Swing State Pres

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Moving Backwards (March 30, 2014)

Guest blogger Wendy on the slow rollback of hard won progress…
We're moving backwards, folks.  It's a slow chipping away, not an avalanche, so you may not be noticing, but we're moving backwards.  The rights won with blood and guts in the 60s and 70s, rights our children take for granted, are eroding, and we need to speak up.
Yesterday, Tom and I saw the play “All the Way,” a tour de force starring Bryan Cranston (see it if you can) about how LBJ rammed through passage of the Civil Rights Act following JFK's death.  A year later, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed.  And this morning, in 2014, this article appeared on the front page of The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/us/new-gop-bid-to-limit-voting-in-swing-states.html?emc=eta1
If you don't have time to read it, the gist is that since the Supreme Court reversed a pivotal requirement (Section 4) of the Voting Rights Act last June, nine states have passed laws which disenfranchise voters. Quoting from the article,
Most have to do with voter ID laws. Other states are considering mandating proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, after a federal court judge recently upheld such laws passed in Arizona and Kansas. Because many poor people do not have either and because documents can take time and money to obtain, Democrats say the ruling makes it far more difficult for people to register.
Anyone reading this post is likely to take his birth certificate for granted.  What’s the big deal?  Your mother saved it for you in her neat file in the bottom drawer along with your passport and a lock of hair from your first trim.  Not the case for everyone.  Tom and I have some experience in trying to obtain a Florida birth certificate for a young man who we mentor.  It was a frustrating and protracted process – by design – an endless loop of “you need ID to get your ID,” you need to know your parents’ names (and guess what, not everyone does) and, of course, you need money.  When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, negotiating this morass falls to the bottom of the to-do list and there goes your vote.
This should outrage you.  As should gerrymandering, the other form of disenfranchisement.   According to a February 2013 NY Times articles, "In the 2012 election, seven states had a severe imbalance between their popular vote and the party makeup of their House delegations; three others had moderate imbalances."  These imbalances were the result of gerrymandering following the 2010 census and they'll be with us until at least 2020.  The seven states include one red state that is actually gerrymandered to the advantage of Democrats (Arizona) and six that benefit Republicans in Congressional elections (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida).  You may not know this, but even though Republicans control the House, 233-202, Democrats received more votes in aggregate across the United States, 55.7 million to 54.8 million.  Disenfranchisement, pure and simple. 
So that was this morning's newspaper.  Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard  arguments in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby Stores , a case which tested the legality of  the Affordable Health Care Act requirement to include free contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans.  The judges are teetering, 4 to 4, with the fate in Justice Kennedy's hands (yet again).  Of course, mandatory health care coverage for contraception does not date back to the 70s, but it was only 40 years ago or so that large numbers of women began to enter law schools, business schools and other graduate programs which in turn led to women in Congressional offices and board rooms, to the front of the classroom in universities, not in the numbers that we'd ultimately like to see, but progress to be sure.  To me, it's clear that a woman's ability to shape her work life and her home life is inextricably intertwined with her ability to control her reproductive life. When we chip away at reproductive rights, we silently chip away at all that we have gained. 
For those who aren't political junkies, and I count myself among you, it's tempting to sit back and take a rest from Washington until the next presidential election, but we do so at our peril.  This past week's headlines alone are proof positive of that.

Coda:

On Sunday, March 30, in response to a New York Times article, I wrote about the attack on the right to vote that's being waged in nine states (above). This attack is a direct result of last June's  Supreme Court decision to reverse the  Voting Rights Act provision requiring  federal review of changes in voting requirements in  states which have an historical record of voter discrimination.  On Wednesday, April 2, in a 5-4 decision brought to you by the Court responsible for Citizens United,  we saw the elimination of a long-standing cap on individual contributions to federal candidates.  In the decision, our Chief Justice wrote, "There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in election our political leaders."  Agreed.  Absolutely.   But we've got a problem here.  We're supposed to elect them, not buy them.  We live in a nation where  citizens -- face it, poor citizens -- can be denied their right to vote simply because they don't have the cash to pay for an ID.  But God help us, we will not deny the wealthy their right to buy their leaders.  The hypocrisy is shameful -- and pretty darn transparent.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Senate 2014 State-By-State Update: Race for Senate Control Could Not Be Much Tighter (March 23, 2014)

The Senate races are starting to take form as we head into the primary season.  A few preliminaries have turned out to be less interesting than hoped.  Liz Chaney dropped her bid to take on Republican incumbent Mike Enzi in Wyoming, clearing the way for an easy re-election path for him.  And Republican incumbent John Cornyn of Texas crushed a Tea Party threat by a 59-19 margin in the primary.  In an election year in which we will be seeking signs of diminished Tea Party influence, this was quite a marker.  Perhaps Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove will be successful in ensuring that “electable” (read: non-Tea Party, a.k.a., sane) candidates head GOP tickets.  More to come on that.

But let’s get down to the state of play at the moment.  The bottom line:  the race for Senate control is getting even tighter.  Here is how the scorecard looks, compared to my last major assessment in October.  Six months later, the Democrats’ odds of holding on have weakened close to the breaking point.  Their insurance policy is Veep Joe Biden, who would break a 50-50 tie with his vote.  Right now, I have the Democrats holding on by a 51-49 margin, a downgrade from October. 


Oct 17,
Mar. 23,

2013
2014
Democrats Total
52
51
Dem Not Up
34
34
Dem Solid
11
10
Dem Lean
4
2
Dem Tossup
3
5
Rep Tossup
2
3
Rep Lean
3
3
Rep Solid
12
13
Rep Not Up
31
30
Republicans Total
48
49

The Democrats have 34 incumbents not up for election, and 10 more races that will almost surely stay blue in 2014, for a total of 44 “in the bag.”  The Republicans have 30 holdovers and 13 certain red wins, adding up to 43 solid red.  So the real battle for control of the Senate will come among 13 “battleground” contests out of the 36 elections.  Republicans have to win 8 of these 13 to take the Senate…and they certainly could.

And of those 13 battleground races, seven of them have margins of two points or less.  Close enough for you?

A few notes on the changes since October.  Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma resigned effective January, 2015, and a special election has been set for Election Day 2014.  Essentially, this is a shift within the “solid red,” since Coburn’s Republican successor will almost surely hold the seat within GOP ranks.  One race that I had deemed solid for the Dems last fall – Colorado – is now a battleground state, though I still have it in the Dems column.  Within the other 12 states in play, Louisiana has moved into the Republican column, albeit by a tiny margin.  And some Democratic margins have slipped from “leaning” to “tossup.”  So the ice continues to melt under the Dems’ current 55-45 majority.

Here is the full chart of every race, and the latest polling in the battleground states, and then follows a brief profile of each battleground race as it stands now.  A number of organizations are doing battleground state polling now, and the polls I have aggregated below cover the time period from January 1 up through yesterday.  The blue rows are the solid Democratic races, the white are the 13 battlegrounds, and the red rows are solid Republican.


Inc.

Retiring/
Dem
Rep
Poll
Current
State
Party
Incumbent
Running
Candidate
Candidate
Margin
Status
Delaware
D
Coons
Running
Coons


Solid Dem
Hawaii
D
Schatz
Running
Schatz


Solid Dem
Illinois
D
Durbin
Running
Durbin


Solid Dem
Massachusetts
D
Markey
Running
Markey


Solid Dem
Minnesota
D
Franken
Running
Franken


Solid Dem
New Mexico
D
Udall
Running
Udall


Solid Dem
Oregon
D
Merkley
Running
Merkley


Solid Dem
Rhode Island
D
Reed
Running
Reed


Solid Dem
Virginia
D
Warner
Running
Warner


Solid Dem
New Jersey
D
Booker
Running
Booker


Solid Dem
New Hampshire
D
Shaheen
Running
Shaheen
Brown
Dem +8
Lean Dem
Iowa
D
Harkin
Retiring
Braley
Jacobs
Dem +8
Lean Dem
Colorado
D
Udall
Running
Udall
Gardner
Dem + 2
Tossup Dem
Georgia
R
Chambliss
Retiring
Nunn
Braun
Dem +1
Tossup Dem
Alaska
D
Begich
Running
Begich
Treadwell/Sullivan
Even
Tossup Dem
North Carolina
D
Hagan
Running
Hagan
Tillis
Even
Tossup Dem
Michigan
D
Levin
Retiring
Peters
Land
Rep +2
Tossup Dem
Kentucky
R
McConnell
Running
Grimes
McConnell
Rep +1
Tossup Rep
Louisiana
D
Landrieu
Running
Landrieu
Cassidy
Rep +2
Tossup Rep
Arkansas
D
Pryor
Running
Pryor
Cotton
Rep +4
Tossup Rep
West Virginia
D
Rockefeller
Retiring
Tennant
Capito
Rep + 10
Lean Rep
Montana
D
Baucus
Retiring
Walsh
Daines
Rep +14
Lean Rep
South Dakota
D
Johnson
Retiring
Weiland
Rounds
Rep + 20
Lean Rep
Alabama
R
Sessions
Running

Sessions

Solid Rep
Idaho
R
Risch
Running

Risch

Solid Rep
Kansas
R
Roberts
Running

Roberts

Solid Rep
Maine
R
Collins
Running

Collins

Solid Rep
Mississippi
R
Cochran
Running

Cochran

Solid Rep
Nebraska
R
Johanns
Retiring

Osborn

Solid Rep
Oklahoma
R
Inhofe
Running

Inhofe

Solid Rep
Oklahoma
R
Coburn
Retiring

Lankford

Solid Rep
South Carolina
R
Graham
Running

Graham

Solid Rep
South Carolina
R
Scott
Running

Scott

Solid Rep
Tennessee
R
Alexander
Running

Alexander

Solid Rep
Texas
R
Cornyn
Running

Cornyn

Solid Rep
Wyoming
R
Enzi
Running

Enzi

Solid Rep

You will note that most of the battleground states are now held by Democrats, 11 of them, versus only two by Republicans.  And five Democrats are retiring, versus only one Republican.

There are five states that can barely be considered “battleground,” where polls show leads of 8 or more points.  Republicans have large leads in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota, three red states (in the 2012 presidential election) where three long-serving Democrats are retiring, Jay Rockefeller, Max Baucus and Tim Johnson.  Democrats have solid leads in Iowa and New Hampshire; the former where Bruce Braley is doing well in his quest to succeed Tom Harkin, and the latter where Jeanne Shaheen has a strong lead over likely challenger Scott Brown.  (Yes, the same Scott Brown who won Massachusetts’ special election to replace Ted Kennedy but then lost to Elizabeth Warren.  Turns out he has a house over the border in New Hampshire.)  While these races look solid for the leaders, it’s a bit early to pull them out of the battleground column yet, but absent unlikely major shifts, that will eventually happen.

And that leaves those breathtaking seven races where the margin is two points or less. 

The macro forces at work are captured in two measures:  President Obama’s net approval rating, and the so-called “generic ballot,” when pollsters ask voters whether they would vote for a nameless Democrat or Republican in a congressional election.  Obama’s stock dropped with the disastrous start to Obamacare but between the fixes to the website and increasing enrollment numbers (along with a steadily improving economy) he is nearly back to October levels – no great shakes, either, at 45% approval and a net -7%.

Obama Approval Rating
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
  Approve
45.3
45.5
39.9
42.6
43.8
44.6
  Disapprove
51.5
52.5
51.8
52.6
51.4
51.7
  Net
-6.2
-6.9
-11.9
-10.0
-7.6
-7.0

And the Democrats have similarly (and not coincidentally) ridden the roller coaster down and up, but have not recovered October levels as yet.

Generic Congressional Ballot
5-Oct
8-Nov
8-Dec
10-Jan
11-Feb
10-Mar
  Democrat
41.9
45.2
40.7
41.4
39.9
41.0
  Republican
38.4
39.5
41.9
41.9
40.7
39.2
  Net
3.4
5.7
-1.1
-0.5
-0.8
1.8

Thus the macro environment tells the tale.  Those razor thin margins in these Senate elections will be heavily influenced by these measures, to be sure. And while the past six months have not been kind to Democrats, they are on the upswing.

BATTLEGROUND STATES

Here is a brief review of the 13 battleground Senate elections in 2014:

·        AlaskaDemocratic incumbent Mark Begish will likely face either Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell or former Attorney General Daniel S. Sullivan.  The polling is a bit all over the map, and at this point looks to be a tossup.  For me, a tie at this stage goes to the incumbent, since incumbents have actually proven they can win (and thus have organizations, proven fundraising capability, Senate campaign experience, etc.).  Tossup Democrat.

·        Arkansas:  Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is now behind in a red state the GOP would love to swipe.  Representative Tom Cotton is the likely Republican candidate in a race that has Cotton ahead in most polls except the most recent one which was a dead heat.  I have this in the GOP column.  Tossup Republican.

·        Colorado. Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall was once considered quite solid, but Republican Representative Cory Gardner has thrown his hat into the ring, providing a formidable opponent for Udall, with Udall up only an insignificant one point. Tossup Democrat.

·        Georgia:  A fascinating race to replace the retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss features Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of Sam, a political neophyte (she runs a “Points of Light” volunteer organization) who will be the Democrat nominee, but the Republicans have been unable to coalesce around a candidate and the field is crowded to say the least:  seven different candidates have achieved at least 10% of the vote in primary polls.  Nunn is more or less neck-and-neck with Representative Paul Broun, one of the leading contenders, and she leads all the others by a wider margin at this point.  Tossup Democrat.

·        Iowa:  Democratic Representative Bruce Braley is on solid footing to retain the seat currently held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.  Businessman Mark Jacobs leads the GOP field at this point, but he trails Braley by 8 in recent polling.  Leaning Democrat.

·        KentuckySenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, at this juncture, is still in a dogfight.  He will likely crush his own party’s challenger from the right, businessman Matt Bevin.  And I still have been him beating Secretary of State Alison Lunderman, though their polling is as close as can be.  Mitch has been there before, and he keeps smiling.  (For those who miss this reference, the notoriously dour McConnell had some “happy” footage shot of him for use in PAC ads, and this footage has become a bonafide YouTube sensation; check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x_pjKkYBAk).  Tossup Republican.

·        Louisiana:  Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu has weakened considerably in a tight race with Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, and I’ve got this one with the GOP as of now.  Tossup Republican.

·        MichiganDemocratic Representative Gary Peters’s has a slim lead over former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in the race to replace retiring Democratic incumbent, Carl Levin.  Land led in most of the polling in January and February but Peters is ahead in the two latest polls, by 3 and 6 points.  I give the nod to incumbent Peters at this point.  Tossup Democrat.

·        MontanaLongtime Democratic Senator Max Baucus resigned in January to become Ambassador to China, an event that delighted the Dems as it gave his replacement, John Walsh, a running start in his attempt to keep this red state in the Democrats camp in the Senate.  But it ain’t working so far: Walsh trails Republican Representative Steve Daines badly in the polls…by 14 points.  Leaning Republican.

·        New Hampshire:  “Downtown” Scott Brown (so-named for his shot-making abilities as a Tufts University hoopster; I was an eyewitness back in the day, from my seat on the Williams College bench) made it all-but-official, jumping into the fray for the GOP nomination.  But the polls indicate that hard-to-impress New Hampshirites barely shrugged; they had Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen up handily over Brown before he declared, and the latest poll, which came after his announcement, now shows Shaheen’s lead is in double-digits.  Plus   Leaning Democrat.

·        North CarolinaDemocratic incumbent Kay Hagan is locked in a doozie of a race with a broad field of Republicans.  Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, appears to be the top candidate.  The average of 8 polls over the last three months shows a 0.1 margin, as close as it gets.  Hagan, as the incumbent, gets the nod here.  Tossup Democrat.

·        South DakotaFormer Governor Mike Rounds has a huge lead over former Tom Daschle staffer Rick Weiland in this red state that is currently represented by retiring Democrat Tim Johnson.  But Rounds’s life is being complicated by former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, who is running as an independent.  That is the only reason why this race is not “solid red.”  It should be the easiest switch for the Republicans.  Leaning Republican.

·        West VirginiaRepublican representative Shirley Moore Capito has a 10-point lead over state Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in a race to replace retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller.  Another easy switch for the Republicans in this red state.  Leaning Republican.


The Democratic path to maintain control of the Senate is fraught with peril, to say the least.  But with those seven 0-2 point margin races still eight months away, Senate control can still go either way.