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The Daily Strategist

October 31, 2014

The Lost Tradition of Believing Everybody Should Vote



As we sort through the various voter suppression measures being deployed by Republicans in the several states, it's important to remember that pretty recently it was Gospel Truth that everyone should vote. That tradition has slipped away, to be replaced by a number of disreputable ideas, as I discussed today at the Washington Monthly:

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?

The big issue here is that the presumption that universal voting is a good thing has been gradually replaced by the presumption that Americans must prove their worthiness to vote. And that's a big deal:

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.

Restricting the franchise is a old and disreputable idea whose time has nonetheless come once again. It's important to throw it right back once again.


Creamer: GOP Fears, Suppresses African American Voters



The following article, by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis didn't have any problem jamming through a so-called "voter ID" law that was intended to take away the voting rights of thousands of North Carolinians -- including many African Americans.

But the moment Democrats or civil rights organizations exhort African Americans to go to the polls and stand up for their right to vote -- and prevent Tillis from being elected to the U.S. Senate -- the Republicans squeal like stuck pigs.

"Oh, that's unfair, that's playing the racial card," they say. Wrong. That's being held accountable for policies that intentionally attack the interests of African Americans and millions of other ordinary voters.

With Tillis as speaker, the North Carolina legislature passed "Stand Your Ground" legislation similar to the law that allowed the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer in Florida. But the GOP thinks it is utterly unfair for him to be tied to the real-world consequences of his actions in government.

Community and civil rights organizations throughout the South -- and around the country -- are exhorting African American voters to go to the polls in the mid-term elections by pointing out that when African Americans don't vote they get outcomes like Ferguson, Missouri. And they are dead on. Sixty-seven percent of the city's 21,000 residents are black, but only 12 percent of the voters in the last municipal election were black. The result: a city council with only one African American member and a police force of 53 officers -- of which only three are black.

There could be no better example of what African Americans get if they don't vote. Yet the Republicans think that reference to Ferguson is "inflammatory."

It's not the least bit "inflammatory." It simply means that the African American community intends to stand up for itself in the political process.

It is tribute to the fact that the leaders of African American organizations realize that if you're not at the table, you're on the menu -- and that goes for all of us.

Democrats and everyday Americans of all backgrounds should take a lesson from the way African American leaders are standing up for President Obama. They are pointing out in radio spots and mailings that while it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the president in a democratic society; many of his Republican and right-wing critics have crossed the line to disrespect. They are telling African American voters: "It's up to us to have the president's back -- vote."

Republicans don't like to hear that. In fact, the corporate CEOs and Wall Street billionaires who control the Republican Party -- in coalition with groups of tea party extremists -- don't want most ordinary Americans to wake up and go the polls.

That doesn't just go for African Americans. They are hoping that Hispanics, women, working people, and young people of all sorts stay home and forget there is an election. That way they hope they can elect a Republican Senate so that if a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court they can prevent President Obama from appointing a justice that is not in Wall Street's back pocket.

They want a Senate that can work with the tea party-controlled House to hold the president and the country hostage unless they are allowed to slash tax rates for big business, eliminate the Medicare guarantee, cut Social Security benefits, gut the regulation of Wall Street, dramatically restrict women's right to choose and limit access to contraception. And none of that is an exaggeration. Those are the positions they put right on their campaign websites.

If you are reading this article and haven't voted, make a plan right now for how you plan to vote before Tuesday. In most states you can vote by mail, vote early at many locations or -- of course -- go to your precinct on Tuesday and cast your ballot.

Figure out now what time you plan to vote and how you plan to get to the polls or the early vote location. Don't put it off.

Many critical elections in state after state are on a knife's edge -- they will be decided by a handful of voters.

Tens of thousands of Americans have given their lives -- on battlefields far away and in struggles for voting rights here at home -- so that every single American can have the right to have a say in determining our country's leaders.

If you think that it doesn't matter -- or that it won't affect you, or that your vote won't influence the outcome -- you are simply wrong.

In the end the big issues that completely shape our individual lives and the future of our society are decided by who votes.

Will there be job opportunities for our kids? Will a small group of Wall Street speculators be allowed to sink our economy once again like they did in 2008? Will you have the right to control your own reproductive decisions? Will your monthly Social Security check be cut? Will we leave our kids a planet that is so filled with carbon pollution that we can't grow enough food or our cities are regularly swamped by monster storms like Hurricane Sandy? Will ordinary people finally get wage increases from our growing economy or will all of the growth continue to be siphoned off by the wealthiest one percent?

If you don't plan to vote, are you really willing to allow the billionaires and CEOs to get what they want? Are you willing to let them steal your family's security while we sleep through the election?

Don't let it happen. Get up off the couch and go vote. Better still, call your neighbors, your sons and daughters. Tell your spouse to vote. Volunteer with a campaign to get other people out to vote -- it works.

The plain fact is that if we don't vote it won't just be some politician who loses an election. If we don't vote, we lose.


October 30, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in the States



As we near election day, after months of speculation about U.S. Senate races, it's good to remember there are important downballot elections, and not just for statewide offices. State legislative races are hanging fire, too, and I wrote about them today at Washington Monthly:

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.

As the dust slowly settles, we'll have a sense of the extent to which Republicans have consolidated the strong position they achieved through redistricting in many states, and the implications for policy ranging from abortion and voting rights to Medicaid expansion and economic development.


Political Strategy Notes



Greg Sargent has a "hopeful but realistic" interview with Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, at the Plum Line.

The Upshot's Nate Cohn reveals "Why Polls Tend to Undercount Democrats," cites "extensive research, suggesting that many of today's polls struggle to reach Democratic-leaning groups."

Jamelle Bouie reports at Slate.com on "The Most Brazen Attempt at Voter Suppression Yet": "According to a six-month-long investigation conducted by Greg Palast for Al Jazeera, "voting officials in 27 states, almost all of them Republicans, have launched what is threatening to become a massive purge of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters. Already, tens of thousands have been removed from voter rolls in battleground states, and the numbers are set to climb."

Jeremy W. Peters reports in The New York Times that "Democrats have said they need to raise the share of the electorate that is African-American to 21 percent, from 19 percent in the last midterm election in 2010, to prevail over Republicans, who control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's mansion."

At HuffPo Pollster Ariel Edwards-Levy and Mark Blumenthal discuss the game-changing potential of "late shifts" in voting, particularly among undecided voters.

Andrew Kohut's "Registered voters, likely voters, turnout rates: What does it all mean to 2014 election forecasts?" at Pew Research Center provides a useful primer for the midterm elections.

At The Fix Aaron Blake explains why Latino voters are not turning away from the Obama Administration as a result of its immigration policies.

Robocalls, candidate visits to voters homes are down from 2010 midterm elections, according to new Pew Research survey.

Democratic candidate for Governor of Florida Charlie Crist has opened up a huge lead with independents -- 18 points -- in new Quinnipiac poll.


October 29, 2014

DCorps: If Dems Hold the Senate, Here's Why



From a DCorps e-blast:

Reason #1 African American turnout surprised everyone. Black voters are now high turnout voters even in off-year elections -- we saw this in Virginia last year and James Carville says it will happen in Louisiana this year. There and elsewhere voter suppression is a visible, ugly race-motivated effort to deny African Americans and Latinos the right to vote and they noticed.

Reason #2 Democrats in Senate and Governor's races ran on economic issues that affected unmarried and working women and these notorious non-presidential year drop-off voters decided the election matters. Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund and the House and Senate Democratic leaders have been pressing just such an agenda and Ron Brownstein just spotlighted where they are making the difference in the National Journal. Republican opposition to equal pay for women has been the strongest attack against GOP candidates.

Reason #3 The conservative Republican governing model that swept the states in 2010 is deeply unpopular, and conservative governors are immensely unpopular. We see this in North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Reason #4 Latino voters notice that Republicans are running as the anti-immigrant party, and they begin to emulate African Americans who see important reasons to vote. They may notice ads from the RGA that accuse Democrats of favoring welfare for illegal immigrants or that the Republican House voted to rescind President Obama's executive order on the 'Dreamers.'

Reason #5 The Republican party brand and Republican Party priorities -- both deeply unpopular with voters - mattered more than President Obama in the contested states. The national coverage centered on President Obama, but successful Democratic candidates in the states were using paid media to remind voters each day what today's GOP really believes.

Read on our website.


Brownstein: Dems' Must Turn Out Educated Single White Women



All indications are that Democrats are doing a good job in mobilizing African American voters, or rather the African American communities are doing it for themselves. It would be good to see some encouraging indicators that the same is true for the mobilization of Latino voters. All of that taken into consideration, Ronald Brownstein, editorial director of The National Journal, has a compelling article up underscoring the pivotal importance of single, educated white women for Democrats in the midterms: As Brownstein sees it:

...In surveys of both individual Senate races and national preferences on the generic congressional ballot, Democrats are showing stubborn strength with college-educated and single white women.

That performance--combined with preponderant leads among minority voters in almost all surveys--represents the Democrats' best chance of overcoming gaping deficits with the remainder of the white electorate in the key contests. Yet in a measure of the party's vulnerability, even that advantage rests on an unsteady foundation: National Pew Research Center and ABC/Washington Post polls conducted in October found that college-educated white women, though strongly preferring Democrats on issues relating to women's health, actually trust Republicans more on both managing the economy and safeguarding the nation's security.

Getting down to particular races, Brownstein adds:

On Sunday, the NBC/Marist Poll released results in five hotly competitive Senate races: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, and Iowa. (NBC and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion also surveyed South Dakota, but the poll found that Republicans have reestablished a wide lead there.)

In all five of those races, the Democratic (or in the case of Kansas, independent) candidate ran better, usually much better, with college-educated white women than with any of the three other groups of whites.

In the NBC/Marist Polls, Iowa Democratic nominee Bruce Braley led among those well-educated white women by 5 points; Sen. Kay Hagan led by 6 points in North Carolina; Sen. Mark Pryor by 7 points in Arkansas; independent Greg Orman by 21 points in Kansas; and Sen. Mark Udall, who has emphasized social issues probably more than any other Democrat, by a resounding 27 points in Colorado.

The latest University of New Hampshire poll showed Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen holding a commanding 61-percent-to-28-percent advantage over Republican Scott Brown among college-educated white women. Quinnipiac University polls this month in Iowa and Colorado also recorded big advantages for Braley (25 percentage points) and Udall (16 points) with those women. "College-educated white women are Republicans' biggest hurdle in terms of white voters," says a top GOP strategist working on independent expenditure campaigns this year. "In those blue states, college white women are the equivalent of minority voters ... they are how the Democrats start their base. That's why you have seen such a focus, particularly in Colorado, with the war on women."

Brownstein also cites an ABC News/Washington Post poll showing Democrats with a substantially better generic congressional ballot lead with educated white single women voters than was the case in 2010 and even 2012. Dems are going to need this edge to prevail next Tuesday, since they are lagging badly with almost all other groups of white voters. Dems are doing better than they did in those years with less educated white women, but they still lag behind Republicans with this demographic in key battleground statewide races.

If Democratic campaign workers needed an incentive to get extremely busy working the educated single white women demographic, Brownstein has it:

In 2016, a strong performance among the growing populations of minorities and college-educated or single white women might be all Democrats need to hold the White House: Their support allowed Obama to win a relatively comfortable reelection in 2012 despite struggling among most other whites. But maintaining Senate control behind such a narrow coalition is a much stiffer challeng--especially when the road to a majority runs through so many interior states dominated by the older and blue-collar whites hardening in their alienation from the Democratic Party.

As we enter the final week of the midterm campaign, the MSM is talking up a perceived edge for the Republicans in the battle for Senate control, based on some recent polls. But it's the polls in the last two or three days before the election that have the most cred for predicting the result. For Democrats, however, our best midterm outcome has always been about GOTV in the battleground states --- and early voting indications suggest that Dems are in pretty good shape.


October 28, 2014

Early Voting in Big Easy Bodes Well for Landrieu



From "Early voter turnout explodes in New Orleans; could be good sign for Mary Landrieu" by Robert McClendon at The Times-Pacayune:

New Orleanians have been voting early in droves, according to the Orleans Parish registrar of voters.

About 17,430 city residents have cast ballots during early voting, which ends today, said Sandra Wilson, registrar of voters. That's nearly twice as many early voters as the last midterm election in November 2010, when 9,031 voted early in person, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's figures.

...The big early voting turnout this year may be a good sign for Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu as she fights to keep her Senate seat. African-Americans, who vote overwhelmingly Democrat, have much higher early voting rates than whites, and maximizing voter turnout in New Orleans is seen by many as key to Landrieu's electoral hopes.

..Wilson said that there has been steady increases in early voter turnout since Hurricane Katrina, but this year's jump is unprecedented. "It has been amazing," Wilson said. "It seems like early voting is really taking on."

"Wilson said that some of the rise in early voting can be attributed to the addition of a new early polling-place," reports McClendon. "She also said hundreds of "Vote Early" signs that have sprung up in neutral grounds across the city have helped."

The hope is that those are indicators that New Orleans Democrats have got their act together and intend to hold this seat for Mary Landrieu and the Democrats.


A 'Magic' Number for the Midterms



One of the great hobbies of political junkies everywhere is the search for the magic indicator, the polling statistic that predicts more accurately than any other who is going to win. At CNN Politics, Peter Hamby reports on one such number:

The number making Mike Podhorzer anxious these days is 15...That's the lead Democrats have over Republicans among working class voters in the final days of the 2014 midterm elections, according to his polling at the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation. That might seem good for Democrats, but in modern times, the party always wins voters making $50,000 or less....For Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO's political director and one of the Democratic party's top thinkers on voter turnout, it's the spread that matters.

Quibble if you will that defining working-class voters as those earning under $50K is a tad simplistic. It doesn't factor in race, for example. But "the under $50Ks" is a good as any demographic to eyeball as campaigns progress, if you know where to draw the line. Hamby points out that Dems won in 2012 with a 22 percent spread with the less than $50Ks, vs. the 11 percent spread they had in 2010 when they lost bad. He continues:

The 55-40 lead Democrats are clinging to among people making under $50,000 is wider than the 50-39 lead they had earlier this summer, making this year's outcome harder to predict. Podhorzer said it does explain why Democrats are still in the hunt heading into next Tuesday, suggesting that next week's election won't resemble the GOP tidal wave of 2010.

The idea is to look for the spread in individual election polls. Magic number notwithstanding, Hamby adds,

Podhorzer, an engineer of the progressive movement's superior voter turnout machinery, said the battle on election day will be about get-out-the-vote mechanics. He framed the contest as a test of the GOP's "wholesale GOTV" -- paid media and base enthusiasm in a good Republican year -- versus the "retail GOTV" of the Democratic coalition that relies on the party's technological advantages and focuses on person-to-person contact...

..."The Democrats' retail GOTV has gotten much, much stronger than in 2010, when the base was even more disillusioned," he said. "Democrats will do a better job on retail GOTV, and have more of the personal networks on the ground to pull people out. It's going to be interesting to see how effective that can be."

The 15 point spread with the under $50Ks is a good polling indicator for how things are going in individual races and it can be helpful in telling campaigns where to put their resources. But to win, Dems will have to set a new midterm standard in retail GOTV, while keeping in competitive in ads, debates, speeches and the other elements of wholesale GOTV.


October 27, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



So how close is the battle for Senate control at this political moment? Princeton Election Consortium's Sam Wang sees seven Senate races within 3 percentage points --- a hell of a lot better for Dems than was supposed to be the case.

"Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Schumer why voters should care about the prospect of the Democrats losing their current Senate majority..."You asked one reason: Supreme Court. The money that's cascading into our system," Schumer said in a reference to the 2010 Citizens United decision that legalized Super PACs. "If the Supreme Court continues to be the way it is and there's a vacancy and they buttress that, we will be subject to these few people just dominating the elections for decades to come. The Supreme Court on voting rights makes a huge difference. The Supreme Court on women's issues makes a huge difference." -- from Zach Carter's HuffPo post "Chuck Schumer: Supreme Court Will Thwart Democrats For Decades If We Lose Midterms"

"Will last minute strength be enough for Dems?" Stephen Collinson ruminates on the prospects for Dems holding their senate majority at CNN Politics.

At The New Republic John B. Judis illuminates the strategy of pro-Democratic 'Battleground Texas': "Texas has already become a majority-minority state like California. According to 2013 census figures, only 44 percent of Texans are "Anglos," or whites; 38.4 percent are Hispanic; 12.4 percent African-American; and the remainder Asian-American and native American. By 2020, Hispanics are projected by the Texas State Data Center to account for 40.5 percent of Texans and African-Americans for 11.3 percent compared to 41.1 percent of Anglos. Texas's minorities generally favor Democrats over Republicans, but they don't vote in as great a proportion as Anglos who have favored Republicans by similar percentages. Battleground's strategy assumes that if it and other organizations like the Texas Organizing Project can get many more minorities, and particularly Hispanics, to the polls, then, as minorities increasingly come to outnumber Anglos, Democrats can take back the state."

As the political parties kick their GOTV operations into high gear, NYT's Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman discuss "For Midterms, Betting on Feet and Good Apps."

Here's a turnout clue from Thad Kousser's L.A. Times op-ed, "Want to Increase Voter Turnout: Here's How": "...Targeting different types of often-ignored voters could also pay off for campaigns. Ethnic minorities, especially Latinos, Asian Americans and Middle Eastern Americans who do not speak English at home, often do not get the full attention of campaigns. But in their path-breaking book, "Mobilizing Inclusion," Lisa Garcia Bedolla and Melissa R. Michelson used randomized experiments to show that well-designed outreach efforts to this group can lead to massive increases in voter turnout. And a group of Yale researchers found that formerly incarcerated felons, who are often ignored by campaigns even after their franchise rights have been restored, could also be effectively mobilized."

This short-sighted article fails to consider that every vote cast for a Republican advances their efforts to win majority control, dominate congressional and senate committees and crush all environmental regulation. Some environmental groups sincerely want to reward those few Republicans who occasionally support environmental reform. Others are targeting gullible Greens in hopes of neutralizing informed environmental voters as much as possible.

Kennedy Elliot and Scott Clement of The Washington Post have a gizmo for "Measuring the midterm turnout gap," which provides a helpful visual depicting the midterm shortfall when combining up to three different demographic variables of your choice.

Could we have a little more generosity toward Democratic candidates from outgoing Democratic Sens. Baucus, Harkin and Tim Johnson, whose campaign coffers are reportedly flush?


October 24, 2014

Trouble Behind the Lines



The strangest thing about the battle for the Senate going on this year is how much trouble Republicans are having in states won by Mitt Romney, and not necessarily the ones where they expected trouble. Contests in South Dakota, Kentucky and Georgia have all spent some time panicking Republicans, and none of those states has been put away by the GOP in the interim. But the biggest surprise still has to be Kansas, a profoundly Republican state with multiple struggling statewide Republican campaigns. Playing off Mark Benelli's fine profile of events in Kansas for Rolling Stone, I discussed the plight of the GOP there at Washington Monthly today:

[Benelli's] precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:
Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who'd lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. "Brownback and his whole group there, it's an amazing thing they're doing," Laffer gushed to The Washington Postthat December. "It's a revolution in a cornfield." Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of "what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation," not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who'd listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. "We'll see how it works," he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. "We'll have a real live experiment."

That word, "experiment," has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his "pro-growth tax policy" would act "like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy," but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody's and Standard & Poor's downgraded the state's credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas' neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he'd enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn't support his fiscal plans. And it's all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state's senior U.S. Senator. Binelli's portrait of Pat Roberts as an "unloved Beltway mediocrity" who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive--Brownback to preside over the damage he's done to the state's fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in.

At a minimum, Browback's presidential ambitions are now officially laughable, and moderate Republicans have gotten his full attention. But it would be nice to see an object lesson taught in the limits of Republican extremism.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



October 31: The Lost Tradition of Believing Everybody Should Vote

As we sort through the various voter suppression measures being deployed by Republicans in the several states, it's important to remember that pretty recently it was Gospel Truth that everyone should vote. That tradition has slipped away, to be replaced by a number of disreputable ideas, as I discussed today at the Washington Monthly:

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?

The big issue here is that the presumption that universal voting is a good thing has been gradually replaced by the presumption that Americans must prove their worthiness to vote. And that's a big deal:

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.

Restricting the franchise is a old and disreputable idea whose time has nonetheless come once again. It's important to throw it right back once again.


October 30: Meanwhile, Back in the States

As we near election day, after months of speculation about U.S. Senate races, it's good to remember there are important downballot elections, and not just for statewide offices. State legislative races are hanging fire, too, and I wrote about them today at Washington Monthly:

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.

As the dust slowly settles, we'll have a sense of the extent to which Republicans have consolidated the strong position they achieved through redistricting in many states, and the implications for policy ranging from abortion and voting rights to Medicaid expansion and economic development.


October 24: Trouble Behind the Lines

The strangest thing about the battle for the Senate going on this year is how much trouble Republicans are having in states won by Mitt Romney, and not necessarily the ones where they expected trouble. Contests in South Dakota, Kentucky and Georgia have all spent some time panicking Republicans, and none of those states has been put away by the GOP in the interim. But the biggest surprise still has to be Kansas, a profoundly Republican state with multiple struggling statewide Republican campaigns. Playing off Mark Benelli's fine profile of events in Kansas for Rolling Stone, I discussed the plight of the GOP there at Washington Monthly today:

[Benelli's] precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:
Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who'd lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. "Brownback and his whole group there, it's an amazing thing they're doing," Laffer gushed to The Washington Postthat December. "It's a revolution in a cornfield." Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of "what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation," not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who'd listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. "We'll see how it works," he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. "We'll have a real live experiment."

That word, "experiment," has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his "pro-growth tax policy" would act "like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy," but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody's and Standard & Poor's downgraded the state's credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas' neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he'd enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn't support his fiscal plans. And it's all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state's senior U.S. Senator. Binelli's portrait of Pat Roberts as an "unloved Beltway mediocrity" who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive--Brownback to preside over the damage he's done to the state's fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in.

At a minimum, Browback's presidential ambitions are now officially laughable, and moderate Republicans have gotten his full attention. But it would be nice to see an object lesson taught in the limits of Republican extremism.


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