Rules for Political Prognostication in an Era in which No Rules Apply

After the surprise outcome of the 2016 election it has become conventional wisdom that the old rules of politics don’t apply anymore.  Today’s politics seem increasingly unpredictable and chaotic, driven by cable news and social media fanning the flames of a polarized electorate.  But it’s not anarchy yet.  Some traditional rules still apply and can help shine light into what seems the dark ages of politics.

Here are three “old rules” we think helpful for bringing order to chaos:

  • Resist the myths
  • Know the races, the handicaps and the polls
  • Follow the money

There are others, but we’ll focus on these three for now.

Resist the Myths

American politics has long been fertile ground for myth-making, ever since George Washington chopped down that cherry tree.  One emerging myth – sometimes called “conventional wisdom” – is that President Trump must win all of his 2016 states to win re-election.  According to that myth, lightening must strike twice, and in the same places, for the president to reach 270 electoral college votes.

In reality, the president has more flexibility to shake up the map going into 2020.  In 2016 he carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by narrow margins.  Look for both sides to fight fiercely to polish off a win in this part of the Rust Belt.  But the president doesn’t need to win them all, as he did in 2016, to squeak out an electoral college win.  He need only hold on to one of them. He could also lose all three of those if he can pick up Minnesota, which he narrowly lost the first time around.  Should he manage to recapture those three states he could afford to lose Florida.  While it’s not necessarily a myth that history repeats itself, President Trump need not rely on 2016 redux to win.  He has room to maneuver.  Democrats target too narrowly at their peril.

Another “myth” comes in to play here as well…it used to be Election DAY.  Now voting goes on for a month or more, so it’s election MONTH.  And Minnesota is the first out of the starting gate, with early voting beginning September 18, 46 days before Election Day.

Know the Races

The second rule of politics– know the races, handicaps and polls – still provides insight on how the presidential contest will shake out.

Share of New Jobs

Share of New Jobs by MSA

Numbers count in this rule, and perhaps the most important numbers are economic. As former Governor and GOP Chair Haley Barbour said at our firm’s annual dinner over a year ago, economic recovery and growth is highly variable geographically and is mostly outside the Rust Belt and the Heartland of America.  But job growth in Denver, Phoenix, Detroit, and Charlotte will bolster Trump’s claims of a strong economy in “swing” presidential states including Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Michigan (helping him hold on to one of those “must-win” Midwest states).  George Jones may have had “Friends in High Places,” but the president has high job numbers in the right places.  These economic numbers will also help GOP Senate candidates in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina.

Knowing the historical context of the polls provides perspective on the president’s job approval rating.

While Trump’s job approval is under 50 percent, at 44.8 percent, he’s still near the average job approval rating (48.6 percent) of the last three presidents to win a second-term (Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama).   Trump’s job approval rating is actually slightly better than Obama’s at this point in the Democrat’s presidency.  Among Republicans, the president’s approval remains steady and stellar at 90 percent (where he has hovered since inauguration) while he has improved somewhat among independents since January of this year.

Those are national numbers.  Looking at the president’s net approval in key battleground states, the numbers are bleaker for Mr. Trump:

Minnesota:  -16

Wisconsin: -14

Michigan: -7

Pennsylvania:  -9

Ohio: -4

Arizona: -7

 

Follow the Money

The Trump campaign raised a staggering $105 million in the second quarter of 2019, more than doubling President Barack Obama’s second-quarter 2011 haul of $46 million, and candidate Hillary Clinton’s $48 million at this point in the 2015 race.  Nor is Trump sitting on the money.  Since January 1, 2017 he has spent $75.2 million, and currently has $56.7 million cash-on-hand.  According to his campaign you can follow $35 million of that money to digital advertising and email prospecting.  The Trump campaign’s Facebook ad spending so far exceeds all of his Democratic rivals, combined.

Speaking of Trump’s rivals, Senators Sanders and Warren lead the pack, (at $46.3 and $35.7 million respectively).  Mayor Pete Buttigieg is close on Warren’s heels at $32.3 million.  “Front-runner” Joe Biden, while leading in the polls, trails behind in sixth place.  We will soon see if the former vice president’s lead in the polls follows the money – downwards.

Prepare Your Alibis

An unspoken old rule of politics is always to have an alibi handy.  We continue to think the presidential race is a toss-up and, with record-high turnout possible (the 2018 election was the highest turnout for a mid-term in 104 years) anything could happen.  Novelist Robert A. Heinlein wrote that politics is the “only game for grown-ups.”  That game may not be played today exactly the way it was in 1956 when Heinlein wrote those words, but despite the passage of year – and the demographic, communications and cultural shifts of the past several decades — some of the same rules still apply.  We will be following them.  Stay tuned.

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They’re Playing Our Song

     A sidebar to the presidential cattle call in Iowa this month was the choice of “walk out” songs for each candidate. Case in point: Steve Bullock approached the podium to John Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” playing on his Helena roots. (Millennials were in diapers when John Edwards opened his rallies to the same sheet of music.)

But the staying power of these tunes will be tested at the Iowa State Fair this August and well into next winter when Hawkeye State caucus-goers lay the groundwork for the front-loaded primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and California.

Perhaps Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett have some sway in Iowa since the state is among the top ten with the largest population over 65.

Consider, though, as Michelle Cottle eloquently observed on the New York Times editorial page following the Democrats’ Iowa auditioning, the skew to older voters is just one aspect of letting Iowa lead the lopsided, nonsensical, distorted, imperfect and cockeyed system for choosing a party nominee. The state has “outsize[d] and unwarranted influence over the nomination process,” she writes, leading to a “parade of pandering.” She notes that in 2016, with all the attention heaped on Iowa, only 16 percent of the state’s eligible-to-vote population actually caucused.

Interestingly, in the Granite State, the median age is the second oldest in the nation but New Hampshire is well-to-do with the highest median income, 36 percent above the national average. But their voters are schooled well with test scores among the top in the U.S. And hip-hop may flop here with a population that is 91 percent white.

It is quite a contrast to South Carolina where the black population is 28 percent (among the states with the largest share of this demographic group.) But candidates here must appeal to such challenges as a median income 18 percent below the national average and a poverty rate higher than the national average. The Palmetto State is among the highest in the U.S. with residents lacking health insurance and among the lowest with college graduates.

Yet South Carolina is the second favorite destination for households relocating from other states. Canvassers take note though: these newbies are typically white, conservative, evangelical Republicans. And they are old. The fastest growing segment in the state is at least 85. And by the end of the next decade South Carolinians over 65 will outnumber the school-age population.

Nevadans, though, are among the nation’s least religious, perhaps in line with a trend across the entire U.S. of disaffiliation with faith and less frequency of worship. (Data show the growth in this demographic – currently rising as a share of the population in every region of the U.S. – could signal a higher voter turnout among those casting in favor of liberal candidates or Democrats.) Nevadans’ income is eight percent below the national average and less than one in four have a college degree.

California is an entity of its own, home to one of every eight U.S. residents; 38 percent white, 39 percent Hispanic and more than a quarter of its population native to a foreign land. Every fifth Californian is at or below the poverty line, driven in part by high housing costs. Fact: 70 of the priciest 100 zip codes for housing in the entire U.S. are in the Golden State.

One could easily conclude there is no logical rhyme or reason for this process of winnowing presidential nominees on the political equivalent of a hopscotch grid. Why this particular quintet of states to set the table? Might it not be better to design a system more reflective of the electorate overall?

For 2020 anyway, war room strategists on the campaign trail are fine tuning the lyrics in these frontloaded battlegrounds, pairing playlists to demographics that appeal to voters’ age, race, gender, ethnicity, income bracket, zip code, religion and labor force affiliation. It is a frustrating and puzzling exercise, but the enduring melodies as winter turns to spring may well be music to the ears of those dancing at the next Inaugural balls.

For (Missouri) History Buffs

To Hawthorn Friends & Family

WARNING:  This is for true buffs of political – specifically Missouri political – history.

A couple weeks ago I was honored to speak in Arrow Rock, Missouri, an historic village (now of 56 people) above the Missouri River where Louis and Clark crossed it, where the Santa Fe Trail started, where the great American frontier artist George Caleb Bingham lived.  I spoke at the installation of my dear friend Chet Breitwieser as President of the Friends of Arrow Rock, the devoted group of supporters who champion the past in that community and keep it available and relevant to the present.

I argued that Arrow Rock’s experience with citizen statesmen – individuals who served in public office in ADDITION to their private lives, not consumed by their political lives – was not only vital to the existence of a government on the frontier but is a great model for what we need to day.

I hope you find at least some interesting history (highlighted in bold) in the following excerpts from those remarks.
John              

You have heard it said, “When you have a hammer in your hand  everything looks like a nail.”  That is just one way of saying each of us sees the world from our own perspective.

My perspective is politics.  It’s what I’ve done for 50 years.  And when I look at the world through my perspective of politics I believe the history of Arrow Rock offers timely and powerful lessons highly relevant to today.

Indeed, the “Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement” may be the ONLY solution to the awful problems we face today.  Those problems ARE awful.  And, make no mistake, they ARE OUR problems; for as it was written by John Donne 400 years ago, “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Since the start of the last Presidential campaign four years ago, work for my corporate clients has had me in 33 states and I have overseen operations remotely in another nine.  What I have seen in 42 states is deeply troubling.

I see deepening divisions – and enmity – capable of tearing our nation apart between the “haves” and the “have nots”

I see growing insecurity, desperation, drug addiction, fear, intolerance, hatred, and despondency in dying cities and counties from the “Rust Belt” and Appalachia, to the Black Belt of the deep South, to the life-destroying chaos on our Southwest border.

And the once secure middle class is not exempt. Forty-five million Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, more than many of them can pay. A report out last week told the story of college students choosing between eating and pay tuition.

For too long Washington — now long on profile and short on courage — has been little more than a “dumpster fire,” caught in mean-spirited political gameplaying, woefully unwilling and incapable of constructively addressing critical domestic issues of immigration, healthcare, trade and tariffs, education and the environment, and natural disasters, let alone Russia, China, North Korea, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Why look for a solution in Arrow Rock?

Because Arrow Rock is NOT Washington, or even Jefferson City.  Because Arrow Rock is a wonderfully different place today AND has historic lessons from yesterday to teach today.

Look around.  This audience is representative of a civil society of caring, charitable, constructive people . . . givers, not takers, concerned about what’s good for everyone.  There are disagreements – about policy, but never principals – among neighbors seeking common solutions, among fellow citizens carrying their burden of self-government.

How different that is from Washington . . . and 50 state capitals where our fate is in the hands of today’s breed of professional politicians.

And that’s the profound – and vitally needed – historic lesson Arrow Rock teaches:  the role of the involved, engaged citizen willing to carry the burden of selfless public service.

Go back nearly 200 years, when Missouri’s admission to the Union was, in President Jefferson’s words, a “firebell in the night.”

Arrow Rock then was a small emerging village on the edge of the western migration.  The few people who lived here HAD to be involved, had to serve in public office, or there would have been no government.

In 1830, there were only 140,455 people in Missouri, and 14,125 of them were in St. Louis.  That left 126,330 spread over Missouri’s 69,704 square miles, less than two people (1.812) per square mile.

It had to be a government “of the people” or there would have been no government at all.

So here, from this small growing village, serving a vast wilderness, the Sappington family alone contributed three governors – Meredith Miles Marmaduke, Claiborne Fox Jackson, and John Sappington Marmaduke – and one State Representative, Erasmus Darwin Sappington (who had a close election loss — by three votes to George Caleb Bingham — reversed by a House controlled by Benton Democrats).

Public service is what leading families did in those days.  Mrs. Sappington’s family, the Breathitts, gave Kentucky two governors, a lieutenant governor, an attorney general and, most recently a state and federal public utility commissioner.

Just down the road from Arrow Rock back in the early and mid-1800’s lived Missouri’s famous Supreme Court Justice William Barclay Napton. 

And of course, we’ve already mentioned one of America’s most famous artists, George Caleb Bingham . . . who, in addition to his extraordinary skills with canvass and brush, still found time to serve his state as state representative (coming back to beat E.D. Sap-pington in the next election), state treasurer AND adjutant general.
That’s the Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement . . . like Cincinnatus, who left his plow to lead ancient Rome to victory over the Aequi and then returned to his farm.
These men served not because it was easy but because it was vital.  In those years leading to Civil War it was terribly hard,             and took an enormous toll, as brothers opposed brothers.  But it was their sacred duty.  Citizenship meant service.
They weren’t always successful — Bingham did not get to Congress, nor the consul positions he wanted, while Gov. Jackson died in Arkansas, retreating from Union troops, forced from the state that elected him governor — but they were faithful to their beliefs and to their belief in public service.

And Saline County continued the Arrow Rock model through the centuries . . .

  • from James Coomey’s service after The War as Probate Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, and Member of Congress . . .
  • to Sally Hailey, who could have stayed in Ernest’s insurance agency, but she chose ceiling-breaking service as Missouri’s Democratic National Committeewoman and Director of Business Administration in the cabinet of Governor John Montgomery Dalton . . .
  • to our recently departed friend Dr. James I. Spainhower, who left a comfortable pulpit to become State Representative, Chair of the House Education Committee, State Treasurer, and candidate for Governor.

To that list must be added:

  • an adopted son of Saline County, Missouri Valley College’s colossal Chairman and President, H. Roe Bartle, who returned to Kansas City to serve two terms as Mayor
  • an adopted daughter of Saline County Carolyn Ashford who served as Director of Natural Resources and the first woman to be Chief of Staff to the Governor of Missouri, then spent a career in private industry,
  • and Marshall native Brian Treece could easily have been satisfied with a career as one of the best lobbyists in Jefferson City.  Instead, he ran for, was elected (and by two-to-one recently re-elected) and serves as the distinguished mayor of Columbia, Missouri.

That’s what America needs.  People (as the late Eric Sevareid once said) who aren’t interested in BEING something, but in DOING something . . . in doing something as public servants.

What Missouri needs, what America needs, what the world needs is a return to the Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement.

Professor Paul Nagle closes his wonderful book on with a tribute to George Caleb Bingham, “We ought to remember he gave much of his energy to working to make Missouri a better place to live.” Ah, if that could only be said of all of us. 

Preliminary Thoughts on the 2019 Races

To Hawthorn Friends & Family —

In the absence of any recent musing by us on the political scene (what, we ask ourselves, could possibly need to be said that isn’t already being said, over and over?), to my utter amazement I’ve been getting emails from folks asking if they’ve been dropped from our distribution lists and actually asking for our current thoughts.

I’m not sure there is much to add to what, as noted, is being said, but in the interest of at least highlighting items that we’ve noted recently, let me share:

  1. The President’s Fundraising Advantage

The Trump campaign this week announced they had raised $30 million in the first quarter of this year.  I was struck by:

  • Although likely to INCREASE as the election gets closer, that’s an ANNUAL fundraising rate of $120 million a year.
  • It is more than the top two Democratic contenders combined.
  • Of President Trump’s contributions 99% are $200 or less — a stunning demonstration of small donor support — with the average contribution $34.
  • He has $40 million cash on hand.

In the immortal words of the late Deep Throat of long-ago Watergate fame, Follow the money.”

And that wisdom applies not only to totals, but also to SIZE of gifts and number of true small donors.  Not even Bernie Sanders – or Elizabeth Warren, who has eschewed major contributions – can begin to approach 99% small donors.  That’s an impressive base of voters and potential volunteers (IF the Trump campaign can figure out how to use them to localize and personalize the Trump message).

Where is all this money coming from? Seniors are part of the answer. See this week’s story from Axios where Trump is targeting Seniors on Facebook over other age demographics.

I was also reminded of Deep Throat’s wise admonition reading a MoScout story this week about Missouri Democratic State Auditor – and the party’s best hope for a gubernatorial candidate in 2020 – Nicole Galloway’s fundraising.  It noted she had “raised $144,194, not too far from the amount raised by Mike Parson, the sitting governor, $198,931.”  

BUT as MoScout noted – and God IS in the details (of finances AND politics) – “If she dives into this race, Galloway will have to redouble her fundraising because Team Parson holds a big money lead.  His campaign committee has more than $1 million cash on-hand (Galloway has $65K COH) and Parson’s allied PAC, Uniting Missouri, has $2.3 million on-hand.”

There is a WORLD of difference between trailing in recent fundraising by only $50,000 and trailing in cash on-hand by $3.2 million.

In this rapidly changing world of politics, “Follow the money” remains unchanged.

  1. The RNC’s Fundraising Advantage

Anyone “following the money” would also note that as of March 1, 2019, the FEC reported the Democratic National Committee had cash on hand of $8,660,790, with debts of $4,590,612, a net of $3,960,178 while the Republican National Committee had cash of hand of $31,141,261, with NO debt, an eight-to-one advantage to the GOP.

  1. Categorizing the Democratic Aspirants

With no hope of yet being able to handicap their prospects, I am currently grouping the Democrats into two categories:

  • “The Over-the-Hill Gang”  (Sanders at 77, Biden at 76, Warren at 69, etc. vs. Trump at 72 and laughably irrelevant William Weld at 73) and
  • “The Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Players” (Harris, O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Gillibrand, Klobuchar, Booker, Castro, etc.).

There is, of course, a third category, “Legends in their Own Minds” (to borrow a phrase from the late beloved Bob Strauss), those hopelessly tilting at windmills who are unlikely to ever break through the initial barrier and start to be taken seriously (Swalwell, Gabbard, Ryan, Delaney, Yang, etc.).  And while nearly doomed to stay in that hopeless category, there are some appealing would-be contenders, one, or two, or even three of whom might catch on enough to become at least minor contenders (Inslee, Hickenlooper, Bennett, etc.).

  1. The Front-Loaded Democratic Calendar

Despite the 20-or-more candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, it COULD be an early decision.

As University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato pointed out recently in his always “must read” Crystal Ball, “almost two-thirds of the total number of pledged delegates will be awarded in the first seven weeks of the nominating season, from February 3, 2020 through March 17, 2020.”

Indeed, as he points out (and we highlight the MAJOR states), in only two weeks, between Super Tuesday (California, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia) on March 3rd, thru March 10th (Michigan and Ohio), thru March 17th (Florida and Illinois), 60% of the Democratic delegates will be awarded.

It is, of course, NOT certain at all there will be an early winner. Iowa and New Hampshire – grossly NON-representative of the Democrats’ voting base – don’t account for all that many delegates and Sanders or Warren may have a “lock” on neighboring New Hampshire.

Minorities start appearing at the polls in Nevada and, massively, in South Carolina (each also in other ways non-representative of the rest of America).

Among the big early states, Sen. Kamala Harris may have a lock on California, Beto O’Rourke on Texas and Warren on Massachusetts . . . leaving the big early battleground states of Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

Two other interesting changes this year:

  • Early voting in California starts the same day as the Iowa caucuses and well before New Hampshire’s primary.  Without formally threatening their – totally indefensible – “first in the nation status,” it does diminish/skew their impact.
  • In 2020, Super Delegates (760 out of some 4,530 total delegates) can only vote on the first ballot IF the nomination has already been decided by the primaries.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball actually explains this arcania in an intelligible manner . . . and makes the point the last President whose nomination went to a second ballot was FDR in ’32 (when two-thirds of the delegates were still required for nomination) and the last nominee whose nomination went to a second  ballot was Adlai Stevenson in ’52.  Why DO we have conventions any more, anyway?

  1. The Senate Looks Grim for a Democratic Takeover in 2020

While 22 of the 35 seats up in 2020 are GOP seats, prospects are NOT good for a Democratic takeover.

In his last report, the inimitable Charlie Cook viewed NONE of the Republican seats a “Lean Democrat” or “Toss-Up” . . .  and only three as “Lean Republican” (the rest being “Likely Republican” or “Solid Republican”).  He counts those three “Lean Republican” seats as Arizona (McSally), Colorado (Gardner) and Maine (Collins, whose DEMOCRAT colleague from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, has already endorsed her).  Any of the three COULD become a serious race, but not without a serious challenger, which each currently lacks.  While Sen. Collins does not have an opponent yet, Democratic fury at her Kavanaugh vote has already raised over $3 million to her future opponent.

Of the 13 Democratic seats, Charlie considers 11 of them safe for re-election, two “Likely D” and nine “Solid D.”  However, he lists one – Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama – as “Toss Up.”

While I’ve learned the perils of disagreeing with Charlie, I’d push it farther to the GOP, to at least “Lean Republican” if not “Likely Republican.”  Jones beat the infamous Roy Moore by 21,924 votes in his special election runoff that saw 22,852 write-in votes posted (mostly by Republicans disgusted with Moore, such as the senior Senator, Richard Shelby).  It is a state President Trump carried by 62.08% to 34.06%.  There are NO Democrats in statewide office.  A pathetically weak GOP candidate for governor won in 2018 with 59.5% of the vote.  Doug Jones is a quietly but strongly impressive public servant and a solid candidate, but his prospects are dim in that state.

So, instead of gaining the two seats they need to take the majority, we believe the Democrats will actually LOSE one seat and the GOP will keep the Senate.

  1. And Governors Don’t Look Much Better for Dems.

There are 14 governors offices on the ballot this cycle, three this year (Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky) and 11 next year . . . a total of  five Democrat and nine Republican.  Charlie counts NONE as “Toss Up” and only two Democrat (Louisiana and Montana) as “Lean Democrat” and only one Republican (Kentucky) as “Lean Republican.”

We agree with Charlie and see little change among Governors . . . indeed, we’d call Kentucky as “Likely Republican.”  The incumbent seems likely to hold on to Louisiana and we don’t know enough about Montana to have a view.

  1. Can the Democrats Hold the U. S. House?

It is, in all honestly, too early to tell.  But we haven’t seen much to make us believe political attitudes have changed since November, 2018, when the Democrats came from behind to sweep control.

Of course, President Trump will be ON the ballot in 2020, a HUGE change from 2018.  And it’s clear House members – from Speaker Pelosi to the young firebrands – will be major attack targets for the President. 

  1. What We Really Need!

I have been working on a speech for a group of historic-minded benefactors in the old Missouri frontier town of Arrow Rock, who will gather there to honor my dear friend Chet Breitwieser as the new president of the Friends of Arrow Rock.

That little town in the tumultuous years before (and just after) the Civil War that was family home to three governors of Missouri, up the road from the farm of the state’s embattled chief justice, and (in the person of one of America’s most famous artists, George Caleb Bingham), home for a state treasurer and state adjutant general . . . all citizens – not professional career politicians – willing to serve in high public office in horribly difficult times.

Appealing for similar citizen involvement today, I intend to quote – with apologies for its male-gender foucs, typical of the era in which it was written – a poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland:

GOD, give us men!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.

John

A Post Election View From Across the Potomac

To Hawthorn Friends & Family —

While we’ll spend weeks pouring over who voted (and didn’t vote) on Tuesday (as well as during the up to six weeks of early voting) and why (and why not), we’ve had several requests for a “simple, clear summary of what happened.”

It is below, with a first cut at some of the factors involved.

WHAT HAPPENED —

U. S. Senate – Assuming Florida (recount) and Mississippi (runoff) don’t change results (and we don’t expect them to), Republicans kept control and impressively gained a net of three  seats

Democrat LOSSES – Heitkamp in North Dakota, McCaskill in Missouri, Donnelly in Indiana, Nelson in Florida – were not unexpected, but some of the MARGINS (McCaskill, Donnelly) were worse than we expected.  

Democrats picked up one seat:  Nevada.   

And 2020 does NOT look promising for Democrats to win back control, particularly with Trump on the Presidential ballot.  Although Republicans have 21 incumbents up for re-election in two years, most are in VERY red states.

U.S. House – Again, with some recounts outstanding, the Democrats took control of the house, apparently picking up 38 seats and losing four, not a net gain of 34 (they needed 23; we predicted 25-30).  

Pelosi seems likely to survive as Speaker, a job she first won 16 years ago . . . perhaps, with their overreaching investigations and threats of impeachment, suicidal for Democrats in 2020.

Governors – Democrats picked up a net of seven state governorships (we had predicted four-to-six), including Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin (and KANSAS, for Heaven’s sake, where the Democrats also ousted a Republican congressman with a Democrat LGBT Native American mixed martial artist woman).

But Democrats lost chances to re-take Ohio, Georgia and Florida (while keeping, no surprise, California, New York and Pennsylvania).

Attorneys General – Democrats appear to have picked up four states(including Michigan) and will now occupy 27 of 51 (counting DC) AGs’ offices.

Legislatures – It appears Democrats gained control of seven legislative chambers, including New York Senate, (tho’ may have lost Alaska), gaining more than 323 (so far) legislative seats (while losing another 100 to GOP).

Ballot Issues –

·        Electric utilities won big in Nevada and Arizona, with defeat of retail choice in Nevada and renewables in Arizona, although a renewables measure passed in Nevada.

·        Fracking restrictions failed in Colorado

·        Felons got voting rights restored in Florida

·        Rent control was defeated in California

·        A gas tax was sustained in California but defeated in Missouri

·        Water bonds were defeated in California

·        Minimum wage passed in Missouri and Arkansas

·        Liberalizing marijuana passed in Missouri, Michigan and Utah, but failed in North Dakota

·        Medicaid got expanded in three western states, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah

·        Four states – Michigan, Missouri, Utah, and Colorado – made redistricting less partisan

·        Marcy’s law passed in in six states:  Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma

HOW IT HAPPENED –

  • In the heaviest turn-out in a mid-year election since I was in high school 52 years ago, Americans sent a very mixed message:  A more GOP Senate, a massive shift to DEM House, more DEM Governors, and more DEM AGs and Legislators . . . but still 600 short of when President Obama took office.
  • Trump’s personal campaign priorities won Senate races in Missouri, Florida, and Indiana . . . but lost in Montana, Nevada and West Virginia.
  • The road to Dems’ House victory – the “revolt of suburbia” – went through major suburbs in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Kansas City, Oklahoma City (in the “reddest” state in America), Dallas, Houston, Denver, etc., even Salt Lake City.  It appears it wascollege-educated women who made a critical difference (albeit not enough in theAtlanta suburbs).
  • As we take refuge, retreating further into our tribes, America is an increasingly deeply divided nation.  Many red states seemed to get redder, blue states bluer.
  • It was the most expensive mid-term election in history.  I’ve read estimates of more than $5 billion.  It was also one of the nastiest.  The two seem somehow related.

John 

Election Eve Analysis

To Hawthorn Friends & Family –

‘Tis the day before the most expensive (and, possibly, most bitter) mid-term election in American history.  To borrow a phrase, in 36 hours “our long national nightmare” will be over (actually an even longer nightmare – the campaigns for 2020 – has already started).

We owe you our “best guess” on potential outcomes.  In the past I have often been wrong . . . but in grand consultant tradition, always been certain.  This year – see disclaimers below – I am less certain than ever.

That said, the most useful and, clearly, the most certain thing we can provide you today is linked here, produced by and shared with the kind permission of our esteemed colleague Rhodes Cook, publisher of “The Rhodes Cook Letter”.  It is a list of the states in order of poll closing times with some key statistics on the ’16 Presidential vote and the Senate and Governor candidates running this year.  This will do you more good tomorrow night than anything else we can say or share.

How Things Look This Election Eve — 

U.S. Senate – We continue to believe the GOP has at least an 80% chance of holding control of the Senate.  There are just too many endangered Democrats running in too many states, 10 in states President Trump carried by an average of 16.2 points (from 0.2 points in Michigan, to 36 points in North Dakota and 42 points in West Virginia).

Although late polling seems to show some momentum for McCaskill inMissouri, Donnelly in Indiana, and Nelson in Florida, the harsh reality is that to take control of the Senate, the Democrats have to PICK UP TWO GOP SEATS (best hopes Nevada and Arizona, both within the margin of error of polls; lesser hopes in Tennessee and Mississippi) AND HOLD ALL THEIR CURRENT SEATS (including very tough races in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Florida . . . a number of which were on President Trump’s whirlwind tour of 11 rallies in recent days).

U.S. House – We continue to believe the Democrats have a 70% chance of gaining control of the U.S. House.  They need a net gain of 23 seats.  It does not appear the “blue wave” will crest at the once-forecast 35 or 40 seats, but they should pick up 25-30.

Big states that will decide the House outcome:  Pennsylvania and California. Of Minnesota’s eight districts, five are targeted by one or the other parties. Virginia could flip a number of districts.  And even Kansas could flip two (perhaps requiring a re-write of What’s The Matter With Kansas?)

Earliest races to watch outcomes:  If, as former Congressman Tom Davis noted, the GOP’s Barbara Comstock WINS re-election in Virginia’s 10th District there is no “blue wave” for Democrats . . . and if the GOP’s David Brat LOSES re-election in Virginia’s 7th District (which the GOP has held since 1968), there could be a very real “blue wave.”

The generic ballot favors Democrats by (Real Clear Politics average) almost eight points . . . and Democrats need an 8+ point advantage to win control of a Gerrymandered House.  The most noticeable element in generic ballot polls we’ve seen recently are the enormous gender gap (men marginally want a Republican congress, women overwhelmingly a Democrat) and the even more enormous education gap (college educated favor Democrats, non-college educated favor Republicans).  In this year of record numbers of women Senate, House, gubernatorial and legislatives candidates, this gender gap may decide the election.

This year could set a record for INDICTED House members being re-elected, with two members, Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and Chris Collins (NY-27) under active indictment – Hunter on 60 felony charges and Collins on 11 felony charges – and awaiting trial . . . but with both leading in their respective polls.

Governors – We continue to believe the Democrats have a 90% chance of picking up four to six Governor offices and as many as 450+ state legislative seats (having lost more than 950 in the Obama years).   Democrat pick-ups look VERY LIKELY in Illinois and New Mexico, INCREASINLGY LIKELY in Michigan, Kansas, Florida and Nevada . . . and POSSIBLE in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Maine andmaybe even Georgia (which, with a third candidate drawing four percent in the polls, may well go to a December 4th run-off).

Democrats WILL hold the Governor’s office in California and New York . . . and SHOULD hold on to the Governor’s office in Colorado, Oregon (a closer race than it should have ever been)and Connecticut (where the Democrat incumbent is the most unpopular Governor in America, making holding it a challenge but against a weak GOP candidate) . . . while New Hampshire GOP Governor Sununu was expected to win re-election handily in race that has closed very late.  Two Republican governors in normally VERY Democrat states – Massachusetts and Maryland — are expected to win re-election easily.

THE big question/confusion is Alaska.  The incumbent Independent Governor has – very late – “withdrawn” from the race after his 75-year-old Lieutenant Governor resigned after “inappropriate” comments in what Reuters described as a “murky scandal” . . . however, the Governor’s name remains on the ballot (withdrawal came too late for removal), so post-withdrawal two-candidate polls are, in our view, worthless.  Nevertheless, they show a slight lead for the Democrat, former Anchorage Mayor and U.S. Senator Mark Begich.

Ballot Issues – There are reportedly 155 issues on the November 6 ballot . . .  including among 11 in California major gas tax and water bond issues . . . among six in Nevada, electricity retail choice and renewables (on their way to being a $100 million fight) . . . an equally expensively fought renewables fight (among five ballot issues) in Arizona . . . a surprisingly high-spending campaign on voter restoration for felons in Florida (among nine issues) . . . marijuana legalization in four states – including three competing questions on it in Missouri (where a gas tax and minimum wage are also on the ballot and labor eager to repeat their August victory over right-to-work) – along with Michigan, North Dakota, and Utah . . . minimum wage also on the ballot in Arkansas . . . and Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah.

The Predictor’s Dilemma:  Turnout looks big, but for/against whom — ??

Across the country, we’re hearing lots of reports of highest-ever interest, record-setting early voting (starting as long ago as September 21 in Minnesota . . . before the Kavanaugh vote, the caravan heading north in Mexico, the pipe bombings, the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy, the deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border for the first time since we went chasing Pancho Villa in 1916 . . . but I digress about early voting) and clear intention to vote.  But whom does what may be historically high (at least since 1994) mid-year turnout favor?

Anecdotally, a lot of the early voters appear older and white, which usually advantages the GOP.  But 25% of the early voters in Texas have never voted in a primary, suggesting they are truly first-time voters and, arguably Democrats.  Women are, clearly, more engaged this year and on the generic congressional ballot heavily favor Democrats, less so those without a college education.  There has also been a massive effort to register minorities and turn out millennials.  President Trump has focused media and political chatter – as only he can – on races where turning out his supporters is crucial . . . but might he turn out more of his adversaries than his supporters . .  or have as little effect as he had on the Alabama special senate election and run-off last year?

We really won’t know any of that until well after the polls close, the exit polls (being done by two competing organizations this year, for the first time in memory) reported, the votes counted, and the analysis done.

The possible swings in WHO turns out and in what NUMBERS make this election even harder to predict than normal.  And a lot of races are within the “margin of error” on polling:  Senate in Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Nevada, Arizona . . . and Governor in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, among others.

The Biggest Potential Upsets?

Still bearing the scars of mis-calling 2016, we would be foolish not to recognize the absolute possibilities of upsets, even big upsets.  We’re not predicting ANY of these – indeed, we would put a 10% or less chance on any one of them – but if any happen they will dominate the morning-after news and talk about this election for months/years to come (o.k., until overtaken in a few days with media consumed with 2020).

  1. Republican Ted Cruz loses in Texas, which seems unlikely despite Beto O’Rourke’s exciting campaign, but one which failed to give Republicans, among whom Cruz has dangerously low support, reason to cross over to vote Democrat.
  1. Democrat Robert Menendez loses in New Jersey, where polls show him recovering . . . proving that even when the citizens of the Garden State know that, without question, their U.S. Senator is a crook, they’re willing to re-elect him.
  1. The Blue Wave unexpectedly dies out, leaving the Republicans in control of the House and President Trump triumphant in the White House.
  1. The Blue Wave becomes an unexpected tsunami and sweeps the Democrats into control of the Senate.

We’ll be back in touch on Wednesday, trying to explain what happened.

John

Midterm 2018 Headlines

 

In the shadow of the architectural gem, Union Station, was privileged to address the Kansas City Chamber, Kansas City Power & Light and Hallmark Corporation on my measure of the midterms a week out.

A photo finish is predicted in the governor’s race just across the state line in Kansas where independent Greg Orman could keep Democrat Laura Kelly from reclaiming the office for her party – Kathleen Sebelius the last Democrat to hold the title (though the party came close four years ago.)  Secretary of State Kris Kobach is counting on Trump coattails, which carried him to the Republican nomination, to work their magic next Tuesday.

The suburban fabric of Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder’s metro Kansas City seat is the petri dish for this year’s thriving pink wave underpinning the predicted blue wave.  But here Democrat Sharice Davids is capitalizing on a President Trump 16 points underwater.

In the neighboring congressional district, an open seat, Republican nominee Steve Watkins is fending off charges, not only of an embellished resume, but  just-breaking news placing him in the crosshairs of #MeToo and the family values caucus.

Kansas Republicans may be less stressed about the re-election prospects of their attorney general, Derek Schmidt, who, according to Governing magazine, “is well-positioned to win a third term.”  Keep an eye on him since his office in every state is seen as the bull pen for aspiring governors or U.S. Senators.

In one of the nation’s most contentious U.S. Senate contests, carefully tracked by this media market, Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley is trending ahead of Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

If the caravan traipsing north through Mexico is this cycle’s October surprise, it is set to the backdrop of a deeply divided electorate as measured in the most recent NBC-WSJ poll, in the field rolling into this past weekend.  As the NYT’s Lisa Lerer put it in the context of pipe bombs and Pittsburgh, “many voters have seemed to retreat even more into their corners as a result of the discord.”

Wave Election Forecasting

Honored to participate recently at the National Archives forum on wave elections hosted by the U.S.Association of Former Members of Congress.  The discussion can be viewed on YouTube or on C-SPAN’s website.

In projecting the outlook for this year’s midterms, I observed that, looking back on the last 13 non-presidential election years, when the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent his party loses an average of 40 seats.  Donald Trump’s approval is now in the 43 to 45 percent range leading me to predict a Blue Wave delivering a Democratic pickup in the House approaching 30 seats.

My thanks to U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress for organizing this event.  Was truly a privilege to share perspectives with such esteemed alumni of the U.S. House as “Watergate baby” Governor Jim Blanchard (D- Mich., U.S. House 1975 – 1983) and the Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle (R – NY, 2011 – 2013), Hon. Tom Davis (R – Va., 1995 – 2009) and Hon. Marjorie Margolies (D – Pa. 1992 – 1995).  Also, great to see in the audience The Honorable Barbara Kennelly (D – Ct., 1982 – 1999).

 

With. Left to right, Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Governor Jim Blanchard, Hon. Tom Davis, Hon. Marjorie Margolies and panel moderator David Hawkings (former editor of CQ Roll Call).
All Photos (c) Bruce Guthrie

Eyebrow-Raising November 7 Headlines

To Hawthorn Friends & Family –

 

We are approaching the home stretch. Contemplate these eye-raising headlines at dawn November 7 that will have you brewing another pot of coffee:

1) From the streets of Bakersfield? While Nancy Pelosi held the Speaker’s gavel not long ago, Republicans can do their California dreaming too. They wonder if the “Brett bounce” benefits the Brats over the Spanbergers? Will the red wall result in Kevin McCarthy commanding the clerk to call the roll?This POS/CNBC poll points to Republicans holding their own.

2) Polls show Ted Cruz to have enough reliable support to survive his challenge, but as Dallas Morning News political columnist Gromer Jeffers, Jr. speculates, for Beto O’Rourke on election day, “his base, crossover voters, independents” may all just perfectly align. 

3) New Jersey Democrats are banking on Senator Menendez riding the coattails of their down-ballot slate. He’s given opposition researchers plenty of ammunition to use against him, the latest in this #MeToo moment, reviving reports of his frolicking with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Will the persistent testing of his political durability deliver a Hugan win?

4) According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith, “It doesn’t bode well for Republicans that the Republican National Committee today sent out a news release noting that ‘absentee voting in the Sunshine State (is) set to begin soon,’ when in fact it has been well underway for weeks.” While in his next breath he asserts “Democrats would be foolish to underestimate” the GOP’s Florida operation, statewide campaign dynamics are blown away by Michael’s aftermath. Governor Scott may be off the campaign trail through the election leaving it to $100 million in TV ads to deny Bill Nelson re-election. But no one saw Gillum grabbing the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, raising speculation that the red tide here may be more marine than political science next month.

5) As we approached Labor Day, Dan Balz speculated about Chuck Schumer becoming Majority Leader. According to the respected Post political writer “Bruce Mehlman, who worked in the Bush White House, suggests that’s not out of the question. He did a study looking at 333 Senate races in 10 midterm elections dating back to 1978. He concluded that what matters most ‘is not being from the party that holds the White House, regardless of a state’s partisan lean.’” A week or so later the WaPo’s Plum Line blogger laid out the narrow paths for a Democratic takeover.

And finally, while polling portends an implausible Beto upset in Texas let’s not write off the congressman’s future just yet. Consider that early handicapping of the 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes has him running tied with $100 million-man Michael Bloomberg among the top ten candidates (the former mayor’s political spending in just this cycle). While Beto has been barnstorming all 254 counties in the Lone Star State, his House colleagues like John Delaney, Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton have been doing their spadework in Iowa and New Hampshire but each register less than a percentage point in the early surveys.