who have been in one of the three African countries struck by the Ebola virus through five U.S. airports with screening protocols in place is a preferable alternative to the travel ban so many panicky pols are embracing. No system of restrictions can be airtight, but for that very reason a travel ban both over- and under-shoots the problem. And the new measures only affect the 6% of passengers from these countries that are estimated to arrive at other airports.

This step, of course, will be attacked by some for being a “flip-flop” and by others for being insufficiently “tough,” but this administration obviously can’t please everybody, and in some circle, anybody.

October 21, 2014 3:30 PM GOP Govs and Medicaid Expansion: The Exception That Proves the Rule

At TNR today, Brian Beutler tells liberals (like me, I suppose) not to mock Ohio Gov. John Kasich for a self-contradictory attitude towards elements of the Affordable Care Act, because (a) his position would be good for people who otherwise will be denied health coverage, and (b) may represent a critical GOP constituency for preserving some or all of Obamacare in a party otherwise hellbent on total repeal.

Well, Brian’s obviously right on the first point, though I doubt very seriously Kasich chose to accept the vast fiscal subsidies associated with Medicaid expansion because he wanted liberal praise, which leads me to the second point: individual governors supporting the Medicaid expansion in their own states don’t necessarily add up to a national constituency for Medicaid expansion.

The reason an awful lot of pundits (though not me!) predicted all or nearly all Republican governors would go with the Medicaid expansion is that it’s kind of nuts not to thanks to the insanely generous match rate. It took some serious ideological derangement for so many of them to say “no,” particularly when it became evident the Obama administration would allow states to do all sorts of conservative “experimentation” with the entire Medicaid program if they’d only accept the expansion.

But the logic of an individual governor taking free money isn’t the same as the logic of a Republican politician supporting the Medicaid expansion as a national policy. And should Kasich actually run for president, I imagine he’ll find it easier to just shrug and cite the fiscal prudence involved in the deal instead of defending it on the merits.

October 21, 2014 2:09 PM Lunch Buffet

Sorry I got a little bit bitter in my first substantive post this morning, but hey, it happens at this stage of an election cycle, when you imagine swing voters hearing for the first time the tedious “messages” you’ve been marinating in for many months.

Here are some sweeter midday news/views snacky-snackies:

* Poppy Bush demands that Michelle Nunn remove his photo (w/ the candidate) from campaign ad. Think this might have something to do with Jebbie’s future prospects?

* Jonathan Chait notes rural landowners unhappy with declining power still have the U.S. Senate as a redoubt.

* TPM’s Daniel Strauss reports on how IL GOP GOV candidate Bruce Rauner could be blowing slam-dunk election.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman calls John Kasich’s strange flipping and flopping on Obamacare a “cleansing ritual” for possible presidential candidate.

* BuzzFeed’s defense for poor trust numbers in Pew poll is that only 31% of respondents had ever heard of the site.

And in non-political news:

* World Series preview for those of us still vaguely objective about it.

As we break for lunch, here’s Robin Trower performing his best-known post-Procol Harum song, “Bridge of Sighs,” on BBC in 1975.

October 21, 2014 1:12 PM Big Picture on Voting Rights

Since we talked earlier this morning about the voting rules prevailing in the states going into November 4, it’s a good time to assess what’s changed in the last two years. And the most comprehensive chronicler of the “war on voting,” The Nation’s Ari Berman, thinks the GOP is winning that war even if it loses the occasional battle.

That’s mostly because of the U.S. Supreme Court, which knocked out the most important safeguard against voter suppression efforts in the most egregious states by disabling Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and also gave a green light to new restrictions in North Carolina and Ohio.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been no movement to “fix” the VRA in the Republican-controlled House.

All in all, the picture’s not good:

Voters in fifteen states will face new restrictions for the first time in a major election when they go to the polls in November, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Many are in states with highly contested Senate and gubernatorial races, like Kansas and Wisconsin.

It’s also notable that the brief period of news media interest in actually making voting easier that was marked at the beginning of this year by the report of the bipartisan “Lines Commission” expired very, very quickly.

The right to vote is increasingly viewed as a partisan political game, and at the moment, it’s reasonably clear who’s winning.

October 21, 2014 12:44 PM The Steve King House GOP Majority

Want to hear a fascinating statistical insight? Nate Cohn of The Upshot’s sure got one today:

Republicans would probably hold the House — and still have a real chance to retake the Senate — if they lost every single Hispanic voter in the country, according to an analysis by The Upshot.

Every single Hispanic voter? That’s right.

The Upshot analysis found that if not one of the eight million Hispanic voters supported the Republican candidate, Republicans would lose about a dozen House seats, especially in Florida and California. The loss of those seats would make the Republican House majority more vulnerable if Democrats made gains elsewhere in future years. But given the Republicans’ current strength across rural areas and in conservative suburbs, the loss of every Hispanic voter would not be enough to cost them the 17 seats that would flip House control.

Conversely, winning every Hispanic vote would almost certainly give Democrats another national House popular vote plurality, but would mainly just drive up their percentage in districts they already control.

The Senate’s another matter, of course. Not only would losing every Hispanic voter matter a lot in Colorado and could perhaps be decisive in several other states if the results are very close, but it could also make life difficult for an incumbent who’s now coasting to re-election: John Cornyn of Texas.

In any event, Cohn’s analysis makes it a lot easier to understand why House Republicans shrug at the party analysts telling them the GOP is toast if it continues to actively antagonize the fastest growing segment of the electorate. It’s not their problem, personally. And their own districts make it a lot easier to take the lead of Steve King and Michele Bachmann on what to do with those pesky brown people and proudly stand up as the White Man’s Party.

October 21, 2014 12:16 PM The Voting Restriction Trifecta

The discussion of voter suppression methods and all the litigation over them often becomes confusing. So it’s a good thing that Bloomberg Politics has published a chart that visually depicts each state’s position on the three most common bars to voting: ID requirements, early voting opportunities, and “excuse” requirements for absentee voting.

Seven states hit the trifecta with photo ID requirements, no early voting, and “excuse required” rules for absentee voting: Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia. I’d note that two of these states have reasons for their policies that aren’t strictly about partisan politics: NH has a vested interest in deifying election day, if only to mantaining the mystique of its presidential primary; and VA has an ancient tradition of discouraging voting by poor people of both races. It’s also important to note that not all of these restrictions are equal in impact: some states with photo ID requirements have worked to make it easier to acquire them while others haven’t; and there are also non-photo ID requirements in many other states that can pose difficulties.

In addition, there are a variety of voter suppression methods beyond the three targeted by Bloomberg Politics: difficult registration requirements; poorly staffed polling places (a Florida speciality) producing long wait-times for voting; last-minute changes in polling places that aren’t communicated to voters, as are common in Republican jurisdictions with large minority voting populations; and restrictive rules on voter errors. Then you get into the real skullduggery of voter intimidation and active disinformation.

The states deemed easiest for voters are all-mail-ballot and no-ID Oregon and Washington, though California, with its permanent mail-ballot registration and liberal early voting rules comes close. (Colorado moved to an all-mail-ballot system this year, but if you choose to show up in person to secure a ballot, you have to show ID).

Between these widely varying rules and the disproportionate resources being poured into voter turnout in selective states, we’ll probably see some big disparities in turnout rates. That will likely be an under-reported story on November 5.

October 21, 2014 11:17 AM Kasich’s “Moderation:” Contradict Yourself!

In a piece broadly hinting about which pols both parties should look to as future presidential possibilities, The Monkey Cage’s John Sides assesses the political strength and weakness of the nation’s governors as compared to their states’ “fundamentals” and comes up with this profile of the most successful chief executives:

Five incumbents—New York’s Cuomo, plus Republicans Robert Bentley (Ala.), Bill Haslam (Tenn.), John Kasich (Ohio), and Brian Sandoval (Nev.)—lead the pack. Each enjoys a margin in the polls that is at least six points bigger than predicted by state fundamentals. At the top of the list is Kasich, whose current 63-37 percent polling margin puts him an astounding 11 points ahead of predictions. To get a sense of Kasich’s strength, compare his performance to that of fellow Midwestern Republican governors Walker and Michigan’s Rick Snyder—both of whom are just barely beating expectations in the polls. To be sure, Kasich had the good fortune to draw a remarkably weak opponent whose candidacy has basically imploded. But during his term as governor, he’s also largely avoided the kind of knock-down, drag-out ideological fights catalyzed by Snyder and Walker over state policy. Governing from the middle (at least relative to their states’ electorates) has also been an approach ascribed to Cuomo, Haslam, and Sandoval.

Cuomo, as you probably know, is intensely unpopular among progressive Democrats, aside from those who fear his skyscraper-toppling King Kong ego. I don’t think anybody’s going to be running Bill Haslam (much less Robert Bentley) for president. Sandoval mostly makes Veep lists, and mostly because he’s Latino.

So let’s look at the “astounding” Kasich. As fate would have it, he’s in the news today for tripping over himself to re-establish his anti-Obamacare street cred after incautiously allowing as how the health reform law wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s his formulation, per Politico’s Sarah Wheaton:

“From Day One, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare,” the Republican governor said on Monday evening. “I never have, and I believe it should be repealed.”
Except for the Medicaid expansion part — which wouldn’t exist without the law. Kasich thinks there ought to be a way to save it.
“I have favored expanding Medicaid, but I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare,” he said.

Ha ha ha. And, I might add, ho ho ho. Salon’s Simon Maloy takes a ball peen hammer to Kasich’s BS “distinction:”

That is outright nonsense from start to finish. You can’t sign your state up for one of Obamacare’s most important provisions and then say “I do not support Obamacare.” You also can’t repeal Obamacare and argue that the Medicaid expansion created by Obamacare will somehow survive. The incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage was that the federal government would pick up the vast majority of the cost for the new enrollees. Kasich is arguing that the ACA should be repealed, but the hundreds of billions of dollars of federal spending it authorizes shouldn’t be affected. That doesn’t make any sense.
What’s even less credible is Kasich’s claim that “I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare.” As a basic factual matter, that’s false. It’s like saying you don’t really view your heart as part of your circulatory system.

Kasich is, of course, following a broader party pattern in pretending you can have Obamacare’s popular provisions without all that bad stuff about individual mandates and community rating and required services. It is ironic, of course, that a governor belonging to the “limited government” party would choose to preserve the part of the Affordable Care Act that extended a Great Society “big government” and “welfare” program instead of the part borrowed from GOP health plans that involves private health plans competing in purchasing markets. We’ll see how well that goes over in Iowa if Kasich actually runs for president.

In any event, if Kasich is, as Sides suggests, a model of “governing from the middle,” I guess that means taking both sides of an argument simultaneously.

October 21, 2014 10:37 AM Whose News You Can Use

A big new Pew Research Journalism Project survey of media consumption patterns has a lot of fascinating detail. But the finding we’ll hear most about confirms some of the most common stereotypes about what Pew calls “consistent” conservatives and liberals:

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:
* Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
* Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
* Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
* Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.
By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:
* Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some - like NPR and the New York Times- that others use far less.
* Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
* Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network - as well as to end a personal friendship - because of politics.
* Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

So assessing the importance of Fox News involves more than just looking at ratings. Its extraordinary central role in “informing” the ideological “base” of one of the country’s two major political parties is unparalleled.

I’ve only begun to plumb the depths of this study, but there are some curiosities. An ideological profiling of the audiences of 36 news/views outlets (not including, alas, the Washington Monthly) shows that MSNBC’s audience is less liberal than that of two institutions frequently thought to be objectively conservative and/or pro-Republican: The Economist and Politico. And BuzzFeed has the dubious distinction of being more distrusted than trusted among every single ideological category. Pretty impressive for a relatively “young” site, eh?

October 21, 2014 9:48 AM Just Tuning In?

We’re now officially into the stretch run of the midterm election cycle, with two weeks left until Election Day.

A big disclaimer to that milestone, of course, is early voting, which has been underway in some states since late September. Late last week the reigning expert on the subject, Michael McDonald, estimated that 1.9 million ballots had already been counted. Three states (OR. WA, and now CO) conduct all-mail-ballot elections.

At the other end of the spectrum, the cycle will not end on November 4. Louisiana’s “jungle primary” (everyone runs on the same ballot, with the goal being a majority of the vote) holds its first round on November 4, with a December 6 runoff. In Georgia, state and local contests that do not produce a majority will go to a December 2 runoff; for federal offices, the runoff date is January 6, 2015.

Political junkies are tired of this cycle by now. But an awful lot of reasonably civic-minded Americans who never miss an opportunity to vote are just now tuning in. What did they miss?

Not a whole lot, really. As in the recent past, most of the nomination process controversy was among Republicans. In virtually every GOP primary, all competitive candidates identified themselves as conservative, very conservative, severely conservative, “true” conservatives, constitutional conservative, your-worst-damn-nightmare-hippies! conservative, or to-the-right-of-Jimmy-Dean-Sausage conservative. Some type of conservative always won, though the MSM decided early on it was a very big year for GOP moderation.

The issues late-engaging voters will hear about obviously vary by location. In states with no competitive gubernatorial or congressional races, it’ll be pretty quiet. Where there are vulnerable incumbent governors running for re-election, they will tout their accomplishments while challengers will deplore the “wrong track” conditions of the state, even if their party colleagues running for federal office take the opposite position as to whether or not civilization as we know it may be coming to an end.

And in the relative handful of states that will determine control of the U.S. Senate—the big national “story”—much of the screaming on television will involve Republicans accusing Democrats of being stooges of Barack Obama and Harry Reid, while Democrats mostly talk about minimum wage legislation and birth control. Late-breaking Republican ads will depict scimitar-bearing Arabs and disease-bearing Africans swimming across the Rio Grande. There are, of course, rich local variations: in Kentucky, the Senate race appears to be a referendum on the sacred nature of coal and its holy usages; in Iowa, lawyers and chickens are popular topics; and in Kansas and South Dakota, lurid conspiracy theories involving evil independent candidates are in vogue. In every locale and in every race, however, voting appears to be limited to middle-class white folks, known to experts as “swing voters,” though they’ve largely been hunted to extinction.

For all the noise and irrelevancies, it should be reasonably apparent to most voters who are paying attention that there are pretty dramatic differences in the prevailing world views of the two major parties, even if their candidates spend most of their time hedging on their party’s core principles and denying or obscuring their own records.

As for the results, the only thing we can be absolutely certain about is that media folk and partisan spinners will inflate tiny margins of victory or defeat into apocalyptic events that could determine the fate of the Republic for decades on end. Democrats will either succumb to or escape the awful burden of being associated with Barack Obama, officially a lame duck. And Republicans will already be marshaling their resources for two years of wild obstructionism followed by the final conquest of the White House.

As you can probably tell, I’m planning on spending as much time on the evening of November 4 and immediately thereafter combating spin as I do discussing results. But in the meantime, we have two weeks before this officially becomes one of the less edifying election cycles in living memory.

October 21, 2014 8:39 AM Daylight Video

For no obvious reason, I woke up with Robin Trower music in my head. Here’s his most distinctive contribution to Procol Harum during his years with that group, “About To Die.”

October 20, 2014 5:20 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Day zoomed by, which is good because I’m about to hop on a conference call with WaMo’s techies to begin a review of how we are doing here traffic-and-social-media-wise.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Yet another Buzzfeed campaign website gotcha: Pat Roberts’ shows field of sunflowers (symbol of Kansas), but actual photo taken in Ukraine.

* January 2004 last time there was plurality for “right track” in a WSJ/NBC poll.

* HuffPost offers quick 5-point summary of Doug Henwood’s paywalled Harper’s cover story encouraging lefty revolt against Hillary Clinton.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman argues George W. Bush did more damage to the country than did Richard Nixon.

* At College Guide, Stephen Burd reports on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s warnings about dangers of private student loans.

And in non-political news:

* Florence tops Conde Nast Traveler list of world’s top 25 cities.

That’s it for Monday. Let’s close with some earlier Nine Below Zero, circa 1980, with “Homework.”


October 20, 2014 4:52 PM Lowest Blow of Them All

I’ve seen some pretty nasty, low-down political ads in my time, but a direct mail ad being run against a Democratic state legislator from East Tennessee by her Republican opponent really takes the cake (per a report from Fox Sports’ Clay Travis):

Gloria Johnson is an incumbent member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. She’s engaged in a reelection battle with Eddie Smith. And with Alabama [a college football team]mtraveling to Knoxville, Smith just took off the gloves when it comes to East Tennessee political campaigns. He compared Gloria Johnson to Lane Kiffin in a mailed political ad that just went out to voters.
The ad features a picture of Lane Kiffin, with a subtle Alabama A in the background, alongside Gloria Johnson.
Emblazoned in bright letters are the following slogans:
“It’s time to show big talkers like Lane Kiffin and Gloria Johnson that we mean business.”
“Like Lane Kiffin, who made a lot of big promises to Tennesseans, Gloria Johnson went to Nashville claiming she was going to reform health care and create jobs. And like Lane Kiffin, Gloria Johnson didn’t live up to her word.”

For people who need a translation, in 2010 Kiffin abruptly abandoned the football head coaching job at the University of Tennessee—located in Knoxville, the site of Johnson’s district—after just one year to go to the University of Southern California, leaving a big mess (a majority of the star players he recruited soon transferred or got kicked out of school) and a host of bad feelings. Riots actually broke out. And this Saturday Kiffin will finally return to Knoxville as offensive coordinator of UT nemesis the University of Alabama. So yeah, he’s on many voters’ minds, and not in a good way.

Johnson quickly responded with an endorsement from former Vol coach and star player Johnny Majors. That’s fighting far with far, as they’d pronounce it in Knoxville.

October 20, 2014 4:36 PM Polling Update

There’s actually been a bit of a slowdown the last few days in poll releases, in part because firms who do monthly polling have already done their October releases and in part because media clients are hoarding resources for a final pre-election push. But there have been a few new polls of general interest:

* Rasmussen has Republican Tom Foley suddenly sprinting out to a seven-point lead over incumbent CT Gov. Dan Malloy in a race Malloy seemed to be getting under control. The polling average is now about dead-even.

* In another possible outlier, Quinnipiac now has Republican Cory Gardner up in the CO SEN race by 6 points. Quinnipiac actually had Gardner with an even larger 8-point lead in September.

* A new PPP survey in NC (the firm’s home state, which it works hard to get right) has Kay Hagan up by 3 amidst talk of Tillis making a move. Poll also shows Libertarian candidate’s supporters not leaning strongly towards either major-party candidate, so pre-election erosion won’t necessarily help Tillis as you might expect.

* Suffolk/Boston Herald shows Jeanne Shaheen holding onto narrow 3-point lead over Scott Brown even as the GOP candidate gets hysterical about IS and Ebola.

October 20, 2014 3:53 PM Senator Tinfoil

As we anticipate Rand Paul’s almost certain 2016 presidential candidacy, and an effort to modify or sanitize an awful lot of peculiar positions taken by the Old Man (and implicitly by Rand himself, as the Revolution’s chief strategist) over the years, it’s good to look at some common wingnut memes and see how he’s come down. David Corn does so at MoJo today, and finds some weird ideas Sen. Paul embraced very recently but has grown cadgier about now that he’s found political success:

In 2010, before winning his Senate seat, Paul sat for an interview with Luke Rudkowski, a libertarian YouTube personality who specializes in quizzing political leaders about the plot to establish a “one-world socialist government.” Rudkowski asked what Paul knew of the Bilderberg Group, a collection of government and business leaders whose annual conference is a favorite target of conspiracy-mongers. Paul replied, “Only what I’ve learned from Alex Jones.” That’s right: Alex Jones, the radio host who claims that Bilderberg is a key part of a global plot to create a “scientific dictatorship” that will exterminate the “useless eaters,” a.k.a. 80 percent of the human population.
Paul described the group to Rudkowski in unequivocally Jonesian terms, as “very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like world government will be good for humanity. But guess what? World government is good for their pocketbook.” The previous year, Paul had appeared on Jones’ radio show, noting that he had watched his host’s videos and expressing support for the effort to “expose people who are promoting this globalist agenda.” (In turn, Jones urged his listeners to send money to Paul’s Senate campaign.)
It wasn’t until after reaching the Senate in 2011 that Paul clammed up about the Bilderbergers. In 2012, Rudkowski confronted Paul on a Washington street, challenging his endorsement of Mitt Romney, who’d attended Bilderberg sessions. The senator walked on as an aide tried to shoo Rudkowski away.

Interesting, eh?

Corn’s column led me to a quick Google search to see if Paul had similarly embraced the Agenda 21 meme, the amazingly popular John Birch Society fantasy (one that Joni Ernst has waxed enthusiastic about) wherein land-use regulations like zoning and bike paths are part of a UN conspiracy to destroy private property rights.

I couldn’t find Paul discussing Agenda 21, but did discover he’s introduced a bill in the Senate that’s being touted by all the Agenda 21 freaks as the beginning of The Answer to the godless plot to outlaw strip malls and golf courses. It looks like a really bad bill focused on restricting the scope of the Clean Water Act. But you can’t tell from the text if he was wearing a tinfoil hat when he introduced it.

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