Saturday, February 15, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What If It's Bernie?

There are now two compelling political questions: “What if it’s
Bernie?” and “What if it’s NOT Bernie?”

The answer to each of these questions, while critical to the
outcome of the 2020 presidential, as well as the congressional,
elections, might not be as simple a might be supposed, although
most Republicans would be ecstatically optimistic if Bernie
Sanders were the Democratic nominee.

Mr. Sanders’ self-proclaimed socialist ideology, while attractive
to many in the liberal party, does not make it likely he would
win in November, but might the outcome be worse if the
Democrats nominate someone else?

The controversial final results of this year’s Iowa Democratic
caucus were a technical debacle, but perhaps more seriously, they
revived the grievance of the 2016 Sanders campaign --- that the
Democratic Party establishment unfairly blocked their candidate
in Iowa and elsewhere from the nomination they believed he could
have won.

This year, in the more transparent but delayed results, Sanders
clearly had a greater voter turnout, but received fewer delegates
than Pete Buttigieg. There is an explanation for this, but many
Democrats, already resentful of  the electoral college election of
Donald Trump in 2016 when he lost the national popular vote,
are unconvinced. Furthermore, many prominent Democrats,
reportedly including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, appear
to be part of an overt “Stop Bernie” movement nationwide.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders played the good soldier and endorsed Mrs.
Clinton. There is polling evidence that some of his supporters did
not vote for Clinton in November or stayed home. If Sanders is
perceived as being unfairly blocked again in 2020, the political
consequences could be major.

The dilemma for mainstream Democrats is that a no-win situation
results. If they don’t block Bernie, they believe they will lose the
election --- but if they do block him, they could also lose the election.

Since 2016, the movement leftward in the Democratic Party grew
significantly, particularly in large urban areas. Not only have older 
liberals such as Elizabeth Warren  joined Sanders on the left, but an
outspoken party group of four young congresswomen known as
“The Squad” are making daily headlines with anti-Democratic
establishment views on the left. Even on local and state levels,
incumbent senior liberal elected officials are being challenged in
primaries by younger fellow Democrats for not being “progressive”
enough.

Nevertheless, a large bloc of traditional liberal and progressive
voters remain in the Democratic Party.  Their early favorite, Joe
Biden, has yet to show his strength among party voters, and should
this continue, an unconventional candidate, billionaire Michael
Bloomberg waits to take his place. Biden and Bloomberg both
emphatically reject the Bernie Sanders policy agenda.

The motif of the Democratic presidential contest is the dissonant
melody of ideological division. How Democratic voters  employ
this motif into the composition of their 2020 ticket should be, when
it finally is presented, rather interesting.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: After New Hampshire

In recent presidential election cycles, there have been customary
nods to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary not only as
kick-offs to pre-convention political party voting, but also as 
credible signals about the outcomes of competitive nomination
contests.

Perhaps not this cycle.

The Iowa Democratic caucus came, but went into a political
purgatory  of mismanagement, errors and delay in reporting
results, and a controversial conclusion when the final count was
made. Bernie Sanders clearly came out on top in turnout, but Pete
Buttigieg got more delegates, reviving a Sanders campaign
complaint from 2016 that the local Democratic Party establishment
had conspired to rob the Vermont senator of an Iowa victory.

The informal Iowa caucus voting was followed by easier-to-report
counting of paper ballots in the New Hampshire primary a week
later. This count was much quicker and more credible, but almost
as inconclusive as Iowa because this cycle’s Super Tuesday, coming
soon after, is front-loaded with so many states, delegates at stake,
and a new major candidate, Michael Bloomberg, on those ballots.

By skipping Iowa and New Hampshire, and already spending $350
million on his campaign so far, Mr. Bloomberg went a long way to
neutralize these traditional first-in-the-nation states --- and making
a contested Democratic national convention in July more likely.

The results in New Hampshire gave Bernie Sanders his second
straight narrow popular vote win over Pete Buttigieg, but each of
them now heads into several larger states where they might not be
frontrunners. Elizabeth Warren came in fourth in her neighboring
state, and although her poll numbers in recent weeks have fallen,
she has a national base with which to recover. The same is true
for Joe Biden, fifth in New Hampshire and fourth in Iowa, who also
has a loyal base in states ahead. Warren and Biden, however, need
to begin to win some states and accumulate delegates.

Although late polls predicted Amy Klobuchar would come in third
in New Hampshire, she did better than expected. On the other hand,
she did poorer than expected in her neighboring Iowa where she
finished fifth. Her poll numbers in most upcoming states are not
strong. Her home state of Minnesota votes on Super Tuesday, and
she faces serious efforts by Sanders (who won there in 2016) and
Bloomberg. She will need to win Minnesota, and do well in
neighboring Wisconsin to remain viable.

Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet have now dropped out. Deval
Parick is likely out soon. That leaves eight candidates --- and six
major ones, including Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden, Warren, Klobuchar
and Bloomberg.  The latter enters the race formally on Super
Tuesday, March 3. He is already a big shadow on the race, spending
that $350 million and registering third in some national polls. Like
Donald Trump he is a billionaire, and not historically a member of
the party he  is running in. He is a self-described moderate who
explicitly opposes the ideology of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth
Warren.

After New Hampshire, the big question marks now are Michael
Bloomberg, whether Joe Biden can recover, and can the Democratic
Party establishment block Bernie Sanders?

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Iowa Caucus Finito

The Iowa Democratic caucus (1972-2020) will be the last of its kind.
Iowa doesn’t deserve what was allowed to happen on February 3;
it is a good place (full disclosure: I went to graduate school there),
but its role in first-in-the-nation presidential voting is over.

It has been a source of controversy for several cycles, most
notably in 2016 when the Bernie Sanders campaign alleged that
the Iowa Democratic Party establishment helped Hillary Clinton
narrowly defeat Sanders in that year’s caucus using the very
complicated Iowa procedures.

It was to make those procedures transparent that caused Iowa
Democrats to seek a method that would report each phase of the
caucus, but apparently the method was not tested prior to the
event, resulting in a disastrous delay for any returns, frustrating
the candidates who had put so much time and effort campaigning
in the state, the media which had assembled to report and analyze
the vote, and of course the local and national public eager to know
who had won or lost.

As of this writing, 100% of the returns have not yet been officially
reported, but what we do have is almost complete (albeit not yet
error-free). Bernie Sanders had the largest turnout, followed closely
by Pete Buttigieg. Also relatively close to the top, in third, was
Elizabeth Warren. These three met the 15% minimum, and will
receive most delegates. In fourth, just below 15% was  Joe Biden,
followed by Amy Klobuchar. No one else of the eleven active
presidential candidates had more than a limited turnout.

If there were any mild surprises, it was that Mr. Buttigieg did
somewhat better than expected,  Mr. Biden somewhat worse, and
that Mrs. Klobuchar (from neighboring Minnesota) failed to rise
above fifth place, despite a big effort of time and money.

All five will now go on to New Hampshire and Super Tuesday with
the other six candidates.  Mr. Biden particularly hopes to revive his
frontrunner status with wins in Nevada and South Carolina. Michael
Bloomberg, who skipped competing in states before Super Tuesday
in March hopes his strategy and heavy spending will put him near
top. Mr. Buttigieg hopes his Iowa showing can be repeated in later
contests. Mr. Sanders hopes to win New Hampshire, and create
a momentum taking him to clinch the nomination before the July
Democratic convention.

But hopes and dreams are fragile in presidential politics, and there
are now many obstacles in the way of avoiding a contested party
convention in Milwaukee. A serious “Stop Bernie” campaign is
underway led by the Democratic Party establishment (including
reportedly former President Obama). Joe Biden still inspires support
from all-important black voters in large states.  Mike Bloomberg’s
unprecedented costly ad campaign has already elevated him in the
polls. Andrew Yang has a following, and could do better than expected
in primaries ahead.  Elizabeth Warren might revive her  prospects ---
although she needs to do well in New Hampshire, her neighboring
state.

With the Trump impeachment failing in the U.S. senate, a rallying
State of the Union speech, rising poll numbers, and the Iowa
Democratic caucus debacle, the president’s re-election prospects
are now brighter than ever, but those prospects for an election day
about eight months away could change quickly if the currently
soaring economy should suddenly sputter or international
developments intervene.

Right now, however, most attention is aimed at the Democratic
nomination contest. If the 2020 Iowa experience, aside from the
numbers, reveals anything, it is that the party challenging the
president and seeking to keep control of the U.S. house needs to
get its act together.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Race To Date

The 2020 presidential race, and especially the Democratic
nomination contest, is about to enter an important new stage
when some actual preferences of voters are counted in primaries
and caucuses.

Until now the process has been organizational, promotional  and
speculative with the Democratic field initially stuffed with 28
candidates of various former and current political officials,
including a vice president, governors, senators, members of
Congress, mayors --- as well as two self-funding businessmen.

The 28 initial aspirants are now reduced to 11, with two frontrunners,
two reasonably close to the frontrunners, two hoping for a breakout
moment, and two billionaires spending unprecedented sums with
unconventional strategies.

The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary
are imminent. They have often been important in the past,  but are
less likely to be so in this cycle following a Super Tuesday when so
many states and delegates have been front-loaded into the process.

Iowa might be less about determining the winner and more about
who withdraws next. Pete Buttigieg needs to revive a sagging effort,
and Amy Klobuchar (from neighboring Minnesota) has to show new
strength in her own region. Polling in Iowa is very inexact because
of the nature of the caucus, but 4-5 candidates seem able to win
delegates, and there might be multiple claims of victory. Unless
there is a surprise result, Iowa could be inconclusive.

New Hampshire is eight days later. Again, it more likely will
produce more losers then winners. Elizabeth Warren is from
neighboring Massachusetts (as is Deval Patrick). If Bernie
Sanders from next-door Vermont does well in Iowa, he will need
to do so in New Hampshire as well.

Joe Biden will need to do well on Super Tuesday and in South
Carolina where he has had a large polling lead. Michael Bloomberg
has taken a pass on Iowa and New Hampshire, and bet his political
megafarm on Super Tuesday. He is spending enormous sums, and
seems to be getting some results in new polling. He could be the
wild card of 2020.

The impeachment trial had sidelined the four senators running
for president, but after Iowa and New Hampshire the full field will
be on the campaign trail, and impeachment controversies will no
longer dominate media coverage and distract the Democratic race.

There are announced opponents of President Trump for the
Republican nomination, but if he is acquitted in his impeachment
trial, there is no serious contest. Whether or not the unsuccessful
Democratic impeachment effort produces their desired impact of
hurting the president’s re-election --- or backfires to help him ---
will be a major factor in this cycle, but this lies ahead.

Iowa and New Hampshire might signal that no Democrat will
clinch his or her nomination before the party’s Milwaukee national
convention in late July.

There are a great many maybes and ifs ahead in this election cycle,
but it has now begun in earnest, and there is no going back for
either party to try to do it differently.

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Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.