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October 31, 2014 3:14 PM New Troubles For Even a Triumphant Mitch

Mitch McConnell has had an anxiety-filled year. He’s had to put up with an intermittently scary Democratic opponent that he’s had to fight with cascades of money dragging her down to his own low level of popularity. And he’s had to worry about whether his party could fully exploit the most favorable landscape since 1994 and give him the Majority Leader’s gavel.

But as veteran Congress-watcher Norm Ornstein points out in an erudite column at National Journal today, control of the Senate will pose new problems for ol’ Mitch, and not just because the White House remains in Democratic hands. The more enduring problem is that he’ll be dealing with up to seven senators who are running for re-election in blue states in a presidential year; three-to-five senators running for president; and then the House, where the dynamics that led to a government shutdown and the destruction of immigration reform legislation may well be more intense than before. So a lot of the gabbing about what McConnell “wants to do” between 2014 and 2016 may be more academic than anyone is recognizing just yet. And then there’s this:

I have talked off the record to some aides to tea-party Republicans in the House, who say that they are getting a lot of push from their activist voters to impeach the president. They, like their leaders, know how catastrophic that would be for Republicans heading into 2016 and will do what they can to head off any such move by hotheads. But if we assume that the president, determined to enhance and extend his legacy, implements major executive orders on immigration and climate change, there will be howls of outrage from the base and many lawmakers, and the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Erick Erickson, and Laura Ingraham will not be holding them back. More than likely, neither would Ted Cruz. Another challenge for House and Senate Republican leaders to keep their party from veering off the edge.

Yes, yes, we all know Boehner and McConnell and all sorts of “responsible” GOP leaders have ruled out impeachment. But after six years of demonizing Obama, they won’t be able to just wish the fever away if some “provocative” act like a DACA expansion or big-time utility regs or a veto of the Keystone XL pipeline occurs.

October 31, 2014 1:38 PM Lunch Buffet

My God, it’s raining again. Sign of the End Times?

Here are some less deluded midday news/views thoughts:

* Don’t miss Ari Berman’s map of states with new voting restriction put in place after 2010.

* Francis Wilkinson sees no signs political prosperity is doing anything to heal GOP divisions.

* Sally Kohn wonders if Republicans will be rewarded for being just slightly less extremist on reproductive rights issues.

* Texas Voter ID requirement working exactly as intended, preventing eligible voters from voting.

* Restrictions on “coordination” between campaigns and PACs being routinely ignored, which isn’t “news” but should never be accepted as normal.

And in non-political news:

* University of Michigan athletic director resigns; coach Brady Hoke must be feeling very lonely.

As we break for lunch, here’s more Bow Wow Wow, with “Do You Want to Hold Me,” which is sorta kinda about California, and was recorded shortly before Annabella was booted out of the band.

October 31, 2014 1:06 PM Keeping Up With the Wizards

So one item you should definitely bookmark today, and check the daily updates between now and Tuesday, is The Upshot’s very nifty graphic that lets you see seven different projections (The Upshot itself, plus FiveThirtyEight, Daily Kos, HuffPost, the Princeton Election Consortium, PredictWise and WaPo) of what’s likely to happen in eleven close Senate races. It will not only let you see who’s right and wrong after the returns are in, but where there’s consensus right now.

October 31, 2014 12:47 PM Everybody Should Vote!

One of the crazy-making things about elections in this country, and particularly low-turnout non-presidential elections, is that we’ve lost a presumption that used to be a goo-goo truism: it’s a good thing for everybody to vote. Nowadays you get the feeling—not just from Republicans but from pollsters and the MSM—that there’s something unsavory about people voting when they’re not “enthusiastic” about it. Along with this is the suggestion that encouraging people who aren’t enthusiastic about voting or politics or the candidate choices to nonetheless vote is some sort of dark bearing a slight aroma of fraud.

There’s an age-old conservative ideological argument often embedded in the contrary presumption against universal voting—I discussed it at some length here. But people naturally are reluctant to fully articulate the belief that only those who hold property or pay taxes should be allowed to vote; that’s why such beliefs are typically expressed in private, with or without a side order of neo-Confederate rhetoric.

More often you hear that poor voter turnout is a sign of civic health. Here’s an expression of that comforting (if not self-serving) theory by the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson in 2008:

[L]ower levels of turnout may suggest that voters actually trust each other more — that fewer feel an urgent need to vote defensively, to guard against competing interests or ideologies. Is it really all that bad if a broad swath of voters, relatively happy with the status quo, sit it out from a decided lack of pique?

First of all, everything we know about the people least likely to vote is not congruent with an image of self-satisfied, happy citizens enjoying a “lack of pique” or trusting one another too much to resort to politics. But second of all, nobody’s asking anyone to stop living their lives and raising their kids and going to work in order to become political obsessives. Voting, and even informing oneself enough to cast educated votes (or to affiliate oneself with a political party that generally reflects one’s interests), requires a very small investment of time relative to everything else. And if the concern here is that voting interferes too much with “normal” life, shouldn’t we make it as convenient as possible?

Everybody should vote, and everybody’s vote should count the same—that goes for my right-wing distant relatives who think Obama and I want to take away their guns, and for people struggling with poverty, and for people fretting that those people want to take away “their” Medicare, and for people trying to rebuilt their lives after incarceration. And it goes for people who aren’t happy with their choices because failing to vote simply encourages the same old choices to persist. Hedging on the right to vote takes you down a genuinely slippery slope that leads to unconscious and then conscious oligarchy and even authoritarianism. And so to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, we should not look at eligible voters and ask why they should vote, but instead ask why not? There’s no good answer that doesn’t violate every civic tenet of equality and every Judeo-Christian principle of the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity.

October 31, 2014 11:45 AM Is the Democrats’ Bannock Street Project Working?

In what’s generally a spooky Halloween for Democrats who are having to listen to the insane triumphalist cackling of their partisan foes, Nate Cohn offers some empirical hope in the way of evidence that the DSCC’s electorate-bending Bannock Street Project might actually be working in some key states:

Democratic efforts to turn out the young and nonwhite voters who sat out the 2010 midterm elections appear to be paying off in several Senate battleground states.
More than 20 percent of the nearly three million votes already tabulated in Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa have come from people who did not vote in the last midterm election, according to an analysis of early-voting data by The Upshot.
These voters who did not participate in 2010 are far more diverse and Democratic than the voters from four years ago. On average across these states, 39 percent are registered Democrats and 30 percent are registered Republicans. By comparison, registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in these states by an average of 1 percentage point in 2010.
The turnout among black voters is particularly encouraging for Democrats, who need strong black turnout to compete in racially polarized states like Georgia and North Carolina. In those two states, black voters so far represent 30 percent of the voters who did not participate in 2010. By comparison, 24 percent of all those who voted in those states in 2010 were black.

If you look at Nate’s actual state-by-state numbers, the averaging he does could be a bit misleading. Democrats seem to be trailing their 2010 early voting performance in Colorado, though keep in mind that 2010 performance was successful, which is why the DSCC project is named after the 2010 Democratic HQ in Denver. And the improvements in early voting for Democrats in North Carolina are marginal. But the Georgia numbers are really something: 32% of early voters are African-American, as are 36% of early new voters. A lot of the polls that have shown David Perdue winning assume a much smaller African-American share of the total vote.

As always, at course, such numbers don’t mean a whole lot if the Election Day numbers aren’t close. But getting young and minority voters accustomed to voting in non-presidential elections is a huge long-range challenge for Democrats, and any steps made in that direction this year will matter even if they don’t produce victories on a wildly pro-Republican landscape.

October 31, 2014 10:46 AM Another Presidential War Council Scheduled

Last week it was noted here that Team Rand Paul is scheduled to have a big strategy session/Come-to-Jesus meeting on November 12 in DC, informally launching the wiggy Kentuckian’s 2016 presidential bid. Now we learn via Politico’s Maggie Haberman that the Ready For Hillary Super PAC is having its own post-election/pre-election tribal stomp in New York:

The event, on Nov. 21, has been billed a strategy session at the Sheraton Times Square in New York City to discuss the next steps as the group and Clinton’s extended network wait for her to say definitively whether she is running for president in 2016.
But the speakers and attendees represent a cross-section of the party and of Clintonland, including people involved in other outside efforts to prepare for a potential candidacy. And the event itself comes after two years of Ready for Hillary, the low-dollar super PAC backing Clinton, signing up more than 2.5 million supporters and harnessing energy behind her potential candidacy — helping to freeze the Democratic field in the process.

Unlike the Paul-a-Palooza, the HRC event will not apparently feature the proto-candidate herself. I suppose it’s a bit awkward to declare America “ready for Hillary” and then welcome her to the podium to admit she’s not ready to say “OK, I’m running.”

You do have to wonder at the proliferation of these much-publicized “strategy sessions.” Are they intended to intimidate potential opponents? Will Ted Cruz soon hold one in which the candidate and/or his father pace around a big cage and roar at the cameras? If so, it’s a shame they didn’t jump the gun and hold it today for Halloween.

October 31, 2014 10:06 AM Existential Politics in the Deep South

Back in the day I used to spend a lot of time defending the partisan bona fides of southern Democrats, who were often deemed “Republican Lite” for their issue positions by their northern brethren. Maybe they’re too conservative, I’d respond, but don’t tell me they get along with Republicans. Southern politics are a life-and-death struggle over basic stuff you don’t even have to think about like whether to have public schools or an income tax.

Now that southern-style radicalized movement conservatism has infected the GOP everywhere—and southern Democrats have in most states been reduced to an embattled minority—I don’t have to make that argument as much. But the existential nature of southern political combat has actually been intensified as full-scale racial polarization has spread from Mississippi and South Carolina to other parts of the region. In a report from the campaign trail in Georgia Newsweek’s Pema Levy captures the new toxic spirit with its echoes of the Old South quite well:

In the red state of Georgia, a razor-tight Senate race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue is catching some conservative voters by surprise.
“Why is it so close?” asked Margaret Eidson, 77, of Monroe. “I can’t imagine why it’s so close.”
It was a sentiment I heard many times as I followed Perdue’s campaign RV Tuesday as it wound its way through the rolling hills of north Georgia, stopping in small communities north of Atlanta to greet supporters and urge them to vote. It’s not more than an hour from the city to the hyper-Republican counties to the north—but it feels like an entirely different world. One that views the city, with its large minority populations, with suspicion and distrust….
Counties like Dawson and Forsyth, where Perdue, his wife and two local congressmen made stops on Tuesday, voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 by more than 80 percent. The crowds that came to see Perdue overwhelmingly consisted of older people who were almost exclusively white. A few miles south and closer to Atlanta, Democratic strongholds with large African-American populations like Clayton and DeKalb counties went to President Barack Obama by similar margins.
The closeness of the race is a sign of just how fast the demographics of Georgia are changing—as The New York Times recently reported, Nunn’s surge in the polls is largely a product of pollsters including more minority voters in their surveys to reflect their growing share of the electorate. Between 2000 and 2010, 80 percent of new residents who arrived in the state were nonwhite. This year, Democrats have registered over 100,000 new voters, most of them nonwhite, as part of their effort to turn Georgia purple, then blue.
But those changes aren’t apparent at Perdue’s campaign stops in the white, Republican counties where he is working hard to drive up turnout. A number of his supporters believe the race is close because Democrats are somehow cheating….
But perhaps the most distrust came over economic issues. Repeatedly, Perdue supporters described Democrats as wanting handouts from the government, echoing Romney’s infamous comments, in 2012, in which he said 47 percent of the country will vote for Obama only because they are dependent on government. “We want what belongs to us, and we want people to work for what they have and keep what they have,” said [Perdue supporter] Curle. Handouts, she said, are what churches are for.

These are not people who want to “reform” or “devolve” means-tested social safety net programs; they want to abolish them because they view them as racial redistribution. And nobody talks back to them when they think and talk that way.

My late mother (who lived most of her life in Georgia and the rest in Texas) used to talk bitterly about how her white work colleagues would just blithely say hateful and racist stuff about Barack Obama because they assumed she agreed; she was white, wasn’t she? And after her death, when my wife and I were interviewing real estate agents to help sell her home, the first we encountered went off on a long, long tangent about Obama ruining the country. I got the impression this was her way of building trust with us; we were white, weren’t we?

The atmosphere in much of Georgia is a lot like the one I remember from childhood in Jim Crow days, when white racial solidarity dictated conservative political behavior. So yeah, the Senate campaign between the urbane David Perdue and the mild-mannered Michelle Nunn is, under the surface, a real knife-fight involving deeply held and diametrically opposed world views, with race affecting everything. Maybe the Deep South will be healed of its history in my lifetime, but I wouldn’t bet the remnants of my grandparents’ farm on it.

UPDATE: Commenter DisgustedWithItAll represents a legitimate and significant progressive point of view which is always welcome here at PA, even if I don’t always share it. But I gotta say, the suggestion that “New Dems” are responsible for persistent southern white racism strikes me as not terribly knowledgeable, and the further suggestion (“Heckuva job, Kilgy”) that I’m complicit in Democratic “cowardice” in the face of persistent southern white racism is personally offensive. You can argue all you want that this or that political strategy was terrible or even disastrous, but please don’t impugn my motives, particularly on this subject.

October 31, 2014 9:11 AM Reasonable Expectations For the Midterms

It’ll be written off by Republicans as pre-spin, and mocked as a sign of liberal “retreat,” but at TNR this morning Brian Beutler pulls together a number of data points that a lot of us have been making for months and even years about the nature of the 2014 Senate landscape:

In 2012, Obama lost Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina by 13, 24, 17, and 3 points respectively. Right now in the states’ Senate races, also respectively, polling aggregators show Mark Begich trailing challenger Dan Sullivan by one to four points; Mark Pryor trailing challenger Tom Cotton by four to eight points; Mary Landrieu trailing Bill Cassidy by four to seven points; and Kay Hagan beating Thom Tillis by one to three points.
These Democrats are all outperforming Obama by significant margins, in states where Republicans have natural advantages, and in a year in which those advantages should magnify Democratic weaknesses.
The counterpoints to this observation can be found in Colorado, Iowa, and (to a lesser extent) New Hampshire. Obama won those states in 2012 by four, six, and six points respectively. Right now, also respectively, Mark Udall is trailing challenger Cory Gardner by about two points; Bruce Braley (running to replace retiring Tom Harkin) is trailing Joni Ernst by one to two points; and Jeanne Shaheen is leading Scott Brown by only one to two points.
The conservative narrative of a nationwide Republican wave is incubating in these states, where Democrats are underperforming Obama. It must therefore be true that allegiance to Obama is a decisive factor everywhere.
But that narrative cannot account for the GOP’s remarkable underperformance in Georgia, Kansas, and Kentucky. Mitt Romney won those states by eight points, 22 points, and 23 points respectively. Right now, also respectively, Republican David Perdue is leading Democrat Michelle Nunn by two to six points; GOP incumbent Pat Roberts is running behind Independent Greg Orman by about a point; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is leading Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by three to five points. Grimes is outperforming McConnell’s 2008 challenger Bruce Lunsford, who lost by six points in a Democratic wave year. Kraushaar attributes this better-than-the-fundamentals resilience to “her attempts to appease both the party base and more-conservative voters in her state,” which have been “painfully awkward.”
If I had to, I’d put money on Democrats losing all three. But you have to be really invested in a certain conception of politics to explain races that close in states that red as evidence of a national anti-Obama wave. Or to attribute their losses to insufficient Obama bashing.

The minute this election is over, of course, even if it produces a result that Republicans hail as a world-historical event signalling the final destruction of liberalism at the righteous hand of Real Americans everywhere, we’ll enter a cycle in which Democrats have as strong an advantage in Senate races as Republicans have right now. In place of Democrats having to defend 21 of 36 seats, Republicans will have to defend 24 of 34 seats. More importantly, instead of Democratic seats being up in seven states carried by a losing Republican presidential nominee, we’ll have Republican seats being up in seven states carried by a winning Democratic presidential nominee. And the midterm turnout dynamics that not only skew the electorate towards older and whiter voters but ensure that even among young folk the more conservative voters are the ones most likely to show up will almost certainly be reversed.

When all that begins to manifest itself in hard data showing Democrats doing well, will it mean the nation has suddenly reversed itself and is joyfully marching towards a future of single payer health care and robust action on climate change? No, not necessarily. Electoral landscapes matter a great deal, particularly when they are as loaded as the Senate landscape is this year.

October 31, 2014 8:21 AM Daylight Video

Almost as startling as Grace Slick turning 75 yesterday is Annabella Lwin turning 48 today.

When I featured Culture Club a while back as representing the “late, decadent phase” of New Wave music, someone on Twitter suggested the term much better fit Bow Wow Wow, one of Malcolm McLaren’s many projects of hype and provocation (viz. New York Dolls, Sex Pistols). Can’t really argue with that, though it should be noted Boy George was briefly a member of Bow Wow Wow under the name Lieutenant Lush.

In any event, here’s Annabella (fifteen at the time) and the band’s video of “Chihuahua,” from the album with the catchy title: See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy!.

October 30, 2014 5:57 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I’m always a little emotionally drained after writing, however briefly, about the South and race. But it’s just amazing to me how quickly and willfully people forget extremely important things.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Glenn Greenwald & others at The Intercept explain Matt Taibbi’s departure from First Look Media with unusual candor.

* Mitch McConnell now saying sure he’d be happy to use reconciliation and its 51-vote threshold to kill or disable Obamacare.

* Charlie Pierce writes long, eloquent argument against any presidential field—including the Democratic field for 2016—ever being “cleared.”

* At Ten Miles Square, Ramesh Ponnuru predicts some really bad intra-GOP infighting if the party falls short of its November 4 expectations.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer looks at the implications of long-standing state reductions in support for higher education.

And in non-political news:

* Some areas hit by Sandy two years ago are still slowly recovering.

That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with Jefferson Airplane’s famous post-Woodstock appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, performing “We Can Be Together” and “Volunteers” and uttering the first recorded “MF” on broadcast television. I remember watching this show live. At one point in the “talk” segment Stephen Stills started attacking oil companies by name, and Cavett quipped “thank you for naming all our sponsors.” Good times.

Selah.

October 30, 2014 5:11 PM No Coincidences in Mississippi

Jamelle Bouie read Sarah Varney’s important piece at Politico Magazine about the disastrous non-implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi, and at Slate made the obvious connections that somehow aren’t so obvious to conservatives who bridle at any suggestion that there’s an iota of racism in their ranks. He summed it up very succinctly:

Mississippi has poor social outcomes and a threadbare safety net. It also has—and has long had—the largest black population in the country. And it’s where slavery was very lucrative, and Jim Crow most vicious. This is not a coincidence….
For nearly a 100 years, Mississippi was a white supremacist police state. Of course this made a mark on its culture. Of course these ideas of exclusion—and specifically, of racial hostility to outside interference and public goods—are still embedded in the structure of its politics.
Today, Mississippi is politically polarized along racial lines. Whites are Republicans, blacks are Democrats, and the former controls state politics. Public investment isn’t just disdained, it’s attacked as racially suspect. “The Republican Party has never been the food stamp party, or the party of pork until desperation set in with Thad Cochran’s re-election bid,” said state Sen. Angela Hill during the Mississippi Senate Republican primary, in reference to Sen. Cochran’s outreach to black voters. The state is harshly carceral—jailing more people per capita than almost anywhere in the country, the majority of them black—and has a huge number of all-white private schools while the public school system is largely segregated.
You can understand all of this in terms of ordinary conservatism—and many people do—but this is a particularly strong conservatism shaped by a particularly brutal racial history. It’s a small-government philosophy that has its roots in the pro-slavery thought of John C. Calhoun, emerged as resistance to Reconstruction, resurfaced in the fight against civil rights, and is now mostly ideological, if attenuated—but not separate—from its roots.

To think otherwise—to think that the white people of Mississippi just happened to stumble on a political philosophy that produced the closest possible outcomes and social and economic arrangements to Jim Crow—is to express an extraordinarily low opinion of the power of history. You might as well think the post-Civil War “black codes” designed to reduce former slaves to the condition closest to their former bondage had nothing to do with slavery, because after all the South had accepted (at bayonet’s edge, of course) emancipation. Subjective racism isn’t really the point here; plenty of good people of good will have embraced terrible political causes in the course of human history. But you can’t expect people to look at a place like Mississippi and unsee the threads that tie together generations of white conservatism, and unthink the judgment that once again “state’s rights” and “sovereignty” mean powerlessness, poverty, sickness and even an early grave for a big portion of the population.

October 30, 2014 3:37 PM Can the Tough Guy Kill ‘Em At the Pizza Ranch?

In a meditation today on Chris Christie’s famously unfriendly demeanor, Paul Waldman makes a distinction that really could matter if the New Jersey Guv does decide to run for president:

[W]hat separates Christie from someone like Representative Don Young of Alaska, who has a strong case to win biggest jerk in Congress, a title for which there is no shortage of competition? The key lies in who find themselves targets of Christie’s outbursts. Don Young grabs, threatens, or insults pretty much anybody who gets in his way. But Christie usually has some kind of substantive policy disagreement with the person he’s lashing out at. Most of us would think that’s not nearly enough justification for behavior that looks a lot like simple bullying (particularly given the power imbalance between Christie and whoever he’s yelling at), but it does allow him to claim that he’s not just an asshole, he’s an asshole with purpose. If you stand up at a town meeting and ask him an impertinent question about something like the state budget, he’ll shout you down (to the cheers of his supporters)….
But you know where you don’t get too many chances to show what a tough guy you are? Iowa. Campaigning for the caucuses is an interminable process of trooping from living room to senior center to VFW hall, meeting people in small groups, looking them in the eye and asking them for their votes. Christie is a pretty good retail politician, so it isn’t that he can’t perform in those settings. But being tough just isn’t part of that show, and if the biggest part of Christie’s appeal is that he can talk like an extra from Goodfellas when somebody challenges him, he isn’t going to get very far.

That makes sense. You may recall that the last two GOP presidential candidates who made a living baiting liberals were Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Newt Gingrich in 2012. Neither of them did real well in Iowa. And Christie starts in a real hole there anyway: the first Bloomberg/Register poll of likely 2016 Caucus-goers showed Christie running eighth at 6%, but more importantly, with far worse approval/disapproval ratings (39/45) than any other prospective candidate.

If Chris Christie does run for president, he should definitely skip Iowa. He’s not likely to do well there, and the last thing he needs is to risk blowing up at some RTL activist at a Pizza Ranch in Sioux City.

October 30, 2014 2:45 PM The Last Big Economic Signal of the Cycle

For Democrats, it’s a shame voter perceptions of the economy are apparently formed months in advance of elections, barring huge events. The final big official “signal” of how the economy is doing is reasonably positive and better than expected: GDP rose at an estimated 3.5% in the third quarter, following a 4.6% jump in the second quarter.

As WaPo’s Matt O’Brien points out, the current growth level is “mediocre” once you take out the noise and look at it over time. But at a time when Americans are rating the economy (at least in WaPo’s own polling) as no better than it was four years ago, any kind of sustained growth should be good and surprising news.

October 30, 2014 2:33 PM Lunch Buffet

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for their third World Series win in five years. Most of my neighbors are very happy, but a special sympathetic shout-out to my church friends the Heckmans, from Kansas City, along with WaMo’s great friend and associate Blue Girl.

Here are some post-season midday news/views treats:

* Man, that Lindsey Graham is really a card, ain’t he? Yuk Yuk.

* Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball does a “no-tossups” projection of House races, and predicts GOP gain of net 9 seats.

* Scott Brown adds polio and whooping cough to Ebola as diseases that may come pouring over our “unsecured” borders.

* TNR’s Jonathan Cohn argues the kind of health measures that have saved seven Ebola patients in US could work wonders if applied in West Africa.

* Five-term Boston mayor Thomas Menino dies at 71.

And in non-political news:

* Theater owners ban wearable cameras at the movies.

As we break for lunch, here’s Grace with the Airplane performing one of my favorite JA songs, “Crown of Creation,” on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968. Slick is in blackface, reportedly in an act of solidarity with African-American Communist activist Angela Davis.

October 30, 2014 1:07 PM Will Anyone Challenge HRC in Iowa?

CNN’s Peter Hamby has a piece today on the possibility that Hillary Clinton “could end up alone in Iowa” in 2016. And for the most part it’s another survey of the landscape to weigh the possibility of anyone taking on the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Hamby does take an Iowa-centric approach to the question, which means that while he adjudges Elizabeth Warren as far and away the most formidable (if still unlikely) challenger to Clinton, he notes Martin O’Malley is the only one taking the kind of preliminary steps necessary to setting up an organization in the First-in-the-Nation Caucus State. And that’s no small matter:

“We have this mythology that you can go to Iowa and New Hampshire and knock a few doors and ultimate you too can be a serious presidential candidate,” [Iowa Democratic activist Kurt] Meyer said. “Maybe Eugene McCarthy could do that. I think that the schedule and political life has gotten to the point today where you aren’t a serious candidate unless you go through the hoops of raising money and creating an organization. I think O’Malley probably comes the closest to it, but I don’t see who else.”

Even O’Malley has just scratched the surface, since the kind of dues-paying he’s done—fundraising and staff help for local Iowa candidates—is just the ante for a very long game.

What Hamby doesn’t explicitly ask but you have to wonder about is whether a candidate who does decide to challenge HRC—or at least prepare for a challenge—would be wise to skip Iowa. Yes, it defies the stereotype of the lonely, unnoticed underdog trudging from potluck to firehouse chili cookoff across Iowa and gradually building a viable campaign that would be impossible in media-intensive states. But the truth is Iowa is expensive—in every kind of resource. Lest we forget, the state nearly bankrupted HRC in 2008, and she ran third.

Now nobody in Iowa is going to publicly entertain that strategy as making any sense, because presidential nomination contests are major economic development projects for the state, and particularly important to the state parties and the armies of activists who drift towards Iowa for employment and experience. What O’Malley’s been doing makes a lot of sense as a hedge tactic in case HRC doesn’t run at all; he’d have a big head start in Iowa if that happened. But if, say, you’re Bernie Sanders, saving the money and time for next-door New Hampshire is the obvious thing to do. So it’s entirely possible Clinton will have Iowa to herself—but will still have to win the nomination later.

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