Tag Archives: ohio

Boulversement

The news this week has seen a couple of stunning reversals, where tides turned or sometimes even more shockingly refused to.

google protest

A collaboration of almost every major name in left-leaning political action protested in front of Google’s headquarters yesterday morning. Credo, UltraViolet, Bend the Arc, ColorOfChange, and Daily Kos all sent representatives with a clear message – that Google, or more specifically Google-owned YouTube, shouldn’t provide streaming services for the Republican National Convention this year, at least as long as Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.

In this day and age, conventions are less of a formal process and generally more of a three-day long political advertisement describing the Party’s and particularly the Party’s presidential nominee’s vision for the country. In that light, even with Trump facing more scrutiny than typical at the convention, it still would be more of a platform for him than vehicle for voters to become informed about his policies. In light of that, this protest followed in the footsteps of similar calls for him to not be a guest on various news programs and for several companies to divest from his businesses and television shows.

google protest 2.jpg

Unfortunately, not long after the protest Google announced that YouTube would indeed be the streaming service available for this year’s Republican convention.

Big Money oozes down ticket

While sponsors and service-providers might not have been so skittish over the prospect of a presumably Trump-nominating convention, many high profile donors have been as noted in an article on Wednesday on Reclaim the American Dream. Terrified of Trump’s potential to alienate voters from the party as a whole, a huge rush of donations has already gone in conservative circles to state-level races, and sometimes even more locally.

Author Hedrick Smith points out that the funds involved are already reaching extremely high numbers more typically associated with national campaigns:

Conservative donors have contributed nearly 70 percent of the $707 million in SuperPAC money raised to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the hot senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SuperPacs, Candidates and parties on both sides have raised war chest that already total from $23 million to $32 million in each state.

Many of these states will in all likelihood still see extensive advertising from presidential campaigns, but the level of wall-to-wall saturation associated with those types of candidates is already promising to become more common with senatorial races, and maybe even more local ones as well.

Distorting democracy

In this jaded age, it’s easy to look at that rush to support Tea Party freshmen senators with unprecedented donations and simply see it as a reflection of the problems in our post-Citizens United electoral system. Unfortunately, these sorts of structural flaws have long been with us and for many years now have been redirecting electoral outcomes away from their expected course, as detailed in a Demos report on Chicagoan politics released yesterday.

Some of the findings in the report catalog what’s long been said about local races with a lot of money put into them: that much of it comes from outside of the communities holding the elections, and that it biases candidates towards business and upper class interests. Interestingly, it also showed that among the large donations that are still made in-community, at least within Chicago they overwhelmingly come not only from White residents, but from White residents living in wildly disproportionately White parts of the city.

Against a telling gender gap as well, what this report showed is how systemically disruptive these large donations tend to be. It not only is an opportunity for outsiders to sway local decisions to their favor, but just another vehicle for uniquely powerful local voices to assert their narrow vision of how their city is and what their city could be. That’s how the city that rioted against Trump’s appearance can also have a leadership that pursues racially-charged policies that sound quite akin to his.

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Super Tuesday II: everything’s coming up Trump

As promised, here’s the most important map in the US right now:

2016-03-16_1020(Counties sorted by winner: Trump in dark blue, Cruz in yellow, and Kasich in bright green. Candidates who have withdrawn or suspended their campaigns with a win include Carson in pale green and Rubio in red. Ties are in dark gray, counties that will hold contests later in the year are in light gray, and territories that elect strictly unbound delegates are in black.)

In a nutshell, it’s good news for Trump. Here’s a quick overview of what we can all learn from last night beyond that.

Region matters, but it’s only part of the story

A lot of commentary has focused on regional distinctions, in which Cruz is painted as successful in the West while Trump dominates the East and especially the South. That misses some nuances about where and how either of them dominate in various regions.

In the South, urban centers largely light up in contrast to the cold sea of largely rural, blue-coded, Trump-won counties. A large percentage of that were counties carried by Rubio, but Cruz’s showing in North Carolina maps surprisingly well to the more densely populated parts of the state too. Those voters in particularly may very well have been anyone-but-Trump votes, cast by somewhat more moderate and typically urban Southern Republicans. If North Carolina had voted earlier (like South Carolina), they may have gone with Rubio or a more moderate choice than Cruz, but this late in the process they were voting extremely strategically.

Missouri, hotly contested as a southern state, seems to have had a similar dynamic play out last night. Cruz won Jefferson City, Kansas City, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau, while Trump dominated the rural areas between each of those cities. Those who insist that Missouri has a distinctly un-southern feel to it might be right, as the second largest city, St. Louis, was narrowly carried by Trump. Bordering Illinois, those counties saw a dynamic more like those seen further north in the country.

Outside of the South, this urban-rural split is not only less dependable but also shockingly reverses, with Trump carrying Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, and yesterday Chicago. As noted before, that oddity of him tending to win urban and suburban centers in blue states particularly speaks to his unique appeal to conservatives who feel “under siege” or similarly vulnerable. Where comparatively less populated parts of Illinois flip from Trump to Cruz might serve as an indicator of where a more southern cultural identity ends within the state. Trumps electoral success in Chicago – even though it’s with a small part of the total population there – was key in him pulling off that win.

Kasich wins, yet barely

If anyone pulled off a major victory in the Republican primaries last night outside of Trump, it was Kasich. While no one, Florida senator Rubio least of all, failed to step up and oppose Trump more or less steamrolling his way to victory in Florida, Ohio governor Kasich gave a surprisingly strong showing in Ohio. Cruz failed to capitalize on his appeal in certain rural parts of Kentucky bordering Ohio, but Trump’s wins along that border (and up along the boundary with Pennsylvania) were overshadowed by Kasich’s decisive if lean wins in virtually every other rural, suburban, or urban part of the state.

His win really was a bare minimum, however. Kasich, armed with electability, experience, and likability, only managed to win a plurality of Republican primary voters. To make matters worse he also had some pretty substantial conservative bona fides and benefited from a semi-organized campaign among Ohio democrats to crossover and vote for him. Even with all that, Trump trailed behind him only 9.1 percent – a meaningful loss, but not very much of one when Ted Cruz won 13.1 percent in the race in Ohio. The viability of Kasich outside of Ohio is dubious at best, and these fairly anemic returns under best case conditions may have a secured a key victory there but they mostly serve as a reminder of how limited his appeal has been.

The missing caucuses

Most coverage has sadly overlooked this, but the Northern Mariana Islands held their caucuses yesterday as well. Trump won decisively, with Cruz in a distant second. This is a bit of an upset of historical norms, actually, as they had previously cast their support even more overwhelmingly to Mitt Romney in 2012. In both cases, however, the territory saw wildly unrepresentative caucuses with fewer than scarcely a thousand participants representing its more than fifty thousand residents.

What next?

Within the immediate race, eyes will soon turn to Arizona, Utah, and American Samoa, which will all hold primary contests next Tuesday. That’s another 107 delegates – 58 of which will be awarded as a set by Arizonan primary voters. If Trump wins that primary, he would be more than halfway to a clear majority of delegates, suggesting that the Republican convention this summer will either be his to enjoy or a protracted mess of last minute deals to deny him the nomination.

Considering those exact possibilities, more than few Republicans are probably busily taking notes on this Bloomberg article which explores exactly how a brokered convention might be engineered. The key issue, particularly if Trump manages to win Arizona or similarly gain control over the majority of delegates is whether he can keep them completely loyal at a potentially rowdy convention. It’s unclear if this was tabulated with the aim to help Trump retain his delegates, Cruz target them for conversion, or for other reasons, but one list of who will appear at the convention as an unbound delegate (meaning, they can change their votes) has already popped up.

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One #YearWithoutTamir

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, gun violence, police violence

Today marks the one year anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death in Cleveland. A Black twelve year old, he was playing in a park near his home with a legal, fake gun. Someone called the police, complaining, and within two seconds of their arrival on the scene, one officer had shot him. Tamir Rice died the following day – November 23, 2014. The killing was legally deemed reasonable after an investigation which the police department used to charge fees to Tamir Rice’s family for holding his body.

In commemoration, activists delivered some 20,000 signatures to a petition calling for the sitting county prosecutor to step aside or step down to his office. Their rebuke here is clear – the system has failed to work, and needs to be challenged to provide justice for the Black community of Cleveland and specifically Tamir Rice’s family.

tamir rice petitions

For more in depth coverage on this subject, I recommend Jamil Smith’s writing and recording at the New Republic. He ties what has happened to Tamir Rice to what is now happening to #BlackLivesMatter activists at Donald Trump rallies, both painting a moving picture of what has already been lost and delivering a haunting warning about who else is at risk.

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Party or movement, political seats or policy wins

A sinus infection has slowed me down for the past couple days, so I haven’t been writing as much as I would like on here. Let me jump back into the fray with a look at the bizarrely two-minded Democratic assessment of how well they did in the elections earlier this month. I dove into that discussion earlier myself, noting that while the Democrats lost a number of elections that weren’t unquestionably outside their grasp (the Kentucky governorship namely, but also the Virginia state legislature), the main changes were either in their favor or largely non-partisan. What stuck out to me were the ballot initiatives in Houston and Ohio which passed, as well as the Democratic wins in Pennsylvania which if nothing else tempered their losses elsewhere that night.

The Progressive Turnout Project, however, wanted to focus on what they saw as a recurring pattern in Democratic defeats. They sent out a promotional email after the election describing some key “huge losses”:

2015-11-10_1746Let’s take those one at a time.

In 2011, Kentucky did pick a Democratic gubernatorial candidate over a Republican one, to the tune of 464,245 Democratic votes altogether. That only slid down to 426,944 votes in 2015, however, not really an appreciable shift considering the 2011 Democratic candidate was an incumbent who was able to originally eke his way into office when the sitting Republican governor came under fire for corruption. 2011 may very well have been a high water mark for Democrats in Kentucky, even if it was nationally more of a low point.

It’s additionally worth noting that that Republican vote was probably more hampered than the Democratic one by an independent campaign in 2011 by libertarian Gatewood Galbraith. Although markedly pro-marijuana, he is perhaps most overt in his policy recommendations when it comes to the New Deal and related social programs which he argues dislodged the agrarian nature of the US and imposed an unethical, industrial-minded political order. In an off-year election with over 100,000 fewer votes cast than in the more recent one, he probably siphoned more support from the Republican than the Democrat.

The Virginia General Assembly, meanwhile, is a continuing exercise in gerrymandering. Others have better described the lengthy history of Virginia’s local legislature as a body representing the state internally divided in a radically unrepresentative way. As in, 8:3 ratio of seated state legislators with Democrats in aggregate receiving more votes statewide. Since the redistricting that went into effect in 2011, the Virginia State Senate, previously the only major body or position in the state held (narrowly) by Democrats, has gone ever so slightly to the Republicans. The maintenance of the two-vote majority for Republicans isn’t some sort of baffling and unexpected phenomenon. Regrettable? Sure. Avoidable? Perhaps. Completely within Democrats’ power to chip away at? Not necessarily. Something to expect to work itself out? Not in the slightest.

Lastly, the idea that Mississippi in an off year was going to elect a Democrat, well, stranger things have indeed happened, but that this was an unexpected loss, only possible with low turnout, speaks to a Democrat confidence that maybe is misplaced. Yes, Democratic-leaning voters are less likely to show up at the polls because of structural inequalities – they are less likely to own cars to drive to them, they are less likely to have media alert them about the election, they are even less likely to even have Democratic candidates to vote for. But there’s also the messaging game. Are Democrats making a compelling case to voters who might be persuaded in either direction? While many national elections indicate that that’s the case, they don’t speak to the increasing presence of candidates like Gatewood Galbraith (or other independent or third party candidates, or even Blue Dogs) as the alternative to Republicans in many corners of the United States. Democrats may very well have simply lost Mississippi.

Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean struck a more nuanced version of the same chord as the Progressive Turnout Project. He admitted that “You have to have resources in the state parties, you have to have organizations in the state parties. Even places you don’t think we can win, because if you don’t do that we’re never going to win those states.” Implicit within that statement is that spreading resources and candidates out into less certain districts will indeed lead to losses, but even also a certain number of wins. That resignation to some inevitable losses didn’t stop Dean from bemoaning that “the thing that kills me about Kentucky is 460,000 people will lose insurance because they didn’t go out and vote”. The core of his argument is the same as the Progressive Turnout Project’s – that this is about either Republican structural advantages and either apathetic or misguided voters, rather than Democratic failures (inevitable or not).

Working Families, a pseudo-third party organized mainly in the broader New York City area, vocally disagreed in their post-election analysis-meets-donation-drive:

2015-11-10_1849A polarizing situation seems to have emerged here, where particularly non-partisan elections (mostly on ballot initiatives) have galvanized Democratic-leaning voters, even as the Party’s political fortunes have declined. Enmeshed in a political system that, as some Democrats have pointed out, is largely opposed to them and their policy goals, this makes apparent the status of the Democratic Party as political party hanging in air. What’s more important to it – partisan victories or policy victories? Most of the time the two go hand-in-hand, but in this past election, they each took a step sideways and showed they can diverge paths.

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The local electoral grab bag

If you switched on the television this morning you probably saw some reporting on the results of the battery of local elections held yesterday. At least in my neck of the media woods, there’s a pretty narrow focus within that – on the Democratic loss of the Kentucky governorship to a Republican.

That story has everything. There’s the glacial pace of party realignment, with the South steadily converting from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican even at the state-level. Entangled with that is the convoluted history of Kentucky itself, the famously neutral state in the Civil War. If you want to say or write something that, instead of being deeply historied, makes this a dramatic reversal there’s something to draw on there as well – as the predictions remarkably reversed at more or less the last minute. Suddenly, Republican Matt Bevin overtook Democrat Jack Conway in what was ultimately revealed to not be a fluke poll but an accurate prediction. That race and its results are rich in narratives and national meaning.

Let’s look a little more broadly though. Here’s some interesting things that happened last night that are going a little under-noticed compared to that one race.

Ohioan Redistricting: don’t hold your breath

Ohio voters roundly supported Issue 1, giving it 71 percent support at the ballot box. The proposition overhauls Ohio’s districting system for its state legislature, which arguably has served as the gerrymandering model for Republicans around the country. In spite of a very narrow preference for Democratic candidates as an entire state, the internal boundaries have been carefully drawn (some argue for more than two decades) to pack Democratic-leaning areas into a few districts, allowing Republicans to be numerically over-represented in the state legislature. Issue 1 is designed to encourage less partisan district maps by forcing the panel that creates the maps to have more members of both major parties and to require more frequent votes to maps passed without support from both parties.

Many aren’t particularly impressed with the new system this sets up, however. Arguably many of the current Democratic representatives have a personal investment in the broken system, since the Democratic “sink” districts are incredibly safe seats for them to hold. Only one of them needs to accept a Republican-biased proposal to make the results “bipartisan” defeating the whole point of the measure. Besides that, even if the Democrats remain firm, the Republicans can arguably retain the existing map or a similarly favorable one with the more regular votes indefinitely. Either way, we’re back to square one with a gerrymandered Ohioan legislature.

Stephen Wolf at DailyKos noted that the fundamental problem here is party involvement. Increasing the diversity of party involvement in planning these maps isn’t really a solution. He pointed instead to Arizona as a model for dismantling a gerrymandered map, saying:

The biggest risk with this proposed commission is that it will destroy any appetite for further redistricting reform among Democrats and reform-minded independent organizations, just as flawed redistricting reform measures have done in other states. At best, it might just induce reformers to include Congress under the same bipartisan process as the legislature, leading to maps that, while not as aggressive as the current Republican gerrymander, would still have a clear rightward lean.

A far more ideal solution is to establish a truly independent redistricting commission free of self-interested political officeholders. Arizona did this very thing, producing a commission reformers regarded highly. After a crucial United States Supreme Court ruling validated establishing redistricting commissions by initiative, there has been a renewed push for similar reforms in other ballot measure states. It’s quite possible that renewed independent reform efforts spurred Republicans’ desire in Ohio to block a more aggressive future reform by agreeing to Issue 1 now.

The next few years will show if Ohioans can capitalize on these changes. Maybe this can be the start of a more systemic reform, but if commentators like Wolf are to be believed, that’s not likely.

Pennsylvania Swept, Republicans Wept

Amid the decline of the Democratic Party in Kentucky, there’s some bright news from the other end of northern Appalachia. Pennsylvania has been swept in an off-year election by Democrats. The bulk of the positions up for election were judicial, which in Pennsylvania have as of late been held by Republicans, and been a key part of the Republican policy control in the left-leaning state. Yesterday, for the first time since 2007, Pennsylvania voters elected a Democratic candidate to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (more or less an appellate state court), and likewise changed their state Supreme Court into a majority Democrat body.

While those were statewide elections that indicate the political temperature of Pennsylvania is shifting bluer, the mayoral election in Philadelphia indicates how the already Democratic-leaning portions of the state are moving. The Republican candidate, Melissa Bailey, lost to Democrat James Kenney by a 72 point margin. You read that right – the Democratic candidate got 85 percent of the vote to the Republican’s thirteen.

Others have previously pointed out that Republicans tend to regularly sink resources into fights they can’t win in Pennsylvania, but this indicates how out-of-reach the state has really become for their party. The state as a whole is becoming harder to win in the local, off-year elections that are supposed to be Republicans’ high water mark, and they’re barely a second party in some parts of the state. Pennsylvania may be becoming the Atlantic California.

Houston: The Arc of Justice… can double back

Trigger warning: transmisogyny, heterosexism, cissexism

There’s been some national attention on the election in Houston which changed the city policy on discrimination against LGBT people, but my impression is frankly that it’s being mischaracterized. For instance, here’s how the Texas Tribune explained the vote in one of the most widely circulated pieces on the issue:

Houston voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents and several other classes. With 95 percent of votes counted, 61 percent of voters opposed the measure. The embattled ordinance, better known as HERO, would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The article, to its credit, does correctly go on to describe the deeply transmisogynistic rhetoric that was successfully used to create a public rejection of the ordinance. It also ultimately notes briefly that the ordinance was already in place following a 2014 vote by city officials, a bit of a different situation than implied to exist in the above description. This wasn’t legal protections and rights for LGBT people (among others) not be extended, it was them being rescinded. Combined with the on-going insult that particularly the rights and recognition of LGBT people is something to be put to a plebiscite, this flies in the face of many triumphalist narratives being pushed currently about LGBT rights.

The nation’s fourth largest city just rolled back the rights of LGBT people, and particularly indicated that transgender women can’t feel safe in public in it. This echoes some of the most painful parts of the now closing fight for marriage equality that many seem to want to forget today. Marriages were nullified. The availability of marriage was revoked. Among other important things obscured in the hazy glow of Obergefell is this: things can move backwards. Rights awarded are rights that can be withdrawn.

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On healthcare and taxes

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has an excellent set of brief online pamphlets about the impacts of the (until recently certain to be implemented) policy of expanding medicaid coverage to cover the “hole” between existing medicaid coverage and the Obamacare subsidies. In a nutshell, this primarily assists the working poor (as 58 percent of the households assisted by the expansion have at least one full-time working member), and a good chunk of the rest of the families assisted are elderly retired couples. Calling this economic redistribution seems like a distraction from the real issue: there’s an entire class of people in the United States who aren’t paid wages that allow them to actually buy necessities like healthcare.


(Ohio had one of the largest populations that would benefit from such an expansion, from here.)

Having states or the federal government enter the picture and actually cover those people’s healthcare in part or full is an obvious good in that it addresses their immediate needs, but also indirectly. It frees up those people caught in the “hole” to use the small amounts of money they currently have saved up for the rare co-pays they allow themselves on consumer items – indirectly stimulating the economy through whatever purchases they make.

But the funds for that coverage have to come from somewhere, even if the state of Ohio hopes to earn some of it back in sales tax and pass along the majority of the costs to the federal government (as medicaid primarily receives funding from there, with various new spending guarantees because of Obamacare, actually). How are we going to jump start the economy and raise living standards without the necessary funds which most companies are now pocketing as “profits”?


(An image being circulated about the approximately $400 billion lost to tax evasion annually in the US, from here and figures from here.)

Ultimately, the issue of how our tax policies are structured and how we prevent tax dodging is not just about “equity” or a vision of fairness, it’s also about how we as a society amass the funds to better ourselves.

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What else to watch for on Tuesday

TW: sexism, heterosexism, class warfare, sexual assault

It might not seem to be the case, given my past coverage of the election next week, but with five days to go it has to be said: this election is much bigger than a presidential race. And I don’t just mean that the ramifications of the presidential race will extend to every corner of society and well into the future (which is always true), but that there are a variety of local races that will conclude on Tuesday that have national importance. Here’s a quick run-down of the key issues as far as I can see, most of which are getting little air time compared to the presidential races.

1. The Future is Joaquín Castro

In Texas’ 20th congressional district, Joaquín Castro, currently a state representative of an overlapping area, reminds many people of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. In his first run for a federal office, we’ll have a bit of a test to see if he can pull off a similarly impressive landslide even for a relatively Democratic urban district. The bar has been set very high, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this rising star of the Democratic Party does. To beat Obama’s record, he’ll have to garner more than 73 percent of his districts votes. He actually beat that percentage while running for his current office in 2010, so it’s not out of the question though.

2. The California Three

If you’re at all familiar with California, you realize that the idea of it as uniformly liberal and Democratic is actually unfounded. As Five Thirty Eight pointed out last month, the state is starkly divided between progressive coastal cities and very conservative inland populations. In the wake of overhauling the districts’ boundaries, both parties are now scrambling for a small number of contested seat falling between the generally Democratic coast and largely Republican interior. Three races – in the seventh, tenth, and forty-first congressional districts – show a concerted effort by Democrats to offer progressive policies to historically marginalized inland populations and push inward. The respective Democratic candidates are Ami Bera, José Hérnandez, and Mark Takano – all the sons of immigrants with a specific favorite issue to push.

Five Thirty Eight counties of California
(Five Thirty Eight’s electoral graph of California’s counties)

Bera is second only to Barack Obama in demanding for his daughters and wife to have equal ability to participate in US politics, and he has unleashed a fierce ad campaign over the Republican incumbent’s support for stricter regulations on access to abortion even in cases of sexual assault. Hérnandez, the son of farm workers who became an astronaut, has emphasized the need for equal access to education as the route he used and others need to escape systemic poverty. Mark Takano has stressed the need for substantive LGBT* rights and environmental regulations. Each of these candidates touch on other major issues as well, including the ones favored by other members of the “California Three”. Individually and as a unit they present a strong case for social reform to traditionally more centrist or conservative parts of California. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of in roads they hopefully make.

3. A Nation-Wide Rebuke of the Tea Party?

Throughout the country, there’s a bit of a backlash brewing against the more conservative members of the Republican Party, promising to make several local races rather interesting. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has managed to annoy seemingly every large but marginalized social group, seems to embody this on the national stage. Likewise, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee House races, Kathy Boockvar and Eric Stewart are challenging Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott DesJarlais, respectively, in part over their misogynistic conduct. Fitzpatrick has managed to incite a backlash against him because of his terrible policies, while DesJarlais is under fire for arranging for his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant (in spite of being vehemently opposed to elective abortions as policy).

Other races, however, are less of a reaction to existing policy or hypocrisy, and seemingly more about anticipation of future political decisions by further “right” politicians. In Nebraska, the competition between Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey has tightened considerably, seemingly as Fischer has drawn criticism even without having held the office yet. Similarly, Texan Representative Lamar Smith faced primary challenges and now a potential third party spoiler over his sponsorship of SOPA and support for PIPA which could allow Democrat Candace Duval to pull ahead. Neither bill became law of course, but the backlash he’s received for his key involvement with drafting both threatens his chance of reelection. Likewise, we can hope that Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s insensitive comments on sexual assault will cost him the position of Indiana Senator, although with it so close to the election, it might not have time to move public perception and support towards Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.

All of these races have the potential for frankly dangerous incumbents who support restricting many or all Americans’ freedoms to be replaced by much more progressive Senators and Representatives.

4. Democratic Incumbents in “Middle America”

Of course, this election isn’t just about struggling to overcome sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, racist, and classist political ideologies, but also retain positions held by reformers against reactionary challengers. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting to hold onto his seat against challenger Josh Mandel, whose stance on economic issues is at this point well known to the working Ohioan families he would represent. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill is facing off against challenger Todd Akin, who is now nationally known as the “legitimate rape” guy. The controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. Whether these two candidates can retain their positions will directly impact the Senate’s capacity to create policies that challenge class inequality and sexism.

5. The Future of Marriage

In addition to competition between candidates in various states, four different state propositions that will be tested on Tuesday will check current political attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In Maryland, Maine, and Washington, voters will have the option to legally sanction same-sex marriages at the local level, while Minnesota voters will have to decide whether to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This is an interesting test to see what difference is made by the four years separating next Tuesday from California’s proposition 8, the now public support of same-sex marriage by the sitting president, and numerous public heel-face-turns on the issue. In light of those changes, it’s also an interesting test of Nate Silver’s past predictions of public sentiment on the issue.

6. Two Visions of California

I’ve written before about one Californian proposition on the ballot next week that would be historic, but there’s another one as well. Proposition 37 would be the first major effort to install mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and food additives, which would place a new check on the biotechnology industry’s power. In contrast, Proposition 32 would  harshly restrict labor unions’ main political strategies, while leaving corporate political powers largely unrestricted. California has a choice between leading the rest of the United States towards a better model of corporate regulation or following the failed model of Wisconsin that’s been promoted by Arizonan donors.

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Which ones actually are swing states?

Yesterday, a lot of people suddenly seemed to notice that there are disagreements between various pollsters and politicos over what states are actually “up for grabs” by either Romney or Obama. On The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow briefly covered it, noting subtle discrepancies between the two campaigns (as Obama continues to focus on Florida and Virginia, while Romney seemingly feels more comfortable there). She left it up to her viewers to deduce why the NBC predictions she also referenced were distinct from either of the major campaign’s focuses in including New Hampshire and Wisconsin as “swing states” (but dropping Nevada, too). Clearly, there’s some politics involved in simply deciding what states are vulnerable in the election.

Jonathan Chait earlier in the same day made a similar point, arguing that:

“[the Romney campaign] is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy [… while the race is somewhat close,] Obama enjoys a clear electoral college lead. He is ahead by at least a couple points in enough states to make him president. Adding to his base of uncontested states, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin would give Obama 271 electoral votes. According to the current polling averages compiled at fivethirtyeight.com, Obama leads Nevada by 3.5 percent, Ohio by 2.9 percent, and Wisconsin by 4 percent. Should any of those fail, Virginia and Colorado are nearly dead even. (Obama leads by 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.) If you don’t want to rely on Nate Silver — and you should rely on him! — the polling averages at realclearpolitics, the conservative-leaning site, don’t differ much, either.

The only problem with his statements is that while Real Clear Politics provides the polls to prove Obama’s small but consistent advantage, it also provides the predictions that keep insisting that Michigan and Pennsylvania are some of the “toss-up” states. Looking over their map of predictions, it’s hard not to see the “horse race” that gives the media the ratings it loves. After all, states they classify as “toss-ups” hold more electoral votes than all of Romney’s “safe” states, either Romney’s or Obama’s “likely” states, and their combined “leans”. It’s only smaller than Obama’s “safe” states by 11 electoral votes. Their list contains all of the states either campaign considers worthy or visiting right now, the two additional ones listed by NBC, and two more – Michigan and Pennsylvania. A full fifth of the states are being contested in their predictions.


(Behold the gray faces states that hold our future in their hands. The screen-shot of their electoral college prediction is from this morning.)

There’s a key word at the beginning there – they classify states. Based on what? That’s not really said – but given their job as an aggregate polling firm, which collects polls from different pollsters to give a broad overview of what races are looking like, it’s hard to believe that polling data are totally irrelevant to their classification of states. If that’s true though, that polls are at the center of their predictions – then they really look like they have a double standard between what gets classified as an identifiable preference for Romney and an apparent choice of Obama.

Focusing on just the “toss-ups”, there’s immense variation between states’ polling results within that category. Admittedly, some of them look like what you’d imagine. The recently collected polls for Colorado show low results for either candidate, with quite a bit of alternation between who’s leading. There’s been a mix of polls showing either Romney or Obama leading throughout October, and into the summer. It really is difficult to feel confident that the state will go one way or the other. There’s a few other states that also fit this overall pattern – New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.

Slightly distinct are the “toss-up” states with some mixed polling results, but a clear tendency towards Obama. Nevada, for instance, has consistently seen extremely small leads for Obama, with no polls in the past few months showing a Romney lead (although there were two ties). Looking at Ohio gives similar results, as there’s a clear imbalance between the campaigns in convincing voters to support them, but the difference is extremely small. While there is adequate uncertainty to question the victory of the incumbent in those states, labeling both of them “toss-ups” seems to imply a degree of equal opportunity that seems unfounded.

On the other hand, there are some “toss-ups” that seem to be anything but. Michigan hasn’t seen a tie or Romney victory in the polls since late August. Wisconsin hasn’t seen either since mid-August. Pennsylvania hasn’t seen one or the other since February. Multiple months have seen no polls indicating a Romney win or extremely close race. Over those weeks, there have been periods where the incumbent enjoyed double digit margins of victory. Those polls are provided by a diverse group of pollsters – from the right-leaning Rasmussen to left-leaning Public Policy Polling, but all of them have found substantial Obama victories in those states for at least a month and a half, if not more.

And yet, these are still “toss-ups”,  because apparently some one in Real Clear Politics head office still isn’t really sure if they can even modestly suggest that Obama will carry them. In contrast, North Carolina was reclassified from being a “toss-up” to being a  “leans Romney” state on October 18. If you bother to look at their state-specific polling data, they changed their prediction after 17 days without any Obama wins in the polls – and with only five polls showing single-digit support for Romney. Now, I actually agree with both Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight that North Carolina is more likely to end up in Romney’s column than Obama’s, but Real Clear Politics’ standards for reaching that conclusion seem at odds with their choices for, say, Pennsylvania – which has 261 days without any Romney wins in the polls and 39 polls showing occasionally double-digit support for Obama.

So while Real Clear Politics polling aggregation might suggest the same conclusions as “biased” Nate Silver, their predictions don’t match, provided the prediction would be of an Obama victory. Sounds like Chait might have been too charitable there in attributing major media predictions of a Romney win to confusion, rather than willful intent.

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The GOP leadership is a fifth column

TW: Bush-era impunity, voter suppression

Having endured eight years under President Bush where most public and heated criticism of the Republican Party’s policies was conflated with sympathy for terrorists if not terrorism itself, Obama’s change of political tone was welcome: he was elected as a bipartisan, to be a bipartisan, among other bipartisan officials. Nowhere was that facet to his governing philosophy more obvious than during last night’s debate, during which he touted his willingness to work with Republicans and independents and incorporate their ideas into his policies (in contrast to Romney who was very insistent on policies being “correct”, not the process producing them being non-partisan). The Republican counter-argument Obama has worked against since early 2009 has seemed pretty patently opposed to shared political rule – just ask Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Over the past few months, however, it’s become undeniable – this isn’t just an opposition to another political party which is to be expected. This crosses over into rejecting basic, non-partisan, political processes. The Republican Party is opposed to authentically representative governance, because it won’t empower them. We’ve reached the point where they are hoping to actively subvert political norms towards undemocratic ends: in archaic terms, a fifth column.

Perhaps this should have been obvious from the 2000 presidential election onwards – since I might argue that the United States has been in constitutional crisis since then. Not only did another presidential victor lose the popular vote, but careful examination called into question the Supreme Court’s partisan declaration that Bush had won the popular vote in Florida, rather than reorganize the election or actually finishing counting the existing ballots. The electoral system tolerated the highest court declaring the winner, rather than objectively allowing voters to even decide in our poorly-designed Electoral College. That night in 2000 began a lengthy list of major events during the Bush years that suggested his administration tolerated such anti-democratic efforts or perhaps they were even the political goals of the Republican-controlled government.

But now, it’s unambiguous. There’s no conceivable argument against photographic and video evidence where Republican leaders have admitted that they oppose basic democratic rights being protected for all Americans – where there is clear intent and an worrying lack of incompetence. This is a willful strategy of undermining democratic representation in governance to elevate the desires of the Republican Party over the needs of average Americans. This is what a fifth column by definition does.

This began with local governments throughout Michigan being shut down and with their citizenry being unable to undo the emergency process which empowered unelected representatives in communities in fiscal crisis. This has widely been pushed on communities by the Republican controlled state government. Mother Jones has done some solid reporting on this, focusing on how these communities seem unable to reverse the process because of explicit weaseling around the Michigan law’s requirement of state officials to reinstate democratic governance when certain conditions are met. Earlier this year, the White “emergency manager” of a predominantly Black community accepting criticism that he held dictatorial power, calling himself a “tyrant”.

This sort of hostility to basic democratic processes has spread – both in geographic occurrence and political implications.  In the spring of 2012, Michigan refused to reinstate democratic rule, and in the early summer a Pennsylvania State Representative declared that the Voter ID legislation he and his party had pushed on Pennsylvania “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania“. The disenfranchisement he casually and victoriously discussed would not only strip certain portions of the population of local representation but deny them a political voice in the upcoming presidential election – and that was the explicit goal. Thankfully, a judicial review of that law (like many others) has struck down those requirements. But as Rachel Maddow pointed out earlier this week, the law may have already had the effect of discouraging certain demographics from voting.

In that context, it was pointed out earlier today that just across the road from a  public housing project in Ohio, this billboard was put up:

Clear Channel sign reading:

The billboard is in the neighborhood of a few other public housing projects as well as a community college. This is a state, where a Republican official explained his opposition to early voting practices which were used in 2008, by saying, “I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine”. In that phrase alone, that official admitted that this isn’t fraud of any sort that he’s opposing – it’s turnout, and of a specific ethnic, socio-economic, and consequently political groups. He isn’t concerned about the right of all Americans to vote – he’s trying to ensure that the “right” Americans have the power to determine electoral results.

This is the development of the American conservative movement into not only an organization hostile to the benefits of a substantive democratic system being applied equally to all social groups, but one that actively and blatantly opposes basic political activity by those same demographics. This is a reject of the modern assumption of universal suffrage and democratic inclusion in American politics. This is a betrayal of the central tenets of the American political system. This is what a fifth column does.

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