Saturday, February 11, 2012

Political S&T

First, a short discussion on the complex issue of contraceptive insurance in the implementation of the Federal health care bill. We have opined on this issue as long ago as 2009: contraceptive insurance needs to be a part of the standard package of health care insurance available to all Americans. Reduction of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and all the attendant effects; these benefits make contraceptive insurance a public policy necessity.

With the Obama Administration's concession last week that religiously-sponsored hospitals and universities would not have to contribute to these offerings, it is hard to find exactly what basis they would have to continue to oppose the policy. Insurers will instead pay for them--it probably was fairly easy for the insurers to calculate and confirm to the Federal health administrators that the cost to the medical system would be lower by paying for these features, than for the alternatives. Any opposition from the religious community is based on sheer bloody-mindedness: they would oppose contraception for anyone, and rather than allowing people to make the choice whether to use birth control, they would block it for all. For me, the only question was whether the contraceptive rider should be free to those who choose it, but apparently its economics pay for itself.

That being the case, it is pretty hard to find the justification for opposing the policy on the grounds of expanding personal freedom, or on the grounds of opposition to abortion, either. The ship has sailed on allowing people access to contraception (some 50 years ago); I see this issue fading pretty quickly, as the petty disputes about whether the "morning-after" pill constitutes abortion will hardly be compelling.

The Santorum Blip

Rick Santorum pulled off a couple of big upsets over Mitt Romney last week in Republican votes in heartland states. In terms of delegate strategy, the losses by Romney were not serious, but they did re-open--once again--the battle for control of the nomination contest, or at least for perception of its control. Romney had taken command with an impressive win in Florida, but his strategists gave a low importance to the contests in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado, leaving an opening for Santorum, who won all three.

As has been the case in the past, the show of strength by a Romney challenger in individual states immediately translated into a dramatic change in the national surveys of Republicans. All of a sudden, Santorum is polling about equal with Romney nationally. Romney still has a big advantage in every strategic sense: more money, better organization, and more delegates than all his opponents combined; however, the party's primary voters remain unconvinced of his inevitability. As long as that remains true, his nomination is not, in fact, inevitable, even if every Republican campaign in living memory suggests otherwise.

But, if you were to ask me if Rick Santorum is the man who can win it--my reaction would still be to say: 1) impossible; and 2) if only!

Electoral Strategy Fakes
I am suspicious of either party disclosing strategy at this early stage: what they say may have some validity, but the real strategic decisions are yet to be made.

A good example is the "Road Map to Victory" I received from the Obama campaign recently. It has some good information, for example, the number of electoral votes each state has, and their early assessment that they believe they can start with all the states John Kerry won in 2004, totalling (after the 2010 Census) 246 Electoral Votes of the 270 needed.

They then offer four "paths" to get to the required number, or just beyond. The first is the West Path, featuring CO, NM, and NV--what they don't say is that they slipped IA in there to get to 272. They are more straightforward with the Midwest Path: add OH and IA to the Kerry states, and you get exactly 270 (hey, what about the Omaha Congressional district in NE, which Obama won in 2008?) The South Path requires just NC and VA, plus Kerry, to get to 274, though I think that the whole NC play (which includes having the party convention in Charlotte) is a head fake. Finally, the Expansion Path adds to the West Path the state of AZ--a longshot if Obama doesn't get Gaby Giffords campaigning actively for the ticket, which I think is a lot to ask of her--and, once again, IA, but has quietly backed out the Kerry states of NH and PA to land at 272.

The bottom line on these strategies: add PA to the critical states of focus I identified last year--VA, NV, OH, and IA (and take NH off the list if it's Romney). FL and MO are missing from these strategies, which is disappointing, as both have close Senate races critical for the Democrats if they are to hold any kind of majority. This strategy discloses the long-term plan of building organizations in key states--CO, IA, VA, NM, NV, OH, etc.--to make the strategic position one of strength, forcing the Republicans to counter in these and miss opportunities that may exist elsewhere. As such, it is true as far as it goes, but I think there are some alternatives remaining undisclosed (such as a late Super PAC bombing run in FL, now that Romney has shown how well that works and that the Obama campaign has reluctantly conceded they will need to go the S-PAC route).

As for the Republicans, the word is that the real strategy will be discussed only among the elites--the big money givers, Congressmen, party national committee--and anything that's out there in public is not the real strategy. This I can believe; I also think that Karl Rove is going to be right in the war room, calling the shots. Given the weakness of their eventual Presidential candidate, whether he be Tea Partier, Bushite, or Salamander, their real strategy has to be to hope for a Democratic blunder and dig in, throwing big money into closely contested Congressional races.

Tactical Investment
My friend Norman Goldman (.com), speaking on Chicago's Progressive Talk Radio the other night, was referring to the secret Republican strategy, which he described (and I paraphrase) as bailing on this Presidential race, holding Congressional losses to a minimum and planning for Chris Christie for 2016. He concluded that the appropriate response for progressives was to put their money into House and Senate races this year, as Obama's re-election feels assured to him.

With all due respect to Norm's acumen, though, I have to disagree somewhat. Yes, the battle for control of Congress may end up being the one that keeps us up late on Election Night; however, I think the shortest route to success in that battle is an Obama victory of landslide proportions. We need to run the score up like the 49ers in those '90s Super Bowls (Norm, it was Denver they beat 55-10!); only that will carry the Democrats through in some of the House races that would otherwise lean Republican, and those very tight Senate races in swing states (NM, NV, WI, FL, MO, VA being examples).

I think the Obama Road Map is fine for showing where the ground game will be fought and won, but the battle for Congress will be an air war, battled with the big money on the air waves, and I see it focused in three states where the Republicans and their 2010 Congressional gains will be vulnerable: PA, OH, and FL.

If you're a little guy like me, your money isn't going to make the difference in these field of fire ordnance saturation encounters. After I make a single contribution to each of the big 5--Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee, the Democrati Governors' Association, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee--each with my own plea for campaign reform after this election cycle, mind you--I will keep my powder dry for tactical contributions down the stretch in selected campaigns, and I may make myself available for some volunteer work in my beloved New Mexico. More on this later.

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