Posts Tagged 2012
I’m away from my usual San Francisco home base this weekend, but being in a different city, in a different state, reminded me that there’s something I’ve been meaning to post about.
National presidential poll numbers. We’ve all seen them. They are bandied about in the media during each and every news cycle. The numbers seem to drive the conversation, which may leave some observers asking “But… why?”
President Obama’s numbers have gone up and down over the past few months, with Gallup’s current numbers (as of 6/9/12) pinning approval of the job Obama is doing as President at 47%, while 45% disapprove. Looking ahead to November, Gallup currently has the race 46-45 Obama over Romney. Those numbers indicate an incredible close election, essentially a toss-up. Who could win is anyone’s guess, really, going by these numbers. However, we don’t hold national elections.
As 2000’s election taught everyone, what really matters is the Electoral College vote count. Basically, this means that candidates are more concerned with winning certain states than just winning overall votes.
According to the political news and poll aggregator site Real Clear Politics, there are thirteen states that are considered to be “battleground states”, meaning that those states could conceivably go to either party, helping to sway the outcome in the Electoral College vote count. Out of those thirteen, RCP has President Barack Obama currently ahead in the polls in Colorado and Ohio by 1.8%, Iowa by 2.6%, Virginia by 3%, Wisconsin by 4.8%, Michigan and Nevada by 6%, New Hampshire by 6.4%, and Pennsylvania by 8.5%. RCP has Mitt Romney ahead in the remaining four states, up 0.2% in Florida, 2.5% in North Carolina, 3% in Missouri, and 6% in Arizona.
It is still quite early days as far as this campaign goes, but those numbers are much more reflective of the on-the-ground political reality than national poll numbers are. If you are only looking at the national polls, as reported by, say Gallup, then you would reasonably expect a tight race,a possible Romney, or the President’s reelection secured by one percent of voters. If you are looking at the Electoral College politics, though, and the RCP averages as they are today hold true in November, President Obama would win a 303-235 victory over Romney in the Electoral College count.
Same polls, same politics, but a very different outcome. This is not to say that President Obama has this election in the bag, but rather that numbers do not always tell the whole story. National polls show an aspect of the political landscape, not a hard-and-fast certainty.
There are few things that are more difficult to shake than labels. In the political realm especially, when a label seems accurate, or feels like it fits the narrative of a candidate or campaign, labels can be deadly. In the 2004 presidential election, Republicans successfully stuck Democratic nominee John Kerry with the label of “flip-flopper,” and it hurt him in the election. In this presidential election cycle, Texas governor Rick Perry was labeled as, for lack of a better word, unprepared. Everything that Perry did over the course of the campaign began to be viewed through that lens.
One of the most often-used epithets thrown around by politicians is the phrase “carpetbagger,” meaning someone who moves to an area with the idea that the person moved specifically to run for office somewhere that he or she believes is winnable. In 2004, conservative activist Alan Keyes decided to run for the United States senate from Illinois, despite never having lived in the state. Keyes defended himself against these critics due to the strange nature of the race. The Republican nominee dropped out with the race well underway, and Keyes claimed he felt a sense of obligation to run, after being asked to do so by the state GOP. Keyes ended up with 27% of the vote against Democrat Barack Obama. In 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate from the state of New York, and faced similar charges of carpetbagging. Clinton was born and raised in Illinois, attended college in Massachusetts, and was the wife of the governor of Arkansas. While never having lived in NY before 1999, Clinton managed to win 55% of the vote against Republican Rick Lazio.
With all that in mind, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s possible move to Washington state is all the more interesting. Kucinich recently lost a primary fight for his recently redistricted seat in Congress, and is mulling over his options. Kucinich supporters believe that his particular brand of aggressive liberalism will draw find a welcome home in Washington. As a result of redistricting following the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, Ohio lost two seats in Congress, while Washington’s growth caused the state to pick up an additional seat.
There have been politicians in the past who have lost their primary battles, only to continue on as “independent” candidates in the general election. Joe Lieberman lost a primary battle in 2006, only to be elected that November as a member of the “Connecticut for Lieberman” party. In 2010, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski lost a primary battle, only to continue on and win in the general election after waging a campaign as a write-in candidate. While these candidates seem to have thrown the typical rules aside in order to stay in office, but moving across the country is not typically something we see. Kucinich’s apparent willingness to uproot and run for office thousands of miles away was used against him by his opponent, Marcy Kaptur (a sitting Congresswoman from Ohio). As members of the House of Representatives are distributed throughout the country on the basis of population, Representatives are supposed to be more available and accessible to their constituents, and represent them more closely. A Senator has to represent the views of everyone in a state (which are typically more varied), while Representatives have to represent the needs of much smaller districts (which tend to be more ideologically polarized).
It is still an open question as to whether or not Kucinich will make the move to the Pacific Northwest, let alone whether or not Washingtonians would choose to send a man currently representing Ohioans to Congress to represent them going forward. As far as political sideshows go, this promises to be an entertaining one if it moves forward.
Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe, announced on Monday that she would not be seeking a fourth term. Snowe was seen as one of the few moderate Republicans left in the Senate, alongside fellow Mainer Susan Collins, and, to some extent, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Some Democrats see the change in Maine as a good opportunity to pick up a seat previously barred from them. In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain in the state by 18 points. Maine often leans Democratic in presidential elections, but has been represented in the United States Senate since 1995. Maine is home to many independent voters, who pride themselves on their independence from the two major political parties.
Snowe’s departure from the Senate leaves Collins and Brown as the two lone Republicans willing to cross party-lines on certain issues. While occasionally there are votes that have majority support from both parties in the Senate, more often than not, votes come down to party line votes. Without moderates in each party willing to work with members of the other party, it is likely that there will only be more gridlock in Congress, as more partisan Senators replace those who were more moderate.
Olympia Snowe has been one of the most prominent female politicians in the United States, and is the second longest-serving female member of Congress, behind Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. Snowe was listed by Time as one of the 10 best Senators of 2006, the only female Senator to make the list. Snowe’s tenure as Maine’s senior Senator was marked by her close connection to her constituents, making the trip back to her home state nearly every weekend to visit with Mainers to see what was on their minds. Snowe’s eye on working for her constituents may have been one of the reasons why she was so successful in the state, winning her two re-election campaigns in 2000 and 2006 by 37 and 54 percentage points, respectively.
Senator Snowe was the favorite to win the seat in the fall, and while the highly charged partisan nature of the current poetical climate is not directly responsible for her decision to retire from the Senate (i.e. being primaried out of a job), the tone of the debate and the demonizing of moderation and compromise is certainly a factor. Other Senators from both parties could take a page from Senator Snowe’s book, working to serve the needs of their own constituents rather than pandering to national organizations that benefit from ideological polarization and general negative campaigning.
Yesterday was the Super Tuesday of the GOP nomination race, with ten states holding contests on the same day. While not much changed as a result of yesterday’s contests, since Super Tuesday is one of the high holy days of the political junky calendar, it seems worthwhile to explain why nothing particularly changed this week.
Out of the ten contests, Newt Gingrich won one state, Georgia, which by all accounts he had to hold onto in order to somewhat legitimize his presence in the race for the nomination. Georgia is Gingrich’s original home state, though he currently resides in Virginia. Gingrich has been polling well in southern states, and with his wins in South Carolina and Georgia Newt is now in second place in the estimated delegate counts.
Rick Santorum, who had been leading in national polls over the last few weeks, met (but did not exceed) expectations last night, winning North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Santorum’s showing in Tuesday’s races was enough to keep him going, but not enough to really do any damage to consistent “man to beat,” Mitt Romney.
Speaking of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor won in all the states he had to in order to not be humiliated. Romney won his home state of Massachusetts, Vermont (Romney has consistently been seen as the only candidate with a hold on New England), and Virginia (where the only two names on the ballot were Mitt Romney and Ron Paul). After a long rough night for the Romney campaign, the hits came hard, with wins in Alaska, Idaho, and a very close score in Ohio. Ohio was the big prize of the night, though Romney won’t be walking away with the entire slate of delegates from the state.
The end result from Tuesday’s races is that the race is in pretty much the same state it was on Monday. Romney is still on track to win the nomination in the long run, though Santorum and Gingrich both will be able to stay in the race, stay funded, and pick up delegates on the path to the convention. All that Tuesday’s contests solidified was that this contest will keep going for some time. Santorum is strong with social conservatives and evangelicals, but loses support with more moderate blue-collar voters when the spotlight stays on his social views as it has over the past few weeks.
Current delegate count, according to NBC news: Romney 335, Gingrich 111, Santorum 107, Paul 29
You may have noticed, over the past couple of weeks, a debate over birth control has become one of the most talked-about issues in the news. Aspects of the “birth control in the news” trend are as follows:
- As part of the Affordable Care Act, employers were to be required to provide contraceptives to employees.
- After protests from religious groups, the White House announced a compromise wherein insurers provide contraception, rather than employers.
- Opponents of presidential candidate Rick Santorum have, after noticing Santorum’s surge in key polls, made sure to call the public’s (and the news media’s) attention to interviews where Senator Santorum voiced his personal opposition to contraception.
- Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced an amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which would allow employers to refuse to cover certain types of medical care (ostensibly birth control) for “religious” or “moral” reasons.
- The House Oversight and Government Reform committee held a hearing on the birth control rule, without any women allowed to testify.
- The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill which would define the word “person” as beginning at “the moment of conception”. According to the Women’s Health Law Center, “under this law, any kinds of birth control that stop implementation would then be murder.”
The office of Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, claimed that a woman witness brought to testify by the minority members of the committee was not an “appropriate witness,” saying “the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience…”
While that line of reasoning may seem sound to some, others argue that it makes no sense whatsoever. The “birth control mandate” if that is what it is being called, is what is known as a “generally applicable and neutral law,” which means that is broadly applied, instead of something targeting religious groups (which would, of course, be unconstitutional under the First Amendment). Zach Carter at the Huffington Post makes the point that we already have laws that apply broadly to people in all walks of life that some religious groups are opposed to. Pacifists are required to pay taxes that pay for wars, for example. Other laws that have been objected to on religious grounds include payment of Social Security, payment of unemployment taxes, and paying employees a minimum wage. As Lyle Denniston, who has covered the U.S. Supreme Court for over half a century writes, “laws that apply generally and do not single out religious groups may be upheld even if they intrude on religious practices”.
This issue will, most likely, stay in the headlines for the foreseeable future, as both the subject matter and the debate serve to drive television ratings and rile up both the Democratic and Republican bases. That said, however, it is somewhat difficult to believe that we are watching this conversation on televisions tuned to 2012 news coverage, and that we did not accidentally switch to a Mad Men rerun by mistake.
A fun little addition:
Little over a month ago the question of banning contraception was raised at a Republican debate held in New Hampshire, moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. When asked whether or not a state should be able to ban contraception former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in a fit of short-sightedness replied:
“George… I don’t know whether a state has the right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do, and asking me whether they can do it or not is kind of a silly thing.”
Over the past few weeks, there has been rampant speculation that the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, will jump into the race for the Republican nomination. Many commentators seem to be infatuated with the idea that outside of the current crop of Republican candidates there exists a single candidate who will be able to enter the race, and have the nomination virtually secured just by the nature of entering the race.
You may recall that not all that long ago, Rick Perry was bandied about by “Green Room Republicans*” (those in the Republican party responsible for talk show booking, etc.) as the hero of the Republican base. Perry was going to come out of Texas, enter the nomination battle, and speedily hand out defeats to his rivals. Perry’s “straight-talking” Texan style, coupled with the view that he was a champion of libertarian-leaning Tea Party Republicans, appealed to many in the Republican base, those who tend to drive voter turn-out in primary battles. Perry’s ride to an easy victory, however, has come not really materialized. After performing poorly in a number of Republican debates, voices in the Republican party, and in the media, started crying out for a new hero. In a field of candidates seen populated with candidates labeled as “flip-floppers” (Romney), “unelectable” (Bachmann, Cain, Paul, Santorum), and “un-serious” (Gingrich), “straight-talking,” potential candidates seem to suck up all the oxygen in the room. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, following in the footsteps of Rick Perry and Mitch Daniels, has emerged as the latest straight-talker, a possible candidate who could potentially rise above petty bickering and speak to the issues that Republican primary voters care about.
In spite of his constant denials, Christie’s name keeps being floated as a possible contender for the GOP nomination. At this late stage of the game, however, a Christie candidacy would face numerous challenges that might prove insurmountable. With the first Republican contests scheduled to be held in January of 2012, a new entrant to the race would only have a scant fifteen weeks to undertake all the groundwork needed to produce a viable presidential campaign. Fundraising, especially in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, requires a very hands-on commitment from a candidate. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire like to believe they have a feel for the candidates, meaning that town hall meetings and small-scale meet-and-greets are key to establishing a candidate’s support.
Any candidate attempting to enter the race at this point would have his work cut out for him. The hurdles for a sitting governor to conquer are even more problematic, requiring near-constant travel and campaigning, calling the candidate away from any responsibilities at home. Unlike some of the other candidates in the field, Christie’s position as a sitting governor would produce just one more boundary to his being able to travel around the country over the next few weeks.
Not to mention, of course, that Christie has repeatedly denied over and over that he will run. In our modern political world, denials of an intention to run for public office are taken with a grain of salt. At least. Usually more. Whole buckets of salt.
*The very clever term “Green Room Republicans” was coined by John Dickerson on the Slate Political Gabfest “The Big Green Tractor” Edition, September 30, 2011