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Monday, February 29, 2016

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is when the primary fighting gets serious.  In the combined four early primaries and caucuses, there were 186 delegates up for grabs among the Democrats and 133 for the Republicans. On Super Tuesday, that one day will award 997 delegates for the Democrats and 665 for the Republicans

Super Tuesday started to become a thing in 1980, although there were some references to it dating from the 1976 campaign.  After the primaries started to become important after the 1968 and 1972 Party reforms, States quickly realized that being early was especially important.  By the time a quarter of the States had voted, a nominee was often pretty much selected or at least well on his way. Late primaries became virtually meaningless.

To prevent States from continually moving earlier and extending the primary season, parties began to put limits on how early a State could hold a primary or caucus.  As a result, many States wanted to be at the very beginning of the party sanctioned time period.  A number of southern States thought they could have more say if they all held their primaries on the same day, on the first Tuesday within the time permitted by the parties.  That is how Super Tuesday was born.

Some people call Super Tuesday the SEC Primary because most of the southern states voting on that day are part of the SEC (Southeastern Conference) of college sports teams.

It is very unusual for there not to be a candidate who is going to be the clear winner after Super Tuesday.  Under Republican rules, States holding primaries or caucuses prior to March 15 must award delegates on a proportional basis.  This means that every candidate that meets a basic threshold will be awarded delegates, with the exact number dependent on the percentage of the vote won.  So winners of early states often don't get many more delegates than the losers.  After March 15, States move to a winner take all model.  Winning a State by even one vote has big consequences for obtaining delegates.  This allows a front runner to obtain a majority more quickly.

By contrast, the Democrats required awarding proportional delegates through the whole process, as long as a candidate meets a certain threshold, usually 15%.  This tends to draw out the fight longer for the Democrats, as it did in 2008 when the delegates remained closely divided between Obama and Clinton until almost the very end of the season.

Below is a list of Super Tuesday Primaries and caucuses.  An open primary is one where anyone from any party can vote in either primary.  A closed primary is one where only registered members of a party can vote.  Mixed usually means that independents can vote in either primary, but registered members of one party cannot vote in the other.

  • Alabama 60 D, 50 R Open
  • Alaska caucus (R) 28 Closed
  • American Samoa caucus (D) 10 Open
  • Arkansas 37 D, 40 R Open
  • Colorado caucus 79 D, 37 R Closed
  • Democrats Abroad (Vote March 1 - 8) 17
  • Georgia 116 D, 76 R Open
  • Massachusetts 116 D, 42 R Mixed
  • Minnesota caucus 93 D, 38 R Open
  • North Dakota caucus (R) 28 Closed
  • Oklahoma 42 D, 43 R Closed
  • Tennessee 76 D, 58 R Open
  • Texas 252 D, 155 R Open
  • Vermont 26 D, 16 R Open
  • Virginia 110 D, 49 R Open
  • Wyoming caucus (R) 29 Closed
As much as my readers enjoy me going on interminably about the details, I'm not going to handicap each individual State race this time.  I will say that the majority of votes tend to be in southern States, which usually tends to benefit conservative candidates in both parties.  Because Super Tuesday is such a large and disparate grouping, it tends to benefit the more well financed and organized campaigns.  The retail politics that work in small early states does not translate well into a larger race. TV and other advertising becomes more important, as does free mass media from debates and news pieces.

Clinton and Trump remain the respective favorites, although both seem to draw high negative numbers even within their own parties. Cruz remains a solid second even though, like Trump, he also tends to draw high negatives.  Cruz may win his home State of Texas, which may keep his campaign alive for a while.  Cruz's  and Trump's high negatives mean few people opposing Trump or Cruz now will move to their camps as other candidates drop away.

Now that Jeb Bush is out, the question for many is where his voters go.  Rubio seems to be the establishment favorite at the moment.  However, a failure to win any Super Tuesday State may cause his "winnability" to be questioned, especially with polls showing him losing his home State of Florida to Trump two weeks later.

Kasich's strategy becomes more difficult as he tends to do worse in Southern Primaries.  If Kasich does not win or at least beat Rubio in some of the non-Southern States (Col. Mass. Minn. N.D., Ver.) he will have to call it quits.  Even if he wins a couple of Stats, at best, he is a long shot compromise candidate at a divided convetion, very unlikely,

Carson also remains in the race but not sure why.   His few supporters are the few that may move to Trump in significant numbers  when his campaign ends.

For the Democrats, the two person race simplifies things.  In 2008, Clinton and Obama split Super Tuesday pretty evenly.  Sanders will need to win the States that rejected Clinton in 2008 in order to show he has staying power.  I don't think that is realistic, meaning Super Tuesday may bring an end to the Sanders Campaign.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

SC Democratic Primary Results

Hillary Clinton trounced Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina Primary yesterday.  The final result was Clinton as almost 74% to Sanders' 26%, a nearly 3 to 1 margin.

The margin of victory was even bigger than expected.  Clinton was polling 25%-30% above Sanders in most polls.  The increased margin shows that the Clinton campaign really pulled out all stops to get supporters to the polls while the Sanders campaign, seeing  an inevitable loss, did not make as much of an effort there, turning its focus to Super Tuesday.

Clinton won among virtually all groups, blacks, whites, all age groups except 18-24 year olds, all levels of education, income levels, among liberals, moderates, and conservatives.  Other than the very young, Sanders only one with first time voters and with independents over Democrats.  You can view the demographic details at CNN.

The upshot of all this is that Clinton looks very strong going into Super Tuesday next week.  She did not want a repeat of the 2008 race where she and her opponent both looked close as the early primary period came to an end.   She wanted to look inevitable, and she does.  I will handicap Super Tuesday in my next post, but it seems clear that Clinton now has a commanding lead.  Absent some major event that causes a huge shift, Clinton should cruise to the nomination.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Eve of the SC Democratic Primary

Today, a week after the Republicans, the Democrats of South Carolina begin voting for their party's Presidential nominee in the last contest before Super Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton is expected to trounce Bernie Sanders in this State, where African-Americans make up a majority of Democratic voters, and where Clinton has been courting black leaders and other party leaders for years.  This is one primary where experience and years of planning will pay dividends.  Don't expect any last minute surprises.  I'll ignore the obvious point that surprises are, by definition, unexpected.  However little should change here without any vote altering events appearing in the news in the past week or two.  About 10% of the voters were undecided as of the latest polls from last week.

More and more, Hillary seems to be the inevitable nominee (really, this time).  Polls show her expecting to win South Carolina by a good 25 points over Sanders.  SC voters have never seemed to "feel the Bern."  Even Joe Biden was beating Bernie in the SC polls back in November, and Biden was not even campaigning.

With a sold win in Nevada and an even larger win in South Carolina, Hillary should move into Super Tuesday as the leading candidate.  If the takes a solid majority of the delegates then, Bernie should quickly become a distant memory.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Seriously, President Donald Trump!

Pundits have been in denial for months, and I have been one of them.  No one seriously thought Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination.  His path to the nomination has been an unconventional one:
  • no political experience, 
  • virtually no endorsements, 
  • no particular past allegiance to the Party or to conservative values, 
  • no significant amount of money raised or spent, 
  • no massive campaign staff managing his ground game and getting out the vote.
For these reasons, most experienced people who follow politics saw his early poll numbers as a flash in the pan that would dissolve quickly once primary voting started.  That has not been the case. Trump has won three out of four contests so far, with the forth being a close second.  No single nominee has stepped up to be the single alternative to Trump, and the most powerful establishment figure with the most money, Jeb Bush, has already ended his campaign.  Trump leads in the polls in most of the upcoming primary States and seems well poised to take a majority of delegates before the convention.

Given Trump's high negative numbers even within the Republican Party, it was reasonable to assume that someone would come into focus as the establishment choice and collect all of those people who hate/fear a Trump presidency.  That, however, has not happened.  Trump maintains a solid lead in the delegate count and is poised only to increase that lead.

Previously, I had predicted the possibility of a divided convention.  But now I don't see that happening.  Even with four other candidates still in the race, they are collecting fewer delegates combined that Bush has.  Under Republican rules, primary after March 15 take a winner take all approach.  If Trump wins a state with 35% of the vote, he gets 100% of the delegates.  This is a big difference from the Democratic Party rules which continue proportional delegates throughout the season.

But what about Super Delegates?  Certainly the point of those is to prevent a nominee that is nearly universally opposed by the Party establishment.  No, while that is the case in the Democratic Party, the Republicans require that super delegates vote for the nominee who won their State.  Many super delegates are obligated to support Trump even if they dislike him.

As a result, there is a very clear path for Trump to secure the nomination with a majority of delegates by the end of March. Chances of another candidate with fewer delegates seeking a divided convention seem almost nil.

Ok, so Trump wins the nomination.  Does that mean he goes down in flames in the general election? I'm not so sure.  While Trump certainly has much higher negatives among Democrats and independents, he has also been able to turn out large numbers of people who have not voted in many years.  Historically unusual large turn out of faithful voters can realign the electoral map. It can more typically solid Democratic States like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan into red States.  Trump's high numbers with seniors might also hand him the pivotal swing State of Florida.  Those States along with the traditionally solid Republican States and Ohio give Trump enough electoral votes to become President.

The likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also has high negatives with many voters, mostly thanks to decades of Republican mud slinging.  She also has few hard core supporters thanks to a rather stand-offish and guarded personality and a campaign strategy unwilling to take risks.

Like it or not, Trump has a fairly solid path to the Presidency at this point.  Of course, lots more can happen.  Fear of a Trump Presidency may be enough to motivate voters, but historically, it is support, not opposition to a candidate, that gets out the vote.  Donald Trump may be our next President.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Buying Elections

Many Democrats this season are complaining heavily about the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that the government could not prevent private citizens, organizations, or corporations from spending money to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.  The decision applies only to "independent expenditures."  That is, a private party may spend money to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, but may be restricted in its ability to donate directly to a candidate's campaign.

The Court's has always barred any restrictions on campaign contributions except for the purpose of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. Prior decisions reasoned that giving an unlimited amount directly to a candidate or campaign could be seen as corruption in that the contributor would likely want some special treatment in exchange for such massive support.  For this reason, the Court has permitted restrictions on the amount of money any individual may give a candidate.  It has also allowed blanket restrictions on corporations or foreign citizens from making direct contributions.

The Citizens United case tried to go a step further.  The Federal Election Commission was attempting to enforce a statutory ban on any corporate expenditure that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate within 30 days of any election, including Primary elections.  This law would disallow any movie, TV show, book, magazine, or pretty much any other media device to disseminate a message at any time during a Presidential campaign year, since primaries start in January and continue through most of the year until the November elections. The law made exceptions for newspapers and magazines to endorse candidates as long as they were regularly publish periodicals whose primary purpose was not the election or defeat of a candidate.  But such exceptions were statutory exceptions that could be removed by Congress at any time.  It did not recognize any Constitutional protection.

In this case, Citizens United wanted to disseminate a movie about Hillary Clinton that attacked her and clearly sent a message to viewers that she should not be elected President in 2008.  The group argued that it had a First Amendment right to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, despite the fact that it was using corporate funds to distribute its message.  The Court agreed and upheld the group's First Amendment rights.

To do otherwise would have been terribly problematic.  It would have had to hold that any organization or group that incorporated must surrender its First Amendment rights.  In other words, the New York Times or the Washington Post would not be protected by the First Amendment because they were corporations.  Corporate book publishers and movie producers would also be unprotected. Such a result seemed to be a radical departure from past First Amendment protections.

Of course, the decision also created an exception that big money interests could abuse terribly. Almost immediately, large well funded independent organizations were created, which could receive unlimited amounts of money from virtually any source to spend on a candidate.  The organization could not coordinate directly with the campaign, but could spend massive amounts on advertising with the express goal of electing or defeating a candidate.

Democrats seem to be most outraged by this activity, out of a fear that Republicans would benefit more from large money contributions.  In 2008, before Citizens United was decided, Barack Obama benefited from around $89 million spent on his behalf and about $81 million spent opposing him. Much if this was spent during the primaries so much of the opposition came from Democrats.  Much of this was PAC money raised within the contribution restrictions in place at the time.  His opponent John McCain (who has strongly opposed independent expenditures himself) saw about $29 million spent on his behalf and $19 million in opposition.

This was a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $745 million raised by the Obama Campaign directly in 2008.  The McCain campaign raised less than $400 million total on the primary and general elections, although McCain did not face a lengthy and expensive primary challenge as did Obama.

In 2012, after Citizens United lifted restrictions on independent expenditures, President Obama had only about $50 million spent to advocate his reelection, while about $334 million was spent in opposition.  Republican opponent Mitt Romney saw about $91 million spent on his behalf and about $95 million spent opposing his election.  But again, independent expenditures dwarfed spending by the campaign itself.  Obama raised and spent just over $1.1 Billion, while Romney spent just over $1 Billion.

All of these numbers come from the Center for Responsive Politics at

So while independent expenditures are growing and seem to favor Republican candidates, they are no match for direct campaign fundraising.  Further, candidates find independent expenditures less effective since they cannot coordinate with the campaign.  This can result in duplicate spending, spending not focused on the campaign's strategy, or even spending that conflicts with the campaign's strategy.

Some have argued that while independent expenditures are less effective in the general election when there is lots of other money anyway, it might exert more influence during the primaries, especially early in the process when candidates cannot raise as much in large amounts from contributors.  If this year is any indication though, that theory is dead wrong.  Jeb Bush raised about $25 million in direct contributions and benefited from another $118 million in independent expenditures on his behalf. His results were so bad that he has already suspended his campaign after three primaries.  By comparison, the front runner Donald Trump has spent an estimated $12 million and benefited from another $4 million from outside groups to take the lead in the election.  Clearly, money has not had the greatest impact on this election.

For many months now, I have predicted that Bush would slowly gain acceptance and eventually overtake and defeat Trump.  I based this largely on Bush's prowess in raising and spending funds, as well as his experienced and able campaign staff's ability to use those resources effectively.  Clearly that was wrong.

Bush's failure and Trump's success do prove one thing though.  Money does not buy votes.  Voters can be overwhelmed with all sorts of advertising and encouragement to support a particular candidate. But people are perfectly capable of ignoring all that and choosing who they like despite the massive marketing campaign.  Money does not buy votes.  It buys the candidate an opportunity to present his or her message to the voters.  Whether the voters choose to accept that message and support that candidate is still a very big leap.  It is that leap that tells me that tells me that Citizens United is not the threat to Democracy that many Democrats believe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nevada Republican Caucus Results

Donald Trump continues his line of victories with a first place finish in Nevada. As I predicted yesterday, Trump finished a good 22 points above his closest rival, with almost 46% of the total vote.

The fact that Trump broke out of his normal 35%  ceiling could be significant if it shows that he is not limited to about one-third of Republican voters.  But as I said before, Nevada is not a good measure of voter sentiment.   Because of the Nevada Caucus having very burdensome rules to participate, many people do not.  Therefore, results here are often the result of a campaign's ability to turn out hard core supporters.  As a local casino owners, Trump had many pre-existing contacts and allies to help him last night.  Therefore, I think his success exceeds his actual popularity within the State.

The other interesting story is the fall of Cruz.  A close third behind Rubio is a disappointing result for Cruz whose campaign showed organizational mastery of Caucuses in Iowa.  The campaign seems to be floundering.  If Cruz cannot win his home State of Texas next week on Super Tuesday, it should be game over for him.  At present, Cruz seems to be doing well in Texas polls.  A win there could keep his campaign alive.

Rubio seems to be the anti-Trump default choice now.  But with the anemic support of under 24% in Nevada, he is still looking weak.  Like Cruz, Rubio's home State is coming up fast on the calendar. Florida is a March 15 winner-take-all race.  Unlike Cruz, Rubio is currently polling below Trump in his home State. Florida, full of lots of elderly and working class whites, is fertile territory for Trump. If Trump beats Rubio in Florida, that may seal the nomination for Trump and knock out Rubio.

Carson and Kasich were both"also rans" with less than 5% each.  Kasich is pinning his hope on a Michigan win on Super Tuesday to keep himself alive, followed by his home State of Ohio on March 15.  Failure to win either of those States should be the end of his campaign.  Carson? well my theory is that he is still running because he has nothing better to do.

The other interesting point ignored by most pundits about the caucus is the level of turn out.  In 2012, just under 32,000 Nevada Republican participated.  This year, that number more than doubled to about 75,000.  Trump alone received more votes that 100% participants four years earlier.  Rubio's distant second received more total votes than Romney's majority win at the 2012 Caucus.  Part of the larger turn out may be due to the fact that the race is still more competitive than it may have been four years ago.  Part of it is also probably due to more campaigns working harder to turn out supporters.  But it also may be that Trump really is bringing in many more new voters who would have otherwise stayed home.

Trump's position seems to look stronger every day.  He is not yet inevitable given his high negatives. An expected solid Super Tuesday win will bring him much closer to that inevitability.  I never thought I would say this, but Trump remains the odds on favorite.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Eve of the Nevada Republican Caucus

The Nevada Caucus will take place this evening.  In a post from last week, I predicted that Trump and Cruz would do better than expected, with Trump winning easily.  I still expect Trump to win easily, perhaps by 20 points.  Second place is now more in doubt.

Cruz had been looking for a strong finish here thanks to his organizational ability and reputation as an unwavering conservative.  But his prospects have been falling in the final days.  Yesterday Cruz fired his Communications Director because of false stories he was distributing about other candidates. While Cruz has tried to spin the story as him maintaining high standards for his staff, most people will understand that Cruz either supported dissemination of these false stories, or had no control over his own staff.  Either way, it reflects poorly on him.  Despite his organizational ability, it tells voters the Cruz campaign is not running like the fine tuned well oiled machine that it needs to rack up wins.  People looking for a winner Trump alternative may go elsewhere.

Rubio seems to do better when he shuts up, and he's been shutting up lately.  With Bush now out of the race, Rubio's chances of a second place finished are greatly enhanced.

There are little to no expectations for Kasich or Carson to break double digits in Nevada.  Expect both to be non-factors here.

This is the last Republican Contest before Super Tuesday next week.  Expect the main story to be Trump dominating.  If Rubio can pull out a solid second, it will also help him going into Super Tuesday as the Trump alternative.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

SC Republican Primary & Nev. Democratic Caucus Results

The results of the Republican Primary in South Carolina are in.  As expected, Donald Trump won easily, beating the second place finisher by 10 points.

The big surprise is Marco Rubio's second place finish. Recent polls showed him finishing a close third behind Ted Cruz.  It looks like voters dumped Bush and Kasich at the last minute and moved to Rubio.  Part of this move may be attributed to a late in the game Rubio endorsement by SC Gov. Nikki Haley  Establishment voters who dislike Cruz and fear Trump are beginning to realize they must stop dividing their votes and back a single establishment candidate.  That candidate is now Marco Rubio.

Jeb Bush has ended his bid for the Presidency.  He seems to have realized, after not taking even a third place victory anywhere, that his campaign is not a winning one.  He must bow out to allow some candidate to challenge Trump and Cruz.

John Kasich never expected to do well in South Carolina.  He is hoping to win a few States on Super Tuesday, then show more success in the mid-west and northeast primaries.  But an anemic fifth place finish in SC raises the question whether people will continue to give him serious consideration or whether establishment focuses on Rubio and forgets about Kasich.  Hey, he might at least make a good pick for Vice President.

Ben Carson finished sixth.  I continue to ask why he is still running.

Trump is still expected to win Nevada later this week.  This gives him big momentum going into Super Tuesday.  That said, if the establishment really does coalesce around Rubio, we could see improvement.  If Bush and Kasich had not run in South Carolina and those voters had mostly backed Rubio, he might have defeated Trump by five points.  The question is whether Rubio really can collect virtually all of those establishment votes if the other candidates leave.

After March 15, the Republican Primary States become winner take all.  If Rubio can collect all the establishment votes, he may win states.  If the establishment remains divided, Trump's lead could expand quickly and allow him to collect a majority of delegates.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton edged out Bernie Sanders in the Nevada Caucus, as expected.  Assuming she also beats Sanders in South Carolina next week, she goes into Super Tuesday with good momentum, better organization and more money.  We may see Sanders fade quickly at that point.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Politics of the Supreme Court

The sudden death of Antonin Scalia has thrown one of the first big unplanned events into the 2016 Presidential campaign.  Justice Scalia was a hero to the conservative right.  The notion of pushing the court further to the left by allowing Barack Obama to appoint his successor is anathema to many on the right.

I'll also say at the outset that I have a real bias on this issue.  People who know me know I tend to support a wide range of sometimes quite liberal positions on some issues and quite conservative on others.  However, regarding the Courts, I can think of only a handful of cases in which I ever disagreed not only with Justice Scalia's finding, but his reasoning as well.  I admired him greatly and will miss his presence on the Court.

The relative randomness of Supreme Court Justices resigning or dying is a fact of our political system.  Jimmy Carter served four years without appointing a single nominee.  The elder George Bush also served four years and appointed two.

The appointment of Supreme Court Justices was at one time a fairly uncontroversial and nonpartisan event. Even when former politicians went to the Court, such as former President Taft, it was not seen as a threat by the other party.  Sure, there have been times from the beginning when nominees were rejected.  George Washington's nominee for Chief Justice, John Rutledge was rejected, even though he was already sitting on the Court (as a recess appointment).  The Senate rejected Rutledge, not because of his ability but because of his opposition to the Jay Treaty with Great Britain.  Similarly, James Madison's appointment of Alexander Wolcott was rejected in 1811, primarily due to Wollcotts support of Jefferson's Embargo Act in 1807.

Over time, however, the Court became much less political.  The Court itself developed doctrines to avoid addressing political questions by declaring them to be not justiciable.  Over time, the court became far less controversial and appointments focused more on qualification.

That began to change in the 1960's after the Court dove into highly controversial political issues such as racial discrimination, religion in government, and police behavior.  I don't mean to get into a debate as to whether the Court's involvement in such issues was right or wrong.  I only mean to point out that when it happened, Congress and the President both began to take a much closer look a the ideology of the candidates.

This heightened scrutiny became much more apparent in 1986 with President Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork.  The Senate, which had recently changed to a Democratic majority questioned and ultimately rejected the appointment, not because Judge Bork was unqualified, but because his opinions suggested he differed greatly in his approach to cases from the then rather liberal Burger Court.  After a negative media campaign by several left wing interest groups Judge Bork's nomination was ultimately rejected.

Since that time, both parties have focused on not only the qualifications, but also the political philosophy of judges, knowing that who sits on the court will ultimately decide whether legislation stands or falls, and whether new rights are recognized or diluted.  It has been largely the Republicans who have expressed frustration with the Court's willingness to involve itself in political issues and overturn legislation, but the Court has certainly been willing to overturn liberal legislation as well. Court balance therefore, is fought just as politically as the balance of the House or Senate.

Of course, Justices do not always vote as the President who nominated them intended.  At one point in the early 1990's eight of the nine Justices on the Court were Republican appointees.  The only Democrat was Justice Byron White, appointed by John Kennedy, who dissented in Roe v. Wade. Despite this, the Court rejected attempts to overturn its earlier decisions regarding abortion and a range of other decisions favoring liberal political positions.

There is a school of thought that politicians find unpopular Court decisions to be politically expedient.  A generation of conservative politicians ran on issues of repealing Roe v. Wade and other liberal decisions.  This help energize and encourage conservative voters to get out and support these candidates.  Had Roe v. Wade never removed the issue from politics, it likely would have energized people on the left to elect more liberal politicians to protect abortions through legislative action.  In other words, Congress and State legislatures were made more conservative as a reaction to the courts protection of this politically unpopular right.  More recently, the Court removed another political issue from debate by inventing a new right for homosexual marriage.  This issue likely would have deeply divided the Republican party for years.  Court action prevented that messy political debate and took an issue that likely would have been very helpful for the Democrats, and energizing support for Democratic candidates for years to come.

It seems, however, a little too cynical to believe the most politicians would want a policy decision to go against them in order to protect their career in fighting against it.  I have to think most politicians do not enter politics simply for a paycheck and a steady job.  Most of them could do much better in the private sector if that is what they wanted.  Politicians want to make political change, reshape society closer to their vision.  For this reason they see shaping the Courts, and most particularly the Supreme Court by populating the bench with people that share their world view.

This brings us to the current vacancy in the middle of the 2016 Presidential election.  Republican candidates and legislators alike want to deny President Obama the chance to appoint another liberal Justice to the Court, replacing a solid conservative.  At present, the Court has four reliable liberals, three reliable conservatives, and one conservative leaning moderate.  A fifth reliable liberal could block any conservative agenda for a generation.  The stakes are very high.

The Democrats have suggested that the world will somehow descend into chaos if eight Justices sit on the Court for some extended period of time.  Most decisions are not 5-4, making the ninth vote irrelevant.  Those few highly divided ones that go 4-4 will result in the lower court opinion being upheld.  In the 1960's the Democratic Senate refused to fill a vacancy on the Court for over a year, rejecting two Republican appointments in rather contentious fights.  It's not ideal, but it has happened before.  Government continues to function and little changes.

Republicans have argue that it is inappropriate for the President to nominate a replacement in an election year.  That is also an absurd argument.  There is no basis or precedent for the President not to act and make an appointment.  In fact, not doing so might be considered non-feasance of his office.. At the same time, there is no reason the Republican Senate has to approve the President's nomination. The Senate can drag out the process for months, then ultimately reject the nominee as has happened before.

Why then, are Republicans vowing not to consider any nominee rather than simply wait for one to come, argue about it for months, then reject it?

Republicans fear this strategy for a number of reasons.  First, the President may pick a candidate from a political popular group.  When President Obama nominated liberal Justice Sotomayor, Republicans had to trip over themselves to avoid appearing anti-Hispanic to the first Hispanic nominee ever.  Of course, since the Senate was majority Democrat at the time, opposing her would have had little effect anyway.  Say the President nominates an openly homosexual nominee.  Do the Republicans want to further alienate homosexual voters? Some opposition can make for bad optics even if there are other very different reasons for wanting to reject the nominee.  Once the nomination has a name and face associated with it, the opposition can become more difficult.

There is also the issue of if not now, what next?  Perhaps the President will nominate a more moderate candidate.  If the campaign outcome looks like the next president might be Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, an Obama compromise choice might be a better option.  The President might even sweeten the appeal by picking an older nominee who is not as likely to spend such a long time on the Court.

At present, candidates on both sides are laying out extreme positions.  Democratic candidates are arguing that the President must appoint someone right away and that nominee should be someone who will reverse several recent decisions that came down with a conservative majority.  Republicans are trying to find a way to say the President should never make a nomination so late in his administration, while backtracking to say that if they were President, they probably would nominate someone regardless of when.

Both parties seem to be taking extreme positions for now.  But if the President puts forth a compromise candidate, usually someone who is sitting on a lower court and not known for political activism, there could be a confirmation.  Much of this may be whether the Senate sees a possible worse outcome if they wait until after the election.

As far as the campaign for President is concerned, I don't thing this issue will have much impact at all.  Candidates in both parties have taken positions very similar to others within their party, making it a non-issue for the primary.  If the position remains unfilled during the general election, the direction of the Court may be an issue for some voters.  Most, however, tend to focus more and the candidates themselves and the more immediate policy issues they are proposing.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Nevada Caucus

Around the same time as the South Carolina Primary, the Nevada Caucus gives candidates a final testing ground before Super Tuesday.  The Democratic Caucus is Feb. 20, followed by the Republican Caucus of Feb. 23.

Nevada's main significance in the election process is it is one of a few early States.  It moved to the front relatively recently primarily thanks the work of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Over the years, it has moved back and forth between primaries and caucuses.  2016 will be its third caucus in a row.

A caucus differs from a primary in that people have to spend hours in a room to determine the delegates rather than simply cast a vote and leave.  Unlike the Iowa Caucus, the Nevada Caucus takes place during the day rather than in the evening.  It also lasts many more hours.  As a result, you have to be pretty dedicated to participate in such a long event, especially if it is a work day for you.  Consequently, results are usually the result of very low numbers of people.  Typically, a Caucus has about 50,000-60,000 participants total, and most of those on the Republican side.  In 2008, during the highly competitive Obama Clinton fight, Democrats combined turned out just over 10,000 participants.  Compare this to over 1 million who vote in the general election.

Many voters need to get time off from work to participate, so participation depends on whether your employer favors such participation.  Workers in Las Vegas are permitted to caucus at work rather then in their home districts.  Also, there is no private ballots, so you may be voting with your coworkers, your Union representative, and your boss present - all of them seeing who you support. As a result, voters may be pressured to vote differently than they might in a private ballot.

All of this means that Nevada is not really a good sampling of a candidate's popularity.  It is a test of a campaign's organizational skills and ability to get out the vote.  Larger establishment campaigns with high levels of funding and organization tend to thrive in this environment.

The state is the first with a significant Hispanic population, but since the caucus is not really a good measure of voter sentiment, I'm not sure how predictive any result really is for the Hispanic vote nationally.

I could only find results for the last two elections:

  • 2012 – Mitt Romney (50.02%), Newt Gingrich (21.10%), Ron Paul (18.73%), Rick Santorum (9.94%)
  • 2008 – Mitt Romney (51.1%), Ron Paul (13.73%), John McCain (12.75%), Mike Huckabee (8.16%), Fred Thompson (7.94%), Rudy Giuliani (4.31%), Duncan Hunter (2.01%)
  • 2012 – Barack Obama, (98.3%), Uncommitted (0.7%)
  • 2008 – Hillary Clinton (50.8%), Barack Obama (45.1%)

Right now polling shows Trump with about 1/3 of the vote, Cruz with around 20% and the others back between 10-15%.  That said, there have been far fewer polls in the State and most are now quite dated.  So polling results are of limited use.  Further this Caucus favors well funded organization. Cruz was able to out organize everyone else to win the Iowa Caucus.  Trump, however, will not likely be out maneuvered again.  As a Las Vegas Casino owner, he will likely be able to organize and turn out larger numbers.  Expect Trump and Cruz both to do better than the polling suggests.  Bush's money might help him here in the race for third place.  But expect everyone else in the pack to lag behind.

Among the Democrats, Clinton and Sanders are polling at about dead even, with both close to 50%. Sanders tends to have the edge in dedicated volunteers, but I really think Clinton's organization and money will carry the day.  Union support tends to help here among Democrats which should also benefit Clinton.  I predict a fairly comfortable Clinton victory, though closer than in South Carolina.


Look for Clinton and Trump to win in Nevada, though it will mean relatively little going into Super Tuesday

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

South Carolina

Like the bronze medal winner at the Olympics, the third state in the nation to pick delegates tends to get a lot less attention than the first two.  But without a clear winner coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina tends to be the place candidates try to either nail down their lead or give their last gasp at relevance before Super Tuesday.

To make things more confusing, South Carolina shares third place with the Nevada Caucus and the parties hold their events on different days.  On Friday, Feb. 20, Republicans hold their South Carolina Primary while the Democrats hold their Nevada Caucus.  One Tue. Feb. 23, we have the Republican Caucus in Nevada, followed by Sat. Feb. 27 for the Democratic Primary in South Carolina.  These will be the last of the early events before Super Tuesday on March 1.

Today I will focus on South Carolina.  Next post will discuss Nevada.

In the general election, South Carolina is a solid republican State.  Only one Democrat, neighboring Gov. Jimmy Carter has one the State in more than 50 years.  Since the solid South moved from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in the 1960's and 70's, South Carolina has been solidly inside the Republican tent.  Typically, the Republican wins with a good 10% margin.

Republican Primary

For the Republicans, the South Carolina primary is pretty good at picking the ultimate nominee Take a look at past results:
  • 1980: Ronald Reagan (55%) defeated runner-up John Connally.
  • 1984: Uncontested (incumbent Reagan was re-nominated).
  • 1988: George H. W. Bush (49%) defeated runner-up Bob Dole.
  • 1992: George H. W. Bush (incumbent, 67%) defeated runner-up Pat Buchanan.
  • 1996: Bob Dole (45%) defeated runner-up Pat Buchanan.
  • 2000: George W. Bush (53%) defeated runner-up John McCain.
  • 2004: Uncontested (incumbent Bush was re-nominated).
  • 2008: John McCain (33%) defeated runner-up Mike Huckabee.
  • 2012: Newt Gingrich (40%) defeated runner-up Mitt Romney.
Only in the 2012 did SC fail  to pick the ultimate winner.  A winning strategy in the State's Republican primary seems to be an appeal to the military and to the white working class voters.  Tough talk on the military, patriotism, and a little mild racism does not seem to hurt a candidate in the SC Republican primary.

Current polls show Donald Trump with a commanding lead, over 35%.  Second is Cruz coming in at 18%.  Third looks like Rubio at about 16%.  Kasich and Bush are struggling to make double digits, with polls putting them between 9% and 10%.  Carson is still polling around 5% although his candidacy seems to resemble the walking dead at this point.  

Carson should already be gone.  If Kasich and Bush cannot show in the top three in here or the Nevada Caucuses, then they may be dead men walking by Super Tuesday and could drop out as well.  This would be good news for Rubio as the last establishment candidate.  But if Rubio still looks weak in speeches and debates, the fight for the establishment nod may push further into the primary season.

Democratic Primary:

Although SC is a solidly Republican State, the Democratic primary carries importance as an early state. Sure, none of these candidates will win the general, but it gives them a chance to prove their ability to win before a very different population than they faced in mid-west Iowa and Northeast New Hampshire.  Also, South Carolina did not secure its spot as an early primary until the 1990's.

Before 1992, South Carolina held a caucus rather than a primary.  Historically, South Carolina favors southern candidates and black candidates:
  • 1984: Jesse Jackson defeated Walter Mondale (caucus) (note also that Senator Ernst Hollings (D-SC) was running this year).
  • 1988: Jesse Jackson (55%) defeated Al Gore (caucus).
  • 1992: Bill Clinton (69%) defeated Paul Tsongas.
  • 1996: Uncontested (incumbent Clinton was renominated).
  • 2000: Al Gore (92%) defeated Bill Bradley.
  • 2004: John Edwards (45%) defeated John Kerry.
  • 2008: Barack Obama (55%) defeated Hillary Clinton and John Edwards
  • 2012: Uncontested (incumbent Obama was renominated).
The Democratic Party in South Carolina is largely African American, so a candidate's appeal to that constituency is tested here for the first time.  Bernie Sanders seems to have difficulty appealing to black voters and it shows here in the polls.  Most have Hillary Clinton polling around 50% with Sanders trailing at around 35% and with most of the rest undecided.  Hillary's lead has slowly falling against all candidates over the past year of polling, but there is little evidence to show that it will plummet much further.  Lacking some major shift, expect an easy but not huge victory for Clinton on primary day.

Democrats will focus on race and civil right issues in an attempt to win here.  We've seen Bernie meeting with black leaders and hanging round Harlem when he is not campaigning in the State. Hillary has already sown up a great many endorsements of black leaders which she hopes will help carry the State.

To sum up, no big surprises expected here.  Current front runners Trump and Clinton should take easy wins. The big fight to watch in this race seems to be the one for third place among the Republican establishment candidates of Rubio, Kasich, and Bush.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Battle to Topple Trump

The Republican party primaries differ from that of the Democrats.  As I discussed in my last posting, Democrats tend to have one establishment candidate and one serious insurgent who gets beyond Iowa and New Hampshire to mount a challenge that usually fails.

The Republicans also tend to have an early establishment candidate.  Unlike the Democrats, this establishment candidate is usually someone who ran as a challenger campaign in the previous election.  The establishment candidate tends to have multiple challengers from various constituencies within the Party.  

The Republican Party can be broken down into a variety of interest groups that often have conflicting goals. First is the pro-big business Wall Street group that protects large corporate interests.  Second is the Religious Right, that is focused on having a candidate who supports certain religious goals and focuses on issues of public morality.  Third is the Libertarian wing, which supports smaller government and less regulation.  Fourth is the neo-con / militarist wing.  This groups supports an aggressive foreign policy and ever higher military expenditures.  A fifth and less prominent group is the white working class, so called "Reagan Democrats" who are the least faithful to the party but necessary to any Republican victory.  These folks tend to be pro-gun ownership, fervent supporters of police and law and order, possibly somewhat racist (although they often won't admit to it) and anti-immigrant.

Typically the establishment candidate tends to be the choice of big business.  Challenger candidates tend to come from one of the other groups, although any successful candidate must have some level of support from all five groups.

Let's take a quick look at the history.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the establishment candidate, having been the primary challenger to President Ford four years earlier.  His main opponent that year was George Bush (Sr.) who question the economics of cutting taxes, increasing spending, while reducing the deficit.  Bush won Iowa and finished a strong second in New Hampshire, but then faded quickly.  

In 1988, Bush was the establishment favorite, having finished eight years as Reagan's loyal VP.  Bush received a challenge from Sen. Bob Dole, who painted Bush as not being conservative enough to cut taxes further.  He also faced a challenge from Pat Robertson, who represented the religious right. After taking third place in Iowa, Bush quickly bounced back in New Hampshire and voters quickly hopped on the Bush bandwagon.  Oddly, Bush faced a challenge as a sitting President in 1992.  This was highly unusual, especially in light of his recent victory in the Gulf War.  But Bush's broken promise about raising taxes, inflamed many.  He faced a challenge from Pat Buchanan  who represented the Republican's white working class voters who seemed primarily concerned about minority and immigrant benefits during a period of economic downturn.  Bush defeated the challenge but went into the election with a divided party, resulting in many Republican voters staying home.

In 1996, Bob Dole's second place finish eight years earlier earned him the establishment support (protest candidate  Buchanan from 1992 never had establishment support as he was never an elected official and could not garner much support outside the white working class Republicans.  Buchanan was Dole's closest challenger, but never did much after a narrow win in New Hampshire. Determined to defeat incumbent Bill Clinton, ranks closed quickly around front runner Dole, not that it did much good in the general election.

In 2000 the establishment went looking to State Governors with less Washington history.  They quickly rallied around Texas Governor George W. Bush.  Bush had strong credentials with the Religious Right.  But his promises to have a more modest foreign policy brought on a challenge by the militarists via John McCain who won New Hampshire.  Bush, however, quickly regained control of the electorate and swept to an easy victory.  His selection of Dick Chaney as VP satisfied the militarists.

McCain quickly became the establishment candidate in 2008.  This was an odd choice given that he was not a favorite of  big business.  He was a favorite of the militarists and had been the most powerful challenger eight years earlier. Without anyone in the Administration seeking to run, he became the default choice rather quickly.  He was, however, hotly challenged early on, finishing fourth in Iowa after the Religious Right favorite Mike Huckabee, the Wall Street favorite Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson, who mostly won the small government voters, along with Libertarian Ron Paul.  McCain, however, bounced back to win New Hampshire and quickly became the dominant candidate with little opposition.

In 2012, big business once again selected the establishment candidate in Mitt Romney.  Romney's Mormon background did not sit well with the Religious Right, however, resulting in a virtual tie in Iowa between Romney and Rick Santorum, who tended to get support among religious as well as white working class voters.  Both finished just ahead of libertarian Ron Paul.  Romney again bounced back to win New Hampshire and had no serious opposition by Super Tuesday.  Still Romney's religion and his support for a State version of Obamacare in Massachusetts, failed to rally the religious or libertarians to his side.  His campaign also turned off most white working class voters, despite their opposition to President Obama.

This brings us to the current 2016 battle.  This has been a difficult year in determining an establishment candidate.  Santorum was the closest early challenger four years earlier, but his weak performance after Iowa and the fact that he has not held office for some time, made people look elsewhere very early in the process.  

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looked like the obvious establishment candidate.  He was a successful Governor from a swing State and had the Bush name.  That said, the Bush association has been a negative for many after the taint of a failed war and a recession under the last Bush presidency. Further, Jeb Bush has not really appealed to any constituency outside of the big business folks.  Even there is support seems tepid at best.

Ted Cruz has been a favorite among evangelicals and some libertarians, but is powerfully opposed by the Washington establishment.  Big business views him warily because of his refusal to play nicely with others as a Senator.  He is seen as too much of a boat rocker.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich are still hanging in as possible long shot compromise choices for establishment support.  But neither has really been able to articulate why the establishment should rally only to him.  As a result, establishment votes have remained unusually divided following Iowa and New Hampshire.

The big X-factor this year has been Donald Trump, who has dominated the polls and finished at or near the top in both Iowa and New Hampshire.  Trump has a clear appeal to white working class voters, who seem to be coming out in unusually large numbers for him.  While he is a business leader, big business does not seem to trust him to protect their interests and have not rallied for him. He has very little appeal with the religious right.   Libertarians and militarists are not sure what to make of him either.  With big business unwilling to tolerate a Trump presidency even in light of early victories, it seems he may never get the establishment support he needs to win the nomination.  At the same time, he seems able to take at least one third of the Republican votes.  Without the Party able to coalesce around a Trump alternative, he may win a plurality of the votes, leading to an open convention with no clear nominee.  But despite their natural instinct to rally around an early leader, I don't think Trump will ever gain the favor of a majority of Republicans.

If Jeb Bush had done even a little better in Iowa and New Hampshire, with perhaps a third or fourth place showing in both States, he might have become the establishment favorite to Trump and Cruz. But a fourth place in New Hampshire and barely showing up as an "also ran" in Iowa has made him look weak and possibly unelectable.  As a result, Kasich and Rubio will continue to challenge him for the establishment position. Together, those three will continue to divide votes.

Of the three establishment wanabees, Bush has the most money and organization in place for Super Tuesday and beyond.  He may perhaps still become the establishment choice.  But he has had trouble fund raising based on his poor early finishes.  He remains a long shot.

The notion of an open convention is something neither party has faced for several decades.  It seems almost unthinkable today not to have a candidate chosen well before July, only about 3.5 months before election day.  An open convention would also create hard feelings among supporters of the losing candidates and lead to a weak and fractured party nominee.  No one wants to see that happen. Still, we don't really see any of the remaining five serious candidates making any moves to leave the race and clear the field for one of the others. 

I could easily see a race where Trump enters the convention with 35-40% of the delegates, Cruz with another 15-20% and Bush, Rubio, and Kasich each with 10-15%.  This would be a nightmare scenario for the Republicans.  It is possible we will see a clearer front runner after Super Tuesday, but so far I don't see one. Given Republican Primary rules which tend to give lots of bonus delegates to the winning candidate, it may be the Donald Trump even increases his lead at this time.

Perhaps the South Carolina primary and Nevada Caucuses before Super Tuesday may reshape voter evaluations of the candidates, but as things look now, it looks like Trump remains the man to beat and that a majority of Republicans still really want to see him beaten.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bernie v. Hillary

The Bernie Sanders campaign came out of nowhere.  A year ago, no one thought Sanders would pose any serious challenge to the Democratic establishment choice Hillary Clinton.  But the a challenge like the Sanders campaign is really nothing new.  In an election year when there is no Democratic incumbent in the White House, the normal patterns is for there to be an establishment consensus candidate and a "protest" candidate who gives the establishment candidate a challenge in the early primaries.

Going back 30 years to first election that really caught my attention, we look at the establishment candidate for 1984, former VP Walter Mondale, facing an insurgent challenge from Gary Hart.  Hart did well in some early primaries, but then faded and lost to Mondale's establishment support. Similarly, in 1988, Gov. Michael Dukakis quickly became the establishment choice, but faced a number of challengers, most particularly Jesse Jackson.  The 1992 election was a strange one since the establishment choice, Mario Cuomo made an early decision not to run at all.  There was no real establishment choice and a virtually unknown Governor named Bill Clinton stepped into the void.  In 2000, VP Al Gore was the obvious establishment choice.  He faced a serious challenge in New Hampshire from Bill Bradley before going on to crush him.  In 2004 there was a little more fracturing that usual with the establishment split between John Kerry and John Edwards, with the insurgency role played by Howard Dean.  Dean flamed out quickly after New Hampshire, but Edwards fought on.  Kerry eventually won the nomination.

This brings us to 2008, when the establishment candidate was Hillary Clinton.  An insurgency campaign began under Barack Obama.  Typically, an insurgent wins support based on a coalescence of opposition of the establishment candidate.   An insurgent gains some recognition through a good showing in the early votes of Iowa and New Hampshire.  After that, the insurgent gets put under the spotlight and often fades.  Voters start thinking of the insurgent not as just the person opposing the establishment choice but whether that candidate would actually make a good President.  Almost no insurgent ever makes that leap from being an alternative to someone else to becoming the voters' actual choice for President.  Obama broke that barrier. After facing several attacks meant to trip up his campaign (e.g. Jeremiah Wright) he stepped up and convinced voters that he would make a good President.

Now, with the 2016 election upon us, we see a familiar pattern.  Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate facing a challenge by insurgent Bernie Sanders.  Bernie has done surprisingly well in the first two tests, Iowa and New Hampshire.  Now, however attention begins to focus on whether Sanders really will make a good President.  Can he overcome Hillary's advantages on support by super delegates, big money donors, and the support provided by key constituencies?

That remains to be seen.  Personally I don't think Sanders has the organizational ability to overcome Clinton's advantages.  I don't think he does well when he has to address issues other than his primary focus on wealth disparity.  That said, there is a large constituency within the Democratic Party who does not seem to like or want Clinton to be President and feels that she does not address or does not agree on issues important to them.  I think Sanders got into this race as a single issue candidate in order to force Clinton to focus more on issues of wealth disparity.  I suspect Sanders himself is surprised by his success so far and that success is a testament to the tepid support among Democrats for Clinton.

To be fair to Hillary Clinton, I think much of her negative numbers are the result of being the target of Republican mud slinging for the last 25 years.  Many of the attacks on her policies and character are overblown or unjustified.  But nevertheless, the attacks have had their affect.  Some of the mud inevitably sticks.  It has also forced Clinton to be a much more guarded candidate and much less willing to be spontaneous or speak her mind.  This makes her appear less genuine to voters.  Regardless of how she got that way, it has resulted in Clinton being a less attractive candidate to many voters.

All that said, I don't think Sanders  has that rare something the lets him leap from being an insurgent to a leading candidate.  You will see him falter in South Carolina and melt away on Super Tuesday. He will take a fair percentage of the vote, but will not get the nomination.

Still Clinton, we emerge as a weakened nominee and will have a difficult time in the general election. Her chances of success there will depend greatly on the Republican nominee.

Next post, I will take a look at the Republicans.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Electoral College Favors the Democrats

Every four years it seems harder and harder for the Republicans to win an electoral majority. Republicans can fondly recall a generation ago when Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984, or Richard Nixon winning 49 in 1972.  Democrats have not had anything close to that kind of blow out unless you go back to 1964 election, the hear after Kennedy was killed, when Lyndon Johnson racked up a 44 State victory.  It is hard to imagine such a blow out on either side today.  Anything is possible, however, given the right candidate.

Electoral victories are looking harder for Republicans these days.  If we look at the last four elections, we have had two Republican victories (George W Bush) and two Democratic victories (Barack Obama).  If we assume that the states which have voted Republican or Democrat in all four of those elections are likely to vote that way in the next election, we end up with the following:  Democrats: 242 electoral votes.  Republicans 179 electoral votes.  That means that the Democrats are only one swing state away (Florida) from winning a 270 vote majority.  Republicans must win Florida and each of the other swing States to reach victory.

In order of votes, those swing states are:

  • Florida (29)
  • Ohio (18)
  • North Carolina (15)
  • Virginia (13)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Colorado (9)
  • Iowa (6)
  • Nevada (6)
  • New Mexico (5)
  • New Hampshire (4)

As I said, with 29 electoral votes, Florida is an absolute must-win for the Republicans.  Without that, the Republicans could win every other State on this list and still lose the election.  Republicans have won Florida in 6 of the last 10 elections over 40 years.  The results in Florida tend to match the overall victor.  Florida has only backed a loser once, 1992 when it supported the first President Bush over Bill Clinton.  Florida often sides with the winner because it is so decisive.  You may recall the 2000 elections when the too close to call Florida results determined the election of George W. Bush over Al Gore.  In three of the last five elections, Florida has gone Democrat.  With a growing Hispanic population and more conservative seniors moving to the southwest for retirement, Florida seems to be trending Democrat lately.  But it remains a swing state with the outcome decided by less than 5 points either way.  But this is an absolute must win for any Republican who cannot flip one of the other traditionally Democratic states.

Even if a Republican wins Florida, the Democrats still win if they can win any two of the next three swing States on the list.  Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia are critical to any win.  The largest of these,  Ohio, is a true swing state, with five of the last ten elections going Republican and five for the Democrats.    It has followed the national results perfectly for the last ten elections.  Going back further, Ohio has only backed a losing candidate twice since the beginning of the 20th Century.

Good news for the Republicans in North Carolina which leans strongly Republican.  Democrats have only won it twice in the last 10 elections.  One was way back in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was running and the South had not yet entirely given up on the Democratic party.  The other was 2008 when Barack Obama  eked out a victory by less than 1/2 of 1% in a year when Republicans were taking a beating.  NC definitely trends Republican,  

Virginia has historically been a strong Republican State.  Eight of the last ten elections have been Republican.  But of concern for Republicans, the two Democrat victories have been the two most recent, both going to Barack Obama.  Growing Democratic influence in the DC suburbs has put the state into play.

Among the smaller swing States, Indiana has traditionally been a Republican stronghold in the Midwest.  Nine of the last ten elections have seen Indiana in the Republican column.  Only Obama in 2008 broke that streak.  Along with North Carolina, it was one of two states that jumped back to the Republicans, opposing Obama's reelection.

Colorado also leans Republican, with seven of the last ten elections.  But again, Obama won it twice by more than 5 points each time.  Republicans definitely cannot take this for granted.  A growing Hispanic population, which leans Democrat, means this state seems to be shifting to the left from its traditional solid Republican roots.  This state will be an real fight.

Iowa leans Democratic, with 6 of the last ten elections going Democrat.  More tellingly though, Republicans have had only one win out of the last seven.  Obama won easily by more than five points each time. Iowa seems to be trending more and more Democrat with each election.

Nevada tends to be another bellwether State, matching the national results in nine of the last ten elections.  It only bucked the national trend back in 1976.  Based on passed results, this truly is a swing state with no clear advantage to either party.

New Mexico is another State that is strongly trending Democratic.  Although each party has won five of the last ten elections, the five Democrat victories have all come in the last six elections.  A growing Hispanic population in the state has moved it solidly into the Democratic camp.

Finally, we are left with tiny New Hampshire.  This is another state that has gone for five Republicans and five Democrats in the last ten elections.  But again, it is trending Democrat, with the five Democratic wins coming in the six most recent elections.

Ok, so what does all that mean?  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But it does show us the leanings of these important swing states.  If we assume that States that have gone three out of four of the last elections to one party, we get the following:

  • Democrats win Iowa, New Mexico, and New Hampshire
  • Republicans win North Carolina and Indiana
  • Still undecided are Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada

Under this scenario, Republican must win Florida, Ohio, and Virginia or it's game over.  Even if they win all three, if the Democrats win Colorado and Nevada, we still see a Democratic victory.

What then is the Republican path to victory?  The swing states are spread all over the country so appealing to any particular region will not help.  Pollsters often put Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the swing state column, even though Pennsylvania has not voted Republican since 1988 and Wisconsin has been solidly Democrat since the Reagan 49 state tidal wave of 1984.  That said, putting Pennsylvania and or Wisconsin in play would certainly give the Republicans more wiggle room.

On the other hand, some pundits say that solidly Republican Texas could become a toss up due to a growing Hispanic population in the State.  With nearly 40% of the State now Hispanic, combined with about 12% of the States black population, it is foreseeable that the State could be moving toward becoming less solidly Republican despite nine of the last ten elections going Republican.  Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the State.

Both of the last two Democratic Presidents won each of their two terms easily with the closest of those elections (2012) resulting in a Democratic victory margin of 126 electoral votes.  By contrast, George W. Bush won reelection by only 15 electoral votes, and of course won is his first election with a whopping 1 electoral vote victory.  You have to go back to his father's 1988 victory on Ronald Reagan's coat tails to see a major electoral victory for the Republicans.

Republicans clearly need a game changer.  Some see Donald Trump as that candidate.  He seems to appeal to white working class voters, the so-called Reagan Democrats that fueled the Republican glory-day elections of the 1980's.  The minority vote, however, has become much more important since then.  A Trump candidacy would likely rally Hispanics to the Democratic camp, not only for this election but for future ones as well.

John Kasich opens up some possibilities as a popular mid-westerner.  He helps to secure his home state of Ohio, and might even put Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and possibly even Michigan away from a Democratic opponent.  Some think he is too moderate to get hard core Republicans to turn out on election day.  But his voting record in Congress was very solidly conservative.  He is only moderate in the same way Ronald Reagan might be considered moderate by today's standards.  I suspect eight years out of power and opposition to the Democratic nominee might be enough to get conservatives to the election booth.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are both native Floridians.  It is unclear, however, if either can take for granted winning their home State.  Neither has shown much gravitas or support in other regions of the country either.

Ted Cruz along with Marco Rubio are both Hispanic, which could help them with that demographic.  But to the extent one's national origin matters, I don't know that Mexican Americans get particularly excited about a Cuban American candidate.  Further, both have had to take such extreme anti-immigrant positions, very unpopular in the Hispanic community, that I don't know that their family background would carry much weight with voters.  Since there are rumors that the Democrats might pick a Mexican American Vice President, that would blunt any ethnicity advantage that might exist.

Ironically, the best hope for the Republicans seems to be the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton seems to be the favorite for the nomination.   However her high negative numbers may hurt the chances of the Democrats in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.  Similarly, her main opponent for the nomination Bernie Sanders who is running openly as a democratic socialist and ultra liberal may hurt Democrat chances in many swing States, especially Florida.

One pattern working in the Republican's favor.  Since WWII, the electorate has consistently given two terms to a Republican followed by two terms for a Democrat.  The only exception to that was the 1980 election when Jimmy Carter lost out to a second term against Ronald Reagan.  If that had gone the other way, the two in, two out pattern has matched perfectly.  If this pattern holds, the two Democratic win will be followed by a Republican victory.

There is still too much unknown to see how the candidate choices may sway the voters later this year. But based on the historical voting records, the Democrats have a clear electoral advantage.


Well, I guess having four other blogs was not enough for me.  I'm starting this new blog to discuss my interest in politics.  I don't expect it to be particularly popular.  This is mostly an outlet for me to rant about things without annoying all of my Facebook friends.

My intention with this blog is to analyze the elections, now that the 2016 Presidential elections are getting underway.  I will likely opine on policy issues and other matters as they come to me.

For anyone interested in my background, I was a Political Science major at George Washington University, and a graduate of University of Michigan Law School.  I am a Truman Scholar, have work for the Federal Election Commission, worked briefly for then Congressman Tom Carper and then Senator Joe Biden.  I went on to work at the Center for Individual Rights, working on several important cases involving issues of Constitutional law. I also volunteered on more than a dozen political campaigns for various Congressional, Senate, and Presidential campaigns.

Since moving out of Washington more than 15 years ago, I have largely left my political activity behind me.  My actual involvement in politics these days is mostly limited to voting.  However, I still like to analyze the events and bloviate about it, hence the title of this Blog: The Arm Chair Politician. Much like an arm chair quarterback, I like to talk about the game without actually participating.

If you find it interesting, great!  If not, I'll understand if you move along.