Sunday, September 25, 2011

The "I Told You So" Edition

When you write about politics and specifically when you make political, economic and social projections, you get your fair share of things wrong.  I've gotten a few minor things wrong (see North Dakota's projection in 2008, not massively wrong, but wrong nonetheless) and a few major things wrong (see my blog during the height of the financial crisis about how the economic recovery would be strong -- oops.)  So, it's nice to know that I haven't lost my knack for identifying some of the things to come in the political world.  Two cases in point this week.

Perry Candidacy Already on the Rails
Frequent readers will know that I never believed the hype around Texas Governor Rick Perry's prospects of becoming the GOP nomination.  The media has been gaga over Perry and his sudden rise in the GOP field.  One can understand why.  Perry is a conservative, in line with the party faithful in his political beliefs.  Perry has a good track record economically in Texas.  On face, he looks like what today's GOP wants.  But, as I wrote a few weeks ago when Perry got into the race, I'm not convinced Perry is ready for prime time or capable of leading the GOP.

And so it was on full display in the latest Republican debate, a Fox News hosted affair, where Perry looked bewildered, spoke in sentence fragments, stepped in it on perhaps his one moderate political stance by alienating the GOP base when he had an opportunity to make a unifying statement and generally fell completely flat.  He hasn't been a rock star in the other debates, but this was, by far, his worst performance.

And GOP loyalists spoke.  In the Florida straw poll, a poll Perry had spent heavily and campaigned strongly for, he got scorched by conservative talk show host and businessman Herman Cain and barely finished ahead of Romney, who had not campaigned hard or spent heavily in the poll.  Now, I take these straw polls with a grain of salt.  This is a poll of loyalists, not a poll of representative voters in a GOP primary.  And you can certainly spend to up your standing.  I don't think Cain is in any way the favorite in Florida.  But let's analyze what it means.

The Tea Party wing isn't happy with Mitt Romney as a choice, primarily because of his moderate positions when he was Governor of Massachusetts, most notably his health care plan which looks a lot like President Obama's national plan.  Consequently, they were ready to flock to Perry.  The message from the Florida straw poll is that they are no longer happy with Perry as an alternative.  They weren't willing to cross and vote for Romney, so they voted for Cain as a kind of second-choice protest.  Of course, Cain has his supporters as well, but few believe a businessman with no political experience and a penchant for saying outrageous things will really be the nominee or could seriously take down President Obama.

So where does this leave the state of the GOP?  The right wing still isn't happy with Romney, but it is very fragmented, since there isn't a clear good alternative with Perry looking like a hack.  One possibility is that Perry ups his game and they decide to get behind him.  Another is that another candidate, perhaps one already announced (Newt Gingrich?  Michelle Bachman?) or one that hasn't (Sarah Palin?) is able to concentrate this support.  The third, and I still think most likely scenario is that the Tea Party wing stays fragmented and Romney is able to win by being just conservative enough and strong enough a general candidate to get the nod.

Nominations doesn't get decided in September the year before.  They will be decided in the first quarter of 2012, when everyone really tunes in.  But it's shaping up to be an interesting, competitive race.

Another Shutdown Showdown
I told you that we'd be back here.  We are a mere week before the start of the government's new fiscal year and there is no agreement on how to proceed with the Fiscal 2012 budget, leaving us at a logjam that yet again threatens a government shutdown.  The issue this time is the level of funding for FEMA and how it will be paid for.  Republicans want a less than $4B funding replenishment, paid for by offsetting spending cuts in other area.  Democrats want closer to $8B, without the offset.  The GOP plan passed the House narrowly and was soundly rejected in the Democratic Senate.  The Democratic plan has not been voted on in either house.

The budgetary dysfunction continues.  Even if they are able to come to agreement in the next week (expect another 11th hour deal that nobody likes), this will only kick the can down the road to Mid-November, right before the bi-partisan deficit commission is supposed to report back its recommendations.  So we will have at least 3 more fights that create uncertainty, make long-term programs highly inefficient and threaten to shut down the government.

Many have noted recently that Congressional approval is around 12%, by far an all time low.  The question is, who are the 12% who approve?  Does anyone else just feel like voting against every incumbent regardless of party?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

A First Whiff of a Scandal?, Read 'Round the World

Is the Squeaky Clean Obama Image Tarnished?
President Barack Obama has his critics.  He has been consistently attacked from the right with a venom, called everything from a socialist to a secret Muslim, to a radical African (who knew that being Muslim or African were such bad things) to the more sane and mundane criticisms that he has spent too much money and run up too much debt.

On the left, criticisms have intensified of late as many groups are not happy with the progress of President Obama in liberal causes.  The President has kept Gitmo open, extended the Bush tax cuts and, by and large, continued President Bush's policy in Afghanistan, all very sore spots for progressives who were key to his nomination and election.

All of the criticism, both intense and mild, has basically been centered on the President's politics, however.  There really hasn't even been a hint of scandal in the Obama Administration, a stark contrast to virtually every other administration in the past 30 years.

President George Herbert Walker Bush was personally involved in the Iran Contra scandal and the Savings and Loan scandal broke while he was in office.  President Clinton had all manners of minor scandals (does anyone remember Hillary firing the White House travel office or opaque land deals in Whitewater?) and one massive one - lying under oath about his sexual encounter with an intern named Monica Lewinsky.  President George Walker Bush, while having nothing as national newsworthy as Clinton, had the outing of CIA Operative Valerie Plame and persistent questions about civil rights infractions and torture as part of anti-terrorist operations.

Somehow, for almost 3 years, President Obama has stayed clean.  Not a hint of personal scandal - he seems to be a faithful husband and a good father.  Not a hint of financial scandal - there is no evidence of personal dealings that unfairly profited the Obamas.  And no hint of political scandal - even the ugliness over Blago trying to sell a Senate seat largely reinforced Obama's squeaky clean image as all the evidence was that Blago was upset because Obama WOULDN'T play ball as Blago tried to wheel and deal for the seat.

This squeaky clean image has taken on a little tarnish this month, with questions raised around a federal loan guarantee to a now-bankrupt copy called Solyndra, that had manufactured thin-film solar panels in the United States.  The Obama Administration apparently pushed through a loan guarantee to Solyndra as part of the stimulus package, despite serious questions raised by government analysts that indicated that Solyndra didn't have a viable business model.  Worse yet, a key Solyndra investor is a major Obama campaign contributor, who had visited the White House on at least 4 occasions. 

Does this rise to the level of a major scandal?  I don't think so, at least not yet.  There isn't evidence that those two facts are connected (the contribution and the loan guarantee.)  It's logical to assume that a lot of people that are investing in solar technology are likely to have political leanings that would support the President.  And it doesn't stand a logical test that an investor, who had put his own money into a company, would do so believing it would fail - obviously if he did try to sway the process to get a loan guarantee, he did so believing it would make the company successful.

But this does all smack of crony capitalism.  And in an age where people are still made about the bank bailouts and Wall Street bonuses, crony capitalism is pretty toxic.  My guess is that this fades from the news pretty quickly but resurfaces at some point after the GOP field is settled.  President Obama doesn't have a ton of equities going into the election, he'd better hope a clean image remains one of them.

Who's Reading This Space?
One of the things that I love about Google is that they are constantly innovating.  Just recently, the blogspot service was upgraded to give some basic locational information about blog readers.  In that vein, I though it might be interesting for you to know a little bit about who is reading this site.

This site has a truly global audience, although it is centered in the United States.  The top 10 countries for readership are listed below:

1. United States - 62%
2. Germany - 6%
3. Russia - 5%
4. Poland - 3%
5. Canada - 2%
6. Slovenia - 2%
7. United Kingdom - 2%
8. Netherlands - 1%
9. Singapore - 1%
10. Ukraine - 1%
Other Countries (many of them!) - 15%

It's neat to know that this blog is read from Iran to France to Slovenia.  The popularity in various countries is also interesting.  Obviously, the traffic being heavily US doesn't surprise me, given that this space is all about electoral politics in the US.  Germany seems a logical second, both because of the close political relationship between the two first-world economies and the fact that there are a large number of military personnel deployed in Germany, who could be the readers (note that the traffic is only listed by where the traffic came from, not the nationality of the individual who was reading.)  The rest of the list is an interesting mix of first-world economies that follow American politics and developing countries where they may be readers interested in the lessons of the American political system.  Perhaps the most interest country of traffic, Iran, just missed the Top 10 listed at number 11.

Hello to everyone in the global audience.  I hope you find this site informative about American politics and that you enjoy it.  As always, I welcome your thoughts.

How about in the interest of a little friendly global competition, we try to see what country can get the most traffic to this site in the next month?  I'm sure the US will have the most, but the battle for second is wide open!  Tell all your friends to visit and check us out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Debate-O-Rama, A Curious Case of Jewish Politics

All Debates, All the Time
The first caucuses and primaries are still almost five months away, but the full-time debate circuit is in full swing.  It started with an early May debate that was sparsely attended and almost as sparsely watched on Fox News (Mitt Romney didn't even bother to show up.)  The first "real" debate happened in Mid-June on CNN and included all of the present field minus Rick Perry but plus Tim Pawlenty.  Then the August debate in Iowa that featured largely the same field on Fox News.  Then...things really got rolling.  With Perry now in the race, we had the MSNBC debate on September 7th.  Now, we've had the CNN / Tea Party Express debate this week in Tampa.  Everyone is back in Florida next week for a Fox News debate in Orlando.  Then at least 2 more debates in November on CNN and Fox News.

Suffice it to say, we should all have had the chance to become very informed by the time the actual voting begins.

This week's debate was a fascinating affair.  Commentary from much of the media painted the debate as contentious but without a lot of clear winners and losers.  I couldn't disagree more.  In the MSNBC debate, I praised Rick Perry for earning his spot on the stage despite his prior reputation as an intellectual lightweight.  In the CNN debate this week, I thought he got absolutely creamed.  He was the clear loser in the back and forth with Mitt Romney, who successfully demonstrated Perry evading a clear question about whether Social Security should be discontinued as a program, a position that everyone knows would be toxic in a general election.  Perry also took a much more serious assault for his "default in, opt out" vaccination program, issued by executive order, against an STD that causes cervical cancer, a completely defensible position, but one that Perry was running scared from in a conservative forum.  Perry looked absolutely punch-drunk by the end of the discussion and Mitt Romney still looked Presidential.  Michelle Bachmann turned in probably her best performance, although I still don't see a path to victory for her unless Perry completely implodes.

I'm sure Perry will continue to lead the polls, at least for the time being, but I think Romney will slowly, but steadily, chip away at his lead.  Pre-Debate, Perry was leading in most national polls by 12 or 13%.  If Romney can make a little headway, and win decisively in New Hampshire (he is still well ahead there), I think he has a strong path to the nomination.

Of course, just because I think Perry is a weak general election candidate and a lightweight doesn't mean he can't get the nod or that it isn't possible that he could topple an unpopular Barack Obama in the general election.  And Perry may well get a lot better at debating with all the practice he's getting.  But Romney is still the guy to beat.

New York - 9, All National Politics Are Local?
The 9th district in New York doesn't generally elect Republicans.  It is more Democratic than the national average, having voted for Barack Obama by 4% more than the national average (Obama +11% in 2008.)  Anthony Weiner represented the district for 12 years before resigning in disgrace (the reason for the special election.)  It last had a Republican representative in the 1920s.  Before today, that is.

In an odd campaign that was part a referendum on an unpopular President in general and partly a specific referendum on our relationship with Israel, Bob Turner pulled an impressive upset, winning the seat for the GOP by about 6%. 

The district is a little unique in its heavy Orthodox Jewish population and Middle East politics were front and center in the race.  President Obama's positions on Israeli-Palestine peace talks, and specifically his view that the starting point for discussions should be the return of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Arab control were front and center.

This result demonstrates the odd political divide that many religious Jews face.  It's dangerous to generalize, but that's a bit of what demographic politics are about.  Jewish people, in general, tend towards liberal positions on social and economic issues but conservative positions on foreign policy, especially as it pertains to the Middle East and Israel specifically.  The GOP has, for a long time, been a staunch ally to Israel.  In the case of Orthodox Jews, some of the social policies lean a little further right as well.

So is there a national message in this vote?  One could certainly be that President Obama is in trouble with the Jewish vote.  He certainly is not at risk, at least at this point, of losing New York (it would take an absolute national thumping to put that state in play), but the Jewish vote is also a critical swing constituency in Florida, a state very much in play in 2012.

It's also one more data point, albeit a murky one, that the national mood continues to be anti-Democrat. 

This result isn't the be all and end all of predicting a 2012 outcome, but, on balance, it certainly isn't good for Democrats.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9.11.2001

It was the day that changed so much in our country.  While it would be hard to say that a country that has been through a civil war, two world wars as well as tough wars in Korea and Vietnam still had its innocence, in many ways it felt that way as we watched the events of 9/11 unfold.  We knew in the back of our heads that there were terrorists out there, both foreign and domestic.  We'd seen the World Trade Center attacked before and a crazy lone wolf bomb Oklahoma City.  But we'd never seen anything like this.  2,977 victims dies that day, almost all civilians.  Two of the most iconic buildings on the New York City skyline were erased forever.  And it was the catalyst for two brutal wars, an Iraq war that would claim the lives of 4,792 U.S. service men and women and a war in Afghanistan that would claim 1,664 of our soldiers.

It changed our day-to-day lives too.  The Patriot Act reduced freedoms that we had come to expect by allowing extreme measures like wiretaps without warrants.  The new Department of Homeland Security introduced much tougher security measures at airports.  And, despite our progressive protestations to the contrary, none of us ever thought the same way about an Arab face on a commercial airline flight again as we fought to fight our nature to stereotype.

It impacted popular culture in many ways too.  Bill Maher was fired from ABC for saying that the hijackers weren't cowards (he has since found work at HBO.)  NYPD and NYFD t-shirts and hats became the most popular items of clothing in the country.  Shows like Lie to Me and 24 rose to the height of popularity.

Patriotism became stylish again.  I've never seen the nation as unified as it was after 9/11.  We rediscovered how much we love this country through our anger at those who attacked it.  Our differences of race, religion and party all seemed meaningless, if only for a time.

On 9/11, we were all Americans, all New Yorkers, all patriots.  Our economy is weaker than it was 10 years ago.  Our political system is dysfunctional.  Our budget deficit is huge.  But our spirit is unbroken.  Osama Bin Laden is in a watery grave and we are still standing, unafraid.

God Bless America.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Perry Earns His Spot on Stage, Obama Stimulas: DOA

Rick Perry Turns in an Acceptable Performance
The first GOP Presidential debate featuring Rick Perry was at times a boring affair, but one that ultimately served its purpose for front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney as it clarified a clear choice between the only two candidates at this stage that have a realistic shot at the GOP nomination.

Perry didn't exactly set the world on fire with his debate performance, but he showed that he can hold his own on the stage with Mitt Romney, who had been running over the rest of the field in the previous two contests that he had attended.  Perry hit Romney hard on his job creation record in Massachusetts (a factually dubious claim, given the very low unemployment rate when Romney left office, but an effective talking point nonetheless), the similarity of Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts to Obama's national plan (a very true fact, and it's a shame that Romney won't defend the success of that plan) and generally staked out his turf as the more conservative alternative.  He didn't come off as a wing nut or a slave to the Tea Party, but his red meat barbs at President Obama should be enough to satisfy that wing of the party.

Romney, for his part, made no real mistakes, but also didn't break any real new ground or necessarily effective refute Romney's position, which is, in essence, that Romney is too moderate for the average GOP primary voter.

As I said before, my money is still on Romney in the long run - I just feel he is a better politician than Perry and that Perry will ultimately be prone to say more things that will alienate mainstream voters.  But Perry did well to solidify his standing in this depend.

My last thought on the GOP debate is -- who the hell did the make-up for the candidates?  Every candidate appeared to have an awful case of John Boehner orange skin disease.  You'd think they could get these things nailed down for a national television appearance.  One candidate looking oddly orange would have been interesting, but the whole field looking that way had me scratching my head.

Does Anybody Really Expect This Thing to Pass?
The GOP controls the House and has a large enough minority to effectively filibuster in the Senate.  President Obama's new $400B+ stimulus package, consisting of lower-income and middle-class tax breaks, infrastructure spending, extended unemployment benefits and aid to states is an interesting policy paper.  But does anyone expect that it will even get to a vote in either chamber?

The only piece that might gain some traction is continued payroll tax reductions.  After all, the GOP loves to cut taxes.  But those pesky taxes on the rich?  Forget it.  More spending of any kind?  Deader than dead.

This will be an interesting speech that ultimately means nothing.  It was as much about staking out ground for a campaign as actually trying to get something done.  Pay attention to the deficit super committee, ignore this piece of DOA legislation.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

A Fascinating Decade in Politics, An Awful Labor Day, 9/11 Remembered

The Most Interesting Political Stories of the Decade
The period of time surrounding Labor Day is historically a slow period for political news and this year has been no different.  With Congress in recess and most of the American public tuned out, we are largely taking a break from budget battles and election campaigns that are sure to heat back up in the coming weeks.  So, I thought I'd take a step back and recall what I consider to be the most interesting political stories of the past decade.  For consideration, my time window is from election day 2000 to election day 2010, as historical a period in American politics as I can recall.  In reverse order, here are my favorite stories:

(5) TARP is Signed Into Law, October 3, 2008
This story is fascinating on many levels.  The economics of sub-prime mortgages and the subsequent financial crisis are well documented.  But what amazes me is the political juxtaposition that all of this caused.  A Republican President calling for massive government intervention in the economy.  A Democratic Congress delivering a a corporate welfare bill with mostly Democratic votes.  Key Republican votes bought-off with earmarks and set-asides.  They say sausage-making is ugly, and this necessary (and ultimately not very costly) intervention in the economy had all kinds of twists and turns that caused it almost not to happen.  Passing unpopular legislation in any time is tough.  Passing it heading into a Presidential election is almost unheard of.  That it did is nothing short of a bi-partisan miracle.

(4) Iraq War Resolution Enacted, October 16, 2003
The Iraq war would become issue number one by liberal critics for President George W. Bush's foreign policy.  It seems in retrospect, somewhat absurd to get attacked by terrorists in Afghanistan and attack an unrelated dictator in Iraq, where Al Qaeda didn't even have a presence prior to our invasion.  But let's face it, Hussein was a known enemy with no shortage of reasons not to like.  Perhaps it is for this reason, or perhaps the fact that a congressional election was a few weeks away and nobody wanted to run as a dove, but the fact that the likes of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted for the war resolution, a position that they would forever try to explain away, speaks volumes of the political climate of the time.

(3) Lisa Murkowski Elected to the Senate as a Write-In, November 2, 2010
Does an Alaskan Senate election really warrant being halfway up this Top 5 list?  You bet it does.  Look, I realize that this was more a story for political junkies than it was a national news item, but as a purely political story (remember, these are the top 5 political stories), it doesn't get any better than this.  After losing a close primary to Tea Party darling Joe Miller, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski decided to run for re-election as a write-in candidate.  Ultimately, she won by over 4% with her 39% trumping Miller's 35% and Democrat Scott McAdams 23%.  Including Murkowski, there have been exactly two successful write-in candidates in Senate history; the only other time this has happened was in 1954 when South Carolina elected Strom Thurmond by write-in.  And in Thurmond's case, he had the support of the local party (the popular incumbent had died shortly before the election, wheeas Murkowski was strictly an independent operator.  And it was a bold signal that even in conservative Alaska, moderates could still beat Tea Party candidates.

(2) Barack Obama Elected President, November 4, 2008
Forget what you think of his Presidency for a second (and a majority of you disapprove, if I'm reading the polls correctly) and focus on how incredible the moment was.  I'm a close political follower, but if you'd asked me in 2003 who Barack Obama was, I wouldn't have known.  I do remember seeing then Senate Candidate Barack Obama's speech before the 2004 DNC and being awed.  But if you had told me then that a man who's highest political office at the time was the Illinois State Senate, a man who was black, a man who had a Muslim name and a man who had attended a radical black church in Chicago (or at least been a member, who knows how often he really went, but I digress) would not only be elected President but win Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana in doing so, I'd have dismissed you as a real hack.  But one incredible night in 2008, it all happened.  The arc of American politics and civil rights will never be the same, regardless of what happens in 2012.

(1) The Florida Recount, November-December, 2000
There will never be a political story of this magnitude in our lifetime.  This had ALL the elements.  A stunningly close deciding vote tally in Florida (537 votes for Bush by the official results, 154 votes for Bush by the unofficial tally when the recount was halted and somewhere between a Bush win by 493 votes and a Gore win by 170 votes depending on the standard and the counties looked at, according to post-election studies), a national popular vote win for Gore, a drama set up by Gore losing his home state of Tennessee after never campaigning in it, the third-party candidacy of Ralph Nader gumming up the works, the butterfly ballot causing thousands of votes to incorrectly be case for Pat Buchanan, a Supreme Court case decided on party lines.  This was Tilden-Hayes without the backdrop of the Civil War.  And whether the "correct" guy won is still a matter of debate among the political class and the American public.  The truth of the matter?  We proved that the margin of error in vote tabulation is greater than 0.009%, the margin of Bush's official win, meaning that it is simply impossible to know who won with any certainty, except by looking at who was sworn into office.  It's a shame that real voting reform hasn't followed.

I promised 5, but I need to do 1 honorable mention, which isn't terribly significant politically, but is fascinating none the less:
John Ashcroft Losses to a Dead Man, November 7, 2000
Before he was the Attorney General that famously signed off on all the controversial homeland security policies of the Bush administration, John Ashcroft was a United States Senator from Missouri.  In 2000, Ashcroft was running for re-election against incumbent Governor Mel Carnahan.  In October, Carnahan was killed in a plane crash, too late to be removed from the ballot and replaced with another Democrat.  Roger Wilson, Carnahan's Lieutenant Governor and now-Governor of Missouri pledged to appoint Carnahan's widow to the seat if Carnahan won (if a dead man wins election to the Senate, the seat is considered vacant and the Governor can make a temporary appointment.)  The vote totals on election night where 51% for Carnahan, 49% for Ashcroft.  Thus, Mel Carnahan became the only dead man in United States history to win a Senate election.  Jean Carnahan went on to the Senate for 2 years and John Ashcroft went on to the AG's office.

Have other great political stories of the past 10 years that I've missed?  Send me your favorites.

A Miserable Labor Day
It's hard to think of a more depressingly ironic piece of news for Labor Day, a day built to celebrate America's blue collar workers to be celebrated with the backdrop of a Bureau of Labor Statistics report Friday that the U.S. economy created zero new jobs in August, the economies worst performance in nearly a year.  Some would argue that is not quite as bad as it sounds, as the private sector was modestly net positive, offset by cuts in governmental jobs.  But it is awful.  Keep in mind that the economy needs to grow by about 200,000 jobs each and every month just to keep up with population growth.  By this measure, since November 2007 (the month before the recession officially began), we are 15.6 million jobs in the hole, that is, there are 6.8 million less jobs and we need job growth of 8.8 million to keep up with population growth.  So, just to get back to where we were in 2007, we'd need job growth of 400,000 jobs per month for six and a half years.  And we aren't close.  The result?  An "official" 9.1% unemployment rate, but a more daunting decline in participation in the workforce not seen since before working women were the norm.

Remembering 9/11
Do you remember what you were doing on September 11, 2001?  Where you were?  What you felt?  I think we all do.  Next Sunday, it will have been 10 years since those awful attack in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.  We have been the right combination of good and lucky to avoid a major attack in the 10 years hence.  We are a more sober, less arrogant America than 10 years ago.  We are more war-weary, more pressed economically and know a whole lot more about radical Islam.  We are more politically divided than ever and our problems are large.  But we are still One America, a feeling that flashed back through our consciousness earlier this year when we learned that Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind killing thousands of our innocent countrymen and women had been killed.  A whole generation will be defined by the events of 9/11, which was really the coming of age moment for the Millennials.  Let's never forget the unity and national pride that brought us together that day.

Happy Labor Day, everyone.  Here's hoping that you are off work and that it is because you get today as a holiday, not because you can't find work.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is the Perry Surge for Real?, Dangerous Voter Disenfranchisement

Is Perry Really the Front-Runner?
The newest national polls are all in and they confirm one fact, if the primary elections were all held today, Rick Perry would be the GOP nominee for President. Fox News has Perry at 26% of likely primary voters versus 18%, CNN has the margin at 27% to 14%, Gallup 25% to 14%, all well outside the margin of error. There is only one major problem for Rick Perry...the primaries aren't being held tomorrow. Perry's appeal to the GOP base is obvious: he's a conservative, well in line with the Tea Party voters who dominate GOP primaries and he brings the credibility of 10 years of experience as Governor of Texas, much stronger qualifications than, say, Michele Bachmann, who has never held an executive office. Perry possess good looks, a charming and unassuming southern drawl and a great economic story from the State of Texas. But to my eyes, Rick Perry has some major obstacles from turning this polling theory into reality: (1) He Appears Unready for Primetime He fumbles when asked about foreign policy, calls Ben Bernake (a Bush appointee) a traitor and seems to have a poor command of the national issues of the day. You don't have to be a genius to be President, but you do have to appear Presidential. And trust me, as much as the GOP is Tea Party-tilted these days, they also want to win a national election and party loyalists have to be worrying right now whether Perry would get squashed like a bug in a debate with Barack Obama (who, lest we forget after 3 painful years of governing, is very good at the whole campaigning thing.) (2) He Has to Debate Mitt Romney has utterly owned the GOP field in the first couple of debates. He's polished, sharp and behaves like the next President. Perry is going to have to stand on a stage with Romney and convince the GOP he's the better guy. (3) Romney is the Next Guy All of recent history would indicate that the "next guy in line" usually gets the GOP nod -- either a previous candidate who came up just short or a guy with a powerhouse name brand connection to the party. Perry has neither. Consider: 1968 - Richard Nixon - previous Presidential candidate 1972 - Richard Nixon - incumbent 1976 - Gerald Ford - incumbent 1980 - Ronald Reagan - previous Presidential candidate 1984 - Ronald Reagan - incumbent 1988 - George H-W. Bush - sitting VP and previous Presidential candidate 1992 - George H-W. Bush - incumbent 1996 - Bob Dole - previous Presidential Candidate 2000 - George W. Bush - powerhouse name brand 2004 - George W. Bush - incumbent 2008 - John McCain - previous Presidential candidate Of the whole bunch, only George W. Bush in 2000 hadn't previously run for President. And the name "Bush" ain't no hay. (4) The Open Primary Effect There is no Democratic Presidential race of any consequence and in many states (such as South Carolina), there are "open" primary systems, meaning that Democrats and Independents can choose to participate in the Republican primary if they choose to sit out the Democratic one (which won't be meaningful.) In many other states with "closed" primaries (such as New Hampshire), Independents still have the choice. Even in the states with "completely closed" primaries (such as my home state of New Jersey), you can still switch party registration very close to primary day to vote in the GOP primary and then switch back afterwards. My point in all of this is that there will likely be a sizable contingent of Democrats and Independents voting in GOP primaries this season. Does anyone think they will be backing Rick Perry? Don't get me wrong...Perry is the definitive betting favorite at this stage. But so was Rudy Guliani. My money is still on Romney, but it's still early and a lot can still happen.  

Why Asking for ID Isn't a Good Thing
In Rolling Stone this month, Ari Berman writes an excellent piece on a recent campaign by the GOP in some states to place additional requirements on voters in 2012. The story is linked here. Requiring ID to vote sounds fantastic in theory -- who wouldn't want to stop ineligible voters from showing up? But it creates huge problems in states where 10% of the population has no state issued photo ID card and that population is largely poor and minority. I'm all for stopping voter fraud, but there is zero evidence of any election in the US in the past 20 years where widespread voter fraud existed. If we are truly worried about the wrong person showing up and a poll (and believe that someone would risk 7 years in prison to cast ONE false vote), there are simple checks that have been in place for years in many states, including cross-checking actual signatures against ones recorded on a voter registration form or requiring commonly available non-photo ID such as a utility bill (who, after all, is going to NOT vote but give their utility bill to someone else to vote falsely?) Does the Tea Party really believe that you should be REQUIRED to get a government ID in order to cast a vote, often at a cost? Doesn't that sound a lot like requiring people to buy a product or service, something they are suing the Obama Administration over as unconstitutional? If you like this site, tell your friends.