Swing State Pres

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Month in Review: Let it Snowden, Let it Snowden, Let it Snowden...Too Much Else Going On...Immigration, Syria, The Court...(June 30, 2013)

You can just envision President Obama sitting in the Oval Office a month ago, hoping that June would bring some “page turners” to get the American people past the trifecta of messy May controversies:  the IRS “targeting” Tea Party-esque organizations, the Justice Department pulling phone records of AP journalists and, of course, Benghazi, yet again.

Beware of what you wish for?  It was quite a month, with more consequential actions, perhaps, than the rest of 2013 to date.

It did not take long for Edward Snowden to change the dialogue in a hurry. Snowden, of course, is the 29-year old contractor hired by the NSA, who suddenly had access to all sorts of secrets on their anti-terrorist programs, which he proceeded to document and reveal.  Most damaging was the existence of a massive “data mining” NSA project to collect and analyze phone calls of virtually all Americans, sifting for calls to anyone on the terrorist watch list or any other suspicious patterns.

Ironically, this was not really a revelation.  Check out this story from the USA Today:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.  The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

This story was published on May 11, 2006.  Imagine someone telling Nixon that someone had already leaked the Pentagon Papers seven years before Daniel Ellsburg, so what’s the big deal?

But the Snowden story sparked a brief national dialogue on the trade-offs inherent in battling terrorists versus preserving our civil liberties.  Gallup found that 53% of Americans disapproved of the program versus only 37% that approved.  But when broken down by party, this one was not the norm, in which both Republicans and Democrats have overwhelming (say, 80/20 or even 90/10) margins.  Democrats favored the program 49/40 whereas Republicans opposed by 63/32.  But this dialogue drifted, in part due to the bi-partisan support of the program for many years, with lots of votes cast…no one had a stake in making this a political issue.

The story turned instead to the micro-issue of whether Snowden was a “whistleblower,” “traitor,” “civil disobedience hero” or “felon” and it might have died out right there.  But it was given new legs by Snowden’s exotic global escape plan, which took him from Hong Kong to a Moscow Airport, embarrassing President Obama and roiling the diplomatic waters with both China and Russia.  Snowden remains there as I write this, attempting to seek political asylum in Ecuador, his every move (and non-move) breathlessly reported by virtually every media outlet.  But while the Snowden story lurched awkwardly to stalemate, other major happenings on the political scene pushed him off the front pages.

The Senate overwhelmingly (68 to 32) passed a major immigration reform bill, led by a bi-partisan “Gang of Eight” Senators, a disparate and star-studded group including John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Marco Rubio.  Schumer and McCain have high hopes that such a margin will put pressure on the House to follow suit.  Because the House always seems to bend to such pressure….oh wait, actually they never do.  The House thus far is refusing to even consider the Senate version, working on their own bill that ignores the crucial issue of finding a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in America right now.  The political stakes are huge: Obama wants this one for his legacy, forward thinking Republicans believe the future of their party is at stake given the rapid rise of the Latino community in population growth and political power, and the House Republicans believe…well, it remains to be seen whether they continue to want to score philosophical points and win local elections, or doom themselves to minority status for decades.

Bypassing Congress entirely, President Obama announced a comprehensive program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via a set of executive actions.  Expect the courts to be busy as Obama is relying on decades old legislation (like Nixon’s landmark Clean Air Act) as the basis for setting tough new standards on coal.  And while Obama’s leadership is welcome on this front, our emissions are already declining…the real threat is from China and the Far East where they grow alarmingly and virtually unchecked.

President Obama also overcame his long resistance to providing arms to the Syrian rebels in their deadly war with President Assad, disappointing those who considered his restraint to date to be a welcome change from prior drifts into Mideast wars.  But the documented use of chemical weapons on the part of Assad forced Obama’s hand, having draw a bright line for some action in that event.  Now to be seen:  whether the slope of intervention is as slippery as the many precedents would suggest.

The month ended with a trio of Supreme Court decisions that illustrate the Roberts’ Court’s nimbleness, if nothing else, in crafting opinions that accomplish the intended objectives of the Chief: to give a bit today in the hopes of winning even bigger tomorrow, or the next decade.  Obama’s time to burnish his legacy is growing short, but Roberts has 20+ years with which to work.

  • The Court ruled that affirmative action can stay, but the standards for using race as a defining variable must be stricter, and sent the case back to a lower court to re-adjudicate against that direction.

  • Then the Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also can stay, but in virtually denuded form, as they proclaimed Section 4 unconstitutional, thereby rendering Section 5, the enforcement provision, to be unenforceable.  Section 4 was the portion that determined which states or counties must submit any potential voting changes to the Justice Department for review.  The Court ruled that though Congress had extended the law by 25 years in 2006, they relied on simply continuing the use of 40-year old data to make those determinations, and that part was unconstitutional.  This allowed Roberts to say the ball was in Congress’s court to redress the data issue, knowing full well that ice cubes have better chances of surviving July 4th than Congress does of agreeing to the required revisions. I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg's line as she took the unusual step of reading her strong dissent from the bench:  “Throwing out the preclearance when it was worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” 

  • Finally, the Court decided the two gay marriage cases in non-surprising ways, throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denied federal marriage benefits to gay couples, even those legally married (now these couples can indeed get those benefits), and refusing on a technicality to consider Prop 8 in California, which had the effect of legalizing gay marriage in California yet again.  The Court thus refused to get either ahead or behind on this issue by not pronouncing on the constitutionality of gay marriage, and instead letting the remaining 37 states decide its legality on their own. 
And then there was some election news:

  • Chris Christie attempted to thread a narrow needle in making a very public decision on the timing of the special election required to fill the seat of the recently deceased Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg.  Christie quickly decided to hold the special election just three weeks before the general election, rather than on the day itself, basically to prevent the Senatorial election from boosting Democratic turnout on Election Day.  This is because popular Democrat Newark Mayor Cory Booker will likely be on the ticket, which will indeed create excitement, and, more to the point, Christie himself is on the ballot seeking reelection for Governor.  So, Christie put the special election just a few weeks earlier, simply to ensure his own victory will be the landslide victory he wants to take into his Presidential run.  So what, it’s just $24 million extra bucks to be charged to New Jerseyians… 

It has been quite a month, indeed.  I’ll be back next week with a look at the political implications) of all this (that is, the numbers).  Comments welcome!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Markey Wins Massacusetts Senate Special Election (June 25, 2013)

Ed Markey has won the Massachusetts special election for the seat vacated by John Kerry.  (see:  http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2013/06/election-day-tomorrow-massachusetts.html)

Gabriel Gomez held an early lead (e.g., 52/48 with 24% of the precincts reporting) but urban votes have come in later for Markey.  The tide turned with 38% of the precincts reporting when Markey first took the lead.  As of this moment, at 9:03 PM, Markey holds a 52% to 48% lead with 61% of the precincts reporting and his lead is expanding with each update.

With this victory, Democrats maintain their 54-46 margin in the Senate (counting the two Independents who vote with the caucus).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Election Day Tomorrow! Massachusetts Senate Special Election Preview... (June 24, 2013)

It's Election Day tomorrow!  Yes, there are indeed a few elections in 2013, and the Massachusetts Senate special election is certainly a very important one.  Ed Markey, the current representative from Massachusetts’ 5th District, is running against Gabriel Gomez, who is a businessman and a former Navy SEAL.

You will recall the circumstances that engendered this special election…this is the seat long held by John Kerry, who was named by President Obama, of course, as Secretary of State.  Kerry only got the nod when Republicans made it clear they would make the nomination process for U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice extremely difficult, based on her infamous series of talk show appearances in the wake of the Benghazi incident, when she toed the administration’s storyline (that the attacks were inspired by the uprisings in Egypt), a line later proven to be inaccurate.

Thus Obama turned to Kerry, who sailed through the approval process of his Senate colleagues.  Obama in turned named Rice his National Security Advisor, a position that does not require Senate approval, and one which often is the more influential position in administrations, like this one, that tend to manage foreign policy from the West Wing.

The appointment of Kerry set up the uneasy scenario of losing a solid Democratic seat in the Senate, which the Democrats control by a 54-46 margin (including the two Independents that caucus with them), in the special election.  Scott Brown loomed large over this election; he was the Republican that shockingly defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election in the wake of Ted Kennedy’s death.  Brown subsequently lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in the general election of 2012, thus making him available for another run.

But Brown decided not to run.  He may have an eye on the Governorship, or he may simply have been sick of running, especially since, if he won the special election, he would have had to run yet again in 2014…four elections in under five years for the same job!

A number of “celebrity Democrats” were floated as potential candidates before Brown announced he was out, including Ben Affleck, Barney Frank, Edward Kennedy Jr., Victoria Kennedy, Deval Patrick and Niki Tsongas.  None decided to run.

But Ed Markey, a long time representative and a reliable liberal Democrat, emerged and is a highly credible candidate.  He easily won the primary.  Gabriel Gomez is an unknown, though his Navy SEAL background makes for a compelling resume.

Not compelling enough, though, apparently…there have been six polls over the last week, and Markey is ahead on average by a 53-40 margin.  There is fairly wide variation in the polls, but Markey has a comfortable, even dominant lead in each, ranging from 8 to 20 points.


So, get ready to welcome Ed Markey to the Senate tomorrow night…

Friday, June 14, 2013

Song Parody Part 2: Each Misstep You Make (June 14, 2013)

After the NSA data mining flap, I wrote a song parody to the Police’s "Every Breath You Take” and posted it yesterday (June 13, below).

But I originally (before the NSA story broke) wanted to use that song to lampoon the GOP’s quest to damage Obama with the Benghazi, IRS and AP controversies.  Here is that version...

Each Misstep You Make

Each misstep you make
Every slight bad break
Every small mistake
For our party’s sake
We’ll subpoena you

Every Benghazi
IRS folly…
When you bug AP…
We’re the GOP
We’ll subpoena you

Oh can’t you see?  How petty are we…
Look how far we sank…with no think in our tank

So much we abhor
Not sure what we’re for
But if we must score
To rev up our core
We’ll subpoena you

Since you won it’s been hard to make our case
We scheme at night for the 2016 race
We sift the dirt for some charge we can embrace
We keep hoping, hoping….for some sleeze

Each misstep you make
Every slight bad break
Every small mistake
For our party’s sake
We’ll subpoena you

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Song Parody: Every Step You Take (June 13, 2013)

This one is to the tune of the Police classic, "Every Breath You Take"....

Every Step You Take

Every step you take
Every call you make
From the time you wake
Any small mistake
We’ll be watching you

Every single day
Every app you play
Every bill you pay
Secrets you betray
We’ll be watching you

Oh when did we…give up privacy?
When was that debate?  Is it now too late?

Every key you click
Every friend you pick
Every little trick
Anything that’s slick
We’ll be watching you

Bush rewrote the rules of democracy
The terror war spawned a spy bureaucracy
Obama kinda liked the autocracy
He sees the loss but got past the hypocrisy
I keep thinking Cheney, Cheney…jeez

Every step you take
Every call you make
Each minute you’re awake
Any small mistake
We’ll be watching you

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Obama Survives (For Now) a Tough Month, Doubtless Buoyed By an Improving “Econometer” (June 9, 2013)

There is no doubt that President Obama did not have a particularly easy month (see: www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2013/06/may-month-in-review-obama-easily.html).  But he survived a month full of controversies – the “new” Benghazi testimony, the IRS Tea Party targeting flap and the Justice Department grab of AP reporters’ phone logs – with only small scratches.  Whether that modest damage continues or deepens remains to be seen, especially given even newer revelations that the U.S. Government has been accessing phone records of all Americans for anti-terrorist purposes.  (Personally, I doubt that the latter will take off as an issue, given broad-based Congressional support for it for years, thus taking any partisan element out of the issue.)

ECONOMETER

Certainly Obama has been helped by a slew of good economic news, as evidenced by a surge in the Econometer last month to +24.6.  Remember, the Econometer measures how the economy has moved since Election Day, and is designed to answer Ronald Reagan’s old question:  “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  A positive (blue) Econometer indicates the answer to that question is “Yes” and will thus be a boon to the incumbent party, the Democrats, come 2014.

Today each measure in the Econometer (except GDP) is better than it was on Election Day, and the “numbers behind the numbers” show strength in the housing sector, automotive sales, etc., all indicative of a continued recovery, albeit a relatively slow one.

Econometer
7-Nov

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
Econometer
0.0

0.6
-1.6
13.5
24.6
  Unemployment Rate
7.9

7.7
7.6
7.5
7.6
  Consumer Confidence
73.1

68.0
59.7
68.1
76.2
  Price of Gas
3.71

3.79
3.75
3.62
3.70
  Dow Jones
    13,330

    14,054
    14,520
    14,747
    15,230
  GDP
3.1

0.4
0.4
2.5
2.5

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

Obama’s approval rating took a nearly three-point dip in the month, though his negatives did not rise, indicating that some lukewarm Obama supporters moved into the “don’t know” category, doubtless waiting to see if more shoes drop on any of the controversies in Republican-led Congressional hearings and the like.

Obama Approval Rating
7-Nov

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Approve
49.6

50.1
49.0
50.8
48.0
  Disapprove
47.4

45.0
46.7
47.8
47.1
  Net
2.2

5.0
2.3
3.0
1.0

GENERIC CONGRESSIONAL BALLOT

The Democrats’ margin over the Republicans in the “generic ballot” for Congress has narrowed to +2.0 points.  Clearly the economic news is not helping incumbent Congressional Democrats as much as one might have thought.  But they remain ahead which bodes well for the Democrats’ continued resurgence in 2014 (building on the gains of 2012) if those trends continue.

Generic Congressional Ballot
7-Nov

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Democrat
46.3

42.8
43.8
40.7
42.0
  Republican
46.0

38.5
38.0
38.3
40.0
  Net
0.3

4.3
5.8
2.4
2.0

PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE POLLING

The polling firm PPP had a new Presidential poll in May, shortly after the new Benghazi testimony, and clearly Democrats are not terribly bothered by any of the revelations vis-à-vis Hillary Clinton, who remains by far the leader in the field.  The nomination is hers to have, and I can’t see anything damaging her position, as she lays lows and contemplates her decision.  It is an amazingly consequential decision – it is not an understatement to say that whether Hillary runs or not will deeply influence the course of the first half of this century.

Presidential Preference - Dem.
7-Dec

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Clinton
61

58
64
64
63
  Biden
12

19
18
18
13
  Cuomo
5

3
3
3
4
  Warren
4

8
5
5
3

Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan each lost a chunk of their support this month…modest changes perhaps but this Republican field – a very strong one, far stronger than 2012 – is wide open.  Jeb Bush seems to have recovered after a difficult entrance on the national stage, and Chris Christie and Rand Paul remain well in the hunt.

Presidential Preference - Repub.
7-Dec

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Rubio
18

22
20
20
16
  Christie
14

13
15
15
15
  Bush, Jeb
12

13
11
11
15
  Paul, Rand
7

10
16
16
14
  Ryan
12

15
15
15
9

Hillary expanded her head-to-head lead over nominal frontrunner Rubio, and holds similar leads over all of her major Republican foes save Chris Christie.

Christie is an absolutely fascinating politician to watch.  I’ll have more to say next month on his quick calculations in calling for a Special Election in October for the New Jersey Senate seat vacated due to the death of Frank Lautenberg.  But suffice to say Christie is quite nimble for a man of his temperament.

Head-to-Head
7-Nov
8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Clinton
n/a
49
49
49
51
  Rubio
n/a
41
42
42
41






  Clinton
n/a
46
46
46
47
  Christie
n/a
42
42
42
44

NET FAVORABILITY

Hillary’s net favorability took a bit of a bump over Benghazi, but all the Democrats took their lumps this month, including Joe Biden.  This data is among Democratic voters.

Net Favorability - Dem. (among Dems)
7-Dec

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Clinton
76

69
79
79
69
  Biden
66

67
62
62
55
  Warren
33

40
25
25
23
  Cuomo
16

20
22
22
15

Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio took their lumps as well in net favorability, reinforcing the tightening of the Republican field.  Christie’s tightrope walk is riveting, as these net favorability numbers show:  he is the best candidate the GOP can put forward to challenge Hillary or beat Biden, but can he survive his own primary against this field with these net favorability numbers?

Net Favorability - Repub. (Among Repubs)
7-Dec

8-Mar
8-Apr
8-May
8-Jun
  Ryan
59

69
62
62
47
  Rubio
51

47
43
43
35
  Paul, Rand
31

48
39
39
40
  Bush, Jeb
49

47
33
33
42
  Christie
21

15
9
9
14


Hillary may be able to lay low until early 2015 or so, but Chris Christie and his Republican counterparts (except Jeb Bush) all are in office and will be building on their records in difficult times.  How they maneuver through the dichotomy within their party at a time of Tea Party diminishment will be fascinating in the run-up to 2016.