Sunday, December 25, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Full House Or Empty House?

The threat to oppose Republican Congressman Kevin

McCarthy’s bid to become the new speaker of the U.S.

House on January 3, 2023 has created the unusual

possibility that the new members of the 118th Congress

will not be sworn in just after noon on that date — and

therefore no U.S. House of Representatives  will exist 

until that election is resolved.

The U.S. constitution states that the terms of the 

members of the previous Congress automatically end

at noon on January 3. The clerk of the House at that

time convenes the new session, a prayer is said,

followed by the pledge of allegiance. The clerk then

conducts the election of the new speaker. When that

speaker is elected, he or she then swears in all the


Since 1924, the election of the new speaker has taken

only one ballot, and the technical circumstance of "no

existing" House of Representatives has only lasted a

few minutes.

In order to be elected speaker, a member must receive

a majority of those present. The U.S. House currently

has 435 members, so a majority is 218. One newly

elected Democratic member has passed away, but the

majority is still 218.

At least five Republicans have indicated they will not

honor the previously taken vote which selected Kevin

McCarthy as speaker-designate by a vote of 188 to 31.

The man who lost that vote, Andy Biggs, has decided to

run against McCarthy on January 3, and if the five (or

more) fellow Republicans vote for Biggs, McCarthy will

be one vote (or more) short of the required 218. (There

are 222 Republicans elected to the new House.)

The Democrats will nominate Hakeem Jeffers for

speaker, but he would only have 212 if his entire

caucus votes for him. The election will then go to a

second ballot, and if McCarthy fails to receive 218

votes on that ballot, there will be a third ballot, and

so on until someone (technically not necessarily

an elected member) does obtain a majority.

Only once in the past 150 years has there been more

than one ballot for speaker. In 1923, it took nine ballots

for Republican Frederick Gillett to win. But in 1855, it

took 133 ballots and two months to elect Nathaniel

Banks as speaker.

In addition to opposition to McCarthy based on his

record as minority leader, his opponents have called

for a change of House rules which McCarthy has so

far refuse to say he would do. McCarthy has received

praise for his recruitment of Republican members in

2022, and for the success of his campaign fundraising.

He has been endorsed by virtually all Republican


At this writing, neither side has budged. An agreement

could made before January 3, but unless that happens,

there will be a lot of suspense in the House chamber

on that date at the noon hour.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Friday, December 9, 2022


The surprise announcement by Arizona Senator Kyrsten

Sinema that she has left the Democratic Party, and is

now formally an independent was particularly curious

because of its timing just after the national mid-term

elections in which the Democrats regained by one seat

control the U.S. senate.

Her explanation that she will not now caucus with the

Republicans, and will continue to vote as she has in

the past, makes her action all the more ambiguous.

There are two other “independents” currently in the

U.S. senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus 

King of Maine, but they are rightly described as 

“independents-in-name-only” since they support the

Democratic leadership and almost always vote with

the Democrats.

Senator Sinema has proven to be an always shrewd

political figure, so what are the real reasons for making

the announcement at this time?

It would seem that her motivation was driven by the

political environment in Arizona where in two years she

is scheduled to run for re-election. 

Arizona has been generally a red state, but Republican

factionalism has led the party to lose several recent

statewide elections, including a Democratic sweep in

2022. Sinema’s independent voting record since

taking office has made political sense for the general

electorate, but has understandably upset some Arizona

Democratic figures, some of whom have said she should

be opposed in the 2024 Democratic primary. At least one

prominent Democratic congressman is likely to do so.

By declaring as an independent, Sinema makes it

virtually impossible for any Democrat to win in a

three-way race. Sistema’s strategy seems to be that

no major liberal figure, especially a sitting member of

Congress (who would have to give up a safe seat to

run), would seek their party nomination in 2024. In

that case, Sinema with her independent voting

record drawing support from many GOP voters,

could win a three-way race with a weak Democratic

nominee and the state GOP still divided as it has been

in the recent past. Moreover, Sinema has the option

of changing her mind and caucusing with the

Republicans, thus heading off a potentially serious 

GOP challenger in 2024.

It is, of course, a risky strategy, but if Sinema has

assessed she would likely lose in a 2024 Democratic

primary, it might well be her best option, especially

if her eventual move to caucus with the GOP would

give them control of the U.S. senate.

The latter possibility is heightened by the prospects

of the other Democratic senate maverick, West

Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Manchin also is up in 2024,

and faces a serious challenge then — after he ended

up supporting the Democratic infrastructure 

legislation (in return for concessions that were

reneged). His popularity in West Virginia has seemed

to nosedive after this happened, and his best hope for

re-election might be to change parties. His doing so,

and coupled with Sistema, would give Republicans

senate control before 2024 when GOP prospects are


All of this is speculative. of course, but it does seem

clear that Senator Sistema is playing some kind of

political chess in Arizona. She has also taken some of

the celebratory edge off the Democrats’ run-off victory 

in Georgia, and made Majority Leader Schumer’s

life more complicated.

Dominoes, anyone?


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Second Acts

The recent elections in Brazil and Israel illustrate

the phenomenon of a political comeback in an era

when such career electoral revivals in democratic 

nations are otherwise considered unlikely.

In Brazil, Luiz Inicio da Silva, known as “Lula,” 

was a left populist president from 2003 to 2010,

then defeated for re-election, later indicted for 

corruption, convicted and sent to prison in 2019. 

But in 2021 he was released when the  

Brazilian supreme court nullified his conviction,

enabling him to run for president again in 2022

against the controversial incumbent Jair

Bolisaro (a right populist). In both stages of this

election, polls predicted Lula would win by much

larger margins than he did, but Lula is once

again president of Brazil.

In Israel, long-time prime minister (1996-1999

and 2009-2021) Benjamin Netanyahu, known as

“Bibi,” led his party coalition, thus regaining the

premiership, to a surprise decisive victory when

the coalition formed to defeat him in 2021 

collapsed, and required Israelis to go to the 

polls for the fourth time in five years. Polls just

prior to the election predicted Netanyahu would

likely come up short of the necessary 61 seats in

the Knesset (parliament) to form a government, 

but Bibi’s coalition actually won 64 seats.

In the United Kingdom, former Prime Minister

Boris Johnson (2019-2022), returned to England

from a Caribbean vacation intending to run for

Conservative Party leadership, and therefore 

return as prime minister, when his successor Liz

Truss resigned suddenly after only three months

in office. Finding his former chancellor of the

exchequer Rishi Sunak probably already had 

the votes to win, he chose not to run now, but is 

expected to make a comeback attempt in the 


Although political career revivals are rare in the 

U.S. (only Grover Cleveland in the 19th century

lost his presidential re-election, but came back to

win four years later), they are more common in

the United Kingdom where prime ministers have

routinely lost, but had second non-consecutive

terms in office. Some of them did this multiple 

times, most notably Benjamin Disraeli and 

William Gladstone in the 19th century. After a 

shocking defeat in 1945, Winston Churchill 

returned as prime minister later in the postwar


Former U.S. President Trump, who was defeated

for re-election in 2020, announced, as expected,

his candidacy for 2024 just after the 2022 midterm 

elections. But although he has remained popular 

with a large base of GOP voters, and would be 

formidable for his party’s nomination, his sharply 

unfavorable standing outside his base make it 

problematic for him to successfully emulate 

Grover Cleveland. Mr. Trump will be over 80 

years old in 2024.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Voters Have The Last Word

As readers of this column know, I have become

very cautious about predicting what voters will do,

and in spite of the expectation of most Republicans

and, yes, Democrats, too (as well as most pundits,

myself included) that the 2022 national mid-term

elections would be a rout, the voters' decisions

were more mixed and localized than anticipated.

A so-called "red wave" did not fully materialize,

although about 4 million more votes were cast

for Republican congressional candidates than

Democrats across the nation. This fact paradoxically

matched most pre-election generic congressional

polls that were interpreted to predict a red wave.

The explanation of how this happened can be seen

by examining the results by states. The 2022 GOP

generic advantage was assumed by most to follow

the 2020 national election model in which very large

states such as California and New York gave

candidate Joe Biden huge margins, thus giving him

millions of popular vote margin, a single digit

generic advantage. But in the 2022 mid-terms, total

votes for congressional candidates in those and

other blue states were much closer than in 2020,

with the consequence that more of the Democrat's

generic vote was distributed to other states, and

particularly to close races.

Nevertheless, Republicans gained seats in 2022

and will, when all races  are settled, have enough

to control the U.S. House of Representatives,

which was one of their two primary goals.

One senate contest is still too close to call.

Georgia will go to a December 6 run-off. The

end result for the Republicans will be the status

quo: control by the Democrats.

Some states had electoral wipeouts. Minnesota

went almost completely blue (except for 4 of their

8 congressional seats), and neighboring Iowa

went completely red, including all of its U.S. house

seats. Republicans gained four seats each in

Florida and New York. Democrats held on to

most of their vulnerable house and senate seats


Democrats picked up governorships in Maryland

and Massachusetts, but both of these states are

very blue. Their outgoing term-limited GOP

incumbents were an anomaly. Republicans picked

up a governor in previously blue Nevada, and

Democrats gained a governor in Arizona. The

majority of state legislators are still Republican.

In short, no GOP rout, but a small red wave with

a blue breakwater. There was something for both

Republicans and Democrats to cheer about, as

well as each had their disappointments.

Now the 2024 presidential election cycle begins.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Polls, Trends And Presumptions

The current polling trend indicating voters shifting to

Republican candidates in many, but not all, races

across the country is just that — a speculative trend

and not necessarily what will be decided when the

the ballots are cast and counted.

The American electorate is in a volatile state, trying

to absorb and adjust to a post-pandemic period,

significant inflation, an unsettled stock market,

challenges to societal institutions, general economic

uncertainty, and an unstable global environment.

There is an entire industry dedicated to trying to

influence voters and predict what they will do, and it

includes not only the campaign organizations of the

contesting candidates, but also their political parties;

independent political action committees (PACs); the

media and its reporters, editorialists, and practicing

pundits; various political consultants and advisers,

ad designers, printers and sign makers; and various

political meeting venues.

Republicans are no doubt cheered by so many

election races now being  “in play,” competitive or

toss-ups, but in spite of current momentum, few of

these close races are truly yet decided. Democrats

could ultimately win many of these contests.

As a case in point, the trend in recent days in

Minnesota has been favorable to the GOP, with

the statewide races, according to credible polls,

considered as toss-ups. But the Democratic 

Party (Democratic-Farmer-Labor or DFL) has a

strong urban voter base and an outstanding

get-out-the-voter (GOTV) organization to get its

voter to the polls. While Republicans dominate

rural and exurban areas of the state, the DFL

majorities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, in

recent years, have overcome outstate GOP

majorities. Will 2022 be different?  Will

Republican campaign efforts in Minneapolis

and St. Paul — and in particular, with minority

communities, make gains this cycle? Will DFL

efforts outstate make gains for them? Which

voters will be most motivated to go to the polls?

No one knows with any certainty the answer

to these questions until the votes are counted.

My message to everyone is don’t presume 

outcomes, even this close to Election  Day.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Blue Typhoon Or Red Cyclone?

There are a number of words we use to describe a

powerful storm, including tornado, hurricane, gale,

cyclone, typhoon, and tempest — and words we use

to describe a powerful influx of water, including flood,

tide, wave and tsunami — so just the right word to 

describe a powerful mass human action might 

employ any of these.

A few days before the 2022 national U.S. midterm

election, there is growing evidence that the voters in

this cycle might deliver a powerful message to those

who hold political power, but it is not clear if this

electoral statement will be relatively uniform across

the country or more localized to a particular region.

If the electoral message were to be from the West 

and West Coast, we might prefer to call it a typhoon

like  the storms in the Pacific Ocean, If it comes from

the Midwest, we might prefer tornado or cyclone, If

from the South, we might call it a hurricane like the

storms that rage through the Caribbean and Gulf of

Mexico. If from the East, the word we might choose is

a gale. If it occurs in all regions, it will likely be called

a wave.

It is not known if the voters will make any kind of storm.

Like weather forecasting, political predictions are 

ultimately guesswork. Both use a variety of statistics,

and often rely on precedents, but until a storm hits or

voters actually vote no one knows with certainty what

will happen.

Pundits also designate a partisan nature to their

assessment of a vote by applying “red” to Republicans,

“blue” to Democrats, and “purple” to a mixed result. 

This color code acts as a shorthand method, but it only

describes the winners and losers. There is no color

applied to independents or non-affiliated voters

because candidates who are neither Democratic nor

Republican very rarely win elections. An exception to

this are the occasional environmental issue voters and

candidates who are labeled “green.”

The 2022 national mid-term elections do not seem

likely to fail to make an interim judgment of the voter

mood. In 1934, newly-elected (in 1932) President

Franklin Roosevelt was so popular that his party gained

nine seats from Republicans in the U.S. house, and

Republicans lost ten U.S. senate seats. The only other

times that happened was in 1998 and 2002. More

frequently, the party of the incumbent first-term president

loses seats in the Congress, sometimes dramatically, as

happened in 1994 and 2010.

[Incidentally, one of the 1934 Democratic senate pick-ups 

was by a former haberdasher in Missouri named Harry


Democratic Joe Biden has one of the most unfavorable

voter ratings in the first two years of his first term of any

president in U.S. history. How this will color the results of

the imminent 2022 midterm elections, however, is not yet

clear. Both houses of Congress are currently controlled

by his Democratic Party.

It is very unlikely that 2022 will resemble 1934, but it isn’t

yet likely it will resemble 1994 or 2010. 

Voter-made storms often don’t become visible until a few  

days or weeks before Election Day.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.