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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Election Forecasts Now Improving For Democrats To Retain Control Of Senate

Various forecasts for who will control the Senate are now tilting in the direction of the Democrats, with most still agreeing the race is very close, continuing a trend I noted at the beginning of the month. Some of the predictions more favorable to Democrats have been those which concentrate more on polls as opposed to historical trends and other factors. Nate Silver had previously discounted many of the polls, noting both the low number and often poor quality of polls available. Silver is now reconsidering his prediction, decreasing chances for Republicans to take control of the Senate from 65 percent two weeks ago to 55 percent.

Others have even more favorable predictions for Democrats. Electoral-vote.com, based purely on polls, has the race even. The Upshot gives the Republicans a 51 percent chance, essentially a toss up. Election Lab gives the Democrats a 51 percent chance. The Princeton Election Consortium even gives the Democrats a 78 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate.

In changing his prediction, Nate Silver looked at factors such as the Democratic ground game, and believes money might be the most important factor.

Charlie Cook looked at the same factors:

Two things may be keeping Republican strategists up at night: money and the Democratic ground game. Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn’t Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats. While Republican candidates, national party committees, and super PACs are hardly starving, their Senate and House campaign committees have not been able to keep pace in fundraising with their Democratic counterparts. Their super PACs do not have nearly the funding that they had in 2012 (even allowing for the absence of a presidential race this year). And, in a number of key races, Democratic candidates, party committees, and their allied groups have been on the air significantly more than Republicans. GOP strategists have privately said that if it were not for spending by organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, they might well be in really bad shape.

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP’s chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.

Another reason things might not turn out for Republicans is if the highly touted Democratic Senate ground game comes together. Clearly the Obama campaign and Democratic allies had a superior voter-identification and get-out-the-vote operation two years ago. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats announced the Bannock Street Project, a $60 million program with the goal of putting in place 4,000 paid workers to use techniques perfected and put to work in 2010 by DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet in his race, and again two years ago by the Obama campaign. While some Republicans have scoffed at the likelihood of Democrats being able to mount such an effort, they concede that the Democratic ground game was superior two years ago. In midterm elections, if Democrats can crank up the turnout among young, female, and minority voters, then their chances of success this year increase.

The GOP might be paying for its divorce from reality when Republicans were predicting victory in 2012 despite all the polling data showing that they were delusional.

Electoral-Vote.com also looks at how Democrats are spending their money more effectively, along with factors such as the culture war issues  now favoring the Democrats and the Republicans big demographic problem–a considerable decrease in the low-information, non-college-educated white males who provide such a large percentage of Republican votes (emphasis mine):

Republicans used to use cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion to rev up their supporters and get them to vote. Now the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Democrats who are talking about cultural issues and scaring the voters with them. Not only has same-sex marriage gained enormous popularity in the past five or ten years, but Republican support for limiting birth control (such as in the Hobby Lobby case) is scaring women and driving them to the Democrats. Much of the Republicans’ problem has to do with shifting demographics. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was first elected, white voters without college degrees made up 65% of the electorate. In 2012, that number was 36%. Ever since Richard Nixon began his Southern strategy, Republicans have been basing their campaigns on getting older white men without college degrees to back them. They still do, but there aren’t enough of them any more and it is beginning to be a real problem, hence the action in many states to limit who can vote (voter ID requirements) and when they can vote (shortening early voting periods). This year in states as diverse as Colorado and North Carolina, Democratic candidates are claiming that the Republicans are out of the mainstream. Such an approach was unthinkable 10 years ago, when it was the Republicans making these claims about the Democrats.

What Democrats in red states are also desperately trying to do is make the race between them and their actual opponent, not between President Obama and their opponent. In a new ad the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, literally says “I’m not Barack Obama” while shooting a gun. Then she shows a photo of her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), waving a gun with her saying he doesn’t know how to hold it. The Republicans, in contrast, are running against Obama everywhere. Obama himself is not sitting idly by. In October he will begin serious campaigning, although he may be limited to states where he is relatively popular, such as Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan. And of course he can show up in New York and California any time he wants to in order to raise money for the DSCC.

First Read points to how the gender gap continues to help Democrats.The Washington Examiner looked at how Democratic super PACs have been more effective in their use of advertising money.

The Republican playing field has also been narrowing, with states such as Michigan, and now North Carolina moving firmly in the direction of the Democrats. Having Kansas be unexpectedly in play also makes a huge difference. An election which initially looked highly favorable for Republicans now looks to be even.

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Democrats Beating Expectations In Congressional Races

The fundamentals are certainly against the Democrats this year. Democrats are expected to do poorly in the sixth year of an unpopular presidency, in a midterm election where young and minority voters are less likely to turn out. The conventional wisdom has the Republicans picking up seats in the House and many are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. Both could still happen, but so far the Republicans are not doing as well as expected.

Politico looked at House races today and found that it is likely that the Republicans will pick up only about half of their goal of eleven seats. It is probably overly optimistic to hope for the Democrats to actually retake control of the House, as some are predicting, but beating expectations this year might make this more feasible in 2016.

The Senate race remains more interesting as control is up for grabs. Sam Wang pointed out last week that, looking at the polls, the Democrats are outperforming expectations. Many web sites which include factors such as history of a state are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. As polling is limited in some states, it is certainly possible that their historical-based predictions might be right. Still, it is a positive for the Democrats to see them doing better than would be expected in the polls. Today electoral-vote.com, which is based purely on polls, has both Democrats and Republicans winning fifty seats. This would leave the Democrats in control, with Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote. Many states are very close, but each party has seats which can easily go either way.

As I’ve said many times before, the Democrats have a chance to hold on to the Senate due to benefits of incumbency. The vulnerable Democrats in red states have won before, although it might have only been in 2008, which was a much more favorable year for Democrats. PBS looked at this topic:

Why Democrats can still win: Republicans are only favored, though, to win between four and eight seats. And Democrats still have a chance of retaining the Senate. But how can that be with the fundamentals described above and a president with among his lowest approval ratings, and even lower in these 12 states on average? Because candidates matter. Incumbents traditionally have an advantage because voters in those states have already elected them statewide, giving them natural bases — and fundraising networks and turnout operations — to get 50 percent. What’s more, the candidates Democrats have in some of these red states are legacy candidates. In other words, not only are they personally well known, their families are too. The Landrieus, Pryors, Begiches, and Udalls are near political royalty in their respective states. But will their personal dynasties pay the dividends needed this fall and be enough to overcome the national environment? It could be for some but not for others. How many survive could be the difference between a Democratic and Republican Senate for the last two years of Obama’s presidency.

Despite many predictions for the Republicans to take control of the Senate, between the overall unpopularity of the GOP and the advantages of incumbency, I still think this is a toss up.

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Early Projections On Control Of The Senate

If you want another source besides Nate Silver’s site at FiveThirtyEight for information to make an educated guess about control of the Senate, check out Electoral-vote.com. The page has a map of all the states which links to the latest polls from each state. As an example of how close things are, today’s projection shows the Democrats with 49 seats, the Republicans with 50, and one tied. The Democrats retain control if they can maintain fifty seats due to Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote in a tie.

The tie is in Iowa, which does seem to give the Democrats a fighting chance of winning the 50th seat based upon this projection. FiveThirtyEight gives Democratic candidate Bruce Braley a 55 percent chance of winning that race.

Some of the states are classified as barely leaning towards one party and there is no doubt that some of these (and perhaps other) states will change. For example, Electoral-vote.com has Mary Landrieu barely leading in Louisiana. FiveThirtyEight gives her a 45 percent chance of winning, and predicts that this race will come down to a run-off in December. With control of the Senate very possibly coming down to a single seat, we can easily have a situation where we are waiting until the December run-off, which would then turn into an extremely high profile race.

The Democrats also face a tough challenge in North Carolina despite this state being listed as barely Democratic. FiveThirtyEight sees it as even tighter, giving Kay Hagan a 50 percent chance of winning.

Other races could also provide the Democrats with the 50th seat should the other races go as Electoral-vote.com predicts. They currently have Colorado listed as barely Republican, while FiveThirtyEight gives Mark Udall a 60 percent chance of winning. At this point I would place more credence in a human projection than in Electoral-vote.com’s projections based purely on the polls.

These sites certainly do not provide an answer as to who will win. The next question would be the impact of winning with Ezra Klein joining many other political writers in seeing a Republican controlled Senate as further increasing the chances that the Democratic presidential candidate will win in 2016. Will this keep Hillary Clinton from campaigning for Democrats this fall despite the risk of ill will from some Democrats?

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No Signs Of A Wave Election So Far

Nate Cohn looked at the small amount of generic Congressional polling there is available and concluded, consistent with other indicators, that there is no sign of a wave election this year. The polls he looked at showed an average 1.9 percent advantage for the Democrats over Republicans. Cohn wrote:

These findings bear no resemblance to the one-sided results at this point in 2010, when Republicans held a clear 4.7-point advantage, or in 2006, when Democrats were ahead by 10.1 points. The current slight Democratic edge is fairly similar to what generic ballot surveys showed in the days ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

It’s important to emphasize that these polls are of registered voters, not likely voters. Previous years’ surveys were also of registered voters. The Republicans probably have a slight advantage among the older and whiter electorate that’s likely to participate this November. But that’s a separate matter from national political conditions.

While some have predicted a Republican wave based upon Obama’s unpopularity in the polls, the fact that both Congress and the Republican Party have even worse favorability ratings must count for something. The actual result seems to be a decreased turn out at the polls in primary elections so far this year, possibly indicating that voters are fed up with everybody. There is still quite a while until the election, and an unforeseen event still might tilt things towards either party.

The lack of a Republican wave, assuming things stay as they are, should limit the expected loses by Democrats which we would normally see in the sixth year of a presidency. Unfortunately the Republicans are in a good position to take control of the Senate without a wave as the Democrats are forced to defend several Senate seats in red states which they picked up in 2008.

As it now stands, the Republicans have a very slight edge to take the Senate, but there are a number of reasons that Democratic incumbents might still hold onto enough seats to narrowly maintain control. The Hobby Lobby might get more single women to turn out to vote for the Democrats.  Republicans still could find ways to lose elections which are now close, such as with a call for nullification of federal laws by the states by the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa:

Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, appears to believe states can nullify federal laws. In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a form held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

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Surveys Show Benefits Of Obamacare For Individuals And Hospitals

Two polls were released today regarding opinion of the effects of the Affordable Care Act, one from consumers and one from hospital administrators. The first is reported by CNN:

More than half the public says Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country, although less than one in five Americans say they have personally benefited from the health care law, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/ORC International survey also indicates that a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act, but that some of that opposition is from people who don’t think the measure goes far enough…

According to the poll, only 18% of the public say they or their families are better off now that the major provisions of the health care law have been implemented. Another 35% report that, while their lives have not improved, the Affordable Care Act has benefited other people in the U.S. Add those two numbers together, and that means 53% say that Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country.

Forty-four percent tell us that the health care law has not helped anyone in the country.

Any poll regarding whether the law has helped people has to be interpreted cautiously. First there are those who follow the Republican line and deny benefits which have been well-documented, such as an increase in the number of insured. Even those answering with an open mind might not realize ways in which they are benefiting.  Before the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people often did not realize the problems in the old system as they had not encountered them personally. In the past I often saw patients with very limited coverage who had no idea how limited their coverage was. Some policies would only cover inpatient or outpatient services. Some policies had severe limitations on how many office calls they would cover or how much they would pay for lab per year. I have seen patients with newly diagnosed diabetes who suddenly needed far more services than in the past but found that they had used up their coverage for the year by around March. Many people also do not realize the risk they previously faced of being dropped by their insurance plan should they develop expensive medical problems. Insurance companies can no longer drop people for medical problems or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, along with being required to provide comprehensive coverage, including preventative care.

FierceHealthCare reported on a survey of hospital executives which showed that average inpatient admissions were increased by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, following several years of deceases, as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act and other factors. They also found that “The ACA has made a positve impact on hospital performance, according to the survey, with hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the healthcare law expressing significantly more positive views about improvements in payer mix and diversity in the second half of the year.”

Hospital inpatient volumes trended positive for the first time in several years–albeit by only a slight margin–according to a new survey from Jefferies. The investment bank and securities firm also released data about hospital performance and payer mix.

Inpatient volume has trended negative for the last few years, due largely to the economic downturn and plan design changes, but average inpatient admissions were up 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014, according to the survey results. Researchers attribute the uptick to a combination of the improving economy, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and patients waiting as long as possible for procedures, compounding demand.

Polling on provider optimism was also positive, according to the survey. Of the executives from 50 hospitals Jefferies polled, seven in 10 expected inpatient volume to be either flat or up in the third quarter, which is remarkable considering the multiyear trend of negative volumes, according to the survey results. Executives at hospitals with more than 250 beds were particularly optimistic, with all such respondents expecting volume increases in the third quarter.

The ACA has made a positve impact on hospital performance, according to the survey, with hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the healthcare law expressing significantly more positive views about improvements in payer mix and diversity in the second half of the year.

“That said, 54 percent of our surveyed hospitals indicated that the ACA has not impacted volume trends yet; it is worth noting though that half of hospitals with 500 or more beds noted improved admission trends as a result of the ACA,” the results stated. Jefferies will continue monitoring developments in states that have not yet expanded the program but are “key for the publicly traded hospitals,” including Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Thirty-four percent of respondents overall said emergency department (ED) admissions had increased, but the numbers were higher in expansion states (42 percent) than non-expansion states (29 percent). This lines up with the results of a study which found Medicaid expansion in Oregon increased ED volumes, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The benefits for hospitals in this survey was consistent with previous reports that Medicaid expansion has led to both increased care for the poor and improved revenues for hospitals. The same post also reported on a recent survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians which found that 37 percent of ER physicians reported that patient volume had increased slightly, 9 percent reported that it had increased greatly, and 27 percent reported that the number of ER visits had remained the same.

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Michigan Democratic Candidates Improving Position In Latest Poll

AP SENATE MICHIGAN PETERS A ELN USA MI

There is good news in the latest EPIC-MRA poll out of Michigan. The biggest race from a national perspective is replacing retiring Senator Carl Levin. In addition to having an impact on control of the Senate, the Republican candidate, Terry Lynn Land, is a Teabagger who so far has come across as only slightly less bat-shit crazy than Michele Bachmann. Democratic candidate Gary Peters (pictured above) leads Land by 9 points, 45 percent to 36 percent.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder is fortunately not an extremist like Land. Many Democrats supported Snyder four years ago in the Republican primary, during a year when it was clear the GOP candidate would win, to prevent more extreme candidates such as Pete Hoekstra from getting the nomination. Snyder has sometimes stood up to the Republican legislature and  might even be tolerable if working with a Democratic legislature. Unfortunately at other times he has given in to the Republicans.

Snyder started out with a big advantage, such as that an incumbent governor has not lost in Michigan since 1990. In May Snyder led his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, by nine points. Now the lead has narrowed to three points, with Snyder leading 46 percent to 43 percent. As Schauer is still not well known, it is encouraging that he is making it a close race with a long time to go until November. The results are within the margin of error, and shows Schauer increasing support from the Democratic base and shows independents now breaking towards Schauer.

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The Secret To Success In The Senate

warren paul

Congress has a record low approval rating, which perhaps is why the most successful Senators appear to be those who haven’t spent much time there. Barack Obama sure didn’t waste much time in the Senate before successfully running for president. Hillary Clinton is a special case as her time in the Senate is only a small part of her resume, but she didn’t spend very much time there either. The most popular Senator from each party today very well might be a freshman. Both have ignored the old tradition for new Senators to be fairly quiet.

On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren has received the most enthusiastic support. There is even a Ready For Warren web site, despite her statements that she has no plans to run for president. She has spoken out the most on economic issues, but is now wading into social issues as well with her comments on the Hobby Lobby case:

I’ll be honest – I cannot believe that we are even having a debate about whether employers can deny women access to birth control. Guys, this is 2014, not 1914 . Most Americans thought this was settled long, long ago. But for some reason, Republicans keep dragging us back here – over and over and over again.

On the Republican side, Rand Paul has generated the most excitement. As his foreign policy views are out of step with those of his party, there are real questions as to whether he has a chance to win a Republican presidential nomination. Gallup found that he falls just slightly behind Mike Huckabee among potential Republican candidates at this time. Aaron Blake looked at other polls to show that Paul is in a strong position to possibly win in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which certainly would give him strong momentum towards winning the nomination. Should Paul manage to win the nomination, a Quinnipiac poll shows that Paul is the strongest Republican candidate against Clinton in Iowa. Of course that might not hold nation wide.

A Huckabee versus Paul race for the Republican nomination would certainly offer a choice of different views. A presidential race between Paul and Warren would do the same, and most likley excite many on both the left and right far more than, say, another campaign between a Bush and a Clinton. Of course a race between Clinton, as opposed to Warren, and Paul is far more likley considering the state of the Democratic race. As I discussed previously, this would lead to a reversal in partisan foreign policy perspective, with the Democrats having the hawk as a candidate. As Peter Beinart pointed out, she sounded more like George Bush than a Democrat on foreign policy on her recent appearance on The Daily Show.

Updates: Digby also questions Clinton’s statement. Politico reports that Warren rallies the base. John Dickerson thinks a Warren run would be a good thing–but primarily to provide a worthy conversation and to “force Clinton to draw clear lines about what she believes, why she’s running, and why her message is something more than ‘It’s my turn.'” I would be more interested in a challenge to Clinton from the left which could actually beat her for the nomination, but that doesn’t look likely.

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Norman Ornstein Writes Once Again That The Republicans Are The Problem

Norman Ornstein once again sets the record straight, resonding to those who say both parties are responsible for the degree of polarization and gridlock we are now experiencing:

Tom Mann and I, among others, have said that the polarization in the capital is asymmetric, much more on the conservative and Republican side than on the liberal and Democratic side. An army of journalists—including Ron Fournier, Paul Kane, and others—have said both sides are to blame. And journalists led by Jim Fallows have decried what he first called “false equivalence.” This malady itself has two components. The first, which in many ways is a larger ingrained journalistic habit that tries mightily to avoid any hint of reporting bias, is the reflexive “we report both sides of every story,” even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality. The second, often called the Green Lantern approach and typified by Bob Woodward, is that presidential leadership—demanding change, sweet-talking, and threatening lawmakers—could readily overcome any dysfunction caused by polarization, thus allocating responsibility in a different way that deflects any sign of asymmetry.

As the Pew study makes clear, in the mid- to late-1990s, we did not have anywhere near the level of public polarization or ideological or partisan animosity that we have now. In the public, this phenomenon has been much more recent (and is accelerating). But in the Gingrich era in Congress, starting in 1993, where Republicans united in both houses to oppose major Clinton initiatives and moved vigorously from the start of his presidency to delegitimize him, the era of tribalism started much earlier, while the ante was upped dramatically in the Obama years. The fact is that it was not public divisions on issues that drove elite polarization, but the opposite: Cynical politicians and political consultants in the age of the permanent campaign, bolstered by radio talk-show hosts and cable-news producers and amplified by blogs and social media, did a number on the public.

The elite tribalism was not all one-sided. To be sure, there was plenty of vitriol hurled by Democrats at George W. Bush. But Democrats worked hand-in-glove with Bush at the early, vulnerable stage of his controversial presidency to enact No Child Left Behind, which gave his presidency precious credibility and provided the votes and support needed for his tax cuts. Contrast that with the early stages of the Obama presidency.

Merry uses immigration to dispute our characterization of the contemporary Republican Party as an insurgent outlier, dismissive of science; no surprise that he does not mention climate change. As for Ron Fournier, I have one point of contention and one response to his question, “Who cares?” First is the characterization of those who believe that the polarization is asymmetric as partisans. There are partisans who have seized on the ideas, but it is very unfair to characterize the scholars and most journalists who have written about this as biased—just as it would be deeply unfair to characterize Fournier, a straight-up journalist of the old school, as an instrument of Republicans or the Right.

More important is the question he raised. Does it matter whether the polarization, and the deep dysfunction that follows from it, is equal or not, including to the average voter? The answer is a resounding yes. If bad behavior—using the nation’s full faith and credit as a hostage to political demands, shutting down the government, attempting to undermine policies that have been lawfully enacted, blocking nominees not on the basis of their qualifications but to nullify the policies they would pursue, using filibusters as weapons of mass obstruction—is to be discouraged or abandoned, those who engage in it have to be held accountable. Saying both sides are equally responsible, insisting on equivalence as the mantra of mainstream journalism, leaves the average voter at sea, unable to identify and vote against those perpetrating the problem. The public is left with a deeper disdain for all politics and all politicians, and voters become more receptive to demagogues and those whose main qualification for office is that they have never served, won’t compromise, and see everything in stark black-and-white terms.

Besides, this excerpt, read the full article, along with his writings with Thomas Mann, including this op-ed and their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. For a look at the unprecedented obstructionism towards Obama practiced by the Republicans, see this Frontline documentary,The Republicans’ Plan For The New President:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

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