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The Daily Strategist

August 27, 2014

Gubernatorial Panorama



With all the vast attention understandably being paid to the Senate landscape this year, it's worth remembering there are just as many gubernatorial as senatorial contests in November--36 of each, to be exact. So I offered a quick panoramic view of the gubernatorial scene this year at TPMCafe:

One factor in the relatively small national attention attracted by governor's races this year has been a surprisingly low number of retirements despite a sour mood of anti-incumbency. Twenty-nine incumbents ran for re-election; four more were term-limited; only three (Linc Chafee of RI, Deval Patrick of MA, Rick Perry of TX) voluntarily retired. One (Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie) has lost a primary. So there haven't been as many competitive primaries or close general election races as might normally be the case.

According to the Cook Political Report, only 13 of the 36 races are competitive at present (as defined as tossups or contests "leaning" one way or another): six governorships currently held by Democrats and seven by Republicans. Eleven of these gubernatorial battlegrounds are in states carried by Obama in 2012 (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin), and just two in states carried by Romney (Arkansas and Kansas). Some Democrats would add red Georgia and South Carolina to the competitive contest list; some Republicans think they have an outside chance in blue Massachusetts or Oregon. All in all, six Republican governorships are "mispositioned" in Obama '12 states, and one Democrat in a Romney '12 state.

Complicating everything, of course, are uncertain midterm turnout patterns, which tilted significantly Republican in 2010. In terms of national efforts to change these turnout patterns, it's worth noting there's not a great deal of overlap between the senatorial and gubernatorial battlegrounds. Only four of the ten states the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's Bannock Street Project is targeting with extraordinary resources for voter registration and contact programs have competitive gubernatorial races at the moment (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia and Michigan). Only five states have both competitive governor's races and nationally targeted battles for control of state legislative chambers (Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

The state of gubernatorial races helps provide an antidote to the "Republican wave" assumptions flowing from this year's wildly slanted Senate landscape. At the moment the odds are low Republicans will make any net gubernatorial gains; they would have reason to be happy if wins in Arkansas and Illinois offset losses in Maine and Pennsylvania. They have a shot in Colorado and Connecticut and maybe even Hawaii, but then Florida, Wisconsin, and yes, Kansas are looking mighty shaky, with several other Republican incumbents not even close to being out of the woods. So don't let Election Day dawn on you without a close look down the ballot from the obsessively followed Senate races. It matters.

And it'll matter more in December when the excitement over whatever happens in the Senate has begun to fade.


Despite Concerns, Senate Dems in Better Late-August Position Than 2010



Caitlin Huey-Burns's post "How Democrats Can Hold Their Senate Majority" at Real Clear Politics is not well-titled, since it is more a horse race update than a genuine how-to. Read as a recap, however, it does offer a "road ahead" snapshot of the challenges Dems face in holding their upper-chamber majority. As Huey-Burns elaborates:

...It's not all doom and gloom for Democrats. A silver lining, party operatives say, has been there all along. What the party has going for it are strong, battle-tested incumbents. And that advantage is holding up -- so far.

"Republicans have a terrible record of beating incumbent Democratic senators, going back to their last good year in this category, 1980," wrote Larry Sabato and his "Crystal Ball" colleagues this week. "There is no obvious way for the GOP to gain the six seats necessary for control without taking down some incumbent Democrats, a task at which Republicans have struggled -- they haven't beaten more than two Democratic Senate incumbents since that huge 1980 landslide."

...Several Democratic incumbents are either leading or within the margin of error, according to polls. With the exception of Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, no Republican challenger has pulled into a significant lead in Democratic-held states.

After Labor Day weekend, voters will begin to tune in in earnest to the congressional races in their states and districts and the ad wars will heat up. Contests will surely tighten, and both Democrats and Republicans expect close races up until Election Day...

Democrats note that at this point in 2010, a GOP wave was already coming and much hope was lost. "Now, the Republican brand is worse than it's ever been, so even in red states where we should be losing, we're not," said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It speaks to the strength of our incumbents and their brands."

Huey-Burns gets down to specific cases and notes that Dem Senate incumbents are holding up surprisingly well and our challengers are playing serious offense in red states GA and KY. Republicans are more worried than they thought they would be on the eve of Labor Day. She acknowledges that "there is still little room for error on the Democratic side" considering the large number of Senate seats Dems are defending. But the fact that so many seats are still very much in play is encouraging.

As we approach the Labor Day break, it seems like a good time for Democrats who want to help boost turnout in November to start thinking about voter registration deadlines and planning GOTV projects. Toward that end, Rock the Vote has the voter registration skinny -- and registration forms -- for the 50 states right here.


Will Medical Pot Initiative Help FL Dems?



In her Salon.com post "The left's secret midterm weapon: How marijuana ballot initiatives can change turnout," Heather Digby Parton concludes that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's opposition to a medical pot is 'political malpractice.' Parton cites some compelling data to make the point:

... Studies have shown that a controversial ballot initiative can boost turnout by as much as 4 percent in off year elections. For years the Republicans used "gay marriage" as the boogeyman to rouse their social conservative voters but that seems to have backfired on them in recent years as marriage equality is now being routinely acknowledged by legislatures and the courts.

Today it's the Democrats who are taking advantage of the ballot initiative process to push for a loosening of marijuana laws in states across the country and having some big successes. In fact, there's good evidence that while the youth vote overall stayed nearly exactly the same percentage of the electorate in 2012 as 2008, in the states where marijuana legalization was on the ballot, the 18-29 year old vote went way up:

In 2008 young people made up just 14 percent of the vote in Colorado but this year it was 20 percent. Even more incredibly, in Washington State the youth vote went from just 10 percent of the electorate last election to 22 percent this time.

In Oregon there was also a 5 percent point increase. Polling last spring showed a very big advantage for Democrats if marijuana is on the ballot this fall:

George Washington University Battleground poll, a national survey of likely voters, reveals that nearly four in 10 respondents say they would be "much more likely" to vote if marijuana legalization issues were on the ballot. An additional 30% say such ballot initiatives would make them "somewhat" more likely to vote.

Parton adds that opponents of medical marijuana have found no convincing evidence that there is much "downside to the drug itself," other than legal problems. She puzzles over Wasserman-Schultz's opposition to the modest medical reefer reform measure on the ballot in Florida. I guess some, not many, Democrats are conservative on the issue, maybe fewer than those who are conservative about reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

Further, adds Parton, a May Quinnipiac Poll found that "Florida voters support 88 - 10 percent allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. Support is over 80 percent among all listed groups, including 84 - 13 percent among voters over 65 years old."

Wasserman-Schultz is usually one of the more astute message-crafters in the Democratic party. But I think Parton is right that it is probably unwise for the DNC head to go too high-profile against medical marijuana. Or, if she must, then always make it clear that she is not speaking for the DNC or her party and emphasize that it is just her personal point of view.

In any case, other Florida Democrats should feel unencumbered in taking a position strongly supporting medical marijuana in their state. That train has pretty much left the station, as far as young voters are concerned, and Dems have nothing to gain by blocking the tracks.


August 26, 2014

Disapproval of Congress May Boost Turnout, Help Dems



Jeffrey M. Jones writes that "Disapproval of Congress Linked to Higher Voter Turnout," and explains at Gallup Politics:

Congressional job approval, currently 13%, is on pace to be the lowest it has been in a midterm election year. Moreover, a near-record-low 19% of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election. This latter measure shows a similarly strong relationship to voter turnout as does job approval.

Voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged narrowly between 38.1% and 41.1% since 1994, considerably lower than the 51.7% to 61.6% range for the last five presidential elections. But there has been a clear pattern of turnout being on the higher end of the midterm year range when Americans were less approving of Congress. The correlation between turnout and congressional approval since 1994 is -.83, indicating a strong relationship.

The disapproval-turnout link is a fairly recent phenomenon. From 1974 -- the first year Gallup measured congressional job approval -- until 1990, there was only a weak relationship between turnout and approval, with turnout higher when approval was higher, the opposite of the current pattern. But that weak relationship was driven mostly by the 1974 midterm elections, when turnout was among the higher ones for midterms and Congress was relatively popular after the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation that summer.

Jones reviews the history of the relationship between turnout and congressional approval, post-Watergate and adds, "As a result, it is unclear how the current frustration with Congress will manifest itself in terms of party control of the two houses of Congress."

If recent patterns prevail, the expectation is that Republicans will reap the benefit, with their traditional midterm turnout edge, although most recent polls show that voters are more displeased with congressional Republicans than with Democrats. If the Dems' Bannock Street Project lives up to some of the more optimistic reporting, they will likely do better than expected in the Senate and hold their majority. The DCCC's recent 13-seat expansion of its "Red to Blue" campaign may also get better results than expected with a turnout surge.

As always the "safe" bet is with recent patterns. But if Bannock Street and Red to Blue do a good job, all bets are off.


August 25, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Molly Parker's "Democrats roll out new strategy to motivate folks to the polls" at the Southern Illinoisian" describes the challenge Dems face in Illinois -- and a template Dems can use in other states: "...5.1 million Illinoisans voted in the last presidential election, compared to 3.6 million that voted in the last midterm election. That means some 1.5 million people sit out midterm elections. Of those 1.5 million, roughly 1.2 million of those non-voters are Democrats...so-called "drop-off voters" have been identified in every county and every precinct in the state. Party leaders are going door-to-door and asking these folks to sign a card pledging to vote in November. The cards will be mailed back to them before the election as a reminder of their pledge, in addition to three separate mailers they will receive..." She quotes Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin: ""If we bring theses people out, a large portion of these people out, we're going to win elections."

At Daily Kos Jeff Singer's "Want to make sure every vote counts? Get involved in these key races for secretary of state" spotlights often-overlooked, but critically-important election contests, which deserve more attention from Democratic political operatives.

At the Atlantic Molly Ball's "Inside the Democrats' Plan to Save Arkansas--and the Senate" notes "To beat the odds, across the country Democrats have mounted an ambitious political organizing effort--the first attempt to replicate the Obama campaign's signature marriage of sophisticated technology and intensive on-the-ground engagement on a national scale without Obama on the ballot. The effort is particularly noticeable in states like Arkansas and Alaska, which have small electorates and which haven't been presidential battleground states for a decade or more. (In 2004, John Kerry initially tried to compete in Arkansas, but pulled out of the state three weeks before the election and lost it by 10 points.) In Arkansas, campaigns traditionally begin after Labor Day; this year, the airwaves have already been blanketed with campaign ads, from both the candidates and deep-pocketed outside groups, for months...This year marks Democrats' attempt to roll out the program on a national scale. Dubbed the Bannock Street Project, after the Bennet campaign's Denver headquarters, it will, by the time the election is over, comprise a 4,000-employee, $60 million effort in 10 states. The voter-contact metrics recorded in each state are uploaded in real time to the Washington headquarters of the senatorial committee. While such efforts are commonly described as turnout operations, Matt Canter, the committee's deputy executive director, says there's more to it than that. "This is about much more than [get-out-the-vote]," he tells me. "This is not just identifying supporters and turning them out. This is actually building sustained voter contact programs through multiple face-to-face conversations that can persuade voters to change their minds and vote Democrat."..Democrats believe they have a technological edge in their ability to use data to model and target voter preferences. Republicans, who have invested heavily in technology since 2012, are working to catch up. But on a basic level, turning out voters relies on the simple arithmetic of the application of resources--bodies on the ground, close to their communities, tirelessly recruiting volunteers who will work to activate their neighbors and family and friends..."

Re the recent UNH/WMUR poll showing Scott Brown down just two points from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Blumenthal, Ariel Edwards-Levy and Rachel Lienesch say "Stop Freaking Out Over The Results Of One Poll."

At Forbes, pollster John Zogby concludes from a new Zogby Analytics poll that "In 2010, it was older, whiter, and more conservative voters who turned out, while many of the Democrats' base voters stayed home. Thus far in 2014, it looks like Democrats may show up at the polls and independents may just stay home because they don't like either party."

Susan Davis illuminates why "Alaska becomes crucial frontier for Senate Democrats" at USA Today.

It appears that President Obama's "economic patriotism" meme may have sturdy legs. Americans are at long last ready to take a stand against corporate ex-pats exploiting U.S. taxpayers, then skipping out on the bill. Anne Tucker's "Curbing Corporate Inversions Through Public Pressure for Economic Patriotism" includes this observation: "Feared negative public reaction tipped the scales in favor of remaining a U.S. company for Walgreens, with market pressure nearly causing the opposite result. Public pressure for economic patriotism and corporate stewardship must be a part of any permanent solution. It will mitigate market-based profit maximization pressures. Brand identity and consumer loyalty are not subject to the kind of loopholes that riddle the tax code or the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C." It's a great slogan for Democratic candidates looking for creative ways to call out their Republican opponents' refusal to protect American jobs. UPDATE: This report suggests Burger King may also need to be challenged on its "economic patriotism."

The National Journal's Scott Bland and Adam Woolner report on the larger contributions to pro-Democratic Super-PACs to help Dems hold their senate majority.

The "voting with your wallet" app gets a lot of diss, but I'm thinking Buypartisan is a good tool for identifying companies which fund Republicans. Sure it's maybe too much of a hassle to use for groceries and everyday purchases. But for bigger ticket items like stocks, phones, cell services services and cameras etc., why not? If Google and Facebook are supporting ALEC, or Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile support Ted Cruz, why should Dems give them any play?


August 22, 2014

Obama's Anti-Poverty Record Should Lift His Approval Rating



Tali Mendelberg's and Bennett L. Butler's NYT op-ed "Obama Cares. Look at the Numbers" gives the president and Dems a new meme to promote. The gist, from the authors:

...Mr. Obama has been more committed to communities like Ferguson than any Democratic president in the past half century.

...The Congressional Budget Office's inflation-adjusted numbers show that Mr. Obama sought to spend far more on means-tested anti-poverty programs than other first-term Democratic presidents. The targeted needs include food, housing, education, health care and cash.

Mr. Obama earmarked 17 percent of his budget for these needs, versus Mr. Clinton's 12 percent and Jimmy Carter's 8 percent. These presidents all faced economic challenges, although of different degrees and strength. Each was committed to the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. But Mr. Obama made good on that commitment far more concretely.

...Christopher Wimer of Columbia University found, for example, that tax and transfer policies lowered the poverty rate by only 1 percentage point in 1967, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, but by almost 13 points in 2012.

Did Mr. Obama plan to spend more simply because he had more mouths to feed? No. Even after accounting for the higher numbers of poor people caught in the Great Recession, Mr. Obama's record outshines his predecessors'. His proposed first-term spending per poor individual was $13,731 to Mr. Clinton's $8,310 and Mr. Carter's $4,431, in 2014 dollars.

Mendelberg and Butler continue with more compelling statistical evidence of President Obama's commitment to reducing poverty and conclude that the president's critics "are wrong to say that he does not care about poor communities of color." Add to their analysis that the Affordable Care Act has provided previously unavailable health care coverage to millions of impoverished people, and it becomes clear that few American presidents have done more to help low-income working people of all races.

And that is a message worth broadcasting far and wide as voter registration deadlines approach across the country.


August 21, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



"MIcrosoft Ditches ALEC In Latest Blow To Conservative Group," reports Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo Live Wire. Scott adds: "Microsoft joins Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble as some of the major corporations that have severed their relationship with ALEC, according to CNET. Others -- like Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, and Yelp -- remain involved with the group."

Via Plum Liner Greg Sargent's "From a vulnerable red state Democrat, a strong pro-Obamacare ad":

Nate Cohn explores several reasons why "Alaska Might Be More Friendly to Democrats Than It Appears" at The Upshot.

Also at The Upshot, however, Josh Katz argues that "Georgia Is the Reason the G.O.P. Is Edging Up in the Overall Senate Race."

New Suffolk University/USA Today poll has Democratic U.S. Sen. Hagan up 2 percent with LVs in NC, a stat tie.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin is not so dismissive as others of the likelihood that Texas Governor Rick Perry may lose a ruling on the two-count indictment ("abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public servant") that has been filed against him, as Toobin explains in his article "Why Rick Perry May Be Out of Luck."

At Fox News Latino Elizabeth Llorente explains why "Despite Expected Low Turnout, Latino Voters Could Prove Crucial In Some Midterm Races." She quotes Fernand Amandi, a managing partner at polling company Bendixen & Amandi International: "The question for the midterm elections is, given the extra emphasis on immigration, and the economy and the impact of the healthcare program,...will that cause a Hispanic spike in voting, like we saw in 2006, or will Hispanics revert to the historical pattern of less than a regular turnout?"

A paragraph from Al Hunt's latest Bloomberg View column suggests an important messaging point that might bear some repetition: "The U.S. economy has turned around with the unemployment rate dropping from as high as 10 percent in the first year of the Barack Obama presidency to a little over 6 percent now. That hasn't registered with many voters. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, the public was dissatisfied with the economy by an almost two to one ratio. Almost half of Americans thought the U.S. still was in a recession; the deep downturn caused by the financial crisis actually ended five years ago."

Maybe not. But the gender gap suggests she will more likely vote Democratic.


August 20, 2014

Senate Reset



So the much-discussed Senate Republican primary cycle is coming to a close, and many GOP partisans are congratulating themselves on avoiding disaster via the nomination of another Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin (though they came close in Mississippi). As we reset our expectations for the general election, however, it still looks to be a very close election when it comes to control of the Senate, as I discussed today at TPMCafe:

[T]here are no signs of a Republican "wave" election; most of the positive trajectory remain attributable to a lucky Senate landscape this particular cycle and to the turnout advantages the older and whiter GOP automatically enjoys in midterms these days. So the assumption many Republicans seem to have that they'll get all the "late breaks" in close races isn't really warranted at this point. Nor is the much-discussed "enthusiasm gap" a reliable indicator. As Republican pollster Neil Newhouse warned recently (per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza), the same "gap" existed in 2012:
"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team's [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

We don't know yet whether the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's "Bannock Street Project" -- a heavy investment in turning the Obama '12 campaign's voter targeting and mobilization techniques into a disruption of past midterm turnout patterns -- is going to pay off. The impression I get, however, is that it's a deadly serious enterprise, and potentially crucial in, for example, Arkansas, where African-American turnout has been abnormally low in recent elections. We also don't know if Republican "independent" groups are going to be as feckless as they generally were in 2012 in spending their considerable resources.

Beyond that, there are obviously idiosyncrasies in individual contests that are difficult to predict but could change everything. North Carolina's Thom Tillis is uniquely tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that's generated as many negative headlines in the state as Congress. Both he and Joni Ernst took dangerously extremist positions in the course of winning their primaries. Tom Cotton didn't even need a primary to create ideological peril for himself. Ernst and Georgia's David Perdue have been gaffe-prone. Mitch McConnell, never a beloved figure at home, is a highly visible officer in a despised congressional status quo. Cory Gardner is the rare Republican Senate candidate for whom a strong Latino backlash against the recent upsurge in GOP nativist sentiment could prove a catastrophe.

On the Democratic side, Mary Landrieu has already in her career accomplished something thought near-impossible for a Democrat by winning a post-general-election runoff. And Mark Pryor's reservoirs of support are such that he didn't even draw a Republican opponent last time he ran.

So while Republicans can rightly be pleased that they avoided disaster during the Senate primary cycle, it's far too early for gloating. And if the imponderables between now and November 4 aren't sobering enough, they can look ahead to the 2016 Senate elections, when the landscape shifts sharply in the opposite direction and a far less favorable presidential electorate shows up at the polls.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans can manage to avoid the irrational exuberance that convinced so many of them in 2012 that Mitt Romney would be the 45th president.


GOP Freaking Out About Voter Registration in Ferguson



It appears that our Republican brethren are getting a little twitchy about the political fallout emerging from the tragic slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. As Simon Maloy writes in his Salon post, "GOP's insane Ferguson crusade: Now they're denouncing voter registration drives":

...With the situation spiraling out of control in the streets, activists and community leaders have set up voter registration drives in Ferguson. This act of civic engagement is drawing howls of outrage from conservatives and Republicans.

Before we get into the complaints from the right, let's just take a moment to appreciate what is actually happening. Every night, the streets of Ferguson are filled with tear gas and less-than-lethal ordinance as cops decked out in military gear respond to protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager. The situation is extremely tense and the threat of violence hangs over everything. In response to that, activists are saying to the community: "Yes, the system has failed you, so sign these forms and work within that same system to peacefully and proactively ameliorate the situation."

And as ThinkProgress points out, low black voter turnout (combined with an unusual election calendar) has resulted in a local government that looks nothing like the population of Ferguson. The community is majority black, but the mayor is white, and five of the six City Council members are white. For members of the community who feel their interests aren't being represented, the first step toward changing that is registering to vote.

Maloy relates that Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills got all bent out of shape about the voter registration drive and responded "I think it's not only disgusting but completely inappropriate." Maloy reminds his readers, "Again, this is in response to a voter registration drive in a majority black community."

The GOP response to the voter registration effort continues on in like fashion, including some disparaging jabber about "politicizing" the death of Michael Brown. Sadly, it appears that the Republican Party is finally reduced to openly saying more voting by African Americans is a bad thing. As Maloy concludes, "They're evangelizing faith in the political system and encouraging people to act within established political norms. I'm not sure how one can view that as "disgusting" and "completely inappropriate."

In his Plum Line post, "By all means, we should 'politicize' Ferguson," Paul Waldman writes, referring to the Republican expressions of disgust:

This argument isn't just wrong, it's precisely backward. "Politicizing" this crisis is exactly what we should be doing...."Let's not politicize this" is something we hear whenever a dramatic (and especially tragic) event occurs, and talk inevitably turns to the larger issues and policy implications raised by the event in question. The guardians of the status quo always say that this isn't the time to talk about those implications (this is particularly true of gun advocates, who inevitably argue that the latest mass shooting isn't the time to talk about the fact that our nation is drowning in firearms).

But what's a better time to talk about those larger issues than when the nation's attention is focused on a particular crisis or tragedy? The events in Ferguson have highlighted a number of critical issues -- the treatment of black people by police, the unequal distribution of power in so many communities, the militarization of law enforcement, and many others. Does anyone think that if we all agreed not to propose any steps to address any of those problems for a few months, that we'd actually restart the debate over these issues unless there was another tragedy that forced it into the news?

...Meanwhile, people in that community may be thinking more about their lack of political power, which might lead them to do things like register voters. I'm sure that all over the country, local activists are starting to ask questions about their own police departments and whether they suffer from some of the pathologies we've seen in Ferguson. That's not exploitation, it's the political process in action.

Or, if you prefer, Democracy.


August 19, 2014

New Poll Spotlights Reaction to Brown Slaying, Ferguson Protest



From Pew Research Center's "Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting" discussing an Aug. 14-17 national survey of 1000 adults:

Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed." Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown's death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

...Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting's aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.

...One-in-five young adults (20%) closely followed news from Ferguson, less than the share of those 50-64 (34%) and 65 and older (33%).

It's still too early to estimate the political fallout of the Michael Brown slaying and community protests in Ferguson. But Jonathan Cohn discusses possible outcomes in his post, "When Does the Ferguson Story End? At least two things probably need to happen first at The New Republic, while TNR's Brian Beutler reports on the right-wing spin on the Ferguson events.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



August 27: Gubernatorial Panorama

With all the vast attention understandably being paid to the Senate landscape this year, it's worth remembering there are just as many gubernatorial as senatorial contests in November--36 of each, to be exact. So I offered a quick panoramic view of the gubernatorial scene this year at TPMCafe:

One factor in the relatively small national attention attracted by governor's races this year has been a surprisingly low number of retirements despite a sour mood of anti-incumbency. Twenty-nine incumbents ran for re-election; four more were term-limited; only three (Linc Chafee of RI, Deval Patrick of MA, Rick Perry of TX) voluntarily retired. One (Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie) has lost a primary. So there haven't been as many competitive primaries or close general election races as might normally be the case.

According to the Cook Political Report, only 13 of the 36 races are competitive at present (as defined as tossups or contests "leaning" one way or another): six governorships currently held by Democrats and seven by Republicans. Eleven of these gubernatorial battlegrounds are in states carried by Obama in 2012 (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin), and just two in states carried by Romney (Arkansas and Kansas). Some Democrats would add red Georgia and South Carolina to the competitive contest list; some Republicans think they have an outside chance in blue Massachusetts or Oregon. All in all, six Republican governorships are "mispositioned" in Obama '12 states, and one Democrat in a Romney '12 state.

Complicating everything, of course, are uncertain midterm turnout patterns, which tilted significantly Republican in 2010. In terms of national efforts to change these turnout patterns, it's worth noting there's not a great deal of overlap between the senatorial and gubernatorial battlegrounds. Only four of the ten states the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's Bannock Street Project is targeting with extraordinary resources for voter registration and contact programs have competitive gubernatorial races at the moment (Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia and Michigan). Only five states have both competitive governor's races and nationally targeted battles for control of state legislative chambers (Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

The state of gubernatorial races helps provide an antidote to the "Republican wave" assumptions flowing from this year's wildly slanted Senate landscape. At the moment the odds are low Republicans will make any net gubernatorial gains; they would have reason to be happy if wins in Arkansas and Illinois offset losses in Maine and Pennsylvania. They have a shot in Colorado and Connecticut and maybe even Hawaii, but then Florida, Wisconsin, and yes, Kansas are looking mighty shaky, with several other Republican incumbents not even close to being out of the woods. So don't let Election Day dawn on you without a close look down the ballot from the obsessively followed Senate races. It matters.

And it'll matter more in December when the excitement over whatever happens in the Senate has begun to fade.


August 20: Senate Reset

So the much-discussed Senate Republican primary cycle is coming to a close, and many GOP partisans are congratulating themselves on avoiding disaster via the nomination of another Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin (though they came close in Mississippi). As we reset our expectations for the general election, however, it still looks to be a very close election when it comes to control of the Senate, as I discussed today at TPMCafe:

[T]here are no signs of a Republican "wave" election; most of the positive trajectory remain attributable to a lucky Senate landscape this particular cycle and to the turnout advantages the older and whiter GOP automatically enjoys in midterms these days. So the assumption many Republicans seem to have that they'll get all the "late breaks" in close races isn't really warranted at this point. Nor is the much-discussed "enthusiasm gap" a reliable indicator. As Republican pollster Neil Newhouse warned recently (per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza), the same "gap" existed in 2012:
"The enthusiasm gap was taken to the woodshed by the Obama team's [get out the vote] efforts," writes Newhouse. "In a nutshell, the Democrats turned out voters who were 'unenthusiastic,' 'unexcited' and not 'energized' to vote, rendering the 'enthusiasm gap' meaningless."

We don't know yet whether the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's "Bannock Street Project" -- a heavy investment in turning the Obama '12 campaign's voter targeting and mobilization techniques into a disruption of past midterm turnout patterns -- is going to pay off. The impression I get, however, is that it's a deadly serious enterprise, and potentially crucial in, for example, Arkansas, where African-American turnout has been abnormally low in recent elections. We also don't know if Republican "independent" groups are going to be as feckless as they generally were in 2012 in spending their considerable resources.

Beyond that, there are obviously idiosyncrasies in individual contests that are difficult to predict but could change everything. North Carolina's Thom Tillis is uniquely tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that's generated as many negative headlines in the state as Congress. Both he and Joni Ernst took dangerously extremist positions in the course of winning their primaries. Tom Cotton didn't even need a primary to create ideological peril for himself. Ernst and Georgia's David Perdue have been gaffe-prone. Mitch McConnell, never a beloved figure at home, is a highly visible officer in a despised congressional status quo. Cory Gardner is the rare Republican Senate candidate for whom a strong Latino backlash against the recent upsurge in GOP nativist sentiment could prove a catastrophe.

On the Democratic side, Mary Landrieu has already in her career accomplished something thought near-impossible for a Democrat by winning a post-general-election runoff. And Mark Pryor's reservoirs of support are such that he didn't even draw a Republican opponent last time he ran.

So while Republicans can rightly be pleased that they avoided disaster during the Senate primary cycle, it's far too early for gloating. And if the imponderables between now and November 4 aren't sobering enough, they can look ahead to the 2016 Senate elections, when the landscape shifts sharply in the opposite direction and a far less favorable presidential electorate shows up at the polls.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans can manage to avoid the irrational exuberance that convinced so many of them in 2012 that Mitt Romney would be the 45th president.


August 13: "Libertarian Moment" Really the Christian Right's Hour

There's been a lot of hype the last week over a New York Times Magazine piece by Robert Draper suggesting that the Republican Party and the nation might be ready for a long-awaited "libertarian moment" via a Rand Paul presidential candidacy. Here's an excerpt of my critique of the hypothesis at TPMCafe:

[T]o the extent there is something that can be called a "libertarian moment" in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it owes less to the work of the Cato Institute than to a force genuine libertarians clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged are typically horrified by: the Christian Right. In the emerging ideological enterprise of "constitutional conservatism," theocrats are the senior partners, just as they have largely been in the Tea Party Movement, even though libertarians often get more attention.

There's no universal definition of "constitutional conservatism." The apparent coiner of the term, the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz, used it to argue for a temperate approach to political controversy that's largely alien to those who have embraced the "brand." Indeed, it's most often become a sort of dog whistle scattered through speeches, slogans and bios on various campaign trails to signify that the bearer is hostile to compromise and faithful to fixed conservative principles, unlike the Republicans who have been so prone to trim and prevaricate since Barry Goldwater proudly went down in flames. The most active early Con-Con was Michele Bachmann, who rarely went more than a few minutes during her 2012 presidential campaign without uttering it. It's now very prominently associated with Ted Cruz, who, according to Glenn Beck's The Blaze has emerged as "the new standard-bearer for constitutional conservatism." And it's the preferred self-identification for Rand Paul as well.

What Con-Con most often seems to connote beyond an uncompromising attitude on specific issues is the belief that strict limitations on the size, scope and cost of government are eternally correct for this country, regardless of public opinion or circumstances. Thus violations of this "constitutional" order are eternally illegitimate, no matter what the Supreme Court says or who has won the last election.

More commonly, Con-Cons reinforce this idea of a semi-divine constitutional order by endowing it with -- quite literally -- divine origins. This is why David Barton's largely discredited "Christian Nation" revisionist histories of the Founders remain so highly influential in conservative circles, and why Barton himself is welcome company in the camps of Con-Con pols ranging from Cruz and Bachmann to Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee. This is why virtually all Con-Cons conflate the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, which enabled them to sneak both Natural and Divine Law (including most conspicuously a pre-natal Right to Life) into the nation's organic governing structure.

What a lot of those who instinctively think of conservative Christians as hostile to libertarian ideas of strict government persistently miss is that divinizing untrammeled capitalism has been a growing habit on the Christian Right for decades. Perhaps more importantly, the idea of the "secular-socialist government" being an oppressor of religious liberty, whether it's by maintaining public schools that teach "relativism" and evolution, or by enforcing the "Holocaust" of legalized abortion, or by insisting on anti-discrimination rules that discomfit "Christian businesses," has made Christian conservatives highly prone to, and actually a major participant in, the anti-government rhetoric of the Tea Party. Beyond that, the essential tea party view of America as "exceptional" in eschewing the bad political habits of the rest of the world is highly congruent with, and actually owes a lot to, the old Protestant notion of the United States as a global Redeemer Nation and a "shining city on a hill."

So perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether the Christian Right and other "traditional" conservatives can accept a Rand Paul-led "libertarian" takeover of the conservative movement and the GOP, but whether "libertarians" are an independent factor in conservative politics to begin with. After all, most of the Republican politicians we think of as "libertarian"--whether it's Rand Paul or Justin Amash or Mike Lee--are also paid-up culture-war opponents of legalized abortion, Common Core, and other heathenish practices. As Heather Digby Parton noted tartly earlier this week:

[T]he line between theocrats and libertarian Republicans is very, very faint. Why do you think they've bastardized the concept of "Religious Liberty" to mean the right to inflict your religion on others? It appeals to people who fashion themselves as libertarians but really only care about their taxes, guns and weed. Those are the non-negotiable items. Everything else is on offer.

And then there's the well-known but under-reported long-term relationship of Ron and Rand Paul with the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party, a Con-Con inspirational font that no Republican politician is likely to embrace these days.

To the extent that the Republican Party becomes identified with Con-Con systematic hostility to government, it's not a creed that's going to appeal to millennials or even to serious secular libertarians. Even if there's a "libertarian moment" in the GOP, and that's highly debatable, it will be the Christian Right's hour.


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