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.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Clinton, Huckabee lead Missouri primary

According to Rasmussen Reports, Democrat Hillary Clinton enjoys a 19-point lead and Republican Mike Huckabee has a single-point lead in the Missouri primary on February 5 (Super Tuesday). This mirrors earlier Rasmussen findings (as reported here) that those two candidates were their parties' strongest general election candidates in Missouri when matched against leading opponents from the other party.

In the Democratic contest the poll reported Clinton 43%, Obama 24%, Edwards 18%, and only 5% undecided. (An early misprint on Rasmussen's site gave Edwards 28% but still listed him third.) This 19-point deficit has to be disappointing to Obama supporters who have been hitting the pavement hard for their man in St. Louis. Obama was also the only candidate running ads in St Louis up until the day of the poll.

The Republican lead was within the margin of error, with Huckabee at 27%, McCain 26%, Romney 18%, Giuliani 7% and Paul 5%. These results have to be disappointing for Romney backers (Gov. Blunt, former Sen. Talent, speaker Jetton) and to Sen. Bond, who had publicly claimed his organization would carry Giuliani to victory, not single digits. The poll represents bases of spontaneous support, because to date no Republican candidate has hit the airwaves in Missouri. Advertising and momentum from next week's Florida primary could change things before election day.

Missouri's results are amazingly close those in Alabama, where candidates in both parties poll in the same order and the leaders get the same numbers (Clinton 43% and Huckabee 27%), except that McCain gets one more point there and ties Huckabee for the lead. We're a bellwether all right: as goes Missouri, so goes Alabama!

I would love to see results broken down by regions and age groups, but Rasmussen Crosstabs are available only to paying subscribers, and the Oracle is a certified cheapskate.

UPDATE: On Friday's 10:00 news, Channel 4 previewed results of similar polls that the station conducted jointly with the Post Dispatch, with complete results to be published in Sunday's Post. Their results are slightly different, with Hillary's margin only 13 points (44-31) and McCain leading the Republican contest (with no numbers or standings cited).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Democrats should rethink guv candidate

Democrats should reconsider anointing Jay Nixon as the party's nominee for Governor. With Republican Gov. Matt Blunt no longer seeking reelection, it is no longer good enough just to attack Blunt's record, because he's gone. With voters no longer preoccupied with "getting rid of Blunt," the Democratic candidate will be forced to make a case for her/himself. In that context, Nixon looks like a poor choice.

Perhaps most important, Nixon's rapport with the black community has always been very poor. So poor, in fact, that when Nixon challenged Republican Sen. Kit Bond for re-election in 1998, enough black voters crossed over to vote for Bond (against Nixon, really) to make the difference that beat Nixon. Nixon's "black problem" stems from his career-long opposition to school desegregation. He angered black leaders by failing to consult with them when he settled the desegregation case, causing then-Congressman Bill Clay to urge President Clinton to cancel a fundraising trip for Nixon in 1998. Nixon is also a strong supporter of the death penalty, whose disproportionate application to African American inmates is an anathema to many black voters. He was also a no-show last year at an important NAACP that even Blunt attended.

This all gets worse when put in the likely political context. While the year looks to be shaping up as a Democratic year based on Bush backlash, a race-warfare crosscurrent seems to be emerging that could drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and its long neglected African American base. Barack Obama's inspiring non-race-based victory in lily-white Iowa has given way to racially charged rhetoric from the Hillary Clinton campaign that has polarized the electorate. The bitter campaign has driven much of Hillary's formerly substantial black support to Obama, while white Democrats have surged to Hillary, for a net advantage to Hillary, now once again the likely nominee. Adding to that toxic climate is the stormy relationship of Democratic St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay with the city's African American community. In addition, it appears increasingly likely that August's Democratic primary in term-limited Sen. Maida Coleman's 5th District will be won by veteran southside state rep. Tom Villa, eliminating the city's last black-held senate seat. In that context, if Democrats nominate Nixon for governor to share the top of the ticket with Hillary, the party will virtually dare African Americans to revolt.

But there's more to fear in Nixon than just his (and the party's evolving) "black problem." With Nixon cruising along as the consensus Democratic nominee, Republicans have fired off salvo after salvo against him. While it's easy for Democrats viewing the allegations through rose colored glasses to dismiss them as politically motivated (which they are), I think many of the independent voters that the winning candidate will need to win over will be troubled by many of them. Among the more troublesome are these:

  • Nixon's mishandling of politically sensitive cases in AG's office, including his forced removal in litigation brought by political ally Planned Parenthood; ineffective defense of Missouri's campaign finance law revisions, including possible collusion with his former staffers on the opposing side of the litigation; advocacy of opponents' positions when ostensibly defending Missouri's school funding formula; and acceptance of indirect campaign contributions from Ameren during Nixon's investigation of Ameren's fault in the nearly deadly breach of the Taum Sauk reservoir. While some of those actions were politically desirable to progressives like myself, they were ethically questionable in the context of his job, and are not as well received by independent voters.
  • In addition to Ameren, Nixon's campaign has accepted large campaign contributions from affiliates of Charter Communications, the subject of several investigations by Nixon's office for no-call law violations and consumer complaints; also from trial lawyers who prosecute claims against the Second Injury Fund overseen by Nixon; a campaign fundraiser hosted by a Blue Cross executive during litigation by Nixon against Blue Cross; contributions from nursing homes over which he has legal oversight; and from developers seeking business from the Missouri Housing & Development Commission on which Nixon sits.
  • Nixon has lavishly rewarded campaign contributing lawyers by outsourcing litigation in his office to them with lucrative contracts.
  • Ongoing environmental problems, including a lawsuit by the Missouri Public Service Commission, involving a Jefferson County sewage plant owned and represented by the father and other long-time political supporters of Nixon.
  • Nixon's distribution of state funds from the multi-million dollar tobacco litigation settlement through the non-partisan Missouri Foundation for Health (whose purpose is to assist Missourians without health insurance) to finance political allies like Planned Parenthood, Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Jobs with Justice, the National Education Association, and an affiliate of Missouri Pro-Vote. I like these groups personally, but this is public money that was supposed to help folks without health insurance.
  • A federal employment discrimination lawsuit against Nixon by a former disabled employee discharged by Nixon.
  • Inconsistent record on Medicaid cuts: defending Holden Administration cuts but attacking Blunt Administration cuts. As John Kerry would say, Nixon was for Medicaid cuts before he was against them.
  • Similar inconsistency regarding Sunshine Law violations. He was lax during Democratic administrations, but transformed into a Sunshine Law hawk when Blunt took office.
The political motivation behind these accusations don't necessarily mean the charges aren't accurate. I think that, in the minds of independent voters, at least some of the charges will stick And there are so many of them, voters may simply conclude that there's too much smoke for there not to be fire.

Nixon backers point to his track record of electoral success. The problem is, Nixon is great at winning reelection with the advantage of incumbency against poorly financed political unknowns. But he lost two statewide elections (1988 and 1998) in which he faced well-known, well-financed Republicans. This is 2008, and (with apologies to The Weather Channel) Nixon loses on the 8's. His only statewide win against a well-financed Republican opponent was his 1992 run for Attorney General, when he was swept into office with less than 50% of the vote in the Clinton-Carnahan landslide.

It isn't as though Democrats have no one else. Robin Carnahan, Joe Maxwell, Susan Montee, Emanuel Cleaver, Charlie Dooley, and Senators Yvonne Wilson, Rita Days, Joan Bray and Jeff Smith would all make better Democratic candidates than Nixon. Even Bob Holden would be better. One needs to step forward, and party leaders need to persuade Nixon that the party needs him to get out of the way and accept a nice judgeship or something.

Filing for office doesn't start for another month or so, and candidates can file as late as March 25. Republicans are starting off fresh looking for their strongest candidate. Democrats should do the same.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What happened in Iowa

Much to the enjoyment of Oracle critics, my crystal ball was wrong about Iowa. From my personal perspective, I was delighted to have been wrong, because predicted winners Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney would have both been (and may yet be) bad for the nation. But I still need to figure out what happened that was different than I expected.

What I had predicted – that the turnout machines of Clinton and Romney would succeed in getting their reliably motivated people to the caucus – did in fact occur as predicted. It also appears that most of the Democrats hoping to cash in on presidential patronage and influence showed up to be seen and appreciated in Hillary’s caucus. But what also happened, and changed everything, was the success of the seemingly less professional campaigns of Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee in drawing their inspired followers to caucus in record numbers. (John Edwards’ relative success vs. Hillary was less of a surprise, because his labor backers know how to turn their people out.) Ordinary people came in and outnumbered The Establishment.

The night’s biggest story was Obama. Whether it was his message, his manner or his Oprah-electrification, he inspired his followers to overcome the obstacles that had kept most of his voters from ever participating before in Iowa caucuses. Remember, a caucus system is specifically set up to favor insiders and discourage participation by ordinary folks. Unlike a 12-14 hour primary election, the caucus took place at a specific time in the evening, when many young adults had to work, many elderly citizens had to overcome night-vision problems and other fears of going out after dark, single parents had to find baby-sitters, and even two-parent families needed to leave one of them home to care for the kids. Most participants had to travel farther to get there, because there were a lot fewer caucus sites than polling places for an election. There were no absentee ballots for those out-of-town or physically disabled. And the Democratic Party, the one-time champion of the common person, imposed a complicated “viability” procedure that effectively required participants to devote their entire evening to the event in order to be counted, further complicating efforts by those needing to juggle work schedules or rely on babysitters. Even with record turnouts for both parties, over 80% of registered Iowa voters stayed away from the caucus sites. Can you say “disenfranchised”?

Obama’s supporters were largely first-time participants, the very people that the system was designed to discourage. His success in the face of those odds is as remarkable as it is encouraging.

Huckabee’s success proved that the death of evangelical influence in the Republican Party was, in Mark Twain’s famous words, premature and greatly exaggerated. The turnout machine on which Romney spent millions was outperformed by what networks of mostly evangelicals did for Huckabee for free.

The Republican results also demonstrated that Huckabee’s message of economic populism is welcome in the Republican Party. Spinners have been trying to portray the Iowa results as evangelicals blindly rallying behind one of their own while being blissfully unaware of Huckabee’s record and rhetoric that was uncomfortably progressive to establishment Republicans. But Iowa Republicans weren’t at all ignorant of that. The Romney campaign spent lavishly on making sure that they knew about Huckabee’s record on crime, immigration and social justice, his criticism of President Bush’s foreign policy, and the opposition to Huckabee’s candidacy by establishment neo-cons like the Club for Growth. The evangelical movement showed signs of maturing, by embracing a candidate who stood not only for opposition to abortion and gay rights, but also for economic compassion and concern over Bush’s arrogant foreign policy. While Bush had campaigned about a phony “compassionate conservatism” that never materialized in his administration, Huckabee’s seems to be the real deal. Huckabee’s supporters knew about that much better than anywhere else in the country. And they demonstrated that they like it.

It was also heartening to see Huckabee win in spite of his lack of funding. While Obama also beat The Establishment, he had plenty of money to make it happen.

Another upshot from Iowa was, for the most part, more reliable polling results. The impediments to turnout mentioned above had led both me and professionals like Rasmussen Reports to discount most of the polls. But the final Des Moines Register poll was right on the money in both the Democratic and Republican contests. “Matt” commented on my blog post the day before the caucus, “[T]he Register doesn't have the best respected poll for nothing. They uniquely know what is happening on the ground.” I don’t know what intrusions on personal privacy the Register employed to figure out who to count, but they did it right.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa predictions

The latest DesMoines Register poll gives Barack Obama a 7-point lead in the Democratic caucuses and Mike Huckabee a 6-point lead for the Republicans. But the winners will be Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney.

The primary reason in both cases is that the Iowa contest is caucuses, not a primary election. Even if there is a record turnout (as will probably occur), and even with all the students and other "new" participants being drawn to the process, the number of participants tomorrow night will be a small fraction of the number of Iowa voters that went to the polls to vote for president in 2004. Instead of just going to your neighborhood polling place, maybe waiting in line a while and then voting, participants (especially in the more complicated Democrat procedure) will need to devote their entire evening to the process. And if you can't make it then, too bad, you don't get to vote. There are lots of Iowans responding to pollsters who won't actually vote in a caucus.

The winners will be those who know what the rules are and who are best prepared to identify their supporters and get them to the caucuses in accordance with those rules.

The best organized (and best financed) Republican is Mitt Romney. He didn't invent the rules, but he put together an organization that is best equipped to cope with them. He has the best Republican "ground game," and it will propel him to victory. Poll leader Huckabee, in addition to peaking just a bit too soon, became a viable candidate far too late in the process to compete effectively in this environment. Huckabee points with pride to being competitive in spite of being outspent by Romney, 20-1, but chalk this one up for Gollaith. Huckabee's loyal evangelical following, though, will probably earn him second place and a trip to New Hampshire.

The disproportionate influence that intensely loyal followers have in small turnout numbers will produce the evening's biggest surprise: the solid third-place showing (perhaps even second) of libertarian (and anti-war) Republican Ron Paul.

Factors in the Democrat contest are much more complicated. For one thing, Clinton's spending has been matched by the equally well-funded Obama campaign. More important is the "viability" rule that applies only to the Democrat contest. At any particular gathering, supporters of a candidate who do not amount to at least 15% of the group are not allowed to form a caucus for that candidate, and are required to join a caucus of some other candidate. That's why the "second choices" of participants favoring candidates other than Clinton and Obama are so important. Many of the participants who aren't for Clinton really dislike her, and are likely to join caucuses for her major opponents. Notably, Dennis Kucinich has announced to his supporters that, if they are unable to form a Kucinich caucus, he would like them to join the Obama caucus as their second choice. (Kucinich did the same for John Edwards four years ago.)

But in the end of the night in Iowa, the same factors propelling Romney to victory in the Republican caucuses will do the same for Hillary Clinton among Democrats. Building on lists left over from her husband's two Iowa campaigns, Hillary has an excellent organization that knows how to get her supporters to caucus. In contrast, much of Obama's support has been spawned by Oprah Winfrey's whirlwind tour, which has predominantly drawn people who have never before taken part in a caucus. As the memories of Oprah's visitation fade and the reality of the evening-long commitment take hold, many of those votes will evaporate. The support of well-intentioned college students will suffer similar erosion. Edwards' labor-based support will fare better, and propel Edwards into second.

But there is another, more important factor that seals the deal. There is no such thing as a "secret ballot" in a caucus. You physically stand with the caucus you select, and the campaign leaders of that caucus -- and the other caucuses -- see where you stand, and take notes. Much of the public, and Democrats in particular, believe that this year's Democratic nominee will win and become the next president. Though struggling in a 3-way contest in Iowa, Hillary has a double-digit lead in national polls, and remains the odds-on favorite to win it all. With the presidency come the spoils of appointments and contracts. The Clintons are legendary in how they reward their friends and punish their enemies. Any Iowa Democrat who wants in on the goodies will want to be seen in Hillary's caucus. Hillary will win Thursday night, and it won't be all that close.