Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Immigration: Presidential Action, But a Divided Public

In the most important poll tested and talking point-ready policy of his second term, President Obama used his executive authority to provide millions of illegal immigrants a temporary safe status. They will be able to apply for work permits, driver licenses and basic documents.

In a ten minute TV address (covered live on 9KUSA but not the network), the President made his best case. In follow-up analysis, Brandon Rittiman and I discussed the politics:
  • In a speech better prepared than his last TV address on September 10 announcing the beginning of the “war” against ISEL, Obama took the controversial step that has long been promised and repeatedly delayed due to the politics. But, Obama believes action is better than no action to prove his relevance and lift the Democratic Party out its post-November 4th funk. His recent actions on climate change, net neutrality and now immigration reform displays him as a leader and not a lame duck.
  • The policy obviously rallies the progressive wing of his party and further cements its relationship with the Hispanic community, especially activists and elected officials (Hispanics gave Democrats 63% of their votes in midterm election according to exit polls). The degree of its long-term benefit assumes the Hispanic vote grows a percentage of the electorate and continues to vote Democratic. 
  • Republicans are divided in a response and, in spite of the fact that they will control both sides of the Hill next January, their options are either weak or vulnerable to appearing extreme. Lawsuits are slow and lack drama. The shutdown and impeachment wing of the party continue to agitate for the most harsh measures, offering controversial options for an issue the public relates as secondary. Establishment leaders and the party’s consulting class want to avoid hostility with Hispanics while countering the President’s order. Expect more emphasis on the executive order than the substances of the proposal.
  • In a change of pace for an Administration not known for smooth rollouts of initiatives, Obama had an answer for all the expected Republican counters such as its amnesty (what we have now is amnesty, this is accountability), it will lead to gridlock (this shouldn’t lead to a shutdown or stop us from other deals), it’s unconstitutional (other presidents have done it, this is a limited program).
  • The program clearly has risks. Indeed, recent polls confirm that an unpopular president unilaterally deciding a controversial initiative starts in a very weak position.
    • After the political disaster of November 4, Obama remains at 42 percent and his party is now in polls behind Republicans on handling a number of issues, including immigration.
    • A plurality of the public oppose executive action by the president on immigration. 
    • Amnesty is hard to define, but easy to label on immigration policy. The public supports a path to citizenship, but it requires conditions, and even then, a passionate opposition continues.
    • The public claims it voted November 4 against gridlock and the Democrats’ contribution to it. This act will clearly exasperate it. 
Colorado is one swing state where the Hispanic vote is very important. Needless to say, Michael Bennet supports the President’s policy.

How this plays out is unclear, but Obama and his fellow Democrats have finally taken a position. The President is convinced that alone is a victory that will set the stage for more.

Transcript: Obama’s immigration speech
New York Times: Hispanic voters are important for Republicans, but not indispensable
Washington Post: Understanding how Americans feel about immigration, in 7 easy charts
USA Today: Poll: Resistance to Obama order on immigration
Washington Post: This summer, support for a path to legalization dipped badly. It’s bounced back.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The ACA – A Problem for Both Parties

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) still does not have majority support from Americans. Numerous polls show it approximately tracks President Obama’s approval of 40 percent. And, approval hasn’t changed significantly since passage in 2010.

With a new Republican majority in the Senate and the latest controversy from one of the academic architects loudly admitting design and promotion in 2009 and 2010 was strongly influenced by a deliberate strategy of deception, the ACA has never been more vulnerable. The latest Gallup poll has approval at 37 percent, an all-time low. In fact, the only thing stopping a repeal reaching the President next year is the Senate’s 60-vote rule that can keep bills from being considered (such as the Keystone Pipeline).

The ACA was far more important as a voting decision to Republicans than Democrats in the midterm election (Republicans 64% important to 42% for Democrats) and only 8 percent of Republicans approve the act vs. 72 percent of Democrats.

So, Republicans are safe within their party to oppose it and advocate repeal, but the country is highly divided on the government’s responsibility to provide coverage for all (51% no, 45% yes) and there is only modest support (less than 30 percent) for repeal.

Gallup: As New Enrollment Period Starts, ACA Approval at 37%
Gallup: Majority Say Not Gov’t Duty to Provide Healthcare for All
Pew Research: ACA at Age 4: More disapproval than approval
Pew Research: More Republicans see health care stance as “very important” to midterm vote
9News: Obamacare’s future amid new controversy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Pipeline Vote Shows Every Senate Seat Counts

To pass the Keystone Pipeline out of the Senate during the interim session, supporters, which now include Senator Landrieu of Louisiana, needed 60 votes. Senator Bennet joined 12 fellow Democrats (plus Landrieu), which got them to 59. It failed.

One reason Senator Reid is so intent on saving the Landrieu seat even though he is now the Minority Leader regardless is that Democrats in the next session want Republicans to have to find seven votes not six.

Currently, Mitch McConnell has 53 Republican seats next January. Landrieu losing to a Republican gives him 54, or only 6 short, to send legislation to President Obama.

Of course, with a presidential veto, Republicans need 69 votes to override – a much tougher number to reach.

Bennet is on Deck in 2016

Now that Colorado has reestablished its swing state status after the November 4 split decision, speculation has started concerning first term Senator Michael Bennet’s re-election prospects.

The Hill newspaper published an early review of Bennet’s circumstances. There are several factors that point to his initial advantages going into the election:
  • Voter turnout will be up to presidential levels. The 2 million this year will balloon to 2.7 or 2.8 million. Many of the less frequent voters lean Democratic.
  • Bennet works his Washington and Senate networks for maximum advantage. He’s substantially less publicity shy than Mark Udall. It’s assumed he’ll be ready with a powerful resume and a substantial war chest. 
  • The Republican bench in Colorado is thin if current officeholders are the main prospective candidates. Congressman Coffman and State Treasurer Stapleton may not be interested. Stapleton looks more to the governorship in 2018 and Coffman would not necessarily get the field clearing effort by major donors and Republican leaders that Cory Gardner received.
But there are several factors that point to a tough race for Bennet:
  • The Democratic nominee for president and Democratic senators up for re-election will likely be running with a very unpopular president. Historically, passing on the presidency to the same party after an unpopular president is difficult.
  • It is far from clear Washington and especially Congress will be in any better graces with the public in 2016 than today. In any event, maneuvering the gridlock and partisanship will produce votes that will test the most agile politician. 
Bennet’s recent vote in favor of the Keystone Pipeline was understandable given his previous position on the issue and responsibility for vulnerable Democratic senators, like Mary Landrieu, but it upset grassroot environmental Democrats. There will be many votes over the next two years that produce conflict between trying to find agreements with Republicans and the interests of Democratic core constituencies.

Also see Washington Times:  Colorado Republicans claim biggest legislative win

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Republicans Rule Statewide Offices

Midterm elections have been good for Republicans running for Colorado statewide constitutional offices. Appointed incumbent Democrats were beaten in the 2010 midterms and three credible candidates crushed in the 2014 election.

It appears Cynthia Coffman was nearly the state’s highest vote getter, being beaten by the governor by only about 700 votes.

Safe Democratic Congresspersons Stay Safe in Midterm Elections

Colorado’s three most Democratic congressional seats don’t vary much in midterm elections compared to presidential years. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter’s margins have remained the same in the recent midterm and presidential elections. Interestingly, the redistricting changes from 2010 to 2012 when compared to 2014 don’t appear to make much of a difference in the final numbers even though there were changes in the geography of two of the districts.

The statewide percentage vote leader was Ken Buck with 65 percent. Even with Mike Coffman’s substantial win over Andrew Romanoff (9 points), Coffman had the lowest re-election percentage of the seven districts at 51 percent. In general, with the exception of Coffman’s 6th CD, Colorado congressional candidates all won by double-digits.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Coffman Sweep

As the first November 4th returns were reported, it was clear Congressman Mike Coffman was winning a huge victory. His early lead in Arapahoe County doomed Andrew Romanoff and led 9KUSA to call the race early (and first). Coffman ultimately carried Arapahoe by 8,500 votes. He won all three of his district’s counties, and by a final total of nine points.

In a race that was considered one of the closest in the county earlier in the year, where both candidates had ample financing, Romanoff was completely crushed at the end. This result was not just a product of a bad year, while Romanoff was losing Arapahoe County by more than 8,000 votes. Mark Udall carried the county by 3,000 votes and John Hickenlooper won it with 18,000.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tipton Carries Pueblo County

Scott Tipton won a huge victory across the entire 29-county Third Congressional District, including old Democratic stronghold Pueblo County. The victory was even more impressive given his opponent was former Pueblo State Senator, Abel Tapia.

Maybe last year’s successful recall of Democratic State Senator Angela Giron, who Tapia tapped to be his replacement when he retired, was the harbinger of the Democrats’ future problems.

The only holdouts to the Republican sweep of the Western Slope were liberal ski communities: Gunnison (Crested Butte), Pitkin (Aspen), San Miguel (Telluride), old labor areas (Lake), and a few Spanish/Hispanic counties, such as Costilla and Saguache.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Buck is Colorado’s Newest Congressman with 65% Win

Ken Buck was never Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle. He made some mistakes in 2010 that were effectively used by Democrats to defeat him in a year he should have won. But, Buck was not as extreme as those he has been tossed in with over the last four years.

He would have probably not been an effective senate candidate because of that image, but due to some good fortune and the good sense to trade positions with Cory Gardner, he is now likely a congressman for a very long time.

Colorado’s Close Races

Colorado politics took a dramatic turn to the center-right in the 2014 midterm election after a decade of liberal dominance. Republicans now can operate from a platform with a new Republican U.S. Senator, control of the State Senate and a sweep of state constitutional offices.

The final vote for Mark Udall and John Hickenlooper reflected a swing of about 106,000 votes, with Hickenlooper winning with a 63,061 vote edge and Udall losing by 43,392. Udall’s loss was the inverse of Michael Bennet’s two-point (28,859 votes) win in 2010.

The vote total in a host of swing counties told the story of the differences between Udall and Hickenlooper, along with some exceptional Republican vote totals in traditional Democratic counties of Adams and Pueblo.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Polis Loses Larimer and Jefferson Counties

Jared Polis has ten counties in his Second Congressional District. He lost half of them, including the largest, Larimer, to an unknown and underfunded Republican candidate, George Leing. Polis also lost Jefferson County, which with Larimer are among the state’s most important swing counties.

Although Polis may have ambitions in Washington and, in fact, may become a player in the U.S. House, he has limited political marketability in Colorado.

Forecasts Mostly Get Right Side, Miss Republican Strength

The forecasts uniformly predicted a Republican controlled Senate and many said by seven seats. (It’s now eight and could go to nine after the Louisiana runoff on December 6.). The last forecasts missed Kansas going substantially Republican and a close Republican win in North Carolina. They had the independent and Democrat Kay Hagan ahead, respectively.

Looking over the final pre-election forecasting map, the major difference was the margin of Republican victories in many states exceeded the final polling averages. For example, the Ernst Iowa victory of 8 points not 2, Senator Pryor in Arkansas lost by 16 points and not the projected 7, and Ms. Nunn in Georgia lost by 8 not the 3 on the last polling average of November 4. The forecast and two-point margin nailed the Gardner victory in Colorado.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Six Things to Watch for November 4

Although Colorado became a national battleground for control of the U.S. Senate, it is the local patterns and trends that we’ll watch most closely Tuesday night.

Total Turnout: The entire national punditocracy is watching Colorado’s voter turnout. It has become the linchpin of the Democrats’ counter-argument that they will win the election. Democrats claim the bulk of the public polls are wrong; i.e., they miss Hispanics, young and other less frequent voters who the Democrats claim they will turn out or have turned out during the two-week voting period.

The estimate is 2.0 to 2.2 million voters. Currently, Democratic partisans are running well behind Republicans in the totals. Unaffiliated voters, which is comprised of many younger voters, are lagging in turnout.

Swing Counties: Colorado voters have been giving Democrats statewide victories in the last three elections because in the three most closely balanced counties, in terms of partisanship (each with substantial numbers of unaffiliated voters), Democratic Senators Udall and Bennet won them in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and President Obama in 2012.

Does Cory Gardner win Arapahoe and Larimer and barely lose Jefferson? If so, he will likely win the state.

Urban/Rural Split: Republicans will need to meet the expected Denver metro area Democratic advantage with a huge turnout from rural, non-metro Colorado. Governor Bill Owens won his first gubernatorial election by only 8,300 votes due to high margins in the High Plains and in Mesa, Weld and El Paso counties.

The Other Senate Fights: The battle for control of the Colorado State Senate will be settled in a handful of legislative districts, with Jefferson County the center of the action with four seats in close dispute: Andy Kerr’s SD 22, Cheri Jahn SD 20, Jeanne Nicholson SD 16 and Rachel Zenzinger SD 19.

Out-of-State Initiatives: This year, two out-of-state interest groups offered Colorado voters their ideas. Both have done poorly in final pre-election polls, but one spent wildly to convince Colorado voters that gaming at race tracks was a great idea. The other, labeling food if genetically engineered, had early voter support, but fell off in the face of a massive anti-TV campaign.

Narrative: The early signs of a Republican sweep will come in from New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia where very tight races for senate have consumed millions in advertising. Two Democratic incumbent senators, Shaheen and Hagan, are fighting to survive and an open Republican seat is being effectively challenged by Sam Nunn’s daughter, Michelle.

Although Colorado politics are unique, in this race they have been heavily influenced by President Obama’s approval and the general disapproval of the Democratic brand. If Republicans pull off unexpected victories in the East, Colorado being the exception is possible, but most likely it’ll succumb to the final trend.

Battleground States Mostly Shift Republican

Colorado was one of a handful of states where the early forecast predicted a Democratic win, but on the eve of the election, the Republicans are overwhelmingly favored to win. Moving in the opposite direction was Georgia, predicted as a Republican win and now a tie on the FiveThirtyEight forecast.

Change of Senate Leadership

Control of the U.S. Senate is the story of the 2014 election. For the average voter, their motivation is mostly related to President Obama’s leadership. But making Mitch McConnell, who must survive his own re-election, the new Majority Leader will have the most impact on American politics going into 2015.

Colorado Battleground Between Senate Candidates and Polls

The national forecasters are predicting a win by Republican Cory Gardner for the U.S. Senate with high levels of confidence. But Democrats and their allies are pushing back arguing there is a bias in published public polls, especially in Colorado, against Democrats. Their concern is that the “Udall is losing” final media narrative is leading to a host of negative stories about problems in the campaign and could harm turnout. Forecasters, especially Nate Silver of 538, address the bias argument admitting it is possible in Colorado, but that the forecast accounts for bias for and against a party in a particular state and throughout the entire range of states being tracked.

Hence, the election will be a test for the candidates, the public pollsters and the forecasters.

Returns Two-thirds in, Republicans Ahead by More than 110,000

The fourth update on the 2014 turnout shows returns of 1,379,962 as of Monday, November 3. They are near two-thirds of the expected turnout of 2.2 million (63%). The estimate based of voter turnout in 2010 is about 2.2 million voters (72% of active voters of 2.9 million). They are 47 percent of the active registration of 2,916,145.

If the expected turnout is to be reached, more than 800,000 votes will need to come in by 7:00 pm, November 4, and be counted as soon as possible.

Republicans continue to overperform their registration (41% returns on 32% registration). Democrats run at about their percentage of registration and unaffiliated behind theirs (26% compared to 35% of registration). Republicans maintain their lead over Democrats in returns by more than 110,000.

Ballot mailing began Tuesday, the day after Columbus Day, October 14. First returns were reported Friday, October 17.

Republicans continue to hold a lead of 9 points, or more than 100,000 partisans.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Final Senate Forecast

Nationalization of the 2014 election was partially driven by the rise of the forecasts. A group of institutions that sponsor the mixture of statistics, computing power and political judgment that produces daily probabilities as to the winner of individual states and in aggregate control of the U.S. Senate. The major players and their predictions for Senate control as of November 3, 2014 are:

Thirteen states have been closely monitored as the core of any possible change in control of the Senate. It is assumed Democrats will win former Democratic seats (now open) in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Republicans are vulnerable in Kentucky (McConnell), Georgia (retiring Chambliss) and Kansas (Roberts).

The battleground seats are Alaska (Begich), Arkansas (Pryor), Colorado (Udall), Louisiana (Landrieu), North Carolina (Hagan), New Hampshire (Shaheen) and Iowa (open D, Harkin).

Will Nancy Go Home?

leadership of the Democratic House caucus. If, as expected, Democrats lose seats in the election, this will be the third election as the leader where the party lost seats.

In fact, the party today has less seats than when she led as Minority Leader prior to the victory in the 2006 election that made her speaker. Before the 2006 election there were 202 House Democrats and today there are only 201. They are expected to lose 10 or more on November 4.

There is a debate among friends and adversaries as to her future. People close to her say she likes serving, is still a great fundraiser and now wants to help Hillary Clinton become president. But, her election track record is poor and she has become a useful target for Republican congressional candidates. Republican Mike Coffman has used her in his campaign. In general, she is a liability for candidates in close races.

At 74 years old, most of her partners, especially from California, have retired. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic House Whip, is now 75. As the heir apparent, he’s beginning to look like Prince Charles (65) – forever in waiting.