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Analysis: Why Rubio, Bush, Walker, And Kasich Are Not As Purple As They Look

By Ken Goldstein, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — There are now 17 announced, or soon-to-be-announced, Republican candidates for president. And to the degree that they’re serious about winning the White House (an open question in some cases) they’re all trying to accomplish contradictory, if not mutually exclusive things: They have to sell themselves to the passionately partisan voters and caucus-goers in the early primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada), while simultaneously making the all-important case that they would be the strongest candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton, before a very different electorate than that of the GOP primaries, in November 2016.

But what do we actually know about which of these 17 would be the strongest general election candidate? Which of these 17 could compete and win in the nine battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin) that will likely determine the 2016 election? Which of the 17 could expand the playing field into states like Michigan or Pennsylvania?

There’s a lot to take into account when answering that question — but the partisan composition of the electorate is the single most important factor in American elections. And accordingly, a straightforward way to assess the candidates’ prospects in November 2016 is to take a close look at the electorates they’ve faced in the past.

Six of the Republican contenders (Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, and Rick Perry) are from states that are reliably red — and have never faced electorates that would have the partisan distribution they would encounter in purple states. Two of them (Ben Carson and Donald Trump) have never ever faced any electorate whatsoever and one (Carly Fiorina) ran and lost in a blue state.

Five (Jeb Bush, Jim Gilmore, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker) have won statewide elections in purple states, and three GOP contestants have won statewide contests in blue states (Chris Christie, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum).

But, even for those purple and blue state winners, presidential year electorates are fundamentally different than midterm electorates. Presidential electorates are less white, younger, and more Democratic than midterm electorates. And only one of the eight candidates who have previously won in blue or purple states has ever run statewide in a presidential election year. Gilmore ran for Senate in Virginia in 2008 and lost by more than 30 percentage points. In fact, according to my calculations, of the 40 elections that the 17 announced or soon-to-announce GOP candidates have collectively run in at the state level (not all of them wins), only four of those contests were in presidential election years — Gilmore lost in Virginia in 2008, Graham won re-election in South Carolina in 2008, Cruz was elected in Texas in 2012, and Santorum was re-elected in Pennsylvania in 2000. None of the other 13 candidates has ever faced statewide voters in a presidential election year.

This means that even candidates who have won in battleground states face significant hurdles. For example, Rubio won election to the Senate in 2010 in an electorate which, according to the exit polls, was 71 percent white, and in which Republicans enjoyed a four percentage point (40 percent to 36 percent) advantage in party identification. In 2012, the Florida electorate was 67 percent white and Republicans suffered from a two-percentage-point deficit in partisan identifiers (33 percent to 35 percent). Looking at the voter file in Florida, of the approximately 4 million registered voters who vote in just about every election, Republicans have a five-percentage-point advantage. But among the 3 million-plus registered voters who vote only in presidential elections, Democrats have a six-percentage-point advantage.

There are two Americas when it comes to midterm year electorates and presidential year electorates and while Republicans have enjoyed great success in recent midterms, the eventual nominee will need to attract or disproportionally mobilize a significant chunk of those citizens who only cast their ballots in presidential election years. Who votes is the most fundamental question in understanding who wins, and none of the Republicans have faced the who that will decide the 2016 election — presidential election year only voters in purple states.

Image: Election map by county that shows electoral tendency by shade of purple via Wikimedia Commons

Big Media’s Crummy Advice For Democrats

Before anyone even knew just how badly the Democrats would get trounced in the 2014 midterm elections, some pundits were already sending the party a message: Be more like the Republicans.

Now they don’t put it that way, exactly.

The professional campaign watchers like to say instead that the Democratic Party needs to move to the “middle” or the “center.” What they mean is that the Democrats should get closer to the Republicans on the issues.

Think about this for a second.

The turnout for the midterm elections was the lowest in 70 years. Can we really expect more people to get excited about voting if the two major political parties become more like one another?

It doesn’t make much sense, but that’s Big Media’s remedy.

For example, after Senate Democrats voted to give the populist senator Elizabeth Warren a leadership role in their caucus, CBS host Bob Schieffer told one Democrat that it was “going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left,” when the advice from “a lot of people” is that nothing will get done in Washington unless “both parties move toward the center.”

USA Today actually recommended that Barack Obama steal an idea from post-Iran-Contra Ronald Reagan and apologize on TV. What for? The newspaper didn’t say.

The problem, as The New York Times saw it, was that the Democrats had gone too far to the left under Obama: “Democrats largely abandoned the more centrist, line-blurring approach of Bill Clinton to motivate an ascendant bloc of liberal voters,” the paper insisted.

But that’s a dubious description of Obama-era Democrats.

On foreign policy, after all, the White House has escalated the war in Afghanistan, carried out drone attacks on several countries, helped engineer a disastrous Libyan War, and is now going back into Iraq.

The centerpiece of Obama’s domestic policy, meanwhile — the Affordable Care Act — was borrowed from Mitt Romney, who established a similar initiative as the governor of Massachusetts. And the law’s “individual mandate” to buy insurance was first cooked up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

But if that’s what the media considers veering left, what do Beltway insiders think the White House should do to make up for it?

For them, the first order of business is, well, big business: Obama should push through the secretive, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. People who actually turned up to vote must find this peculiar, since almost no one was talking up the deal before Election Day.

What else should Obama do, according to these pundits? Approve the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump dirty tar sands oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast for refining.

Why would a president who says he cares about the climate crisis do this? To be more bipartisan, apparently.

Does any of this sound like the message voters were sending?

Not at all.

In fact, one of the most intriguing findings to come out of the 2014 exit polls was that voters overwhelmingly think the economic system favors the wealthy: 63 percent of respondents said so, up from 56 in 2012.

This would suggest that a more vigorous brand of economic populism would resonate with voters — even if the pundits would hate it.

Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Distributed via OtherWords.

Screenshot: Face the Nation via OtherWords

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A Big Election With Little Local Journalism

On a warm October night toward the end of the 2014 campaign, almost every politician running for a major office here in the swing state of Colorado appeared at a candidate forum in southeast Denver. The topics discussed were pressing: a potential war with ISIS, voting rights, a still-struggling economy. But one key element was in conspicuously short supply: the media.

This was increasingly the reality in much of the country, as campaigns played out in communities where the local press corps has been thinned by layoffs and newspaper closures. What if you held an election and nobody showed up to cover it? Americans have now discovered the answer: You get an election with lots of paid ads, but with little journalism, context or objective facts.

Between 2003 and 2012, the newspaper workforce decreased by 30 percent nationally, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That has included a major reduction in the number of newspaper reporters assigned to cover state and local politics. Newspaper layoffs have ripple effects for the entire local news ecosystem, because, as the Congressional Research Service noted, television, radio and online outlets often “piggyback on reporting done by much larger newspaper staffs.” Meanwhile, recent studies from the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve Bank suggest the closure of newspapers can ultimately depress voter turnout in local elections.

Colorado is a microcosm of the hollowing out of local media. In 2009, the state lost its second-largest newspaper with the shuttering of the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News. The state’s only remaining major daily, the Denver Post, has had rolling layoffs.

According to Denver Post editor Greg Moore, in the 2014 election cycle the paper had only 7 reporters covering elections throughout the state — a 50 percent reduction in the last 5 years. Challengers in districts that the Post decided not to cover say the media’s decisions about resources may help determine election outcomes.

“It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the local press assumes a race can’t be close, then they don’t cover it, and then that suggests to voters a candidate isn’t credible,” said Martin Walsh, the Republican congressional candidate who unsuccessfully challenged Denver’s Democratic representative, Diana DeGette. “Ultimately, that guarantees that the race won’t be close.”

Even stories that do get published may have less of an impact without other journalists around to track reaction or do follow-up stories.

“With so many newspapers and news outlets in general having fewer resources, there’s no pressure or incentive for candidates to engage with the press and there’s no echo chamber that makes candidates feel like they have to respond to anything,” Fox 31 reporter Eli Stokols said. He noted that Republican U.S. Senator-elect Cory Gardner, for example, rarely appeared in unscripted settings with journalists, preferring instead to simply blanket the airwaves with ads.

Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic candidate in Colorado’s closely contested 6th district, said that what little campaign coverage there is often ends up being about the candidates’ ads, because that requires minimal time, travel and expense to cover.

“It’s not quite a Seinfeld episode,” he said. “It’s not a show about nothing, but the coverage has become a show about a show.”

The trouble, of course, is that the show should be about important issues like economic policy, climate change and national security (to name a few). And with a more vibrant local media doing more than just regurgitating poll numbers and reviewing ads, it can be. But that vibrancy requires two things: a genuine commitment and willingness to do the hard work of serious journalism and enough resources to succeed.

Both of those factors are in short supply. That means the most basic ingredients of a functioning democracy will probably remain in short supply, too.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. Email himatds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs via Flickr

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The Democrats’ Chronic Depression

“Smiles at the gas pump,” my local headline reads. The price of gasoline has fallen below $3 a gallon.

When the national average rose last year to $3.51, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) complained that “the liberal anti-free market policies of the Obama administration discourage the exploration of American sources of energy and hinder production and job growth.”

Now it’s below $3. By the way, U.S. production of oil and gas is at record levels.

So where is the brass band? This is a question for Democrats.

And we won’t get a good answer until Democrats shake off their chronic depression. Democrats tend to internalize the relentless attacks against them. Constantly on the defense, they explain rather than proclaim. When they ignore their successes and avoid the president who oversaw them, voters think that perhaps the other side has a point.

“You cannot win if you’re afraid,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, said after his party’s recent electoral losses.

To be honest, presidents have little power over the price of gasoline. And to be evenhanded, when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he blamed $4-a-gallon gas on George W. Bush. Yesteryear’s gas price wasn’t Bush’s doing, and today’s isn’t Obama’s.

But if one’s political foes smash this particular ball over the net, the other side surely has a right to return it under favorable circumstances. If people are smiling at the gas pump, why isn’t the Obama administration smiling with them? Where are the tubas?

Last year, we heard the baloney that Obama’s reluctance to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expand some offshore drilling and back the Keystone XL pipeline had caused gasoline prices to surge — 86 percent from the day the president took office.

Firstly, Obama started his presidency in the jaws of an economic meltdown. The prices of a lot of things were collapsing then, among them gasoline.

Secondly, from 2002 to 2008, when Bush was president, gasoline prices exploded 397 percent, to $4.11 a gallon. Would anyone have accused George W. of being hostile to energy development?

It was not Obama’s genius but the revolution in drilling technologies that opened up the new production. Nevertheless, under Obama, the United States has replaced Russia as the largest non-OPEC supplier of gas and oil. Suffice it to say, Obama has hardly stamped out energy development in this country.

Sadly, Obama has never been much for cheerleading, an important skill for a president. He never mastered the art of the bully pulpit. Democrats are justifiably frustrated by these failings.

But this habit of abandoning their president under assault by the right-wing noise machine is nothing new. Recall the 2000 presidential campaign, when Democratic candidate Al Gore distanced himself from the sitting president, Bill Clinton.

The economy was bubbling, and the budget overflowing with surplus. But Gore had bought into his enemies’ line that Clinton, because of his foolish tryst, had become despised across the land.

Never mind that Democrats had made significant gains in the midterms after the scandal broke. Never mind that Clinton would leave office with a higher approval rating than did Ronald Reagan.

Fast-forward to today. Unemployment has fallen below 6 percent. Stocks are hitting all-time highs. And the deficit has been cut by more than half in less than six years.

It’s true that Americans in the middle and lower economic tiers still suffer from stagnant wages, but Democrats could tell them: “You’re next. This recovering economy is set to serve you. And don’t forget that you now have the security of guaranteed health coverage.”

But Democrats don’t talk that way. What a depressed lot they’ve become.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with his national security and public health teams to receive an update on the Ebola response in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

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