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Landscape Shifts: Democrats Could Take Control Of Senate

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — There’s another pivotal election next year besides the White House. The Senate is up for grabs, and the landscape a year out suggests the Democrats could win control away from the Republicans.

The party needs a net gain of four seats to gain control if a Democrat wins the White House, five if a Republican wins. Those are better odds than gaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is expected to remain under Republican control, and winning the presidency, which right now is impossible to predict.

But the Senate has a special allure. Republicans have to defend 24 Senate seats next year, offices they won in 2010, when so much went right for them. Democrats only have to retain 10, and virtually all seem sure bets.

Not on the Republican side. The party swept to big 2010 victories as the tea party movement mobilized grass-roots conservative voters. Republican fury over Obamacare, which had become law eight months before the election, was peaking. The economy was officially coming out of the Great Recession, but barely.

Now Democrats could get even.

Seven Republican-held seats will be contested next year in states President Barack Obama won in 2012; all but Iowa have potential to be Democratic gains. The party’s also due for a boost because Democratic voters tend to turn out in bigger numbers in presidential years.

“Coattails will be a gigantic factor,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a respected Virginia-based political analysis group. If the Democratic presidential nominee wins by more than 5 percentage points in a particular state, that usually sweeps others into office.

The only Democratic-held seat in jeopardy is Nevada, where Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring.

States Obama carried where Republican incumbents face challenges are Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Democrats have a unifying theme. Obama also carried Iowa, but Republican Sen. Charles Grassley is a strong favorite to win re-election.

“All you’ve got to do is look how they (Republicans) fouled this whole government system up and how they take responsibility for nothing that they do,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign operation for Democratic Senate candidates.

Bring it on, counter Republicans.

“We can’t predict the future, but at this point last cycle a lot of folks were only talking about gasoline prices. On Election Day, the conversation was entirely different,” said Kevin McLaughlin, deputy executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Democrats have a record of terrible leadership that has made the economy and national security the top two issues with voters. We’ll take that,” he said.

Key battlegrounds:

Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican

Johnson upset veteran incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010, and they’re due for a rematch next year. Johnson, a political unknown at the time, “hit the race at just the right moment,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll.

“He was a guy who had never run for office who cared about the deficit and was against Obamacare,” Franklin said. The state’s electorate is highly polarized, but turnout usually jumps sharply during presidential years.

Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican

Toomey had a well-developed reputation in the House as a hard-liner against wasteful spending before his election to the Senate. And he’s been a reliable conservative vote in the Senate.

That might be a problem in Pennsylvania, which has voted Democrat for president every election since 1992. But recent polls have shown Toomey comfortably ahead of potential Democratic challengers.

“Toomey’s going to be tougher to beat that people think,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll. “He’s conservative but not hot-blooded or provocative.” And he has been pushing stronger background checks for gun purchasers.

Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican

Democratic presidential candidates have rolled up double-digit victories in Illinois every four years beginning in 1992. Every Illinois Democrat who’s run for Senate in one of those years won. The likely nominee is Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and a savvy campaigner.

Kirk was first elected to the Senate in the tea party year — winning the seat Obama had held — but is regarded as more of a center-right senator. Kirk was one of the first Republican senators to back same-sex marriage and has been an advocate for strong gun control measures.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Republican

The race between Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is likely to come down to who voters like best. People get to know the candidates well, and thanks to New Hampshire’s status as the first presidential primary state, voters are tuning in early and campaigning already is fiercely under way.

It’s a tough race to call. Both candidates are personable and neither is seen as extreme. Ayotte got 60 percent of the 2010 vote. Hassan won a tough race in a tough year in 2014 by 6 percentage points. Polls show the race is a virtual tie.

Open Republican seat

Sen. Mario Rubio is running for president, leaving the nation’s premier swing state with a wide-open race. Democratic regulars are pushing Rep. Patrick Murphy, but outspoken Rep. Alan Grayson is challenging him. Among Republicans, candidates include businessman Todd Wilcox, Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Thanks to the anticipated big presidential turnout, “Democrats have a better chance of taking back some of the statewide offices,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University. Florida’s such an ever-changing, diverse state, its Senate races are historically hard to predict.

Sen. Rob Portman, Republican

The genial Portman has long been a stalwart of the party establishment, which maintains considerable clout in Ohio. He has maintained a center-right image but could face stiff competition if former Gov. Ted Strickland is the Democratic nominee. A Sept. 25-Oct. 5 Quinnipiac poll had Strickland up by 3 percentage points.

Presidential coattails will matter here, but just how is uncertain. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, is making a bid for the White House, and his presence on the ticket could swing the race toward Portman. Portman also could do well because “he’s not rough around the edges. He’s a low-key guy,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Senate races.

Open Democratic seat

Reid had to fight hard to retain his seat in 2010 and got a break when Sharron Angle, boasting “I am the tea party,” won a bitterly contested Republican primary and was a weak general election opponent. The GOP is expected to go more mainstream this time, with Rep. Joe Heck the favorite to become the nominee.

Democrats are buoyed by the prospect of former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto as their nominee. If elected, she’d be the first Latina U.S. senator, a prospect that could spur a big turnout from the increasingly influential Hispanic community.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: US Senate Building, Larry Lamsa via Flickr

Swing State Polls Find Christie Weak Against Clinton

By Herb Jackson, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) (TNS)

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) fares worse against Democrat Hillary Clinton than other potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of crucial swing states released Wednesday.

The polls found Christie tailing Clinton by margins of 5 to 10 percentage points, while other potential candidates were in close contention in at least one of the states.

The polls matched Clinton, a Democrat and former secretary of state, against Republicans Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Clinton was tied or virtually tied — meaning her lead was within the poll’s margin of error — with Bush and Paul in Virginia and with Walker and Paul in Colorado.

In all three states, Clinton’s favorability rating was far higher than the Republicans’, assistant poll director Peter A. Brown said, and Christie’s was one of the lowest.

“Several of the GOP contenders can take some solace from this poll,” Brown said. “The one GOPer for whom these numbers are a total drag is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.”

In Colorado, only 26 percent of voters had a favorable view of Christie while 47 percent of voters had an unfavorable opinion. Christie’s favorable/unfavorable rating was upside down by 28 percent to 38 percent in Iowa and 36 percent to 38 percent in Virginia.

Here’s a breakdown of head-to-head matchups for all the states if the election were held today:

In Colorado, Clinton virtually tied Paul, 43 percent to 41 percent, and Walker, 42 percent to 40 percent. She led Christie, 43 percent to 34 percent; Bush, 44 percent to 36 percent; and Huckabee, 44 percent to 39 percent.

In Iowa, Clinton topped Christie, 44 percent to 34 percent; Bush, 45 percent to 35 percent; Huckabee, 45 percent to 38 percent; Paul, 45 percent to 37 percent; and Walker, 45 percent to 35 percent.

In Virginia, Clinton and Bush tied, 42 percent to 42 percent, and virtually tied Paul, 44 percent to 42 percent. She narrowly led Christie, 44 percent to 39 percent; Huckabee, 44 percent to 41 percent; and Walker, 45 percent to 40 percent.

For the poll, live interviewers called land lines and cellphones between the fifth and fifteenth of February. The polls each had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points and surveyed 1,049 Colorado voters, 1,089 Iowa voters, and 1,074 Virginia voters.

Photo: Canada2020 via Flickr

Why I Will Vote For Andrew Cuomo — On The Working Families Line

As Election Day approaches, I want to mention why I plan to cast a ballot that may at first seem contradictory. My aim is to admonish Andrew Cuomo for behavior unbecoming the “progressive” governor that he says he is, so I’m going to vote for him — on the Working Families Party line.

For me, voting the Working Families line is nothing new. I’ve supported the small but scrappy outfit’s “fusion” approach to politics in New York, where it is allowed by law to cross-endorse Democrats, ever since its founding in 1998 by a coalition of union leaders, community organizers, and labor activists.

Over the past decade or so, the party has expanded into other states — including Connecticut, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Maryland — and won some important victories on issues such as the minimum wage, drug law reform, and paid sick leave. In New York City, the party has helped elect dozens of progressive Democrats to the City Council and in 2013 vaulted one of its leading candidates, Letitia James, into citywide office as Public Advocate. (For a deeper understanding of the party’s history and strategy, it is worth reading this smart, thoughtful profile in The American Prospect.)

Earlier this year, the party was required to choose between Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent Democratic governor it endorsed in 2010, and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor challenging him in the Democratic primary. Like every minor party in New York, the Working Families Party must renew its ballot status every four years by winning at least 50,000 votes for its gubernatorial candidate – an outcome that hardly seemed guaranteed with Teachout before her surprisingly strong showing in the primary.

So the WFP nominated Cuomo, despite his various shortcomings, in a deal that obliged him to endorse the party’s program, notably public election financing, a Democratic-led State Senate, and higher minimum wage. Cuomo has since reneged publicly on important aspects of that agreement, which is bad enough, but seems to be attempting something even worse. He has sponsored another entity — the “Women’s Equality Party” — which seems designed mainly to drive the Working Families Party off the ballot by siphoning away its votes. There is no need for a separate women’s party, as feminist legend Gloria Steinem emphasized with her endorsement of the WFP, which she calls “the most important vote this year.”

Now some activists who despise Cuomo — and remain angry with the WFP for endorsing him — are urging progressive voters to support the Green Party candidate. But that is always a political dead end: The only significant consequence of a Green Party vote during the past 20 years was the Bush-Cheney administration.

Nothing quite so awful will happen this time, but the demise of the Working Families Party would mark the premature end of one of the most successful experiments in progressive politics that America has seen in decades – a combination of idealism and pragmatism, growing from the grassroots, that deserves to expand. Its thousands of activists have worked long and hard to build a vital institution with real power. Wrecking the WFP for the sake of a “protest” vote would be the electoral equivalent of a destructive tantrum.

Ironically, the only way to sanction Cuomo, who will win by a large margin on Tuesday, is to vote for him on the WFP line – and by doing so, frustrate his apparent wish to ruin them. I’m not alone in this approach, which has been stated eloquently by Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and former Teachout campaign manager Mike Boland. Mayor Bill de Blasio has endorsed Cuomo on the WFP line, too.

If the state’s most powerful politician is scheming to get rid of the Working Families Party, then that may be the single strongest argument for keeping them on the ballot. But it is by no means the only one.

Photo: Pat Arnow via Flickr