Monday, March 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Joe On The Brink Again

Thirty-four years ago, in 1985, I made a prediction in a community
newspaper I edited and published in Minneapolis. Although the
publication featured local news and city politics, from time to time I
wrote about and editorialized about national politics. Three years
earlier, in 1982, I had predicted that a then-unknown Colorado
senator, Gary Hart, might emerge in 1984. Although he didn’t win,
he did emerge. By 1985, I thought I would try again for the next
election in 1988.

Another young and unknown senator had caught my attention. His
name was Joe Biden. First elected to the U.S. senate in 1972 when
he was only 29 (he could take office only because his 30th birthday
was before the day he was to be sworn in), he almost didn’t serve
because his wife and daughter were tragically killed in an auto
accident just after the election. (He once told me that his grief
made him decide to resign before being sworn in, but that
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey at a December meeting for
incoming new senators persuaded him to take office.

Two of his young sons survived the accident, and eventually he
remarried, had another daughter, and settled in as a senator from
Delaware. I had read some about him, and he seemed to be a fresh
face and voice in his party.

So I wrote a front-page editorial about Biden, and predicted he could
emerge as a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination,
and might even be elected president. At some point, Biden came to
Minnesota for a speech, and I met him for the first time. It turned out
he had already been thinking about 1988, and soon announced his
candidacy, emerging as the most serious opponent to Democratic
frontrunner Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. But fate once
again intervened, and Biden was diagnosed with a serious double
aneurism that forced him to leave the race in 1987.

Biden recovered, and once again settled into a leading role in the
U.S. senate where he first became chairman of the judiciary
committee (where he led the effort to block Robert Bork’s
appointment to the U.S supreme court), and later chairman of the
foreign relations committee. In 2006, a newly-elected senator from
Illinois sought now senior Senator Biden’s counsel on senate
matters --- and Biden then served as a mentor. The new senator’s
name was Barack Obama.

In 2008, Democratic nominee Obama chose Biden to be his vice
presidential running mate.

In 2016, after two terms as vice president, Joe Biden was inevitably
one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination along with
Hillary Clinton. But once again, tragedy stepped in as Biden’s eldest
son Beau, the Delaware attorney general with a bright political future
of his own, died of cancer.  Overwhelmed with grief, Biden chose
not to run.

Now 76, Biden leads in numerous public opinion polls for the 2020
Democratic nomination. With many younger Democratic hopefuls
moving to the left, he maintains the premier reputation as a liberal
moderate or centrist. His years campaigning across the nation for
Democratic candidates has made him numerous friends among party
activists, and no other Democratic candidate can match his foreign
policy experience. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
another major moderate figure, said he would not run if Biden does,
and now has withdrawn.

There is now widespread belief that Biden will announce his
presidential candidacy sometime in April. If he does, he will almost
certainly be a frontrunner along with Vermont Senator Bernie
Sanders, the runner-up for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Sanders was then an early voice for the drift leftward in the liberal
party, and that is where most of the many lesser-known Democratic
hopefuls are clustered, months before the first TV debates in June.
A few candidates have cautiously floated their more moderate
credentials, but with Bloomberg out of the race, Biden would likely
attract voters in the party’s still very large older liberal base.

Biden’s age is not the only issue of his candidacy. Four decades of
elected public service are also in play in what is almost certainly
going to be an epic battle to be the candidate against Donald Trump.
This time, I’m making no predictions, but I am nonetheless aware
that some predictions (perhaps even those thirty-four years old) can
come true when you least expect them to do so.

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Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How "Uncle Sam" Invented Our P.R. Culture

Those who read and study history know that much of the distinctive
political and cultural phenomena of today had  their origins in an
often-forgotten past. That past might have lacked modern technologies,      
but in U.S. history particularly, with its revolutionary political
and economic systems that were fashioned in the 18th century and
grew in the 19th century, a very rich soil for innovation existed. 

The early 19th century was especially notable for invention of all kinds
as the Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe and the U.S. and
reshaped and reformed human civilization. The invention of steam
engine for ships and the locomotive almost overnight expanded mass
mobility and transportation. The invention of photography, the telegraph,
motion pictures, typewriter and the telephone made “mass”
communications possible for the first time.

It was inevitable that extraordinary personalities would emerge as
inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators in such an environment, and
they did. Some are vaguely remembered today, such as Thomas Edison
and Alexander Graham Bell, but most are forgotten. I recently wrote
about Peter Cooper as an example of this historic memory loss.

One of the most remarkable characters of the 19th century in the U.S.
is now mostly remembered in the symbolic American figure known as
“Uncle Sam” for which he was the model at the height of his fame in
the early 1870s.

Dan Rice had been born Daniel Maclaren in New York City in 1823. 
After a series of entertainment jobs, he created the first American
circus. He is now considered not only the father of the American
circus, but also of vaudeville, a format he pioneered. Prior to the Civil
War, he was probably the mot well-known person in the country. He
created “the greatest show on earth” before his late rival, P.T. Barnum
got in the circus business. He is generally considered the physical
model for the iconic figure of Uncle Sam.  (Photographs of Rice show
him to be the spitting image of the early Uncle Sam cartoons.)
Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were among his biggest fans. By
1867, he was so famous, he ran for president. His good friend,
Horace Greeley, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1872.

Dan Rice was the first U.S. pop culture megastar.

In many ways, he invented modern American public relations. An
inveterate self-promoter, his public persona reached deeply into early
American life. He popularized “French cuffs” in the U.S. He was a
famed circus impresario, actor, director, animal trainer, professional
dancer and songwriter. He originated several idiomatic phrases
which are still in use, including “one horse show,” Hey, Rube!”
and the political term “getting on the bandwagon” (the latter
from his invitation to 1848 presidential candidate Zachary Taylor
to appear on one of his circus wagons).

Rice eventually became involved in politics, announcing his
candidacies for U.S. congress, senate, and president --- although
he withdrew from each of these races before the voting began.

The end of his story, sadly, is similar to many of those who have
achieved great fame and celebrity a century later. By the late 1870s,
changes in the traveling circus, led by Barnum and others, caused a
decline in Rice’s fortune and popularity. He had to close his circus
and its winter headquarters in a suburb of Erie, PA. He stopped
performing and retired. He died in New Jersey in 1900, virtually
penniless and forgotten.

Perhaps Dan Rice is the first cautionary tale of modern American
public relations, an industry he did so much to create, but his story
of brilliant talent, innovation, singular celebrity, and ultimate
decline remains one of the extraordinary and most American
narratives in our history. It should not be forgotten.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Uncivil War Coming?

We are in the “in or out” political season, as certain ambitious political
individuals decide if they are going to run for president or not in the
2020 cycle.

The latest count has 14 “name” candidates formally in the race for
the Democratic nomination for president --- with up to a dozen
more possibly getting into the contest. Also declaring their
decision NOT to run were about a half dozen prominent Democrats,
the most well-known of whom were Hillary Clinton and former New
York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Running for president, and qualifying for the party TV debates, is very
tempting to an ambitious but nationally-unknown politician, but it
requires money and campaign staff, and not just self-confidence and at
least something of a credible political resume.

Long before Donald Trump appeared, it was an established fact that
publicity was a key element for any political figure to emerge from the
gelatinous gray mass of daily media coverage. Most of the candidates,
those already announced and those likely yet to announce, face the
challenge of how to successfully promote their candidacy and stand out
from the overlarge crowd. A few others, including Joe Biden, Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are already well-known,but maintaining
their current relatively high poll numbers remains a constant challenge.

There were about 16 “name” Republican presidential candidates in
2016, and Donald Trump was not among the favorites until the TV
debates. His strategy was pooh-poohed by most political “experts” and
media commentators, but as Barack Obama did in 2008, he was able
to defy conventional wisdom, and prevail against better-known rivals.

Joe Biden and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, one already a frontrunner and
the other a media favorite from his unsuccessful 2018 Texas senate
campaign, have yet to announce. When and if they do, they are likely
to be immediately significant factors --- as would New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo, who is reportedly considering a candidacy.  But there
are a notable number of lesser-known figures, in and not-yet-in, who
might suddenly, or after the debates begin in June, come to the forefront.

What is very unlikely to happen is what happened in 1896 when the
keynote speaker at the Democratic convention --- not a candidate for
the nomination --- so electrified the delegates that he was nominated.
(Although he lost the general election that year, William Jennings Bryan
went on to be the Democratic nominee two more times.)

The Democrats have established a number of conditions, procedures
and rules, some of them new, which make an early winner unlikely.
Chief among them is removing the large number of superdelegates
from voting on the first ballot at the national convention, the prohibition
of winner-take-all in a given state’s primary or caucus, the new
early frontloading of major state primaries, the DNC decision
apparently to put all candidates who qualify on the same stage at the
same time (this might yet be changed), and, of course, the sheer
number of candidates.

The proportional allotment of delegates based on popular vote,
undercuts the traditional favorite son or daughter advantage of those
from larger states.  A case in point is Kamala Harris of California who
has been lining up endorsements by many of her state’s leading
Democrats, but who will have to share the huge bounty of her state’s
delegates with her major competitors. The same will be true of other
large states with native sons or daughters who are running for
president.

At some point, some in the large field will go beyond the common
Democratic theme of attacking President Trump,and begin attacking
each other. Party decorum and unity advocates abhor this strategy,
but it is inevitable in a political environment when  a first-term
congresswoman feels at ease in attacking most of her party’s
leadership, past and present, including former President Obama.

This is certainly not a cycle, in either major party, for candidates who
are verbally squeamish.  The voters are likely in for an “Uncivil War”
throughout the campaign   The allegations, namecalling, pillorying,
churlishness, and other incivility of the past two years are likely to
have been only a practice run.

Into this political miasma, step the candidates for president of the
United States. It could well be the kind of cycle when some of the
“ins” --- in retrospect --- will wish they had stayed ‘out.”

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Copyright (c 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Presidential Medical Secrets

President Donald Trump recently had his annual medical check up,
and his physician reported he is very fit. Considering his robust daily
schedule, there is no reason to doubt the report, but the president will
be over 70 when he runs for re-election next year, and many of his most
serious potential Democratic opponents will also be over 70, and even
older than he will be.

In the past, presidential medical condition reporting has often kept
important information from the public, beginning perhaps with the
case in 1893 when President Grover Cleveland, shortly after beginning
his second term in office, was diagnosed with a mouth tumor, requiring
immediate surgery. The public was told that Cleveland was going on a
fishing trip to Cape Cod on a private yacht.

In fact, the yacht “Oneids” secretly anchored off Long Island, and with
six of the nation’s top surgeons aboard, the tumor was removed. The
president’s trademark bushy moustache subsequently hid the evidence
of the surgery in the weeks hat followed after Cleveland reappeared in
public. The incident was only revealed years later, after the president
died, by one of the surgeons.

A quarter of a century later, President Wilson suffered a debilitating
stroke while in office, and the information was kept secret from the
public for the remainder of his term --- as his wife assumed de facto
control of the White House, and the government.

Two decades after that, the news that President Franklin Roosevelt
was dying was kept secret by his physicians during his fourth election
campaign. He died shortly after his inauguration in 1945 after he chose
Harry Truman to be his vice presidential running mate in 1944,
replacing the incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace who was an
open admirer of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran for president and won, although he and
his physicians knew he had then-fatal Addison’s (kidney) Disease.
Today, this disease is treatable, but then it was fatal, and if he had not
been assassinated in 1963 and had run for re-election 1964, he might
well have not lived out his second term. Kennedy was also heavily
drugged to alleviate his pain from the disease throughout his short
presidency, a fact also kept from the public.

During his time in office, President Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery,
but it was not revealed as such in public.

Wilson’s, Franklin Roosevelt’s, and John Kennedy’s ailments clearly
affected their performances as president.

With so many senior men and women running for president in 2020,
and the extraordinary daily physical demands made by this job, it
would seem important to have  an objective assessment of each
candidate’s physical condition before the election season begins in
earnest.

In 1893, President Cleveland and his advisors worried that news of his
illness might negatively affect the stock market. Today, and going
forward, such a physical disability in the White House would likely
affect much more than that.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Not A Few Skeptics

There are not a few skeptics about the political spectacle we are all
about to witness as an historic number of candidates compete to
become the Democratic nominee for president.

On one hand, there are those who think the political process ahead
will be instructive, substantive and useful in the eventual choice of
the Democratic nominee. On the other hand, there are the skeptics
who think most of the campaign will be little more than a bizarre
unreality show pitting publicity and other self-promotion gambits
against each other in an outpouring of sloganeering, manipulative
propaganda, and cynical deceptions.

The latter, the skeptics, also point to the excessive media bias on
both the left and the right as proof that only a minimum of authentic
information will be made available to the voting public, especially
before the first candidate debates in May and June.

So what can a voter do to avoid a spectacle of campaign duplicities
which might lie ahead?

I think a few key matters to look for when attempting to assess the
numerous candidates this cycle include personality, originality,
excessive promising (especially of new entitlements), experience,
and communication skills.

Let me detail each of these with some specifics.

Personality is always important. Not every candidate will have what
is called “charisma,” but a successful winner of a presidential
nomination almost always has an attractive and distinctive manner
and appearance.

Inevitably, the winning nominee brings some original aspect to his or
her campaign, either in strategy, fundraising, communications, or
choice of issues.

Politicians invariably make promises --- most of which are not kept.
Democrats, who usually favor increased government activity, often
promise more or new entitlements without credibly explaining how
they will be paid for or sustained. Free college education, Medicare
for All, and the Green New Deal each have huge price tags. Voters
need to hold candidates accountable for how they will pay for what
they promise.

Although it is clear that many Democratic voters are looking for new
faces, successful political management experience remains a
valuable trait for serving as president. Critics of both Barack Obama
and Donald Trump cite each of them for lack of such prior experience.
This is not about the age of a candidate. An older candidate might lack
experience, and a younger candidate might have a excellent resume.

A president has many roles, including initiator of domestic policy,
director of foreign policy, commander in chief of armed forces, and
spokesperson of the nation. Each of these require good if not
exceptional communication skills if a president is going to inspire
confidence and persuade citizens to follow his or her lead. Abraham
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan
excelled in communicating their successful presidencies, although each
were very different. Harry Truman was effectively plain spoken, and
John Kennedy was eloquent. Unsuccessful presidents often
communicate unsuccessfully.

These are just some suggestions for how to navigate the turbulent
nomination contests ahead, especially for Democrats who must
choose from such a large number of candidates. There yet might be
a contest for Republicans --- who would need to apply no less scrutiny
of their choices.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Our Peter The Great

He was America’s first public philanthropist. He made the first steam locomotive.
He invented Jell-o. He was one of the handful of men who was responsible for
the first transatlantic cable.  He put the first elevator shaft in a building, and did it
before the elevator was invented. He was the nation’s early equivalent of a
billionaire, who was an ardent abolitionist and also promoted the cause of Native
Americans.  At 85, he ran for president of the United States. He still is the oldest
person ever nominated by a notable political party. He lost (but probably affected
the outcome of one of the closest elections in U.S. history).

Yet few, outside his home town, remember his name.

Peter Cooper was born in New York in 1791. (George Washington was in his
first term as president.) He died in 1883. He was one of the greatest American
capitalists of the 19th century, and an historically important innovator, but what
made him a true visionary was his original and compassionate notion that,
having made a fortune, he needed to give much of it back to the community in
which he lived. Born in modest means, he routinely gave his money to
institutions and causes for the poor and for political reform. In 1876, at the
age of 85, he ran for president of the United States as the nominee of the
National Independent (Greenback) Party, He received only 1% of the vote, but
many of his then radical ideas later became normal standards of public policy
today.

His most enduring and visible contribution was a building, the Cooper Union,
which was completed in 1858. It was then, and is now, a school of architecture,
engineering and fine arts. It was intended for the poor of New York who
otherwise could not attend classes. Then, as now, no one paid to attend the
school’s classes. The only requirement was superior intelligence. Men and
women could attend, as could the young and old. It also provided the only
public library in the city of its kind, open to all. Since the day it opened,
there has not ever been a vacancy in its classes. It lists great artists and
architects, famous engineers and a Nobel prize winner among its graduates.
Over the years, its faculty and students became more and more
distinguished. Today, with 600 students, it is one of the finest schools of its
kind in the nation.

But Peter Cooper had a second purpose in mind with his Cooper Union. In
the building’s basement, he constructed a Great Hall, then holding 1100
persons, that was to be a forum for new and exciting ideas.

The most famous speech given there was, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s
two-hour address on the evening of February 27, 1860. Lincoln, at that
moment, was the darkest of dark horses for the Republican nomination
for president in 1860. The new party which had replaced the Whig Party
in 1856, now had a chance to elect a president, because the crisis of the
slavery issue had split the Democratic Party into a northern faction and a
southern faction. New York Republicans, however, thought that their
governor, William Seward, then the frontrunner for the GOP nomination,
could not win the general election. They planned a series of speeches, to
be given by prominent Midwestern Republicans, to find a candidate who
could win. Among those they invited, was Lincoln,  a successful railroad
attorney who had served one term in Congress, but had lost an 1858 senate
race in Illinois to Stephen Douglas (who by 1860 was the almost certain
Democratic nominee for president). Lincoln, however, could not come to
New York for the scheduled autumn, 1859 speeches at the New York
YMCA, but was able to come in February, 1860. By that time, the
organizers had moved the venue to the larger Cooper Union, opened only
a year before.

Lincoln’s speech is arguably the most important political speech in
American history. Not as poetic as the more famous Gettysburg Address
or his Second Inaugural, his bold Cooper Union speech destroyed the
pretense of the intellectual argument for slavery, and electrified his
Cooper Union audience. Lincoln had also cagily arranged for copies of
his speech to be distributed to the press, and within a few days, he was a
political sensation in the North and among Republicans. This speech
almost certainly made him the eventual nominee and president.

Cooper Union continued to be a forum for important American speeches
and ideas throughout the 19th century, the early 20th century, and to the
present time. After Lincoln’s speech, Susan B. Anthony, Horace Greeley,
Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Ingersoll, Victoria Woodhull and
Thomas Huxley spoke there, In recent years, Bill Clinton has spoken there.

When I got out of graduate school and moved to New York in the early 1
970’s, I lived for a while in the lower east side, and passed Cooper Union
to and from work every day.  I did not ever go inside, although I knew it
was an historic building still in use. Later, I learned about Lincoln’s
speech there, but I still did not know until much later the full story of the
school and its remarkable founder, Peter Cooper --- a man who changed
history in so many ways.

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Copyright (c) 2007 and 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 15, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Twenty-Four Years Ago.....

Twenty-four years ago, I was the part-time executive director of a
non-profit, non-partisan foundation that had two main functions --- first,
holding periodic national conferences on timely public policy issues,
and second, hosting and escorting foreign public figures in the U.S.,
primarily those who were part of the United States Information Agency
(USIA), and later U.S. State Department, international visitor program.
I had co-founded the foundation in 1989 with my friend, the late Julius
Smith, a prominent attorney and local public figure.

Our first project was a  national symposium on low-income housing in
1990 with the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack
Kemp as the main speaker. I had gotten to know him in my full-time
job as a journalist who covered national and presidential politics, and
he graciously agreed to come to Minneapolis for our event. We also
invited prominent local and national Democrats, as well as non-partisan
low income housing activists and developers. The symposium was
about a then somewhat controversial subject, and running it was quite a
learning experience. We did not get much media notice outside
Minnesota.

For the next five years, the foundation’s primary activities were with
international visitors. Over the years, we hosted locally or escorted
around the U.S. more than 500 foreign elected officers, public officials,
businesspersons, journalists and cultural figures from almost 100
nations.  It was an eye-opening experience, but a story for another time.

Early in 1995, I felt it was time for another symposium. As an opinion
journalist and reporter about national politics, I had formed some views
about the importance of the so-called “political center” in
American public life.  I sensed that a national symposium discussing
“Locating the new political center in America” might be useful and
timely. Once again, using contacts I had made as a journalist, I invited
some prominent centrist U.S. figures to participate, including members
of President Bill Clinton’s administration, leaders of major centrist
organizations, including the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a
centrist think tank from where Mr. Clinton had emerged earlier,
prominent Republicans including then Speaker of the U.S. House
Newt Gingrich, and well-known independent and third party figures.

Although my roster of invited speakers was perhaps initially ambitious,
some surprise events propelled the symposium into unexpected
national prominence as its mid-December date approached.

First, it was the third year of President Clinton’ first term, and it was a
problematic time for his administration. A year before, Newt Gingrich
had engineered an historic realigning mid-term election, and
Republicans took control of the U.S. house for the first time in four
decades. Gingrich’s policy initiatives (many of them centrist) had put
Clinton on the defensive, and there was talk of some challenging the
president’s upcoming 1996 renomination or running as a third party
candidate.

Perhaps the most prominent of these potential revolts came from a
group known as the “Secret Seven” that included prominent centrist
Democrats former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, New Jersey
Senator Bill Bradley, former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado,
former Congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota, and former Senator
(and 1984 presidential candidate) Gary Hart, as well as former 1980
independent presidential candidate John Anderson and independent
Maine Governor Angus King.  Former Republican Connecticut
Governor Lowell Weicker was later listed in the group (causing it to
have a new media name, “the Gang of Eight”). Each of them were
self-described centrists unhappy with the leadership of both parties.
It was also rumored that Bradley and Weicker might run for president
in 1996.

When I asked Tim Penny to participate in the symposium, he quickly
realized that the event could be an ideal way to formally launch the
“Secret Seven” plan to push the major parties toward the political
center. I agreed to let members of his group headline the symposium
dinner, The luncheon keynote speaker was to be Speaker Gingrich
who I had gotten to know years before when he was a relatively
unknown congressman.

Although only three of the Secret Seven spoke at our symposium in
Minneapolis, it was major national news. Suddenly, our efforts to gain
a bit of publicity for the symposium exploded into front-page headlines
across the nation and in nightly network news stories. Some of our
invited guests who had been reluctant to commit to coming to frigid
Minnesota in December now virtually begged me to participate.

The second unexpected event, older readers will recall, was that our
symposium date ended up in the middle of a contentious government
shutdown pitting President Clinton against Speaker Gingrich. As the
the event approached, my staff and my friends all advised me we were
going to lose Gingrich as our keynoter. When I contacted him with
foreboding, I was pleased to learn that he fully expected to appear,
provided we could arrange for his live televised remarks by satellite
from a studio in Washington, DC to our event.  We scrambled to do
so, and some of generous  sponsors came up with the extra funds to
make it happen. Needless to say, Speaker Gingrich’s live remarks at
our symposium drew a standing-room-only crowd and national media.

Steve Scully of C-SPAN had grown up in Erie, PA, as had Tom Ridge
(then governor of Pennsylvania and a speaker at several of our
symposia), and as I did. I don’t think Steve and his colleagues needed
much persuading to televise our event. Usually, C-SPAN broadcasts a
program such as ours only once, but because of the government
shutdown, they lacked timely material --- so sessions of our
symposium were broadcast repeatedly for several weeks. 

(I realized C-SPAN’s impact when I made my next visit to Washington,
DC a few months later, and I was actually stopped in the streets several
times by persons who had seen me speak at the symposium!)

Al From and Will Marshall, the leaders of the DLC came and spoke, as
did Elaine Kamarck representing the president and Vice President Al
Gore. My friend Mike McCurry, the presidential press secretary (whom
I had met in 1988 when he was press secretary to Bruce Babbitt, then
running for president), graciously arranged for representatives of
President Clinton, including former Governor George Sinner of North
Dakota, to hold a press conference responding for the White House to
Speaker Gingrich’s remarks at the symposium.. Ross Perot’s 1992
campaign manager Orson Swindle participated as did Michael Lewan,
former chief of staff for Senator Joe Lieberman (later Democratic vice
presidential nominee), policy guru Grover Norquist, former President
George H.W. Bush senior staffer Jim Pinkerton, Ross Perot’s pollster
Gordon Black, several other DLC staffers, and many national and local
figures. Over the next decade, we held a number of successful national
conferences, but thanks to our outstanding 1995 participants, an
excellent symposium staff, and a huge attendee turnout, this one was a
high point of the foundation’s symposium history.

National pundits, including David Broder, Michael Barone, Tony Snow,
Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, weighed in, as did most of the nation’s
major newspapers, Also Time Magazine (which had  broken the initial
“Secret Seven” story), U.S. News & World Report, The Weekly Standard
and so many others, I stopped counting. The TV networks --- ABC, CBS,
NBC, PBS, CNN, UPN, CONUS --- showed up in force,, as did many
national and local radio programs. Participant and presidential scholar
David Kozak wrote a long piece about the symposium in Presidential 
Studies Quarterly. Virtually overnight we had become a big national story.

Why have I imposed on the reader with this little account of a
now-forgotten symposium that occurred twenty-four years ago?

We have just endured a government shutdown that matched a
controversial first-term president and a powerful speaker of the house.
Elements of both major parties are alleged too extreme, and after a
period of passivity, the political center and its issues appear to be
reasserting themselves. In 2019, many specific issues are different from
those in 1995, but many broader issues of taxes, spending, accountability,
transparency, and bureaucracy remain in the forefront.

After 1995, Bill Clinton moved decidedly to the center, and soon
compromised with and adopted several of Newt  Gingrich’s policies.
Budgets were balanced. There is no “Secret Seven” today, but there
are major figures in both parties, and independents, who speak out to
refute extreme views,  unsustainable policies, political correctness, and
just plain bad ideas.

In 1995, virtually the entire national media embraced the news story of
a potential political revolt from the center, and did it mostly fairly..
In 2019, a similar story is being treated by many (but, to be fair, not all)
in the media as almost a threat to national security

The political center is like the earth’s magnetic pole --- it keeps moving
according to forces in the core of public opinion --- just as the magnetic
pole is moved by forces from the earth's core.

Where is the U.S. political center today?

The answer might tell us more about 2020 than any poll numbers.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Flipping A Coin With More Than Two Sides

The media appetite for measuring the prospects of individual
candidates for president has probably not ever been greater,
especially with so many nominally serious candidates in the
field for the 2020 Democratic nomination.       

At the same time, the attempts at ranking and measuring the voter
support for these candidates have probably not ever been so fraught
with obstacles and uncertainty.

The first obstacle was already apparent as the 2016 votes were tallied,
and its historic upset not anticipated in the interpretation of the polls,
even those published on the eve of election day. As has been pointed
out in their defense, many national polls were relatively accurate in
measuring the final overall popular vote (carried by Hillary Clinton).
But the presidential election is constitutionally an electoral college
contest state-by-state, and the nation-wide polls did not predict the
actual result.

Polling today has many problems beyond just pundit interpretation,
including locating voters willing to be polled, finding them available,
determining if they are likely to vote, and accumulating a sample size
that will result in an accurate measurement. Finally, at this very early
stage, polls reflect name recognition and little more. Only some of the
many expected to run have formally announced their candidacies, there
have been none of the all-important debates, and for now at least, the
first presidential caucuses and primaries are a year away.

Depending on a decision by the New Hampshire secretary of state, the
first-in-the-nation primary could be moved up a month or more, and if
it is, presenting extraordinary technical difficulties for the Iowa
caucuses which are supposed to precede New Hampshire.  To make
matters even more complicated this cycle, the largest-in-the-nation
primary, California, has been moved from June to just after New
Hampshire. There is a reasonable possibility that individual campaigns
might downgrade Iowa and New Hampshire, and concentrate their
early efforts in the much larger state and its much bigger number of
delegates. A decision by New Hampshire won’t be made before
September (7 months from now). The earliest debates in Iowa are
tentatively set for August.

In recent presidential election cycles, eventual nominees showed their
strength only after debates and primaries/caucuses began, and that
occurred with usually far fewer serious contenders than apparently
will compete for the Democratic nomination this cycle.

To further complicate assessing the whole field, the first big surprise
was the emergence of a serious possible independent presidential
candidate, Starbucks CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz. The leftward
march of so many Democratic Party hopefuls has not stopped, but party
strategists were reminded that their party still has many centrist liberal
voters.

About a dozen major Democratic candidates are now officially in, but at
least another dozen or more are likely to announce their candidacies,
including the man who leads in all early polls, former Vice President Joe
Biden.

A characteristic of many (but not all) recent cycles, especially for
Democrats, has been the emergence of previously less well-known
candidates.  Eugene McCarthy in 1968, Gary Hart in 1984, Howard Dean
in 2004 and Bernie Sanders in  2016 each made waves, yet fell short. On
the other hand, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama won nomination and
election. It is interesting to note that, although the favorites won the
Democratic nomination in 1968 (Hubert Humphrey), in 1984 (Walter
 Mondale), in 2004 (John Kerry), and in 2016 (Hillary Clinton), they each
lost in November.

The most well-known Democratic presidential candidates in this cycle
are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg
--- all senior in age. The same is true for Hillary Clinton who has not
ruled out another run. But there are at least 20 younger and less
well-known probable candidates. How can such a large field be usefully
polled or otherwise ranked at this time?

The answer is: It almost certainly can’t be.

Months from now, at least one or two candidates, perhaps a few more,
will emerge. Until then, polls are mostly meaningless (if not misleading),
and predictions are like flipping a coin with more than two sides.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Caselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 8, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Media Daggers

Many punditry and other media daggers are already slashing away not
only at Howard Schultz, the independent billionaire centrist likely to
run for president, and at Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City
mayor who is also a centrist and a billionaire (but running as a Democrat)
--- their rhetorical daggers are aimed at any centrist, liberal leaning or
conservative leaning candidate, as an obstacle to the self-styled crusades
either to defeat Donald Trump’s re-election next year or to keep him in
office.

The decibels are louder on the left in this matter for  the simple reason
that the net loss of the large and critical number of centrist, moderate
and independent voters would likely hurt a Democratic nominee who
embraces the party’s currently fashionable radical agenda more than it
would hurt the president at the ballot box in November, 2020.

The anti-centrist campaign makes the usual arguments, including the
assertion that the current national political environment is so polarized
to the left and right; that centrists, moderates and independents don’t
know what they want because they have no ideology; and of course that
centrist are too few to elect one of their own. Each of these assertions
contains some validity, that is, a certain intense left-right polarity does
exist today, centrists are not usually ideologues, and this group of voters,
while large, probably cannot prevail with a candidate of their own on a
third party ballot in a general presidential election.

But, as with so much media bias these days, the anti-centrist arguments
distort reality and ignore critical facts.

Centrists, independents or moderates (some of these voters fall into two
or more of these categories) often avoid ideology because it frequently
results in stalemate of public policy. Ideological orthodoxy often
precludes political compromise. The way the national U.S. political
system works, compromise is a vital component of transforming policy
ideas into working solutions.

As for the argument that centrists, independents and moderates are too
few to elect one of their own, its presumption depends on the fact that
no independent has ever won a presidential election (Teddy Roosevelt
came the closest, finishing second in 1912). But Ross Perot did briefly
lead both his major party opponents in the polls in 1992 (and got almost
20% of the popular vote. determining the winner). Until 1960, no
Catholic had ever been elected president;  until 2008, no Afro-American
had won; and until 2016, no woman had been nominated by a major
party. And speaking of breaking precedents, until 2016, no one like
Donald Trump had ever won the presidency.

The sudden emergence of centrist political figures in this cycle, however,
is more than just about  a centrist candidate winning. It is perhaps more
about the fact that one major party has seemingly been moving too far
off center. To be fair, it could also be argued, as both Mr. Schultz and Mr.
Bloomberg do, that the other political party is led by too controversial a
figure.

In any event, the political canter in the U.S. appears to be reasserting its
veto over political party extreme movements.

Senators Joe Manchin, an atypical and moderate Democrat, and Susan
Collins, an atypical and moderate Republican, are examples of centrist
forces in the U.S. senate, and there are numerous similar examples in the
U.S. house. Several centrist state governors of both major parties also
defy ideological and parochial stereotyping.

There are occasions when centrist figures occupy the White House, such
as during the Eisenhower and the Clinton administrations. And inevitably,
voters reject candidates they perceive as too off-center as they did in
1964 and 1972.

So let the media daggers slash where they may. I suggest that, like stage
weapons in theater plays, they try to create an effect, but are only made
of harmless rubber. The drama of the 2020 presidential cycle, so far only
a comedy, is only in Act One.

Let’s see how this show plays out.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Special Election Upset

A blue wave hit Minnesota in 2018 when all the statewide races were
won handily by Democrats (called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
or DFL in this state). State Republicans had hoped for better results in
2018, following Donald Trump’s surprise performance in 2016 when he
almost carried the state. But the DFL organizational, fundraising and
GOTV superiority carried the day as the liberal party won back control
of the state house, won all the constitutional offices, two U.S. senate
seats, and picked up two previously GOP congressional seats. The only
good news for the conservatives was their pick-up of two previously
DFL congressional seats and an expected win in a state senate special
election for a seat they previously had held. (The rest of the state senate
senate seats were not up in 2018.) The GOP now held a tenuous one-seat
majority in the state senate.

When new DFL Governor Tim Walz subsequently chose a DFL state
senator to join his cabinet, most observers expected the resulting special
election on February 5 to be won by a DFLer, especially since the
son and grandson of the incumbents who had held the seat for decades
immediately announced his candidacy.

The northern half of the district included part of the city of Duluth,
and had elected a DFL state representative. The southern half was rural
and had a GOP state representative. Donald Trump has carried the
district in 2016, and although there was no state senate race in this
district in 2018, when the two house race totals were combined, the DFL
had won by only 33 votes.

The GOP promptly endorsed and nominated the local GOP state
representative for the senate seat. A popular local figure, an electrician
and a member of a local trade labor union, he even obtained the rare
support of a few local labor unions for a GOP candidate. Yet he had to
overcome not only the well-liked family name of his opponent, but the
traditional advantage of superior DFL and big labor union GOTV
efforts. This formidable GOTV apparatus had, in fact, enabled the DFL
to head off a serious intraparty primary challenge only weeks before
the special election.

With so much at stake for the new DFL administration’s legislative
program (the GOP had only a one-seat seat majority), the DFL poured
considerable resources and effort into the campaign.

Hoping the DFL nominee’s youth and lack of experience, and the fact
that he did not live in the district prior to the election, would keep the
race competitive, and knowing that President Trump had carried the
district by almost 10 points in 2016, enabled the state senate campaign
effort, under Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and his chief
campaign strategist Mike Campbell, to try for an upset, realizing that
their tenuous one-seat majority would become a much more
comfortable three-seat majority if they won.

Unknown and unpredictable factors were possible lack of support by
the DFL faction which had supported a woman challenger who
narrowly lost the party primary, and the notorious Minnesota winter
weather which is often at its snowiest and coldest in early February.
A factor favoring the DFLer was the fact that the DFL part of the
district traditionally outvoted the GOP part by about 10%. A factor
favoring the GOP was the presence on the ballot of a Legalize
Marijuana Party candidate who might likely draw votes from the DFL.

As it turned out, it was a relatively cold day, with little snow, and the
third party candidate received 2% of the vote. But apparently the DFL
political dynasty in the district could not hold for a third generation.
The GOP candidate, Jason Rarick, won by almost 1000 votes, 52% to
46%. No doubt his legislative experience and labor union ties helped,
as did the lack of experience and carpetbagging of his opponent, but
it was also a major political upset for the DFL which had only months
before swept almost every race, demoralizing the state Republican
Party and its supporters.

GOP strategist Campbell said after the results were in, “It was a
realignment of voters in outstate Minnesota. The DFL had won the
district for decades, and we were the underdogs, but we won back
a lot of working people in the distract.”

Mr. Gazelka, now the de facto leader of his party in the state, and
Senator-elect Rarick have provided local conservatives with
something to cheer about, but whether it will soon revive the state
GOP party, still reeling from 2018, is unclear as 2020 and new
elections loom.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Why Schultz Disrupts The Democrats in 2020

The news of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s quite possible
presidential candidacy signals to the recently-energized radical
wing of the Democratic Party that their hitherto unchecked,
media-encouraged turn to the left, as advocated by Bernie
Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters,
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker and others ---at first
heralded in 2016, seconded in the 2018 mid-terms, and now
promulgated by many Democratic presidential aspirants ---
will no longer go unchallenged on the liberal side of U.S. politics.

Former Democrat Schultz’s challenge is particularly serious
because he can put himself separately on the November, 2020
ballot in all states, and give centrist Democrats and many
independents a choice between a controversial Democratic
nominee and Donald Trump. 

Radical Democrats are likely correct in assuming that a Schultz
independent candidacy, or another one with his resources, could
doom their chances to defeat President Trump next year.

Another maverick billionaire is running for president, in 2020.
Michael Bloomberg is running, as of now, for the Democratic
nomination. LikeSchultz, Bloomberg is a centrist. As such, he is
competing against the ideological tide in his newly-adopted party.
In New Hampshire a few days ago, Bloomberg spoke in sharp
contrast and critically to his radical rivals, emphasizing his issues
 of climate change and gun control, and dismissing the currently
fashionable radical issues of higher taxes, Medicare for All, and
other entitlement programs he considers unsustainable.

With so many Democratic rivals to his left, Bloomberg’s strategy
seems to be to win the mainstream and moderate Democratic
primary voters while his opponents split the party voters on the
left. But if former Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, he
might also take many centrist party voters from Bloomberg.

As the political season advances, Mr. Bloomberg might wish he
had chosen the independent route as Mr. Schulz has done.
Although both men are very successful businessmen, Bloomberg
was an outstanding mayor of New York City, and has proven
himself as an effective political executive in problematic
circumstances. But he faces a daunting challenge as a rare
centrist/moderate in political party careening to the left.

Meanwhile, Howard Schultz has indicated that he has already
carefully prepared for an independent campaign, and seems to
judge the negative response to him by Democratic leaders as a
reinforcement to his 2020 campaign strategy. He clearly poses a
potential dilemma for the more radical wing of the Democratic
Party, but it is very early in the cycle, and how the primary/caucus
component of the presidential election plays out remains to be
seen and heard.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Independent Candidacy?

The announcement by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz that he is
seriously considering running for president as an independent has
set off alarm bells for many Democratic Party strategists who see a
Schultz candidacy as a threat to the success of their party’s challenge
to the re-election of Republican President Donald Trump next year.

Billionaire Schultz won’t like be dissuaded by such arguments. Ross
Perot ignored similar warnings from Republicans in 1992 and 1996
when he ran as an independent. In fact, for a brief time in 1992 he
even led incumbent GOP President George H.W. Bush and
Democratic nominee Bill Clinton in the national polls, finally getting
almost twenty million votes --- and  arguably enabling Clinton to win.

Since1948, major independent presidential candidates have won
millions of votes, and sometimes altered the outcomes. Former
Democrats, Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond tried to defeat
Harry Truman in 1948 (Thurmond even won a number of electoral
votes), but Truman won anyway. George Wallace ran as an independent
in 1968, and might have cost Hubert Humphrey the election against
Richard Nixon. John Anderson got more than five million votes in1980,
but did not affect Ronald Reagan’s election that year. Ralph Nader only
received about three million votes in 2000, but the election was so close
his votes  in Florida prevented the election of Democrat Al Gore against
George W. Bush.

In addition to one-time independent presidential candidates, certain
fringe third parties run candidates every cycle, including the Libertarian
Party, Green Party, and the Socialist Party, and gain votes
in some states. These parties sometimes do affect who wins U.S. house,
U.S. senate and gubernatorial races.

The recent rise of billionaires in U.S. politics, both as candidates and
major funders, has especially helped the Democratic Party, although
most funders avoid political labels, often giving to both parties.
Michael Bloomberg ran for and won races for mayor of New York as a
Republican, but is now running for president as a Democrat.
Bloomberg, Perot, Donald Trump, and Schultz have the resources
to run without asking anyone for money, and can qualify for places on
state ballots on their own, (Trump chose to run for president as a
Republican, and ironically spent less on his 2016 campaign than did his
Democratic opponent.)

The mega-rich candidates can hire consultants, do unlimited polling,
employ staff members, and travel at will on their own.

In 2020, the Democrats seem bent so far on nominating either an elderly
figure or one with a relatively radical program ideology (or both).
Howard Schultz says he is running because he does not feel comfortable
with any such likely Democratic nominee, nor is he comfortable with
President Trump. As a political centrist, Schultz seeks to tap into the
historically large number of centrist U.S. voters who often determine
elections.

When Ross Perot ran in 1992, he was a businessman with no elective
experience, nor was he particularly charismatic, but he successfully
appealed to millions of voters with his centrist approach to issues, even
at one point, leading the two major party nominees in the national polls.

I suspect that the more Democrats try to bully Howard Schultz out of
 the 2020 presidential race, the more he is likely to remain in it ---
especially if he feels his candidacy begins to resonate with voters.
What does he have to lose?

This is only one of the early political dramas that will now play out
as the curtain rises on the 2020 presidential cycle.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: National Interests

The recent government shutdown, at least now temporarily ended,
demonstrates one more time how the two major political parties and
their leaders are putting primarily their own political interests above
national interests.

This circumstance is abetted not only by a biased print and broadcast
media, cynical emotional political strategies, and an overdependence
on social media by many voters, but also by extreme factions on both
the left and the right. The latter groups want total satisfaction on their
own issues, and have little or no interest in political compromise.

But the history of  U.S. legislative policy and governance, beginning
with the draft of the U.S. constitution itself, has been the ability of
government institutions and its leaders to compromise. Failing to
compromise, the result is inevitably stalemate.

Sometimes control of both the legislative and executive branches fail
to replace stalemate with necessary action on national interests.
From 2009 to 2011, Democrats controlled the White House and the
Congress. From 2017 to 2019, the Republicans had equal power. In both
cases, some major legislation was passed and signed by the president,
but the voters soon divided political power, stalemate returned, and
critical national interests were not addressed.

That is where we are again today.

It is easy to blame only the media and extremist factions for all of this,
but it is important to remember that the U.S. is the quintessential
centrist nation --- and thus failure in public policy over the long-term
rests ultimately with the voters themselves, particularly with the large
number of centrist voters who have the civic responsibility to inform
elected officials and government bureaucrats how to serve national
interests as well as their political interests.

In 2020, as in 2016 and previous cycles, the character and will of the
voters will be tested once again.

Sensational headlines, “gotcha” moments, cynical strategies and purely
emotional appeals do not likely advance the national interests.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unsettling Powers

It is not an accident that virtually all of the major national powers in
the world are suddenly in intense political turmoil just now.

If “world power” is defined by population alone, then China and India
hold those titles.

If “world power” is defined by military prowess, then the United States,
Russia, as well as China, fit the definition.

If  “world power” is defined by economics, then the European Union
(EU) and its three primary nation members (United Kingdom,
Germany and France), as well as the U.S., China and India, would be
included.

Also playing major military and/or economic roles in the world are
Brazil, Iran, Canada, Japan and Indonesia.

China, Iran, and, to a certain degree, Russia are not democracies,  but
their turmoil is not only economic, but broadly put, political as well.

Democratic nations such as the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, India,
Japan, Canada and Brazil had, following the end of the Cold War in
the early 1990’s, enjoyed mostly growth and increasing political
stability.  But recently, these national powers have seen political
disruptions of varying kinds, and the result is international confusion
and global uncertainty at a heightened level not seen since the 1930s.

Some of the causes for the turmoil can be explained. New technology
advances in transportation and communications have provoked much
change in human life today. In the more developed nations and
societies, life spans and daily living conditions have improved with
unprecedented velocity. Simply put, there are more human beings on
earth who are living longer and requiring more goods, services and
security than ever before in history.

It would seem reasonable to assume then that both the democratic and
even the totalitarian models of governing are therefore in some
confusion and disruption.

The inevitable question arises: What will all this turmoil, confusion
and disruption lead to? Will it be a quickly passing phase? Will it
more fundamentally change daily life? Will political and economic
relationships be permanently altered within nations and between
nations?

Questions about change have few certain answers.. Twice the
idealism of institutionalized international cooperation has failed
(League of Nations and United Nations). Regional economic
cooperation institutions such as the EU have faltered as national
sovereignty was heavy-handedly diminished without true popular
support.  But international humanitarian and technology-specific
organizations continue to function and thrive, including, just as an
example, the International Red Cross and its equivalent groups all
over the world.

Certain nations and regions endure long-term instability, and their
chronic political and economic upheavals should come as no
surprise. When the largest powers witness significant change,
however, it is likely a sign of a deeper societal phenomenon.

That is why what is occurring in the U.S., China and Europe bears
careful scrutiny and vigilance in this unsettled and provisional
moment in time.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Uncertain 2020 Senate Elections

The 2020 U.S. senate election prospects for Democrats (who are
eager to regain control of it) are becoming more and more uncertain.

Published reports indicate that West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe
Manchin, who just won re-election in 2018, is seriously considering
running for governor of the state, a post he once held, in 2020. The
popular centrist, if he ran, would likely win, thus creating a vacancy
that almost certainly would be filled by a Republican in this state
carried overwhelmingly by Donald Trump in 2016, and where the
president is still very popular. In fact, Senator Manchin is the only
remaining Democrat in West Virginia holding statewide office. The
current governor, elected as a Democrat, switched parties and is a
strong Trump supporter.

Although 36 senate seats are up in 2020, and 24 of them are now
held by Republicans (a reverse of 2018 when most incumbents were
Democrats), very few of the races now seem competitive. In fact,
the one senate seat likely to switch parties next year is in Alabama,
where incumbent Democrat Senator Doug Jones is rated a likely
loser in this normally very conservative state. (Jones won an upset
special election in 2017 when his Republican opponent became
immersed in controversies.)

Most of the other 2020 senate races takes place in states where 
incumbents, or their replacements in case of retirement, are expected
to win easily. Indeed, there have already been two announced
retirements, GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and GOP
Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and both of them are now expected
to be replaced by Republicans in these conservative states.

Two Republican incumbents, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and
Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, are considered potentially
vulnerable in 2020, as are Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith of
Minnesota and Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, but all
four are incumbents, and might not be easily rejected by the voters.

Of course, the 2020 presidential election, already underway, could
change the dynamic of senate election prospects. If President Trump
emerges positively from the current government shutdown standoff
and the expected U.S. house (now controlled by the Democrats)
investigations, and wins re-election, he could help his party’s senate
candidates across the board. Conversely, if he does not, or chooses
not to run, GOP losses could exceed current expectations.

A strong Democratic presidential nominee could help 2020 liberal
senate challengers, but a controversial one, as George McGovern was
in 1972, might make prospects worse for Democratic senate and
congressional candidates in November, 2020.

The presidential contest could likewise affect the 2020 U.S. house
elections, when the new Democratic majority must defend their 40
pick-ups in 2018, most of which were by small margins in very
competitive districts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a
Democratic U.S. house caucus no less divided and difficult to control
than the one faced by House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017.

The political year of 2020 is inevitably going to be interesting, but
2019 just might have some memorable fireworks of its own.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Old Party Bases Are Not Enough

Each major U.S. party has a political voter base that is vital to its
electoral success.

This is true in most local, state and national elections, and is validated
when significant numbers from these bases are occasionally turned
off by nominees who fail to meet the voters’ standards of character,
personal conduct, policy views or campaign strategy --- and do not
vote as predicted.

It is no surprise, then, that political strategists and candidates pay
considerable attention to the views and concerns of this traditionally
most loyal group of voters.

At each level of electoral politics, the party bases vary, primarily by
geography and demographics, but in general, each party’s base has
become more monolithic ideologically. In the previous period, the
post-war era of 1946 to 1980, each party included voters of opposing
views on specific issues. The classic example was the  abortion issue.
There were prominent figures voicing pro-life and pro-choice views
in both the Republican and Democratic parties. This is no longer true.
With a few exceptions, most Republicans officials are pro-life and
most Democratic officials are pro-choice.

Similar increasing divisions have occurred in various ethnic, religious,
economic and gender-sensitive communities, and contributed, prior to
recently, to certain political generalizations and conventional wisdom.

In 2016, the validity of these presumptions was shattered in the
presidential election. There had been signals of this change previously,
but they had been confined mostly to individual races, and were usually
rationalized as explainable outliers.

The old generalizations of the party bases included that most black,
Hispanic, Jewish, establishment Protestant, ethnic Catholics, big city
residents,and union member voted Democratic, as did a majority of
women. The Republican base included a majority of men, Evangelical
Christians, hunters and gun owners, small business owners, rural,
suburban and exurban voters.

In 2016, notable numbers of some of the Democratic base electorate
voted for Trump in a few key states that had been reliably liberal.

In 2018, some of these “rebel” voters, especially suburban women,
returned to the Democratic Party in the mid-term elections,
particularly in competitive districts and states. Having for years
opposed Obamacareto their advantage, but now controlling the
Congress and White House, Republicans had failed to enact a
necessary alternative.

At the same time, many of the hitherto heavily Democratic voting
groups, including blacks, Hispanics, Jews and rank-and-file blue
collar workers, continue to change sides as more socially and
economically radical left figures increasingly attempt to dominate
the party’s agenda.

So each party has problems with their old bases --- and consequently,
each party has an opportunity to recreate and expand their base.

As the 2020 presidential cycle begins to unfold in earnest, there are
many signs that Democratic and Republican leaders are preoccupied
with the former, and not paying much attention to the latter.

I suggest such an approach simply fails to learn the lessons of 2016
and 2018 --- and is a prescription for more surprises from the voters
in November twenty-one months from now.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: First Hats In The Ring

The 2020 presidential election cycle now has begun. Most of the initial
speculation understandably is about whom the Democratic nominee
will be. A record number of potentially serious candidates are openly
mentioned, and already a notable number of them are in various stages
campaigning, ranging from creating exploratory committees to visiting
Iowa and New Hampshire, and to fundraising.

The latest name to be added to a very long list is Democratic Washington
Governor Jay Inslee. He had not previously appeared on most lists ---
which suggests that even more liberal political figures will likely throw
their hats into the ring before long.

(Incidentally, the early 19th century origin of “throw one’s hat in the ring”
has a certain relevance to its contemporary political usage. In the
early 1800s it meant literally throwing one’s hat into a circular boxing
ring as an announcement of a challenge. Since presidential politics today
more resembles pugilistic fighting than a contest of civic discourse, the
phrase seems especially apt.)

Other politicians more or less into the 2020 nomination contest include
(in no particular order) Congressman John Delaney of Maryland,
former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Senator Elizabeth
Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former
Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio,
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Texas Congressman Robert
“Beto” O’Rourke.

Only one previously cited potential candidate, former Governor Deval
Patrick of Massachusetts has publicly announced he will not run.

But the list of potential candidates is quite long, and includes (again
in no particular order) Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper,
California Senator Kamala Harris, former Virginia Governor Terry
McAuliffe, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Colorado Senator
Michael Bennet, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, former HUD Secretary
Julian Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Ed Garcetti, Minnesota Senator
Amy Klobuchar, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, South
Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, Montanta Governor Steve Bullock,
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, New York Senator Kirsten
Gillibrand, and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has appeared on most lists, but he
has just endorsed Joe Biden. His name could reappear.

Most Americans, outside the home areas of many of the above potential
candidates, have not ever heard of them. Those whose names they know
could have political problems --- most frequently those who will be 70
or older in 2020.

But most Americans had not heard of Jimmy Carter in 1975, Bill
Clinton in 1991, nor Barack Obama in 2007.

Simply by name recognition, Joe Biden leads in early polls.

Democrats have already announced early debates, primaries and
caucuses as a way to make the candidate field smaller.

In the next few weeks and months, the political ring will be filled with
hats. --- and hesitations, demurrals and second thoughts.

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Copyright (c) 2019by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.