Monday, May 07, 2018

Electoral Strategy for 2018

Trump is a sadist; he causes pain in everything that he does.  Many have tried to give him back what he deserves, but it seems the only pain he can feel comes from the feeling that he is losing.

We have a chance to punch him the mouth this year; to make him feel that pain for a change. But it has to be a loss that is clear-cut, unambiguous.

Not only that, if that were to happen, then the Republican party regulars would turn on him and he'd be on the way out, one way or the other. Whether they would be able to rescue their party is a separate question, less important for now.

End of Trumpism--the Headline
(as I would rank order on likelihood) 
1. Trump Defeated!  ( in the 2020 Election)
2. Trump Quits! (Before 2020)
3. Trump Dies!  (anytime OK)
4. Trump Announces He Will Not Run Again (most likely in early 2020, when the recession hits)
5. Trump Wins Re-Election, Civilization Crashes, Drumpfsterfire Blazes until Snuffed in Resulting Chaos... (I'd guess late 2022)
6. Trump Is Impeached and Convicted! (could even be in second term)
7. That 25th Amendment Coup-because-Trump-is-Crazy Thing! (Since it didn't already happen...)

I have full respect for the job that Robert Mueller is doing, but I don't expect the investigation to lead to a decisive outcome.   I like that it's an irritant to Trump, and the distractions it provides keep the White House from being more effective. That's entirely a positive factor, though far outweighed in magnitude by the damage the servile legislators and sycophantic staffmen (the only kinds left in the Republican Congress and adninistration) enable Trump's mad policy flailing to "win".

Beating the Drumpfists
 (and I do mean giving them a beating)

Developing a winning US electoral strategy, as usual, begins with Florida and Ohio, just like in the Presidential elections.  In this case, it is only partly and indirectly because of their status as the key swing states in the Electoral College.  In 2018, there are critical state elections that will make a difference for all branches and levels of government.  Both states will have contested elections for governor and for senator, as well as a number of critical House races and battles for control of their legislatures. 

Then, the control of those statehouses will be important in the brief leading period before the 2020 campaign begins, as they have the ability to affect voting procedures, which have been fiercely contested in both for obvious reasons--so much is at stake.  Frankly, too much.

For me, the single most important election for 2018 will be that for the re-election of Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio.  It will be a pure test of political drawing power for both parties, and they are throwing everything into it.  (Trump was there last weekend on "official White House business"--to get the taxpayer to pay for it--and he will no doubt find other reasons between now and November.)

Brown is a solid candidate, a good campaigner and positioned somewhere in the spectra of populism and progressivism between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.  In other words a strong, representative Democrat.  He will be facing a handpicked Republican Congressman whom Trump endorsed over the weekend (though I imagine the Drumpfster doesn't know him or what he stands for.) No matter,  Jim Renacci will be bound to appear to be a pro-Trump, anti-Kasich kind of stooge. 

The party nominees for the governor's race will be determined in the primary Tuesday but are likely to be Mike Dewine, a nasty Scroogian sort with proven electoral ability, and Rich Cordray, a Democratic former Lieutenant Governor, but better known nationally as former Director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (the "CFPB").  He was, in fact, the only Director of that agency until Drumpfist henchman Mick Mulvaney took it over recently, in one of these painful, chaotic bureaucratic power struggles that the Drumpfists so enjoy, and immediately set himself seriously about destroying it.  Anyway, Cordray will get the blame in ad after ad for over-regulation, and he is bland, and I am not optimistic about that one.

Sherrod Brown is rated as having a Hillary-like 80% chance (on Predictit), but I am scared:  his not winning would blow the whole deal. Whatever else happens, if he loses, the punch in the mouth be softened.  We all know too well about the diverse Ohio electorate:  if Brown's organization can deliver turnout in the big cities and their suburbs, and also rally the disaffected blue-collar voters who were critical in Trump's win in the state, he will have shown the way to the national party for 2020.  More on this later.

Florida is not quite as exciting but also a top priority  In the Senate, there is real danger because Senator Bill Nelson, a bland, blameless liberal, is running for re-election (fourth term) against the odious, term-limited state governor Rick Scott.  Scott is an opportunist, a crook, and an elitist but, like Trump, has been able to con enough voters to have won signal victories--twice!-in Florida.  This case is about as pure a straight-up test as there could be of Trumpist vs. Democrat.  As the incumbent, Nelson is a slight favorite, but this could be a mirage.  In the governor's race, I would favor the chances of Democratic ex-Congresswoman Gwen Graham, the daughter of Florida Governor (and Senator) Bob Graham. As we know, picking up that office can be a matter of national importance, as we saw in 2000 with Jeb Bush.

The Next Tier
Florida and Ohio went wrong in 2016, but the real killers in the Presidential contest were Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, each of which moved the needle just a bit to the right and drove us all off the cliff.  They are also finely-balanced politically, and recovering the electoral majority in these states is a worthy battle. It is a battle that both parties will be poised to fight with excessive effort and money invested.

As states which had leaned Democratic in national elections before 2016, all three have Democratic senators running for re-election.  It is an important fact for the 2018's that all three--Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania--are now considered likely winners (80% or so).

Loss by any of them would be a major Democratic disaster, so if the race is tight near Election Day, the appeals for TV ad money will be hysterical (meaning not funny, but screechingly constant).  Do not be tempted--when they say "your contribution will be triple-matched" it means the national party has already given enough to cover three times what Viewers Like You are expected to contribute.  My view is, they should have built their get-out-the-vote with early money and local candidates' organization.  If they did that, they will be OK; if they didn't, too bad for all of us.  Pennsylvania's local contests will be particularly important because of the court ruling overturning the Republican-gerrymandered House districting of the state, giving the Democrats several pickup opportunities.

There is one more member of this group of medium-sized northern battleground states;  Minnesota did not go for Trump, but it has been very close in all recent Presidential elections..  This year,  Minnesota Democrats are actually defending two Democratic senate seats, an unusual occurrence caused by the resignation of Al Franken (let's not go there, now).  Amy Klobuchar is running for re-election and should be favored, but the Republicans will aim at replacement Senator appointee Tina Smith, who is running to keep it now for a full term.  There is also a rare opening from the end of term of a Democratic governor, which will be a lively and expensive contest.

Additional Senate Battlegrounds
When you start with a 51-49 Republican Senate edge (Democrats need to gain two for control) and the Democrats defending ten seats which Trump won in 2016, every closely-contested one is vital, and these states--mostly smaller, with less expensive TV markets--will be subjected to a deluge of ads.  If I were managing a moderate Democrat defending against some wingnut Republican--likely to be the case in five different states which went heavily for Trump (IN, MO, ND, MT, and WV) --I would look to de-escalate.  Defend against the absurd attacks ("no, I'm not a Communist"), but try to tone down the rhetoric and spending level.  These Democratic candidates have to follow a fine line--yes, I'm a gun owner, no, I'm not opposed to working with Republicans--but the way was shown to them by the Conor Lamb special election campaign in Pennsylvania.

The story is different in those four states (AZ, NV, TN, TX) where Republicans are defending Senate seats and facing serious threats.  The problem for the Republicans is that the simple Trumpist story line does not appear to be enough to win these normally Republican states, due in large part to the success the Democrats have had in fielding credible candidates.

Ted Cruz in Texas is something more (or less) than a mere Trump acolyte, and his desperate race to hold off a historic shift in the balance of power between the parties is another big story for the election.  I have been fooled before by popular Texas Democratic candidates who max out in the mid-40's, and Beto O'Rourke appears to be another. I won't believe it's possible he wins until I see a poll that shows Cruz five points behind.  But, if that happens, that would be the Democratic equivalent of the Republicans' winning Sherrod Brown's seat, a major party win regardless of the final Congressional seat count.

Senate Seats Most Likely to Flip 
(State, Party, and likely candidate of incumbent party, current Predictit odds)
Arizona, R, Martha McSally,* 72%   (Jeff Flake's seat)
Nevada, R, Dean Heller, 70%
Missouri, D, Claire McCaskill, 53%  
North Dakota, D, Heidi Heitkamp 52%
Tennessee, R, Marsha Blackburn,* 52%
Indiana, D, Joe Donnelly, 47%
Florida, D, Bill Nelson, 39%
Montana, D, Jon Tester, 38%
West Virginia, D, Joe Manchin, 32%
Texas, R, Ted Cruz, 30%
Wisconsin, D, Tammy Baldwin, 22%
Minnesota, D, Tina Smith, 22%
Ohio, D, Sherrod Brown, 19%
Pennsylvania, D, Bob Casey, 15%. 

*Nominee not currently seated. 

I hope you get the gist of it:  two very good opportunities for Democratic gains pickups at the top of the list, and a lot of uncertainty, in primarily Democratic-held seats, after that.  It would be a true wave result--a left hook in the jaw--if the Democrats could hold that two-seat gain.  Otherwise, a miss.   In my betting, I'm looking at the Democrats picking up 2-3 and the Republican 2-3 (my guesses would be ND and IN going over, maybe FL). has the chances of Democrats gaining control at about 38%.

And the House...
Like the Senate, 2018's House campaign is a target-rich environment with battles scattered throughout the country. Republican members are fleeing the Paul Ryan-led partisan suckfest shipwreck, with the lead rat being Ryan himself.  An unprecedented number have decided to run for other office, have term limited themselves, or otherwise headed for the hills.  The majority of those did so from varying combinations of Drumpf-induced nausea mixed with fear of losing (a few due to exposed misbehavior).

I am looking for--but have not yet found--a table which shows the incumbents of both parties who are running for re-election. Since historically those people win about 90% of the time, in good times and bad, it would be the best way to build a table of the likely score for estimating outcomes based on the toss-up races--of which I expect there will be money.  This has been due partly to the power of incumbency, and partly to the choices of those who don't see victory happening.

Ballotpedia has a number of lists which show who is running for this and that, or for The Hills (my term), but not a list of those who are remaining and running again.  My rough count is Democrats have about 175 of those seats, Republicans about 195.  Between those 65 or so that are up for grabs, and a dozen or so really good Republican-held incumbent targets for defeat (few will go the other way), the Democrats need to make up about 20 seats.  It can be done, but the Democrats will need something like a 10-point national margin to have such a big win.  They are now at about 8%  in current polling (likely voters), but the pros from both sides are feeling that this will happen.  A recent Pew poll suggests likely voters prefer the Democrats on issues by about 57-41, so the question is how many of those will actually vote, and vote according to that (as opposed to the candidates themselves and their particular positions).

 Predictit has chances of Democratic control of the House at about 68%, which to me is too high by 10% or so--thus I am currently betting primarily on Republican control, hoping to take profits before Election Day.  They have a new market set up on the four combinations of control, the odds of which should reflect how the two contests are distinct but correlated.  Current values:  D-House R-Senate 42%; D-House D-Senate 30%; R-House R-Senate 30%; R-House D-Senate 4%. (Totals do not equal 100%).

Lastly, a couple of tips for harassed folks like me receiving dozens or hundreds of appeals for money:
1) Do not be moved by the ones saying "we are doing well" or "we are not doing so well", or "they are spending money against us".  Those were all scheduled appeals using whatever news of the moment inevitably points to the need to ask for money.
2) Do not be moved by the ones saying they have a deadline.  The deadline is theirs, not yours; as suggested before, it is more sound to ask for money for developing a ground game (until the last month) rather than those other reasons, and responding rationally to late appeals will rely upon a sophisticated analysis of current probability that is too much to expect of anyone.
3) Again, don't try too hard to give tactically in the close races.  It's too complicated to really keep up with it this year, and I am tired of contributing to candidates I don't really know who are about to lose close races.

I do endorse contributing to Democrats--exclusively so this year, unless there is some Republican who runs by explicitly repudiating Trump (and I have not seen that yet).  It is the right way to respond to the Republican tax bill which has largely eliminated the tax incentive for charitable contributions.  I'm shifting about 60% of my annual charitable give to politics this year.  Then we'll see; I keep hoping for de-escalation of political expense, which I consider to be a clear example of what is called The Cost of Bad Quality (a/k/a waste).

Pick a few races that matter to you, and--now that the national Democrats are about done putting their fingers on the scales of primary contests--give to the DCCC, to the DLCC (aids state legislature races), and Emily's List.  Yeah, I know they only endorse women--this year, I think that's pretty sound strategy for me.


Chin Shih Tang said...

The answer to the question, how many races for seats in the House feature an incumbent running for re-election? is 374; 176 Dem and 198 Republican (as opposed to the 193-234 margin, with 8 vacancies, 2 of which Dem, currently in place after immediate departures, special elections, etc.) Repubs are defending 42 without incumbents, Dems 19. This is one good reason for optimism.

So out of the remaining 61, Dems would need to take over two-thirds (a different 42) of those seats to have a net gain of 22. Apart from the upsets, that would be a starting point for estimation.

Chin Shih Tang said...

One more comment, coming clean on my betting: My estimate is Democrats are about 50-50 to regain the House, and about 30-70 the Senate. The center of distribution on my Predictit bets on the Senate (Republican seats) is 52/53, with current bets I'd be winning anywhere from 51-55. I'm taking a chance betting against 50-50, while I'm playing 49 or less (Dem control) according to whether I think the current sentiment is overly favorable or the opposite--lately there has been a correction toward the 30-70 as reality sets in for Demo hopeful bettors.
far as the House, they have some weird ranges for Republican seats; I am holding positive on 218-225 (with smaller amounts on 226-230 and 231-235)--I like that broad range!
The four-way bet they introduced now (the four combinations of control by party for the two Houses) holds the promise for some active movement and I will be following it.

Chin Shih Tang said...

I should have had the NJ seat of Bob Menendez on the list (currently 16% odds of his losing); I further would say that he is the most likely upset loser (thus, not including those tossups or worse); there is still a cloud over him, though the threat of criminal prosecution has evaporated, which could cause Democrats to spurn him if the opposition is relatively strong (even though NJ goes mostly Democratic). Apart from the balance of power issue, I wouldn't even mind his losing much; he is pretty lame.

Chin Shih Tang said...

I have to say I didn't follow my advice on political contributions--I gave dozens to many different candidates. Usually $20.18, but if they specifically said less, that's what I gave them. I'll do a column on contributions soon.

My predictions were a little conservative--my opinion (and my predictit money) moved more favorably toward the Democrats in the House later. But pretty good, really--the only thing I really got wrong here was the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida (Andrew Gillum surprised me.)

In spite of which, I made only a little on Election Night and thereafter. I was too timid--didn't hold out, for example, with my bets on Democrats in California, and sold some of them at a loss when they ended up being winners. An election night shift toward higher Republican Senate numbers ended up being a mistake. The 235 House seats that actually happened was in my wheelhouse, but just barely.