Thursday, April 30, 2015

Iowa Academics Like Iowa Caucuses

In the biggest news flash since at least the Bernie Sanders announcement this morning, a group of five Iowa-linked professors had a mostly positive opinion of the Iowa caucuses and their first in the nation role.

The UI political science department hosted a forum on the caucuses Thursday evening. The out of town draw was former UI professor David Redlawsk, now head of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.

During his time at Iowa, Redlawsk co-authored Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process. He also got deeply involved in local politics, chairing the Johnson County Democrats in the last months before the 2004 caucuses and serving as a national convention delegate for John Edwards in 2008.

Redlawsk will be back in the state for the fall semester, continuing and updating his caucus research.

Fellow presenters were political science faculty Caroline Tolbert (a Why Iowa co-author), Tim Hagle and Cary Covington, and Stephen Berry from the journalism department.

In answering his own question, why Iowa, Redlawsk noted the historic accident of Iowa's first place in line. "The sequential primary process is all outside the Constitution," he said.  Iowa landing first was a function of post-Vietnam nomination reforms, requirements for numbers of days of notice, and a meeting hall being booked in June 1972. The combination moved the Iowa caucuses before the mid-March date of the New Hampshire primary.

Redlawsk conducted a 2008 caucus night poll and found that nearly half of Iowa caucus goers had met a candidate, and 20% had been able to personally ask a candidate a question, a level of engagement unimaginable in states other than Iowa and New Hampshire.

In addition to that, Redlawsk said, Iowa caucus attendees have much more chance to influence the party platform than voters in primary states like New Jersey.
Covington focused on campaign finance. From Jimmy Carter's 1976 breakthrough through about 1996, personal time spent by candidates in Iowa played the biggest role in caucus success. In the 2000s decade, candidate spending became a bigger factor,, and beginning in 2012, independent superPAC expenditures, with their ability to raise unlimited and undisclosed money, began to matter more.

Covington said he expects the superPACs to play a more constructive, organizing role in 2016 cycle, rather than the more simple attack ad role of 2012.

Berry said he expects to see an increase in non-profit journalism coverage of the caucuses, citing his work with the Iowa Watch project. He also noted the Texas Tribune as an example of non-profit journalism and said he expects them to cover Rick Perry's campaign closely. (He did not mention Ted Cruz. Oversight, or omission?)

All this made me miss Iowa Independent, and our all star team coverage from 2007-08, all the more. Though Berry did say some nice things about me and this here blog, and also specifically mentioned Craig Robinson and The Iowa Republican.

"Iowa separates the contenders from the pretenders," Hagle said, noting that he gets many media calls from critics of the caucuses who he keeps on a "No buttercow for you!" list. He also noted that New Hampshire last voted for a presidential winner in an open nomination contest in 1988, when George H.W. Bush beat Bob Dole. In contrast, Iowa backed both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Redlawsk chimed in with a two word critique of candidates who choose the Screw Iowa strategy of bypassing the caucuses: "President Huntsman." He also noted that the caucuses, and the expectations of Iowans, pose "a real risk for Hillary Clunton if she does not do a real caucus campaign," including open attendance events with open question and answer time.

Hagle conceded that sometimes caucus goers ask strange questions, but said that's an important part of the test. "A president has to be nimble and be prepared to deal with the unexpected."

As for the current state of the race, Covington and Redlawsk both said that Scott Walker, as a perceived frontrunner, has the most to lose in Iowa right now. Iowa is sort of a no win for Walker, Redlawsk said: if he wins, it's expected because Walker is from a neighboring state; if he loses, he did worse than the all-important expectations.

Redlawsk also said Sanders' entry into the race can help Clinton by making her refresh her campaign skills. Berry agreed and noted that Barack Obama, after an uncontested re-nomination contests in 2012, was rusty in his first general election debate against Mitt Romney.
The evening's REAL highlight was just before the forum. Back at Christmas I held a beret auction to benefit the Johnson County Crisis Center. It ended in a tie, and Dave was one of the two winners. I'd meant to ship it to New Jersey, but an in person delivery was more fun and gave me a chance to make it more official by wearing it to several more events up to and including Rand Paul. Thanks also to co-winner Chris Liebig who still needs to pick his up!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Paul, Not Clinton, Biggest Loser in Sanders Run

Well, I called THAT wrong. Rank "Sanders Absolutely Positively NOT Running" right up there with "McCain not dead, but neither was Terry Schaivo" as my most accurate headlines ever.

I'm seriously surprised that Bernie Sanders is getting into the Democratic nomination fight. So forgive me that these first few thoughts on the changed situation are semi-random.

The first serious test will come with Thursday's announcement: How Sanders handles the tricky question of party. I was convinced that this emotional barrier would be more than Sanders would be able to handle.

Indeed, he will lose some support simply by announcing a Democratic run, since the formal independence of the Democratic Party has been a trademark of his career and is part of the appeal for many.

But it's a necessity, and every syllable will matter. Sanders had said that he would need to be convinced he can win in order to run, and he may well be. But I've always believed that if you buy into a nomination process, you buy into the outcome.

Democrats are still scarred by the outcome of 2000 and the still-contentious role of Ralph Nader. It's a fine line to walk: arguing for a more left direction, yet simultaneously assuring Democrats you won't break away when it's over.

As for the nomination, if he can finish first anywhere in the nation, it's in a college town like Iowa City. The relatively late February 1 caucus date helps Sanders because unlike 2008 and 2012's insanely early January 3 dates, students will be in town.

He's polling in single digits now but Sanders will likely inherit much of Elizabeth Warren's presumptive support once she makes her inevitable Hillary Clinton endorsement.

Maybe sooner. The second biggest loser today is the Draft Warren crowd. Rather than banging their heads recruiting a reluctant candidate, they are likely to flock to the one who's willing.

Notice I said second biggest loser.  The biggest loser with the Sanders announcement is not Hillary Clinton getting attacked from the left.  She'll respond, rhetorically and maybe even substantively.

No, the biggest loser with the Sanders announcement is Rand Paul.

I still think Paul has a shot at a 20% Iowa win, only because he still has a fairly solid Liberty Republican vote, while the evangelical vote and the establishment vote is splintered.

But Paul just lost a small but key part of his vote.

I'm biased by my Johnson County address. But we've had a pretty viable left-libertarian coalition here in Iowa City the past three years or so. Criminal justice issues have been the focus, but privacy issues also played a role, and there was some overlap with the anti-war left.

Had the Democratic nomination remained relatively uncontested, caucus goers seeking non-interventionism and privacy would have been more likely to swallow Paul's Randian economic views. We saw some of that in 2012 when some of the old left in the People's Republic of Johnson County decided Ron Paul would be a stronger statement than a vote for no one (i.e. Uncommitted Democrat).

This cycle, the old left will have the real thing to support, rather than a Republican alternative with some significant downsides. So that hurts Paul...

...and may have some downside for Sanders, too.

Sanders is by nature confrontational with his politics. He is likely to attract confrontationalists to his camp. And in a cycle where the state's leading group of confrontationalists already looks ready to spend more energy heckling oops, "holding accountable" - Hillary Clinton than the whole GOP field put together, Sanders runs a risk of guilt by association.

(Here in the PRJC, some of the early Sanders backers have high personal negatives as well.)

It's a logical fallacy: if the crazies are for Sanders, Sanders must by crazy. But since when was politics logical? Any candidate, of course, has that risk.  But Sanders has more of that risk, because he's more likely to draw the most passionate and committed supporters - people who are ideologically committed committed not only on issues but on tactics.

Without re-igniting a years long flame war (which I admit I have repeatedly fanned), I'll just say that the issue of managing supporters and keeping them on message will be much, much harder for Sanders than for a more conventional candidate.

In any case, things just got a whole lot more interesting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Big Blank Reports

Other writers have nailed down fundraising by Iowa's US House candidates over the course of the week, but no one's looked at the US Senate race.

Here's a summary of fundraising by Democrats Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause:

Despite being announced candidates for about two years each, neither Fiegen or Krause appear to have reached the $5000 threshold that would trigger reporting requirements.  Their last reports are from their failed 2010 primary runs, and had totals in the low hundreds of dollars.

Not that this is any surprise. It just deserves to be noted.  Maybe I should reconsider my withdrawal from the race. I could probably top Fiegen and Krause's "fundraising" by passing the beret on the Ped Mall.

Chuck Grassley raised $682,472in the first quarter of the year and has $2,406,238in the bank. He's said he hopes to raise $7 million and will have little trouble doing so with every GOP presidential wannabee wanting to be seen in Grassley's company.

Unless Democrats recruit a credible opponent, all that money will be spent helping the rest of the Republican ticket, the way it was in 2004 when Democrats had a weak Senate candidate and John Kerry lost the state by 4000 votes.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Koch Brothers Aren't The Issue - The Policies Are

For all its significance, campaign finance as an issue still doesn't register on the radar of the average voter. True, it affects how government interacts and deals with every other issue, but it's still very meta, and in that sense very inside baseball.

Campaign finance also suffers from false equivalency media coverage. There are multiple multiple GOP SuperPacs and free-spending billionaires, but as long as you can name Tom Steyer and George Soros, both parties are "equally" to blame, your story is Balanced And Objective, and average voters lump it into the category of "they're all crooks anyway."

Bruce Braley ran harder against "the Koch Brothers" than he did against his actual opponent. If Koch Brother Demonization worked, Braley would be in the Senate and not in a Denver law firm.

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of bashing Koch Brothers Bashing. But that doesn't mean their insignificant. They're insignificant as an issue that moves voters, but dropping their name sure motivates the Democratic base. And, of course, the actual support they offer is significant.

And they now have a favorite:
Charles G. and David H. Koch, the influential and big-spending conservative donors, have a favorite in the race for the Republican nomination: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker was the Republican Party’s best hope for recapturing the White House.

“We will support whoever the candidate is,” said Mr. Koch, according to two people who attended the event. “But it should be Scott Walker.”
Why Walker? It's what I've been saying all along: the issues that propelled Walker to national prominence are close to the heart of what the Money Wing of the GOP actually cares about - radically shrinking government and lowering wages.

Whether you're in a union or not - most aren't, I am - collective bargaining is a big force in setting prevailing wages across all sectors of the economy. And in post-industrial America, the strongest sector of the labor movement is the public sector.

By breaking public sector unions, an issue that was rarely mentioned in public in his 2010 race, Walker struck a blow against all paycheck workers. If he's able to do it nationally, that drives the entire wage scale of the economy downward.

So it's no shock that the Koch brothers love him. Now what Democrats need to learn is: they have to explain the argument, and not just bash the name.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Local Option Sales Tax?

The cities, county and school board are meeting tomorrow late afternoon in Coralville for what I used to call the "Mega Meeting," or the "Please Don't Let A Meteor Hit The Building Or It'll Be The Biggest Special Election Ever" meeting.

(Apologies to my recently increasing share of statewide/national readers. I'll get back to caucuses soon enough, but this is a Locals Only post.)

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors, the city councils of Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and Hills (where's the Heights?), and the Iowa City and Clear Creek Amana School District Boards will get together and try to get stuff done.

The agenda is dominated by the Iowa City school board, and the headlines have been lately as well.  Iowa City is redrawing its attendance lines yet again, with tales of school closings in the air.

That's always a tough fight. A wise man once told me, "the only person who can get away with changing school lines is a retiring superintendent." (That wisdom is from my father in law Bob Steele, a retired superintendent and one of the key architects of the Clear Creek - Amana merger a couple decades ago.)

The school fights will be settled, or at least the battle lines drawn, in the school board election September 8. Buzz is that all four seats on the ballot will be open. Jeff McGuinness formally announced his departure last week, and Sally Hoelscher didn't even last the full term (her appointed replacement, Orville Townsend, made it clear at appointment time he was not running).

So there's a good shot that the ICCSD breaks the turnout record of 8733 we set in 2013. That was a Great Leap Forward from the old record of 5814 set way back in 1995 - and the `95 vote also had a bond issue on the ballot (the one that built Weber Elementary).

But also interesting: That September 8 vote looks like our next election. If that holds, it'll be Johnson County's longest stretch without any vote at all since, it looks like to me, 1986-87. (There may have been some very small town cable franchise vote or something, bit nothing that I found worth noting when I researched the old elections at work several years ago.)

The longest gap between scheduled election on Iowa's current calendar is 10 months between even year general elections and off year school elections - November to September.

We've had a couple other stretches in my professional career without much electoral activity over those 10 months. In 2010-11 we had only a January University Heights special election, a very big deal but only in one precinct, and in 2000-01 we only saw a North Liberty mayor vote (way back then, that too was only one precinct, not the SIX they have now.)

But both those years, our auditor's office had another big project: reprecincting.

The last gap that feels comparable was in 2004-05, when we went from the presidential to the school board with just a Coralville library bond in March. That was one of the very few that's broken my 20 percent rule: 20 percent of voters are going to be automatic no votes on any spending measure, so you have to get 75% of the 80% that's persuadable in order to win.  (That's not the record, though, Coralville scores 95% in a 2002 pool vote. Always schedule your pool vote in the middle of summer.)

But this year, not even that. City council vacancies in Tiffin and Solon got filled by appointment with no petitions for special elections, so it looks like we may go the full ten months with no vote at all.

I had expected to be in full satellite voting mode by now.  After the relatively narrow 53.8% No to 46.2% Yes defeat of the local option sales tax in November, I was absolutely certain that Iowa City would come back for a do-over on May 5.  I had gone as far as crunching the numbers and estimating turnout (one of my JOB jobs that just happens to translate well for my hobby here.)

A quick primer: under Iowa law, cities that make up more than half the county population have the power to call the sales tax election. In Johnson County, this means Iowa City alone decides.

The issue was discussed at some length at the last Mega Meeting on January 26. As you may recall, the tone of the meeting was the county and outlying cities telling Iowa City, more or less, we need to be in the loop here. Note also from the returns that high-growth Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin voted roughly two to one No last fall, while Iowa City alone voted narrowly Yes and UHeights voted strongly Yes. But passage or failure is determined by the combined votes of those five "contiguous cities." The smaller towns and the rural county vote alone, and five of the small towns passed it.

The next available date for a sales tax vote is August 4.  But given the lack of even any discussion at this point, it seems very unlikely. It's even LESS likely that the council majority will put it on the same November 3 ballot that includes their own seats, as a ballot issue may encourage The Rabble to vote. (Through the grapevine I heard concerns that "the students beat the sales tax," but the numbers show that it was really the outlying cities that did.)

That pushes the next available date all the way back to March 1, 2016, just as the primary for legislative and county seats is warming up.  Flag this story as "developing" - but developing very, very slowly.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hillary The Progressive

The dominant theme in the Hillary Clinton roll out this week is "champion of Regular Folks," and there was a strong effort to look Normal on the Scooby road trip and the coffee shop stops.

The middle class theme feels like setup for the general election. But there's a definite subtext being rolled out, and it's specifically geared for caucus season: defining Hillary as a progressive.

Clinton got tagged, perhaps unfairly, as the "moderate" in the endless 2008 nomination fight, and that tag has only been re-emphasized in the years since, for reasons not entirely her own fault. There was a strong correlation between state Clinton won in the primary and states where Democrats in general and the black president in particular have performed poorly in since.  A Kentucky Democrat notes:
In late 2008, Hillary Clinton stumped in Pikeville, the county seat, because Democrats thought she could boost their U.S. Senate candidate and the president couldn’t. The airline hangar reserved for the rally was “packed to the gills,” recalled Combs, with people “pressed against the fence” to see the New York senator.

“I told her, I’m not sure we can win, because you’re not on the ballot, and that other guy—I stopped short of saying black guy—is,” remembered Combs. “If you were on the ticket, these people would come out.”

The Democrats ended up losing that Senate race. Their candidate, businessman Bruce Lunsford, won Pike County by 14 points. Barack Obama lost it by 14 points. And that was the best he’d ever do in Appalachia. In 2012, Mitt Romney, as culturally ill-fit to coal country as any Republican could be, took the county by a 50-point landslide.

Ugly, yes... but hardly Hillary's fault.

There are some real concerns, sure, on foreign policy and economics. Foreign policy was scarcely if at all mentioned on the Iowa visit, but there's a definite effort at economic rebranding.

The most obvious sign of this was the Time 100 piece. The magazine's list of "influential people" included progressive superstar Elizabeth Warren, the dream candidate of the left. And the profile is bylined, not at all accidentally, by Hillary Clinton:
Elizabeth Warren never lets us forget that the work of taming Wall Street’s irresponsible risk taking and reforming our financial system is far from finished. And she never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire: bankers, lobbyists, senior government officials and, yes, even presidential aspirants.
Two brief paragraphs, but the subject, and the byline, say a lot. Clinton makes her first visit to New Hampshire next week, and while it's modeled on the Iowa Scooby Trip, I won't be shocked if the Warren endorsement happens soon. I expect sooner rather than later, because Warren's star is peaking and the national press is already giving up on the idea Warren will run herself. The sooner the endorsement, the maximum the impact.

There's also the line, obviously Warren-influenced, in the announcement video and repeated on the stump: "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."

Charles Pierce at Esquire describes it all very colorfully:
I suspect the Senator Professor will do all she can to make Rodham Clinton president, and then all she can to make Rodham Clinton the kind of president she would like her to be. And, as for the candidate herself, all that talk about the game being "rigged" didn't exactly come out of the air.

The one thing that the Senator Professor understands that most of these people don't care to understand is that the interests of "average Americans" and the needs of "the business community" in the increasingly competitive global argle-bargle are in direct conflict, and will remain so as long as the "business community" continues to combine the essential patriotism of a potato blight with the business plan of the Barbary Pirates. She's already got them running scared. That can be a huge political weapon for the HRC campaign if they know how to use it correctly, a proposition that, admittedly, I make only 50-50 at this point.
Another lefty darling, Clinton 42 Labor Secretary Robert Reich, while still offering a progressive policy critique, steps out of his way to praise Hillary personally:
Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility.

Some worry she’s been too compromised by big money – that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor.

But it’s wrong to assume great wealth, or even a social circle of the wealthy, is incompatible with a deep commitment to reform – as Teddy Roosevelt and his fifth-cousin Franklin clearly demonstrated.
But it's not just being noted with personal impressions; Daily Kos is offering data.
As it turns out, based upon her entire service in Congress, Hillary Clinton was the 11th most liberal member of the Senate in each of the  107th, 108th, 109th, and 110th Congresses. That places her slightly to the left of Pat Leahy, Barbara Mikulski and Dick Durbin; clearly to the left of Joe Biden  and Harry Reid; and well to the left of moderate Democrats like Jon Tester, Blanche Lincoln, and Claire McCaskill.
Likely rival Jim Webb scored in the same middle of the Senate range as Lincoln and McCaskill during the two years he and Clinton served together,which places him on the wrong end of the spectrum to be The Lefty Alternative. Another potential rival, Lincoln Chaffee, ranked as the most liberal Republican in 2005-06, which still put him to the right of any Democrat, but that was two whole party changes ago.

Clinton also scored left of Iowa icon Tom Harkin... but the leftmost is rumored rival (won't happen) Bernie Sanders.

Hillary knows the vulnerability comes from the left, which explains the careful courting of Warren. The Clinton message was being very carefully tested and fine tuned per-announcement, and "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top" may be as rare as the steak gets.

My bet is the progressive push comes on social issues, as seen by this emphasis:
On Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.

"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.
Unfortunately for Clinton, the huge social shift on marriage equality, which has moved faster than any issue I've ever seen, accelerated while she was on furlough from domestic politics, so she seemed to be behind the curve. (Folks also remember that Clinton 42 signed DOMA in 1996.)

As for the economics, Clinton is trying to thread a narrow needle: offer the red meat, name names and place blame economics the left end of the party wants, while not alienating the high end of the donor base. And the high end is trying to get it...
“Everybody knows that income inequality is going to be a major issue in the campaign, and the vast majority of people who I know are supporting her agree that it needs to be addressed,” said one of Clinton’s leading donors in New York’s financial community. “She’s not saying that a hedge fund manager shouldn’t be making what they’re making. Just that someone in another job shouldn’t be making 300 times less.”
...but not quite getting it. Still, like the coal country rednecks, that's not all under the candidate's control either.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sanders Absolutely Positively NOT Running

I've always been skeptical that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was going to follow through and actually run for president. One more nail was hammered into that coffin today, the strongest evidence yet:
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said he endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid on "Andrea Mitchell Reports," making him the 28th out of 44 sitting Democratic senators (64%) to have endorsed the former secretary of state, according to a survey by The Hill newspaper.
What's important here is not the sheer number of endorsements, or Leahy's standing as the senior member of the whole Senate. It's the political folkways of DC in general and the Senate in particular.

Sanders has his unusual stance of serving as an independent, and that stance is a barrier, I think the single biggest barrier, to his candidacy: to seek the Democratic Party nomination, he would have to actually join the Democratic Party.

But as a Senator, both back home and in DC, he's functionally a de facto Democrat. And while he may be the very left edge of the mainstream of U.S. politics, he also works within the broad cultural norms of Congress (certainly better than some of the barn burners in the House Republican caucus who vote against their own party's speaker on day one in office).

So Pat Leahy is his home state, same party Senate colleague. True, there are occasions when such partners don't personally get along, but they're rare enough to be notable and there's no evidence that Sanders and Leahy, who've served together in DC a quarter century, are anything less than cordial.

If your home state partner is running for president, you're generally expected to support them, and the very least you do is sit on the sidelines a bit:
Hillary: Please endorse me.
Pat: I'll be there but I have to wait till Bernie decides.
Actually it's more like:
Hillary: Please endorse me.
Pat: I'll be there but I have to wait till Bernie decides.
Hillary. Understood. Ya gotta take care of Vermont.
And courtesy would dictate that before a Clinton endorsement, Leahy would talk to Sanders, perhaps for breakfast. Two scenarios, A:
Pat: Bernie, I want to endorse Hillary. OK by you?
Bernie: Can you do a brother a solid and hold off a few weeks? I'll have my mind made up by the end of sap season.
Pat: Sure.
Or B:
Pat: Bernie, I want to endorse Hillary. OK by you?
Bernie: No problem. Pass the maple syrup.
So clearly, the conversation happened and it played out like Scenario B.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Soft Viability Of Low Expectations

There's a number and a construct I've seen twice now, and it clearly had some significance to the Clinton campaign:
It's very hard for a Democratic candidate to capture 50 percent or more of the vote in the Iowa caucuses, the Clinton aide pointed out.

In recent history, only sitting presidents or vice presidents have achieved a majority vote, the Clinton aide said. The exception is Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a favorite son who ran virtually unopposed in Iowa in 1992 and won 76 percent of the caucus vote.
Worded the same way both times. This is clearly where Team Hillary wants to set the bar: 50 percent.

The early states are about expectations more than we're about large numbers of national delegates. Exceeding expectations looks good, so it's in a frontrunner's interest to set the bar low.

In this case, 50 percent is objectively too low.  The construct "sitting presidents or vice presidents" is designed to exclude the one caucus cycle that is most similar to 2016.

In the modern, post-Carter era of the caucuses, only one Democratic incumbent vice president has run for president: Al Gore in 2000.  He was running against a sole opponent, who most observers would rate as low second tier or high third tier: former Senator Bill Bradley.

I expect a similar bipolar dynamic to emerge in 2016. Like it or not, this caucus is going to be about Hillary Clinton, and the die hard Anyone But Hillary folks (which I'm not) will gravitate to the strongest challenger. There's not room for two people to be Not Hillary.

Assume as I am that Elizabeth Warren means it when she says she will not run, and likely endorses Clinton in the near future. Assume also that Bernie Sanders, though he would like to run, will not be able to bring himself to formally join the Democratic Party to do so. UPDATE: Oops, but doesn't damage the basic argument here.

That makes the challengers O'Malley, Webb, and maybe Chaffee, and for my money the strongest of the three is O'Malley Sanders. This sets up a bipolar caucus like we saw in 2000.

Remember that phrase: "sitting presidents or vice presidents."  Hillary Clinton is a prohibitive enough favorite that she boxed the actual sitting vice president, Joe Biden, out of the race. (I hope she picks Joe for her running mate and he stays veep forever.)

So... what if we set the bar for Hillary Clinton at the incumbent vice president level?

Al Gore took 63.42% of the "state convention delegate equivalents" - national readers, we'll get back to that - to Bradley's 34.88%, with a tiny handful of uncommitteds.

One of those dark blue counties is my dear People's Republic of Johnson County, where us Bradley types won the county convention delegate count 147 to 122, with one guy uncommitted. Bill Bradley's best showing in the nation - still proud.

But before we really set the bar for Hillary Clinton, we need to know what the numbers mean.

Most political junkies know that at the Magic Moment on caucus night, Iowa Democrats walk to a corner of the room and count off. Each group has to have 15% of the room to be "viable." The non-viable folks have to go to another corner, and negotiating happens.

The Iowa Democratic Party does not release the numbers from when people first choose a corner.  Why... is a whole different post.  So on caucus night, the national media will get just a percentage, and that percentage will be based on 1) delegate counts and 2) is after the realignment.

Let's look at that other "exception" year, 1992. My precinct had ten county convention delegates. (I'm not going to even try to translate that to state delegate equivalents. Let's just say it all feeds in to math that's based on the state's vote the last two elections.)  In my precinct, on the initial alignment, Tom Harkin had one person over 50% of the room.  Five delegates and 50% of the "vote," right?

Nope. Negotiating happened. The Bill Clinton group was just short of the 15% viability mark. So the Harkin folks offered a deal: join us and we'll choose two of our Harkin delegates from the Clinton people.  So the Harkin group elected seven delegates, and the Tsongas group and Brown group got the other three.

So that result from my precinct got reported as 70% Harkin, even though only 50% of the people in the room were for Harkin. It didn't even matter that two of the "Harkin" delegates were really for Clinton. Who the delegates are doesn't matter on caucus night - The NUMBER is what matters.

Circling back at last to 2016, in a situation with a prohibitive frontrunner and either a lone opponent or a small number of unviable opponents, the math tends to favor the frontrunner.  Also, the negotiating tends to favor the insiders rather than the outsiders, because the insiders know that The Number matters more than who the delegates are.   So all these things, I see favoring Clinton in 2016.

All this makes that 50% bar Team Hillary is trying to set feel too low.  I'm willing to round Gore's 63.42% down to 60 rather than up to 2/3, but that's as low as I think is realistic for Hillary Clinton, unless something dramatic changes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Clinton Announcement: The Left Wants Something

I almost feel like I have nothing to add to the massive politico-journalistic navel gazing that's accompanying Hillary Clinton's SHOCKING announcement that yes, in fact, she IS running for president.

I'm still waiting for the BIG newsworthy announcement: Just where and when is that first Iowa event?

(UPDATE: And of course the release lands five minutes after my post. Monticello Tuesday for the Cedar Rapids media market.  Norwalk Wednesday for the Des Moines market. Both events mid-day, both events look geared for "regular folks" in contrast with the O'Malley-Webb visits to county party fundraisers. Two days in the state for two public events likely means clutch events late Tuesday in CR and early Wednesday in Des Moines.)

But after some thought, I think I may have an angle here.

I've been branded as "establishment" by a few, but I still think of myself as part of the left of the Democratic Party. I am, after all, a Johnson County Democrat.  And my thought on the Whole Big Thing of the Clinton candidacy is: The left wants... something.

I can't articulate exactly WHAT, but let's look at economic messages for a moment.

As you likely know, the first 3/4 of the video is, on purpose, Regular Folks, including some Iowans. Once Hillary finally shows up 1:30 in, she says:
Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get by. You can get ahead, and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.

Clinton is offering a slightly Warrenized version of "good jobs at good wages." It's very appealing to soft Ds and general election voters, and on its face it's not bad. But "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top" is as strong as it gets, and even that, I suspect, reflects a Warren influence (in advance of a likely endorsement which I expect is scheduled for the first New Hampshire visit).

It also reflects the kinds of focus grouping a lot of us Iowa Democrats heard on three separate message testing calls. By the third call, the message seemed focused on stronger family leave and day care, and raising middle class wages, but the rhetoric was void of torches and pitchforks.

In contrast, here's the initial response from Bernie Sanders to the Clinton announcement:

I specify "initial" because the tweet was quickly deleted and replaced with a message that did not name Clinton directly, but kept the same villains.
Very interesting that Sanders kept the message but retracted the name. Even as Jim Webb and Martin O'Malley crisscrossed the state this weekend, there weren't by-name attacks on the strongest non-incumbent frontrunner since General Grant.

(Clinton aides noted pre-announcement that, other than native son Tom Harkin, no candidate who was not an incumbent POTUS or Veep had cracked 50% in Iowa. That's really lowballing it in this case.)

No, the only one Democrat who seems willing to attack Clinton by name is Lincoln Chaffee, whose surprising expression of interest in the race Friday focused on foreign policy in general and the Iraq War vote in particular. (Jennifer Jacobs noted that in her post-rollout piece: "Some anti-war Iowans will never forgive Clinton for her "yes" vote 12 years ago in favor of going to war in Iraq, several activists said.")

But here's a sample of O'Malley's style:

Note the difference. Clinton is offering a program but Sanders and O'Malley are casting blame. Wall Street. Billionaires. A conservative Supreme Court. "Grotesque levels of wealth inequality" is a much angrier statement than "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."

And that's what I sense the left end of the Democrats are hungry for: a rhetoric that blames, or, in CCI-speak, "holds them accountable."

And maybe Clinton can do that. Probably not on foreign policy, and maybe not on economics. Maybe, on social-cultural issues, she can find the right words, the right facet of the record, to persuade enough of the Democratic left to undercut the opposition.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rizer Challenger in House 68

From presidential politics I switch straight into District Of The Day mode:
Sam Gray, a Democrat from Marion, this week announced his candidacy for the state house District 68 seat, currently held by Republican Ken Rizer.

The Marion High School graduate is a part-time seed rep and student at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids studying Agriculture Science.
Marion's House seat has been one of the few true swing seats in Iowa the last decade, changing parties four times in recent years.

Swati Dandekar picked up the seat in 2002 when it was open, in a race where under the radar attacks on her ethnicity went over the radar and backfired badly on the Republicans. Republican Nick Wagner, who had given Dandekar a decent challenge in 2006, picked up the seat in 2008 when Dandekar moved over to her brief, ill-fated Senate career.

The seat was a top target in 2012 as Democrat Daniel Lundby, son of Republican legend Mary Lundby who had long held this seat, knocked off Wagner.  Republican Ken Rizer promptly launched a high profile high spending campaign and easily defeated Lundby in the 2014 landslide.

Gray is just 20, and turns 22 a couple weeks before the general election, but already has at least one significant political experience: he was the youngest delegate in the country at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, serving before he turned 18. National delegate, at least in Iowa, tends to be a lifetime achievement award, but there's always one maybe two very young very new people. Often, they're never heard from again; Gray looks to be an exception.

Whether the larger electorate takes a young candidate as seriously as party activists did is yet to be seen. Funny: despite, or more likely because of, its huge student population, Iowa City is terrible at electing young people, while other, older parts of the state are more accepting.

Trivia time: This house seat was part of the greatest cluster of special elections I've ever seen outside my parent's Wisconsin recall district.  In 1994-95, part of Marion saw five elections in just over two months:
  • In the November 1994 general election, Paul Pate was elected secretary of state in the middle of his state senate term.
  • Mary Lundby, just re-elected to the state house, ran for and won the state senate seat in a December special. 
  • Rosemary Thomson won Lundby's vacated house seat in early January.
  • In the middle of this there was also a special election for Linn County sheriff and
  • a failed merger election in the Marion and Linn-Mar school districts.
My parents had six special elections in two years - primaries and recalls for governor, state senate and state rep - but they weren't as tightly clustered and they weren't over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays either.

UPDATE: There won't be a comeback attempt. On April 22 Lundby announced he is moving out of state.

Friday, April 10, 2015


I'm mostly sticking with the first draft. Forgive the more typos than usual. Events on the UI campus are never very wifi friendly to those of us who are not faculty or students, so I was armed only with my phone and my thumbs.

One problem with chronological is it un-inverts my pyramid so that my lede is the Democratic counter-event.

Long version:

And apparently one did not end well. But opinions differ:

Had fun hanging out on press row with a conservative counterpart:

My typo ratio peaked here

As seen here.

Seeking the all-important Micro-American vote.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Announcements of Announcements, and Announcements

So the moment is finally here. Business Insider, of all publications, breaks the news:
A source with knowledge of Hillary Clinton's plans has confirmed that she will officially announce her 2016 presidential bid on Saturday or Sunday. This will be imminently followed by campaign travel.
Not sure why Business Insider got it, but this will be rolled out in drips and there are at least a handful of detail scoops to go around.
The story is about an hour old as I write so I'm just speculating; by the time you read this I may already be wrong.

I don't know the psychology of Sunday talk shows well, but the precise timing of the announcement will be designed to thoroughly dominate those shows. My guess is that means late Sunday. Probably New York.

A first visit to either Iowa or New Hampshire, my bet is the latter, will happen precisely when Marco Rubio is making his long-planned, pre-announced, locked in announcement speech. Now, if that New Hampshire event includes the Elizabeth Warren endorsement, that's the dagger.

Iowa, presumably central Iowa, maybe Cedar Rapids (too much of the Quad Cities media market is Illinois) but definitely NOT the People's Republic of Johnson County, will be sometime Tuesday.  The venue, or at least A venue, will be designed to seem very open, yet at the same time minimize risk.

(UPDATE: As of Friday AM, they're now saying announcement Sunday noon followed by Iowa viit first, either later Sunday or early in week. All this is really distracting me from my actual Friday morning mission, Rand Paul.)

And in fairness, Mark Halperin today noted the logistical difficulties she faces:

Maybe a set speech followed by an "impromptu" stop at a friendly restaurant, with a low-key effort to get friends there. (My understanding is that's how the Hamburg Inn was done last fall. A few calls: "Go to the Burg NOW. Don't ask. GO." And by sheer coincidence the local REPUBLICAN chair was there, which only made it feel more legit.)

That's probably the advice the "supportive Iowa activists" Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook and key player Marlon Marshall got at meetings last week in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. (Despite the Jennifer Jacobs story I've yet to confirm that a meeting that was supposedly planned in Iowa City ever even happened.)

KCCI has some anonymous background:
Over dinner and drinks one night last week at Baratta's, a cozy Italian restaurant in Des Moines, two top visiting Clinton strategists listened as supportive Iowa activists issued a stark warning: Some Democrats are far less enthused about her candidacy than others. After placing third in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, they said she must ask for every vote as well as being willing to run a gauntlet of small events and take part in grueling campaign sessions across the state.

Robby Mook, the campaign manager, and Marlon Marshall, a top deputy, traveled from New York to Iowa and New Hampshire last week as Clinton's envoys. They hosted the dinner and other intimate events, hoping to show that a former First Lady, senator and Secretary of State was open to concern, constructive criticism and even complaints.

Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party in Iowa, said activists were hungry for a primary campaign or at least a serious conversation about issues facing the country and who would become President Obama's successor. He was not invited to the dinner last week because he intends to remain neutral in the race, but he said he has shared his views with Clinton confidantes.
I heard from an attendee at the Cedar Rapids meeting that the event was a mix of labor and elected officials.

But the Iowa City meeting appears to be a mystery, and I've been digging for details all week, annoying my friends to no end and no avail. Again: I still have no confirmation it even happened.

I do know that no one at our county central committee meeting last Thursday night, the day the Mook meeting was supposedly happening, knew anything beyond what was in the Register article. That includes the county chair, vice chair, several past chairs and three elected officials.

"If they plan on winning Iowa with only people that were Clinton delegates last time, they will not win," said Supervisor Rod Sullivan, a past county chair. (Sullivan was an early Obama supporter in 2007.)

Lesson in our local political culture: Closed door does not go over in Johnson County. We have a tradition of schlepping people who can't pay into fundraisers. To the extent that things need to happen behind closed doors, which is sometimes a reality, there's an expectation that there needs to be a corresponding open to all event so the rank and file can at least see and hear the big shot, if not get face time.

But 2015 is not 2007, and for her sake and Iowa's, I'm hoping that start is just a stumble and that Hillary Clinton's latest effort - not sure how many point oh's to list there - is an improvement, and that the staff listened to their own supporters.

My hot take is that Clinton timed this announcement to step on the surprise entrant into the race... former Rhode Island governor and senator Lincoln Chaffee?!?

If he follows through it'll be Chafee's first race as a Democrat. He was appointed and elected to the Senate as a Republican after his father died, lost re-election in 2006, then was elected governor as an independent in 2010. He joined the Democrats before his term ended, but did not run.

At first blink it looks like Chaffee wants to be The Peace Candidate:
In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Chafee did not mince words when he said Clinton's 2002 Senate vote to authorize military action in Iraq should disqualify her from becoming commander in chief.

"I don't think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake," Chafee said. "It's a huge mistake and we live with broad, broad ramifications today — of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction."

Chafee, who was a Republican at the time, was the only senator from his party to vote against the Iraq war authorization. "I did not make that mistake," he said.
Other Democratic proto-candidates seem to be carefully shying away from attacking Clinton by name, couching their critiques in economic terms. I think this sets Chafee up as Bad Cop. He makes the attack and gets blasted for it, but the attack, to the extent that it works, works for Good Cop instead (Martin O'Malley likely gets that role).

The limit to that may be Democratic Party identity politics.The gender card will be played hard and often.

The question is: is there a statute of limitations on the Iraq War vote? If Clinton had voted No, she'd be wrapping up her second term today. She knows it, Barack Obama knows it. That vote was his opening. But will Democratic caucus goers decide that delaying her presidency eight years is punishment enough?

But cynics note that Lincoln Chaffee may have other motivations:
In fairness: Elizabeth Warren just wrote a book too.

Newport Notes: In Praise Of Staff

It's a Newport Road zoning night, which means a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting.

I'm agnostic about the zoning itself, and haven't followed the exact details too closely. And no one's mind is getting changed at this point.

I do predict some staff bashing, and that's where I want to weigh in.

I don't believe in government by staff - as a county staffer myself, I know it's not my role to make decisions. It's the staff's role to recommend, and to offer their best professional judgement to the elected officials who are the deciders.

I've worked with Rick Dvorak and R.J. Moore for 17 years, and Josh Busard a bit less than that. They are three of the best planners in the business. They are objective, fair, and rational. They have no axes to grind, they make no profit either way.  They genuinely care about sensible development, preserving the best farm land, and preventing urban sprawl (some of the buzzwords we'll hear tonight.)

Plus, even though this isn't relevant, they're all around great guys.

The planning and zoning staff recommended approval of tonight's subdivision. That's not the only criteria. But it's at the very least an objective recommendation that should be taken seriously. It's based on the plan, not on the politics.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Assume Deeth Dead

Due to circumstances beyond my control I have decided to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race.

I have given this decision to leave the race as much careful consideration as I did my announcement. I still strongly believe I could have won the primary based on my strong endorsements.

Celebreties were lining up to support me.

And I could have been the senator to unite a divided nation.
But I was betrayed by one of my strongest supporters.

But not only did I lose Hillary's endorsement, the attacks escalated, from more predictable enemies.

The attacks were devastating:
Some people mocked me for running my campaign entirely on social media, even though my two primary opponents were doing pretty much the same. But I suspect I would have been outmatched by the master of Twitter in the general. 

And when Prince denied me song rights to use the campaign theme songs at my rallies, I knew it was time to pack it in.

But I learned a lot about my state in my brief campaign. There was a little Johnson County bashing that quickly vanished, almost as if someone had responded first, then checked the calendar. And almost as if someone had responded before checking last year's election returns and seeing that we were 13 to 15 points more Democratic than any other county in the state in every race.

I heard some encouraging rumors that may make my candidacy unnecessary. So I'm not endorsing either of my erstwhile primary rivals.

Most important, I learned who was smart enough to get the joke, and who was smart enough to get the point.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Deeth Announces US Senate Candidacy

Big news this morning: Today I'm announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

I made the decision yesterday as my critique of the two Democrats currently challenging Chuck Grassley - Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause - went mini-viral, which by my standards means a couple of retweets, getting quoted in the Register,  and a mention in the .Gif Shop.  (I'm no Zach Wahls in terms of viral.)

My pet theory, which I give about a one in five chance, is that at the last minute Grassley, despite what I think are good intentions now, drops out of the race at the last possible moment and subs in his grandson, State Rep. Pat Grassley.

That one in five chance is too big to take. And the two current candidates aren't the kind of guys who will step aside for a stronger candidate if the situation changes. Fiegen is still complaining on the stump that the "big money" people recruited Roxanne Conlin when he had already called dibs.

For a long time I've wondered: who can fill this weird niche: strong enough to run a decent race for an open seat against a relatively untested legacy candidate, yet prepared to run a credible but certainly losing campaign against the most popular incumbent in the state?

Then it hit me. Conventional tactics will not work. We need a sort of Gonzo campaign.  And if the goal is not to win, then why not me?

So how will the John Deeth for Senate candidacy affect me, Al Franken? Not at all. Because Not only am I not going to join him in the Senate, I'm not even going to be on the November ballot.

Yes, that's my one campaign promise as an official U.S. Senate candidate: I will not be a candidate.  Let me flesh that out.

The filing deadlines for the Democrats and Republicans are on the same date - March 18, 2016. If the Democratic field is locked in as Fiegen and Krause, and at 4:59 PAT Grassley files instead of Chuck, then the Democrats will go into November with either Fiegen or Krause.

But if the Democratic field against Pat Grassley is Fiegen, Krause, and Deeth?

Then vote for me. Because my campaign promise is I will drop out of the race as soon as I win the primary. Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause won't do that, they'll just go "yay, I'm gonna be a senator!" and count on their FEET and their hundreds of dollars of campaign funds to see them to victory. (I can match that with my change jar.)

When I win and resign the nomination, the Democratic state convention can nominate a REAL candidate who can actually run and win, which I sure as hell can't. All the Republicans have to do for oppo research is go to the right column of this page and start reading the archives.

If as I expect CHUCK Grassley runs, then I will consult my advisers, which at this point is my Magic 8 Ball, and make a decision. I may drop out of the primary and let Tom and Bob battle for the low stakes.

Or I may stay in, follow through with the convention scenario, and let the party pick a real candidate.

But for now, my beret is in the ring. Start sending me money.