Founding Editors:
Stan Greenberg
Ruy Teixeira
Bill Galston
Managing Editor:
Ed Kilgore
tds store
 
 

The Daily Strategist

September 19, 2014

Why Beating Tom Cotton Matters



There are a lot of obnoxious Republican candidates running for high office this November. But none of them bug me as much as Tom Cotton of Arkansas. I explained why at Washington Monthly yesterday, after reading a long profile of the man from Molly Ball of The Atlantic:

Cotton's special status as the not-so-secret superstar of the GOP's future isn't just attributable to the resume or to his intellectual or political talents (the latter, in fact, are suspect when it comes to actual voters). A lot of it is about the way in which he manages to be a True Believer in the most important tenets of all the crucial Republican factions. He's adored by Neocons, the Republican Establishment, the Tea Folk, the Christian Right, and most of all by the Con-Con cognoscenti that draw from both these last two categories. He will immediately be a national leader if he's elected to the Senate, perhaps succeeding Jim DeMint as the guy who is in charge of keeping the pressure on the party to move steadily right on every front. (One might think Ted Cruz performs that function, but he's a bit too clearly self-serving).

Ball puts a lot of emphasis on what we can learn about Cotton from his college thesis, which he gained access to in an exclusive. I'd say it most confirms what we already know: the man believes America has drifted from an inflexibly perfect ideology down the road to serfdom and conquest via the willingness of politicians to follow rather than lead the greedy masses who look to government to compensate for their moral weaknesses.

[The thesis] is in keeping with the rigidly idealistic persona, and the starkly moralistic worldview, he has exhibited since he was an undergraduate. It is a harsh, unyielding, judgmental political philosophy, one that makes little allowance for compassion or human weakness.

It's especially revealing that this Man of Principle is campaigning in Arkansas as a generic Republican, counting on the partisan leanings of the state and midterm turnout patterns to give him a Senate seat that a more candid presentation of his views might endanger, even in such a conservative state. I don't know that it would matter to most Arkansans that they have the power to make or break Cotton's career as a smarter version of Jim DeMint, but they do.

And if it doesn't matter to Arkansans, it does to the rest of us who might otherwise have to deal with his self-righteousness for Lord knows how long.


September 18, 2014

Remaining Obstacles To a Republican Senate



With a majority of prognosticators (but not all of them) still predicting enough Republican gains to produce a change of control, it's a good a time as any to look at some of the factors that could turn the trajectory around. I discussed several at TPMCafe yesterday:

What should prudent Republicans fear?

Money. You may find it shocking to learn that Democrats actually appear to have a national money and advertising advantage, at least in Senate races. But it's true. Here's how Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report puts it in his National Journal column:

Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn't Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats ...

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP's chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.

As for the Kochs, they haven't outgunned Democrats as they expected either, as the Washington Post's Matea Gold explains:

Led by a quartet of longtime political strategists with close ties to Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority PAC has elbowed out other pro-Democratic groups and been on the leading edge of attacks against conservative donors Charles and David Koch. The group has become a fixed center of gravity in the left's expanding constellation of super PACs and interest groups.

Perhaps most notably, the super PAC has held its own on the air against Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that is the primary political organ of a network backed by the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors on the right. By the end of the summer, the two groups had run nearly the same volume of television ads nationwide, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project.
The "Republicans will get all the breaks down the home stretch" assumption a lot of folks are making could be based on mistaken ideas of GOP financial supremacy.

Turnout. We'll soon know if the much-discussed $60 million Bannock Street Project of the DSCC, aimed at applying the targeted voter outreach efforts of the 2012 Obama campaign to the enormously critical task of reducing the party's "midterm falloff problem," is a myth or a miracle, or (more likely) something in-between. My own guess is that it's likely to have the greatest impact in states with a previously under-mobilized minority vote (e.g., Arkansas and Georgia), or with an exceptionally strong pre-existing GOTV infrastructure (e.g., Iowa). Polling this year is generally showing a "likely voter" boost for Republicans that's substantial but not as large as in 2010; reducing it even more -- perhaps beneath the polling radar -- is the Bannock Street Project's goal.

Misinformation. It's alway possible that the impression of a big year for Republicans is based on inadequate information, including spotty or inaccurate polls. That, of course, can cut both ways. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver suggested this week that polling in Alaska over the last several cycles has consistently over-estimated Democratic performance. But on the other hand, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey giving Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Georgia a small lead among likely voters estimated the African-American percentage of the electorate at 24 percent, significantly lower than in 2010, which seems, well, very unlikely. There's also a very recent polling trend in Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan suggesting that these states may not look as good for Republicans as before, calling into question a general impression of a uniform pro-GOP drift.

Kansas. Nobody handicapping 2014 races as recently as three weeks ago factored in the possibility that Kansas, of all places, might become a sudden GOP sinkhole. Now Sen. Pat Roberts is in real and consistent trouble against independent candidate Greg Orman, as part of what appears to be a self-conscious revolt of moderate Republican voters who are also threatening to throw Gov. (and former Sen.) Sam Brownback out of office. Even if a national GOP intervention saves the Kansas ticket, this is money and effort that was supposed to be expended somewhere else.

And the sudden emergence of Kansas as a battleground raises on other possibility pre-triumphal Republicans should ponder:

Candidate Error. While Republicans avoided nominating a Christine O'Donnell or a Ken Buck this year (Senate nominees who were obviously weaker in a general election than their primary rivals), it's not clear yet they didn't unconsciously nominate another Todd Aiken or Richard Mourdock (purveyors of siliver-bullet-disaster gaffes) or Sharron Angle (someone with a rich record of extremist positions that negative ads could exploit). While Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley probably committed the most damaging single gaffe (his remark to Texas lawyers about an "Iowa farmer" chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee in the event of a GOP takeover) of the cycle so far, his opponent, Joni Ernst, seems capable of something just as bad, and also has Angle's problem of telling wingnuts exactly what they wanted to hear for too long. And until Braley dissed Chuck Grassley, the most gaffe-prone Senate candidate in the country was probably Georgia's David Perdue, who's hardly out of the woods himself.

The tendency of Republicans to proclaim victory prematurely may turn modest gains into disappointment, if they aren't careful.


Political Strategy Notes



At NBC News Alastair Jamieson, Kiko Itasaka and Kelly Cobiella ask "Will Scotland's Independence Referendum Be Decided by Teen Voters?" Like Brazilians, Scots can now vote at age 16.

HuffPost Pollster reports that "A Quarter Of Gubernatorial Races Look Like Tossups."

Union organizer gets McArthur "Genius grant."

Tired of all the pundit prognosticating about the midterm elections? The Upshot has a gizmo you can use to "Make Your Own Senate Forecast."

This is an interesting take on faith-based GOTV.

Michael D. Shear and Carl Hulse make a case at The New York Times that "World Events Muffle Democrats' Economic Rallying Cry." They are right that there's not much that can be done about media giving most of the air time and ink to the horrific violence in the Middle East. But Dems should be able to score a few points by reminding voters that Republicans initiated the disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan that helped create it and sent the U.S. and world economies into a tailspin.

Here's a good update on political apps.

Lots of "Dems in disarray" hoo ha in the MSM this week. But Greg Sargent flags a telling comment from Karl Rove that "each passing day brings evidence as to why a GOP Senate majority is still in doubt." Sargent notes also that Republicans get squirmy at the mere mention of anything to do with reproductive rights these days, and "Rove's own Crossroads GPS has reacted by running ads designed to simply change the subject, which suggests that Dems really are turning cultural issues to their advantage."

Wouldn't it be more surprising if it were otherwise?


September 17, 2014

Political Reverberations of Scottish Independence May Shake U.S.



At The Nation John Nichols posts on "Scotland's Referendum on Austerity," with the theme of his argument well-encapsulated in the title. Nichols writes from Glasgow:

Thursday's Scottish referendum vote is often framed in terms of the politics of nationalism--and the desire of a people for self-determination. And of course there have always been, and there still are, impassioned Scottish nationalists...But the reality that becomes overwhelmingly clear in the last hours before the referendum vote--which polls suggest will see an exceptionally high turnout and a close finish--is that this process is being shaped by the politics of austerity.

... [British Prime Minister David]Cameron has implemented an austerity agenda that threatens the National Health Service and broader social services, undermines trade unions and communities, and deepens inequality. Despite the devolution of some powers to a Scottish Parliament over the past decade, Scotland is still governed in many of the most important senses from London--even though less than 17 percent of Scots backed Cameron's Conservatives in the last election, giving the Tories just one of Scotland's fifty-nine seats in the British Parliament.

So, clearly, Scotland would be better off independent from a purely progressive standpoint, in the sense that it could get free of Tory economic austerity policies. He adds that the "Yes, Scotland" campaign will mean:

We can use Scotland's wealth to build a fairer nation.

Scotland's NHS [National Health Service] will be protected from creeping privatization.

We spend money on childcare instead of Trident missiles.

A lower pension age and higher pensions.

The end of Tory governments we don't vote for.

Decisions about Scotland will be made by the people who care most about Scotland, the people who live here.

Even if the independence vote fails, writes Nichols, The Tory government will face enormous pressure to relax austerity policies. So the referendum will do some good for working people in Scotland, regardless of the outcome. Hard to argue with any of that if you are a progressive, right?

Hmmm. Maybe not. Michael Tomasky looks at it from a different angle at The Daily Beast. But first, consider that Scotland has a population of about 5.3 million, about the same as metro Detroit. England, however, has a population of about 53 million, about 10 times that of Scotland. Further, adds Tomasky:

The biggest implications of tomorrow's Scottish vote are political, and they aren't good for Labour in the long term.

Imagine with me for a moment that the states of New England left the United States of America. Yes, absurd--if anyone ought to leave someday, it's the yellow-bellies who left the last time so that they could preserve their God-given right to keep other humans as property, not the patriots who founded the damn country. But let's pretend.

Well, the implications would be many and weighty, both for the diminished USA and for the new entity. How would all the economic questions be sorted out? Would the New Englanders need passports? What would American higher education be without Harvard and Yale and the others? Would the Celtics stay in the NBA? But being a political person, I'd find the most interesting questions to be the political ones, and of the many that would arise, the bluntest would clearly be: Could the Democrats ever win a presidential election again?

Tomasky adds with impressive candor "I can't say that I care about Scotland one way or the other, but I do care whether Labour can continue to win elections, and if you care about that too, this is the sense in which you have a stake in the outcome... You take away Scotland, you take a major base of Labour strength. No wonder Labour is making a huge "no" push, sending native son Gordon Brown up to campaign as the vote nears."

Tomasky links to a nifty graphic representation of the political stakes of the vote on Scottish independence, which you can see right here.

No doubt Prime Minister Cameron doesn't want to be the U.K. leader who presided over the final dissolution of the empire, but some of his fellow Tories are licking their lips at the prospect of purging Scotland's Labour M.P.s. Cameron is also surely worried that a "yes" vote would restart the troubles in Ireland in a big way, and perhaps lead to the unification of Eire, and history would say it's all his fault.

But it's not an easy call for thoughtful progressives. Sure self-determination is a good thing from a liberal point of view. But millions of English workers -- and the Labour Party of our closest ally getting politically-screwed --- not so much.


Dems Take Messaging to America's Front Porches



From Samnatha Lachman's HuffPo post "Here's How Progressives Plan To Beat Back The GOP Tide":

"How do you encourage a discouraged electorate?" Karen Nussbaum, Working America's executive director, asked at a press briefing last week..."It's a matter of reaching these folks," she said, explaining that the organization has set a goal of reaching 1.5 million households -- or 2.5 million voters -- by Nov. 4. The group plans to hold 25,000 face-to-face conversations with voters every week until then.

...As part of this effort, roughly 400 Working America canvassers will go door-to-door between now and Election Day to talk to voters, with instructions to steer the conversation away from disapproval of President Barack Obama toward more local economic issues. The group's rationale is that while white, working-class males might remain agitated with Obama, they could nonetheless be persuaded on economic grounds to vote for Democrats in key races, like Mark Schauer, who is running against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), or Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Lachman quotes Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, "who surveyed 1,000 low-propensity Democratic voters in the group's target states, such as those who did not vote in the 2010 midterms but voted in 2012 because Obama was on the ballot."

In a memo for MoveOn summarizing the poll results, Lake listed a number of messages that motivated so-called "drop-off" voters, including: "Republicans will take away a woman's right to choose and restrict access to birth control"; "Republicans will cut access to health care for 8 million people and let insurance companies refuse to cover people with preexisting conditions"; "Republicans will cut back workplace protections for women, denying them equal pay for equal work"; and "Republicans will cut funding for Head Start and K-12 education." Voters were also swayed by the idea that their state could decide which party controls the Senate.

Meanwhile, AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer says that his canvassers will be "talking with voters "about how they're going to pay their gas bills or rent, how they're going to get by," they will understand how voting for a Republican incumbent will lead to more of the same..."This is about taking the election down from the cacophony on television to, 'How are you going to make your mortgage payment?"

All good messages for 2014. But it's about making it personal this time, not only with ad buys and other tools of the media arsenal, but with more up-close, face-to-face contact and the human touch.


September 16, 2014

Dems Strike Gold in Cultural Issues



Jonathan Martin's "Democrats Put Cultural Issues in Their Quiver" at The New York Times pegs the political moment exceptionally-well. Martin focuses on the senate campaigns in bellwether Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina, with drive-by references to Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas, to illuminate why Dems are getting their better-than-expected performances across the nation. As Martin observes:

After a generation of campaigns in which Republicans exploited wedge issues to win close elections, Democrats are now on the offensive in the culture wars.

Democrats see social issues as potent for the same reasons Republicans once did, using them as a tool to both stoke concerns among moderate voters, especially women, and motivate their base.

Virginia is the poster state for Martin's argument. Moderate Democrat Mark Warner, who can be fairly described as one of the more cautious U.S. Senators, has morphed into an all-out progressive cultural warrior, confidently hammering his adversary, GOP veteran Ed Gillespie about his positions on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.

Martin shares that Republican candidates in FL, AR and LA are reluctant to even talk about such cultural issues, for fear of alienating moderate women voters, in stark contrast to 2004, when the GOP fronted state referendums supporting restrictive laws addressing same-sex marriage. Further, adds Martin, "On issues like gun control, drugs, the environment, race and even national security, this demographic shift has substantially weakened the right's ability to portray Democrats as out of the social mainstream." In addition,

"The Republican Party from 1968 up to 2008 lived by the wedge, and now they are politically dying by the wedge," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who has used the "super PAC" of the billionaire Tom Steyer to inject climate change, same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception into a series of recent campaigns.

In Virginia, Warner is following the successful template of fellow Dems, Senator Tim Kaine in 2012, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013, as well as Michael Bennet in Colorado in 2010, all of whom leveraged cultural issues adroitly in their victories. This year in CO Democratic Sen Mark Udall "has pounded his Republican challenger, Representative Cory Gardner, on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage." At the first Senate debate in NC, Democrat Kay Hagan boldly asked her Republican opponent,"Speaker Tillis, it's 2014 -- why did you work to make birth control so inaccessible?"

Martin concludes with a quote from Stephanie Schriock, the head of Emily's List, that the women's vote is "absolutely now deciding elections...And they will decide this year by going or not going to the polls."

The stakes couldn't be much higher. If women do improve their showing at the polls, and African American voters also turnout in higher percentages than in previous midterm elections, Democrats will have a new formula for winning state-wide races -- and the stage will be set for taking back the House majority in 2016.


September 15, 2014

Creamer: Make GOP Answer for Bush/Cheney Policy and the Origins of ISIL



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

It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama's strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.

In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

Former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said as much on this week's edition of "Meet the Press." He noted that after the first President Bush had ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. had refrained from marching on Baghdad precisely to avoid kicking over the sectarian hornet's nest that was subsequently unleashed by the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in 2003.

But it wasn't just the War in Iraq itself that set the stage for the subsequent 12 years of renewed, high-intensity sectarian strife between Sunni's and Shiites in the Middle East. It was also what came after.

Bush's "de-Bathification program" eliminated all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation and the new Shiite-led government. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn't change it. He didn't make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds. He just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today's ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.

General Petraeus took steps to reverse these policies with his "Sunni Awakening" programs that engaged the Sunni tribes against what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the progress he made ultimately collapsed because the Bush/Cheney regime helped install Nouri Al-Maliki as Prime Minister who systematically disenfranchised Sunnis throughout Iraq.

And that's not all. The War in Iraq -- which had nothing whatsoever to do with "terrorism" when it was launched -- created massive numbers of terrorists that otherwise would not have dreamed of joining extremist organizations. It did so by killing massive numbers of Iraqis, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, imprisoning thousands, and convincing many residents of the Middle East that the terrorist narrative was correct: that the U.S. and the West were really about taking Muslim lands.

And after all, contrary to Dick Cheney's absurd assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted in Iraq as "liberators," no one likes a foreign nation to occupy their country.

The War did more than any propagandist could possibly do to radicalize vulnerable young people. And by setting off wave after wave of sectarian slaughter it created blood feuds that will never be forgiven.

Continue reading "Creamer: Make GOP Answer for Bush/Cheney Policy and the Origins of ISIL" »


Political Strategy Notes



The New York Times editorial board outlines a workable program for increasing midterm voter turnout to healthy a level, which includes the following key elements, some of which "are being tested on a broader scale": Better use of data; more paid workers and volunteers; big registrations drives and; reducing voter barriers. In terms of numerical goals, write the Times board members, "According to Catalist, a data analysis company, the groups with the biggest declines in turnout between 2008 and 2010 were voters younger than 30, down nearly 35 percentage points; black and Hispanic voters, down 27 points each; and single women, down 26 points. Those groups have historically been the most resistant to the right's message of lower taxes, sharply reduced spending on social programs and job creation, and tighter restrictions on women's reproductive rights."

Policy.Mic's Peter Moskowitz proposes "6 Easy Ways the Government Could Turn Around Our Abysmal Voter Turnout.": Same-day registration; longer hours at polling places; expand early voting; vote by mail; online voting and; make elections interesting. My hunch is that the last one is more up to the candidates and parties than government.

At Daily Kos Denise Oliver Velez reports on the effort to suppress the student vote and the coalitions rising up to resist it, including National Voter Registration Day, coming up on September 23rd.

Politico tries to trash Democratic leaders' push for reforms to slow "tax inversions" -- U.S. businesses relocating to other countries as a tax dodge. The post notes, however, that "Polling does, in fact, suggest that when you explain what inversions are to voters, they don't like them. In fact, they pretty much hate them...A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll this week showed that 59 percent of registered voters support Congress taking action to "penalize and discourage" inversion transactions."

Further, as Jeff Sommer reports in The New York Times: "In the end, Walgreen decided that the outcry over tax inversions was too much to bear: Gregory D. Wasson, the Walgreen C.E.O., decided to go ahead with the Alliance Boots merger -- but not with a tax relocation overseas. "We had to consider the consumer backlash," Mr. Wasson said in a meeting with employees in August. "We had to consider the political backlash."

Read Jeremy W. Peters's NYT article, "Building Legacy, Obama Reshapes Appellate Bench" to better understand "one of the most significant but unheralded accomplishments of the Obama era" --- and a good message point for mobilizing Democratic turnout.

The low expectations in this headline are understandable. But isn't the more important part of the story found in the lead sentence?: "Americans by a 3-to-1 margin support President Barack Obama's decision to take military action against the Islamic terrorist group called ISIS, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll conducted after the president's primetime speech on Wednesday."

Sean J. Miller of Campaigns & Elections magazine has an interview with Democratic political ad strategist Martha Mckenna, in which she explains her firm's view of the virtues of animated ads: "We like to make animated spots. An animated spot might be a little bit more expensive than using stock footage; we put the price tag on it because it's liable to stand out more than another spot would. They are really time-intensive. It's a lot of time and energy for the artist. It's one thing to bring words on paper and video together; it's another thing to animate a 30-second spot. So we have learned a lot about ways to do what we think are really creative spots within a tight budget. We recognize, as former campaign managers, that money is hard to raise and so we really look for efficiencies wherever we can, so our production costs often come in lower in the range of what other firms charge..."

It's hard to understand why, but serial voter suppression advocate Mike Huckabee is apparently leading the baggage-laden field of GOP 2016 contenders. Looks like a lot of room for a dark horse to blast through the pack.


September 12, 2014

Just Sayin'...




Huffpost Pollster Sees 56 Percent Chance Dems Will Hold Senate Majority



Don't bet the ranch on it just yet, but when Huffpost Pollster joins the Princeton Election Consortium in forecasting that Democrats are more likely to keep their Senate majority, that's good news. Today Huffpost Pollster calculates a 56 percent "chance that Democrats will keep control of the Senate."

Of course 56 percent doesn't allow all that much breathing space. But 8 weeks from election day, it's fair to say that it's a sign that Dems are in a much better position in the battle for Senate control than many pundits thought they would be in in mid-September, given the lopsided Democratic vulnerabilities this year.

Huffpost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal and Natalie Jackson explore the ramifications of "the Orman factor" (Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman in Kansas) in their calculations, and conclude:

...Now, however, in the simulations that project an Orman win, our model will usually assign him to the party in the majority...In the rare scenario in which Orman wins and the chamber is split with 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans, we give Orman a 50 percent chance of caucusing with the Democrats and a 50 percent chance of caucusing with the Republicans. (Thus, the overall probabilities of each party's winning the majority still add to 100 percent.) But we also note the probability of this situation occurring -- we call it "the Orman factor." On the Senate model dashboard, this number appears right below the probabilities for Democratic and Republican majorities.

Other models have also assigned Orman to one side or the other in the case of 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans, but in slightly different ways: Daily Kos similarly assumes there is a 50/50 chance Orman will caucus with each party, but FiveThirtyEight assumes a 75 percent chance he will caucus with the Democrats, and The Upshot assigns him to the Democrats 100 percent of the time.

Sure, as noted elsewhere there are respected poll analysts who still believe the odds favor a GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate. But with both Mark Blumenthal and Sam Wang arguing otherwise, Dems have cause for optimism -- especially if they mobilize an energetic GOTV effort where it counts.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



September 18: Remaining Obstacles To a Republican Senate


With a majority of prognosticators (but not all of them) still predicting enough Republican gains to produce a change of control, it's a good a time as any to look at some of the factors that could turn the trajectory around. I discussed several at TPMCafe yesterday:

What should prudent Republicans fear?

Money. You may find it shocking to learn that Democrats actually appear to have a national money and advertising advantage, at least in Senate races. But it's true. Here's how Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report puts it in his National Journal column:

Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn't Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats ...

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP's chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.

As for the Kochs, they haven't outgunned Democrats as they expected either, as the Washington Post's Matea Gold explains:

Led by a quartet of longtime political strategists with close ties to Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority PAC has elbowed out other pro-Democratic groups and been on the leading edge of attacks against conservative donors Charles and David Koch. The group has become a fixed center of gravity in the left's expanding constellation of super PACs and interest groups.

Perhaps most notably, the super PAC has held its own on the air against Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that is the primary political organ of a network backed by the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors on the right. By the end of the summer, the two groups had run nearly the same volume of television ads nationwide, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project.
The "Republicans will get all the breaks down the home stretch" assumption a lot of folks are making could be based on mistaken ideas of GOP financial supremacy.

Turnout. We'll soon know if the much-discussed $60 million Bannock Street Project of the DSCC, aimed at applying the targeted voter outreach efforts of the 2012 Obama campaign to the enormously critical task of reducing the party's "midterm falloff problem," is a myth or a miracle, or (more likely) something in-between. My own guess is that it's likely to have the greatest impact in states with a previously under-mobilized minority vote (e.g., Arkansas and Georgia), or with an exceptionally strong pre-existing GOTV infrastructure (e.g., Iowa). Polling this year is generally showing a "likely voter" boost for Republicans that's substantial but not as large as in 2010; reducing it even more -- perhaps beneath the polling radar -- is the Bannock Street Project's goal.

Misinformation. It's alway possible that the impression of a big year for Republicans is based on inadequate information, including spotty or inaccurate polls. That, of course, can cut both ways. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver suggested this week that polling in Alaska over the last several cycles has consistently over-estimated Democratic performance. But on the other hand, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey giving Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Georgia a small lead among likely voters estimated the African-American percentage of the electorate at 24 percent, significantly lower than in 2010, which seems, well, very unlikely. There's also a very recent polling trend in Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan suggesting that these states may not look as good for Republicans as before, calling into question a general impression of a uniform pro-GOP drift.

Kansas. Nobody handicapping 2014 races as recently as three weeks ago factored in the possibility that Kansas, of all places, might become a sudden GOP sinkhole. Now Sen. Pat Roberts is in real and consistent trouble against independent candidate Greg Orman, as part of what appears to be a self-conscious revolt of moderate Republican voters who are also threatening to throw Gov. (and former Sen.) Sam Brownback out of office. Even if a national GOP intervention saves the Kansas ticket, this is money and effort that was supposed to be expended somewhere else.

And the sudden emergence of Kansas as a battleground raises on other possibility pre-triumphal Republicans should ponder:

Candidate Error. While Republicans avoided nominating a Christine O'Donnell or a Ken Buck this year (Senate nominees who were obviously weaker in a general election than their primary rivals), it's not clear yet they didn't unconsciously nominate another Todd Aiken or Richard Mourdock (purveyors of siliver-bullet-disaster gaffes) or Sharron Angle (someone with a rich record of extremist positions that negative ads could exploit). While Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley probably committed the most damaging single gaffe (his remark to Texas lawyers about an "Iowa farmer" chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee in the event of a GOP takeover) of the cycle so far, his opponent, Joni Ernst, seems capable of something just as bad, and also has Angle's problem of telling wingnuts exactly what they wanted to hear for too long. And until Braley dissed Chuck Grassley, the most gaffe-prone Senate candidate in the country was probably Georgia's David Perdue, who's hardly out of the woods himself.

The tendency of Republicans to proclaim victory prematurely may turn modest gains into disappointment, if they aren't careful.


September 11: Seven GOP Advantages

Assessing the end of the primary season at TPMCafe this week, I noted seven distinct advantages Republicans will carry into November:

With the primaries concluded, political junkies may now devote themselves to a general election in which the overall battleground is tilted towards the GOP thanks to at least seven separate factors: (1) a wildly favorable Senate landscape with seven Democratic seats up in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012; (2) a House majority entrenched by redistricting, incumbency, and superior Republican "efficiency" in voter distribution; (3) a Democratic "midterm falloff" problem based on eternally lower participation rates in non-presidential years by younger and minority voters; (4) a long history of second-term midterm struggles by parties holding the White House; (5) relatively low presidential approval ratings; (6) an economy perceived by most voters as not-yet-recovering from the Great Recession; and (7) a host of international problems the president will be held accountable for not instantly resolving.

That's not what you'll hear after the election, though:

If Republicans meet or exceed expectations, of course, most will cite none of these factors and will instead claim a "mandate" on issues ranging from health care to immigration to "entitlement reform," and vindication of their conspiratorial accusations about Benghazi! and the IRS. By then, however, we will have fully entered a presidential cycle, and a whole new ball game with many arrows immediately shifting to an opposite direction. So the true legacy of this cycle will only be determined when its influence over the next one is fully absorbed.

That could take us right up to the next election day.


September 4: The Unsteady Status of Voting Rights

There was good news today from a federal judge in Ohio who halted an effort by the GOP Secretary of State, Jon Husted, to cut back on early voting opportunities. This is the same judge and the same Secretary of State who battled in 2012 when Judge Peter Economus wouldn't let Husted implement early voting restrictions just prior to the presidential election. But while the results are temporarily the same, the shift in the battleground over early voting may not be positive, as I noted today at Washington Monthly:

In [2012], the state had proposed special provisions to let certain voters (as cynics suggested, Republican-leaning voters like active military personnel) cast ballots early, so it was reasonably easy to label the changes as discriminatory violations of both equal protection requirements and the Voting Rights Act.

The new no-exemptions cutback in early voting is a different matter, and as Ari Berman notes at The Nation, Economus' ruling enters some uncharted territory:

[T]he courts are split over how to interpret the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting a key part of the law last June. This is the first time a court has struck down limits on early voting under Section 2 of the VRA. A Bush-appointed judge recently denied a preliminary injunction to block North Carolina's cuts to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration, a lawsuit similar to the one in Ohio. A Wisconsin judged blocked the state's voter ID law under Section 2, while a similar trial is currently underway in Texas.

Indeed, as Rick Hasen notes at Election Law Blog, it's unclear whether the courts can insist on Ohio preserving its previous early voting rules when some states--most notably New York--don't allow early voting at all. Barring an intervention by the Supreme Court--which no friend of voting rights should welcome--it appears we will get through the coming election with different standards for different states.

The problem could be resolved, of course, if there existed a Congress willing to (a) repair the Voting Rights Act that was largely disabled by the Supremes in their Shelby County decision last year; and/or (b) set minimum national standards to improve ballot access, as suggested by a bipartisan commission report the political world has already forgotten about.

Occasional wins in the courts aren't enough absent a national re-commitment to voting rights, and an expectation that states and localities will treat participation in elections as a good thing to be actively encouraged.


Read more articles »