35 Days Out: A Poli-Sci Perspective

Hoover political scientists Doug Rivers, David Brady and Morris Fiorina

Hoover political scientists (l-r) Doug Rivers, David Brady and Morris Fiorina — calling 2014 as they see it.

Hold a conference on election-year politics and you won’t find three smarter minds than this trio of Hoover Institution political scientists: David Brady, Morris Fiorina and Doug Rivers.

I sat through a joint presentation by the trio yesterday morning, to a group of D.C.-based journalists visiting Hoover. Some highlights:

Fiorina points out that it’s not voters who are polarized as it is the two parties. Rather than spending a few hundred words elaborating, I’ll let Mo do the explaining.

While we get caught up in the horse-race numbers, Brady sees a larger historical parallel: the “era of indecision” from 1879-1896, when election outcomes went from Republican, to Democratic, and then Republican again.

Then as now, Brady pointed out, electorates were consumed by talk of “inequality, banking, jobs, unfairness . . . direction of the economy.”

As for Rivers, he’s also helps run YouGov, the online polling firm that crunches data for The New York Times’ Upshot.

Some of Doug’s more intriguing numbers:

– At the moment, House Republicans will walk away with 239-240 seats. House Democrats have about a 5% chance of regaining the majority (Rivers will have an updated figure on this and the Senate on Sunday, to be released on CBS’ Face the Nation).

– As for the Senate, Rivers sees it as a crapshoot. His polling model gives Republicans a 19% probability of getting to 51 seats; he also gives Democrats an 18% probability of reaching the magical 51.

Rivers’ Senate breakdowns:

– Colorado and New Hampshire remain in Democratic hands;

– Michigan leans Democratic (Rivers is more bullish on this as a competitive race than other pollsters, but sees disinterested blacks voters tipping the balance on Election Day);

– Georgia leans Republican;

– Kansas and Kentucky are Republican holds (the former may change, as Rivers last polled on Kansas before it became a two-candidate race — though there’s an outside chance that might change yet again);

– Given that Republicans likely will win three Senate seats on the natural (Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia) and thus would need only another three to get to 51 (that’s assuming no GOP setbacks in Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky), Rivers says the following best-of-five will decide who controls the chamber in 2015: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina).

Bonus reading material: here’s Brady-Fiorina-Rivers breaking down the road to and from the 2010 midterm.

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For Republicans, Who’s The Face of the Franchise?

Many voices for Republicans on Election Night, but no captain. Who’ll emerge as the face of the GOP franchise?

I’m taking part in a media colloquium at the Hoover Institution today — what should be a fun and informative back-and-forth over what to look for in the 2014 election: surprise races, likely November outcomes, plus lessons for the two parties.

Here’s one question we’ll kick around that has me particularly intrigued: on Election Night, assuming it’s been a good day for the GOP, who’s the face of the franchise (as I write this, I’m watching Derek Jeter, the face of his franchise for the better part of two decades, say his goodbyes in Boston)?

It’s a problem facing the party the party currently not occupying the Oval Office — a glut of voices. The OGP has leadership in the House and the Senate, plus committee chairs and members on a track to stardom. Meanwhile, Republicans also have a surplus of governors (presently 29 nationwide), plus a handful of presidential candidates past, present and future all of whom would love to log some camera time on Nov. 4.

So, again, who’s the best ambassador?

1) John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Obviously, the two congressional leaders will be in demand if Republicans gain control of both legislative chambers. But are they the right faces? Two concerns: (1) Boehner and McConnell may not be on the same page as to the priorities of a Republican-led 114th Congress. Is it repealing Obamacare in some orderly fashion, fashioning an immigration reform package, embarking upon pro-growth tax reform already being talked by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee? (2) Given that Congress, as an institution, is widely unpopular with the populace, should the voice of the party be emanating from the board rooms on Capitol Hill?

2) Chris Christie. If it’s a good night for GOP gubernatorial candidates (that would be holding on to Florida and Wisconsin and a surprise or two in places like Illinois and Massachusetts), then Christie has a right to take a televised bow as the chair of the Republican Governors Association. But as we saw when he addressed the 2012 Republican National Convention, Chris Christie speeches oft-times end up being more about . . . . the fortunes of Chris Christie than the fortunes of the Republican Party.

3) Mitt Romney. The GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee might also emerge as an Election Night winner if he can show a Midas touch in endorsing wining Republican candidates nationwide. Romney may or may not seek the presidency a third time — there is historical precedent: Ronald Reagan did, so did Bob Dole. Then again, Reagan and Dole didn’t run in three consecutive cycles. That begs the questions: if the theme on Election Night is “change”, is Romney too familiar of a face to be leading that conversation?

4) A Republican Governor Not Named Christie. This would be Scott Walker, presuming he survives in Wisconsin, or John Kasich, who seems a solid bet for re-election. But don’t forget two likely winners in the Mountain West — New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval — and, possibly someone’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The challenge here would be the scold factor: in addition to beating up on Washington, it’s too easy for governors to get lured in discussions about why the GOP does well at local and state levels, but no so nationally.

5) Members of Congress Eyeballing 2016. This class includes Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — and over in the House: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. All will be in demand on Election Night, but are they all on the same page as the Senate and House leadership? Cruz, for example, is all-in on Obamacare; Rubio’s into tax reform; Paul likes to talk about liberty. If you watched this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, it’s evident that some of these gentlemen have a hard time saying no to an open microphone — and playing up to their audience.

5) A Non-Elected Republican. In 2014, it was Sarah Palin and a horde of Republicans all claiming to be the heart and soul of the Tea Party. In 2014, it’s Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and Fox News contributor who finished second to Cruz in the straw poll at the aforementioned Voters Value Summit. About Carson: he’s good at garnering attention (for example, suggesting the 2016 election might be cancelled due to anarchy). He also begs the question of whether Republicans, in addition to having to walk back such rhetoric, want to counter an inexperienced president with a man who’s never held public office?

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Overtime Scenarios

Now that we’re inside 1,000 hours until Election Day (936 hours and shrinking, when the sun rose this morning), it’s time to ask: what do political junkies once the voting is over?

The answer: if they’re lucky, the election goes into overtime.

And, as it turns out, there’s a fair-to-middlin’ chance of this happening in at least one, possibly two contentious Senate races.

The scenario:

1) Louisiana. The Pelican State’s so-called “jungle” primary doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be out of the woods in November. Under Louisiana vote, a U.S. Senate election in which a candidate fails to crack 50% automatically sends the top-tw0 finishers to a Dec. 6 runoff (it’s a Saturday). In her three Senate races, Landrieu twice has ended in a runoff — the other time, she pulled only 52%. So unless the Republican candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, buries her on Election Day (Real Clear Politics has him at a 47.3% average), this one looks like it’s headed to an extra frame.

2) Georgia. To borrow a line from the late, great Billy Mays: “But wait, there’s more”. Under Georgia law, the same failure to produce a majority winner on Nov. 4 would force the Peach State’s Senate contest into a (no, this isn’t a typo) January runoff — January 6, to be precise, three days after the new Congress is sworn in. The odds of this one happening? The FiveThirtyEight forecast says yes, simply because Republican David Perdue can’t pull away from Democrat Michelle Nunn; while the Libertarian candidate, Amanda Swafford, seems destined to walk away with about 5% of the Election Day vote. And, like Louisiana, there’s precedent: in Georgia’s 2008 Senate race, Libertarian Allen Buckley earned 3.4% of the November vote, enough to force Sen. Saxby Chambliss to work overtime to keep his job.

It’s possible that the runoffs will be of no consequence — that is, if Republicans have 52 seats as of Election Night (while Georgia would be a Democratic pickup, a Landrieu win in Louisiana would keep the seat in Democratic hands and not change the overall balance).

How do Republicans get to 52? Start with Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. That takes the GOP caucus to 48. Then start looking around the map: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina being the prime candidates. Meanwhile, the GOP has to hold on its seats in Kansas and Kentucky. So while it’s doable without favorable Republican outcomes in Georgia and Louisiana, there’s not much margin for error.

Meanwhile, it might be time to start thinking about a couple of Joes:

– Could the Senate end up in a 50-50 tie, thus boosting the fortunes of Vice President Joe Biden as the 51st and tie-breaking vote?

– If the Republicans wind up stuck on 50, do they try to flip West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — soon to be the last Democrat standing in his state and looking at a shaky re-election prospects in 2016?

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On This Day In History . . .

With 40 days to go until The Big Vote, we turn to the pages of history to tell us what’s missing from this election.

September 25, 1981.  Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman to be sworn in as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sandra Day O”Connor, making history 33 years ago.

The significance? This could have been the September debate that energized the Democratic base in 2014: the back-and-forth over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement — as Democrats would sell it, protecting abortion rights and contraception services — sparking the voting bloc of young, single and professional women that turned out in force for President Obama in 2012. This could especially haunt the President’s party in the Colorado and North Carolina Senate races, where Democratic incumbents sorely need strong turnouts in metropolitan Denver and Charlotte.

September 25, 1957. Fifty-seven years on this day, nine African-American students walked into Little Rock’s Central High School and forever changed the nation’s history (three weeks earlier, the “Nine” tried to enter Central but were turned away by Arkansas National Guard troops).

Integration at Little Rock’s Central High School, 57 years ago today.

The significance? America’s first African-American president as yet has failed to rally African-American voters in this campaign cycle — and the effect could be devastating for a handful of Democratic senators seeking re-election across the Deep South (in particular, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and, ironically, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor). Further embarrassing: such is Obama’s unpopularity that members of the Congressional Black Caucus have taken it upon themselves to rally the troops — the President needing to keep a low profile in contested states where his low approval ratings make him persona non grata.

September 25, 1944. Michael Douglas is born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, going on to a film career that would land him two Oscar statuettes and the statuesque Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The significance? Douglas was Andrew Shepard, the proud-of-it “card-carrying member of the ACLU” and chief protagonist in The American President — Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s fantasy of a liberal-in-chief with a backbone. It’s not what Democrats got in Bill Clinton. To their dismay, it’s not what they’re getting in Barack Obama — unless you believe that real-life executive orders are the same as a cinematic knock-down-drag-‘em-out over fossil fuels and hand guns. Come Election Night, if Democrats are looking at minority status in both chambers of Congress and a lame-duck president, they’ll be wondering if there’s any Andrew — or Andrea — Shepard on the horizon.

September 25, 1897.  William Faulkner is born in New Albany, Mississippi — the Nobel and Pulitzer winner (A Fable, The Reivers) becoming the embodiment of Southern literature.

William Faulkner — knew a thing or two about the South . . .

The significance? A story’s often told of Faulkner one day being thrown off his horse. Rather than tend to his injuries, the author instead got back in the saddle and took the steed over to a jump course. Why? “You don’t think I’d let that damned horse conquer me, do you?” Faulkner reportedly said. “I had to conquer him.” And that’s the Democrats’ problem in Faulkner’s beloved South in 2014: the party that once conquered and dominated the southern landscape is struggling to get back on the horse in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky.

September 25, 1894. Grover Cleveland issues Proclamation 369, granting amnesty and pardoning Mormons for polygamy, bigamy and adultery.

19th Century mudsling having to do with Grover Cleveland. Politics wasn’t gentle then, isn’t now.

The significance? For all the terrible things uttered and inferred in this election, it’s always worth a trip back to the 19th Century, when the mud flowed freely. Cleveland was no stranger to this — in 1884, rumors of his having fathered an illegitimate son spawning this famous line: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha!” One other thing about Cleveland: he was, of course, the only American president to serve non-consecutive terms. You think that didn’t cross Bill Clinton’s mind in 2004 or 2008?

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Crime and Silence in California

I wrote this op-ed for Fox News on November’s Proposition 47 and the question of what happened to public safety as a defining political issue in California.

About Prop 47: if approved, it would reduce the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor (in all, about 10,000 inmates would be eligible for lesser sentences, meaning they’d get out of jail earlier). It comes at a time when the Golden State’s under a two-year court-imposed deadline to ease prison-overcrowding.

The knocked-down offenses include:

  • Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen doesn’t exceed $950
  • Grand theft, where the value of the stolen property doesn’t exceed $950
  • Receiving stolen property, where the value of the property doesn’t exceed $950
  • Forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill doesn’t exceed $950
  • Fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order doesn’t exceed $950
  • Writing a bad check, where the value of the check doesn’t exceed $950
  • Personal use of most illegal drugs.

All of which translates to savings for the California penal system — dollars not spent on incarceration going instead to K-12 education, mental health and rehab programs (here’s the California LAO’s analysis).

Four things to note:

1) Two California ballot measures already are up and on the air: Prop 45 (the state insurance commissioners’ control over health insurance) and Prop 46 (raising the cap on medical malpractice damages). A third — Prop 1, a $7 billion water bond — isn’t far behind. So far, Prop 47 is flying under the radar screen — and might stay that way.

2) This is a departure for California, a state that once led the nation in tough-on-crime reforms (“Three Strikes” for repeat offenders). Then again, it’s been 20 years since Polly Klass’ abduction and murder and O.J. Simpson’s legal drama dominated the headlines. Have Californians lost their appetite, or changed their taste, for crime and punishment?

3) Will Californians go back to their old ways if they see more stories like this — a gruesome murder made possible by a petty criminal getting an early release to ease prison-overcrowding?

4) If so, does this tarnish California Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy? It was Brown who, three years ago, introduced “realignment” and the moving state-housed offenders to county jails. But the program hasn’t lived up to its promise. The guess here is that California’s longest-tenured governor doesn’t want to spend his final term in office trying to explain why a spike in violent crime isn’t his fault.

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Gates Enters the Gun Debate

Bill & Melinda Gates enter the gun-control debate in Washington State, initiative 594.

Welcome to Jeopardy, the political edition . . .

“I’ll take “Billionaires and 2014″ for $200, Alex.”

“This Hungarian-born financier has donated $500,000 apiece to the House Majority PAC and the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund — and his daughter’s given $250,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes.”

“Who is George Soros?”

“Correct! You have the board.”

“Billionaires for $400, please . . .”

“This former New York City mayor’s poured more than $6 million of his personal fortune into his Independence USA super PAC, to drive the public debate over gun control, immigration reform and obesity.

“Who is Michael Bloomberg?”

“Correct. Please continue . . .”

“$600, Alex . . .”

“Having pledged to raise $290 million to help GOP candidates and conservative groups, these “evil” siblings recently made major donations to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York Presbyterian Hospital.”

“Who are the Koch Brothers?”

“Correct.”

“I’ll take “Billionaires” for $800, Alex.”

“This climate activist, who promised a $100 million campaign to make global warming a centerpiece issue in 2014, has himself become an issue in Iowa’s race.”

“Who is Tom Steyer“?

“Correct.”

“”Billionaires for $1,000, Alex.”

“He and his wife recently donated $1 million to a ballot initiative to expand background checks on gun sales in Washington State.”

“No one knows?”

“We were looking for . . . Bill Gates.”

About Gates and Initiative 594, which would require background checks by licensed dealers for all firearm sales and a transfers, including gun shows and online sales:

1) It pays to have friends in high places. In addition to Bill and Melinda Gates’ contribution, fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s come up with $500,000. Steve Ballmer and his spouse have given a combined $580,000. Nick Hanhauer, a venture capitalist and early investor in Amazon.com, has given nearly $1.5 million. Add it up, and it’s over half of the $6 million collected so far, for 594.

2) While it’s not as splashy as Mark Zuckerberg’s $50 million foray into the immigration debate, it’s maybe the smarter fight. Whereas Zuckerberg’s Forward.us is going through an internal convulsion, Gates is now part of a ballot measure that, curiously enough, has generated little flak from the National Rifle Association.

3) Is this the beginning of Bill Gates becoming more of a political player? His foundation bankrolled the development of the Common Core standards, then sprinkled money around the country to give it political traction. Historically, the richest man in the world (estimated worth: $76 billion) has been more interested in ballot measures than candidates.

Maybe a visit to the big house in Medina by Bill and Hillary (or a Common Core supporter like Jeb Bush), could change that?

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Rock Chalk, Jayhawk Squawk

With all due respect to Dorothy Gale, Sen. Pat Roberts has a big problem in his increasingly bitter re-election fight: he’s not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Roberts, age 78 and a fixture in his state’s congressional delegation dating back the the opening days of the Reagan Administration, is in the Jayhawk State these days — fighting for his political life.

But the fact that he hasn’t been in Kansas all that much (a USA Today study of Senate financial records concluded that Roberts spent 97 days in the state between July 2011 and August 2013) and doesn’t have an in-state residence (more on that in a moment) is what may sink him come Election Day.

And, in the process, maybe sink the GOP’s chances of taking back the Senate. So much so that a Kansas political legend has taken upon himself to come to Roberts’ rescue. This week, Bob Dole has returned to his home state — the former Senate Majority Leader, 1996 GOP presidential nominee and son of Russell, Kansas, stumping on behalf of his former colleague.

Bob Dole, campaigning Monday in Dodge City. Can the Kansas legend save Pat Roberts?

About the residency issue: back in February, The New York Times reported that the red-brick house in Dodge City that Roberts lists as his home for voter-registration purposes isn’t a home in the traditional sense — in fact, he pays the property’s owners $300 a month to stay overnight occasionally. Why? So as not to get “Lugared”, as a Roberts aide explained — a reference to Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, whose 2010 loss was due in part to a residency controversy.

It may sound trivial, but it’s a convenient metaphor for a challenger trying to portray a longtime congressional incumbent as “too Washington”. It worked against Lugar four years ago; it’s also surfaced as an issue in Louisiana’s Senate race.

But that’s not the only problem gnawing at Roberts’ re-election chances.

For one, there’s intraparty squabbling. Between Roberts’ struggles in his primary (a lackluster 7% win against a flawed challenger) and Gov. Sam Brownbeck’s controversial first term, the state’s long-simmering feud between moderate and conservative Republicans is on full public display.

Second, Kansas Democrats might have found an innovative of electing a non-Republican in a state that’s gone exclusively with GOP senators since FDR’s second term. The trick: keep Democrats off the ballot.

A little clarification: going into September, Roberts appeared to be the beneficiary of a two-way split in the anti-incumbent vote — one Democrat and one independent dividing that bloc. But that was until the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democrat Chad Taylor could take his name off the ballot, thus allowing the anti-Roberts vote to coalesce behind independent Greg Orman.

About Orman: though he has an “i” after his name, for independent, an “e” for “enigma” also works. He’s donated to both Al Franken and the National Republican Congressional Committee. He says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. As for campaign positions, Orman says he would have voted against Obamacare but won’t repeal it, wants to control the border and create path to legalization for illegal immigrants, and says he supports access to abortion services but opposes the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling on birth control.

But one thing we do know about Orman: the threat of his unseating Roberts scrambles GOP plans. Up until the change on the Kansas ballot, the GOP had but two threatened seats — Mitch McConnell’s in Kentucky, and the open seat in Georgia. Add Kansas to the list and it forces Republican strategists to move around their money.

And it gives us a second way to look at the Senate lineup for 2015. The balance could be decided by two best-of-three states: Louisiana-Arkansas-North Carolina; Alaska-Iowa-Kansas.

About the headline: think Kansas, Lawrence, Allen Fieldhouse and the cradle of college basketball . . .

Bonus trivia: the last Democrat to win a Jayhawk Senate race was none other than George McGill. McGill won the 1930 special election (Kansas Sen. Charles Curtis was the winning vice-presidential candidate in 1928) and he earned a full six years in 1932’s election.

But McGill didn’t wear well with the public, as is obvious in this 1938 Time letter-to-the-editor describing the Kansas senator: “Bald-domed, small chinned, doleful and dull of mien, Senator McGill has only one conspicuous mannerism—a “haha” which he inexplicably tacks on the end of his infrequent speeches.”

“Doleful”, not Dole.

And Kansas’ one-party Senate domination that’s currently stands at 76 years: it’s the longest such streak in the nation.

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Posted in Bob Dole, Kansas, Pat Roberts, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment