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, 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.

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:

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.”

Politics Is A Game Of Inches

Thomas Friedman once again wants Michael Bloomberg to run for president. We currently have a center-left candidate from the Democrats and a combination center-left, centrist, and far-right candidate from the Republicans depending upon which positions Romney decides he wants to hold on any particular day. The big problem with Friedman and others who want to see a centrist candidate run and break the partisan gridlock is that the positions such people tend to advocate are essentially the positions held by Democrats. Steve Benen explained:

Friedman wants a party that will commit to investing in infrastructure, education, and short-term economic growth, but is also willing to make concessions and compromises on long-term fiscal challenges on entitlements. But he’s also under the impression that the two-party system is failing him — even though one of the major parties already agrees with him.

The columnist wants Bloomberg to run as independent in order to push Democrats to be more … Democratic?

Matthew Yglesias argues that this won’t even help Friedman’s problem with dropped calls.

I guess politics is a game of inches. Michael Bloomberg is perhaps inches closer to the center than Obama, making him preferable to people like Thomas Friedman. Similarly it takes just a very slight increase in the top marginal tax rate to make Obama a socialist in the eyes of the know-nothing right while the Republicans (who have done more than any group, including true socialists, to destroy a working system of capitalism) are their heroes.

Independent Voters Can Be Won By Democrats–With the Right Arguments

A swing state poll from Global Strategy Group has some good news for Obama, and a lesson as to how Democrats should concentrate on attracting more independent voters. They found that swing state independents prefer Obama by six points, but over a third remain undecided. The generic Congressional ballot is tied, with six in ten remaining undecided.

There is a key finding which I am totally unsurprised by but which I fear many Democratic strategists don’t get:

We find that Swing Independents are “opportunity” voters—preferring an optimistic, opportunity framework on the economy over one based on fairness. Why? Opportunity addresses their anxieties about the future, concerns that America is slipping, doubts about how the next generation will succeed, and questions over how we will strengthen our economy.

We all know that Republican voters are motivated by greed, in their case by promises of lower taxes. Other voters are also motivated by self-interest. There are strong arguments as to why Democratic policies lead to a stronger economy and higher incomes. These arguments will win votes, but arguments based upon fairness will not. Sure there are strong arguments that the increase in income disparity, unprecedented since the gilded age, is harmful to the economy as well as unfair. That just doesn’t make a clear enough “elevator pitch” to win elections.

Obama and Reality Versus The Republicans

Now that Barack Obama has decided that there is no point in negotiating with terrorists, we are seeing a more effective advocate for the reality-based community.  After all, you cannot negotiate with Republicans whose primary goal is to prevent Obama from having any successes, regardless of how badly this hurts the country. As for the erroneously-named Tea Party movement,  you certainly cannot reason with a group which lacks the basic background knowledge or ability to think rationally about the issues and which sees ignorance as a virtue. Obama directly took on the Republicans in a trip to the west coast:

At a fundraiser in San Jose, Calif., Obama said that some in the audience might be former Republicans “but are puzzled by what’s happening to that party,” and voters should back him if they believe in a “fact-based” America.

“I mean has anybody been watching the debates lately?” Obama said. “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.

“It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have healthcare. And booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.”

The remarks represent some of the most direct and combative for Obama so far as he has struck out on the campaign trail in earnest following the July debt-ceiling debate and the August break.

Obama continued his critique of Republicans, saying of the boos in the audience at recent GOP debates: “That’s not reflective of who we are.”

“This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country,” the president said. “2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.

It is important that over the next year Obama provides a clear message as to what his actual policies are as opposed to continuing to allow Republicans to define him and spread misinformation as to what Democrats believe. Today we say another in a long string of people calling for a third party due to the failure of the Democrats or Republicans to solve our problems. Matt Miller called for a third party, but as many bloggers have already pointed out today, Miller’s proposed solutions come very close to what the Democrats support. Miller does have a point that the Democrats are somewhat limited by the need to please the groups which support them, but this would be true of any party which raises the money needed to campaign nationally.

Miller spreads the false impression that the two parties are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, sort of mirror images of each other. In reality, we have one centrist party, the Democrats, and one far right extremist party. The best way to advance  center-left, pragmatic solutions to our problems at this point in time is to vote Democratic next year.  The other alternatives, the far-right Republicans or  the imaginary solution of a third party, will lead to failure.

Would You Trust Your Retirement With A Political Party Which Considers Social Security To Be A Ponzi Scheme?

Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are far from the only Republicans who consider Social Security to be a Ponzi scheme. Many conservative writers, such as Charles Krauthammer are making the same flawed argument, confusing tax-supported government programs with actions which are allowable in the private sector, and ignoring the possibility of changing with changing conditions. Mona Charen has a column showing that Mitch Daniels has also called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, but this should cause no surprise . The echo chamber of the right wing noise machine has claimed this so often that, like a long list of other fallacies, it is very widely believed to be true on the right.

Opposition to Social Security will hurt the Republicans in the general election, a fact which is more important than polls taken today, but it might not hurt candidates for the Republican nomination. This is demonstrated in a new Gallup poll:

Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry’s comments on Social Security, which include calling it a “Ponzi scheme,” appear to be a non-issue for most Republicans. However, they could cost him support with independents should he ultimately win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. As many Republicans say they are more likely to vote for Perry for president because of his views on Social Security as say they are less likely — 19% each. Among independents, 12% are more likely to vote for him and 32% less likely…

Perry’s decision to critique the financing structure of Social Security in stronger terms than are typically heard from most presidential candidates may not be risky within Republican circles. As many Republicans say they are more likely to support Perry as a result as say they are less likely, with most indicating it won’t make a difference. However, independents view his comments more negatively and, in line with Romney’s argument that this makes Perry unelectable, nearly 4 in 10 Republicans agree it could hurt Perry in a general election.

Tactically speaking, Perry might benefit in the short term by playing to the large minority of Republicans who favor more radical changes to the system. That could help him consolidate conservative support, further squeezing out Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and others. But as the Republican presidential field is winnowed during the primaries — and particularly if it is reduced to just Perry and Romney — this controversy could complicate Perry’s chance of winning the nomination and, ultimately, the general election.

Most Americans understand what a major success Social Security has been to provide financial assistance for the elderly and disabled and would not want to see this program destroyed. The views which gain support from the extremists who dominate the Republican primaries will be rejected by a large majority of Americans.

Independent Vote No Longer Strongly Republican As In 2009 Senate Elections

Polls early in the year looked very bad for Democrats but we also knew there was plenty of time for them to improve before the midterm elections. Republicans won the independent vote in Senate elections held in 2009.  Public Policy Polling has mixed news for Democrats today. Independents continue to favor Republicans, but by much smaller margins than earlier in the earlier Senate races.

In the early contests such as in Massachusetts, Republicans won the independent vote by a mean of twenty-eight points. Republicans continue to lead among Democrats in seven of the nine Senate races being polled but in comparison to the races which have already taken place the Republicans lead by a mean of seven points and their maximum lead is fifteen points. Democrats still have a lot of ground to make up but it also seems like the Republicans peaked too soon and the Democrats now have the momentum.

Gallup Poll Shows Greater Acceptance of Gay/Lesbian Relations

In 2004 one of the reasons that George Bush narrowly won reelection was by increasing turn out on the right by using ballot initiatives outlawing gay marriage. It worked for the Republicans in 2004 but they subsequently lost badly in 2006 and 2008. While the fundamentals of this year’s off-year election favor the party out of power, any victories by the Republican Party might just be a dead cat bounce as long term trends continue to work against the views of the authoritarian right.

Another example that Americans are gradually rejecting the views of the American Taliban comes in a new Gallup poll showing greater acceptance of gay relationships:

2001-2010 Trend: Perceived Moral Acceptability of Gay/Lesbian  Relations

Americans’ support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations crossed the symbolic 50% threshold in 2010. At the same time, the percentage calling these relations “morally wrong” dropped to 43%, the lowest in Gallup’s decade-long trend.

Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted each May, documents a gradual increase in public acceptance of gay relations since about 2006. However, the change is seen almost exclusively among men, and particularly men younger than 50.

Additionally, Gallup finds greater movement toward acceptance among independents and Democrats than among Republicans, and a big jump in acceptance among moderates. Liberals were already widely accepting of gay relations in 2006, and have remained that way, while conservatives’ acceptance continues to run low.

Notably, there has been a 16-point jump in acceptance among Catholics, nearly three times the increase seen among Protestants. Acceptance among Americans with no religious identity has expanded as well…

There is a gradual cultural shift under way in Americans’ views toward gay individuals and gay rights. While public attitudes haven’t moved consistently in gays’ and lesbians’ favor every year, the general trend is clearly in that direction. This year, the shift is apparent in a record-high level of the public seeing gay and lesbian relations as morally acceptable. Meanwhile, support for legalizing gay marriage, and for the legality of gay and lesbian relations more generally, is near record highs.

I think that sometime in the future we will reach a tipping point where intolerance of gays becomes as unacceptable as racism. Some on the right will hold on to their homophobia, as some have continued to embrace racism. This will further alienate right wing views from the mainstream, especially among younger voters (who unfortunately will not turn out in high numbers in 2010 if historical trends continue).

Democrats Retake Lead In Generic Congressional Polling

I have always limited coverage of polling far in advance of elections as they have very little predictive value. This spring many bloggers as well as professional journalists have been obsessed with polls suggesting big Republican wins this fall. While that may or may come about, I felt it was far too early to make any definitive predictions. More recent polls from the Associated Press and Gallup are suddenly upsetting the conventional wisdom showing considerable improvement in the prospects for Democrats.

The AP poll shows Democrats moving ahead of Republicans in the generic poll:

The tenuous 45 percent to 40 percent preference for a Democratic Congress reverses the finding a month ago on the same question: 44 percent for Republicans and 41 percent for Democrats. The new readout came as the economy continued showing signs of improvement and the tumultuous battle over the health care law that President Barack Obama finally signed in March faded into the background.

“To the extent that Democrats can focus on job creation rather than health care, they tend to do better,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at California’s Claremont McKenna College.

Of course this is a generic poll–in many races the candidates have not even been chosen making predictions in specific races extremely difficult.

Simply looking at the fundamentals, Republicans should pick up seats this year. The party out of power typically does well in off year elections. Republicans are especially trying to capitalize on this trend by blaming Democrats for problems which are actually the result of Republican mismanagement when in power. Republicans also benefit this year because George Bush is no longer in office or on the ballot, Barack Obama is not on the ballot, younger and independent voters who now tend to vote Democratic are less likely to vote in an off year election, and the Democrats must defend many seats which traditionally have been in Republican hands.

There are many factors which make it too early to predict the outcome. Republicans have done better than the Democrats in the spin war since Obama took office, but they also might have peaked too soon, leaving the Democrats time to sharpen their message. While turn out by the young and Democratic-leaning independents will be less than in 2008, the Democrats are trying to mobilize them.

It is not clear to what degree health care will remain an issue in the fall. From a political perspective the Democrats did make a mistake in supporting the individual mandate (originally a Republican idea) along with passing a bill which most voters do not understand when the benefits will not be seen for a few more years.

The economy is likely to remain the most important issue. While the economy is improving it is too early to predict whether it will rebound enough, as well as to what degree voters will blame each party.

We must always keep in mind that issues and events we cannot predict could totally change the electoral picture, as with the 9/11 attack and Katrina. At other times issues which we think have major importance wind up being forgotten by election day, such as with George H. W. Bush looking unbeatable after the first Iraq war.

Another factor which makes this election more difficult to predict than usual is the strong anti-incumbent sentiment. The poll reports:

Only 36 percent said they want their own member of Congress to win re-election this fall, a noteworthy drop from the 43 percent who said so in April and the lowestAP-GfK poll measurement this year. Much of the restiveness seems to be among Republicans: While Democrats were about equally divided on the question, Republicans expressed a preference for a new face by a 2-to-1 margin.

Despite this I have my doubts that many Republicans will suddenly vote Democratic this year to throw out the incumbent. This might be seen more in primary races as the tea party movement (ie the far right Republican base) replaces Republican incumbents with even more conservative Republicans.  I suspect that in November there will be some surprises but most seats which have not changed hands in recent years will remain in the hands of the same party unless there is a real demographic reason for a change.

The most prominent cases of throwing out the incumbents has been with the tea party movement moving the Republican Party to the right. It is also too early to predict what the effect of the tea party will be in November. The increased enthusiasm from the Republican base might help the Republicans. It is also possible that their efforts to push the GOP to the extreme right will lead independents who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, but wavered in recent polling, to reject the increased extremism of the GOP and vote Democratic.