The Battle For Control Of Congress 2014

While the media is increasingly talking about the 2016 presidential election, we have a major election coming up for control of Congress later this year. At present it appears that it is unlikely for the Democrats to take control of the House, and they are now fighting to retain control of the Senate. Predictions that the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate are based upon historical trends and which Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Of course it is possible to see a break from past trends.

Among the trends causing people to predict this to be a good year for Republicans: minorities and young voters don’t vote as often in off-year elections, a president’s party generally does poorly in the sixth year of the president’s term, a president’s party does poorly when the president has low approval ratings, and a president’s party does poorly when the economy is having difficulties.

On top of this, the Democrats are defending Senate seats in several red states this year, giving the Republicans a chance to pick up some seats. Fortunately the situation is reversed in 2016 with more blue-state Republicans up for reelection. Based upon these fundamentals in a presidential election which is likely to already be more favorable to the party, a Democrat winning the White House should also see a pick up of several Senate seats.

The Republican Party has been working in other ways to pick up votes. They have made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. On the other hand, their history of racism may backfire with the increase in minority voters, possibly turning some southern states blue in the near future. We saw this first in Virginia and to a lesser degree in North Carolina. In the future this could extend to Georgia, Texas, and additional states.

Republicans have an advantage in keeping control of the House as so many House districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent. In addition, Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, meaning that even if more people vote for Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans will win more seats by small margins while Democrats will win a smaller number with bigger majorities. More people voted for Democrats than Republicans in Congressional races in 2012 but the Republicans retained control of the House. It would probably take at least  a seven percent margin of victory for Democrats to take control of the House. Republican representation in the Senate is also exaggerated compared to their level of support due to lesser populated Republican states having the same number of Senators as more populated Democratic states.

There are some things which could throw off the fundamentals this year, but we cannot count on voters suddenly no longer being fooled by the GOP line. At present the Republicans receive far too many votes from low-information white voters. Over time the number of younger voters who receive their fake news from Jon Stewart will overtake the older voters who receive their fake news from Fox.

While Obama’s approval rating is low, Congress has an even lower approval rating. Typically in such situations people like their own Congressman even if they disapprove of Congress. This year polls show that many people also think their own Congressman should be thrown out. Based upon this, I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents than usual get upset, but that might not necessarily help the Democrats over Republicans. In addition, more people see the Republicans as being more responsible for gridlock, in contrast to a common false media narrative of treating each party as being equally responsible. Maybe they will surprise the pundits and throw the Republicans out.

Another factor influencing whether predictions based upon the fundamentals must occur is that any competent Democratic strategist is aware of every point here, and the party is doing far more than they did in 2010 to try to change this. They are working to increase turnout among Democratic voters this year. They  have a technological edge both in regards to get out the vote efforts and fund raising. It even appears that the same problems which are placing Republicans at a disadvantage with younger voters is also impacting their ability to recruit young tech savvy political operatives. Besides using their technological advantages over Republicans in getting out the vote efforts, they can  motivate Democratic voters with fear of the consequences of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. Tea Party extremism has led to an end to talk of a grand bargain. Democratic compromises on entitlement programs might have discouraged some voters on the left from turning out for Democrats.

I think Democrats will do better if they can successfully explain the advantages of their policies as opposed to Republican policies. Democratic economic policies turned around the economic collapse caused by Republican economic policies, even if the Republicans have managed to slow recovery with their obstructionist moves, decided upon from the start of Obama’s term. The deficit rolled up by George Bush has dropped considerably since Obama took office. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when the deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Despite early IT problems, which the Obama administration does deserve criticism for, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a tremendous success on a policy level, both in terms of health care reform and its benefits for the economy. Both the Medicare Advantage plans under George Bush and the original Medicare program had early implementation problems which took a couple of years to solve. Of course Republicans will continue to spread unsubstantiated scare stories and it is possible Obama might never received the credit he deserves. Health care premiums will be remain high on the individual market as they were high before Obamacare. Insurance companies will continue to use restricted panels of physicians and hospitals as they did before Obamacare, leaving room for Republicans to blame the Affordable Care Act for problems unrelated to the law.

Other factors could come into play. The Tea Party might oust electable Republicans and replace them with extremist candidates which the Democrats can more easily beat. While doubtful, the Tea Party might force Congressional Republicans into a situation analogous to the government shut-down before the election which reduces public support for Republicans. While it is doubtful it will really alter that many votes, even the changes in the late night comedians could help the Democrats over the Republicans.

The easy prediction is now that the Republicans will keep control of the House and control of the Senate is up for grabs. Depending upon whether the factors discussed above alter the usual fundamentals, we still might wind up seeing the pundits talking about all the reasons they knew we would have a different outcome after the results are known.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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Jon Stewart Mocks Conservatives Who See Cold Weather As Evidence Against Established Science On Climate Change

Jon Stewart started out the year saying he would avoid controversial topics such as politics and religion. Instead he discussed the weather–and went on to mock conservatives who cite recent cold weather as some sort of evidence against climate change (video above). Stewart pointed out the difference between climate and weather on a particular day, the long-term warming trend, and the relationship between global warming and extreme weather conditions. He pointed out that, “Apparently decades of peer-reviewed scientific study can be, like a ficus plant, destroyed in one cold weekend.” He contrasted this with Fox relying on an “expert” such as Donald Trump.

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Quote of the Day: Bill Maher & Jon Stewart on Obamacare Lies

“The Republicans are saying this is the worst presidential lie ever. Yes, Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and got thousands of people killed and said the war would pay for itself, but remember people, those were white lies.” –Bill Maher

Bonus Quote:

“So, yes, the president was somewhat dishonest about the promise of his healthcare program, but here’s the weird part, his opponents have been lying like motherf*ckers about its effects.” –Jon Stewart (video here)

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Jon Stewart Shows That Everyone Got Some Facts Wrong About The Affordable Care Act

Jon Stewart points out that Barack Obama’s statements on keeping one’s own insurance were false because there were exceptions which he should have mentioned but failed to do so. Video above. He also points out, as I did yesterday, that the Republicans have lied quite a bit more with regards to health care reform.

Unfortunately Obama isn’t helping himself with his latest explanation. He needs to admit his mistake and move on.

What is important now is not whether there are some exceptions to the claim that everyone can keep their current insurance policy but that few are actually harmed, along with  how we are much better off with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Benefits such as subsidies for insurance premiums and receiving more comprehensive care will actually wind up saving  money for most people whose current health care coverage is terminating. Insurance companies did also have the option of grandfathering in many of the people whose plans are being dropped, and are required to offer alternative plans.

The Affordable Care Act also guarantees that many people who would have been at risk of having their policies terminated if they developed medical problems no longer face that risk. In addition, people who could not purchase insurance in the past due to pre-existing conditions will now be able to. Other benefits include being able to keep dependent children on their parents policies until age 26 and coverage of preventative studies.

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Jon Stewart On Vatican No Longer Promoting Republican Agenda

For a long time it felt like the Republican Party and the Vatican represented a type of axis of evil, both pushing to impose antiquated religious teachings on everyone else. Pope Francis has taken a step back from the dark side in recent interviews, saying the Church should not be “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. As Jon Stewart points out in the video above, the Pope is no longer on the same page as Republicans, who are obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Will Republicans change? More likely they will follow the lead of Bill O’Reilly in promoting their own alternate religious history to match their alternate history of the United States while promoting their own view of the Constitution.

It would be great if Republicans would take the lead of Pope Francis here. At very least, assuming they do not change their views, could everyone try to stop letting them get away with claiming to support small government and liberty?

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Late Night Comics On The Election Results

David Letterman:

“Well, it’s over, and as usual, the guy from Kenya won.”

“Obama won last night, and for the Democrats that’s great, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in tonight’s debate.”

“It was a big night for the Democrats. Obama was on the electoral vote and the popular vote. Mitt Romney on the other side won the unpopular vote.”

“Some Republicans are taking it hard. Clint Eastwood spent the entire day buying drinks for an empty bar stool.”

“A victory like this is just the kind of thing that might sway the undecided voters.”

“The had a CBS exit poll last night. 100 percent of the people questioned in the exit poll said they were leaving.”

“Mitt waited until 1 a.m. to give his concession speech. They were talking to him and said what are you going to do now? And he said, ‘I plan to spend some time with my tax returns.’”

“Mitt Romney was very gracious in his remarks in his concession speech. Shortly after Mitt Romney conceded, Paul Ryan was untied and set free.”

Jay Leno:

“Exit polls show that President Obama did well with women, beating Romney by 11 binders.”

“Some more good news – the president announced today he is not going to raise taxes on the entire 1 percent, just Donald Trump.”

“Trump is not giving up. When it was announced that President Obama easily won the Electoral College, Trump demanded to see Obama’s Electoral College records.”

“Donald Trump is starting to lose it. At one point last night on Twitter, he called for revolution since Obama won. The man’s a billionaire who owns golf courses, okay. You don’t call for revolution. Billionaires are the first ones beheaded during a revolution.”

“This morning the stock met plunged over 300 points. You know why? Romney pulled his money out.”

Conan O’Brien:

“In his victory speech last night, President Obama told his daughters that they would not be getting another dog. When asked why, the president said, ‘Because I just made Mitt Romney my bitch.”

After 18 months, the election is over. You know what made a big difference last night? The Hispanic vote. The president got 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in Colorado and Nevada. And in New Hampshire, Obama got the support of both Latino guys.”

“Mitt Romney did well with certain voters. It was close. He had the support of men, people over 45, and married women. In other words, Mitt Romney had the support of Mitt and Ann Romney.”

Jimmy Kimmel:

“A lot of people said over the last few weeks that if Obama wins, they’re going to move to Canada. How come nobody threatens to move to Mexico? That must be depressing for them.”

“The presidential election is that special time every four years when Americans gather around their TVs to be reminded where the states are on a map.”

“Colorado and Washington have become the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That’s a big deal because here in California, you can use marijuana legally only if you receive it for a fake medical condition.”

Jimmy Fallon:

“Today everyone was busy looking at all the different numbers, trying to figure out who voted for which candidate. President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 38 points among single women. They say it’s because of Obama’s final campaign slogan, ‘Hope and Pinot Grigio.’”

“There’s talk that ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer seemed drunk on the air last night. Sawyer was like, ‘Breaking news — we are now calling . . . my ex-boyfriend Nick to see what HE’S up to these days.’”

Jon Stewart:

For those who can’t watch video, Mediaite provides this description:

Stewart joked that Obama’s victory speech appeared to show that he was given “fresh batteries” for his second term, marveling at how all it took to get the president back in his “groove” was the mere thought of never having to run in another election ever again. Stewart brought up victories for gay marriage and marijuana proponents in a number of states, and said the undisputed “best news” of the night was that even though Florida is still too close to call, “the election was decided without them.”

“Florida’s clusterfuckery is irrelevant!” Stewart happily shouted.

He then turned to Fox News, which was “caught flat-footed” after months of brushing aside the polls and predicting that Mitt Romney would win. And that’s when Stewart got around to the amazing, insane moment of panic on the network that Stewart said, unlike all of humanity, “will… live forever.”

Stewart was amazed that Rove’s insistent denials that Ohio was really a lock for Obama got Megyn Kelly to suggest that Rove was either lying to himself or to the audience in doing his own math. And Stewart actually managed to come up with an alternate slogan to Fox’s “Fair and Balanced”: “Math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.”

But of course, Stewart then tracked Kelly’s “voyage” through the halls of Fox News to find out the truth of what really happened in Ohio, going so far as to confront the people at Fox News’ very own election desk. As Stewart phrased it, “there was an avalanche on Bullshit Mountain.”

Stewart ended by tearing into the Fox News personalities who were amazed at how many Americans voted for Obama because they want more entitlements. He mocked them for thinking that they would have won if not for minorities taking the country away from older white people (a.k.a. Fox’s audience).

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Jon Stewart and Bill Maher on the Debate

Lots of people are giving Barack Obama advice for the next debate. The key point is to not allow Romney to get away with lying. Jon Stewart gave some examples in the video above.

Bill Maher also complained about Obama’s debate performance, saying “He looked tired. He had trouble getting his answers out. It looked like he took my million and spent it all on weed.”

According to Mediaite, Maher also observed that “Obama looked so dead, Romney tried to baptize him.” Maher credited Romney with being in “full command of his bullshit” by going back on most of his positions.

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Mitt Romney: A Human Being Who Built That (Narrated by Leonard Nimoy)

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Romney’s Travel Troubles Continue

Romney’s international travels gave Jon Stewart a lot of material (video above). Things weren’t as bad for Romney in Poland as they were in London and Israel. He did receive the endorsement of Lech Walesa, but Solidarity distanced themselves, criticizing Romney because he “supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.” Romney was also greeted with chants for Obama and even ran into supporters of Ron Paul while in Poland.

The trip provided another example of Romney’s dishonesty. He denied making the controversial comments which he did make about Palestinian culture in Israel. Greg Sargent found that Romney made the same fallacious argument in his book, No Apology.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak undermined the Republican argument against Obama on Israel in this interview with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: You’ve studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?

BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.

BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?

BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.

Steve Benen debunked another anti-Obama talking from the Romney campaign on Israel:

Beth Myers, a top Romney aide, also told reporters recently that it’s “pretty amazing” Obama hasn’t visited Israel.

The attack at least has the benefit of being partially accurate — Obama visited Israel as a candidate, but has not been back during his first term. If Republicans choose to find that outrageous, their complaints are grounded in fact.

The problem, however, is the selective nature of their disgust. George W. Bush didn’t visit Israel at any point during his first term, and neither did Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush didn’t travel to Israel during their respective terms in office at all.

Many journalists have questioned whether Romney’s gaffes will harm him in the campaign. Chris Cillizza downplayed the damage:

It’s hard to imagine that Romney did himself any favors in answering lingering questions about his foreign policy acumen during this trip.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that nothing — literally, nothing — other than the economy at home matters to undecided voters. And that goes double for foreign policy, which is a bottom-of-mind issue (is that a thing?) for most voters.

In a late May Washington Post-ABC News poll, 1 — yes, one — percent of people said that foreign policy was the most important issue of the 2012 campaign. One!

Of course this might be the case when voters think that either candidate is capable of handling foreign policy. This could change as voters see that Romney is as inept as George Bush.

 

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