Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011 Elections: It Don't Mean a Thing....

...if you can't get that swing.
Doppa-doppa do-bap a-bop bap boop.
That's the take-away from this week's voting in several states, and the theme for the 2012 elections: the return of the moderate voter, and the essential importance of the swing states' electoral behavior. It's not that the offyear elections we had yesterday were unimportant; sorry, if my title suggested that.

The facts in the key election contests are well documented, because there weren't really that many contests of note.

In Ohio, the voters sided with public employee unions and against Gov. John Kasich and the state legislature, which turned heavily toward the Republicans in 2010. A bill they had passed this year limiting the range of topics those unions could include in collective bargaining was decisively repealed; however, in the other direction, in the same state, ths voters chose in a symbolic vote to support an initiative negating the health insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a "Obamacare"). That vote is symbolic because the mandate's constitutionality will be determined in the Supreme Court, and state laws about it will ultimately be superseded by Federal law.

In Mississippi, an extremist anti-abortion referendum giving legal protection to all fertilized zygotes went down to defeat. Even strongly pro-life Republican politicians expressed qualms about the referendum, though the state's new governor and pandering Mitt Romney said they supported it.

In Arizona, the state Senator who authored the odious anti-immigrant legislation, Russell Pearce, lost his seat in a recall vote. The person who defeated him was another Republican!

In Maine, another statehouse that had turned Republican in 2010, the law that blocked Maine's beloved same-day voter registration was repealed. In Kentucky, one of the redder states, a Democratic moderate governor won big.

The common thread in all these results was the re-emergence of the voice of the moderate voter. In 2006 and 2008, the swing voters rejected Bushite Misrule and chose Democrats. In 2010, they either rejected perceived excess from the Democrats or, disappointed, stayed home. This year, they seem to have found some topics which moved them.

Committed Democrats and committed Republicans can be counted on to turn out and vote their political passions in any contest where they are at stake. The swing voters can never be taken for granted, but in our political system, anytime they show up to vote and swing to one side or the other, their influence is decisive. This fact explains the persistent effort of President Obama to try to appease moderate factions of the Republicans, to seek compromise, to avoid full expression of his more left-wing views, and to take positions which he knows will irritate his left-wing supporters: It's all about getting and keeping the swing voters, whether independents or moderates from either party.

Next Year: What Could Swing it from Being a Swing Thing
The most probable scenario for next year is a close Presidential election, with serious contests for control of the Senate and the House. The Republicans have the edge for each house of Congress, though the dynamics of the two differ somewhat. The Presidential race, I hope to show, favors Obama as the incumbent, but it is likely to be close and depend on the outcome of a limited number of state contests.

There are four events which would change that scenario--three of them would favor Obama and the Democrats, while only one would put the Republicans in position to take decisive control of both houses of Congress and the White House. The events which would favor the Democrats, in increasing order of probability are as follows:
1) A dramatic improvement in the US economy, with GDP growth over 5% and unemployment dropping from today's 9% to something below 7%.
2) An outbreak of open warfare in Asia, possibly involving some kind of craziness in Pakistan, but more likely involving Israel fighting against (in decreasing order) Iran, Palestinians, Lebanon, Syria, or Egypt. Such hostilities would emphasize Obama's superior handling of international issues (and the Republican candidates unpreparedness); otherwise domestic issues would predominate.
3) The nomination of a looney-tune Tea Party nominee by the Republicans, or the fracturing of the Republicans' unity and a major third-party candidacy by the someone capturing the rump (losing) part of the party. In the category of the former, I would name (in increasing order of likelihood) Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, Paul, or Cain.
The nomination of any of these candidates should ensure an easy Obama victory, probable retention of the Senate, and likely recapture of the House. A split in the Republican party, which could occur either with one of these jokers winning the nomination, or with Romney or Huntsman winning the nomination but not the hearts of the Tea Party, would ensure an easy victory for Obama but Congress would still be in play, as Congressional races would play out tactically according to their local dynamics.

In the other sense, severe additional deterioration in the US economy, with unemployment breaking double digits and negative GDP growth, would likely doom Obama's chances, regardlsss of the degree to which anything he did or failed to do caused that recession.

But Swing Most Likely Be the Thing

Except for the economic alternatives, it is possible for more than one of the above to occur; the economic deterioration would take priority over anything else, but any other combination of would work in Obama's favor. I'd say the chances of none of them happening is upwards of 60%, which prompts our discussion of the states which will decide things in a close race for the Presidency and for control of the Senate.

One-Horse Races
There are a whole bunch of states which are really not expected to be contested in the Presidential race next year. You know, I know, everybody knows--I don't really have to recite them, but I will tell you that sum of their electoral votes, newly reallocated after the 2010 Census, totals 172 electoral votes for the Democrats and 151 for the Republicans. Failure to win any of them, as McCain somehow did with Indiana in 2008, is a clear signal for a landslide win.

There are a couple of important Senate races in these states, though most of them will not end up being close. Two very important ones will be the Democrats' attempt to reclaim the Senate seat held for some five decades by Ted Kennedy but lost to Scott Brown in a special election (Elizabeth Warren looks like a favorite to gain the seat to me, though it might help Brown if Romney is the nominee), and a possible close contest in North Dakota--the seat being given up by Kent Conrad is certainly endangered for the Democrats, but they have a plausible candidate.

Big Leans

These states will have fairly narrow margins, but the direction they should be expected to fall is clear from the outset.
Democrats: New Jersey (14); Minnesota (10). Except for Obama's home state of Illinois, Minnesota is the safest of the upper Midwest states, and Amy Klobuchar should be able to retain her Senate seat. New Jersey could be very close, but I like Dems' chances.
Republicans: Montana (3), Arizona (11), Georgia (16), and Missouri (10). Montana and Missouri have critical Senate races for the Democrats to hold (Tester, McCaskill) if they hope to retain control of the Senate. They will be narrow underdogs in both races, but this extra value in the state will make the Obama campaign work hard there, no matter what their assessment of the overall state of the race. Obama campaign folks claim that they can make Arizona and Georgia competitive because of their strong minority votes, but I don't see it, except in a blowout situation.
(Cumulative: Democrats 196, Republicans 191)

Moderate Leans The election may effectively be won by the ability of the parties to hold these states; if they can't, a break or two in the 50-50 atates won't do the trick.
Democrats: Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), New Mexico (5), Colorado (9). Obama will go into the campaign with small leads in these states, and he must hold them. If he does, he will be very close to victory. Two Senate seats the Democrats must hold to keep their majority--the New Mexico one Jeff Bingaman is giving up, and the Wisconsin one Herb Kohl is yielding--will be extremely tough ones, as the Republicans are likely to run moderates--Heather Wilson in NM and Tommy Thompson in WI--who will make things very tough. I see Pennsylvania as the most vulnerable one of this group in the Presidential race, and its loss would be catastrophic.
Republicans: Florida (29), North Carolina (15). The importance of these two is reflected in the parties' choice of Tampa and Charlotte for the Republican and Democratic national conventions next year. I expect the Republicans to name Marco Rubio as their V.P. nominee, to further attempt to lock up that state, without which they will little chance to win. If they don't name him, it will mean something bad about Rubio, or an extremely high level of confidence about the state. Still, they should want to put maximum effort there to try and take the Senate seat from Bill Nelson.
(Cumulative: Democrats 256, Republicans 235).

Total War: The True Swing States
The final five states--New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Virginia (13), Iowa (6), and, of course, Ohio (18)--are the ones we'll be watching if the most likely scenarios play out. With the states above allocated as I've shown, Ohio would be an absolute necessity for the Republicans, but the Democrats could win without it. Note that three of them (Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada) are among the first five states to have primaries this year, so their early sentiments will be keenly watched.

If they were not already important enough, three of them--Virginia, Nevada, and Ohio--will have critical Senate races, as well. Nevada is a rare chance for a Democratic gain, while Virginia's battle for Jim Webb's seat--expected to be Tim Kaine vs. George Allen--will be one of the closest, and closest watched. I like Sherrod Brown's chances to hold his Ohio seat, but it will be well contested and his opponent very well financed. I like Iowa for the Democrats and New Hampshire for the Republicans (especially if it's Romney), which would make winning Virginia or Ohio decisive for Obama. I think he can win both, and Nevada, for a final tally of Obama 299, Romney 239, and I think Romney would do better than any other candidate.

As far as the Senate's concerned, I see the Democrats losing Ben Nelson's seat in Nebraska (good riddance), the seat in North Dakota, and I make them slight underdogs in New Mexico, Montana, and Wisconsin, while I make them slight favorites in Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, and for the possible pick-ups of Massachusetts and Nevada. If it plays out that way, the Republicans would net a gain of 3, making it a 50-50 result, with the V.P. breaking the tie for control.

The House is more difficult to handicap than this--and this has not been easy--but I would summarize by saying that the Democrats will find it very difficult to pick up the 25 seats they need without a decisive electoral victory for Obama and the Democratic party. The Democrats' best hope is for more Tea Party candidates--as the Presidential nominee, and in the House.

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