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And The Iowa Loser Is…

he winner of the Iowa caucus is very rarely the next president. Looking at the Democratic side, Barack Obama was the only Iowa caucus winner to go on to win the presidency since 1980, when it was actually uncommitted, not Jimmy Carter, that won.

On the other hand, since 1984, five Iowa winners have gone on to lose the presidency.

This year, who loses Iowa matters more than who wins.

Iowa can be relied upon to support the most liberal candidate in the race because the true believers will be in a school assembly hall (or a similar locale) on a Monday evening listening to speeches by their neighbors and moving around the room, which is how you vote.

The problem with Iowa is that the most liberal candidate — with the exception of the miraculously gifted Barack Obama — is almost never the one most likely to beat the Republican. If he were, he probably wouldn’t win Iowa.

That is certainly true of Bernie Sanders. If he wins Iowa, it means he is the choice of the ideologues. It does not mean he will win the nomination, much less the presidency.

On the other hand, if Elizabeth Warren loses Iowa (meaning she doesn’t finish second, maybe not even third), she’s in trouble. Candidates from Massachusetts are supposed to win the New Hampshire primary. But it’s tough to win New Hampshire if you lose badly in Iowa. We once calculated that even though then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was leading in the New Hampshire polls pre-Iowa, he had to at least finish third or he would lose that lead. He finished first. And Warren isn’t running first in New Hampshire.

If Sanders wins in Iowa, it should help Joe Biden, unless Biden loses badly, which should help Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg?

Yes, Bloomberg. Where else will the majority of Democrats who don’t think Bernie can win go if Biden gets beaten by Bernie in Iowa and then New Hampshire?

Joe Biden is one of the best-liked politicians in the Democratic Party. But if he can’t beat a 78-year-old Jewish socialist from New York, how can he beat President Donald Trump? You don’t hear too many Democrats say they could never vote for Biden. The polls reflect that. What you do hear, a lot, is Democrats worrying about whether he can win.

And Bloomberg?

Can it be that 2020 is the year of 70-something billionaire white men?

Most years, primary voters don’t vote strategically. They vote for the candidate they like best. That’s why “losers” sometimes win late primaries. It’s about the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, we used to say.

2020 is not a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It is a battle to beat Donald Trump. ABT — Anybody But Trump, which is to say, Anybody Who Can Beat Trump. I’ve been working and watching Democratic primaries for a very long time, and I have never seen anything like it. We have always had ideologues; I used to be one. But I’ve never seen so many pragmatists.

As I write this, it is days before Iowa. I can’t remember a year when so many people who know so much about politics and care about it passionately don’t have a candidate. It’s not that we don’t care but that we care too much. How do we win this election? In 2020, we are the Green Bay Packers, and winning is the only thing.

If only we knew how, which is to say, who.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Fearful GOP Senators Drop Attacks On Obamacare

In 2014, Republican David Perdue ran for an open Senate seat in Georgia promising to “Repeal ObamaCare” and “replace it with more affordable free market solutions.”

Six years later, his campaign reelection site has removed all traces of that promise and says only that lawmakers must “finally get after the real drivers of spiraling health care costs.”

Perdue is not alone. A comparison of 2014 and 2020 campaign sites for Republicans in competitive Senate races finds that seven have made their original 2014 anti-Obamacare language disappear.

As public support has grown for the law, Senate Republicans have gone from making their opposition to Obamacare a major campaign thrust to being virtually silent on the issue. Public opinion on health care policy could be one reason.

On Thursday, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans now support the the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and just 37 percent oppose it.

This is a significant increase since November 2014, when Kaiser found 37 percent support for the law, compared to 46 percent opposition.

Other Senate Republicans have shifted their language on the issue in the years since.

Like Perdue, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) each highlighted their desire to get rid of the Affordable Care Act on their 2014 websites.

“Joni is staunchly opposed to the Obamacare law,” Ernst said back then, noting that she backed immediate repeal and replacement with unspecified “common sense, free-market alternatives that put patients first, and health care decisions back in the hands of each of us rather than Washington bureaucrats.”

Her website today promises merely to identify “solutions for affordable, quality health care for Iowans.”

Graham bragged in 2014 that he had opposed Obamacare “from Day One” and “has repeatedly voted to get rid of it. Whether it is Repeal and Replace, Defund, Opt-Out or Delay, he has consistently opposed this massive new entitlement.”

That section is no longer linked from his homepage, which makes no mention of healthcare and touts his “long history of relentlessly pursuing solutions over partisan politics.”

Capito’s 2014 site even included a special page for visitors to share their traumatic “Obamacare stories.”

“If you support repealing and replacing Obamacare with healthcare reforms that will actually work, or have your own story about how Obamacare has affected you and your family, we want to hear from you,” the site urged.

Today, she notes her work on juvenile cancer, pregnancy and childbirth fatalities, Alzheimer’s, “and investing in research to explore innovative treatments and cures for diseases,” but says nothing about “repeal and replace.”

Then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (who is now seeking his old seat against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones), then-Arizona Rep. Martha McSally (who was appointed to fill the late John McCain’s senate seat days after losing a 2018 senate race), Montana Sen. Steve Daines, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn also had overt anti-Obamacare language on their 2014 pages. Their current sites do not yet appear to mention Obamacare or any political issues.

GOP members notably shifted their focus following a failed attempt in 2017 to roll back the health care law. House Republicans passed a bill that year that would have repealed Obamacare and increased the number of uninsured Americans by tens of millions. It failed by one vote in the Republican controlled Senate.

In the wake of that vote, Republicans began circling around a spate of other topics. In the 2018 midterms, an array of vulnerable House Republicans also removed any trace of their Obamacare opposition from their campaign websites, choosing instead to promote their stances on subjects like immigration and their votes to pass the deficit busting GOP tax bill. Many still lost their seats in the blue wave that handed control of the chamber to the Democrats.

As Americans have seen Obamacare implemented and considered Donald Trump’s unpopular alternative, approval for the 2010 law has significantly increased over time.

Still, the Trump administration and Republican state attorneys general are seeking to get the entire law struck down in federal courts. Trump said earlier this month that if the challenge prevails and the GOP regains the House this November, “your healthcare, that I have now brought to the best place in many years, will become the best ever, by far.”

Thursday’s Kaiser poll showed just 35 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the Affordable Care Act, versus 54 percent disapproval.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Trump Defense Lawyers Donated To McConnell Campaign Warchest

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

One of President Donald Trump’s main campaign promises of 2016 was to “drain the swamp” — in other words, aggressively fight against cronyism and blatant conflicts of interest in U.S. politics. But several members of Trump’s impeachment defense team, the Louisville Courier Journal is reporting, have made generous campaign contributions to one of the president’s most prominent allies: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for reelection this year.

Louisville is in McConnell’s back yard: he represents Kentucky in the U.S. Senate. And Courier Journal reporters Ben Tobin and Morgan Watkins, analyzing campaign finance data, report that Ken Starr and Robert Ray — both members of Trump’s impeachment defense team — have been generous contributors to McConnell’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Starr donated $2800 to the McConnell Senate Committee on July 31, 2019. And Ray made two separate donations to the Committee: one for the Republican senatorial primary in Kentucky, the other for the general election in November 2020. Between the two, Ray gave McConnell a total of $5600.

During the Ukraine scandal and Trump’s impeachment, McConnell has flaunted his pro-Trump bias. The Senate majority leader has stressed that he does not consider himself an “impartial juror” in Trump’s impeachment trial and that he will be coordinating with the Trump White House during the trial. Moreover, McConnell has opposed featuring any witnesses in Trump’s trial, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Now 77, McConnell has been serving in the U.S. Senate for 35 years: he was first elected in 1984 and was seated in January 1985. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) would love to see McConnell voted out of office this year, but he is seeking reelection in a red state that Trump carried by 30 percent in 2016 (compared to Trump’s 9 percent win over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Texas).

However, it isn’t impossible for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Kentucky, where, in 2019, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin was voted out of office and Democratic challenger Andy Beshear (Kentucky’s former attorney general) achieved a narrow victory.

Read the full analysis at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

What Happens If Iowa And Nevada Caucuses Are Disrupted?

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In 2012, the Iowa Republican Party named Mitt Romney (now Utah’s senator) as the winner of its presidential caucuses. But 16 days later, long after Romney rode a wave of momentum into New Hampshire, the Iowa GOP said that then-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had actually won after votes that weren’t turned in on caucus night were counted.

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Independent-turned-Democrat Bernie Sanders virtually tied in the delegates they had won to the next stage of Iowa’s process. At 2:30 A.M. the next day, the Iowa Democratic Party said that Clinton had won 699.57 state delegate equivalents, while Sanders won 695.49 delegates. Her spokesman declared victory and she got the headlines.

With 2020’s Iowa caucuses days away on February 3 and a tight Democratic field, the question if some version of history will repeat itself is not conjectural. But today’s scenarios mostly concern a disruption of the caucus process in Iowa in cyberspace: from either sabotaging the voting technology or disinformation about the reported outcome. The same threats would also face Nevada, 2020’s third contest and also a state party-run presidential caucus.

National media like National Public Radio and the Associated Press have worried that Iowa’s use of a smartphone app by 1,600-plus precinct chairs to report local results is a cybersecurity risk. The Washington Post has worried about disinformation because the Iowa Democratic Party will release two potentially conflicting figures—raw vote counts and delegates awarded. (Nevada is also using a precinct-reporting app and will release these same figures.)

The response to these threats has been predictable. Officials at the Iowa Democratic Party, the Nevada State Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee and even the federal Department of Homeland Security (whose election security team has worked with both states) all said that many steps have been taken to avert threats that could disrupt the process. The state parties also further said that they have ramped up efforts to combat disinformation.

“Iowa Democrats have worked in partnership with the DNC and national cybersecurity experts to develop systems and safeguards to efficiently and securely report results on caucus night while actively monitoring and combating disinformation,” Troy Price, Iowa Democratic Party chair, said by email. “We take our responsibility to protect the integrity of the democratic process and secure Iowans’ votes very seriously.”

“From the beginning, NV Dems [the Nevada State Democratic Party] has been committed to making our First in the West Caucus the most accessible, expansive and transparent caucus yet,” Shelby Wiltz, Nevada State Democratic Party Caucus director, said by email. “We developed a reporting application [smartphone app] in order to streamline the process and provide our volunteers with additional support to run their caucuses as efficiently as possible.”

However, if something were to go badly wrong with compiling results in Iowa or Nevada—something of a scale that exceeds the random confusion that comes with using any new voting tool—it is unlikely that the two states’ backup systems could quickly verify the results in the wee hours after the caucuses end; certainly not before some candidate claims victory and boards a post-midnight plane to the next state.

That assessment comes from examining publicly available party documents about potential caucus recounts. Both states are using similar technology, procedures and press statements. The documents, especially a Nevada 2020 Caucus Recount Manual, suggest that it could be a week or more before the party could examine their paper records to see if they matched the app-filed electronic results. The initial delays come from assembling all the paper records.

“If something fails, then what?” asked David Jefferson, a computer scientist who has analyzed voting systems since the 1990s and a board member of Verified Voting, an advocacy group. “The question is not as easily answered by saying, ‘There are paper backups, so don’t worry.’”

“If there are failures, what is the backup plan?” he continued. “What is the process if there are electronic failures of some kind? What happens if something written down on paper doesn’t match the electronic versions? Then what do they do?”

Party-Run Contests

Presidential caucuses are unlike most elections in America. They are party-run town meetings in more than a thousand local precincts spread across their state. Democrats will only have a few caucuses in 2020, but the two that come early are pivotal. Iowa is 2020’s first contest. Nevada is the third.

Caucus voting is also different. The caucuses will have two rounds of voting, where any candidate who gets less than a viability threshold (usually 15 percent) is disqualified. Voters rank their choices, and if their first choice is not viable, their next viable candidate will get their vote. This process requires the caucus chairs to do some math. After the voting, each caucus divides a preset number of delegates to the winners. The allocations are based not on how many people show up locally, but by geography to balance urban, suburban and rural representation.

All of this complexity is why the Iowa and Nevada state parties wanted to develop an app for precinct chairs to use: first for the caucus math and then to transmit the results of their rounds of voting and delegate allocations. (In Nevada, the caucus chairs will also receive the results of early voting before their caucus begins; Iowa does not have an early voting option.)

Using the app as a calculator is not controversial—although it is likely to lead to some degree of user confusion due to unfamiliarity. That assessment comes from Iowa academics who note that most caucus chairs are over 60 years old and would rather call in their results. But security experts consider receiving and sending data via Wi-Fi or cell phones as risky. Also, because caucuses aren’t government-run elections like primaries, there are few legal penalties for meddling.

There are a few other differences between Iowa and Nevada in the approaches and technology each has chosen. The only time Iowa will expose voting data to online threats is at the end of the night when precinct chairs use the app to file results.

In Nevada, there are more digital systems in use. That state party will link early voting sites to an online voter registration system. (Iowa will print precinct voter lists.) Nevada also will offer four days of early voting, where participants will use party-owned tablets, which is online voting. Nevada also will send the early voting results to each precinct chair’s app, so that all of the early votes and live attendee votes are applied at the local level. In other words, Nevada’s digital system is more complex than Iowa’s system—and perhaps more inclusive.

Both state parties also have backup plans that were approved by the DNC’s technology team and by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. The states must have paper record backups of all the voting. Thus, every caucus voter will fill out presidential preference cards. The caucus chairs also will fill out summary sheets that document the precinct’s two rounds of voting and resulting delegate allocations. And, if a precinct chair can’t use an app—for any reason—they can telephone in the results to party headquarters.

In general, coverage of these 2020 plans has focused on the cybersecurity and disinformation threats. Those reports, in turn, have prompted top party officials to take second looks at their mostly undisclosed precautions and publicly seek to project confidence.

“The Rules Committee has been following the news stories and has inquired about the facts,” said James Roosevelt Jr., Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chair. “And while it is not something that comes to us for approval, we have not learned anything that would lead us to intervene.”

But the media coverage hasn’t focused on what would happen next if something significantly interrupted, disrupted or corrupted any part of the caucus process. Nor have statements by top party officials addressed that scenario, as party officials at state and national levels are all making the same points to express confidence in their new procedures and digital tools.

However, if one parses the timelines laid out in state party documents concerning any possible recount, it appears that it could be many days before the final results would be publicly released should some large-scale disruption occur.

Iowa has not released any document explaining how it will handle recounts. But Nevada has, and its process would not look at the voter intent on the individual presidential preference cards, its recount manual said. It also would not look at falsified registrations or bad behavior by participants. Both happened in the past. It would only manually compare the results on the precinct summary sheet to what the caucus chair app reported or the chair called in. Campaigns, which would have to pay for the recount upfront, can send their representatives to observe. But reporters and the public are excluded, the documents said.

Nevada’s recount process starts by giving precinct chairs two days to turn in all of their paper voting records. It envisions finishing 13 days after the state’s February 22 caucus.

Iowa and Nevada Risks Differ

These details suggest different potential snafus in these two high-profile caucus states.

Iowa has fewer cybersecurity risks because their system has fewer online elements. But because the state party will release two sets of numbers—raw vote totals and delegates awarded—there is a prospect of some disinformation if the popular vote winner does not emerge as the winner of the most delegates to the process’s next stage. In other words, the likelihood of disinformation seems more likely than a voting system meltdown, especially if people do not understand the delegate allocations are akin to a state version of the federal Electoral College.

To be sure, Iowa and national party officials are well aware of this scenario.

“Fundamentally, if people want to cast doubts on the results, they can always find ways to say, ‘This is not what democracy looks like,’” said Roosevelt, the Rules Committee co-chair. “In fact, this is what democracy looks like in a diverse country. There are urban areas. There are academic areas. There are rural areas. And different numbers of people will caucus in those areas. But they will be aggregated for a congressional district total. So it is what democracy looks like.”

On the other hand, Nevada’s state party is asking more from its digital tools and from its caucus chairs and volunteers that will run their caucuses. While they, like the Iowa party, have partnered with the same security experts in government (DHS) and academia (Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project) that government officials have been working with to prepare for 2020’s elections, Nevada’s 2020 caucuses will rely on several online-based elements—vote total transmissions, voter registration and online voting for early voters.

For months, the Nevada party’s statements have been upbeat and emphasized their expectations of success. They have released documents with timelines and details if a recount is necessary. But compared to the Iowa Democratic Party, Nevada is placing a bigger bet that their digital tools will deliver.

“Throughout this entire process, protecting the voices of Nevada Democrats has been our number one priority,” said Shelby Wiltz, caucus director. “We continue to work with a team of security experts with varying backgrounds to combat disinformation and to ensure the integrity of our process.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder