Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Days of Nervous Suspense

With five calendar days to go before election day, but only three effective
days to go, most Americans who care about who the next president
of the United States will be are probably feeling some nervousness.
The political trend has been going to Mitt Romney for almost a month
(since the first TV debate), and most polls indicate momentum to the
Republican nominee, but Barack Obama is the incumbent who won a
decisive victory in 2008 over Republican John McCain, and retains some
personal popularity. No one knows the outcome with certainty.

In politics, of course, that is known when the votes are counted, and
only very rarely (as in 2000) is certainty delayed once the counting takes

Some observers say the election remains close, in fact, too close to call.   
Others see the closeness reported in many polls to be inaccurate and
deceptive. This debate will not last much longer. We will soon enough have
real votes, real results and real winners.

The 2012 cycle of the presidential election has fixated on a small number
of so-called ‘battleground” states where the contest between Mr Romney
and Mr. Obama was judged to be genuinely competitive. This group of
states was numbered varyingly from five to eight states, but now, at the
very end of the campaign, the number is twelve states. All of the additional
states are ones that Mr. Obama won in 2008, so it is fair to say that his
campaign is on the defensive. That does not mean  at all that he can’t or
won’t win, but it cannot be perceived as a “good” sign.

At a certain  point, and we are probably already there, it is probably better
for voters to go to a football game, eat out at a restaurant, see a movie or
watch some DVDs, take some long walks, or best yet, play with their children.
There will almost certainly be a scandal or two alleged over the next three
days, and/or some other sensational story put out to grab headlines and
trying to harm a campaign, but voters would probably be wise to ignore
these phenomena, and go about their electoral business as they intended.
The simple, common sense question is: Why, if a disclosure were important,
was it put forward at the last moment?

Since the announcements of the candidates, the debates, primaries and
caucuses, the endless and often tedious media coverage, it has been a very
long campaign, A great deal has been said, argued and contended. Voters easily
have more than enough information to mark their ballot. Let’s now see what
millions of adult Americans have decided,

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 26, 2012


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Coming To A Conclusion

The national elections of 2012 are approaching their final campaign days.
Most American voters have made up their minds. In these final hours,
particularly in the presidential race, a great deal of propaganda and
misinformation often appears to affect undecided and wavering voters.
The presidential debates are finished. Political advertisements have filled
the airwaves in a few selected "battleground" states. In the majority of
states, those with a predictable inclination to vote Republican or Democratic,
there are almost no advertisements, few rallies, and almost no personal
appearances of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. In the final
days of this year's campaign, the candidates will appear in only a a handful
of states.

There are important races for U.S. house and U.S. senate throughout the
nation as well. After the ten-year redistricting, there are some particularly
torrid U.S. house races, sometimes pitting two incumbents against each other.
Control of the U.S house does not seem to be at stake this cycle (Republicans
seem likely to maintain control), but control of the U.S senate is undecided,
even this close to election day. It is also not clear if 2012, as it was in 2006,
2008 and 2010, will be a "wave" election bringing a decisive victory in
congressional races for one party or another, or if most races will be decided
on local issues and the quality of the individual candidates.

As I have often pointed out, the major and most credible polls become more
and more accurate as election day approaches. No serious polling organization
wants to appear ridiculous the day after the election because their poll numbers
were so far off the actual results. But this cycle, more than most in memory,
there is a plethora of polls of varying quality and credibility, many of them paid
for by one party or another, one candidate or another, or one special interest
of another.  These polls have little interest in credibility after the election;
they are paid to produce a reaction. Let the voter beware of these polls!

As I have pointed out in this space many times in the past year, every cycle
has its surprises. It will be no different this year. Some outcomes will change
dramatically in a few days. Some presumptions will be shattered.

This is an unusual national election cycle because U.S. voters have been
presented with an unusually stark choice in the direction of the nation ahead.
Through all the verbal smokescreens, unsupportable statistics, vague promises
and rhetorical tricks, American voters must sort it all out as best as they can,
and make their choices. Those choices will have consequences. This time,
I think, the consequences will be very critical.

Very, very critical to where the United States will go next.


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Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnewisowa Rising Again?

The imaginary superstate of “Minnewisowa,” first suggested in 2004 as
the electoral combination of three demographically and politically similar
individual adjoining states --- Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa --- now in
the closing days of the 2012 presidential election emerges again as a
battleground phenomenon.

In 2008, all three states voted for Barack Obama, and by sizable margins.
Only four years before, one voted for George W. Bush (Iowa), one voted for
John Kerry (Minnesota), and one was too close to call until the wee hours
of election night (Wisconsin). These three midwestern farm states, each with
one large metropolitan area, and similar ethic origin immigrants in the
19th century, offer a total of 26 electoral votes to the presidential candidate
who wins them all (more than Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, or
Illinois offer individually). Furthermore, because of their proximity, the TV
media market buy for one state affects the neighboring state, and a campaign
appearance in one is often widely reported in the others.

At the outset of the 2012 campaign, only Iowa seemed a possibility for the
Republican ticket, whoever that might be. After the nomination of Mitt
Romney for president and Paul Ryan (from Wisconsin) for vice president,
however, it became quickly clear that Wisconsin would also be in play.
Finally, after President Obama’s disastrous first debate with Mitt Romney,
even traditionally Democratic Minnesota is showing signs of coming into
play by election day as a potential electoral tsunami moves across the nation,
with a clear momentum for Mr. Romney in virtually all polls.

I remain skeptical that Minnesota will cast its electoral votes for Mitt
Romney in the meeting for that purpose in the U.S. Congress on December
17, but it is, for the first time in this cycle, at least imaginable.

If indeed what is now considered a provisional “trend” is a true momentum,
a sweep of Minnewisowa will happen, as it did in 2008, and be part of a
decisive Romney victory.  I must hasten to add, however, that one more
presidential debate remains, and slightly more than two weeks will occur
before most voters (many have already cast absentee and “early” votes)
will make their final choices. No clear outcome in the presidential race is
visible yet.

So far, Minnesota has seen very little of the presidential campaign. Both
Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama, as well as Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan, have
appeared for private fundraisers (there is a lot of political cash in this state).
But political ads have been virtually non-existent except when they are
broadcast from Minnesota stations for the purpose of reaching voters in
northern Iowa or western Wisconsin. The Obama campaign has a minimal
presence in the Gopher State, and the Romney campaign has almost
nothing visible. The 10-point margin for Mr. Obama here in 2008,
according to most local polls, has dwindled, perhaps to half, but all the
“battleground” action has appeared elsewhere in the presidential race. The
final result in Minnesota, if this condition continues, could bring another
10-point margin or a nail-biter (the latter perhaps more likely if the national
trend to Mr. Romney follows unabated).

Wisconsin and Iowa, too, have uncertain outcomes. Team Obama has
poured significant TV ad expenditures into both states. Mr. Obama
probably cannot afford to lose both, especially as he is likely to lose Indiana,
another midwestern state he narrowly won in 2008. Mr. Ryan is not
necessarily as popular in all of Wisconsin as he is in his home district.
The Democratic U.S. senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is also so far doing
better than expected in her race with popular former Governor Tommy
Thompson. On the other hand, several failed recall elections of GOP
officials instigated recently by the state Democrats have tended to demoralize
the liberal party here.

Republican voter registration in Iowa in recent months exceeded Democratic
registration for the first time in years. That advantage, while relatively small,
has grown since then. Mr. Obama won his first upset victory in Iowa in 2008,
defeating Hillary Clinton, and his campaign, despite the state’s small number
of electoral votes, considers it critical, and has put notable resources here. The
state lost a congressional seat in redistricting, and two incumbents. one
Democrat and one Republican are thus running against each other in a
newly-formed district. At least one other Iowa congressional race could be
close. Mr. Romney virtually tied Rick Santorum in the presidential caucus
here earlier in the year (a recount gave the win to Mr. Santorum by a handful
of votes), but he has so far not pulled away (as he has in neighboring Missouri
and Nebraska).

With less than three weeks to go, therefore, little is settled in the lands of
Minnewisowa. There is enough suspense, however, to make the superstate
a bellwether on election night, although the numerous battleground states
on the east coast (which will report their results earlier), might remove the
suspense by the time those eastern returns come in.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 12, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two Sets Of Nobel Prizes

In its beginning, there was only one set of Nobel Prizes. Swedish
industrial mogul Alfred Nobel established the annual awards to recognize
great contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
more than 100 years ago. The Prize soon became the worldwide
standard for recognizing human achievement.

This reputation of the prize lasted through two world wars. But after
World War II, those who decided who would win the Prizes, committees
in Sweden and Norway, often and increasingly chose to use some of the
Prizes to express their political opinions. A new Prize was added in
economics, a quasi-scientific discipline.

While the recipients of the Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have
continued to have the reputation for making some of the greatest
contributions to humanity (with only occasional controversy), the awards
in peace, literature and economics have often become self-parodies of the
Nobel committees, obviously (and frequently explicitly) ideological and
political, and, if the truth be told, a laughing stock for many observers in
the world.

Last year, however, I wrote in praise of the 2011 Prize in literature that went
to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. After many years of awarding this Prize
to leftist writers of uneven stature, the Prize went to one of the world’s
greatest writers, in my opinion, whose work was beyond politics. (In fact,
Mr. Transtromer is a political liberal, but his literary standing is based on the
remarkable quality of his poetry).

The Prizes in literature and economics have not yet been announced (but
will have been by the time this published), so I have nothing to say about this
year’s awards in these fields.

The Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have been awarded, and as
usual, they have recognized some of the world’s most outstanding scientists.

It is the just-announced awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, however,
which has provoked me to write this column. This year’s Prize went to the
European Union. This supra-national organization of most of the national
states of the European continent has been in a prolonged economic and
political crisis for many years, a crisis, I might add, of its own doing.

This year’s award is beyond ludicrous, beyond self-parody, and is one more
instance of the Norwegian committee’s masochistic damage to the reputation
of a once highly regarded Nobel Prize for peace. (It echoes the award in a few
years ago to Barack Obama before he had served as president. That award was
made solely on the hope that he would,  in the future, contribute to world peace.
Does anyone, except his political partisans, seriously consider him worthy of a
Nobel Prize for peace three years later?)

The award to the European Union this year is similarly based on hope that the
institution will survive. It is a self-congratulatory and desperate act of some
elitist Norwegian Europeans who are observing the European Union, one of
the world’s most dysfunctional organizations, endure protracted economic
distress and loss of public confidence.

Alfred Nobel’s original idea was to recognize the highest human achievements.
The purely scientific Prizes maintain that high standard. The second group of
Prizes (in literature, economics and peace) have become too often an insult to
Mr. Nobel’s vision, and a sad joke about what human beings can yet achieve.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Election Statistics, Numbers, Patterns and Results

As we approach the conclusion of the 2012 national election campaign, we
are witnessing an abundance of not only poll numbers, but political experts
touting patterns of past races and their statistics. There are some very smart
numbers folks (much smarter than I am!) commenting on this year's
presidential race, as well as U.S. house and senate races. Many of them have
demonstrated great skill in their approach to the mathematical sets of
commonalities in election results in the past, and they might do so again this

Usually, each of these "numbers" experts have their own pet statistical formula
or pattern which they cite as predictive of the final result. In the past, many of
these have been borne out. These patterns and formulas might be repeated this
year, but I want to offer a word of caution.

This is not a normal national election. I realize that each election has its own
character with its own set of personalities, events, and issues, and because so
much political power is at stake, its own sense of uniqueness and importance.
I would argue that beyond these typical quadrennial attributes, 2012 is a
different breed of political animal.

Much of the atypical quality of this cycle's elections is due to the incumbent
president and his policies and stated philosophy. Typical elections pit Democrats
and Republicans against each other, contrasting liberal and conservative ideas,
presenting different personalities, backgrounds and political styles. In 2012,
President Barack Obama has atypically chosen to  present himself to the voter
as an advocate for policies more distant from the political center than incumbent
presidents usually do. These policies of redistribution of wealth, changes of
foreign policy in our relationship with the world, and with how Americans view
their economic system were not clear goals of Mr. Obama when he ran in 2008
on the very general rubric of "Hope and Change," but they are now.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, represents not only traditional U.S. policies, but he
appeals more directly to the American center. That is why, even when he was
trailing Mr. Obama in the polls, he was almost always leading among
so-called "independent" voters.

 Mr. Obama may have correctly sensed a fundamental shift in U.S. voter
attitudes that fits his ideas and policies. He might have identified a new political
center. In that case, he will win the election.

On the other hand, considering the economic problems and high unemployment
which have existed chronically throughout his presidency, he and his campaign
might have chosen a very risky approach to the election, particularly in turning
away from the apparent political center, a political center which only two years
ago reacted very negatively to Mr. Obama's signature legislation, Obamacare,
and gave his opposition dramatic gains in the U.S. house and senate, including
clear control of the former.

Thus, the choice for voters in 2012 is much clearer than normally so.

My point is that past political patterns do not always recur in such an election.
The phrase "the exception that proves the rule" might be operative here.

We have already seen some initial evidence of this is the aftermath of the first
debate between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama.  No one seems to dispute that Mr.
Romney by a wide margin. But the general rule is that presidential debates make
only a marginal difference. In this case, the impact was very great, and Mr.
Romney has made unusually large statistical poll advances in a short period of

Of course, this current momentum may be short-lived. In fact, if the traditional
pattern is observed, it will be. On the other hand, should Mr. Romney's
momentum continue, I think it will be a signal that a new or different pattern
is being established.

We now have less than four weeks until election day. For those who find utility
in numbers, statistics and mathematical patterns, this year should prove an
interesting example of how political patterns stay the same --- or change.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unemployment, Post-Debate Environment And Signs (?) Of A Coming Political Tsunami

After the latest unemployment figures were released, I received a note
from a good friend (who happens to be a strong supporter of President
Obama) saying how disappointed in me they would be if I suggested the
figures were rigged in the president’s favor. Although some prominent
political observers have alleged just that, and most economic experts I
trust think that real unemployment is over 10%, I will accept the October
numbers at face value. No conspiracies are necessary. The published
numbers are disastrous for the nation, even if they went slightly under
8%. Those who assemble the numbers are the first to admit, moreover,
that they do not count millions of unemployed American who are so
disheartened they no longer actively seek work. Just because they are not
counted, does that mean somehow miraculously that they are employed?
Most importantly, the new figures have apparently had little impact so far
on U.S. voters who know we still have serious national economic problems,
notwithstanding a small decrease in unemployment suddenly in the
last report before the election. Most neutral observers have already
commented that the critical deadline time for positive economic news is
usually April or May. After that, most voters have a relatively fixed
perception of economic conditions.

As I suggested just after the first presidential debate between Mitt Romney
and Barack Obama, Mr. Romney’s poll numbers would begin to rise.
They have already done so, including putting the former governor slightly
ahead in some key battleground states. This does not mean his numbers will
necessarily continue to rise. Two debates remain, and there is still just under
a month until election day. The biggest lift to the Romney campaign has
probably been psychological. Between 65 and 70 million Americans saw the
debate, and virtually all voters have had several days of media descriptions
of his victory (by almost all commentators, including the usual pro-Obama
Old Media). Any doubts about Mr Romney in his base and among undecided
voters seem to be evaporating. Of course, this has given serious incentive for
Team Obama to fight back, and they will. The attacks on Mr. Romney,
already very heavy over the past few months, will only increase and become
harsher by his Democratic opponents. So far, Mr. Romney has withstood
most of these attacks, but there is no guarantee he will successfully continue
to do so. Last-minute surprises, a typical feature at the end of a presidential
campaign are expected. This contest is by no means over.

In one of my essays in the new book “Taking Turns; Political Stalemate or
New Directions in the Race for 2012” co-authored by me, I take special note
of two possible major upsets in the 2012 U.S. senate races. The longest shot
of the two is in Hawaii where former GOP governor Linda Lingle is running
against Democratic Congresswoman Mazie Hirono. Hawaii is a traditional
Democratic state, made even more so by native son Barack Obama appearing
at the top of the ticket. Congresswoman Hirono still leads in all public polls
in Hawaii, and remains the clear favorite. But Mrs. Lingle is the most popular
Republican in state history, won two races for governor (the first against her
present opponent), and is a remarkable campaigner. This race might still be
an upset.

In Ohio, the senate race pits long-time liberal incumbent Sherrod Brown
against conservative newcomer Josh Mandel, currently the state treasurer.
Here, too, the polls have consistently favored the Democrat, although Ohio
itself, unlike Hawaii, is a battleground state, and a must-win state for either
presidential candidate. Following the first presidential debate, Mr. Obama’s
lead of a few points here has been replaced by a small lead for Mr. Romney.
The presidential race here will likely go down to the wire. This is good news
for challenger Mandel who has drawn to a tie in latest polls. Mr. Brown’s
allies, including organized labor, the Democratic senate campaign committee
and liberal superPACs have poured tens of millions into this race for their
candidate, but Mr. Mandel has been a prodigious fundraiser, especially for a
challenger, and seems to be a one-man boon to the shoe leather industry as he
criss-crosses Ohio in an aggressive bid to unset Mr. Brown. This may become
the most expensive senate race in the country in 2012, as well as the one where
the most hardball is played. Mr. Brown remains, because of his incumbency,
the favorite with less than a month to go, and there will be lots of political
fireworks yet in this highly contested Middle Atlantic “rust belt” state, but
Mr. Mandel must be taken very seriously.

The horizon of the electoral sea remains calm so far. Is there a political
tsunami coming?
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Romney Decisively Won The First Debate, But......

There seems to be no credible argument that Mitt Romney did not
win the first presidential debate decisively. Even most Democrats
seem to concede this.

The presidential debates are more important than usual this cycle
because the Republican challenger has not been well known
throughout the country, and until now, the nation’s voters had not
seen the two candidates side by side, temperament to temperament.

Since the first TV debate, between John Kennedy and Richard
Nixon in 1960, the nation has not seen a confrontation between the
two major party nominees to be so one-sided. At a point when the
Romney campaign seemed to be stalled, with only five weeks to
election day, the first debate victory by their nominee was a major
infusion of energy and confidence into their 2012 efforts.

As I pointed out before the debate, the American voter had not ever
seen the two candidates facing each other, and that it would be a vital
moment when they did. No one (except for Governor Chris Christie
perhaps) saw Mr. Romney’s overwhelming triumph coming. Yes,
many saw a Romney win, but nothing so decisive.

Before the debate, the national polls were already tightening,
showing Mr. Romney virtually tied with Mr, Obama. Most of these
polls, I and many other observers have noted, were already
erroneously weighted in Mr. Obama’s favor. Now we can expect
Mr. Romney’s poll numbers to improve (by exactly how much I
don’t know), and probably to regain the lead he at times held earlier.

Most of all, Mr. Romney’s performance has energized his campaign
team, Republican and conservative voters, as well as independent
voters, a group he has consistently led, even more to his side.

Momentum, a key element at the end of a presidential campaign,
now shifts to Mr. Romney for the time being. There is only
a month to go, and not much room for many more of these

Yet my headline above has a “but.” That “but” is the understanding
that the Obama campaign is not going to simply surrender the power
they have without a fight.

There are two more debates. Walter Mondale was generally judged
to be the winner his first debate with President Reagan in 1984 when
the incumbent seemed suddenly old and confused in their initial
confrontation. But history shows that Mr, Reagan came back in their
next debate, including the now legendary riposte that he would not
use “Mr. Mondale’s youth” against him. Of course, Barack Obama is
no Ronald Reagan, but it can be known as certain that Team Obama
will be intensely planning for a comeback at the next debate.

In addition, we have already seen how Team Obama relishes playing
“hardball” in this campaign, including the sudden appearance of an
old and private video that brought the “47%” remark into the campaign.
As election day approaches, and their candidate begins to trail in the
polls, do not think for a nano-moment that Team Obama will not try to
inject sensational items into the contest in the hope of derailing Mr.
Romney. We only have to go back to 2000 when, with George W,
Bush leading Al Gore in the polls in the final week, that Mr. Bush’s
very old DWI incident was brought up.

Nor can we forget, in a world so on edge with revolutionary change
and economic distress, that international events and crises have
repeatedly intruded on U.S. presidential campaigns. What might yet
happen in the volatile Middle East before election day? The
Venezuelan presidential election soon to take place, and virulently
anti-American incumbent Hugo Chavez is facing a serious opponent.
U.S. South and Central American policy has been in a shambles of
late. What might an unsettled election in Venezuela cause in that part
of the world, a region so geographically close to the U.S.? The chronic
economic crisis in Europe has seen another wave of fiscal and
political unease across that continent. Russia, under a re-elected
President Putin, is increasingly confrontational and aggressive.
China and Japan have suddenly seen a re-ignition of their historic
enmity over territorial disputes.

Mr. Romney, as a successful businessman and manager, was able to
dominate his debate with Mr. Obama on domestic economic issues,
but how will he do in the debate ahead that is supposed to be about
foreign policy?

This election, I argued strenuously when Mr. Romney was supposed to
be behind in the polls, was not over. Now that Mr. Romney has had a
major triumph, and is likely to have gained momentum, I suggest that
no one should consider this election won yet by Mr. Romney. Time is
running out on this contest, the number of undecided voters is dwindling,
and the ability to inject new controversies into the campaign is
shrinking, but a month is sufficient to change a final outcome, especially
if the race, at least in the all-important electoral college, is close.

As the first Republican president once wrote to one of his generals
during the Civil War, this is a time for “sleepless vigilance” if there is
to be a final victory.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The Prairie Editor offers some very candid appraisals of the highly contested
2012 U.S. senate races with only five weeks to go. There is good and bad news
for  Republicans and Democrats alike in individual races that have taken
unexpected and dramatic new turns. This commentary is available only to
subscribers to this website.

[A one-year subscription to The Prairie Editor is only $45.00, or for two
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The Prairie Editor's new book "TAKING TURNS: Political Stalemate or
New Direction in the Race for 2012" is now available at:

This book also features provocative essays by
Kavon Nikrad, Newt Gingrich, Michael Barone,
Tom Ridge, Ed Morrisey and Lanny Davis.

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