Friday, May 30, 2014

Denver is a Top Tier Political City

Denver has made it to the top of the list of cities that can logistically hold major conventions and bring additional benefits to the table. Our civic and political leadership are hospitable, and Colorado has the political demographics and culture that points to the future of American politics with its diversity and independent voters.

Denver’s handicap stems from its recent success with the 2008 Democratic Convention. There will be a tendency to compare what the Republicans do in 2016 with the extraordinary moment when a charismatic figure took control of a party hungry for victory. Can the Republicans fill Invesco Field will be a framing perspective.
Cleveland and Dallas are the frontrunners on the list because they have far more political clout in the halls of the RNC and its site selection committee, but they also provide powerful messaging to the respective regions and the country at large.

Ohio is a swing state Obama barely carried, central in a region the Republicans believe is very winnable in 2016. Obama’s failure to sufficiently revive the economy is exactly the message Ohio and rustbelt Republicans intend to highlight against the Democratic nominee.

Dallas and Texas represent the heartland of the Republicans’ message of restrained government, free market economics and a land of opportunity. Texas, as the fastest growing state, radiates success and self-confidence. The Texas delegation has both the Republican establishment and the Tea Party in Cornyn, Cruz and Perry.

The downside is Dallas is the home of G.W. Bush, Democrats’ favorite target, and all the upbeat tempo of success can become an unattractive swagger. Texas politicians spend an inordinate amount of time trying to steal jobs from other states.

Kansas City’s advantage is that it has less downside. It could hold a convention that is just about 50,000 people getting together for four days to pick a nominee with no tertiary drama.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

India’s Revolution

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The sweeping election victory of Narendra Modi and his BJP party and the crushing defeat of the India’s National Congress Party heralds a political revolution in India and has a message for the U.S.

Modi, a charismatic figure, focused on the aspirations of hundreds of millions of Indians, especially young voters, and offered to create a new economic opportunity in what has appeared to be a nearly ungovernable country, certainly beyond the ability of the Congress Party. The economy, corruption, infrastructure and mostly getting the basics right was the party’s message.

This November, U.S. voters will offer a judgment on their government, and Democrats are nervous that a tsunami of dissatisfaction could sweep them from power. The national Democratic Party will likely lose seats in Congress, not gain the 17 needed to restore Nancy Pelosi to the Speakership (will she join Mr. Waxman and Mr. Miller in retirement?) and it could well lose control of the U.S. Senate.

Five reasons stand out as causing the Democratic Party’s woes:

Weak Economy – Not only is the economy still weak, but the distribution of new wealth is grossly uneven. Most of the population has seen some recovery from the great recession, but they are behind where they were, with no sense of optimism that things will fundamentally improve. Barely a quarter of the population either trusts the government or believes the country is going in the right direction.

Incompetence – President Obama’s poor approval rating reflects a growing sense that he and the administration are in over their heads. Implementation of the ACA was a national embarrassment and had a Katrina-like effect on his reputation. The Ukrainian and VA crises reinforce the image of a disengaged administration drifting from crisis to crisis.

Gridlock – Last October’s government shutdown just highlighted an endless cycle of fiscal and government crises that has engulfed Washington since 2009. Partisan polarization, combined with checks and balances, has destroyed confidence in Washington D.C. Incumbency today is a burden, not a benefit for a candidate.

Tired Leadership – President Obama appears to be a very old president in a young body. Most of his speeches are now related to laments about the lack of power and metaphors for inaction.

Lack of Vision – Democrats and Republicans mostly argue about more or less of what we already have; that is, what we already have too much of, an expensive, ineffective government. Democrats, in particular, appear committed to more spending, regulation and government.

The only reason the next U.S. elections are unlikely to see the massive change that just occurred in India is the rigidity of our election system and the fact that both parties share in the blame and the Republicans have offered, as yet, ill-defined alternatives.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

National Legalization of Recreational Marijuana may be in Trouble

A new poll shows Americans are comfortable with medical marijuana, but less than a majority support recreational use. This is different from a spate of polls in 2013 and earlier this year, which showed a majority of Americans for legalization. (Pew 52%, March 2013; Pew 54%, February 2014; CBS 51%, February 2014, but only 48% in May). The poll, sponsored by NPR, could be an outlier or it may have caught a counter-trend. If so, Colorado may be the reason.

Implementation has not been smooth. Colorado’s intense coverage of the problems has spurred a national dialogue that is more focused on the risks and problems than benefits of ending the expensive and often haphazard enforcement. Concerns about youth usage, undetermined potency, driving under the influence, criminal distribution, and the uncertain effects on learning, lungs and mental health have put the brakes on the rush to legalize.

The country’s two leading governors, Chris Christie in New Jersey and Jerry Brown in California, have recently come out against legalization in their states.
Christie: “It’s not going to come while I’m here.” “See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.”

Brown: “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
Washington Post: Gov. Jerry Brown on legalized marijuana: “How  many people can get stoned and still have a great state?”
Los Angeles Times: Does new marijuana study back Gov. Brown’s warning about pot smokers?
CNN Political Ticker: Christie on pot: Colorado law “not the quality of life we want”
NPR: Poll: Yes to medical marijuana, not so much for recreational pot
CBS News Poll: Should pot be decriminalized?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One Month Out Tancredo is Still the Man to Beat

Nationally, the Republican establishment has continued the threat the Tea Party would nominate candidates incapable of winning Senate seats. But if money equals votes, Tom Tancredo, the least electable Colorado candidate, is the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial primary June 24. The latest fundraising numbers show him with the most cash on hand at $98,000. Also, the most recent poll showed Tancredo had the highest name identification among 400,000 or so Republican voters who are likely to turn out (about a quarter of the party).

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the incumbent Democrat raised more than their entire field.
Bob Beauprez and Scott Gessler appear to be in a close contest for the second position, but will divide the anti-Tancredo vote between themselves and Mike Kopp, who is in an underfinanced fourth place.

Will Beauprez’s top Republican endorsements – Mitt Romney and Rick Perry – lift him above the crowd the final month? Gessler appears worried. He has started an attack on Beauprez’s electability.

Tancredo’s smiling.

See Denver Post: Secretary of State Scott Gessler bests other three GOP rivals in latest fundraising

Friday, May 23, 2014

Texas Rules America’s Desire for Opportunity

As the old super states – New York, Illinois and California, which has recently joined the ranks of highly taxed heavily regulated states – languish, Texas continues to attract population that is looking for opportunity. Seven of the fifteen fastest growing cities from 2012 to 2013 are in Texas. Arizona and Utah were next with two each. No surprise the only northeastern growth city was in suburban Washington D.C.

See Washington Post: Fastest-growing American cities are mostly in the West. And then there’s Gaithersburg, Md.

Colorado Democrats Slowly Drift into Conflict

The collapse of negotiations at the end of the Colorado legislative session over fracking and “local control” showed the inability of the Democratic Party’s powerful legislative wing to resolve the impending battle between its environmental constituents led by Congressman Jared Polis and its establishment and business wing led by Governor John Hickenlooper.

That failure may well bring the party to its knees in November, which already promises to be a difficult year due to the dramatic decline of the value of the national Democratic brand. Key election forecasting statistics, such as right direction, wrong track, presidential approval and trust in government, shows the incumbent party in trouble.
Having the party in a major fight could well end the eight-year run of success Colorado Democrats have achieved. As reported in the Colorado Observer, May 16, 2014, Valerie Richardson:

“It’s clear that it’s going to be a huge controversial ballot initiative, with Democrats on both sides. It’s very high profile, and again, it will be the first time we’ve had that kind of division in the party for a very long time,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
The losers if Democrats can’t gain control of the issue:

State Senate – One vote away from Republican control.

State House – Three seats would have to switch, but overreach in 2013 produced little to brag about in 2014. 

Governor Hickenlooper – Has a 5 to 10 point lead, but can ill-afford to look ineffectual and defensive. He risks losing environmental votes.

Senator Udall – Unlikely to be able to hide behind “it’s a state issue.” Voters don’t tend to care about the state vs. federal distinction. Is gas and oil exploration an economic boom or a bust; is fracking environmentally manageable or a disaster?

Statewide Offices – Democrats running for Attorney General, Treasurer and Secretary of State tend to win or lose on the national and state trends. A divided, quarrelsome party is a loser for them.

A party that cannot govern its own House is less likely to be asked to govern the state.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

National Pollsters See Glimmer of Hope for Democrats

At a recent conference of national pollsters, several, including Frank Newport of Gallup and a leading Democratic pollster, Celinda Lake, pointed to factors they thought might mitigate the broadly perceived difficulties facing Democrats in November.

Gallup surveys point to President Obama’s mild recovery in approval since the first of the year. Newport compares George W. Bush at this time in the 2006 election and Obama, which shows Bush heading down from 42 percent to 37 percent on Election Day, whereas since December 2013 Obama has moved up to 44 percent from 40 percent. Not much in absolute terms, but a much more positive direction.

Ms. Lake cited the closeness of generic ballot test and the poor image of the Republican Party as a couple of factors she believes will reduce any negative impact of the year; hence, Democrats running strong, well-funded candidates can hold and even pick up seats. She is active in Kentucky where Mitch McConnell is threatened.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Top National Pollsters Offer 2014 Predictions

A panel of leading public and political pollsters – Mark Blumenthal (Huffington Post), Jon Cohen (SurveyMonkey), Celinda Lake (Lake Research), Anthony Salvanto (CBS News) and Mark DiCamillo (Field Poll) – will preview the 2014 election and analyze the trends that appear to be driving the contests, both state and national.

Will 2014 be a wave election, and if so, how strong? Does the dislike of Washington and/or Congress provide an advantage to either party? Is the polarization of politics so prevalent in Washington D.C. becoming visible at the state level with hard left and right moves?

The 2014 election trends and predictions are the most frequent topics I get asked at Colorado speeches. So, I organized a panel at this week’s AAPOR Conference in California of the top pollsters to describe the variables they believe will have the greatest predictive power in 2014.

It should be one of AAPOR’s most interesting panels.

National AAPOR Conference Hears How Gun Control Changed Colorado Politics

The American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) will hear the story of Colorado Democrats dealing with gun control in 2013. My presentation will tell the audience of pollsters how Colorado shifted from a confident blue state to an anxious swing state.

Due to a surfeit of polls from January to December 2013, a story can be told of a strategic failure by Democratic leaders, which was abetted by conflating statewide support for gun restrictions and against recalls for specific support for their incumbents in districts. Democrats also missed the difference between preference for a specific restriction and concern about the entire direction of the party. For example, voters dislike for “gun control” and their support for “gun rights,” while proclaiming support for universal registration. Democrats also projected the January Sandy Hook surge in anger at gun access to a new long-term pro-gun restriction sentiment. Finally, Democrats forgot a significant part of their coalition are not hardcore urban or ski town liberals, but blue collar social moderates and conservatives.

Democrats may hang on to power in 2014, but only because their near-death experience led them to do a 180-degree turn from their strategy in 2013.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Climate Change – A Divider, Not a Uniter

The very moment President Obama is declaring that global warming has existential importance to the
planet, Colorado’s Democratic leaders are trying to say “yes, we agree, Mr. President, but we need natural gas today for the transition.” It is an unpersuasive position for many anti-hydrocarbon Democrats who intended on signing petitions to put a fracking ban (called “local control”) on the ballot.

In an era of increased nationalization of politics, the Colorado Democratic Party has benefitted from a decade of mostly friendly waves from Washington. Starting in 2006, as Nancy Pelosi was becoming Speaker and Bill Ritter was becoming governor, to the extraordinary 2008 election when Obama swept Colorado and Democrats added a senator and a congressperson, and continuing in 2012, which brought another Obama surge that helped the delegation take control of both legislative Houses with large majorities. Of course, there have been tough years. The party survived the backlash in 2010 and hopes to do the same this year, 2014.

One special problem for Colorado Democrats in 2014 is fracking and climate change. While the party establishment holds most of the proper litmus test positions on climate change, they do not back a ban of fracking. But, grassroot Democrats don’t agree, and a ballot battle on the issue this November is likely to cost the incumbents votes. It will also show the party in disarray with expensive campaigns of battling messages, illuminating the first crack in the party since it came to rule Colorado a decade ago.

So, Obama’s heightened interest in climate change, which may help Democrats in some parts of the country, just highlights the lack of unity among Colorado Democrats.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cinco de PerdiciĆ³n

May 5th was a dark day for the Democratic Party. A series of polls were released that uniformly showed the Democrats losing both the national voting trend to the Republicans, but models were predicting the Senate would be lost (6 seats or more going Republican), with few gains in the House (need 17 seats).

Probably the most disheartening to Democrats was the Pew poll, one they’ve come to feel was friendlier, which showed Democrats 4 points behind in the generic ballot test. Six months ago, they were ahead by 6 points. Pew is to the Democrats what the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is to Republicans – more credible. It’s not justified. Both polls follow careful methodologies, analyses and reporting practices, but everyone has a trusted favorite.

Political headlines on May 5 Polls:

Friday, May 9, 2014

President and Global Warming

President Obama believes – like Secretary Kerry – that global warming is a Doom’s Day issue. Kerry said in a recent speech to Indonesian students that it was more serious than nuclear proliferation, a comparison that was considered in many quarters as out of proportion.

But, global warming as a priority is not shared by the American people. The issue is considered a major threat to this country by only 40 percent of the public, well below most of the rest of the world. When asked to rate the importance of issues, global warming is usually at the bottom of the list, below the economy, the deficit and health care. When foreign items are included, it rates below Islamic extremism and Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The President’s interest after years of neglect has been a rhetoric regular, but no real effort put behind, makes it look more like a 2014 campaign theme for liberal and youth turnout than any sudden reprioritization. In fact, in 2009, when the newly inaugurated Obama had political clout and control of the House, the main climate change legislation, cap and trade, was held back as Obamacare and finance issues were given priority, to never to be seriously considered again.

At this point in his career, the President is a more of a polarizer than a persuader. What support for climate change action exists is highly divided by partisanship. Only 27 percent of respondents to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said climate change should be a top priority this year. Three times the number of Democrats than Republicans agreed, but even among Democrats, it was less than a majority.

See Wall Street Journal: Obama Climate-change push faces a lukewarm public

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Divided Colorado Democratic Party

A division in the Colorado Democratic Party offers the first local threat to its dominance of Colorado
Gov. John Hickenlooper
politics since 2006. An important part of the success of Colorado Democrats has been their ability to avoid primaries and issues that could leave them bitterly divided and unable to unite on Election Day.

Fracking may be the issue to crack the Democratic Party unity and produce a general election where leading candidates, John Hickenlooper and possibly Mark Udall, cannot unite a strongly divided Democratic Party.

“The Democratic party is particularly vulnerable because it is highly divided,” said 9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli.
Hickenlooper is among establishment Democrats who are supportive of the oil and gas industry, while grassroots environmentalists want to curb fracking.
A prominent ballot question on the issue could pose a threat to Hickenlooper among voters in the Democratic base who oppose oil and gas development.
“The governor could be criticized during much of the campaign for being on the wrong side of that issue,” said 9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli. “He could potentially lose environmental votes and front range votes.
The party desperately wants a compromise to reduce the full tension, but after a week of negotiations with essentially itself, Democrats failed to agree.

From the point of view of a large bloc of Democrats, the party leadership is on the wrong side of the fracking issue, and that conflict will be front and center on the November ballot in a multi- and million-dollar campaign.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Party Divided on Fracking

Governor John Hickenlooper gathered headlines and cash as the first quarter 2014 financial reports showed he raised $1 million and now totally dominates the field ($1.6 million cash on hand). The combined first quarter take of his Republican opponents doesn’t equal one million dollars.

His performance shows that much of Colorado’s political money establishment has decided Hickenlooper looks like a winner.

But, the week was not all good news. Democrats were unable to put aside their differences over fracking and, more generally, deal with global warming, which are the core issues now fracturing the party.

Several polls show fracking has narrow support in Colorado and a complete ban is opposed, but the Democratic Party is highly divided, and two-thirds (42% Quinnipiac poll) say they are less likely to support candidates who support fracking.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Will Foreign Policy Effect the 2014 Elections?

The usual rule is no. Short of a war or crisis, voters and campaigns are usually focused on domestic
not foreign issues. President Obama benefited in 2008 from the hangover from the Iraq War, but since then elections have been dominated by domestic issues: the economy, health care and social issues.

But the President’s approval rating is a factor in the election, and to the extent a series of foreign policy mini-crises and missteps mount up, the President’s and his administration’s credibility can be damaged. And, with his public approval in the mid-40s for more than six months, the administration can ill afford another blow to its credibility.

At some point, the sheer volume of issues begins to create an image of a defensive and ill-managed foreign policy.
  • Syria – Delayed decisions on arming rebels, no enforcement of red line. Assad still in power.
  • Russia – Few good options, mostly playing defense to Putin’s expansionist strategy
  • Japan and Asia – No trade agreement, less confidence America has made a pivot or is dependable
  • Israel/Palestine – No progress after high-profile effort, Israel may be worse for it
  • Iran – Sanctions worked, but negotiations not helped by administration appearing weak. Harder to get a deal, harder to sell it to Senate.
Criticism on the administration’s foreign policy is not just coming from Republicans, but the editorial pages of the Washington Post, New York Times and a substantial portion of the foreign policy establishment.

The recent “reassurance tour” from Eastern Europe through the Mideast and on to Asia confirms that the U.S. and the President are now seen as less reliable. The “reassurance tour” flows directly from the “apology tour” according to some critics who believe the administration was convinced that merely reversing and apologizing for Bush’s policies was the basis of a successful foreign policy.

Although the administration’s strategy over the last six years has its defenders, it is now being overwhelmed by events that it appears struggling to address. Obama and his team believe the American people have no interest in foreign engagement. They may be right. But, Americans are a proud and patriotic people, which show itself repeatedly during crises. They also expect leadership when America’s interests appear threatened. Adding foreign policy weakness to domestic irritation could make 2014 even more inhospitable to Democrats in 2014.

See The Buzz posts:
American Foreign Policy Moving to the Right
Obama in Foreign Policy Trouble
Obama Receives Little Support for Handling Ukraine Crisis
Putin’s Lectures
Clinton Moves Right on Russia

Friday, May 2, 2014

The End is Near – Good News for Democrats

The instruction was to lower their profile and get out of town with a few gains and no damage. But after four months, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows that the Colorado State Legislature’s approval is still in the cellar at 34 percent. Barely half of Democrats (56%) approve the performance of the Democratically-controlled legislature. And, their reputation has not been helped by a series of legislative missteps this year.

The House leadership’s sudden late effort to banning photo-radar cameras with a high-profile announcement of bipartisan support collapsed amid a storm of complaints from law enforcement and mayors. It’s now a study.

They appeared unaware a majority of the public supported red-light cameras at “dangerous intersections” (50% approve, 39% do not).

As I said to the Denver Post:
“It’s really one of those items where Hickenlooper, no matter what his position is, he’ll upset some people,” said political analyst Floyd Ciruli. “He hasn’t used his veto all that often, and this could be interesting time to use it.”
Earlier in this session, the Speaker proposed a massive change in the funding formulas for higher education, which was resisted by the education establishment and fellow legislators. Whatever passes will be a shadow of the ambition.

And finally, for the purpose of helping vulnerable legislators by generating a wedge issue, the Senate managed to look undisciplined as a meaningless resolution on abortion rights allowed conservatives to organize one of the year’s biggest rallies.

Usually, the public is unaware of what happens at the state legislature, but as last year’s recalls showed, 2014 may be a year voters are paying attention.

Republicans Beware, Obama is at his Best in a Campaign

There will be a long debate about President Obama’s place in history, but his re-election and daily tracking polls confirm that what he and his team are really good at is campaigning.

Watching the six-year track of approval polls show the rapid drop from his inaugural highs, through the health care passage in early 2010, the continuing weak economy, and into the debt ceiling debacle in mid-2011 – a clear pattern developed that governing left more voters disapproving than approving his performance.

But in late 2011 the campaign began, and by mid-2012, the political recovery was on. Obama hit his highs from the election to his inaugural in January 2013. But once the governing started, it’s been all downhill with the crash in December of last year from the effects of the botched ACA introduction when some polls showed approval dropped below 40 percent.

But, the campaign is back on and Obama’s approvals have ticked up since December to near the mid-40s today. With a little help from the economy and fewer foreign crises, he could, if not become an asset in the 2014 election, at least be less of a burden. And, although the ACA moves the Republican base, the issue is getting long of tooth and may be less the silver bullet it appeared a month ago.

Govern, who knows. But campaign, you bet.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Republicans Debate on Channel 9

9KUSA held a Republican debate and all the participants scored points, but is Tom Tancredo, the non-participant, the real winner?

Tancredo has refused to debate, claiming that the format leads to arguments among the candidates and just harms the ultimate winner in the general election. Not true so far this year. The candidates have kept their aim mostly at Governor Hickenlooper and the Democrats. More likely, Tancredo assumed he would be the target of most of the attacks as the frontrunner. He also, no doubt, calculated that his voters are going to show up and the debates just help the rest of the field.

Two recent polls show Governor Hickenlooper beating the field, but not reaching 50 percent, except in one poll where he’s matched against Tancredo. Tancredo also has the highest name identification. No candidate gets closer to Hickenlooper than seven points (which is beyond the margin of error).

Possibly the most important statistic in the Quinnipiac poll is the percentage of Republican voters who could not rate the four candidates on a favorability scale. Two-thirds of Republicans were not able to rate their candidates, except Tancredo who could not be rated by only 36 percent of the Republicans in the poll. Obviously, much of the support these candidates received against Hickenlooper was based on partisanship.

Money is going to be important for the June 24 primary, and Bob Beauprez may have an advantage if he wants to self-finance (notice 65% of voters claim to not be aware of him). The debate performance indicated if an experienced, calm adult is the party preference, Beauprez may be the man. However, he still needs to convince the rank and file he can take the battle to an incumbent who has a 7- to 10-point lead against the entire field.