Control Of The Senate Too Close To Call–Several States Still Can Go Either Way

With under a month to go, the race for control of the Senate remains too close to call. The fundamentals support the Republicans and they maintain a slight edge based upon current polling, but there are so many close races that we cannot be certain what will happen, despite the pessimism of some Democrats. Some Republicans are starting to get worried.

Looking at Electoral-Vote.com, the latest polls do give the Republicans 51 seats. However look at how many races are extremely close. Polls this close could easily be off if the pollster is incorrect in their assumptions as to who will actually turn out to vote. In other words, Democrats could retain control of the Senate if their  turn out is better than in previous midterm elections. Only a slight increase could flip several of the states where Republicans are leading.

Some states might still change from basic changes in a campaign, such as Mary Landrieu replacing her campaign manager.

Unexpected events in other states could change things. We have already seen the situation in Kansas where an independent has a real chance of winning. Now South Dakota has unexpectedly turned into a three way race. Republican Mike Rounds has led Democrat Rick Weiland, but suddenly former senator Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has closed the gap. There is no run off in South Dakota making it possible that any of the three could win with less than forty percent of the vote. Pressler is a former Republican but has become disenchanted with the GOP. He endorsed Obama in the last two presidential elections and says that if elected he would be a friend of Obama in the Senate.

Another factor working against the Republicans is their problem of nominating candidates who are extremists, if not outright bat-shit crazy. Terry Lynn Lands disastrous campaign has turned Michigan into a safe seat for the Democrats to hold. Republican leads in Iowa and even Georgia are now in jeopardy. Michelle Nunn’s chances in Georgia are now much better after a 2005 deposition surfaced in which Republican David Perdue bragged about his record of outsourcing:

The controversy stems from a 2005 legal deposition focused on the money he made at Pillowtex, a North Carolina textile company that closed and laid off thousands shortly after he left as CEO in 2003.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” he said when asked to describe his “experience with outsourcing.”

Perdue then walked attorneys through his career helping various countries increase production in Asia, and discussed his goal at Pillowtex of moving production overseas to try to save the company. That never occurred, as the company ended up collapsing before it could do so.

His initial response to the revelations didn’t help put out the fire.

“Defend it? I’m proud of it,” he said on Monday when asked by a local reporter about his “career on outsourcing.”

“This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day,” he continued before blaming bad government policies for killing American jobs.

With all these races which could still go either direction, I do not believe it is possible to determine before election day who will control the Senate. We very likely will not even know that Tuesday. With Alaska in play, we won’t have all the results until at least Wednesday. Complicating matters further, if the races in Georgia and Louisiana remain close we cold very easily have a situation in which neither candidate has a majority and we have to wait for a runoff election in December (Louisiana) and/or January (Georgia). Should Larry Pressler win in South Dakota and Greg Orman win in Kansas, the pair of independents would very likely be in a position to decide who controls the Senate and we might not know how that plays out until January.

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Kansas Appears Ready To Reject Republican Extremism

Maybe nothing is the matter with Kansas in the long run. Republicans obtained firm control over the state government and their policies have turned into a disaster. Now voters appear ready to reject the Republicans. A Gravis Marketing Poll shows independent Greg Orman leading Republican Republican Pat Roberts by 47 percent to 40 percent. Paul Davis leads Sam Brownback in the gubernatorial race by 48 percent to 40 percent margin. A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll had similar but closer results.

John Judis summarized how the far right wing Republicans took power in Kansas under Sam Brownback:

The midterm elections of 2010 were good for Republicans nearly everywhere, but amid the national Tea Party insurgency, it was easy to overlook the revolution that was brewing in Kansas. That year, the GOP won every federal and statewide office. Sam Brownback, a genial U.S. senator best known for his ardent social conservatism, captured the governor’s mansion with nearly double the votes of his Democratic opponent. And having conquered Kansas so convincingly, he was determined not to squander the opportunity. His administration, he declared, would be a “real live experiment” that would prove, once and for all, that the way to achieve prosperity was by eliminating government from economic life.

Brownback’s agenda bore the imprint of three decades of right-wing agitation, particularly that of the anti-government radicals Charles and David Koch and their Wichita-based Koch Industries, the single largest contributors to Brownback’s campaigns. Brownback appointed accountant Steve Anderson, who had developed a model budget for the Kochs’ advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, as his budget director. Another Koch-linked group, the Kansas Policy Institute, supported his controversial tax proposals. As Brownback later explained to The Wall Street Journal, “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.’”

Brownback established an Office of the Repealer to take a scythe to regulations on business, he slashed spending on the poor by tightening welfare requirements, he rejected federal Medicaid subsidies and privatized the delivery of Medicaid, and he dissolved four state agencies and eliminated 2,000 state jobs. The heart of his program consisted of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating taxes on income from profits for more than 100,000 Kansas businesses. No other state had gone this far. He was advised by the godfather of supply-side economics himself, the Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer, who described the reforms as “a revolution in a cornfield.”

Not surprisingly, things have not worked out well in  a state run based upon far right wing principles:

By June of 2014, the results of Brownback’s economic reforms began to come in, and they weren’t pretty. During the first fiscal year that his plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue$687.9 million, or 10.84 percent. According to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state risks running deficits through fiscal year 2019. Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating from AA1 to AA2; Standard & Poor’s followed suit, which will increase the state’s borrowing costs and further enlarge its deficit.

Brownback had also promised that his tax cuts would vault Kansas ahead of its higher-taxed neighbors in job growth, but that, too, failed to happen. In Kansas, jobs increased by 1.1 percent over the last year, compared with 3.3 percent in neighboring Colorado and 1.5 percent in Missouri. From November to May, Kansas had actually lost jobs, and the labor participation rate was lower than when Brownback took office. The cuts did not necessarily slow job growth, but they clearly did not accelerate it. And the effects of Brownback’s education cuts were also glaring larger class sizes, rising fees for kindergarten, the elimination of arts programs, and laid-off janitors and librarians.

After looking at how Brownback is now struggling in his reelection campaign, Judis concluded, ” If the state’s voters are faced with a choice between a mild-mannered, cautious Democrat and a Republican crusader with a Bible in one hand and a check from Koch Industries in the other, history favors the Democrat.”

This is not to say that Kansas will support liberal Democrats, but as Sean Sullivan argued on Friday, the state may be more moderate than meets the eye. Or perhaps they are just sane enough to recognize failed policies. Hopefully this will overcome any temptation to cast a vote against Obama as many in red states are likely to do.

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Kansas Supreme Court Keeps Kansas In Play For Control Of Senate

It continues to look like Kansas might have a bearing on which party controls the Senate. As I previously discussed, with the Democratic candidate dropping out of the Kansas Senate race, independent Greg Orman has a real chance of defeating Republican Pat Roberts. Multiple polls have showed Orman defeating Roberts in a head to head race, but Roberts led in a three way race. After Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out, Orman led in the polls but the anti-Roberts vote was split when Taylor was listed.

In order to improve Roberts’ chances, Kansas Secretary of State Chris Korbach (who is also a member of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee) played politics and refused to take Taylor’s name off the ballot. The Kansas Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Taylor’s name should be removed from the ballot now that he has dropped out.

Kansas election law does provide for the ability of the Democratic Party to name a replacement after Taylor dropped out, but obviously they have no intention of doing so. Korbach is claming that the Democrats are required to name a replacement, but it is rather absurd that a party must run a candidate if they do not desire to do so.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert from the University of California, Irvine, said that it was unlikely that Kobach would be able to force the Democrats to name a replacement for Taylor.

“If Democrats refuse to name or no candidate agrees to serve, then what? It seems like it would be a tough First Amendment claim to FORCE a party to name a replacement,” Hasen wrote in an analysis. “Perhaps if Democrats do nothing Kobach will realize there’s not much he can do and drop the issue.”

Despite his current lead, it is still possible that the Republicans can hold onto the seat. The national party is taking over management of Roberts’ campaign, and has called in Bob Dole to help secure the seat. Even if Orman maintains his current lead in the polls and wins, there is no guaranteed that he will caucus with the Democrats. With the battle for control of the Senate so close, it is certainly possible that he could wind up casting the deciding vote.

Update: Of the various reactions to this situation, the most interesting was for the Democrats to tell Kobach that they nominated him for the Senate seat. We won’t see that happen. Kobach has given up and is putting out the ballots with no Democratic candidate listed.

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Democrat Drops Out Of Kansas Senate Race, Giving Independent Candidate A Chance To Win

Greg Orman

In late August I wrote about the Senate race in Kansas, where there was felt to be a real chance of defeating Republican Pat Roberts  if the Democratic candidate,  Chad Taylor were to drop out. In that situation, polls show that independent Greg Orman  has a real chance to beat Roberts. Orman has run as a Democrat in the past, and Democrats hope that he will caucus with them if he wins. Taylor did drop out of the race on Wednesday,increasing the chances that the Democrats can retain control of the Senate. While there has been speculation that the Democrats might be able to beat the incumbent Republican in Georgia or Kentucky, this probably does make Roberts the most vulnerable Republican.

One reason that Orman out polls Roberts in a two-way race is that Roberts has run a poor campaign. In response, the national Republican Party now seeks to take control of the Roberts campaign. This further shows that they do feel that Roberts is now vulnerable.

Different pundits differ on how much of a difference this will make. Sam Wang now gives the Democrats an 85 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate. Nate Silver been far more pessimistic, and in his model this only increases the chances for the Democrats retaining control from 35 percent to 38 percent. The difference is that Wang has been concentrating more on polls, where Democrats have been out-performing expectations. As polling in these Senate races is of variable quality and number, it is also possible that Silver is correct in discounting them.

There remain complications. Earlier in the day The Hill pointed out legal issues which might prevent Taylor’s name from being removed from the ballot. Subsequently Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced on  Thursday afternoon that Taylor’s name will remain on the ballot. There is bound to be a legal battle over this. Even if his name remains on the ballot, Taylor’s decision to end his campaign might still result in enough Democratic voters backing Orman to enable him to beat Roberts.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article1504835.html#storylink=cpy
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Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Update: Taylor drops out of race

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Quote of the Day: David Letterman on Bill de Blasio

“Here in New York City we have a new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He’s 6 feet, 7 inches tall and his wife is a former lesbian. She’s a former lesbian although she can be called back to active duty on a moment’s notice.

“The new mayor is not to be confused with current Mayor Bloomberg, the outgoing mayor. He’s a former leprechaun.” –David Letterman

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Polls Show Saner Republicans Unhappy With Nuttier Tea Party Wing

Polls are showing that an increasing number of Republicans  now dislike the Republican Party, along with once again showing that the Tea Party represents the lunatic fringe. First from Washington Wire:

October was clearly a cruel month for both President Barack Obama and the Republicans, both of whom saw their images slump to new lows in Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling.

But hidden within the data is a more disturbing reality for the Republican Party. Put simply, Democrats are largely content with their own party, while distaste among Republicans for the GOP has grown exponentially this year.

First Read believes it is the non-Tea Party Republicans who are breaking away from the Republican Party:

Non-Tea Party Republicans are breaking from the GOP: Our NBC/WSJ poll has shown that fewer respondents are identifying as Republicans. So who is leaving? Well, one set of numbers gives us a big clue. In a three-way generic congressional contest, the Democrat gets 35%, the third-party/independent candidate gets 30%, and the Republican candidate gets 28%. You might think that it’s Tea Party Republicans who are siding with the third-party/independent candidate. But you’d be wrong. The third-party support is coming mostly from self-identified independents and NON-Tea Party Republicans. In other words, it’s the NON-Tea Party folks who are splitting from the GOP. Here’s the data:

Among Democrats: 73% back the Dem candidate, 2% support a GOP candidate, 19% third party/indie
Among Republicans: 65% GOP candidate, 2% Dem, 28% third party/indie
Among Tea Party Republicans: 72% GOP candidate, 0% Dem, 25% third party/indie
Among NON-Tea Party Republicans: 58% GOP candidate, 5% Dem, 32% third party/indie
Independents: 13% GOP candidate, 12% Dem, 61% third party/indie

And if you dig even deeper into the demographics, you see that a lot of groups that usually lean GOP (but ONLY lean) are the ones most intrigued about bolting to a third-party candidate. A year ago, many Republican Party leaders were concerned about Tea Partiers leaving the party (it’s something Erick Erickson has threatened from time to time). But according to this polling data, the threat is from SOFTER more moderate Republicans.

A Pew Research Center survey shows just one example of how the Tea Party represents the bat-shit crazy wing of the GOP:

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. While partisan differences over climate change remain substantial, Republicans face greater internal divisions over this issue than do Democrats.

Just 25% of Tea Party Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, compared with 61%of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Greg Sargent added further information on the breakdown:

Ron Brownstein has suggested that climate change — along with social issues — is one of a handful of priorities that is increasingly important to the very voter groups that could well give the Democratic Party a demographic edge over the GOP into the future. That “coalition of the ascendant” includes young voters, minorities, and college educated whites, especially women. I asked Pew for the percentages among these groups who believe there is solid evidence of global warming, and the theory is borne out:

* 73% of those aged 18-29 believe it’s happening.

* 76 percent of nonwhites believe it’s happening.

* 67 percent of college educated whites believe its happening.

The correspondence between social conservatives, who wish to use government to impose their religious views on others, and those who deny science is no surprise. I suspect that it is the views on social issues held by the Republican base which will do more to marginalize the Republican Party as their views become to be seen as increasingly repugnant by growing numbers of people.

Sargent also points out that Republicans not only disagree with the scientific consensus, but many are unaware of what the scientific consensus is: “Most Democrats say there is scientific consensus on global warming (71%). Only 41% of Republicans say that scientists generally agree, while 48% say they do not.” Again, this ignorance on the part of anti-science Republicans comes as no surprise.

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New York Soda Ban Invalidated

There was a major strike against the Nanny State today: A New York State Supreme Court judge struck down Michael Bloomberg’s regulation banning sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.  He described the law as “arbitrary and capricious,” and questioned if it would be effective as intended to reduce obesity rates.

I spend a large part of the day treating patients with diabetes and understand what Bloomberg is trying to accomplish, but this is not a proper function of government. This is certainly not the end of this issue as Bloomberg has announced plans to appeal. Hopefully the appeal will fail, but perhaps the news surrounding this issue will cause some to reconsider their self-destructive habits. Ultimately we can try to educate, but the final decision rests with the individual.

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Survey Shows Fewer People Misled By Fox While Republicans Continue To Be Brainwashed By Misinformation

Public Policy Polling did their fourth annual survey of trust in news (or pseudo-news) organizations. Trust in Fox is down, most significantly among independents:

PPP’s annual poll on TV news finds that there’s only one source more Americans trust than distrust: PBS. 52% of voters say they trust PBS to only 29% who don’t trust it. The other seven outlets we polled on are all distrusted by a plurality of voters.

Just like its actual ratings, Fox News has hit a record low in the four years that we’ve been doing this poll. 41% of voters trust it to 46% who do not. To put those numbers into some perspective the first time we did this poll, in 2010, 49% of voters trusted it to 37% who did not. Fox has maintained most of its credibility with Republicans, dropping just from 74/15 to 70/15 over that period of time. But it’s been losing what standing it had with Democrats (from 30/52 to 22/66) and independents (from 41/44 to 32/56).

We find once again this year that Democrats trust everything except Fox, and Republicans don’t trust anything other than Fox. Democrats put the most faith in PBS (+61 at 72/11), followed by NBC (+45 at 61/16), MSNBC (+39 at 58/19), CBS (+38 at 54/16), CNN (+36 at 57/21), ABC (+35 at 51/16), and Comedy Central (+10 at 38/28). Out of the non-Fox channels Republicans have the most faith in PBS at -21 (27/48),  followed by NBC (-48 at 18/66), CNN (-49 at 17/66), ABC (-56 at 14/70), MSNBC (-56 at 12/68), CBS (-57 at 15/72), and Comedy Central (-58 at 8/66).

When it comes to asking Americans which single outlet they trust the most and least out of the ones we polled on, Fox News once again wins both honors. 34% say it’s the one they trust the most, compared to 13% for PBS, 12% for CNN, 11% for ABC, 8% for MSNBC, 6% for CBS, and 5% each for Comedy Central and NBC. Fox News is the choice of 67% of Republicans, while Democrats basically split their allegiances four ways between ABC and CNN, both at 17%, and MSNBC and PBS, both at 16%.

Even more Americans identify Fox News as the outlet they trust the least- 39% give its that designation to 14% for MSNBC, 13% for CNN, 12% for Comedy Central, 5% for ABC and CBS, 3% for NBC, and 1% for PBS. 60% of Democrats give it their lowest marks while Republicans split between MSNBC (24%), CNN (19%), and Comedy Central (14%) on that front.

The poll shows, as we’ve known for quite a while, that Republicans tend to distrust actual news outlets and believe that the misinformation spread by Fox is true. While sad, this is not surprising. Fox (along with other right wing outlets) spread a false narrative to promote their political goals. Part of the misinformation spread by the right wing noise machine is that actual news organizations are biased, and that only the right wing outlets present the truth. As the message from the right wing media frequently conflicts with objective facts, it is not possible to trust both Fox and actual news organizations. People will believe one or the other. It is fortunate that significantly fewer independents are being misled by Fox than in the past.

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Democrats Take Lead In Party Affiliation

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Gallup consistently projected a lower percentage of the vote for Obama compared to most other polls. A major factor was probably underestimating the percentage of the total voting population which leaned Democratic. Gallup may or may not still be underestimating Democrats, but regardless of total numbers they now report (probably well after the fact) that Democrats have reestablished a lead in party affiliation:

An average of 47% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independents who leaned Democratic in 2012, compared with 42% who identified as or leaned Republican. That re-establishes a Democratic edge in party affiliation after the two parties were essentially tied in 2010 and 2011…

Americans last year continued their trend toward greater political independence. The 40% who initially identified as political independents matched the record high from 2011. That is particularly notable, given that the usual pattern is for the percentage of Americans identifying as independents to decline in a presidential election year. In each of the last four presidential election years, dating back to 1996, the percentage of independents was lower than in the year prior to the election…

The rise in independence is perhaps not surprising, given the low esteem in which Americans hold the federal government and the political parties. But with most Americans willing to at least express a leaning to either party, it does suggest the potential for the parties to gain more solid adherents in the future.

I’m not at all surprised to find a large segment of voters who both consider themselves independent and acknowledge that they are most likely to vote Democratic. I see no reason why voting for the more sane party in a two-party system must mean personal identification with the party. I’ve never really considered myself to be a Democrat, but with the Republicans having been taken over by extremists I certainly would not vote for them. Of course the crazier the Republicans become, the more I have begun to identify with Democrats by default. Republicans seem determined to compete with themselves in taking extreme views which are totally out of touch with reality, becoming an increasingly smaller tent.

One of several factors involved is that the Democrats are a large tent with a wide variety of viewpoints and no unifying philosophy beyond not being bat-shit crazy like Republicans. I will agree with any given Democratic candidate a variable percent of the time. On the other hand, it has become very rare to agree with anything coming from the Republicans, and even when I disagree with Democrats I can at least see a coherent argument for their position.

Of course there may be nothing new here. It has been well known that most self-identified independents tend to vote for one of the political parties. Then there’s  Will Roger’s famous quote, “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

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