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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018


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

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.

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?

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Primaries So Far

Trying to glean credible trends from the 2018 mid-term elections
cycle is a very daunting task. Of course, nearly every pundit and
political analyst is doing it, and many are throwing caution to the

My own take on 2018, as my readers already know, is to be very
cautious because of voter volatility, serious questions about the
usefulness of public polls so far, and yes, the phenomenon of
Donald Trump.

In fact, I think it is President Trump who is the primary motivator
for voter turnout for both major political parties --- obviously for
contrasting reasons.

But there are some emerging characteristics of this election that
I think are worth noting.

For one, both parties seem to be nominating their best or strongest
candidates, with a few exceptions, for the competitive U.S. house
and senate seats, and for governorships. Some further tests of this
remain in Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other primaries ahead,
but both party establishments seem determined to do well this year
--- Democrats to try to win back control of the U.S. house, and to
set up some momentum to block the re-election of Mr. Trump in
2020; Republicans to keep control of Congress while creating their
own momentum to re-elect the president.

There are many battlegrounds for 2018, and as almost always in
mid-term elections, local circumstances and the quality of
incumbent candidates, both incumbents and challengers, play a
larger role than they often do in a presidential election year.

Two cases in point, are the competitive senate races in Ohio and
Florida where veteran Democrats are running for re-election. In
Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown, once thought very vulnerable, is
a strong campaigner -- and now is favored. (His original
challenger had to leave the race.) In Florida, aging Senator Bill
Nelson is facing the current GOP governor, Rick Scott, who is so
far running a strong race, and is favored to pick up this seat for
his party. Of course, by election day, matters could change.
GOP Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci, especially if there is a
Republican tide, could win an upset. If there is a Democratic
tide, Bill Nelson could surprise in Florida.

I think there is too much usage of the term “wave’ in the election
commentary so far. A real wave, especially one against the party
in power, would require a larger magnitude of incumbent defeats
than is now indicated. A wave election is always possible, but the
numbers from the primary season so far, I would contend, do not
signal a true wave.

On the other hand, there could be some significant outcomes in
November, including the GOP losing control of the U.S. house,
and/or making major gains against the Democrats in the U.S.

i have written extensively about the many competitive state and
federal elections this year in Minnesota because this battleground
state’s races are so emblematic of the complexity of this cycle

Historically, more often than not, incumbent presidents handicap
their parties in the mid-term congressional elections, and clearly
this is the hope of Democrats in 2018. It could turn out that way,
but Mr. Trump’s recent political rallies, including a spectacular
one in Duluth, Minnesota, could presage an atypical cycle this

In any event, the primaries so far this year are sending out some
very mixed and enigmatic clues to what voters will do at the
end of this fascinating campaign season.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Is A "Wave" Anyway?

I am pleased and honored to announce that the website Ballotpedia
has invited me to become a regular contributor for their coverage
of the 2018 national midterm elections. I will continue my opinion
journalism and election coverage at The Prairie Editor as well.
Describing itself as “the online encyclopedia of American politics,”
Ballotpedia is a uniquely comprehensive and non-partisan website
for accurate information about U.S. local, state and elections. I
know of no better site of its kind on the internet.

As an example of their fine work, Ballotpedia has just published an
excellent study entitled “Wave Elections 1918-2016” written by Rob
Oldham and Jacob Smith ( ). Although there is
no official definition of a wave election, this well-researched and
very thorough report is about as close as perhaps one can get to a
useful definition. Please go to their website to read it.

As my Prairie Editor readers know, I have been discussing the
many current allegations of a coming wave election in 2018 for
several months. I particularly have questioned those commentators
who have asserted that a so-called “blue (Democratic) wave” is
coming in November. I have suggested that the direction might even
be towards a “red (Republican) wave” --- or most likely, to no wave
at all, with each side make gains in some sector.

The Oldham-Smith report indicates that the latter is indeed the
most likely. Specifically, it defines a wave election against the
president’s party as the net pick-up of 48 seats in the U.S. house
7 seats in the U.S. senate, 7 governorships and 494 state legislative
seats. These numbers are based on all elections since Woodrow
Wilson’ second term as president.

Currently, Republicans have the lead in all these categories, and
are, with one exception, vulnerable to net mid-term losses ---
which is typical for a new president’s first mid-term election.
But the data from the individual state primaries so far are quite
mixed, including irrefutable evidence that Republican voters not
only continue to support Mr. Trump, but are turning out to vote.
Democrats are also motivated, mostly by their antipathy to the
president, but there are so far no clear signs of what will really
happen next November. In particular, Republicans are poised to
make significant gains from their current 51-49 advantage in the
U.S. senate because of the many more Democratic incumbent
seats up in this cycle -- many of which are vulnerable to GOP

An interesting take-away from the Ballotpedia wave definition is
that Democrats could pick up 24 seats, only half those needed
for a true wave, and regain control of the U.S. house while, at the
same time, Republicans could pick up 7 or more U.S. senate seats.

Although President Trump is not on the ballot this November, he
remains a central force in the 2018 mid-terms. Nonetheless, the
common sense definition of a wave election, indicates that the
constant mention of “waves” is more a distraction than it is
useful. More illuminating, probably, will be the discussion of the
local circumstances, the individual candidates, and the issue
dynamics of each race --- as well as national trends.

That will be my emphasis in what I discuss in Ballotpedia, and
what I will, of course, continue to do in The Prairie Editor.

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Even A Perfect Game Is Not Really Perfect

No thing or no one is truly perfect; the term is usually
misapplied when we write it or say it. It can be especially
inappropriate, for example, when it appears on a menu
as “cooked to perfection” --- a circumstance inevitably
misleading since everyone has a slightly different degree
of heating food which they prefer.

It’s often an exclamation in conversation meaning the
speaker is pleased, but it is even then far from its literal

There is at least one context in which it is generally
accurate, that is, when applied to a baseball game in
which one side, always the losing side, does not get a
single batter on base in the sport’s normal nine innings
duration. (There are a very few examples of a team or
pitcher having a perfect game going into extra innings, and
then losing.) Of course, a truly “perfect” baseball game
would have all 27 batters strike out without a single “ball”
being called, that is, 81 consecutive strikes, but as far as I
know, that has never happened in the game’s history ---
and probably won’t ever happen.

The word “perfect” is derived from the Latin word for
“completed.” Perfect, as we usually use it however, is an
absolute term, and is rarely, if ever, found in nature and
real life. Perfection is really a term meant to apply to such
abstractions as religion or mathematics.

Yet the origin of “perfect” in Latin signals that when we
use the word as a verb, we use it most authentically, that is
for example, when we say someone “perfected” a device or
a process.  It is that sense of “completion”or “fulfillment”
that makes the word useful --- instead of the way we most
often use it as a notion which is unrealizable.

I know the reader is probably asking at this point what is
the purpose of this seeming academic discussion.

The point is that language is so often misused today that it
creates cul-de-sacs or dead ends for us in our daily lives,
originating expectations, conscious or not, which cannot be

The real world, in truth, has no perfections. Instead, it has a
great bounty of wonderful and terrible imperfections. In our
tiny life spans, that is the game in which we all play.

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

Friday, June 15, 2018


As a literary author and national journalist for many decades,
I have come to know many writers. Many of the books I read
and enjoy most are by these acquaintances and friends, and
this presents me with an obvious dilemma in writing about or
reviewing their books.

Book reviews are an art form in their own right, especially
those about works of fiction and poetry. Reviews of non-fiction
books can serve as a starting point or foundation for the
reviewer’s own views on a subject. And then there are those
books which are so necessary they merit a straightforward
alert to readers.

Newt Gingrich’s newest book Trump’s America is just such a

In full disclosure, Newt Gingrich has been a friend and. on
occasion, a collaborator, for more than three decades. I will
let my readers decide if what I now say about his new book
is fair and useful.

The former speaker of the U.S. house, himself a serious
presidential candidate in 2012, was among the earliest figures
to see the eventual 2016 electoral success of candidate Donald
Trump. I know that is so because of conversations with him
long before I realized it.

He unambiguously predicted Trump’s nomination and
subsequently his victory over Hillary Clinton in the November
election. Since President Trump took office, he has consistently
explained his actions and views in articles, TV appearances,
and books. Although clearly and constantly favorable to Mr.
Trump, he has always exercised his right to be critical of the
president when he disagreed with him.

Some might characterize Gingrich as a cheerleader or advocate
for Donald Trump, and I think it would be fair to do so. But that
does not diminish the value of Gingrich’s writing on the subject
because the whole phenomenon of Donald Trump’s candidacy
and subsequent presidency is so unprecedented and so often
misunderstood that lucid analysis and explanation is vitally
important for both his partisans and his opponents.

As in his previous book Understanding Trump, Newt Gingrich
continues to be the most incisive diagnostician of the Trump
phenomenon and the political environment which surrounds it.
Yes, his new Trump's America is a partisan account, but that
does not lessen its value, especially to the many Democrats,
and not a few Republicans, who dislike and/or disagree with
the president’s views and style.

For much of the Trump candidacy, and during all of his
presidency, I have been urging my readers, whether they are for
or against Mr. Trump, to put aside their stereotypes of him as
well as the biased media conventional wisdom about him, and
try to understand the underlying reality of his appeal to voters,
and what the president is saying or doing. His Democratic Party
opponents especially need to do this if they are to successfully
provide n credible alternative to him.

So Trump’s America is not only a must-read for the president’s
supporters, but also for his opponents. Mr. Gingrich has become
the most articulate diagnostician of contemporary American
politics. Unlike many of his colleagues on the right and the left,
he is open to new political and technological developments, and
bold enough to try to explain them.

You need not agree with Newt Gingrich, or with Donald Trump,
to gain much from reading Trump’s America. It is a necessary
and timely book.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Old Order Is History

Global civilization goes from one order to another. The transitions
in times we now call “ancient” went slowly and violently. As times
went on, the transitions went more quickly, but alas, no less
violently. The peoples of the world used to be  compartmentalized
geographically.  There were unconnected. Some civilizations
considered themselves “advanced” --- those in north Africa, the
Middle East, Asia and Europe. In addition, there were aboriginal
civilizations in the rest of Africa, North and South America and
Australia and the Pacific Island. As the "advanced" peoples
discovered the lands of the aboriginal peoples, they occupied and
conquered them. After about 5000 years, the dappled settlements
of various peoples became a truly global civilization.

The first true world war was the Seven Years War (1756-1763), and
it involved all of the European great powers as well as their
empires and local allies on all the world’s major continents. In one
of history’s great ironies, it was set off one afternoon when a very
young British officer mistakenly ambushed a French parol near
Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. The name of that young
British major?

George Washington.

The Napoleonic wars in Europe followed. The 19th century order
after that was a European construction called the “chandelier
balance of power’ which lasted almost a century until a single
anarchist shot the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary. Of course,
before this act in Sarajevo, events and politicians had put the
conflict on the calendar, and when this World War I was finally
suspended (but not really terminated), a Second World War

By 1945, the globe and its peoples were connected as never before,
and the appearance that year of a nuclear weapon, made the
prospects of worldwide violence much diminished. What followed
was a so-called Cold War which was primarily ideological, and
concluded with the survival of democratic capitalism and the
failure of totalitarian communism. Thereafter, a series of
regional and violent wars took place in Korea, Viet Nam, the
Balkans and the Middle East involving the remaining
superpower, the United States of America and its various
challengers and allies.

What was an incipient new order in 1914, and was transformed
first after 1945, and then after 1990, into an aging world order,
soon found the implacable forces of history creating a new world
order --- one now in its gestation.

This new world order involves peoples from the old order, and,
no surprise, peoples and cultures which are newly arriving to
positions of power in the world.

Interestingly, the new players are not entirely new, but come from
prominent civilizations of the past when the world was not so
interconnected. These include China, India and the Islamic
worlds which owe their re-emergence now to their sheer
population size --- each with more than a billion persons.

The old players include the United States and Europe although
these entities are clearly now on defense as the new players
emerge and grow in economic power.

I have set down this super-condensed and simplified survey of
global history with a specific purpose in mind. It is to try to
make more understandable events and personalities now
disrupting and occupying the global stage.

It will be difficult and unsettling to those immersed in the
catechisms of the old order to recognize and understand the
new order.

The central international political figure today, like him or not,
is U.S. President Donald Trump. He does not occupy that
position by some kind of default. His predecessor, Barack
Obama, could have been the central figure, but for reasons of
his own temperament and ideology, he chose to create a
vacuum of global power. No vacuum of diplomatic, military
and economic power lasts more than a nanosecond of political
time, and various figures, major and minor, from all over the
world quickly moved to take full advantage of the new global

It is not necessarily true that only Donald Trump inevitably
would become president, but I think it was inevitable that, if
he did not, someone like Mr. Trump would have emerged.

My European and American readers who are immersed in the
old order will disagree with this hypothesis because they
either consciously or unconsciously resist the coming of a
new global order.

Donald Trump’s strategies of adaption to the new global order
are not necessarily the only potentially successful ways for the
United States to make a transition between the old and the new,
but he is the only elected American politician who currently
has a strategy.

The recent G7 meeting in Canada is a case in point. Most of the
leaders present at that meeting subscribe to the tenets, issues
and circumstances of the old order. Even as they do so, the
leaders of Europe are witnessing the foundations of their own
nations, and the European Union (EU) specifically, crumbling
under their feet. They put on faces of outrage at President
Trump for not going along with their assumptions mired in the
past, but Mr. Trump’s popular support with voters is growing,
not declining.

Mr. Trump has been telling the world, to the contrary, that it’s
time for political and economic reality. The imbalances between
the U.S. and its allies, in military and economic terms, are no
longer viable. The Western establishments have been burying
their collective heads in some desert sand.

No one knows what forms the new world order will take. No one
knows what events, human-made or natural, lie ahead. How the
current negotiations on the Korean peninsula will turn out are
unknown. How the global economic structures, always in
transition themselves, will behave is unpredictable. Is the role
of the U,S, to preserve and grow democratic capitalism in the
new order?

But it won’t be mere words or pieces of paper that will determine
the new global order.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Party Eliminations

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Although the smoke has not yet lifted from the two major party
conventions in Minnesota, one matter is clear: the traditional
parties are closer to irrelevance in 2018.

Each party endorsed a candidate for governor, but endorsement
is only a recommendation to primary voters  in August when the
formal nomination is decided. In the past, endorsements usually
led to nomination, but this has, in some recent cycles, often not
been the case.

Republicans endorsed their previous (2014) nominee, Jeff Johnson,
who lost the general election. It took him three ballots this time to
defeat little-known opponents, and now he must face a much-better
known opponent, former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty, in the
primary. Pawlenty not only has raised much more money, he is one
of the best communicators in recent state politics.

Democrats (DFL) endorsed a St. Paul legislator, Erin Murphy, in
an upset over retiring 1st district Congressman Tim Walz, a rural
candidate DFL insiders felt would have broad appeal in November.
Walz will now oppose Murphy in the August primary. But he won’t
be Murphy’s only major DFL opponent. DFL Attorney General
Lori Swanson failed to be endorsed on her first ballot at the
DFL convention, and abruptly withdrew from the race. Three
days later, after teaming up with retiring DFL 8th district
Congressman Rick Nolan as her running mate, she filed for
governor. Having run successfully three times statewide,
Swanson could win the primary. In any event, all three major DFL
gubernatorial campaigns will now have to raise and spend a lot
of money in the primary --- a contest that will inevitably be bitter
between the candidates. The general election is only two months

Pre-convention, most observers thought that Walz, as the likely
strongest DFL nominee, would be endorsed and then coast to
the November election with no intraparty problems and a big
campaign fund balance. This has evaporated.

To make matters even more complicated for the DFL, 5th district
DFL Congressman Keith Ellison announced his retirement from
Congress and filed to run for state attorney general against the
DFL endorsee, a little-known attorney who had defeated Swanson
at the state convention. Former Attorney General Mike Hatch, a
close advisor to Lori Swanson, also filed for attorney general, as
did several other DFLers. Hatch lost a 2006 race for governor
against Pawlenty. Ellison has won re-election easily in his
ultraliberal district (Minneapolis), and is the controversial vice
chair of the national Democratic Party. He is well-known for his
radical, and often unpopular, views throughout the state, but he
could win the multi-candidate primary. The likely GOP attorney
general nominee, Doug Wardlow, could now win this race.
Republicans have not held this office since 1971.

Many Republicans are eager for Ellison to win the DFL primary,
and to make his radical left views a major issue in November,
not only in his race, but all the statewide races as they ask all
DFL candidates if they agree with the 5th district congressman’s
controversial views.

The DFL will keep Ellison’s 5th district seat, but now much
money and distraction will be spent by DFLers seeking to be
his successor.  A large number of candidates have filed to run
for this seat. The most well-known is former DFL Speaker of
the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but Minneapolis voters
have, as their 2017 municipal elections indicated, moved sharply
to the left, and the primary result in this race is yet unknown.

Republicans were poised to possibly pick up two U.S. house
seats elsewhere in the state, and DFLers felt they could pick up
one or two from the GOP, but the chaos in the DFL now would
seem to help Republican candidates outside the Twin Cities.
DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar re-election is safe in any event, but
a second U.S. senate race with appointed DFL Senator Tina
Smith (she replaced Al Frnnken who resigned) now becomes
even more competitive as the cancelled August recess in
Washington, DC makes it difficult for her to campaign back
home in Minnesota where she is not well-known.

To be fair, both parties have divisions and factions, and both
party organizations are big losers as a result of the convention
endorsements. Only a tiny number of activists (less than 1% of
eligible party voters) participate in the endorsement process.
The ability of the DFL and GOP to raise money for the rest of the
2018 campaign is severely diminished, as most donors, large and
small, will give their money now to the individual campaigns
they support. Furthermore, since the two party organizations
(especially the DFL) will now campaign for their endorsed
candidates who might well lose in the primary election, their
political credibility is likely to be severely reduced in November.

Others have observed the general decline of the political  parties
across the nation. But perhaps nowhere has this decline
happened so dramatically as it just has in Minnesota. The DFL
particularly has been the solid backbone of liberal voters in this
state for decades. With their factions, liberal and radical, now at
each other’s political throats in 2018, however, all bets are off.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Shocker In Minnesota?

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The two major political parties are in decline across the
nation, and nowhere is this more evident than in Minnesota
where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have
each just endorsed candidates for governor who are likely
to lose to more popular challengers in an August primary.

Minnesota employs a precinct caucus system in which a tiny
percentage of party activists control the parties, including the
endorsement of candidates for all offices.

That system enables small groups of activists on the left and
the right to dominate the parties with only a tiny number of
activists who are elected delegate every two years in February.
Only about 1% (sometimes even less) of eligible party voters
takes part in this very undemocratic process which culminates
in a biennial state convention.

In recent years, this inefficient, elitist system has produced
weak nominees and intraparty conflicts --- and it is a curious
mystery to many observers why the precinct caucus system
has not been abandoned.

This year, the Republican convention endorsed as expected,
including for the top of its ticket, 2014 GOP gubernatorial
candidate Jeff Johnson (who lost) again. He was endorsed
after the third ballot against two little-known opponents.
Former two-term governor and 2012 presidential candidate
Tim Pawlenty entered the race late and decided not to seek
endorsement. He will run against Johnson in the mid-August
primary. In spite of running in 2014, Johnson is not that
well-known statewide, Pawlenty, on the other hand, has very
high name recognition. In only a month, Pawlenty raised more
than million dollars. Johnson has raised only about $200,000
in almost a year Both support President Trump who remains
very popular with the GOP base--- although Pawlenty was
critical of candidate Trump immediately after the release of the
controversial LA videotape, Pawlenty says he voted for Trump
in 2016 and now supports most of his policies and actions.

Retiring Congressman Tim Walz has been the favorite in the
Democratic (DFL) race for governor. Although he had two
serious opponents (both women), he was expected to win
party endorsement at the DFL convention. He led slightly on
the first ballot, but State Representative Erin Murphy of St. Paul,
running to the left of Walz, took the lead, and won an upset
endorsement on the 8th ballot. Walz then announced he would
run against Murphy in the August DFL primary.

Many observers think that Tim Pawlenty is the much stronger
GOP candidate in 2018, and that the Republicans, with him at
top of the ticket, have a good chance to pick up two Democratic
congressional seats (districts 1 and 8), be competitive in one U.S.
senate race  (against appointed DFL Senator Tina Smith who
replaced Al Franken), keep control of both houses of the state
legislature, and win the governorship.

The results at the DFL state convention will likely enhance
the latter. An endorsed Walz was expected to have little or no
primary opposition, and run as a rural moderate. Now he must
run to the left, and it isn't a certainty he will be the nominee. If
Erin Murphy is, she will have the disadvantage of being to the
left of most state voters. Urban candidates from Minneapolis and
St. Paul traditionally also do not do well with outstate voters.
Normally, her gender would be an advantage, but both DFL U.S.
senate candidates this cycle area also women --- so the advantage
might be limited. Minnesota voters are often ticketsplitters.

The DFL has been, since 2016, moving sharply to the left in
urban centers. This was very evident in both the Twin Cities
2017 municipal elections, and again this year when long-term
iconic DFL elected officials failed to be endorsed. Most notable
of these took place when long-time former legislator, DFL
gubernatorial candidate, and current Hennepin County Attorney
Mike Freeman, son of legendary Minnesota Governor Orville
Freeman (who put JFK name in nomination for president in
1960) was denied endorsement at his own convention.

Both major Minnesota parties have their internal differences and
conflicts, but the DFL also has the extra complication of its
Wellstone Alliance (named after the late senator, and which is its
main voter ID and GOTV vehicle)  being in disarray following
the ouster of the two Wellstone sons from its board with reported
recriminations --- all of this at a critical moment in the election

Final filing date for all state offices is Tuesday, June 5. In light
of what happened at the state conventions, more candidates
could file for office. Presumably, the two parties will try to
raise money to promote their endorsed candidates. In reality,
however, major donors are bypassing the party organizations,
and giving directly to each candidate they support.

By continuing to support the precinct caucus system, the two
Minnesota major parties are making themselves more and
more irrelevant,

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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political News Catch-Up

After months of controversy, sensational headlines and a
criminal investigation, Missouri Republican Governor Eric
Greitens has announced his resignation. Although a court
case was dismissed by the trial judge, and the governor
claimed vindication, he still faced possible impeachment in
the state legislature. Major GOP leaders had called for him
to resign. His political problems were considered a serious
handicap to Republican chances to unseat a vulnerable
incumbent Democratic senator in 2018.

The victory of anti-establishment and anti-European Union
(EU) parties in Italy has created a major crisis in this major
EU partner nation. The Italian president, a member of his
country’s political establishment, is refusing to name
someone from one of the winning parties as the new
prime minster in spite of the fact that they now control
a majority of seats in the new Italian parliament. This has
set off a new crisis in the EU currency, the euro, as well as an
obvious constitutional crisis in a country already beset with
economic and banking woes. A coalition between the two
largest parties has been suspended, but new efforts to
revive it are underway.
[UPDATE: The Italian president has invited  a university
professor, Giuseppe Conte, the choice of the coalition parties, 
to be the new prime minister. He was sworn in on Friday, but 
faces a confidence vote in the parliament next week.]

Another major EU partner, Spain, is facing a new crisis as a
hardline Catalan separatist has been elected the new
president of the autonomous state in Barcelona while a vote
of confidence has been called for Spanish prime minister
Mariano Rajoy’s center-right government, now under fire in
Madrid. If he loses this vote, socialist leader Pedro Sanchez
would likely replace Rajoy, and call for new elections in
[UPDATE: Mr. Rajoy lost his confidence vote in parliament,
and has been ousted after 7 years in office. Socialist Party
leader Pedro Sanchez automatically became the new prime
minister, but his party holds only about 25% of the seats in 
the Cortes (parliament), and he almost certainly will have t
o call new elections soon.]

A nationwide truckers strike has virtually paralyzed Brazil.
President Michel Terner is attempting to halt this threat to
South America’s biggest economy, but so far faces an impasse.
Protesters seek to oust Terner in this latest Brazilian crisis.

Recently, the number of U.S. house seats considered competitive
in 2018 has been expanded on several political obsrverss by
about 15-20 district races. All of the new vulnerable seats are
now held by Republicans. In previous lists, the overwhelming
majority of incumbent seats considered vulnerable were also
Republican. The Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to regain
control. The reclassification of the additional Republican
incumbents in danger of losing presumably is based on recent
polling.  At the same time, these same observers, and virtually
all others, are reporting that the generic U.S. house poll has
fallen in less than two months from 13 points favoring the
Democrats to 1-4 points. Historically, a party had to have a lead
of 5 points or more to make even significant gains in a mid-term
election. How such a dramatic increase in GOP vulnerabilty can
occur while the generic Democratic advantage has fallen
dramatically at the same time is a curious contradiction in
political analysis.

New Jersey is  one of the most Democratic (blue) states in the
country, and normally the re-election of its Democratic incumbent
senator is no contest. Senator Bob Menendez faced a criminal
trial, but when the jury could not make a verdict, prosecutors
decided not to retry the case. His 2018 re-election was initially
considered a safe Democratic seat, but a respected state poll
shows his lead against a mostly unknown GOP opponent has
dropped from double digits to only 4 points. Menendez’s’
favorable numbers are also very low. His Republican
opponent, a former U.S. marine, and currently a CEO of a
major international company, can presumable partly self-fund.
This race now has to be added to 2018 senate seats in play.

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

Monday, May 28, 2018


One of the key military figures in the American revolution and
later in the struggles in the early years of the constitutional
republic was a dandy, a womanizer, and a bankrupt. He is still
remembered where he lived, places named after him, and
where he died. He once was elected to Congress, but was
turned out of it by a unanimous vote. He was one of George
Washington’s favorite generals, invented U.S. army basic
training, but he was hated and reviled by many of his military

Yet in 1794, he won such an important battle that he probably
saved the young, struggling nation from ruin and destruction.

He is in the history books, but if it weren’t for the colorful epithet
usually attached to his name, he might be almost forgotten.

Let’s start at the end.

A year following his greatest and most important victory, the
Battle of Fallen Timbers in Indiana in 1794, Major General
Anthony Wayne was on his way home to eastern Pennsylvania.
He had just averted a disastrous defeat of the American army by
a combine of the British army (which was illegally keeping forts
on U.S. territory in Ohio and Indiana), and their American Indian
allies fighting to preserve their tribal lands from the
encroachment of frontier settlers.

Sailing along the south shore of Lake Erie, an old war wound (a
bullet lodged in his thigh) became infected, and he suffered a
chronic case of gout. It was December, 1795, so the relatively
young general sailed into a small northwestern Pennsylvania port
(now Erie, PA) guarded by the formerly French Fort Presque Isle
now manned by the U.S Army. The fort’s commandant had served
under General Wayne, and immediately put him to bed in the fort
blockhouse where he seemed at first to improve, but after two
weeks, he died from his illness.

Thus ended the colorful, sometimes glorious, often controversial,
life and military career of one of he nation’s early soldier heroes.

Anthony Wayne grew up in a rural area near Philadelphia. He had
not intended to have a military career, but when the Revolutionary
War broke out in 1776, he organized a local militia. He was soon in
the thick of the action, fighting at Commander-in-Chief George
Washington’s side as one of his most trusted officers.

Along his way in this period, he acquired the nickname “Mad
Anthony” primarily for his often strange behavior and because he
was so fastidious and elaborate in his attire.

(His attire included hats with feathered cockades that were given
to him by admirers, and became his trademark. Growing up in
Erie where he died and was buried, I was familiar with the lore
of the legendary general. After graduate school and before moving
to Minneapolis, I taught high school during the day, and operated
a book store and gallery after school hours and on the weekends,
The name of my bookstore/gallery? Mad Anthony’s Hat!)

He was a figure at many important occasions, including Valley
Forge and Yorktown. He suffered a terrible defeat commanding at
the 1777 Battle of Paoli, but recovered his reputation at the 1779
Battle of Stony Point. Washington often turned to Wayne in
difficult situations, including sending Wayne to Georgia just after
the British surrender  where he distinguished himself in
negotiating with the local India tribes and ending hostilities. The
grateful new state of Georgia awarded him a plantation.

After the war, Wayne had an up-an-down career and family life.
But in 1794, President Washington reactivated Wayne and sent
him to resolve one of two crises that threatened the very
existence of the new constitutional government.

One was an actual insurrection in western Pennsylvania where
farmers, angry at a new tax on whiskey, had begun an armed
Whiskey Rebellion. The tax, conceived by Secretary of the
Treasury Alexander Hamilton, was designed to help pay for the
U.S. revolutionary war debt. But many of the farmers were
veterans of that war --- a war provoked by unpopular British
taxation. Washington’s dilemma was that he had to assert the
power of the new federal government, or it would collapse. He
sent part of his army to suppress the rebellion, finally donning
his old uniform, and leading the army himself (the only example
in U.S history of a sitting president leading his troops into battle).

The second crisis was equally threatening. Although the British
had surrendered at Yorktown, they continued to occupy, in
violation of the subsequent Treaty of Paris, forts on the Ohio 
frontier. They also conspired with their Native American
tribe allies to prevent any settlement of Americans in the
territory that the Treaty had surrendered. Tribal chiefs had
not surrendered at Yorktown and had not signed the peace
treaty at Paris, and were determined to stop encroachment on
their lands.

Washington decided to both send an army to Ohio Territory
to assert U.S. rights, and to negotiate with the Indians. When
those negotiations failed, it was necessary for the new U.S.
army (called then the American Legion), led by Major General
Anthony Wayne to defeat both the British and the tribes in

The campaign did not at first go well, but in a climactic
confrontation at Fallen Timbers in what is now Indiana,
Wayne’s forces triumphed. The British then withdrew, and the
tribal chiefs negotiated a settlement.

Had Wayne and his troops failed, public support for President
Washington and his government might well have collapsed,
and the British might have reclaimed its lost colony.
Western settlement would have stopped.

Most Americans today believe the surrender at Yorktown in
1781 and the enactment of the U.S. constitution in 1788,
firmly established the new republic. In fact, the security and
strong footing of the new nation was provisional for many

“Mad” Anthony Wayne played a major role, especially at the
end of his military career, in securing the republic. But worn
out from war battles, business mistakes, family problems and
personal attacks by rivals and colleagues, he was denied a
homecoming and an old age of acclaim and honor in that bitter
winter of 1796 at that remote outpost in Erie.. He was only
51 years old.

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

[NOTE: Readers wishing to learn more about this extraordinary
figure, might obtain the excellent new book, Unlikely General:
"Mad"Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America by Mary

Friday, May 25, 2018


The novelist Philip Roth has died at 85.

He was a major figure in his generation of Jewish-American
writers that included Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, J.D.
Salinger, Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, Edward Wallant,
E.L. Doctorow, and many others. Only Bellow (born in
Canada) in this group received the Nobel Prize for literature,
but Roth did win many other prizes and awards.

I first read his short stories in the 1960s when I attended the
University of Pennsylvania. I liked his stories very much, but
I had a hard time with his novels, especially his later ones.
They seemed to me too overladen with a certain prolonged
angst that was not my own.

Midway in my time at Penn, I decided to make creative
writing my major. There were no big-name writers on the
Penn English department faculty in those days, but
better-known authors were brought in as short-term guest
instructors, including Archibald MacLeish, May Sarton and
others, For my final semester at Penn, I learned the guest
instructor would be Philip Roth. (Years later, Roth joined
the regular Penn faculty,)

His appearance in class was not at all the image that came
from his earthy and emotional stories. He was impeccably
dressed, thin, scholarly, reserved and preoccupied. There is
a certain tension that often exists when writers of an older
generation speak to writers of a younger generation. When
Roth gave each of us a mimeographed copy (which I still
have) of his recently published story The Psychoanalytic 
Special to read and discuss at our next class, this tension
erupted. Many of us were critical of the story. I remember
how surprised and defensive he was when the discussion
did take place. Roth was 31 at the time, and was going
through a painful separation from his first wife. None of us,
of course, had been divorced.

At the end of the term, Roth invited each of his students to
meet with him privately to discuss their work and their future
plans. When I came to his office, he was polite and serious. He
made some nice comments about the writing samples of mine
he had read, and then he asked me about my plans after

I told him that I had taken the law boards, received a high
score, and planned to go to law school. He responded by
suggesting that I instead attend the University of Iowa’s
Writers Workshop, then, as now, a leading graduate writing
program in the country. He said he would call Paul Engle,
the founder and director of the Workshop, to recommend
me. I was very flattered, thought about it for a few days, and
told him at our next and last class that I would apply. He did
make the call, and soon afterward I was accepted.

At the Writers Workshop there were many well-known
authors on the faculty, In addition, nearly every major
American writer, as well as some from other countries,
made their way to Iowa City in those days (and, I believe,
still do) to give a reading or lecture and spend some informal
time with the students, Roth himself had taught at the
Workshop a few years before.

One teacher at Iowa was the Chilean novelist Jose Donoso
who introduced me and my classmates to the then-newest
generation of European and South American writers. Another
was the American author Kurt Vonnegut who, unlike Roth,
was disarmingly casual and unfocused in the classroom. But
we found his storytelling and informality irresistible when we
went barhopping with him after class. We also were charmed
by the style of his off-the-wall novels. He wasn’t then as
well-known then as he became later, but it wasn’t long before
 his little cult of devotees grew into a national readership.                               

After that last class at Penn I did not see Philip Roth again.
In recent years, I thought I would have some occasion to
see him and thank him for what he did, but it did not happen.

Several books of poetry and fiction --- as well as a few about
history and politics --- later, my work has few if any influences
from Philip Roth. Considering, however, the limits of style
and theme from others on a writer’s work, and the greater
importance of the paths we take in our lives, I think that
Philip Roth gave me the larger gift.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: France's Secret Asset

The nation of France is not the largest sovereign country in
the world in population or size. In fact, it ranks relatively low
in these key categories.

But it is the second largest nation in an important, yet often
neglected, category.

France controls vast areas of the world’s international waters
in virtually all parts of the globe. In fact, it legally controls
millions of square nautical miles in the Atlantic, Pacific Indian
and Antarctic Oceans, as well as in the Caribbean and
Mediterranean Seas. This means that it owns the resources,
including undersea oil, gas and mineral reserves

Until recently, this did not seem that valuable. But new
technologies now enable drilling and mining in deep waters ---
and such nations as the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico, Great
Britain in the North Sea, and Israel in the western
Mediterranean have reaped the bonanza of billions of dollars
from their offshore operations. Newer technologies for even
deeper and more complicated undersea mining are now
presumably being developed.

Like virtually all the great colonial powers in the 16th, 17th,
18th and 19th centuries, France had to give up its many land
colonies in North and South America, Africa and Asia in the
20th century. But while Great Britain, Portugal, Germany,
Italy, Belgium and the Dutch surrendered virtually all of their
"confiscated" territories, and gave them independence, the
French transformed some of its larger island colonies into
full-fledged departments (equivalent of U.S states) with full
French citizenship and voting representation in the French

Its shrewdest diplomatic gambit, however, was to hold on to
and claim several tiny (and sometimes uninhabited) islands
scattered in remote areas of the world’s oceans. With the
global agreement (not yet signed by all nations) known as the
Law Of The Sea, nations which owned small islands could
claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for 200 nautical
miles offshore in all directions. 

One colorful example, Clipperton Island (actually an atoll)
located about 700 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico in the
Pacific Ocean, demonstrates what a secret asset it might be
to France.

Clipperton Island (also known as Island of Desire) has only
about two square miles of land ringing a lagoon, is
uninhabited with almost no vegetation and little animal life
other than crabs and birds. It has a dark history --- it is
named after an 18th century English pirate who landed
there; was discovered by the French in 1711; and in 1906 was
occupied by Mexican settlers who, after being abandoned
during the Mexican civil war suffered one of the more
gruesome and depraved experiences of that era before its
few survivors were rescued.

It has no known resources, no tourist facilities, and is located
in the middle of nowhere, far from any shipping or air routes.

But Clipperton Island has one very big asset.

It entitles France to control the economic resources for
approximately 185,000 square miles around the atoll.
Until now, that did not mean very much. But it could mean a
great deal in the future when undersea resources can be
easily exploited.

By the way, I said that  France was the second largest nation
in area of international waters sovereignty. The largest?

Surprise! The United States of America.

For more than a century, the U.S. received trusteeship or
ownership of numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well
as in the Caribbean and Bering Sea, not to mention Hawaii and
the rights off its three coasts and Alaska --- and in the
Arctic and Antarctic.

Apparently, its small islands are mostly a secret, too.

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

THE PRAiRIE EDITOR: What If There Is No Wave --- Blue or Red?

The presumption has been --- in the lead-up to date to the 2018
mid-term election cycle --- that voters would turn out so heavily
for one side or the other that it would be a so-called “wave”
election with many U.S. house and senate seats being taken from
incumbents. Pundits and other political observers have mostly
forecast a “blue” wave for the Democrats who, inspired by their
anger about the Trump administration, would take back control
of the U.S. house and lose almost no net seats in the U.S. senate,
as well as make significant gains in races for state governors and

Fewer commentators have argued, to the contrary, that 2018 will
produce a surprise “red” wave for the Republicans, led by a
booming economy, continued lower unemployment, and a series
of President Trump foreign policy and trade successes over the
summer. Such a wave would keep U.S. house losses to less than
10, pick up 6-10 U.S. senate seats, and maintain the huge GOP
dominance in the states.

The optimism of these opposing forecasts might be assumed by
their partisans and their sympathetic media, but so far these
outcomes are not supported by much hard evidence.

Of course, 2018 might yet produce a wave election, blue or red,
as has happened with some frequency in recent cycles, but it
might be politically prudent to consider what would happen if
there was no wave this year, but a mixed result.

What would that look like?

I suggest it would result in continuing Republican control of
the U.S. house, but by a reduced margin. Democrats
would win close races where anti-Trump sentiment is strong,
but lose those where the president still has support. The GOP
would pick up a few U.S. senate seats, but far fewer than they
might have, considering the mathematical advantage they have
this cycle. Close races for state governors and legislatures
would be determined almost everywhere by local conditions
and the relative quality of the candidates in each contest.
Waking up the day after such an election cycle, it would be
difficult to assert credibly a clear pattern of the national voter

It is true that huge sums of money are going to be spent by
the candidates, their parties, and the proliferating PACS on
both sides. It is also inevitable that media coverage of the
election will be as bitter and biased as it has been for some
time. Everyone’s mailbox, TV screen, internet inbox and car
radio will be overloaded with voluminous political advertising.

These efforts could induce a wave, or they could provoke a
voter backlash.

If the quality of polling in recent cycles is repeated, it could be
quite difficult to discern a voter trend in close races until just
before election day. Even exit polls are now suspect.

Each party goes into the election with some serious problems.
Democrats are divided between mainstream liberals and those
who want to take the party to the left. Republicans are divided
in Washington, DC where they control the Congress by 
mainstream conservatives and those further to the right who
are preventing key legislation.

Behind it all is the extraordinary and disruptive personality of
President Trump who invokes passionate antipathy among
most Democrats and passionate support among most

It is likely, considering the powerful emotions felt by loyalists
on both sides, they will  predictably be voting for their own
party’s candidates in November --- all the coming political
gimmickry notwithstanding. It is also likely their turnout will
be strong.

But those voters who belong to no party, or have only weak
ties to one party or the other --- what will they do next

Are they 5% or 10% or 20% of the electorate --- or less or
more? How many are they and what they will do --- those
are the key questions of this political year --- and their
answers will tell us whether or not there will be any kind
of wave.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Any pundit is eager to be able  to alert his or her readers to news
of an emerging political trend, especially if the trend is credibly
to a big electoral wave, red or blue, The temptation is considerable
to be the first to herald a sensational outcome at the polls .

Most cycles the signs come relatively early. This was true in he
mid-term elections of 2010 and 2014 when voter dissatisfaction
with Obama administration policies (but not with Mr. Obama
personally) foreshadowed Republican gains. Of course, many in
the media turned their eyes from the voter signals --- and saw
only that the president was still relatively popular. In 2016, with
no incumbent in the presidential contest, the mis-reading by many
observers was epic and historic.

Now we are less than six months from the 2018 mid-terms, the
primary season is underway, and the irresistible search for
political omens is on.

So far, however, the omens appear to be mixed and contradictory.
Democrats have done well in most special elections, but have
actually won few of them, Their general opposition to the
Trump presidency does give them energy and motivation to go
to the polls. But Republicans seem to be sticking with their
support of the president, and the early primaries can be seen
to foretell strong conservative turnout in November as well.

The Democrats have a clear advantage to make big gains in the
U.S. house --- as the Republicans have a big advantage in expand
their now slim control of the U.S. senate. These advantages have
not so far been diminished by the early primary voting.

In  California, liberal prospects are complicated by state law
which requires the two top votegetters in a primary, regardless
of party, to be on the November ballot. This has put at risk
several likely Democratic pick-ups in Congress there because so
many Democrats are running in some primaries that it is quite
possible that only Republicans will be on the ballot in those
races on election day. The reverse is true in the race for
California governor in which there might only be two Democrats
on the ballot --- thus denying conservatives top-of-the-ticket
motivation for their voters. This would also likely dampen GOP
turnout overall --- a serious handicap to winning down-ballot

Primaries in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia heartened
Republicans generally as voters nominated strong U.S. senate
challengers, but the Democrats still have the advantage of
incumbency in those states.

Minnesota’s primary is not until August, but the state has
non-binding endorsing conventions before that, and this
process has muddied several races. The state has the unique
distinction nationally of having two U.S. senate seats on the
ballot in 2018 (one of which is competitive), four very close
U.S. house races (half the state’s entire delegation), and an
open contest for governor that could resound nationally.

Important state primaries are ahead. Montana, Wisconsin
and Michigan have key GOP senate primaries. A gubernatorial
controversy in Missouri still affects that potential GOP senate
pick-up opportunity.

President Trump looms over the 2018 election in spite of not
being on the ballot The North Korean crisis in on-again then
off-again, the Middle East is in perpetual motion and new
global trade agreements are yet unfinished.

The Democrats continue to be pulled to the left by grass
roots forces. Four members of the socialist party in
Pennsylvania, running as Democrats, just won state house
primaries --- and are likely to win in November. That has
excited the more radical wing of the party, but has not
likely helped more moderate Democrats running in other
Pennsylvania races.

Far right Republican candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin
and other states present their party with a similar

The vital difference, bottom line, can be put to the relative
quality of the candidates in competitive races this year.
The hype so far predicting a political wave, either blue or
red, may turn out to be just political smoke in the end.
The political party which does best might be the party
which recruited and nominated the better candidates.

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