St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Takeaways from the 2016 Missouri primary

Establishment vs. Outsiders. In the marquee contest, first-time candidate Eric Greitens defeated three credentialed political veterans for the Republican nomination for Governor, and based on pre-election poll results, nearly all of the undecideds broke for Greitens. But other than that contest, established candidates generally turned back challenges from outsiders. While Sen. Roy Blunt, Secretary of State Jason Kander (running for Senator), Attorney General Chris Koster (running for Governor), and Gubernatorial son and former Congressman Russ Carnahan (running for Lieutenant Governor) and all but one Missouri congressman defeated mostly token opposition, establishment wins in three other contests are worth noting. State Sen. Mike Parsons defeated first-time (albeit well-funded) candidate Bev Randles for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Former state representative and Congressional nominee Judy Baker defeated Kansas City banker Pat Contreras for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer. First District Congressman Lacy Clay turned back challenges from State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and school board member Bill Haas.

However, below the surface of winners vs. losers, incumbents and other establishment candidates experienced more challenges and significant erosion in their support, even against token opposition. In 2012, of the six statewide incumbents and seven incumbent congressmen, only Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and two congressmen faced a significant primary opponent. Two statewide incumbents and two congressmen ran unopposed for renomination. This year, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and all nine congressmen faced primary challenges. (There was no incumbent seeking reelection in five statewide offices this year.) But voters' increasing dislike for incumbents and other pros showed up in the voting percentages. Until recently, established candidates generally won close to 90% of the vote in the primary. In 2012, two statewide incumbents and two contested congressmen won 80.3% to 86.9% of the vote, while four more seriously contested races (including one member vs. member contest resulting from reapportionment) were won with margins of 59.7% to 67.0%. This year, except for uncontested Republican State Treasurer candidate Eric Schmitt, no statewide candidate and only two congressmen (Ann Wagner and Emanuel Cleaver) topped 80%. Sen. Blunt won just 72.5% of the Republican vote, while Kander, the presumptive choice for the Democratic nomination, won just 69.9%, both against token opposition.

Big win for establishment African American Democrats. In the St. Louis area, establishment African Americans challenged white city-wide candidates and also faced intra-party challenges from activists from the Black Lives Matter movement. Against whites, African American candidates swept both contested city-wide primaries (and retained a black incumbent who ran unopposed) and unseated a long-time St. Louis County Council member. The contests weren't even close. State Rep. Kim Gardner defeated her closest competitor, assistant prosecutor Mary Pat Carl (the pick of outgoing Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce), by more than 2 to 1 in the Circuit Attorney primary. The two black candidates outpolled the two white candidates 60-40 in that contest. Vernon Betts cruised to a 12-point win over favored 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro for the Sheriff nomination. In north St. Louis County, State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray routed incumbent Mike O'Mara by 22 points.

In a state representative race, incumbent Penny Hubbard held off BLM activist Bruce Franks by 84 votes, pending a challenge. In Democratic committee contests, black (or black-backed) establishment candidates held off BLM and Bernie Sanders affiliated challenges in nine of 11 contests. Sanders people had more success against establishment whites on the south side, winning contested committee seats in Wards 7 (against Brian Wahby) and 14.

Mayor Slay's diminishing influence. The Democratic contest for attorney general was a classic St. Louis vs. Kansas City showdown. St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman carried his home county big, 59%-41%, and piled up a 15,000-vote cushion there. He was endorsed by both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and St. Louis American, and in the City he snared the backing of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. But the City went to former Cass County (suburban Kansas City) prosecutor Teresa Hensley, 55%-45%, a larger margin than the state as a whole. Hensley did have the support of usual Slay ally, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, but Joyce's "clout" did not carry over to the contest to elect her own successor. Next spring's contest to succeed the retiring Slay should be a barnburner.

Continued growth in Republican primary vote. While both major parties drew more voters to their primaries this year than 2012, nearly all of that increase went to the Republicans. This mirrors the Republican surge in the March presidential primary, probably generated by both support of and opposition to Donald Trump. But even without a presidential contest on Tuesday's ballot, the increase in the Republican primary vote was explosive. 126,117 more voters took Republican ballots this year than in 2012 (a nearly 23% increase), compared to a more modest 10,202 increase (up 3.25%) in Democrat ballots. This year's Republican primary vote more than doubled the Democrats.' Republicans even outpolled Democrats in St. Louis County.

Rex's money was meaningless. As first noted by the Post Dispatch, three candidates who received over $10 million in aggregate campaign contributions from St. Louis philanthropist Rex Sinquefield all lost their Republican primaries. In past campaigns, Sinquefield has been a benefactor of Koster, this year's Democratic nominee for governor. Republicans may secretly hope that Sinquefield brings his 2016 "magic" to Koster this year.

Boom generation holds off Gen X (mostly).The Boom generation (a/k/a aging baby boomers) mostly held off their significant younger challengers from Generation X. Republican Boomer Mike Parson dispatched Gen Xer Bev Randles in the Lieutenant Governor race, producing an all Boomer general election contest against Democrat Russ Carnahan. Other Boomer wins over Gen Xers include Hensley over Zimmerman, Baker over Contreras, and Clay over Chappelle-Nadal.

The exception, though, was a big one. Greitens, the youngest of four GOP gubernatorial contenders, defeated two Boomers and an older Generation X. He will face Koster, also a Gen X, in the general, to succeed Boomer Jay Nixon. But they won't break any new ground, as former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt already claimed the office for Generation X in 2004.

Major inter-generational battles in November pit Gen X (nearly Millennial) challenger Kander against Boomer incumbent Roy Blunt for U.S. Senate and Republican Gen Xer Josh Hawley against Democrat Boomer Teresa Hensley for Attorney General.

This post was edited on the morning of August 4, 2016, adding the section about Mayor Slay, substantially revising the section about generations, and, of course, adding this disclosure.

Monday, August 01, 2016

BLM's early impact on north St. Louis politics

The usual racial wars in Missouri's Democratic primary are back. The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired several candidacies, some against whites and some against establishment blacks. Their challenges have some in the African American establishment flummoxed on how to react. This is quite apparent in the endorsements - and non-endorsements - by the voice of the African American establishment (the weekly St. Louis American) and the voice of the white Democratic establishment (the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its online presence,

In the contest for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, the American notes in passing that Cori Bush is running, but the paper made no endorsement in that contest. The Post Dispatch endorsed the establishment pick, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. (The Oracle prefers drug reform advocate Chief Wana Dubie.)

The highest profile challenge is in Missouri's First Congressional District, where Ferguson activist State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is challenging veteran African American Rep. Lacy Clay. The American pointedly declined to endorse, describing the contest as "a choice between experience and seniority versus new energy and bold direct action." (In contrast, the American did go to the trouble to endorse Bill Otto, unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the Second District.)

The Lieutenant Governor's race has drawn less attention that I expected. Term-limited State Rep. Tommie Pierson is an African American state representative from just north of Ferguson but isn't generating much attention. The establishment candidate, former Congressman Russ Carnahan, was last seen losing a racially charged primary against Clay. The Post predictably backed Carnahan, while the American remained silent.

In the contest for Secretary of State, former KTVI anchor Robin Smith is the establishment pick against two political unknowns and got the Post endorsement. This marked the first time in several years that the Post endorsed an African American candidate in a contested Democratic primary with one or more white opponents. Surprisingly, the American made no endorsement, in spite of Smith's family connections with the African American political establishment. Her father and brother were city aldermen and part of the storied political operation of the late J.B. "Jet" Banks.

The most visible local contest is in north St. Louis County, where long-time white incumbent County Councilman (and ally of County Executive Steve Stenger) Mike O'Mara is being challenged by African American State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray. While Walton Gray (whose parents both served in the legislature) is part of the African American political establishment and is not a BLM activist, she has substantial financial backing from Chappelle-Nadal. The American endorsed Walton Gray, while the Post did not endorse.

In State Senate District 5 in the city, BLM activist Jamilah Nasheed is the incumbent. She has the American's endorsement over white Bernie Sanders activist Dylan Hassinger. No endorsement by the Post.

The Post also remained curiously silent in the city-wide primary for the open Sheriff position vacated by retiring Sheriff James Murphy. South-side ward organizations are united behind white 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, despite his lack of education and other qualifications. Most labor unions (including white police and fire unions) also back Vaccaro, but the SEIU and black police and fire unions back Vernon Betts, a college-educated African American former deputy. Betts also has the backing of the American and most black ward organizations; but Vaccaro scored the backing of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, north-side Aldermen Dionne Flowers and Jeffrey Boyd and Boyd's 22nd Ward Democratic organization.

There are numerous twists in the contest for St. Louis Circuit Attorney, featuring two white and two black contenders. Most African American ward leaders have coalesced around State Rep. Kimberly Gardner, and the American backs her as well. Steve Harmon, son of former Mayor Clarence Harmon, has little support. The white candidates are two current assistant circuit attorneys who are running well-financed campaigns, Mary Pat Carl and Patrick Hamacher. Most south-side ward leaders are backing Carl. The Post endorsed Carl for the lamest of reasons: incumbent Jennifer Joyce endorsed Carl and that's good enough for the Post. One intriguing twist is that the African American Hubbard family organization in the 5th Ward has broken with other black organizations and backed Carl. The Hubbards face BLM challengers for Penny Hubbard's state rep seat and her and son Rodney's 5th Ward committee posts. The American backs BLM challenger Bruce Franks over Hubbard in the state rep contest and the Post was silent.

Like the challengers to the Hubbard family dynasty, many BLM and allied Sanders candidates are vying for ward committee posts, which fly beneath the radar of most newspaper coverage. (Neither paper endorsed in any committee contests.) A front-page story in the current edition of the American (the last before the primary) mentions several of these candidates, as well as several others who it calls "white allies." BLM challenges of black incumbents are taking place in Wards 5 and 27, while "white allies" (with financial support from Chappelle-Nadal) are challenging establishment forces in Wards 6, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15 and 20. Of particular interest is the racially integrated Ward 6, where Matt Carroll-Schmidt, attorney for anti-Trump protesters, faces off against black State Rep. Michael Butler for committeeman, and white Ferguson activist (and NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director) Allison Dreith challenges Mary Entrup (the white wife of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed) for committeewoman. In spite of its non-endorsement in the committee races, the American made its preference known by endorsing the establishment's Butler in the state representative primary in which he runs unopposed.

While not featuring anyone associated with either BLM or the Sanders campaign, the contest for committeewoman in the 26th Ward (home ward to the Clay dynasty) is interesting as a clash of established African American officials. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones faces off against State Rep. Karla May. As in the 6th Ward contest, the American made its preference known with its endorsement of Jones in her uncontested primary for Treasurer, but not of May in her uncontested primary for state rep.

Also of interest is the north St. Louis County state representative primary in which African American incumbent Courtney Allen Curtis faces three challengers, including white former state rep Eileen Grant McGeoghegan. Neither the Post nor the American endorsed anyone.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Uh oh! Trump plays the 10-character card!

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have stumbled on a winning strategy in naming Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate. It's all about the numbers, but not the numbers you expect. Indiana's electoral votes have nothing to do with it.

As I wrote nearly eight years ago, there is a certain magic to presidential tickets consisting of exactly 10 characters (not counting the space or hyphen between the names). Trump Pence is exactly 10 characters (not counting The Donald himself, a real character of a different sort).

For the past half century, the surnames of the winning presidential ticket have added up to exactly 10 characters 9 times out of 12:

1968 and 1972: Nixon Agnew
1980 and 1984: Reagan Bush
1988: Bush Quayle
2000 and 2004: Bush Cheney
2008 and 2012: Obama Biden

Two of the three exceptions were 1976 and 1996, when neither major party ticket consisted of 10 letters. And when 1976's winning Carter Mondale ticket ran for re-election, it faced a 10-letter Reagan Bush ticket and lost, marking the first time since 1932 that an incumbent president was defeated for reelection.

This presents a last-minute quandary for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Her surname has seven letters, so that a 10-character ticket would require a running mate with just a three-letter surname. Names that short are, so to speak, in short supply. It gives her "short list" a whole new meaning, and the people heretofore on that list, Tom Kaine, Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren, don't come close. There are no Democratic U.S. Senators with a three-letter last name. The only 3-character Democratic governor is David Ige of Hawaii, but he is relatively unknown, comes from a state whose electoral votes are in the bag, and lives and works several hours away from campaign appearances on the U.S. mainland. There are two choices (maybe just one) from Congress, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Jackson Lee may not work because she uses her combined maiden and married surnames as her name and is regularly alphabetized under Jackson not Lee.

While defying a strategy with a 90% success rate might be troubling, Mrs. Clinton can be encouraged by the single instance when a 10-character ticket lost to a non-conforming ticket. In 1992, the successful 1988 Bush Quayle ticket lost to a team headed by a Clinton. That win was aided in no small measure by the presence of a significant third candidate, independent Ross Perot. The current tumult in the Republican Party may allow Libertarian Gary Johnson to offer similar help to Mrs. Clinton this year.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Political dichotomies in election analysis

Among the detailed findings of national exit polls from biennial elections are results that contrast a particular demographic group with everyone else. Sometimes these contrasts are startling and lead to some groups claiming responsibility for one side's victory.

Who powered President Obama's reelection in 2012? The GLBT community claims they were decisive, and the exit polls provide supporting evidence. The 5% of the electorate who self-identified as GLBT voted for Obama, 76% to 22%. Everyone else, the other 95%, split dead even, 49-49. Gays provided Obama's entire margin of victory.

But unmarried individuals of all sexual orientations could make a similar claim. Singles, comprising 40% of the 2012 electorate, voted for Obama by 62-35, offsetting married voters, some 60% of the electorate, who backed Republican Mitt Romney, 56-42.

The rich-poor dichotomy produced similar results. While voters from households earning $50,000 or more, representing a 59% majority of the electorate, backed Romney, 53-45, voters from households earning less than $50.000 carried the day for Obama, 60-38.

The largest and most cited dichotomy is the gender gap. For about a generation, women have tended to vote more Democratic and men more Republican. Since more women usually vote than men, Democratic victories are often credited to the majority delivered by women. In 2012, women backed Obama, 55-44, overcoming men's 52-45 majority for Romney.

On the other hand, white evangelical Christians take credit for turning the tide in the 2014 midterms. Comprising 26% of the electorate, they voted for Republican congressional candidates by 78-20. Everybody else voted for Democratic candidates by 55-43.

But these statistics, viewed in that precise vacuum, can be deceiving. Most of these demographic groups support the same party's candidates election after election for a generation or more. What is usually more significant is changes in margin and relative turnout within the groups from one election to another.

Women, for example, provided a majority of their votes to Democratic congressional candidates in 2014, but they weren't the deciding factor they had been in 2012. While the mainstream press and media usually cite the gender gap as a Republican problem, it was the male vote that cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate in 2014. Men increased their Republican majority to 57-41 in 2014, while women's Democratic support slipped to 51-47. And even though the relative proportions of voting age men and women remained constant between the two elections, men increased their share of the electorate by 2 percentage points in 2014, with a corresponding shrinkage in women's participation.

After “delivering” the 2012 election to Obama, what did gays do in 2014? They voted for Democrats, 75-24, in 2014, nearly identical to 2012. But it was “straight” voters who made the difference in 2014. Comprising 96% of the 2014 electorate, they gave Republican congressional candidates an 8-point margin (53-45) after having broken even in 2012.

The unmarried individuals of all sexual orientations who share credit for Obama's 2012 win also share the blame for the Democrat debacle in the 2014 midterms. Singles' 27-point 2012 margin for Obama shrank to just 12 points for congressional Democrats in 2014, one of the largest demographic shifts of the midterms. This was exacerbated by woeful turnout, dropping from 40% of the electorate to just 37%.

Households with less than $50,000 in income, who also shared credit for Obama's 2012 win, also shared blame in 2014. The 11-point margin they gave Democrats in 2014 was only half the 22-point spread they had produced for Obama, and their proportion of the electorate dove 5 points in 2014, from 41% to just 36%.

And where were the evangelicals, the Republican heroes of 2014, two years before? They were there all along, giving Romney a nearly identical 78-21 win over Obama while comprising the same 26% of the electorate. But they weren't the difference-maker in 2012. Obama won because he won all the other voters, comprising a 74% majority of the electorate, by 23 points, 60-37. In fact, a case can be made that it was those other voters, not the reliable and consistent evangelicals, who powered the Republican 2014 win, even though Democrats carried them. That's because the Democratic advantage with these non-evangelical voters cratered, from a 23-point spread in 2012 to just 12 points in 2014.

Is your head spinning yet?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Analysis of 2014 election in St. Louis County

St. Louis County voters just went through a highly unusual election for County Executive, but produced the usual result. Democrat Steve Stenger overcame the 2014 Republican wave and an open revolt on the part of African American leaders who publicly endorsed and worked for Republican Rick Stream, to eek out a narrow win (subject to possible recount). The St. Louis Post Dispatch (the area's only print daily) and St. Louis Public Radio have offered their somewhat simplistic analyzes, with which I disagree in part.

Analyzes based on raw vote noted that Stenger won north county, including the black townships, big, but lost his home base in south county. That was pretty much like the last election. I prefer to look instead at how the vote patterns differed between the elections.

The previous election for county executive was 2010, a Republican wave election much like 2014. Democratic County Executive Charley Dooley won reelection by four points, 51%-47%. But this year Dooley, the county's first African American to hold the post, lost a contentious Democratic Primary to Stenger. Four days after Dooley's stinging defeat, unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white policeman in Ferguson. Stenger stood by the decision of his political ally, Democratic County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, not to prosecute the officer without an indictment from a county grand jury. By the time of the general election, the grand jury had not announced a decision. In this environment, Stenger received 17 to 28 percentage points less support in the six townships with African American majorities than Dooley had received four years earlier. Stenger also underperformed by about 8 points in Creve Coeur Township, which includes a significant African American minority.

But while black support for Stenger was weak, black support for Stream was even weaker. Stream only picked up about 8 points of that defection, with the rest diffused among third-party and write-in candidates. Ordinarily black support for third-party candidates is much lower than white voters. African Americans' loyalty to the Democratic Party and especially its aversion to the Republican Party were far stronger than the organized black support for Stream. As a result, Stenger still handily beat Stream in the African American townships.

Nevertheless, the black defections would have been enough to erase the 4-point 2010 Democrat cushion if Stenger merely duplicated Dooley's vote from four years before in other areas. In most of the rest of the county, Stenger ran within a point or two of Dooley's 2010 performance, some up and some down. In Bonhomme Township (Stream's home base), Stream's strength caused Stenger to underperform Dooley by nearly five points.

Stream also beat Stenger in the four of the five townships comprising Stenger's council district . Yet that is where Stenger made up the votes he needed to win. Though trailing Stream there, Stenger ran four to six points better than Dooley. In blue-collar-Democrat Lemay Township, Stenger improved by more than 6 points, flipping a Dooley 2010 township loss to a Stenger 2014 win. All told, Stenger's overperformance (while losing) in south county offset enough of his underperformance (while winning) in black townships to maintain just enough of the four-point cushion from 2010.

So, in a nutshell, the template for this contest during a national Republican wave election was set four years before when Dooley won by four points. The biggest variance from the template was the African American revolt, which eliminated that cushion. The next biggest variance was home-base loyalty, with each candidate outperforming the template in his own base by about five points. Most of the rest of the county voted about like they had the time before, with variances canceling each other out. What made Stenger the winner was that Stenger's base (a county council district covering five townships) was bigger than Stream's base (a state rep district consisting mostly of just one township), making Stenger's relative home-base advantage decisive.

Other election observations

Challenges for Republican inroads with African Americans: Black voters' unwillingness to vote for a Republican candidate even while withholding their votes from the Democrat weakened the crossover effort for Stream. The problem appeared not to be Stream, but the weakness of the Republican brand in the black community. This weakness was confirmed in an astonishing way in the generally ignored contest for state auditor, in which incumbent Republican Tom Schweich ran with no Democrat opponent. Schweich, a candidate from the moderate “Danforth wing” of the Republican Party, won reelection easily, but he lost every black ward and township in the St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis and Kansas City to the Libertarian candidate, and in many cases even to the ultra conservative Constitution Party candidate as well.

One positive election development for Republicans, at least symbolically, was the election of several new black Republicans. These included Tim Scott of South Carolina to the U.S. Senate, Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas to the U.S. House of Representatives, and locally, Shamed Dogan of Ballwin to the Missouri House of Representatives. While none of them represent black majority districts, Hurd unseated a Hispanic Democrat Congressman in a district that is two thirds Hispanic.

South county: St. Louis Public Radio's analysis had stated that “the results [in south county] offer some sobering news for Stenger, and reasons for optimism for Republicans.” Not really. South county is a swing area where Democrats do well in higher turnout presidential years (when Stenger's council seat is on the ballot) but where Republicans typically do well in low-turnout mid-term elections. Illustrative is the house district comprised by Mehlville, Green Park and part of Tesson Ferry Township, which elects a Democrat in presidential years and a Republican in mid-term elections. Stream's strength there was no surprise, but Stenger's ability to limit his losses there allowed him to win.

Zimmerman's big night: The Post-Dispatch quoted Mike Jones, a senior aide to Dooley, as stating that Zimmerman's totals were the “benchmark” that signified “where Stenger should have been,” but that observation belittled how well Zimmerman did. In addition to outpacing Stenger in every township, Zimmerman also ran ahead of Dooley's 2010 performance in every township, even the black townships. Zimmerman's 59% was comparable to what big Democrat winners get in St. Louis County in Democrat years. It was the same as President Obama got in his 2008 Democrat wave election and better than Obama did in his 2012 reelection, but Zimmerman accomplished it against the current in a Republican wave election.

Short coattails: The relative strength of Stenger and Stream in their home areas did not carry over to others on their party ballots. While Stenger, relatively speaking, did well in south county, the Democrat state representative representing Mehlville, Green Park and part of Tesson Ferry Township lost her seat to the Republican she unseated two years ago. Democrats got that seat back by picking up Stream's own house seat.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 midterm predictions: national

With no U.S. Senate or any competitive U.S. House races on the Missouri ballot, the state is effectively sitting out this national midterm election.

U.S. Senate

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats (plus two Independents who caucus with them) currently control 55 of the 100 seats, and Vice-President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote means Democrats have a 6-seat cushion in order to keep control of the upper chamber. But the seats that are up this year are those that were swept into Democrat hands in 2008, the anti-Bush Democratic wave accompanying President Obama’s first election. Seven of those seats are in states carried by Mitt Romney last election, and several more Democrat seats in “purple” states are also in serious play. Only three Republican seats are seriously contested.

According to Roll Call Politics (click SENATE'), two of the Democrat seats opened by retirements, West Virginia and Montana, are already deemed “Safe Republican.” Twelve additional Democrat-held seats and just three Republican-held seats are reasonably competitive (i.e., rated between “Toss-Up” and “Favored,” but not “Safe”). Four of the Democrat-held seats (the open seat in Michigan and incumbents in Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia) are in the least competitive category, “Democrat Favored,” but the other eight (in additional to the two already regarded as lost) are in greater jeopardy. The open seat in South Dakota is “Republican Favored” (i.e., as likely a Republican win as the aforesaid four “Democrat Favored” seats are for Democrats). Sen. Mark Pryor's seat in Arkansas “Leans Republican,” while the seats of Democrat incumbents in Alaska, Colorado and Louisiana “Tilt Republican.” That's a total of seven Democrat-held senate seats in which Republicans are favored to some degree. In addition, Sen. Kay Hagan's North Carolina seat and the open seat in Iowa are listed as “Toss Ups,” while Sen. Jean Shaheen's shrinking lead in New Hampshire is rated merely as “Tilts Democrat.”

The three vulnerable Republican seats could partially offset those potential losses, but prospects there aren't as good. Democrats aren't actually favored in any of them. Their best chances, according to Roll Call, are Kansas (where Democrat hopes hang on a left-leaning Independent) and the open seat in Georgia, which are both rated as “Toss Up.” Mitch McConnell's vulnerable Kentucky seat “Leans Republican.”

Largely confirming Roll Call's projections is Nate Silver's incredibly accurate 538 model (click "ELECTIONS"). Silver is more encouraging for Democrats in the four “Democrat Favored” seats, to which he assigns double-digit Democrat leads and 96-99% probability of winning. Silver currently gives Democrats an 83% chance of holding New Hampshire and a 68% chance in North Carolina, but eight Democrat-held seats (including Iowa, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) and two of the three competitive Republican seats (including Georgia, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) are all assigned a 65% or better chance of a Republican win. The Independent in Kansas is the Democrats' best hope of a takeback, but that's assigned a more modest 51% percent chance of success. Silver will modify these figures several more times before the election as new data are received.

The Oracle sees the Republican trend accelerating. When most folks go to bed on election night, the GOP will have held Kentucky and Kansas, taken the Democrat open seats in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and Iowa, and unseated Democrat senators in Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina and New Hampshire. Many of the surviving Democrat senators will have won in closer elections than expected. No candidate will have won the majority vote necessary in Louisiana and Georgia. The following morning the seat in late reporting Alaska will also have fallen to Republicans, giving them 53 seats, pending the two runoffs. A win in the December Louisiana runoff will give them 54 seats when the new Congress convenes, and a win the Georgia runoff on January 6 will make the final count 55, a 10-seat pickup.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House will be a slightly different story. Republicans already won most of the districts they could possibly win when they picked up 63 seats in the 2010 wave, and new district lines locked most of them in. That success left House Republicans susceptible to the same numbers game that haunts Senate Democrats this year. Immediately after last year's government shutdown, Democrats seemed poised to retake the House. But those hopes were cut short when the botched Obamacare rollout shifted voters' attention to GOP-friendly issues, where it has remained ever since. While both parties will take seats from the other, Republicans will add to their majority.

The changes start with four congressmen (three Democrats and one Republican) who won fluke elections in 2012 and decided to bail out on their parties and retire a winner. According to Roll Call (click "HOUSE"), the three Democrat seats (NC-7, UT-4 and lately even NY-21) aren't even listed among competitive districts because they are “Safe,” although the Democrat is closing the gap in the Utah district. CA-31, where Obama got 57% last election, “leans Democratic.” The seats of three incumbents, one Republican and two Democrats, “tilt” to the other party. Beyond those seats, Roll Call currently labels 11 districts (9 Democrat and 2 Republican) as “Toss Ups” and eight other districts (four in each party) merely “tilting” in the current party's direction.

One example of how badly things are going this year for House Democrats is NY-11, the only Republican-held district in New York City, but which Obama won in 2012. Incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm (R) is under indictment, and video shows him threatening to throw an inquiring reporter off a balcony. This all happened after the filing deadline prevented Republicans from fielding a different candidate. Grimm was written off as dead meat. Today his district “tilts Republican!”

Another example: IL-12, the district containing East St. Louis and other heavily Democratic St. Louis suburbs, plus Cairo, IL, and lots of formerly Democratic rural turf in between, represented by Rep. Bill Enyart (D), now “tilts Republican” towards state rep. “Screamin'” Mike Bost. Some Democrats may even be secretly clearing Enyart out of the way for state rep Jerry Costello, Jr., namesake son of Enyart's predecessor, in more Democrat-friendly 2016. That kind of political intrigue happens all the time in Illinois.

While unpopularity of the Republican House will temper the party's gains, I see them winning 13 new seats and losing three, for a net GOP pickup of 10.

2014 midterm predictions: state and local

Dull is the new black. At least two times out of three. While glitz usually wins, this will be the year for the capable but charisma-challenged candidate.

Were it not for the political fallout following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, this would be the dullest election in my lifetime. For the first time perhaps since the founding of the Republican Party, a major political party (in this case the Democrats) has failed to file a candidate for a statewide office. Not even a vanity candidate! The State Auditor contest, in which capable but charisma-challenged first-term Republican incumbent Tom Schweich is opposed only by candidates of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, is also Missouri's only statewide contest. Furthermore, every Missouri congressman, 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats, are prohibitively safe. In St. Louis County, newly controversial prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch is running unopposed. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Schweich, McCulloch and all of Missouri's congressmen get reelected!

The most interesting contest in the state is for St. Louis County Executive. Councilman Steve Stenger, a south county white who had McCulloch's backing, defeated Africian American incumbent Charlie Dooley in a racially charged Democratic primary. Four days later Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, was killed by a white Ferguson police officer, triggering unrest that continues to get national attention. McCulloch has refused to bring charges against the officer unless indicted by a grand jury. McCulloch has resisted African American demands that he recuse himself because of the bias that might logically result from McCulloch's police officer father having been killed in the line of duty by an African American suspect. Stenger has stood by McCulloch, prompting many African American Democratic leaders to endorse and actively work for Stenger's capable but charisma-challenged Republican opponent, state rep Rick Stream. The St. Louis American, the area's largest black weekly, has not endorsed in the race, but columnists Umar Lee and The Eye have endorsed Stream. Other blacks, wary of backing any Republican, have lined up behind the write-in candidacy of local African American Green Party leader Zaki Baruti.

Ordinarily these developments would destroy a Democratic candidacy, especially in an election shaping up as a Republican wave. In the Republican wave of 2010, the black vote provided Dooley's margin of victory. But I think this year's black Democrat defections are being overestimated. Congressman Lacy Clay has provided cover for party-loyal blacks by endorsing Stenger. I also remember years ago when Tom Zych defeated African American aldermanic president Tink Bradley in a racially charged Democratic primary, African American leader Jet Banks threw his support to Republican alderman Leonard Burst, but Banks could only deliver a third of the vote in his own ward. And as I wrote in my previous post, Stenger may benefit from white backlash over the Ferguson events. Four years ago, Dooley's Republican challenger Bill Corrigan carried South County big. This year, that's Stenger country. That's the area that has twice elected him to the county council, and south county lawns are a sea of dark blue with his lawn signs. Stenger will still carry the black vote, though by less than usual, and whites moving to Stenger will outnumber blacks moving to Stream. Advantage Stenger (unless that “charisma-challenged” wave carries Stream over the top).

A capable but charisma-challenged candidate with better odds of winning is Democratic County Assessor Jake Zimmerman. His cowboy-themed television commercial may be the best of the year. While he isn't as sure a bet as Schweich, Zimmerman still wins, even in a Republican wave.

Two open state senate seats are also drawing big bucks and lots of interest. The Democrat seat in the Republican-trending 22nd District in Jefferson County pits Democrat state rep Jeff Roorda against Republican state rep Paul Wieland. Democrat Roorda is using his board membership of a charity supporting the policeman that shot Brown and his high-profile police union position to tap into the white backlash following Ferguson, and he should win. Unless Wieland can tap into that “charisma-challenged” wave.

The Republican seat in the Democrat-trending 24th District in St. Louis County's central corridor pits Democrat state rep Jill Schupp against Republican attorney John “Jay” Ashcroft, the namesake son of Missouri's former governor, U.S. Senator and Missouri and U.S. Attorney general. Schupp's television ads resurrect the Democrats' 2012 “war on women” theme, a tactic which Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is also using and receiving lots of criticism for doing. But while Ashcroft was actually the most moderate of the three Republican primary candidates for this seat, his surname may prove to be more hindrance than help among a moderate electorate that has soured on political dynasties – Carnahan, Clay, Bush, Blunt, and maybe even Clinton. Ashcroft's lovely wife, featured prominently in his ads, preclude him from joining the “charisma-challenged” wave, but the 2014 Republican wave should be enough to lift Ashcroft to victory.

The only notable contest in the city of St. Louis is recorder of deeds. Long-time recorder Sharon Carpenter resigned over a nepotism scandal but still won the Democratic primary for a new term. Her appointed replacement, former alderman Jennifer Florida, is running as an independent with the endorsement of Mayor Francis Slay. In 2011 Florida rebelled against the work-ethic demands of aldermanic president Jim Shrewsbury and backed Lewis Reed's successful challenge, but she switched her loyalty to Slay last year when Reed unsuccessfully challenged Slay. The city Democratic party isn't even objecting to Florida's campaign literature labeling her an “independent Democrat,” a label over which the party previously challenged African American Sen. Maida Coleman when she did so. The St. Louis American is endorsing Carpenter, noting that city government “would shut down instantly if every relative of an elected official walked off the job.” While all candidates (including Republican Erik Shelquist) are white, this may turn into a north-south battle, with the north side for Carpenter and the south side (except Carpenter's 23rd Ward) for Florida. Turnout is the key, and that gives the advantage to Florida.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Stenger seeks to ride Jay Nixon's Newtonian strategy to victory

The recent endorsement of State Rep. Rick Stream, the Republican nominee for St. Louis County Executive, by a group of 30 prominent African American Democratic officials could put a fork into the candidacy of the Democrat nominee, Councilman Steve Stenger. The group acted on the heels of Stenger's successful conquest of County Executive Charlie Dooley, the first African American to hold the post, in the Democratic Primary, and the actions and inactions of Democratic Party officials during the nationally televised crisis in Ferguson.

Since the exodus of sizable numbers of African Americans from the City of St. Louis to St. Louis County in the mid-1990s, blacks have reliably delivered St. Louis County to the Democrats. County whites lean slightly Republican, while the monolithicly Democratic black vote provides the margin of Democratic victory.

But a political version of Newton's Third Law of Motion -- that every action generates an equal and opposite reaction -- may save the day for Stenger and white Democrats. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has ridden this phenomenon to victory in this increasingly red state his entire career, and Stenger's post-Ferguson actions suggest that his strategy is to do the same.

This political phenomenon is based on a resurrection of 1960s "white resistance" to the civil rights movement. Many whites have recoiled at the actions of protesters in Ferguson. Seemingly increasing black-on-white crime, sometimes explicitly in the name of the fallen Michael Brown, have increased their fear and resentment. As a result, the anti-Stenger actions by the black officials may actually increase Stenger's support among whites. Since white voters still far outnumber black voters in the county, this won't be just an "equal" reaction. Stenger may well gain more whites votes than lost black votes.

Nixon has long played the Newtonian strategy in Missouri politics. He has retained the support of many rural white voters who flipped from Democrat to Republican over the past 20 years, by posturing himself as a Democrat who stands up to blacks and resists their demands. The most notable instance was his opposition, as state attorney general, to state financial contributions to school desegregation. Black leaders objected vociferously, but their cries actually helped Nixon in rural Missouri. More recently, Nixon's actions and inactions in the Ferguson crisis have visibly angered blacks, while quietly reassuring many less-than-progressive whites. In the 2012 election, Nixon came close to breaking even in rural and exurban counties where Obama barely scratched out 35%. And Nixon did so while still riding Democratic strength in urban and suburban areas. Black voters supported him substantially as well as they did the rest of the Democratic ticket. Win/win for Nixon.

Stenger hopes to ride the same white backlash to victory next month.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Will Obama save the senate by going to war?

This morning's Gallup Poll (covering the first three days of September) pegged President Obama's job approval at 38%, his all-time low. That's pretty close to just his partisan base. His unpopularity is producing enough of a drag on Democratic incumbents and challengers in this year's midterm elections, that Nate Silver's Five-Thirty-Eight Senate Forecast today gives Republicans a 63.4% chance of overcoming the Democrats' 6-seat cushion and seizing the majority in the U.S. Senate.

On the other hand, the Presidency provides an unparallelled opportunity to create game-changing events, a so-called "October surprise." This often involves a total about-face by an unpopular president in an important policy matter. Lyndon Johnson's halting of Vietnam War bombing in 1968, literally the day before the election pitting his Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, against Richard Nixon (and third-party candidate George Wallace), is generally regarded as the ultimate October surprise. The move failed to elect Humphrey, but it is regarded as saving a number of Congressional Democrats, including Missouri's open seat (won by Lt. Gov. Tom Eagleton, 51-49%, over Rep. Tom Curtis (R-St. Louis County)).

A "peace move" like Johnson's is not really possible for Obama, who took office with a Nobel Peace Prize already in hand. Obama's October surprise would have to be the opposite - asking Congress to declare war. To the extent that war is ever justifiable, the brutal actions of the new Islamic State could easily provide a justifiable pretext that most swing voters would support and appreciate. A recent poll claims that Americans support war against the Islamic State by a 63-16% margin, in contrast with opposition to military intervention in Syria, 20-62%, just a year earlier. With most Obama critics harping on his alleged timidity and indecision in the face of the ISIS/ISIL/IS threat, asking Congress for a declaration of war would indeed be the kind of 180-degree turn that comprise classic October surprises.

Moreover, Americans tend to rally behind their president in times of war, even if they think the President might have been at fault. Note the otherwise unexplainable spike in George W. Bush's popularity following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (from 51% on September 10 to 86% on September 15), in spite of his befuddled initial reaction.

On the other hand, would playing the war card alienate the Democrats' anti-war base? I'm not aware of any polling data that specific, but one could surmise that the 16% opposing such action is composed primarily of people who instinctively oppose military action on principle, i.e., part of the Democrat base. No, these voters won't defect to Republicans, but with very few progressive independent or third-party alternatives, they might not vote at all.

And then there is the question whether the President would take action contrary to his base instincts in order to save fellow party members. Would improving the chances of congressional approval of the remaining parts of his agenda be enough to get him to take action he seemingly finds so distasteful?

Monday, August 04, 2014

2014 Missouri primary predictions

The racial politics that has infected Democratic primaries in the City of St. Louis for so many years has followed migrating voters to St. Louis County. White South County Councilman Steve Stenger is challenging incumbent black County Executive Charlie Dooley in a knock-down-drag-out slug fest. Predominantly black townships in north St. Louis County are standing behind the incumbent, while whites in south and west county are backing the challenger. The only thing missing is a steel cage. The racial divisions in this Democratic primary taint the Democrat narrative that Republicans are the racists.

While lawn signs are unreliable predictors of outcome, the total absence of Dooley signs in a sea of Stenger signs in south county is notable. Adding to the racial cleavage is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose endorsement of Stenger follows its recent consistent trend of exclusively endorsing whites in Democratic primary contests against blacks. (The Post apparently hates Republicans more than blacks, as it regularly endorses the black candidates who defeat their endorsed primary opponents against Republicans in the general election.)

The elites in liberal white central county may decide the election, just as the elites in the central corridor wards decide the racial wars in the city. Republican crossovers will also be important, and the ones that do cross over will tend to be of the more moderate strain. As I noted before, the Dooley campaign seemingly went out of its way to offend those voters with a negative ad that compared Stenger to moderate GOP hero Mitt Romney. But central and west county crossovers will be limited by spirited Republican primaries to replace retiring Sen. John Lamping. State Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst and Councilman Greg Quinn.

I believe turnout will be the key, and that north county Democrats will turn out strongly enough to save Dooley. That result would also be most beneficial to Democrats in the general election, because black turnout in that election would suffer if Dooley loses, especially since there are no statewide contests at stake (Democrats failed to file a candidate for state auditor, the only statewide contest on the November ballot), and black incumbents from Rep. Lacy Clay on down are all running in safe Democratic districts. In contrast, a damaged Dooley would still likely win re-election in November, following the pattern of his win against well-financed Republican attorney Bill Corrigan against the grain of the Republican wave in 2010.

There is also a spirited contest for the Republican nomination. State Rep. Rick Stream has better qualifications than Green Park Alderman Tony Pousosa, but Pousosa has a dedicated grassroots following from Tea Partiers. Pousosa has lots of lawn signs in south county, while Stream's are hard to find. Even in Stream's base in Kirkwood, his signs are outnumbered by those for Deb Lavender, the Democrat (unopposed in the primary) seeking Stream's open seat in the Missouri house. Stream also suffers from the kiss-of-death endorsement of the Post. While Stream remains the favorite, I see that election as being close, and a Pousosa upset would not be much of a surprise.

The GOP primary in Lamping's 24th senate district demonstrates how conservative Republicans have grown in just the past couple years. The most moderate candidate is John R. “Jay” Ashcroft, namesake son of the conservative former governor and senator. Tea Partiers are attacking the younger Ashcroft for his alleged support for Medicaid expansion and a possible city-county merger. But conservatives are divided between two self-funding opponents. The conservative reputation of the Ashcroft brand should bring a primary win to that budding dynasty, but the general election in that swing district remains in doubt.

The racial wars in the City involve three contests. The hottest one (License Collector) doesn't actually have a white candidate, but features a black candidate (Jeffrey Boyd) who has solid support among most white Democratic officials and organizations, running against an appointed black incumbent (Mavis Thompson) who enjoys significant (but less unanimous) support from black Democratic officials and organizations. It is reminiscent of the 1997 mayoral contest, in which south side whites ousted black Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. by backing another African American, former police chief Clarence Harmon (“the white man's black man”). Boyd appears to be this year's Harmon. In a vanity battle of surrogates, Mayor Francis Slay is backing Boyd, while Gov. Jay Nixon stands behind his appointment of Thompson. Boyd has endorsements from all the pivotal central corridor wards and should oust Thompson.

The city contest that should be most interesting is one that Democrats are trying to hide. Veteran white Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter resigned over a nepotism scandal, but continues to seek a new term anyway. Both of her primary opponents are black, are not very appealing and lack funds to mount a serious campaign. The late-breaking scandal may give Edward McFowland some traction, especially in black wards, but former alderman Jimmie Matthews will split off a significant part of the vote. I believe city Democratic voters will look beyond the primary to the independent candidacy of appointed incumbent Jennifer Florida in the general election and stick with Carpenter temporarily in the primary.

The final race war pits school board member Bill Haas against state Rep. Kimberly Gardner. While this contest between two attorneys should merit more attention, the racial composition of the district makes Gardner a 2-to-1 favorite.