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.

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.