California Republican Evolution, The Next Step

GOP Assemblywoman-elect Catherine Baker: the next step in the California GOP’s evolution?

All of California’s congressional races are now settled, and the outcomes are a little unsettling for a Golden State GOP that though it might walk away with some gains in America’s largest state in this otherwise strong year for Republicans coast to (well, almost the other) coast.

In three districts where where Republicans had high hopes of knocking off vulnerable Democratic incumbents, the GOP challenger got inside the 5-yard-line but couldn’t gross the goal line.

That would include:

CA CD7: Democrat Ami Bera defeating Republican Doug Ose by 1,400 votes out of over 183,000 votes.

CA CD 26: Democrat Julia Brownley defeating Republican Jeff Gorell by less than 3,300 votes out of nearly 163,000 votes case.

CA CD 52: Democrat Scott Peters defeating Republican Carl DeMaio by 6,000 votes out of over 191,500 votes cast.

And there’s CA CD 16 — the cliffhanger no one saw coming — where Republican Johnny Tacherra came within 1,300 votes (out of over 91,000 votes cast) of unseating Democratic Rep. Jim Costa.

The moral of the story?

Republicans can argue tactics — one argument being that more resources should have been shifted Gorell’s way, given that as a young Assemblyman he has more of a long-term investment than Ose, a former congressman from back in the late 1990s.

But I think the bigger story here is evolution — and the California GOP slowing moving to an upright position.

In 2014, Republicans won races in legislative districts where they enjoyed numerical or ideological advances.

But the party did take a step forward in at least one race that in the past few elections might have amounted to wishful thinking. And that would be California’s 16th Assembly District, where Republican Catherine Baker won by nearly 4,200 votes (out of nearly 135,000 votes cast) in a suburban Bay Area district that used to lean Republican but Democrats now enjoy an 8-percent edge in voter registration.

What Baker’s race showed: given a lower turnout that works to the GOP’s advantage and a candidate well tailored to fit the district’s style and concerns — a Republican can win, even in a sea of blue.

But that’s in a race where only 135,000 locals turned out to vote.

While one of the aforementioned congressional races had a smaller electorate, the other three races had pools of voters 20%-35%-42% larger than the 16th Assembly District.

So the next step in the California GOP’s evolution?

Yes, winning in larger, but competitive congressional districts.

But proving that 2014′s successes weren’t a fluke.

And that begins with defending Baker’s seat in 2016 — no easy feat, given that California Democrats already are mulling how to win back her Assembly district.

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Should The Empire Strike Back?

I have this column in today’s Sacramento Bee on President Obama’s upcoming move on immigration and the Republican reaction to the highly-anticipated executive order.

My concern, to borrow a line from Star Wars’ Admiral Ackbar:

It’s a trap.

Allow me to explain:

1) Since taking a shellacking in the midterms, the President’s decisions — cutting a carbon deal with China, wading into Internet neutrality, now immigration — have this much in common: all carry the political benefit (by his estimation) of inflaming the GOP’s right phalanx. You want to keep a Republican Congress off balance? Start by fomenting dissent in the ranks.

2) Unlike Bill Clinton, who drifted right after his midterm setback, Barack Obama has little interest in bowing to the new Republican Congress. He’s happy to brawl, or at the very least get under his opponent’s skin. But as in a hockey game, he’d like Republicans to drop their gloves first. Bigger penalty for being the instigator. Hockey players have a word for this: agitator.

3) Should Republicans decide to get even with the President by defunding the government or beginning impeachment proceedings, they’re looking at losing outcomes. The GOP always loses the shutdown argument. For the previous Republican Congress, taking Bill Clinton to trial was an exploding cigar. Doing the same with regard to the executive order is only more political folly, imo.

4) Republicans shouldn’t roll over and die. They just need to shift the focus. Put it back on border security. And in addressing “comprehensive” immigration reform, broaden the conservation to such immigration-related topics as border securitybirthright citizenship and presidential eligibility (the latter two probably won’t go very far, as they require changes to the U.S. Constitution, but they carry symbolic value with conservatives and Republicans looking to expand the parry’s “big tent” appeal).

The President’s move may not pass legal muster. But it is clever, in a cynical way. He’s counting on the media having another “depends on what the meaning on the word “is” is” debate over what exactly constitutes “amnesty”. And he’s probably envisions a scenario in which Republicans embrace the rule of law while his party embraces illegal immigrants. Advantage, White House, from a p.r. perspective.

So my suggestion to congressional Republicans: don’t blow a gasket. Let the President have his executive order (the defunding of which would be “impossible”, per a House panel). Then watch the blowback from a country that’s deeply divided over the President’s big step.

While deciding what immigration measures you’ll send the President’s way next year.

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Nancy With The Laughing Denies

House Minority Leader Pelosi — strong on Democratic caucus support, but weak on her election math.

The Washington Post has laid out a pretty unflattering look at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — well, not so much a concern about the gentle lady from San Francisco as it is her mathematic skills (and her ability to spin a skeptical press entourage).

Pelosi would have reporters believe her party did a slam-bam job of winning the House seats they targeted. Though it doesn’t add up with her previous assessments of the 2014 landscape.

Denial, it seems, is a river that runs through the Bay Area.

In June, we’re reminded, Pelosi promised the same publication Democratic gains of at least 17 House seats with an outside chance at 25. Instead, Republicans walked away to 10-13 more seats, putting Pelosi’s party at a nadir unseen since the early days of the Truman Administration.

Pelosi’s post-election spin (warning: it takes some wading through):

“Well, we did have 25 seats in play and we’ve won 13 or 14 of them. We’ve won a majority of those seats. We lost seven freshmen and we lost three – [Tim] Bishop, [Nick] Rahall and [John] Barrow. Fabulous people who won in tough districts over and over again. But remember what I said then, it’s like the Olympics, it’s a little bit on one side, it’ll be a fraction of a second, fraction of an inch. That’s how it came down. Of that 25, I think it’s 14 of them that we have won. There’s one that it’s a loss for us, but it wasn’t an incumbent. It was Bruce Braley’s seat. So that’s another seat. But it wasn’t an incumbent, it was just that he didn’t win his own district. But in terms of people who are not coming back, it’s nine, no 10. It’s 10. It’s the three and then seven. Now, we’ll see what happens. They won 10, we won about 14 of them. . . . Of course, no one likes to see their colleagues leave and you don’t want to lose, but of those 25 races, we won 14 and lost 10.”

Here’s the problem: if you double-check that earlier Post story, Pelosi said in fact that it wasn’t 25 seats in play, but instead “about 70″.

Second, her addition skills (Dems winning 14 of 25 races) don’t add up. Per The Cook Political Report, 16 Democratic-held House seats in 2014 were “toss-ups”. Republicans won nine; Democrats five; two are still undecided. Five Republican-held seats likewise were toss-ups — three voted GOP; Democrats took two.

As for “lean” districts: Cook had 11 Democratic and one Republican seat as “lean Democratic”. Democrats won nine of the 12.  Republicans batted six-for-six in the “lean Republican” districts.

In all, it hasn’t been a pleasant two weeks for the House Minority Leader. She’s lost over one-fourth of her Democratic caucus since the high-water maker of her speakership. Last week, she laced into a reporter (CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes) for asking if it was time for her to cede her leadership post — Pelosi suggesting a sexist double-standard was at play.

And the cherry on the sundae: she also told reporters that she didn’t know Jonathan Gruber, even thought she was touting the Obamacare advisor’s work back in 2009.

Yesterday, House Democrats gave Pelosi another two-year term as their leader. No opposition.

We’ll see if, two years from now, she has no excuses — or, for that matter, better excuses.

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remain uncalled

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Hail To The (Electoral) Victor!

Love it or hate it, it just wouldn’t be a presidential cycle without at least one state threatening to mess with America’s Electoral College.

Our first 2016 entry: the great state of Michigan, where State Rep. Pete Lund, a Republican, introduced the bill late last week that would change how the votes in the Wolverine State are divided — from a winner-take-all system to one in which the winner and runner-up would each get some of the votes.

Here’s how the math plays out: the winner of Michigan’s presidential race (since 1992, a Democrat) would win nine of the available 16 votes, plus an additional vote for every 1.5% of votes above 50% that the winner received. If the winning candidate received 53% of the statewide vote, that person would get 11 of the state’s 16 Electoral College votes and the runner-up only five.

At present, Nebraska and Maine don’t have a winner-take-all systems. Instead, they divided overall electoral votes by popular vote winner and congressional districts.

What difference does five electorate votes make? Take a look at this electoral map. Five votes is the equivalent of, say, New Mexico, which Republicans might shoot for if they place Gov. Susana Martinez on the ticket, but otherwise is probably out of reach.

Btw, siting out there in initiative never-never land: California’s 2012 Electoral College Reform Act, which went into circulation but never was turned in with the requisite number of signatures to actually go on the ballot.

Under that plan, California would have done from winner-take-all to a system in which 53 of the Golden State’s 55 electoral votes were divvied up per the most votes in each congressional district. In 2012, that would have be meant an extra 12 electoral votes for Mitt Romney — the same as the combined total of battleground Nevada and Iowa . . . or one fewer than pivotal Virginia.

Bonus coverage: here’s an interesting Huffington Post column looking at other states where Electoral College reform has been bandied about.

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Alaska Settled; Christie No So Much

Walker and Christie: have the two potential president  rivals gone from friends to frienemies in two weeks’ time?

Over the weekend, Alaska GOP Gov. Sean Parnell conceded defeat to challenger Bill Walker on what was, in part, a hat-tip to the concept of good government (as Alaska will sear in its new governor on Dec. 1, this gives Walker a sporting chance at a fluid transition).

Trivia note: Walker, an independent who ran on a “unity ticket” with Democrat Byron Mallot, is the first candidate unaffiliated with a party to be elected governor in Alaska’s 50-plus years of statehood.

About 2014′s governors races:

1) Whereas Democrats played defense in the U.S. Senate contests (21 Democratic seats up for grabs to only 15 for Republicans), it was the opposite at the state level with Republicans defending 22 seats in 2014 to only 14 for Democrats.

2) The center of the storm: nine states across the nation which (a) had a sitting Republican governor and (b) twice had voted for Barack Obama.

3) Republicans won eight of those nine states — Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin. The only casualty: Pennsylvania, where Tom Corbett became the first governor in Keystone State history to lose a bid for a second term).

4) Even though GOP governors weren’t part of an Election Night “wave”, it was still a strong performance for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chair of the Republican Governors Association. Not only did he get to spend quality time in 2016 early-primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada all had gubernatorial contests), his organizational skills didn’t go unnoticedHere’s a scorecard of favored Christie candidates.

5) More on Christie: it’s open season on questioning the viability of the New Jersey governor as a presidential candidate. There’s the matter of his temperament. Atlantic City is a eyesore — does Christie put his national ambitions at risk by doubling-down on gambling? And there’s Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also a possible 2016 candidate, taking a not-so-subtle dig in suggesting that Christie lacks “a Midwestern filter”.

6) Speaking of the Midwest: Christie’s gone out of his way to tell reporters that he intends to veto a New Jersey bill that proposes to ban “the confinement, in an enclosure, of any sow during gestation in a manner that prevents the sow from turning around freely, lying down, standing up, or fully extending the limbs of the animal.”

7) There were approximately 8,000 pigs on New Jersey farms in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about one-fifteenth the number of Republicans (121,000 and spare change) who voted in 2012′s Iowa Republican presidential caucuses.

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Collaring Her Support

Politics these days is for the birds . . . and apparently cats as well.

The ceaseless (or is it incessant) Ready for Hillary crew is out with its latest fundraising gimmick: “Ready” kitty collars that go for $20.16 (get it?).

Product description: “These RFH collars are the cat’s meow in extra-thick, recycled polyester. Metal D-ring and black plastic break-away buckle included. Bright orange and grey. 1/2″ by 8-12″ maximum adjustable size.
USA MADE”

And to answer your first question: yes, Team Hillary has covered its bases by likewise offering dog collars (remember, the Clintons do own a chocolate lab named Seamus).

Bottom line: let’s see how many collars are sold.

And, though imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, let’s hope it doesn’t lead to a land rush of Rand Paul turtlenecks, Rick Perry specs, Mike Huckabee bass guitars and Paul Ryan workout duds all for sale from their 2016 front groups.

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In Louisiana: Hail Mary Time

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu: facing a Dec. 6 runoff, she’s looking for a pipeline — and a political lifeline

A good question posed by this Politico article: “Does Mary Landrieu have a prayer?”

Why the dire religious overtones?

It begins with this internal poll showing GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy holding a 16-point lead over Landrieu in their Dec. 6 runoff (other private polls aren’t as generous, but they still show the Republican challenger holding a healthy lead).

It extends to this grim mathematic reality: though Landrieu “won” the Nov. 4 “jungle primary”, it was by a scant 16,400 votes (42%-41% over Cassidy). But that was with Tea Party favorite Rob Maness hauling in 202,000 votes. Combine Maness’ total with that of Cassidy’s and the Democratic senator finished 186,000 votes behind the conservative hybrid.

And there’s yet another troubling statistic: the volume of television ads.

In the week after Election Day, Landrieu aired 82 commericals to Cassidy and the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s 1,917, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG data. Landrieu’s ads ran in only two of the state’s six media markets; Cassidy was in all six. It’s a reverse of the  two months leading up to Nov. 4 primary, when Landrieu ran 14,651 spots to Cassidy’s 10,302,

The final factor: a not-so-quiet desperation both at home in Louisiana and back in Washington.

Last week, Landrieu delivered a speech on the Senate floor lasting nearly three hours, during which she implored her colleagues to pass her bill requiring the Obama Administration to let go of current bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles and free up construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

After which, she made a point of very publicly snubbing New York Sen. Charles Schumer near a Capitol elevator bank (was it her schedule, the pipeline, or maybe because she thought Schumer had a hand in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulling back on helping her out in the runoff?).

Meanwhile, back in the Bayou State, Landrieu ran this not-so-polite ad:

A smart tactic, or a sign that the senator is running out of options other than personal attacks?

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Posted in Mary Landrieu, U.S. Senate | Leave a comment