Thursday, April 29, 2010

The British Elections A Week Away

A bit more than a week ago, I wrote in this space that the so-called “Cleggomania” in the British elections was not what it seemed, and was likely to wane.

Following the first U.S.-style TV debated between the three major candidates, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had obviously scored a public relations victory over his better known rivals, and British pollsters indicated that the Liberal Democrats had soared into second place over the ruling Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and just behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party (Tory) which had been leading by double digits for some time. At one point, there were even a poll or two which showed the Liberal Democrats in first place.

I cautioned that this was unlikely to continue as the media and voters took a close look at Clegg, and to their real prospects. It was generally believed that Cameron won the second debate, although not by much, and that Clegg was not quite the “savior” of the kingdom. The Tories’ poll numbers have been climbing back up, (now at about 7% ahead of the Liberal Democrats) while Labour has continued to decline.

The prospects remain for a rare “hung parliament,” but those who calculate what actually happens in the election (there is no “popular” vote; the election is decided by which party wins the most seats) now say that the Tories are now only 10-20 seats away from an absolute majority.

Prime Minister Brown has now made the singular “gaffe” of the campaign by calling one of his own supporters a “bigoted woman” on a live microphone he apparently forgot he was wearing. At this point, all the apologies and rationalizations for this gaffe made by him and his supporters are basically irrelevant. The damage is done. Already unpopular, this would would appear to be the final straw. His party will still come in second, and the Liberal Democrats third, but the real winner from the gaffe is almost certainly Mr. Cameron who now has a chance, not probable only two weeks ago, of either an absolute majority or very close to it.

A third TV debate is an opportunity for Mr. Cameron to show he is “prime ministerial.” His strategy of spending much of the past ten days explaining that the “infatuation” with Mr. Clegg could only produce the result of Mr. Brown and his party being returned to power, was (as I wrote earlier) the right one. Barring still one more “gaffe” by one of the three candidates in the last debate or during the final campaign week, it will be Mr. Cameron who most probably will be invited to Buckingham Palace by the queen to form a government.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Illuminations From Duluth

I hope readers from other places in the nation will excuse this second column about the Minnesota gubernatorial race, but I think it may be helpful in illuminating what is happening in many other parts of the country.

Last weekend was the Democratic (DFL) state convention. In Minnesota, the party endorsement decided in the state conventions is a very important part of securing party nomination that officially comes after the state primary (this year in August). In fact, the endorsement of the Republican state convention coming up this weekend will likely be tantamount to nomination. But this is not the case in the DFL where the newly-endorsed gubernatorial candidate will face a very serious challenge of at least three DFL opponents who chose not to seek endorsement.

Speaker of the Minnesota House Margaret Kelliher won the DFL endorsement after leading on all ballots. Going into the convention in Duluth, and coming out of it, she is the strongest candidate the party could have endorsed. Before the convention, her major opponent was expected to be Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, and although he was second on all ballots, his speech and convention organization were clearly a disappointment, especially since his communication skills created high expectations.

State Representative Paul Thissen, a new face in statewide politics, was expected to be the dark horse of the convention, and he did maintain third place throughout the balloting.

In fourth and fifth place were State Representative Tom Rukavina from the state’s Iron Range, and State Senator John Marty who in 1994 was the DFL nominee for governor (but lost in a landslide to the Republican incumbent).

Rukavina and Marty were the most liberal candidates (although all five would be considered quite liberal by national standards). but it as only Rukavina who electrified the whole convention with a rousing populist speech that seemed to gain him votes on the early ballots. It was also Rukavina, faced with elimination by the drop-off rules, who used his concession speech to passionately endorse Kelliher, and thus made her victory inevitable. (Marty later also endorsed Kelliher after revealing her pledge to him to support single payer health insurance in the state.)

Although the names of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and other DFL luminaries of the past were mentioned during the convention proceedings, only the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s name roused the convention to tumultuous applause. It was, in fact, Rukavina’s presentation which most explicitly employed Wellstone’s memory.

But the DFL convention delegates are considerably to the left of the whole party (just as the GOP delegates this week will be more conservative than their whole party).

Interestingly, the DFL frontrunner for nomination, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, is just as liberal or more so than Mrs. Kelliher, but his reason for eschewing the convention was that 1400 delegates could not fairly represent the will of a DFL that had more than a million voters. He argues, and I think correctly, that the party nomination should be up to voters in a primary. Mr. Dayton has certain advantages that make him so formidable in August. As a former state auditor and U.S. senator, he is known to almost all DFL voters. He has personal resources that will enable him to outspend Mrs. Kelliher, and his program for helping seniors obtain prescription drugs from Canada when he was in the senate has endeared him to many older DFL voters. Dayton has also obtained the endorsement of some of the largest and most powerful unions in the state. In an August primary, seniors and union members will make up a large number of those who will actually vote.

Mrs. Kelliher also has notable union support, and support from rural voters (she grew up on a farm), as well as the party organization. She would also, if elected, be the first woman governor of the state. But many urban DFL voters will be on holiday and out of the state in August. Although she has DFL endorsement, she does not so far have much money in the bank. At least two of her primary opponents will have virtually unlimited funds to spend on TV advertising

I have said that this is the year the DFL would likely win back the governorship after 20 years out of power. With retiring two-term incumbent GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty likely to run for president in 2012, the two major Republican contenders for their party’s nomination have not yet demonstrated any statewide star power, nor an appeal to the largest bloc of voters in the state (according to most polls), that is, those who consider themselves independents. In fact, a credible Independence Party candidate has once again emerged, Tom Horner, and he could draw considerable votes from more centrist voters in the DFL and GOP.

As was demonstrated in the recent Virginia gubernatorial contest, a conservative Republican nominee won by appealing to the political center. It is not clear if the Minnesota GOP nominee will do the same this year. As for the DFL, their party is suffering from voter unhappiness with the Democratic administration in Washington, DC, and with the recently-passed Obama healthcare legislation. Even President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid withdrew the single payer provisions from their legislation because of widespread opposition to it. Would the DFL gubernatorial nominee be helped in November by advocating this unpopular idea?

If the GOP candidate in Minnesota runs on very conservative social issues, and the DFL candidate runs on single payer healthcare and other very liberal issues, the Independence Party candidate will once again take a large share of the vote in November, and determine the winner as has happened here every year since 1998 (when IP candidate Jesse Ventura actually won).

There is not much illuminating political language being spoken today in Minnesota and in the nation. There is a lot of obfuscating rhetoric, outright deceptions, and tired slogans in the political marketplace, but no shortage of economic problems(which they do not really address). The Tea Party is very active in Minnesota,as evidenced by the huge rally featuring Sarah Palin in Minneapolis recently.There are many Democrats, and a number of Republicans, too, who continue to denigrate this growing number of voters (made up of those from all parties), but they are the dynamic of the 2010 election, and any candidate who ignores them does so at their peril this year.

These voters are incensed by issues of high unemployment, higher taxation,growing entitlements, public bailouts, governmental expansion,and on national security. They will, in many cases, determine the outcome of 2010 elections.

Candidates from either major party who try to pretend they are not there, are running against history.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shifts In The British Elections?

This is going to be a short initial piece on the fascinating (and always brief) British election season now taking place across the Pond.

Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democratic Party, traditionally a relatively small third party in British politics, scored a media coup in the first American-stye TV debate held in Britain a few days ago, and has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the UK polls. Most observers have contended the big loser as a result is David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (Tories), who had been ahead by double digits in the polls over the current Labour government headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who now is in third place in the polls).

The problem with polling in Britain is that the outcome of the election in not by popular vote, but is determined by which party has the most seats in parliament. Thus, Cameron may be ahead in the polls, Clegg in second, and Brown in third, but Brown may win the election because his party wins the most seats.

Cameron is now responding by turning his attention to the Clegg challenge, pointing out to Britons that a vote for the Liberal Democrats may well return Brown and his party for five more years, something all polls (past and present) indicate that British voters do not want. Some American commentators are suggesting that Cameron is “panicking,” and that he is making political mistake. I’m no expert on British politics, but I could not disagree more with that criticism.

The issue today in Great Britain is five more years of a Labour government or not. Clegg himself will now come under immense scrutiny, and reports indicate that has already begun with negative allegations about him. British voters will have to decide in the slightly more than two weeks left in the campaign if they want to waste their vote for a result they don’t want.

I’m going to write very soon a longer piece about why Americans need to pay attention to this contest, and why our relationship with the United Kingdom is as important, or even more so, than ever. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Bad News For Pelosi

If Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her co-conspirator Barack Obama thought that passage of their healthcare bill would solve their political problems, they have made a gigantic miscalculation. As details of the 2700-page bill slowly leak out, the general public is reacting more and more negatively to its various controversial provisions. The Pelosi/Obama strategy was to pass the legislation without anyone reading it. In the short-term sense, this did work, but the long-term consequences for public opinion appear to be politically ominous.

In the Minnesota First District, Democratic (DFL) Congressman Tim Walz is in his second term. He ran originally as a moderate, and on his record as a career U.S. Army soldier. The First District is located in the southern portion of the state, and is half rural. The other half is made up of Rochester, the largest city in the region, and its suburbs. The Mayo Clinic, with thousands of physicians, nurses, medical technicians and administrative staff, are perhaps the largest single bloc in the district, and when you add the thousands of small businesses the huge Clinic supports, the figure is dispositive. The largest plant in the region is also located in Rochester, IBM Corporation.

The congressional vote in recent decades which has had more impact on these voters was for the Obamacare bill pushed through the Congress by the president and the Democrats. I think it is fair to say that most of the medical professionals, their families, and the businesses that support them are unhappy about this legislation. One would think that the area’s congressman, albeit a Democrat, would not have voted for it. (When the previous congressman, a Republican, failed to support Rochester on a railroad issue in 2006, he was, in fact, defeated by then- underdog Walz.) Obamacare is a much more serious threat to the livelihoods of Rochester area voters.

The other half of the district is primarily agricultural. Some are Democrats (DFers), but conservative. The only long-term successful DFL congressman in recent years was Tim Penny, a classical centrist whose economic conservatism reflected the views of the district’s residents.

Tim Walz is a likeable and hard-working person who initially enjoyed much popularity in the First District, and was re-elected by a wide margin in 2008 (although it was admittedly a Democratic tide year). But Walz has become, his critics say, a pawn of Nancy Pelosi (who campaigns in Minnesota for him). Nancy Pelosi represents an ultraliberal district in downtown San Francisco, and the pairing is an odd one for this
Minnesota constituency.

Four-term state Representative Randy Demmer has just been endorsed by his GOP district convention, and this means he will be the Republican nominee in November. Demmer was the underdog against an ultraconservative candidate who many thought would win, and then go on to lose the November election. For this reason primarily, this race has until now not appeared on most lists as a vulnerable Democratic seat.

That’s all changed now. Demmer is a successful small businessman, GOP leader on the state house tax committee, and a solid conservative who seems like a good fit for this area, but he is not well-known outside his legislative district. Nor has he yet shown the communication and campaign skills of his DFL opponent. Demmer’s wife is a long-time and respected nurse at the Mayo Clinic.

This is also not a seat that Walz and the DFL will surrender without a fight. Union members in the district will rally around the incumbent, and will provide him with logistical support. Liberals throughout the state, sensing this is the only competitive congressional race this year, are likely to pour in financial support.

Ironically, Walz was considered a serious contender for the DFL gubernatorial nomination this year, and it was believed he might have won party endorsement. Instead, Walz chose to run for his “safe” seat. But that was before his vote on Obamacare, the nomination of a credible candidate against him, and the tide turning against Democrats nationwide.

With the number of vulnerable Democratic seats rapidly grown to 50-75 (it was only 20-25 a few months ago), the last thing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee needs is one more seat to defend.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Republicans Have A Secret Weapon In 2010

All the usual caveats are put forward when predicting an election, even one less than seven months away, and the most powerful is almost always the observation that unexpected events and circumstances can, and usually do, intervene to upset conventional wisdom.

This, of course, may be applicable to the 2010 national midterm elections which, at this moment in time, look like a developing rout for the national Republican Party. Almost all of the opinion polls, public and private confirm this potential rout. So do most of the economic statistics and indicators. Yes, there are modest signals of renewed consumer spending in retail stores, but there are also many new taxes (local, state and especially federal) and stubborn unemployment that more than offset any hesitant positive short-term signals.

But wait, contrarians (and I am usually among them) caution. “Expect the unexpected.” The problem for the contrarians (and the Democrats) is that the “unexpected” is now happening. The Democratic Party has been infiltrated by a political saboteur at the highest levels who is determined to wreak havoc on whatever remains of the liberal party’s chances this coming November.

I can now reveal to you who this saboteur is. I always had questions about him, but I wasn’t sure he was a true and perfidious infiltrator. Few, if any, in his own party suspected him, and if they had doubts, they kept silent. But now it is plain for all to see. Democratic incumbents, beware and take cover.

Barack Obama is the Republican’ secret weapon for November. Intoxicated by an expensive and narrow short-term victory on healthcare, Mr. Obama has thrown off his political masks, and revealed his ambitions to unilaterally disarm the nation, antagonize our allies, pander to our enemies, and sink the economy into an historic grand canyon of debt.

The 2010 election surprise has come early this year. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Getting It On, 2010 Version

The 2010 national mid-term elections are now taking full shape as incumbents make their final decisions about whether they will run for re-election or not, and challengers are stepping up to the plate to take on those incumbents who do run.

The momentum so far is clearly to Republican challengers, but this is not true in all states and in all races. Furthermore, if the GOP is to win big in November, it will have to raise a substantial amount of money, develop major national organizing and campaign technology support, and continue to “nationalize” the 2010 elections. A further challenge for Republicans will be to integrate the significant grass roots “Tea Party” movement into their electoral efforts (to avoid self-defeating campaigns in which Tea Party candidates run as independents against Republicans, thus giving elections to the Democrats).

Democrats have serious challenges, too. They need to “localize” as many elections as best they can because national public opinion is not favorable to the recently-passed healthcare legislation, the continued bail-out of big banks and corporations, and to the Obama foreign policy which is in a shambles.

President Obama’s popularity has declined precipitously. The historic surge among black voters in 2008 will not reappear in 2010. Independents, most of whom voted for Obama in 2008, are shifting away from the president. His policy in the Middle East and with our other major allies is also turning off Jewish voters, and other liberals who had different expectations of him. House speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate leader Harry Reid, the daily faces and voices of the Democratic agenda, are not attractive or inspiring political figures.

Republicans seem ready to offer a new “Contract From America.” specifying alternative policies to the current Democratic agenda. How the public will respond to this is unknown. Social conservatives and others on the right who want to revive the immigration issue risk turning away important constituencies, most notable of which is the huge Hispanic voting population. This group is naturally conservative, but in 2006 and 2008 began turning more and more to the Democrats as illegal immigration and amnesty issues were taken up on the right and alienated many Hispanic voters.

Although some manufacturing and retail sectors are showing early signs of recovery, persistent high unemployment and continued record government deficits ominously indicates economic problems ahead. Many large corporations are taking huge write-offs for costs mandated by the new healthcare legislation (which they must do by law before the end of the year) and this will lower earnings across the board. The stock market, and thus the value of pension funds, do not go up when earnings are down.

Specifically, Democrats are ahead in important races in California, Minnesota and New York. The current governors of California and Minnesota are Republicans. In many of the nation’s cities, Democrats continue to do well. Races in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and other industrial states are currently tipping to the Republicans, but remain too close to call for November. At this point, it is not a slam-dunk for the GOP in 2010. Democrats are now in charge, and they are not going to go away quietly.

On the other hand, the surprisingly radical agenda of the Obama administration in both domestic and foreign policy continues to drain their support. Their interpretation of the recent very narrow and contentious victory on healthcare is that they now have increased support and momentum. The fact is that, if that were true, they would have won the healthcare vote more easily as well as the public debate. In reality, public opinion about Obamacare, if anything, is more negative since passage, and most certainly won’t get better as details of the 2700-page legislation (which apparently no one read beforehand) become known.

President Obama, instead of improving U.S. standing around the world, is becoming an international diplomatic joke as he insults and neglects our allies, and seems to pander to our enemies. How much foreign policy issues will become important in the 2010 elections, however, is yet unknown. Mid-term elections are usually about the domestic economy.

I think its fair to say that the outcome of the 2010 elections now favors the Republicans,and it is theirs to lose. But lacking the details of the imminent “Contract From America” and with the debate between the interests of the GOP and the concerns of many “Tea Party” voters yet unresolved in many key races (Illinois, for example), I think any predictions about the total number of governorships, house and senate races won or lost by either party is premature.

In a month or two, however, this will no longer be true.