Search This Blog

Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rove Explains the Conservative Victory Project

At a NCPA luncheon in Dallas yesterday, Karl Rove spoke about the Conservative Victory Project.  The Dallas Morning News reports:
“We’ve given away at least five seats in the last two election cycles, maybe more, because of poor candidates,” Rove said. “Our donors said ‘we’re happy to write big checks, but we’re sick and tired of writing checks for campaign that can’t win.’”
But critics, including leaders of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, contend that Rove and the new group represent the Republican establishment’s effort to push out conservative, tea party candidates.
Rove, disagreed, saying American Crossroads had a strong record of funding tea party candidates and other conservatives.
“It’s not a question of ideology,” Rove said. “The quality of candidates matters.”
Rove mentioned missed opportunities last year to win Senate seats because of Republicans Todd Atkin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana as examples of why the Conservative Victory Project was needed. They both were sunk after making bizarre comments about women. Rove also cited Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 Senate nominee in Delaware, as a losing candidate that should have been vetted by Republican leaders.
“My posterior was shredded a little bit by donors wondering why we are writing checks for people who then turn around a run such lousy campaigns.”
Rove and American Crossroads were symbols of the awful year Republicans had nationally.
“Yeah, I’m personally responsible for it all, I tell you,” he joked as NCPA President and CEO John Goodman tossed him questions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Meg Whitman, Ashley Judd, and the Cost of Not Voting

In the 2010 California gubernatorial race, Republican Meg Whitman suffered political damage because she had sometimes failed to vote. Primary opponent Steve Poizner and Democratic candidate Jerry Brown both pounced. George Skelton explained in The Los Angeles Times:
Poll director Mark DiCamillo offered likely voters a long list of characteristics — or "attributes" — that fit one or both of the candidates, without mentioning their names. He asked people whether they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate with such a characteristic. Then he calculated the net positive or negative effect of each trait.
The biggest negative, by far, was if a candidate for high office "hasn't voted in many past statewide elections." That fits Whitman, who has acknowledged and apologized for a dismal voting record. Opponents accuse her of not voting during a 28-year span.
"I was focused on raising a family, on my husband's career and we moved many, many times," she told reporters last year in her only public explanation, adding, "It is no excuse. My voting record, my registration record, is unacceptable."
Specifically, 54 percent said nonvoting would make them less likely to vote for a candidate, 4 percent more likely, for a net negative of 50 percent.

Now, another political novice turns out to have a spotty voting record.  Robert Costa reports at National Review Online:
Actress Ashley Judd is active in Democratic politics, but her voting history is spotty. According to public records, she did not vote in several elections over the past two decades.
Judd, a resident of Williamson County, Tenn., voted in the 1996 election via absentee ballot, but did not vote again until the 2004 general election — an eight-year gap. She then sat out another four years, before returning to vote in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Age and Generation

Does the GOP's poor showing among young voters doom it to decline? At The Guardian, Harry J. Enten has some shrewd observations on political generations:

Mitt Romney did worse across pretty much all age cohorts compared to President Bush in 2004.
Bush only won 43% of the 18-24 year-old cohort. There wasn't much of an outcry about Bush's young voter problem because he won. Two elections later, Romney won about 40% of the now 26-32 year-olds. This 3pt drop was entirely consistent with a national Republican drop of 3.5pt from Bush's 50.7% to Romney's 47.2%.
Other age groups are consistent with that effect. Bush won 53% of the then 30-44 year-old vote. This time, Romney nabbed 50% of the now 40-49 year-old cohort, which again matches the Republican drop of 3pt nationally. Same with the then 40-49 year-old vote, where Bush grabbed 54% and Romney walked away with 52% of the now 50-64 year-old cohort.
...
Very well, you might say, but what about the addition of voters who turned 18 since 2004? Surely, they have tilted the electorate. Yet, the now 18-25 year-olds mostly took over for the 75-plus year-olds in 2004, who were very Democratic. That's why age cohorts who cast a ballot in 2004 and 2012 voted the same relative to national vote, even as more millennials have turned 18.
Of course, a steady parade of Democratic millennials could make hell for the Republican party. They will be replacing the 60-74 year-olds of 2004 and now 68-82 year-olds, who have been 6-8pt more Republican than the nation as whole.
The good news for Republicans is that the new 13-18 year-olds don't seem to be like today's 18-32 year-old voters. As I noted last week, the men and women college freshmen of 2012 were 4-5pt less liberal than those of 2008, which brings them closer to middle-of-the-road freshmen of the beginning of the Carter and Clinton administrations.




Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bigotry in KY Senate Race

The campaign against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is getting very nasty very early. WFPL reports:
A Democratic group is under sharp criticism for controversial online messages about Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife.
For months, the liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky has attacked McConnell and held demonstrations at his offices and home.
Recently, the group turned its attention to McConnell’s wife, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, with a focus on her race.
In a Feb. 14 Twitter message, Progress says: "This woman has the ear of (Sen. McConnell)—she's his wife. May explain why your job moved to China!"
The Tweet links to a website run by conspiracy theorist and radio host Jeff Rense, alleging Chao, who was born in Taiwan, discriminated against American workers during her tenure.
The Washington Post adds:
The group even re-tweeted someone’s suggestion that McConnell made Chao’s father rich and gave her citizenship:

I tweet about the   scam & Chinese $$ buying elections in  b/c the mainstream media ignores it. Tell your friends!

 yeah, how his Chinese father-in-law got so much rich and how his wife became a citizen... And no ? Hypocrite.
The group told the WFPL reporter that it will take down tweets deemed to be offensive, but it had not done so as of this posting.
“It’s a fine line, and that is not our overall message. We’ve got some Tweets there that shouldn’t be there and I’ll make sure they come down. We don’t want to cross that line,” Morrison told the reporter. “We’re not after anybody because they are an immigrant, but I think it’s fair to question whether or not there’s a conflict of interest.”
Progress Kentucky was launched in December by a former member of the state Democratic party’s executive committee. Politico’s Manu Raju reported last month that it was working with tea party groups in Kentucky to try and land a primary challenger for McConnell.

GOP and Asian Americans

Why does the GOP have a tough time appealing to Asian Americans?  At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green points to the party's perceived hostility to science and modernity.
According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Asian immigrants hold at least a college degree—compared with less than one in three members of the overall adult population. At Cal Tech—where race, ethnicity, and legacy status are excluded from admissions criteria—Asian-Americans comprise nearly 40 percent of the student body. At MIT, which professes a commitment to diversity, Asian-Americans comprise more than a quarter of students.

What’s more, Asian-American students tend to concentrate in the STEM jobs—sciences, technology, mathematics, and engineering—that are crucial to our economy. Thus, in a sense, Asian-Americans are not just another ethnic group waiting for a politician to march in a parade, eat some exotic food, and then announce a community grant or shill for votes. Rather, they are also a subset of high-tech America, and one thing is clear: high-tech America is not in love with the Republican Party.

In Santa Clara County, California—the heart of Silicon Valley—Obama beat Romney by a 42-point margin. As Nate Silver documented, Obama received approximately $720,000 in contributions from Google employees, while Romney received a paltry $25,000. At Apple, the story was almost the same. Its employees gave more than nine out of every 10 campaign dollars they contributed to the president.

And it is not just a matter of votes or money. It is also a matter of campaign skills. High-tech America’s aversion to the Republican Party is wreaking havoc with mechanics of national Republican campaigns. A recent Sunday New York Times Magazine cover story highlighted the Republicans’ huge campaign-technology deficit and described at length how the party’s inability to connect with tech-savvy graduates is damaging its competitiveness. In that context, the Election Day epic failure of Romney’s ORCA operation is just another symptom of what is ailing the GOP.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Conservative Victory Project and Donor Reassurance

Why did the Conservative Victory Project announce that it would try to prevent the nomination of Akin-style candidates?  Though some conservatives are angry, Michelle Cottle notes at the Daily Beast, the announcement does address widespread concern that party groups need to learn the lessons of 2012.
Rove’s donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. “This is all about the donors,” says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. “This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy,” the strategist argues. “It’s smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting.”

As for the backlash among purists, some political watchers assume this too is all part of the larger plan. How better to reassure anxious donors that their distaste for Akin-like candidates is shared than to poke a stick in the eye of the party’s anti-establishment forces—and, for good measure, to do so in the newspaper that symbolizes all that hard-core conservatives despise? Rove isn’t an idiot, Republicans point out. He may have simply calculated that it was worth the short-term beating in order to show his donors some love, and thus live to fight another day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

OFA, Bundlers, and Access

The Washington Post reports on fundraising for Organizing for Action:
The fledgling Organizing for Action says it will be nonpartisan and steer clear of election activity. But the line between issue disputes and electoral politics can be a fuzzy one. The first of an expected wave of ads on gun control, for example, has targeted only Republicans. And OFA board member Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s reelection campaign, has been talking with Democratic Party leaders, including those responsible for success in the 2014 midterm elections.

Over the past month, Messina and Jon Carson, a leading strategist, have traveled the country meeting with members of the Obama 2012 National Finance Committee, who are being pressed back to work to find support for the new organization.

In huddles with Hollywood studio executives, California energy investors and Chicago business titans, they have suggested $500,000 as a target level for OFA bundlers and that top donors get invitations to quarterly OFA board meetings attended by the president.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NC Liberals v. Governing

In After Hope and Change, we note that North Carolina in 2012 provided the GOP with a net gain in governorships.  WRAL reports:
A strategy memo circulated recently among liberal-leaning groups prescribes "crippling" legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory with bad press and pressure tactics.
The memo, which was first reported by The Charlotte Observer, details communications strategy, political tactics and polling data that progressive groups can use to push the policy agenda in Raleigh, where Republicans control both the governor's mansion and the legislature.
...
"The most effective way to mitigate the worst legislation is to weaken our opponents' ability to govern by crippling their leaders (McCrory, Tillis, Berger, etc...)" the memo reads, referring to the governor, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
The memo goes on to describe a "potential two-year vision" during which the groups would "eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern."

Law: Don't Let Reid Pick Our Candidates

In Human Events, American Crossroads CEO Steven Law writes:
In just the last three years, American Crossroads has become one of the largest advocates for movement conservative and Tea Party-backed leaders at the federal level. We stood proudly with Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Pat Toomey. We also got behind riskier bets like Sharron Angle and Richard Mourdock that many in the “establishment” wouldn’t touch.
Regrettably, some of them blew opportunities we should have won.
Conservatives point out that many of our failed candidates were “establishment” retreads instead of Tea Party insurgents. They’re right. That just means we’ve got to get better at putting forward great candidates across the board.
No one benefits more from subpar Republican candidates than the Democratic party. So here’s something else all conservatives should agree on: we don’t want Harry Reid and left-wing Super PACs picking our nominees for us. Yet it’s happening with increasing frequency. In Missouri, Reid’s Super PAC tag-teamed with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. McCaskill’s campaign to deliver the GOP nomination to Todd Akin, a champion of congressional earmarks who self-immolated within weeks.
How did they get away with it? Conservative groups splintered among several second-tier contenders, weakening the front-runner and paving the way for the Democrat-backed Akin. This should never be allowed to happen again.
There is specific animosity between Crossroads and Reid. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

OFA Targets Republicans

In the early first term, Organizing for America had problems in spurring legislative advocacyThe Los Angeles Times reports that Organizing for Action -- a new iteration -- is in battle mode:
Four California Republican House members are among 16 GOP legislators being targeted by a pro-Obama advocacy group in a new online ad campaign urging them to back a more robust background check system for gun sales.
Reps. Jeff Denham, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Gary G. Miller and David Valadao are among those featured in the banner ads, which begin running Friday on the websites of local news outlets such as the Modesto Bee and Santa Clarita Valley Signal. The ads, tailored with the photos and Twitter handle of each member of Congress, call on them to support universal background checks.

The online ad buy, which cost close to six figures, is the first such campaign by Organizing for Action, the month-old advocacy group formed by top advisors to President Obama to build momentum for his legislative agenda. The ads are going live the same day as the group launches its first national mobilization, a so-called day of action featuring 100 events around the country aimed at demonstrating support for Obama’s gun violence reduction plan.

As a 501(c)4 nonprofit social welfare group, OFA has said it will not engage in partisan political activity, but it has wide latitude as an issue advocacy organization to pressure elected officials on specific policy matters.

Among the other targets of OFA’s first ad buy are Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Kelly Ayotteof New Hampshire. Those in the House include Reps. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, David Joyce of Ohio, John Kline and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota,Mike Coffman of Colorado, Daniel Webster and C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida and Robert Pittenger of North Carolina.
The Los Angeles Times also reports:
The nonprofit advocacy group that inherited President Obama's grass-roots campaign infrastructure faces the first real test of its political might Friday, when it holds a series of volunteer-driven events in support of the president's gun violence reduction plan.
With the so-called Day of Action, its first national mobilization since launching in January, Organizing for Action is adopting a tactic from Obama's reelection bid, which used such events to engage its 2.2 million volunteers.
The group's supporters plan more than 100 activities, including rallies, phone banks and candlelight vigils in 80 congressional districts, hoping to prove that an organization built to elect a candidate can be effectively refocused on legislative goals.
But there are already signs of challenges in activating supporters around a policy fight — especially one that is still wending its way through Congress.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

House District Demographics

Previous posts have discussed the African American and Hispanic vote in congressional elections.

Thanks to Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report, we now have demographic stats on current House districts.

There are now 111 majority non-white Cong. districts, surpassing 25% of all CDs for 1st time. 97 are held by Demsdocs.google.com/spreadsheet/cc…— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) February 20, 2013 

No Republican represents a district that is more than 35.08% black. That is the percentage in Rodney Alexander's Louisiana 5.  Most of the other districts with a substantial black percentage are in the South, where voting is highly polarized along racial lines.  Alexander, however, has some history of actually winning a fair number of African American votes.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gingrich v. Rove and Stevens

In Human Events, Newt Gingrich takes on Karl Rove and Romney strategist Stuart Stevens.

Gingrich says that groups such as the Conservative Victory Project should not act as bosses to pick candidates. He says of Rove:
He was simply wrong last year. He was wrong about the Presidential race (watch a video of his blow up on Fox election night about Fox News calling Ohio for President Obama). He was also wrong about Senate races.
BTW, Gingrich was wrong about the election, too. On October 25, he said:
I believe the minimum result will be 53-47 Romney, over 300 electoral votes, and the Republicans will pick up the Senate.
He criticizes Stuart Stevens for failing to recognize the consultant-driven culture of the GOP and -- without a trace of self-awareness -- touts his own business:
Our “Lessons to be Learned” project at Gingrich Productions will begin releasing reports on the scale of change we need in the next few weeks.
For more on Gingrich Productions and the speaker's long history in the consulting community, see here, here, and here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DSCC Executive Director

At The New York Times, Jonathan Weisman profiles Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:
Mr. Cecil tries to resist national political winds and tailor each campaign to the particular candidates and the states they are running in. Republican campaigns tend to ride national waves, running on broad national issues like the size and scope of government, the level of taxation and the defense of the homeland. Mr. Cecil had different ideas for different Democratic candidates.
For instance, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota ran on “North Dakota values,” a languishing farm bill and essential air service to rural America. Sherrod Brown, practically buried under an avalanche of Republican advertising, ran as David against Goliath, even if he was the incumbent in Ohio.
“Each one of our candidates campaigned to their strengths,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, who won re-election in November in a race many expected him to lose. “I hate to use a basketball analogy, but you don’t put a point guard under the basket and tell him to rebound. Sherrod Brown has a different set of strengths than I do.”

At times last cycle, Mr. Cecil courted controversy. In Wisconsin, he backed the candidacy of Representative Tammy Baldwin, a liberal lesbian from Madison, when many Democrats wanted a more moderate voice from a rural corner of the state. Ms. Baldwin won, beating a four-term governor, Tommy Thompson, the Republicans’ candidate of choice.
In Missouri, Mr. Cecil encouraged Senator Claire McCaskill to pull off one of the most clever feats of the campaign cycle, an advertisement just days before the Republican primary that “blasted” Representative Todd Akin as the most conservative, most vehemently anti-Obama candidate in the Republican field. The effort was seen as a boost for Mr. Akin, the opponent she preferred.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Democratic Campaign Cultural Edge

At Slate, Sasha Issenberg offers some shrewd observations on the Democratic advantage -- and the GOP handicap -- in campaign innovation:
It is no coincidence that in both 2004 and 2012 the engines of radical innovation were the campaigns of incumbent presidents. We tend to underappreciate how radically different a presidential re-election is from any other enterprise in American political life. It is the rare chance for candidates to disrupt the cycle of short-term, election-year priorities and invest in their own research agendas instead of being forced to follow a consultant-driven marketplace.

For Bush, this proved a unique opportunity to synthesize information from consumer-data warehouses with voter registration records and apply some of the same statistical modeling techniques that companies used to segment customers so that they could market to them individually. In Obama’s case, the continuity provided by a re-election campaign encouraged a far broader set of research priorities, perhaps most important the adoption of randomized-control experiments, used in the social sciences to address elusive questions about voter behavior.
Following their 2004 loss, Democrats found it relatively easy to catch up with Republicans in the analysis of individual consumer data for voter targeting. By 2006, Democrats were at least at parity when it came to statistical modeling techniques, and they were exploring ways to integrate them with other modes of political data analysis. Already the public-opinion firms of the left saw themselves as research hubs in a way that their peers on the right didn’t, a disparity that stretched back a generation. When polling emerged in the early 1980s as a new (and lucrative) specialty within the consulting world, the people who flowed into it on the Republican side tended to be party operatives; former political and field directors who had been consumers of polls quickly realized that it was a better business to be producers of them.

Those who went into the polling business on the left were political consultants, too, but many of them also possessed serious scholarly credentials and had derailed promising academic careers to go into politics. Now that generation—Stan Greenberg, Celinda Lake, Mark Mellman, Diane Feldman, among others—preside over firms that see themselves not only as vendors of a stable set of campaign services but patrons of methodological innovation. When microtargeting tools made it possible to analyze the electorate as a collection of individuals rather than merely demographic and geographic subgroups, many of the most established Democratic pollsters in Washington invested in developing expertise in this new approach. Their Republican rivals, by contrast, tended to see the new tools as a threat to their business model.

Stuart Stevens and Technology

Listen, I don’t think — it would be a great mistake if we felt that technology in itself is going to save the Republican Party. Technology is something to a large degree you can go out and purchase and if we think there’s an off the shelf solution that you can go out and purchase for the Republican Party, it’s wrong.
You know, we’ve had a lot of chance now since the campaign to spend time with the Obama folks and sometimes they had better technology, some cases we have better technology. We don’t have 140 character problem in the Republican Party. We have a larger problem that we have to look at and be patient about it. And trying to think that there’s one solution like this, I just don’t think…
Stuart Stevens argues that the Republican Party doesn't have a 140-character problem. He's right about that. What the Republican Party actually has is a problem with an intellectually incurious and cautious operative class that stifles technology innovation, policy innovation, and everything in between. (These are portrayed as separate problems, but they're actually the same problem.)

What really troubles me about Stevens's comments is his dismissive statement that "technology is something to a large degree you can go out and purchase." No, it's not. Technology is not about the tools. It is about people. It's about creating a culture that drives metrics over hunches and BS "message of the day" fire drills.
Stevens will be the last general strategist of his kind not because he didn't tweet, but because he thought of technology and data as some cool toy you could buy, not as the very foundation of a strong organization.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saving the GOP

At Commentary, Micahel Gerson and Peter Wehner diagnose the GOP's problems -- changing demographics, inferior candidates, and unappealing messages -- offer a five-point plan for saving the party:
  • First, and most important, is focusing on the economic concerns of working-and middle-class Americans, many of whom now regard the Republican Party as beholden to “millionaires and billionaires” and as wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans...
  • Second, a new Republican agenda requires the party to welcome rising immigrant groups. When it comes to immigration, the GOP has succeeded in taking an issue of genuine concern—namely, the lack of border security—and speaking about it in ways offensive to legal immigrants, including vast numbers of Hispanics and Asian Americans (with whom Romney did even worse than Hispanics...
  • Third, Republicans need to express and demonstrate a commitment to the common good, a powerful and deeply conservative concept. There is an impression—exaggerated but not wholly without merit—that the GOP is hyper-individualistic. During the Republican convention, for example, we repeatedly heard about the virtues of individual liberty but almost nothing about the importance of community or social solidarity, and of the obligations and attachments we have to each other. Even Republican figures who espouse relatively moderate policy prescriptions often sound like libertarians run amok. ...
  • Fourth, the GOP can engage vital social issues forthrightly but in a manner that is aspirational rather than alienating.  Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening....
  • Fifth, where appropriate, Republicans need to harness their policy views to the findings of science. This has been effectively done on the pro-life issue, with sonograms that reveal the humanity of a developing child. But the cause of scientific literacy was not aided during the recent primary season, when Michele Bachmann warned that “innocent little 12-year-old girls” were being “forced to have a government injection” to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus, adding that some vaccines may cause “mental retardation.” Bachmann managed to combine ignorance about public health, indifference to cervical cancer, anti-government paranoia, and discredited conspiracy theories about vaccines into one censorious package. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Slow Growth Will Undercut Obama Strategy


At The New Republic, Ruy Teixeira offers a smart liberal critique of Obama strategy:
It seems to consist of emphasizing particular fights like immigration reform, gun control, same sex marriage, and climate change that appeal most strongly to different elements of the Obama coalition. This strategy does have merit. The thought is that even if all these fights don’t yield legislative victories (and they won’t so long as Republicans control part of Congress), they will nevertheless serve to generate more enthusiasm among key parts of the coalition, without imposing much of an electoral cost. Moreover, these fights are all substantively important in policy terms, so any victories attained will be important breakthroughs.
But the strategy has serious limitations. To begin with, even if these issues do little damage to Democrats’ standing among white working class voters, they will also do little to win their support. These voters are primarily looking for material improvements in their lives, improvements that are not possible without strong economic growth and the jobs, tight labor markets, and rising incomes such growth would bring. In a low-growth environment, these voters will remain exceptionally pessimistic and inclined to blame Democrats and government for their lack of upward mobility.
Even more serious, core groups of the Obama coalition will be weakened by continued slow growth. Obama was well-supported by these groups in 2012, but a sluggish economic environment, where unemployment continues pushing 8 percent, will try these voters’ patience. How much enthusiasm will Hispanics, blacks, youth, single women, etc., whose unemployment rates are considerably above the national average, continue to have for a party that cannot do more to improve economic conditions? Attrition in support will be inevitable in such a scenario and the opportunity to consolidate a dominant coalition will be lost.

Dr. Ben Carson, Conservative Hero

At Slate, Dave Weigel writes: 
On February 7, at the usually-sleepy National Prayer Breakfast, pediatric neuosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson talked for a surprising 23 minutes about the national debt and the threat of political correctness. It was surprising because Carson has been a famed physician for at least 26 years, ever since he participated in the first separation of Siamese twins conjoined at the head. Not many people realized that Carson had just written a book of political musings, and that he would take this live-on-C-Span opportunity to summarize it.
Carson immediately became a star, as compelling black conservatives seem to do. How could they resist a black physician who criticized the president while the president sat there, bearing it? The next day, Carson appeared on Sean Hannity's TV show. He critiqued the State of the Union on Fox News. He joined Twitter today and rapidly crossed the 7,000 follower mark. (For comparison, black Republican Sen. Tim Scott has 19,000-odd followers after a month in the Senate.) His book, America the Beautiful, surged to the top 5 on Amazon.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The House Ain't Got That Swing

Previous posts have noted that very few House members are in districts carried by the presidential candidate of the other party.  At National Journal, Charles Cook reports:
But there is a second reason why there is less elasticity in the House. As House Editor David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report points out, notwithstanding all the Democrats in Obama districts and Republicans in Romney districts, the chamber has fewer swing districts altogether. Using The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, which ascertains how the presidential voting patterns in each congressional district differ from the national average, we took a look at the 2004 and 2008 presidential-election results in congressional districts (the final PVI incorporating the 2012 results will be available in the next month or so), and compared them with previous years. In 1998, there were 164 swing districts, which we define as a district with a Democratic or Republican PVI of 5 points or less. The swing districts outnumbered the 148 solid “R” districts where Republicans had an edge of more than 5 points, and the 123 solid “D” districts where Democrats had an edge of more than 5 points.
The number of swing districts dropped from 164 in 1998 to 132 by 2000, to 111 in 2002, then to 108 for two elections (2004 and 2006). The 2008 and 2010 cycles both had 103 swing districts, and the total slipped to 99 in the 2012 cycle. Currently, 190 districts have a Republican PVI over 5 points, 28 seats short of a majority; 146 districts have a Democratic PVI over 5 points, 72 seats short of a majority. This PVI analysis points to the inherent presidential voting patterns on a congressional-district level and ignores the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

American Crossroads, SOTU, and MST3K

The State of the GOP

Robert Draper has a long piece in The New York Times on ideology, technology, and the Republican Party:
Exhibit A is the performance of the Romney brain trust, which has suffered an unusually vigorous postelection thrashing for badly losing a winnable race. Criticism begins with the candidate — a self-described data-driven chief executive who put his trust in alarmingly off-the-mark internal polls and apparently did not think to ask his subordinates why, for example, they were operating on the assumption that fewer black voters would turn out for Obama than in 2008. Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, “as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.” (“It was raised many times with him,” a senior Romney official told me, “and he was very categorical about not wanting to and not thinking it was worth it.”)
...
The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”
...
 But the handful of conservatives who attended the [liberal RootcCamp] conference this past November were in no mood to sneer. One was Patrick Ruffini, a 34-year-old leader of the G.O.P.’s young-and-restless digerati. At RootsCamp, his breathless tweets of the sessions held by top Obama organizers — “In eight years, calling people will be obsolete”; “Digital organizing director and field director will be one and the same” — set off a buzz among Republican techies. Ruffini was plainly impressed by the openness of the experience. “I’m like, Wow, they’re doing this in front of 2,000 people, and the system seems to actually work,” he told me a month later. “The thing I was struck by at RootsCamp was that in many ways, the Democratic technology ecosystem has embraced the free market — whereas the Republican one sort of runs on socialism, with the R.N.C. being the overlord.”
...
Erik Telford explained it this way: “I think there’s a very incestuous community of consultants who profit off certain tactics, and that creates bias and inhibits innovation.” Telford was suggesting that many of the party leaders, like Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC, saw no financial advantage to bringing in avant-garde digital specialists, the types who were embraced by the Obama operation. For that matter, Zac Moffatt and his firm, Targeted Victory, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the G.O.P.’s digital business during the lackluster 2012 cycle, which has made Moffatt an irresistible symbol for all that’s clubby and backward-thinking about the party. As Bret Jacobson said, half-jokingly, “If you have one firm that’s doing the top candidate, plus the R.N.C., plus the top outside group — the Department of Justice, in any other industry, would be actively asking questions.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Google, Analytics, and the Democratic Edge

Many posts have discussed the Democrats' technological advantages over the GOPAt RedState, Ben Howe writes:
[F]ormer RNC eCampaign Director Michael Turk wrote Monday that “the frightening advantage the left has is in a less touted entity known as the Analyst Institute (AI) and a consortium of behavioral scientists” who are “concerned not only with your characteristics and voting behavior, but how they can manipulate that behavior.”
Now, combine Obama’s political campaign with Google’s near-comprehensive real-time data and the left’s behavioral analysis. What do you get? Beat.
This goes beyond just campaigns. Google likes to brag that they can detect flu outbreaks two weeks before the CDC based on search volume. Eric Schmidt once bragged that the company could predict stock market movements.
Imagine how much more could be learned if Google’s computer algorithms combined not only search data but also all of the data they get by reading everything written in or sent to Gmail and whatever you store on Google docs and Google Drive. Then imagine what Democratic voter data groups like Catalist (which launched as a for-profit operation, allowing it much more latitude in working with outside groups….or companies) could do with that data.
With a few tweaks to their algorithms Google could easily have near perfect insights into the voting behaviors and patterns of the U.S. population at large down to specific precincts, neighborhoods or even households.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GOP Apocalypse, Not Yet

At AEI, Charles Murray suggests that, at least in the short and medium term, demographic changes will confront the GOP with a headwind, not a devastating gale:
It seems impossible that the headwind is not already a gale, or even a hurricane. After all, we know from the national census that non-Latino whites (hereafter just whites) fell to 64% of the population in 2010, while Latinos continued their skyrocketing rise, now constituting 16% of the population, overtaking African Americans as the nation’s largest minority. We know from the National Election Pool exit polls, the one used by all the major news organizations, that Democrats captured large majorities of Latinos (averaging 64% of the vote), blacks (92%) and Asians (62%) in the four presidential elections from 2000 through 2012. The Census Bureau’s projections tell us that America’s minorities will continue to increase as a proportion of the population, with whites becoming a minority of all Americans in the early 2040s.

And yet, when these numbers are plugged into the standard arithmetic for predicting voting outcomes, the expected increase in the Democratic vote in 2016 is not five, six, or seven percentage points. Nor even one or two percentage points. The demographic changes I just described may be expected to produce an increase in the Democratic presidential vote of just three-tenths of one percentage point.

How is that possible? Because I neglected to mention one other set of numbers that goes into that arithmetic, also produced by the Census Bureau in periodic special surveys for the November Current Population survey: Voter turnout. In the presidential elections from 2000 through 2008 (the 2012 figures aren’t yet available), the percentage of Americans eighteen years and older who actually voted averaged 57%. But those percentages varied widely by ethnic group. Among whites, the average turnout was 64%. Among blacks, 57%. Among Latinos and Asians, just 29%.

That’s why the headwind is so feeble in the near term. Between 2012 and 2016, the Census Bureau estimates that the population of voting-age Latinos will increase by 3.9 million people compared to an increase of just 1.8 million whites. But because of their much lower turnout, the expected increase in Latino voters is 9,513 fewer—yes, fewer—than the expected increase in white voters. The only reason that the Democrats can expect even a microscopic 0.3 percentage point increase in the 2016 vote is because of an increase in the black voting-age population.
Murray also acknowledges that the long term could be very different.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fundraising, Tea Party, and GOP Establishment

The Conservative Victory Project wants to help electable Republicans beat unelectable Republicans in Senate primaries -- but campaign finance might not be as decisive as it hopes.  But Nate Silver looks at establishment v. Tea Party primaries and finds:
The establishment candidates substantially outraised the insurgents, by an average of $4.3 million to $1.2 million based on the last Federal Election Commission reports that the candidates filed in advance of the primary. (The difference in median fund-raising totals, which reduces the influence of outliers, is just as substantial: about $3 million for the establishment candidates versus about $400,000 for the insurgents.)
And yet, the insurgent candidates won 11 of 23 races, or nearly half the contests. Joe Miller of Alaska did so in 2010 despite being at nearly a 20-to-1 fund-raising disadvantage against the incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Christine O’Donnell of Delaware defeated Representative Mike Castle that year despite having raised about $260,000 to Mr. Castle’s $3.2 million.
There is only a modest correlation between fundraising and success.  And risk is that the venture could backfire by generating grassroots sympathy and attention for Tea Party candidates.  But it could still help:
Where might Mr. Rove’s efforts be more likely to achieve their desired goals? One case would be in multiple-candidate primaries where there are two or more establishment-backed candidates running against one insurgent. This eventuality has come up quite frequently in recent years, such as in the Nevada primary in 2010 and the Missouri primary last year, when the insurgent candidate was able to win with 40 percent or less of the vote. By directing money to one of the establishment candidates at the expense of the other, Mr. Rove’s group could force the insurgent candidate to win an actual or near-majority of vote rather than a mere plurality.
The money raised by Mr. Rove’s group might also be more likely to help candidates if it is directed toward functions other than advertising which have a lower public profile, although coordination rules related to super PACs can limit such efforts.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Establishment Backed Steve King in 2012

Do the Crossroads groups and other elements of the GOP establishment have it in for Rep. Steve King, a potential candidate for the open Harkin seat in Iowa?  Open Secrets reports:
HATERS?: This week we've devoted a couple of items in Capital Eye Opener to talk among GOP outside money groups about getting involved in Republican primaries. The Conservative Victory Project, for instance -- a spinoff of Karl Rove's American Crossroadssuper PAC -- will try to intervene in primary races and knock out Republican candidates who are deemed too radically right. At the top of the target list, apparently, is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has said he will run for the seat being opened by the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). King fought back in a fundraising email this week, trying to use the Rove project to incite new funders.

"They said I couldn't win in 2012 -- the entire political machine was against me," King wrote to supporters, according to Politico. "So let me be clear. Nobody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest."

But, according to OpenSecrets.org data, King wasn't totally alone in his 2012 fight. His biggest source of cash in 2012 was Club for Growth, the tea party-oriented anti-establishment conservative group. According to CRP's data, the group channeled hundreds of smaller donations to King, totaling at least $255,000. He also picked up significant funds from the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Rifle Association and plenty of big corporate donors and trade associations such as the American Bankers Association, AT&T, and ExxonMobil. He even attracted support from Citizens United, the super PAC that spawned the now famous Supreme Court case.

King, in fact, had a strong enough campaign to fend off major attacks from House Majority PAC -- the super PAC backing Democratic congressional candidates -- and the Humane Society, which spent in excess of $750,000 on attack ads against King for his opposition to animal welfare laws that would affect the agriculture industry.

And, although the new American Crossroads affiliate might have King in their crosshairs in 2014, in 2012 the group's 501(c)(4) partner, Crossroads GPS, stuck up for him, dropping $360,000 on ads against his Democratic opponent.
The hit on Christie Vilsack, King's opponent, was a variation of an ad that ran in other districts:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Law on the Conservative Victory Project

At National Review Online, Jim Geraghty interviews Steven Law about the Conservative Victory Project:
We start from a premise that almost anybody can agree with: that 2012 was a really tough year for Republicans, for conservatives, and from my perspective, for the country. It’s the sort of election we don’t want to see repeated again. And we’re engaged in some very serious critical analysis of what went wrong and what can be improved upon, and that starts with us. We’re reevaluating how we run ads, how we use research, all those sorts of things. As a result, we’ll do some things much better in the next cycle.
But in addition to that, one of the things we encountered was candidates on our side who just weren’t competitive for a variety of reasons.
Looking back at our investments last cycle — and looking back to 2010, where I think there were some weaknesses masked by what was otherwise a very strong year, we saw that we faced a problem of candidate quality that we think we need to address. A lot of the focus has been on candidates who were much more conservative than others, but only because some of them self-destructed so spectacularly — and I’m thinking in particular of Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana — but there were plenty of weaknesses from candidates across the spectrum, including those who might be thought of as establishment candidates.
Republican candidates for Senate were outraised by their Democratic counterparts by $60 million. Fundraising is not the only measure of competitiveness, but we were also way behind the other side in terms of preparation and candidate execution.
Our goal is twofold: to significantly increase the quality of candidates, and, as part of that, to find and support the most conservative candidate who can win — as we put it, institutionalizing the Buckley rule.

Differences Between Republicans and Democrats

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 89% of Republican self-identifiers nationwide in 2012, while accounting for 70% of independents and 60% of Democrats. Over one-fifth of Democrats (22%) were black, while 16% of independents were Hispanic.
These results are based on more than 338,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking in 2012, and clearly underscore the distinct racial profiles of partisan groups in today's political landscape.
Republicans are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white, at a level that is significantly higher than the self-identified white percentage of the national adult population. Just 2% of Republicans are black, and 6% are Hispanic.
Seventy percent of Americans who identify as independents are white, but independents have the highest representation of Hispanics (16%) of the three groups. Eight percent of independents are blacks.
Democrats remain a majority white party, but four in 10 Democrats are something other than non-Hispanic white. More than one in five Democrats are black, roughly twice the black representation in the adult population.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Senate: The Value of Early Decisions

Kate Hunter reports at Bloomberg that Senate Democrats prefer that their members make up their minds on retirement or reelection for 2014:
Senate Democratic leaders have a message for their members unsure whether to run for re-election in 2014: Making an early decision will help the party keep control of the chamber.
Leaders of both parties don’t want to be caught off guard as Republicans were last year when Maine Senator Olympia Snowe announced her retirement just eight months before the Nov. 6 election. That helped scuttle Republicans’ to gain the Senate majority.
Two Democrats -- Iowa’s Tom Harkin and West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller -- and one Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, already have announced they won’t seek re-election in 2014. Political strategists in both parties are watching others, including Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Republican Susan Collins of Maine, for signs that they won’t run again.
“Strategists really want these incumbents to make a decision sooner rather than later so they can put the necessary plans in place to account for that,” said Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst for the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.
Early notice of retirements is particularly important for Democrats, who will have 21 seats up in the Senate next year, compared with 14 for Republicans.
Democrats, who control 55 votes in the 100-member chamber, will be defending seats in seven states President Barack Obama lost last year: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. A loss of the Senate majority to Republicans would mean that party would control both houses of Congress during Obama’s last two years in office.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Menendez Is in Trouble

Open Secrets reports on New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez's ethics trouble:
The Washington Post reports that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) tried two different times to dispute top federal health officials' findings that one of his major donors had overbilled Medicare by nearly $9 million. As we reported last week, the donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen -- who's now under investigation by the FBI -- and his family have given more than $426,000 to federal candidates since 1992. The list of recipients includes Republicans and many Florida politicians, though Menendez is clearly the favorite.

But all of those donations are just the tip of the iceberg -- Melgen's business, Vitero-Retinal Consultants also gave $700,000 to Majority PAC in 2012, the super PAC set up to support Senate Democrats. Majority PAC spent about $600,000 to back Menendez in his reelection race last fall.

And Center for Responsive Politics research has also found that Salomon and his wife, Flor, each donated $20,000 to the Fund to Uphold the Constitution, a legal defense fund that Menendez set up. The organization reported spending about $109,000 to pay law firm Perkins Coie for "campaign expenses" during the 2012 election cycle.

Menendez has been under attack for his relationship to Melgen since late October, when a conservative blog said the senator visited with prostitutes but didn't pay them during trips to the Dominican Republic that he took with Melgen. Menendez has denied the prostitution-related allegations but recently reimbursed the Florida doctor for flights on his private jet during those trips. Following the initial allegations, Menendez's legal defense fund reported paying more than $26,000 to Genova Burns, a New Jersey law firm that previously represented him in 2010 when a recall effort to unseat him was launched.
American Crossroads has set up a Menendez "resignation watch."

The Weekly Standard reports that Chris Christie would name an interim replacement if he should resign:
“If a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding general election, unless the governor of this State shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do,” New Jersey law reads. “The governor of this State may make a temporary appointment of a senator of the United States from this State whenever a vacancy shall occur by reason of any cause other than the expiration of the term; and such appointee shall serve as such senator until a special election or general election shall have been held pursuant to law and the Board of State Canvassers can deliver to his successor a certificate of election.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

American Crossroads v. Ashley Judd

Actress Ashley Judd is considering a Senate race in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. American Crossroads is making a preemptive attack.  Steven Law, the group's CEO, once served as McConnell's chief of staff.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Cantor Rebranding

At Time, Michael Scherer writes:

There is a single chart—three colored lines on a grid—that shapes the political reality of this country today. During the 2012 campaign, one of President Obama’s senior strategists called it “the North Star,” and started his internal Power Point presentations with it. When Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaks Tuesday about his vision for the future of the Republican Party, the chart’s central message will bind together his words.
 MedianIncomeNDNChart
The chart tracks as lines three economic trends over the last two decades in America, between 1992 and 2009. The first two lines are rising–productivity and per capita gross domestic product. This is the unmistakable American success story, the one reflected in record corporate profits, growing wealth accumulation and the unmatched efficiency of this country’s economy. The third line tracks median household income, as measured by the U.S. Census. It shows the story of frustration and stagnation that so many Americans long ago accepted as a reality.

The Majority Leader's office has a page for the "Making Life Work" agenda. Excerpts from Cantor's speech:

We will advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation, and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family, and accountability in government. Our goal – to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams.
***
In America, we do have higher expectations for our nation. Since our founding, we believed we could be the best hope to mankind. That hope led generations of immigrants to risk everything, to endure a tough journey to our shores, looking for a better future. The driving motivation for millions of immigrants passing by Lady Liberty in New York Harbor was the generation that came after them. And because of that hope, those high expectations, coupled with a determination to see them come true, every generation since has had it better off than the one before. Until now.
***
Lately, it has become all too common in our country to hear parents fear whether their children will indeed have it better than they. And for all of us parents, that is a scary thought. Our goal should be to eliminate the doubt gripping our nation’s families, and to restore their hope and confidence in being able to protect tomorrow for their children.
***
Government policy should aim to strike a balance between what is needed to advance the next generation, what we can afford, what is a federal responsibility and what is necessary to ensure our children are safe, healthy and able to reach their dreams.
***
One of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable.
***
Explaining that rising health care costs are depressing take-home pay is little consolation to a working mom. Her grocery bills are higher, her kids' school needs are more expensive, rent is up – and now, she's just trying to get by. And getting by is not the American Dream.
***
If you're a working parent, you know there’s hardly ever enough time at home to be with the kids. Too many parents have to weigh whether they can afford to miss work even for half a day to see their child off on the first day of school or attend a parent-teacher conference.
***
In 1935, the Form 1040 was accompanied by a two-page instruction booklet. Today, taxpayers must wade through over 100 total pages of instructions. Just filling out a W-2 at a new job is confusing. You shouldn’t need a worksheet to know how many dependents you have.
***
Scientific breakthroughs are the result of – and have helped contribute to –America being the world’s capital of innovation and opportunity in nearly every field. For this and many other reasons, people across the globe want to become a part of our country. We must never diminish that desire, or worse, become a place that is no longer desirable.
***
While we are a nation that allows anyone to start anew, we are also a nation of laws, and that’s what makes tackling the issue of immigration reform so difficult. We must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life, and contribute to America.
***
We are committed to ensuring that the next generation does indeed have it better than the one before it. Because, when we lose that promise, we lose the absolute promise of everything that has been built before us.