Political Animal


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.

October 30, 2014 12:16 PM Who Fears What

Kevin Drum (continued best wishes and prayers for his health!) draws our attention today to a Chapman University report on Things People Fear. There’s some fun if fairly predictable findings about the particular fears of self-identified Democrats (personal safety, pollution and man-made disasters) and Republicans (today’s youth, the government and immigrants). Beyond that, though, the study suggests a very strong correlation between high levels of fear and three factors: low education levels and high consumption of Talk TV or True Crime TV.

Huh. I’m overeducated and hardly ever watch Talk TV or True Crime TV. And although I wouldn’t call myself especially fearful, I do have reasonably active fears about my personal future (fear of failure, in fact, has always been my chief source of motivation, intense enough to make me a serious workaholic), pollution (and climate change), and for reasons I can’t fathom, clowns (which according to the Champan study seem to rank relatively high on the national fear-o-meter). Actually I don’t so much fear clowns as I actively dislike them.

There’s a decent chance my fear of government will increase after November 4, and then reach pathological levels two years later—along with the fear of war and environmental disaster. But the hostility to clowns is probably a constant.

What do you fear or loathe? Feel free to express yourself in the comment thread. It is, after all, the eve of Halloween.

October 30, 2014 11:42 AM No Visible “Enthusiasm” At McConnell Rally

We’re at that stage of the election cycle when the redundancy and cynicism of campaigns really begins to grate on those forced to pay a lot of attention to them—e.g., reporters. Clearly MSNBC’s excellent Irin Carmon reached the limit of her endurance during a rally for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky where it sure sounds like everybody was going through the motions and hoping for next Tuesday to arrive:

The event featuring Sen. Mitch McConnell was billed as a “Restore America Rally.” As rallies went, it had the rough feeling of a Quaker worship meeting. As campaign events went, the candidate’s name was hardly mentioned.
McConnell spoke halfway through the gathering and left without taking questions or staying to see co-headliner Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. His speech was not lofty. “There’s only one change that can happen this year and that’s to change the Senate,” he said.
“Where are our students?” asked one of the opening speakers, by way of rallying the young people. Two hands — one of which appeared to belong to an elementary school-age boy — went up.
Ambivalence about McConnell himself was the subtext — the main point at the rally was the need to beat the Democrats. Matt Bevin, who had challenged McConnell from the right in the primary, spoke about the importance of the race, mentioning McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. He declined, however, to actually endorse McConnell, or even say his name….
Enthusiasm matters in an election, but it isn’t everything.

Indeed, if “enthusiasm” is the deciding factor in Kentucky, Mitch is in real trouble. But we’ve known that all along. He’s survived all this time by driving up the negatives of opponents and making himself acceptable—and inevitable. It would be nice to see that strategy fail for once.

October 30, 2014 11:15 AM Jerry, Can You Spare A Dime or Some Time For Democrats?

I’ve haven’t written much about politics here in California this cycle, in part because the statewide races are relatively sleepy. But there’s actually a lot on the line, beginning with the effort of Democrats to hang onto supermajorities in both state legislative chambers, which still matters in a state with supermajority requirements for new revenue measures.

And even though neither of the state’s U.S. Senate seats is up this year, there are by most accounts six competitive U.S. House races, three of them rated as tossups by Cook Political Report.

That makes it all the more curious that Gov. Jerry Brown is sitting on a large war chest, spending virtually nothing on his own campaign (he’s held consistent 15-20 point leads over Republican Neel Kashkari), and only loosening the purse strings a bit on behalf of ballot initiatives he supports, per this report last week from WaPo’s Reid Wilson:

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is confident he will be reelected to an unprecedented fourth term in office. He is so convinced by poll numbers showing him leading the race that he’s spending more of his money on advertisements for two ballot measures than on his own campaign.
Brown’s campaign reported spending more than $3.3 million on advertisements for Propositions 1 and 2, measures placed on November’s ballot by the state legislature. Campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office shows Brown has spent only $500,000 on consultants, office space, insurance and other necessities on his own behalf — and he hasn’t run a single television advertisement this year….
Kashkari has far outspent Brown on television. Data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity shows he’s aired more than $2 million in TV ads. Earlier this week, Kashkari donated an additional $1 million to his own campaign, despite the public polling data.
Brown could easily swamp Kashkari: Filings show he’s got more than $20 million in the bank. But he said last week that he has no plans to spend that money. Instead, he told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to use his war chest to fund ballot measures in future, to mitigate any loss of power he might experience as he heads into what’s likely to be his final term in office.

On top of his miserliness, Brown’s taking time off during the final week of the campaign to attend the 50th reunion of his Yale Law School class. That’s in Connecticut, doncha know. Maybe Brown will lend a hand to embattled Democratic governor Dan Malloy.

Brown rarely if ever behaves conventionally, but you still have to wonder if there will be recriminations if Democrats undershoot expectations in California next Tuesday. It’s certainly too late for him to have a sudden burst of charity; not only has advertising time been bought up, but California’s a heavy vote-by-mail state (69% in the June primary) where a lot of votes have already been cast.

October 30, 2014 10:28 AM Odds of Overtime

Having spent months handicapping individual Senate races and the probability of each party controlling the chamber, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is now giving odds on when we’ll know the results:

There’s a 25 or 30 percent chance of a big, sweeping win for Republicans. There’s a 10 or 15 percent chance the Democrats retain the Senate with surprising ease. And there’s a 60 percent chance that we’ll be sweating out the races on a state-by-state basis, possibly for weeks to come.

The “sweat” comes from probable runoffs in LA and GA (though Nate thinks the odds of David Perdue winning without a runoff have gone up a bit in the last few days), the tightening of the race in slow-counting Alaska (where contests decided by less than 5 percent of the vote—a 70% probability at present—generally aren’t resolved until at least a couple of days), and the high probability of one or two close races somewhere else going into “Recountland.” Add in the continuing possibility of Greg Orman winning in Kansas and then refusing to choose a party caucus until January, and the 60% overtime odds seem reasonable enough. That will be another variable everyone will be trying to calculate when the exit polls start leaking out late Tuesday afternoon or early evening.

October 30, 2014 9:07 AM High-Stakes Elections

In the final week before a midterm election in which national media coverage has focused very heavily on the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, millions of Americans will be deciding whether or not to vote. Many will decide not to on various grounds, including the idea that it really doesn’t matter who wins, because (a) there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties (a hardy perennial attitude that long pre-existed the centrist heresies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the rise of a Tea Party convinced the GOP had sold out its conservative principles), or (b) the “stakes” aren’t high, either because of the location of the voter or the sense national politics won’t significantly change regardless of any feasible outcome.

This very last argument is taken on forcefully today by TNR’s Alec MacGillis, who reminds us that even if you believe a Republican Senate won’t materially change the dynamics in Washington, there are many state elections with more tangible—indeed, life and death—stakes. His example is Maine, where an unlikely Tea Partyish Republican governor, Paul LePage, is wreaking havoc with the social safety net, and is in reasonably good position to secure another term as governor because Eliot Cutler, the same indie candidate that enabled him to win with 38% of the vote in 2010, is again on the ballot (though he was just abandoned yesterday by Sen. Angus King, his most prominent supporter, who’s now backing Democrat Mike Michaud).

Alec’s right, of course; there are many fateful and highly competitive state races concluding next Tuesday, especially for governorships. Several (GA, FL, KS, WI) involve challenges to Republican governors who have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. In another, AR, a extraordinarily delicate compromise allowing a Medicaid expansion under a GOP legislature and Democratic governor could easily become undone by GOP gains. And even in states where health care policy isn’t an issue, many other extremely vital decisions are at stake. Just one example: if CO, Republican Bob Beauprez wants to reduce both state and local controls over oil and gas drilling because “Never in the history of man have we harvested natural resources better, more efficiently, safer.” As noted here yesterday, Colorado’s a state where the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature could flip D to R, particularly if turnout is low.

If you can’t find any reason to vote, you’re probably not looking very closely.

October 30, 2014 8:00 AM Daylight Video

It’s Grace Slick’s 75th birthday, mirabile dictu. Here’s a particularly well-recorded Jefferson Airplane performance of “Eskimo Blue Day” at the Family Dog in 1970.

October 29, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Six days from now, we’ll be trolling for early exit polls. Let’s hope the nightmare of 2002, when the exits crashed, does not return (in any respect!).

Here are some remains of the day:

* GOPers high-fiving each other over Harvard Institute of Politics survey indicating “certain to vote” millennial voters prefer a Republican Congress. I’m waiting for some methodological analysis before taking it all that seriously.

* Hillary Clinton jumps into Iowa Senate race and bops Joni Ernst for dodging editorial boards.

* At the Atlantic, David Graham games out the end of the federal litigation on marriage equality.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys reports U.S. prison finally begin to reduce capacity after years of expansions.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer reports on an experiment with paying teachers like small business executives. It worked, but isn’t, he says, something that will happen nationally.

And in non-political news:

* 13-foot, 765 pound gator captured by hunters. Not at all an omen for this Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game.

That’s it for Wednesday. We’ll close with Lazy Lester performing one of his hits, “Sugar Coated Love,” performed at Antone’s Record Shop in Austin in 2011.


October 29, 2014 5:14 PM Forecasting the Elections of January 6

It’s been known for a good while that the Senate race in Georgia could well fail to produce the required majority winner, producing a rare January 6 runoff (separate from a December 6 runoff for state offices, which is when the governor’s race could be decided). But other than a general assumption that Republicans have an advantage in low-turnout “special” elections, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of serious discussion of what might happen in such a runoff—until Josh Katz’s piece for The Upshot in an update of its Senate forecasting model:

One approach would be to look at previous runoffs in Georgia, an approach that doesn’t give much comfort to the Nunn campaign. Georgia has had five previous statewide runoff elections. There were two in both 1992 and 2008 — each time for senator and for public service commissioner — and one in 2006 for public service commissioner. In all five of those elections, the Democrat lost.

You could make the argument, of course, that in 1992 Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler was an overconfident incumbent who had spent a lot of time alienating swing voters and that in 2008, Democrat Jim Martin was an underfinanced and little-known challenger to Sen. Saxby Chambliss who barely made the runoff on the strength of the Obama surge in African-American voters. And control of the Senate wasn’t a factor in either race.

If it is this time, all bets could be off as we’d see the mother of all mobilization efforts on both sides.

In the end Katz throws his hands up:

With so many variables working to dilute and degrade the data we would use to forecast a January runoff, we think it’s not unreasonable to treat the runoff forecast with zero information, and assign each candidate an even chance.
October 29, 2014 4:36 PM Fairly Stable State Legislative Map

It occurred to me that I haven’t written in a good long while about what’s going on in the battle for control of state legislatures. But fortunately, Governing’s Louis Jacobsen had an update of his unique race ratings just last week. The landscape is a lot like that of the U.S. House, and for a lot of the same reasons: Republicans will benefit from turnout patterns and redistricting, but their gains will be limited by Democratic under-exposure (when you’ve recently lost a lot of seats, there are far fewer marginal seats to lose).

Jacobsen shows a total of 18 chambers at some risk of changing party control, 11 from D to R and 7 from R to D. The biggest disruption could occur in Colorado, where Democrats control the governorship and both legislative chambers; all three are up in the air at the moment, with a shift to all-mail voting creating a lot of uncertainty. Republicans could gain total control in Arkansas by winning the governorship and hanging onto the House. Democrats hope finally to gain control of the New York Senate. And there will be some states where big shifts short of a change of control could be significant: e.g., in California, where Democrats are in danger of losing a supermajority in the Senate, and in North Carolina, where the backlash against a GOP legislature could give Democrats significant gains in both chambers.

As always on and after election night, beware of assessments of shifts in total state legislative seats, since those are wildly overinfluenced by the 400-seat New Hampshire House, where Republicans are very likely to make significant gains. And keep in mind that closely divided legislative chambers are often subject to party-switching and coalition-making, which means that what happens on November 4 may not “stick.”

October 29, 2014 3:46 PM Fundamentally, Some Candidates Suck

Earlier this week Jonathan Bernstein helped take the air out of one argument you hear in the cold war between journalists and political scientists (with “datajournalists” being more or less their allies, except for Sam Wang), and at the same time demystifying one of the practices of the former tribe:

It’s a good time to discuss how the quality of individual candidates and campaigns — as opposed to the party balance of the electorate and national forces — might affect the midterm election results.
Dave Weigel of Bloomberg Politics, on Twitter this morning, tweaked projection models for one big miss: early forecasts that Republican Terri Lynn Land would be a solid candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan. She’s been awful. National Republicans have pulled out, and she appears to have scant chance to win. Weigel, singling out FiveThirtyEight, said that “datajournalists who judged Land to be a good candidate should have done reporting.”
It’s correct that good political reporting can, in the right circumstances, beat early forecasts from Nate Silver (or the Monkey Cage, or anyone else using objective indicators). But that hardly discredits what these modelers do or how they do it. Remember, too, that even good reporters can and do get it wrong sometimes; after all, there’s a whole army of spin artists out there doing their best to confuse the picture…..
[I]t’s certainly not the case that political scientists always dismiss the importance of individual candidates. What matters is the context. In presidential general elections, candidates aren’t often important because anyone who survives the nomination process is going to be solid, and campaigns aren’t too important because both sides are going to have ample resources and talent available. Those conditions don’t hold in races below that level.
The North Carolina Senate race provides another illustration of how tricky objective candidate assessments can be. Republican challenger Thom Tillis is speaker of the North Carolina House, but whether that means he’s a good candidate (because he has serious political experience) or a weak one (because his post isn’t a statewide elected office) isn’t clear. Given how few Senate elections there are with similar candidates, it isn’t always possible to figure out how to treat any specific qualifications, and modelers may disagree, leading to differing early projections. That’s fine; as long as the forecasters are transparent, we consumers of forecasts can learn from their differences just as we can learn from how they reach consensus.

Okay, so it seems “fundamentalists” do take candidate quality into account, but rely on “objective” measurements of same, such as degree and level of experience. I assume that’s based on some empirical data on the kind of candidates that typically do and don’t succeed. But still, there’s room for reporting and that vastly underrated quality I try to exemplify in the absence of databases or travel budgets, analysis. Don’t want to brag here, but months ago I identified Joni Ernst and David Perdue as “gaffe-prone” Senate candidates who might have problems with undisciplined utterances. That wasn’t based on my own original reporting or on any kind of data collection, but simply careful observation of what was in the news. But it was spot-on.

I see no reason why datajournalists or political scientists could not put a thumb on the scales of the fundamentals now and then if their rational observations so warrant. And it’s the very essence of being a good reporter to know when a “moment” in a campaign does and doesn’t indicate a big problem in candidate quality that’s likely to become apparent over time. I don’t, BTW, agree with Jonathan that the quirks and records and rhetorical habits of presidential candidates are entirely bleached out by the “fundamentals,” either. You can’t tell me any old Democrat (say, Mike Dukakis) would have done as well as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, or that the combination of Mitt Romney’s background and his “47 percent” gaffe didn’t matter at all. That doesn’t mean the game can always “change” at the drop of a hat, but it does keep a bit of mystery in the process if only at the margins.

UPDATE: Yes, commenters, I realize Joni Ernst and David Perdue could both very well win. But both of them were cruising towards very comfortable, maybe even landslide wins, until their opponents began hammering them for their off-message utterances. So my argument stands that candidate quality mattered in both races, and particularly since both candidates made their qualities central to their successful primary campaigns.

October 29, 2014 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

My big morning news flash was that the NCAA has extended Georgia Bulldogs football star Todd Gurley’s suspension until November 15, meaning he misses two more games but will be back for the big game with Auburn. The University of Georgia is appealing and asking for the 2-game suspension (already served) they assumed.

Here are some less personally urgent midday news/views treats:

* Maine Indie gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler holds news conference to announce—he’s not withdrawing from the race. Good news for Paul LePage.

* The Upshot publishes some useful charts on who has benefited so far from the Affordable Care Act.

* Cyberattack on White House computer system—allegedly by hirelings of Russia—wreaked havoc on routine operations but did not, reportedly, involve significant security breach.

* At TNR Jason Zengerle argues that Martha Coakley isn’t “blowing” MA gubernatorial race, even though Charlie Baker could very well win.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman suggests the bigger winner in a Senate GOP victory could be John Boehner, who will experience a lot less heat.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Former Panamanian jefe Manuel Noriega loses California lawsuit against videogame maker who used his likeness in “Call of Duty” games.

As we break for lunch, here’s Lazy Lester performing “Blues Stop Knocking At My Door” with Jimmy Vaughan and John Nicholas in Austin.

October 29, 2014 1:01 PM The “American Jihad” Against Americans

I don’t want to lend too much significance to the opinions of random Fox News “personalities”—in this case a psychiatrist—but on the other hand, Dr. Keith Ablow’s call for an “American Jihad” is a good example of where American Exceptionalism in the hands of conservative ideologues can lead.

Let’s understand at the outset that Ablow is not using “jihad” to mean nothing more or less than a military “holy war,” though he’s not ruling that out, either, suggesting the term means a “war or struggle against unbelievers” or “a crusade for a principle or belief.” On the other hand, he’s certainly not referring to the broadest meaning of “jihad,” which is an internal struggle to identify the truth. Ablow appears to consider any kind of self-doubt among Americans about the absolute and eternal superiority of our system (as defined by the Constitution, as defined by people like Ablow, of course) a heinous crime.

But while most people hailing or mocking Ablow have focused on his statement that his American Jihad would “spread around the world our love of individual freedom and insist on its reflection in every government,” what struck me was his attitude towards America’s present constitutional leaders:

An American jihad would turn back and topple the terrible self-loathing in our citizens set in motion by President Obama, beginning with his “apology tour” — a psychological plague. It would make American pride not only acceptable, but celebrated, again. And, remember, American pride is nothing more than being proud to support truths that are self-evident, irreducible, elemental and inevitable.

So Americans, even and perhaps especially those who are democratically elected, must believe in and without a moment of self-reflection proclaim Ablow’s ideas of truths that are “self-evident” but somehow not obvious to said leaders or to the nefarious foreigners, either. I’m guessing this involves some mixture of laissez-faire capitalism and theocracy, to be imposed by force of law, it would appear:

An American jihad would make every tax dollar a tithing and the squandering of those dollars a sin. An American jihad would make every hour spent working in an American company — or founding one — an offering. An American jihad would make every teacher of American history not only a public servant, but a servant of the Truth.

Wow. Maybe he’s talking about a theocracy of the Golden Calf, wherein the wage-earner would literally be a spiritual as well as a physical slave of the live-giving Corporation.

In any event, it should be pretty obvious that like most super-patriots, Ablow has an exalted view of America but doesn’t care much for Americans—or at least those (very very likely a large majority) who don’t agree with his view of what America is “really” about. This is, as I’ve tried with mixed success to make clear on multiple occasions, the key to understanding Constitutional Conservatism, the ascending ideological framework on the Right: it uses that document as a charter for eternally enshrining a very particular governing model against that no popular majority should ever, ever have the power to change. For some that mainly means absolute private property rights or the “sovereign” rights of states; for others it’s about the rights of zygotes to be carried to term or of patriarchs to govern families. I don’t know exactly how specific Ablow’s own understanding of the Constitution is. But it’s clear all this brave bold trumpeting of Americanism to the world must in his view begin with the suppression of internal dissent—in the name, of course, of Constitutional liberty!

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