Monday, October 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Post-Weekend Update 5

There is some movement in Republican presidential polls,
with previous leaders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson still
ahead, but losing ground. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina and
Florida Senator Marco Rubio have made the most recent
gains, as has, to a lesser extent, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but the race remains
volatile and quite undecided with four months before the
first voting.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine has been shared by a Chinese
researcher whose discovery and contribution was founded in
ancient herbal folk medicine. Chinese medicine, which employs
acupuncture as well as other traditional and ancient remedies,
has some different bases and methodologies than most Western
medicine, and this might be the first time that this preeminent
global award has acknowledged an Eastern medicine discovery.
Researcher To You-you turned to the plant artemisia annua for
her breakthrough treatment for malaria after conventional
medicines failed to halt the worldwide scourge of malaria which
kills 450,000 persons every year, and places half the world’s
population or 3.5 billion persons at risk. Her discovery, in fact,
might in terms of its impact on numbers of persons be one of
the most important in modern history.

It appears that Vice President Joe Biden is close to a decision
about whether he will run for president next year, but the 73
year-old Delaware figure and his close advisers have been quite
successful in disguising what that decision will be. Most Biden
family members are believed to be supportive, but several
close Biden friends are known to have discouraged him.
Recent polls show Mr. Biden competitive with the fading
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and her major opponent
so far, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile,
Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers and public support continue to
wane as she faces persistent allegations about her conduct while
U.S. secretary of state.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has scheduled the election of
his successor for October 29, the day before his resignation as
speaker (and his seat in Congress) is to take place. There are
now three announced candidates for the post which is just behind
the vice president in the order of presidential succession. The
GOP frontrunner for speaker, California Congressman Kevin
McCarthy seems to have the votes to win in the caucus, but
might lack enough votes in whole body, especially after he made
a recent gaffe about the house committee investigating the
Benghazi affair.

The annual October baseball postseason is now underway with
the conclusion of the 2015 regular season. Most of the match-ups
and home field advantages were determined prior to the final
games, but a loss by the Houston Astros, following the virtual
collapse of the New York Yankees in the Bronx team’s final six
games, gave the Yankees home field advantage, in spite of
themselves, on the last day for the "wild card" game on Tuesday.
The Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers
won their American League division pennants, and will now face
the winner of the wild card playoff and each other to determine the
American League championship.
Control of the U.S. senate in January, 2017 remains in doubt, but
Democrats are still having difficulties in recruiting strong
challengers to potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents up
for re-election. The GOP is similarly not yet finding a strong
opponent for Colorado Senator Michael Bennett who is
considered one of the weakest Democrats running next year.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Next Comeback Kid?

In late January, 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential
campaign appeared to be over. His personal life had become
public scandal, and the experts in Washington, DC were saying he
was kaput. At about that time, I ran into one of the senior titans of
the national Democratic Party who knew I had predicted two years
earlier that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, and he
assured me that Clinton was finished. I told him he could not be
more wrong.

Today, 23 years later, there is general consensus among the media
and political experts that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
has no chance to win. Their absolute certainty was shaken a bit
after Mr. Christie’s strong performance in the second GOP debate
at the Reagan Library, but the consensus remains.

Look at the polls, they say. Christie is at 1% in Iowa, virtually at the
bottom of the competing pack in this first electoral event of 2016.
Overall, his numbers improved slightly nationally after the Reagan
Library, but he’s still near or at the bottom of the top ten. Look at
his negatives, the experts say. Remember the bridge “scandal,"
they add, as if to make disputing them pointless.

But what do they say when six of the top Republican figures in
Iowa, including close allies of the longest-serving governor in the
nation, Terry Branstad, have just endorsed him?

What do they say when figures such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker
(the latter only weeks ago leading the pack in Iowa) withdraw so
early from the contest, leaving fewer sitting and former governors
in the race?

This is not to say that Governor Christie will be the Republican
nominee. But with large numbers of delegates to be counted from
eastern and northeastern states, the goodwill and alliances he made
while campaigning for fellow governors (when he was Republican
Governors Association chair) in 2014, his demonstrated fundraising
ability, and, most of all, his exceptional communications skills, it
seems ludicrous to suggest he cannot yet re-emerge in this contest.

In the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton only came in
second. He then declared himself the “comeback kid.” He
apparently did not believe the negative pronouncements of his
party establishment, his party expert consultants, and the media.

We all know what happened next.

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Presidential Candidates Missing The Minnesota Boat

Republican presidential candidates are coming to Minnesota
this year, but they don’t seem to looking for votes. Perhaps it
is because of the Gopher State’s reputation as one of the bluest
(most liberal) states, and because the state has not given its
electoral votes to a Republican since 1972. On the other hand,
Minnesota has no statewide races next year, and there is
significant cash available from big donors, so many of the
2016 GOP hopefuls are quietly slipping into the state for
fundraisers only.

They are probably making a big strategic mistake. Here’s why:

The next cycle, which culminates in November, 2016, is turning
out to be atypical, especially in presidential campaign politics.
Attention is beginning to shift from the first four primary and
caucus states (Iowa New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada,
in that order), and to the March 1 Super Tuesday when a large
number of delegates will be chosen in 13 state contests. With
the large Republican field this year, and presuming many of
them will still be running in early 2016, the surviving candidates
will each need some victories to keep their campaigns going.

One of the Super Tuesday states will be Minnesota, and several
delegates will be available. Only one candidate will win Iowa,
only one will win New Hampshire, and only one will win South
Carolina, but there will likely be more than three finalists in the
race on March 1, so a win in Minnesota could provide some
momentum either for someone who has not won in the first four
contests, or solidify the lead for someone who has. Furthermore,
there are many contests on the March 1 Super Tuesday, and it’s
unlikely that a candidate who does not win at least one of them
could survive for the primaries and contests that remain.

There are other advantages, too. Minnesota is located adjacent
to and between Iowa and Wisconsin, two likely battleground
states in 2016. (In fact, the three states form the superstate
Minnewisowa” --- a term I coined in the 2004 presidential
election --- that provides 26 electoral votes). The Twin Cities
and Duluth media markets reach much of western Wisconsin,
and the Rochester, MN media market reaches northern Iowa.
It’s easy logistically to schedule campaign appearances in
Minnesota when a candidate also has appearances scheduled
in Iowa or Wisconsin.

Minnesota holds a caucus on March 1, so GOP candidates
can concentrate on the limited number of caucus attendees.
If only one or a few presidential candidates compete in this
state, a surprise victory is quite possible.

And, of course, there is the cash. Minnesota is a particularly
affluent state with numerous successful businesses and
corporations. Many of its executives and owners are liberal,
and give generously to Democratic (DFL) candidates, but there
are also numerous conservative major donors in the state,
including several billionaires or near-billionaires.

(In 2013-14, ten of the GOP candidates for the most closely
contested U.S. senate races held fundraisers in the state. Each
raised in excess of six figures, and all ten candidates won in
November.) With no statewide races in 2016, Minnesota major
donors, if past history is a guide, will want to be fiscal players
in the presidential race.

Finally, although Iowa and Wisconsin are already battleground
states, and could cast their electoral votes for the GOP nominee,
Minnesota could break with its recent liberal pattern in 2016 and
be up for grabs. Democrats (DFLers) now only comprise about a
third of the state’s registered voters; Republican a few percent
less, but a third of Minnesota voters are now independents
(remember, Jesse Ventura won the governorship in 1998 as a
third party candidate) or unaffiliated, and these voters will make
the difference, more than ever before, next year. Hillary Clinton
is still popular with DFL women in Minnesota, but Mrs. Clinton
does not have the kind of support that Barack Obama had
here in 2008 and in 2012. A strong center-right Republican
nominee could surprise in Minnesota in 2016.

It will be interesting to observe which GOP presidential
candidates, if any, figure all of this out.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Post-Weekend Update 4

Local elections in Spanish autonomous region of Catalunya
just gave two pro-secessionist parties enough votes to have a
majority in the Catalonian parliament, but the record turnout
failed to give these parties a majority of the popular vote. The
leader of the largest pro-secessionist party had declared the
vote an unofficial plebiscite on the northeastern part of Spain
to become an independent nation. The Catalans speak their own
language and have a long history of hostility to the national
government in Madrid. The regional capital of Barcelona contain
much of the nation’s industrial and commercial resources, and a
long-standing Catalan complaint is that the area does not receive a
fair share of federal financial resources. Spanish President Rajoy
has declared the vote invalid for secession, and a true separation
of the Barcelona region from the rest of Spain remains
problematic and distant at best.


Businessman Stewart Mills, 43, who as the Republican nominee
for Congress in Minnesota’s Iron Range 8th district came close to
defeating incumbent Democrat (DFLer) Rick Nolan in 2014, has
indicated he will challenge Mr. Nolan again. One of the freshest
faces in state politics, and an energetic campaigner, Mr. Mills
received national attention for his 2014 effort. He contends that,
with no statewide races in 2016, he will have a better chance this
cycle, and cites private polls showing him in a strong position.
Mr. Nolan, 71, has announced for re-election, but some national
Democratic strategists have recently indicated he might be
vulnerable next year. This should be one of the most hotly
contested races in the nation.


Until now, few observers gave Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a
credible chance to become the Democratic nominee for president
in 2016, despite his early success in his challenge to the party’s
frontrunner Hillary Clinton. In recent days, however, Mr. Sanders
has taken double digit leads in polls in early primary and caucus
states, and his support continues to grow while Mrs. Clinton’s
continues to decline. The big question in this contest now is
whether or not Vice President Joe Biden gets into the race. If he
does, there is an expectation that the race would become wide
open, and a serious possibility that the vice president could win.
If he does not enter, however, and Mrs. Clinton’s legal problems
and controversies continue to mount, Mr. Sanders’ delegate total
could rise quickly and his nomination inevitable. This would be
likely because the deadlines for entering primaries and caucuses
are rapidly approaching, and a major Democratic candidate’s
entry late into the race thus becomes technically impossible.

After Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his retirement
at the end of October, some activists in his party have turned
their attention to the GOP leader in the U.S. senate, Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell, with some calls that he be replaced. Mr. Boehner,
who had considered retiring in 2014, had constantly been the target
of mavericks in his house caucus, and after a quarter century in
Congress decided the controversy surrounding him was hurting his
party. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, had just acceded to leading
a new GOP senate majority, and shows no signs of plans to leave.
The problem for both Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell has been that
a small group in their caucuses have demanded symbolic votes
against President Obama’s policies in spite of the fact that
Republicans lack the votes to override the president’s vetoes.
Calls to shut down the government as a tactic to force Mr. Obama’s
hand have not been successful previously, and with a month
remaining in office, Mr. Boehner is not expected to allow it to
happen. The structure of the U.S. senate is also quite different from
that of the U.S. house, and Mr. McConnell’s job seems safe for now
at least.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 25, 2015


There will now be a myriad of post-mortems about the tenure
of John Boehner as speaker of the U.S. house. Each of them
will likely focus on his problematic relationship with his own
house caucus and his lack of support among many very
conservative Republican grass roots voters.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Speaker Boehner that
was widely republished, and received both praise and criticism.
It was not uncritical of the Ohio congressman, but it was a
tribute to what he had accomplished in his four years leading
his party in the Congress. It asserted that Mr. Boehner was the
most underestimated man in Washington, DC, while at the
same time pointing out his major political defect, his lack of
skill at public communication. In the wake of his sudden
departure, I stand behind what I wrote.

Normally, such communication is not the first priority of a
house speaker, since his or her party’s incumbent president or
presidential candidate fulfills that task. Instead, the primary
job of a speaker is to manage his caucus and its legislation.
In short, the work of the speaker of the house is institutional
not public relations. Circumstances, however, alter this,
especially when one party controls the White House and the
other party controls one or both houses of Congress.

The period 1995 to 1998 had Republican Newt Gingrich as
speaker and Democrat Bill Clinton as president. In that era,
there was still a will to compromise and cooperate to
do the nation’s business. Speaker Boehner came from that
world, but President Obama did not. Gingrich is a gifted
communicator, one of the best in recent U.S. history, but he
could not manage his own caucus, and finally he had to resign
in 1998. (He ran a notable campaign for president in 2011-12,
and remains as a wise elder statesman for his party.)

In 1995-96, Mr. Gingrich and his majority house caucus shut
down the government. It was a political disaster. In 2013, Mr.
Boehner and his majority caucus shut down the government.
It, too, was a political disaster. An attempt to do the same in
2014 was blocked by Mr. Boehner, and he understandably and
correctly was resisting doing it again this year, only months
before the 2016 national elections.

But the GOP success in the national mid-term elections in
2014 had created a mood in the conservative grass roots to
accomplish something dramatic against the hated policies of
President Obama. Lacking the votes in both the house and
senate to override the president’s inevitable vetoes, both
Mr. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
have avoided showdown votes which are only symbolic.
Yet the conservative ferment would not go away.

Neither Mr Boehner nor Mr. McConnell, however, are good
enough communicators to assuage that ferment in their own
grass roots. In Mr. Boehner’s case, his intraparty opponents
did not have the votes to oust him. All threats to do so were
empty ones. But the tensions from them and the dissension
took their toll. Mr. Boehner, as I have written, grew in office,
became a better communicator, tirelessly recruited new
candidates, and remained a steady conservative. 

On the other hand,  even if the GOP wins the presidency in
2016 and keeps control of the senate, Republicans almost
certainly will lose some house seats in 2016 (but not control),
Having managed an unruly and dissident caucus, and having
realized most of his personal goals (the latest being the inviter
and host of Pope Francis, but also including his bold invitation
to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the
Congress over Mr. Obama’s objections), John Boehner, after a
quarter century in Congress, decided to call it quits.

Kevin McCarthy will probably be his successor. Younger and
clearly talented, Mr. McCarthy has hard work before him. As
Newt Gingrich once observed, few if anyone is truly prepared
to be speaker of the house.

The mavericks in the house might have realized their goal of
being rid of Mr. Boehner, but they are far from a majority. Mr.
McCarthy, or anyone else who might become speaker, will end
up doing most of what Mr. Boehner would have done. Anything
else would be electoral folly, and would endanger the likelihood
of Republicans electing a president in 2016.

Today, the post-mortems will likely agree that Mr. Boehner had
become unpopular and too controversial. Tomorrow, when he is
gone, his party will see how valuable, even with his shortcomings,
he was in their successes.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "It Gets Late Early Out There"

The now-late Yogi Berra said something worth noting for almost
any occasion, and although he won’t be here for the 2016 election,
he once said something apropos to this unusual campaign cycle,
to wit, “It gets late early out there.”

As a baseball fan and a writer, I don’t know which Yogi I will miss
more, the Yankee Hall of Fame catcher or the linguistic philosopher.
But his earthy pronouncements, I am convinced, might last longer
than those by certain once-celebrated academic existentialists,
phenomenologists and postmodernists.

In any event, Yogi’s observation about how late early can be fits
2016 quite well so far. Presidential campaigns seemed to begin
earlier and earlier a few cycles ago, but this cycle has certainly
aged prematurely as both major party tickets go through many
unpredicatable developments long before the first primaries and

The opposite of Yogi’s aphorism might also become applicable to
2016, that is, ‘It gets early late out out there.” This Prairie Editor
variation does not claim the profundity of Yogi’s dictum, but it
does suggest what I have been hinting at for some time, that is,
the outcome of the next presidential race might develop its final
form late in the campaign season, perhaps (amazingly) at the
national conventions next July.

We will not likely see a Yogi Berra again soon, if ever. Long after
his playing days, he entertained and instructed us as no other
major league baseball player ever did. May his memory be a
legacy to the sport he loved so well, and to the language he so
disarmingly reinvented.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Campaign Musical Chairs

With Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s abrupt withdrawal
from the presidential race, following the withdrawal of
former Texas Governor Rick Perry, the 2016 campaign goes
to a new, and perhaps unprecedented, level.

It has an unprecedented aspect because of the sheer number of
serious candidates who announced for the 2016 Republican
nomination. There were 17 “major” contestants in all, of
which perhaps a dozen were potentially formidable.

It was, of course, only a matter of time before this large field
would narrow, and the first two televised debates have only
hastened the process.

Both Governors Perry and Walker were significant figures in
the early part of the campaign. Mr. Perry had an outstanding
and long record as governor of a major state, and Mr. Walker
had emerged early this year as a temporary frontrunner after
a breakout speech in Iowa.

But a serious presidential campaign is an arduous experience
requiring skill, endurance and no small amount of luck. Mr. Perry
apparently could not overcome his “Oops!” moment from the
2012 campaign, and Mr. Walker’s national inexperience and
lack of campaign skill apparently overwhelmed him.

There are a number of candidates remaining in the field who
will, or should, make an early exit, including former Virginia
Governor Jim Gilmore, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal,
former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former New
York Governor George Pataki.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul,
South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, and former Arkansas
Governor Mike Huckabee might soon follow.

The remaining candidates will probably persist to the first
caucuses and primaries because they have either sufficient
campaign funds or popular bases (or both).

As candidates withdraw, their donors, staff and supporters
will migrate elsewhere in the field. This is where the remaining
months of 2015 become a game of political “musical chairs”
among the surviving campaigns. An example of this was Mr.
Rubio’s recruitment of Mr. Walker’s New Hampshire co-chair
to be his co-chair. There will follow a spectacle of “musical
chairs” as donors and staff find their way to remaining active

Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Super
Tuesday on March 1 will narrow surviving candidates to a
handful. These will probably include Chris Christie, Jeb
Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Donald Trump and possibly,
Carly Fiorina. But this stage of the campaign is still months

Turbulence in the Democratic presidential contest could
imminently turn into a political hurricane, and surprising
entries and withdrawals in it could produce its own game
of political musical chairs.

With unpredictable events ahead in international politics and
the economy, we might now have only a vague picture of the
destination of this most curious election.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.