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.

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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.

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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
counted.

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.

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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
liberal.

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
race.

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.”

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Global "Chess"

Very little of what’s actually going on in the world
appears in the headlines and broadcasts of the day.

Our contemporary hyper-information communications
environment renders virtually all global “facts,”
“statistics,” and most other data often disputable,
unverified and ambiguous.

Even photographic and filmed images are always
incomplete portraits of a full picture of the reality of
most events and circumstances --- easily distorted for
partisan purposes in the worldwide competitions of
political, economic and military interests.

At any given moment in history, past and present, there
is a complicated and multilateral chess match taking
place below the surface, behind closed public doors, and
out of communications range.

However daunting the above assertions make a public
comprehension of global events and affairs, these
difficulties or obstacles should not prevent anyone from
attempting to grasp a reasonable understanding of
what is happening in the world around them.

In our own time of international change and disruption,
with global and domestic news and information sources
screaming for attention and influence, it would seem, in
fact, almost necessary that as many persons as possible
should have a reasonably accurate and useful grasp of
the world around them.

To be very specific, the global interests of larger nations
such as the United States, China, India, Russia --- and
those of significant regions such as the Middle East,
Southeast Asia, and South America --- have entered a
new stage distinct from the period of only a few years
ago.

Certain facts are obvious, for example, the populations
and land masses of the larger nations --- and their
geographic locations. On the other hand, their strategic
interests, current conditions, hidden historical agendas,
and (as always) the personalities and ambitions of their
leaders are often much less visible.

Why is all this so important?

It is important because change and disruption inevitably
bring new real conditions in the world. The use of a
“chess” match analogy falls short in one very critical
aspect --- world affairs is not a game.  Human lives
and how they are lived are always at stake.

The history of the world is the history of nations,
regions and interests --- and how they adapt or fail to
adapt to the change around them. With the current
challenges to democratic and free market systems of
government and economy, it would seem necessary
that the most accurate and widest public understanding
of the world is the only way democratic government
and free markets can survive.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Next And Concluding Chapter, Mid-Terms 2018

The book of the 2018 national mid-term cycle has one more chapter.
The earlier chapters included retirements, resignations, sensational
allegations, special elections, heated primaries and a lot of wishful
thinking by partisans of both major political parties, and not a few in
the media. But now we come to the climactic moments when the key
players in this saga, the voters, show up for their decisive moment.

There have been numerous  and contradictory omens about what will
be the election’s ending when the votes are tallied and reported.

For those who predict, and/or wish for, a “blue” result, there are the
closer-than-Trump’s 2016 margins in most of the special elections, the
higher than normal Democratic turnout in most primaries, the recent
published public opinion polls in many U.S. house races and some
senate races, and the tradition that first mid-term election of a new
president usually bring big gains to the opposition party.

For those who predict, and/or wish for, a “red” result, Republicans
won, albeit by smaller margins than previously, eight of nine of those
special elections, their turnout was also strong in many primary
states, especially “red” ones, public opinion polling of conservative
voters, particularly “likely” voters, has recently been notably inexact,
and the nation will probably be voting in a period of a strong economy,
a rising stock market and low unemployment.

A further advantage for the GOP, at least in the primary season, has
been the power of Mr. Trump through endorsements and rally
appearances to influence and bring out Republicans he favors in the
nominating stage of this cycle.

Democrats could argue, however, that the president’s disruptions
and successes during the  primaries will work to their favor in the
general election when highly motivated liberal and progressive
voters will turn out to defeat Mr. Trump and his candidates.

Republicans argue that the new Bernie Sanders-styled radical wave
of candidates advocating single payer healthcare, “Medicare for all,”
unlimited legal immigration, abolition of I.C.E., and sanctuary cities
and states will turn off voters, especially independents, in November.
Democrats argue that those same issues will boost their totals.

The mathematics of the 2018 election clearly favor the Democrats in
U.S. house races because the GOP is defending many more seats. But
the opposite is true in the U.S. senate races where many more
Democratic incumbent seats are considered vulnerable.

Late-breaking developments reinforce those mathematics. Recent
public opinion polls are being interpreted as making more GOP
house incumbents vulnerable --- and three of the four previously
considered “safe” senate seats that are now thought to be “in play”
are Democratic seats (New Jersey, Michigan and New Mexico).

On the other hand, the polls might not be accurate, and many
Republican house members whose races are rated competitive might
win re-election easily. And just because a few  Democratic senators’
races are now no longer rated “safe,” it does not mean they are going
to lose.

Pick your ”omen” or pick your statistic, and you can make a case for
either a “blue” wave/surge or a “red” one. But with almost three
months to go, nothing is truly dispositive. A lot of voters in a volatile
cycle like this one make up their minds or change them  just before
election day. The Democrats  certainly might be able to win back the
U.S. house. or they might fall short. The Republicans certainly might
enlarge their slim U.S. senate majority, or they might not.

A great deal depends on what we do not know now. There could
even be a surprise ending in the last chapter.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Dust-Up Post-Primary

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An epic 2018 primary produced one major upset, and decided the
major parties’ nominees for the numerous competitive state and
federal races in November, but the dust is far from settled in the
unique-this-cycle Minnesota political battleground.

With a key open governor’s race, two U.S. senate seats (one a special
election). at least four (out of eight) competitive U.S. house seats,
and an unusual state attorney general race drawing sensational
national headlines, and numerous state legislative races, Minnesota
has it all this year as perhaps no other state does.

The close races will now be dissected, digested and spun to serve
political goals. The major upset was in the Republican primary
for governor. The early favorite and most well-known candidate
was former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty who entered the
contest late, but financially out-raised his opponent, former GOP
gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson who had lost the race in 2014.
Pawlenty decided to forgo the state party endorsing convention
and, presumably assuming he would win the primary, aimed his
campaign toward November. Along the way, he ran some negative
ads at Johnson that confused many of Pawlenty’s own supporters
as well as infuriated the Johnson campaign. With the support of the
GOP party and using limited resources, Johnson energetically
campaigned while the Pawlenty effort seemed immobile, except
for fundraising and saving its large financial advantage for a
presumed general election. Claiming the “true” conservative mantle,
Johnson closed with ads in the internet media suggesting that
Pawlenty was not as strong supporter of President Trump as he was,
citing an old 2016 criticism Pawlenty made about candidate Trump.
This latter strategy seems to have been the final blow to Pawlenty’s
presumed lead. That presumption was supported by a few very
low-sample polls that also, however, suggested that Johnson was a         
stronger candidate than Pawlenty against any of the major DFL
opponents. President Trump did not endorse either candidate, but
the use of his name at the end might have made a difference --- as
it has in so many GOP primary races this cycle across the nation.

The DFL primary winner in the governor’s race, retiring
Congressman Tim Walz, won a plurality in a primarily three-person
contest, defeating the DFL-endorsed candidate and a last-minute
candidacy by the current state attorney general. Walz now goes into
the general election as the probable early favorite.

DFL primary voters numbered 550,000  compared to the GOP’s
300,000 voters, but some of this can be explained by the more
numerous contested DFL races. A 5th district DFL congressional race
inspired a big turnout, but that contest was tantamount to election, so the
liberal vote there might well not be quite so motivated in November.
Nevertheless, it will now be up to the Johnson campaign, the two
GOP U.S. senate campaigns, and the conservative party congressional
candidates to motivate Republican voters to match the DFL in
November. With at least four very competitive races for the U.S.
house in Minnesota this year, a high profile race for state attorney
general, and the GOP defending its control of the state house,
there is a lot at stake.

Most of the national issues between each party and between the two
parties themselves are still at play in Minnesota, and the political
dust so far stirred up won’t be settled until the votes are counted in
November.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Primaries 2018: A Last Preview

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The 2018 Minnesota primary season is unlike any other in memory,
and has been marked by the breakdown of the state’s political
party endorsement process and the precinct caucus system which
supports it.

Because so many Minnesota races have national implications, the
state’s elections this year are drawing unusual attention from across
the country.

In both parties, major party establishment candidates are challenging
the results of endorsing conventions that represented the views of a
relatively tiny number of party activists who the challengers feel did
not choose their party’s best or strongest candidates to be on the
November ballot.

What is distinctive about this intraparty “revolt” is that it is being
led by established elected officials, and not “outsiders.”

At the end of the primary campaign, however, the political parties
and their leaders are fighting back, attempting to rescue their power
and influence by pushing hard for their endorsed candidates.

The question before the primary, then, is will this be the “last hurrah”
of the endorsement/caucus system or will primary voters rescue it.

The conflict is more acute in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL)
Party where endorsement challenges involve the governor’s race,
the attorney general’s race, one congressional race --- and sets up a
deep division between two major wings of the party. There are also
two major endorsement challenges in the Republican Party, but they
are not really ideological divisions --- rather they are mostly
face-offs between personalities.

At the top of the tickets, the primary governor races, both parties
are experiencing epic battles.

In the Republican primary, former two-term governor Tim Pawlenty
is challenging the endorsement of Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner
and unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2014. Both are
conservatives, both support President Trump, but Pawlenty is better
known, has raised more campaign funds, and argues he is more
likely to defeat the DFL nominee in November. Johnson has resisted
the Pawlenty campaign energetically with limited resources. The
campaigns have become bitter. The better-known Pawlenty is favored,
but if Johnson can motivate enough grass roots voters to turn out for
him, an upset is possible.

In the southeastern Minnesota First Congressional District, Jim
Hagedorn won the GOP endorsement for this his fourth try for the
office. He almost upset the DFL incumbent (who is retiring this cycle)
in 2014. His father also once represented the district. But Hagedorn is
being challenged in the primary by GOP State Senator Carla Nelson
who represents a district in the area of Rochester, MN-1’s largest
city. There does not seem to be much ideological difference between
the two candidates, and the better-known Hagedorn is favored. But
Nelson has waged a very energetic campaign, received a last-minute
NRA endorsement, and an upset is not impossible.

In the DFL primary, by contrast, it’s virtually an all-out war between
traditional liberal candidates and candidate espousing the more
radical views of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders. The state DFL convention endorsed State Representative
Erin Murphy of St. Paul who supports many of Sanders’ views ---
views that are resonating in many Democratic primaries this year
across the nation. As the cycle began, however, outstate Congressman
Tim Walz, a more traditional liberal, was favored because it was felt
he could best bridge the state’s urban-rural divide. At the tumultuous
June state DFL convention, a third major gubernatorial candidate
emerged when the incumbent DFL state attorney general, Lori
Swanson suddenly withdrew from her re-election effort, and then
filed for governor. In latest polls, Swanson and Walz are almost tied,
and lead Murphy by several points, but the endorsed candidate,
strongly supported by her party, is campaigning energetically. With
the DFL sample ballot including her, the polls might be wrong,
especially if party loyalists turn out heavily on August 14. There is
a credible scenario for any of the three to win.

When Swanson suddenly retired as attorney general, a major vacuum
occurred, leaving a tiny interval for candidates to file for her job. One
of those who did was controversial 5th district DFL Congressman
Keith Ellison who retired from his safe Minneapolis seat. An unknown
lawyer had been endorsed at the DFL convention, but is given
virtually no chance now to win the primary. Also in the race is former
Ramsey (St. Paul) County Attorney Tom Foley, former state
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and State Representative
Debra Hilstrom. Foley is probably Ellison’s best-known opponent,
but the retiring congressman is the favorite in the primary. His
probable nomination, however, might create a problem for the rest
of the DFL statewide ticket because his many views are presumably
not shared by a significant number of outstate and independent
voters. Ellison, who was one of the few congressmen who supported
Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016, advocates a number of
“very progressive”or “socialistic” issues that might not be supported
even by other DFL candidates in 2018.

In the manner of “musical chairs,” Ellison’s last-minute retirement
from Congress created  an opening for his seat. With only hours
before the deadline, several DFL candidates filed to run in this
overwhelmingly liberal district. Among them was first-term Somali-
American State Representative Ilhan Omar. She, like Ellison
advocates views espoused by Bernie Sanders and others who stand
to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream. A Somali-American
male engineer also filed, as did State Representative Patricia
Torres-Rey, an Hispanic-American, and black state legislator (who
later suspended his campaign although he remains on the ballot).
A candidate who previously ran in the district as a Republican filed.
The most well-known candidate, former state Speaker of the House
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then entered the race. In a power play
not recognized by the other candidates, Omar and her supporters
called a last-minute endorsing convention which predictably gave
her the DFL endorsement. The district also has many liberal
suburban precincts. Although the winner of this primary will
almost certainly be elected in November, the result on August 14
is far from certain. Margaret Kelliher and Ilhan Omar are
considered the leading candidates in another nationally-watched
test of the polar differences in the Democratic party.

There are many other important races in Minnesota in 2018,
especially in congressional districts 1, 2, 3 and 8, but they will be
decided in November. In the meantime, state voters in both
parties have a full plate of decisions to make imminently in the
middle of August.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Three Senate Races No Longer "Safe"

At the outset of the 2018 national mid-term election cycle,
three U.S. senate contests were considered “safe” for their
political party --- each with popular incumbents.

But now, each of them might need to be moved from the
“safe” category to likely “toss-up” --- changing the already
unbalanced partisan mathematics of this year’s battle for
control of one house of Congress. The U.S. senate will be a
key factor in the prospects of the final two years of the
Trump administration’s first term.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Menendez
went through a protracted and reputation-damaging criminal
trial that ended in a hung jury. The prosecution decided not
to ask for a new trial. Menendez then announced he would
seek re-election. Conventional pundit wisdom concluded that
New Jersey voters, most of whom usually vote Democratic,
would forget the trial, especially since an aggressive
Republican opponent who was willing and able to keep the
issue current, did not at first appear. But then one did. With
the backing of state Republicans and apparently unlimited
self-funding, businessman Bob Hugin has been hammering
away at Menendez’s recent controversies, driving down the
liberal senator’s poll numbers to almost a tie, according to
new polls. Moreover, Hugin has reportedly put together a
serious campaign effort. This is now a race to watch.
.
In Tennessee, incumbent Republican Senator Bob Corker,
chairman of foreign relations, seemed like a shoo-in for
re-election, but he became embroiled in disputes with
President Trump and announced his retirement. A serious
GOP replacement, Congresswoman Martha Blackburn,
entered the race, but so did popular former Democratic
Governor Phil Bredeson. Tennessee leans to the conservative,
but has elected significant liberals (e.g. Al Gore) in recent years.
Bredeson leads in early polls, and this race is likely to go to
the election day wire.

The third senate contest belatedly became competitive
when John James won the Michigan Republican primary just
held. He will now face incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie
Stabenow in November. Before the charismatic black West
Point graduate James emerged, Stabenow had been a heavy
favorite for re-election over the previously leading GOP
opponent, businessman Sandy Pensler. National media stories
and an endorsement from President Trump, however, vaulted
James quickly past Pensler by a large margin. James could now
make major inroads into Stabenow’s traditional black support
in the Detroit area. Stabenow is a low profile senator whose
support could be vulnerable to an aggressive campaign from
an attractive and articulate challenger like James.

A possible fourth “sleeper” race was not even expected to
occur at all. Embroiled in controversy, incumbent Democratic
(DFL) Senator Al Franken was pressured in late 2017 by his
own party to resign, and his appointed replacement, Lt.
Governor Tina Smith, now has to face voters in a special
election this year. She will be on the ballot with her senior
colleague DFL Senator Amy Kobuchar (who is expected to win
her re-election easily). Republicans are likely to nominate
State Senator Karin Housely to oppose Smith. Smith has
been favored to win the seat in her own right, especially if the
midterm cycle went badly for the party holding the White
House, and because Smith has so far notably outraised
Housely in campaign funds.  Minnesota voters, however, are
frequent ticket splitters,  Housely is proving to be a stronger
candidate than expected, and a bitter divide between radical
and mainstream liberal DFL candidates in other Minnesota races
this year --- all these could be factors making the special U.S.
senate race much closer than expected. The August 14
Minnesota primary results will make it clearer what impact
the intraparty DFL tensions will have in November.

Although election day is now approaching, it is not
uncommon for a few major state races to change their
electoral character --- and go from varying levels of “safe”
to “toss-up” in the closing days of a campaign cycle. In
addition to the races mentioned above, there could be other
surprises, especially in a year when the electorate is as
volatile as it seem to be in 2018.

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Showdown Minnesota: Act II

Act I of this year’s Minnesota showdown election took place in June
at the major party state conventions and at a series of last-minute
candidate filings which followed, much of which defied previously
established North Star state political traditions and decorum.

On the Republican side, the most well-known and formidable
candidate for governor, late in entering the race, chose to forgo the
traditional endorsement process, and now faces off with the party's
endorsed candidate in the primary. In CD1, a prime GOP pick-up
opportunity after the Democratic (DFL) incumbent retired to run
for governor, a Republican state senator also entered that race late,
failed to be endorsed, but has remained to energetically challenge
the better-known endorsed GOP candidate, someone who almost
upset the DFL incumbent in 2016. Not suspecting that the race for
attorney general would suddenly become competitive, no major
Republican filed in the primary for that office. The party's
little-known endorsed candidate has a primary contest.

But the challenges facing GOP primary voters seem mild when
compared with the open warfare which has erupted on the DFL
side where virtual insurrection is the theme of many contested
races.

At the top of the DFL list is the race for governor. At the DFL state
convention, party activists endorsed left-leaning urban State
Representative Erin Murphy over early favorite, retiring outstate
Congressman Tim Walz, who had been considered the most
formidable DFL candidate in November. But Walz refused to
acquiesce to the endorsement, and remains in the primary race.
Then, to turn the upside-down upside down again. state Attorney
General Lori Swanson withdrew from her re-election race at the
state convention --- and subsequently filed to run for governor!
Since Swanson is the only candidate well-known statewide, she led
in an early poll, although Walz in a later poll has drawn almost
even. But primary polls are notoriously unreliable, and, as always,
who actually votes in a traditionally low-turnout summer primary
will determine the winner.

The DFL drama (Republicans consider it a farce) was intensified
when Congressman Keith Ellison, long a controversial radical
voice representing Minneapolis and a few of its suburbs, decided
at the last minute to retire from his safe seat in Congress in order to
run for the now up-for-grabs attorney general nomination. A virtually
unknown DFL attorney had received the convention endorsement,
but a primary battle loomed. Other DFLers entered this race, most
notably former Ramsey County (St. Paul) Attorney Tom Foley who
is likely Ellison’s major opponent. Ellison is favored in the primary,
although many observers (and Republicans) think his presence on
the statewide DFL ticket might hurt DFL candidates up and down
the ticket among outstate and rural voters.

Ellison’s retirement created an open seat in Minnesota CD5. This is
virtually an automatic DFL seat, but the primary contest has pitted
figures from various sides of the 2018 national Democratic Party
divide. This is the one race in the Act II drama that is tantamount to
election, and it pits varying radical candidates against a well-known
mainstream DFL figure. A last-minute power play endorsement of
first term state legislator Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American, has
limited value because the other candidates have ignored it. Most
prominent among them, former state Speaker of the House
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, is by far the most well-known figure
in the contest, but veteran State Senator Patricia Torres-Ray has an
Hispanic community following. Omar supports many economic
views associated with former presidential candidate Bernie
Sanders, and is an outspoken critic of the Israel’s policies. The
largest Jewish population in the state is located in CD5. Kelliher
cites her own progressive record, legislative experience and skills.

In Minnesota CD8, long a DFL stronghold, the congressional seat
might be slipping away. Incumbent DFL Congressman Rick Nolan
retired, and five DFLers are competing in the August 14 primary to
succeed him. President Trump carried CD8 by 16 points un 2016,
and has already appeared in the district to support the likely GOP
nominee, Pet Stauber.

Elsewhere, the DFL has seemed to have settled on their nominees
pre-primary, including in CD1, CD2 and CD3 (which are each
competitive races in November).

Wednesday, August 15 will be the opening day of Act III of this
year’s mid-term election cycle. Minnesota, in spite of its media
reputation as a blue state, is really a purple state. It now has a
DFL governor, two DFL U.S. senators, but a Republican state
house and senate --- and three GOP congressmen out of the total
delegation of eight. That could change dramatically either way
after the 2018 November election. 2018 could also be a portent as
well for the 2020 presidential election when the forces of
ideological division in both parties, set now into motion, will
likely play out into another dramatic showdown.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A National Polling Bubble Again?

In 2016, there was a national political poll analysis “bubble” that led
almost everyone, including the pundits, to misread the presidential
election. Most polls undermeasured conservatives and Trump voters,
but their numbers were not s far off as were the interpretation of
them, particularly to discern the difference between those polls which
measured all of the voters and the voters state-by-state. Hillary did
win the popular vote as the polls predicted, but a presidential election
is a state-by-state electoral college contest. Thus, huge Clinton
margins in California, New York and Illinois were not anticipated to
be offset by smaller margins in more states (such as “rust belt”/
midwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and
Iowa) --- states that gave Donald Trump his upset win.

I pointed this out in this column in October, 2016, and I note that
Democratic pollster Mark Penn has reiterated it in a recent column
in The Hill. Mr. Penn is a savvy observer, and he notes that pollsters
don’t seem to have learned the lessons of 2016, and might well be
missing how voters really feel abut the upcoming midterms.
I will go further, and state that the pollsters are creating another
polling bubble in 2018 --- this one even more undermeasuring
conservative, Republican and independent voters in many races.

These polls are the primary basis for a number of pundits to
predict an imminent “blue wave” in November. The latest observer
to do this, Larry Sabato, sees the Democratic takeover of the house
(based on polling). Mr. Sabato was convinced in 2016 that Hillary
Clinton would win, and said so as late as election eve.

Just as there were innumerable signs in autumn, 2016 that the polls
were wrong about the outcome, there are many signs that 2018 is
not yet likely to be so “blue.” Yes, the Republican U.S. house majority
is mathematically vulnerable, as incumbent senate Democrats are
also mathematically vulnerable, but the most valuable clues come
from each party’s turnout in the midterm primaries.

The evidence so far is that both Democratic and Republican voters
are highly motivated, mostly around their attitude about President
Trump. Too often, published polls (already hampered statistically
by the difficulty in getting participation from those they are trying
to poll) are not successfully identifying truly “likely” voters. Polls
which do not measure “likely voters” are virtually meaningless,
especially at this date so close to the election.

Remember the notorious national exit polls on election night, 2004?
Across the nation, those exit polls (of those who had already voted)
showed John Kerry winning almost everywhere, usually with
startling margins). It turned out that exit polltakers were primarily
polling liberal voters. George W. Bush won that election.

When we get to election day a little more than three months from
now, a highly volatile electorate could indeed vote in a blue wave, or
a lesser blue surge, The Democrats could even win back the U.S.
house without a full wave. But there could also be a red surge, and
Republicans could add to their now small U.S. senate majority
while keeping house control. The two party bases ARE energized,
and the economy is booming. Trade issues are unsettled, and
foreign policy controversies are unresolved. Immigration is still a
hot issue. The pot is still boiling. Dinner is not yet served.

I’m convinced that current public polling reflects more about what
some pollsters wish for than what the voters will likely actually do
in November. As always, of course, the polling just before the
election will be more useful.

Wait and see. Wait and see.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Other Disrupters

Donald Trump and his government are not the only global political
disrupters attempting to alter the international economic power
status quo.

There is at least one rival disrupter on a worldwide scale, and two
national entities attempting to alter their regional circumstances.

Each has its own interests and style of disruption, and each
attempts to restore their country’s earlier empire.

General Secretary Xi Jinping of China represents a culmination
of his nation’s re-emergence on the world stage that began with
the communist takeover of the mainland in 1949. Not only are the
Chinese actively pursuing its “Belt and Road” policy in central
Asia as a strategy to contain the influence of the world’s only other
billion-persons-plus nation of India, it is aggressively asserting its
claims in the South China Sea, and also single-mindedly building
dependency relationships in undeveloped countries in Africa and
South America.   There can be little doubt now, if there ever was,
that Secretary Xi and his colleagues want China to become the
dominant superpower of the 21st century, eventually replacing the
United States. The turning point for this strategy was the adoption
of a capitalist-style economic structure while preserving the
Marxist totalitarian state. This hybrid is what Mr. Xi and his
colleagues are trying to sell to a disrupted world community. His
critics point out that such a hybrid is doomed to failure in an age
of such remarkable communications technology, but with less
bravado and leverage than Mr. Trump’s, the Chinese agenda is
moving inexorably forward.

Historically, China existed as a major empire for about three
millennia. Three of its many imperial dynasties stand out --- the
Han Dynasty from 220 B.C. for the next 400 years; the Tang
Dynasty from 600 A.D. for the next 300 years; and the Qing
Dynasty from 1644 A.D. until it was overthrown in 1912. The
latter dynasty, despite its feckless demise, actually earlier
defined modern Chinese power and hegemony over its region.

President Vladimir Putin came to power after the revolution that
toppled the totalitarian Soviet regime (1917-91) that had played
such a central role in 20th century global politics. A communist
empire had replaced the imperial czarist empire (1611-1917)
stretching from eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. When the
Soviet Union broke up, many of its component parts declared
their independence, including Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan,
Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldove, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan and Kyrgystan. Now nominally a capitalist
democracy, the new Russian Federation struggled for years to
adjust from its past. Retiring from the presidency after two
elected terms (but not from power), Mr. Putin returned to be
elected chief of state in 2012, and subsequently was reelected for
six years in 2018. His nationalist policies increasingly assumed
influence over most of its former member republics, reoccupied
Crimea which it had returned to Ukraine in 1954, confronted the
latter, as well as Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania
and Estonia --- all of which at one time had been part of the
Russian empire.

President Hassan Rouhani leads a group of Islamic ayatollahs
in Iran that is attempting to dominate the Middle East as did the
nation’s forerunner Persian Empire which ruled over a large area
from 550 B.C. to 651 A.D. In that earlier period, the main religion
was Zoroastrian. From about 700 A.D., the smaller empire
was Islamic under a series of kings and shahs who had reduced
influence in the region. A religious revolution replaced Shah Reza
Pahlevi with an Islamic republic and elected religious presidents.
Asserting its enmity to Israel, Iran has embarked on a program
to build nuclear weapons, now supposedly suspended, but it
continues to cast a menacing shadow over other nations in the
region, and not just Israel. For decades, the Middle East has been
a headlined world trouble spot, and since it became a major
exporter of oil in the 20th century, a global economic disrupter.

Of the four disruptions cited above, the Chinese activity would
seem to have the most sustained and long-term impact on the
existing world order. The U.S. effort to counter or contain it is
simply too recent and as yet undefined to be properly evaluated.
The other mega-nation, India, has nuclear weapons and a
growing global economic impact, but its internal problems and,
so far, weak leadership have delayed its potential key influence
on the complicated world political drama now taking place.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Waving Red, Blue Or White Flags, But No Wind Yet

The media, political operatives and interest groups are each trying
to hoist red, blue or white flags for the outcome of the 2018 national
mid-term elections, but no wind yet exists to make these flags wave.

The primary season is almost over, and both major parties have
results to cheer about, but there is no solid evidence of any imminent
“wave” election, or even a decisive result for one side or the other.

In the U.S. house elections, Democrats are optimistic they will not
only make notable gains, but might win back control. Part of their
success in the primaries was in fielding moderate liberals in
battleground districts held by Republicans. At the same time,
however, in other districts, they fielded far left or radical candidates
who are unlikely to win in November. Overall, the political
mathematics favors the liberal party, but economic conditions
continue to favor the conservative party.

In the U.S. senate elections, Republicans are optimistic they can
enlarge significantly their very narrow current majority. In the
primaries so far, the GOP has seemed to field its strongest
nominees, avoiding their missteps in recent past midterm
elections when flawed candidates were chosen. Even in the two
most vulnerable GOP incumbent seats (Arizona and Nevada), the
Democrats have not seemed to choose strong challengers. Further,
the upcoming Supreme Court nominee confirmation vote has put
several Democratic incumbent and vulnerable senators on the
spot, especially the five in states carried heavily by President
Trump in 2016.  Just as the Democrats seem likely to make at
least some gains in the U.S. house, it appears likely that
Republicans will make at last some gains in the U.S. senate,
especially with both the political mathematics and economic
conditions favoring them.

Republicans dominate state governorships and the most
legislatures, so Democratic gains are expected. But the
dimensions of those gains will be controlled more by local
conditions and quality of candidates than by any national
trend or purported wave.

Although no clear trend is yet visible, there is adequate time
for either a wave or, to a lesser degree, a  surge to develop. An
outcome in which the Democrats make large U.S. house gains,
even taking back control, and the Republicans simultaneously
enlarge their majority by 3-5 seats is also quite possible. That
would be, in reality, a white flag election.

Most pundit predictions now are being made on the basis of
a plethora of  contradictory and premature polls, many of
which are mostly hype. Fundraising for the primary season
does not yet tell us fundraising capability in a general
election. Finally, and I have repeated this many times,
individual candidates matter a great deal, especially in
competitive contests.

I don’t think anything useful will be evident until well after
Labor Day. Prior to that, it’s almost all wishful thinking.

A recipe isn’t a successful dish until it’s cooked.

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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Primary Season 2018: What's Left?

There are 19 states which have yet to hold their 2018 primary elections;
six of them are of special interest because of their implications in the
national mid-term voting that will determine which party will control
the two houses of  Congress and some key governorships during the
2020 redistricting.

With  most of the state primaries occurring earlier, a number of states
wait until August and September to give political party voters the
final opportunity to pick their nominees for the November election.

None take place in July, but many, including the six of special interest,
are scheduled for August.

On August 7, Michigan and Missouri will hold their primaries.  In
Michigan, incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is
expected to be re-elected, but this state which voted for Donald
Trump in 2016 is enough of a battleground that the GOP senate
nominee might be important. The race for governor could be close.
Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Democratic
State Senator Gretchen Whitmer are the frontrunners.

Also on August 7, Missouri will hold its primaries. Incumbent
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and state Attorney General
Josh Hawley will be the nominees in a bitter race that is considered a
prime possibility for a GOP senate pick-up.

One week later, on August 14, neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota
hold their primaries. Wisconsin is nominating gubernatorial and
senatorial candidates. Incumbent GOP Governor Scott Walker is now
favored to win re-election, but incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy
Baldwin’s favorability poll numbers are quite low. A heated and close
race to be her GOP opponent is taking place between state legislator
Leah Vukmer and former Democrat Kevin Williamson. Depending on
who the Republicans nominate, this race could be competitive in
November.

On the same day, Minnesota holds some of the most interesting
primaries of the year in both parties for governor, two U.S. senate
seats, and in five of the state’s eight congressional districts. I have
written about these already, and will again just before primary day.

Two weeks later, on August 28, Florida and Arizona hold key
primaries involving governor, a U.S. senate seat and some of its
congressional seats. Incumbent GOP Governor Doug Ducey is
favored to win his primary and the general election, but the U.S.
senate seated being vacated by retiring GOP Senator Jeff Flake is
considered a toss-up. Democratic Congresswoman Krysten Sinema
and Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally are expected to
win their primaries, and face each other in a very competitive race
in which the liberal party hopes to pick up a conservative party seat.

The same day, Florida will also hold key primaries for governor,
U.S. senator, and several competitive U.S. house seats. Incumbent
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is facing a very serious challenge
from retiring Republican Governor Rick Scott in one of the most-
watched 2018 senate races. The race to succeed Scott has turned
into a fascinating contest, especially in the GOP primary where the
endorsed candidate now trails his major challenger.

At issue in most of these primaries in August are the basic divisions
now existing in both major parties. On the Democratic side, the
emerging major shift to the left, led nationally by U.S Senator Bernie
Sanders and his allies are attempting to oust may traditional liberal
office holders and candidates. This was begun in earlier primaries
and now continues. On the Republican side, the impact of President
Trump is being felt in may primary races, as it has already been in
earlier primaries,

Only in September, two months from election day, will a full picture
of the mid-term season be visible. With control of Congress in the
final two years of the first term of President Donald Trump and the
make-up of the 2020 redistricting environment at stake, that picture
of possible waves, surges, stand-offs or surprises should be rather
curious to see.

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump's Petty Blunder

I have, after initially dismissing him as a candidate, tried to be
fair to now-President Donald Trump. His political achievement
in 2016 was historic and undeniable. Since his inauguration, he
has enjoyed a series of political and diplomatic successes, some
of them in spite of his disruptive manner and others because of
it.

His public relations skills, denounced by most in the media and
approximately half the voters, are, like him or not, extraordinary.

There is also a certain and occasional pettiness which erupts
from the man. I publicly and strongly criticized his petty tweets
about such figures as John McCain and Tom Ridge during the
campaign, I have not liked nor defended a particular
diminishment of language that appears in his public speech
improvisations (but not, it should be noted, when he sticks to his
prepared remarks).

I have agreed with many of his policies, including the tax bill,
removing unnecessary regulations, putting the U.S. embassy in
Jerusalem, and daring to take diplomatic initiatives where
previous presidents of both parties failed to act.

His efforts to rebalance U.S. relationships with its friends,
allies and trading partners are, in the short term, disruptive and
uncomfortable --- but they are overdue and make sense in the
long term.

President Trump’s performance in Helsinki, however, particularly
in a press conference with President Vladimir Putin of Russia,
was simply and inexcusably a blunder.

Yes, the media has hounded him. Yes, his opponents have
personally attacked his family. But these do not justify or excuse
the mistake of putting down his own country and its interests to
spite his opponents and vent his grievances, real or imagined.

Russia might not be the “enemy” it was during the Cold War, but
it remains a rival and competitor with its own interests. Although
there is no real evidence yet of collusion, there can be little doubt
that Russians “hacked” into the U.S presidential campaign in
2016. Officials of the Trump administration agree. Both Russia
and the U.S. spy on each other. In fact, every major nation on
earth does espionage --- military, commercial and political. Why
pretend they don’t?

Donald Trump made a serious unforced error in Helsinki. He
needs to repair it, as some of his most supportive friends have
publicly said, and repair it promptly.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnewisowa, 2018

When I first identified and named the political megastate of
Minnewisowa (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) in 2004, it
was in the context of the presidential election in which it
cast as many electoral votes as several larger states. Because
these three contiguous states have so many demographic,
economic and historical elements in common, and tend to
vote politically alike, I came back to them in 2008 and 2012
when each voted for Barack Obama, and in 2016 when Iowa
and Wisconsin voted for Donald Trump, and Minnesota
voters. to almost everyone’s surprise, gave Hillary Clinton
only a few thousand votes more than they did for Mr. Trump.

Minnewisowa as a political entity is thus always quite
interesting to observe in presidential politics, but what about
the megastate in a mid-term election which has no electoral
votes? Although the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms produced some
dramatic results nationally, the components of Minnewisowa
saw relatively few surprises.

In 2018, this is not likely to be true. I have already written about
what a remarkable battleground state Minnesota is, with its
very competitive open race for governor, two U.S. senate seats
(one of which could be very close), and four very competitive
congressional races, half the state’s total congressional
delegation.

But there are some very interesting races in neighboring Iowa
and Wisconsin as well.

With the longest serving U.S. governor, Terry Branstad, now the
nation’s ambassador to China, Iowa Democrats are making a
serious effort to regain the state executive branch in Des Moines
this year. Their nominee is businessman Fred Hubbell. He will
challenge GOP Governor Kim Reynolds who, as lt. governor,
became governor when Branstad resigned. This will thus be
her first race for governor, and although this midwestern farm
state has been moving to the right in recent years, the race for
governor could be competitive. Two congressional seats now
held by Republicans are considered in play in 2018, IA-1 and
IA-3. Incumbent GOP Congressman Rod Blum in the 1st
district is considered quite vulnerable in a mid-term election
when the party out of power often makes big gains. The
liberals’ goal of taking back control of the U.S. house could be
much helped if they could take back one or two of these seats.

In Wisconsin, the key races are for governor and U.S. senator.
Incumbent GOP Governor Scott Walker has previously upset
Wisconsin Democrats and their union allies in Madison, and
they would like nothing better than to turn him out of office.
Mr. Walker looked more vulnerable earlier in the year, but he
has seemed to regain much of his popularity. Even so, this
could become quite competitive if a “blue wave” came to the
Badger State. Incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin
has been considered vulnerable this cycle. Her poll numbers
continue to be weak (a recent Marquette poll had her at only 41
favorable against 43 unfavorable), but so far, the Republicans
have not come up with a “star” challenger. The upcoming
Wisconsin primary on August 14 will decide if that opponent
will be party-endorsed (and Walker ally) State Senator Leah
Vukmer or the more conservative Kevin Williamson. After
the primary, this race could become quite interesting. The
very liberal Ms. Baldwin has already broken with national
Democrats on the demand to abolish I.C.E. --- a nod to the fact
that Donald Trump is still popular in this state. The president is
likely to make a campaign appearance in Wisconsin if the senate
race is close.

Mr. Trump has already campaigned in Minnesota’s 8th district
where likely GOP nominee Pete Stauber is considered the
favorite to pick up the Democratic (DFL) seat now held by the
retiring Rick Nolan (who is a candidate for lt. governor). Less
likely, but still rated a good chance to pick up another DFL seat,
is GOP party-endorsed Tom Hagedorn in the state’s 1st District
where DFL incumbent Congressman Tim Walz is retiring to run
for governor. But first, Hagedorn must win the August 15 primary
after an energetic challenge from GOP State Senator Carla
Nelson. The GOP winner of that primary must then defeat DFLer
Dan Feehan. The DFL hopes to pick up Republican seats in the
2nd and 3rd Districts. DFL challenger Angie Craig has a serious
chance to win in MN-2. DFL Senator Tina Smith was appointed
to replace Al Franken who resigned at the end of 2017, but is not
well-known statewide, and will likely face GOP State Senator
Karin Housely. Smith now has a strong financial advantage, but
Housely might be the stronger campaigner, and President Trump
might play a role in this race as he already has in MN-8. Finally,
the open governor’s race looks like a probable donnybrook.
Former two-term GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty is back after an
eight-year absence from St. Paul, and is the early favorite to win
the primary against the party-endorsed Jeff Johnson. On the
DFL side, two challengers to that party’s endorsed candidate for
governor, very liberal State Senator Erin Murphy, are retiring
Congressman Walz and retiring State Treasurer Lori Swanson.
The latter two challengers are leading Murphy in an early poll.
Although the Pawlenty-Johnson GOP gubernatorial race is now
heating up. there seems to be more disruption in the DFL
primaries this year, especially in the emergence of so many
radical urban candidates, and this could affect November
outcomes.

So Minnewisowa is very much in play in 2018, with likely bitter
contests just ahead that could  have big impact not only in the
mid-terms, but also could provide clues to what lies ahead in
2020 when Minnewisowa’s electoral votes will again be counted.

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The World In Recalibration

Only in a very tiny duration of time has the planet earth and its
human civilizations been truly interconnected, and to some
degree, interdependent.

The first true “world” war was the European-based Seven
Years War (1756-63), but although it reached peoples in far-away
places, it did not involve some very large and populous nations. 
The Napoleonic imperial period (1804-15) also touched distant
lands on other continents, but it wasn’t until World War I
(1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) that the effects of military
and economic actions in one place were truly felt worldwide.
After World War II, global warfare models were replaced by
global economic and trade models. Smaller and localized wars
occurred, but the dire consequences of a World War III, and the
use of nuclear weapons, has inhibited  aggressive actions to
mainly political and propaganda competitions such as the Cold
War (1946-90).

The Allied (primarily the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet
Union) victory in World War II was followed by a unique period
of reconstruction of not only the war ravages suffered by the
victors, but of the defeated Axis  powers (primarily Germany and
Japan) as well. Since the intention of the U.S. and Great Britain
(and most of their allies) was to create a  worldwide democratic and
capitalistic trade system, the Soviet Union, as a totalitarian and
communist regime, did not participate. but chose instead to try
to create a competing system. The latter’s ultimate failure was
not military, but it was economic.

This led to a short period of U.S. domination of political, military,
economic, trade and even cultural global affairs --- although
mainland China and India, the two most populous nations, as
well as several totalitarian and neo-Marxist nations emerged,
refusing to accept U.S. dominance.

By the time of September 11, 2001 came, that brief period of U.S.
hegemony was already crumbling. Global terrorism, originating
in the Middle East, only hastened a worldwide re-ordering that
recalibrated the relationships between the still-significant old
world powers such as the U.S., the European Union (led by
Germany and France) the United Kingdom (much reduced, but
still a global force), a reconstituted Russia, and less powerful but
still important nations such as Brazil, Japan, Canada.

During the years of Barack Obama’s presidency (2009-17), U.S.
foreign and economic policies became increasingly passive as it
gradually ceded its previous leadership role. At the same time,
China and India, as well as Russia and Iran became more and
more aggressive in the global arena.

The world is constantly recalibrating its resources and
relationships, but some periods are more intense than others.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has so far disrupted
the normal slow pace of these adjustments as he has insisted on
updating and renegotiating many post-World War II economic
and military institutions without some of the traditional
diplomatic niceties.

Many on all sides of the two major oceans are not pleased with
with Mr. Trump’s manner or demands, but he has, like him or
not, put the U.S. back into a central role in world affairs. As a
man of business, and not of politics, he has kept as pragmatic
an eye on the recalibration of trade and alliances as few, if any,
presidents have before him.

He is not alone in taking the initiative. President Xi of China has
his own national priorities in trade and geography. The European
Union, hitherto a third global economic force, is now beset by
internal crises and disputes, but still looms large. Economic
nationalism has been revived in many places.

Thinking in terms of only winners and losers in the global
recalibration might not be as useful and revealing as the
understanding of the terms and consequences of the global
political trading and positioning now taking place.

The bottom line is that there are new major players on the stage
of global economic trade and politics. The personalities making
up the casts of these players are inevitably of interest, but it is
always the weight of national strategic interests which ultimately
determines outcomes.

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Going Deep Or Off The Deep End?

Young writers are advised to avoid using slang, cliches and other
informal language in their writing, and this is generally good
advice. But there are occasions when such language provides the
right words to convey the writer’s meaning.

This is the case with the headline above.

It was understandable right after the surprising 2016 presidential
election that most Democrats and some Republicans, too, would
be shocked and dismayed by the results --- particularly the election
of Donald Trump. He had been perhaps the most unlikely
candidate for president in modern history, seemed to break all of
the conventional rules, and was poised to disrupt the political
establishments of both parties.

Between election night and inauguration day, the shock was
transformed into feckless attempts to undo the election, and
since he took office, efforts have been aimed at hopeless plans
for impeachment or resignation through investigations, fake
news, innuendo, rumors and attacks on the White House staff
and appointments by the president’s enemies and a hostile media.

To date, none of this has been successful. In fact, the president
and his party have had some notable successes and (to be fair) a
few failures.

There was a second major disappointment for many Democrats
in the 2016 campaign, the failure of avowed socialist Senator
Bernie Sanders to win the liberal party’s presidential nomination.
After the fact, it became clear that the Democratic Party
establishment, in its eagerness to nominate Hillary Clinton, had
not always played fair with the Sanders campaign in the primary
season and before its national convention.

After Mrs. Clinton’s upset loss, the Sanders/Elizabeth Warren
wing of the party moved quickly to take over, and they have
succeeded in many, but not all, liberal strongholds.

It is not just a takeover by new personalities, it is a dramatic
move of the party’s policy positions, by U.S. standards, to a
much more radical-than-usual direction --- positions which,
even measured by most Democratic pollsters, are supported
only by a minority of all U.S. voters.

In baseball lingo, the new way to describe hitting a home run is
“going deep.” For left wing, “progressive” Democrats, most of
them located in the large U.S. cities, the new policy politics of
free universal college education, Medicare for all, high minimum
wages, sanctuary cities, closing down I.C.E. and opening all
borders to unlimited immigration are each home runs that go
deep with the electorate.

Conservatives, most independents and many moderate liberals
feel these views, far from high-scoring hits with the public, are
instead “going off the deep end” --- or exactly the opposite --- by
turning off rural, small town, exurban and suburban voters who,
taken together, make up a large majority of the electorate.

One sign, and there are many others, that the dissenters above
are closer to reality are the recent and increasing warnings
coming from many senior Democratic and liberal strategists,
office holders and pundits --- all suggesting that the personal
attacks on the president and the espousal of more and more
radical public policies are backfiring --- and actually helping
the president and his party.

With the liberal media egging them on, and even some
conservatives joining in, the “progressives” seem to be ignoring
all such warnings.

We won’t know who is right until election day next November.

I may be wrong, but I think the radicals are transforming what
might indeed have been a “blue wave” in 2018 into a hitherto
unexpected wave of another color in the visible spectrum.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mexican Election

The discussion, so far, about the newly-elected Mexican president,
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known popularly as “AMLO”) is
only accurate and useful to a point. The former leftist mayor of
Mexico City has always run against the Mexican political and
economic establishments, and employs the usual Latin American
populist rhetoric in his campaigns, but his political personality
has a certain complexity.

As mayor (2000 to 2005) of one of the world’s largest cities
(population believed now to be more than 21 million), Sr. Obrador
remained very popular despite failing to fulfill most of his
campaign promises --- and despite scandals involving many who
worked for him. He subsequently ran for president in 2006 and
2012, losing by narrow margins both times. In 2012, he declared
himself president-elect, but was overruled by the national
electoral commission. This year,  however, he won in a landslide
with more than 50% of the total vote. The two more conservative
Mexican major parties were severely reduced in their total of the
national vote. His Morena Party also won the majority seats in
the Mexican Congress.

The current ruling party, PRI., saw its support virtually collapse
as Mexican voters were fed up with the endemic corruption and
rising violence of recent Mexican public and private life. For most
of the previous century, following the Mexican revolution, the
PRI had ruled the nation claiming to be the revolutionary party,
but in reality, it became a party of Mexican special interests. In
2000, the most conservative party (PAN) finally wrested control
from the PRI, and it narrowly was re-elected in 2006 under Felipe
Calderon. When he failed to deliver on his promise of reform, the
PRI was returned to power in 2012.

From there, almost everything in Mexico got worse.

Lopez Obrador is perhaps most accurately described as an
economic nationalist. Curiously, in this he resembles President
Trump. Like Trump, Lopez Obrador is also a critic of NAFTA.
and demanded during the campaign that the NAFTA negotiations
with the U.S and Canada be suspended until after the elections.
Allegations of scandal have arisen during much of his career, but
Lopez Obrador’s supporters have continued to support him,
believing the allegations against him to be groundless and
politically motivated --- another similarity he has with the
American president. Both leaders are pragmatists, and also
anti-establishment in their respective countries

On the other hand, there are important differences between the
two presidents. Lopez Obrador grew up in poverty and has
spent much of his adult life in politics. His populism and leftism
is very much in the tradition of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez
and other Hispanic American caudillos. He has always identified
himself with the large segment of the Mexican population which
is rural and poor. He has publicly opposed building a wall
between the two nations.

Although it is not being reported widely in the U.S., Lopez
Obrador is unusual among south-of-the-border populists in that
he does not blame the United States as a primary cause of
current Mexican woes. Instead, his focus has been on the
corruption of the PRI, Mexican government bureaucracy and
domestic business interests. In his first campaign for president
in 2006, he openly proclaimed his willingness to work with U.S.
leaders. He has already had his first private conversation with
President Trump, and both reported it was convivial. Of course,
difficult negotiations are ahead, Sr. Lopez Obrador and Mr.
Trump have very different expectations, for example, in the
looming NAFTA renegotiations.

According to John Davidson in a recent article in The Federalist,
Lopez Obrador’s populist rhetoric means very little. Davidson
argues that any Mexican president today has little power to
control the corruption, drug cartels and violence that
overshadows contemporary Mexican public and private life.

Mexico’s greatest poet and essayist Octavio Paz wrote in his
landmark book (1945) The Labyrinths of Solitude that Mexico
has a unique character, that its population is primarily
composed of those whose culture was originally indigenous,
but had the Spanish imperial culture superimposed on it. The
indigenous Aztec empire was advanced but also oppressive, and
following the decade of the Mexican civil war in 1910, individual
Mexicans rejected both imperial legacies and retreated into the
modern consciousness of personal solitude in their own way,
often masking their suffering and problems with stoicism and
violence. [Those wishing to understand Mexico better should
read this short book, as well as the probably greatest Mexican
novel, Pedro Paramo, by Juan Rulfo --- which also reveals much
about the Mexican character.]

As Hispanic America’s newest charismatic and populist chief
of state, President Lopez Obrador is of special interest to those
north-of-the-border. In many ways, he comes from a familiar
tradition of recent leaders, but in some ways, as I have pointed
out, he also represents unconventional world views and
approaches.

His term as president will likely be an extraordinary one, but
any prospects of his leadership resolving Mexico’s many
problems and challenges remain, at the outset of his taking
office in December, quite unclear.

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Flash Points

Two major decisions by the U.S. supreme court, plus the almost
simultaneous announcement that a senior justice would now
retire, have put the final arbiter institution of U.S. constitutional
law front and center in the news from Washington, DC. A third
decision, not a landmark, but an important one, involves the
long-controversial issue of abortion, and so it is the fourth high
court flashpoint now introduced into the general conversation
of the 2018 national mid-term elections.

The only power voters have in regard to the supreme court is the
election of a president (who nominates each court justice) and
the election of U.S. senators (who must confirm any nomination).

Since this is not a presidential election year, the only political
recourse for voters are this year’s senate elections.

President Trump will nominate a replacement for Justice
Anthony Kennedy on or before July 9. GOP Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell will then oversee what is likely to be
a rigorous examination of the nominee’s background, and a
vote on confirmation, he says, will take place in late September
or early October --- at least a month before the election.

In spite of the importance of these flash points to some of the
most important special interest groups in both parties, their
occurrence and timing will likely have very little impact on the
state primary elections, many of which have already taken
place.

But will these supreme court flash points have notable impact
in November? That is a question more difficult to answer.
The groups most ardent on each side of the immigration,
abortion and labor issues, even before the recent decisions,
are already usually high-turnout voters. The nomination and
confirmation vote on the new justice will likely be done by
election day. Other issues, including the state of the economy,
might perhaps be more pressing in November.

But one question might play a decisive factor in  several U.S.
senate races. President Trump has already signaled that he
will nominate a strong conservative to fill Justice Kennedy’s
seat. Mr. Kennedy was a conservative jurist much of the
time, but on certain social issues he sided with liberals on
the court. The new nominee is likely to be less of a swing vote.
This could put considerable pressure on senate candidates in
the autumn campaign. In those states, such as North Dakota,
West Virginia and Indiana, each of which Donald Trump
carried by big margins in 2016, Democratic incumbents will
be under pressure to declare they will break party ranks and
vote to confirm the Trump nominee. This is exactly what
Democratic Senators Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly of
those states did when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017.
These three incumbents are each very vulnerable in 2018.

This could also be a GOP advantage in Montana and
Missouri. On the other hand, non-incumbent Republican
senate candidates in Nevada, Florida, Wisconsin, and
Minnesota --- each which have substantial numbers
of pro-choice voters --- might see their prospects slightly
dimmed by their pledge to vote  to confirm.

President Trump did well with blue collar and union voters
in 2016, and in 2018 seems to be doing even better.  But most
of those gains seem to have been among non-public
employees. Public union members, those directly affected by
the supreme court decision, seem as Democratic as ever,
and might be especially motivated to turn out in November
--- although the decision can’t be changed.

Pro-life voters might by November finally have a slim
majority on the court, but most observers think that an
outright court reversal on Roe v. Wade is unlikely. Since
pro-lifers are traditionally high-turnout voters, any major
increase by them on election day is also unlikely.

In spite of the significance and controversies in recent
U.S. supreme court decisions, their timing just before
a national mid-term election does not seem to have clear
and predictable impacts.

But the same might not be true in the 2020 presidential
election year.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Time To Set Foot On Earth Again?

Since election night, 2016, many Democrats have been on a fantasy
flight at zero gravity somewhere in space. It’s time for them to
return to earth and set foot on solid ground again.

After a political baptism in controversy and congressional stalemate
throughout most of 2017, President Donald Trump and his
Republican colleagues are enjoying a remarkable series of political
victories, some of which were enabled by many Democrats
abandoning the fields of political battle for a chartered flight of
denial in the clouds.

Elections mean a lot more than just getting the most votes. They
give power to the winners. This had been true in 2008 when the
Democrats took back the White House. Republicans, of course,
were not happy, and some of them got sidetracked in an empty
controversy over a birth certificate. But after Obamacare was
pushed through the Congress, the GOP eschewed a flight into
denial space, and went to work. Capitalizing on the unpopularity
of Obamacare, they won mid-terms in 2010 and 2014, and almost
defeated a sitting president in 2012. Even the latter defeat did
not prevent an upset victory four years later by Mr. Trump.

The most current consequences of conservative election victories
come from the non-elected branch of government which the
elected branches have the power to appoint and confirm, the U.S.
supreme court.

Within only a few days, this court handed down historic decisions
on the president’s travel ban, the rights of pro-life clinics, and the
rights of non-union public employees not to be forced to pay
union dues. In spite of being heralded as a “swing” vote on the
nation’s highest court, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the
conservative majority on all three votes, and then announced his
retirement. His replacement, to be named by President Trump,
will almost certainly strengthen the conservative majority. There
will be a partisan battle over whomever the president nominates,
but even if the confirmation vote is delayed until after the
mid-term election,  a credible conservative will take Justice
Kennedy’s place.

These developments, welcomed by most conservatives, are
equally and understandably disliked by most liberals. The
problem for the latter is that the Democratic Party seems, in
the current primary nominating season, to be moving strongly
and often to the left. This movement pleases some in the
Democratic base, but faces opposition from many in the
liberal mainstream. Most risky of all, it might well turn away
otherwise sympathetic independent voters, usually the key
group to winning competitive elections.

Republicans have only a narrow majority in the U.S senate, but
they have a clear advantage in the 2018 races, where so many
more Democratic incumbent senate seats are up for re-election.

U.S. house members do not confirm presidential appointments,
including supreme court nominees. U.S. senators do.

Wafts of socialistic and other radical programs are filling
reports from many primary contests in several states, egged on
by some of the most prominent potential 2020 Democratic
presidential nominees. These would seem to be cases of new
political flights into electoral denial.

The argument for a mid-term ‘blue wave” is now seemingly
evaporating. Is another kind of wave on the horizon?

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