Sunday, November 18, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Don't Jump To Conclusions About 2020

As we head into the 2020 presidential election cycle (with several
under-the-radar Democratic campaigns already underway), it might
be useful to discard some early now-proclaimed conventional wisdom
about how that voting might turn out.

Two major and contrary commonplaces, I think, are woefully premature
--- if not off the mark. Curiously  each of these presumptions have both
some Democrats and some Republicans holding them --- and each come
from reactions o the 2018  mid-term elections just concluded.

The first, held by overly optimistic Democrats and overly pessimistic
Republicans, is that Donald Trump will now finally be replaced in 2020
by the Democratic standard bearer because they think mid-term results
were a clear repudiation of the president. The second, held by overly
optimistic Republicans and overly pessimistic Democrats, is that now
President Trump will be re-elected because they think the new liberal
U.S. house majority will cave into the temptation to overplay its hand
against the president, and make him (as happened in 1998 when
Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton) more popular than
ever in a backlash.

I think a look at the all-important electoral college map demonstrates
why any early conclusions are premature.

One lesson from 2016 that I think many political strategists have had to
re-learn is that a presidential election is an electoral college election,
and not a popular vote election. Looking at that electoral map, each
party is very likely to win states with about 190 electoral votes.
Hillary Clinton won relatively narrowly in states with about 40 electoral
votes; Donald Trump had close wins in states with about 115 electoral
votes. This would seem to give Democrats a paper advantage in 2020.
The mid-terms, while overall good for Democratic candidates, showed
GOP strength in Ohio and Florida (49 electoral votes) so that the most
likely 2020 battlegrounds will be Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Minnesota --- with possible additions
of New Mexico,Virginia, Kansas and Iowa. Of course, over the next two
years, the aforesaid list could change.

Democrats now have a problem that Republicans don’t have --- there is
no likely and popular (and younger) liberal presidential hopeful --- at
least not yet. But Democrats were in the same predicament n 2007 after
they did well in he 2006 mid-terms --- but by 2008 Barack Obama had
appeared. With a little help from a mortgage banking disaster, he won
the White House that year.

Republicans, it is now frequently said, did poorly among suburban
women in 2018, but identity group voting patterns can change between
cycles. President Trump, it has also been noted, is doing better than any
of his recent GOP predecessors among usually critically important
Democratic blue collar, black and Hispanic voters ---caused by
historically low unemployment in these groups. Rising anti-Israel
attitudes by some Democratic leaders is also boosting the president
with Jewish voters, most of whom have recently voted for Democratic

President Trump has been routinely underestimated by many of his
opponents and many in the media. He has also provoked strong
antipathy for many for his political style and rhetoric.

The new Democratic majority in the U.S. house faces a very critical
test before 2020. President Harry Truman ran successfully against a
Democratic “do-nothing” Congress in 1948. After 1998, President Bill
Clinton became more popular after Republicans impeached him, and
only when Al Gore abandoned Clintonian centrism by campaigning to
the left did he fall short in 2000, a race that was his to lose.

In short, President Trump and his supporters have few solid reasons
now to presume he will be re-elected --- and Democrats have few
solid reasons to feel secure that they can defeat him.

It is true that first-term presidents are difficult to defeat. Barack
Obama had a disastrous mid-term in 2010, but won in 2012. On the
other hand, Jimmy Carter had a disastrous economy in 1980, and lost
his re-election badly to Ronald Reagan.

Yet precedents must be observed with care. Each presidential election
has a character of its own. Predictions at this point are just talk.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Different View Of World War I

As might be expected, much is being written at the centennial
commemoration of the end of World War I. The moment of the
armistice began with an indelible set of “elevens” (11:11.11 a.m.
on 11/11).

The armistice was agreed to about six hours before, and it was
immediately communicated to all the belligerent parties who then
proceeded to kill thousands of soldiers on both sides needlessly over
the next few hours ---a fact so typical of the useless slaughter of men
in that event we now call “The Great War.”

I have suggested for some years an alternative interpretation to the
duration of World War I. It is my contention that, on that November
day in 1918, the clock mysteriously did not strike “12” --- not at noon
and not at midnight. Hostilities might have seemed to cease, but in
reality they did not. World War I did not end. Instead, it was only the
beginning of a modern “Hundred Years (plus) War” which continues
to this day.

My contention is not just based on just the fact that another world
war followed soon after, then a “cold war” and a Korean war, a Viet
Nam war, a Middle East war --- and now a terrorism war. No, my
contention is based on the facts that each of those subsequent
conflicts arose out of the real and specific consequences and details
of a war that began with an improbable bullet which killed the heir
to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire in a Balkan city street.

The paper treaty and the attitudes of the victors held back the hands
of the clocks from striking “twelve” and a new day. Each of the wars
that followed was in a significant way determined by that war’s
battles, issues, and the treaties and borders which were intended to
settle its conflicts. These insinuated themselves into developments in
colonial Africa, colonial Asia, the Far East, North America, and of
course, Europe itself, including Russia Even the island continent of
Australia came of global age in World War I, joining her British
Empire colleagues in the unspeakable slaughter on distant battlefields.
The future superpower China, no longer an imperial state, drifted into
chaos as the victorious European powers and their then-ally Japan
crowded in for influence and territories. Obscure Bedouin sheiks
were made kings of haphazardly bordered new states in the remnants
of the defeated Central Power Turkish empire. Armies of the victors
remained to try to salvage a tottering czarist empire after the
armistice, but only enabled a new kind totalitarian state that would
play a central role in the century’s continuance of the Great War to
the present day.

My case for the new Hundred Years War is not at all abstract  nor
imaginary. It’s all there in the unnecessarily created ethnic, religious,
language and cultural conflicts begun worldwide in 1914. In fact, this
war, technically begun because a chauffeur made a wrong turn on a
crowded Serbian city street, has cost hundreds of millions of lives;
directly changed the course of a billion persons, and  now involves
indirectly virtually the whole human race numbering almost 8 billion.

A wrong turn indeed.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A First Look At The 2020 U.S. Senate Elections

Electioneering no longer ceases in America. No sooner has one election
concluded, the next election pops into view.

The tumultuous 2018 campaign brought not only mixed results, but also
some road signs for the next big election in 2020 when there will be a
presidential election as well voting the for entire U.S. house, one-third
of the U.S. senate, and several governorships and state legislatures.

Discussion of most of these would obviously be premature, especially
of the U.S. house and state races, because so much about them depends
on local conditions still unknown. The presidential race, of course, will
soon preoccupy pundits and conversations, but lacking any announced
challengers to President Trump, it might be prudent to delay that
discussion, at least for a while.

But there is one part of the 2020 election, with its particular conditions,
that’s worth an early examination.

In the next cycle, the Republican mathematical advantage in the races
for he U.S. senate will be reversed. In 2018, the GOP had only 9
incumbents seats up for election while the Democrats had 26. In 2020,
it will almost be reversed --- 21 Republican seats at stake, and only 12
Democratic seats.

As in 2018, the ages of some incumbents in both parties will be in their
mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, and they could retire.

But quite different from the 2018, only two seats would be contested by
incumbents in states which usually vote for the other party.  And those
two senators, one Democrat and one Republican are the only two of the
33 who would now be rated vulnerable.  The Democrat is Senator Doug
Jones of very conservative Alabama who won a special election in 2017
only because state Republican voters deserted their own very
controversial nominee. He is likely to lose in 2020. The Republican is
Senator Susan Collins of Maine where she has been very popular. She
became the hero of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings when she not
only voted to confirm, but delivered a widely-hailed speech doing so.
Maine is a liberal and independent state, but moderate Collins has fit
it well. Democrats now say they will make her a target, but unlike
Senator Jones in Alabama, she would currently be favored for

There are older incumbents from both parties. In 2020 Senator Lamar
Alexander of Tennessee will be 80, Senator Jim Imhofe of Oklahoma
will be 86, and Senator Paat Roberts of Kansas will be 84. All are
Republicans, as are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who
will be 78 and Senator Jim Risch of Idaho who will be 79. But even if
they do retire, each come from very conservative states, and their
GOP replacements on the ballot would be strongly favored to win.

Similarly, Democratic Senators Dick Durbin (who will be 76) of
Illinois and Edward Markey (who will be 74) of Massachusetts
represent very liberal states, and would likely be replaced by
Democrats should they retire.

Two Democratic incumbents from purple states, Senator Gary Peters
of Michigan and Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota, might face serious
contests if Republicans can recruit first-rate challengers. This would be
more likely in Michigan where charismatic John James made an
impressive but unsuccessful run against Democratic Senator Debbie
Stabenow in 2018, and would be a formidable challenger against Peters.

After the above exceptions, it looks like easy re-election for the
remaining incumbents of both parties, including Democratic Senators
Booker of New Jersey, Coons of Delaware, Reed of Rhode Island,
Schumer of New York, Udall of New Mexico, Warner of Virginia, and
Merkley of Oregon --- and Republican Senators Caputo of WestVirginia,
Cassidy of Louisiana, Cornyn of Texas, Cotton of Arkansas,, Daines of
Montana, Enzi of Wyoming, Gardner of Colorado, Graham of South
Carolina, Perdue of Georgia, Rounds of South Dakota, Sasse of
Nebraska, Sullivan of Alaska, Tillis of North Carolina, and Ernst of
Iowa. If the Republican wins the 2018 run-off in Mississippi, she would
also be favored in 2020.

Races could develop, however, in Delaware, New Hampshire, Colorado,
and Kansas, but only if very strong challengers are recruited.

Circumstances might change, yet as matters stand now, little alteration
in the senate is expected in 2020. Ironically, even though the
mathematics of number of seats contested that cycle favors the
Democrats, they currently face the most competitive races, and might
have to face a larger GOP margin going into 2022, especially if Donald
Trump is then favored for his re-election.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Rorschach Test Election

The 2018 U.S. mid-term elections have taken place, and discussing
what the results mean will be a Rorschach test for most Americans.

In other words, any assessment will likely reflect the political
orientation of any pundit and voter.

With only a few races yet to be finally decided, we know the following:

Democrats had a generally good night, winning back control of the
U.S. house, increasing their numbers of state governors and control of
house of state legislatures. This is likely to  have positive effects for
Democrats in the congressional redistricting that will follow the 2020

Republicans had less to feel good about, but they did increase their
control of the U.S. senate. This is very likely to improve their ability,
under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to confirm federal
judicial appointments, including any possible further U.S. supreme
court nominees --- and should also enable the administration to have
presidential appointments confirmed more easily and faster.

Beyond that, the reasons and consequences of what happened at the
polls depends on your political views.

For example, Democrats will be buoyed, especially in blue and some
purple states by their gains, not only from the enthusiasm of their
voter base, but also gains among independent voters. Many Democrats,
furious with the 2016 presidential election, will interpret 2018 as a
rebuke to President Donald Trump and his policies. Some Democrats
will now favor using their house majority status as a tool to investigate
and harass the president.

Republicans, on the other hand, will be pleased by most returns in
red states where they will infer that Mr. Trump is still very popular,
perhaps even more so than two years ago. They will cite the president’s
success in the mid-terms in helping make critical gains in the GOP
margin in the U.S. senate (so that occasional defections on some issues
will not imperil their majority). They will now feel more secure that any
unwelcome initiatives from he Democratic-controlled U.S. house will
fail in the U.S. senate.

Although most of their high-profile new figures lost their 2018 elections,
including Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gullem in Florida and
Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Democrats have welcomed these and many
other new and young faces into their party --- especially considering their
aging and seemingly weak (though numerous) bench for 2020.

Republicans, too, welcomed new and young figures, including Josh
Hawley in Missouri, Martha McSally in Arizona, and John James in
Michigan (who lost).

So how does a centrist and independent (who affiliates with neither
major party) assess the election?

A more non-partisan evaluation, discounting the many emotional
and ideological issues involved, might look at some basic political
mechanics and circumstances. For example, in The Prairie Editor’s
last post before election day, the title question was “Will The
Democrats Keep Their Advantage?” Just as the liberal party had many
more incumbent senate seats to defend, the conservative party had
many more incumbent congressional seats, governorships and state
legislatures to defend. Each party, it turns out, successfully defended
their advantage in 2018.

In 2020, much of this will be reversed, Republicans will have to defend
more senate seats than the Democrats --- and Democrats will have to
defend their new U.S. house majority. This will take place in a
presidential election year, with the incumbent already announced he
is running for a second term.

Defeating an incumbent president is historically rare and difficult.
The burden for doing so is almost always on the challenger. The
state of the economy will be very important. The success or lack
of success in foreign policy will be a factor. The quality
of new ideas and programs contrasted with existing ideas and
programs will be pivotal. And, of course, the appeal of the two
nominees will be vital.

Democrats, after the mid-terms, have reasons to be optimistic about
2020, but now controlling the U.S. house of representatives and more
state governments, they are no longer just on defense. Their conduct
will now profoundly affect public opinion. If, as some loudly proclaimed
during the 2018 campaign, they use their power for incessant
investigations and even impeachments, they could throw away all or
most of what they have gained. In 1998, Republicans used their house
majority to impeach President Clinton --- which not only failed in the
senate, but made Mr. Clinton more popular than ever.

But the Democrats are not alone in determining what lies ahead.
The central figure going forward to 2020 is, as almost always, the
incumbent president. Mr. Trump had some personal successes in the
2018 mid-terms, but his party did take some notable losses. What, if
anything, did he learn from the mid-term campaign experience? What
changes, if any, will he now make?

In answering these questions, we will perhaps learn the most about
the real impact of the campaign just concluded.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved

Saturday, November 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Will The Democrats Keep Their Advantage?

I have already written about the one area where Republicans have
the advantage in the 2018 mid-term cycle --- the contests for control
of the U.S. senate. As election day nears, this advantage seems to be
holding, although the dimensions of GOP senate gains won’t be clear
until the votes are counted.

Otherwise, Republicans are on the defensive --- in the contests for
control of the U.S. house, governorships, and control of state

The Democrats’ advantage is considerable, and has led to the
widespread conventional wisdom that the liberal party will regain
control of the U.S. house, perhaps by a clear margin. It is also expected
that Democrats will make big net gains in governorships and state
legislatures. Most of this consensus was built early in the cycle when
it seemed that only the Democratic Party base would have a high
turnout, and when an establishment media campaign promoting an
inevitable “blue wave” was ubiquitous.

Late in the cycle, however, the confirmation hearings for Justice
Brett Kavanaugh took place, and liberal efforts to block him not only
failed, but managed to wake up the conservative electorate. President
Trump then embarked on a relentless series of enthusiastic rallies
in states with competitive races, and a caravan of thousands of
Central American migrants made its way to the southern U.S. border,
vowing to enter the U.S.

These developments have put the Democratic gubernatorial advantage
at some risk.

Republicans (not all of whom are conservatives) are doing unexpectedly
better than expected in both blue and red states. GOP incumbents have
commanding leads in Maryland and Massachusetts, both very blue
states, and GOP challengers are doing well in Oregon, Connecticut and
Minnesota. They are also competitive in Florida, Arizona, and Nevada
where Democrats hope for pick-ups. A Republican pick-up also seems
quite possible in Alaska, which had been expected to re-elect the only
independent governor in the nation.

Nonetheless, Democrats seem also certain to make net gains in
governorships this cycle --- which is important because governors
usually play important roles in new-decade redistricting of the U.S.
house. Among the usually red states, Democrats have strong
candidates in Iowa, Ohio, Kansas. South Dakota, Oklahoma and
Georgia, and also have opportunities for pick-ups in Wisconsin, and

In the critically important contests for control of the U.S. house, only
the size of Democratic net gains seems to be in doubt. The conventional
wisdom of liberal takeover, however, has become muddled as many
close house races have tightened sharply at the end of the campaign.
Many, if not most, of the potential pick-ups are in red or purple
districts, and these are the ones which have become closer. President
Trump’s personal campaign to nationalize the 2018 election is likely
responsible for part of this.  There are also questions about the
accuracy of some polling this cycle.

President Trump has put his political reputation on the line. If the
Democrats win clear control, it could have a negative impact for his
announced 2020 re-election campaign. If somehow, Republicans
keep control, it could be a big boost for him in two years, especially
if GOP control of the U.S. senate is significantly increased by 3-5
seats (or more).

Hours from election day, both sides are holding their political breath
awaiting the voters’ verdict. Talk of waves, blue or red, has receded,
but expectations of a national judgment on President Trump and his
administration have only been increased.

This judgment, however, as it was in 2016, will not be an overall one,
but rather, it is important to note, a judgment state by state.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Late-Breaking Mid-Term Developments

Once GOP State Treasurer Josh Mandel withdrew from the 2018
Ohio U.S.senate race for family reasons, it was generally considered
no serious contest for incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown’s
re-election. Even after Ohio GOP Congressman Jim Renacci won his
party’s nomination, Brown led in the polls by double digits, despite
the fact that Ohio had been trending clearly Republican recently, and
conservatives held virtually all statewide seats, including governor and
both houses of the legislature. Donald Trump had carried Ohio in 2016,
and Senator Brown obviously held views to the left of most Ohioans.
Perhaps, then, it should not be a surprise that at the end of the campaign,
this race has sharply tightened, with Sherrod’s lead narrowed to only a
few points over Renacci. This does not mean that the Republican will
win, but it does provide new suspense for election night.


The Arizona U.S. senate race is one of the most difficult in the nation
to assess and predict. An open seat vacated by retiring GOP Senator
Jeff Flake, the contest is between two women members of Congress,
Martha McSally, a Republican who had been an Air Force fighter pilot,
and Democrat Krysten Sinema, a one-time radical who had created a
new political image as a more moderate liberal. Because center-right
McSally had to endure a contentious primary, she has trailed Sinema
in the polls until recently when she seemed to surge ahead a few
points. Newer polls go back and forth between them, and each has
asserted controversies about the other.The GOP candidate for
governor is leading by double digits in this slightly red state, and
President Trump has held a rally for McSally, but the contest remains
too close to call.

Conventional wisdom throughout this cycle has contended that a
Democratic takeover of the U.S. house was a virtual certainty with
a likely pick-up of as many as 35-55 seats from the GOP majority as
part of a blue wave.When reality set in as the campaign was coming to
a close, it became clear that Republicans were probably going to add to
their current slim U.S. senate majority (51-49), and following the
Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, probable conservative voter turnout
would negate any wave. Nevertheless, the almost certainty of a liberal
U.S. house takeover persists, albeit on a more modest scale. Recent
polls, however, have called conventional thinking into question with
Democratic challengers leading in only 25-30 seats ---and often with
shrinking margins. With GOP challengers now likely to pick-up 2-5
Democratic seats, the magic number for control is even higher, and the
new house majority could be a toss-up

The We’ve-Got-Something-For-Everyone battleground state of
Minnesota continues to defy prognosticators with its panoply of close
races and potential pick-ups on both sides. Governor, a special U.S.
senate election, 4 close U.S. house seats, a contentious attorney general
race and control of the state legislature are all up for grabs ---and late
polls indicate virtually all of them could go either way.

It initially appeared that the nation’s only independent governor was
headed to re-election over his Republican opponent, but then a former
Democratic U.S. senator got into he race, and the GOP nominee was
way out in front in a three-way poll. Then the independent sitting
lt. governor had to resign after a scandal, so the governor called it quits
and endorsed the Democrat who still trails in a two-major party person
poll! There are also third-party candidates on the ballot who could now
affect the outcome. Predictions, anyone?

The two biggest young fresh stars of 2018, one a Democrat and one a
Republican, have got a lot of attention, but both are behind and might
not win. Democratic Texas gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke and
Republican Michigan U.S. senate nominee John James each have
enough charisma to fill a dozen statewide races, but each of them  have
an uphill task against favored incumbents of the other party.
Nonetheless, remember their names --- win or lose, they will likely be
running again.

The biggest technical question of this cycle might be whether or not
the public pollsters and the mainstream pundits who have relied on
them got it right. Most went for the notion of a blue wave, but that
does not seem, at the end, to be happening. Yet it’s possible that the
polls were not so wrong. Either way, there will be some gloating after
November 6, or some troubled attempts at rationalizations --- as we
saw after election night, 2016.      

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Senate Crimson Tide?

The true political hue of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections is not yet
discernible with a week to go, and might not be correctly identified
until after the polls are closed. Governorships, state legislatures, and
U.S. house seats offer the Democratic Party an enviable opportunity
to make important gains, and perhaps even to win back control of one
of the bodies of Congress.

Their mathematical advantage, however, does not exist in the races for
the U.S. senate which the Republicans currently control 51-49. In that
body, approximately three times as many Democratic incumbent seats
are up this cycle, and about a dozen of them are usually describable as
competitive. Four of the GOP-held seats are also considered vulnerable.

A further obstacle for the Democrats is that many of their incumbents
running for re-election are in states that Donald Trump had carried by
big margins in 2016, including Montana, North Dakota, Missouri,
Indiana and West Virginia. Five other incumbents were in states Mr.
Trump had more narrowly won, including Florida, Wisconsin,
Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Only two vulnerable Democrats
were running in states Hillary Clinton had won, Minnesota and New

Going into the final week, the incumbent Democratic senators from
Ohio, Pennsylvania and probably West Virginia now seem likely to
win. The Democratic senate seats in New Jersey, Michigan and
Minnesota --- thought to be “safe” at the beginning of the cycle ---
now are each in play. GOP challengers have pulled ahead of
Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana.
Montana and Florida seem total toss-ups, and Democratic poll leads
in New Jersey, Minnesota and Michigan are narrowing in the closing
days. Only in Wisconsin, does the liberal incumbent maintain a
double digit lead.

Of the four vulnerable GOP senate seats, Republicans in Texas and
Tennessee lead in these clearly red states. Only Nevada Republican
Senator Dean Heller is running in a blue state, but he is narrowly
ahead in the polls there. Mr. Trump carried Arizona by a small margin,
and GOP senate nominee Martha McSally has a small poll lead over
her Democratic opponent.   If present trends continue (and they might
not), the GOP might avoid losing even one seat.

Democratic senate net losses seem likely now, but how many is
anyone’s speculation. One or two pick-ups are probable but it could
be several more.

I will  in a subsequent post examine the circumstances in which
Republican losses seem likely.

As the 2018 cycle comes to a close, there is not only the usual
intensity, but also a surfeit of complication, scattered public violence,
name-calling, excessive finger-pointing and outright deceptive noise.
In spite of this, the voters are going to make some key decisions and
register their opinions at the most appropriate location --- in the
profound and private quiet of the ballot booth.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.