Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pate Relaunch Nothing Much

Paul Pate 6.0 is relaunching this week. The grunge-era Secretary of State, returning to office on less than 50% of the vote, spoke Wednesday at a Republican breakfast in Des Moines, and appeared in a couple newspaper pieces.

Kathie Obradovich was live tweeting the breakfast, and Team Paul Danny chose to retweet some of the bon mots he considered most significant.
This?!? THIS is you big thing?

"I believe no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker," Pate said back in September, addressing a problem that wasn't really a problem. The idea is to end the practice of "chasing," where campaign volunteers and staffers pick up ballots from voters and deliver them to auditor's offices.

I only know of one significant ballot chasing problem in my 13 general election cycles in the state, a 2002 situation where Democrats hurt their own team (an exhausted staffer forgot to turn in ballots in Election Day).

The response even then was overkill: Chet Culver's "ballot courier" law that limited who could chase ballots in 2004 and 2006. There were mandatory yet pointless training sessions (summary: duh, you have to bring the ballots back), a tedious check in process, and cumbersome paperwork.

The main effect of the courier law: Countless times in 2004 and 2006, I had to tell people they couldn't hand in their spouses's ballot, or their 90 year old mom's ballot. The absurd solution: directing them to the mail box outside.

The more effective change was an unfunded mandate: counties are required to pay return postage on mailed absentees. I don't have numbers, but just anecdotally it seems like fewer ballots are getting chased and more are getting mailed. So "no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker" is a lot like the theatre of airport scanners: making things more complicates is supposed to make you feel more secure, but doesn't really solve anything.
Paul should have studied, instead of just relying on what he remembered from 1996: military folks and overseas citizens already have access to emailed ballots.

Here's one Pate didn't retweet.
Instead, he shared this:
Pate paid homage to post-Obama Republican base orthodoxy on voter ID, but he's enough of a pragmatist to tone it down now that the election is over.

That's a realistic attitude. Anything is an improvement over the hyper-partisanship of the Matt Schultz era (just don't commit voter fraud in Madison County!). The reality is, no major changes in Iowa voter law will happen until one party has a trifecta again. That's how election day registration and changing the length of school board terms happened.

 That's a real issue. There's some cross state matching, and it's slowly improving, but most out of state cancellations rely on self-reported data. When you graduate from the UI and move back to Aurora, and eight years later when you have kids going to school and you decide to start voting, you need to remember that you registered in Iowa that one time to vote in a bar election. And then Aurora needs to send that notice back to Iowa. (No one gets canceled just for not voting.)

But ultimately, that's a federal issue, just like voter ID is a legislative issue. Pate seems to realize that in Iowa, Secretary of State is part administrator, part bully pulpit. (And, based on past secretaries Baxter, Culver, Pate, and Schultz, part campaign launching pad.)

Pate's also using his bully pulpit to talk caucus issues. He seems to think the Iowa parties should hire caucus consultants to help run the show. While I might apply for that job, I'm not sure it's needed. That almost feels like a backhanded slap at the party activists... but given the problems the Iowa Republicans had in 2012, I can see why.

Pate also said no one who endorses a 2016 presidential candidate should be involved in process of reporting the precinct results.

His points of emphasis are interesting because they illustrate the deep differences in how the two parties run the caucuses.  As I've followed Iowa GOP politics from the outside, I've seen a huge huge emphasis on endorsement and internal process. There seems to be a strong feeling that anyone in an Official party position should refrain from or be restrained from making a formal endorsement.

The real problem with the 2012 Republican caucuses wasn't that it was a tie. Anybody can have a close election. And it wasn't that Matt Strawn "declared" a winner, and it wasn't the "certification" process. Those items made Iowa - not the Iowa Republicans, IOWA - look bad, and I'll support whatever makes the caucuses stronger for both parties. But those weren't the real problems.

The real problem was that Ron Paul finished third but got all the delegates, exposing the fact that the "straw vote" had no direct relation to the delegates.

Democrats see the caucuses' problems from a completely different angle. We, or at least the DNC, sees the problem as inclusiveness. And that's amplified because the person who made that argument in 2007 is now the near certain 2016 nominee.

I'm leery of the "satellite caucus" thing. I preferred a tightly controlled proxy/absentee process, though I can see the worries about people going two places. But as a credentials guy, it's logistically harder to assign the delegates and do the math. And I just have this gut feeling that Team Hillary will overkill the satellite caucus idea just like they used to overkill Sign War.

Still looking for the Grassley challenger

You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee - seen on a tombstone near Waterloo

Give Bruce Braley credit - he called it.

Chuck Grassley comes out of the 2014 election as maybe the year's biggest winner who wasn't actually on a ballot, his status enhanced both at home and in DC.

Grassley will be on the ballot in 2016, and amidst all the speculation about other races - Rod Blum already has a target on his back - there's not much discussion about the 2016 Senate race and the need for a credible challenge to Chuck Grassley.

"Surely," you ask, "you don't think the Democrats can beat Chuck Grassley?"

No. But that question contains two assumptions: 1) that winning the seat is the only goal, and 2) that Chuck Grassley is the candidate.

Grassley has already announced, in September 2013 to mark his 80th birthday. He's got more energy than many half his age, and WAY more than Terry Branstad, who looked almost cadaverous in some of his ads. And Chuck's got the knack of this newfangled Tweeter thing to the point where he's his own meme.
TWO memes, counting the entry of The Full Grassley into the Iowa and national political lexicon.

The Republican Senate takeover, and the certain national spotlight at the next Supreme Court vacancy, probably motivates Grassley to want to stay. For now I take him at his word.


Things can change fast in your 80s, and people change their minds. Grassley will be 89 in the fall of 2022, at the end of a seventh term, and completing sixty-four consecutive years in public office.

Can he win? Sure. Will he want to? NOW he does, I'm sure. In December 2012 we were all gearing up for one last Tom Harkin campaign, too. But in a year, with the prospect of a solid year of call time staring him in the face?

And when there may be an exit strategy?

The rumor mill burned all last winter that Terry Branstad was thinking of pulling a switcheroo at the last second. He'd accomplished the major task of Term 5 simply by running; he was the only Republican who could beat Vander Plaats in a primary, and Vander Plaats was the only Republican who would lose to Culver.

Somewhere along the line Branstad got his heart set on the Guinness Book Of Governor Records, and also got focused on coattails and political legacy. He achieved that in a big way with Joni Ernst - I can't say enough how bad it burns us Iowa Democrats that the Republicans broke the gender barrier first. And the chance to create with his own signature on a resignation letter the first female governor, too?

I'm still not convinced Branstad serves out the term, and bet he resigns once he passes George Clinton for the record in the summer of 2016.

He may have the record, but he'll never have a Mothership.

(The resignation lands just after the 2016 election, and before the 2017 legislative session. Let Governor Reynolds get a session in before the inevitable primary challenge from the right.)

I'm less suspicious of Grassley, but Grassley is better situated for a smoother handoff.

Grandson Pat beat tough opposition in a 2012 pair-up legislative primary, got to know all Grandpa's donors, and is now legally old enough for the US Senate. He's getting mentioned for Secretary of Agriculture should Bill Northey do something else, or should Grandpa follow through and run in 2016. Pat has close ties to Kaufmann son and father, and could probably unite the party especially if it's at the last second and it's Grandpa's Parting Wish.

No matter how slim the chance, it's a scenario Democrats need to be ready for. We weren't ready for the Tom Latham retirement, and when it happened we were already locked into Staci Appel. She did well, or at least seemed to till the very end, but she was a B list candidate who would not have been a first choice had we known earlier that it was an open seat race rather than a long shot challenge.

Right now Democrats have a pair of C-minus list Senate candidates. It's a rerun of the 2010 primary without the winner. Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen together won just 22% of the primary vote against Roxanne Conlin. An April 2010 FEC report showed Krause with $352 cash on hand and Fiegen with $582.

There were some hard feelings in and after that primary. Fiegen and Krause got in early, when Grassley looked as strong as he does now. But he stumbled in the summer of 2009 with his "pull the plug on Grandma" comments on Obamacare. For a fleeting moment he looked vulnerable, and the Des Moines Beltway crowd recruited Conlin, who raised enough money (including her own) to run a credible campaign.

Not a winning campaign, sure. But a credible campaign, the strongest one ever by a Grassley challenger. In a horrible year Conlin did something no Grassley challenger had ever done: she won a county.

This looks familiar.

Granted, it was Johnson. But Grassley's three prior opponents are all Johnson County Democratic Hall of Famers (Dave Osterberg is our only Hall of Famer not actually from the county), and they all lost. Badly.

In 1992 Jean Lloyd-Jones got off to a rough start for reasons not of her own making. She was chairing the Senate ethics committee, there was a controversial investigation that stepped on her rollout, and all anyone remembered from the story was "Jean Lloyd-Jones... ethics violation" even though the ethics violator was someone else. Lloyd-Jones almost lost her primary to a candidate who was literally a nut job. The hyphenated last named grated on some folks 20 years ago, even though she was born Jean Hall and Lloyd-Jones was her husband's given name.

(A lot of us here in Iowa City are thinking of Jean right now, as her husband Jix passed away last month.)

Lloyd-Jones ended up at just 27%.  Everyone forgets because of Bill Clinton. But 1992 was a bad year for Iowa Democrats. We lost the Iowa House by one seat and lost two congressional seats we had a shot at. Just anecdotally, from my seat as a field staffer, the Ross Perot vote went straight Republican the rest of the way down the ballot. Could a stronger Senate race have bolstered the ticket enough to help in a couple Iowa House seats? Could it have saved Dave Nagle and Elaine Baxter?

The story of 1998 is the story of Tom Vilsack, who was as far behind in the early polling as his Senate ticket mate, David Osterberg. Vilsack benefited from a bad opponent running an even worse campaign (TOTALLY NUDE DANCING?!?).

Osterberg felt a little like a second choice. He had been looking at a primary with Dave Nagle, and the smart money was on the ex-congressman. But Nagle suffered a defeat that year in his battle with alcohol (a battle I fight myself) and dropped out. Osterberg made the best of his hand and played to his strengths, canoeing down the Iowa River in search of local free media. Good enough for 30%. The Democrats won most of the statewide offices, but Vilsack came in with a Republican legislature.

2004 was the weakest challenge yet. Art Small would have been a great candidate for the seat three cycles earlier, in 1986, when he left the legislature for a losing bid in the last-ever lieutenant governor primary.

(Speaking of 1986. I wasnt in Iowa yet when John Roehrick ran. I worked under him when he was state party chair in 1992 and wasn't impressed.)

Small was a last second recruit who barely qualified for the ballot. It was him or no one, and no one is too big a risk. LaRouchies, Klansmen, and other assorted maniacs have all won nominations by being the only one to file, or by winning primaries against other Some Dudes. In 2010 in South Carolina, and in 2012 in Tennessee, Democrats had to denounce their own Senate nominees.

So Small did the party a favor by running. But there was less than no effort on his behalf; donors were actively discouraged. Small won 28%, and with fewer third party contenders Grassley topped 70 for the first time.

So it was never in doubt... but could an even slightly stronger Senate campaign have helped John Kerry round up the extra 4000 votes he needed to win Iowa?

There are a couple points to this history lesson. First off, note the pattern. A run against Grassley has been a career valedictory, a last race. Is that the pattern to follow again? Or should we be looking for someone on their way UP, looking to build a name?

The more important point is that a ticket reinforces itself. US Senate is the second thing on the ballot in 2016, right below Hillary Clinton vs. Scott Walker. And straight tickets are still important. (Just ask soon to be former supervisor John Etheredge.) Johnson County still sees close to a third of its votes on the actual straight ticket line, with untold thousands more marking de facto straight tickets.

A party wants to keep that straight ticket momentum going as far down as it can. A weak link in the second spot hurts everyone below the Senate race.

So Democrats need a candidate who can hold the faithful and can be visible enough to let people know there's a race. Roxanne Conlin fit that bill; indeed I think part of the reason she was recruited was to strengthen the ticket led by a clearly vulnerable Chet Culver. (Technically the federal races are first on the ballot, but an incumbent governor in an off year is pretty much head of the ticket.)

Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen don't fit that bill. They're good guys and they're making the rounds of the party activists. But they're unknown beyond that, just as Art Small was unknown 18 years after leaving the legislature. They're not people who can help the rest of the ticket. (Though Fiegen might want to take a look at Bobby Kaufmann...)

But why stir up the sleeping giant? Wouldn't it be better to let Grassley go with just a token challenge from Fiegen or Krause, rather than get him motivated and working, and thus getting out votes for the rest of the GOP ticket?

There's some truth to that theory... in most cases. But the man whose name is now a synonym for visiting every county every year, whose slogan is Grassley WORKS, is going to WORK no matter what. He's never going to be caught sleeping like Pat Roberts was and need the national party to bail him out.

But the more important reason for a strong Democratic Senate candidate is the switcheroo scenario. It'll be our own fault, should Chuck step down at the filing deadline and hand off to Pat, if we're stuck with the winner of a primary between third and fourth rate candidates.

So the search continues for the one who's Just Right, not so weak as to drag down the ticket, but not strong enough for or geographically right for the more tempting challenges to Rod Blum or David Young.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Costello announces for Ernst legislative seat

One and probably two legislative special elections coming up in the state's southwest corner, as KMA reports that State Rep. Mark Costello is running for Joni Ernst's seat, State Senate District 12.

Almost forgotten in the noise of the Senate race, at least since the primary, was the factoid that Ernst was mid-term. According to the article, Ernst has not yet resigned from the legislature, therefore Terry Branstad hasn't yet set the date. But with the session coming up, the dates are limited and it'll no doubt be in the middle of the turnout-killing holidays.

Normally any special election in the near-tied Iowa Senate would be a huge deal; the Democrats' only major win this year was holding onto that 26-24 edge.

(Humor me and picture just for a moment an alternate universe where Bruce Braley wins and Joni Ernst falls from her national rock star status back to a back bench in the Iowa Senate minority.)

But Ernst's seat is bloody red, the second most Republican in the state last I checked. She first won in January 2011 in a district that was further east, when Kim Reynolds became lieutenant governor. Democrats nominated Ruth Smith in that special but made no real effort. My guess is that played a role in Smith leaving the party and running as a             for US Senate this year.

(That's right,              . No identifying label at all. Still no satisfactory explanation why the traditional "nominated by petition was dropped for Smith and "Independent" Rick Stewart, but my bet is Stewart got at least half his votes from the I word and hurt Braley more than Ernst. Which I think was the idea.)

The district as configured now is Page, Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Taylor and Ringgold counties. Fremont, Mills and the northern 2/3rds of Montgomery would face a second special if Costello, just re-elected unopposed to the House, wins.

Costello lists the other key players in the seat and rules them out. This is safe enough turf that a Republican could easily and confidently resign the House seat to run for the Senate, without risking either. That would save the cost of the second special election. The only person in living memory to have done this was Democrat Bob Dvorsky, who resigned from the House in February 1994 to run for the Senate seat in a special.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hillary's Amazing Expanding Map

So Hillary Clinton wants to expand the map.

As an old 50 State Strategy Deaniac, I think this is a good thing. I'd even like to play for the future in a few places. Wendy Davis may not have been the perfect messenger and the campaign had a lot of problems, but Texas is a long range investment. And does anyone else remember that brief stretch where Mississippi - MISSI-freakin-SIPPI - had a 3-1 D House delegation?

The more interesting states, and the better long term investments, are Georgia and Arizona. Georgia was briefly in play in 2012 and competitive this year. Arizona would likely have flipped Democratic in 2008 had John McCain not been the nominee.

But in the medium range?

The unanswered question for the post-Obama era is how much were thoughts about Obama, and by extension about the Democratic Party, motivated by race? Both negatively AND positively.

Clinton bases her case for Arkansas, Missouri and Indiana on her appeal to white working-class voters, pointing to the 2008 primaries.

Chris CiIizza notes
Fair(ish). But remember that Clinton's performance in those primaries was against an African American candidate named Barack Obama, not against a Republican in a general election. And that coming close isn't the same thing as winning. Yes, Clinton would almost certainly do better with white working-class voters than Obama did. But, in some of the states that Stewart puts in that first bucket, that's a pretty low bar.
Kentucky's gone, as is West Virginia (carried by DUKAKIS in `88). That's more than Obama, though he's doubtless a factor. Is we saw in the House Democratic split over the Keystone pipeline this weekend, the environmental wing of the Democrats outnumbers the old-school labor wing,and Kentucky and West Virginia see Democrats, not just Obama, as job killers.

Arkansas seems to be on the list out of sentimentality. Bill Clinton couldn't save Mark Pryor this year, but maybe a Clinton on the ballot would bring some folks back one last - and it would likely be last - time.

But the flip side here: could Hillary Clinton replicate Barack Obama's high African-American turnout? The percentages will be there, sure, with Republicans making no serious effort at black outreach. (Their big winners this year either won despite black voters - Tim Scott - or in places with virtually no black voters - Mia Love.)

But will the raw numbers be there? Elias Isquith at Salon:
All the more so if we accept the premise that Clinton will appeal further to the kind of working-class whites who hate Obama, in no small part because of how they perceive his coalition (i.e., the people from whom we must “take our country back”).
And what does lower, even slightly lower, black turnout do to a place like Pennsylvania or Ohio?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sports Analogy Sunday

I know sports analogies are overdone in politics. But it comes with the territory of competition, and maybe more naturally for me growing up in a coaching family.

And it's Sunday afternoon and I'm waiting for a 3:25 kickoff for the Packers and Eagles, with major implications for control of the Senate... I mean, the NFC, and old grudges (4th and 26) to boot.

There's that bipolar nature: two teams, two parties, one winner, one loser... oh, wait! We got a guy here with an easy plan to overthrow the two party system! So simple: just referendums, which don't exist in a majority of states, and two constitutional amendments, which require a consensus level super majority that would be hard to get in the current political climate on anything as controversial as Puppies Are Cute.

Football in particular has come on hard times, with this year's controversies over domestic violence and head injuries... though Jonathan Chait argues liberals get some of football wring (worth the long read).

The Great One, Hunter Thompson, was a football freak, and here he offers some gonzo writing tips:
The game had already started, but there was no score. I dumped my ale bottles in the styrofoam cooler, then opened one and sat down to watch the action and brood on Nixon’s treachery. But first I concentrated on the game for a while. It is hard to understand how somebody else thinks unless you can get on their wavelength: get in tune with their patterns, their pace, their connections… and since Nixon is a known football addict, I decided to get my head totally into the rhythm of this exhibition game between the Rams and Kansas City before attempting the jump into politics.

In any case, by the end of the first quarter I felt ready. By means of intense concentration on every detail of the football game, I was able to “derail” my own inner brain waves and re-pattern them temporarily to the inner brain wave rhythms of a serious football fanatic. The next step, then, was to bring my “borrowed” rhythms into focus on a subject quite different from football—such as presidential politics.

In the third and final step, I merely concentrated on a pre-selected problem involving presidential politics, and attempted to solve it subjectively… although the word “subjectively,” at this point, had a very different true meaning. Because I was no longer reasoning in the rhythms of my own inner brain waves, but in the rhythms of a football addict.

By half time, with the Rams trailing by six, I had established a firm scientific basis for the paranoid gibberish I had uttered, an hour or so earlier...
 But in the mood most Democrats are in this month, all I can think about is losing.

In 2002, Bill Simmons of ESPN wrote a classic column,  "The 13 Levels of Losing," which attempts to quantify The Agony Of Defeat. The highest level, That Game, is reserved for "Game 6 of the 1986 World Series... the most catastrophic sports loss of our lifetime."

Translate "Buckner" into "butterfly ballot" and you get the idea.

Bruce Braley's defeat definitely reaches the upper Levels of Losing. Which fits best?
Level VI: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking
Definition: Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn't your team's day ... and that's the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows -- every botched play, every turnover, every instance where someone on your team quits, every "deer in the headlights" look, every time an announcer says, "They can't get anything going," every shot of the opponents celebrating, every time you look at the score and think to yourself, "Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we'll get some momentum," but you know it's not going to happen, because you're already 30 points down ... you just want it to end, and it won't end ... 
Not quite, because until the very end the game seemed close.

Level IV: The Broken Axle
Definition: When the wheels come flying off in a big game, leading to a complete collapse down the stretch ...  

Sort of, but we felt the wheels coming off way before the 4th quarter.
Level V: The "This Can't Be Happening" Game
The sibling of the Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking ... you're supposed to win, you expect to win, the game is a mere formality ... suddenly your team falls behind, your opponents are fired up, the clock is ticking and it dawns on you for the first time, "Oh my God, this can't be happening." 
That feels about right. Was supposed to be an easy bout, against an unranked contender... and all of a sudden it's a damn fight.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Long Reads, Longer Range Problems

Now that the election's over - technically the formality of our canvass is tomorrow but we counted the last ballots yesterday - time for some long reads.

RIP the White Southern Democrat, 1865-2014. Rep. John Barrow of Georgia is the final casualty of a terminal illness that began in 1954, and has spread from presidential elections to the Senate to the House and now the statehouse and court house.
Much as this is a problem for white southern Democrats, it's a crisis for black ones. That’s because blacks in the Southwho, notwithstanding the very compelling counter-example of Tim Scott, are almost invariably Democratshave for decades relied on coalitions with white Democrats to increase their political power. Lacking white politicians with whom they can build coalitions, black politicians are increasingly rendered powerless.
But the Civil War ain't over, for politics in the South is still All About Race.
40 years of data from the General Social Survey — the gold standard of American public opinion research — tell us that Southern whites overwhelmingly blame blacks for their lower economic status, ignoring or denying the role played by discrimination, past and present, in all its various forms, and that the balance of Southern white attitudes has barely changed at all in 40 years.

It is only Democrats outside the white South who have dramatically shifted away from blaming blacks over this period of time, and the tension this has created within the Democratic Party goes to the very heart of the political challenge both Obama and Landrieu face — a challenge that is not going to simply go away any time soon.
So you can call it Obama Fatigue, but that great philosopher Gabby Johnson puts it concisely.

Never gets old.

But in the classic Some Of My Friends Are fallacy, Republicans will point to their counter-examples, most notably Tim Scott of Sourth Carolina, an appointed Senator who won the seat in his own right last week. But as Jamelle Bouie asks:
If Tim Scott speaks in terms of a distinctly black conservatism, then why is he unpopular with actual black voters, who overwhelmingly voted against him in last Tuesday’s election?

Part of the answer is partisanship. Black Americans tend to hold more liberal views on government and are inclined to support Democrats, even if Republicans have a black candidate. Barring an extraordinary turn in South Carolina politics, there’s little chance Scott will ever win a substantial number of black voters.
But like any other group, black voters respond to rhetoric as much as ideology, and there, Scott has a problem. Scott doesn’t just echo Booker T. Washington in his language, he echoes him in his hands-off approach to racial injustice. The black conservatism of Washington doesn’t have a critique of white society—it focuses inward on the concerns of the community.
Let's not just look South. No place is more polarized than my own native state:
Two modern-day trends have converged here in dramatic fashion: the growing divide between Democratic and Republican voters, which is more pronounced in Wisconsin than most other states; and the rise of politically one-sided communities, which is more extreme in Milwaukee than most other metropolitan areas.

"This Balkanization — it really goes beyond Democrat-Republican. It's really a difference in world view," says Robert Bauman, a Milwaukee alderman whose district includes the downtown area.
And no place is more bipolar, electing Tammy Baldwin one cycle and Scott Walker (my bet for the 2016 nomination) the next.

Yet the "moderates" worshipped by the mainstream media but moved more by "likability" than policy, expect compromise on key issues like immigration. How do you pull that off?

Fifty-six percent of voters who backed Republicans in the midterms said most immigrants in the U.S. illegally should be deported. On the Democratic side, 8 in 10 voters favored creating a path to legal status.
 (I still see a niche for a UKIP/Le Pen European style nationalist party in America...)

Expect more of this kind of standoff for the next several election cycles.And it's more than just "gerrymandering." Jamelle Bouie again:
The generational divide in partisanship, for instance, didn’t exist 25 years ago, or at least, not in the same way.

The main difference between young and old voters back then wasn’t whom they voted for as much as whether they voted in the first place. Grandfather and Grandson might vote for the same party, but the grandfather would show up for every election while his grandson was more likely to only vote every four years in a presidential election.

That divide still exists.  What’s different compared with the past is the partisan divide. Simply put, when young people go to the polls they vote for Democrats and when older people cast their ballots, they vote for Republicans. And the gap is huge.

But why is there a GOP midterm advantage now as opposed to 20 years ago, when the overall electorate was substantially whiter?

In the 1990s, a substantial number of older voters—if not most older voters—belonged to the Greatest Generation, the men and women who grew up in the Depression and fought in World War II. They were New Deal Democrats in their formative years, and they kept that affiliation through the rest of the 20th century.

By contrast, the next oldest cohort of voters—those who “came of age” during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations—were substantially more Republican in most years.
That's just a taste. But the whole point of a Long Reads post is to steer you to those long reads.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Numbers Part 4: Very, VERY Different

Let's look at that Iowa map of gubernatorial results again.

I'm not showing this map again out of smug self-satisfaction: "See? Look how good WE did. It's everyone else's fault."

The Democrats are still in good shape here in the People's Republic. The official Democratic Central Committee structure is a dysfunctional mess (you should see the stuff I wrote and DIDN'T post), but the elected officials, donors, worker bees and field staff can still make things happen.

In Johnson County the leading Democratic candidates in competitive races met or came close to the targets statewide candidates need to get out of our county. Here's pre-election projections from Daily Kos on what an Iowa Democrat needs by county to win statewide, with the actual results added.

County % of 2012
statewide vote
What we need to
break 50% statewide
2012 Pres. 2014 Senate Performance: Needed vs. Got
Statewide 100 50/48 52/46 44/52 -6
Polk 14.5 54/44 56/42 50/46 -4
Linn 7.5 56/42 58/40 51/45 -5
Scott 5.7 54/44 56/42 47/50 -7
Johnson 4.8 65/33 67/31 65/32 0
Black Hawk 4.2 57/41 59/39 52/45 -5
Dubuque 3.2 55/44 57/42 51/45 -4
Story 3 54/44 56/42 50/47 -4
Woodbury 2.8 48/51 50/49 38/56 -10
Pottawatomie 2.7 44/54 46/52 37/58 -7
Dallas 2.4 41/57 43/55 37/60 -4

Note that Braley's underperformance was worst in chronically low-turnout Woodbury. Also note that he did five points worse than he needed in his home county, Black Hawk - and that was his second BEST percentage in the state.

Bruce Braley underperformed everywhere else, but got what he needed (or should have needed) here. If anything, Johnson County is trending, in an almost defiant way, MORE Democratic. I've been saying it all fall, I'll say it again: Joni Ernst's folksy style that was successful almost everywhere else was met with visceral distaste and disbelief here."The Pig Lady can't possibly WIN, can she?" The rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees Ernst; we look in the mirror and see Dave Loebsack.

This ripples into solutions to our local problems as well.

It's a progressive mantra to think globally and act locally. And that's a big part of why we saw the two local ballot measures, for courthouse improvements and a local option sales tax, fail.

Set aside the automatic don't raise my taxes for any reason NO vote. the preferred solution to our local courthouse space system is Massive Fundamental Justice System Reform, with an element of drug law reform and an element of racial disparity issues. And the preferred progressive solution to the revenue drop we will see from state tax "reform" is a more progressive tax structure, such as a local option income tax.

The state and national election results have pushed these goals further away. We can think globally and act locally, but we can't act unilaterally. We are hamstrung by a state community and a national community that we have not persuaded.

Locals, we are not just different than the rest of the state. We are very, VERY different. Across the board, in the top tier races, Democrats performed 12 to 14 percent better in Johnson County than they did anywhere else in the state. And not only did our Democratic levels not drop in a very bad year, we actually increased our Democratic representation in Des Moines, we added to it with Kevin Kinney.

But that legislative delegation is not going to be able to make the changes we want to see.

Property tax law changes have uniquely hurt Johnson County. By changing much of our highest in the state level of rental property from commercial status to the lower taxed residential status, we took a harder revenue hit than anyone else. Those new laws won't change with this governor and this legislature. And in an environment of What Tax Can We Cut Next, any local option income tax is about as valuable as a platform plank: an empty statement on paper that goes nowhere.

Joe Bolkcom will continue his efforts to reform medical marijuana laws, which are to full legalization as civil unions are to full marriage equality: a starter step.  But while opinion is changing fast, this Iowa governor and legislature are not there yet. This is an issue that's still at the educational stage, not the action stage. And despite the arguments from the county attorney primary, we really can't engage in local level nullification.

No, our legislative delegation is on defense. Bolkcom and Kinney and Bob Dvorsky's job is to keep really really bad, Scott Walker kind of stuff from happening. On the House side, all Mary Mascher and Vicki Lensing and Dave Jacoby and Sally Stutsman can do is offer a few ideas to make bad bills just a little less bad.

The next best opportunity to act locally about our global problems come a year from now, in our city council elections.

It's a cruel irony is that the most "progressive" city in Iowa has had a good old boy, Chamber of Commerce dominated, low turnout elected city council for the entire 24 years I've lived here.

The same turnout problem that afflicts Democrats/liberals/progressives in off year general elections is exaggerated further in our off-off year local elections.  The student community has never truly participated, save for the cycles when the 21 Bar issue was on the ballot, and even then most voted only on the bar issue and skipped the council races. And a lot of faculty/staff liberals focus on state, national or international issues, and let the townies worry about ordinances and zoning and property taxes.

The townie-domainated city council electorate dislikes the demographic change of the last 20 years that had created our first significant racial minority population (other than graduate students from Asia).  They LIKE the crackdowns on the southeast side and downtown. The landlord community likes the state level property tax reform, and wants to tap into the students for sales taxes.

Elections are often won and lost at the candidate recruitment stage. It's not too soon to think about next year. Three seats are up in Iowa City. Jim Throgmorton was unopposed in the District C race in 2011; here's hoping he runs again. In the two seat at large race, Matt Hayek has already announced he's not running, and Mid-American middle manager Michelle Payne has been a cipher on the council.

Progressives moved the needle a notch in 2013, electing Kingsley Botchway to replace Connie Champion. We can move things another notch or two next year. That's not a panacea. Our local options are still limited by a hostile state and national climate. But it will help us use what local power we have.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Numbers Part 3: Shop Talk About Turnout

Months before Election Day, I knew I'd see this:

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong WRONG.

Let's talk about Johnson County turnout. It's literally my job to project Johnson County turnout.

Any turnout comparison of Johnson from 2010 to 2014 needs to take into account the 2010 bar referendum. You had to be here to get what 2010 was like. Without getting too deep into my obsessive thoughts about the issue itself, it was Officially about how old you had to be to stay late in the bars. But functionally, it was a townie vs. student culture war about, as Mayor Matt Hayek said at the time, "taking our city back." For both the natives and the students, 2010 was 21 BAR!!!1! and oh yeah governor and some other unimportant stuff.

(How Johnson County is different: In 2010 I never saw one of Bob Vander Plaats' NO! signs on the Supreme Court justices until I saw a picture of one in the Des Moines Register after the election.)

A bar owner/student campaign petitioned for five solid weeks of satellite voting at every feasible dorm and classroom building, and drove president-plus level student turnout. Over 1300 people voted in one eight hour shift at the Burge dorm, which has to be a state record for a satellite site.

I worked some of those sites and despite a long ballot, no one ever spent a long time in the booth. I heard the same question over and over: "Do I have to vote on everything, or can I just vote for one thing if I want?"

Among the 17,468 early voters in Iowa City proper (almost all the student vote was at those satellite sites), there was a 9.7% undervote rate for governor, unheard of in a top of the ticket race. The undervote rate for the bottom of the ballot 21 Bar issue was just 3.7%.

The numbers were even more dramatic in the core student areas. Here's Iowa City precinct 5, which with the exception of Sally Mason is made up entirely of dorms, student apartments and Greek houses.
Total early voters:  1225
Total early votes on bar issue: 1210, 98.8% of voters (and 93% Yes for lowering the bar admission age back to 19)
Undervote 1.2%

Total early votes for governor: 813, 66.4% of total voters
Undervote 33.6%

Total straight ticket early votes: 347
Percentage of  total early vote: 28.5%
Percentage of total governor vote: 42.7%
So a third of those Iowa City 5 early voters walked into the booth and made just ONE MARK on the ballot, and another quarter of them made two marks.

County-wide (and remember, the issue was only on the ballot in the Iowa City limits), Johnson County had 2130 undervotes for governor in 2010. That's a 4% undervote rate for a top of the ticket race.

Like I said, it's part of my pay me money 8 to 5 job to project turnout, so we can plan ahead, order enough ballots, and hire enough workers. And when I did that this summer, I took into account the fact that the bar issue wasn't going to be there.

My best estimate, based on the 2010 campus satellite vote, is that about 5000 extra voters were drawn into the booth by the 21 Bar issue who would not otherwise have voted, and about half, 2500 of them, voted only on the bar issue. Another 2500 people voted because of 21 Bar, but while they were there they voted on at least some other items.

2006 was the last "normal" governor year election here, and it was at the time a turnout record, with 44,292 voters. 2006 was also a hot year, with an open seat governor race, an unpopular sixth year president, and, though I didn't know it at projection time, a wave building.

So I replaced the 2010 student early voting numbers with the same figures from 2006, which dropped my projection by about 4500. I then accounted for reprecincting and for a steady long term trend away from Election Day voting and toward early voting. (As I expected, this year was our first governor-year election with more early votes than Election Day votes. We hit that mark in the last two presidentials but fell just short in 2010.)

By August it was already clear that the absentee share of the total vote would spike due to Democratic field efforts. I also anticipated that with Terry Branstad running, the Republicans would step up their vote by mail effort as well. Branstad always had good absentee efforts in the 1990s. But in the post-Florida decade, Republicans downplayed absentees and pushed their "72 hour plan" of steering people to Election Day. When Branstad returned in 2010, he dusted off the old playbook and revived the vote by mail program.

I also assumed that population and registration would grow from 2010 to 2014 at the same rate it had between 2008 and 2012.

After plugging all that into a giant spreadsheet I came up with a turnout estimate of 51,903, split about evenly between the polls and absentees. That was down from the 53,855 total voters in 2010. But it was above the 51,725 total votes for governor.

I tweaked the numbers as I went. My last estimate on October 26 pointed to 53,433, and we adjusted the office plans from that. Better safe than sorry. But in my gut I felt like the heavy early vote would cut into Election Day turnout, so in public I stuck with the 51,903 projection.

I aimed a little low. My final projection was 24,986 at the polls, and we ended up at 25,754 (not counting 608 provisional voters, who I weigh heavier when calculating poll worker workload because they're more work). We monitored turnout through the day, and sent extra ballots out to about half the precincts just to be safe. (In the end, based on my original projections we would have run out of ballots two places: Solon and North Liberty 4.)

My calculations also pointed to 28,447 absentee ballots counted. Here I was a bit high, mainly because we had more absentees that didn't get returned than in past years. The current absentee count is 27,185, including 603 provisionals and late arrivals.

That's a current total of 52,939, with very few ballots left to add. (The last few will be counted Monday; we got only five good ones in today's mail.) Still below that 53,855 record from 2010.

But if you want to compare turnout from 2014 to 2010, and you want to compare real, non 21 Bar turnout, look at the votes, not the voters. Then you'll see that turnout in the top-ticket races is actually up slightly.  We have 52,223 votes for governor, and 52,427 in the more competitive Senate race, up from the 51,725 votes for governor in 2010.

Democrats were down three points in the governor's race, true, but Democrats were down statewide. Chet Culver had his problems but he was still an incumbent with an incumbent's name ID, while Jack Hatch was never really able to introduce himself.  The Senate races aren't good comparisons either. Even though Roxanne Conlin carried Johnson County - the only county EVER won by ANY Grassley challenger - the race was never truly competitive like Ernst-Braley looked till the very end.

The best comparison is the congressional race. It's unusual to even get a comparison this good. Same Democratic incumbent. Same Republican challenger who had run before. Same bad national climate for Democrats.
Loebsack (D) 31,844  - 62%
Miller-Meeks (R) 17,920 - 35%
Sicard (L) 978 - 2%
Tack (C) 418 - 1%
Write-Ins 74

Loebsack (D) 35,822 - 69%
Miller-Meeks (R) 16,231 - 31%
Write-Ins 99
Even with fewer total voters in 2014, Loebsack gained 4000 votes. And even without a Libertarian and a Constitution Party candidate eating into her share, Miller-Meeks slipped by 1700.

That's not a portrait of a "depressed Dem electorate." No, the Johnson County turnout drop is entirely explained by the absence of the polarizing local ballot issue.

Numbers Part 2: The Locals

For sheer immediate impact, Tuesday's biggest winner was not a barrier-breaking, swine-snipping senator or a Guinness Book of World Records governor. It was a big soft-spoken deputy sheriff.

Kevin Kinney's win made up for a Ft. Dodge loss and a failed effort in Ottumwa and kept the margin of the Iowa Senate at 26 Democrats, 24 Republicans. This one win keeps Terry Branstad and the House Republicans from enacting a Scott Walker style deconstruction of state government, limiting the damage of the night's other Democratic losses.

Kinney rolled up a solid 61% in the Johnson County half of the district, enough to overcome a smaller deficit on Republican Michael Moore's Washington County turf and enough for a 55-44% overall win.

This race was won on candidate recruitment. Moore was a good candidate but Kinney was even better. His deep roots in the district (school board, farmer, working the chains at the football game), regular guy persona, and across the aisle appeal played big roles in the win.

The contrast couldn't be stronger to Johnson County's other contested legislative race. David Johnson, a University IT guy who just happens to live over the line in West Branch, lost his fourth legislative race (two in the 90s and a 2012 primary) by a humiliating 68-32% to first term Republican Bobby Kaufmann.

The Cedar County based House district has been Ahab's white whale to area Democrats for about 15 years now: tantalizingly close on paper, out of reach in practice. They've alternated between top tier challengers (Mike Owen, Dick Schwab) and Some Dudes. Factoid: The 2008 Democratic candidate in this district moved away but forgot to take her name off the ballot. She won 33.5%. Johnson won 32.2%, literally worse than nobody.

Johnson seemed to think the perfect progressive platform that appealed to his Iowa City based backers was the ticket to victory. And there is a good case to make for a $15 living minimum wage, one of his talking points.

But you make that case to the platform committee or the Seattle city council. In Cedar County you first have to convince people there should even BE a minimum wage, and if you get a good door you hint that maybe it should inch up to $10. (I speak from experience, having knocked every door in Wilton.) 

Both the Kinney-Moore and the Kaufmann-Johnson races included other counties. But the supervisor race was all ours, and it was decided on primary night.

John Etheredge got on well with his Democratic courthouse colleagues, and in practice having a Republican on the board for the first time in fifty years was little different than having an old school rural conservative Democrat. He ran a game campaign, and gets credit for the best line of the whole campaign, calling himself "the People's Republican of Johnson County."

But Etheredge was always only ever going to be a half term supervisor. He won won, fair and square, in a midwinter special election, marked by low turnout and a Democratic split. In the face of full on national level partisan warfare, in a high turnout general election, in a place that's 13 to 15 percent more Democratic than anywhere else in the state, he never stood a chance. There was never a killer issue that broke through the noise of the top of the ballot. (No, a handful of letters from the terminally disgruntled Newport Road crowd doesn't count. As we saw in the primary, that's just a couple hundred votes.)

Etheredge trailed Janelle Rettig by 9,100 votes for the second seat. Democrats had 7,344 more straight ticket ballots than Republicans, more than my predicted 5000 to 6000 and contrary to reports that Democrats were skipping the straight tickets specifically because of the supervisor race. So just the straight tickets alone would have beaten him, and that's not counting the untold thousands who didn't mark the straight ticket line, but voted for all or almost all Democrats.

The race could have been called at 9:00:01 when the absentee numbers (more than half the final total) went up. Etheredge was almost 9000 votes behind Rettig and Carberry. Yet election day itself, traditionally more conservative than the early vote,  was almost a three way dead heat: Carberry at 49%, Rettig at 48, and Etheredge at 47.

Those percentages are based on votes for candidate divided by total voters, and add up, with write ins thrown in, to 147%. That means that on average, each voter cast 1.47 votes for supervisor. Or, another way, on average slightly over half cast only one vote. (Less than that, really, because some people skipped the whole race). A straight ticket Republican vote would be one vote for Etheredge and one skipped vote.

Republicans needed a strategy. With two Democrats and one Republican on the ballot in a vote for two race, just voting for Etheredge was not enough for the outnumbered Johnson County Republicans. They had to push one of the Democrats into third. They needed to choose which one of Rettig or Carberry to back, and which one to take out. And for it to make a difference, it had to be a big enough deal to be noticed. But it seems they never were able to choose between the environmental lobbyist and the lesbian, so they just voted for their guy and hoped for the best.

As expected, Etheredge's best totals were in the rural precincts. Carberry's current 634 vote (some provisionals are still getting counted) lead over Rettig for first place bragging rights doesn't have much geographic pattern. About a third of it is from Newport. The rest is semi-random, probably just Carberry campaigning a touch harder, as a non-incumbent who finished lower in the primary, and Rettig being a little more tied down by the job itself.

So one supervisor changes, but one problem stays the same: A third result above 55% but below the magic 60 for the courthouse renovation. What happened: Same as before, just a little short everywhere. The reflexive Automatic No vote on any spending measure, which I usually peg at about 20%, was probably up a little in a big Republican year. The protest vote was much quieter than it was in the May 2013 election or in the John Zimmerman county attorney campaign, but there's still a sizable faction that will vote no on anything till you can smoke weed on the Ped Mall.

Also not helping: No actual campaign. You can't get to 60% without someone actively asking for Yes votes. But the leadership of past efforts, and the community itself, was still burned out from the first two votes (and to a lesser extent from the county attorney primary). No committee ever formed, no money was raised. Not a sign, not a phone call. Put it on the ballot and hope for the best.

Even more not helping: Iowa City. After their police practices cost the county the first two justice center elections, Iowa City put the local option sales tax on the ballot in direct competition with the scaled back courthouse plan. The two measures hurt each other and the sales tax, with a lower 50% threshold, fell four points short. Again, there was no serious effort on either side. A Yes committee - named simply YES! perhaps in tribute to Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman - was opened but never really did anything.

(Word on the street is that the county is going back to square one on the courthouse, but I won't be surprised if Iowa City pushes for a sales tax do-over soon.)

Several of the small cities voted Yes, hoping to tap into the metro area's revenues. But with the failure in the five city bloc, the tiny stream of money for Hills, Lone Tree, Solon, Swisher, and that one street of West Branch to divvy up is almost a cruel joke.

University Heights strongly supported the tax, and Iowa City voting alone would have narrowly passed it. But opposition was strong, in part due to a revenue formula based on old dollar amounts, in the high growth outlying cities, Coralville, Tiffin and North Liberty.

And in North Liberty we saw the most contentious local race of the cycle. Did Amy Nielsen win the mayor election, or did Gerry Kuhl lose? Kuhl, elected unopposed to the city council just a year ago, is now out after a brief appointed tenure as mayor following Tom Salm's death.

Kuhl seemed offended that Nielsen had been presumptuous enough to oppose him, attacked other area officials who backed her, and continued the criticism even in defeat. It painted a picture of a grouch, which contrasted sharply with Nielsen's fresh face, smart mom persona.

That's much more the image that North Liberty wants to present, and mark Mayor Amy Nielsen - since it was a special election she replaces appointee Kuhl almost immediately - as the local rising star of the year.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Numbers Part 1: The People's Republic Stands Alone

Terry Branstad made much this election of his effort to win Lee County, the little bump on the bottom of the state and one of only two he'd never won in seven tries.

He succeeded, but there was never any serious talk about winning that 99th county.

Johnson County has its long standing reputation as the People's Republic, the most liberal spot in the state. And on Tuesday, we were the only county in the state to support Jack Hatch, just as we were the only county to support Roxanne Conlin for Senate in 2010.

Secession talks are under way. 

Not only were we the only county - we were the only county by a lot. Jack Hatch carried Johnson County with a solid 59%. His next best share was just 45, in his home county of Polk.

Remember that range: 14 percent or so.

To win a statewide race in Iowa, a Democrat needs about 65% in Johnson County. It's not about just winning, it's about running up the score, to make up for other places that are even more Republican than we are Democratic. (Sioux County: 91% Branstad.)

Bruce Braley hit that 65% mark, but the People's Republic was more of an outlier than usual. Braley's next best percentage was just 52, in his home county of Black Hawk.

Joni Ernst's Mom. Soldier. Pigs. persona played beautifully in about 90 counties, but grated on our tender academic sensibilities. It was the old "nobody I know voted for her" fallacy. More than in any other election I recall, I had non-political people coming up to me, expressing visceral distaste for Pig Lady, and asking incredulously if she actually had a chance to win. Yes, I told them off record. (Unlike most Johnson County liberals, I've actually run a race in a rural district, and lost badly.)

No, Johnson County's style is more beardy and professorial: "fluke" congressman Dave Loebsack, now the state's top ranking Democrat, took 69 percent and easily survived his second Republican wave year. But again, look at the margin over the next best county, Jefferson, where Loebsack took a 56 share.

Save this rule of thumb for next time. That 65% Johnson County share of the vote works across the ballot. The statewide Democrats who won, incumbents for life Tom Miller and Mike Fitzgerald, topped 65% easily. Secretary of State candidate Brad Anderson fell just short at 64, and lost a tantalizingly close race to pseudo-incumbent Paul Pate. (Pate won with under 50% as the Libertarian scored 3 points.)

State Auditor candidate Jonathan Neiderbach also fell just short of the target at 64% in a semi-open race; GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman was appointed last year and running statewide for the first time. Sherrie Taha, the hapless Secretary of Agriculture candidate,  trailed the rest of the Democratic ticket at 56%.