It is, as sports fanatics everywhere know, Selection Sunday, when the 65-team field of the NCAA basketball tournament is revealed, and–thanks to an entire industry of “bracketology”–the one or two remaining mysteries about “bubble teams” and seedings are resolved. I will not watch the official Selection Sunday show on television, with its endlessly tedious references to “dancing” and “dance cards,” and its sadistic focus on live coverage of a team or two that will be left out. I will view the brackets online, however, and try to finally figure out which team or teams I will embrace during next week’s frenetic first and second round games. My beloved Georgia Bulldogs will not, of course, be in the mix; they are still rebuilding from the calamity of the Jim Harrick years, and after a brief spate of exciting success earlier in the year, finished 15-15, probably not qualifying for an NIT bid. But their future looks bright. (The Georgia women’s team will, as always, be in the tournament, and perhaps they won’t break my heart with an early upset loss this time around). Selection Sunday always brings back fond memories of the one time I actually attended NCAA tournament games: it was in 1990, in New Orleans’ Superdome (ah! how painful it is to type those words today!). Georgia Tech was playing in the regional semifinals and finals, and I decided to put aside my usual disdain for the Dirt Daubers and cheer for them as a matter of home-state chauvinism. I managed to get tickets through a media contact for seats better than that enjoyed by Tech’s president, and was rewarded with two incredibly exciting games: the Jackets beat Michigan State in the semis on a controversial last-split-second shot by Kenny Anderson, and then beat Minnesota in overtime for the championship. Aside from the games themselves, my most vivid memory was of the young woman from Minnesota who sat behind me in the Final, dressed up as a gopher, and constantly recited the school’s charmingly atavistic cheer, which sounded like something out of an early Mickey Rooney college movie (Sota! Sota! G-o-o-o-o Gophers! Rah!). That was sixteen years ago, and I wonder: where is that woman today? Does she still dress up as a gopher? And does she blog? The whole scene was a nice reminder of the essential silliness of the tribal loyalty so many of us assign to sports teams. Years after this event, I learned that my paternal grandfather, who died when my father was an infant, actually attended Georgia Tech for a brief while before the money ran out and he had to get a full-time job. Nobody in my extended, and generally non-college-educated family, attended the University of Georgia. My father was largely indifferent to sports, and my mother, good southern liberal that she was, reserved her loyalities for the Dodgers baseball team that played Jackie Robinson. Yet I was a confirmed Georgia Bulldog fan from early childhood. Why is that? I couldn’t possibly have known that I would wind up attending law school in Athens. Was it the mascot, UGA? The school colors? I have no clue.And so, on this Selection Sunday, I cast about for an irrational attachment to other peoples’ tribes. Should I risk further identification as a Washington Insider by supporting Georgetown or George Washington? Choose a Southern Surrogate for the absent Bulldogs? Get into an emotionally satisfying and vaguely progressive Mid-Major obsession? Speaking for God knows how many other people who face this particular dilemma, I must say, dear friends, that this is why they call it March Madness.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.