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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Implosion In Minnesota?

Several last-minute developments in many of the Minnesota 2018
races, including governor, a U.S.senator special election, four close
U.S. house races, and a controversial contest for state attorney general,
have thrown outcomes here on November 6 into mystery and doubt.

Most notably, the state Democratic Party (here called the Democratic-
Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) has seen a wave of bad news at the
campaign’s end.

This includes the tightening of the races for governor, the U.S. senator
special election, and attorney general --- each of which initially showed
the DFL candidates with substantial leads, at least in public polls. All
three races are now considered competitive, and controversial DFL
nominee for attorney general, Keith Ellison, has fallen behind his GOP
opponent by 7 points. DFL nominees still lead in recent polls by 3-6
points in the other two races, but their advantage is clearly shrinking as
election day approaches.

In a major unforced political error, appointed DFL U.S. Senator Tina
Smith skipped a much-watched TV debate on the leading Minnesota
station (KSTP-TV) in which the candidates of both parties for governor,
both U.S. senate races and attorney general participated. Senator Smith
said she had a scheduling conflict, but so did the other senate race
where, also with a scheduling conflict, incumbent DFL Senator Amy
Klobuchar and her GOP opponent arranged to tape their debate earlier
so that it could be broadcast with the others. By not showing up,
Senator Smith gave her opponent, GOP State Senator Karin Housely
a whole hour interview by herself. It is difficult to understand the DFL
strategy to present an empty chair and an uncontested interview to
their opponent only two weeks before the election when so many
undecided voters are making up their minds in a clearly competitive
race. Her senate colleague Amy Klobuchar’s  arrangement to tape her
own debate undercut Smith’s scheduling conflict alibi.

In the northeastern Eighth congressional district, historically a DFL
stronghold, incumbent DFLer Rick Nolan is retiring, and the GOP
challenger, County Commissioner Pete Stauber has built such a
commanding lead that the DCCC has pulled $1.2 million in ads, and
in effect, conceded the race to he GOP. Not only would this now become
a rare Republican pick-up, but if the final result resembles Stauber’s
latest 15-point lead (Donald Trump carried the district by 16 points in
2016), Eighth District voters are also likely to contribute GOP margins
of tens of thousands of votes to Republican statewide candidates.
(During most of the past half century, this district gave margins of
tens of thousands of votes to the DFL.)

President Trump has recently held huge rallies in Duluth in the north
and Rochester in the south on behalf of his party’s candidates,
reinforcing a post-Kavanugh resurgence of the GOP base which has
occurred across the nation, especially in red and purple states.
With DFL enthusiasm seemingly blunted by the controversial Keith
Ellison candidacy for state attorney general, momentum has apparently
shifted to the conservatives in the closing days of the campaign.

But all is not rosy for the GOP. DFL Senator Kobuchar is sailing to an
easy re-election, and two incumbent Republican congresmen, Jason
Lewis in the Second District and Erik Paulsen in the Third District are
facing very serious DFL challenges, and could lose. A second potential
GOP congressional pick-up in the southern First District is also too
close to call with two weeks to go.

Republicans hold the state house of representatives by a notable
margin, but all of these seats are up for election in 2018. The state
senate is currently tied at 33-33, and control will be determined by a
special election this year, the only state senate seat on the ballot.
This seat is in a usually conservative outstate district.

Unexpected national developments and a possible third Trump visit
to the state could enhance or diminish any political momentum, but
the purple state of Minnesota is now, with only days to go, both
electorally and psychologically a toss-up.

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Pre-Election Dizzy

About a month before election day, the actual voting begins to occur
as each state with its own rules allows for applications for absentee
voting, gives them out, receives them, and in many cases, permits
early voting itself.  Many states also allow party registration
switches. Most of this is public information, and analysts from each
political party and some individual campaigns can pour over this
data, compare it with the data from previous elections --- and then
try to glean clues, signals and patterns of what will result when the
votes are actually counted.

We are now in this curious and obviously recently created interval,
and already the number-crunching folks are busy at work, feverishly
going over each day’s data. Secretaries of state are ballyhooing their
statistics, especially if they are improving, as evidence of their work
to “get out the vote.”

At the same time, many volunteers are making campaign contact
with large numbers  of voters by phone, internet and in personal

Many pundits rely on ubiquitous polling of varying reliability and
credibility, while others assess the impact of fundraising and
campaign advertising, lawn signs and the ever-increasing revelations
from opposition research.

Conventional election wisdom usually ranks polls, fundraising and
advertising very high --- primarily because they are in full view and
easily quantified. Voter ID and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are
mostly under-the-radar, and thus more difficult to assess, as is the
impact of unpaid publicity and deeper voter psychological reactions
to events, personalities, issues and public anxieties.

In 2016, conventional election wisdom crashed because the traditional
models failed to accurately predict the outcome. Hillary Clinton
consistently led in the polls, raised and spent the most money, and had
most of the media on her side. Her opponent was outpolled, outspent
and broke virtually all of the conventional rules of campaigning and
political discourse. Yet Donald Trump won the election by winning
the electoral college votes in the individual states, not the overall
popular vote that was measured by the polls which conventional
wisdom had made a greater priority. His appeal to voters was also
judged by conventional standards which no longer applied.

In 2018, the congressional Democrats have financially far outraised
their Republican opponents, especially in contested races, and are
spending the most money on advertising. Establishment media polling
has favored them throughout the cycle, including in many of the U.S.
senate races where they are vulnerable. The poll numbers in the latter
are now, it is true, changing at the end of the campaign --- and 
conventional wisdom is finally acknowledging the Republicans' clear
mathematical advantage in this cycle.

But in the U.S. house races, conventional wisdom continues to assert
that the Democrats will take back control by winning more than 23
seats net from the current GOP majority. In fact, most establishment
pundits rate 50-65 GOP incumbent seats variably “vulnerable” and
only 1-3 Democratic seats vulnerable to Republican pick-up.

Indeed, the much-touted “blue wave” could happen --- although since
the controversial Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it would even
appear to conventional thinking that a blue “surge” might be limited
to U.S. house races and governorships.

There will now be an acceleration of speculation in the remaining two
weeks of the campaign. Airwaves, mailboxes, the internet and
billboards will be incredibly crowded with ads, propaganda and
sensational revelations from both sides. Some of it might impact the
now diminishing number of undecided voters. Conventional wisdom
will be tested one more time.

This cycle it might hold. But 2016 unleashed new forces in both
political parties --- and history suggests such forces don’t disappear

Surprises invariably happen in these circumstances. Prepare for them.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All right reerved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unusual Movement In New Polls?

There appears to be, over the past few days, some unusual movement in
the major published polls. It is not entirely uniform, and there are still
almost three weeks until election day. This movement is also too new to
be conclusive, and my readers know that I take most polling with some
skepticism. Nonetheless, something appears to be going on with the
electorate in the final days of the 2018 midterm election cycle --- a time
when a large segment of voters who are undecided or uncertain about
their votes actually make up their minds.

This is a very short post, and deliberately non-specific, but if the current
movement continues and grows, I will report it.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mid-Term Crunch Time

The 2018 mid-term elections are only three weeks away, and as I have
predicted, the polls are tightening and more “safe” seats have become

The key to this period is that many voters are only now paying attention
to the individual races, Those who are “undecided” or capable of
changing their minds seem to be a larger percentage this cycle, as
indicated by many polls.

What should we now look for?

First, watch for polls further tightening or changing leaders.
Double-digit leads can dive into lower single digits almost
overnight. When this happens, it’s a race worth watching.

Second, polls this cycle (and the last one) have undermeasured certain
kinds of voters. Conservatives and Republicans often distrust polls
and refuse to answer them, thus distorting the results.  But it is also
true that some polls have undermeasured the kind of voters who share
 Bernie Sanders’ political views. Some recent primary upsets attest to
that. Watch for pollsters to try harder to obtain polls results that will
reflect the final results credibly.

Third, it’s difficult to measure, but the so-called “Kavanaugh effect”
appears to be a late-breaking factor in 2018 --- with Republicans being
roused to vote, especially in red states, but Democrats in blue states
also being motivated more to vote. Conventional media assumptions
have been that women, in particular, were upset by the Kavanaugh
confirmation,and will vote  Democratic as a result. There is evidence,
however, that many women found the Democrats’ tactics objectionable.
Only the final results will tells us which is true.

Fourth, President Trump has appeared to “nationalize” much of the
election --- with his opponents and critics determined to give him a
defeat, but also his supporters roused to turn out to give him a victory.
His rallies on behalf of GOP gubernatorial, U.S. senate and house
candidates have drawn enormous and enthusiastic crowds, and the
candidates whom he supports have generally seen their poll numbers
rise after a rally. Democrats have some political celebrities on their side,
including former President Obama, and they clearly help their
candidates, especially in heavily blue state races, but most of the
competitive races this cycle are in red states.

Fifth, President Trump has the “bully pulpit” and particularly is
skillful in commanding media attention. Does he have an October
“surprise” or two ahead?

Sixth, opposition research is now a common factor in U.S. politics,
and late-breaking revelations can change a race quickly if credible.
This strategy was taken to the extreme by the opponents of Justice
Kavanaugh --- and they failed --- but some revelations can be
devastating  to a campaign. Opposition research strategies often
appear near the end of the contest.

Seventh, a great deal of money has been raised this cycle by candidates
and PACs in both parties. Campaign radio, TV, billboard, mail and
social media ads are already flooding everywhere. They will peak in the
next three weeks. How effective they will be is unclear, as many voters
are turned off by their sheer noise and clutter.

Eighth, and most important in my view, the key figure in any election,
and no less so this year, is the individual voter. Candidates, campaign
operatives and advisors, pundits and the media in general, like to
second-guess them. That’s what happened most notoriously in 1948
and 2016, but it seems to be true that only the voting results on election
day will tell us what really happened.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: International News Clips

The largest nation in South America, long known for its rich culture,
also has a history of political and economic instability. The latter trait
recurs with some regularity in Brazil, the Portuguese-speaking nation
with a population of 210 million, 3.2 million square miles of territory,
and so many natural resources. Settled in 1500 by the Portuguese,
Brazil separated from Portugal in 1822, and began a long history of its
own emperors, corrupt republics, military and civilian dictatorships.
Recent governments held out hope for economic stability and more
democracy, but after a series of scandals, the impeachment and
imprisonment of the president, crime waves, and widespread citizen
protests, a charismatic figure from the right, Jair Bolsonaro has
emerged as the likely new president. A Brazilian legislator for 28
years, Bolsonaro promises Brazilians a stable economy and a
crackdown on crime and corruption. In the first round of the
national elections, he received 46% of the vote, and will now face off
against the leading leftist candidate on October 29. A former army
captain, Bolsonaro has expressed praise for earlier military rule of
the country, which has been criticized by his opponents, but Brazilian
voters seem responding more to his calls to end corruption.

President Emmanuel Macron won as upset victory in 2017, routing all
the established political parties on the right and the left. Not only was
it a personal victory, the new centrist party he created won a majority
of seats in the French parliament. But his efforts to reform French
policies have run into snags as the nation’s economic growth lags
behind the rest of Europe, and chronic unemployment remains in
spite of his programs to create more jobs. This year so far, M. Macron’s
popularity has fallen from 50% to 29%. Asserting that his “cultural
revolution” will take time, his opposition has only stepped up their
attacks on his administration --- although with parliamentary control,
he remains in charge for now.

The long-festering separatist movement  in the northeastern Spanish
region of Catalunya, previously suppressed by the Spanish government
in Madrid, has re-emerged as a divisive force in the modern democratic
Spanish nation. Torn by a civil war in 1936-39 that turned out to be a
rehearsal for World War II, Spain was ruled by a dictator, Francisco
Franco, until 1975. Spain then reverted to a constitutional monarchy
under King Juan Carlos, although political power was in the hands of
a prime minister and his government --- and the parliament (Cortes)
which was democratically elected. Just prior to the civil war, in 1930,
the royal government under Juan Carlos’ grandfather and his powerful
dictatorial prime minister General Primo de Rivera was overthrown by
a coup which soon led to the creation of a brief and weakly constructed
republic. Although Spain had been a European power in its “Golden
Age” and for centuries, and had numerous colonies in North and
South America, Africa and Asia, the country itself was divided into
very distinct regions, including Galicia in the northwest, the Basque
Country in the north central, Andalusia in the southwest, and
Catalunya. Each of these regions has a distinct history and their own
language, but had been united by the Castilian kings in Toledo and
later in Madrid. Regional independence movements were
suppressed under Franco, but reappeared, especially in the Basque
Country. A much more civil movement  existed in Catalunya
and its capital Barcelona ---where much of the nation’s industry was
located. Catalan separatists argued that Madrid took much more
taxes from the region that it returned, and that they wanted to restore
an independent Catalan nation  When the conservative government
was replaced by a socialist government earlier this year, separatist
leaders renewed their call for a Catalan plebiscite on independence
--- which has been ruled illegal by the Spanish courts.


Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has submitted
her resignation to President Trump. Ambassador Haley has been an
outspoken and eloquent spokesman for the Trump administration,
and enjoyed notable popularity among many Republicans. A former
governor of South Carolina, she gained national prominence as a
leading woman conservative before being named to the cabinet
(and high profile) position by the president. At  the U.N., she was a
powerful and unflinching voice for U.S. foreign policy

Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suffered significant
losses in recent Canadian provincial elections, including Ontario,
New Brunswick, and most surprising of all, Quebec. This shift to the
right and the Progressive Conservative Party marks the first time in
many years that voters have rejected so many candidates of Trudeau’s
Liberal Party in these provinces.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018


The political trauma of the confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh’s
elevation to the U.S. supreme court tested not only the nominee, but
some very basic American principles as well as the character of several
men and women who now hold high office.

Some commentators are now discussing the winners and losers
resulting from this battleground, and there are no doubt some
political winners and losers in this matter.

I suggest, however, the greatest good to come from this event was a
reaffirmation of an essential American value --- the rule of  law that
asserts a person is innocent until proven guilty.

The senate confirmation process was not designed to be a legal  trial,
but in recent years, this constitutional function of “advice and consent”
has often been cast as a judicial proceeding --- and increasingly with
fewer and fewer of the rules and protections that our system
provides to every citizen. This is part of a general phenomenon that
in some quarters has arisen to question the very assumptions of our
representative democracy itself. Such self-questioning is cited in
our Declaration of Independence as a healthy process, but only when
it represents the considerations of all citizens --- especially in the task
that sometimes occurs in many nations, namely the overthrow of

After separating us from a despotic English king, the founders of the
new republic established an evolutionary and correctable written
constitution grounded with basic unalterable principles. Perhaps
paradoxically, many of our rules of law were inherited from English
law. Over time and through a tragic civil war the U.S. has repaired
many of its initial flaws that reflected not only public opinion in the
18th century, but also certain compromises our founders made to unite
thirteen disparate North American colonies into a functioning nation.

The constitutional creation of a supreme court did not enumerate
fully its powers, especially to overrule acts of the executive and
legislative branches. As the nation matured, the supreme court did
become the ultimate arbiter of constitutional government while
usually restraining itself from intervening on clearly expressed
powers granted to the other branches.

Over time, many circumstances and conditions change, and even
an institution such as the supreme court evolves in its public role.
In recent years, there arose a national controversy over the “activist”
supreme court (and lower courts) which has assumed its right to
“revise” certain founding  ideas. This latest debate was
begun in the 1930s and has continued to the present day.

The current supreme court reflects a narrow majority of justices
who hold more “originalist” views than do the previous and
long-standing majority of activist justices. With the retirement of
Justice Anthony Kennedy,  a conservative who on some social issues
sided with liberal colleagues, the stage was set for a full new

This was the context of the confirmation hearings  of President
Donald Trump’s second nominee for the supreme court. That most
liberals and Democrats strongly oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s
legal philosophy, however, was not the question before the senate.
The decision about the ideological orientation of the judiciary is
decided in the presidential election. Only the president can nominate
a federal judge. The function of the senate “consent” to a nomination
is as a safeguard against a president failing to choose a judge of high

Lacking any credible grounds to oppose  Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s     
standing and ability in the law, his opponents decided to attack him
on his character and personal life. In order to pursue this strategy,
his opponents needed to promote a public relations atmosphere in
which Judge Kavanaugh would appear to be on  trial in the senate
with allegations that presumed he was guilty --- a complete reversal
of a fundamental American principle.

The leaders of the senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley rose to the occasion.
They began their confirmation work as partisans, but  because of
their opponents’ strategy, they ended the confirmation process as
constitutional champions as well. There were a number of high and
low moments as the process went on, but it was a speech by Maine
Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, which best expressed
the  largest and most critical issues. In fact, it was such a tour de force
that it is likely to be the one utterance in this matter which will be
read and quoted long after the present controversies are forgotten. It
was a moment of rare true political eloquence that ensures her place
in the history of the notable members of the U.S. senate.

In the wake of the confirmation vote, some commentators are arguing
the U.S. supreme court is now “politicized.”  One wonders where
these commentators have lived for the past 40 years! The supreme
court has already been a political issue for most of that time. The
Kavanaugh confirmation was only latest chapter in this saga. Both
parties have responsible for "politicizing" the federal courts.

Beyond the political, however, this confirmation was the test of a key
threshold American principles --- the principles of the rule of law and

Considering the techniques now employed to bypass that threshold,
however, all of us --- liberals and conservative --- will need to
perform “sleepless vigilance” (Lincoln’s timeless phrase) to protect
our most essential principles from wherever threats to them might
yet come.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Each mid-term election has its own character, its own set of political
demographics and circumstances, its own hot-button issues, and mostly
its own center-stage personalities. At the same time, certain historical
patterns can often be found in the results after the votes are tallied ---
but rarely before election day. Historical similarities do often occur, and
there are characteristic patterns which appear in one mid-term,
disappear in the next, and then reappear in another.

One of the recurring patterns, in addition to the often cited one in which
the party in power loses seats in the U.S. house and senate, is the
circumstance of when the mid-term is a provisional report card on the
current president and his administration’s policies. Recent presidents
of both parties --- Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ---
each had problematic first two years in their first term, and did not do
well in their first mid-term elections. But each of them recovered, and
won a second term. Only Jimmy Carter failed to recover from his first
two years, and was defeated for re-election.

But not all mid-terms are so nationalized. Both Presidents Bush had
first mid-terms in either economic boom or, in the case of George W.
Bush, the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001..

We also need to remember that second-term mid-term elections are
different from those which occur two years after a new president is
elected. Those mid-terms also often result in the party out of power
making gains, but in 1998 during a booming economy Republicans
(who controlled the house and senate, but not the White House) lost
seats in the house and made no gains in the senate. After the election,
in December, 1998, the house impeached President Bill Clinton, but
failed to convict him in February, 1999. The two issues in 1998 were
the economy and the impending impeachment. Voters approved the
former and opposed the latter.

What about 2018?

The economy is booming. Democrats are so far delaying the
confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. supreme
court. Many Democrats are saying that if they recapture control
of the U.S. house, they will attempt to impeach Mr. Trump. The
president’s popularity is under 50%. The Trump administration has
just completed a successful renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement.
Mr. Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico has not been built.
The president has nominated a large number of conservative federal
judges --- most of them replacements for retiring liberal judges. The
Democrats have no central theme to the mid-term elections, running
a variety of establishment liberal and much more radical candidates
across the nation. Donald Trump is the single most significant factor
in both Democratic turnout (against him) and Republican turnout (for

i think we can safely conclude, therefore, that the 2018 mid-term
elections have been nationalized. Of course, these same elections are
state-by-state and district-by-district, and local conditions and
individual candidate personalities are always important, but in the
final weeks of this cycle, the overriding questions appear to be about
President Trump, his nominee for the U.S. supreme court, and the
impact of the economy.

The reader can come to his or her own conclusion about which party
a nationalized mid-term election will most benefit. The national
popular vote remains divided, as it was in 2016, with Democrats
having an edge. But 2018 is not a national popular vote election --- it is
a state-by-state and district-by-district election. National polls thus
mean relatively little, even if they are accurate --- something very much
in doubt so far.

Nevertheless, 2018 is an either/or election --- a voter statement about
whether they are overall pleased or displeased with their national and
state governments.

There are still apparently a lot of undecided or wavering voters in key
competitive races, but election day is now approaching rapidly.

Place your bets.

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Are Democrats Shutting Windows To Winds Of Victory?

The political precedent is well-known that frequently in the
first mid-term election of a new president his party suffers
significant losses in he U.S. house and senate, especially if
they are in the majority. These losses cam be amplified when
the new president is controversial and/or unpopular.

In the 2018 mid-term election cycle, new GOP President
Donald Trump is undeniably controversial, and his poll
numbers are under 50%. His party controls both houses of
Congress. These circumstances fit the historical precedent
conditions for major Republican mid-term losses.

On the other hand, the economy is very strong, the stock
market at or near historic highs, unemployment is sharply

Although the GOP controls both houses of Congress, the
Democrats’ prospects for big gains or even taking back
control of the U.S. house is only visibly strong in the latter.
In the U.S. senate races, liberal incumbent seats outnumber
conservative ones by almost three-to-one. Reducing the GOP
51-49 lead is technically, even anecdotally, possible, but
mathematically improbable. In he U.S. house races and in
state governorships, however, the Democrats have the
numbers and precedent on their side.

Liberal pundits, pollsters and media outlets have, since the
outset of the 2018 cycle, been drumming up a blue wave
election narrative, even including an unlikely one in the
senate races. Turnout in the primaries and the closeness (but
not victory) in most special house elections were interpreted
as clear evidence of the imminent blue winds of Democratic
gains and overall victory in November.

These victories could indeed still happen a few weeks from
now in November, but two unexpected developments have
arisen whereby Democrats might, by their own hands, shut
their windows to the strong political breezes seemingly
heading their way.

The first development appeared relatively late in the primary
season. Initially, liberal strategists seemed to have determined
to recruit more moderate candidates to take on GOP
incumbents in swing districts or in districts where the
boundaries had recently been redrawn (often by the courts).
This made sense as a winning strategy. It appeared to be
working in some special house elections. As the primary
elections took place, however, a more radical left voter
movement, inspired by 2016 unsuccessful Democratic
presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
(a self-described independent socialist), began to win a
number of races in U.S. house races, governorships, and in
at least one prominent down-ballot state attorney general
race in Minnesota. Most establishment liberal incumbents
won their primaries, but a few prominent ones were upset by
candidates to their left --- candidates advocating single payer
healthcare, Medicare for All, abolition of I.C.E. border
control, unlimited immigration into the U.S., free college
tuition, and sanctuary cities. In effect, the Democrats are
now running an opportunistic mid-term campaign without
unifying themes.

The second development also appeared late when a member
of the U.S. supreme court retired, and President Trump
nominated a more conservative figure as his replacement.
In spite of the fact that several Democratic senators up for
re-election this year are from states carried by big margins by
Donald Trump in 2016, the Senate Democratic leadership not
only decided to oppose the nomination, but to seek out and
encourage a campaign of personal attacks against the nominee
that has been unprecedented in recent memory. (To be fair,
the confirmation process has deteriorated on both sides in
recent decades). Allegations against the nominee were aired in
non-judicial hearings where the fundamental American
principle of law that a person is innocent until PROVEN guilty
was turned on its head. Partisans for and against the nominee
became incensed, but a growing public perception of unfairness
and political desperation might backfire as the controversy
continues almost until election day. The Republicans and
President Trump, while denouncing the attacks on the nominee
as politically-motivated, have allowed the Democrats to pursue
a strategy of delaying the nomination (presumably not only
to defeat the confirmation, but also to enable vulnerable
Democratic incumbent senators to avoid voting on the
nomination at all before election day).  This political
melodrama is still playing itself out with another delay, but the
risk is growing that it could provoke a voter backlash against
those attempting to scuttle the confirmation process.

In a variation of the common phrase --- the non-jury is out!

The best motivator for Democratic turnout this cycle is liberal
opposition and antipathy (much of it visceral) to Donald Trump.
But the best motivator for Republican turnout this cycle is
conservative enthusiasm for President Trump!

President Barack Obama stood at the “bully pulpit” in 2010,
but he couldn’t prevent a wave election against him and his
party. President Donald Trump stands at the same pulpit now.
To this point, he has disrupted precedents and expectations.

Can he do it again, or has his string of upsets run out?

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Common Sense, Not Conventional Wisdom

We have now entered a period of political illusion and delusion that
always comes just before a major election cycle.

In recent cycles, the melodrama and meanness of spirit seems to have
increased --- this largely because of the sheer quantity of unverifiable
information, and the ease of publishing it on the internet and other
newer modes of distribution. But we need to remember that current
generations of Americans have enjoyed relatively tranquil times in       
recent years. Before that, just after the founding of our republic, during
the U.S. civil war, at the tumultuous turn of the 19th century into the
20th, at the outset of the Depression, and during the Viet Nam war,
equal or even greater political campaign hysteria occurred.

It might not be an entirely new phenomenon, but of course, it is still
disorienting to voters who must make important decisions on an
approaching election day.

What can be usefully said about the remaining few weeks before that
election day as the airwaves, pages of print, billboards, lawn signs,
and public conversations, are filled with what is mostly propaganda and
other public manipulations of dubious reality?

My answer to that question is applicable to voters (and my readers)
who are Democrats, Republicans, independents or just plain undecided.
Ignore, if you can, conventional wisdom, public opinion polls (more
misleading than ever), political ads on TV (and those which come in the
mail). Insofar as you do perceive these, understand that they are
designed and formulated to manipulate your political emotions, and not
necessarily your own real interests and ideals.

What then should you do instead?

My suggestion is to employ one of your greatest assets --- your common
sense. Of course, everyone’s common sense is different, so there will
be different voter responses. What is behind your common sense is
your lifetime of experiences, your values, your own interests, and your
natural skepticism.

We are in an historical period of some political disruption and change.
It is also currently a period of general economic boom with a rising
stock market (and thus increased value of most person’s net worth
in their retirement funds), very low unemployment (notably including
previously high unemployment groups), and lower taxes. It is also a
period of a presidential trade policy strategy that includes at least
temporary tariffs and confrontations with our allies and trading
partners, and at least short-term obstacles for some domestic farmers
and manufacturers. As the usually inevitable result of electing a
president from the conservative party, judicial appointments at the
federal level are mostly conservative. Similarly, the presidential
candidate who won promised a rollback of regulations and smaller
government, and this is occurring. You might agree or disagree with
all or some of that.

Elections have consequences, we need to be reminded. Voting for a
candidate at any level of government, and especially for statewide
office (such as governor) and for U.S. house and senate in a national
mid-term election such as this one will have consequences. If you
agree with, and find positive current state and national policies, your
vote should reflect it. If you oppose or disagree with current state or
national policies, your vote should reflect that.

I also want to repeat something I have written about often over the
years --- that in reality, every eligible voter does vote! Those who turn
out and cast their ballot, of course, vote. But so do those who stay at
home and don’t cast a ballot. These latter eligible voters, in reality,
are casting their vote in advance for the winner, whomever it might be,
whether or not they agree with that winner. 

That’s reality, and also common sense.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: More Voter Mixed Signals

Throughout the 2018 midterm primary season, I have tried to present a
balanced and fair analysis of the upsets in races in each party, as well
as commentary on the various special elections that might signal voter
trends in November.

I have cautioned that the signals from voters so far have been mixed,
and not conclusive of any clear trend, notwithstanding claims by
partisans and many in the media that a “wave” is coming.

Just at the end of the primary season, on September 18, a special state
senate election in Texas has demonstrated again that voters are still
sending mixed signals.

Texas state Senate District 19 has been a Democratic seat. Its state
senator was convicted in 2018 of several felonies and resigned. A
special election was set, with Republican Pete Flores and Democrat
Pete Gallego seeking to fill the vacant seat. Gallego, a former
congressman, was favored to win, but Flores won by 6 points in a
major upset. Mr. Flores will be he first Hispanic Republican to serve in
the Texas senate. Recent mainstream media polls have indicated that
the Texas race for U.S. senate is getting closer with incumbent GOP
Senator Ted Cruz’s lead over his Democratic challenger narrowing.
This has enabled some to contend that there might be a “blue” wave
this year in Texas which went decisively for Donald Trump in 2016,
and where most of the statewide office holders are Republican.
Pete Flores’ upset win, and a new poll showing Cruz lead in now
widening, go contrary to the blue wave narrative.

In New Jersey, the U.S. senate race, considered “safe” for Democratic
incumbent Senator Bob Menendez until now, has become a “toss-up”
as recent polls indicate the contest is almost a tie with Republican
businessman Bob Hugin now receiving a number of endorsements
from Democratic New Jersey elected officials who have turned away
from their own party nominee after his criminal trial that resulted in
a hung jury. The Hugin campaign cites a new poll in New Jersey’s 2nd
congressional district, expected to be won this year by the Democrat,
shows Hugin leading Menendez by10 points. New Jersey is a heavily
Democratic state, carried easily by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hugin has
been self-funding his campaign so far, and has turned out to be an
unexpectedly strong challenger.

In Minnesota, controversial retiring Democratic (DFL) Congressman
Keith Ellison is running for attorney general, but is polling
dramatically behind his fellow DFL statewide candidates.  A new poll
has Ellison, by far the most well-known candidate in the race, at 41%,
and virtually tied with his GOP opponent, attorney Doug Wardlow.
Running well to the left of his own candidate for governor, and beset
by personal controversies, Ellison could lose the post held by the DFL
since 1971.

In spite of the races cited above, they are only so far providing mixed
signals. Menendez and Ellison could still win, Cruz could still lose.
Democrats could do well on November 6, especially if they win control
of the U.S. house. On the other hand, new polls (if correct) are
suggesting Republicans are making gains (in an economy which has
reduced minority group unemployment) among black and Hispanic
voters --- two of the most reliable Democratic-voting groups in the
past --- an ominous sign if proven true on election day. Good news
for the Democrats includes evidence that their liberal base is highly
energized, especially in blue states, in their opposition to President
Trump and his policies --- and are likely to turn out to vote.

A lot of polls in competitive 2018 races are still showing an unusually
large number of undecided voters. But we are almost in October, and
decisions can’t be put off indefinitely.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Great American Life

We often speak of the “good life” and about “great Americans,”
but it is not often that we come across a “great American life.”

A great American life not only includes, as I see it, material
successes and accomplishments, but also reveals certain qualities of
character and innate integrity that are distinctly emblematic of the
special brand of the American personality --- a brand forged in our
war of independence, our Civil War, two World Wars, the Industrial
Revolution, and our evolving and distinctive signature of
entrepreneurial democracy.

I have met a few persons, both men and women, who have lived, or
are living, a “great American life.” One of them, Julius C. Smith,
has just died at the age of 88. He had a long life, but it wasn’t just a
good life. It was a great and very American life.

Let me explain.

Jules (everyone called him that) was born in Minneapolis in 1930.
He was very tall --- about 6 feet 9 inches in height. He was very
athletic and very smart. From the outset he was a devout Catholic,
and remained so all of his life.

At St. John’s Preparatory School in Minnesota, and later at the
University of Minnesota, he played varsity basketball. He even did a
season of semi-professional basketball in Puerto Rico one summer.

But Jules Smith’s ambitions were not in professional sports. They
were in a career in the law. He received his J.D. from the University of
Minnesota Law School, and then went to Washington, DC to work as
a legislative assistant. He was advised to abandon D.C., and return
home to practice law. This he did, joining a firm in the small town of
Chaska, about 50 miles from downtown Minneapolis. At the same
time. he embarked on a lifelong career in public service. It began in
Chaska, but soon he was involved in early efforts to establish
metropolitan government services in the area around and including
the Twin Cities. It wasn’t glamorous or high-publicity work --- it was
the nuts-and-bolts work that created and maintained the sewers, roads,
public transportation, and land planning which invisibly but vitally
make American community daily life possible.

Having established a reputation for legal real estate work, he was
approached by a visionary state senator in the mid-1960s, and asked
to assemble rural properties in Chaska to create the first Title IV
new town in the nation. This he skillfully did, and the new town of
Jonathan was born in 1968.  Jules Smith was its vice president and
general counsel. He also took a lead role in the national League of
New Communities, made up of more than a dozen Title IV new towns
that had sprung up across the country. I met Jules when I moved to
Jonathan in 1971.

When a recession in the 1970s upended the federal new town
program, he moved on, teaching very popular real estate development
courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota’s
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; and establishing in Maryland
a renaissance festival which soon became a successful family
business run by four of his six children. This festival, now in
Annapolis, has grown and endured over the years, and is one of the
largest and most authentic of its kind in the nation.

In 1989, Jules and I created the International Conference Foundation,
a non-profit organization that sponsored educational public policy
symposia. This grew also into the international visitor programs of
the U.S. Information Agency and U.S. State Department in which we
acted as hosts and guides for more than 500 international public
officials touring the U.S. Jules was the Foundation’s president for
almost 20 years, and relished explaining America to, and entertaining,
world figures in Minnesota and in his home.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him, on the
recommendation of then-HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, to be on the
Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and in 1993, Governor Arne Carlson
appointed him as a district member of the Metropolitan Council.
He was reappointed to the latter by the next two governors, serving
longer than anyone else, and was known informally as its “institutional
memory” before retiring in 2007.

As a real estate development attorney, Jules Smith had few peers, and
his family festival business grew large, but that’s only part of his story.

He married, and had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. His
wife Mary (whom he always described as his best friend) was a figure in
her own right, creating the local library system and then running a
regional cable TV system. They lived in the new town of Jonathan, but
their happy family life was later shattered when Mary died of cancer in
1989. Jules did not re-marry.

He was not elected to office, but he served for several years as the
Chaska city attorney, and earlier as a special secretary in the office of
a Minnesota governor. He was too tall to serve in the army, but he was
a lifelong supporter of the U.S. military. He traveled all over the world,
but he loved being an American. He passionately read about U.S.
history, world events, and had a special interest in the life of Winston
Churchill. He had numerous friends from all walks of life. He had an
exceptional sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. His
compassion for others was all-encompassing.

In short, he was not only an exceptional man in size, curiosity, healthy
ambition, and intellect, he was a good man, a man of integrity and faith,
and he was a devoted husband, father and friend.

Jules Smith lived a great American life.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Between Now And November

Let me share a way to look at the remainder of the 2018 national
mid-term elections campaign that will conclude on November 6.

I think that the truest and most useful perspective is to understand
that virtually everything a voter sees, reads and hears from now on
is intended to motivate turnout of the two voter bases, and to coax
undecided and willing-to-change voters to make up their minds and
vote in a certain way. Data and polls might have little basis in fact or
fair appraisal. The primary motor for what is to come is the
second-guessing of what will affect voters the most, a game of
sheer presumed psychology and storytelling.

This is not a new campaign phenomenon. Election seasons almost
always end in this general manner. There are certain timeless laws
of political gravity. What is different about this cycle, in part, is the
bold lack of pretense for even slightly serious political discussion
and conversation about critical public policy issues.

One case in point is the confirmation hearings for Judge Brett
Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. supreme court. Clearly, Judge
Kavanaugh is a conservative, and understandably, liberals oppose
him. But a vacancy exists, the president has nominated someone
to fill that vacancy, and senate hearings are bring held. In this case,
the party which opposes him, the Democrats, have little possibility
to block his confirmation. Nevertheless, they have abandoned many
of the traditions of these hearings, and tried to transform the
process into a political soap opera --- most of it intended to
placate their ideological base and to provoke their own voters to
the polls. The Republicans who support Judge Kavanaugh, on the
other hand, are pressuring Democratic senators who represent
states President Trump carried by large margins in 2016 to vote for
confirmation with the threat of voter backlash if they do not.

It is obvious that a Justice Kavanaugh would become part of the
growing conservative bloc on the high court. He seems a man of
ability and good character. Barring the unforeseen, he will be
confirmed, and probably before the election. Republicans who
voted for Donald Trump because he promised to appoint
conservative judges would then be motivated to turn out to vote
so that he can nominate more such judges and have them
confirmed. Democrats who want to return to a liberal court
environment would then be motivated to turn out to vote to
block confirmations until 2020 when they will have the
opportunity to elect a Democratic president.

All that is as it should be. The bottom line is who occupies the
White House, and who has the majority of votes in the U.S.
senate. What is open to question, however, is the strategy of
pretending that somehow the democratic process is not
legitimate, and that a credible nominee is not credible.

To be fair, both parties have indulged in partisanship in recent
years in regard to federal court nominees. Republicans blocked
a credible high court nominee of then-President Obama, and
held up lower court nominees before the 2016 election.They had
the votes to do so, and went to the voters promising change.
Now, the Democrats are doing the same.

My point is not that the liberal Democratic Party is wrong to
oppose Judge Kavanaugh. My question is about whether this
strategy at this time helps or hurts their cause.

The high court confirmation story is only one aspect of the 2018
mid-term elections saga. It is part of a larger contest of two
narratives designed to reach and motivate voters. On these pages,
I have already and will continue to discuss the unusually large gap
this cycle between the two major parties and the narratives they are
recounting to the electorate.

The outcomes on November 6 will largely be determined by which
side has the most credible story to tell.

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

Monday, September 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mid-Term Ending Begins

They might not be as dramatic and significant as the 1940 British and
French evacuation at Dunkirk, but the initial skirmishes of the 2018
mid-term elections are virtually concluded. The Democratic and
Republican “armies, navies and air forces” are regrouping not only
for the November elections, but positioning themselves for the
climactic “war” in 2020 when a generation of U.S. politics will likely
be determined.

The heroic rescue of the British Expeditionary Force and the remnant
of the Free French Forces from that small beach on the southern
English Channel coast became the basis of an effort which led to an
historic invasion on similar Channel shores four years later --- and
then to victory less than a year after that.

My point is not to make too much of an analogy between the present
and Dunkirk, D-Day, and World War II, but to stress that history
moves in a series of phases and chapters --- and that some of them
are improbable or even just short of miraculous.

Authors and filmmakers are rewriting and recreating the Battle of
Britain, the bulldog boldness of Winston Churchill, the controversial
inspirations of Franklin Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle (among
others) quite a bit these days. Historic analogies, we must always
remember, have limitations --- and each age has its own cast of
characters --- but we live in a time of comparable social and political
change, and in a time of global war. This time, however, military
blitzkrieg has been replaced by decentralized terrorism.

Global events historically do not affect major U.S. elections as often
as do economic and social conditions. This seems clearly the case
so far in the 2018 mid-terms. Our political leaders, nonetheless, are as
personally eccentric as were our leaders of the past --- even though
time and historic recollection has made the old ones mythic, and
conveniently forgotten their eccentricities. In the present tense we
manage to stress the controversies --- something done by all sides
with almost gleeful ease as we hear denouncements of Donald Trump,
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi, just to name
some of the most prominent.

This column has persistently resisted the claims by some (particularly
in the national media) that a political wave, either blue or red, was
certain to arrive on U.S. electoral shores this November. I have not
argued that such a wave could not happen, but that there was no clear
and unambiguous evidence yet of any such wave. I continue to assert,
now that the ending of the beginning (the early campaigns and
primaries) is here, no certain outcome is signaled.

As we now enter the post-Labor Day autumn campaign (the beginning
of the ending), on the other hand, it is likely that instructive and
significant signals will increasingly appear, especially in the final weeks
when the unusually large number of undecided or willing-to-change
voters will make their decisions. For those of my readers who have
been disappointed by my unwillingness to make predictions, I need to
remind them that, when the signals appear, I will note them --- as I did
in 2010, 2014 and 2016 --- even if they might be contrary to conventional
wisdom. That was certainly the case in both 2010 and 2016 when
readers of this column had contrarian predictions that turned out to
be true. (To be honest and fair, some of my predictions for 2012 did not
turn out to be accurate.)

I have been consistently critical of most public opinion polling,
especially early polling in small samples of voters who are not VERY
likely to vote. Now that we are getting closer and closer to election day,
the polls will tend to be more accurate, especially if the pollsters are
employing large samples and are rigorously polling truly likely voters
of both parties. By mid-October this will most likely happen.

In 2016, the gross numbers of the polls were not very inaccurate, but
the analysis of them, particularly in the rust belt states that determined
the election, were. The polls, more or less, reflected the popular vote,
but was not analyzed to predict the electoral college vote --- the one that

In 2018, there is no electoral college, but there is a serious question
about the expectation of turnout --- and thus the subjective “weighting”
that all polls do. General voter resistance to answering polls, especially
among conservative and independent voters, also tends to skew public
poll results. While we are assured of low margins of error, too many
poll upsets in both parties this cycle indicate margins of error are often
much greater than conceded.

As in so many other aspects of our lives, we are often in too much of a
hurry these days to know outcomes. Even in baseball, with its long
season, many divisions, and its “wild  card” teams, most fans know
they won’t know the winner of the World Series until October.

We’ll know the winners and losers soon enough. but we’ll have to wait a
bit longer. And even when we do know the results, we’ll begin the
guessing game all over again for the 2020 presidential election.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Patterns And Reinforcements

The final primaries of the 2018 mid-term elections are
reinforcing the patterns of the earlier primaries.

Two of these patterns stand out. On the Republican side,
the policies and personality of President Donald Trump are
dominant. Nine of ten of his endorsed GOP candidates have
won in competitive primaries, and the base of his support
in red and purple states remains very strong. On the
Democratic side, candidates of the Bernie Sanders left
wing of the opposition party are winning many primaries
in blue and purple states ---and moving the national party
clearly to the left.

The latest example of the latter occurred in the Florida
Democratic gubernatorial primary where the mayor of
Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, won an upset against former
Congresswoman Gwen Graham (who had been leading in
the pre-primary polls). Gillum had been endorsed by Senator
Bernie Sanders, and run to the left of Graham, the daughter
of a popular former governor and a more traditional Florida

At the same time, retiring GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis
defeated state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam by
large margin. Only weeks before, Putnam, a rising state
political star, had been leading DeSantis, but President Trump
endorsed the congressman, and he quickly soared ahead in the

This race follows the pattern in previous primaries, especially
in purple states, where a Trump endorsee has won the
Republican primary and a Sanders-styled has won the
Democratic primary. As in these races, the Florida  race for
governor will test the two very divergent ideological views, and
possibly preview the 2020 presidential race.

In the just-concluded Arizona primary, a different 2018 mid-term
pattern was reinforced. Retiring Congresswoman Martha McSally
won a stronger-than-expected primary victory over former
Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who had been pardoned by President Trump
after a conviction) and physician Kelli Ward who had run the
campaign most to the right. Both Ward and Arpaio were considered
by many to be too right-wing to win in November against liberal
Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema, but each had a base in the
state. McSally actually won 52% of the vote. Her race with Sinema
(who has turned toward the center while in Congress) in November
is now rated a toss-up.

Although President Trump did not endorse in the senate race, all
three candidates emphasized their support for him. A second and
unique factor this cycle in Arizona was the lingering illness of
Senator John McCain (not up for re-election this year) who passed
away just before the primary. The GOP governor, Doug Ducey
(himself up for re-election in 2018), will now appoint a replacement
for McCain after the funeral in early September. Arizona is usually
considered a red state, and although Sistema historicallywas a
Bernie Sanders-styled politician, she is expected to run hard to the
center to attract the more conservative Arizona voters --- another
pattern in many red states this mid-term cycle.

A key November U.S. senate race in Florida was not affected by the
just-concluded primary. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson
and his November opponent, retiring GOP Governor Rick Scott,
had already been determined as their party nominees. Here, too,
a 2018 mid-term pattern was reinforced as the Democratic
incumbent faces a very serious GOP challenger --- and the
possibility of another Republican senate pick-up. The popular
Scott leads Nelson in current polls.

Finally, the critical factor of voter turnout was visible in both the
Florida and Arizona primaries. As expected, Democratic turnout
was strong, especially among Sanders-Warren wing voters (and
generally among liberal voters who oppose President Trump).
This pattern has occurred throughout the 2018 primary season
in blue, red and purple states. But Republican turnout was also
strong, as it has been in both red and purple states this year.

If the public polling is to be given any credibility so far this cycle,
it is that a larger-than-usual “undecided” or “willing-to-change”
vote exists in the electorate. In spite of predictions of blue and
red waves by partisans and the media, it is this unknown factor
makes any predictions speculative as we approach the end of the
primary season and enter the climactic autumn campaign.

The omens might be ambiguous, but the primary season continues
to supply us with patterns and reinforcements. At the center of
these is President Trump and his remaking of the Republican
Party --- and the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing that is
changing the Democratic Party. A U.S. supreme court confirmation
likely will occur before November, as will the course of the
economy and the stock market. Also in play are several Trump
foreign policy initiatives which could either succeed or fail in the
remaining two months of the 2018 campaign.

Not to mention the often occurring “October surprise.”

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