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.