Sunday, September 07, 2014

Progress Report - Pt. 2 - Politics

I was on Yahoo! today*  and saw a teaser for an article by Matt Bai, a reporter they have signed up in an effort to be a more serious, complete website.  It was called, "The Coming Foreign Policy Election."  I didn't read it at the time, but I thought to myself, "Matt Bai, if that's what you think, you're a dope." To be fair to Bai, when I read the article later I saw that he's not talking about this election, but the one in 2016--so he's not a dope, just jumping the shark by about two years:  Any honest analyst would have to say he/she has no clue at this time what the 2016 election will be about.

He was also, if my memory serves, one of the shark-jumpers who jumped all over President Obama a couple of weeks ago when Obama honestly stated that his administration didn't have a strategy for ISIS yet. Of course, after that gaffe the strategy gap was filled quickly.  The strategy is an obvious one, it just took a little while to get all the key allies in line.  And, they are:  Western Europe of course, but then Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the two ones that will cooperate fully on an unacknowledged basis:   Iran and Russia.

This could be a bit of a turning point in our relationship with Iran, if both countries allow it to be, as there is no country, outside Iraq and Syria, which has a greater desire to suppress ISIS and its throwback transnational ambitions than Iran.   The need for the others in the alliance arises because ISIS has shown some quality as a movement:  they have not collapsed from too-rapid expansion, the majority populace under their control has found life actually improved (from the chaos they were experiencing, in Syria, and from the religious discrimination in Iraq), and, from a global Islamist/jihadi status aspect, they have scored points for audacity and for coming out in the open, which will help their recruiting (poor fools, heading off to ignominy, death, and no virgins!). ISIS' weakness, which will allow the containment/rollback/destruction scenario to work, is the one that all fanatical movements with global ambitions eventually face:  their neighbors despise them.

Anyway, back to Bai and foreign policy:  even two days ago it seemed as though Obama's foreign policy was circling the toilet drain, with each day bringing new abomination, without any effective response from our part.  Bai will have learned in the last 48 hours how quickly that can all change, though:  Ukraine and Russia have settled, the alliance against ISIS is forming up rapidly, and the events which led him to write the editorial were essentially disproved in two days, not two years (though I doubt he will be admitting as much in his appearance this week on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"!)  2016 could still be an election year in which foreign policy issues predominate; however, I disagree with him that 1980 and 2004 were such+.

In 2014, though, foreign policy will be near the bottom of issues voters cite to pollsters--if they can think of any at all to cite.  The playing field for both sides is remarkably devoid of any issues, and both sides seem to want it that way.   The whole Boehner lawsuit/possible impeachment thing is a red herring that both sides seem to be able to throw out effectively to the more predatory fish in their respective e-mail ponds:  the lawsuit is a joke,  one based on the hypocritical argument that Obama has not implemented Obamacare sufficiently rigorously; it has no chance of succeeding, and impeachment would blow up in the Republicans' faces if it were tried on Obama.   Immigration?--action is off the table now: Democratic Senatorial candidates in red-leaning states were worried it would hurt them. Keystone XL? - not a powerful issue, and Obama can put it off, too. Minimum wage? - it helps Democrats with turnout of its base, but not convincing the (few) true fence-sitters, while possibly persuadable Republican voters of all economic classes remain attached to their trickle-down ideology.  Citizens United? - Unfortunately, it's just become a partisan club for Democratic candidates and office-holders to use against Republicans, who therefore respond defensively and instinctively to oppose any change, and thereby preserve the (unacceptable, even for them, if truth be known) status quo. Then, of course, there is the #1 issue, especially in a midterm election--the Economy?  It is likely to stay on the same, sluggish course, and there is little the President could do, with or without Congress, and much less that Congress can do on its own.

What this election is about, for both sides, is simply the aggregation of a few bits more of power through skillful fund-raising and the exploitation of those funds.  For the Democrats, this means replicating the Obama campaign methods in 1000 local points of turnout activity, combined with some carefully prepared local tactical advertising based on issue-related focus groups and polling. The Republicans don't need polls, organizing money, or advisers:  they can lead from their gut (Establishment conservative or Tea Party), throw red meat to their base, spend copiously from secret PAC money in the hundreds of millions, and do their best to suppress overall turnout levels.

Ten Most Important State Elections (to Me)
You may have seen a few other Top Ten lists--most vulnerable incumbent Senators or Representatives (they run out of ideas before they get to 10)--closest races, Howard Dean's Dozen, maybe the selections (I may comment on those when they are complete, as I want to give that group every possible promotion, and their choices are quite interesting).  What I find is that there are a bunch of states with very little going on, while some have multiple races that are closely contested while also presenting significant differences between their political positions.  Giving for Democrats at a statewide level can help  at all levels, or conversely, giving locally could help tight statewide contests. So here are my Top Ten state races, from the bottom up:

Honorable Mention - Texas, where I expect nothing very interesting in terms of results, but Wendy Davis' run at Typical Texan Tool Greg Abbott (latest product of the 3-T Ranch) is at least honorable; New Hampshire, which I think will be OK for Jeanne Sheehan as Senator and for both Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter in contested House races; and New Mexico, where I am registered to vote:  Tom Udall should win easily over a self-funded opponent, while Susana Martinez should be able to hold onto her job and position herself as a desperation VP candidate for the Republicans in 2016 if they really Need A Woman (and being Hispanic is a bonus chip) to counter You-Know-Who.

10) Arkansas - I've got no horse in the tight Senate race (Pryor gets nothing from me because of his vote on gun background checks), but the fact that Democrats are competitive in the Senate and Governor races is interesting, anyway

9)  Georgia - I'm not really a believer, but the Democrats have fielded probably their best possible Senatorial candidate (daughter of longtime moderate Dem. Senator Sam Nunn) to compete for a vacant seat, and the polls are all over the place.

8)  Colorado - Sen. Mark Udall in a do-or-die race vs. a Tea Partier.  Udall should win but there is risk, and no room for error given the close count for control of the Senate.  Gov. Hickenlooper is favored to hold on against reaction (this is now a Legal Marijuana state, and some are dismayed he let that happen) and hold off his opponent.

7) Illinois - The state of my current primary residence is a mess, and this is counting against Pat Quinn, even though he seems like a decent guy and he didn't make the mess.  I'm sure electing a big-money trickle-down guy like his opponent will not make it better, but he'll be more willing to approach the legislature for hand-outs to big companies threatening to move jobs out--at least I think that is the marginally-prevailing voter wisdom.  There are several very closely contested House races, in particular those of (I will name the Democrats--the Republicans don't send me constant emails to remind me who they are!) Brad Schneider in the northern suburbs, and Ann Callis (a strong race against an incumbent),  Cheri Bustos and Bill Enyart (who has not asked me for money!) downstate. Dick Durbin should have no problem winning re-election, and despite all the emails asking for money, I don't think Tammy Duckworth should, either.

6) Wisconsin -  The one race I am following here is one of the big headliners this year:  the much-hated Scott Walker (many Republi-con pundits' "interesting" choice for the 2016 Presidential nomination) is fighting, once again, for his political life.  He may lose this one; it seems the promised trickle-down flow of his union-busting was not so much.  No Senate race (that hasn't stopped Tammy Baldwin from deluging my Inbox, though).

5) Michigan - There is a chance that Michigan's Republican governor may lose, but the truly critical race is for the open Senate race.  Rep. Gary Peters is trying to prevent a Republican pick-up and the money is flowing.  Peters is a very slight favorite.

4) North Carolina - Riding somewhat on President Obama's success in that state in 2008, Kay Hagan defeated Elizabeth Dole to take a Senate seat to which she is trying desperately to hold--this time without the Obama machine's support (her choice).   She is clinging to that elusive middle-of-the-road positioning, which puts her a long distance from her opponent, whose positions suggest a nostalgia for the Bad Ol' Days of Jesse Helms.  Based on incumbency and the advantages of a centrist position, one would think this is winnable, and it is, but the outcome is greatly in doubt.

3) Iowa - This is a battleground state on all levels, thoroughly purple.  The Republican Governor Terry Branstad is likely to break all existing records and win yet another term, though his opponent Jack Hatch is pushing hard, trying to exploit Branstad Fatigue.  There are close races in several Congressional districts, particularly for the re-election of Dave Loebsack, and for open seats sought by Staci Appel and Pat Murphy, while all people of goodwill are hoping Jim Mowrer has some chance to defeat that racist blowhard Steve King (probably not).   The big one, though, is the Senate race to fill the seat of retiring longtime Democratic Senator Tom Harkin:  Congressman Bruce Braley is the candidate, his party credentials are strong, but his campaign has left the door open for a Tea Party woman candidate. Yet another do-or-die race for national Democrats.

2) Florida - Floridians have a chance this year to send Governor Rick Scott back to wherever he came from (or, preferably, to jail, where he belongs).  The alternative to him is former Gov. Charlie Crist, who lost a Senate race (as an independent) to Marco Rubio, but now has become a Democrat. He governed as a moderate before, so it's fair for him to say he does not feel at home in his former party anymore (though that may not dispel his political opponents' charges of opportunism).  There are some competitive House races in Florida (I have been getting many emails from Patrick Murphy--not the one in Iowa above, which has been confusing--who is in a close race to hold his seat, as well as many enjoyable ones from Alan Grayson, who apparently has a fairly easy race this time). No Senate race here (or in New York or California; Texas has a near-walkover for John Cornyn.  It is almost certain this election will break records for low turnout, but these circumstances will have something to do with it, along with the political stalemate, the flood of negative ads we can expect....)

1) Kentucky - There are two routes toward the desired outcome that Mitch McConnell will not be the Senate Majority Leader in 2015-16.  The complicated one involves keeping net Democratic seat losses to less than six (with West Virginia, South Dakota, and now Montana near certain, and a variety of states that are possible losses, some but not all of which are discussed above).  The more direct route is voting him out of office completely, and I am thrilled to report that is still a possibility this year.  I should not get my hopes up, but his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is a strong candidate, a determined campaigner careful to hold to moderate positions appropriate for her state, while Mitch of the least likable politicians ever.   They tried a campaign ad in which he smiled, and I think they had to pull it, as he was scaring little children. The good news is that Kentucky is always one of the first to produce its voting results on Election Night, so I will know early on whether to place my hopes elsewhere.

2014 Elections - Special Cases: 
a) Louisiana - Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is running against both a Tea Party candidate and an Establishment Republican candidate.  The conventional wisdom is that she will finish first but fall short of 50%, which by Louisiana rules would necessitate a runoff election a few weeks later against the second-place finisher, then that wisdom suggests she might lose that race, which may at that time be determinant of control of the Senate.  Landrieu is a pureblood politician who picks her spots and avoids votes which will condemn her with her conservative state's electorate. I'm rooting for her to win it in regulation time and think she can do it.  If it goes into overtime, though, with the Senate at 50-49 Republican, it will be an insane mini-campaign, no matter who she has as opponent (New Orleans TV stations are holding time slots open for the windfall revenue, I'm sure).

b) Alaska  - My view of the toss-up Senate race in Alaska is like that of the Arkansas race above: there's an endangered, incumbent Democrat who will have to win without my support. My disappointment is greater with Alaska's Begich (I never had any expectations for Pryor), though I suppose I should be more understanding of his position:  he represents a state full of gun nuts who celebrate the idea that shooting moose from a helicopter is sport, and in fact I was reading that the Gun Owners of America give him a failing grade, despite his effort to appease them by opposing universal background checks for purchases, because of anti-gun crimes like supporting an advocate of gun restrictions for the judiciary and (horrors!) voting in favor of implementing the well-known anti-gun legislation Obamacare (?).   OK, Mark, I know you're not one of them, but have you shown you're one of us?

c) Hawaii - This is the state which has had the most dysfunctional Democratic party this year, but it will probably turn out OK for them in the end.  The story goes like this:  When longtime Senator Daniel Inouye was dying, he spoke with Gov. Abercrombie and suggested Abercrombie appoint Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to his seat until the special election.  When Inouye died, Abercrombie named instead Brian Schatz.  This "betrayal" opened up a rift between Whites and Asians in the state's Democratic party leadership, with the result that Abercrombie was punished with a massive primary defeat.  Meanwhile, Schatz squeaked out a victory over Hanabusa in the Senate primary.  I received tons of requests for money from both Schatz and Hanabusa (I refused to get any of my money involved in the spat).   The likelihood is that both Schatz and the Democratic nominee for Governor will win. Despite the intraparty feud, the Democrats are still too powerful in Hawaii.

d) Kansas, as in "What's Wrong with....?" -  Could Kansas become the new Iowa (only without the showoff Presidential caucus drama)?  My reading is that the revival of Democrats there is mostly connected with severe disenchantment with former Senator (and onetime Presidential candidate), now Governor Sam Brownback.  Brownback rammed through income tax cuts, and is suffering the usual consequences:  ingratitude (it's never enough!), budget deficit, downgraded credit, lack of trickle down flow.  He is running for re-election and is likely to lose.   Poor old Pat Roberts, the longtime Senator, seems to be feeling the downdraft, and with the developments this week he suddenly finds he may be in a fight.  The Democratic candidate withdrew from the race and threw his support to independent candidate Greg Orman.  All of a sudden Orman appears to be a threat to defeat Roberts (though a ruling that the Democrat was too late to take his name off the ballot will help him defend his seat).

Orman is regarded as a "true" independent, and in the style of Angus King (elected Senator from Maine in 2012) has not committed to joining the Democratic caucus if he wins.  So, we may have a scenario such as I described back then (though it didn't come to pass, as the Democratic control of the Senate didn't depend on King's joining them).  What I find interesting is the idea that we could have three Independents in the Senate next year--could this be the beginning of a "swing caucus" that could help break the partisan deadlock?

Other States--Ones in which Democrats should expect mostly Good statewide outcomes:  Maine,  Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Pennsylvania.  Ones that they should expect Bad ones:  Mississippi, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana.   Those last three states are ones that had Democratic Senators that almost surely will go Republican.  After the loss of those three, Democrats can afford a net result of no worse than -2 out of the many close ones they are defending (including Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, and New Hampshire) and the 2-3 they have a chance to gain (Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas).

*Maybe a topic for another day.  Yahoo!'s website is a real frustration, but I have not yet learned how to live without it.
+--maybe 2002 was, uniquely so for a postwar midterm election, but the Bush victory in 2004 was much more about John Kerry's perceived weakness as a Presidential candidate than any demonstrated Bushite foreign success--the Iraq "victory" line had already worn thin for most--while 1980 was only partly about Jimmy Carter's foreign policy miscues, but also about a really bad economic environment, just the same--with the shoe on the other foot--as 2008.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

Sept. 19 - 12 days, and about 1200 requests for money. This deadline, that deadline.
One thing I realized recently is that all those appeals that mention that the contribution will be double/triple matched just mean that they already have the money in hand.

The biggest news is that Orman's former Democratic opponent, Taylor, has successfully removed himself from the ballot, which increases the chances he can defeat Kansas Sen. Roberts. Other than that, a blizzard of polls, back and forth. It appears Kay Hagan's chances in NC have improved, as have Gary Peters' in Michigan, while Mark Udall in CO is in a tighter race than appeared previously.
One thing I forgot to mention was that #9, GA, also has an interesting governor's race.