Wednesday, August 26, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR:Tightening Senate Races

Control of the U.S. senate in the next term is still undecided,
nine weeks before election day, but a new trend favoring
most Republican candidates, appears to be currently
developing after several weeks of seeming GOP decline in
most polling.

Of course, polling isn’t the only indicator that’s useful, and
this cycle many observers, myself included, have raised
questions about those polls, even prestigious ones, which
employed questionable techniques such as low samples,
registered voters (RVs) instead of likely voters (LVs), and
arbitrarily weighting their raw results.

But, as I have long pointed out, as the election draws very
close, the pollsters (seeking to avoid embarrassment when
the results are known) usually make an extra effort to be
accurately predictive.

In addition, especially in a presidential election year, there
are waves of ups and downs for candidates and their parties,
and Mr.Trump and his colleagues had seemed to be in some
decline while Mr. Biden and his colleagues were enjoying a
bump up.

Latest polls, however, are signaling a tightening in many
competitive races.  Of particular note, three consecutive
major polls in the usually “blue” state of Minnesota, indicate
a virtual tie in the presidential race, a circumstance confirmed
by local reports, especially in outstate where Mr. Trump seems
possibly stronger than he was in 2016 when he almost carried
the state. Minnesota has not voted for a Republican for
president since 1972.

One important caveat: Just because voter sentiment seems
trending their way, does not mean Republicans are going to
win. There is still enough time for a trend toward the
Democrats to  develop. The next several weeks will see the
relatively small, but nonetheless key, number of undecided
voters make up their minds. The pandemic, and the
exceptionally large numbers of absentee voters, also inject
more uncertainty in the outcome.

What about the specific competitive U.S. senate races?

There are 10-12 races which are battlegrounds. Democrats
will need to pick up a net of 3 or 4 (depending on who is
elected vice president) to take control in 2021.

Although about twice as many GOP incumbent seats are up
his cycle, the most endangered incumbent is a Democrat,
Doug Jones of Alabama. He is likely to lose to Republican
Tommy Tuberville.        

In addition, incumbent Michigan Democratic Senator Gary
Peters is facing a strong challenge this year from Republican
John James. Peters leads now, but this could be too close to
call in November.

I had not, until now, thought that Minnesota Democratic
Senator Tina Smith was very vulnerable this cycle. Like
Gary Peters, Smith is low profile and overshadowed by the
state’s other senator, Amy Klobuchar. GOP senate nominee
Jason Lewis is aggressive, but controversial, and always
needed a Republican tide in 2020 to win this race. If the
current GOP surge continues, and Mr. Trump carries
Minnesota, this could be a big upset on election night.

Aside from the New Hampshire senate race, which is not
now close, the opportunities for additional GOP pick-ups
currently seem very slim.

Democratic possibilities for pick-ups are more numerous.

Perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbent this cycle is
Arizona Senator Martha McSally. Republican McSally lost
in 2018, was then appointed to fill a vacancy, but faces a
former astronaut, Mark Kelly, in 2020. McSally has
consistently trailed Kelly in polls..

The other highly vulnerable GOP incumbent, Colorado
Senator Cory Gardner, seems to be faring better. He has
been rated the underdog against former Democatic
Governor John Hickenlooper, but the challenger’s
campaign has been marked by missteps and controversies,
and Gardner might survive.

North Carolina GOP Senator Thom Tillis has also trailed
his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham in polls, and
this race might also depend on the presidential vote in the
state. North Carolina had been dependably “red,” but
recently has been trending “purple.”

As in Colorado, incumbent Montana GOP Senator Steve
Daines is facing a well-known Democratic challenger --- in
this case, current Governor Steve Bullock, who entered the
race at the last moment. Down-ballot, Montana is
somewhat “purple, but has been reliably GOP in the
presidential race.

Finally, among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents,
Maine Senator Susan Collins is facing a well-funded
challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. One of the few
remaining GOP centrist conservatives in the senate,
Collins has been a popular iconic Maine figure with her
own base, and remains favored to retain her seat.

Less vulnerable, but nevertheless competitive GOP
incumbent senate races are taking place in Iowa (Senator
Joni Ernst vs. Democrat Theres Greenfield), Georgia (two
GOP incumbents facing liberal challenges), and Kansas
(open --- GOP nominee Roger Marshall vs. Democrat
Barbara Bollier).

Democrats assert they can also pick up senate seats in
Alaska, Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina, as
Republicans contend they can add a seat in New Mexico,
but so far, these are inclining clearly to the incumbent
party. With two months to go, these races could

In October, another evaluation of the above will be in
order. For now, however, control of the U.S. senate is in
contested doubt.

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Hope For Restaurants?

Even as lockdowns across the nation are gradually being
relaxed, and retail places of business cautiously reopening,
many conventional assessments of the long-term prospects
for restaurants remain grim.

Estimates vary that from 25-50% of existing establishments
will go out of business. Of course, that’s just a guess, but it
is going to be problematic for many smaller restaurants to
make a profit or break even under the probable conditions
in the foreseeable future.

Even in good times, operating a restaurant is a constant
challenge, and the industry was already undergoing
significant change before the pandemic shutdowns.

Increased regulations, higher labor costs, higher food
costs. more local taxes and rising rents and insurance had
forced restaurateurs to change their service models, and
menus. Many, in spite of critical success, decided to close
their doors.

This was before the pandemic and the shutdowns.

Is there any hope for this previously vibrant and growing

I think there is.

This prospect for hope comes from the nature and spirit
from those who create and run this business. Most of
those who operate the nation’s restaurants are pragmatic
entrepreneurs with a dream, drawn to the “magical”
enterprise of serving food to the public. Some are
talented chefs themselves, others simply enjoy the
interaction of providing hospitality in their own way.
Each restaurant tries to create its own dining identity.
This vision of enterprise is not unique in U.S. commerce,
but it is especially abundant in the restaurant business.

In short, restaurant owners and management will do all
they can to adapt, recreate, alter and enhance the way
they serve the public.

The result will probably be a changed dining out
environment and experience, but it will respond to a
resumed demand by the public to be able to gather for a
meal outside their own homes, or to have a source for
the preparation of food to take home.

Many restaurants that do close will reopen under new
owners and managers. New kinds of dining venues will
also likely be created.

As I see it, then, the restaurant industry will mostly save
itself. Its future now has many uncertainties and challenges,
but as long as here are customers who want to dine out,
there will be places to serve them.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Who Won In Minnesota's CD-5 Primary?

The most obvious answer to the question of who won
the Democratic (DFL) primary in the 5th congressional
district (CD-5) of Minnesota is that incumbent Ilhan
Omar won her nomination for a second term. To be fair,
she won by a clear margin although she faced a serious
and outstanding challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, a
black attorney and minister, who raised a huge campaign
war chest, and was backed by several well-known DFL
figures and a well-funded independent PAC. The
challenger also had a serious campaign organization,
many devoted volunteers, plenty of paid and free media,
and the endorsement of the district’s largest daily

The final result was that, although Melton-Meaux made a
respectable showing, he lost by double digits.

In my two pre-primary posts on the race, I pointed out that
Melton-Meaux was always the underdog in the contest, and
that incumbents rarely lost their own party’s primary. I also
pointed out that two of Omar’s “Squad” allies also had
“serious”primary challengers this year, but had easily won

(Despite his loss, if Melton-Meaux is truly serious about
politics, he will immediately make plans to run again in
two years. The success rate for repeat challengers is much
higher than for first-timers.)

But like so much in the political chess game, the obvious
answer is often not the most significant answer.

Someone else was the biggest winner of the CD-5 primary.

That someone is Donald Trump (and the Minnesota
Republican Party).

Let me explain.

As even mainstream polls are indicating, the 2020
presidential race is tightening especially in key
midwestern states with their vital electoral college
votes. A very recent major mainstream poll had
Biden leading Trump by only 3 points in Minnesota
(within the margin of error --- so a virtual tie).
Minnesota has been considered a blue state, but in
reality, as 2016 proved, it’s purple-blue --- and in 2020,
perhaps, purple-red. For example, the GOP could
easily pick up one, and possibly, two congressional seats
in 2020. (The DFL is likely to retain its U.S. senate seat.)

While anti-Trump media correctly point out that much
of the incentive for Democrats to go to the polls is to
defeat the president, they usually ignore the incentive
provided to Republicans by politicians such as Ilhan
Omar who conservatives consider far too radical.
In Minnesota, outside the major urban areas, it would
appear, Ilhan Omar is the best advertisement to get
Republicans to the polls in 2020. If she  had lost her
primary, it likely would have made it very difficult for
Trump to carry the state. As hard evidence for this
contention, I cite the fact that the GOP candidates for
Congress outside the Twin Cities are making Ilhan
Omar’s behavior and statements issues against their
DFL opponents in their districts.

I am not now saying Trump will carry Minnesota, but
because of the controversies in the Twin Cities, and
figures like Ilhan Omar, the state is in play. Biden will
carry Minneapolis and St. Paul by very large margins,
but the cities themselves have only a fraction of the
state’s total vote. The real battleground in Minnesota is
in the Twin City suburbs. President Trump is not that
popular there, but Ilhan Omar and what suburban
voters consider her (and fellow ultra-progressive
DFLers’) economic schemes, might well be more

Meanwhile, just as Joe Biden enjoys a huge lead in
Minnesota’s inner cities, Donald Trump appears to be
way ahead in rural areas and small towns outstate.

It might change before election day, but right now,
thanks to Ilhan Omar and DFLers similar to  her, the
president (like him or not) has a chance to win this state.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Having recently admitted to readers that my track record
for predicting vice presidential nominees has been
hit-and-miss, I find that my guess for this cycle was, early
and often, the right one --- California junior Senator Kamala
Harris ---and I think my reasoning for it was correct, i.e,
she was the only “safe” choice.

Once Joe Biden pledged to pick a “woman of color,” all roads
for his decision led to Ms. Harris. More than a dozen other
figures came up in the process, including a few non-black
women, but once it seemed that Biden was leading in most
polls, the need for a surprise “Hail Mary” running mate
evaporated. The remaining major stumbling block was
compatibility, and that seems to have been resolved in part
by the good relationship Senator Harris had years ago with
Mr. Biden’s favored son Beau who is now deceased.

Ms. Harris was not the favorite of any single group or wing
in her party, but was the person least opposed by all the
factions, and having been, briefly, herself a serious presidential
candidate, most easily answered the prime 2020 question of
who voters would most accept having the stature to assume the
presidency if it were necessary.

After that question, the vice presidential choice recedes in
most presidential elections, and that now seems likely again
in November, 2020.

Senator Harris is smart, sharp-tongued (as Biden knows, once
notably having been her target), and will do the vice presidential
candidate tasks required. She brings no geographical advantage
since California overwhelmingly votes Democratic. For the next
week or so, her record in office and personal vulnerabilities
will be examined. Then attention will return back to the
presidential candidates.

There is at least one “but” in his traditional process. It goes  
back to the prime 2020 vice presidential question: Does the
nominee convince voters she could adequately assume the
presidency if it is necessary?

Kamala Harris has less than three months to answer that
key question.

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

Sunday, August 9, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Political Showdown (Follow-Up)

In a relatively short time, a political showdown that was
hitherto thought ‘impossible” has developed in the “safe”
5th congressional district (CD-5) in Minnesota that includes
the city of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.

First-term Democratic (DFL) incumbent Ilhan Omar became
known as one of the more radical U.S. house members, and
joined with three other congresswomen to form what has
been labelled “The Squad” as they promoted public policy
schemes previously regarded as politically too extreme.
Nonetheless, most of her views seemed to be shared by a
majority of CD-5 voters, and her re-election seemed assured.

It was her personal style, family controversies, and some
unpopular foreign policy views, plus a high congressional
voting absentee record, however, which drew increased
opposition in the district, and brought several challengers
to the DFL primary against her on August 11.

One of those challengers, Antone Melton-Meaux, has emerged
as a serious opponent, and while Omar remains the favorite
to win the primary, he has seemingly developed considerable
late-breaking momentum. Having outraised Omar in campaign
funding in the most recent quarter, Melton-Meaux first caught
media attention relatively late in the primary campaign, but
with an independent PAC sending out almost daily
criticisms of Omar’s first-term record, his own broadcast
advertising, and an effective performance in their only
face-to-face debate, it has become clear that his candidacy has
some momentum.

Although their ideologies are similar, the candidates have very
different public styles. Melton-Meaux has attracted a large
number of volunteers throughout the district, and is believed
to have a serious get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort underway.
Omar has the normally effective DFL establishment GOTV
apparatus on her side. Incumbents rarely lose their primaries.

In a late-breaking development, Melton-Meaux received a
strong endorsement from the largest daily newspaper  in the
district. This endorsement and the public endorsements
from some very prominent local DFL figures and officials
offsets the usual DFL party support of incumbents. Observers
say DFL loyalists can now easily vote for challenger
Melton-Meaux who has run as a lifetime  progressive Democrat.

Two of the three other “Squad” members had serious primary
challengers this year, but easily survived. The question is
whether Minnesota CD-5 will be different. It appears that
Melton-Meaux will carry the Minneapolis suburbs where Omar
is no longer popular, so the race will probably be decided by
the DFL turnout in the inner city. A Melon-Meaux win would be
a major upset with national resonance.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Shakespeare Today In Spain?

William Shakespeare wrote plays that were tragedies, comedies
and histories, but perhaps his most enduring work was in his
tragedies. His insights in these seem to resound almost 500 years
later in our very different world. But changed as the world might
be, the Bard’s A Midummer Night’s Dream character, Puck, utters
his timeless allegation:

“O what fools these mortals be”

While Shakespeare located most of his comedies and histories in
his own England, past and contemporary, he told the stories of
other European royals and rulers, and placed some of his
most powerful tragedies in foreign lands he had not visited,
including Denmark, Greece, and Italy.

I think if Mr. Shakespeare were alive today, he might be tempted
to write a play about a recent king of Spain who has fallen into
tragic times.

In 1966-67 I attended the University of Madrid. Spain was still
ruled by an aging fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, who had been
allied with Nazi Germany during World War II, but who had kept
power in the post-war period. Because of student protests, classes
were on and off, but when they were on, and I went to them on
campus, I often noted rows of parked official cars. Later, I was
told they were the transportation entourage for the young
Spanish crown prince, Juan Carlos, who had been named by
Franco as his successor, and was being educated under the
dictator’s direction.

Juan Carlos’ grandfather had been the last king of Spain before a
liberal coup established a republic in the early 1930’s. The king
and his heir went into exile in Portugal, but when a civil war
(1936-39) was won by a right-wing government eventually led by
Franco, the heir was not brought back as king, even though a
kingdom had technically been restored.  Three decades later,
Franco decided to make the last king’s young grandson, Juan
Carlos, his heir and king on the condition he return to Spain from
Portugal to be educated (and presumably continue Franco’s

I did not ever meet my “classmate” Juan Carlos, but I heard a lot
about him, especially from a high-ranking Spanish army officer I
had met, and it was thought that when he did become king, he
would be a puppet of the military.

In the mid-1970s, Franco died, and Juan Carlos became a
constitutional monarch. The real power was in the elected
parliamentary government, and much to the fascists’
disappointment, the parliament and prime minister were much
more liberal than they were. In the early 1980’s, a right-wing
military faction staged a coup d’etat, took over the parliament
building, and demanded that the king surrender.  In his royal
palace with his wife and children, King Juan Carlos surprised
everyone by bravely defending the young Spanish democracy, and
refused to give in --- quickly causing the coup to collapse --- and
established the young king as a popular national hero.

The king’s popularity lasted for many years, and was bolstered
by his sensational confrontation with a notorious South American
dictator, but rumors that the public Juan Carlos was not the same
as the private Juan Carlos, as well as scandals involving the royal
family, grew. Finally, Juan Carlos admitted to an extramarital
affair and other improprieties, apologized to the nation, and in
2014 he abdicated, the throne, at age 76, in favor of his son Felipe.

Still highly regarded by many older Spaniards who remembered
his historic courage in defending Spanish democracy, but with a
tarnished reputation, Juan Carlos retired to a lower public profile,
and continued to live in the family’s royal palace in Madrid.

Now, however, allegations have surfaced about his part in a
Saudi Arabian business deal, including the charge he received
$100 million from the Saudi king. No trial has occurred, but a
formal investigation has begun.  Juan Carlos has not yet
commented publicly on the charges, but has just informed his
son King Felipe that he is leaving Spain to go into voluntary exile.

It is, in the end, a sad story of hubris. The legacy of a courageous
young modern king seems likely to be be overwhelmed by
accounts of greed and bad judgment --- another fallen
“Shakespearean” king.

The Spanish William Shakespeare was its great writer Miguel de
Cervantes who wrote in the same time as Shakespeare did. 
It might have been better if Juan Carlos were more  like
Cervantes’ immortal character Don Quixote --- a hapless deluded
figure, yes, but whose public and private quest was about honor.

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