The Democratic Edge In The Electoral College

The electoral college has been shifting in a Democratic direction since the Bush years when the country was split more evenly and a single state would determine the winner. This trend was seen both times Obama was on the ballot leading to the assumption that the Democratic candidate in 2016 has a strong edge.   at Politics by the Numbers took a closer look at the electoral college. Here is a condensed version for those who want the predictions without going through all the data. The conclusion in the final paragraph is that the Democrats don’t have a “lock” on the Electoral College but do have a strong advantage:

In very gross terms, there is a an important trend in favor of Democratic presidential candidates. Looking just at the direction of movement (ignoring magnitude), there are 29 states that have seen Democratic gains, and 21 states where Republicans have gained strength.  In terms of electoral votes, the states where Democrats have made inroads control 366 electoral votes, while the states with Republican gains control just 169 electoral votes.  This is a substantively large and meaningful difference.  However, it may overstate the case somewhat, since some states in which the parties gained strength were already in the Democratic or Republican column and only became more strongly partisan; and in a few states where a party gained strength (e.g., Mississippi and Georgia for the Democrats, and Minnesota and Wisconsin for the Republicans), their position is improved but they are still at a distinct disadvantage.  And there are a handful of states where movement was very slight, though on balance in one party’s favor…

From this perspective, there has been clear and important movement in the direction of the Democratic party.  The number of states that have moved through this zone in the Democratic direction (and the number of electoral votes associated with them) improves the Democratic position substantially over the past forty years.  A couple of caveats. First, this is only one way to cut the data and the designation of the competitive zone is admittedly arbitrary (as most such designations would be).  Second, this discussion places a premium on a certain type of change and ignores cases in which parties increased their grip on already friendly states.  To be sure, there are a number of Republican and Democratic states where this has happened, and the Republican party has a slight edge in this category…

In the current period, Democratic candidates have a distinct advantage in close national contests. If the average state-level vote is 50%, the expected Democratic Electoral Vote count is 319.  If the average Democratic state vote drops to 48%,  Republicans would be expected to pick up Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Ohio, but Democrats would still have a fighting chance, with an expected Electoral Vote count of 257.  And, of course, if Democrats carry 52% on average across the states, they win a comfortable Electoral Vote margin.  What is most impressive here is not just the Democratic advantage, but how that advantage has shifted since the 1970s, where the Democratic Electoral Vote was much more proportional to the national popular vote.

It is important to remember that the change in the Democratic advantage is not affected just by changes in patterns of party support across the states but also by changes in the Electoral Votes awarded to the states.  In fact, changes in the distributions of electoral votes have muted the shift in Democratic advantage slightly. For instance, at a 50% average state vote the expected Electoral Vote of Democrats in the 2010s would be 333 if there had been no change in the Electoral College since the 1970s.

There is still no evidence of a Democratic “lock” on the Electoral College, but the data presented here do make a clearer case that Republican presidential candidates face an uphill battle, and that their position has deteriorated over time.  The political landscape has changed appreciably in the last forty years and that change is politically consequential. Of course, all of this raises interesting questions about the causes of the changes in party support, questions I will take up in my next post (soon, I hope).

The causes have been widely discussed and it will be interesting to see if Holbrook comes to the same conclusions based upon the data as most political observers have. The most obvious trend has been for the Republicans to increasingly to have their support concentrated in the south and portions of the west, while losing support in most other states. Demographic changes such as younger voters, more educated voters, and racial changes have all favored the Democrats, leading to some red states turning blue, with others possibly flipping in the future. Holbrook does not see Texas flipping as others have predicted it might in the future.

Democratic advantages among the young and minorities are discussed more often, but the effect of education is also quite significant. In looking at the effects of education on voting trends, it is worth repeating an interesting statistic which I quoted yesterday from Electoral-Vote.com:

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).

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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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Quote of the Day: Seth Meyers on Dick Cheney

“Today The New York Times had to issue a correction after it mistakenly referred to Dick Cheney as a former president. Of course, George W. Bush made that same mistake all the time.” –Seth Meyers

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Response To Republican Support For Making Birth Control Pills Available Over The Counter

While Republicans have generally been trying to restrict access to contraception, recently some Republicans have been promoting making oral contraceptives available over the counter without prescription. Many people quickly saw through this. It gives the Republicans a way to claim they are removing a barrier to receiving contraception and avoid situations like the Lobby Hobby case. It also does something else–make contraception less accessible for many women. While the Affordable Car Act requires that contraception be covered without out-of-pocket expense to the woman, many insurance plans do not cover over the counter medications. This is also an incomplete response to the issue as there are many other types of birth control, including forms which many Republicans are attempting to restrict.

The Guttmacher Institute issues a statement regarding this topic (via Talking Points Memo):

Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over the Counter, But That’s No Substitute for Contraceptive Coverage

September 11, 2014

By Adam Sonfield and Sneha Barot, Guttmacher Institute

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC)—though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives—let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

The Policy Behind Over-The Counter Contraception
Making birth control pills available OTC has merit, and the Guttmacher Institute is part of a coalition that has been working toward this goal for years. Leading medical groups have also endorsed such a move, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By removing the need to obtain a prescription, OTC status would eliminate this potential barrier to contraceptive use and thereby increase access.

This is especially true for uninsured women and those who don’t have time for a doctor’s visit or otherwise can’t readily reach a health care provider. However, if the goal is to truly expand access to contraceptive care—and not just provide cover for undercutting insurance coverage for contraceptives—the case to move birth control pills to OTC status should proceed alongside several other important policies and goals:

Protect contraceptive coverage and full method choice: The ACA requires most private health plans to cover the full range of women’s contraceptive methods and services, without out-of-pocket costs for the patient. This policy eliminates cost as a barrier to women’s ability to choose the method that is best for them at any given point in their lives, an approach that has been proven to make a substantial difference in facilitating access to and use of contraceptive services.

Contrary to what some policymakers and commenters have claimed, giving the pill OTC status would not be an effective substitute for the ACA policy. First, it would do nothing to help women access any contraceptive method other than the pill. This matters, since most women use four or more different contraceptive methods over their lifetime to meet their changing needs. If only the pill were available OTC and contraceptives were no longer covered by insurance, women would face significant new barriers in choosing the method that best suited their needs. Cost is a particularly steep barrier for highly effective methods like the IUD or implant that not only have high upfront expenses, but also require a trained provider for insertion and therefore are not candidates for OTC status.

Even for the pill itself, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that moving it to OTC status would substantially lower out-of-pocket costs to patients, let alone come close to the $0 out-of-pocket cost guaranteed under the ACA policy. Rather, making the pill available OTC, if done at the expense of insurance coverage, would replace one barrier (ease of access) with another (cost). Likewise, greater reliance on Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, as some opponents of insurance coverage have proposed, would also merely replace full insurance coverage with patient out-of-pocket costs—leaving most privately insured women, particularly low-income women, worse off. Uninsured women on average pay $370 for a full year’s supply of the pill, the equivalent of 51 hours of work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Millions of women already benefit from the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee and these hard-won gains must be protected. Rather than substituting for contraceptive coverage of all methods and related services, OTC status for birth control pills should complement and enhance such coverage.

Strengthen coverage for over-the-counter methods: While the ACA’s preventive care provision specifically requires private health plans to cover certain products with over-the-counter status (including the emergency contraceptive Plan B, folic acid, aspirin to prevent heart disease and tobacco use cessation products), a prescription is needed for these items to be covered—essentially negating the benefits of OTC status. This prescription requirement should be eliminated for any current and future over-the counter contraceptives. Coverage of over-the-counter products without a prescription is already the norm in some state Medicaid programs and in the U.S. military’s Tricare insurance program. Further, ensuring full coverage for over-the-counter contraceptives would prevent “free-riding” by insurance companies that benefit from not having to cover pregnancies that were averted through patient out-of-pocket expenditures.

Ensure equal access for young women: Adolescents and young women, who face greater risk of unintended pregnancy and more barriers to accessing contraception than older women, have among the most to gain from a switch to OTC status. However, recent calls to give birth control pills OTC status as a substitute for contraceptive coverage have specifically excluded minors. That would require women 17 and younger to obtain a prescription, without providing any medical evidence to justify such restrictions. This approach would be harmful to adolescent women and would be counterproductive to helping them avoid unplanned pregnancies and the negative health, social and economic consequences that often follow.

In addition, excluding minors would likely not result in a true over-the-counter status, but instead could put contraceptive pills behind the counter, much as happened when the emergency contraceptive Plan B was first approved for OTC sales. To comply with an age restriction, stores would have to require proof of age via a valid picture ID from any woman who looks young enough to potentially be barred from purchasing birth control pills without a prescription. This would be an added hurdle for millions of women, and it ignores the reality that many young women do not have government-issued forms of photo ID.

Keep politics out of FDA decision making: To switch any drug to OTC status, the typical process involves the drug’s manufacturer submitting an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which—based on several criteria, including the safety and efficacy profile of the medication—decides whether to grant the request. The evidence is quite strong that providing birth control pills OTC would be safe and effective, including for minors. The FDA process should be driven by the evidence and free from political interference by the administration, Congress and others.

It is troubling but not at all surprising that Senator Ayotte and others who purport to be interested in contraceptive access would preempt the FDA with unfounded calls to bar minors from benefiting from any future OTC status for birth control pills. This echoes the longtime political and legal wrangling over minors’ access to OTC emergency contraceptive pills, despite clear evidence that minors could safely use these products without a prescription.

It is also noteworthy that there are dozens of brands and formulations of birth control pills, most of which would likely have to undergo the lengthy and expensive FDA process to gain OTC status separately. Because formulations of the pill are not medically interchangeable, with some women tolerating specific pills better than others, making one or several versions of the birth control pill available OTC would not benefit all current pill users.

Not A One-Size-Fits-All Policy Solution
Just as birth control methods are not “one size fits all” at any point in a woman’s life, let alone for all of her reproductive years, neither is there a one-size-fits-all policy solution to enhance access to the full range of methods, information and services for women of all ages and income levels, regardless of where they obtain their care. A wide range of approaches is necessary to meaningfully respond to women’s family planning needs in a comprehensive way.

One such approach includes making birth control pills available over-the-counter, if done so without additional costs or barriers to women. Doing so can complement and enhance current efforts to help more women become effective contraceptive users, including the ACA’s significant gains for comprehensive private and public insurance coverage for contraceptive counseling, services and supplies.

If anything, contraceptive coverage should be broadened to cover more women and strengthened to eliminate the prescription requirement for OTC methods that are covered. Other urgent priorities include expanded access to Medicaid, public support for safety-net family planning centers and the Title X national family planning program, comprehensive sex education and the development of new contraceptive technologies.

Truly increasing access to contraceptive care requires a multifaceted approach to meet the needs of all women throughout their reproductive lives. Political talking points will not do it.

This article was originally published on Health Affairs Blog at this link.

Click here for a recent statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supporting over-the-counter access to birth control pills as part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s health care as opposed to a political tool.

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Bill Maher Says He Is No Fan Of Hillary, Might Vote For Rand Paul

Bill Maher provides an example of why I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Hillary Clinton. The Hill reports:

“Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.

Maher commented on the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): “As I always used to say about his father, I love half of him. I love the half of him that has the guts to say we should end the American empire, pull the troops home, stop getting involved in every foreign entanglement… He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”When ITK asked if Maher, who donated $1 million to an Obama super PAC in 2012, would be doing the same for a Hillary Clinton PAC, he quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. First of all, I’m not as big a fan of Hillary as I am of Obama. So we’ll see who’s running. I’m not even committing to being for Hillary.”

When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”

Supporting the Pauls on libertarian grounds is a mistake. I’ve looked at Ron Paul’s positions which would lead to less freedom in greater length in the past. However the question is not whether voting for Rand Paul makes sense but whether people will. It is not that I really think that Rand Paul could win a general election, and even his chances at the Republican nomination are questionable. It is also easy to dismiss Bill Maher here because he is often more libertarian than traditional progressive Democrat. This would be a mistake.

What must be considered is the future of Democratic voters. The old New Deal coalition is dead. Today’s Democratic voters include many who primarily support the Democratic Party because of objections to Republican big government–from the Iraq War to intrusions on the private lives of individuals. Millennial voters quite commonly fall into this group. They certainly are not as easy targets for a Rand Paul as some believe, opposing his views on the destruction of the safety net. When Democrats nominate a candidate such as Barack Obama, both Bill Maher and millennials are on board.

Hillary Clinton changes the calculus. Regardless of whether she runs against Paul, a conservative Democratic nominee like Clinton, who is weak on both foreign policy and civil liberties issues, gives little reason for either Bill Maher or millennials to get excited. She will probably still win (although that is far from guaranteed) but many voters will see far less reason to stick with the Democrats long term if they see it as the party of Hillary Clinton. The next presidential election could give Democrats the voters to solidify the support of young voters for years to come, but not under Clinton’s leadership.

The Hill also reports that Clinton supporters are trying to differentiate Clinton from Obama by stressing her decisiveness. It looks like an attempt to turn one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses into a strength, but it won’t convince those who are already concerned about Clinton’s record. As I’ve discussed before, Hillary Clinton has frequently been wrong on the big questions. She was decisive, but wrong. She would ultimately realize the errors she was making, but not until years later. This included the manner in which she botched health care reform, making it impossible for another generation, and her backing military intervention in Iraq based upon her mistaken belief of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Promoting Hillary Clinton as the decisive candidate certainly does not give me reason to be happy about her likely candidacy.

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Another Survey Shows Decrease In Obamacare Insurance Premiums For 2015

There is yet more good news on the Affordable Care Act. Rather than the “death spiral” which so many Republicans warned about, yet another study shows an average decline in health insurance premiums next year:

An early look at the cost of health insurance in 16 major cities finds that average premiums for the benchmark silver plan – the one upon which federal financial help under the Affordable Care Act to consumers is based – will decrease slightly in 2015.  The new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzes premiums in the largest cities in 15 states and the District of Columbia where information from rate filings is available.

Premiums for the second-lowest cost silver plan for individuals will fall by an average of 0.8 percent from current levels in these cities when open enrollment begins on Nov. 15, according to the study. The analysis finds that the premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan is decreasing in 7 of the 16 areas studied – but also that changes in average premiums will vary considerably across areas. They range from a decline of 15.6 percent in Denver, Colorado (to $211 per month), to an increase of 8.7 percent in Nashville, Tennessee (to $205 per month). In both cases premiums are for a 40-year-old nonsmoker, before taking into account any tax credit.  It is important to note that rate changes may be different in different rating areas in these states.

This is certainly a huge improvement over the double digit increases we typically had on insurance purchased on the individual market. Plus the new plans, as opposed to many previous plans sold, provide real, comprehensive coverage. Unlike any previous plans, they are available to anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions, and cannot be cancelled due to changes in health.

Incidentally, yesterday I also received details on the insurance I purchase to cover my employees which is being improved to become fully compliant with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. It will cost me an additional $15 a month per employee. Of course for some reason I occasionally receive claims from Republican business owners that they are going to be forced out of business due to the higher cost of health insurance. I suspect that many American Republicans, due to their lack of understanding of how the economy works, and tenuous relationship with reality, are the worst businessmen on earth.

There is one caution in the news about a decrease in the premiums for the benchmark plans. These are used to determine government subsidies. The lower premiums mean that the government will have to pay less on subsidies than planned. However if people receiving subsidies fail to shop around, they are at risk of receiving lower subsidies than this year if they do not have a policy which matches the lower premiums.

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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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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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Hillary Clinton And The Left

Hillary Clinton and the Left

The Hill has an article on Hillary Clinton which, as is the case with many of their articles, recites the conventional wisdom with little real insight or new information. Most of their five points are trivial, such as that anything Hillary says, or doesn’t say (as in the case of Ferguson) makes the news. The only point in the article which I think is worthy of any discussion is the second, their claim that “The left doesn’t really hate her after all.”

In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.

On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.

“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.

Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.

But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.

A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.

Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.

“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.

Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”

For all practical purposes this might as well be true, but it is an over-simplification. I certainly would not consider Clinton to be a liberal, but the right has moved to so such extremes that she could not be classified as a conservative today either. She may be a former Goldwater girl, but the Republicans have moved far to the right of Barry Goldwater. One significant factor is that while the Republican Party is pulled to the right by a strong conservative movement, the Democratic Party is a centrist party which often ignores liberal influence. Many liberals I discuss politics with  are very concerned about Clinton’s relatively conservative views, but we also make up a tiny percentage of the centrist-dominated voters for the Democrats.

Clinton also benefits from the widespread realization that there is not much choice other than to support her. The faction of the left which would vote for the Green Party or a Ralph Nader like challenge from the left is even smaller than those of us who feel Clinton is too conservative. Most of us anti-Clinton Democrats realize that whatever faults Clinton has, the Republicans will be as bad on foreign policy and far worse on domestic policy.

Clinton also probably benefits from factors such as a favorable view among Democrats of electing the first female president. Plus there is nostalgia for the period of peace and prosperity when Bill Clinton was president. However the times have changed and electing a Clinton will not mean returning to the Clinton economy.

I suspect that these factors also blind many Democratic voters to how conservative Clinton is on many issues, even if given warnings in recent interviews. She is likely to be seen as more socially liberal than she actually is do her position on “women’s issues” but being even Republican women are more liberal than the Republican establishment in this area. While Clinton has received criticism for appearing dishonest and calculating for naming the Bible as the book with the greatest influence on her thinking, that might not really be out of character considering her past participation with the religiously conservative Fellowship while in Congress.

I also suspect that many liberals fail to realize how conservative she is on foreign policy issues. Being Obama’s Secretary of State blurs the distinctions between Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration, but during her tenure as Secretary of State the common pattern was for Clinton to push for a more hawkish position which was countered by others in the administration.

Clinton’s hawkish views on Iraq are also obscured by the fact that many Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. However, while all who voted yes were terribly mistaken, there were still significant differences in views within that group. On the left was John Kerry, who voted yes but clearly laid out the conditions under which war would be justified, and then spent the next several months pushing Bush not to go to war. On the extreme right of the Democratic Party there was Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, being unique among Democrats in pushing to go to war based upon the fictitious arguments connecting Saddam to al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

If someone were to mount a serious primary challenge to Clinton I suspect that opposition to Clinton would increase on the left, based upon foreign policy, economics, and social issues, along with questions about her competence and judgment. The 2008 race showed that deep down many Democrats do have reservations about Clinton and would support a viable challenge. Unfortunately, at least so far, I do not see such a challenge emerging. Many liberals who are concerned about Clinton’s Wall Street connections would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is talking about possibly running, but a self-described socialist has zero chance of winning in this country. Joe Biden is traveling to New Hampshire, leading to speculation about him running. While he is far from the ideal candidate, and I never really thought of backing him, as I read about how Biden was a strong voice against Clinton’s hawkish views in the Obama administration, Biden increasingly looks like a far more favorable alternative if he can mount a viable campaign and no better options arise.

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Federal Court Throws Out Abortion Restrictions In Texas

Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:

A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.

The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.

Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:

One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.

On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”

Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.

The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.

Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”

The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:

If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.

Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

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